Sunday, October 31, 2010

SS

I was just on Hollywood Boulevard.  They got signs all over the place warning against Silly String.


Wow, a thousand bucks.  That's really gonna raise the black market Silly String I sell on the side-streets.  I don't see how I can let it go for under $100 a can.

Horrors

I finally watched "The Rocky Horror Glee Show."  I don't regularly watch Glee, but being a big fan of Rocky Horror, I figured I'd catch it.

The story itself--about how the kids are putting on Rocky Horror--was pretty weak, and the motivations too convenient.  But it was fun to see new versions of all those numbers that are ingrained in me.  The show didn't mess with the songs too much, giving them a slightly different spin (and cleaning up the lyrics--"transsexual" becomes "sinsational" and "heavy petting" becomes "heavy sweating"), but just hearing them done by someone else was intriguing.

So I was surprised to see Glee-watcher Todd VanDerWerff at The A.V. Club give the episode an F and call it their worst show ever.  Apparently he's into the drama of the show, which I didn't know anyone took seriously.   And Matt Zoller Seitz at The House Next Door ranted the show played it too safe.  For me, it was the most enjoyable thing they've ever done.

So Like Candy

John Candy was born on Halloween, fittingly, 60 years ago.  While he had a decent movie career, I think his best work was at Second City.  There are so many great character he created that I'd hardly know where to start.  So I'll just show a short bit from one of my favorite characters, Yosh Shmenge (though you don't really get a sense of him here) doing, also fittingly, a political announcement.

Theme Day

I think The Munsters theme song is the coolest, spookiest prime time tune ever. Unfortunately, I can't embed the superior first-season theme, so we'll have to settle for the second-season, which removed the cool organ and added a surf guitar:



I don't know where this version comes from, but it's just freaky:



Could be worse. They could have kept the theme from the unaired pilot:



Happy Halloween (and Happy Derman)!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hamming It Up

I've been seeing a lot of Mercedes-Benz commercial with Jon Hamm doing the voice over.  He's got a nice voice and is a hot actor, no question.  But is he really the guy you want?  He's so identified with Don Draper of Mad Men, a cynical master of manipulating people's emotions, that I'd have to wonder about all the associations people might make.

Stray Thought

People who use cliches like "thinking outside the box" aren't thinking outside the box.

PS GS

Yep, this is the real 70th birthday of Grace Slick.

It's Never Over

To be honest, this episode of How It Should Have Ended isn't that great.  But it's been so long since I ran something on Lost, figured I'd put it up.



It does demonstrate the fan disgust at certain plot points.

And here's the response from Hitler.  Twice.



Friday, October 29, 2010

Could Your Neighbor Be A Libertarian? It's More Likely Than You Think!

An anonymous commenter rightly chided me for focusing on silliness when there's interesting stuff going on.* He or she points to a new Cato piece showing that there may well be a pretty even split among tea party activists between those who care only about fiscal conservative issues and those who also care about traditional Judeo-Christian values issues. (As someone who thinks that what passes for many mainstream Christian values in this country generally are nothing Jesus would have bought into I'm a bit miffed at the terminology, but that's a digression for another day.) The really big news for me was seeing how many folks self-identified as Libertarians:

"Surprisingly, 35 percent of respondents who hold libertarian views self-identified as such. In previous surveys, we’ve found only 2 to 3 percent self-identify as “libertarian” nationally. To the extent that Tea Partiers talk to their neighbors and friends, perhaps we will begin to see the word “libertarian” catch on. This would certainly be good news for the “libertarian brand,” and a possible trend worth exploring in future research."

If supported by later findings, this would be wonderful news. A serious third party candidate approach to dealing with fiscal issues separately from culture issues would force a national discussion we really need to have.

On a related note, I thought Warren Redlich did a really nice job in the farce of a debate we had in NY's governor's race. It was good tactics by Cuomo to insist on that format -- made it quite easy to lump Paladino in with the "fringe" candidates. But a nice unintended consequence from my point of view would be for some folks who had thought of Libertarians as no more serious than the Rent Is Too Damn High Party to take a closer look at the former. After watching the debate together, my daughter now wants me to vote for Jimmy "The Poodle" McMillan, but maybe I'll just buy her the action figure.



* I will freely confess that my lawyerly/childish/quixotic quest to see if LAGuy is ever willing to admit error is silly.

Call To Post

This week's Saturday Night Live featured a desk piece by new cast member John Mulaney.  What did he talk about?  The movie Secretariat and how animals don't know they're in a movie.

Hmm.  Sounds like a mash-up of two recent posts here. Perhaps he's a fan.

Must be Someone Unbeaten

I think Oregon is the best team in college football.  The AP rankings agree, even if the BCS doesn't see it that way.  But the rest I'm not sure about.

In particular, let's talk about my league, the Big Ten.  There's bound to be at least one unbeaten team still around.  At this point, it happens to be Michigan State. They're a decent team, but should they be in the top 5?  They're not facing OSU this season, so if they make it past Iowa this week, they've got an excellent chance of getting to the end of their schedule without a loss.  But if they face a team like Oregon at the end, I don't see a happy ending.

The Continuing Story Of Young And Slow Bill

Syfy has ordered a pilot for a new Battlestar Galactica series.  It will be about a young William Adama fighting in the first Cylon war.  Its name: Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome.

“The ‘Galactica’ universe as re-imagined by Ron Moore and David Eick is rich with possibilities and backstory,” said Syfy programming head Mark Stern. “We jumped at the chance to revisit the William Adama character and explore this exciting chapter in the BSG narrative which falls between the events of the original series and the prequel, ‘Caprica,’ currently airing on Syfy.”

I don't watch Caprica (which was just canceled) and I don't plan to watch Blood & Chrome.  The Moore reboot of BG was a fine idea, but messing around in the past, when we know where it's all headed, isn't.  Even if I were a huge fan of Adama, seeing another actor play him in his early days isn't the attraction.  It was the character living in the "present," trying to run a ship and save humanity while being chased across the galaxy by Cylons.

Even if I didn't always like the direction the series was going (particularly in its second half), it was the basic situation which made it work.  Seeing older fights in the same storyline isn't the same thing.

(And that completes this week's trilogy on sci-fi sequels and prequels.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Legal Prop

The California Proposition getting the most attention is 19, which in essence legalizes marijuana.  The polls showed an early lead but support has been dropping since.

If it passes, that's when the fun will start.  (Not the kind you're thinking of.)  Attorney General Eric Holder has promised to ignore the will of California voters and vigorously enforce federal drug laws.  Okay, he's a fed, I can see that.

But local official, LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, will do the same.  You might think changing state laws would change how he operates, but as he puts it, "Proposition 19 is not going to pass, even if it passes.”  Good to know.

Blue On Blue

Whether or not George Lucas makes more Star Wars, it appears James Cameron will make Avatar 2 and Avatar 3.  Sounds like a bad idea.

Oh, I know they'll make money, but a setting is not a story.  I'd rather he use his imagination to come up with something entirely original.  I realize he returned to Terminator, but that was a case of getting a chance to do it with a big budget.

The studio is thrilled, of course:

"AVATAR is not only the highest grossing movie of all time, it is a created universe based on the singular imagination and daring of James Cameron, who also raised the consciousness of people worldwide to some of the greatest issues facing our planet."

