Sunday, July 24, 2016

Poor radical terrorists

Geez, I thought the point of terrorism was to promote a message?

"as authorities searched an apartment in the city's Maxvorstadt district, there was no immediate indication of why the gunman had struck, according to the German news wire DPA."

Yep, it's a mystery.

The attack was condemned across the world. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi decried "the killing of innocent and defenseless people,” according to IRNA, Iran’s official news agency.

That's nice. The Iranians are being helpful.

Street Smarts

A lot of the graffiti you see (in Los Angeles, anyway) is on the sidewalk. Often stenciled.  Lately, a phrase I've noticed popping up more than once is: "Leave People Better Than You Found Them."

The line is sometimes attributed to Marvin J. Ashton, a Mormon leader.  The full quote goes:

Be the one who nurtures and builds. Be the one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart.  One who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them.

Sounds pretty good. In fact, the worst part is the end, so it's too bad that's the sentence these anonymous street-scrawlers love so much.

Telling people to leave others better than they found them is an open invitation for people to get all up in your business.  For them to start lecturing you about morality.  For them to demand you do your duty, whatever that is.

If I had my own can of paint--and some turpentine--I'd change the message to something much simpler:

Leave people alone.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A serious man

A reporter who thinks himself serious wrote this, and a newspaper that thinks itself serious published it:

July Grab Bag

Some birthdays of note today:

Calvert DeForest

Bert Convy

Don Drysdale

Don Imus

Edie McClurg

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Friday, July 22, 2016

Seems unlikely

Human intelligence is being defined and measured for the first time ever

Maybe they should put it on a scale. I wonder what the average will be?

All's Well

I think Source Code is a well done sci-fi thriller.  It came out five years ago and still holds up.  Recently I stumbled across a page that argues the ending is disturbing, though people don't notice.  Actually, I've been hearing this complaint since the film came out, and I'd like to take it up.

First, for those who haven't seen Source Code, or have forgotten it, let me relate the plot.  There are twists and turns in this story, so if you don't want to be spoiled, stop here.

It's about Army pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) who finds himself on a Chicago commuter train.  A woman on the train, Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) seems to know him, though he doesn't know her.  He looks in a mirror and sees he's someone else.  Then the train explodes and everyone dies.

Stevens is now back in a cockpit who-knows-where.  An army captain (Vera Farmiga) communicates with him through a video screen.  Turns out he's on a mission, made possible through some new quantum technology, that sends him into this situation where he can find out who planted the bomb that blew up the train. The incident has already happened, though.  It can't be changed.  But his consciousness can be sent back into the mind of a guy name Sean Fentress--Christina's boyfriend.

Unfortunately, he can only go back for the last eight minutes before to the explosion   He has to keep going back, over and over, to get information and prevent a far more deadly bomb expected to explode in a few hours.

One surprise along the way is we discover Stevens was hurt in Afghanistan, and is in a coma.  He's lost most of his body and is hooked up to life support, kept alive to solve this problem.

After a bunch of tries, he figures out who the bomber is.  He asks to go one more time to save everyone on the train, though the guy in charge of the program insists what's happening isn't real, and the explosion has already happened.

He goes back and stops the bomb, catches the bomber and kisses the girl.  This should be the end, where it all goes black.  Indeed, his body back in the original story is disconnected from life support.  But instead, the timeline continues beyond its endpoint and it looks like he and Christina have a rosy future.  So either he's changed history, or at the very least, there's a new timeline where the bomb didn't explode.

What's disturbing to many people is the fate of Sean Fentress.  What happened to him?  His body's been taken over, and he no longer exists.  Stevens, in effect, murders him.

Also, if these trips back are real, what Stevens (and his controllers) are doing is murdering numerous people over and over.

One more thing--poor Christina in the final timeline is fooled.  She thinks she's got her boyfriend, but it's actually a guy she doesn't even know, no matter what he looks like.

None of this bother me, and it shouldn't bother anyone else.  I'm willing to assume, due to the final scene, that Stevens' trips back to the train aren't just play-acting, but are real timelines that exist in some alternate world.  So what?

Here's what happened to Sean Fentress.  He loved a girl and got blown up with her.  If there were no experiment, that's his lot.  So he's got nothing to complain about if there's an alternate timeline where another guy--in his body--gets his girl.  You can't lose what you never had.

A similar argument goes for all those real people who get blown up several times.  This is extra minutes they're enjoying, that wouldn't have existed otherwise.  And since they don't know the bomb is coming, but suddenly die, all those minutes are a bonus.

