Sunday, July 31, 2011

You Rang?

Happy birthday, Ted Cassidy.  He died over 30 years ago, but his legend lives on.  I believe even to this day, when kids mock a schoolmate who's too tall, they'll use the term "Lurch."

Cassidy, at 6' 9", was generally cast for his size and look.  His best known role, of course, was faithful butler Lurch on The Addams Family.  But I can also recall him appeariing in I Dream Of Jeannie, Lost In Space and The Six Million Dollar Man (where he played Sasquatch).







The funniest thing he was ever associated with was years after his death.  TV show host/new age musician John Tesh appeared on Conan O'Brien's show.  Conan said they had a clip of Tesh in concert, and they cut to Lurch at the harpsichord.

Diamond Anniversary

Gary Lewis, son of Jerry Lewis, turns 65 today.  His band, Gary Lewis & The Playboys, burned up the charts in the mid-60s.  Their first single came out in 1965, and before the year was out, they'd enjoyed five Top Five hits.  All told, they had twelve Top Forty hits from '65 to '68.

As much a studio creation as anything, the Playboys didn't play much in the studio, and Gary himself was only one of the voices in the main track.  But hey, a good sound is a good sound.

Their first hit was their best, and their only #1, "This Diamond Ring."

Head Of Parliament

Hey, I think we just missed George Clinton's 70th birthday.  He's been performing for half a century, and is certainly the King of Funk.



Saturday, July 30, 2011

PA

Teen idol Paul Anka turns 70 today.  He put out a whole bunch of top 40 hits in the late 50s/early 60s, but was a casualty of the British invasion, essentially disappearing from the charts while the Beatles ruled.

Paul wasn't your average star of the day--he wrote his own material.  One of his tunes was used as the Tonight Show theme for Johnny Carson.

His first hit, which went to #1, is probably his best:



He had a major comeback in the 1970s, started off by this #1 song in 1974 that he recorded with Odia Coates. For some reason, it ticked off a lot of people:

Breaking Beatdown

One thing I forgot to mention about the last Breaking Bad.  I don't think Walter's ever had a beatdown like Mike gave him at the end.  Not that it was too bad.  Mike could have hurt him a lot worse.

Not that Walt has had smooth sailing.  Leaving aside his health issues (which actually make everything else easier--no matter how bad it gets for him personally, he knows he doesn't have that much to lose), Walt has his life threatened by every drug dealer he's hooked up wth.  But for some reason it's poor, sweet Jesse who always gets the beatdown.  First Krazy 8 goes after him.  Next, Tuco beats him so bad he puts him in the hospital.  Next Walt's brother-in-law beats him so bad he puts him in the hospital.  If this keeps up Jesse will end up passing Ben Linus for the most beat up character ever on TV.

Also, no matter how bad Walter has had it, his family is still alive, and he keeps moving forward.  Meanwhile, Jesse lost Jane, the girl he loved, and he blames himself (though Walter was behind it).  He also lost Combo, one of his best friends.

Turns out being around Walt is good for no one.  He's left behind a long trail of dead people, including every drug dealer he's worked with up till Gus--and we'll see how Gus does.  His brother-in-law was shot (by people who wanted to kill Walt) and may never fully recover.  And it's not like Walt had no choice.  Fairly early on he was offered all the money he needed on a silver platter, but turned it down due some combination of pride, arrogance and anger.  It's getting harder and harder to sympathize with Walt. Makes you wonder if that's why Vince Gilligan decided to have Mike knock him down--because the viewers were starting to feel he needed it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Beyond The Vallee

I enjoyed yesterday's Rudy so much I figured it's time for an encore. He attended Yale, so here he is singing about his college days::



The Game That Never Ends

According to HBO, Game Of Thrones will continue as long as George R. R. Martin keeps writing books about that world.  I can't say this is good news.  In fact, here's what I wrote a couple months ago:

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.

There are a lot of separate forces in the show, each with its own power and its own weaknesses.  It'll take a long time to work it all out.  But I'd at least like a promise that there'll eventually be some resolution.  Instead, it looks like the warriors will keep repositioning themselves until Martin or the viewers get tired.

For A Song

I thought Captain America: The First Avenger was pretty enjoyable.  One of the fun parts was "Star Spangled Man," a song by Alan Menken and David Zippel used as a 1940s call to patriotism at Captain America's bond rallies.



Sort of reminded me--and I don't think this is a coincidence--of the theme to the Merry Marvel Marching Society.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rudymania

110 years ago, Rudy Vallee was born.  Before Michael Jackson, before the Beatles, before Elvis, before Sinatra, before Crosby, there was Rudy Vallee.  He was the first mass appeal crooners, a singer who didn't need to project--he used the intimacy of the microphone to insinuate himself into the popular psyche, and make the women squeal.



Spud Boy

Happy birthday, Gerald Casale.  Along with Mark Mothersbaugh, he was Devo's main songwriter.  He also helped design their look and directed most of their videos.  He's since become a major video director, but we still love him for his music.



Young Days

Hey, wasn't it just P.J. Soles' birthday?  Well, break out another cake for her Rock 'n' Roll High School co-star Dey Young. Here she is as Kate Rambeau, with P.J., Mary Woronov and the rest of the gang in all their glory.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Peek

Dan Peek, one-third of America, has died.  The biggest hit he wrote for the band, and probably his best song, is "Lonely People":

Chose My Mother The Car Over Gilligan

Jerry Van Dyke never quite got the attention of his older brother but he carved out a decent career of his own. (It helped that brother Dick let Jerry guest star on his sitcom.)  Anyway, happy 80th, Jerry.

Here's some extremely rare footage of Jerry on The Tonight Show.  The tapes from the early Carson years have been wiped, so very little survives.

Five Characters In Search Of An Ending

Entourage has started its eighth and final season.  That's about three or four seasons too many.  The basic premise of the show is an up and coming movie star tries to navigate his way through Hollywood while staying friends with his old pals.  The five central characters are Vince, the star, E, his close friend who becomes his manager, Johnny Drama, his brother who's also in show biz but not at Vince's level, Turtle, the general factotum with his own schemes and Ari, the fast-talking, powerful agent.

The main questions at the beginning were would Vince make it big, and would the gang stick together.  Meanwhile, the audience could vicariously live the high life, especially enjoying the monumental amount of beautiful women the guys get to know (at least male viewers could, and I'm guessing they make up the majority).  Not that this is porn--the show was fairly funny, especially the grasping Ari and the hopeless Drama.  But there are only so many twists and turns before the situation gets stale.  The characters have moved along, in relationships and careers, but they've lost their freshness.  Last season, in an attempt to inject drama, E and Ari both fell out with their women while Vince fell into addiction.  It all feels artificial, with the original fun of the series long gone.

I still watch out of habit, but I'll be surprised if the show has any big laughs, or much else, to offer. There is talk of a movie when the series ends.  Actually, I think that could work--it could be a big, self-contained piece rather than the tired soap opera the show has become.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Turn Down The Heat

Jeffrey Goldberg, who often battles with the anti-Muslim right, couldn't help but comment on the slaughter in Norway, even though he's on vacation:

it seems as if my arch-nemesis Pamela Geller is in a bit of a pickle because she and her partner-in-Muslim-bashing, Robert Spencer, were favorites of the Norway killer. [....] Goldblog's position: Geller is a hatemonger, but she didn't pull the trigger. Free speech means free speech. But she should be aware now that violent people look to her for guidance, and she should write with that in mind. Which brings me to the subject of the Murfreesboro, Tennessee, mosque, the new "Ground Zero mosque" controversy. People like Herman Cain, who vilify this mosque (and other mosques) should think carefully about the ways in which their words are heard. I worry about a violent reaction to the Tennessee mosque more than I worry about any other terrorism target in America. More on this later, when I have better access to the Web.