The scariest part of this statement is that they think Avatar has something to do with the real world.

Hang Over

Hollywood's been talking about how Mel Gibson's planned cameo as a Bangkok tattoo artist in Hangover 2 was dropped.  And it wasn't for financial or artistic reasons.

Director Todd Phillips was all for it, but when he didn't have the support of his "entire cast and crew" Gibson was out, soon replaced by Liam Neeson.

Since there aren't that many people central to the remake, it's generally believed cast member Zach Galifianakis, who implied as much in an interview, put the kibosh on Gibson.

Now it's true, Gibson's a big jerk.  He's said and done some awful stuff.  Some of it so ugly I can see refusing to work with him.  But I'm still a bit queasy when it comes to, in essence, blacklisting someone you don't approve of. There are plenty of names in Hollywood who have said and done horrible things. If you work with them, does this now mean you approve of everything they've done?

As many have noted, the first Hangover prominently features Mike Tyson, convicted rapist.  Who should be the arbiter (or ear-biter) who decides what's acceptable and what isn't?

I suppose in these matters you have to follow your conscience.  But when in doubt, perhaps tolerance is the way to go.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Slightest Bit Of Evidence?

"There are a lot of liberals who need to be retired this year, but there are few I can think of more deserving than Keith Ellison. Ellison is one of the most radical members of congress. He has a ZERO rating from the American Conservative Union. He is the only Muslim member of congress. He supports the Counsel for American Islamic Relations, HAMAS and has helped congress send millions of tax to terrorists in Gaza."

By the by, there's another Muslim in Congress, Andre Carson.

Milestone

Scroll all the way down to the bottom.  We're awfully close to our 200,000th hit.  Will your click be the one?

JC

Happy birthday, John Cleese. One of the greatest comedy minds of our time.

Say It Ain't So

Joe Biden is always fun to listen to. His latest line is getting more attention than usual:

"Every single great idea that has marked the 21st century, the 20th century and the 19th century has required government vision and government incentive."

In a vague, roundabout way, you can make a case for this.  That the government, through courts, cops and so on provide a stable society for people to create.  Furthermore, when they take so much of our money and interfere in so much of our lives, they have a hand in everything.  (Did the inventor drive to the store to get supplies--who do you think built those roads?)

But it's sad, and not a little bit scary, to know this is the attitude that so many in our ruling class have.  It's not the creative force of free individuals in a free marketplace that drives things forward, but the government.  It's amazing we're not more grateful.

R&B

A great artist has died.  Alexander Anderson Jr. was the creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle, not to mention Dudley Do-Right.  Back in the arid days of TV animation, years before The Simpsons, The Rocky And Bullwinkle Show almost single-handedly kept witty cartoons alive.  Goodbye, AA.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cheaper Than Food

I see Man v. Food is shooting at Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger, the best burger joint in Ann Arbor. For a simple shack hidden away in a non-commercial area of Ann Arbor, it's sure getting a lot of attention.  Here's an older show from the Food Network:

Good Luck, GL

There's a very questionable rumor that George Lucas is planning a sequel trilogy to the original Star Wars films.  I'm guessing it won't happen, but, of all the things Lucas could do with Star Wars, this would be the best.  (Some would say leave it alone, I suppose, but that's too late.)

I love the original trilogy, of course.  Even Return Of The Jedi I like.  But even the idea of making a prequel trilogy was flawed.  This is telling stories that don't need to be told.  We already have our own ideas as to what happened.  Seeing a different version mars our beliefs and cheapens the original films.  And all those side-projects are just tiresome.  But a sequel opens up a new universe where anything can happen, and where George's creativity could take flight.

A lot of people don't think he has it in him, as evidenced by the last 20 years or so of his films.  Maybe, but if he's got anything left, this is how to let it out.

Ace Of Bass

Happy birthday, Bootsy Collins, the best funk bassist out there.  Not a bad singer either, and a great sense of humor.

He started with James Brown and then moved on to George Clinton and finally ran his own band.  Here's a lesson from the master.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Madness To Their Method

The latest Newsweek poll shows Democrats are closing the enthusiasm gap.  It's certainly possible.  Voters coming home to the base as the election nears is a common phenomenon.  I guess we'll find out soon enough. (Or will we?  Expectations for Republicans are so big that anything short of a blowout can be spun in the other direction.)

Trouble is, of all the major polls, I find Newsweek the hardest to buy.  For years now, whenever I hear of an outlier, it's Newsweek.  For example, the latest takes on the generic Congressional vote have everyone showing the Republican ahead by 7 to 11 points.  Except Newsweek, which is the only poll showing Democrats ahead.  It was taken a few days later than the others, but did the entire nation shift that quickly?

I don't know what methodology they use, but maybe someone ought to look into it.

Return Of The Gypsy

A few years ago someone left a comment about my post on the musical Gypsy.  I checked out her blog, artistic dominion, which was mostly about her theatre-going experiences.  She seemed to give up the blog over a year ago, but just by chance, I recently looked again and it seems to be active.

Her latest post is about the nihilism of A Little Night Music.  (Not one of my favorite Sondheim musicals, btw.)  Good to see ad back.  With so many critics judging theatre from on high, it's nice to read someone who still has a visceral reaction.  Here's something from an earlier piece (on Gypsy, of course):

...I had a Gypsy marathon comprised of the Sunday matinée, the best Tony Awards ever, a small Broadway by the Year - 1979 interruption on Monday night, the Tuesday evening show, and the Wednesday matinée. And the show got better every time I saw it and the dressing room fight at the end changed each night. But not like they were bored or goofing off. They were EXPLORING. It was brilliant. And Tuesday night's performance -- the one right after the cast won their respective Tony Awards -- was a performance that will live on as the most memorable show I've ever been too. Such entrance applause! And Laura [Benanti] breaking character (which she never does) and crying because of it. The intensity of the dressing room fight made me feel nauseated and "Rose's Turn" made me want to curl up in a corner and cry like a baby; Rose's hair was flying loose, she spat her words like snake venom, and then proceeded to have a complete nervous breakdown before my very eyes and I loved. Every. Second of it. Then I sat front row center on Wednesday afternoon, which really wasn't a good idea because Patti  [LuPone] hit me in the face with the torn up letter at the end of "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and I almost died. No. Really. Front row is really too close for comfort if you get as emotionally involved as I do. I was on the verge of a heart attack from the train station scene on through the end. Ugh. I hate that show. And by "hate" I mean "love". Clearly.

Considering her reaction, it's interesting that Patti's latest show is entitled Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Who's That Speaking?

If Jiles Perry "J.P." Richardson hadn't gotten on that plane with Buddy and Richie back in 1959, he might be celebrating his 80th birthday today.

A friend of mind once called "Chantilly Lace" the first punk record.  Decide for yourself.

Anyway, here's to you, Big Bopper.

Let It Be Over

I can't wait for the election season to be over.  I feel alienated watching ads designed to get to me where I don't see anything wrong.

Often, they're merely irrelevant, discussing issues that don't mean much to me.  That I can understand--there are issues voters out there, gotta reach them.

But then there are personal attacks that seem entirely pointless.  Are you really trying to convince me this guy who's served in office for years is too nutty?  Or this gal who made millions out in the real world is too rich?

