Saturday, October 31, 2009

Keep 'Em Coming Back

I see a bunch of former Sex And The City writers (including an old acquaintance, Cindy Chupack) are writing a weekly, live comic soap opera. I guess it's right up their alley, but I have to wonder if they can draw a regular audience to the theatre to see the show.

Serials work in books, magazines and TV, but isn't it asking a lot for an audience to check in regularly on a live show?

Happy Halloween

I always find a little Lambert, Hendricks & Ross puts me in the mood this time of year.

And Now A Word

Microsoft was going to sponsor a special starring Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane and Alex Borstein, but has pulled out after seeing the material. This is Seth MacFarlane--what did they expect? He's talented, but bad taste of part of the package.

Microsoft is trying to position itself as being a cool alternative (if that's the word) to Apple. This won't help.

Promise Fulfilled?

Earlier this month I bemoaned Anne Hathaway dropping out of a potential revival of Promises, Promises. Now the cast has been announced. Sean Hayes is still the lead, but he'll be appearng opposite Broadway stalwart Kristin Chenoweth.

I don't know. Kristin has a huge following, and has proved herself before, but still. Anne Hathaway would have offered a zing to the part, not to mention a certain star quality, that I don't think Chenoweth can presently pull off.

But we'll see. The star is still the show. If it holds up, and they do it right, no reason it can't run a long time.

Handy Andy

I don't read Andrew Sullivan much these days. He seems to have stopped trying. For instance, look at this short bit entitled "The Landscape Shifts" where he quotes a link:

This is an interesting development:

Americans by 51-37 percent in this latest ABC News/Washington Post poll say they’d rather see a plan pass Congress without Republican support, if it includes a public option based on affordability, than with Republican backing but no such element.


I understand Sullivan wants the public option, but this is not interesting. It's not even a development. It's easy enough to ask questions so that the majority will support a public option--polls have been doing it for years. Most people aren't following the health care debate that closely, so if you ask, in essence, "would you like better stuff offered by the government, even if one party opposes it?" the answer is obvious.

If Sullivan's been following the issue, he's aware of this. The poll in question doesn't represent the slightest shift in public opinion, so why is Sullivan pretending it does?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Look, Look To The Revival

Finian's Rainbow opened last night on Broadway. It should be interesting to see the reviews. The score is tuneful and witty, but that book! It was socially progressive in its day, but the politics have not aged well.

The book has been rewritten, so maybe it can be saved. But it's from the post-Oklahoma! era, and you don't want to see it messed with too much.



PS The reviews (i.e., The New York Times) are in and the word is good:

Leaves are decaying in soggy piles in the city’s parks, and the first cold snap has come and gone, awakening anxiety about the prospect of a chilly winter. But permanent sunshine can confidently be predicted for the vicinity of the St. James Theater, where the joyous revival of “Finian’s Rainbow” opened on Thursday night.

Change In Hope

This Gallup poll intrigues me. It shows, from 1964 to the present, the belief among Americans that race relations can be worked out. The reason it's being talked about today is the bump of hope Obama brought has mostly dissipated. But that was to be expected.

What interests me is the general trend. Starting in the year of the Civil Rights Act Of 1964, there was a long slide all the way into the 90s from 55% to 41% positive. (I'm ignoring the short term dip due to the O.J. trial). This despite unquestionable progress (objectively speaking--I understand people may not have felt it was happening, but if nothing else, old, unapologetic racists were dying while kids were being raised to hate racism; the old question was should we discriminate against minorities, the new question was should we treat everyone equally or officially discriminate in their favor).

I don't know why this happened. Perhaps it was because the strides made by the civil rights movement from 1945 to 1964 were steady and obvious and brought along a growing part of the population, and by their greatest achievement things peaked. But after getting most of the laws they'd been fighting for passed, perhaps blacks saw they still had major problems and whites felt that blacks were only getting more radical and demanding. It's not unlike a slow play out of the disillusionment the poll shows after the high of Obama's election.

Yet even if that's the case, why was there a reversal of the trend some time in the 90s, and thus a steady rise in hope for at least a decade? That I have no easy answer for.

Don't Be Cross

I was recently in Ann Arbor, home of my alma mater, the University of Michigan. A local free magazine listed the many activities occuring that month.

Comedian David Cross was in town. Here's what they said:

Cross reigns as one of the most brutally honest comedians you will ever hear, slaughtering every sacred cow in America's pasture, from the terrorist "threat" to gay marriage to abortion [....] You've been warned!

I've seen Cross and think he's great. Still, I have to wonder if anyone in his audience will really hear anything that goes against their views on terrorism, gay marriage or abortion.

Mind you, that's not a comedian's job. All he has to do is be funny. But whenever I hear that a comedian is brave, I ask myself if he truly says anything that challenges his audience's notions, or just strokes their prejudices.

United We Stand

A friend gave me a copy of his union's newsletter. The big article supported health care reform. At first I thought this union has good care, why would they want to jeopardize it? Then I remembered they're in bed with Obama so of course they support it.

The piece replied to six "myths" about reform, responding with "facts." Let me quickly go over them. (Clarification note: the myths are in quotes--the union thinks they're all incorrect, of course. The comments following are mine, responding not to the myths, but the union's arguments against them.)

1. "Reform doesn't affect people who already have health insurance."

This isn't usually a big point--in fact, usually this "myth" is sold as a good thing. But I guess since everyone reading the newsletter has insurance, the union feared complacency and wanted to make it clear that reform will help even them.

I should note that one of their counter-arguments is the cost of Medicare and Medicaid are bankrupting us, and a public option will provide competition to help keeps costs down. So a huge government program is unaffordable, and the only solution is more government. (It is true that a government takeover of health care could potentially keep costs down, but only by lowering the quality of care.)

2. "A public plan option will force all Americans into a government-run program."

Just because the strongest voices in favor of reform want this to happen doesn't guarantee it will. But it's no good to keep saying people will get to keep their insurance if they like it when, after the government gets more involved, there'll be forces beyond their control deciding who gets what.

3. "Reforming health care will cut Medicare benefits for seniors."

I think we know that somewhere along the line, someone's gotta lose something. The most obvious target is seniors since they consume so much health care and have so much money. But I suppose if they lobby enough they might be the ones who are protected.

4. "Co-ops are an adequate substitute for a national public insurance plan."

The argument against this is co-ops simply wouldn't be big enough to have effective bargaining power against the health insurance industry. So we see, at the very least, the union foresees a massive government program, no matter what the demand. And if no one wants the government program? I guess that's not allowed to happen.

Anyway, why are co-ops too small to fight? If they're any good, they'll get more and more people. That's how competition works. Unless we're talking about a union-supported massive government spending program, where the idea is to knock out the insurance industry.

5. "America's deficit will increase by $1 trillion due to healthcare reform and force many familes to go broke."

Here's the union's argument: "President Obama has said he will not sign a bill that would add to the national debt or deficit." So there you have it--in addition to his other abilities, he's clairvoyant. Bills of this sort always cost more than advertised, but President Obama knows exactly how much the final tab will be.

The union goes on: "[President Obama] has proposed that two-thirds of the cost of reform be paid by reducing waste, fraud and abuse in exisiting programs and ending overpayments to insurance companies." This is great--we can save hundreds of billions just by making Medicare more efficient. And apparently the government's been overpaying insurance companies for a long time--quite a scandal. I guess, like Dorothy, politicians have always had the power to run government health programs better, but Obama is the first one to click his heels. Let's make a deal. If he can cut half a trillion from Medicare over the next five years, we'll let him pass any law he likes.

