Hey, a rare Sunday post! Partially out of anticipation of a rather busy Monday ahead of me, and also to mirror the major papers of the world that have arts related features in their Sunday editions. In this post, a quick review of Anchorman as well as some thoughts prompted by my latest Zen entry.

Friday night, we braved the opening night crowds to catch Anchorman. We bought our tickets 90 minutes early and after fine Mexican cuisine at Qdoba, claimed seats a full 20 minutes before start time, just beating the rush. Not a single interesting preview. Seriously, I’m at a loss to remember anything I saw. As for the movie itself, 90+ minutes of sheer nonsense. Utter idiocy. Fortunately, that’s what I expected so there’s no disappointment there. The movie really does feel like a series of SNL skits more than a whole piece. That’s ok, because the smaller sections mostly work well on their own. It’s loaded with over-the-top scenes, but Will Ferrell is made perfectly for those situations. His humor often projects best when he’s just on the edge of totally losing it. I was laughing from the opening credits; it took the rest of the audience a bit longer to warm up, but the “I love scotch. Scotchy, scotchy, scotch. Scotch in my belly” was clearly a line made for me. The supporting performances are excellent, the many cameos are well placed, but come on; it’s all about the Will. I don’t think Anchorman is quite as good as Old School, or as charming as Elf. But in the summer, in the midst of all the other crap at your local multiplex, it’s the rare stupid movie that’s worth the $8.75 (or whatever you pay). I’ll eagerly anticipate the DVD this fall so I can go back and digest details I didn’t pick up in the first viewing, as well as what have to be classic outtakes.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who started laughing as soon as Vince Vaughn got on the screen.

Also worth noting, some jackass drove his Ferrari to the theater. We parked next to it when we bought our tickets, and had to navigate a crowd of preteen boys who were salivating over it. What kind of ego does it take to park your quarter million dollar car in a movie theater parking lot? Or total lack of intelligence, perhaps. I don’t know, you tell me.

Another pre-movie note, after dinner we walked from Qdoba down to Old Navy. Along the way, the Muzak caught my ear. It sounded familiar, but not quite right. When it got to the chorus, I confirmed they were indeed playing Morrissey’s “Everyday Is Like Sunday”. Now I know Morrissey is experiencing quite the revival thanks to his latest, highly praised album, and most excellent single “Irish Blood, English Heart”. But I couldn’t help but wonder if some of his early solo work was appropriate for a cheery, suburban shopping center. For those not familiar with his classic mopefest, the second verse goes as follows:
“Hide on the promenade/Etch on a postcard:/”How I dearly wish I was not here.”/In this seaside town/That they forgot to bomb/Come, come, come, nuclear bomb.” Yes, that makes me want to spend money! In Muzak’s defense, they did up the tempo and attempt to make it sound much happier than the original. But anyone who knows the song couldn’t help but think of cold, dark, damp Sundays in the UK. Maybe it was a plant by the anti-development lobby trying to drive people away from the suburban shopping centers? Hmmm, worth further investigation.

Moving along, I read George Pelecanos’ The Sweet Forever over the past week. His work had been recommended to me by a Mr. D. Smith and this was my first attempt to digest one of his novels. It’s a fine example of the modern crime novel, but is probably a better example of an author painting a scene by using music and events of an era. Taking place in Washington, DC in the spring of 1986, there are references to the music of RUN-DMC, Kurtis Blow, Experience Unlimited, The Replacements, the Psychedelic Furs, and The Jesus & Mary Chain along with games in that year’s NCAA tournament. What was most striking to me, though, was the strong presence of then Maryland star Len Bias. Throughout the book, drug dealers, drug addicts, and people trying to live in their midst stop what they’re doing to watch the local hero lead Maryland in the tournament. The book ends with an addict waking up in a post-binge fog, blowing a cocaine ravaged nose into a bloody Kleenex, and thinking that it’s time he made a change in his life. On a street corner, he sees a friend watching a TV, viewing images of Len Bias, with tears in his eyes. Pelecanos leaves it at that, but anyone who was a basketball fan in 1986 remembers the significance of June 19 that year.

I was sitting in my room that morning, having just watched The Price is Right. It was a warm, humid day, or at least that’s how I remember it. I was probably debating whether to go ride my bike, go shoot some hoops, practice some chipping in the backyard, or just continue to lie on the floor and stare at the TV. I was turning 15 the next day and probably already counting down the days until I could get my drivers license. Douglas Edwards came on to do the CBS newsbreak just before 11:00. He said something about Len Bias dieing of a drug overdose. What?!?! It was true; the man who had been chosen with the second pick in the NBA Draft by the World Champion Boston Celtics only two days earlier was dead. I remember just laying there and staring at the ceiling for the longest time.

Len Bias was going to be the next Michael Jordan. Hell, at that point, we didn’t know how good Jordan was going to be and many thought Bias would be better than Jordan. He came at the very end of an innocent time in college sports. College basketball was just beginning to saturate the cable waves in the winter. While Jordan spent his second NBA year healing his broken foot, two or three times a week the highlight shows were full of Bias’ latest doings. He really seemed like he could do anything on the court. Go inside and destroy people. Hit from the outside. Blow by people and take it to the rack. I’ll never forget the look of sheer joy on his face after he led the Terrapins to a win against North Carolina in the Dean Dome. Even he was in awe of what he had done that night. If you were 15 and still believed in athletes being heroes, he shone as brightly as almost anyone that winter. And then he was gone, with so much more in front of him. The early reports suggested he had used cocaine for the first time in his life at a post-draft party. I quickly made a vow that I would never, ever use any drugs, because I didn’t want what happened to Len Bias to happen to me. Almost 20 years later, other than a nasty caffeine habit and a nightly beer or scotch, it’s a vow I’ve stuck to.

Great books don’t just tell great stories, but they connect with you. The Sweet Forever may not be The Great American Novel, but it absolutely connected with me.