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    Thursday, January 21, 2010

    TV: The Greatest Broadcast in the History of the Medium 

    Five years ago today, a landmark broadcast went out over the airwaves ... of digital cable. An episode of the Independent Film Channel’s Ultimate Film Fanatic, featuring yours truly as a contestant.

    The strangest thing about the show is that a few weeks after it taped, Rosemarie was selected to be on Jeopardy! Making 2005 our year of game shows.

    UFF’s entire run lives on via YouTube. So I might as well mark the occasion by embedding it here. Again.

    Two vital points before watching –

    1. I now have the sense to wear contact lenses.
    2. Also, my hair looks much, much better.

    First, intros and round one: trivia. We were asked to come up with our own opening lines, which the producers then “improved.” Still, I sell the moment and cap it off by staring down the camera Lee Van Cleef-style.

    I had a strategy in this round. My competitor is Tom Tangney, critic for several Seattle radio stations, and I knew from our pre-show conversation that he was an erudite gentleman of taste. I therefore decided to force him to answer questions about crappy thrillers, which I regard as my forte. Watch as careful planning almost blows up in my face.

    Round two: debate. (Spoiler alert: I make it through round one. To this day, I can’t believe I remembered the name of that damn doll.) Your celebrity judges are Academy Award winner Tatum O’Neal and certified badasses Keith David and Henry Rollins.

    The producers stopped tape before this round to ask for topic suggestions. I confess that Kevin Costner was my idea. Again I had a strategy, namely degree of difficulty. If I could ably defend an unpopular position, maybe I’d earn the judges’ respect. For the record, I stand by the argument I made and would add the additional exhibits of The Upside of Anger and Mr. Brooks. As for Rumor Has It ...

    Round three: obsession. Or as I thought of it, collections.

    In a rare moment of prescience, I announced to Rosemarie after my audition, “If I get on the show I’ll make it all the way to the third round, then crash and burn.” Which is exactly what happened. See for yourself. Any of the other contestants would have fared better than me in this section.

    Problem #1: I don’t collect things. Scrounging up three items was a reach. (BTW, the key broke on the flight home.)

    Problem #2: I’m up against Tony Kay, now host of Seattle’s Bizarro Movie Night. I didn’t stand a chance.

    Note the raw sexual chemistry between Tatum and myself. What Rollins says about me is still one of the high points of my life. It was almost worth losing the five grand in prize money to be spared his scorn. Almost. And my popcorn line was used in TV spots throughout the season, so I won the battle for airtime.

    In closing, my hair really does look better now. Honestly. I can’t stress that enough.

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    Tuesday, May 19, 2009

    Miscellaneous: Shorter San Francisco

    Now that I’ve caught my breath, highlights of a trip that was all highlights.

    The Mets game went as if I’d scripted it. We got to see one of baseball’s best pitchers, Giants ace and reigning NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, in action on a night when he had strong stuff. But a late offensive explosion spearheaded by Rosemarie favorite David Wright tied the score. The Mets seized the lead in the top of the ninth, so Francisco Rodriguez came in to shut the Giants down. Mets win 8-6.

    We stopped in at Bourbon & Branch during San Francisco’s Cocktail Week. The bar had some extraordinary specials, like a Tom Collins variation with applejack instead of gin that included rhubarb syrup and a sprig of rosemary. But it was staples like the Democrat – bourbon, honey, peach liqueur – that hit the spot on a scorcher of a weekend.

    We ended up being invited to a wedding officiated by czar of noir Eddie Muller and his lovely wife Kathleen that took place on the day of our anniversary. Who could say no to such romantic symmetry?

    As a result, we were able to enjoy a performance by artist, lounge singer and honest-to-God licensed private eye Mr. Lucky. When he heard it was our anniversary, he insisted that we have our picture taken in front of his mint ’61 Chrysler.

    Ever the professional, Mr. Lucky set the mood. Henry Mancini’s soundtrack to Touch of Evil is booming out the windows of his sweet ride.

    Next, we crashed the Thrillpeddlers closing night party at the Hypnodrome Theater, where we found ourselves having a conversation with Jello Biafra. When he talked about the early days of the California punk scene I almost told him that Henry Rollins once called me presidential, but thought it would be uncool.

    All in all, a fantastic weekend full of good friends, good times and good cocktails. Now back to my real life and more quotidian concerns, like bears.

