Sunday, April 30, 2006

Broken Flowers

In 8th grade I stood up a girl for the Christmas Dance. Or the Spring Formal, or some such ritual where kids dress up, get together and awkwardly learn about the opposite sex while trying to maintain their own personal dignities.

I didn't stand this girl up on purpose; I asked her to the dance the day of the event (after weeks of working up the nerve), and when I arrived home from school that Friday and announced my intentions, my mom reminded me I had nothing formal to wear. This being central West Virginia circa 1979, there were no real options for finding a suit at 5pm on a Friday. And when I called my classmate to tell her the news...she didn't answer the phone. Ever. The phone just rang, all evening.

She went to the dance, I didn't. Short story is, Martha hated my guts throughout junior and senior high, and never forgave me for my stupidity. I apologized often, after which she always-- politely-- reminded me that I was the single most selfish, vain boy she had ever met.


I have lots of regrets, but this one is at the top of my list. For years, I've wanted to track Martha down and tell her just once more that I am sorry, and ask her forgiveness. I don't, because I presume she would find it childish and a little too 12-step-ish. But, I wish I had the nerve.

Broken Flowers reminded me of this life event. Bill Murray plays Don Johnston, an over-the-hill Don Juan type who discovers he may have a son from a fling that occurred 20 years ago. Problem is, the handwritten note informing him of this possibility is unsigned, so Don has to visit five long-lost loves to determine if the son he may have is real or not.

Broken Flowers is a nice, slow-paced film that reminds us that most of the decisions we make effect our lives at some point, even several years down the road. Reflecting on past actions and decisions is healthy. Being reminded of memories and regrets from the past serves us by keeping us connected with others, thus helping us stay more attuned to the present.

Bill Murray's acting in this movie was touted by critics, but I think it was too similar to his work in Lost In Translation. Still, the message of Broken Flowers is something that should be familiar to many. The film is a good rental for a rainy Saturday night. **

Lucky Number Sleven

Kudos to my friend Bobby for dragging me out of the house Saturday on short notice to see a movie I hadn't heard much about.

Lucky Number Sleven
is difficult to write about, because too much information might easily give away some of the many plot twists and turns that make this film unique, and fun. Part The Game, part Magnolia (or Lost, or any film or TV show that connects characters in a way the audience has to figure out) and part Pulp Fiction, Lucky Number Sleven is an exciting and interesting ride from the opening credits forward. The film boasts funny, smart dialogue and great acting from a stellar cast, including Morgan Freeman, Sir Ben Kingsly, Bruce Willis and Lucy Liu. Josh Hartnett stars in Sleven, and delivers a breakout performance.

Double Kudos to Bobby for finding this film in the downtown Cinemas, where the admission is only $3. Great movie for a great price! Highly recommended, as this may be one of the best thrillers I've seen in a long while. ***1/2

Friday, April 28, 2006

The View Just Changed

Extra and AOL Entertainment are reporting that Rosie O'Donnell will replace Meredith Vieira on The View. A formal announcement is expected later today, and Rosie is slated to take her seat in late September.

I catch a lot of grief from my testosterone-charged buddies about how much I enjoy The View. I love the show. Star Jones is fun to hate, Joy Baher is a hoot and that former Survivor chick is cute and perky. But, I had such a crush on Meredith...She is smart and attractive and has great hair. Sigh...

Rosie may be funny, but I'm not excited about the change on The View. Guess I'll have to begin TiVoing Regis.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Allium Tricoccum (A Ramp By Any Other Name)

While growing up in the central mountains of WV during the late 70s and early 80s, ramps were a staple on my family's dinner table. The smell was awful, but the wild leek was so full of flavor and tasty that we tolerated the smell each Spring.

Each April our family --including my grandfather, who has since died--walked into the mountains to dig ramps. It was always so much fun; the crisp Spring weather, the mountain beauty and family made the trips much more than just a ramp dig. At the end of the day we would often have bushels of the stuff to clean and cook that night. I haven't eaten ramps since I was 15 years old or so (not-so-coincidentally, the same year I became really serious about girls), but each Spring I become nolstalgic about the plant.

(Or about the memories I have about the people and events surrounding it.)

