Archive for November, 2010

Travelling Feast

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Anthony Bourdain used to be a chef and a drug addict, but he caught his big break with his third book, Kitchen Confidential,and hasn’t looked back.  Since the book came out, Bourdain has written and eaten his way around the world, working on his TV show No Reservations and a number of other works besides.  Just recently he came out with the long-awaited follow-up to Kitchen Confidential called Medium Raw, and I had the chance to interview Anthony Bourdain about this book.

No I didn’t.  No way.  Not on that level.  I did see Bourdain in person though, in Waukegan, IL.  He got up in front of a big audience with nothing more than a sheet of notes and then he wandered around the stage for the next hour and a half, touching on topics he covered in the book and fielding questions from the audience like a real pro.  The book itself is really good.  As Bourdain would tell you himself, he is a much different person writing Medium Raw than he was when he wrote Kitchen Confidential and the books show this.

In this memoir-sequel, he talks about eating rare and illegal delicacies and rubbing elbows with the stars of the culinary world.  He still has that bite, that sting in his words.  He is a misanthrope still, but now he is a well-fed, happily-married, family man misanthrope.  He has to work a little harder to find the bitterness.  One of the best sections of the book is where he lists the heroes and villains of the food world, another bold chapter is titled, “Alan Richman is a Douchebag.”  That pretty much covers that chapter.  But the best part of the book is the transporting chapter about Food Porn where he takes you around the world, from Mexico to Vietnam, describing meals and their scenery so vividly you can taste them, feel them, see them.  That chapter more than any other feels like fiction, it’s so beautiful and so persuasive.

I think Medium Raw could have been reorganized to make it flow better, or maybe it could have been even further detached from Kitchen Confidential.  Late in the book, Bourdain spends a long chapter picking up thoughts he began ten years earlier and then justifying his beliefs then, his change in attitude now.  It loses a lot of the fun and energy he had earlier in the book because the writing late in the book belies the idea that Bourdain felt an obligation to justify the past or who he is in the present.

All in all, Bourdain is one of the best travel and food writers out there, he is definitely the best that’s also on TV.  He has a clear sense of style and an uncompromising identity.  He also lives a wholly enviable life.  Any few pages from Medium Raw is enough to show that.

The Academy Awards – Going a New Direction

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

What direction are the Academy Awards going in?  Down.  Even though the official announcement is yet to be made, it has been leaked that James Franco and Anne Hathaway will be hosting this year’s Oscars on February 27th 2011.  This marks the second year in a row that the hosting duties will be shared.  Last year a couple of nobodies named Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin somehow managed to do an awesome job hosting the show, but move over you has-beens, the Academy Awards are bringing in two hip, cool, multi-dimensional people to alienate all but nine percent of the viewing audience, Franco and Hathaway.

This is the equivalent of the producers of The Itchy and Scratchy show bringing in Poochie the Dog to keep things fresh on The Simpsons.  What the hell are they thinking?  Can you imagine those two introducing actual award winners to open the envelopes this year?  They’re going to be upstaged by everybody.  Can’t wait to feel the gravitas they’ll bring to the In Memorium tribute to all the stars we lost this last year.

Actually, I have nothing against James Franco, that guy is actually cool.  He’s casual, funny, and a good actor.  127 Hours was great.  He strikes me like he’s got Rat Pack cool.  Confidence.  Hathaway on the other hand?  I was listening to her on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday afternoon and she had absolutely nothing to offer.  She spent five minutes trying to justify taking her clothes off in every movie since The Princess Diaries and the rest of the time blowing smoke about how great all her co-stars are in some completely ignored art house junk.

The Academy Awards are my Christmas in February, better than my birthday.  Why, why, why was Anne Hathaway invited to the party?  And the winner is…not anyone watching the Academy Awards this coming February.  Man, why did they do this?  For me, you have to earn the Academy Awards.

Spoiler Alert – No Spoilers

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

A Spoiler Alert is like a neon sign for gossip.  Everyone loves gossip and I don’t know anyone strong enough to walk away from it.  So, what I’m going to say is, No Spoilers.  You’re just not strong enough.  I’m barely strong enough.  I want to tell you everything.  When did Harry Meet Sally, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Where’s Waldo!  I want to give it all away.  But I won’t.  I will not enable you.

But, I’ll talk to anyone who’s seen these things or more.  Right now, I’m talking about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1.  If you want to talk about the movie and Harry Potter books like I do, then write me a comment and you better convince me you’ve seen the movie already or you won’t get anything out of me.

