Tuesday, December 27, 2005

There Is Life on Mars

Sorry we haven't posted in a while. We've been very busy lately, and by "busy" I mean we've been shopping, wrapping gifts, eating, hanging out with our relatives, opening gifts, reading books, and watching television. A good chunk of our Christmas weekend was spent watching and re-watching the critically-touted though ratings-challenged UPN series Veronica Mars on DVD. The creator of the series, Rob Thomas, is a UT Austin grad with an interesting career arc, the kind of career arc that secretly makes you jealous.

Thomas' concept for the show ties in the seemingly anachronistic worlds of hard-boiled film noir and teen drama (see the poster design to the left for an over-the-top send-up of the concept). The result is a refreshing take on the done-to-death California teen genre. All gimmickry aside, the heart of the show is the relationship between the titular character and her dad as they deal with their status as outcasts in the fictional town of Neptune, California. The first season's plot is driven forward by the murder of Veronica's best friend, Lilly Kane. Veronica's dad, Keith, the town's sheriff, turns his attention to the Kane family itself in the wake of the crime, and when a disgruntled Kane Software employee confesses to the crime, Sheriff Mars is forced to resign and start his new career as a private investigator where he is aided by his daughter, Veronica, played by the "short, blonde, cute as a bug" Kristen Bell.

The show is truly addictive. The dialogue crackles with smartly delivered zingers, and the suspension of disbelief is not hard to come by when the characters are this well-developed. It's no soapy melodrama either, as all the protagonists have their failings and the lines between right and wrong are constantly being blurred. In short, its damn fine television, and we'd like to kick our shouts out to Jamye's sister, Kara, for letting us borrow the first season on DVD before Santa could deliver us our very own set this weekend.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

What my Wife Got Me for Christmas

Too coooooooooool. I'm actually, as the kids say, "jamming out" with it here at work at this very moment, effectively tuning out the constant whirring and clicking of our printers and the intermittent ringing of phones.

It's funny how a gizmo like this can renew our love of music while at the same time signal the end of traditional music sales. As high bandwidth and digital media continue to unavoidably revolutionize the music and video industry and companies continue to grapple with piracy, consumers will be faced with new decisions about their media collections (e.g. physical storage being replaced with computer memory). Purists will continue to decry the imperceptible loss of quality in compressed digital music much like vinyl enthusiasts still curse the full but "sterile" sound produced by a CD. Everyone "in the know" will have an opinion on the future of the music industry, and in the great spirit our country's industrial revolution, companies will either adapt and grow with the changes or be left behind.

In the meantime, I'll just enjoy "jamming out" on my new iPod. What? The kids don't actually jam out anymore? Jeepers, what's the world coming to?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Where have you gone, Dale Murphy?

Our family got cable television in 1984, and with my access to TBS (Ted Turner's Atlanta-based "Superstation"), my love affair with the Atlanta Braves began. This week's news that the Braves are being shopped around to new owners will do nothing to change that, but it puts me in mind of the days when I would sit in front of the television and record the events of the then abysmal franchise's games in my official baseball scorebook.

Yes, before the tomahawk chop and 14 straight divisional championships, I was a Braves fan, and Dale Murphy was my baseball idol.

In 1990, the 7-time All star was dealt from the Braves to the Philadelphia Phillies where he stayed for two more years before being dealt to the Colorado Rockies. He retired in 1993 with 398 career homeruns, but it was in 1990 that my rabid interest in professional baseball began to wane. Murphy leaving Atlanta felt like the end of an era.

Murphy had been with the Braves since 1976, the year Ted Turner took ownership of the organization, and he was the kind of player that seems to have become somewhat of an endangered species in professional sports. He was a 2-time MVP, a superstar and a family man who was often teased by his teammates and the media for his wholesome image. A reporter once tried to find out if Murphy was really as good as his reputation. After an exhaustive search, the only "dirt" he could find was a speeding ticket Murphy was issued for driving 35 MPH in a 25 MPH zone. He was late for a speech he was to give at a church. He was a player with principles who would take his teammates out to dinner but wouldn't pay for their alcohol. Now, he has written a book to guide athletes through the tough decisions they will have to make as a professional, and he is still a great humanitarian whose involvement in different charities are too numerous to mention.

On the field, he was a 5-time Gold Glove winner with a rifle for an arm, and he was especially speedy for a big man. In fact, he was the 7th player in Major League history to join the 30/30 club (30 homeruns and 30 steals). The feat has now been accomplished 36 times by 21 different players since Murphy did it in 1983.

In the era before rampant steroid use, he was the product of hard work and good genes. I got to meet him at a Nashville Sports Council luncheon in 2001 where he spoke to the attendees about his career as a major leaguer. After the event, I got him to sign my Power Alley poster (like the one above), and I shook his hand (it swallowed mine). It was a great moment for me, and one that I'll never forget.

