Monday, December 31, 2007

Top 10 Albums 2007



2007 was a much better year for music than it was for movies. Let's face it, we at ART OF FUNCTION live and breath our iPods, so many movies and many albums fly across our radar on a weekly basis. I want to go on record and state that every record on our list and every record listened to this year, was purchased and not stolen off of a Bit Torrent or Peer To Peer network. I will also go on record as stating I do not approve of pirating music or movies. However, many artist these days elect to offer music for free or for whatever you want to pay (Radiohead). We purchased the majority of our music from two locations, iTunes and Amoeba Records. I believe that many albums on this list are not new revelations if you have been checking in on any music critics year end reviews. However, we love them and you should too.

I had to leave off a few albums from the Top 10 . I also discovered a few new artists I had not been turned on to this year, so I will distribute a few supplemental awards before we hit our top 10 list!

Honorable Mention
The Bravery - "The Sun and The Moon" - This album is just good solid indie rock without much pretense. These guys feel a little like Modest Mouse, but probably a little more streamlined and simple. I found the album however rock solid.

Best Compilations Album
Various Artist - "Indoor Picnic Music" (iTunes Exclusive) - This a great compilation of soft Indie Rock bands and Singer Song Writer types, and some old favorites are on the list, like the Barenaked Ladies and Jars of Clay. The best part about this album is you get 19 tracks for only $3.99. And that is just freaking amazing!

Best Artist Re-Discovered

This is a tie. Both of these artists did not release any album in 2007, but I did not Re-Discover them until this last year, and I have to say, I am really glad I did. I purchased two albums each from them and listened to them a ton. I could not put them on the TOP 10 for 2007, but I had to mention them. They are Mike Doughty (former lead singer of Soul Coughing) and R.L. Burnside (the Blues Virtuoso). I recommend Doughty's Haughty Melodic and pretty much any album by Burnside if you are a fan of The Blues. His voice is like gravel and filled with wisdom and passion. Do yourself a favor and pick up an album.

So, here is the list!

10. Cold War Kids - "Saint John" - This one I first heard off of a co-workers iPod, and I was hooked. I went out and downloaded it as soon as I returned to Casa De Montgomery. The entire album is one of the most diverse and risky albums I listened to this year, with some tracks failures but the majority of them are resounding successes. Indie Rock done well!

9. Barenaked Ladies - "The Barenaked Ladies Are Men"
- The Canadian Pop Rock institution followed up last year's "The Barenaked Ladies Are Me" with this companion album that is just as fun and whimiscal as their previous efforts. It is a solid "Make you Feel Good" album.

8. Peter Bjorn and John - "Writers Block"
- Storming out of Sweden with wonder in their hearts and in their musical instruments, Writers Block will tickle you while you sleep. I often find myself whistling their music as I ready myself for bed. This album is excellent, but a few tracks do fall flat, but as a whole very solid.

7. Bloc Party - "Weekend in the City"
- This album is simply awesome. If you love a great drummer, then this is the album for you. I love this album in the car late at night as I am driving home from work or after a show.

6. Arcade Fire - "Neon Bible"
- Powerful is the best word to describe the Arcade Fire's 2007 effort. This one was highly anticipated, and it did in fact deliver. Part funeral dirge, part working man's anthem, The Arcade Fire deliver their signature sound with poignancy and adept skill. The only reason the "Neon Bible" is not higher on the list is due to the fact that I find a few of the tracks indulgent.

5. The National - "Boxer"
- This one will haunt you. It just makes you sad. I have always been a big fan of Nick Cave, and this album reminded me a lot of the Bad Seeds. It reminds me of dreary Thursday mornings driving to work.... simply gorgeous.


4. Eddie Vedder - "Into the Wild: Motion Picture Soundtrack"
- Mr. Vedder left his fellow Pearl Jammers in Seattle to record his second effort involving Sean Penn. The first was a few wonderful tracks on the "Dead Man Walking" Sound track. Here Mr. Vedder delivers powerful folksy rhythms mixed with his tell tale lyrical style. I look forward to his Oscar Nomination and subsequent performance.

3. Various Artist - "Once: Motion Picture Soundtrack"
- Okay, I will preface the following top 3 with a NOTE. Any one of these albums could have been my numero uno. However I had to pick one, so I did, and I put the ONCE sound track at number three because it has been with me the least... only a few days... but after about a dozen runs on my iPod, I thoroughly love it. I wish I enjoyed the movie as much as I enjoyed the songs from it. But this modern Musical is incredible and really turned me on to Glen Hansard, and I look forward to exploring his own band "The Frames" more in 2008. It's mix of melodic vocals with Celtic inspired folks songs and a little indie rock is almost perfection. Almost.

2. Amy Winehouse - "Back to Black"
- Before she became a tabloid train wreck, Ms Winehouse put out what may have been one of the best albums in ten years. Back to Black is awesome, nostalgic and original all in one. Her voice on the album is spectacular and unique, both warm and abrasive. She turns in a performance that future vocalists seeking to mimic her jazz nouveau sound will have to measure up to.

1. Silversun Pick Ups - "Carnavas"
- At the end of the day, I love Rock. This album characterized my musical journey this year where I really began to seek out bands with a different sound and attitude. The Silver Sun Pick Ups album "Carnavas" fell into my hands in January of 2007, and it has consistently stayed on my rotation all year long. It is moving and seething and stretches you while consoling your ID. I often summerize a year of my life by one album. In 1992, it was Pearl Jam's "Ten", in 2000 it was Shifting Skin by On, and this album fits that category. It will forever remind me of a time in my life. Truly excellent work, and deserving of someone No. 1 for 2007. It is mine.

