Friday, January 28, 2011

Reviews: I only see movies begining with "Tr"

Tron: Legacy. Much better than expected, no fan of the original but this 2010 version was visually satisfying, but a little anemic on plot. Some cool effects, especially the young and old Jeff Bridges. And look up Michael Sheen's bio: Brian Clough, Tony Blair, Cheshire Cat and now Castor in Tron. I believe he has range. I rate it B+

True Grit. Better than advertised. I am a big Coen brothers fan and have most of their films on DVD. This one will join the collection when it is released. I enjoyed the original and was dubious about the Coen's reworking a script that was not theirs... no need to be doubtful. Their retelling is excellent. Very enjoyable, especially the language / dialog and the efforts put forth by Jeff Bridges (the man has true grit) and newcomer Hailee Steinfield as Mattie Ross. I rate it A-

The Dude abides.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Young Frankenstein - The Musical

YF TM rolled through Big D this month, with a three week stint at the most excellent of venues, the brand new Winspear Opera House. That place is freaking awesome. In some sort of weird O. Henry moment, I secretly bought two tickets for the missus and myself for Christmas; and she unbenknownst to moi, reciprocated. So we had four tickets for two different shows.

The play, for the most part, followed the 1974 movie script. It was very well done and thoroughly enjoyable but there is no stage actor who could properly do justice to Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Cloris Leachman and the inimitable, irascible Marty Feldman. That said, the actors who played Igor, Frau Blucher, Inspector Kemp / The Hermit and Inga were in top form. The sets, the effects and most of the musical numbers were very good.

All of great memorable lines were there, many audience members in convulsions even before they were spoken:

- Werewolf? There Wolf. There castle.
- Frau Blucher (Neigh)
- Put the candle back
- A glass of varm milk, perhaps?
- Stay close to the candle, these stairs can be quite treacherous
- What hump?

One low point: at intermission, some hayseed behind us referred to Gene Wilder as Gene Simmons. Sweet Lord, stay at home, rube.

There is no way the Mel Brooks play could live up to the Mel Brooks movie. The screen version is # 13 on the American Film Institute's Funniest American Movies. # 6is Blazing Saddles. Can you imagine that on Broadway? "Mongo pawn in game of life".

We have yet to see the stage adaptation of the The Producers (supposed to be great) and Spamalot got positive reviews as well.

And the extra pair if tickets you ask? Fiona and her friend Taylor went to the Sunday matinee. I stayed home and enjoyed the J.E.T.S.

Monday, January 17, 2011


About a half mile from our house, stands a Texas State Historical Marker, one of thousands of such placards scattered around the state. They commemorate events or places in Texas history, such as the Shrine of the Alamo or fierce Indian Raids. Ours is a bit mundane, it celebrates the short tenure of Jellico, a village which existed proper for about five years at the turn of the 20th century.

In 1888 a store was built by Mr. Robert Emmett Wilson on the corner of what is now FM 1709 and FM 1938. (To those not familiar with Texas roads, the FM stands for "Farm to Market").
In 1898, a post office was added and a town name was required. "Burr" was submitted and rejected, so the postmaster went with "Jellico", since a number of the locals hailed originally from Jellico, Tennessee. (As an aside, Jellico TN, is named for a type of coal found in Tennessee; the name can be traced to the Angelica plant, also abundant in TN).

Meanwhile back in Texas... The name Jellico was accepted and the town prospered in conjunction with the cotton growing industry and added a cotton gin, a blacksmith, a gristmill, a syrup press and a school. At its peak, Jellico served about about 300 people. In 1907 the price of cotton and cattle dropped and Mr. Wilson was forced to sell the gin and mill, and cattle press. He then opened a dipping vat for cattle but with the advent of the automobile, shopping became easier in the nearby communities of Keller and Grapevine and the Jellico general store ceased to be profitable. It was closed in 1912. The post office had been discontinued in 1903. The only reminder of Jellico today is a shopping center called Jellico Corners, built in 1984.

