Thursday, June 30, 2011

Free Spree

Here's a preacher who takes a metaphor seriously.  He claims if you go through a Born Again experience, your DNA will change.



Sounds like a recipe for the perfect crime. Commit murder, rape, whatever, leave plenty of DNA at the scene, become born again, and you'll get off scot free.

Birthday Party Down

Happy birthday, Lizzy Caplan.  She first came to the world's attention as a recurring character on Freaks And Geeks, and has since appeared in Mean Girls, Cloverfield and Hot Tub Time Machine.  But her greatest work was in the short-lived Starz sitcom Party Down.

She plays Casey Klein, a would-be comic who had an obvious chemistry with co-worker Henry Pollard (Adam Scott).  Both were cynical on the surface, covering up their disappointment with how their lives had turned out.  This makes the show sound like a downer, while it was anything but.

Brief clips can't tell you much (especially since the episodes were so well-plotted), but maybe a bit of Lizzy's character will come through.







PS They only made two seasons, twenty episodes altogether. You can buy the two seasons combined at Amazon.com for $44.99. If you'd rather, you can buy them separately for $17.49 and $25.49. I recommend you buy them separately.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Most Exciting Player In Baseball

Jose Reyes played his 1,000th game on Tuesday night. His accomplishments thus far put him in exclusive company -- like, for instance, Ty Cobb and Stan Musial.

Here's some information the Elias Sports Bureau provided before the game:

Jose Reyes is playing his 1,000th major-league game tonight, with 97 triples and 359 stolen bases to his credit. The only other player with that many triples and stolen bases in his first 1,000 career games is Ty Cobb, who had 106 triples and 391 steals when he played his 1,000th game, in 1912. (Since 1898, when the modern stolen-base rule was enacted.)

Even considering only triples, Reyes' total of 97 is the most by any major league player through 1,000 games since Stan Musial had 98 when he reached that milestone in 1949. If Reyes hits two triples tonight, he would have the most triples through 1,000 games by any player since Paul Waner had 110 when he played Game No. 1,000, in 1932.

Reyes has 113 hits and 14 triples in 75 games this year. In the modern era (1900 to date), only three others had that many hits and triples in their first 75 games of a season: Rod Carew, 1977 Twins (123 H, 14 3B); Paul Waner, 1927 Pirates (118, 14); Cobb, 1911 Tigers (134, 15).

In 1912, when the Pirates' Owen "Chief" Wilson set the major league record for triples in one season (36), he had already hit 20 triples by his 75th game. (In fact, Wilson hit his 20th triple in his 70th game.) Wilson hit 24 of his 36 triples that year at Forbes Field, which had outfield dimensions of well more than 400 feet in left-center and center field.

Sadly, Reyes hit only one triple last night (while going 4-4 with a walk, a stolen base and 3 runs scored.) I doubt it's even debatable that he's the most fun player to watch in the game today. Well, with the possible exception of this guy.

Mr. Anderson

As we always do on June 29th, let's celebrate the birthday of that great composer, Leroy Anderson. He may be a master of novelty numbers, but the novelties are built on a foundation of beautiful music.





Here's The Story

Before my local Border's went out of business, I bought some stuff real cheap, including Brady Brady Brady, the inside story of The Brady Bunch, written by Sherwood Schwartz, its creator, and Lloyd Schwartz, its producer (and Sherwood's son). They didn't collaborate, exactly. Sherwood wrote the first third, about selling the show and making the pilot, while Lloyd wrote the back two-thirds, where he talks about running the show and the years after, not to mention his rise through the ranks, starting as the kids' dialogue coach.

It's written in a very simple style, like a book-length junior high essay.  I suppose that only makes sense, since the show itself was set at that level.  Amazingly, the pilot script was considered too daring--being about a "blended" family--so Sherwood, also creator of Gilligan's Island, couldn't sell it until the similarly-themed film Yours Mine And Ours came out in 1968 and was a hit.

I never really liked the show, but somehow, one way or another (mostly through its widespread syndication), I watched every episode.  It was never actually a ratings hit in any of its five seasons, but became iconic anyway.  As Lloyd notes, though the show didn't go in for catch phrases, "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!," "Pork chops and applesauce," "Something suddenly came up" and "Oh my nose!" still conjure up powerful memories for a whole generation.

The only thing associated with the show I can honestly say I like is The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), which pokes fun at the show--they're a family living in the 90s still stuck in the 70s.  Lloyd writes about the film.  He and his father started out writing the script, and had a satirical (though still positive) take on the show.  It was greenlighted but new people came in at Paramount and father and son were replaced, though they still gave notes.  At first the new script was too harsh, but it ultimately pulled back and Paramount had a hit.  Lloyd claims the parts of the movie that worked were concepts he and his father originated. Maybe, though based on the mirthless series, this is hard to buy.

The most interesting thing about the book is how consistently both Schwartz men despise Robert Reed, who played Mike Brady, the patriarch.  The rest of the cast they loved (though when the kids signed with a new manager in the final season, things got a little rocky).  But Robert Reed, by all (well, both) accounts was a jerk.  It seems he thought he was a great actor, destined to be a major name on stage and/or screen.  Somehow, being stuck as the dad of a bunch of silly kids in a sitcom created by the guy most associated with Gilligan's Island was not where he saw his career going.  He wasn't Sherwood's only original choice for the role, but Gene Hackman was brushed aside as not being a big enough star.  Very much in Reed's favor was he already under contract with Paramount--they had to pay him anyway.  He acted well enough as the responsible dad, though Sherwood and Lloyd soon discovered comedy was not his forte, and perhaps not his interest.  Instead, he would complain all the time, even looking at the camera late in the day (after the kids had left) and shouting profanities at Sherwood.

Worse, he would refuse to perform anything that wasn't "real." Not just emotionally real, either. He took it upon himself to write lengthy memoranda explaining how certain things--fake inkstains, pay phones in suburban homes, hair coloring, etc.--weren't possible according to his research.  (Though I don't think he ever asked why an architect with a wife and six kids would design his own home with only one bathroom.)  All this did, I think, was guarantee the producers wrote less for him and sure didn't try to make him funny.  In the final episode they even gave his lines to wife Carol and housekeeper Alice when he refused to show up.

Who knows, maybe he was right.  Maybe if he hadn't been stuck on the show he could have been the next Pacino or Nicholson--or Hackman.  But his seriousness did help create Gary Cole's take on the part in the movie.  Every time Cole opens his mouth, in his pitch-perfect imitation of Reed's lecturing tone, I laugh.  So if for nothing else, for that we have Reed and the two Schwartz guys to thank.

PS  I didn't see any typos until literally the last page, where we meet "Barak Obama." Was the editor getting tired?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I Do Declare

Let us celebrate.  Today is the day The Declaration Of Independents is finally released.

Matt and Nick have been out promoting it for weeks. It's about time Libertarians got their marching orders.

Michele Dumbbell?

The only person dumber than Sarah Palin is Michele Bachmann.  Or so says Matt Stopera at Buzzfeed.  As evidence, he produces "The 10 Craziest Michele Bachmann Quotes."

Look them over yourself and decide how crazy they are.  But it's #1 that fascinates me:  "Not All Cultures Are Equal."

