Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Cinema - Where Have You Gone, Kevin Cronin?

"You can never give/The finger to the blind..." Yeah, but you can annoy them with endless stupid questions.

Circle of Iron is the film that answers the question "Whatever happened to the REO Speedwagon haircut, as practiced by insipid lead singer Kevin Cronin?"

Answer: It bulked up, bought a loincloth and set off into the wilderness to seek the Book of Knowledge.

Cord (Jeff Cooper) is a wandering weirdo. At the opening of the film he is participating in a fighting contest supervised by Roddy McDowell. You could repeat this scenario today and call it Ultimate Wizard Fighting.

Anyhoo, Cord cheats, sort of, and Roddy gets to utter the immortal words: "Morthond wins." He says this with all the enthusiasm of a fat guy on a diet reaching for another rice cake. So Morthond, who looks like he should be in a low rider in Albuquerque, not roaming the barrens with a sword, sets off to find Zetan, a sort of Scientologist who guards the Book of Knowledge.

And Cord, like the big ol' lovable puppy dog he is, just follows along after him, so when Morthond runs into the Monkey Man and is mortally wounded Cord's available to help him commit hari-kiri.

That's what friends are for.

Moving in and out of all this stunning
mise en scene is The Blind Man (David Carradine) who can kung fu an entire gang of thugs without a whole lot of trouble. He also plays the flute. Cord decides Blind Guy shall be his teacher, and he annoys Blind Guy with his constant yakking.

So Cord has to go through all these trials - the Monkey Man, Chang-Sha and what the credits list as "Death" but what really looks like David Carradine dressed as a cat. He has sex with Chang-Sha's ninth wife, who gets crucified for her trouble, and comes across Eli Wallach, submerged in a big vat of oil in the desert. (The exchange between Cord and the Man in the Oil is worth the NetFlix fee.)

Eli Wallach demonstrates the latest in operant conditioning

Finally Cord gets to the island, meets Zetan (Christopher Lee) and the gang, and finds the Book of Knowledge, which is not what he expected.

Summary: Automatic one coil deduction for no nudity. David Carradine, made up as a monkey, in a loincloth. Roddy McDowell, dressed in a bathrobe and a pointy white hat, saying "Morthond wins." Extras from "Planet of the Apes" to make Roddy feel at home. Kabuki belly dancers and the world's worst rhythm section, courtesy of Chang-Sha, desert chieftan (also played by Carradine). Crucifixion of pretty wife. Unpleasant thought about what the fellows on the Island of Peace do for fun, besides tend the roses. Eli Wallach indulging in the world's most extreme Temptation Removal Procedure (TRP). Gratuitous wooden flute music that doesn't match the soundtrack.

Circle of Iron, with its ponderous pseudo-Zen platitudes and mock-heroic structure should be just another lame sword 'n' sorcery epic, designed for the eighth grade market. It's just good enough to escape that fate and earn three-coil status in the CACA pantheon.

At 102 minutes it's also short, which helps.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Will Dems De-Kook?

I'm a Democrat because:

1. It's always been that way

2. My late grandmother Margaret Collin would haunt me if I changed parties. As it is I feel an icy chill if I vote for a Libertarian or a Green.

3. It's always been that way


4. It's always been that way

Over the years I have become steadily disenchanted with my party. My party seems to appeal primarily to people who write formulaic, indignant letters to the papers:

To the editor -

As a (fill in this spot with your aggrieved group) I am outraged at the yah yah yah yah yah yah yah yah yah...


C.L. Snodgrass
Third yurt from the left
Organic Wallow, Ore.

Also featuring prominently in my party are folks who regard 1968 as the high-water mark of American life, with protests, riots, assassinations and all kinds of groovy stuff.

These nitwits are organized - of course - into a group, Recreate68, which plans to do something at the Democratic convention in Denver.

Do their re-enactment plans call for authentic thumping of hippies by cops? I certainly hope so.

The party leadership isn't doing a very good job. In fact, I think it safe to call them utterly delusional.

Why? Last time around, they had as a target an unpopular blue-blood President, a Yalie Skull & Bones knucklehead with lousy rhetorical skills and a record of stunning mediocrity.

Who'd they choose? Their own blue-blooded Yalie Skull & Bones knucklehead with even worse rhetorical skills, a record of stunning mediocrity
and a rich wife with a big mouth.

