Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Whacking the Dead Horse

Everybody's tired of hearing adultery stories about now I think- even those on the other side of the aisle from the perps. However Mark Sanford is the gift that keeps on giving and has decided that now his secret is out, he ain't gonna shut up about it. Today in an interview, he admits to other relationships with women not his wife which crossed lines but "not the ultimate sex line." What is he talking about? Dry humping? Why is a governor creating these mental pictures? His press guy must have quit by now.

(y'know, his post-coital blabbing is also probably ruining the chances any American guy will ever have with sophisticated international types)

Quote of the day (whether the words come from Sanford or from a wicked or clueless AP reporter is not clear) describes his first meeting with his Argentine honey at a Uruguayan disco and describes it as "a chance encounter during which he counseled her into the night about her failing marriage"

That's even better than "hiking the Appalachian trail"

Shat Upon

I enjoyed William Shatner's autobiography, Up Till Now, though with all its digressions, it seemed to be written by a guy who has ADD.

He says in his intro most of the stories he tells will be at his expense. But along the way, he notes Lorne Greene couldn't act (maybe true, but should Shatner be saying this about anyone?), Frances Nuyen was crazy and Leonard Nimoy was an alcoholic.

He also notes he never understood why the cast of Star Trek couldn't stand him.

Elevating Moment

I was recently in an elevator when a soldier, in uniform, walked in. He said "excuse me, sir" as he moved in front of me to push the button.

I said "don't call me sir, I work for a living."

Didn't crack a smile.

To Whom It May Concern

I generally get the who/whom distinction, but knowing the rules ain't the same as following them. Blogs are not research papers (as I guess you've noticed). Too often a "whom" or "whomever" sounds highfalutin.

So I often ask myself should I go with "who" and seem ignorant, or with "whom" and be thought a snob. I mostly use "who," unless I really feel it would stand out. Hopefully ("hopefully"--another lost cause), I'll never use a "whom" where a "who" should be, which would be the worst of both worlds.

Because It's Party Time

I was watching The Party (1968), a Peter Sellers comedy directed by Blake Edwards. It's a cult film that I find fascinating but don't really love. I like the audacity of the concept. A Hollywood studio head invites a no-name screw-up actor (from India) to his party and lots of destruction ensues. That's it. He finds a girl along the way, but not much more.

It's probably better the second time you see it, since the first time you keep expecting a plot. Sellers is funny (though his Indian act would be a no-no today), but it's almost impossible to have sustained comic brilliance in essentially one setting for 90 minutes--I don't think Chaplin could have pulled it off.

Still, I'm surprised some modern physical clown hasn't attempted a remake. It seems like a natural. The Party wasn't a hit, but who wouldn't want to be another Sellers. Jim Carrey comes to mind.

Of course, they'd update it. The original is set in that weird period that still had the style of the 50s--tuxedos, servants, jazz combo--with the mod 60s knocking up against it (and exploding at the end). The set of the mogul's house, in fact, with moveable bars and indoor-outdoor pool is half the movie. It would almost certainly be updated to mock what's hot today in a fancy Bel Air home.

Even more certain, they'd give it a plot--which might ruin it. In the original, Peter Sellers gets fired, and later his girlfriend's career is destroyed, and there's no indication at the end that will be fixed. As for romance, it's only hinted at. No way would this be allowed today. The script would have all sorts of machinations going on, and somehow the star, and maybe the girl, would end up with a three-picture deal, and in bed. Maybe he'd also foil some sort of bomb plot.

Worse, they'd probably open it up for a wacky third-act chase on the streets of Los Angeles.

In fact, forget the whole thing.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Empathetic Jurisprudence In Action

Judge Chin, having been moved by the victim impact statements (according to the WSJ online), handed down the mathematical maximum of all the possible sentences (which almost never happens and is mainly a toll used by journalists to pump up a story) and sent Bernard Madoff off until he is in mid-220s.

Full

I was watching Stay Hungry, a minor film from the 70s, best remembered for introducing a lot of people to Arnold Schwarznegger. One line stuck out. Someone asks Jeff Bridges what happens to body builders when they get old. He says "they die," but we now know they become governors.

Neil Before Me

I was at Barnes & Noble and saw the first volume of the long-awaited (literally for decades) Neil Young Archives, which cover 1963 to 1972--fine years indeed. There were three versions avilable. The Blu-ray version, the regular DVD version, and the CD only version. The costs were $350, $250 and $100. As much as I love Neil, I don't see it happening--especially since I already own a lot of what's in this collection.

PS. I'm not hinting to friends what I'd like from Santa.

And Now For Something DIfferent

I finally got around to reading Something Different, a Carl Reiner play presented on Broadway in 1967.

What first got me intrigued was William Goldman's description of how weird and funny it was in his book The Season (where Goldman spent a year looking at Broadway). Later I read Reiner's recollection of the trouble they had behind the scenes.

Something Different was a play Reiner started as a lark. The premise is a guy who's written one hit play and hasn't been able to do anything since. He tries to recreate the original setting where and when he wrote it, down to the cockroaches. He also tries to hire a woman who will be a stand-in for his mother when his wife doesn't take to the role.

If you want to have a hit play, or movie, the ending is what counts most. The audience will forgive a lot if you have a socko finale. Unfotunately, it's the hardest part. It's easy to set things up (people think exposition is hard, but here's your chance to show off your characters and a fresh situation--Shaw said if you can't write a good first act, get out of the business). It's not that hard to increase the complications. It's the payoff that's so tricky.

In his memoir Act One, Moss Hart describes the daunting problems he and George S. Kaufman had creating the team's first Broadway hit, Once In A Lifetime. They rewrote endlessly,but though the first two acts were fine, the third act wasn't working--it simply wasn't going where the audience wanted it to go. If not for a last-second brainstorm from Hart (or so he says), the play would have flopped. (BTW, Moss Hart wrote, solo, an interesting if not entirely successful play entitled Light Up The Sky--a behind-the-scenes look at a troubled Broadway production, a small bit like Reiner's plot, not to mention his life.)

In Neil Simon's Rewrites, he tells the story of The Odd Couple. On the first reading, acts one and two were hilarious but the laughs died in the third. Simon (prodded by director Mike Nichols) came up with one new version after another, driving the actors crazy, but not fixing the problem. Then someone suggested he bring back the Pigeon sisters from the second act, and that started an avalanche in his brain that ended in a hit.

Reiner had the same problem. The set-up, where the playwright is trying to get in the mood to write, works. But the third act, where we see the play he actually wrote, doesn't work.

By the way, there is no third act. I know what happened in it because of Goldman and Reiner. Moss Hart and Neil Simon both had two good acts followed by a flop of a third. They rethought and rewrote until they had something. Reiner had a different idea--let's just cut the third act. If I've got two acts that are working, isn't that enough? He took a few things from the third act, put them in the second, made sure it had an ending, and voila!

A weird, if ingenious, solution. Unfortunately, the play was not a hit.

How is it? I'll give Reiner credit, it's different. But it's just one silly thing on top of another, not adding up to much. When the jokes work, the play works, but they don't always work (though I suspect it may act better than it reads). Maybe there was no way to make a good third act (showing the play-within-a-play leads to all sorts of problems), but if you don't show it, it seems like the play is going nowhere. Cutting the third act just gets you nowhere faster.

PS One of the running gags is the characters like to quote Rochefoucauld. When I put down the play and turned on the TV, there was a character in Diamonds Are Forever quoting Rochefoucauld.

The Customer Is Always Wrong

I recently saw a documentary on Shopsins General Store, which is actually a restaurant in Greenwich Village. The menu has over 900 items, but the place seems to have even more rules. No parties of 5. No cell phones. Everyone must eat a meal. And sometimes the chef, Kenny Shopsin, just doesn't like your looks and throws you out. Yet the place is always packed. The food must be pretty good.

Some people like this sort of Soup Nazi experience. It makes eating an adventure. I don't need it. I'm paying for their services. I don't expect gratitude, but that doesn't mean I'll put up with abuse.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Looking Back To The Future

I don't like Lost spoilers, but old ones can be interesting.

Lost Spoilers (No Spoilers)

I just want to note what an odd position Lost fans are in. Most, I assume, would rather not know any spoilers for the final season. But knowing even the least amount of information is a spoiler.