So, 2007 was a great year for music. Really creative and really inspired stuff. Let us hope that 2008 brings in even better music.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Top 10 Movies of 2007


I love me my movies. However, I did not love 2008. It may have been one of the most mediocre years of movie making in the past ten as a whole. There were some bright spots do not get me wrong, but many of the films I will soon discuss will not go down as the best of my best, but some of the movies were very good. However, when we here at Art of Function find ourselves at the end of a long and fruitful year, we celebrate with Top 10 lists. So, here is our top 10 list of movies from 2007.

My criteria for grading was simple. Did I enjoy it? Would I recommend it? Would I revisit it? Did it do something I had never seen any other movie do? Did it execute with excellence within the its genre of film making? If the answer was yes to any four of these questions, they made the top 10.

However, before we get to the best, lets hand out a few awards.

Worst Movie of 2007:
The Heart Break Kid: Barring its box office success this movie was just flat out terrible, and not funny. I found myself drifting off in my own head to a place of boredom, annoyance and eventual apathy. It really feels like the Farrely Brothers peaked out with Dumb and Dumber.

Most Overrated Movie of 2007
Knocked Up: This movie was funny and had was blessed with a star turn by Katherine Hiegel, but at the end of the day it failed to capture the same spirit of warmth and fun that Apatow's previous effort "The 40 Year Old Virgin" managed to generate.

Most Regretted Movie we did not seen in 2007
It's a tie with No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. We're keeping our fingers crossed we can see them this weekend.

So, on to our list of the Top 10 Best Movies of 2007!

10. Live Free, Die Hard
- True to the original concept, Bruce Willis returns as Detective John McClain and immediately finds himself embroiled in an mystery involving, mercenaries, an evil genius played by Timothy Olyphant, explosions, thrills and a wise cracking side kick played by Justin Long. The old formula that worked so well in the first Die Hard movie is back, but the action was amped up a bit, and the 2007 version of Officer McClain is a little bit more hardcore. I have to say this was the best all around action movie I had seen in a few years. It was an enjoyable watch.

9. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - I always walk away from the Harry Potter movies feeling satisfied and this darker and more mysterious fifth installment in the franchise was very inspiring while offering more chills than previous efforts. I will be sitting in the theater in 2008 for the next chapter in young Harry's adventures.

8. 28 Weeks Later - This movie did not live up to the brave and bold predecessor 28 Days Later, but it did give it one hell of a try. 28 Weeks Later is succeeds in creating a stronger human interest story in it's first act, but devolves a bit into a chase and scream film in the later third act. However, it is beautifully shot and edited. Definitely worth picking up at the video store... if you like zombie movies.

7. Once - Now, I admit that some folks adore this film. I think that as a film it brings a wonderful reality to the portrayal of two heart stung musicians who find each other on the streets, and learn about love and themselves through the recording of a demo album. The music is fantastic, but for the most part, I failed to be charmed by the lead performance of Mark├ęta Irglova. She fails to deliver for me, and at times is a bit annoying and that took me out of the movie, but Glen Hansard more than makes up for her inconsistencies. In the end, I am a bit torn over pacing and some performances, but this is a wonderful little story.

6. The Lookout - When I saw Brick last year (my No. 1 from 2006) I quickly jumped to old IMDB to find out what Joseph Gordon-Levitt's next project would be. I saw that The Lookout would be up next, and circled the calendar. This wonderful character study of a former high school star athlete haunted by a poor choice that left him mentally challenged is exquisite in its concept and the most interesting part of the film is learning how Levitt's character Chris gets through his day and deal with the disappointment of his life. However, the main plot device of the film, the robbery, that Levitt is coaxed into participating in, is somewhat dull and uncreative. However that is a minor critique for this strong film.

5. Black Snake Moan - I like to call this film a fantastic mess. Craig Brewer is a director to watch out for, and this was to be his second installment in his music movie trilogy, with Hustle and Flow which received ton of Oscar buzz and nominations. Black Snake Moan follows a cuckolded former blues player, Samuel L. Jackson, turned farmer who encounters a woman left for dead on the road, Christina Ricci, who also happens to be a nymphomaniac. He sets about trying to make her right with God, while finding himself returning to his musical roots. As I said before the film is a mess story wise. At times it feels like Brewer cannot decide to fully embrace this movie for its sexploitation devices or allow it to be rich character study, but thankfully Sam Jackson probably gives his best performance in years in this movie, and he makes it worth the watch in a big way.

4. Hot Fuzz - It is official Edgar Wright, Simon Peg and Nick Frost are genius. This movie was Universally criticized for not delivering the strength of story that Sean of the Dead gave us. However, I disagree with that statement. This film rides waves of genre film making like a deft surfer plowing down a 40 foot wave off of the Big Island. This time the trio mix the action adventure cop movie with the british rural countryside comedy and a little bit of the old murder mystery plot in this wild ride that was well worth my money spent on a seat at the old cineplex.

3. Waitress - I have to say this, a great movie about a young women struggling with an unplanned pregnancy hit theaters in 2007, and it was not "Knocked Up". We had heard people rave about this movie for months and months, which usually amounts to a big disappointment come viewing time. However Adrienne Shelly truly delivered one of the best films of 2007, quirky, funny, heart warming, romantic and filled with Drama, this movie about the best little pie maker, and her baby and her terrible husband and odd doctor make for a truly memorable viewing experience in 2007.

2. Zodiac - Mark us members of the David Fincher fan club. From Fight Club to Seven, Mr. Fincher delivers on creepy like no other film maker working in Hollywood today. His 2007 film about the notorious Zodiac Killer truly is a master piece in thriller / true crime film making. This movie truly disturbs and engages all at the same time. Each depiction of the different murders is equally more disturbing than the last, and Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr. turn in terrific performances in this creep, dark and truly terrifying movie.

