Thursday, July 31, 2008

Villains has listed its top 20 fictional villains. Lists like these give me heartburn because they are often internally inconsistent and arbitrary. (This one is for an audible book seller and is a clear advertising ploy, so I guess it makes sense they include plays and books but not movies for their "fiction"). This one though got me thinking. I'm not sure all the people they list should really be classified as villains. For example, Alex from A Clockwork Orange- plenty of evil qualities for sure but he's the hero/antihero of the book not the villain (I think Dr Ludovico is the villain). I have similar reservations about Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Jack in the Shining, Mr. Hyde and Big Brother. I am reserving judgment on Satan in Paradise Lost. (maybe if the book cited were the Bible).

Out of 20 top books too, they come up with at least crime novel I never heard of. Of course it leads to the issue of all the great villains left out- Sauron from Lord of the Rings, Comrade Napoleon from Animal Farm (a better Orwell choice), Huck's father. Who else are we missing?

Rising Versus Risible Action

Balls Of Fury is a parody of sports, kung fu and espionage movies. It's not meant to be taken any more seriously than "A Fistful Of Yen" in The Kentucky Fried Movie. Still, it breaks a basic rule of storytelling, and that makes a difference .

After a prologue showing our hero failing at ping pong as a child, the plot is about how he redeems himself as an adult. It follows the classic line of a guy down in the dumps getting his act together. Except the first time we see him grown up, he's amazingly good at ping pong, and it's hard to believe he has to go through any training to get his skills back.

When he does meet his trainer, she's also amazing. In fact, we never see any better ping pong than in these two scenes. The challenges have to get tougher for the hero as the story goes along, or it's not satisfying. Perhaps they thought no one would care, but it hurt my enjoyment of the movie.

Not Even A Full Season In America

BBC America is showing Spaced, a fourteen-episode sitcom with a bit of an underground rep in the U.S.

The rather unimaginative premise has two British twenty-somethings, Tim (Simon Pegg in the role that got him a lot of attention) and Daisy, pretending to be a professional couple so they can rent a flat together. The show seems to know this isn't much of an idea, since most of the episodes barely refer to the deception. It's really an excuse to get the two leads, who meet in the pilot, together.

Tim wants to be a comic book artist and Daisy a writer, and the show is really about the various adventures they and their friends have, seeking employment or just seeking fun. What makes the show is it's steeped in pop culture references, often played out in fantasy sequences.

I wouldn't call it a classic--it's not Fawlty Towers or The Young Ones or even Absolutely Fabulous--but in an era where sitcoms seem to be dying, it's nice to have another decent one around.

Is He Saying What I Think He's Saying?

Obama recently spoke to minority journalists in Chicago. ("When Obama walked on stage at the McCormick Center, many journalists in the audience leapt to their feet and applauded enthusiastically after being told not to do so." Who told them not to?) He said this:

I consistently believe that when it comes to whether it's Native Americans or African-American issues or reparations, the most important thing for the U.S. government to do is not just offer words, but offer deeds.

Let's leave aside the huge amount of deeds that have already been offered. We get that Obama finds them insufficient. The question is does Obama approve the concept of reparations. It's sure easy to interpet his remarks as a yes. I really think he should make his stance clear. Better, I think journalists (whether they give him standing ovations or not) should ask him to make his stance clear.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Didn't Quite Make It

#18 on VH1's top 100 songs of the 90s is Metallica's "Enter Sandman." As much as I like the song, it's one of those that seems to be approaching the chorus without ever quite getting there.

I can't think of too many other songs with that feeling. The only other I can name off the top of my head is "To Sir, With Love."

A great parody of the latter song can be found on Mr. Show--how's that for a Mr. Show-like transition? (The song starts at 5.25--though it turns into a disco number about a half minute in.)

Six More Months

A few Lost tidbits from Comic-Con to keep us going.

There's a new, non-canonical Marvin Candle film where he reveals his real name, knows what will happen in the future (including the destruction of the Dharma Initiative) and begs that action be taken. Some are claiming his talk was filmed by Faraday.

But no shows till next year. Then we might find out if Richard Alpert has four toes.

Sunset Scenes

Anyone who's seen Sunset Boulevard remembers the ending--Norma Desmond shoots Joe Gillis, goes completely mad and is ready for her close-up. But when I watched the movie recently, what was interesting was seeing all the moments I had forgotten.

For instance, near the end, when Betty is falling for Joe, Norma starts calling her, bothering her. Joe comes in and tells Betty to come over. Betty wants Joe, but he proves he's seen the light by forcing her away (at a great cost to him, though how great he doesn't yet know) and back to Artie. After she's gone, Joe starts packing, leaving behind all the valuables he got from Norma. Next, he tells of her off, in front of Max, hoping the scales will fall from her eyes.

I didn't remember any of this, but of course, it's Billy Wilder tying it all together, completing the arcs and preparing for his big finish. The scenes may not be famous, but they play well, and are important to the architecture of the film--without them, the classic ending wouldn't work.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


We had an earthquake earlier today. They said 5.8, but it's been downgraded to 5.4.

I've been listening to coverage about how all sorts of items have come crashing down, but all I can say is nothing flew off my bookshelves, which is how I personally measure magnitude.

Emergency Rewrite

Qantas planes have made two emergency landings in the past week. Does that mean they'll have to redo this scene?

Citizen Kaine

Virginia guv Tom Kaine is high on Obama's Veep list. I think he'd be a good choice.

Virginia, usually a solid Republican state, is a swing state this time around. Obama will no doubt take a large portion of its 20% African-American population, and he may figure the governor can put him over the top.

It's questionable if vice presidential candidates make any difference--if he can give you a state, especially a big one, you can't ask for much more. (Some think you should pick a candidate who will do a good job if he ever takes office, but I don't see why the guy at the top of the ticket would worry about that.)


Here's The New York Times review of Jim Holt's book on jokes. It's by William Grimes, who writes obituaries for the Times--is he the right choice?

Anyway, good or bad, this bit near the end raised my eyebrows.

Even worse, the jokes are feeble. “Skeleton walks into a bar and says, “Give me a beer and a mop.” Huh?

Huh? What's the "huh?" for. I thought he was going to show us a weak joke. I actually like this one, but even if I didn't, a "huh?"? It suggests confusion. Okay, Grimey, we know you don't like the joke, but do you get it?

This Is Getting Ridiculous

No sooner does Obama widen his lead in the Gallup Poll (after his triumphant European tour) than McCain goes ahead in a USA TODAY/Gallup likely voters poll. (By the way, does anyone really know who are the likely voters in this election? Not likely.)

If nothing else, this means I really should ignore the polls, at least until things shake out a bit and the conventions are over.

Slightly Agreeable

I finally got around to watching all of Gentleman's Agreement. I've seen portions of it before, but never made it all the way through. The film won the Best Picture Oscar for 1947, and was a big hit, but is not highly regarded today. The plot has journalist Gregory Peck pretend he's a Jew for a piece he's writing on anti-Semitism.

Like so many message pictures, time has passed it by. Anti-Semitism in America is hardly at the level it was in 1947. But even back then plenty of people thought it was weak tea. The line at the time was the lesson of the film is you shouldn't be nasty to a Jew because he may turn out to be Gregory Peck. Director Elia Kazan, who won an Oscar for his (not particularly great) work, would later disavow the film as patronizing.

Still, if you judge it by the time it was made, it's pretty daring for a Hollywood film, taking a controversial problem head on. Darryl Zanuck, the only non-Jewish studio head, felt it was important to make this movie. Ironically, it was all the Jewish producers who said he shouldn't stir things up. (There's a scene in the film reflecting this, when Peck's publisher--played by Albert Dekker, looking a bit like Zanuck--is told to lay off.)

But even if the message were still as relevant, the film has other serious flaws. Moss Hart's script, which follows Laura Hobson's novel pretty closely, is talky, and the central romance between Peck and Dorothy McGuire is dreary.

The best stuff is in the supporting roles. John Garfield plays Peck's Jewish friend, and he does Intense a lot better than Peck. Then there's Celeste Holm, who won a Supporting Oscar. She brings life to the film (it helps that she has Hart's best lines) as the sharp-tongued fashion editor who loses Peck to McGuire. And maybe best of all is June Havoc as Peck's self-hating Jewish secretary.

Overall, though, a pretty mild experience. I can't imagine I'll ever sit through it again.

Monday, July 28, 2008

No More Bradley Effect?

Some Harvard egghead has concluded the so-called "Bradley/Wilder Effect" -- broadly defined as polls showing falsely high numbers for a minority candidate versus their actual performance -- no longer exists. Whomever you support, it's always good news that people feel comfortable expressing their true preferences without fears of appearing racist.

