Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lost Then Found

Brian Tallerico gives Finding Vivian Maier two and a half stars. A bit low, I thought.

The documentary is about a women who worked as a nanny and took thousands and thousands of photographs. She's be forgotten unless John Maloof, who made the film, hadn't discovered all the rolls of film and gotten her work displayed.  And it's impressive--she strikes me as a master of street photography.

So I read Tallerico's piece and it wasn't so much a review as a discussion of the morality of such a project.  Would Vivian Maier have liked it?  She was a private woman who died a few years ago, completely unknown. Would she approve of someone snooping around in her life?  It seemed to me Tallerico should have rated the film for how gripping it is, and if he felt bad about it, note his moral qualms. Instead, the review seems to reflect how he feels about the making and displaying of the film, not the film itself.

He's not the only critic to have some problems with this, but I'm surprised anyone is bothered.  Haven't these people seen other documentaries, or read any newspaper or biographies?  When someone does something of interest, whether it's noble or dastardly, people like to find out about them, and its commonplace for reporters or other to investigate into their lives.  Maybe it's not nice when the person (even after this person has died) would prefer to remain anonymous, but it's pretty much business as usual.

My guess, by the way, is Maier would have liked to see her work praised, and exhibited in museums.  It's certainly possible she wouldn't have liked some of the revelations about her personal life, but, as unfair as this may seem, it's not up to her.  As to what those revelations are, see the movie. If you think your conscience can handle it.

Hank

It's the 90th birthday of Henry Mancini, one of the most successful soundtrack composers ever.












Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pay And Play

Happy Tax Day. It is a happy because it means you're done with your taxes.  And if you're not, stop reading this and get on it.



Update:  I just watched the lunar eclipse.  Somehow, though, on this day it would feel more right to have the sun extinguished for a while.

Finally

"Finally" what?  We'll get to that.

Anyway, the second episode of the fourth season of Game Of Thrones, "The Lion And The Rose," written by George R. R. Martin himself, was pretty memorable.

We start at a hunt in a forest.  Turns out to be Ramsay Snow and his girlfriend, along with his servant Reek, the prince formerly known as Theon, chasing after a woman who made the girlfriend jealous.  She's brought down by an arrow and fed to the hounds.  You know, we get the idea that Ramsay Snow, in addition to being Roose Bolton's bastard, is just a bastard in general; still, at least it wasn't more torture of Theon, so I guess we should be happy it was something different.

At King's Landing Jaime and Tyrion dine. Been a while since we've seen them together.  Jaime is still sulking a bit, but wouldn't you if you were a great swordsman who lost his right hand?  He needs to practice with his left, but with whom?  If word gets out he's a novice how can he lead the King's Guard?  It's Bronn to the rescue.  Cross his palm with silver--or preferably gold--and he'll fight you and also keep it on the qt.

Over at Dreadfort (yes, it's Dreadfort, though I didn't know last week, where Ramsay keeps Theon) soft-speaking turncoat Roose Bolton drops by with his fat Frey wife and his nasty pet Locke.  He's not happy with his bastard.  Tywin made Roose guardian of the North, but what good is that if he still has to sneak in past the Greyjoys.  And now Snow has flayed Theon.  Boltons may enjoy flaying, but he's not much of a hostage now.  But Ramsay shows Reek will do anything now, including give out valuable information, like Bran and Rickon are still alive--can't have them still alive if you want to hold the North.  Maybe they're hiding with Jon Snow, who knows? (All bastards have such basic last names. Down in Dorne, we learn this episode, they're called Sand.) Roose tells Locke to chase down the kids and has Ramsay go with Reek to take back a castle or something from the Greyjoys.  If he does a good job, maybe he'll get to be a Bolton.

Back in King's Landing where most of this episode is set, Varys tells Tyrion that Shae has been discovered by Cersei, who'll soon tell Tywin.  And Varys won't lie about it when asked.

At the wedding breakfast, everyone's assembled and Joffrey, under the thumb of Tywin, seems to be on his best behavior, even graciously accepting a book from Uncle Tyrion. Then he gets that Valyrian steel sword we saw forged last week and he cuts loose, chopping up the book and once again, in case you forgot, proving what a dick he is.

