Film Report: Appaloosa starring Ed Harris and Viggo, the actor, not Vigo, the Scourge of Carpathia (2008)

Book coverThis film is based on the book by Robert B. Parker which I read in 2005. Since I was to read the fourth book in the series, I ordered the DVD so I could watch it after I finished the last book.

And you know what? The film is better than the book.

The latter 2/3 of Parker’s books were heavily influenced by his years in Hollywood in the 1980s, so they translate very well to the screen. But Parker didn’t write the screenplay–Ed Harris, who plays Cole, did along with a co-writer. As such, he takes the ideal Parkerian hero, the fast draw dead shot who loves a fallen woman character and diminishes him compared to Hitch, the sidekick and narrator. Harris emphasizes that Cole is not book-learned like Hitch when he (Cole) struggles with words. The screenplay also contrasts Cole with Bragg, the bad guy, as being undereducated. He’s not so much an ideal man as a fast man who is simple.

Maybe that’s the way that Parker intended it. Maybe too much interior thinking on Hitch’s park shaped the narrative wrong for it to carry off. Maybe I too much read Parker’s biography into all of his books. But it’s a good enough Western film, and I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed the recent Hitch and Cole books.

DVDs mentioned in this review:

Ed Martin Changes Races, Again

I was concerned when Bill Hennessy posted about Ed Martin changing races for the second time this election cycle. First, he was running for the Senate. Then, he was running for the 2nd District Congressional seat. Now, he’s running for Missouri State Attorney General.

I’ve supported Ed Martin in his race for the Missouri 3rd Congressional District race in 2010, and I’ve supported him in his quest for both legislative positions this year. I’ll probably pull the lever for him in November for the Attorney General. But the continuing changes give me pause. Continue reading “Ed Martin Changes Races, Again”

DeRooneyfication (III)

Right after I got married, I decided I was going to take up the art of furniture refinishing since the house where my bride and I rented had a garage where I could do such things. So I acquired a couple pieces to work on, and I managed to refinish a desk that had been in the family for a while that my mother had painted a shade of housing-project-leftover-paint beige. Since that was my only accomplishment in the field, maybe I should say my hobby was acquiring wooden things to refinish.

After a little under a year in our rental, we moved to Casinoport, which had no garage. But that didn’t stop me from acquiring the occasional piece or holding onto the ones I already had. So I acquired this bookshelf Continue reading “DeRooneyfication (III)”

Book Report: Blue-Eyed Devil by Robert B. Parker (2010)

Book coverThis book is the fourth of the Cole and Hitch westerns, and they find the duo back in Appaloosa, site of the first film. They’re not the law now–there’s a marshal in town with designs on higher office–but they catch on with the local saloons as private security when the local shopkeepers grow tired of the real town marshal’s protection racket–the merchants pay up extra to make sure that the law arrives in a timely fashion.

While they’re defending a saloon, Cole kills the son of a local rancher (who has taken up residence in the homestead of the last Appaloosa bad guy Cole dispatched), who then hires a killer to dispatch Cole. When a raiding native threatens the town, Cole brings it to the attention of the marshal, who walks right into the native’s trap as Cole and Hitch join forces with the rancher and the killer to save the town from the natives.

It’s a quick read–quicker than The Virginian or Wild Horse Mesa— but it’s a modern book, and it probably sacrifices some depth for pageturning. Which is opposite of what I usually complain about, I know.

Books mentioned in this review:

Brian J. Noggle and the Adventure of the Accidental Collectible

Back in the very early 1990s–like 1990 to 1991, which is really the very late eighties and the first year of the nineties if we must be technical, but since this is a personal narrative essay we don’t, so it was the early 1990s, dammit–I was a student at the University, living in the far northwest corner of Milwaukee, and about two blocks from the Mainstream Records at Fond du Lac and Silver Spring roads. Which explains where much of my non-tuition grocery store paychecks went in those days.

