Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Tuesday Top 5 - prepping for the holiday edition

Tomorrow morning, Our Woman and LA and I get up eye-bugging early to get on a plane headed for my home state of Ohio, where, as I reported yesterday, it's supposed to be in the 30s with the occasional snow shower. It's in the spirit of preparation for this trip (running to the dry cleaners, packing up the stuff, bracing oneself for slicing cold winds and drifts of snow) that I put this newest Tuesday Top Five together.

I won't lie to you. Some of the items on the list, they're not that surprising. I might have eluded to them along the way. But time's of the essence, folks, so let's get rolling.

5) The weather in LA. The numbers speak for themselves. Seventy-eight degrees outside with a light wind out of the northwest. Ten miles of visibility. The Pacific Ocean visible as a brilliant silver strip from my office window.

Now I know that some damn fool out there will tell me that weather like this isn't appropriate for November. Where's the snow, the fool will ask. Where are the sweaters with cute cartoon reindeer? Who will make the ambrosia dish with those little marshmallows if the weather's nice?

Whatever. After 30 years of building character in the Great Lakes region, I've found my reward. Cool and dry at night, warm and sunny in the day. This is roll down the top weather here. Clear blue skies, crashing surf on the beach.

Yeah, it's hard to beat this. Sigh. Once more back into the cold this week.

4) iTunes, music downloading, and Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska. This is not a tie. It's all part of the same phenomenon.

First, a digression. I'll admit, right now before God and the blogosphere, that I carry a certain suspicion of things popular, and as such, I come late to the party a lot. I can't tell you when it all started, but I suspect that it was in high school, where I witnessed the amazing phenomena of the popular teacher/good teacher split.

Had a couple of History teachers back at old Archbishop Alter - most popular guys on the faculty. Never learned a thing and died a thousand deaths listening to their lame jokes. Had an English teacher who was tough as nails, not popular at all with the students, and quirky as hell.

Learned a ton.

In college, there was some of the same. It actually got to the point where, if a teacher was popular, if someone gushed about how you just simply HAD to take this person for this specific class, I ran the other way, fast and hard.

Probably that was a little extreme. I probably missed out on some things. I'm older now. I can see that.

Which brings me to this item. When everyone started downloading music instead of buying CDs in the store, I rejected the very idea of it. How hard, really, is to buy a CD, I would ask. And I bet it's ridiculously complicated to buy music online.

Well, of course, it's not. My attitude has caught up with me. Over the summer, I got an iPod for my birthday - see, late to the party again. And my brother- and sister-in-law gave me a $50 gift certificate to the iTunes store.

Didn't use them. I was positive I didn't have time to figure it all out, to fix what songs I had on my iPod and what songs Our Woman in LA had on hers (after all, I had little interest in Beyonce, Nelly, or Justin Timberlake for my listening pleasure).

Until this week. Getting ready for the trip to Ohio, I realized having a soundtrack wouldn't be so bad. Might give me something to do if the wife and I disagreed about the movie we put on the laptop.

Started downloading. Found it easy, kept doing it.

As it turns out, I maybe should have been doing this a couple of years ago. At least. Stupid, stupid Wieland.

So anyway, the Springsteen album NEBRASKA is one of my new purchases, and it's amazing. I know, I know. You already knew that because you listened to it years ago, told me it was brilliant, and I scoffed.

Well it is, I was wrong, and I made it to the party. But I brought a case of beer . . .

3) The Los Angeles Clippers. Tremble in fear, NBA fans. A team from LA once again dominates the Pacific division, bringing a powerful lineup and an impressive set of wins to the Southland.

And it's the Clippers. I love this. I love them.

Really, what's not to love about the Clips? CNN and Sports Illustrated rank them as one of the five best teams in the league. They have endured being second class citizens in the NBA since moving to this town, and now, just once, they're on top.

So what if Sam Cassell is kind of ugly? He's money. So what if Chris Kaman looks like he might have been separated from a tribe of Bigfoots (or Bigfeet?)? I love the Tom Petty-looking guy.

So what if no jerseys or championship banners hang for Clippers from the rafters of the Staples Center? It's time to get on this particular bandwagon now. Good seats still available.

So what if they haven't had an MVP on this team since Bob McAdoo, back in the 70s . . . when the team was called the Buffalo Braves? So what if the average fan on the street doesn't know what a Clipper is? They don't know what a Laker, Knick, or 76er is, either.

Folks, I give you the Clippers. last week, I hit my first game of the season with my buddy Rick. Fun times, watching the home team take out the Milwaukee Bucks, a squad that's usually considered part of the top ten NBA teams. The fans screamed at the court. They were loud. Even in $30 seats.

So if you like basketball, I entreat you. Forget about that purple team with Kobe. Forget about your teams in Cleveland or Indiana, in Charlotte or Dallas. The Clippers. I'm telling you. Don't be late to this party.

2) HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE. OK, so I wasn't all keen on the last book. It took like 4,000 pages before anything even happened. And I found myself in a pretty humbug kind of mood going into the Goblet of Fire movie. Of the Harry Potter books, this one is tied for second with Order of the Phoenix (and behind Prisoner of Azkahban), and I was nervous.

Turns out, they did a pretty great job, all things considered. Daniel Radcliffe and the kids are growing up well, making their characters more interesting with each movie. The look and sound of the piece was better than in the first two flicks.

And Ralph Fiennes and Brendan Gleason absolutely steal the show. Great performances from both of them - I found myself literally afraid, at long last, of Voldemort. And Fiennes' performance is actually very subtle and nuanced. He's no cartoon villain. His hatred of Harry Potter is not motivated merely by his desire to do evil, but also by insecurity and ego. This is the one he could not vanquish. Very cool decisions by old Ralph.

All of which is not to say that there aren't quibbles. It's a 7,000 page novel turned into a two-hour feature. Some things needed to be cut. Steve Kloves' script does the best it can, but if you're a Potter fan, you'll find something missing. And I'm not crazed about Michael Gambon's Dumbledore. He seemed fine in the last flick, but now it seemed like they shot every scene on a day where the guy really needed to be somewhere else. For all I could tell, he was double-parked outside the studio. I miss Richard Harris.

But those are minor quibbles. And it's not like you don't want to see it. Get out there.

1) BLANKETS by Craig Thompson. Positively, absolutely one of the best, most effecting graphic novels that I have ever read. Without question, it will be a long, long time before this one leaves me. Funny, spirited, sad, and breath-taking artistically. If you like the graphic novel form at all, you simply must check this book out.

Thompson tells the story of growing up in the seemingly always-frozen midwest in a rigidly evangelical Christian family. Young Craig fights his way through a series of obstacles - being ridiculed at schools, suffering through sharing a bed with his little brother in a creepy old farmhouse, dealing with the occasional abuse of his brusque father, and generally being ostracized by his schoolmates.

At this age, Craig really loves to do one thing - and that's draw. Not surprisingly, he's not encouraged to do it. Godly Christian young men are expected to grow up to serve as missionaries, or to join the clergy. Craig believes in God, perhaps fears not believing, and lives with the horrible knowledge that if he follows the path he's supposed to, he'll always be miserable.

As a teenager, Craig meets a girl named Raina at a Church Camp, and she becomes his first real love. This is where the book really takes off, both visually and viscerally. As Thompson the writer/artist takes us through his experience of this first love, we're all catapulted into those feelings of being young, impassioned, scared, and amazed simultaneously.

It's beautiful. Really.

And that's not all. There are so many characters in this story who could be one note, who could indeed by summed up by their appearance. But all of them - all of them - are finely drawn and unforgettable. Craig's father is so nuanced that you almost forgive his brutality. Raina's sad divorcing parents each bring a vital perspective. And Raina's brother and sister, both of whom have Down's syndrome, possess a nobility and passion of their own, even though they're limited to a few pages of the story.

There's a lot of debate lately about who constitutes the "canon" of comics art in America. Eisner, for sure, and Kirby, Spiegelman, Crumb, and Chris Ware. I haven't read Thompson's other work, but this piece is magic. Reading BLANKETS, I was reminded of authors whose words struck me in the same way of this art. Salinger, maybe? Or Russo or Chabon?

Haven't decided yet. I'll be digesting this one for a while.

But having dealt with the Top Five, it's time once again for the Bottom One.

And it is . . .

1) The NFL's alleged return to LA. I've written about this before, but here's a quick summary. The NFL's Raiders and Rams left the Los Angeles area more than a decade ago. The Rams went to St. Louis and won a Super Bowl. The Raiders went home to Oakland, and appeared in one.

Since then, the NFL has been trying to get back here. Understandable, I guess. Because the league exists on TV and TV revenue, and it doesn't make any sense to have no team in the 2nd largest market, but teams in the 34th market (Cincinnati), 49th market (Buffalo), and whatever Green Bay has.

However, the state of California has recently passed a number of measures to try and keep its NFL teams in the cities where they currently reside. So the NFL can't think about moving the Chargers to LA, or the Raiders back down here. So a team has to come from elsewhere.

According to published reports, there are two new developments: 1) the NFL wants to move two teams to the area - one for the LA Coliseum, and one for the Anaheim/Orange County area (since that was such a good idea before); and 2) the likely contenders are the New Orleans Saints, now displaced, and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Here's the thing. I like having no team in LA. I get to watch whatever the best game of the day is. And I certainly don't want to lose this for the Saints and the Jaguars. So look, if we're going to swing this NFL thing out here, please stop thinking about stealing a team from a city that's already decimated by a hurricane. Can we actually have a reason to watch the games?

I have no real solution to the NFL issue. I don't want an expansion team. I want to watch the games I want to watch.

But I guess I want the stories to end. Wake me when this is over with.

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