Month: October 2021 (Page 1 of 2)

Friday Playlist

Well, folks, we made it! Today is War on Drugs release day! By the time you’ve read this I’m sure I’ve listened to I Don’t Live Here Anymore at least twice. My plan is to stay up late Thursday and listen as soon as it hits Spotify. We’ll see if that worked or not. I’ve read three reviews, and I’m not sure my expectations could be any higher. Two of the reviews say it’s the band’s best album of their career. I’m sure I’ll share my thoughts about it down the road.

“The Wrong Train” – The Psychedelic Furs
The Furs have hung around a long time. They took most of the 90’s off, and then returned and put out a few good songs in the early 2000’s. It looks like they released this song last spring. I may have ignored it because I figured there was no way they could still be making decent music. Then it landed in my Discover Weekly playlist a few weeks back and…it’s pretty freaking good!

“Am I Wrong” – Love Spit Love
During that 1990’s Psych Furs hiatus, the Butler brothers formed Love Spit Love. This magical track that was their one hit, peaking at #3 on the Modern Rock chart in 1994.

“All Love” – Frances of Delirium
I don’t know why, but I thought FoD was another ’90s band making a comeback. Maybe it is just the vibe of this track, which is very mid-90’s, combined with their name, which seems straight out of the 120 Minutes generation. But band leader Jana Bahrich is only 19, so it’s not mathematically possible for them to have been putting out tracks during the alt-rock revolution. This song kicks ass.

“Taking Me Back” – Jack White
Mr. White’s new songs will always get an entry on my FP’s.

“Working for the Knife” – Mitski
I’ve followed Mitski’s career very casually. I loved “Your Best American Girl.” Which, to be fair, a lot of people did. But I haven’t listened to her much since then. A couple years back she took a break from music, saying she didn’t want her life to be defined by her success as an artist. This is her first track since that time away, and she sings about how stepping away wasn’t as easy as she thought it would be. This is a powerful, terrific track.

“Love is in the Air” – Stella Donnelly covering John Paul Young
I know I shared this about two years ago. A Stella Donnelly track popped up in the comments of an article on Stereogum this week and it made me think of this. Which is all the excuse I need to share it again. It’s one of the most delightful things I’ve ever seen.

Reader’s Notebook, 10/28/21

Good grief am I behind on these. That makes total sense, though, because my reading pace has slowed to a level not seen in years. I’ve finished just one book in the past four weeks. I went nearly three weeks without starting my next reading project. Normally I break out in hives if I don’t immediately start a new book. I guess I needed a break.

Open – Andre Agassi
I don’t know why I never read this. It got tons of attention when it was first released, and was almost immediately hailed as one of the best sports autobiographies ever released. Just after this year’s US Open a newsletter I read recommended it and I was reminded that I hadn’t knocked it out.

All that hype upon its release was legit. As the title suggests, this is one of the most open and honest sports books I’ve ever read. Agassi, who was one of my favorite tennis players, walks through his entire tennis career, from childhood to final professional tournament. He spares no one, himself included, along the way.

We learn of how his father was emotionally and verbally abusive as he forced young Andre to play tennis. The elder Agassi built a court in their backyard and kept Andre on it for hours returning balls from a machine the family dubbed The Dragon. After seeing Nick Bollettieri’s tennis academy featured on 60 Minutes, he finagled a way to send Andre to it.

Andre grew to hate the game from the pressure his father and his coaches put on him and acted out horribly during his time in Florida. But he was so good, the academy leadership largely ignored his behavior. He quit school, drank and used drugs, stole, and destroyed property at the tennis school. But as long as he kept winning, no one raised an eyebrow while other, lesser players were punished for their bad behavior.

Once he turns pro, Agassi runs through the many highs and lows of his career. His rivalries with the other great American players of his generation. Everything is offered from his perspective, so you naturally take his stories with healthy doses of skepticism, but he has an unflattering story about just about every tennis star of the ’90s.

One of the more interesting tidbits is how he was indifferent to the ad campaign that came to define his early career: the Canon Rebel “Image is Everything” ad. As he tells it, a director at a commercial shoot told him to say that line, he said it, and never thought about the implications. While some of that seems a bit self-serving, much of the first half of the book details how he was a lonely, confused, angry kid who was struggling to define himself. HIs indifference seems consistent with someone who is just going through the motions.

He shares other low points in his life. He shares the times he lost interest in tennis, for one reason or another, and let his fitness fall apart. There were times when he drank too much. And even a brief spell when he used meth.

In between the tennis, the final quarter of the book is also focused on his courtship of Steffi Graf, the former tennis pro he eventually married and remains married to today.

It’s a fascinating and compelling story. And it made me a little wistful for that era of men’s tennis, when there were so many interesting players of varying styles and nationalities and the game got more attention than today.

Harlem Shuffle – Colson Whitehead
One of the most anticipated novels of the year, from one of the most acclaimed American novelist of the moment. Perhaps all the attention this novel received before it was published set the bar too high, as I struggled to get into it. It took me well over a week to get even halfway through it, and it’s not like some 800 page story.

