Sunday, December 31, 2006

The blog post one year in the making

A new car, new job and the Steelers won the Superbowl. 2006 was a pretty good year overall.

It all started on January 1, as every year does. The Steelers had clenched a 6th seed in the NFL playoffs, and worked their way to the big game doing the unthinkable, winning three games on the road. Sometimes not only playing the opponents but the opponent’s fans’ emotions, Refs and thin air.

And yes, I did grow a beard to match Big Ben.

Sometime in that final week of January I ventured to my local Saturn dealership to look at new vehicles. With interest rates on the rise I settled on a Black 2006 Saturn VUE. However with the Superbowl only days away I had apprehension about trading in my native Pittsburgh car, so I told the guys at the dealership that I would not drive off the lot without my brand new Pittsburgh Steelers License Plate holder attached.

They even played the Steelers fight song for me as I got in the car.

Then came the Superbowl. If you haven’t noticed I’m a bit of a fan. So much so I DVR every game, and play on a delay with the sound muted and listening to the Sirius Satellite Radio broadcast of the game featuring the Steelers announcers. Now this made watching the Superbowl interesting. Wanting to see the commercials we would switch audio feeds on my TV to hear the best part of the game, the commercials. The NFL really needs to get rid of that Superbowl bye week and put the game back in January where it belongs!

The team in Black and Gold won and I broke the dress code by wearing my Hines Ward jersey to work on Monday. A coworker asked, “If they lost would you have been unbearable today?” I said, “No, I’m more unbearable because they did win!”

In April I said goodbye to my work home of more than five years. It was time to move on and I’m glad I did. I left Cardinal Health for Xcelerate Media. It’s a small e-learning company. How small? We’re located above a Starbucks in Dublin.

It’s almost a complete 180 from corporate America. I show up in Jeans, or shorts, sandals… well whatever I’m comfortable in. The people I work with are great. And Stephen Correll has nothing on our office.

We pass the football around the big room all the developers work in. We developed a random number generator with a list of restaurants attached to the numbers just so we can decide where to go to lunch. This is negated by the fact that we go to Donato’s about three times a week.

We have a Consultant who comes into our office every so often, and is compiling a list of things we do that would get him fired at his office. I guess calling out “not it!” when the phone rings is frowned upon elsewhere.

There was one black mark on the year, and that was the passing of Grandma. She was a fighter a feisty one and stuck around longer than we expected. But she is missed. But not necessarily at 7am on my birthday when she liked to call me to remind me what day it is.

Finally at the end of the year I gave into my friend Kelly’s request to write movie reviews professionally. Yes, you heard me right, I am now officially a professional movie critic. She is an editor with the online newspaper She said that since I’m already writing reviews I should do it for them and get paid. So there may not be as many on my blog, but there will be more reviews in the paper.
Well that’s the blog post that took a year to write, well only about a half hour in reality. But you get the picture. 2007 looks to be even better, of course it would be depressing if I didn’t say that. Who wants to look forward to depressing stuff anyway?See you in the New Year!

Friday, December 29, 2006


Invariably in a list of great sports films you will see the word “Rocky” appear at least once. Often times more often than that, and never with the Roman numeral “V” after it. Come to think of it, repeat after me: “Rocky V does not exist… Rocky V does not exist…”

Now that we have that out of the way we can move on to the final (Sly’s words) installment in the Rocky series, “Rocky Balboa

This summer when I saw the first preview for this film my gut reaction was, “he has to loose this one.”

And that is addressed in the exposition of the film. If you’ve been living under a rock or been in US custody for being an evil dictator in the Middle East (at which point you’ve already been executed) you know that the premise for this movie is that a sports show pits Rocky Balboa against the current champion in a virtual boxing match in which Balboa wins. This garners interest in the boxing world and a fight is set up.

But even before we get into this plotline of the film, we get a lot of Rocky visiting the old neighborhood, and replaying in his mind, and ours, the classic scenes from the first two movies. On top of that, quite a bit of time at Adrian’s grave.

One of the more interesting retrospectives lands Rocky in his old neighborhood bar. This leads to the reintroduction of one of the most classic characters in the Rocky series, “Little Maria”. Just like he did when he was a nobody club fighter he offers somewhat unsolicited advice, to make her life just a little better. This time she actually takes it.

The things that make Rocky such an endearing character in American Cinema are still there: his dumb wit, his tolerance for Pauley, and his everlasting love for his late wife, Adrian.

In fact it is in this exposition that makes this film as good as all the critics say it is. The movie’s central theme is that just because someone is older doesn’t mean they’re useless. The theme is driven home by writer/director Sylvester Stallone through dialogue and visuals true to the Rocky genre. Or to sum it up as Toby Keith said, “I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.”

