Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Staying indoors for the latest Tuesday Top Five

It's been a couple of weeks since the last Tuesday Top Five, and a couple more on top of that since it actually got done on time. As usual, Our Man in LA carries no convenient excuse along with him. Sure, there's the new job. Sure, the weather's been a little bit on the crappy side.

No excuse. The bottom line is that it's time for me to deliver. So here you have it, a real, live, on-time Tuesday Top Five. Let's do it right for a change. I haven't been out and about like usual this week, so consider this the Tuesday Top Five: Home Edition.

Without further ado . . .

5) The Daruma Wish Doll. Last night, Our Man in LA faced his last ever board meeting at the day job. As of April 6, I vacate the LA office of the Alzheimer's Association after five years with the group both here and back in Chicago. Since coming to LA, I've had a lot of interaction with Board members, cultivating them and their closest friends and family to, well, give us more money.

Basically, I'm the money-grubbing pest. As such, Board members last night punctuated just about every bit of new business with jokes about "the late Chris" and whatnot. But at the end, they did chip in and give me a gift - the aforementioned Daruma wish doll.

You can read about them here: http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/daruma.shtml.

Here's the skinny. You take one of these red papier mache dolls, and you fill in one of its eyes in ink. You make a wish as you do it. For a year, the doll stands there as a monument to your wish, and it keeps you going. You get a bunch of good Buddha karma for the thing you seek to do.

When you achieve your wish, you fill in the other eye. Some folks say you should discard it then, or burn it. We'll see.

Nice gift. It never hurts to have something tangible to remind you of what you really want. And of course, it never hurts to have good Buddha karma for anything.

4) DC Comics: One Year Later. As I may have mentioned in the last couple of months, DC Comics began a massive crossover promotion with all of its mainstream super-hero characters this month, coming on the heels of its INFINITE CRISIS series.

Basically, the whole DC Universe - home of Superman, Batman and a host of others - jumped ahead one year in time. Since we last left our heroes, major changes have greeted our favorite heroes and villains. There's a new status quo in Gotham City. A companion series, called 52, will be coming out in the next month or so, spilling the tale of the lost year in a real time, week by week format. Hence the name 52.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. Whenever big comic book companies suggest that big changes are afoot, well, they're usually lying. Superman didn't really die, did he? Or at least, he got better faster than a knight in a Monty Python flick. Even that Robin who died back in the 80s, the one you could phone in and save or kill? He's totally back in the saddle.

So it's good to be skeptical about these things. But so far, the One Year Later titles have given really strong comics writers the opportunity to start fresh with old standby characters. The status quo really is changed - for now.

How so? Some of the changes are minor, others a lot stronger. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman - not to mention their friends and colleagues - have been missing for most of the year. When we open in Metropolis, Clark Kent is apparently human now - with no super-powers. Supergirl is saving the day.

Catwoman's a mom, giving birth to a baby girl. Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow, is now the mayor of his hometown of Star City (which I guess is sort of like Seattle, but I'm not sure). Black Canary has apparently gone rogue. Robin is wanted for murder. Someone took Nightwing's identity and started killing criminals, so the real guy is trying to clear his name. Hawkman's gone, but Hawkgirl's picked up the slack.

It's cool stuff, with really good storytelling. A good jumping on point for the casual fan. So good, in fact, that mainstream publications like ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY are reviewing the books. Check out those reviews here: http://www.ew.com/ew/article/commentary/0,6115,1173521_5_0_,00.html.

3) Television Dramas. Seriously, I'm not getting out enough.

Why? Because too many good TV shows fill my evening hours these days. You already know about my obsessions on this front - 24, THE OFFICE, MY NAME IS EARL, and the lethal narcotic known as LOST. Now, with THE SOPRANOS back in business, I really can't think of a good reason to leave home at night. What am I going to do instead? Go to a movie? Go see ULTRAVIOLET?

Dude, seriously.

Loved the first episode of THE SOPRANOS. Maybe one of the top five of all time, in my opinion. No two ways about it. I figured that they couldn't recapture the gut punch power they used to have. I expected a show bloated by ego, limping into its final days. Then Tony took a shot from his uncle, and I found myself hooked again.

Sunday's episode fell short of the opener, but mostly because of the bad, bad acting of the kid playing AJ Soprano. Seriously, can't somebody whack him? Put him out of my misery. AJ's lack of performance served as enough reason for Our Woman in LA to call the episode a suck-fest.

Not so, I countered. Edie Falco's Carmela came out swinging in her performance - really great work. And the scenes between Tony's lieutenants, vying with one another for power should Tony not pull through, well, it reminded me of something out of Shakespeare. And Tony himself, trapped in the delusions of coma, put together a very different and interesting perspective on how the mob boss feels about himself, and about the life he's leading now.

I dug it. The Father-in-Law elected to wait on SOPRANOS this season. He'll record the first three on TIVO, wait for the review out of LA, and then decide whether to watch. He's trying to catch up on five years of 24. And given the choice, I'd still take the Kiefer Sutherland torturefest, too.

But Tony and the rest are back. So there's no reason to go outside at all.

2) Especially when you have books to fill the other hours like Michael Lark's powerful graphic novel adaptation of Raymond Chandler's THE LITTLE SISTER.