Back in his chambers, Tyrion knows he must force Shae away or his uncle will hang her.  This time instead of trying to convince her she's in trouble, he acts the part of noble husband, saying he can't sleep with whores any more.  He has Bronn (who's pretty busy this episode) put her to a ship to Pentos (a city, not a mint) where she'll be provided for.  So she's off and out of the series? Somehow, I doubt it.

At Dragonstone, Melisandre is burning more people for the Lord Of Light, who apparently can't see well at night.  Stannis allows it, his wife loves it and Davos holds his tongue. At dinner, the queen fears for their disfigured daughter, who doesn't seem to get this new religion.  Melisandre visits her and tries to explain how the Lord Of Light works, but she's got to forget these Seven Gods.  (They wouldn't dare burn that sweet girl, would they?  That's too much even for Game Of Thrones.)

Up north, Bran the warg is seeing things though his direwolf Summer.  Then he's awoken. Summer may be killing and eating a stag, but that doesn't nourish Bran's body.  He has Hodor carry him to a nearby tree with a face on it. He touches the tree and has visions, and when he comes to he knows where they have to go.  I thought he already knew where he had to go, but I guess he just knew they had to be north of the Wall. Now that they're there, he needs more specific directions.

Back in King's Landing, the wedding of Joffrey and Margaery takes place.  They grow up so fast.  Sansa may be married to Tyrion, but at least she escaped this.  A bit later Tywin complains about the extravagance, but Lady Olenna tells him to enjoy loosen up and enjoy life.

Then the massive reception. Everyone who's anyone is there.  Not that they're all thrilled.  There are a whole bunch of characters meeting up in interesting combinations.  Margaery gets to make her big announcement--the leftovers will be distributed to the poorest in the city.  It's good for the First Lady to have a project.

Jaime tells Loras he won't be marrying Cersei.  Actually, neither want this (though I'm still bothered Jaime has reverted to his season one character), but Loras has a good comeback--neither will you.

Lady Brienne presents herself. Still weird seeing this sworn enemy of all things Lannister in the middle of the celebration.  Cersei buttonholes her and thanks her for bringing back Jaime, but then gets a bit sharper.  She knows that Brienne loves Jaime.  Does Brienne?  I think she's conflicted, just like Jaime, who's watching the conversation from across the yard.

Cersei's on a hot streak and goes to see her favorite Maester, Pycelle. Well, he used to be--now she's into the more despicable Qyburn.  She sends Pycelle away to tell the kitchen to give the leftovers to the kennels--now that's the Cersei we know and love.  She's still not done.  She meets up with Tywin and they talk to Prince Oberyn and his wild gal Ellaria Sand.  They exchange barbed lines for a couple minutes and then move on.

Now Joffrey stands up and announces something important. He's bored with the entertainment so far, so he brings out five dwarfs to reenact the War Of The Five Kings. He certainly finds it funny, though some aren't so amused, especially Tyrion, not to mention others who lost dear ones in the war, such as Loras and Sansa.

As if that's not enough, Joffrey suggest Tyrion join in to see how he'll do, but the Imp refuses, and verbally jousts back.  Joffrey goes over and pours his wine over his uncle.  They had enough trouble at Tryion's wedding, but what will happen now?  Tyrion tries to be polite (and everyone else, even Tywin and Cersei, keep quiet), but Joffrey demands he be his cupbearer and refill his goblet.  (Too bad Arya isn't there, since she'd know what to do.)

It's getting ugly when Margaery shouts that the pie is coming, one with four and twenty birds baked in.  This distracts everyone and Joffrey gets to cut it open with his new sword.  The new queen feeds him some pie, but he's not done.  Tyrion and Sansa hope to slip out quietly, but the King calls back his cupbearer, who pours him another round.  Then, as Joffrey's about to hurl another insult, he starts choking. It gets serious. Jaime, Tywin and Cersei rush over but it's too late.  The King is dead (long live who?  Tommen?).

In the madness, someone spirits Sansa away, saying, in effect, come with me if you want to live.  I didn't catch who it was.  But Cersei thinks she know who killed her son--Tyrion, of course, still fumbling with the goblet.  She has him arrested. But it doesn't seem to be him, so who?  Who'd want Joffrey dead, aside from most of the characters and every viewer. Perhaps Prince Oberyn, but more likely the Tyrells (who waited until after Margaery became Queen).

And we end on a shot of the dead Joffrey which will no doubt be a popular screen saver.  During the credits we get a mournful rendition of King's Landing's biggest hit, "The Rains Of Castamere."  Fitting.

