Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Of The Decade To You

Still need to catch up on a few titles before I review the year in film. So now, seeing as it's the end of the aughts, I figured I'd list my top ten for the decade. (Most of these I've seen only once. It's true that some films don't hold up, but nothing can replace the first viewing anyway.)

Drum roll, please...

Bubbling Under The Top Ten

American Splendor
The Barbarian Invasions
Dancer In The Dark
Ghost World
In The Loop
Let The Right One In
Little Otik
Man On Wire
The Nines
Shaun Of The Dead
The Squid And The Whale
Trailer Park Boys: The Movie
Wedding Crashers
Y Tu Mama Tambien

Top Ten

About A Boy (2002)

Cidade de Deus (2002)

4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days (2007)

The Incredibles (2004)

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters (2007)

The Lives Of Others (2006)

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Spirited Away (2001)

And the film of the decade

Mulholland Drive (2001)

Bonus section

Director of the decade: A tie--Lar Von Trier and Gus Van Sant

Most promising new director: Jason Reitman

Performace of the decade: Naomi Watts in Mullholland Drive

Extra Bonus: Perhaps my favorite entry from my film years in review:

ALL APOLOGIES: Near the end of The Day After Tomorrow (the day after, I guess), the Vice President, clearly based on Dick Cheney, goes on TV and apologizes for not listening to climatologist Dennis Quaid's warnings. (The well-meaning but stupid President died in a blizzard). Slate Magazine had a contest to write how the real Dick Cheney would have apologized. I didn't enter, but I think the speech would have gone like this:

"In the 1960s, there were many significant spokespeople for the environmental movement who claimed the game was already lost and by the mid-70s, we'd have mass starvation in the United States. After being proved comically mistaken, they kept predicting apocalypse in very short order, and yet, though disproved time after time, never gave up making terrible predictions, and never apologized for being so frighteningly wrong. By 2004, after more than four decades of being absurdly off, and with the average human on earth better fed, clothed and housed than ever before, you can understand my skepticism when a lone expert predicted outrageous scenarios of disaster, one following upon another, in a matter of weeks. I was not willing at the time to jeopardize the world economy to avoid what sounded like the plot of one of those empty, big-budget Hollywood summer movies, full of spectacle at the expense of character. It now turns out after forty years of experts being wrong and not apologizing, one of the experts finally got it right--for not recognizing this, I apologize."

Have A Happy, Phonetic New Year

There are some things about this year that should be forgot. But that's the promise of the new year, isn't it? As stupid a commemoration as it is, New Year's Eve is a time to realize we've got another chance to get things right.

Herbert's Health

Bob Herbert joins the small yet growing list of people attacking ObamaCare from the left. I find it hard to believe, however, that the side he represents has the power (or guts) to bring down the health care bill, especially at this point.

The question is what sort of changes, if any, will the House make in the bill. If they move it too far toward where Herbert wants, it could make the bill unapalatable--to the Senate and the House itself (which both have plenty of politicians seeking cover). And I still don't believe the Democrats will allow the bill to die.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I'd Rather Be Golfing

A number of conservatives have criticized Obama's less-than-energetic reaction to the attempted terrorist bombing in Detroit. Here's how Michelle Malkin describes it:

[Obama's tiredness as of late] helps explain President McCrankyPants’ hasty, bloodless, perfunctory statement yesterday on the Christmas Day jihad attack and the Iranian crackdown.

But what else did you expect from a man who has been phoning it in from the beginning of his brief political career as the Illinois state senator who voted “present” nearly 130 times?

Americans can help alleviate the exhausted commander-in-chief’s discomfort by ensuring his retirement in 2012.

It's true his last few public appearances during his Hawaiian vacation have been less than rousing, but I generally believe it's best to ignore the speeches politicians make and concentrate on what they're doing. (Speeches often give you an indication of this, but not necessarily.)

Obama now has another problem on his plate. That's what being President means. We'll see what he does, but immediate reactions aren't the best way to take his measure.

It's Not The End Of The World

Or is it?

Happy birthday, Skeeter Davis.

2009 Awards

Time for the year's awards. With only one day left, I don't suppose there'll be any changes.

Person Of The Year: (Really no one deserves this award.) Joe Lieberman. He really didn't do much, but the way he was on everyone's lips for a while was pretty impressive. He'd also win the turncoat of the year except the Dems already have had so much trouble with him that this was nothing new.

Biggest Story Of The Year: The Tea Party movement, and what it symbolized. People were angry at the Republicans, and now seem just as angry at the Democrats. How it all plays out (and who can harness it) will determine American politics for years to come.

Worst Reported Story Of The Year: The deficit. I know it's talked about, but I get the impression most people think it's just more of the same, rather than unprecedented levels for years to come.

Most Overhyped Story: The Swine Flu epidemic.

Loser Of The Year: Tiger Woods. He returned to the Tour and in the PGA Championship, for the first time ever, was ahead in the final round and lost. Who knew he'd soon look back at that as the good old days.

Celebrity Meltdown Of The Year: Gotta be Kanye West.

Soap Opera Of The Year: Health care reform. Will it pass, or won't it? In what form? What will Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid do to make it happen? Will Obama step in? And what about Naomi?

Biggest Non-Story: The Copenhagen climate conference. For all the hype, nothing really happened, and everyone knew nothing would happen. (Related non-story--no hurricane's land in America. Where's all that activity Michael Moore promised?)

No Longer Biggest Non-Story: For years I considered "no major terrorist attack inside the U.S." to be the biggest and best non-story around, but after Ft. Hood and the underwear bomber, I'm not sure we can say the streak continues.

Most Pointless Story: The boy in the balloon.

Shut Up Award: To Rep. Joe Wilson for shouting "You Lie!" at the President during a speech (though Rep. Alan Grayson gave Wilson a run for his money).

Song Of The Year:

Partiers Of The Year: Michaele and Tareq Salahi.

Biggest Unforced Error: President Obama says the Cambridge police acted "stupidly" in arresting Henry Louis Gates Jr. There was simply no reason for him to even discuss the incident.

Euphemism Of The Year: "Hiking the Appalachian Trail."

Winners Never Quit Award: Sarah Palin, who leaves the governorship of Alaska to travel across the warm states.

Missing In Action Award: I could swear Hillary Clinton is one of our most powerful officials, but I never see or hear her doing anything.

Undecided Award: President Obama for both escalating and drawing down the war in Afghanistan.

Thrown Under The Bus Award: Obama fired Van Jones. Of course, anyone would have, since the guy seemed to be a 9/11 truther. I just wanted to say there's a Van under the bus.

Worst Trend: A tie. Unemployment rising to double digits, and the continuing (and perhaps accelerating) decline of old media.

Hot New Technology Most Likely To Burn Out In 2010: Twitter.

Biggest Celebrity Comeback: Sandra Bullock, well into her forties, and without a major moneymaker in almost a decade, stars in her two biggest hits.

Most Promising Story: Unrest in Iran. A change is gonna come?

Most Shocking Death: Michael Jackson.

What Goes Up Award: Obama's steadily declining popularity. Will the trend continue?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

Jesse Walker now has his top films for 1989 up. As usual, my general agreement is mixed with disagreement.

He says 1989 was not a great year. Maybe, maybe not, but looking back at all the good films then, it sure seems better than I remember.

I love Drugstore Cowboy. I recently watched it again, and I still think it's Gus Van Sant's best, even though he's done much good work since. Mystery Train is Jim Jarmusch's best, which is saying a lot. I also love Kiki's Delivery Service, but then, Miyazaki rarely misfires.

I like Life And Nothing But. Crimes And Misdemeanours I half-like.

Haven't seen Motel. I didn't like El Topo, so I stayed away from Santa Sangre. Never seen Monsieur Hire all the way through.

Here's what Jesse says about Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing:

Back in the day, there was a big debate over which was the better movie about race relations, Do the Right Thing or Driving Miss Daisy. Is anyone still willing to take Daisy's side of the argument? Spike Lee's angry yet ambiguous film was the sort of thoughtful picture that people like Stanley Kramer wanted to make back in the '50s and '60s but didn't have the talent to pull off. Twenty years after the fact, it is still the high point of Lee's career.

