Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Nick Of Time

In the book I just read about Del Close, during his days directing Second City in the 70s, there's this from a Chicago Tribune review:

William Murray shows us how fantastically banal a nightclub singer can be.

I know that many sketches from the early days of SNL and, even moreso, SCTV, used characters and ideas they'd developed earlier (which often ended up being the weaker part of the show--socko stage material doesn't always play on TV), but I didn't know Nick Winters was an old creation.

In the comedy world, making fun of lounge singers has become a cottage industry. I wonder who was the first to think of it?

Outrage

Here's a ridiculous list of the ten best series finales.

It includes the controversial ending to The Sopranos.

It has the special Christmas episode of Ricky Gervais' The Office, which I thought sold out the series by making David Brent self-aware.

It has the Battlestar Galactica finale, which I liked, but which a lot of fans found insultingly bad.

It has the M*A*S*H finale, which, though it was one of the most-watched events in TV history, is arguably the worst ending to a good show ever--everything we liked about M*A*S*H was shoved to the side, and all its worst tendencies were on display for two and a half endless hours.

The #1 choice is the extremely dull last episode of Six Feet Under.

But all these picks are nothing compared to what's missing.

First, they don't have the last episode of Mary Tyler Moore--funny and classy to the end.

Worse, there's no space anywhere on the list for the greatest finale any show ever had, Newhart's.

Answer

Someone got it pretty quickly. The answer the yesterday's question was the phrase is seen in elements 13-19 on the Periodic Table.

Another good question based on the same concept would be what's the next item in this series: B, C, N, O, F.... (Most people would guess "G")

Pride Of Pajama's Place

TCM had Li'l Abner on earlier this week. Not particularly notable as a movie, it does, at least, capture on film most of the original Broadway version.

Anyway, I've noticed Instapundit (it always cracks me up when I link to Instapundit) has lately been using Li'l Abner's "The Country’s In The Very Best Of Hands" as a catch phrase, and others have picked up on it.

I don't know when this started, or where he got it, but let me just note we were calling attention to the song six months ago.

PS Powerline discusses the song a bit. They quote Professor Philip Furia on the contemporary success of the Li'l Abner musical. That's interesting, since years ago Furia and I exchanged letters (back when people wrote letters) on this precise subject.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Our patron saint at Pajama Guy is Jonathan Klein (see upper left hand corner). He's long since left his perch at CBS and is now running CNN--into the ground.

The channel, which used to be #1, has fallen to third in the cable news world. But Klein can speak for himself:

The fact that one network may have eked out a slight edge in one small slice of the overall business really doesn't say much of anything. It's more clear than ever, given the way that our competitors have positioned themselves, that CNN has positioned itself as the real news network.

Good luck with that.

A Puzzlement

As regular readers know, we periodically feature puzzles and quizzes on this blog. So here's a simple question:

Where would one find the phrase "Al Sips Clark"?

The answer tomorrow.

Ingenious

There are a lot of popular books out there about biology, but Darwin's Ghost, by Steve Jones (the biologist, not the Sex Pistol) is such a clever idea that even if it weren't pretty well done I'd probably recommend it.

Jones knows that Darwin's Origin Of Species, like most historical scientific texts, is not read. So he updated it. The original is one long argument, and Jones follows the argument, chapter by chapter, using the same chapter titles, but replacing the content with up-to-date science.

Ironically, the best chapter may be the final one, "Recapitulation and Conclusion," where Jones simply reprints the original, elegant ending.

By the way, as a title, Darwin's Ghost seems somewhat misleading (you're hardly going to think of Darwin's ghostwriter). On the other hand the UK title is Almost Like A Whale, which seems beside the point.

Susan And Company

I saw Monsters vs. Aliens over the weekend. It was enjoyable, but if you want to see something with a similar subject that's really inspired, watch The Incredibles. MVA had laughs, but not quite enough. It had more action than I expected, but not done as well as it could have been. And the villain, Gallaxhar (voiced by Rainn Wilson), was not as formidable as he should have been. Since Dreamworks animated feature from 2008, Kung Fu Panda, was better than expected, it was all the more disappointing when MVA didn't live up to its potential.

The story, to my surprise, isn't truly an ensemble piece. Instead it concentrates on Susan Murphy, aka Ginormica, the 50-Foot Woman (voiced by Reese Witherspoon). We see her grow inside as well as out, learning to be strong and independent. In addition to the female empowerment angle, there's a plea for tolerance, monsters being misfits and all. Luckily, the messages weren't so heavy-handed that they got in the way.

There were a lot of homages to classic (and classically bad) monsters movies, but while that's nice icing, I'd have preferred a better cake.

PS See it in 3-D if you can.

PPS On The B-52's debut album, "Planet Claire" is credited to Fred Schneider and Keith Strickland. I noticed in the MVA credits that Henry Mancini is now in the mix. That's only fair, since the song very clearly uses his "Peter Gunn Theme."

PPPS When Dr. Cockroach attempts to shrink Susan, she says something like "I hope I can be normal again, or at least six-foot-eight." The movie is selling millions of tickets. There's an excellent chance at least one six-foot-eight woman will see it. How is she gonna feel?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Audition For SNL

Sarah Paulson was recently on Letterman. She did her impression of Holly Hunter. Boy, did that bring back memories (not pleasant ones) of Studio 60.

Just Thought I'd Let You Know

Here's a thing I hate. You go to a website, click anywhere, and a get a pop-up box. I click a lot to highlight stuff, and the constant pop-ups are a major annoyance.

And while we're at it, I never, ever, want to hear music automatically come on when I go to a page.

Not My Ox

Time recently had a short bit about the Fairness Doctrine. After a quick history, they cheerfully note it's not that big a deal either way, and end saying:

If history's any indication, the Fairness Doctrine will rear its head again.

The Supreme Court has exempted newspapers and magazines from right-to-respond laws. If it hadn't, I bet Time wouldn't be quite so sanguine about the return of the Fairness Doctrine. More likely we'd be treated to a fiery cover story claiming the republic's in danger.

Why Newspapers Are Dying

I don't mean to beat up on a TV writer in a local paper (in this case, The Grand Rapids Press--I have spent many pleasurable days in Grand Rapids, by the way), but I think Troy Reimink has some catching up to do.

This is from his summary of the latest Lost:

"He's Our You," for example, is all about Ben and Sayid. We know Sayid ended up working as an assassin for Ben in his never-ending war on the Widmore people, but did we ever learn why?

A whole episode was devoted to this. Sayid comes home, reunites with long-lost love Nadia and marries her. Nadia is murdered and Ben uses this event to turns Sayid into a contract killer.

Another interesting point -- when the Dharma crew can't decide what to do with Sayid, Radzinsky says he'll "call Ann Arbor." What could be going on in Ann Arbor?

As the Swan orientation film explains, the whole Dharma Initiative was founded in 1970 by the DeGroots, two doctoral candidates at the University Of Michigan.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Do The Math

"The U.N.'s top human-rights body approved a proposal by Muslims nations Thursday urging passage of laws around the world to protect religion from criticism."

Here's there argument, as declared by Pakistan's ambassador: "Defamation of religions is the cause that leads to incitement to hatred, discrimination and violence toward their followers. It is important to deal with the cause, rather than with the effects alone."

I understand people don't enjoy being criticized. But why stop at religion? Defaming anything that anyone cares about can lead to trouble. Why not just ban it all?

Hamming It Up

Jon Hamm recently finished a stint on 30 Rock, where he played Liz Lemon's very handsome beau. There's no denying he's good-looking in any age, but I think he looks better as a button-down pre-Beatles ad man in Mad Men. (Salma Hayek had a better run as a recurring character.)

So it's good to hear he'll be playing a defense attorney in a movie about the obscenity trial for "Howl." That took place in 1957, so Hamm gets to be as handsome as he wants to be.

After The Gold Rush

Here's Neil Young performing his latest, which deals with the financial crisis. I like the tune, but don't think the lyrics are as good as a truly meaningful song like "T-Bone."

Neil Young - Cough Up The Bucks

King Me

A new Broadway adaptation of Ionesco's Exit The King, starring Geoffrey Rush and Susan Sarandon, is getting raves. Having been involved in a high school production, I'd have been interested to see it in any case.

