It was 44 years ago today

rooftopJanuary 30, 2012 – Today marks the anniversary of an important event in Beatles’ history.

On January 30, 1969, the Beatles held their last official performance on the rooftop of Apple Records in London until the concert was interrupted and brought to a halt by the police. Later, this concert became known as their fourth film, “Let it Be”.

According to George Harrison, “We went on the roof in order to resolve the live concert idea, because it was much simpler than going anywhere else; also nobody had ever done that, so it would be interesting to see what happened when we started playing up there. It was a nice little social study.”

Before the police raided the studios and rooftop, the Fab Four (with Billy Preston on organ) performed for 42 minutes, laying down tracks for “Get Back”, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, “Don’t Let Me Down”, “I’ve Got a Feeling”, “Dig a Pony”, along with a few other obscure songs not written by the Beatles. Can you image what it would have been like to catch a free concert while you’re walking down the street?

One of the engineers who helped record the event reported that “there were people hanging off balconies and out of every office window all around. The police were knocking on the door – George Martin went white! We really wanted to stop the traffic, we wanted to blast out the entire West End.”

They did just that; it’s a shame the police couldn’t just Let it Be.

Here’s a look at the boys singing “Get Back”.

Movie review: Skyfall

skyfallJanuary 28, 2013 –The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th anniversary on film.

Perhaps that’s why the powers that be chose “Skyfall” to imply that James is getting a bit long in the tooth and may be ready for retirement. It is subtly mentioned several times in the film, so much so that it made me wonder if James received the obligatory AARP information in the mail, or at least the British equivalent of it.

“Skyfall’s” premise is a little different than other Bond films I’m familiar with. Bond’s latest assignment doesn’t go as planned, agents around the world are exposed, the British agency MI6 is attacked, and their fearless leader M is forced to relocate the agency to a secret underground location. All of this leads the audience to believe that the super hero may be human after all.

Daniel Craig’s Bond is charming as ever under the direction of Sam Mendes, and he manages to do what Bond does so well in the end, even though he’s been shot, is presumed dead, is not nearly as young as he used to be, and is maybe not quite as infallible as originally thought. An aging Bond with some mistakes under belt still provides a thrill a minute, whether it’s with his trademark fighting off three or four bad guys by himself, or jumping on the bottom of an elevator and riding it up 50 floors while hanging on with a bum shoulder.

Aging a little also hasn’t affected his playboy image. He flirts with Miss Moneypenny, hops into the shower with a mysterious woman he’d met only an hour before, and is nursed back to health by a beautiful Turkish woman. In the end Bond also gets the bad guy, and in “Skyfall” he is played by the deliciously evil Javier Bardem.

Add the finely tuned acting skills of Dame Judy Dench, Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney, and this version of Bond equals compelling stuff. Plus, the end leaves you believing that this gang, in one form or another will be back for another round.

Many critics claim “Skyfall” is the best Bond movie ever. The plethora of positive reviews and over $1 billion-plus gross earned from movie goers is solid proof that perhaps this is true. The early buzz was that this may be the Bond nominated for Best Picture; that did not come to fruition, but the film did nab five Oscars for the more obscure categories, including Best Song, which Adele will perform at the ceremony on February 24.

That said, the film wasn’t perfect. There were elements that reminded me of “Home Alone” meets “Wuthering Heights”, especially at the end when they booby-trapped Bond’s childhood home on the Scottish Moors, aptly named Skyfall. That said, it was still a thrill ride, and made me realize that there is no one on earth I’d rather have protect me or rescue me from evil than the steady 007.

I’m hardly a James Bond aficionado, and have seen only a handful of movies in my life (mostly starring Roger Moore), but I thoroughly enjoyed Daniel Craig’s portrayal of the suave spy making me believe It definitely won’t be my last. “Casino Royale”, anyone?

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Rating: 4

Rating System:
5. Great Movie, see it now
4. Good movie and worth the price of admission
3. It’s OK, but I’d wait for the DVD
2. Proceed with caution
1. Don’t bother

On a side note, I realize this movie has been out for several months, but I just got the chance to see it over the weekend. Better late than never, right?

Celebrating Charlie and “A Quarter Named Joe”

imagesCAC5VAQYJanuary 25, 2013 – Today is my son’s 29th birthday. It all seems surreal to me because that moment on January 25, 1984, at 4:07 p.m. to be exact, seems like yesterday.

