Sunday, May 31, 2009

Top Billing

Happy Birthday, Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary. He wrote "Puff, The Magic Dragon" (which is not about drugs) but you've heard that 1000 times. How about something else from PPM:

California Here We Go

Here's an interesting piece from my old friend Matt Welch about California's financial distress (coming soon to a state near you) and the predictable arguments from the chattering class about the need to raise taxes and spend ever more, no matter what the results.

True Story

From the LA Weekly theatre review of The Elephant Man:

David Lynch's 1980 film adaptation of the play, a comparatively gothic treatment of the story, cast Anthony Hopkins as Treves.

Lynch's film is based on the same true story, but not on the Bernard Pomerance play. I'm surprised Steven Leigh Morris didn't know this.

Kennedy And Heidi And Jane

Last week's episode of Breaking Bad, "Phoenix," may have been its saddest. Also it's most outrageous. We're a long way from the heartpounding danger and violence of the early season. Now it's the disaster of bad choices, which is a lot more personal.

The central relationship of the show has never been between Walt and his family, or Jesse and his parents. Certainly not Jesse and his junkie girlfriend, Jane. The heart of the show, planned or not, has been Walt and Jesse, the Odd Couple. Walt is smart, Jesse stupid. There was a time when Jesse at least seemed street smart, but he's lost even that. And while at first Walt seemed like a softie and Jesse the hardass, time and travails have revealed what they really are, and it's the opposite.

This should be a great time for them. After all they've been through, they finally made it. They're the big-time drug dealers they've worked to be. They got the big score. But Jesse's so screwed up on drugs now that any money he gets will only lead to disaster, and perhaps a trail that leads to Walt.

Walt, meanwhile, needs to share this side of his life with someone, and Jesse's the only one who understands. Walt got a new addition to his family this week, but felt like he lost a member when Jesse was high and working with his blackmailing girlfriend.

Poor Jane is dead, which was the saddest and ugliest thing the series has shown. Plenty of people have died, but this hit home. Sure, it's her fault for using, but she was off, and her relationship with Jesse brought her back. Speaking of which, Walt trying to reconnect with Jesse got her on her back, which made her choke on her vomit. And Walt just stood there, watching. He may think it gets him Jesse back, but it's hard to believe first-season Walt could have done it. This was more a Tony Soprano move (except he'd have helped her along).

It was sure looking like Jesse and Jane fit those two body bags, but it always seemed a bit too convenient. Guess we'll find out tonight who it really is.

PS Walt's family believes they need money, so his son started a website. It looked pretty convincing so I wondered if it was real. It is.

PPS The TV season is over, so this is the last new show I have to write about. Its ending this Sunday. What'll I do then?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Hope

"President Barack Obama warned Thursday that if Congress doesn't deliver health care legislation by the end of the year, the opportunity will be lost..."

Please let it be true.

Backwards

Here's an odd little piece: "Is it possible to hate Family Guy but still like Seth MacFarlane."

I suppose so, but isn't it easier to feel the opposite?

Doesn't Have A Prayer

When you've got a good song you don't need to mess with it too much. That's why I've always preferred Dionne Warwick's version of "I Say A Little Prayer" to Aretha Franklin's.

Not that Dionne sings it without soul. No, that would be more like this:

Race Matters

Megan McCardle on Judge Sotomayor's critics and affirmative action:

Given my politics, I am probably not going to like how she rules on many, maybe even most, issues. But almost none of those issues involve racial preferences, which, even if they are a problem, are a small problem for America, affecting fewer people than almost any of the other major policy questions we're debating today. Making race, or racial politics, the central complaint, makes it seem like your biggest policy priority is making sure that not one minority in the land gets anything they don't deserve.

I often agree with Megan, but not here. Let me try to explain.

First, it may seem to some these are the motives of affirmative action opponents, but I wish she'd followed that up with "of course, I don't believe anything so hateful." There are a number of reasons to oppose affirmative action (most of which I will not go into here), but an important one to many is that it's the wrong solution to the problem and, if anything, slows down the progress of African-Americans, as well as race relations. It's one thing for supporters of affirmative action to disagree with these claims, it's another to say to those who make them "you're lying" (or worse, "you're racist").

Second, people who oppose affirmative action have trouble with minorities doing well? Which discrete and insular minority are we talking about? Jews? Asians? Wouldn't Megan agree they're helped by everyone being treated--in the words that used to signify civil rights--"without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin"? Why are these racists who oppose affirmative action so selective?

Third, calling something a "small problem" is always a dangerous argument; the easy response (even without demagoguery*) is "okay, then let's do it my way--after all, no big deal." Of course, if we did it my way, we'd soon find out what a huge deal it is. Imagine if some company, large or small, said under no circumstances would they employ African-Americans. Would anyone think the argument "well, no blacks applied anyway, so no harm, no foul" or "very few of the blacks who applied would have gotten jobs so it really doesn't matter" is good enough?

Fourth, she says this affects few people. Affirmative action is a nationwide policy, enforced (generally against the will of the public) in business, education, and elsewhere, with hundreds of thousands of regulations and bureaucrats backing it up. Further, it creates an ethos, a world where the government is teaching us you don't know how to judge someone unless you know that person's race--something Megan opposes elsewhere in her post. (It also tells those it allegedly helps that they can't make it on their own, which can be dispiriting and make them more dependent.)

This is an important issue, especially if we're talking about a Supreme Court nominee. No one should feel any shame in bringing it up.

*Which goes along the lines of "This is a small problem? Tell that to..." followed by the name of someone who lost her job or couldn't feed his kids or died or whatever because of affirmative action.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Same Cause, Too

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on criticism of Judge Sotomayor: “I think it is probably important for anybody involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way in which they’ve decided to describe different aspects of this impending confirmation.”

I see, so the people need to watch what they say.

Where It's Due


In an essay about Brick, we get this:

In one of his classic Saturday Night Live short films from the mid-’70s, Albert Brooks did a mock-preview of NBC’s upcoming “Super Season” of exciting new replacement shows and specials. (“Even a super season has super failures! That’s why, at NBC, we’ve got super replacements!”) Among the many promising offerings, like Black Vet (a black Vietnam War veteran who’s also a small-town veterinarian) or the randy Three’s Company rip-off The Three Of Us, there’s a new production of Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman, performed entirely by children.

This is wrong. The Three Of Us is not a rip-off of Three's Company. The Brooks short film aired in the first season (1975-1976) of SNL, Three's Company debuted in 1977.

Perhaps you're thinking Three's Company ripped off Brooks. Actually, it was based on a British sitcom Man About The House, which premiered in 1973. This is starting to sound like a Three's Company plot, confusing, but not funny.

Win 'Em By The Sack

A local ad that offers complimentary tickets for a showing of The Hangover also notes "select lucky winners will receive White Castle gift certificates."

That sounds pretty lucky, except that, as far as I know, there are no White Castles west of the Mississippi.

PS I see that White Castle is testing a pulled pork slider. Keep it simple guys. The fish sandwich you've had on the menu for decades is already pushing it.

Too Soon

I was recently looking at Schickel On Film, a collection of essays by Richard Schickel that came out twenty years ago. Overall, pretty good.

His last and longest piece is on friend and artist Woody Allen. Most of the essays look back, but he caught Woody in mid-career, which is probably why it's the most dated piece. Not only is Schickel effusive in his praise for Allen's art, but also gives the impression that here's a guy who's got it together. In fact, the essay is called "The Coherent Life." I wonder if Shickel would have called it that five years later.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Catch This

I caught NBC's show about TV's 50 funniest catch phrases. The results come from the Paley Center For Media, and there was some sort of vote involved, though I have no idea who voted.

Most of the choices (see below) were expected, but I still have some problems.

First, the whole idea of a catch phrase makes some comedy writers (I'm thinking of John Cleese in particular) despair. Nothing funny is being said (usually)--instead of an actual joke, it's a cheap stunt that gets a Pavlovian response from the audience. Of course, this is also why many comedy writers love catch phrases.

The other point is, just what is a catch phrase? In a lot of the cases on the list, it's actually a common phrase many say, not something original to the character. I'm not sure if it's fair to call that a catch phrase, unless a particular character makes it his own.

Now on to particulars.

"Let me show you something" isn't much of one. I like Fire Marshall Bill, but this phrase never stuck out to me that much.

Doesn't #41 get it wrong? Isn't it "Hug it out, bitch!"?

#38 comes from the Smothers Brothers' act--the TV show only amplified it. I'm not sure it deserves to be called a true TV catch phrase.