Just Another Scandal From LA

I'm torn about the non-coverage of John Edwards' alleged affair. I don't believe this scandal tells you much about what kind of leader he'd be, but I don't know if that means the media should so consciously ignore it.

This British article does a pretty good job summing up the situation, including the apparent hypocrisy of the MSM:

The New York Times has not deigned to touch the story, although it recently ran thousands of words on a relationship between McCain and a female lobbyist, which appeared to be based more on innuendo than fact.

Even worse is this excuse:

A reporter for The Washington Post said yesterday: “To be quite honest, we’re waiting to see the pictures. That said, Edwards is no longer an elected official and he is not running for office now. Don’t expect wall-to-wall coverage.”

He's no longer a candidate (though they didn't cover this story then, either), but he is being considered for Vice President or some other high office in an Obama administration.

Edwards recently said he'd be glad to serve Obama in any manner possible. It looks like he may help Obama most by laying low.

In a way, it's wrong if this destroys his career. There are plenty of arguments against Edwards being the number two man, but I don't think his personal failings should be the determinative ones.

What Mad Pursuit

I enjoyed the second season premiere of Mad Men, but I still think the best thing about it is the look and feel of the early 60s--a familiar but foreign land. The characters have a lot of potential, and the show is willing to be thoughtful and quiet, but it isn't quite as good as its press--not yet, anyway.

Creator Matthew Weiner worked on The Sopranos, and he's aspiring to the same level of depth and complexity. Of course, that show had a lot more TV-friendly violence, but even its domestic scenes had more going on than in Mad Men. The characters will get a chance to deepen this season, and we'll see what they can do, but I'm hoping at the same time that Weiner doesn't confuse lack of action with quality.

Rush To Judgment

I liked Zev Chafets' profile of Rush Limbaugh for The New York Times Magazine, but I knew the story wasn't over until we heard from the readers, who aren't used to Rush being treated sympathetically. Well, the letters are in, and they don't disappoint.

We start with a professional Rush hater, Eric Burns of Media Matters. He seems to imply the feature failed because it didn't show Rush is a racist (and homophobe). Now you'd think an organization that makes this accusation would have some evidence to back it up, but their examples are pretty lame. They all involve Rush mocking liberal stances on race and gays--the mockery might be stupid, crude or wrong, but hardly prove the charge of bigotry. Perhaps Burns is only claiming Rush uses inflammatory langauge, but if that's all he wants to say, then I'd guess Rush would agree with him.

The next letter is so weird I have to quote it in full:

Those who demonize The New York Times as an overwhelmingly liberal pinko broadsheet would have this myth dispelled by Chafets’s piece. I came away with a far better understanding of Limbaugh, his beliefs and who he is than I might ever hope to read elsewhere. Chafets’s evenhandedness is typical of the liberal Democratic approach, which often appeals to reason rather than resorting to smear campaigns, invective, near-slander and appeals to more base instincts.

So there you have it--all it takes is one piece to prove whether or not the Times is biased, and, while we're at it, we see that liberals, unlike their opponents, are rational and fair.

A letter further down claims that life is miserable in the South because Rush's dittoheads have taken over--a generation of zombies who get their marching orders from his radio show. Yep, I guess there are a lot of conservatives in the South. The letter writer should either learn to live with it, try to talk to them--they might be more open than he thinks--or move to where the zombies are liberals. (Oops, I forgot, only conservatives have knee-jerk opinions.)

The next letter comes from a "woe is me" liberal who says the trouble with her side in the past has been they're too nice, and let conservative lies take over, but now with Obama things are finally changing. It's amazing how popular this nonsense is (on both sides). The Democrats have little trouble getting their message out, and are just as good attacking as the Republicans are--maybe, just maybe, when they lose, as they sometimes do, it's because the people honestly don't agree with them. The letter also repeats the legend of the Swift Boat ads--as if the maintream media didn't jump all over the claims (at least the controversial ones) and as if the public believed everything it heard (polls at the time showed the vast majority didn't believe the tougher charges).

Next comes a must-quote-missive about the cover photo (not the one on the right, but pretty close):

Through what could be labeled the Face of Evil, we are shown clear evidence of unbridled narcissism, rampant greed, self-indulgence, crafty conservatism, pomposity, defiance, contempt, oral gratification and distressing taste in neckties. They are all there as well as the manicured, baby-bottom-soft hands that attest to an abhorrence of any form of manual labor.

Yet another demonstration of how rational and fair liberals are.

One reader, a bit too smug, writes: "I look forward to hearing him ratchet up the nastiness as the election approaches; gratified there is nothing he can do about the outcome." Funny, I thought a lot of people thought Rush's "Operation Chaos" helped Hillary beat Obama in some major states when she looked washed up. However much influence Rush has (not too much, I'd guess), it's probably as great as it's ever been. If the election is very close, he could conceivably make a difference.

Another letter says Limbaugh is an opportunist--he'd be a liberal if the money were there. Considering he helped blaze a trail at a time when there was more money in media if you were a liberal (probably still true), I doubt this very much. He's an entertainer first, but, like Anne Coulter, while there may be a bit of comic exaggeration, he believes what he says.

The last letter claims he's a relativist because he argues "experts" are too easily influenced by their ideology, but, alas, never examines his own side with the same scrutiny. Anyway, I think that's the argument--it's from a professor of law, so the writing isn't that clear.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Take Two

Second season of Mad Men premieres tonight. Considering I'm not the biggest fan, I'm surprised at how excited I am. I guess it's the dawning dog days getting to me.

It's All A Blur

Andrew Sullivan writes that McCain and Obama's foreign policy prescriptions are starting to converge. Maybe, but it strikes me that this is because Obama is moving toward McCain. (Ever since he got the nominations, Obama's been moving to the right on foreign policy. Whatever movement McCain is making, it's more on domestic policy.)

Sullivan ends saying no victory is possible in Iraq "which at this point is a meaningless concept in a war whose justification was undermined within weeks of its start."

So not only is he trying to define away any possible victory, but he still seems to be making the claim that the war was all about WMDs, and that dealing with an enemy who could make them quickly, and intended to if he got the chance, doesn't count.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Kiss Off

"I Kissed A Girl" by Katy Perry is a solid hit. But I don't think it compares to the classics--like "I Kissed A Girl" by Jill Sobule.

Oh! Darling Nikki

Nikki Finke's usually perceptive Deadline Hollywood blog hit a snag this week. Reporting from San Diego's Comic-Con, she writes:

20th Century Fox snuck in Hugh Jackman to its Comic-Con presentation and presented WOLVERINE footage. All very last minute and top secret. Said a studio insider, in a hilariously dated reference: "It was like The Beatles."

A Beatles reference dated? Hmm. It just so happens that the Beatles released an album, 1 (shortest link ever), in 2000--same year Fox's first X-Men film came out. And how did this album from an antique band, 30 years after they broke up, making available songs that had been released several times before, do? It only became the fastest selling album ever. It's also the top selling album released in this decade, and one of the top 20 of all time.

It continues to sell a fair amount of copies, week in, week out, since its release. So even if Beatlemania doesn't exist any more, I don't think the reference is dated.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Randy Pausch of "Last Lecture" fame has died.

You could find worse ways to spend 76 minutes and 27 seconds than watch the lecture.

Tactical Disadvantage

I see new episodes of Scare Tactics are on the SciFi Channel. I'd figured the show was sued out of existence years ago.

The basic concept is a turbo-charged Candid Camera, where they put regular people into fake situations--situations where they have every reason to believe they're about to die, or at least suffer serious harm. Then they're told it's all a joke, and the friend who set them up comes out and they all have a good laugh. (Here's an average example: a young woman panicked by vampire bikers.)

I can't believe anyone would sign a waiver after that, much less stay friends with the jerk who set them up. (Yet I watch it. What does that make me?)

One note: the new host is Tracy Morgan, who seems wrong for the tone of the show.

Block That Metaphor!

In this review of a recent production of Damn Yankees, we come up against this monstrosity:

Base-hit jokes are pitched like fastballs, making it into the catcher's glove as often as they don't [....] Everything works in the most basic of ways, but only the songs sail over the plate with the greatest of ease - nothing of the remainder could be mistaken for a grand slam.

So are we trying to get hits or pitch strikes? This isn't a mixed metaphor--it is all about baseball. The trouble is we don't know which team we're rooting for.

New Questions

Many readers of Jane Mayer's The Dark Side believe the Bush administration should be tried for war crimes. I think, then, it would be useful to know how the candidates feel. Here are some questions they should be asked.

1) Do you believe the Bush administration is guilty of war crimes?

2) Should America should set up a tribunal to try them? Or a commission to investigate these charges?

3) Would you oppose President Bush pardoning members of his administration for these alleged crimes? Would you oppose any President pardoning them?

