Shutter Island

Kish, Russell, and I went to see Shutter Island last night.  The theater was packed, and the audience reaction was mixed.  The three of us liked it, but I overheard the teenage girl sitting next to me tell her friends:  “Well, that is the worst movie I’ve ever seen.”

Richard’s review does a good job of describing the movie’s plot and setting.  I thought the Martin Scorcese’s direction not only paid homage to Hitchcock, but also to movies like The Shining and The Sixth Sense and even The Usual Suspects.  It was much move overtly violent than typical Hitchcock fare, but it had a great sense of overall creepiness that goes well with the Hitchcock ouevre.  At the end of the movie I found myself wondering which of the scenes were real and which were not.  The reveal at the end of the movie made me want to go back and review the first part of the movie to see whether, like The Sixth Sense, the reveal was perfectly consistent with the characters’ actions and dialogue.  My suspicion is that it is. It helps to explain, for example, why the heavily armed guards greeted the characters of Leonardo diCaprio and his new partner when they arrived at the island by ferry.

After leaving the theater, Kish, Russell, and I went to Five Guys for burgers and talked a lot about the movie.  Not many modern movies can spur so much conversation.  Any movie that can do so is worth seeing.

Thank God For G.P.S.

Completing our weekend travel adventure, Kish and I drove home from Vassar today.  Russell graciously let us use his car after it became apparent that it would be very unlikely that we could fly back today, due to the disruption caused by the weekend snow storm in the Northeast.  (Even today tens of thousands of people were without power, as the heavy snow tore down tree limbs that knocked down power lines.)  The airport we were to fly out of, Stewart International Airport, got around 50 inches of snow in the space of a day or so, lost all power, and then couldn’t get its computer systems up and running.  Rather than risk a total travel failure, we decided to drive home today, and it was a good move.

One last travel observation:  I think a G.P.S. system is worth renting if you are making a strange drive.  On Friday, after we arrived in Philadelphia to learn that our flight to Stewart International was canceled, we rented a car from Budget.  They had no maps, but they did have a G.P.S. device we could rent.  It was a godsend!  It faithfully guided us out of Philly, across New Jersey, and up to Poughkeepsie, taking us through some back road short cuts and allowing us to avoid some of the traffic snarls that bedeviled the area due to the monster snowstorm.  I don’t make many unexpected road trips, but I am still wondering whether a G.P.S. system is worth the investment — just in case.

Back At The “Buddy Inn”

Kish and I are back in Poughkeepsie for Russell’s show, and because there is a Vassar Board of Trustees meeting this weekend we were not able to stay at our normal lodging of choice, the Vassar Alumni House.  Instead, we were forced to return to the “Buddy Inn.”

The “Buddy Inn” is really the Poughkeepsie Days’ Inn.  In the Webner family we call it the “Buddy Inn” because of a notorious incident that occurred when Russell was still at Academy and we took a trip east to look at colleges.  On that trip, Vassar was our first destination.  As the trip started, Russell was in a surly mood, groaning about wasting his days looking at schools rather than having fun with his Academy classmates.  We got to Poughkeepsie around the dinner hour, checked in to the Days’ Inn, and walked to a nearby Italian restaurant for dinner.  We then went back to the hotel and went to bed.  At about 2:30 a.m. the “Buddy incident” began.

The "Buddy Inn"

A fire alarm directly over the headboard of our bed went off, screeching loudly and waking us out of a sound sleep.  At first, I thought it was the clock-radio alarm in the room that a prior guest had set and left cranked to full volume.  After a few seconds, however, I realized it was the fire alarm.  Kish bolted out of the room to make sure that Russell was up and okay.  She left the door to our room open as I got dressed.

When I walked to the door, I noticed that I strange overweight man, about 50-something, was standing there, wearing only dingy jockey underwear and a t-shirt.  He was wild-eyed and his hair was askew; he was very agitated and saying something I couldn’t make out.  I thought he was a fellow guest who had been rudely awakened and said something like:  “Don’t worry, I’m sure it is just a false alarm.”

