Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bob's Boy.

It's Chris Elliott's birthday.  Already?  Where has the time gone?

He's done a lot of TV and movies, but he'll always be The Guy Under The Seats to me.

The First P

Happy birthday, Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary.  He co-wrote "Puff, The Magic Dragon." He swears it's not about marijuana.

I'm pretty sure he's the shorter one.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Overturn This

There was a guy on the street yesterday complaining about how our democracy had been compromised now that corporations are free to speak.  He had a petition he wanted people to sign to change this.

I didn't stick around, but I'm curious as to what people were signing.  Citizens United is a Supreme Court case, and now part of constitutional law.  What was he planning to do?  Did he support some law that did an end-run around the First Amendment?  Did he support impeaching a Justice, or increasing the size of the Court?  Or did he just not get it?

If Not Me, Who?

Theatre programs have those squibs describing the people involved in the production.  They usuallly just list credits and awards, and I've always assumed they're supplied by those people themselves.

I just saw a production at the Ahmanson Theatre.  Here's how the playwright describes herself (I'm assuming):

Yasmina Reza is a French playwright and novelist based in Paris whose works have all been multi-award winning, critical and popular international successes.

These squibs are not for the modest, but I'm impressed that all she ever writes are super-successes.  I'd give anything to invest in her next show.

Horse-Toothed Jackass

As a fan of Howard Stern, I checked out They Call Me Baba Booey from my local library.  It's Stern producer Gary Dell'Abate's life story.  You could fill a bookshelf with autobiographies from that show  Howard has written a couple books, Artie Lange has Too Fat To Fish and Robin Quivers did her life as well.  Since Howard has lots of fans, and runs a show where the staff regularly delve into their lives, I can see why publishers decided to go for their stories.

They Call Me Baba Booey isn't a bad book, but I think Dell'Abate overestimates our fascination with his life before Howard.  Yes, he had problems, and some decent stories, but what we'd like to hear most from him are behind-the-scenes anecdotes of the Stern show. While he drops in a bit here and there, the book is actually 80% over before Gary gets hired by Stern.  Dell'Abate's actually spent more years of his life working for Stern than not, so They Call Me Baba Booey comes off like the first half of a bigger book--the first half that we'd skim over to get to the good stuff.

He's a trivia expert on pop music, and I did enjoy some of his lists of music sprinkled through the book (though I wouldn't be surprised if his editors wanted to cut them).

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Not Very Bright

From a piece in The New York Times by Penelope Green on hoarding incandescent bulbs:

For years, Glenn Beck, among other conservative pundits and personalities, has proclaimed the death of the incandescent light bulb as a casualty of the “nanny state” (never mind that the light bulb legislation is a Bush-era act)...

I fail to see the contradiction.

Kissing To Be Clever

Paul Giamatti from an interview in the British Guardian:

Your new movie, Win Win, casts you as a small-town lawyer and a high-school wrestling coach who is struggling to pay the bills and cuts some moral corners. It struck me as one of the subtlest responses to the credit crisis I've seen. Do you agree that it broadens our idea of heroism in a way?

I'm glad you say that. It's interesting. The response in the US is to see the character as kind of despicable, they have got on their high moral horse about it. As much as people like the movie and sympathise with it, they call the guy a loser.

Maybe Brits are more sympathetic to losers?

Well, I suppose failure is more interesting in general than success. It is closer to life maybe. A couple of reviews of Win Win were very indignant that the guy didn't get his boiler fixed [it is threatening to explode throughout the film]. It was like: why can't he get off his ass and fix it? It's funny. I'll be interested to see if that's what people think in the UK. I did a movie called American Splendor, based on the comic book writer Harvey Pekar. That character was very much judged as a loser in the US, too, a sort of a pathetic slob, but in Europe no one saw it like that. He was much more sympathetic. I guess that says something about both places.

Part of this, I assume, is Giamatti knows complimenting the locals on their discernment, especially as opposed to those philistine Americans, can't hurt.  But does he have a point?

My guess is no.  Maybe Americans have a more can-do spirit and don't like protagonists who sit back and let life roll over them.  But I think the bigger split is between the elite audience who go to see art films (the kind Giamatti is likely to star in) and the wider audience that wants to watch winners, not whiners.

By the way, the American reviews of Win Win were quite positive, and (as far as I can tell) generally saw Giamatti's character as very real and very human, not a nasty loser.  As for American Splendor, it made $6 million in America and $2 million in the rest of the world, so maybe all Paul got overseas was that elite crowd he's kissing up to.

Broadway, Baby

Larry Stempel's Showtime is a comprehensive look at the Broadway musical.  Including notes and index, it's over 800 pages, so it better be.  Yet, it left me feeling unsatisfied.

It's not bad.  In fact, I'd recommend it for someone who wants a grand overview.  And the early chapters about the 1800s cover ground in greater detail than you usually get.  But the book is a bit stiff, describing numerous shows and artists without quite communicating the joy or excitement of the best Broadway offerings.

Worse, though the book follows a general chronological scheme, it keeps doubling back.  For instance, there are four chapters that deal with the golden age of the integrated musical, from the 40s through the 60s.  But each chapter starts at the beginning (or earlier) of the era and goes through the same years from a different angle.  One chapter deals with how the book became important, the second gives examples of the great creators of musical plays (Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Harnick and Bock), the third discusses opera on Broadway and the fourth the adaptation of musical comedy to a new age by artists such as George Abbott, E. Y. Harburg, Frank Loesser and Comden and Green.  And though Stempel chooses to emphasize certain artists in certain chapters, we meet them elsewhere (for example, Loesser wrote his own opera, The Most Happy Fella), so we often seem to be getting the story piecemeal.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sequels, Comic Books And The Occasional Original

With the summer movie season already upon us, I've forgotten to make my predictions for what the top grossing films will be.  But Box Office Mojo did. Here are their predictions (for releases starting in May), and pardon me for just giving root titles:

1.  Harry Potter - $350 million
2.  Transformers - $320 million
3.  Kung Fu Panda - $285 million
4.  Cars - $270 million
5.  Hangover - $255 million
6.  Pirates Of The Caribbean - $230 million
7.  Captain America - $200 million
8.  Thor - $180 million
9.  Super 8 - $180 million
10.  Zookeeper - $170 million
11.  X-Men - $155 million
12.  Green Lantern - $130 million
13.  Bridesmaids - $125 million
14.  Planet Of The Apes - $125 million
15.  Smurfs - $120 million
16.  Cowboys & Aliens - $95 million

Other movies to watch:  Mr. Popper's Penguins, Crazy Stupid Love, Larry Crowne, The Change-Up, The Help, Fright Night, Bad Teacher and Horrible Bosses.

Note the top six are sequels.  Remind me in three months to check back and see how they did.

We Definitely Lost Gil

Let us say goodbye to Gil Scott-Heron, creator of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" and "We Almost Lost Detroit."

I suppose back then, television was the lie the Establishment fed us, but everyone knows today that nothing happens unless it's televised one way or another.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Pajama Guy Gets Results

A week ago I saw a mistake in the Internet Broadway Database.  I sent them a note and they've corrected it.  Good for them.

Hope I Didn't Scare You

Dennis Prager has a column about doomsday scenarios.  He maintains when it comes to false, foolish predictions of impending disaster, the left is worse than the religious right.  The media (he says) love to laugh at the Rapture that didn't happen last weekend, but ignore the silly claims the left makes about global warming, and older scares like widespread heterosexual AIDS and mass starvation.