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    Sunday, November 02, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Your Samhain Weekend Roundup

    The Black Scorpion (1957). This low-budget creature feature was our Halloween evening entertainment. Ignore the scorpions’ “faces” and focus instead on the tremendous stop-motion work by Willis O’Brien and Pete Peterson. No less an authority than Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (now celebrating its 25th anniversary) says: “The terrifying huge scorpions make the monsters in most other films look pathetic.” Star Mara Corday is so much of a ringer for Gina Gershon that it lends a whole new layer of meaning to the proceedings.

    The movie has a special place in my heart because of the circumstances during which I first saw it. I was nine years old, visiting family in Ireland with my mother. She noticed that the movie would be coming on at two in the morning and suggested that we watch it together. Sure enough, she woke me at 1:45 AM with tea and cookies at the ready. I sat with her in my grandfather’s living room watching giant scorpions rampage across Mexico, then went back to bed and slept like an angel. It’s funny to think she had me figured out that early.

    Pride and Glory (2008). After all the trouble this movie had, it’s almost unfair of the New York Times’ Dan Barry to have a go at it in an admittedly funny piece about the depiction of Irish Catholic New York cops. But Pride and Glory can take the heat. It doesn’t break new ground, but director/co-writer Gavin O’Connor, the son of an NYPD officer, knows the terrain and gives it a gritty, lived-in texture. Colin Farrell continues his string of terrific performances. Jon Voight’s teary Christmas dinner speech would be right at home in any number of Keenan family gatherings. I could have done without the reel on the jukebox during the bar fight. But the one cliché that did stand out – Edward Norton’s character living on a boat – has nothing to do with being Irish, and O’Connor takes pains to justify it. Smart, solid filmmaking.

    Earshot Jazz Festival. I missed most of Seattle’s premiere jazz event thanks to traveling. But we did squeeze in the Phil Markowitz Trio at Tula’s last night, and we’re glad we did.

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    Friday, October 10, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Back At My Post, Posting

    I have returned. Nothing happened while I was gone, right?

    We were in Florida for a week, first visiting my parents outside Ocala for my father’s milestone birthday, then heading down to Sarasota to spend some time with my brother Sean, his lovely wife, and their adorable new daughter. Of course, my Twitter feed on the main page told you all that.

    The trip was all about family, and nobody needs to hear me wax maudlin on the subject. Instead, some observations of a stripe more suited to this page –-

    Florida is clearly a swing state, because the barrage of political ads was relentless. So much so that it made watching TV damn near impossible.

    I now want the NFL Network.

    The Direct TV “mix” feature – a channel showing all of their news or sports feeds at the same time – is ingenious and should be offered everywhere.

    A high point of the trip was our visit to the John and Mable Ringling Museum. The 66-acre estate chronicles every aspect of the circus magnate’s life. It includes his waterfront mansion Cà d’Zan, his extensive art collection, and not one but two buildings devoted to circus history and memorabilia. A glimpse of old Florida well worth seeing.

    There’s Key lime pie, and then there’s Florida Key lime pie.

    Margaritas should, whenever possible, be consumed at an open air bar near the water.

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    Monday, March 17, 2008

    Miscellaneous: A St. Patrick’s Day Memory

    St. Patrick’s Day has never been a big deal in the Keenan household. “You don’t have to wear green,” my father says every year. “People can tell you’re Irish just by looking at your face.”

    This, by the way, is now more true than ever. At a wedding we attended over the weekend a Polaroid was taken of every couple. When ours developed I said, “Jesus, I look like I went to Fordham and work for the Queens DA.” Rosemarie shook her head. “Your tie’s too flashy. You look like you handle public relations for the Mets.”

    I grew up in a neighborhood that to this day has a reputation as an Irish enclave. When I was in third grade my teacher Sister Patricia, knowing that both of my parents were Irish immigrants, asked if I had any records at home that would be appropriate for St. Patrick’s Day.

    Come March 17, I arrived at school with a copy of a Dermot O’Brien album featuring “The Merry Ploughboy,” “Johnson’s Motor Car” and other rebel songs that recounted the exploits of the IRA and Sinn Fein.

    I presented the record to Sister Patricia. She scanned the song list, turned beet red, thanked me for bringing it in, and handed it back. The cultural portion of the afternoon consisted of her leading the class in a sing-along of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” That’s what I get for trying to help.

