Thursday, March 31, 2011

Title Bout

I saw Gentleman Broncos on cable recently.  Never heard of it?  I'm not surprised.  It's another quirky comedy with no names from the writer and director of Napoleon Dynamite, Jared Hess, but lightning didn't strike twice.

It's about a teenager who wants to write sci-fi.  He goes to a workshop and meets a famous author who's running out of ideas.  The writer creates a new bestseller by plagiarizing the kid's work. Some of the interaction between all the weird characters is okay, and Jemaine Clement, better known as half of Flight Of The Conchords, is good as the author.  Overall, though, there's not much here.  (It doesn't help that all the clips we see from the imaginary sci-fi bestseller look not only look ridiculous, but are meant to look ridiculous.)

So why am I writing about it?  Because this is an awful title.  It doesn't give a hint about the story, and even misdirects.  It sounds like it's about cowboys.  Or maybe a gentlemen's club.  Or maybe it's porn.  I don't know if a better title would have made a difference, but is it really a good idea to confuse your potential audience?

Going Down

I recently saw the touring revival of Hair.  A lot of fun. It was fascinating to see what was once a controversial, cutting-edge (for Broadway) show is now an exercise in nostalgia, attended mostly by aging hippies. (Okay, maybe they weren't hippies, but they were old enough to be reliving the 60s.)

I don't know if any book show (as it were) has ever had so many songs.  There are forty separate numbers (and more were dropped along the way in the original production).  The revival featured new arrangements, but most were similar enough to the originals.

So I was a little surprised at how much they re-did a lesser-known number that've I've always liked, "Don't Put It Down." The number is meant to be sung in an exaggerated, mocking style, but the backing is very much mellow guitar riffs that you haven't heard in decades.

For some reason, in the revival, it's countrified.  Perhaps they thought the old version was too dated, but I missed it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

No Library

At a nearby inside newsstand I was amazed at how many signs there were saying "No Food And Drinks" and "No Reading." Back in the days before I was on the internet, I spent a lot of time at newsstands, and I saw them as reading rooms.  That was the whole point.  Not that I wouldn't buy anything, but I wasn't gonna buy everything. You need to sample the merchandise.

But what really intrigued me was another sign plastered all over the place: "No Leer." I assume this is for the Spanish-speaking population, but considering the number of porn magazines, it seemed to have a useful second meaning. (By the way, Louis C. K. has a joke about reading in a porn shop that I won't repeat here, but you can find in this interview with Sarah Silverman.)


A revival of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, starring Daniel Radcliffe, just opened on Broadway.  The reviews were mixed, but it got slammed by The New York Times, so I'm not sure if even Harry Potter's magic can save it.

I was more intrigued by Charles McNulty's review in the LA Times.  He's got problems with the Pulitzer Prize-winning show itself:

Admittedly, it’s not easy to turn back the clock on this 1961 musical, which is hampered by a dated book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert. Nothing ages faster than comedy, and the show’s episodic structure now seems as belabored as a sitcom plucked from a rusty time capsule.

I agree there are dated aspects.  It takes place in a world where men were executives and womem were secretaries looking for a husband.  But once you accept that, you've got one of the best-constructed, funniest books ever written for a musical.

Burrows (who's mainly responsible for the libretto) based his script on a satirical book that had no plot.  Out of it he built a plot about a young man rising in a company that features one funny twist after another.  Episodic?  Yes.  But that's the right way to tell the story.  What does McNulty want, a show that respects the classical unities?

By the way, I've seen those old sitcoms--they're just like How To Succeed except their plots aren't clever or intricate and their jokes aren't brilliant.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Casting About

So Amy Adams will be the new Lois Lane.  Most people seem to think it's a good choice.  Certainly she's well respected, having been nominated for three Oscars.  And she's a delightful actress, adept at comedy and drama.  She is, however, a little older than the traditional Lois.  Anyway, Lois is a tricky character.  Everyone gets Superman/Clark Kent, but who is Lois?  Is she just a foil for Superman?  Is she a wet blanket whose suspicion slows down the action?  Is she a love interest who falls for the guy she can't have and steps on the guy she can?  Is she the damsel in distress who exists for villains to threaten and for Superman to save?  Is she a feisty woman who doesn't really need anyone's help?  Is she a Pulitzer Prize-winning super-reporter whom Perry White is lucky to have?

I suppose Adams has the chops to pull off what they ask (though rarely is she asked to play out and out sexy).  The bigger question is what will they do with the character, since if not handled correctly, she just becomes a drag on the action.

In other casting new, Jennifer Garner is set to play Miss Marple.  This is mostly being met with head-scratching and bewilderment.  Obviously it's a reboot, but beyond that, I ask you, which of these two below look more like Miss Marple to you?

Herbert Herbert Herbert

So Bob Herbert ends his 18-year run at The New York Times with the same sort of column that's made him the most predictable writer on their pages.

For instance, he believes we need to spend more on education.  That we already spend more than almost any other country doesn't mean anything to him. (Or that we're already in deep debt.) He believes if the government intervened more in our economy, we'd do better, even though the government seems to be intervening quite a bit with little or no positive effect. And so on and so forth.  But here's the line I found most fascinating:

Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone.

When I was at the University of Michigan, former Wolverine Tom Hayden came to speak, with wife Jane Fonda in tow.  As she looked on admiringly, he condemned the foolish economic policies of the government, and thundered that we would be the first generation in America to do worse than our parents.  And I thought to myself  "well, that's a reversal of fortune I'd certainly shudder at." I wonder how many years this threat has been around? Thirty, forty, fifty or is it just an empty threat Jeremiahs are always making?  If I had the time, I might check Herbert's earliest columns and see if he made the same claim himself a generation ago.

Monday, March 28, 2011

What's Wrong With Kansas, And A Bunch Of Other Teams

Anyone who bet correctly on the NCAA men's basketball tournament shouldn't be wasting time on the office pool--go out and buy a lottery ticket, because it has to be dumb luck.  There's no top seed, or even second seed, in the Final Four.  My guess is the majority of people betting on the event don't have a single team left.

I'm not even going to make a prediction as to how things will turn out, though it would be cool to see VCU make it all the way.

Double Dipping

From the AV Club, a list of 13 attempts to create film franchises that never took off. Of course, these days, almost any major-budget film is an attempt to create a franchise.  They even do sequels to hits that seemed one-offs--The Hangover comes to mind.  So the boys are going to get drugged and find themselves in trouble again? Really? (I'll probably go see it.)

For that matter, some movies that may seem readymade for sequels--say, Men In Black--should have no followups. The original was complete in itself, with its own arc--Will Smith (along with the audience) learns about this new world and eventually masters it, while Tommy Lee Jones finally gets to retire.  Men In Black II, even if it had worked, was an unnecessary second dip. (And I hear there may be a 3.  Is this trip necessary?)