I quickly realized,however, that something was definitely “off” about the guy.  He came into our room and started wandering around, looking at our luggage and clothing.  He sat on the bed and started to pick up and examine things on the nightstand.  By then, I stopping caring about the possible fire and started to focus on how I could get this guy out of the room.  He weighed about 350 pounds and reeked of body odor and cigarette smoke.  I started to say things like “C’mon buddy, you need to go.”  He was unmoved by such entreaties.  He wandered to our bathroom and started to pick up things like toothpaste tubes and aspirin bottles.  In the meantime, the screeching fire alarm was continuing at ear-splitting volume, and Kish was outside, saying:  “Just leave him, we need to leave the building.”  Russell, our strapping offensive tackle who could have helped me wrestle the guy out of the room, also stood outside, chuckling at my predicament.  He wisely decided to have nothing to do with “Buddy.”

Finally, I just grabbed “Buddy” and shoved him out of our room.  Pushing him was disgusting, like having your hand sink into the spongy material they sometimes use for packing where your handprint stays visible for a few seconds after you take your hand away.  By the time I had locked the door, Buddy was nowhere to be seen.  I went outside, met up with Kish and Russell, and waited for the fire crew that had by then arrived to make sure that it was, indeed, a false alarm.  It turned out the “Buddy” had set off the alarm and also had visited other rooms during the early morning incident.  He was a developmentally disabled guy who had escaped his companion traveler.

When we got back to our room I wanted to do nothing but wash my hands.  The next morning the Days’ Inn comped us on our rooms, and I noticed that Russell’s mood had changed remarkably, from glum surliness to barely disguised glee at my interaction with “Buddy.”  He quickly called Richard and recounted the “Buddy incident” in blow-by-blow detail, and remained cheerful for the rest of the trip.  He also ended up selecting Vassar for college notwithstanding the night’s events — which is why we are back at the “Buddy Inn” today.

This The Range And Recent

It took a while to get to Russell’s art show — actually a show of pieces by Russell and three other artists, Rhys Bambrick, Joseph Redwood-Martinez, and Charlie Warren — but it was worth it.  The show is in the Palmer Gallery, which is on the first floor of the Main Building, the massive edifice that is the original, and therefore the oldest, building on the Vassar campus.

Russell and one of his pieces in the show

When we arrived on campus, we also were delighted to see that a feature article about Russell and the show appeared in the latest edition of the Miscellany News, the Vassar student newspaper.  A link to the article, in which Russell describes the concept of the show and talks a bit about his artistic interests, is here.

The show is quite well done.  It includes four paintings from Russell, as well as some cool prints, a large silver robot, and some multimedia pieces.  I like all of Russell’s artwork, but there were two pieces that I particularly liked.  One was a large, intensely layered study of shades of red and textures that had a very strong visual impact; the deeper reds in parts of the painting yielded to lighter orange hues that looked like an angry gash across the canvas.

Another piece I very much liked was more whimsical and playful, giving the sense of a screen shot from a video game in which a character named Frogma is locked in a death duel with a giant, mechanical villain rolling forward on massive wheels, each speaking the stylized and stilted language of video game characters.  Another of Russell’s pieces in the show had a similar video game feel, but with a more sobering theme, of storming the beaches at Normandy from the first-person standpoint of a rifle-toting American soldier in a Call of Duty-type scene.

The show runs through Thursday, March 4.

Snow, Snow, Everywhere I Go

Kish and I traveled to Poughkeepsie today for Russell’s art show — more about that in a minute — but of course the weather interfered with our plans.  We were to fly to Philadelphia, and then to Newburgh, New York.  Our flight to Philadelphia went off as planned, but when we landed in the City of Brotherly Love the snow was cascading down and our flight to Newburgh was canceled.  The next flight was not for another 12 hours, trying to take the train would have involved a delay nearly as long, and we therefore rented a car to drive up to Poughkeepsie.  It was slow going as we passed through some near white-out conditions and snow-covered roads, but finally we arrived.  It is still snowing even as I type this.

I think I speak for everyone in the Midwest and Northeast when I say, Spring cannot get here soon enough.

An Evening At A Sports Bar

Wednesday I spent the night in Cincinnati, getting ready for a hearing.  The Buckeyes were playing Penn State at 6:30, and two other lawyers and I decided to go to a bar to watch the game and have something to eat.  We ended up at a place on Fountain Square called Rock Bottom.