4) How would you respond as President if a member of the Bush administration were arrested on foreign soil and tried for war crimes?

If I could only ask one question, it would be the last.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rielle Bummer

I bet John Edwards wished he lived in the UK.

Good News For Nerds

...this one anyway.

I saw a trailer for season three of Heroes, and caught a flash of Ali Larter. I thought her character died last season, but they don't die easily on Heroes. Now it's been confirmed--she's coming back.

Perhaps Niki wasn't the greatest character, but I think the show's better with Ali around. Besides, it looks like she has a new personality.

LA Culture

Have you heard of Pinkberry? If you don't live in LA, probably not, but they've been sprouting up like mushrooms around here. You may see it in your neighborhood soon, since it feels like the next Starbucks.

Pinkberry is an upscale yogurt franchise. I can think of about ten within a five-mile radius. They have a unique, spacious design and a simple menu.

Some friends wanted to go so I figured I'd check it out. Yes, it's healthier (I suppose) than ice cream, but it's not cheap and isn't so great that it's worth the expense. But man are these places always packed. (There's one I know that's just around the corner from Pink's. Now there's a combination.)

Thank You, Glenn

J.R. Jones of the Chicago Reader is not worth wasting too much ink over. Still, the opening sentence of his Dark Knight review is an impressive non sequitur:

As the Bush era drags on, I seem to be developing an irrational hatred of summer blockbusters, those gas-guzzling, road-hogging, radio-blasting Hummers of the entertainment business.

He continues, trying to make sense of it all, but merely going from nutty to nasty:

The fact that they get worse and worse and still make tons of money doesn’t say much for the national character. New York Times columnist Frank Rich recently conjured up an image of Americans flocking to the movies this summer to escape their woes, as if we were all dust bowl farmers hoping to banish the Great Depression from our thoughts with flickering images of Clark Gable and Mickey Mouse. But while our leaders are waging preemptive wars, torturing innocent people to death, tossing out habeas corpus, and gutting the Fourth Amendment, we probably don’t need to escape as much as the rest of the world needs to escape from us.

The website allows comments. Most of them were about how he shouldn't have had spoilers in the review. I agree, but only because the spoilers were used for more lamebrained philosophizing. Happily, there's someone called Glenn Fancher, who said what needed to be said:

Please include more left wing talking points and Anti Bush rhetoric at the top of your reviews. Frankly, they add an intellectual weight to cinematic discourse. At the same time confirming that we are an evil country with an evil president that has stripped us all of our civil rights. Thanks for framing the nature of the summer blockbuster against the dark times of the Bush era


The National Review offers advice to McCain on how to beat Obama. Their main idea seems to be a full frontal assault on Obama's qualifications. Not too surprising, since this is always good advice, particularly against a relative newcomer. (The public may proclaim its opposition, but negative campaigning won't stop as long as it works. Anyway, it never seems negative when you agree with it.)

But there's one part of their advice I don't get. They suggest a good idea would be "making a one-term pledge during his speech at the Republican convention: a commitment to place fixing Washington above personal or partisan interest."

I've heard the one-term pledge idea before, and I don't get it. How is promising you'll leave early, no matter how good a job you do, a positive thing. Yeah, I know, he's old--so fine, if we think he's too old in four years, we'll vote him out. And note NR isn't bringing up the age thing, but apparently saying this'll make him look selfless. And this is selfless why? What if after four years McCain hasn't solved all the problems in Washington? He should say "I gave it my best shot" and then pack it in?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ben Ben

Siskel died in 1999 and Ebert has been MIA for a few years now. They were the main reason to watch At The Movies, since it's now easy to see previews and opinions on films about to open.

So I'm not too broken up about the end of the Richard Roeper era. I suppose I may check out the new version with Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz, but if this show completely disappeared, I don't think anyone would notice.

Phantom Menace

The Senate voted Tuesday to move ahead with a Democratic plan to curb speculation in oil markets that has been blamed for some of the recent run-up in oil prices.

Well, that's one idea to deal with high prices, but I have a better one. Those guys up in Washington control the mint. Why not print up some more money and send everyone a million dollars? Then we could all easily afford to buy gas.

PS In more serious news, this is from further down in the article:

To a remarkable degree, the energy debate has been dominated by the question of whether to open up more Outer Continental Shelf waters to oil exploration.

Why is this debate "remarkable"? Drilling is 1) controversial, 2) partisan and 3) one of the few solutions being discussed that would actually make a difference.

(The article continues--and remember, this is the AP, not an editorial:

For Republicans, the drilling question is one of the few issues where they have an edge with voters, and they're pressing it to the hilt. Even though new offshore leases wouldn't deliver oil to the marketplace for a decade or so, some Republicans say simply opening up new coastal areas to exploration would lower prices now.)


I wrote a few days ago that, even if you pay attention to the polls (don't until after the conventions), Obama is solidly ahead, and you shouldn't think there's any major change based on the ups and downs of general counts. Instead, if it's really tightening up, expect some toss-up states to move from Obama to McCain.

Well, a friend just told me the Rasmussen poll says Ohio is now for McCain by 10%. Ohio is THE swing state, and a McCain victory there, even if it weren't by a wide margin, would be huge. However, this is just one poll, and an outlier at that. If you see several different polls over the next few weeks giving it to McCain, then you should be impressed. Until then, nothing has changed.

We Lost It At The Movies

Here's an interesting essay that I don't quite agree with. It's about Pauline Kael and the film era she helped usher in--one that tossed aside the earnest middlebrow and created an appetite for trash.

First, of course--and the essay as much as admits it--Kael spotted the trend, but didn't create it. Spectacle, even when it comes at the expense of plot, has always been popular, and with better technology and the threat of TV, it's no surprise Hollywood went for more pyrotechnics.

Second, the mainstream has changed, but, as Kael would probably agree, most of the change is good riddance to bad rubbish. Plenty of respectable, mainstream successes in the pre-Bonnie And Clyde age were actually pretty dull. Furthermore, we'll always have the great decade that followed Bonnie And Clyde, where the rules were changed. If it didn't continue, it's probably because it was a transitional time, when Hollywood was unsure and taking chances, and a lot of talent, raised on film, was ready to take advantage.

Third, trash is usually trash, but a lot of great films that would never have been noticed before, or perhaps even made, have come out and enriched our screens. And it's hardly all that's out there. If anything, there's more choice available than ever before. Maybe we could use a little more of an earlier "tradition of quality" to ground our films, but the truth if you really want to see it, it's there--a lot of it transferred to television, which is actually in a golden age for drama. Truth is, if we ever did go back to the older, more limited choices, we'd feel stifled.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Is There Anything Obama Can Not Do?

Things were going along ok in Afghanistan -- could be better, could be worse. Obama shows up for one visit and BAM!, huge progress within days. I guess our commanders on the ground just needed a properly inspirational leader. . . .

Fixing The Malfunction

Thank goodness some judges have finally thrown out the huge fine levied against CBS for airing Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at the 2004 Super bowl.

They declared the FCC action was arbitrary and capricious since, in the past, the fines were never this large and were imposed for pervasive actions, not a fleeting moment that occurred on a live show. The commission owed warning if they're going to change their policy, as well as a better explanation after the fact.

Still, the damage has been done. The real problem is this fine happened at all, and was allowed to hang over broadcasters heads for four years.


Starbucks is closing 600 shops. If you want to know if your local is shuttering, check out this list.

I don't really go to Starbucks, so this has no effect on me. But I do notice that the two closing in LA (only two?--we must love Starbucks) seem to be in South Central.

I also see the one on Groesbeck and Utica out in the Detroit metro area is closing. Used to live around there.

A Sign Of The Times

Everyone is talking about The New York Times refusal to run John McCain's editorial about Iraq after they ran Obama's. (They're talking mostly thanks to Matt Drudge, who is about as big as the Times, covering the story--this is truly an example of how the internet has changed the game.)

The Times claims Obama's piece was news, laying out his plans, while McCain was merely responding to and attacking Obama. Having read both editorials, I find the argument plausible (while most conservatives I know don't), though it does leave one to wonder if the results would have been the same if the names were reversed.

Regardless, I still have to ask why isn't McCain's piece significant enough to run anyway? I understand the Times opinion page is valuable real estate, but do they get that many editorials from major party nominees running for President in the last few months of the election? Are they afraid this will set some sort of bad precedent? Couldn't they run this, and if they're suddenly flooded by 700-word essays from McCain and Obama, then they could declare a moratorium.

Something To Stay Up For

Jay Leno leaves The Tonight Show May 29th next year, and Conan O'Brien takes over June 1st. The fun will start when Jay gets a new show, which is his for the asking. He's out at NBC and can't go to CBS, which leaves ABC (unless he wants to go the syndication route). I guess that means bye bye Nightline and see ya in a half hour, Jimmy.

