Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Dethroned

Okay, it's been a month since the final episode of Game Of Thrones and I think I can safely say--the last season was no good.  It seemed that way while it was unspooling, but now I'm sure. It was six episodes long, and resolved all the major issues, but everything was rushed.  Or if it wasn't rushed, it just wasn't well written, with motivations taking a back road to big moments.

There'd been significant problems with the show in the last couple seasons, but it still managed to maintain a fairly high level.  The last season, however, had maybe two decent episodes ("A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms" and "The Last Of The Starks" if you were wondering.)

There are many things to complain about, but here are some of the biggest:

--The two big battles were poorly done.  Sure, no expense was spared, but the fight against the Night King was poorly planned and too dark to see.  The battle of King's Landing was confusing, filled with individual plans that made no sense, and spent too long trying to beat into our heads that Dany is wreaking terrible destruction.  We would have got that, as would the characters, even if they didn't show it.

--Wrong order.  From the start of the show, the big battle was the fight against the Wights.  It made the game of thrones look puny by comparison.  Who cares who sits on the Iron Throne when the whole of humanity is at stake? So what does the show do?  It disposes of the Night King and his army in the first three episodes and then moves on to the trivial problem of who'll rule from King's Landing.  Does it matter?  Rulers come and go.

--Whipsawing of characters and motivations.  Dany comes into Westeros, listens to the advice of others (though they often make mistakes), saves the entire world, loses half her army and two dragons, yet everyone (including the audience) is supposed to hate her because she's out of control. Varys, after being the smartest character in the world, turns on her immediately, rather than trying to advise her otherwise, or waiting until he's in a position to do good (and turns on her in such an obvious way this brilliant strategist is easily caught and executed).  Sansa has to know she and everyone she loves would have been slaughtered if not for Dany, but all she does is complain about the Breaker Of Chains. And Jon would just as soon kill her as talk her down.  I guess he knows nothing.

--Plot is told and not shown.  There are a lot of examples, but to pick an obvious one, there's the moment when Tyrion has an emotional speech about how Cersei must surrender because she has no chance to win, and thousands will die needlessly.  Wait a second there, Imp.  Cersei has no chance?  Cersei, who's got a huge, well-rested army and the best fleet in the world?  Cersei, who decisively won the previous face-off, destroying her opposition's fleet and taking out one of Dany's two dragons?  Cersei, who's facing a tired, decimated army which has already seen the desertion of many of its allies?  Cersei, who hides behind the walls of a city that's better at withstanding armies than any other?  Cersei, who easily killed one of Dany's dragons and only has to kill the other one to put an end to Dany's chances?  Yep, she's guaranteed to lose, that's the plot, now shut up and accept it. (I also don't get why thousands will die needlessly, but we have to accept that, too.)

--Bran is chosen King.  Tyrion argues that he should be king because he's got the best story, and, amazingly, everyone agrees.  First, who cares if he has a story--will he be a good ruler is a better question, and a kid who acts like he's stoned hardly seems the ideal choice.  Second, his story is so boring the show wrote him out for a season.  Third, he's the three-eyed raven--isn't that a special position where you're supposed to sit in a cave and watch everything?  Fourth, what evidence at all is there that this creepy kid knows how to get anything done--I'm not sure if I'd even trust him as an advisor, but a ruler?  Literally everyone else in the dragon pit would have made a better king.  By the way, his first decision is to set the North free, so it's now six kingdoms, not seven.  Why would anyone else stay?  His first decision, then, doesn't just weaken his kingdom and smack of favoritism when he needs to rule all fairly--it's a disastrous ruling that guarantees instability and almost certainly civil war.

--A girl is ill-used.  I won't even discuss Sansa, who was never a great character, and actually more boring once she got powerful.  But Arya was one of the most reliable characters through the first five seasons, when she had a series of mentors.  Then she became a master assassin who could disguise herself, but for some reason this skill was never displayed in the final season.  Sure, she got to kill the Night King, but not through deception--instead, to get close (to the most protected character around, since if he dies his whole army dies), she simply leaps at him.  Then, in her attempt to kill Cersei, which she decides not to do anyway, she once again figures she'll just be good old Arya.  Jaqen would be disgusted--why did we waste all that training on her?  And instead of sticking around Westeros to work her magic and right wrongs, she decides to sail into unknown territory.  Since when is she a captain?  Maybe I could buy Yara doing this, but Arya is a landlubber.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

When There's A Will

Will Smith is a movie star.  That I know.  What I don't know is what he's like in private. But I wonder how he feels about this summer's movies.