I don't know about race relations, but I'll go on record as saying Driving Miss Daisy is the better film. It may not be a classic, but it features two fine performances and is able to maneuver over very sentimental territory without overdoing it (mostly). Do The Right Thing, on the other hand, isn't so much ambiguous as muddled. It's incendiary, yes, and is one of Lee's best, but that's because the "plot" of DTRT forced the classical unities upon him, so the overall effect was more coherent than usual. (I actually loved Spike Lee's first big release, She's Gotta Have It, and still think he's very talented--it's just that amid all the interesting moments, he can't tell a story to save his life. And he lectures.)

Say Anything... has its moments, but doesn't do much for me. I should add Ione Skye's beauty resonates with me a lot more than Lloyd Dobler blasting Peter Gabriel.

As for his honorable mentions, I like Nick Park and Jan Svankmajer, though I'm not sure why Jesse includes shorts.

Most Peter Greenaway bores me, but he did his best work with The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, And Her Lover. I don't like Jane Campion that much either (actually haven't seen her highly regarded Bright Star yet), but I like Sweetie.

I'm a fan of Kaurismaki, and Leningrad Cowboys Go America is one of his better films.

Now for the stuff Jesse left out. I'm sure he's aware of much of it, and these titles just didn't rate.

There are at least three that would make my top ten.

First, Parenthood, a fine ensemble comedy, with a great script. Probably Ron Howard's best.

Second, The Little Mermaid, which is not only a classic, but historically important because it ushered in Disney's second golden age of animation.

Third, and this may be my film of the year, Heathers. Dan Waters' script is one of the most quoteable ever, and I only wish they'd shot his dark ending.

Here are some other movies from 1989 year that I like, in various degrees:

Back to the Future Part II (not as good as the original, but very clever and underappreciated), Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure (which taught us to be excellent to each other), Cousins, Dead Calm, The Fabulous Baker Boys (not much of a story, but three great performances and Michelle Pfeiffer at her most beautiful), Field of Dreams (for a mainstream film, surprisingly unconventional in form), Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Indiana Jones And the Last Crusade (should have been the farewell to a fine saga), Penn & Teller Get Killed, Road House (THE Patrick Swayze film), Uncle Buck (a rare endearing psychotic character), When Harry Met Sally... (what happened to Rob Reiner?).

The following are film of 1989 which some considered to be of considerable merit:

The Abyss, Batman, Born on the Fourth of July, Camille Claudel, Casualties of War, Cinema Paradiso, Dead Poets Society, Enemies, a Love Story, Glory, Henry V, My Left Foot, Roger & Me, Sex, lies, and Videotape (ushered in the indie era as much as any film), The War of the Roses.

Things Have Changed Since Abraham

Here's some intriguing research that suggests people will impute their own morality to whatever deity they believe in.

While the general picture has the causality moving in the opposite direction, this isn't too surprising.

One would expect people, especially in an open society, to reject a god who tells them to do things they think immoral. So rather than search for a religion that fits them better, they'll bend their religion to fit their views.

O Tannenbomb

A few observations on the Christmas Day bomber.

1) Like many others, I'm bewildered at the official response: change the rules so that passengers must stay in their seats for the last hour without anything in their laps. This makes flying even more miserable (unbearable for some) yet I don't think it'll make us any safer.

2) Boy did Janet Napolitano strike out. Her first impulse, like any politician, was to say things are working out so the public should be calm. But after such a clear system failure (the only reason those people on the plane are still alive is that the detonation didn't work properly), the last thing you want to say is "the system worked." She's backtracking now, but has serious damage been done?

3) What is this obsession Al Qaeda has with blowing up airplanes? I realize it's not all they do, but they keep going back to it, even though that's where all the security is. Is it still the easiest way for them to get at America, or does bringing down a plane get you a lot of bang for your buck? Or maybe they've spent so much time on it that it's become their trademark?

4) We may not want to fight it, but there's still a war going on. And we should remember our enemies would do considerably worse if they could.

5) I think most of the security measures that have been taken at airports since 9/11 don't have much effect. The problem, though, is they're trying to stop a minuscule amount of bad actors by putting everyone through the wringer. The real trouble with such things is you can't tell whether they're succeeding or not, because if they are, you wouldn't notice. The main point is deterrence. What doesn't happen is as important as what does, but it's next to impossible to get people to feel that way.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Prove It All Night

Bruce Springsteen turned 60 this year. I've liked some of his music (especially his 70s stuff) but I've never quite bought into the whole act. I missed this essay by Stephen Metcalf a few years on how Bruce developed the style and persona (much thanks to Svengali Jon Landau) that brought him his reputation.

Metcalf likes Springsteen, but I think he also shows what BS stands for.

Wrong Conjunction

I wrote and lost a long post on this piece: "Saying No to Obama: The U.S. president is popular, but world leaders are finding it easy to defy his wishes"

So here's the very short version. If we accept that "popular" is the right word, then "but" is the wrong one. While I wouldn't go so far as to replace it with "therefore," it should at least be "and."

The A-list

Woody Allen often lists his lead actors alphabetically. Sounds fair. Till you realize that makes him first-billed. But then he started working with Alan Alda and Caroline Aaron. Hoist on his own petard?

I was thinking about this while watching He's Just Not That Into You. At the end, the leads are listed alphabetically. Here they are:

Ben Affleck
Jennifer Aniston
Drew Barrymore
Jennifer Connelly
Kevin Connolly
Bradley Cooper
Ginnifer Goodwin
Scarlett Johansson
Kris Kristofferson
Justin Long

Wow. We're over halfway done and not out of the C's. Poor Justin Long--bet he thought he'd at least end up in the middle of the pack. (And who let Kris Kristofferson in with all these young people?)

Waiting For Godard

Here's some praise by Mike D'Angelo for A Woman Is A Woman, and Jean-Luc Godard in general. I can't partake in the enthusiasm. Godard's run of films from Breathless (1960--not 1959 as the article states) to Weekend (1967) were, and are, arthouse favorites, but I find them wildly overrated. There are some interesting moments and ideas, but overall they're a pretty boring lot. Godard makes plenty of bizarre moves, but his inability to tell a story (even if he's above anything that bourgeois) makes for considerable longueurs.

It's not experimental films I oppose, it's clumsy, amateurish staging mistaken for significant "comment" on whatever it is the critics feel is being commented on. If you want to try alienation effects, you need a lot behind them to pull them off.

D'Angelo picks out a scene from A Woman Is A Woman (one of the more memorable ones, actually) where the two lovers carry around a lamp and argue with each other using book titles. He praises it to the skies, but just watching the excerpt reminded me of how long this whole movie felt.

D'Angelo arguies that Godard is so original, no one is copying him. Oh, so that's the reason. Here's how he puts it:

...there’s the angry fight conducted entirely via book titles—an idea so original that, in fairness, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could be inspired by it without just ripping it off.

While I sort of the like the metaphor of people arguing with books, since so many prefer to quote others than argue for themselves, I must say that using other media to communicate isn't that uncommon in movies. And right now I'm reminded of a meet cute in Employees' Entrance (1933) where the couple communicate to each other through the titles of sheet music.

I'm not saying Godard isn't original. It's just that novelty is no guarantee of quality. Actually, one of my favorite films of his is a later work (after his 60s run), Tout Va Bien (1972), which is probably more experimental, and explicitly political, than his earlier stuff. I guess if you're gonna do it, do it.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


The group at the AV Club has 45 indelible moments of 2009 TV. A lot of them I simply didn't see, but I have a few quibbles with those I did.

By the way, a lot of spoilers will follow. Don't say you haven't been warned.

They have Locke's hanging. I guess I can't complain, since it made #3 on my Lost list. But Don Draper failing Conrad Hilton in Mad Men doesn't compare to a bunch of other moments, especially (and they note this) Guy and the lawnmower.

The list includes something from Nurse Jackie. There was nothing indelible about Nurse Jackie. For that matter, the song about the pit in Parks And Recreation? The whole pit thing which drove the first season is best forgotten.

