Thursday, April 30, 2009

Set Ways

The TV Set is a decent film with a plot that probably can't work. Who cares about the compromises a producer has to make to get his show on the air?

I watched the first act recently and noticed something. Two actors are brought before the network by the hopeful showrunner. There's the "good" (subtle) actor played by Simon Helberg, and the "bad" (big, obvious) actor played by Fran Kranz (what kind of name is that for a guy?). The network, obviously, goes for the latter.

It occurred to me since then, both these guy have been through this process in real life. Kranz was in Welcome To The Captain and is currently on Dollhouse--neither hits. On the other hand, Helberg had a featured role on a high profile project--Studio 60--and has a regular part on a hit, The Big Bang Theory. So in real life, the "good" actor got the part that counted. (Of course, the part that's made Helberg famous, Howard Wolowitz, he plays big. Hmm.)

Unredeemed

A generally unsatisfying finale to an entirely unsatisfying season of Heroes. As always, no matter who seems to die, no one is permanently dead.

While there were a few clever moments, the show continued its trademark of characters rushing in with no rational plan. I see no reason to go over the whole unfortunate plot except to say the Hunter is essentially out of the picture (though he could return if needed) and Sylar's plot to take over the Presidency (or whatever) was foiled. Nathan seemed to die, but was Spocked back to life. (Is that what happened to Locke on Lost?)

I had hopes they'd calmly take their time and plan season three carefully. Get Sylar out of the picture and create a great new villain, or even several, with layers to be uncovered. Remove anyone who can see the future or who has more than one power. Make sure the heroes stay consistent, and never act like idiots. What I'd like, in other words, is a complete wipe of the last two seasons. But just the glimpse of next season, "Redemption," makes me think there'll be no improvement.

It looks like a central plot point of season 4 will be a struggle in "Nathan" for Sylar to come out. No, anything but that, please. We had a chance for a fresh start. Also, Ali Larter will be back. I don't mind this. (And now she's in a surprise hit movie. She may want out.) Too bad it looks like her new character--or is it a warmer version of her old character?--has yet another dull power.

Really it's time to put this show out of its misery, but, just like the characters on the show, no matter how many death blows it receives, it won't die.

No Alternative

Wow, I didn't notice until it wasn't there. But LA City Beat, the first or second-best alternative weekly in LA, is no more. Lately it had gotten impossibly thin, so I should have seen it coming. I wouldn't be surprised if the formerly gigantic cash cow LA Weekly goes down too, yet another death attributable to craigslist.

Accommodation And Duty

Over at Eastern Michigan University, just a stone's throw from Ann Arbor (and as soon at they throw enough stones they'll build the new student union), they're being sued for dismissing one Julea Ward from a graduate program in counseling.

Ward's religious views (from what I can gather) make her believe homosexuality is immoral. Because of this, she referred a gay person to another counselor for guidance. In fact, she was advised to do so.

Ward's actions were then reviewed by EMU, following the standards of the American Counseling Association. According to her lawsuit, she was requested to take a program that would have her change her beliefs regarding how to deal with homosexuality in counseling. She refused and was ultimately dismissed, which she claims was done on the basis of her religion.

These are hard cases, because we want people to be free to practice their religion and have freedom of conscience, but what happens when those beliefs change how they approach a job?

What was to follow here was a listing of difficult cases in the real world, but I don't have time right now. Sorry. Maybe later. And if you don't like it, remind me how much you're paying to read this blog?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Detroit Roundup

The Pistons went out pretty quick. Don't think they ever deserved to be in. A sweep made sense--they were a streaky team.

Surprisingly, the Tigers are in first. Won't last long. Still, there's nothing like a pennant race.

Wasn't the Red Wings' year, but I don't care since I follow Montreal.

And as fans booed, the Lions picked Matthew Stafford. Let me go out on a limb and predict they'll do better this season.

Here's Stafford doing a top ten list on Letterman.

<a href="http://www.joost.com/094wwwg/t/Letterman-Matthew-Stafford-s-Top-Ten-List">Letterman - Matthew Stafford&apos;s Top Ten List</a>

Damn

Unfortunately, but all too predictably, the Supreme Court has allowed the FCC to come down hard on broadcasters for even a single, fleeting, unplanned oath.

[Justice] Scalia, joined by his four conservative colleagues, said the FCC "could reasonably conclude that the pervasiveness of foul language, and the coarsening of public entertainment in other media" justified a stricter policy "so as to give conscientious parents a relatively safe haven for their children."

Oh really? So, in other words, if the rest of our society were simon-pure, then the FCC shouldn't be allowed to stop cursing on television.

(The decision is about a narrow question--there's a larger question about the reach of the First Amendment still to be considered, and based on what Justice Thomas wrote, it may be taken up by the Supreme Court relatively soon. Still, I'll believe it when I see it.)

Double Celebration

CNN is making a big deal of Obama's 100th day in office. Why is it in all my life I never noticed that my birthday is the President's 100-day anniversary?

Party Party

Today's my birthday, and here's a nice present--the 100th episode of Lost. While I enjoy my party, you can look at these pics of their party. Nice cake.






Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Joe Biden Makes His Bones

If he accomplishes nothing else, getting Specter to switch parties marks him as an effective VP.

Something In The Air

Anyone can make a mistake, but letting Air Force One fly low around Manhattan without informing the public is a pretty boneheaded maneuver.

What, No Cole Slaw?

Today El Pollo Loco is offering two free pieces of chicken. This week keeps getting better and better.

PS Just got back. There were even more people than at KFC yesterday. The line went out the door. But while it was a madhouse, it was a controlled madhouse.

I've had the food before, so their leg and thigh combo was no surprise. Salsa and a tortilla was free, but they had a bunch of one dollar add-ons they asked about. I wanted to know what part of free did they not understand?

The Paper

The already emaciated circulation numbers of major newspapers continue to drop. As advertising revenues do the same, we can expect to see more great dailies go from being put to bed to the big sleep.

Will these numbers bottom out, or will they continue to drop? Certainly, whether we like it or not, the news business is changing. I suppose in another generation, if not sooner, we'll simply consume news via other means. The central question should be who gathers the news and how do they get paid. All the other stuff, (e.g., opinions from "experts") isn't quite as pressing.

What's That Again?

Here's a headline from Newsweek: "Obama More Popular Than His Policies; Bad News for GOP."

Does that make sense?

The Professor, Mary Ann

Harvard Law Prof Mary Ann Glendon (met her years ago) was set to receive the prestigious Laetare Medal at Notre Dame's graduation ceremony. However, they also invited President Obama to give the commencement speech. Because she feels the university isn't following its mission by inviting a well known supporter of abortion, giving him an honorary degree, and then touting her acceptance speech as "balance," she has withdrawn from the event and turned down the award.

As Obi-wan says, "You must do what you feel is right, of course," but is this the right thing to do? Was Notre Dame so wrong to invite the President, who doesn't just represent himself, but represents the country? Honoring the President can show respect for the country--it doesn't say you support every belief he has. Notre Dame is a significant educational institution that has intercourse with many people and beliefs--how destructive of their mission is it to acknowledge President Obama this way?

Even if she disagrees, and even feel she's being used, mightn't it still be better to accept the award and make her speech? It does provide balance, and I don't think anyone would claim it means she agreea with everything Notre Dame does.

Dylan Speaks

Dylan's new album, Together Through Life, is out. If you've ever read the interviews he gave when he first became a star, you know his lyrics were clearer. He was cryptic and dismissive--an arrogant young man with a gift for words (who was probably high half the time).

But his 2004 book Chronicles: Volume One (supposedly the first of three volumes--I'll believe it when I read it) was surprisingly straightforward and confessional. And his recent interviews, while he still has his poetic side, are at least responsive.

This interview from the TimesOnline has some interesting nuggets:

BF: Do you think [Obama will] make a good president?
BD: I have no idea. He’ll be the best president he can be. Most of those guys come into office with the best of intentions and leave as beaten men. Johnson would be a good example of that … Nixon, Clinton in a way, Truman, all the rest of them going back. You know, it’s like they all fly too close to the sun and get burned.

BF: When you think back to the Civil War, one thing you forget is that no battles, except Gettysburg, were fought in the North.
BD: Yeah. That’s what probably makes the Southern part of the country so different.