So that's the finally part.  Joffrey may have been the most loathed character ever on TV, and everyone has been wishing him dead almost from the start of season one.  Now their wishes have been granted, but what happens next?  After you get what you want you don't know what to do?  Whom should we hate now?

Tyrion is certainly in trouble, and Sansa better get away (along with Shae, or has she been captured already, or worse, will she foolishly return).  We'll find out next week, but all we know is Joffrey's dead--just like Melisandre said would happen, by the way--and, as we know, Westeros abhors a power vacuum.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Men's End

Didn't watch Game Of Thrones yet, so please, no spoilers.  But I did check out the debut of the seventh, and final season, of Mad Men.  The episode was called "Time Zones," and was set equally in California and New York--and it seems likely the season will follow that bicoastal (which is how Pete describes Don--was that term in use back then?) approach.

It's January of  '69, not too long after last season, and we spend most of our time catching up with all the old characters.  And the first is a blast from the past--we see a sober Freddy Rumsen, cashiered from Sterling Cooper a few seasons ago for drinking (and when you drink too much for Madison Avenue, you've got a problem), making a pitch to Peggy.  Shocking, but the pitch is great.  Peggy, now in charge of creative, is impressed.

Meanwhile, Roger's at the end of some orgy, or whatever his new deal is, when his daughter (I think she's estranged, but then, just about everyone's estranged in this show) calls to set up a brunch at the Plaza.

Peggy and her team go into the meeting with their new boss Lou, and he doesn't seem that impressed with Peggy. Last season left Peggy in charge, but is she really?  Upstairs, Joan meets with a disturbed, one-eyed Ken. With Pete kicked out to L.A., he's in charge of everything and needs help.  He demands Joan meet with the head of marketing at some footwear account, because it's beneath him.  Joan still seems competent, but, even as a partner, not entirely respected.  Hey, it's 1969.

All along we're asking where's Don? He's on the outs at Sterling Cooper, and with his wife, Megan, so what's he decided to do?  To the tune of Chicago's "I'm A Man," (or was it The Spencer David Group) he's flying out to Los Angeles. He takes the moving walkway, just like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, and outside he's met by Megan, who's trying to establish her acting career out there.  She takes him straight to a restaurant where they meet her flamboyant agent (I think it's her agent) who thinks she's going to be cast on Bracken's World (which will only last a season if she does).  He also mentions in passing fixing her teeth, which has been a subject of conversation since Jessica Pare was cast.

Back in New York, Ted isn't happy (after a trip to L.A.).  And Peggy's not happy about Ted. In general, it's awkward between them.  Joan's meeting doesn't go too well.  The marketing guy wants to fire the firm and work in-house.  She's good enough to hold him off, but we now see why this meeting was meant for Ken.

Don goes up to wife's place in the hills (in the days of Sharon Tate).  She just wants to go to sleep. He watches Joey Bishop on a black and white set with poor reception.  Hey, it's 1969. Next morning, after Megan goes off the class, Don meets Pete for lunch at Canter's (which still pretty much looks like it did then).  Pete has gone native, embracing, as best he can, his new city. Sure, it doesn't have good bagels, and the air is horrible, but there's nothing left in New York anyway, with his failed marriage, so why not go out to the place where America is heading. He shows Don the California office.  Will this be a new, regular set where we spend a lot of the season? It may be Siberia, or maybe it's the beginning of something big.

Over the weekend Joan meets a professor at a business school to come up with arguments against an in-house agency.  He's nicer than she thinks and she's smarter than he thinks.

Back at Megan's place she's preparing coq au vin. Don has a nice new, huge color set delivered, even though she thinks it's too nice--people around the neighborhood have a lot less.  But he's going to be staying long enough to have a big fight over it, so we know this relationship is still on the rocks.  Later, they watch the opening to Lost Horizon, but she's so tired they just go to bed.  The next day, he's got to leave.  When he flies home on the red eye, he's seated next to a woman played by Neve Campbell.  Mad Men has a penchant for hiring old TV stars.  The two get on quite well (which happens when you look at good as Don Draper) and it looks like Don's ready for yet another conquest.  Amazingly, he turns her down.  Is this a new Don?