For all his accolades, Dale Murphy has not made it into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. 2006 marks his 8th year on the ballot, and the results for this year's voting will be announced Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2006. I hope he makes it in this time, but even if he never does, I'm sure Murphy will consider his life just as rich and fulfilling without the honor. It won't change the fact that he was the greatest player I ever saw play the game either.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Penny for My Two Cents: King Kong

Jamye and I went to see Peter Jackson's 3-hour gorilla movie last night, and I must say that every frame of it oozes with his reverence for the 1933 original which (as you would have to be living under a rock to not know) inspired him to be a filmmaker. In some respects, that's this film's only shortcoming. In today's world, it is difficult to have the sense of wonder that the original's audiences must have had, but by setting his film in 1933, Jackson tries to replicate that tone through his character's eyes. Even though we get some of the most amazing special effects sequences ever put on film, our 2005 technological saavy causes us to watch these truly amazing scenes with extreme appreciation for the handiwork over reverent awe for the subject matter. This is a minor quibble, and it really has nothing to do with the film, just the context in which it has been made.

All that aside, Peter Jackson's King Kong is nothing short of masterpiece. Even as Jackson ups the ante on digital special effects, he has taken even greater care in giving his marquee monster and his leading lady, played by Naomi Watts, one of the most touching relationships I've seen at the movies in years. It's really the heart of the picture and its greatest achievement. As the sense of impending doom for our hero increases with each reel, it is the love story's beautiful simplicity that makes Kong's eventual demise just as bearable as it is heartbreaking... and its pretty damn heartbreaking, even though we've known the ending for 70 years.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

From the Arcade Archive

There was a time when you could go into an arcade with a dollar's worth of quarters and, if you were any good, play the game of your choice for an hour or more. Pac Man was my game. I would play and play at our local Kroger store (yes, there was a Pac Man machine at our Kroger) while my mom did the grocery shopping.

In the mid-80's video game developers began rolling out games that were smash and shoot adventures with a multitude of immersive levels that you worked through while standing shoulder to shoulder with up to three guys and/or gals next to you. Really, the first such game of this ilk that I remember was Gauntlet.

No matter how good you were at Gauntlet, you were going to get continually smoked by some ogre or ghost or something quarter after quarter, and then you were going to have to meet your folks out in front of JC Penney's while some kid standing behind you and picking his nose was going to step up, put a quarter in, and take up where you left off. Gauntlet was advertised to arcade owners as having unlimited play depth, so I guess that meant that there was no real finish to the game, no matter how many quarters were dropped down the slots. It didn't matter. You would always talk about how far you got without ever knowing or caring whether there was an end result to all your efforts.

By the 1990's, arcades had slowly begun disappearing from the American suburban landscape as an industry that had built itself on the quarters out of kids pockets had turned its attention back to our homes and the foundations laid by Pong, the Atari 2600, Colecovision, Intellivision, Odyssey 2 and the Commodore 64.

As the arcades vanished, so too did the simplicity of figures like Donkey Kong, Frogger and Pac Man. As graphic capabilities improved by leaps and bounds, they were all hustled into the 21st century and given extreme makeovers, leaving their old images in the dust. Most games were built to be beaten and discarded rather than reveled in for their mindless blips and blurps.

I remember the experience of the arcade as a special event that cannot be replicated on today's modern machines, even as game marketers try to tap into my nostalgia by offering me the classic games of my past on shiny discs. Standing in front of a six foot cabinet covered with stickers and throwing your shoulder into evading brightly colored villains at every turn isn't the same as sitting on your sofa in your sock feet.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Lil' Joey Kickin' It in His Crib

Our friends in Florida sent us another picture of the wee Disabantonio.

Ain't he cute?

Click on him to see him bigger.

A "Yo Ho" Ho Ho

Everybody seems to be trying to get a leg up on their summer movie marketing with box office receipts down 6 percent from this time last year. I know. We're all really upset that the high dollar denizens of La La Land might have to stand a little belt tightening. Of course, the bigwigs won't smart at all, yet, but the movie industry is definitely changing.

Many blame this year's box office decline on the lack of anything original coming out of Hollywood. Well, the sequel to the surprising blockbuster, The Pirates of the Caribbean, will do nothing to quell that notion, but the first one was damn fine entertainment. It was a particularly unexpected success in that the last pirate movie to hit the big screen was 1995's Cutthroat Island which bankrupted Carolco Pictures, the production company behind the movie, and put a damper on Renny Harlin's meteoric directing career (not to mention his marriage to Geena Davis). Who knew that a movie based on an animatronic Disney ride would be so fun, much less attract the acting talents of Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush and solidify the overnight stardom of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley?

