Friday, April 30, 2010

At The Root Of It

As with my last post, this started out as a comment on this post and then grew beyond comment size.

If most Tea Party members feel their tax burden is fair, then why are they protesting? Could it be that they see the Health Care law as simply the vanguard in a series of new laws (cap and trade, for example) that will raise that burden to an unacceptable level?

Or could it be something else?

While I would agree with the notion that most people don't know where their tax money goes, I would take it a step further and say that most people don't care to know and it's not because they're ignorant or stupid. Most people have lives which do not revolve around politics or the government. In fact, one of the joys of being an American is that you can often go for extended periods without thinking about the government at all.

Government is a necessary component (if not necessary evil) in our lives and along with government comes the taxes required to support it. When you pay taxes, I think it's a given that some of that money is going to go for things you approve of and some of it isn't. For most of us, when it comes to accounting for just how the money is spent, that's where it stops.

Two reasons: first, as mentioned above, most people have busy lives and they don't involve the government. Second, the people who run our government have taken the relatively simple concept of self-rule and, over the last two hundred plus years, grown it into such a gargantuan Gordian Knot of laws, regulations and agencies that even Alexander would throw down his sword and say "Fuck it! Go ahead and keep your country." William Goldman may have said "Follow the money" but that only involved one branch of government and even that proved damned elusive.

In short, most people's response to government is "Look, I'll make you a deal. Don't take too much of my money and I promise not to look too hard at how you spend it." And, to get back to my original point, since most Tea Party members are not political in nature and seem to feel that their tax burden is reasonably fair, why are they protesting? That, I think, is one of the reasons why they're getting so much attention.

Time will tell what, if anything, the Tea Party will accomplish. At this point, the movement does not seem to have a clear goal (beyond the general idea of government being fiscally responsible and the repeal of Obamacare) and it certainly does not have a leader or figurehead for the political establishment to point at and discredit. I think that's part of the movement's effectiveness and also part of its charm. The Tea Party's Army of Davids approach to grass-roots politics gives it the flexibility to influence elections at the local and at the national level, the fruits of which we've already seen in Massachusetts.

Taxation may be their main vehicle of protest, but I believe the roots of the unrest go much deeper than just taxes. And the roots have a well established place in our history. It's certainly not far fetched to compare the Tea Party to the Committees of Correspondence formed by the colonists of the 1770's. Unfortunately, the parallels continue with the response from the current administration ("You would think they should be saying thank you" is the patronizing remark of a monarch, not an elective official). And while President Obama may claim to be "amused" by the protests, I think that underneath his public facade he's wondering the same thing that many others in government and the media are wondering right now:

"Just what do these folks want?"

Some seem to equate the movement with "anti-government, right-wing extremism" as though the Tea Party members are an army of Timothy McVeigh's, each of whom is convinced that the only way to defend the Constitution is to blow something up, preferably with a lot of innocent people in it. Others, while declining to come out and call Tea Party members "stupid", merely point out that everything the "educated class" is for, tea partiers are against and leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Of course, if being hateful and stupid isn't enough, there's always being racist.

The Tea Party is more easily defined by what it's against rather than what it's for; big, centralized government, higher taxes and unresponsive, out of touch representatives who don't share their interests head the list of things on the anti side. If the Republican Party of the past year has been the party of "No", then the Tea Party is the party of "No Mas". And, unlike Republicans, the Tea Party is growing in strength and popularity, attracting scores of independent voters who, for one reason or many, appear to be feeling a strong sense of buyer's remorse towards our current President.

But that still doesn't answer the question, does it? Just what do they want?

Well, in a word, I think they want Happiness. Happiness in the sense that Thomas Jefferson meant when he said, "I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them. "

I think right now a good portion of America - maybe not most, yet - is un-happy. They feel that our current political class, starting at the top, has forgotten the words of another great American: that this is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. All the people. Not just the ones who supported the President in the last election. 52 - 48 may seem like a mandate to some. But if enough people in the middle - people who don't automatically identify with either party - decide to switch their vote, the political landscape can change pretty quickly.

Happiness, or at least the pursuit of happiness - which is all any of us have a right to - does not stem from more government oversight or intrusion into our lives. And it certainly doesn't come from a government that feels it can dictate not only how much money we are allowed to make but also be the arbiter of how fairly we've made it. Perhaps the Tea Party's best role in the coming elections will be to re-frame the debate: instead of asking how much more government we want (and can pay for), the question should be how much less government we're willing to accept.

Seen in that light, and getting back to our question of just what does the Tea Party want, perhaps the answer that should worry President Obama the most is:

"Nothing you can give me, Mr. President."

All


No one makes films like Mike Leigh. He has a lengthy improvisational period where he guides his actors through the storyline as they develop their characters. Only then does he write the script and shoot the film. This allows for greater depth of character, and more realistic dialogue, than most filmmakers can achieve.

I'd heard All Or Nothing (2002) was one of his darker projects. It's about the mostly sad existence of three families living in a housing project in London. There are times when it flirts with despair, but you never feel it's tragedy just to evoke emotions in the audience--it feels like actual working class people toughing out their lives.

Really the plots are the kind of kitchen sink drama that's been around a long time--one character is an alcoholic, one unmarried character becomes pregnant, one character has a heart attack. But it's Leigh's willingness to look at these things unflinchingly, and his ability to bring out truthful performances, that set this film apart. And though it's dark, there's also hope.

Let Me Get This Straight

With apparently nothing else to write about, Newsweek complains that gay male actors aren't accepted in heterosexual roles. I doubt there's much to this, but even if there were, the weird thing is the article helps perpetuate the problem:

The revival [of Promises, Promises] hands the lead over to Sean Hayes, best known as the queeny Jack on Will & Grace. Hayes is among Hollywood's best verbal slapstickers, but his sexual orientation is part of who he is, and also part of his charm. [....] But frankly, it's weird seeing Hayes play straight. He comes off as wooden and insincere, like he's trying to hide something, which of course he is.

[....] it's a little hard to know what to make of the latest fabulous player to join Glee: Jonathan Groff, the openly gay Broadway star. In Spring Awakening, he showed us that he was a knockout singer and a heartthrob. But on TV, as the shifty glee captain from another school who steals Rachel's heart, there's something about his performance that feels off. In half his scenes, he scowls—is that a substitute for being straight? When he smiles or giggles, he seems more like your average theater queen, a better romantic match for Kurt than Rachel.

What a weird little piece, complaining about stereotyping while partaking in it.

It All Adds Up

Harvey Pekar once said he liked the medium of comics because it could do anything. It doesn't just have to be about superheroes. And then he went on to prove it by taking what could be the most prosaic parts of life and making them entertaining.

Which brings me to Logicomix, a graphic novel that describes, of all things, Bertrand Russell's attempt to put mathematics on a logical footing. This has to be one of the last subjects anyone would figure could make a good story. But (with a fair amount of necessary simplification, not to mention juggling history a bit), it turns into a compelling tale of conquest and madness. We start with Russell's odd childhood, raised by his daunting grandmother, and filled with mystery. We follow him through his intellectual development and watch as he attempts, and (spoiler) fails, to give a new foundation to math. Along the way, we run into a lot of famous names--Cantor, Whitehead, Wittgenstein, Godel, von Neumann, Turing and so on. One of the scary things is how many of the people who lived their lives in the realm of logic went crazy.

Authors Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou (the story has a running theme of Greek tragedy) and artists Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna make the story simple enough for anyone to follow, but with enough twists and turns that for over 300 pages you want to know what'll happen next.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Yankees No Longer #1

I picked the post title over "Red Sox Top Yankees" though I doubt the accuracy of this Nielsen measurement which has the Indians at number 1 and the Reds at number 3 on the list of most hated baseball teams - There must be some fierce fans in the flatlands.

I completely understand the Sox high ranking- Boston fans have gone out of their way to make up for 86 years of futility.

Hating Bjorn?

OK I've searched the old Star Trek posts on the blog and haven't found this question addressed. Why is the super-villainous race (hive?) on Star Trek TNG named after a Swedish tennis great. I saw a boston.com headline today entitled "Borg Rekindles Memories"& I clicked expecting Trek trivia but it was about Bjorn coaching a Harvard tennis player.

