Sunday, September 30, 2007

Takes A Crane to Pick Me Up

I have vague ideas of getting myself back on a semi-normal schedule sometime soon, and writing on a more frequent basis (and on subjects more diverse than "boy, I'm busy" and "I read a book" and "Tomas Kloucek - how about that guy?"). But I'm not quite there yet. In the meantime, I've seen several movies semi-recently. Perhaps you'd be interested in what I thought about them?

* "The Asphalt Jungle" -- watched this during my first period of noir fascination, back in college, but it didn't make much of an impact on me. This time around, it did. Sympathetic characters and broodingly shot; I'd always questioned "Asphalt Jungle's" inclusion in the noir pantheon, but don't any more.

* "Out of the Past" -- This one, though, I'm skeptical about. Maybe I just watched it too close to AJ. Good performances, but the plot's kind of nonsensical, and as cool as Robert Mitchum is, his character just seems way too apathetic to actually be motivated as he is.

* "Hero" -- Asian sword flicks aren't really my thing, but this was fun. Silly, but gorgeous -- fun to watch. Speaking of this -- I thought this was the movie I've occasionally seen in bars, where two guys continue fighting as the seasons change around them, some dead girl comes back to life, etc. Anyone know what that is?

* "Where the Buffalo Roam" -- I'd always wanted to see this, because of a youthful fascination with Hunter S. Thompson, and hell, Bill Murray's in it -- despite a gazillion bad reviews, how could it go wrong?

The answer: it's the worst goddamn movie of all time. "1941" was leagues above this. Maybe the second half turns amazing; I sent that sucker back to Netflix as soon as I could.

* "The Conformist" -- Oh, now, this was a treat. For some reason I didn't expect much from this, but it's one of the most visually compelling movies I've seen. The use of color ... shadows and light ... Paris and Rome cityscapes ... all are just stunning and inventive. Everything down to the way the characters move seems extremely well-thought out, and it's almost hypnotic. I don't know much about film as an art (and I'm not about to start learning -- I have enough things that I've half-assedly taught myself a little about), but I can pretty securely proclaim this as a stunner. A couple scenes, one minor (Giulia and Anna window-shopping as Clerici trails along behind) and one major (Anna at the car window) were sufficiently affecting to stay with me since I saw them.

Ok, that's all I've seen lately (oh, and several "Arrested Development" DVDs -- apparently I'm the last person on earth to discover that show is great). Join us next time for "Greg at the movies"!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Sign of Hope

Well geez, somehow I missed this: Tomáš Klouček in the Syracuse Crunch camp on a tryout deal. It might be a tough battle, since (at current count) there's 14 defensemen on the Crunch roster, and more undoubtedly coming from Columbus -- but at least we have a Klouček sighting.

And, if he does stick with Syracuse this year, I don't have to buy a new jersey. I've got enough Crunch jerseys.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Rosie the Riveter

It's been a while since my friends have stared at me in horror -- it's been a while since I've given Nanuk something to laugh about. And it's almost hockey season.

Time for another jersey!

Vladimír Růžička (and you won't see all those diacritics again) is one of the all-time greats of Czech hockey. Over in the NHL, "Rosie" was largely considered a disappointment (despite a 75-point season with the Bruins), but over in Europe, he was pretty great. He continued to be a pretty productive player late into his 30s with Slavia Praha.

I've got two of his jerseys. They're both from exhibition/charity games. And they're both pretty ugly.

HC Litvínov is known for Jiri Bubla and Jiri Slegr, and for really nice jerseys -- check this one -- so naturally the only one in my collection is this ... eye-catcher. If I were to go night-biking, I'd wear this.

This was worn for some sort of charity all-star game (note the stars!). I really, really dig the diacritic marks on the name. Maybe stripping the marks from his NHL jerseys robbed Růžička of his power?

I feared that this was some stupid attempt to capitalize on Wayne Gretzky, but the guy who sold it to me was pretty sure this dates to a 1999 exhibition.

Something very European and endearing about that logo.

Now, Ruzicka jersey #2:

Yow. This rivals Pletka for sheer over-the-top advertising. It's a jersey from the "Jagr Team" series of charity exhibitions, though you wouldn't know that offhand, since there's no freakin' team name to be found.

I'm normally not too bothered by advertising on European jerseys, but when the most prominent thing on the front of the jersey is a cell phone ad, there may be a problem.

More ads, more diacritics. I don't really have anything to say about these ads, though I hope EuroTel got their money's worth, so instead I'll note that this is one of the grimier jerseys I own -- lots of sweat stains and dirt marks. You know, when you start writing approvingly about sweat stains, you start questioning your hobby.

