Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Here's A Hand

Not to be played until midnight.



And if you're reading Pajama Guy at midnight, my condolences.

Whose Generation?

The Kennedy Center Honors are fine and all, but there's just something wrong about Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey dressed up and sitting in the President's box, enjoying a rendition of "My Generation."

At least Pete recognizes it:

"When a rap artist finally rolls up here and gets the Kennedy honors, it's the end of rap really, isn't it?" Townshend said. "Because the establishment can hear you. So, in a sense, in a way, you kind of feel that about rock [now]."

Looking Backward

It's time to go over my predictions for the year. (If any of the other guys made predictions, now would be a good time to look back as well.) I've done okay in the past, but I don't think I saw ahead that clearly this time.

I saw continued progress in Iraq, which I think was correct. I also felt the terrorists there would try their hardest to keep up the violence. Perhaps they did, but it wasn't very effective.

I thought Obama would be believed dead. I think that's wrong.

I said Bush wouldn't make much progress on agreements with North Korea or Israel, though he'd try. I guess that's true.

I predicted the Dems would hold the House and gain in the Senate. Right again, but not particularly brave.

I begged off on who'd be the nominees for the Presidency, though I did predict the Democrat would probably win.

I thought the Congress wouldn't pass much major legislation, and any big stuff Bush would veto. Well, I guess the bailout (which I certainly didn't foresee) proves me wrong.

I said no major tax or immigration legislation. I think I was right, though next year might heat things up a bit.

I predicted Daniel Day-Lewis would win a Best Actor Oscar. Correct. I thought Julie Christie would beat Ellen Page for Best Actress. Well, they both lost to Marion Cotillard. I was right that Javier Bardem would beat Hal Holbrook for Supporting Actor. I thought Amy Ryan would beat Cate Blanchett for Supporting Actress, but they both lost to Tilda Swinton.

I thought the writers' strike would go on far longer than it did.

I predicted American Idol would still be popular, which was obvious. What I didn't say (and should have--I was thinking it) was it had peaked and the ratings wouldn't be as high as the previous year.

I predicted the Patriots would win the Super Bowl. They lost to the Giants in a close game.

I said the Celtics wouldn't be the champs. They beat the Lakers 4-2.

I figured the Tigers wouldn't finish first. They were pathetic and finished fifth.

I bravely predicted the Wolverines would finish over .500. Instead, they had their first season below (well below) .500.

I correctly predicted a recession.

I didn't think there'd be any controversial Supreme Court decisions, not even on gun rights. This is a judgment call, but I think their declaring the Second Amendment confers an individual right was controversial.

I'll try to have my predictions for 2009 up soon.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

There Is Love

Happy Birthday, Noel "Paul" Stookey, even if you did attend Michigan State University and pledge DU.

Stookey's best known, of course, as one-third of Peter, Paul and Mary. He's the one in the middle:

Go Get 'Em

It's also Tiger Wood's birthday.

I doubt I'll ever see anything top this shot from the 2005 Masters:

Malcolm In The Middle Of Things

The LA Times recently featured a piece on Malcolm Gladwell and his latest, Outliers (#1 on The New York Times best-seller list), which is the rage of Hollywood. In fact, Gladwell seems to be the guru of choice these days, but has he ever had an insight that wasn't obvious?

He hit it big with The Tipping Point, which had the thesis that at a certain point, a movement toward change becomes unstoppable. Next came Blink, in which he argued a trained mind makes quick, unconscious decisions. Now we have Outliers, which explains that those who succeed get in a lot of practice before they make it. Perhaps I'm simplifying his ideas, but not by as much as you'd imagine.

What next? Is he going to demonstrate that pop sociology is a lot easier to do than rigorous science? The world awaits.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Demand Side Economics

[Raul] Castro said Cuban managers need to demand more from their workers, who receive free education and health care and subsidized food rations but on average earn only $20 a month.

"I have arrived at the conclusion that one of our big problems is a lack of systemic demand," said Castro.

He expressed dissatisfaction with the system of subsidies for those who can work, but do not, saying government handouts discourage Cubans from being more productive.

I think I like Raul more than I like his brother.

The Greatest

The local oldies station, K-Earth, just played the top 5oo songs of all time. Mostly predictable, as well as a sign of what "oldies" means.

Here are 25 through 11: "American Pie," "Let It Be," "You Can't Hurry Love," "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?," "Louie Louie," "Under The Boardwalk," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," "Respect," "Play That Funky Music," "When A Man Loves A Woman," "Dreams," "Brown Eyed Girl," "Unchained Melody," "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life"and "Hey Jude."

Most of these songs I like, and a few of them (such as "Louie Louie" and "Hey Jude") deserve to be in the top 100. As much as I've enjoyed "Brown Eyed Girl," however, man is it overplayed.

Top Ten:

10. "Your Song"

Vastly overrated.

9. "California Girls"

Is this a local favorite? Because the Beach Boys have better songs than this.

8. "What's Going On"

Good song, but I'm not sure about its place. And I believe they've already done "Heard It Through The Grapevine."

7 "Light My Fire"

Fine if overplayed. It is the Doors best known, and maybe the band is an LA favorite.

6. "Imagine"

I've already dealt with my problems regarding this song.

5. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"

There are other Stones songs I like better, but I can't argue with this.

4. "What A Wonderful World"

What is this doing here? While it's always nice to listen to Louis, if this song hadn't been revived by Good Morning, Vietnam, it wouldn't be remembered at all.

3. "Black Magic Woman"

A decent song that shouldn't be anywhere near this high.

2. "My Girl"

Sure, why not?

1. "Pretty Woman"

Never seen it this high before.

Two Of The Top Ten

Happy birthday, Mary Tyler Moore.

She rose to fame in one of the greatest sitcoms and then starred in what may be the greatest. In fact, I once blogged about my ideal tribute to her show.



The words to the theme song changed after the first season. Originally it starts "How will you make it on your own?" I guess after the show was picked up, they figured that question was answered. The new lyric begins with the more famous "Who can turn the world on with her smile?" The visuals also changed along the way, but they always ended with the trademark cap toss.

PS MTM's credits have been parodied a number of times. Here's one Oprah filmed when she hosted a cast reunion a few years ago.



PPS Here's a great comparison of three different Dick Van Dyke openings.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Still Needs To Be Said

Some people are still claiming the current economic crisis (but not any past boom times) is due to laissez-faire capitalism. As long as such ideas are out there, and even gaining popularity, it's still necessary to write stuff like this.

You May Know The Answer By The Time You Read This

I've changed my mind. I'm rooting for the Lions today. They're out there today at Lambeau Field, 1 pm EST. They won all their pre-season games, and the Packers are a weak team, so why can't they do it?

Smoke Smoke Smoke That Cigarette

In a fairly pointless piece about Barack Obama's smoking on TimesOnline from the UK, the article suddenly turns into an ad:

We Britons do have one big advantage. The NHS. You are four times more likely to quit if you have support such as that provided by NHS clinics. And while Obama doesn't have access to these, there's the free NHS smoking helpline, 0800 0224332, open seven days a week, 7am to 11pm, or www.smokefree.nhs.uk. where he could also record a promise to the American nation, along with the date of the inauguration as his start date. Yes, he can.

I checked and, as I suspected, smoking rates are considerably lower in the US (under 20%) than the UK (around 25%).

Some advantage.

(Of course, I'm already on record that Obama should smoke if he feels like it. It's for the good of the country.)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Magical Thinking

An assistant of David Copperfield (the magician, not the urchin) was seriously injured during a show. Copperfield's response:

Many people assume that the death-defying illusions I do on stage are not dangerous. This unfortunate accident shows that couldn’t be further from the truth...

Pretty shameful--exploiting an injury to pimp his show. (And his tricks are pretty safe, too.)

As Contagious As Smallpox

A few weeks ago I noted the people unhappy with Prop 8 should at least appreciate how far things have come. I think this video (it's an excerpt from a longer version no longer available) is a pretty good illustration of that.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Nostalgia

The LA City Beat squib review of Bedtime Stories starts thus:

Dear Santa: All I want for Christmas (well, nearly) is for Adam Sandler to be funny again.

