Monday, December 31, 2007

The little drummer boy

On Christmas Eve, my nephew Willie got a drum set from Uncle John! Here are a few photos of Willie having fun.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Two new films offer depictions of Afghanistan

My freelance review of two new films:
Afghanistan is front-and-center in two enlightening new films, The Kite Runner and Charlie Wilson's War.

Kite Runner, adapted from Khaled Hosseini's 2003 novel of the same name, spans several decades and focuses on the 1970s pre-Soviet-occupied Afghanistan and the 1990s Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

Charlie Wilson, also adapted from a 2003 book (Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History, by George Crile) focuses on the 1980s efforts of a Texas congressman (played by Tom Hanks) to convince the CIA to increase covert military funding to help a savaged Afghanistan fight the Soviets.

Each film does a great job integrating rich characters into their stories.

Kite Runner is the fictional story of Amir, a well-to-do boy growing up in Kabul, the largest city in Afghanistan. His best friend is Hassan, his father's servant's son. Early on, the film focuses on their friendship -- including their kite flying activities -- and Amir's ultimate betrayal of Hassan for the sake of acceptance by his own father. Years later, after having fled Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion, Amir returns to Kabul and faces the atrocities of the Taliban reign in an effort to redeem himself.

An all-star cast powers Charlie Wilson. Along with Hanks as the playboy congressman with an extraordinary mind, Julia Roberts plays Wilson's anti-communist friend and romantic interest and Philip Seymour Hoffman is a CIA blue-collar operative who, with the Hanks and Roberts characters, travels the world to form unlikely political alliances.

The two films are quite different in style. Kite Runner is slower-moving and rich in its visuals and panoramic shots (courtesy of director of photography Roberto Scheafer). Charlie Wilson offers fast-paced dialog (courtesy of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin) and a fair amount of character humor.

One thing about Charlie Wilson, though: To fully grasp many of the nuances of its story, there's a bit too much assumed familiarity of all of the political players and events leading up to the end of the Cold War.

Directors Marc Forster (Kite Runner) and Mike Nichols (Charlie Wilson) deliver powerful films. Especially together, these two films do a good job depicting an ever-so-relevant slice of world history.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The real scoodog's blog is back -- just in time for Christmas!

I forgot to renew my domain name, so as I result an imposter page appeared at for several hours this morning. Fortunately, all it took was a $10 payment to the folks at Google and the real scoodog's blog is back -- just in time for Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2007

"Sweeney Todd" is a delicious treat

My freelance review:
With Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton are reunited in what is arguably their most ambitious filmmaking effort. (Depp and Burton previously worked together on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Sleepy Hollow, Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands.)

Sweeney Todd is quite the escape. It's set in a Victorian-era London downtown with characters whose costumes and surroundings feel right out of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Any similarities to A Christmas Carol end there, though!

For this is a bloody film -- and perhaps the most joyously bloody film I'll ever see! The blood and gore are complemented by gothic, twisted humor -- and characters who break out in song -- some quite beautiful and touching -- throughout the entire film.

Adapted from Stephen Sondheim's award-winning Broadway musical, Sweeney Todd is the story of a man (Depp, in the title role) who is unjustly sent to prison and who -- upon his release -- vows revenge for that and for what happened to his wife and young daughter while he was imprisoned.

Todd reopens his barber shop -- and let's just say his knives are plenty sharp. Helena Bonham Carter plays Mrs. Lovett, owner of a restaurant under the barber shop that serves "meat pies" to its customers. Todd and Lovett join forces. Given the dark humor of the story, I'll leave things to your imagination at this point!

Depp and Bonham Carter deliver fantastic performances. Other stand-outs in the cast include Alan Rickman as Todd's arch-nemesis, the corrupt judge, and Sacha Baron Cohen (who played the title role in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan) as a rival barber.

Overall, there is an abundance of style to this film, and fortunately there is also plenty of substance from the story and the music.

This holiday season, let yourself be taken away by Sweeney Todd. And think twice before eating any meat pies.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis
My statue of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, keeping a nighttime watch in my garden last weekend.