One of the things they offered was cheap 10-packs of used 45 rpm singles. Continue reading “Brian J. Noggle and the Adventure of the Accidental Collectible”

That’s Some Mighty Fine Print You Got There

A couple weeks ago, the NRA sent me a DVD for some sort of self-defense course, telling me that it was a free preview, and I could mail it back in the post paid envelope or I could pay them $30 in gold or silver dimes to keep it.

Well, friends, as you might know, if some manufacturer or vendor sends you something unsolicited, that is a free gift to you, and you’re under no obligation to return it or to pay for it.

As the NRA nag letter that looks a lot like an invoice but can’t be an invoice says:

The NRA's fine print agrees with my laziness

Although I’m not sure how the required text telling me I’m not obligated to pay for your widely cast net amounts to a “Service Guarantee.”

Good on ya, NRA. You’re stooping to the tricks of the Time-Warner media empire and trying to trick me out of money you don’t think you can get from me honestly. Did I say “good”? I meant a good pox.

TIFs Ad Absurdum Achieved

Here at Missouri Insight, we come down very hard on the concepts of TIFs because they favor one business over another. In Illinois, the Collinsville Gateway Center takes it to the logical conclusion, asking not only for the government to collect taxes to build infrastructure for the independent business, but to help pay its bills:

Declining revenue has prompted the Gateway Center to ask the city of Collinsville to allow it to keep the city’s portions of tax increment financing funds to cover the center’s operating costs.

Under a 2006 agreement between Gateway and the city, the convention center is allowed to use TIF funds collected in the hospitality district to satisfy shortages on its bond debt. The remainder of the funds collected are to be distributed equally between the center and the city. Gateway keeps 50 percent to cover maintenance and improvement costs and the city keeps 50 percent for future development.

Earlier this month, during a City Council strategic planning meeting, Gateway Center Director Cindy Warke asked the council to allow Gateway to retain the entire amount, which averages to about $250,000 a year, according to the city’s Community Development Director Paul Mann.

To sum up: because the business cannot generate business enough to cover its bills, it’s asking the city to give it money collected as taxes.

Why is this business more special than the hotel across the highway? Because government officials have said so, and will again.

In other convention center news, Springfield, Missouri, has a convention center that it feels is underperforming:

Inadequate facilities and the lack of a connecting hotel have been cited as reasons Springfield’s Expo Center isn’t doing more business.

In a report distributed to City Council on Tuesday, city staff said John Q. Hammons Hotels’ management of the center has fallen short of expectations, as well.

“Staff does not believe the Exposition Center has been marketed or used to its maximum potential,” the report says, noting Hammons Hotels has failed to submit required reports on a regular basis.

The memo, drafted in response to questions posed by Councilman Tom Bieker, said the problems likely fall short of justifying termination of the Hammons’ management contract, which runs through at least 2028 and could be extended a decade past that.

As a result, it might seek to terminate its designated private half of the public/private partnership that is floundering and to find, undoubtedly, another private half to rain public funds on to chase the dwindling convention and conference market. And when the new management underperforms, what then? More of the same, one might expect.

Book Report: Blockade Billy by Stephen King (2010)

Book coverAs I mentioned, I bought this book last Wednesday, and I knew it wouldn’t take me long to get to reading it and to read it once I started. Blockade Billy is a novella in a hardcover along with a short story called “Morality”.

The title novella covers the discovery of a star catcher for the Titans. Blockade Billy, as he comes to be known, is a simple-minded youngster brought up from a AA team when the Titans’ catcher is hurt. He comes to town, focuses on the game, but he has dark secrets in his past that will come to light and make him the only player ever erased from Major League Baseball history.

King’s at his best here, pulling along with just the right voice and foreshadowing. The frame story is that Mr. King is interviewing the third base coach from the Titans to discover the real story, so it’s told in a very conversational style that’s easy to read.

The short story, though, “Morality”, is hardly worth reading. It’s a dash of the film Indecent Proposal thrown in with a twisted preacher and how his indecent proposal causes a marriage to break up. There are no characters in it worth sympathizing with and it’s rather stock.