Worst of all are specific attacks that have the opposite effect intended.  For example, more than once I've seen a politician accused of saying it's not the business of Congress to create jobs.  Damn straight it isn't.  They should be creating a situation where the free market can create jobs. Can anyone take this attack seriously?  Does anyone hear some sound bite (usually taken out of context) and say "hey, this candidate doesn't care if we're unemployed"?  That seems to be the hope of the people making the ad.

Another example regards the health care bill.  I've got plenty of problems with it, but the attack is usually that it'll cut Medicare.  That may sound unpleasant, but no matter what our health plan, Medicare is breaking us and it'll probably have to be cut one way or another.  If that's what the health care bill does, then it may be moving us in the right direction.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Always True To You

There's an old saying that leaders are people who see what direction the crowd is going and rush to get out in front.  Pundits can be that way, too.

Which brings me to Peggy Noonan. She's celebrating the Tea Party movement these days:

We may be witnessing a new political dynamism. The Tea Party's rise reflects anything but fatalism, and maybe even a new high-spiritedness. After all, they're only two years old and they just saved a political party and woke up an elephant.

[...] This election is about one man, Barack Obama, who fairly or not represents the following: the status quo, Washington, leftism, Nancy Pelosi, Fannie and Freddie, and deficits in trillions, not billions.

Everyone who votes is going to be pretty much voting yay or nay on all of that. And nothing can change that story line now.

Nothing, not even Peggy Noonan.  But it's sure not the story line she believed two years ago:

[Obama's] rise will serve as a practical rebuke to the past five years, which need rebuking; his victory would provide a fresh start in a nation in which a fresh start would come as a national relief. [...] He is steady, calm, and, in terms of the execution of his political ascent, still the primary and almost only area in which his executive abilities can be discerned, he shows good judgment in terms of whom to hire and consult, what steps to take and moves to make.

[...] Whoever is elected Tuesday, his freedom in office will be limited. Mr. Obama is out of money and Mr. McCain is out of army, so what might be assumed to be the worst impulses of each -- big spender, big scrapper -- will be circumscribed by reality.

[...] But let's be frank. Something new is happening in America. It is the imminent arrival of a new liberal moment. History happens, it makes its turns, you hold on for dear life. Life moves.

It sure does.  So enjoy it while you can, Tea Party, before Peggy finds someone better-looking to dance with.

Selection

Let us celebrate the birthday of Pauline Black, lead singer of The Selecter.  Of all my ska albums, I probably played Too Much Pressure the most.  Here's my favorite song:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Romano? That Sounds Eye-talian.

A Newsweek article by Andy Romano about how Tea Partiers view the Constitution is going okay until we hit this sentence:

For the forces of orthodoxy, the election of a black, urban, liberal Democrat with a Muslim name wasn’t a panacea at all; it was a provocation.

There it is, out of nowhere--the slimy insinuation of bigotry.  Romano may feel the Tea Partiers are overreacting, or being irrational, but does he have the slightest bit of evidence their actions are due to Obama's color, much less his name?  Is he saying if John Edwards did the exact same things as Obama, the Tea Party wouldn't have arisen, or wouldn't have cared so much?

Elsewhere, Romano notes the culture wars of the early 90s that brought down the Democrats--in that case, the right was reacting to the white, rural, classically-named Bill Clinton.  So why bring in color, and religion?  Maybe Romano needs to control his anger.

A Million For Each Degree

I watched Six Degrees Of Separation  (1993) for the first time since it was in cinemas.  I think it holds up pretty well, even if the stage version is a more powerful experience.

The movie, and play, are inspired by a real-life con man who pretended to be Sidney Poitier's son.  But that's just the jumping off point for a contemplation of how we experience life.  In a way, I don't like taking real events to create fiction. It only makes clear how fiction cleans up and prettifies things.  In the play, the con man is a spellbinder, a rather glamorous figure who enriches the lives of those who meet him. In real life, he was a cheap crook who later harassed and sued playwright John Guare for creating the play itself.  In the play, he's a tender soul crushed by the harsh realities of the world.  In the real world, he was a jerk who died of AIDS.

But if we can ignore all that, it's a pretty good work of art.  The movie sticks fairly closely to the play (especially the first third), which might be expected since Guare adapted it.  He opens it up so director Fred Schepisi can show us the opulent life of Wasp high society, even throwing in people like Chuck Close and Kitty Carlisle, who might as well be playing themselves.

Will Smith, before he became the biggest star in the world, gets to show off some acting chops as the con man.  His main marks are played by Stockard Channing--who'd starred in the Broadway version--and Donald Sutherland.  Pretending to be a friend of their college-aged kids, and also claiming to have been mugged, Smith gains entrance to their East Side apartment.  He charms them so much they're practically in love, but they soon discover his ruse.  They haven't been hurt, and haven't lost much of value, but they're certainly shaken.  Before long they discover this isn't the first time he's pulled this trick.  Smith identifies with this couple more than the others he's fooled, and later pretends to be Sutherland's son--a con job that doesn't end up so well this time.

We discover that Smith isn't a run-of-the-mill crook, but someone yearning for something deeper that he can't find in real life.  And he succeeds by being exactly what others want him to be.  Channing is moved by him, even after the shock wears off, and they form a bond of a type she doesn't easily find in normal life.  People need connections, hence the title--we're all connected, even if we don't know it.

One of Six Degrees best devices is how the story is essentially narrated as a series of smart anecdotes releated at various parties and events Channing and Sutherland attend.  They're chopping up their experiences into bit-sized pieces to entertain others.  But Channing realizes Smith is real, not just an amusing figure to dine out on.  Once you turn your life into a story, you can remove yourself, and your emotions, from it.  But she's felt something real and doesn't want to let it go so easily.

Another device (which was, if anything, a bigger deal in the play) doesn't work as well, perhaps because it's such an obvious metaphor.  Sutherland is an art dealer, and his greatest possession is a two-sided Kandinsky, one side showing order, the other chaos.  Just like how Smith introduces chaos into all these ordered lives.  The movie doesn't overplay it, but I almost wonder if it couldn't have been cut completely.

Guare has a talent for comedy, and the movie's quite funny.  There are a few places where he goes overboard (the awful college kids--one played by J.J. Abrams--are funny at first but soon grate), but overall he keeps things moving.  In the published play, he wrote the piece had to move like the wind, and that's how the film is, barely stopping to catch its breath.

One of the great things about the film, and ironically maybe the reason it wasn't a hit (it only grossed around $6 million), is that the screenplay is so literate.  I see no reason movies can be like plays, and have such smart dialogue, but the movie audience (as opposed to critics) often doesn't respond well to it.  Also, you usually see character wear feelings on their sleeves, but these Fifth Avenue socialites are several degrees removed from their emotions.  If you want to make money, tell stories about character who are relatable to everyone, not just playgoers in Manhattan.  Yet, the point is these people may express themselves with a bigger vocabulary, and a different accent, but they're not really different from us.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Diz

Happy Birthday, Dizzy Gillespie.

I saw him at the Blue Note years ago.  I felt he was holding back for the later show.



(Hope you enjoyed Miles Davis.  The tune is still by Dizzy.)

Would You Rephrase That?

