Sunday, December 12, 2010

Some Unseen Noble Fizzy Journeys

This weekend at Unseen Films I've had a John Cusack double is a write-up of War, Inc., a 2008 film which was a "spiritual sequel" to the brilliant 1997 black comedy, and one of my favorite films of all time, Grosse Pointe Blank. Both feature Cusack playing an assassin trying to redeem himself, learning that life is more precious than he once thought, although the surroundings that his characters find himself in are vastly different in both films. In a bizarre way, both films are actually romantic comedies, although much of the romance is buried behind dead bodies piling up all around, and the characters are certainly VERY flawed individuals...which kinda makes them easier to relate to. They are also redemption films, and about the journeys the characters take to get to their redemption. And speaking of journey...

Lately I've been telling the story of my recent trip back to NYC, but I can see that I'm not going to have enough time to be able to get to the next part of that today, so I think it's time to present the next part in my series of my other writings for Unseen Films. We continue with the comedic adventures of the brilliant Ross Noble, the English stand-up comedian whose lightning quick mind and highly entertaining physical bits make for compelling watching. This time around we look at his 4th offering on DVD, Fizzy Logic...

"Sorry, I forgot to warn you at the start; if you haven't seen me before, there will be tangents." Along those lines, the secret to Ross Noble's style of comedy isn't what he's telling, but how (and for how long) he tells it. Most of his show is riffing off the top of his head about things he's gleaned from chatting with audience members (in this case, you'll meet Randy Pan, the highly flammable wolf, amongst others). But in the course of these talks, he's reminded of things that have happened to him that he wants to relate to the audience. If you're someone who likes instant gratification in your stories, don't waste your time with Noble. Usually, sometime within an hour or so of beginning a story, Noble will get around to finishing it. But it isn't about the finishing of the story. It's all about the journey Noble's mind takes to get there that is so fascinating to watch.

In "Fizzy Logic", filmed in Canberra, Australia in March 2007, Noble relates...eventually...his run-ins with customs agents in Dubai and New Zealand, his interactions with children in Morocco, and the most dangerous thing about riding a motorcycle thru Australia. His descriptions of the Emu, a large Australian bird, border on genius ("A 6 foot feather-duster with suicidal tendencies" is probably the best). And the 15 minute closing of the show that starts with being hit on the head by a falling owl is a perfect example of the brilliance of Noble's technique. The sequence is completely about the set-up, and the way his mind can adapt and flow and adjust to anything thrown his way. Once again, Noble's body races to keep up with his mind in this show, as he is a very active and animated physical performer throughout the entire performance. A truly compelling performer of insane proportions.

While not as over-stuffed as the "Randomist" DVD package (how could anything possibly be?!?), the "Fizzy Logic" 2 DVD set by no means skimps on extras. The main show, with the encore, approaches 2 & 1/2 hours, there is another commentary track by Noble, along with a documentary of his New Zealand leg of this tour. The second disc contains 6 other shows from the UK portion ot the tour, and a 7th "official bootleg", only viewable by correctly answering a quiz about where the other 6 shows were shot. This is completely worth the asking price, and a fascinating look into the mind of an amazing thinker.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Clutch (live), Deftones, Deep Purple (live), obviously some Ross Noble somewhere, and whatever I was listening to when I wrote up the Fizzy Logic piece originally

Sunday, December 5, 2010

We Interrupt Our Continuing Story Of The NYC Trip... bring you our coverage of the LA trip...

I switched my schedule around so that I could have Saturday December 4 off from work so that I could go to LA with some friends and see the Los Angeles Kings take on the Detroit Red Wings. Another friend at work is a partial season ticket holder, so he's able to get first crack at single game seats before they go on sale to the general public. When he the asked other hockey fans in the office if we would be interested in going to a game, a few of us agreed on a date, and wound up getting some tickets.