And now, as the result of forty years of identity politics, Democrats find themselves in a rather hilarious situation: Half of the delegates are afraid to go against Sen. Barack Obama lest they be called racists; the other half are worried that, if they go against Sen. Hillary Clinton, they will be vilified as sexists.

Which -ist is worsest?

Meanwhile a few pockets of intelligent life remain in the party so dominated by symbolic victories, shameless pandering and the usual patronage and pork. Bill Bradley's The New American Story is a sober look at America's current state that actually offers solutions - ideas that might not be to everybody's liking but certainly provide a place to start.

So after either Obama or Clinton gets whomped in the fall, will the Dems finally learn their lesson and start concentrating on results? Will the party get some guts and tell to live up to its name?

What's it going to be: Hoopster or Hippie?

Bill Bradley, demonstrating his broad appeal, nails down the Guido vote, after helping remove the plastic cover from the sofa for the picture.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Shouters

Years ago my father, a lobbyist, would sit down on Sundays to watch "The McLaughlin Group," which he referred to as "The Shouters."

Pop, an advocate of the soft sell school persuasion, got a kick out of listening to the panelists, well, shout at each other.

He also told me of a commentator from the old Metromedia Channel 5 in New York, a Dr. Marty Abend, who represented the right wing on shows, usually paired against someone like Ted Sorensen.

When discussing the latest friction in the Mideast in, say, 1973, the lefty would say all the usual things - "We can't interfere with the rights of blah blah blah."

Abend's rejoinder: "Nonsense! Seize them! These are not countries, they are sheikdoms! Seize them!"

"Seize them!" is a standard line in my family, along with other classics such as "What do you think this is? A club?" and "Used to be a bowling alley." (I will explain these another time.)

For whatever reason, I have been watching the new breed of shouters quite a bit lately. And not really digging them, either. Here are my impressions of the current Shouters:

Alan Colmes is a ferret-faced weasel. (Or weasel-faced ferret, if you prefer.) His favorite rhetorical device is to ask, "Well, what about George W. Bush?"

His dorky pal Sean Hannity is dreadfully earnest. I don't trust the earnest. They make me nervous. He reminds me of those Mormon kids doing their two years of missionary work, right down to the short-sleeve shirt and tie he would undoubtedly be wearing if someone from Fox's wardrobe department hadn't intervened.

Hannity is polite, though, which counts for something.

Bill O'Reilly is an appalling, smarmy character and a lousy interviewer to boot. He doesn't try to change the subject a la Colmes, he just blathers straight through any dissonance.

And Greta Van Whoosiewhatsis? How does she talk without moving her mouth? (Mary Matalin does this too.)

Keith Olbermann wears those stupid little rectangle glasses, his suits are too big and too padded, and he thinks he's funny. He is mistaken.

And Chris Matthews is a slobbering ninny. Is it too much to ask that he actually pronounce the words "Social Security" ?

(He says, and I can only approximate because there is no way to spell the sound of drooling, "Sohsh Secur.")

Never mind their politics, their ratings gimmicks, the brainlessness of the whole cable news shtick.

These people are just not entertaining, except as neo-circus freaks.

I can't imagine any of them having the wit and panache to simply say "Seize them!" and be done with it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Jack Webb, Style Icon

I recently picked up a four-disc DVD set from the bargain bin at the Super Duper Stop & Shop in Canaan, Conn. - the same unlikely setting has provided me with the original
King Kong (remastered) and Barbarella, Queen of the Galaxy.

This set,
Best of TV Detectives, has a couple of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and some other moderately interesting stuff - a couple of Glen Howard Fu Manchus, half a dozen Dick Tracys.

And 13 episodes of Dragnet from 1953-54. Dragnet was really the original cop show, and it's astonishing how contemporary they are. The crimes include murder, grand theft in the form of swindling families of recently deceased servicemen, and child molestation. Sounds like a typical night of Law & Order reruns to me.

But the biggest revelation to me was Jack Webb's Joe Friday, Sartorial Stud.

Sgt. Friday invariably wears a shirt with a buttondown collar that has a serious roll to it. And with his slim cut sports jackets (often featuring a ticket pocket) and snap-brim fedora, he looks like (gasp) a jazz musician or something.

In one episode, he bends over to scoop up a dog that's in the way, revealing what appear to be black loafers and argyle socks. Argyle socks!? From the "Just the facts, ma'am" guy?

And Friday is always showing just a bit of shirt cuff, in elegant and sharp contradistinction to his fat partner, whose jacket buttons always appear to be on the verge of flying off, with the swallows, to Capistrano.