Letterman's ratings haven't been great for a while. (And he does seem tired--I think his show has been going downhill since he decided to stop doing remotes himself.) Conan does okay for his time slot, but he doesn't even always beat Craig Ferguson. Jay, meanwhile, is the king of late night (though I admit I don't regularly watch). NBC wants to stay ahead of the curve, and keep the younger Conan happy, but getting rid of a huge hit sure seems like a bonehead play to most people.

Conan will probably move out to LA, where bigger stars are available, and use the Johnny Carson studio. Will that increase his appeal? Not much, I'd guess. The bigger question is will his show become less quirky and more mainstream. He'll be followed by Jimmy Fallon, which doesn't sound that enticing--like Letterman before him, I look forward to Conan at 12:30, and now that slot may become a wasteland.

Will viewers follow Jay to ABC? I don't see why not. He'd do the same show, and it's only a click away. Meanwhile, while there might be some initial interest in checking out Conan, it seems that his style would compete more with Letterman. If Leno does jump over, the big winner might end up being Jimmy Kimmel, who'd get a great lead-in.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Da Dark Knight

Like everyone else, I saw Dark Knight over the weekend. Parts of it were clearly filmed in Chicago.

I'm sorry, Batman should not be in Chicago. He just doesn't fit there.

PS: Some claim Gotham is Chicago. Sorry, I don't accept that.

The Corporate Puppet Masters Will Be Pleased

I disagree with The New Republic's Jonathan Chait (a fellow Michigan grad) on the effects of globalization, but I still think it would be worthwhile to hear him debate the issue. Naomi Klein, on the other hand is, well, nuts. I don't understand how anyone takes her seriously on economics.

So it is nice to see Chait, who might be expected to have some sympathy for her position, do an in-depth takedown.

Latest On The Race

According to USA Today polling, a majority believe Obama's election would make race relations better in America. If they think this is because he has better ideas on race, then I'm not sure if I agree. But if they think things'll be better because of his skin color, then I fear they'll be very disappointed if he wins.

Racial problems, and their solutions, arise from the ideas and perspectives that people have. No matter how groundbreaking they believe Obama's election is, I don't think blacks, whites, or any other groups are going to support solutions they'd otherwise disagree with just because Obama has a black father.

No Top Hat

Entertainment Weekly has named the top 25 movie musicals of all time. EW's website makes you click to a new page for each title--I hate that--so here they are all in one place.

1. “The Wizard of Oz,” 1939
2. “West Side Story,” 1961
3. “Singin' in the Rain,” 1952
4. “Cabaret,” 1972
5. “Mary Poppins,” 1964
6. “The Band Wagon,” 1953
7. “A Hard Day's Night,” 1964
8. “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut,” 1999
9. “Meet Me in St. Louis,” 1944
10. “Love Me Tonight,” 1932
11. “An American in Paris,” 1951
12. “Swing Time,” 1936
13. “On the Town,” 1949
14. “Grease,” 1978
15. “Hairspray,” 2007
16. “A Star Is Born,” 1954
17. “Chicago,” 2002
18. “The Busby Berkeley Disc,” 2006 compilation
19. “The Sound of Music,” 1965
20. “Funny Girl,” 1968
21. “Beauty and the Beast,” 1991
22. “Gigi,” 1958
23. “The Music Man,” 1962
24. “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” 1954
25. “Once,” 2006.

Let's work our way up and start with Once. A critics' favorite, and an attempt to keep the list current, but the film did nothing for me. It also makes one ask just what is a musical? Is it characters who stop to sing a song, or do the numbers have to further the plot. And does the percentage of the film spent on the songs matter? Whatever the answer, I wouldn't put Once on a list of good musicals, much less the top 25.

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is a classic movie musical, and this list needs more of these.

I don't know if The Music Man is a great "movie" musical--like so many adaptations, almost everything good about it comes from the stage version--but just preserving Robert Preston's performance is worth something. (I have a friend who rates this in his top five films of all time.)

Gigi was a huge hit--really the last big splash of MGM's Freed unit--but it's never done much for me. A safe choice, I guess.

Beauty And The Beast puts animated films on the table. Okay, why not. But there are plenty of others I'd take first from Disney, including modern choices like The Little Mermaid or Aladdin. Before them, you really should pick something from the Golden Age, such as Snow White or Pinocchio--perhaps EW's editors are afraid of too much old stuff.

Funny Girl--a prestigious, well-adapted stage hit that made Barbra Streisand a movie star and does nothing for me. Anyway, there are a ton of musicals actually written for the screen that excite me more (and a bunch of adaptations that are more fun, while we're at it--speaking of which, I wonder if Wall-E will bring back interest in the film version of Hello, Dolly!).

The Sound Of Music is an Oscar winner, the biggest hit of all time in its day and the one Rodgers and Hammerstein choice on the list. Can't say it does much for me.

The Busby Berkeley Disc? EW used this slot as a chance to insult the films they appeared in, saying we should just enjoy the amazing numbers on their own. But plenty of those Warner Bros. musicals from the 30s are entertaining all the way through, and even when the dialogue scenes are a let down, I'd rather watch them then half the stuff on this list. Actually, the top 25 should have a handful of these classics--at the very least 42d Street deserves its own spot. Of course, a proper top 25 would have about 10 musicals from the 30s, and that would never do for an EW list.

Chicago was an Oscar-winner, but so were two better film, Oliver! and My Fair Lady, and I don't see them on the list (and they shouldn't be).

I'm not entirely sure if the 1950s A Star Is Born is a musical, and, as it's overblown and overrated, I'm less sure if it's even a good movie.

Hairspray?! Boy, those editors really insist on modern films that won't make the list in 20 years.

Grease was a huge hit, and while it's kind of fun, it shouldn't even make the top 25 cinematic adapatations of hit musicals list.

On The Town is considered a breakthrough classic, but it's not as great as advertised. True, they filmed on location (for a couple days), and it's fun, but they cut out a lot of great Bernstein numbers (this is still the 40s, before they started respecting the original sources) and there are about five Gene Kelly musicals that are better.

Swing Time is the biggest mistake on the list. Oh, it should be on it, but it's the sole representative of the Astaire-Rogers musicals, ten films that alone justify the existence of Hollywood. Swing Time does have songs and dances that are equal to any others in the canon, but this list should have at least three or four from the series. Also, EW calls it the "sweetest" and "lightest" of their films, which is nonsense, the kind of thing you hear from people who have picked up that critics have switched their allegiance over from Top Hat. Actually, Swing Time is one of the heaviest films that Fred and Ginger made, full of strained George Stevens comedy.

An American in Paris--another Oscar winner. Not bad, but once again, overrated. Putting it on this list is another critic's reflex.

Love Me Tonight. An unorthodox but fun choice. I'm not sure if it should be this high (especially since the script, not bad, doesn't really come up to the Rodgers and Hart score), but at least one Lubitsch musical should be on the list, even if it's not by Lubitsch.

Meet Me In St. Louis. Once again, not bad, but another overrated Judy Garland film. Hard to complain about it being on the list, though.

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. I know they're trying to shock us, but it is a pretty good film, and definitely a musical. Okay, maybe not top 25 material, but I could see it being on the top 100.

A Hard Day's Night--once again, perhaps it isn't a musical. But since it may be the best film on the list, I'm not complaining.

The Band Wagon. We need at least one Gingerless Astaire film and this is his recognized Freed unit classic, so I'll play along.

Mary Poppins. A lot of fun, but a classic musical? I don't know. Certainly not top ten material.

Cabaret. Highly respected, considered a rare masterful adaptation of a stage hit, not just a stuffed and mounted production. Still, I've never warmed to it. Maybe I need to see it again.

Singin' In The Rain. Gotta be on the list. Probably should be higher.

West Side Story. Another Oscar winner, and one of the most overrated films of all. Some nice moments, but the story seems ridiculous on screen. I'll take the honest melodrama of 42nd Street over the strained melodrama of this one any day.

The Wizard Of Oz became a beloved classic through TV. In its day, it was a huge MGM production that grossed less than the much cheaper, black and white Mickey and Judy "let's put on a show" musicals coming out at the same time. It is a classic, though--great lead, great score, great vaudeville turns. I'd put it up there, though not #1.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Jo Stafford

I heard Jo Stafford interviewed on Fresh Air last week. I didn't realize she'd just died and this was a tribute.

She was one of my favorite pre-rock singers. But my first introduction to her voice was rather odd. I went to see The Kentucky Fried Movie and over the credits was the bizarre version of "Carioca" sung off-key and out of rhythm. Turns out it was by Darlene and Jonathan Edwards, pseudonyms for Stafford and husband Paul Weston, who did intentionally bad versions of standards. In fact, they won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album in 1961.