The absurdist play is about a old ruler who's dying--and in denial--as his kingdom crumbles about him. It's no Lear (what is?), and I don't consider Ionesco a modern classic, but I think if done well, it still holds the stage.

My main fear, based on a number of reviews, is the production may try too hard to be "relevant" by commenting on the recent administration. (I wouldn't be surprised if this was the impetus for putting it on--the original production was done in 2007 in Sydney.) This sort of stuff may give a frisson to the audience, but can cheapen a production as easily as inserting modern references into an old work. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to trick up any play about a questionable leader to make it about Bush or Reagan or Clinton or Nixon or LBJ, etc. How tiresome. (You don't see too many revivals of MacBird! these days.)

Ben Brantley ends his review saying "the longer you look, the more human the image becomes until finally, you realize with a shudder, it has turned into a mirror." That's the effect you want. If the audience believes it's watching a condemnation of someone else, the play goes from being challenging to smug and self-congratulatory.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Simply Red

Here's a slideshow of the "hottest redheads" in show biz.

1) Some of them I didn't know were redheads. (Do they?)

2) Did they intentionally run the worst photos they could find?

Los Angeles

One thing about living out here. No sooner have you written a squib about The Last Starfighter than the next thing you know there's a tribute with the director, writer and Catherine Mary Stewart (!) making an appearance.

Perspective

As outrageous as the multi-billion dollar Madoff scam is, it's hard to get too excited about it (unless you lost your life savings, of course). Sure, many thousands discovered they didn't have the money they thought they had, but if we can't control our economy--especially our debt--there could be serious inflation, and then hundreds of millions will discover the same thing.

He Shoots, He Scores

Lost Spoilers Ahead.

I thought "He's Our You" was a below average episode of Lost, so I was surprised when TV Squad called it the best of the season, and iF Magazine gave it an A. Maybe they were still stunned by the ending, which is a great moment. In any case, Lost performs at such a high level that even weaker episodes are pretty compelling.

"He's Our You" was Sayid-centric. We still need to know how all the Losties got on the plane to Guam, so this featured flashbacks to his life off the island, making it an old-style episode. (No info about Locke and the gang in the present, by the way.) What we learned about Sayid from the flashbacks is he's been a killer all along--I'm not sure if this is news, or even if it's true. Early on we see him assassinate yet another of Widmore's alleged crew, based on the word of Ben Linus. Then that's it, he's run the list, and Ben let's him go. This is apparently the beginning of Sayid turning against Ben. I figured it was something bigger--like he found out Ben was behind his wife's death--because by the time he helped out Hurley, he told him not to trust Ben under any circumstances.

But I see why it wasn't so obvious. Once Sayid was on his own again, and building homes in Santa Domingo, he had time to calm down and realize (or at least believe) he'd been had. If he had stronger evidence of Ben's perfidy, Linus probably couldn't visit Sayid in the Dominican Republic without being shot. In fact, Sayid still has to believe Ben enough that he'll return to Los Angeles to help protect Hurley (even as he tells him not to trust Ben).

We also learned why Sayid was on the plane, and who Ilana is. While she didn't know (or said she didn't know) Ben, it's impossible to believe her plan doesn't have his fingerprints on it.

The main plot back at the Dharma Initiative was fun. The Losties can't reveal the truth, and Sawyer does what he can to save Sayid, but Sayid's not playing ball. If it wasn't clear before, Sawyer is happy in his place with the DI. Off the island, he was a con man, always on the run. Now he's finally a respected leader of the community, and is doing good, honest work. (I think he was always jealous of Jack for this reason.) I supposed he understands he can't really do this job forever. Maybe he figures there's more than a decade before the DI is wiped out, so let's just take it one day at a time. Juliet also seems to have this take, though she understands that the arrival of their old pals must change everything.

Anyway, Sayid's refusal leads to the best scene in the show. He's brought to Oldham (played by the great William "Larry" Sanderson), who specializes in extracting information. This is what Sayid used to do, of course--hence the title--and since then, the show has made sure there have been a number of times where Sayid has been held in constraints and questioned. Oldham uses some sort of truth serum. Sayid starts telling what he knows, but because he claims to be from the future, no one believes him. Buth funny and tense.

As a sidelight we got some Love Connection stuff with the Juliet-Sawyer-Kate-Jack combo, and Hurley gets to put the cooking skills he learned in the fast food world to use.

Next, Sayid's scheduled to be shot. (They decide this in a scene where they bring up my alma mater, University of Michigan, for the first time since season two.) But he's not worried, he knows his purpose. Around this point I started wondering is he going to shoot little Ben Linus? Is that his "purpose" on the island?

Yes.

Still, I had trouble accepting it could happen. It's cruel, even for Sayid, and, of course, we know that Linus lives on. Or do we?

Ben, conniving as always, busts Sayid out. Sayid takes on Jin (wouldn't Jin be asking a lot more questions about Sun?--guess he doesn't get a chance to that easily). Then he turns and shoots Ben right in the chest.

Even though I predicted it (I didn't believe Sayid planned to lead him to the Hostiles, even if he knew how to), I was still shocked. A lot of commentary I've read since assumes that Ben can't be dead. How can they be sure? Because Faraday said so? I'm not sure if Eloise Hawking would agree. This could be another mindbending moment that Lost is famous for.

Since then, I've heard some people who claim to have inside information on next week's episode say Ben survives--okay, we'll see. Maybe Jack will get to perform surgery on him again. (Or would he refuse this time?) It would certainly make sense. How much will he remember, because he sure tries to kill Locke many years later (after, it seems to me, the Others went out of their way not to kill him), though you think he'd know it can't work. Ben seems to plan ahead a lot, but he also seems to kill impetuously.

While we still need a couple episodes to explain how Kate (who mentioned she had her own reasons) and Hurley got on that flight, we also need some reason for the Losties to get out of the Barracks. I suppose it could happen against their will, like something Faraday does, but better if they do it because they want or need to. Here there are a number of possibilities. Could be internal dissension, where Jack gets out of his funk, challenges Sawyer, and says "we've got to go back" yet again. Or, more likely they'll have the threat of being found out, and have to make their move. Or maybe they'll be in the middle of some DI/Hostiles action. Then, of course, you've got the wild card of Sun, egged on by Christian and actively seeking the group.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk

For years the Farrelly Brothers have been trying to put together a Three Stooges film. Recreating classic comedy teams has never worked before, so I'm confused as to why this is their passion, but I guess that's their business. Anyway, it looks like they've got their cast.

It's Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Jim Carrey. I had to check the date of the article to make sure it wasn't an April Fool's joke. They're fine actors, certainly (and as fans of Hugo Chavez, Penn and Del Toro are stooges), but I don't see any of them working. (And I liked Carrey's performance as Andy Kaufman.) Better to get three unknowns so you're not constantly thinking about the impersonations.

Carrey is Curly, Penn is Larry, Del Toro is Moe. What, no Shemp? I find Penn as Larry, the forgotten stooge, the most interesting. The article says he hasn't done a comedy "since the 1989 laffer We're No Angels." If then.

No News

Even though I mourn the loss of newspapers, they're the last business we should be bailing out. I believe in separation of press and state.

Keep America Beautiful

Part of the fun of Mad Men is showing how different society was in the early 60s. Everyone smoked. Everyone drank. And the guys said shocking things to the gals in the office. (The trick is to create real characters and real drama that aren't upstaged by all this.)

One of the most shocking moments came in the second season, where Don Draper took his family on a picnic. Upon leaving, they flipped up the blanket, flinging their refuse all over, and drove away without giving it a thought. It was the hard to believe. I know this was before Lady Bird Johnson's beautification program, but would people truly leave the entire remains of a picnic behind?

I got some evidence while watching Breakfast At Tiffany's, released in 1961. Buddy Ebsen comes to New York and buys a box of Cracker Jack. As he walks through a park, he opens it and tosses the flap away. It's not a big moment, but that's the point--not worth commenting on. Next, he meets George Peppard and hands him the box. Peppard absent-mindedly takes out package that holds the prize. He tears it open, takes the prize, and tosses the paper away. Once again, not worth commenting on.

If the film were made today, I bet neither of them would toss out garbage. On the other hand, Peppard would be gay and Audrey Hepburn would be a call girl. Back then, those changes were their idea of keeping America beautiful.

