Thursday, April 7, 2016

Welcome to Sacracyliac

On these pages I'm going to share my impressions of all sorts of things.

Music appreciation is an intensely personal thing, so I would expect you to have your own ideas of what's good (or not) according to your own sensibilities. My point is not to offend - so don't be...
Movies and TV shows will also be touched on. I may go back into time and look at old movies which are in some ways superior to many of today's offerings.
Books and Art will get a fair shake here. Although my tastes in both is narrower than it should be I'll try to break out of the box occasionally.
Product reviews will also come up. Trust me, I'm not going to be a spokesman paid or otherwise for any company.

Comment if you wish - all comments will be posted, unless they're needlessly offensive.

Oh, BTW Sacracyliac doesn't mean a damn thing, I made it up. It's just fun to say!



There's a new store in town.

Recently a new Hy-Vee opened in Oakdale MN near my home. We saw the new building going up and were immediately surprised by the size of the store. By the time the Grand Opening occurred the building was grand indeed.

They have all the extras a modern grocery store has except oddly a bank. There is  a restaurant, the sit down type, as well as multiple pre-cooked food at various ethnic stations (not to be confused with fast food). There is a post office, a pharmacy and a health clinic, a flower shop and a Starbucks too.

The grocery store itself is very complete. I can't think of one thing we had to go somewhere else to get. That was not true when we hip hopped from Walmart to Cub Foods week after week hoping to save a few dollars on an ever growing grocery bill. Walmart was OK for the dry goods - boxed things, paper products and regular ubiquitous commodity off-the-shelf type of groceries. Walmart's selection/variety is often lacking.

Cub Foods on the other hand usually has a decent selection, however the local Cub in our area has turned in a filthy, sub par mess. Last week I went to get some produce on my way home from work to make my famous turkey ranch wraps and found a bin of rotten iceberg lettuce - every single head was brown and wilted. So I went to the cucumbers having decided I can get by without lettuce and they were soft and wrinkly - all of of them. I could not believe they were seriously selling this crap. That's just poor management. I realize not all Cubs are like this - but it's just another example of the abandonment of the inner-city by corporations - they don't give a damn that their stores that serve the city denizens are filthy and mismanaged.

Hy-Vee is obviously clean and tidy - it's new! But the produce is fresh and the customer service is fabulous. The biggest complaint we've heard is that it's too busy. It does get difficult to tool around in there will all those shoppers everywhere.

The prices are alright, on par with Cub I'd say. We have found that the Hy-Vee store brand is very good across the board. It does not seem like a big step down from the name brands. The prices on the store brand are extremely good and we found we are actually spending a little less and are having a much better shopping experience.

I've heard Hy-Vee will be opening more stores in the Twin Cities. Don't think Cub Foods hasn't noticed... A brand new Cub is going up across from Hy-vee on 10th Street in Oakdale as I write this. I'll bet it won't be a filthy trash bin like the one in Sun Ray, Oakdale is the "suburbs".

5 out of 5 stars


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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Hail, Caesar! and Risen - 2 Movies

I recently went to two movies in the same weekend.

First was Hail, Caesar! 

This Cohen Bros. movie was clearly a one off for these renown movie makers. We are familiar with the duo's quirky and violent offerings such as Fargo and No Country for Old Men. Great movies with a real dark streak that could leave some movie goers unsettled. Even their less violent movies like the Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona had a stark edge that never quite tread in the campy satyrism of Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar! stars George Clooney and Josh Brolin as the headliners, but it is chalk full of star power. Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, the stereotypical Hollywood fixer for the legendary studio Capitol Pictures in the 1950s, Mannix cleans up and solves problems for big names and stars in the industry all in the name of protecting the image of the studio. When studio star Baird Whitlock (Clooney) disappears, he has to deal with more than just the reputation of the studio's main star and the biggest picture of the year.

The rest of the cast from Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Jonah Hill and Alden Ehrenreich to Channing Tatum round out a fabulous lineup of real acting talent.

While the movie pokes fun for our benefit at the studio system, its dirty secrets and over the top personality types it delves into a topic that Hollywood almost never dares. The conflict and tension requisite in all good flicks was a communist conspiracy to take over the movie business. This alone deserves praise for the Cohen Bros. What was once denied vehemently in Hollywood and later proven to be true is still basically a taboo subject.