Books mentioned in this review:

Magazine Report: Image Magazine 1978

Image Magazine 1978 coverI bought a couple of these at a book fair in the St. Louis area; I reported on the first in March 2009, right after my mother died and before I moved to the Springfield area. Strange that it’s been so long, but not long at all. Sort of.

This one precedes the first one I read by 3 years. This one, from 1978, was published when I was 6 years old. It doesn’t have a volume or issue number in it, but given that the magazine from three years later was volume 9, one would assume that the magazine itself had been published since the year I was born. Weird.

At any rate, like the other one, this one includes work by Lyn Lifshin and a host of other poets of some caliber or another. Nothing that I’ll remember discretely, unfortunately, but I could say that about most poetry anthologies, too, including the greatest works of Shakespeare and probably most of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s books.

The magazine also has an essay about the history of literary magazines in the St. Louis area. Plucky little guys. Sixteen years later, I ran my own little literary magazine in St. Louis, the St. Louis Artesian. It didn’t last as long as Image, and we never published Lyn Lifshin. So there you go.

At any rate, it’s interesting to me, so I felt the need to tell you all about it.

Holdup Time Again Already?

As some of us predicted as early as fifteen years ago, the Rams are going to need more public funding to stay in St. Louis:

The St. Louis Rams’ future here could be in question because of two words that many fans don’t usually associate with the Edward Jones Dome: first tier.

Those words give the Rams a door to walk away from the team’s lease at the Dome — the building has to be a “first-tier” stadium by 2015, or among the top 25 percent of National Football League venues.

The lease itself, however, doesn’t offer much clarity on what constitutes first tier. It identifies several components that need to meet that bar, but also includes vague factors, such as “the physical structure of the facilities.” Another says simply ‘stadium seating.”

The lease includes enough broad language that negotiators could argue just about every inch of the Dome is subject to the standard.

Winning over Rams owner Stan Kroenke could involve millions in publicly funded improvements. The key may be not necessarily to offer enough to make the Dome one of football’s first-tier shrines, but perhaps enough to get the Rams to look the other way or renegotiate the agreement.

You might say to yourself, “It doesn’t seem that long ago.” But you might be thinking about the St. Louis Cardinals demanding a large share of scarce public resources or they would move to Highland, Illinois, or something. That holdup was only seven years ago.

Book Report: The Absolute Beginners Guide to Stitching Beaded Jewelry by Lesley Weiss (2010)

Book coverI paid almost full price (40% of with coupon, so “almost full price” means “more than a dollar”) for this book at the Hobby Lobby because I wanted to make sure I had something to read one warm January day when I was to take my children to the park. However, I didn’t end up reading it at the park–I can’t remember if we didn’t make it to the park or if I didn’t want the Springfield-area mommies to beat me up for being a beading sissy.

So I browsed it while watching football instead.

It’s a collection of stitched bead jewelry projects that shows one how to make the stitches and whatnot. I haven’t done any beading in a year or so, preferring to mix up my cheapskate self-made crafting Christmas giving this year. But when beading, I do like to do stitches which is more complicated and creative than simply stringing some beads and a pendant together. Although I have other reference books that show me the stitches, I’m glad to have picked up this one to freshen and inspire me and to give me some other ideas on how to use different bead sizes in my patterns.

Whether I put those patterns to use any time in the near term, though, is another question entirely.

Books mentioned in this review:

Home Improvement Chain Understands Risks of Community Improvement Districts

Springfield has recently become as district-crazy as the larger cities in the state, creating improvement districts to benefit Hy-Vee and other retail developments. Through the improvement districts, the city pays for improvements to make an area hospitable to a private development and then levies an additional sales tax on purchases made at the development to recapture those outlays.