"I Am Legend" underperforms

My freelance review:
The new film I Am Legend has a great premise: Will Smith as a brilliant scientist who manages to survive a terrible virus that has wiped out most everyone else in New York City -- and perhaps the entire planet.

Couple this premise with some outstanding special effects -- including a deserted, dilapidated New York City, where tall grass and weeds now grow in the streets and where herds of deer run wild -- and there's the potential for an outstanding Twilight Zone-esque thriller.

Unfortunately, the interesting premise and outstanding special effects aren't accompanied by a well-articulated, well-directed or well-edited story -- and as a result, Legend falls flat.

There are gaps in the details of the story. While flashbacks tell the story of how the virus took hold and started a mass panic, there are way too many unanswered questions that should have been addressed. Exactly why is Smith's character, Robert Neville, immune to the virus? How does Neville know the statistics of how many people worldwide are affected and not affected by the virus?

Parts of the film are engaging and suspenseful, reminiscent of a good episode of The Twilight Zone. And this shouldn't be too much of a surprise, given that the 1954 novel on which the film is based was written by Richard Matheson, who penned a number of Zone episodes.

But other parts of the film yearn for much more. There are a number of scenes involving zombie-type creatures -- the "half-dead" mutant survivors who stalk Neville and his dog. While a few of these scenes are truly scary, most are uneven or over-the-top.

The screenplay writers, Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldman (who worked together on the generally-panned Poseidon movie of 2006), left a lot of detail out when adapting Matheson's story. Director Francis Lawrence's experience is mostly in music videos.

I Am Legend, which opened last Friday, was reportedly in post-production until the last minute, into November. Not a good sign -- and it shows. Parts of the film seem pieced together -- particularly in the second half.

Monday, December 17, 2007

"Juno" delivers plenty of laughs

My freelance review:
In the new movie Juno, the title character is a 16-year-old high school student who is witty, quirky and snappy.

And newly-pregnant. And as she ponders her situation, she remains witty, quirky and snappy.

I struggled a bit to accept that anyone -- let alone a 16-year-old! -- would behave this way given the gravity of the situation.

Despite this flaw, though, Juno manages to please. Director Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking -- reviewed here) maintains a consistently quirky tone to the film, and overall there are a great number of laughs that come about. In fact, when I saw this film in November at a sold-out screening at the St. Louis Film Festival, the audience was roaring with laughter.

And as the film goes on, the main character's hip demeanor is increasingly balanced by intermittent moments of warmth and humanity. As Juno, young actress Ellen Page exhibits good range.

There are also a number of strong supporting performances -- in particular, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner as the prospective adoptive couple and Allison Janney (The West Wing) as Juno's mother.

Another plus for the film is that its story plays out in a way that isn't completely predictable.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Juno. It's tone may take a little bit of getting used to, but it is worth seeing as a good and sometimes touching comedy.

Juno is playing in select cities. It starts Friday, Dec. 21 in St. Louis.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Leader of the band

I read the sad news tonight that Dan Fogelberg has died of cancer at age 56. He was a gifted artist who leaves behind a number of beautiful songs. Here are three of my favorites, tracks 6, 7 and 8 from his 1981 album, An Innocent Age:

And it's run for the roses as fast as you can
Your fate is delivered, your moment's at hand
It's the chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance
And it's high time you joined in the dance
It's high time you joined in the dance
Run for the Roses
I thank you for the music and your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go
I thank you for the kindness and the times when you got tough
And, papa, I don't think I said 'I love you' near enough
Leader of the Band
We drank a toast to innocence, we drank a toast to now
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness but neither one knew how
We drank a toast to innocence, we drank a toast to time
Reliving in our eloquence, another 'auld lang syne'
Same Old Lang Syne

Let it snow!

