Saturday, January 31, 2009

You Know Who You Are

We've had a spike in hits over the past 24 hours. Obviously, someone has linked to us, but I don't know who. Anybody have any idea?

I Had My Suspicions

Someone at NPR did a better job than I at pointing out the suspicious aspects of the Dating A Banker Anonymous supposed-support-group. I'm not sure it matters at all, except insofar as it further sullies the NYTimes' reputation for fact-checking.

Dumb Luck

Lucky Numbers was on TV and I pressed the information button. It was described as "Nora Ephron's amiable comedy." Who writes these descriptions? I saw the film years ago and I'd say it would be better described as a dark, harsh, unpleasant comedy.

Apology Not Accepted

We've already discussed Bishop Williamson, a Holocaust denier, and the Pope, who has lifted his excommunication. Williamson has sent a letter of apology to the Vatican. I don't know the full text, but here's the part that's been reported:

Amidst this tremendous media storm stirred up by imprudent remarks of mine on Swedish television, I beg of you to accept, only as is properly respectful, my sincere regrets for having caused to yourself and to the Holy Father so much unnecessary distress and problems.

So there you have it. He doesn't seem to be admitting he's wrong. I'd think that would be the absolute minimum he must do.

Don't Watch This

I ran across this video that looks at two old Ann Arbor haunts, the Fleetwood Diner and Blimpy Burgers. I didn't know the Fleetwood was still open.

If you haven't been there, you will find this intensely dull:

Friday, January 30, 2009

Chilling

No doubt, this is probably a re-tread of an old joke but some scribe at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette decided to have some fun (or maybe its just unknowing subtext) with the name of the Penguin's newly signed player this year in the following story (I clicked on the headline thinking it was about a revival)

"Satan aware he needs to pick up goal pace"

...Satan said. "It's nothing unusual."... Because he isn't a superstitious sort

"Keep shooting," Satan said. "Don't think about it. Eventually, if you get enough chances, you're going to break the spell."

Satan... is most dangerous when he's relatively close ...

Satan understands that kind of thinking and insists that he knows the formula ...

...Satan gets against the Devils tonight...
Note: In the news articles, the PG adopts the NYT style of calling everyone "Mr." [Although if the story referred to "Mr. Satan", it might have been even a little weirder]

Semi-related note: One of the broadcasters when I was kid used to love to tell the story about college basketball player Johnny Yuren (sp?) and how he dribbled down the court.

More on the Lottery

LAGuy's post earlier today about why folks might choose one lottery over another has inspired me to do the math on something I've been pondering, i.e. leaving aside all other players and all lesser prizes, how much bigger does the Mega jackpot need to be for it to make more sense to play Mega than Lotto here in NY?

I'm in a lottery pool at work with 11 co-workers, just purely to be social. We each purchase $24 worth of tickets once every 12 weeks, taking turns. Here in NY we have Lotto and MegaMillions, and it's up to the person purchasing that week to decide what ratio of Lotto to Mega to purchase. So I thought I might want to know which was more rational to "favor" each week. To win Mega you must match five different numbers from 1 to 56 and one number from a separate pool of 1 to 46. To win Lotto you must match six different numbers from one pool of 1 to 59. Lotto tickets cost half of what Mega tickets do (i.e. they give you two for a buck).

First, the odds on winning Mega. Five numbers can be randomly selected from a field of 56 in 3,819,816 ways. (I used COMBIN(56,5) in Excel as a shortcut.) Adding in the final separate pool of 46 gives you 3,819,816 x 46 = 175,711,536. So your odds on any random Mega ticket winning the jackpot are one in 175.7 million. Meaning, of course, that it only makes sense to play Mega when the after-tax cash payout exceeds $176 million (leaving aside smaller payouts), but I'm not trying to dispute that the lottery is a tax on those who are bad at math. I'm just trying to figure out which one taxes us at a higher rate.

Doing the same formula COMBIN(59,6) for regular lotto gives you a one in 45,057,474 chance. Halve that, since the ticket effectively only costs $.50, and you get one in 22.5 million, approximately. Meaning that playing lotto only makes financial sense once the jackpot goes above $22.5 millionish.

Divide the probability of winning Mega by the probability of winning Lotto and you get 175.5/22.5 = 7.8. So as a rough working answer, it makes more sense to play Mega when it's at least 8 times as big as the Lotto jackpot. Of course, it never makes real sense to split your bets between the two games -- as we always do -- because one is always a better bet than the other. But as I said, this is mostly a social thing, and people gain utility from the anticipation/fantasizing/checking-the-numbers process for each drawing.

I'd bet there's a similar number for LAGuy's local drawings, but I'm not interested enough to do the research or math.

She Won't Even Have To Move

I see my old friend Lisa Heinzerling will be serving at the EPA. She taught at Georgetown and we'd have lunch on the rare occasions I was in town. Her specialty is environmental issues and she was a big critic of the Bush administration, so I guess she's right where she should be.

Who Needs An Extra 26 Million?

When you have two similar products, say, Drano and Liquid-Plumr, that are thought to be of the same quality and are often sold next to each other, it's rare you'll see much price variation. Even a cent or two difference would be decisive to a large portion of consumers.

Anyway, that's what I was thinking until I was at a newspaper stand yesterday. It's an outlet, like so many other places, for California Lottery tickets. And they list the latest prize money available.

Apparently, there are two big lotteries going on, Mega Millions and Super Lotto Plus, but they're the same sort of game. However, the payoffs aren't close. As of this writing, the former is worth 40 million and the latter 66 million. Since it's just as easy to get one ticket as the other, why would anyone not go for the bigger sum? (Eventually, someone will win and I guess that's when everyone else would switch to the other game.) I know, it's illogical to buy a ticket in the first place, but as long as you're gonna do it...

The Piper Payer

President Barack Obama Thursday furiously slammed Wall Street titans who raked in billions in bonuses while taxpayers bailed out their industry as "shameful" and guilty of acute "irresponsibility."

Normally, my response would be to ask how this is any of Obama's business. But as long as the government is giving these companies money, this is the kind of slam they'll have to expect. Here's hoping no one gets used to it--business or government.

PS I don't know what the AP stylebook has to say, but man do they try to make it clear Obama is really mad. From the first three sentences: "President Barack Obama Thursday furiously slammed Wall Street titans," "Obama, anger flashing across his usually calm countenance," "The president's ire."

Overbroad

I recently saw Overboard (1987) for the first time since it opened. Goldie Hawn had been a movie star for almost 20 years when this romantic comedy came out. She was in her early 40s, a ticklish time for any female star.

The film wasn't respected by the critics and wasn't a hit (though not a total flop). I can understand why. Hawn's rich bitch character, who dominates the first act, seems to be a refugee from a bad 1930s movie, and the plot is absurd. Hawns hires a carpenter (Kurt Russell) and after he fails to meet her mercurial demands, doesn't pay him. She falls off her boat and washes ashore with a case of amnesia. Her husband (Edward Herrmann) is glad to be rid of her, so Russell pretends she's his wife. He then exacts his revenge by having her clean his house and raise his four boys. The punishment is so cruel it's hard to laugh.

What's fascinating about the movie is after starting out with such one-dimensional characters stuck in a fairly unfunny farce, when they finally start to melt, the movie starts to work, at least a bit. (I'm always fascinated by how far you can go with unrealistic gags and still have the audience care about the characters--look how far they go in There's Something About Mary and still keep the central romance going.)

I'm not saying I highly recommend it, but I'd rather watch Overboard than director Garry Marshall's next two films, one a hit, the other a blockbuster--Beaches and Pretty Woman.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I Need Answers

I paged through Why Do Men Have Nipples?. Disappointing. A lot of it was interstitial, unfunny attempts at humor meant to puff up the book to proper length. Worse, the answers didn't seem to go into much depth, and some didn't even seem to actually answer the question at hand.

For this sort of thing, I'd still recommend The Straight Dope.

Local Hero


I just saw Jumper*, a not very good film (with a troubled production history) about a guy who can teleport. I only bring it up to note that, though the action takes place all over the world, it's based in Ann Arbor, and seems to have been filmed there. Just like Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino was, to my surprise, set in Detroit, and filmed there, too.

If you live in Los Angeles, or New York, or even Chicago, you don't get that excited if a film is set in your city. But somehow, it's still a thrill to see something from Michigan.