The movie's subplot was Mannix's own inner turmoil around his desire for a regular life with his adoring wife and children and his love of the job - and the studio.

There is a lot to like about the movie. The acting is very good, straight up. The charged reverence for the golden years of the studio system and the campy but charming send offs of the flicks of the era make it eminently enjoyable to watch. Even the thought provoking fecklessness of the communist sympathizers was compelling and funny. However, all in all the movie wasn't really satisfying. Josh Brolin's Eddie Mannix just wasn't enough to latch onto - should have been, but wasn't.

3 of 5 stars


Going in I had no preconceived notions of what this movie was going to be. It was my son who really pulled me along - not necessarily a hard sell since I've always been interested in the life and times of Jesus Christ.

The opening scene was a truly fantastic battle between the resident conquering Romans and the insurrectionists of first century Judea. The leader of the Roman legion was Pontius Pilate's Tribune known as Clavius (played by Joseph Fiennes). Just when you think the Judean rebels have caught the Romans flatfooted and driven them back Clavius orders his men into a clever maneuver that destroys the rebels in short order.

When Clavius returns to Jerusalem Pilate (played by Peter Firth) orders him to tend to the crucifixion of a troublesome Jew. The Pharisees had demanded the body of the rebel Jesus be quietly removed to prevent his followers stealing the body and claim he had risen - a claim Jesus himself had made before his death.

Clavius instead gives the body to Joseph of Arimathea a wealthy man who has Jesus buried in the family tomb. Pilate orders Clavius to post guards at the entrance of the tomb for three days to appease the Pharisees. Three days later the body was gone and thus starts a mystery that takes Clavius to places he could have never imagined.

I found Joseph Fiennes acting to be first rate. Even at the beginning of the movie when you know he is an evil Roman terrorizing the Judeans, over seeing the daily crucifixions, you find yourself liking him. He has the easy manner of a professional just doing his job, pining for a quiet retirement on a ranch in the hills.

When Pilate allows him to conduct an investigation into the missing corpse the movie starts to resemble a contemporary process crime drama. Until, that is, Clavius finds Jesus and is dumbstruck by what his lyin' eyes are telling him. A stunned Clavius allows the Disciples and Jesus to escape the Roman legion tasked with finding them.

Clavius set out following the Disciples to the Sea of Galilee. Eventually he is welcomed into the group as they search for the risen Jesus. There is some touching and even funny moments as this fierce Roman Tribune is reduced to a star struck kid. It's no spoiler to say they find Jesus on the shores of Galilee. The persona of Jesus was well acted by Cliff Curtis and doesn't betray the character you'd expect or the Gospels you know. You cannot help but like him immensely.

I thought it was a very satisfying movie - primarily due to the intimacy the audience gets to with Clavius. It seemed like a fairly short 1 hour and 47 minutes, left me wanting more.

4 of 5 stars


Monday, February 15, 2016

Discount Tire

Just a few words about Discount Tire.

I have been a customer of Discount Tire for years. I probably brought 7 different cars in there for at least a dozen sets of tires - I have never been dissatisfied. They do good work, the staff is courteous and the prices are decent.

Just this weekend my wife had a flat on her new Kia Sportage. She brought it to Discount Tire on Monday (they are closed on Sundays). They took the car into the bay, which was odd because I had removed the flat and placed it in the rear hatch. Not only did they repair the screw hole, they balanced the tire and re-mounted it too. And when they came in and handed the keys to her - she said "what do I owe you?" They said nothing except 'have a nice day'.

That's what I call brand loyalty. They just guaranteed themselves repeat business. This is a fine company and whether this was corporate store or a franchise I have heard nothing but good about this company across the board.

Now why would a business close on Sundays, potentially one of the busiest days of the week? The belief that the employees need a day of rest to be with their families, maybe watch football or go to Church if that's what they want is an amazing thing in this top down, profit driven zeal we find our society spiraling around. While I don't believe in government forcing this on any business I certainly would never hold it against any business that makes this decision. In all truth if they weren't a great company to do business with I probably wouldn't even know this fact about Discount Tire.

5 out 5 stars


Monday, January 18, 2016

The Revenant

Too many logical inconsistencies to overlook. Sorry.

The Revenant is a masterpiece of grand wilderness adventure film making. Hardly a minute goes by without an awesome vista of spectacular scenery juxtaposed against immense and courageous human struggle. So how could I be so underwhelmed by this movie?