The Sting was one of the hugest hits of its day.  At the end (spoiler) you had the two leads still alive, ready for a new con.  That first film introduces the characters and has a reason for them to team up and do what they do.  Why should we want a series of films where they do one con after another until the audience feels they're the ones being conned?   (There was a Sting II a decade later--starring Jackie Gleason and Mac Davis.  I guess Redford and Newman were too smart to sign up for a second.  For that matter, Hollywood managed to squeeze out a prequel to Butch Cassidy a decade later, starring Tom Berenger and William Katt.)

In fact, sequels are often depressing, not just because they're bad movies, but because they deny what happened in the original. We saw the gang in Ghostbusters go from losers to saviors of the world.  To make a sequel, they had to start as losers again, destroying the triumph of the first film.

Anyway, here's the list:

1.  Buckaroo Banzai
2.  Doctor Detroit
3.  The Rocketeer
4.  Daredevil
5.  Dick Tracy
6.  Godzilla 
7.  Master And Commander
8.  Wing Commander
9.  Sahara
10.  The Phantom
11.  The Avengers
12.  The Mod Squad
13.  Wild Wild West

I don't know if this is much of a list.  Can you say Godzilla had no sequel--they just mean this particular line of Godzilla had no sequel, but that's like saying the last Superman had no sequel, even though yet another reboot is being planned.

I also think it's a bit too easy to put TV shows turned into movies on the list--of course they want sequels, that's what TV shows do.  Same for movies based on a series of novels.

A few of these I wonder about.  Buckaroo Banzai was so weird I expect they may have been amazed it was made at all.  Doctor Detroit joked about a sequel, but did they really think it was going to happen?  And I just don't see an indecisive star like Warren Beatty making a series of big-budget Dick Tracy films (though I wouldn't mind a sequel about him suing over the character.)

I would have liked to see films on the list that are desperate if futile stabs at a series, where the ending points to something coming.  A good example that I'm surprised they left off was Remo Williams:  The Adventure Begins (and ends).

A more recent example is I Am Number Four (which should have been called I Am Number Two).  Here's the plot (spoilers): nine good aliens who looks like handsome young humans are hiding  on Earth while evil, ugly bad aliens hunt them down.  The first three are killed so Number Four has to fight for his life.  Number Six joins him and at the end they go off in search of the other numbers.

(Spoilers over) So the movie is practically begging for a sequel.  It even seems unfinished without one.  But I doubt there'll be one.  Which brings us to the real lesson. You want a sequel?  Make the first movie compelling and don't worry about anything else.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Doc Dawkins

A belated 70th birthday cheer for Richard Dawkins.  He's probably the top living popularizer of evolution.  In recent years, he's also become well known for questioning religion.  I met him back in the 90s at a speech he gave. I talked to him for a few moments afterward about the evolution of ears.

There aren't too many books for a lay audience that explain evolutionary concepts better than his stuff.  He became famous in the 70s for The Selfish Gene, but it's just the first in a series of fascinating books that include The Extended Phenotype, The Blind Watchmaker and Climbing Mount Improbable.

Ironically, one of the things he's well known for--maybe it's what he's best known for--is the "meme," a word he coined to describe ideas that spread through a culture, not unlike how genes spread through a population.  The concept itself (and I think Dawkins would admit as much) isn't particularly original, and I don't find its analogy to evolution particularly penetrating.

Night For Day

I was looking over a list of the top 1000 films of all time.  Why?  Because that's what I do.  With each entry, they include a picture, basic information, a quote from a critic and a few other things.

A Night At The Opera was at 237.  Maybe a little low, especially since only Duck Soup rates higher for the Marx Brothers, but at least they recognize a classic.  Here's the quote:

"The quick-fire routines are brilliant; the one-liners crack like gunshots and most enjoyable are wacky eccentricities like Groucho unaccountably replying: "Thangg-YAH!" whenever the woman he's inveigled into his hotel room says a demure: "Thank you." - Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, 2002

More unnacountable is singling out this bit, since it's from A Day At The Races.  Who originally got it wrong, Bradshaw or the compilers of the list?

PS  They show how the rankings have changed through the years.  Some go up, some go down, but most don't change that much.  So I'm glad to see one of my favorites, Eraserhead, climbing fast.  It's gone from 628 to 479 to 406 to 318.  I'm hoping by 2020 it'll be top ten.

Sassy, Yet Divine

It's the brithday of Sarah Vaughan.  She doesn't seem to get all the attention that Ella Fitzgerald got, but I think she might be better.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dim The Lights

Lanford Wilson has died.   He may not be the name that Arthur Miller was, or Harold Pinter or Tom Stoppard, for that matter, but I think he was one of the top playwrights of his time.

His best plays put together odd characters and let them interact.  For instance, his first full-length work, Balm In Gilead, using the greater openness of the 60s theatre, had a collection of prostitutes, crooks, junkies and others hanging out in a cheap diner. There's action, there's a plot, but it's the milieu you remember best.  Same for one of his best-known plays The Hot l Baltimore, about the various tenants in a rundown hotel waiting to be evicted.

Then there's Fifth Of July and Talley's Folly, two related works from the late 70s and maybe his most popular pieces.  They're set set in Missouri, where Wilson was from, and deal with related people.  (The third part of the trilogy, Talley & Son, is not as interesting.) Fifth Of July is about yet another group gathering, this time at a character's childhood  home.  They may not be junkies or hookers, but they're got their own problems, symbolizing the troubles and longings of Americans everywhere. (The play also dealt with homosexuality more openly than usual for the time.) Talley's Folly, which won the Pulitzer, is more intimate--a period piece about two people who shouldn't be right for each other but somehow are.

I'm not familiar with his more recent plays (anything since Burn This), but I guess it's good to know that even with Wilson gone, there's still more to explore.

Maum's The Word

I picked up a free pamphlet about Maum Meditation.  Apparently it was introduced in Korea in the 1990s, and is designed to sweep away our illusions and allow us to live in the real universe.

There's a seven-step method which is described thus:

Level 1:  Subtracting the remembered thoughts

Level 2:  Subtracting the images of myself, images of my human relationships, and myself

Level 3:  Subtracting my body

Level 4:  Subtracting my body and the universe

Level 5:  Subtracting my body and the universe

Level 6:  The self disappears by subtraction and I become the universe

Level 7:  Subtracting the illusionary world of pictures and myself living inside that world

I have no idea how effective this process is, though the pamphlet included several testimonials.  But I must say, levels four and five seem a bit redundant.  I know it's a big step, but couldn't they just make it a single, long one?  While we're at it, I think we could cut level three as well, and fold it into four.  Bam, now it's a five-step method.

Friday, March 25, 2011

SAT Fill-In

From an abstract of Hilton Als' New Yorker review of Arcadia:

As he does in most of his plays, Tom Stoppard piles allusion upon allusion in “Arcadia” (directed by David Leveaux at the Ethel Barrymore). The play draws its voracity from historical facts, which the author manipulates in a variety of ways, but which end up feeling as intellectually nourishing as pork stuffing, and about as moving.

Is "voracity" the word he meant? Or is it supposed to be "veracity"? "Historical facts" in the same clause suggests it's the latter, but, voracity, which means gluttony, sort of fits in with the "pork stuffing."