*No relation to Tom Stoppard's Jumpers.

Me Robot

Isaac Asimov's Three Rules Of Robotics is a brilliant idea, even if it is silly. I mean, the concept behind the rules are really cool, philosophically speaking, and make for good stories. (The Zeroth and Minus One rules are stupid add-ons that make his robots less interesting.) But they're silly because even though you might expect basic safety measures to be used for appliances, why would these particular rules be used and how could they be implemented?

But then, part of the fun of science fiction is guessing how things will work out, not whether you're accurate. I was thinking about that when re-reading the first story in his I, Robot collection, "Robbie." It's not the first one he wrote, but it's the first chronologically in the life of protagonist Susan Calvin. It's fascinating that Asimov's early robots are able to manage the tricky calculus that the Three Laws engender, before anyone had come up with the technical solution that allowed robots to talk.

But fine, he loves the Three Laws, so they're always going to be there. The other thing that Asimov figured would be licked easily is the devilishly tricky business of designing robots to physically get around and do various tasks in virtually any setting. Back in the 40s and 50s, I suppose people were noticing so many mechanical problems being solved, while computing as we understand it was in a primitive stage. It would have been great if someone sat down the top sf writers in 1950 and asked them in what order will these three events happen? 1) The invention of a machine that can walk around your house picking up after you. 2) A spaceship that takes us to the moon and back. 3) A small machine that can beat you at chess.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Strokes, Envelopes & Chase Scenes

Have used the phrase "down to the short strokes" to mean "we are almost done here" or "we only have one or two things left to deal with." Heard co-workers use it earlier and just picked it up. Today someone not familiar with the lingo suggested the phrase might have a sexual allusion (if you don't get it , ask the attuned-to-filthy-meanings "If U Seek Amy" commenter). Of course I was a little horrified and said no it wasn't but now I can only think of the .. uh, indelicate meaning now and can't think of what it really refers to- Does it have something to do with swimming or crew or the Navy (which, if it were, wouldn't rule out the sexual meaning necessarily) ?

Which leads to other mindless phrases (mindless in the sense that while I know what they mean, I don't know why the particular words are used) like "pushing the envelope" - meaning trying to stretch something beyond its regular limit (usually what's permitted under the rules). I always thought this banally referred to over-stuffing an envelope to the point of bursting- but is that right? You don't really "push" anything when you fill an envelope. Wouldn't you say "stuffing the envelope." Or I am missing this and its something about sliding an envelope under a door?

Also "cut to the chase"- meaning "get to the point" and I think it refers to a "chase scene" in a movie or TV episode. But this only makes sense if the "chase scene" contains the resolution of the plot. However, often chase scenes just show more rising action- so are people really saying- "let's get to the exciting action scene preliminary to plot resolution" or "Lets argue emphatically some more" ?

The One

As mentioned earlier, I was born in Pittsburgh, came of age as a Steeler fan during the the Superbowl years and consider myself a huge fan, but this official logo really really worries me.

Could Be Worse--Or Could They?

Much to my surprise, I agree with this list of overrated films.

Damn You, SAG

The winners of the SAG awards become the favorites in their Oscar categories, which suggests most of the guesses I made are wrong.

Sure, I expected Heath Ledger to win Supporting Actor, and Slumdog Millionaire for Best Picture, but the closer calls I got wrong. Instead of Viola Davis for Supporting Actress, Kate Winslet won (did Amy Adams split the vote?). Sean Penn, alas, beat Mickey Rourke. Finally, Meryl Streep, Lord help us, won best Actress over Anne Hathaway. The Oscars rarely track completely with the SAGs, but I can't imagine they're all wrong.

Hi Bob

I recently listened to Bob Newhart's I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This!. Sure, there's a book, but Newhart is a famed monologist, so I figured the book on tape was preferable.

One thing shocked me. He discussed growing up in a two-team town, Chicago. Some were Cubs fans, some White Sox fans. Newhart grew up on the west side (near Oak Park) and was a Cubs fan. But then he mentioned where they played. He said the Cubs were in Wrigley Field and the White Sox in U. S. Cellular Field. Maybe he was trying to sound up-to-date, but every baseball fan knows the White Sox played for decades--including all of Bob Newhart's childhood--in Comiskey Park.

John Updike

A new novel from John Updike was practically an annual tradition. Not that I read them all, but it was always a good to know he'd be returning to the bookstore soon. Updike has just died. I wasn't aware he was ailing.

He was a mster of the novel (above all), the short story and the essay. (Don't really know his poetry.) Considering his massive output, it's amazing how consistently high the quality is. I've read about ten of his books and I'd recommend them all. I guess if you're new to his work, you should start with the Rabbit books, though I also like Bech (his Jewish alter-ego).

He mixed penetrating insight--particularly into the American soul--and a rare facility with language. I don't know if there was a better living novelist. Add him to the list of worthies who will never win the Nobel Prize.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Film Year In Review--2008

Another year, another annual film roundup. There were a fair amount of decent films out there, but not too many really good ones.

As always, I will discuss only feature films released theatrically, or available for the first time in America theatrically, in 2008. I'll give out some awards, note some trends, and at the end, list my top ten. If you disagree, you can always leave a comment.

Overall, 2008--moneywise, anyway--was the year of superheroes, cartoons and chick flicks. Yeah, it always is (for the first two, certainly), but more than ever this year. Of the top twelve films, five were superhero films of one sort of another (including the top four), four were animated and three were chick flicks (Twilight being a teen chick flick). I've never seen such total domination.

It was also a year when I disagreed with the critics even more than usual, as you'll perhaps notice by what follows.


Special Awards And Private Thoughts

Good Sport Award: In 2008, beautiful and charming Elizabeth Banks got to be the love interest to a smart-ass loser, a chubby loser, a spaceship and George W. Bush.

Most Pro-American Film: Harold And Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay--really captures the open spirit of America.

Will Smith Saves The World (Again) Award: He goes from bad superhero to good superhero in Hancock, and then (spoiler, I guess, though the film was spoiled a long time ago) kills himself to save a bunch of others in Seven Pounds. Will Smith is one of the most likable stars around, but you can overdo it.

Umberto D Award For Melodrama With A Dog: Tie--Wendy and Lucy and Marley & Me

Most Memorable Moment: Let The Right One In, the pool

New Hottie Award: Tie--Rebecca Hall from Frost/Nixon and Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Freida Pinto from Slumdog Millionaire.

Best Ending: After a climactic moment, Burn After Reading has about ten more scenes to go. Instead, they cut to J.K. Simmons who wraps it up with a few funny lines.

Most Infuriating Film: Dear Zachary. You need to see it to know why.

Macbeth Award For Most Ambition: Charlie Kaufman tries to take on the entirety of life in Synecdoche, New York. Some fine moments, even if it doesn't work.

Worst Documentary Of The Decade: Maybe the century. I just can't see anything coming out that'll be worse than Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which manages to be dishonest in ways not even Michael Moore imagined.

Franco Still Dead Award: I've never been a fan of James Franco. To his credit, he stretched beyond pretty boy roles in 2008--he was an out-of-it drug dealer in Pineapple Express, and Harvey Milk's lover in Milk. But I still don't think he did much of a job.

You WANT Credit For This Award?: George Clooney lost a fight to get a writing credit for his film Leatherheads. Why? I saw the films about 9 months ago, but I can still remember every ridiculous story beat. It's the early days of pro football and George Clooney is trying to save his team. He makes an offer to a big college star (John Krasinski), but he brings nothing to the table, so why does anyone care? Later, he and love interest Renee Zellweger escape from a police raid. It's not clear why they need to, and even less clear why they keep on escaping after they seem to have gotten away. Next, Clooney and Krasinski have an unmotivated fistfight over Zellweger. Late in the film, we meet the newly named Commissioner of Football, a character we don't care about doing stuff that makes no difference to us. He calls in the main characters for a big meeting to resolve a dispute we don't care about, which is then settled by a pointless and unnecessary strategem by Clooney. But at least before then, we get to see the commissioner demand a retraction from the press, so apparently he's also been named Commissioner of Newspapers. Finally, it all comes down to the big game, where--I swear--there is nothing riding on the outcome and we don't care who wins.

Biggest Good Movie To Bad Title Ratio: Slumdog Millionaire.

