Friday, May 27, 2011

For Kim, Part 4/5

For your viewing pleasure, our next contestant on my list of top 5 actors is one Sam Rockwell.

This is probably the actor that I've watched the most out of the ones on my list, yet no one really knows him by name. He first came to my attention in college with his two roles in 1999, first as the sadistic "Wild Bill" in The Green Mile and then his hilarious turn as Crewman #6 in the excellent Star Trek satire, Galaxy Quest. Anyone who can do drama and comedy with such ease was surely someone to be watched. And I haven't been disappointed yet, 12 years later.

He quickly followed this up with notable roles in the camp classic Charlie's Angels, Charlie Kaufman's Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and Matchstick Men. He continued with several roles in critically acclaimed movies, none of which I've actually seen yet with the exception of 2009's Moon. In a role written specifically with him in mind, Rockwell explores the depths of loneliness and what it really means to be human in this story about a lunar miner nearing the end of his 3-year contract; it's a fantastic little picture.

There are few actors that you can be sure will bring something memorable to each of their roles, but Sam Rockwell is one of those. It's almost enough to make me want to see Cowboys & Aliens. Almost...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Bowling We Go

This weekend Meaghan and I will be flying to Atlanta along with 12 of the best and brightest students from her high school. That's right, it's time for the High School National Championship of Quiz Bowl. We have two teams that have qualified, and our goal is to get at least one of those teams into the 2nd day of play. This would mean that they would have to finish 6-4 or better on Saturday. 14 of the 218 teams entered hail from Minnesota, so we're looking forward to seeing a lot of familiar faces around the tournament.

Folks may recall that in the past the national tournament has been held in the Chicagoland area, which means that we'd be within driving distance. Unfortunately, the experience of sharing the hotel and convention center there with a bondage convention last year has scared the organizers into seeking a new venue. Let's just say that if you wandered into the wrong place last year, you may have been exposed to material inappropriate for a high schooler.

I'm looking forward to getting to see a little bit of downtown Atlanta, as I've never spent any amount of time there. Depending on when we're eliminated we may get to see the world's largest aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, or other cool things in the Underground Atlanta. I'll let you know what happened in an update next week.


Djokovic Watch = 41

Djokovic ran his streak to 41 this morning with a 6-3 6-1 2-3 (ret.) victory over the Romanian Hanescu. His 3rd round match on Friday will be a true test. The opponent is #26 Juan Martin Del Potro. The dangerous Argentine was ranked as high as #4 in the world before injuring his wrist early last year. After getting it surgically repaired at a certain medical clinic in Rochester, he's been on the comeback trail. The fact that he's still ranked #26 despite missing almost an entire year speaks volumes to his skill.

Monday, May 23, 2011

SWAT Team! aka Why My Wife is Crazy, Part 2

It was a stormy day on Saturday. Thankfully, one of the system's bands of rain lifted out of the metro area around 2:00 leaving behind a beautiful blue sky. Perfect for skydiving, one might say. And so it was that Meaghan was able to put the morning's training to good use and performed her first solo jump. Obviously, being her first such jump she wasn't completely alone. Two experienced jumpers fall near you to correct your form and pull your ripcord should you prove incapable. After that, for the controlled flight and landing portions you are truly on your own.

This is a scary proposition (for me, anyway) as we saw an experienced jumper break an ankle on landing two years ago when we were there. Meaghan came through with flying colors, however. She only missed the target landing zone by about 15 yards. Not bad, considering that some of the other first-timers there ended up over a mile away on some of the neighboring farms. Speaking of first-timers, Meaghan went to the drop zone with a couple of her co-workers who had never jumped before. Consequently, the three of them became the charter members of SWAT. I won't tell you what that stands for as it reveals too much about where she works, but it's essentially a group of adventure seeking folks. Any event involving two or more people from her workplace will become a SWAT event.

Unfortunately, I had to learn about all of this secondhand. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the weather, they were really hustling flights up when the skies cleared and Meaghan wasn't given the opportunity to call me out to the airfield before she jumped. I was able to catch up to the SWAT team at a local bar afterwards, though. Look at those proud faces.


Djokovic Watch = 40

He was a 6-2 6-1 6-3 winner over #71 Thiemo de Bakker in the first round at the French Monday. Next up: #60 Victor Hanescu

Friday, May 20, 2011

For Kim, Part 3/5

#3 in my list of favorite celebrity males is Guy Pearce. Who? Here... does this help?

Pearce is not only on this list because he's a talented actor, but because he stars in two of my favorite movies of all time. In 1997's L.A. Confidential, he plays Ed Exley, the one cop in all of L.A. who is incorruptible. Although it's an ensemble film, Pearce's journey from naive rookie cop to hardened veteran provides the backbone that supports the entire story.

