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Saturday, December 25, 2010

AND BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED....

This movie was cool. Nothing to do with this blog tho..




As I type this out I am listening to Vince Guaraldi's jazz soundtrack to "A Charlie Brown Christmas".     As we come to the holidays and the close of another year I have been reflecting a lot lately on life and my family, most of which has passed away. Instead of sadness I am definitely on the side of the warm and fuzzies tonight. I'm where I'm supposed to be at this exact moment in time. A place where people love me and appreciate my friendship. I'm glad that the people I choose to surround myself with in life don't care about the commercialized, pissing contest that the holidays can be to some. Although I am not fully pleased with my station in life, it's all about the journey and at least I know I'm not alone on this road. A wise man once said “it's not where ya from it's where you're in the mentals”. Or to put it another way: I will “fake it `til I make it” which has become my motto of late. In this spirit I'd like to share my favorite holiday memory of all time: The Sears Wishbook!


Not the idea of famous Sears catalog of gifts or the idea of getting any of them at all. But something else a little more innocent and special from my childhood. Growing up in a semi-serious Jewish family as a child meant Chanukah was our primary concern. But my parents being less conservative than most knew we didn't have many friends of Hebraic (editors note: Keefbonics) descent so they incorporated some Christmas spirit into out lives with stockings, a small tree (my dad called it a burning bush of fiyah) and gifts. Even though times were tough and means were meager we always got a few gifts for Chanukah and some kind of small gift for Christmas so we wouldn't feel “left out” We also got chocolate bunnies at Easter even though it often conflicted with Passover. There isn't a deep meaning to this part except that I think it was cool my parents were concerned with our feelings and tried to spread the love around to multiple holidays so we would feel less weird.


We had this electric Menorah growing up.
One year for no good reason it burst into flames. 
My second favorite holiday memory is really a collection of memories. Since most of my friends celebrated Christmas, Christmas day for little Keefy meant getting to play with his friends toys when he didn't have anything especially awesome to share (like underwear or homemade mittens and hats with pom-poms on the top like South Park). My best friends from childhood are still my best friends today thirty plus years later so Jesse, Danny, Anita and Damien and your families- thank you for always including me in your festivities and making me feel welcomed and loved. It still means a lot to me to this day that your good fortune was also made to feel like mine. No one ever flaunted what they had- it was always “look at this cool thing we can both play with!”. I was a lucky kid then and a lucky grown up dude now.
Anita, Me, Jesse and Danny at Jesse's wedding in 2005.

Sears started putting out a holiday catalog back in 1933 and it made an indelible mark on popular culture and my life too. I recall the mailman knocking on our door to hand deliver the book because at 700-800 pages it wasn't fitting in our tiny mailbox. Every member of my house was vying to see it first. My father like to look at tools. My oldest brother liked to look at instruments and stereos. My middle brother just like to thumb through and look at the colorful pictures. My mother liked to look at clothes for the kids. Like most children, I liked the toys and games. Especially the original 11 Inch G.I. Joes, Lionel Trains and Star Wars toys once the movie came out and got big.




What made The Wishbook special besides the excitement when it came to our house was a ritual my mother and i would do together. The book already would be in the house about a week and mom would get out the book and have me sit in her lap. We would go through about 200 pages of the book- towards the back where the toys were a page at a time. Together we read every single description of toys or games that I was remotely interested in. The last line of many of them was “and batteries not included.” which we would say in unison, every time. Do this about 200 times and you are laughing hysterically. At least we were. It wasn't about the gifts because often she would say “I don't think that toy is right for you” if it cost too much or was inappropriate (“you'll shoot your eye out!”). I knew I was only gonna get one or two presents as it was and likely not from Sears when Corners Department Store was down the block from my apartment in the projects. But my mom made it a point to do this with me every year from about ages 3 to 8 every year and it made me really happy that she did. It was a blast.

Whether you remember The Wishbook and have your own special holiday memories or not – check out this cool website someone put up with entire catalogs (Sears and other stores) from the past here http://www.wishbookweb.com/ .  

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW: TRON LEGACY (no spoilers, well not that many)

Directed by Joe Kosinski (Walt Disney Pictures)


This TRON........
Not this Tron........
On my way out of town I went to the AMC 34th Street Theater in New York this past Friday with my pal Ojaay to see the hotly anticipated Disney film TRON: LEGACY. Although I tend to be down on remakes and 3-D technology I was thrilled to see this film in 3-D IMAX. I won't ruin the movie for those of you still waiting to see it by giving up too much info. A sequel to 1982's TRON written and directed by Joe Lisberger (who co-produced the new movie) TRON: LEGACY continues the story of video game designer/alternate digital reality creator Kevin Flynn. Although there are a few nice nods to the original in the new movie- you do not have to be familiar with the original to enjoy it or understand the story.


Ojaay and I await the film in our seats.

