Saturday, February 17, 2018


I was rereading Stanley Kauffmann's review of Pulp Fiction. (Don't ask why, I just was.)  Kauffmann's a good writer, clear and succinct. But it intrigues me how certain things bother some critics, things no one else notices, or even cares about.

There are certain parts of the plot that he doesn't buy.  For instance, people shooting guns in residential neighborhoods and the neighbors doing nothing.  This I understand.  When Travolta and Jackson dispatch some people in an apartment, you'd think someone would call the police.  Personally, I allowed them a little poetic license, since the two hitmen do mention they have to leave before too long, so do recognize you can't just shoot people and hang around

But I don't agree with the other things Kauffman doesn't buy.  He notes during the diner holdup dozens of people having breakfast are ordered to lie on the floor.  "Not one of the makes a sound or a move [...] during long conversations among the principles."

First, they're extras, and I have no trouble with extras quietly allowing the leads to go about their business.  But on a realistic level, this business takes, say, ten minutes.  If someone brandished a gun and announced loudly I'd be executed if I moved, I think I could manage to keep quiet for ten minutes.  Maybe Kauffmann really doesn't like his breakfast disturbed.

Then there are basic mistakes Kauffmann makes.  This is always a problem with critics--no one understands everything, especially during a first viewing. The trick is to avoid too many mistakes (and I can think of certain well known critics who abuse the privilege).  Here's what he says about Bruce Willis: "Willis kills a man, wipes the gun free of his fingerprints and then puts his prints on a doorknob."

Certainly Kauffmann didn't miss the overall point of the scene.  After screwing over a criminal boss, Willis returns to his apartment to retrieve his father's watch.  As he fears, the apartment is guarded, but he manages to shoot John Travolta with the gun that was meant to be used against him.  This isn't his gun, so wiping clean a murder weapon is understandable.  However, this is his apartment, so having his fingerprints all over it, including the doorknob--especially the doorknob--will not arouse suspicion.

Or did Kauffmann not get that?

Friday, February 16, 2018

Smart Luck

A woman in New Hampshire who won a gigantic lottery prize has asked a court that she be allowed her anonymity.

Apparently, in New Hampshire, a winner's name, town and prize amount are public information.  I'd like to know who passed such a law.  I can see announcing the amount, and perhaps even the town, but it should be up to the winner to decide if her name is public or not.

I realize this isn't a widespread problem, but if suddenly I have a few hundred million dollars, the last thing I'd want is for people to know about it.  It'd be bad enough to have your friend's hitting you up.  But then there'd be all the solicitors, all the charities, looking to get a chunk.  You'd never be left alone.

Worse, there'd likely be criminals who figure you don't need to keep everything you have.  It's no wonder she's asked to remain anonymous.  The only thing I don't get is why her request isn't granted automatically.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Bad Spell

I caught Chris Rock's new stand-up special Tamborine on Netflix.  His first comedy special in ten years (I guess there was nothing to make fun of when Obama was president), it's also his weakest.  Admittedly, he's created a pretty high standard.

It's also quite personal.  He ends the show talking about his divorce.  But what really caught my attention was the title. It's a reference to his discussion of relationships--your job is to service your partner, which means sometimes you're just playing the tambourine.

And that's the thing.  The proper spelling is "tambourine."  Even the CC got it right. Was there a reason he spells it differently (wrong)?

I mean, you take some care in putting together a special, including choosing the title.  Is there something going on that I don't get?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Little Bang

The Big Bang Theory has been TV's top comedy for almost a decade.  But, as fans know, it went through big changes before airing on CBS.

Creator Chuck Lorre shot a pilot that the network rejected.  But they asked for another if he'd make changes.  And now I see that original pilot is on YouTube.

Here's the opening:

Here are the rest:

Johnny Galecki as Leonard and Jim Parsons as Sheldon are there, but very little else is that we know as The Big Bang Theory.

As it is, Sheldon and Leonard are different.  Sheldon in particular is much more normal--he's even had sex (and the first thing we see is his returning from making a deposit in a sperm bank).

