December 27, 2008


We're leaving in the morning for a quick trip up the coast, so in all likelihood, this is it for 2008. My 218th and final post of the year.

Now, I'm not one for new year's resolutions. If I'm making any for 2009, I'll never tell, and I'm not admitting to having made any in 2008. But if I had, today's post would represent me having stuck to a resolution for (close enough to) a full year.

In the scheme of new year's resolutions, writing a few lines of nonsense every couple of days might not seem like much. Check that: isn't much. Still, I'm pleased with myself for sticking to it, for getting something, anything, up here on a regular-enough basis. I think these 218 posts - well, most of them, anyway - were much-needed reminders to myself that writing can be pretty easy when it's fun, and it can be fun when it's so easy. Once in a while they even made me laugh, which probably wasn't the point. But, as my beautiful and observant wife has often observed (beautifully, I might add), I'm pretty good at cracking myself up.

Plus, it was a handy way for me to remind you about all of the awesome t-shirts for sale at S and J Market, which could really use your business during these difficult economic times. One of our satisfied t-shirt customers is Bugs, who has this one and is about to get this one, once I can get to a mailbox. I also mention Bugs because she deserves a special thanks for reading every single post and commenting - in some cases many, many times - on most of them.

To the other six or seven of you who have checked in on me so often this year, I thank you very much, for keeping the escalator going. What do ya' say we do it again next year?

Early morning Frost

I waited until 12:16 a.m. to start writing this one, just so I could use that headline. Crazy? Like a fox, baby.

The point is: I owe you another (soon-to-be) famous Six-word Movie Review. It's already been a couple of days since I went to the show to take in Ron Howard's new slapstick comedy, Frost/Nixon (trailers here).

Just kidding about the slapstick thing. But it did make me wonder if, in 35 years or so, we'll get a major motion picture about the buildup to - and fallout from - Katie Couric's groundbreaking CBS interview with Sarah Palin. The can-you-really-not-even-name-a-newspaper-or-magazine? one. Because that might be fun. Wow, I almost made it through December without a Sarah Palin reference. There goes that streak.

The film: Frost/Nixon.
The six-word review: Sheen/Langella are intense/on-target. Entertaining.

Only one real complaint, although it's an issue with the story, not how it was told on film: Thanks to the way Frost came out of the episode - that is, with his reputation enhanced immeasurably - one of the movie's lasting messages seemed to be that if you're a lightweight quasi-journalist, you can succeed just fine if you have a few talented people doing all of your prep work and then you cram for a few hours before a big interview. Which is probably about right.

December 26, 2008

Not quite The Graduate

There's so much cat hair on and in my keyboard, I'm not sure how the thing keeps working. But it does, which means that I can present to you another Six-word Movie Review!

The film: Last Chance Harvey. (Trailer here.)
The six-word review: Willy Loman finds true love. Eh.

(More fun than the movie itself was seeing former Piston-Bull-Laker-Raptor-and-Heat(er?) and three-time NBA champion John Salley at the theater.)

December 25, 2008

Nothing to do with Christmas

Sorry I've been gone a while. Attack of food poisoning. Or, as my dad diagnosed it from 3,000 miles away - over the phone - "that stomach bug that's been going around." (And then, in the same conversation, he dismissed the extraordinary diagnostic abilities of the esteemed Gregory House. Hm.)

Aside from my posting this item on the 25th, this really has nothing to do with the holidays. Except I realize it'd be bad form not to religious-neutrally wish you and yours a happy politically correct festival of your choice. So there you go.

And, actually, I have to admit that I watched Letterman last night and, in keeping with his holiday tradition, he had Darlene Love on to close the show with "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)." Here's a link to the 2006 rendition - but, y'know, because it's a tradition and all, what you'll see at the link is basically the same at what was on TV last night, so just go with it. I'm not a celebrator of Christmas, but hearing Darlene Love sing that thing... well, let's just say she makes a strong case for the general idea of yuletide carols being sung by a choir.

And, now that I think of it, without my even mentioning that I'd heard the song, today my brilliant and amazing wife asked me if I was going to amuse myself today by finding and re-watching this video (which stars the voice of one Darlene Love). And I am. Because "Christmastime for the Jews" has amused me at this time of year a few years running.

I mean, how can you beat lyrics like "They can eat in Chinatown and drink their sweet-ass wine," or "They can gang up on the Quakers / Play for the Lakers / They can do what they wanna / Even blow off Madonna"? Well, when they're sung by Ms. Love, you just can't. You should watch it. Do it for me.