He's headed to New York, but before we get there, we see that Peggy, who now lives by herself and is the landlady of her apartment in a not-so-great area, has to deal with unhappy tenants.  And back at the office she's still failing with Lou.  Later she practically has a fit in front of Stan--is she the only one who actually cares about quality any more?  Roger meets with his daughter, and maybe she's fallen in with some sort of new-age religion, but she's forgiven him. Not that he thinks he needs to be forgiven.  He goes back to his place where his woman waits, along with whomever else is hanging around.  Joan discovers the guy she met has gone behind her back to schedule a meeting with Ken where presumably he'll fire the firm.  Still no respect.  Joan calls him and makes a good argument, but it's pretty uncertain if she can save the account.

At Don's apartment--a lot emptier without his wife--he watches Nixon's inaugural on his beautiful color TV.  Guess who's there?  Freddy Rumsen. It was Don's campaign all along. I knew it was too good for Freddy. (The surprise echoes the pilot, when we finally see Don's home and find out he's married.)  So I guess Freddy is out there doing Don's business.  Don can't because he's still receiving a paycheck from Sterling Cooper.  Even though no one ever calls him. He's still as talented as ever, it's just his attitude. How long can this state of affairs last?

Back at Peggy's depressing place, where she's still dealing with tenants' plumbing problems, she falls down to the floor and cries.  Things aren't going so well, are they. Meanwhile, at Don's fancier pad, while we hear "You Keep Me Hangin' On" by Vanilla Fudge, Don can't close his balcony door. So he goes out into the cold night air and sits there, depressed.  Don't jump Don, it's just as bad for Peggy.

Missing in action?  No Betty, no Sally, no Harry (always fun to see Harry), no Bert.  I'm sure we'll catch up with them soon.

It did seem last season that Mad Men may have already peaked. Or at least interest had.  It wasn't winning all the awards anymore, or even being nominated.  Could six seasons of a guy who can't talk about himself finally gone too far?  Well, we've got one more season to find out.  True, there are new, shiny series that caught the critics attention--Downton Abbey, Homeland, Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones.  And most of those have a lot more action.  But after about half an hour, this episode reminded me of why I liked the show in the first place. It's moodier, and not filled with too much action (or something any action except for someone writing something), but once you get into the rhythm, with smart dialogue and well-defined characters, it is like no other.

R&R From R&B

Happy birthday, Ritchie Blackmore, guitarist and songwriter who worked with a lot of acts before becoming a founder of Deep Purple.








Sunday, April 13, 2014

All Avatared Out

So here's the big announcement from James Cameron: he should be done with the scripts for three Avatar sequels in six weeks.

The second, third and fourth films all go into production simultaneously.  They’re essentially all in pre-production now because we are designing creatures, settings and characters that span all three films. And we should be finished with all three scripts within the next, I would say, six weeks. [....] The biggest pressure I feel right now is cutting out things I love to get the film down to a length that is affordable.

How about cutting out enough so there's only two sequels. Or one. Or none.

With $2.78 billion worldwide, Avatar has grossed more money, by far, than any other film.  Second place is Cameron's Titanic, with $2.19 billion.  After that, it drops to $1.52 billion for Marvel's The Avengers.

Yet, does anyone really want to see a sequel to Avatar, much less three?  Does anyone want to return to that boring land with those giant blue freaks?  Cameron promises new habitats and cultures.  That might work, if we could drop anyone and anything from the original.

Green Day

Happy birthday, Al Green, maybe the best singer of the 70s.







Saturday, April 12, 2014

When There's A Will

I recently heard someone making an argument about free will.  I disagreed with his premise, his logic, his facts and his conclusion. In general, I considered his claim a disguised version of the strong anthropic principle.

I was going to discuss it here but I just decided against it.  If I do have free will, I think this was a good decision. If I don't have free will, what else was I gonna do?

The Other Bernstein

Note:  This was meant to go up on April 4, but somehow it dropped out.

Happy birthday, Elmer Bernstein. (Born in 1922, he may be the last person ever to be named Elmer.)  Bernstein was one of the greatest film composers ever.








Friday, April 11, 2014

Dave To Steve

The big news is not only that CBS has chosen Stephen Colbert to replace David Letterman, but the rapidity with which they made the decision. Maybe they should have waited a little longer.