Again?

Back To The 70s

Jesse Walker's top ten lists continue. Now it's 1978. Of his picks, I think The Deer Hunter is overrated, and I can't say I'm a huge fan of The Driver, The Last Waltz or Blue Collar (which does have some good performances), but the rest are interesting.

Some other films I enjoyed from that year:

The Buddy Holly Story, Heaven Can Wait, La Cage Aux Folles, The Fury (maybe my favorite De Palma film), Straight Time, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Superman and A Wedding. Also, if I included TV movies (as Jesse does) there's The Rutles starring in All You Need Is Cash.

Here are two movies that would definitely have made my top ten list:

Animal House

The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin

Eartha Kitt

It's hard to explain exactly what sort of performer Eartha Kitt was. I suppose you have to show it.





Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Ghosts of Christmas

Andrew Klavan revives an old tradition with The Advent Reunion. Highly recommended.

Judy Sings Hugh And Ralph

Christmas Recession

Listen to this famous passage:

"What's to-day?" cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.
"Eh?" returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.
"What's to-day, my fine fellow?" said Scrooge.
"To-day?" replied the boy. "Why, Christmas Day."
"It's Christmas Day!" said Scrooge to himself. "I haven't missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow!"
"Hallo!" returned the boy.
"Do you know the Poulterer's, in the next street but one, at the corner?" Scrooge inquired.
"I should hope I did," replied the lad.
"An intelligent boy!" said Scrooge. "A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they've sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there -- Not the little prize Turkey: the big one?"
"What, the one as big as me?" returned the boy.
"What a delightful boy!" said Scrooge. "It's a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck."
"It's hanging there now," replied the boy.
"Is it?" said Scrooge. "Go and buy it."
"Walk-er!" exclaimed the boy.
"No, no," said Scrooge, "I am in earnest. Go and buy it, and tell them to bring it here, that I may give them the direction where to take it. Come back with the man, and I'll give you a shilling. Come back with him in less than five minutes and I'll give you half-a-crown."
The boy was off like a shot. He must have had a steady hand at a trigger who could have got a shot off half so fast.


1) "Walk-er"?

2) It's Christmas Day yet the Poulterer's is open. And you thought Bob Cratchit had bad hours? If the story were updated, the boy would have to run to 7-Eleven.

3) They haven't sold the prize turkey yet. Must be a recession going on.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Maybe The Funniest Onion Video News Episode

And best of all, supposedly dead-on accurate.
Ngyuen Thi Buch Thuy: 'Just Give Me The Damn Sepak Takraw Ball'

Greetings (Seasonal)

For those of you celebrate Christmas tonight and tomorrow, have a very merry from a not so frequent poster who resolves to do (and type) better in the coming year.

For those of you don't, have a happy day off and enjoy the elbow room at the movies.

The Same Old Story

Just as journalists bemoan the fall of newspapers in general, so do print film critics worry about their profession, figuring its glory days are over.

I guess they have a point--many newspapers don't think they need reviewers on staff any more. But film critics have been moaning about how their field no longer matters for as long as I can remember. Maybe there was a golden age somewhere between 1955 and 1975, but, apparently, it's been all downhill since then.

But I wonder. Yes, I suppose it's a bad time for print, but as far as movies are concerned, there's more writing about them--much of it in depth--than ever. Sure, amateurs are mostly the ones doing it, and they often have "bad" taste, but is that so awful? Seems to me film criticism is livelier and more widespread than ever.

Short Days Ago We Lived, Felt Dawn, Saw Sunset Glow

In "Viva Ned Flanders" The Simpsons revealed--in 1999--that Ned was 60. It turns out his voice, Harry Shearer, has caught up and passed him. The third most important member of Spinal Tap is now 65.

Defense De Fumer

USA Today 's latest editorial is about Obama and smoking.

It would be far better [...] if Obama could capitalize on his personal tobacco drama by giving it more publicity and pushing for ways to prevent others from getting hooked.

No thank you. I'm for less teaching moments. Zero if possible. It's one thing for the President to be a leader, another for him to be a scold.

Smoking and related deaths are going down. But USA Today reminds us "complacency is not in order." (Perhaps it's time to get rid of the word complacency since it's only used as something now is no time for.) Predictably, they don't just want talk, they want action:

He could also press states to keep promises to spend money from a settlement with tobacco companies on smoking prevention. The economic crisis will only increase the states' inclination to divert the money.

We certainly wouldn't want states to do something foolish with revenue like balancing their budgets.

Legislatively, the new president could pressure Congress to stop foot-dragging and pass a bill that would allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco.

Am I missing something? Is tobacco not already the most regulated substance in existence?

The New Population's Here!

The latest census stats are in.

The five fastest-growing states percentage-wise are Utah, Arizona, Texas, North Carolina and Colorado. The five fastest-growing states by raw numbers are Texas, California, North Carolina, Georgia and Arizona.

I suppose this is good news for Republicans (who need it), though, of course, it depends what kind of voters these new people are, even if they live in conservative states. In addition, the liberal northeast is rebounding from declining stats.

And the biggest loser is my home state of Michigan. This trend will probably continue for a while with economic problems there, if anything, getting worse. But then, Detroit's loss of citizens has been one of the most impressive demographic trends for the past 50 years.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Paper of Record

In reading my New York Times digest this morning (one of the benefits of being a Sunday subscriber is to get an emailed 9-page digest of the paper every morning- mark my words, they'll be bankrupt any day), I was puzzled by Something. The following sentence appeared in an article referring to the Jets' dying play-off prospects and their apparently ill-advised acquisition of Brett Favre (formatting preserved):
Acquiring him was a win-
now move for a team that was not
ready to win now.
Maybe you can already see it but I was flummoxed- I know the NYT likes highfalutin prose even in its sports pages, but what exactly did they mean by a "winnow move?" Webster's defines "winnow" as
" (1) to remove (as chaff) by a current of air (2): to get rid of (something undesirable or unwanted)"
which didn't seem to make sense since the move was an acquisition not a disposal. Maybe it was some kind of reference to the Jets' dumping of Chad Pennington, the QB replaced by Favre. However, that doesn't really fit with the rest of the sentence and Pennington is having a great season with the Dolphins so it would be odd to say that without more. Then I thought -well it's a digest, maybe they edited out the supporting commentary .

Of course I was fooled by the typesetter. The hyphenated word at the line break was supposed to hyphenated- "win-now" not "winnow," which while still disputable, makes more sense.

Once again we are mislead by the mainstream media.

I Defy Anyone...

...to try this against a flagpole in Vermont right now. Go ahead. I dare ya.

In fact, I double dog dare ya.

The DTs

I've been dipping into David Thomson's Biographical Dictionary Of Film. With the latest edition almost 1000 pages long, you can't really read it from cover to cover.

His entries are all mini-essays, with the opinions far more useful than the information, which is already on IMDb anyway. (In fact, Thomson, unlike Halliwell or Katz, isn't trying to be encylopedic, and so probably isn't worried about competition from the internet.)

What's fascinating, beyond how outrageous and peremptory so many of his opinions are, is how arbitrary they seem. One opens the book to Ford or Hawks or Fellini or Chaplin or Cagney or Redford never knowing if it'll be a paean or a slam. (To give you a hint, he loves Hawks, not Ford, and that's good enough for me.)

Not So Pleasing

There's been a lot of talk about liberal disillusionment over Barack Obama. It's all a bit premature, seems to me. Nevertheless, let me remind everyone, as I stated before the election, of the wisdom of Mr. Spock.

An Affair To Remember

House remains one of the most consistently entertaining shows on TV. Still, I wonder if the show is getting tired. They have new arcs each season, some better than others, but this season, after House had trouble with Wilson (that's been taken care of), not he seems ready to start a relationship with Cuddy, the Dean of Medicine.

I remember thinking in the first season, some day--when they run out of original ideas--they'll have an affair between House and Cuddy.