In a recent debate, Christine O'Donnell caused a stir (and a little laughter) when she questioned the separation of church and state as Constitutional doctrine. Though it's a well-established concept in American law, and the idea has a lengthy pedigree, many citizens, especially religious conservatives, think it's a mistaken interpretation.



I'm not clear what they want, then.  The First Amendment is pretty definitive on not establishing a religion and allowing basic religious liberty. (I recognize there's the incorporation question, but I don't think O'Donnell is going so far as to question that.)  These words have to mean something.  Is O'Donnell implying while it can't proclaim an official religion, government can do anything else it wants in supporting religion against non-religion, or one faith against others?  If not, what are the limits?  Will we have a willy-nilly interpretation, where if it feels right, it's okay?

O'Donnell seemed to be insisting that since the words "separation of church and state" aren't in the First Amendment, this is a strong argument for her side.  But while there are no concepts more central to the Constitution than Separation of Powers and Check and Balances, those phrases are never used, either.  Neither is Innocent Until Proven Guilty.

The basic promises of the Bill of Rights (which tend to be anti-majoritarian) have to be interpreted--legal opinions can't just reprint the text to settle every case, they have to apply it to the facts at hand.  And a separation of church and state, as Jefferson put it, seems to encapsulate the intent of the words pretty well.

PS  A number of commentators acted as if O'Donnell had just made a mistake--that she didn't know separation of church and state comes from the First Amendment.  She knows it, she just doesn't like it.

Can You Dig It?

I recently attended a packed midnight showing of The Warriors (1979).  Hadn't seen it in a theatre in a long time.  Fascinating.

The film, about a gang stuck in the Bronx, trying to get back home to Coney Island, was directed by Walter Hill and written by Hill and David Shaber. Its roots go way back--it's an adaptation of a Sol Yurick novel, but the novel itself was based on Xenophon's Anabasis, a true story of Greek soldiers stuck behind enemy lines.

In the movie, the Warriors are falsely accused of assassinating top gang leader Cyrus.  From that point, they must use their wits and fighting skills to get past ever-more dangerous gangs.  They don't all make it.

What I found fascinating was, compared to what you see today, the film, though tense, is told at an almost leisurely pace.  At its time it was considered violent, but the big action scenes don't feature major explosions, or outrageous stunts (by today's standards), and happen rather quickly.  Hill gives the film room to breathe.  The man most responsible for changing expectations, the man who created the explosion-every-ten-minutes type of action film, Joel Silver, happens to be The Warriors' associate producer.

The film was highly controversial when released.  There was serious violence at some theatres--people were killed.  After that, Paramount pulled back on its promotion and some places wouldn't book it.  A few legislators even tried to ban it. I guess they didn't like the vision of gangs taking over New York City.  You might think controversy sells, but all this probably hurt the film--it wasn't the major hit many were predicting.

The critics didn't really go for it. They didn't see the style or poetry, or if they did, didn't like the theme.  A few loved it, such as Pauline Kael (a Hill fan), who went nuts in The New Yorker.

The dialogue isn't much, but there's some humor and a fair amount of humanity.  Even a little time for romance.  Michael Beck is Swan, the leader. Just as the film underperformed, he didn't go on to the big career some were expecting.

All the Warriors have their own characters and are easy enough to tell apart.  (It helps they're one of those Hollywood mixed race gangs.)  James Remar probably registers the most, as the tough guy who challenges Beck for leadership.  I'd also forgotten Mercedes Ruehl has a small part as the woman on the bench.

The most memorable character is Detroiter David Patrick Kelly's Luther, the real killer.  The Warriors was his film debut.  Since then, he's best known for playing psychos.  It doesn't really matter what else he does, he'll always be remembered for the most famous line in the film, which was improvised on the set:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dancing With Dick

Happy birthday, Barrie Chase.  Not too many people know her name, but she made quite a splash as Fred Astaire's dancing partner in his celebrated TV specials of the 50s and 60s.



But I think her greatest moment is twisting to the Shirelles in It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.  The film is almost three hours, features every comedian in the world, and the only part that makes me laugh is Barrie's forty seconds on screen, shaking it.

Fresh End

Some big, even shocking events occurred in "Tomorrowland," the Mad Men season 4 finale, but on the whole, it was a low-key affair.  The first season had Don's Carousel pitch.  The second had Peggy tell Pete about the kid, Betty discover she was pregnant and Don outplay Duck.  Season three had Don et al steal away the agency.

This time, the surprises came, but not the expected resolutions.  It looks like the agency will continue on as it has, barely making it, but staying alive.  It looks like Betty will remain with Henry, though hardly happy.  It looks like Don can keep hiding his identity.  We'll be going into the fifth season with a lot of the same questions--including "Who is Don Draper?"

The show starts with Faye saying goodbye to Don, who's still in bed.  She seems to be the new Anna.  She knows all about him, and he can act normally around her.  She tries to reassure him, it's time to be a person like everyone else.

At work, Joan is promoted.  No money, just more responsbility.  The men in charge recognize how competent she is--perhaps if she were a man she'd be running the place.  (Actually, she is running the place.)

Don appears before the bigwigs at the American Cancer Society for his pitch and wows them.  They're not used to such high-level appeals.  We're used to big pitches from Don, and here we can see how much he lies during them.  Sleeping with Faye, kicking ass in pitches--Don Draper, after flailing about, seems to have his mojo back.

At the office, they try to use Ken's connection with his new dad to get to Dow.  (Ray Wise is the actor--he's too good not to use.)  But Ken is no Pete--he won't trade in on his personal life.  Doesn't he want to get ahead?

At the old Draper home, Carla lets creepy kid Glenn say goodbye to Sally.  The only reason they're moving is to get away from Glenn.  When Betty finds out, she fires Carla!  Just when we thought we couldn't hate her more.  Betty's too childish to admit Glenn gets to her.  Carla, the most sympathetic character on the show finally gives her a little lip.

Betty calls Don and tells him Carla won't accompany him on and the kids on their upcoming trip to California.

Peggy's lesbian friends brings in her own friend, cute "Carolyn Jones" (whom Harry fawns over--touching, really.  BTW, what a crappy season for Harry.)  Carolyn's a model and lets drop that a panty hose company needs a new ad campaign, quick.  Opportunity.

Don's at a loss and hires Megan, his secretary, to be a nanny on the California trip.  She's shown she's good with kids in the past and certainly loves Don.  It's a win-win.

In California, the kids can't wait to swim in the pool.  Back at the office, during holiday, Peggy and Ken think they can pick up the panty hose account--the first new account SCDP's had in a while.

Megan does a great job with the kids, teaching them French songs to sing Gene to sleep.  Don is impressed, and Megan wants to impress him.

Next day, Don and the kids visit Anna's old place.  College gal Stephanie is there.  Don must be feeling good, because he even admits to his kids he's known elsewhere as Dick. No lies.  Is he opening up, like Fare suggests?  Stephanie gives Don Mrs. Draper's old engagement ring (from the real Don Draper). 

More swimming at the pool.  (There were rumors swirling that Matt Weiner would kill off a character.  I wonder if he started them to give the poll scenes more excitement.)  Don sits and things in his room, then goes back to swim with the kids.  He's loosening up even more.

At night, Megan leaves for a night on the town with an old girlfriend.  Megan's loking good. (So is the girlfriend.)  Don seems fascinated. Hey, why not, he's got his mojo back.