By the way, the other third of that trillion will be paid for by cutting deduction from couples earning over $250,000. (This means, of course, they'll do the same to single people making $125,000+. ) These allegedly rich people have become the Democrats' favorite punching bag, but they're already paying everyone's taxes. There's only so much more you can get out of them, and when you do, you remove it from the economy elsewhere, where it does stuff like create jobs and keep businesses afloat.

6. "Congress is moving too quickly."

The union says the time for healthcare reform is now. Perhaps. But if this is a crisis, it's a long-running crisis. Since passing reform is likely irrevocable (as its advocates know), shouldn't we take our time? And since all the different plans under discussion don't have the benefits kick in until 2013 or later, they apparently don't believe there's a rush, either.

Falling Away

All right, spoiler alert, but either you follow Mad Men or you don't.

It finally happened. On the latest Mad Men, "The Gypsy And The Hobo," Don and Betty had THE scene, where they had it out about his past. It was surprisingly quiet, and Don came clean. He seemed like a different man. In fact, he seemed like Dick Whitman.

Some fans wonder if this will hurt the series. This has been Don's central secret, and now it's out. Where do they go from here? Will the tension be gone?

My guess is it won't hurt the show (or at least needn't hurt it). The whole secret past of Don has always been one of the least interesting things about the show. There's already plenty of intrigue going on, both at Sterling Cooper and at home. What will happen as the crew faces the 60s--which are about to bust wide open--is the big question.

It's like Matt Weiner's last show, The Sopranos. I suppose it was sold as a mob boss with a twist--we see him go to therapy. That last angle sort of worked in the first season, but soon became unnecessary. Tony Soprano, at home and at work, was plenty.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

True Lies

A brouhaha started in California when Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco assemblyman, called the Governator a liar and shouted at him to "kiss my gay ass."

Schwarzenegger soon after sent a letter explaining why he was vetoing Ammiano's bill. The wording is unexceptionable. However, if you read the first letter of each line in the printed message, it spells, very clearly, paragraph by paragraph, "I F-u-c-k Y-o-u."

This cannot be a coincidence, though I find it hard to believe Ah-nold was personally behind it. I wonder if Californians will demand a total recall.

Not Just A Good Idea

Here are some intriguing laws about arguing on the internet. I'd heard of Goodwin's (about invoking Hitler) and Poe's (about confusing parodies of fundamentalism with the real thing) but the rest were new.

Some were a bit silly, but most made sense.

Spooky Popular

One thing I like about film reviews in the trades is they discuss commercial potential. Here's what the Hollywood Reporter had to say about Paranormal Activity:

....much of "Paranormal" is as exciting as the outtakes from a particularly dull episode of "Big Brother." Careful handling is a must for the picture to capitalize on its strength -- an incremental sense of dread that leads to some genuine jolts in the final half-hour. Those shocks should generate an avid cult following, but writer-director Oren Peli's housebound horror tale is unlikely to cast a massive boxoffice spell like the "Blair Witch" phenomenon

That's exactly what has happened. It's on the way to making $100 million plus. Oh well, I guess there's no way to predict a phenomenon.

By the way, for me, Paranormal Activity, yes, Blair Witch, no.

Better Watch What You Think

President Obama has signed the latest thought crimes bill. The law was attached to a defense authorization bill to help get it passed--a cowardly tactic, but what do you expect.

It does raise an interesting question. This bill extends hate crimes to include bad thoughts dealing with gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. So the question is, as long as the Congress wishes to punish people extra for their beliefs, should we make sure that they punish all bad thoughts that go against the civil rights agenda, or is it okay if they only single out selected hateful thoughts?

Jacob Sullum at Reason is all over it:

At best, it's a feel-good law that will accomplish nothing. At worst, it will undermine the division of powers between the states and the national government by federalizing a wide range of violent crimes, further erode the constitutional ban on double jeopardy by inviting serial prosecutions for the same offense, and impinge on freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion. The threat to First Amendment rights is twofold: 1) Like other hate crime statutes, the law imposes extra punishment based on defendants' beliefs, and 2) it could be used as an excuse to investigate and/or prosecute people for aiding and abetting hate crimes through provocative speech.

Imitating Art/Peeing On Art

In a recent Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry gets in trouble for taking too many napkins with takeout food. They give you two napkins and that's enough.

There's a chicken place up the street. I used to take napkins--beyond what they gave me--because I believed I needed them. Once the cashier commented on it and I stopped going there.

(Larry steals the napkins and the cops go after him. But I can believe at least the original problem is based on his real life.)

Meanwhile, the latest episode of CYE has caused a ruckus. The plot has Larry taking a new drug that improves his urine flow so much that it splashes all over. He pees in someone's bathroom and leaves a drop of urine on a nearby Jesus painting, making people believe a miracle has occurred.

The Anchoress feels this is insulting, and asks if Larry David would ever do the same thing to Obama. This sounds like an autopilot complaint, since, if she'd ever watched the show (she admits she hasn't) she'd know that much of humor of Curb Your Enthusiasm is about Larry David crossing the line and ignoring social norms. Furthermore, it's generally Larry who's the butt of the joke. He's embarrassed by the whole incident and at the end of this episode is found out.

David is certainly a liberal, and he has no trouble mocking conservatives, but what he's mostly interested in is getting laughs. For example, when he refuses to sleep with a beautiful woman because she likes George Bush, the joke is more about him than her.

Being on HBO, David is allowed to be as outrageous as he wants, and religion has been a target (more often Judaism than Christianity--he's also had some bits about Muslims) along with many other things. Earlier this season, he told a gay couple that one of them was clearly gay while he wouldn't have guessed the other was. He saw an Asian baby and asked the parents if they thought she'd take to chopsticks faster than a Western kid would. He dated a woman in a wheelchair because it allowed him to park anywhere he wanted. It's hard to claim he's going out of his way to attack religion, or Christians.

PS Here's a comment The Anchoress received:

I had a priest once explain in a sermon that while Senfeld was “funny” it was at the expense of the characters and audience and therefore, it humor was cruel and actually unfunny if thought about on it’s own (i.e. the Soup Nazi is funny but it funny at the expense of those who must deal with this person). The Senfeld characters were vapid and thoughtless even with each other.

On the other hand, the priest pointed out, Home Improvement (which was showing during the same time Senfeld was) was humor which although self deprecating, was encouraging, en aging moments in a family as the grew closer to each other and people they met. He said he stopped watching Senfeld and started watching Home Improvement.


A lot of people jumped on this "Seinfeld is vapid" bandwagon. I thought it was not only undeserved, but irrelevant. The show combined minute observations on real life with fairly absurd plots. It also avoided the cheap sentiment and easy lessons of other sitcoms, which alone made it a refreshing change, but above all was funny. To start watching something you find less entertaining because you approve of the message seems bizarre to me.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Back

I'm back from vacation. Not yet at full strength, though, as I've got a lot of things I've got to catch up on. There are also high winds in Hollywood right now, and electricity's been knocked out twice already, so who even knows if I'll be able to publish this in time. (I guess you'll know when you read it.)

I was in the Midwest, my old stomping ground (some prefer stamping ground--sort of like the chomping/champing at the bit distinction). I discovered a number of my friends were unhappy with how harshly President Obama is being criticized. Fascinating.

Deep Pockets

Nancy Pelosi says the "public option" in health care should go by another name, such as "competitive option," because, according to the AP, she "says the term has been misrepresented and creates the impression that taxpayers will foot the bill for health care."

Clearly there's been a misunderstanding on my part. I now support the public option since apparently it'll be paid for out of the politicians' own pockets.

Vic, Milt And Lou

While I was gone, three giants of the entertainment industry died. (These things always happen in threes.)

There was Vic Mizzy, great composer of the themes to The Addams Family and Green Acres. As long as people snap their fingers and raise their pitchforks, his music will live on.



