Friday, May 30, 2008

Burning brewery

Flames have struck the F.X. Matt Brewery in Utica, where Saranac beer is made.

It appears some sort of welding accident touched off the blaze yesterday afternoon, which cause $10 million to $20 million in damage.

The owners are vowing to rebuild.

The brewery is the oldest in New York. It's been a family business since it was started in 1888.

Saranac has long been one of my favorite beers. I've bored many people with the story of the day Mike, Aaron and I spent at the brewery swigging free beer after free beer.

Say what?

The season finale of "Lost' was great.

One of my burning questions was, what was the backwards voice saying to Kate on the phone in her "dream?" As with so many of life's mysteries, the answer you seek can be found on YouTube...

By the way, did you catch the ad for Octagon Global Recruiting? Their website says they're looking for volunteers on behalf of the Dharma Initiative for "an important new research project." The ad said they'd be in San Diego July 24-27.

Those are the same dates as Comic-Con 2008 in San Diego. Coincidence? I think not!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

That's quacked up!

CORRECTION: The Times Union story I linked to below has since been clarified. As the Aqua Ducks website points out, the business also offers trolley tours -- and that's what will be driving around Schenectady. The $23 fee also gets you into the Schenectady museum. So I guess that's not so bad.

Former Albany Police Chief Bob Wolfgang is bringing his Aqua Duck business to Schenectady. Soon you'll be able to hop on one of his amphibious vehicles for a tour of historic locales like the Stockade, the GE Realty Plot and the Union College campus. Presumably you'll spend some of the tour on the Mohawk River.

Wolfgang retired from the police force five years ago and started Albany Aqua Ducks, offering tours of Albany from land as well as the Hudson River.

I never really understood the idea of $23 a pop for a duck tour of Albany. Boston? Sure. Albany? I don't think so.

But I really don't get the idea of a paid tour of Schenectady. Schenectady!?! Don't get me wrong, I love walking around the Stockade and checking out the historic homes. But I'd rather be on foot, up close to the buildings -- and I certainly don't want to shell out $23 to see the Electric City.

Maybe I'm wrong. After all, it's been five years and the business is still afloat. But would you shell out cash to ride around Albany or Schenectady?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Happy retirement, Mrs. B!

Last night I did something I haven’t done in a very long time – performed at Niskayuna High School.

A former music teacher of mine, Paula Brinkman, is retiring. I had her as a teacher in elementary and middle school. After I graduated she later took over the choir and Studio Singers (in addition to numerous other duties) after the retirement of Bob Christensen (who was in attendance last night – great to see you again Mr. C!).

So on the occasion of her final school concert, a number of current students and alumni pulled together to perform a few songs for her. It was fantastic to see the look on her face as we paraded into the auditorium!

It was also quite a trip to be up on those risers and singing in that auditorium again for the first time in 18 years. (I forgot how hot it gets up there!)

I think it’s safe to say I was the oldest in the group. At one point she referred to the group as “kids,” then corrected herself to say “young adults.” At that point she looked over shoulder and said, “Rooney, you’re getting to be a middle aged adult.”

It was a real pleasure to be a small part of the tribute to a great teacher.

Here are some highlights put together by Paul Conti, my former boss and a friend of Paula’s, who helped organize the event.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Indiana Jones and the First Facebook Review

I addded a version of my "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" review to the Indiana Jones Facebook page.

I had to edit it down quite a bit. Facebook kept rejecting it, saying it was too long. I guess I have a tendency to go on and on -- there was actually even more I could have said!

But I'm proud to say that mine appears to be the first review published on the official Indy Facebook page! Yay me!

The morning after

OK, some time has passed and I've formed some criticisms of "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (see my earlier review from last night).

My biggest nitpick is that Karen Allen, returning as Marion Ravenwood from "Raiders," is grossly underused. She and Indy have some worthwhile exchanges after she first shows up about halfway through the film. But then for the rest of the movie she has nothing to do but alternately stand around or run behind the other characters. There is a big action sequence about two-thirds through involving a chase through the jungle, culminating in a fist-fight between Indy and a big Soviet soldier while surrounded by a swarm of killer ants and then a tumble over a waterfall. From that point on, I'm not sure I can recall Marion having any significant dialogue in the rest of the movie. It's as if they needed her as the catalyst to introduce the Mutt character and then she wasn't needed anymore.