I like Arrested Development, but "I've made a huge mistake" never struck me as something especially memorable from the show.

"Here come de judge" may be best known from Laugh-In, but it was an old catch phrase that originated with Pigmeat Markham.



"Up your nose with a rubber hose" from Welcome Back, Kotter, which had trouble getting on the air as it was, was merely a softer version of Gabe Kaplan's original comedy routine "Up your hole with a mello roll."

I ignored some weaker choices higher up the list, but "don't be ridiculous," if it's gonna be on this list at all, seems high.

I'm not sure if "I'm Gumby, dammit!" should make a top 50 list of phrases from SNL. Nor is it Eddie Murphy's best line. (By the way, did this prepare the way for "I'm Rick James, bitch!"?)

What is anything from Family Matters doing in the top 20?

"Will you stifle?" is not a bad choice from All In The Family, but single words like "Dingbat" and "Meathead" are just as memorable.

Nothing wrong with "hated it," though I wouldn't say it's the the best that In Living Color had to offer. The "Homey" line is a bit better, but I wouldn't call it a top ten choice.

Friends wasn't exactly a catch phrase sort of show. "We were on a break" qualifies, I guess, but just barely. It's not like it was identified strongly with a character so much as a character in a moment. Anyway, it's better that "How you doin'?," which shouldn't be ranked at all, much less #3.

I got a lot of trouble with #12, "That's what she said." I don't deny the line is identified with Michael Scott in The Office. But do the people who "voted" for it understand, that this is an old dumb line that unfunny people have been saying for decades (the same sort of way that the Wayne's World characters are funny not because they say funny things so much as they say stupid things that a certain type says)? Do they understand that the reason it's funny (if it is funny) is because it's not funny, but Michael Scott thinks it is. (Maybe they get it, I just wonder. Most catch phrases don't come with this much irony.)

"Excuuuuse me!" is another one of those catch phrases that comes originally from a comedy act, and was popularized further by a TV show.

"Burn!" shouldn't be on this list, much less the top ten. It is an accurate portrayal of what teenagers might say in the 70s (I think), but it's not much more than that, and doesn't deserve to be particularly associated with a TV show.

The top choice is not a catch phrase, at least not one from Seinfeld. I remember I had a good friend in law school who always used to say "yada yada" and I caller her up after that episode (which is called "The Yada Yada," incidentally) to tell her about it. But it was only used in this one episode, where the gang discussed it as a phrase more than anything else. It certainly wasn't one that they regularly used on the show. So it's absurd that it's in the #1 slot.

50. “Hello, Newman” from Seinfeld
49. “Missed it by that much” from Get Smart
48. “Yeah, that’s the ticket” from Saturday Night Live
47. “God’ll get you for that” from Maude
46. “Hey, Hey, Hey” from What’s Happening
45. “Holy crap” from Everybody Loves Raymond
44. “Let me show you something” from In Living Color
43. “Nip it” from The Andy Griffith Show
42. “Thank you beddy much” from Taxi
41. “Do you wanna hug it out” from Entourage
40. “Watch it sucka” from Sanford and Son
39. “Jane you ignorant slut” from Saturday Night Live
38. “Mom liked you best” from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
37. “Sit on it” from Happy Days
36. “Now cut that out” from The Jack Benny Comedy Program
35. “I’m Larry, this is my brother Darryl…” from Newhart
34. “What you see is what you get” from The Flip Wilson Show
33. “I’ve made a huge mistake” from Arrested Development
32. “I know nothing” from Hogan’s Heroes
31. “Here come de judge” from Laugh-In
30. “You look marvelous” from Saturday Night Live
29. “I’m comin’ to join ya Elizabeth” from Sanford and Son
28. “Would you believe” from Get Smart
27. “Up your nose with a rubber hose” from Welcome Back, Kotter
26. “Ohhhh Rob” from The Dick Van Dyke Show
25. “Kiss my grits” from Alice
24. “Nanu, Nanu” from Mork and Mindy
23. “Don’t be ridiculous” from Perfect Strangers
22. “I’m Gumby, dammit” from Saturday Night Live
21. “No soup for you” from Seinfeld
20. “One of these days, pow right in the kisser” from The Honeymooners
19. “Did I do that” from Family Matters
18. “Will you stifle” from All in the Family
17. “Eat my shorts” from The Simpsons
16. “Hated it” from In Living Color
15. “Well isn’t that special” from Saturday Night Live
14. “Sock it to me” from Laugh-In
13. “We were on a break” from Friends
12. “That’s what she said” from The Office
11. “It’s going to be legendary” from How I Met Your Mother
10. “Homey don’t play dat” from In Living Color
9. “Excuuse me” from Saturday Night Live
8. “Lucy, you’ve got some splainin’ to do” from I Love Lucy
7. “Oh my god! They killed Kenny” from South Park
6. “Burn” from That ‘70s Show
5. “We are two wild and crazy guys” from Saturday Night Live
4. “Ayyyy” from Happy Days
3. “How you doin’” from Friends
2. “D’oh” from The Simpsons
1. “Yada, yada, yada” from Seinfeld

Mostly Rain

I'm always willing to check out the early Columbia pictures of Frank Capra. They generally have some entertainment value, and even when they fall short you can see his development.

I just saw Rain Or Shine, about a traveling circus (which features some nice traveling shots). The plot isn't much, though the finale where the whole thing burns down is well done. The story came from the stage, but it lets you know what movies can do.

It stars Joe Cook, a famous Broadway comedian. He's one of those fast-talking con-man clowns. The reason he never made it in film is apparent. He's sort of amusing and annoying at the same time, but never really that funny. He makes you appreciate Groucho Marx. Heck, he makes you appreciate Bert Wheeler. A good juggler, though.

Partly Party

Because we only have two parties that count, they both contain elements that have trouble getting along. The biggest division among the Republicans is those who want government to leave us alone and those who want government to tell us what to do.

Over at Reason, Shikha Dalmia suggests the Republicans make it clear what side they're on:

So what should the Grand Old Party do to resurrect itself enough to mount some semblance of resistance to the advancing Democratic juggernaut? The answer is that it needs intellectual coherence around a powerful idea, and that idea should be liberty.

Fine with me, but I don't see it happening. I think most party leaders believe, principles aside, that going all-out on liberty would alienate a large percentage of their base.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Routine Expedition

I never watched Land Of The Lost, but last week when the SCIFI channel had a marathon I tuned in to see the credits sequence, which cracks me up. I stuck around long enough to notice that some impressive names wrote the episodes--Larry Niven, David Gerrold, D. C. Fontana, Ben Bova, Norman Spinrad, Theodore Sturgeon--I had no idea.

What Walt Wrought

Here's what intrigues me about this video:



1) I like how they play "I Shot The Sheriff" at Disney World.

2) This is right by a wood gate. Were the performers just coming off their break, or about to start one?

3) It made me wonder if I'd rather play a talking character or a mute one. It might be more tiring to talk, but at least you don't have to sweat all day behind a mask.

4) Do I detect a slight Minnesota accent on Snow White?

5) If I were a little kid, I think I'd be scared of a real, live Dopey.

6) Snow White says "Dopey told me all about you, Ella." So Dopey can talk!

SS On The SC

President Obama picking Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court is disappointing since it was so predictable. She was the strong favorite from the start, and, of those on the short list, probably the least inspired choice.

Her past is coming up, such as her statement that appeals courts make policy (which is the belief of most people in the legal field, but not a politic thing to say), and her speech about the importance of a judge's sex and ethnicity, but it really doesn't matter. She will be the next Justice and the Republicans would be wasting their energy to put up any serious resistance.

Poor Justice Stevens, the only Protestant on the Court.

Jacob's Touch

I rewatched the Lost season 5 finale, and there's no question, not only does Jacob touch every castaway he meets, the show practically makes a point of it. Why?

We still don't know the situation or purpose of Jacob, or his nemesis (whom I'll call, as others are, Bocaj), but we can gather a few things. They've been around a long time and seem to have an ongoing debate, if that's the word. Jacob believes in progress, and that things can change. Bocaj sees the same pattern happening over and over. He wants to get out of it, it appears, by killing Jacob, but he can't do it straightforwardly, he needs a loophole.

What the island is and what these two can do is still mostly unknown. But apparently Bocaj had some complex, long-range plan that gave him the loophole, he believes, to kill Jacob. Part of it involved, through pretense, convincing Locke he needed to do quite a few things, then presenting himself as "Locke," and getting Ben in Jacb's chamber with "Locke."