So, aside from those things, I'm serious: This post has nothing to do with the holidays. The reason I wanted to post today was to pass on my two favorite quotes of the week - both from people I'm happy to be related to. It's the first installment of... The SFTC Family Quote Machine!

Quote 1
I was telling my dad about a great dinner I'd eaten the previous night (this was a safe couple of nights pre-stomach ailment, so I'm confident it had no bearing on my illness), and mentioned that I'd had an incredibly good chicken dish. (Trust me, really, it was great.) Anyway, I liked what he said next: "You know, chicken is the new lobster."

Quote 2
My grandfather was telling me about his latest phone conversation with his great-grandson, who also just happens to be in a first-place tie (with his younger brother) for the title of world's coolest nephew. Kid goes by the nickname of Cardboard. Don't ask me why.

The conversation apparently went something like this:
(Gramps) "I knew that was you before I picked up the phone. I could tell by the ring."
(Cardboard) "What did the ring sound like?"
(G) "Brrring, brrrring!"
(C) "What does it sound like when everyone else calls?"

Score one for Cardboard.

And even though I'm avoiding all of the holiday stuff: Happy, Merry, Safe and Healthy. Now, I have some halls to go deck.

December 19, 2008

In which 57 < 57

Turns out I’m big into using incorrect equations for blog post titles this week. You, the SFTC reader, might find that sort of lame, but hey: You get what you pay for.

The 57 to which our headline refers is the current air temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit, in Los Angeles, according to the thermometer that was included for free when I acquired my trusty sidekick, Al.

Now, if I were in the City by the Lake - the town I called home for the better part of 13 years - and the temperature was 57 degrees, I would be wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I just might be sitting outside on my balcony, pondering the evils of global warming and, perhaps, deciding what kind of animal to barbecue for dinner.

But I’m not in Chicago, and the imperviousness to cold temperatures that I gained from a dozen-plus years there, preceded by four long winters in Rochester, New York - I was there for four full years; it’s just that it was winter the whole time - well, that imperviousness is all gone. I am now completely... um, maybe... pervious to cold temperatures. Cold, apparently, being anything less than 63 degrees.

So when it’s 57 in L.A., I am most certainly not wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Today, it’s chinos, a long-sleeve shirt, a sweater, and when I’m outdoors, a light jacket. And gloves. (Yes, seriously.) I am decidedly not sunning myself on a deck. And I’m sure as hell not pondering global warming; I’m pondering whether long-johns and wool socks might have been a good call for today.

I’m disappointed. I thought I’d be able to resist the annoying "thinner blood" thing. At least for more than two winters. No such luck.

Oh, and, considering my temperature wussiness, the heater in our apartment picked a really excellent week to give out.

December 18, 2008

Maybe they thought the movie was about long-term debt

I'm just saying: Some New York Times copyeditors apparently need to get out more. See a movie once in a while. So, like, they'd know not to lowercase the name of one of the world's best-known film characters or add periods where they don't belong.

Take, for example, this item from the news summary in the print edition of today's Gray Lady. (Everything, including capitalization and punctuation, is how it appeared in the paper.)

The reinvention of the bond film series gave the hope that the Quantum of Solace game would provide something beyond the usual movie-tie-in dreck. Alas, it does not, Seth Schiesel writes, though .007 shoots a lot. PAGE C3

December 17, 2008

In which 70% < 60%

I'm not great at math, so maybe I'm missing something here. But I was looking at, about to buy myself some discount gift certificates for two local eateries, when I came to this screen:

See that blue box at the bottom right corner? That's where they break down your gift certificate options. Well, here, take a closer look:

The $10 gift certificate costs only $3. The way I run the numbers, that's 70% off. Not bad. But says the "best value" is the $100 gift certificate, which costs $40. I think that comes out to right around 60% off, which... isn't that less than 70% off?

Maybe they just mean it's the best value for the people who run the web site.

While we're on the topic, if the site lists restaurants near you - the selection is OK but not great for establishments in our area - it can be kind of a handy way to save a few bucks. And they're doing some kind of holiday promotion now, so if you enter the code FROSTY at checkout, the gift certificates are even cheaper. Happy shopping.

December 16, 2008

He might need some help with how kites work

Maybe we'll still have some nice White House malapropisms to play with, even after W leaves the DC.

December 16, at the news conference announcing Arne Duncan as the nominee for Secretary of Education:

"These kids, Mr. President, are the kite strings that lift our national ambitions aloft." - VP elect Joe Biden

Then there was music

If more people read this blog, I might be able to legitimately call this post a public service announcement. As it is, maybe it's just a service announcement.