Postscript: Here is a Time magazine cover story about Webb. The author's son, who provided the link, informs me that Mr. Webb wasn't too pleased with some aspects of the piece.

The Peril

Longwing, the Long-Suffering Trad, mentions rather casually in his blog today that he will be concentrating on buying a few ties. Nothing major, y'know.

And I say "Ha!"

I picked up these nifty Paul Stuart silk knits at the thrift today for a buck apiece. No big deal, right?

I've been just picking up nifty ties for a buck apiece for a few years now, and folks, it is no exaggeration to state that I could wear a different tie every day (starting today) and still have enough to make it to the '09 holiday season.

The ties in current rotation (wrong word, implies repeated use and constant turnover) reside draped over doors. It doesn't hurt them any and keeps them in eyeshot.

Why don't I keep them on the handy-dandy motorized tie racks a kind fellow in Illinois gave me?

Because the motorized tie racks are full, that's why.

So I advise all men to be wary of the tie mania. The peril is real.

That's not funny, that's sick.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Suddenly Spring

The weather here in the Taconic Plateau fiddled and diddled and then threw in the towel on winter. It's spring.

The rivers are in great shape. I am not, however; there seems to be an extra ten pounds around the middle and a moderately vigorous fishing trip yesterday left me wiped out.

The Fish Car is loaded and ready; I like to be able to stop whatever I'm doing at a moment's notice and go straight to the venue.

And for shlepping around, the classic combo of lightweight LL Bean casual trousers, Quoddy mocs, a Hanes polo bought from the pile at Wal-Mart, a ribbon belt from Lands End (these things go on sale for about eight bucks per, which makes them very hard to resist - I didn't), and the usual swap' em routine with the watch and the ribbon bands.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Great Loafer Hunt

The Weejun, resoled and in action

Some years ago now, while looking for information on suits, I stumbled on the Ask Andy About Clothes forum and an obsession was born.

There are sub-obsessions, and for the last two years mine has been finding the right penny loafer. I was loafer-resistant: the concept seemed pretty sissified to me, and I still won't even consider a tassel. Very gradually I warmed to the idea of a loafer at all via the boat shoe. From the battered Topsider it's a fairly short stretch to the Weejun, the famous penny loafer made by Bass.

I tried a pair from the outlet store in Lee, Mass. My first mistake was buying them too big. I was under the impression loafers should be the same size as one's other shoes. Maybe for other guys, but not me. I need one that is shorter, otherwise it just flops around.

The second mistake was buying the Weejuns from the outlet at all. The typical Bass loafer available at outlets is made of a shiny (and, I learned, cheap) leather called corrected grain. It looks like plastic and feels like it, too. I eventually thrifted a pair of older USA-made Weejuns with the soles falling off, and had them resoled by an outfit called NuShoe. (Oddly, the uppers and interior were fine.)

Back to the forum. I read up on loafers, and the odyssey began.

I discovered that Lands End shoes run big, like their sport jackets. I discovered that the penny loafer as practiced by whoever makes the calfskin ones for Brooks is too pointy. I found that Sebago's corrected grain isn't nearly as obnoxious as that used by Bass, and that by combining black loafers with baggy chinos and a plaid short-sleeve sport shirt with a button-down collar one can recreate the look sported by the young Richard Dreyfuss in
American Graffiti. (Not that it comes up often, or ever, but nice to know the option's there.)

And I found it gets tricky when one has a skinny ankle and a wide-ish everything else. I can get the heel right and have too much up front, or it can fit like a glove in the toe box and I'm falling out of them in the back.

But I persevered, and experimented, and spent too much money, and now I have a bunch of penny loafers that are satisfactory or better, to varying degrees.

Sebago Cayman flat-strap penny loafer

The best of them are...


With socks - Allen Edmonds Hanover, Sebago Cayman in brown

Sans socks - Quoddy Trail Company Pennies with camp sole, Allen Edmonds Lawrence with lug sole

Style :

Cool - AE Hanovers, black Sebago Classic, Sebago Cayman

Pleasantly stodgy - Bass Weejuns (thrifted pair, resoled, much better leather), Sebago Classic in brown

Strictly utilitarian - Bass Logans, the oiled leather Sebagos, the Quoddys.

Different league - AE Randolphs in shell cordo (I think).

Story behind these - got them on eBay, and noticed the leather just seemed more substantial than anything else I owned. Then I took a spill and managed to scratch the hell out of them. Ruined, I thought. Shoe cream, polish, leather conditioners - nothing helped.