BF: There is a certain sensibility, but I’m not sure how that connects?
BD: It must be the Southern air. It’s filled with rambling ghosts and disturbed spirits. They’re all screaming and forlorning. It’s like they are caught in some weird web - some purgatory between heaven and hell and they can’t rest. They can’t live, and they can’t die. It’s like they were cut off in their prime, wanting to tell somebody something. It’s all over the place. There are war fields everywhere … a lot of times even in people’s backyards.

BF: Have you felt them?
BD: Oh sure. You’d be surprised. I was in Elvis’s hometown – Tupelo. And I was trying to feel what Elvis would have felt back when he was growing up.

Monday, April 27, 2009

BC

Every now an then an actor you've hardly noticed starts popping up everywhere. For instance, I don't even remember Bobby Cannavale until I saw him in The Station Agent (2003). (He was a regular on Third Watch before then, a show I didn't give a first watch.) But lately, if you combine movies, TV and trailers, I've seen him in at least six things since the year began.

Free Lunch

Hey, go to a KFC today and get a free piece of their new grilled chicken. No kidding. (Go to several KFCs and get several free pieces.)

End of PSA.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Pajama Guy.

PS Just got back from my local KFC. It was a madhouse. Really backed up. Apparently no one had anticipated that giving away the product would significantly increase demand.

Do The Twist

I saw an ad for State Of Play that promised "a twist you'll never see coming."

You know how to have a twist I'll never see coming? Don't tell me there's a twist coming.

The only film I can remember that got around the problem was The Crying Game. I'd heard there was a big twist. When one of the leads, Forest Whitaker, suddenly got run over, I figured that was it. Didn't seem like the biggest twist, but after that my guard was down, so when the actual twist came, it really worked.

Incidentally, the twist in State Of Play is so obvious the only way you won't see it coming is if you've never been to a movie before.

Hybrids

After a number of successful books on atheism in the past few years, I wonder if we're not seeing something new--books from non-believers who take a more sympathetic look at religion. Okay, I only have two examples, but one more and we can officially declare a trend.

First you got William Lobdell's Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America — and Found Unexpected Peace. Lobdell, the former religion writer for the LA Times, has a personal story of finding and then losing religion that's probably more common than most people think.

Then there's Kevin Roose's book The Unlikely Disciple. He was an English major at Brown who went undercover for a semester at Liberty University and lived to write about it. Though he did not share the religious or social views promoted there, he found the students and their beliefs more complex than the caricature he was used to.

I'm reminded of an article I read years ago in Spy magazine, which had a line that made me laugh out loud. One of their writers attended student orientation weekend at Liberty and wrote "my two roommates, Shlomo and Mustafa Muhammad (not their real names)...."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

BR's Big Rep

When I first saw Blade Runner I didn't think much of it. It then acquired a reputation so I checked it out again, and still didn't think much.

It was recently on TV, allegedly the "director's cut" (there are so many versions I can't keep track), so I thought I'd give it another chance. Turned out this "new" version still had the voice-over, so I'm pretty sure it's what I'd seen before. Still hasn't improved.

The movie seems so delighted with its design that it skimps on plot and characterization. (BTW, the replicants can easily destroy Deckard, but over and over they allow themselves to be shot, as if it's a remake of that scene from Raiders.) The story takes place in Los Angeles, 2019. Perhaps I'll watch it again in ten years to see how close it comes.

PS Early on there's a scene with Edward James Olmos where they talk about "skinjobs." I admit that has a whole new resonance today.

Bye Bye Bea

Bea Arthur has died. She starred in two big sitcom hits Maude and Golden Girls. Considering she was tall, deep-voiced and not conventionally pretty, that isn't bad.

But before TV, she had a solid career in the theatre, appearing as Vera Charles in Mame and Yente The Matchmaker in Fiddler On The Roof. Even though she rarely sings (she wasn't really a singer), just the few times you hear her voice on the cast albums are memorable.

Black And Blue

"Negro Y Azul" was relatively calm for an episode of Breaking Bad. Sure, Hank saw some major violence, but our heroes, Walt and Jesse, mostly consolidated their power. However, they're really just sitting ducks--especially Jesse--in over their heads. Sure, Walt is already a legendary cook, but everything else they're guessing at. And like Walt in chemistry class, the Mexican cartel doesn't allow for mistakes.

See What I Mean?

In a discussion over at "Three Jews, Four Opinions" (which, considering that two seemed to have dropped out, should maybe change to "One Jew, Four Opinions"), my friend Bruce discusses James Kugel, who wrote How To Read The Bible.

In the comments section, Bruce notes:

If we break the link between history and divinity, then the divinity of the Torah must be evaluated by other criteria. That is, we have to make a judgment about it. And [...] Kugel, and I [...] agree to a large degree: Judaism has come up with some pretty spectacular things. Maybe this means that it is divine by definition (as in Beethoven's 7th Symphony is divine), or maybe it is circumstantial evidence that it is divinely inspired in a more rigorous and supernatural sense, or maybe nothing is divine in the same sense as Torah from Sinai but Judaism is good. In any case, one can still have a robust and meaningful Judaism.

Bruce realizes this is not an airtight argument, but does he earn the conclusion? Isn't this a bootstrap argument? There are billions of people out there who believe in one religion or another, and are also quite impressed by their religion. This may (or may not) make for a robust experience, but I don't quite see how it should necessarily lead to anything meaningful, unless meaningfulness is simply caused by believing something is meaningful.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

It All Ads Up

The subplot on a recent Simpsons had Lisa doing a report on what Springfield would look like in 50 years. Then an Apple ad came on where they looked into how a PC would run in 50 years.

I also watched an episode of Lost where Jack suggested Libby get some Neosporin. Next thing you know, an ad for Neosporin.

Coincidences? Probably.

What's That Smell?

In Fast Times At Ridgemont High, when the kids in a class get some freshly mimeographed sheets, they all have a nice sniff. Do kids today watch that and wonder what the heck is going on?

Radio Silence

It shouldn't surprise us to see so many Democrats fretting about how unhealthy all these anti-government protests are. When it comes down to it, Democrats support the concept of dissent the same way Republicans do--it's great when it's not against them.

Here's a story from Jesse Walker's website about British pirate radio in the 60s, and a new movie that gets it all wrong--by assuming the right wingers were the bad guys:

I don't expect historical accuracy at the cineplex, but this is extreme even by Hollywood's standards. Making the Conservative Party the villain of this story is like making the Republican Party the racist enforcers in a tale set in 1950s Alabama. Not only was Wilson in power at the time, but Radio Caroline regularly attacked the Labour Party. The Tories not only failed to lead the charge against the pirates, but some of them bought ads on the offshore stations (as did some Scottish Nationalists). There certainly were Conservatives who opposed the broadcasters—one Tory MP accused them of "providing what people want," which sounds good to me but he intended it as an insult—but it was Labour that pushed through the Marine Broadcasting Offenses Act of 1967, which barred British citizens from aiding the pirates in various ways, most notably by advertising on their shows.

Come to think of it, we've got the same sort of debate today--many Democrats would like to put limits on radio since they see it as a threat. Everything old is new again.

Is This A Joke?

If you saw Grindhouse (not many did), you may remember it opens with a fake trailer for a film called Machete. Now it turns out Robert Rodriguez, who made the trailer, is actually going to make the film.

I think the idea was enough for a two-and-a-half-minute trailer, but a whole movie?

Friday, April 24, 2009

On The Links

The people over at Reason blogging so I don't have to:

For instance, here's a look at the book Hugo Chavez thinks explains Latin America. (No word from President Obama yet on what he thinks.)

Bring back Arbor Day.

And here's Dr. Gillespie's diagnosis on government-sponsored "volunteerism."

Important Day

I've been waiting a long time for this day. Today is the day The Soloist opens. That means I'll never have to watch that damn Soloist trailer again. Theatres have been running it for what seems like years.

Methinks They Don't Protest Enough

Here's a comment from QueensGuy.

By the by, anon. 1's comment that the left is "incredibly angered by anyone daring to complain that the government is spending us into oblivion while massively raising taxes at the same time." This is, I presume you're arguing, worse than spending us into oblivion while NOT raising taxes to pay for it? Is that the preferred course of the tea party crowd, or is it more akin to classic libertarianism?