It was a snowy Saturday, as 8-10 inches of snow fell today! Here are a few nighttime photos I just took of a neighbor's Christmas-lit evergreen:

Snowy Christmas Lights (1 of 2)
Snowy Christmas Lights (2 of 2)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

From the holiday TV news archive, part 2

The following video is from 1994, one year after the previous video I posted. As in 1993, I had a "Bring a Toy" Christmas Party. My friend Greg & I took the toys to the Ch. 2 Toy Drive and -- once again -- were asked to be part of a news story promoting the Toy Drive!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

From the holiday TV news archive, part 1

So we want to encourage people to be like Tom.
—Don Marsh, from 1993

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Remembering Snikk

Snikk left us one year ago. He is missed. He is shown here from 2005, wearing antlers alongside his brother Chilly.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Santa and the dogs

From PetSmart, earlier today.

Upper photo (left-to-right): Dawson, who I adopted from St. Louis Senior Dog Project in April 2006; Bose, a deaf Corgi I'm fostering for Pet's Second Chance Welsh Corgi Rescue; Oliver, who I rescued in January from the streets of North City during the Mattie search; and Scooter, who I've had since 1998.

Lower photo (left-to-right): Rusty, who my friend Carolyn & I rescued from St. Louis Animal Control during the summer (again as part of the Mattie search) and who my friend Mark is fostering; and Andy and Chilly, Mark's permanent dogs who he's had for one year and five years, respectively.

Related gallery of photos here.

Nativity sets from around the world

My brother's parish, the Cathedral of St. Peter in Belleville, will be hosting a display of nearly 40 beautiful, diverse nativity scenes -- from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas -- on visit from the Catholic University of Dayton. Admission is free and all are invited. I went last year and cannot wait to see what's in store for this year!!

Wed., Dec 12 -- 9 AM to 3 PM
Thur., Dec 13 -- 4 PM to 8 PM
Fri., Dec 14 -- Noon to 8 PM

The above photos are from last year; more photos from last year are here. The event is sponsored by the Cluster Parishes of the Cathedral, St. Mary's and St. Augustine's in Belleville.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Don't blink

My favorite song these days is Don't Blink by Kenny Chesney. It's a beautiful song with a nice little message about life.
I turned on the evening news
Saw a old man being interviewed
Turning a hundred and two today
Asked him what's the secret to life
He looked up from his old pipe
Laughed and said all I can say is

Don't blink...

Life goes faster than you think

Monday, December 03, 2007

Santa Claws

'Tis the season to take your pets to get their photos taken with Santa! Only two weekends remain at your local PetSmart. 11 AM-4 PM Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 8-9 or 15-16. Below is one of my favorite canine Christmas photos, from 2003:

Sunday, December 02, 2007

"Kiss Me, Kate" is lighthearted fare

My freelance review:
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis has Cole Porter's classic Broadway hit Kiss Me, Kate as its lighthearted, holiday season offering.

Kiss Me, Kate is structured as a musical within a musical. The interior play is a Broadway-bound musical version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. For its lead roles, suave and charming Fred Graham is reunited with his ex-wife, the glamorous and high-tempered Lilli Vanessi, and their backstage bickering erupts into onstage mayhem. Add in some Shakespeare-savvy gangsters who arrive to settle an old score and a couple of ensemble members who are trying to keep their romance afloat.

The Rep's production aims big. Big dance numbers and lots of Cole Porter classic songs (although, at two hours and fifteen minutes plus intermission, some judicious trimming would have helped the overall pace of the show)... huge, revolving sets... detailed, elaborate costumes.

The Rep advertises the show as "witty and romantic." While the humor in Kiss Me, Kate is indeed witty -- clever, quick and inventive, surprisingly there isn't much of a romantic feel to the production.

As one of the gangsters, Rep veteran Joneal Joplin is a scene stealer -- watch for him delivering plenty of deadpan humor wearing a sombrero during The Taming of the Shrew.

Kiss Me, Kate plays through December 28 at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in Webster Groves.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Great DVD movie watching opportunity

Do yourself a favor and rent the little-seen film The Namesake, which comes out Tuesday on DVD. The Namesake, adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, follows two generations of an Indian family living in America. It's a great human drama -- both epic and intimate. Check out my full review here.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Beatles and Willie

Another quote from my 7-year-old nephew Willie, from this afternoon:
Uncle Tom, have you ever heard of a group called The Beatles?
I think he's just discovered their music. Maybe he'll want to go as one of them for Halloween next year...

