Monday, June 30, 2008

The End of the Age Of Kings?

Burger King has always played a weak second fiddle to McDonald's. Even though, when I am allowed to indulge, I think their burgers taste better than McD's (but not the fries- Burger King's taste like congealed cholesterol), its not hard to see why. "Burger King" is a generic name -where I grew up, there was a Burger Chef which seemed interchangeable with Burger King plus the innumerable other "burger palaces." The Meat Monarch has also had confusing and quickly discarded advertising campaigns (remember Herb?, BK? the Wolfman Jack voice?) - even the current somewhat successful campaign has a creepy "V for Vendetta" king doing odd things which I think works maybe out of a modern taste for indeterminate weirdness. As a parent, I can also say, their kids meals' toys sucked.

Now Burger King jumping on the soccer mom graphic (yes about 10-15 years late) and introducing the following new kids meal (from boston.com):

The centerpiece of the effort... is a new kids meal featuring a four-ounce serving of Kraft macaroni and cheese, lowfat milk and the company's "Fresh Apple Fries", which are uncooked apple slices shaped like french fries and served with low-fat caramel dipping sauce. The meal will go on sale Monday for $3.49 and will be a permanent fixture on Burger King's menu.
Mom- lets go to the mall and get a meal that mentions Kraft, "lowfat" twice (both spellings!) and fries that aren't. Its very possible that obesity will be reduced if fast food places start serving meals like this, but maybe not in the way intended.

Selling Point

I keep hearing ads for gold on the radio. Their main argument is that gold is never worth nothing.

Is that really the best they can do? "Your investment may drop 90%, but never 100%." "Great, where do I sign?"

Non Compos Mentos

I'm not sure if I get the commercials for Twix bars. Someone's caught in an embarrassing situation so he takes a bite of a Twix (which I guess takes a while to chew due to the caramel) while he composes himself and comes up with a solution.

What has this got to do with a candy bar? It doesn't even make any sense.

I assume Mars thinks Twix bars taste good. Isn't that what they should be emphasizing?

Wanted Poster

Wall-E opened fine, as expected. And with the rapturous reviews, it should continue to do quite well. But the real surprise of the weekend was second-place finisher Wanted. An R-rated action film with some decent stars, it's $51 million take was around 40% higher than expected, and opening in 20% fewer theatres than Wall-E, it had a better per screen average.

Considering its budget is about half the size of some of the bigger action names out now, Universal must be quite pleased. (Reviews weren't bad either. I'm looking forward to it.)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Inflation

The latest AFI top ten lists contained mostly worthy films. But look at these#1's:

Westerns, "The Searchers"; sports, "Raging Bull"; courtroom drama, "To Kill a Mockingbird"; epics, "Lawrence of Arabia"; and mysteries, "Vertigo."

All of these films are overrated. Most of them I don't even think are good. I keep hoping their inflated reputation comes down a bit, but I guess not this round. (And speaking of rounds, is Raging Bull really a sports movie?)

On The Other Hand

I wasn't thrilled with the American Film Institute top ten lists, but I'm pretty impressed with the "new classics" in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly. In the past, when they had lists of the greatest films, songs, etc., I always complained they were top-heavy with stuff from recent years, but since these lists only go back 25 years, they've (mostly) taken care of that objection.

The only list I don't like is best albums, where they not only miss a lot of great stuff, but seem to go out of their way to pick less obvious choices from great artists. For instanace, Nirvana is represented by MTV Unplugged In New York, R.E.M. gets Life's Rich Pageant and Neil Young (not even in the top 50) has Harvest Moon.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

And Another Another Thing

One good thing about the new season of Weeds. Now that they burned down the neighborhood, they no longer have that awful opening sequence.

Bad Spell

I was downtown earlier this week at the old Variety Arts Center (a block up from Staples Center). They have these posters marking special spots in old LA, and there was one describing all the great entertainers who appeared there, including Buster Keaton and Laurel & Hardy. They even had a picture of old Banjo Eyes, Eddie Cantor. Except they spelled it "Kantor."

I was meeting someone for lunch. In the restaurant, they listed three different drink sizes, including "midium."

It all proves my point--knowing how to spell is an outmoded talent that only brings one pain.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Not Palpable

When I posted on the NYT 's Mad Men feature, there was a side point I didn't make, so I'm glad to see dear old Irene Done has linked to someone else who notes no matter what you think of the show, you can't call it a hit.

Mad Men has had months of repeats and good publicity, though. It'll be interesting to see if it can do better when season two starts next month.

Am I Asking Too Much?

With the exception of Iron Man, it's been a disappointing summer so far, but maybe things are about to change. I'm starting to hear good buzz about such question marks as Wanted, Wall-E, The Dark Knight and even Pineapple Express.

No doubt some of this is manufactured, but just two or three more really enjoyable popcorn movies would make it an above-average summer.

Upshot

The big legal news is the 5-4 opinion stating the Second Amendment confers an individual right of gun ownership. While others discuss the legal ins and outs, let's ask the important question: Good for McCain, or good for Obama?

Sure seems good for Obama. It might take a while to see the actual effect of the decision, but for now the gun supporters are happy, which is not good for McCain. If they were more riled up, he could use his picks for the Court as a voting issue.

He can still try to bang that drum--it's only a one-vote majority, after all--but the argument I won't change the status quo isn't quite as strong as I'll fix the problem.

Prelemmys

Here are the the Emmy semis. Due to their (silly) rules, the Emmy people announce the top ten finalists in some categories, followed by the five nominees, and eventually the winner.

Here are the ten being considered for top drama:

Boston Legal (Couldn't this be considered comedy?)
Damages
Dexter
Friday Night Lights
Grey’s Anatomy
House
Lost
Mad Men
The Tudors
The Wire

I admit I'm not that familiar with all the shows, but I think the finalists should be Boston Legal (not a big fan, but I need five nominees--I'd rather it be Battlestar Galactica or even Heroes, and while we're at it, how about Breaking Bad or John From Cincinnati?), House, Lost, Mad Men and The Wire, with the Emmy going to Lost. It's The Wire's last season, so it may get the sentimental nod.

For comedy it's:

Curb Your Enthusiasm
Entourage
Family Guy
Flight of the Conchords
The Office
Pushing Daisies
30 Rock
Two and a Half Men
Ugly Betty
Weeds

Considering the sad state of sitcoms, this category is surprisingly competitive. And no Simpsons--even if they didn't ask for it? Or South Park? Or My Name Is Earl? Or Big Bang Theory? I'd nominate Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage, Family Guy, 30 Rock and either Flight Of The Conchords or The Office, with the Emmy going to Family Guy.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

How Unusual

Instead of a Second Amendment case, the big decision handed down was about the Eighth Amendment.

The Supreme Court, in another 5-4 faultline decision, banned the death penalty for child rapists. Justice Kennedy (natch) wrote the decision. The legal question isn't whether the death penalty is good or bad policy to deal with this crime, but who gets to decide.

There are many who say it's none of the Court's business. Particularly originalists, who say as long as the punishment isn't "cruel and unusual" by 18th century standards (where they had the death penalty for most felonies, I've heard), the people get to decide.

On the other side are those who claim the Eighth Amendment requires evolving standards. Like this interpretation or not, it is the law of the land--unless the Court changes its mind.

Two questions, one for both sides.

