Monday, February 24, 2014

Spotlight: Harold Ramis (1944-2014)

Chicago Tribune:
Harold Ramis was one of Hollywood’s most successful comedy filmmakers when he moved his family from Los Angeles back to the Chicago area in 1996. His career was still thriving, with "Groundhog Day" acquiring almost instant classic status upon its 1993 release and 1984's "Ghostbusters" ranking among the highest-grossing comedies of all time, but the writer-director wanted to return to the city where he’d launched his career as a Second City performer.

"There's a pride in what I do that other people share because I'm local, which in L.A. is meaningless; no one's local," Ramis said upon the launch of the first movie he directed after his move, the 1999 mobster-in-therapy comedy "Analyze This," another hit. "It's a good thing. I feel like I represent the city in a certain way."

Ramis, a longtime North Shore resident, was surrounded by family when he died at 12:53 a.m. from complications of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare disease that involves swelling of the blood vessels, his wife Erica Mann Ramis said. He was 69.

Ramis got his start in Chicago, where he made his first step into comedy at the famous Second City comedy troupe. He was a performer and head writer for the legendary "SCTV" sketch comedy show in the 1970s. Later, Ramis’ writing contributions to the comedy world include several staples: "National Lampoon's Animal House" (which upon its 1978 release catapulted the film career of John Belushi, with whom Ramis acted at Second City), "Stripes" (1981) and "Ghostbusters" (in which Ramis also co-starred) plus such directing efforts as "Caddyshack" (1980), "National Lampoon's Vacation" (1983), "Groundhog Day" and "Analyze This."

Recently, Ramis appeared in the Judd Apatow comedy Knocked Up as Ben’s dad, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and has directed episodes of NBC’s "The Office."

Ramis' comedies were often wild, silly and tilting toward anarchy, but they also were cerebral and iconoclastic, with the filmmaker heeding the Second City edict to work at the top of one's intelligence. This combination of smart and gut-bustingly funny led a generation of comedic actors and filmmakers — including Judd Apatow ("The 40 Year Old Virgin," "Knocked Up," Jay Roach ("Meet the Parents," the "Austin Powers" movies), Peter Farrelly ("There's Something About Mary," "Dumb and Dumber"), Jake Kasdan ("Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," "Orange County," both of which featured Ramis in small roles) and Adam Sandler (who starred in his own wacky golf comedy, "Happy Gilmore") — to cite him as a key inspiration.

The son of Ruth and Nathan Ramis, who owned Ace Food & Liquor Mart on the West Side before moving the store and family to Rogers Park, Ramis graduated from Senn High School and Washington University in St. Louis. For his first professional writing gig, he contributed freelance arts stories to the Chicago Daily News in the mid-1960s. He also wrote and edited Playboy magazine’s “Party Jokes” before and during his Second City days.

When, after some time off, he returned to Second City in 1972 to act alongside a relative newcomer in the cast, Ramis said he came to a major realization.

“The moment I knew I wouldn't be any huge comedy star was when I got on stage with John Belushi for the first time," he said in a 1999 Tribune interview. "When I saw how far he was willing to go to get a laugh or to make a point on stage, the language he would use, how physical he was, throwing himself literally off the stage, taking big falls, strangling other actors, I thought: I'm never going to be this big. How could I ever get enough attention on a stage with guys like this?

"I stopped being the zany. I let John be the zany. I learned that my thing was lobbing in great lines here and there, which would score big and keep me there on the stage."

Ramis followed Belushi from Second City to New York City to work with him plus fellow Second City cast member Murray (who would collaborate with Ramis on six movies) on "The National Lampoon Radio Hour." Those three plus Gilda Radner also performed in a National Lampoon stage show produced by Ivan Reitman, who went on to produce "National Lampoon's Animal House" and to direct such Ramis scripts as "Meatballs," "Stripes," "Ghostbusters" and "Ghostbusters II" (1989).