Fooling With Mother Nature

So a creationist museum has a display on natural selection. This shouldn't be too surprising, since not even a creationist can deny that nature selects for certain traits, as this selection can be observed directly. Their argument is that it can't create a new species.

This sort of makes sense for young earth creationists, since 6000 years or so isn't really enough time to create the diversity we see. But young earth arguments run into so many other problems, it's hardly worth the trade-off. I don't understand, however, how other creationists can maintain this argument.

What is the difference between closely related species? They've got the same basic skeleton, organs, musculature (or the equivalents for plants). They've got the same cell structure. Underneath it all, they share the same DNA. The only really differences tend to fall into categories like shape, size, color and behavior--the very things natural selection works on. Given enough time, what's stopping one species from turning into a new one? What is this insuperable barrier creationists believe in? Is there some sort of as-yet undiscovered rubber band mechanism inside each species that makes it snap back to normal if it stretches too far?

The day these are no longer rhetorical questions is the day the creationists actually have an argument.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Say What?

From an online WSJ article where business leaders complain about how they've been demonized by the politicos during the current crisis:

"Washington and Wall Street are the equivalent of Gettysburg and Antietam right now," said Glenn Hutchins, co-chief executive of private-equity firm Silver Lake.
I think he's just trying to make the simple point that public and private sector types are at each others throats like the North and South in the Civil War but its a curious analogy not just because of the basic English problems (i.e. the battle locations didn't fight each other) but also due to the historical references. Both battles were "turning points," both were exceptionally bloody even by the standards of the war and both featured a decisive victory by the Union. Assuming the North represents the government side, is Hutchins saying that business and government are fighting costly battles in which a wounded government will eventually prevail?

His press flak might suggest the French Revolution as a better historical analogy, with Congress in the Robespierre role and Wall Street as the ancien regime.

The First And The Worst

This case is infuriating, but that's only because the underlying law is so awful.

The Supreme Court has to decide if a 90-minute documentary about Hillary Clinton can be banned before an election, the same way an ad can under campaign finance law. The New York Times describes it as a "quirky" case, but this is right down the middle, exposing what McCain-Feingold is all about:

Several of the court’s more conservative justices reacted with incredulity to a series of answers from a government lawyer about the scope of Congressional authority to limit political speech. The lawyer, Malcolm L. Stewart, said Congress has the power to ban political books, signs and Internet videos, if they are paid for by corporations and distributed not long before an election.

Why weren't all nine justices shocked? THE GOVERNMENT MAY NOW BAN BOOKS! Doesn't that sound at least a bit troubling?

Mr. Stewart added that there was no difference in principle between the 90-minute documentary about Mrs. Clinton, “Hillary: The Movie,” and a 30-second television advertisement.

I agree. This is why the government should not be allowed to regulate political commercials.

Justice David H. Souter quoted snippets of the film’s characterization of Mrs. Clinton, who was running for president and is now secretary of state.

“She is ruthless, cunning, dishonest, do anything for power, will speak dishonestly, reckless, a congenital liar, sorely lacking in qualifications, not qualified as commander in chief,” Justice Souter recited.

“I mean,” he concluded, “this sounds to me like campaign advocacy.”

Absolutely. Just like a Michael Moore film or an editorial in the corporation-backed New York Times.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked whether it would make a difference if a 500-page book had a single sentence in it that said “vote for X.” [....]

If corporate money were used to pay for the book [...], Mr. Stewart said, Congress would have the power to ban them before elections.

Because, as we all know, Uncle Sam is a great literary critic, and should be allowed to read every book to decide which ones can be published.

Justice Breyer tried to steer the conversation away from speech and toward money.

As well he should. Anything to avoid the clear consequence of the law. Just keep repeating it's all about regulating money (in ways that have the effect of banning speech).

“We are dealing with a constitutional provision, are we not, the one that I remember which said Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press?” Justice Scalia asked. He was referring, of course, to the First Amendment.

I wish we could say "of course." Seems to me the First Amendment has been forgotten here.

The Voice Of Summer

So long, George Kell. At least Ernie's still left.



(Turn the sound off. Why do these people who make videos ruin them by putting music on top?)

Cold Snap

The US Navy lab says they might have a breakthrough in cold fusion. Nuclei have a lot of power waiting to be released, but they repel each other so it's hard to get them to fuse. This is why the process is generally believed to require high amounts of energy, and thus the excitement over the potential of "cold" fusion. We've needed a breakthrough in energy for quite a while, and this could be it.

However, not only is cold fusion hard to swallow theoretically, but we've been down this road before and nothing came of it. Until someone can replicate what the Navy lab is claiming, I see no reason to get excited.

Two Down, One To Go

With Battlestar Galactica now over, and only a season and a half left of Lost, is it possible that there'll come a day when Heroes will be the only sf hourlong show I watch? If that turns out to be true, I'm glad to report that the latest episode, "Cold Snap," was good news.

The show isn't back to its first season level, but it may have turned a corner. It could be that Bryan Fuller, who's taken over the show and wrote "Cold Snap," may know what he's doing. It's still the same show, but it felt like a semi-reboot.

The main problem in the past, aside from lack of originality, was the lack of consistency--characters did whatever fit the moment, and the plot went one way then another. Fuller has concentrated the situation so it's clearer, and the characters have fairly straightforward, rational motivations. (When you're in the middle of fantasy, you need to establish a ground to stand upon.)

First, he established the enemy. There's been so much confusion as to what they can and can't do, and who's in charge, that simplification was necessary. Now that Nathan is out (at least for a while--we'll see how he tries to mix in) you have Danko clearly running things--a good thing, since he's the alpha villain right now. But you've also got subversion coming from Noah, which also works, since it's never been quite clear where he stands. (He's also one of the most consistently good characters they have.)

I admit I was a bit confused at their starting point. It's been two weeks, but did I miss an episode? I don't recall Danko having captured all these Heroes, and keeping them in artificial comas. And I thought Sylar was waiting to talk to Danko. I guess he left him a present of the Puppeteer, but that's not the same thing.

Another good thing was they actually managed to make Tracy interesting. Niki was enough trouble, but Tracy was always dull. (What was not interesting was her bringing up Abu Ghraib and Che Geuvara--the less real world stuff in this show, the better. The show even had a line about how Guevara led a revolution, but right now we're in a rebellion--this was spoken as if it had meaning.) She escaped and had some inner life. Her talent also mattered. In the end, she did what's right and sacrificed herself to save someone else. (Sort of like Boomer in BG.) Her death was not a big deal, however, since her talent was boring and we know there's yet a third version of Ali Larter out there, so she'll be back (unless Fuller doesn't like her). Let's hope she has a better power. (Or can Tracy re-form, like Robert Patrick in Terminator 2? After she shattered, we got a wink out of what was left of her.)

Through Tracy we found out who Rebel was. As predicted on this page, it was Micah. It made sense, considering how he controlled all machines. I didn't like Micah that much in the first season, but a passable first-season character looks pretty good right now. (I wonder if Walt will make another appearance in Lost? It would be nice, if they had the time, to somehow have Walt see his dad again, while we're at it.)

Hiro and Ando starting making sense again, for the first time in quite a while. We now see they're saving Matt Parkman's baby, who has the ability to turn things on. (A bit like Micah, but not quite the same. At least he can't draw the future, a power they should never have, but which they've given to three Heroes.) We also got to see Matt's wife again--is she coming back? Hiro was the audience favorite, but as he became more infantile, he became more unbearable. Once he lost his powers, you wondered why he's around any more at all. Well, he got back his powers, thanks to the baby. But because he used to be too powerful, Fuller has wisely limited them a bit. Ando also seems to be able to throw fireballs now, which wasn't quite his power earlier. It'd be best to return him to sidekick--I've long said a balance of power/no power works better for the show--but I don't see Ando returning to his former status.

Mohinder was there, but not doing much. He was mostly a fall guy, and someone in the background to help Parkman. Speaking of which, we had the last chapter of Parkman and Daphne. I'd grown to like her a bit and was surprised when she bit the dust. (Good fake-out with Tracy dying--you didn't think there'd be a second.) This does follow the pattern of any babe who's not an original lead buying it. Parkman did what he could, but when he met her in Paris and he started flying, I figured something was up. It was him inside her head, just before she died. (She did die, didn't she? She flatlined, there's no cheerleader around to save her.) The whole scene was one of the better things Heroes has done--if Matt and Daphne were a well-developed couple at this point, it would have even been more moving. I suppose getting rid of her frees up Parkman for his own plotline, and also gives him a motive for revenge, which is all to the good. I just hope they don't do the obvious and have him go back to his wife and search for his baby. He does have his wife on the mind, as he proved with his cover story for Daphne. (The Gwen Stefani story is better.)