Is it just a cool uber-Nordic sounding short word without too explicit a Nazi connotation or did TNG creators have a thing about the tennis player. Was it a comment on the cool & almost monotonous way he systematically destroyed his opponents (resistance often was futile).* I could search the net for the answer but I sort of like the discussion from the people who post here. Whats the story?


*I seem to recall the great matches between Borg and John McEnroe in the 70s (they were popular in our house) where I would route for Borg against the obnoxious, whiny, badly-coiffed McEnroe. My parents, particularly my mother, took great exception to routing against the American and thought that McEnroe for all his bluster represented us and the country. I responded that despite what the Europeans and others might think, being an asshole was not an American value.

Of course I lost the argument because you can't say "asshole" to your mom.

Royalty

I'm honored to share my birthday with many greats, but none more so than Duke Ellington:

A Date That Will Not Live In Memory

Today is the key date for Flashforward. April 29th, 2010 is the day that everyone saw when they blacked out in the pilot. Today is the day that everyone lives what they only saw a few minutes of before.

I wonder if anyone envisaged that no one would care by now.

P.S. J.S.

Writing about Jerry Seinfeld yesterday reminded me today is his birthday as well.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Corner Of Melrose And Jay

Happy 60th, Jay Leno.

I normally wouldn't be thinking of him, but I've got a story. A few weeks ago I was driving down Melrose when traffic slowed to a crawl. I couldn't see any reason, so I honked. When I got closer, I saw Jay was doing some of his street interviews, and drivers were going by very slowly to get a look. As I drove by, all I could think was why does Jay pick Melrose, what's wrong with Burbank?

Anyway, about a week later I'm flipping through the channels, and there's Jay interviewing the blonde lass I'd seen him with. Suddenly I hear a honk. Hey, that's me. Then I see my car. Too bad I couldn't get a clear look inside to see if I was steaming.

I Have Seen The Future

Yesterday was an important preview for Lost fans. For the first time in months, there was no new episode. This will be the normal state of affairs after the finale on May 23rd.

How was it? Not pretty. It'll take some getting used to.

Four For Four

Writing about "Morning Train" yesterday reminded me of "The Bizarro Jerry" episode of Seinfeld. It's highly-regarded and holds the honor, in my opinion, of being the only episode where all four stories are well done.

The title is Elaine's plot. She meets a new friend, Kevin, who's the opposite of Jerry--a nice guy who can be counted on: Bizarro Jerry. His friends are the opposites of George and Kramer. She decides to hang out with them in their bizarro world, though, being from Jerry's world, she can't fit in.



Jerry's plot may even be more famous, even though it doesn't really go anywhere. He meets a new, beautiful girl (as he does most weeks) but can't deal with her "man hands."



Kramer needs to go to the bathroom. He finds one in an office building and on his way out goes to a meeting and starts unofficially working there.



George's plot is my favorite. He sees a beautiful receptionist, and explains he can't ask her out because beautiful women are from a separate kingdom and he doesn't have the key. He borrows the photo of Jerry's new girlfriend that Elaine supplied (all the stories dovetail, of course) and pretends it's his dead fiance. The receptionist sees it and, as George predicted, figures this guy has already been to the kingdom, so there must be something okay with him. She and George go out to a secret club populated with beautiful women. They all accept George when they see the photo. George dumps the first girl, since he figured he can do what he wants. But he loses the photo and is banished from the kingdom.

Why did "Morning Train" remind me of this?



In fact, I'd guess the song, released 15 years earlier than the episode, is better known for its appearance on Seinfeld than its appearance on the charts.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Don't Be Fooled-Things Can Always Get Worse.

About a week ago, the beloved team of my youth, the Pittsburgh Pirates, were, although having been completely blown out in the losses and having only 2 or maybe 3 major league starting pitchers, sporting a respectable 7-5 record and had just completed a series sweep of the Reds. Then Milwaukee came to town- the closest team to a rival due to some bad blood over headhunting and the like.

First game: 8-1 loss, shutout avoided with a ninth inning run.
Second game: 8-0 loss
Third game: 20-0 loss ( not a typo, they gave up twenty runs)

On to Houston (which started the season 0-7) but the Pirates drop 3 straight (but on the bright side in only one loss did they allow the Astros to score 10 runs).

Back to Milwaukee where the Bucs have lost something like 22 straight. Disparaging Milwaukee Journal headlines are posted on the bulletin board to fire the team up and the Pirates "best" pitcher is on the mound.

Result: 17-3 loss.

These would be blow outs even if they were football scores.

After a 7 game losing streak, the W-L record is 7-12 and the team is in last place in the division where I would wager they would stay for the rest of the season (only 143 games to go)- Maybe other teams might rest their starters when they come to town?

This team has the chance to eclipse the record of the 62 Mets and the Tiger team that lost 119 games a few years back. Hope there's a budding writer on the squad.

Related note: Although not owned by the same folks as the Pirates, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette showed Bucco-level competence by implementing a pay wall for its on-line Pirates blog as of the end of this week. Wonder how that's going to work out for them.

Biggest question is Pittsburgh sports this month is which is more embarrassing? Ben Roethlisberger off-field or the Pirates on-field?

I will of course still be watching MLB Gameday online tonight to see if the Bucs can avoid loss 24 in Brewtown.

The One Who's Not Cindy

Hard to believe, but Kate Pierson turns 62 today! Even when The B-52s were starting out she was 30.

Anyway, may you continue to roam.

Simon Ungagged

Early word wasn't encouraging, so there's no reason to be surprised by Ben Brantley's pan of Promises, Promises in the Times. When the original opened in 1968, there was no question it was a modern Broadway show--Neil Simon book, Burt Bacharach score, based on a Billy Wilder film. And nothing dates faster than modern.

Today, love it or hate it, Bacharach's music screams 1960s (even though nothing else in the 60s sounded like it). I wonder, though, has Neil Simon become dated? I don't deny his plays have references--the cost of a Manhattan apartment, for instance--which once could be assumed but now shock you back to a different time. Still, the guy is the most performed living playwright. His stuff works well in theatres around the world. But is his time over? Is Broadway the vanguard, letting us know it won't be long before we don't even see him in community theatre, or is it simply Manhattan snobbery, trying to impress us by not being impressed?

Simon was the biggest thing to ever hit Broadway. It's almost impossible to overstate his success. Flops, even from successful playwrights, are the norm. But Simon, for 30 years, turned out one hit after another.

After an apprenticeship in TV, he was able to make a transition to the stage (at a time when it was considered a step up). It took him years, but he finally got a production of his first full-length play, Come Blow Your Horn, on the Great White Way in 1961, where it managed a run of 677 peformances. He also wrote a very funny book for the musical Little Me, which at 257 performances wasn't exactly a hit, but was a respectable run.

Then, in 1963, came Barefoot In The Park, a simple comedy about a newlywed couple--still his longest run at 1530 performances. This in an age when 500 performances was considered a solid hit. Even the harshest critics called it a delight. This was followed by The Odd Couple, another iconic comedy, another long run. Both became big movies, too. Other Broadway hits in the 60s were Plaza Suite and The Last Of The Red Hot Lovers, as well as the books for Sweet Charity and Promises, Promises.

He continued full steam into the 70s with The Prisoner Of Second Avenue, The Sunshine Boys and Chapter Two, not to mention his book for They're Playing Our Song. I'm not saying all his plays were hits, but even the "flops" tended to run for half a year, and would then be performed in community theatres across the world. In addition to his yearly Broadway appearances, he also wrote film scripts--adaptations of his stage work as well as original screenplays such as The Goodbye Girl and Murder By Death.

Then in the early 80s, he struck a new vein, writing about his early days in the "Brighton Beach" trilogy--Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound, all hits. This was followed in 1991 by Lost In Yonkers, another look back, but this time darker. Thirty years after his first Broadway opening, he won a Pulitzer Prize.