Vocabulary and rice

Check out for an addictive vocabulary game with a twist: the more you play, the more rice is donated through the United Nations to help end world hunger.

FreeRice is a not-for-profit organization, but they do place advertisements at the bottom of the web site as you play the vocabulary game. Funding from the advertisers is what pays for the rice that gets donated.

An added benefit, according to FreeRice:
After you have done FreeRice for a couple of days, you may notice an odd phenomenon. Words that you have never consciously used before will begin to pop into your head while you are speaking or writing. You will feel yourself using and knowing more words.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Silver jubilee

Warm congratulations to my brother, Father John Myler, on his 25th anniversary of being ordained to the priesthood.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving morning dog walk

It was a cloudy and cold Thanksgiving morning -- especially compared to last year's sunny and mild Thanksgiving morning.

Fun with focus

From Thanksgiving morning: Two shots looking into a closed Blueberry Hill. The first show focuses on a holiday light in the window; the second shot focuses on the reflection. I did a similar photography experiment last year on Thanksgiving morning.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Black Friday Eve

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving, too! Here's a photo of Scooter taken one year ago on a sunny Thanksgiving morning dog walk. That's Dawson's tail at the extreme left side of the photo, and at the upper left is a flyer for Mattie the missing dog -- this was before I joined the other volunteers on the search.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

In memory of Penny

This is Penny, my friend and colleague Steve's beautiful cat who passed away last week at 18 years of age. Read Steve's touching farewell to Penny here.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thanksgiving quote

I just asked my 7-year-old nephew Willie if he is excited about Thanksgiving this Thursday. His very polite response:
Nah... I'm not really a big Thanksgiving person, Uncle Tom.

"Call of the Wild" seeks greater understanding

My freelance review:
If you were intrigued by Into the Wild -- either the best-selling book by John Krakauer or its film adaptation by Sean Penn (reviewed here) -- you will probably enjoy The Call of the Wild, a documentary that strives to put together a larger mosaic of Into the Wild's main character, Christopher McCandless.

I recently had the opportunity to see The Call of the Wild at the St. Louis International Film Festival. The timing was great, as I had seen Into the Wild just a month before and was yearning for further insight into McCandless, his journeys and his motivations.  The Call of the Wild's filmmaker Ron Lamothe was present at the screening and did an insightful audience Q&A afterwards.  While the Q&A helped to further appreciate Lamothe's film, Lamothe's writing on his web site helps a lot, too.

Lamothe is a 37-year-old married father of two and the founder of Terra Incognita Films, which "produces documentaries that explore the unexplored, films that map the unknown territories of our current knowledge -- be they events or individuals or ideas."

And it's the territory covered by McCandless that Lamothe himself covers in an effort to deepen his understanding of not only what happened to McCandless but also "the deeper truth to be found" from certain of McCandless' actions, including his last journal entry.  In May of 2006, Lamonthe took to the road and began his quest "fourteen years in the making."

Lamothe's narrative is insightful and welcoming throughout the film.  He takes the viewer with him and shares his realizations and reflections along the way.  His narration often reflects on his own rationale for making this journey in addition to speculating on what McCandless' rationale may have been. This level of intimacy adds to the overall strength of Lamothe's film.

Lamothe filmed this documentary around the same time Sean Penn was filming Into the Wild, and the two filmmakers' paths actually intersected -- more than once. A few times, certain individuals from McCandless' travels were made inaccessible to Lamothe due to exclusivity contracts signed with Penn's film, raising a few eyebrows as to why such actions were taken.

The Call of the Wild makes for a terrific companion piece to Into the Wild. Do yourself a favor and see this documentary. It's available on DVD from the Terra Incognita Films web site.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Elvis lives!

To follow up on a previous posting, it appears that Elvis is alive and well. Thank you, Kelly, for pointing this out.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Greedy studio executives

The Writers Guild of America is on strike. For more than 50 years, TV and film writers have been entitled to a small cut of the studios' profits from the reuse of their shows or movies (syndication or DVDs). But the greedy studio executives are refusing to apply the same rules to internet-based airings and downloadings, despite acknowledging that internet-generated income will be substantial:

Cheers to the others in the industry who are not crossing the picket lines. This includes Jay Leno, David Letterman, The Office's Steve Carell and 30 Rock's Tina Fey.