Tie One On

Some people have been looking at the polls, with Rasmussen calling it even and Gallup giving Obama a 2 point lead, and saying it really is tied. This is nonsense. There's no reason to believe there's been any major change in the race until the state polls start moving toward McCain, which they definitely have not. (And I still say there are other factors helping Obama--excitement, third-party candidates and massive amounts of money. Even if all the polls actually were tied, you'd still have to give him the edge.)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Call Your Five, Raise To Ten

Howard Hawks may be my favorite Hollywood director. (He's a lot of people's favorite director. Years ago when I had a short conversation with Quentin Tarantino we discussed Hawks.) Hawks is special, not just in speed and attitude, but in how he made a definitive film in numerous genres.

The latest list at The Cinematheque is fave Hawks films. Here are the winners:

1. The Big Sleep
2. Rio Bravo
3. His Girl Friday
4. Red River
5. Bringing Up Baby

Hard to argue, but here's my top ten:

1. His Girl Friday
2. Only Angels Have Wings
3. Bringing Up Baby (used to be #1, may be again)
4. Red River
5. The Big Sleep
6. Ball Of Fire (his least appreciated great comedy)
7. To Have And Have Not
8. El Dorado
9. Rio Bravo (fine, but overrated by Hawks' fans)
10. Scarface

Special mention for The Thing, which he directed but didn't take credit for.

His biggest hit by far was Sergeant York, which wasn't on a single list.

I'm getting together with a number of friends in a couple months and we're going to watch To Have And Have Not, so maybe that'll go higher. Of course, I have a friend who shows Hatari! a lot and I don't think he's convinced to many people to put it on their list.

Friday, July 18, 2008

And Speaking of Failures

Nancy Pelosi has lost it. For her to call President Bush a "total failure" is worse than the pot calling the kettle black - it borders on insanity. She has enjoyed, along with her buddy, Harry Reid, control of Congress since 2006. She has been working with (against?) a lame-duck President who has the lowest approval rating of any President in history. And what has she accomplished?

Nothing. Zip. Nada, other than to drag the approval ratings for Congress down even lower than the President's. And this woman has the gall to say that Bush is a total failure?

If Californians have any brains (an oxymoron, to be sure), this November they will consign her to the dung heap of history, where she belongs.

Not that I'm getting my hopes up, mind you.

Losing It

Congress failed to pass the "Use it or lose it" energy bill yesterday. The vote was 244-173, but the expedited process required 2/3.

The law commands oil companies to explore the lands they've leased for drilling, or lose them. This is cynical even by Congressional standards. In an attempt to distract from the possibility of letting them drill in new areas where there actually is oil, Congress is trying to pass legislation demanding they do what they'd do anyway if it were good for business. The law must be based on the premise that the oil companies could find more oil if they wanted but are just too evil or too lazy to make the effort. (Maybe there's a more reasonable theory behind the law, but I can't figure it out.)

200? Obviously. 300? Probably. 400? Possibly.

The reviews are good. It's a popular franchise. Excitement is high. Heath Ledger's death makes for extra attention. I'd say Dark Knight being the #1 film of the summer is now the conventional wisdom in Hollywood

It will have to do more than 50% better than last time, but the old rule for sequels (that they make about 67% of the original) has long been out the window.

Emmy Nods

Here are the Emmy nominations. Immediate reaction:

Six dramas were nominated, including, I'm glad to see, House, Lost and Mad Men. (Mad Men was the big story among dramas.) But what's the continuing Academy love for Boston Legal?

Good to see Bryan Cranston and even Jon Hamm nominated, but really, it's time for Hugh Laurie to win Best Actor in a drama. What it's not time for is another James Spader win.

The reality host category looks interesting--who can say who deserves to win among Ryan Seacrest, Howie Mandel and Jeff Probst?

I'm seeing a lot of love for Recount, maybe too much. It looks like every major actor in it got nominated--of course, TV loves it when movie actors deign to enter their medium.

Supporting Actor in a Comedy, competitive as ever. Glad to see both Kevin Dillon and Jeremy Piven nominated for Entourage again.

The only acting nod Lost gets is Michael Emerson for supporting actor. He sure deserves it. Let's not give it to Shatner this year. If Emerson can't win, I wouldn't mind seeing John Slattery's slimy work in Mad Men being acknowledged.

Amy Poehler nominated for supporting actress for SNL? Can they do that?

30 Rock gets seven out of eleven guest actors nods. A reward for all their stunt casting.

Guest actor in a drama--Robert Morse for Mad Men all the way, though I thought he was a supporting player.

Individual performance in a variety or music program allows either sex. And is a bunch of incomparable--Tina Fey for returning to SNL (the Emmys obviously love her), Don Rickles for doing his act and being himself in a documentary, and a bunch of TV show hosts for performing comedy while sitting behind a desk playing someone sort of like themselves.

Animated progam. No Family Guy. I guess they were hoping for a regular sitcom nod, and got burned. Though they did get a nomination for their special, Blue Harvest--I guess they figured they had to get that, due to lack of competition.

For Variety special, the Don Rickles doc should win, but it'll be hard to get past the sentiment for George Carlin.

Writing for a Drama is weird. No Lost, no House, but two Mad Men (the first and last episode--last deserves to win, but this might split the vote), and one for The Wire and Battlestar Galactica, both ignored for best drama.

Looking at all the Variety nominations, I see the biggest hit--Jay Leno--gets nothing.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Think About It

I know it's shooting coelacanths in a barrel, but here's a fine speech by Ron Bailey of Reason explaining what intelligent design supporters should be asking themselves.

Giving Me The Business

Yesterday I received a letter from the U.S. House Of Representatives marked "Official Business."

I tore it open. It was a mailer from my rep, Xavier Becerra. I'd missed his "Coffee With Your Congressman" town hall meeting, but he wanted to know if there was any way he could help me.

Yes, there is. Please, try to make sure I get as few letters as possible from the Federal Government marked "Official Business."

Before There's More B5

J. Michael Straczynski states there may be no more Babylon 5 projects if they can't be done right--and that means far bigger budgets.

I'd go further. There should be no more B5 projects, and there never should have been. The whole point of the original series was that we were watching a special period that changed everything. Any side stories, or offshoots, no matter how well done, take away from the uniqueness of the experience.

Something like Star Trek can be strung out to as many episodes as you want, as long as you have a good crew and exciting tales. Babylon 5 should have been a one-time experience. JMS should just walk away.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Why Wasn't I Invited?

I knew my old professor and pal Cass Sunstein was seeing Samantha Power, but I didn't realize how serious it was. They just got married in Ireland. Congratulations.

Also, congrats to Reason editor Matt Welch and and his wife Emmannuelle on their new baby girl, Izidora.

Ladies' Man

John McCain has trouble appealing to women. Of course, this is always the trouble Repubs have versus Dems. Anyway, the rumor is he might pick a woman for Veep.

I doubt Veeps every matter, but that would make for an interesting dynamic.

That's Not Funny

Looking at The New Yorker flap, Bill Carter has an interesting article on why there are so few political jokes about Obama. Late night show writers claim there's not enough to make fun of, but I think that's a self-fulfilling prophecy. I can come up with of plenty of things they might attack, all more imaginative than "old" jokes about McCain. (I can think of better joke areas for him, too). The question should be is the paucity of material because the audience won't respond, or because the writers don't want to mock him?

Rob Burnett, David Letterman's producer, claims, in general, you "can't manufacture a perception. If the perception isn't true, no one will laugh at it." I wonder if that's true.

It's Got A Good Beat And I Can Laugh At It

I was just watching The TV Set (on my TV set--I was also one of the few people who saw it in theatres a couple years ago). It's about the development of a TV show, and how the creator has to sell out every step of the way.

One scene shows the network testing the pilot in front of a regular group of people. As they watch, they have dials to register how much they like or dislike what they're watching. I was once in this situation. I was walking around New York many years ago and was asked to participate in some testing. Even then, it seemed ridiculous to me. The idea that you can tell if something is or isn't working moment to moment is silly. It's like saying "I didn't enjoy that joke at all until the punchline." Or "I liked the roller coaster during the thrilling moments, but all that other stuff in between wasn't nearly as exciting."

Show biz has always been about trial and error, but let's not pretend we can measure entertainment with any sort of precision.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Emmy Enemies

I've already discussed my hopes and dreams for this week's Emmy nominations, so it's only fair I give the TV critics (what a job!--most do it for free) equal time.

Not too many surprises, but I'm glad to see a lot of love for Lost. After two years of not even being nominated, maybe it's time to recognize it again as the best show on TV. Even if it means no big send-off for The Wire.

Duck And Cover

When I first saw the latest New Yorker cover, I thought it was amusing. A pretty good satire of the worst fears of the anti-Obama side.