Is It Really 20 Years?

Here's Jesse Walker's top films of 1988 list. No major complaints--I like most of these films. Here are a few other films of the year that didn't make it:

Big - still probably Tom Hanks' best performance

Bull Durham - the best film ever about baseball?

Die Hard - maybe the best action film of our era--don't hold all the weak copies against it

Hairspray - the John Waters original

High Hopes - Mike Leigh doing what he does best

Married To The Mob - not Demme's best, but still fun

Midnight Run - a pretty good mix of action and comedy

The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen - highly flawed but it looks amazing

Beetlejuice - fun from Tim Burton, with a great turn from Michael Keaton

Coming To America - not a critical favorite, but a crowd pleaser with a charming performance from Eddie Murphy

Earth Girls Are Easy - this Julien Temple film got no respect from anyone but I think it's a lot of fun

Police Story 2 - one of Jackie Chan's greatest

She's Having A Baby - not great, but an underrated John Hughes film

Tales From The Gimli Hospital - perhaps not as good as its reputation, but it did introduce a distinctly new voice into the film world

Tapeheads -- a rare cult film worthy of its reputation

They Live -- John Carpenter's bizarre action/satire that takes on the Reagan years

Monday, December 22, 2008

It Really Doesn't Matter

The University of Chicago has just announced (or the Boston Globe has just noticed) a new policy to permit students of the opposite sex to live together in the same dorm room.

When I was there 20+ years ago, we actually had a co-ed bathroom. Low-key and it worked and not that odd to others but shocking to my previous provincial upbringing

Stitch Is Not Amused


Don't mistake that rictus grin for enjoyment. Right after this picture was taken, he spat and said "Meega, nala kwishta". I don't know what that means, but I'm pretty sure it's not Merry Christmas.

Or Happy New Year.

Resume

Some people aren't happy with the idea of Caroline Kennedy replacing Hillary Clinton as New York's junior Senator, saying her only qualifcation is her last name. What's the problem? Wasn't that Hillary's qualification as well?

Still Surprised

I heard it again, just the other day. An argument I've written about so many times my regular readers are probably tired of it. But I'm still surprised every time I hear it.

The argument goes like this: Give someone a choice between a real liberal and a conservative pretending to be a liberal and he'll choose the real liberal every time. Sometimes the argument is the same with "conservative" and "liberal" switched. (I am claiming this works about equally well in both directions. Both sides figure it only works in one direction, which is part of how they're fooling themselves.)

There are many factors that sway voters, some political, some not. But if voters want you to be "liberal" on an issue, if you don't at least make a move toward them, they're more likely to reject you, so it can pay to be a "pretend" liberal. And if voters really want "conservative" values, as conservatives claim, then why in the world would they choose a "real liberal" over almost anything else? "He'll ruin the country, but at least he honestly believes in what he's doing."

Against The Knight

Looks like Eddie Murphy (and not Johnny Depp) will be The Riddler in the next Batman movie. Okay, why not?

Rachel Weisz as Catwoman? Not so sure.

Shia Labeouf as Robin? Might be a good commercial move, but I say no Shia, and no Robin.

The View From Behind The Glass

I just read Geoff Emerick's excellent Here, There And Everywhere. As any Fab Four fan knows, Emerick was the main recording engineer for much of the Beatle's career. It always intrigues me to know what the "suits" thought of artists and entertainers, since we're so used to hearing the story in the other direction. And at stuffy EMI records, they really did have to wear suits--coclor-coded ones in fact--even after everyone else was wearing what they wanted in the pscyhedelic 60s.

Emerick didn't work on every record the band did, but he was there from the beginning and stayed till the end, even beyond. The lion's share of the book tells the tehcnical tale of what he did, explained clearly enough that even a technophobe can understand. The Beatles' started experimenting to see what sounds they could make, and Emerick, along with producer George Martin, was a co-conspirator, who came up with sonic solutions for the Beatles' requests.

What I find particularly fascinating is Emericak pulls no punches. When the band started recording, Emerick--even younger than they--fell in love with their exciting sound, not to mention their personalities. However, as they got more successful, even while the music still worked, they became, in a way, drunk with power. They were royalty, used to getting things their way and expecting everyone to be at their beck and call. They also got involved in bizarre, quixotic schemes, like much of the Apple business they set up.

While it's clear Emerick has mostly warm feelings for the people he worked with, still, as they say, no man is a hero to his valet. George Martin often comes across as imperious and insecure. John Lennon is irritable and absent-minded (and borderline nuts). Even George Harrison is criticized for not being talented enough. But there's no doubt Emerick still loves what he did. And so do we.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Old Acquaintance

I was recently in my favorite store and someone started singing, quite loudly, "Chantilly Lace." All eyes turned toward him. It was Melrose Larry Green.
As fans of Howard Stern know, Green was part of the Wack Pack. Possible the most obnoxious member, which takes some doing. I understand he and Howard had a falling out, but since I don't get Sirius Radio, I'm not sure where things stand today.
I used to see him on a regular basis. He woiuld stand for hours on the corner of Melrose (of course) and Highland, just a few block from where I live. He'd hold up signs about Stern, or sometimes on political issues of the day.
I hadn't seen him in years. Nice to know he's still around.

You Can Do It

At first I didn't think it was possible, but now I'm a believer. The Lions are going to do what no other team has done. They are going to lose every game this season.

Regular Fellow

Barack Obama's recent press conference was full of the boilerplate one expects at these events. One of the few interesting moments was when he came out in favor of heavier environmental regulation of the automobile industry, and in particular was hoping California would lead the way in regulating even more than the federal government does. And he didn't just claim the cost to consumers would be good for us (actually, he didn't mention the cost to consumers), he claimed it would help the economy.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Dock

Dock Ellis (that was his real first name), former pitcher for Pitttsburgh Pirates, has died. Dock Ellis was the pitcher at the first baseball game I ever attended when I was 9. A masterful effort which truly got me hooked on baseball (it helped that the Pirates won the World Series that year). As the first link details, Dock was hooked on other things during his best years making the claim that he pitched a 1970 no-hitter while high on LSD.

I recall him not only as a good pitcher but as a brash "black power" type figure who pissed off as many fans as he excited (Rep Murtha's and Ed Rendell's comments about Western Pennsylvania this year rang true to me as I recalled family picnics where Dock was discussed). He was one of my favourites even during the time I think in the mid 70s on when, during a Sunday afternoon game at Wrigley(?), he came on to field in curlers to much hooting and catcalling. (He wasn't pitching that day). I recall the Pirates lost badly and were in a slump and Ellis's curler picture was front and center on the sports age as being somehow representative of what was wrong with the team.

I met Dock during the 1985 Baseball Cocaine trials in Pittsburgh (well, shook his hand and said hi) when I was law student working as a volunteer clerk with a federal judge (I was the real clerk's unpaid intern). He was watching the trial and commenting to local media. Apparently he went on to do some good things in the treatment area.

They say deaths come in threes (which is untrue as they tend to come in ones) but there is a common thread to this week's announcements of the deaths of Dock Ellis, 'Deep Throat' Mark Felt and Majel Barrett. I would have seen Star Trek for the first time in the early 70s and they all evoked memories of that period to me.

The Big Picture

The last two weeks, when I watched Saturday Night Live I noticed I couldn't see what they were showing on the right and left of the screen. I could tell beause when they use graphics, they go over the side. I'm guessing they're broadcasting a widescreen show and, for some reason, instead get a TV ratio with letterboxing, I'm not getting the black bands at top and bottom. I wonder if this is happening to anyone else?

How Low Can You Go?

I question how much, in the long run, the Fed cutting interest rates to almost zero will help. If things getting worse, what do we do next?

It's like the Mark Twain story of the elderly women who got sick. The doctor told her to give up smoking. She said she didn't smoke. He said give up drinking. She didn't drink. So there it was.

Doin' What Comes Natur'lly

Here's the headline: "California Democrats devise plan to hike taxes."

