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March 2009
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May 2009

A Week Away

Regular readers will recall that I decamp to Oregon during Spring Break each year to visit my parents and spend some time on the Oregon coast, usually in or near Seaside (I have also been to Manzanita and Canon Beach in recent years). There I was again this year, with my daughters for a few days (they had to get back to work), then by myself in a condo on the beach at Seaside (Vicki had to work as well).

The depressurization was successful, so successful that I found it extremely difficult to get back into the swing of things on the Monday when I got back. And I am still burdened with things that need to be done that I put off while I was on vacation, and I've now been back for a week.

Still, I wouldn't give it up for anything. As has often been noted by others, more skilled than I am, Thomas Wolfe was both right and wrong when he wrote "you can't go home again." You can't go home for the same reason you can't step in the same river twice; time moves on, things change, people move and die, and the neighborhood you grew up in changes. Mine, now known as Beaumont Village, is still recognizable as the area in which I spent the first 18 years of my life, but only just. The anchor is my parents, still in the same house after 52 years (the house next door to the one in which my father grew up). The five gas stations are all gone, but the school is there, as solid a brick structure today as it was in 1926. Dutch Village TV repair is gone, but Beaumont Market and Beaumont Florist soldier on. The cutesy shopping, the precious restaurants continue their invasion, and the bagel store proves this isn't MY Beaumont village, but rather a new and different one. Better? Could be. I don't live there, so I don't have to decide. I am pleased that there's frozen yogurt at the market, however--a low-call, high satisfaction treat that didn't exist when I was a boy.

I swung in Friday night, staying at Portland's finest B&B, The White House. Great rooms, great breakfast, great hosts. Can't be beat. Period.

Our semi-annual trip to the Pagoda restaurant in the Hollywood district of Portland for Chinese food was disrupted by the fact that-there is no more Pagoda. It's gone. Five decades. Poof. Making way for another bank. Just what the neighborhood needs. At least Powell's, the world's largest used book store, continues to exist in the physical world, down at 10th and Burnside.

My daughters arrived Saturday morning; it was a makeup for Christmas, which was snowed out (Portland's airport was shut down for most of Christmas Week). We all had a good time. The girls went back to work on Monday, while I kissed my parents goodbye, stopped for lunch at the charming and delightful Old Market Pub & Brewery in Portland's Multnomah district with KF, a high-school friend who recently retired from his job at a teacher at our old high school, Benson Polytechnic.

Thence to the Sand N' Sea condos, where I had a room on the ground floor with an ocean view, yards from the Prom. Long walks on Seaside's beautiful beach (despite temps in the 40s, gust winds and vigorous rain). Lots of reading and listening to Radio Nederlands classical music on the Internet, as well as my usual podcasts and BBC Radio 4 sitcoms. Two Prime Rib dinners at Gertles (both of which lasted two days!), and a day without getting dressed (always a vacation highlight for me). Then a quick two days in Portland, including a chat at Starbucks with BM, another high-school friend, and back to the real world.

My friend Kent Peterman recently noted that he is immune to SAD; as a happy native of Portland, so am I. Rainy days do not depress me in the slightest. Actually, we could us a few more here in Orinda.

And here's a quick test. Some of my students have been claiming to be readers of this blog. If you're one of the first four people to come up to me this week and say "Potomac" (you have to pronounce it correctly), I'll give you a Jolly Rancher.

Race to Witch Mountain

2.5 stars out of 5
The biggest difference between Race to Witch Mountain and Knowing, which I saw on the same evening, is that Knowing is pretentious claptrap, while Race to Witch Mountain is unpretentious claptrap. The funny thing is, I would have bet a million dollars that Race, with its car chases, live stuntmen and back-lot explosions, looked to be a whole lot cheaper and less CGI-laden than its more pretentious competitor. Yet, according to on-line sources, both films cost $50 million to make. Is Dwayne Johnson as expensive as Nicholas Cage? Has it gotten to the point where CGI is cheaper than a bunch of tumbling stuntmen dressed as soldiers? In any case, Race was a pleasant diversion, entertaining m family-fun eye candy that (thank you!) runs a tight, taut 90 minutes. If you don't mind sharing the theater with a lot of kids, go ahead and enjoy yourself.