The question now is what did Jacob do to respond? This central battle (central in that it's behind everything--it's been out of view for most of the series) will be resolved, but it has to involve the main Lost character to be settled.

Jacob met every major original castaway who was on the Ajira flight, and touched them. It's not clear if he found out about Bocaj's plan, including who the Ajira Losties were, and went back in time to meet them, or was aware of their importance all along and, instead of time traveling, simply met them at these times in their lives. Also, it's not clear if Bocaj thought these characters were particularly important, or if it's only Jacob who knew these were the ones that counted.

Jacob does seem to have a plan. (But then, so did the Cylons.) It's hard to believe season 5 ended with Bocaj getting the better of him. It would appear, whether he's alive or not, the Losties will come back (probably in the "present") and do what they have to do.

What did he do when he met them? With most of them, not much. He gave Sawyer a pen, Jack a chocolate bar, and Sun and Jin advice. The advice he gave may have been helpful, but wasn't deep. Was he just there to touch them? With Hurley, the most recent meeting, he convinced him to get on the Ajira flight, which suggests he's the one behind the Losties being there, which is interesting, since "Locke" tells Richard to talk to Locke and get the Losties on that flight. Why would Jacob be interested in this as well?

The two most memorable meetings were with Locke and Sayid.

Locke is probably about to die (dead already?) after being pushed out of a high-rise, but Jacob's touch revivies him. (I find it impossible the real Locke won't be back in Season 6. If we only have "Locke," Terry O'Quinn's agent might be satisfied, but the fans won't. Everyone's been going on so long about how central Locke is, and how he has a destiny, but it now looks like he was simply a chump, to be discarded when he's been of use. Why would Jacob even bother to revive him if he didn't have bigger plans?)

The meeting with Sayid is even more problematic. We know Jacob believes in free will--he tells both Hurley and Ben that they have to make a choice. But is he a positive force for the Losties, or is he merely using them? It's arguable he helps the others (though getting Kate out of trouble and making it easier for Sawyer to write his letter puts them both on questionable paths--paths that might be good for Jacob, but not necessarily them), but what about Sayid? He stops him on the street while his love Nadia gets hit by a car. Did Jacob know this was going to happen? Does Nadia's fate not matter to him? Was he, in fact, responsible for Nadia's death, knowing it would help him? If it wasn't him, who was responsible for Nadia's death? (Ben said Widmore was behind it, but he might have been manipulating Sayid.) The main thing is the Sayid meeting makes it tough to understand Jacob's motives.

A further question is what is the importance of all the Losties who have died along the way. Did Bocaj, or Jacob, set them up either? And all these meetings they've had in the pre-Island past, were those just coincidences?

What did the touch do to them? Was it some form of magic dust, guaranteeing they'll survive the "Incident" (which doesn't bode well for Juliet--wearing red--or Miles), and maybe give Locke a chance to revive? Will they alone be able to remember the previous timeline when the new one kicks in? Did he do a Spock and leave a bit of himself in them so he can be reconstituted? For that matter, did he arrange it for time be rewound and everyone (including Jacob) comes back?

The final season is about "Destiny Found," so it's clear that someone, or something, whether Jacob or not, had plans for the Losties (though if there's free will they can still choose to fulfill this destiny or not).

I'm not sure if Bocaj is a separate character who's trying to fight Jacob's plans, or some spirit going against him. It seems that he pretended he was Jacob to move his plan along. But a lot of fans think he was the Smoke Monster as well. I wonder. "Locke" seemed surprised that smoke-Alex told Ben to follow "Locke." He could have been lying, but why bother? It suggests that the Smoke Monster could be a separate entity from Jacob and Bocaj, working on destiny its own way. Or perhaps it was even Jacob, who wanted Bocaj's plans to go forward, to fulfill his own plan.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Little Further

A reader thought I was being silly in saying I didn't like the idea of setting the latest Terminator film in the future battle between humanity and machines. The implication was if it works, it works.

I responded, but let me try to explain further.

It's not just what story you tell, but what part of a story. Homer's Iliad may be an epic, but it covers a short period of time, and doesn't enter the story of the ten-year Trojan War till it's near the end. Sophocles didn't show the whole story of Oedipus, he concentrated on the day Oedipus discovers the truth. Some parts of a story are more dramatic than others.

George Lucas had a story that was too big for one movie, and since he didn't know if he'd get to make another, he decided to start with the part of Star Wars that was most exciting. On the other hand, a sequel like Superman Returns fails because it starts just after all the interesting stuff has happened. Even in long-running shows like Battlestar Galactica or Lost or Babylon 5, which claim to tell one big story, I want to know I'm watching the part that really matters, which is why I generally don't like the offshoots. If some other part of the story matters so much, why did you pretend what I was watching originally was so important?

What worked in the Terminator films is the concept (overdone by the third) of sending back from the future a relentless killing machine and seeing how it does against its overmatched target. The question presented is can we change destiny. The first film said no. The second, made by the original creator, said yes. But both were based on a concept that works. In these films, the future is the MacGuffin. It sets the story in motion, but we're not concentrating on the future, we're watching the present. The future is some far-off place that allows a great story to be told today. We don't particularly care to see what'll happen--we've been told John Connor will win the day, so since he survived, we'll take their word for it. Showing this future is not what the Terminator series is about. It's just another dull battle of humanity versus machine, with nothing worthwhile driving it.

Repent!

In the midst of overpraising Wallace Shawn in The New Yorker (of which Shawn is a spawn), we get this from John (scion of a Lion) Lahr: "Ben, we learn, is one of the barbarians who have devoured the planet, and, beneath his charm, he is as unrepentant as a hedge-fund manager."

I wasn't aware hedge-fund managers needed to repent.

People like Lahr don't think much of religious leaders telling them what to do, but they're always ready to slip in a mini-sermon themselves.

Wonderful World

Michael Haneke is a talented filmmaker, and for all I know he deserves the Palme d'Or at Cannes for White Ribbon, a "stark, black-and-white drama set in a rural German village on the eve of WWI." But haven't we moved beyond the time when to show something is serious, we don't shoot in color?

At this point, black and white is an affectation. It's even distracting, since the filmmaker seems to be trying so hard. When I hear someone has shot in black and white, I want to ask "did you use sound?"

No Second Act

I enjoyed Donna McKechnie's autobiography Time Steps, but it has structural problems. It starts out with a talented young girl who runs away from home (Detroit!) to make it as a dancer, and before she's twenty is in the chorus of a Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. She meets Broadway's bigwigs and goes from one major show to the next--Promises, Promises, Company, A Chorus Line--and wins a Tony Award. So far, so good, but we're only at the halfway point.


While her personal life remains messy--especially her ill-fated marriage to dance guru Michael Bennett--her professional life never again hits these heights.

It's not Donna's fault her life doesn't fit into a fairy tale format, but if Hollywood rewrote it, they'd figure some way to end with A Chorus Line.

PS One page 111, we discover she and Bennett danced to "Gershwin's 'I Won't Dance.'" I wonder if that's anything like Jerome Kern's "I Won't Dance."

Monday, May 25, 2009

Small Surprise

I don't think too many insiders were surprised to see the new Night At The Museum easily take the weekend over the new Terminator. It had been the odds-on favorite for a while.

What surprised me more was the decent take for Dance Flick. Okay, not huge, but, especially considering the competition, big enough so there'll be more. And it does seem that no matter how many of these parody films they put out, the audience is still willing to take a chance on another.

There's Something You Can Hear Now

One thing about watching There's Something About Mary at home by yourself. When you get to the "hair gel" scene, you can actually hear the dialogue. It's Mary complaining about her situation. No doubt the Farrelly brothers made sure she didn't say anything that was essential to the plot.

Next I'll be watching Wedding Crashers to hear what Owen Wilson says during the dinner table scene.

Remember

Have a good Memorial Day. Light blogging today.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

No Time

It's sad to see formerly important newsweeklies go the way of the dodo, but I have to agree with Michael Kinsley's criticism of the Newsweek remake. It's true, though, there's not much they can do--the general format (as much as we need news sources) is becoming outmoded, but the last thing we need is another journal of opinion and analysis. I'd rather Newsweek have tried to keep doing what it was doing (just better), even if fewer want it. (Today's barren landscape makes John Podhoretz's reminsicence about the glory days of Time seem like a fairy tale.)

Something To Do

When I was a kid I noticed if I walked along a fence while looking down, and then after looked at the ground, it would start moving. If you've got two minutes to waste, here's an even better illustration of that principle.

Hot Poop

I'd heard plenty of things about producer Jon Peters since I moved here, but Nikki Finke, directly hooked in, heard them all and then some.