Most Indelible Characters: Both from the same movie, Happy-Go-Lucky. Sally Hawkins plays, as it were, the title character, while Eddie Marsan is the angry, bigoted driving instructor. Needless to say, neither are nominated for Oscars.

Holy Fool Watch: Perhaps my least favorite character type is the holy fool--the crazy person who speaks the truth. In fact, he's been driven crazy because he knows the truth. This is a literary conceit that might work in a novel, or maybe a play, but is always annoying in a movie. (In real life, a crazy person is not your go-to go for piercing insights.) Former examples--Mark Wahlberg in I Heart Huckabees and Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton. This year's example, Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road. Needless to say, he's received an Oscar nomination.

Biggest Anti-Climax (or I see more dead people): From M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening. Here's the plot: plants (we're led to believe), responding to overcrowding, make humans kill themselves. After there's a lot of death in the Northeast of America, it stops. Then....it happens again in Europe? Why wouldn't it?

I Want To Like It, Honest: Two films about 50s music which I love, Cadillac Records (why use real names of artists but not call it Chess Records?) and The Dukes, just don't cut it. The Dukes especially promises to be about an old bunch of doo-wop singers getting back together, but instead it's all about a crime they pull.

Least Romantic Love Scene: Zack And Miri Make a Porno. In a huge miscalculation (though I'll give him credit for trying), Kevin Smith has two people realize they've always loved each other when they have sex for the first time while appearing in a porno.

Parody Award: Late in his career, John Wayne had a huge hit when he parodied himself in True Grit. Now it looks like Clint Eastwood has his biggest hit ever when he parodies his old character (which I never liked that much to begin with) in Gran Torino.


Comeback Award: Guess it has to go to Mickey Rourke, who really is quite good in The Wrestler.

Don't Bring 'Em Back Award: Rambo IV, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, Get Smart

Romance Can Be Boring At Any Age Award: Last Chance Harvey

Let's Go To The Tape: What do you do when you base your film on something that not only happened, but happened for all to see. It's one thing for Oliver Stone to commit to film his fever dreams about George W. Bush's personal life. But Frost/Nixon shows what allegedy happened in TV interviews and we sort of know it didn't work that way. (Actually, Oliver Stone did the same thing with The Doors on Ed Sullivan.) It's the kind of thing that can work onstage, but in the more realistic setting offered on film, it's weird to see things that didn't quite happen.

Most Pointless Film: A tie. 1) Smart People. What a good idea, make a film about people who are intelligent and articulate. Now if they only had a story where they did anything you'd care about. 2) Funny Games. Michael Haneke does a close remake of his film where two psychopaths torture a bourgeois family.

Unexpectedly Gruesome Award: Paranoid Park. You've been warned.

Unofficial Remake Award: No, not Benjamin Button and Forrest Gump. In Thomas McCarthy's first film, The Station Agent, a quiet guy withdraws after the closest person to him dies. He moves and is slowly drawn out of his shell by the new people he meets, an unusual groups of friends with problems of their own. This also describes his second film, The Visitor.

Double Dip Of Woody: Woody Allen usually releases one film a year, but his 2007 product, Cassandra's Dream, was such a stinker (despite a stellar cast) that it was dumped in January 2008. On the other hand, Vicky Cristina Barcelona was one of his biggest hits, even though, like most of his stuff lately, it seemed more like an outline for a film than a film.

Bigger Isn't Better Award: A good comedy is usually light on its feet. Tropic Thunder lumbered around, twice as big as it needed to be. The premise was okay, and with a lighter touch (and maybe half the budget and a smaller cast) it could have really worked.


Trends

Surprisingly Violent Comedies: Burn After Reading, Pineapple Express

Protagonists Named Harvey: Milk, Last Chance Harvey

Innovative Stage Directors Stuck In A Bad Marriage With Catherine Keener: Hamlet 2, Synecdoche New York

Do-It-Yourself Filmmaking: Be Kind Rewind, Son Of Rambow

Huge Flops From Popular Comedians: Meet Dave, The Love Guru

Films From Popular Comedians That Should Have Been Huge Flops: You Don't Mess With The Zohan, Four Christmases

Environmental Allegories (replacing anti-Iraq War movies?): The Happening, The Day The Earth Stood Still

British Capers: The Bank Job, Rocknrolla, In Bruges


Rankings

Bad Comedy: Meet The Spartans, First Sunday, Semi-Pro, You Don't Mess With The Zohan, The Love Guru (though not as bad as everyone said--if he'd called it Austin Powers 4 it would have made $100 million), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (it is a comedy, isn't it?), How To Lose Friends & Alienate People (had high hopes till I saw they were dumping it), Zack And Miri Make A Porno, Four Christmases

Passable Comedy: Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day (rare case where an American gets to do a British accent--almost always other way around), Baby Mama, Get Smart, Step Brothers, Pineapple Express, Meet Dave (barely passable, but I was in a good mood), Tropic Thunder, Hamlet 2 (the big song should have been better)

Good Comedy: Strange Wilderness, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, OSS 117, Kung Fu Panda, House Bunny, Burn After Reading (though it should have been better), Ghost Town

Not As Bad As Feared: Valkyrie (how could it be?), Definitely, Maybe, 21, Hancock, Wanted, Kabluey, Transsiberean, Sixty Six, Hellboy 2, Bottle Shock (still a wasted opportunity), RocknRolla, Doubt, Revolutionary Road

Not As Good As Expected: Cloverfield (good idea, dumb characters), Be Kind, Rewind, Horton Hears A Who, Reprise, Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist (has last year's big star Michael Cera peaked?), Religulous, Rachel Getting Married, What Just Happened, Synecdoche, New York (good in small doses), The Dukes, I've Loved You So Long (could have saved a lot of time if she just admitted her problem at the start), The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (looks great, though), Gran Torino, Milk (surprisingly uninvolving), Waltz With Bashir

Big Disappointment: Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (as noted by South Park), Cadillac Records, Quantum Of Solace

No Fun: Rambo 4, Charlie Bartlett, Leatherheads (great idea for a film--someone should do it some day), Redbelt (Mamet continues his streak), Smart People, Diminished Capacity (can't go a whole year without a mentally damaged protagonist), The Happening, Eagle Eye, Journey To The Center Of The Earth, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Seven Pounds (though it's not as bad as what the critics said), Funny Games, Last Chance Harvey, Cassandra's Dream, Marley & Me, W.

Fun (in the sense of it being an enjoyable movie, even if it's about misery): The Visitor, Wall-E (though I thought the stuff on the ship was a letdown), The Dark Knight (I still got a lot of problems with it--too long, confused story, muddled message, some weak action sequences), Anita O'Day: The Life Of A Jazz Singer, Frost/Nixon, The Wrestler


Bubbling Under The Top Ten:

Harold And Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay--Call it dumb drug humor, it was high-spirited and fun. And it had more insight into George W. Bush than Oliver Stone.

In Bruges--Martin McDonagh brings to the screen the first full-length example of his patented mix of wit and mayhem. I predict he'll do even better if he makes another.

The Bank Job--A solid policier based on a real story (though I'm guessing most of it's made up).

Paranoid Park--people preferred Milk, but I've always liked my Gus Van Sant straight.

The Visitor--quiet, but affecting, much like The Station Agent (see above).

Frozen River--I felt cold watching it.

Role Models--Didn't expect to laugh so much.

Wendy And Lucy--I wasn't sure if I even liked it when it ended, but it's stayed with me.


Top Ten (In Alphabetical Order)

Bolt--There were higher profile animated films, but this one was the most solidly entertaining.

Encounters At The End Of The World--It may be at the end of the world, but the beauty that Werner Herzog found in Antarctica is otherworldly.

Happy-Go-Lucky--No one makes films like Mike Leigh. Maybe not his best, but good enough.

Iron Man--Finally, they do a superhero film right.

Let The Right One In--If you see one Swedish teenage vampire film this year, make it this one. Spooky, but beautiful.

Man On Wire--Years before they were destroyed, one man (with help) did a crazy, lovely thing with the twin towers. Wouldn't if be great if they could be remembered for that?

My Winnipeg--I'm becoming a believer in Guy Maddin. I'm not sure how much of this documentary about his hometown is real, but it's a haunting vision.

Slumdog Millionaire--A crowdpleasing fairy tale, and what's wrong with that? (Though the questions are too easy.)

Tell No One--Since Hollywood has stopped making Hitchcockian thrillers, it's good to see one coming out of France.