Henry is mad Betty fired Carla and didn't even tell him.  They have words.  (It's not easy to find good help).  Betty is petulant, and Henry isn't putting up with it.  She says she wants a fresh start, and he says there is no fresh start.  That's the whole theme of the show--we want to start anew, but we can't escape our past so easily.

In California, the kids are asleep.  Don goes to Megan.  Natch.  And, well, he can't help himself.  She sure doesn't mind. (Has Don got his mojor back or what?) While Betty lies down on her mattress, by herself, Don and Megan enjoy a little post-pillow talk.  She says she knows him, which she doesn't. It's hard to say who's falling for whom faster.

The hosiery pitch seems to go well.  Peggy thinks fast on her feet, and she knows they're desperate.  Will she save the agency?  (Abe Beame is name-checked.  He ran for Mayor in 1965, but didn't win until until the 70s.)

Don watches Megan watch the kids at the coffee shop. Sally spills a milkshake.  With walking-on-eggs-Betty, this would be a disaster.  Megan laughs it off and moves things along.  Wow.

Don and Megan sleep together again.  Don is up thinking.  He takes out the Draper engagement ring and proposes!  No, Don, you hardly know her and vice versa.  She's just a young, pretty secretary. She might be okay, but Faye is the woman for you!  Don't let her turn your head!  In the past you were sensible, stayed away from secretaries.

Megan's shocked.  What to say?  She's felt something for him from the start.  And she'll be hard-pressed to do better. Yes!  This is awful.  And a sign of how Weiner sets you up expecting one thing and delivers another.

Back from vacation, Don invites in Lane, Joan, Roger and Pete and breaks the big news.  Roger is nonplussed.  Lane recovers and congratulates Don.

Don had earlier called Roger a jerk for doing the same thing with Jane. (Well, he did dump his wife at the same time).  Joan is a bit more cynical. Here's the one man in the office as competent as she is, and he's acting so Roger-like.

Ken and Peggy come in with their good news--they got the account.  They're completely sandbagged by Don's bigger news.  Peggy, who's got the closest relationship of all with Don, closes the door and asks him what's going on.  He says how much Megan reminds him or Peggy, and how much Megan admires Peggy, but Peggy feels a bit spurned.  What the hell?

Peggy comes into Joan's office.  Five years ago Joan showed her the ropes, and they had their differences, but now they sit around and shake their heads at men.  Don, of all people.  A pretty face turns his head.  Joan says she's learned not to get all her satisfaction from her job.  Peggy says what we're all thinking--that's bullshit.

Don does what he has to do and calls Faye, who's been trying to get ahold of him.  She doesn't want to meet him, she'd rather just know now.  He
spills, and she's disgusted.  She tells him off--better warn your fiancee you only like the beginnings of things.  She hangs up and cries, deservedly.  She held off for a while, but succumbed to his charms, and now loses out for no good reason. Maybe if she'd been better with kids.  (In a normal show, we might worry that a vengeful Faye knows too much about Don's past, but is that too conventional a plot?)  Earlier this season Faye said Don's type remarries quickly, and he said he wouldn't.  More proof that she understands him.

Joan calls her rapist-husband, serving in military. The big news that Joan's kept from the office--she's kept her baby.  Her hubby, of course, assumes it's his.  Looks like we'll have a new character next season.

Betty is packing at her old home when Don walks in.  They actually seem to be enjoying each other.  At least they're cordial.  That's a switch.  She admits things aren't perfect--at the new house or in life?  Either way, what did she expect?  Don tells her his big news. And no, it's not Bethany, whom Betty met at the restaurant.  Someone at work. (Don didn't tell Betty or Faye Megan's name.  Why so coy?)  Betty guesses it's the secretary who watched the kids in California. If she hadn't fired Carla....

They both walk out, and we see Don and Megan in bed once again.  Megan's sleeping, Don looks out the window, and we hear Sonny and Cher singing "I Got You Babe."  Hmm, Don't been here before, and that's the song Bill Murray here's over and over in Groundhog Day.

And with that, we're done for the season.

Some are calling it their favorite Mad Men season, but maybe the latest always feels that way.  I felt it was a below-average season.  Too many quiet episodes, and once we got past the novelty of the new offices, not really much going on.  But a below-average season for Mad Men is still pretty good.

Will CSDP (with or without S) soldier on?  Looks like it.  Will Don's marriage work out?  Who knows?  Will Betty's marriage work out?  Who cares.  Will Peggy find true love? Not for a while, I'd guess, unless you count her work.  Will Don be found out?  Maybe, especially since the circle keeps widening. Makes you wonder if he'll start out this marriage telling Megan the truth. I doubt it.

Mr. C

Just yesterday I put up a song from Fiorello!, the 1959 Broadway musical that helped turned Tom Bosley into a star.  It got me thinking, what has Bosley been doing lately?  Next thing you know, I read Tom Bosley has died.

He was a short, round fellow, more suited to be a character actor than lead.  (Not too many protagonists look like Fiorello LaGuardia.)  Bosley became a familiar presence in supporting roles on TV and in movies, usually playing comedy.

From '74 to '84, he played the role for which he'll be remembered, patriarch Howard Cunningham on Happy Days.  When the sitcom started, it was done fairly realistically, and it took the 50s setting seriously.  Bosley, as Ron Howard's father, was stern but understanding.  But when the show went live, it got a little more outrageous, and his character (all the characters) got sillier.  I have to admit I liked it--we didn't need a redo of Father Know's Best.

Even with the new format, he was often the calm center of the storm.  He really was a perfect comic foil, reacting to the wild plots of Richie, Potsie, Ralph Malph and, of course, Fonzie--not to mention getting frisky with wife Marion.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rocky Relationship

Glee creator Ryan Murphy just finished an episode of his hit show that is devoted to the camp classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Hasn't that already been done?



PS  The linked article is about how Ryan Murphy might remake The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Sounds like a terrible idea.

Promoting From Within

I've always had trouble with Steve Carrell's character Michael Scott. He seemed too stupid and annoying to carry a show.  Nevertheless, The Office has been NBC's most successful comedy for several years now.

Carrell is moving on after this season--a recent episode had him saying goodbye to all his girlfriends.  So the question is who will replace him.  I think it's clear they need to go in a different direction to keep the show (relatively) fresh.

Actor/writer B. J. Novak suggested they bring in Danny McBride.  Even if McBride were willing, would his blustery style work?  In general, some big names have been thrown around, but I wonder if they won't throw off the show's balance (assuming that's a bad thing).

The show has brought in new characters before, but maybe they should try to keep this in the family--it's a tricky transition, and comedy audiences tend to like continuity.  So who of the regulars could become the new leader?

Dwight:  Too quirky and nasty.  His short moments in power have led to disaster.  They'd have to lose what makes his character tick to put him in charge.

Jim:  Too normal.  They've already tried giving him power, and it's not interesting to have a rational, intelligent person lead things.

Pam:  Might be interesting.  Would set up a possible conflict between Pam and Jim which could revivify their relationship.  But Pam, like Jim, suffers from the problem of being in on the joke.

Ryan:  He's been in charge before (though considering how he fell out of power I've never bought that the company brought him back).  But he's too much on the sidelines to take over.  It might have worked at one time to give a former temp power, but he's been around too long.

