Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Road To Morocco

An Islamist Party did well in Morocco's elections.  Many see it as a harbinger for political results of the Arab Spring.  The power of Islamist parties, and how they'll effect goverments, is still very uncertain, especially since democracy is a process, not a single vote.  But it's understandable the West is concerned.

In general, the West believes in the separation of church and state--though it's expressed differently in different countries: some may ban certain religious attire while America (generally) protects it, and some European countries may even officially be Christian.  But all agree, one way or another, that citizens should be allowed to freely practice whatever religion they choose.  If newly elected governments in North Africa and the Middle East don't respect that, it'll be a human rights disaster.

And that's part of the bigger question.  There's democracy, and then there's basic human rights.  The two don't have to clash, but if the people democratically vote away the rights of the minority, would it be better not to have that democracy?  (Does it depend on what the alleged rights are?  Does it depend on how large the majority is?)

A Little Sugarcane On The Side

Eleven years ago today Don "Sugarcane" Harris died.  In the 50s he was half of the rock and roll due Don & Dewey.  They never charted, but their songs, like "Farmer John" and "Leavin' It All Up To You," became hits for others.



They rocked pretty hard. I'm surprised they didn't do better.

In the 60s Don switched to electric violin and became one of the top sidemen on the instrument. In fact, I first heard Harris playing on Frank Zappa albums.



He formed his own band in the 70s and put out a bunch of albums. He was never big, but he had his fans, and I'm one.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

No Longer Living In The Material World

Believe it or not, George Harrison has now been dead for exactly ten years.  He was my fourth-favorite Beatle, which means I like him more than almost any other rock star.

Listening to his solo stuff, John and Paul were probably right to limit him to a cut or two per album. But there's no denying he wrote some beautiful music.

The Jody Miller Show

Jody Miller turns 70 today.  She was a country artist who never had a top ten pop hit.  But she came close with this parody of "King Of The Road," which hit #12 in 1965.



An iceman in 1965?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Roped Up, Tied Up, Dead In A Year or No More Dioramas

So no more Community for a while.  Maybe ever. On hiatus, which often means ready to be axed.  (Though others rush to say don't overinterpret what's happening.)

Can't say I'm surprised.  NBC gave it every chance and it never developed much of an audience.  Though I wish they'd tried it after The Office at 9:30, and not starting the whole lineup at 8 against The Big Bang Theory.

The numbers have been small, but its following is probably the most intense of any show on the networks.  Makes you wonder if some smaller cable channel couldn't pick it up, assuming NBC drops it.  They'd keep most of their millions of fans, getting numbers which would look good on most cable channels.  Though I wonder if they could handle a lower budget.  They can't all be bottle episodes.

Anyway, let them graduate!

PS  Here is Troy's timeline from "Remedial Chaos Theory." The episode is one of the best things they've ever done, yet I realize watching this out of context means it loses almost all its effectiveness.



Playwright, Screenwriter, Director, Judge

Arthur Laurents died earlier this year.  I saw his book Original Story By in the library and checked it out.  The subtitle: "A Memoir Of Broadway And Hollywood."

He worked with a lot of big names (many of whom were gay--Laurents' homosexuality is the second big theme of the book) and has plenty of stories to tell.  And he's not afraid to criticize.  In fact, that seems to be his specialty.  Not that I'm complaining. I'd rather have portraits etched in acid than painted in rose colors.  But still, it sometimes seems that everyone lets him down sooner or later. For instance, his final chapter (the book is not in chronological order) discusses the development of West Side Story.  Laurents created the show with Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins and Stephen Sondheim. He has praise for his collaborators, but spends at least twice as much time discussing their personal shortcomings.  He raises cattiness to almost Olympian heights.

At least in the theatre the playwright has a fair amount of say.  In Hollywood, the screenwriter is at the mercy of the producer, the director and the stars.  His chapter on the making of The Way We Were is a great demonstration of this principle.  He's the guy who came up with the concept, the characters, the script, but once Hollywood took over, he had to fight to have anything of what he wanted to say make it on screen.  And, as opposed to Gyspy or West Side Story, he didn't really respect the talents of those who got in his way.  He liked Barbra Streisand somewhat--he helped discover her when directing I Can Get It For You Wholesale on Broadway--and her interest in the script helped get the movie made.  But he felt she was limited as an actor, and had unfortunate mannerisms.  Robert Redford he'd seen on Broadway in the 60s and thought he had a flair for comedy, but now was a powerful movie star who was mostly interested in making his character manly and in charge, no matter what damage it did to the story.  But it's producer Ray Stark and director Sydney Pollack who come off worst.  They didn't really understand the screenplay and were liars who begged Laurents for help when they needed it but stabbed him in the back when they didn't.  Or so Laurents says.

Laurents believes himself to be a great judge, not only of talent, but of morality. Few measure up to his standards.  Okay, it's his book, after all.  But really, was his career that impressive?  Maybe I can't blame him for the films, since, according to him, he mostly wrote to order and his screenplays were rarely done justice.  But on Broadway, he created some decent books for musicals and some not so great, while his straight plays, such as Home Of The Brave and The Time Of The Cuckoo, are far from classics.  As for his moral stature, who can say.  Still, he notes certain friends he used to have whom he dropped.  If I may read between the lines, I wonder if it wasn't the other way around.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Seattle's Best

Jimi Hendrix would have been 69 today, except with his lifestyle he barely had a shot at 30.



