Saturday, May 31, 2008

Indy's Best Adventure

With the return of Indiana Jones to the big screen, there's been a lot of talk about everyone's favorite Indy flick. I've been surprised to learn that the first film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, is almost unanimously accepted as the best movie by critics and fans alike. I guess I'm surprised by this because I've seen Raiders the least, and the subsequent movies (The Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade) the most. In fact, I watched Raiders in its entirety for the first time just a few weeks ago. Can't tell you why I never got around to seeing the first half of the movie until now.

I realize that my viewing balance is way off here, but I'm still going to make the case that The Last Crusade is the best film in the now-quadrilogy (casting aside the less acclaimed but highly enjoyable Temple of Doom and the lukewarm Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for the moment).

I think the biggest reason that people are naturally fond of Raiders is because of the inherent advantage it has in being the first film. It's original, which is why the first movie in any series is almost always better than its sequels (Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Godfather, Part II being exceptions). I agree that Raiders is a great film; it's classic. But The Last Crusade is epic.

With the unique opening flashback of Indy's first adventure, the more frequent globetrotting, the diverse entourage of supporting characters (including Sean Connery's memorable role), and even John Williams' classic score, The Last Crusade is on another level.

But these many layers aside, what elevates this film above the rest is the stronger spiritual weight and intriguing mythology that encompasses Indy's quest for the Holy Grail. There's more of a personal connection as we journey with Indy through the multitude of dangers and trials that he must survive in order to recover the Grail. The stakes are higher and the triumphs are bigger.

There's no topping the Cup of Christ.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Outside the Apple

One thing I'm learning about New York is that the city doesn't necessarily represent the state. This was especially apparent to me last weekend when we went go-carting up in Mount Kisco. It was the first time I've actually gotten out of the city and into upstate New York. And what did I find? A taste of home—small towns, state highways, refreshing greenery, and nice suburban neighborhoods. I was pleasantly surprised until I saw the cost of gas: $4.54 a gallon. Suddenly I don't miss my Malibu much.

And although I've yet to see them, people go to beaches here just like they would in Florida. I'm still a bit skeptical, but supposedly they're alright.

Anyway, here's a glimpse of the go-carting experience:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Celebrity Sighting #3

Yesterday afternoon I was en route to New York's legendary Ziegfeld Theatre to see Iron Man when I encountered yet another celebrity: James Gandolfini. Yes: TONY — EFFING — SOPRANO.

We crossed paths walking on West 56th Street. Our eyes locked as he approached on my right, and I once again had that sudden celebrity realization. Gandolfini recognized it and gave me that "Don't do it, kid" kind of glare, and that was that. Then I turned around and saw him walk up the stairs to Benihana.

Gandolfini was wearing the same untucked, buttoned-down shirt that Tony Soprano would. In fact, I actually had to remind myself that it was really James Gandolfini and not Tony Soprano. Just goes to show how much of a career-defining role it was for him. Sort of like how you'll never be able to separate Mark Hamill from Luke Skywalker.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Verve Live

Last week I saw The Verve in concert at Madison Square Garden. It was my first concert here in New York, and the first one I've been to since I saw Tesla in Nashville almost a year ago. It was a good show, but not a great show. I'll get to that in a second, though.

To the general populace, The Verve is one of those bands that will always be remembered by their popular single "Bitter Sweet Symphony", but I know them by the more remarkable album from which that song hails: 1997's Urban Hymns. Lush, layered, poetic, and beautiful, it's one of those landmark album-oriented rock records that always takes me to my happy place.

After the band broke up in 1999, Urban Hymns ultimately represented none other than a bittersweet swan song for a band whose career ended prematurely. With The Verve quitting while they were ahead, Urban Hymns went on to leave a much more lasting impression, but there was a lingering sense of disappointment from a group that seemed to have much more in the tank.

Jump to 2008, where The Verve has regrouped for a new album and tour, much to my pleasant surprise. Given the circumstances and my love for Urban Hymns alone, I looked forward to seeing them live.

Like I said, it was a good show, but the band's lack of depth kept it from being a great show. Early in the concert, frontman Richard Ashcroft told the crowd that it was hard to pick the set list because the band could easily play for three hours. I didn't really buy it, though, because beside the fact that The Verve’s three albums don't last three hours, their first two albums aren't near the level that Urban Hymns is on. And through their 12-song set, this limitation was evident.

It was a case of a good band sprinkling in enough cuts from a greater album to hold the interest level of the crowd for two hours. And the problem with being known for one huge hit like "Bitter Sweet Symphony"? Its placement in the set list is predictable, because you can't play a signature song like that too early. Call it "economy of encore."

I don't regret going to the show because it was a good opportunity to see the newly reformed group in person. But it made me realize that the mark of a truly accomplished band is one whose shows are varied and unpredictable; you don’t know what they're going to play when or how, or even if you’re going to be able to hear all of your favorite songs. And really, all it takes is two or three great albums.

We'll see if The Verve can get there one day.