1. King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters - Yes, A documentary takes home the first place finish on our list of the best movies of 2007. Seth Gordon emerged as a documentary film maker force with this incredibly entertaining look at coin op gaming and the characters who devote their lives to achieving high scores on video games that are almost as old as we are. Gordon deftly arranges his protagonist, Steve Wiebe as a down and out hero just trying to achieve one great thing in his life, the highest recorded score on Donkey Kong. Standing in his path is mullet master and the only man to register a perfect score on Pac Man, Billy "Try My Hot Sauce" Mitchell. There is high praise for editing and composition in this story where you truly laugh and cry as Mr. Wiebe hunkers down at the joystick for hours and hours of time attempting to prove that he is one of the best in the world. We left the theater in love with this movie, and forever quipping the line, "There's a Donkey Kong Kill screen coming up in five minutes," to anyone who would listen.

So, that's it! We're through 2007 and looking forward to some more great movies on the horizon... we think... we hope and we pray. See you at the movies!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Star Trek Next Generation Comes True!


When I was a kid, I used to catch the occasional episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation". I would not call myself a Trekker or Trekkie, but I liked and enjoyed the show. In the waning days of bachelor hood, my room mate and I used to watch old episodes of Voyager on DVD till the wee hours of the night. One of the things I loved about the show were the props, I equally enjoyed how many of the visions of the future displayed in the shows are now coming true, with intelligent desks and massive touch screen displays on the near horizon. Another wonderful toy the crews used to use were these digital tablets that contained all kinds of information, including complete libraries of literature from all moments in history and across all cultures... what an awesome thing to have! I always wanted one.

Well, I share this with you, because, thanks to the KINDLE we may finally see this television prop as a reality. Amazon is selling a new device that is marketed exclusively to readers who want something a little more tech oriented. The Kindle is a Web Connected Wireless device that allows you to download digital books directly to the device through a free wireless service. It also constantly updates news papers and blogs for your viewing pleasure. The Kindle also has what is billed as an 'electric-paper screen' which allows for a brighter view that looks to the human eye like real paper.

In my humble opinion this is a very overlooked gadget that did not get a lot of hype, but quietly sold out at the Amazon store. The best part about he device is that you can acquire product directly to the device without having to download to a computer first and syncing like an iPod, or without have to pay a service subscription fee. What more, the books you download are on average about %50 cheaper to purchase.

Unfortunately, this gadget is on major back order, and rumor has it, that even if you purchase it now you would not see it on your doorstep until February. Also the price tag is hefty at $399.99 a pop, but none the less, this is a great step in the right direction for the literature industry... finally books along with music and video will be available for instantaneous consumer satisfaction via a digital format. What remains to be seen is whether or not big box retailers like Barnes and Noble or Borders would follow suit with a similar product. Based on sales, I think it may be only a matter of time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tina Fey and Martha Rae Part 2

Well, originally, I did a post on the Writers Strike when it first struck. It has been almost eight weeks since the writers decided to put down their pens and pick up their picket signs, and in eight weeks there have been no new developments. Nothing has happened... well I shouldn't say nothing has happened.

  1. No More Original Scripted Shows: Many folks are scanning their DVR's and noticing the same thing I have noticed in the last few weeks, no NEW shows. This is equally disconcerting for promising new shows like Pushing Daisies or Big Bang Theory which will have to reintroduce their shows to the public if they return. Also, the crop of 'new reality shows' that the network has trumped out like ABC's failed "The Duel" have not lived up to the hope of delivering viable new content during the strike. The end result at this point is that consumers are indicating that they will turn now to vendors like Netflix and the movie theaters for their entertainment of choice, or worse of the media world... books!
  2. Economic Impact: The state of California alone lost 200 million dollars in revenue tax dollars in the month of November. The clear drop in cash flow will eventually leak over to affect the California Real Estate Market as the lack of usable cash in the market will provide yet another blow to the real estate market and subsequently the credit and loan business. This has many folks outside the industry concerned as well as those in the industry who are already seeing a steady decline in business for vendors who supply the entertainment industry.
  3. Lost Jobs: The Writers Strike does not present an immediate financial burden to the parties involved in the strike on a personal level. Writers depending on who you believe (the WGA says $60,000.00 and the AMPTE says $200,000.00) make about $125,000.00 dollars a year. Well over the median income in California. Obviously producers, studio and network executives make far more (Les Moonves made about eight figures in 2008) So, on a personal level neither the writers nor the AMPTE members are really impacted by this strike. It is the folks making middle income in the industry that will find themselves without a job during the holiday season. For example, Costume Departments, Casting Directors, Hair and Make Up, Transportation, Electricians, Camera Assistants, Production Assistants, Editorial and Craft Services all will suffer without shows to work on. These are lean times.
The frustrating part of this strike is the failure of both parties to develop and maintain a consistent dialogue in regards to settling the dispute. Both sides point the finger at the other as the main reason for breakdown in talks. However, it is clear that without two sides coming together there is a need for third party mediation in this dispute. That will be the responsibility of the federal government as it is obvious both the WGA and AMPTE will not be able to agree on their own mediator. They already turned down Bill Clinton's attempt to aide in negotiations, and he brokered a peace deal with Palestinians and Israelis. A somewhat faded light of hope comes in the form of a sister union, the DGA. The DGA (or Directors Guild of America) is the next major heavy weight to have their contract expire (around March). The DGA has deliberately backed off on their own negotiations (or even starting them) to see if the WGA could come up with a fair and reasonable deal. The DGA and it's members are already out of work, so they have supposedly come up with a deal that the AMPTE is rumored to like in pre-talks. It is unclear if the WGA is equally excited about the proposal. However the DGA is not going to even start their negotiations with the AMPTE until January 2nd of 2008. So, if a deal is not brokered with in the first few weeks of the new year, we will not see new shows until perhaps late February or March.