I've never been to LA proper before. I've been to Anaheim a couple times, but had never been to the heart of LA. It's not something that overly appealed to me. Having grown up in NY, I'm kinda wary of dealing with the crowds, congestion, and traffic of another big city. If I'm going to go to someplace new, I'd rather go visit nature, wide open spaces, and real canyons, as opposed to the concrete variety. But the chance to see an excellent hockey team such as the Detroit Red Wings, in a venue I've never been to before, was too much to pass up. And with the game being a Saturday night, we figured we'd just make a nice long day trip out of it.

I worked on Friday until about 5:30PM, and made a stop at Target after work to get myself a new digital camera. I have a nice Nikon SLR, but it's a big item with large detachable lenses. I didn't wanna deal with carrying much stuff, and many venues don't even allow you to take in something like that, for fear of infringing on their trademarked images (it's just another way controlling corporate America's money-grubbing society demands that you pay for everything...I'm really trying to stay off the soapbox in my blog lately, so I won't go there, but you get the idea...). I bought myself a nice compact Sony digital with a 10X zoom, and due to having a Sony credit card with lots of points built up over the years, I'll be getting the entire retail purchase price refunded to me anyway, so it wasn't a big deal. It's small enough to easily fit in a pocket of my leather jacket, yet still has a nice enough zoom lens to get some really good pics.

Leaving my house around 9:45AM Saturday morning, I made my way over to the first friend's house to get him and his wife, and we talked and just hung out for nearly an hour. We then proceeded to get the remaining buddy on our way to a convenience store to pick up a few road trip supplies. Knowing this was going to be a LONG day, I made sure to have some Exederin and Mountain Dew with me. Since I normally ingest ZERO caffeine, a small amount will allow me to keep going for quite a bit. So at probably around 11AM we were officially on our way.

The drive to LA is kinda nice. Although I've never gone to LA before, I've done many trips to other areas of Southern California for various reasons, so most of the journey there was going to be a familiar trek. My most recent trip in this direction was to Anaheim in April 2010 to a comic book convention where I got to meet a favorite writer of mine (and fellow blogspot blogger) J.M. DeMatteis, along with other artists whose work I've enjoyed and admired over the years, including Bernie Wrightson, Glenn Fabry, Simon Bisley, and Tim Bradstreet. I always enjoy talking with creative types whose work has interested me and given me some happiness.

We encountered a little bit of traffic due to some construction, but basically had a pain free trip to our slightly-out-of-the-way first stop, Portillo's Hot Dogs in Buena Park, CA. It's right next to Knott's Berry Farm (a place where Steve Martin used to work as a youngster, first honing his magician and performing skills that would serve him so well later in life), and is a branch location of a Chicago chain of restaurants. One of our group is a Chicago boy, so he planned this as a side trip on the way to the game. Located about a half hour Southeast of the Staples Center (home arena of the LA Kings), their Italian Beef sandwich made for a nice tasty, filling meal, the perfect break on our way to the game. The Chicago boy then loaded up at their catering section on pre-packaged frozen Italian Beef, gravy, and bread, loading them into coolers with ice packs we'd brought along. These were coming back with us for him, and some other native Chicagoans in the office who he had informed of his Portillo's pilgrimage.

As we begin to leave Portillo's, it's around 5PM, and beginning to get dark. Seeing as how we were now about to do the uncharted territory (for me) part of our journey, this wasn't the best of conditions, but I didn't really care. The game wasn't until 7:30, we weren't that far away from the arena, and it was a Saturday night. Which apparently means nothing to famed LA traffic, as we almost immediately came across a bumper-to-bumper 15 MPH logjam on I-5. It might be rush hour, but isn't that Monday to Friday? No, apparently LA citizens take their traffic jamming duties very seriously, and consider it a 24/7 obligation. Suddenly the idea of getting there early, having some time to walk around for a bit, and maybe get a couple of drinks at the ESPN Zone across from the arena started to go out the window.