After the season 5 finale, it's possible every single original castaway, except Sun, is dead. Or it's possible every single castaway--including those long thought dead--is alive again. That means you don't have to hear anything in particular. Just knowing an actor is working on the show is a spoiler.

There are already stories out there about who's returning to work. It's not safe to turn on your computer.

From Incident To War

Last time I wrote about it, I figured blowing up that bomb during the Incident would reset the timeline in Lost. But now that I've thought about it, I've changed my mind.

Lost only has 17 more episodes. A reboot, where we start all over, even if the Oceanic 6 have their old memories, would practically be starting from square one.

What I think more likely is the bomb was part of the original Incident. The electromagnetic implosion sucked in the bomb so that it didn't kill anyone above ground (sorry, Juliet) and had to be put in concrete as part of the Swan Station, like it has been all along. I mean, there's no way Jack and the gang were killed, and I doubt Chang or Radzinky's gone either (that would mean a reboot), and the Others were left alone. (So were Rose and Bernard--Adam and Eve, anyone?)

What will happen, however, is the explosion, or whatever it was, will whoosh away the Losties hanging out in 1977 (including Miles, I'm guessing) and put them back in the present. They're the ones Jacob said was coming, and they're going to be involved in the War.

Which leave the question, what about Locke? No reboot, no reborn Locke. He's still a corpse, with the zombie-Locke inhabited by Jacob's nemesis. This is too depressing an ending. After everyone treated him as special, and after he believed he had such a great destiny, it turned out he was just a chump.

But what could happen is the zombie-Locke still has Locke's memory. (I guessed originally, you may recall, that for Locke to still be alive on the Island, like any good magic trick, it means he never left the Island.) So Locke is still there, inside. Perhaps what's going to happen is he'll fight to get out, to take over his own body again. It's not the first time he's been through rehab. Don't tell him what he can't do.

Pacing

Over the past couple seaosns I'd say the pacing of Lost, as far as its overall arc is concerned, has picked up considerably.

There are a number of reasons. For one thing, you usually start a story a bit slower as you introduce the characters. Learning basic things about the castaways and the Island was pretty exciting in season one--you didn't need much more. But many complained about season two, which was probably faster paced that season one, because it didn't move ahead fast enough.

Since then three things happened which cut the slack. First was determining an end date. Until then, the show meandered a bit (showing tailies, not to mention Nikki and Paulo, who didn't amount to much). They figured rather than move the basic plot ahead, they could stop and deepen the characters with revelations in flashbacks. A little of this goes a long way. Look at someone as great as Sayid--he's had at least three separate flashbacks where we looked into what his "true character" is. With an endpoint, the producers knew what plot points they had to get through, and how much time they had to do it.

Second, and this practically saved the show, they started having flashforwards. Now we'd cut back and forth between two stories, but both were part of the arc.

Finally, they cut the number of episodes per season by a third. That guarantees they can't waste much time.

I'm not saying the first couple seasons were bad--in fact, I'm not sure if anything can compare to the first season in creating a sense of wonder. But when you look back, it's interesting to see them have whole subplots where next to nothing happens--Hurley creates a golf course, Sawyer hunts a frog, Locke builds a cradle, Hurley challenges Sawyer to ping pong. Those kind of plots have all but disappeared in the last two seasons, and, I expect, in the next one.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Shannon Is Gone

I guess what follows is a Lost spoiler, if you haven't seen the first season or so.

I was watching the Lost pilot (which I originally had trouble with, by the way) and it was interesting to see the earliest versions of the characters. They've obviously come a long way.

One thing I hadn't noticed (couldn't have noticed, really) was the irony of Shannon saying to Boone if the guy in the airport hadn't denied them their first class seats, they wouldn't still be alive.

Not for long, Shannon, not for long. If you really wanted to survive, you should have been more interesting characters.

Coincidence?

Three separate times in the last few months I turned to the Sci Fi channel (or whatever they call it now) expecting to see an episode of Lost and seen, instead, something else, but featuring a Lost actor. (For the record, it was Sam Anderson (Bernard), Matthew Fox (Jack) and M. C. Gainey (Tom).)

Do they intentionally schedule them to fool Lost fans for a few minutes?

One Step Behind

"One Of Us" is a pretty good third-season episode of Lost, where Juliet attempts to be accepted by the castaways. The ending has a reveal--that her trek with Jack (her protector), Kate and Sayid across the island was a set-up. She and Ben actually planned the whole thing to insinuate her into their camp. Their big trick is to activate Claire's implant, making her sick, so Juliet can then save the day. (They implanted something in her? Why? They didn't expect her to escape from the medical hatch, did they?)

Even so, I'm not sure if, back then, we believed Juliet was one of the bad guys. From the start she seemed simultaneously hard as nails and vulnerable. (Her flashbacks help garner sympathy for her--we see how she was recruited to the island, and then manipulated, and even forced, to stay. We also hear Ben mention Jacob, and say how he'll cure her sister. Wow.) I might add that Elizabeth Mitchell does a great job of playing mixed emotions, and also differentiating her pre- and post-island persona.

What I was reminded of when watching all this was the one thing that frustrated me about the first three seasons. The castaways were the newbies on the island. Ben and the Others knew so much, and no matter what Jack et al tried, they were also a few steps behind. They tried so hard and had so few victories, at least until the third-season finale (if you want to call that a victory). And Ben seemed to always know so much. Little did we know that he was actually a pathetic character, lying to cover up his weaknesses, and that, in the long run, he was being manipulated as much as anyone else.

Lost = Prison Break?

The central question on Lost is just what is the Island? It seems to have magical properties (though they could be due to those living on it) and it seems hidden to much of the world. From the start, there's been speculation--it's purgatory, it's the Garden Of Eden, it's an alien spaceship, and so on.

I was wondering if it isn't a prison.

Jacob and his nemesis, Bocaj, both seem to live there, and have been there a long time. And we know Jacob (or some projection of him) has no trouble traveling anywhere he likes. But I don't think we've seen Bocaj anywhere off the island. We believe he's been all over the island, though, constantly arranging things.

Bocaj stated he wants to kill Jacob. Perhaps Jacob is his jailer. Maybe he can't do anything until he gets off the island. Though it's odd that Jacob keeps bringing people to the island, for Bocaj to corrupt. And ultimately (as far as we know) Bocaj was finally able to bring about Jacob's death through the latest crew. Perhaps Jacob wanted Bocaj to succeed.

But if he did succeed, what now? With Jacob gone, does that mean Bocaj can now leave? Or does he finally get to move into the statue's foot?

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Lost Weekend

I've been watching Lost reruns and have a few things to say. So today, tomorrow and Sunday, I'll be posting nothing but Lost-related material. Don't say you haven't been warned.

What If They Gave A War...

For a while now, it's been clear a war is brewing on Lost. We'll finally get to see it in the final season.

I was wondering, just who will be fighting? We can guess the main dispute is between Jacob and his nemesis, Bocaj (aka Blackie, aka Esau, aka Titus Welliver). But the real question is, who's on the side of Bocaj?

You've got Richard and the Others, who have been working with Jacob for as long as we know. You've got Ilana and her gang, who also fight for Jacob. Then you've got the Oceanic 6, who haven't officially picked sides, but seem to have been touched by Jacob and are coming, presumably on Jacob's side.

Bocaj seems to have inhabited the body of Locke to help himself out, but that hardly counts. He's also manipulated a lot of people unwittingly, even Ben, to do his bidding. But is there any independent party fighting for him? The only one who may be on his side is Widmore and his gang (though his gang has had a pretty rough time, and is mostly dead). Still, we're not even sure if Widmore joined with Bocaj. Presumably, back when he ran things on the Island, he was working for Jacob. Perhaps he's been willing to work with Bocaj to get back to the Island, but we don't even know if that's true.

So what kind of war is this if one side doesn't even have anyone?

Man With The Plan Dan

Finally, what we've needed all along, a scientific discussion of Lost's season five finale.

Sorry, Charlie

Desmond spends a lot of season three trying to prevent Charlie from dying. When they find Naomi, soon after Mikhail drops in. Des says he'll let Mikhail go if he saves Naomi, and is good on his word.