That's the craziest thing he could find?  I assume Stopera will admit cultures are different.  Heck, he probably celebrates it.  I wouldn't be surprised if he'd also admit that he'd rather live in some cultures over others.  Yet he feels even questioning if all cultures are equal is a sign of insanity.

Maybe there's no way, ultimately, to measure if one culture is superior to another.  But we demonstrate through our actions every day that we prefer some types to others.  If I asked Stopera "what do you think society should do, alllow homosexuals to marry, or stone them to death?," I find it hard to believe he'd say it's the same either way.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Does Not Compute

Here's a prediction of modern computers back in 1966.  In some ways, eerily accurate.  In others...well, watched for yourself. By the way, I'm still waiting for my jet pack.

Musical Mission

Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, died on June 27, 1844.  He was in an Illinois jail, awaiting trial for treason, when he was attacked and killed by a mob.  But his movement continued, and there are around 14 million Mormons across the world today.

And now Smith has a Tony-winning musical (with some help from Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez).  It's a big enough hit that it's probable more than 14 million people will see it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Geekspeak

Speaking of good friends with a website, here's one where the host discusses his take on fanboys, being a fanboy himself, of course.

He has a weekly piece entitled "But Let's Face It."  Here's a recent one (that he actually first did years ago) that expresses something that probably needs to be said.



PS Here's a great moment in the history of exposition that he put up on YouTube years ago. Lee Majors really sells it:

Why Oh Why Oh Why Oh?

Michigan fans and Ohio haters seem to be having a pretty good time watching the Jim Tressel story unfold.  For those of you who don't follow college football, it's a long story, but here's a timeline that gives the highlights leading to Tressel's resignation as head coach of the Buckeyes.

A friend of mine created a video that's getting a fair amount of attention.



But he's hardly the only one.



Of course, Hitler has his opinion.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Nothing Is More Powerful

New York state has legalized same-sex marriage. While I would guess this country still has a slight majority against it, gay marriage seems to be the future.  Older people by and large can't accept the idea, but younger people don't see what the fuss is about.

Not so long ago, homosexuality itself was illegal.  Even among many gay rights pioneers same-sex marriage was considered pretty far out. Perhaps, though, it was inevitable once homosexuality was normalized that gay people would claim all the rights that heterosexuals enjoy.

Opponents have been predicting apocalyptic results.  The argument (though I'm not sure if I get it, so perhaps I'm not explaining it well) generally has to do with marriage being the bedrock of our society and thus changing the rules will have disastrous results.  But what happens if gay marriage spreads, and it's hard to notice any difference?  What will they say?  Will they still believe society's ills are due to giving in to the gay agenda?

There are still plenty of legal questions to be worked out, but that's true whenever there's a change.  Most of the specifics shouldn't be that hard to deal with, since we'll merely be transferring rights and protections already afforded to heterosexuals to another sexual orientation.  Some claim there'll be a slippery slope effect, as we spread rights even further to protect presently less popular groups and activities.  Perhaps, perhaps not.  Guess we'll have to deal with it as it occurs.

The trickiest questions are probably related to religion.  Presumably, many major religions will not support same-sex marriage.  Under the First Amendment, they may be free to practice their religions as they see fit, including not recognizing gay marriage.  But what if gay marriage is considered a right?  Who'll win in that clash?  And even if we're just talking about a law for lay people that religions don't have to acknowledge, what happens when more and more people support the concept.  Will the religions give in to its popularity?  Will there be schisms?

Just One More Thing

Peter Falk has died.  He'd been sick for a while.  I read his autobiography a few years back (which came out just before he descended into dementia, apparently).  He sounded like a bit of a noodnik, actually, but it was because he cared so much--he fought over every part, going as far as rewriting hs lines when he wasn't happy.  And he was special enough that producer and directors were willing, even happy, to put up with his demanding style.

He was a fine all-around actor, but will be forever remembered as the slovenly but brilliant Lieutenant Columbo.  I was never much into police procedurals, but I made an exception for Columbo.  The show defied formula.  There was no whodunnit--each episode would start by showing the crime in great detail, usually committed by a name guest star.  The question was how would the Lieutenant figure it out.  Columbo would casually enter the story while the villain was confident he was safe, since he'd committed the perfect crime, and Columbo seemed like a nitwit. But Columbo would never quite leave, always one more question to ask.  The noose would slowly tighen and suddenly the suspect was stuck in Columbo's web.

Such a memorable role might have left most actors hopelessly typecast, but Falk created many other memorable characters.  Even before Columbo, he did great work on stage and film.  It's said his performance in The Passion Of Josef D as Stalin was so charismatic that many found him sympathetic.  Once Falk became a TV fixture, he returned to Broadway to star in Neil Simon's The Prisoner Of Second Avenue.  He had to learn to project again, but once he got that down, he and Lee Grant as two beleaguered New Yorkers had a hit.

In movies, he had it down right away. In two of his earliestt films, Murder Inc. and Pocketful Of Miracles, he was nominated for an Oscar. Both roles were as gangsters, though one was serious and the other comic.

He often played comedy in his 60s films, but in the 70s got to show tremendous complexity in a realistic style, working with John Cassavetes in Husbands, A Woman Under The Influence and Mikey And Nicky (which is an Elaine May film, and probably my favorite "serious" Falk performance).

Not that he stopped doing comedy, with memorable turns in Murder By Death, The Cheap Detective and, above all, The In-Laws.  He plays a "businessman" who actually works for the CIA.  He and Alan Arkin's children are about to get married, and the two men get stuck together in international intrigue.  Arkin is an excitable dentist, while Falk plays the voice of reason, except it's very possible he's an insane, rogue agent.   No matter how bizarre or hopeless the situation, Falk remains calm while Arkin falls to pieces.  Director Arthur Hiller once told me of all the films he made--Love Story, The Hospital--more people talk about The In-Laws than any other.

Falk continued working until a few years ago, making films and returning as Columbo every so often.  I think his most intriguing role in the past 30 years was as himself--or someone named Peter Falk, anyway--in Wim Wenders' Wings Of Desire.  The story is about an angel in Berlin who decides to become human.  Falk, playing himself (he's recognized on the streets as Columbo) explains he's also a former angel who made the switch.  When I watch the film, I get the feeling it's actually Peter Falk, showing us his process and telling us about himself.  I can't help but feel he wrote his own lines, about the joys of experiencing life, and not just observing.  Even if he didn't, I believe he believes it.  And it makes for a good epitaph.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Huh?

In a New Yorker review, David Denby gives us this:

In J. J. Abrams’s “Super 8”—one of the twenty or so digital spectacles, including “X-Men: First Class” and “Green Lantern,” that will storm the malls this summer—a bunch of kids in a small Ohio town, in 1979, are making a zombie movie. [....] We can’t help noticing that the kids aren’t making a documentary about the steel plant in their town, a fading industrial site where Joe’s mother recently died in an accident.

Not only do we not notice that they're not making that documentary (very naughty writing), but I'd suggest that anyone actually thinking that while watching Super 8 should perhaps not be in the business of reviewing films.

Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb

From Chris Danello, a producer (?) at The Atlantic, we get a piece on "11 Bizarrely Wrong Beliefs Americans Have About Themselves."

