miscellaneous commentary

Archive for August 2012

Big Easy Express review

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Last week I rented Big Easy Express through iTunes. I saw the trailer a few months ago and was intrigued by the premise of three bands traveling on an old-timey train from Oakland to New Orleans, stopping to play shows along the way. Sort of a modern-day Festival Express. I was sold on the train travel alone, but I recognized a few of the songs being played, so I figured I’ve give it a chance.

As expected, the local Family Video (the only remaining brick & mortar rental store in Cedar Falls) didn’t have it on DVD. No surprise there. They have fifty copies of that big-budget fluff piece called “The Hunger Games” and only one copy of “A Separation”, this year’s Oscar winner for best foreign language film and in my opinion one of the best films of 2011. I’ve come to expect this type of discrepancy, and I’m not sure who it reflects more poorly upon, the store or the customers. But I digress.

The movie turned out to be only an hour long. That’s fine, I suppose. But couldn’t I have gotten a discount on the rental, which was $3.99? If I’m only getting half a movie, with no bonus features, I shouldn’t have to pay full price for it. Oh well.

The movie was okay. It was clearly intended for those already familiar with the three bands on tour — Mumford & Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros — because very scant time is spent introducing the bands or their members to the viewer. I think I could assign each frontman to their corresponding band, except for Old Crow, because they spent the least amount of time on them. But any other band member, I’d be at a lost to tell you which band they belong to.

I’d also be at a loss to explain how any of them got into music, or folk music specifically, or how the bands formed, or how they ended up on the train. Frankly, the filmmaker didn’t do much besides follow them along the tour, serving as a fly on the wall and nothing else. If you’re like me and you don’t know who these bands are before seeing this movie, you won’t know much about them afterwards.

One thing that has stuck with me was a brief interview with someone (can’t remember who or what band he was with) who said he could relate to the members of the other bands because they share the same mustard stains on their pants (???) and, like him, haven’t showered in days. Maybe I don’t get it because I’m not in a band, but I don’t think wallowing in your own filth makes you a better musician or even an interesting fellow. I think it only makes you filthy. Please, bathe once in a while. Your fans will thank you for it.

This folk-revival style of music can wear a little thin with me sometimes but I liked a few of their songs. I definitely fell in love with the train they were traveling on. I would love to travel the country in one of those old-fashioned Pullman-style cars, which sadly aren’t in regular service anymore.

So I would say I enjoyed the road trip aspect of the film but felt the musical aspect was lacking in what I perceive to be helpful information on each band. If you’re already familiar with each band and/or like their music (or folk music in general), you’ll probably get a kick out of this film.


Brown bottles

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Towards the end of my weekend in Chicago I picked up a six-pack mix of regional dark beers at a Binny’s outlet. Here is my meager assessment of each:

Brooklyn Brown Ale: the best of the lot. It was smooth and not too heavy. Went down well.

Bell’s Porter: it was okay. Tasted like a light Guinness.

Founders Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale: better than the Bell’s Porter. Heavy and slightly oaky.

Buster Nut Brown Ale: Tasted like Killians. Went down well.

Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter: tasted a touch too heavy, like a stout.

Rocky’s Revenge Bourbon Brown: this one came highly recommended by the employee I spoke with. I thought it was alright but not the best of the lot. Tasted like the Buster.

Last week I picked up a six-pack of Millstream Schild Brau Amber on sale at Wine & Spirits. A dark lager courtesy the Amana Colonies. Tasted pretty good, even after the chill has left the bottle a bit.

Written by camcarlson

August 26, 2012 at 9:29 PM

The 10-dimension Omniverse

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Take some time this evening to familiarize yourself with our ten dimensions.

Written by camcarlson

August 20, 2012 at 7:21 PM

Sleepy weekend

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I forsake this weekend’s unseasonably cool weather to catch up on my sleep. During the week I tend to wake up around 5 am. Saturday I slept in until 8:30am (after getting home around 2) and today, after getting to bed around midnight, I first woke up around 9 or 10 but rolled over and fell back asleep, several times, until finally dragging myself out around 2:30pm! I believe, I *hope*, I am sufficiently caught up on my sleep now.

So yes, I did nothing with my weekend, despite my well intended plans crafted on Thursday and Friday to tackle a number of small but persistently unfulfilled chores. Nothing that can’t be taken care of during the off hours this week. I like having no set plans on the weekend. It leaves me free to follow whatever whim comes my way, like meeting Cory and Ben for a drink on Saturday afternoon, then driving them plus Cara to the O.P. on the Hill for a late dinner, followed by drinks at the Octopus, the new bar next door to Mohair Pear (with the same owners). Nothing caps a good night like a draw of PBR at a hipster bar!