Part of Kennedy's rationale is most states don't allow the death penalty for rape, thus this is part of the evolving standards issue. But don't states get to decide their criminal code? Are you saying if enough states go in one direction, it forces all the other states to follow? What happens to a state's sovereignty?

As for originalists, let's say your theory is right, and we're only allowed to use the words of the Eighth Amendment as they were understood by the Framers. Well, at what level of abstraction? They don't list particular punishments, but instead use the fairly vague phrase "cruel and unusual punishment?" Why should this only mean what they in particular thought was cruel and unusual, unless you figure they thought penology would never change, though it had changed in the past. In other words, if the original men who wrote and passed the Constitution had enough foresight to figure crime and punishment would evolve--and why wouldn't they--wouldn't it be "originalist" to assume the terms in the Eighth Amendment should be followed using an evolving standard?

Polling The Electorate

The week started with Newsweek's poll showing Obama ahead in the general election by 15 points. Yesterday, we had three polls out--the LA Times had Obama ahead by 12, Rassmussen by 4, and Gallup showed them even.

What does this suggest? Perhaps that the media should pay less attention to the horserace and concentrate more on what the candidates say and do.

Even if you think polls are newsworthy, as I've stated before, why even bother to pay attention until after the conventions, or better, after Labor Day, when the country starts to look closely at the candidates?

(For what it's worth, I give Obama a clear advantage not due to these numbers, but because of his powerful get out the vote machine, his huge edge in money and the Bob Barr factor which is not being measured in most of these polls.)

Waste Motion

Celebrity Family Feud was on NBC earlier this week. Didn't catch it, but it made me think about certain ritualistic parts of game shows which could, and should, be dropped.

For instance, Feud starts with a face-off before each round. If you win, your team decides if it wants to guess the rest of the board, or let the other side guess. If you don't guess all the answers on the board, the other side is allowed one guess where it can steal your points. In all my years watching, I can't recall a single time any team turn down "offense" to play "defense." (Unlike coin flips at football games, where occasionally winners opt to kick rather than receive.) Think about it--if you're so good you can guess what's left on the board, then you're good enough to guess in the first place. And playing first puts you in control and guarantees you a shot at the points you might not get otherwise. Why do they even bother to ask?

Then there's the greatest game show of all, Jeopardy!. Its central quirk--that they give you the answers and you guess the questions--has always been a formality. We all know they're asking you questions. Unfortunately, this formality can get pretty serious in later rounds where if you forget to phrase your response as a question, you get it wrong. (I once tried out for a game show and mistakenly started an answer with "what is..." The lady in charge hit me and said this always happens.)

Lately, we've got Deal Or No Deal. There's essentially no strategy involved, just guts and luck. You start with 26 cases, each holding a figure from one penny to a million dollars. You pick a case and then start opening the rest. First round you open six, then five, then four and so on until the final rounds where you only open one. After each round, the banker offers you money based on how much is left, and you get to decide deal or no deal. Except no matter how well or how poorly you doing, no one ever excepts the deal early in the game--they're always ready to play on. I've never seen anyone accept the banker's deal after the first two rounds, or even the first three, after with more than half the cases have been revealed. In fact, so sure are the producers that you'll not take the deal, that they wait until the second round is over to introduce your friends, who will root you on for the rest of the game. I suppose they have to offer you the deal, but everyone knows no one will take it.

What they could do is a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire sort of solution. On that show (I'm referring to the prime time version--I assume the syndicated Millionaire is the same), they have a strict rule that your answer is never final until you've literally responded in the affirmative to "Is that your final answer?" I assume they do this because their lawyers warned them if they didn't, guests might say they were still thinking and hadn't answered definitively. But because this would be tiresome to see in each round, especially the early, easy ones, they do ask the question, but they edit it out from broadcasts. In fact, there have been cases where host Regis Philbin forgot to ask, and they brought the contestant back.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Little Love

Believe it or not, I saw The Love Guru, despised by critics and audiences alike.

It's essentially more humor in the Austin Powers vein, so I'm not sure if I get all the hate. But then, I don't get all the love for Austin Powers, either.

And Another Thing

One more thing about listening to XM. On the Broadway channel they were playing "Master Of The House." Whenever I hear this song (which isn't too often) all I can think about is George Costanza singing it to himself in "The Jacket."

The Note You Never Wrote

I was going to comment on the latest Don Imus brouhaha, but the whole thing seemed too tiresome to go into.

Keep Your Powder Dry

A lot of court-watchers believe the Heller decision on the Second Amendment will be handed down today. Quite a few believe it'll be written by Justica Scalia, which suggests to some the individual rights-based view has won the day.

I guess we'll see when we see, but if the Court has no significant revision of its interpretation, the gun nuts will go nuts, and if they have a new take, the gun controllers will be out of control.

Whatever happens, it'll be a relief to read some national news that isn't about the Presidential race. (Though I suppose they'll chime in, too.)

I Bought It

I'd heard Jonathan Gould's Can't Buy Me Love, which came out last year, was the best book ever written about The Beatles. Considering they've been coming out at a regular rate for forty+ years, that's quite a claim.

So I read the book, and they may be right. At over 600 pages, it's really three books--a Beatles' history, an in-depth discussion of their music, and a review of the social milieu in which their story unfolds. Gould writes well and with understanding, which automatically puts him near the top.

I do have some complaints, generally about his musical taste. That was almost inevitable. For instance, not unlike Ian MacDonald's Revolution In The Head (also in competition for best book on The Beatles), Gould too easily prefers their "softer" music over their rougher, earlier work.

Then there are specific judgments that make me wonder if he's listening to the same music. For instance, of the three Motown covers on With The Beatles, Gould takes "Please Mr. Postman" over burning renditions of "Money (That's What I Want)" and "You Really Got A Hold On Me." Discussing what I consider one of their weaker (if still great) early albums, he writes "On almost every level of singing, playing, songwriting, and arrangements, the eight new Lennon-McCartney songs on Beatles for Sale [...] far surpass any collection of album tracks the Beatles had recorded to date." Then, when the Beatles do surpass themselves on Help!, he writes "Although each of these tracks has its moments of interest, the collection as a whole was uninspired."

Regardless, Gould brings old stories--and songs--to life, often by writing about them from new vantage points. For that alone the book should be front and center on your Beatles' shelf.

Bingo!

Over at my favorite Scrabble site, there were two chances for bingos with 9x scores. In the bottom right going down you had an E on the seventh square between two triple-word scores, and on the top right across you had an L in the seventh square between two triple-word scores.

Here were the letters in the rack: E R R B O H I. What can you make of it?

I'll let you think a while....






















...okay, here's the answer. HORRIBLE across. That's worth a whopping 176 points--highest score ever on this site.

The new rack is S S W I R E T K. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Is This The End Of M Zone?

My favorite Wolverine blog, The M Zone, is apparently no more. Host Yost has called it quits. He'd been threatening to do it for a while, but this seems like the real thing.

Well, it's tough to keep a college football blog going in the summer. Here's hoping when the Wolverines and their new coach start back up, Yost will be inspired to do the same.

Mapquest Series

The White Sox and the Cubs are both in first. They haven't faced each other in a World Series in over a century.

What would you call it. A subway series? There's no convenient way to get from Wrigley to U.S. Cellular, subway or otherwise. All the road head toward to loop, and going in a southwest direction is tricky. I'd personally taking Irving Park (or maybe Addison to Ashland to Armitage) to I-94. Should we call it the Dan Ryan series?