Charlie isn't pleased. He figured the only good Other is a dead Other. When I first saw this, I didn't realize, but he's right. Because they let him go, Mikhail comes back and takes out Charlie. Still, after all Des has done to prevent this, he probably doesn't feel guilty. It was gonna happen sooner or later, anyway.

Time Locke

I just watched "The Man From Tallahassee" for the fist time since it was broadcast. The great thing about old Lost episodes is when you watch them a second time, you now understand what was happening. You know who Richard is, you know what Jack is planning, you know if Ben is lying, you know what drives Locke, and so on.

"The Man From Tallahassee" is considered a classic. It's best known as the one where we see how Locke became paralyzed. Terry O'Quinn won an Emmy for his performance. This moment had been teased almost from the start of the series. You knew they were finally going to show it, but even then, it was pretty spectacular.



After watching Locke fly out the window, it occurred to me, if anyone wanted to do a chronological remix of the show, right after this would be the moment when Jacob walks up to John, touches him and tries to comfort him.

Then it occurred to me further, when you think about it, there really is no way to do a chronological remix of the show. Not truly. Even if there's only one past, present and future, different characters are on different timelines. One's past is another's future--the timeline depends on your point of view.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

That's Progress

Marc Norman's What Happens Next: A History Of American Screenwriting starts with a description of D.W. Griffith filming The Birth Of A Nation. It's one of the cinema's earliest landmarks--and was created without a screenplay. (And shot about a mile or two from where I'm typing.)

It was based on Thomas Dixon's novel and play The Clansman. On page two Norman notes Dixon had been once been a lawyer, a legislator, and a preacher who demanded justice for all. "But at some point, as Richard Schickel notes, this democracy-praising Progressive turned racist."

Why does Norman (or Schickel, for that matter) consider this strange? Racism, by today's standards, was commonplace a century ago. Being a Progressive simply meant you believed in government action to solve social problems. If the social problem was, say, mixing of the races, then that's what you'd fight for.

Sanford And Sin

The late night comedians are having a field day over the Mark Sanford affair. As well they should. It's quite a story. No matter how often these things come out, there seem to be an unending supply. You'd think politicians would take note, but that's not how it works.

I only hope it doesn't distract us from the bills before Congress now that, if passed, will still be effecting us for decades after Sanford is forgotten.

I know one can always make the "distraction" argument, but it applies especially well now. First, the bills I'm talking about are far more significant that what we usually see. Second, those who support them have what may be a once-in-a-lifetime (or at least once-in-a-generation) chance to get them passed. Third, it's likely the only way to change or stop these bills is if the public is sufficiently troubled to make their concerns known.

Governor Sanford has long been a crusader for fiscal responsibility (which is a set-up to a joke that writes itself). It'd be a shame if his dalliance offered an opening for everything he's spent his career fighting against.

Making Waves In The Oscar Pool

The Motion Picture Academy announced Wednesday that for the first time in more than 65 years, the field of best picture nominees will be expanded to 10 contenders for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards.

Fine with me. Now if they could only make ten good films a year.

Not Funny

While the Dems may not believe they can sneak a revival of the Fairness Doctrine past the public, they are agitating for local boards that will scrutinize radio content to make sure it fits...well, whatever local boards think are politically correct to broadcast.

The real trouble, and this is the original sin of the FCC, is that the government licenses station, and what the government gives, it can take away. The licensing should have nothing to do with content, but how can the government resist?

I was thinking about that when reading A Great Silly Grin, a book that tells you more about the British satire boom of the 60s than you want to know. One of the tales is how some British performers came over here (not Beyond The Fringe, who were on Broadway, but another group brought in by Peter Cook) and did their shows in New York clubs. Cabarets were licensed and if your card was pulled, no show.

The stuff they did was well received, but if they made any jokes about the Church, or about President Kennedy, someone would show up the next day telling them to drop the material or they'd be shut down. It's amazing how much things have changed. Yet I'm sure there are plenty of organizations that long for those good old days.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bear In The Air

Last night, while typing, I heard a helicopter circling overhead. In LA, that means only one thing--they're after a criminal. I went outside and only a few blocks away I saw cop cars blocking every exit from a small neighborhood.

Ah, life in Hollywood. I always wonder when it's over if they caught the guy, or if he got away.

Second Banana

Since Ed MacMahon will always be linked to Johnny Carson, in remembrance of him, here are links to a few posts I put up about Carson himself.

Second Chorus

I just watched the movie adaptation of A Chorus Line (1985). It's pretty bad, but it probably couldn't have worked anyway. The musical is set in a theatre, which works fine when you're actually in a theatre. In a movie, it's claustrophobic.

What surprised me, though, was how muffled and rinky dink the orchestrations are. Maybe they were going for intimate, but it prevents the numbers from soaring. (Maybe it's just the 80s, when all movie music sounded odd.)

My Name Is Alice

Alice In Wonderland is a delightful, whimsical book. But it's also just on the edge of a nightmare. Most adaptations miss this. Now Tim Burton is having a go at it.

This being Burton, he's not going to follow the original Tenniel illustrations. The visuals that have been released, in fact, make it look like his version will take place all along this edge.

I'm looking forward to it. Still, the visuals are only the start. Alice is a smart work even without illustrations.

PS I now hear this isn't a remake of the Alice books, but an extension--Alice is older and returning to Wonderland. Don't like how that sounds.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Submission

Websites that just show what readers send in can be fun. For instance, here's one that's mostly just old, awful videos (heavily edited) from the 70s an 80s.

I like this one even more--photos of food. Though looking at them, I find it hard to believe people don't concoct these gastronomical delights solely for the website. They don't really eat this stuff, do they?

Fosse

It's Bob Fosse's birthday. It's easy to spot a Fosse number. His dancers had tight shoulders, bent their arms and legs at awkward angles, and didn't smile.

While most of his best work was on Broadway, some of his choreography is preserved on film (not to mention his own performances).

He didn't work on the film version of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, but the dances are based on his work. For instance, look at the last minute (though the whole number is enjoyable) in the big "revival in a business suite" number "Brotherhood Of Man."



His best remembered film choreography is in Cabaret and All That Jazz, but my favorite number is his show-stopper from Sweet Charity, "The Rich Man's Frug." It uses some film techniques, but mostly keeps the original dance he'd created on stage.

In Too Deep

Here's an interesting piece on how wide the FBI investigation into the 70s porn film Deep Throat was. Law professor Mark Weiner has this to say:

Today we can't imagine authorities at any level of government - local, state or federal - being involved in obscenity prosecutions of this kind. The story of Deep Throat is the story of the last gasp of the forces lined up against the cultural and sexual revolution and it is the advent of the entry of pornography into the mainstream.

He's seconded by my old pal, Professor Eugene Volokh.

Certainly today, with our broadly socially less restrictive attitude to most pornography and to sex more broadly it may seem odd that the government was spending so much effort on something like this. But attitudes back then were much different.

I wish I could believe them, but I'm not so sure. There are millions of busybodies out there who'd like nothing better than for government to get more involved in our personal lives. They'd love to take over the reins of government and put as much pressure as possible on people who don't live up to their moral standard.

They already have some influence, and the laws are still on the books and sometimes put to use. All it would take is a moral panic--and they come along regularly--to return this mindset to power.

Let George Do It

The Sunday Times in London says George Harrison was the greatest rock guitarist of all. I agree with the claim, if not the evidence.

Hendrix, Clapton and all those other names that appear on Top Ten lists are wonderful virtuosos, but none have given me as much pleasure as Harrison. And it's certainly due to his talent and taste. But there's something else.

The Beatles, led by Lennon and McCartney, were about the songs, and they were supremely talented songwriters. It was also about the recording, and they had the time and the taste to do them right. What the band wasn't about was expressing yourself in five-minute solos--the expression came through the song.

From the start George was the best guitarist in the group, but he was also the junior partner, and he did what he was told. (See him complain about it in the movie Let It Be.) He usually worked out his solos, but the others could comment, and certainly the great riffs were generally created by John or Paul. And they even would occasionally play the solo--for example, Paul in "Good Morning, Good Morning" and "Taxman," and John in "For You Blue."

Look at Harrison's guitar work on his own albums. Pretty good, but I can barely remember any of his solos, because the songs themselves are not as memorable. George deserves to be called the greatest guitarist, because he was an important part of the greatest band.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bob Dole Says This About Bob Dole

I saw Bob Dole on TV talking about health care reform. He said if the Senate can't compromise, they may not get a bill.