Wouldn't it just be easier to note when they're not doing that?

Friday, December 19, 2008

High End Geek Humor

The one-stop shop for answers to more than half of your relatives' emails.

I Guess They Don't Take Crim As 1Ls at UM

Can you just imagine doing her character & fitness interview? (Obligatory UM football/whipping joke declined as just too easy).

Update: The entire sordid incident is being publicly debated by both participants on legal gossip blog AboveTheLaw. Awesome. Simply awesome.

Majel Barrett

Majel Barrett has died. (What sort of name is Majel? She's the only Majel I've ever heard of.) Beloved by Star Trek fans, she's probably appeared in more incarnations of the show than anyone else. She was also creator Gene Roddenberry's lover and then wife (which explains how she got all those roles).

She's best known as Nurse Christine Chapel from the original series. In the movies, she's a doctor--a promotion from the Federation? Chapel had a thing for Spock, but the series never explored her much which, to be honest, was just as well, since she was one of the duller characters. I found her more intriguing, in fact, as the voice of the computer.

In The Next Generation she played Deanna Troi's overbearing mother Lwaxana Troi. Lwaxana, always on the hunt for a husband, was generally played for comedy. Unfunny comedy. I could have done without Deanna--her mother was entirely superfluous.

As you can probably tell, I wasn't her biggest fan. I used to call her Bad News Barrett, since I did not look forward to her scenes. But there is one Star Trek role she played that I liked, Number One in the original pilot, "The Cage."

She was Captain Pike's no-nonsense second-in-command. But who Number One was (or what she was) and where she came from was an open queston. Spock was also aboard, but not as first officer. NBC hated both the unemotional Number One and the Satanic-looking Spock. Roddenberry had to cut one, and, as Majel Barrett put it, he "kept the Vulcan and married the woman."

A tough female with so much power was rare on TV then, but the character would have worked regardless of sex. In fact, Nimoy's Spock borrowed certain traits from her. Makes you wonder what could have been.

Peer To Peer

No big surprises in the SAG nominations. In the movies, they sure like Doubt, though I'm a bit surprised Philip Seymour Hoffman is nominated as a supporting actor. Maybe it was the easiest place to put him.

Meanwhile, in TV, Jeremey Piven is considered a lead actor in Entourage, though he won his Emmys as a supporting actor.

Bryan Cranston, who won the Emmy for Best Actor in Breaking Bad, isn't even nominated.

And what's the point of the "Stunt ensemble" award?

Double Good News

So OPEC is making a deep cut in production, but oil prices keep dropping. Let's hope the trend of us paying less and OPEC getting less continues for a long time.

Meanwhile, Huge Chavez figures a fair price for oil would be between $70 and $90, twice today's cost. Chavez better watch it, since the last thing he wants is the world to be fair.

Special Lady

New England Guy asks way down in the comments of a post on "I Am Woman":

If we're onto Helen Reddy, what the hell happened to Angie Baby at the end of that song (Helen's follow-up hit )?

First, "Angie Baby" was not Reddy's follow-up hit. "I Am Woman" went to #1 in December of 1972. It was only her second charted record in America after her 1971 cover "I Don't Know How To Love Him." Her follow-up hit in September of 1973 (after the less successful "Peaceful") was another #1, "Delta Dawn."

More hits followed, including "Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)" and "You And Me Against The World," before her third and final #1, "Angie Baby," which reached the top of the charts in the last week of 1974. She would only have one more top ten record, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady," in 1975.

Now the song. It's always fascinated me, since it might be the freakiest lyric ever heard in a #1 hit. Reddy--who didn't write it anyway--has never explained precisely what it means, but certain basics are pretty clear.

There's a young woman, Angie, whom everyone thinks is a little off. She's been taken out of school and doesn't have any friends, but does seem to have an active imaginary life. In particular, she has a strong relationship with her radio. (This song would need to be completely rewritten for the internet age.)

The nasty boy next door figures he can take advantage of her. He comes over when her parents are gone. But when he gets into her room, and the radio is playing, he gets confused. And (here's the freaky part--up to now you could read the whole thing as a metaphor for being a teenager) as she turns the music down, he disappears into the radio.

The rest of the world only knows the boy disappeared, presumed dead. But he's now her lover (one of many?) whom she can call on any time she chooses.

Whether her alleged mental problems have given her special powers, or she's a witch, or from an alternate universe, we don't know. But we can see that though the outside world thinks she's crazy, she seems to know what she's doing. (There is another interpretation where she simply kills him and disposes of the body, and continues living in her dream world, but that's so ugly I'd rather not think about it.)

Here's a visual interpretation of the song which might be helpful:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Taste Test

I saw chocolate marshmallows in the store today. I don't even like regular marshmallows, but something about the chocolate kind seems extra disgusting.

What Was Great In '98

At the end of the year, my friend Jesse Walker makes top ten lists from previous decades. Here's his list for 1998.

I mostly agree with the choices, but a few quibbles:

First, I don't believe in including TV series. (I don't even like MOTW.) Even so, I'm not such a big fan of Oz that I'd put it on any top ten list.

I also think Rushmore is overrated. Of course, we didn't know then Wes Anderson would get worse. (Not that I don't find his films fascinating. I just think his style is getting more airless with each go-around.)

As for his next ten, There's Something About Mary should make the top ten. I'd put it in the top ten of the decade. On the other hand, I'm not as big a fan of Velvet Goldmine, Pi or Last Days Of Disco.

Something Is Very Wrong Over There

The number one grossing film of all time in England? Mamma Mia.

The pic, starring an ensemble cast including Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth, opened socko, attracted excellent word of mouth and, later in its run, was sustained by popular sing-a-long screenings.

American Idull?

Every year they recalibrate American Idol. It's the biggest hit on TV, but I guess they want to keep it fresh. Few changes have actually improved it.

This year, less open audtions, more Hollywood-round. I don't mind. I'm not a big fan of the earliest rounds.

Also, semi-finalists jump from 24 to 36. I don't know. The is liking adding a giant new round to a portion of the show that wasn't even needed to begin with.

Then there's no "Idol Gives Back" charity broadcast. Excellent idea. I support charity, but not bad TV.

Finally, they seem ready to go forward with a fourth judge. Very bad idea. I don't know how good the judge will be herself, but three is just right. Plus each of the judges they've got now have different styles that complement each other. They are the nucleus of the show (Paula is the proton, Randy the neutron and Simon the nasty electron) and messing with that can be explosive. (Though it may be the producers are preparing to dump Paula for her erratic behavior, and need a replacement.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Put It In Neutral

“Due to the continued lack of consumer credit for the American car buyer and the resulting dramatic impact it has had on overall industry sales in the United States, Chrysler LLC announced that it will make significant adjustments to the production schedules of its manufacturing operations. In doing so, the Company will keep production and dealer inventory aligned with U.S. market demand. In response, the Company confirmed that all Chrysler manufacturing operations will be idled at the end of the shift Friday, Dec. 19, and impacted employees will not return to work any sooner than Monday, Jan. 19, 2009. [emphasis added]

Chrysler dealers confirmed to the Company at a recent meeting at its headquarters, that they have many willing buyers for Chrysler, Jeep® and Dodge vehicles but are unable to close the deals, due to lack of financing. The dealers have stated that they have lost an estimated 20 to 25 percent of their volume because of this credit situation.

The Company will continue to monitor the production schedules of its manufacturing operations moving forward.”

Two thoughts: One, I don't imagine they could do much worse if they went through a forced restructuring and Two, aren't we glad that we gave all that money to banks so that they could, you know, lend it out?