Ray Carney owns a Harlem furniture store. Although he has a thriving business, surviving in Harlem means keeping at least a toe in the underworld. In Carney’s case, he fences stolen items: taking them off the hands of crooks and selling them to businesses in other parts of New York City. This connects Carney with both the criminal world of Black New York and the mercantile world of White, Jewish New York.

The story is told in three different parts, each taking place a few years apart, from the late 1950’s through the mid 1960’s. A cousin, Freddie, who is like a brother to Carney, gets involved in a caper that involves some big-time hoods. When it goes wrong, Carney is pulled in and soon is dealing with some of the most notorious criminals in Harlem, plus an assortment of crooked cops.

Throughout, Carney constantly feels the push-pull of attempting to carve out a niche as a respected, progressive business owner who is trusted by his white suppliers, the need to protect his family, his loyalty to his cousin, his desire to escape the shadow of his father, and the attention of thieves and hitmen who see his business as the perfect cover. Also intertwined in this is Carney’s efforts to ruin a banker who both ripped him off and embarrassed him.

It’s all a really good story, told, as always with Whitehead, very well. But something was missing that kept me from loving it, and I’m not sure exactly what that was. Perhaps if I read it in a different moment/mood I would have connected with it better. I started a new book on Tuesday and am already about 200 pages into it, so I’ll chalk up my indifference towards Harlem Shuffle as a momentary lapse in my reading enthusiasm.

Tuesday Links

A couple links to share as I continue my rebound from fall break and attempt to ease back into a routine.

One last Bond link, this one about how John F. Kennedy both helped the Bond series become popular and used that popularity to further his fame.

John F. Kennedy was a vocal Bond fan, and the media loved to draw parallels between the fictional spy and the real-life president—so much so that their personas became intertwined in America’s cultural subconscious. This was no accident: Kennedy deliberately used Bond to project an image as a heroic leader who could meet any challenge in the most perilous years of the Cold War.

JFK’s secret weapon in the Cold War: James Bond

One of my most favorite books ever is Paul Theroux’s The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific. I’ve read it at least five times, always entranced by his stories of paddling a collapsable kayak around the islands of the Pacific. That trip is about 30 years old now, so it would be interesting to go back and read it again, paying attention the the changes in technology and the effects that had on his trip.

I use that as introduction to this piece, about a man who made a far more daunting trip than Theroux. Oskar Speck spent most of the 1930s paddling a kayak from Central Europe to Australia. The trip itself is incredible. While reading I kept wondering about the technological challenges he faced. He didn’t have modern, waterproof bags for his clothes, food, journals, etc. How the hell did he keep them from getting ruined? There was obviously no way of communicating with anyone outside the sound of his voice. He could only have a vague idea of what kind of weather conditions he was paddling into. And so on.

There was another amazing tidbit in this piece that showed how, in one way at least, the world was better nearly a century ago than it is now.

The postal system was remarkable in those days. With fast mailboats and, most important, persistent bureaucrats, mail chased travelers from port to isolated port with uncanny success. Speck even received German pastries by mail.

Sure, today you send emails, can video chat, or electronically send funds to nearly any point in the world instantly. But shit gets lost in the mail all the time when people have your correct address. One hundred years ago you could take a trip, tell folks you would eventually reach Point X, and the mail would find you. Amazing.

From Nazi Germany to Australia: The Incredible True Story of History’s Longest Kayak Journey

Adult Fall Break

It was a very good weekend with some very good friends in Nashville. This was our first-ever trip to Music City, USA, and we had a great time.

The four couples caravanned down on Thursday afternoon. We had a rental in the very cool area known as 12 South, not too far from downtown. Our house was fantastic. Very stylish, lots of room, and it served as a good home base for our adventures.

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a neighborhood with as much Halloween spirit as this neighborhood. I would guess three out of every four had elaborate decorations out. They weren’t just some Target lights and an inflatable or two, either. They were displays that took creativity and some real effort to put together. This one of Johnny and June Cash was one of my favorites.

Thursday night we went to dinner at Blanco, a Mexican place on Broadway. The windows were open and we sat next to them, watching the crowds pass as we enjoyed our food and company. The hockey arena was right across the street and an already packed area got even more crowded when the game ended and fans in hockey sweaters flooded out.

Following dinner we walked around and explored a few clubs. I’ve heard plenty of stories about the music scene in Nashville. But until you see it first hand, those descriptions don’t do it justice. It was hard to process all these clubs, most of which are 3–5 stories high, with a different live band on every level. We popped into three different venues and heard at least seven different performers. One club we timed just right (or wrong) and each floor’s band was in the midst of their break. Plus all the artists we could hear as we walked along Broadway. It’s a little overwhelming.