These kinds of things are usually fun.  No matter where (or when) you  are, people always have fascinating pockets of ignorance.  Often these lists are hijacked by partisans trying to prove the other side is stupid.  In Danello's case, I think he was so taken by the concept of stupidity in general that he forgot what the piece was about.

Here are the 11 items:

1. "Foreign aid costs the government a lot"
2. "The health-care law has been repealed"
3. "Who is on the Supreme Court"
4. "What three branches of government are"
5. "Who wrote the Gospels"
6. "Where in the world the United Kingdom is"
7. "We all drive well"
8. "Who the Vice President is"
9.  "Public broadcasting costs the government tons"
10. "The Sun revolves around the Earth"
11. (I guess--this isn't in the main display but is part of the opening paragraph) We estimate a quarter of Americans are gay.

I thought this was supposed to be mistaken things we believe about ourselves.  Most of these aren't false beliefs so much as lack of data.  Some of them are not about ourselves (or our country).  Some may be wrong but aren't bizarrely wrong (watch out for those adverbs)--it's funny that most individuals believe they're above average drivers, but it's hardly bizarre.  And a couple beliefs--#8 and #10--the majority got right.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Late Plate

A Prius passed me yesterday.  Whatever good will the car engendered evaporated when I read the vanity plate: WUZA SUV.

Ready For His Closeup

In 1913, Jesse Lasky, Sam Goldwyn (then Goldfish) and Cecil B. DeMille went into a new business and formed a filmmaking company.  Underfinanced, Cecil took the train out west to shoot their first film which he knew could be their last, a feature called The Squaw Man.  He got off at Flagstaff, didn't like the light or scenery, and decided to go to the end of the line.  Though DeMille was flying by the seat of his pants, the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company would make many more films, eventually merge into Paramount, and help make Hollywood the film capital of the world.

After reading a bio of Sam Goldwyn, I thought I'd check out the other side of the story, as told in Scott Eyman's lengthy Empire Of Dream: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille.

DeMille, born in 1881, had a father who partnered with the great theatrical showman David Belasco.  Belasco would produce plays within an inch of their lives.  If the script called for a bottle of molasses on the shelf, he'd go nuts if it was filled with maple syrup.  His productions were memorable, if his plays weren't.  In many ways, DeMille, who came up in the theatre before moving into film, was the cinematic equivalent of Belasco.  The dialogue could be stilted, the acting wooden, but a DeMille film stood for something.  You were getting your money's worth.

The company almost failed before the first film was released.  Not being part of the inner circle, the Edison Trust, there were early attempts at sabotage.  (DeMille was probably shot at, and he started carrying a gun.) Then there was a problem with the wrong number of sprocket holes making The Squaw Man impossible to project.  Eventually, the problems were ironed out and the move made money--enough to make more.  And DeMille found himself in charge of making them (not a certainty when the company started).  The first couple years he made cheap and effective films, with an emphasis on stories that moved quickly (if not subtly) and featured basic emotions,  He made one a month, but soon was spending more money and making one every two months, then every six months, and by the end of the silent era, one major production a year.  At first, the critics loved him, and he was perhaps the most respected director in Hollywood after D. W. Griffith.  The public also responded, and DeMille's name became the star of his movies. While the critics would drop off, the public, for the most part, remained with him.

He hadn't been a raving success in the theatre, but it turned out, with his commanding personality, and his great charm (most spoke kindly of him in later years), he had the instincts to be a director.  Really more than a director--he was a general, fearless, overseeing many productions and approaching each new film as if it were a war campaign.  In fact, DeMille became the popular model of a director, and actually wore high boots, leather puttees, jodhpurs and carried a riding crop.

He also inspired great loyalty, and accumulated a staff that would stay with him--and that he kept on the payroll--for four decades.  He had started as an actor in the theatre, and as anyone who has seen his performance as himself in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard knows, he was a damn fine one. (He and Wilder liked each other.  DeMille was not threatened by other directors.  They could do what they could do, but he knew they couldn't top him at what he did.) On the set, his used his acting skills, putting on tantrums now, cajoling people next, addressing the entire cast and crew over the PA system--doing whatever it took to get what he wanted.  He would talk to each extra, letting them know they all had roles to play, and should know what they're doing when they walk across the street.

In his later year he would seem old-fashioned, but in the early silent days, he was cutting edge, creating innovations in storytelling and shooting that were copied by many others.  He also changed styles, going from action films to comedies (particularly with a young starlet he picked out, Gloria Swanson) to spectacles, generally ahead of the curve.

The transition to sound was tricky. (Some would even say he never fully pulled it off.) With Adolph Zukor running Paramount, having forced out Goldwyn (who never got along with others) and Lasky, DeMille tried his hand elsewhere.  His early sound films flopped, and it looked like his career could be finished, as had happpend to most top silent directors of the teens.  Soon he was back at Paramount, being given one last chance.  He responded with a series of films, often spectacles, that would make him as successful a director as there was--he was the Spielberg or Cameron of his day.

He'd try any subject, though he was most at home in the past (where his dialogue doesn't sound quite so stilted?). His biggest films were often religion-themed--with enough action and sex to keep the modern audience interested; in particular, there was the silent King Of Kings, his big early talkie Sign Of The Cross, and his final film and biggest hit, The Ten Commandments.  He didn't win a lot of awards, but his next-to-last film, The Greatest Show On Earth, won the Best Picture Oscar.  (Some call it the weakest movie ever to win the award, and they may be right, but I like it more than the other four nominees.)

He was a well-known Hollywood conservative (in an age when Hollywood had as many conservatives as liberals).  But politics didn't play too big a role in his life until he was in his 60s, and had to leave his longstanding position as host of Lux Radio Theatre because, as a member of AFRA (precursor of AFTRA), he refused to contribute an extra dollar above his dues to support a political proposition he disagreed with.  He may have been morally right, but this led to him being banned from working in radio or TV for the rest of his life.

Then, in the post-WWII era, during the red scare, when Congress investigated Hollywood, DeMille demanded the ouster of DGA President Joseph L. Mankiewicz for his failure to support a loyalty oath.  At an infamous nighttime meeting in 1950 where everything came to a head, the top directors had it out, and DeMille, to this day, is hated by some for his rabid anti-communism and alleged jingoism and nativism. (BTW, his dad was an Episcopalian while his mom was Jewish. He saw himself as the former, even though Hollywood was mostly run by latter.)

DeMille's personal life, especially for a rock-ribbed Republican, was somewhat odd.  He loved his wife Constance, but she did not satisfy him sexually. He had several mistresses, and his wife was fully aware of the arrangement.  He rarely went home on the weekend, preferring to spend time at his retreat, Paradise, where he often hosted major names of the day, and brought in women for sex parties.

