Wednesday, February 29, 2012

leaping into the slush

According to Wikipedia, a person born on February 29th can be referred to as a "leapling" or a "leaper".  "Leapling" sounds way cooler of the two choices, so I wish all those leaplings out there a Happy Birthday, as I did four years ago today (  ) and will again four years from now.

It's been a mostly snow-less winter here in the Twin Cities, so a couple days ago everybody was kind of excited to have a big snowstorm ("maybe 18 inches!") predicted for yesterday and today.  It turned out to be one of those enormous snowstorms that never happens.  We got a lot of rain, then a freezing rain/snow mixture, all of which added up to practically no snow accumulation and a lot of wet, icy, messy roads and sidewalks, car crashes and power outages.  A real snowstorm would have been a lot more fun.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

'the birds' is coming

Back in 1963, that was the advance tag line for the then upcoming release of Alfred Hitchcock's movie, The Birds - "The Birds is Coming!", grammatically challenging but effective.

The other night, James and I watched The Birds, which on some demented level I always enjoy, because on Thursday we're going to a stage version of The Birds at the Guthrie Theater, an American premiere. We of course are thinking, How do they do the bird scenes on stage?, the answer being that the stage version is nothing at all like the film version, even though they are supposedly based on the same Daphne duMaurier short story, and there won't be any birds on stage, just lots of suspense. Another thank-you from me to the Guthrie for the complimentary blogger tickets. We are getting a lot of theatrical variety this season.

Monday, February 27, 2012

imagining ashes on ryan seacrest's tuxedo

I'm not used to seeing the "red-carpet" shows before the Oscars, but Ruthie and Joan were there watching with me last night, so I sat through the gushing interviews until the watching finally paid off, with Sacha (Borat) Baron Cohen's stunt -- dressed as The Dictator, he dumped ashes, theoretically those of Kim Jong Il, all over Ryan Seacrest (American Idol?), one of the gushing interviewers.

Tom, who is crazy about slapstick, loved it, suggested that I post a video of that Seacrest moment today since Monday is usually my video day, but I'm not finding a good YouTube clip that doesn't have advertisements or something else annoying, so I'll skip and do a different video tomorrow instead.  If you didn't see it, you'll have to just imagine Ryan Seacrest with ashes all down the front of his tuxedo as he tries not to freak out.

When the Oscars show actually started, it was a good one, well-paced, with Billy Crystal doing his usual great job as host.  The Artist and Hugo won most of the awards, so I liked that of course.  Otherwise, the highlights of the night were the Cirque du Soleil production, Angelina Jolie's leg and Meryl Streep winning Best Actress.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

they might be shot

I'm biting my nails this afternoon, very unsettled, makes me wonder if my nerves are shot.  Little things are bothering me.  Take this laptop, for instance.  It is so slow and weird lately that at this moment I'm tempted to throw the stupid thing out the window.

The day started great, you know how I love Sunday mornings anyway.  The problem with Sunday mornings is that there are too many choices of what to do, and sometimes too many choices makes me end up doing none of them, which makes me disappointed with myself.  Today, though, wasn't like that.  I started with a workout at the gym, then coffee at the Starbucks across the street from the gym, then I went to church (Plymouth Congregational, you remember).  I ran into Lee after the service, Lee getting a mention here because he is a good friend and also a regular reader of this blog (Hi, Lee!).

This afternoon, though, is, as I say, unsettled.  Maybe too much coffee, maybe a troubling email, maybe thinking about the work I could be doing if I went to the office.  Expecting company soon for Oscar-watching.  Might need to break out the vodka soon after that.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

diverted to Iran

I wasn't able to escape to Europe yesterday, but I did manage to escape to a movie theater.

As you know, I'd already seen all the Best Picture Oscar nominees, so I picked a film that so many critics had picked for their 2011 Top Ten and yet wasn't nominated.  It should have been.  It is way better than the nominees.

A Separation is an Iranian film in Persian language with English subtitles.  It is nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and also for Best Original Screenplay.  It could easily win both awards.