Here's an easy way to help fund what I think is a very worthy cause - and the beauty part is it doesn't cost you a thing. Fidelity, which THE AUTHOR'S NEGATIVE COMMENTS ABOUT FIDELITY FUND PERFORMANCE HAVE BEEN REDACTED FROM THIS SENTENCE*, will donate $1 toward musical instruments in schools for every holiday greeting email you send. So go send a lot of them. Musical instruments for kids = good thing. Fidelity picking up the tab = even better.

It's easy. It's fast. It's free. Click here and then email away. The musical future of our nation may depend on it.

* by the author himself

Revolution. Televised.

I might have watched my last commercial.

The dude from the cable company visited this weekend (Me: "Can I get you something to drink?" Him: "Vodka and orange juice sounds good.") and installed one of those magical time-saving, advertising-eradicating DVR things.

Yes, I know you've already had your DVR for many, many years. No matter. I believed him when he told me that within a week, I won't be able to watch TV without it.

Next order of business in my Five-Year Audiovisual Equipment Upgrade Master Plan is to finally acquire the high-def TV that I've been talking about for a little while now. Ah, who am I kidding - I've been talking about it for at least five years. Come to think of it, that's probably how I got the name of the Master Plan.

I've been watching prices, comparing brands, checking out displays at Best Buy and Circuit City (and now Costco) (and now every bar or restaurant we go to that has a flat screen), but one thing I haven't done is buy a damn TV.

Just asking: What's the opposite of an impulse purchase?

I figure I've saved hundreds of dollars watching the prices go down in that time, which also means that I might be able to get a slightly bigger TV than the ones I was considering back during the pre-Miley Cyrus era.

But I think a purchase is imminent. The last real obstacle was that I couldn't get my head around the idea of paying the cable company more money per month for the privilege of getting HD content. But that's now a non-issue because I recently discovered that high-def programming is included - free! - with our monthly service because our building has a bulk deal.

(Which reminds me: When we first moved into this place and had the cable turned on, the installer said, "Wow, you have a great deal, getting cable for free." Which he meant to be nice, but which ticked me off. "Yeah," I told him. "All I have to do is just pay the ridiculous rent to live here and they throw in the cable - for free.")

For the last couple of weeks, I've been in something like "ready to buy in the next few days" mode, but I keep finding more models to consider and hearing that prices will go down even more after Thanksgiving... on December 15... after Christmas... before the Super Bowl. It's gotten to the point that my gorgeous and extremely smart wife - who couldn't care less what kind of TV we have, so long as it's color and picks up Gossip Girl and House - is gently pushing me to buy the thing already. So I can just shut up about it.

I think even Sampson the cat rolled his eyes yesterday when he heard me say the words "Sony Bravia." That's OK - I know he's going to enjoy NFL football even more on the new set.

December 14, 2008

The Penn is mightier

I've been looking forward to seeing Milk since I first heard about it months ago, and nothing I read or heard about it since then did anything to diminish the anticipation. So although I knew it boasted a stellar cast, interesting story (which I only vaguely knew about in advance) and great director, I was worried for two reasons: One, I'm often disappointed in highly hyped movies; and two, I'm lactose intolerant.

(Rim shot.)

But I'm glad to tell you that Milk (trailers of many sizes here) is as good as advertised. Without further delay, your Six-word Movie Review:

The film: Milk.
The six-word review: Riveting. Sean Penn for the win.

Aside from the tragic ending, the saddest part of the movie was wondering why 2008 Californians couldn't defeat Proposition 8, the way 1978 Californians in the movie managed to block Proposition 6, which would have made it mandatory to fire gay schoolteachers. I wonder if things would have been different this year if Milk had been released in October, a few weeks before the election, instead of now, a few weeks before Oscar nominations.

December 9, 2008

Because you can't spell corruption without a "T"

Hot off the metaphorical presses... it's the brand new S and J Market t-shirt everyone in Illinois will be wearing tomorrow. Or at least they would be if they'd ever heard of S and J Market.

Our sartorial tribute to soon-to-be-ex-governor Rod Blagojevich is right here:

Here's hoping for an interesting trial.

Duty denied

Oh, yeah, and in case you were wondering, this was how jury duty went yesterday:

8:15... Arrive at court house; wait in line for about 10 minutes to get through metal detector.

8:25... Take a seat in jury waiting room, which is a pretty nice jury waiting room. Two newer computers with free Internet access, a big TV in a separate room, comfy seating. I could get used to this.

9:00... Audio of juror orientation is played over the waiting room p.a. Sounds like it was supposed to be accompanied by video, but there's no video anywhere, so we all stare into space while a disembodied voice tells us how important we jurors are.