Early on many people picked a side to fight on. Many creative types sided with the Writers, etc. Now, it is clear that the actions of the WGA is causing some divisiveness amongst the Teamsters and Creative. Bitterness is starting to finally settle in. So, it is important that public opinion shifts from uncertain uneasiness to a push for resolution. Resolution is better for the greater community of industry professionals in the short and long term. There is not enough Art being generated in Hollywood these days, and the only thing preventing it from happening... is Greed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

J. David Carlson - Arist to Check Out!

J. David Carlson is an artist, who lives to 'Play'. Describing Mr. Carlson's art is somewhat difficult. It's part mixed media, part sculpture, part painting, part everything. However, if you get a chance to see his work, I highly recommend it.

Mr. Carlson's work does two things to the purveyor. First, it engages you. It is different, unique, beautiful and clever. Your entire adult mind nods at the twists and turn of each piece, and then second thing happens... your inner child lights up, because ultimately, what you are looking at is one gigantic, gorgeous toy. It is usually at this point that you find your hands reaching out to touch the piece, and hopefully your fellow gallery mate has the good sense to gently slap them away.

Mr. Carlson's work is best summed up in his own words, "Play has become essential to my artistic journey." Mr. Carlson like so many of us creative types and children of the late seventies and early eighties grew up with carefully crafted and unique toys that sought to put you into a complete world of fantasy. The G.I. Joe or Transformer not only functioned as a toy but a new universe where you mind was encouraged to take the intent and purpose and story of the toys even further than what had been imaged. It is here where as and adult I find myself drifting back to those days of building complex G.I. Joe forts with legos, and dreaming of bigger and badder landscapes to play with. Mr. Carlson seems to take that point of view and push it to the next level. I enjoy his "Play Scapes" the most. So, go on over and visit his website (linked above) and if you can catch one of his shows. I bet you will fight the urge to take one of his pieces home with you... I do every time I see one.... so I can play with it whenever I want.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Letter To Santa 2007


Some may call you Santa, but I will simply call you... 'Friend' for the purpose of the letter below.

Dear Friend,

We have enjoyed a wonderful relationship over the years, and despite the fact that I have now turned the age of 30, I still enjoy the fact that once a year, you and I may continue our correspondence. I see no need to discontinue a mutually beneficial friendship because I have turned the Big 3-0. I mean you still get jazzed by toys and you are what? 756 years old? You are only as old as you feel. Right? And thanks to my acupuncturist, I feel at least 27 years old again.

Now, I believe a Christmas Letter to Santa (or in this case, my Friend) should of course recount some of the special accomplishments or good behavior that you have come to expect from some of the wonderful and truly deserving people on your list. A list, I feel, I am quite at home on... the NICE LIST. (However, my neighbor who throws loud parties, smokes, and has loud... you know what, I won't go into that, but safe to say, his behind belongs on the naughty list, my wife would like to recommend he get both a bag of rocks and dog dookie for Xmas).

Where was I? Oh, yes, The Nice List! This year, I did three plays, I was promoted at work, I had four of my plays produced, and I got my SAG card, I was in a movie directed by Ron Howard, and I was in a movie with Jim Carey. Ron Howard said, I was "A Well Trained Actor". So, yeah, I'm like good and stuff. I also started my own acting class, that I teach. It's now been about 8 months and still going strong. I have great students.

Oh, and here is the biggest news, I'm about to have a bundle of joy delivered via the stork. Yep, my first child is on the way, and I'm super excited. Lot of growing up this year.

So, I think that's a pretty good.

So, that being said, what would I like for X-Mas. Well, I have assembled something of a list, and for the first time a few years, no iPod is on the list. So, relax you do not have to deal with Steve Jobs this year. Here is the list! Oh, and if you click on the links, it will take you to online stores with solid prices so you save a penny or three!

  1. HD-Television: Jenny and I did finally purchase an HD TV this year, but she has been less than excited to upgrade the signal to HD. So, we still watch Standard Def shows on an HD set. Could you please put in a good word with her, to let me upgrade.
  2. Salomon Trail Running Shoes: These are the best shoes for exercise I have ever put my feet into. I wear a size 11 in these bad boys, and I absolutely love them. They can also be purchased at R.E.I. for a very reasonable price.
  3. CROCS: I have wanted these for a long time. Everyone I know who has a pair swears by them. Now, I am not willing to go all Mario Batalli on these and get an orange pair. A reasonably subdued color would be find. Brown, Black, Charcoal. I'm guessing I'm a size 10.5 in these.
  4. Diaper Dude Black Skull & Cross Bones Diaper Bag: I'm more than willing to change a diaper, and care for my soon to arrive baby on my own, but I am unwilling to carry around a some frou frou diaper bag. I want a manly bag. This is a diaper bag a dude can be proud to carry on his shoulder and drink beer and scratch things.
  5. The OGIO Locker Bag: I need a new gym bag, after three years my last bag is starting to thread and come apart. So, I need a replacement. This is my favorite. I think it's awesome.
  6. XBOX GAMES: Yeah, my XBOX is still running without he Red Ring of Death! So, I think the following games would be winners: Call of Duty 4, Assassin's Creed, Orange Box, Bio Shock and Mass Effect. So, just click the link over each title and it will take you right to Amazon.com for a purchase page.
  7. Gift Cards: I like the following places, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Amazon.com, Gamefly, and of course Best Buy. Although this year a gift card for the Apple Store would also be good, as I am saving up for a new laptop.
  8. Clothes: Look, let me be clear, you are going to buy me clothes, so let's make sure they fit. Here are my sixes: T-Shirt - XXL, Dress Shirt 33R/18.5, Pants 42 - 40 inches or XL, Shoe size 10.5. Or heck, if you have no idea what to buy me... send me a gift card to Target or Kohl's or even Macy's.
  9. Knife Set: Yep, I could use a new set of knives in the kitchen. It would be really great. Mine are dull and were never that great to begin with, and since I do the lion share of cooking right now, I'd love to have them.
Okay Santa. It's a pretty tame list. Just click the links, and check the stuff out. I'm also not one to stick up my nose at the occasional surprise. I am really glad my whole family will be together this Christmas for the first time... well, ever. So, that's a great gift.