He said this like it's a bad thing, which is the problem in a nutshell. Politicians who have been at it long enough start believing that passing a law must be better than not passing a law.

The Real World

What fascinated me Spent: Sex, Evolution, And Consumer Behavior by Geoffrey Miller (according to this review) was the behavior of the people in it. Evolutionary psychologists tried to get along with economists, but the economists lived in their own world and couldn't stretch. You'd think it's a good match, but each specialty has its own ground, and can be closed to new ideas.

Then the psychologists met some marketing people and they got along famously. This is because marketing people have to show results, and any information they can use they grab onto.

It reminded me of a similar story in Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan. Taleb can be high-handed, and doesn't seem to find most people, including academics--especially academics--up to his standard. So he wasn't looking forward to a conference with military types in Las Vegas. To his surprise, they were among the most rational, intelligent people he'd met. There's a stereotype (coming from academia?) that the military is full of slow-witted, single-minded people, but, once again, those who make it to the top have to deal with real world problems. They can understand Taleb's concepts, and discuss them intelligently, while many tenured types are still stuck in their own limited, normal distribution world.

Bully For Bullock

I didn't think she had it in her, but at a time when a lot of old favorites in romcom, like Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan, can't seem to open films any more, Sandra Bullock showed she's still got what it takes.

Though her latest, The Proposal, only received indifferent reviews, and there are plenty of comedies out there right now, it was just what the audience wanted. Her films rarely open with more than $20 million, and she hadn't had a #1 in a over a decade, but The Proposal made $34 million. Considering it's not a big-budget item, it should make a nice profit.

It's still a one-quadrant film, but she's getting all of it.

Lately

So far I haven't been impressed with Conan in the Tonight Show slot. He's okay, but he was actually better at 12:30, when he didn't try so hard, and didn't round off his edges. Unfortunately, Letterman's been weak for a while, and I don't really watch Kimmel (who shoots about a mile from here).

Meanwhile, Conan's replaement, Jimmy Fallon, does nothing for me (same for Carson Daly, even after he's reconceptualized his show). Craig Ferguson has some talent, but he does about 40+ minutes of straight comedy, mostly by himself, before shoving his guests in at the end. Better to try for 20 quality minutes--hard enough to do--and save 40 for the guests.

Basically, what I'm saying is Late Night is dead to me. Why did I think Jay Leno leaving would make things better?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

I Knew Him Too Well

Flipping through the channels, I stopped for a second to marvel at a newly-reduced Horatio Sanz on Jimmy Fallon's show.

He and Jimmy started talking about the good times they had on SNL. In particular, how they used to crack each other up.Yes, I remember their laughing fits. It's one of the things that drove me from the show.

Fallon said it wasn't planned. As if that makes it better. I guess they were just so funny, they couldn't help it.

George S. Kaufman used to tell his actors not to laugh on stage because it saved the audience the trouble. He was talking about laughing in character. His advice goes double for breaking up.

Jackie's Back

The second episode of Nurse Jackie started with the regular credits. I guess the pilot didn't have them because they didn't want to reveal she's actually married, a fact which she hides while at work. But, as I noted last week, why should the audience care that she's married?

Creamed

Here's something I've never quite understood. Why would anyone put whipped cream on a sundae? Let's leave out the calorie count. Are you not getting enough dairy already? A float I get--carbonation plus ice cream. Banana split, sure. But cream plus cream? Do you order a shake to wash it down?

Iran So Far Away

Watching the generally tepid response of the White House to the protests and oppression in Iran has been frustrating. Apparently the House of Representatives agrees since they passed a resolution 405 to 1 to support the protestors. I'm glad to see the President is finally making tentative steps toward condemning the crackdown, but it seems like events dragged him along, and he'd rather not have committed.

Now perhaps there's something going on I don't know about--always possible in foreign affairs. Maybe in secret Obama and the State Department have been working with the Mullahs and are making progress, so they feel handcuffed. But it doesn't seem to be that way. President Obama seems to fear the U.S. will be seen as "meddling," and will be blamed by the theocracy and it will work against things. (He also seems like he'd just as soon put foreign affairs on hold and do what he really cares about which is changing domestic policy.)

Well, first, making a statement--even a general one---against oppression is meddling? When people are fighting in the streets? Apparently both parties in the House don't think so.

Second, we've been blamed anyway by the Mullahs for stirring up problems, along with Zionists and whoever else they regularly blame. As long as Iran isn't free, they'll blame us whenever it's convenient and there's not much we can do about it.

In fact, this is what troubles me most. It would seem that Obama isn't just worried that we'll be blamed, but honestly thinks we are blameworthy. He's certainly willing to apologize for America at the drop of a hat. It doesn't simply look like a strategem. He apparently figures we've got a lot to apologize for. (And he also thinks pointing out our own problems to even our most vicious enemies will help us get to them--the "you stone homosexuals to death, we don't allow them to be married, so we both could improve" sort of thing. But what happens when your target is not impressed by your own weakness, and, in fact, will only see it as an opportunity to demand you do more to prove you're sorry? Furthermore, this enemy already blames you for everything going wrong, even though you have at best limited control over them. After all, it's not always about America. In fact, it usually isn't about America.)

Finally, the whole thing is odd. It seems almost as if Obama, following his promises as a candidate, insists on being "different" (and especially "different from Bush"). Here's the guy who was gonna talk to people, no matter what. They could do anything, be as repressive as they want--he wouldn't let any preconditions get in the way of dialogue. What this means is our enemies can feel comfortable, since they know Obama will always reach out. The way it works, the only countries Obama seems to make serious demands on are our allies.

Think about it. No matter what happened in the Iranian election, no matter what the real vote was (it's a joke anyway since only pre-approved candidates can run), Obama appeared afraid to say too much, because he'd rather let things settle, and (I'm guessing) expects the mullahs will eventually take over and we'll end up with Ahmadinejad still in charge. I don't deny the side with the guns usually wins, but what will this caution get us? It ends up meaning we won't overly criticize their oppressive ways so when we meet with them again, we can criticize their oppressive ways.

You can talk to enemies and still criticize them in general. They might actually listen to you more if you do it that way.

Instead we've had all this happy talk about their rigged election beforehand, and afterward (in a series of differing responses) even what sounded like excuses about how there's not that much difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi. (Allegedly some of the dissidents are quite unhappy with this statement, since they're putting their lives on the line based on this difference.) Hey, we get Mousavi is far from perfect, and that the Iranian citizens agitating for freedom have lots of differences with us. That's how it goes. The point is one side clearly wants greater freedom, and the other wishes to extinguish it. If we can't take a simple stand on this, does that mean we'll stand for anything? Is stability (assuming we can get it) so important in our foreign policy now that it trumps supporting democracy and human rights?

By the way, whatever happened to all those people who said Ahmadinejad is just a figurehead? If he were, why does it seem so important for the mullahs that he remain in power?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Passion

Technical proficiency matters, but passion and feeling matter more.

Anyway, that's what I was thinking when I heard an interview with Nils Lofgren. He was just 17 when Neil Young signed him up to play piano on After The Gold Rush. It turned out Nils could barely play the instrument, but who cares? If it works, it works.

It's almost the same story as Al Kooper's. He was invited to a Bob Dylan session to observe. They're getting ready to record and he says he's got a great organ part worked out, though he barely plays the instrument, and has nothing worked out. The song? "Like A Rolling Stone."

Obama DOMA Bummer

Many gay activists are unhappy with President Obama, especially after his Justice Department defended the Defense Of Marriage Act.

A few comments.

1) What did you expect? Wasn't this his general position before he took office?

2) I don't think Obama is losing too much sleep over gay groups getting mad at him, since, even if they represented a lot of voters, they have nowhere else to go. (I mean activists--plenty of gays who care more about other issues, like the economy, may vote Republican.) Still, he wants their money and so will throw a sop at them every now and then, just not this.

3) I used to agree with a lot of people in thinking Obama doesn't really believe this position, but now I wonder. Anyway, if he really doesn't believe what he's doing, it sure should tell those who oppose his actions how unpopular their politics are.