1 star out of 5
As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said of porn, I will say of pretentious claptrap: it is hard to define, but "But I know it when I see it." The only possible reason to see this film is if you love Nicholas Cage and don't want to miss anything he is in. Or, if you're a big fan of movies that have a couple of exteriors shot at MIT (as I am, being an MIT graduate). But as with Good Will Hunting, the interiors were obviously shot somewhere else. The plot is incoherent, and filled either with dangling plot lines or incoherence, I'm not sure which. It was a waste of the $50 million it cost to make and the two hours it took to watch. I won't offer any specific spoiler, but the best shots from the trailer come in the first 10 minutes and the last 10 minutes; the 100 minutes inbetween are a vast wasteland. I took a bullet for the team this time.

Neal Vitale Reviews: Monsters vs. Aliens

4 stars out of 5       

Paul reviews Monsters vs. Aliens elsewhere, so I am only adding a heightened degree of enthusiasm. I think that this is an exceptional film, cleverly written, beautifully animated, and well-voiced by a cast (which includes Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Laurie, Kiefer Sutherland, Paul Rudd, Stephen Colbert, Rainn Wilson, Will Arnett, and - best of the lot - Seth Rogen) that adds enormous personality to the characters. Also worth mentioning are the extensive pop culture and sci-fi film references scattered liberally throughout, including a nice nod to the classic kaiju (Japanese monster) movies of the 50s via the giant grub Insectosaurus. [The 3D (in this case, the RealD format) was well done and easy to watch, but I didn't feel it added all that much to the film.] Monsters vs. Aliens reminded me of Pixar's 2002 Monsters, Inc., which is on my personal short list of animated favorites.

Neal Vitale Reviews: I Love You, Man

4 stars out of 5

I had avoided seeing I Love You, Man, having - based on its cast - lumped it in with the likes of Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express, Suberbad, etc., in a genre of which I was rapidly tiring. But this is an easily likable film, sweet and surprisingly restrained,  driven by the considerable charms of Paul Rudd (Role Models, Night At The Museum, and many of the previously-mentioned Judd Apatow projects). Rudd plays a man more comfortable around women than men - his dream date is sharing a bottle of wine, a summer salad, and watching Chocolat - and I Love You, Man chronicles his attempts at securing a Best Man for his impending nuptials. There are numerous and often predictable pitfalls during this quest, and a fair share of silliness, but the warmth and humor more than offset any cliches. An unexpected delight, well worth seeing,

Monsters vs. Aliens

3 stars out of 5
Dreamworks has done a nice job here. Not Oscar-worthy or anything, but a cut above most of the garbage that Hollywood is pushing out the door during Crap Season. At least there is light, color and action, especially in the 3D version (and I VERY strongly suggest seeing this film in 3D). The writing is crisp, the CGI, of course, is ever-more amazing with each picture (check out Susan's freckles!) and the voice actors are first-rate. The day someone at an animation studio woke up and said, "Wait, let's have actors use their normal voices" was, indeed, a great day in Hollywood. The industry began with funny voices (Walt Disney doing Mickey Mouse, Mel Blanc doing Bugs Bunny and a thousand others), but it was also Disney that began the realistic voice counter-trend (all its feature-length animated films use mostly real voices). The plot is trite, as is much of the dialog, but its an enjoyable 90 minutes.

GHD Musical, Slowing Conficker, Saturday Morning Watchmen, Dan Grobstein File

Exciting news for us fans of the movie Groundhog Day comes from Dan Rosenbaum:

Harold Ramis says: well, maybe. Sondheim's interested. And no -- it wasn't an April Fool's joke.

A friend notes: Domain-hoarding may have hamstrung Conficker. Also, the Obama Administration is apparently WORSE than Bush on warrantless wiretapping, according to the EFF.

Daniel Dern found a promo for an imaginary Saturday morning Watchmen cartoon.

Dan Grobstein File

excerpt quote:

(5) Anyone who believes abortion should be legal just wants to have reckless sex without consequences.

(6) Anyone who advocates habeas corpus rights for accused terrorists or who opposes torture harbors sympathy for Islamic extremism and approves of indiscriminate violence against civilians.

(7) Anyone who opposes unrestrained government surveillance must be doing bad things in private that they want to hide.