I was also expecting a little more from composer John Williams. His scores from the first three movies are etched in my memory. This time around he does a lot of recycling. Obviously we hear plenty of "The Raiders March" and some of the other themes from "Raiders" and "Last Crusade" are used again. That's fine. But there is nothing new that stands out in my mind. Nothing like the memorable music from the motorcycle chase in "Last Crusade" or the slave children music from "Temple of Doom."

There are a couple of other plot holes I'm wondering about, but I don't won't to get into them without giving too much away.

But for the most part, what I wrote last night still stands. I still loved it!

Monday, May 19, 2008

I'm a very happy Indiana Jones fan!

Remember back when I was saying that they should leave well enough alone and never make a fourth Indiana Jones movie? Yeah, what the hell was I thinking?

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” lives up to the hype…every last bit of it. When I walked out of the theater I think I felt a little numb (in a good way). I just couldn’t believe that for the first time in 19 years I had watched a new Indy movie.

So what’s it all about? I’ll try to avoid spoilers. Shia LaBeouf plays a young man named Mutt who’s connected to two old friends of Indy (spoilers in invisotext: is one of those old friends Marion Ravenwood? Yes, he’s her son. Does that make him Indy’s son? It sure does.). One of those old friends disappeared and the other has been kidnapped. Mutt turns to Indy for help. The mystery leads them to South America first to search for a strange crystal skull and then deep into the Amazon jungle to find the ancient Mayan city the skull came from.

One of my first impressions when I walked out of the theater was that it was classic Spielberg. This is the kind of stuff he was doing 25-30 years ago. It’s in the spirit of “Close Encounters,” “E.T.,” “Amazing Stories” and, of course, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Not just in terms of the story, but in the overall tone too. The opening scene shows teens out for a joyride in a hot rod jalopy, weaving in and out of an Army convoy and trying to get the lead car to drag race with them – with Elvis Pressley’s “Hound Dog” playing in the background. I can’t put my finger on it, but there was something about those opening moments that had this classic vibe to it – that I knew I was in for the kind of fun I hadn’t had watching a Spielberg movie since “Jurassic Park” (it also harkened a bit to George Lucas’ “American Grafitti”).

That brings me to another thing I loved about the movie – the era it was set in. The movie takes place in 1957, a good 20 years or so after the earlier movies. It completely embraces this setting and that’s great. Indy gets caught up in the Red Scare and has a near miss at an atomic testing site. The Nazis have been traded in for the Russians. At one point as Indy stares into the face of a KGB agent holding him at gunpoint (played by Cate Blanchett) he patriotically proclaims “I like Ike!”

There are references to the earlier movies – some subtle (he still has his students reading from the Michelson textbook) and some not so subtle (the passings of Marcus Brody and Henry Jones Sr. are noted – also the Ark of the Covenant does make an appearance, but it’s not central to the story). There is also a reference to one of the storylines from “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” TV series.

And yet, despite these references, by embracing the 50s era, particularly in the first part of the movie, you get the impression that George Lucas isn’t just trying to reinvent the wheel. The character and the story are advancing. You know when a TV show you really like has been on for a long time and you go back and watch some of the earlier episodes and you realize how much its changed and evolved? That’s what’s going on here. Indy has evolved – we just didn’t get to see what’s happened between now and then. But if there had been a bunch of Indy movies over the last 19 years, I suspect this is where we would have ended up (we do get a little bit of back story – apparently “Col. Henry Jones” served in the OSS during World War II).