Trailer Park Boys: The Movie--the surprise of the year. I had no knowledge of this Canadian cult TV show about Nova Scotia trailer trash, so I wasn't prepared for how delightful the travails of Ricky, Julian and Bubbles would be.

No Warning

The President has asked for and the Senate has agreed to a delay in the conversion to digital TV. I'm reminded of this dialogue from The Simpsons' "A Tale Of Two Springfields":

Homer: (writes "939" on hand) I hate this new area code. Like I don't have enough to remember already. (looks at his other hand, which has "Lenny = white, Carl = black") Don't you miss the old 636 (consults hand) Carl?

Carl: I'm not sure which one's better. The "6" is closer to the "3" so you got convenience there, but the "9" has less to do with Satan, which is a plus in this religious world of ours.

Homer: What really burns me up is they didn't give us one word of warning.

Carl: What do you mean? They ran those TV commercials about it, and that big radio campaign.

Lenny: Don't forget the leaflets they dropped from the Space Shuttle, and the two weeks we all spent at area code camp.

Homer: Not a single word of warning.

Right For The Wrong Reason

From Joe Klein:

I was disappointed that President Obama even acknowledged the existence of Rush Limbaugh in his meeting with Congressional leaders on Friday [...] El Rushbo's bad taste is being excoriated by the smarter conservative commenters like William Bennett, which is appropriate because Limbaugh is their problem: he has become an embarrassing anachronism, like a comedian still doing Dukakis jokes. His brand of entertainment went out with the crash; his ditto-heads are losing their jobs. His crapulous invective only has the power to stigmatize his allies now. So why give him oxygen? This is that rarest of moments: Obama showing a smidgeon of public pique. He should save it for opponents who remain relevant.

I agree that the President shouldn't bother to mention Rush. He should take on his political opponents, sure, but he, and politicians in general (you know, the people who actually do things rather than talk about them) have better things to do than take on pundits by name.

The rest of Klein's squib is pretty desperate, though. He doesn't want Rush to matter, so he keeps repeating the idea, hoping to make it true. Sure, Rush rubs a lot of people the wrong way, but if a guy who can talk to millions three hours a day doesn't count, then no one in the media does.

PS I got this email from a friend who sends me pro-Obama stuff:

You may have heard some of Rush Limbaugh's recent comments re: President Obama. If not, please read below for the gist of it. As a result of these comments, a boycott of Limbaugh's sponsors is being organized [Why the passive voice--don't they know who's organizing the boycott?]. Now is not the time to put petty partisanship [I love partisan condemnations of partisanship]-- and bigotry -- ahead of our country's dire needs. [Our needs are dire?]

It's real easy -- Copy the letter below, modify it if you wish, and copy the list of sponsor email addresses below into the recipients. Click on Send and you've done your job.

Hi. My name is ____________________. I recently found out that your company advertises on Rush Limbaugh's show.

In the past, I've found his show distasteful and regrettable, but after Mr. Limbaugh's recent remarks -- wherein he said he hoped our new President would fail -- well, ["well"--nice touch] my feelings have changed. Our country is at war [And anyone rooting against a President who's fighting a war is beyond the pale, I guess]. And facing an historic global economic crisis [Our country is facing a global economic crisis?]. And Mr. Limbaugh wants our leadership to fail?

I know you're running a business and likely won't change anything because of the comments of one customer, but it makes me feel better [Wow--they not only expect us to boycott a business for advertising on a show where someone expresses opinions we don't like, they expect us to be happy about it] to let you know that I can no longer patronize your business. And I'm encouraging thousands of others -- via email and the internet -- to do the same.

I think it's time decent people stand together as one and support our President as he tries to solve the nation's problems. We may not have all voted for him, but who in good conscience -- especially in these dire times -- could wish for him to fail, as Mr. Limbaugh has done?

The entire world is looking at America right now as a sign of hope and possibility. We must succeed.
We must not shame ourselves in the international spotlight by showcasing bigotry, racism, or petty politics. [ 1) What's this obsession with what other countries think? 2) Why do they keep bringing up bigotry and racism when it doesn't seem to be at issue here? Is any criticism of Obama suspect? 3) I wasn't aware Rush had a big audience internationally.]

Thank you for your time.

And I look forward to when I can patronize your business again.


As I've said, I can't see how this is any better than blacklisting.

PPS I hadn't heard what Limbaugh said, but this video is either it, or gives a good idea:



So it's not even that big a deal. What Limbaugh seems to be saying is he disagrees with Obama's ideas (no surprise there) and thinks if they're turned into law they'd be bad for the country. Therefore, he hopes Obama fails to get what he wants done.

The boycott was bad enough in any case, but it turns out to be just another drummed up outrage.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Better Than At The Movies With Blago

If you are in the Windy City on February 21, there are worse ways you could spend your time than this.

(OK-the link is for a select pre-event cocktail party, but the underlying event should be great fun for those who want to see Law Students sing and dance while they are still a little fun)

It's A Copy, Right?

The tune in this Esurance ad...



...sure sounds a lot like "Midnight Rider."

Wicked Game

Here's an interesting essay on the heavy-handed politics of Wicked. I disagree, though, with the notion that liberals can't see good and evil in black and white. They're just as capable as conservatives, only about different issues.

What interested me more was the story of Stephen Schwartz. I'm sure he could have retired on the royalties from Godspell alone, but has there ever been such a huge comeback after so many years in the wilderness?

Gesture

Normally I don't care about the internal affairs of a religion, but I really don't understand why the Pope, even in an attempt to deal with a schism, would rehabilitate a Holocaust denier.

Am I Missing Something?

Battlestar Galactica often takes big leaps in its storyline, but, unlike Lost, they all too often don't pay off. That's what comes from making it up as you go along, I guess.

They found Earth, which was the whole point of the show, and are now moving on. It makes things feel adrift. I don't know what the galaxy is like, but if they're just looking for a nice planet where they can live, is it that hard? They already did that, in fact.

The real question is what sort of threat are the Cylons--except the Cylon threat has been on the backburner for a while. If they can live with them, they can take it easy, after all. But, since the beginning, the whole forward movement of the show has been based on the threat of the Cylons. I realize the show is trying to be subtle, but it used to be a life-and-death battle against evil robots--now we've got Cylons versus Cylons and humans versus humans while we lose a sense of a bigger architecture.

And have they ever explained where Baltar's Head Six comes from, or have they just dropped that?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obama's Advantage

I think Obama has a lot of bad ideas about foreign policy, but there is perhaps one positive aspect of his Presidency, if he chooses to use it.

When he offers the olive branch to our enemies (as all American leaders do) he has a certain amount of leverage beyond his leadership of the most powerful nation on earth. He can make it clear to them they will never get a better offer, and if it all blows up in Obama's face, the America people will elect someone a lot tougher than Bush.

Doc

Here's an odd little documentary shown at Sundance, Over The Hills And Far Away. It's about parents who bring their autistic five-year-old to Mongolian shamans for a cure. And if I read the review correctly, the parents seem to think it works.

The Peter DeBruge review states: "Enlisted to document the Isaacsons' highly unusual trip, director Michel Orion Scott has the good sense not to suggest their extreme solution will work for others." Furthermore, "What we're left with isn't whether or not shamanism cures autism but a more allegorical example of what happens when people seek solutions beyond the boundaries of Western thought."

Really? I would guess for the many parents of autistic children that they'd care quite a bit if the film documents a cure for autism. So much so that they may miss the allegory and try to get the same cure for their kids.

Projection

Billy Joel is one of the top-selling artists of all time, so a lot of people must like him. I don't think much of his music, but I wouldn't go so far as Ron Rosembaum does in his all-out attack on Joel.

Rosenbaum thinks he's discovered why Joel is so bad: "I've identified the qualities in B.J.'s work that distinguish his badness from other kinds of badness: It exhibits unearned contempt."

I doubt that's the reason. In fact, I'd say Joel generally sympathizes with the characters he's singing about. This isn't the first time Rosenbaum has complained about smugness, though, so perhaps Rosenbaum is the self-satisfied one.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Quote Unquote

Here's a piece in Variety about how in tough economic times a lot of people in show biz aren't getting their quotes. Things like this always make for odd reading since only getting half your quote, or even being lowballed, when you're at the top, still looks pretty good to most people.