Rockin' Role

I love rocksploitation films from the early days when the music was new.  Producers figured they could make a quick buck before the fad ended (though the plots were often about how rock and roll was here to stay). The plots are simple.  Some act needs to break out, has something in the way, but finally makes it--and often stuffy types learn not to knock the rock.  Really the plot is just an excuse to hang a bunch of lip-synced numbers from various acts who were probably so happy to be on film that they were paid next to nothing.

One example of the genre, Let's Rock (1958), I'd never seen until recently.  It basically followed the same formula, and certainly looked as cheap as most of them, but was still a bit different.

For one thing, it stars non-rocker Julius LaRosa, playing a character not far removed from himself.  He's a pop singer who's had reasonable success singing ballads but isn't making it now that rock and roll has taken over.  He fights the trend but finally records a rock number and regains his success. (He's so successful he keeps flunkies around and lives in an expensive Manhattan penthouse apartment--$1000 a month!). That's really the whole plot. It should take ten minutes, except we get about an hour where he mopes around before he finally gives in.  The implication, by the way, is that anyone can sing rock and roll, but in fact the music killed LaRosa's career.



Some of the acts are fun.  We get to see The Royal Teens do their classic snot-rock number "Short Shorts" as well as Danny & The Juniors perform "At The Hop."  We also get Paul Anka in an awful number and LaRosa doing a few ballads that remind us why that type of music had to die. Actually, the plot works a bit against itself--LaRosa does his songs for us but we're told over and over that no one likes them any more.  A young Wink Martindale does a number of his own and gets to act as a heel, refusing to let LaRosa do a number on his show because he's so square.  There's also a fine non-rock number from Della Reese, "Lonelyville."

This was the youngest I'd ever seen Wink and Della and a number of other performers, including Conrad Janis as LaRosa's manager.  He's so young he has hair.  (Reminds me a bit of Leonardo DiCaprio.) The film is surprisingly hard-hitting about the music biz. Even if you've got a contract, once your sales slide, you're through.

What sets the film apart the most is the relationship between LaRosa and his songwriting girlfriend played by Phyllis Newman, who's younger here than I've ever seen her.  Didn't even recognize her at first.  She and LaRosa have surprising chemistry. Their scenes are low-key and naturalistic, almost feeling improvisatory at times. (Maybe they couldn't afford second takes.) This is helped by some location shooting in Manhattan.  Rare in cheapo films like these which are mostly shot in front of cheap sets.



Newman definitely has a spark.  Who knows, maybe she could have been the next Natalie Wood if she played her cards right.

I'm not telling you Let's Rock is a classic.  Or even good.  But for the genre, it stands out.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Enjoy It While Or If You Can

I've been watching Fox's latest animated series Allen Gregory and I must say, good or bad, I'm amazed a show this weird got on a network at all. The title character (voiced by show creator Jonah Hill) is a seven-year-old who acts like a hip, pretentious nitwit in his 30s.  He's stuck in elementary school, where he tries to be popular, but isn't.  He pretends he's close friends with classmate Joel, who wants nothing to do with him.  Meanwhile, he treats his real friend, Patrick, like a lackey.  He's also in love with the Principal Judith Gottlieb, who is close to 70, and starts rumors about how their relationship is hot and heavy.  Huh?

We can see where he got this way.  His father, Richard, actually is a hip, pretentious nitwit in his 30s. He treats husband Jeremy--who is actually a heterosexual he stole from his wife--with contempt, keeping him around for sex and perhaps money (since his trust fund seems to be running out).  He also treats poorly his adopted Cambodian daughter Julie.  But Allen Gregory is the apple of his eye.  When he isn't attacking the rest of his family, he's indulging the boy.

The look is retro-future, unlike any other Fox animation.  But it's the subject and comic style that's so odd.  The characters interests are so thin, and the lead so obnoxious, that I can't imagine without significant changes it'll draw an audience. The numbers haven't been great, and have been going down, but who knows how Fox makes these decisions.

On Holliday

It's Michael Holliday's birthday.  He was a big vocalist in England in the pre-Beatles years, though he meant nothing in America--maybe because many of his songs were covers of American hits, so who needed his version?

Holliday had a breakdown in 1961 and killed himself in 1963.  His first #1 British hit, in 1958, was a Bacharach/David song, "The Story Of My Life." 



He was sometimes compared to Perry Como and Bing Crosby, especially the latter. Bing was his idol, and they became friends. Here he is covering a couple songs, the first associated with Mr. C, the second with Der Bingle.



Friday, November 25, 2011

Sketched Out

Saturday Night Live cast members hope to become movie stars, but most don't.  So where do they go?  Apparently, ABC Wednesday night sitcoms.

Last time on The Middle there was Molly Shannon in a recurring role as Frankie's sister.  Meanwhile, Chris Kattan was a series regular (now apparently recurring) and other recurring characters are played by Norm Macdonald and Brian Doyle-Murray. The next show was Suburgatory, where Chris Parnell and Ana Gasteyer live across the street, and Jay Mohr popped in elsewhere.  Then there was Happy Endings, with series regular Casey Wilson, and a guest shot from Rob Riggle.

The only show without any former cast members was Modern Family (though it did feature Josh Gad, who has tried but failed to get on SNL). That it's the best show in the lineup is probably just a coincidence.

Swinging In 5/4

Happy birthday, Paul Desmond, saxophonist for the Dave Brubeck Quartet.  Paul, not Dave, wrote their most famous composition. It's been called the bestselling jazz single ever.



I like how jazz musicians used to wear suits and ties. Sure, they may have taken heroin in their free time, but that's no reason not to look natty.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Classic

The Lions are faltering a bit and the Packers are the best team in football.  But I think it's gonna be a good game today. Detroit has lost seven years in a row, but I'm feeling positive.