He was in his 70s when he started working on The Ten Commandments, his costliest film with the longest time in production.  It's almost as if he knew it would be his last.  He shot under brutal conditions in Egypt. (They got permission to shoot there from King Farouk, but then the revolution forced him out.  The next leader was deposed by Nasser before DeMille finally came over.  The Egyptians had seen his 30s picture The Crusades, and loved his portrayal of Saladin.)  During the shoot, he had a heart attack, but kept going.  There was actually a Dr. Feelgood type on set who gave him mysterious shots that helped keep him going.  The Ten Commandments also spent a year in post while he and his crew worked on the state-of-the-art effects. It was released in 1956 and became the biggest hit since Gone With The Wind.  I saw it in the theatre as a kid (in one of its rereleases), many times on TV, and in the 90s at the Cineramadome hosted by Charlton Heston.  For all the overdone emotions and bizarre moments, it is pretty entertaining--especially when they set up the Moses story from extra-Biblical sources.  DeMille, weakened, would plan other films, but didn't direct any before dying in 1959.

I've seen a handful of DeMille's silent films, but not enough to judge his output of that era.  His talkies I know a lot better, and I can't say I love any of them, but many are still worth watching.  He made sure his films looked wonderful, featuring tableaux that manage to be exciting and corny at the same time.  It helps to know that DeMille is never cynical--he took great care to deliver the film that he wanted to make, and believes in every frame.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Primary Problem

The latest polls of Republican presidential candidates show Mitt Romney easily leading the field. In New Hampshire, he gets 42% while no one else gets over 10%.  Trouble is, the caucuses and primaries don't start until next February.  So now everyone else gets more than half a year to tear him down.

I can't imagine anyone who wants to be President would shy away from attacking Romney simply because it'll hurt the party.  They may talk about the eleventh commandment, but that's always been more honored in the breach.  Assuming Romney gets the nomination, Obama gets to sit back and watch the spectacle (or join in if he likes) of his opponent being torn to shreds by his own side.  I suppose most of these attacks will be from the right, but who knows, maybe they'll dig up something that the Democrats can use when it's their turn.  (I'm reminded of Al Gore introducing Willie Horton into political parlance during his debate with Dukakis.)

Seven/Eleven

I was recently watching the Ocean's Eleven remake.  It's ten years old now, and I don't think there's been a better caper film since.  Pulling off this mix of intricacy and insouciance is trickier than it looks--as the two sequels demonstrate.  I suppose if it were easy, Hollywood would churn them out.

The film is all surface.  If you actually stop to think about it, you realize how silly it is.  The artificial set-up of the casino's vault and security, and the equally artificial and near-impossible solutions the gang pulls off, don't really make sense.  A movie like this is a plate-spinning act, and if it ever slows up, the whole thing comes crashing down.  If the film has a problem, it's maybe a bit too too pleased with itself.  Many of the characters are so ostentatiously "cool" that they border on obnoxious.  But the jokes are strong enough, the plot swift enough, and the the audience sympathy solid enough, that it's able to glide over any problems.

It's got a major cast, with at least four stars (George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and Matt Damon) who could carry a film.  But big names don't guarantee quality.  The original Ocean's Eleven (which the remake is only vaguely based on) had all the glories of the Rat Pack, but, aside from some almost coincidental side pleasures, isn't really much of a film.

The film was, commercially speaking, the high point of both George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh's career.  Indeed, both could use a hit like it again.  But not another sequel.

I couldn't help but think about it when I recently watched another rob-a-casino movie, Seven Thieves (1960). It's a Henry Hathaway film starring Edward G. Robinson, Rod Steiger, Eli Wallach and Joan Collins (who, as opposed to Julia Roberts, is part of the robbery plot).  This time they set their sights on Monte Carlo.

Robinson is the old mastermind who needs to pull off one final heist.  Steiger is his protege, the cool leader who runs the operation.  They've also got an inside man at the casino, a safecracker, a driver and a guy who creates a diversion that allows them to get the money out.

One clear difference between the two films.  These days, criminals can get away with it.  Back then, the Production Code ensured that Crime Does Not Pay.  So while I was watching, I was also wondering how things would fall apart.  Ultimately, the way it did seemed pretty silly.  Robinson, who'd been discredited in the past, does have his triumph, and then dies of a heart attack. The rest of the gang fights over the loot, until Rod Steiger realizes the money is too hot and simply has to be returned.  Huh?  This thing took a year to plan.  Couldn't they have figured that out sooner?  So they give it back.  I'm impressed that no one is arrested, even though they did commit a crime.  Steiger gets Collins and they walk away laughing.

The plot is simpler because nowadays, unless there are double, triple and quadruple crosses--even if they make the film ridiculous--Hollywood is afraid the audience isn't getting their money's worth. (Speaking of which, the take is much smaller in the old film--$4 million versus something like $180 million in Ocean's Eleven.) Still, there are enough similarities that I wouldn't be surprised if this was a central inspiration for Soderbergh, producer Jerry Weintraub, and whatever screenwriters they employed.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

You Gotta Have Faith

Today is the first day of summer.  You have to remind yourself of that in Los Angeles, since the weather never changes.



Only two singles in the 60s were atop the charts for nine weeks. One was "Hey Jude," the other, "The Theme From A Summer Place" in 1960. Music then wasn't just Elvis. It was as much Connie Francis and Brenda Lee. Hey, it could have been worse. It could have been disco Percy Faith.

Inexposeption

I was watching Inception on cable.  The film was a worldwide blockbuster.  Pretty amazing considering how complex the story is.  What I'd forgotten was the ridiculous amount of exposition required to bring you into its world.  (Exposition: The Movie.)

Think about it.  The "facts" of the movie are a fantasy upon a fantasy.  Forget that they have to be told in an entertaining enough fashion to keep the audience engaged (mostly related breathlessly in-between colorful action sequences)--they have to be told without a wink because if the audience is skeptical for a second the top will stop spinning and the movie will crash.

Here's what we're asked to accept, with no excuses:

People can invade other people's dreams.

Those who invade the dream can extract useful, specific information from the dreamer.

There are techniques you can learn to avoid having people invade your dreams, or steal information.

An "architect" can design the world of the dream while it's still the other person's subconscious that peoples it.

Your brain is more fully engaged while you're dreaming than while you're awake.

You can have dreams within dreams, and others can invade the dreams within dreams.

The same physical apparatus used to invade and control dreams works within the dream to create another dream.

If the architect designs something too strange, the subconscious of the person he's working on will attack the architect within the dream.

You need to carry around a totem --in and outside the dream--which can physically tell you if you're in a dream or not.

Anyone in the dream can bring in their own subconscious characters (I think).

If something happens to the dream level above, such as you fall in water, or your car is on its side, those physical feelings will translate into the dream below.

There are two ways to get you out of a dream earlier than planned--if you're killed in the dream, or if you as a dreamer feel like you're falling.

If the top dreamer hears music, everyone can hear it (I think).

Your brain works about 12 times faster while you're dreaming, and 12 times faster again in the dream within the dream, and so on.

If you're dopped into dream "limbo" you can get stuck in raw unconscious space, which is comprised of numerous people's subconscious detritus, for a very long time.

In addition, all this is grafted onto an international thriller plot.

Of course, the whole thing may be a dream, so who needs rules that make sense?

Monday, June 20, 2011

BK Special

Bill Keller, soon to step down as editor of The New York Times, has a very odd piece on Sarah Palin.  I can't imagine any other political name inspiring this sort of strangeness.

He starts by noting "most journalists would recoil in horror" at a Palin presidency, and only gets weirder.