ReDoubtable

Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly:

Hoffman and Streep, especially, are also vulnerable actors in need of guidance from a director with a strong vision. And Shanley, in his first movie-helming gig since he leaped into his own script for Joe Versus the Volcano nearly two decades ago and lost, turns out to have dismayingly few original cinematic notions to back up the basic did-he-or-didn't-he hook in his study of conviction and compassion. There's not a wind-whipped leaf, rain-hammered window, or burned-out lightbulb the director doesn't admire, lest we ignore a metaphor about spiritual crisis.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone:

Is the movie as good as the play? No, it's better. The suspense crackles, and the arguments cut deeper. Shanley, directing for the first time since 1990's unfairly maligned Joe Versus the Volcano, opens up his play, making it less academic and more human. He takes us inside the rectory and the convent. The bold vigor of his direction matches his writing, which is a high compliment. The great cinematographer Roger Deakins (No Country for Old Men) brings a lyrical poignancy to an image of the nuns in white nightgowns, silently awakening at dawn, and later to Father Flynn embracing Donald in a corridor, his compassion for the troubled boy exceeding his fears of the talk his gesture will spark.

Every time I read reviews like this, I end up wondering: Did these two watch the same movie?

A Very Vader Christmas

Blagola

After a contest to name the Illinois Governor Rod Blagoveich pay-me-for- a-Senate-seat-scandal, Slate has awarded the above moniker to the scandal. I have to admit, its not too bad but not too exciting. I enjoy entering these contests but can't complain here because my entry was fairly lame (something about endless bad hair days). I did like one of the runners-up- "Pay-Rod" but I guess that would only make sense to baseball and Madonna fans and unintentionally suggests a connection to male prostitution. (Disclosure- I have been entering these type of contests for years but only have two runner-up commendations to show for it, both cartoon captions dealing with local Boston issues, however I am hopeful on the latest Letterman top 10 contest)

However this brings back memories of The New Republic's contest to name the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal 10 years ago which still has me seething. They came up with the uninspired "Bimbroglio" which frankly sounded sexist and threw the focus on the various partners rather than the Horndog-In-Chief. I still stand by my submission "the Internal Affair" which I think I have mentioned in these pages before (It works on three levels- think about it!). However it goes to show that these contests are hit or miss as no one today uses any of those names or even the execrable "Interngate" to describe the matter. Of course we all now refer to that time as "The Great Blow Job Crisis of 1998"

Good List

In an AICN talkback about the top ten films of the year, we get a pretty good list:

Ultimate Top Ten Of Everything Ever Made
by Gym
10. Ok Computer
9. The Godfather 2
8. The bit in The Office where he does the dance
7. Dark side of the Moon
6. Citizen Kane
5. The Da Vinci code
4. Gary Shandling
3. Fawlty Towers
2. Christmas
1. Nintendo Wii

Its quite Definitive.

Onward And Upward

Most recaps of the final episode of the "Villains" chapter of Heroes were not that positive, but I kind of liked it. I mean considering how ridiculous everything has been up to now, putting a tight lid on things (by trashing a lot of previous episodes) and moving forward gives me hope.

The whole Sylar trap wasn't great, but it least it concentrated the story and had some good moments. Peter versus Nathan is still pretty silly, but at least Arthur is dead and we can start fresh. Same for Mohinder--he's returned to his previous state. Perhaps he'll even act normally again.

One of the things I've liked about the show is it's an ADD Lost: we don't have to wait for payoffs. Last week (for no good reason) Hiro got stuck 16 years in the past. This week (for no good reason) Ando figured somehow he could inject himself with powers and that would save Hiro, and it happened. Sure, it was ridiculous, but they had a plan, they made it work, and things are back in place. (Peter did the same ridiculous deal, too. Only poor Hiro has no powers now, but that can be fixed. Speaking of which, did all those powers die with Arthur--assuming he's dead? And what of the Catalyst?)

Also, they killed off a lot of the secondary characters who were cluttering up the show. That's good. Now, with the "Fugitive" chapter starting, we can concentrate on a better dynamic of people with powers (good or bad) being hunted down by the government. Sure, it's stolen from X-Men, but it can return the show to its original concentration and have a more solid arc.

Deja Vote

The Coleman-Franken post-election brouhaha seems eerily familiar. Just like Florida in 2000, the Republican was ahead after the original vote and, though it got closer, still ahead after the conventional recount. Meanwhile, there were challenges on both sides and then the Democrat demanded the vote continue beyond where it normally stops, with only certain types of votes counted, and others ignored. Then the Republican sued to, in essence, stop the vote.

No doubt, like last time, most people will take sides based on whom they want to win.

Hear Me Roar

In Dennis Prager's column about how minorities should feel shame as well as pride, we find this:

For a generation, America has been awash in the celebration of minorities and minorities’ celebration of themselves. Just recall “Black is Beautiful” or “I am a woman, I am invincible.”

I don't recall anyone using the latter phrase. I assume he's referring to Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman," which actually has "I am invincible, I am woman." This may seem picayune, but it's not just about word order. Saying "woman" is invincible has a very different feeling from saying "a woman" is invincible.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

No English Required

It only takes about 3 tries to get it right, and 4 to have the shoe go straight through his head. No interesting "FATALITY!" graphics or sounds, like a good ol' game of Mortal Kombat. And having a numeric scale for each of the settings makes it too easy to replicate your results. In sum, I give it an F.

Not Tonight Hon, I'm watching "You've Got Mail"

According to researchers, British researchers no less, watching romantic comedies can ruin your love life .

Well, I have to take off my hat to them for getting funding for that but what's next?- a study about the physical fitness of action movie fans?

Isn't that the whole idea of movies (or one of them)- escape into something you are not. I.e. the audience picks what appeals to it. LA Guy is the movie biz expert around here but I'm willing to bet movie producers appeal to conventional preferences because that tends to be what sells.

How To End SNL

Fred Armisen played New York's blind governor David Paterson on SNL. Turns out the Guv and his people weren't amused.

Spokesman Errol Cockfield said "The governor is sure that Saturday Night Live, with all of its talent, can find a way to be funny without being offensive."

Has Errol Cockfield ever watched Saturday Night Live? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

About Time

LA is cold and rainy. Anywhere else that would be unpleasant, but here it's such a nice change of pace.

The Lovefest Continues

I said I'd like to hear Rush Limbaugh's response to Colin Powell's attack. Well, here it is.

Some highlights:

General Powell, let me explain something. The fact is Republicans did not listen to me. They listened to you. They have not been listening to me for years. The Republican Party nominated your ideal candidate.

Let me get this straight. The guy who has supported the Republican candidate for president should be thrown out of the party. That would be me. But the guy who bolted and sabotaged the Republican nominee by endorsing the Democrat candidate should stay in and be part of the team that determines what the Republican Party is going to be. The turncoat, General Powell, is the one who the party is gonna listen to? McCain's a moderate. I supported McCain. Powell, who wants a moderate, did not support McCain. It's unreal. It's just incredible.

Colin Powell and National Public Radio are on the same page, advising the Republican Party. And this is classic what's going on amongst Washingtonians. The Republican Party is being told what to do by liberal Democrats, including General Powell, who is a moderate liberal Republican. I find all this fascinating. I have nothing to do with what the Republican Party does. I have nothing to say about it. And the Republican Party nominated McCain. I thought all these people, NPR, Colin Powell, used to love McCain. They got the candidate and they got the campaign they wanted. Then they abandoned the very candidate. And does the candidate get mad about it? Hell no. Nothing about this makes any sense in the real world.

Margaritavillain

El Coyote is about a mile from where I live. It's known for mid-range Mexican, and is always packed in the evenings. Until recently, anyway.

When 77-year-old manager Marjorie Christoffersen was outed for giving $100 dollars in support of Proposition 8, there were protests, and business has gone down 30%. She has recently resigned.

Like I always say, when it comes to blacklisting, you can't beat the Left.

(Here's a sympathetic look at the situtation from the LA Times' Steve Lopez, but even he can't help himself with this weird paragraph:

I, on the other hand, opposed Prop. 8. And as I wrote more than once, I think organized Christian religion reached new levels of hypocrisy in using the Bible to preach discrimination and promote the initiative.

You can blame the Christian religion on a lot of things, but not hypocrisy on this issue.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

You Want Convenient Voting?