Ebert, Limited

Maybe it's not fair to mock Roger Ebert for his faulty film analysis. The guy's been through a lot these last few years.  Also, he sees every film that comes out--if I reviewed hundreds of movies a year I'm sure there'd be plenty of nits to pick.

It's just that he so often seems to miss basic plot points.  Whenever I see a film and then read his review, I wonder if he was paying attention, or did I miss something.

For instance, from his review of Limitless:

The difference here is that Eddie Mora remains himself before and after, and all that changes is his ability to recall everything he ever saw or heard. “Limitless” assumes that would be a benefit and make him rich, but what if most of what he ever saw or heard about Wall Street was wrong (as it usually is)?  The movie sidesteps the problem that what we need is more intelligence and a better ability to reason, not a better memory.

Maybe I got it wrong, but this wasn't my impression.  The pill that Eddie Morra (that's two r's, Roger) takes in Limitless does, in fact, improve his intelligence and ability to reason. Yes, he has access to everything he's ever seen or heard, but he also knows how to use it. I had some problems with the plot, but the premise, which seems to be Roger's main complaint, worked fine.

Fight Song

Some people are trying to make something of this Gallup poll which shows only 47% approve of American military action in Libya.  This is the lowest initial approval of any such action in the past 30 years.

I wouldn't read too much into the poll.  Note, if nothing else, the move is popular--10% more approve than disapprove, a bigger positive spread than attacks on Haiti and Kosovo.  More important, what counts is outcome, not first impressions. And Obama has tried to structure this action with as much upside and as little downside as possible.

First (to be cold-blooded), doing nothing while Gaddafi was slaughtering his own people and the world was demanding action made Obama look weak, so it's not like that option was so appetizing. Second, this is only air strikes, not ground troops, so it's unlikely we'll get bogged down.  It's also designed to be short term.  In fact, we can stop any time and say that's all we meant to do.  Finally, even though we're working (not just through air strikes but behind the scenes) to remove Gaddafi, it's not been made the official goal of this mission, so even if Gaddafi doesn't leave it won't necessarily be considered a "loss."

There are certain other arguments against the action (we seem to be working as a junior partner with the UN, and Obama didn't get congressional approval--Joe Biden considered the latter impeachable when Bush was President), but I don't think voters care that much about technical issues, they want to know if it worked or not.

The only thing in this poll that might have Obama a bit worried is who approves. Interestingly, both Dems and Repubs give it a solid thumbs up, presumably because the latter tend to be hawkish and the former tend to support the President.  The only group that doesn't like it are the independents, and they're the ones Obama needs to be reelected.  But even if this action doesn't work out well, it's doubtful, with all that's going on, that this will be much on people's minds next November.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


I don't have that much to say about Elizabeth Taylor.  Her personal life filled the gossip pages, and she was considered one of the great beauties of her time, but I'm more interested in her movies, and though she appeared in many, very few of them are of great interest to me.

She was a child actor at MGM in the 40s, making films like Lassie Come Home and National Velvet.  Most such kids don't go on to major stardom, but she made the difficult transition.  She was Spencer Tracy's daughter in Father Of The Bride and really broke out as the upper class girl Montgomery Clift longed for in A Place In The Sun.

She was becoming a screen goddess, and assured her iconic status in 50s films like Giant, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly, Last Summer.  She even won an Oscar for her 1960 picture BUtterfield 8 (the "U" is capitalized because it's a phone number exchange).

Now she was the female star in Hollywood, and got offered a million dollars to play the lead in Cleopatra, a film that would become so expensive it almost sank 20th Century Fox.  It's also where she started a love affair with co-star Richard Burton, who'd become the fifth of  her seven husbands.

They starred in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? in 1966, and she won another Oscar.  (Burton was nominated, but didn't win--he was nominated seven times overall but never won.) They made a bunch of other films in the 60s, all of them forgettable.

By the 70s, it was the old Hollywood story--as looks fade, so does stardom.  She made less and less films, and couldn't really carry them any more.  She started appearing on TV, and continued having love affairs and marrying new men--including a second marriage to Burton a year after they divorced.  (She gained weight and was mocked mercilessly by John Belushi on SNL.) She also did a lot of charity work.

Looking back on her films, there are some decent ones, but none I could say I love. She was a competent performer, sometimes more than that, but even at her best she rarely knocked me out. Some are calling her the last movie star, and they have a point.  She came up in the last days of the studio system, and represented a type of glamor that's all but gone these days.

PS  I was driving down Hollywood Boulevard today.  As I passed Ivar, going toward Vine, on the right was a huge pile of flowers and four news trucks.  I'm guessing that's where Elizabeth Taylor's star is.

PPS  Taylor always meant a lot to Camille Paglia. Her take may be a bit much, but it's fascinating.

What's So Funny?

Happy birthday Nick Lowe, prince of power pop.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sing Out, Barbra

For the last few days rumors have been swirling about a movie remake of Gypsy starring Barbra Streisand.  It was on, then off, now it's on again.  There had allegedly been trouble over the rights from creators Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim.  (I'm not sure if composer Jule Styne's estate has anything to say).

Sondheim has had several of his shows adapted for the big screen, and the only one he thought worked was the Tim Burton Sweeney Todd.  In general he doesn't believe musicals translate well.  Arthur Laurents, now in his 90s (Sondheim is only in his 80s), has always been persnickety, so it's hard to be sure why he opposes it.  (Maybe it's like the old joke about Irving Berlin in his 90s refusing Steven Spielberg the rights to "Always"--"I have plans for that song.")

Gyspy has already been turned into a movie--a bad one--in 1962, starring Rosalind Russell and Natalie Wood.  There was also a well-rated TV version in the 90s starring Bette Midler, so I don't know why the boys would fear another shot at it.  It doesn't mean the show won't be performed any more--it's King Lear for aging divas, and has been revived on Broadway four times since the original Ethel Merman production in 1959.

I admit the movie probably won't work.  There's not much clamor for it, and Gypsy is a piece truly designed for the stage.  But the number one diva of our time as the lead is irresistible.  Streisands's almost 70, and just as she burst onto the screen in Funny Girl, here's a chance to go out in a blaze of glory.  Even it's a train wreck, I'd go see it.

The Shat Came Back

Who can celebrate William Shatner for just one day?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Keep Your Friends Close

President Obama has been getting a lot of pushback from former supporters like Dennis KucinichMichael Moore and Louis Farrakhan.  If this keeps up, I don't see how he can fail to be reelected.

Farewell: The Last Last Farewell

Easy Listening is an odd phrase, since it describes music that isn't always easy to listen to.  One guy who almost defines the term is Roger Whittaker, who turns 75 today.  He was born in Nairobi, of English parents, back when Kenya was part of the British Empire.

Bigger across the pond, he had only one hit in America, "The Last Farewell." I hadn't heard the song in years, and never missed it, but I turned on the radio recently and there it was.

In the early 70s, Whittaker was a recording star and radio host.  A British silversmith sent him a poem and Roger set it to music.  He recorded it in 1971, but it didn't catch on until 1975 when a station in Atlanta started playing the tune.  A cover by a British Marine band hit the English charts in 1979.