I think this goes way too far.  Everyone should avoid overheated rhetoric (I love tautological statements), but it can be pretty hard to tell how far to go, especially if you think an enemy is actively trying to kill you.  And, of course, one person's violent rhetoric is another person's common sense.  Every side blames some "other" for the problems of the world.  This doesn't mean we should blame opinion makers when some nut goes too far.  If you're not advocating direct violence against the innocent as a solution, then if someone decides to shoot up innocent civilians it's not your fault.  (Not "you didn't pull the trigger"--that's too weak.) But further, I don't know how much you should hold back just because others might overreact.  Every side has its nuts, and this would mean almost everyone mute themselves.  I hear plenty of heated rhetoric from those who generally agree with Goldberg, and I hope we can all see no matter what side you take--even if you believe you're a moderate--there's a body count from some nut (or worse, some significant organized movement) that's fought for your ideas.

Shavian Maven

It's the 155th birthday of George Bernard Shaw.  Let me take this occasion to recommend Shaw The Dramatist by Louis Crompton, a book-length study.  It's not particularly well known--it was published in 1969 and I just happened to find it at my local library.  Crompton was an academic and this was put out by the University of Nebraska Press.

Crompton goes through Shaw's entire career as a playwright, but concentrates on eleven major works in chronological order:  Arms And The Man, Candida, The Devil's Disciple, Caesar And Cleopatra, Man And Superman, Major Barbara, The Doctor's Dilemma, Pygmalion, Heartbreak House, Back To Methusaleh and Saint Joan.

I've read a fair amount of analysis of GBS, and it's generally not impressive.  Perhaps that's because Shaw's plays are already so discursive that analysis often seems superfluous.  (And if the plays aren't enough, there are Shaw's lengthy prefaces.)

But Crompton represents the best sort of scholarly work--learned yet easy to read.  His explications of the plays are consistent and intelligent, and, more important, grounded in an understanding of the biographical, sociological, historical and philosophical background of Shaw.

The plays are still the thing, but if you need a companion, I don't know if you could do better.

Aftermath

Sir Mick Jagger turns 68 today.  I remember spending a lot of money for a ticket to a Rolling Stones concert over 20 years ago, figuring it would be their farewell.

It's hard to overstate how important the Stones were to rock and roll, especially in their first decade.  It's also hard to recapture how dangerous they seemed.  The Rolling Stones have continued to put out records, and tour, and Mick has had plenty of solo projects as well, but has anyone truly cared about any music he's made in the past 30 years?

But that's okay.  I just ignore the 80s, 90s, etc, and concentrate on the work he did before he was just another rich granddad.





Monday, July 25, 2011

Decompressing

Breaking Bad's second episode of season four, "Thirty-Eight Snub," looks at how the main characters deal with what happened last episode.  After all, it's been a wild time for Walt and Jesse.  Walt killed some of Gus's dealers, Gus figured it was time to get rid of him, Mike was ready to kill Walt, Jesse offed Gale, and the whole gang got to see Gus brutally murder Victor. (They've all had it bad, but Victor had the worst week easily.) So now all, or at least most, of the cards are on the table.  Walt knows Gus will kill them as soon as it makes business sense.  What to do?

We start in an hotel room, where Walt is buying an unidentifiable weapon from a philosophical gun dealer.  Hence the title, though Vince Gilligan is too smart to let it be used the same was the titular box cutter was last season.  Walt met the guy through Saul, and Walt promises he's buying it for self-defense, but no one believes him.  If that's all it were for, why not buy it legally?

Walt feels--correctly--he can't leave things hanging with Gus.  His solution is to shoot him.  Walt is smart, but he's not street smart--not yet, anyway.  Since he started cooking, he's been killing, but he barely knows how to use a gun.  Still, we've come pretty far from the first season where the whole idea of a gun sent Jesse and Walt into a tizzy.

Meanwhile, Mike is decompressing in his favorite bar.  What has his life come to?  He's a former cop and a grandfather.  He's gone over to the shady side and he's made peace with that, but looking at the blood still literally on his hands, he has to wonder, what next?  His job sure hasn't been easy of late.  And will Gus off him has to be at least one question on his mind.

Jesse, at home, sees a future with no future.  He's starting to fill his new home with junk--he's even got a Roomba (we later get a Roomba pov shot)--which he can easily afford, but his life may not be worth much.   His old pals Badger and Skinny Pete drop by.  They're both still in 12-step, but it doesn't take much of an offer from Jesse to be partying like there's no tomorrow (which may be right).  For that matter, if we were wondering whether or not Jesse will stay clean, that question is now settled. Not that Jesse can ever rejoin his friends' world.  They're just small-time gangsters who think life is high school. Jesse has a serious job, is worth millions, has killed, and could be killed any second.

They also note that Andrea, his old girl, is asking about him.  She's the one who's kid brother was killed by Gus's dealers, which led the Jesse stepping up and Walt killing them, which led to everything else.  No wonder she wants to know about him, though Jesse is ignoring her.  What he does do is become a 24-hour party person, as he spreads his money around and invites all the old gang and then some to his place.  The festivities are to be kept going even while he cooks.  Meanwhile, naive Walt practices pulling out his hidden gun and shooting Gus.

Over at Hank's place, he's doing research with minerals--blue corundum.  Can this have something to do with Heisenberg's blue meth?  He's also quite nasty to Marie.  He's always had troubles, and been uncommunicative, but for the first time I'm feeling sorry for Marie.  (Has Hank asked where all the money is coming from for his therapy, or does he assume insurance for heroic cops takes care of it all.)

At Walt's place, Skyler calls asking about buying the car wash.  He's horrified she'd leave such a message, but the whole point of money laundering is to make things look legal, and buying a car wash is the first step. Nothing to fear in talking about it, since that's the story they'll have to tell if the authorities ever ask. (Though Skyler talking last week to Saul about meth labs was a bit much.) Skyler gets this business better than the naive Walt, who still thinks he's gonna shoot someone. In fact, I've always been annoyed that Walt and Saul are so resistant to bookkeeper Skyler's excellent car wash plan.

The party continues at Jesse's, but he's gotta wake up early and go to work making meth.  A man has responsbilities.  Jesse goes through the motions at work while Walt is packing.  Someone comes in.  Who could it be?  It sure ain't Victor.  Could it be Gus?  Walt is ready.  It's a new guy, ready for the pick-up.  (Some people asked why Gus had so little muscle, as if Victor and Mike were his only guys.  He's got as many people as he needs.  Except when it comes to chemists.) Mike comes in and notes they check the weigh each time now--new policy.  In the old days, they might look the other way if Jesse took a half-pound, but no longer.

Walt asks Mike about Gus.  He wants to "speak" to him.  Mike makes it clear Walt won't see Gus again.  Good. I'd hate Gus to be stupid.  Walt knows Gus will kill him at the first opportunity.  Gus knows Walt knows this, so the last thing he wants to do is be close.  Gus has always been skittish.  He didn't even meet with Walt the first time when he didn't like his looks.  (In fact, I had some trouble with Gus, who'd always been hard to reach, stepped in to deal with the Jesse situation last season.  The only excuse was he was keeping Walt happy, and meanwhile cultivating Gale to take over soon.)