And jeers to the heartless NBC studio executives who have announced that they intend to fire all of the production staff members on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno as a ploy to get Leno to cross the picket line and return to his show without the writers. This technique worked 20 years ago during the 22-week-long writers' strike from 1988 when both Johnny Carson and David Letterman returned to work under like-threats.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

"Grace is Gone" is a touching human drama

My freelance review:
Watch for the film Grace is Gone, which played at the St. Louis International Film Festival.

John Cusack plays a loving but somewhat distant father whose military wife is killed in Iraq. He has two little girls and his task is to tell them of their mother's death. He's not used to being the decision maker in the family and struggles with how to tell them, so he abruptly takes them on a road trip to a Disney-type place before telling them.

This is a very touching, moving film and the actors (including Shélan O'Keefe and Gracie Bednarczyk as Cusack's daughters) are terrific. This is Cusack's breakthrough film; he's officially grown up now, in my book.

The film's score, by Clint Eastwood, is beautiful. The title song, by jazz musician Jamie Cullum, is quite powerful and hypnotic. This music will be playing on my iPod.

Grace is Gone is the winner of the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival from January. In his director debut, writer/director James C. Strouse has delivered a beautiful, appropriately-slow moving film that offers some insightful reflections on life beyond pro-war or anti-war sentimentalities.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

My new car

I picked up my car tonight. I'm liking it! Here are a few photos:

Monday, November 05, 2007

Congrats to Natalie & Brian!

My friends Natalie and Brian were married today in Vegas. Warm wishes to the happy couple, two of the nicest friends a person could wish for.

Several more years of 'Curb'?

Good news, Curb Your Enthusiasm fans! The NY Post is reporting that Larry David is talking about wanting to do two, maybe three, more years of his HBO comedy series.

As Larry would say, "Preeeeeeeeety, preeeeeeeeeety nice."

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Getting to know you...

My foster dog Rusty has moved to another home to make room for Bose, a deaf two-year-old Corgi rescued from a dog pound in Arkansas. He's a nice little dog. I happened to have my camera handy to catch him and Oliver getting to know each other. (Notice how those tails are wagging!) And keep an eye out for a cameo appearance by Scooter, namesake of scoodog's blog, around the 10-second mark.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

"Fred Claus" is a 116-minute plague

My freelance review:
Santa Claus having an older brother named Fred.

Vince Vaughn playing Fred.

These two ideas were enough to get me to a Saturday morning screening of Fred Claus, the new film that starts next Friday, Nov. 9. This is an early review.

The movie is supposed to be funny. It's not. It's supposed to be cute. It's not. It's supposed to be clever. It's not.

It is something though: a complete mess. Numerous contrived plots and sub-plots, from Fred Claus visiting the North Pole in a vain attempt to borrow a large sum of money from his brother to Kevin Spacey (yes, two-time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey) as an efficiency expert brought it to improve Santa's North Pole operations by threatening to move the whole gig to the South Pole. There's also a sub-plot about a zany elf named Willie having girlfriend troubles.

Pain and suffering... pain and suffering. I'm feeling for all the moms and dads and aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas who will begged by the young ones to take them to see this film. Grown-ups, do the young ones and yourselves a big favor: Watch A Christmas Story instead, even if for the 4 billionth time.

In my screening audience, there wasn't much laughter being invoked -- even with the audience being heavily populated by kids.

This movie will bring in tons of money, no doubt. It's the kind of mainstream crap that promises much more than it delivers.

And it was just recently that I was admiring the excellent performance of Vaughn in Into the Wild. All I can is this: The credibility of the following actors is diminished in my book: Vaughn, Spacey, other Oscar winners Kathy Bates, Paul Giamatti and Rachel Weisz, and Oscar nominee Miranda Richardson. What were they thinking here?

Let there be something good that comes from my pain and suffering. Avoid this movie like the 116-minute plague that it is.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Happy 5th Birthday, Jackson!