Merry Christmas, don't eat too many cookies, and don't forget to get Mrs. Clause something nice this year... I mean come on? Who gives their wife a vacuum for Xmas... for shame!

Your truly and warmly,
Mick Montgomery

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"The Gift Card" - Holidays Plus or Minus?

Well, it is that time of year again. Time to start pulling out the old wallet and start the old consumer institution known as holiday shopping. Now, I know that holiday shopping is one of the greatest sources of anxiety during the holidays. Especially for parents with demanding children. So, thankfully, "ART OF FUNCTION" is here to help with some very very cool holiday gift ideas.

Now, to start off, I am a big proponent of shopping online during the holidays. Especially, if you have a large list and limited time. A good high speed Internet connection is all you need to button up the holiday shopping. In fact if you are smart, you can knock it out in a few hours with some simple planning. Quickly, here are a few tips to making your online shopping experience worth while.

  1. Make a list. Yeah, just like Santa, sit down and create a check off list of those you need to buy presents for.
  2. Budget. You don't want the dreaded four figure credit card bill that flops on your mail stack a month after Christmas like an unwanted fruit cake. So, after you are done with the list, right an amount next to each name of what you want to spend. Also, at the end, do yourself a favor and add up the total, and add an additional 20%, that will cover taxes and any shipping costs.
  3. Be specific with your Vendors! Narrow the scope of who you shop from online. For example, Amazon is great since you can get different types of gifts from them.
Also, many, many stores offer pre-wrapped options, and such, so you can have the vendor deliver the present directly to your relative or friend, without it going through you. Hey, you are already paying for shipping, no need to pay for it twice!

Now on to the real subject of this blog... GIFT CARDS! Now, for me, these are perfectly acceptable gifts for people. The trick is, you have to get them gift cards for a store they frequent and enjoy. This says, "Hey, I recognize you are interested in this. And I want you to get what you need." Gift Cards are solid choices as well for folks who shop online a lot, and for people who are a little older. Kids and Teenagers tend to not like gift cards because they want something in hand on Christmas. That's important to recognize about the person on your list. Do they value the experience of shopping or do they value opening up a big box on Christmas day... or Christmas Eve for all you impatient weird families. If they like a box, then take some time to get them a present!

Also, notice I am saying Gift Cards, not certificates. Gift Cards offer security, they offer convenience as well. They slide easily into a wallet or purse. This makes them vastly superior to the xerox copy you get from Bob Evans.

So, here are some great gift card ideas.

  1. The Visa Gift Card: This one is versatile and secure. It works just like a visa credit card, but it carries an amount of money on the card. You determine of course the amount, and it can be ordered on line. The best part about this gift card is... you can use it anywhere visa is accepted! Great for those of you who want to give 'Cash' but want to hand over something a little slicker than an envelope of green backs.
  2. iTunes Gift Card: Perfect for the person you bought that IPOD for last year. You pick these things up anywhere... grocery stores, 7-11's, you name it. These are my favorites, because you can redeem them on the iTunes Software browser and you are off and running. An the cards also work for downloading videos and movies, not just music... the only downside are fixed prices, but hey? Such is life.
  3. STARBUCKS / COFFEE BEAN Cards: I put these two together, since it's pretty much the same thing. For the non conformist, by them a Coffee Bean card, for everyone else, Starbucks is just fine. You could go buck wild and visit Pete's; however, make sure there is one near your potential beneficiary. Moving on! The Coffee Card is great for that someone who has a once a day habit. It is something they use daily and will remember you daily for it. Also, these gift cards are 'recyclable' in that you can continue as to add funds to them.
  4. Barnes and Noble card: I love getting these, because I can use them at Barnes and Noble.com and the store now offers a wife variety of both books, dvd's and music to choose from. This is great when selecting a gift card vendor. Do they have a wide variety of items to purchase? If they do, that is great because it offers the recipient more selection and better use. Especially if you do not know someone that well, and you want to get them something they could use.
  5. Best Buy Gift Card: Now, if you are actually reading this, you have some technical acumen, so you have heard of big box store Best Buy. It's a national chain with a pretty good online store. So, this is a good card for the tech geek in your family, or the DVD fanatic, or Gaming fanatic.
There are other ones to look out, Netflix, GameFly, maybe your friend or relatives' favorite organic grocery store. And for heaven's sake, don't be afraid to be practical. I welcome the gift card to Trader Joes. It's great to get a free week or two weeks worth of groceries, especially for all the struggling actors out there, like me.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Get Your JIMI on!

Nope, this is not a BLOG about an ingenious guitar player who died way too soon or a dissertation on the 90's hip hop slang term for birth control. No, this is a blog about a little company who makes a wallet. A very clever wallet called the JIMIx. It has been dubbed an alterna-wallet and also 'the anit-wallet', but for the most part this little 2.5 by 4.5 inch lovely is a great choice for those of you who are looking to dumb down the massive leather ball in chain you have weighing down your back pocket. The Jimi is a plastic case that holds four credit cards and on the exterior it has a lovely little money clip. The hard plastic shell comes in a variety of colors including the blue seen above, orange, clear and black as well as many more. The JIMIx features the money clip on the exterior for you heavy rollers, but if you only keep a few bills on you at a time, then check out the original JIMI which has the clip on the interior of the wallet. This makes it even more streamlined.

I have owned a black JIMIx for about four and a half weeks now, and I love it. As a previous carrier of about 20 different cards, I have slimmed it down to just four, and the other stuff I carry in an old fashioned wallet which lives in a special secret place, but not on my person.