Reach Out, Aisle Be There

In an LA Times editorial "The Real McCain," Eric Alterman and George Zornick claim, as the sub-head puts it, "The media portray him as a GOP maverick. He's really a die-hard conservative."

Well, I guess this depends on what you think "GOP maverick" means. Sure, he generally votes conservative, but anyone who follows politics can name at least four or five times he went across the aisle on major issues and really annoyed conservatives. (For that matter, I can think of several times Bush has done the same thing.) If McCain's such a "die-hard" conservative, why do die-hard conservatives hold their nose when they vote for him, if they vote for him at all?

Obama, on the other hand, for all his claims that he wants to bring everyone together, is, as far as I can tell, a die-hard liberal. Unless I missed it, he has never crossed the aisle on any major issue. (In fact, I believe that's the reason he won the nomination.) I can't even think of anything he's said where he's gone against his party in any important way.

As a value, "reaching out" is fairly meaningless. I just want a politician who supports good programs and opposes bad ones. But as long as voters care about this sort of stuff, we should at least be clear on which candidate is most likely to surprise us.

What MGM Missed

I've been reading Marc Eliot's biography of Cary Grant and found out something I never knew. I was aware that Grant, raised in England as Archie Leach, was a fan of Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. But it turns out when he played Vaudeville in America as a teen (he was part of an acrobatic troupe) he was a huge fan of the Marx Brothers.

Here's the kicker: his favorite Brother was Zeppo. He liked how Zeppo played the foil to the others, as well as straight romantic lead.

No one's favorite Marx Brother is Zeppo. (Though, reportedly, offstage, he was the funniest. I guess he saved it.) But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Cary Grant was an expert light comedian, and romantic lead--probably the best in cinema history. And his specialty was being aloof and distracted--letting the others be wild, and chase after him, while he responded with wariness or confusion. Perhaps he took the inspiration of Zeppo, moved it to the center, and turned it into something great.

Monday, June 23, 2008

70,000

I didn't think I'd be writing this so soon, but Pajama Guy zipped past 70,000 hits today, thanks to an Instalanche for this piece.

Welcome to all the new readers, and to our old ones, thanks for sticking around.

Judgment Day

I see Megan McArdle has a post on her personal philosophy. This is always dangerous, since it provides ammunition to your enemies who can now attack whenever you don't live up to your own code.

In general, I agree with what she says, but one line struck me as odd:

I think that speaking of one culture as "better" than another is a meaningless statement. Culture gives you the preferences by which you evaluate it.

Perhaps I misunderstand, since this statement is somewhat vague.

Sure, it's one thing to say you can't really call one culture's cuisine or fashion or art better than any other. (Not that this is obviously correct, but I see a clear argument for it.) But saying you can't judge one culture better than any other, because you've got no place to stand, seems wrong.

First, can you make any moral judgments at all? I think you can. Everyone sure does. Even if your conclusions are provisional (which they probably should be), at least some of these judgments are meant to be ones that stand outside particular cultures.

That's why I don't think it's so hard to say--even if you accept that other cultures feel differently about certain things, and even if you're aware how ideas have changed throughout history for many different reasons, and even if you approach the subject with great humility--it's better if a society doesn't have slavery or human sacrifice.

If you can't make any such claim beyond mere statements of personal perference, how can you discuss politics at all, since those who disagree with you can just say they have a different culltural outlook and none is better than any other. (They usually do say this, right before they attack Bush, or America, or the West in general.)

I might add even by subjective standards, you still might be able to judge societies. For instance, if members of Culture A would choose to live in Culture B, even by A's standards, B is better.

George Carlin

George Carlin has died. I feel pretty safe in saying he was the most important comedian of his generation. His only competition was Richard Pryor, I guess.

Not that so many people copied in his style, especially all his material about the ins and outs of the English language. But he was the leader in going from the old, square, joke-telling stand-up to a more contemporary, let-it-all-hang-out style. (Not that he fully let it all hang out. He completely overturned a successful, conventional career in the late 60s and started talking about things that mattered to him, political and personal, but he was an anal retentive comedian who would take his notes onstage and repeat his material over and over till it was word perfect--he did not improvise. Rick Moranis satirized him rather mercilessly on SCTV. Allegedly, Carlin was not amused.)

He was raised in New York, working-class Irish (he later did imitations of the neighborhood types he remembered from his childhood). In the late 50s he started doing comedy, and for a time teamed up with Jack Burns. By the late 60s was regularly appearing on TV, including Vaudeville's last stand, Ed Sullivan. He also appeared in a movie, With Six You Get Eggroll (1968) and hoped to become a movie star, like Bob Hope.

But with the rise of the counterculture, he changed, and no longer felt comfortable wearing a suit and tie and telling jokes to middle class, middle-aged audiences. He started wearing jeans and let his hair grow long (he even wrote a poem about it). His new material wasn't just more personal, it was dirtier, and though he lost he old audience, he quickly acquired a new and bigger one. It was a brave move, but TV accepted him once again, and he kept appearing on Ed Sullivan, as well as The Smothers Brothers and Flip Wilson. (My favorite bits with Flip were his fake newscasts: "A freak accident happened today--four freaks in a bus hit two freaks in a van." "It will be mostly dark tonight turning to widely scattered light in the morning.")

More important, in 1972 Carlin's albums spread his comedy across the country, and around the world. First came FM & AM, which cleverly showed both his new and old side. On its heels came Class Clown, which was greeted with even more acclaim. Both went gold. He continued making top-selling albums, including Occupation: Foole and Toledo Window Box, though nothing he ever did had quite the cultural impact of the first two albums, which busted this new type of comedy wide open.

Class Clown closed with his famous "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television" routine. When a radio station played it, they were taken to court, which led to FCC v. Pacfica, where the Supreme Court decided by 5-4 that though his material was not obscene, the FCC has the power to regulate indecency.

He was a natural to host the first Saturday Night Live, and not long after started making regular HBO stand-up specials. He also appeared in several movies (if not quite achieving Bob Hope-level stardom) and wrote the comic bestsellers Brain Droppings, Napalm And Silly Putty and When Will Jesus Bring The Pork Chops?.

By his later years, he'd achieved iconic status. He was the elder statesman of hip comedy. But he kept working like he hadn't made it yet. He came up with about an hour of new material every couple years, and managed to stay irreverent, almost anarchistic, in his political take on things.

I saw him a few years ago in Vegas. I have to admit he wasn't as revolutionary--or as funny--as he may have been in the 70s, but it was still fun to catch his act. Here was a guy who had done so much for comedy, and managed to make it to the top by actually doing it his way.

I'd recommend his 70s albums for the purest Carlin experience, but I hope HBO will start repeating his specials (they show them occasionally as it is) which he kept making till the end, just to show here was a guy who never stopped experimenting, and never stopped trying.

Classic Profile

Janet Macolm's classic New Yorker essay "The Journalist and the Murderer" begins: ""Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible."

A bit strong, but there's an important point. Journalists are out to get their story, and will often do it at the expense of the people they report on.

I thought of that when reading this in a New York Times Magazine profile of Mad Men and its creator, Matthew Weiner:

After my first day on the set, I met Weiner for dinner at L’Ermitage hotel in Beverly Hills, AMC’s base for out-of-towners. He was outside finishing a cigarette. Earlier in the day he commanded, “Don’t say I smoke!” Why not? His face changed, and he seemed about 12 years old. “My parents don’t know.” I found that appealing, though I could see him wince once he said it.