But at least the two actors are game, and work well together.  They meet a rough girl on the street named Katie (Amanda Walsh).  The pilot is about how she comes to live with these nerds.

This plot doesn't really work, and, I assume, is why the network rejected it.  The guys don't have much chemistry with Katie, even though she's set up as Leonard's love interest.  And she's too mean.  She seems to be playing them, treating them as patsies. (I'm sure her vulnerable side would have come out more if the show went to series.)

There's one more regular, Gilda (Iris Bahr), a sort of Zelda Gilroy type who's a friend of the guys--a fellow nerd who is smart, open and honest, and meant to end up with one of them.  Perhaps she could have worked, but we'll never know.

Congratulations to CBS for demanding a reworking, rather than junking the project.  And congratulations to Chuck Lorre for going back to the drawing board.  How much difference did the tweaking make?  About a billion dollars worth.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Crash Smash

I watched Wedding Crashers for the first time since it opened in 2005.  It was a huge hit in its day.  Does it hold up?

The concept was original--two guys who, for years, have been crashing weddings, where they get free food and drink, and willing young women who are feeling romantic.  The plot is the old boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl, but it's all in how you do it.

The boy, in this case, is Owen Wilson, in some ways an improbable romantic hero, but his off-center charm works here.  And he doesn't even see the girl until the end of the first act. In fact, that's what starts the second act.

Because the film has a problem.  We like our heroes--they're fun people, and resourceful--but they're men in their 30s who seem to be stuck in perpetual adolescence.  Which is why we get the scene where Owen Wilson tells partner Vince Vaughn that maybe it's time to stop.  So they'll go to one last big wedding.  And when Wilson sees Rachel McAdams, the bride's sister, that's when he's jolted into something different.  He keeps our sympathy, because even as he plays his tricks on her, we know this is the real things.

Meanwhile, Vaughn's got a more comic plot, going head-to-head with the other sister, played by Isla Fisher.  At first she's just another notch on his belt, but turns out to be more than his match.

The second act is the two getting deeper and deeper into their latest adventure, as they go off to stay at the home of the rich, powerful family, with Christopher Walken as the patriarch and Bradley Cooper (not well-known then) as McAdam's boyfriend.

There's a lot of fun stuff here, the most famous being--there's no nice way to say it--the crotch-rubbing-under-the-dinner-table scene.  I remember seeing this with a packed house and it tore the roof off.

Wilson and McAdams start falling for each other but then he and Vaughn are found out.  Boys loses girls and we're propelled into the third act.  And it's this final act that's the most controversial section.

For one thing, this film is long--almost two hours.  I realize in an age of Judd Apatow and the Farrelly Brothers, long comedies may not seem like a big deal, but it's hard to keep the balls in the air that long.  It's even trickier when the film is built on imposture.  Generally, once that's exposed, the air leaks out of the balloon and you want to get to the end as soon as possible.

But the film takes its time in the final act.  Some might even say it dawdles.  Maybe this is good in a way, showing it takes the characters seriously, but the high comic excitement is gone, so we get a lot of Wilson mooning around and the two friends breaking up.

Then there's a third-act surprise--in an attempt for a comic shot in the arm, we meet the original wedding crasher, played by surprise star Will Ferrell.  I don't remember his appearance being that well-loved back then (and it is a bit absurd once the film is trying to get serious), but it is something different, and has held up reasonably well.

But it sure takes us a long time to get Wilson and McAdams back together, as well as Wilson and Vaughn.  We end the film with the two couples speeding off to more adventures, but it does feel like the post-disclosure material could have been handled more effectively in half the time.

Overall, I think the film works. There's some slack, and not every idea pays off, but at its best it's got true comic momentum.  Wilson has rapport with both Vaughn and McAdams (who's never looked lovelier).  Above all, Vaughn is a comic dynamo.  If you want to see a film that shows what he can do, this is it.