Same As It Ever Was

The Obama administration fell in line with the Bush administration Thursday when it urged a federal judge to set aside a ruling in a closely watched spy case weighing whether a U.S. president may bypass Congress and establish a program of eavesdropping on Americans without warrants.

Some people are making a lot of this, but it's no surprise. There's a history of administrations coming down in favor of more power for the presidency that goes back well before our last President.

Name That Theme

The opening to 30 Rock again--done differently.



And here's a classic:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Name That Tune

I watched 30 Rock with the closed captioning on and when the theme song came up, I noticed it was described as "exciting jazz music."

Judge for yourself:

Looking Over The Overlooked

At Big Hollywood, a pretty bad list of the top overlooked Best Pictures from the past:

1. Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans (1927) – Not just the best picture of that year, but one of the greatest achievements in cinema history. Were it not for the height of the MGM musical in the late forties and early fifties, you’d now be reading an argument that film as an art form peaked with “Sunrise.”

2. The Searchers (1956) – Arguably the greatest film — not just Western - ever produced. John Ford’s epic character study of a man who helps create a civilization that will not have a place for him received a grand total of zero nominations.

3.
The Wild Bunch (1969) – Was it the violence, which looks pretty tame by today’s standards, that turned the Academy off? Something has to explain why “Hello, Dolly!” And “Anne of a Thousand Days” made the cut and Peckinpah’s masterpiece did not.

4.
A Night At The Opera (1934) – It would take a revival three decades later for the genius of the Marx Brothers to be fully appreciated. “Duck Soup” was never nominated either, but I’m partial to this one.

5.
Sweet Smell Of Success (1957) – The dark, cynical response to anyone who says Tony Curtis wasn’t one helluva actor.

Now I don't expect the list to have many of the choices I'd make, since it's a rare year when the Academy comes close to giving the Best Picture award to the best picture. Still, not much of a group.

Sunrise makes no sense, since it actually won the Best Picture award in the first ceremony ever (the award was split in two that year--don't ask).

The Searchers is a great example of a weak 50s film that's been blown up into a classic.

The Wild Bunch is wildly overrated.

A Night At The Opera is from 1935, and the Marx Brothers' comic brilliance was pretty well appreciated in their day. Sure, why not best picture, but then, I can name four or five other Marx Bros. films that should also have won that award.

I love Sweet Smell Of Success, but a flop like that was never going to win any awards, and it does have significant third act problems.

It's Back

Great season premiere for Lost. I've always loved the show, but now that they have so much to do with so many characters and so little time, it looks like every episode will zip along with great payoffs.

By the way, if you're not caught up on Lost, this will help.

Wait Till Next Year

The 1930s is my favorite decade for film, so I eagerly awaited Jesse Walker's latest, his top ten from 1938 (scroll down a bit).

Most of his choices I can't fault. In fact, pretty much every one I agree with, though I don't put short cartoons on my film lists. You Can't Take It With You doesn't really compare to Capra's better work (even though it won the Oscar that year), and I don't think it improves on the original play, but it's still a lot of fun.

I was wondering if one Cary Grant film (Bringing Up Baby) would keep the other one out (Holiday) but Jesse is never afraid of giving out double awards.

Here are a few other films I like to varying degrees, though I don't think any of them I'd put over the features on Jesse's list:

Angels With Dirty Faces, Jezebel, The Citadel, Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (Lubitsch's unsuccessful stab at screwball, but still worth watching), Room Service (as a curiosity--the seven earlier Marx Brothers films are all about 100 times better, but it's preferable to the films made after), Three Comrades, The Shopworn Angel, Alexander Nevsky, Carefree (even a so-so entry in the Astaire/Rogers series is magical), Alexander's Ragtime Band, Algiers, If I Were King, Boys Town, The Big Broadcast Of 1938, Test Pilot and two from Laurel And Hardy (who were better in shorts), Block-Heads and Swiss Miss.

Oscar Roundup

You keep hoping for something surprising, and they rarely deliver.

The Oscar nominees are the same names you were expecting. Here's an idea--how about not nominating Meryl Streep one year? That would have given room for the actual best female performance, Sally Hawkins. I guess the strain of nominating Melissa Leo was just so much we couldn't expect that.

My favorite nomination is best adapted screenplay for Benjamin Button, since that was like adapting a Bazooka Joe comic into a movie.

I guess the biggest slight was the snubbing of Gran Torino. Meanwhile, they sure gave a lot of love to The Reader.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Help

The Parents Television Council is warning radio stations not to broadcast Britney Spears's new song "If U Seek Amy," saying doing so would violate the broadcast indecency law. When said aloud quickly, the title produces a sound akin to a vulgarity. "There is no misinterpreting the lyrics to this song, and it's certainly not about a girl named Amy," said Council President Tim Winter.

[from boston.com]

I thought I was up to date on vulgarities but.....

Chef D'Oeuvre

Here's a nice piece on Patrick McGoohan and The Prisoner from my friend Emmanuelle Richard.

Castration Complex

A surprisingly bitter Dirk Benedict on the new Battlestar Galactica.

Free To Be You And Me

Good piece by Christopher Hitchens on the Salman Rushdie affair, and its aftermath. Self-censorship has become the order of the day.

Freedom of expression must include the ability to criticize others, which means some folks will be offended. Unfortunately, a lot of people around the world, probably a majority, think that certain beliefs--religious ones especially--should be above criticism. The opposite is true. The more strongly held the beliefs, and the more central they are to people's lives, the more important it is that others be allowed to question them, even in ways that may seem hurtful.

I don't expect people who support theocracy to agree with me. What's so disheartening is that many who live in liberal democracies seem to have lost their backbone on this issue.

Picky, Picky

From a review of Christine Ebersole at the Cafe Carlyle:

Well-known standards, such as a jazzy "Fascinating Rhythm," a truly heartfelt "Bill," a bluesy "42nd Street," and a nicely bittersweet "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," alternated with more obscure tunes from the Great American Songbook, such as "I've Got Five Dollars," "Miss Johnson Phoned Again Today," "Cooking Breakfast for the One I Love," and "Why Don't We Try Staying Home?" each performed with style and elan.

"I've Got Five Dollars" obscure? I'm sorry, anything in Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Rodgers & Hart Songbook is not obscure.

Hangin' With The Prez

It's often said you vote for the guy you'd most like to have a beer with. This is why politicians have tried to be folksy ever since average citizens got the franchise.

It got me thinking--which Presidents would I most like to hang out with? I looked at all the modern ones--those who served before WWII seemed historical and unapproachable. Based on what little I know about them (i.e., their words, deeds, and what others have said), I came up with this list. None of them would be perfect, since, for one thing, they're all politicians--still, some are better than others.

Harry Truman: Don't think I'd like him. You can be too honest, and I don't need a short-tempered guy ready to give me hell.

Dwight D. Eisenhower: A little too proper and stand-offish, and too much a military man. But he's knows how to deal with people, likes sports and has some great war stories. I think we'd get along.

John F. Kennedy: High class party guy. Sounds like a lot of fun, if I could handle the action.

Lyndon Johnson: A glad-hander. Devious and vulgar. I'd stay away.

Richard Nixon: Smart, musical, good poker player, we might have fun. But sooner or later his paranoid pitbull side would kick in and it wouldn't end well.

Gerald Ford: Great athlete (and we could always talk about Michigan). Forgiving. Mostly well-meaning, but a bit on the dull side.

Jimmy Carter: Prickly, bitter and self-righteous. To be avoided.

Ronald Reagan: Engaging, good storyteller, but I don't think he'd be able to manage a deep relationship.

George H. W. Bush: Patrician. Decent, intelligent and hardworking, but a bit of a stiff.

Bill Clinton: Smart. Well-rounded. And you could eat whatever you want. He's got a temper, but if you could handle the explosions, he'd be a great friend. On the other hand, he'd tell you what you want to hear then sell you out if things go bad.

George W. Bush: He doesn't party any more (not that I could or would have kept up with him back in the day). Now he's into health, religion and country music--not that enticing to me. Personable, even charismatic, but I think his BMOC frat-style humor wouldn't wear well. And I don't want a cute nickname.

Barack Obama: A fun guy with lots of similar interests. You'd have great bull sessions. But I'm not sure if I'd ever really know where I stood with him.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Blurt

I was discussing the troubled economy with a friend. He stated we can't be in that bad a shape if Americans can spend $39 million over the MLK weekend on Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

Countdown Almost Over

New Lost today. Been a long wait. I'm beside myself.