Titan Toothpicks

As in many sports bars, this place had an abundance of TV screens with lots of selections.  We asked the waitress to put the Buckeyes game on the large TV immediately to our right and she cheerfully obliged.  Immediately ahead was another big screen showing the Olympics.  While we were there we watched a woman skier crashing into a retaining fence, then a very serious curling showdown between Sweden and Great Britain, and finally an unexpectedly one-sided hockey game between Canada and Russia.  On the far left wall, meanwhile, was a series of TVs showing NBA contests and other college games.  So, without leaving your seat, you could see virtually every sport known to man simply by swiveling your head.  It was almost as good as having unfettered command of the remote control at home.

Some well-brewed IPAs and bar food contributed mightily to the fun atmosphere.  Beer never tastes as good as when it is quaffed from a heavy pint glass, and a hoppy IPA is a good complement to bar food.  After scanning the menu we decided that, rather than getting entrees, we would just get appetizers for the table — and on Wednesday nights, appetizers at Rock Bottom are only $5 each.  We decided to mix healthy stuff with classic bar food, so we picked rare ahi tuna, barbeque chicken pizza, five meat pizza, and an astonishing dish called Titan Toothpicks.  The ahi tuna was quite good, but really isn’t appropriate bar food.  It is simply too light (and, frankly, healthy) to accompany a steady diet of beers.  If you are going to down a few pints, you need to establish a good base, and that means something that is melty, cheesy, meaty, and crunchy.  The two pizzas filled that bill admirably.  The Titan Toothpicks, on the other hand, are as long as your arm and consist of melted cheese and some unspecified meat rolled up in a kind of deep fried tortilla shell.  When you bite through the shell, a warm gooey mixture seeps out.  From that description alone, you can understand that Titan Toothpicks are a prototypical bar food.

It was a very successful evening.  Tasty beers were tipped back, unhealthy food was consumed, the Buckeyes won at Penn State, and the curious sport of curling was thoroughly discussed in a warm, happy, noisy place.  Sports bars can be a good choice when you are on the road.

I Love My Peas


When we were young our mom always said eat your vegetables and I really enjoyed mine on Tuesday February 16 at Schottenstein Center for the Black Eyed Peas – The End Tour (end stands for Energy Never Dies). The band is made up of four individuals,, Taboo, and Fergie the lone female member. 

My friend Courtney (shown in between Taboo and got us two VIP tickets to the concert and we had a blast. Courtney had seen the band a few days earlier with his family down in Tampa and they all enjoyed the show. I have to admit I really didn’t know much about the Peas, except for the fact that I saw them once on Oprah.

Our VIP ticket consisted of getting to the Schott by 4:30 p.m. to be escorted up to a room with a round bar that had a larger room attached. We were entitled to an open bar and a nice food spread while listening to tunes spun by Poet (he’s the d j that handles backup for the band while they are performing).

The pitch was that a member of the band would come and join our party which consists of approximately thirty males and females most whom were wearing black (glad I wore my black sweater and dark jeans). Much to our surprise, not only did one member show up, but the three male members of the band arrived on Segways. stayed just a brief time while the other two stayed long enough for pictures with anyone who wanted one.

We had to wonder how many were going to be there for the show as Columbus had a ton of snow the day before, but the place was packed and people stood up from beginning to end. I was surprised to find out that I already knew three of their songs, Let’s Get it Started, Boom Boom Pow and I Got a Feeling (check it out below)

So if your not eating enough vegetables and you get the chance I highly recommend going to see the peas because they were throughly entertaining. I will definitely go see them again, hopefully soon.

Goodbye To Good Shoes

I am sorry to say that my favorite walking shoes are starting to give out.  They are black Reebok walking shoes, and I think they are the single best pair of shoes I’ve ever owned.

My Reebok walking shoes

I bought the shoes seven years ago, before we left on our family trip to Italy.  I wanted some comfortable walking shoes, and they filled the bill admirably.  They have trod the dust of the Roman ruins and stepped quietly through the marbled halls of the Vatican; they have strolled the grounds of Chichen Itza and walked boldly across the plaza facing Mount Rushmore.  Most importantly, they have accompanied me on my morning walks in New Albany, over snow and ice, through rain and muck, in frigid climes and baking summer heat, for years and years and years.