In the first film Flynn who is a rising star programmer at corporate computer giant ENCOM (sort of a combination of KONAMI, GOOGLE & MICROSOFT) makes some  amazing discoveries. After having someone else take credit for his work and getting ousted, Flynn tries to hack into the mainframe where his life is digitized and rendered into the “world of the grid”. The grid is a world inside the mainframe where artificial intelligence controls nearly everything while there are battles at stake between actual “programs” sentient human forms and “users” who are their real human counterparts operating in the system. Although the technology was terribly limited at the time (1982) and the look of the film was primitive by today’s cgi standards it was a triumph as the first mixed live action/computer animated movie. Although low budget and early tech impaired the visuals somewhat, the story has fascinated sci-fi fans for nearly twenty years. Including me. I was very excited to see the sequel come out. I saw the original TRON film at the old Allerton Avenue Movie Theater in The Bronx and I dragged my poor mother to take me. She couldn't have cared less for sci-fi and I think after that she rarely took me to movies and I went by myself a lot after TRON.

Check out this cool pic of the old Allerton Ave. movie house! Good times-
TRON: LEGACY opens up with a recap of the history of the franchise. Ergo, that's why you don't need to know more of the story than I have given you. We see Kevin Flynn as played by Jeff Bridges tucking his son Sam in one night talking about the world of the grid and promises to show it to him someday. Then he leaves for work on his motorcycle. The next day he disappears just as he is on the verge of a major breakthrough (harkening back to the events of the first film). He is never seen again according to news reports and ENCOM reorganizes without him after a major stock crash, similar to the real life events of the video game industry crash of 1983. Young Sam is left in the care of his grandparents, but never recovers emotionally from the loss of his dad.


Flash forward to today and we see grownup Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) who is a wealthy aire to his father's vast fortune left to him when he vanished. Sam could be a major player in ENCOM like his father was supposed to be, but he shuns that life although he is clearly a brilliant computer whiz. He lives off the radar of most people with a lot of expensive toys and a cute puggle. Sam is visited by Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), reprising his role from the first film as Kevin Flynn's confidant and partner. Alan is still on the ENCOM board, but doesn't like the way they do things. Alan gives Sam his pager (!) tells him to go to his father's old arcade and to his office. Sam winds up in the office and finds his father's old private lab with his research. Sam ends up transported to the world of the grid and once he gets his bearings he attempts to answer the riddle of his father. Similar to the first film the world is predicated on battle games for survival and there is a claustrophobic feeling of desperation in the film similar to the first MATRIX movie. Once again the common theme of a lot of sci-fi being that the technology that frees us also puts us in peril. 

The original name for the sequel was TRON 2 or TR2N. 

Bridges turns in a brilliant performance (with a slight nod to the THE BIG LEBOWSKI) as the user Flynn as well as his creation the renegade program Clu. His scenes with himself in both roles were amazing and had me reflecting on how he has reinvented his career in the last few years. So very proud of him. Boxleitner as Bradly/Tron is solid in limited screen time and Hedlund gives a strong performance as does Olivia Wilde as the beautiful and mysterious Quorra. Micheal Sheen is brilliantly delicious as Castor and Cillian Murphy is quite funny an uncredited role as the son of Edward Dillinger, a main character in the first movie.

DaftPunk played DJ's in the movie.

Visually the film is exceptional and the 3-D (which again, not a big fan of) was really well done. The special effects and the actual blocking of actors seamlessly works together like most modern films, but still maintains the cold feel of the world of the grid. Some of the action scenes are tremendous and have all the bells and whistles you expect from a flick of this caliber. I also have to give props to Daft Punk for the amazing soundtrack which evokes the original TRON soundtrack by Wendy Carlos, a favorite of mine. Overall the film was very enjoyable and I am looking forward to future sequels and the TV series that is due next year.




To follow the story a little deeper before going to the movies check out http://www.flynnlives.com/



Thursday, December 9, 2010

DECEMBER 8TH WILL BE ROUGH, THE REST OF MY LIFE.....

As today draws to a close I am deep in reflection. Actually I have been since before midnight yesterday. December 8th is date burned into the minds of many of my friends today. Just as December 7th- “the day that lives in infamy” (Pearl Harbor Day) did for my parents and their peers. It's a strange convergence that has been pointed out by many to be true. If you have already guessed at the topic of the tale, that's fine. The stories have been told and retold a lot today. I have my own spin on how these events affected me personally.

"Nobody told me there'd be days like these..."

Thirty years ago while coming home from the studio John Lennon was shot to death outside of his home in his adopted home of New York City. John once joked that THE BEATLES were “bigger than God” and his death sort of proved him right, sadly enough. You can argue all day and night if either he or Paul were more talented (I always preferred quiet ol' George Harrison myself), but there is no doubting that John was the fiercest of THE BEATLES. By using his celebrity for social activism, opening political dialogue and continuing to be a rebel in his post-Fab Four life, I believe he actually fulfilled the very weak promise of the hippies. Most of them their protests and causes for drugs and sex and proto-consumerism in the 70's. John remained a vital artist throughout his career and an was always iconic. His loss at such a young age (40) was immense. He would have turned seventy this past October.

