Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Another Tuesday, another Top Five . . .

The sun's starting to peek through the clouds and marine layer out here in the Southland, leaving the gray and ugly cold weather behind. Seriously. We're talking low 60s out here. 50s at night. I had to turn the heat on last night.

But that's all over now. Getting sunnier, getting warmer. And just in time for the Tuesday Top Five. So without further ado, here we go:

5) The Complete Peanuts. I can't say enough about this series, produced by the good folks at Fantagraphics with much input by Chip Kidd. As you know, I'm a huge Charles Schulz fan. In my mind, Schulz is the greatest American comics auteur of all time - a giant in the world of American arts. These books, which are beautifully rendered and realized, provide you the consumer with every single strip of the Peanuts epic - from 1950 onward.

I just picked up the third book in the series this weekend - the one with Pigpen on the cover - and it's just fantastic. At this point (the mid 50s), we're starting to see the characters develop into the really complex and multi-faceted individuals we all came to know and love. This is the volume where Linus gets his security blanket, where Pigpen comes on the scene, and where Snoopy takes another step toward becoming the force of nature he would later be. Amazing, amazing stuff - and just in time for tonight's broadcast of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown."

As a side note, the Hammer Museum in LA is starting an exhibit in the next few weeks about the comics in America. In an article in the LA Times this weekend, one art critic suggested that the comics may be the closest thing to American classical art and literature (in the same way that American classical music is jazz). I agree. And if that is the case, all the more reason to pick up this volume. Schulz is a master, the same way guys like Coltrane and Davis are masters of the American classical music.

4) Niko Niko Sushi. Another great restaurant not four blocks from the new Wieland homestead. It's situated in a tiny storefront across Vermont from the Dresden. Sure, the place is more than a little claustrophobic inside, but once you get a taste of a sushi roll, you forget all about it. Seriously, it's some of the best sushi I've ever had.

And a word about the rolls themselves. First of all, they're among the biggest I've ever seen. More than a mouthful, and Our Man in LA has a pretty big mouth (just ask his friends). For our first visit to the place, the wife and I feasted on a vegetable roll brimming with arugala and avocado, a spicy shrimp roll with a massive kick, and a shrimp tempura roll that was nothing short of outstanding. Difficult to get your mouth around even one piece, but definitely worth the struggle.

3) Trouble is my Business by Raymond Chandler - and specifically the two short stories "Goldfish" and "Red Wind". Every mystery buff knows a little bit about Raymond Chandler and his famous fictional detective Philip Marlowe. Marlowe's been a star on the big screen, played by the likes of Bogart, Mitchum, Elliot Gould, James Garner, and even Danny Glover. Some have been good or great movies, some poor. But on the page, Marlowe helped re-define the way America viewed itself through jaded eyes in a violent world. Old Phil wasn't a detective like the guys on CSI or like Holmes over in Merry Old England. He didn't solve murders and crimes by a systematic evaluation of clues. No sir. In Chandler's not-very-nice world, Marlowe was always able to determine the truth because of his fundamental understanding of the nature of man, and of good and evil.

In Goldfish, our hero departs the mean streets of LA for the Pacific Northwest on the trail of runaway thief who possesses a pair of pearls the size of ping pong balls (and don't mean that figuratively, neither - no double entendres on this site!). In Red Wind, Marlowe is beset by hot Santa Ana winds as he navigates his way through the City of Angels. His goal is to learn the truth about a man murdered at his neighborhood bar, a man who might have been blackmailing a high society dame. It's all good stuff - with a punchy prose style that made Chandler famous.

It bears mentioning here that in the book's introduction, Chandler writes that there's no such thing as a classic mystery or crime novel - that there's no such thing as one novel or set of novels against which all others in the genre will be measured. For my money, Raymond was a little too modest. It's his work - and Hammett's - against which all crime novelists will always be compared.

2) il tramezzino. It's a cute little restaurant out in the Valley, and I thought it was time that Our Man in LA had something to say about the infamous 818. Sure, Marcellus Wallace might not have any friends out there, but this place is pretty cool nonetheless.

The wife and I headed to this spot smack in the middle of Ventura Boulevard in Studio City yesterday after a meeting over in Sherman Oaks. It's your basic chilled-out Tuscan set restaurant. Comfortable, friendly, with a good deal of inside and outside seating. Good food, good atmosphere, a place worth coming if you're looking to get away from the hustle and bustle a little bit.

The desserts at this place are imported from Italy. The standard sandwiches and salads all have a little Italian kick to them. The servers and the customers can sit back and enjoy a slightly more relaxed pace. It might not be the kind of place where you want to go on a tight lunch hour - you'll get impatient and cranky. But if you have time, if you're looking for a breather - and if you want to be out in the Valley - well, it's your place.


Before I get to my number 1 of the week, I do want to mention the sheer number of things that were runners-up to my weekly Top 5. Both my Northwestern Wildcats and Mighty Mighty Texas Longhorns got considered. Texas is now challenging USC in the polls, and you know that's good. Northwestern is fighting for the Big Ten championship, something that comes along once every five years.

Then there were the White Sox - just two games away from giving Chicago its first World Series win in just about anyone's lifetime. But I've written about them a bunch, and I feel like I should save my energy for when the games are over.

There's the aforementioned Hammer Museum exhibit on American comics - featuring the likes of Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes. I can't wait to see it. There's the oral history of the groundbreaking comics series WATCHMEN in this week's Entertainment Weekly. If you haven't read it - or God forbid, if you haven't read WATCHMEN - get out there and get it done, fool!

All of them deserve their mention. Most of them would have qualified in a different week. But this week has been a good one.


1) ELIZABETHTOWN, the new movie by Cameron Crowe. Now I know that even putting this on the list will offend all manner of intelligentsia. This is being called a mammoth failure, maybe Cameron Crowe's worst film. I couldn't disagree more.

Folks, the best thing that Cameron Crowe does is capture universal experience and mood. He mines our pathos, finds comedy in our most heartfelt and saddest moments, and yes, makes a kickass soundtrack for it along the way. And that's what he does here.

Starting out with two actors that I never had much faith in - in Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst - Crowe wrings the best performances either has ever made. In telling us the story of a desperate failed executive happy to wallow in his own misery, who then is forced to deal with the responsibility and reality of his father's death, Crowe has hit a home run. I don't care what the critics say. This is a great film.

Is it Crowe's best movie? No. That honor, for my money, goes to the also deeply personal ALMSOST FAMOUS. Second place belongs to Lloyd Dobler and his dare to be great situation in SAY ANYTHING. Then comes ELIZABETHTOWN.

For the record, I think Crowe's worst movies are the ones featuring Mr. Cruise. I am no fan of JERRY MAGUIRE or VANILLA SKY. And that's precisely because they lose that personal edge. None of us are Tom Cruise (even Cruise himself, these days). Not in the way that we're Lloyd or William or Drew.

The main characters in all of these films are basically stand-ins for Crowe at one point in his life or another. But because the man clearly has a sense of what's important to all of us, they stand in for each and every one. Who hasn't felt the longing of Famous' William Miller? Who hasn't felt like Lloyd Dobler standing there on the lawn, hoping that a song might convey the feeling he knows he can't put into words?

If you haven't, that's sad to hear. If you have, you'll feel more of the same in this movie.

It's not a perfect film. Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer's roles seem to be made for another flick. There are other glitches here and there. But it's deeply personal and highly important. It's a reminder of how unstable we all are at the most difficult times in our lives. And it reinforces our understanding of the human need for the occasional solitude and the occasional connection to others, maybe even after they're gone.

Can't wait to get the soundtrack.

See y'all tomorrow.

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