Finally, Christina Warren.  She's got a new boyfriend, but doesn't know it.  First, it's not so bad.  Stevens seems like a nice guy.  Second, her other choice is to be blown up--which would you pick?  And who knows, maybe some day Stevens will tell her what happened, though I doubt she'll believe him.

On top of all this, thanks to Stevens' heroism, it's likely tens of thousands of Chicagoans were spared the effect of a dirty bomb.

The people who are disturbed by the ending should stop whining.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

What fascism looks like

This will go on your permanent record


I finished Sitcom: A History In 24 Episodes by Saul Austerlitz.  Feels like I've been working on it forever.  It took so long not because it was bad, but because each chapter covers a show, and I'd read it, something would come up, then I wouldn't get back to the book for another week or so.  I think it took as long as a full TV season, which these days tends to be 24 episode, thus the 24 shows the book investigates.

What are the shows?  The books lays them out chronologically:

I Love Lucy
The Honeymooners
The Phil Silvers Show
Leave It To Beaver
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Gilligan's Island
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
All In The Family
The Cosby Show
The Simpsons
The Larry Sanders Show
Sex And The City
Freaks And Geeks
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Arrested Development
The Office
30 Rock

Each chapter is built around a specific episode, but also looks at the show as a whole, and, indeed, at other sitcoms that followed in the original's footsteps.

It's a solid list.  Most of the shows are classics, or at least pretty good, but they also show the development of the form.

For instance, many sitcoms to this day still follow the basic rules I Love Lucy set up in the 1950s (especially all those hit shows done live on CBS).  Then you get to The Dick Van Dyke Show in the 60s and The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 70s, and the form becomes more sophisticated--the themes are more adult and the big laughs not just from farcical situations. You also get titles like All In The Family, which shows that sitcoms can deal with controversial subjects, and M*A*S*H, where it takes on war in a serious way (unlike service comedies such as The Phil Silvers Show).

The form further develops in the 1980s with Cheers, where there's an arc shared by the leads--whole seasons are devoted to their up-and-down romance, whereas on previous shows, each episode would essentially be a reset.

Then in the 90s The Simpsons stretches the sitcom so that it can go anywhere and do anything (it helped that the show was animated), while Seinfeld looks at the minutiae of everyday life, but also shows us that lead characters don't have to be lovable. Also there's The Larry Sanders Show, which is a self-aware sitcom--show business as a product.

By the 21st century, the form had been around so long that it was in its post-modern era.  The Office is (allegedly) a documentary, where the cameras are (supposedly) just trying to catch the action, and the actors speak directly the camera.  And 30 Rock--another show about a show--is fully aware of the history of sitcoms, and plays off it. Finally, you get to Community, which is full meta, often playing with different formats, while showing that even with these alienation effects the audience can still care about the characters.

So, all in all, a pretty good book.  Austerlitz knows his material, and is also willing to say when it's less than great.  But you better love the subject, or it might come across as too much.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

This party sucks

What does a Dead Head say when you take away his drugs?

Happy Life

Garry Marshall, one of the most popular writer-producer-directors ever, has died.  I always wanted to meet him but now I never will.  But by all accounts, he was one of the nicest guys in Hollywood, and one of the happiest.  He was working till the end, directing Mother's Day, which appeared earlier this year, and helping produce the new TV version of The Odd Couple (also appearing in it as an actor).

I've written about him before.  For instance, I once had a post on how he retooled Happy Days.  The following is my discussion of his memoir, published four years ago:

I just read My Happy Days In Hollywood, a memoir by writer-director-producer Garry Marshall. Though I haven't noticed anyone saying it, it's essentially an update of his 1997 memoir Wake Me Up When It's Funny.

Marshall has had quite a career, though I have to admit I read the book for his earlier years as a TV writer.  His work as a film director, starting in his later 40s, is nothing to be embarrassed about--some decent titles, some major hits (especially Pretty Woman), but very few of his films are my favorites.  On the other hand, he's been involved in a lot of memorable TV.
He was born in the Bronx and had a mother who loved putting on shows.  After serving in Korea he returned to New York to be a comedy writer.  He ended up working for names like Joey Bishop, Jack Paar, Lucille Ball and Dick Van Dyke, in one year turning out 31 freelance sitcom scripts with his partner Jerry Belson.  By 1970, he was running his own hit show, The Odd Couple.  Even though stars Tony Randall and Jack Klugman could be tough to deal with, Marshall knew how to handle them and made something special.