Okay, let's put it this way.  I'm actually going to watch.

Tom's Big Day

It's my favorite holiday. Happy Turkey Day.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

And A Shoop Shoop To You

It's Betty Everett's birthday.  She'd have been 72 today.



Words Cannot Express

If you don't love Harpo Marx I don't even want to know you.  Happy birthday, Harpo.  Here's a great website on the man, curated by his son.





Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I'll Have A Hoagy

Last week was Johnny Mercer's birthday. Now it's the birthday of his pal, Hoagy Carmichael, who wrote a lot of smart, jazzy and highly popular tunes, including "Stardust," "Georgia On My Mind," "Heart And Soul," and "Skylark."

Not a bad performer, either.



Old School Criticism

Speaking of critics, I've been planning to go deeply into this discussion of The Hangover, by Terri Carney, at the Bright Lights Film Journal. But after disagreeing with almost every claim Carney makes, it seemed to me her arguments are so weird that just quoting them would be enough.  (Weird, but, alas, not uncommon.  I certainly remember reading plenty of this sort of stuff in college.)

I don't mind sociological analysis of popular entertainment, but it seems to me she misunderstands how farce works in general, and how The Hangover is actually about three deeply flawed guys who, for all their faults, are essentially pretty sweet and who also care about women.  True, the female characters are generally one-dimensional, but then, all the secondary characters are.  For that matter, the primary characters aren't that deep (though better than you get in most farces since they're consistent and take the situation they're in seriously).

Furthermore, Carney's concerned about "misogynistic norms" that films such as this perpetuate, but if you see The Hangover, you'll notice it's mostly men who are being hurt (drugged, tased, arrested, shot, handcuffed, beaten with a tire iron, attacked by a tiger, slammed into by a car, punched by Mike Tyson, etc.). But these "norms" are so well accepted that male pain is merely background noise to her.  Furthermore, you can make a case that stereotypical male activity is shown in the film as idiotic. (Of course, you could also make a case that since stealing a cop car is considered funny, the film is anti-government.)

Anyway, here are some selections:

...after having watched The Hangover and read all over the Internet about it, I can't help but wonder if director Todd Phillips is a misogynistic asshole. Or maybe he is just a film director trying to make money by selling a film that denigrates women and celebrates a retrograde version of masculinity. When you live in a culture of rape, either way, it doesn't really matter.

[....]So, at the very least, we need to collectively examine our own complicity with a culture that loves The Hangover, a movie that likes its women stripping, breastfeeding, or waiting at the altar.

[....] there is no excuse for what others have called the "bro-magnon" film The Hangover, which unapologetically and even aggressively defends the model of masculinity that poo-poos date rape as some feminazi invention to further harass those poor, horny, entitled men.

[....] Is his passage into the scripted, empty life of stultifying domesticity the sacrifice that allows for the return to the epic hero even if only for a night? Answering yes to any of these questions reveals a clear longing for a time when men were men, and women's oppression was as natural and sunny as a martini after work and a pretty face.

[....] Near the end of the film, when the three groomsmen realize that they had locked Doug on the roof with his mattress earlier in the evening, they immediately recognize the action as logical: as kids at camp they pulled a similar stunt with a mattress, demonstrating the consistency of personality on roofies. By extension, we see that taking roofies merely enhances your personality and your desires, and your adventures will be intense, yes, but also your own.

[....] The scene in the movie that best stages this tableau is when the wedding singer, Dan Finnerty, gyrates with dancing wedding guests while singing the lyrics to 50 Cent's "Candy Shop." Dan's ballad-like style coupled with the slow-dancing, well-dressed crowd provides a jolting juxtaposition to the raw lyrics of the song, which basically chronicles the details of getting a blowjob. "Let me take you to the Candy shop where you can lick my lollipop." Dan becomes increasingly aggressive with his gestures and ends up bumping and grinding the backside of an unsuspecting older woman to the line "back that thing up." Onlookers' confused and even consternated facial expressions momentarily register an awareness of the ironic moment, and even discomfort with the overly sexualized performance, but nobody actually does anything about it. Even the newlyweds continue to dance happily to the song. This scene reveals how male-centered narratives that position women as objects flow in the background of all of our lives, like muzak, even at sacred events like weddings. It reminds us that marriage is intimately connected to misogyny and the throbbing pulse of macho license to play and desire at all costs.

PS

Carney also includes an irrelevant personal story:

...after viewing The Hangover with my husband in his man-cave, we both felt hungover: like the wedding-goers, Zach Galifianakis, and the parents of that poor baby, we realized we are part of the problem. Just another layer in the mise-en-abyme of complicit inaction, we the viewers, the consumers of this cultural text, go along with the jokes in the hopes that Todd Phillips and his entourage think we are "cool."

Yes, we already got she doesn't like it. I don't care she didn't like it when she watched it at home with her husband. (Though I would like to talk to him about the movie when he's alone.)

I know a couple who think this is the funniest film ever made.  The wife likes it better than the husband. She also happens to be a fairly powerful executive in her day job.  Maybe Carney needs to come over and explain to her that she's complicit in her own oppression.

PPS

Terri Carney teaches Spanish at Butler University in Indianapolis, where she is also the chair of the Modern Languages, Literatures, & Cultures department. She writes on a variety of topics including Spanish literature, women in the academy, and pop culture.

You have been warned.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Where Harold And Kumar Went

Reviews often tell you more about the critic than the film.  For instance, Scott Mendelson on the latest Harold And Kumar. He doesn't like it, but what I found interesting was his take on the first two of the series.