As Whitaker's career started drying up in the English-speaking world, he became big in Germany, recording in their language.

Over at YouTube, amidst the teary reminiscing, the song brings out some patriotic and nationalistic feeling:


Big fan of Roger Whittaker, all of his songs are amazing. It would be good news to hear Roger Whittaker coming back to britian(singing terms) instead of singing in German currently, one of the most underated artists in my book.

I remember when Roger first released this song, although he was born in Kenya, I am sure he is singing about Australia being beautiful. Never the less what a song for English Patriots!!!!!

Roger is a white Kenyan. I'm a white Tanzanian. This song is so, so sad. Just like he felt sailing away from Kenya, I broke my heart to leave my bush-home, and sail away from Tanzania. I've never forgotten the wonderful watu, the amazing animals, the Swahili language. I'm not a musician, I didn't sing about my experience. I tried to recapture it in writing. And Roger's song inspired me

Our dad who was from Spain, was 103 and a half years old ! ! ! He loved his native Spain, but admired and respected the ANGLO world, and was a big fan of SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL...He pronounced his name CHOOR-CHEEL as in Spanish.....The British Empire and Spanish Empire SURELY changed the course of history.....The man who sang this song, Roger Whittaker, was born in BRITISH KENYA during the Empire days...

a magnificent classic . england the noble , sadly these days england is no longer noble and a fallen shitehole.

They Say It's Their Birthday

Big day for birthdays.  First, you've got the most significant pianist of the 20th century, Chico Marx. The song is "Collegiate," and that's the beautiful Thelma "Hot Toddy" Todd watching over his shoulder. Where's her left hand?

Then there's the greatest Broadway composer of our age, Stephen Sondheim. Here's the original cast of Company recording "The Little Things You Do Together" over 40 years ago.

Finally, the greatest actor ever, William Shatner, not to mention one of the greatest interpretive singers.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Oh Mama

Here's a bizarre piece in Slate from Jessica Grose.  Her premise: Sarah Palin and all that Mama Grizzly talk was able to fool women into voting Republican in 2010, so something or someone is needed to take her on. Her conclusion:  Roseanne Barr, with a new reality show, will be the perfect counter to Palin, giving a progressive response and appealing to working class women.

I suppose I could just say "huh?" and leave it at that.  But a quick review:

First, Sarah Palin is a well-known public figure, but she didn't make the Republicans do well in the last election.  It was a widespread movement picking up on general discontent. Palin tried to run out in front of it, but it would have existed whether she had anything to say or not.  Whether this movement will continue to do well has next to nothing to do with Sarah Palin.

Second, Sarah Palin is an obsession of the left, not the right. That Jessica Grose even feels something has to be done about her (and conservatism in general, though that's another question) shows how she's missing the point.  Sarah Palin is probably already the most attacked woman in America.  She doesn't need a counter.  In fact, she's fairly unpopular, even among Republicans.

Third, almost no one takes Roseanne Barr seriously, not as a thinker, anyway.  She had a huge hit show some years back, one that often had political undertones, but even then I don't think she had any political influence.  Now, she's more widely seen as a crackpot and a has-been.  I'd say as a "voice of the people" she's even less popular than Michael Moore.  Perhaps she's got enough residual fandom for a hit reality show, but her attacking Sarah Palin could only help Palin. Her successfully selling a progressive message against conservatism in general seems pretty far-fetched.

Herman's Been Gone

Paul Reubens came up with the Pee-wee Herman character in the 70s, and by 1981 his staged Pee-wee Herman Show (featuring fellow Groundling Phil Hartman among others) was on HBO.  Even then, though, I doubt he figured the character would be his career, leading to an actual kids' show, and movie stardom.  Who knows what would have happened next if he hadn't been arrested for public masturbation twenty years ago?

The Pee-wee character was a weird throwback with a modern, ironic edge.  His appearances on shows like David Letterman's were great examples of performance art.  And now, approaching 60, he's brought his act to Broadway, and taped it for a new HBO special which is now airing.

I'd liked Pee-wee from the start, so I was looking forward to this. Unfortunately, it's just not the same.  It's not that the bloom is off the rose, or you can't go home again. It's more than the audience wants comfort food and Pee-wee is all too willing to supply it.  Every time he pulled out an old bit, or character, the crowd went wild.  It was like seeing a nostalgia act, where the audience doesn't applaud for something well done, they applaud because they recognize something from the past.

Those not familiar with his stuff would be mystified, while those who are familiar might have asked for a little more originality.  There wasn't that much new, and the old stuff wasn't done especially well.  Though it was interesting to see how the original Miss Yvonne looks today.  Too bad they couldn't get Laurence Fishburne to reprise Cowboy Curtis.

Bad Timing

Robert Redford is a guy who believes in using history to teach us valuable lessons.  He saw presidents Reagan and Bush 41 and decided the lesson we needed to learn was that it's wrong to lie to the public, even if you think you're not hurting them.  So he made the well-received if poorly attended Quiz Show, about the TV game show scandals of the 50s.  Unfortunately, by the time the film came out, Bill Clinton was in office and it was now evil to question someone who lies and covers up as long as it isn't about anything important.

Now comes his latest, The Conspirator.  It's about the conspiracy trial after the Lincoln assassination.  I guess he saw Bush 43 and decided when the nation was threatened, we have to be very careful about trying alleged attackers in military tribunals.

Unfortunately, the film is coming out while Barack Obama is in office, and we've still got Gitmo and military tribunals, so isn't it okay now?

PS Quiz Show made me ask myself just what was so wrong about rigging game shows?  Maybe it's shady, but should it be illegal? I think the movie would have been better if they'd given that side a stronger argument.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Who's Hot? JR

It's Jerry Reed's birthday.  He left us a few years ago.  A pretty decent singer/guitarist with a tendency toward novelty numbers, he charted over 50 country singles, including #1's "When You're Hot, You're Hot," "Lord, Mr. Ford," and "She Got The Goldmine (I Got The Shaft)."

I think my favorite song was in a huge hit movie of his (he also had a late-blossoming film career), Smokey And The Bandit.  The song:

Critical Condition

A revival of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia just opened on Broadway.  The play is set in the past and present, and deals with love and math. (There, that was simple.) The new production is getting good reviews, but what intrigues me is how the play itself, first produced in 1993, is being greeted. From The New York Times on down, the critics seem to think it's a modern classic, one of the top theatrical works of the 20th century and Stoppard's masterpiece.

I've read Arcadia, though never seen a production.  I've read most of Stoppard's plays.  I think Arcadia is one of his better pieces, but I wouldn't have expected a consensus that it's his best.  (Or are they just being nice because it's being revived now?) It has a delightful mix of wit, wordplay and philosophy, but that's Stoppard's stock-in-trade. Is it that much better than Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead (the play that made him), The Real Inspector Hound, Travesties, The Real Thing, The Invention Of Love and The Coast Of Utopia?