Of course, this is a false equivalency (which even Prager halfway admits).  Looking at the evidence and saying here's a serious threat doesn't mean you're always right, but at least you're in the arena of rational debate.  Claiming if we don't shape up Thor will throw thunderbolts at us is simply a different thing.

Furthermore, Prager is blind to conservative doomsday scenarios--he accepts them or at least believes they're serious concerns.  Both right and left regularly claim if we don't do what they say disaster will ensue.  But Prager can't see how saying society will fall apart if we allow same-sex marriage is comparable to other scares. And let's not even get into the right's record on science except to say they're at least as good as the left at using it for political ends.

Do The Twist

Movie twist endings can be fun, but--even if well prepared for--are sort of cheap.  If it all ends like an O. Henry story, the thrill probably won't hold up so well on second viewing.

Here's a list of the ten greatest plot twists in film.  There was apparently voting involved.  Most of them you can probably guess. I think about half deserve to be there.  (Obviously spoilers:)

1.  The Sixth Sense

I don't know if I'd put this on the list.  Yes, it's famous, but I figured it out.  I know, I know, everyone says that.  But I remember discussing the film with a friend before it opened. We'd heard there was a twist and he said "I bet Bruce Willis is dead all along." I said there's no way they'd dare try that old Jacob's Ladder gag, but soon as I watched the first scene, I knew it had to be true.  It was kind of interesting noting how much they cheated to make it work.  But I'm not sure if I'd call it classic. Actually, it'd be cool if M. Night used this trick ending in every film he made.

2.  The Empire Strikes Back

Definitely.  As I may have mentioned previously, I was in line to see this film the day after it opened.  Some kid behind me mentioned Darth Vader ias Luke's father.  I wonder if I could find him on Facebook and go punch him.

3.  The Usual Suspects

I don't like it.  The twist doesn't make much sense.  First, if everything was made up, why did we waste our time watching the film?  Second, if Keyser Soze has done so much to hide himself, and was so powerful that he could do whatever he wanted behind the scenes, why did he give himself away so easily? (I could probably argue more sharply about it if I'd seen the film in the last fifteen years.)

While we're at it, why not go to the original film with "the usual suspects," Casablanca?  There are a bunch of twists at the end.  Even the people making the film didn't know where it was going.

4.  Psycho

Excellent choice, with two famous twists.

5.  Planet Of The Apes

I first saw this as a kid and had to have the ending explained to me.  But it's great.  (Also great is Homer Simpson repeating Charlton Heston's lines when he finally figures out the ending.)

6.  Chinatown

Never thought that much of the twist.  It's actually made better by that fact that Jack Nicholson, soon after making the movie, discovered his "parents" were his grandparents and his "sister" was his mother.

7.  Blade Runner

This makes no sense at all.  The film is overrated for a lot of reasons, but the ending is muddled and there are different versions, so the "twist" may not even be in the version you see.  Anyway, once you set up a world where you can't easily tell humans from replicants, you're just begging for a big moment at the end where it's revealed Harrison Ford is the very thing he's hunting.  Yawn.

8.  The Maltese Falcon

Another overrated film.  The ending isn't bad, but it's not shocking.  It's just yet another classic crime doesn't pay moment.  Indeed, there are a numerous films where crooks spend the whole running time trying to get something that turns out to be worthless.

9.  Citizen Kane

A classic twist, but not a great one. For decades, film commentators, not to mention Orson Welles himself, have been a bit embarrassed about the cheap "Rosebud" gimmick.  It's fine as an engine to get the plot going, but it doesn't really mean that much.  If it did, it'd only make the film more shallow.

10.  The Crying Game

Now we're talking.  One of the top twists in movie history, in what otherwise might have been a routine film.  I remember talking to a friend about how surprising it was that Dil was a man.  She said she felt the movie left it open.  I said what are you talking about, we saw his penis.  She said really?--she must have missed that seen during a bathroom break.

There were plenty of other twists that I thought might make the list. The Sting, Fight Club, No Way Out, The Others, Primal Fear, Witness For The Prosecution, Memento, The Prestige, Les Diaboliques, Night Of The Living Dead, The Ring, Mulholland Drive, Open Your Eyes, The Conversation, Carrie, The Game, Soylent Green and so many others.  But I guess these ten are so famous that they'll get the votes on most lists.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

About Face

“There’s still a much larger separation-of-powers issue: whether one Madison judge can stand in the way of the other two democratically elected branches ofLink government,” he said in a statement. “The Supreme Court is going to have the ultimate ruling.”

Separation of powers issues don't change when you go higher up the food chain in the same branch. The saddest part is that this was a prepared statement, by a legislator who also is a member of the Wisconsin bar.

Maid In The Shade

Megan McArdle on why hotels don't have zero-tolerance policies for guests who just happen to be naked when housekeeping appears:

...exhibitionists are careful to maintain plausible deniability [....] There are grey areas where we all know what's going on, but we can't prove it.

It reminded me of a Fred Willard line:

I was sitting naked in my hotel room when the maid came in...finally.

Doesn't Know Us From Adam

Adam Nagourney in The New York Times starts a recent piece thus:

LOS ANGELES — When Stephen Turner pulled his silver Mercedes into the Mobil station on a gritty stretch of Hollywood near Vine Street and Santa Monica Boulevard, he did not immediately recognize the gigantic man with Windex who ambled over and offered to wash his windows for a tip.

Hey, this is where I live.  That's my Mobil station.  So Nagourney thinks it's gritty?  It may not be Brentwood, but gritty?  I wouldn't say that.

If Adam wants me to drive him around Los Angeles a little, I'll show him gritty.

PS.  The caption to the main photo reads  "Lewis Brown spends much of his days at a Mobil station, washing drivers' windows." Perhaps, but the photo shows him in front of the local 7-Eleven.

Last Lost Post Lest I Get A Lust For Another Lost List

Let me respond to Lawrence King's comment to my first Lost post this week. I won't go over the same arguments I've made before as to why Lost's final season was disapponting, but let me talk a bit about how comparatively hard it was to finish it in a satisfactory manner.

Babylon 5 was imagined and written as a single piece, so it makes sense it all fits together. (And even then it's seriously hurt because the creator thought it would finish after season four, which makes the final season almost superfluous. It also has the problem of cast members leaving or being replaced (which, I believe, took away the original ending and moved it to the middle), and a structural problem of the biggest crisis being solved before the smaller crisis.)

Then there's Battlestar Galactica, which was created with no clear end (I believe--in fact, it's an inescapable conclusion based on the show itself) but was nevertheless going in a certain direction--humans searching for Earth, Cylons with a "plan."  Overall, even if they made it up one the fly, it was small enough (in characters, episodes and situations) that they could end with something that tied it all together, even if they didn't do it that well.

(Sorry, didn't watch Buffy or Firefly.)

But Lost was different.  It's a good point that you can't ignore the ending of any show that promises big mysteries will be solved, but Lost still had certain inherent problems in its approach that would always have caused trouble.  The show was big.  It was an expensive show with a huge cast.  And while the main action was on the Island, it really took place all over the world. It also took place all over time and even the Island story kept getting bigger.