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle is arguably the best comedy of the prior decade. It's laugh-out-loud funny, but also filled with intelligent characters engaging in outlandish, but almost-plausible adventures in search of a most simple pleasure (a hamburger). It was crude, but not stupid about its raunch, and it created a wonderful 'this is America' tapestry that helped make it one of the finest films about race/ethnicity relations in modern cinema. Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay is every bit as lousy as most of us expected the first film to be.

This is fascinating since my take is the exact opposite.  I found the first film a disappointment and thought the second was much better, as well as the one that revealed a "this is America" tapestry.  But that could just be a difference in aesthetics.  However, Mendelson goes on and it starts to sound like his real complaint is political.

More importantly, [Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay is] outright immoral in how it claims political topicality but sells the three biggest post-9/11 lies around (there are no innocent men in Gitmo, the post 9/11 abuses are the result of a few bad apples, and George W. Bush is really just 'one of us').

This is bizarre. Sure, he's taking the politics of a farce too seriously, but even if you want to try a close reading, he's missing what's right in front of him.  Let's look at how the film supports his three biggest "lies."

1.  There are no innocent men in Gitmo.  Did he actually watch the film?  The main plot device is an innocent Harold and Kumar are arrested and thrown in Gitmo.  He's just pissed that the few prisoners they meet are actual enemies of the U. S. (you know, like most of the prisoners in Gitmo).

2.  Post 9-11 abuses are the result of a few bad apples.  I guess he gets this from how the head of Homeland Security finds his deputy is a bad guy and fires him.  I think this misses a rather more important point--the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security is the bad guy!  He's an idiot, he's a racist, he's ineffective, he's cruel and he has contempt for due process.  Once again, not enough for Mendelson.  I guess every member of Homeland Security has to be a cartoon villain or he's not satisfied.

3.   George Bush is just one of us.  Near the end of the film, H and K meet W, who turns out to be a regular guy.  I can see the steam coming out of Mendelson's ears--how dare they suggest our last President was anything but a cold, evil human being. But no matter how you view it, part of the comic portrait is W as a drug-taking arrested adolescent who's scared of Dick Cheney.  So having Cheney be the President's evil puppetmaster apparently isn't worth noting, though I think we've finally hit on something that's an actual big post-9/11 lie.

PS  Speaking of odd critical reactions, here's the J. Hoberman money quote that's on the poster for Melancholia: "when I left the theater and exited out into Cannes, I felt light, rejuvenated and unconscionably happy."

If you're not familiar with the film, it ain't Singin' In The Rain.  Melancholia is two hours about depression and apocalypse.  Well, to each his own.

Insane In The Brain

Ever since Greek tragedy our heroes have come with flaws.  That's what makes the drama.  But how far to run with it? The question becomes more pressing in TV.  A movie or play has an arc, and you get immediate problem and resolution.  In a TV show the flaw just lays there, inert, waiting to spring up when convenient.  It can be trying if its too much, and ruins the flow of the regular action.

Years ago, you'd have someone like Frank Furillo on Hill Street Blues. He was an alcoholic, but that was just part of his background.  You knew if the show ran long enough he'd fall off the wagon, but the whole series wasn't about him falling apart while he headed a precinct. More recently, you had Tony Soprano, who had to see a psychiatrist because he had panic attacks.  But that was a way into his character (though I found the whole psychiatrist angle unnecessary after the first season).  Lately, Dr. House is a guy with a bad temper and a bad leg, but though they help motivate him they don't generally stop him from working on medical mysteries.

But two recent shows have a problem with the protagonist's problem, Boss and Homeland.  In Boss, the show starts with the Mayor of Chicago being diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disease that will take him out in a few years.  In Homeland, a CIA agent is bipolar, and has to take illegally-gotten medication to hide her mental condition from the government.  In both cases, these plot devices are an irritant.

Running the city of Chicago is quite enough, with numerous allies and enemies, all out for blood in one way or another.  You don't need a cheap trick to try and make it more exciting.  Wondering if the mayor will lose his train of thought, or control of his limbs, doesn't increase interest, it subtracts from the ongoing action.  Likewise, being a rogue agent chasing after a terrorist plot is more than enough--worrying whether the lead will get her meds is more irritating than intriguing.

Perhaps the creators of these shows watched Breaking Bad and though cool, the guy is dying, that really makes the series powerful.  But it makes sense in BB--he's a meek high school teacher who only finds the dangerous man inside when he's got nothing to lose, and a family to save.  Boss and Homeland can't drop these plot points, but I wish they could downplay them.  (Dropping the concept is easier on a comedy, where you go with what works. Happy Days started as a piece of nostalgia but by the time they made it about Fonzie, the 50s was an afterthought.  Bosom Buddies started with two guys in dresses, but by the second season they were mostly in pants.)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Play It Straight

The Smothers Brothers started as a folk music act, but added comedy, which soon took over.  I used to do stand-up, where I sang and played guitar, and no one influenced me more than the Smothers Brothers, even though I was a solo.  Had to talk to myself.

Anyway, happy birthday, Dickie.  Tommy may get the laughs, but you hold the act together.

It's Great To Be A Michigan Wolverine

I would have been happy with a 7-5 season.  That's all we got last year, before a disastrous loss in the Gator Bowl.  That itself was a comeback after going 3-9 and 5-7.  You gotta figure a team isn't going to do better with a new coach and the same set of players.

