Friday, July 28, 2006


Far from LA and a couple of days late, but still a TUESDAY TOP FIVE

Our Man in LA ventured out from the safety of his blazing hot Southern California home this week. Work called, as it sometimes does, and beckoned me to an all-staff meeting of my Chicago-based employer. But this particular road trip didn’t take me back to the Big Windy of my former hometown. Instead, along with 5,000 other employees from across the globe, Our Man in LA finds himself in the allegedly live music capital of the world – Nashville, Tennessee.

The whole thing has put me off-schedule. Maybe it’s the time change. Maybe it’s the preponderance of country music or the matching red polo shirts that we all have to wear during the day here. Or the eerie Disney meets Jethro and Elly Mae vibe of Opryland. Whatever it is, I know it’s not Tuesday, but I still have a Top Five.

After all, why should you suffer?

5. Culver City Veterans Memorial Park. Before I left for the American South, I revisited this great place, just down Overland from the place where Our Woman in LA and I used to live. You see, I’ve been trying to get in my running “homework” between weekly long runs while training for the upcoming half marathon. But LA’s been godawful hot, and especially later in the day.

And the further east you go in LA (away from the water, toward downtown), the hotter it gets. Which means exhaustion on days where the mercury tops out at 100+ degrees.

So I headed back toward the water. When Steph and I trained for the Rock n Roll Half Marathon last year, this was our main training ground. It might well be the perfect city neighborhood park. Don’t get me wrong. I love my new digs and Griffith Park – but Griffith Park is more primal. It doesn’t seem to belong in a city, given its rolling hills and the impressive backdrop it creates.

Veterans Memorial is just a square. There are a million like it in a million cities around the country – if indeed there are a million cities in the USA, which probably there are not. It’s just shady, with good basketball and tennis courts, a cute playground, and a solid mix of families, teens, young singles and marrieds like Our Woman in LA and me, and the occasional homeless person.

Best of all, it’s shady and cool these days. And once around the park is a half mile. Which is criteria enough.

4. EXODUS. I read the Leon Uris book when I was a kid. It was one of those impressively thick hardbacks that they had in one of the massive bookcases in the downstairs playroom. It looked interesting, and I went for it. Took me weeks to read – not because it was bad. It’s not. It’s pretty good. But in my teens, Leon Uris novels didn’t digest as easily as, say, the latest DR WHO novel.

But this week, I rented the 1960 movie with Paul Newman, Lee J. Cobb, Eva Marie Saint, and Sal Mineo. Really great stuff, especially if you have the occasional hankering for a movie epic. OK, fine, I’m thinking about the David Lean era epics. The ones without Hobbits and Ewoks. I like those, too, but every once in a while, it’s nice to see sanitized history on the screen.

This one has all the stuff you like, if you’re a fan of the LAWRENCE OF ARABIA school. Tragic deaths, historic fights, a cool movie star playing a sort-of historically accurate hero. So if you have almost 4 hours, get in there. There’s even a shot of the Jerusalem International YMCA, for which Our Man in LA toils during the day.

3. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. OK, here’s the part where Our Man in LA talks about how much he likes something that everyone else has been talking about for ages. Yes, once again, I’m late to the party, but at the urging of some work friends (and the need to do something during a four hour flight to Nashville), I rented the first mini-series. I have good feelings about the admittedly cheesy TV show from the 70s, so I figured what the hell.

Well worth it. This Battlestar is a lot darker, a lot smarter, sexier and stronger. Starbuck’s a woman, and she’s only about a million times tougher than the character in the 70s version was (then played by “Face” from THE A-TEAM). Plus, you’ve got Edward James Olmos as Commander Adama, human-looking Cylon warriors, and the rest.

I’m not a real sci-fi fan. I know, I know. I talk comics all the time. But space operas a la Star Trek usually leave me cold. This is good stuff. It’s adult, and the characters are real. The drama is political and intellectual, but at the same time, there’s none of that, “look, it’s a metaphor for the Cold War” crap that you see on so many space shows. It’s just good watching.