Now Peters is planning to come out with an autobiography. Nikki Finke's conclusion: "In all my time covering Hollywood, I have never read a more vile betrayal of everyone and everything in Hollywood by a showbiz figure than this proposal."

A bit harsh, perhaps, but she's got a lot of inside info--in fact, you wonder what's left for the book. The most surprising thing confirmed--Peters can't read.

PS Looks like all the attention got to him. He's still gonna write a book, but this particular proposal has been pulled.

Expectations

I wasn't expecting much from Terminator Salvation, so I ended up liking it more than I thought I would. Harry Knowles over at Ain't It Cool News couldn't wait to see it and ended up giving it a rare pan.

But our difference are wider. Here's Harry:

I was 12 when THE TERMINATOR came out and thank God, my parents were the kind of awesome people that let me watch it. Now – that movie is all kinds of awesome greatness – but the thing that captured my imagination were those glimpses of the future mythology. [...]

When TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY came out – I had purposefully stayed ignorant of everything about the film. I knew nothing. I was obsessive about seeing it – and I remember the giant ass line I stood in for the film. And while Robert Patrick was amazing with the help of ILM – I was left amazed by the brief glimpses of the future – that lone shot of a scarred John Connor with the binoculars. That reinforced the dream of John Connor and the Future War. I’ve been dreaming and chatting about the “Future” for a long time.

Wow! I couldn't have a more different view. When I saw Terminator, I was knocked out. It was low budget, but had tremendous imagination and relentless action. The only thing that sucked the life out of it every now and then were those boring glimpses into the future, but luckily they didn't last too long.

I loved the sequel, too, and the future stuff was, once again, best ignored. The third film was the weakest, but I figured at least it's still set in the present, so we don't have to waste time in some dull, futuristic landscape where machines fight humans.

So you can understand why my main objection to Terminator Salvation (along with no Arnold) was they set the whole thing in the most boring part of the epic. Terminator is about a killer sent back to try to change the future--throw this out and you've got something far less interesting.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Hopefully This Puts An End To It

The NY Times has an article about racially segregated proms that endure in some southern towns. HBO is going to air a documentary film about the same subject. It will be interesting to see how many towns are shamed out of the practice by next year's prom season.

I'm surprised that such a blatantly segregationist practice has survived this long, though it is somewhat in keeping with social patterns I've seen in the south. E.g. one time back in the 90s, I was visiting a friend at a small southern college, and was sitting on a bench waiting for him. I had the bench all to myself, although the other bench across the lawn was full of people, which struck me as mildly odd. I asked him later about it, and he explained that I was sitting on the bench where the black students usually hung out, and the crowded one across the way was the bench where the white students hung out. I have no idea whether any black students had come along and decided not to sit there because I was, or if they all just happened to be in class for that half hour. I asked him who decided this rule, and he said it wasn't a rule, but just kind of a traditional thing that everyone seemed comfortable with. Well, here's hoping some traditions die out.

I Don't Usually Take Requests

Here's a video someone wanted to see.

On The House

Congress may be voting on a law requiring businesses to offer paid vacations to employees. This is what government does best, of course--offering you stuff that other people pay for.

Here's how Representative Alan Grayson sells it, according to the article: "More vacation will stimulate the economy through fewer sick days, better productivity and happier employees."

Now maybe it's a good idea companies give paid vacations--certainly a lot of them already do. But don't insult my intelligence by saying you're proposing this to make them operate more efficiently. It you honestly think this is better for businesses, let them decide, and let the stupid ones that don't want productive employees go bankrupt.

PS Grayson represents Orlando, which would certainly benefit from more paid vacations. At least he knows where his bread is buttered.

No Problem

So Nancy Pelosi makes astonishing claims about the CIA, and when asked about them, replies: "I have made the statement that I'm going to make on this. I don't have anything more to say about it. I stand by my comment."

That's great. Accuse an agency, without any evidence, of a serious crime, and when it looks like you've been found out, rather than explain further, or apologize, just say that's it, story's over.

She'll get away with it, of course. The Democrats are in charge and they want this to go away. It's also probably a bad strategy for the Republicans to go after Pelosi, since this makes it all about her, and makes them look like bullies who should be doing other things.

Don't Bank On It

I was watching Seems Like Old Times, an amiable 1980 comedy written by Neil Simon, starring Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn and Charles Grodin.

Grodin wants the support of the governor to be California's attorney general. Unfortunately, Chase, his wife's ex-husband, has been arrested for bank robbery. Friend and co-worker Robert Guillaume warns him this will hurt his chances. Why? Because "we're living in a very conservative state."

Seems like old times indeed.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I Guess Return Of The Jedi Is Out Of The Question

Here's sort of an interesting poll on sf films, though it does seem to be one of those dumbed-down kinds where it's multiple choice rather than open.

Here's what I don't get. How can A New Hope beat Empire Strikes Back for best sci-fi movie of all time while Empire manages to win best Star Wars film?

Mon Dieu!

In Variety's review of Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian we find this sentence:

Plucky Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams, trying a bit too hard) joins him, only to be matched by a trio of history's worst villains: Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Napoleon (French comic Alain Chabat) and Al Capone (Jon Bernthal), who've united with Kahmunrah to create the ultimate axis of evil.

I realize the judgment of history can change, but is Napoleon now widely considered to be a bad guy? One at the level of Al Capone?

What's Up, Dock?

I recently watched Dirigible (1931). Frank Capra's early films are of interest, if sometimes a bit creaky. He worked fast and in any genre, including, such as this one, action. With Capra as Harry Cohn's main director, Columbia started the rise out of poverty row.

Anyway, this isn't a review. I just want to note that early on, one of the dirigible's contacts "Lakehurst." I guess it was the place for dirigibles to go those days. They couldn't know how chilling that word would be in a few years.

Public Service Announcement

There a few filmmakers less fit to get to the bottom of our financial crisis than Michael Moore, but he's still gonna try.

How does he put it?

The wealthy, at some point, decided they didn't have enough wealth. They wanted more -- a lot more. So they systematically set about to fleece the American people out of their hard-earned money. Now, why would they do this? That is what I seek to discover in this movie.

So he already knows what caused the crisis. The only thing that interests him at this point is the psychology of the people responsible.

His film was never high on my must-see list, but I have to thank him for admitting up front he's proceeding from a false premise--it's saved me whatever time and money I may have spent watching it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Not Cool

A number of reviews of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, which just debuted at Cannes, give away the ending. I'd link to them, except why link to what I don't want people to read.

The Not-So-Great Mandala

"Mandala" was sort of an in-between episode for Breaking Bad. It denied a lot of things that happened before. Walt is back in, Jesse's using, no one's scared of him any more, and the whole system they set up which had been working reasonably well fell apart.

It also stopped before the double-climax--Walt's in the middle of a big sell to a major dealer and Skylar's giving birth.

The new dealer is played by Giancarlo Esposito, a fine actor who should add something to the show. But it's easy to believe he'll be a major part of what leads to those body bags in Walt's driveway.

Ted Not Dead

A lot of surprising renewals at the networks.

I first caught Better Off Ted because it was the lead-in to Lost. I like the premise--a satire on both business and science--but I still don't think it's quite there, yet. On the other hand, I do feel it's moving in the right direction. Glad to see ABC did the right thing.

(On the other hand, it's official--Sarah Connor has been terminated. Also, My Name Is Earl is off NBC, though it may be picked up elsewhere.)

Jolson Sings!...And Talks A Little

The Jazz Singer started the sound revolution, but it's not a complete talkie itself. In fact, it's really a silent film with a few musical interludes thrown in. The effect is sort of creepy, since you hear someone and then, suddenly, he can't make noise any more.

I was recently watching the film (thus this post) and it's basically a melodrama about assimilation--something that meant a lot to the studio moguls. (I've also been reading a bit about Darryl Zanuck, who was behind this film--he's one of the rare non-Jewish studio heads--and the theme was in the original Broadway play (starring George Jessel, who could have starred in the movie if he hadn't asked for too much money), but Warner Brothers changed its direction a bit to make it sting less.)

The film is nothing special, though to be fair, it's better than a lot of the earliest sound films, which are generally tough going. Still, I can see how an audience would get excited to hear someone singing and talking after years of silence.