After laying low for a couple of years, Pearce re-emerged in 2000 as brain-damaged Lenny in Christopher Nolan's brilliant Memento. If you haven't seen it, you absolutely must. It is the only movie I've been compelled to see three times in the theater. Pearce's performance was enough to elevate him to leading-man status for a little while, and he starred in such films as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Time Machine. When those didn't do particularly well at the box office, his star dwindled a little.

Through the years, he's continued to produce quality work albeit mostly not in mainstream projects. Most notably, he played Colin Firth's pompous twit of a brother, King Edward VIII, in The King's Speech. Looking at his IMDB page, I can see a lot of projects that are in development. A true chameleon, I look forward to what Guy Pearce will do in the future.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why My Wife is Crazy, Part 1

The gangly kid with the big hair looked at Meaghan then squinted up into the bright blue sky. "Today is a good day to die, don't you think?" Meaghan, startled out of her thoughts, looked at him and laughed. Then the kid led my wife away from me across the grassy airfield to the small airplane that they were planning on jumping out of.

Two years ago, Meaghan went skydiving. At my suggestion, she made it a dual jump, so someone experienced would be in charge of packing the parachute and pulling the cord. They tell you that nobody (who survives the experience) has ever just gone skydiving once. So, she is going back for her first solo jump this weekend. She's also bringing along some members of her newly inaugurated SWAT team, a collective of adventure-seeking teachers from her school. Unfortunately, the weather is supposed to be a little iffy on Saturday, but with luck they'll be able to get their jumps in okay.

I'm not sure why I didn't post about her first jump two summers ago, but to prepare you for this weekend's event, here are a few (mostly bad) pictures from that experience.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Small Packages

Despite the fact that my dad worked for a Big 3 auto company, I am not a car guy. This is probably best illustrated by the fact that the three cars I've owned in my life (not counting poor Roger -- alas, we hardly knew him and yes, we name our cars) are a 1994 Chrysler Concorde [Medea], a 2003 Dodge Neon [Rivers], and a 2007 Dodge Caliber [Sunny]. You won't find them near the tops of any best of class or fun to drive lists, but they've each served us well so far in their own ways. Unfortunately, Rivers is starting to show the wear and tear that 8 years and 120,000+ miles can inflict on a car, and we're nearing the point where we're going to have to make a decision of whether to get some fairly major engine work done or call it a life and move on to a new car. There's a good chance that we'll just get the repairs, but in the event that we don't the car that I want may be a surprising choice.

Despite my 6'2" frame, for awhile now I've held the staunchly un-American view that my next car should be a small one. I think this stems from my last year of college when I got my PlayStation 2. Back in the day when specific games were still bundled with your console, I got the package that included the Sony/Polyphony classic Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec. It's a racing game in which you start with $18,000 and eventually build up and tune a fleet of cars until you've won every race there is to win. With nearly 200 cars there's a lot of variety as each car looks, sounds, and drives differently. However, not being a car guy, I've never stuck with it for a lengthy career.

Despite the fact that there are so many cars in the game, your starting money is only enough to buy 11 of them. The vast majority of these are Japanese kei cars (subcompact), and being a stingy bastard I opted to start out with the cheapest car possible, the Daihatsu Mira. Thus began my love affair with the company that proudly proclaims to "do it compact".

The modern Mira

They make cute little jellybeans of cars, most of which get upwards of 50 mpg with their tiny engines. Unfortunately, it's not feasible for a lot of reasons (importation fees, crash standards, etc.) to ever hope to drive something like this in the United States. That's why I've turned to the next best thing.


Say hello to the Fiat 500. With Fiat soon to own a majority stake in Chrysler, they're practically part of the Big 3, right? These little guys have just started being sold in America in the last couple of months, so there's a good chance that you haven't seen any of them on the road yet in your neck of the woods. With luck though, you'll start to see them become as common as some of the other small boutique cars out there like the Mini Cooper and the Smart cars. I know what you're thinking. Is a car this small really practical?

If I had to tote around car seats and their precious cargo on a regular basis, absolutely not. But as a 2nd car that just gets driven around the city and occasionally to work? I think so. It would certainly make parallel parking easier, and I'd finally get to try out those "compact car only" spots in parking garages. Add in the fact that it gets 34 mpg with the automatic during this time of $4/gallon gas, and it's a win/win situation.

Maybe someday...

Monday, May 16, 2011

And the Streak Goes On...

For those of you not inspired by my post last week to check out some tennis action, Novak Djokovic has done it again by winning the tournament in Rome. That brings his record this year to 37-0 and makes the streak 39 straight wins, moving him to 6th place on the list of longest win streaks. It wasn't an easy road by any means either. He had to play matches on 5 straight days, getting past world #14, #5, #4, and #1 Nadal in the final four rounds. The semifinal against #4 Andy Murray was an especially brilliant match featuring a lot of ups and downs and long rallies. If you have access to ESPN3 and have 3 hours of spare time, you should go check it out.