UPDATE: My thanks to friends Bill and Becky, who supplied me with some ramps this weekend. I risked life and limb Saturday morning by frying the ramps with some bacon and scrambled eggs. My daughter and I were the only ones who would eat them, but they were fabulous! Just as I remembered.

Ramps are terrific simply fried, but here is a more upscale recipe some might like that I found on the 'net:

Salmon Filets for four people (about 2 lbs, preferably skinned)
Juice of half an orange or a few tlbs of bottled OJ
1/3 cup fresh Leek greens sliced across in 3/4 inch strips
1/2 clove of finely chopped garlic
1/2 to 3/4 lb of fresh wild mushrooms or and ounce of dry mushrooms. This recipe is unbelievable with Black Trumpets though Chanterelles or any True Morels work too.
1/2 cup of white wine
1/2 cup of vegetable or fish broth
1/4 cup of heavy cream (or half and half will do)
1/2 a stick of butter

Put the Salmon on a plate and cover with the orange juice.
Sprinkle with salt and set aside.
If using dry mushrooms reconstitute them by warming them in a pan with the wine for five minutes (or longer depending on the mushrooms). If you get to a boil turn it down to low and simmer. Set them aside and consider straining the wine if the mushrooms were gritty. Chop the mushrooms to bite size. Melt the butter and add the garlic for a few seconds then the mushrooms. When the mushrooms are cooked stir in the leek greens until wilted and dark green. Then add the stock and wine and reduce by half. Butter and broil your fish while reducing the sauce. When reduced add the cream and season with salt and fresh ground black pepper. Spoon the mushrooms onto plates and place the fish on top. Garnish with finely cut leek greens and or orange zest. Serve with Asparagus and roasted potatoes.

Fortune Cookie Wisdom: Part 3

Newest clue from the All You Can Eat Buffet:

"The greatest risk is not taking one."

To test that maxim, I'm having only four cups of coffee today. May God smile on my co-workers, folks who may really be taking a great risk speaking to me while I go through caffeine withdrawal.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


Generally, I'm not a fan of war movies. The John Wayne soldier flicks and similar movies from decades ago never appealed to me, primarily because the seemed to have too simplistic a perspective of war. Aside from Platoon and Full Metal Jacket--two movies that delved deep into the psychological trauma of war--I can't recall a war film I've liked.

Jarhead has been collecting dust atop my DVD player for a week or so, primarily because I had little interest in seeing it. I skipped many of the reviews when it opened, so I had little idea what to expect. Figuring Jarhead was Donnie Darko in a Marine uniform, I avoided the movie until I had nothing left to entertain me this weekend.

I'm sorry I waited.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Anthony Swofford, a young marine who finds himself fighting in the Gulf War soon after enlisting. Swofford comes from a dysfunctional family, and enlists mostly because he has few other options. Desperate to belong to something, Swofford soon discovers that the present day Corps is disorganized, outdated and nearly irrelevant. He and his fellow jarheads spend months in the desert waiting for instructions that will activate their unit; each marine kills time the best way he can, as each tries to stay focused on goals and their inter-unit bond. In the end, Swofford seems to recognize that the Marine Corps. he thought he was enlisting in is really a myth.

Jarhead can't really be categorized as a war movie. The movie pulls back the curtain on the military lifestyle, but the film could be about corporate America, politics, organized religion or many other societal constructs that is more legend these days than substance. I'm glad I finally saw it. You should too. ***

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Walk The Line

I was so excited to find the red Netflix envelope containing Walk The Line in my mailbox late last week. I really enjoy the work of Joaquin Phoenix, and I was eager to see Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon in her break-out dramatic role. Mostly, though, I was interested in learning more about the life of Johnny Cash. I knew his 'Man in Black' image and some of his music, but I knew little about who he was as a person.

What I did know consisted of a comic book I remember reading in the mid-70s, designed to teach kids to stay away from drugs. As I recall, the comic contained stories of how drugs ruined the lives of Cash, some Dallas Cowboy players and an actor or two. (I remember reading it as I was drying corn silk, which I would later roll up into faux smokes.)

Walk The Line does a nice job of revealing the evolving relationship between Cash and June Carter. Phoenix is wonderful as Cash, portraying him in a very honest and transparent way. Witherspoon is believable in her supporting role, and made the movie really enjoyable. The character (and June Carter too, I think) would be much less likeable without her humorous and generous personality. But, the best part of the film to me is the first 15 minutes, when you are given insight into the reasons for Cash's intense need for success, and for his pervasive insecurity. For me, this was by far the most interesting part of the movie.