Then there's Jolson. Contemporary accounts have him being an electrifying performer, but tastes change, and he seems way too hammy, and his movements way too jerky, today. The Jazz Singer made him a movie star--at a time when he wasn't the Broadway star he'd once been-- but that didn't last long. There were too many other actors far more interesting once films started talking in earnest. Ironically, the best stuff he does in the film are the small bits of talking in-between the songs, where he's still plenty corny, but also kind of charming.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Checklist

I was going to write something on an LA Times piece on card check (it's all about process so it can avoid substance (and then gets the process wrong)), but I see Mickey Kaus beat me to it.

Billion Dollar Advice

Let me summarize Google CEO Eric Schmidt's commencement address at the University Of Pennsylvania:

"Life is more than technology. Human relations are more important than Facebook or Twitter. Don't plot out your future too rigidly. You can learn from your mistakes. You can't plan on inspiration, but you can be ready to take advantage when it strikes. There are great opportunities even in bad times."

It's a good thing he's got technical expertise, since he can only speak in cliches.

Veto Vote

Despite a lot of money spent to convince us otherwise, by a large margin California voters rejected a bunch of higher tax propositions. California is (and has been for a while) in serious financial trouble, but that doesn't mean increased taxes are the way to go.

It's interesting how some news sources report the story. Whenever a politician proposes any new program, they claim he's trying to solve a problem, implying those who oppose him don't: "[Some Scwharzenegger critics] supported him when he swept to power but turned against him when he tried to address the state’s dire finances." No, they just didn't like how he tried to address the dire circumstances. A few years ago, he tried to deal with our problems by cutting spending, but the full, monied wrath of the public sector came down on him, ruining his reputation and turning him into an effective Democrat.

It wasn't that long ago, believe it or not, that California was a growing state with a budget surplus. Our leaders figured high taxes and massive state spending (a huge public sector, better-paid than any other) worked so well, let's raise taxes even higher and spend even more. Now they wonder why we're in trouble as businesses and people are fleeing.

There's no easy solution. (Not even a bailout.) But the one politicians always think is easiest--higher tax rates--isn't the way to go. It's a tough job, Ahnold, but I've seen you handle tougher.

Ain't Interested

For the first time ever, I don't care who wins American Idol. Last year I cared less, but still a little. Now I may not even watch. It's a weird feeling.

Lost Top Ten

Here are are my top ten moments from Lost, Season 5. By moments I don't mean events that are the most significant in the Lost storyline, but rather the moments that had the strongest effect on me.

Almost every episode had at least one memorable moment, and many had more. I decided to pick at most one per show. Here they are, in ascending order:


10. This Place Is Death - Jin reunites with the gang. Sawyer's uninhibited glee showed us better than anything else he was a changed person.

9. Tie, Some Like It Hoth/Follow The Leader - Miles and Hurley discuss their different methods of talking to the dead/Chang gives Hurley an impromptu current events quiz.

8. The Variable - Faraday is killed by his mother.

7. LaFleur - Stuck in the early days of the Dharma Initiative, Sawyer walks out to meet Hostile Richard Alpert and surprises him with unexpected information.

6. 316 - The Oceanic 6 (sans Aaron), plus Ben and Lapidus, reunite on a new flight. They nervously eye each other--they have a good idea what's about to happen.

5. He's Our You - Sayid figures out his purpose and shoots young Ben.

4. The Incident - We finally meet Jacob.

3. The Life And Death Of Jeremy Bentham - Ben stops Locke from committing suicide--and then murders him.

2. Jughead - Locke marches into the Others' camp demanding to see Richard. The hothead who wants to kill him turns out to be Charles Widmore--and another piece of the puzzle falls into place.

1. Dead Is Dead - Ben meets Smokey. First he's shown his past failings and when the smoke clears, there's his beloved daughter, Alex. He apologizes, but she'll have none of it. Instead the reunion gets ugly as she slams him against the wall and threatens to destroy him.


A few notes:

Jack and Kate, arguably the two leads, barely figure in my top ten.

In almost every episode, Hurley or Sawyer or Miles say something funny. The tie at #9 are my two biggest laughs of the seasons.

For #8, it's not the shooting so much, which we could feel was coming, as who shot Faraday. And it actually gets better in retrospect, when you realize how tragic it makes everything Faraday's mother did up to that point.

On the other hand, my top pick seems less powerful in restrospect, if certain indications from the finale are correct. If it's just Smokey-Alex telling Ben to listen to Smokey-Locke, it's not as big a deal. (However, this may not be the case, as I will try to explain some time next week.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Enterprise And The Entire Price

I heard a report on NPR about the history of Star Trek. It was actually from a few years ago, dusted off for the new movie. Among others, they interviewed Tim Cavanaugh, who wrote a fine 40th anniversary tribute a few years ago in Reason.

He noted that Captain Kirk and company are neocons, flying through the galaxy, toppling civilizations they don't approve of wherever they find them.

This is true as far as it goes, but what we call neocon today is really a 1960s liberal. It was a proud, patriotic liberalism that believed in basic Western ideas, especially freedom, and wasn't afraid to do what had to be done to defend them.

But with the more radical New Left on the scene, and events like Vietnam and Watergate, the modern liberal became full of self-doubt, and as much anti-America and anti-West (as they existed) as anything else.

This is from JFK's inaugural address:

...the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe--the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage--and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.


The Federation couldn't have put it any better.

Let's Go To The Tape

I was watching a bit of Close Encounter Of The Third Kind on TV. I've never been too fond of the movie. What didn't help was that I saw it while still in love with Star Wars, and it just didn't compare.

Anyway, there's a minor scene where the government is covering up (isn't that what the government always does in movies since Watergate?) its contact with aliens. An official is saying how all these stories of outer space contact are hooey, and how no one's ever actually got film of any spaceship. Some smart guy responds he's worked in the media for years and no one's ever gotten any film of a car crash, but they happen all the time.

I'd like to think when I first heard that, I thought "what a stupid argument." I can't remember. (I'll leave it to you, constant reader, to note the logical flaws.) But hearing it today, it really sounds bad. Since the film was released, video cameras have become common, and people tape everything. And guess what--we've got tons and tons of car crashes. Still no alien vessels landing and interacting with people. So how do you explain that, Mr. Spielberg?

As Long As He's Here

I enjoyed th third year of 30 Rock, and the finale, if it didn't top the season, capped it off just fine.

If there's one thing I must commend them for, it's getting guest star Alan Alda to mock the awful final episode of M*A*S*H. I caught the chicken/baby reference right away, but amazingly didn't make the connection to Alda until they had him interrupt the scene. Bravo.

The Great Debate

One of the big arguments I have with my friends (and that almost no one else in the world cares about) is which is better--one-camera or three-camera sitcoms. In layperson's language, this essentially means live before an audience or not.

While the biggest comedies today are live (Two And A Half Men), the most respected and "hippest" are not (The Office, 30 Rock). In general, the trend lately has been toward the latter, while previous decades, starting in the 70s, tend to favor the former.

If I had to choose, I'd probably pick live. Sure, one-camera shows let you go anywhere and do anything (and do it over plenty till you get it right), and, these days anyway, have no annoying laugh track. Plus, if live is so great, then how do movie comedies work? But there's still no replacement for the energy you generate when actors have to get up in front of living, breathing people and make them laugh.

Now great TV writer Earl Pomerantz is adding yet another wrinkle to the debate. He claims a show like Taxi (which he wrote for) was better not just because it was live, but because it wasn't shot digitally. Film has to be developed and edited, so there's no way to show it to a live audience. But now we've got digital tape that looks like film, so it's easy to go to sets the audience can't see, or shoot stuff quickly earlier in the day, and show it canned on monitors to get a reaction. That's not the same as a live show where the people in the bleachers are actually watching the actors directly. Also, it breaks up a story into many smaller scenes, taking away the feeling of actors doing a scene. (For better or worse, it is true that Seinfeld changed sitcoms, and made them much choppier. Before that show, you seldom had the number of scenes go into double digits. Now that's common. You also forced the writers to come up with the funny for a few regular sets and one or maybe two new sets per show.)

I see his point. Lots of little scenes, in and out, can be a crutch for writers and actors. But funny is still funny, and stories are still stories. Pomerantz's point is technological limits on writers can be a good thing. Relying on technology is bad, but saying the number of scenes deeply matters is like judging a book by the number of chapters.

Monday, May 18, 2009

This Just In

After close to 34 years, Generalissimo Francisco Franco remains dead. But apparently there is a little less of him dead than was previously thought.

Riddle Me This

People are talking about WolframAlpha, and we at Pajama Guy are always happy to help out a struggling new website. I'd describe what WA does, but I don't understand it yet.

Oh Boy

The penultimate episode of The Office had Jim and Pam about to go off and get married, and then decide against it. It was already a mistake to get them together--marriage would have been the final nail in that coffin, so it's just as well.