The story centers around two families in present-day Iran.  It sort of lightly touches on some current political and religious aspects of Iranian life, but mostly it's an engrossing story about universal family and relationship issues.  At a time when so many political leaders are calling for bombing the heck out of Iran, sort of an Iraq-revisited -- again the "weapons of mass destruction" excuse -- and generally making all Iranian people into something evil, it's good to see the other Iran produce the most human film of the year.

Friday, February 24, 2012

escaping from stupid quotes, for one thing

Today as I work, I'm listening on my computer to a Sirius radio channel called "Escape"... and maybe it's because thoughts of Escape sounds particularly good today.

Where would I escape to if I could?  How about this?  -- catching tonight's non-stop flight from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Amsterdam?  After lingering in Amsterdam (my favorite city) for a few days, maybe some meandering through Europe with just a backpack, hopping trains to wherever I felt like going?  Stopping to see my friend Elke in Germany, skipping down to Italy, then back up through Spain and France, doing some writing in Paris?

It's nice to know Europe is there, if I could just somehow find my way back there.

Oh! -- and I just ran across this quote, made somewhere, sometime, by Mitt Romney:  "I want you to remember when our White House reflected the best of who we are, not the worst of what Europe has become."

Such talk, in its abject ignorance, reflects the worst of American has become.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

competing with regis

A quote from a Golden Girls episode:
ROSE (Betty White):  I'm the most boring person on earth!
SOPHIA (Estelle Getty):  Did something happen to Regis Philbin??
Today at the office we ordered a couple of pizzas for lunch.  That led to a discussion of whether my wanting one of them to be a plain cheese pizza (or, in my generous spirit of compromise, maybe with just some sausage or pepperoni) instead of both of them having tons of olives, green peppers, onions, and all that other crap made me a boring person.  It didn't help my case when I admitted that I also prefer plain potato chips to any of other snack and that my favorite ice cream flavor is vanilla.

But me boring?  HA! The true connoisseurs of pizza, chips and ice cream are right here in my corner.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Howard ranks the Oscar nominees

The Academy Awards are Sunday night, and I continued my tradition of seeing all the Best Picture nominees before the show, which means cramming a lot of movies into February.  Thanks goodness there were no insufferable nominees (think: Saving Private Ryan) this year.  Here, in my cinematically uneducated style, is how I would rank this year's choices, from "Most deserving to win the Best Picture Oscar" to "Lesser deserving."

1.  Hugo.  Okay, call me sappy, but I think this is a terrific movie, 3D or not.  Martin Scorcese shows that he is a superior director no matter what kind of movie he makes.
2.  The Artist.  I admit that I've gone back and forth on this, and maybe tomorrow I would have picked The Artist as #1.  It's the most innovative of the nine nomineees, and it showed that a silent, black-and-white film can be very entertaining in the 21st Century.  The dog steals the movie.
3.  Midnight in Paris.  If you don't know who Hemingway and Fitzgerald and the other writers and artists in 1920s Paris were, you might be lost, but I hope that my blog readers do know who they were.  Woody Allen should get a Best Screenplay award.
4.  The Help.  Good book, good movie, my main complaint being that some of the characterizations, especially those of the white bigots, are just too cardboard, too stereotypical.  Octavia Spencer will win Best Supporting Actress.
5.  The Descendents.  This is a fine, solid movie, and with Hawaii and George Clooney, how can you go wrong?  Overall, though, I don't think it's a remarkable enough film to be a Best Picture.
6.  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  I liked this film way more than I thought I would.  I think it would have been better with an actor other than Tom Hanks as the dad who dies on 9/11 -- he just never stopped being Tom Hanks.
7.  Moneyball.  Baseball, the Oakland A's with a tiny payroll, Brad Pitt.  It's a fun David-vs.-Goliath flick.
8.  War Horse.  Spielberg, please stop using that uplifting, manipulating John Williams music in your films!  It's so distracting and irritating!  Very real-feeling World-War-1-in-the-trenches scenes.  Loved the horse.
9.  The Tree of Life.  It's one of those movies where you get to the end and say to yourself, "What the heck was that about??"  It maybe deserves a Best Cinematography award, though.