Conan Blows It

A couple nights ago on Conan O'Brien, his first guest was Kobe Bryant, NBA championship MVP, and William Shatner, 78-year-old actor without a series or movie right now.

I'm sorry, no one goes on before The Shat-Man.

Son Of Lubitsch

Here's a line from A. O. Scott's thumbs down on Woody Allen's latest, Whatever Works.

A less generous word might be sloppy, given the near-total absence of the kind of Lubitschean verve of which Mr. Allen, when he’s on his comic game, is capable.

Lubitschean verve?

As I've stated before, so many critics throw around the names of old directors as touchstones, but don't seem to be able to tell a Frank Capra from a Preston Sturges.

Lubitsch was a great comedy director, no question. And he had verve, no doubt. It was part of his celebrated "touch." But Woody Allen is nothing like him.

Lubitsch was controlled, refined and indirect. Allen, coming out of stand-up, started out rough in style and worked straight to the camera. In later films, even as his technique gets more elegant, or at least artier, the dialogue became more improvised, while Lubitsch's films were rehearsed to within an inch of their life.

Maybe Billy Wilder, who wrote for and adored Lubitsch, followed somewhat in his tradition, though Wilder didn't have the lightness of touch. Woody's early comedies, if I'd compare them to anything, are like Marx Brothers films (to name a group who shared the Paramount lot with Lubitsch)--wild and smart. His later comedies, if they're like any old Hollywood filmmaker's (and they're not) are more like, say, Gregory La Cava's, or Leo McCarey's, in that they have a loose, almost improvisational feeling. But I guess A. O. Scott didn't feel like writing "La Cavean verve."

Friday, June 19, 2009

William Shat

I just finished listening to William Shatner's biography "Up Till Now" While its abridged at 6 hours from the written version, I have to think listening to Shatner read it (OK talk it) directly is more evocative than perhaps his words on a written page. It's hilarious, both intentionally and unintentionally (I think). Seamlessly (cluelessly?) segues from horribly personal and tragic stories to dumb jokes to ridiculous self-absorption. (He spends a lot of time on his nude scene with Angie Dickinson) Couldn't turn it off. A must-hear

I was thinking about posting on it but it sort of speaks for itself- then I saw he went apeshit on Conan the other night I'm loyal to Dave so I missed this- did any of the other guys see it? what's up?

You Know Bruno

Marc Shaiman is an excellent composer who, among other triumphs, wrote the take-no-prisoners music for the South Park movie. So I'm surprised at how thin-skinned he is about the prospect of the Bruno movie (which he hasn't seen):

The majority of Americans are not going to be feeling a twinge of self-realization when they watch the movie -- they're not going to be able to get that subtext. I fear they'll be laughing at the over-the-top queen -- not at the people Sacha is trying to satirize.

How stupid does he think everyone-in-America-he-doesn't-hang-with is? If the movie is anything like the trailer, it's impossible not to get.

Worse, Shaiman's like another South Park-related musician, Isaac Hayes, who didn't care how much the show ripped into everyone else--until it attacked Scientology, his religion, and he quit. Not that the movie's intent is to attack gays. But this guy can't even take it if people might not get the joke--which seems to imply the joke must never be on him. Seems to me when people start getting this high and mighty, that's the best time to take them down.

Shaiman adds: "With all that’s happened with Prop 8 in California, it is an unfortunate time to have to roll with the punches in such a big mainstream movie."

As someone who supports same-sex marriage, I must ask: What does Prop 8 have to do with anything? And what's his implication? That all homosexuals should be allowed to get married except the most extravagant?

Soulful

Hey, it's Dave Lambert's birthday. He was the first name in the greatest vocalese group ever, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.

The other two are still alive, but poor Lambert was killed when struck while fixing a tire back in 1966.

He takes the second solo:

Go With The Flow

In The Washington Post's "Media Notes" we see that Senator Mitch McConnell from Kentucky gets the most donations from the tobacco industry. Where does this information come from?--"the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that analyzes the influence of money on politics and policy."

Now I have no objection to an organization that keeps track of who gives what to whom. But the idea that this shows the "influence of money on politics and policy" is questionable. Most politicians already have certain stances--based on their party and district or state--and then get donations from people and groups that agree with them and would like to see their positions represented.

I would be intrigued by a study that showed a politician not only showered gifts on the people who support him, but also that he supported certain people only after they showered gifts on him.

Boxer Rebellion

Here's a video making the rounds. It's from my employee, Barbara Boxer.



I'm guessing people respect her less now.

When I heard it, it made me think of this exchange from Austin Powers:

U.N. Representative: So, Mr. Evil...

Dr. Evil: It's Dr. Evil. I didn't spend six years in evil medical school to be called "mister," thank you very much.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bob Bogle

Bob Bogle, lead guitarist for the Ventures, has died.

The Ventures were THE rock and roll instrumental group. Their biggest hits were "Walk--Don't Run" (which was the first guitar solo I ever learned) and "Hawaii Five-O," but my favorite is their version of "Perfidia."

Old Jokes

Year One opens tomorrow. It's a Harold Ramis picture starring Jack Black and Michael Cera as two guys living in the distant past.

Maybe it'll be funny, but I'm not counting on it. This sort of comedy, as you can tell by the title, relies mostly on anachronisms to get its laughs. It may work for a sketch, but can get pretty thin over a whole movie.

Big Business

Every time I turn around I see another ad for FreeCreditReport.Com. Now maybe a lot of people are interested in checking out their credit reports. And I assume the "Free" part isn't cheap. But just how much money can there be in this business that they can flood the airwaves? (And are they still the airwaves now that it's all digital?)

Post Production

I was reading through a collection of Playboy's interviews with noted directors. What stood out was the Stanley Kubrick piece, published in 1968.

He talks about 2001: A Space Odyssey and related scientific speculation. Some of what he says is quite reasonable, even penetrating, some lunatic.

But what you can't miss is his answers are lengthy, formal and impossibly well-wrought. Here's an excerpt--one full answer (not especially long) discussing UFOs. Remember, this was published as an actual interview. How does it sound to you?

KUBRICK: The most significant analysis of UFOs I've seen recently was written by L. M. Chassin, a French air force general who had been a high-ranking NATO officer. He argues that by any legal rules of evidence, there is now sufficient sighting data amassed from reputable sources--astronomers, pilots, radar operators and the like--to initiate a serious and thorough worldwide investigation of UFO phenomena. Actually, if you examine even a fraction of the extant testimony you will find that people have been sent to the gas chamber on far less substantial evidence. Of course, it's possible that all the governments in the world really do take UFOs seriously and perhaps are already engaging in secret study projects to determine their origin, nature and intentions. If so, they may not be disclosing their findings for fear that the public would be alarmed--the danger of cultural shock deriving from confrontation with the unknown which we discussed earlier, and which is an element of 2001, when news of the monolith's discovery on the moon is suppressed. But I think even the 2 percent of sightings that the Air Force's Project Blue Book admits is unexplainable by conventional means should dictate a serious, searching probe. From all indications, the current government-authorized investigation at the University of Colorado is neither serious nor searching.

One hopeful sign that this subject may at last be accorded the serious discussion it deserves, however, is the belated but examplary conversion of Dr J. Allen Hynek, since 1948 the Air Force's consultant on UFOs and currently chariman of the astronomy department at Northwestern Universty. Hynek, who in his official capacity pooh-poohed UFO sightings, now believes that UFOs deserve top-priority attention--as he wrote in Playboy [December 1967]--and even concedes that the existing evidence may indicate a possible connection with extraterrestrial life. He predicts: "I will be surprised if an intensive study yields nothing. To the contrary, I think that mankind may be in for the greatest adventure since dawning human intelligence turned outward to contemplate the universe." I agree with him.

Yeah, right.

I realize Playboy interviews are boiled down from hours of discussion and cleaned up for coherence, but no one talks like this. Kubrick, a control freak, must have demanded some sort of final cut. Either he got to rewrite and polish what he said, or, more likely, what's attributed to him in conversation are actually written responses. For that matter, he probably wrote the questions, too.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

T’is Neither Here Nor There

Peter Sellars' four hour and fifteen minute staging of Othello sounds so bad it might actually be good. Most of the problems seem to be with his bizarre interpretation, though what would you expect from Sellars?