Since no one answered, let me give the answers I've heard from people who support the protests.

First, of course, there were many people on the right (and left) who complained about Bush being a big government politician. Certainly libertarians did.

Second, and I think this is the main point, Obama is spending at a much higher rate than Bush. Bush's budget was an already sky-high $2.6 trillion, and Obama called him and raised him another trillion. The expected deficits, even using the Obama administration's rosy scenario, dwarf the Bush deficits, and will represent an unprecedented percentage of the GDP in modern times. There's no excuse for this sort spending even when things are flush, but you might expect during a deep recession, where the government can't afford the program we do have, that the president might try to take it easy. Instead, Obama (claiming, mind you, this was good for the economy) created all new sorts of spending that will add more to the budget every single year from now on than the entire cost of the war in Iraq.

Third, that he'd also choose to massively raise taxes--something the protestors don't believe is fair or good for the economy (which apparently Obama agrees with since the idea behind the huge stimuls bill was to get more money back in the hands of the public)--just makes it worse.

Ahead Of My Time

Harper's Island is a 13-episode murder-mystery on CBS where each week one of the cast is killed. I just want everyone to know I pitched this idea back in the 90s. (Of course, I kinda stole it from Agatha Christie.)

Another Chorus

Every Little Step is a good idea for a documentary: following the audition process for the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line (which, as I'm sure you know, is about dancers auditioning for a Broadway show).

It's also a second movie, about the making of the original production. Some of the best stuff comes from composer Marvin Hamlisch, the only living member of the original creators. For instance, "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three," one of the big comic numbers, wasn't getting any laughs and director Michael Bennett was threatening to cut it. Then Hamlisch and lyricist Ed Kleban figured out the problem--the title, which at the time was "Tits And Ass." There it was, right in the program, giving away the punchline. They changed it and from then on the number worked.



They also noticed the show was going well, but there was still something missing in the audience reaction at the curtain. Then Marsha Mason told them after a preview what was wrong--Cassie, the central character (if there is one), who had the audience rooting for her, was cut at the end. Next day Bennett let her make it, and the show worked perfectly.

The movie not only puts you in the place of the auditioners, but also the people in charge. Most of the time, you can pick out who's going to make it. They all have talent, but some simply stand out.

Hopefully, Every Little Step will wipe away the bad taste that the disastrous film version of A Chorus Line left in everybody's mouth.

The funny thing is I'm not really a fan of the musical. Let's say I'd see it for free, but I wouldn't pay. The trouble is the story's not strong. It's almost a revue--a bunch of separate routines, some quite good, but each telling its own story. Yet, obviously, the show strikes a deep chord in people. It ran 15 years on Broadway. There aren't enough gypsies in the world to keep something running that long.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Near Miss

I admit at first I didn't believe that Miss California's response on gay marriage didn't cost her the title of Miss USA. But hearing what certain people involved in the pageant have said since then, I now think it might have made the difference.



This is pretty bizarre. She holds an opinion which she shares with the majority of people in the state she represents and the country at large, and because of it, she's out. In fact, she was called "divisive" (the majority opinion is divisive?) and a "stupid bitch" because she wasn't tolerant enough.

As others have noted, isn't it strange that the political standards to be Miss USA are tougher than those to be President?

On the other hand, with all the publicity she's getting, she'll be the best known runner-up in Miss USA history.

Open The Door, Richard

President Obama made a bad move leaving open the possiblity of prosecution of Bush officials for their enhanced interrogation tactics. He'd seemed to have put this issue behind him, and re-opening it creates a wound that might get worse.

In lieu of the thorough discussion of all angles of the debate which is my norm, I'll just issue a bunch of conclusory statements.

1) Obama fumbled politically, but it's an understandable mistake. The right is (understandably, too) outraged at the idea of such prosecution, while the left's base has long had dreams of seeing the Bush administration behind bars (and the hilariously named moveon.org doesn't believe in ever letting this go). Obama tried to play it up the middle, which probably can't be done.

2) This was as issue I thought should be brought up before the election (and said so on this blog)--simple questions to both candidates about possible prosecutions of Bush administration officials. Even failing to answer would have told us a lot. Instead, the debates had major media figures give McCain and Obama yet one more chance to repeat talking points from their stump speeches.

3) Even if there were a serious legal point to be made here, I don't see any chance of this not turning into a show trial, or a partisan circus.

4) Though Democrats most look forward to an airing of this issue, it'd hurt them. As it is, most Americans support how the terrorist suspects were treated (even without hearing about the useful information the authorities received), and many of those who didn't still don't want some "truth commission" to politicize the issue. Do they understand it would hurt them? Well, it wouldn't be the first time one party shot itself in the foot in its zeal to attack the other.

5) Whatever people may think of what the Bush people did, they should probably be more frightened of seeing political differences criminalized.

6) Many urging prosecution want to see people go to jail for what amounts to giving legal advice. Even if you could prove their advice was flat-out wrong (I doubt you could even do that), it's frightening to think you could punish them for what you believe is bad faith. By that standard, you could condemn the Supreme Court and countless advisors to the President and the Congress (not to mention the politicians who took the advice).

7) War crime accusations against America have been pretty popular on the left for quite a while. If they were serious about it, quite a few high-ranking politicians and major military figures would be in jail today.

Business Model

At this late date it's hard to complain about the level of reality in The Office. It was just about impossible to buy that Michael Scott could be in charge of the Dunder Mifflin Scranton branch for any length of time, since he was incompetent and impossibly dense, and demonstrated this to his bosses over and over. (Occasionally they'd have an episode claiming he and his branch were selling a lot of paper, which was also hard to buy.)

But the latest turn in the plot I find ridiculous. Michael, unhappy with his new boss, quits Dunder Mifflin and starts his own paper company. He takes Pam with him and also picks up Ryan. That's it. He has no business plan. He files no legal documents. He just starts selling paper.

Lawyers and doctors carry much of their capital with them. But a paper seller? If you're going to start a company, don't you have to, you know, make paper? Dunder Mifflin wasn't just a paper brokerage, they manufactured the stuff. If Michael's to sell it, where's he getting it? Couldn't we at least have Ryan, who went to business school, explain this model?

Answer To Puzzle

Since no one solved Jimmy Carter's killer rabbit puzzle, I offer my solution.

The rabbit can escape. How?

Let's recall the situation. The rabbit is at the center of a circular pond, trying to escape capture by a secret service agent. If the rabbit can reach the shore without the agent being there, it can hop away. But the agent covers ground four times faster than the rabbit can swim.

The only formula you need is circumference=2(pi)r.

Let r=1 unit of length, so the circumference of the pond is 2(pi) or approximately 6.28. To get to the farthest side of the pond, the agent must run half the circumference, or pi. If the rabbit makes a direct move for the shore 180 degrees from the agent, it'll swim 1 unit while the agent runs 3.14 units--less than four times the distance so the rabbit will be caught.

Ask yourself how far out can the rabbit swim while staying as far from the agent as possible? Another way to put it, at what point can the rabbit swim in a circle with 1/4 the circumference of the pond (since at that point they can both move in a circle and stay even with each other). The answer is 1/4 the radius. (Plug the number in if you're not sure.)

So the rabbit can spiral outwards from the center to the 1/4 radius point, making sure to always remain at the farthest point possible from the agent. (As long as the rabbit is inside the 1/4 circle, it can swim, effectively, faster than the agent can run.)

So now the rabbit is 1/4 from the center of the pond, and therefore 3/4 from the shore, and a straight line from the rabbit to the agent will go through the center of the pond.

The rabbit now swims directly to the point on shore that's 180 degrees from the agent. The agent has to run 3.14 units. Let's assume, for ease of calculation, that takes 3.14 seconds. The rabbit, going four times slower, has to swim .75 units. Multiply .75 times four and we see the rabbit gets to the shore in 3 seconds, giving it enough time to hop away to safety.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Farce

No new Lost tonight. As I said last time, how dare they do this to us.

Since there's nothing, let me discuss an episode I recently caught on TV--"The Other 48 Days." It's the tale of the tailies. The seventh episode of season 2, it's the first to take place entirely on the Island. One moment in particular caught my attention.

