Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Guilty As Charged

Janeane Garofalo may join a Criminal Minds spinoff. I've liked Garofalo's comedy work, though as a critics' darling, I often feel she's gotten a pass when she does drama. But really, who wants to wants to see a police procedural she stars in? At the end of every episode we'll discover the Bush Administration is responsible.

OK On EK


Let me recommend Richard Schickel's critical biography of Elia Kazan. Schickel knows his stuff, and puts it out there clearly. As with other Schickel stuff, I often strongly disagree with his artistic assessments, but he's still worth reading.

Schickel is especially good on the political side. He describes quite well how so many Americans in the 30s would be attracted to communism, and also how successfully communists operatives who got direct orders from Moscow infiltrated certain sectors of American society. He also does a good job with the HUAC era. Kazan notoriously named names, but Schickel understands enough about the times that the whole issue isn't presented in simple black and white.

Schicked should know. When Kazan was presented an honorary Oscar, it became a huge controversy, and many Academy members decided to sit on their hands rather than give him a standing ovation. It was Schickel who had produced the film tribute to Kazan shown before the award.

Ironically, it's on artistic grounds where I question if Kazan (who'd already won two directing Oscars anyway) deserved the award. It is true in the 40s and 50s Kazan had a run in theatre and cinema that no other director has probably ever matched, critically speaking. In film, he made, among others, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Gentleman's Agreement, A Streetcar Named Desire, Viva Zapata!, On The Waterfront, East Of Eden and A Face In The Crowd. On stage his credits are even more impressive, including The Skin Of Our Teeth, All My Sons, Tea And Sympathy, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, The Dark At The Top Of The Stairs, J.B., Sweet Bird Of Youth, and, oh yeah, maybe the two most significant American plays of the 20th century, A Streetcar Named Desire and Death Of A Salesman.

I can't speak on his Broadway productions, though I have to assume they must have had something going for them. But his films, though they often feature imaginative acting, tend to leave me cold. Kazan often put his message too clearly up front, letting it get in the way of the art. Also, now that what was once cutting edge no longer seems so shocking, and what's left isn't so impressive.

Not OK On EK

Back in the day, Elena Kagan criticized how vapid Supreme Court confirmation hearings had become. Of course, when it came to getting grilled herself, she couldn't have been more vapid.

Except, according to The New York Times, when it comes to freedom of speech:

...she spoke freely about this year’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the conservative bloc on the court ruled against her, striking down legal limits on corporate spending to influence elections.

Democrats have portrayed that ruling as “conservative judicial activism.” Ms. Kagan — who as solicitor general argued in defense of the campaign finance rules — said she convinced herself in preparing that “we had extremely strong arguments.”

These hearings are empty spectacle, where there's nothing but posturing. But I certainly hope someone grilled her on this--asked her if she honestly believed government had the power to tell The New York Times when and how to cover elections. (When she argued the case, the Court asked her about the overbreadth of the statute, and her reply seemed to be don't worry, the government would never go that far.)

I understand Citizens United is not a popular decision (not that most could describe what the case is actually about), but so what. The First Amendment is designed to protect unpopular speech, not generally approved speech, and certainly not government-approved speech.

There's no question Kagan will be confirmed--the Dems have the votes and then some. And if I were a Senator, it would take a lot for me to vote against a nominee, since I believe one should generally defer to the President. But still, I have my limits.

PS Listening to Kagan on the radio, it seemed to me she sounded a lot like Ellen DeGeneres. All I can say is last time they made Ellen DeGeneres a judge, it was a mistake.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Liberal Education

"Liberal" is still a dirty word in America politics. When given the choice of conservative, moderate or liberal, only one in five Americans identify themselves as the last. The term is still tainted with associations--tax and spend, abortion on demand, revolving-door justice, whatever. If you're a politician, calling yourself a liberal is announcing to most voters you're too far left.

The irony is it wasn't that long ago--the 60s--when being a "liberal" was considered too wishy-washy. It meant you were a leftist but didn't have the guts to go all the way.

Because of the taint, liberals try to rebrand themselves. A popular term used today is "progressive." I guess it conjures up positive images (who doesn't like progress?) or at least isn't associated with so much negative stuff. The irony is, I remember first hearng the term regularly when I was in college. And I asked a friend what does "progressive" actually mean, and he explained it meant far to the left of liberal--practically a communist.

PS I'm pretty sure I've put up a post very similar to this one before. I guess the issue is still relevant, but my apologies for the repetition.

To Their Credit

I saw a trailer for the Swedish sequel to the big hit The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The novels these movies are based on, by Stieg Larsson, are gigantic bestsellers.

Still, I wasn't expecting what I saw on the credit card. Instead of the director being listed last, a notation it was based on a book by Stieg came at the end.

Perhaps they can get away with this in Sweden. In America, it's a contractual thing that the DGA has worked out that directors get the final credit.

Third Time's The Charm


Looking back on Breaking Bad's third season, there's no question it kept up its high quality. But sometimes I wonder if the cracks are starting to show. While I'm pretty sure creator Vince Gilligan has a good idea of the general destination of the show, I get the impression they're still making it up as they go along. They paint the characters into corners and then figure how to get them out. This works as long as they're smart, but it can also lead in directions where the characters aren't true, just so the plot can stay tense. For instance, Jesse acting like such a jerk. He seemed to be moving toward a new maturity after Jane died, off drugs and facing life. But then when Saul offers him, in essence, ownership of a business where he can launder his money, he rejects it and suddenly wants to go street. Jesse does a lot of stupid things, but why would he find a legal source for his money while he cooks to be so offensive.

And then there's Walt, who's always a fatherly feeling toward Jesse, but Jesse acted like such a jerk, and they were on the outs for a while, that it's hard to understand why Walt eventually returned to supporting Jesse even after he didn't seem to need him.

Look at Gus. He's the smartest player around. We saw his ruthless side (which we always knew existed) this season. But from the start, we understood he played it safe. He didn't even meet with Walt when Jesse was around. Suddenly, he's willing to show himself to broker a truce between Jesse and some low-level dealers. Why would he take such a chance, no matter how much he respected Walt. Speaking of which, one episode, he goes out of his way to help Walt, and the next thing you know he's ready to kill Walt. I realize Walt had gone nuts, but losing a few minor operators is the cost of doing business.

I have no doubt the show will continue to surprise. But I hope they're not painting themselves into a corner with their characters.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Right Day, Wrong Month

I typed in a 5 instead of 6 last month. Let me correct it. Today is Richard Rodgers' birthday.

Virus

Cyrus, a new comedy starring Jonah Hill, John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei, is shot in documentary style: the camera swims around, seemingly catching things on the fly, sometimes suddenly zooming in and getting stuff out of focus.

Even though there's apparently some improvisational work being done in the film, this is still annoying. It's not a documentary. The directors Jay and Mark Duplass set up each shot, and the actors knew where to stand. This whole faux doc look--where the camera imitates bad-looking shot from films that couldn't do any better--has got to go. I don't care if this is mumblecore, it's just annoying.

Spectacular Speculation

I looked back at a post I put up in May with very few hours left in Lost. I'm trying to guess, very badly, what the altaworld will end up to be. However, I noticed this comment:

Sideways world can also be the afterlife, or purgatory, or whatever happens after the end of the world, where everyone has to try to work out their issues.

Well done, anonymous. Perhaps it wasn't "everyone," but you pretty much got it.

Once In A Generation

Big comedy day. Mel Brooks was born 84 years ago. One of the biggest names in comedy over the past 60 years, he wrote, directed and starred in numerous project on stage and (big and little) screen. He also made popular recordings and was a top-notch talk show guest.

Then there was that day he recorded his observations on abstract animation that ended up winning an Oscar.



Then there's Gilda Radner (from Detroit), who would have been only 64 today. She'll always be the first lady of Saturday Night Live.