Friday morning S and I went out and sampled a 12 South coffee place, Frothy Monkey. We had a brunch reservation but liked it so much, and were eager to avoid finding Ubers for eight, that our group walked back down and had brunch at FM. There was an hour wait so we did some exploring. We came across another restaurant that was doing a soft open that day. We talked with the owner and head chef’s husband a bit while we nibbled on pastries and sweets. The decor and food were both amazing, so we hope it makes it and we can say we were there on its first day. It is called The Butter Milk Ranch, so look it up if you are in the area.

Brunch was great and we wandered around the area more after eating. 12 South is filled with restaurants, coffee shops, and boutiques. I think we all agreed we could live there if the need/opportunity ever presented itself.

One couple left Friday afternoon to prepare for a full day of tailgating at Notre Dame on Saturday. The rest of us made appetizers while we enjoyed the gorgeous weather and drank some local beer on our back deck. We dicked around too long to get on any dinner lists early and ended up eating at a little place that was more focused on good beer than food. I mean, the food was decent. But it wasn’t memorable and the beer was much better. Our appetizers were good, though.

Saturday morning another couple left, this time for Parent Weekend activities at Purdue. That left one other couple, good friends of ours who moved to Michigan 15 or 16 years ago. We haven’t seen them in far too long and loved having a day alone with them. We went back downtown and had drinks and lunch at the rooftop bar of the Hampton Social. There I discovered a great local beer, Jackalope Brewing’s Bearwalker, a Brown Ale made with maple syrup. They went down waaaaay too easily. I could have drank a dozen. Of course it helped that on a big screen behind us KU was, somehow, outplaying Oklahoma for 30 minutes of college football.

We couldn’t convince the ladies that it was important to stay in our seats until the game was over, so we headed over to Broadway and did some wandering. We bought our girls some t-shirts, popped into several clubs to hear more music and drink more beer, and even took the tour of the Ryman Auditorium.

Even though it was still fairly early, Broadway was freaking packed. Honestly, it made me a little uncomfortable. This was my first time around LOTS of people since Covid hit. We were in the South, in a Mecca for country music. It may not be fair, but I assumed the vaccination rate among the masses was not as high as in our little group (100%!).

The big elephant in the room for the weekend was that I am not a country music fan. I can enjoy some country music for brief spurts when the artist shows genuine talent. But a lot of it sounds the same to me. And I do not get into the culture that surrounds country music at all. It’s just not my thing, and when I’m around a ton of people for whom it is definitely their thing, it’s hard to relax and enjoy things. I recognize that’s elitist or snotty or whatever. I’m sure many of these folks wouldn’t enjoy going to a concert for some obscure indie rock band in Chicago or wherever.

That said we did see a woman singing at Miranda Lambert’s bar who was really good. She had a voice reminiscent of Dolly Parton. She was just singing covers, but she had terrific range, could play the hell out of the guitar, and there was something about her vibe that made me think even though at first glance she was straight Appalachia, I bet she had a little punk rock in her.

Broadway was really hopping by this point and we had been drinking for about five hours, so we Ubered back to our house to watch some of the Purdue game (my buddy is a Purdue alum, and took me to my only Purdue game 18 years ago). We opted for a late dinner, hoping to have more luck with waits, but it still took us four tries to find a wait under an hour. That ended up being a terrific pizza place called Mafiaoza’s. They had Bearwalker on tap and made some fine pizza.[1] A good way to round out our visit.

Our drive down was easy. The drive back was a little more of a struggle. The weather was fantastic in Nashville. Cool mornings, afternoons in the 60s or low 70s. Perfect walking-around weather. That held Sunday until Louisville, where we hit some rain. We spent about 10 miles going no faster than 50 MPH thanks to heavy showers. Once we got out of the rain an accident slowed traffic for another stretch. By the time we got to Indy the heavy rain returned and I–465 was kind of a mess. It was a stressful end to an otherwise easy trip.

Oh, I must share this that has nothing to do with Nashville: we took my Audi and the drive was sooooooo good. I got to mess around with the adaptive cruise control which makes to almost too easy to make a long trip (four-and-a-half hours in this case). All the comforts of the Audi I feel in the city are magnified on the highway. In my Large Chevy days I felt uncomfortable ever going over 80 on the highway unless I was passing someone. Those vehicles felt so big and uncoordinated that I knew if I needed to make a quick adjustment at high speed, it could easily turn into a dangerous situation. But in the Audi, I always felt in control. You barely heard or felt the engine at high speeds. I had the cruise set a lot higher than I would have in the Suburban or Tahoe and it felt smooth as hell. Shame it took me so long to get it out for a long, highway drive.

The girls apparently had a good weekend in Cincinnati with their aunt and cousins. They went to the aquarium and wandered around the city quite a bit. They made it home safely as well.

We have one more rather big family trip on the calendar before 2021 ends, assuming flights don’t get cancelled or resorts close. But it was very nice to squeeze in an all-adult trip for a change of pace.