However, Yonkers was his last major hit. He still regularly turned out the plays, but the runs, and the reviews, weren't the same--Jake's Women (245 performances), Laughter On The 23rd Floor (320 performances), Proposals (77 performances), The Dinner Party (364 performances), 45 Seconds From Broadway (73 performances). It was the 21st century, and Neil Simon was no longer a sure thing. Was it time for a reappraisal?

In the past few years, there have been Broadway revivals of Simon's biggest hits. A 2006 production of Barefoot In The Park got nasty reviews and closed after 109 performances. Last year, a company was planning to perform both Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound (which share many characters). The Brighton Beach production, however, after getting a lukewarm review in the Times, couldn't sustain an audience and the producers closed it down, never even opening the second play.

And now we have Promises, Promises. Simon's third and last chance? Based on the Times' notice, the prognosis isn't good. We'll see if the star power of Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Hayes keep it running? I'd guess only if the show still entertains.

I think Simon is one of the greatest comedy writers of the past half century. At his best, he manages a sustained level of humor that no one else can match, and does it with characters that are a delight. But who knows who'll live on? Imagine you're a London theatregoer around a century ago. Would you place your money on Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, or the more popular Arthur Wing Pinero and Henry Arthur Jones? So, even though I love Simon, and think he deserves to live on, no one can say if he'll still be around in 2100. However, the good news is the plays still matter--what I know will be forgotten are the reviews in the Times.

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Hey, it's Sheena Easton's birthday. Wonder what she's doing now?

Her first single in the U.S. was also her biggest hit, "Morning Train." Released in Britain as "9 To 5," Dolly Parton was already using that title over here, so they changed it.





Both songs went to #1, but the difference in the lyrics is instructive. They start with the female protagonist stumbling out of bed, but that's where the similarity ends.

In Dolly's world, she goes to a job that drives her crazy, where the boss man is forever keeping her down and shattering her dreams. Sheena, on the other hand, stays home all day while her husband goes into the world, works hard, and makes a lot of money. When he returns, she helps him spend it. In fact, there's only one thing she explicitly does, and apparently it's enough to keep the deal going.

If I'd been a young woman in the early 80s, I wonder which path would have sounded better?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Borderline

Immigration is one of those issues (another is affirmative action) where there's a big elitist/populist split. Most Americans have very little trouble with tough action taken to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing the border, and deporting those who do--and they don't want to hear about "comprehensive" reform, which to them means amnesty for illegals and lip service to everything else.

George W. Bush and John McCain were on the "elitist" side of the issue and it cost them. Bush tried to put forward a reform plan in a Democratic Congress and it got nowhere while his poll numbers dropped. And now maverick McCain, who's served 23 years in the Senate, is forced to repudiate his former stance just to save his seat.

Illegal immigration is not an issue that's easy to boil down, since it deals with race, economics, civil rights, federalism and millions of potential new voters. But apparently Arizona's citizens were fed up enough to pass a tough new law. Predictably, it was anathema to President Obama, who denounced it by name, calling it misguided and irresponsible.

The political question is what will the federal government do about it. There'll be court challenges, of course, but what about a bill of their own? It's on the agenda now, but do the Democrats have the nerve (and the votes) to wade into this when their popularity is already low?

A while ago I wondered if the Dems, after forcing through an unpopular health care bill, would take it easy the rest of the term while they primp for reelection, or would they figure this is their last, best chance to pass their wish list? (Not that immigration is a simple Dem/Repub issue--it splits along strange lines.)

Some think the Arizona law will help get something through Congress, but the inside word (which I can't vouch for) is that the Dems are afraid and--with almost no bipartisan cover--will let the whole thing drop, even if Obama wants to push it. Guess we'll see.

PS I don't want to give the impression this is just an issue for the Democrats to worry about. It's just that they're in charge so the ball's in their court. But if Republicans choose to oppose reform, they can easily overplay their hand and appear too harsh. If nothing else, they certainly should be concerned about how it will play with the Latino vote.

PPS Now Linda Greenhouse of The New York Times has written "I’m not going back to Arizona as long as it remains a police state, which is what the appalling anti-immigrant bill that Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law last week has turned it into." Gee, I could swear it was just a week ago in the Times that Bill Clinton warned us of the dangers of such harsh criticism. I guess that only applies to Tea Partiers.

For Art's Sake

Let me recommend Exit Through The Gift Shop, a film by Banksy. It's about Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman living in LA, who had a mania for filming, and started shooting street artists as they worked, including, eventually, Banksy himself. The story only gets weirder as it goes along (and considering how Banksy works, many are questioning how much of it is true).

The film is highly entertaining, and would have worked if I'd had no idea about anything or anyone it it. But living in LA, and having seen some of the work of the artists involved--even blogged about it--there were times I almost felt a personal involvement. (Who knew that Shepard Fairey and I use the same Kinkos?)

Breaking Vans

One of the things Breaking Bad did great from the start is put Walt and Jesse in tight spots and seeing how they get out. "Sunset" did it old school.

Just in case we forgot about the mute Mexicans, we start showing them murdering someone and then the cop who investigates. Not that we'd forgotten about them. But back to the regular story.

We see Walt in his new digs, with his new attitude. For most of this year he's been trying to get back in Skyler's good graces, but now that Gus has got him manned up, he can take her or leave her. Now she has doubts about the divorce, but it doesn't matter--he's cooking again and that's that. Just in case she forgot, he reminds her he's been paying their bills on meth money for quite a while now. And that's all for Skyler this week. She can go back to Ted for all he cares.

We see a long distance establishing shot of the Gus's fried chicken restaurant. I'd always imagined it was in a mall parking lot, or part of urban sprawl. Surprised to see it looks like it's in the middle of nowhere. Maybe that's how Gus likes it. But the Mexians come in. They're not happy--they want to kill Walt, what's the hold up? (They communicate this without talking, of course.)

Meanwhile, Jesse is cooking, and his old compatriots (minus poor Combo) check it out and it's good. It wasn't clear just how good a cook Jesse was without Walt, but apparently he's learned a lot from the master. Looks like they'll be back in business soon. One little problem--Jesse's under Hank's surveillance. In the pilot, Jesse jumped out the window when Hank came in the back door, but this time he knows where he lives.

Walt tries to explain to Jr. about the upcoming divorce, but it's not easy for him to understand. But now that Walt's made a decision, he can see clearly (or at least, he can move forward). He drops off Jr. at school--that's it for little Walt this week--and then goes to his new job as a meth master.

The whole laundry set-up is a bit silly. No matter how well-paid and faithful, would no one there ever whisper about the special set-up in the back.

Anyway, Walt goes to his lab, and it's a funhouse mirror of what he always wanted his life to be. He runs a big lab making a product worth millions. Best of all, he's got an employee with an impressive resume. Finally, after years of students bored with chemistry, and a partner who didn't even know about copper, he's found someone who gets it. Someone who cares. Of course, Walt is training the guy who'll replace him after he's murdered, but that's how it goes in the trade, can't take it personally.

We see some cooking, and unlike all the misadventures with Jesse, it all goes smoothly. Here are two guys who love their job and do it right. His assistant, in fact, is also a libertarian who believes they'll buy it anyway, might as well make it quality stuff. Hooray. We're seeing a bit of the older, calmer Walt--though he's also taken on more of the drug boss attitude elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Hank is getting nowhere. He's linked Jesse to the meth, but Jesse won't cooperate by breaking the law. He won't even lead Hank to the RV. So he takes a shortcut (and it's a callback to season one). For a long time, BB viewers figured Hank would get to Walt through Jesse, but it's the other way around. Following Marie's suggesting, Hank calls Walt to tell him he thinks this Pinkman character has a meth lab in his RV, and since Walt used to buy his pot from the guy, maybe he could help out. Looks like Hank's underststandable blind spot is gonna cost him, but how will Jesse slip out of the noose?