Next he created a show that would run eleven years and become one of TV's biggest hits, Happy Days.  He made the pilot and no one wanted it, but then American Graffiti was a huge hit and suddenly a comedy set in the 50s starring Ron Howard seemed like a brilliant idea.  It was, but no one could guess how big the Fonzie character would become. (Marshall also talks about the phrase "jump the shark"--named after the episode where Fonzie does the deed.  Marshall, as he has before, gets the phrase wrong, claiming it means "a TV series is nearing the end of its run." Actually, it means the show has turned a corner and will never be good again, even if it runs ten more years.)

According the Marshall, Happy Days was the happiest of sets, filled will kind, decent people. His other big hit, Happy Days spinoff Laverne & Shirley, was so miserable a place that it got tough to find writers willing to work there.  It's sort of odd since sister Penny was one of the stars, but apparently she and the other lead Cindy Williams, for whatever reason, had trouble dealing with their sudden fame, and their unhappy personal lives, so they made everyone else around them miserable.

Marshall helped turn ABC from the perennial also-ran to the top, and his third huge hit in the 70s was another Happy Days spinoff Mork & Mindy.  He originally wanted John Byner as the lead, but Byner dropped out and someone nobody had heard of, Robin Williams, became TV's biggest star overnight (though the show burned out in a few years and Williams moved on to movies).
Around this time he got into movies, essentially starting on a second career.  It wasn't an easy transition, but he's been doing it now as a main gig longer than he was known primarily as a TV man (though I still think of him as a TV man). He's also started a fairly successful second career as an actor, though for me he's never topped his work as the casino manager in Albert Brook's 1985 classic Lost In America.  He's also written a few plays, one of which got to Broadway (and flopped).

Quite a life.  Marshall's work may not always be top of the line, and tends to be somewhere between lowbrow and middlebrow, but he's entertained millions and done it well.  Maybe he's not the kind to be named for the Kennedy Center Honors or the Mark Twain Prize (though who knows?), but he's given America about as much honest entertainment as anyone else I can think of.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Maybe LAGuy can lead the Third Amendment Caucus

An unusual coalition of 13 Republicans and 12 Democrats on Wednesday announced the creation of the House Fourth Amendment Caucus.

It's Worn Well

It shouldn't be a big deal when Hollywood puts out a well-made film that's a mainstream success yet doesn't rely on special effects.  But we're lucky to get one a season.

Anyway, that's what I was thinking when I read this Variety piece by Ramin Setoodeh on the 10th anniversary of The Devil Wears Prada.  Made for a relatively modest budget, it was a global hit.  It showed the industry that Anne Hathaway could carry a film aimed at adults (she didn't get top billing, but she's the lead), that Stanley Tucci had range and wit, and that Emily Blunt existed. (Meryl Streep got the Oscar nomination, but she was already Meryl Streep.)

But what really caught my eye was this line: became a modern-day "Working Girl" for a generation of millennial women--and some men--who could relate to the idea of losing your identity to your job.

Why bring up Working Girl?  It's not some sort of cultural touchstone, is it?  Anyway, Prada was a bigger hit, even taking inflation into account. But more important, I think Setoodeh misses the appeal of the film.

Sure, the explicit message is be true to yourself, and walk away from things that take you from your path.  But the explicit message of a film isn't necessarily why people care about it.  Some examples:

Explicit message of The Public Enemy: Crime does not pay.
Implicit message: It's cool to be a tough guy!

Explicit message of The Wizard Of Oz: There's no pace like home.
Implicit message: Man, Oz is one wild place!

Explicit message of Saturday Night Fever: It's time to grow up and get out of Brooklyn.
Implicit message: It sure is fun to go disco dancing!

The point of The Devil Wears Prada is not about losing yourself to your job.  It's a Cinderella story about a young woman who's tested in the high-pressure world of high fashion and, after showing talent and resolve, gets rewarded with romance, Paris, power and cool clothes.  Yes, at the end she has to turn her back on all this to do what she originally intended to do (and we don't doubt she'll be a success--though the journalistic enterprise she ends up with has probably gone bankrupt by now, so maybe she made a mistake), but the fun of the film, and what made people identify with Hathaway, was how she rose to the challenge and rose to the top.

When done properly, this is a message that sells.  And The Devil Wears Prada does it well.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Radical ideas

France's "operational reservists" include French citizens with or without military experience as well as former soldiers.

I thought France had the most severe gun control laws? Isn't this a bit crazy, expecting your average Joe to be a competent, independent citizen?

