Friday, October 24, 2014

Fury (2014) – Movie Review

I did something I hadn’t done in years:  see a movie while traveling on business.  Fury, the Brad Pitt film about an American Sherman tank crew in WWII, fit the notion perfectly – a violent war movie that my wife wolittle_green_army_menuldn’t be upset at missing.  As a bonus, the particular theater had reclining seats with footrests.  Nice.

At some point in my early years, I enjoyed playing with army soldiers which I’d set up all over the floor and nearby furniture, then topple pretending they were being shot by each other, toy airplanes or tanks. It must have been great fun, because I had a giant bin of soldiers and did this again and again.

downloadBut... the tanks were where the action was at.  Buying a bag of army men included a variety of artillery, and I had to make sure the bag had a tank in it.  I had a bunch.

Then along came comic books.  In addition to all the superhero comics was G.I. Combat.

This was a strange comic that featured the crew of a “haunted” tank, but central was Jeb, the commander, who had somewhat advantageous warnings from Jeb Stuart, the ghost of the Civil War general, about what was to come, as well as a tidy moralistic discussion at the end.  You never knew what kind of story might be next.











Some years later, Tom Clancy’s “Red Storm Rising” and Larry Bond’s “Red Phoenix” novels appear, with an updated view (at the time...) of tank sophistication.  Good reading.

In any case, tanks were cool.  And now there’s a movie about a tank in an age where special effects can handle the “like being there” surreal-ity.

Brad Pitts plays Don “Wardaddy” Collier, the commander.  He and his crew are veterans and fortunate and/or deserving survivors of many battles.  He’s a hardened, demanding soldier who is confident, pragmatic and desensitized to what war requires.  Then along comes Norman, and with a name like that, would you expect anything other than a squeaky clean and naive crew replacement? 

“Wait til you see what a man can do to another man.”

What follows is predictable, both in action sequences and in the plot line that almost avoids symbolism but can’t help itself... from the start.  Ultimately, Norman reminds Collier of the humanity he’s seemingly lost, and any half-witted literature major can make up what the ending means, and they would probably all be right.

“Ideals are peaceful.  History is violent.”

Some have hinted that this is the “best” WWII movie ever.  It’s not.  Or it’s the most graphic.  Perhaps.  Saving Private Ryan is a formidable foe in both regards.  But what is apparent is that without today’s tech wizardry, operating a tank and firing accurately in a crisis requires teamwork, bravery, luck, and a lot of fear.  Still, I’d rather be in one than outside of one.  And... as the opening script foreshadows, even better if it’s a German Tiger.


3 of 5 STARS

   (but I enjoyed it more)




Thursday, October 23, 2014

The War on Drugs – Live at The Tabernacle

Minutes after realizing that the Courtney Barnett concert left the evening unfulfilled, we hopped into a car and went to The Tabernacle, where The War on Drugs were playing.

Better lights.  Better sound.  Better band.  And a fuller dose of music.


Having left the Barnett show with half a set, we settled into this one about halfway in as well.  Not optimal, but not much different from wandering around a music festival with multiple stages.  

TWOD has a big band for a sound that doesn’t sound particularly busy.  Part of that might be the pedestrian but appropriate drums, or fairly simple chord changes from the keyboards.  But this relative sparsity allowed plenty of room to distinguish the fairly indulgent baritone sax soloing or supplementing the songs.


While otherwise the band was fairly static, lead vocalist and guitarist Adam Granduciel owned the stage.  The songs weren’t long or short, but allowed plenty of time for his guitar to wail.   Also, Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” was a great surprise in the encore offerings.


The venue seemed pretty close to full, and other than the buzzing of those attendees intent on talking rather than listening, most likely enjoyed a fairly rare appearance of a band likely to make it big.  Well, bigger, at least.   I only wish I had heard all of either TWOD or Barnett.  All of either would have been better than some of both, but it all worked out pretty well.