Darryl:  Another possibility, but, even when he worked in the loading dock, he was too much in control.  You want someone in charge who's not ready for the position.

Toby:  Maybe, but too quiet a character to rise to the position.

GabeL  Coming from Sabre, it makes sense he'd be in charge, but his character is too minor to suddenly take over.

Andy:  This makes the most sense.  He's never been quite sure of his place (and this would certainly create another roadblock in his pursuit of Kelly).  The episode where Michael visited his old girlfriends also featured Andy trying to run a seminar of STDs, a very Michael-like activity.  With Ed Helms becoming a bit of a star due to The Hangover, it looks like they may be grooming him for the lead.

All the other characters seem too minor or one-note to be promoted.

That's Rich

In the Harry Reid/Sharron Angle debate out in Nevada, we get this exchange:

Angle: ...you came from Searchlight to the Senate with very little. Now you’re one of the richest men in the U.S. Senate. And on behalf of Nevada taxpayers, I’d like to know, we’d like to know, how did you become so wealthy on a government payroll?

Reid: [...] I think most everyone knows I was a very successful lawyer. I did a very good job in investing. I’ve been on a fixed income since I went to Washington...

I'd rather he answered "I skimmed it off the people's taxes, how else?  And I'll do the same for the entire state of Nevada, so we'll all get rich if you vote for me."

Anyway, I swear there was a song written about this:



“Mr. X, may we ask you a question?
It's amazing, is it not,
That the city pays you slightly less than fifty bucks a week,
Yet you've purchased a private yacht?”

“I am positive your Honor must be joking!
Any working man can do what I have done.
For a month or two I simply gave up smoking,
And I put my extra pennies one by one

“Into a little tin box,
A little tin box
That a little tin key unlocks.
There is nothing unorthodox
About a little tin box.
In a little tin box.
A little tin box
That a little tin key unlocks.
There is honor and purity,
Lots of security,
In a little tin box.”

“Mr. Y, we've been told you don't feel well,
And we know you've lost your voice,
But we wonder how you managed on the salary you make
To acquire a new Rolls-Royce.”

“You're implyin' I'm a crook and I say no, sir!
There is nothin' in my past I care to hide.
I been takin' emply bottles to the grocer
And each nickel that I got was put aside
(That he got was put aside)

“Into a little tin box,
A little tin box
That a little tin key unlocks.
There is nothing unorthodox
About a little tin box.
In a little tin box,
A little tin box
There's a cushion for life's rude shocks.
There is faith, hope and charity,
Hard-won prosperity,
In a little tin box.”

“Mr. Z, you're a junior official
And your income's rather low,
Yet you've kept a dozen women in the very best hotels,
Would you kindly explain how so?”

“I can see your Honor doesn't pull his punches,
And it looks a trifle fishy, I'll admit.
But for one whole week I went without my lunches,
And it mounted up, your Honor, bit by bit.
(Up your Honor, bit by bit.)

“It's just a little tin box,
A little tin box
That a little tin key unlocks.
There is nothing unorthodox
About a little tin box.
In a little tin box,
A little tin box
All a-glitter with blue-chip stocks.
There is something delectable,
Almost respectable,
In a little tin box,
In a little tin box.”

Monday, October 18, 2010

Go, Chuck, Go

Harry Reid was recently asked to name the greatest living American.  He chose Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd, both dead.

If someone asked me, I think I might pick Chuck Berry. Sure, he's had personal problems, but he created the template for rock and roll. Believe it or not, he's 84 today.

He only had one #1 hit--"My Ding-a-ling" in 1972. But forget about that. He wrote a bunch of songs in the 50s and 60s that comprise as great a songbook as anyone's.

Someone once asked him why he wrote songs that white kids liked. He responded "are there more white people or black people?"

So Chuck, this day's for you. Sorry about all that time you had to spend in jail.

He was fine performer too, but I suggest you listen to the records--the originals.



Bete Noire

John Lahr is the kind of critic who loves to share his opinions, even when unrelated to the show at hand.  Here's how he opens his New Yorker review of La Bete:

Reader, have you noticed a whiff of misrule in the air? At home and abroad, terrorists and Tea Partiers, emboldened by ignorance, are threatening to bring an early fin to our siècle. Civil discourse is strained; understanding is regularly trumped by hectoring...

Is he so tone deaf--or has such a low opinion of his readers--that he feels he can casually compare terrorists and Tea Partiers?  (Since his first thought after 9/11 was it's an inside job, I suppose it's natural he sees a connection.)

Actually, his main gripe seems to be with the Tea Party people.  Terrorists aren't the ones straining civil discourse or hectoring us--they just blow us up.  It's those nasty fellow citizen who don't vote like him that are causing all the trouble.  When it comes to terrorists, he's more likely to call for understanding.  But then, he's always believed in selective outrage--all those people comparing Bush to a chimp or Hitler never had him bemoan the lack of civil discourse.

Still, he's making progress.  At least he didn't call them teabaggers this time.

Live From New York

I finally got around to watching last week's live episode of 30 Rock.  (Doesn't that kind of miss the point?)  Usually I don't like stunts.  If a show is good, just give me the regular stuff, no need to trick it up.  But I thought the whole experiment worked well.

Actually, it wasn't that it was live.  It was that they performed in front of a live audience.  That changes the whole rhythm and style.  What's lost in subtlety is made up in verve.  It was exhilirating to see the cast working the crowd.

I've never understood the networks' seeming mania for one-camera sitcoms.  It's not as if ratings justify the decision.  It wasn't that long ago when taped live was the norm, and I didn't notice anything lacking then.

30 Rock is a complex show full of little gags and moments that they had to simplify to go live.  (They also put in a bunch of self-conscious jokes:  Jack feelings things weren't right, Tracy intentionally breaking, Julia Louis-Dreyfus playing Tina Fey in cutaways.)  I suppose I wouldn't want to see it changed permanently to live.  But it reminded me that the hot live style can bring a sense of immediacy that the cooler one-camera shows lack.  Maybe the networks should learn this lesson, too.

PS  There were some guest shots.  When Jon Hamm appeared on screen, the audience cheered. Matt Damon, however, got nothing. I think they didn't recognize him.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Norm!

Happy birthday, Norm MacDonald.

I thought he was the only Weekend Update anchor after Chevy Chase able to make his spot the focal center of the show.  Naturally, he was fired by NBC because he was "not funny."

Bye Bye, BB

Barbara Billingsley has died.

In the late 50s/early 60s she was Beaver Cleaver's--and thus America's--mom.  I wonder how many millions watched the Beaver clan each week and wondered why their own family was so different.  I certainly don't recall my mom wearing pearls around the house.



Even though June Cleaver was by far her biggest role, I have a sneaking sensation she's going to be remembered for her work in Airplane!.



Saturday, October 16, 2010

Icon

Today is Nico's birthday. She did a lot in her short life, but she'll always be remembered for the songs she sang on the Velvets' first album.



Exotic To Foreigners

Ghost World was one of my favorite films of 2001. (I also liked the Daniel Clowes comic it was based on.) At first I feared it would just be two teenager girls making fun of everything around them, but it soon becomes apparent they're doing it to cover up their basic uncertainty.