One last note on the storyline – as has been hinted in some of the interviews Lucas has given and as I alluded to earlier – the crystal skull is very different from the artifacts Indy chased after before. The earlier movies had him hunting down religious items. But this is something quite different. Once again, it’s very fitting for the 50s era and the B-movie sci-fi flicks of the day – much the same way the earlier movies paid homage to the Saturday matinee serials of the 1930s. I was braced for it because I had read up on the movie ahead of time (although I was careful to avoid major spoilers), but it might catch some moviegoers off guard.

So to sum up, I’ll make a bold statement: my judgment may be clouded because I just saw it, but if you asked me right now I’d tell you that “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is the best of the sequels. Better than “Temple of Doom.” Better than “Last Crusade.” Will my opinion change once I come off my Indy Jones high? Perhaps. But that’s how I feel right now.

Now that I’ve seen the movie, it begs the question “Now what do I do with myself?” Unfortunately, unlike the earlier installments, I probably won’t ever see this one on the big screen again – because I’m old and I’m broke and I just don’t get the movies that often. So now I’ll count the days to the DVD release, because you can bet I want to see it again – several times again!

UPDATE: Here are some follow up thoughts...

Show time!

Tonight is the big night - I'll be attending an early screening of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull!"

Once I've had time to digest it and compose my thoughts, I'll provide a review. I'm trying hard to keep an open mind. As many of you know, I was skeptical of the idea of a fourth Indy movie for a long time. But, as predicted, I got more and more excited as the movie approached.

Last week Kris warned me that there is a good chance I'll be disappointed, seeing as how I've built this movie up so much.

She also made this comment last night: "I can't wait until you see this friggin' movie so I can stop hearing about it."

Perhaps I've allowed my enthusiasm to get the better of me. Either way, I'm very excited for tonight!

Fill 'er up!

Ok, time for another gas price rant. I came dangerously close to putting $50 in my Honda Civic this morning. Not some gas-guzzling SUV or minivan -- a Honda friggin' Civic!

Granted my car was on fumes when I pulled in to the gas station. I got about 370 miles out of more than 11 gallons of gas.

I think it's time for a new strategy. I've been trying to stretch out the time between fill ups as much as possible. In this case I think it's been nearly two weeks since the last time I put gas in the car. I'd have to double-check my receipts, but in that time I think the price of gas has gone up 15-20 cents. So maybe going so long between fill ups isn't the best thing to do. I'm probably better off topping the tank off every few days, or at least once a week.

Has anyone else experimented with this? I'm always looking for ways to get the most bang for my buck when it comes to gas (except for when it comes to the lawnmower -- Kris wants to abandon our gas-powered mower for a push one, but I'm not wild about that).

In related news, we walked to church Sunday morning. This was part of a promoted "Walk, Bike or Carpool to Chuch Day" event. It's about 1.5 miles round trip for us. The weather was nice and no one seemed to mind the hike too much. I think we'll do this more often.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Back to the drawing board?

I'm starting to think it's time for an overhaul of the blog. I've been living with this layout and while now and I'm starting to get bored with it.

I think I'll keep the picture of me, since I like it and I've received many positive comments on it. However, everything else is fair game.

Any suggestions?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

From the Free Stuff files...

Don't forget to get your free iced coffee today at Dunkin' Donuts.

Stop by any Dunkin' Donuts today until 10 p.m. and get a free 16 oz. cup of Joe Cool.

You can also choose from one of our 9 flavors (French Vanilla, Toasted Almond, Raspberry, Hazelnut, Coconut, Chocolate, Cinnamon, Caramel, and Blueberry) or create your own flavor by combining 2-3 flavors.

This makes up for me forgetting to get my free Starbucks coffee yesterday.

Raiders of the Lost Cereal

Kris and the kids went grocery shopping yesterday. When I got home from work the boys were very excited to tell me about the cereal they picked out -- since it had Indiana Jones on the box (or "Indian Jones" as Thomas often calls him)!

Thomas even said I could keep the toy inside all for myself.

Unfortunately, there is no toy inside. You need four proofs of purchase to send away for the "Indiana Jones search light." Oh well. It's the thought that counts!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

It's Still Rock and Roll to Me

We headed over to Proctor's Theatre with the Brownells last night to see "Movin' Out."