This is a good detail, the kind that spices up a piece. It's also a betrayal, but one so common in journalism that I'm not sure writer Alex Witchel even sees it as such. I'm not even sure if readers notice it either.

Do I have a bigger point? Not really. I guess you should think twice before agreeing to be the center of a big article in a magazine read by millions. At least remember your parents are bound to see it.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Are They Sirius?

I was in a car that had XM satellite radio. Did you know that they have four separate comedy channels? And at any given time, all four of them feature hacky stand-ups talking about the difference between men and women?

What Happened?

Action films play well around the world, but many comedy hits in America aren't as big in foreign lands. What's funny, especially when based on dialogue and intonation, not to mention cultural norms, is tricky to translate.

So I'm surprised at how well What Happens In Vegas is doing overeas. It's a solid hit in America, inching toward $80 million, but non-domestic grosses should top $120 million. Is there something about Cameron Diaz that makes the split 40/60?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Three's Company

According the a new Academy rule, only two songs from any movie can be nominated for a Best Song Oscar. This is as silly as saying you can only nominate two actors from one movie. The award is for the best song. If the five best nominees are all in one film, nominate them.

You're So Money

Some conservatives are getting on Obama's case for going back on his word and bypassing public financing. But really now, what did anyone expect?

The main reason to be a candidate----a serious one, anyway--is to get elected. Obama's got a choice between $85 million in public funds or maybe five times that much raised privately. Even if he thought public financing was an important issue (and he seems to have), it's just one of many, none of which he can do much about if he doesn't win. (As to not keeping his word, I might add that there are a number of issues for which I hope that's true.)

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Old Ballgame

When I'm away from home, I occasionally like to watch baseball at a corner pub. Last night after work, I went to a place with a big plasma screen. No sound but I was happy to watch in a distracted way from a far corner with my burger. Red Sox vs. Tigers. I hadn't realized they were playing. After one inning, I noticed it was daylight and there was hardly anyone in the stands-well I thought middle of summer, stays light late, the Tigers had a disappointing start so maybe they don't draw much.

Then I noticed the graphics looked a little odd- cheap and primitive even but I wasn't paying that much attention. Then I noticed, while the players looked vaguely familiar, they didn't really look like the current Sox - where was Manny Ramirez? I know they called up a lot of young guys but these guys looked old and a lot had bushy moustaches.

The answer of course was Manny was in middle school and this was a replay of an apparent classic April 1988 meeting featuring Doyle Alexander vs. Bruce Hurst. Finally focusing on the names on the back of the Tiger jerseys (the Sox didn't have this), I saw Trammell and Knight and Lemon and recognized Wade Boggs and then I knew why these guys were familiar.

They really should note when they run an old game. Sports fans are only so aware,. Only took me until fourth inning to figure it out. The Tigers were up 5-2 when I left. Wonder how it came out.

Missed It By That Much

A weird showdown this weekend--two wacky comedies open, Get Smart and The Love Guru. This is bad programming as they both appeal to similar crowds. Get Smart should do better since it's got a name and several appealing actors, while Mike Myers hasn't had to open a non-Austin Powers live action film in years. Also, while the critics don't love Smart, they hate Guru.

I may check them both out, though it's a depressing weekend when you see two comedies that had potential both bomb. Which reminds me of The Nude Bomb. No way will either be that bad.

As long as I'm reminiscing, let me redirect you to what I wrote after Don Adams died.

They Did Serve Ketchup

I was just at a restaurant and noticed there were no tomatoes in my salad. Tomatoes are my favorite part. They told me they weren't serving tomatoes due to the salmonella scare.

1) Isn't that over by now?

2) If you're removing items from the salad, shouldn't you charge less?

It's Showtime, Folks!

Weeds just started its fourth season. Though the ratings were good, the episode wasn't. The characters, who weren't that great to begin with, have become tired and annoying. It was nice, though, to see Albert Brooks in a recurring role.

Secret Diary Of A Call Girl debuted after Weeds. I can't see making a second appointment.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

At Least Ten Hours To Go

I'm not sure what to make of the Battlestar Galactica mid-season finale. I know I liked it, but where do we go from here?

(SPOILERS:) It was a long wait, but we finally got some real action. The four secret cylons were revealed, (though not the fifth--I'm beginning to think the fifth will not be what we think it is) which led to the breakdown of Adama and some near airlocking by Lee. Even better, D'anna came back to life with a bang, and finally started a real battle. Her overreaction was a bit hard to buy, in a way, but I was so pleased we finally had some Cylon versus human action I didn't care.

But the big ending was they got to Earth. Real, honest-to-goodness Earth, where the whole show has been heading. And we discovered it was (or seemed to be) our Earth, in the future, after nuclear war had destroyed it.

Okay, a chilling moment. But what happens next. Do the humans and Cylons stick together and start to rebuild? Do they check the place out looking for survivors? Do they try for another planet? Is there another green, lush planet waiting for them?

No matter what they do, the question now is what drives the plot forward. With the exception of the fifth cylon (which D'Anna knows) there are no more secrets. Everyone knows who everyone is, and the search is over. What happens next?

Father's Day- Hulk, Rollerball

(NOTE: This is a discontinued post from New England Guy that I (LAGuy) am salvaging. Hope you don't mind, NEG. And where's your post about the Celtics?) (I finished- see below-NEG)


For Fathers Day, I did a lot a things with my 11 year old son- we went to see "The Incredible Hulk," watched "Rollerball" on DVD (the 1975 version with James Caan) and hiked 3 miles to an ice cream place. ( I think that was both carbon and calorie-neutral). It was about the best Father's Day I can remember

I thought the "Hulk" was pretty good- a vast improvement over Ang Lee's 2003 effort will some cool cameos and inside references ("The Courtship of Eddie's Father" shows up on a Brazilian TV set). My 63 pound son owns four seasons of the Bill Bixby TV series so I've seen a lot of the Hulk recently and thought this movie did a pretty good job of conveying the angst and loneliness of Dr. David/Bruce Banner (although he always has hot smart girls interested in him- here its Liv Tyler)

Rollerball I remember from network TV in the 70s and I was worried about the R rating and what might have been left out. Actually pretty tame by today's standards.

[Thanks LA Guy you have editing powers that I don't have or haven't figured out how to use - I got pulled away mid post- the rest should should read:]

Rollerball-Three exciting rollerball games with great use of Bach (I will admit I always think of Bach's "Toccata and Fugue" or "Adagio" as the "Theme from Rollerball" whenever I hear it and didn't know it was actual classical music until recently- I thought it was a stadium organ special)

As a youth, I thought the movie was exciting action surrounded by what I remembered as dull impenetrable scenes about some vague corporate future. On rewatching, its now not so impenetrable but its still boring. (My son on the other liked the action but he was fascinated by the sterile corporate future.) I'm not sure "corporate" is the right word- they were much more like big government- although maybe their capitalistic efficiency had enabled the corporate directors to solve all social problems- so much so that people now had to watch violent sports and burn down pine trees so that they could at least feel something.