Overall, a fine film with terrific acting. Check it out yourownself. ***

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Priceless !!

The Film Geek's wife, talking with actor Matthew McConaughey about her husband's blog...

The Geek's daughter, trying to stay away from home and her Dad for as long as possible...

The Geek's daughter, doing her best impression of her Daddy...

The Geek's son, after being told he should dress more like Dad!

Selling Your Soul For Power: Part 2

From CNN.Com:"I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation. But I'm the decider, and I decide what is best. "

There is little correlation between (1) being in a decision-making position, and (2) having the cognitive ability to make decisions, with (3)making sound, well-thought-out decisions. If you don't believe me, check the outcomes on these no-brainers: the quick decision to go to war with Iraq; the decisions made regarding political appointments; the decision to ignore the effects of Katrina; the decision to continue reading The Pet Goat while Americans were under attack; the decision to continue using folksy, down-home style language (see "nu-cu-lar') even after White House polishers have tried to spit shine his personality.

"But I'm the decider, and I decide what is best."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Selling Your Soul For Fame: Part 1

From PeopleNews:Tom[Kat]says: 'We're Just Scientologists'

Yeah...And it just so happens that you are preparing to release a movie too, in just a few short weeks.

Call me jaded if you like, but if a guy proposes at the Eiffel Tower, tells his love story on Oprah and dispenses psychiatric advice on the Today Show during a flurry of movie press stops, he would be freaky enough to plan his child's birth around the time of his newest movie release.

Monday, April 17, 2006

5 Films That Changed My Life

I've never been good at recreational entertainment. By that, I mean that I've never enjoyed watching movies, reading or listening to music just for the pure enjoyment of the experience. I need to be moved; to have my beliefs and attitudes challenged.

It's a character flaw, I'm sure, but that's me. I get bored easily...

The Easter/Passover celebrations have me highly reflective, and so I've created a list of the top 5 films that changed my life. Some of the changes were subtle, while others were significant and obvious. In no particular order, my Top 5 are:

1. Schindler's List: 1993. Spielberg's film was dramatic, sure. But for me at least, the power of this film was in it's revelation that the world could be saved (or improved upon) one life at a time. The poignant scene where Schindler realizes this (the scene involving the only color in the film, the young girl with the red coat)is awe-inspiring;

2. The Caine Mutiny: 1954. Humphrey Bogart is brilliant as Commander Queeg, the Naval officer who spirals into mental instability during the course of the film. As I watch Mutiny, I feel claustrophobic, and can sense Queeg's anxiety. The Caine Mutiny likely played a role in my choice of career, and gave me incredible insight into the frailty of humanity;

3. Brokeback Mountain: 2005. I predict that 50 years from now, Brokeback Mountain will be considered a classic film that influenced American acceptance of homosexuality. The film's greatness is in the development of likeable, decent characters who are like many people we already know. The movie moved me intellectually and emotionally;

4. Lost In America: 1985. In the mid-80's I had little idea what I wanted to do with my life, or how I would approach middle age. Albert Brooks' comedy made me begin contemplating these things in greater detail, and with a sense of humor;

5. The Last Temptation of Christ: 1988. Temptation allowed me to remove the legalistic and paternalistic view I had of God, and replace it with a deity that was more thoughtful and selfless. The film provided me a stepping stone toward faith, something I lacked sorely before seeing the movie.

That's my Top 5. What are yours?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

What Would Jesus Do?

Because of the Easter celebration, America Online's Entertainment section is running an interesting article on the various actors who have portrayed Jesus in film. James Caviezal, Christian Bale and even Will Ferrell have portrayed J.C. in films released during the last ten years.

My favorite Jesus, though, is Willem Dafoe, who embodied Jesus in the 1988 epic The Last Temptation of Christ. Based on the riveting novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation depicted a very human Jesus; a man who struggled with guilt, anxiety and selfishness while trying to decide if he could go forward with God's divine plan. Dafoe brings a vulnerability to Jesus that makes the character's final decision--to ignore the temptation, and continue his sacrifice for mankind--that much more powerful.