Amazingly, prior to these two back to back wins against Nadal, Djokovic was 0-9 in his career against the Spaniard on clay. This week is an off week for most of the big guns as everyone rests up for the second Grand Slam of the year, on clay at the French Open, which starts next week. Can he possibly do it again? He'll have to in order to tie the record. Even if he doesn't, he has a very good chance of becoming the first player not named Federer or Nadal to hold the #1 ranking since February of 2004.


Prompted by my mom's comment, I thought I'd do a quick follow-up to the Twins-Tigers game we went to last week.

The stomping [10-2 Tigers victory for those who weren't there.] was interrupted by a one hour five minute rain delay. But it wasn't just rain. There was a hailstorm for a good 10-15 mins and the tornado sirens were blaring.

The rain probably completely stopped after 30 mins, but it took them another 30 to clean all the hail off the field. I can't find any pictures, but you'll have to take my word for it that at least a dozen rakes, a couple buckets, a wheelbarrow, and an industrial strength leaf blower all played a part in the job. My hat's off to the grounds crew for handling a situation that they probably haven't really prepared for.

It was a fun game for us, but the crowd was really tiny by the time it wrapped up just after 11:00. Due to the delay, absolutely none of our friends save Meaghan's brother stuck it out to the end. The Wed afternoon game looks like it would have been a crazy one to go see, too. [9-7 Tigers including 3 runs off the Twins' closer on a HR, triple, and sac bunt.] I know they've had a lot of injuries, but it is truly shocking to see Minnesota with the worst record in baseball. Couldn't happen to a better team.

Friday, May 13, 2011

For Kim, Part 2/5

Coming in next on my list of five favorite male actors is late addition James McAvoy.

First off, he's a Scot. There's nothing more entertaining than listening to a Scottish accent. Second, it helps that he's actually a good actor. He'd primarily been in British films and TV until breaking through back in 2005 with his role as everyone's favorite patsy, Tumnus the faun, in the first Chronicles of Narnia. Say what you want about that movie series (I happen to like it), but McAvoy's portrayal of the bumbling, nervous Tumnus was note perfect. He followed that up with a couple bravura performances over the next couple years.

In 2006, he played the lead in The Last King of Scotland. Forrest Whitaker got all the credit (as well as an Oscar) for his portrayal of Idi Amin, but McAvoy provides the heart and soul, flawed though it may be, that drives the movie. Watching his struggle to escape the trouble that he creates for himself is riveting. He followed this up in 2007 with another great performance, this time opposite Keira Knightley and Saoirse Ronan, in Atonement. As a completely unrelated aside, if you liked Atonement you should go see Hanna, in theaters now. It also features Saoirse Ronan and shares the same director, Joe Wright. If you haven't seen Atonement, you should. It is a beautiful and tragic film.

After that, I'll confess that I haven't seen anything with McAvoy in it, but I'm eagerly awaiting his next great role. He starred in Wanted, but I've had a strong aversion to Angelina Jolie ever since Tomb Raider. He's also in the recent Lincoln assassination movie The Conspirator and he'll be playing Professor X in the forthcoming X-Men: First Class. I'm looking forward to catching both of those.

Stay tuned for next Friday's update when I reveal #3...


Hot off the presses, fans of Chuck can celebrate. For some insane reason, it's been renewed for 13 more episodes next year. Word has it that this will be its final season, and looking at its ratings you can understand why. However, since this is NBC, where everything gets lousy ratings, anything is possible.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Djoker

Meet Novak Djokovic.

You might not have heard of him if you're no better than a casual tennis fan, but that may all change in a month's time. You see, Mr. Djokovic has started out 2011 32-0, winning his first six tournaments this year including the first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open. If you add in his two wins from last December when he led his native Serbia to the Davis Cup title (think of it as tennis's World Cup, only they have it every year for some reason), he's won 34 matches in a row. This is good enough for the 9th longest such streak in men's tennis history.

The longest streak is 46 matches set by Guillermo Vilas back in 1977. In order to match this record, Djokovic is going to have to win his next two tournaments: this week in Rome and the 2nd Grand Slam of the year, the French Open. The trick of it is that both of these tournaments are on clay, and he'll have to get past world #1 Rafael Nadal. Nadal, heralded by some as the best clay court player in history, has a monstrous 93% winning percentage on clay over 230 matches in his career. So can he do it?

Definitely. In fact, he just bested Nadal yesterday in a convincing straight set victory on Nadal's home turf in Madrid. Before he has to worry about Nadal again, though, he has four rounds in Rome to try to get through. His quest continues Wednesday against unheralded Pole Lukasz Kubot. Tune in on ESPN3 (if you're lucky enough to have it) to watch Djokovic chase history. Kubot is currently ranked a mere #141, and only boasts a 13-13 record this year. His most impressive win in 2011 is against American Sam Querrey in the first round of the Australian Open back in January.