Cruisin' For A Bruisin'

Tom Cruise says "I've always wanted to kill Hitler. As a child, I used to wonder why someone didn't stand up and kill him."

In his film Valkyrie, out now, Cruise portrays a real-life German officer who attempted to assassinate Hitler.

This being the movies, my only surprise is Cruise's character didn't pull it off.

Get A Job

I don't put much stock in reports on the best and worst jobs, since one person's dream job is another person's torture. Still, I find this list, from CareerCast.com, fascinating.

According to them, the top three jobs (out of 200 studied) are mathematician, actuary and statistician. Do I see a pattern? #12 is philosopher. Nice work if you can get it.

The worst job, somewhat surprisingly, is lumberjack. Number two is dairy farmer. Dairy farmer? I didn't realize these jobs had such high stress. My favorite "bad" job is #192, roustabout. What's wrong with being a roustabout? If you can't cut it as a philosopher, it sounds like a fun way to make a living.

Whenever I see these lists, I'm always reminded of Norm MacDonald, who'd announce the year's best job, and then say, once again, the worst job in the United States...crack whore.

Overshadowed

There were good and bad things about Obama's inaugural address.

Good: It was short and made some decent points (such as the fundamentals of our economy are strong). Overall, it was flat and uninspiring, which I think struck the proper tone.

Bad: A lot of it was about the importance of a competent government to solve our problems, which is a dangerous message.

But the whole thing was overshadowed by the Reverend Joseph Lowery. What is it with Obama and his Reverends? Lowery's benediction ended with this:

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around ... when yellow will be mellow ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right.

Appalling. He decided what fit best at this occasion was the inclusion, as his climax, of a schoolyard taunt. Making it all about race is bad enough, but this is embarrassing.

It's just more evidence that old fighters for civil rights have become reactionaries. This country has become less racist with each succeeding generation at least since World War II, but as far as they're concerned, it's always the 1950s and we're in the Deep South. As much as we may honor them for their earlier work, their hidebound beliefs have held sway for too long, holding back the civil rights establishment as well. We'll continue to make progress, but no thanks to them.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Biden as Secretary of State?

From the recent disclosure on Oprah, while its very possible that Obama and Biden had a discussion about this office, I think we're learning more about the pillow talk at the Biden residence (sorry for the mental picture)- Yeah, babe they offered me State, but I held out for VP

Was This Trip Necessary?

Yesterday I checked my mail three times before I remembered it was MLK day. Then I still drove to the bank.

There Must Be Some Way Out Of Here

So Battlestar Galactica is back for its final run. And things seems to be falling apart. In fact, I don't know where they can go from here. They spent the whole series searching for Earth, and now that they've found it, they're leaving. Meanwhile, the fleet is working with the Cylons (assuming you can tell humans and Cylons apart anymore).

Oh yeah, we discovered the fifth Cylon. I didn't see it coming, but I can't say the revelation was entirely satisfying. And I bet when the show started they had no clue it would turn out this way.

Real Difference Over RD

This is from TV Squad:

I don't have much of an opinion on Rosario Dawson. I've seen a few of her movies, like Clerks 2 and Death Proof, but instead of blowing my mind with every film, she's left me in a state of indifference. [....] That said, Dawson did a pretty good job hosting this episode.

Wow. I couldn't disagree more. Rosario Dawson is one of those people I always enjoy in a movie, even bad ones. But her episode of SNL was disappointing.

Serve The Servants or Where's Ayn Rand When You Need Her?

This video's been getting a lot of attention.

MySpace Celebrity and Katalyst present The Presidential Pledge


In it, a bunch of celebrities promise, now that Obama is in office, to make the world a better place.

Fine. But the line that really got my attention is at the end, when Demi Moore pledges "to be a servant to our President."

It's one thing to support a politician, but, as a private citizen, serve one? I think that's got it backwards.

Monday, January 19, 2009

W: Final Days

From the final party for staffers. [read it]
...."It has been an awesome eight years," he went on. "The days are long, but the years are short. … If you ever want a nice meal, come and knock on our door in Dallas, Texas." He waved goodbye over the opening chords of "Don't Stop Believin'."
Ok who's bright idea was it to send him on a Tony Soprano reference?

Any word on a Scooter pardon yet? Only the usual suspects and diehards are talking about it.

Thoughts On Super Steelers; Is a Football Game a Miniature Nanny State?

Very excited to have the Black and Gold return to the big game.

Despite my current moniker, I grew up in Pittsburgh and between grades 7-12, the Steelers (said "Stillers") won the Super Bowl four times, which has made everything since seem sort of a letdown. Those teams I remember as just completely dominant and that the other side didn't have a chance. (I'm still bothered that they didn't put away the Cowboys in more convincing fashion back in Super Bowls X and XIII) The Steeler Super Bowl in in 2005-06 was nice but not the same- that team was the gritty determined underdog not the dominant uber-victor of my youth. At least on the defensive side of the ball (though the offense isn't bad), the 2008-09 Steelers seem the same way as the 70s teams. The AFC Championship Game was great last night though as I was watching Willis McGahee and Ryan Clark seemingly lying dead a, I kept thinking of a line from "Rollerball" when a computer spitting out statistical records for the sport- "Most deaths, 9. Pittsburgh vs. Rome "But hey- the film came out during the early heyday of the Steeler dynasty.

Anyway, despite the fact that the hit was apparently "legal," I was thinking of the fact that every other facet of this game is heavily regulated- uniform, safety equipment, how you stand, where you line up, which players can use their hands at what times, formations, behavior (no celebrating, no taunting, no criticizing the officials) and the replay rules emphasize that the powers that be just need to see and decide everything. Maybe I'm thinking this is because of penalties, challenges and injuries, the game took so long and all the authoritarian namby-pambyism was getting on my nerves. Don't know that I have much more of a point than that but I don't think those coaches and commentators who say "Football Is Like Life" are thinking of it like this.

Progress

I see in the Angels & Demons movie, sequel to The Da Vinci Code, that the secret group is no longer the Priory Of Sion, but the Illuminati. So at least this film will be based on ridiculous conspiracy theories about an organization that actually existed a few centuries ago, not just some modern hoax.

Can't Wait Till They Get To Fillmore

I recently got a Martin Van Buren $1 coin as part of my change. At first I thought it might be a joke. Then I wondered if we'd already honored everyone who was important.

I didn't realize all the Presidents are in on the deal.

At Last The 1948 Show

Jesse Walker is now naming his top ten films of 1948. I can't argue with Red River, which is probably my favorite Western. (It was shot in 1946, but for various reasons, wasn't released until '48.) I'm less enthralled with his two John Huston picks, both of which are highly regarded films, but not by me.

Here are some other movies from that year that I liked:

A couple of musicals, one from Astaire and one from Kelly, both featuring Garland--Easter Parade and The Pirate (the latter has some problems but makes up for it with a few great numbers).

The era was a good time for film noir, and (I'm sure I'm forgetting some of the smaller ones) 1948 brought us Force Of Evil and The Big Clock.

David Lean's Oliver Twist is one of the best Dickens on film.

I'm a big fan of the surrealist Portrait Of Jennie.

I generally don't care much for Abbot And Costello, but they made one of their best in 1948, Abbot And Costello Meet Frankenstein--where Universal pulled out all their great monsters.

Two greats did good (but not their best) work in 1948--Preston Sturges' Unfaithfully Yours and Billy Wilder's A Foreign Affair.

Louisiana Story is a late, great film by Robert Flaherty.

Other Hollywood films of interest. The Naked City, Call Northside 777, The Paleface, Mr. Blandings Bulds his Dream House.

1948 also featured probably the greatest flowering of Italian neorealism, with La Terra Trema, Germany Year Zero and, above all, The Bicycle Thief.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Drink Before the War

A co-worker invited me to an Obama inaugural party last night. The price of admission was to bring a small bush that they could burn in a ceremonial bonfire. I told him no, thanks. I'll celebrate the transition in my own way.

Unkindest Cut

I went to check out one of my favorite SNL sketches, Phil Hartman in "Robot Repair," and was shocked to see the video cuts out about three-quarters in, thus missing the ultimate punchline. Here's the video. Here's a transcript of the full sketch.