How about voting via cellphone? That convenient enough for you to bother voting? Note that the technology is still limited enough that you'll need to make a physical trip to get a chip. And yeah, that's just what we need, a government-issued chip. On second thought, I'll keep pulling my lever behind the curtain, thanks.

Yeah

Yesterday, I stopped at a gas station, gave them a $20 bill, and filled up my tank. Boy did that feel good.

I Had My Fingers Crossed

It recently hit me, at least half the surviving main characters on Heroes we've had reason to believe, at one time or another, were dead. This is just too much. Occasionally, a character surviving what looks like the end is fine, but when it becomes routine? Boy....wolf?

Insert Rush Pun Here

Colin Powell:

Can we continue to listen to Rush Limbaugh? Is this really the kind of party that we want to be when these kinds of spokespersons seem to appeal to our lesser instincts rather than our better instincts?

I don't listen to Rush, but is he that bad? Don't parties need partisans to make arguments and rally the troops?

I'm sorry I don't listen to Rush, because I would have loved to hear his response.

Easy Amendment

One of our Constitution's lesser-known amendments is the Seventeeth, which requires that Senators be elected by popular vote. One of the lesser-known sections of this amendment is it also allows state legislatures to empower the governor to appoint an interim senator if there's a vacancy.

People have been thinking about this power quite a bit lately. First, some suggested Sarah Palin might appoint herself to the Senate if Ted Stevens were elected then removed. (Though apparently the law was changed a few years ago in Alaska and the governor can no longer appoint anyone.)

Now we've got Governor Blagojevich wondering how best to fill Obama's vacant seat. According to government wiretaps, in one of his cleaner moments, he declared: "if they are not going to offer anything of value, then I might just take it."

I have no idea what's going to happen to Blago, but I do know this. If someone right now suggested a constitutional amendment stripping all governors of the power to appoint themselves, I bet it would sail through.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Second Shoe-ter

I'm not too impressed by the first throw, but am really surprised he got off the second one before the Secret Service guys got in front of the President. Say what you will about him, GWB still has pretty good reflexes for an old guy.

Odd Todd

In Todd McCarthy's pan of The Day The Earth Stood Still, we get this:

So many other, potentially more exciting roads could have been taken. [....] There could have been three, four, five or more Klaatus -- one for every continent -- and the film could have intercut the fateful ramifications of differing international responses to his arrival.

This might very well have been a better film. If they'd turned it into a musical, or used the plot of The Big Sleep, it might have been better, too. But the job of the critic is to review the film at hand, not to suggest a different film would be superior.

Shrinkage

It looks like Detroit's two papers, the News and the Free Press, may soon be offering abbreviated versions and not delivering daily. Print journalism is in trouble, but the point of a paper is daily, dependable service of a quality good. If they don't offer what makes them unique, it'll be that much easier to remove them from our lives.

Newsweek is having similar problems and its plan is to serve a more select audience. Or is that just giving up and not admitting it? Didn't Spinal Tap's manager Ian Faith make a similar argument--that the band wasn't less popular, it's appeal was just becoming more selective?

Che Che Che

Steven Soderbergh, talking up his film Che, says:

We’re certainly seeing the result of what happens when you make profit the point of everything, where money that’s being earned doesn’t represent any particular product or labor on anybody’s part. That can’t sustain, because it’s magical thinking. It can’t go on indefinitely, because eventually it crashes. Che’s dream of a classless society, a society that isn’t built on the profit motive, is still relevant. The arguments still going on are about his methodology.

Soderbergh's not an economist, he's a (talented and rich) filmmaker, so I don't want to be too hard on him. But let me just make a few obvious points.

1) Profit is not the point of everything.

2) Financial instruments are a good thing for society.

3) Here's magical thinking: believing you can have a classless society, and that if you make the government more powerful, it will wither away.

4) Let's forget about death squads, and jailing people who express themselves in officially unapproved ways, and just talk economics. A dynamic, free economy will have its ups and downs, but an economy based on Che's precepts will effectively be in permanent depression.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Name Of The Game

The plots of My Name Is Earl are often surprisingly labyrinthine. Each episode has Earl trying to cross a former bad deed off his list. His first attempt usually fails in some way and he has to come up with a deeper solution. But this week's "Orphan Earl" might have been the most complex half hours I've ever seen, with one long con counteracting another.

Rahm Bomb

Since it appears Governor Blagojevich had contact with someone representing Barack Obama, there's intense speculation as to who it was. Many feel it was Rahm Emanuel, who knew Blago, and had even taken over his House seat.

From the Governor's alleged reaction, it seems likely Obama's side wasn't playing ball. But that it's taken so long for them to reveal the connection, some feel Emanuel will be tainted by the scandal, and may not be able to serve as Chief Of Staff.

Does this make sense? I suppose it depends on exactly what they discussed, but even taking into account a Caesar's wife argument, I don't think we should make too much of this yet.

You Know Him As Van Johnson

Van Johnson has died. Made a ton of films, mostly in the 40s and 50s. He was a genial enough presence on screen, and reasonably versatile, but not really my kind of movie star.

Actually, what I remember him best for was an appearance back in the 80s on David Letterman's old show. The interview was contentious. Johnson was using old references and Dave either didn't understand or didn't want to play along, and Van started treated him like an idiot. A few shows later, the show mocked Johnson, claiming he was actually a Soviet spy sent to cause trouble.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Kyoto Barada Nikto

Why?

Looks like Jay Leno will have a five-night-a-week gig on NBC at ten. Suddenly, their prime time schedule seems a lot less interesting. I hope this isn't a taste of things to come elsewhere.

Meanwhile, it won't be long before Jimmy Fallon takes over Conan O'Brien's spot on the NBC late night lineup. What executive is responsible for this? What have we done to deserve such treatment?

Hulu Time

In January, House will be on Mondays at 8. This suggests three things. 1) Get out of the way, American Idol is coming. 2) The Sarah Connor Chronicles is in trouble. 2) I'll have to decide between House and The Big Bang Theory. (And with the switchover coming in February, soon I won't be able to pull the old mini TV with rabbit ears out so I can watch one and record the other.)

Oh how I long for the simple days of January 2007 when Monday meant a solid three hours of NBC.

The Best Argument I've Heard For The Auto Bailout

This is a paraphrase of what someone told me. Essentially, there's gonna be a bailout anyway. If this Congress doesn't do it, a more heavily Democrat Congress with a new President will do it next year. Get it done now and you'll end up with a more even-handed deal,

Solid Like A Rock

Lately on 30 Rock they've been giving Liz and Jack the A-story while Tracy gets shunted off to a less entertaining subplot. In the pilot, it seemed the main axis of the show would be harried headwriter of The Girlie Show Liz Lemon dealing with crazy new star Tracy Jordan. Meanwhile, network exec Jack Donaghy might occassionally drop by and crack the whip. But it turned out that Jack and Liz were the far more compelling couple.

The show has a low level of reality as it is, but even that is broken by Tracy, so he gets to be crazy in his own corner, I guess. It could be worse. Look at Scott Adsit as the producer of TGS. If he weren't in the opening credits, no one would even knows he's on the show.

Or it could be worse than that. Has Lonny Ross as Josh, the third cast member of the show within the show, been dropped? (At least he had his moments. Jane Krakowski replaced Rachel Dratch as Tracy's costar Jenna when the pilot was re-shot.)

Actually, for a half-hour non-hit with lots of big-name guest stars, it's amazing how many regular and recurring characters they do have: not only are there seven in the opening credits (Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, Jack McBrayer, Scott Adsit, Judah Friedlander and Alex Baldwin), there's also Tracy's entourage (two people), the beautiful young secretary, the Harvard-educated black writer, the lazy writer, Jack's Indian (I think he's from India) assistant and the CEO of GE (plus Liz Lemon's boyfriends and a few other satellites who show up now and then, such as Dr. Spacemen, pronounced spe-chem-in).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Conspiracy Theory

This morning a headline link caught my eye on boston.com "Ashley Olsen Is At the CIA" I didn't have to time to check it out but I thought, "cool, maybe they're trying for a bizarro Bond-girl-type appeal."