    Enjoy the day, wherever you are, and raise a jar for me. Another thing I learned growing up is that Jameson’s is typically viewed as a Catholic whiskey while Bushmills is Protestant. Personally, I prefer a drop of Powers meself.


    Monday, December 31, 2007

    The Year In Review: The Year In Review

    2007 began with French toast and a visit from an oracle.

    The French toast is easily explained. The only holiday tradition Rosemarie and I have is breakfast out on January 1, complete with Bloody Marys. Begin the year by treating yourself, and it sets the tone for the months to come.

    After breakfast comes a logy feeling, followed by introspection. I decided to take a walk and found myself in an eerily deserted downtown Seattle. As I approached a corner I saw a man on the other side of the street. He looked like he’d been living rough, but he had a smile on his face directed at me. When I crossed the street he pointed to my cap. “A Mets fan! You from New York?”

    I’ll talk to anyone who acknowledges my Mets cap.

    His name was Andre, and he was a recent transplant from New Orleans. He told me how his telemarketing job led to a newfound respect for New Yorkers. (“They keep it real. They’re upfront, want you to get to the point. Southerners like me, we take our time to get where we’re going.”) He discoursed on his difficulties meeting women in Seattle. (“Everywhere they go, they travel in packs. It’s like Diana Ross and the Supremes all the time.”) Finally, he asked if I had a couple of bucks to spare. I told him he was truly a Southerner, because it took him a while to get where he was going. Then I gave him some money. He’d certainly earned it.

    We separated at the corner. From the other side of the street, he called my name.

    “It’s gonna be your year!,” he said. “2007 is gonna be your year!” Then he was gone.

    Of course, nothing can live up to that kind of introduction. 2007 may not have been my year, but it could have been much worse. In February, a vortex of illness and misfortune sucked in family and friends alike. The volume of incidents was staggering, but ultimately nothing fatal or permanent resulted. Several projects were delayed by the prospect and eventually the reality of a WGA strike, but my life wasn’t thrown into complete upheaval like so many others’ have been.

    And then, in September, the Mets collapsed, going from prohibitive World Series favorite to missing the playoffs entirely. I hold Andre responsible for that. He shouldn’t have talked up the team’s chances so early in the year. But what did he know? New Orleans doesn’t have a baseball team.

    Still, it’s not like 2007 was wanting for personal accomplishments:

    I went back to my old neighborhood in Queens for the first time in ages and discovered that not only can you go home again, but odds are the local restaurants will have improved dramatically.

    I started a running list of jazz musicians that sounded interesting. By the end of the year not only had I listened to all of them, but I’d seen several of them live.

    I changed my physical appearance. I let my hair grow and switched to contact lenses. I no longer look like Frank Grimes. Now I look like a second-string orchestra conductor, or an English professor at a state college who blows tenure by sleeping with one of his students. I consider this a marked improvement.

    Most importantly, I ventured into new areas. I landed a writing job that is challenging and a great deal of fun. I can’t go into any detail yet. (Let me put it this way. I’m game to tell you about it. There. I don’t think that violated any NDAs.)

    The job is one of the reasons why I can’t wait to ring in 2008. I also want the WGA strike to end, so that a lot of good people can go back to work and I can pick up where I left off. And there are other exciting possibilities in the mix.

    The other day Rosemarie said, “2007 was your rebuilding year, like in football.” Of course, 2006 was technically a rebuilding year for the New England Patriots and they made it all the way to the AFC title game. In 2007, they went undefeated in the regular season and are on the verge of making NFL history. It’s always nice to have something to shoot for.

    Happy new year, everybody. May each of you, in your own way, sign Randy Moss in the off-season of your lives.

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    Saturday, November 17, 2007

    Book: The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps (2007)

    Ed Gorman’s review alone convinced me to order this book, a compendium of writing from the glory days of the pulps. Editor Otto Penzler has assembled the big names. Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Cornell Woolrich, even a never-before-published story by Dashiell Hammett. Then there are the names that only the hardcore hardboiled fan recognizes. Steve Fisher, Frederick Nebel, Raoul Whitfield. And plenty more that are new to me. Short stories, novels, reproduced illustrations, biographical sketches, the works.

    The volume tops out at over 1100 pages. Good thing the shipping was free. It’s literally the size of a phone book. One of the bent cops contained within could use it to obtain a confession. I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it yet. So far, I just take it down from the shelf and admire it.