It's a movie about simple revenge... Revenge dominates the plot as well as the subplot. The major story is about trapper and frontier guide Mr. Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is bent on avenging the death of his son. The minor plot finds an old Indian looking to put the hurt on the those who stole his daughter. It takes place sometime around the post Revolutionary war era in the Rocky Mountains where American and French fur traders overlapped.

As mentioned the cinematography is spectacular, the opening scene and especially the grizzly attack was extreme and frightening. There are many other scenes that definitely stir our humanity and make us marvel at the perseverance and endurance of the human mind, body and soul. Honestly most modern men would have curled up and died - myself included.

However, after a half an hour I was bored by the whole thing. The rest of the time I was yearning for a satisfying conclusion. That didn't happen, at least not for me. I was completely unmoved by the final scene and left me thinking: that's it? Mr. Fitzgerald - the antagonist, is such a low life scuzzball you hardly feel anything for him but mild contempt. I had zero emotion after all that struggle. Honestly I've felt more stirring in me after a totally predictable Hallmark Channel movie.

Along the way there were so many logical inconsistencies I could not simply overlook. Muzzle loading flint-lock guns cannot be fired in repeating rapid fire succession. When one plunges into a mountain river and rides the rapids in the dead of winter it's hard to believe hypothermia wouldn't prevent gathering wood and making a fire, yet Glass does all this and much, much more without ever donning a pair of gloves on his hands - I can hardly turn the key in my car in sub-zero temps without gloves. We see Glass walking, or rather stumbling across a vast treeless glacier in which the director makes a point of showing us how desolate and lifeless it was with a wide panoramic shot. In the next scene we see Glass in an ice cave with a burning fire - where did the wood come from? In another scene Glass finds his friend, a kind Pawnee Indian hanging from a tree a hundred yards from his camp where a fire burns near a lean-to shelter that apparently the executioners never saw???

I'm glad the movie is getting the critical acclaim it richly deserves on the film making and acting fronts. The director, cinematographer and DiCaprio all deserve Oscar considerations. Still, I was unmoved and bored much of the time. A movie like this should have drawn me in and made me feel something. The realism certainly made me cringe several times but it wasn't an emotional response at all. Not all movies make you feel, some are just good time spectacles - but this story should have made an emotional impact and it didn't.

3 of 5 stars


Monday, January 11, 2016


I went to see Joy for two reasons - Jennifer Lawrence and Jennifer Lawrence with Bradley Cooper. I think Lawrence is a great actress. She's a chameleon, she's able to pour herself into any role and make you believe. That's what a great movie actor does. In the movies she's starred with Bradley Cooper she has been marvelous. He is always good.

Her performance in Silver Linings Playbook was only exceeded by her extreme character in American Hustle. Her other work in major pictures like X-Men and the Hunger Games has also been very good. Considering she's really only been in the majors since 2011 she's accomplished quite a lot. Bradley Cooper, well - he is always good.

That brings us to "Joy". Right off I will say it's not in the same league with Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. That does not mean it's not good at all. The story just isn't strong or possibly the pacing is a little off.

There was the requisite conflict and tension, but it never felt like the stakes were that high. I guess I found her relationship with her ex-husband to be so ridiculous that it bothered me. The character played by Di Nero was so derivative of all his work that it was also not in the least enhancing to the story in my opinion. If once Di Nero played his part with a different attitude it would be so astonishing I'd put him up for an Oscar myself.

It's a story of a woman who had a tinkerer's brain but found herself mugged by a life she could never get ahead of - the story of a lot of us, right - and how she finally rose above it. I assumed it was based on a true story, at least it really seemed that way. Joy 'invents' the self-wringing mop and by some minor miracle gets it on QVC home shopping TV.

I mentioned pacing earlier, I think that's what kept me from getting roped in and really feeling this movie. The very best parts of the movie were the scenes where Cooper and Lawrence were together, and there were too few of them. There was no guy gets the girl in the end, which may be a horrible cliche, but you almost longed for something to give the movie a heart.

The conclusion of the movie was probably the most unsettling, it was like the director said "ok guys let's wrap it up". There was no context given of how she ended up in the big backed chair holding all the cards.

Joy is certainly not a total flop. Parts of it were well done and well acted. I think the script was pretty weak and the direction was limp. In the end it needed more Cooper time because the Lawrence/Cooper combo shines.