Then there's Soupy Sales, Detroit and later national kids show host who threw a lot of pies and entertained a lot of adults. He was of the anything-for-a-laugh school, which is okay in my book.



Finally, Lou Jacobi, star of stage and screen, best known for his comedy (often as a crotchety old man) but who was also capable of serious drama. His distinctive voice also served him well on Jewish comedy albums of the 60s. Here's an interesting bit of trivia--he starred in the first Broadway play of both Neil Simon and Woody Allen.

One of the odder parts he played was the orotund bartender in Irma La Douce, Billy Wilder's biggest hit. He has a lot of the best lines, including the curtain, as his part was originally intended for Charles Laughton, who died before production started.

Identify Yourself

The latest Gallup Poll shows an uptick in self-identified conservatives and a drop in self-identified liberals. At present, 40% say they're conservative, 36% say they're moderate and 20% say they're liberal.

This may mean something in the short run (including the elections coming soon), but what's most impressive is how little movement there's been over the years. Starting in 1992, "conservative" has bounced around from 36% to 40%, moderate from 43% to 36% and liberal from 16 to 22%.

If there's been any trend over the years, I'd say there's a slight movement toward polarization in the last 8 years, as moderates have dropped and conservative and liberals have risen. (The Cato people say libertarians are on the rise.)

Pundits sometimes make too much of these numbers. The percentage of conservatives is consistently close to double that of liberals. But many "conservatives" vote Democrat. Furthermore, what is a conservative? I suppose a while ago most conservatives opposed gay civil unions, now I believe most support them. Maybe in a few decades conservatives will support gay marriage.

The numbers still matter, since the country is so close in red versus blue that even a slight uptick can make a difference. But I'd still say the main story is about how stable the electorate is.

(By the way, Rassmussen, which polls likely voters, say the public trusts Repubs more than Dems on the top ten issues. This is significant--especially the trend, since you can't always be sure of the absolute numbers--but it'd be a lot more significant if this were 2010, since these numbers can be volatile.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

He's Gone, Chief

I've criticized Dave Letterman for phoning it in lately. Looking back, I think the turning point came a while ago, when, for whatever reason, he stopped doing remotes. Anyone who starting tuning in a few years ago might wonder what the big deal is, but there was a time when he and his show really delivered. Here are a couple examples from his early days at CBS:



Monday, October 26, 2009

Delightful

Robert Sherwood's Idiot's Delight was highly regarded when it opened on Broadway in 1936, starring Lunt and Fontanne. It even won the Pulitzer Prize. Like all of Sherwood (who won three Pulitzers), it's not so highly regarded today.

It was adapted into a forgettable 1939 movie starring Clark Gable and Norma Shearer. But, watching it recently, there is one memorable thing. Gable plays a song and dance man, and we get to see him perform "Puttin' On The Ritz." How is he? Let's say he's closer to Peter Boyle than Fred Astaire.



Gable actually rehearsed a lot to get this bad. Also of interest, this being the 30s, is he's still using the original, racially-tinged lyric.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Too Big

A lot of ponderous Westerns came out of Hollywood in the 50s, and The Big Country (1958) is one of them. Hollywood has always liked bigness, never more so than in the TV-threatened 50s, so The Big Country must have seemed a natural. It's got a big star--Gregory Peck--a big director--William Wyler--and even big men in support, like Charlton Heston and Chuck Connors. Some have called the film a classic, but I don't see it. Neither Wyler nor Peck, who produced it together (and fought during the whole shoot) were satisfied.

Wyler worked slow, and sometimes that shows in the finished product. He's going for grandeur, but what he gets mostly is a sense of elongation. The film is close to 3 hours, and if you cut all the pauses and meaningful glances, it'd probably be 100 minutes.

The plot is essentially a feud between two men, with Gregory Peck, who's marrying the daughter of one of them, thrown in the middle. (It's supposed to be a comment on the Cold War, but it's best to ignore this sort of stuff.) Peck plays the hero, but I don't think he's ever portrayed the perfect liberal so clearly, not even in To Kill A Mockingbird. His character is impossibly, insufferably, good. Quiet, unassuming, with a sense of humor about himself, he's also very smart, very talented and always does the right thing. And he's so honorable, he never does what's right to impress others--in fact, because he's willing to look weak (even though we know he's strong), his girl (Carroll Baker) dumps him. When she wants him back, it's too late--he goes to Jean Simmons, the schoolmarm and only person in the film good enough for him. In fact, the film is little more than one scene after another where someone fails to measure up against Peck. Compare this to the conniving and imperfect if ultimately decent newsman Peck plays in his previous Wyler film, Roman Holiday.

Is the film hopeless? No. I can imagine coming out of a hot day into an air-conditioned theatre in 1958, enjoying the wide vistas on screen. It's called The Big Country and Wyler goes out of his way to show you lots of country, and it's big. There's also a nice score by Jerome Moross. Best of all, it's got a fine supporting job from Burl Ives (one of the main feuders) who won an Oscar for his work. But you can do better.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Some People Call Him Maurice

I was just thinking about Maurice Chevalier. He was a popular Parisian performer who, somewhat improbably, became one of the first big Hollywood stars of the talkie era.

He made a bunch of musicals in those days, the best of which were directed by Ernst Lubitsch. But the greatest songs he got to work with were in a Rouben Mamoulian film (done in the Lubitsch mode), Love Me Tonight. The score, by Rodgers and Hart, includes "Lover," "Mimi" (a signature number) and one of the top tunes in the Great America Songbook, "Isn't It Romantic?" Mamoulian gives it the staging it deserves, and manages to link the two lovers together before they meet:



Chevalier is probably best remembered for the work he did later in his career, especially in Gigi, but for my money, his top moment in cinema history relates to a film he's not even in:

Friday, October 23, 2009

Frankie And A Lot Of Others Go To Hollywood

One of my favorite Hollywood genres is the musical. Even second-class musicals from the studio era have hidden delights. I was thinking that while watching Higher And Higher, a very minor 1943 RKO musical (the studio that made the Astaire-Rogers series) that no one would call a classic--actually, few would even call it good--yet has always fascinated me.

Why RKO even bought this property--a rare Rodgers and Hart flop--I'm not sure. Like many films of the time, they then proceeded to toss out almost all the original songs, including the classic "It Never Entered My Mind," and replace them with am undistinguished score. In those days, studios didn't want old hits that no one cared about, they wanted new hits with copyrights they owned. None of the new Jimmy McHugh songs became standards, though "I Saw You First" and "You're On Your Own" are kind of fun.

The film has a farcical plot that isn't worth having, but the cast is high-spirited and full of interesting actors and singers.

Out of his tin can, repeating his Broadway lead, is Jack Haley. His performance shows there's a reason he's the least popular character in Wizard Of Oz. The female lead, Michele Morgan of France, perhaps struggling with English, isn't much better. But the supporting case is full of intriguing characters.

First--and he's the reason they made the film--there's the young Frank Sinatra in his first credited role, playing a friendly next-door neighbor named Frank Sinatra.

Then there's a young Victor Borge in a rare (rare?--unique) Hollywood film appearance, fresh from Denmark, and quite funny.

There's a young Mary Wickes, as goony and gawky as always.

There's a young Paul Hartman, singing and dancing, years before he was fix-it man Emmett Clark of Mayberry.

There's Leon Errol, breaking away from all those two-reelers he made in the 30s.

There's sparkplug Marcy McGuire, swooning over Frankie.

There's Dooley Wilson, not long after Casablanca, still singing and pretending to play piano.

And there's a very young Mel Torme in his film debut.

I'm not promising much, but it's worth taking a look at.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Annette!

