Category Archives: Misc. Fun

“Call Me By Your Name, Tonya”: A movie review mashup

Everyone knows about mashups: Two unlikely songs or other media, seemingly unrelated, are shuffled together. On their surface, you couldn’t find two less similar films than Call Me By Your Name and I, Tanya. I saw them both last week, loved them and wanted to share my thoughts. When I recognized some surprising parallels, the world’s first Movie Review Mashup was born. And here you are reading it, and helping me make history. To discern which film is which, Call Me By Your Name aspects are in blue text, and I, Tanya in red. Here we go! …

When you walk out of the theater, having seen this [coming of age drama / mockumentary based on real events] [Call Me By Your Name / I, Tanya], you’ll realize that at its core it’s about [supportive / abusive] parenting. A key character is the chain smoking mother, played by [Amira Casar / Allison Janney]. Without giving anything away (this entire post is spoiler-free), you’ll wince more than once at the mother’s serious [boundary / hitting] issues. Of course these are in relation to her talented [musician son / skating prodigy], [Elio ([Timothée Chalamet) / Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie)].

Let me say right now, if [Chalamet / Robbie] doesn’t receive an Oscar nomination for this performance there is no justice in the world. I was blown away by [his / her] extremely convincing embodiment of a [17-year-old boy grappling with an attraction to an older man / young woman attempting to win an Olympic medal in figure skating while dealing with the baggage of an abusive mother and husband].

A backdrop for all this is the family’s [surreally beautiful summer estate somewhere in Northern Italy, near the Italian Alps / hyperreal, nicotine-tinged circa 1980s home somewhere in Oregon, in a really bad part of town].

This admittedly is a tough movie to watch. We witness many extended scenes of [emotional / physical and psychic] pain, inflicted on the protagonist by dint of being [a teenager with new and confusing feelings / considered nothing more than a meal ticket by her horrible family].

If you don’t have problems with the film’s frank, unflinching portrayal of [homosexuality / domestic abuse], you should definitely check it out. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a well-earned score of [97% / 90%].

Confessions of a Hamilton Fanboy

I was skeptical. The hype surrounding Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway sensation seemed too good to be believed. But once I bought the original cast recording, I was convinced.

And hopelessly obsessed.

This Friday I saw the Chicago production of Hamilton for the second time, and unlike most other entertainments, this one was even better the second time.

So now I’ve predictably been back to bingeing on that original cast recording — specifically, my favorite exercise playlist. You see, I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve probably run several hundred miles over the last couple of years to this: Only the fast-paced cuts on the album.

I Call This Playlist “Hamercise”

Selecting the songs wouldn’t be tough for you to do on your own, but why bother? Here you go. If this helps you get fired up for a good workout, it’s my pleasure.


Oh, and if you’ve reviewed my playlist, you may wonder: Why did I include the very last song, which is decidedly not fast-paced? In fact, its terribly moving and sad.

Well, after a good cardio workout, it’s a well-known fact that shedding a few tears helps complete the healthy draining of toxins that perspiration only partially accomplishes. #JustMadeThatUp #TotalRubbish


Many years later, a laser that does something

When I was in the sixth grade, I got my hands on small fragments of a one-way mirror, and, following descriptions I read about in the encyclopedia set we had in our basement, I took other components (a glass rod, a wooden box and a light source), and built a working laser.

No, it didn’t do anything, except win me second place in my school’s science fair. But I thought it was cool anyway.

Too Cool

If I was that kid today, I would hope this is what I’d bring to the science fair. (Hey, they’d have to give me a first place ribbon, right?)

Pied Beauty by Gerald Manley Hopkins

GerardManleyHopkinsI recently found this poem, by Victorian poet Gerald Manly Hopkins. The bucolic imagery somehow seems appropriate for early Spring. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do:

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

The Violet Crown and Craft Pride in Austin Texas

My on-foot exploration of Austin, the weekend of July 4, was extensive and fascinating. We covered much of streets that friends had told us about, including 2nd Street District and a walk down Austin’s historic 6th Street, a key locale for South by Southwest (SXSW), and of course the South Congress Avenue area. The map below, generated by Google Location History, shows the places visited, including a timeline:


The large gap in the timeline (above) between 10:30 and 1:15 was one of the highlights of our day. We went to a small, upscale independent movie theater called The Violet Crown. The entire experience was designed with me and other cinephiles in mind. There is a small restaurant and well-stocked bar, a lot of space to sit and converse before the film starts, and a film watching experience that includes deep, comfortable chairs and excellent sightlines. The film we saw that morning was one I had wanted to see since I’d heard about it. Here’s the trailer:

The film was perfect for a weekend exploring the indy side of Austin. An up-and-coming director (Gillian Robespierre), an even more promising star (Jenny Slate), and a plot that is definitely not your typical romantic comedy.