Skyler, tired of being shut out by Walt (and Saul) is clocking the cars at the car wash.  At Hanks place, he's making progress, if slowly.  He even seems positive when the physical therapist is around, and maybe Hank is getting a little more positive.  But as soon at the guy goes (Marie wonders if he could move in), Hank turns surly again.

Over at the permanent party at Jesse's (haven't the neighbors complained?), Andrea drops by.  Her son Brock, who likes Jesse, is waiting in the car.  Jesse goes out on the lawn to have a talk.  She's in the Program, but doesn't comment on the party as she's got bigger fish to fry.  She couldn't help but notice that the dealers who killed her kid brother have been murdered.  Jesse, of course, won't talk about that, but she assumes he had something to do with it and it's fine with her.  But what about the thousands of dollars she received in an unmarked envelope--was that from Jesse?  She has to know if holding that money will get her in trouble.  He promises no one will come looking.  Thank goodness the show didn't do the stupid cliche of her not wanting the money.  Who gives back the money in real life?  Certainly not ex-junkie unwed mothers living in poverty.  (Does this couple have a future? I'd like to see Jesse have some happiness, but his relationships tend not to work out.)

At night, Walt decides to visit Gus. Wasn't so long ago Gus invited him, and they had a nice dinner.  Gus told Walt (not in so many words) to dump Jesse.  Probably a good idea.  But they're long past that now.  Walt puts on his Heisenberg hat and steels himself.  As he slowly walks to the house, his phone rings.  It's Gus, who was probably expecting him. Last week this was the entirety of what Gus said: "Well?  Get back to work." He has 3/5ths as many words this week. "Go home, Walter."

Yet another scene with Marie and Hank, though I think two would have been enough.  She gets a delivery of  Hanks "minerals" and he screams from the next room to make sure the boxes weren't damaged.  They're rocks, Hank.  Nope, he insists, they're geodes.

Skyler won't wait for Walt or Saul's permission.  She goes in as a businesswoman to the car wash and makes the owner a generous offer.  She has all the figures, knowing how much he makes, what the real estate is worth, etc.  But what she didn't count on was he remembers former employee Walt, who walked out cursing him and knocking fresheners off the wall.  As far as he's concerned, if Walt wants to buy the business, the price is $20 million.  Oddly, Skyler doesn't mention Walt did what he did after learning he had terminal cancer. Anyway, she leaves, but I don't think this is over.  Will Saul go do it, like how he bought Jesse's place out from under Jesse's parents?  Will Skyler, who's all in now, figure out a way to lean on the owner?  Or will the cancer story end up making a difference?

Back at Mike's hangout, he watches one of Saul's TVads.  (No other Saul this week. I know you're spooked, Saul, but show yourself.)  Walt comes in.  Mike knows he was tailed, and also knew Walt was packing.  Even street smart guys can't fool Mike, so Walt sure can't.

Walt buys him a drink.  ("Why not?  You make a hell of a lot more than I do." I know that feeling.)  Walt tries to explain his actions, and how he understands why Mike tried to kill him.  But it's all prelude.  He tells Mike what Mike already knows--is anyone safe?  Why not help him get in a room with Gus--Walt will do the rest.  Mike doesn't want to hear it.  He slaps Walt around, leaving him on the floor.  I don't think it's that Mike is feeling loyal to Gus, so much as you don't go up against the toughest guy around to back a guy who can't even pack heat without giving himself away.  Even being known you talked to such a guy about this could get you killed.  Anyway, thanks for the drink.

Jesse's party is finally breaking up as his wimpy friends can't take any more.  This did lead to one of the funniest mistakeen closed captions I've ever seen.  Skinny Pete, trying to explain why he and Badger have to leave, says "You know we got mad love for you." In CC, this read "You know we got man love for you."  Jesse sits down by his new speakers, in anguish. He's wondering how he's going to fill the emptiness mixed with terror that's become his life.

So we leave our heroes, in pain, trying to figure out where and how to take their next step.  And we have to wait another six days and 23 hours to find out.

Noise

Happy birthday, Thurston Moore.  Sonic Youth has been a cult band for thirty years now.

When I moved to LA, I remember standing in line for a movie at the Nuart and there was Thurston Moore in front of me. That's when I knew this was a magical place.





Sunday, July 24, 2011

Heisenberg's Uncertainty

With Breaking Bad's fourth season debuting to its highest numbers yet, a fifth season seems guaranteed.  Some fans are hoping for six seasons, but creator Vince Gilligan has hinted it'll be five and out.  (Of course, a lot of executive producers find it hard to let go--of the show and the money.) Personally, I can barely see how it'll last through the fourth season.

The central story of Breaking Bad has always been Walter's descent.  There have been certain milestones along the way, but by now, it's gotten into such dark territory I'm not sure how much longer it can continue.  And it's not just the moral spiral.  In the past, Walt and Jesse have been in tough spots, but it was generally in dealing with people they didn't like or didn't want anything to do with.  Now they're at the top, working with the guy they wished they could hook up with in season 2, and it's a disaster.  They know as soon as they're expendable, they'll be killed.  As Jesse put it, they're all on the same page now.  Everything is out in the open--where can they go from there? (I guess there's the cartel--still gotta hide from them.)

So the question becomes as Walter rises in the meth world (and that is his arc as well), who will fall off along the way?  The show has had plenty of deaths, but never a regular.  But that gets easier as you get nearer to the end.  By now it would seem anyone outside Walt could go any episode.  Certainly Gus is in danger.  But perhaps there'll be a shock kill.  Saul?  Mike?  Hank?  Marie?  Walt, Jr.?  Jesse?  Skyler?  The baby?  The point is, it could be anyone, and before we're done, it could be several.

There are a few things that probably have to happen, aside from Walt rising and finally dying (violently or not).  It looks like Skyler has to get more involved.  It looks like Gus has to get out of the way.  It looks like Mike may have to switch allegiance.  It looks like Hank--whether or not in a wheelchair--has to start investigating again (based on Gale's lab notes?).  And eventually Hank, and perhaps the rest of Walt's family, has to find out what's going on.

No matter what else happens, it's hard to imagine things ending well.

Popular

Happy birthday, Kristin Chenoweth.  She's done TV and movies, but I think she's most at home on stage.  Her breakthrough role, for which she won a Tony, was Sally in the 1999 Broadway revival of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. She later originated the part of Glinda in Wicked, a show that threatens to be the biggest Broadway hit of all.

The original, long-running off-Broadway version of Charlie Brown from the 60s had no Sally--it had Patty (not Peppermint Patty, just Patty).  In the updating, I think the producers realized no one knew who Patty was any longer, so they added Sally, Charlie Brown's sister.  They also added new dialogue and gave Sally her own song. "My New Philosophy."  I actually don't think the new material is as good as what it replaced, but Chenoweth was electrifying enough to put it over.

J & B

This is sort of funny, but I don't think I like the creators of Lost making fun of how silly their final season was.  That's the fans' job.



Speaking of which, here's an interesting comment from a fan at Ain't It Cool News who just watched the video:

I guess my problem with the show's ending and BSG's ending are similar

by iamnicksaicnsn


BSG ended on a HUGE deus ex machina explanation that was a severe divergence from the themes established at the beginning of the show (other than 6 showing up to Baltar), but ultimately they had convoluted the plot for a while before that. It was pretty genius for the first two seasons, and I was a huge apologist for the 3rd and most of the 4th, but to me they went nowhere with the different 6's, made Starbuck an angel, abused Baltar as a character, and moved away from using the show to comment on current events in a heavy sci-fi way. I guess I wish they had explained things with more heavy scientific reasonings than all of the prophecy and "god" manipulations.

