Nic Cage In The Cage

Regular readers of this blog know that we have a bit of a Nic Cage fixation. “But he does so many bad movies,” our friends say. We readily acknowledge that yes, he does in fact make a lot of bad movies. (Ghost Rider 2 opens this Friday.) But he also makes lots of good movies. He also — and this is what sets him apart in our minds — has the rare ability to make some really good bad movies. (He also makes some really bad bad movies. Like Knowing. And Season of the Witch. And The Wicker Man. But we digress.) The National Treasure movies, just to name two, are terrible, but we will gladly sit down and watch them whenever TNT happens to air them, which seems to be every other weekend.

What we find so compelling about Nic Cage is this tension of opposites. Is he a good actor who chooses bad movies? A bad actor who occasionally makes good ones? A bad actor making bad movies that, like double negatives, somehow turn out good?

We tried to articulate this several years ago in a Nic Cage Cage Match post. Then, last night, “Saturday Night Live” provided this inspired bit of comedy which pretty much summarizes everything we tried to say then:

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These four and a half minutes are a testament to everything we find endearing about Nicolas Cage. May he one day fulfill his dream to appear in every movie ever released and restore honor to his dojo. Clone Nic Cage!

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We Moved.

Being introduced to a new habitat can be a harrowing experience for animals. Take cats, for example. Paws.org notes what a traumatic ordeal moving can be for a feline:

Adjusting to a new home can be a tense and frightening experience for a cat.

Consider your companion’s past experiences. Your kitten may have been recently separated from his mother and litter mates. The kitten or cat has had to cope with the transition of a shelter and the stress of surgery. The adult cat may have been separated from a familiar home and forced to break a bond with human companions or other animals. Now he must adjust again to totally new surroundings.

Not exactly a walk in the park. Our cat, Scooter Thomas, has moved at least four times in his life. We adopted Scooter Thomas when we moved to Cincinnati six years ago. Being the well-adjusted creature that he is, though, we felt certain he would weather our latest move with trademark aplomb.

We were more concerned about how Sam, now eighteen months, would handle the transition. New bedroom. New play area. New bathtub. Friends recommended we keep as many routines in place as possible.

As it turns out, we needn’t have worried about Sam. Any angst over a change in surroundings has been taken out on Scooter Thomas, as evidenced by the photos below.

This is MY HOUSE, Cat. MINE.

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I will crush you with love!

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CRUSHING WITH LOVE.

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Paws.org would not be pleased with this situation.

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Infant-pet tension aside, we’re getting settled in our new place and hope to resume somewhat more routine blogging in the days and weeks to come.

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I Can’t Stands No More

What do Wilco and Popeye have in common? Not much that we can think of, besides this new video. (h/t Mark Hoobler)

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Olive Oyl sure dances funny.

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Things That We Recommend The Owners Of The Taft Theatre Do The Next Time Ryan Adams Plays Cincinnati

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Dear Owners of the Taft Theatre,

You have a great venue! We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at Saturday night’s Ryan Adams show. Well, mostly. The thing about the Taft is that it has seats, so the shows you put on (often acoustic, as this one was) require people to, you know, sit in them. This has its advantages. Being old and crotchety (especially after nine o’clock), we like that we don’t have to stand for two hours. Seats help maintain that chill vibe us thirtysomethings strive for these days.

The disadvantage of seats is that you cannot get away from the annoying people sitting next to you. And there were a lot of annoying people at Saturday night’s show. (We’ll leave aside the question of what this may or may not say about Ryan Adams’ fans.) Perhaps all of them were simply seated directly behind, next to and everywhere around us. Regardless, we want to recommend a couple changes in your admittance policy for future shows that we might attend.

These are in no particular order.

1. Do not admit anyone with an iPhone who will obviously only be using it to check her Facebook status during the show. These people should be obvious to spot.

2. Do not admit anyone who will clap along to the songs. They are morons.

3. If someone looks like a hummer, ask how loud and off-key. Don’t let them in regardless of how they answer.

4. Perhaps screen people by asking if they plan to shout idiotic things like, “Delicious!,” “I’m just misunderstood” and “Come pick me up” eight dozen times. If they say “yes,” you know what to do.

5. Don’t just reprimand people who use their phones/cameras to take pictures. Take a cue from the polar bears of Svalbard and smash them.

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Of course, we realize that you’re in the business of turning a profit, and it may be in your best interests to allow the people who comprise groups #1 through #5 to attend and instead turn away us, the outnumbered, meekly obedient, quietly appreciative concertgoers that we are. If this be your decision, we will rue it, but we will understand.

We will then honor it by crushing your rib cage like a scorned Svalbardian polar bear.