And coming in at 44 today is John Cusack. He starred in a lot of comedies playing the cute, often confused, young guy. He's grown into more mature roles, but still has that kernel inside him.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Oscar Race

There's talk of moving the Oscar telecast to January. Some fear it's too early, and viewers won't have time to catch the nominees that tend to bunch up near the end of the year.

I say good. It'll be good advertising for films already out there (which is what the Oscars used to be back in the days when movies ran for months). Anyway, the Oscars should be awarded as close as possible to the year the award is for, while memories are fresh.

There's this awful movie award season that starts around December and stretches on for months, and doesn't end until the Oscars. Let's cut this agony down to a few weeks.

The move will also cut down on all the electioneering (which is more noticeable here in Hollywood than elsewhere), which would be nice. Let's get these Oscars going. The Golden Globes are a joke anyway.

You Can't Resist

It's Byron Lee's birthday. He died a couple years ago, but it's always a good time for a ska break.

Five For Eleven

Pixar films is an astounding story--they've released eleven feature films, all critically approved, all hits. For the record, the films are:

Toy Story (1995)
A Bug's Life (1998)
Toy Story 2 (1999)
Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Finding Nemo (2003)
The Incredibles (2004)
Cars (2006)
Ratatouille (2007)
WALL-E (2008)
Up (2009)
Toy Story 3 (2010)

Here's another list--the five best Pixar films according to a guy named Cam Cammon:

5. Ratatouille
4. Toy Story
3. Finding Nemo
2. Toy Story 2
1. The Incredibles

I don't think #5 would make my list, and probably not #3. But what bothers me most is rating Toy Story 2 above Toy Story. This is getting as common as seeing The Empire Strikes Back over Star Wars (A New Hope). The first Toy Story is still the greatest--it created all the major characters and the basic situation; everything since is just playing in that world (in a less organic way). People overrate the sequel because it has some very sappy stuff in it.

I'm also surprised to see a list of Pixar films these days that doesn't include either Up or WALL-E.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Wicked

Happy birthday, Chris Isaak. He's recorded a lot of music, but is by far best known for one song he did 20 years ago:

The Way We Were

I recently watched The Candidate, one of the smartest films about politics ever to come out of Hollywood. The plot has Robert Redford as Bill McKay, a politician's son who enters a race to become Senator. As he gets closer to winning, he also starts selling out the original ideas, and idealism, that got him in the race.

Released in 1972, it's always interesting to watch again to see both how similar and how different it is from today's politics. But even I was surprised this time around--when McKay debates his opponent, what's the big issue? An oil spill.

PS Speaking of movies and politics, both Kevin Costner and James Cameron have claimed they know how to deal with the oil spill in the Gulf. Maybe they do. I just hope they're not confusing their films with real life.

PPS I've noticed that ever since the spill David Letterman has been mocking Obama. I'm surprised there hasn't been great comment among the punditocracy. Isn't that supposed to be a turning point?

Going Mad

New Mad Men in a month. Can't wait. I've been trying to get info about it, but creator Matthew Weiner is tight-lipped. He says the characters will have to confront who they are, and what's happened in the past will continue to have impact.

But I don't even know what year it's set. Originally, the idea was each season jumps two years, but after last season that's out the window. Will it just be 1964, or will Weiner try to get back on track and jump to 1966?

This year's poster seems to promise new beginnings, but also uncertainty, and a sense of emptiness. Don may have a new office, but he's still rebuilding, both his business and his life. With his wife planning to marry another, I wonder if his home life will get less attention?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Deathless

Can you believe it? A year ago, he died. Here's how I prefer to remember him:

End Run

Democrats in the House of Representatives, showing contempt for the First Amendment, passed an onerous new disclosure law 219-206, openly trying to make it harder for certain groups to criticize them in upcoming elections. Worse, they've even got viewpoint discrimination built in, exempting groups they like (labor unions) and others that cut deals (the NRA).

I hope wiser heads prevail in the Senate and this lunatic law is stopped. Failing that, I hope there's an injunction as soon as possible if it does pass. It's not uncommon with this sort of law for Congress to include an expedited appeals procedure so the Supreme Court can speak on its constitutionality, but not this time. The Reps who supported it (you know, the ones who take that oath of office to uphold the Constitution) probably know it won't pass muster, but will be quite happy to be protected from attacks for a few years while it works it way to the top.

Back To The Future

Futurama is back. Last night featured two news episodes, the first regular weekly shows since its cancelation in 2003. I never loved the show, but I guess it's good to see it back. (It was much more exciting to have Family Guy back).

The premiere episode explained how all the characters came back from the wormhole where they ended up in the Futurama DVD-movie I didn't see. The second episode had the Earth threatened by a censorious Death Star while Leela and Zap Brannigan tried to start their own world as a new Adam and Eve.

It was a bit weird seeing the show again, but my reaction was generally the same. The plots are fairly imaginative, but I don't quite cotton to the characters.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Periodic Credits

One of the witty thing about Breaking Bad is, for each name in the credits, they highlight a letter or two representing an element from the Periodic Table.

At first I wondered if this would be hard. Then it occurred to me just about any name would work. There are plenty of two-letter elements to fit most names. For instance, let's look at the main Breaking Bad cast:

Bryan CRanston
AnNA Gunn
AARon Paul
Dean NOrris
BEtsy Brandt
RJ MitTE

If there's no other choice, here are all the one-letter elements: H, B, C, N, O, F, P, S, K, V, Y, I, W, U. There can't be too many names that don't have at least one of these letters.

Try yours and find out.

MBA

I didn't note when Manute Bol died earlier this week. It was sad, but I really didn't have much to add. The day it happened, I was in Hollywood near the CNN building and read on the ticker that an NBA player had died at 47, but I didn't catch the name. I tried to figure who it was, and was surprised when I got home and found out it was Bol. I didn't even know he was ailing. (I've heard it was a kidney disease and a skin condition. It's not clear if it was related to his height.)

At 7' 7" he was the NBA's tallest, dwarfing even other players. He weighed 225 pounds. That's alarmingly skinny. Compare Yao Ming, one inch shorter--he's in shape and weighs 310 pounds.

It's hard to imagine being that tall. Even guys a foot shorter would cause comment. In fact, it's a good thing he was in the NBA. That meant instead of people exclaiming "look at that freak!" they'd say "hey, it's Manute Bol!" Still, everyday things people take for granted--sitting in airplanes or cars, sleeping on beds, buying clothes--were probably a major hassle.

Well, sorry to see him go. He really did seem to be one of the rare sports heroes who was gentle, kind and humble.

Kee-ritics

The story continues. Earlier this year I discussed Gerald Peary's For The Love Of Movies: The Story Of American Film Criticism. The documentary shows the rise and the fall--it wasn't that long ago when being a movie critic was a job that put you in the center of a thriving field, not to mention a thriving debate.

In the past decade or so, as print media has been dying, so has the major film critic. There were a number of pieces bemoaning this fact. Then Andrew O'Hehir, in Salon, told the critics that no one wants to hear them whine.

Now James Wolcott, in Vanity Fair, surveys the debate. He quotes Tom Shone, who wrote a fine books on Hollywood blockbusters, and now claims that critics have become insular and cut off from popular taste:

I think… film critics are blazingly out of sync with the vast majority of filmgoers—just look at the praise heaped on movies like Duplicity, Up in the Air, A Serious Man and Greenberg, all clever, sometimes witty, thematically rich movies with no discernible pulse. In fact, with 75% of film critics giving Greenberg an enthusiastic thumbs up, it might be argued that it’s high time film critics went extinct.

This is a bit harsh. First, there are plenty of middlebrow critics who like many of the same films as the masses. Second, critics see a lot of films and so tire more easily of all the cliches Hollywood throws at them. Third, isn't it sort of the job of critics, even middlebrow ones, to have good taste, and thus disagree with the public at regular intervals?