Certainly Colbert is fast, witty and knows how to handle hosting duties, but is he really the best choice? (I realize some people, like Jon Stewart, simply weren't available, but plenty of other names were.)  I guess he's young enough, though he'll be starting about a decade later than average for the 11:30 network slot.  But does he have enough appeal--will he cross over?  He's a success on his Comedy Central show (helped by the Stewart lead-in), with good numbers and great demos, but will it mean he can get and hold the wider audience CBS wants?

After all, we don't know if he can run a "regular" talk show.  His character is a loud-mouthed conservative who says idiotic things.  On CBS, he'll have to play it straight.  Will that work for him?  For his fans?  Running a show straight is a different sort of talent.

Also, he's a well-known liberal.  Will he let that get in the way of his show?  There are plenty of liberals doing late night talk shows, but few so identified by their politics.  As Johnny Carson, who kept his politics quiet, used to say, why should I lose half my audience before I start?

Who would be better? Heck if I know.  Though perhaps they could have chosen someone a little less predictable.  Maybe even a relative unknown, like Letterman and Conan were when they started.  That would have been exciting.

First To The Party

Happy birthday Nick LaRocca.   He was a jazz cornetist in the early days, and by early days I mean this guy claimed to have created the music.  That's a bit much, but the Original Dixieland Jass Band, in which he played, did apparently make the first jazz recording, "Livery Stable Blues."  LaRocca also wrote "Tiger Rag," which is enough for anyone.






Thursday, April 10, 2014

Madness

Pretty exciting--new Mad Men soon.  Speaking of which, here's an essay in Slate by Ann Helen Petersen, who teaches media studies at Whitman College: "Don Draper 101."  It's about a class she taught on Mad Men.  Some people might think it silly to devote a class to a TV show, but hey, even if you don't think its art there's always the anthropological angle.  The students, along with watching episodes, read books and essays relating to the culture of the time the show represents. So far, so good.  But then we get to this:

We didn’t necessarily arrive at answers so much as develop strategies—and identify traps to avoid. Because when you love a period piece, it’s easy to excuse its faults in the name of historical or narrative accuracy. The blatant racism, misogyny, classism—that’s the point. There’s some merit to this argument (I loved Willa Paskin’s recent application of it to True Detective) so long as we’re constantly talking about the absences—of characters of color, of fleshed-out female characters—instead of simply forgetting them.

Which is why we read “Mad Men's Postracial Figuration of a Racial Past,” a superb essay by historian Kent Ono that not only expands the critique of Mad Men’s racial politics to include its treatment of Asian-Americans but effectively undercuts the claim that Mad Men’s depiction of racism is, in truth, an anti-racist act. Characters of color—even relatively well-developed ones like Carla or Hollis—become foils to elucidate the actions of white (main) characters. It’s not just the setting that segregates and devalues them but the narrative itself.

I read the essay she refers to and it's exactly the sort of blather that gives the academic world a bad name.  Filled with the sediment of second-hand thinking (that was questionable enough when it was first-hand), it actually prevents serious appraisal of art or entertainment.  Any professor who calls it "superb" is probably best avoided.

No matter what your view of racism, or sexism, or the Cold War, or price controls, or Norwegian fishing quotas, or whatever it is that interests you, art is not required to represent anything in any way, no matter how much you wish it would.  The aesthetic operates in its own realm.  To Petersen, and Ono, it's not enough that Mad Men shows the casual sexism and racism of the era (not that it has to, by the way--that's a choice)--the show must make sure certain characters on the sidelines are given more depth, and not just be unnecessary adjuncts to the main character, who are generally white and privileged.

This is hogwash, and hateful hogwash at that.  The artist chooses what story to tell, and on whom to concentrate. The job of the artist--or even the harried TV writer--is to make that story compelling, not to have any particular message, or, even more limiting, tell the story in any particular way.  If anything, demanding a show conform to rigid (and all too shallow) ideological constraints will likely weaken the art and make any message less meaningful.

I've read serious, intelligent criticism of Mad Men, but this sort of prattle isn't it.  Though let me give some advice to the students.  We've all had this kind of class.  Just regurgitate what the professor wants on the final and you'll be okay.  The last thing you'd want to do is challenge her thinking or disturb her worldview in any way.

The Sheb Meister

Happy birthday, Sheb Wooley.  He was an actor and singer.  He had a #1 hit with the novelty song "Purple People Eater" and then pretty much left the pop charts, though he went on to a fair amount of success in country music, including performances as drunk songwriter Ben Colder.






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