Lost didn't end with such hardcore deus ex-ing, but they did split off from more scientific explanations for the things that happened. The flash-side-ways could have followed the established sci-fi feel that the show had used all show long, but I really felt like they wasted all of the potential by making their state-side comings and goings an elaborate purgatory.

Here are some things that (based on the limited knowledge of remembering all of this information a year later) I thought could have saved the last season:

- Having it all be part of an actual alternate universe

- Establishing just how much of a threat Smokey was to the outside world like:

- Having the smoke monster be connected to all of the alternate universes and his leaving the island unleashing his full power

- Or having the smoke monster be connected and the only way to keep them from collapsing was either keeping him on the island or disconnecting the link by killing him

- If not an alternate universe, have it be a sort of catch-22 ideal construct (similar to ST:Generation's Nexus or that TNG episode where Riker is captured by Romulans and has a son, or the creature that made Superman think he was in his ideal life back on Krypton) created by the Smoke Monster to keep Jack from unleashing the power needed to stop him, and having Smokey use Jack's son as a conduit to keep tabs on Jack (if not him being the Smoke Monster the whole time)

- Finding a way to reunite Locke with his body, either from the alternate universe or something else, so that Locke could have been Locke at the end

- Making Widmore and Walt matter more than the one being a fan-service afterthought

- Having the cork be a gateway, or connecting thread to other alternate universes

- Having Daniel Farraday be more of a presence in the final season, if not for his actual self helping in some way, but at least the idea that he didn't die in vain and that his scientific theories had actually meant something to the show

I could probably think of more if the show was more fresh in my mind, but having been a year I can't remember all the details.

Ultimately, to me, both BSG and LOST were two genius shows that forgot what they were about and had forked off the road way too much in a panicked effort to wrap up the stories. I seriously hope though, they aren't the last genre shows that attempt to reach such heights of quality, even if they can't maintain them.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bud

Calvert DeForest, who died a few years ago, would have turned 90 today.  He's best known (best known?--only known) for his character Larry "Bud" Melman on David Letterman's show.  His odd looks and bizarre delivery made him an audience favorite.



Camping It Up

As part of a series on summer camp, Timothy Noah has an article in Slate about how your reaction to camp tells a lot about you.  His piece is humorous, but I've had the same theory for years.

I hated camp.  Unlike Noah, I liked sports, which camp certainly had, but I didn't like being thrown into a regimented place with people I didn't know. (Good thing I grew up after the draft.) The best day I had at camp was when I broke my glasses and had to be driven into town to get a new pair. I preferred to spend my summers hanging out with friends I'd chosen, doing what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.  That's the attitude, I suppose, of a libertarian.  Or maybe just a quiet, introspective type.  Or someone very lazy.

Meanwhile, my brother loved camp.  I'm not saying that makes him less independent, though it probably suggests he's better with people. (I don't think it tells how he'll vote.)

My sister also went to camp, though I'm not sure how she felt about it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wouldn't It Make More Sense At Target?

A couple in South Carolina see an image of Jesus in a receipt they got at Walmart:


I don't know.  Looks more like Rasputin to me.

O Positive

I've been surprised at President Obama's continuing popularity.  Not that he's highly popular, but that his support seems to have stabilized around the mid-40s.  You'd think with continuing high unemployment, the kind we haven't seen in three quarters of a century, he'd have dropped into the 30s by now.

I suppose it's because the economy was in serious decline before he took office, so a lot of people aren't ready for him to own it.  Also, a fair amount of his support is solid no matter what (though that may be true of any president). Furthermore, he gets decent coverage and hasn't done any big things to tick people off since the last election.

Obama himself predicts the next election will be a referendum on his first term.  Hard to argue with that.  As he puts it, the people

don't expect everything to be solved overnight.  They do expect that their president's going to be thinking about them every single day and going to be focused on how do we win the future. And if next November they feel like I've been on their side and I've been working as hard as I can and have been getting some things done to move us in the right direction, I'll win. If they don't, then I'll lose.

Well, I guess he has to say things won't be solved overnight, since the nagging unemployment that started on his watch hasn't been solved at all.  But the part that annoys me, and annoyed me when Bush and Clinton talked the same way, is the emphasis on people believing he cares about them and that he's working hard.  No need to work hard, just do what needs to be done.  In fact, don't work so hard, it may be clouding your judgment.  As far as thinking about us citizens every day, I'd rather you not care at all and just do the right thing--so you'll be reelected, or so history will treat you well, or so you'll win that bet you made with Biden.  Caring more won't make make you any better at solving our problems.

And please stop saying "winning the future" or any variation.

Years Of BS

Happy birthday, Bobby Sherman.  Some time between the Monkees and David Cassidy, he was the biggest teen pop idol around.

He was around in the mid-60s, performing as the house singer at Shindig!.



He also appeared around that time as an obnoxious pop star on a Monkees episode.  Watch them mess with him. (Pardon the length.)



But it was when he got on Here Come The Brides in the late 60s, as the stammering young Jeremy (with older brothers David "Hutch" Soul and Robert "Alternative Factor" Brown), that the teen girls started screaming.



From 1969 to 1971 he recorded a bunch of hit singles, found in record stores as well as the back of cereal boxes.  Sure, it was bubblegum.  There are worse genres.  If I had to pick his best, it'd be "Easy Come, Easy Go," which went to #9 in 1970.



The title is a good reminder of show biz careers for teen idols.  By 1971, his popularity was waning.  He got to star in his own series that year, Getting Together (a Partridge Family spinoff), playing the composing half of a songwriting team.



He also got married in 1971, to Patti Carnel.  They had two kids, but divorced in 1979. Former co-star David Soul married Patti and, later, beat her.

Sherman's sitcom flopped.  Up against the hottest show on TV, All In The Family, Getting Together was canceled after half a season.  Bobby appeared in TV guest shots now and then over the next 15 years, but his career never really recovered, and he eventually made the transition into police and emergency work.

He's mostly forgotten today.  But among women of a certain age, they remember.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Against The Wall

From a profile of Simon Cowell, by Amy Chozick in the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Cowell, 51 years old, sipped on his specially formulated antiaging smoothie, which he drinks daily, made with imported lingonberry, acerola berry, chokeberry and aronia juice flown in specially from exotic locations. After Miami, an aide would arrange for the fruit to arrive in Dallas, the location of the next "X Factor" audition.

"This [show] better bloody work or I am in huge trouble,'" Mr. Cowell said as he rode down Collins Avenue, blowing smoke from his Kool cigarettes out the open window.

I don't think the writer was unaware of the juxtaposition of a health-conscious smoker.  Good work, Amy.

Butting In

South Park was sued for copyright infringement for its parody of Samwell's video "What What (In The Butt)." A federal judge just cleared the show, in summary judgment, claiming the parody was covered by the fair use exception. In general, I like wide berth for parody, but I have to admit, even for a fair use fan like me, this is a tough case.

Fair use is actually a vague and ill-defined concept. It's easy for a judge to bend the rules in either direction. Here are the four factors to be considered:

The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes

The nature of the copyrighted work

The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work


There's no question South Park's use was of a commercial nature, but for a parody we have to ask if it was tranformative or derivative.  Copyright law is there to spur creativity, not stifle it.  More on that in a second.