The finale had what was supposed to be a surprise, but I saw it coming--Pam is pregnant. This is a bigger JTS moment than marriage. Maybe it's time to end the show.

Opinions On Opinions

One of the problems in the debate over the "torture" memo, according to Victoria Toensing, is the opposition hasn't read it. But that's never stopped them before:

The memo to the CIA discussed 10 requested interrogation techniques and how each should be limited so as not to violate the statute. [...]

But now, safe in ivory towers eight years removed from 9/11, critics demand criminalization of the techniques and the prosecution or disbarment of the lawyers who advised the CIA. [...]

...Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, [...] declared that "waterboarding will almost certainly be deemed illegal if put under judicial scrutiny," depending on which "of several possibly applicable legal standards" apply. Does he know the Senate rejected a bill in 2006 to make waterboarding illegal? [...] So quick to condemn, Mr. Robinson later replied to a TV interview question that he did not know how long sleep deprivation could go before it was "immoral." It is "a nuance," he said.

Unfortunately, nuance is what's being lost in this debate. What is and isn't allowable treatment for prisoners in a war is not as easy a question as critics of the former administration would have it. (BTW, everyone agrees intent matters when it comes to waterboarding and that it can't be inferred from the act alone. Does that suggest it's at least on a different level from many other more "traditional" forms of torture?)

The attempt to criminalize something after the fact is a greater threat to our rights than the fear that the executive branch is going to go torture crazy. Perhaps pundit Eugene Robinson should note if he had been in the Department of Justice a few years back and merely gave advice following the lines of what he said above, the Left might be shouting for his head now along with the others.

Inside Ben

Here's a theory on Lost that's as good as any other, I suppose. I have a few quibbles. For one thing, I'm not sure it's established Jacob's nemesis is also the Smoke Monster. It makes sense, and secrets on Lost are often fairly straightforward when revealed, but I think it would be cool if the Smoke Monster were a separate entity.

My bigger question is about this:

[After Ben says to Jacob "What about me?”] Jacob shoots him down with the simple question, “What about you?” Jacob’s point is that Ben is merely a thread in the tapestry of history - why does he think he’s so important? Again, this is the Hegelian motivation emerging. Ben’s response is to stab Jacob to death.

While there's no question Ben takes Jacob's response as a slight, and I'd guess Jacob figured he'd understand it as such, was Jacob intention to taunt him?

We don't really know Jacob yet, or his intent, but it's easy to read his question back to Ben as one seriously asked. He really does care about Ben, and, more important, wants Ben to care about himself. "What about you? Isn't that a question worth asking, Ben?"

The question is meant for Ben to take a look inside. When he does, though, all the hatred and resentment come out and he does exactly what body-Locke suggested.

Chocolate As A Way Of Life

Fling chocolate bars are being test-marketed in California. Their website is all in pink and their slogan is "Naughty...but not that naughty."

Here's some of their copy:

We created FLING™ Chocolate Fingers to celebrate the female spirit – the unapologetically feminine playful, naughty, flirtatious, and alluring nature that brings shimmer into the world.

FLING™ is a sweet, light truffle on a subtle crisp layer enrobed in shimmering chocolate that’s as glamorous as you are. At under 85 calories per finger, it’s slim, but not skinny. Indulgent but not greedy. Naughty but nice.

It's also a way of living. As FLING™ women we are spontaneous - we shimmer! And when it's good? We share it. So let yourself go! Have a FLING™ in private, or wave it all around town; in the office, the bedroom, or the great outdoors.

The FLING™ community has started in California, but you can be a part of it no matter where you are. The FLING™ spirit is universal. So go ahead and be naughty…but not that naughty™.

They really are going all out with this. Are men even allowed to buy it? If we do, will people think we're gay?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Decade's A Decade

I was watching The Ice Storm (1997), a pretty decent film set in the '70s--1973, to be exact. It really captures the look of the period.

But I was taken out of it when Tobey Maguire referred to Christina Ricci's parents as "parental units." Yeah, I know, the phrase comes from the 70s, but in particular, it comes from the Coneheads' sketches on Saturday Night Live, the first of which aired in 1977.

Not Married To It

Some have been using this quote in the Chicago Tribune to summarize President Obama's position on same-sex marriage.

I'm a Christian. And so, although I try not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political views on this issue, I do believe that tradition, and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman.

I agree. Tradition and Obama's religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman. I wonder what Obama thinks.

More Promises

After posting about "Turkey Lurkey Time" from Promises, Promises, I thought I'd put up the show's best-remembered song, "I'll Never Fall In Love Again." There were plenty of versions out there, such as Dionne Warwick's hit recording from 1970, and Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach doing it in Austin Powers 2.

But I was pleased to find a recent concert version reuniting Jill O'Hara from the original Broadway cast and lead Jerry Orbach's replacement, Tony Roberts. It's 40 years later, and not too much worse for the wear.

Your History

I saw Angels & Demons. If anything, it's worse than The Da Vinci Code. But it made me wonder about this kind of film. What kind? Another example would be the National Treasure franchise, where an academic uses his expertise to search for old clues left behind centuries ago to solve a modern-day mystery.

I kind of like the idea of making historians and other similar experts cool. There's almost nothing more exciting than studying history, and it's neat to see historians finally be the hero.

Unfortuately, most of the "history" in these movies is nonsensical, and all the clues and imaginary assocations responsible for them are ridiculous. Real history is thrilling enough--you don't need it gimmicked up to make it exciting.

On the other hand, it's hard to imagine an action movie--or any movie--that spends 90% of the time searching for something in a library.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Off The Hook

In an article on Dick Cheney, we get this from Maureen Dowd:

He has no coherent foreign policy viewpoint. He still doesn’t fathom that his brutish invasion of Iraq unbalanced that part of the world, empowered Iran and was a force multiplier for Muslims who hate America. He left our ports unsecured, our food supply unsafe, the Taliban rising and Osama on the loose. No matter if or when terrorists attack here — and they’re on their own timetable, not a partisan red/blue state timetable — Cheney will be deemed the primary one who made America more vulnerable.

I'd been planning to write a post about how lucky Obama must feel that Cheney's the one publicly attacking his policy in the war on terror, but I'm not so sure any more. I was gonna say the public generally agrees with Cheney's argument, but the man himself is so unpopular he discredits his side. But now I wonder. He really seems to be getting to the left. Is it because they hate him so much, or fear he's winning the argument?

As to Dowd's claim, let's not waste too much time on it. We know Al Qaeda wanted to attack us following 9/11, and haven't succeeded yet. But apparently nothing Dick Cheney did could possibly have anything to do with that. On the other hand, if, in the future, anything bad happens, then Cheney must be at fault. Dowd doesn't believe in preemptive war, but she believes in preemptive blame.

No Doubt About It

The internet is a haven for creative spelling. Above all, there's one word that's spelled wrong so often that I'm surprised when anyone gets it right. "Definitely."

George Didn't Do It

I was paging through George, Being George, an oral history of George Plimpton, when I noticed, on page 225, a photo of John Wayne and Plimpton. It was identified as being from Rio Bravo. Not even close. Plimpton made a stunt appearance in Rio Lobo, a later, and much worse film with the same star and director.

That's What She Said

The Beatles and Hendrix mix better than I thought they would.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Unacceptable

Here's an interesting article on the damage that political correctness, as it were, has done to Europe. Tolerance may be, in general, a good thing. But does that mean that all cultures and cultural ideas are of equal value, and should be treated as such? Aren't there any concepts a society has that may be worth preserving--free speech, the rule of law, equality of the sexes?

Ironically, once a society is committed to tolerance for all, it has to become intolerant--there becomes an official line all must take and those who don't will be stigmatized and even punished.

The deeper irony is there is that even if European culture believes tolerance is the highest virtue, there's no guarantee its new immigrants will believe the same thing--but there'll be nothing to do about it. When all cultures are equal, even requesting immigrants integrate into the larger society is wrong.

Oh Carroll

I recently watched the rarely shown Something Wild (1961) starring Carroll Baker. It starts with a rape and is pretty strong stuff for its day--it's an independent film, and showed stuff you weren't gonna get from a Hollywood production.

Still, it's not much of a film. But if you want to see something that shows New York City around 1960, you can't do much better.

Total Recall

I'll usually take a person's word for it, but I find it hard to credit Nancy Pelosi's claim she wasn't told that waterboarding was being used. Not only it is a convenient after-the-fact conversion, it goes against the recall of others. (Even if, against the evidence, she only heard waterboarding was okay, you still have to wonder why she didn't complain, since, according to what she claims now, this would mean she was told a war crime was legal.)