The show was fantastic. It's essentially a "rock ballet" set to the music of Billy Joel. They quite cleverly tied together about two dozen Billy Joel songs to illustrate the story of a group of friends experiencing love, war, death and redemption during the turbulent 1960s and on into later years.

The dancing was amazing. There was little to no dialogue in the show. The story is entirely conveyed through the movement of the dancers and the lyrics of the songs.

Speaking of the lyrics…I've always been a big Billy Joel fan, but I admit it's been a while since I sat down and really listened to his music (it's been about 15 years since his last pop album was released). The show really helped remind me why I liked him so much back in the day and what an incredible songwriter he is.

You name the classic Billy Joel song and it's in there. With the exception of "Allentown" and (believe it or not) "Piano Man," most everything else is included - every hit from "Captain Jack" to "River of Dreams."

One of my favorite songs of his has always been "Goodnight Saigon," and the rendition of it here does not disappoint. It's haunting and almost moved me to tears.

Although most of the show is pretty dark, there is fun to be had with some of the more upbeat numbers like "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" and "Uptown Girl."

The show is actually heavy on Billy's better older stuff and doesn't have quite as much from his later albums. But that's ok. If you're a Billy Joel fan you should get yourself to Proctor's before the show closes on Sunday. You won't regret it.

Wake up call

It's May 14 and the Tampa Bay Rays are in first place in the AL East.

In related news, Hell froze over today...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Life with Beaver

I watched an episode of "Leave It to Beaver" during my lunch break today. I still love that show! There's a simplicity to it that just can't be beat by most of today's so-called family programs (I just went back and re-read that sentence -- man, I sound old!).

In this particular episode, Beaver's friend Richard heads to the Laundromat with a sack full of his family's dirty clothes and Beaver in tow. Along the way Richard realizes he's lost the money his mom gave him (three whole dollars). He fears what will happen when he returns home with the clothes still dirty and no money ("Dad's in a hitting mood today." Cue the laugh-track). So Richard convinces Beaver to let him use the Cleaver family's washing machine.

If you've ever watched a TV sitcom, you can imagine what happened next. The boys use far too much soap (not to mention starch) and wind up filling the kitchen with suds.

Wally and Eddie Haskel help the younger boys clean up the mess (Eddie protested, but he owed Wally a favor) and Wally even loans Richard $3 out of his own pocket to go to the Laundromat and get the clothes cleaned properly.

When Ward and June get home they're dumbfounded at how clean the kitchen looks. They have a hard time believing the boys' story that they decided to clean it all on their own out of the goodness of their hearts. Eventually the parents figure out what happened, but decide to keep it to themselves since the boys did such a good job of solving their own problem.

You've got to love the Cleavers - the ideal TV family of a bygone era. Beaver and Wally are always worried their antics will result in their parents yelling at them or worse. However, I can't recall a single episode where Ward or June ever raised their voices. That's no small feat!

I used to watch "Leave It to Beaver" with Nolan when he was really small. The show came up in conversation the other day while I was waiting with Nolan for his bus and he didn't remember watching it. I'd love to introduce the show to the boys again. Imagine how great life would be if we all acted a little more like the Cleavers.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Ebert, Roeper & Nolan

Nolan thought "Speed Racer" was the best movie EVER! As promised, here's his brief review...

Start your engines

I'm jealous of Nolan because he's going to get to see "Speed Racer" today. He's going after school with some of his friends.

In the meantime, I'll just have to settle for the first seven minutes, which are now available online...

If this is any indication, he is going to love this movie! I'll see if I can get him to provide a review later tonight.

As for me, I shouldn't feel too bad. Sitting on my desk in front of me right now are two passes to an early screening of "Indiana Jones" on May 19!

UPDATE: I had hoped I could show the kids some of the original "Speed Racer" cartoons, but they're not on TV anymore. But there's good news! Who needs TV? "Speed Racer" is now available on Hulu.

Going, going, gone!

It's official. I hate driving my car. Every time my foot touches the accelerator I feel like I'm flushing money away!