But Brady Hoke seems to have turned the team around.  Michigan beating a decent Nebraska team 45-17 was old-style convincing.  The defense held--which is an odd feeling these days--and the offense kept coming at them.  This is a team that can beat Ohio State (even if it were good) and go on to win a bowl game.  This is a team that could be top ten.

Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, maybe I'm believing what I wish were true, but Nebraska was the sort of victory that makes you think the team is no longer on the road to recovery, but is back.  I was willing to give Hoke a couple years, but he didn't need them.

It's too late this year to win the Big Ten, but next year, if we have the same basic players, we should be favorites.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

He Knows What He Likes

I was on YouTube watching the trailer for Art School Confidential.  A major theme of the movie is what a sham art school, and, for that matter, much art, is.  Beneath was this comment:

Modern art RULES, this film is a joke made by bitter artist. We have thown away elitist tastes, bourgeois values, religious pandering, imgination constraining technique and artworks that glorify patriarchy,oligarchy,war,and money. modern art has adopted anarchy,freedom(all types of styles permissible), personal development of the artist(in film, auteurism over factory production-and yes I know right now there doesn't seem to be too much of that to the typical Hollywood fare viewer).art=revolution

At first I thought this was a parody--almost performance art--from someone trying to make the modern mindset sound ridiculous.  But looking at it again, I think the guy is serious.  I'm not going to bother arguing with him, but note he supports "anarchy" and "freedom" as far as what styles are permissible, but believes content needs to be strongly policed.

You've Got Mail

I just received a letter from my congressman Xavier Becerra. He's part of the super duper committee that's trying to reduce the deficit and he wants my advice.

To quote from him:

What drove us from record surpluses to record deficitis?  Was it overspending on our schools, roads, and water systems?  Or was it irresponsible tax breaks for the wealthy and unfunded wars.

I was surprised to read this. Who would have guessed he favors the serial comma?

He provides a multiple choice quiz that he wants me to send back.  I suppose he's going to add up the results and that will determine what stance he takes.

Here are some of the questions:

Would you support or oppose closing tax loopholes for large businesses to help reduce the deficit?

Would you support or oppose ending the 2001 and 2003 tax breaks proposed by President Bush for the wealthiest Americans to help reduce the deficit?

Would you support or oppose cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits for seniors, widows, disabled people, and children to help reduce the federal deficit?

I have a suggestion for another question:

"Do you support or oppose spending even one more cent on political mailers?"

Friday, November 18, 2011

Son Of Savannah

Johnny Mercer was born a bit over a century ago today.  One of the top lyricists and (sometime) tunesmiths of the 20th century (and not a bad singer), he was a true maseter of Tin Pan Alley who did a lot of his best work for the silver screen, where he won the Best Original Song Oscar four times.

Hoagy Carmichael wrote the tune for "Skylark" and the story goes that Mercer spent a year working on the lyric before he got it right.



One of my favorite Mercer songs is "My Shining Hour," tune by Harold Arlen. Here's Fred Astaire singing a little-known chorus--in fact, I've never heard it anywhere except The Sky's The Limit, where the song debuted.



Mercer didn't write too many shows for Broadway, but had a nice hit with L'il Abner, music by Gene de Paul  I did it in high school and one number that always stopped the show (and had a planned encore) was "Jubilation T. Cornpone." The hard part was remembering all the verses in the right order. (This clip from the movie, with the original Marryin' Sam Stubby Kaye, cuts quite a bit.)

NG--No Good?

A lot of Republicans are casting about for an alternative to Romney, whom many see as not conservative enough.  After playing footsie with Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain, they seem to be leaning toward Newt Gingrich, who was written off not that long ago. (There's still over a month to go till Iowa, but they're running out of candidates.)

There's no question a lot of conservatives hearts are gladdened by his snappy answers at debates:



But is this the man for 2012?  Maybe 1994, but there's been a lot of water under the bridge.  He's got so much baggage--both personal and political--that it's hard to believe the Republicans will give him a shot and even harder to believe he'll do well in the general election.

There's plenty to like about Newt.  He's smart, he's experienced, he's willing to try novel solutions, and he's given almost every issue, national and international, a lot of thought.  But that's part of the trouble.  This is a man who's taken stances, and been involved in controversies.  With that past, he's open to strong attack from both the right and the left.

There's also the question of temperament.  Bullying reporters plays well with the right, but if he keeps doing it during the general election, he could come across as nasty.  Do we really want a guy like that lecturing us for the next four years?

It's true, he led the Republican takeover of the House in the 90s when many thought it couldn't be done.  For that alone he deserves to be on the conservative Mt. Rushmore.  But it wasn't hard for Clinton to face him down and turn the public against him.  Whether this is due to Gingrich's arrogance, Clinton's strategery, or some other factor, I don't know, but you can be sure that Obama will study that playbook (if Newt gets that far).

Could he convince the public that he's the one to get us out of our economic woes--when he's associated with Republicans of old whom many blame for the mess?  (And it's recently come out he got paid $1.6 million by Freddie Mac--maybe it's a cheap shot but it could play.)

And how will he look when he has to debate Obama on foreign affairs?  At a recent Republican debate, all the candidates heaped scorn on Obama, and the partisan audience cheered, but I doubt it'll go over so well with a wider audience.  Newt said something like we're losing Iran and need more covert action there.  That kind of argument would play right into Obama's hands  "I know how handle this.  I got Osama Bin Laden.  I won a war in Libya, taking out their dictator, without spilling American blood.  I've extracted us from Iraq.  And without firing a single shot, the entire Arab and Muslim world is fighting to remove their tyrants.  What we don't need right now is another hot-headed leader who'll get us caught up in another hopeless, intractable war where thousands of our soldiers will die while turning the native population against us.  And by the way, how do you know we haven't got enough covert action?"