It'd be easy if Walt knew he wasn't bugged, but he's not sure. So he won't talk to Jesse over the phone, and Saul can't help. (Really?) So he goes to the lot where the RV's stashed, and where they're fixing it up to bring back to Jesse. He takes charge, barking orders, like the drug boss he's become. But he's still got his soft side. He looks over the old girl, and has fond memories and the wild times he and Jesse had together. Still, she's got to be destroyed (which is the equivalent of Star Trek taking out The Enterprise--Saul saw the connection earlier).

Jesse gets wind of Walt's plans and figures Walt wants to screw him over. Alas (or happily, depending which side you're on), Jesse racing to the lot leads Hank there. So we end up in the tightest spot yet--Walt and Jesse stuck in the van, with Hank outside trying to get in. (As always, it's Jesse's actions that have got them into this mess.)

Back at the chicken ranch, the Mexicans still glower, and take up a whole booth. They must be angry, because one of them actually says something. Gus agrees to meet with them at sunset.

The lot owner (veteran character actor Larry Hankin), who knows his Fourth Amendment, tells Hank he can't break into the van without a warrant. Probable cause or not, it's not a vehicle, it could be a domicile, so the law is strict. Jesse, with Walt's urging, also pipes up from inside. Hank figures fine, I'll get a warrant, if you insist. (I might add that the anti-drug laws have given such an advantage to cops I'm almost surprised Hank bothers with this nicety, but he's come so far, why not wait--the RV ain't going nowhere.)

Not unlike when they were stuck in the middle of nowhere with no water, Jesse begs Walt to come up with something. He does have a solution, but it's pretty ugly. He calls someone for help. Next thing you know, Hank gets a call that his wife is hurt and in the hospital. Could it be Gus, and he actually hurt her? No, it's Saul's secretary making up a story (and then Saul destroys the phone). It's not pleasant, but Hank drives away.

By the time he discovers he's been had, the RV is a shell of its former self. No more meth lab, no more evidence. Still, Hank now knows for sure Jesse is up to no good, and he's mad. The only question is what's his next move.

Or will he have a next move? Gus meets the Mexicans at sunset (if it were LA, he'd meet them at Sunset) and tells them Walt is still off limits. They can't wait. To slake their bloodlust, he offers up the man who actually killed Tuco--Hank. They've been told you don't touch the DEA, but Gus says he's in charge up north and he gives them special dispensation. That's what Hank gets for becoming a nuisance to the chicken magnate.

So for now it looks like Walt it safe, but Hank may not even make it another episode. Would have been safer to go to El Paso.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Quite An Imposition

"Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas urged President Barack Obama on Saturday to impose a Mideast peace deal..."

What does this even mean? The U.S. can't "impose" peace. (Maybe the Palestinians could by laying down their arms, but that's a separate issue.) A deal can only happen if there's a meeting of minds between the two sides.

The article goes on to say there's a "growing frustration [among Palestinians] after nearly two decades of failed negotiations with Israel."

But later, we read:

...Abbas also dismissed the idea of establishing a Palestinian state within temporary borders.

He referred to recent proposals for such a provisional state, but did not elaborate. He said the Palestinians were being asked to "take a state with provisional borders on 40 or 50 percent, and after that we will see."

But he stressed "we will not accept the state with temporary borders."


So apparently the Palestinians' idea of negotiations is they don't budge while Israel (forced by America, if possible) gives them everything they ask for, rather than almost everything they ask for.

If the Palestinians don't want to be frustrated, I suggest they learn that negotiation means compromise. President Obama could help the process along by putting pressure on them to come to the table. Too bad he'd rather pressure the other side.

AP News

Happy 70th, Al Pacino.

He's been in better movies than Glengarry Glen Ross but I always try to catch this moment:



PS I caught a bit of You Don't Know Jack, the HBO drama starring Pacino as Jack Kevorkian. I have one question. Just what was that accent? Was that supposed to be a Michigan accent? No one else on the show had it.

Maybe it was a bit like how some people from Chicago sound, or Minnesota, but Michigan? Anyway, I've heard Kevorkian, and he doesn't sound like that.

Hitleriffic

Noam Chomsky's latest on America today:

It is very similar to late Weimar Germany. The parallels are striking. There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over.

[...]

I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime. I am old enough to remember the 1930s. My whole family was unemployed. There were far more desperate conditions than today. But it was hopeful. People had hope. The CIO was organizing. No one wants to say it anymore but the Communist Party was the spearhead for labor and civil rights organizing. Even things like giving my unemployed seamstress aunt a week in the country. It was a life. There is nothing like that now. The mood of the country is frightening. The level of anger, frustration and hatred of institutions is not organized in a constructive way. It is going off into self-destructive fantasies.

I won't bother to analyze this nonsense. I just want to note that when an intellectual starts comparing modern-day politics in a democratic country to Nazism, he's generally hit rock bottom (which is saying something for Chomsky). It takes no imagination--name me any movement and I'll show you the "striking parallels." This is merely the kneejerk reaction of someone who's lost his way and is striking out.

It's strange enough anyone takes Chomsky seriously, but when he says stuff like this, I have to wonder if his supporters aren't somewhat embarrassed. (The site I link to sure isn't.)

Kind of makes me nostalgic for the days before fascism was a touchstone. Back then, whenever a public figure was feeling colicky, he'd say the present situation reminded him of Rome just before it fell. (They still do that sometimes, though it can sound delightfully antiquated.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Living For The City

Just caught City Island, a comedy about a New York family that has a lot of secrets. I had no idea what to expect. Turned out to be pretty good. In some ways it reminded me of Moonstruck, another film about family, love and crisscrossing stories (though that was in Brooklyn and this is in the Bronx).

I'd never heard of the actual City Island, which sounds like an interesting place. Before this film, my view of the Bronx was as a place you drive through to get somewhere else. The movie gives the impression that being out on Long Island Sound, City Island feels it's a place apart.

Beginning To See The Light

I recently ran into my favorite candidate for Senate, Mickey Kaus. I met him years ago at a party hosted by mutual friend, Matt Welch. Kaus told me a story about how Matt Welch once recommended him, saying "Mickey is a bit of a racist, but he's got some good ideas."

He also said when he was a teenager he tried to get the Velvet Underground to play at his high school. Very hip. He promised the principal their lyrics weren't about drugs. So he's a big liar, too.

Transgressing The Unwritten Code

A-Rod was on first. Ran to third for a foul ball. Ran back to first in a straight line--right over the pitcher's mound. Dallas Braden was not amused:



I don't think Rodriguez just did it to save time. I think it was a cheap move designed to break things up a bit.

Braden should have used some old heckler comeback like "I don't come to where you work and..." followed by something disgusting.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Wiki Wacky

Speaking of Hitler, someone sent me a link to this very well done short story about time travel.

Kicking It

Here's a headline on the Big Hollywood blog: "Slow Start for ‘Kick-Ass’ Shows Perils of Pandering."

But this gets it wrong. Kick-Ass doesn't pander. In fact, it's pretty uncompromising. Based on a comic book (how closely I don't know), the movie includes some pretty brutal violence and plenty of profanity. If they'd been pandering, they would have changed this movie, which has obvious appeal to teens, to get a PG-13 rating. They'd have toned down the violence, cut the swearing, and made the eleven-year-old girl who causes so much mayhem a bit older.

For films Hollywood hopes to have mainstream appeal, it's pretty common to make such changes to get the proper rating. Sure, sometimes putting in extra explosions, sex, etc., for their own sake is pandering, but pandering is just as likely to mean taking them out.

Star Tracks

I think the big question for our age is which do you prefer, the song stylings of Leonard Nimoy or William Shatner?



Taxing Concept

Someone showed me this editorial in USA Today by Rich Benjamin (a senior fellow at Demos, a "non-partisan" public policy center) entitled "Yes, I love paying taxes." I'll ignore his calling the Tea Party movement "unpatriotic" and concentrate on this statement:

...deep in my bones, that place that speaks my mind, I am proud and glad to pay my income taxes.

Well, if that's what his mind-bone is telling him, then maybe he's not being taxed enough. If he's so glad to pay, I suggest he keep sending in more and more just up to the point where it's no longer enjoyable. Perhaps we should switch to a voluntary system, where everyone sends in what they want, and people like Rich Benjamin are allowed to feel as good as they can.