4 of 5 STARS




Arms Like Boulders
Comin’ Through
Under the Pressure
In Reverse
An Ocean in Between the Waves
Buenos Aires Beach
Red Eyes
Eyes to the Wind


Baby Missiles
Tangled Up in Blue
Lost in the Dream

Courtney Barnett – Live at The Loft

Courtney Barnett, headlining at The Loft, a very agreeable smallish venue in the Center Stage complex.  This relatively unknown Australian artist was announced to be playing locally, and those in the know quickly grabbed tickets.  She’s an indie rock rising star, based on the very strong 2014 release of “The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas.”  It’s good.  Tickets were cheap (<$20).

The party grew in size, and the evening grew to include dinner at Tap, a fine gastro-pub nearby.  That went well enough that we enjoyed the evening until 9:00 p.m., giving a solid hour to dispatch the opening act.  It was a bit of a walk, so we arrived a little alter than we intended...

...and she’s singing already!  Well, okay, then.


Two songs later, she’s saying how tired they are from the thousands of miles of air travel, and they have two songs left.


And two songs later... she’s done, after which the band quickly begins packing their gear, and Barnett (we’re not on a first name basis) refers us to “the sh*t” they have for sale in the wings.  Okay, she’s a good singer/songwriter, but she’s not necessarily that personable.


So, it’s 9:40ish, and the night is over.

Yay, concert night.  For what it’s worth, “Anonymous Club” sounded great.

Let’s review the billing:  “COURTNEY BARNETT w/ San Fernin w/ Mikhael Paskelev.  As would later be revealed, San Fernin actually played after Barnett, about which we were misled by one of the staffers that the two warm up groups had already played.   And, despite the deceptive announcement, they were co-headlining the tour.  Well, that word that Barnett said.  Could have at least played an encore.  So, she gets half as many stars as she probably would rate who heard, oh, all 8 or 9 songs she might have played.

2 of 5 STARS

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Heist Brewery, Charlotte, NC

I’ve enjoyed Charlotte’s breweries, and Heist was the final brewery (at this moment) in the NoDa area that I hadn’t visited.  To my knowledge, this is more aptly named a brewpub, in that they serve food and don’t sell their product elsewhere.  I think.


A number of people were enjoying the outdoor weather, but the indoors is downright inviting.  With a bar and tables spaced graciously, they offer a handful of their own beers and a full bar service.


I scanned their beer offerings and opted, as usual, for the hoppiest option, their Hitchhiker’s Guide, which was pretty tasty and compares favorably against most IPA’s I’ve had.



Their menu can be seen at their website, with a variety of tapas styled offerings (the online menu appears slightly out of date).  I opted for their burger offering which was even better than my high regard for the beer.  These were really awesome burgers, cooked to perfection, and for their small size, were surprisingly moist.  See?


Fortunately, I asked about side dishes, and the waitress offered something similar to a tater-tot, but so much better.  This wasn’t on the menu.

That left beer #2, which, despite the list above, I went out of the box and asked if they had anything remaining from their most recent Sunday “not so small batch.”  They did, and it was called “Holy Mole” – a porter brewed with Ancho chilies, habanero peppers and organic cocoa nibs.  


It reminded me of a lesson I learned at Holy City Brewing:  Avoid beer with hot spices.  It’s amazing how something I like so much in my food has no place in my drink.

Heist was a great place for dinner and beer, and I’ll return again.  It’s a nice combination of high quality food and beer.  My only complaint?  The Gamecocks picture in the kitchen.  I guess it inspires them to search for something greater.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Robert Plant – lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar

I have to give Robert Plant plenty of credit.  Never mind the Led Zeppelin stuff.  Early on, he found a groove of  synthesizer heavy albums with some great singles.  In the last decade, though, it seems he’s found a firmer sense of what he wants to accomplish, which has less to do with a specific listener expectation and more to do with whatever style interests him at the time.