The judge--according to the article which I might be misreading or which might have gotten it wrong--declared the video wasn't a substantial part of the show (does that matter?--shouldn't it matter whether the parody takes a substantial part of the original) and that it won't hurt the original's market (probably right, but how does he know?). He also has a cheap crack at the original, stating the parody is clearly a "lampoon" of "the recent craze in our society of watching video clips on the internet that are -- to be kind -- of rather low artistic sophistication and quality." So if the judge believed the video were more sophisticated and of higher quality, he'd give it more protection?  Even if that makes sense I'm wary of judges making that call.  (Though I can sort of see it--a sophisticated Cole Porter tune gets more protection than a less sophisticated 12-bar blues.)

He also declared the video transformative by accomplishing "the seemingly impossible -- making the WWITB video even more absurd by replacing the African American male singer with a naive and innocent nine-year old boy dressed in adorable outfits.” This strikes me as another cheap crack, but also, aside from replacing the original singer with Butters from South Park, there's not that much change. They stuck to the original tune (or "tune") and words and even look and choreography. I get that that's the point, but just how close can you be before you infringe on copyright?

Judge for yourself:




You'll note the South Park video does not come from YouTube. That's because if YouTube put it up, they would be sued for copyright infringement.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Quitting Quidditch

The latest and last Harry Potter film is out.  Guess I'll go see it.  I haven't read the books so at least there'll be some surprises.  (Though let me guess: Harry defeats Voldemort.)

Anyway, I figured this'd be a good time to put up an essay a friend of mine wrote years ago, and posted on his blog before there was even a Pajama Guy.  We used to talk about how silly Quidditch is, and his post on it got a bigger reacton than anything else he wrote.  Luckily, he's just made it available in spoken word:

Fourmost

Fascinating essay from Chuck Klosterman on why Breaking Bad is the best TV show of the last decade.  He starts noting everyone agrees what the top four shows are:

there doesn't seem to be much debate over what have been the four best television shows of the past 10 years. [....] The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, and [...] Breaking Bad. [....] Taste is subjective, but the critical consensus surrounding these four dramas is so widespread that it feels like an objective truth; it's become so accepted that this entire paragraph is a remarkably mundane argument to make in public. I'm basically writing, "The greatness of these great shows is defined by their greatness."

I agree it's hard to top those four.  Though I'd throw in Lost, despite its last season, and Battlestar Galactica and House aren't that far behind.  I'm also ignoring sitcoms, which are a different game, though Klosterman doesn't exclude them. (I like how Klosterman criticizes Wire fans for being so obnoxious about the greatness of their show.)

Klosterman puts Breaking Bad at the top because it's the only one where a character actually goes through a moral arc, and consciously decides to do wrong.  The other shows allow the viewer a distance, since the time and place the characters find themselves in help define them.  But in Breaking Bad--and this wasn't obvious at first--characters create their own moral destiny.  And we start by identifying with Walt, and even as he sinks in deeper and deeper, we still (so far, I think) take his side.  (This is actually an old dramatic trick--creating a sympathetic character who starts doing really nasty things.  Euripides did it all the time.)

I'm not sure if this is a good enough reason to put the show on top, but it does make it different.  It's true we tend to identify with Tony Soprano, but from the first episode he's a mobster and we have to accept that.

Actually, each of these shows sticks out in its own way.  Mad Men is different because the other three deal with organized crime and contain lots of violence.  The Wire has the widest view of society, each season including a little more of what Baltimore is about.  The Sopranos (which was the biggest cultural phenomenon of the four) has the "glamor" of the mafia.  But Breaking Bad might be the most different of the four in that, good or bad, it's the most concentrated.  All the other shows have much bigger casts and many more themes, but Breaking Bad is about one man making one decision that creates a very different world for himself and those around him.

Is it the best of those four?  I don't know.  But when I'm watching it, I think it is.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

VC

Vikki Carr turns 70 today.  She's got a Mexican background, and was born Florencia Bisenta de Casillas Martinez Cardona.

She was a fairly successful pop singer in the late 60/early 70s.  Her big hit was the melodramatic "It Must Be Him," which went to #3 in 1967.  The song may be best known today as the one Vincent Gardenia plays over and over in Moonstruck.



Here's a bizarre video she did of Rodgers and Hart's "Ev'rything I've got."

Gross Inadequacy

The new Sarah Palin documentary, The Undefeated, made $65,000 in ten theatres over the weekend.  Apparently, whether this is a good number or not has become a partisan debate.  Over at The Atlantic Joshua Green isn't too impressed, but asked a friend:

Seeking an objective judgment, I turned to Gabriel Snyder, editor of the Atlantic Wire, who happens to have deep expertise on precisely this subject: he used to be Variety's box-office reporter. Here's what he had to say:

Snyder's response:

A $7,500 per screen average is not a number that anyone should brag about. [Green's number at the time was a gross of $75,000] The way these sorts of brags go, distributors open a movie in some of the highest grossing theaters in the country -- in markets like New York, L.A., etc. -- where a $10,000-plus weekend is typical. Of course, the only place to go from there is the lesser houses in smaller markets, but for that weekend when you are playing a movie in just a handful of theaters, the high per screen average creates a sense of potential and wonder.

For comparison purposes, "Fahrenheit 9/11" (which I covered extensively and was, along with "The Passion," a beautiful marriage of movie marketing and GOTV campaign strategy) posted a $27,558 per screen average on its first weekend on a pretty high 868 screens.

For a more analogous example (in distribution strategy, not content), the David O. Russell movie "I Heart Huckabees" (which had nothing to do with Republican politics) opened with great fanfare to a $73,044 per screen average on four screens, leading to all sorts of predictions that it was going to be a HUGE box office hit. Once it left the cherry-picked first four theaters, its performance plummeted, ultimately grossing a forgettable (to us, not to David O. Russell) $12.8 million.

So, while high opening weekend per screen averages are often touted, they are a) highly correlated with the size of the specific markets they measure, b) a high-water mark in a film's theatrical life: usually there is nowhere to go but down and c) not terribly impressive unless they are somewhere north of $50,000.

This is just weird.  Why would anyone compare this documentary, or any documentary, to Fahrenheit 9/11, which rewrote the rulebook?  Documentaries in general are not big moneymakers.  In 1989, when Michael Moore's Roger And Me made close to $7 million, political documentaries simply didn't make over a million.  And then, in 2002, he broke his own record when Bowling For Columbine grossed an unbelievable $21 million.  His films played like entertainments, rather than documentaries, and in 2004, he made history when Fahrenheit 9/11 grossed $119 million.  To this day, political documentaries rarely make over a million, and if you don't count Michael Moore films, only one has made over $10 million (An Inconvenient Truth).  Furthermore, documentaries about specific politicians rarely do well.

Then Snyder brings up I Heart Huckabees, though I don't know why.  It was a relatively big-budget ($20 million) fictional film with stars.  It opened in a few theatres to get the word out before it went wide, but the hopes were always to make tens or hundreds of millions. The final domestic gross of $12.8 million was a flop by Hollywood standards, but if it had been a political documentary that would signify a huge hit.

Finally Snyder suggests an impressive number would be above $50,000 per screen.  That's nuts.  In the world of lowered expectations that come with political documentaries, a small opening at over $10,000 per is decent and over $20,000 is great.