The other nice part about this wallet is the fact it is made from 100% recycled material, and if yours takes a tumble or breaks, you can throw it in with the water bottles (which I hope you have discarded in favor of a SIGG, by now) and it will be recycled with the other reclaimed plastic at your recycle center.

The cost is about $15.00, and I tell you it is worth it, if you want to lighten the load of your pants. Also, do you hate carrying a wallet in your pants at the gym? When you go to do the leg press does your wallet slip out the back of your pocket? Well, there is also a lanyard clip on the Jimi, so you can hang it around your neck. However, your front pocket is now an option because it is so small and light. The heaviest object I now carry around is my cell phone.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tender Greens - Best Salads in Los Angeles

About eight months ago some brave little restaurant entrepreneurs looked upon a square mile in central Culver City just around the area where Washington Street, Culver Blvd. and Main Street connect, and said to themselves, "Here is fertile ground for a new Foodie Boom!". This little chunk of the Eastern most part of the "West Side" is surrounded by two filming studios, Sony Corporate Headquarters, City Hall, and numerous little corporate office buildings. Several restaurants have moved in in the last year like: UGO, FRAICHE, MELT DOWN, and FORD'S FILLING STATION to accompany old favorites like PACIFICO's and the DOUBLE DUTCH. BEACON over near the old Helms Bakery Plaza even took the Los Angeles Times Critic Pick for best new restaurant in 2005. This is what foodies in Los Angeles called, The Culver City Boom. And if you live there, as I do, it has been a wonderful treat!

However, among, all of these wonderful little spots, my favorite of all, was the one who had the roughest of starts. Back in 2006, my wife and I were curious when a little storefront next to FORD's started to get remodeled. The sign simply said "TENDER GREENS" Fresh Food. Months went by, and we looked and watched and waited until one Sunday afternoon when the doors finally swung open. What we found, was what I believe to be the best restaurant, with the best food, at the best price in town. I say rough start, because their style of service was overwhelmed by the response the joint received in the early days. Many critics and reviewers heavily criticized this part of the restaurant and thus it affected the early days of Tender Greens. However, those little operational bugs have been stomped out, and now the occasional snafu or mix up only adds to the charm of one of the best places to get a healthy and cheap meal in town.

TENDER GREENS
menu is based on the concept of delivering fresh organic ingredients to their customers with new inventions and innovations on old favorites and comfort foods. The best deal of all is their hot plates, where you can get your choice of Range Free Chicken Breasts, Flank Steak, or Seared Ahi Tuna, with a side of their wonderful Mashed Potatoes and your choice of eight simple salads on the side, for $10.00. It's a great deal. You can also have your hot plate turned into a hot sandwich by subbing the marvelous mashed potatoes for a rustic ciabatta roll with herb aiolli and roasted peppers, with your choice of the chicken, steak or tuna! My wife's old standby is the chicken hot plate with side Caesar Salad. Delicious.

Salads are the main attraction, however! My favorites are the COBB and the CHIPOTLE BBQ chicken. The later is a great example of their mission to try and cut the fat out of these meals and serve up fresh foods with explosive taste. Instead of BBQ sauce and ranch like you would get on any other BBQ Chicken sandwich, they baste the chicken breast in BBQ sauce and then serve it with a Lime Ciliantro Vinaigrette. It's pretty much heaven on a plate. The tart dressing mixes well with the sweetened chicken and the fresh avocado adds a creaminess to each bite.

Also, if you go down to Tender Greens, do not be afraid to try the soups. Their Chicken Noodle is made just like Mom's, probably better, since my Mom's chicken Noodle was made by Campbell's. And the Tomato Soup is also great (not quite as good as Melt Down, but a close second). And if you luck out, the often have Butternut Squash which is spectacular.

And if you are looking for a Diet Coke, don't think you will get it from a fountain machine in a paper cup. Tender Greens serves up a bevy of artisan sodas and sparkling waters. And if you want something a little more mature, they have a selection of wines and beer each day.

Daily specials also pop up, somewhat irregularly. If you see the Oso Buco or the Pulled Pork Sandwich, take the dive and dig in. Whomever, runs their brassiere is highly skilled at what they do.

So, why am I blogging about a FOOD joint on ART OF FUNCTION. I have to commend Tender Greens on their design, which some people find frustrating, but I find refreshing. Tender Greens is a mean and lean food machine. It caters chiefly to a younger, faster moving crowd. Instead of finding a table and waiting for a server, you hit a lunch line similar to what you would find at a Subway joint. The person taking your order, is probably the person who will make your food. Since the ingredients and Menu is simple, throw them in a bowl, add dressing put it on a plate. Despite the simplicity they do a really good job of training their staff so that the food is consistently prepared. Also, you do not eat on a 'paper plate'. Everything is severed with traditional flatware, which is cleared from tables and washed. An example of how the place is attempting to 'stay green' and cut back on waste. Also, there are not booths or carbon copy seating arrangements. Tables are versatile and different, from the eight foot long table with benches, to the smaller cafe types. The Tender Greens owners really put a lot of thought into the experience.

I recommend it highly! So, go green, go Tender Greens!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Guitar Hero III Review - Rock out with your Sock out!


Hey, wannabe Rock Heroes! If you've been itching to take your air guitar skills to the next level, then by all means, rush on out and purchase Guitar Hero III. The folks from Harmonix have stepped aside and given the reigns over to ActiVision fully, which usually spells disaster for a game title franchise, but not the case, with this gem of a game!

Back are the Star Power features, the cascading scoring system, the fret board engine that we are all familiar with, and love! The Graphics and Characters get minor tweaks and overall improvements to their look, and additional costumes!However, now they've added some great additions!

