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.