So how should we look at the Sarah Palin numbers?  Hard to say.  The director-writer of the film, as Green notes, claims they played small theatres and didn't advertise much.  It's certainly true that a film with such a subject might not play the same way as other documentaries.  On the other hand, it's also true that a lot of people, even Sarah Palin fans, may not feel the need to see a film about someone who's already on TV and in the news so much.

I don't know the budget for the film, but $6500 per screen for a small opening is tepid.  (It's almost exactly the same per screen as Errol Morris's documentary Tabloid, which opened the same weekend on 14 screens.) Yet in the world of political documentaries, it's not outrageously weak.  At the rate it's going, it probably won't make more than a few hundred thousand, which is what you expect for the genre.  However, with all the talk about the film making it higher profile than most in its category, that would probably classify it as a disappointment.

PS  The bottom fell out the second weekend, as it grossed $24,000 in 14 theatres.  As might have been expected with a project like this, the interest was front-loaded.  Unless there's some extremely unconventional distribution plan, it's hard to see how it can spread much further, and will probably end up grossing under $150,000 domestic.  Theatrical is hardly the end these days, but it's hard to spin it to say the film did well.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Is It Hot In Here?

Martha Reeves turns 70 today.  She and the Vandellas (female vandals?) recorded some of my favorite music.  Songs like "Quicksand" and "Jimmy Mack" sound as good now as they did when they were first released.

They also happened to have recorded my favorite Motown number of all time: 



Here are the two most popular comments on YouTube for this video:

"I am only 17 but i love the oldies like this way better than the trashy ass music we listen to today. When i see things like this i am proud to be african american."

"This is my favourite song in the world. I've finally decided on it. I've always thought it wasn't possible to have an ultimate favourite song, but i was wrong: this is it."

I'm not going to argue with either.

Waiting For Gus

It's been over a year, but the best show on TV is finally back. It's weird--I've been watching a ton of Breaking Bad reruns lately, and now I'm watching an episode where I don't know what will happen next.

The fourth-season starts with "Box Cutter"--a deservedly ominous title.  We last left our hero Walter about to be killed by Mike, on Gus's orders.  But Walt called Jesse who got to Gale's apartment and shot him before Victor could do anything about it.  So where do we stand?

We start the episode like we started so many in season three--a blast from the past.  Dead characters come back to life, and we're filled in on earlier details.  Here we see Gale setting up Gus's lab.  Gale is a great chemist, and Gus is glad to have him.  But Gale's seen Walter's product and admits it's far purer than even his own.  He's not just talking himself out of a job, he's talking himself into being murdered.  Gus, who's paid millions for the lab, has already seen Walter--he hang out with a junkie, so he can't be trusted.  But with Gale so impressed, it appears Gus is willing to give Walt a chance. (Not sure if I like this story.  It's certainly not how I imagined it. But then, my guesses often go against Vince Gilligan's.  I didn't like it when Jesse blew the $7000 Walt gave him to by a lab on wheels, and only got hooked up by Combo at the last second, but hey, that's apparently how it worked.)

Anyway, we cut from Gale's enthusiasm to the results--Gale is shot in the head by Jesse.  Jesse has been able to avoid killing anyone up to this point (Walt sure hasn't).  He leaves and the neighbors later call the cops. Victor runs in, looks around, sees the damage, and leaves.  He goes outside and there's still Jesse, sitting in his car, thinking about it all.  Jesse is very much wanted by Gus and the gang, and he can always be counted on to fail in a crisis, so there you have it.  Victor gets in the car with Jesse, points a gun at him, and they drive over to the laundromat.

Meanwhile, Walt and Mike are waiting in the lab for the results.  Here comes Victor--with Jesse.  Did he catch him in time?  Nope.  In fact, as Victor notes, he was seen at the scene. (Victor, a dead-eyed killer who doesn't talk much, is pretty chatty this episode.)  Mike isn't happy, and makes the call to Gus.

Here we cut to Skyler.  For a second, we wonder if Mike was calling her.  We also wonder if she's safe.  Generally families are protected, but who knows what Gus is capable of?  It's early in the morning and Sky answers the doorbell. Marie with newer, bigger bills.  (No time has elapsed since the end of last season, but Skyler seems to have aged a bit.) Marie also notes Walt's car in the driveway. He was on his way somewhere when Victor picked him up for a little drive, but Marie assumes Walt is back with Skyler.  So Sky moves the car far enough away so Junior won't see it.  She knows how to take care of things.

Back at the lab, it's a room of bad-asses and Jesse.  Walt suggests it's time to start cooking.  Gus may be mad, but no production would make him even madder.  Considering Walt's position, he's almost cocky, and it doesn't just seem to be bluster. But Victor has a surprise in store--he's been watching, and he's ready to start cooking.  They don't need Walt, as far as he's concerned.  (Jesse made his own stuff too last season.  It was even blue.  We never quite found out how good his product was, though presumably it wasn't Walt's 99 and 44/100 pure.)

Meanwhile, Saul is closed for business.  He's been scared over this whole Walt/Gus fight, and is frightened (quite rationally) he's been bugged, if nothing else. (I wasn't thrilled how Mike was more Gus's man than Saul's man, but I guess you go where the money is.) Skyler calls Saul and Saul returns it on a pay phone.  Skyler wants to know Walt's whereabouts, and Saul does a weak job reassuring her.  Saul himself is too busy wondering if he'll have to flee.

Skyler goes to Walter's place.  She lies and cries convincingly enough get a locksmith to let her in.  (She said to Walt last season she learned from the best, but she isn't giving herself enough credit.  In season one, remember how well she got herself out of trouble after Marie put her in a tight spot.) She investigates, either for Walt or evidence.  She doesn't find anything except the stuffed animal's eyeball, which has been around since season 2, and rarely presages anything good.

Marie returns home, steels herself, and goes in to see Hank, who's still bitter and depressed (no time has passed, after all).  He can walk sixteen feet, though it takes twenty minutes.  And he still has to defecate from his bed.  How would he feel if he knew Walt's responsible?

Marie tries to be opstimistice, but there's only so much she can do.  Hank is buying minerals on-line--not sure why he's into it. (Also don't necessarily like the new Hank, but it's hard to blame him.) Anyway, a common plot in the past was Hank on the trail, but that looks like it won't be a threat for a while.

At the lab, Victor is still cooking.  Walt watches, not impressed.  It's not clear to us how good Victor is.  Certainly he can't be as good as Walt, but a recipe is a recipe.  Then, finally, the moment we've been waiting for.  Gus arrives. He doesn't say anything as he puts on his lab clothes.  Walter launches into a monologue explaining why he had to kill Gale and now Gus needs him. He also challenges Victor's expertise, though Victor isn't impressed.  (But lets face it, Gale was a master and wasn't anywhere near Walt.) Gus gets out a box cutter and walks around.  Then he slashes Victor's throat. Is he making it clear how mad he is, but knows he can't kill Walt (or Jesse, whom Walter protects)?  Is it a case of "this is what I did to Victor, and I liked him"?  Does he understand that he can't keep both Walt and Victor alive or there'll be trouble?  Is he angry because Victor showed his face at the scene of the crime, and failed to prevent the murder?  Is he mad because Victor didn't know his place and started cooking?  Gus prefers to motivate through trust, but I guess that's out the window.

Anyway, we knew Gus was ruthless, but we've only seen him order others dead.  We've never seen him in action before.  You'd figure he just runs chicken joints, he doesn't get his hands dirty. But he came up the hard way.  Everyone is shocked, and suitably impressed.  Just before Gus leaves, he finally speaks: "Well?  Get back to work." Just so long as they know who they're working for, as Tuco's assistant once said.  A few seconds before Tuco beat him to death.  It's a tough racket.