When I thought about how I could should share that moment on this blog, several things sprung to mind, but only one was printable. So, here is a story he wrote in January 1993, which is celebrating a birthday, too – its 20th.

A Quarter Named Joe
Once upon a time there was a quarter named Joe. Joe was a very smart quarter. Joe was found on the streets of New York. The boy who found Joe spent it on a candy bar. Joe was happy he helped the boy find something to eat.

The next thing you know, Joe was in California. Another boy was walking along and he saw something shiny. The boy picked up Joe and put him into an arcade machine. Joe was helping the boy battle monsters and vampires. When the manager dude opened the machine, Joe fell onto the ground and rolled into a corner. Joe was happy he helped the boy battle the monsters and vampires.

Then, Joe found himself in Florida and another boy picked him up. Since he was lost, he put Joe into the pay phone and called his dad. Joe fell into the slot, but the line was busy, so he dropped back out. The boy put Joe in his pocket and he sat down for a few minutes. The boy put Joe back into the slot and dialed the number again. This time the phone rang. The boy gave his dad directions to pick him up. Joe was happy he could help the boy find his father.

The End

About the Author: Charlie Conroy was 9 years old when he wrote this heart-felt story about Joe, the helpful quarter. Sadly, Conroy gave up the pen for a career in computer science, but there’s always hope that one day he’ll write again. 

Happy birthday, Charlie!

Highway Adultery

images (1)January 23, 2013 – While driving home from work last week, I stumbled upon a billboard advertisement that promoted something I’d never seen promoted before.

“Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery”, it brazenly read.

The sign was right next to the billboard that shared the message, “Monogamous billboard seeks long-term relationship with an advertiser for daily drives”. Wouldn’t it have been ironic if the “commit adultery people” purchased that monogamous space?

The billboard advertised for a company who claims to be the “world’s leading married dating service for discrete encounters”, and a little Internet research shows they are not the only company handling these types of requests.

I strive to be open-minded, but this is a bit much, isn’t it? Sure, the United States is a free country, and adultery isn’t against the law, but what about the moral implications? This is a business that pats you on the back if you break your marriage vow to forsake all others and never look back. Being a card-carrying member of the club also implies that you’re proud of your association and your actions. Come on! Those who commit adultery are at least supposed to feel guilty about it.

The success of this business (and I’m only assuming success since billboard advertising is not cheap) means people are paying for this service when they can just walk in to any bar or club and do the same for free. That sort of makes this prostitution disguised as a dating service.

I’m looking for a silver lining here, and all I come up with is that jobs are hard to come by these days, so at the very least these businesses have put people to work. But what could you possibly say if someone asked what you do for a living? Oh, I hook up married people up who want a little extra on the side? So, yes I’m a pimp.

Please tell me this isn’t an example of capitalism at its finest, or simply capturing an untapped market. If it is, are the other nine commandments next?

Then tell me there is a saving grace ahead. I really need to hear that now.

My dad takes his picture every time he opens his cell phone

the cloudJanuary 21, 2013 – Keeping up with new technology is not always easy, especially when you’re over a certain age.

My parents, for example, have been carrying a cell phone for a few years now thanks to my sister and her husband buying them one for Christmas. It was difficult for them at first, but they have pretty much gotten used to using it, except for one minor thing. As the title clearly states, my father takes photos of himself whenever he uses it. It’s an old-fashioned flip phone with the buttons on the side, so I can see how he would do that with his less than graceful fingers. Still, I have to give him credit for trying.

There was a similar situation several years back, when they bought their first answering machine. I called their house one day and their recording popped on after a few rings. I heard my mother’s voice saying, “Dave, the red light is blinking. What does that mean?” Well, Mom, it means you’re recording. After a few chuckles, they recorded a more appropriate message, but I think they should have kept the original one.

Now it’s time to pick on me. If you read this blog regularly, you may be aware that I had some computer problems recently. Sadly, my beloved iMac died. The repair shop told me it was the hard drive, and when I asked if anything could be saved because I didn’t have everything backed up, they explained that it was a good possibility. The problem was it would be costly – even more so than a the price of a new iMac. They explained that they have to send it out to experts who work in a lab with special equipment and space suits and their services were quite expensive. Sure, they were toying with me about the space suits, but I got the gist of what they were trying to tell me. It simply wasn’t worth spending a bundle to save the small amount of files.