What followed was a walk over to The Continental Club, to hear guitar great Redd Volkaert perform roots country, with infectious titles like “From Now On All My Friends Will Be Strangers.” The front third of this small club were all on their feet, dancing and swinging to Volkaert’s masterful two step rhythms. I still can’t believe there was no cover! We saw an amazing show for the cost of three bottles of beer.

Speaking of beer, we had to return to Craft Pride, a hole-in-the-wall pub at the end of a row of rib joints, bars and nightclubs. This place touts 54 different taps from some of the best microbreweries in Texas and neighboring states. The staff was knowledgeable and friendly, although the four men who we saw working there seemed to be, if not brothers, four of the same Central Casting “types.” The all were in their 20s, all four had jet black hair, and, as clearly not getting the memo that beards are becoming passe, they all wore full beards.

While we sipped a Belgian style trippel and a delicious, hoppy IPA, we watched, for the second time in two days, the band Horse Opera perform. They were once again awesome (we had seen them the night before at Javelina, which is right next door to Craft Pride).

Great film, great music and wonderful beer … but as for the food? One of the bartenders at Craft Pride had suggested we check out Hopdoddy’s, but what he said were the best burgers in town. We never got there, but you can read about the lines we encountered, and the phenomenon of gourmet versions of simple foods, in this first post about my Austin adventure.

Gourmet approaches to simple foods

This blog post, after many months of silence, was inspired by a podcast. Those who know me well shouldn’t be surprised. I spend many hours a week with earbuds in, listening to any of a dozen shows … from WTF with Marc Maron to Freakonomics to … well, The Sporkful.

The latest episode of The Sporkful was about Hot Doug’s, a Chicago institution that is closing in the Fall. Sporkful host Dan Pashman has a geeky, playful approach to food and eating. He’s no food snob. He also has an infectious laugh (you can hear it in the brief audio snippet at the end of this post).

I learned on this episode that there is such a thing as a Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Fleur de Sel hot dog. Well there is. This is what it looks like:


Austin's Craft PrideWhat inspired me to post about The Sporkful, and this episode specifically, is it reminded me of my recent weekend in Austin, Texas. I’ll be telling you more about this visit, but what you need to know is my trip included a delightful visit to Austin’s Craft Pride.

While my wife and I were enjoying a couple of their microbrew beers, she asked our bartender what one dining experience we shouldn’t miss. He recommended Hopdoddy Burger Bar. We obediently went there the next day for lunch, only to find the line into the place stretching a full block. We turned around.

In his latest podcast Dan Pashman recounts a similar experience with Chicago’s Hot Doug’s. He found 117 people standing in line on the day he visited. Hot dog decadence ensues.

The faux seriousness Pashman gives his podcast is somehow fitting for the gourmet treatment of dogs and burgers (in another Sporkful episode he interviews the founder of the Smashburger).

Here’s a brief audio excerpt of his experience coming out of Hot Doug’s. He is so stuffed from his Foie Gras hot dog that he left with a to-go bag full of the other dogs he ordered. Greeting the line outside, he can’t resist sharing his bounty with the waiting crowd:

I’ll be blogging more about my Austin adventure, and for those reading out of order, the space below will include direct links to those other posts. Bon appetit.

Here is my second and last post on our Austin adventure.

My first animated GIF

Steve Wilhite

You need to realize that I came of age long before the CompuServe GIF format was invented. So when I was managing the creation of the first web sites, in the mid-1990s, the production of these things seemed pretty magical.

I was inspired to create my first by a Fresh Air interview with the creator of this image format, including the animated kind. Fresh Air host Terry Gross asked him for a definitive “correct” pronunciation. Almost universally, no one liked his answer.

I hope to see you at this cool Adventure Rock fundraiser

Read about this terrific young man who worked with his mom, Sue Spaight, to create what promises to be a cool fundraiser.

The G-man!I’m looking forward to meeting “G Man” (below), reacquainting myself with rock climbing, and helping out a good cause!

A Supposedly Uncomfortable Book I’m Glad I Read

A review of the book Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

Before I tucked into the book, lo many months ago, I read its Foreward. This isn’t a given for me, but I couldn’t resist this one. It was written by Dave Eggers, a writer I’ve greatly enjoyed. It was also describing a book that:

  1.  I knew nearly nothing about
  2. Was a real horse-choker
  3. Had no impending plans for a Major Motion Picture, if you get my drift

This was literature. I feared my goose was cooked.

David Foster WallaceThe forward didn’t reassure me. Hey, are you reassured when your physician tells you a procedure might be “uncomfortable?” Yeah, like that. The foreward did reveal that the author liked people to call him Dave Wallace instead of his full, formal mouthful. But who was Eggers kidding? He used this note of endearment the way reporters quote neighbors of mass murders (“He was always so nice and polite”).