She's claiming the CIA lied to her. There's no good reason for them to have lied. It's not like they hid from officials what they were doing. (People think the CIA doesn't tell anyone anything, but in the War on Terror, their main problem has been their inability to keep anything secret.)

For that matter, if the Bush people wanted to hide what they were doing, they wouldn't have sought a legal opinion on enhanced interrogation to begin with. And, especially back when most of Congress was on board (Pelosi would deny how she voted back then if she thought she could get away with that, too), you normally keep the top people in Congress apprised of the latest. In fact, the evidence suggests the only worry she had at the time was the CIA wasn't doing enough.

When questioned on her recall about the briefings, Pelosi ended with this:

This was the same time the Bush administration was misleading the American people about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They were misinforming me. At every step of the way, the [Bush] administration was misleading Congress.

This gutter strategy (which may be Pelosi's MO, but regular use doesn't make it any better) made me lose whatever sympathy I had for Speaker Pelosi and her troubled memory. The strategy of connecting whatever you can with Bush because he's unpopular at present may have worked in the 2008 elections, but it's getting tired. (Back when he was popular, even Barack Obama wanted to associate his ideas with Bush's--that's silly too.) Any talk of WMD (even if it's truthful) has nothing to do with how we treated our detainees.

Incidentally

Eight more months. We have to wait eight more months for the next Lost. Well, at least we have Lost to look forward to. Next year this time, it's over.

The two-hour finale, aka "The Incident," was pretty exciting, and ended in a cliffhanger, of course. Unlike the last few weeks, I'm not going to give a blow-by-blow description--I don't think I, or the readers of this blog, could handle it. Instead, I'll give my impression as I go along.

The show started off great, with a classic bewildering Lost opening. We start with a man in white working a loom in a room with a fire We've never seen him before. He goes out to the beach--looks like the Lost beach--and has caught a fish. He's wearing what could be an old style of clothing. He sees a ship sailing toward him--the Black Rock? (Do we know any of the crew?) Then he's joined by a man in black. They seem friendly.

They seem to have a basic disagreement. The guy in white brings the ships in--this is hardly the first time--and the guy in black thinks things always work out the same, and it's not good. Whitey sees progress, and wants to prove Blackie wrong.

What?!This is the basic theme of the show and, in fact, the season. Are we in a fixed loop, or can we get out of it? Can we change things or whatever happens, happens, or as Sawyer will hear, what's done is done.

Blackie then notes he really wants to kill Whitey, which Whitey already knows. Black is looking for a loophole that will allow him to do it. Oh yeah, one more thing--Whitey is Jacob! I didn't figure we'd get to see Jacob so quickly this episode, if at all. And I didn't figure he'd be a regular, fish-eating guy.

So these two guys seem to be what the "war" is about. It's been hinted at from the start, when Locke told Walt about backgammon--Black versus White. I guess with only one season left they have to get to it, finally.

One more thing--they're sitting next to the complete, gigantic statue.

Now that's how you start a show.

The finale has a series of flashbacks--interactions with Jacob and Losties in the past.

First he meets Kate as a girl, and pays for a lunchbox she was stealing. Does this mean Jacob is good, or is he setting things up? What would he need to set things up for? Is this "progress"? Or is he protecting himself?

As predicted last week, Kate, Sawyer and Juliet stop the sub and return. But it's not Sawyer's bad consciences, or Kate's argument. In fact, the return of Jack seems to have reverted Sawyer back to the self-serving guy we used to know. It's Juliet who turns them around--because she sees how Sawyer still looks at Kate, as we'll discover.

Following Faraday's notebook, Sayid and Jack carry the core up through the Barracks. Sayid is shot by Roger Linus. A bit of a surprise, and not a pleasant one--I'd hate to see Sayid go.

Back in the present, Ben, who does seem to be a changed person, admits he's never seen Jacob, never met him, it was all make-believe. Considering how fearsome he's been in the past, how powerful and knowledgeable he seemed, it's amazing how pathetic Ben is now.

Locke is more overbearing than ever. He even seems to say he's going to kill Ilana and her gang. Speaking of which, they land on the island with Lapidus. They're the self-described good guys. Hmm. They give Frank a peak at what's in the box, but we don't get to see it. This is only acceptable if they show us later (which they do).

Jacob visits Sawyer at his parents' funeral. (This couldn't possible be the same kid who played little Sawyer in 2004.) He gives him a pen to help write his letter. Once again, what is Jacob's plan, and is he good with or a bad witch? (Do good and bad even have any meaning in this "war"?)

Locke finds out from chastened Ben that the Monster told him to follow whatever Ben says or he'd be destroyed. Considering what we'll find out about Locke, it's interesting he seems surprised by this. He's also surprised Ben hasn't told Richard about his plans to kill Jacob. Once again, considering what we find out later, it's surprising Locke wouldn't mind Richard finding out.

Now Jacob stops Sayid at a crosswalk, while his wife, Nadia, is hit by a car. (It's allegedly on La Brea, not far from where I live, but it doesn't look like La Brea to me.) Was this Jacob's plan? It's one thing to give Sawyer a pen to help he write a nasty letter--helping Nadia die seems pretty nasty. Does Jacob care about the Losties, or is it simply manipulation (like how he brought all those other ships in)? He sure doesn't seem so friendly now.

Jack and bleeding Sayid are saved by Miles, Hurley and Jin in one of those omnipresent minibuses. Before they get to the Swan, they're met by the badass trio of Sawyer, Kate and Juliet. Oh yeah, did I mention they came ashore and found Vincent, Rose and Bernard. B and R have been hiding from the DI for three years. I must say Jin didn't do much of a job searching for them, since he could have spotted their little hut pretty easily once he hit their grid.

Bernard and Rose just want to live by themselves and not worry about the island blowing up. If it happens, it happens. (I assume there are no more of the orignial Oceanic flight left, BTW.) Rose makes it clear they can opt out of their adventuring and just take it easy. This is another theme of the show--unchangeable actions versus free will. People are given a choice. Or are they? Anyway, I'm guessing we're done with Bernie and Rose. Now if only they'd show what happened to Libby.

Ilana and her crew get to Jacob's Cabin, but it's been compromised, and Jacob is gone. But what's going on here. Is this Jacob's Cabin? It makes sense, since Ilana is on his side (she had a flashback where she was bandaged and Jacob visited--she promised to help him). But now we know Jacob lives in the statue's foot--is the cabin just his summer house?

Ilana notes he hasn't been there a while, and it's been used by others. (Also, the ash surrounding the cabin has been broken, which either allows someone in or out. Who, and how?) So does this mean that Christian (or whoever that was) could not speak for Jacob, like he said? Is Christian on the other side in this war? Was he playing Locke?

Now here's Jacob reading Flannery O'Connor, waiting for Locke to fall out of a building. He walks up to John and touches him, apparently reviving him. This is his biggest intervention by far. He promises John everything will be alright. How does he know? In fact, knowing what will happen, to both Locke and Jacob, does Jacob understand what he's doing? Is Locke a pivotal character for both sides? Or just a chump? Are all the Oceanic people equally important? (And did Jacob touch everyone he met? Does that matter? Is this the most questions I've ever had in a row?)

Speaking of important, when Ben admits he lied about Jacob, it makes you wonder just how important the Ben versus Widmore battle is. It used to seem it was the main conflict, but now it seems like a minor skirmish. They were fighting over who was the leader--Ben, just a kid from the DI who wanted to be an Other, or Widmore, who comes from we don't know where--but they both answered to Jacob (or pretended to). Locke asks Ben why wouldn't he want to kill Jacob, after all he's been through, and how little he's gotten?

Jacob also showed up to congratulate Sun and Jin at their wedding. He tells them to cherish their love, which may not seem that necessary to make them stay together, but you gotta admit, Jacob's thorough. (By the way, this is the third time in the series Jin is surprised to find a white person knows Korean. Thought not as surprised to find out (spoiler) his wife knows English.)

Locke, Richard and the Others have marched to the foot of the statue. It's where Jacob lives. I thought they got there pretty quickly considering they marched from the old beach camp--isn't that quite a distance? Also, when Sayid first saw it, he was coming from the other direction. Did he sail all the way around the island?