Throughout the first two seasons, as the mysteries piled up, there was a widespread allegation that the writers were making it up as they went along. I think this has since been disproved, and one of the fun things is going back and seeing how they planted little bits that would pay off later.

Anyway, there's a scene between Goodwin and Ana. He asks to borrow the knife that Ana got from an Other. Goodwin cuts some fruit, and she asks for it back and tells him how odd it is. Turns out it's a U.S. army knife, of the kind that hasn't been made for at least 20 years.

Viewers would have to wait another 3 seasons to figure out what that means. But it's pretty good indication the producers knew where they were going.

Anna, Jayma, Jayma, Anna

I've noted how Observe And Report is the anti-Paul Blart. Stil, on the surface, it's fascinating how similar these two films are. And considering how they were developed around the same time, it's doubtful one was copying the other.

First, of course, they're both mall cop movies--not the biggest genre.

Second, they both star highly successful, chubby comedy stars.

Third, in Paul Blart, it's made clear his duties are to "Observe and Report."

Fourth, Report's leading lady is Anna Farris. Blart's is Jayma Mays.
Mays starred in Epic Movie, one of those parody movies of the type that usually star Anna Farris--when I saw it I guessed they hired her because they hoped audiences might think it's Anna.

PS I knew I'd seen Jayma Mays before, even earlier than Epic Movie, so I checked and to my surprise, she was Charlie Andrews on Heroes. I thought Charlie was older. Charlie's power was the ability to memorize anything immediately and completely. She was probably my favorite character on the show to be killed off.

That's The Breaks

I live near a fairly busy intersection. Screeching tires (guess they didn't quite make the light) are not an uncommon sound. And every now and then, maybe once or so a year, there's a car crash. In fact, LA has got to be the world's captial of car crashes.

However, three times in the last two months I've been at my computer and heard the sound of metal on metal. Maybe it's a statistical oddity, or perhaps they changed the timing of the lights.

I Am Bored

The next-to-last Heroes, "I Am Sylar," was a weak entry. The writers have perhaps righted the show, so it's failing on a higher level, but, to paraphrese Benjamin Linus, a dud is a dud.

For this show, they doubled back and we saw what happened to the other characters while Mama Petrelli was telling old stories to her clan out west.

Much of the action dealt with Sylar searching for himself, and his origins (going all Norman Bates on us and talking to himself/his dead mom). He does this about every third episode, and it's gotten old. Kill him off already. (Actually, it appears for some reason now he can't be killed. A hero with no vulnerability is boring. In fact, the only moment of the episode that got me excited was when Danko put that knife in his head. Denying that meant anything wiped away what power the episode had.) Sylar also takes a new power from Clint Howard, the power to disintegrate. Does he really need new powers at this point? I do wonder, though, what would have happened if Clint tried to destroy Sylar. He does know how to fix things--could Sylar have pulled himself back together?

I think by now we can say the whole Danko plot, the main arc of the second half of this season, has been a failure. It was a great idea--heroes on the run, never knowing where to go or who to trust. But this being Heroes, they couldn't keep the plot going in a straight line for two episodes. Let's leave aside they couldn't decide who was running the program, and where their allegiance was, and concentrate on their success rate. First the government is amazingly efficient, capturing almost everyone at once. Then they're total morons, easily invaded by the heroes anytime they feel like it, while the Hunter, who's allegedly got his people watching every video feed in America, can't round up anyone. Now, in this episode, out of nowhere, they once again can pick up everyone at once--without the slightest bit of help from Sylar, I might add, which makes Danko's connection pointless.

Then you've got Matt "change on a dime" Parkman. Most of the season was about his search for the love of Daphne. Then she died and he wanted to die, but now he wants to go back to his wife and raise his son. I realize the producers are rebooting, but it's all dead time on screen. Parkman, by the way, had the power to end this thing any time he wanted, by just going back to Building 26 and forcing them to do what he wants.

Then there's Ando and Hiro. Hiro used to be childlike, but now he's just childish, always talking about the code of the hero and trying out silly plans. This guy can stop time. Go to building 26, check out the joint, and find out what you need to know. At the end, for the first time (in a nosebleed moment that seemed to come from Lost), it looked like maybe the newly super-efficient government had some sort of protective field against Hiro. Or maybe his power is failing him. Who knows, or cares.

Micah makes a quick, meaningless appearance. Nathan (who, by the way, makes Parkman look consistent) goes to confront Sylar, by himself, with no plan, essentially walking into a trap that should have had him dead in no time. Last week, I thought the heroes were starting to pull themselves together, but they still don't spend any time thinking things through.

This farce of a season will end next week. I don't have much hope they can salvage much, but I hope they writers are taking their time and planning out the next season fully.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Jean Genie

I don't like jeans. Never wear 'em. Still, this George Will diatribe against denim is insane.

Avon Calling

Here's an article about how Justice Stevens believes Edward de Vere, the earl of Oxford, wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. Just as surprising, Justice Scalia agrees.

It creeps me out to know that (at least) two of the nine people sitting on the Supreme Court support this crackpot theory.

Makes me hope they stick to the law and never use any outside knowledge to help them decide a case.

Hare's Breadth Escape

On the 30th anniversary of the attack, here's something pretty cool--Jimmy Carter's Killer Rabbit Puzzle.

Suppose, the day after attacking President Carter, the rabbit finds itself alone in the middle of the pond, which is perfectly circular. Suppose there is a single Secret Service agent on the edge of the pond, armed with a small net to ensnare the swimming rabbit as it approaches the edge. This net is effective only if the rabbit is still in the water. If the rabbit reaches any point on the edge before the agent does, it can hop away to freedom; if the agent gets there first, the rabbit will be captured.

If the agent runs four times as fast as the rabbit swims, can the rabbit escape? If so, how?

I assume some reader will supply the answer. If not, I'll eventually let it out.

PS For the solution, check out this post.

Waiting

We in the States will have to wait till May 8th before the Star Trek movie opens, but it's already debuted in the UK. The early word is quite good.

It's amazing that Star Trek, which wasn't a hit in its initial TV run, is still a going concern. This show that NBC almost canceled in its first season has literally made billions for Paramount.

It remains to be seen if there's any more life in the big screen Star Trek. It seems like a good idea, and Paramount has been doing a wonderful job promoting it. But this is a big budget item, and needs a crossover audience (the kind Watchmen didn't have). It will be fascinating (as you-know-who says) to see what numbers it gets.

PS We seem to be getting a lot of hits for this post. If you check out the blog in general, you'll see other entries (with a lot more content that this piece--usually I see something before I write about it) dealing with science fiction on TV, movies and elsewhere. By the way, do any of you know where we were linked?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pageant Panic

As much as I enjoy watching a parade of lovely women, the best part of beauty pageants is the final round of questions. And they don't mess around these days.

For instance, on Sunday's Miss USA pageant, runner-up Miss California, Carrie Prejean, was asked about legalizing same-sex marriage. Here's her answer:

We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And you know what, I think in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised.

There was cheering, booing, and a shouting match in the lobby.

"It's ugly," said Scott Ihrig, a gay man, who attended the pageant with his partner. "I think it's ridiculous that she got first runner-up. That is not the value of 95 percent of the people in this audience. Look around this audience and tell me how many gay men there are."

Charmaine Koonce, the mother of Miss New Mexico USA Bianca Carla, argued back.

"In the Bible it says marriage is between Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve!"

Too bad that wasn't on the broadcast.

At least the question wasn't about teabagging.

Spinal Tap For Real

Let me recommend the documentary Anvil!: The Story Of Anvil. (Sounds like "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight.") It's the story of this superannuated Canadian heavy metal band that seemed like they might break big 25 years ago who continue to soldier on, always on the edge of breaking up.

I'd never heard of them before, but their music sounded as good to me as that of any other 80s speed metal band (not that I'm the guy to ask about anything metal). Top bands of that era like Megadeth were ridiculously huge, so I don't see why Anvil couldn't break.

You have to hope with the new attention their getting, they can finally have their happy ending.

Have You Honestly Seen The Film?