Meanwhile, Angela Petrelli is on the run, and so are her boys. We didn't see Nathan, but I'm guessing all the Petrelli's are regrouping. Peter and Angela end up at the top of the Statue Of Liberty, with Peter asking what they do next. My guess is they walk down the stairs, if Peter's new sole power is his mother's.

No sign of the Cheerleader, though she'll be back. I don't think Noah can openly protect her any more. And no Sylar, which is fine with me. He's an audience favorite, but I thought after he played a big part in the first season they should have moved on.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Shouldn't This Be AnnArborGuy's Story?

The Ann Arbor News print edition is shutting down. I know this sort of thing is happening all over, but it still comes as a shock.

I admit when I lived in Ann Arbor, I didn't regularly read the News. Like so many others, I would check out the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press (both of which are in trouble as well) and sometimes a national paper like The New York Times. But it was good to have a full-sized Ann Arbor paper around for local information. Their building was right there downtown, part of the life of the city, and I knew several people who worked there over the years.

I recognize this is part of a bigger trend. TV started killing newspapers years ago, and now, perhaps, the internet is the coup de grace. Maybe I should celebrate that forests are being saved, but the passing of something so central to so many is sad. Ann Arbor has a population of over 100,000, and is obviously a literate place. If a print edition of a paper can't manage there, I don't see how it can manage in any small town.

Peed There, Done That

They're planning to turn urine into water at the Space Station. Big deal, Kevin Costner already did it in Waterworld.



What, salt water wouldn't work?

It's Official

David Letterman and Regina Lasko have tied the knot. They've been together for over 20 years and have a 5-year-old son. It's fine with me if they want to get married, but this is a case where I find it hard to believe a piece of paper will make a difference.

Full Speed Ahead

The latest Zogby poll showing Obama near 50-50 in approval is an outlier, so I wouldn't take the particular numbers too seriously. On the other hand, I do agree the trend is downward.

This was to be expected. First, he's a president in a bad economic period, and sooner or later some of it will stick to him, especially after he's concentrated so much on the economy. Second, he won a lot of independent and even conservative voters who believed his centrist rhetoric, so his big-spending ways was bound to disenchant them.

Will worsening polls chasten him and change his path? I doubt it for at least two reasons (beyond the fact he honestly believes he's doing the right thing).

First, the president only has so much control over the economy. If it's bad next election, it'll hurt him, but if it's good, it'll help, so why worry about polls today? (And in any case better to have the public take their medicine now.)

Second, whether or not he gets reelected, he may never have a chance as good as he has today to pass what he wants. With strong majorities in Congress, he can force through all but the most unpalatable programs. Even if his polls tank later, the legislation will remain. What's the point of being President, even for two terms, if you can't get through laws you support?

The only way I can see him truly change his ways are if he's unpopular enough to actually lose votes in Congress, and he's got a ways to go before that happens.

Monday, March 23, 2009

DF BD

Happy birthday, Dave Frishberg.

Query

We're getting a bit of an uptick in hits. Someone must be linking us. Any idea who?

P.S. Apparently we're getting a lot of traffic to "The Cuoco Continuum." I can see why, but I'm still not sure who linked it.

Whose Hulu?

Hulu.com is the most popular video site after YouTube. It's a good place to catch a bunch of TV shows and movies, So I don't get these recent Hulu commercials featuring Alec Baldwin, Eliza Dushku and Seth MacFarlane suggesting Hulu is a fiendish plot to destroy us.

To Be Blunt

This week I saw The Great Buck Howard, featuring Emily Blunt. Last week I saw Sunshine Cleaning, featuring Emily Blunt. (They also both feature Steve Zahn--I hope they like working together.)

In both films she has an American accent. It's perfectly believable, but after being introduced to her so memorably in The Devil Wears Prada, where she's British, I couldn't help but think about her accent every time she opened her mouth.

She was born in England, by the way. It actually would have been more interesting if she were American.

The Last New Item I'll Ever Write On Battlestar Galactica

I held out as long as I could--two days--but I watched the Battlestar Galactica finale last night. If you haven't seen it yet, steer clear.

Overall, I'd say it was a success. It tied up everything, answered most of the questions, and gave us a clear ending. I admit the show, taken as a whole, doesn't hang together as well as it might--I bet if you looked at the first season now, you'd see a lot that's hard to explain. But we already knew they were making it up as they went along, so you gotta roll with the punches.

One of the exciting things about the series is you really didn't know how it would end. These days, you can usually guess the ending of a movie or a show, since the good guys always win. Even assuming you know who the good guys are in Galactica, there was no guarantee the human race would survive, or the"bad" cylons would be destroyed.

The show also had a lengthy denouement. While I don't like this for a short, unified work, epics, going back to Homer, have earned them. You've been following the story for a long time, and after the climax, you need some time to ease out.

The action, which took up most of the final two hours, was exciting but confusing. I wasn't clear on their precise plan (or even the general one). I knew they wanted to get back Hera, but how they were gonna do it without getting destroyed I'm not sure. And even then, it seems like it couldn't have worked without Boomer having a change of Cylon heart--and that's something you can't plan on. (I thought they might sacrifice the Galactica to make headway, since it was doomed anyway, but they had other plans.)

Speaking of Boomer, she finally bought it. It was a long time coming, and she got to redeem herself first, but it made sense. She did get killed by her own model, and that seems only right.

Speaking of finally doing the right thing, it took the ENTIRE series, but Baltar did something selfless (apparently) and stayed behind to fight. This was part of a Plan, and it was finally fulfilled. All the characters had an arc, but none more than Baltar.

This ties into the "Hera, Hera, Who's Got The Hera" game. Once the Galactica forces had Hera in their hands, I'm shocked how easily she got away. I understand Helo was shot, but Hera's the whole ball of wax--shouldn't at least someone be there to grab her? This did allow for some nice intercutting with the opera house, where everything promised was clarified and fulfilled.

The big confrontation at the CIC was the heart of the show, and everyone had their moment. Maybe the biggest was Baltar's speech. (He really stepped up this show.) It was a bit surprising how everything quieted down enough so he could make it, but it was a turning point. Then after Tigh promised to help Cavil, a truce was made. (This was the first time Cavil met a self-aware Final Five, but they didn't play it up--they had that moment with Ellen.)

Ironically, Cavil screwed up by trusting them. Not that they didn't have good intentions. It's just that all the Final Five had to work together to bring back resurrection technology, which meant they had to share their thoughts. Tigh (making another promise he couldn't keep) told Tory no one would mind what she'd done. I guess Tigh figured no one could beat him in the ugly department. But none of them guessed that Tory airlocked Cally. Tyrol got so mad he killed Tory. Is this any way for one of the Final Five to act to another? I mean Tigh killed Ellen and she forgave him, so what's up with Galen? Okay, he's pissed, but what the Final Five are doing now is saving all humanity, and all Cylonity while we're at it--they should be above petty recrimination. Not to mention just a little while ago, because of Tyrol's screw-up, Boomer kidnaped Hera which is why they're in such a mess to begin with. Chief used to be the most even-keeled character on the show, but he was acting pretty flaky in the final few episodes, and didn't finish honorably. Yet Tigh told him later on Earth he'd have done the same thing. Yeah, we know, you already did. But doesn't that mean Ellen has every right to kill you?

Luckily, Tyrol being a complete jerk ends up destroying the Cylons' hopes (Cavil can't take it and blows his brains out) and now it's up to Starbuck to save humanity. (See, they all get their moment.) All those piano lessons paid off, and she used the Dylan song to find some way out of there. Here's what I don't get, and I'm assuming it's my fault. I thought the Galactica had a rendezvous with the rest of the fleet. Kara was the one who finally figured out the formula and was able to get Galactica to Earth on its final jump. So how could this be the rendezvous point? How is it the fleet later showed up? Are they just automatically honed in to Galactica's signal and so they FTL it to wherever the Battlestar is at the assigned time? If that's so, where'd they have gone in the very likely event Galactica was destroyed? (Soon after I wrote this I read that Galactica sent a raptor to the rendezvous to tell them where to jump. Never mind.)