Our Man in LA has a theory about Chandler. Basically, it's the same as his theory about Woody Allen. It goes like this. Everyone knows the really important works by these artists. We've seen them or read them, we can talk intelligently about them. But because they're so "important", they're basically disqualified from being our favorites. The ones that are our favorite pertain to our individual tastes, or to the times and places we first encountered them.

For example, if you ask someone their favorite Woody Allen film, and they say ANNIE HALL or MANHATTAN, they're posing. Not true. Those are the most important ones, sure. That's the answer they're supposed to give, sure. But that's not true. Same with anyone who says that really, seriously, CITIZEN KANE is their favorite movie ever.

No, really, it's not. It's number one in all those lists, and it's really important. But it's not your favorite.

Chandler's the same way. Everyone knows THE BIG SLEEP. Great book. Important book. But it shouldn't be your favorite. Almost can't be.

For me, my fave Chandler is either FAREWELL, MY LOVELY or THE LITTLE SISTER. Maybe they're lesser works, but they resonate with me. Part of it's the way they become such personal stories for Marlowe - he sees his loneliness reflected in the star-crossed romance of Velda and Moose Malloy; he doubts his own origins and reason for being as he follows the path that Orfamy Quest has set for him.

Part of it is that I read these for the first time back in junior high, when I first got the detective story jones.

Anyway, Lark apparently loves THE LITTLE SISTER, too. His art and adaptation are beautiful. They bring out the moodiness and violence of the era. He cuts through the existential fog that Marlowe takes with him all over 1940s Los Angeles.

If you like the detective story, check this one out.

1) NCAA Tournament. My buddy Rick called last weekend "the best weekend of the year." I consider myself more of a football fan than basketball fan, but I can't really disagree with him. What could possibly be better than a full weekend of back to back to back college games, full of drama and sudden elimination? Every year, high drama greets the tournament - every bit as exciting as the DC Universe or Marlowe's L.A. Who doesn't love the emergence of the mid-major underdogs, putting away the big boys of college sports?

As always, it's incredible, I tell you.

I could go on and on, without much in the way of specifics. But what good would that do? So instead, I've made some notes on specific things that occurred to me over this first, great weekend:

A) Did I say that the Pac 10 sucked? Oh, ho ho no! What I MEANT to say is that the Big Ten sucks. Sucks bad. No teams in the Sweet 16. None. Iowa lost to Northwestern State (which I think is in Louisiana) IN THE FIRST ROUND! And how bad, seriously, does an Ohio State team have to be to lose by 18 points to a middle of the pack Big East team in Our Man in LA's hometown of Dayton?? That's basically a home game! OSU gridiron and hoops are the most popular things in the Buckeye state. Incredible. Just incredible. Put a bag over your heads, Big Ten fans (of which, I am one).

B) Hang tough, Mighty Mighty Longhorns. It's been a great year, and Duke looms in the round of eight - if we make it. Hook em, Horns.

C) Congrats to UCLA for looking like champs all through these first two rounds. I figured the Bruins for paper tigers. Is it possible that we're seeing the rebirth of one of the all-time great programs? Is it possible that LA sports fans will go back to rooting for the Trojans during football season and the Bruins during basketball season?

D) Why on Earth - ON EARTH - are the folks at Indiana University (alma mater of my mom and just about everyone in her entire family) still considering Steve Alford to replace Mike Davis as head coach? Seriously. IU's one of the most important college b'ball programs historically, and they're considering replacing their coach who made it to the round of 32 with a guy who fell in the first round? To Northwestern State?

Look, IU fan, I know you loved Bobby Knight. I understand. But give up the ghost. And give up on Alford, who may have been Knight's finest player, but just isn't that amazing as a coach. So many mid-major tyros exist out there. Call the guy from George Mason, who just knocked off Michigan State and UNC. I bet you can match his salary. Or how about the cat from Bradley. Bradley's in Indianapolis, so I imagine he knows how to recruit the Hoosier State. And the last Bradley coach to move to the Big Ten (Ohio State's Thad Matta) just won the conference in this, his second year. Crappy year, I'll grant you, but he still won.

There's precedent here. Illinois grabs Coach Weber out of Southern Illinois, and they go to the Championship Game last year. Ohio State grabs Matta, and they win the Big Ten. Grab a guy that's hungry, Hoosiers.

Or look at the other side. North Carolina picks up recent grad Matt Doherty, fresh off big program Notre Dame, and it all falls apart. Kansas grabs at Bill Self from Illinois, and two years in a row they bow out early in the tournament.

The hated Mike Davis got you to one championship, and past the first round in the tourney in another year. It's a five-year stretch that beats Knight's last decade at Indiana. Don't trade down for Alford.

E) In the meantime, do you think Mike Davis has any interest in coaching Our Man in LA's other alma mater the not so Mighty Mighty Wildcats of Northwestern? A tournament appearance would be a welcome change for the program at this point. NU hosted the first tournament back in the day, but our team has never made an appearance.

So Mike, how do you feel about a beautiful campus right on the edge of a major metro area? I know you got criticized for poor recruiting at IU, but at this point, I think Wildcat fans would welcome ANY recruiting.

Mull it over, buddy. We'll be over here, close to the bottom of the Big Ten. You know, the conference with zero teams among the Sweet 16.

See y'all tomorrow.

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