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Sincerely,

The Vores

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Friday Recommends: The Trip

Come, come, Mr. Bond, you derive as much pleasure from killing as I do.

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In the annals of buddy road trip movies, none feature as many Wordsworth references, Michael Caine impressions or scallops as The Trip. Steve Coogan plays himself, or a version of himself, setting off for a week-long tour of northern England’s finest restaurants. His original companion, his girlfriend Mischa, has not only backed out — she’s gone to the States. Steve calls up his friend Rob Brydon, playing himself, or a version of himself, and — after making a point of telling his friend how many people he asked before settling on Rob — asks Rob to join him.

So begins The Trip, a meandering, hilarious expedition that’s surprisingly moving for a film in which not much happens. While the brooding Coogan and overbearing Brydon only occasionally amuse the other, their constant stream of impressions — which run the gamut from Al Pacino to Roger Moore to Stephen Hawking, and seem to comprise over half the movie — are a riot for the viewer. This game of seemingly meaningless one-upmanship works on two levels. For anyone who’s ever spent a week-long road trip with someone, this is exactly what the conversation devolves into: running gags, sophomoric humor and inside jokes that are bewildering to outside company (as when Coogan’s assistant Emma and a photographer join Steve and Rob for lunch).

But the weight of the film, and its occasional wistful tone, come from the unspoken competition between Steve and Rob to convince the other of his own contentment. Whereas Steve is always calling his agent for reports on more artistic roles (he dreams that Ben Stiller tells him all of Hollywood’s “auteurs” want to work with him), Rob spends his nights calling his wife, doing a Hugh Grant impression in a mock attempt to arouse her. One is restless, bitter, searching; the other settled, happy, content.

Director Michael Winterbottom, adapting his TV series of the same name, gives both men a fair shake. The film is Coogan’s, but the last scenes we see are of him alone in his London apartment, while Brydon is sharing dinner with his wife, cozy in domestic warmth. The Trip also features gorgeous scenery, making England look like the Rocky Mountains.

It’s hard to pick our favorite scene, but if pressed, it’d be this one:

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Ladies And Gentlemen, Your 2011-2012 Utah Jazz!

Two wizards. Only one John Stockton.

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I — if you don’t know which of us is writing this based on the title of this post, then hello, and glad you just discovered our blog! — have great co-workers. I’ll give you an example of how great they are. I went into work last week and found on my desk a Starting Lineup John Stockton figurine. Behind him, propped in a plexiglass holder, were about twenty-five sheets of paper labeled “INSPIRATIONAL JOHN STOCKTON SAYING” with a big speech bubble in the middle of the page. I began flipping through the pages, stirred by pithy maxims like, “Plan the work and work the plan,” “Let me know where you want the ball,” and, “You look really good today.” The final ten pages or so were left blank for me to write my own inspirational sayings, as if I could possibly improve upon that last one.

What’s great about my co-workers is that no less than five of them were reasonable suspects for this stunt. (The mastermind, it turns out, was Michael Link. I asked him where he found a Starting Lineup John Stockton and he, in response, asked me how much I thought it was worth, giving me an over/under of five dollars. “Oh, way more than that,” I said. “Good,” he replied, “that’s what I want you to think.”) What’s also great is that, any time during my day when I need a little inspiration, I can look at a small, plastic figurine of number twelve and, mentally, see this:

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And I am instantly ready to plan the work and work the plan.

For a season preview of my beloved Utah Jazz, it’s probably telling that I spent the first 250 words going on about someone who has been retired for almost a decade now. (“You’re living in the past!” is what a Cleveland Cavs fan shouted at me a couple years ago. I picture that fan now, looking at himself in the mirror in his Ramon Sessions jersey, wondering every time Antawn Jamison hoists a three if it would be possible to take a tire iron to his shooting hand and make it look like an accident.) This year, for the first time since 1988, the Utah Jazz reported to camp and Jerry Sloan was not its head coach. The last link to the great Stockton/Malone era was gone. The shock of last season’s tailspin after Sloan left and Deron Williams was traded to the Nets wore off during the offseason but then hit me anew last month. Oh yeah. Times have changed.

One day we’ll hand this over … to Devin Harris and Derrick Favors.

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My expectations for this season were the lowest they have ever been, even after Stockton retired and Malone left for the Lakers in 2003. Utah traded Mehmet Okur for table scraps. It signed Jamaal Tinsley, the dumbest thing the franchise has done since re-signing Greg Ostertag (a move that surely shaved ten years off Sloan’s life). It lost its first two games in spectacularly bad fashion, by a combined 42 points to the Nuggets and the Lakers. Raja Bell was declared officially dead by a Utah coroner before someone pointed out that he was still walking and talking and therefore technically alive. Gordon Hayward had not progressed much in the offseason. Enes Kanter, the third pick in the draft, was hardly setting the world on fire.