As for the films he lists: Duplicity was meant to be a crowdpleaser, an international thriller with big stars. It didn't get great notices and, while it made a disappointing $80 million worldwide, it's not like the public shunned it. Up In The Air he may not like, but the public did--considering it's a fairly intimate film, it still made over $160 million worldwide. A Serious Man, without a big name, still managed to make $26 millin worldwide--and it's not like it got wild praise from the critics (in fact, none of these films did). Greenberg was pretty bad and even with a name made almost no money, but, is Shone saying there's no room for character studies with weak plots--even if they're not all gems, and seem to him to lack a "pulse"?

Anyway, it's hard not to have sympathy for all the people losing their jobs, but, it's true, as Roger Ebert points out, there's more being written about film than ever--it's just spread out, mostly over the internet, and often more specialized.

Average filmgoers often mock critics, saying they've got rarefied taste and don't get what's truly entertaining. But the question becomes what lasts? A lot of what's popular disappears. Critics can champion things and get them attention in their time, and help keep them alive down the road. For that alone, it's a worthy avocation.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Saints Preserve Us

It's always fascinating to know the latest thing to outrage Bill Donohue of the Catholic League:

Why would the owners of the Empire State Building deny the late Mother Teresa the honor of having the lights turned on for what would have been her 100th birthday in August?

[...] "Why is it when John Paul II died in 2005 they extinguished the lights in his honor?" said Bill Donohue.

[...] "The next step now is the demonstration. I have all summer long," Donohue said. "We're going to get thousands of people into the streets."

Usually I saw To Each His Own, but sometimes you gotta say Get A Life.

Bob Fosse Forever

Happy birthday, Bob Fosse. One of the most imaginative and stylish choreographers of our time. He won just about every award out there for stage and screen.

He was well established on Broadway when he directed his first film, a Hollywood adapation of his show Sweet Charity. I wouldn't say it quite works as a movie, but when we get to see a show-stopper directly important, like "Rich Man's Frug," it's all worth it.



(If I have one problem with the number, it's that the "Aloof" is so great the rest can't top it.)

Hi, Bob

I don't really read what Bob Herbert writes anymore. The question is, does he.

In his latest, he looks over the state of the world and, as always, discovers it proves everything he's believed all along. Fine, a lot of columnists are like that. But then we get this:

The collapse of the economy in the Great Recession gave us the starkest, most painful evidence imaginable of the failure of laissez-faire economics and the destructive force of the alliance of big business and government against the interests of ordinary Americans.

Okay, Bob. So the problem is there's not enough interaction between business and government, and there's too much interaction between business and government.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Living By A Code

Today is Dan Brown's birthday. He's the phenomenonally popular author of The Da Vinci Code, which is an industry unto itself. It's a novel about secrets messages hidden in famous works of art. This is a regular theme in his work, and many believe--including Brown--that there's a lot of fact in his fiction.

Looking at Dan Brown's name, I see it's an anagram for "own brand." That's it! He makes up stuff so his name can be associated with bizarre conspiracies that are bestsellers. I finally cracked it.

Tout Court

By a vote of 6-3, the Supreme Court upheld a law that makes it a crime to give material support to foreign terrorists. That may seem like the right decision, but as far as I can tell, this "material support" could include pure speech where one tries to convince the terrorists to become peaceful. The Court's majority seems to be saying that activities where you support a recognized terrrorist organization, even if you believe you're doing it for positive reasons, still makes it easier for them to continue being terrorists. The majority is thus willing to defer to the government, allowing them to determine how best to balance free speech and national security.

The six votes were the Court's five conservatives plus the always questionable Justice Stevens, who's capable of voting wrong on either side. In dissent, Justice Breyer wrote the case involved "the communication and advocacy of political ideas and lawful means of achieving political ends. [...T]his speech and association for political purposes is the kind of activity to which the First Amendment ordinarily offers its strongest protection.” I agree. If only he'd extend such rights not only to those who aid terrorists, but to those who form corporations.

The goverment's case was argued by Solicitor General Elena Kagan. Wonder if she'd be on the same side if she were on the bench.

Meanwhile, the Court, 7-1, lifted a ban on selling genetically modified alfalfa seeds. The majority believed (and I agree) the ban was a drastic remedy--let's get some more research. Good old Justice Stevens was the lone dissenter--whether the government wants to limit your speech or your business, he's always ready to help out.

Justice Breyer sat this one out. He likes this sort of case, but his brother worked on the lower court decision. Wonder how that family dynamic is working out?

TB

Last week's premiere of HBO's True Blood was huge. Now in its third season, it's a bona fide hit, getting numbers much bigger Treme or The Pacific or (alas) Breaking Bad. In fact, it's already been renewed for a fourth season.

I watched the first couple shows when it debuted and gave up. Is there something I'm missing? I'd be willing to try it again, but they'd have to start showing the first season. I don't want to jump in the middle.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ray Day

Amidst the big three--Beatles, Stones, Who--it's easy to forget about The Kinks. But they had their sound, and millions still listen. Ray Davies is the man most responsible, and today is his birthday.

Vote Early And Vote Often

In Port Chester, over the years, they elected trustees by majority vote. This unconstitutional state of affairs couldn't last, of course, so a federal judge had to come up with a different voting system.

This is because there was a sizable number (but not a majority) of Latinos in the area, and, somehow, unlike Greeks or Italians or dentists or teachers or Protestants or Buddhists or most other groups, there's an assumption that only Latinos can represent Latinos. So a new voting system, where everyone could pull the lever six times, and concentrate their vote, was forced on the city. Happily, it led to the election of a Latino, or, presumably, they would have had to try other voting schemes until they hit on one that produced the desired result.

But don't take my word for it. Here's Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, explaining how the system may be coming to a town near you:

The country's been changing in a lot of places, with minority growth in exurbs and commuter cities, and there will be a realization that those minorities can't elect candidates of choice.

So certain recognized minorities--though you'd think the very word suggests they don't always get to win in a democracy--have a legal right to prevail. Expect more lawsuits.

Funny thing is, I often find myself on the losing side in elections, and for the systematic reason that what I'd like in a representative is not what the majority wants. There are certain responses available to me. One is to grin and bear it--everyone goes in knowing this is how (unrigged) democracy works. No matter how much you want something--no matter how much you need something--you get no guarantees.

Another response might be to change my vote to a candidate who may not be ideal, but can win. (I'm only talking about voting here, of course. That's just one way to express yourself politically.)

Or, if I found out that there was a sizable minority of people who agreed with me, there would be plenty of other things to do. For instance, we could try to get a candidate who's acceptable to us but also enough of a compromiser that he could cross over and get enough votes of others to win. Or we could put out arguments to the public at large explaining why what we believe is a good idea for everyone.

Who knows, this strategy may work in general. And over a series of elections, it may work out that we get four or five trustees who sort of agree with us, instead of just one who agrees with us all the time under the court-ordered scheme. This might work out well for us, but also work out well for the community, bringing us all together and creating a greater integration of interest, rather than a proud, open, state-recognized separation.

Let's Not Skip It

Hey, it's Skip James' birthday.

James was a great blues singer in the 1920s and 30s, but essentially disappeared from public during the Depression, only resurfacing when he was rediscovered in the 60s.

His best known song is probably "I'm So Glad," since it was covered by Cream, among others.



His best known performance is probably "Devil Got My Woman" because it was featured in Ghost World. The film is directed by Terry Zwigoff, who loves (and performs) this kind of music. He gave the lead character, Enid, his taste, but I buy it completely.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sound Waves

Happy birthday, Brian Wilson. Whether you think he's a nut or a genius (or both) there aren't too many people in the past half century who made more good music.

And he wasn't just a songwriter, he was a composer:





PS I've made fun of Wilson's lyrics in the past, but "Wouldn't It Be Nice" is well-written. For a conditional love song, it beats the heck out of the starchy "If I Loved You," and I like it considerably more than the overrated "Maybe I'm Amazed."

My favorite line:

You know it seems the more we talk about it
It only makes it worse to live without it
But lets talk about it

Nostalgia

President Obama has declared it a "Recovery Summer." Sounds like a WIN.