    John Banville, the Booker Prize-winning author who pens crime fiction as Benjamin Black, offers another take on the collection in Bookforum. (H/t to GreenCine Daily.) The intro’s a touch precious, but his thoughts on Chandler versus Cain are interesting. And we’re in complete agreement on the Parker novels by Richard Stark, aka Donald Westlake (“among the most poised and polished fictions of their time and, in fact, of any time”) and Georges Simenon. Read his piece and Ed’s. Then I dare you not to buy the book. You’ll probably finish it before me.

    Miscellaneous: Scenes From A Marriage

    Me: Salon came out with their sexiest men alive list. Want to know who’s on it?

    Rosemarie: Do I? They probably went with Dennis Kucinich. Sure, go ahead. Who’s their sexiest man alive?

    Me: (bad fake drum roll) Jon Hamm.

    Rosemarie: (sharp intake of breath) From Mad Men?

    Me: Yeah.

    Rosemarie: Wow. That’s an excellent pick.

    Me: You know who else is on here? Flight of the Conchords.

    Rosemarie: (another sharp intake of breath) Which one?

    Me: Both of them.

    Rosemarie: Who else?

    Me: Um, Alec Baldwin, Tony Leung, Will Arnett –-

    Rosemarie: Let me see that.

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    Thursday, September 20, 2007

    Movies: Decoy (1946)/Crime Wave (1954)

    Volume 4 of Warner Brothers’ Film Noir Classic Collection has been out for weeks, but I’m only getting into it now. It’s not my fault, y’unnerstand. I ordered it as soon as it streeted from an online retailer and somehow wound up with a boxed set of Star Trek movies. The turnaround cut into my valuable noir-watching time.

    Which killed me, because the collection includes a movie I’ve wanted to see for years. Decoy has become a fabled cult item because it features what may be the most macabre plot in noir history. A woman romances a prison doctor so he’ll revive her death row boyfriend after his execution – just long enough for loverboy to reveal where he’s hidden four hundred grand in stolen loot. The movie’s production history only adds to its mystique. Producer/director Jack Bernhard met actress Jean Gillie in England, married her, and made Decoy to introduce her to American audiences. They divorced before the film was released, and Gillie died of pneumonia soon after at age 33.

    Her legacy burns anew with Decoy’s appearance on DVD. She’s remarkable playing the most fatale of femmes. TV legend Sheldon Leonard is terrific as a homicide dick who believes the worst about everyone. The rest of the cast? Not so good. And the soundtrack is overbearing. But that wild premise holds your interest, and the movie is bookended by spellbinding opening and closing sequences. To quote Rosemarie: “Anybody who wants to direct needs to study that intro.”

    The writer of Decoy, Nedrick Young (who would go on to pen The Defiant Ones and Inherit the Wind), appears as an actor in the other half of this disc’s double bill. Crime Wave is the kind of rock-solid, unpretentious movie director André de Toth was known for. Reformed ex-con Gene Nelson gets sucked back into the life when a trio of prison acquaintances (a young Charles Bronson among them) busts out of San Quentin and expects his help. Hard-nosed cop Sterling Hayden watches his every move. Half the cast of this movie – Hayden, Ted de Corsia, Timothy Carey – would later turn up in Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing.

    I’d already seen Crime Wave, but I watched it again so I could enjoy the commentary track featuring novelist James Ellroy and the czar of noir himself, Eddie Muller. Ellroy literally pants over authentic early ‘50s Los Angeles locations and notes all the ways this movie informed his novel L.A. Confidential. (He based Bud White, played by Russell Crowe in the movie, partly on Hayden’s character, and points out a dive bar that’s the inspiration for the Nite Owl.) He also says that after rewatching Chinatown, he’s decided that it doesn’t hold up, and that Crime Wave is the better film.

    I don’t think he’s kidding.

    Miscellaneous: Observation

    The new gig prompted me to take the plunge and buy a laptop. Renovations around Chez K have reached the noisy stage, so I’ve started taking it to coffee shops so I can work. Meaning I have, at last, become one of those people I have always despised. Such is life.

    Miscellaneous: Link

    A completely inconclusive study hints that women with “tramp stamps” might not be able to receive epidurals when they go into labor. Gawker’s treatment of this news warms my black heart.