(Also, James Caan really nailed the portrayal of the inarticulate jock- so much so that its fairly hard to follow him when he speaks)

Interesting comment from the featurette from shaggy-looking director Norman Jewison on the set - paraphrasing-"I believe that in 5-10 or certainly 20 years that we will witness violent sports like Rollerball in the US." He said this 33 years ago- weed and big pronouncements I think were more common in the seventies. He also said that he didn't want to romanticize the violence, which was a risk he took in making this film, and made the movie to show the dangers of violence in sports. I think there he failed-the violence is entertaining and pretty much the whole appeal of the movie.

Next weekend -"Konga" and the Rollerball remake (looks horrible).

[Thanks LA Guy . The only thing I'll say about the Celtics is maybe now I can stop hearing and seeing "Beat LA" everywhere.]

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hamas' Side

A truce between Israel and Hamas starts tomorrow. I certainly hope it works out, but I see no reason to be particularly optimistic.

According to an article in The New York Times, Hamas has been cracking down on life in Gaza, but is firmly in control. Not too surprising, since, as the article explains, Hamas has been deeply rooted there and the people see Fatah as corrupt (and sure don't think they can turn to anyone else). It's not unlike how a crime syndicate can run a neighborhood--they may be a bit rough, but the people look at them as the ones who get things done.

The Times seems to imply running a society has made Hamas more moderate and less ideological. What's their evidence? Well, one Fatah representative says they don't seem that different from Fatah. (This may tell us more about Fatah than Hamas.)

Here's how Hamas sees it:

Whereas Hamas says it will never recognize Israel, its leaders say that if Israel returned to the 1967 borders, granted a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem and dealt with the rights of refugees, Hamas would declare a long-term truce. This is not that different from what the rest of the Arab world says or the Fatah position in peace talks with Israel.

So that's their offer. If Israel gives them absolutely everything (including what amounts to the end of the state of Israel as presently constituted), Hamas might then agree to stop fighting. As usual, Israel is required to do massive, tangible deeds for an organization dedicated to its destruction, in return for words, very possibly empty words.

One woman interviewed for the story sums up the problem pretty well, if unwittingly:

"Israel is trying to pressure us to make us forget that the real problem is the occupation [...]. Hamas was elected like any government and never given the chance to govern. Life is hard here but it has never exactly been perfect. We can take it. The Koran teaches that in the end we will be victorious.”

She's got it backward. As unimaginable as this is to her, and to practically everyone she knows, Israel isn't the "real" problem. They can be dealt with. It's the hatred she holds in her heart that's preventing things from moving forward. If they could accept Israel, the Palestinians could have land, peace and prosperity. But why bother? As long as this woman can nurse her hatred, and hold dear in her heart the hope for an enemy's destruction, and be supported by most of the world which instead demands Israel offer up its neck, how is it she'll ever change?

Cyd Charisse

Cyd Charisse has died. If you haven't seen Singin' In The Rain or The Band Wagon lately, now would be a good time to rent them. If you feel they're too familiar, let me suggest It's Always Fair Weather.

You're Not Even In The Scene, Patti

This is from the blog of someone who wrote in a little while ago about a post on the musical Gypsy:

...my favorite shows or movies are the ones that leave me incapacitated at the end. Literally in pain. [....] the funny thing about Gypsy is sometimes I get sick to my stomach just thinking about it. I don't even have to be watching it or listening to the cast recording. Merely thinking about the fight in the dressing room or last two minutes of "Rose's Turn" or the mocking laughter that erupts from the venom Louise's own mother cultured in her daughter's gut . . . I can't even deal. And somehow I'm going to see this show three times in a row. Pray for me. I might just die.

A strong reaction. In fact, I think a reason the show has never quite been a blockbuster (it's been on Broadway five times but its longest run was the 702 performances) is that the ending has so much pain in it. Gypsy's subtitle is "a musical fable," but that's referring to the somewhat fanciful biography of the title character, not the happily-ever-after part.

It's true, we go to the theatre to be moved. Not always to tears, of course--Guys And Dolls may be my favorite musical, and it's funny almost all the way through. (Frank Loesser used to ask others if his songs could make them cry, because he already knew how to make them laugh.)

Gypsy, on the other hand, has a protagonist who's hard to take. She can be played a lot of ways, but it's hard not to think the rousing Act One finale, "Everything's Coming Up Roses," is sung by a woman who's gone mad. In fact, the show could end there (if it weren't for the title--we've still got to discover how Louise becomes Gypsy Rose Lee). We see Rose losing her hopes and dreams when June runs off, but it doesn't matter--she won't quit until she makes the less talented Louise a star.

But, to (finally) get to my point, the funny thing is the powerful ending is not what moves me most in the show. The number that gets to me is "All I Need Is The Girl." It's sung by Tulsa, who's trying to demonstrate the kind of number he's planning. Tulsa is reasonably talented, but he has big dreams (which he probably won't fulfill). Meanwhile, poor, humble Louise watches, with an even smaller dream, that someday she could be with a guy like Tulsa. The simple dreams of two silly kids move me more than all the melodrama in West Side Story, the previous show created by Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins. Partly because they're not straining for effect--sometimes simpler is better.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Good News, Bad News

Good news for gay couples: they can now be legally married in California. But watch out on that honeymoon. American Airlines now charges $15 for the first bag checked, $25 for each after that. (And that's only if they're the proper weight.) Other airlines are following suit (and suitbags).

I wonder which decision affects more people?

Hip Hop Replacement

I recently went to a doctor for a check-up and got there a bit early, before he was back from lunch. I was surprised to hear the nurse listening to rap music on the radio. And she kept it on until the doctor's "official" hours started. As soon as he got in, she switched to a more mellow station.

I really don't need any music in a waiting room, but if there has to be, why not give us something more lively? Half the time I'm ready to nod off when I'm called in.

Stan Winston

Stan Winston, about the biggest name for make-up and special effects in Hollywood, has died. He was nominated for ten Oscars and won four. No need to say much--better to just list some of the films he worked on: Terminator, Aliens, Small Soldiers, The Thing, Jurassic Park, Edward Scissorhands, Galaxy Quest and Iron Man.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Tiger And The Tigers

After the Pistons blew it, I figured that was it for the years. The Tigers were dead and the Wolverines season looks to be gruesome.

But I forgot golf. Tiger Woods is the most exciting golfer ever, and that's not a backhanded compliment. You actually sit in front of the TV, breathless, wondering how he's going to pull it out. Now after an amazing four days of the U.S. Open, we get a playoff round. What could be better?

Meanwhile, the Tiger, who should be losing, are winning again. They still got a ways to go, but they swept the team they have to beat--the White Sox--and then made short work of the Dodgers. Another week like this and they'll be in the thick of it.

Tony Tony Tony

No major surprises at the Tony's. As I guessed (in the few predictions I made) South Pacific won for best musical revival but Patti LuPone won for best actress in a musical. I was a little surprised Boyd Gaines won yet another Tony for the same production of Gypsy, though I admit I didn't see it.

Mark Rylance in Boeing-Boeing won for best actor, beating Patrick Stewart in Macbeth. Having recently read both plays, it's weird that the voters could even compare two such different roles.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

What A Beauty

I just watched American Beauty for the first time since it opened in 1999. Back then it was a small, offbeat film, without big stars, but tremendous buzz, that turned into an international blockbuster, and won five Oscars, including best film.