The movie is very non-Hollywood in several ways. As a function of our youth-oriented culture nobody gives Rocky a snowball’s chance against champion Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver). But Rocky is a fighter and a fighter must fight. Even if he is “too old” in the eyes of, well, everyone.

Much like you believed a club fighter could go the distance against the champ thirty years ago, this time you believe a sixty-five-year-old man can get into a boxing ring.

Now I’ve spent a good deal praising the first two-thirds of this movie, and that brings us to the fight scene. It is the fight scene that keeps this movie from being on a par with the first two (and best two) films in the series.

From the opening bell it feels almost like the fight scene from thirty years ago. Rocky, the underdog, gets outboxed hands down in the first round. From there I’ll avoid the spoilers, but the fight could have been better.
That being said, finally the Rocky story has an ending fitting its great legacy.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Movie For Book People

First off, credit to someone in Hollywood for finally having an original idea. After years of remakes, franchise sequels and film versions stuff we’ve seen in other mediums we finally have something that is about as original a concept as there has been in recent years.

I’m talking about “Stranger Than Fiction” the latest offering from the current golden boy Saturday Night Live Alum Will Ferrell. Now before you go on expecting another Elf or Ron Burgundy type performance I’m going to warn you upfront: Will Ferrell underplays his role. He underplays it so much in fact he accepts the fact that he is not the best actor in the film. By my count he is solidly in the bottom two.

But that’s where this movie separates itself from other Will Ferrell movies. Instead of playing someone with more mouth than brains here we see Ferrell as Harold Crick, IRS agent and watch wearer. That’s about the extent of his character at the start of this film.
A humdrum character who goes through an extraordinary series of events in a short period of time. The first of which is hearing a voice narrate his life.

That narrator is the voice of Emma Thompson and she’s not just narrating the movie, she’s the voice of author Kay Eiffel who is writing the book in which Crick is the main character.

Finally convinced he is not crazy and actually living in a story he seeks out literature Professor Jules Hilbert played by Dustin Hoffman, who is the best actor in the movie and steals every scene he is in.

As it turns out Eiffel’s literary style is such that she kills off the main character in all of her stories and Crick is her next victim. This has Crick quite upset.

Rounding out the cast is Queen Latifah, the author’s assistant sent by the publisher to get Kay off her writer’s block. I’ve said it before and I must stress the point. Rappers don’t make bad movies. And the Queen continues that tradition.

Finally we have Crick’s love interest. Played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. A college dropout baker hippy wannabe who Crick finds himself auditing. Can you guess what happens next? I’ll give you a hint, It’s not Will Ferrell sleeping with Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah or Dustin Hoffman!

You just won’t understand the complexity of this movie unless you read good books. Not just novels you find in the grocery store line, but really good books by people whose names get used in sentences with words like “literature” and “genius”. Tom Wolfe comes to mind, as does John Updike. People whose stories show real human growth and where seemingly insignificant things become the defining factors in the characters’ lives.

If you’ve read these kinds of books you know what I’m talking about, and you’ll get what this movie is about. You see this movie is not so much about the principle character Harold Crick, but really about the book Kay Eiffel is writing.

Those great books you’ve read, this is the story about how those great authors come up with those books.

If it’s possible for a movie to make you appreciate books this is the best attempt to do so. Ferrell’s performance is passable because he under acts for once in his career. His casing in the main role was simply to sell tickets, but it is by allowing the rest of the cast to lift up his performance that makes the movie better than the sum of it’s parts.

The movie is PG-13 and deservedly so for sexual situations and a wholly unnecessary f-bomb. But the appeal is to more mature audiences anyway. I doubt anyone who has yet to write an English term paper would be able to hold their attention on the screen… or is that what the sex scenes were for?

Friday, December 01, 2006

A Night at the Office

Wednesday night I decided it was time to go get a beer so I wanted to look for a bar I'd heard about called "The Office"

Great name, by the way.

"Honey, I'm going to the office!" 6 hours later you come home plastered. "I really love my job!"

Well it's a nice place. Brand new and it looks like a bar you'd see on CSI Miami. The bar itself was pretty packed so I squeezed in next to cute girl with freckles and a nose ring and ordered my Miller Lite.

"high five." The cute girl with the freckles and the nose ring said while holding up her hand. Oh, and she was pretty drunk too.

SoI high-fived her, but she only made contact with half of my hand.

"You missed," I said.

"Have you seen Borat?"

"No I haven't."

"He does that... High five!"

This time playing on her inebriation I missed her hand on purpose.

"You Missed again."

She started laughing not sure if missing was her fault or mine.

We tried high fiving a few more times and I became like Lucy to her Charlie Brown always snatching the football away just before Charlie can kick it.

Finally I missed on purpose and tapped her on the forehead. She laughed flurtatiously then introduced me to her boyfriend.