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.