On Battlestar Galactica, they pick the moment it looks like there'll be a truce which falls apart as soon at the Final Five share their brains. A big deal, to be sure, but I bet there were more indelible moments. (Can something be more indelible?)

On Big Bang Theory, they pick the moment Sheldon reenacts his childhood when Leonard and Penny fight. This is fascinating, since two friends, independently, told me this moment was so bad they thought it might be time to stop watching the show.

They bring up Jon Stewart bitchslapping CNBC. Yes, probably the biggest thing The Daily Show has done lately. I just want to note that what Stewart complained about, CNBC had been doing for years. It only raised his ire when they started complaining about Obama.

Finally, for Breaking Bad, they pick (and this is the biggest spoiler of all if you didn't watch the show) Walt just standing there, allowing Jesse's girlfriend to die. This was one of the most indelible moment in any TV year, but I'm not sure if the analysis does it justice:

Walt breaks into his partner Jesse’s apartment to retrieve the meth he’s stashed there, only to find Jesse and his neighbor/lover Jane in a heroin-induced slumber. Jane wakes up on her back, begins choking on her own vomit, and Walt just stands over her, watching her suffer. Walt knows Jesse’s been slacking because of her, and Walt’s refusal to help in even the smallest way—not to mention the way he stares directly at Jane as she dies—demonstrates the man has fallen far into the deep end.

1) Actually, this scene occurs later, after Walt's sold the meth.

2) He's even more responsible for her death. He tries to wake up Jesse, which movies Jane onto her back where she starts choking. He instinctively moves to save her, then stops himself.

3) There's quite a bit more than just the threat of Jesse slacking off--not that it excuses Walt's inaction. A) Jesse almost made them miss the big deal because of his junkie girlfriend. B) Walt feels as if Jesse's his son, and she's dragging him into a downward spiral which will ultimately lead to his death. C) Biggest of all, Jane's an unreliable junkie who's blackmailing him, and will continue to blackmail him if he allows her to live.

4) He doesn't just stare at her. He looks on in horror, realizing full well what he's doing.


In the store recently, saw the DVD for Funny People, which includes extra footage. The film is already close to two-and-a-half hours. What's the director's cut, 4 hours? This is a contemporary comedy, not War And Peace.

Maybe they should offer a 90-minute producer's cut (which they should have released to begin with).


Interesting discrimination case in New Mexico. A photography company run by a "young Christian husband and wife" refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. The New Mexico Civil Rights Commission found them to be discriminating based on sexual orientation. The photographers say they didn't want to be supporting same-sex marriage. There's an appeal being filed.

We've got a clear tradition of people who provide services not being allowed to pick and choose their customers along certain dividing lines--race, sex, etc., and, in New Mexico, apparently, sexual orientation. To many, it would seem an open and shut case of illegal discrimination.

I'm not certain what defense they're going with. Perhaps they feel there's a religious exception that allows them to make decisions against sexual orientation, just as religions can. Or that they shouldn't be identified as a public accommodation, but rather a private business that can refuse service to anyone, based on freedom of association and the free exercise of religion. Perhaps they'll claim how can it be illegal for them to take actions against supporting same-sex marriage (or commitment, for that matter) when it's not allowed or recognized in the state of New Mexico?

Or perhaps their claim is as photographers, what they're doing has expressive content. Therefore, they've have a First Amendment right to take sides. A newspaper can editorialize against gay marriage, or in favor of slavery, for that matter, and the state can't force it to change its mind or run editorials on the opposing side.

I'm not sure how far this case has gone, but I can see it going all the way to the top.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Nine Short Of A Minyan

Here's something a bit odd. At The Volokh Conspiracy, Randy Barnett writes:

As a Jew growing up on [sic] an overwhelmingly Catholic town–there were 4 Jews in my high school class of 400–I experienced considerable antisemitism.

Really? Where did he grow up? Because in my high school class of 550 people, located in the suburbs of Detroit, I was the only Jew, and I don't really recall any antisemitism. (Actually, I don't recall any unitiated discussion of Judaism one way or another.)

I suppose most of my friends knew I was Jewish, but it wasn't generally known to the school at large. I lived in fairly populous Macomb County, which did not have a significant Jewish population. In fact, there was no synagogue in my school district, and only one in Macomb--years before, most of Detroit's Jewish population had moved west to the tonier suburbs of Oakland County.

I remember once going to a friend's house for dinner. They offered some pork-filled sausages and I said no thanks. They joked "what's wrong, is it against your religion?" I replied "as a matter of fact, it is. I'm Jewish." They thought I was offended and became highly apologetic. I actually felt bad about it.

Not Bloody Likely

The first production of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion was performed in Vienna. I've known this for years, but it only just hit me: how ever did they translate it?

The plot, of course, has Eliza Doolittle dropping her cockney and learning to speak with an upper class British accent. How was this represented in German?

Indeed the play has been popular around the world, which means translators have been scratching their heads in a lot of languages.

I've seen foreign plays where accent and dialect matter--Aristophanes comes to mind. And I've always felt I was missing something. But Pygmalion is so language-specific, I have to wonder how it can work at all in non-English-speaking productions.

He Can Only Do This Ten Times

I'll soon be posting my eagerly anticipated film year in review. I tend to do it a few weeks into January so I can catch up on all the holiday films.

Meanwhile, my friend Jesse Walker has started his annual look back at previous decades' best. Right now, he's got up the best for 1999, which looks like a pretty good year. (Why is it the further away, the better they look?)

First off, Jesse sniffs at American Beauty, the Best Picture Oscar winner. He didn't like it on second viewing. Here's my opinion of a second viewing.

I agree with many of his picks (though not necessarily the rankings). I liked Election, The Limey, Mr. Death, Toy Story 2 (though I think it's absurd to rank it higher than the first), South Park and Being John Malkovich.

On the other hand, Magnolia was a huge disappointment. I'd loved Boogie Nights, and eagerly awaited PTA's next. Turned out he was great showing the mindless hopes of the inarticulate, but having allegedly intelligent, sensitive people making big speeches, in the middle of absurd plot mechanics, was dispiriting. I tried to watch Magnolia years later and couldn't make it all the way through.

As for Fight Club, I've written in the past how I consider it an interesting failure.

I like John Sayles more than Jesse does, and liked Limbo less. And I'm sorry, the title doesn't excuse the ending.

Didn't see Belfast, Maine.

I also liked many of his honorable mentions, including Ghost Dog, All About My Mother, Boys Don't Cry and Audition (is "like" the right word for Audition?). I'm still on the fence about The Matrix, and I positively despise Three Kings. Still don't get Jesse putting TV shows on the list.

Here's some stuff he missed from that year (according to my records--perhaps they're not 1999 films for him), at least a few of which would have made my top ten:

Princess Mononoke, Go, Run Lola Run, Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels (rotten title), Galaxy Quest, Topsy-Turvy (which I've grown to like more and more), The Dinner Game (a fine farce), Office Space (even if it falls apart) and The Green Mile (underrated, though not as underrated as Shawshank is overrated).

Other movies that year he didn't mention which many think of highly:

The Sixth Sense, Man On The Moon, Cider House Rules, Eyes Wide Shut, The Thin Red Line, The Blair Witch Project, The Insider (the story of how the tobacco industry managed to hide that cigarettes are bad for you--in the 1990s), The Iron Giant, The Straight Story.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Cheer

Hope you're having a nice Christmas Day. We're taking it easy at Pajama Guy, and thought we'd leave you with a few videos:

This one I linked to a couple days ago, but I wonder how many checked it out. The Marimba Ponies, performing "Sleigh Ride."

Here's a comment at YouTube, in case you were worried:

Amazing !!..I don't think that the children are forced to do it. They didn't smile because they are concentrate (focus)on this difficut song and because they are performed in front of many people. Many people have stage fright especially when they have something difficult to performed in front of audience.
Keep your good work ! And enjoy your talent !!
GOD bless !!..

Nothing says Christmas more than The Brady Bunch, especially with Jerry Herman helping out.

And finally, one of the greatest Broadway showstoppers, Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "Turkey Lurkey Time," choreographed by Michael Bennett and danced by Donna McKechnie.