My only regret is that I didn’t get in any bicycling this weekend. I actually haven’t done much biking since before Chicago. Something I’ll have to focus on over the next few weeks…..

Written by camcarlson

August 19, 2012 at 8:51 PM

Posted in Bicycling, Cedar Valley

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Weekend in Chicago

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Last weekend I tagged along with Cory and Ben on a three-day visit to Chicago. We left late on Friday morning, taking Old Highway 30 into Illinois. We reached Downer’s Grove by 5pm, right as the antique car show began. Walked around with Don for a few hours, taking in the chrome and leather and met up with Doug, a fellow car aficionado.

Ben, Doug and Cory next to Doug’s 1960 Impala

Later in the evening we went to the White Sox game on the south side of Chicago – my first major league ball game. Don not only treated us to four free tickets but he also scored premiere parking literally a stone’s throw from the entry gate. Our seats were amazing — a few rows from the field, right along the first baseline. We arrived just in time for the first of three home runs hit by the Sox. Several foul balls flew right over our heads and landed either farther up in the stands or in the upper decks. Cory and Ben were undeterred by the price tag of $15 for a beer and a dog. Highway robbery in my opinion.

Can’t beat these seats!

We left during the seventh inning to grab a late dinner at Ricobene’s, a nearby Italian joint by the 90/94 overpass. In hindsight, we should have stayed at the game a bit longer, as Jordan Danks hit his first career home run at the bottom of the ninth, winning the game for the Sox 5-3 over the Oakland A’s. We picked up some drinks at the local 3 Floyds microbrewery and spent the evening at Don’s house in Dyer IN, just east of the state border.

Up with the sun the next morning for a tour of Allied Metal and Again Auto Parts, located in a rundown section of Chicago. We walked through the boneyard, the crushing machines and the warehouse filled with spare parts and complete engines, as well as a brief walk-through of the smelting plant. The five of us – Don’s neighbor Bill in tow – spent an hour or so wandering through the yard, picking off parts.

hot stuff

I was dropped off near Steph’s place around noontime. We lounged out back and snacked on a variety of beets, tomatoes, Baba ghanoush and flat bread. After JJ woke from his nap we departed for Birrieria Zaragoza for a late lunch consisting of goat meat, tortilla shells, lime wedges, onions and the spiciest little peppers my tongue has ever made the mistake of encountering. Back to Steph’s place to shanghai Matt into joining us for a walk up and down North Broadway. Cory called to inform me that my scheduled pickup was a no-go, but Steph & Matt,befitting their charitable character, offered to take me to my next destination.

scrumptious appetizers

The plan was to rejoin the guys at Kuma’s Corner, a hip burger place west of downtown. However, the place was packed, a line had formed out the front door, the wait list was an hour long and I was told I couldn’t put my name on the wait list until the others had arrived. So when they showed up, it was a no-brainer to go elsewhere for dinner. Don redirected us to the Fifty/50, a classy burger joint located in one of Chicago’s many hipster hives. I went light with the teriyaki boneless wings, probably a tenth of the caloric intake of Swestka’s behemoth beef/pulled pork/mac&cheese/waffle foodstuff.

Back to Don’s place by sundown. The rest of the evening was spent working on the brakes of his ’75 Eldorado. I’m rather useless when it comes to automotive repairs but I tried to lend a hand when and where I could, moving tools and holding a light into the wheel well for visibility. We labored until midnight, then retreated to the basement for sleazy late-night television programming. The OTC allergy meds I downed made me drowsy and I crashed around 1 on the sofa pillows in the back room.

I was the last one awake Sunday morning. After breakfast Don drove us east along OH30 to the Albanese candy store, the largest assortment of sugar, chocolate and gummy products I have ever seen in one place. Willy Wonka would have been impressed. They had everything – pop rocks, candy cigarettes, squirrel nut zippers and jawbreakers the size of a baseball. I bought some blue raspberry gummies and some dark chocolate peppermints.

We said goodbye to Don and headed back to Downer’s Grove. We picked up some local brew and then met Doug at his house, a midcentury modern design whose interior has been kept in fairly original condition. We toured the house and he showed us his vintage television collection (over 100 units) and amazed us with the Seeburg 1000. Afterwards we lounged in the front room with some Labatt Blue and swapped collecting stories.