Actually, I'd like to see Gingrich and Obama debate.  It would be lively.  But I'm not sure if it'd work out out how a lot of conservatives think. But then, he's got to take his party's nomination first, and that's still a pretty long road.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

You Know It Ain't Easy

With Mitt Romney running for President, I've been seeing some pieces here and there on whether Mormons are Christians.  I'd guess this has been going on since the beginning of that religion. It's no big deal either way, but most arguments seem to fall into one of three categories:

1.  If you call yourself a Christian, you're a Christian.  Case closed.

2.  If you believe Jesus is divine, you're a Christian.

3.  There are many beliefs associated with being a Christian, and while different sects may believe different things, the Mormon are just too far out to be a sect of Christianity.

What do I think?  I think the first two arguments are better than the third.

A Name To Reckon With

It's Soichiro Honda's birthday. Good thing he named his products after his last name. (Or is that his last name?)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Stray Thought

I was at a local cinema with a rest room that features water-free urinals.  One of them had a sign saying "Out Of Order."

How could they tell?

Heavy Petting

I recently heard a radio station play all of The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds.  I hadn't heard it in years, so it was fun to listen to something that sounded familiar yet new.  The album is considered a landmark, regularly appearing near or at the top of all-time lists.  But it's really not that good.

It came out in 1966, when rock bands were spurring each other on to do more amazing things.  The Beatles would put out Rubber Soul and Brian Wilson would be inspired and make Pet Sounds and the Beatles would respond with Revolver and so on.  Paul McCartney couldn't say enough about Pet Sounds (though I'd like to know what John Lennon thought).

It does have an amazing sound.  Brian Wilson always used the Beach Boys' voices beautifully, but on Pet Sounds he adds all sorts of lush yet odd orchestration to achieve something new.  The trouble is that sound, while sometimes verging on jazz, is closer to Muzak.



I'm not saying the album stinks.  There are some nice songs, even a great one.  It's just missing the energy and vitality of earlier Beach Boys music.  And Brian was capable of introspection without going off the deep end in pre-Pet Sounds singles. "In My Room," "Don't Worry Baby," "When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)," "The Warmth Of The Sun," "Please Let Me Wander," "Help Me, Rhonda" and others show there's more going on than hot rods and surfing (not that there's anything wrong with hot rods and surfing).

Pet Sounds only went to #10 in America.  Hardly a flop, but weaker than previous Beach Boys albums.  Brian was also cracking up around this time, and couldn't quite complete his next project, Smile.  What eventually came out was Smiley Smile, and though it included production masterpieces like the singles "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes And Villains" there's not much else there.

The band continued to put out new albums for several more years, including a pretty pleasant one--Friends--and some decent singles ("Darlin'," "Do It Again," "I Can Hear Music"), but was never again as popular.  By the mid-70s they were a spent force artistically, mostly known as a nostalgia act.  I suppose they couldn't stay "boys" forever, but I don't think they suspected Pet Sounds was more a last hurrah than a new direction.

And what's the "great" song on Pet Sounds?  The first one.  As good as anything they did.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Can You Top This?

Though they call it Brooklyn-style pizza, I believe the Village Pizzeria is a transplant from San Francisco.  There are two within walking distance of my place (if you don't mind walking a mile or so), one in Hollywood and one on Larchmont.  Whenever I pass it, it seems to be packed (so I rarely go inside).

But I was there recently and noticed something odd.  They serve pizza by the slice, and here are the prices as listed:

Neapolitan (Thin Crust)
Plain $2.25
1 Topping $2.75
2 Topping $3.30
3 Topping $3.80

Sicilian (thick Crust)
Plain $2.40
1 Topping $2.85
2 Topping $3.40
3 Topping $3.90

So you want just cheese, fine.  Want a little extra--mushrooms, pepperoni, whatever--for that one extra topping, with thin crust, add 50 cents, with Sicilian add 45 cents.  What's that, you want two toppings?  Okay, fine, for the one additional topping, with thin crust add 55 cents, with Sicilian add 55 cents.  Yet one more topping?  Thin, add 50 cents, Sicilian, 55 cents.

So the first topping is the cheapest.  The second topping costs the most.  The third topping costs the same or a little less.  What are they trying to tell us.  Hey, the first topping is easy, but that second topping really takes a lot out of us, we're gonna charge more for it.  We'll come down a bit on the third topping, though.

Is this any way to run a pizza joint.  I almost felt like correcting their menu, except I'm pretty sure the easiest solution is to charge more for the first topping.

Two Minds Without A Single Thought

I just read Stan And Ollie: The Roots Of Comedy -- The Double Life Of Laurel And Hardy by Simon Louvish.  It's tricky to do a double bio on the team, since they grew up separately and both worked about 20 years in comedy before officially teaming up.  (I say officially because as fans know, they worked together by chance years before, and also did several films at Hal Roach's studio together before they had their characters down and were seen as a team.)

Laurel & Hardy are special clowns.  During their greatest years--roughly from the late 20s to the late 30s--they probably made more people laugh than any other performers.  (It helped that they made a ton of shorts and a fair number of features then--during the same period the Marx Brothers only made a about ten features and Chaplin three or four).  Their characters had a comic refinement that put them above simple slapstick, but they still had a simplicity that allowed people around the world, no matter what their language, to enjoy them.  They're also the only great silent comedians who improved with sound.