I've linked to it before, but we need it again. From Promises, Promises, soon to be revived, starring Sean Hayes and, uh, what's her name again...oh yeah, Kristin Chenoweth.

Not unlike this blog, a comment battle broke out on YouTube about the cast of the revival:

OSHWebbie (1 month ago) The revival is set for next year!

Scott6263 (1 month ago) I think this song is INCREDIBLE! Sure, it's not Shakespeare set to music, but who cares??? It's Burt Bacharach and Hal David - - 2 songwriting geniuses. The song is catchy, the dancing beyond incredible. We have NOTHING like this anymore, sad to say. Great news: "Promises, Promises" is headed back to Broadway in 2010. First-ever Broadway revival starring Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth! Hooray! :-)

fkd1963 (4 weeks ago) and the casting of gay Hayes and too-old Kristin will sink the show. let's hope for rumored catherine o'hara as marge macdougall to steal the show!

Scott6263 (4 weeks ago) Wow! Talk about being a major "Debbie Downer". Why don't we wait and see how they fare before passing judgment. Hayes and Chenoweth are both extremely talented people. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. I'm just thrilled we're getting the show back.

fkd1963 (3 weeks ago) oh come on. they are not talented. he's a closet gayqho made a sh*tload of money from anoverrated sitcom and she's a madeline kahn derivation who is perky and bland.

Scott6263 (3 weeks ago) Such strong opinions. Well, I completely disagree with your assessment of their talents. So, let's just call it a wash and "agree to disagree".

brabon1 (2 weeks ago) cheno is hotter than most women 20 years her jr

Scott6263 (2 weeks ago) Yowzah! :-)

brabon1 (2 weeks ago) glad at least one person agrees with me

cheno was on glee...and she was hotter than all those 20 somethings pretending to be teens

Scott6263 (2 weeks ago) Missed her on "Glee". Love that show! Will have to "Hulu" that episode.

brabon1 (2 weeks ago) shes great on it...sings two songs and acts like a drunken slut

Thursday, December 24, 2009

You Name It

Boys' names used to stand for something. For the first fifty years of the 20th century, John was #1. Then we went through fifty years of Michael dominance (even withstanding the Jason threat). Then, Jacob took over, and now, in the 21st century, everything's gone to hell.

The top ten for the last decade are, in order:


Aiden? Are you kidding me? This is an American list? And Michael is almost gone. In fact, didn't make the top ten for 2009:


No Jim, no Bob, no Bill, no Dick, no Dave, no Joe, no Chuck, no Tom. Even Jacob seems to be on the way out. But we've got Aiden, Jayden and Caden. Where's Hayden? How about Phaidon? Baden Baden?

Meanwhile, girls' names, which have always changed faster, are going nuts. Here are the top ten for the decade:


No Linda, no Lisa, no Susan, no Karen, no Elizabeth, no Patricia, no Barbara, no Jennifer. And Mary is long gone. Meanwhile, we get Emma and Emily--almost the same thing.

The top ten for 2009 are:


Girls used to be named after cute things. Now we've got Madison and Addison--parents are naming them after streets.

If you know anyone who named their kids any of these, send them here and let them explain their choices.

And Have A Kool Kwanzaa

Was recently at a store where the cashiers said "happy holidays." I'm sure they were told to say it.

As far as I'm concerned, they don't have to say anything. But if they're gonna talk, might as well be "happy holidays." Not everyone celebrates Christmas. I don't. Even if the majority does, "happy holidays" has a pedigree (goes back at least to Holiday Inn (1942) and probably earlier) and is inclusive.

Yet some insist this is a slam on Christmas. Sounds like they're looking to be insulted.

William And Bill

In Slate, William Saletan says the differences aren't that significant between the two sides in the health care bill abortion debate.

Each side has legitimate worries. Pro-choicers fear that insurers will abandon abortion coverage. Pro-lifers fear that insurers will be forced to include it. Pro-choicers fear that women won't buy abortion coverage if the premiums are separated up front. Pro-lifers fear that abortion opponents will be suckered into abortion coverage if the premiums aren't separated up front. We'll have years of studies, hearings, legislation, and lawsuits to follow up on these concerns and fine-tune the policy. The complications are worth raising. But they aren't worth killing the bill.

Saletan may very well be right. But whenever anyone makes this sort of argument, I always ask them to do one thing. Talk to the side you support most and advise them to completely give in. If you're not willing to do this, then I guess the differences do matter.

A Little Locke For Christmas Eve

In one of my favorite bits of dialogue from season 1 of Lost, Boone and Locke discuss Star Trek:

Turns out Locke was on Star Trek. Okay, Terry O'Quinn. I don't remember the episode, but from this excerpt, where he's playing Riker's old commanding officer, I can guarantee he's about to screw things up and only the crew of the Enterprise will be able to fix them.

In addition, he met Marvin Candle. And was called "Boone" at the time.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Blue Christmas For Cameron

"James Cameron: China should let more movies in."

The Chinese are a wise, indigenous people with their own ways. How dare Cameron try to force his own idea of commerce on them.

Who did the PR vetting?

For amusement, click to see what will be the stock footage for the next 50 documentaries about the economic troubles of this era.

New Cliches

This video was designed to show the lack of imagination in Hollywood--and it does a fine job--but storytellers have always relied on certain tropes. What's cool is this one is only about thirty years old. (Though it's based on older concepts, such as seen in Blow-Up.)

Lyric Lessons

Singing all those Christmas songs, some things hit you. For instance:

The message of "Rudolph": As long as others can use you, you'll never want for friends.

From "Do You Hear What I Hear?":

A child, a child
Shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold

Talk about the gift of the magi.

How about this famous line:

Remember Christ our Savior Was born on Christmas Day

Isn't this a bit like noting Lou Gehrig suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease?

It may be known as "Chestnust Roasting On An Open Fire," but the actual title is 'The Christmas Song." How arrogant do you have to be to name it that?

Scariest Christmas song? Easy. "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," which is one long threat. If it weren't about Santa, it would fit Halloween better.

Sorry, Virginia

Just curious. Has anyone done research into the average age when a child figures out (spoiler alert) there is no Santa Claus? Seems to me a fairly significant milestone in psychological development.


Occasionally I look at old posts and see comments left after it's no longer on the scroll. I sometimes even respond (in one case, a few years later), though I realize no one will likely see it.

For instance, a post in late October had me saying Kristin Chenoweth won't be bringing the same thing to Promises, Promises that Anne Hathaway would have.

A few days later, someone told me to get a life, and I responded. Then even later (off the scroll) there were more comments from a Kristin Chenoweth fan, saying I was being mean to her. I responded there, but let me say it here:

I like Kristin Chenoweth. I think she's very talented. If I were casting You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown or Wicked, I'd choose Kristin over Anne. My point was that, considering the role in Promises, Promises, I'd pick Anne Hathaway. She's got the vocal chops (and the music isn't for belting), is over a decade younger than Chenoweth and is about nine inches taller. Also, let's face it, Hathaway is a movie star who rarely appears on stage. That would mean something.

In any case, they're different. If I were casting Guys And Dolls, for example, I'd cast Kristin as Adelaide and Anne as Sarah. It's not an insult to say I prefer one to the other for any particular role.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I don't usually get too personal here, but I just want to talk a bit about one of my closest friends, Liz, who died yesterday of ovarian cancer. I could tell you hundreds of stories about what a delight she was, but I'll keep it short.

I still remember how we met our first year in law school at Chicago. Torts class was discussing Bolton v. Stone, an important case (or actually a series of cases) on negligence. The professor asked a student about a specific thing in it and he had no idea what the prof was referring to. So the professor asked the same thing of Liz. She said sorry, she didn't know. Then he asked me. I said "this isn't your day, is it?"

After class, Liz and I got in the elevator to the library, and she said "thanks for taking the heat off me." We started talking and, before you knew it, became fast friends.

She was easy to be friends with. Very sweet, very open. She was also quite striking. And I don't mean that as a weasel word--she was very tall and beautiful. You noticed her when she walked into a room. I remember thinking it almost wasn't fair she was smart and charming as well. (She used to talk about how as a teenager she felt too tall and skinny and didn't like her stringy hair, but a lot of attractive women talk that way.)