After the collapse of his first marriage and the flop of his 1986 comedy “Club Paradise” (with greedy developers as the institutional villain), the Jewish-raised Ramis immersed himself in Zen Buddhism.

"It's my shield and my armor in the work I do," he said. "It's to keep a cheerful, Zen-like detachment from everything."

”Harold Ramis and I together did the National Lampoon Show off Broadway, 'Meatballs', 'Stripes', 'Caddyshack', 'Ghostbusters' and 'Groundhog Day'," longtime collaborator Bill Murray told Time. "He earned his keep on this planet. God bless him.”

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sochi Olympics Recap!

USA Today:
It didn’t look good for the United States. No medals in individual figure skating for the first time since 1936. No medals in speedskating for the first time since 1984. The four most identifiable Winter Olympians — Shaun White, Bode Miller, Lindsey Vonn, Shani Davis — won a total of one bronze medal. (In Vonn’s defense, she wasn’t competing in Sochi due to injury.)

The women’s hockey team blew a late 2-0 lead in the gold-medal game and the men’s team was outscored 6-0 in the medal rounds.

Still, it wasn’t all bad. American athletes won 28 medals, good for second on the overall medal count. (That was nine fewer medals than the U.S. won in Vancouver, however.) Team USA’s 12 bronze medals were the most for any nation. It’s the third time in the past four Winter Olympics the Americans have won that tally.

Scoring a 93.50 on his first run, Sage Kotsenburg earned the first gold medal of the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the first-ever gold medal awarded in the new snowboarding slopestyle discipline. Kotsenburg had never attempted the backside 1620 with a Japan grab before his run - not even in practice - but decided to try it after talking to his coach and his brother.

American snowboarder Jamie Anderson won gold in women's snowboard slopestyle a day after Sage Kotsenburg did the same for the men. The South Lake Tahoe, Calif. native entered the Olympics as a heavy favorite after winning the 2012 and 2013 X Games, and made a near-flawless run in the final to take home the prize.

At 23, David Wise is still so young in his freeskiing career, but here at the Sochi Games, he's the old soul on the U.S. Freeskiing Team. He's the one with a wife and a daughter, the one who has been dominating the sport for several years, with back-to-back-to-back X Games titles, a world championship, and now Olympic gold, won here at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park Tuesday in Men's Ski Halfpipe.

Maddie Bowman, the two-time reigning Winter X Games champion in freestyle skiing women's halfpipe, won the first Olympic gold medal in the event for an American sweep in freeski halfpipe.

The U.S. ski team finishes the Sochi Olympics with five medals, tying its second-best performance. The U.S. team also won five in Sarajevo in 1984. The all-time high for the U.S. team was eight medals in Vancouver in 2010.

In her first Olympic race, the women’s giant slalom Tuesday, 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin took fifth. With a temporary "USA" tattoo on her neck, she sure as heck gave it the full Friday Night Lights treatment here at Rosa Khutor, throwing down two incredible — and very different — runs to win gold in the women’s slalom. Shiffrin is the youngest gold medalist, ever, in Olympic women’s slalom.

It has been 12 years since Bode Miller won his first Olympic medals, in Salt Lake City. He is 36 now and these are surely his last Olympic Games. No question he is the best ski racer the United States has ever produced. He has six Olympic medals, including a bronze in the super-G here in Sochi. He has two overall World Cup titles, 33 World Cup wins, 78 World Cup podium finishes. He is is also one of only five skiers to win World Cup races in five disciplines.

Julia Mancuso won Alpine skiing bronze in the women's super-combined. Mancuso now has four Olympic medals—a gold, two silvers and a bronze—making her the second-most decorated American skier behind Bode Miller. She can also lay claim to being one of three Americans to win individual medals at three Winter Games. Bonnie Blair and Apolo Ohno share that accolade with Mancuso.