But, to my chagrin, when I went back and the link had disappeared although there was a story about Ashley visiting Boston's Institute for Contemporary Art (the ICA).

Oh well back to the grind

I Don't Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

As day follows night . . . Clothing for the "principled" tee shirt wearer.

Late Night Lyrics

Last night I was switching back and forth between Letterman and Leno, who were hosting, respecitvely, Amy Adams and Kate Beckinsale. Then Michael Sheen, star of Frost/Nixon (who, by the way, dated Kate Beckinsale for years, lucky guy) came on Letterman. I'm always interested to hear what Paul Shaffer plays, since it always is a pun on the guest. I was guessing they'd play up that Sheen is playing David Frost, and try something like "The Christmas Song"--"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire/ Jack Frost nipping at your nose." Instead, they sandbagged me with "Ohio"--"Tin Soldiers and Nixon's coming/ We're finally on our own."

(By the way, now that Leno is staying with NBC, both he and Conan talked on their own shows about how much they liked each other. Sure, why not. Neither are hurt with Leno's new deal for a five-nights 10 pm slot. The only thing hurt is television.)

For The Rest Of Us

So now officials in Olympia are considering adding a Festivus pole next to their Christmas tree. I say go for it. As long as you want to display holiday symbols on public property, what's wrong with one more?

New York Shakes It Up

The picks from the New York Film Critics Circle are in, and I'm glad to see, if you look at the other critics' awards, there are no clear front runners in practically any category. Keeps things exciting.

New York really goes for Milk and Happy-Go-Lucky.

Film: Milk

Director: Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky

Actor: Sean Penn, Milk

Actress: Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky

Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin, Milk

Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Cruz is the one actor I'd call the obvious front runner, though I think the main explanation is lack of competition.)

Screenplay: Jenny Lumet, Rachel Getting Married (this I still don't get)

First Film: Courtney Hunt, Frozen River (the film didn't feel foreign)

Foreign Film: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (great film, but isn't this from last year?)

Animated Film: WALL-E (okay, it's a front runner for animation)

Documentary: Man on Wire (another front runner--I really mean the big categories)

Grope-A-Dope

A lot of people are insulted by the photo of Obama's (overrated) speechwriter Jon Favreau cupping the imaginery breast of a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton.

It's a bit rude and crude, but I'm not sure what all the excitement's about. It's not as if he's groping the woman herself. It's just a quick moment of disrespect. Heck, Hillary fans should be more insulted by the massive insults against her that Barack's speechwriters sweated over.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

His Nickname Already Was "Big Baby" -- Now What?

Digging Out Of The Hole

I thought the latest episode of Heroes was the best of the season. Not that it was great, but at least it wasn't hopeless. In fact, if you forgot about the last two seasons and pretended the characters have been acting consistently and rationally in the past, there were some pretty good scenes. Here's my analysis. There will be spoilers.


The Good:

The plot has finally settled down and we're getting to a big showdown between the two sides.

Hiro and Claire go into the past the help their younger selves. There's so much potential drama here I'm sorry they didn't do more. Compare this to when Hiro was stuck in feudal Japan with a dull story for what seemed like forever.

Matt, Daphne and Ando team up. An interesting grouping, and it's nice to see them working together after endless infighting.

A surprise appearance by Sylar at the end that worked dramatically.

They killed Arthur, who was getting tiresome. In general, this show needs culling. (Actually, I don't believe Arthur is dead. When he was lying on the floor, Peter said "it's over," which usually means it's not over.)


The Bad:

Sylar in general. As I feared, Tim Kring has returned to what worked in season one, but we already had evil Sylar go around capturing other powers. I want a new plot. (And did he kill a bunch of people with no powers? Since when does he do that?)

Arthur suddenly showing up and taking the Catalyst. How did he know what to do--if it was this easy, what's been his problem up to now? (In general, Arthur is weak or powerful, smart or stupid, based on plot convenience.) Worse, it made a hash of this whole subplot. They'd been building up for weeks that it was Claire, and that this was important. Arthur even sent Elle and Gabriel to get Claire, but I guess that was unnecessary. But then, now Claire making sure baby Claire is Catalyst-free also becomes meaningless. For Hiro takes it, and, as with everything vouchsafed to his protection, he loses it immediately. This is the third time lost a piece of the priceless Formula this season. (It's also the second time Hiro is finally ready to be a hero when Arthur pops up out of nowhere to screw him up. Of course, now it seems like a mistake to cause him so much trouble, since when Hiro is operating freely, he gives Arthur whatever he needs.)

They still have no idea what to do with Nathan, who, after what he's learned so far this season, is acting unbelievably stupid. (There I go, remembering previous episodes--always a mistake.) This also makes Tracy superfluous (even more than Niki was--though Ali Larter is still beautiful), since I thought she was there to trick Nathan into working for Arthur.

I thought Peter would be better without his powers, but he's not working no matter what. (Reminds me of Apollo in Battlestar Galactica.)

This show's idea of time travel (which it should get rid of in general) keeps changing. Apparently now Hiro is allowed to travel into the past and change the present. This is bad, because if he ever gets his power back, it means he can go back and fix anything that's wrong.

Mohinder still seems to have no idea what the hell he's doing. And since it's really Arthur who brought the formula together, who needed Mohinder to begin with?


The Ugly:

The Marine had a long story about his troubles in Iraq. As I've noted before, Heroes is a comic book show. It can't handle real-world tragedy.

Talk Is Cheap

Two remarkably similar programs have recently appeared, Under The Influence on TCM and Spectacle on the Sundance Channel. They're both one-on-one talk shows, where an artist discusses his influences, interspersed with clips. And both are hosted by an Elvis.

The Elvis's make the difference. Elvis Mitchell hosts the TCM show, which is about film. It's not bad, but Mitchell interrupts a bit too often, offering his opinion, which we don't care about so much as Elvis may think.

The Sundance show is hosted by Elvis Costello. He's not a professional interviewer, but he knows enough to stand back and let his guests talk. His first show was a full hour with Elton John, and in addition to the interview they performed a few numbers.'

It was pretty good, but, actually, I find Elvis more interesting than Elton John. I wish he were the one being interviewed.

Lala Love

Pretty bizarre best film choice for the LA critics: Wall-E? I wouldn't even name it best cartoon.

The rest of the choices are more conventional, with a big lean toard Happy-Go-Lucky:

Picture: Wall-E
Runner-up: The Dark Knight (Really?)

Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Runner-up: Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight

Actor: Sean Penn, Milk
Runner-up: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler (what kind of speech would he give?)

Actress: Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Runner-up: Melissa Leo, Frozen River

Supporting actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Runner-up: Eddie Marsan, Happy-Go-Lucky (just to see him nominated would be cool)

Supporting actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Elegy
Runner-up: Viola Davis, Doubt

Screenplay: Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky
Runner-up: Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, New York (a film that got very little love)

Documentary: Man on Wire (yeah)
Runner-up: Waltz With Bashir

Che What?

Steven Soderbergh's allegedly troubled two-part production Che will be opening in LA soon to qualify for the Oscars. If it's as bad as Todd McCarthy suggested in Variety, it'll need some awards to get anyone to come.

Here's how it's described at the Landmark Theatre website:

Director Steven Soderbergh's two-part epic about the life of Ernesto "Che" Guevara stars Benicio Del Toro (Best Actor, 2008 Cannes Film Festival) in a tour de force performance as the legendary revolutionary. Part I, "The Argentine," shows how Che proved to be an indispensible fighter, along with Fidel Castro, in the overthrow of the corrupt dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. As he throws himself into the struggle, Che is embraced by his comrades and the Cuban people. Che rises to prominence in the Cuban Revolution, from doctor to commander to revolutionary hero. Part II, "Guerrilla," shows Che at the height of his fame and power. Then he disappears, re-emerging incognito in Bolivia, where he organizes a small group of Cuban comrades and Bolivian recruits to start the great Latin American Revolution. The story of the Bolivian campaign is a tale of tenacity, sacrifice, idealism, and of guerrilla warfare that ultimately fails, bringing Che to his death. Through this story, we come to understand how Che remains a symbol of idealism and heroism that lives in the hearts of people around the world.