Was I going to be “Dave” Wallace’s next victim?

Only after I finished reading the book, as I did a few weeks ago, did I reread and fully appreciate that foreward. Suddenly these far-from-reassuring descriptions of author and work made sense. Eggers talked with optimism about  those readers who not only read middlebrow fare, but can boldly veer to the extremes, reading Elmore Leonard one day and Thomas Pynchon the next.

If you’re that type of reader – and I guess I am – you may find this book as ultimately rewarding as I did, and should read on. You, like me, may finish the book, reread Eggers’ words, and cry out: “Damn, he nailed it.” (Okay, there was no crying out. But I thought that sentiment quite loudly.)

I’ll resist the urge and not quote any choice Eggersisms until the end. Instead, in this review you’ll get the thoughts of a mostly self-educated fiction veerer who suddenly found himself well onto one shoulder.

This is the book by numbers:

  • Pages: 1,097
  • 100 are devoted to a total of 388, 6-point-type-sized, footnotes. Yes, footnotes.
  • Many of these footnotes have, themselves, been footnoted. That Dave Wallace is such a nut!

The footnotes are in the back of the book. Consequently I had two bookmarks going at all times. One was for my place in the narrative, the other, for my place in the footnotes section.

The action of the story mostly flips between a private school for young, potential professional tennis competitors and a half-way house for recovering drug and alcohol addicts. These two facilities are separated by a hill in the same fictional Massachusetts city. The residents and staff of both comprise the majority of the book’s characters. The protagonist, Hal Incandenza, attends the tennis school, excelling in spite of the large amounts of pot he smokes in its underground tunnels. His impressively dysfunctional family also factors heavily into the action, including his late father, an early-David-Lynch-like film auteur.

Still other characters come from a U.S. government “Office of Unspecified Services,” plus more than one Quebec separatist group (members of the most ruthless of these have in common that they are all in wheelchairs, having maimed themselves in an annual competition involving a speeding train). Wallace does a good job of keeping these progressively more absurd characters vivid and discernable. Although it took me months to complete, I never felt like I needed to go back in the book, or rely on its extensive summary and analysis in Wikipedia.

The book’s action takes place in a vague near future. Some scholars think Wallace intended the setting to be 15 years after the book’s publiciation. If this guess is correct, this “future” is now just around the corner – 2011.

You can’t blame readers for wondering. Although chapters are precisely named for their day and date, Wallace obscures things by painting for us a North America where leaders have sold naming rights to years. Similar to the way sponsors buy rights to parks and stadiums (think Chase Field for the Arizona Diamondbacks), the action mostly takes place in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, or YDAU for short.

Other years include:

  • Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad
  • Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar
  • Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken
  • Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster

And let’s not forget the Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade For Infernatron/InterLace TP Systems For Home, Office Or Mobile [sic]. That’s a type of television / VCR. Video entertainment in this world comes by the cartridge. These are popped into an “InterLace” machine and viewed.

If this “Subsidized Time” is Wallace’s running joke about the ubiquity of corporations and their brands, his central plot device is about our addiction to mass-produced entertainment.

Early in the novel, a cartridge arrives in the stack of mail of a minor political operative. He pops in the entertainment and never turns it off. It’s turned off by emergency personnel who find him dead. This entertainment is so enchanting that no one is immune to its deadly charms. Viewers inevitably die of self-neglect, watching it again and again.

Finding the original print of this film becomes the book-spanning goal for political groups who recognize its value as a secret weapon. This film was the last that Hal’s father, James Orin Incandenza, produced before he died.

If this sounds like loopy fun, I assure you that it is. Yes, there is way too much detail about what it takes to be a tennis pro (similar to the drudgery of reading how to filet a whale, when all you want to do is get back to the story of the white whale and the captain pursuing him).

It’s also often grim. There are a few scenes of violence and abuse that may make you want to turn away. Instead, like watching the lethal entertainment, I’m betting you’ll press on. Here’s how Eggers describes the book at the outset of reading. You’ll get “the impression that this book is daunting. Which it isn’t, really. It’s long, but there are pleasures everywhere. There is humor everywhere. There also a very quiet but very sturdy and constant tragic undercurrent that concerns a people who are completely lost.”

In the end, I think Wallace has completed a work – and, I’ll warn you, abruptly ends said work with most ends still quite loose – that is a clearheaded assessment of modern life: Its families, its politics, its obsessions. It is therefore a comedy and a tragedy.

If you’ve gotten to the end of this review, I suspect you will also finish Infinite Jest (but not quickly; Eggers himself took a month). Tell me what you think when you’re done.


There may be a reason I enjoyed the book. I just took the above copy and dropped it into The results are below.

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!