Everywhere she went she made friends. I remember she took a Shakespeare seminar at Chicago with Allan Bloom, and got to know him. Meanwhile, she was working downtown at the Sonnenschein firm, where she got to know attorney Scott Turow. I told her she must be the only person to be friends with the author of the bestselling fiction and non-fiction book at the same time.

After law school, we both lived, for a short period, in Chicago's Near North Side, a few blocks from each other. We studied for the bar in the same class, and took it in the same building. We went out to lunch during the breaks, and promised not to talk about the test in case one of us got something wrong. (We both passed, by the way.)

We saw each other pretty regularly before I left for LA. She then followed the pattern of other friends and kept moving farther away from downtown, first getting a very nice place in Lincoln Park, and then some years later marrying and having a wonderful home in North Center.

I would come back once or twice a year and the trip wasn't complete until I saw her. (She also visited me in Los Angeles a few times.) When I came by, she would often take me to her latest favorite hangout--bar or restaurant. The people there always greeted her effusively. I asked (as if I didn't know) "why is it everyone is always so happy to see you," and she replied (jokingly, though we both knew it was true) "don't you know?--I'm adorable."

Sometimes we'd sit on her balcony and have long talks. She traveled a lot and would tell me stories about her various adventures. But, she said, for all the things she did, there was nothing she liked better than lying in the sun, reading a book and drinking some wine.

We talked over the phone occasionally. I actually kept a message (it's somewhere, probably in the back of a closet) she left on my machine. She'd moved into her new place in Lincoln Park and had requested I send her a photo. So I sent an old shot of me as a three-year-old in a cowboy suit. She called to say I was very cute, but she'd like something more contemporary.

Once I called her and she was weeping. I asked what's wrong. She said Jimmy Smits died. Jimmy Smits? The actor? Yeah, but not the actor, his character on NYPD Blue. I laughed and told her to get over it. I think she got mad at me.

She went to work in-house at an alcohol company. I met her in Vegas when she was there on business. She invited me to an exclusive party she was hosting at the Hard Rock. The date was September 10, 2001. I went back to my room but had trouble sleeping. I woke up, turned on the TV and saw the news. I called her and told her I had to drive back immediately to LA (though, thinking back, I'm not sure why I felt that way). She was actually stuck in Vegas after 9/11, since all flights were grounded and the rental cars were quickly gone. I later apologized for leaving her in the lurch.

One of the best things about her--she loved to hear me tell jokes. (She even said it was okay if I'd told them before since she always forgot them.) That may not sound like much, but it is. You hate to impose, so there's nothing like an appreciative audience.

In the last decade, we stayed in touch mostly via computer. She would demand I send her the latest jokes. Luckily, I kept many of her emails. Here's a rare one (from 2000) where she relates a joke:

...if I'm travelling over the weekend, I treat myself to the Sunday New York Times. I always feel guilty about not finishing it when I'm at home. Strange Catholic logic.

Any good political humor out there these days? I was just in Alberta, Canada on business. We own a distillery up there. We stayed to hike around Banff and Lake Louise. It was stunning. But I digress. In Alberta there are huge enclaves of Mormons. I heard my first Mormon joke. "How do you keep a Mormon from drinking at a party? Invite another Mormon." Not very funny but I guess I laughed because I'd never heard a Mormon joke before. Although now I know I can never live in Alberta.

I can just hear her saying this in her rich, melodious voice.

Then there was a period I didn't hear from her much. I visited Chicago and called her up. She was married at this point and her husband explained how she'd been diagnosed, had been getting treatment, and was pretty weak. Must have been six or seven years ago. Ever since then, she'd been fighting. And there were times when she seemed to be doing well, perhaps had even turned the corner.

Though she was often feeling poorly, we'd still work it out so I could drop by, usually for dinner. She never let her illness stop her from living her life. She kept traveling, too.

About a year ago I was in Chicago, and we had a great time. Even if I hadn't seen her for a while, it was as if I'd never left. Then a few months ago I dropped by, and we planned to get together, but she had to cancel. Which brings us up to yesterday.

It's hard to believe I won't see her again, or talk to her, or hear her laugh. I don't think I ever knew anyone who was more alive.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bury The Feed

A Veggie Grill just opened up nearby. It's a new food franchise with a few other locations a bit south of here. I have no idea if it's any good or not, though I assume with four separate locations it must be reasonably popular. But what fascinates me most about it is though the place is clearly vegetarian, but doesn't want to be too obvious about it.

If you don't look at VG's menu closely, you might not notice what they serve. They call their food "savory and satisfying" as well as "natural and wholesome" and promote their "Original Sandwiches & Burgers." They're not deceitful--they state the food is "100% plant-based," but items on the menu are stuff like "Chinese Chickin,'" Chipotle BBQ" and "Carne Asada."

I'm assuming they did research and saw much of the public lends negative connotations to "vegetarian" and "health food." When people go out, they want to enjoy themselves. Promising them punishment is not the way to their stomach or their heart.

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

The new trailer for Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland looks cool, but I'd expect Burton to have interesting visuals. The question is will there be a good story, and will it retain the wit of the original.

It appears Alice is grown-up, and she's returning to Wonderland. (Which she sort of did in Through The Looking Glass.) I don't know. I can understand Burton wanting to create something of his own, but does he really want to stray so far from the source material when the source material is so good?

The Real Menace

Someone sent me this YouTube review of The Phantom Menace. The whole thing is in seven parts, approximately ten minutes per, and I watched it all in one sitting.

It does a great job taking apart the film, showing how, at each step, we're not involved with the characters and the plot makes no sense.

I could have done without the side-gags about the creepiness of the narrator, but it's worth it to get to the well-observed stuff, such as a discussion of swordfights late in part 6.

Here's Part 1:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Stunted Growth

"Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore is threatening to organize a boycott of Connecticut in response to Sen. Joseph Lieberman's opposition to key parts of federal health care legislation."

These kinds of silly stunts generally have no effect--unless the desired effect is to get Michael Moore in the news. But since the health care reform under consideration is highly unpopular, does he really want to go down this path? If there's any boycotting to be done, it'll be against those who side with Moore. (And I promise to call that a silly stunt, too.)

PS This is actually one of the nicer attacks Liebermans' seen lately.

We'll Be Singing The Songs We Love To Sing

For years I've been performing Christmas carols with a group at old peoples' homes. Today's our day. So I thought I'd list, alphabetically, my top twenty favorite Christmas songs to perform. (Not necessarily to listen to.)

Looking at the list, I see I tend to prefer contemporary and bouncy:

"The Chipmunk Song"

"Deck The Halls"

"Feliz Navidad"

"Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"

"Hark The Herald Angels Sing"

"A Holly Jolly Christmas"

"It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas" (all the words)

"Jingle Bell Rock"

"Joy To The World"

"Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" (we do a lot of songs about snow, though it never snows here)

"A Marshmallow World"

"O Little Town Of Bethlehem"

"Rest Ye Merry" (as we call it)

"Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree"

"Silent Night"

"We Three Kings Of Orient Are"

"We Wish You A Merry Christmas" (our big closer)

"White Christmas" (including the verse, which sets the song in Beverly Hills)

"Winter Wonderland"

That's only the top 19. I left my favorite for last:

"Sleigh Ride"

Kindle Motion

I mean to get me a Kindle one of these days. Until then, let me note I enjoy the animated commerical. I find it quite charming.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Grumpy And Dopey

As a radio host, Garrison Keillor is smart and funny. As a political writer, he's the opposite.

Some people are taking him to task for his latest column on Christmas. Particularly this part:

Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that's their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite "Silent Night." If you don't believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn "Silent Night" and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write "Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we'll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah"? No, we didn't.

However, the whole piece is so poorly written I can't tell if he's being ironic or not.

PS Tomorrow I will be listing my favorite songs when I go caroling, and the list will include a bunch of those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys.

Is Robert Duvall Worth Three Dollars?

Went to Century City to see Crazy Heart, a new film starring Jeff Bridges. It's about a washed up country singer, so I was surprised to see Robert Duvall costarring, since the last thing you think they'd want is to remind you of Tender Mercies.