Guevara, for all his ideals, was a killer who would have seen quite a few more die if he'd had his way. Freedom and life itself was to be sacrified in his quest to create the "new man." Ultimately, he brought misery to millions and left the world a worse place.

Steven Soderbergh is a talented filmmaker, and I'm sure his epic is better than its promotional material. Still, if it ends up being a movie that spends over four hours lionizing the man, who needs it?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Let's Hope Not


(h/t TTAC)

You Just Might Find You Get What You Need

Another story about liberals being disenchanted with Obama's picks. It's all rather silly.

First, the guy isn't in office yet. At least wait until he does something.

Second, the President sets the agenda. That's incomparably more important than who he picks.

Third, we don't know how he'll lead, but he ran, once he got to the general election, as a centrist. Leftists may have believed this was a ploy (and perhaps it was), but that should have least given them some warning as to how he operates.

And finally, there are all sorts of changes--massive changes--that can be accomplished without a shot being fired. New regulations, different interpretations of the law (when the President does it, that means it's not illegal), and the appointments of judges can make huge differences and will mostly operate below the surface. The same goes, to some extent, for foreign policy. Then there are relatively popular laws that liberals can pass, if properly packaged. If Obama's supporters want him to stir things up instead by immediately taking on a panoply of controversial issues, they might ask themselves is this is the best strategy to get what they want?

All Things Must Pass

Harry Knowles did a great thing in 1996 when he created Ain't It Cool News, a fun place for fanboys to hang out and hear the latest. There were just two problems with the Head Geek--he had no taste and he couldn't write.

Luckily, others who had those bases covered soon became regulars. None were better than Drew McWeeny, aka "Moriarity." Here was a guy writing more interesting stuff than you generally saw from paid journalists. And now, in his Benjamin Button review, he announces he's leaving AICN to join Hitfix.com. It won't be the same without you, Moriarty.

Technical Discussion

David Horowitz is castigating the nutty conservatives who claim Obama wasn't born on American soil and therefore can't become President. That's all very well and good, but he goes too far:

The birth-certificate zealots are essentially arguing that 64 million voters should be disenfranchised because of a contested technicality as to whether Obama was born on U.S. soil. [...] What difference does it make to the future of this country whether Obama was born on U.S. soil? Advocates of this destructive campaign will argue that the constitutional principle regarding the qualifications for president trumps all others. But how viable will our Constitution be if five Supreme Court justices should decide to void 64 million ballots?

What difference does it make? I guess the same difference it would make if it were revealed we voted in a 34-year-old President. If that result were challenged on the purely technical point that the Constitution demands he be at least 35, and the Supreme Court overturned the election, I'd probably agree with their decision. (There's a decent argument that these issues shouldn't be settled after the fact, but I could see the Court going either way.)

What if my candidate won the popular vote, but the other candidate won the Electoral College? The winner got in by a constitutional "technicality," but no one was disenfranchised because we all agreed to play by the rules.

Imagine if you thought some War on Terror policy regarding surveillance or due process were central to our basic security, and the majority of Americans agreed with you. Now imagine the Supreme Court declared this policy unconstitutional, 5-4. You may rail against the decision, but does that mean the President should defy it? The Rule Of Law is worth quite a bit. How viable would our Constitution be without it?

Eli's Coming

The WGA nominations are pretty good. I like how they nominated the episode of My Name Is Earl entitled "Vote for This and I Promise to Do Something Crazy at the Emmys." But I can't say I'm thrilled at their choice of the Eli Stone pilot.

I don't think much of the show. It's about a rich lawyer who sees the light and starts taking cases for the little guy against big corporations--pretty tired concept. (The gimmick is he has visions which make him take these cliched cases.) But it's not that the pilot was just so-so. Its message was despicable. I know that's not how art should be judged, but I can't help but wonder if the Writer's Guild actually agrees with the message.

The plot is about a mother suing a pharmaceutical company on behalf of her autistic son. She claims their vaccine is responsible. Eli Stone plays on the fears of the jury and his selfless client receives a huge award.

Since this is a triumph, the show implicitly endorses this view of vaccines. The best science suggests otherwise. As it is, millions of parents are wondering if they should avoid vaccines. If enough opt out, the consequences could be disastrous. This is one Stone that should have remained unturned.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Please Sign This Petition

To add "bike there" to the Google Maps options. Thanks.

Fuller Hope

Bryan Fuller will return as a writer on Heroes. I wasn't a fan of his Pushing Daisies, but this has to be a good thing.

Tell Me Something I Don't Know

A lot of people are talking about Bill Ayers' editorial in The New York Times, but it really doesn't add anything new to the debate. It merely reminds us, in case we forgot, that Ayers is an unrepentant terrorist.

It is unfortunate that so many people accept not only his claims about what happened (many of which are questionable), but his excuses. No one should be so partisan that, because they believe Ayers was being used to attack Obama, this means what he did was acceptable.

Another Country Heard From

The DC film critics have spoken, and certain favorites are becoming clear. Well, one. Slumdog Millionaire seems to be the film everyone likes.

Here are their top awards, which for the most part don't match at all with the National Board Of Review.

Best Film: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Director: Danny Boyle

Best Actor: Mickey Rourke (Mickey Rourke versus Frank Langella would make for an interesting race.)

Best Actress: Meryl Streep (Hasn't she won enough awards?)

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger (Posthumous awards are rare, but it's hard not to see Ledger at least getting nominated.)

Best Supporting Actress: Rosemarie DeWitt (Huh? Even stranger, they gave Jenny Lumet the screenplay award for Rachel Getting Married--most people probably don't believe there was a script.)

Helplessly Hoping or We Won't Get Fooled Again

One of my favorite movie lines comes from Clockwise, a little-seen John Cleese film: "I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand."

I'm hearing a lot of people saying how great they feel about the government and how wonderful our new President will be. Sometime I even see them physically pull themselves back from a knee-jerk condemnation of how things are run as they remind themselves that the messiah is coming.

Sure, people have overdone the negatives in the past. We had years of absurd hatred of Clinton followed by years of absurd hatred of Bush. As bad as that was, I'd rather have people be suspicious of politics and politicians. Everyone acting like something great is about to happen can be a bit hard to take.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Time For Some Chinese Turkey

The heavenly aroma still hung in the house. But it was gone, all gone! No turkey! No turkey sandwiches! No turkey salad! No turkey gravy! Turkey Hash! Turkey a la King! Or gallons of turkey soup! Gone, ALL GONE! (h/t Ann Althouse)

The Oldest Master

My kind of guy:

Errie Ball, the last surviving player in the first Masters in 1934, will be part of a presentation on the evolution of golf equipment during the final day of the Teaching and Coaching Summit on Sunday at the PGA Learning Center.

Ball celebrated his 98th birthday Nov. 14 by visiting with Jack Nicklaus at The Bear's Club in Jupiter, Fla. Ball had never met Nicklaus, who won The Masters a record six times.

Ball hit some shots for Nicklaus, and the two talked about the golf swing to a group of students from The First Tee...Ball became a PGA member in 1931, and he remains an active teacher. He likes to work the lesson tee in the mornings at Willoughby Golf Club in Stuart, Fla., and then play about nine holes of golf in the afternoon.

Asked the secret to his longevity he said, "Have a good wife, and drink a couple of Scotches every night."

Milking It

I don't think I've read a review of Milk yet where the critic doesn't mention the failure of Proposition 8 somewhere. But I think they're seeing the glass of milk as half empty. Okay, maybe homosexual rights haven't advanced as fast as hoped, but isn't it still pretty amazing how far they've come?

To The Point

I received a menu for Hong Kong Bistro in my mailbox. It's one of those places that offer Chinese food and sushi. Isn't that a bit like offering Italian and Mexican?

Anyway, I was taken by their slogan: "Happiness is good." Who can argue with that?

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