That's Jackson, my buddy from next door, with my dog Oliver. Photo from a dog walk from last March.

What a pose!

From last Sunday, left-to-right: Chilly (the dog who unplugs TVs and lamps... not sure why!), Andy (dressed as a lobster) and Oliver (in a fun Halloween sweater that he is still wearing... he loves it!). Chilly and Andy are my friend Mark's dogs. Oliver and I were on a walk and stopped over at Mark's house. Related photos here.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Has something happened to Elvis?

The "Elvis is Alive Musuem" in Wright City, MO is closing (details here). Despite the reasons given in the article, might the real reason for closing the musuem be -- dare I suggest it -- that something has happened to Elvis?

By the way, here's the sign that's been posted on the door at the musuem for many years:

Post-Dispatch runs story on Mattie

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
A year later, couple still searching for lost dog
By Matthew Hathaway

A Michigan couple offering a $25,000 reward for the safe return of their dog haven't given up the search, but they're no closer in tracking down the animal that disappeared nearly a year ago when their car was stolen in University City.

Tom and Alice Matthews, of Grand Rapids, will continue the dog-gone effort when they return to St. Louis on Nov. 25 — the ninth time they've been back since the disappearance of Mattie, a 13-year-old white Lhasa apso-American Eskimo mixture.

"We've slowed down, but we're still getting calls" said Alice Matthews, 53, a surgical technician. "But a lot of the time, people call just to ask if all of this is for real."

Mattie is the family's first and only dog, which was last seen Nov. 7 when the Matthewses' 2001 Buick LeSabre was stolen with Mattie resting in a dog crate in the back seat.

Police found the car two days later in Cape Girardeau, Mo., but there was no sign of a dog. Mattie's traveling crate was found just west of Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. Two St. Louis men were charged in the car theft, but they deny any involvement.

The search has proved expensive, even though no one has collected on the reward.

Tom Matthews said he and his wife, who have a grown daughter, spent $2,000 on printing "missing" posters for the inside of hundreds of buses, though an advertising company that handles the Metro account donated the wall space. The couple haven't kept track of some other costs, like copying more than 7,000 fliers and sending hundreds of mailers.

They've used just about all of their vacation time for trips to St. Louis, spending $10,000 or so on gas, meals and hotel stays. Then there are the incidental expenses, like transporting a search dog from Alabama and paying the medical costs for a volunteer bitten by a stray cat snared in a trap intended for Mattie.

"We have no regrets," said Tom Matthews, 54, who works in the accounting department of a Michigan grocery chain. "If we can get him back alive, it will have been worth it. … And I'd have no problem paying the reward."

Probably because of that munificence, the Matthewses have received dozens of tips about Mattie's whereabouts — mostly in and around Jennings, but some as far away as Arkansas and Kansas City.

The couple are getting help from Stray Rescue, the Missouri Humane Society and a hodge-podge of other volunteers, including bounty hunters, so-called animal communicators and a dog behaviorist who tried to lure Mattie using familiar scents.

The couple's top helper here is Carolyn Schaeffer, a teacher with the Special School District. Although she describes herself as "a dog lover," Schaeffer said she volunteers primarily as a gesture of hometown hospitality to right a wrong inflicted on out-of-towners.

"I think I can speak for all the volunteers when I say I was horrified when it happened," said Schaeffer, of Kirkwood. "This dog was part of their family. To think something like this could happen to visitors to St. Louis, well, it's embarrassing."

Schaeffer's telephone number, along with the Matthewses', is listed on many of the reward fliers and ads pasted in buses, shops and veterinary offices around town. She estimates that she received 300 calls last winter and spring, though she now gets only two or three tips each week.

Though Mattie remains missing, a silver lining is that searchers have found more than 50 similar-looking white dogs, all either lost or abandoned. About 40 of the animals have ended up in new homes, while the others have been returned to their owners, Schaeffer said.

The Matthewses and their helpers no longer scour neighborhoods on a hunch. But they do investigate every credible tip they receive over the phone or through their website,

The couple will return to St. Louis to check out a few leads that, at least at an early stage, look promising. The $25,000 reward still stands, though Tom Matthews sometimes worries that people might doubt the offer is for real because the figure is so large.