And I am now truly no longer a virgin to LA traffic, as at one point while riding along, we all got jolted by the impact of hitting something. I leaned forward in disbelief, thinking "No way! I couldn't have hit this guy in front of me, unless he's got some invisible trailer that...wait, did somebody hit ME?!?" Which is exactly what happened. Somebody changing lanes behind me completely misjudged where I was, or just wasn't paying attention, or whatever, and banged into me from behind. In a flash I ran thru a number of scenarios in my head, did a quick mental assessment of damage based on severity (or lack thereof) of impact, made sure everyone in my car was OK...and just kept on driving. There wasn't any point in stopping, getting out, taking insurance info, delaying our trip even more, making an already unpleasant driving experience even MORE unpleasant for thousands of perpetually frustrated LA motorists...all for essentially absolutely nothing. Funny thing is, it was actually BECAUSE of the slow-moving LA traffic that there was no actual damage done. Due to the fact that we were going as slow as we were, the way I figured, no harm, no foul. We all noticed, much to our amusement, that although traffic remained bumper-to-bumper for quite some time after our little incident, there seemed to be quite a number of car lengths between me and the guy who hit me, now MUCH farther behind...

I should mention at this point that my ever-present iPhone was quite a wonderful thing to have on this trip. It made wandering thru a strange locale with destinations known but unpinpointed a sheer breeze. Being able to go to the internet and get an address for your destination, then type in that address and have it show on the map, and show you the route to take you from your current location to be able to GET to that spot on the map, makes this kinda travel much easier. Lewis & Clark woulda had a HELLUVA easier time if they'd just brought along their iPhones...

We finally got to a parking lot within a 5 minute walk of the arena, and, after checking to make sure there was no damage whatsoever to the rear bumper (amazingly, not even a scratch, let alone a dent), we made it to the Staples Center plaza at around the last roughly 30 miles took us about an hour and 15 minutes...reminding me of how much I enjoy NOT living in NYC anymore.

It was a pleasant evening weather-wise, so the walk was quite nice, especially after being cooped up in the car for many hours already. The ESPN Zone turned out to be insanely crowded, so we went to a bowling alley around the corner that had a bar at it, and my friends got some drinks (I don't imbibe, I just hang around and talk). We went to a spot outside overlooking the plaza, and after a few minutes of people-watching, noticed that 2 of the people walking by below us looked familiar...and there went Gene Simmons & Shannon Tweed (he of the band Kiss, she of erotic film lore, both of reality show Gene Simmons Family Jewels). Made for a nice LA celebrity sighting. Not that I'm overly impressed with either of them, but still, a sighting.

After finally making our way into the arena at just after 7PM, we managed to catch most of the pre-game warm-ups from our fantastic seats. Since our season-ticket-holding friend has first shot at single game seats, he was able to get us nice ones in the vicinity of his season seats, so we were at ice level, only 15 rows from the glass. We were off in a corner, exactly in line with the goal line at the end the Kings shoot at twice during the game. A terrific vantage point from which to watch the evening's festivities. Having never been there before, I really liked the arena, although the seats were a little cramped, with my knees feeling like they were in my chest all night. Other than that, a nice place to see a game.

I managed to fire off a few shots with my new camera of the Red Wings in action while warming up, and after they left the ice, I used the break before opening puck drop to nip off to the team store and get a couple things. I grabbed a Kings hat for my father as a X-mas present (don't worry, he won't read this, so I'm not spoiling any surprise), and a Kings puck for myself. I always grab myself a team puck from whatever arena I go visit for a game, and the pucks (along with team baseballs from stadiums I've seen games at) line the mantle in my living room, having recently moved from the top of the refrigerator in the kitchen, because I've been to too many places.