2 of 5 stars


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Hughes&Kettner Tubmeister 36

Obviously a guitar amp is not something everyone needs - or would ever need - but this is a review site and as it happens I needed a new guitar amp. Today we're looking at the German designed, Chinese made Hughes&Kettner Tubmeister 36.

I gravitated toward this model for the features and on the strength of the 'sound' I heard at a live show this summer. There were two guitar players using essentially the same type of guitar, one had an H&K on his side of the stage and the other a Mesa Boogie on his. I was shocked that I was attracted to the H&K sound song after song. I left that show conflicted and more than a little curious.

So, after much research and soul searching (namely the amp I really wanted, the Mesa Boogie, cost more than twice as much) I put down $1150.00 on the VISA card for the H&K Tubmeister 36 and waited with eager anticipation for the UPS guy. Boy was I disappointed. It didn't sound anything like I had expected. It had literally no sound at all - it was deader than a door nail. The seller immediately shipped a new one and luckily this one actually turned on.

First I do not worry about having enough power - this 36 watt amp is strikingly loud. It's a nice sturdy, right-sized unit and it's not crazy heavy. The point of a small-ish combo amp is to be portable, with the Tubemeister 36 Combo you get the performance of a much, much bigger amp in a nice compact unit.

The Tubemeister 36 sounded great with my Les Paul - loved the clean channel and the crunch channel right off. The clean channel sounds absolutely sweet with the single coil Stratocaster pickups. However, the lead channel had a pronounced fizz to it that I had been warned about in other reviews. I quickly ordered a JJ retube kit to replace the Chinese tubes for about $90. Running cost now $1240.

The new tubes sound absolutely great! The crunch and lead channel sound smoother, warmer and there's just a hint of that fizz with gain turned way up on the lead channel. Often we make a mod, or swap out pickups and maybe hear a small positive change - these JJ tubes made a huge difference. It's a shame this rather spendy amp doesn't ship with the right tubes.

I am also surprised at how versatile the power soak feature is. I didn't think I would even use it, but it's a really great feature considering that I have a range of high output guitars and not so high output guitars.You can dial in 1, 5, 18 or the full 36 watts and get the full tube amp experience at any volume level. It also has a built in industry standard RedBox output for direct-in (no speaker) to the PA or recording console. I tried it and it works, but the sound is not exactly what you get going through a speaker and my ears preferred the speaker. In the studio we have the luxury of using a mic on the speaker.

In order to really use the great features and versatility of this amp a foot-switch is required. I bought the FSM-432 MKIII foot-switch for about $230. Running cost now $1470. The real point of getting this amp was to greatly simplify my set up. The MIDI switch allows me to set up my clean, heavy and lead sounds with a push of a button (in any combination of output power). The idea was to plug the guitar into the wah wah and that's it. Since the amp has a nice built-in reverb feature my set-up was now complete. Sweet.

Until... I had planned to use my Line 6 POD in the amp's built-in FX loop for additional effects. Great in theory. In reality it was a nightmare. The POD wasn't designed for this role so I ended up at Guitar Center buying a Boss Chorus to go with my Boss Super Overdrive and a stompbox rail to hold them along with the Cry Baby Mini wah wah. This set me back another $135. Running cost was now $1605.

So rather than a sweet simple set up of two small units on the floor instead of an array of stomp boxes that I couldn't keep straight playing rhythm and lead guitar the lead singing I have stompbox/foot-swtch rail over 3 feet long. Not what I wanted, but it works and sounds very good.

I was really disappointed that the first unit they shipped was bad after reading a few reviews that questioned the reliability of H&K stuff. Others reviews said they never had a problem... It was probably just a blown fuse after all. I was also disappointed that I had to replace the tubes on day one to get it to reach it's full potential. Tubes get replaced, that's not a show stopper.

After spending over $1600.00 on this rig which is modest by high end standards I really like the sound I'm getting. The Tubmeister 36 is definitely in the Vox class A camp more than it is in the Marshall Plexi or the Mesa Modern Hi-gain camps. The tone of this tube amp sparkles on clean channel and I prefer it to the classic Fender clean sounds, it's clearly a more hi-fi than a Fender. The versatility of this amp makes it a best of all worlds bargain. Yes, Mesa Boogie, Marshall, Vox and Fender are the standard bearers for their specific types of tones in non-boutique amps, but the Tubmeister 36 straddles all of them in one small competent package.

4 of 5 stars