Palin may think this is because the media are liberal, but Keller knows better--that only plays a small part (though I'd like to know what nationally known Democrat becoming President would make them recoil).  The real reason is the "profound and mutual lack of respect" between Palin and the press.  If it's mutual, isn't that begging the question?  How did they come to hate her so?

His example of her offensiveness is what she said to an NPR reporter at an event before Memorial Day “It is our vets who we owe our freedom — not the politician, not the reporter — it is our vets, so that’s why we’re here.” Keller is certain this is not really about noting the primacy of soldiers in protecting our rights, but as a cheap shot at the press.  So he's not only smarter than Palin, he can also read her mind.

He goes on into all sorts of speculation:

I’ll let the politicians stick up for themselves; I do hope they’ll ask if her contempt applies to the politicians who wrote that Constitution our worthy veterans swore to defend.

Behind Keller's sarcasm, does he honestly think Sarah Palin doesn't believe politicians are necessary and--being a politician herself--even important to our constitutional system, or could it be she just objects to certain politicians pretty much the same way most other politicians, right and left, do?

...her remark was automatic, like acid reflux.

From the absurd to GERD.

Palin’s disdain goes beyond the bitterness of a public figure who has been burned by the press. [....] Perhaps one key to Palin’s dislike of the news media is a streak of intellectual insecurity, or a trace of impostor syndrome. Her best defense against being found shallow is a strong offense.

I guess we should appreciate the "perhaps" as he discusses the reasons for her obvious failings.

The press, I think, returns her antipathy in part because she makes us feel ridiculous. We can’t ignore her, either. She is the second-highest-polling choice among Republicans, she has harnessed social media and if she doesn’t run she will at least bring her roistering talents to the party.

You can't ignore her? Why not try it and see how it works out?  At least be a little less obsessed.  And who cares how high she polls (in a large field with little-known names)--she hasn't announced and doesn't seem likely to.  Rick Perry, Chris Christie and other Republicans who haven't announced--and, unlike Palin, presently hold high office--poll pretty well too, but they don't get press coverage when they go on historical bus tours. (Speaking of Christie, there's a guy who attacks the press with gusto.  Hey Keller, how about 500 words on how it's connected to his being fat?)

At the core of the media antipathy, though, is something more fundamental. The fact is, reporters want as badly as anyone else to see the country led by someone who inspires confidence. But watching Palin answer a question is like watching a runaway train struggling to stay on the rails, and fact-checking her is like fishing with dynamite.

Hmm, when was the last time The New York Times was so impressed by how a conservative inspired confidence that the paper thought he or she should lead the country? And for a guy who hates Palin's gratuitous attacks, he's pretty good with the cheap shots himself (though I'm not sure if I get the last simile).

I think a lot of journalists, regardless of their politics, find her confounding and a little frightening.

Regardless of their politics?  Yes, she's got plenty of detractors on the right, but it's certainly far worse on the left.  And are they really frightened?  Maybe that tells you more about them than her.

Reagan is the antecedent Palin would prefer. Like her, he was mocked for misremembering; like her, he treated the press as a comic foil and used the dominant medium of his day — broadcasting — to go directly to “the people.”

Reagan, though, had a depth of experience, an underestimated grasp of issues, a gift for expedient compromise, a seasoned and loyal team and a good-natured charm that all translated into public trust.

Palin, on the other hand, just has our attention.

Now we see the kind of conservative Keller likes.  Out of office for a generation and dead.

Gallop Leads The Pace

Frank Gallop was born 111 years ago today.  He was one of the top announcers in radio and TV, and often did shtick with the hosts.

I know him best from his work on Jewish comedy albums originally released in the 60s, in particular his "Ballad Of Irving." It's a parody of the style heard in songs such as Jimmy Dean's "Big Bad John" and especially Lorne Greene's "Ringo." Both those songs hit #1, though I think Greene was helped by the Beatles hitting in America the year of that single.





PS  Yes, I've always found the over-demonstrative audience on those comedy albums annoying. Do they think we're impressed by the people they've shipped in and instructed to laugh?

PPS "Irving" actually went to #34 in 1966.  Oddly, the album version I own is exactly the same as what you hear above except for one line.

They have:

He came from the old bar mitzvah spread
with a ten-gallon yarmulka on his head

My version goes:

He came from the old bar mitzvah spread
schlepping a salami and pumpernickel bread

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Groucho Sings Kalmar And Ruby

In later years, Groucho pulled this song out regularly. At least Harry Ruby liked it. Groucho used to sing an old Irving Berlin song, "Stay Down Here Where You Belong," until Irving offered him money to stop.

Get GOT

I'm not much on fantasy literature, especially set in the Middle Ages (as it so often is).  So I didn't bother to watch the HBO adaptation of Game Of Thrones.  Then the regular TV season ended and I figured I'd check it out.  I'm caught up and so far, not bad.  Certainly better than expected.

It took a while to get into it, since it must have at least 30 regular or recurring characters, and takes place at numerous locations throughout the Realm.  (The title sequence takes you across the map.) Though it's a fictitious land, it's mostly familiar tropes we've seen in medieval depictions of Olde England with a bit of Vikings thrown in, not to mention some zombies in the North and, across the sea in the East, a Middle-Eastern inflected culture (with a soupcon of Klingon).  There seem to be some magical aspects, and while that's not unusual in sword and sorcery stories, I think Game Of Thrones would be better without them.

I won't go into the particulars, except to say it's about different Houses fighting for the Iron Throne, with various degrees of daring, strategy and honor involved.  I believe the ratings are good, and I'm sure it helps that there are large dollops of violence and nudity.

I've heard the producers are following the George R. R. Martin novel very closely. There's obviously far too much going on for the whole story to be tied up in a bow in tonight's finale, so does that mean they'll do every novel in the series?  I guess that's the idea.  I haven't read the books, or played the games, but does HBO plan to have an end to this epic, or will it go on as long as people watch?  I'd certainly prefer the former.

Goodbye, Big Man

Clarence Clemons has died.  I'd heard he'd had a stroke, but I didn't know how serious it was.  The E Street Band band was full of outsized characters, but none bigger than Clemons, whose saxophone and personality made him as memorable as Springsteen.

It's probably why he got to be head of the Three Most Important People In The World.



I don't think he was ever shown to better advantage than on Springsteen's breakthrough album Born To Run.



Saturday, June 18, 2011

Relatively Speaking

Overheard conversation:

"I think Einstein was an even greater philosopher than scientist."

"I agree. Look at relativity.  It's a statement about how things are, but it's not like something you can prove."

Really?  I suppose relativity has philosophical ramifications, but it is a scientific theory, not just some general (or special) belief.  And even if you can't precisely prove it, it is a theory that makes specific predictions about the physical world that are consistent with all experimental results I'm aware of.

Beautiful Music

It's the 120th birthday of Con Conrad.  He died in the 1930s, only 47.  Not a particularly well-remembered Broadway or Hollywood composer, he did win the 1934 Oscar for Best Song.

The first Astaire and Rogers musical, Flying Down To Rio, didn't star the duo, but the public loved them so much dancing to "The Carioca" that RKO let them be the leads in The Gay Divorcee, an adaptation of Astaire's stage hit.  They kept one Cole Porter song, "Night And Day," but had to come up with a big new dance number for Fred and Ginger.  So Con and lyricist Herb Magidson created "The Continental," a song that turned into one of the biggest, longest production numbers ever.