So 2014 brings another release with another troupe of quality musicians, all of whom will likely be dispatched after the subsequent world tour.  And then he’ll be on to something else.

Plant has often searched for the stylistic atmosphere for his vocals, a sense of musical gravitas to elevate the words to a measure of grandeur, forcefulness, or an enveloping tonal quality.  And, neatly tied within, are his vocals, now weathered by time and more kindly defined as distinctive rather than worn.  And that’s fair, because, unlike McCartney, for example, he doesn’t pretend that he can do what he once could... or at a level worth recording, anyway.  What results is that power is reserved for dramatic effect, but intimacy carries the day.  The good news is that he’s writing again, this release including his first originals in 10 years.

Lullaby begins with “Little Maggie,” with West African instruments that set the tone for much of the album.  He’s well traveled, and his band boasts a worldly assortment of instruments.  The song serves more as an intro piece for setting the mood rather than something to be appreciated on its own.  The next three songs that follow continue in a vein of this atmosphere, enjoyable pieces of a whole.  “Embrace Another Fall” ventures into something more epic, and it’s graced with a female voice and a strong guitar line, but it falls short of a hoped-for “Kashmir” classic that has a hook that sticks to one’s memory.

“Turn it up” changes the direction to a bluesy rocker, and, despite some great accompaniment, fails as a stand-out due to it’s clunky refrain, which is a waste of a really fine lyric.  “A Stolen Kills” follows, which is a straightforward piano ballad with restrained but sterling accompaniment.  Intimate, I say again.

From the opening licks, “Somebody There” announces that there’s a tunefulness about it, and plant writes a pretty good “mature but still searching for love” song.   Maybe he’ll write a song about why he included the lyrics for only five of the 10 songs he penned as well.

“Poor Howard” is the type of shuffle song that Plant seems to really like... which is unfortunate.  It adds a rootsy aspect to the album, but it’s not a song that anyone would bother to play the entire disc again to hear.  That should be the goal of every song, shouldn’t it?

“House of Love” is a lyrical and musical success, part two of a song of the same title he recorded on Walking into Clarksdale.   Give Patti Griffin (his recent failed relationship) some credit for the inspiration, I guess.  “Up on the Hollow Hill” blends his roots with great percussion and a spacey feel, and serves as the album’s closer as “Arbaden” wastes digital space.

All in all, it’s an entertaining album, but shy of a single standout track light “Darkness, Darkness,” it’s yet another Robert Plant album to be enjoyed initially and revisited... eventually.  Quality, but not destined for quantity.

Recommended Songs: “Somebody There,” “House of Love,” “Embrace Another Fall”

4 of 5 STARS

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A TopGolf Outing

For quite a while, I’ve seen the tall poles with netting along GA 400.  This is easily recognized as protection against stray balls from a golf driving range.  Eventually I connected the dots between that and TopGolf, which has become a quickly expanding rage across the U.S.

I’ll start with the golf part.  It’s a three tiered facility with bays in which groups of up to 6 people can play.


It’s not a driving range, per se, and in the various game play categories, you’re not playing golf, either.  But you’re golfing.  Given that each ball has a clever chip  somewhere embedded that tags it’s ultimate stopping point with your scorecard, you might think that you would start off with a driver, go to an iron, pitch, or similar, to reconstruct normal golf play, even absent a putting option.  Instead, the inventors of this made a group game of aiming at various targets as some might when practicing.


There’s maybe 12 games available.  We played the basic game, which gives points corresponding to landing a ball within one of the “hole” areas you see above.  Each “hole” is segmented by netting very similar to a dart board, with increasing points based on how close you get to the center.  In this version of the game, you can aim for any of the holes that you choose.  In other games, you have to aim for specific ones.  Winners are determined by the points scored.

We arrived after work and were assigned a bay.  There’s an hourly rate which isn’t too bad if you’re splitting the cost.