"But people who own dogs seem to understand," he said. "They don't say we're crazy … or at least not to our faces."

The couple ask that anyone with information call 616-706-6026 or 314-795-2363.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The King at Halloween

Courtesy of my 7-year-old nephew Willie, who made a terrific Elvis!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Into the Wild" takes you away

My freelance review:
The new film Into the Wild continues to be on my mind, almost ten days after seeing it.

As writer/director, Sean Penn has created a masterpiece. Adapted from Jon Krakauer's best-seller, Into the Wild tells the story of Christopher McCandless (played by the little-known but very talented Emile Hirsch), an upper-middle-class young man, just graduated from college, who rebelliously opts to donate his savings to charity, leave society and journey to the Alaskan wilderness to become one with nature.

And what a journey McCandless has! South Dakota, Arizona, Alaska, Mexico, California... the authentic and scenic locations come to vivid life thanks to cinematographer Eric Gautier, who produces some of the most beautifully captured pictures I have ever seen.

The story bounces around chronologically to great effect, providing balance to the generally-episodic nature of McCandless' trek. The stories and characters that unfold throughout the episodes add a lot of depth to the film. Through flashbacks and narration by McCandless' younger sister, we observe the dysfunctional relationship between McCandless and his parents, played by Marcia Gay Harden and the always-terrific William Hurt. It's interesting, in contrast, observing McCandless with the sweet, caring hippee woman (played by the endearing Catherine Keener) who provides a type of maternal relationship to him, and then later in the film with an Army retiree (tenderly played by Hal Holbrook) serving as his surrogate father.

And it's in such relationships that we see the ever-so-philosophical McCandless coming to life. At one point in his travels, he develops a buddy relationship with a farmer played by Vince Vaughn (demonstrating a considerably wider acting range than his typical film roles allow). McCandless also bonds with a talented young woman (played by Kristen Stewart) living in a California desert RV camp that attracts non-conformists and vagabonds. He takes to making music with her; a touching, soothing moment in the film has the two of them singing to the desert commune the John Prine song "Angel in Montgomery."

Also contributing to the overall mood of the film is the powerful soundtrack by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. His songs are haunting and fit the movie perfectly.

There's great appeal to watching this film. Beyond the acting, the cinematography, the editing, the music, the mood -- all of which are great -- there's something more. Perhaps deep down, at some point or another, each of us has had a desire or an impulse to run away, perhaps to leave civilization, to push our lives in another direction. Few of us, for various reasons, ever do. Witnessing the story of someone who has made this happen, I found an utter fascination to observe and to study -- and, for a few hours, to allow myself to be taken away.

I don't expect to find a better, more engaging film this year than Into the Wild.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

"The Clean House" shines

My freelance review:
The Rep doesn't get much better than this!

The Clean House, the first show of the season for the St. Louis Repertory Theatre's Studio Theatre series, is a shining gem of a production. The play delivers plenty of laughs, drama, romance and poignant human emotion.

The setting is modern-era Connecticut and the home of two busy, high-powered physicians, Lane and Charles, and their zany, young Brazilian housekeeper Matilde, a woman with a problem -- she hates to clean!

Matilde, played by Roni Geva in a rich performance that couldn't be any better, prefers trying to dream up the funniest joke in the world! Her parents, she confides, were the two funniest people in Brazil, and when they died it was left to her to be the funniest.

Enter Lane's sister Virginia who loves to clean and, in a secret deal with Matilde, arranges to take care of the cleaning behind Lane's back -- an arrangement that is just too perfect to last.

This play is chock full of laughs as the story plays out, and the laughs only get stronger in the second act when Charles brings home a patient, the free-spirited Ana (played with gusto and charm by June Gable) -- much to the dismay of his wife.

The other cast members are first-rate, too. This includes Andrea Cirie and Carol Schultz as sisters Lane and Virginia and John Rensenhouse as Charles.

The Clean House is playright Sarah Ruhl's sixth play. It won the 2004 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, awarded annually to the best English-language play written by a woman, and was also a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Director Susan Gregg, the Rep's Associate Artistic Director, delivers a great production of The Clean House. It's fairly obvious that Gregg and her cast and crew had a lot of fun putting the show together.