But more amusing was the ensuing controversy. You might think it's the Obama haters who would be mad, since they may not like the guy, but they're not really this crazy (even though the Obama supporters like to pretend they are). Instead, it's the Obama fans. Apparently anything that shows their man in a negative light, no matter what the reason, goes too far.

"The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Sen. Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree," Obama campaign spokesman Bil Burton said.

So there you have it. They think New Yorker readers are stupid.

Atlas Mugged

For almost as long as Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged has been out, someone or other in Hollywood has thought about adapting it. A friend just sent me a not too old article in Variety about some recent activity on this front.

It's always fun to see the nominally anti-capitalist mucky-mucks of Tinsel Town scrambling to make the ultimate capitalist tale. They may not subscribe to Rand's philosophy, but the idea of one person going against the world appeals to their romantic (and perhaps ruthless) viewpoint.

Whether Atlas Shrugged could work as a movie is questionable. The more compact--but still very long--Fountainhead would probably adapt better. (I know it's been done, but I mean a freer version, not one with a screenplay by Rand herself). On the other hand, cutting down on all that plot and speechifying would probably be an improvement.

One sentence in the Variety piece struck me as odd: "The violent, apocalyptic ending has always posed a challenge but could prove especially so in the post-9/11 climate."

Quite the opposite. The ending is the one thing that works. (SPOILER ALERT:) For those of you who haven't read the novel in the 50+ years it's been out, here's the secret: all the superior people are disappearing, leaving the "looters" to run things. There is some violence in the end, though it's more about how the world implodes when the people who believe in redistributing money rather than creating value are in charge, and can't count on the productive people to bail them out. Once this happens, the strike can be over and the top people can return and run things properly.

No, the one thing that doesn't work is the female protagonist, Dagny Taggart, is in charge of a railroad. No one cares about trains any more, certainly not in America. You could only put them at the center of a plot if it were a period piece, which would take away from the immediacy of the story. (Plus Hollywood generally avoids period pieces if it can.) But if you set it in the present, or the future, you'd have to make it about something else, and pretty much rewrite Rand from top to bottom. Dagny would need a new job--one that represents our age. So where would she work? At an airline? At Microsoft? Apple? Wal-Mart? Starbucks? The mind boggles.

Monday, July 14, 2008

All-Star Voting

A good friend who's a huge baseball fan refuses to vote for the All-Star game on the grounds that he disapproves of fan voting. He thinks it makes it just a popularity contest. I wouldn't go that far -- e.g. Lance Berkman is having a monster year, and rightly won out over the (deservedly) immensely popular Albert Pujols for the starting first base job for the NL.

There are certainly some travesties -- e.g. one starting shortstop in a particular city was the first player in Major League history to have 10 HR, 20 2B, 10 3B and 30 stolen bases before the All Star break, and is batting over .300 with an OPS over .850. Meanwhile the starting shortstop across town trails him in every single one of those categories and every other meaningful offensive category, but claims to drive a Ford Edge. The latter is starting the All Star game for the AL while the first guy will watch from his home.

Then again, what's the alternative? Player voting is no less a popularity contest -- see e.g. Jason Varitek's selection this year by the players, while having a truly sub-par year. Sportswriters? They're as big of homers as the fans sometimes. Hey, maybe SABR can come up with a formula.....

Oh no....there goes Tokyo...

Saw the movie Konga on DVD with my son this weekend. A 1961 cheap English take on King Kong- Mad English scientist comes back after a year in the jungle with meat-eating plants and some witch doctor juice which can cause a photosynthesis-type explosive growth rate in mammals (and evidently can turn a chimpanzee into a gorilla but that was just a prop problem). Predictably cheesy and a fun way to waste 90 minutes.

The one thing I have noticed about low-budget English productions (well, here and in the handful of Dr. Who episodes (Jon Pertwee was the Doctor) I watched a few years ago) is that they are awfully chatty- it seems like there are these repetitive arguments between the characters where I might expect a fight scene. In Konga, we have the declaiming scientist in full flower going on about "Science" and "The Future of Mankind" (James T. Kirk is a subtle character by comparison) over and over again. I was trying to explain to my son that these sorts of pronouncements were somewhat common in films of this type and era and I was trying to come up with examples.

One example was "History shows again and again how Nature points up the folly of Man" which of course is from Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla" not a movie as far as I remember. My question, Pajama Guy readers is, does this come actually from one of the Godzilla movies - It kind of sounds like something that would be sonorously dubbed in for one of the Japanese scientists to say- or are they just lyrics from a Long Island stoner?

One Of The Many That Don't Matter

The latest Newsweek poll shows Obama with only a 3-point lead over McCain. Last month, Newsweek gave Obama a 15-point lead. The funny thing is how they report on it as if we should sorta kinda take the first poll seriously.

If you look at the polls in general, I'd say at best there's been an ever-so-slight tightening of the numbers. But as I keep repeating, now is no time to look at the polls in general.

Down To The Wire

No one thought Eddie Murphy's new film Meet Dave would do well, but it's pretty shocking that he could only manage a $5 million opening. I guess the trailers just didn't make it look as fun as Norbit.

But there are two races, champs versus challengers, which have been going on a while that I'm watching closely. First, to my surprise, it's not a gimme that Wall-E will pass Kung Fu Panda. The former has $162 million and is still making decent coin, but the latter has a huge lead at $202 million and isn't played out yet.

Meanwhile, there's Indiana Jones versus Iron Man. Indiana Jones was the easy favorite before the year started, but with the both running out of steam, and Indy at $310 million and I-Man at $313 million, I'm not sure the old guy can catch up.

In One Era, Out The Other

Who Was That Lady? is a passable 1960's farce starring Tony Curtis, Dean Martin and Janet Leigh, script by Norman Krasna, direction by George Sidney. (It also features Barbara Nichols playing the same smart-dumb blonde she played opposite Curtis a few years earlier in Sweet Smell Of Success, as well as a deadpan James Whitmore who steals the film.)

But like any Hollywood product, it can't help but betray the assumptions of its era. The plot has Curtis pretend to work for the FBI to get out of trouble with his wife. What I find interesting is the film's notion that as soon as people find out you work for the FBI, they put you on a pedestal--that being an agent is a high and noble calling, a job only for the best of the best.

Since then the reputation of federal authorities has dropped a bit, and J. Edgar Hoover himself--perhaps the most respected man of his era--has become a punchline. The new cliche is the hero who, even when employed by the state, doesn't go by the book. This attitude is so widespread we hardly notice it any more.

But when it seeps into a period piece, it stands out. This is why I had so much trouble with the animated 1999 feature The Iron Giant. Set in 1958, it has a beatnik who knows about a secret giant robot, and an FBI agent investigating the case. The main character, a boy named Hogarth, likes the beatnik and has an immediate distrust of the agent (who is portrayed as being both paranoid and cowardly). Any film back then would reverse the boy's preferences--and I bet almost any boy back then would be thrilled to meet and cooperate with a G-Man.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

By The Numbers

I was just listening to two of the best known phone number songs, "634-5789" by Wilson Pickett and "867-5309" Tommy Tutone. and it hit me, the latter song really tried, but the former is just pretending.

Look at it--6345789. That's just counting numbers, with the 6 taken out of the middle and put in front. They didn't make an attempt at randomness. But 8675309 goes all over the place. My main complaint is they didn't repeat any numbers, which shows they're trying a little too hard.

PS I have no use for "Pennsylvania 6-5000."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Longer Night

In the past I've posted about lost old films, as well as lost scenes. No one thought they were of great value, so prints weren't always well preserved. Sometimes they were chopped up and re-released. Sometimes they were destroyed.

Even though it only seems to be a bit here and there, it now looks like someone's turned up a copy of A Night At The Opera with new material. It was found in Hungary--new versions often turn up overseas.

As Otis B. Driftwood says, "Let joy be unconfined. Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons and necking in the parlor."

Friday, July 11, 2008

Romance Is Not Dead

"'There is a time and a place for everything. The Court finds that sentencing is neither the time nor the place' for a wedding, [Federal District Court Judge] Lee wrote."

Open Source FTW

Interesting that of the two groundbreaking cellphones being released this week, the far more important one has gotten less than one tenth as much press, both among the mainstream media and even some of the less fringy geeks. I'd bet that ratio is not wholly reversed, but close to it, in the long run.

Damn It

From the Variety review of a new production of Damn Yankees:

In a climate under which the country is being forced to view itself no longer as an invincible winner, the idea of a beaten-down underdog team being redeemed by a miracle has a whimsical appeal. But it's best not to look for contemporary relevance [...] in this effervescent fantasy.

This is one of those cases where the writer of the first sentence should have listened to the writer of the second.