Returning to my seat just in time for the drop of the puck, we actually managed to catch a really good game. Neither team was dominant, although the Red Wings seemed to have an edge in play in the first period, as well as leading 1-0 on the scoreboard. It remained a tight, hard-fought game throughout, with neither team really able to gain an advantage. The Kings scored very early in the 2nd, followed almost instantly by the Wings moving ahead by one again, only to be tied a few minutes later...which is how it remained for the remainder of regulation time. There was plenty of end-to-end action, there was a nice flow to the game, and even though not a lot of scoring, it was still an entertaining game, and fun to watch from the sightline we had.

Before we get to the end of the game, something else that was fun to watch is what you miss out on by just watching games on TV. During commercial breaks, a crew comes out on the ice to shovel off much of the snow that has accumulated due to the razor sharp skate blades cutting and slicing thru the ice at harsh angles thru gameplay. The crew skates around in a very rehearsed pattern, each going up and down the ice in their designated section (and they rotate sections each time) in a very efficient ballet of ice janitorial duties. What the NHL figured out, in the last couple of years or so, is why just have a bunch of slobs in sweatsuits out there doing this? The predominantly male audience can now enjoy seeing the equivalent of cheerleaders in form-fitting, revealing outfits, skating around rapidly enough to make their long, flowing hair fly in the breeze they themselves are generating. Very nice...and yes, there were several girls on the ice, all very pretty, this one just happened to be my favorite. Of course it's superficial, but when in Rome...or in this case, LA...

This was the first live NHL game for the married couple that accompanied me, so they were getting their money's worth with a good game, now followed by an overtime period. The 5 minute sudden death period looked like it might end deadlocked which would have then resulted in a shootout to determine a victor...until the Kings managed to stop pausing and searching for a perfect shot and just get a rush up the ice, fire a over with 56 seconds remaining in overtime. All game they had been reluctant to take shots, choosing instead to keep passing it around when they had it in the Red Wings zone, searching for the elusive, perfect shot...and seemingly passing up many opportunities to get it towards the net. They finally abandoned this tactic as time was waning and just raced up the ice, made one pass and fired, and it paid off in the game-winning goal.

All in all, a very entertaining game, even though I would have preferred a Red Wings victory. They are a very popular team, and at least one third of the Staples Center was decked in Red Wings shirts, sweaters, or hats, myself included. I have a small collection of NHL sweaters, and my Wings sweater was the first one I ever got...on a trip to Phoenix back in 1996, of all places. All my jerseys have my last name on them, along with the number 25.

We hung around outside the arena for a few minutes after the game, just soaking in the atmosphere and determining our next move. Realizing we still had a long hike back home, we just decided to go. So off we went, and by the time we were driving out of the parking lot, it must have been after 10:30PM. Needing only to stop once for fuel on the way back, my companions and I kept a lively conversation going, laughing and joking most of the way home. We are a fun group, capable of lots of laughs. Good thing to have on a long drive such as this. I was the only one awake for a while though around 1:30, but I had my music to entertain me...obviously couldn't blast it, but still...

So after dropping off the friends in reverse order of picking them up, I finally was able to wend my way home at about 3:15AM, nearly 24 hours after waking up. Even when I turn my alarms off, I still wake up at 4AM...I don't GET up, but I'm awake. Managed to get into bed sometime after 3:30, and completely against my will, found myself awake at 6:30AM. I probably flipped the bird to the clock and rolled over, only to awaken again, with no real hope of going back to 7:30AM. *sigh*

Now that I think I've come to the end of this tale of having fun and trying to recapture being young & stupid, I might just take a nap...except today's New York Rangers game starts in 20 minutes...

We now return you to our regularly scheduled story of the New York City trip, already in progress...