For example, before the songs were not the actual recordings, but they were mock ups covers of the original songs. Now, many of the songs in guitar heror, vocal tracks, drum beats, etc, were actually taken from the original 5 track masters, which makes for a more vibrant experience! When you play "Sunshine of your love" by Cream, you get Eric Claptons original licks. Apparently, bands and record companies caught on to the Success of Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero II, and now they want to play ball! Which is awesome! Hearing Pat Benatar is always better than faux Pat Benatar.

Also, celebrities are now in the mix. Former GnR guitarist and current Velvet Revolver, Slash as well as Audio Slave's Tom Morello are featured characters, who you can do 'battle' with at various stages of the game!

Also, and this is what makes Guitar Hero absolutely awesome... a new wireless guitar controller. This was what really set this game apart originally. Harmonix took the concept of "Air Guitar" and turned it into an actual game! And to me that is genius. Sure we have had peripheral game controller for fishing rods and for guns (I still love Duck Hunt), but none have had the same coolness factor as the Guitar! This is have the fun of Guitar hero is pretending to Rock out like your favorite Guitar heroes, as you play along to their songs! Now, if you have your old Controller, like me, you can still buy the game, like I did. However, you can go out and buy some of the newer versions that are wireless, and they are even selling stick on labels designed by the likes of the Smashing Pumpkins and Van Halen!

All in all, this is a great game, and a ton of fun! It's not a game to immerse yourself in for months like say, Oblivion or World of Warcraft. It might just take you a couple of nights on the console to best it, but it definitely worth it!

Martha Rae and Tina Fey!

Yes, we in the world of Hollywood are experiencing the first major creative union strike in 19 years. We have walk outs and we have had protests from S.A.G. in the past, but a full blown writers strike is a rare flower indeed. It is kind of like that Corpse Flower at the Hunntingon Museum that blooms once a year... both smell terrible!

The issue really just comes down to the fact that no one on the creative side makes any money off of internet downloads. All those episodes of THE OFFICE you downloaded off of iTunes this season, well actors, writers and directors did not see a dime of that money. It went straight to the studios pockets, do not pass go, do not collect your $200.00 or your residual check.

So, now that the current contract between the WGA and the Studios / Networks is up, the writers are refusing to negotiate until new verbiage allows for residuals off of these new media sources for content. And now they are eating boxes of donuts, wearing red t-shirts and leisurely working off those donuts by strolling the picket lines at the gates of the studios. No one really knows at this point what is going to happen. We in Hollywood at best hope for a quick end to this strike and that will only happen if the Studios and Networks budge.

However, the short term project is the impact on all the industries surrounding Hollywood. Hey a barber in a town of bald men, doesn't make too much of a profit. Without shows to work on, everyone is pretty much waiting with baited breath for an end that may not come soon enough. There are several dangers to the landscape of television. The risks are simple!

For WRITERS: Television has been gradually delving more costs towards cheaper reality television shows in lieu of expensive scripted shows. If they push more money towards reality because the writers strike, and the public eats it up, and the networks turn a profit, the scripted shows will take a big hit.

For Producers: If the programming they offer bombs, they will have to rush the Writers back to the table, and that will be a big big problem since they will have to pay through the nose.

You can pick a side if you want in this. However, as a member of the Entertainment industry, I would hope this is resolved before the end of the year!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Water Bottles... and the topic of Green!


So, everyone wants to "GO GREEN" these days. Car companies, retail outlets, major international corporations, are all touting the fact that they are trying (some legit, some rhetorical) to get on some sort of track to a healthier planet earth.

This year was a bit of a watershed for myself as well, as I have tried to go from just doing minor recycling to investigating what I can do to cut back on waste, etc.

A friend of mine during the summer pointed out that a large chunk of our waste stock piles in the united states are being generated by Water Bottles.

Many of us are drinking more water for the health benefits it gives us. That is really great. Everyone drink your two liters a day! Yippee! However, it's how we consume the water that also needs to be examined. Jenny and I used to go through a case to two cases of water a day, and despite recycling a majority of those plastic bottles, there is still an impact on the amount of waste we are creating each week.

Plastic bottles are not only affecting the environment but individual health as well. Studies are coming out now linking certain health risk to an unhealthy intake of textiles in the American Diet. I mean, I will not even go into the disgusting fact that one of the ingredients in the Cream filling for Twinkies is also an ingredient for industrial glue; however, think about this? When was the last time you left a bottle of water in the car headed into work, and then drank it on the car ride home? Well, when these bottles get hot, an amount of the plastic actually releases from the bottle into the water. You drink that. You put it into your body. Down the line that adds up to negative health issues.

So, we have two issues here. 1) How do we cut back on using water bottles? 2) How do we make sure the water we consume in not contaminated?

Well, here's what I did based on the recommendation of a friend. I purchased an Aluminum Water Bottle, and then a Brita Filter system. Now, many of you have Brita's in your home. If you have no idea what a Brita Filter system is, just click here. You can go check out their website. So, the Aluminum bottle is my new little buddy. I take it everywhere with me. The bottle is durable reusable, and the leaching issues associated with plastic bottles is no longer a concern. Now, I must confess, I purchased a pretty ugly bottle. I got it at whole foods, and it resembles something that a construction worker will take into work. I like it's simplicity, but some of you want something a little more aesthetically pleasing. Well, if you saw the picture in this post, you were perhaps a little wowed by the designs put up by the Dutch company SIGG.

SIGG makes their bottles through the an extrusion press system. So that the bottle is made from a one-piece aluminium blank, which results in uniform, seamless walls. This means no possibility of it leaking due to a poorly welded seam.

SIGG took their bottles to the next level with the hundred of fun and hip designs they decided to to finish the bottles with. For the more manly, there are a few Camo and Skull and Cross bone designs. For the purists, they have completely bare unfinished bottles, and for those looking to be a bit more couture. They have a whole CITY line for the urban art geek. And get your munchkins out-fitted with their line of bottles for kids. If you are nervous about ordering on line, then head to your local Whole Foods. They carry them by the alcohol. Both the round and flask bottles.