When the recent revival of Jaosn Miller's That Championship Season opened, a lot of critics thought the 1972 Pulitzer Prize-winning play was hokey and stale.  Let's give Arcadia another twenty years.  If it still holds up, then maybe it is as great as they claim.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Thursday Taken Care Of For Another Year

NBC has ordered another year of its Thursday sitcom regulars. 30 Rock was renewed earlier, and it just announced it's picking up The Office, Parks And Recreation and Community.

I don't think there was any question about The Office--its overall rating isn't great, but it's got great demos.  We'll see next season how well it does without Steve Carrell.  Parks And Recreation was less certain, since its numbers drop after The Office, but it's found an audience, and is getting critical hosannas.  (It's on the cover of this week's Entertainment Weekly.) I was most worried about my favorite show, Community*.  Anchoring the evening at 8, it doesn't rate that well and gets beaten each week by Big Bang Theory.

As to newbies, like Outsourced and Perfect Couples, stay tuned, but they may not be long for the world.  NBC's got plenty of comedy pilots, and it's not like the unprecedented three-hour bloc of sitcoms was a roaring success.

*Another reason to worry about Community is they've introduced Shirley's ex-husband, played by Malcolm-Jamal Warner, as a recurring character.  Shirley is pregnant and he'll help raise the child, even if Chang fathered it.  It's already a bad sign (a classic Jump The Shark moment) that Shirley's pregnant, and a little Chang goes a long way. (That's a line they might use if he's the father.) But her husband is a warm, intelligent, rational person.  In other words, completely unfunny.  This whole subplot is dragging down the show.  I didn't need to see Shirley's ex, but if they had to bring him on board, at least make him funny.


It's happened more than once.  I ask for something "on the side" in a restaurant and they don't give it to me at all.  As if "on the side" means I don't want it.  Sometimes there'll even be a bunch of things that come with a sandwich and I'll say I don't want certain items while I want others on the side--and they'll interpret these two desires as the same thing.

Did I miss something?  Did "on the side" change its meaning while I wasn't paying attention?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Original Sing

Glee is one of those shows that, if I'm home and there's nothing else on, I sometimes check out.  I keep thinking I should like it more (I like musicals and I once sold a script set in a high school), but outside the occasional number or joke, it never amounts to much.  It's impossible to take the characters seriously since, even from my occasional viewership, I can see they change on a dime.  In fact, the whole set-up--an amazingly talented glee club that wins awards, and is half-composed of football players and cheerleaders, are the school lepers--is ridiculous.  I know the show requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but they have stories that ask for emotional investment, which becomes impossible under the circumstance.  Even those old musicals, which had the silliest of plots, made more sense.

This week's episode was advertised as a turning point, since Glee usually covers hit songs, while this one introduced originals (in fact, that was the title).  Seemed like a bad idea to me--like how they sing some great tunes on American Idol, but end the competition with some awful number written specifically for the show, in the hopes of creating a hit single.  But all in all, it was surprisingly painless. The songs the Glee club did weren't too bad--even the big anthem (about being a loser, of course) at Regionals.  Still, probably a bad trend.

Kurt was also at Regionals, but not with the regular group.  He left the high school and joined some Stepford boys school.  Does moving him away from the main action make sense?  (Reminds me of taking Hiro in Heroes out of the action and into 17th century Japan.) Actually, I don't particularly like the character (though he's an audience favorite) and it's fine with me that he's gone, but they keep spending so much time with him.  He even got to sing a Beatles song this episode.  Has Glee done that before?  He also got to kiss his boyfriend.  It's a sign of how things have changed that, as far as I can tell, this was met with a collective shrug.

What did get attention was Kathy Griffin as a Tea Party member on the judges' panel.  Maybe Ryan Murphy, who wrote the episode, thought that would be enough, since the jokes were amazingly lame and stale. (Fans seem to agree.) Worse, though, just like last year, the judges weren't judging by any rational standard.  Who cares if the group wins awards when the competition is a joke.

Strike Out

Having read a bio of Hal Ashby, I now check out his films when they're on TV.  Even the allegedly bad ones, like The Slugger's Wife (1985).  It's alleged no more.

The film has a classy pedigree, with not just direction by Ashby, but a script by Neil Simon.  It's also got Ray Stark as producer and Caleb Deschanel as cinematographer.  But it's awful, top to bottom.  It was a major budget film for its day, costing $19 million, but didn't even gross $2 million.

Behind the scenes, I now know things were a mess, with Ashby fighting Stark and Simon (who wouldn't allow his words changed) before having the film taken away.  For that matter, they couldn't attract big names, so ended up with up-and-comers, Michael O'Keefe and Rebecca De Mornay, whose careers probably stalled because of this film.

The plot involves a ballplayer who falls in love at first sight with a singer.  He chases after her and eventually they marry.  As long as she supports him, he plays well, but when they have trouble, it also means he can't hit any more.

Even this short descriptions gives the film too much credit.  At no point does anyone do anything that feels remotely human.  O'Keefe is abrasive when he's supposed to be cute, but at least he has a personality.  De Mornay sings but registers nothing otherwise.

We do get to see an awful lot of musical numbers (to cover up the lack of everything else?).  I don't know if that'd be De Mornay singing, but either way it's bizarre to hear poppy 80s cover versions of "Hungry Heart," "Little Red Corvette," "Hey Hey My My," "Love The One You're With," "Stray Cat Strut," "Summer In The City" and "Love Potion Number Nine."  It makes one long to hear Justine Bateman's interpretation of "Mystery Dance" in Satisfaction (1988).

Even more shocking, there aren't any funny lines.  Neil Simon films, even when they're not great, keep the gags coming.  Apparently, he was all out when he wrote this script.  He wrote it around the time he was divorcing Marsha Mason, so I guess he wasn't feeling funny.

PS  One nice thing--we get to see Mark "The Bird" Fidrych pitch.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Shocking News

The CEO of National Lampoon Inc. has been arrested due to his connection with an alleged $200 million Ponzi scheme.  When I read this I couldn't believe it.  I had no idea National Lampoon was still a going concern in any way.

I Believe

Happy birthday, John Sebastian. He was leader of the Lovin' Spoonful.

They had a bunch of great top ten hits in the 60s, including "Daydream," "Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?," "You Didn't Have To Be So Nice" and "Nashville Cats." Their only #1 was "Summer In The City," but I think the one they're most remembered for is their first hit, an anthem for rock and roll, "Do You Believe In Magic."

In 1967, lead guitarist Zal Yanovsky was caught in a drug bust and, to avoid deportation, dropped a dime on his dealer.  This led to a fan backlash.  The group was never the same and Sebastian left the next year.

He had a solo career, scoring one major hit, "Welcome Back," which went to #1 in 1976.  (His troubled performance on SNL reminded you the show was live.)  He wrote the number as a theme song to a sitcom, and the producers liked it so much they named the show Welcome Back, Kotter.

Nick Of Time

I just read Nicholas Meyer's Hollywood memoir The View From The Bridge.  As the title implies, the emphasis is on Star Trek, especially his first mission, Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (which he wanted to call The Undiscovered Country).  At first it seemed weird, since this is a guy who came to fame as a bestselling author and went on to write and/or direct a fair number of films and TV shows, only three of which have Star Trek in the title.