I recently watched it with a friend who grew up in Europe. I think I related to it much more than she did, even though the lead character is not my sex and not from my generation. It made me realize how American this film is. Watching two cynical girls, recent high school graduates, meeting new people, finding work, and growing apart seemed quintessentially American. It reminded me a lot of being in high school, and college, discovering all sorts of new things while trying to find who you are, often while putting up a front.



I don't know, maybe growing up in Europe is similar. Maybe it's universal. But I'd think all the pop culture detritus (good and bad) that populates the film, and the urban sprawl, must evoke different feelings in Americans, who know such stuff intimately.



PS The Radio Shack Enid walks by near the end of the film is a couple blocks from where I live. Since director Terry Zwigoff didn't exactly pick the location for its beauty, I'm not sure how to feel about this.



PPS Still don't like the ending.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Time To Give Them A Hand

I was watching a TV show and two people were wondering if a man and woman could go "mano a mano."  The answer is yes, since the phrase doesn't mean "man to man," as so many seem to believe, but, literally, "hand to hand."

While it originally referred to bullfighters, in general it simply means going at it head to head, or face to face, in person.

The D After The Name

Political success is often about being in the right place at the right time.  Two years ago, that place was in the Democratic party.  Now it seems to be with the GOP.

That's why I feel sorry for someone like Joe Manchin.  He's the popular governor of West Virginia who must have figured he'd sweep into the Senate, taking Robert Byrd's place.  Lately, however, the polls show him in a tough race.  I have to assume the only reason is that the people there are sending a message to Washington, because if you watch his ad, you'd swear he's a Republican.

Got Happy

I think the made-for-TV movie Come On, Get Happy: The Partridge Family Story is more entertaining than the show itself. (A low bar, but still...) It's narrated by Danny Bonaduce, who played Danny Partridge (and survived in show biz as an adult, after going through hard times), and is told from his point of view. The plot includes his abusive father, unhappy that his son makes more than he does. But the fun is the wacky escapades at the show.



It was just another dumb sitcom--an adaptation of The Cowsills' story without paying for the rights. The show was a hit, lasting four seasons, but the Partridge Family phenomenon was even bigger. Their music sold big and for a year or two, David Cassidy was the top teen hearthrob, replacing Bobby Sherman, Donny Osmond and whoever else dared face him down on the cover of Tiger Beat. (Maybe there should be a magazine for the girls who used to buy that magazine--call it Cougar Beat.)

As the movie shows, Cassidy wanted to be taken seriously. Authenticity was a big deal then. Tough luck. (I've heard him live and actually he's not bad.) He went out touring then, and apparently there were some wild times on the road, quite the opposite of the wholesome sitcom he was working on.

Their popularity burned out, of course, but they had a good run. Over a three-year period they had seven top ten hits. The first, "I Think I Love You," went to #1, and each song after that charted lower. Their albums showed a similar trend.

The music employed the best studio musicians in LA. The only cast members involved were Cassidy and Shirley Jones (his mother on the show, his stepmother in real life). I don't think the music or the show hold up today, but neither was meant to. Still, an interesting time capsule. Kids today who fight over Team Edward versus Team Jacob can see what it is that got their mothers excited.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wagging The Dog

An Israeli orchestra will be performing Wagner in Germany.  This is certainly news since Wagner is banned (officially or unofficially I'm not sure) in Israel.  What to play is a decision that's up to each and every person's individual conscience, but I think this is a good thing.

Yes, Wagner was a racist jerk, and his beliefs helped inspire anti-Semites like Hitler.  But he's also an amazing composer, and his music should be heard.  Banning it doesn't hurt anti-Semites so much as limit ourselves and deny us pleasure.

If you look closely at what people did or said, they'll rarely live up to your ideals (especially if they lived over a century ago when concepts of morality were different in many ways).  If you limit art only to sources you feel politically sympathetic too, you'll lead an impoverished life.

Time to break down this wall.  Indeed, if his music can be used to help bring people Germans and Jews together, quite a burn on him, I'd say.

Chartist

I just noticed Billboard has made over a 1000 old issue available online.  Fascinating browsing.  Pick a year when you listened to the radio a lot and see how many songs you remember.

Back To The Alternate Future

Back To The Future was a surprise blockbuster 25 years ago.  Another surprise is Eric Stoltz was originally cast as Marty McFly.  Director Bob Zemeckis was unhappy with his work and replaced him with Michael J. Fox.  Good idea.

A 25th anniversary Blu-Ray box set of the BTTF films is coming out soon, and for the first time we get to see footage of Stoltz as McFly.  It's freaking me out.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

PS

Paul Simon turns 69 today. One of our more literate songwriters, he seems to take himself very seriously. Sometimes, though, he gets a bit wacky, which is nice.





Strange Thought

There's a quote sometimes atributed to Einstein, sometimes to Benjamin Franklin, that goes something like this:  "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

I seem to hear it more and more lately (which makes me believe the quote is modern, and merely attributed to older, wiser sources).  It's got some snap to it, but upon reflection, is not particularly intelligent.  First, it's too vague to mean much.  Second, there are lots of cases where if you stick to something, change will happen.  When it comes down to it, it's just a cheap shot to attack anyone you don't agree with.

In fact, I don't get why so many people keep using it.  Is anyone ever convinced by it?  Yet they keep saying it, over and over, expecting something different to happen.

No Time To Retire

She may not want to hear this, but, happy 65th, Karen Akers.

She puts on a pretty good show. I hear she's now doing a tribute to Rodgers and Hart.  Sounds perfect for her.



Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stray Thought

It seems to me if your argument won't work unless you say it in the right tone of voice, you should start again.

Economic Indicators

For a film critic, David Denby writes with amazing confidence about the economy. If he understands it so well, why is he wasting his talent reviewing films for The New Yorker when he could be saving our country from the next crisis?

Speaking of which, the causes of crises are always easy to see after the fact.  It's before that's tricky.  Not that no one ever sees them coming--in fact, at any given time, there are countless experts with countless reasons why we're about to fail.  When anything goes wrong, pick your favorite. Just don't expect them to predict the next one.

Which is my roundabout way of introducing Denby's review of Charles Ferguson's Inside Job, a documentary about the economic crisis of 2008.  I haven't seen the film, though if the (generally positive) reviews are accurate, it points a finger at market failure and doesn't go into any mistakes the government may have made.  If so, the film is probably a bit simplistic, but Denby can't get enough.

Ferguson [...] uses interviews and historical information to suggest that many of the transactions weren’t rational at all. They may have been profitable in the short term, but they were destructive to the companies the executives worked for, and he demonstrates that anyone with common sense and a skeptical view of unregulated financial markets could have seen the dangers coming. None of the senior public officials with an ideological commitment to deregulation, like Alan Greenspan, Hank Paulson, and Ben Bernanke, and none of the investment-bank executives who made hundreds of millions from the C.D.O. boom were willing to speak to Ferguson on camera. So he brings forth the savants who warned of the impending crisis early on: Nouriel Roubini, of New York University, whose musical Persian-Israeli-Turkish-accented English is delightful; and Raghuram Rajan, now of the University of Chicago, who, in 2005, while serving as the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, delivered a paper warning of the disaster to come in front of an audience that included Alan Greenspan and Larry Summers, and was ignored or criticized for his efforts. Roubini and Rajan, awed by the size of the crisis they were unable to prevent, are now sombre models of contained ego and radiant pride.