The parking structure gave three free hours with a validated ticket, so I had twenty minutes after the movie to get to my car. After that, I had to pay three bucks.

Then as the credits come up, someone announces a special treat. The writer/director Scott Cooper would appear for some Q&A, and so would Robert Duvall. So I was in a quandary. Here was a chance to see a legend, in person. One of the greatest living actors. But if I didn't leave soon, three bucks out the window.

I stuck around. Here's what I learned for three bucks: Duvall looks pretty good for a guy pushing 80. Cooper's an actor who'd worked with him before, and they became friends. Cooper wrote the script based on a novel, Duvall liked it and signed on to produce. Another project fell through so he worked on this. Cooper had to work almost a year to get Bridges to agree to star--which apparently is par for the course. The original script had a darker ending (which I could see them setting up) but the money people insisted on something a little less down.

People are saying the role will finally win Bridges an Oscar. Maybe, but I don't think it'll be a hit. It was only playing in two theatres in town and the one I was in was only halfway packed for the first evening show.

All Or Nothing

I was surprised to see the complete Mary Tyler Moore DVD box set is rated so poorly at Amazon. It's as good a show as TV ever had. But here's what happened:

The first season was released to much fanfare, and with a lot of nice extras. Similar released were planned for all seven seasons. It soon became apparent, however, that (alas) demand had been overestimated. So soon only bare bones DVDs were put out. But by the fourth season they said screw it and just released the entire show all at once.

This means all the faithful fans who bought the first four seasons now have to buy them all over again to get the last three. (And despite what my friend Jon Hein, who created the Jump The Shark website, has said about the show, there was never any letdown in later seasons. Jon believes Mary changing apartments hurt the show, but I'd say, if anything, the show got better then, partly because with Rhoda and Phyllis gone they could concentrate on the superior office episodes.) I'd be pissed off too, except I already have them on videotape and haven't made the DVD plunge yet.

Bankrupt Claim

I've got to the point where I pretty much ignore all the silliness surrounding the health care bill. The name-calling, the lies, the empty promises, the bizarre claims, the crazy confidence, the ridiculous numbers, etc. Better to treat Congress as a black box where, I still believe, a law will eventually pop out and I can only hope it won't be too damaging.

But I still don't understand why Obama, who's doing his best to push the bill through four months after his first deadline passed, said if his health care legislation doesn't make it, the government "will go bankrupt."

This particular claim fails without requiring any knowledge of what's in the law (which, by the way, no one has yet, so it's odd to see the President being so certain of its effect).

It may be true we're heading for bankruptcy if we remain on our present path, but that doesn't mean our only hope is the particular bill under consideration. It doesn't even mean the bill will help. There's lots of other potential reform, and the President pretending otherwise makes him seem more close-minded than prescient.

Incidentally, here's a decent piece by Jacob Sullum on the President's speaking style. I guess all presidents have rhetorical tics, but I'm getting a bit tired of Obama's "make no mistake" and "there are those who...."

I wonder what it was like to be in the press 40 years ago, listening to Nixon's "let me make this perfectly clear" and "let me say this about that"?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Come To The Aid Of The Party

An NBC poll shows the Tea Party movement is polling better than either the Republicans or the Democrats. Not hard to believe. The donkey and the elephant are highly unpopular right now.

Can this be translated into a successful third party and electoral gains? That sure would be fun, but almost certainly not.

For one thing, there are institutional strengths the Dems and the Repubs enjoy that make them almost impossible to knock off except in minor elections here and there.

Second, the Tea Party is riding high on outrage right now. They haven't been screened closely yet (though the hysterical attacks from the left, admittedly, haven't hurt them) and when (or if?) the general outrage subsides, where will the Tea Party be?

Third, it'd only be a matter of time before part or all of the Tea Party is coopted by one or both of the major parties--that's always been how third parties have the most effect in American politics.

Nevertheless, I'm sure the Democrats would love to see the Tea Party make a go of it. Short of unemployment data doing a major reversal, I can't imagine anything else likely to help the Dems so much.

They Dared

Interesting article by Stephen Metcalf on The Replacements' 1984 masterpiece Let It Be. It may very well be the greatest album of the 80s. (Though I was a little insulted by Metcalf's first line: "This past October was the 25th anniversary of the best rock album you don't own.")

Metcalf also writes about the fractured existence of the 'Mats, natural screw-ups who got to be professional screw-ups. The band was led, like The Who, by one guy who wrote all the music. That probably made it even easier for them to fly apart.

But with Paul Westerberg responsible for their sound, lead guitarist Bob Stinson was maybe more responsible for their image. Fans knew he was trouble. And in trouble. Even in a band of screw-ups, he was the unstable one. Metcalf traces the sad arc of Stinson's life. But he goes a bit far:

Unlike Morrissey, who requires the services of a paid collaborator, Westerberg wrote the melodies, the words, and all of the band's guitar parts, as Bob Stinson once admitted. And yet he's never made a great record without Bob Stinson.

That's too much. Bob contributed, but the band was still an extention of Paul more than anything else.

Well Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah!

I've met David Ehrenstein a couple times and he seemed perfectly normal, but some of the stuff he writes is pretty bizarre.

Take the latest LA Weekly. He has a mini-essay, "Uncle Remus Redux," where he discusses Disney and race:

When he arrives at the plantation, Johnny asks, “Is Uncle Remus real?” indicating that this apparent servant’s legend has already traveled far and wide. Indeed it has, and not just for Johnny. For the entire purpose of African-Americans — in life as well as in art — is to soothe the troubled souls of whites. McDaniel’s Mammy did it in Gone With the Wind. And so does Oprah today.

I think you'd get a fight from Oprah on that. She's run a very successful show for many years by appealing to the mainstream. Is something wrong with that? I have no idea what Oprah is personally like, but I don't see how she had to sell out (any more than any performer does) to be popular--she's (or so I've heard--don't really watch her) a charming personality who puts on a better show than her many competitors in the dog-eat-dog world of television. Being charming and entertaining is not a racial thing. Is Ehrenstein insisting blacks ghettoize themselves?

I might add a lot of African-Americans make a good living creating entertainment that's supposed to be anything but soothing to the mainstream. Good for them, but what they're doing is no more "authentic" than what Oprah does.

Consequently, the time is ripe for Song of the South’s return, as disenchantment with President Obama grows on the left, just as his very existence has unleashed a tsunami of racism on the right.

Where is this tsunami I keep hearing about? I haven't noticed more racism than usual. I guess there's been more criticism of a (partially) black man, but that's because he's President. Does the left confuse this with racism?

As for the left's disenchantment, that's their own fault. If they don't understand that Obama (who got elected by appearing to be more moderate than he actually is) is about as far left as a President can get, that's due to their lack of understanding of this country.

PS Here's how Ehrenstein ends his piece: the popular cultural imagination, Uncle Walt has come to be seen as a panacea on par with Uncle Remus himself. As usual in fantasy-besotted America, “It’s the truth, it’s natural,” especially when everything is considerably less than “satisfactual.”

This really bothers me. The lyric is "It's the truth, it's actual / Everything is satisfactual" They might have written some crappy songs back before rock, but they knew how to rhyme--especially when they were creating a new word just so the rhyme could work.

Jennifer Jones

It seems like every week some old star passes away--one that everyone figured was already gone.

Jennifer Jones has died. There aren't too many major stars from the WWII era (and earlier) still around. She actually didn't make that many films--about 25--most from 1943 to 1957. (She turned 40 in 1959--was that the end of the ride?) But among movie fans, she's remembered as a sexy brunette who was always an interesting screen presence.

She may be best known for her Oscar-winning screen debut (not including some minor, earlier work) in The Song Of Bernadette. She does a good job, but I think the film is a bit draggy and she'd go on to do far more interesting things.

It was during this period she met bigtime producer David O. Selznick, and they fell in love. She dropped her first husband, actor Robert Walker, and married Selnick. They stayed together till his death (she later married Norton Simon of museum fame) and he tried to shape her career.