Now, however, they are starting to fail.  I’ve tried to ignore it, but the signs are there.  The toes are frayed, the heels and soles are worn down, and occasionally I feel telltale moisture indicating that they have sprung a leak.  Soon the shoes will need to be put in semi-retirement, perhaps to be worn only on dry, warm days, and then finally to be retired altogether.  It will be a sad day.

Trap Game

A “trap game” is one where the favored team has just finished a tough game, or challenging stretch of games, and is facing an opponent that could easily be overlooked but that has the ability to pull off an upset.

Tonight’s game between the Ohio State and Penn State men’s basketball teams is a classic trap game.  The Buckeyes have just finished a brutal stretch of straight three games against the leaders in the Big Ten, winning on the road against Illinois, losing at home against Purdue, and then rebounding to win on the road against Michigan State.  Penn State, on the other hand, has won its last two games after losing all of its prior Big Ten games.  And tonight’s game, of course, is being played on Penn State’s home court.

For the Buckeyes, winning this game won’t look like much of an accomplishment, but it is the kind of game that separates really good teams from the also-rans.  Really good teams win the trap games; average teams don’t.

Ah, Science!

Here’s an article on an odd experiment that suggests that chimps can differentiate between the volume of liquid poured into a cup and, for the most part, accurately select the cup that holds more tasty fruit juice than the other cup does.  Fine, but . . . where do they come up with these experiments, anyway?

I think chimps are probably much smarter than most people realize.  Indeed, the chimps in this experiment probably were wondering what generalized weirdness the guy in the white lab coat was up to this time.

Chimp No. 1:  “He’s at it again.”

Chimp No. 2:  What is it now?  Another test involving banana-flavored pellets?”

Chimp No. 1:  “No, it appears to be an experiment designed to determine if we can distinguish between the volume of liquid contained in opaque containers.”

Chimp No. 2:  “Do we get fruit juice out of it?”

Chimp No. 1:  “Apparently, yes.”

Chimp No. 2:  “Who cares, then?  Let’s humor the guy.”

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

The Premier of the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador came to the U.S. for a special form of heart surgery.  In Canada, his only choices given his condition were procedures that would have required breaking his ribs.  In America, he underwent an advanced procedure that allowed his heart condition to be surgically fixed through an incision that did not require breaking bones and allowed him to return to work more quickly.

This decision is not an indictment of the Canadian national health system, but rather a positive reflection of the tremendous American system.  The Premier’s statement about his decision also has the sound of a rallying cry.  “This was my heart, my choice, and my health,” he said.  We should all be happy that the United States offers such health care choices, and leery of proposals that might eliminate those choices.

Dialogue Clinkers

One other point about A Single Man.  The movie is set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the movie does a tremendous job, for the most part, in setting the mood and appearance of the early ’60s in terms of cars, clothing, music, locations, rotary telephones, stereo cabinets, and characters who seem to smoke all the time and drink like crazy.

The movie also demonstrated, however, that if you are going to evoke a period you can’t just focus on physical surroundings and character activity; you also have to pay attention to language.  In one scene the college professor talks earnestly to a student, and the student says that a particular concept “freaks me out.”  It may be that “freaks me out” was a common expression on California college campuses in 1962, but the phrase seemed very jarring to me.   That kind of apparent clinker can destroy all of the carefully constructed atmospherics.

Review: Shutter Island

I read that Martin Scorsese forced the cast of “Shutter Island” to watch “Vertigo” before shooting began, because he wanted to recreate the mood of Hitchcock’s classic film. I’d say he did that successfully – like “Vertigo”, “Shutter Island” gives off strong paranoid vibes.

The films have more in common than their mood, in fact. Both are about a cop trying to make sense of the mess of deceptions he’s been dropped in the middle of. The protagonists of both films are haunted by traumatic memories and become fixated on their mental image of a certain woman. Both are set in the 1950s. “Shutter Island” even has a few vertigo-inducing scenes of its own.

Shutter Island’s traumatized cop, Eddie Daniels, is played by Leonardo DiCaprio with a permanent worried frown. Daniels is tormented by the death of wife in a fire set by an arsonist a few years ago, as well as by what he saw when he participated in the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp in World War II. He’s sent to a craggy island near Boston to investigate the disappearance of an inmate at the maximum-security mental hospital there. Joining him is his loyal partner Chuck, played by Mark Ruffalo, who has aged enough in the five years since he played a twenty-something hipster in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that he can now play a forty-something detective.