So, I told my son about our conversation; he’s a software engineer who is constantly telling me that just because he knows how to program, it doesn’t mean he’s a wiz with hardware, but I never listen and question him on anything and everything computer related. He told me he’d take a look at it but he couldn’t make any promises. Still, he thought the Mac guys’ information was wrong and that he could save my files. He also asked why I didn’t have my files in the cloud. With the innocence of giggling child picking daisies, I asked him what the cloud was. How surprised I was to learn that we didn’t have to clog our computers with all of our files anymore, or put them on an external hard drive. (Yes, I still use one of those but apparently not as often as I should). Funny, we use the cloud concept at work, but we call it the S drive.

So, I’m ready for my first trip to the cloud (although some people who know me well might say I visit often). I suppose if my father can learn to use a cell phone and my mother can record a proper message on an answering machine, I can learn to use the cloud.

I pick up my new iMac next week.

A rose is a rose is a rose

whats-in-a-namewsJanuary 18, 2013 – The wait is finally over.

Parenting.com just released the most searched for baby names in 2012, and that list gives us a good indication of what trends will be popular this year.

Those trends may surprise you. It looks like old is new again, with grandmother and grandfather names back in fashion, which is a little odd, but a refreshing change from the celebrities who name their children after random words such as Story, Apple, Audio and Pilot.

Top 10 searched baby girl names
Isabella
Millie
Sookie
Ann
Ella
Betty
Emma
Eithne
Charlotte

I’m surprised to see Millie, Ann (not used as a middle name) and Betty on this list, but it does show the grandmotherly trend is back. Just as long as other grandmother classics, like Ethel and Madge stay off the list, I think we’ll be ok. Not that there’s anything wrong with those names if you’re of a certain age; it’s just difficult to think of a baby as an Ethel.

Top 10 searched baby boy names
Jacob
Max
Liam
Ted
Mo
Aiden
Andy
Bertie
Ned
Gus

Still, it’s the boy’s names that surprise me more. With names like Mo, Bertie, Ned and Gus, I feel like I’m watching an old movie. Mo? Really? It may be the perfect name for the guy who fixes your washing machine, but not for your baby boy.

10 remarkable murals in Philadelphia

brushJanuary 16, 2013 – Philadelphia is well-known for its historic past, and the place where our American democracy began. It’s also home to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the country’s largest art museums dating back to 1876, which houses some of the world’s renowned art collections.

While it may be a wonderful place to browse through on any given day, there are plenty of other places around the city to see terrific works of art. Philadelphia has over 3,000 outdoor murals, more than any other city in the world. Most are commissioned through the city’s Mural Arts Program, which began in 1984 as an effort to address the city’s graffiti problem. Here are ten remarkable murals to look for in Philadelphia:

dream garden

10. The Dream Garden – The lobby of the Curtis Building where I work has an incredible 15 by 50 foot glass mosaic mural executed by Tiffany Studios back in 1916. It is not a mural completed under the Mural Arts Program, but deserves recognition just the same. The piece contains 100,000 pieces of hand-fired glass in 260 colors. It’s viewed immediately upon walking in the 6th Street entrance of the building.

holding quilt

9. Holding Grandmother’s Quilt – A mural in the Mantua section of Philadelphia, at 39th and Aspen Streets, features one of Mantua’s own residents creating a richly woven quilt. The mural is so popular in the area, local residents have planted a garden in front to draw extra attention to it.

tuskegee

8. The Tuskegee Airmen – Mural Arts students painted this wonderful mural to commemorate the Philadelphia Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American troops to fight in World War II. It’s located near Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania at 39th and Chestnut Streets.

heart of balt

7. The Heart of Baltimore Avenue – A mural that perfectly captures the diversity of West Philadelphia is what artist David Guinn calls this interesting piece of art. He also refers to it as his “epic poem”. The mural  features a voice component that is available on low-frequency radio, and it sits at 4716 Baltimore Avenue.

mask

6. Behind the Mask – Located at 51st and Master Streets in West Philadelphia, Behind the Mask was primarily a project of healing, and a two-year initiative to help the community in the wake of rising crime and violence in the area. It’s one of the more colorful and interesting murals in the area.