But there's also Philip Seymour Hoffman as Iago:

As for Hoffman, he spends the majority of the evening with chin on chest and hands in the pockets of his ill-fitting trousers, but simply does not yet know the part. On opening night, he consistently fumbled and restarted lines, made false entrances and spent uncomfortably long periods with his palms tight against his temples as if trying to squeeze out the next line. On several occasions, Hoffman resorted to yelling "Line!" to the offstage prompter, once missing her reply and having to repeat the call.

I wouldn't worry. There's still three months for him to improve before it hits New York. Or leave.

Watching Life

Just caught Cinemania. I thought I saw a lot of films, but the five people profiled here seem to spend all their spare time watching them (all but one only in theatres).

To a lot of people, they'd come across as freaks who've replaced real life with movies, or perhaps sufferers of OCD. As far as I'm concerned, if they've found something they enjoy, they might as well run with it.

Out To Get You

In Standpoint.Online, Nick Cohen writes about conspiracy theories. First, they're probably more dangerous than actual conspiracies. Second, they no know politics--they're as common on the Left as the Right. Third, even otherwise rational people can be overcome.

The only part of his piece that struck me as odd was his list of nutty theories that he felt his readers may actually give some credence to:

I am not sure, however, that you can say, hand on heart, that you have not thought for a fleeting moment that maybe there just might be something in the following propositions:

That Nato governments and their tame journalists invented the "atrocities" committed by Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia and her allies in order to justify a war to expand the empire of neo-liberalism into the southern Balkans;

That Prince Philip, along with the British and French intelligence services, arranged the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, because she was about to marry a Muslim;

That the 9/11 atrocities in New York and Washington were an "inside job" organised by a rogue faction within the US intelligence agencies or maybe the Bush administration itself to justify war in the Muslim world;

That Israel warned Jews to stay away from the World Trade Centre on 9/11 but allowed the slaughter of gentiles to stoke up hatred of Muslims;

That the Jews, once again, formed a "lobby" in the US that pushed America into a needless war against Saddam Hussein;

And that the Bush and Blair administrations knew in advance that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction worthy of the name but lied and went to war under a false prospectus.

Most of the people I know wouldn't waste a second with these notions (even the last one). Then I remembered--this is being read over in the UK, where they have different biases (including the worldwide habit of seeing Zionists behind everything).

I might add Nick's readers don't disappoint. Most of the comments seem to be about how these conspiracies were true.

Classy

Matt Welch at Hit & Run rips LA Times writer Tim Rutten for his feverish class warfare fantasies about the evils of congestion pricing for local roads.

Rutten's piece represents the worst of the Left. He's not really helping the poor--he's just bothered the rich will do better.

Here's a heart-tugging bit from his piece, after new toll roads have been built and a single mother leaves work to get to her sick child.

Despite the time of day, L.A.'s freeways are inexplicably clogged -- virtual gridlock for no apparent reason. The new toll lanes, however, are moving freely. For the senior partner, it's a no-brainer. He pays the $1.40-a-mile toll without a first, let alone a second, thought and arrives at his club early enough for a Bloody Mary before lunch. Our single mom, however, looks at the bumper-to-bumper traffic around her, glances over at the freely moving toll lane and has to do the mental math to decide whether getting to her child in less than 90 minutes is worth being late with this month's rent.

First, the rich guy in the toll lane means he's not blocking her. Second, the toll lanes offer a chance she wouldn't have otherwise to--in an emergency like this--get somewhere fast for the cost of a movie ticket or two. Third, most senior partners I know don't get to knock off for a round of golf, a sauna and the occasional hooker until about mid-afternoon.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Life Is An Onion

As I noted last week, The Onion had an article about how neither Pittsburgh nor Detroit wanted to win the Stanely Cup since they couldn't afford the victory parade.

Well, joke's on me. First local official said they couldn't afford a parade for the Lakers if they won. Now they're splitting the cost with the team, and the public is still grumbling.

Sweetest Hangover

Usually I predict what the summer blockbusters will be. Forgot to this year. But I bet I wouldn't have put The Hangover in the top ten. The movie has caught the public's fancy and will be huge. It seems every few years some rauncy comedy--Wedding Crashers, There's Something About Mary--comes out of nowhere to become a blockbuster.

The Hangover delivers. Aside from wild gags, it's got a surprisingly effective, if very simple, plot. And like so many of these R-rated comedy smashes lately, it has a sweet side. Plus (sort of a spoiler coming up) it's got closing credits that kill.

In general it's good to see the public responding to well-done film (Hangover, Star Trek, Up) while tired, big-budget sequels gross less than their predecessors (Terminator, Angels And Demons, Night At The Museum). It keeps the business alive.

Geek To Geek

Here's a pretty well-done comparison of Heroes versus Lost. It was created a while ago, when anyone could still think it was a contest.

Willow Weep For Me

This Letterman-Palin fracas has been going on a week and I think it's getting out of hand. Tonight, Letterman--for the second time--apologized. (Some said he didn't mean it the first time.)

It started when he told a couple jokes about Sarah Palin, who was visiting New York at the time. In particular, this one:



It's tasteless and stupid and not that funny. But it probably would have been better if everyone had just shaken it off.

A few points:

1) I admit I don't know what the taste standard should be in these cases. It depends so much on context. (I'm not talking about censorship, just standards.)

2) Is Dave doing this for ratings, as some have claimed, especially now that he's in a new race against Conan? I doubt it. The joke was just one of many and he probably didn't think it would get any special attention. The controversy started because of the reaction. I'd guess Dave was startled and annoyed that people were making such a big deal of it. When it got to the level that people were demanding his dismissal, it's not surprising he'd discuss it.

3) Is the outrage from Palin and her supporters real? I can't look into their hearts, but it seems these days that 95% of our nation's political dialogue is manufactured outrage. I'm not saying people don't believe they're outraged. Just that so many have gotten used to the idea that the other side is so horrible that it's justifiable to be angry all the time.

4) Dave's live audience is on his side. I don't think that makes a difference (and I think he's smart enough to know it doesn't).

5) Some are still saying the joke was about Palin's 14-year-old Willow (who was at the game). No way. The joke doesn't make sense unless it's about Bristol. (Not that this makes the joke acceptable.)

6) Sarah Palin has certainly been attacked a lot, often unfairly. But that's part of playing in the big leagues. The question is what to do when your family gets it. Politicians regularly declare their spouse and kids out of bounds, which makes sense--unless they become news or, more often, are used by the politicians to further their careers. So it was perfectly reasonable for Palin to comment (though it's often best just to rise above it). But that should have been it. If you try to blow up this sort of issue into more than it is--saying it's an attack on women, claiming it tells us something about the state of our culture, etc--it may play well with the base, but can make the accuser look opportunistic or foolish.

7) For a long time Dave has been making stupid, false-premise jokes about politicians, and in the last few years he's gone after Bush and then Palin so harshly it sometimes seems he's lost his sense of humor. But what I'm actually more offended by is how he treats Obama with kid gloves.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Close Closers

So the Lakers are champs. Congratulations.

I don't recall the NHL and NBA championships ever ending this close together.

Someone's Crying

When did "Kumbaya" become a punchline? I never see it referred to these days except ironically, or to note that two opposing groups aren't singing it. An unfortunate thing to happen to a sweet little song.

Take A Bow For The New Revolution

Thomas L. Friedman believes for the first time in his years of reporting, things might be changing in the Middle East. There's an opening for greater freedom and democracy. Why? Because of what George Bush did:

...in ousting Saddam in Iraq in 2003 and mobilizing the U.N. to push Syria out of Lebanon in 2005, he opened space for real democratic politics that had not existed in Iraq or Lebanon for decades.

He surrounds this statement with predictable Bush-bashing--he'd probably be kicked off The New York Times if he didn't--but it doesn't change the central story. And this was always the main point of the war. (As I argued almost five years ago: There's [a] reason that to me is more important that the rest, but is also the most abstract and hardest to argue. It's the truly long view. [....] People often talk about root causes. Well, as long as tyrants rule in the Middle East, [...] that is a root cause of the trouble. [....] There has to be a change in the area, one toward democracy. [....] The war in Iraq has the chance to bear great, long-range fruit.)

Oddly, (from a logical viewpoint, not a political one), Friedman tries to give Obama credit, too. Even if you believe his mere presence is helping (that seems to be Friedman's argument), I doubt his approach will.