Personally, I’m against helping some developers out at the expense of other development types. The government should not pay favorites in this way. If a private citizen is to build a house or whatnot, he has to pay to hook it up to the infrastructure. But if the private citizen is a development corporation with enough clout and promises of jobs and sales–regardless of whether those sales are merely moving sales from another retailer in the area to the new one with the additional sales tax levy–then the districts happen.

But a Wisconsin-based home improvement center wants no part of the CID where it wants to open:

Menards, however, does not want to be included in a 1 percent sales tax Community Improvement District the council previously approved for the Hickory Hills Marketplace.

The CID tax would pay for certain infrastructure improvements as tax revenues roll in over time.

According to a council bill explanation, “One of the conditions of Menards locating at the development is that their site not be included in the CID.”

Having a CID tax in place potentially could make Menards products more expensive.

“They do a lot of business on a large scale, like prefabricated home kits,” said Mayor Jim O’Neal. “That extra percent is probably not something they really want. I think the necessary improvements can be made without them.”

It’s quite obvious when you’re a contractor spending thousands of dollars per purchase the difference between buying it at Menards or buying it at Meeks.

On smaller purchases, like groceries and department store items, it’s easier to lose sight of that 1% extra you’re paying. It’s only an extra dollar per $100 trip, but if you’re cumulatively spending thousands of dollars a year, you’re cheating yourself of those dollars if you shop at a store in a CID.

Good for Menards for opting out, although they’re doing it for the principle of being competitive and making profit, not the principle that special favors for esteemed land developers are morally wrong.

Book Report: The Sword of Bedwyr by R.A. Salvatore (1994)

Book coverYou know, I haven’t read a bit of pulp fantasy in a while (the previous Salvatore I read was five years ago, and that review was fun to re-read because it touched on my old gaming memories). I read The Lord of the Rings last year, I know, but this book is pulp fantasy regardless of its hard cover and dust jacket.

Within it, the son of a duke chafes under his father’s accommodation of a wizard who rules the land through his Cyclops army and subwizard governors. After he slays one of the one-eyed centurions, he flees his home and his birthright and takes up with a halfling thief. They meet a good, or at least not as bad as the baddest, wizard who tricks them into invading a dragon’s lair but gives them magic items for their trouble, including a cloak of invisibility. The duo move onto a town and live the lives of successful thieves until the cloak of invisibility reanimates the legend of its previous owner, the Crimson Shadow, and reanimates the town residents’ hopes for freedom.

As always, this is but one book in a trilogy, so it sets some things in motion that I won’t see conclude. It’s a decent enough read, but the climax and the denouement, such as they are, come rather suddenly. So, like I said in 2006, I won’t shy away from Salvatore’s other works, but I’m not running out to get them right now.

I had another thought while reading it: In modern suspense and thriller pulp, it’s pretty common to knock authors who make mistakes with guns. Is it only our lack of true familiarity as a culture with ancient weapons–aside from some real hardcore SCA geeks and the like–that keeps us from nitpicking the use of a sword? As I read this book, I noticed that the army of the Cyclopses used a variety of weapons straight out of the Dungeons and Dragons equipment charts. Thrown spears and bows for missile weapons, and then swords, battle axes, and polearms for bladed weapons. Wouldn’t you expect an army, especially an invading/occupying sort of army to have more standard equipment? Nah, I’m just trying to nitpick where none is warranted.

Books mentioned in this review:

DeRooneyfication (II)

Sometime early in my marriage, my grandmother gave me a lamp, a nice glass lamp with brass-colored steel trimmings. In our first house in Casinoport, we put this lamp in a place of honor: the floor of the closet in our spare bedroom, the one where we had our weight bench and, later, a number of arcade games.

In our defense, we did not–and still do not–have end tables where one traditionally puts table lamps, and our horizontal surfaces were at a premium. So we stored it, awaiting further accumulation of furniture that would eventually blossom as our marriage passed the cotton, linen, leather, and wood anniversaries.

However, we had a cat who sometimes liked to urinate in dark places. Continue reading “DeRooneyfication (II)”