But then, maybe it's not paying taxes that he really enjoys, so much as the idea that everyone is forced to pay, adding up to trillions for our huge government to spend as it sees fit. I don't think most protesters oppose the concept of taxes so much as how the money is being spent, how big the government is, and how it spends more than it takes in no matter what the tax rate.

When you buy something, it's because you think it's worth more to have the item than to hold on to the money. Taxation is not a voluntary exchange, however, and as great as America is, there are plenty better ways the government that runs it (I try not to confuse America with its government) could handle the proceeds--including not taking so much to begin with. When you buy something that isn't as good as you thought it'd be, it's your own fault, but hopefully you can learn from that experience and be more careful in the future. We don't have that choice when it comes to taxes, so when you don't think you're getting your money's worth out of government, what shouldn't you protest?

PS In a related story:

Thousands of teachers and other union workers descended on the [Illinois] state Capitol on Wednesday and chanted "raise my taxes" to try to pressure politicians to avoid major budget cuts.

Unions have been dropping in popularity as the public started to notice the sweetheart deals they've been getting, especially since the Obama administration took over. And somehow, I don't think the sight of them demanding higher taxes will endear them to the public.

"If you try to leave town without doing your job, we're going to chase you," warned union leader Henry Bayer...

"We're going to chase you?" Sounds like it's time for a Bill Clinton editorial on how dangerous these people are.

PPS I don't mean to imply there's something strange about Illinois. Why, out here in California we also have public union employees marching on the Capitol to demand higher taxes.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Passing The Test

President Obama spoke about how he'll pick his Supreme Court nominee:

I don't have litmus tests around any of these [abortion-related] issues. But I will say that I want somebody who is going to be interpreting our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights, including women's rights. That is something that is going to be very important to me.

So in other words, he has no litmus test, he just won't pick a person who doesn't see abortion his way.

Presidents generally talk in platitudes when they discuss court nominees, but would it be that painful for Obama to admit he has a litmus test?

Tremendous?

I finally watched the pilot for Treme, the new David Simon series. He created The Wire, a gritty series about drug dealers, cops and eventually everything else in Baltimore. Treme follows a large group of characters in New Orleans three months after Katrina.

I liked the show, but watching a city being rebuilt isn't quite as compelling as cops and robbers stuff. I guess the show will depend on how much the characters grow. The cast is pretty good, using some regulars from The Wire as well as a lot of other well-known TV faces.

There was quite a lot of jazz in the pilot. They did one of my favorite Louis Armstrong numbers, "Skokiaan." (It was performed by Kermit Ruffins, who's also associated with the song.) I love jazz, but I don't know how much I'll like it if it's regularly used to stop the action.



(Here's a comment on YouTube that sums it up pretty well: great song, luis Armastrong Was and will be forever a great and better musician in century xx.)

PS Treme has been picked up for a second season. Not a big surprise, since it's a prestige item. (So it won't be exTreme for a while).

Also, Curb Your Enthusiasm is getting an eighth season. I suppose this Emmy-nominated show will run as long as Larry David is willing to put it out.

More surprising, the little-watched and not highly-regarded half-hour series How To Make It In America has been renewed. The press releases are describing it as a comedy, but I'm not sure if that's accurate.

Nein, Nein, Nein, Nein, Nein

Bad news. The Hitler parodies, a mainstay of YouTube, and a great source of entertainment for people around the planet, are being taken down. The ideas was to take the scene from Downfall (a fine movie, btw) where Hitler rants away in his bunker, and put in subtitles that have him talking about any events of the day that seem to be bothering him.

The film's director thought it was fine, but the production company has had enough. I think this is a mistake. I don't think they're helping their film, and they're making a lot of people angry. (If only I could do a Hitler parody about this).

Maybe we need a clarification in copyright law. When the parody becomes bigger than the original, you can't stop it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Taking Rights Seriously

Wow, talk about internal conflict. My civil libertarian head loves this ruling as much as my dog-loving heart hates it. Well, they say your commitment to the First Amendment is measured by whether you would protect the speech you hate most, so I guess I have to be happy I passed the test.

The Igster

I'm surprised that Iggy Pop's still going at it. In fact, I'm surprised he's still alive. Happy birthday, Iggy, and may you have many more.





It's Started

Film critics who aren't deluded recognize they can't make or break a film, especially mass-audience movies. But the more rarefied the art form, the more critics matter.

Take theatre. Big as Broadway is, bad reviews--especially in The New York Times--kill a show. A night out is expensive, so theatre-goers are careful shoppers. Yet, even here there seem to be shows that are critic-proof.

Take the biggest hit on Broadway right now, Wicked, which opened in 2003. The critics didn't love it and it lost out on most of the major Tony Awards, but somehow it clicked with an audience. There are people who see it over and over. It wasn't even about the leads, Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, who left years ago.

So I guess the question now is will The Addams Family become another hit despite the critics. They were scathing, but the show's got big names (by Broadway standards), a recognizable title and huge pre-sales. By some accounts, there's an audience out there--perhaps not the traditional theatre crowd--that goes for it.

The real question is when the advance runs out, and Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth leave, will the audience evaporate. I doubt it, but then, I haven't seen it. I'm not planning on seeing it either (those damn critics got to me), but I suppose if it runs as long as Wicked, I might get around to it.

Recruiting Post

For a few weeks now I've been wondering which characters Lost will concentrate on in their last few episodes. "The Last Recruit" gives us a clue--all of them. We saw just about everyone do their bits both on and off the island.

Things are beginning to coalesce, but we're still not sure where we stand. The show moved the pawns forward a bit, but we're still not bringing out the heavy artillery in this chess match. I'd call it a good episode, if not as powerful as the last couple.

We start where we left off last week--Jack's gang (I'll call them that now that Ilana's blowed up and Hugo is stepping back in the shadows) is hooking up with Flocke's. But it can't last long, that we know.

Flocke is happy to see Jack above all. The show has always been about the axis between these two, even with the real Locke dead. I think Flocke sees Jack as the final and most important piece in the puzzle he needs to solve.

Flocke pulls Jack away from the crowd and they talk. Jack wants to know if he's been behind everything all along. Flocke calls Locke a sucker for buying it all. But was Locke stupid, or is Flocke missing it. Flocke is smart and powerful, but he's not so smart that he knows everything, and he's not so powerful that he can get off the Island by himself.

Jack asks if Flocke was Christian. We sort of figured this out already, but it's nice to hear him say it. He says he was leading Jack to water (though Jack almost died chasing after Christian). He claims he's doing it all for Jack--Jacob trapped him on this Island like he trapped everyone else, he can't get away. But now that Jacob's dead, here's his chance. Flocke may be tricky, even evil, but I think he believes this.

Speaking of suckers, Locke is in the ambulance going to the hospital. It's not looking good. He can speak, barely, and he says to Ben (who's along for the ride) that he's going to marry Helen. Interesting. Near death, but he's not flashing to the island, he's flashing to Helen, who's dead in the Island timeline.

He and Sun are both on stretchers being led into the hospital, and Sun says (in Korean) "No! No! It's him! It's him!" She must be flashing to Flocke, because I thought she liked Locke. Even more interesting.

Meanwhile, nutty Claire has followed Jack and Flocke. She wants to see her brother. Guess MIB/Christian told her. The siblings talk. Claire's happy he's back, though we find out later she follows Flocke because he's the one who didn't abandon her. (Though she sure seemed on Christian's side even before they left the Island.) Jack says he's not sure he's leaving with Flocke, but she says once you talk to him, you're with him. There's that theme that both Jacob and Flocke can't be listened to, because they're very convincing. This might be right, but it's far from obvious it works on everyone. After all, Flocke had to go through a lot of candidates before he found the perfect pigeon in Locke (and Ben). Speaking of which, he admits he was Christian, but was he also Jacob every time they met in that cabin. It makes sense.

Back at camp, Sawyer is telling Hugo he wants to leave on the sub--not with Flocke--while Kate tells the same thing to Sun. But nutty Claire and zombie Sayid aren't part of the deal. Locke returns and looks like he's ready for a group hug. We're all together.