I'm not sold on the idea that the Easter legend is true. But I do love the story. I don't know about you, but I like my Jesus conflicted and reflective. It makes his crucifixion more passionate, more selfless. Son of God or not, that kind of passion and selflessness is needed more these days than ever before.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

King Kong vs. Seperate Lies

Had the chance to see King Kong this weekend, and wish I hadn't. It was everything I hoped it would not be: overly long, pretentious and self-indulgent. Or, maybe I just couldn't get past the idea of a giant gorilla...

On the flip side, check out Seperate Lies. This film boasts terrific acting, smart dialogue, a character driven story and plot twists that are both integral to the story and believable. Tom Wilkinson is great in the lead, as always.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Guest Geek Tells All

My friend Cara serves as guest Film Geek today, and writes the following:

"I went downtown yesterday evening to watch some of the filming of the
"We Are Marshall" movie. The first scene I watched was of a young black
man walking out of the Arcade building (a young black man in tight, baby
blue pants and an afro!). He stops when something in the newspaper
machine catches his eye. He stops at the machine, bends down and reads
the paper inquisitively. After which, he stands and shakes his head and
walks on. I can only imagine that this scene will depict someone
stopping to read the news of the crash.

Then I watched as Anthony Mackie (the actor playing Nate Ruffin) and
another young man rehearsed their scene of "going to the movies". For
those who may not know the whole story, Nate Ruffin was a Marshall
University football player who missed the trip to East Carolina
University due to a broken arm. Ruffin and a friend went to see a movie
at the Keith Albee that night (according to the Keith Albee marquee the
movie is "Kelly's Heroes"), and that is where he learned of the crash.
Apparently they rehearsed this scene in the early evening and then
actually shot it later in the night. Many of the store fronts along 4th
Avenue have been transformed to portray the look of 1970. There is a
furniture store with a mock living room set up in the front window (it
is very bright!). Next to the furniture store is a shoe store, and then
a hat shop. They all look very authentic, as well as the old Frederick
Hotel and the Keith Albee building. These two buildings have had a lot
of work in the past few weeks in order to restore their outward

The next scene was one that caught me off guard. Several blocks of 4th
Avenue had been sprayed down to give the look of the harsh rain that had
just fallen on the night of Nov. 14, 1970. I stood on the sidewalk of
4th avenue and watched as 2 fire trucks, 2 ambulances, and 1 police car
raced down the street... imaginably on their way to the crash site.
According to a movie staff person standing nearby, a few of those
vehicles were actually driven the night of the crash. Intermingled with
the emergency vehicles were random 70s-style cars.

Watching this scene was never "Hollywood" to me. It was as if I WAS
standing on that sidewalk in 1970. I WAS watching police and
firefighters approach a scene that would change their lives forever.
All of a sudden the excitement of "making a movie" was not what people
were thinking about. The streets were lined with people watching the
filming (at a short distance away in order to not be in the shot), as
well as approximately 50-60 production staff but there was an
unexplainable silence. The only sounds were the roar of the old
engines of the trucks and the whistles on the emergency vehicles.

When I left at approximately 11pm last night there were still people
showing up to watch the filming of this scene. I watched as an older
man stood with what I imagine to be his grandson and pointed to the old
cars. I wondered what he was telling him.

I think maybe I should stay away from the set for a while! It's a bit
too emotional for me. "

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Set

My mother-in-law was invited to participate as an extra in a pretty dramatic scene for the film We Are...Marshall last week. She was instructed to report first to the wardrobe department to be fitted into clothes from the Brady Bunch era, then head to make-up after that.

When she reported to wardrobe, the following conversation took place:

Wardrobe coordinator: "Follow me, I'll take you over to make-up."

Mother-in-law: "OK. But I was told I needed to report to wardrobe to change into 70's clothing first."

Wardrobe coordinator: "Oh. I thought you had already been fitted."

After a short but awkward pause, my mother-in-law realized the wardrobe guy thought her outfit was already retro. Ouch...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Walking Around With A Goofy Grin

Add this to my list of things that make me happy: Medium spaghetti, rolls, and a basic salad with oil and vinegar at Jim's Steak and Spaghetti House. Extra happiness quotient added when I sit in the JFK booth.

Doesn't get a whole lot better than today so far.