Blog Post Soundtrack; John Connelly Theory, Glenn Miller Orchestra, Unida (live), Deep Purple, Nirvana, AC/DC, Peaches, Louis Prima w/Keely Smith (live), Rage Against The Machine, Black Sabbath, The Les Claypool Frog Brigade, Apocalyptica, Discharge, Mike Patton, The Chemical Brothers, Iron Maiden, The Dandy Warhols, Clutch (live), Red Hot Chili Peppers (live), The Misfits, Foo Fighters (live), Deftones, System Of A Down, Pearl Jam (live), Tom Lehrer (live), Voivod, Monster Magnet, The White Stripes, The Beastie Boys, The Prodigy, Limp Bizkit (live, covering a Ministry song), Bjork, Neil Young (live), Metallica (live), Motorhead, MD.45, The Roots (live), Anthrax (live), Zeke, Queens Of The Stone Age (live), Stevie Ray Vaughan, Simon & Garfunkel, Yawning Man, Faith No More, The Smiths, David Buskin, A Perfect Circle, Blondie

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Old Westbury Gardens...Part Two Of My Recent NYC Trip

Picking up right where I left off from Part One of this story, on Wednesday I'd planned to stay local, not doing too much, and just relax for a while. The only item on the agenda that day was to take a trip to nearby Old Westbury Gardens. This is the estate of the Phipps' family, and the vastness of the grounds and the opulence of the mansion are quite beautiful, although a little sickening when you consider how it represents the immense distance between the haves and the have-nots. But as I said in the last post, I'm not getting on my soapbox...

Located in the heart of Nassau County in Long Island, this area of the world is located about 20 miles east of Manhattan...but light years away in terms of pace. Where Manhattan is all hustle, bustle, crowds, frenzy and action, Old Westbury Gardens is peaceful, tranquil, and basically the antithesis (or antidote) of New York City. The sprawling grounds are a showcase for trees, flowers, expansive lawns and small lakes, and many small animals from geese to turtles call it home. Since it's open to the public, for a nominal fee you can go in and spend as much time as you want wandering aimlessly and just enjoying the beautiful colors, and the sounds of nothing but nature.

Even if you've never been there, you have probably seen at least part of it, as it has been featured in many movies over the years, ranging from the Alfred Hitchcock classic North By Northwest, to more recent movies like Cruel Intentions (with Sarah Michelle Gellar), and Wolf (with Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfieffer). My father was a volunteer maintainence worker at Old Westbury Gardens at the time that Wolf was being filmed there, but I don't believe there were any encounters with any of the actors. I do remember him telling me a story about Dave Thomas, the Wendy's founder, filming one of his commercials there. Thomas starred in many commercials for Wendy's, trying to show he was one of the people. From what Vlad told me about whatever ad was being filmed there, it took some insanely enormous number of takes for him to get his short, simple lines right. He made a lot of mistakes...maybe he was one of the people...

There are several sections around the grounds devoted to displaying many different flowers and colorful plants. There is a Walled Garden section with an Italian Garden towards the back of it, which has a small pool filled with dozens of hefty goldfish, and intricate architecture lining the path. It's a truly beautiful place to be, and the day we were there a few women had set up shop to draw and paint the scenery before them.

Since I enjoy photography, a place filled with as much color as Old Westbury Gardens makes for countless photo ops. Just spending the early afternoon wandering around the area with my Mom, I took nearly 200 pictures in the 2 hours we were there. Living in the desert of the American Southwest as I do, seeing this much greenery in one place is now a rare treat for me. Since I don't get many opportunities to get to places like this, I take full advantage of them when I do get there. As I'm sure you've figured out by now, the pictures accompanying this entry are all from the absolutely gorgeous day in early October 2010 I spent wandering around there in Long Island. And there are other pictures I've taken that are visible at my Panoramio page, with a section devoted just to Old Westbury Gardens.

Blog Post Soundtrack; The White Stripes (live), Monty Python, Pearl Jam (live), MC5, The Ramones, The Misfits, traditional Japanese music, Bill Bailey, Overkill, Metallica (live), The Who, Soundgarden, Bjork (live), Brant Bjork, Led Zeppelin (live), P.J. Harvey, Fun Lovin' Criminals, The Doors (live), James Brown, The Anti-Nowhere League