On the mainland, cop Sawyer talks to Kate the fugitive. No flashes between them, like Des and Penny, or Hugo and Libby. I guess that's because his flashes would come with Juliet, and hers with Jack. Sawyer jokes they keep getting thrown together--they remember the elevator ride at LAX. He says it looks like someone's trying to put them together. Which makes sense as a line, and as a reference to the Island, but also as a reference to the show--it did seem like the producers tried to put them together, but has it played out? Kate insists she's not a murdered by the way--in this world, maybe she isn't. Meanwhile, the Sayid multiplie murders get the attention of Miles and Sawyer. They have a surveillance shot and they're off.

Kate and Jack watch the camp, and discuss whether or not to believe Locke. Before they can decide, Zoe marches in (I always love it when people march into camps on this show) and she wants Des back. Zoe is a geophysicist who doesn't spend too much time doing geophysics. This time her job is to demonstrate how Widmore can blow them up at will, and gives Flocke till nightfall to return Des. (Like MIB gave the temple till nightfall.) She leaves her walkie with him, but MIB destroys it. Is this like how Jacob hated technology. Does Flocke have a problem with technology in general? Won't that cause trouble when he has to put his table in the upright position on the flight out?

Claire in LA. She's going to an adoption agency, and Des just happens to run into her. Amazingly, he's going to the same floor, but has a lawyer he wants her to see for free. I don't care how good a fixer he is, that's an amazing coincidence.

We know the (female) lawyer will be a character we've seen before, but who? Harper? Miss Klugh? Anna? Shannon? Turns out to be Ilana, not missing an episode, and looking good in a suit. By coincidence--except there are no coincidences in altaworld--she's Christian's lawyer and this is the Claire Littleton he mentioned in his will!

Flocke says they've forced our hand (and lies about having stole something from them). Time to move out. They're going to Hydra Island right now. Flocke tells Sawyer to get a boat for him. Is this finally the outrigger story? Nope, they fooled us again. Sawyer takes Kate with him. He has no intention for a rendezvous with Locke--he's made a deal with Widmore, and he wants to take the non-crazy Losties back with him (including Lapidus). I like all the cross-plans going on.

Flocke tells Sayid to go kill Des. So I guess he's not dead. Flocke reminds him of what he promised--which is Nadia. Sayid goes off to do his duty. When Sayid gets to the well, we see something weird. Last week, it seemed to be very, very deep. In the light of day, it looks like it's about twenty feet down. Des is down there sitting in the water, not too much worse for the wear. Couldn't he have climbed up?

They have a dialogue. Des is still pretty cool, and asks Sayid what is he getting for the hit? He asks even if Locke can bring her back, what would you tell her when she asks what you did to be with her? And we leave the scene on that note.

Back in LA, Sayid runs into Nadia's house. That's too bad. If Nadia's hadn't appeared again this season, she's have an amazing run of appearing in exactly one episode per season. Before Sayid can take it on the lam, Miles and Sawyer are at his house. Sawyer catches him flying out the back door.

On the Island, Sawyer and Kate get to the boat, and he tells her his plan. The big sticking point is Claire. Kate came to the island to bring her back, but Sawyer won't punch her ticket. We can feel this fight isn't over.

Flocke's party march through the jungle. How many times have we seen this shot? Jack's talking to Claire, trying to decide if he should trust Flocke. She does because he didn't leave her (as noted earlier). Flocke is worried about Sayid--he usually kills people much more quickly. He goes back to find him. Is this an intentional move to get Jack et al to run? Regardless, that's what they do. Claire sees them and follows, while the redshirts trudge on.

Sayid tells Flocke he did the deed. He even says check it out, but Flocke trusts him. Hmm. Hard to believe Des is gone. Indeed, it seems like we're seeing a little feeling coming back into Sayid.

Jack is having trouble finding the boat. Lapidus notes he better make it, since the Smoke Monster goes a lot faster than the do. Jack should say "I don't care, I'm a candidate--by the way, seeing as you're a pilot, I'd watch out."

They find the boat. They get on, and there's Claire on the shore with a gun. She's not happy about being left behind yet again. Kate makes it clear she came for her. He'll bring her back to Aaron, but not with Locke, who's no longer part of the group. Claire breaks down, gives up her gun and they bring her aboard (rather than shoot her). Claire notes Locke will be mad. Maybe, but they do know he needs them (most of them).

Jack, with son, is coming to meet lawyer Ilana for the reading of the will. He's calling his wife, I believe--maybe we'll get to meet her next week. He walks in the room and for the second time on Lost, learns he's got an adult sister named Claire. Ilana asks if he believes in fate. Speaking of which, before the will can be read, he has to rush to the hospital--I think we know who the patient's going to be.

On the boat, Jack is wondering what to do. Sawyer steers. I seem to recall Sun is good at sailing--maybe she could take over--but he gives the wheel to Freckles. He's surprised Jack followed orders--not his strong suit. But Jack feels something's wrong. He says it doesn't feel right to leave the island. Easy for you to say, you got to leave--I was stuck here for three years. But it looks like Jack has decided following Flocke's plans just can't be right. He wants them to leave, so do the opposite. Sawyer tells him to get off the boat. To my surprise, Jack jumps off--echoing Sawyer's jump off the helicopter (though that was a bit more heroic). Jack is convinced the island's not done with them, and as long as he's jumping off boats, he's correct. Kate is shocked, but not so shocked she jumps off. She's the kind who gets others to jump off.

Sun wakes up in the hospital. She's okay, and so is the baby. Jin says "it's over," which is always a dangerous thing to say in a movie or TV show. We pan to Jack walking with his son in the corridor. It's about 6 pm at this point, and asks his son if he can hang out while he does his job. No problem. Sure, how long could this surgery take, six, seven hours? I hope it's not a school night.

Jack looks at what he's got, and it's a tough case. Looks like a job for super doctor. He goes into the operating room and sees it's Locke--he remembers him from the airport (one of the better scenes this season).

Jack makes it back to the beach. (Be funny if he drowned.) Flocke and gang are waiting for him. Sawyer took his boat, but Flocke doesn't seemed too disturbed, almost as if he expected it.

Sawyer's gang gets to Hydra island and they're met by Widmore's goons. Sawyer figured he's got a deal, but no go. Get down on the ground. You just can't trust Widdy.

Meanwhile, a big moment. After teasing it for more than a season, Sun and Jin reunite. This knocks the aphasia right out of her head (though he's the one guy who could understand her Korean). They rush toward an embrace, going through the pylons set up to block Flocke. I thought one of them might get zapped, but it's not the same as the sonic fence, I guess. Or isn't on.

Widmore's people start firing at Locke. As usual, anyone with no name who hangs around Locke or Jack is in trouble. Jack flies through the air and Locke carries him to safety. It's gonna be okay, you're with me now. (The last recruit, or the only recruit?)

LOST

So how many recruits, or candidates, does Flocke need to get back? He needs them for some reason, but so many have come and died, how does it work? The plane is good for getting them onto the island, but do you need the same mechanism for getting off? How is the cork stopper deal working?

Also, just how "infected" or "claimed" are Sayid and Claire. It looked like Sayid could be talked out of killing Des, and considering what his actions mean. And Claire was touched by Kate's promise to get her back to Aaron, and was willing to abandon Flocke.

It's nice to see thing getting together in the altaworld. For too many episode the island material was more compelling, because even though we weren't clear on the strategies, the action had a purpose. Now that we know something's going on in the altaworld, we can see it moving forward. They're all meeting up, and perhaps getting enlightened. And sooner or later, they'll have to deal with the island world.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Too Much Jam

Virginia Postrel (a friend--I don't have that many friends, I just keep writing about them) reviews a book about choice in The New York Times. The author is Sheena Iyengar, who devised the famous jam experiment where more choices for shoppers led to less buyers. There's a bit more to it than that, but when the legend becomes fact, print the legend:

"The study hardly seems mine anymore, now that it has received so much attention and been described in so many different ways,” Iyengar, a professor at Columbia Business School, writes in “The Art of Choosing.” “From the various versions people have heard and passed on,” she adds, “a refrain has emerged: More is less. That is, more choice leads to less satisfaction or fulfillment or happiness.”