In the end, it's Tapeleg who inspired all this, and is thus to blame. Brushback also put a few of his jerseys on display a while back, as well.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I Sleep Beside the Railroad Tracks - No More Rent or Income Tax

Apparently I don't complain enough about having to work/not being elsewhere, because LP passed on a link to this blog, which includes a pretty entertaining account of a jaunt to Prague. It had me -- less than a month after returning from vacation, less than a year after being in the city itself -- ready to chuck it all and head back. In a matter of minutes, I'd (out of curiosity only!) found a $624 Atlanta-Prague round-trip fare over New Year's, which (reluctantly) I'll have to pass on.

But yeah, now, despite the nicest weather we've had in months, I'm thinking about where to go next. Singapore? (uncle lives there) Ukraine? Ethiopia? Or just give in to my nature and go to the Czech Rep again?

While we're on the subject, and with hockey season getting under way, I've been horrendously remiss in not mentioning frequent commenter Vak Fan's blog -- Southern Bohemian Ho(c)ke(y)j. It's all about Czech hockey, about which I normally have a hell of a time finding English-language info, and just as important, it's really entertaining.

Monday, September 17, 2007

In Your Old El Camino, Singing in the Rain

Had a hard time getting to sleep last night, so polished off another book:

#40 -- "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" by John Berendt

Exhibit B in "Greg comes very late to the best-sellers." I'll get to "The Da Vinci Code" one of these days. I actually wanted to read this back when it came out, made the mistake of seeing the rather lackluster movie first, and was put off until the Ski Bum lent it to me, years later.

I'd figured the book was primarily about the murder that forms the centerpiece of the film, but in the first half, it's much more just a portrait of the Old South, an Old Savannah that was disappearing in the '70s and '80s. The descriptions of the town, and society, are fantastic. It's been years since I've been to Savannah -- after reading the book, I want to head back just to see Bonaventure Cemetery.

The people, though... I realize that Berendt changed some identities and (I presume) some of the dialogue to better suit his narrative, but every single character in the book is a larger-than-life type, talking in an expository style that can get kind of hard to take at times. Stephen King once wrote (discussing Anne Rivers Siddons' "The House Next Door," which I loved once upon a time) something to the effect of "do people really talk like this, even in the South?" One person talking like that would be a bit much to take -- a book full of 'em and I was ready to move back to Colorado.

Overall -- fun potboiler, and it did reawaken my desire to go to Savannah. One of these weekends...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I'll See You Back in Reno, Outside the Grand Casino

Every year, about this time, we'll get a torrential rainstorm, beautiful in its fury, and then the next day find that the summer heat's broken and we're into one of those periods where Atlanta is really beautiful. Giving it all a bit of a dark side, the storms are the remnants of hurricanes -- one this past Friday was, I guess, the tail end of Hurricane Humberto, which was a lot less pleasant for some states to the west.

So like I said, since getting back from London, I've been in the throes of one of my periodic soccer fascinations. These are generally fleeting, partly because I get confused about when I should be paying attention and what's the top prize to get (I know they have lots of cups), partly because I will never understand the offside rule. I get hockey's offside rule just fine, but not soccer. Why? I don't know.

One of the ways this current fascination is manifesting itself is through the Football Manager computer game, the older brother to the Eastside Hockey Manager game I've mentioned before. EHM is addictive, but it's just a lightweight gateway drug compared to the heroin that is Football Manager. My players get pissed off when I pull them out of a match, I get to insult other coaches -- there's so much you can do. I'm enraptured. Whenever I've had spare time (not often, these past couple weeks) I've been playing that.

On a more serious note, I've also read:

#39 -- "Ajax, the Dutch, the War" by Simon Kuper

Fantastic book here -- wide-ranging and far exceeding my expectations. I knew, vaguely, that it was about Dutch football during the war, the Holocaust, and the Ajax club. It turned out to be about so much more: Dutch society and the country's legend of tolerance, wartime behavior, anti-Semitism, the development of club supporter bases... and much more that I'm not thinking of right now. Despite taking on so many subjects, the book never seems to lose focus, and is a tight, quick read. I learned far more from this than you'd expect from a relatively thin book. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I Don't Know Where I Am But I Know My Destination

Is there anything less interesting than a(n occasional) blogger's whining about how busy he is? Probably not. Sorry. Life is, as it frequently becomes, a series of half-finished projects, looming responsibilities, insanity at work, and so on -- eventually throwing me into inertia (can you be thrown into inertia? Probably not) that leaves me doing nothing and feeling guilty about everything. Seriously -- it's at the point where my unwatched Netflix movies are causing me as much guilt as a neglected child.

I ultimately decided against a wholesale posting of my UK photos -- since I didn't do a ton of hardcore sightseeing, most of them are pictures of friends (and my friends are savvy enough to launch a preemptive strike against me posting them on the blog), architectural oddities, or old/odd signs (which will probably show up as headers at some point).