It's odd in structure in that it's really two entirely different AABA choruses--I don't think you could call either a verse.  And the full number even includes a little-known trio section.

Here's the entire 17-minute number, with lots of delights.  Most from Fred and Ginger, but not all.  In fact, Erik Rhodes has a pretty nice voice.



Friday, June 17, 2011

Give Me A Break

Breaking Bad, probably the best show around, starts its fourth season July 17th, a month from now.  (The long wait between seasons means the show missed its shot at this year's Emmys, so someone not named Bryan Cranston can win Best Actor in a drama.) To get my BB fix I've been watching reruns on AMC.  They show one late on Sunday and two or three late on Wednesday.  It's gonna be painful to go back to only one hour each week.

The show definitely holds up.  Even episodes I only thought were so-so at first are pretty good.  I suppose it's easier to deal with them knowing there'll be another soon.

The most recent episode I watched is "Phoenix," the penultimate show of season two, and one of its best.  This time around, of course, I knew how it'd end up.  It makes what Walter does (and doesn't do) less shocking, but just as terrifying.  And, if anything, everything leading up to what happens becomes more powerful.

"Phoenix" may have been a turning point.  Walt has certainly come a long way since then.  I'd guess season four will be darkest of all, though I'm not sure how much further they can go.  (Though as long as anyone remains alive, they can go further.)

Considering how we left everyone at the end of season three, there are a lot of questions to be answered.  As always, how will the relationship of Walt and Jesse go?  And now, almost as big a question, what part will Skylar play?  For that matter, how will Mike deal with things?  Is he an independent in this game?  Also, all along, we've been waiting to see what happens when Hank finds out.  He's actually quite good at his job, but he's got a huge blind spot.

If you haven't seen the show, here's a plan on how to catch up before Season Four.  Better start now--you're already a week behind.

Jello Shots

Hey, it's Jello Biafra's birthday.  A lot of top punks didn't make it this far.  The Dead Kennedys were sometimes on the edge of self-righteousness, but I thought their sense of humor saved them.



And who would have thought the lyric to "California Uber Alles" would sound so modern?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Headline Fun


Weiner to Step Down Under Pressure


From the WSJ

Everywhere A Sign

Someone sent me a picture from the New Deliverance Evangelistic Church (which I assume is not fake).  The Church's sign reads "IF MAN EVOLVED FROM MONKEYS, WHY ARE THERE STILL MONKEYS?"

I've heard that creationists use this argument, but I found it hard to believe.  It's a pretty easy question to answer, since it's based on a simple misunderstanding.

So I have to ask, even if they thought this was a brilliant point, couldn't they have spent the ten seconds it takes to look up the answer on the internet and save themselves a lot of embarrassment?

In Between The H's

Lamont Dozier turns 70 today.  After Lennon and McCartney, the greatest songwriting team of our time may be Holland-Dozier-Holland.  In the 60s, they wrote hits for The Marvelettes, Martha And The Vandellas, The Miracles, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Four Tops--just about all the top Motown acts.

They composed my favorite song from that label, "(Love Is Like ) Heat Wave," but I don't even need it to prove how great their catalogue is.  In fact, they wrote 12 #1 hits, and I don't need them either.

1963:



1964:



1965:



1966:



1967:



H-D-H fought with Berry Gordy over royalties and left Motown by 1968. They never had the same assembly line of talent, but they kept writing great songs. (Due to a pending lawsuit, they wrote under the name Edythe Wayne.)



Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mr. Eddie

Tomorrow, Eddie Levert, lead singer of everyone's favorite Irish group the O'Jays, turns 69.  Since that's also the birthday of a great songwriter, I figured I'd do Eddie's tribute today.

Here he is singing equally well about love and hate.



Case Or Controversy

Not sure if I like this Reuters headline:  "Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds controversial anti-union law"

It's technically correct, but may give readers the impression the controversy in front of the court was related to the controversy that the law has created.  In fact, the Supreme Court was deciding on the legality of the procedure through which the law was adopted.

Even worse was the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  The online headline reads "High court stands by Wis. governor," but apparently the paper headline was "Supreme Court lets polarizing union law pushed by Republican governor take effect."

Disappointingly, the court split 4-3 along party lines.  I can't say if either side is obviously correct, but I suspect both sides were affected by their politics.

In the AP coverage, we get this piece of chutzpah:

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller said [Governor] Walker and Republicans' push to enact the law "resulted in months of legal wrangling, unprecedented political divisiveness and millions of dollars of lost budget savings."

Let's recall the only reason the Republicans, who had a 19-14 majority in the Senate, had to change the usual procedure was because all 14 Democrats fled the state and 20 votes were needed under normal circumstances. (Other "unprecedented divisiveness" was thousands of Democrats marching on the State Capitol.) After the law was passed, of course, it was the Democrats who tied it up in court.  As far as lost budget savings, I'm not entirely sure what he's referring to, but I'm guessing if the Democrats had allowed democracy to take its course, rather than fight its results, none of this would have happened.  And the law itself is designed to save the taxpayers money--the Governor estimates $300 million in the next two years--but Miller isn't interested in that sort of saving.

(For some reason I'm reminded of being pulled over by a cop years ago.  After he gave me the ticket, he said "remember, for a safer and faster trip, don't speed." First, lecture or ticket, not both. Second, safer, maybe, but faster? The ony reason it'll take longer isn't because I was speeding, but because you stopped me.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

He Should Give More Speeches

So far, Conan O'Brien's TBS show has been a disappointment.  His original late night show was for some time the best talk show around.  His take on The Tonight Show dumbed down his appeal, and this new show seems to be following that path.

But he still can be funny.  In 2000, he gave a speech to the class at Harvard that's a classic of modern comedy.  He just gave a commencement address at Dartmouth, and it's also pretty good.  Is it that anything at a serious ceremony is automatically funnier, or do he and his writers save the good stuff for universities?

Petty Cavils

This is from a discussion in Slate of David Mamet:

...he is not only one of the most celebrated of American dramatists but one of the most prolific. From plays such as American Buffalo (1975), a Pinteresque drama about four petty thieves...

Four? I only count three.

Speaking of Slate, here's a piece on great movie threats made by women.  It includes:

Dolly Parton as Doralee Rhodes in 9 to 5 (1980)
"If you ever say another word about me or make another indecent proposal, I'm gonna get that gun of mine, and I'm gonna change you from a rooster to a hen with one shot! And don't think I can't do it."

I realize the line works with audiences, but it's always bothered me.  A country girl like Dolly (and Doralee) would know a castrated rooster is not a hen.  But I guess "I'm gonna change you from a rooster to a capon" doesn't have the same zing.

While I'm at it, this is from an email received at Instapundit:

The media stage the world’s largest “Chinese fire drill” looking for something, ANYTHING, to skewer [Sarah Palin] with and after a truckload of emails she didn’t think anyone would ever read she comes across as honest, forthright, funny, and smart. A brunette Carol Lombard in My Man Godfrey.