Louvish, as in his books on W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers, shows he's a better researcher than storyteller.  But the book does a good job getting the facts straight and walking us through their careers, from the earliest days to the sad end.  (He spends enough time on the early years that you realize the characters they ended up with were hardly inevitable--in fact, as much as the Stan and Ollie characters are classics, you have to wonder if the two could have gone onto other things if they hadn't hit upon their formula.)

I don't think Louvish replaces the classic John McCabe book on L&H, but at the very least it's a helpful supplement.

Monday, November 14, 2011

See Candy

I looked up See's Candies on Wikipedia. Actually, I put the name in Google first and found the Wikipedia entry.

For a few days after that, when I've been checking out various pages on the internet, I've noticed ads for See's Candies.  Is that how it works?  Google notes what I put in and starts shoveling ads for the related product my way?

I can see how this is efficient, but it's also sort of creepy.

(Perhaps this phenomenon has been obvious for years, but I never noticed it until now.)

Fresh As A Daisy

I've written about the trouble with biographies of people like Buster Keaton or Preston Sturges, who were in show biz for many years but are mostly of interest for the work they did during one particular decade.  This problem is even bigger for Barbara Eden, who had what most would call an indifferent career but is remembered for the five year she did I Dream Of Jeannie.

Nevertheless, I saw her book, Jeannie Out Of The Bottle, in my library, so I checked it out.  While she spends a fair amount of time discussing the show, it's still only a small portion of the book.  I'm not saying the rest of her life is of no interest, but if it weren't for Jeannie would anyone be reading her memoir?  (I didn't know that her first husband, and the great love or her life, was Michael Ansara.  He was a fairly big TV star as Cochise in Broken Arrow when they married in 1958, though he's best known today, I'd say, as Kang on Star Trek.  He also appeared on I Dream Of Jeannie.)

Eden was surprised she got the role.  She figured they'd hire a willowy, Middle-Eastern looking brunette, not a petite blonde. The most memorable thing about the show, apparently, was what a lunatic Larry Hagman was.  Maybe it's because he wanted to be a star but Eden got all the attention.  Or maybe because he was drinking a lot at the time.  Or maybe he saw just how bad the scripts were.  For whatever reason, he fought against producer Sidney Sheldon all the time, and made the set a very tense place. 

Eden also addresses feminist complaints about her character, who lived to do the bidding of her "master."  Mainly, she tells them to get a life. The show is a fanstasy, after all.  And that's what genies, who are usually men, do. She also notes Jeannie has her own mind.  In fact, many of the plots were built around Jeannie doing things her own way.  She also notes the show was in some ways ahead of its time--think about it, this is the first TV show ever where a single guy had a live-in girlfriend.

Jeannie was never a huge hit, but it became big in syndication, which is when I saw it.  I think both Eden and Hagman do good jobs.  Eden is a hottie, of course, but I'm fascinated by how Hagman holds the farce together by taking the situation so seriously.  Hagman would one day became the star he always wanted to be as J.R. on Dallas, but I never watched that, so he'll also be Major Anthony Nelson to me.

After the show, Eden continued working on various projects, but none she'll be remembered for.  She also had a number of personal tragedies, the worst being the loss of her only child, Matthew, who died in 2001 of a drug overdose.  Some things you can't blink away.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Procrustean Coke

There's a donut shop on the corner that I walk by often.  It has a sign on the window that's piqued my interest:  "Coke, 89 cents, any size"

In a way, I like this.  Instead of one size fits all, why not one price? But isn't it odd?

First, how likely is it that people will get anything but the biggest size?  Even if you can't finish it all, you can save it for a while, or give it to someone else, or toss it when you're finished.  But if you get a smaller size, and there's not enough, you'll curse yourself for not taking advantage of the deal.

And is the biggest size meant to sell for 89 cents, and everythng else a ripoff?  Or is the average price 89 cents and they're taking a chance. Or is it a loss leader? (Though who buys coke with a donut?)

Heh Heh Heh

I've been watching the new Beavis And Butt-head show on MTV.  It's nice to have them back, though it feels weird.  I mean these two were around almost 20 years ago, and were a phenomenon.  It's hard to capture that spirit again, but since they're saying and doing new things, it's not just an exercise in nostalgia.

Instead of commenting on videos, which are much rarer on MTV these days, they spend most of their time discussing reality shows.  But the best part of the show is still their straight adventures, not their TV watching.

What's most impressive about the comedy is how well the show sticks to the central concept: these guys are stupid. They're not allowed to say things smarter than they are.  This may seem obvious, but in fact, usually when you get dumb characters, the joke is how they constantly say things they couldn't come up with (for example, Wayne's World or even Family Guy).

But B&B are dumb and will stay dumb.  Creator Mike Judge gets it.  It limits the comedy tremendously, but makes them masters of their niche.  And part of the fun is the tightrope act, where the producers have to come up with comedy, but have to figure out how to filter it through stupidity.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I [heart symbol] NY

Perhaps the supreme singer-songwriter of our age, Neil Young turns 66 today.





Now We're Cooking

Breaking Bad is such a tense show we sometimes forget how funny it is:



And I think it's time they gave Gale a variety hour.



PS Here's the top ten chemistry lessons from BB.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Putting On LB

Happy birthday, Lavern Baker, a fine R&B singer from the 50s and 60s.  Her first big hit was "Tweedle Dee."



Her biggest hit on the R&B charts--made #1--was "Jim Dandy."

Just In Time

It's 11/11/11 and people are starting to talk about who should be the Time Person Of The Year.  (Well, some people.  Does anyone really care about this?  Did they ever?)