This new planet turns out to be beautiful. And inhabited by humans. Huh? What next, rectangular paper? It turns out Earth 2 is our Earth, answering the most basic question of the series: it's our past, not our future. Looks like the technologically modern humans (and Cylons) are gonna hang out with the primitives, and be our ancestors. This, by the way, is the ending of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy.

We also get the other biggest question answered, sorta. It turns out that ghost Six, not to mention ghost Baltar, and even, I guess, undead Kara--whom everyone can see and interact with--are angels, or gods, or Lords of Kobol. I was surprised, but it does make sense in a way. You can call it a deus ex machina, but it's not like they hadn't prepared us for it. Ron Moore (who appeared in a cameo at the end) leaves thing ambiguous enough so that they fit in with quite a few religious traditions.

They all go down to Earth, the final 38,000. (They let the toaster Cylons free--big mistake, I'd have destroyed them.) Lee decides to keep it simple, forswearing their technology, most of which will be flown into the sun by Anders. (Note how after two or three seasons, they finally get Anders out of the way so the real couple, Starbuck and Lee, can have their moment.) This is just stupid. You're on a big, new, unknown planet, and you're spread out. Perhaps you'd like to visit each other, or just talk to each other. Maybe you'd like to have good medicine. Is Baltar not gonna, say, pass on any of his knowledge just so he can go back to farming? Lee says he wants to explore, climb mountains, cross oceans. Now aren't you sorry you got rid of the stuff that would help you do that? And just who made Lee emperor? Shouldn't they vote on this? Sure, if you want to be like Tyrol and go live your life by yourself, fine, but why force it on everyone? The Old Man tells Romo (yep, he's still around--almost became President (ugh!)) that everyone was willing to give it all up because they want a clean slate. I don't buy it. How did they decide so quickly? Bet it was a voice vote with no debate. I'm sure there's a sizable minority who at least want iPods so they can listen to "All Along The Watchtower." This is madness.

So the 38,000 (due to budget constraints, we see about 20) walk to their final homes. Two questions. 1) There's plenty of room, why walk in single file? 2) Why walk anywhere? Why not keep a few ships around for a while, find where you want to live, and have someone drop you off?

Kara, her mission done, disappears, so Lee can go climb a mountain. After a long separation, Baltar (free of his cult--for now, anyway) and the real Six (does she still have her skimpy outfit and heels?--I hope so) walk off into the sunset. Galen, who's seen his loves killed, goes off on his own, never to return, unless he goes on another murderous rampage, I guess. Sharon and Helo get to raise Hera, who's the mother of us all. (She was necessary--so human/human marriages just weren't good enough?) Saul and Ellen go off together--they can't create resurrection technology any more, but the question for them is can they build a still. Adama and Roslin have some sweet final moments together before she kicks the bucket. (No one tries to slice up Hera to save her.)

Cut ahead 150,000 years, and it's our present. Robots are on the rise. Quick, toss all those iPods before they revolt.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hume's Room

I saw a rerun of the first episode of the second season of Lost. It has a brilliant opening.



What's great is the first time you see this, it's a complete mystery. You have no idea who it is, where it is or even when it is. Until the end. You assume it's some flashback off the island. Then you realize--we're in the hatch, and the time is now. The cool thing watching it a second time is to understand exactly what's going on.

Keep It Down, I'm Trying To Study

American University has been named the most politically active campus. Perhaps no surprise, due to its location. Still, I wonder if this is something they should brag about in brochures, or try to hide.

Took The Wrong Turn

Breaking Bad is not disappointing in the second season, though the question remains how long can they keep up the juggling act.

At the beginning of the season I thought Walt's brother-in-law might buy it, but I guess he's a regular, and thus not expendable. (The show is like Weeds in this way--regulars survive, drug dealers die.)

Like BB, the new movie Sunshine Cleaning is set and was filmed in Albuquerque. They must be thrilled at the portrayal of their town--the place is full of drug dealers, murder victims and drug dealers.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Twofer

I was switching channels and went from The Shawshank Redemption to The Hudsucker Proxy, both 1994 films starring Tim Robbins.

Has any other actor ever been in two such unfortunately titled films in the same year?

Spoiler Free

Still haven't watched the Battlestar Galactica finale, so please, if you have, avoid talking about it to me. Or maybe just avoid me in general until I give the all clear signal.

From The Man Who Brought You The Trilogy Meter

Here are some really cool charts dealing with sitcoms.

It's About Time

This takes on the central conflict of our times, and is pretty well done. I'm surprised I hadn't seen it before.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Can I Get A Fact Check?

"We are cooling. We are not warming. The warming you see out there, the supposed warming, and I am using my finger quotation marks here, is part of the cooling process. Greenland, which is now covered in ice, it was once called Greenland for a reason, right? Iceland, which is now green. Oh I love this. Like we know what this planet is all about. How long have we been here? How long? No very long."

Here's hoping Michael Steele is as right about climate change as he is wrong about history. Remind me why they picked this guy again?

See You In Tea

We discussed the song, "If U Seek Amy" a few weeks back and inability of naive old duffers (me) to see what exactly was so offensive about it. (Thank you to all the kind commenters and the other one too)

Now Slate has done a fairly thorough article on it and while not original, it appears that Britney Spears is a Joycean innovator in good (and really bad) company.

They May Change This Later Or Maybe They Like The Implication

Interesting headline in the online WSJ

On Leno, Obama Reacts Coolly to Bill

Surprisingly this wasn't about Secretary Clinton's husband but about Congress's vindictive tax on the galling AIG bonuses . (Thankfully, Obama is sounding the right tone on this one. Let this bill get closer to passage, then watch the market react and say goodbye to the little that's left in your 401k.)

10:35 AM EST-They changed it to "On Leno, Obama Cool to Bonus Bill" (Which I'll admit still makes me think of the former pres first)

Sun Worship

Hello, vernal equinox.

So Say We All

Well, this is it, the final Battlestar Galactica tonight. I've had a lot of problems with this season. It would have been better if they compressed it into half as many episodes. But I'm still expecting greatness. When BG is on, there's nothing like it. And they've set up enough action and left open enough questions that I'm not sure if two-hours will be enough.

In any case, who would have thought a revival of a fairly silly show (if memory serves--never watched it regularly) could have ended up being such a powerful and well-observed series? They were able to transcend the original by taking the concept seriously and, without forgetting the hardware, make it about humans (even the Cylons). BG leaves in its wake more than a few memorable characters and indelible moments.

I don't know what I'll do without new BG. I'm thinking of holding off watching the finale until there's absolutely nothing else worth doing, but I don't think I could remain spoiler-free for long enough to make that pay off.

Do It Big

Nicolas Cage's latest film is Knowing, where he can predict major catastrophes far in advance. Wasn't that long ago he was in Next, where he could see two minutes into the future. Next flopped, so I guess they figured he just didn't have enough lead time.

A Strange Tale

Natasha Richardson's death from a simple skiing accident was a shock. And in one of those freaky coincidences, I changed the channel after I heard the news, and what was on, but The Handmaid's Tale.

Pyramid Scheme

Every now and then I hear the claim that slaves (specifically Jewish ones) built the pyramids. It's a commonplace in entertainment. Just last week I saw a character in Liberty Heights say it and a Futurama episode based on the concept.

In fact, the pyramids, as best as can be understood, were not built by slaves (as we'd understand them) but by labor gangs--made up of conscriptees (some of them perhaps slaves, but slaves at large, not slaves specifically captured to build pyramids), likely free to work during the flood season--and supervised by proud and talented artisans working on what they understood to be a significant national project. Also, the great pyramids were built during the Old Kingdom, before people claim there was a Hebrew presence in Egypt.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

No Prompting

Here's an amusing story about Obama and his teleprompter. Apparently, the President ended up reading a speech where he thanked himself.

I bet you thought I was gonna make a point of how the press would have covered this if it happened to Bush, but I'm above that.

PS This story was related so confusingly I suspected there was something wrong with it. We now have the full tale, where Obama, as you might expect, was joking. (This sort of thing happens all the time--quite a few legendary errors by Reagan, Quayle, both Bushes, etc., didn't really happen in the way the popular imagination has it.)