The boys clean up the lab.  Part of the job.  And they've cleaned up before, but this time they make sure to put the body in the proper container before adding the acid.  Mike asks if it works.  "Trust us" says Jesse, in one of the few laughs of the night.

We cut from a mop swirling in blood to a french fry swirling in ketchup at a local Denny's (or a local spot just outside Denny's).  Walt and Jesse are decompressing.  Jesse cuts into his Grand Slam pretty calmly. He seems to have gotten over Gale, or at least resigned himself to his new life. Walt wonders about their next move, believing Gus will kill them when he can.  Jesse feels Gus won't easily find another chemist he can trust.  In any case, it looks like Walt versus Gus may be a theme this season.  Gus is a businessman first, but his patience won't last forever.

Jesse seems glad it's all out in the open.  As he puts it, "we're all on the same page...the one that says if I can't kill you you'll sure as shit wish you were dead." So that's where they stand.

Walt finally returns home via cab.  Skyler meets him in the driveway.  He tells her everything is fine, and this time she doesn't ask any questions.  She explains about the car and tells him to go get it.  She's gonna be a tougher boss than Gus.

So everyone's cooking, everyone's making millions and everyone feels lousy.

Oh, and the kicker--at the murder scene, Gale left lab notes.  As scary as Tio's bell.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pamela Jayne

It's P.J. Soles' birthday.  If you don't know the name, do Carrie, Halloween, Stripes or Private Benjamin ring a bell?

Then there's her masterpiece, Rock 'n' Roll High School.



Whole Lotta Love

Nicolette Larson was born July 17th, 59 years ago.  She died in 1997, due to liver failure brought on by too much Valium and Tylenol.

She spent a lot of years doing back-up vocals, but in the late 70s had her one big chart hit, Neil Young's "Lotta Love."  She'd sung with him and he offered her the song, though he recorded it as well. His version is spare, hers is lush.  She called it "a very positive song." I'm not sure if she's right.

I think if she'd been managed better she could have been another Linda Ronstadt.  Who knows, then maybe she wouldn't have needed all that valium?

GG

Happy birthday, Gale Garnett.

Born in New Zealand, her family moved to Canada when she was eleven.  (Don't worry, they brought her along.)

She's a singer, actress and writer, best known for her 1964 Grammy-winning hit "We'll Sing In The Sunshine."



PS  There's something about this number that brings out a combination of nostalgia and regret.  If this song isn't poignant enough for you, read these YouTube comments:

I'm 64 now, but when I was 18 (in 1964) I met a young man and fell in love. We stayed together 1 year (almost) then our parents tricked us into splitting up. He was on the east coast, me on the prairies. We never found the money to get back together then, and went on with our lives. I will never forget him and this song always reminds me of that time.

WOW! What a rush of emotions came over me, when I came across this song. Long,long- ago, when I was 25, I fell in love with a very beautiful young women, who had a free spirit. For a year we laughed, loved, and enjoyed life together. And like the lyrics in the song she left me, for a career. I drifted away, and over time I lost touch with her. Now forty years later I can only wonder what life would have been like if we stayed together. I will always remember her.

I'm 22 years old. I got a job at a grocery store that played 50's and 60's music all the time. I absolutely hated it for the first few months. Eventually, it grew on me. I can understand why people look at music today and see that something was lost along the way. Its true. But that doesn't mean we still cant enjoy stuff like this. So many songs that grew on me, I just won't forget. Sometimes i imagine what it was like back then. Consider yourself lucky to have been there.

i was six when this song came out.. i can remember my moms transistor radio sitting in the window .this played as i splashed in my kiddie pool .and you best know i was singing in the sunshine and laughing evryday....man there is nothing good about being old

Saturday, July 16, 2011

MM

As Chicagoans looked on in horror, a gigantic, zombified Marilyn Monroe escaped from her crypt and attempted to smother them with her dress.

Stranded

With the 405 closed this weekend, I'm afraid to go outside  So I'm just hanging around, looking at old posts.

Which led me to this entry from August 31, 2008:

Rebuilding

Looks like it's gonna be a tough season. Michigan almost caught up, but lost 25-23 to a Utah team that most years it would have blown out.

There are a lot of problems, but the main one is lack of offense. No serious quarterback, and a compromised offensive line. Most of the starters are freshmen, and you can't expect them to be ready. Meanwhile, the defense started shaky but settled down in the second half. Whether they're good enough we'll find out in later games, but at least there's some hope there.

Michigan hasn't had a losing season in 40 years, and even if Coach Rodriguez needs to start building up a new team, I'm sure he gets that the school won't put up with him being a loser for too long.

But what really caught my eye was this comment:

Anonymous said...
You might want to look into the program that Coach Rodriguez worked at WVU before you have too much faith in the future. He might be a good footbll coach but he wasassociated with a number of corrupt ne'er-do-wells. Prediction: new coach search by 2010.

Right prediction, even if for the (somewhat) wrong reason.

The Girl From Missouri

A century ago, Virginia Katherine McMath was born, aka Ginger Rogers.  She'll be forever linked with Fred Astaire and the ten delightful films they made together.  She may not have been the greatest dancer he ever worked with, but she was his greatest partner.

She also was a major star on her own, appearing in such hits as Bachelor Mother, Kitty Foyle (for which she won an Oscar) and The Major And The Minor.  I remember when I was a kid she came through Detroit in a touring version of Anything Goes.  Alas, I didn't see it.  But, soon after moving to Los Angeles, I met her at a tribute at the Director's Guild.  She was very gracious, anwswering the audience's questions and signing autographs afterwards.  You could still see the spark that lit up so many movies.

Here she is doing something rare in an Astaire and Rogers film--dancing solo.  The song is Irving Berlin's "Let Yourself Go," the musical, Follow The Fleet.



She also was in Busby Berkeley musicals. In fact, she introduced "We're In The Money" in Gold Diggers Of 1933. You haven't heard it until you've heard it in Pig Latin.

Friday, July 15, 2011

TV Nods

The latest Emmy nominations are out.  Mostly predictable.

Best drama series: Boardwalk Empire, Friday Night Lights, Dexter, Game of Thrones, The Good Wife, Mad Men

I guess it's nice to see Game Of Thrones, but the rest seem to be automatic, and are hardly all worthy.  I like Mad Men, but it might be nice to see something else win (though not on this list).  Too bad Breaking Bad took the year off.  Best news--no recognition for the unwatchable Treme.

Best comedy series: Modern Family, 30 Rock, Glee, The Office, The Big Bang Theory, Parks and Recreation

Some decent choices, but we've seen all these before.  Where's LouieCommunity Family Guy?  I still don't know what Glee is doing here.  At least there's no Nurse Jackie.

Drama actress: Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife; Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men; Mariska Hargitay, Law &; Order: SVU; Kathy Bates, Harry’s Law; Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights and Mireille Enos, The Killing.

Haven't seen all these, though I have to wonder is Kathy Bates here because of her name.  No January Jones.  Hmm, is that because the Emmy people watched her movies?  No Kyra Sedgwick either.  Didn't she win last year?  No Desperate Housewives, or was that a snub in the comedy category?

Comedy actor: Steve Carell, The Office; Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock; Jim Parsons, Big Bang Theory; Matt LeBlanc, Episodes, Louis C.K., Louie; Johnny Galecki, Big Bang Theory.