CC Injection

On Friday there were a bunch of new films opening, but then I noticed there's a Chaplin festival over at the Aero Theatre, located on Santa Monica's tony Montana Ave. I already own Chaplin's work on videotape and DVD, but I believe great films, especially comedies, are meant to be seen on the big screen with an audience. Still, I did wait across the street until I was sure there'd be at least 100 people inside. (While I was waiting, I saw Brenda Strong walk by. She's probably best known as Mary Alice Young on Desperate Housewives, but when I look at her I think of candy bar heiress Sue Ellen Mischke from Seinfeld.)

City Lights and A Woman Of Paris were showing, in new 35mm prints. Standing on line (and a slow line it was), I heard a couple complaining that the poster announced the titles with no more info. Seriously? Had they not at least heard of City Lights, cinema classic? Actually, if they hadn't, so much the better. Nothing like going in completely ignorant. The woman (in the couple) started talking about how she liked Chaplin, but preferred Keaton. Chaplin must be spinning in his grave. Then she talked about how the modern-day equivalent of Keaton is Michael Cera, so I guess Buster started spinning, too.

I've written about City Lights before, as have so many others. It's Chaplin at his best, and bravely (or was it just fear?) sticking to silence in the sound era. Some mock Chaplin for his reliance on sentiment. Okay, he's not Keaton, but he's such a magnificent performer he's able to pull it off--at least here, especially at the famous ending. My favorite Chaplin feature is The Gold Rush (which is less sentimental), but there are times I think I should switch.

This time around I noticed the supporting cast is pretty good. Very often, with great clowns, everyone else is just there to make the main guy look good. But Chaplin does give moments to the others, even allowing them laughs. Of course, their acting is his acting. He'd perform precisely what he wanted, and they were then supposed to imitate him. Chaplin was a control freak who took as long as needed to get the shot, and if he didn't like an actor, he'd replace him. Virginia Cherill, who plays the blind girl, isn't a great thespian, but she looks right for the part and he basically forced a performance out of her. Others, especially Harry Myers as the Millionaire and Hank Mann as the Prizefighter, are actually memorable.

I'd seen A Woman Of Paris on the big screen before, but it had been long ago, and I hadn't been that impressed. I was eager to give the film, which some call a masterpiece, another chance. Alas, it's "not bad." I'd call it more a fascinating oddity in Chaplin's career than anything else. Chaplin stalwart Edna Purviance finally gets a chance to star in her own feature sans Charlie, but the story isn't much: A gal from the provinces moves to Paris and becomes a rich man's mistress. She goes back and forth between the rich Parisian and her old love, until there's trouble.

It's a pretty basic melodrama (though generally not overacted, thanks to Chaplin). The design is nice, and Adolphe Menjou comes across well, but there's not much here. Allegedly it inspired Lubitsch to make sophisticated comedy, and I'm grateful for that. But otherwise, it's too bad that Chaplin spent some of his prime years working on this when he could have been making another classic feature. Perhaps he just needed to get it out of his system.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

All Over The Map

There have been a number of Lost maps made by fans. Now, with the show over, we get as good a one as you're likely to find from Jonah Adkins.

The map disagrees with other Lost maps in certain areas. Fox instance, the placement of Rousseau's camp and the spot the Tailies landed are matters of controversy. I suppose every Lost cartographer has to make choices. Different episodes give different information, and as Jonah admits, there is simply no way to make the map comport perfectly with all the action.

Peach Of A Number

Seeing as it's the last day of the Georgia Peach Festival, I thought we'd commemorate it with an 8-bits version of the greatest song ever written on the subject, Frank Zappa's "Peaches En Regalia." They get some of the notes wrong, but it's the spirit that counts.



If you want to compare it to the original, with some nice pictures added, here it is:



PS Friday's David Letterman show featured comedian Larry Miller. The band played him on and off with "Peaches En Regalia." Usually there's a pun involved, but I'm not seeing it. Is it his theme song? Or are Paul and the gang aware of the Peach Festival?

Rock The Boat

Alan Vanneman is one of my favorite writers on film, but I'm not sure if I can trust him on TV. He reviews 30 Rock here and, in addition to being way too cutesy, has some questionable observations.

First, he calls it Tina Fey's love letter to herself. I can somewhat see this--Liz Lemon (that's one "m," Alan) is a shlumpy, lovable loser version of Tina Fey, but hey, you write what you know. Is it that unusual to make the lead sympathetic? Even on SNL she often did self-deprecating bits. It's hard enough to get a show on the air--30 Rock originally looked like NBC's bad show about sketch comedy, while Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 was the one to watch.

I think he also exaggerates the boost that Fey's Sarah Palin impersonation gave 30 Rock. It gave the show a bit of a bump, but it's never been a huge hit, and was kept on for good demographics and the fact that NBC was in such trouble it couldn't afford to cancel anything that gave them hope.

But worst of all, in condescending to a show he likes, Vanneman writes:

Black folks on the show are uniformly fat, jolly, and dumb (but funny and good of heart!), with the exception of token Harvard spade "Toofer" (Keith Powell), who is, naturally, buttoned down and boring.

This is absurd. If anything, the show has gone out of its way, in a running gag, to show that Tracy Jordan's African-American entourage, Grizz and Dot Com, are actually quite educated and intelligent (and not always that jolly).

Friday, June 18, 2010

They Don't Know Jack

This may sound like a silly complaint, because it is.

Jack In The Box has a spokesman named, not surprisingly, Jack. He has a big round head with a simple, painted-on face. The joke is he makes serious executive decisions with this silly look.

I find the commercials uniformly annoying, and the only thing I like about the whole concept is in any given shot, Jack can't change his expression. I like characters who can't change their expression trying to emote.

However, in a recent commercial, he goes to the movies and is alarmed at how much they charge for popcorn. He's so troubled, in fact, that while he's watching the film a cheap, animated tear runs down his face.

I don't care how smart they think this was, they broke the rules.

Still Cute After All These Years

Paul McCartney, who's 68 today, loved performing more than the rest of Beatles combined. If it had been up to him, they'd never have quit live shows after 1966. And it's good to know he's still out there, allowing millions the fantasty of singing "Hey Jude" with him.

One of the negative after effects of John's death was it accelerated the process of downplaying Pauls' contribution. Some critics saw him as too mindlessly poppy, but he was as essential to The Beatles as Lennon was.

The Right Writer

Someone was telling me about a new book called Who Really Wrote The Bible?, where the authors take on the Documentary Hypothesis, which states the Bible (in particular here the Five Books Of Moses) was put together from more than one sources.

I doubt very much the authors have anything serious to add to Biblical scholarship. The Documentary Hypothesis is on solid ground and has been for quite some time, while many religious people through the years have strongly opposed it for obvious but not necessarily scholarly reasons. Perhaps the authors of the book have hit on something new, but I'd guess it's more like all those people with "shocking new evidence" that Shakespeare didn't write his own plays.

So why am I bringing it up? Because, as described to me, the authors are asking was the Bible written by Moses, or is it a "forgery." Unfortunately, this is a term you run into a lot when you argue about the provenance of a religious text. Those arguing for authenticity like to claim the other side is saying it's a forgery. There's something dishonest in using that word.

If the Torah wasn't written by Moses, then I suppose you could say, in a very thin, technical sense it's a forgery. But this is not the common understanding of the term. When used today, it almost invariably implies deceit or fraud. But I don't think this debate is about a claim that the Bible, when put together so many years ago, was created by people self-consciously trying to deceive. More likely the group on that side of the argument believe it was created by reverent people who believed they were spreading the truth.

So to say "either I'm right or it's a forgery" has an unfair implication. I'd suggest that people fighting to say Moses wrote the Bible remove that word from their vocabularies.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Igor's Boogie

Igor Stravinsky was born on June 17, a very long time ago. Somehow, it just wouldn't have been the 20th century without him.

Not So Hot?