And then … (and yes, I cheated by waiting until three weeks into the season before writing this) … I felt hopeful. After dropping three of the first four, Utah has rattled off five straight wins. None have been against especially strong teams, but still. This is a young, hungry team. We suddenly have size and athleticism in the frontcourt. Josh Howard was a great pick-up. Al Jefferson may not actually be a total stiff. Ty Corbin may have learned something from all those years under Sloan.

I’m not going to delude myself that the Jazz is going to contend for anything this year. It’s going to be a weird season, but one that will certainly favor the younger squads. Had you asked me three weeks ago if Utah would make the playoffs, I’d have said certainly not. Now? I’m cautiously optimistic. It’d be a seven or eight seed at best, but that’d be a real accomplishment for this team, and something to build on.

I was all shook up when Utah dealt Deron Williams last year. Now, knowing that D-Will would never have re-signed with the Jazz — and watching his Nets stink up the Atlantic Division — I confess a certain degree of smug satisfaction. I like Williams and hope he (and Okur) turn things around. Williams was instrumental, in one way or another, of forcing Sloan out (though whether Sloan jumped or was pushed we’ll probably never know). Sloan would’ve left eventually, of course. So we soldier on. It’s a strange time to be a Jazz fan, but at least they’re playing games. That’s something to be thankful for.

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My NBA blogging will probably be a bit more sporadic this season, especially as I resolve not to curse the Bulls (and my friend and fellow NBA junkie Scott Guldin) by saying anything good about them. It’s a bit shoddy to make predictions three weeks into the season, but I like the Thunder in the West, even though Russell Westbrook is a head case who will absolutely never co-exist long term with Kevin Durant. I won’t tell you who I like in the East because … well, see above.

Your obligatory Mark Eaton pic:

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Let’s go Jazz.

[h/t Erik Brueggemann on the Stockton/wizard pic]

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2011: The Year in Music

I am angry and have a cane!

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2011 may well be the year our music tastes stopped evolving. Chances are we’ll look back on this year from some future vantage point and see the transformation of our musical tastes from still-somewhat-adventurous-middle-age to full-curmudgeon, distrustful of the new, always pining for the old and familiar. In other words: We shook our cane at James Blake and told him to get off our porch.

None of the music we loved this year could be called especially new or groundbreaking. It was all our usual comfort food. We gobbled up albums by Wilco, Iron & Wine and Fleet Foxes; shed a tear as we hummed along to R.E.M.’s career-spanning anthology; welcomed the return of “old” Ryan Adams even as we wished he wrote better lyrics. We were happy sticking with the familiar.

When we did order something new off the menu, we were almost always disappointed. Florence + The Machine? One of us (Ben) liked, one (Erin) wasn’t so sure. The aforementioned James Blake? Dubstep, shmubstep. We wanted to like Cults and Cut Copy and The War on Drugs  and The Weeknd more than we actually did.

The boldest step (if you can call it bold) we took this year in the realm of music was embracing Spotify. We like Spotify. (We wish a pox on Spotify + Facebook, however. A pox!) It did nothing to curb our musical purchasing (except, perhaps, to ward us off what otherwise would have been ill-advised, sight-unseen purchases). What it mostly did was allow us to indulge in a little game we called Shameful Guilty Pleasures From Our Youth, in which we tried to surprise the other with an even more shameful guilty pleasure from the 80s or 90s that we once embraced with every angsty fiber of our teenage bodies. (See: Soul Asylum; Everclear; Crash Test Dummies; Sloan; P.M. Dawn; Screaming Trees; and Butthole Surfers.)

Before we get to the list, we’ll start with what was certainly the musical highlight of the year: Seeing U2 in Nashville on July 2. The picture below (courtesy of Flickr) is of Vanderbilt Stadium, where “The Claw” descended to serve as the stage for the evening.

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It was the first time U2 had played Nashville in thirty years. The last time Bono and the gang swung through Music City was to play Underwood Auditorium on the campus of Vanderbilt in 1981. This time they brought with them a monstrosity of a set which, according to U2′s website, featured “a cylindrical video system of interlocking LED panels and a steel structure rising 150 feet from the floor over a massive stage with rotating bridges.” Ben texted a picture to his brother, who texted back, “What is that, and where are you?”

U2′s unabashed grandiosity has always been its charm, and occasionally its overreach. But there’s something to be said for a band that aims as high as U2. For two people who don’t usually do big, stadium-sized shows, we were giddy during the whole thing. And it wasn’t just because we were hanging out with Seth and Miriam Swihart (though that never hurts).