  1. While waiting for our table we popped into a little beer store and I found a six pack of Bearwalker to bring home. Sadly it does not look like they distribute to the Indy area.  ↩

Thursday Playlist

A strange week for scheduling around our house. The girls began their fall break yesterday, so we had some social activities Tuesday night plus an impromptu sleepover for C and some of her friends. We did our annual “flu shots and lunch somewhere that has ice cream” outing yesterday. S and I will leave later today for a little jaunt away without kids; the girls will leave with an aunt and cousins tomorrow for a couple days in Cincinnati. If any of you are fall breaking, too, I wish you safe travels and good times.

“Really Great” – The Connells
I was never into The Connells very much. I had some friends who were but that never translated to me. The band was just ahead of the alt-rock revolution of the early ’90s. I bet they would have been much bigger if their mid-80’s albums came out 6-8 years later. They just released their first new album in 20 years, and this is a really good opener.

“Dreaming” – NIGHT FLIGHT
There is a lot of Smiths-era Johnny Marr in the guitar work on this track about the joys of London.

“Call My Name” – Smile featuring Robyn
When I saw Robyn was the vocalist for this song, I had a mental idea of what the song should sound like. This sounds nothing like that expectation. Which is not a bad thing, at all. I like its chill vibe. You don’t have to think too hard to hear some ABBA influence.

“Couldn’t Have Done the Killing” – Marissa Nadler
I have a collection of moody songs from female artists similar to this in my Friday Playlist Potentials playlist. Because, of course I do. The title of this one gives it a little spooky, Halloween vibe so it gets the nod this week.

“Nashville” – Old 97’s
The Mrs. and I are headed to Nashville in a few hours with some friends for an adult fall break. The lyrical content of this song doesn’t have much to do with what our plans include, but it has a nice sound and the title fits, so it makes the list.

“Tennessee” – Arrested Development
Where is Nashville? It’s in Tennessee, of course. It’s been a loooooong time since I’ve listened to this classic. 1992 has always been one of my favorite musical years and this, and songs like it, was a huge reason why. The music world seemed exciting and filled with endless possibilities as Nirvana and Pearl Jam were upsetting the status quo on the rock side of the world, and intelligent, positive artists like AD were emerging in hip hop. Whether all that promise worked out or not is for another discussion.

Weekend Sports

Another busy weekend filled with sports of various sorts.

Friday night was the biggest high school football game in Indiana this year: 6A #1 Center Grove at 5A #1 Cathedral. Center Grove was ranked in the top ten nationally in every one of those “polls.” Cathedral was ranked as high as 14th but more often down in the 30s nationally. Both teams were undefeated. Neither team had really been challenged all season. Center Grove hadn’t lost since the 2019 state championship game. Cathedral’s only loss in the last two seasons was to Center Grove last year on a touchdown with 16 seconds left in the game. Center Grove has a quarterback going to Tennessee; a defensive lineman who will choose between Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Clemson among others; another lineman going to Louisville; a third lineman who was committed to Miami (OH) but is now looking at Power 5 schools; and a safety who is going to Cincinnati. Cathedral has three really good juniors who should all be Power 5 recruits.

So anticipation was high. M and C both went and were super excited that some nationally-known Tik Tok dude was coming to the game. Also a lot of students from the other two Indy Northside Catholic schools skipped their games to come watch.

I knew the crowds would be a nightmare and the weather was expected to be bad, so I stayed home and listened on the radio.

It was a hell of a game…for the first 30 minutes or so. The field – which is natural grass – was in awful shape because of heavy rain Thursday night and during the day Friday. That slowed both teams down, but probably affected CG more. Cathedral was much better offensively in the first half but only had a field goal to show for their efforts, leading 3–0 at halftime. They recovered a fumble on the second play of the third quarter and turned that into three more points. A drive or two later they were moving the ball and went for it on fourth down and two inside the CG 10. The quarterback had a lane, planted to cut, and lost his footing, coming up inches short of the marker.

Four plays later Center Grove ripped off a 67 yard touchdown to take the lead. That energized their defense and Cathedral didn’t move the ball the rest of the game. In the fourth quarter CG had a third and 13 and converted it into a 47 yard TD pass. They punched in a touchdown in the closing seconds to win 21–6.

So Cathedral out-gained CG. They ran more plays. They held CG to over 100 yards below their season average in both rushing and offense. And still lost by two scores. Man…

State playoffs start this week. The #2 team in 5A is in Cathedral’s sectional, but they aren’t due to play until the final in two weeks (Reminder: in Indiana everyone makes the playoffs and sectionals are not seeded). Cathedral got through Center Grove without any notable injuries – or at least that we know of yet – so remain the favorites to repeat as 5A champs Thanksgiving weekend.

Saturday we loaded up the entire family and headed down to Bloomington for the IU-Michigan State game. It was homecoming and the perfect excuse for both the girls’ first college football game and M’s first unofficial campus visit. S’s aunt and uncle shared their tickets with us and we joined in their tailgating group. Or at least for part of it. There is a ton of construction between Indy and Bloomington so we only made it down for the last 45 minutes or so of the pregame hang out.

I cracked up when someone walking by dropped a mini-bottle of Fireball and it landed right in front of our girls. They all started giggling and stepped away so it didn’t look like it was theirs.