I missed the debut of the TV Land sitcom Hot In Cleveland, but I did read a review in The New York Times. It's about some "older" women who move from LA, where no one notices them, to Cleveland, where, as the title has it, they're considered hot.

While the show may think it honors flyover country, and is putting down the West Coast, isn't this a bit condescending? I suppose I should watch it first. Maybe I'll report back if I ever get around to it.

The review also inclued this:

“Modern Family” seems bold because it includes a gay couple in the family mix, but the women’s roles are as actually as traditional as on “Leave It to Beaver.” One housewife is a neurotic, blond, all-American stay-at-home mom; the other is a fiery, sexy Colombian stay-at home mom.

Really? I didn't think Modern Family was considered that bold, but if it is, it's because of the smart jokes and plots. The gay stuff is hardly bold--it's usually the most cliched stuff on the show. The young Columbian wife with the old husband seems bolder.

A Bolt From The Blue

The report of a six-story statue of Jesus destroyed by lightning has been getting a lot of attention. (It's in Monroe, Ohio--get out there and do some reporting, ColumbusGuy.) With arms outstretched, it was known as "Touchdown Jesus." Well, lightning does discriminate, and this is just the sort of target it would go for.

According to a church official, they plan to rebuild. I don't believe in signs, but do they? And if there ever was a sign, wouldn't this be it?

(Actually, according to certain reports, some locals see this as a need for the nation to return to its Christian roots. Why don't they see it as a direct sign that the particular members of this church have fallen short and need to change?)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Stan

Arthur Stanley Jefferson, better known as Stan Laurel, was born 120 years ago today. Though he played the dumb guy, he was the brains behind Laurel and Hardy.

It's hard to show a representative scene, since L&H films are as much about the overall pace and build as single gags.

We're In His Debt

So President Obama surveyed the situation and made a speech. He clearly saw what the problem was: Americans have too much money.

He's confident if only the government takes more of it, things will be okay.

And Yet

I've been putting off writing my review of Lost's sixth and final season. Mostly because I just haven't had the time--it'll have to be shorter than I'd prefer as it is. But there's another reason. I have to admit, for all my enjoyment, this was by far the weakest season of Lost.

I thought Season Five moved really well, and I expected it to lead to a final season where they had so many great payoffs they'd hardly have time to fit them all in. Instead, Season Six often meandered and made what seemed to be a serious miscalculation.

First, let's start with the Island story, which has always been the center of the show. There was some good stuff--new locations like the Temple, the Cave, the Lighthouse. Some good action, too, with fights and strategems. But, overall, what did happen could probably have been done in half the time, maybe less. For too much of the season there was trudging back and forth with little sense of purpose. (There's always been trudging, but usually they were going somewhere, or had a serious threat on their tail.)

We were promised a war, but we mostly got fog. For most of the season, it wasn't clear what anyone was doing: Why did the Temple folk act the way they did? What was Jacob's plan? What was MIB's plan? What was Ilana's plan? What was Widmore's plan? We saw them do things, but we had no idea why. And sometimes once we found out, it seemed pointless--half of MIB's plan was to sit tight while others came to him. Or someone would leave the action, or change sides, to charge back in for what seemed like almost no reason--this happened an awful lot, to Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, Ben, Richard, etc. While previous seasons had moments where the action seemed to slow, they always had something clear going on to move the story arc forward.

And note above who was moving the story forward--Jacob, MIB, Ilana, Dogen and Widmore. These characters have their place, but it should be the regulars taking control. It's their story, but they spent way too much time this season being led around by others.

Also, many of the best characters were taken out, or neutered. Locke was dead. I like MIB, but he's no Locke, and without Locke the show is missing its heart. Sawyer spent too much of the season not caring, trying to deal with a broken heart--maybe it was a plot point, but compare this to the lively Sawyer of Season Five, who has learned to care quite a bit, and uses his talents to get things done. Sayid, the most passionate of all, was completely sidelined as he lost his emotions. Ben, the scariest and most unpredictable, realized his whole Island experience had been a con job and could hardly do anything. Miles, Richard and Lapidus didn't have much to do. Kate--well, I had no idea why Kate was doing anything; she said she wanted to help Claire, but it seems like an awful lot of work for a very small result. Claire herself was no longer Claire, and while she seemed a bit threatening, didn't add up to much.

Then there was the weird plan to fly the plane off the island, which ran the plot for half the season. Okay, it turned out they could fly it, but if so, why wasn't that the obsession of those on the Ajira flight? The plane had crash landed. If it could fly, fly it off the next day. But they seemed to be setting up an Island life, like the original Losties.

Then there were the answers to the show's mysteries. There are two general complaints: 1) A lot of things weren't answered and 2) the answers we did get were dumb. Actually, this didn't bother me as much as a lot of other fans. I recognize there was no way to answer a lot of things, and many of them (including explaining contradictions that piled up) I'm perfectly capable of dealing with myself if they're not central to the show. I also recognize that it's very hard to make answers as exciting as questions, since a question opens up possibilities, while an answer closes them down. If an answer is too simple or obvious, it can seem dumb, but if it's too complex, it can seems silly.

Should they have answered the biggest question fully--what is the island? I don't know, but I can live with a half-answer, that there's a special force on the Island (could be scientific, could be mystical) that creates a lot of magic. Okay, I admit that leaves a lot open, but would having it all be a spaceship, or the doing of an Egyptian god (or both), be that much better?

As for the answered questions, most were a bit too obvious (though it's easy to say now). But, overall, I don't think the answers trivialized the action. Some of the twists were a bit silly, but (after filling in the many holes), I'd say that while they were playing a game created by Jacob and MIB, the Losties did make choices and those choices did matter.

Incidentally, with the wider and wider revelations of the show, we discovered that no one really knew anything. Or at least that much. The Others--Ben, Widmore, Richard, Dogen, Ilana--had partial understanding at best, and when it came to the deepest mysteries, were completely in the dark. Part of this was due to the management style of Jacob, who didn't like to explain what he was doing. But then we found out that even Jacob and MIB had only an incomplete understanding of what the Island was about. (If they knew more, they sure didn't enlighten us.) Even the biggest question about the war was unanswered--we don't know what happens if MIB gets off the island. Maybe, as MIB believed, nothing? Jacob only got his info from Allison Janney, and it's quite possible she's nuts.

While the Island story was weak, it did have a good ending. Using Desmond, Jack, Hurley and others, they were able to stop MIB (assuming that's a good thing), protect the Island, and get what was left of the Losties off. (For the first three seasons, the point had been to get as many of the Losties back home as possible. In the final three seasons, the point was to protect the Island and save the Earth.) The final image of Jack closing his eye as the Ajira plane flies away was perfect.

But this brings us to the other half of Season Six, the flash sideways. This was the miscalculation I referred to earlier. The conventional view (which I mostly accept--more on this later) is the flash sideways was a sort of purgatory, where the people who shared an important experience on the Island could meet up and work out their Earthly problems before they learned to let go and move on. While it did lead to some interesting character interaction here and there, ultimately I think it was a mistake.

I complained earlier about how the characters on the Island just weren't the same this season. Well, the characters in the flash sideways weren't the same characters at all. The people we'd grown to know and love vanished and were replaced by doppelgangers. We waited all season to find the connection between the flash sideways and the Island, and during that time, we were watching an alternate world that meant nothing. Perhaps it was interesting to see a kinder, gentler Ben (Gentle Ben), or a Locke who'd married Helen, but it wasn't real (both as it was happening, and after we found out the secret). Everything else that happened on the show was real, and mattered, but what did this matter?--it was merely playing a "what if" game. Might as well have been fan fiction.

And this was bad enough the first time around. Knowing it means nothing will make it that much harder to watch the second time. (Btw, if they're eventually going to stumble their way into letting go in this purgatory, then the actions of Desmond in helping them don't really matter either.)