At Wednesday’s men’s super-G at Rosa Khutor, Ted Ligety put on a clinic to win the first American Alpine skiing gold of these Olympics. Indeed, he won big. It was one of the great moments of the 2014 Games. Ligety now has two Olympic gold medals. His first came in the combined in Torino in 2006. He and Andrea Mead Lawrence, who won the slalom and the GS in Oslo in 1952, are now the only two American skiers with two Olympic gold medals in Alpine.

The slalom was won by Austria's 34-year-old Mario Matt, who surpassed former racer Kjetil Andre Aamodt in becoming the oldest alpine skier to win an Olympic gold medal. Ligety emerged from the first run of slalom with a surprising sixth-fastest time, within range of another medal, but did not finish his second run on the unusually tricky course.

Steven Holcomb and Steve Langton won America's first medal in the two-man bobsled since 1952. By finishing third in the four-man competition on Sunday and winning his second bronze medal of the Sochi Games, Holcomb became the first U.S. driver since Stanley Benham in 1952 — 62 years ago — to win two medals in the same games. Holcomb won the first gold for the U.S. in four-man in since 1948 at the Vancouver Games four years ago, ending another 62-year barren run.

Bobsleder Elana Myers also made history by winning the silver medal in the women's two-person bobsled, with teammate Lauryn Williams. Williams became just the fifth athlete ever to win a medal in both the Summer and Winter Games after earning gold in the 4x100m relay in London 2012, as well as silver at the 2004 Games in the 100m.

Two years after Michael Phelps became the most decorated Summer Olympian in history, Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen became the most decorated Winter Olympian in history, winning his 13th carer medal in Sochi. That moved him past his countryman and fellow Bjoern, Bjoern Daehlie. Not to be outdone, another Norwegian cross-country skier, Marit Bjoergen, became the most decorated female Winter Olympian ever. She won her sixth career gold in Sochi.

Viktor Ahn, a South Korean speedskater who defected to Russia after the Vancouver Games, won three gold medals and a bronze in short track speedskating, making him the most decorated athlete in Sochi. Another foreign-born Russian athlete, American Vic Wild, won two golds in snowboard. Together, the Vic transplants would have finished a combined eighth on the overall medal count.

The other three-time gold medalists in Sochi: Bjoergen and Belarus biathlete Darya Domracheva.

More information:
» NBC Olympics: Team USA Day-by-Day

Friday, February 21, 2014

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Monday, February 17, 2014

John Wall Wins 2014 Slam Dunk Contest

USA Today:
“It was only my second time doing it,” John Wall said after being voted Dunker of the Night by fans. “My first time was on Thursday. So I just felt comfortable with myself and I knew it was a dunk that hasn’t been done before. And I knew it was the main thing coming up with the creativity, and it worked out in my favor.”

Wall was a member of the winning Eastern Conference team, along with Indiana Pacers forward Paul George and 2013′s champion, Toronto Raptors guard Terrence Ross. Wall’s dunk sealed a victory for the East in the battle round over the West, which featured Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes and Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore.

The impetus for Wall’s dunk came from Twitter, during his brainstorming process for the contest. “Someone sent me a YouTube link on my Twitter that said, ’27 dunks that haven’t been done in the NBA dunk contest.’ And the first one was that one, and it seemed hard, but for me it came out to be easy. So it worked out in my favor tonight.”

Wall’s dunk was one of several that utilized other people. Ross received an assist from Drake for one of his dunks, and McLemore jumped over Shaquille O’Neal. But despite the prevalence of props and gimmicks, Wall doesn’t think the potential of the contest is exhausted.

“I think there’s some ideas out there,” he said. “It’s just that dunks are very hard to do. And there’s a lot of guys like the international people that are doing dunks in the Team Flight Brothers and all those guys. You look on YouTube, they do a lot of dunks that you haven’t seen in the NBA and it’s very hard to do and you’ve just got to trust yourself to go out there and master it.”