The storms Thursday finally flipped the weather from late summer to early fall and it was nearly perfect, at least inside the stadium where the wind was blocked. Outside it was a little blustery and chilly.

Our tickets were fantastic, 40 yard line, 26 rows up. I’ve been inside IU’s stadium a couple times but much higher up. When you have good seats their stadium is nice and tight and there are great site lines.

IU played terrific defense for most of the game, shutting down a potent MSU offense, but a pick six kept the Spartans in it. We left at the end of the third quarter so we could walk around campus a bit and beat traffic out of town, but the girls did seem to enjoy the game.

One of their favorite things was a super drunk guy a few rows in front of us. He was in that too happy, too enthusiastic phase of drunkeness through most of the first half. He was 45% more fired up about good plays than anyone around him. Stood on plays when no one else was standing. Tried to high five people he didn’t know that were 10 seats away. His girlfriend or whoever kept trying to shush him and make him sit down.

He made us all about piss ourselves after he took a restroom break. He returned, but walked right past our row to one about 10 closer to the field. We watched as he slowly made his way to what would have been his seat if that was his row and take an empty place. The people he slid in between were all giving him odd looks. He casually looked around trying to find his friends. Meanwhile they were sitting in their proper spots, laughing their asses off and taking pictures of him. I’m not sure if he figured it out or someone down there told him he was in the wrong spot but after a minute or two he slunk back up with a wry grin on his face.

After halftime he was struggling. He no longer stood to watch the game but sat, staring at the ground in front of him. He stood up to head towards the bathroom and had the drunken lean going. He made it out but we never saw him return. Ahh, homecoming!

At the end of the first half IU attempted a 55 yard field goal as time expired. The ball would be placed at the 45 yard line so that’s about as easy math as you can do to figure the distance. There were some guys two rows behind us who were drunkenly arguing whether it was a 35 or 37 yard attempt. That made me laugh.

Sadly we got to see one of S’s former patients get injured. Hopefully it’s not serious as he walked off the field but he did not return, which is not a good sign.

I did think it was super cool that they play “Jack and Diane” between the third and fourth quarters. When you have a song like that by a local artist, you have to go with it. We were across from the student section so heard them roaring “Oh yeahhhhhhh, life goes on…” as we exited.

We did a little walking and driving around to show M a bit of campus then back on the interstate just as the game ended to avoid the crush getting out of town.

All-in-all a really fun day, other than the Hoosiers losing. M really has no idea where she wants to go but seems focused on larger state schools. I’m guessing there will be visits to some other Big 10 schools in the next year. And two people asked, I assume with zero sarcasm, when she would be visiting for a KU game. That’s already tentatively on the schedule for next year…during basketball season.

Sunday L had a couple basketball scrimmages in lieu of another fall break tournament. Five schools got together and played two quick games each.

In the first game we played a school I don’t think we’ve ever played before. They were big but not super skilled and we ran them off the court, winning 32–15. I was glad we played them first.

In the second, we played the school we lost our season opener to. They won that game by nine but that score gave us more credit than we deserved. I’m pretty sure they were missing a girl that day, because they not only crushed us Sunday, but that missing girl went off.

She scored 24 and had 13 rebounds as they beat us by 20-some. It was 25–6 at halftime but our girls got their heads back in it and, other than that one girl, played them pretty evenly in the second half. This girl was unbelievable. She’s tall and about as thick as a pencil, but has everything in her game. She posted up and hit turn around J’s. She hit face-up shots. She hit two long jumpers. She hit tough shots on the break. She could handle the ball and made good passes. She was really damn good.

L played ok. She scored three in the first game and two in the second. She was 3–4 from the free throw line, which given how our team shoots is amazing. But she had jammed her left middle finger in warmups for the first game and was struggling to do anything with it. By the second game it was swollen and purple. All she could do with the ball was take one dribble with her left then go behind her back to the right. Unfortunately the girl guarding her in the second game 1) was a really good defender and 2) knew that move was coming, so would just be waiting for her on the right side. Once L did that move four straight times and the girl was just standing there, one step to the right waiting to cut her off. It was like L was caught in a loop.

Oh, and I got to help coach as the head coach was unavailable. I don’t know any of the plays so just yelled “GET BACK” and “WHO ARE YOU GUARDING?” a lot. That’s kind of fun, especially when these were “scrimmages” and not true games.

Now they have eight days off until the season picks back up again.

Friday Playlist

“Brothers Gonna Work It Out” – Public Enemy
This popped up on my workout playlist this week. Peak PE.

“Crystal Bullets” – White Denim
I can dig what these cats are laying down.

“Knead” – illuminati hotties
ih’s album Let Me Do One More has received almost universal acclaim. I don’t love Sarah Tudzin’s voice, so I can’t get into the album as much as the consensus does. This one works for me, though, with it’s heavy ’90s influence.

“EYES ON THE ROAD” – Trace Mountains
Dave Benton says this song was inspired by a late night drive, and the reflection that drive caused. I hear a little War on Drugs circa Slave Ambient propulsion pushing this track along.