But the more you think of it, the more sense it makes.  It makes commercial sense, of course, since books about Trek sell.  More than that, however, it seems likely that Meyer's contribution to Star Trek is what he'll be remembered for.  When the story of Trek is written, Meyer isn't that far behind the show's creator, Gene Roddenberry, in importance.

Which is sort of funny, since Star Trek played almost no part in his life until he worked on it.  He'd heard of the show, but didn't watch.  And when he was shown some episodes, didn't think much of it.  Maybe that's why he was so helpful.  He approached the movie fresh.  Sure, he had to use the characters, and certain devices, but he wanted to make the story that stood on its own. (He was inspired by Captain Horatio Hornblower, and later discovered so was Roddenberry.)

Before Meyer came aboard to help write and direct Star Trek II, the show had been on quite a ride.  It's three-year TV voyage in the 60s wasn't that successful, but the fans refused to let it die, and it became hugely popular in syndication, spawning a whole Star Trek industry.  After the success of Star Wars, Paramount figured they should try a Trek movie.  They threw money at the project and created a horrible film in 1979 that made a profit anyway.  At this point, however, Paramount figured they needed to make a good sequel or the franchise might die.  Roddenberry, central in creating the first film, would remain connected in name only, and producer Harve Bennett would oversee the new production.

He had five different screenplays written and none of them were any good.  That's when he brought in Meyer, who was able to stitch together the good moments, add his own stuff, and deliver a script in a couple weeks--necessary to get the special effects done in time for the release date.

The budget for the film was slashed to one-fourth the original.  Meyer describes in great detail the shoot, including dealing with Shatner, Nimoy and Ricardo Montalban, all who presented different problems. Anyway, the film came out (hardly guaranteed), got great reviews and made plenty of money.  And Paramount has been making billions on new Trek movies and TV shows since.

The Wrath Of Khan is probably considered the best in the series.  I prefer The Voyage Home, but there's no denying Wrath revitalized the franchise and is filled with solid performances and iconic moments.

Meyer later helped write Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which included ideas he hadn't been able to fit into his directorial debut, Time After Time (another time travel movie set in present-day San Francisco).   He also kept the basic Nimoy/Bennett concept of a cautionary ecological tale (which is actually the silliest part of a movie that's already close to a spoof).

IV turned out to be the biggest Trek hit yet, but the fifth film, The Final Frontier, which many figured would be the last with the orignal cast, was a disaster.  The critics hated it and the audience stayed away.  So Bennett and Nimoy (who had directed III and IV and was now producing) wanted one more shot, and brought back Meyer to helm The Undiscovered Country.  While not as great as II or IV, it's still pretty good, made money, and allowed them to go out with their heads held high.

Meyer, as you might expect, knows how to keep the narrative moving.  He tells a lot of stories about his various struggles, sometimes ending in success, just as often in failure.  Nevertheless, he manages to be entertaining no matter how much his heart was broken.

PS  He has a short chapter on an enjoyable but not particularly successful comedy he did with Tom Hanks and John Candy, Volunteers.  (Hanks met his wife Rita Wilson on the shoot, just as Malcolm McDowell met his wife Mary Steenburgen on Time After Time. In both cases, Meyer was taking a chance casting an unknown woman--maybe he could have had a career as a matchmaker.)  It has a script by TV veterans Ken Levine and David Isaacs.  It's interesting to read about it from Meyer's pont of view, since whenever Levine brings up the film on his blog, he complains (properly, in my view) that Meyer hurt the film by adding a gag that broke the fourth wall.

PPS  Unfortunately, like so many other books by entertainment figures, Meyer is happy to share his political views.  Here's a man who has great stories to tell about art and entertainment--even his speculation in these areas is of interest--but he's not a man who has any particular insights into the great issues of our day.  To be fair, he only spends a little time on his politics, but still, if someone dropped into one of his films a minute on something unrelated to the plot that stopped the action dead, he'd cut it..

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


I received a call last night asking if I wanted to take a survey.  I usually say no, but I was in a good mood and the lady taking the survey said it wouldn't take long.

She asked questions about nuclear energy and the problems in Japan.  It became clear, almost immediately, that this was a poll from an advocacy group.  It wasn't seeking the truth, it was trying to get certain answers.  For instance, when they asked if the latest news made me more or less likely to support nuclear energy, the middle choice of no effect was not offered.  Worse, most questions came with prefaces explaining how evil and unregulated the corporations that run U.S. nuclear energy are, and how clean and hopeful solar and other green energy is.

So all I can say is be on the lookout for some anti-nuclear or pro-solar group to come out with the shocking results of a new poll proving Americans are on their side.

In Any Event

I saw The Event earlier this week.  Yes, I'm still watching (though the ratings are way down).  The show has some decent action and situations, even if most of the characters aren't much.  It's nowhere near Lost, which it would like to be, but it's a lot better than V or FlashForward.  I even like it better than post-season 1 Heroes.

I wouldn't mention it except much of the plot this week in "Turnabout" was about a threat to a nuclear plant.  The characters talked about another Chernobyl.  And then we cut to the commercials, where the local NBC station had a promo about a possible meltdown in Japan.  I wonder if there was some discussion at NBC about holding the episode, or at least dubbing in new dialogue.

By the way, while the show is still fun, the plot was even more implausible than usual, featuring a series of stupid decisions from numerous characters.  A few more like this, and I'm done.  Then again, there are only a few more episodes this season, and then The Event may be over.

PS  Taylor Cole, pictured above, plays my favorite character, Vicky Roberts, rogue assassin.  Earlier she had a recurring role on Heroes.  Looking at her bio, I discovered we have the same birthday.  Something I'll be sure to note if I run into her.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Gilbert Got Fired

Comic Gilbert Gottfried has been let go from his position as the voice of the duck in AFLAC commercials.  A pretty cozy job, and I don't think it'll be hard to replace him.  He was dismissed because he tweeted a bunch of jokes about the tsunami in Japan.  He might have been fired anyway, but considering AFLAC is the biggest insurer in Japan, and does most of its business there, the company probably figured it had no choice.

What intrigued me was the Hollywood Reporter headline:  "Gilbert Gottfried Under Fire for Tweeting 12 Shocking Tsunami-Related Jokes."  I think most people would be offended, but "shocking" is a judgment call.  (If you know how Gottfried operates, almost nothing he says is shocking.) Is it really the place of journalists to use such adjectives?

Invitation To The Dance

David Ehrenstein has put up an interesting and lengthy tribute to Stephen Sondheim.  It's only Part 1, in fact, going up to Follies.  He uses a lot of YouTube, and, as you might expect, emphasizes the gay side.

One small mistake.  He claims "The House Of Marcus Lycus" was cut from the original production of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum but has since been restored.  It's always been in the show.  What was cut was most of the extensive lyric.  The words are actually quite clever, and have been performed at Sondheim tributes, but had to be left out to make room for the various dances of the courtesans.