Honorable mentions for albums this year include the Buddy Holly tribute Rave On; Mr. Adams and his Ashes & Fire; Strange Negotiations, David Bazan; and The Black Keys’ El Camino.

Now, on to the list. (Previously, 2008, 2009 and 2010.)

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10. Iron & Wine, Kiss Each Other Clean. Like Justin Vernon (#9), Sam Beam opened up his trademark sound to incorporate some poppier elements — in Kiss Each Other Clean’s case, that meant some sweet saxomophone.

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9. Bon Iver, Bon Iver.  It was no For Emma, Forever Ago, but Bon Iver’s self-titled follow-up staked out new territory for Justin Vernon and featured the should-have-been-cringeworthy-but-somehow-he-pulls-it-off closer “Beth/Rest,” what Rolling Stone calls “an unlikely sweet spot between Nick Drake and Peter Cetera.”

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8. Over The Rhine, The Long Surrender. Erin’s favorite OTR album since Ohio, and Ben’s favorite with the exception of Snow Angels. The fact Karin and Linford played a free show, at Ben’s place of employment (a bookstore, not a record store), on the day the album released, may have had something to do with it cracking the Top 10. They’re good folks.

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7. Josh Garrels, Love & War & The Sea In Between. It’d be a misnomer to call Josh Garrels “praise” music, and yet no album this year was more of a worship album for us than this one. Before we scare you off it completely, Garrels’ musicianship merits inclusion on this list. Everyone we recommended it to loved it as well. You can check it out yourself (for free!) at Garrels’ website.

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6. Raphael Saadiq, Stone Rollin‘. The hip-shakingest pick of our Top #10, and the only one with any real soul. Props to Mr. Saadiq for casting Cutty from “The Wire” in his video for “Good Man.”

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5. Wilco, The Whole Love. It is not our favorite Wilco album, but even a just-OK Wilco album has enough moments of pure rock-out joy to crack #5 on our list. The Whole Love may be a bit scattered, musically, so think of it as a Wilco smorgasbord and chow down on the good stuff (“Born Alone,” “I Might,” “One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)”).

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4. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues. Nature make-out music. But it says something about this year’s list that we still don’t consider Helplessness Blues to be the prettiest album we heard all year. (Wait for #1. Wait for it.)

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3. The Decemberists, The King Is Dead.  A little folk rock gem that borrows heavily from early R.E.M. (perhaps because Peter Buck turns up on three songs here), The King Is Dead is a beautifully concise set of ten songs that range from country to Americana to rock. It’s the first Decemberists’ album we actually wanted to listen to from start to finish.

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2. Girl Talk, All DayTheoretically, anyone could sit in front of a computer and create these Frankenstein mash-ups. What Gregg Gillis does is provide just the right jolt of electricity to bring them to life, repurposing anything and everything that’s ever hit the Top 40 over the last five decades and providing a sort of Cliff’s Notes education in pop music while simultaneously creating great party music. When the current is flowing, as on the latter half of All Day, it makes for mesmerizing listening, especially if you’re ADD or running long distances. (Yes, we know this is technically a 2010 release, but we listened to it as much as any other album in 2011. And it was late 2010.)

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1. Gillian Welch, The Harrow & The Harvest. Coming eight years after Soul Journey, The Harrow & The Harvest is intimate, lovely, often haunting. It veers into darker territory lyrically but never loses its gentle, easy grace. The ten songs compiled here sound timeless: simple, spare and evocative. The term “slow music” sounds a bit insulting, but we mean it in the best sense when we say that Welch writes some of the finest slow music out there.

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TOP FIVE SONGS OF THE YEAR!

“Born Alone,” Wilco. Boom goes the dynamite.

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“Second Song,” TV On The Radio. We were underwhelmed by Nine Types of Light, but not this track (even though “You” is the song off this album appearing on most critics’ lists).

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“Go To Hell,” Raphael Saadiq. What starts as a confessional (“Here’s the situation, yes, the devil knows me well/See I’m trying to do my best not to go to hell”) turns into a soaring, full chorus refrain to “let love bring us together.”

“I Can’t Make You Love Me,” Bon Iver (covering Bonnie Raitt). From his appearance on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.”

“Oh My God,” Cults. Though we didn’t warm to the whole album, this track is instantly likable. Is it just us, or is there a creepy resemblance between Madeline Follin’s balloons exploding and the scene in Aliens where the Queen Alien’s body is shellacked with Lt. Ellen Ripley’s pulse rifle grenade blasts?

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