“Crush” – Hatchie covering Jennifer Paige
A cover of Paige’s one-hit wonder from 1998. I had forgotten about the original, then listened and remembered it was some replacement level Mariah Carey. Not a bad song, but certainly not on Mariah’s level. I like Hatchie’s trip-hop-like take.

“Heaven” – Eliza Shaddad Live in Session at Battersea Arts Centre
A thoroughly delightful performance. This track is definitely in my pool of songs under consideration for my favorites of 2021.

A Night at the Theater: Bond

I saw my first movie in a theater since late 2019 last night. The reviews were decent enough and the Covid numbers here falling fast enough that I felt comfortable going to see No Time To Die with my brother-in-law. Four other people had the same idea, so we had plenty of room to ourselves and felt perfectly safe.

I don’t think I’ve seen a James Bond movie in a theater since some time in the Pierce Brosnan days. Daniel Craig’s final appearance as Bond seemed like a good reason to break that run.

Bond movies can never be evaluated like normal films. There are certain boxes that have to be checked, certain allowances that are granted for the quality of the story, and certain expectations that need to be met in order for a Bond movie to be considered a success.

No Time To Die meets a lot of those requirements.

Before I dive deeper, this is your official spoiler alert. I’m not going to go into great detail about the movie, but I am going to mention one very important moment in the film, one of the most shocking and controversial in the entire James Bond franchise. If you plan on seeing the movie, it might be better to bookmark this until later if you’ve not had that moment spoiled for you already.

In fact, let’s get right to it: the ending blew me away. No pun intended. I had, somehow, managed to avoid hearing how the movie concluded. I’m glad that was the case, because I think the impact would have been greatly reduced had I known it was coming.

So, spoiler, James Bond dies. Unable to get off a disputed island before a missile strike he called in arrives, our final view of him is being engulfed in fire and smoke as the weapons rain down upon him. I was not expecting this! I’ve read a few reviews since I watched the movie and people seem very torn about that scene. I thought it was great, mostly because it was completely shocking to me. Bond movies have never made me emotional. But I was speechless and open-mouthed as I realized that James Bond had died.

I think that could be a hugely freeing moment for whatever comes next in the series. It gives future writers and directors a chance to completely reset the franchise however they want with whoever is the next Bond. (Why not go back in time to the Cold War days, for example? Or begin with an origin story of his days in the Navy?) And since the Daniel Craig era ended up having strong plot connections through each movie (or at least four of them), they can look at the next X movies as an opportunity to tell an extended story with one actor. They don’t have to kill off the next Bond when his time ends. But it does give them the opportunity, if they want it, to think more about that smaller pocket of 3–5 movies than worrying about how they are honoring the previous 25.

In general, I think NTTD looked good. The cinematography was gorgeous, although the lighting seemed a little off on our screen which was distracting. There was plenty of action. The opening scene in Italy, which concludes with Bond and Madeleine in an absolutely ridiculous car chase in his Aston Martin DB5 was so good it kind of ruined the later chase scenes. That was one of the best chase scenes ever in a Bond film.

Speaking of Aston Martin, the DB5 is an all-time classic movie car. But I was also a huge fan of them bringing back the V8 Vantage, which Timothy Dalton also drove in The Living Daylights. That’s a dope-ass car.

Another of the best scenes in the movie was when Bond was fighting his way to the control tour of the submarine base to open up the missile doors. The segment when he is in the stairwell, shooting at and being shot at by guys mere feet away, was super intense. There was a 60–90 second sequence that was shot and edited so tightly it felt a little like a single-shot scene. The entire Craig era has been defined by attempting to match the level of action found in the Jason Bourne series. The opening construction site scene in Casino Royale was perhaps the strongest counter to the Bourne movies. This was a fine, final, close combat scene for the Craig era.

Rami Malek’s villain Lyutsifer Safin was not one of my favorites. He seemed a little flat and lacked menace. His submarine base was a call back to classics like Dr. No and You Only Live Twice. Shame his character didn’t match the creepy villains of those older movies.

Safin using a biological agent to attempt to kill a large chunk of the world’s population was a little extra creepy, though, in the age of Covid, though.

A common complaint of the Craig era is how dour it has been. Traditionalists argue that the way he played Bond was far closer to how Ian Fleming wrote the character than what it became on film. I loved Daniel Craig, but I could have used some more levity. My prediction is that whoever the next Bond is, and whatever direction they take the series, there will be more cheekiness than in the Craig years.

That said, Ana de Armas’ Paloma was a shot of brightness this movie needed. Almost everything she did made me laugh. It’s a shame she was only in about 10 minutes of the film.

Her role also showed another way the franchise has grown to match the broader cinema world. de Armas looked GREAT. But it was totally believable that she was absolutely kicking ass. It wasn’t cartoony the way, say, Grace Jones was in A View to a Kill, but rather closer to something you would expect from Charlize Theron.