10:30... Half of the potential jurors - but not me - are called to a trial.

10:45... The other half are told that nothing else will happen until 1:30, so we're free to take a 2 hour, 45 minute lunch break. Which seems OK.

1:10... Return to jury waiting room 20 minutes early. Not sure why, except that...

1:18... Jury waiting room announcer lady announces about 15 names and tells us that the case we would have heard has been settled, and we're free to leave. Or we can stay until 2 to hear the judge explain what happened.

1:18.01... I decide not to stay until 2 to hear the judge explain what happened.

2:30... Nap.

So there you have it. America's justice system works again. I'm honored to have served. Look forward to doing it again next year.

... making O.J. the second-dumbest criminal in the news this week

Sure, this may seem sad, pathetic and hopeless.

But it's also totally awesome that a governor, who knows - and who everyone else knows - is the subject of a years-long investigation for... what was it? oh yeah... corruption gets busted for trying to sell a Senate seat to the highest bidder. Again: While he's under investiagation for doing that kind of thing anyway. It's just that now he's doing it with a Senate seat.

So I think it's incredibly cool that Illinois politicians keep coming up with new ways to break the law. So creative. So entrepreneurial.

I'm just... I'm... speechless? Yes. Impressed? You betcha.

What's the over-under on hours till Blagojevich's resignation? I'll take 18 hours from right now, although the smart money may be on "under."

December 7, 2008

Duty calls

I'm on jury duty starting Monday. I'm certainly in favor of everyone having to do their part for our wild and wacky legal system (I'm just calling it wacky because this was the weekend OJ got sent away for stealing sports memorabilia, a decade or so after skating for two murders), but I just hope it doesn't adversely affect my blogging schedule.

Actually, I'm probably the only person I know who actually looks forward to jury duty. I'd kinda like to get in the box and listening to some riveting testimony. We'll see how that works out.

Whatever happens, it'd sure be cool if I get to see an attorney wearing a shirt that says "No cupable" - y'know, like the guy in this post.

How am I preparing? I loaded some new This American Life, Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me and All Songs Considered podcasts onto the magic little music box, in case I have to amuse myself while waiting to be called. I bought a 230-count box of granola bars at Costco (actually, it might have "only" been 96 bars) (you may mock me, but what if it's a long trial?). And I'm practicing saying awesome things like res ipsa loquitur and voir dire. Yes, I know I probably can leave those phrases to the professionals. But just in case.

December 5, 2008

Into the woods

I'm not sure how you'd review a movie like Defiance in six words.

I can tell you that if you have a chance to see it for free at the supercool Majestic Crest theater in Westwood (an old-fashioned one-screen theater; the interior is even neater than the outside, but I can't find any photos of the auditorium) with screenwriters Ed Zwick and Clayton Frohman doing a post-screening Q&A, well, you should do that. Or you could wait till the late-December release and just see it in a movieplex near you, without the Q&A.

Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, the guy who played Billy Elliot and some kid who doesn't really talk play brothers who lead hundreds of Jews to escape Nazi persecution by hiding out in the forests of Belarussia, and while they're there, repel repeated Nazi attacks. The trailer is here, but - if you haven't seen the trailer yet - consider skipping it. I don't think it spoils any surprises, necessarily, but you might be better off watching the film knowing less in advance about the challenges the group faces.

I'll preface my patented Six-word Movie Review by writing that I thought Defiance was good - the true story is so amazing that the film is certainly worth seeing. But I don't think it was great, and I can't put my finger on exactly why.

The film: Defiance.
The six-word review: Amazing true story; just missing something.

Last thought: This movie took place in a forest; the last movie I saw, Benjamin Button, reminded me of Gump. What are the odds?

December 3, 2008


Seeing someone stick it to the man is always fun.

But it's even more fun when the man who's sticking it to the man is the ex-man, in this case Mario Cuomo. New York's popular ex-governor is refusing to pose for an official portrait that's supposed to be hung in some Gallery of Governors in Albany. They're about to hang the painting of his successor, but I guess the space they saved for Cuomo's likeness will remain empty for the foreseeable future.

To which I say: Good call, Mario. Who needs the aggravation? (Besides, the article says, he'd have to pay for the picture himself. I'd back out on that basis alone.)

But voice your choice, America. Hit that Comments link below and tell me what you think.

Old and news

It's been a while since I've bored you with a nod to the New York Times' frequently awesome online infographics. There were just too many to choose from during the campaign, and besides, I had caribou on the brain.