Then I read up on shell cordovan and learned that the oils in this type of leather stay put forever. Should some calamity occur, the best bet is to give the shoes a brisk brushing and leave them alone to allow Nature to take its course.

Which I did, and now the scratches are barely noticeable. (Which is why I think these are shell.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Yogurt Smoothie

Tired of feeling bloated? Well, stop eating that cheeseburger and go get some plain low- or no-fat yogurt, a bottle of weird Polar diet soda and some frozen berries.

Using your wisdom in the ways of science, combine four medium blobs of yogurt, three good splashes of diet soda and half a pound of frozen berries in a blender, and let 'er rip.

What you will get is something that looks like Pepto-Bismol that's been up and down a couple of times, but it tastes good and - here's the best part - after about two weeks of ingesting this stuff regularly, something in the gut lets go.

The sound effect for this gastrointestinal event (taken from the catalog of Mad magazine's Don Martin) is:


Yes, with a mighty wind everything that was bugging you will emerge, and continue to emerge.

For days.


Monday, April 7, 2008

Equinox: Student Cheese Goes Big Time

Acting on a tip from the Lakeville Journal's Ryan Snider, I obtained the super low-budget
Equinox from NetFlix and right away realized where Sam Raimi got a lot of his ideas for The Evil Dead. I mean, look at it: well-meaning professor gets hold of ancient book of the occult and foolishly reads the spells aloud as he translates from the Sumerian. All Hell breaks loose. Well-meaning students blunder into situation, discover all H. breaking loose, and die in unusual ways.

The special effects for Equinox
are spectacular, given they had a budget of about $8000 (in 1967). For the giant-menacing-the-smarty-pants scene, the actor playing in the ogre stood on a picnic table; the actor playing the wisenheimer was several yards away, aligned for the camera angle. To get the "ground" right, the right color dirt was placed on a piece of plywood, which was then propped up next to the picnic table.

The Criterion Collection DVD two-fer has the original version and the later theatrical (read: drive-in) release, with extra footage shot a couple of years later and some additional plot to get in the way of the story. The later scenes are noticeable: the longer sideburns on the men are a bit of a giveaway, and the young blonde lady doesn't fit her Capri pants quite as well.

Fans of WKRP in Cincinnati might recognize Frank Bonner (who played Herb in the TV series). He's the one with the sideburns.

Summary: Four stupid white people; one berserk scientist; one evil book; one weird park ranger/demon; assorted monsters, including giant house-eating octopus (tentacles only), ogre, flying red devil, minor league King Kong; one disappearing castle; one Zone of Doom; gratuitous shots of girl's bottom in Capri pants; reporter in porkpie hat; fat shrink in lab coat. Groovy LA teen stuff. Incredibly slow speed limits. Lots of scrambling up hills. Grimace sex.

Three coils.

Grimace sex

Demonic monster or Tennessee Titan? You decide.

Coming this week...

Exciting reviews of Equinox, Circle of Iron and Last House on the Left; notes on the onset of Trout Madness; the Search for the Perfect Penny Loafer.


Thursday, April 3, 2008

Getting a Grip on the Dems

I find this tiresome Democratic primary difficult to handicap. There are too many variables to consider, and more appear every time these candidates open their mouths.

For professional pols, Sens. Clinton and Obama sure are clumsy. When not making ill-considered remarks about infants or inventing tales of derring-do, they are committing public, televised acts of bad bowling and, in the case of Mrs. Clinton, baring her teeth in a rictus-like grimace masquerading as a smile.

And they keep doing The Shuffle - clarifying, selectively denying, and otherwise dancing around whatever damn fool thing escaped from their wide open yaps that particular day.

They make Sen. John McCain, no mean Shuffler himself, look like a combination of the genes of Lincoln, Reagan and Aunt Bee from the "Andy Griffith Show" - visionary, principled, and possessed of good common sense and a sturdy rolling pin.

We are, however, professionals, and at some point money must change hands. So:

  • Obama wins popular vote, regular delegates, nominated on first ballot: 2-1
  • Obama wins as above but gets the shaft as super-delegates bolt to Clinton: 3-1
  • Same scenario as number two, but entire thing gets hopelessly bogged down in big fight about the rules, which nobody understands: 7-2
  • Big fight about rules drags on for four days, at which point Al Gore, dressed as an earth-toned Peter Pan, is lowered on to the stage from a crane to save the day. Howard Dean plays Tinker Bell: 9-2.