That's it from here.  Please watch the show Sunday night so that I have somebody to chat with next Monday.  It's okay to skip the red-carpet pre-show though, which gets more annoying by the year.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

whether to spend money on a future madonna

When he was cutting my hair today, Brian asked me if I'm going to the Madonna concert.  I guess he and his partner and planning to go.

'Told him my sister and my niece have been sort of trying to talk me into going with them and I'm on the fence.  I like Madonna okay, who wouldn't?  A lot of her '80s music still sounds good and so does her 2005 album Confessions on a Dance Floor.  You know this concert will sell out, it will be a happening event.

But I'm such a spontaneous person, and here's the deal:  Tickets go on sale this month -- very soon, I assume -- and the concert is not until November!  It kinda gives me the shakes to plan that far ahead.  Help me out with this.

Monday, February 20, 2012

and the oscar goes to -- #3

The Oscars will be on next Sunday (finally, I know you are thinking), so this will be my last prior-year Oscar program clip for awhile. This is 1965, the awards for the years 1964: Bob Hope is the host, Sidney Poitier is the presenter, and Best Actress Julie Andrews' speech is very Julie Andrews.

Also, today is Presidents' Day, and I thought about saying something about that but I knew I couldn't top last year's Presidents' Day post, so here it is, if you want to see it again:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

extremely, incredibly

I try to avoid going to a movie in an outer-ring suburb, but we waited too long and that's the only place we could find Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close still playing, so we put up with young airheads as they moseyed through the cineplex and as they noisily moved from movie to movie obviously doing anything to get a little attention.  Remind me next time to get to a movie before it gets lost out there in oblivion.

But Ruthie and I were able to talk Tom and Joan into going with us, so we had a good time.  The movie, based on the Jonathan Safran Foer novel that I read several years ago and mostly forgot about, was better than I was expecting, the main weakness, in my uneducated mind, being that Tom Hanks was playing the part of the father who died on 9/11.  I don't mind Tom Hanks generally, but in this film he just never stopped being Tom Hanks, and that was a distraction from the story.  The character should have been played by an unknown actor.

And now I've seen all nine of the Best Picture Oscar nominees, my goal.  In a couple days, I'll rank them for you, "most deserving" of the Oscar to "least deserving".  I know you're waiting with bated breath.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

the anti-contraceptive people

The Presidential campaign is getting more stupid by the day.  As the Republican candidates try to out-conservative each other, they have become obsessed about the "evils" of birth control and family planning.  To them, the part of the Obama health care law that more or less mandates health care plans to cover birth control options shows that he is anti-religion, anti-Catholic, certainly anti-family.

Never mind that, even among Catholics, polls show that 98% of sexually active Catholic women in the U.S. have used birth control methods banned by the Catholic Church -- rules made by theoretically celibate men, of course.  And, if they are using the Genesis legend as their reason for such oppressive beliefs -- God telling Adam and Eve to "be fruitful and multiply" -- consider that there were only two people then, now there are more than 7 billion.  Maybe they were a little too fruitful.

Rick Santorum, somehow a serious candidate for President, has said that sexual intercourse should only be for the intent of procreation.  Newt Gingrich says that Obama has declared war on the Catholic Church (I wonder if any of Gingrich's mistresses ever used birth control!).  What an embarrassment for this country that such talk is not laughed off the national stage.  I  miss the days when phrases like "population explosion" and "zero population growth" were part of a more intelligent dialogue.

Friday, February 17, 2012

a place where you can't blame the liquor

Hey there.  Hard to believe, but I took a day off, maybe to re-group (this was supposed to be my cruise week, you know), and am here at Mystic Lake Casino.  I used one of my free hotel nights, and it's only a half hour or so from home and a decent short getaway.  Work-wise, I'll make up for it over the weekend.