More important, it started as an open-ended show.  If ABC had decided to keep it running, it'd still be on.  No one (at first) knew how long the show would run, no one knew who'd survive, no one could be sure who the new characters might be.   It's tough enough just to get a show on the air, especially, given Lost's odd genesis, a show that was created very quickly at the last second. With so much improvising necessary, it's hard to make it all fit.  (Some classic novels first published in serial form had to be rewritten when finally published as a single book.)

Yes, Lost did have an ending in mind when they started.  (The producers claim they did and the evidence supports them.)  But it was only a vague outline for an ending, and even that could change as the show advanced.  It certainly was general enough to allow for much improvising.

My guess, based on the first season and the final season, was that the creators knew there were two forces (probably brothers, almost certainly good and evil) who fought for control of the Island. They (one or both) brought the castaways to the island, who would eventually fight the final battle there, and, at the end, they'd defeat evil (represented by the smoke monster).  Then, Jack, the hero, in his final moments, would see those still alive escape. That's a story that makes sense and even gives a satisfying sense of completeness.

But how do you make that go for over 100 hours? You fill it up with characters, ever more. Some fall by the wayside (because fans don't like them) and some continue and grow. But sometimes their growth stalls because you've either done all you can with them (and their backstory) and either are just doing variations or need them to serve the overall plot.

So there are numerous ways you move forward, many of which either don't go anywhere or really can't be fitted into the piece overall. (And many of which are retrofitted. I believe they knew where they were going, but even something as first-season as Adam and Eve I'm not entirely sure they knew about.)

But even with all this, even when it's not possible to tie everything together because they entered too many things blind and went into too many dead ends, the ending is still disappointing. They knew, three years out, when the show would end.  So they had some great twists and turns (the biggest being the Oceanic 8 get home, followed by the Freighter Folk and the time shifts) but also had to come up with an ending (or, in this case, half the ending, anyway) which they thought was smart.  They decided on the sideways world.  At first blush a great idea.  They've had flashbacks and flashforwards, so a flash sideways is something new.  It also allowed them to have fun with characters, and bring back dead ones for encores.

Ultimately, though, the idea was horrible because they tried to outsmart the audience and outsmarted themselves.  It turns out the altaworld is actually the afterlife (which is the mainstream intrepretation, though I fight against it because I hate it so much) where all the Losties get together and work out their problems and then move on together.  This has two advantages which I guess the producer thought were so great they could ignore everything else.

One, it gave them another startling moment, in a show that is famous for them.  And this was the final shock, and it's a big one.  Yes, Jack and the rest are all dead.  Second, it gave them a chance for a big sentimental scene, where all the characters could say goodbye (and hello) which certainly gives a sense of completeness.  But even if you like these things, it sells out everything else.  Nothing in this world really mattered--not Desmonds urge to wake everyone up, not even their working out their problems.  What seemed to be an ingenious problem--where they characters had to figure out how to combine the two worlds--turned out to be a separate PS which said little or nothing about the main mystery on the Island.  And the producer can talk about characters all they want; we may have loved the characters, but the main interest was how those characters figured into a larger story about the Island.

I've also criticized how relatively weak the Island half of the final season was, and how unsatisfactory many of the answers and much of the action was.  But at least it stuck to what we cared about.  If only it could have been tied in better to the sideways world, we could have had an ending that was not only satisfying, but stirring and exciting as well.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


In what's seen as a referendum on Paul Ryan's fiscal plans, Democrat Kathy Hochul has defeated Republican Jane Corwin (and alleged Tea Party candidate Jack Davis) in an upstate New York congressional race. 

The message seems clear.  Hands off Medicare.  Say what you want about Ryan, at least he's trying to deal with a problem.  But the message from the voters, as usual, is cut spending, just not our programs.  If this is how the public feels, reform will be difficult, perhaps impossible, while a bad situation only gets worse.

Breaking Bride

David Denby, in his New Yorker review of Bridesmaids, calls Kristen Wiig one of the most gifted clowns on television since Carol Burnett.  Thus his disappointment that her movie isn't better.  (It's reminiscent of Pauline Kael, who wrote about how much she loved Carol Burnett, but never liked any of the movies she was in.)

He is right that the plot lurches, often seeming stalled between set pieces. Very much like a number of Farrelly Brothers films.  Which may explain why the director, Paul Feig, and producer, Judd Apatow, insisted there be a gross-out scene where the cast gets food poisoning.  Denby refers to it as one of the "awkwardly unfunny episodes that should have been dropped."

Denby may not like it, but I'm pretty sure this is the money scene.  Even with a mostly female audience, this is what people are talking about.  The film is a hit, and I'd say due in no small part to the gross stuff.

Denby asks rhetorically "Is there really that big an audience for vomit?" Actually, yes, if properly done.

Once More

One more post on Lost.  Here's a ranking of all 113 episodes.  Just a few notes:

Certain episodes like "Stranger In A Strange Land" and "Fire + Water" are always ranked low, and I can see why (though even they aren't so bad), but "Some Like It Hoth" at 108? I love that episode.

In general, a lot of the flashbacks started to run out of steam.  I can see why they changed the format.  But no matter how weak the flashback, if the episode moved the Island story forward that made it well worth watching (except maybe sometimes in the final season).

Also, while a lot of season 1 eps are rated low, the whole concept and all the characters were so interesting and fresh that I don't think there was anything that season that wasn't riveting.

"316" is only rated 89.  Just seeing the Oceanic Six get back on the airplane makes it better than that.

"Tabula  Rasa" 88?  This was the first real episode, and it must have had something. We were hungry to find out about these characters, and finding out that Kate was a fugitive was cool--probably the last time a flashback of hers really worked.

"This Place Is Death" at 85.  I'm a huge fan of season 5, and this is one of the best with the time flashes.  (And "The Lie" at 84 is a worse episode, but better than the ranking.)

We're getting to the middle-ranked eps.  "The Hunting Party," where we meet Mr. Friendly, is probably a bit too low at 64. And "Orientation" at 61, which revealed so much, is probably too low as well.

"Expose" at 58, in the middle?  The episode doesn't exactly stink (though I don't like how it undercuts some of the first season), but way too high for Nikki and Paulo.

"The Moth" is 36.  Maybe, though I thought it stood out in season one, even if it was a bit stand-alone.

"The Man Behind The Curtain" at 34?!  This is a top ten episode.  You get Ben's background, some cool stuff on the beach as Jack and Juliet dealing with suspicion, and above all, the riveting story of how Locke and Ben go to meet Jacob.

"The Cost Of Living" is a mid-range episode with an Eko flashback--ranked too high at 25.

"The Other 48 Days," where we learned what happened to the tailies, is pretty good, but not the 23rd best.

I kept waiting to see "The Long Con." This episode is in my bottom five. And it finally appears at 11!!  The whole thing makes no sense.  When you pull a con, the idea (as Sawyer knows) is to make the victims either not know they've been conned or at least not know who did it.  Failing that, the con man must slip away into the night, never to be heard from again. For Sawyer to con Jack and Locke out of their gun stash when everyone knows he did--he even brags about it--is worse than pointless.  Now everyone's pissed at him and all they have to do is keep a watch on him to get the guns.  Jack says in a later episode he can always get the guns when he wants, and he's correct.  A completely washout.  (The best thing, in retrospect, is the whole series is arguably a long con from MIB.)