Happy Birthday, Annette Funicello. When people think of her at all, it's as a Mouseketeer and a beach movie starlet, but I've always thought her music was pretty good. The following isn't her best, but I like the photo montage.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pardon the Interruption

While our fearless leader is on vacation, if anyone is interested in some Halloween jollies, they can click on the link embedded in the title to view the Halloween thread from the Teahouse last October. It was a Thriller, if I do say so myself.

That is all, Breckenridge.

Body Of Evidence

There will be Lost spoilers going up to the last episode aired:

The season 4 Lost finale, where Locke is advised by Christian Shephard to move the donkey wheel, raised a lot of speculation because even though Locke had broken his leg, Christian said he couldn't give him a hand. So people guessed Christian was incorporeal.

But looking back, I think it's something else. First, we now believe that Christian, not to mention appearances by Alex and even Locke, and Smokey himself, were likely covers for Jacob's nemesis (we'll call him Esau).

Both Jacob and Esau seem to manipulate people. It appears, in fact, that, for whatever reason, Jacob brings people to the island. And Esau tells Jacob that he had to go to a lot of trouble to find the loophole that allows Ben to kill Jacob, and we see a lot of the maneuvering he's done to get us to that point.

But there's no question Jacob supports free will, as he makes it clear to both Hurley and Ben that they have a choice in what they do. Meanwhile, Esau wants to kill Jacob but apparently can't do it directly. So maybe the same "rules" apply to Esau--that he must allow free will. He can prod and strongly suggest people do what he wants, but he's got to allow them to make a choice. So these characters he plays do have physical dimensions (Smokey sure seems to, and Alex slams Ben against a wall), but Christian is simply not allowed to physically help Locke--Locke's got to do it himself or it doesn't count. Just as Esau (as Locke) could go into the sanctum sanctorum, but couldn't himself do the killing of Jacob.

Also, it seems very possible when he appears as these others that he retains some of the qualities of these characters. Locke had no doubt changed, but he still would say things that sounded more like Locke than Esau. And Esau and Christian shouted at Locke "say hello to my son" before he left. It was possible that was Esau ensuring that Jack would believe Locke, but it seemed more like an afterthought that the real Christian Shephard would add.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

SRO For JO

Today is Jerry Orbach's birthday. Hard to believe he's gone. Though best known in later years as Detective Lennie Briscoe on Law & Order, he was a great musical star on stage, originating leads in The Fantasticks, Carnival!, Promises, Promises, Chicago and 42nd Street. If he'd lived in an era when Hollywood made a lot of musicals, I wonder if he'd have become a star that way?







Monday, October 19, 2009

First In War, First In Peace . . .

One of the reasons I know that baseball is better than all other sports to be a fan of is because any team in the majors could inspire an equally moving, and equally true (for the writer) story of the greatest playoff series ever. Except for Texas Rangers fans. The Rangers -- and their predecessors, the faux-Senators -- just plain suck.

A Grain Of Salt

I recently noticed, though I had pepper in my cupboard, there was no salt. Now I don't use salt much--in fact, just about never. But I figured since I could buy all the salt I'd need over the next decade for under a buck, I might as well spring for it.

So I got a 26 ounce cannister of Morton Salt. For the first time, I noticed their guarantee: "Morton Promise: This salt meets our exacting standards for uncompromised purity."

I recognize Morton is the first name in salt, but what sort of a promise is this? The salt meets their standards? I don't doubt it. I'd rather have them meet my standards.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Vacation

I'll be out for a week or so, but I have pre-planned a post a day while I'm gone. And perhaps the other Guys will jump in. So stick around, faithful reader.

Meanwhile, please enjoy what you've been waiting for--Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse" performed on harmonica. This is years before the tune became famous through repeated use in Warner Brothers' cartoons.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Including Bach

Because it's not on my iPod, lately I've been playing a lot of vinyl. It feels so retro. No matter what I music I put on, I feel like I'm in the 1980s.

Less Is More

I was in the local Trader Joe's and saw this sign at the checkout--"12 items or fewer."

I recognize this is correct usage, but so is saying "It's I." I prefer "12 items or less."

Love Hate Relationship

I met Peter Bagge a few years ago. The libertarian world is small enough that sooner or later we all meet each other. But I'd been a fan of his work for years. His observational stuff, especially Buddy Bradley, is as good as Harvey Pekar's, while keeping one foot in the wilder world of "comic" comic books, especially with his delightful graphic style.

So I guess it's good news to see his comic, The Bradleys, will be an animated series. There have been other adaptations of stuff I liked that didn't work out so well, but with Bagge behind it, I hope he can translate his quirky sense of humor to the small screen.

Forehead On The Floor

Heard an amusing mix-up yesterday on the radio. Some guy said "they made him cow down."

Sorry, either it's bow down or kowtow.

Off To A Good Start

I'm not loving Family Guy spinoff The Cleveland Show, but I enjoy the 70s-style theme song.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Partial Monty

IFC is airing a six-hour special on Monty Python. To promote it, and related items, the surviving members of the troupe have been appearing on American television (shot in New York) in various permutations. Unfortunately, these interviews, with people like Jimmy Fallon and Regis Philbin, have bordered on the simplistic.

Here you've got a rare chance to ask the original troupe members anything you want, but we get questions like "How did you get your name?" The story is well-documented, and the group has been answering it for decades. This isn't just another interview, this is a meeting with five of the most briliant comic minds of the past 50 years. We can do better.

Oh Brother

Desmond, played by Henry Ian Cusick, is one of the most popular characters on Lost. He appears at the beginning of season 2 and could have easily disappeared after a few episodes, but came back and was at the center of some of the most touching moments the show has known.

I recently saw him as Charles Darwin in Nova's "Darwin's Darkest Hour." A few years back he played Jesus. He must be the only actor to play both roles.

When you think about it, in some ways, Desmond combines the two.

Community Cut

Watching the latest Community (the only new sitcom I regularly watch right now--maybe it's the old NBC Thursday night habit) with the closed captioning on, I noticed a line written on screen that wasn't spoken at all. I'm guessing it was cut in editing, but the CC was left alone.

Anyway, the scene had two students pretending to be aliens in front of a third. And the line? "We will stick things in his butt."

Speaking Out

Interesting piece in The New York Times about deaf advocates protesting a play where a non-deaf actor is playing a deaf role. It's Rebecca Gilman's adaptation of The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, which prominently features a deaf character. In fact, John Singer, the deaf man, is one of the most notable deaf characters in all literature. (Have I broken the record for using "deaf" the most times in one paragraph?)

Gilman decided to give the character some speeches. The production auditioned some deaf people before going in the direction they've chosen. Life is obviously tough for deaf actors, but productions should do what they consider artistically correct, not politically correct.

A movie version of the novel starring Alan Arkin as Singer came out in 1968. He was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. I wonder if this new adaptation is turned into a movie what direction they'll go?

Films Like Them

I recently watched Spies Like Us on TV. (And soon after Family Guy parodied it--didn't see that coming.) It's a minor hit from the 80s, directed by John Landis, teaming up Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd. It's got its moment, but is hardly worth delving into.

It made me wonder just how many comedies have SNL alumni put out? The number must be in the hundreds. Few are classics, but a fair number of them at least offer some laughs. Somebody should have a one or two week festival of nothing but these films, 24 hours a day--buy a general ticket and you can come and go whenever you please. For good measure, toss in the SCTV crew as well. It'd be fun.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Capt'n Lou

Lou Albano, famed wrestling manager, music video svengali, part time actor and apparently cartoon voice has passed away. While I enjoyed his forays into early music videos with Cyndi Lauper and with the wrestling spectacles that became big business in the 80s, I remember his earlier work.