Obama's speech to Muslims was about reaching out, but who is he reaching out to? He's willing to put the U.S. prestige on the line--to talk to their leaders/oppressors.

His foreign policy is of the "realist" school, which prizes stability. So what does that say to the many protestors in Iran, taking to the streets after a rigged election? If Obama's message is, no matter what else, we don't want to rock the boat, what happens when the boat-rockers represent a whiff of democracy?

The Rest Is Silents

Here's a nice tribute to the Silent Movie Theatre, which I used to attend regularly (back when they showed silent movies). But there's one part I don't get:

Anyway, the pièce de résistance of every laugh show was almost always the Laurel and Hardy film. Even though Hampton saved the best Chaplins for the laugh shows, the audience consensus was always that The Tramp couldn't hold the proverbial candle to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. And in a way, he couldn't...but it really wasn't a fair fight. Chaplin's shorts were all made in 1914-1918, whereas the Laurel and Hardy silents were from 1926-1929. The years in-between were critical ones in the development of movie comedy. Viewed side-by-side today, Stan and Ollie are so much more polished and in control — but if you saw a 1916 Chaplin — say, The Pawnshop — amidst other 1916 offerings, you'd see how Chaplin was far ahead of his contemporaries...and leading the way towards what Laurel and Hardy, among others, would soon achieve.

This is hard to believe. As much as I love Laurel and Hardy's silents, I'd still rate Chaplin's Mutuals--including The Pawnshop--higher. (On the other hand, I admit that Chaplin's earlier Essanays are much weaker, while L&H improved when they added sound.) I guess there was some sort of L&H revival in the 60s that had people so behind them they could take on all comers. It's sort of like when I attended the Theatre in the 90s, and Buster Keaton was the audience favorite, probably bigger than Chaplin.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bye Guys

Most Broadway productions lose money. There are always a few not doing well that hold on to the hope they'll win a Tony and keep going. Well, the Tonys have come and gone, which means the losers are shuttering.

As expected, winless Guys And Dolls closes today. Too bad. It's still a great show--I guess if you want to sell $100 tickets, the production has to be special. There's been a Broadway revival approximately every decade, so get in line now for 2020.

New Blood

Tonight the second season of True Blood debuts. I jumped off this show pretty quickly in the first season. But with nothing else on, maybe it's time to give it another chance.

Double Click

"The Internet Is For Porn" from Avenue Q is already a lot of fun, but that someone could sync it up so well with Sesame Street footage is amazing.

The More Things Change

Here's an excerpt from President Obama's speech to commemorate D-Day:

We live in a world of competing beliefs and claims about what is true. It’s a world of varied religions and cultures and forms of government. In such a world, it’s all too rare for a struggle to emerge that speaks to something universal about humanity.

The Second World War did that. No man who shed blood or lost a brother would say that war is good. But all know that this war was essential. For what we faced in Nazi totalitarianism was not just a battle of competing interests. It was a competing vision of humanity. Nazi ideology sought to subjugate and humiliate and exterminate. It perpetrated murder on a massive scale, fueled by a hatred of those who were deemed different and therefore inferior. It was evil.

I think this clear distinction between then and now doesn't hold up.

Decades ago, during the rise of fascism, we also lived in a world of varied religions and cultures. There were just as many ideas then--maybe more--about what was the proper form of government. And certainly there were a lot of people in America who didn't think we should get involved with the war in Europe--sure, Germany declared war on us, but they weren't really a threat.

Today, we're in a struggle with an opponent that wishes to take over the world, that's declared war on us, that's willing to kill, and that opposes democracy and basic human rights. Call it fascism, call it what you like--if you're willing to use the world evil, how can you not use it to describe our enemy?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Near Miss

Carrie Prejean is no longer Miss California. According to a press release from the producers of the California pageant.

This was a decision based solely on contract violations. After our press conference in New York we had hoped we would be able to forge a better working relationship. However, since that time it has become abundantly clear that Carrie has no desire to fulfill her obligations under our contract and work together.

If you say so.

No Miss

As I predicted, this wasn't the Red Wings' year. Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup in an exciting close to an exciting series. (Ha ha Hossa.)

Congratulations to the Penguins, and take that, doubters of the all-knowing Pajama Guy.

Don't Just Stand There

This is the sort of piece Reason magazine was made for: "The Top 10 Most Absurd Time Covers of The Past 40 Years."

Throughout the years, on a regular basis, news sources flog the latest panic. It may sell magazines, but it doesn't do much to help the general welfare.

I Can See Clearly Now

In case you missed it, analog television is now kaput. I wonder, after all those warnings, how many people were watching TV last night and suddenly everything went all snowy? I can just see them dialing their rotary phones and calling information to ask for the number of someone to complain to.

Back Up

From an advice column in Slate, here's an exchange that's gotten a lot of hits:

Dear Prudence,
[...] I masturbate pretty much every morning after getting up and every evening before I go to bed, unless I think my wife and I will make love. The problem is that my wife sees my masturbation as a declaration that she does not please me, which is not true. [...] Moreover, she complains that I "take too long" and says she would be more willing if I were "normal" [...] how do I convey to her that masturbation is normal and that she shouldn't see it as evidence that she's inadequate?
—Illicit Self-Lover


Dear Illicit,
If morning and night is your minimum daily sexual requirement, then even the most ardent wife might want to whip out the Taser when she sees you approaching. Masturbation by married people is perfectly normal and not a problem, unless it becomes one. In your case, it's become one. I talked to Sallie Foley, director of the Center for Sexual Health at the University of Michigan Health System, about your situation. [...] Foley says the book Sex Talk, by Aline Zoldbrod, could give the two of you tools for more comfortably discussing these issues.

As for your delayed orgasm, it may be that your sexual response is so habituated to your own five-finger salute that lovemaking doesn't feel as intense. Foley suggests changing the mechanics of your masturbation style—for instance, more lubrication might help. (Other suggestions can be found in the instructional video American Pie.) [I hate to interrupt, but the one area where I thought he didn't need help was his masturbation technique] And she didn't say this, but I will: Get a grip and give it a rest. Maybe if you make the decision to do something else with your hands (whittling? knitting? flossing?), you'll find you aren't so obsessed with your urges. Then masturbation will become a pleasurable thing you do sometimes instead of a twice-daily necessity.
—Prudie


I'm not even going to comment on the substance of the problem (or "problem") the guy has. I'm just trying to imagine what it's like to open up publicly and say your wife doesn't understand your needs, only to be told by another woman--who talks to a third woman, who recommends a book by a fourth woman--that you're a sex maniac.

Friday, June 12, 2009

What The Fox?

Hollywood eagerly awaits Transformers 2, which should have the biggest opening of the summer.

Hot starlet Megan Fox was asked what she'd say to the villainous Megatron to save the world:

I’d barter with him, and say instead of the entire planet, can you just take out all of the white trash, hillbilly, anti-gay, super bible-beating people in Middle America?

Even as a joke this is pretty vile, but I'm more intrigued by the stupidity of saying it out loud.

Both Sides Now

Over at Slate, Dahlia Lithwick tries to give a little support to Sonia Sotomayor's statement that a "wise Latina" would, in essence, make a better judge than a white male. Some tried to claim Sotormayor simply expressed herself poorly, but now that it's known she said this more than once, Lithwick thinks a better defense is in order.

So Lithwick brings out a little social science that claims to show how women and men approach things differently--and that women, to succeed, have to understand men, but men don't have to understand women. Thus women will be capable of understanding both sides in a case better than a man.

Let's assume the claim that women see things considerably differently from how men do is accurate. Let's also assume this'll mean they come down with measurably different opinions.

If they're truly that different, I suppose you could then say you think women make better judges. But you could also say men make better judges. The question is would Dahlia Lithwick write anything explaining why the latter argument is acceptable.

Half And Half

Woody Allen's Crimes And Misdemeanors in generally held in high regard. I hold it in semi-high regard at best. It's a bifurcated film, half decent, half tiresome.

What's decent is the humorous (by later Woody standards) part, where loser documentarian Cliff (Woody Allen) gets a job through family connections to do a story on successful TV producer Lester (Alan Alda). They both fight over Lester's employee Halley.