For some years now, Hollywood pundits have been saying we're past the age of movie stars--it's the film that counts.  They say that blockbusters come not from big names, but from projects generally based on well-known intellectual property.  The best example of this would be, I suppose, all those successful Marvel films.

Another example would be films based on D.C. Comics--Smith was even in one, Suicide Squad.  He was the big name, but some claimed his stardom wasn't responsible for its grosses--that it would have done just as well with someone else.

So how does he feel about so many projects, big ones with major IP, falling by the wayside?  Dark Phoenix, Godzilla, Rocketman, Dumbo and others have posted disappointing numbers. Meanwhile, Smith's Aladdin is one of the few significant hits in the past few months. How much was due to the property, how much to Smith?

But here's the part that depends on his personality.  I'm sure he's pleased he's in a hit, but how does he feel about the relative failure of the Men In Black reboot? The original is the film that turned him into a major star, and for which he did two sequels.  Now Sony has decided to produce an MIB without Smith and it looks like it's in trouble. Deep down, I wonder if he isn't a little bit pleased that they can't do it without him?

Monday, June 17, 2019

When It's '64

Don't ask me how, but I just got a copy of Collier's Encyclopedia Yearbook for 1964 (published in 1965, of course).  This comes from the time when such compendia weren't created afresh each day, so an annual update was helpful.

I was particularly happy to get the 1964 volume, since that was the year Beatlemania broke in America--while there's a lot of fascinating stuff in its pages, forgive me for concentrating on the Fab Four.  The band is discussed at some length twice: in an overview of that year's popular music, and in a section on "Personalities Of The Year."

The musical discussion includes a full-page picture of the Beatles performing in a Seattle auditorium, so even Collier's, which would rather discuss classical music, knows they're a phenomenon.  The tone, as you might expect, is amused condescension.

They make the mistake--common at the time--of believing Paul wrote the music while John wrote the lyrics.  Understandable, in a way, since so many composing teams then, especially on Broadway, split those tasks.  They also get the title of one of their songs wrong, calling it "She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)."

From their description of the group:

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Beatles is their physical appearance, which to some observers suggested a contemporary and youthful version of the overdressed British dandy of 18th- and 19th- century tradition.  But the most recognizable aspect of their appearance is the quartet's long hair, somewhere between Elvis Presley's and Little Lord Fauntleroy's.

To be fair, Collier's is impressed with their talent, praising the tunefulness of Paul's balladry, the wit of Lennon's book In His Own Write and the comic quality of their movie A Hard Day's Night.

The discussion of the band in the personalities section is similar.  It starts thus:

Beatles, The (1940/1943-    ), a hirsute four-man English rock 'n' roll group that twice invaded the United States in 1964, producing epidemics of Beatlemania, a malady that afflicts teen-age girls especially and can be recognized by outbreaks of shrieking, swooning, twitching, police-line stampedes, predawn airport vigils, and other forms of collective hysteria. Taken together, the Beatles look alike--the body is encased in a collarless Edwardian four-button jacket and tight pants, the characteristic "yeah-yeah" sounds are emitted from beneath a mop of shaggy hair to the eyeballs.

The article ends:

The importance of the Beatles is not well understood by the adult population, but the group has undoubtedly been beneficial to makers of records, wigs, T-shirts, collarless suits and other stigmata of Beatledom.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Still Happy

The phrase "jump the shark" has become part of the lexicon.  As I've mentioned before, I know the people who came up with it at the University of Michigan.  They told me about it years before it was in widespread use.

I was recently watching a video where some British people tried to guess the meaning of the phrase.  They couldn't, of course.  It's impossible.  It means when a TV show (or anything, really) has passed its high point and is going downhill, never to be good again. It comes from the episode of Happy Days where Fonzie, in leather jacket and water skis, literally jumps over a shark.