It is true, though it may seem a paradox, that less choice can lead to more freedom--a certain type of freedom, anyway. It can free up the mind and simplify your path. The path may be more limited, but you'll feel more free and comfortable while on it. Of course, that doesn't mean we want people--especially those we don't know directly--making the big (or often even the little) decisions for us. So it's troublesome to have people vaguely aware of Iyengar throw slogans at you rather than do the analysis necessary to deal with this issue. I'd still rather have more jam available, but that's nothing compared to government officials forcing me onto the path they prefer.

PS What's the right amount of choice? No one knows:

The optimal amount of choice lies somewhere in between infinity and very little, and that optimum depends on context and culture. “In practice, people can cope with larger assortments than research on our basic cognitive limitations might suggest,” Iyengar writes. “After all, visiting the cereal aisle doesn’t usually give shoppers a nervous breakdown.”

When I read that, I immediately thought of Moscow On The Hudson, a 1984 film starring Robin Williams as a Russian who defects to America. I don't remember much about the movie, but one scene that's stuck is Williams walking through a grocery store and, in fact, almost having a breakdown because of all the choice. I wonder if that's what Professor Iyengar was thinking of.

Alda Alan

While at the height of his M*A*S*H fame, Alan Alda starting appearing in a series of movies, generally comedies, that he wrote and usually directed: The Seduction Of Joe Tynan,
The Four Seasons, Sweet Liberty, A New Life and Betsy's Wedding. I'd describe the best ones as mildly enjoyable.

By chance I caught two of them on TV recently, Joe Tynan and Sweet Liberty. In both Alda plays an earnest, intelligent liberal, which was already his image. Tynan is kind of interesting as a political film made during the last gasp of the 70s (and in some ways feeling even older), not knowing certain political assumptions were about to be shaken up. But it's not that political, really--certainly not compared to the stuff Aaron Sorkin would come up with. Sweet Liberty has Alda as a professor who wrote a bestseller about the Revolutionary War (hard to buy, but I'll accept it) and Hollywood people are coming to film it in his town (sure, why not).

Alda is a charming actor who more recently has shown his effectiveness with other directors, often playing against type. His direction seems efficient if not inspired (he didn't direct Tynan, by the way). But where he let's us down, I think, is in the writing.

He'd already written a bunch of M*A*S*H episodes and I can imagine he was excited by a new, and larger canvas. But TV habits die hard. Now I think it's often a cheap and lazy accusation that TV writers can't do movies. I'd like critics who make this claim to take a blind test to see if they can distinguish such screenwriters. But Alda's movies honestly do seem to be too much about text and too little about subtext. Or, when there is subtext, it's laid out all too clearly. He has a plot, and a subplot or two, and everything is very evenly told, so you always know where you are, and what the characters are feeling. By the end, each story is clearly resolved. This may not sound bad. It may even sound pretty good. But when everything is too neat, the whole experience doesn't leave much of an impression.
 
In fact, the best parts of his movies seem to be when the actors are capable of doing something that seems beyond what's merely in the words of the script. Yes, I know they're still performing what Alda wrote, but some seem able to take what he put down and fly with it, while most seem stuck on the ground.

Political Columnist

From a John Lahr review in The New Yorker:

I first reviewed Les Freres Corbusier’s “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” (written and directed by Alex Timbers, at the Public) in a studio production last May. The show hasn’t changed much in the interim, but the times have. Since President Obama took office, America has become a whispering gallery of hate-filled teabagger cant—“the Apostles of Anger in their echo chamber of fallacies,” as Charles M. Blow elegantly put it in the Times.

1) As I've noted before, most critics are barely qualified to give out aesthetic opinions. That they think they can teach us about politics is pure arrogance.

2) It's really not worth going into his "analysis," but let's look at the phrase "hate-filled teabagger." Is it possible Lahr misses the irony?

3) It's not enough he wishes to air his opinions, he's got to seek out another who rephrased his foolishness so he can quote him.

4) Lahr apparently feels as a reviewer for The New Yorker he can take a swipe at people protesting big government and all his readers will smile and nod. And he's warning us about echo chambers?

Monday, April 19, 2010

K-A OK

I've seen a lot of action films. A lot. I have to assume they all try to be entertaining, but most fail because, despite their better efforts, they're just the same stuff we've seen before. Explosions and effects don't make an action film work. Character and story does. Wit and originality does.

Which is why I was so delighted by Kick-Ass. I thought it looked pretty stupid from the trailers, so I wasn't prepared for such an exciting, intelligent movie. It wasn't straight action, it was also teen comedy and superhero satire, and done in a combination that entertained me more than any film I've seen in a while.

It hasn't performed as well as hoped. There were hopes it would make around $30 million its opening weekend, but ended up with around $10 million less, and is neck and neck for first place with the fourth weekend of How To Train Your Dragon. (Dragon also opened disappointingly for its genre, but has held well and will be a sizable hit--haven't seen it yet but I hear it's good.)

I wish Kick-Ass had done better--I want orignal films to be rewarded--but I think I understand its relative failure. (Relative in that it's low budget for action, and will probably end up in the black.) This is a film that's off-putting to a large portion of the general audience.

First, it's an R-rated that stars teens, which right off the bat artificially limits what could be much of its core audience. Worse, it's hard R, with considerable violence and profanity, which turns off a lot of people, especially women and older filmgoers. Still worse, most of the R-rated stuff comes from young people--teenagers and, in particular, an eleven-year-old girl. This has made the film controversial; it doesn't matter how well done it is, some just can't, or won't, see it.

In addition, the film falls between two stools. Though it is action, with kids commiting the mayhem, and much of it being satirical, it could turn off a lot of the core action crowd (mostly young males), who will just think it's silly.

So taking everything into account, the $19-odd million it made its first weekend isn't bad. I saw it with a packed house that responded enthusiastically. I can only hope word of mouth among action (and comedy) fans will help it hold.

Still, much as I loved Kick-Ass, I'd be careful about recommending. I think some of my friends might be offended, and blame me.

Obama Theatre

A friend of mine, after reviewing the President's nuclear strategy, sent me this playlet:

Theme Music...Enterprise fly-by in the background.

Sulu: Captain Obama, there's a Klingon warship ahead.

Capt. Obama: Slow to stop. Lower our deflector shields.

Sulu: Did you say lower? But Captain Bush would.....

Capt. Obama: Forget about Captain Bush. Things have changed. Have hope. Yes, I want the Klingons to know we come in peace, without aggression. Lt. Uhura, open a communications channel.

Uhura: There's no response Captain.

Capt. Obama: Send this anyway. We will not use photon torpedoes if they agree to do the same. They can attack us with phasers and we won't respond with torpedoes.

Spock: Highly illogical Captain.

Uhura: Still no response Captain.

Capt. Obama: Tell them we will withdraw from the Zion solar system if they give up their torpedoes.

Spock: May I remind you that the Zionists are our only friends in the region.

Capt. Obama: That friendship has made the Klingons our enemy. But if we switch sides and help the Klingons to join the Federation....

Sulu: Captain! The Klingons have just launched a massive torpedo attack!

Capt. Obama: They don't mean it. No evasive action. Keep those shields down.

The Enterprise is hit and explodes. All hands are killed.

Theme Music...wreckage of the Enterprise floating in space in the background.

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

This season's first episode of Breaking Bad was entitled "No Mas." It was where Walt decided he was done cooking. The latest episode was "Mas," so you know where that's going. With Walt back in the game, it feels like the season has started in earnest.

The prologue shows what Jesse did with the life savings Walt gave him to buy an RV in season one--most of it was spent for a night out with the boys. Jesse was even more irresponsible than we thought. This is yet another show opener that delves into the past, and brings back a dead character--whom we discover, in effect, stole the RV from his mother and sold it to Jesse at rock bottom prices. But this prologue also has a plot purpose. Hank is chasing down this particular make of RV. (Bounders. That name has always struck me funny, with its negative meaning.) If he can find the right one, he figures--correctly--he can find the source of all the blue meth that's floating around.