Alda is especially good, because while he plays an obnoxious blowhard, he's for the most part convincing. He says and does things that a glib EP who's used to getting his way would say and do He's oily, but you can still see why he's a success, in TV and with women. Meanwhile, Allen's character (I think--maybe Woody sees it differently) isn't set up as the obviously superior person, smarter and with better taste. He's actually a bit of a snob, not the nicest guy, and not nearly as smart as he thinks. The film gets its laughs at Lester's expense, but it doesn't stack the deck.

Meanwhile, the "serious" half--the faux Bergman half--has Judah (Martin Landau) order a hit on his lover (Anjelica Huston) before she spills the beans. He feels anguish after the deed is done, but as time passes, learns to accept it, and never pays any price. (This wouldn't be the last time Woody confuses getting away with it for depth.)

As always, Woody Allen's idea of serious drama is characters sitting around talking about their deep feelings, when they're not busy telling us what they're about to do. While these scenes go on I spend most of my time looking at the decor to see how the upper middle class live in an around Manhattan.

Do You Know What I Mean?

I think Oleanna is one of David Mamet's weakest plays. The latest revival, starring Bill Pullman and Julia Styles, gets a rave from Variety. But I question critic Bob Verini's approach to the work.

The play is about a student bringing a professor up on sexual harrassment charges. Verini writes:

"Who's right?" audiences may ask. "Is he a predator, or she vindictive? What college is this, anyway? And how can Carol be a milquetoast in scene one and an Amazon thereafter?" But such questions are no more relevant than asking where in London one can find Pinter's "The Dumbwaiter," or why Pozzo returns blind and helpless in act two of "Waiting for Godot."

But The Dumbwaiter and (especially) Waiting For Godot are not written in a realistic manner. Oleanna, on the other hand, takes place in a realistic setting and deals with a hot-button issue of the day.

In this setting, I find the female too shrill and too stupid to buy. Perhaps extreme people like her exist, but being so one-sided they don't make for good drama in a two-person play.

Verini sees the piece as being about people interpreting things too literally--the question of what's said versus what's meant. That's not how the type of people the student represents see the issue. To them, it's not about misinterpretation, it's about two different interpretations.

Here's how Verini sees it:

This isn't a man/woman thing; it's a human thing. What do the debates over biblical inerrancy or Prophet Muhammad caricatures, George Bush's "Bring it on!" or Bill Clinton's grand jury testimony amount to but a conflict between literal and intended meaning? Given half a chance, "Oleanna" prompts excited chatter not about a fictional he-said/she-said, but about eternal miscommunication among individuals and cultures alike.

WTF? None of these examples are on point, even for what Verini claims the play is about. For example, Clinton's testimony. The point there isn't literal versus intended meaning. The question for perjury is did he intend to deceive, so both sides were arguing over intent.

The issues of sexual harrassment, speech codes and the like are specifically on point here, so you'd figure Verini might at least mention them, even if he figures the theme is bigger. Except the point about this fight is, deep down, not really about miscommunication. It's not about the literal versus the actual meaning. It's not about one person simply being mistaken, and if the other were allowed to explain, all would be forgiven. This is about different views of the world that cannot easily, if at all, be reconciled.

I think Mamet does a poor job of showing this, and in his failure makes his play less meaningful. But I think Verini doesn't even get what the play is about to begin with.

PS Meanwhile, Steven Leigh Morris at the LA Weekly seems to get the play. But I was confused by this statement:

[Something else in Oleanna] almost compensates for its grave shortcomings as a petulant if not hateful slice of rhetoric against an annoying social movement of the 1990s — “political correctness,” of which Carol becomes a shamelessly despotic representative.

Pardon me? Political correctness was a 90s thing, but we've moved on? When did that happen?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tonight, Tonight

Earlier this week I posted about the ratings drop for the new Conan O'Brien Tonight Show. Well, the latest numbers are in and NBC must be nervous. After years of Jay being in the lead, David Letterman has already caught up to and passed Conan.

It's early yet, of course. We really won't see full stabilization of the ratings for weeks, perhaps months. People are still sampling, and decide each night based on guests more than hosts. Also, on the plus side, Conan's demo is better (I'm assuming).

NBC probably felt they had to offer Conan the Tonight Show (as they did years ago) or he'd bolt when his contract was up, but in doing so, it meant breaking up a successful two-hour block. (Now they also have Jay's five hours of prime time to look forward to. It'll certainly be cheaper to produce than regular prime time, but what will advertisers pay for it? And what sort of lead-in will it give Conan?)

Years ago, NBC had a choice of offering Jay or Dave the Tonight Show. They made the right call, though it took a few years to find out. I don't think it'll take so long to discover if Conan's working or not. The main question is will enough new viewers cotton to his style so that they'll regularly tune in. Meanwhile, Dave just signed up till 2012, so he's not going away any time soon.

Can It Be?

I was just in a 7-Eleven and a big, surprisingly insistent sign near the soft drinks read "Do not take cans out of the boxes! We no longer sell single cans!"

I don't get it. What's wrong with selling single cans? They're cheaper than bottles and plenty of people prefer the size.

Was this a decision made by Coke et al, or 7-Eleven? I thought this was a convenience store.

A Date That Will Live In Geekery

Fanboys, about a cross-country trip to see The Phantom Menace, didn't work, financially or artistically. Now we've got 5-25-77, which may be released one of these days.

It looks even lower-budget than Fanboys, but I have hopes. It seems more realistic (it'd have to be), and, this time, the geeks are seeing a good movie.

Running The Numbers

Until now, I didn't think the Democrats were worried. Sure, generic polls showed them in trouble, and that many of the economic plans they support aren't that popular. But Obama's still well-liked (even if his internals are weakening) and, above all, there's more than a year before the next big election. If the economy turns around, as it generally does, then the Dems will get the credit. It's all in the timing. Better to take the hits now.

So I figured they'd be patient, even while the right tries to bash them. I mean, they do believe that Obama and his Congress essentially have it right, so the best thing to do is let it work out.

But I guess they can't wait, as the public starts to think the White House is spending us into oblivion. So, as if on schedule, comes a piece in The New York Times explaining how Bush is mainly at fault.

To be fair, I don't blame Obama for a lot of what's going on now, or even in the next couple years. He inherited a major downturn--actually, it's what got him elected--and in the few months Bush had to do anything about it, he's the one who first decided (with the support of the Democrat Congress, and The New York Times) a new torrent of spending was needed.

But what worries me is the years beyond. Obama saw we were in trouble and decided not just to try some stopgap measures to get us going again, but to see that the government takes on more of the economy, and spends more every year for the rest of our lives. You may disagree with the war in Iraq, but it's a one-time cost. You may disagree with the stimulus bill, but even if it doesn't end up helping the economy, it's a one-time cost. The numbers, as extravagant as they may seem, are insignificant compared to the permanent spending Obama wants.

And that's the central problem of the Times piece. We're not talking about a few short-term years of deficits, caused by whomever or whatever you want to blame, but rather permanent, larger deficits that could change the very nature of our economy.

I've always argued that economic numbers of the first few years of a Presidency are mostly due to what happened before he took office. America's a big ship that takes a long time to turn around (and mostly runs on its own anyway). For instance, there's no reason to blame Bush for going from surplus to deficits in his first few years. The end of the stock market boom (especially the NASDAQ, which cratered in 2000, dropping from 5000 to 1500) played havoc with revenues at the start of the new millenium. Then came 9/11, administering another shock to our system. Even if Bush had been a lot more fiscally responsible, there was only so much he could do.

Which is why there were all those arguments from the left in the early days of the Bush administration explaining why the deficit wasn't his fault.

Anyway, they're certainly all jumping on this Times piece--they've got their new talking points after being back on their heels for a few months.

The piece, though, too often reads like an apology.

Some of [Obama's] proposals, like a plan to put a price on carbon emissions, don’t cost the government any money. Others would be partly offset by proposed tax increases on the affluent and spending cuts. Congressional and White House aides agree that no large new programs, like an expansion of health insurance, are likely to pass unless they are paid for.

So they not only score the numbers in his favor in the past and the present, but assure us he won't be at fault in the future. It reminds me of Chico Marx's line about how he hasn't eaten in three days--he didn't eat yesterday, he didn't eat today and he's not going to eat tomorrow.

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