The island provides a striking setting. Its shores, buffeted by monsoon waves, consist of cliffs that look like they belong in the Pacific Northwest (do these even exist in Massachusetts?). The not-quite-so-maximum-security part of the mental institution looks like an Ivy League campus, but looming in the background is a damp Civil War-era fortress where the most dangerous inmates reside. For most of Daniels’ stay, the island is in the midst of a storm so powerful it topples down trees that almost kill him and his partner.

This creepy setting provides some suspenseful moments, such as the scene when Daniels roams the dark hallways of the Civil War fortress in search of his wife’s killer, whom he discovers may be a patient there.

The depressing, perilous atmosphere also compliments the film’s portrayal of the barbaric state of psychiatry of the 1950s, when lobotomies were still performed. Ben Kingsley, playing the hospital administrator, lectures Daniels on the two competing modes of thought in the psychiatry of their times: the old school, which uses treatments like lobotomies eagerly, and the new school, which believes such treatments should only be used as a last resort after counseling has failed.

Kingsley’s character claims to be of the new school, but Daniels begins to suspect that the hospital is performing sinister experiments on the island and that the missing patient investigation is a sham meant to bring him there for other reasons. He and his partner spend a few days sneaking around the hospital and its surroundings in an effort to figure things out. Like James Stewart’s character in “Vertigo”, Daniels comes to doubt even his own perception of events.

I found myself deeply involved in Daniels’ search for the truth of the island. Like Daniels, I accepted things as they appeared at first – a cop is sent to an island to look for a missing inmate – and I shared his surprise when he discovers there’s more going on. I felt the same fascination with the plot as when I watched “Fight Club” and, yes, “Vertigo”, two other movies that lead you to question the sanity of their characters.

The film must be faulted for finally revealing the truth in one of those long monologues delivered by the orchestrator of things. It would be better if the lead discovered the reality on his own, like James Stewart did in “Vertigo” (which shall be mentioned no more in this post).

Overall, however, “Shutter Island” is a clever, entertaining, sometimes frightening film. I’m glad that Scorsese is still capable of making such good films at age 67 – almost ten years older than Alfred Hitchcock was in 1958 when he made a certain psychological thriller starring James Stewart as a troubled cop.

Weird Laughter In The Theater

Yesterday Kish and I went to see a movie at the Drexel Theatre in Bexley.  For those who have never been to see a movie at the Drexel, it is one of those theatres that typically screens arts-type films that don’t have the presumed commercial appeal to be shown at an AMC 16 theatre or one of the other big national chains.

Yesterday’s selection was A Single Man, starring Colin Firth.  It was a bit of an accident that we saw it; I wanted to see A Serious Man by the Coen brothers, but Kish misread the Drexel ad and we ended up going to A Single Man instead.  It’s not a bad movie — Colin Firth gives a strong performance that got him an Academy Award nomination — but it is a very bleak film indeed, about a gay and suicidal college professor who is suffering extraordinary pain because his lover has recently been killed in a car accident.

During the film, I experienced one of those moments of mental clarity where you suddenly realize something that should be obvious but that you typically overlook.  In this case, I realized that when you go to a movie theater the other people who are watching with you are complete strangers who could be weird, deranged, or dangerous.  That realization occurred because in one tense and uncomfortable scene, as the Colin Firth character is trying to figure out a neat way to blow his brains out without wrecking his pristine home, some other people in the audience started laughing.  Maybe the scene was intended to be funny, as opposed to sad, pathetic, and wistful, but I didn’t feel like laughing, and I’m not sure I’d want to hang out with anyone who did.

Something similar happened years ago, when Kish and I lived in D.C. and went to see A Clockwork Orange at the old Biograph Theater.  During one scene in which the Malcolm McDowell character engages in some of the “good old ultraviolence” I became acutely conscious of the fact that some of the other people in the theater looked like gang members who might enjoy joining Malcolm’s character on his twisted rampages.  When that movie ended, we hit the road as quickly and unobtrusively as possible.