As a youth on Saturday afternoons in the 70s in Pittsburgh, I used watch something called "Studio Wrestling" which was like the current WWE in attitude but had less in the way of money so it was mainlygymnastic jumps and kicks and boots in the face/groin, interviews, and the occasional folding chair and "foreign object." I thought it was a local Pittsburgh production - hosted by Bill Cardille (Chilly Billy from WIIC's Chiller Theater and bit part in the original "Night of the Living Dead") with commercial pitches for sponsor American Lumber from former Pgh Pirate and Hall of Famer Pie Traynor ("Who can? Ameri-Can!"). I thought Lou was Pittsburgher (he'd of fit in on my street) but he wasn't.

Captain Lou was mainly a manager of bad guys who, in the way of wrestling, would often wade into the festivities himself. He went out of his way to get the audience and even for wrestling was over the top and went for being dirty and gross. I recall he managed a tag-team of barely human hill people called "the Moondogs"-The shtick was that he treated them like animals- when they did something good in the ring, he's let them lick a big turkey leg or something- very gross. Another time Lou was in a neck brace and a cast on his arm and looked poorly, no doubt from the previous week's activities and in the middle of either a match or an interview, Lazarus-like he flung off his bandages and began beating on his opponent with his now-removed arm cast. I had just had my own cast off for a broken arm and knew how grimy and smelly an old cast could be and Lou's looked like that even on a 13 inch Black and White TV. That and the gum bands (Pgh for rubber band) in his straggly beard. Eww.

Projection

Frederic Raphael is known as a screenwriter with a tart tongue. Fine with me--screenwriters should speak out more often.

In the latest Commentary, he issues his proclamation on Inglourious Basterds, essentially calling it a pretentious crapfest. I found this funny, because that's what I'd call most of the stuff Raphael has worked on.

Stray Thoughts

Why do people say "you're growing a beard"? All beard-growing requires is you do nothing. Not growing a beard requires action.

Shouldn't they say "I see you're not growing a beard"?

Whose Option?

Republican Olympia Snowe voted for the Senate Finance Committee health care bill (to get it out of committee). She still claims she's against a public option, but could support a "trigger":

"I think the government would have a disproportionate advantage" in the event of a government-run option, Snowe acknowledged. At the same time, she added, "I want to make sure the insurance industry performs, and that's why we eliminate many egregious practices."

If the industry didn't follow through on congressionally-mandated changes aimed at making health care more affordable, she said, "then you could have the public option kick in immediately."


I don't know if she doesn't get it or just thinks we're stupid. A trigger is the public option. Once the government can determine whether the free market is working or not, then you don't have a free market. Everything will have to be cut along government lines, so it's the government, not the public, that has the option. Either they can require insurers provide exactly what they'd have the government do if there were no free market, or they can decide to force the private insurers out of business with increasingly impossible demands that drive everyone into government plans. Their call.

(Harry Reid just said that one of the reasons for health care reform is to cut down on excessive profits. You know, a lot of things I buy cost a lot--maybe the government should step in elsewhere and make sure the companies who sell me stuff don't make too much money.)

Theatre Shock

I remember the first time I saw True Romance. It's set in Detroit, but in one of the earliest scenes, Christian Slater attends a movie at the Vista, a well-known LA theatre. I was confused. (Especially with other scenes clearly shot in Detroit.)

Recently, I was watching Foul Play, which I hadn't seen in years. It's set in San Francisco, and makes a big deal about its location. But early on, Goldie Hawn has a date with a guy at the Nuart, another famous LA cinema.

I suppose it doesn't matter to most of the country, but when films try to pass off famous LA cinemas as being somewhere else, it really takes me out of the movie.

Where There's A Will

The first major Broadway revival of Bye Bye Birdie since the original in 1960 opens today. Back then, the stars were Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera. Also featured were Dick Gautier, Paul Lynde, Michael J. Pollard, Susan Watson and Kay Medford.

The revival stars John Stamos and Gina Gershon, along with Bill Irwin in the Lynde role. But the name that really caught my eye was Will Jordan as the voice of Ed Sullivan. Jordan probably does the most famous impression of Sullivan, but he's been doing it since before the first Bye Bye Birdie. In fact, he did the voice in the original. Is this just an old recording, or did he create it afresh?

PS The new production has been slammed by the critics. Looks like it won't be around for long.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fitting

Looking at the weekend grosses, I see way down at #98 No Impact Man, in its 5th week, has grossed a grand total of $77,808.

Good title.

Hot Stuff

I knew (not too well) Richard Wrangham when I was at the University of Michigan. He had a lot of great stories about studying baboons and chimps and so on. (Great ape stories.)

Now I see he has a book out, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. Looks interesting. When our ancestors started eating meat, that was a big change. Now Wrangham claims learning how to cook was a big deal, too. When we don't have chew so hard, we can use our head for other things, like thinking.

What surprises me most is that cooking is so ancient--it started 1.8 million years ago, according to Wrangham. Even if it's half that, it still surprises me.

Plum Pudding


Today is the birthday of one of the 20th century's greatest humorists, not to mention prose stylists, Pelham Grenville Wodehouse--known as "Plum" to friends. P.G. Wodehouse wrote hundreds of short stories and novels about an England peopled with upper class eccentrics (and middle and lower class eccentrics) that no longer existed, and probably never did. Nevertheless, so funny and charming are his creations that they feel like friends.

He wrote about golf, Psmith, Blandings Castle, Mr. Mulliner, The Drones Club and many other subjects, but is best known--deservedly--for the creation of Bertie Wooster and valet Jeeves. Bertie, an independently wealthy bachelor whose closest relations are aunts, is the well-intentioned but not too swift gent who narrates the stories. Luckily for him, Jeeves is always ready to shimmer in and save the day, using his wide knowledge and understanding of psychology, but not before Bertie is put through an awful lot.

The first Bertie and Jeeves short story appeared in 1915, and Wodehouse wrote over 25 more during the next fifteen years. Then for the next 40 years or so (Wodehouse lived a long life) B and J appeared mostly in novels.

Much of the humor is in how Bertie expresses himself. He's not always in on the joke, but he tries his best. Then there are the special scenes where Jeeves appears, and with quiet understatement takes his master in hand. Holding it all together are the farcical plots, at which Wodehouse is unsurpassed. The short stories are often tales of love and embarrassment, while the novels have chapters that end with a cliffhanger (which make it hard to stop reading), and keep the various storylines spinning, eventually so intertwined that resolution seems hopeless.

You can jump in any place, but I'd suggest you read Bertie and Jeeves chronologically so you can see how the characters develop. If you want a little dip to see if you like it, pick any of the short story collections. But the best Bertie and Jeeves are probably the novels. They're all fine (though avoid Ring For Jeeves, which doesn't use Bertie), but my favorite is Code Of The Woosters, followed by Joy In The Morning (also known as Jeeves In The Morning).

There have been a number of dramatic adaptations of Wodehouse, but none I've seen have been able to capture the delight of his books. Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry did a notable turn as the duo in the early 90s, but really, it's not the same thing. Still, I'm embedding this video because I've always liked "By Jingo":

You Don't Write LAUGHTER At The End

Here's a short scene from Seinfeld if it were on today. It's composed by Frank Ferri, and it's all about tweeting.

Fascinating to read something with the rhythm and feel of Seinfeld but not the jokes.

I Really Should Have A Better Title Than "Rush To Judgment"

So Rush Limbaugh is looking into buying the St. Louis Rams. You'd think people would figure if he wants to take them off someone's hands, let him. But there's some major league opposition.

Al Sharpton for one, who criticizes Limbaugh for making "divisive" statements......I'm biting my tongue right now.