It's far from certain his choices for her were helpful. He wanted his Duel In The Sun to be another Gone With The Wind, which I guess makes Jones the new Vivien Leigh, but the film fell far short. For that matter, I can't say I'm a big fan of many of her big, classy roles in films such as Since You Went Away, Madame Bovary, Carrie or Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing.

But when she got to do quirkier projects, her more charming, mercurial side got out. What roles? Well, her con-woman in Beat The Devil, her plumber in Cluny Brown and the ghostly but still very real title role in Portrait Of Jennie. She might have even done more exciting roles but, apparently, Selznick had a certain image of her and prevented her from fully spreading her wings. But what we did get was pretty good.

(BTW, knowing about the Jones/Selznick marriage won me $500 dollars on Jeopardy!.)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Odd Plan

Sensing trouble in 2010, Nancy Pelosi has announced "I'm in campaign mode."

What does this mean? The linked article has an idea:

Pelosi began telling members privately last week that she would not bring controversial bills — such as immigration reform and “card-check” — to the floor unless they’ve already passed the Senate, an early indication that her legislative plan for 2010 will be far less ambitious than the one she just completed.

So being in "campaign mode" means no longer supporting things you believe in? And then if the Dems do well in 2010, start supporting them again? So you only pass laws opposed by the people who voted for you on off years?

Stray Thought

Why is it when someone insists "I'm not stupid!" that's usually when I start thinking this guy's stupid.

Hi Hi

I just read Cloris Leachman's autobiography, redundantly titled My Autobiography. The first third is generally about her early days, the middle a scattershot approach to her career and friends, the final third about her husband and kids. I enjoyed it, but as it's not written or arranged in a conventional manner, I think it will frustrate a lot of readers.

I mostly wanted to know what she had to say about The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Alas, that section was short, even though her performance as Phyllis Lindstrom is probably what she's best remembered for. But I guess with a six-decade career, you can't expect her to concentrate on a few years of her life.

She's done it all. She was a Miss America contestant and worked with the Actors Studio. She had a major Broadway career, won nine Emmys (a record) and an Oscar. She's done top-notch work in both comedy (such as her stuff for Mel Brooks) and straight drama. And she keeps doing good work. When others have long retired, she won her latest Emmy at the age of 80 for her work on Malcolm In The Middle as Grandma Ida. After that, she appeared on Dancing With The Stars.

But she'll always be Phyllis to me.

Please Enlighten Me

Here's an article by Dennis Prager, a conservative, asking "Have We Stopped Trying To Make Good People?"

The short answer is no, we haven't. If we were trying to make good people in the past (which the title assumes), then we're still trying today. Prager doubts this, because he feels leftist thinking has taken over. Unfortunately, rather than present serious evidence as to why this would mean we don't try to make good people, he seems to base his argument on a caricature of the Left (where we blame society for everything, not the individual).

But I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about this:

One cannot make a good society if one does not begin with the arduous task of making good individuals. Both Judaism and Christianity begin with the premise that man is not basically good and therefore regard man’s nature as the root of cause of evil.

This may sound basic and even obvious, but it is not. In the Western world since the Enlightenment, belief in the inherent goodness of human beings has taken over.

This is one of the most frightening things about modern conservatives. So many seem to have a "thing" about the Enlightenment. More than once I've been reading something by a conservative and, out of nowhere, he condemns the Enlightenment and its influence.

I don't know about you, but I like the Enlightenment. Conservatives seem to associate it with certain leftist ideas (such as Rousseau's inherent goodness of human beings), but Enlightenment thinkers took different sides on many issues. Their great gift to us was support for critical thinking, evidence over authority, reason over superstition and a concentration on basic human rights. America and its Founding Fathers were children of the Enlightenment.

I don't understand why conservatives keep talking it down, since I'd think they'd want to say much of what they believe today can be traced to the Enlightenment. In fact, if you want to see what a group not influenced by the Enlightenment looks like, it's easy--we're fighting a war with them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

They Should Be Saying Booooo

I very much enjoyed the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert. Of course, it's always been questionable that rock and roll is meant for a museum, and now the museum itself is an august institution.

Ah well, let's just enjoy the music. And mostly I did, with an amazing group of performers (to mention but a few, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, CSN and Simon and Garfunkel) doing many classic songs--their own and covers.

There was just one moment I found annoying. (So of course, that's what I'm blogging about.) Springsteen, as he so often does these days, went off on a Woody Guthrie-like populist rant. Among the things he railed against: Wall Street and its high-living ways.

This is what I hate about populism. It appeals to the worst in us, picking a group to blame for our problems and asking for Two Minutes Hate. Wall Street was certainly part of the problem (though if you want to blame them alone, will you give them credit for the properous years before the crash?), but the whole story is obviously about much more.

But even worse, to single out their high-living ways for resentment? Who cares? Or let me put it another way. I'm guessing that just about everyone on Wall Street wishes they could live like Bruce Springsteen.

It's A Wonderful Life

Tony Curtis strikes me as an unhappy guy. I can't say for sure, but after reading his memoir, American Prince, he certainly seems unhappy. He opens up, talking about affairs and drug use, but what I remember most is his complaining.

He had a rough childhood, but he never seems to have shaken it off. He became a big movie star while still in his 20s, but kept that chip on his shoulder. He doesn't feel as a poor Jew he was ever accepted by the Wasp royalty of Hollywood. Really? I would think Hollywood would be the one place where formerly poor Jews could feel at home.

He feels he never got the parts he deserved. Well, maybe he wasn't treated like Marlon Brando, and had to suffer through a lot of cheesy roles at Universal, but he eventually got to star in some major films: Sweet Smell Of Success, The Defiant Ones (Oscar nomination), Some Like It Hot, Spartacus, The Boston Strangler.

He then complains about how his career wasn't so hot once he got older. Well, it it happens to a lot of stars. You were on top for almost two decades. That's two decades more than most people get.

He also complains about his lack of success at marriage. I don't know why he's been married a bunch of time, but perhaps it was all those affairs he describes.

I'm glad he's open and honest in his memoir. But really, was it all that unpleasant?

I actually saw him once at a tribute at the Egyptian Theatre. He was telling stories and he noticed someone in the audience taping him. He told the guy to stop. Always complaining.

Below PAR

I've heard from several sources that Parks And Recreation has come into its own. Sorry, I'm not seeing it. I enjoy its lead-in, Community, more each week, but Parks And Recreation still doesn't do it for me.

The central character, Leslie Knope, played by Amy Poehler, isn't that compelling. She a well-meaning screwup, but it's hard to get excited about her misadventures in government. Much worse is the unfunny love triangle with Ann, Mark and Andy. These characters hardly have anything to do with the show, anyway.

I sort of like Aubrey Plaza as April, but the only character who's actually working better than expected is Nick Offerman's Ron.

PS At the official website, they offer a series of politically incorrect murals from Pawnee. This is part of a running gag on the show, and it's not bad, but look at the description of this mural:

Pawnee would never have survived if settlers hadn't figured out ways to peacefully co-exist with their Native American neighbors. They would come together at "trading posts" to exchange food and goods. Sort of like a flea market, with a high risk of intentional small pox

It amazes me how quickly this small pox germ warfare myth has taken root. About twenty years ago or so, I don't think it was in the popular consciousness. Now it's so widely accepted that jokewriters can assume it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Rock Hall nominees include The Stooges"

First thought on the above headline (link is in the title) was did they include Shemp?

Also how does Abba or ABBA (guess the copy editor couldn't decide) qualify as a rock band? Getting inducted into the RHOF seems kind of like getting a gig on one of the late night TV shows- hang around long enough and you'll get on. A more accurate but less catchy title would be the Pop Music Hall of Fame (since 1950 minus the squares). Also having the KISS (Kiss?) Army protest is worth not not voting them in- that sounds more fun than the induction ceremony.

Is Genesis really art-rock? I would have put them more in the corporate rock category. Maybe there's a dividing line for before and after Peter Gabriel.

Lost Lost Horizon

TCM just showed Lost Horizon, the not-so-great "classic" from Frank Capra. TCM host Robert Osborne introduced it with the story of how it was Columbia's most expensive film and suffered a horrible preview. So far, so true. But then he said Capra tossed out the lengthy prologue and the film played well after that.