But it gets worse. Knowing (according to the conventional view) that this is a purgatory where all dead Losties go makes everything that happened on the Island meaningless--or at least less meaningful. You died? So what, we all die, and then we get to meet each other. You stopped the monster from getting off the Island? That may be good, that may be bad, but it's not that big a deal, since we're all going to die and meet in purgatory anyway, and leave the Earth behind.

What the show needed, dramatically, was to make sure what happened on the Island was central to the overall plot, not a pleasant afterthought as they get ready to "let go." I believe I understand what the producers were going for--they wanted to show a spiritual side to the show. But what the purgatory turned into--after all the intentional misdirection where they tried to make us believe if was something else--was a sucker punch.

There are rules to drama. You can break the rules, but there are reasons they exist. What the show should have done (btw, I believe they decided late in the game to go for purgatory; all the Jacob v. MIB stuff and the ending on the Island had been planned from the start, but not the sideways world, I'd guess) was to merge the flash sideways and the Island story into one, making both necessary for the other, and making both matter, so the Losties could end up solving (or failing to solve) their problems. The Losties could save themselves, and the world, or die trying. The sideways world could have been created by the Incident--just as real as the regular timeline--and it could have been necessary to merge the two so the anomaly is over and the threat of MIB is dealt with. Or the sideways world could have been the false world created by the MIB overlord after he got off the Island, which the Losties had to fight to return the world to its proper state. Or maybe there's some other conventional solution. But that's not the way the producers decided to go.

(Let me use this parenthetical paragraph to note since the mechanism of the purgatory and its relation to the Island is still unclear--like most big questions on the show--there are ways to interpret things to make the Island story matter more. Indeed, I choose to believe these explanations because they could be correct and I'd rather the story be dramatically satisfying. What are some of these possibilities? Well, the purgatory could have been created by the Incident, allowing the life force of the Island to create a special place for these people. Without it, they wouldn't live on, or have a purgatory to deal with their problems, anyway. In fact, we don't even know if anyone else gets a purgatory. This may be the only purgatory there is, and it's all explained by as yet unknown scientific reasons, not mystical ones, attached to the Island's life spirit. Furthermore, if they hadn't been able to destroy MIB, all would have been lost. In addition, using Desmond as they did allowed him to be able to solve the problem of the purgatory, which otherwise they would have been stuck in forever. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. There are other related ideas, but I don't have time to go into them.)

But instead of conventional storytelling (if anything on Lost could be called conventional), the show went in its own special direction, and, well, you can see the problems I have with it.

And yet...

I can't deny, that for all the problems I had during the season, and the flaws I see after the fact, the final moments of the show moved me more than any TV show ever has. Was it worth it? I don't know. But I do know, that for all its weaknesses, the finale to Season Six was something special.

At the very least, I still see the show overall as one of the greatest things ever on TV. (Some time I'll do an overview of all the seasons.) I don't believe a weird plot twist and a weak season changes that.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dick On Woody


I've been reading Woody Allen: A Life In Film, which prints the full interview with Allen that Richard Schickel did for his documentary. Having already seen the doc, I was more interested on the lengthy essay Shickel includes.

I disagree with it violently, but it's well worth reading. Schickel thinks Woody's early films are overrated but his run of films in the 80s and early 90s are almost unparalleled in cinematic history. I'd say the opposite is true. Once Woody started moving away from his one true talent--comedy--he moved toward numerous bad habits: arty shooting style, obvious and rambling dialogue, shallow characterizations, poorly constructed plots. Schickel either ignores these deficits, or doesn't believe they exist.

Shickel makes some good points, even if we differ on the quality of the films. He notes, for instance, that Woody often relies on magical realism. I'd never thought about it before, but a quick review makes a solid case--Stardust Memories, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, Zelig, The Purple Rose Of Cairo, New York Stories, Alice, Shadows And Fog and others feature a magical world intruding on everyday life.

On the other hand, I was often taken aback by Schickel's parenthetical comments. For instance:

Between 1924 and 1967 [Charlie Chaplin] made only ten movies, less than one-third the number Woody created in a similar time frame and, masterpieces (A Woman Of Paris, The Circus, City Lights) aside, not necessarily a better body of work overall than Woody's--more aspiring perhaps, but not better.

So Schickel has a chance to list some Chaplin masterpieces and he picks these three? City Lights, sure, but no Gold Rush, no Modern Times? Instead, A Woman Of Paris, an interesting feature that doesn't star Chaplin, and doesn't really compare to his best work? And The Circus, the one feature he made at his height that doesn't quite compare?
 
Later, we get:

Yes, to be sure, [Woody] has made other, essentially humorless films (September, Another Woman, Sweet And Lowdown).

Sweet And Lowdown is essentially humorless? It's a comedy, and a reasonably regarded one at that.

Writing on how The Purple Rose Of Cairo has movie characters jump on and off the screen, we get:

By using this marvelous device (first toyed with, less consequentially, by Buster Keaton in Sherlock, Jr.) he was of course making one of his boldest magical-realistic assaults on his audience's expectations.

I think Sherlock Jr.'s use of this device is far superior to Woody's. Keaton effortlessly and brilliantly places it into his story, while Woody's labored metaphor can't even match Keaton from a technical standpoint, even though he's working 60 years later.

PS The only part of the essay I'd skip is the final section where Schickel defends Woody's personal life. Even if his argument were good, it wouldn't be relevant.

The Long And Short Of It

Here's an article that purports to explain why men are taller than women.

British scientists have come up with an explanation for why most men are taller than women. They say taller men are more sexually attractive and are more likely to father children.

Men, though, prefer shorter women, so the two sexes are unlikely ever to end up the same height over the course of evolution.


"It seems that tall men and petite women are favoured in evolutionary terms, even in a modern population, so the height difference between men and women is unlikely to disappear," says Daniel Nettle of the Open University.


It seems to me no explanation is given for the very thing they're trying to explain. So the study shows women prefer taller men and men prefer shorter women. Okay, fine, but why? How did these traits come to be considered attractive?

I also wonder about Nettle's argument. The XX versus XY genes account for sex differences, but if women prefer taller men, wouldn't that just mean their children of both sexes would be taller? And the same (in the opposite direction) for men preferring shorter women?

Sexual dimorphism is a fascinating subject. I think, rather than just polling humans, better explanations could be derived from seeing the differences in other primates: male gorillas are much larger than female gorillas, while chimp differences are similar to humans, and gibbons have even less difference. What is it about their lifestyles that could lead to these various biological results?

Play Misty For Me

Hey, it's Erroll Garner's birthday. Most people are sick of "Misty," but I can take it once a year.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bump It Up

I was recently behind a car with two bumper stickers. One announced the driver (I presume) was a Christian opposed to "hate." The other proudly trumpeted the driver was "everything the Christian Right hates."

So here's someone who doesn't like hate, but is pleased to evoke it in others.

I later saw one of those "Against Abortion? Then Don't Have One" stickers. Do they think this will convince anyone who doesn't already agree with them?

Waxing On

In the middle of a surprisingly weak summer box office, Hollywood is shocked to find a remake of an old 80s hit has unexpected strength, enough to create a franchise. They're further shocked that it isn't The A-Team.

Against expectations, the Jackie Chan/Jaden Smith Karate Kid has the makings of a blockbuster, grossing $56 million over the weekend, more than twice what The A-Team made. (I guess turnabout is fair play. Last summer's surprise hit, The Hangover, featuring The A-Team's Bradley Cooper, upended expectations and easily beat the bigger budget Land Of The Lost.)

I went out to the movies on Saturday evening. I wasn't planning to see Karate Kid, but even if I wanted to, it was sold out. And The A-Team wasn't. I could tell something was going on right then.

I'm a big fan of Jackie Chan, but a Mr. Miyagi-type role doesn't seem right for him. Chan is good with action, not English dialogue. But I guess the film will be playing long enough for me to find out what all the excitement is about.

Breaking Worse

Quite an ending to the third season of Breaking Bad. "Full Measure" continued the tradition of keeping up the tension through plot twists you don't necessarily see coming.