60s mid-century modern

Back on the road after 3pm. We stopped at the Forest Inn in Morrison IL for some old-time supper-club dining. The rain began to fall as we crossed the Mississippi into Clinton IA and continued along 30 to Cedar Rapids. Back at Ben’s house by 9pm, the rain falling, our butts and backs aching. I went home, took a long hot shower, unpacked a bit and went to bed.

Monument to the Elm

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Here’s a blast from the past…

The sculpture existed on the corner of University and College, carved out of a 125-year-old Elm tree ravaged by Dutch Elm disease. The sculpture was created in 1974, taken down for restoration work in 1981, reinstalled in 1983 and taken down again (for good) in 1995. I would love to know what happened to it after its retirement — was it destroyed or stored somewhere?

Below are scans from a fundraising brochure printed for its restoration:






















Written by camcarlson

August 7, 2012 at 9:09 PM

Sight & Sound 2012 Poll

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[This entry has been revised — I originally stated “Citizen Kane” had dropped to third place on the directors list, whereas it actually tied for second with “2001: A Space Odyssey”.]

Since 1952, the British publication Sight & Sound has conducted a once-per-decade poll of film critics to determine the ten greatest films (they have separately polled film directors since 1992). Between 1962 and 2002 the top film on both lists was “Citizen Kane”. This year, however, “CK” steps aside for “Vertigo” on the critics list and for “Tokyo Story” on the directors list (where it ties “2001: A Space Odyssey”).

“Vertigo” is my personal favorite of Hitchcock’s films. It came out during the peak of his career; between 1954 and 1960 Hitchcock made “Rear Window”, “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, “Vertigo”, “North by Northwest” and “Psycho”. I regret that I hadn’t watched my DVD copy in years and only recently gave it away, as I did with my copy of “Citizen Kane”. But I still have my “NxNW”!

Also appearing on the critics list is my favorite silent film, “The Passion of Joan of Arc”. The film seems to skip a decade; it was on the 1952, 1972 and 1992 lists but not on the 1962, 1982 or 2002 lists.

Because of a change in voting rules, related films considered part of a whole piece of work had to be voted on separately. “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II” were #4 together on the 2002 list but this year, most likely because of the change, neither film made the top ten. A consolation is that Francis Ford Coppola earned two spots on the directors list this year: “The Godfather” at #7 and “Apocalypse Now” up at #6.

Three of the films on the critics list are silents from the 1920s; the most recent film on their list is “2001”, released in 1968. Conversely, two of the director’s picks were released in the 1960s (Fellini’s “8 1/2” and “2001”) and four from the 1970s (“The Godfather”, “Apocalypse Now”, Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and Tarkovsky’s “Mirror” — the only film on either list I haven’t seen… yet.).

“Tokyo Story” is a very touching film by Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu about an elderly couple who travel to Tokyo to visit with their children, grown up and too busy to spend time with their parents. The only sign of real affection comes from the son’s wife. Ozu had a specific way of filming his movies, in that the film camera almost never moved; in “Tokyo Story” it is said the camera moves (pans) only one time.

And “2001” is one of my personal favorite films, so I won’t bother writing much about it here. It is a film that stands on its own, almost outside the artistic powers of its creator (Stanley Kubrick), as a testament to man’s quest to understand his place in the universe. The film captivates and elevates. It says so much by using so few words; some have suggested it could have been made as a silent film, with its sparse dialog imposed as subtitles. I can’t say I would prefer the film that way, as it would deprive us of the haunting, soulless voice of the HAL 9000.

My initial gripe with the choices is that they don’t include films made within my lifetime — “Apocalypse Now” is the most recent film, having been released in 1979. It’s a pity that the voters passed on a lot of quality films from the 80s, 90s and 2000s. I would have liked to have seen “Raging Bull”, Schindler’s List” and/or “Pulp Fiction” considered, as well as “Breaking the Waves” and “Lost in Translation”. Too soon perhaps? (if so, then it’s way too soon for “The Tree of Life… but I can wait until 2022).

The full lists:

Critics: #1 Vertigo, #2 Citizen Kane, #3 Tokyo Story, #4 The Rules of the Game, #5 Sunrise, #6 2001: A Space Odyssey, #7 The Searchers, #8 Man with a Movie Camera, #9 The Passion of Joan of Arc, #10 8 1/2.

Directors: #1 Tokyo Story, #2 2001: A Space Odyssey and Citizen Kane (tie), #4 8 1/2, #5 Taxi Driver, #6 Apocalypse Now, #7 The Godfather and Vertigo (tie), #9 Mirror, #10 Bicycle Thieves.