Season 6 is generally ranked too high.  I'm not sure if any episode should be in the top ten.  I recognize the finale is a special episode, but love it or hate it (and many hate it), I don't think it's so special that it should crack the top ten, even though I recognize it had a certain power.

Even worse, "Ab Aeterno"--Richard's flashback, which should have been much better--is ranked 6.  By the way, that makes five season six episodes in the top 25, when there should probably be zero.

On the other hand, good to see three great season five eps in the top ten--"Jughead" at 8, "Dead Is Dead" at 7 and "The Life And Death Of Jeremy Bentham" at 4.

I can live with "Walkabout" at 5--it's the episode that turned me into a Lost fan.  But no other season one episode should be higher, yet the pilot makes 3.

I've got no problem with "Through The Looking Glass"--the third season finale--at 2.  It's got a lot of great stuff and the ending was one of the best moments ever on TV.

Number one is "The Constant." I certainly like it, but it almost seems more like a highly emotional stand-alone dealing with Des and Penny than anything else.  Probably wouldn't make my top ten.

By the way, here are how many episodes each season got into the top ten:

Season one:  2
Season two: 0
Season three: 1
Season four: 2
Season five: 3
Season six: 2

This is ridiculous.  Two might not be the best season, but it had some great stuff and is far superior to season six. And three had its ups and downs, but one of the best runs the series ever had was in the second half of that season.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


In case you missed it, happy birthday Bob Dylan.  So you're 70.  How does it feel?

You might want to check out Rolling Stone for his top 70 songs.

Could It Be Finally I'm Turning For Home?

When you think of 70s music, what do you conjure up in your mind? Extended jams? Singer-songwriters?  Prog rock?  Disco?  Punk?

Whatever it is, here's the biggest hit of that decade:

Let's say goodbye to songwriter Joseph Brooks, who has committed suicide

His death comes two years after Brooks was charged in the sexual assault of about a dozen women, and five months after his son, Christopher Brooks, was charged in the death of his former girlfriend in a separate case.

[He] was found by a friend who was supposed to have lunch with him at his home[....] He was near a helium tank with a tube attached into a dry cleaning bag, and a towel wrapped around his head and neck, according to police. He left a suicide note.

No matter how he went out, he'll be remembered for a song that it inspired millions (and revolted about as many).

Who Knows?

Following up on yesterday's post, here's a YouTube video of the top five most annoying unanswered questions from Lost:

I don't know if these are the top questions, or even if they haven't been answered.  I would think the top unanswered question, in any case, would be just what was the Island?  They explained somewhat (a place that holds a magical light that needs to be protected), but refused to give any clue as to its origin in the one episode that could best have dealt with it, "Across The Sea."

So here are the five questions with my comments.

1.  Why was Walt so important?

This wasn't so important to me.  Even if I ignore what I know from non-canonical sources, it's pretty obvious that the Others, for quite a while, had been flailing about, attempting various things under the leadership of Ben and before him Widmore, while Jacob did little or nothing to guide them.  They knew all about Walt and figured he could be of help, but presumably realized it wasn't working out.  Not the first time.  (And we do know a bit about what happened to Walt after he got off the Island.  Using the extra bit that was added after the series to explain things, which I do consider canonical, we also know he'd eventually return to the Island, where he always belonged, to help out his dad.)

2.  Who was shooting at Sawyer's outrigger?

While this isn't an important question, it is very annoying.  I have no doubt Cuse and Lindeloff knew where it fit (probably somewhere with Widmore's people), but chose not to show it because they didn't feel they could easily put into an episode.  Inexcusable.  You don't set up something like that and not pay it off.  Bad plotting.  Very unsatisfying.

Of course, it wasn't the only loose thread.  For instance, what about Annie?

3.  Who was behind the Purge?

It seemed reasonably clear that the Others were getting sick of the Dharma Initiative.  Relations had always been tense, so I suppose at one point they decided they'd had enough and it was time to deal with them.  The Others had cultivated Ben and he, at the very least, helped pull it off.  What specific individual first came up with it I don't know, and don't particularly care about, though it sure sounds like something Widmore would plan.

4.  Who was making the Dharma supply drops?

The PS film explained this, and it was exactly as I expected.  The Dharma people had outsourced the drops (and presumably paid well in advance) so they kept coming.

5.  How do you become a smoke monster?

This was explained in "Across The Sea," and in a very vague manner, so I can understand some confusion.  It does seem, however, that you can't have a bunch of smoke monsters--once it was released (when combining with the Man In Black, who'd just killed his mom), no one going in (even a nasty person) will repeat the experience.  (Imagine if it could happen.  When Smokey walked in, would he be Smokey Squared?)

5a.  What was the Man In Black's name?

Another annoying gambit from Cuse and Lindeloff.

PS  I chanced upon this page where an evangelical scholar gives his interpretation of the final season.  He believes the sideways world was a pleasant dream of the dead--a world where the plane didn't crash.  In the real world, the plane crashed, they all died, and the Island was hell. I don't think this theory can hold up to scrutiny.

Monday, May 23, 2011

It's Good For You

Happy birthday, Rosemary Clooney.  She was huge in the pre-rock 1950s.

Back then, it wasn't uncommon for singers to put out lighter fare on singles than the jazz or big band numbers they'd record otherwise.  Clooney despised "Come On-a My House" but was forced by her label to do it.  It went to #1 in 1951 and stayed atop the charts for 8 weeks, making her a star.  She continued to have hits through the decade with what were essentially novelty numbers.

Meanwhile, she preferred the standards.

PS  Clooney's recording of "Mambo Italiano" has been used in a bunch of films, such as Big Night and  Mickey Blue Eyes, because, after all, nothing says Italian like Clooney.

Her version of "It's Bad For Me" has become better known in recent years since it was put in the first-person shooter videogame BioShock.

The Lost Year

It's been a year since the finale of Lost.  I wrote about it then, and more than once since.  It split the fan base, though the reaction was more negative than positive. One friend told me the more he thinks about the finale, the better he likes it.  I probably feel the opposite.  It was not only weak, but hurt what went on before.  (And I have a new complaint that I didn't fully realize then.  While it's nice for the dying Jack to see his friends fly off the island, it wasn't a big deal anymore.  Under the old regime, their lives were always in danger and they couldn't leave.  With Hurley in charge and their enemies dead or neutered, they can sit around and enjoy the tropical paradise for a few months before taking off.)

The Island stuff was weak, but the altaworld was meaningless, and arguably made everything meaningless.  Still, I can't name a series that had me more involved, or entertained, than Lost.  For the first five seasons, I can't think of a better show.  Nothing can take that away.  And the characters and situations had so much residual interest, I was still intrigued by season six, even if it was a letdown.

I could explain more particularly, but I've already done that.  Looking back at what I wrote last June, I wouldn't change anything, except that maybe now I feel even more negative.

But let's not go out on a harsh note.  Let's remember some of the good moments from season 1 through 6 (though only one of them makes my top ten of the season list):

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Rudy Boys

Happy birthday, Jerry Dammers.  One of the founders and main songwriter of The Specials.

Domestic Help

International grosses have become more important than ever for films.  While American studios may not get as big a percentage, overseas amounts can dwarf domestic take.  So it's always worthwhile to check worldwide box office these day, rather than just accept domestic as the final word.