There's been a bit of a backlash since then. Maybe not as bad as it is for Titanic, but a lot of people wonder what's the big deal? And I agree, there's a lot to criticize in this film. The film sometimes strains too hard to be poetic. Most of the adults are one-dimensional--especially the gay-hating military dad (who, of course, is a repressed homosexual) and his catatonic wife. It's got a cliched, beyond tiresome vision of sterile suburbia (does anyone anywhere listen to muzak while they eat dinner?). The plot has more coincidences than a French sex farce, plus some loose threads (even before I read the screenplay I could tell they were setting up the teen couple to be framed for murder, but that's completely dropped--actually, it's a good choice by director Sam Mendes, but it's still hanging out there). It also doesn't earn the death at the end which ties it all up--it's more a coincidence than a tragic inevitability.

Yet, there's something there. First, it's actually got some good gags, especially from Kevin Spacey, both as the sad sack and as the guy awakening (or regressing, some might say) to a new life. If nothing else, there's a decent 90-minute comedy trying to escape from this two-hour drama.

It's also got some good acting, especially by Spacey (who won an Oscar) and the teenagers (though I got a little tired of Wes Bentley, as Ricky Fitts, the drug-dealing psycho next door who sees through this world and speaks The Truth). And the script has some good observations of both teen and adult life.

There are also some touching moments, such as between Spacey and Annette Bening, Spacey and Mena Suvari, and Wes Bentley and Thora Birch.

The score sounds like a cliche today, partly because it's been copied a lot, but works pretty well. The cinematography by Conrad L. Hall deserved its Oscar. There are some memorable images (though I'll take the fantasy Mena Suvari over the windswept plastic bag). And the cheerleader's dance routine--choreographed by a pre-Idol Paula Abdul--is perfection.

Did it deserve the Best Picture Oscar? No. But Hollywood's done a lot worse.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Out Of Time

I just rewatched Time After Time, a film with the fanciful, or should I say bizarre, plot that has H. G. Wells creating a time machine in 1893 London and chasing Jack The Ripper into present-day, i.e., 1979, San Francisco.

It's a minor if pleasant adventure-romance, with Malcolm McDowell as a very nice Wells and David Warner as a very nasty Ripper. Most memorable is the gal they struggle over, a modern woman, played by newcomer Mary Steenburgen. Her role requires her to be a serious businesswoman who falls in love with Wells in no time flat. It's a rather ridiculous part and she plays it in a spacey sort of way that makes you wonder what she's really thinking. (She'd win an Oscar next year for her work in Melvin And Howard.)

Is there something about Steenburgen that attracts time travelers, since Doc Brown falls in love with her in Back To The Future III? Steenburgen and McDowell, by the way, fell in love during the shoot and got married (and later divorced).

What's fun about these sorts of films is we have Wells marvel at the inventions he runs across, such as calculators, record players and widespread telephones, and today's audience looks back and marvels at how primitive they are. It's also fun to watch the old-style special effects. Forget CGI, this movie was probably planned before Star Wars came out.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert

Tim Russert, only 58, has died.  He'd been hosting Meet The Press for more than 16 years, and was probably the best in the business at what he did.

Fact is, I can barely stand to watch most politicial interviews, since so many who ask the questions are either too partisan or don't have the depths to truly engage the interviewee.  Russert was one of the few who could handle the extended format, probing the politician, but giving him enough space to answer--and sometime, to hang himself.

Never Give Up, Never Surrender

I'm a big fan of Galaxy Quest (1999). It's both a parody of Star Trek and its fans, and a well done, semi-straight comedy-action film. My main complaint is I don't quite buy Tim Allen as a former romantic lead in an action series. (Then again, I didn't buy Bill Murray as an action star in Lost In Translation, but no one seems to mind that.) Another slight problem is one a friend of mine has--that it shows the geeky fans as believing the show is real, which misses what true geekdom is like.

The movie didn't flop, but it wasn't quite the hit they were looking for. (This explains why you haven't seen Galaxy Quest II:The Return Of Sarris.) I guess the stars weren't big enough and the idea seemed too small--who needs to see a movie that's just a parody of a TV show? Yet, I'd guess its reputation has grown over the years, and it's considered, if not a classic, a fine comedy.

I also hear the original version was darker, but it was recut to play up the light side. The same thing happened to another dark story--300--that turned into Pretty Woman. Why? Because screenwriters like dark more than audiences, and producers prefer audiences.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What's In A Name?

I just finished Ron Rosenbaum's The Shakespeare Wars. It took some doing. It's not a bad book, but at 550 pages, it could profitably be cut by a third.

He discusses many of the controversies over Shakespeare that still trouble scholars and theatre people, and how surprisingly vehement they can be. What's the proper text of Hamlet, or the correct portrayal of a Shylock or Falstaff? And that points to another question--is Shakespeare primarily a dramatist whose work should be seen, or a poet whose work should be read.

Rosenbaum is a journalist, not a scholar, but he's obviously done a lot of research, and more obviously, loves his subject. And this may be what I like best about the book. These plays are too important to only be interpreted for us by Harold Bloom or Peter Hall. Shakespeare wrote plays for an audience to enjoy directly, so when it comes to the Bard, we're all groundlings.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

No Surprise

I was at a friend's house watching The Sting. Several kids were in the audience.

At the end (BIG SPOILER), Robert Redford and Paul Newman, who appeared to be dead a few seconds before, pop up back to life, having pulled off their con. The kids weren't surprised (or said they weren't), and I wasn't surprised they weren't surprised. Heroes don't lose in movies these days--there are double and triple and quadruple crosses, and they manage to end up on top.

Back in 1973, the previous film the duo had made was Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, where they died at the end. And early 70s movies were full of heros who failed. I'd guess the audience then was far from sure either Redford of Newman would make it out okay.

However, no matter what the kids claim, there's no way they saw through the hitman subplot.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Are They Proud?

I recently watched A Few Good Men. Because directors get possessory credit, some would call it "Rob Reiner's A Few Good Men," but really it's Aaron Sorkin's A Few Good Men. He wrote the play--it made him--and the screenplay--which hews pretty closely to his stage piece. There are a lot of good things in the movie, but without the particular script and writer, it'd be just another courtroom drama.

It's an entertaining film, with one of Tom Cruise's best roles, and a number of decent supporting parts, but its climax, as famous as it is ("You can't handle the truth!"), is a bit silly. Like The Caine Mutiny (and the play The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, both based on Herman Wouk's novel), the lead defense lawyer plans to get the key witness to go nuts on the stand and admit things which destroy the prosecution's case. It may make for an exciting story, but is a disastrous strategy for any lawyer. If you're counting on witnesses making statements against their own interest, maybe you should reconsider a career in law.

PS The case in A Few Good Men is about an incident at Guantanamo Bay. When the play debuted, few had heard of it. Now the place sounds very different to an audience's ears.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Papers, please

This is precisely how I fear I'm going to be arrested one day: "Drivers' identification are checked and those who didn't have a "legitimate purpose" in the area, such as a church visit or doctor's appointment, are turned away." When asked by the police for my "legitimate purpose" to drive down a public street in my own country, I'm quite likely to answer "none of your business."

On a marginally-at-best-related note, McCain has provided me with further support for being a one-issue voter in this upcoming presidential election.

From This To That

Recently watched From Dusk Till Dawn all the way through for the first time since I saw it in the theatre. It was even better than I remembered.

The film didn't do that well when first released, and I suppose it's mostly because it changes its story in midstream. My attitude is it's two great films in a row, so what's the problem?

