Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Time to get Al's Hidden Gems up on the blog, I think. Here's issue #18. If you want to subscribe, let me know.

AHG 18

Truth is, I was hoping I'd be writing this to you from sunny Florida.

Instead, I'm writing from frigid Toronto where, like Dorothy in Kansas, I eagerly go to sleep every night hoping for the colours to change from dingy grey to Technicolor. No luck so far.

Now, it's not as if I think Florida is anything like a reasonable sun destination. Rather, that's where Al must spend a certain portion of March every year because that baseball team "works out" (strenuously, I'm sure) in Dunedin. And, I like Dunedin. There's at least enough to do to fill a good hour there. But Air Canada wanted, like, a thousand dollars or eleventy million points to take me to Tampa Bay during March break and I have a rule that I don't spend cash money to go to Florida. Even in the tail end of Toronto's absolute worst winter ever.

Good thing. Al told me it was about 54 degrees F (12C) the first few days. That's still about 50 more degrees than we had here, but not nearly enough to be enticing.

So anyhow, I did what I usually do when Al's somewhere good and I'm not, namely, bought a side of beef, two cases of gin and sealed up the doors and windows. The only problem was: Who was going to get the movies?

You'll be happy to know, I came up with an ingenious solution. I sent the cat. Not the fat, stupid cat. Let's be reasonable. I sent Vinnie. The results, I have to say, were about the same as when Al goes to the store.

He got the Jane Austen Book Club, which (no surprise) was pretty bad - even to someone who studied all those books repeatedly in school. Next, he got that Darjeeling Limited film about a never-ending train ride in India. And I do mean it, the train ride seemed pretty well interminable. I've really never understood the appeal of that Wes Anderson fellow. Rushmore, okay. But the Royal Tenenbaums? Really? Or that Life Aquatic crap? And, turns out, he was the producer of the
Squid and the Whale. Call me old fashioned but I like my films to have a point.

Then Vinnie picked Bernard and Doris, which I really enjoyed but probably mostly because I'm sort of fascinated by Doris Duke.

Finally, he rented Two Days in Paris, which I actually have to recommend fairly highly. It's practically a hidden gem. Quirky little comedy about a rabbit's head, Jim Morrison's grave and a disintegrating relationship. Good stuff.

Then Al came home and took over the rentals again. I think he was really trying to prove something at first - you know, like, that he was better than the cat, after all. So he went way out on a limb.

First was Romance and Cigarettes - a musical with James Gandolfini and, wait for it... Steve Buscemi. I had to appreciate the fact that they didn't try to write songs to fit in with the plot and simply used existing songs to express the plot. That was kind of neat. The other good things, well, there were none. If I ever sit on a plane with John Turturro (director and writer) again, I'm going to have to have a chat with him about this effort.

Then Al rented The Draughtsman's Contract. Now, the thing is, I really do sort of like Peter Greenaway, but you gotta be in the right mood. And we just weren't.

Finally, Al stopped trying so hard. He got The Kite Runner, which was absolutely terrific but not exactly hidden. Plus, something really neat happened with that film - I realized how blind I really am.

See, one of the neat things about Al is that he'll rent anything. As I've mentioned before, he doesn't just look to the new releases. He'll get avant garde art house flicks, low budget films about New Jersey, gay coming-of-age films, documentaries about well, just about anything and EVEN films with subtitles. Which, my friend was really envious of, since her husband refused to read his entertainment. It's like that Slice poster says, "If I wanted to be Smarter, I'd Watch a Book."

Anyhow, over the last couple of years, I started to feel my enthusiasm for subtitled films wane. When he brought them home, I kind of shrugged them off and looked for the Steve Carell or Will Ferrell flicks at the bottom of the pile.

I wondered (in a Carrie Bradshaw voice): "Am I becoming really dumb? Like dumber than before?"

Evidence for this was mounting, too. We'd been watching more and more reality TV. When Al came back from Fla, he was brimming over with excitement about That's Amore, which is arguably the worst thing ever to hit the screen. And I watched at least a whole episode and wanted to watch a second one, even though I wasn't sure whether to be more offended as a woman or an Italian.

But then I really enjoyed The Kite Runner and, about 20 minutes in, I was right back to where I was a few years ago - not realizing I was reading at all - thanks to my new glasses. Turns out I wasn't getting dumber after all, just going blind. (Well, my IQ may well be dropping, too; I almost certainly lost ten points just watching That's Amore.)

Anyhow, then came the hidden gem. This one is courtesy of John and Mary, who had actually recommended it to us way back in the fall. It's called King of Kong and it's a terrific documentary about the competitive video gaming world.

It's full of scandal, controversy and questions of performance enhancing drugs, just like the real sports world. It was terrific.

Thanks guys for this month's hidden gem. Vinnie would never have found it on his own.

Al's corner

Okay, it's not so much the cat, okay? Vinnie can be trusted with certain things, although has never been great about counting his change. And backgammon! Well, because he's got the attention span of, maybe, one half peanut, he never wins more than one of five. I got to hand it to him for his film selection, though, and, remember, he's limited to the bottom two/three shelves.

No, my issue is with my sweetie's reference to "brimming over with excitement about That's Amore." This was in Florida. I'm pretty sure the remote was stuck on that channel. And I was only excited because Christine needed to know about the greatest collection of idiots ever assembled. I mean, the most memorable line was, "C'mon girls, I'm-a really hungry! Getta all of da meata-balls inna your mout!'' When
Vinnie heard that, he had to go stare at a dust-bunny for 15 minutes.