The Impossible Dream

Interesting piece by Shelby Steele on why African-Americans don't support conservatives. I've always felt this is a disaster for America. (And not because of who gets voted in--imagine that doesn't change.) It's not just bad for Republicans, or blacks, but also for Democrats and whites. All of them are bent in bad directions by this phenomenon.

Conservatives may have a lot to offer minorities, but it's simply a message that African-Americans can't seem to hear. Will this ever change? Not any time soon, but I still believe candidates should try to talk about it, and listen as well. If a change is gonna come, that's the way to start.

Simple Question

I'm a fan of 1960s beach movies, but I've always wondered something. How is it two short, dark-haired Italian kids became of the symbol of this West Coast lifestyle?

Namaste

Okay, a few thoughts on the latest Lost. As always, spoilers will be involved.

First, it was more interstitial than major, filling in some holes and not moving us too far forward. But it was fun, and it occurred to me that I'm equally interested in what's happening in the present and the past. (Other ground they have to cover is the near past, and why the Oceanic 6 got on the plane--I'm not sure how or when they'll work that in.)

Lots of interesting interaction with the Lost gang getting back together after three years. While the reunion was touching, they had to figure things quickly. Lucky Sawyer is head of security (and Amy is on a baby break)--it gives them the perfect cover. In earlier seasons, fans often complained that they never talked or shared secrets. Now they actually have to keep their mouths shut to avoid being discovered. (Earlier this season Hurley found a shirt in a gas station that fit. Now it turns out that the Dharma Initiative makes jumpsuits in his size, too.)

Maybe the most interesting thing is the new dynamic. In the first season or two, there was a generally jockeying for power, but Jack was considered the leader and Sawyer was often frustrated, trying to prove himself (especially to Kate). Now we're on Sawyer's turf. He's in charge and, though he's saving them, they (especially Jack) have to pretty much take whatever Sawyer offers, as he makes more than clear.

Then there's the question of the Juliet-Sawyer-Kate triangle (I guess you could throw in Jack there, too). Sawyer's always had strong feelings for Kate, but I can't believe the reformed, got-it-together head of security would abandon Juliet at this point. If he did, imagine the gossip from the Dharma bums--"can you believe it? LaFleur is with that new chick."

Sawyer did a decent job getting the newbies integrated into the DI. The show seems to be suggesting both Phil and Radzinky are suspicious, though, and with some loose ends--not just prisoner Sayid, but the whole layout--there might be trouble, and who knows how long the party will last.

There were a few leads missing in action. No Locke, because we saw what happened before he showed up after the crash. As expected, Lapidus landed on the runway. His copilot died. The Island is not a safe place for pilots. Also as expected, Sun took the outrigger to the main island with Lapidus. (We knew one of them would lay out Ben--it was Sun, who's always been crafty. I should also add that I think Ben, for all his cleverness, holds the record for most regularly beaten up TV character.) I'd actually forgotten what was happening on the island in the present. The poor Others, who finally got Locke as their leader, only to have him flash away. For what it's worth, neither Sun nor Ben yet know Locke is alive. Don't know who'll be more surprised.

Sun and Lapidus met up with Christian, who may be a ghost, but can take photos of walls and hand them over. I was glad he told Sun where Jin is. At least she knows he's alive on the island--to bad it's 30 years ago. What was not explained was why Sun was the only Oceanic Sixer not to make the time jump--especially as she wanted more than anyone to meet someone in the past. Is the island just being perverse?

Also no Faraday. Either he's left the barracks or has left the DI completely. We do know he at least worked a while over at the Orchid. Could he be planning to make his escape to Tunisia? Has he already? (Doubt that, though maybe he'll get out, and then need to get out of his time loop, where he cries when he sees the Oceanic flight go down, he'll have to get Desmond to do something for him again.) As I've stated before, I think Faraday will be the cause of "the incident" that Pierre Change has discussed.

We also got to see the Flame in its full glory, and a model of the Swan before it's built.

Another small mystery solved--Horace and Amy's child is Ethan. He'll survive the purge and become one of the Others.

The big question is where do we go from here. The Losties gotta get together and work something out--they can't just hang around forever with the Initiative. (They gotta show initiative.) Also, Locke and Ben can't just hang around on the small island, but what's their next move? We know where Ben wants to go, but will the crash survivors and Locke let him? And finally, who moves where? Sun wants to get to Jin (and Christian says she's got a lot to do) but does she want to go back 30 years (isn't that the plot of Back To The Future?)? Wouldn't it be better to get the other Losties back to the present? Do the Losties want to get back to the present? They don't even know what happened to the plane they were in, much less Sun is back in 2007.

The big surprise at the end was good, but I saw it coming. Two weeks ago, I assumed there was no way Ben could be at the DI yet. But then I thought about it. Here's a guy who always has lots of information and only lets it out when it serves him. The one guy who could know about all the Losties having been with Dharma in the 70s (if that, indeed, is the plan) and not tell anyone would be him. The hardest to explain would probably be Julet, since she's recruited and he later gets sweet on her. On the other hand, does having photos of former DI employees who'd later become Losties tell Ben and Alpert, among other things, who they can't kill? (On the other hand, isn't Juliet in any of those photos? Was she not allowed in the processing building, or were they hidden from her during her time with the Others?)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lost List

Here's a question I don't think Lost will answer. Once the Island started flashing, how many redshirts were left? And have any survived since? Aside from Bernard and Doris, we don't really know any of them anyway.

Another thing. Every major character on and off the island has aged 3 years since they crashed in 2004--except Locke. While everyone else was off living their lives, he was gone for a while (how long we're not sure) and then came back. On the other hand, unlike the others, he died, which I suppose can take a lot out of you.

Glibbs

Last year candidate John McCain declared the fundamentals underpinning of our economy were strong. I thought he was correct, but, of course, in a falling economy he looked out of touch, and was attacked by candidate Obama for the statement.

Now, with umemployment higher and the stock market lower, White House economic advisor Christima Romer has declared our economy is fundamentally sound, so it's good to see Obama has come around to my point of view.

But don't worry, John McCain is still wrong. As White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has explained, there's a world of difference between saying the fundamentals are "strong" and the fundamentals are "sound":

No Historical Film Can Have Integrity

This is the opening of Anthony Lane's New Yorker review of Gomorra (which is so ecstatic it borders on parody):

The first thing you should know about “Gomorrah” is that no fewer than three members of its cast have been arrested on suspicion of illegal activities. There could be no more unimpeachable testament, surely, to the integrity of Matteo Garrone’s film, which is about organized crime in Naples.

Having a cast of real crooks, even if your film is about crooks, doesn't create integrity. Who cares what they do in their spare time?

Run Away!

A couple days ago, I wrote that the LA Times shouldn't publish an article about conservatives hurting without proof. Now I've got to say that the Washington Post shouldn't do the same for Obama. Here's what they said:

President Obama's apparent inability to block executive bonuses at insurance giant AIG has dealt a sharp blow to his young administration and is threatening to derail both public and congressional support for his ambitious political agenda.

Derail his agenda? A huge claim. Perhaps they're right, but I'd like some actual evidence. For instance, a pronounced drop in the polls after the AIG news came out, or better, a direct poll where people said this hurts their view of the President. Instead, all we get is there's a general impression--especially among the press--this is bad for Obama.

I admit I'm shocked at how this story has exploded. The government spending hundreds of billions on a bailout program is a big deal; a few hundred million spent in ways the public doesn't approve (but could have been foreseen) seems a lot less important.

The question is will the anger spread to Congress and the White House. Certainly the politicians--from Obama on down--are wasting no time in expressing their "outrage." (Obama will no doubt repeat his feelings when he appears on Leno tomorrow night. It'd be more fun to have him on Jon Stewart.)

My favorite political response comes from Senator Charles Schumer. It might be expected that Schumer would react more extravagantly than most--don't forget this is the man who once called for a federal investigation into the high price of breakfast cereals. Here's what he's saying now:

"They should voluntarily return them (the bonuses). If they don't we plan to tax virtually all of it," Senator Charles Schumer, a member of the Democratic leadership, said in a speech on the Senate floor.