This is the story Capra tried to sell in his very entertaining but often fictional autobiography The Name Above The Title. In fact, it wasn't so simple. There was a lot of cuttingm affecting the whole film, much of it done without Capra.

No big deal. I'm just surprised that TCM, which usually gets it right, accepted the legend rather than the fact.

Come Fly Away

I recently read Samuel Taylor's The Pleasure Of His Company, a minor Broadway hit from the late 50s. It's the story of a jetsetting divorced father returning home to see his daughter, whom he hardly knows, get married. He shows her a potentially exciting new life and at the end she decides to run away with him. Of course, she says she'll be gone for a year and then return to her beau, but who knows how it'll turn out.

Taylor is the sort of middlebrow sophisticate who could thrive on the Broadway of the 50s, a type that is essentially extinct today, or perhaps moved on to television.

I read the play because I've seen the 1961 movie starring Fred Astaire--in a non-musical role--and Debbie Reynolds (the only cast member from Broadway who made it into the movie was Charles Ruggles, who was already well established on the screen), and I'm always fascinated to see how movies made under the Production Code diverge from the source material.

As you might expect, the movie has Astaire charm his daughter to death. But running away with him was too much to ask of an early 60s audience. In the end, she rejects him and goes with fiance Tab Hunter. I bet if the movie had been made just a few years later (say, 1967, the year of The Graduate) they could have kept the original ending.

The Song Is You

Let me recommend How The Beatles Destroyed Rock 'N' Roll by Elijah Wald. But first, the awful title. It does the book a disservice. It's not really about the Beatles (and it's not anti-Beatles), who don't make their appearance until the book is 90% over. It's not even about rock 'n' roll. I'm sure they chose the title because it's a grabber, and books about The Beatles sell.

The book should be known by its subtitle: An Alternative History Of American Popular Music. Wald wants you to look at the 20th century differently. Most musical histories are written by fans, and they prefer certain types of music, while ignoring a lot of stuff that was quite popular. Look at the 50s, for example. Elvis may have been the biggest act, but #2 was Pat Boone. Jazz fans today idolize Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, but much more popular in their day were Paul Whiteman and Guy Lombardo. Not only that--Ellington and Armstrong were influenced by Whiteman and Lombardo, though aficionados would like to deny or forget that. For that matter, Armstrong is remembered for his recordings with the Hot Five and the Hot Seven, but that represents several sessions with a group of musician he didn't regularly work with. Armstrong spent most of his time in those days playing dance music with other bands.

Wald's book is helpful is explaining how music went from cakewalks to ragtime to jazz to swing to rock, and how the medium changed from sheet music to recordings to radio. The writing is sometimes a bit dry, and I think Wald is less helpful once the rock era starts, but his book is a useful revision to what's become the conventional view about pop music of the past.

Pick Of The Picks

The Writers Guild TV nominations for 2009 are out. I often disagree with the Guild on movies, but they've got pretty good taste when it comes to the small screen.

For best drama, they picked my three favorites shows (plus two others), Lost, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. No Big Bang for comedy, and what's Glee doing there, but no one could be surprised by 30 Rock, The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm (even if the last is a scenario-led show). The final slot is filled by Modern Family, which I question, but they could have done a lot worse.

As for particular episode nominations, I have a few quibbles.

For best drama, they picked two from Mad Men, "Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency" and "The Grown Ups." The first, definitely. The second, taking place with a backdrop of the JFK assassination wasn't so great--I think the Guild is giving them extra points for mistaken seriousness. Better would be "Shut The Door, Have A Seat."

I'll give them credit for "Phoenix," one of the better episodes of Breaking Bad, though it was a season of good episodes.

For House, they picked the worst of a weak season--the two-hour opener where he's stuck in a mental hospital. I thought it stood out as bad, but the kind of badness that seems significant and regularly impresses the WGA (though more often in movie nominations).

Worst of all, nothing from Lost.

For comedy, two Offices, two 30 Rocks, one Eastbound & Down (huh?) and Modern Family's pilot. Not especially inspired picks, but worse, where's the Seinfeld reunion on Curb Your Enthusiasm?

Monday, December 14, 2009


Here's a story about a Manhattan couple living in a 175-square-foot apartment. Check out the photos. It's interesting to see what's important to them.

Still bigger than my dorm room.


Today is Spike Jones' birthday, but we should celebrate him all year 'round.

Pray Tell

Just a rotten article from Dahlia Lithwick on the religious makeup of the Supreme Court. At present, it's six Catholics, two Jews and one Protestant, and that Protestant is retiring. She notes we talk about the race and sex of nominees, but not their religion. And instead of celebrating that fact, she wants us to worry about it

She's desperate enough to cite Geoff Stone, who's been making insane pronouncements for years on the issue.

Remember when it was a great civil rights gain that you couldn't be asked about your religion as a job qualification? I suppose if we get enough Dahlia Lithwicks, those ugly days may yet return. (Not that I think she believes what she says. She just doesn't like the politics of most of the Catholics on the Court.)

PS Lithwick notes in passing:

The country is as religiously divided as it's ever been.

I'd say American history strongly suggests this isn't true.

Merry Christmas (Recession Is Over)

White House economic advisor Larry Summers says "everybody agrees that the recession is over."

He may be right it's over. I certainly hope it is. He may even be right that everyone he talks to says so. But this is the sort of tone deaf statement that the White House doesn't need. The opposition will seize on it and make it look like Obama and his people are out of touch.

There's always a tricky balance to maintain with bad news, real or perceived. You can't talk down your side, saying things are horrible and it's our fault. And a year into a new administration, it gets tougher to claim it's the last guy's fault--you get to blame the other guy when you're running for office, less so when you're running the country. On the other hand, if you give a rosy scenario when things stink, people believe you're not living in the real world.

So you have to be cautiously optimistic while admitting there are problems that must be dealt with. Unfortunately, Summers crossed the line. If the economy grows and, more important, unemployment declines precipitously, all will be forgiven. But until then, someone should take him out to the woodshed.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

End Of The World

So As The World Turns has been canceled after 54 years and over 13,000 episodes. I never watched a second, but it must be stunning to fans. It would be like a whole bunch of friends dying in an accident.

Merry Crimble

The Beatles recorded a Christmas song, but never officially released it. They sent it to out via their annual present to fans. It just a doodle and never caught on, but it's pretty catchy.

But both John and Paul, as solo acts, recorded their own Christmas song. Neither was exactly a hit, but the songs get played a lot this time of year.

John, as you might expect, had a message--war is over (if you want it). He even took out billboards to that effect. I admire how he put his money where his mouth is, though the effectiveness of his campaign is still highly in doubt.

It's not a bad tune, but it doesn't rank with his best solo work, much less his Beatles' stuff.

Then there's Paul's tune. It's regularly attacked as being too poppy (a popish plot!) and mindess. People use John's anthem to beat Paul over the head with, but I'll take a well-crafted tune over grandiose but vague wishes any day.

It's been 30 years since Paul recorded this, and I hope it's not too heretical to say I prefer it to John's song.

Message From Martha

The New York Times Sunday Magazine has an interview with Martha Nussbaum, the "eminent philosopher at the University of Chicago." (I've spoken to Nussbaum a few times, but I wouldn't say I know her personally.)

The main point of the interview, as well as her latest book, is disgust. Disgust, she explains, is a major reason for opposition to same-sex marriage. As she puts it:

What is it that makes people think that a same-sex couple living next door would defile or taint their own marriage when they don’t think that, let’s say, some flaky heterosexual living next door would taint their marriage? At some level, disgust is still operating.

I agree that disgust plays an important--if often hidden--role in our political opinions. What just feels wrong to us informs very strongly how we vote.

Of course, people generally don't admit this. They make intellectual arguments to explain why they vote as they do.

I wonder what disgusts Nussbaum?

Later she notes:

If I thought of getting married, I would worry that I was taking advantage of a privilege that I have that a same-sex couple wouldn’t have.

I don't get that at all. If slavery were still around (and actually, it is), would she refuse to partake in any freedom?

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