Big-event films regularly see two-thirds of their entire gross overseas, as demonstrated on the linked chart by the top four--Harry Potter, Inception, Shrek and Tangled.  In fact, a film like Tangled did okay domestically, but didn't quite crack $200 million--considering how much it cost, I'm sure Disney was hoping to top that.  But with international at $376 million, not so bad any more.  You can also see the trend that international money generally goes to visually exciting films, since they play well despite the language barrier.

Or look at Rio, which so far has only $125 million at home, but overseas has topped $300 million.  An even better example is the latest Chronicles Of Narnia, which was a domestic disappointment, barely cracking $100 million, but making over $300 million overseas.  The best example in the last 12 months is probably Gulliver's Travels, which flopped over here with $42 million but made a surprising $194 million over there.

Some stars, while they may be big in the U.S., are bigger around the world.  Look at Tom Cruise.  With all the bad pr he's been getting, the guy who used to be the most dependable draw in America is no longer a guarantee.  A decade ago Cruise in an action film with Cameron Diaz would mean $100 million+ domestic, but last year's Knight And Day only made $76 million.  However, it made $186 million overseas.  I think Russell Crowe may be moving into this category.  Robin Hood, with a gigantic budget, only made $105 million in America (and Canada), but everywhere else it made $216 million.

Meanwhile, The Tourist, a weak movie that got the heave-ho in America, grossing only $67 million, had two international stars, Depp and Jolie, and managed $201 million internationally.

Another actor who used to gross a lot better overseas was Bruce Willis, but I'm not sure if it's working for him any more.  Look at his action comedy Red.  It made a passable $90 million domestic, but only $72 million overseas.

Comedies often don't play as well overseas, due to cultural differences and language-based jokes.  But some actors have gotten well known enough that their stuff attracts enough attention to do decent business.  Adam Sandler's (dreadful) Just Go With It and Robert Downey Jr.'s Due Date each made a bit over $100 million both here and there.

Films with specifically American subjects often don't play as well overseas.  Taken, an action film starring Liam Neeson, in a turnabout did considerably better domestically ($145 million) than foreign ($81 million).  A lot of people attribute that to the plot, which had an American agent kick ass against a bunch of jerks and wimps in Europe. Then there's the football (American style) film The Blind Side, which grossed a shockingly huge $255 million in America but made only $53 million foreign.  The Town, a film very much about Boston, played a lot better in the land of New England ($92 million) than the land of old England (foreign gross $64 million).  Detroit-based Gran Torino made $148 million here and $121 million there.  True Grit, a surprise hit in a very American genre, the Western, made $170 million in America and only $77 million overseas.  Probably didn't help that so much of its appeal was the ornate dialogue.

Jackass 3D also did twice as well domestically.  Actually, I'm not sure if I get that one, since I think their humor is international.  Guess other people just don't know about them.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Apocalypse Now or Royalties For The Royal Tease

Much of the coverage of the church that expects the world to end today has been fairly jocular.  If the media wish to treat such expectations as silly, that's their business. Still, what these people believe is no sillier than lots of religious beliefs all around the world, beliefs that are generally treated seriously.  The mistake this church made was to believe something easily falsifiable.

The radio and TV coverage sure allowed a lot of people to pull out this R.E.M. gem:

Wish List

Following in the tradition of Dahlia Lithwick and others, Garret Epps seems to be a liberal who likes lively and rugged Constitutional interpretation that gives him what he wants, but suddenly sees how misguided it all is when judges come down with decisions he doesn't like. While he's a bit more subtle than Lithwick, I'm not sure, in the long run, if he's any less hypocritical.

There are certain traditions--many of which didn't exist when the Constitution was ratified, or even when the 14th Amendment became law--that support what Epps wants, but others that don't.  The latter he rejects as illegitimate. (Same goes for novel interpretive concepts.)

He lays it on the line in his short piece (for which he promises follow-ups) "America's 10 Biggest Constitutional Myths." That every single one of these myths seems to be what conservatives believe doesn't speak well for him (even if he's an admitted partisan).  Here's his complaint:

...the current far-right campaign is aimed at an even broader target: it seeks to convince us that the Constitution somehow forbids the United States from becoming a modern nation-state, with an integrated economy, a rational health-care system, a unified national citizenship, an open electoral process, and a system of bedrock civil and political rights.

"Far right," or mainstream campaign?  I suppose it could be both, in the same way "moderate" judges on the courts tend to be radical leftists on an issue like, say, affirmative action--compared to the public--while "far-right" judges tend to be only slightly to the left of the public.

Can the Constitution (without further amendment) stop us "from becoming a modern nation-state." I don't know, since I don't know what that is, though I have a sneaking suspicion it's 1) a lot like European nations and 2) something Epps deeply wants and darned if he's going to let a piece of paper get in the way.  Presumably the Constitution limits us in some ways, so who knows, maybe it will stop some things Epps desires.  That's how it goes sometimes.

What is this Constitution anyway?  What Epps and his pals believe?  What the public believes?  Or what nine people in robes believe?  (I won't insult Epps by claiming there's a clear, objective meaning to the document which anyone can divine with enough study.) Epps and his pals have had run of the courts and the academy for quite a while, but new (and old) ideas keep bubbling up, and Epps (just like previous reactionaries) will have none of it.

But let's get to the fun part, his top ten myths, with my comments.

1. Conservatives believe only in "original intent" and others believe in a "living Constitution," meaning whatever they want.

I agree (since this is a pretty extreme way of putting it).  Still, there are a number of scholars who make serious arguments on behalf of original intent, and plenty of evidence that many others seem capable of finding whatever they want in the Constitution.  But really, you say potato, I say potahto.  All sides in this issue try to figure out what the Constitution means, but Epps seems to feel he can decide which side is legitimate.

2. The Founders wrote the Constitution to restrain Congress and limit its powers.

Correct, but so what?  The Constitution's main purpose is to set up a form of government (a stronger, more centralized one than they had at the time), and it naturally lists the powers of that goverment.  But it also implicitly and explicitly puts significant limits on what that government can do.

3. The "Unitary Executive" means all unclaimed federal power flows away from Congress and to the President.

Not sure if I get this one.  Are conservative really making this argument?  So much it's one of the top ten myths?  I need specific examples to make this mean something.

Everyone--even Dick Cheney--agrees that all three branches have particular powers, and Congress has an awful lot of those powers.  The question is still who gets to do what.  As to what the President can do, it's not so much general theory as actual practice that the party that runs the White House tends to prefer that the President get as much power as possible.

4. The Constitution does not provide for separation of church and state.

I think he's right, but you've got to argue for it, not just dismiss the other side as a myth.  It still requires interpretation of the First Amendment, since it's not explicitly stated.  In fact, today's concept of separation is fairly modern--certainly it wasn't put into use until after WWII--and required the sort of novel judicial opinions which Epps now stands foursquare against.

(As usual, this "myth" is stated in an all-or-nothing way, making Epps' opponents seem extremist while Epps gets to be "nuanced." I suppose the opposite claim would be "The Constitution bans all consideration and expression of religion in public.")

5. Corporations have precisely the same First Amendment rights as natural persons.

Corporations aren't people, so they can't speak.  It's the people who create corporations who have full First Amendment rights.  The only other choice is to say Government has the power to regulate and ban political speech (including from media companies).