Hmm.  Carole (with an "e") Lombard is a delight in My Man Godfrey.  But "honest, forthright, funny, and smart"?  Her character may be canny, in her own way, but overall she's a classic ditzy socialite.  She's probably the last person Sarah Palin would want to be compared to.



BTW, I highly recommend the entire movie.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Hey Buddy

Happy birthday, Rivers Cuomo.  He's the leader of Weezer, which has been making good music for almost two decades now.  My favorite song of his is one that's not especially representative, "Buddy Holly."  In fact, he was thinking of leaving it off the album.

It's got one of the most memorable videos ever, from Spike Jonze.  They did the song on a re-created Arnold's set from Happy Days and mixed it with old footage from the show.



The video is more ingenious than people realize.  The song puts Buddy Holly and Mary Tyler Moore right next to each other.  Except Buddy died before anyone had heard of her.  He's really a 50s figure while she's best known from the 1970s.  So what does the video do?  Shot in the 90s, it utlizes a 70s show set in the 50s.  Perfect.

It's Showtime

Bully for the 2011 Tony Awards.  Charming, witty and fast-moving. It's also a rare awards show where you look forward to the production numbers.  Most of them, of course, were from nominated shows, but the two--or three if you accept his concluding rap--that host Neil Patrick Harris did, especially the opening about how Broadway isn't just for gays (a bit on the nose?) were also good.  I also liked his shots at the Spider-Man musical.  (There was also some swearing by others--planned and unplanned--that was censored.  I guess in a year where a Best Play nominee is The Motherf**ker With The Hat, that's to be expected.)

The top awards were fairly predictable.  The voters--who I assume, unlike for the Oscars, see all the nominees--were clearly going to give Best Musical to The Book Of Mormon, Best Play to War Horse and Best Revival of a Play to The Normal Heart. (It must be quite a revival. It was up against three superior plays, and you'd think the piece--an angry work set in and written during the early days of the AIDS crisis--might be dated.) The only question mark was the showdown between Anything Goes and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying for Best Revival of a Musical.  I guess Daniel Radcliffe not even being nominated for How To Succeed (after the previous two leads won Tonys) should have tipped off Anything Goes had it.

At least the acting categories had some suspense.  Not having been in New York last year, I didn't see any of the performances, but occasionally you hear so much about something you figure it's a lock.  This year I don't know if there were any clear favorites.  The winners were a decent mix of national names (John Larroquette, Ellen Barkin, Frances McDormand) and Broadway favorites (Sutton Foster, Mark Rylance, Norbert Leo Butz).  BTW, Butz wins for Best Actor?  Isn't the part of Hanratty in Catch Me If You Can a supporting role?  I wonder if the two nominees from Book Of Mormon split the vote and allowed him to take it.

War Horse and The Book Of Mormon were the big winners. (Chris Rock announced the award for Best Musical.  He said everyone already knew who'd win so it was a waste of time, like taking a hooker to dinner.) Both these shows are hits already.  The question now is how many marginal shows that didn't win big will close?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

It's A Good Bet

Quite a race at the Belmont Stakes.  For those of you who didn't watch the final leg of the Triple Crown, let me note first who didn't win.  Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom finished sixth.  Preakness winner Shackleford finished fifth.  Two other relatively popular horses, Nehro and Mucho Macho Man, finished fourth and seventh.  Yep, all the top horses finished out of the money.

The winner was 24-1 longshot Ruler On Ice.  Place went to Stay Thirsty, show to Brilliant Speed, neither of which had impressed the handicappers.  If you had bought a $2 trifecta ticket predicting they'd finish in that order, the payout was $9268 dollars.  So there weren't a lot of happy people at the track, but there were a few blissful ones.

PS On SP

There's been a media rush to discover what was in a cache of Sarah Palin's emails as governor. Does this even qualify as news?  If so, it's of the most minor kind.  "Sarah Palin emails hint at her governing style" could win a most boring headline contest.

I don't understand why she gets so much coverage.  If she announces for President (which seems unlikely) then I can imagine following her around--not that I'd get excited about any one candidate's former official emails.  Until then, her celebrity is so overdone it says a lot more about the people covering her than it does about her.

Sock It To 'Em JB

It's country guitarist's Junior Brown's birthday.  He's never sold that well, but he's fun. Here are his two charting singles.  The second won a Country Music Video Of The Year award.  It's done in the style of silent comedy.  I don't know.  I suppose it's a nice tribute, but the "style" of silent comedy isn't the same as the real thing.



Byrned

It's Donald Byrne's birthday.  He was a chess master in the 50s and 60s who died before his time in the 70s.  He might not be that remembered, except he played in some great games, especially against a young Bobby Fischer.  In fact, if there were a vote for the most famous game ever, I'm guessing it would be this gem from 1956. Here's a somehwat long analysis (the game deserves it):



Here's a shorter analysis:



Here's a quick version with no analysis:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Hot Dog!

I live just down the street from Pinks, an LA landmark--the most famous and popular hot dog stand in town.  Now a Papaya King, New York's storied hot dog stand, has opened equally far up the street from me (though  it's a different street).

I don't really go to Pink's much.  Maybe twice in the last five years.  Not really a hot dog guy.  (When I lived in Chicago I was right next to a major hot dog stand but I didn't find Chicago-style hot dogs that enticing, so I went once and that was it.)  The irony is I don't think that much of Pinks, yet whenever I drive by (which is most days), there's always a line.

I guess I should check out Papaya King just to see what all the talk is about, but I'm not expecting much.



It's A Gas

Lately I've been noticing gas is just under $4 a gallon.  I can't believe I'm so excited.  I keep thinking I need to fill up, it might not be this cheap again.

Not Johann

Happy birthday, Richard Strauss.  Thanks to Stanley Kubrick, one of his compositions is so famous it's become a cliche.



Strauss was a celebrated composer and conductor in his day, and I think he'd be suprised to know so much of his fame rests on the opening of Also sprach Zarathustra. He was generally a modest man, but if anything he wrote were to be remembered, I'd guess he'd have bet on something like Der Rosenkavalier.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Big Deal

It's the 50th birthday of Kim Deal.  She was the bassist for the Pixies and the leader (I'd say) of The Breeders.  Here's one of my favorite songs of hers.  I'm not entirely sure what it's about, but it doesn't matter.

Tell Them Not To Hollywoodize It

The film version of Guys And Dolls (1955) was a hit, but is now generally considered an artistic failure.  I have to agree. Producer Sam Goldwyn took one of the most delightful Broadway musicals ever and lost most of what was great in giving it the Hollywood treatment. (Orson Welles told librettist Abe Burrows "they put a tiny turd on every one of your lines.")

I recently saw the original trailer for the film, and it was interesting to note how Goldwyn, a master of publicity, sold it.  First (though the video below cuts it off), entertainment columnist and TV variety host Ed Sullivan ("Ed Sullivan will always do fine as long as other people have talent") comes out and brags about how Sam Goldwyn spent a million dollars for the rights to Guys And Dolls (we even see the check), and spent five and a half million for the movie.  So Goldwyn is telling us in the mid-50s, when TV is taking over, that this is a spectacular--certainly unlike what you'll find on TV (such as on Ed Sullivan--though Ed was happy to promote Guys And Dolls on his show).  Then we get to the actual movie (which is where the video below picks up).