Sawyer wants to talk to Jack. Five minutes. (While Sayid is bleeding to death.) Sawyer and Jack have a good heart-to-heart. They haven't been together that much lately, and I don't know if they've had a talk like this since the first season when Sawyer told Jack he met his dad. Sawyer notes he could have gone off the island and stopped his parents from dying, but what's done is done, so why should Jack be any different. But Sawyer is happy now, while Jack has lost Kate, and can't stand it. Sawyer can't convince Jack not to blow up the bomb, so a punchout ensues. They haven't had a good one of those either in a while.

Juliet comes in (she's a doctor--she should be back with Sayid attending to his dressing) and stops it. Jack is going through with it.

In a flashback we see the moment Jack told Kate about in the pilot. It's his first surgery, and he screws up. He allows himself five seconds to go nuts, then decides to drop the fear and do his job.. But I swear he didn't mention his father was involved, whereas we see now his dad was the one who suggested he count to five.

Later Jack is buying an Apollo bar (Dharma food--could the name mean anything?). It gets stuck in the vending machine. This is a common event in TV and movies, but I have never seen it happen in real life. The next guy gets two bars, and offers one to Jack. It's Jacob, of course. (And this should settle the fact that Jacob isn't Jack. For that matter, Jacob isn't anyone else but himself.) The surgery was a big moment, but I didn't realize getting that chocolate bar mattered so much.

We get Juliet's flashback, too, which is her parents breaking up, though they love each other. It's the only flashback without Jacob--he only cares about those on the Oceanic flight. Anyway, it shows us the really reason why Juliet wanted to go back--not to stop Jack, but to help him reset everything. In a show with some weak motivations, this seems the weakest. For her, what the hell does Elizabeth Barrett Browning know--better to never have met Sawyer that to love him and lose him.

Jack and Kate also have their moment and she brings up their first meeting. I was expecting a callback where Jack apologizes for not mentioning his dad convinced him to take the time-out, but no. Jack's reset idea still seems nuts to me, but he finally gets Kate to sign on. (I expected her to say she's always been on his side, like before, but she just says "Yes" she's with hm.) He's already got Juliet. I'm sure at this point Sawyer is looking at his two loves and thinking "bitches be crazy."

Anyway, it's happening. Or it better, or a lot of viewers will be pissed off.

We get to the scene we know is coming--how Hugo got on the Ajira flight. And I'm pretty sure most people have figured out Jacob will play a part. Huge gets out of jail and into a cab, which he shares with Jacob. Jacob's got that guitar case. We never find out what's in it--Season 6. Hugo figures he's seeing another ghost, but Jacob says otherwise. He says Hugo's not cursed, he's blessed--he can even see his old friends. Which makes you wonder, who is in charge of these apparitions? Blackie? Whitey? Real ghosts? A Miles-like talent? Jacob sweetly tells Hurley he can get on the plane...or not. There's that free will stuff again. It seems like whatever Jacob needs, he can't force people to do--they can be prodded, but must do it voluntarily. (Though the Others and their mindless support of Jacob suggests things can go further.) He and Blackie seem to have been fighting this thing out for a while, with quite a few people.

Outside the Swan, Miles notes what everyone's been thinking all along--how does Jack know what he's about to do isn't the actual "Incident" itself? The only argument Jack has is Locke's old claim--have faith, because it feels right.

Though security is beefed up, with Phil and Radzinksy ready, Jack walks to the Swan.

It's night, and Locke demands Richard take him to Jacob. From an earlier conversation, it's clear though Richard isn't aging any more thanks to Jacob, he doesn't really know what's going on. Locke wants Ben to come along. Richard goes nuts--only the leader can meet Jacob, and there can be only one. Locke overrules him and says let Jacob deal with it. We know why Locke wants Ben along, of course, and it would appear Locke--or whoever he is--can't kill Jacob himself. (Does Locke even know where Jacob is without Richard's help? Why wouldn't he know if he's not really Locke?)

Meawhile (30 years ago) Juliet rallies the troupe. They need to get Jack's back, and it's live together, die alone. Jack is spotted by Phil, but the Lostie cavalry drives in. A big shootout. (DI may look like hippies, but they have altogether too many guns to pull it off. They're closer to the Weather Underground.)

The Losties take over, as the drill hits the pocket of electromagnetism. A lot of meaningful glances. Kate/Jack/Juliet/Sawyer know this is the last looks they may ever have at each other. Either they're gonna be dead or landing at LAX soon (or both?). Except for Juliet--I have no idea where she'll be.

Instead...nothing. The bomb is a dud? But metal starts bending and flying, just like the end of Season 2. Phil is free for a second and threatens Sawyer's life. Like any guest star who threatens a regular, he's quickly dispatched--in his case, by a metal rod in the chest.

Just like Mr. no-name in the pilot who got sucked into the turbine, Juliet is pulled into the pit. Sawyer grabs onto her but, in probably the most touching moment of the finale, he can't hold on. I thought things were going too well for them from ever since LaFleur--figured she'd have to die.

Back in the present, Ilana's gang and their magic box appear outside the Bigfoot camp. They ask for Ricardus and finally get the right answer to the statue gag (in Latin, no less)--that what lies in the shadow of the statue is the one who'll save us. They dump out the box for Richard. As some had predicted, it's Locke's corpse.

This certainly raises quite a few questions. But first, let me note, this means Locke (or Locke 1.0) has been dead since the end of season 3. It also means this is the second Locke corpse reveal finale in a row.

So what or who is this guy who says he's Locke? Blackie? Someone conjured up by Blackie? Smokey? Are they the same thing? Most important (to me), is there any part of Locke inside. Sure he was confident, even arrogant, but there have been a number of moments since Ajira landed that this mysterious Locke-like stranger (who conversed with Ilana--I guess she couldn't act too alarmed lest she give away her act) acted like Locke, and had Locke's memories. He also didn't seem to know a lot of things unless the island told him, which sounds like Locke. Was this a show, or is there any Locke in there? What percentage? Is Locke fighting to get out? (Is this a Heroes season 3/Star Trek 3 sort of mind shift into a new body? Miles could still get some feeing from a dead meet brain after death. Maybe the Island, or someone, was able to take Locke's corpsey mind and put it into a new body. This seems different from Christian, who's body, I believe, was missing from his coffin.)

Anyway, big things are afoot inside the statue. Jacob's there alright, no messing around this time. This is the loom room. He and Locke converse like old pals/enemies, just like the cold open. Jacob tells neo-Locke "you found your loophole." Locke tells him you have no idea what I've gone through. I assume manipluating Locke, and probably Ben, was at least part of the loophole. Also, I think Jacob has a good idea what the guy has gone through, since he's been doing a lot of similar stuff himself.

Jacob reminds Ben he has a choice. (Remember, this is Ben, never looking more pathetic--he's just another pawn now in the battle between two giants.) Ben is pissed off at how badly Jacob's treated him. ("Locke" plays mind games better on him than Ben played in the old Locke.) I don't think too many people were surprised when Ben killed Jacob. After all, killling people is what he does best. Locke shoves him in the fire, but not before Jacob warns him others are coming. This probably means Ilana, but could it he something else--maybe even Locke's old pals?

This might have been it, but we go back to the Swan hole. Everything is pulled in. We go down, down, and at the bottom, there's Juliet, still alive. Hard to kill a regular on this show. She's not looking very well, thogh. Coughing up blood.

Next to her she sees the unexploded nuclear device. She bangs on it with a rock a few times and finally, a blast of white light, and...LOST.

I was glad to see the explosion, or the whole Jack plot would have been a waste of time. But, of course, this means we have no idea where's we'll be in January, 2010 (I mean on the show, but I suppose that's true in real life as well.)

Is this what always happened in 1977? It's hard to believe, with Change and Radzinsky still around after "The Incident." (On the other hand, they were hightailing it out of there.) The magnetic stuff I buy, but an H-bomb going off?

It's impossible to believe that all the leads die. So what did happen? Could they possible survive the explosion (outside Juliet)? Seems more likely Jack's plan worked, and there'll be some sort of reset. But we couldn't have a full reset. We have a whole season to go, and we can't start on the plane like nothing happened. Perhaps they'll be back in the present, but they'll still have some of their old memories. Or some of them will.

And what will happen in the Jacob-dead present. Will that reset, too? Is Jacob really gone? What would that mean? What happens to Locke then? What about Richard, Ilana and all the other Jacob-lovers. How about Widmore?

Also, Richard says he saw all the Losties in 1977 die. Well, did he, or was he lying? Was he watching the explosion, but from very far away? Is he referring to another incident? Was there a parallel timeline? Is it a writer's lapse?

All these and many other questions to be answered--in 2010. Until then, enjoy our other posts here at Pajama Guy.

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