Mystic Lake has become quite a sprawling complex, and I like it even though it has a lot of slot machines that are too complicated for me to understand, so I mostly avoid them, which is a probably a good thing.  The hotel rooms are nice.  What is weird about Mystic Lake is that it is a totally alcohol-free facility -- booze isn't even allowed in the hotel rooms.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't alcohol-free gambling not what nature intended gambling to be?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

madness continues

My month of seeing the Oscar nominees for Best Picture before the February 26th Academy Awards is going by quickly.  Out of the nine nominated films, I have just one more to see -- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close -- and I'm just waiting for my niece Ruthie, who is currently sick as a dog, to be able to leave her sick bed long enough to go to the movies with me.  If she isn't well by this weekend, she might have to wait for this movie to come out on DVD!  Not sure that I want her hacking her brains out in the seat next to me anyway, now that I think about it.. j/k, Ruthie!  :-)

I saw a good little film the other evening -- Beginners, starring Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer -- about a man who "comes out of the closet" at age 75.  Christopher Plummer will certainly get my "vote" for Best Supporting Actor as the fun-loving late bloomer.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

facebook as a weapon

There are many good things about having Facebook -- hooking up with people you haven't seen in forty years, for instance -- and there are just as many bad things.  You've read about the cyber-bullying and all that extreme abuse.  But there is also the personal contact that Facebook replaces, the way people can use it to hurt each other, and the way bad news is often transmitted these days.  People find reasons to "de-friend" each other or leave Facebook, offending in ways that didn't use to be possible.  I sometimes wonder if Facebook has peaked.  As soon as somebody gets pissed enough, they drop out, and, the way things are going, we will get all get pissed enough eventually.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

eli's coming

Jerry picked me up for lunch today, and we decided to try the new Eli's restaurant ( across the river.  For the past two or three years, the original Eli's, located just two blocks from the condo, has been our go-to place to eat when we can't think of anywhere else to go, and it seems to be the most popular small casual-eating place in the neighborhood.

I'm sure it was a big decision for them to open a second location, but sometimes ya gotta take a chance.  The new place has a cool feel (not as cool as the original, though), same good menu and food... a fine place to hang out and chat about life...

Monday, February 13, 2012

and the oscar goes to -- #2

It's April 1968, the Oscars for 1967 films. The show took place on April 10, postponed at the last minute from April 8 because of the assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4. I was very into movies that year and it was just a couple weeks before I, the unwilling draftee, was inducted into the Army to be transformed into a killing machine.

In the Best Actor category, I was hoping for Dustin Hoffman to win for The Graduate, my second choice being Warren Beatty for Bonnie and Clyde. Rod Steiger was great in In the Heat of the Night, so it shouldn't have been surprising for me that he won, but I was anyway.

Audrey Hepburn is the presenter, cool as always.

[Click on YouTube, then come back to me]

Sunday, February 12, 2012

events at target center

Last night, Tom and I were at Target Center, a few blocks from home in downtown Minneapolis, for the Timberwolves/New York Knicks game.  The sports figure of the moment (this month's Tim Tebow) is Jeremy Lin of the Knicks, and he wasn't overly impressive in this game but the Knicks won anyway as the Wolves collapsed in the fourth quarter.  This is life as you know it, if you are a Wolves fan.

And this is how people communicate in 2012:  I was checking out Facebook on my Blackberry occasionally during the game, and friends' posts kept popping up saying that Whitney Houston was dead.  These days, rumors like that travel fast in the cyber world and are usually wrong.  This one was right.

Whitney Houston's peak was in the '80s and the early '90s, and she was a superstar.  After that, she became a tabloid tragedy and a lost soul.

And, as I sat there in Target Center digesting all this, I remembered that my sister Joan had brought me to a Whitney concert right there in that arena, and we sat not far from where my Wolves tickets are, just a few feet away.  It was in the early '90s, the "I'm Your Baby Tonight" World Tour.  I wasn't the biggest fan, but her concert was enjoyable and I recognized the power of her voice. Her style was just not my style.  My style would have been more the style of Whitney's mom, singer Cissy Houston, or Whitney's cousin, Dionne Warwick -- all their '60s work.