Cosell interviewed Lennon once before on MNF 
Like many I was watching Monday Night Football when Howard Cosell made the announcement. My brothers and I were watching the meaningless game (since the Giants weren't on) and my mom was relaxing after teaching her dance class. Since it was her birthday I believe we were having ice cream, very likely Sealtest's Heavenly Hash, which was the family choice at the time. I could barely comprehend the bad news as an eight year-old, but my brother the rocker was devastated and my mom started to cry. Although my mom was clearly the generation before the Beatles she enjoyed some rock and pop music including them and THE ROLLING STONES. She just cried for hours and would remark the next day to my father that is was like part of the world died with John. My father was a jazz-o-phile and didn't care much for the rock music his annoying putz sons listened to. I also recall that next day at school being very somber and coming home and listening to WNEW as gravel throated “Scottso” Scott Muni played non-stop BEATLES and John solo stuff for hours and hours. Muni started every show the remainder of his career (20 plus years until his death) opening his shows with a Lennon or BEATLES song in tribute.

STRONGER THAN ALL

Like many metal fans of the 1990's I was and still am a huge PANTERA fan. From the very first time I saw the “Psycho Holiday” video on Headbangers Ball, I knew these guys were the shit! They was no denying their musical talents which became refined and improved over their career. But what really made PANTERA great was their heart and personality. Their awesome spirit, take no prisoners attitude and general super fun quotient set them apart from the serious, scowling metal dudes in every other band. Later in the decade when metal was struggling a bit as a genre the band continued to be uncompromisingly heavy and unashamedly true to themselves. Their albums are all time greats, their live shows were legendary and their 3 home videos were a handbook on how to hang out, have a good time and party until the break of dawn. Dimebag Darrell was a the center of this madness, this chaos, this musical force of nature of a band. Dime has four solos in Guitar World's top 100 solos of all time list and countless other great ones also (http://guitar.about.com/library/bl100greatest.htm). He wasn't just a dynamite lead guitarist and a great riffer and songwriter, he had a lovely soul and a love of life that was indeed "larger than life". I think he also had a sensitivity he only showed glimpses of, but I think it came through in his humility and kindness. Things that don't often get associated with metal, let alone legit guitar gods.

Dime and the DigiTech Whammy Pedal
Just a week earlier I had seen Darrell and his new band DAMAGEPLAN at Irving Plaza in New York with SHADOWS FALL and THE HAUNTED opening. DAMAGEPLAN played a fine show with PANTERA covers like “Becoming” and “Walk” sprinkled in. After the show I was near both Dime and his brother Vinny Paul by the bar. Dime was immediately mobbed and seemed like he was trying to skate out of the venue. I just figured to myself that I'd meet him at the next show. Vinnie gave me a sweaty hug and a few minutes of his time to talk about metal, drumming etc.

One week later, when Darrell was gunned down 30 seconds into the start of a concert, just after midnight on Dec. 8 2004, it sent a shock wave throughout the music world. A lot of people were calling it "the 9/11 for Metal". Initially news was sketchy, with many major news outlets not having the full story until the next morning. Early reports just said “former PANTERA member dead in Ohio” and many people today will admit they assumed Philip Anselmo's drug problems caught up with him. But it was Dimebag that was murdered, along with three others by a homicidal, obsessive fan, who himself was gun downed at the scene by a brave policeman. I didn't find out this terrible news until I got to work the next morning like many, and I started to get a barrage of calls at my desk confirming the worst. I broke down and cried some, then called some people myself to share the news/grief. I couldn't concentrate at work and went through the motions the rest of the day and went home to listened to my records and just felt numb all over. This was like the death of a family member to me. PANTERA was not just a favorite band of mine, but they helped inform my own music that my bands played. At the very first show of my band GRUNT we played “Cemetery Gates” and “Five Minutes Alone”. We often molded our music after the “Cowboys From Hell” eventually covering “Walk” (which I am now sick of), “Domination”, “I'm Broken” and my personal favorite, “A New Level”. I lived my life by their words, saw them many times in concert, met friends and lovers because of them, and generally followed their every move for over a decade. Today many of the current crop of metal bands have the influence of PANTERA in their veins to varying degrees of success. Dime's legacy lives on and there will never be another lead player or a person quite like him.

Dime's resting place.
Note the Darrell poster in my old bedroom in The Bronx


Of course I would be remiss not to mention again that December 8th is my mom's birthday. These thirteen years without her have been tough to be sure. I think I have been especially down in the dumps the last few years on this date including the last few days. She was taken from me and this world too soon. A great mom, a tireless advocate for the handicapped, an amazing talent and a best friend to me and many others. I'd like to think that I carry on the lessons and the history she gave me and try to honor her. Her wisdom stays foremost in my mind daily. I sincerely hope I can do her some justice since she was a one of a kind person and a lady always.