Worse, you got Colts owner Jim Irsay (who listens to hearsay?): "I, myself, couldn't even consider voting for him. When there are comments that have been made that are inappropriate, incendiary and insensitive ... our words do damage, and it's something that we don't need."

Worst of all, there's NFL Commissioner Roger Goodel. His argument: "I've said many times before we're all held to a high standard here, and I think divisive comments are not what the NFL is all about."

1) I guess it's no shock that blacklisting is alive and well. I'm just a bit surprised they're so open about it.

2) I wasn't aware that owners--or anyone associated with the NFL--were held to a high standard in anything except playing football.

3) I suppose the NFL, being privately owned, can discriminate against people on the basis of their politics. But so can the fans, and I wonder if this intolerance won't hurt them.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Another Argument For Good Posture

Saw a woman on TV I felt I'd seen before. She was "Ann Ryerson" in the credits, so I checked her IMDb page. I then clicked on her bio page and discovered this information:

Height
5' 11½" (1.82 m)

Trivia
Stands over 6 feet tall.


Very talented if she can pull that off.

On The Side Of The Right

We get this in Entertainment Weekly's review of the latest Mad Men:

...Connie sighs about how hard and lonesome it can be on the side of right. ''It is my purpose in life to bring America to the world, whether they like it or not,'' he said. (My golly did American foreign policy take a beating this episode.) Connie is God-sponsored arrogance personified.

Connie is Conard Hilton, and he's talking about spreading his hotels around the world. It's a little facile to see this simply a slap at American foreign policy. Sure, plenty say today--as they said then--that Americans are too arrogant, and should be more humble in dealing with other cultures. But everyone believes they know what's best. Is that arrogance? In fact, the enemies we fight overseas are far more sure that they're right, and that it's a good idea to spread their philosophy through any means necessary. The question isn't merely about arrogance, it's about what do you do when you've got power--that's the real test.

There was a time not that long ago when the West, and especially America, believed in itself and its ideas. It was a time of muscular liberalism. It was a time when there was an evangelical zeal to see Western ideas spread. Now the West is more self-doubting. Maybe this is a good thing, but it's not like we've dropped our arrogance-we're just arrogant about different things. Now we're arrogant, for example, about our "wisdom" regarding multiculturalism, even though the others cultures we're talking don't necessarily believe in multiculturalism themselves.

Those who opposed sending troops overseas have no trouble trying to force their ideas on an unwilling public. But when they do it, it's not arrogance, it's just fighting for what's right. Look at Gavin Newsom's famous statement.



He's using almost exactly the same words as Connie. It might have been bad strategy to be so open about it, but supporters of gay marriage believe they are the future, and have no trouble trying to spread that message. And note this willingness to force their morality on others isn't simply a domestic thing--there are plenty who favor universal jurisdiction and international criminal courts to protect and enfore their beliefs.

Oh, but war is different? Well, the comment about Mad Men was regarding a guy opening hotels. This is less intrusive than insisting other cultures drop their opposition to homosexuality, but somehow I can't see Entertainment Weekly stating "Conrad Hilton is arrogant, just like anyone who want to stop homosexuality from being illegal in other countries."

Paranormal Activity Supernatural Box Office

Over the three-day weekend, Paranormal Activity made almost $8 million. Pretty good for a no-budget, no-name surveillance tape of a movie. But when you consider it showed in only 160 theatres, making almost $50,000 per, we're talking Blair Witch numbers.

That's the trouble, though. I haven't seen it, but is the idea of the film more important than the film itself? Blair Witch didn't scare me so much as give me a headache. Is Paranormal Activity just another viral video, but this time I'm expected to fork over 10 bucks for the privilege of viewing it?

On The Balance

At Big Hollywood, "Stage Right" wonders how David Mamet's plays will be received now that he's said he's no longer a liberal.

This week, the Mark Taper Forum’s revival of the aforementioned “Oleanna” will open on Broadway. ”Oleanna” was universally hailed when presented in the wake of the Clarence Thomas hearings. Many of the critics praised Mamet for being so even-handed in its presentation that it was hard for people to really know if the accused man was truly guilty of sexual harassment. Now that Mamet has “outed” himself, will they still see “Oleanna” and Mamet as “even-handed?”

Really? I didn't read what the critics said, but for me, the play's greatest problem has always been that it's so unbalanced.

PS Oleanna just opened and The New York Times beats it over the head with the 1992 production.

PPS "Stage Right" returns and claims he called it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Declinism

Francis Ford Coppola says "The cinema as we know it is falling apart."

He thinks the studios are in trouble. He goes on: "Cinema is losing the public’s interest because there is so much it has to compete with to get people’s time.”

Perhaps he's right. But it's funny, I was recently watching a clip from Dick Cavett's old late night show. It's the early 70s, when Coppola is making The Godfather, and Cavett was talking to Robert Altman, Peter Bogdanovich, Mel Brooks and Frank Capra (now there's a lineup) and they seemed to be moaning about how things were falling apart.

Of course, that was nothing compared to the late 40s. The Supreme Court broke up the vertical integration of the studios and that was the end of the studio system, and at the same time television was about the cut their profits in half.

Or the Depression, when most of the studios were losing money, and some had to go into receivership.

Maybe Coppola is right this time, but times are always tough in the movie biz.

Pretty As A Picture

I was in Beverly Hills the other day and I ran across the Montage Hotel. It opened less than a year ago.

It's beautiful, but I don't know about that name. Sounds like a very unsettling place.

You Know

Titanic came out in 1997. It was a smash, grossing more money than any other film and winning the Best Picture Oscar. It dazzled a lot of people, but, somehow, years later, people felt they'd been had. It wasn't that good. Heck, it wasn't good at all.

This was a backlash I agreed with. But I sense a new one in which I don't wish to participate.

Juno seemed like the small film that could when it came out in 2007. It was a small-budget item with no big names that grossed over $200 million worldwide. If it had made one-tenth as much it would have been considered a success. It was also nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

But ever since that first flush of success, it seems all I've heard from various sources is the film isn't that good, not to mention it makes light of teen pregnancy.

You have to recall when this was an independent film knocking about at festivals, audiences naturally took to it. Critics loved it too. When it went into wide release in America, and the world, without a huge promotional budget, and nothing to sell but a charming story, it became a true word-of-mouth hit.

Now maybe everyone was wrong. Maybe they needed a second look to truly understand. But I can't help but think as long as it was an underdog, people took it to their heart. When it became a smash, some were turned off.

I think the film still works. It's far from perfect. Not that deep, and a little glib, maybe. But that's part of it's charm--it takes on a serious subject, but doesn't get bogged down. If the complaint is it's merely entertaining on it's surface, I'd say there's something going on underneath, while most film fail at the mere entertainment level.

Juno took off, but it earned its wings.

Everywhere A Sign

I was recently in a local restaurant that had a mural on the wall showing all different types eating together. Underneath, it read "All are welcome here."

Right next to that there was post "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone."

Not So Hot

There's a commerical out for Tabasco, with the slogan "So much more than hot." Not a bad line, but the presentation!

We see a slice of pizza, and human faces pop up on the four pieces of pepperoni. They proceed to sing the Tabasco song in barbershop harmony. Repulsive.



I now associate Tabasco with nightmares.

Wait A Minute

I have a friend who started a blog about a year ago and I've been meaning to recommend it. It's called The Freedom Minute.

His approach is unapologetically libertarian, but he also tries to be thoughtful and even-handed. Right now he's doing a series on health care reform which is worth looking at.