From a New Yorker squib on Howard Hawks' A Song Is Born, we get this slam at Ball Of Fire:

The mustily word-bound original runs mainly on the charisma of its stars, Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck.

What nonsense. Ball Of Fire is a top-notch comedy with a great Billy Wilder script that delights to this day.

Movies Are Your Best Entertainment Value

Here are the top TV shows from the 80s according to AOL's "INSIDE/tv." It's my recollection that the 80s weren't a great time for American television. The sitcoms were better in the 70s and the dramas would be better in the 90s. This list confirm that.

There are some good choices--I even agree with #1 and #2--but an awful lot of weak and even affirmatively bad shows, especially among the sitcoms.

40. MacGyver
39. Bosom Buddies
38. 21 Jump Street
37. Matlock
36. 227
35. Scarecrow and Mrs. King
34. Square Pegs
33. Trapper John, M.D.
32. Kate & Allie
31. Knots Landing
30. Spenser: For Hire
29. Remington Steele
28. Benson
27. Murder, She Wrote
26. Beauty And The Beast
25. Quantum Leap
24. In The Heat Of The Night
23. Fame
22. Dynasty
21. The Facts Of Life
20. Miami Vice
19. Night Court
18. Designing Women
17. China Beach
16. Married With Children
15. Cagney & Lacey
14. Magnum P.I.
13. Fraggle Rock
12. The Golden Girls
11. Newhart
10. Dallas
9. Family Ties
8. L.A. Law
7. M*A*S*H
6. St. Elsewhere
5. The Cosby Show
4. thirtysomething
3. Moonlighting
2. Hill Street Blues
1. Cheers

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Go With The Flow

I saw a car with a license plate that read ONE PINT. But there was no mystery. The car, painted green of course, was one big ad for toilets that use only one pint per flush.

I've had a low flow toilet for years, and it backs up at least a couple times each month. It's frightening to think what a one-pint flusher would mean.

Continuing The Continuum

We've been getting more hits than usual for a while at Pajama Guy. But for some reason, a lot of them are going to this post. Still don't know who's sending them.

Oy!

Woody Allen's $10 million dollar lawsuit against American Apparel is interesting.

The company, which is noted for it's fairly wild ads, used a shot of Woody as a Chasid from Annie Hall. Woody does not do advertising in the U.S. so sued for unauthorized use of his image.

American Apparel claimed Woody's image doesn't mean that much to anyone. They're now demanding information about his personal life to be used in court to show that his reputation isn't great.

Woody claims it's an intimidation tactic.

I'm not up on the law in this area (though I do know some people who specialize in this), but everyone seems to agree that American Apparel used his image without permission. The question is, then, how do you decide what that should cost them. Should American Apparel get to ask all sorts of personal questions to determine how worthwhile this usage is. They obviously thought it was worth something to some people or they wouldn't have put it up.

And in determining the value of what they've taken from Woody (if anything--I can imagine a legal regime where you can use anyone's likeness anytime for any reason), who gets to decide the value. Is it the amount of money the company can expect to gain from the ads? Or is it the damage done to Woody's personal dignity?

Cut To The Chesa

Dwight Garner's New York Times review of "radical royalty" Chesa Boudin's Gringo takes no prisoners. Garner makes clear that Boudin's memoir of his travels in Latin America does little more than traffic in cliches.

But underneath all those cliches, no doubt, is a lot of politics, learned at the feet of Boudin's Weather Underground parents and mentors. Shouldn't we be hearing more about that?

Garner does quote some of the ugly nuttiness of Boudin:

About the political activities of his parents, Mr. Boudin writes: “Certainly violence is illegitimate when it targets civilians or intends to cause generalized or widespread fear, but my parents never did either of those.” At another point, he adds that his parents “paid a heavy price for their radical politics.” They didn’t pay that heavy price for their politics. They paid it for the part they played in the deaths of three men.

Anyone who can idolize terrorist parents like that must have plenty of wild things to say. The review should have concentrated on that.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

You Could Look It Up

I just heard that Microsoft Encarta has been discontinued. Which leads to the obvious question--Encarta is still around?

Playing The Crazy Card

I generally keep away from dumb political stances by celebrities since that's not their area of expertise, so who cares. Still, this statement by Janeane Garofalo on the Tea Parties is breathtaking in its stupidity and hatred.

Let's be very honest about what this is about. This is not about bashing Democrats. It's not about taxes. They have no idea what the Boston Tea party was about. They don't know their history at all. It's about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up and is nothing but a bunch of teabagging rednecks. There is no way around that.

Here is where I should comment further, but I really can't top that.

Making His Mark

"But I was going into Tosche station to pick up some power converters and steal some tape recorders!"

Necessity's Mother

Peggy Noonan's latest column--where she seems to look forward to a poorer America, since it'll have to be simpler--is weird even for her.

Now I have no objection to Ms. Noonan, or indeed anyone, sending me all the extra money that they don't need. She can be as thoroughly Thoreau as she pleases. I personally don't feel more money would make me less happy, and I'm willing to take that chance.

This isn't the first time I've heard the warning of poverty ahead. When I was in college the idea that we'd be poorer than our parent's generation was in the air. These former clairvoyants must have been wrong, since Noonan apparently considers us too rich today, and thinks our parents' generation--once considered an era of unprecedented bounty--to be the equivalent of genteel poverty.

PS Living in LA, of all the strange things in her piece, this paragraph really stuck out:

Hollywood will take the cue. During the depression, stars such as Clark Gable were supposed to look like normal men. Physical perfection would have distanced them from their audience. Now leading men are made of megamuscles, exaggerated versions of their audience. That will change.

No Peggy, during the Depression, stars were supposed to be witty, charming, glamorous and better-looking than everyone else. It's only about thirty to forty years later that you start getting leading men who look like average people.

Those who forget the past shouldn't be writing about our future.

Friday, April 17, 2009

F

With Ayn Rand more popular than ever, I figured I'd help Pajama Guy readers who aren't familiar with her work.

Here's a summary of her first bestseller, The Fountainhead.



Next we'll do Atlas Shrugged, though that might take ten seconds.

Back To The Harbor

While New York Times editorialists have been going crazy attacking the Tea Party movement, the news story on the nationwide protests was put well inside the paper.

Here's what I want to find out. How did the Boston media cover it? That's where we had the original Tea Party, after all. Certainly between them, VermontGuy and New England Guy should know.

Rantalicious

My old friend Nick Gillespie is good and mad. And why shouldn't he be?

Vanity Plate Of The Mid-Month

I usually announce the best vanity plates I've seen at the beginning of the month. But I saw one yesterday which I thought was extra obnoxious.

It was on a Toyota: IDL MKR. I didn't see the driver, but unless it was Simon Cowell, no one should have this plate.

Miles And Miles

I've always had trouble with the character Miles on Lost. More specifically, with his power. He can communicate with the dead. I can buy smoke monsters. I can buy Walt's power over birds. I can buy time travel. I can buy Hurley's ghosts. I can even buy Locke's resurrection. But somehow talking to the dead seemed one step too far. As Ben put it last week, dead is dead.

The latest episode, "Some Like It Hoth," a Miles-centric one (which we might have had last season if not for the writers' strike), helped make his power somewhat more acceptable, but still left some inconsistencies.

In general, the episode was a decent one. The truth is, Lost is at a point right now where even average episodes are great. In the first season, they'd answer the question of who the character was and how the character got there through flashback, but almost everything else they did raised new question. As we're speeding toward the end--only about 20 episodes left--all parts of the story answer questions, and all the parts are clicking into place.

The show starts with Miles as a kid, discovering his power. Back in the present (i.e., 1977--earlier than the flashback), Sawyer tells him to erase the tapes of he and Kate taking young Ben outside the compound. But Horace comes into the security station and before Miles can complete the job, he's on a special mission. We know that tape will come into play, though nothing happens until the end of the episode. Of course, we know the whole LaFleur con is imploding with the return of the new Losties. They have to get out of there soon, anyway, because I don't think they can be there by the time young Ben returns, since (if we're to the older Ben) has no memory of them.

Turns out Miles' duty is to bring a body bag to a hostile area, where Radzinsky will supply him a body. (Radzinsky, as always, has a bad attiitude. Not a guy you'd want to share double duty with in the Swan.) Little does Rad know that Miles can talk to the dead. Miles asks the corpse what happened--force of habit, I suppose (or can he help himself?).