The reason I think I liked it better looking back is the same reason I think I liked Woody Allen's Stardust Memories when I saw it years later. When I first saw SM, compared to his wonderful comedies of the 70s, it was a letdown, but looking back later, compared to his more arty films, it was a lot more enjoyable. I saw FDTD not that long after Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and it suffered by comparison, but since then, QT's scripts haven't been quite as good (as far as I'm concerned), while the well-written, but more important, well-plotted style of QT is still very much on display in FDTD. (Director Robert Rodriguez helps, too.)

I also recently watched From Here To Eternity from beginning to end. It won the Best Picture Oscar, but like so many "class" films of the era (often directed by people like Fred Zinneman or Willie Wyler or George Stevens), I find it less interesting than films that just try to be fun.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Not Wilder

I finally got around to reading Wilfrid Sheed's The House That George Built. I've been planning on checking it out since it was published last year. It's a journey through pre-rock American popular song, emphasizing the melody writers. All such books must be measured against the definitive text, Alec Wilder's American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, and I'm afraid Sheed falls short.

Sheed, for the most part, spends a chapter per composer, but rather than analyze the tunes (and it's notes he cares about--he spends little time on lyrics), he writes impressionistically, assuming we aleady know and love them. I'm not demanding he be systematic in his appreciation, but I'd like more than snatches of feelings and biographical anecdotes.

He does attempt to put Gershwin at the center of American popular music, which is a bit unorthodox. (Wilder liked him least of the Big Five--Berlin, Kern, Gershwin, Rodgers and Porter.) And he makes an interesting point about how 1920s tunes shouldn't be compared to the more sophisticated songs of the 1930s, even though we tend to group them together. He also has some decent chapters about relatively less famous songwriters who mostly toiled in movies, such as Harry Warren and Jimmy Van Heusen.

But considering what a talented writer he is and, apparently, how much research he did, the book is unfocused, and turns out to be a disappointing mishmosh.

PS The character in Guys And Dolls is Benny Southstreet, not Benny Southgate.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

"Us Dogs Aren't Really So Much Of The Dogs That We Think We Are"

I watched Marty (Best Picture Oscar for 1955) a few days ago. I don't consider it a classic, but I can see why it was so well-liked, even though the script does scream these are Small people, with a capital "S."

But what got to me was Betsy Blair, who plays the "dog" that Marty meets. Okay, she's not a raving beauty, but you wouldn't call her ugly. In fact, if you took her away from the inflated standards of a Hollywood movie (compare her to a babe like Karen Steele, who plays just another housewife in the film), you'd call her cute.

How did women respond back then, seeing an attractive gal like Betsy Blair being called a "dog"?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Can Evolution be Far Behind?

From the Washington Wire at the Wall Street Journal

Bush Acknowledges Turbulent Economy

Lesser Pairings

One of my favorite movies from the 50s is Sweet Smell Of Success, where Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster trade some of the best dialogue ever written, courtesy of Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehyman. It's a harsh movie about nasty people--just the roles the audience didn't want to see them in. The film flopped. They'd had a real hit the year before, in Trapeze, a romantic triangle about acrobats. It's much more conventional, and from today's standpoint, much more boring. But watching it recently, I noticed something--Burt Lancaster and Gina Lollobrigida did the upside-down kiss 46 years before Spider-Man did.

I also saw Play It As It Lays recently, a Frank Perry film with screenplay by Joan Didion, based on her novel. It's another arty, early 70s American film, this time about anomie in LA. Tuesday Weld has gone to pieces, and so the film presents her life in little pieces, as she contemplates it after the crack-up. The film seems a little too pleased with itself, and it doesn't add up to much more than a Hollywood mix of Godard and Antonioni (whom I don't like that much to begin with). The best thing is the rapport between partners-in-ennui Weld and Tony Perkins. They're much better in their earlier outing, Pretty Poison, which is a 60s take on film noir, and, if nothing else, has a plot to lean on. They do work well together, though both films flopped.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Huh?

It's just my opinion, mind you, but any list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time that doesn't include "Reelin' in the Years" or "My Old School" is not much of a list.

I'd add "Don't Take Me Alive" to the list, too.

Ho Hum

The Red Wings have won the Stanley Cup and you know what? It means nothing to me.

Mel Ferrer

Audrey Hepburn's ex-husband, Mel Ferrer, has died. He acted in many movies and TV shows in his long career, and even directed a bit.

His best known role is the crippled puppeteer in Lili. The part actually required he voice a number of puppets, and he pulls it off perfectly.

But I'll always remember him as the suave, villainous Marquis de Maynes in Scaramouche. I especially love how he puts down the principles of the French Revolution: "Liberty must be rationed amongst the few with the talent to use it. There's no such thing as Equality, most men who are born in the gutter are only at home there. As of Fraternity, a de Mayne is nobody's brother. We stand alone at the head of the table." (Or something like that.)

Predictable

New York authorities have shut down an art exhibit entitled "The Assassination of Hillary Clinton/The Assassination of Barack Obama.” The police commissioner, when asked about the legal grounds for this action, said: "Our lawyers are researching it and will determine if there are any violations of law; right now [the artist] is being questioned.” So there you have it.

When I first heard the title I was shocked that an artist would deal with these two in such a manner, since assassination art is normally associated with President Bush. But as the artist explained: "It’s about character assassination—about how Obama and Hillary have been portrayed by the media.” So there you have it, again.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

I Give It A "D"

This entry in Hendrik Hertzberg's New Yorker blog has him taking a stultifyingly cliched Frank Rich piece on South Pacific (guess what--we've come a long way on race but still have far to go) and adding his own foolish take (Obama elected=happier world). But that is to be expected. This I didn't expect:

My parents and most of their politically radical, culturally snooty friends, who were in their twenties or early thirties when Pearl Harbor put the class struggle on the back burner, used to dismiss Rogers and Hammerstein as purveyors of cornball populism. They preferred the tangy, gin-flavored sophistication of Rogers and Hart.

You know who I dismiss? People who can't spell Richard Rodger's surname.

It's Over

The primary season is finally over. The general campaign begins. Though Obama and McCain are essentially tied right now, you've got to give the edge to Barack for a number of reasons.

1) He brings new voters into the mix.

2) When the Dems unite, they'll get back in line behind him.

3) He's got about half a billion dollars to spend--as much as he needs for ads to massage the voters in sore spots (and, some would add, he has the media in his back pocket, which is worth more).

4) Bob Barr may get a fair number of votes, and probably take more from McCain than Obama.

That said, for all the inspirational talk, the winner will likely be the one who can make the other look worse. Barack wants to tie McCain to Bush, while McCain wants to portray Obama as dangerously inexperienced and too radical.

Anyway, I'm burned out writing about the whole process. I may lay off politics for a few weeks. In fact, I wish I could go into hibernation for a few months and miss all the soaring rhetoric. Politicians are free to campaign as much as they like, but it would probably be a better country if we ignored everything they said at least until after Labor Day.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Friendly Fire

In Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye, Marty Augustine smashes a Coke bottle into his girlfriend's face and tells Phillip Marlowe “That’s someone I love. You, I don't even like.”

I felt that logic a bit checking out Vanity Fair's hit piece on Bill Clinton.The whole thing, even if generally true, seemed pretty sleazy. The same people who saw Bill through every scandal are now so besotted with Obama that they'll do whatever they have to do to hurt Hilary's campaign. (It's too late for the article to make any difference now, but when it was being written who knew?)