Kiss Off

The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) started as a hot script by Shane Black.  An action film about a secret agent with amnesia who regains her memory, it seemed a great vehicle for a top female star.  Geena Davis got the part and Renny Harlin, her husband, was named director.  Samuel L. Jackson had the male lead.

It flopped.

I'm surprised it hasn't become a cult hit.  (Has it?)  Whenever it's on TV, I usually watch a bit--especially the first half.  The final act goes on too long, and isn't as strong.  I guess the audience at large is turned off by the relentless and brutal violence, not to mention the harsh language. I think they also find it fairly ridiculous, since the heroes survive outrageous situations, often without a scratch.  And the audience tends to have a problem with a female lead in serious action.  They don't want to see, or have trouble buying, a woman (even Geena Davis) knocking out men right and left. Of course, it's just as ridiculous for Bruce Willis to do what he does in Die Hard (Renny Harlin directed the second one), but it's a convention action fans accept.

TLKG has flaws, no question, but it's a pretty lively story with a lot of fun dialogue.  In fact, the main reason I watch is for Samuel L. Jackson's sleazy investigator, who gets most of the good lines:

Geen Davis:  I got myself out of Beirut once, I think I can get out of New Jersey.
Samuel L. Jackson: Yeah? Well, don't be so sure. Others have tried and failed.

Geena Davis: I need a fake passport and I need money, lots of it.
Samuel L. Jackson: Well why didn't you say so? Hold on a minute while I pull that outta my ass.

Samuel L. Jackson: everyone knows, when you make an assumption, you make an ass out of "u" and "umption".

Geena Davis: Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
Samuel L. Jackson: I hope not, 'cause I'm thinking how much my balls hurt.

I recently watched it, this time all the way to the end.  I'd forgotten what it's ultimately about.  (Spoiler ahead.) The bad guy explains the CIA is faking a Muslim terrorist bombing that'll kill several thousand.  He even brings up the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.  Yes, it's the classic evil CIA that can and will do anything. Plays pretty weird today. Why haven't conspiracy nuts picked up on this film?

Monday, March 14, 2011

I Blame Dan Brown

American Gothic.  The Mona Lisa.  Whistler's Mother.  There are certain paintings that have been parodied so often it's rare we see the original any more.

Perhaps the most overused image is The Last Supper.  Whenever a TV show with a large cast wants to do a group photo, it's the first thing they think of.

It always makes me think--why are they all crunched together? Don't these people know there are two sides to a table?

Boxed In

The Box, starring Cameron Diaz, flopped last year. I finally caught it and can see why. It really had no chance from the start.

It's written and directed by Richard Kelly, who made the overpraised Donnie Darko in 2001 and the all but unreleasable Southland Tales in 2007 (pausing to write the incomprehensible Domino in 2005). But I don't want to blame Kelly--the concept was what killed it.

The movie is based on a short story "Button, Button," by the great Richard Matheson. Here's the plot, and pardon the spoilers.:

A married women in a couple strapped for cash gets a mysterious visitor. He gives her a box with a button and tells her if she presses the button, she'll get a lot of cash but someone she doesn't know will die.  Ultimately the wife pushes the button. The husband is killed in a fake accident and she receives the insurance money. Then she's told she never really knew him.

It was adapted for the 1980s Twilight Zone, with a new ending. After she pushes the button, the stranger takes the box back and tells the wife it will be brought to a person whom she doesn't know, suggesting she's next on the death list.

I thought both versions worked, but the key was it's a small story. A stranger, a box, a wife, the money, a death. That's about it. Not enough for a feature. The stranger in the movie, played by Frank Langella with a CGIed face wound, is the front man for an interstellar conspiracy. He's got numerous employees whom the leads keep running into. Both the NSA and NASA are involved. (It takes place in the 1970s, by the way.) Cameron Diaz gets a new foot. The husband goes through a water gateway to salvation. The couple's son is kidnaped. Other people are killed. Humanity is being experimented upon. Basically, it's a mess.

Kelly tries to graft a whole different plot to a very simple story, but it doesn't take. Someone, somewhere along the line should have said this isn't working, before the audience got to.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

No Boy Scouts

In the lobby at the Vista Theatre (just a couple miles away--and the tickets are cheaper than anywhere else for first run) I saw a standup for Sucker Punch, a film opening March 25th.  It's about a bunch of hot young women who fight crime or something.

The odd thing was the catchphrase: "You Will Be Unprepared."

What kind of slogan is that?  It's one thing to be unprepared, but to predict someone will be unprepared?  Are you allowed to do that?  Once you tell them that it gives them enough warning to be prepared.

The Scourge Of MS

Happy birthday, Mike Stoller, the composing half of Leiber and Stoller.  They're one of the greatest songwriting teams of our age, having created, among other tunes, "Hound Dog," "Yakety Yak," "Jailhouse Rock," "Kansas City," "There Goes My Baby," "Is That All There Is?" and "Love Potion No. 9."

Here they are on What's My Line? in 1958 (I assume it's that year because they refer to "Don't" as their latest).  They're nowhere near famous enough to be the celebrity guests.  The panel, especially Dorothy Kilgallen, treat their music as an irritant.  The congenial host, John Daly, notes en passant that rock and roll is a fad, and wonders if the team will ever do any serious music.

There's only one answer to that.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Miss Maki And The Rest

It's the birthday of Maki Nomiya, lead singer of Pizzicato 5 and ultimate Japanese hipster. Who doesn't love Shibuya-kei?

Testing Its Metal

A few years ago I heard there'd be a big screen version of Atlas Shrugged, and I doubted it could work.  And this was with a potential big budget and big-name cast.

Well, some tough Randians have made the film (of course--are you gonna stop them?) and apparently done it on the cheap, which makes me believe even more the film will be an unwatchable talkfest.  Early word is mixed, though Rand fans seem pleased.  I guess just seeing their heroes fight the moochers is already a victory.  After all, if Atlas Shrugged is as good as novels get, having handsome, well-lit people saying the novel's lines has to be great, too.

My friend Brian Doherty reviews the film in Reason (many Reasonoids have seen sneak previews) and gives it a qualifed thumbs up.  As far as I'm concerned, if it's not a complete train wreck (except for the actual train wreck), I'll be impressed.

The film officially opens April 15th, a symbolic date.  It will be rolling out slowly, so keep an eye out because it may be coming to your town.  Since the novel is extremely long, this is actually Atlas Shrugged Part One, the first of three planned.  I hope they make it to the end.  Gotta be better than the Twilight series.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Peggy Noonan Reviews Donald Rumsfeld's New Book

"It takes a long time to read because there are a lot of words, most of them boring."

Leftover Vanity Plates Of The Month

On an Audi A4:  A FOUR.  Hey, it's already on your car.

On a Mercedes:  370.  Rare you see just numbers on a vanity plate. And isn't 370 a Nissan?

Saw MISS VOD.  Not sure what that stands for, but I don't like the look of it.

6AAM666.  I don't think this is a vanity plate, but who knows?