Apparently, the SNL website does this as a matter of course. So who needs it?

Lucky Us

I don't know anyone who liked Lucky You, the Curtis Hanson film starring Eric Bana, about the life of a guy in Vegas poker profressional. The studio knew they had a dog on their hands since they held up the film's release for a year. But it's not that bad. Certainly it's not a hopeless mess like All In.

In fact, I'd say the first half hour, where we're introduced to his milieu, is pretty good. The first hour is passable. It's just the the story (including his romance with Drew Barrymore and his relationship with his father, Robert Duvall) which gets sillier and sillier. If they had kept the story simpler, and concentrated on his basic life, rather than going for the Hollywood big finish, it might even have worked.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Who Knew Singapore Was So Healthy?

A friend sent me an interesting chart that shows countries and their populations plotted against health and income. Note the numbers are logarithmic.

I've seen charts like this before and the numbers don't seem to have changed to much over the decades, except for an occasional state that changed its ways. Though whenever I see these kinds of things, I always wonder if the states' stats from authoritarian regimes can be considered authoritative.

Hey Ricky

Ricky Henderson isn't the greatest ballplayer of all time, but he's up there. So why is it that 28 sportswriters didn't vote for him to make the Hall Of Fame?

Took A Chance

Mamma Mia! is a gigantic hit worldwide. I've noted previously it's the biggest biggest hit EVER in England. So it struck me--I've got to check how an ABBA musical is doing in Sweden.

Here's the latest chart. As you can see, the average hit makes a few million. An international blockbuster like the latest James Bond is over 8 million. And where's Mamma Mia!? Still making money, ready to surpass 25 million.

Friday, January 16, 2009

2008-Belated Year in Review

Approximately 380+ days ago I made my predictions for 2008 [link]. While I do claim some success in my political predictions (see here), my annual predictions were as I will describe below, to put it mildly, so wrong as to be ludicrous and ridiculous. However, not being one to flee in the face of adversity, I'll make another set of predictions for 2009 tomorrow for those still wishing to read after witnessing my parade of abysmal failures.

2008

OK I just finished watching Rockin' New Year's Eve of the Living Dead on ABC. It may be uncharitable but Mr. Clark needs to be retired to his cryogenic chamber- his teeth looked like they they were falling out as he made Romero- inspired groans and lurches. The kids with me (ages 11-16) were alternately cringing and laughing (which of course was my response to their favorite bands). Not really a prediction but I got this one right- it happened again this year and the 12 and 17 year old in attendance think our generation digs making fun of old people

Major Issues-

1. Iraq- Unresolved- Enough political progress and ongoing violence and upheaval for both pro and anti war factions to claim they are right. OK but that would be the case no matter what happened Significant troop withdrawals in 08 will result in increased instability but not so much instability as was feared or threatened. Not really

2. Election Too hard to call- Will not be Hillary vs. Rudy (although one of the two might still be nominee, this is not a favorable time for favorites). OK Election will likely turn on localized events and issues. No Rightwingers and religionists will be underwhelmed by their candidates Yes unless you count SP-and the center will continue to be underwhelmed by the tilt of the last 8 years and will shift thus resulting in a Democratic President and Congress, though not one in lockstep with each other- non-partisan deadlock. OK on Dem victory (that was easy) and non-partisan deadlock is a possibility

3. Global Warming/ Green Construction. Rightly or wrongly, there will be continued acceptance and marginalization of critics to the Tobacco Institute. We could argue endlessly....The conversation will move from whether the weather is changing to what an effective response is. Ex- Bushies will become lobbyists for China. No evidence of this....yet Green building continues to be a major industry force (I predicted this last year perhaps overstating its visibility in the public) More and more major retailers and construction operations will move to LEED certification for economic as opposed to public relations reasons. Certainly in the world or real estate development and related lawyering this is a huge issue based on the number of conferences I see advertised but don't know if its really something that gets big popular press- maybe a quiet revolution

4. Football Patriots win in 2008 and 2009. No and NO. Ho hum. Yes. Even I don't like them anymore. The Super Bowl loser will be one of those teams that play on FOX and just as memorable as the team that lost to the 72 Dolphins (was it Washington? Minnesota? Dallas?- who knows or cares?). No

5. Baseball. Steroids wil be the big story but cronyism and short-sightedness will prevail as Selig and Fehr stay in office.Yes Since so many will be named(including players more popular with old sportswriters), the sport will turn to framing it as a "societal problem" rather than individual demonization of unpopular Bonds/ Canseco characters. Not really. Boston will come close to overtaking the Yankees for obnoxiousness but fall short.No- Yankess still far more obnoxious Red Sox, Yankees will contend but not win it all. Yes (Dem presidential candidate will be thankful- obnoxious victorious northeasterners would otherwie cause blow back in the red states). Pirates will improve by 10% and win 75 games. No- they actually win one less game than they did in 2007. Cleveland- A's in ALCS, Arizona-NYM in NLCS Cleveland beats Dbacks in WS. Big No

6. Movies- Some movie I haven't seen will win (I only see movies that my 11 year old wants to see and I don't think "Fred Claus" will have much support). Yes- Fred Claus did not win best picture but had a mildly comedic reference in 30 Rock. I have not seen (or remembered the name of) the winner.

7. Dow - Stays over 14000 after June 30 but does not break 15000. Apparently this did not happen

8. Press - WSJ under Murdoch will remain superficially the same Yes except for the editorial page. No Loyola 2L (read the law blog) will be outed and become the whiny voice of his generation Who?

The Double Dog Darer Is Wanted For Questioning

Cultural ignorance claims another victim.

About Time

Finally, new Battlestar Galactica. And soon, we'll also have Lost and Heroes, all in the same week. The way TV is meant to be. Better enjoy it while I can.

Etymological Note

I recently read two different origins for a word I use a lot (maybe too much), "blockbuster."

Some say it was coined in the 1920s for a movie whose line was so long that it couldn't be contained on one block.

A more common explanation is it's WWII slang for huge bombs.

I don't know which is right, though the second explanation sounds correct. I believe it's known for sure the phrase was used that way during WWII, while the first explanation sounds like a just so story. Of course, it'd be easy enough to find out the answer for anyone willing to do the research. Maybe someone has. I'm too lazy to find out.

In The Balance

The Supreme Court has declared by 5-4 in Herring v. United States that evidence found by police based on a negligent error need not be suppressed. I can't call this a surprise, since it's consistent with previous decisions of this court.

What they seem to be doing is rewriting the Exclusionary Rule. Rather than a bright line--make a mistake, the evidence can't be used in court--they prefer a balancing test.

I would think this takes away a fair amount of deterrence against sloppy police work. I don't like relying on good faith from any government officials--I want them to get it right or know there'll be consequences. If you make exceptions like this to the Exclusionary Rule, haven't you, in effect, balanced it away?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Competition

Usually there's nothing on. Last night, at the same time, you had the PBS special Make 'Em Laugh, American Idol, and Lost. And I don't have TiVo. This can't go on.

Ricardo Montalban

Ricardo Montalban has died. He starred in films in the 40s and became a regular television presence beginning in the 50s. But it's two characters for which he'll be remembered.

In the 70s, he starred as the mysterious Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island. Then, in the 80s, he appeared as the title villain in Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan, reviving a guest shot he'd done on the original series.

It's a tough call which one is more famous, but, with Trek having such obsessive fans, I figure it's the latter.

Patrick McGoohan

Patrick McGoohan has died. (Someone suggested I write "he finally escaped.") He did a lot of acting on stage and screen, but he'll always be remembered for the seventeen episodes of The Prisoner.

He helped create this show about a secret agent who resigns from the force and is then held captive in The Village. He tries to escape while his captors (presumably his former employers) try to extract information from him. McGoohan had earlier starred in more conventional TV spy/action fare, so this slice of 60s surrealism (in wonderful color) was a bit of a shock.

He was Number Six, constantly harassed by Number Two, and searching for Number One. But don't you get it, man? We're all Number Six, and we're all in our own Village, held down by The Establishment. But if you want to break free, you've got to start by freeing your own mind.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wrong on Both Counts

Reading LAGuy's post on Camille Paglia reminded me of something else Salon-related. Stephanie Zacharek is Salon's movie reviewer and I was struck by her "grades" for two of 2008's biggest movies:

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: A-
The Dark Knight: D+

It's hard for me to imagine anyone being more wrong about those two movies.