I’m sure some people are all worked up about Bond’s in-movie replacement as 007 being a Black woman. I’m guessing some of those arguments go along the lines of “She could never really do that.” Well, you know what? Daniel Craig could never do most of things he’s doing as James Bond, either, without the help of editing, stunt men, and CGI. It’s fiction, folks.

The other controversial moment was the reveal that Bond has a child. That didn’t bother me. I mean, “James Bond” has had a lot of sex over the past 60-ish years. Odds are he has a kid here and there. Plus it was part of the mechanics needed to set up Bond’s final decision of the movie, so I thought it worked.

One review I read, by a writer who is a year older than me, pointed out this is the last time James Bond will be older than people our age. Oh, snap! That sucks! Daniel Craig does give hope to us in our early 50s that if we put the work in, our bodies don’t have to fall apart.

I thought the movie was a little long. I went in knowing that I would be in the theater for nearly three hours once the previews were added in. The movie seemed to move pretty well, but there were a few lag points that could have been tightened up to cut 10–15 minutes from the final run time. It didn’t help that the theater we went to did not have the most comfortable or adjustable seats I’ve ever sat in.

I would give No Time To Die a solid 3.5 stars. I do wonder if it is a movie that will improve on multiple viewings, especially when you can split those viewings up into shorter segments. My rating suffers a little because Daniel Craig made two of the best Bond films ever in Casino Royale and Skyfall, movies that will be tough for any future Bond to match. NTTD was also not an embarrassment like Roger Moore’s and Pierce Brosnan’s final installments in the series. Maybe not all the chances taken worked, but most of them did. And that sets this apart from so many movies in a series that too often follows the same checklist just with different names and places attached to it.

NTTD also locks in Craig as, at worst, the second best Bond ever. And I think he has a strong argument for being the best Bond. It’s tough to compare him to Sean Connery both because both their styles and the times they acted in were so different. However, none of the other actors who have played James Bond made the role theirs as successfully as Connery and Craig did.

Weekend Hoops – October Madness

Although L’s basketball team is in week one of their three-week stoppage of play for fall breaks, there were still hoops to be played last weekend.

St P’s normally hosts a Cadet (7th/8th grade) A team tournament over fall break. We had some logistical issues and weren’t able to host this year, but a neighboring parish took it over so that four teams could still get together and play a few games.

Friday night L’s team played St L, the school that beat her team twice last year, including a tournament loss on a late basket. St L’s has a seventh grader who is already six feet tall. But the funny thing about CYO sports is how much teams change from year-to-year as girls progress through the age brackets. Apparently that girl’s sixth grade schoolmates she played with last year are way better than her eighth grade ones on this year’s team, because we destroyed them.

We won 46–17 and it was never close. Our girls played insane defense and got a series of breakaway layups early that helped us jump out to a quick 10-point lead. After that pretty much everything we threw up went in. We were hitting contested layups, short jumpers, and even got multiple offensive rebounds per possession despite the big girl. L was proud of yanking the ball away three times. “She’s not that strong, Dad,” was her comment after the game.

Well, one area was not working: we still could not hit free throws. We hit two. We missed 10, 12, 16. Somewhere in there.

L only scored two, but she played really well. She took care of the ball and got the offense running. She played solid D. She looked completely comfortable. That’s the difference between playing against really good 8th grade guards and 7th graders that she’s better than.

Her only bucket was pretty sweet, though. She had her girl on the right elbow and was working to set her up to drive. She faked right, then left, then right again. The third fake got the defender leaning and L went behind her back and got into the lane. The giant was waiting inside so L gave her a hard fake to the right, spun back to the left, then flipped the ball up to the backboard with her left hand where the giant couldn’t get a finger on it. L was pretty pleased with herself, grinning as she ran back up court.

Saturday we played the tournament hosts, St C. L played with a few of their girls last winter and did some summer training with them. We knew they had lost by 20 earlier in the day to the team, St S, that beat us by nine in our season opener.

I think that knowledge made our girls a little too confident. We played from behind all day. We were down three at half, but started the third quarter on a 6–0 run to go up three. But we gave it all back and were down four going into the fourth quarter. This time we dropped an 8–0 run to reverse the margin. Again, we got sloppy and gave it all back. We trailed by two with under a minute left and St C had the ball. They missed a shot, we got a run-out and our girl laid it in to tie. On the defensive end we forced a loose ball, grabbed it and raced up court. Our girl took it to the hoop, missed, but a teammate was there to toss it up and in with seven seconds left. We forced another turnover and won 31–29. Once again we were awful from the line. We win by 10+ if we could even shoot 50% from the line. Despite the 10% free throw shooting, the girls earned a trip to Dairy Queen for their win.

L had four points in this game. She again played pretty well.

Unfortunately we had to face St C again in the knockout round. This game was very different. They jumped all over us early. Their best player fouled out late on Saturday and she was doing all she could to hide on defense much of the day to avoid cheap fouls.

Our girls seemed like a mess the entire game. They were complaining about the referees, complaining about how the St C’s girls were grabbing them to our coaches, running the wrong plays on offense, and generally checking out mentally. Our head coach should have gotten a T. We heard there was arguing between parents from both schools across from us. Just a general good time.