Drove by a parked car with GOLDGOO.  Could that be right?  It's possible the last letter was a D, though I'm not sure if that makes it better.

AMSOIL4.  Is this American soil, or is he literally made of soil?

The One After Californication

Recently I noted IFC had re-upped on their Todd Margaret show.  Now Showtime has doubled down on Shameless and Episodes.

I've tried to get into Shameless, but it just won't take.  Episodes, however, I've enjoyed.  It's about a British couple coming to Hollywood and making compromises get their sitcom, starring Matt LeBlanc, on the air.  It's not quite in Todd Margaret territory as far as storyline--they ended with their marriage breaking down but their pilot doing well.  So the show is poised for more, without demanding it.

I thought Episodes picked up as it went along (in a seven-episode arc), and LeBlanc playing himself (sort of) added the spice that set it apart.  And now they it knows who the characters are, it can probably get better.   So good for Showtime.  It may not be another Larry Sanders or Party Down, but it's something to look forward to.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I Go To Pieces

I see over at The New Yorker the most popular article, for the fourth week in a row, is Lawrence Wright's "The Apostate." Definitely worth reading, if you've got a little time.

Unfortunately, also still popular is last August's nutty attack on the Koch Brothers by Jane Mayer.  It's undoubtedly changed the public debate--in a negative, nearly insane, direction.  (A comparable piece would be This American Life's discussion of the economic crash a few years ago.  Overnight, people who had never heard of the phrase started talking about "credit default swaps," figuring that meant they understood what happened.)

Cherie Bomb

The Runaways were as much a concept as a band--five tough chicks who rocked hard.  I'm surprised no one had thought of it before.  I was vaguely aware of their music, but seeing the movie about them last year (which didn't do that well) made me check out lead singer Cherie Currie's autobiography, Neon Angel.  It was published in 1989, then updated and reissued to coincide with the movie's release.  It's a compelling story of rock and roll, drugs, sex, rape, wild parties, abortions, car accidents, jail cells and many other things, most of which Currie experienced before she was old enough to vote.

Back in the mid-70s, Currie, from a middle-class broken family in the San Fernando Valley, was just another teenage girl who worshiped Bowie.  The eccentric Kim Fowley, who'd produced a bunch of records in the 60s, often novelty numbers (as well as one of my favorite oldies, the Murmaid's "Popsicles And Icicles") was looking to put together a rocking jailbait band. He'd collected some members, including Joan Jett, but still needed another ingredient, and was hanging out at teenage clubs to discover it. He saw Cherie, a cute 15-year-old blonde, and asked her to audition.  (He'd first asked Cherie's twin sister Marie, who turned him down.)  At her audition, Fowley and Jett took half an hour to write "Cherry Bomb" as try-out material, and it would become the band's signature tune.

Cherie became the lead singer (and only band member who didn't play an instrument), and before you know it, the Runaways had a record contract.  They came from a tradition of blues, heavy metal and glam, and played hard rock, verging on heavy metal and punk (which was just getting noticed). They toured across America, under crummy conditions, and played in Europe and Japan as well.  They were a cult sucess, selling out venues, but never doing much on the charts, except in Japan, where they were huge.  Fowley was a harsh taskmaster, and, if there was any money being made, the band certainly never saw it.

Some of the members, especially Lita Ford, didn't like how Cherie got so much media attention.  After a lot of fighting, Cherie, only seventeen, left the group. She recorded an album which didn't do that well, though others in the band, such as Joan and Lita, would go on to significant solo careers.  Currie got into acting, scoring a role in the teenage-culture time capsule Foxes (1980). (To do the movie she turned down Rock n' Roll High School. She doesn't say which part, but I'm guessing the lead.  That would have been interesting, though I can't imagine her doing better than P.J. Soles.)

There'd been drugs around all along, but in the 80s she became a serious addict, and almost died before she got clean.  She's still around, living in the Valley. In her early 50s, she has a grown son and creates chainsaw art.  Now that I know a little about her, I'll have to keep a lookout.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Over A Barrel or You Know The Drill

OPEC is considering increasing output to make up for the problems in Libya.  That would be nice.  Nicer still would be if the countries in the group broke up their cartel and started competing.

Planting The Flag

Here's a depressing story about an imam in London who had to apologize for his belief that Islam and evolution are compatible.  But what really caught my eye was this aside:

Like Christianity, Islamic opinion is divided over evolution. More than a millennium before Darwin, Muslim scientists had posited ideas about species survival and generational change that bore striking similarities to Darwin's eventual theory.

Striking similarities?  I doubt it.  You see this sort of claim from followers of religions and folk beliefs all the time--that centuries ago they figured out something, or had amazing insights, which science is only now getting around to.  In almost all cases, it's interested parties retrofitting old words to make them sound modern, or overstating their significance.  It's especially ironic here that while many Muslims want to deny the theory of evolution, others would like to claim they came up with it first.

What I don't understand is how this bit of public relations was dropped into a news story.

Community Property

No one can predict what direction a TV show will go.  Not even its creators.  In the first season, early on, Community seemed to be heading in a pretty clear direction:  Jeff and Britta were the main couple.  Pierce openly, and hopelessly, wanted Shirley.  Annie secretly longed for Troy.  Abed was asexual.

But here we are, almost done with season two, and things haven't turned out that way.  Jeff has had relations with Britta and Annie, but is attached to neither--in fact, Britta often plays the wet blanket.  Abed and Troy are close, if not physically intimate.  Shirley even did it with Chang.

I'm not sure why things have gone this way, but I think the producers started to get a feeling for the characters and wanted to go in new directions.  And they didn't want a Cheers sort of thing where you've got Sam and Dianne at the center and everyone else spinning around them.  I think, as the title implies, they were looking for an ensemble piece.  Everyone has their part, but nothing is quite guaranteed.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

We Have A Remedy

We've got an election today out here, and one ballot measure that caught my attention is Charter Amendment N, which deals with campaign finance.  It's essentially a measure which makes local law comply with the Citizens United case.

I've never thought much about this before, but what happens when the Supreme Court declares a bunch of laws across the nation unconstitutional?  Are they automatically voided?  Do local officials stop following them?  Do they need to take affirmative measures?  Is there a requirement the laws be rewritten?

In this case, they seem to be asking the voters to do what's required.  Is that the only way to change the laws?  And what happens if the local vote rejects the Amendment?  Do officials continue to enforce unconstitutional laws, while the fines and lawsuits pile up?

All In The Family

I've noted these days each episode of The Simpsons seems to be a composite of older episodes. Hard not to repeat yourself after 400 episodes.  Or 200.  Or 100.

Family Guy has done over 150 episodes, and the latest, "The Hand That Rocks The Wheelchair," so clearly calls back to former plots that characters on the show commented on it.  The main plot has Meg go psycho, obsessing over someone who doesn't love her back.  The other plot has Stewie create an evil version of himself--not unlike the old Stewie--who goes on a killing spree.

So neither plot was particularly original.  Odder still was that both were similar.  If you're gonna repeat yourself, try to steal a B-plot that's different from the A.

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