Another flashback with the death of Miles' mom. She spills a few secrets about his dad, and how he pushed them away a long time ago, and is long dead in a place where Miles can't get to. (Miles is a 90s punk, by the way. I like Claire as a Goth chick better.) This helps us understand why Miles is lost, empty and a mercenary (just like Han Solo--the title is already beginning to make sense).

Miles brings the body to Horace, who tells him to take it out to Pierre Chang at the Orchid. (So Chang, in addition to time travel and making videos, is in charge of corpse disposal? Does he send them to Tunisia?) Hurley, against Miles' wishes, hitches a ride.

Meanwhile, Roger notices son Ben was missing. Had to happen sooner or later. He's not happy, to say the least, but who cares what an alcoholic janitor thinks.

In the van, we get a continuation of the Miles and Hurley Show from a couple weeks back. Hurley notices something smells, and it's not the 70s music Miles has on (Albert Hammond, to be specific). He finds the corpse. Hurley's not thrilled, but he's been on the island long enough not to be shaken. However, when Miles starts telling stories about the corpse, Hurley guesses he can talk to dead people. Why not? Hurley has talked to a lot of dead people--he's seen them, too, and played chess with them. The dead guy's story (Lost wouldn't waste a dead guy's story), by the way, shows he wasn't killed by a bullet to the head, but by a filling shooting out of his mouth. Hmm--some pretty heavy electro-magnetism near where Radzinksy's working. Couldn't be the Swan station, could it?

Another flashback and we see Miles is in business , exploiting his talent. (His mom's already dead so he won't become Spider-man.) In fact, he's talking to Hank Schrader from Breaking Bad. This is interesting because Ken Leung, who plays Miles, was introduced to a lot of people as the psycho in a mental ward on another cable series, The Sopranos. Except that Leung is playing a fairly similar character on Lost, whereas actor Dean Norris is doing a 180 from loudmouth Hank. He's playing a father who wants to know if his dead son knew he loved him. (All these daddy issues on Lost. In the first season, Christian wanted Jack to know how he felt but couldn't tell him--lucky he told Sawyer. There'll be a lot more on daddy issues before this episode if over.)

But here's what I don't quite get. In this show, it appears Miles needs a corpse to talk to the dead. This I can buy (as ridiculous as it is). He explains he can hear what the dead have to say up to the point they died. So maybe he has some way of reading what's in their brain, especially when they're freshly dead. The inconsistency is the first time we saw Miles talk to the dead, he didn't have a body around, as far as I can tell. Miles does tell the grieving father it helps--but isn't necessary--if the body is around, but I wonder if that's a patch job, since every other case where Miles does his reading, the body is right there. Perhaps that weird machine he used on that first case we saw helps with the missing body. (Or is it used for hauntings?)

Anyway, Miles walks to his car and runs into Naomi. Though Naomi is a "bad guy," I always enjoy having her pop up. This isn't the first time she's appeared on the show after her death. Just like she doubled back to fake out Jack after Locke threw a knife in her back, so does Lost regularly double back on its plot. (Everyone's still waiting to see Libby again.) So this is where Miles gets his offer to go back to the island. They need his powers. I'm also guessing Widmore knows Miles is from the island--otherwise, quite a coincidence. (I just spoiled a "surprise" they dropped at the end of the 30 minute point. Yep, Pierre Chang is Miles' dad. We all knew this. The opening of the season had Chang with a newborn. Later, Miles is getting a nosebleed before the Losties, so he must have spent time on the island.)

Now we see Kate, who knows Ben will survive (and later kill his father), try to comfort Roger. All this does is make the drunken Roger angry and suspicious of this new girl. Why does she have so much interest in my son? What's interesting about this scene, and many others at the DI, is the new position of the Losties. For the longest time on this show, the castaways were buffeted about because they had no idea what was going on. Last week, the newly confident (and arrogant?) Locke chided Ben because now he was the one who had to ask the questions. But now all the Losties in 1977 are like Locke today--they know all sorts of stuff that would amaze the DI. However, they can't spill or and get found out. (Though when Sayid spills a bit, like any Cassandra, he's treated as a nut). Still, it's fun that for a change they're one-up on everyone. In any case, if we're to believe Faraday (and this is Miles and Hurley's debate), it doesn't really matter what they do or say since whatever happened, happened.

Back to the van. Miles doesn't want to talk about it, but he does explain to Hurley what reading a dead guy's thoughts is like. He responds to Hurley mostly because he's so annoyed that Hurley says he has back-and-forth conversations with visible ghosts. "You're just jealous my power's better than yours" Hurley responds in what may be the funniest line of the season.

They get to the Orchid (Marvin's Garden) and Hurley, who shouldn't even be there, spills (with very little provocation) that he knows about the body. It took Sawyer and his gang a while to get into the swing of things, and now all the new Losties come into the Dharma Initiative and just don't know when to shut up. Chang threatens looselips with polar bear feces duty. (Chang doesn't think much of the experiments they're doing on Hydra island. I like the competitive spirit in the different DI departments, though I wonder if this lack of cohesion spells trouble. Doesn't really matter, because they're getting trouble whether they like it or not.) Chang has a few harsh words, but he's actually pretty easy on these guys. They wouldn't have gotten off so easy if it had been Horace. And Radzinsky probably would have shot them.

After Chang leaves, Miles drops the bomb about his dad, as we were expecting.

We're back to Naomi testing Miles' power with a fresh corpse. He proves he's what he says he is. And this dead guy seems to have been in charge of faking the 815 crash. I'm assuming he'd worked for Widmore, and was killed by Ben's forces since Mr. Friendly showed Michael the evidence of the faked flight. (But it's possible he was working for someone else and Widmore's people got to him.)

Naomi explains the mission--get a guy on an island who killed everyone there. Miles has better things to do until Naomi offers him $1.6 million. Right away we know that this explains the $3.2 million--twice as much--he'll later ask Ben for. I was also expecting Naomi to tell him his dad is on the island, but either she doesn't know or she doesn't care.

Miles and Hurley ride back with Chang, or as Hurley calls him, "the dude [or is it douche] from all those movies." Miles doesn't want to talk about his dad, but Hurley, who (like everyone on the show) had trouble with his dad wants to help Miles reconcile with him (or maybe just wants to get into his business). I should add that we can see that Miles gets (or believes) he can't change the purge, or anything else. I'm not sure if Hurley understands yet. We also learn, to my surprise, that Miles figured Chang was his dad not long after he ran into his mom in the DI cafeteria. As noted, I'd guessed he knew about his dad before he came to the island. On the other hand, I should have remembered when he was walking with Locke et all through the time flashes, he didn't seem to know he'd been on the island before.

Next, an odd little scene where Roger the janitor runs into Jack the janitor in a DI classroom. Jack is busy erasing information about Egypt from the blackboard--guess he needs to make room for the Latin lessons. Jack's mostly faded into the background. By choice, one assumes. He figures fine, let Sawyer run things for a change. I'll just wait and see what the island thinks. But here he senses that Roger might cause trouble for Kate so he tries to convince him that he's too suspicious.

Miles and Hurley drop Chang off at the site of the latest station, still being built--the Swan. Brings chills to Hurley, means nothing to Miles. (Hurley wonders if destroying the station would mean Flight 815 doesn't crash. Perhaps, but not if Faraday's right.)

Another flashback. Miles is grabbed by some guys who don't want him to work for Widmore. They know trouble's ahead and Widmore's the wrong side. The promise Miles self-knowledge and fulfillment, but he wants something more important--$3.2 million. No deal. At first I'd assumed these were Ben's goons on the mainland, but then they mention the shadow of the statue. Hey, that's Ilana's line. Since they explicitly disavow Widmore (and Miles is working for Widmore anyway) I don't think they're on his side. But are they Ben's Others? Ilana's troopers? Or maybe just pissed of remnants of the DI?