But in the face of a complete and utter lack of requests from you, the SFTC reader, for more coverage of the great and wonderful ways that the NYT presents information in pretty charts, graphs and photos, I thought it was about time to pay a visit to those mad geniuses who make the old Gray Lady's web site so newsgeeky-fun.

It's not terribly new, but my latest find is this weekly series of then-and-now pictures from various parts of NYC. The writer/photographer took a bunch of photos in 1978 for a New York guidebook, and now is returning to the same spots to show what they look like from the same vantage point in 2008. These are probably more interesting if you live in New York, but either way, I love how the site displays the photos with a roll-bar that lets you reveal portions of the new picture in the same frame as the old picture - or to just see either picture on its own. Fun, right?

Maybe some day I'll have the patience - 30 years is a lot of patience, but whatever - to do something like this.

Unrelated random thought: For no apparent reason, I was wondering if anyone else had thought of this idea for a web page. And of course, someone had. A long time ago. But I like it.

December 2, 2008

All about the Benjamin

I've been lax in my blogging duties lately. I apologize. I think it's partly because I knew this post would be my 200th - would it look more momentous if I spelled it out: my two-hundredth post? No, I guess not.

The point is, I was trying to save up for a high-quality update worthy of this mini landmark in blogging. But it turns out this is the best I could come up with:

Yeah, it's expensive as all get out to live in L.A. But it's worth it because (1) the weather is close to perfect and (2) free movie screenings, baby!

Last year, somehow, I got myself onto a list to receive email invites to screenings, and for whatever reason, those invites are picking up heading into the end of 2008. Last night, my indescribably beautiful wife and caught a sneak preview of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (high-def trailer here), which doesn't even open until Christmas! Now that's a preview. Next up is a freebie of Defiance, later this week. Don't worry, I'll report back on that one.

(Last night's screening was held at the Directors Guild of America's headquarters on Sunset Blvd. We'd driven by the building about 100 times before and never noticed it, which is strange because it looks like this.)

As you may know by now, TCCBB follows the life of Pitt's character, who is born a tiny old man and ages in reverse.

The title of the film comes from an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story on which it's based - well, very very loosely based (really the only leftovers from the original text were the character named Benjamin Button and the idea that he grows younger). So the title made sense. But I kept wondering if they considered renaming it to something like "In Which Brad Pitt Just Keeps Getting Better Looking For The Better Part of Three Hours."

At one point, when Pitt comes on screen having un-aged a few more years, appearing now to be in his early 20s, two women sitting behind me just laughed. I'm postive that what made them laugh was the absurdity of watching Brad Pitt's rugged good looks improve right before their very eyes. Unquestionably, they figured they'd already seen the guy at his most movie-star handsome: How much gorgeouser could he get? This isn't like a weird male crush observation - I'm just giving you the cold hard facts, people.

As the movie went on, I kept thinking that it reminded me an awful lot of Forrest Gump, and when the movie was over and the screenwriter came out for Q&A, I figured out why. Said screenwriter was Eric Roth, who also wrote Gump, and a few other pretty memorable flicks. Gump and Button are definitely not the same movie, but they share several major elements - the short moment-in-time episodes, the way they use a narrator and flashbacks, a star-crossed love story and, in the background, the evolution of American culture throughout the 20th century. (Or twentieth century, if, again, you find that kind of thing more momentous-sounding.) Which is to say that if you liked Forrest Gump, I think you'd probably be safe with a trip to see the Button.

Two more quick asides before I get to my patented Six-word Movie Review.

1) For no apparent reason, the movie had a weird scene that involved Teddy Roosevelt watching some blind clockmaker (the guy was blind, not the clocks) install a big clock in a train station. The clock worked backwards, which matched the theme of the movie, but the whole storyline, which set up the movie, seemed pretty extraneous. Why am I telling you this? Because Ed Metzger, the dude who played President Roosevelt, has apparently carved out an interesting career playing dead famous guys, including Einstein (at least five times in different TV shows and movies!) and George Washington. Weird, I know, but cool.

2) Most of the movie takes place in New Orleans. But Fitzgerald's story and - according to Roth himself - the original screenplay were set in Baltimore. The Cajuns offered the filmmakers a better financial deal, so they took the production down to the bayou. Nice goin', Charm City: You could've had Brangelina and Cate Blanchett hanging out at Bertha's Mussels and Ravens games! Opportunity missed.

Good god, this post is almost as long as the movie itself. Before I overdo it, ladies and gentlemen, your Six-word Movie Review!

The film: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
The six-word review: Reverse in story love Gump-like melancholy.