Much safer to contract the job out to ISIS. They've got experience and a proven track record. Maybe loosen your immigration standards. Praise the ideas being promoted by your attackers, to assure them you recognize that they, and anyone who supports them, are good people who have nothing to fear from you.

Top TV

The Emmy nominations are out. It's hard to say much about them, since there are so many shows I don't watch (even though I watch too many as it is).

Still, here's the list of the main categories with my comments:

Game of Thrones
Mr. Robot
House of Cards
Downton Abbey
Better Call Saul
The Americans
Nothing too surprising.  Mr. Robot deserves a nod.  I like Better Call Saul, but it's no Breaking Bad.  Some of the other shows are getting tired, but who else can they pick?  A little surprising not to see Orange Is The New Black.
Modern Family
Silicon Valley
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Master of None
Some good choices (and some titles I haven't seen).  Note that only two are on the networks, and three of them aren't on regularly scheduled TV.  Not sure if black-ish deserves the spot (especially with The Middle being ignored year after year).  No Big Bang Theory, no Brooklyn Nine-Nine and nothing animated.
Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)
Rami Malek (Mr. Robot)
Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul)
Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan)
Kyle Chandler (Bloodline)
Matthew Rhys (The Americans)
It'd be nice to see Rami Malek win for his moody performance.
Robin Wright (House of Cards)
Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder)
Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black)
Claire Danes (Homeland)
Taraji P. Henson (Empire)
Keri Russell (The Americans)
Maslany has been great in this role, though the show has become a mess. Claire Danes is always fine, but does she need another Emmy?
Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent)
Anthony Anderson (black-ish)
Will Forte (The Last Man on Earth)
Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley)
Aziz Ansari (Master of None)
William H. Macy (Shameless)
Jim Parsons, who's won this category a number of times, isn't even nominated.  Overall, a good category. I'd like to see Middleditch win an award, even if his performance doesn't have the breadth of others.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep)
Amy Schumer (Inside Amy Schumer)
Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)
Laurie Metcalf (Getting On)
Tracee Ellis-Ross (black-ish)
Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie)
Laurie Metcalf is an Academy favorite, with three (!) nominations this year. Hard to compare a sketch actor like Schumer with the others.  I'd like to see Kemper win something.
The People v. O.J. Simpson
American Crime
The Night Manager
I'll be rooting for Fargo, which managed once again to pull off something that you'd think wouldn't work.
The Voice
The Amazing Race
Top Chef
Project Runway
Dancing with the Stars
American Ninja Warrior
A good time for a bathroom break.
All the Way
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride
A Very Murray Christmas
It would be a good laugh if the ramshackle Bill Murray special wins, but it's a miracle it was nominated.
Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)
Ty Burrell (Modern Family)
Matt Walsh (Veep)
Louie Anderson (Baskets)
Keegen-Michael Key (Key & Peele)
Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)
Tony Hale (Veep)
The boom for Modern Family is over.  It used to get three nominations here, but now just one.  Tony Hale is a favorite, but they've added Walsh from Veep as well.  Why him in particular, as the show has several fine male supporting performances?  Same could be said for Braugher and his show.  A lot of people loved Anderson in Baskets, but not me.  And I'm also not enamored of Burgess in Kimmy Schmidt.
Niecy Nash (Getting On)
Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live)
Gaby Hoffman (Transparent)
Allison Janney (Mom)
Judith Light (Transparent)
Anna Chlumsky (Veep)
As elsewhere, hard to compare a sketch performer like McKinnon to the others--though I'd give her an award for her Hillary Clinton alone.  Allison Janney is an old favorite of the Academy, though really, with six Emmys, it's time to spread the wealth.
Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul)
Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline)
Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)
Kit Harington (Game of Thrones)
Michael Kelly (House of Cards)
Jon Voight (Ray Donovan)
I think Banks outshines lead Bob Odenkirk in Better Call Saul, and since he never won for this show, or Breaking Bad, you'd think he's due.  I guess you could say the same for Voight, except he has an Oscar so who cares?  Game Of Thrones has two nominees, though for all the action surrounding Jon Snow, I'm not sure if Harington is the outstanding actor on the show.
Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey)
Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)
Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones)
Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones)
Maura Tierney (The Affair)
Constance Zimmer (Unreal)
Game Of Thrones keeps getting more and more nominations, even as the show gets weaker. They've never gotten three nods in this category before--it'll probably split the vote so the laugh's on them.  Last year's winner, Uzo Aduba, isn't even nominated, but then, it's never struck me that she's the top supporting performer on Orange Is The New Black, so why is she always singled out?

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