Hurley and Miles in the van again. Hurley gets too personal and Miles grabs Hugo's notebook to see what he's been writing. He's re-creating (with improvement) The Empire Strikes Back--we knew from the episode's title it had to come in somewhere--and he plans to send it to George Lucas to help him with his sequel to 1977's Star Wars. (I heard a rumor that a deleted scene a few weeks back had Hurley in the cafeteria telling some DI people who'd seen Star Wars that he felt Darth Vader was Luke's father, which they think is ridiculous.)

Sawyer finally comes back home to Juliet, and Jack is there to tell him of the problem with Roger, and then just walks away--let Sawyer handle it. Since I'd recently watched the long con episode, where they're quite angry at each other, it was interesting to see how far their relationship had come.

Finally, Phil (Jimmy Barrett from Mad Men) shows up. I say finally, because he's the one with the tape that we knew would come into play. In fact, he's seen the tape and knows LaFleur took Ben. LaFleur invites his man Phil in and, in lieu of an explanation, knocks him out and ties him up. Now for sure it won't be long before the Losties cover is blown and there's a lot of unpleasantness.

Flashback to just before Miles leaves on the freighter. He gives the grieving father his money back, since he lied to him about his son knowing dad loved him. You should have told him, says Miles. This must be a big deal for him to give any money back. Daddy issues.

Hurley talks to Miles about Darth Vader, and dads in general. His main argument is still about changing the future--if only Luke and Darth had gotten along in Empire, we'd have been spared Return Of The Jedi. Miles goes over to Chang's place and looks in the window. There's Chang, loving his baby son. (I'd guessed early on in this episode that Chang was a good dad--perhaps he forced his wife and son off the island to spare them the trouble that was coming up. We'll no doubt be seeing this trouble soon.) This is actually a big moment, since I don't believe we've had a character confront an earlier version of himself before. (Heinlein had a good story about this.) Locke could have, but chose not to.

But it's still only visual contact. Could Miles have actually walked into Chang's place and held himself in his arms, or would that break the rules?

Miles sees his young mom take baby Miles in her arms. Then Chang comes out and has Miles drive him to the submarine. (Miles is commandeered a lot in this show.) They're going to pick up some scientists from Ann Arbor.

Miles gets there and who comes out of the sub but Faraday. A Faraday who knows Miles, so it's "present" Faraday. Faraday's in the cool new DI black suit (I'm guessing designed by Radzinsky for the Swan people--hey, Black Swan).

Now how Faraday got to this situation, we're not sure. He could have gotten off the island on his own and gone to the University of Michigan, met the DeGroots, impressed them with his knowledge, and gotten aboard the DI. Or perhaps it was more official. Maybe he was working for the DI, applied for a higher position, was sent back the mainland, passed his test with flying colors, and was sent back. Either way, he's back in the show and will soon be doing whatever it is he's meant to do--which, more likely than not, will have something to do with The Incident.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Movie Mania

A couple weekends ago I went to see Adventureland at a cinema in a Latino neighborhood. There was such a huge crowd milling about I thought it was some sort of festival. As I got closer, I saw it was people lining up to buy tickets to the opening night of Fast & Furious.

I knew the film would do well, but I suspected this was a bigger deal to Latinos that other subgroups. And sure enough, my suspicions have been confirmed by Variety.

(I also drove down Hollywood Boulevard recently and saw thousands lined up to catch a glimpse of celebrities at the premier of the Hannah Montana movie. An different demo entirely.)

Spit Polish

Here's a piece in Slate where it's reported Judge Posner believes the market won't properly set CEO salaries or mutual fund fees. I don't agree (and one nice thing about the Judge is he is one of the rare people who honestly doesn't mind when you disagree), but that's not what interested me. Anyone who's been following the Judge lately is aware of his views--they're not that surprising, as the piece would have it.

No, what surprised me is it was written by Eliot Spitzer. He's out in public again? And while he's at it, he takes some time out to polish his rep:

Indeed, when I was attorney general of New York, we successfully reclaimed billions of dollars of mutual-fund fees for the shareholders of many mutual-fund companies on just this theory—yet were criticized by the intellectual allies of Judge Posner for doing so.

Last week on SNL, they had a sketch where a bar served drinks to kids. It ended with Eliot Spitzer coming out, telling us how he's trying to get back in our hearts one issue at a time. I guess they were right.

Free To Hate

Representative John Murtha declared Marines in Haditha were guilty of "cold-blooded murder and war crimes." This is the kind of stuff that made him a hero on the left. The Marines weren't so thrilled, and one of them sued Murtha for defamatiion.

A federal appeals court dismissed the lawsuit and declared Murtha is immune under law since he was a federal employee and the comments were part of his official duties.

I agree with the court. As outrageous as Murtha's statements might seem, he should be able to talk openly, even harshly, on matters of the day. If the people don't like it, they can deal with it by public shame and, ultimately, by voting.

Chaplin

Happy birthday, Charlie. You'd be 120 today. If you're not the greatest genius the cinema has ever known, you'll do until the real thing comes along.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Gift That Keeps Giving

Apparently Blago the Unredeemable wants to appear in a new TV reality series which drops celebrities into the Costa Rican Jungle and has them "do wacky stunts"

This is wrong on so many levels but I definitely want to see it. (I think I've figured why we have so many bad TV shows)

Campus Threat

Someone sent me this video last week. Since then, it's been popping up on websites all over the internet. Figure I'll jump on the bandwagon. I really have no comment except to say I find it fascinating.

Overtaken

As of last weekend, in the battle of the surprise hits, we see Gran Torino with $147 million, Paul Blart: Mall Cop with $144 million, and both Taken and Slumdog Millionaire with $141 million. Taken has passed Slumdog and is the only one of these four that has any real play left in it, though not much. Can it pass Blart and Torino? Probably not, but stay tuned.

Blast In The Past

"1961" was one of those flashback Heroes episodes. It stops the forward motion of the story, but these days that isn't such a bad thing.

It was the story of Coyote Sands, where, almost 50 years ago (they kept saying it was 50 years ago--is Heroes set in 2011?) the government rounded up people with abilities and they (almost) all ended up dead. This is the origin of The Company. The few survivors decide to create an organization to hide these special abilities, thus protecting the people with them--of course, if this means they have to kill them or jail them permanently, that's okay too.

I'd say the show filled in the backstory, like this is Lost--except Lost actually has a backstory, whereas on Heroes it's more like an addition to the house in the back while they're destroying the entrance. The creators of the show had as much idea about the origin of The Company in season one as George Lucas knew about Luke and Leia being siblings in the first Star Wars. (I was recently reading about the making of Star Wars and Lucas had some notes about a film set earlier showing the death of Luke's father.) In fact, I'm not even sure if they knew there was a Company in the first few episodes.

Still, Angela Petrelli's past (told in black and white, though I've been informed 1961 was in color) wasn't bad. We got to meet her kind sister Alice (who, after all these years believed dead, is still alive--everyone on Heroes is presumed alive unless you know otherwise, and even then). Old Alice was played by Diana Scarwid, who got one episode of Lost as the Sheriff before they decided they didn't need her any more. Looks like the same for Alice. And we met a bunch of Specials who'd like Deveaux and Linderman who'll play significant roles later on.

Heroes is noted for its quick action, which at least doesn't have you waiting too long. On the other hand, it often means character change on a dime and big moment don't seem properly prepared for. When things went bad at Coyote Sands (simply because Alice threw around a few thunderbolts--what did they expect with special people all over the place?), in no time flat there was mass slaughter. That was the government's plan? Let's study these people, try to cure them, and the minute something goes wrong, kill them all?
Following Heroes' bad tradition of listing serious things that happen in the real world, there were mentions of Japanese internment camps, the Holocaust, and opposition to interracial dancing. (The last one at least related to the plot, and reminded us of the fun of Jedi mind tricks.)

At the end, it looks like the Petrellis are ready to form The Company 2.0. Good idea. And Sylar is back to his new tricks, pretending he's Nathan. Good as well. If the show hadn't so destroyed almost every character already, I'd say we're coming up to a solid finale and a hopeful future.

End Wars

Sequels have no reason to exist as stories. If the original worked, it's because it moved successfully from one place to another, ending where it should. No need to have the same characters go somewhere else. Sequels exist so the original creators can make money, since the audience enjoyed the first bite, and wants another. (Ironically, the pieces that might find a sequel useful are the ones that failed to get their characters where they should be in the first place--but no one wants to see them.)