One of the pleasures of living in California right now is that we're such an Obama state that neither candidate is spending much trying to convince us one way or another.

Still, it would be nice if one of the Guys living in a swing state (you know who you are) might keep us apprised, from time to time, of the latest political ads.

Waiting For It

I've written before about my preference for Waiting For Guffman. After watching it again, I'd say my favorite moment is when Michael Hitchcock as councilman Steve Stark describes his feelings about Corky St. Clair. Of courses, how could he resist numbers like "Stool Boom."

The Simpsons Come Home

I watched The Simpsons Movie on TV. I thought it played better there. No matter how big the story, with the same voices, characters, etc., it still played like a glorified TV show in the cinema. But on TV, it felt like a very funny, super-deluxe, no commercials episode of The Simpsons.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lingua Franca

Obama doesn't like English Only, which is one thing, but the rest of his ideas about second languages aren't that well argued.

He says we should be more like Europeans who comes over here and speak English. Well, sure, it'd be great if more Americans learned a second, third, fourth language, but there are reasons Europeans do that, and they're a lot more compelling. 1) Since they live in smaller countries, amongst other nations that don't speak their language, of course they'll be more multi-lingual. (Some of their countries even have more than one official tongue.) 2) English has become the universal language of business, so of course they'll want to learn it.

More troublesome, when someone brings up teaching non-English-speaking kids English, Obama says it's more important American kids learn to speak Spanish. This is apples and oranges. The idea of teaching everyone English in the USA, and teaching it well (i.e., kids taught to speak it without a heavy accent), is for a unifying language the whole country can understand. That's not the reason we should learn Spanish (yet) or French, Germanb, Arabic, Japanese, Russian, whatever.

So Much Talent

I just re-watched What Planet Are You From?, as epic flop from 2000. Even with Mike Nichols directing I don't get how they got such a big budget--$50 million--for a film that would be lucky to gross half that much. (It ended up making around $6 million.)

I'm a big fan of Garry Shandling, but the truth is the public just didn't want to see him star in a comedy. Even Larry Sanders, one of the best shows ever, didn't get great ratings by HBO standards.

The movie itself has some moments, but the plot--an alien from an all-male, unemotional planet comes to Earth to impregnate a woman--and the gags are surprisingly stale.

The thing I noticed this time: the end credits are done in the same font as The New Yorker. Yet another misfire.

Love Is All Around

I was in the video store when I saw The Very Best Of The Mary Tyler Moore box set. They were practically giving it away, but it was videotape, and I don't buy tape.

But I did check out the titles--two per season:

Season 1 --- "Love Is All Around" and "Support Your Local Mother"

Season 2 --- "He's Not Heavy, He's My Brother" and "Where There's Smoke, There's Rhoda"

Season 3 --- "My Brother's Keeper" and "Put On A Happy Face"

Season 4 --- "The Lars Affair" and "Ted Baxter Meets Walter Cronkite"

Season 5 --- "Will Mary Richards Go To Jail?" and "The System"

Season 6 --- "Chuckles Bites The Dust" and "Once I Had A Secret Love"

Season 7 --- "Lou Dates Mary" and "The Last Show"

Some fine titles, no question, but compare them to my planned tribute. I listed 45 episodes, yet only picked 8 of their 14 choices.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Smile When You Say That

I'm not a big fan of Westerns. My favorite is Red River, probably because it's more a Howard Hawks film than anything else.

Here are the top 100 Westerns according to the Western Writers Of America. A predictable list full of cliched choices. The top ten does include Red River, but the top three are perhaps the three more overrated Westerns of all: Shane, High Noon and The Searchers.

For a different, and I'd say more interesting, point of view, here's the top Westerns according to The Cinematheque. Scroll down to see Jesse Walker's list--he's a friend who told me about the voting. (In fact, they're already onto their latest poll--top films of the 80s.)


Bob Herbert isn't happy. His latest piece in the NYT claims Obama is "lurching right." I know Herbert doesn't like it, but why should Obama care? Because, Herbert claims, he's playing a "dangerous game" and risks a "backlash."

One question, Bob--who you gonna vote for? Even if Obama "panders" ten times as much? I think that answers any questions you have about why he's doing what he's doing.

Before And After

TCM was showing films with big bands, so I got a change to see the low-budget 1941 film Las Vegas Nights. No great shakes, but there were a few interesting things.

First, it's a rare film featuring Bert Wheeler without partner Robert Woolsey. Wheeler & Woolsey are all but forgotten today. They're nowhere near as good as Laurel & Hardy or the Marx Brothers. In fact, I'm not even sure if they compare to the Ritz Brothers. But I still find them fascinating. Like the Marx boys, they started in films at the dawn of the talkies. They churned out features throughout most of the 30s, but Woolsey died in 1938, and Wheeler (the more "charming," less obviously funny member) made a few more films before his career went over the cliff.

Las Vegas Nights, however, is best remembered for one thing--the first cinematic appearance of Frank Sinatra. Tommy Dorsey's band is heavily featured, and we get to see young Frank sing lead on the #1 hit "I'll Never Smile Again." But the musical highlight comes late in the film, when Dorsey shows off his band, and we get a lengthy drum solo from Buddy Rich.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

'Cause We Got Cake

So we're finally getting around to dismantling Saddam's nuclear program, including removal of 550 metric tons of yellowcake uranium. I'm not sure if this story is getting as much play as it deserves, considering how many people don't believe he had a nuclear program any more, much less any yellowcake.

Ty It Down

There's a guy named Ty Coughlin who cuts radio commericals about how you can make big money through something called the "Reverse Funnel System." Sounds like a pyramid scheme, but I have no idea what it is, and never will, because I find his commercials so obnoxious I automatically change the station.

He's a self-proclaimed beach bum and each commercial is designed to sound like he just wandered into the studio, almost by mistake, and cut the spot off the cuff. I can forgive honest amateurishness, but it drives me crazy when it's calculated.

Nothing To See Here

Years ago, I thought Michael Kinsley's TRB column had sharp political writing. So when I read the hackwork he churns out today, I wonder what happened.

Here's a piece that might have been an interesting take on Al Franken's campaign. Most politicians have skeletons in the closet, but what happens when those skeletons are jokes? But we get no serious discussion. Instead, it's Kinsley boosting his pal Franken and taking cheap shots at Franken's opponent. He wouldn't have let this get past him back when he was an editor.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Thanks for the Clarification

Some stories just keep on giving....

From the BBC:

Mosley denies 'Nazi-themed orgy'


But Mr Mosley said it was a German prison scenario, with suitable uniforms, but there was no Nazi aspect.

"There was not even a hint of that - certainly not in my mind and, I'm convinced, not in the minds of any of the other participants".....

Second Thoughts On The Fourth

Like It's A Wonderful Life on Christmas, Independence Day is made for July Fourth TV, especially if you get the Fox Movie Channel. I didn't like it when I saw it in the theatre--it seemed kinda dumb. But I enjoyed it more this time around. I still think it's filled with melodramatic cliches occasionally relieved by preposterous plot twists, but the film is so unashamed about the hokiness, after you've accepted the plot for what it is, it's not half bad.

Slow News Week

Newseek's cover story is "Who Was More Important: Lincoln or Darwin?". They're not the first to note these two were born on the same day, but I can't recall anyone ever pitting them against each other. I don't get it.

That's Why They Pay Him The Big Bucks

I remember the first time I heard Rush Limbaugh. I think it was the early 90s. I was driving around Detroit, flipping through the stations, when I heard, to my surprise (especially on AM), the riff from "My City Was Gone."

But instead of going into the song, this guy started talking. Some sort of right-winger--at a time when there wasn't that much political talk on radio. He was actually pretty entertaining, as I, and millions of others, soon learned.

I don't listen to Rush much they days. I mostly listen to radio in my car, and I'm not generally driving when he's on. But when I've driven across the country, I've listened to him regularly, for two reasons. First, he's on everywhere. Second, when you're in your car all day, you're starved for entertainment, and he puts on a pretty good show--better than almost anyone else.

Anyway, there's a pretty good profile of Rush in last weeks New York Times Magazine. It's made some waves, though in general it's sympathetic. In it, Ira Glass, of all people, sums up Rush's appeal pretty well.

Years ago, I used to listen in the car on my way to reporting gigs, and I’d notice that I disagreed with everything he was saying, yet I not only wanted to keep listening, I actually liked him. That is some chops. You can count on two hands the number of public figures in America who can pull that trick off.

A lot of people dismiss [Limbaugh and Howard Stern] as pandering and proselytizing and playing to the lowest common denominator, but I think that misses everything important about their shows. They both think through their ideas in real time on the air, they both have a lot more warmth than they’re generally given credit for, they both created an entire radio aesthetic.