2. Justice League of America #0. See, just because I don’t normally like sci-fi stuff doesn’t mean I’m off the geek wagon just yet.

A year or two back, novelist Brad Meltzer wrote a miniseries for DC Comics called IDENTITY CRISIS, about the murder of the wife of B-list hero Elongated Man. It was pretty riveting. A smart detective story with an emotional edge, not to mention containing a pretty shocking series of betrayals perpetrated by people supposed to be heroes. It was a book billed as “for people who hate super heroes,” and probably it was. Those of us who love the super heroes, though, we had a good time, too.

At any rate, the events set in motion by IDENTITY CRISIS resulted in the breakup of the august Justice League, with its three main members (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) more or less at each other’s throats at the end. Now, a little more than a year later, the three gather again, make amends, and start talking about how to rebuild the thing they so fully destroyed. And, of course, who to invite to the party.

As they begin their discussion, Meltzer takes us through the history of the relationship the three share, including a number of key moments in the past (the forming of the original League, the wedding of Wonder Girl Donna Troy, the League’s break-up) as well as several in the future (weddings for Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Wonder Woman and (it’s implied) Batman, the death of one of the three, and maybe the final battle with arch villain Lex Luthor). Meltzer’s a great writer, and he does an admirable job making these three icons amazingly human. They like and respect each other, even when they hate one another.

So check it out. No lineup announced yet for the League. Meltzer’s said that there will be 10 members at first, with an 11th joining down the road. We’ll see.

1) BBC AMERICA – and specifically LIFE ON MARS and THE CATHERINE TATE SHOW. It’s happened over the last few weeks. Steph and I have begun to get really interested by Channel 109 on our Adelphia system, aka the BBC. The shows are strong and intriguing, and besides that, it beats summer reality shows.

LIFE ON MARS just started this past week, so you haven’t missed much. Get in there. The plot is this. A Manchester cop, sort of a CSI kind of guy tracking a serial killer, gets hit by a car. He wakes up and finds himself still in Manchester, but instead of it being 2006, it’s 1973 (when David Bowie recorded the song, LIFE ON MARS, which gives the show its title). He’s still a cop, and he faces similar threats. But the world hasn’t caught up to his CSI ways of the 21st century. Fingerprint study takes two weeks. Nobody’s heard of a Diet Coke or a mobile phone. And police work has to be done by feel and by gut.

Meanwhile, our hero gets the occasional clue that this might be a delusion, that he might be in a coma. Or is there something else?

I’m not being coy with that question. I don’t know. I just saw the first episode.

Great idea. Good casting. And did I mention that the period piece is extremely well done? I have no idea what Machester, UK, actually looked like in 1973, but if it was far off this, I’d be surprised. It’s worth a look.

THE CATHERINE TATE SHOW has Our Woman in LA rolling with laughter. It’s sort of a latter-day Tracey Ullman show, with British comedienne Tate doing a series of characters and sketches that come back episode after episode. She brings a very fresh, very British take on the modern teenager, the woman who gets dates via the Internet, and many more.

Best of all for Our Woman in LA, her teen character Lauren, whose snotty remarks and catchphrase “Am I bothered?” (which sounds like “Am I bovvered?”) seem remarkably real to someone working with a couple of dozen teenagers every week.

So check it out. Unless you’re too consumed with AMERICA HAS TALENT, or whatever.

And that’s it for today, folks. A top five, delivered all the way from Nashville. See you soon.

2 - I need to chime in as another latecomer to the Battlestar phenomenon. My sister finally convinced me to watch the mini-series & 4 episodes. "Remember," she said, "it took you some time to get into the West Wing and into Deadwood, too."

Damn her if she wasn't right...although there were several 'standard' TV-fare episodes in the first season, the last 2 made those few clunkers worth all the time. Honestly, some of the best TV this side of HBO.

Now I have to move on to season 2...
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