What a sad story.  How devastating it must be for her family.  And for her fans, who haven't forgotten her.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

number seven hundred

Today I join The 700 Club.  Not -- God forbid! -- Pat Robertson's 700 Club.  This is my 700th blog post, and I would think that makes me part of just a very small group:  those who don't give up on their blog merely because they run out of ideas!  Heck, if I stopped blogging when I ran out of ideas, I wonder when that would have been??  :-)

It's a work day Saturday, and, as I work, I am listening to the '70s station on Sirius Radio's website, at the moment re-broadcasting Casey Kasem's American Top 40 Countdown from February 9, 1974.  As I listen, I'm hearing some songs I never heard before (that never made it into the Top 30, probably)  and some songs that should have been forgotten... and some songs that are fun to hear again.  This was the era of Elton John in his prime, and I was at that moment fanatical over his album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. A month later, my son Jon was born, and my priorities, well, made an adjustment.
At the end of the Countdown:  #1 was "Love's Theme" by the Love Unlimited Orchestra; #2 was "The Way We Were" by Barbra Streisand.

Friday, February 10, 2012

how howard is doing

I had an email from a good friend of mine this morning, saying that she reads my blog daily... "so I have a picture of WHAT you are doing, but I sure am wondering HOW things are going for you..."

For anybody else wondering the HOW, let me assure you that I'm fine.  I'm hoping that the changes at home are temporary and that Jerry will be back soon and everything will be hunky-dory, but I also recognize that it might not happen.

What I'm noticing in myself these weeks is that I at times have been extremely hyper... too much coffee, too many working hours, and maybe a suppressed anxiety.  I have become more productive in the office than I have been in years -- sort of an Energizer Bunny -- which is a good by-product of all this from a business perspective, as long as I don't stroke out!

My blog is my ten-minute-a-day moment away from reality, a daydream into the alternative crevices of my brain, and therefore not terribly helpful for gauging my real-life mental geography.  But know I am well and grateful for those people who care about me.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

meaningless get-togethers

I'm amused that Mitt Romney did so poorly in the Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado caucuses this past Tuesday.

He doesn't do well in caucus states, and I think there's a reason for that.  My experience with caucuses here in Minnesota is that the people who are driven by an agenda or some sort of passion are the ones that show up on caucus night.  A caucus is not representative of the voting populace.

And most Romney supporters feel no passion for him.  They have no reason to take two or three hours out of a winter evening to go sit in a room listening to their neighbors vent when it just leads to a non-binding straw poll where they vote for a candidate they are only lukewarm about.  The Rick Santorum supporters at least feel passion, not for Santorum himself but for his message of bigotry and exclusivity.

Romney will be glad to get back to the primary-election states, where less effort will be required by his supporters, and, let's face it, he probably doesn't have many real supporters:  they are just voting against the other wacko candidates.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

judy, what were you thinking??

 To tell the truth, I wasn't particularly in the mood to go to the theater last night, but I had these tickets and, well, you know...  But I was lucky enough to get my niece Ruthie to go with me, and doing something with Ruthie is always an momentary-crisis adventure that somehow ends in laughs:  her losing her driver's license in the lobby, losing her debit card under the seats in front of us, that sort of thing...

But how quickly I got in the mood!  The play is End of the Rainbow, and it turned out to be one of the best shows I've ever seen at the Guthrie.  The Guthrie is the venue for the American premiere of the play, which started with a successful run in London.  From Minneapolis, it moves on to Broadway.

End of the Rainbow is about Judy Garland in 1968, the last year of her life, when she is a drunk, drugged-up, foul-mouthed emotional disaster, when she is making an extended appearance at the Talk of the Town club in London.  The set goes back and forth (very effectively) between her London hotel suite and the stage at the Talk of the Town.  The most amazing part of the show, as you will also be saying afterwards if you go to this play, is Tracie Bennett as Judy.  First of all, she is a convincing Judy Garland, but you will be in awe at the sheer energy it must take to play this manic role night after night.  She is on stage for practically the whole two hours, and none of that time is restful.  How she cannot be totally exhausted after each performance is beyond my imagination.  Or maybe she is.

Highly recommended! This is a hot show, man!

After we double-checked to make sure Ruthie had all her belongings, we went back out into the chilly night.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

the head stomp

Oh damn.  Kevin Love has been suspended for two games merely for stomping on Houston Rockets player Luis Scola's head.  What's funny is that Tom and I were at that Wolves game last Saturday night and had no idea it happened.  Ah, the magic of instant replay!