The Clean House plays through Nov. 11 at the Emerson Studio Theatre at the St. Louis Repertory Theatre in Webster Groves.

"Reservation Road" is slow, flawed

My freelance review:
Author John Burnham Schwartz's critically-acclaimed novel Reservation Road has arrived on the big screen, with some big talent both in front and behind the camera. Unfortunately, there are some major flaws with the outcome.

The film Reservation Road focuses on two fathers and their families. One is college professor Ethan Learner (played by Joaquin Phoenix), a family man with a wife (played by Jennifer Connelly) and a young son and daughter. The other is law associate Dwight Arno (played by Mark Ruffalo), a divorced man with partial custody of his young son.

Just a few minutes into the film, an accidental tragedy occurs at a roadside gas station late in the evening as Ethan's 10-year-old son is struck and instantly killed by Dwight's car. Although aware of what happened, a panicked Dwight speeds away, seeing a shellshocked Ethan holding his dead son through his rear-view mirror.

A police investigation follows, and the story alternates back and forth between the two fathers and how they deal with the tragedy.

And this is where the first major flaw of the film comes into play: The flaw of way too much coincidence.

Although the two fathers don't know each other, the flaw of way too much coincidence allows their paths to suddenly cross in more ways than one. I've not read the novel, but I've heard that writer/director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) took some dramatic license here.

Another problem with the film is its very slow pace. While the novel was acclaimed for jumping back and forth gracefully among the two fathers and the dead boy's mother, the film doesn't quite succeed in the same way. There isn't that much story coming across.

Both Phoenix and Ruffalo turn in good performances, but Connelly is surprisingly weak as the boy's mother, delivering some of her lines with a degree of awkwardness.

Reservation Road is the kind of film to rent and play in the background while you paint or put a puzzle together. It's not the kind of film that deserves your full attention, unless you are bored and don't have much else to do.

Friday, October 26, 2007


At the Apple Store buying Leopard, the new version of Mac OS X. The store is jam-packed. I am one of the first 500 people to wait in line for the 6:00 PM bewitching hour when the software went on sale -- so I got a free OS X Leopard t-shirt! Okay, I am a geek!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Elvis is in the building

My sister sent me this cell phone picture of my 7-year-old nephew Willie in his halloween costume: Elvis!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The dating game exposed

My freelance review:
Looking for an intimate theatre experience? Look no further than Bad Dates, now playing as part of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis' Off-Ramp series.

Bad Dates is a one-actor show, with that actor playing just one character on just one set -- but when you walk out of the show, you'll feel a sense of having seen a show rich in characters and situations.

And you'll also feel good for having laughed -- a lot.

Annie Fitzpatrick delivers an outstanding performance as Haley Walker -- a 40-something single mom, newly-successful restaurateur and designer-shoe addict. As the story begins, Walker is frantically trying to find the right outfit for her first date in a long time. As she redresses herself multiple times, she explains to the audience her background and what she is up to.

That date -- the first of several -- doesn't go very well. But it's a hoot hearing the details!

Haley's conversation with the audience is interrupted only a few times -- phone calls, speaking to her off-stage teenaged daughter, or when leaving for a date. Otherwise, the focus is Haley's conversation with the audience. As with life, the conversation can be light-hearted, serious or some combination of both. Playwright Theresa Rebeck has crafted a rich, human story.

Which brings me back to Fitzpatrick. She demonstrates incredible range as an actor. At numerous points throughout the show, I was struck by her performance and how sincere your character's emotions seemed. For example, when Haley breaks down after having her heart broken, I was tempted to run on-stage to be with her!

The production plays out very well on its small stage. Haley's New York City apartment (by scenic designer Narelle Sissons) is inviting.

Director Michael Evan Haney, who directed the thrilling Witness for the Prosecution from two seasons ago and the touching The Heidi Chronicles from last season, scores another win.

Bad Dates plays through November 4 at the Grandel Theatre (3610 Grandel Square in St. Louis City) as part of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis' Off-Ramp series.