I agree with Glass that Stern and Limbaugh, who may seem polar opposites, are masters of the intimate medium of radio. So is Glass. A lot of people think it's about the politics, but there are hundreds of conservative talk shows--there must be some reason Rush stands above the rest.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Christopher Hitchens Being Waterboarded


I'd heard the process described, but never seen it before. I had no idea it was so simple.

Eating His Waffles

Obama seems to be indicating he won't necessarily go for an automatic pull-out (in 16 months) from Iraq if elected. This is driving his base nuts, since this is the big issue for them, and he promised. But, like any politician, once he gets the nomination of his party, he started running toward the center.

Most politicians can make this transition smoothly, but it's tricky on this issue. The main, perhaps only reason the anti-war base preferred Obama over the other major Dems was his opposition to the Iraq war was 99 and 44/100% pure. So waffling is unbearable.

But the facts on the ground have been changing, and it's becoming clearer to everyone except the most hidebound that leaving right away could be a big mistake. Obama almost certainly knows this, but he can't say it openly, since it's not only giving the finger to the people who got him the nomination, but would be essentially admitting he was wrong on the war.

So one day he implies he may not pull out so fast (if at all), and the next day he says he hasn't changed his stance at all. Perhaps he's hoping his personal charm will get him through, and both sides will figure he'll do what they believe is right.

PS If I were advising him, I'd say go all the way and say he won't pull out until he's convinced it's the right thing to do. It's 1) the best position for the country, 2) easy enough to cover on the flip-flopping charge by saying he's simply going to listen carefully to what his generals say and what's happening there--who could object to that--and 3) I just don't believe his base will desert him, and the only way he can lose the election is if he loses the middle.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Fourth Of July Pluses and Minuses

As is our custom, I took my daughter, now age 8, to the Queens side of the East River to see the fireworks last night. Some of our family visiting from Maryland and Barbados joined us as well. There were upsides and downsides to this year's show.

First, the downsides: (1) It rained. (2) For whatever reason, the NYPD decided to close off the three blocks that provide the best view, leaving those of us who always head there to be crowded into one another against barricades, rather than setting up folding chairs wherever we like in a disorganized but uncrowded mess, as we've done for years now.* But hey, I'm sure it thwarted the evildoers. (3) Some power-tripping NYPD captain decided he had to drive right through the middle of this packed crowd just when the finale was starting. This, of course, took him the entire remaining 8 minutes of the show, with the able assistance of a cadre of rookies walking ahead of his car, after which he parked his fat ass in the middle of the street, amply demonstrating that he was lying over his loudspeaker about an emergency situation and really had no reason to do so other than that he wanted to and could.

The upsides. (1) It's not often in life you get to lean into the open window of the squad car of a police captain and explain to him in detail how ironic it is that Independence Day celebrates a revolt from just the type of heavy-handed, thoughtless use of power that he so blithely assumes is his right (ok, fine, so I was exaggerating, just go with it), while he stares ahead like he isn't hearing you and some of the crowd cheer you on. (2) Together with the crowded subway ride, it was a true New York experience, no Disney effects required, for my Bajan guests. (3) When a dozen or so folks in the crowd started chanting "USA! USA!" during the show, my daughter leaned down from her perch on my shoulders to say, in a suitably world-weary tone, "tourists." That's my girl, all right.

*Pre-9/11, a few of us used to park motorcycles on the middle of the span of the 59th Street Bridge and watch the fireworks at eye-level from the bridge's maintenance decks. I can understand why they cut that one off, but while it lasted it was the most romantic free show you could ever imagine happening in New York.

Where's Jimmy?

TCM was showing a lot of Hitchcock on July 4th, though I'm not sure why. I pressed the info button on my remote and was informed that the two stars of Vertigo were Kim Novak and Tom Helmore. Tom Helmore? I had to check the IMDb just to see if he was in the movie.

I Thought Only Nixon Could

So President Bush is going to the Chinese Olympics. A lot of human rights groups are disappointed, but I can't say I'm surprised. It would have been quite a diplomatic slap in the face to boycott them.

I don't see how anyone can support China's human rights record, but as to what the President should do, I really don't know. Unless you've got a really good reason, better to remain engaged with a country. Sure, I'd like him to make a statement of some sort, but would it really help?

Friday, July 04, 2008


Happy July 4th.


Matt Welch over at Reason on some musty thinking.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

It's (not) all right now....

Saw in today's Wall Street Journal, a list of the 50 top problems that have been blamed on rising oil prices. Apart from the obvious, the more interesting were:

7. Pizza delivery charges are rising. (Pacific Business News)
8. Kangaroo harvesters are seeking alternative careers. (Australian Broadcasting Corp.)

15. Community colleges are cutting Friday classes. (USA Today)

18. NASCAR teams are spending more–and fretting about whether crowds will avoid traveling to races. (Sacramento Bee)

29. From the ever-insightful Chicago Tribune, Commuters are changing their ways.

34. Japan girds for a sashimi shortage. (AFP)

43. The French navy decided to cancel some exercises. (AP) (Mais non! It is too expensive to cruise to the gym today.)

Look Ma, No Hands

The hands-free cell phone law for drivers just took effect in California. It doesn't matter to me since I don't talk on the phone in my car. But it makes me wonder just how far they might go to cut down on accidents. Anything that distracts you can cause trouble--eating, drinking, smoking, listening to the radio. Will we be fined for those things?

Also, will this new law make people more likely to text while driving?

Bad News

Newspaper are in trouble. Some rejoice in their falling fortunes. I'm not sure why--there's nothing like a good paper (even if its online). And I think the LA Times is one of the best. That's why it's too bad they've announced job cuts.

Papers are losing readers everywhere, as kids grow up without the habit. But there's a particular problem with the LA Times, according to its editor: "The number one reason that people cancel the L.A. Times is, they tell us, they don't have enough time to read the paper that we give them every day. We're going to be more picky about the stories we choose to write long and a lot more picky about the ones we write shorter."

But their long stories are one of the glories of the paper. If you don't like it, that's what USA Today is for.

So not only are jobs disappearing, but they're planning to make the paper worse. (I'm guessing they're not going to lower the price, either.)

Only A Dream

Watching The Sopranos on A&E, I caught "The Test Dream." It's one of the least popular episodes because, appearing late in season five, while the action was heating up, much of it is an extended dream sequence. The script is by show's creator David Chase and Mad Men's Matthew Weiner. I remember being let down when I first saw it.

Second time around, it held up better, partly because I wasn't expecting more action. I could sit back and enjoy the dream for what it is. Dreams often appear in The Sopranos. (If nothing else, they allow actors who have been whacked to pick up a paycheck.) For instance, one of the most memorable episodes ever, "Funhouse," features a fairly extensive dream. But this one is the mother of all Sopranos' dreams.

Taken by itself, it's well done. It's both spooky and funny, with major characters from the past, dead and alive, appearing throughout (plus Annette Bening as herself). Like a real dream, the storyline keeps moving through time and space, and its odd action and dialogue plays off the anxieties of Tony, who's doing the dreaming. It also allows characters to talk directly, if oddly, about subjects they would never bring up in the real world.

PS. Two theories about David Chase:

1) He called this episode "The Test Dream" because he wanted to test the audience and see how far he could go. If they stuck around, next week's episode, "Long Term Parking," had the kind of payoff they expected.

2) Maybe he was annoyed with some of the criticism, and just to show he didn't care, he started the next, and final, season with a couple episodes where Tony is stuck in purgatory.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Why Bother?

Erik Lundegaard in Slate has a piece where he strenuously tries to show...well, I'm not sure what. He throws around a lot of numbers to prove that the best-reviewed films make the most money. Then he starts using per-screen stats, which aren't really the proper measure.

In any case, what's the point? It's still true that critics, in general, give an extra bump to "art" films over popcorn films (often for good reason--I'm not saying it's simply snobbery), but even accepting how Lundegaard looks at the numbers, it doesn't tell us much. Of course reviews track well with popularity, adjusting for genre--critics, like fans (they are fans), prefer a good popcorn movie to a bad one, and that's true whether or not they're snobs. This is pretty much all Lundegaard shows, but he seems to believe he's done something more.

Don Davis

Actor Don S. Davis has died. While the obits say he's best remembered for Stargate SG-1, I'll always think of him as Major Garland Briggs on Twin Peaks.

More Tangled

Wesley Clark statement that riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down isn't a qualification for President has caused some trouble for the Obama campaign.

But I find Jim Webb's implication that McCain is improperly exploiting military service for political gain to be much more annoying.

I don't think this man has anything to say on the subject. McCain with a son serving in Iraq didn't speak of it, while Webb openly campaigned wearing his son's combat boots. Is this the kind of guy Obama wants for Veep?

(Not a rhetorical question. The answer is yes.)

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