walls of intent

5. Walls of Intent, Walls of Pride – The intent of this mural, filled with positive words in a few languages, and situated at 2nd and Thompson Streets in North Philadelphia, was to engage troubled youth and expand their sense of identity.

mapping

4. Mapping Courage – 6th and South Streets is home to this interesting mural honoring Harvard graduate W.E.B. Du Bois. He is famous for surveying and writing about the 7th Ward in Philadelphia, a predominantly African-American Community.

bridging gap

3. Bridging the Gap – This mural, located at 5741 in the heart of West Philadelphia, was inspired by the West African immigrants who migrated to the area.

phillies

2. Philadelphia Phillies Mural – The home of this new mural will be 24th & Walnut Streets, and it’s scheduled to be unveiled on May 1, 2013. The mural highlights the passion of Phillies fans and how they have faithfully supported their team for the last 128 years. I can’t wait to see it in person!

love letters

1. Love Letters – Mural Arts Program artist Stephen Powers created this wonderful series of murals with love letter messages. The rooftop murals are best viewed while riding the Market/Frankfort El from 48th Street to 43rd Street. Some of the messages include “I’m here for you like air”, “Forever begins when you say yes” and “I will wait 4800 years if I have to”.

Movie review: Zero Dark Thirty

zero-dark-thirty1January 13, 2013 – Many moons ago, a good friend talked me into seeing a movie, which she had seen before and said it was one of the best movies she ever saw. That movie was “The Deer Hunter”. The Vietnam torture scenes were so graphic and upsetting; it affected me for a long time and made me question why my friend categorized it as the best movie ever. Wouldn’t you save that honor for something that left you with a positive feeling?

I had the same feeling over the weekend when I saw “Zero Dark Thirty”, a military term for 30 minutes after midnight, when the Bid Laden raid happened in Pakistan. Aside from the obvious subject matter, ridding the World of America’s most well-known fugitive, I’m not sure why this is on anyone’s list of the best movie of the year.

The graphic violence of the torture scenes in this movie, and the humiliation the Al Qaeda prisoners endured while under CIA watch was so difficult to take in, Kathryn Bigelow, the film’s director, almost achieved the unthinkable. She made me feel sorry for them. Sure, they are terrorists and they hate Americans, but they are human beings. I don’t mean to debate whether this is right or wrong – we all have our opinions about that – but it takes a certain kind of human being to be able to inflict pain like that. I hope I ever have to deal with the CIA.

Still, I’m not sure what the fuss is all about. The movie was certainly well-acted, but nothing out of the ordinary or better than any other well-acted movie. Jessica Chastain is capable enough, and since this is her second Oscar nomination in a row, she’s obviously a talented actress with a stunning career ahead. However, if she wins the Academy Award for best actress, when there are many comparable or even slightly better performances this year, I’ll believe it will be a case Tom Hanks/Philadelphia syndrome, when he won best actor for the attorney suffering from aids simply because of the subject matter. Hanks was against some pretty heavy hitters like Daniel Day-Lewis, “In the Name of the Father” and Liam Neeson in “Schindler’s List”, which won best picture and best director that year.

Like Chastain, the rest of this large cast is very good too, but it is she who is receiving most of the buzz. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I believe the Academy got it right with not nominating Bigelow for best director. It’s not that she did a poor job, it was just nothing out of the ordinary compared to the many movies released last year.

We all know the story of the raid, which is played out in the last 30 minutes of the movie. I’ll admit those last minutes were riveting, but it is the movie as a whole that I considered for this review. I am impressed by those Navy Seals who completed this raid and Bigelow does a fine job showing this on film. If there was an award for the best directed ending, I’d nominate her without a second thought.

It was the events leading up to the raid, those we may not be that familiar with, which dragged on through the first hundred or so minutes that I found horrifying and simply not good enough for Hollywood’s top prize. Sure, there are many movie fans that enjoy action scenes in war movies and the strategy behind them. I’m just not one of them, so perhaps my opinion isn’t completely fair. I’m simply a fan who was lured to the theater by the chatter and publicity this movie generated. I can’t say I’m disappointed, but I wasn’t blown away either, except by the last 30 minutes.

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Rating: 3

Rating System:
5. Great Movie, see it now
4. Good movie and worth the price of admission
3. It’s OK, but I’d wait for the DVD
2. Proceed with caution
1. Don’t bother

10 of the best movie soundtracks

images (1)January 11, 2013 – In the philosophical words of Forest Gump, music and movies go together “like peas and carrots”.