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    Friday, August 03, 2007

    On The Web: Siskel & Ebert

    More than ten years’ worth of reviews from Siskel & Ebert, beginning in 1985, are now available online. Looking at a few clips reminded me how much of an impact the show had on me during my budding movie buff years. Sometimes the only thing I’d know about an independent or foreign film that wouldn’t play the hinterlands of South Florida would be what Gene and Roger said about it.

    Too bad you can’t watch entire episodes. I have vivid recollections of one from June 1987, when Gene’s annoyance that Roger gave a thumbs down to Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket while praising Benji, The Hunted ate away at him throughout the telecast. He kept circling back to it, goading Roger. When they appeared on talk shows that summer, Gene continued to bring it up.

    The Full Metal Jacket clip shows both critics at their best. (For the record, I’m with Gene.) Gene Siskel is a classic example of someone who shouldn’t work on television – a vinegary, balding, middle-aged man – taking to it with aplomb.

    I stopped watching the show regularly after Gene’s death in 1999. I have tremendous respect for Roger Ebert as a critic and a human being, but it was his tetchy chemistry with Gene that made the program worth watching. For proof, check out the look of disbelief on Gene’s face as Roger famously gives a thumbs up to the Burt Reynolds kiddie comedy Cop and a Half. “Where’s your red suit and beard, Santa, ‘cause you just gave them a gift.”

    Miscellaneous: Blow Out the Candles

    When I was a kid, my least favorite days of the year were December 25 and August 3. Christmas and my birthday. Because for at least part of those days, I was the center of attention. And believe it or not, I hated being the center of attention.

    But that was then, this is now, and I’m starting to warm up to the spotlight. So, for the good of my own mental health: today is my birthday. Hooray for me.

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    Sunday, July 29, 2007

    Book: I Love You, Beth Cooper, by Larry Doyle (2007)

    Doyle is the veteran Simpsons scribe who also has the sorely underrated Looney Tunes: Back in Action to his credit. (You can read that script and several others at his website.) His first comic novel triggered high school flashbacks so intense that my voice changed.

    Denis Cooverman, star debater and valedictorian, blurts out the title line in his graduation speech. What he doesn’t expect is that Beth Cooper, head cheerleader and secret hellion, will find his professions of love cute. What he doesn’t know is that Beth has a new boyfriend, Kevin, who is massive, on leave from the Army, and lacking a sense of humor. As Denis, Beth and their friends spend a long graduation night shuttling from parties to make-out spots trying to avoid Kevin, Denis finds out the adolescent social whirl he’s long fantasized about isn’t quite as he imagined it.

    It’s a funny book, with bright turns of phrase throughout. It’s also a rich one, with Denis and particularly Beth bursting out of the Breakfast Club pigeonholes into which high school has forced them in some surprising ways. By the end the book achieves a grace, even a wisdom, that caught me off-guard.

    Seldom have I identified with a character as strongly as I did with Rich Munsch, Denis’s best (and only) bud. Rich is completely obsessed with movies and views every mortifying event as grist for the film someone must be making of his life. Rich, in other words, is the adolescent me, only with more flair. By which I mean any flair.

    Reading the book has me thinking about high school and my graduation night in particular, when I had my own Denis Cooverman moment. For the full four years I attended Dunedin High School in Dunedin, Florida – go, Falcons! – I harbored an intense crush on a girl named Ellen.* I don’t know why. I knew nothing about her. I doubt we said more than fifty words to each other, mainly because I was tongue-tied in her presence. She sat next to me in several classes, and occasionally when the teacher made a joke that fell flat she’d turn to me and roll her eyes. At such moments I would come perilously close to passing out.

    After the graduation ceremony we all filed back into the high school one final time. Emotions were running high; people were already exchanging goodbyes. And a single thought took possession of me: I have to mark this moment. I stalked the halls until I found Ellen, standing with a group of her friends. She smiled at me. I seized my chance.

    “Congratulations,” I said, and kissed her. And I mean a full Adrien-Brody-on-Halle-Berry special, with a dip and everything. I may have banged her head into a locker. The whole thing’s kind of a blur. I am not usually given to acts of unprovoked affection.

    When the kiss ended, I said, “I’m sorry, but I’ve wanted to do that for four years.”

    Ellen laughed. “I’m glad you did it, then.”

    I never saw her again. I’m sure she doesn’t even remember the incident. But that night alone almost made high school bearable. It was a lesson I’d learned from all the movies I’d been watching. If you get the ending right, all the disappointment that came before doesn’t matter.

    * - Name changed to protect the innocent

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