Reborn In Phoenix

It's nice to have American Idol back. I forgot how enjoyable it is. As to the new judge Kara DioGuardi, I don't hate her, but she doesn't seem to add anything to the show.

PS on SP

Here's Camille Paglia, a rare public intellectual who supports Sarah Palin:

I have never had the slightest problem in understanding Sarah Palin's meaning at any time. On the contrary, I have positively enjoyed her fresh, natural, rapid delivery with its syncopated stops and slides -- a fabulous example of which was the way (in her recent interview with John Ziegler) that she used a soft, swooping satiric undertone to zing Katie Couric's dippy narcissism and to assert her own outrage as a "mama grizzly" at libels against her family.

Ideology-driven attacks on Palin became clotted liberal clichés within 24 hours of her introduction as John McCain's running mate. What a bunch of tittering lemmings the urban elite have become in this country. From Couric's vicious manipulations of video clips to Cavett's bourgeois platitudes, the preemptive strike on Palin as a potential presidential candidate has grossly misfired. Whatever legitimate objections may be raised to Palin on political grounds (explored, for example, by David Talbot in Salon) have been lost in the amoral overkill that has defamed a self-made woman of concrete achievement in the public realm.

It's Ypsilanti, By The Way

I just read Rebels On The Backlot by Sharon Waxman. She concentrates on six young directors--Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, David Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell and Spike Jonze--and how they got away with making unusual big budget films in the 90s.

It's not a bad book. Behind-the-scenes stories about the dealmaking and the shoots are fascinating. Unfortunately, there are a number of small factual errors (for example, she says Eastern Michigan University is in Ann Arbor, and What's Up, Doc? and The Owl And The Pussycat are from the 1960s) and quite a bit of questionable artistic judgments.

Also, though the tales are interesting enough, Waxman, like so many authors, feels the need to justify her subject in the introduction. She claims that the studios were more open to different kinds of films in the 80s than in the 90s. You could have fooled me. Worse, her examples of pictures only possible in the 80s are Amadeus and Out Of Africa. Huh? Along with action films and broad comedies, these sorts of prestige projects are a studio mainstay. Amadeus is an adaptation of a Tony award-winning Broadway hit, directed by an Oscar winner. Out Of Africa is an adaptation of a respected book by an Oscar-nominated director featuring two major stars.

Then she says by the mid-1990s, "movies were stale, insipid retreads aimed at the lowest common denominator." Two of her examples? Dumb and Dumber and Speed, which she claims "aren't worth watching today." I think Dumb And Dumber is a pretty good comedy by new voices that breaks a lot of rules, and Speed is a one of the better actions films of the past few decades. Both still hold up. I'd certainly choose that double feature over Amadeus and Out Of Africa.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Let Her In

January is a weak month for new movies. It's really a chance for filmgoers to catch up on the Christmas releases. But there's 2008 movie now opening in some areas that's worth checking out--Let The Right One In.

I know what you're saying--not another Swedish teenage vampire film. But this one is a bit different. The trailer is below, though you may not want to watch it. Not because it's scary, but that it's probably more fun to go in ignorant.

No Reason

In Slate's summary of what's in other magazines, they call Jacob Sullum's short piece on how government programs are not a great way to create jobs as a "must skip." Why? Because it "shoots down the president-elect's plan without a compelling alternative."

I can understand how Slate missed Sullum's alternative--NOT doing the plan: "a recipe for wasteful spending that will divert resources from more productive uses...." After all, it's only in the first paragraph.

But let's assume Sullum gave no constructive advice. So what? It's not worthwhile to, say, note a multi-billion dollar program meant to fight some major disease won't work unless you can tell us how to cure the illness?

Tell Me Something I Don't Know

Here's a headline: "Obama Plans to Keep Estate Tax."

This is news? Wouldn't the opposite be news? Let me help out the media. Here are some other headlines we don't need:

"Obama supports unions."

"Obama won't cut taxes."

"Joe Biden not seen much since taking office."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Oscar Bait

The latest TV ads touting Doubt have Meryl Streep and Viola Davis discussing their characters. This is odd, isn't it? Usually 30 second spots are there to say what a great movie this is, not to parade pretentious EPK detritus.

Foreign Objects

News services are reporting the results of the Golden Globes. Does anyone care? Does anyone actually take these awards seriously?

Moore Political

I met Andrew Breitbart a few years ago when he was working for Matt Drudge. Since then, he's branched out and his latest web offering is Big Hollywood, where, I gather, he hopes to bring a more right-wing perspective to the world of entertainment. The key, I think, is to get everyone across the spectrum to read his site (good luck), because conservatives already have plenty of places to gather and complain about the latest movies and TV shows. Also, it'd be nice to have the right not be so negative--the don't need to enhance their outsider status in pop culture, they need to turn it around.

I thought this Jonah Goldberg piece on Watchmen was interesting. I'm a huge fan of the comic, but I question if the film can work. Not because of its (sometimes lunatic) politics, and not because of the graphic quality. I just wonder if a feature length film is long enough to tell the story well--so much of the fun in Watchmen is the details.

Gotta Have Faith

From the AP: Neale Donald Walsch, best-selling author of "Conversations with God"...

is charged with plagiarism.

I was very disappointed to read the article and find out he's only being accused by a human.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

GaffeFest

QG, I couldn't agree with you more. To truly appreciate a gaffe - or series of gaffes - you have to go to the video:

24 Hours In A Day

Apparently some right-wingers are unhappy with a kinder, gentler Jack Bauer. In this season's premiere of 24, protagonist Bauer appears before a Congressional committee to discuss torture:

"It's better that everything comes out in the open," Bauer says, echoing Democrat demands for greater transparency over US counter-terrorist tactics. "We've done so many things in the name of protecting this country, we've created two worlds. Ours and the people's we've promised to protect. They deserve to hear the truth and decide how far they want to let us go."

I don't watch 24, so I wouldn't have heard about this otherwise. Still, it's my understanding each season lasts 24 episodes, and who knows what's coming next? Whatever Jack may be saying or thinking now may be tested. What counts here is not where the show starts, but where it ends up.

Lack Of Enterprise

So I watched Shatner's Raw Nerve, where William Shatner interviewed Leonard Nimoy. They discussed Nimoy's early days, and his present-day projects. But neither brought up Star Trek. Perhaps they both know it so well they figured there was no need for two old friends to talk about it, but let's face it guys, that's what we want to hear.

In The Soup

Book Soup is one of the best independent bookstores in town. It was a nice hangout on the Strip, if you could find parking. (And Tower Records used to be across the street.)

The owner, Glenn Goldman, put it up for sale just before he died. The question is will it go the way of quite a few other indies struggling against the chains. (Actually, the bigger questions is can physical bookstores last at all? Tower Records seemed impregnable not that long ago.) I don't know the economics on the area, but I'd think such a central location on the Strip can still make a go of it.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Palin Gaffes

Ok, I'm not sure it strictly fit's LAGuy's definition of a gaffe as "misspeaking," but Gov. Palin surely demonstrated "a rare gift to produce a paragraph in which whole clumps of words could be removed without noticeably affecting the sense, if any," as Dick Cavett so memorably put it. Taking into account that she was prevented from speaking extemporaneously for the vast majority of the campaign, it's still not very hard to top Joe Biden with Sarah Palin. Limiting myself to 10 minutes' research and only five examples, I think she wins by knockout:

1. "Sitting here in these chairs that I'm going to be proposing but in working with these governors who again on the front lines are forced to and it's our privileged obligation to find solutions to the challenges facing our own states every day being held accountable, not being just one of many just casting votes or voting present every once in a while, we don't get away with that." Wolf Blitzer interview.

2. “But not me personally were those cheers for, but it was just for the representation of a woman on the ticket, a mom, somebody who loves this country so much, somebody very, very committed to policies that I believe will progress this country in the right direction.” Greta Van Susteren interview.

3. “My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska’s investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars.”

And, she concluded, “never, ever did I talk about, well, gee, is it a country or a continent, I just don’t know about this issue.” Quoted by Maureen Dowd (post-election).

4. COURIC: Have you ever been involved with any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?

PALIN: We have trade missions back and forth. We-- we do-- it's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where-- where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is-- from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to-- to our state. Katie Couric interview.

5. The pièce de résistance, of course, can only be appreciated on video:


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