Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Movie Review: Unbroken

Angelina Jolie's directorial debut. Not bad, not great. As many know, Seabiscuit is one of my favorite books and author Laura Hillenbrand when researching the exploits of the gimpy-horse-that -could came across a newspaper article about Louis Zamperini and his running exploits. She set it aside at the time and it was nine years later before Unbroken was published.

The story of Zamperini is incredible.  Born in 1917 to immigrant Italian parents in NY, he was nothing but trouble in his youth but thanks to the intervention of his older brother became a world class middle distance runner, competing in the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.  He had hoped to run in the Tokyo games but of course the little matter of WWII put an end to that.  Louis signed up to be a bombardier on a B-24 and saw plenty of action in the Pacific.   The best scenes in the movie are early on, especially those involving bombing runs and the counter attacks by the dreaded Japanese Zero's. 

Zamperini gets shot down and survives several weeks with two others on a small raft in the middle of the shark infested ocean.  Then it gets worse: he is captured by the Japanese and what he goes through in the POW camp makes Guantanamo look like Disney.

Unfortunately, the movie is toned down a bit to get the PG13 rating and you just feel like it needed more of an edge to bring out the real prison camp horror show that Louis endured.  Too bad Clint was already engaged on American Sniper, he certainly would have made Unbroken a little more heartfelt and pulled no punches.

Unlike Chris Kyle, veteran Louis Zamperini lived until the ripe old age of 97, sadly passing away last year, just a few months before Unbroken was released.  He did get to see it though and his demise shortly thereafter is not in any way an indictment of Ms. Jolie. 

A solid B

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Except I did not say Fudge

We know everything is bigger and wilder in Texas.  No examples needed. We have all the oddities and extremes.  Down the years, the Lone Star State has had its share of hurricanes, tornadoes, hail, oil boom and busts.  Add to that Oswald, Whitman, and Koresh,  Just last year Dallas was front page news when the first Ebola victim in the the U.S. showed up unannounced on our doorstep. Not to be outdone, 2015 started with a bang - or more like a shudder.

At about 3.10pm on Tuesday January 6th our 18 story office building decided to shift a few inches to the north.  Oh fudge indeed.  For about four or five seconds, it shuddered, shook and flexed.  Yes, dear readers, Irving Texas, located in once what was pristine prairie had an earthquake.  Here we are, thousand of miles from the San Andreas, the Heyward, the Pacific Rim of Fire, a-shaking and a-shuddering like a giant mound of jello, our buidling going for a walk towards Arkansas.

Granted in the grand scheme, it was small.  Only a 3.5.  But heck, when an 18 floor office building (with a few thousand workers) starts to very noticeably move, at that time you don't think about the magnitude.  Just like the one we experienced in San Bruno, CA in 1996 you wonder is this going to get even more violent and when will it stop.  Hence the "Oh Fudge" moment.

Geologists will tell you our region should be earthquake free.  However, we sit on the Balcones Fault that runs from Del Rio down near Mexico all the way to Oklahoma.  They say the fault has not shifted in fifteen million years (how can they know that?).  But for some reason in the last couple of months the fault seems to have come alive and we have had twenty-plus "temblors".

There are so many theories, the most prominent being fracking and there are gas wells drilled in the area. Most of the activity is centered around the old Cowboys Stadium, which was imploded in 2010.  Did they forget a stick or two of dynamite?  Could it be the ghost of Tom Landry?  It is almost inevitable Jerry Jones has a role in this.

Between this and the Ebola scare, the consensus is the Plague of Locusts is not far away.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

"Teeth Will Be Provided"

Anything worth watching on Netflix seems to spread by word of mouth and so it was with Peaky Blinders, referred to me by a co-worker.  Set in post WW1 Birmingham, it deals with wanna-be gangsters, blundering cops, the IRA, Bolsheviks, family in-fighting... in short nothing that has not been done before.  However, Peaky Blinders is executed in a manner that is stylishly different, fresh and is thoroughly enjoyable.

The cast is excellent. An interesting part is that we have an Irish actor (Cillian Murphy) playing the lead role of Tommy Shelby, born and bred in England; an English actress playing Grace from Galway and a Kiwi-type (Sam Neill) playing the hard ass cop from Northern Ireland.   No stereo-types here!

Actually Sam Neill was born in Omagh but emigrated to New Zealand when he was seven.  His Chief Inspector character sounds like Ian Paisley with rocks in his mouth.

An apocryphal tale of Paisley: delivering a hellfire and brimstone sermon he described the End of Days and included there would be "gnashing of teeth".  An elderly pensioner piped up that she had no teeth.  Paisley thundered back "TEETH WILL BE PROVIDED!"

Anyway, Peaky Blinders is well worth watching.

Sidebar: one of Nick Caves many brilliant compositions "Red Right Hand" is the theme music and there are other Cave numbers interspersed throughout.  Another reason to watch!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Quite not is all on New Year's Day

Welcome 2015.  Big D got some welcome precipitation this morning in the form of freezing rain that gave all the tree branches a natural glisten - the same effect we all try to get by draping our homes in Christmas lights.  This photo of a winter wonderland with green leaves, red berries and icicles was not taken in Vermont but in our back yard today.