First, does Denby think just because something didn't work out that the people responsible knew, or should have known, what they were doing was clearly irrational or destructive?  Even well thought out plans fail.  Denby should try to avoid such after-the-fact cheap shots or worse, mindreading.  (I might add there are solid arguments explaining why everyone thought what they did made sense--some of these even include a belief that the government would back them if they failed, but this doesn't seem to interest Denby or Ferguson.)

Second, Ferguson not getting interviews with top deregulators sounds like a failure of the film.  Odd that Denby doesn't care.  (Maybe those people knew a little about Ferguson and realized talking to him would be an irrational and destructive act.)

Finally, Denby trots out his experts.  He's in love with them--"savants" with "contained egos and radiant pride." He even likes their accents.  The film says they saw what was coming.  Maybe they did.  But, as noted, there are always papers out there warning about what's next.  Have these experts been consistently right before and after the crisis, or was this their big hit?  Does this mean their advice will help us now (and will there be a sequel if they get it wrong)?

Even more important, a lot of people saw trouble coming.  This doesn't mean something could have been done.  The roots of a crisis usually go way back, and by the time there's a clear problem on the horizon, there isn't the capacity, or political will, to take the measures necessary to deal with it.

So when a documentary claims to explain a complex crisis, maybe Denby should write with a little more skepticism and subtltety.  I know he's capable of it.  He did it the week before when reviewing Waiting For Superman, and the bad guys worked for the government.

Is This The End Of SCDP?

Mad Men's latest, the well-titled "Blowing Smoke," was a bit darker than usual, and went in directions we didn't expect.

SCDP is in trouble. Without new accounts they could collapse.  We start with Don pitching Heinz (not the good Heinz--just baked beans, vinegar and sauces from the 57) from a meeting set up last week by his lover and associate Dr. Faye.  Alas, word is out on his agency, and everyone's willing to give him a shot six months down the road--waiting to see if they'll be gone first.  It's a Catch-22--you can only get business later if you stay in business, but you can't stay in business if they won't give you business.

At the Francis residence, Sally seems to have calmed down, and is listening to his mother.  Is this the same show?

At the agency, they get the news from an outside analyst that they're dying.  Thanks.  He recommends they go for more cigarette business, since it's their specialty.  He can get them a meeting with Philip Morris on a new brand for women.  Not a lot of money, but it's a start.  The whole gang talks about the new situation, but there's not much they can do.

Sally's talking to creepy kid who's becoming creepy adolescent Glenn.  They seem to get along.  She's a girl who definitely needs someone to talk to.

In the lobby of his building, Don sees his old lover, bohemian Midge from season one.  She invites him to her pad in the Village--he already lives around there anyway.

Sally meets with Dr. Edna.  As they play cards, Sally talks freely.  She's doing what her mom tells her to do, and hiding the anger.  Perhaps that's a good strategy, but how long can it last.  In any case, it looks like Sally has a new mother figure.

At Midge's depressing place, Don meets her husband.  He's nothing to her, it's just a useful arrangement.  He lets it out that she tracked him down. The idea is to sell a painting (or sex, or whatever) because they need money to keep up their heroin-addled lifestyle.  In the past Don has been open for experimentation, but even he can see he doesn't need this.  He ends up buying one of her painting for all the money he's got on him.  He'd probably like to help her, but she's in over her head.

Betty meets with Edna, showing how she's still essentially a child.  She'd like to keep meeting with Edna, even though the woman is a child psychologist.

Don's nervous, pacing, waiting for the big cigarette meeting.  Peggy tries to calm him down.  The partners wait in the lobby but there's no meeting (try us six months later).  So things are even more hopeless.  The agency is turning into a death watch.

The partners meet and realize it's hopeless.  No strategy seems workable.  Lane explains the partners need to put in a bunch of money, get a loan from the bank, and cut extra staff and they can keep going.

At Don's often, Pete is pissed that he's being punished.  Don says they're all being punished, but Pete feels he's one of the few pulling his weight.  (He did drop an account to save Don, so he does have a point.)  He walks out and Peggy comes in.  She wants to know what's going on.  Don doesn't say much, but it's clear it's hopeless.  Peggy asks why don't they do what Don's suggested in the past and change the conversation that's holding down the company?

At home, Trudy has found out about a bank loan Pete wants. When she finds out it's to give money back to the failing firm, and not buying a house, she forbids him to drop any more money there.

At Don's place, he's about to throw out Midge's abstract painting but instead he sets it down to look at it.  Does he think about her addiction, or does it make him contemplate where he's at.  In any case, he rips the old thoughts from his notebook (that he narrated in a previous episode) and writes an open letter that he published in The New York Times.  He explains why he (on behalf of his company) won't work for tobacco any more.  You can't fire me, I quit.

It's a bold move, a Don move, and not something we saw coming.  (We spent half the episode expecting another one of Don's master pitches.)  When he comes into work, the partners are apoplectic.  He didn't get permission and he's hurting their business.  Bert's even leaving.  This is why he didn't ask permission. He doesn't want cautious business decisions, he wants creative solutions (which, as often is the case, means following Peggy's advice).

He gets a call from Robert Kennedy which is pretty obviously fake.  It's good old Ted Chaough mocking him.  Funny.  At least Megan his secretary thinks the ad was cool.

Meanwhile, the underlings are nervous.  Bert walks by and says goodbye.  Then Peggy is called in to Don's office.  Is this the axe?  No, he just asks her who else should be fired, and get ready for it.  She's mostly relieved, but would Don fire the one person who gives him half his inspriations?

Betty catches Sally and Glenn talking (which is all they do).  Uh oh--Sally making time with Betty's old boyfriend?  Something must be done.

Faye meets Don in his office.  She's leaving--her people can't stick around with touchy tobacco people hiring them elsewhere.  Too bad, but at least they can be open about their relationship and not let business get in the way.  Faye says goodbye to Peggy on the way out.  Peggy recognizes another rare professional woman, and wishes she knew her better.

Henry comes home early and eats dinner wth the family--anotyher rarity.  Suddenly Betty wants to move.  Sally knows why, but Henry is confused.  Hey Sally, you can always run away again--maybe Glenn will even put you up.

The partner's meeting is depressing, of course.  One minor good note, sort of--the American Cancer Society (no joke this time) wants to meet with Don.  It'd be pro bono, but it could get attention, couldn't it?  Okay, meeting over, time to go fire everyone.  Pete sticks around to tell Lane he needs more time to put together the money he has to pay, but is informed Don's already taken care of it.  Good for Don.  A stand-up guy.  He'll pay for your heroin and cover you if you protect his identity.

Pete appreciates it. Meanwhile, Danny is being fire--guess he'll never got to be a  fun-sized Don.  Bill, come into my office.  And so on.  Best to do it quickly.

This leaves us with one show.  The main question is will CSDP remain (with or without Bert) next season. One would think something would come through--probably the ACS gig--but this is Mad Men.  Who'd have guessed years earlier that Don and Betty would separate, and barely see each other a whole season.  Or that they'd unceremoniously dump Paul and Sal.  We'll keep following Don, and Pete and Peggy, but who knows where's there'll be next season.

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