Anyhoo, click on Jack Sparrow's Christmas gift for the first peak at Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest. Then, go read this. I'm not sure how I feel about it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

X Sells

You know, it's not that I'm a comic book geek. I mean, I was once... in my youth. My mom would drop me off at the comic book store on the strip in Knoxville while she went next door to Davis Kidd Booksellers. I would come find her when I had picked up my monthly supply of Batman, The Incredible Hulk and Spider Man books.

The X-Men was never a favorite of mine, but I concede its importance in the comic book canon in that its stories of a group of mutants as originally created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and later re-imagined by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum tapped into the notion of alienation that was a prevalent theme in pop culture in the 60's (see movies like The Graduate and Midnight Cowboy). As the Wikepedia article outlines, the X-Men, became metaphors for other real life issues that would have been either taboo for younger audiences or just too hard to present without being cloaked in the guise of adventure stories. Of course, I was just a kid and didn't get all that stuff until much later... you know, after I quit being a comic book geek.

Anyway, the third feature film in the X-Men series is due out next summer (May 26th, to be exact), and you can click on Wolverine's muttonchops above to watch the first trailer for it in glorious Quicktime HD.

All-SEC 'Dores

By now, you know the drill. Click on the image to read the story. The Associated Press has named Vandy's Jay Cutler as the SEC's Offensive Player of the Year. There's more on the other Commodore AP and Coach's honorees on the VU football page. Follow the link on the right for that.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

You say, "Jump." They say, "Little Children."

Jamye and I braved the cold to catch these fellas last night at 3rd and Lindsley. As you may recall from an earlier post, Jump Little Children (formerly called Jump, and formerly called Jump Little Children) was dubbing this tour "The Last Hurrah" as it would effectively mark the end of touring for the North Carolina band. The reasons given for the decision were vague and personal on their website, and I would direct you to their comments if the link hadn't disappeared.
We arrived at the venue at 6 pm for the 8 pm show that was to be broadcast locally on WRLT 100.1 to find a line already stretched down the sidewalk. After a short wait we got in and found a table in the tiny upstairs seating area. I snapped the picture above without a flash and using some manual settings on our nifty new digital camera just a few songs into the set. As you can see, the array of musicians on the small stage was truly impressive in that it included what could only be called a small chamber orchestra of six backing the five main members of the band.

The two hour acoustic setlist was full of unexpected moments and instruments (mandolin, whistles and accordian), and it was obvious that the band had as much love for their fans in Nashville as the crowd did for them even though the band confessed midway through the first set that it was not always the case. Nashville is a tough town to break into because there are so many musicians vying for a sliver of the spotlight. As a result, Nashville crowds are routinely tough to please. This wasn't in evidence last night as the slightest pun was greeted with enthusiastic applause by the young crowd of fervent and mostly college-aged fans. Admittedly, I was a casual appreciator of their music and Jamye even less so, but I imagine we have a few purchases in our future. We currently only have one of their four albums.

The show did take on a generally melancholy tone at times as it seemed to sink in to all in attendance that they may never see these guys perform live again, but the band never let it become too sentimental. After all, they're a rock and roll band, albeit a thoughtful and earnest one. You got the feeling at the end of the show that they were happy to leave their fans wanting more rather than wearing out their welcome.

Things our Junk Mail Filter Catches

As usual, click on the picture to see it bigger.

You know, it's actually kind of fun reading the subject lines for these gibberish emails of which we tend to get a buttload. They have a theater of the absurd quality if you say them out loud. In fact, let's take the 9:34 pm message and fashion it into a short scene:


At the base of the monument of Juan Montalvo in Ambato, Ecuador, private investigator Steve Creech stands over the dead body of the woman he was trying to protect.

His associate, Alonzo Palmer, comes up from behind him and puts his hand on his shoulder. "Let's go, Screechy. It's Ecuador."

Friday, December 02, 2005

More Kong Stuff

Check out Kong's makeover from the early publicity photo (left) to the current one (right). He looks a little less warm and cuddly on the right, no? Click 'em if you like.

Don't forget, the new flick will be in theaters Wednesday, December 14th.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

More Vandy Stuff

Vanderbilt Quarterback Jay Cutler is the first player invited to participate in the 2006 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Click the photo above to read more about it.

Freshman Earl Bennett was named to the rivals.com All American Freshman Second Team. Click his photo to read about that.

The Return of Memorial Magic

Vandy's Mario Moore might have just shot his way out of head coach Kevin Stallings' doghouse by hitting a buzzer-beating three-pointer last night to defeat the Oregon Ducks 76-75 at Memorial Gym in Nashville. Shane Byars led the way for Vanderbilt with 20 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, a steal, and a blocked shot, but the coming out party for the Virginia transfer was overshadowed by Moore's theatrics as time expired.
Read all about it here, and click on the photo to the left to see more pictures from the game. Plus we've got a new link to the VU basketball page on the right.