After just beginning, we were relocated to another nearby lane to accommodate this guy:



That would be Freddie Freeman, first baseman for the Atlanta Braves, who played with a couple of friends.  No problem there – we got a free hour of extra play, and I don’t think anyone bothered him for autographs or idol worship. (He’s not John Smoltz with a club, yet...)

Overall, play was fun.  Suitable golf clubs are provided.  The farthest “hole” was about 175 yards, so if you want to crush a driver, you can hit the far net but won’t get any points for it.

For those that don’t play much, it’s not too hard.  You’ll hit some and miss some.  It would be even harder at other TopGolf facilities.  Due to the Georgia clay, they had to pave the course with asphalt then top it with sand before putting the fake grass down.  As a result, you get big bounces and a lot of roll.  In addition, the sides are banked, so if you hit the right distance, it’s possible the ball will still roll into one of the holes.  As an observation, anyone who is terrible at golf, or never played, shouldn’t be intimated by going there.  There were ample bad shots being hit everywhere.

The venue is also built for entertainment.  Wait staff will come to your bay and bring beers and food, and, well, the beer selection is good and prices are reasonable.  But the food... We had a nachos appetizer which turned out to be 8 or so flat nachos, with cheese and peppers on them with guacamole and sour cream to the side.  We expected a messy basket of goodness for the $8 price, and opted to eat elsewhere after we were done.


The lower level has pool tables and event space, and I saw at least once conference room either for employee training or to make business expenses more legitimate.  *cough cough*


My only gripes were a full parking lot which necessitated valet use, the food cost/portion, and the electronic game tracker that wouldn’t automatically advance from golfer to golfer, like a bowling scoring system would.  As a result, we periodically hit balls that were tagged to the wrong person.

Also of note, they’ll eventually get sued for someone being struck by a golf club for failure to provide conspicuous warnings to stay behind the red line when someone is hitting... kind of like “No Diving” at the lip of a pool. 

It was a fun time and I’d return for a group outing.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Challenge Nation: Atlanta 2014

The annual scavenger hunt returned to Atlanta, as did we, for our 3rd year.  For those uninitiated, this involved receiving 12 clues, of which each team has to complete 11.  A few teams are serious about this, competing for a trip to Vegas and nominal cash places.  You’d identify them by people wearing race bibs who are running.  I didn’t see anyone run, just a lot of people enjoying the day, regardless of how long it takes.

And so it was that our intrepid Clemson crew began the hunt.  Hints are abbreviated somewhat.

1)  This building isn’t given this name because it’s filled with dry cleaners, instead it’s due to its triangular shape.  Atlanta’s version predates the more famous one in NYC that shares the same name by five years.  Your first mission isn’t to find the building itself but instead the huge wooden A-T-L jungle gym across the street. Take a team photo while spelling out the letters with your arms.  And upload your photo to any social media site with hashtag #ATLChallenge and take a screenshot.

No sweat.


2) Locate a friendly stranger who hails from a state that stars with the letter N, C, O, or P.  Have them prove it by taking the picture with their drivers license and act out a movie either set or filmed in their state.

This wasn’t hard at all, especially if you hear another team fish for the right candidate.  So, we posed with bows and arrows (Hunger Games) with some visitors from North Carolina who probably think Atlantans are very strange.   Regrettably, the person you show the photos to at the end of the race didn’t ask about our inspired performance...


3) This one is tricky on a Sunday with banks closed, so you have an “escape hatch” option: either acquire one of the rare banknotes that our third POTUS graces and take a photo of your team using it to buy something made in Georgia – or take a photo with the cornerstone of a building that’s more than 100 years old.

Nailed it... the Coke being bottled and HQ’d in Georgia.


4) This may be the toughest thing on the list – at least one bottle of Pepsi!  Take an ironic photo of your team drinking a Pepsi while hanging out with this bronze likeness of Dr. Pemberton.  No extra points for rubbing his beard, but we encourage it nevertheless.