Anyway, here's a discussion of sequels, but what I'd draw your attention to is this comment (spelling errors in the original):

Many people think Gary Kurtz is what held the first two Star Wars films together. He reigned in Lucas. If you find one of Lucas early drafts for Star Wars (which are available online) it's drek, a total swipe of a whole bunch of things like Dune and so on. [I don't think Lucas denies he was inspired by a bunch of stories. The point is he made something new out of them.] As soon as Kurtz stopped working with Lucas his films took that creative nosedive we're all aware of....

And this one:

That's a good observation about Gary Kurtz. When Lucas redid Star Wars, I was amazed that he seemed to completely lose touch with the feel of the original movie. Star Wars had a very Kurasawa feel to it. It was Zen, it was clean, minimalist, yet deep. [Minimalist? That's nutty. Star Wars in its day was sleek and fast, sure, but was considered a cornucopia.] It felt thoughtful. The re-do suddenly disrupted the whole feel of the movie by filling every single blank space with something for the ADD crowd. To me, it was like covering a work of art with flashing neon. That told me that Lucas never understood his original movie. What you say about Gary Kurtz, might add credence to that.

For quite a while now people have been trying to figure how the George Lucas who came up with the first two Star Wars films was also responsible for the last three or four. To answer this, they'll accept almost any argument that gives credit to anyone but Lucas for the good ones.

This is absurd. There are a lot of people who worked on those films, but the central person, the man who created the Star Wars galaxy and the stories within, was Lucas. He gets the lion's share of credit for what works and blame for what doesn't. (He also gets credit for American Graffiti and a lot of Raiders Of The Lost Ark.)

How is it the franchise artistically fell apart? As I've said elsewhere, failure doesn't need to be explained, success does. But let me try.

1) A hit is when lightning strikes. Recreating those conditions is almost impossible. That even one sequel to Star Wars lived up to the original is a surprise, and we should be amazed that happened, not that the others failed.

2) George Lucas was at the height of his powers in the 70s, and more naturally hooked into the zeitgeist. Lucas 20 years laters was a different man--no longer hungry but trying to recapture an old spirit.

3) The prequels never had a chance. We already know where they're going to end up, and forcing a backstory that must conform to an outcome doesn't work. If Lucas wanted to return to Star Wars, he should have forgotten about all his ideas of Star Wars past, as clear as they might have been to him. We had our own ideas and his could never live up to them. Better he'd given his imagination free rein and told stories that continue into the open future.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bird Is The Word

Among the too soon obits we've gotten lately, nothing has shocked me like the death of Mark Fidrych. Only 54, he was found dead on his farm, buried beneath a dump truck in what was, apparently, an accident.

He's hardly an all-time baseball great, but for one summer in Detroit, he made baseball exciting again. The Bird was Rookie Of The Year in 1976, with a 19-9 record (he had a bunch of shots at 20 wins, but kept losing at the end of the season--an early sign of arm trouble?) and a 2.34 era. But that's just the numbrs. He was a funny, flaky presence who would talk to the ball and pat down the mound. He became a celebrity, making the covers of magazines--and not just sports magazines. Some thought his antics were bush league, but Fidrych was just being himself, amd most fans loved it.


After that storybook season, he had injuries and never regained his magic, but while he was a star, he burned brightly.

I Can't Explain

When a movie or TV show fails, people line up to explain where it went wrong. I always say failure is the norm in show business--you need to explain success. (The rare success pays for all the flops.)

That's what I was reminded of while considering the ill-fated Dana Carvey Show from 1996. I knew one of the writers at the time, Jon Glaser, but didn't realize what a staff they had. It included Steve Carell, Louis C. K., Stephen Colbert, Robert Smigel, Dave Chappelle and Charlie Kaufman, all of whom went on to great success. So why didn't the show succeed? Well, probably because no one wanted variety any more anyway, but, really, no need to explain.

Experts

Recently heard two different "experts" on radio giving their opinions on Somali pirates and bad economics times.

The first expert said the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips won't deter the pirates. He said only a greater naval presence would do that. After all, you buy lottery tickets and lose regularly but aren't deterred, so the pirates, who have nothing, will keep trying, hoping to hit the lottery.

I don't think much of this analogy. He's certainly right that the pirates will continue with their activities. But I have to believe killing a bunch of them has to have some effect. When you don't hit the lottery, you lose a few bucks, not your life. The pirates want to hold people for ransom, which shows that they also plan to continue living. So as poor as they may be, they still have one thing of great value to them--their lives.

(The pirates have vowed revenge, of course. Yes, how dare we free their prisoner without paying them first. Don't we understand it's just a business transactions? Here's what a pirate named Hussein told Reuters: "The French and the Americans will regret starting this killing. We do not kill, but take only ransom. We shall do something to anyone we see as French or American from now." Now I know it's silly to try to argue with someone so nasty and stupid, but Hussein, honestly, think what you're saying. Are you claiming if you demand a ransom and we refuse to pay because you "do not kill" that you'll either let the kidnaped go or put them up for the rest of their lives? The whole point is you're threatening them, so stop lying to yourself.)

The other expert said, looking at unemployment figures, if this isn't a depression he'd like to know what is.

As bad as things may be, they were far worse in the Great Depression. Unemployment was three times higher, in fact, so we've got a ways to go. In fact, we haven't yet hit double digit unemployment (and let's hope we don't), which happened in 1982.

What's defines "depression" I don't exactly know. (I've written about the definition of "landslide" already.) But how about this--until you have double digit unemployment and an economy slopping downward for at least two years, let's just agree to call it a recession.

Bad Breaks

Different sort of episode of Breaking Bad, "Peekaboo." First, it concentrated on the two lead characters, Walt and Jesse (not even a hint of the sister and brother-in-law).

Also, the two leads each had their own story, and the hour was equally split between them.

And whereas they usually have the characters is serious, even mortal danger due to the drug world they're in, the threat was (relatively) low this episode.

It gave a chance to deepen Walt and Jesse, yet the show was as dramatic as any.

One of the things I've always had trouble with was Walt refusal to take money from his hugely successful old friend and partner Elliot. This episode helped explain what's going on.

Walt has been lying to his wife Skyler (so what else is new?) about where he's getting the money for his treatments. He's claimed Elliot and his wife (and Walt's old flame) Gretchen are the suppliers. Gretchen comes back in the picture and, while not telling Skyler the truth, demands to know from Walt what's going on.

We've alread seen Walt teaching again, bitterly telling the story of the man who invented artificial diamonds for GE and got nothing. When he secretly meets Gretchen, he apologizes for getting her involved in his deceit, but refused to give her answers. When she demands more, he starts going into how he and Elliott screwed him over, and he snarls and swears at her.

Up till now, we figured the one-two combo of terminal cancer and cooking meth is what changed Walt, but now we see it might just be what's allowing his true nature to come out. He's always been seething inside from past hurts, and being a drug dealer and discovering freedom (because he's got nothing left to lose) allows him to turn into what he'd like to be.

At the end, he once again lies to Skyler, and does a better job as usual. Telling her the funds have been cut off because Elliot and Gretchen are actually broke is not only buyable these days, but is the kind of info that is great gossip and brings the two closer together. (It also cover itself since Sklyer won't ask questions, and even if she did she's attribute counter-information as a cover-up).

Jesse story was even stronger. He had to prove he's a tough guy by punishing some "clients" who didn't pay up. He goes out, packing, and breaks into the couple's house. There he's confronted by the wages of addiction. A house in disarray, with a young child not being taken care of properly.

Jesse waits for the couple to return home, and threatens them once they do. They have no money, but do have at ATM machine they've stolen. The tables are turned when Jesse, playing with the kid, gets knocked out. (It's the biggest conventional menace in the show, but the drama is strong enough even without it.)

Ultimately, no thanks to Jesse, the wife-addict kills the husband-addict, and Jesse steals his money and calls the cops to save the kid. It shows he's essentially got a good heart. So how can he continue in this business? He's not tough enough or harsh enough.

Jesse and Walt are safe for now, but it can't last much longer. Though since the show has been picked up for a third season, it'll last at least a little longer. The question is will someone major be killed, and will Walt's secret come out to anyone close to him.

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