With the water filter, and Aluminum bottle, you basically knock back your waste issues considerably! So, take a look, see if it's for you. The cost for a Brita system is about $40.00 and aluminum bottles cost as high as $19.00 (Sigg) or as low as $12.95, my cheaper version. So, you may end up spending sixty bucks up front, but a typical case of water is about $6.00 and you may go through 1 or 2 of those a week. So, in a month or so, you would recoup your investment.
As, a whole, I encourage all people who visit Art of Function to examine how much of an impact your lifestyle has on the environment. It's the little things that add up.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Floyd's 99 Barbershop - Studio City, CA!


When you are an actor, things like your haircut become kind of important. You want it to match your headshots. You want it to be hip, but versatile. It's all kinds of crazy. Since moving to Los Angeles, I have struggled to find a great barber to replace, Belinda, my barber from San Diego. I thought I struck gold with CHROME Salon in Culver City, near my house. However, my barber there relocated, and they raised the price to a whopping $50 bucks a cut, which for men is a little high for me.

Enter FLOYD's 99 Barbershop in Studio City, CA. I spend a ton of time up in the North Hollywood area, as some of you know, because I an deeply rooted at the ACTORS WORKOUT studio as a producer, writer and now acting teacher. So, when a fellow writer recommended I check out Floyd's I decided to give it a try.

And I'm glad I did. Boy, am I glad.

Haircuts for me really boil down to the experience. In Los Angeles, there are so many talented Hair Dressers, Stylists, etc. So, many folks trying to cut hair while they get a gig doing it for a TV show. It's the best of the best really in many ways. So, round here you usually can walk into any salon and find a great person to cut your hair. So, for me what sets a spot apart from others are two things... the experience and the price! Floyd's delivers both in spades.

First, the place melds Rock / Punk / Indie culture with good old fashioned 50's barbershop ambiance. The result is a bit overwhelming at first, but once you settle in you feel that your one of the cool kids just for easing into the black patent leather chair. Although the look is carefully crafted, the result is a laid back semi-informal embracement of the individuals slinging shears at each chair. For example, each attendants various tools, scissors, combs, etc. are kept in tool boxes on the stainless steel counters. The sinks for shampoos are right at the station, not in some dank back room. So, when you sit you do not have to get up until the whole process is complete.

Second, it's the whole experience itself that is great. The people are friendly. There are no appointment books. However, you can call in a 30 minute hold as you drive to shop. I do that. However, two things think are cool is how they treat you. Friendly, not rough and tumble or pretentious. Then the fact they do the neck line clean up with a straight razor and hot lather! And they follow that up with a brief little rub down / hair vacuum machine that pounds away the tension while sucking up the loose hairs.

Lastly, the price is pretty good. When I walked in, I expect to just hand over my bank account, but a regular cut is just $25.00 with tip added. It's a great deal for a great cut! I hit the one in Studio City, but there is one in Hermosa Beach, off of Melrose in Hollywood, and another in Santa Monica. Also, there are other locations across the country... so, yes, this is not a hole in the wall joint, but it's not like your walking into a Starbucks, either.

So, I give a thumbs up to Floyd's. Check it out, Gents, if you are close by and need a good trim! Ladies, I'm sure they do all the fancy stuff too.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Field Notes


So, are you a fan of moleskins? You know the hip little note books, that so many of us keep in our back packs to jot down little notes, doodle funny or perhaps dirty cartoons, ideas for screenplays, or perhaps a rough blueprint for your own version of the flux capacitor.

Well, I have never been a complete fan of the moleskin because the two I had used kind of fell apart on me.

So, of course, I tried to go a little too high tech and use my Palm Treo, but the interface was too clunky. I mean I love my Treo, but constantly updating the TO DO LIST function is a real pain sometimes. I just needed something to write down notes, nothing that fancy. Well, I stumbled upon this little product from the folks over at Field Notes. What I love about the new Field Notes notebook is that it's small, and can easily slide into my front or back pocket. It's flexible recycled cardboard cover has simple graphic which is beautiful in it's simplicity. The back flap even has a little 5" ruler! It almost harks back to late 50's kitsch. I think this would have been something scout master handed out to boy scouts back in the day. The folks who designed this little marvel feel it was inspired by, "the vanishing sub genre of agricultural note books and ornate pocket ledgers. Coudal Partners of Chicago Illinois designed the little work horse.

The inside is 1/8' graph paper. Not simple ruled line. So you can do everything from create complex work flow diagrams at work on the fly, or you can create handy neat and concise to do lists. I use it mostly for that, I also use it to jot down notes on repetitions when I lead my Writers Workshop Group on Saturday mornings. I use it to create grocery lists, you name it. I love it.

A mere $9.95 gets you a pack of 3, and they come with a cool pencil and pen set. Which I got to say, I love the pen they give you. I bought six, and I am working my way through #1, and I love it. This one is gaining popularity, and if you do not want to order online, apparently you can find them at Urban Outfitters! Or to order direct, go to www.fieldnotesbrand.com or click the link I included above.


Anybody can be cool... But Awesome?


Hey, it's only been a matter of time before I started knocking on the door of a new and improved special super duper Blog! Well, not so much for my own sanity as it's for me to share all my views on this ever changing world! And my journey through it.

I think that this will be a fun blog "Art of Function" is my salute to designers of some of the best gadets, tools, entertainment mediums, software, computer... and general cool stuff on the web.
I will include pictures. I will include witty quotes. I will link you to some of my favorite blogs, and favorite friends via this blog and make sure you stay in tuned.

Also, I will update you on the fun of what it's like to live in Los Angeles, a city I feel contastantly is seeking to up the ante on the ART OF FUNCTION!