The Tangled Web

From today's Charleston Gazette-Mail:

Bush defends release of intelligence information
President says reports of planning for attack on Iran ‘wild speculation’
WASHINGTON — President Bush acknowledged Monday that he authorized the selective declassification of portions of a highly classified intelligence report in an effort to rebut critics who said the White House had manipulated intelligence to justify going to war against Iraq.

In other words, Bush manipulated classified information in order to justify his earlier manipulation of information used to start the war in Iraq...

...What a disgrace.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Cinderella Man

My grandfather was an unusual man. I always thought that growing up during the Great Depression shaped many of his rather peculiar habits. He rarely made large financial purchases, and never seemed to throw away anything, even if it was broken. He figured something else would break later on, and he could salvage the parts from one thing to help fix the other. He grew lots of vegetables in large gardens that produced more than our family could consume. And he wore a hideous, strange hat that was an embarrassment to the family. (Although I'm certain that had little to do with the Great Depression.)

One of the oddest things about him, though, was that he often ate a snack of crumbled bread in milk. White bread, cornbread, whatever...Papa crumbled it into a bowl or glass of milk and ate the stuff as if it was a delicacy. It didn't taste very good, and as a kid I always tried to figure out why he ate it. As an adult I realize the answer: (1) it was nutritious, and (2) it was available. Papa had learned to like the taste of it because he had few other options while growing up.

I thought of this last night as I watched the movie Cinderella Man. Russell Crow plays Jim Braddock, a promising boxer in the 1920's who falls victim to the Great Depression in the 30's. During his heyday he seems to fight for the adoration and the notoriety; after he crashes with the rest of America he realizes boxing is the only way he can feed his family. Although old and nursing previous injuries, Braddock fights boxers younger and better than he in order to get a big payday. His drive is food and shelter. During a press conference he is asked why he is fighting at such an advanced age. His response is, simply: "Milk." Funny thing is, the determination that he finds to feed his family eventually leads him into a title fight with the World's Heavyweight Champion.

Cinderella Man portrays 1930's Americans with such perseverance and integrity that I could not help but compare those values to our modern day society. They faced turmoil and despair with grit and determination, while we often whine about inconvenience and small annoyances. That generation did what it had to in order to survive,I suppose.

That drive is what makes someone accept milk and crumbled bread as a snack, while I get pissed off if there isn't a Snickers in the fridge when I get home from work.

Cinderella Man didn't have a good run in theaters, for some reason, but it is a truly fine film. Highly recommended. ****

Friday, April 07, 2006

I'm Not A Card Carrying Member

Reverend Jerry Falwell spoke to the congregation of Cross Lanes Baptist Church in Cross Lanes, WV this week. I found it interesting that the local news media had little to report about his visit. I suppose they are busy covering the filming of We Are... Marshall, and the whereabouts of the movie's hot cast.

In his speech, Falwell told members of the congregation that we must "turn this nation back to the faith of our fathers," and explained how ministers and church pastors are the only hope for the survival of the Unites States.

I'm not a fan of Falwell. In fact, I find him offensive and dangerous. His self-righteousness is divisive, and his beliefs so narrow that he discounts large cross-sections of Americans. Falwell publicly blames homosexuals, liberals and anyone without a Moral Majority club card for the problems our country is experiencing. I blame Falwell and those like him for many of the problems, particularly those that have occurred in the last eight years. Falwell stumped hard for Bush during the election years, and often commented on the Prez's strong Christian faith as a reason to elect him. I suppose, then, that it is the policies and philosophies of the Bush administration to which Falwell is referring when he made his 'faith of our fathers' remark.

Enough said...

Wonder if Matthew Fox is back in town today?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Look At The Camera and Smile

Filming of We Are...Marshall began here this week, mostly on the campus of Marshall University. Swear to God, I have no idea how movies can ever get made. The weather sucks this week, and gawkers stand around cheering and applauding after each scene is completed. The fact that a movie gets finished, edited and released at all seems a minor miracle to me.

On a different note, my wife did mingle briefly with the cast and crew Saturday afternoon at a private reception. She thought director McG and actor David Strathairn were incredibly genuine and interesting people. She thought Matthew McConaughey was simply hot; so hot, in fact, that she seemed incapable of guaging his personality further.

...I'm a lucky man.