6. The Second Amendment was "intended" to make government "fear the people."

I'd guess the Second Amendment was designed in a time when no one thought we'd have standing armies, and no one thought we could have armies everywhere anyway.  So they figured militias would be significant to the general defense.  But even if this interpretation is correct, Epps still has to show why this in any way limits the right to bear arms.

7. The Tenth Amendment and state "sovereignty" allow states to "nullify" federal law.

As with most of these statements, I agree with Epps.  Federal law is supreme over state law.  But that hardly means that once the Feds pass a law, that's all there is to it.  (Or that there's nothing states can do about it.)

8. The Fourteenth Amendment was written solely to address the situation of freed slaves, and has no relevance today.

As with many of these myths, I have to ask, just how widespread is Epps claiming this to be?  If he's only responding to the most radical views, then he's picking easy fights, while ignoring the serious arguments of the right (and "far right").

What's the opposite myth?  I guess it'd be something like "The Fourteenth Amendment is the most super-amazing thing ever written, since we can take even a small part of it, like the term 'due process,' and, ignoring history and context, use it to turn the whole Constitution inside-out."

9. Election of Senators is unfair and harmful to the states.

It has its ups and downs, but once again, even the small minority that doesn't like election of Senators isn't seriously trying to overturn the practice. In any case, since we're talking "unfair" and "harmful," we're not in the realm of myth, but rather opinion. (It is true even without the 17th Amendment, the trend would have been to vote for Senators.  Just like we got to vote for the President even without an Amendment.)

10. International law is a threat to the Constitution and must be kept out of American courts.

I'm not even sure what this means.  International law (whatever that is) floating out there in the ether is no threat.  The threat is judges who don't find what they want in American law (you know, the actual law they're supposed to be interpreting) turning to other sources until they find what they want.  That's a threat worth dealing with.

So yeah, lets keep it out of American courts when it's dragged in by a judge who likes it better than what the relevant law says.

His Feat Was Big

May 21st, which means it's Fats Waller day. He didn't make it to 40, but his catalogue seems inexhaustible.

Friday, May 20, 2011

RIP the Macho Man

Randy Savage (nee Randall Poffo, & brother of Leapin' Lanny Poffo) aka "The Macho Man" and WWF* champion in the late 80s has died in a car accident. Not much to add but like most successful wrestlers, he made much of his persona -likable and stupid-sounding("OOH YEAH"). I mean, really stupid-sounding. I have respect for the dead but thats what he was known for.

He also has a number of "acting" credits outside the ring too. Most interesting to me, an appearance on "Mad About You" in 1999 which sounds so intriguing but somehow got left off his IMDb page **

* Not the one concerned with Global Warming
** Never mind, I found it under "appearances as self" - a separate listing (Does that mean he wasn't appearing as himself in Wrestlemania?)

By George

It's great to have the IBDB around for quick reference to Broadway productions.  I wish they'd throw in off-Broadway, and their search engine were a little more forgiving, but why look a gift horse in the mouth?

Anyway, I've always found it to be accurate, so was disturbed to see this in the comments about the 1905 Arnold Daly production of Candida:

First New York production of this play; Arnold Daly and Mary Shaw were arrested for presenting an "immoral play"; they were acquitted.

Completely wrong.  This is obviously meant for the Arnold Daly 1905 production of Mrs. Warren's Profession, which the New York critics referred to as "illuminated gangrene." Guess I'll have to write them a letter.

Westerlies (aka Anti-Trades)

Cornel West, professor at Princeton (he really should go to Cornell to keep it simple) called President Obama "a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.”

According to the link, "the White House did not have an immediate comment." Of course not, they were too busy high-fiving.  Nothing like an attack from the radical left to make you look centrist.

West went on, questioning Obama's background:  "All he has known culturally is white…When he meets an independent black brother, it is frightening.”

So I guess independent black brothers are socialists, while free-market black brothers are...white?

The ABCs of Albert Brooks Comedy or LIA MIA

This weekend the American Cinematheque is having a salute to Albert Brooks. Tonight they're showing Broadcast News and Real Life, and tomorrow it'll be Defending Your Life and Modern Romance.

Both programs look like a lot of fun, but where is Lost In America?  Doing a tribute to Brooks without Lost In America is like a tribute to Orson Welles without Citizen Kane.

It Started In Naples

Ten years ago today Renato Carosone died.  At least he lived long enough to see Matt Damon and Jude Law sing "Tu vuò fà l'americano" in The Talented Mr. Ripley.

It sounds just fine in Italian, but if you want to know what the complete lyric means:

You're wearing trousers with a tag on the back
and a cap with the visor turned up,
parading around Tuleto
like a lady's man trying to be seen

You're acting all American,
American, American,
listen here: who's asking you to?

You want to be all trendy,
but if you drink "whisky and soda"
you always end up sick!

You're dancing rock and roll,
and playing baseball,
but where'd you get the money
for the Camel cigarettes?
Mummy's handbag!

You're acting all American,
American, American,
but you're born in Italy, listen here:
there's nothing you can do,
ok Napoletano?!
You're acting all American,
American, American,

How can your loved one understand
if you're speaking half American?
When you're out loving under the moon,
where do you get a phrase like "I love you"?

You're acting all American,
American, American,
but you're born in Italy, listen here:
there's nothing you can do,
ok Napoletano?!
You're acting all American,
American, American,
...whisky soda rock and roll

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Present Shock

In Europe, McDonald's will be replacing cashiers with touchscreens. (McDonald's is refurbishing in general.  SNL mocked it, saying McDonald's is not a destination, it's a place where you end up.) The company says it's part of a movement to make its restaurants more convenient and convivial.  "Convivial"? Do they know what that word means, or did they just say it for alliterative purposes?

Anyway, touchscreen checkouts aren't the future, they're the present.  Major grocery chains out here--and I'm assuming elsewhere--allow you to buy your items via computer.  So how much longer before the local Mickey D's follows suit? But it's scary to contemplate the day when "hamburger flipper" jobs are gone.  They may not pay well, or be very fulfilling, but they're stepping stones for young Americans into the labor force.

My first regular job (which only lasted a few weeks before I got something better) was working at a fast food place.  I learned the joys of mopping, washing windows and rejuvenating the frier.  I wish I got to flip burgers.


I still watch The Event, though I don't respect myself for it.  I guess the problem will cure itself if (really when--the show was canceled last week, though there's some hope it'll be picked up elsewhere) the season finale ends it all.  But last week's episode, though fun, was the usual bizarre collection of bad choices.

By the way, plenty of spoilers, but that's the point.

We've been following our hero, Sean Walker, who's teamed up with rogue CIA agent turned good again, Vicky Roberts.  They've been jetting around the world, moving from the U.S. to France to Siberia back to the U.S. in no time at all. Tricky under the best circumstances, but since they're fugitives who attempted to assassinate the Vice President, you think they'd be getting a little more heat.  The show has apparently forgotten all about that.

And the Vice President is now the acting President after the actual President had a stroke--brought on by the Vice President, who poisoned him.  Now let's remember that earlier this season the Vice President was caught committing crimes against the administration.  It's weird enough they let him serve out his term, but okay, it saves face.  But to let him into meetings, where they discuss national policy during a crisis that threatens the world?  Close enough to drop things into the President's coffee?