Speaking of Americans... this week also marks the first time since a uniform ranking system was put in place back in 1973 that no American man or woman has ever been in the Top 10. The highest man is Mardy Fish at #11. The highest woman is Serena Williams, who hasn't played since last July, at #17. Is this just a momentary lapse, or is this a sign that tennis has finally been relegated along with soccer to the same dustbin of popular world sports that just don't cut it in the States? Only time will tell.

Don't mess with Rick

In completely unrelated sports news, tomorrow is our now-annual trip out to Target Field with friends to watch the Tigers take on the Twins. Detroit's been scuffling a bit so far this year, but are looking to push above .500 with a win. Taking the mound is Rick Porcello, who's had four straight good outings. I'll be looking for a 5th as I wear my Porcello t-shirt up in the nosebleed section.

Friday, May 6, 2011

For Kim, Part 1/5

In the 3rd season of the sitcom "Friends", there's an episode (The One with Frank Jr.) where Ross infamously crafts a list of five celebrities that he's allowed to sleep with should he happen to run into them. Every guy who's ever seen it has carefully crafted their own list to share with their significant other. This is not that list.

Instead, this is the post that I promised Kim over at HarrisWorld I would make when I made a return to blogging: my list of five celebrity "guy crushes". After careful consideration, I've assembled this list of the 5 male actors that for whatever reason really make me interested in seeing a movie or TV show. [Note: Clive Owen was not allowed to be on this list, as I'm told that girls actually like him.] Without further ado, in no particular order, here is the first of them:

Nathan Fillion -
I'm not the world's biggest Joss Whedon fan, but Fillion's funny and nuanced performance as Captain Mal Reynolds in "Firefly" makes it an exception well worth watching. Believe it or not, other than 2007's criminally unseen Waitress, I've never seen anything else that he's in. His inclusion on this list means that I certainly want to make the time to watch Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog or his current TV project "Castle" some day.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Project: Disney

We're going to Disney World... again! This time we'll be celebrating the Christmas holiday there with Meaghan's family. In honor of this trip, we've decided to do the unthinkable and attempt to watch all 50 of the Disney animated "classics" (plus the Disney/Pixar films as time allows) prior to leaving on our trip. Not only are we watching the movies themselves, we're also enjoying the special features on the DVDs.

Our progress so far:
1) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) - the first feature-length animated movie ever. When you stop to consider that Disney went from Steamboat Willie to Snow White in less than 10 years, this is truly a remarkable film. It helps that it's still entertaining to watch all these years later.

2) Pinocchio (1940) - I hadn't seen this in years, but it's regained a position high in my list of favorite Disney films. Three things of note, if you happen to see this again:
- The music in this is fantastic; it actually won the Oscar for Best Score.
- There is an amazing shot about 25 mins into the movie that takes place the morning that Pinocchio is about to head off to school. It involves a lengthy panning zoom down from a bell tower to Geppetto's front door. They had to set up special equipment just to get it on film.
- Lamp-wick's transformation into a jackass on Pleasure Island is one of the most horrific scenes in a movie ever.

I'll keep you up-to-date on our progress or lack thereof over the next few months.

Up next: Fantasia (1940)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Our German Houseguest

Opening your home to strangers can be scary, especially if you're as reclusive as Meaghan and I are. Despite the fact that we rarely have anyone other than Meaghan's brother at our place, we decided to participate in the first ever German Teacher Exchange at Meaghan's high school by becoming a host family. They've had a student exchange for 30 years now, but this was the first year they've opened it up to teachers.

Our guest was a young woman named Cordula from Düsseldorf. Arriving on a delayed flight late one Monday evening, she stayed with us for the better part of three weeks. [If we were at all the kind of people that take pictures, this is where I would insert a picture of her. I'll see if I can track one down.] In short, it was a great experience. I'm sure that exchanges are entirely dependent on the people who participate in them, but with Cordula it was a bit like having the college friend we never knew we had come stay with us for a lengthy visit. There were never lulls in conversation, and it was always interesting to hear about how life here differed from the way it is over in Germany.

My only regret is that the weather wasn't nicer while she was here. The calendar may say Spring, but she was treated to a steady diet of 40-degree days with chilly rain or snow. At least it didn't curtail our ability to share some of our favorite restaurants (Los Ocampo, Chino Latino, etc.) here in Minneapolis with her. The three weeks went by in a blur -- one day we were picking her up at the airport, the next we were dropping her off at the terminal. Meaghan will have the chance to stay with her for a week when she travels to Düsseldorf after school finishes in June. With luck, she'll help cement the bonds of a new lifelong friendship.