That sounds like a bill of attainder, or at least an ex post facto law, but perhaps there's some way to get away with it. And if they do, I hope that shows why we don't want the government to manage private industry.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Casey Mills went on to explain that black is white and 2+2=5

"I suggest, you know, obviously, maybe they ought to be removed," [Sen. Charles] Grassley [R-IA] said. "But I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better toward them if they'd follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, I'm sorry, and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide.

"And in the case of the Japanese, they usually commit suicide before they make any apology."

Grassley spokesman Casey Mills said the senator isn't calling for AIG executives to kill themselves, but said those who accept tax dollars and spend them on travel and bonuses do so irresponsibly.

From here

Save Us

I saw a trailer for the big summer film Terminator Salvation. As I feared, it's set in the post-apocalyptic world where the machines have taken over. (I guess it's hard not to do that after T3.)

What was fascinating about the first three films was the (shifting) idea of trying to change the future by sending back terminators to the present. Not having the setting in the present sounds a lot less fun.

PS As long as it's an apocalyptic film with Christian Bale, why not throw in fire-breathing dragons?

Deesperate

Tracy Morgan hosting SNL wasn't much, but at least they had a new chapter of his best character, Astronaut Jones.


Watch more SpikedHumor videos on AOL Video


PS No matter how hard I try I cannot understand what they say at the end of the credits.

Something To Talk About

I read in Entertainment Weekly that the choice for Gaius Baltar on Battlestar Galactica came down to James Callis or Jon Cryer. (I sort of know Jon, so I'll have to ask him about this. He's done just fine for himself starring in Two And A Half Men.)

I can't imagine anyone but Callis in the role. And I don't just say that because I've gotten used to him. Of all the characters on the show, none have been so shaped by the particular actor more than Baltar.

In general, I like the cast, but I'd say the only actors who are essential for making the show work as it has are Callis, Tricia Helfer, and maybe Michael Hogan and Mary McDonnell.

Critical Thinking

The publishers of "When You Wish Upon A Star" sued Family Guy for their episode "When You Wish Upon A Weinstein." Since parodies are legal, it was tossed out. We should appreciate our First Amendment freedoms in general, since plenty of people around the world don't like them and don't want them. Right now, Islamic states wish to make criticising their religion a human rights violation. Looks like the UN Human Rights Council will avoid criticizing religions during their debates.

Speaking of criticism, a number of leftist groups, tired of criticizing Rush Limbaugh, are going after CNBC. With deep economic troubles in the country caused by numerous factors in our government, our businesses and ourselves, they've decided to attack a TV channel. Even some otherwise respectable people have signed up. They're claiming that since CNBC (which made most of its "mistakes" in 2008 and earlier, when they were backing Barack Obama, and no one on the left cared) aired too many allegedly bad ideas that backed Wall Street, it's only fair that they make numerous mistakes backing the ideas the left supports.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Trendmongering

Here's some advice to the Los Angeles Times. If you're going to publish an article entitled "Conservative talk radio on the wane in California," include actual evidence.

The closest thing they've got to a real argument (much of the piece has nothing to do with the headline) is the claim that due to the recession there's less revenue for radio, which has led to a handful of conservative hosts across the state having had their shows replaced (though by what they don't say--the only specific case I know of had a local conservative replaced by a national conservative) or scaled back. Considering the recession hits everyone, and even in good times, hosts come and go, we need a bit more than this.

An example of real evidence, rather than mere theorizing, would be a general trend of lower ratings among conservative talk shows--especially if set against stable or higher ratings for radio overall. Another way to prove the case would be to demonstrate there are less hours of "conservative talk" available. I don't think this is asking too much.

They've Gone About As Fer As They Can Go

As I've noted before, TV characters tend to get more extreme the longer the show is on. By the final season, the leads of Seinfeld were monsters--we'd probably have hated them if we didn't know them already.

It got me thinking about Gregory House, M.D. Here's a character who was meant to be pretty outrageous from the start, but in the first season or so, you still see stirrings up humanity underneath. The character has since become harsher, a real pest to the people around him. I supposed I understand why viewers are still attracted to a brilliant and funny character, but I don't get why his colleagues seek his friendship, much less put up with him.

Ron Silver

Ron Silver has died. Didn't even know he was ailing. He was a major character actor/not quite star who was a regular presence on stage and screen for the past 35 years. He won a Tony for Speed-the-Plow (even though co-star Joe Mantegna had the bigger role) and was also nominated for Emmys, including his fairly recent stint as tough political operator Bruno Gianelli on West Wing.



I know him best for his movie work, where he was equally deft at comedy and drama, and at playing good guys and bad guys. He had such a strong presence I can still recall his first movie appearance, a bizarre comic turn as Dr. Manuel Labor in Tunnel Vision, and soon after that, the confused placekicker Vlada Kostov in Semi-Tough.

I think his first film lead was in the forgettable horror film The Prophecy. I say forgettable, but I still remember him in it. He got to stretch a bit as Holocaust survivor Herman Broder in Enemies, A Love Story. Perhaps his highest profile role was Alan Dershowitz in Reversal Of Fortune (though it was Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons who got most of the attention as Claus Von Bulow). But no matter what he played, he always brought his distinct and strong personality to the part.

Clock Out

Watchmen turns out to be a fanboy phenomenon. A huge one, but one that won't cross over. After dropping almost 70% in its second weekend, it'll have trouble making much more than $120 million domestic. Worse, superhero films don't do that well overseas, so worldwide totals for the $150 million film will be a huge disappoinment.

More interesting is a four-way race of little films that could. You've got Clint Eastwood's biggest hit ever, Gran Torino, at $144 million and almost played out. You've also got the could-have-gone-straight-to-video Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire at $133 million and far from over. Then there are the two out of nowhere January blockbusters, Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Taken. Blart's at $138 million and has some play left, and Taken is an old-fashioned word-of-mouth hit that barely drops week to week. It's already made $127 million and where it stops, nobody knows.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Like Butter

I saw a poster for a film version of Spinning Into Butter. Generally, problem plays (certainly the type Rebecca Gilman writes) don't translate into successful movies. (And now that I see the film was made in 2007, I think it has even less chance.)

Is This Good News?

NBC renews Heroes for a season. No surprise, considering the network is in fourth place, and a show that has any following would be back.

Season four should start with one of the characters waking up and everything after season one was a dream.

A New Act

The new widescreen Simpsons has updated titles:



Odder is that the show now has four acts instead of three. I don't like it. Makes each act too short.

Prelude

It's hard to write about the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica since it's actually the first third of a three-hour finale. (Lost did a similar thing last year, splitting up the final show.) Furthermore, it was mostly flashbacks to the days before the Cylon destruction, and only pointed toward the big--and I hope final--conflict. In fact, I don't know if two hours will be enough to wrap things up, since they've got so much to do.

Though you might think they'd be forward-looking at this late point, I enjoyed seeing the characters in earlier days. Nevertheless, considering all the episodes we've seen this year, I'm guessing they had enough plot for one last season, and, stretching it out to a season and a half, ended up with a too many stories with stasis.

Too late to change that, but let's hope they can end it all with the intelligence and excitement that represents the series at its best.

PS I played one moment over and over. When the recon ship comes out of the jump near the end of the episode, the pilot doesn't say "frak" (even though the CC claimed she did), but the actual F-word.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Big In Japan

Tokyo Story was on TCM. I hit the info button and they gave it three stars. Tokyo Story gets three stars? This film regularly appears on top ten of all time lists. It's like Citizen Kane getting three stars.

Taking Flight

The first season of Flight Of The Conchords had them writing shows around songs they already had. This season, they're writing new songs to fit into the story they've worked out. It's had to odd effect of making the songs weaker but the shows better.

What's It All About

I caught a bit of Susan Slept Here, a minor comedy from the 50s starring Dick Powell and Debbie Reynolds. What intrigued me was the heavily featured Alvy Moore. The guy pops up in a bunch of 50s movies, such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Wild One, but this was one of his biggest roles. He also did a lot of supporting work on TV in the 60s.

But he'll forever be remembered as Hank Kimball. That's why it's so fascinating to see him do anything else. After watching him in that, you can't buy him acting normal.

It's Always About You

Over at Moviefone they promised a feature on "the 40 best movies of the Me Decade." I clicked on it and for some reason was sent to a page of the "Greatest Movies Of The '80s."