We start with the general Damon Runyon milieu.  Fine.  Then we get to the first star--probably the biggest name of the day--Marlon Brando.  A lot of people said that Brando was miscast as Sky Masterson (or as Goldwyn called him, Sky Madison).  Well, he's not a great singer or dancer, but I think he does a fine job with the role, having a natural authority and also getting some laughs.  Oddly, Sullivan almost boasts that Brando has never sung or danced.  Next comes Jean Simmons, Brando's partner.  We see a short scene with them.  Once again, fine.

Then we get to Sinatra, in the lead comic role of Nathan Detroit.  Now this is miscasting.  The Broadway lead, Sam Levene, couldn't sing, so they gave almost all his songs to others.  Sinatra can sing, though I'm not sure if his approach works (composer Frank Loesser certainly didn't think so) and he just stinks up the screen trying to get the humor.  Here we see him singing "Adelaide," a song written for the movie.  I get promoting new stuff, but the show was famous--why not see one of its well-known numbers?  Next we get Sinatra's screen partner, Vivian Blaine (from the Broadway show) and she's singing "Sue Me"--another odd choice, since this is one of the lesser songs from the show.  (It is interesting to hear Sam Levene croak it on the original cast album.  Nathan Lane and Faith Prince built up the number in their well-regarded revival, but it still can't compare to the other tunes.)

Then the trailer gets to the writer-director, Joseph L. Mankiewicz.  This was another mistake on Goldwyn's part.  He was one of the top names in town at the town, but he had no experience with musicals and was wrong for the rakish world of Guys And Dolls.  (Maybe not as bad as hiring John Huston to direct Annie, but in the same ballpark.) No mention is made of Abe Burrows, who wrote the original libretto, much less George S. Kaufman, who directed it on stage. (And Sam Goldwyn sure isn't gonna bring up original producers Feuer and Martin.)

Next we get a cursory mention of Frank Loesser.  Maybe not a huge name to the movie audience, but as the one who wrote the songs, he's as responsible for the success of the show as anyone.  Then a nod to Michael Kidd, who choreographed the show on stage and screen.  Ed brings up his screen credentials.  A quick note that he's working with the famed "Goldwyn Girls" and we're back to talking about Sam.  A quick recap, Ed makes a pun on his show Toast Of The Town, and we're done.



So we see what rates.  You don't really get any impression of what the story's about, but that's okay.  What surprises me most is no mention of the many famous songs (that made the transition--some were dropped)--where's "Adelaide's Lament," "Fugue For Tinhorns," "The Oldest Established," "If I Were A Bell," "Luck Be A Lady" or "Sit Down, You're Rockin' The Boat"?  It's as if they're trying to ignore one of the best scores ever written.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Illustrious Illustrated

Today is the 120th anniversary of Cole Porter's birth.  He's the top.

Moral Measure

Skimmed through Sam Harris's book The Moral Landscape in the library.  Harris is part of the "New Atheist" movement and has written previously about why the religions of the world don't make a good basis for morality.  His new book goes a step further and states we can use science and other fact-based disciplines to help get objective answers about morality. Since I haven't read the book, I can't say how successful he is, but Hume's argument that you can't go from is to ought is tough to overcome.

I did read a bit where he says says he believes we've made moral progress in the last century.  One example he gives is how much less racism there is in America.  He quotes the astounding (by today's standards) LA Times "A Word To The Black Man" editoral of 1910, written after African-American Jack Johnson beat the white James Jeffries for the heavyweight boxing championship:

A word to the black man
Do not point your nose too high
Do not swell your chest too much
Do not boast too loudly
Do not be puffed up
Let not your ambition be inordinate
Or take a wrong direction
Remember you have done nothing at all
You are just the same member of society you were last week
You are on no higher plane
Deserve no new consideration
And will get none
No man will think a bit higher of you
Because your complexion is the same
Of that of the victor at Reno

There's no doubt racism has been discredited since then, and almost everyone thinks this represents moral progress. I sure do.  But as strongly as we may feel, isn't it begging the question? 

We decide what morality is. We decided (through experience, greater empathy, and a better understanding of genetics, I suppose Harris would note) that racism is wrong.  So now we look at former morality and say we're better than we used to be.  But wouldn't we say that no matter what direction our morality moved?  If fascism had won the day, might we not say that we have a higher morality than we used to--we've purified society and now support stronger allegiance to the state that makes us all strong, healthy and decent?

Maybe Harris can answer this, but I think he's got his work cut out for him.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other

Douglas McGrath has a decent piece in Vanity Fair on Preston Sturges' Paramount years.  In a run almost unparallelled in Hollywood history, the writer-director made eight amazing films there in the first half of the 40s.  We're talking about titles like The Lady EveSullivan's Travels, The Geat McGinty and The Miracle Of Morgan's Creek.

It's not all praise.  For instance, McGrath, quite properly, questions Sturges' talent for slapstick. But then we run into this odd paragraph:

And sustaining a tone was difficult for him even at the top of his game. It must be said that even the seven wonders [McGrath doesn't think much of Sturges "serious" film The Great Moment] of the Sturges canon have their problems, and the problems can always be traced to an instability of tone. Not one of these movies is a perfect picture, the way The Shop Around the Corner is perfect, or The Wizard of Oz or Zelig or The Godfather is perfect. Each of those films clears its throat and sings its song, and there is never a moment when you tilt your head and wonder, What was that?

First, it's a bit unfair to pull out a bunch of all-time classics to compare to Sturges' films.  The Shop Around The Corner makes sense, since it's a comedy--and a perfect film--from that general era, but the others are different genres and two are from decades later.

Much weirder....Zelig?  It's doesn't even make Woody Allen's top five.  I guess it's consistent in tone, but it's no classic, and even at 79 minutes threatens to wear out its welcome.  Whatever is it doing  between Oz and Godfather?

Finally, the criticism of Sturges is wrong.  His problem isn't always uneven tone.  The Lady Eve may have a plot that splits in half (thanks to Eve herself) but it's not like the second part is unattached to the first.  The Palm Beach Story may not rank with his greatest (at least not to me), but it's pretty consistent, and the wild slapstick in it is part of Sturges' world of odd characters.  And complaining about Sullivan's Travels' shifts in tone is is like complaining about Top Hat's musical numbers--the movie is practically designed around its tone shifts.

Anyway, Sturges did make a perfect film.  One that starts solid, picks up steam, and never stops until the end--Hail The Conquering Hero.  It ranks, alongside The Shop Around The Corner and a few others, as one of the greatest comedies of its time.

With The Laughing Face

Nancy Sinatra wasn't half the singer her father was, but she recorded some nice singles.  Happy birthday.  She's in her 70s now.

Her best-known song is the #1 hit "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'."   Years later it was used quite memorably in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket.



She had another #1 in a duet with dad, "Somethin' Stupid." (She liked to drop her G's.)  Here she is singing it with her kid brother.



She also recorded the dramatic James Bond theme song "You Only Live Twice."  (Well, I like it.  Some find it soporific.)



But my favorite song of her may just be one of her sweetest, "Sugar Town."  (I also like Zooey Deschanel singing it in (500) Days Of Summer.)

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