The good Doctor’s bronze was located just outside The World of Coke museum.  And, we didn’t get any extra points.


5) This Georgia symbol includes the words “wisdom,” “justice” and “moderation.”  You’ll find the largest one in the state for you to pose on top of along Peachtree Street.  You can find it within a block of where the peach drops in 87 days!

Alright, a few things here.  The “Peachtree St.” is a joke in that there are many, many variants of the name.  Which is why the clue is unusually gracious in mentioning the Peach Drop, Atlanta’s embarrassing mimicry of the Big Apple’s New Year’s Eve iconic celebration.  But... there’s only a couple Peachtree St. options within the likely radius of this race.  And, lastly, it’s often easy to find solutions on major streets by the number of other participating teams standing on or around it.


6) Unscramble this anagram to find the name of a tiny park downtown that’s got an obelisk at its center (and kind of describes driving downtown): WORST PARKING PLAN.  It’s the site of the first public water source that made the founding of Atlanta possible.  You’ll know you’re in the right place if you find the Challenge staffer with tons of Americana props for your team’s most over the top USA! USA! USA! pose.

Well, Google didn’t help on the water source, and when  you’re walking around, unscrambling letters isn’t something we really wanted to take time out for, even noting that the Park part could likely be removed.  And, contrary to the previous clue’s observation, we didn’t see other teams congregating at this site.  Atlanta has “ambassadors” around that help guide people.  They didn’t know about an obelisk or the water source either.

After the race, we asked, and the answer was Walton Springs Park... the first clue in 3 years that we were unable to solve.  Dammit.  I gather by the photo included that driving around Atlanta is like going in circles.

7) You’ll need a little coordination and a quick courtship!  We want you to find any church downtown that’s currently active as a church then act out a wedding ceremony of two of your teammates!  But here’s the catch – you must include another Challenge team in your photo as your wedding party and/or officiant... And include at least one creative prop.

Answer, find a church on Google and another team standing around trying to figure out what to do next.  Wedding bells!  A lady is holding a folded something as a bouquet, and my hat becomes the Bible.


But wait, there’s more!  My friend Gregg gets as close as he ever will to being a groom.


8) Like the SAT, this one is a multiple choice.  Come back with a photo of any ONE of the following: a firefighter, a statue of liberty replica, a person on a Segway, a giant concrete squirrel, three live fish, or a person wearing a purple tie.  Give a big thumbs up!

We really, really wanted a concrete squirrel.  Alas.  But... Ray’s in the City became a likely dinner destination!


9) Is your team afraid of heights?  This Challenge seems simple, but can be tough depending on how you accomplish it... find a way to take a triumphant photo of your team elevated 200’ in the air.

The Omni hotel was very accommodating.


10) Today we’re going to revive the lost art of letter writing.  In short, buy a postcard and stamp, write a note on it about your favorite clue, pretend to mail it in an old style blue mailbox, then hand it in at the finish.

Great way to capture addresses of participants and feedback on the clues...


11) Locate the CNN “HMMWV” – then look around until you find the colorful sculpture of a character that appears in the show that was originally fully titled Adventure Time with Finn and Jake.   Convince two tourists to pose with you exactly like the sculpture.

CNN’s a popular place, and my hat didn’t quite work look as much of a horn as I had hoped.


12) Find a place that’s a home to a Pierre and 800,000 engraved bricks – and just for today, a bunch of four legged friends.  Your final mission is to find one of the bricks that has the first or last name of any Georgia Governor engraved on it, then take a photo with all of your team’s feet surrounding the brick.

A dog adoption was taking place in Centennial Park, and donor bricks from the 1996 Olympics are plentiful.  Google confirmed we had a governor with the first name of John.


Until (if) official results are posted, there were ~`132 teams, and we finished ~42nd, in about 1 hour and 50 minutes, which is what we did last year.  That said, we did everything in a single loop, without backtracking... and enjoyed a beautiful day while walking a race.