St C’s was working us over pretty good. But, again, free throws were the real killer. We shot 4–20ish from the line for the game. We just kept missing and missing despite getting to the line often. Meanwhile St C shot probably 60% or so from the line.

Midway through the fourth we were down 13 and the game looked over. I’m not sure what the trigger was, but our girls started chipping away. A bucket here, a steal there, a big defensive rebound on a third possession. With about a minute left it was still a seven-point deficit. We were in the one-and-one and I suggested to the St C scorekeeper that they should just foul us because we wouldn’t make the freebies and they could keep us from getting any shots off.

There was a scramble, L grabbed a loose ball, and took off up court. She had a teammate in the middle with a defender between them and a defender back. L waited until the last possible moment and fired a pass over the middle defender’s shoulder. Her teammate caught it and laid it up and in in one motion.

Down five. I might have smacked the scorer’s table after the pass.

Next possession, L got a steal and went coast-to-coast to cut it to three with about 20 seconds left.

We forced a St C miss, got the rebound, and had the ball knocked away on an entry pass. We we inbounding under the basket with seven seconds left. Our tallest girl is a decent rebounder and can play some D, but she would much rather hoist shots from outside than battle inside on offense. Shots she never hits. But on the inbounds play she popped out behind the three-point arc in the corner, got the ball, and had a wide-open look. Her shot looked absolutely perfect. It was on line, spun around, then rimmed out. First time we’ve hit the rim all year on a three, and it damn-near went in.

St C hit a free throw to win by four.

Free throws and attitude killed us. I was happy after the game when one of our coaches came over to say that L told her teammates to stop complaining and start playing hard during one timeout. It’s a shame they didn’t get their heads into the game until the last 90 seconds or so.

Also a shame we can’t hit a freaking free throw.

L had six for this game. She was a perfect 0–0 from the line for the weekend.

It wasn’t terrible that they lost. They would have played St S in the championship game, and I’m not sure we could have hung within nine after already playing three games in three days.

Plus L was going to tryouts for a winter league team that night. Her knees were already giving her fits. I’m not sure she could have made it through the tryouts if she had played a second game in the afternoon. She said she didn’t play great at tryouts, but the coach making the teams watched her play Friday and Saturday so he has an idea of her game.

The big bummer is that he was hoping to have A and B teams at each age group with the A teams have extra skills training during the season. L said only seven or eight seventh graders showed up, so it’s doubtful they will split teams. Several of those girls aren’t strong players, so it’s doubtful they will turn them into an A team. L was hoping to get that extended skills training. Maybe the coach will combine 7th and 8th graders to get A and B teams. He is also trying to put together another tournament to play over the next two weeks, so L’s team may get back on the court again before league play resumes at the end of the month.

Friday Links

A few items to add to your reading queue for the weekend.

I’ve always bought into the myth that minor league baseball was somehow purer than big league ball, and the connection between minor league clubs and their communities was deeper than that between big cities and MLB clubs. That’s probably all Bull Durham-fueled garbage, but baseball is largely built on myths anyway

MLB is doing its best to fuck all that up by squeezing out much of what was local and unique about the minors.

Will Bardenwerper set out to document what was supposed to be the final year of the old Appalachian League. Until Covid canceled the season and his book deal. Fortunately we get this great Harper’s piece from his efforts.

What is baseball? Our national pastime, an enduring slice of Americana? Or just a business? Does an enterprise that purports to be part of the fabric of America—and one that for the past hundred years has enjoyed a unique federal antitrust exemption—have a responsibility to prevent that fabric from fraying? Or should the league simply maximize value for its owners, as most corporations do?

Minor Threat

I had no idea that the pumpkin spice latte backlash was rooted in economic anxiety and contempt for women. I thought it was just because people were sick of Pumpkin Spice Everything dropping a little earlier each year.

This piece is over a year old, but still a very good read.

Pumpkin spice lattes — and the backlash, and the backlash to the backlash — explained

For the record, pumpkin spice remains completely delicious when used properly.

Ranking the Seinfeld Fake Movies
Shocking that it took 23 years for someone to do this. Or at least for someone’s effort to get broad attention.

I know it can be difficult to keep your cool in the midst of a stressful game. A good rule of thumb, though, is that players and coaches should never interact directly with opposing fans.

Northern Colorado offensive coordinator Max McCaffrey threw a clipboard into the stands last week. What makes this story great is that the comment that pushed him over the edge was someone making a crack about his pants being too small.

That’s some funny, funny shit.

UNC’s Max McCaffrey ‘reprimanded’ for throwing clipboard into Montana State stands

Finally, a few Bond links. I’m seeing No Time To Die on Wednesday. I have no idea when I last saw a movie in a theater.

Shaken, and Stirred: How Daniel Craig Gave James Bond a Soul

Sixty Years of James Bonds Complaining About Their Jobs

Everything You Need to Know About James Bond’s Watches

Every James Bond Movie, Ranked

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