One brief mention that must be made -- it's a remarkably civilized city where you can find Budvar/Czechvar in nearly every bar.

* * *

I always held swimming to be one of those things, like riding a bike, that you don't forget how to do. Perhaps a bad example, since I haven't been on a bicycle in more than 20 years at this point, and have no confidence that I could ride one now. In any case, the trip to London motivated me to start swimming again (one of the places I stayed had a mirrored shower, which was rather humbling) for the first time since, geez, high school.

I went in pretty certain that I would be just fine, as I loved swimming when younger -- but anyone watching probably worried that they were seeing someone with severe nerve damage. When I first learned to swim, I had trouble remembering when to take a breath and when not to; and, guess what, I'm having that problem again, decades later. I forget to breathe when my head's out of the water, leaving open the possibility that I'll become the first person to asphyxiate in fresh air, but occasionally do remember to take a breath just as I submerge again.

I went again yesterday, and it went considerably better. Presumably I'll have rock-hard abs within a week.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Don't forget:::You are Baby Africa.

If you haven't yet, go to the comments a few back (here) and scroll down a bit. Then read the musings of some insane genius that dropped by (he also visited Sidearm Delivery). Allow a few hours, he (I'm assuming it's a he -- safely, I think) is verbose.

When I worked back at the newspaper in Boulder, we had a lot of crazy people drop by -- the combination of, well, it being Boulder, and us having a storefront office right downtown. One repeat customer was the Reverend Friendly, an old dude with long hair and long white beard who came in smelling very minty once -- without prodding, he said "I just drank a bottle of fuckin' mouthwash!" There were also the people who would drop off their missives tying the city government in to the Illuminati, the Kennedys, Satanists, or whoever.

One day, I was sitting at my desk, hard at work, when one of the crazies came in. He was wearing camouflage pants, black t-shirt, and a Mao cap -- a bit off-kilter, but in Boulder, hardly alarming. His wild-eyed glare and messy beard, though, branded him either as a nut or a holdover from "Loose Nut"-era Black Flag.

He went to our office manager, a friend of mine, McClown -- as I recall, Sauer and Kynan were also in attendance. The guy said "Who do I see about getting my manifesto printed?" (I believe he actually said "manifesto") Without missing a beat, McClown pointed over to me, and said "Him. He's in charge of getting manifestos printed."

As the guy stalked over to poor terrified me, I could see my three so-called friends, trying and failing to hold in laughter before fleeing the room.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Something Must Break

I've been listening to Joy Division's "Still" a lot in the car lately (it's not a cry for help!), featuring the song "Something Must Break" -- a song that, given my long reluctance to accept JD, I still associate more with Jawbox. Which may cost me some points in the long run.

Anyway, I know misheard lyrics are about the lowest form of humor, but until I bothered to look it up, I thought the line "If we were immortal" was "If we were in law school."

Which I found kind of a curious thing to put in a song.

* * *

While in London, I (as I have before) found myself pretty captivated by the soccer coverage. I don't follow the sport, and aside from a few names (Rooney, Beckham ... um, Pele?) I don't really know any of the players, but it just all seems so dramatic and fascinating. Backstabbing, feuding players, attempts to lure guys from rival teams, and so on.

It struck me while I was there that as the world's most popular sport (I think), there's probably all sorts of great soccer literature out there that I haven't read. But looking at the shelves in one shop, it was all "The George Best Story" or "Manchester United: A Team, A Dream" or whatever. I didn't spot a potential "Ball Four" among them. So I ask you, readers who are soccer fans (and I know there's a couple, Sauer) -- are there any great soccer books out there, that will appeal to the casual fan who likes good readin'? Here's what I've read:

"Fever Pitch" by Nick Hornby -- pretty fun

"How Soccer Explains the World" by Franklin Foer -- kind of interesting, but he overreaches in trying to make his thesis fit

"Among the Thugs" by Bill Buford -- ok, didn't live up to the hype

"The Miracle of Castel di Sangro" by Joe McGinniss -- one of the crappiest books I've ever read, though kind of unintentionally funny when the author gets offended because the team's coach doesn't take his advice

...and, uh, that's it. I think. I just ordered "Ajax: the Dutch, the War" by Simon Kuper (which has prompted to recommend every crappy soccer biography out there), but any other ideas?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Not So Quiet

More on London soon, with a few more photos, but first:

#38 -- "The Stalin Front" by Gert Ledig

Short and pretty intense war novel, written in 1950s Germany and rescued from obscurity by the NY Review. War fiction isn't really my thing, but this isn't chest-beating stuff, rather grimy, unromantic and futile fighting on the German-Soviet front. It's narrowly focused, picking up small pieces of the battle at different times, so it's (intentionally) hard to get the big picture of the fighting. Interesting and well-done, with subtle and effective black humor. Not a lot of fun, though.