We love rain - any rain - in Texas.  Down on the Willow City Loop, a beautiful part of the Texas Hill Country, there is a sign outside a ranch that says: " A good rain and a baby calf are always welcome".Ain't that the truth?
One New Years Resolution is already underway:  blog more.  Another is put more miles on the bike. Maybe pass 5000 on the odometer in 2015?

And some things remain the same: Arsenal and St. John's both start out the year with a loss.  Yet, I think 2015 will be a good year... Bhliain nua s├ísta y'all!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review: The Barber of Seville

We must be getting old.

For Missus B's birthday we decided to do something different, A Night at the Opera.  Fans of the Marx Brothers (and Queen) will realize that A Day at the Races could be next...

The Dallas Opera for its spring season was rolling out Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" (only seven performances) and a chance to see almost anything at the beautiful Winspear Opera House is not to be trivialized.  This was our first encounter with baritones, mezzo-soprano's and diva's in general and it turned out to be a wonderful evening.

 "The Barber of Seville" is as much comedy as it is opera.  Before the curtain was raised we were treated to the audio from the Warner Brothers classic The Rabbit of Seville, featuring Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Since the opera was being simulcast at Cowboy's Stadium, there were a few references throughout to football and one of the cast members even got an impromptu wave going during the intermission.

The orchestra was terrific and Nathan Gunn was excellent as Figaro.  He is blessed by a great voice and perfect comedic timing.  The role of Rosina was played by Isabel Leonard who has sung before audiences in New York and Munich.  They held the audience captive throughout the evening.

I would say we will look to go again, but stick to the major operas and pass on the lesser known "more difficult" works - you know the ones with the huge woman wearing the Viking helmet...

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Book Review - "Arsenal: The Making of a Modern Superclub" - Alex Fynn

I asked for and duly received this for Christmas.  About two-thirds of the way through reading it, I was looking through the bookshelves at home and guess what?  I found another copy!  Not only did I have it, I had already read "Arsenal: The Making of a Modern Superclub".  So either it was not very memorable first go round, or my memory is shot (after all memory is the second thing to go...).

The book is faintly memorable.  It does a fine job of digging into some of the boardroom shenanigans, especially the ouster of David Dein but sheds little light on the motives of Stan Kroenke or the other fat Russian (Arshavin was the first).  A lot of the subject matter has been well covered on the blogs such as Arseblog, A Cultured Left Foot, Arsenal News Review and the Guardian's excellent football section and is not very revealing.

I would like to have seen a little more devoted to the onfield success - what Arsenal fan cannot get enough of the Invincibles 2003-04?  But why was team broken up so quickly?  And why did Wenger take Pires off in the 2005 Champions League Final, thereby practically condemning Arsenal to a loss?

Nonetheless, it is required reading for Gooners and maybe even some ardent fans of the game would find it interesting.  I mailed my extra copy to a friend in Connecticut - a fair-weather Arsenal fan who has been making noises about transferring his allegiance to Chelsea.  I know, awful.  I am hopeful "Arsenal: The Making of a Modern Superclub" will help him keep the faith.

Grade: B-

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Book Review: Alex Ferguson - My Autobiography

If Lord Wrigley's book were one of his teams, they would be a mid-table outfit with +1 goal difference and knocked out of all the cups by the quarter finals. A bit like his early MUFC teams in fact. His autobiography is middling, not a patch on the man himself or the type of performance we came to expect from Old Trafford.  His book does him and his achievements a disservice.

Now why is a die-hard lifetime fan of the Arsenal reading the words of an avowed competitor? Ah, to beat the enemy you must know him. I expect Wenger has read Fergie's book too - but he probably got even less out of it than me.

In fairness, parts of it are very good, particularly the chapters on Keane, Beckham and the two losses to Barcelona in the Champions League Finals. The sections on the media and other managers (Wenger, The Special One etc.) are interesting and reveal the side of Fergie we want to know more about.  But not nearly enough pages devoted to his early life, his playing career (he scored a lot of goals in Scotland), his success at Aberdeen, or the first few mediocre years at Man U.

He is  too effuse in praise for Giggs, Gary Neville and Scholes. Very little about the two Champions League wins. Some good parts on the way he managed certain players, especially van Nistlerooy and Rooney... but not enough on the earlier warriors like Robson, Ince, Paul McGrath. He totally glosses over the Cantona kung fu incident and gives Rio's failed drug test too many pages. Not nearly enough info on his relationship with the Glazers. Worse is the annoying habit of claiming to have spotted every talent imaginable at the age of eight... Please.

I have nothing but admiration for what he achieved. I remember when Man U were a joke: the Tommy Doherty and Ron Atkinson years. As old Rednose wrote, they only bought players who scored against them, like Alan Brazil and Gary Birtles and won nothing of note for decades. Then starting with his first Championship win in 1992, he transformed them into a world power and took them further than Busby. But his book does not bring that forth. It was rushed and too short. With a normal size font and the last 30 pages of meaningless statistics removed, it is barely 100 pages. He only retired in May, how could his autobiography be ready by October?

I would have him training with the reserves, based on this hardly definitive effort.   A grade of "C".