Monday, February 6, 2012

and the oscar goes to -- #1

OK, the Oscar month thing again. Here is a flashback to a previous Academy Award program, in 1988, when Cher won Best Actress for Moonstruck, which, coincidentally, is my favorite movie. Her dress is awful and her speech is lame, but, considering that is Cher of all people (!) winning an Oscar, it was definitely a memorable moment. You also get to see Chastity in the audience still being a girl!
Sorry if you get re-directed to YouTube to watch this.  Please come back after that.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

mid-winter sports update

It's Super Bowl Sunday, and is it just me, or is everybody other than Giants and Patriots fans thinking, Who cares?  You might be having a party and consuming obscene amounts of alcohol and Doritos, but for me it's going to be an evening of doing something else.  You know I usually love football, but it was a dreary season, very unexciting, and I feel no remorse over it ending.

But moving onto basketball --  I am back into the Minnesota Timberwolves in a big way.  The season got off to a late start because of a lockout by the team owners, but the Wolves, thanks to Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love, are so much fun to watch that I have been making the best of my season tickets.  This says something about the low expectations of Timberwolves fans, but we are very excited that they are at .500 -- a 12-12 record, which might not sound that great to you, but consider that their record last year was something like 16-64, the worst in the league.

Hockey?  Locally, the Minnesota Wild got off to a great start early in the season but have mostly collapsed since then.

Skiing?  Snowmobiling?  With no snow, it has been a bad winter for those folks.  As for the rest of us, we're thinking, Hey, baseball spring training starts next month!

But, anyway, if you watch, enjoy the Super Bowl.  At least you get to see Madonna at half time.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

bug shows

I had dinner with my son Jon last night (at Hell's Kitchen, in downtown Minneapolis), then he came over to my place.

And it's not like Jon and me to sit there and watch TV, but the TV was on and we somehow gravitated to the high-number HD cable channels, those channels that I don't really even know exist.  And it was eye-opening.

There are some weird networks out there, dude.  We found ourselves flipping back and forth between the Animal Planet and the Science Network -- shows with names like "Monster Bug Wars", "Killer Ants", "Animal Hoarders" and "Infested."  It was strange, seeing thousands of killer bugs in High-Definition ripping apart other animals or infesting homes, yet we couldn't look away either.  There's a world out there that I don't know about, and maybe thats okay!

I say to Jon, "How can there even be people who watch this stuff?"  And he responds, "Hey, if there are people who watch the Kardashians, then there are people who will watch anything!"

Friday, February 3, 2012

today's decision

This morning someone told me that he had once been advised by a therapist, "When you wake up in the morning, you make a decision about whether to love that person in your life."  And somehow that made sense to him.

And I'm thinking, what hogwash.  Where is the passion in that?  Love isn't a mental decision, is it?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

resisting fear of my shadow

I don't know yet what happened with that groundhog in Punxsutauney, Pennsylvania this morning, but Groundhog Day here in Minneapolis, in the middle of this freakishly warm winter, is dark and foggy, in a sort of Wuthering Heights sort of way.

...Which means that I didn't get scared by my shadow and didn't go scurrying back into my burrow for another six weeks of winter.

...Which is good because I don't feel like hibernating right now.  There is too much fun stuff to do here above ground.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

movie madness 2012

(.. or maybe it's just plain ordinary madness...)

Sorry, long-suffering blog readers of mine, but it is February once again, which means that the Academy Awards are coming up at the end of the month and I have that odd tradition of making sure I see all of the Best Picture Oscar nominees, which means that I end up cramming a bunch of films into the month of February.

This year there are nine Best Picture nominees, and I've so far seen four of them:  Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen), The Artist, The Help, and Moneyball (Brad Pitt).

The five I plan on seeing before February 26: Hugo (Martin Scorcese in 3D), The Descendents (George Clooney), Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, War Horse (Spielberg), The Tree of Life.

So pardon me as I make much ado about nothing, and fair warning:  I might hit on one or two of you good people to see a couple of these shows with me.