The prologue, following third season protocol, starts with a scene from the past. Walt and pregnant Skyler are looking at their new house. He's a hot shot young chemist who's going places and doesn't think the place is good enough. We know the unfortunate, even bleak future he has in front of him. This is an old dramatic trick, but it usually works--we know the bitter, sad people of today, and we're given a glimpse of their young, hopeful past.

Back in the present, Walt, his car still banged up from killing two of Gus's dealers, meets Gus (with Mike and his other aide) in the middle of nowhere. (As I've said, the first season mocked these sorts of grandiose meeting places, but they've become commonplace on the show.)

They know what Walt did. Gus is so angry he lapses (intentionally?) into his Spanish accent. Walt says he has two options--kills him and Jesse, or move on and make money. Gus agrees to the latter. Apparently. I was suspicious, since it would leave us nowhere dramatically. The problem would be solved and we can go on without any fear. That's no way for a series finale to go. Besides, Gus is mad and we've seen how easily he kills. But we know he's also canny. He's probably biding his time. Down time with no cooking is costly.

Walt goes into work the next day, and, as we perhaps expected, good old Gale is his new assistant. Gale, everyone's favorite fall guy. And Walt is closely watched, now--the aide hangs around the lab--pretty boring work for a man of action.

Mike drops off his granddaughter (a character scene) and moves on to his business of the day. Turns out Gus hasn't heard the end of the Cartel, and they've sent some guys up to probe for weaknesses. Mike ruthlessly and efficiently takes them out, as well as sending a message to Gus's own people who may not be on the up and up. (And sending a message to network execs that he could star in his own series.) This is a guy you don't want to mess with. When he talks to Gus, we also find out, as anyone would expect, that they don't plan to let Pinkman go, either.

At Gale's place, he enjoys a little music ("Crapa Pelada") and putters around. I like this guy. It can't end well.



Gus makes a surprise visit. To what do I own this honor? Gus, as we expected, wants Gale to replace Walt. And soon. (We expected this earlier in the season, but now it's certain.) Gus puts it nicely--Walt is ill and needs to be replaced--but Gale gets this is serious and it can't wait. He recognizes Walt is a master, but he can learn quickly. (It's important that Walt makes meth like no one else or the whole plot falls apart.)

At the lab, Gale is more inquisitive than usual. Does Walt know what's happening?

At Saul's, Mike bursts in. He threatens Saul, wants him to give up Pinkman. As Saul later notes, this is just wrong--who works for whom here? (I often don't like when shows change power relationships this way.) Saul doesn't want to give up a client--it even goes against the little ethics he has--but he seems to be ready under duress. Jesse's in Virginia. Are we going out there? Does the show have a travel budget?

Next thing you know, Saul is showing Walt the laser tag place he wants him to buy, but Walt still doesn't seem interested. Aren't things too hot to worry about this now? But once they're inside the building, we're relieved to find out that Walt and Saul are in on it. They're not dupes. They know the car is bugged and they're being followed. Jesse, as we've guessed, is hiding in the joint as well. He and Walt have a serious talk, as serious as they've ever had.

Both know this is it. They're going to kill Walt as soon as Gale can take over. And they'll kill Jesse when they find him. Can Walt work out a deal first? They realize there's only one solution for now--kill Gale.

Walt has said they're not killers...but, in fact, he is. A ruthless, coldblooded killer. There have been a number of times on the show they were backed up against the wall, and every time, corpses followed, often at the hand of Walt. But Jesse has never had the heart. He makes what sounds to me like a good suggestion. Go to the cops. They'll love Walt's info, and gladly give him witness protection. Meanwhile, Jesse can take all his money and go on the lam.

Walt, sounding like a real gangsta, says no DEA under any circumstances. Walt knows production has to contine, Gus can't stop. That's his leverage. To keep it up, Walt will kill Gale. What's another body? Jesse can track him first, since he's the wild card. (Btw, I was expecting Hank to show up somehow, but I guess he's out of the picture. He can't even walk yet.)

We get a pan of Walt's house, mirroring the shot opening the show. Now it's a domestic scene, and Walt is holding his baby. He knows what he'll be doing very soon. Jesse calls him and gives him the address. Then tells him don't do it, go to the cops.

In the driveway, Gus's aide drives up and tells Walt there's a leak at the lab. Walt knows what this means, so I was surprised to see him take the ride. I figured he'd at least try to stop the guy along the way. At the site, Mike is there, ready to take Walt into the lab and take care of the "leak" for good. Does Walt have a plan?

He turns and begs Mike for a chance to talk to Gus. Mike says he can't do it. Time for full measures. Walt says he'll give up Jesse. Can't give an address, but can call him. Mike's interested. He calls Jesse and rather than giving him up, tells him to go shoot Gale. If Gale's gone, they can't shoot Walt. Good thinking. The aide rushes off while Mike stands there, for once not in control of the situation. Mike is smart, but Walt may just be smarter.

We cut to poor Gale, making tea and enjoying more exotic music. A knock on the door. He's getting more guests than usual lately. It's Jesse, who puts a gun to his head. "You don't have to do this." Jesse is in tears. He really isn't a killer. But he does it. (Some people apparently think he didn't shoot Gale, but I don't see any other interpretation.)

So put that in your pipe and smoke it. See you next year.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

PC

Prince Charles blames a mechanistic view of the world propounded by science, along with consumerism, for the environmental problems we're facing. He believes our problems can't be solved just by technology, but through a change in our souls.

I have no problem with his argument, except the premises are false, the logic is mistaken, and the desired results are foolish.

Cranky

I just saw Winter's Bone, a critically lauded film that's likely to get lost in the shuffle. With no stars, no car chases and a rough plot about sad people, it's a tough sell.

The story features a teenage girl in the Ozarks (filmed on location) searching for her father, who skipped bail after being arrested for cooking meth.

One of the women the girl runs into is portrayed by Dale Dickey, who's known for playing the skanky junkie in Breaking Bad. I have to wonder, whenever there's a plot about meth do they automatically call her?

PS She's best known as the prostitute on My Name Is Earl, so she gets to play all sorts of roles.

Unpromising

Tony Awards are tonight. Hard to get too excited since I haven't seen any of the shows and know next to nothing about all the new productions. There was a time when Broadway was America's entertainment, but it's become more rarefied than that.

Sean Hayes hosts. He's also nominated for Promises, Promises. The show wasn't even nominated for best musical revival, so the voters don't think much of it.

I just heard him Hayes interviewed on Fresh Air. Oddly, the host (filling in for Terry Gross) claimed the show produced two hits, the title number and "I Say A Little Prayer." While the latter has been interpolated into the present production, everyone knows the other hit is "I'll Never Fall In Love Again."

Bacharach and David were also interviewed. They were asked how they wrote "Promises, Promises" and they responded it was playwright Neil Simon's title (for a show based on The Apartment, which already had a famous theme) and produced David Merrick insisted on a title number. So there you have it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pretty As A Picture

Lately when I go to the Google page it's featured huge, colorful pictures.

Could it be they feel Bing breathing down their neck?

Party Smarty

A few weeks ago I noted how much I liked Party Down, a sitcom about a catering group. Since then, if anything, it's only gone up in my estimation. The writing, as I noted, is smart. And, financially (for the production), it's a good set-up--each week they have one, but only one, new setting.

What's impressed me most after seeing several episodes (all from season two) are the plots. You'd think catering a new party each week could get boring, but they mix things up enough so you never know what you'll get.

In the first episode I saw, they cater a backstage party for a rock star, and he gets out of his makeup and pretends to be one of them to find out how the other half lives (while one of the staff dresses up as the rock star). In another, they cater a party where the guests don't understand until they show up that the host is expecting an orgy. In another, Steve Guttenberg has forgotten to cancel his party so he ends up leading them in reading and rewriting a screenplay that one of the staff is working on.

It's still mostly about the jokes, but it's so much easier to be smart when the plot is working.