He's got this intriguing feature at the bottom of each post where you can click on an icon and share the piece with some other major website. I'd install something like that except I have no idea how it's done.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tell Me You're Joking

According to The New York Times, Chief Justice Ronald George of the California Supreme Court believes our state is "dysfunctional." So far, I agree. He says our overuse of the referenda process makes it impossible for elected officials to properly run things. I wouldn't go that far, but at least he has an arguable point. Finally, we get this from George:

California’s lawmakers, and the state itself, have been placed in a fiscal straitjacket by a steep two-thirds-vote requirement — imposed at the ballot box — for raising taxes.

We have a lot of problems in this state, but one of them isn't being undertaxed.

Great, now I have no faith in our court system either.

That's About It

The offense had some problems, but scored enough to win. Once again, it's the defense that lost the game for the Wolverines, 30-28. Iowa's a decent team, but beatable.

The season's essentially over. No chance to be rated. Not much hope of a bowl game.

Heal, Boy

Much is made of the island's healing power on Lost. But when you think about it, there's a whole lot of healing happening off the Island.

Both Claire and Kate's mom were in the hospital, good as dead. And both survived long enough to see the castaways when they returned. Jack's wife came into the hospital looking permanently injured, and she had a full recovery.

Is this long-range island healing? Is it due to Jacob (who certainly helped Locke off-island)? I'm guessing it's healing due to plot convenience. These characters were needed, so they made it. Shannon's dad wasn't so necessary, so he bought it before we even got to know him.

Endurance Test

Back in the days when cassette tapes were a viable format, I made a ton of mixed tapes. They were 90 minutes long and averaged over 30 songs each. If my math is right, that means the average cut on these tapes was under 3 minutes. (On some selections I faded out early and sometimes I even sped up sonngs--easy to do with some turntables.)

There was a reason. With rare exceptions, if a song hasn't said what it needs to say in 3 minutes, it's not gonna get any better. When it comes to mixed tapes, brevity is the soul of music. I'd rather hit rewind than fast forward.

In this view, the move in rock from the single to the album being the essential unit was a bad trend. Artists got self-indulgent, using the greater length available to them not to do anything better, but to slow down, stretch beyond their talent, repeat themselves and intersperse mind-numbing solos.

After this long-winded intro (another problem on lengthy cuts) to my link, I'll admit it's not impossible for a ten-minute pop or rock song to be good. It's just unusual.

The A.V. Club has an interesting list of 10+ minute songs. I don't agree with all the cuts, and a few I'm not familiar with, but they've got some of my favorites, including three in their top five:"Cowgirl In The Sand," "Marquee Moon" and "Sister Ray." On the other hand, "Desolation Row" shouldn't be there. Dylan had plenty of great long songs, but not this one.

Claim To Fame

In a discussion of Pixar films at The House Next Door, we get the statement that Wall-E is "easily the most acclaimed Pixar film."

I don't think you're allowed to say this with no proof. Wall-E is highly respected, no doubt, but more than Toy Story (1 and 2), The Incredibles, Finding Nemo and Up?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Let's Not Even Get Into I Robot

In Surrogates, James Cromwell creates a new age when he invents machines that humans can live through vicariously. One question--was this before or after he invented warp drive?

Man With A Plan

Hey, it's Ed Wood's birthday. He's mocked as the worst film director ever, but he created memorable--nay, deathless--images and dialogue. How many people can claim that?

This collection of lines from Plan 9 From Outer Space might give you the impression they've selected highlights, when in fact any five minutes from the film would have the same effect:



Plan 9 is his most famous effort, but Glen Or Glenda might be his true masterpiece:



Wood is also unusual in that he not only made films, he inspired one--a fine one:



PS By all accounts, Lugosi was nothing like this. But Martin Landau is great, and deserved his Oscar.

Not Easy To Succeed

There may be a Broadway revival of one of my favorite musicals, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

But three things:

1) There was a revival in the 90s starring Matthew Broderick. Shouldn't they wait at least another decade?

2) As much as I love the show, the sexual politics are dated. That means either playing it as originally written and putting off some of the audience, or rewriting it and reimagining it, which will almost certainly weaken it.

3) Putative star Daniel Radcliffe just doesn't seem right for the part. Maybe because I think of the earnest Harry Potter when I see him, while the part of J. Pierpont Finch requires, in essence, a con man.

Cherrry Cherry

What's the most popular Ben & Jerry's flavor? Turns out it's Cherry Garcia. I'm surprised. I would have guessed something like Chunky Monkey.

TM's Trademark Sound

Happy B'day, Thelonious Monk. Since it's 'round about midnight, what else could I choose?:

Friday, October 09, 2009

You Had Me At Hello

There's not much point in criticizing the Nobel committee for giving Barack Obama the Peace Prize, since the damage they inflicted upon themselves is self-evident.

The general reaction has been incredulity and derision. No matter what you think of Obama, he simply hasn't done enough to deserve the Prize. I'll give him credit for his acceptance, which was properly humble.

I don't think it will hurt him too much (and may help if he ever decides to run for President of Europe). But the Nobel committee's politicization of the process has done the impossible--they've made the Peace Prize a bigger joke than the Grammys.

The title of this post comes from Jerry Maguire, but I thought of it after someone sent me another quote from the movie that actually fits better (and no, it's not "You complete me"):

Dorothy: I love him! I love him for the man he wants to be. And I love him for the man he almost is.

Oh Lord

In The New Yorker, Nancy Franklin gives a thumbs down to Jay Leno. Fine, but along the way, we get this:

...Leno can’t be criticized for the almost nightly mention of Kanye West his first week. Plus, it was a way to remind viewers (not that we had forgotten) that West happened to have appeared on Leno’s first night—right after he had upstaged Taylor Swift at an awards show. But you still have to get the jokes right. A few days later, Leno said that West was doing an album with Taylor Swift called “Ebony and Apology.” Shouldn’t it have been “Apology and Ivory”?

Sorry, Nancy, but Jay got the joke right. It's not a great joke, but that's how it's done. At the risk of making it less funny by explaining, here goes.

I recognize that Swift is the "ivory" of the pair, but "Apology and Ivory" will likely confuse the audience. "Ebony and..." sets off the recognition, while "Apology and..." means nothing, and may not be cleared up by "Ivory."

Furthermore, it's best to end with "Apology," which is the punchline. If you start with the punch, not only are you stepping on it by saying more, but, since recognition of the song title is necessary for the joke, you're attempting to retroactively make it the punchline, which, once again, leads to confusion.

Franklin may be right that Leno's show is failing, but I don't think her joke-writing skills will save it.

The Ox

It's John Entwistle's birthday. He left us far too soon.

More than any other great group I can think of, the four members of The Who each played an essential role. They may have been a quartet, but they were still a power trio, and the bass had to be extra active.

Here's a rare case where John is doing something that wasn't essential--singing. I saw this tour, but I don't think they did this number:

Nobel Tradition

Sigrid Undset, Grazia Deledda, Wladyslaw Reymont, Jacinto Benavente, Carl Spitteler, Henrik Pontoppidan, Verner von Heidenstam, Romain Rolland, Rabindranath Tagore, Gerhart Hauptmann, Paul Heyse, Selma Lagerlöf, Rudolf Eucken, Giosuè Carducci, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Frédéric Mistral, José Echegaray, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Theodor Mommsen, Sully Prudhomme.

That's a list of most of the Nobel Prize winners for literature in the first 30 years of the award. Then they got a bit better. Now they seem to be making the same weird choices again.

I admit I've never read anything by Herta Mueller, but the pick seems to be short-sighted and political (even though I agree with the politics). Here's what Horace Engdahl of the Nobel committee said last year: "The purpose of the prize is to make them famous, not to tap them when they are famous."

Nobel Prize winners shouldn't be famous because they won the Nobel Prize. That's got it backwards.

I think it's best to ignore the Nobels for literature, peace, and maybe economics.