I guess everyone on Modern Family is supporting.  Carell didn't have a great season, but it was his big finish.  Baldwin is always fine, as is Parsons, but Johnny Galecki has never stood out so much--is this a pity nod?  Glad to see Matt LeBlanc, who was suprisingly good as a version of himself.  (Hey, he got nominated for once--a couple of his pals from Friends had shows and there's nothing going on for them.).  Interesting to see Louis C. K., who also is doing a version of himself.

Drama actor: Jon Hamm, Mad Men; Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire; Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights; Michael C. Hall, Dexter; Hugh Laurie, House; Timothy Olyphant, Justified

The Emmy people continue their insane love for Boardwalk Empire, Friday Night Lights and Dexter.  I'm a little surprised not to see Sean Bean of Game Of Thrones.  And isn't it time for Hugh Laurie, who's done the best job on TV bar none in the past decade, to win one of these?

Comedy actress: Tina Fey, 30 Rock; Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie; Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation; Laura Linney, The Big C; Martha Plimpton, Raising Hope; Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly

Not sure if I approve of any of these.  Not sure who else I'd pick, but none of these are that impressive, and some are in shows (like Nurse Jackie and The Big C) that are comedies without laughs.  Surprised to see Plimpton as a lead (not that she deserves a nomination in any category).  Surprised not to see Lea Michele, though I guess it wasn't her year.  Wonder if McCarthy will be helped by Bridesmaids--TV people love to kiss up to movie people.

Supporting drama actor: Andre Braugher, Men of a Certain Age; John Slattery, Mad Men; Alan Cumming, The Good Wife; Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones; Josh Charles, The Good Wife; Walton Goggins, Justified.

Good to see John Slattery again.  There were a lot of supporting players in Game Of Thrones, but I guess Peter Dinklage stood out.  Good to see nothing for Boardwalk Empire (though if it did deserve any acting nomination, it'd be here for Michael Stuhlbarg--though not any of the many other Michaels on the show).

Supporting comedy actor: Ty Burrell, Modern Family; Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family; Ed O’Neill, Modern Family; Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family; Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men; Chris Colfer, Glee

Nominatinon domination from Modern Family.  It's a good show, but it's not head and shoulders above everything else.  I am thinking it Ty Burrell's year, if the votes don't split too harshly, but they've mock-blocked any nominations from Community, Parks And Recreation, How I Met Your Mother, The Office, 30 Rock, Big Bang Theory and a bunch of other worthy choices.  Of course, we've got Chris Colfer, who was merely annoying in season one of Glee, but now that they've made him a super-perfect human being is perhaps the most irritating character on TV.  I wonder if Jon Cryer got nominated because everyone feels sorry for him?

Supporting comedy actress: Julie Bowen, Modern Family; Sofia Vergara, Modern Family; Jane Lynch, Glee; Betty White, Hot in Cleveland; Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live; Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock

I love Betty White, but that doesn't mean she should get nominated every year from now on.  It always seems odd to nominate SNL players here, who are doing something different, but I guess there's nowhere else to put them.  With all the predictable nods, there's no room for Community. (There's no room for Community in general, actually.)

Supporting drama actress: Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife; Kelly Macdonald, Boardwalk Empire; Christine Baranski, The Good Wife; Michelle Forbes, The Killing; Margo Martindale, Justified; Christina Hendricks, Mad Men

The love for The Good Wife continues.  Didn't think much of Kelly Macdonald, but then I don't think much of anything on that show.  Nice to see Christina Hendricks get another shot.

Movie or miniseries: Mildred Pierce, HBO; Downtown Abbey, PBS; The Kennedys, ReelzChannel; Cinema Verite, HBO; Too Big To Fail, HBO; Pillars of the Earth, Starz

Less competition here, so most big projects have a shot at nominations.  Interesting to see The Kennedys.  Didn't watch it, but Reelz must be thrilled to have a seat at the table.  Mildred Pierce was big and expensive, but beyond the look I'm not sure there was a lot going on.  Too Big To Fail was pretty well done--wonder if it's big enough to take on Mildred.

Reality competition: So You Think You Can Dance, Top Chef, The Amazing Race, American Idol, Dancing With the Stars, Project Runway

Or as it's becomne known, an Automatic Victory For The Amazing Race.  Its unbroken string of Emmys is the most amazing thing about the show.

Reality host: Jeff Probst, Survivor; Cat Deeley, So You Think You Can Dance; Phil Keoghan, Amazing Race; Tom Bergeron, Dancing With the Stars; Ryan Seacrest, American Idol

Maybe the silliest category of all.

Variety, music or comedy series: The Colbert Report, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live, Conan, Real Time with Bill Maher, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Jimmy Fallon has risen quickly, and as a former doubter, I'll admit he's carved out his own niche.  Are people still feeling so sorry for Conan that they nominated him?  And isn't there usually a slot for Letterman?  (No Leno, of course, and I guess no Craig Ferguson either.)  Most of the rest of the nominations have the TV Academy on automatic, and maybe it's time they watched some of these shows again and asked are they really that good?

LRLRLRLR

Believe it or not, Linda Ronstadt turns 65 today.

She was in the folk-rock scene of the 60s, even having a hit with Mike Nesmith's "Different Drum" for the Stone Poneys.  She got a little more countrified by the late 60s, and also sang backup for some big acts, including Neil Young.  Then she found a new country/rock/pop sound, helped by producer Peter Asher (of Peter and Gordon), which made her one of the biggest acts of the 70s.  It didn't hurt that she was very sexy.  (She was also taken seriously by the critics.  The first Rolling Stone record guide gives her breakthrough album Heart Like A Wheel five stars.)

She had a series of top-selling albums, several going to #1.  They featured quite a few hit singles, almost always covers of songs that had previously been popular.  By the early 80s, though, her career stalled. Which is when she reinvented herself, recording some very successful albums of standards.  Next, in the 90s, she went back to her Latin roots and sang Mexican songs.  But it's her 70s work for which she'll be remembered.  (I hope. She never should have touched the Great American Songbook.)

Okay, many of her recordings were of songs better done the first time, but they were still fun, and if they did nothing but send people back to the original, they performed a service.





Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Dog

I watched the first couple episodes of Wilfred, the comedy that's been playing alongside Louie on FX, and I don't think I'll be watching more.  It's based on an Australian comedy which was apparently well-liked.  For that matter, I hear the ratings are FX are good.  Must be a lot of dog lovers out there.

The premise couldn't be simpler.  Ryan (Elijah Wood), sort of a screw-up, is attracted to Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann), the cute girl next door.  Jenna owns a dog, Wilfred (Jason Gann--who created and starred in the Australian show).  The twist is that Ryan--and no one else--sees Wilfred as a man in a dog suit.

Ryan and Wilfred hang out together.  They have adventures, discuss life and even get high.  That's pretty much the show.  Most of the humor comes from the bizarre juxtaposition of a guy in a dog suit--nominally a dog--acting like a human (with some dog mannerisms), and a rather cynical one at that.

Even if I liked the premise, there's something that annoys me.  It's seen in a lot of sitcoms and movies, except in this case it's a dog and not a human doing it: Wilfred, as a friend, is a complete jerk who does nothing but get Ryan in trouble.  This is what moves the plot forward, but it doesn't make it enjoyable.  Even if Ryan has some weird need to hang out with Wilfred, why should I watch as the dog does hateful, stupid things to Ryan each week?  Not my idea of fun.

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