Anne's Day

As recently noted, I just read a book on Anne Frank, whose birthday is today. Some have complained that the play The Diary Of Anne Frank prettifies and deracinates her story.

It's true the Pulitzer Prize-winning hit by the Hollywood husband and wife team of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett softened the original story, but is this a bad thing? The true tale is much more horrible, but it's still there, not only in the diary, but in many books that tell the wider history of how such a thing happened.

Art can help us face tough things, sometimes by providing the buffer of fiction, that spoonful of suger that makes us deal with something otherwise unbearable. But is this the right thing to do when we're talking about real-life tragedy? Or does it cheapen the memory of what happened? I don't know. But I'm guessing, as watered down as the Anne Frank play is, that it's introduced more people to her story than a stronger version that would have been harder to swallow.

PS Considering the somber subject, perhaps I shouldn't bring this up. Still, I can't help but think of the (apocryphal) story of when Pia Zadora starred in a production of The Diary Of Anne Frank. Allegedly she was so awful, when the Nazis were searching the house downstairs, someone in the audience shouted "She's in the attic!"

Friday, June 11, 2010

Calling Captain Kurk

From an LA Weekly essay on Star Trek movies:

Responding to complaints from critics and Trekkies alike about The Motion Picture's brainy tone and lavish cost, the producers mapped out a leaner sequel, in the process confronting the dilemma of how to make wham-bang sci-fi movies on a miniscule budget, with actors entering their fifties.

Yep, even in print we're now seeing "minuscule" spelled with a second I. I predict in fifty year "miniscule" will become the favored spelling.

Oh Hugh

It's Hugh Laurie's birthday. He's best known as the irascible Dr. Gregory House, but did fine work in British comedy for many years, often with partner Stephen Fry.

He was also Bertie Wooster to Fry's Jeeves. It didn't really capture the magic of Wodehouse, but I do love Hugh singing and playing "Oh By Jingo!"

Closing The Screen Door

When I first moved to LA, one of the sleekest places to see movies was the Beverly Center Cineplex. It was on the top floor of the then-modern Beverly Center mall. But LA is a fast-paced city, and wasn't long before the Cineplex was outmoded.

First, the Beverly Center started charging for parking, so why go there to begin with? Then the Beverly Connection with its own cinemas opened up next door. Then (after the Connection theatres closed) you had The Grove open up just down the street, not to mention the ArcLight a bit farther away, and who needed the Cineplex?

So it closed last year. It briefly reopened, showing more out-of-the-mainstream films, which was great. But there simply wasn't the traffic necessary to keep it open, and now it's gone for good.

It was nice knowing it was there. But knowing it was there isn't the same as going there, and that made the difference.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

HaTe

I don't get why Helen Thomas was forced out of a job (or retired, according to the official story) for stating that the Jews in Israel should go back to Germany, Poland, etc. It's been widely known for years she holds these views. Why is everyone so shocked?

The Kindness Of Strangers

I saw more than one headline on how Blanche Lincoln defied the anti-incumbent trend. Certainly she beat union-backed Democrat Bill Halter in an Arkansas run-off, but did she defy the trend? I think that would be misunderstanding the trend.

I usually complain about trendmongering, where pundits promote non-existent trends, or trends so slight as to not be statistically significant. But the anti-incumbent mood among the voters does seem to be meaningful.

Still, that doesn't mean incumbents will simply lose. It means that incumbents who normally have nothing to fear, now do. Lincoln, in a regular year, would have breezed to her party's nomination, rather than require a run-off which she won by a margin too close for comfort. If anything, the headline should be "Lincoln wins squeaker, confirming anti-incumbent mood."

In fact, she better hope that mood has lessened by November.

PS Speaking of trendmongering, a lot of people have been noting how many women won on Tuesday. Coincidence.

The Little Fellow


For years I avoided Joyce Milton's bio of Chaplin, Tramp, because I'd heard it was about his personal life, and not so much about his art. Then I saw it in the library and picked it up. Alas, the reports are true. Most of the book talks about his many problems with women, money and politics. I'm not saying it isn't worth reading, but really, if it weren't for Chaplin's movies, who'd care about the rest?

Chaplin may have been the greatest artist of the 20th century, but he was an odd man. He was cheap (though he could show generosity), thought highly of himself (but also seemed to have an inferiority complex) and had odd fears (of rubber, warm milk and other things).

Milton spends a lot of time on Chaplin's leftist politics. With an alcoholic father and loony mother, essentially raised as a street urchin, he found himself world-famous and beloved by his mid-20s. I supposed that would bend anyone out of shape. I guess it figures he'd fall in with communists. He probably saw it as a way to solve poverty, which he'd seen up close, as well as being a simple answer to big questions that, once adopted, would gain him entry into the smart set.

Chaplin talked people's ears off over politics and other deep issues--he had great breadth, if not depth. (He once lectured Buster Keaton on economics. I'd love to have seen that.) But he never seemed to see the irony of his situation. He supported plans that would essentially have corporate profits confiscated by the state for the good of society, but when asked if he'd give up his own money--he was one of the richest men in Hollywood--his reply was certainly not, communism was for businessmen, not artists. He supported the Soviet Union, but when asked to let his films be shown there for free, he said his work was of great value and he wouldn't give it away to anyone.

Milton can be tough on Charlie, but Chaplin was nasty enough to so many who were close to him that it's hard to feel sorry for the guy. On the other hand, who really cares? Those slights of long ago are forgotten, but the Tramp remains.

PS I caught at least four typesetting errors in the book. Highly unusual.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Top

It's Cole Porter's birthday. Today, anything goes!

Starter For 10

I soon plan to write about my conflicted feelings over the last season of Lost. I'm sure it'll be one of many post-Lost contemplations.

Until then, let me list my ten favorite characters, in ascending order. I should note I'm picking the characters based on them at their best--there were certain episodes, and even seasons, when they were not well served.

10. Richard

One of the more mysterious characters (until revealed in the final season), Richard was very capable but usually worked in the background, acting as the voice of reason.

9. Jack

Someone's got to be the hero. It's often a thankless job. Jack tried so hard to be the good guy it could get to be boring. But he was central in getting the show off the ground and rallied well in the final season.

8. Faraday.

Soft spoken and often confused, he was the only one who seemed to understand what was happening scientifically. I wish he could have been around in the sixth season--we could have used some rational explanations.

7. Juliet

There were decent female characters on the show, but Juliet is the only one who makes my top ten. She was stuck on the Island quite a while, and had lost the ability to smile until she surprised herself and found love. I'm certain the producers had no idea when they began the show that Juliet would be half of the greatest couple on the show.

6. Desmond

I see Desmond as the most separate of the leads. He sometimes worked with the others, but usually seemed to be on his own. I mean there were the Losties, the Tailies, the Others, the Freighter Folk and the DI, but from the start, Desmond was all by himself, in the hatch. And when he turned that key, he separated himself even more.

5. Hurley

The audience stand-in, an everyman who often asked the questions the audience was thinking. Also, the show's comic relief. If he hadn't been around, I think the show would have been too grim.

4. Sayid

Maybe the most troubled (of a very troubled bunch). He was one of the most talented, good at both technical matters and battle, but was so uncertain of his moral center that he sought out others to help show him the way.

3. Sawyer

The ultimate bad boy--which is why he hooked up with more women than any other character. His arc into hero and lover may have been the most dramatic in the show.

2. Ben

I don't know if it was the writing or the actor, but Ben was the character who was the hardest to see into--you didn't know if he was telling the truth or using you. I'm not sure if he knew. At times he seemed to be a psychotic killer, but also seemed to believe he was one of the good guys. His need for power led him astray before he learned what he truly was, but along the way he provided more tension (and got beat up more) than any other character.

1. Locke

Sometimes wise, sometimes pathetic. He was a believer, but he also knew how painful believing could be. Ironically, believing in the island made him the perfect mark, but also led to the final resolution, even if it meant the ultimate sacrifice.

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