Biting The Arbiters

Interesting discussion of the Times' review of Richard Dawkins' latest, The Greatest Show on Earth. (Haven't read the book yet. Dawkins usually does a good job, even if the subject of this book has been covered well in other recent tomes.) It's by PZ Myers at the fire-breathing Pharyngula.

I don't usually link to things without a discussion--Pajama Guy isn't that kind of a blog--but we had a recent discussion ourself that dealt with philosophy of science, and Myers deals with issues like what's a theory, what's a fact, and what philosophers of science have to say about it.

Unacceptable

Let me give you an example of what Heroes is like. In the latest episode, "Acceptance," Peter comes to Noah and asks him to help go on a search to hunt down some potential criminals. Noah says he's not interested, he's given up on that part of his life. This could be dramatic if we had a memory wipe from the week before, when Noah asked Peter to go on a search to hunt down the same criminals and Peter said he's not interested, he's given up on that part of his life.
Meanwhile, Tracy, who an episode ago wanted to kill everyone, now just wants to be normal and return to work--except at the end, where she's off on another tangent.

Hiro has a new plan--going back in time to change things--after having learned the big lesson in past seasons that he must not go back in time and change things. Oh yeah, he's also dying. You might think he'd try to deal with that somehow.

Nathan/Sylar had a whole plot about admitting to an old, hidden non-crime (Nathan is now an honest, moral guy--he changes back and forth on this), for which he was pointlessly killed, only to rise again, apparently as Sylar. Is this Sylar/Nathan, or Sylar/Sylar. I don't kow, and I'd just as soon see them both buried.

Being whipsawed like this is common on Heroes. Perhaps the stories would still be bad if the characters were consistent, but we'll never know.

The first two episodes of Heroes this season had some promise--they weren't great, but they showed the characters might still have some life in them. "Acceptance" showed us the producers don't know or don't care where they're going, so I'm not sure why they expect us to follow along.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Commutative Principle

I've never rooted for the Yankees before, but I'm hoping they'll swiftly dispatch the Twins. It's not because I hate the Twins. I just want to feel the Tigers would have been beaten anyway.

Light Reading

Saw a bumper sticker the other day: Voldemort Votes Republican. Perhaps, but doesn't he believe in a strong centralized government?

Also saw I'd Rather Be At A Hall & Oates Concert. To each his own, I guess.

Then I saw Socialism: It Works Great Until You Run Out Of Other People's Money. A rare sticker from the right.

I saw Kennedy/Johnson, which made me laugh.

Finally, there was My Dog Barks For Obama. If I hadn't seen this guy's other bumper stickers, I wouldn't have known that was a positive thing.

Don't Drink The Water

I saw something new yesterday in a public restroom, and I must say I approve. A dual-flush toilet. Up for liquid waste, down for solid. I assume it's a water-saving device. (On the other hand, I still have a lot of trouble with low flow toilets that back up a lot.)

Kaufman's Family

I've been looking at the Library Of America's collection of nine plays by the great collaborator, George S. Kaufman. I'm especially intrigued by the first available commercial version of Animal Crackers. It includes the Du Barry scene, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot (not that that mattered to the Marx Brothers) and thus is not in the film version. For some reason, though, the words of the song "We're Four Of The Three Musketeers" is not in the text, but has been reproduced in the notes.

The weakest work in the collection is the earliest, The Royal Family, by Kaufman and Edna Ferber. Yet it keeps getting revived. In fact, it opens tonight on Broadway. Star Tony Roberts' illness has not postponed the date, we're assured by The New York Times. He was pretty sick a few days ago:

The Sunday matinee preview performance was canceled about 15 minutes into the show after Mr. Roberts appeared onstage disoriented and speaking gibberish.

Too bad it's a revival. If it had been a new play, maybe no one would have noticed.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Supreme Court On The Hunt

Here's an interesting article in Slate by Dahlia Lithwick about the opening-day Supreme Court case on banning videos that have animal cruelty. Lithwick (if I'm reading her right) doesn't think the government has much of a case. Animal cruelty can be criminalized, but overbroad legislation preventing dissemination of otherwise protected speech is another matter.

I tend to agree. I don't know how the Court will vote, but there's a (thankfully) long history of cases that find statutes unconstitutional when they're passed by an overeager Congress hoping to ban yet another type of speech.

These pieces of legislation are usually popular. That's why Congress goes for the easy fixes. And that's why we have a Bill of Rights when they do. What it also means is if you want to fight for the First Amendment, you're going to see a lot of repulsive stuff. The popular stuff doesn't need protection.

Ups And Downs

The latest AP poll shows a solid rise in support for Obama over the last month from 50% to 56%. I could imagine a slight rise while nothing that great is happening, but this doesn't quite pass the smell test. Even fishier, his disapproval dropped from 49% to 39%. Even if these numbers are correct taking into account the margin of error, then I'd guess last month the error hurt him and this month the error helped him.

Just to compare, I checked Gallup's three-day tracking poll, and at 50%-43%, Obama was doing as bad as ever.

My point is not that any particular poll is right or wrong, but that you have to look at the whole picture: numerous polls, what those polls are actually measuring, and what the trends are over time. Unfortunately, too many people who have a point to make will seize on any single number that tells them what they want to hear.

They Got Us

Looked at objectively, it was the most exciting game of the year. But as a Tiger fan, their 6-5 loss wasn't just a disaster, but a symbol for the whole season.

It should have been a win--an easy win--but the Tigers choked over and over, and eventually handed it to the hard-playing Twins. I don't feel sorry for them. They had plenty of chances and didn't take advantage of them. Now they've got a long winter to think about it.

Bar None

I see Butterfinger is still using "Nobody's Gonna Lay a Finger on My Butterfinger."

I imagine it's possible to have a worse slogan than this. I just can't think of one.

P:Smith

If you really want to know what's going on, you read the New York Post. For instance, here's a fascinating piece on Kevin Smith, "Pot smoking 'saved' Kevin Smith":

The king of stoner moviemakers, Kevin Smith, never really smoked much marijuana until Seth Rogen talked him into it last summer, he says. Now he sparks up at least three times a day and credits pot for helping him to dig his way out of a creative slump.

A sensational opening paragraph. Too bad they undercut it in the second:

Smith told The Post's Don Kaplan, "I know you're supposed to tell kids not to do drugs, but, kids, do it! Do weed! Don't do the other stuff, but weed is good . . . What you want to do is what I did, build a movie empire and, at age 38, smoke it all away."

I guess the headline was irresistible. Weirder, we get this:

Smith rode a wave of popularity in the early 1990s with movies like "Clerks" and "Chasing Amy." He later stumbled with a string of bombs like "Jersey Girl," and weed-centric "The Adventures of Bluntman and Chronic."

I'm not saying I've seen every little film Smith has directed, but I swear I'd remember if he ever made a film call The Adventures Of Bluntman And Chronic.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Counterintuitive Marketing?

Based on looks, I guessed someone like Al Franken or Michael Moore wrote this book

But no its by Glenn Beck. I'm really not that familiar with him- just know he's one of the cable angries. What I am interested in is what went into the decision to picture him on the cover of his book in a Nazi-looking uniform with the word "Idiots" under his face. Clearly he thinks that others are the idiots (or socialists or nazis or something) but the picture tells a different story. I thought the folks from that side figured out with Ronald Reagan that pictures and symbols are more important than content (I think it was Deaver who said, he didn't care if the networks all harangued Reagan on the nightly news as long as they showed pictures of him looking presidential ).

Maybe its a sinister conspiracy of the other team in the publishing industry or an inside joke I don't get?

Enquring minds want to know.

Postscript: Apparently its a "Red Guard" uniform but I don't think any but the true believers will notice and even if they did, it doesn't seem to make it much of a better image.

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