Hitting .800 on ESPN’s 30 for 30

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

I’m not batting 100, but ESPN’s not either. I’ve seen 80% of ESPN’s 30 for 30 episodes, and even though we’re just talking about sitting around and watching TV, that’s not a bad average at all. Honestly, almost half of these episodes didn’t deserve my attention, but the ones that were really good, were really worth it.

The show is great when it’s great, but making a great sports documentary is like making an edible cake. It’s not that hard. You’ve just got to avoid taking all the fun out of your cake and thinking, “Maybe this cake shouldn’t have any icing because if people enjoy it too much they won’t take me seriously as a baker.” There are way too many interviews from strange angles (the Tim Richmond episode was the king of this) or interviews from too close and straight on, like a Lipitor commercial. A lot of these 30 for 30 filmmakers aimed to make me as uncomfortable as possible. Too often, 30 for 30 is like the junior high teacher that lives to take all the fun out of a field trip.

With the last thirty years of sports to pull from, you could make a hundred documentaries. That being said, there have been many stories that gave me a greater appreciation for an athlete and I’ve been surprised by how many stories I had no idea of at all before 30 for 30: “Into the Wind” about Terry Fox, the Canadian who ran a marathon a day trying to cross his country on foot after losing a leg to cancer is at the top of the list.

My absolute favorite of the documentaries has been “The U” about the University of Miami football in the 80’s. The personalities in this one are hilarious, so cocky, so fast, it’s just great.  “The Two Escobars” was the most moving for me.  This is the story of Andres Escobar, the Colombian soccer player who was murdered back home after committing an ‘own goal’ in the World Cup. 

Stay away from “The House of Steinbrenner”.  I don’t know how Bill Simmons, executive producer of 30 for 30 and a die-hard Red Sox fan allowed this junk to be put on TV. Don’t watch “Silly Little Game” about the start of Fanstasy Baseball. That great idea made for really bad TV. “No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson”, isn’t that an amateurish title? It was a pretty terrible documentary, too.

Others Worth Seeing: “Fernando Nation”, “Once Brothers”, “Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?”, “Four Days in October”, “The Guru of Go”, “The Best That Never Was”, “Unmatched”, “Little Big Men”, “The 16th Man” (I liked this better than the movie Invictus), “Muhammad and Larry”, “June 17, 1994”, and “Without Bias”.

It must seem like I love 30 for 30, that’s a long list, but the bad ones were either really bad or were an offensive waste of potential: “Winning Time: Reggie Miller against the New York Knicks”, and “The Legend of Jimmy the Greek” make that list, too.

I’ve got my DVR set for “King’s Ransom”, the first 30 for 30, about Wayne Gretzky being traded to the LA Kings and I’m still waiting for “Jordan Rides the Bus”. I really hope these great subjects weren’t smothered by smarmy directors. 

I’ve realized what it is that I want since starting on the 30 for 30 series.  I want the best sports stories of all time.  From anywhere in the world.  I want to hear about the most unbelievable cricketer, or the best Aussie Rules Football match of all time, or an Oxford/Cambridge rowing match, or a wrestling match, or a circus story on the high-wire…that’s what I want to see.  360 by 360, no limitations.

The Office…Sucks

Friday, November 12th, 2010

I was going to write this post after last week’s horrendous episode, but I’m glad I waited.  Things at the Office are either going nowhere or they’re going downhill and they’re going there fast.

I was a HUGE fan of The Office.  The British, The Office.  The original, The Office.  It was a perfect show.  And there was one lesson that I wish the American version of the show would have learned.  I wish they learned that, eventually, the show has to end.  That end would have come neatly two seasons ago when Jim and Pam got engaged.  Before they got really, really…boring…zzzz…That end would have come before Erin took a hold and became a regular character with those jaw muscles that go all the way to the edge of her square face and almost trump her creepo personality.  That end would have come before Dwight and Angela’s sex contract, the most drawn out device ever invented to try and make a used-up and useless character seem relevant.  That end would have come before Saber and Gabe.  That end would have come before the writers tried to make Andy and Erin the new Jim and Pam.  And that end would have come before the complete destruction of Michael Scott.

Michael Scott was always pushing our comfort zones, but now he has actually become unlikeable.  The lengths he goes to to disrupt and depress and hold down the lives around him make the character bankrupt of heart and beyond our caring.  He unplugged someone’s cable in order to ruin their party on this last episode.  It’s just stupid.  This person would have been written out of everyone’s lives long ago.  This person would have been fired.

The British version of The Office had a believable story arc and the brilliant writers (Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant) ended the show on their terms after only two seasons and a genius Christmas Special.  It would be a great Christmas gift to all of us who watch the slop that is the American The Office if they finally just gave it a rest.  I’m really tired of this show and I’m really tired of Michael Scott.  The Office has run it’s course.  I quit.