Just imagine how scorched the earth is gonna get when they start attacking people they don't like.

Waaaaalt!

(Lost spoilers ahead:) Harold Perrineau, who plays Michael on Lost, came back this season. He didn't do too much, though, and got killed in the finale, so I can see why he's a bit testy. Still, I think he goes too far in this interview:

I'm disappointed, mostly because I wanted Michael and Walt to have a happy ending. I was hoping Michael would get it together and actually want to be a father to his kid and try to figure out a way to get back [home]....

...there are all these questions about how they respond to black people on the show. Sayid gets to meet Nadia again, and Desmond and Penny hook up again, but a little black boy and his father hooking up, that wasn't interesting? Instead, Walt just winds up being another fatherless child. It plays into a really big, weird stereotype and, being a black person myself, that wasn't so interesting.

I agree with Perrineau that a Michael/Walt reunion was a good idea, but he knows there's a perfectly good reason why it didn't happen. The actor who plays Walt is three years older than when his character left the island, and looks it. The Michael character, however, dies not long after he left the island with Walt, so short of amazing CGI work, they can't play any scenes together.

Of course, I'd bet the producers made Michael leave the island in the first place because he was one of the more boring characters.

Take A Little Walk With Me Arlene

Yet another obit.

Bo Diddley has died. He'd been ailing for a while, so it wasn't a surprise. In fact, he lasted longer than the average rock and roller.

He was never half the hitmaker that Chuck Berry or Little Richard or Fats Domino were, but he's still one of the early kings of rock and roll. Plus he came with his own Bo Diddley beat. In the pre-iPod days I made quite a few mixed tapes, and Bo was one of those guys you could always count on to spice things up.

In 1955, he became a major R&B star right off the bat with both songs on his first single, "Bo Diddley" (no one said he was modest--he regularly used his name in his titles) and "I'm A Man." Other classics of the period include "Hey Bo Diddley" and "Who Do You Love?" (correct grammar: "Whom Do You Love?"). These songs still sound fresh today. Ironically, his only top forty hit was a novelty number, "Say Man," which go up to #20 in 1959. It's not even a song--it's essentially Bo and a friend playing the dozens with a backbeat. (Could be worse--Chuck Berry's only #1 hit was "My Ding-A-Ling.")

More than a decade before the Doors messed with Ed Sullivan, Bo got himself banned from the same show for refusing to sing Tennessee Ernie Ford's #1 hit "Sixteen Tons." Good for you, Bo--Ed never did understand rock and roll.

Bo remained ornery in later years. Even after being inducted in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame he wondered what good it did him--he wasn't getting paid, after all.

I saw him once. I was in college and while walking along heard some music playing in a club. I went in and there was Bo, finishing his set. What was the song? "Say Man."

Monday, June 02, 2008

Well, if this doesn't bring ColumbusGuy out of the woodwork....

...then presumably he's off celebrating victory.

For Good Luck

Bill Murray's wife "has accused her husband of being repeatedly unfaithful, physically abusive and addicted to drugs and sex, according to the court papers filed in South Carolina."

It's that last one that gets me--addicted to sex. Who knows how fair her accusations are, but couldn't most wives throw that count in?

Moving Idea

So Susan Sarandon adds her name to the never-ending list of celebrities who will leave the country if a Republican is elected President. (Yes, I know we have one in office right now, but maybe no one told her.) She says she'll move to either Italy or Canada. Apparently she doesn't know they've both elected conservatives.

In response, a friend told me he'd move to Europe if Obama were elected except it doesn't matter since Obama will turn the U.S. into Europe anyway.

Churning

The ending of Battlestar Galactica is in sight, but the story still stops and starts. The latest episode had a power vacuum, with Roslin missing. Perhaps there could have been an exciting struggle between Bill Adama and Zarek, or Lee Adama and Zarek, or Zarek and the Council, or the Council versus the military. Instead, we had a pointless philosophical battle between Lee and Romo. Romo is the lawyer who defended Baltar, and we never needed him in the first place. The producers seem to have a love affair with him, but I find his character annoying and his scenes tired and empty. (There are only 40,000 humans left alive, all on the run, and the producers mistakenly think they deepend the show by wasting our time on legal niceties and pseudo-philosophical speculation.) I sighed when I saw the character was being reintroduced--and then, worse, he took over the hour. (And the other main character was Lee, who is also boring--they keep giving him new jobs, hoping one of them will matter.)

For that matter, why lose Roslin at all? We want an exciting show where the Cylons are chasing and messing with the humans (and each other) while the search for Earth continues. Instead we're getting all sorts of mystical nonsense that slow down the story.

Speaking of which, Starbuck sure snapped back to form. A few weeks ago, she was going crazy trying to find Earth, willing to mess with the Galactica if necessary, and Adama backed her all the way, letting her go off on a search party with some of the top people available. Now this week, Adama goes nuts chasing after Roslin, sending out search crews. And who calls him crazy? Starbuck.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Season Change

I put away my snow shovel today because it is officially mosquito season.

That is all, Breckenridge.

TC, Phone Home

While recently watching Rain Man, something really stood out. Hot-shot businessman Charlie Babbit (Tom Cruise) is traveling cross-country by car, back to Los Angeles. He's got to keep tabs on his affairs back home, so every chance he gets--at restaurants, gas stations, motels--he finds a phone and calls in to deal with his financial situation.

Anyone born since the film was released 20 years ago must look at it and wonder why doesn't he just use his cell phone?

Lost Locked

Big spoilers ahead, for I'm going to discuss the Lost finale. Actually, I'm mostly going to discuss one aspect--the final moment when we discover the man in the coffin, Jeremy Bentham, is actually John Locke. So Locke is dead. Or should that be "Locke is dead?"

Locke is my favorite character, and there's no doubt he'll be back, one way or another. Dying on Lost doesn't mean you're gone, it just means you're not a regular anymore.

But in Locke's case, he will probably still be a regular since we know from the flashforward that he's got work to do, both on the island (where things fall apart) and back on the mainland where he regularly meets with his old pals. Season four was a lot of action to catch us up to the end of season three. It looks like season five will be taken up with how the Oceanic 6 do what Jack said they needed to do at the end of season three.

But beyond that, can we be sure Locke is truly dead? I'm guessing he is, as much as I don't like it. I didn't think he was dead after Ben shot him and left him in the pit, but this time can they go back on it? Here are some theories that keep him in the thick of things. 1) The island cured him before, it can cure him again--though this is sure a pretty amazing cure. But once he gets back, he can be revived. 2) He's fooling people, to get them back, just as he fooled Hurley. But why would his dying mean anything to them--they knew about it and Kate, for one, didn't seem to particularly care. 3) Like Christian and perhaps Claire, he can be active on the island even if he's dead back on the mainland. 4) The time travel solution will allow them to not only go back i time when he's alive, but perhaps even change the present. (Didn't one of the Star Treks do this?) 5) He's Jacob and he'll rule from there, having people follow his orders to save the island, and maybe save him.

Also, we know Sun blames two people for Jin's death. One is her father, but who's the second. There are three obvious suspects--Widmore, who sent the freighter to kill everyone, Ben, who killed Keamy which meant the boat blew up, or Jack, who left Jin behind. They all make sense, though I'd guess Jack is the best bet.

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