So there are the humble beginnings of Southlake. Undoubtedly, Robert Emmett Wilson was of Irish descent, named after the nationalist and martyr Robert Emmett (1778-1803).

So now when asked where do I live, it will be fun to reply "Jellico" and watch for the puzzled looks. I did not think I was the first Irishman in Southlake / Jellico and will not be the last. R.E. Wilson would no doubt be shocked to see Jellico today. The cotton fields are paved over and planted with lavish McMansions and where there was once a humble horse and cart, there now races a Starbucks-sipping Lexus-driver, late for their botox treatment.

A Dish Best Served Cold

Revenge, that is. The New York Jets played mistake-free football and beat the hated New England Patriots 28-21 yesterday. In their stadium, no less. It was payback for the 45-3 pasting the Pats gave the Jets in December. It was payback for some of the mouthing that went on during the week leading up to the game. Yes, the Jets talk a lot but so do the Pats. And why has their coach tripping incident not got the same press as the Jets? Put it down to the ESPN bias to all things New England. It was also partial payback for Mr. "I resign as HC of the NYJ".

When the Jets skidded into the playoffs, it was quickly pointed out that to get to the Super Bowl they would likely face the Colts in Indy, the Pats at Foxborough and the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Well they are two thirds of the way there.

Super Bowl XLV is here in Arlington at Jerryworld. If the Jets make it, I would be tempted to try and get a ticket but the prices would be astronomical. Besides, I did not bring the Rangers any luck in the World Series... and I would miss all the commercials.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Book Review: "In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex" by Nathaniel Philbrick

You won't see any reviews of new books here - who can afford to buy a new book? Half Price Books is one of my favorite book stores, my only gripe is the nearest one is about ten miles away.

Anyway, despite have a title that is way too long, Philbrick's account of the Essex is "whale of a tale", pun intended. In 1819, Nantucket was the whaling epicenter of the world but the Atlantic supply of sperm whales was diminished greatly. Whale oil was a valuable commodity, the fossil fuel of the times, used for lighting lamps, cooking etc. The whaleships, a bit like BP in the Gulf, were taking on more risks and heading into uncharted seas, the South Pacific. Just getting there, sailing around the Horn, was an incredible task. These were wooden sailing ships acting as factories. Catching the whale was half the job; processing, storing and transporting the oil home was the arduous and dangerous work. It took numerous whales to fill the hold full of barrels and the round trip could take more than two years.

The Essex was not the most modern in the fleet, nor was it skippered by the most experienced Captain. The voyage from Nantucket was besieged by calamity from the get-go; a gale just a few hundred miles from the Massachusetts coast almost sank the vessel. Months later, they rounded South America and headed north towards the equator. There the whaling was good but disaster struck when a protective male Sperm whale rammed the Essex and sank her. This event widely known in Nantucket circles inspired Herman Melville to pen Moby Dick. "Call me Ishmael...".

After the Essex sank, the crew of 21 took to the smaller boats that were used to pursue the whales. They were thousands of miles from South America but in actuality not more than a few hundred miles from islands that could have sustained them until rescue. The result was they predictably got separated, ran out of food and lastly fresh water. One by one they began to die off and in order to survive, the remaining sailors resorted to cannibalism. Eight ended up being rescued, the last almost six months after the Essex sank.

Philbrick's book (2001) is based on an account written by the Essex cabin boy, which was lost until 1960. "The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essexbook" is a real page turner and hard to put down. It is difficult to complain about a desk job after reading this. He gives great historical perspective on the whaling industry, the people of Nantucket, slavery, Indian relations, 19th century commerce, religion, etc. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it. I can see myself reading the book again in the future - so don't ask to borrow it - get your own copy!

Winter Weather

The northern states do not have the monopoly on frigid temperatures. Every now and then it drops below - gasp - 50F here in Big D. And the other day we got 10 inches of snow, if you measure it sideways...

Do we miss Connecticut? Yes but not in Jan and Feb when it is routine to get storms where the snowfall is measured in feet, not inches.