Reading the comments below the video, however, it's clear most people don't know the full story.  They seem to believe this moment came late in the series when the show was flailing and the writers couldn't think of anything.  I'll leave it to you to judge if the writers were out of ideas, but, in fact, it happened while the show was very popular.

Happy Days did okay in its debut season, but looked like it may be in trouble until Fonzie broke out as a character.  That's when creator Garry Marshall did two things--make Fonzie far more prominent and start filming the show in front of a live audience.

It did the trick, and in its fourth season, Happy Days hit #1. It had previously never been top ten.  When it became a big hit, it would start each season with a series of related episodes often filmed at a location.  In season four, it was the romance of Fonzie and Pinky Tuscadero.  Season five started with a storyline where the characters go out to Hollywood--these were the episodes that included the shark jumping.  Season six started with the gang going out to a dude ranch.

Ratings-wise, these were the glory years of the show, where it was #1, then #2, then #4.  It remained a hit after that, but was never top ten again.

Okay, it's true the ratings started moving downward after Fonzie jumped the shark, but in the entire season after he did the deed it was still the second most popular show on TV, just a little behind Laverne & Shirley.  The next four seasons after that the show was still in the top 20. Only in its eleventh and final season was it truly low-rated.  To put it another way, the "jump the shark" moment happened at the beginning of season 5, and the show ran 11 seasons--the shark was jumped in the 91st of  255 episodes.

So yeah, maybe the moment was ridiculous, but at the time the viewers didn't seem to mind.  Except a few who some years later attended the University of Michigan and made the moment famous.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Let George Say It

George Clooney and partner Grant Heslov have produced the new Hulu mini-series Catch-22.  The 1970 movie version, directed by Mike Nichols, was a disaster, but maybe the extra screen-time will allow for them to capture the absurdist comedy of the source. (Too bad I don't get Hulu.)

George and Grant were just interviewed at Deadline.com. The first question is about how Clooney speaks out on political issues.  Then we get this exchange:

Q:  Grant, as George's partner, when you're sitting there and the questions about Trump or something else off-topic floats by on a hook, do you ever think, 'George, don't swallow the bait?'

Grant Heslov: No.  I don't think you give up your right to be a citizen if you become a movie star.  It makes me proud.

Can't blame Heslov for backing his (more famous) partner.  And he's right, movie stars have the same rights as all citizens.  But there is a difference.

You see, plumbers and accountants have opinions, too, just as valid as Clooney's.  But they don't get interviewed by the press, and their opinions aren't spread across the globe.  In fact, if I hired a plumber and he kept going on about the world situation, rather than snaking my toilet, I'd probably fire him.

It must be pretty tempting to speak your mind, knowing millions will hear your words.  But I'm pretty sure Clooney knows he's not being interviewed for his geopolitical acumen.  I can't stop movie stars from saying what they want when they want, but I'm still not clear on why the press finds it newsworthy.

Friday, June 14, 2019

JW

Happy birthday, Junior Walker.  He would have turned 88 today.  He was at Motown, but had his own sound.





Thursday, June 13, 2019

CC Follies

Here's another example of mistakes in closed captioning.  They can be annoying, but when they screw up lyrics it's worse, since they're destroying specially crafted material.

I'm referring to the musical You Can't Have Everything (1937), music and lyrics by Harry Revel and Mack Gordon.  Early on, Alice Faye sings the title song.  I was watching with the CC on and read this:

You can't have everything
Be satisfied with the little you make and
You can't have everything
Don't envy neighbors and the fortunes that they get

The CC typist must have thought very little of Gordon's talents.  Who would try to rhyme "make and" with "they get"? It doesn't even make sense--you can't tell people to be satisfied with the little they make when you don't even know if they have a job.

When the words were repeated later in the song, the CC made the same mistake, but I'd already reverse-engineered what she was actually singing.  You've probably figured it out by now:

You can't have everything
Be satisfied with the little you may get
You can't have everything
Don't envy neighbors and the fortunes that they get

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