We'll even let that go, but now that the President has recovered somewhat (thanks to help from the former head of national intelligence, Blake Sterling--he's the former head because he stupidly accused the Vice President of poisoning the President, thus losing the only trump card he had which was the Veep didn't know he knew), he bravely tells the doctor he's got to get back to the White House.  Why?  Is there some magic power-up button in the White House?  Call your cabinet to the hospital and immediately explain the Veep has tried to kill you. The longer you keep this a secret, the more pointless danger you're in.

He confronts the Veep in the Oval office.  The Veep notes "I'm still President until you're declared okay to serve again." This is actually a fascinating legal point.  We've had Veeps take over while the President is incapacitated, but what happens if the Veep doesn't want to give up power and says the Prez isn't ready to serve?

Anyway, there are bigger fish to fry, which is why it was weird to see everyone waste time.  Sophia, the head alien (if that's the word--they let it slip they were here before us) is plotting to kill almost all humans to make room for her people to come to Earth.  (There ain't enough room on the planet for the both of us.) You might figure they have some sophisticated alien technology to do this, like they have for everything else, but no, they dug up some old, frozen corpse with a particularly virulent strain of Spanish Flu which kills humans but not aliens.  So virulent, in fact, that it kills too quickly and won't spread.  So the aliens' solution?  Infect Leila (Sean's half-alien girlfriend) so she'll create a mutant strain which will kill, but not so quickly.  Maybe I'm not up on the latest in alien biology, but even if this bizarre plans works, doesn't it create a chance the new strain will kill aliens as well?

So anyway, time is of the essence, since Sophia has the virus and only has to release it into the wide world to set her unstoppable plan in motion.  Meanwhile, Sean, Vicky, Blake and Simon (an alien and former counteragent who's back with the humans--people change sides a lot on this show) meet each other on the same trail and team up--a decent plot twist. While they're gathering evidence, the revived Prez calls his Blake.  Does the security advisor say drop everything or 6 billion people will be dead by the end of the week?  Does he say time to order the entire military of the world on this case?  No, he let's it slide.  Once his crew figure out the location of Sophia's hideout, they drive to the spot (which, luckily, isn't too far away--could have been anywhere in the world) to take her group out.  The whole world hangs in the balance, and we get four people to save us.

Sean finds his love Leila there, but they can't touch because she's infected.  The other three take out the skeleton crew (everyone else has left to hatch the plan) and try to use Sophia's computer to figure out how she'll carry out her scheme.  Sean's greatest talent is computer hacking, so why isn't he helping?  Leila has a few more hours, humanity doesn't.

My guess is in the finale they'll stop the spread of the flu (they've got to, don't they, unless they're planning to remake The Stand), but won't be able to stop a bunch of new aliens from coming to the Earth via their fancypants technology.  This will create plenty of new confrontations in the nonexistent second season.

And we still don't know what the "event" is.  Speak now or forever hold your peace.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Yet another in a series of articles from liberals who feel courts are illegitimate when they overturn laws that liberals like.  This time it's Dahlia Lithwick, who wonders if judical review itself is a good thing.  Fair question, but it sure seems to be asked by those on the losing end.

In the good old days when judges were fighting against the stupid/evil voters to ensure busing or abortion or whatever, the courts were doing the right thing.  In fact, Lithwick still cheers them on when they overturn laws on immigration, same-sex marriage, voter fraud and so many other things the public gets wrong.  But now that Obama's health care law is being challenged, we can no longer countenance such anti-democratic action.

There is no serious constitutional argument against Obamacare, and we live in a nation with "almost sinfully inadequate health coverage." This Lithwick considers undebatable.  So I can see why she's impatient with the courts.  And since they vote along partisan lines (though they do this a fair amount on other issues which don't bother her so much), that makes it even worse.

She's also fearful if the health care law is overturned, it will hurt the legitimacy of the judiciary.  Because after all, imagine what people will think of a court that strikes down a highly unpopular law--don't they know a fair amount of legal experts believe it's constitutional?

She considers the distinction between activity and inactivity, which the case turns on, to be a novel one.  Really? I would think the distinction has a long legal history (the difference between pushing someone in front of a car and not pulling them away) and is found in the Constitution not only by implication, but in the 13th Amendment.

But fine, let's call it a novel argument.  (You know, like saying growing and eating your own corn implicates interstate commerce.) So I guess she sees no important legal distinction between the government banning a thousands products and forcing you to buy a thousand products. So the government could send you a budget on Janauary 1st and that's how you'd spend your money for the year.  But that would never happen, Lithwick argues, so why talk about it?  Her main point seems to be this is all a distraction--the trouble with judicial review is it makes us concentrate on insignificant legal issues while obscuring the actual issue, which is the deplorable state of health care in the U.S., which obviously the federal law will ameliorate.

So, there's health care and then there's our rights. I'm sorry she's so sure she's correct on the first issue that she doesn't need to care about the second, which, by the way, she's also sure she understands better.

PS  In a recent 8-1 decision, which I guess makes the Supreme Court look legitimate, they overturned the Kentucky Supreme Court and made it easier for police to do warrantless searches.  What happened was officers were pursuing a drug suspect and thought they smelled marijuana in an apartment.  They banged on the door but there was no answer, so they loudly identified themselves and, fearing evidence was being destroyed, kicked in the door.  They found someone with drugs, but it wasn't the suspect.  The Court allowed the evidence to be used.

Justice Alito wrote the opinion, explaining the search was reasonable due to exigent circumstances.  So I guess there are lessons here both for cop and culprit.  If you're the police, you don't have to come across exigent circumstances any more, you can create them.  If you're a drug user, just remember, when the police bang loudly at your door, calmly answer and ask them to go away.  Doing nothing gets worse results.

Credit Where It's Due

Three short plays by Woody Allen, Ethan Coen and Elaine May will be appearing in one package on Broadway. The Wall Street Journal notes:

The new mini plays, titled "Relatively Speaking," will be directed by John Turturro, who has appeared in several films by Coen and his brother Joel, including "The Big Lebowski."

Who doesn't love The Big Lebowski?  Still, it's an odd choice to mention, as Turturro's character, Jesus, though memorable, isn't much more than a glorified walk-on. What about his large supporting roles in Miller's Crossing or O Brother, Where Are Thou??  What about his work as the title character in the award-winning Barton Fink?

In other entertainment news, Lisa Edelstein will not return next season in House.  Fox renewed the series last week, though there were a few actors still negotiating their contracts (not lead Hugh Laurie).  She claims it's time to move on, but you have to wonder why she doesn't want to stick around one more year and make a few more million.  I have to wonder if she and the show didn't see eye to eye on money.  Maybe they were playing hardball and asking for a cut.

Edelsetin's Cuddy has been one of my least favorite characters.  It's a thankless role, generally playing the wet blanket against House's outrageousness.  There was also something simmering between them, which, alas, finally broke out this season. Just as well she's going, since their relationship was a drag on the show and I'm not sure how much further their arc could go now that they've broken up.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


The People vs. George Lucas is playing this week in Los Angeles.  Sounds like fun.  I find geekdom in its natural state intriguing, and hell hath no fury like geekdom scorned.  It may seem to outsiders that the anti-Lucas mania is overdone, but I can understand--he took something great and ruined it.  (He even reached back and compromised the originals.) But how much can you hate him when he's the guy who created the great stuff in the first place?