I realize there's enough residual anti-Reagan feeling that many want to turn the Go-Go 80s into the Me Decade after the fact, but it's the 70s that were, and will always be, the Me Decade.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Apologies to the Franco-Dutch

One of the best 30 Rock's ever last night. Can't go wrong with an "everything keeps going wrong" motif.
This is the best guess I found as to what bitenuker might mean.

But what is a Hot Richard? (I have plenty of guesses but none I wanted to print)

An Easy Call

Obama now has to decide whether to back a court ruling that federal employees are entitled to same-sex-partner health insurance benefits. The Times tries to portray this as a "tough choice" because on the one hand, he repeatedly said he would, but on the other hand, "if he supports the judges and challenges the marriage act, he risks alienating Republicans with whom he is seeking to work on economic, health care and numerous other matters." Which Republicans are those? The entire House Republican caucus at this point would refuse on principle to vote to spend $50 on more soap for the Capitol bathrooms, and there are at least 2 Republican Senators who aren't opposed to same-sex benefits. Where's the risk?

Parting Shot

Here's a solid editorial from the Washington Post regarding Chas Freeman's withdrawal. It's considerably better, on a factual basis, than their news coverage of the same.

Didn't We Do This Last Month?

Happy Friday the 13th.

Camelot Comes A Lot

The credits of Watchmen had a bit with the Kennedy assassination. Kennedy as an icon continues to fascinate, and I recently saw two films trailers in a row that deal with him.

One was An American Affair, a poorly-reviewed film starring Gretchen Mol as a women who's involved with the President in 1963. I guess if it wasn't Kennedy, there'd be no story.

Then there's Virtual Kennedy: Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived. Sounds silly, but I suppose handled well it could be thought-provoking. Unfortunately, after seeing the trailer, it looks to be pretty one-sided--making Kennedy what the filmmaker wants him to be, taking the past 45 years into account. That's a virtual review of my virtual Virtual Kennedy.

One of the actual reviews says "A prime example of the power of the documentary to expose truths and to enhance legends at one and the same time." I would think those two goals are opposites.

The Cuoco Continuum

As readers know, I'm a fan of The Big Bang Theory. I've always had trouble, however, with Kaley Cuoco, who plays the babe living next door. She's never seemed that hot to me.

Then I saw her on the street last week. Before I recognized who she was, my first thought was "what a cute girl!"

That's what Hollywood does to us. (Hollywood the concept, not the place. Hollywood the place allows me to run into Kaley Cuoco.) The gal who plays the "girl next door" that the hero ends up with after he fails to get the "hot chick," would, in real life, be the hot chick herself.

Lucky Friday

Almost forgot, it's that time of year. Every Friday during Lent, McDonald's offer its Filet-O-Fish for $1.29. I also see Jack In The Box offers a 2 for $3 Fish Filet Sandwich. Get 'em while they're cheap.

Jon And Jim

Jon Stewart had his feud-mate Jim Cramer on The Daily Show last night. I didn't expect much, but it was considerably worse than I thought it would be.

Stewart ambushed Cramer with old footage and a welter of (weak) arguments, while Cramer was more apologetic than anything else.

Since Cramer (perhaps intimidated on foreign soil) barely offered any explanation for his actions, I won't go into whatever arguments he allegedly made.

Meanwhile, Jon Stewart was amazingly self-righteous, at one point stating "I understand that you want to make finance entertaining, but it's not a (bleeped out) game." You know what else isn't a bleeping game? The news. So what does that make Jon Stewart?

Most of Stewart's arguments were the demagoguery I expect from a politician, not someone who makes jokes at the expense of politicians. (And some wondered if that was the real problem with Cramer--not that he was wrong about Bear Stearns, but that he, and Rick Santelli, turned on Obama, and ranted as his expense.)

Stewart seemed to think everyone saw the problem coming and should have warned us, and that the money people knew they were doing damage to all of us in the long run and just didn't care.

1) At any given time there are many looming disasters. Most of them never become as bad as they could be, and if we spent all our time trying to stamp every one out before it got dangerous, we'd be doing nothing else.

2) We stop lots of potential problems from getting too big. For all we know, there are thousands of catastrophes that could have happened but, due to our foresight, never occurred. The trouble is a) you don't get credit for things that don't happen--though they're just as important as things that do--and b) no matter how many fires you put out, sooner or later one's gonna get by you.

3) By the time a problem is big enough and clear enough that you can see something must be done, it's still quite hard to stop. Perhaps we were right (if a bit late) to take action against the threat of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. But not only will we never know how much better off we are because we went in, but every bad thing that happened because of the war will be blamed on its supporters. Imagine if the Fed changed their outlook a few years ago to help solve the problems we face today, then serious economic dislocations occurred, and the markets dropped 20%. Everyone, including Jon Stewart, I bet, would be screaming bloody murder.

4) It's not much of an argument to claim that money people (as if it were only the money people) were just looking at short-term consequences and ignored the big picture. They did what they thought was best and I doubt they imagined it would cause all this trouble--in fact, I bet they thought they were planning for the long run. It's possible the steps we're taking now to stop our current crisis will be disastrous in the years to come, but the people who propose them aren't saying they don't care, they're saying it's worth taking the chance. Will Stewart condemn them if they're wrong? Heck, let's say you only plan for the long run. You'll likely make just as many mistakes as planning for the short run--maybe more, since no one really knows what the future holds.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What You Talkin' Bout?

Apparently the Sears Tower in Chicago is to be renamed the Willis Tower. The question is will this name last as long as the Fleet Center, Enron Field or Myanmar?

Where's Two And Three?

Thanks to Denver Guy for pointing me toward this Star Trek season one retrospective. I disagree with some of it (I'm a big fan of "Shore Leave" and "This Side Of Paradise," and think "The Alternative Factor" is one of the worst episodes ever) but I like the idea and execution.

Is This Cool Or What?

Over at a screenwriting blog, we get the inside story of the story conference for Raiders Of The Lost Ark, featuring Lawrence Kasdan, Steven Spielberg and, in control, George Lucas.

Oh The Humanity

Here's a photo essay: "Twenty Celebrities that have Aged Misterably."

I think it's a bit unfair. A lot of it is just normal aging, and, being celebrities, most of them had greater heights from which to fall.

Bad Is Back

Breaking Bad's second season continues the work of the first. Things start at a low point and get worse. Which makes you wonder where they'll go next.

Is It Me?

I don't recall NBC ever promoting a show as much as Kings. I still doubt it will succeed. For one thing, it's on NBC. For another, after seeing about 20 ads for it, I still have no idea what it's about.

And What About Naomi?

I was stunned by Eraserhead. I still don't think David Lynch has topped it. The closest he ever came was Mulholland Drive, which I recently rewatched. (I originally saw it at the Vista Theatre. While waiting outside, someone across the street shouted "don't go in, that is the worst movie I've ever seen!")

The amazing thing about MD is, though a unifed work of art, it's a retrofit. Most of it was shot as a pilot for ABC. They turned it down, Lynch thought a bit, figured he could turn it into a feature, got some more money, brought the cast back, and voila! Lynch likes stories that double back on themselves, and you couldn't get a better example than that.

The story is about Betty, a naive young actress trying to make it in Hollywood, and Rita, a myterious woman who's lost her memory. But then, later in the film, these characters (or the actresses playing them) change into Diane and Camilla. Diane is a bitter, frustrated, less talented version of Betty, and Camilla is a beautiful, successful actress. I subscribe to the theory (as many do) that Diane and Camilla are the real world, and Betty and Rita are Diane's dream, much of which involves wish fulfillment.

The story has plenty of Lynchian touches. The most overt is the bizarre Club Silencio, but much better is the scene where The Cowboy meets up with director Adam Kesher. The dialogue is great in a spooky way, but what really makes it are the odd, unaffected line readings of The Cowboy. I don't believe he's a professional actor, which is usually a bad thing, but works perfectly here.

What holds the whole thing together, beyond Lynch's concept, is Naomi Watts' tremendous performance. Every now and then an unknown (which she was to me at the time) knocks one out of the park. You completely buy her as perky, innocent Betty, then you discover Betty has unexpected depths, then you see what's underneath when she turns into Diane. (On top of which, Australian Watts is playing the whole thing with an accent). I think it's one of the greatest performances ever captured on film.
PS I didn't realize Patrick Fischler has a small part in the film. Now that I know him from Mad Men, he seems to be popping up everywhere.

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