The proper soundtrack is the greatest enhancement to any movie or scene. Can you imagine John Cusack holding up the big boom box in “Say Anything” without Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” playing? Silence or just random music  would not have had the same impact; the perfect song made that scene better, and had the audience feeling like they were a part of the drama unfolding.

Here are ten of the best movie soundtracks (compilation soundtracks rather than original scores) that have added emotion, suspense, drama or even comic relief to stories we love:

10. Garden State – Zach Braff’s selections for his movie “Garden State” earned him a Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack for a Motion Picture. Braff said that he “made a mix CD with all of the music that I felt was scoring my life at the time I was writing the screenplay.” He chose well, combining an interesting mix of Indy and mainstream songs from the likes of Coldplay, The Shins, Nick Drake and Simon and Garfunkel.

9. The Sound of Music – I’ll never grow tired of this movie or the music and lyrics, written by Rodgers and Hammerstein. With the exception of “Climb Every Mountain”, a song that just rubs me the wrong way, every selection is a classic. I always tear up a little when I hear Christopher Plummer’s character (I think his singing voice was dubbed in the movie) sing “Edelweiss”.

8. Muriel’s Wedding – A naïve and insecure girl from Porpoise Spit, Australia won the hearts of moving goers around the world back in 1995, and her love for Abba only enhanced her heart-warming and sad, but often funny story. It’s true, some of the music was cheesy, but there was humor and purpose behind it. You couldn’t help but laugh when Muriel finally made it to her wedding. The looks on the faces of those in the church and on Muriel as she marched happily down the aisle to Abba’s “I do, I do, I do” were priceless. And everyone likes a little Abba now and then.

7. Oh Brother Where Art Thou – The Coen Brothers classic retelling of Homer’s “Odyssey”, focusing on three escaped prisoners had interesting songs selections for sure. The film was set in depression era Mississippi, so the soundtrack uses bluegrass, country, gospel, blues, and folk music appropriate to the time period. I found myself singing “A Man of Constant Sorrow” for a long time.

6. Saturday Night Fever – Even if you’re not a disco fan, it’s hard to argue that this ultimate late 70s album didn’t have an impact. “Saturday Night Fever” may have even given the genre credibility. In the United States alone, the album was certified 15x Platinum for shipments of over 15 million copies.

5. The Graduate – Mike Nichols’ use of old and new Simon & Garfunkel songs was the perfect addition to his wonderful movie about an older woman seducing a younger college graduate from 1967. ”The Sound of Silence” fit perfectly as Benjamin rides a moving walkway pondering his future, and ”Scarborough Fair” added a heart-tugging sadness as his dreams crumble. And, of course, the infamous “Mrs. Robinson”, which is played throughout the film, is a great addition and adds a little spice.

4. A Hard Day’s Night – By 1964, the Beatles were the most popular band on the airwaves, and a huge success with the younger crowd, so it was natural that they’d segued into movies. Their first film, “A Hard Day’s Night” was a hilarious look at a day in the life of the Fab Four complete with the hysteria of their appearances on television shows, such as ”Ed Sullivan”. The other Beatles’ soundtracks from “Help”, “Yellow Submarine”, “Magical Mystery Tour” and “Let it Be” were just as good, but this was the first and should be celebrated.

3. The Wedding Singer – The soundtrack to the 1998 comedy starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore epitomized the 1980’s and was so popular, a volume 2 was released. If you own them, you have every song from the 1980’s that mattered. They’re filled with one hit wonders, and of course, Billy Idol.

2. When Harry Met Sally – The comedy that begged the question, can men and women be friends, produced one of the finest soundtracks ever. Harry Connick Jr. introduced classic tunes to new audiences with “It Had to be You” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” making the soundtrack timeless. Good listening for sure.

1. The Big Chill – When old college friends gather for a funeral of one of their own, there’s bound to be interesting stories to tell, a few tears and plenty of fireworks. There’s also an awesome soundtrack from the 1960’s and 70’s that tell their own story. This album features Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”, the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, and The Band’s “The Weight”, to name a few.

NOTE: It was difficult to narrow the selections to 10; therefore, special mention goes out to the soundtracks of “High Fidelity”, “Marry Poppins” and “Pulp Fiction” who missed only by a smidgen.