Here's an interesting piece from a Star Wars fan.  This line, though, I found odd:  "The sci-fi universe that was at least partially responsible for my not kissing a girl until college was gone, and I accepted it." Really?  Did Star Wars prevent you from kissing a girl, or was it a convenient way of avoiding it?

The Clock Is Ticking

Four years ago I noted a report from the WWF that said global warming could be dealt with but we had to take the proper measures in the next five years.  Since plans for worldwide reform have not yet been adopted, despite all those climate conferences, I have to assume, so far, the WWF is disappointed.  Which means we have one year left, or it's too late.

So a year from now, if (let's face it, when) we don't reform ourselves enough, I have to ask: will the WWF stop talking about this issue, or will it give us an extension?

PS  A Robert Fitzpatrick of Staten Island has spent his life savings to warn everyone the world is ending on May 21st.  It's very easy to say there'll be a Day of Judgment and then leave the date open, so I like a man who'll put his money where his mouth is.


Happy birthday, Erik Satie.

Everyone's so busy listening to Gymnopedie No. 1, they forget 2 and 3.

Monday, May 16, 2011

One Less Headache

It just occurred to me--if Osama Bin Laden had been captured rather than killed, it would have presented an odd problem for the Obama administration.  Not just the ones that everyone talks about, such as classified information being released at trial, terrorist incidents to free him, propaganda opportunities, etc.  No, this would be something weirder.

If we were holding him now, the Obama administration would be attempting to get information, but, presumably, would not use "enhanced interrogation techniques." I'm pretty certain most Americans would support such techniques, though.

So imagine the debate.  Obama, who captured Osama, would say we're getting plenty of useful intelligence.  His opponent would claim we've got to waterboard him.  I could almost imagine the election turning on the issue.


I just finished reading  Michael Palin: Halfway To Hollywood, Diaries 1980 - 1988.  Being a Python fanatic, I couldn't resist, though I'm not sure how interesting this sort of thing would be for non-fans. I guess there are enough of us, though, since this is a sequel to the previous decade's diaries.

That's the problem, of course.  I like Palin (he is the most likable of the troupe), but the minutiae of his life hold only so much interest for me.  These are selections from his diaries, but even so, reading his thoughts on his family, or world events, or trips he's making, aren't why I read this volume.  I want to know the behind-the-scenes stories about the making of Monty Python (and related) projects.  So the years '69 to '79 are the of the greatest interest.  That's when the troupe created and performed their TV show, made Holy Grail and Life Of Brian, and did their best books and albums.  It's also a chance to see the birth of a phenomenon--something none of them could have predicted.  (They also did some interesting side projects in the 70s.  Palin did Ripping Yarns, and, above all, John Cleese did Fawlty Towers.)

Not that Palin slacked off in the 80s.  He did a show on great railway journeys, the first of his many travel specials, and later his own real-life verison of Around The World In 80 Days.  He wrote and acted in Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits, which was a sizable hit.  He was memorable in A Fish Called Wanda, an even bigger hit.  He wrote and starred in the minor but enjoyable film The Missionary.and starred in another minor but enjoyable film A Private Function.  He also did good work in the highly regarded Terry Gilliam film Brazil..  And as far as Monty Python, they recorded their Contractual Obligation album, performed at the Hollywood Bowl and turned it into a movie, and did their last original film The Meaning Of Life.

But for all that, it's not the same thing.  Palin, and especially Monty Python, have become institutions. The sense of discovery is gone, and as far as the troupe's work, their best days are behind them.

But it's still fun to see how they operated.  They were six highly opinionated individuals, and even when they agreed on things, it was often to turn easy money down when something didn't meet their standards.  It's a strategy that, generally speaking, paid off, artistically at first, but, I'd guess, monetarily in the long run.  Palin has British understatement, but a quiet pride in what he's doing sometimes peeks through.

I think Palin puts it well on page 39:

This lunch and the discussions were all part of the painful process of preserving Python.  We don't fit into any easy patterns, we ask each other to make enormous compromises, ajdustments and U-turns, but we do produce the best comedy in the country.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What Makes Sammy Sing?

Budd Schulberg's dad ran Paramount in the 1930s, so naturally his son became a communist.  Budd also wrote a book about Sammy Glick, a poor Jewish kid who makes it to the top in Hollywood by stabbing his friends in the back.  The local communist cell didn't like it since it didn't give enough praise to the collective (or whatever), which led to Schulberg's break from the CPUSA, and eventually to his naming names and writing On The Waterfront, where the hero is an informant.

I've never read the novel What Makes Sammy Run?, but I'd heard the score to the Broadway musical adaptation, and have recently read the libretto.  It follows the plot of the book.  It seems rather cliched, though maybe because we've seen the story played out so many times since.  The 1964 production was not well-reviewed. It had a decent run, but that was mostly due to the star power of lead Steve Lawrence.  Still didn't make money.  It was also a troubled production, with Lawrence publicly bad-mouthing the show, as well as missing many performances.

It's possible to have a show with a heel for a lead, as Pal Joey demonstrates, but this one is rarely revived.  The book is dated, and not that great.  But perhaps that could be overcome.  What can't be is the lack of memorable songs in Ervin Drake's score.


Community is done for the season.  It was a good second season, and the show seems to know where it's going.  The first season it took a while to shake things out.  At first it seemed to be about a smart-ass lawyer forced to go back to college to get a degree, and who joins a study group because he's after a hot blonde.

By now, the show is about the ensemble, with all seven members of the study group having their own weight, and the Jeff/Britta on-again off-again relationship hardly being at the center. In fact, Jeff, though still nominally the leader, is quite capable of being as foolish and silly and unimportant as any other character, and (this being a self-conscious show) he sometimes even recognizes that fact.  Britta's got it even worse, since she often plays a fairly minor role as the group's radical chic irritant.  In fact, Annie now seems more important, and perhaps the better sexual match for Jeff.

Another thing that's happened is the world of the show has grown.  There are numerous background characters that, though they may be one-note, we've gotten to know pretty well.  Above all there's the ineffectual Dean Pelton, who likes to dress up in women's uniforms and has a crush on Jeff.  There are also some profs we've gotten to know, including Duncan and Garrity.  As for the students, there are more backgrounders--including Starburns, Leonard,  Fat Neil, Garrett, Quendra and Magnitude ("Pop pop!")--than there are regulars.  Perhaps they'll be featured more as the writers search for different storylines, but for now, I think the show has achieved the proper balance, having them come in for a line or two before returns to the leads.

The worst thing that happened this year is Shirley had a baby.  Always a bad sign, but Community made it much worse by allowing her husband Andre to return and be a nice guy.  Another problem is Senor Chang has become a regular.  I'd rather they dumped him after the first season.  At least he hasn't become a member of the study group, though it's possible he will now that Pierce has walked out.  Yes, that's the big cliffhanger.  After a season where Pierce was often the bad guy--not just the crotchety old racist we've gotten to know, but a genuine villian--he walked out on the group after the were willing to have him back.  Pretty much a nothing of a cliffhanger, but then, I've always thought the sitcom cliffhanger was sort of silly.

Overall, I guess Community is my favorite comedy out there now. It's been picked up for a third season, but the ratings aren't great (though it is up against an actual sitcom hit, The Big Bang Theory).  I have to wonder if they don't improve, does this mean the gang won't graduate?

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