Hank, having turned down the promotion to El Paso, sees it going to his partner. It's tough on him, and he has trouble admitting to the rest of the world he can't handle the scene there. So he's turned all his energy toward dealing with the local meth problem--which, actually, is as big as it gets, and is probably more important than the work he'd do in El Paso. Too bad he doesn't know the meth-mastermind "Heisenberg" is his brother-in-law. Hank is in denial about his problem, or at least won't discuss it with his wife, Marie. By the end of the show he's traced the RV to the mom with the dead son. He can tie the kid to Jesse Pinkman, who's already on his radar. But how and when will this lead to Walt, who's split with Jesse?

Walt, you see, has finally gone back to Gus. When we first see him he's in his closet, quietly but vehemently arguing with Jesse over the phone about how he stole his formula. That's Walt all over. Walt sees through Gus's ploy of paying him half the money for Jesse's low-grade meth, but Gus knew he would. The point is they're talking. Gus takes him on a tour of his new lab, if he takes the job. (The music is beatific, which is almost too much, but works.) It's beautiful, and pristine, and safe, but it's more than that. Walt is a guy who's always had trouble with his anger. If he could handle people like he handles chemistry, he could be a multi-millionaire business owner and a Nobel prize winner. Gus is offering Walt what he's always felt is his due. He'd run a top notch lab, to his specifications, and make millions turning out a great product, better than anyone else around. (That Gus will throw him to the wolves when he's done isn't discussed.)

Gus knows how to push Walt's buttons. Walt's lost the only thing that matters to him, his family. Gus explains that real men do what's right for their family even if they're not appreciated. Walt has a teenage son with cerebral palsy and a newborn--it could take millions to see them through, and Walt may not be around much longer. Time to man up. Walt bites.

Meanwhile, Skyler is having second thoughts. She realizes her relationship with Ted isn't going anywhere. She softens to Walt, and even thinks a bit about the money. (Her lawyer notes Walt has made her an accessory after the fact. Lawyers, always naysayers.) After hearing Marie complain about how Hank's business is gnawing at him, making him crazy, it makes her think twice about Walt. What he's going through is worse (and Hank is closing in, too).

She's ready to talk to Walt, but he's flown the coop and finally signed the divorce papers. He took the money with him as well.

He has a meeting with Jesse at Saul's place. Walt gives Jesse the half-payment he received, but then tells Jesse he's through. He's not interesting in making a deal for a small percentage of Jesse's take, he's going to make millions cooking for Gus. Jesse can make his crap whenever and wherever he likes, he's not cooking with Walt any more. Walt can be cold. Saul lines up with Walt, of course--he knows who's got the potential here.

So the world is falling in on Walt, but he's not aware of it. He's going to bury his nose in work and come up with three million in three months. But everyone's after him--Hank, Skyler, Jesse and even the Mexicans. It's only a question of who will get to him first.

PS The titles to my posts are often plays on words. I generally don't draw attention to them, but I have to say, even if you don't get this one, I think it's one of the best I've ever done.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For

From an Ain't It Cool News talkback:

alternate Lost episodes 6.1 & 6.2

by VikkiMarsdale Apr 14th, 2010

08:24:08 PM

Half of the losties are at the Foot statue learning that Jacob is dead and Locke is dead and being impersonated by the Smoke Monster. The other half of the Losties make their way to a Dharma station. The Foot group makes their way to the Temple and are united with the last remaining group of Others.

At the Temple Dogen, Mib, Ghost Christian, Richard and Ben explain everything they know about the statue, the black rock, the whispers, the Others, the smoke monster, the MIB and his relation to Jacob, the existence of ghosts, why Richard doesn't age, the cabin, lighthouse, well, cave and frozen donkey wheel, and Charles Widmore's history with and interest in the Island.

Meanwhile the group at the Dharma station find another tape narrated by Pierre Chang (using the name Jean-Luis Beeswick) which explains everything about The Dharma Initiative, the electromagnetic properties and the pockets of strange energy, the Incident, the "sonar fencing" and how it effectively restrains the smoke monster, what their concept of Smokey is, why the island can only be found by sailing to exact settings, how they found it and can travel to it, how the plane that makes the food drops finds it, the film clip with the duplicate bunnies, their theories about The Others, and time travel.

The two groups merge and continue an open exchange of information, the Others clear up the Dharma groups misconceptions about them, more questions are asked and freely answered in a non-evasive manner, all mysteries are resolved, Smokey admits to being the Hurley Bird, Dave and the medusa spiders.

The Smoke Monster, in the form of nonLocke, freely admits to being evil and wanting to escape the island in order to wreak havoc on the world. He is attacked from behind with a high powered taser and bound with electrified wiring, then placed in an airtight stone cell in the temple and the doorway is sealed up permanently.

A party at the old campsite at the beach ensues with all participants celebrating a new era of co-dependence and co-operation, then a dogs bark is heard and Vincent arrives, followed by Rose and Bernard who admit to having felt lonely after living in the jungle alone for three years.

At no point in this two hour episode - or any subsequent episode - is the existence of a divergent reality stream in which Flight 815 never crashed mentioned, let alone acknowledged.

Then episodes 6.3-6.16 consist of the Losties and the Others having picnics, fishing, hunting, getting to know each other, occasionally answering additional minor trivia questions that fans have sent in via e-mail or posted online, and saying things like "I always thought... I wondered about... I'm glad we cleared that up."

By episode 6.7 the ratings have fallen so low that ABC renegs on their end date deal and cancels the series. the final au-aired episodes are burned off over the summer on the ABC Family channel.

And hundred of online Lost discussion board posters all complain "well, yeah, that's exactly what I was saying I wanted, I just didn't realize how badly it would suck."

[poo-freaking-oom] LOST bichess.

Mysterious Marionettes

The song "Mysterious Mose" has been around 80 years now, but I never expected to see a marionette show based on it. Surprising to see, and surprisingly good:

Unhealthy Debate

After Obama's statements about how "amused" he was by the anti-tax Tea Party protests (which I posted on yesterday, and which was Instalinked), he said he'd be glad to take them on over health care. Then he listed, in essence, a bunch of free stuff the health care bill allegedly gives the public, and asked how happy Republicans would be to run on denying aid. (Next thing you know, he'll claim the Republicans support death panels.)

So far, so expected. But then I heard a conservative respond. I'm not sure who it was (some guy on the radio being interviewed) but he started talking about all the tax deductions and free stuff in Medicare that Obamacare will destroy.

This doesn't bode well. What could have been a principled debate, about the proper place of government and the free market, will have no chance. Instead we're going to get hucksters lined up along the midway promising more and more to the public if they'll just vote the right way.

Maybe this is my turn to say how amused I am by the spectacle, except we can't sustain the spending on health care as it is now.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Life Imitates Art (After The Election)

Title for Will Ferrell's HBO show about George W. Bush:

"You're Welcome, America"

Barack Obama's response to anti-tax protestors:

"You would think they'd be saying thank you."

PS Greetings to Instapundit readers. A short post about the upcoming debate on repealing health care reform is also up.

Breaking Promises

Even before the Sean Hayes/Kristin Chenoweth revival or Promises, Promises opens on Broadway there are already bootlegs out. (It's also being reviewed early.)

Here's the only number in the show sung by "the guys." Sounds pretty good. Wish I could say more about the visuals.



By the way, someone else not only figured the female lead was too small for a big name, they did a song about it:

Not A Typo

Over a decade ago, David Mamet wrote a script for Martin Scorsese's remake of Kurosawa's High And Low. I love High And Low and see no reason to remake it, so it's just as well the project seemed to have foundered.

But now I see that Mike Nichols will be directing High And Low, with a script by Chris Rock. Really? Rock is a fine comedian, but as far as I can see, he's never done anything good as a film actor or screenwriter. And even if he had, the kind of stuff he's done is wrong for High And Low. Seems like a mistake all around.

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