Washington Post:
Bradley Beal started the Wizards’ participation in the NBA’s Saturday night showcase by representing Washington in the three-point contest. And he did well for himself, posting the highest score of eight competitors in the first round and hitting all five shots from his last rack in the finals to force a tiebreaker before ultimately coming up well short of Marco Belinelli in that tiebreaker.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Benedikt Frey - Koyaanisqatsi Reinterpretation

Nerve-jangling "future shock" is rarely as gratifying a sensation as it is in the 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi. Titled after a Hopi word that translates as "life out of balance," the film sets slow-motion and time-lapse footage of nature and industry against a hypnotically minimalist soundtrack by Philip Glass; the result is something like a kind of psychedelic version of documentary filmmaking — eminently stoner friendly, too, were it not for the absolute bummer of a subtext.

Twenty-two years later, Koyaanisqatsi looks all the more prescient; there's nothing like this bizarre winter's extreme weather to remind us that modern life is still perilously out of balance. So a new "reinterpretation" of the film by the German musician Benedikt Frey feels especially timely.

"It's a social critique of technological invention," explained Frey in an email. "We always think we have the power over machines, but they have started controlling our lives, every day."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Kan Wakan - "Forever Found"

Kan Wakan combine deep soul, dramatic folk, and orchestral pop for a noir-kissed sound that could re-score a vintage James Bond flick with ease and grace. At the heart of the Los Angeles band are Bulgarian-born composer Gueorgui I. Linev, bona fide chanteuse Kristianne Bautista, and ace guitarist/producer Peter Potyondy, and above you can hear their combined might.

"Forever Found" swoons and saunters magnificently thanks to a fleshed-out studio band and the addition of the Metamorphosis Chamber Orchestra as conducted by Linev's uncle, Bulgarian Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra music director/conductor Stefan Linev.

Kan Wakan will release their full-length debut, Moving On, April 29 via Verve.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Super Bowl XLVIII

Seattle  43 : 8  Denver
For the first time in 23 years, and the fifth time overall, the game featured the league’s top-ranked offense against its top-ranked defense. And the 23.5-point disparity between the Broncos’ average scoring output (37.9) and the Seahawks’ average points allowed (14.4) is the largest in Super Bowl history, according to No team was more efficient inside the red zone than Denver. No team was stingier inside the red zone than Seattle.

During the regular season, the Seahawks led the NFL in points allowed (14.4 per game), passing yards (172) and total yards (273.6) while forcing a league-high 39 turnovers. But the Seahawks haven't played an offense like that of the Broncos. By basic statistical measures, MVP and Offensive Player of the Year Peyton Manning generated the most productive season ever. At 37, he set records with 55 touchdown passes and 5,477 yards through the air while leading the Denver Broncos past the 2007 New England Patriots for most points in NFL history.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

James Blake w/ Chance The Rapper - "Life Round Here"

Overgrown is the second studio album by English electronic musician James Blake. It was supported by lead single "Retrograde" and a series of concert appearances including one at Coachella. It is being promoted as Blake's most expansive piece of work to date, with guest features from electronic producer Brian Eno and Grammy Award-winning rapper and producer RZA. Overgrown debuted at number eight on the UK Albums Chart and at number one of the US Dance/Electronic chart, becoming Blake's highest-charting album to date.

Blake admitted to Hot Press in an interview that his relationship affected the album. He said, "I can't deny it. There's no point in trying to come up with some other explanation for what I've been writing about... When it happened, I was really struck. Y'know—Suddenly I'm hit!"

In October 2013, Blake shared a remix of the Overgrown album cut "Life Round Here" featuring Chicago's Chance the Rapper. Now, the track has a black-and-white music video, shot in Hertfordshire, England, featuring James and Chance cruising around in the rain in a low rider. It was directed by Nabil.

On 30 October, Overgrown won the 2013 Mercury Prize, beating favorites to win Laura Mvula, Disclosure and David Bowie.