There are rumors of a sequel. Bad idea.  For one thing, Wilson and Vaughn reteamed in The Internship, and seemed tired.  Would we really want to see their wedding crasher characters over a decade later?  It sounds depressing.

Monday, February 12, 2018


The Writers Guild handed out its awards last night, and I don't like what I'm seeing.  Not unlike the Oscars, there are some fine choices available, and some weak ones I wish they'd avoid.  The WGA didn't avoid them. (I'm talking about movies--no one cares about TV right now.)

The nominees for best original screenplay were The Big Sick, Get Out, I Tonya, Lady Bird and The Shape Of Water.  There were a few titles I wouldn't have minded seeing, but four of these five are good to great.  The only one that shouldn't be up there is Get Out, which was sort of fun, but overall shallow and silly.

Needless to say, Get Out won.

For best adapted screenplay, the choices were Call Me By Your Name, The Disaster Artist, Logan, Molly's Game and Mudbound.  Not as distinguished a list as that for original screenplay, but still pretty good.  The Disaster Artist, Logan and Molly's Game were all well done in their own way.  I was less impressed by Mudbound, but it was okay.  The only one I didn't like--it resulted in one of the most boring films of the year--was Call Me By Your Name.

Needless to say, Call Me By Your Name won.

The Oscars will be handed out in a few weeks.  I hope the voters snap out of it.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

To The Point

Last night I saw a program of Oscar nominated shorts, in both the live action and animated category.  My thoughts:


The nominees in this category are pretty good.  I would vote for Negative Spaces, which is short (5 minutes), to the point and very well done.

The Academy, however, rarely listens to me.  I would think the favorite is Revolting Rhymes, which is hard to compare with the others, since it's almost half an hour and bites off a lot more.  It's a fun retelling of classic fairy tales.

Also great (my #2 choice) is Garden Party, about frogs overrunning a home.  It's probably the most technically accomplished nominee.  I might add that these three shorts all traffic in dark humor and death.

This year's entry from Pixar is LOU, which isn't bad, but I don't think has what it takes to win this year. (Though I note it has the highest rating of these five nominees at the IMDb.)

The only short I wouldn't want to see win is Dear Basketball.  The animation is decent, but created, written and financed by Kobe Bryant, it seems more like a promo for him than anything else. And hasn't Kobe won enough awards?

Live Action:

A weak group.  None I would call great.  (And since most are political, we're likely to get an annoying speech from the winner.)

My favorite was DeKalb Elementary.  It's a pretty basic story--really a situation--where a guy comes into a school with a gun. It's based on a real event, apparently.  (Three of these shorts are based on real stories, and they all have guns.)  It's not particularly complicated, but that's what shorts are for--you make your point, make it memorably, and get out.  DeKalb wins for me because the two leads did a good job and showed more humanity that any of the other films.

My second favorite was The Silent Child, about a deaf girl and a social worker who fights with her parents to get her the right treatment.  My biggest complaint is the film ended with stats about deaf children and a plea about what to do, which made it more like a PSA than a short.  It's touching enough that I think the Academy might go for it.

Then there's The Eleven O'Clock, about a psychiatrist with a particularly troublesome patient.  It's the only humorous short.  It's also the shortest short (though still 13 minutes), which is a good thing, because there's really only one joke, with variations.  I thought the punch line was telegraphed, but the audience was laughing, so I wouldn't rule it out.

My two least favorites (not bad, but not good enough), are My Nephew Emmett and Watu Wote: All Of Us. The former is the story of Emmett Till, which is an important subject, but that doesn't make the film important.  The latter is about the violence in Kenya and Somalia between Muslims and Christians. It's based on an event where Muslims put their lives in danger to protect a Christian from terrorists.

At the end of these films we were shown video of the filmmakers hearing they were nominated for Oscars.  It was funny to see the films, often about serious, deadly subjects, and then watch the filmmakers jump up and down in joy: "Hooray! Because we exploited horrific stories we'll get to dress up nice and be on TV in front of millions!"

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