One name mentioned was Steve Jobs.  Not the worst choice, but probably not.  His death reminded us of his importance, but last year we had Mark Zuckberberg, and we've also had Jeff Bezos and, in 1982, "The Computer."

Another suggestion was Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi who helped kick off the Arab Spring.  But as the Spring turns into Summer and Fall, some are taking a wait and see attitude.

Then there's consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren (who was recently called a "socialist whore" at a campaign appearance).  Even for those sympathetic to her viewpoint, would Time really want to be supporting a specific candidate in a Senatorial race?  Usually they pick people after they've won an election.

Let me make a suggestion: the Navy SEALs who got Bin Laden.  This is certainly their year, and I'm guessing it would be a popular choice.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Will We Still Need Him?

Greg Lake turns 64 today.  He was a founder of King Crimson, then the middle guy in Emerson, Lake & Palmer. (He did stuff after the 1970s, but I don't care.)

Sometimes I wonder why Prog Rock died.  Was it killed by punk? Did the audience advance to jazz or classical? Or was it just too much of a hassle to create?

Exit Eddie

I thought Eddie Murphy as Oscar host was an interesting idea.  Now he's out.  It started last week when Brett Ratner, in an off-the-cuff statement after a screening of his Eddie Murphy comedy Tower Heist, stated "rehearsing is for fags." Rattner later apologized, but it wasn't enough, and he resigned his position as Academy Awards producer.  With his producer and pal gone, so was Eddie.

There's still plenty of time to find a replacement, but too bad it had to come to this.  Murphy and Ratner might have been a mistake, but they probably would have brought something different to the show.

I admit there's only so much you can do with the Oscars.  Most of it is giving awards, many of which the audience doesn't care about, and doing production numbers which they care about less.  But I like to see them take a chance every now and then.  Now they'll probbaly play it safe and boring.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Sound Of Beauty

It's Mary Travers' birthday.  She was the willowy blonde in between Peter and Paul. Together they were a tremendously popular folk trio put together in the early 60s by manager Albert Grossman.  Mary wasn't the first woman who auditioned, but she fit the best (even though she claimed she was nervous and didn't like performing).





We Get Letters

I may be retiring soon.  I just got this email

Good Day Beneficiary,

Prior to your email regarding your Compenstion Claim, I am writing to inform you that I am a delegate from the United Nations Compensation Commission and to notify you finally about your outstanding Compensation payment of $2,759,389 USD.

You are to send your Name, Address, City, State, Zip Code, Country and Telephone Number(s) to UPS {ups-shipment@excite.co.uk<{ups-shipment@excite.co.uk>} for your check payment delivery.

Thanks for your attention

Trujillo Cindy (IHS/ALB)
Secretary
United nations Compensation Commission

It's about time I got some money back from the United Nations.  It must be real since the compensation amount is so specific.  Oops, I forgot to read the confidentiality notice:

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE____________________________
This e-mail may contain privileged and confidential information and is intended only for the use of the specific individual(s) to whom it is addressed. If you are not an intended recipient of this e-mail, you are hereby notified that any unauthorized use, dissemination or copying of this e-mail or the information contained in it or attached to it is strictly prohibited. If you have received this e-mail in error, please delete it and immediately notify the person named above by reply e-mail. We only send and receive emails on the basis that we are not liable for any such corruption, interception, tampering, amendment or viruses or any consequence thereof. Thank you.

Guess I'll get in trouble for unauthorized use.

Anyway, if that's not enough, here's another exciting prospect I recently received.

Greetings,

I know you would be surprised to read from someone relatively unknown to you.  My name is Captain Prieve Sullivan, I am an American soldier serving in the military with the U.S. ARMY USARPAC Medical Team,which was deployed to Iraq at the beginning of the war in Iraq.

I would like to share some highly personal classified information about my personal experience and role which I played in the pursuit of my career serving under the U.S 1st Armored which was at the fore-front of the war in Iraq.

Though, I would like to hold back certain information which i intend sharing with you for security reasons for now until i hear from you. I will be vivid and coherent in my next message in this regards, meanwhile, could you send me an email confirming that you have visited the site and that you have understood my intentions? I will like you to get back to me

I will await your thoughts via my email.
Thanks,

Yours
Capt. Prieve Sullivan USARPAC

I'm not sure how vivid and coherent I want him to be, but if he needs any funds, maybe I'll wait until I get that compensation from the UN.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Minnie Hi Hi

It's singer Minnie Riperton's birthday today.  Sadly, she died in 1979, only 31.  She was known for her huge vocal range.

She recorded a lot of pop and soul in the 70s, but she's best known for her one major hit, "Lovin' You." It went to #1 in 1975. (To be honest, I found her voice, which went so high, almost a little creepy.)

Kanter Sings

Comedy writer and sometime-director Hal Kanter has died.  Just by chance, not long ago, I checked out his memoir So Far, So Funny: My Life In Show Business from my local library.  I've seen his name pop up on so many movies and TV shows I figured he have some good stories to tell.

Born in 1918, he worked in show biz through most of the 20th century, and in every medium available--comic strips, Broadway, radio, motion pictures, TV, recordings--and with every name you've ever heard of: Olsen and Johnson (he wrote gags to keep their Broadway show up to date), Bob Hope, Ed Wynn, Lucille Ball, Groucho Marx, Burt Lancaster, Danny Kaye, Martin and Lewis, Milton Berle, Rowan & Martin, George Gobel, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Diahann Carroll, Jimmy Stewart and hundreds of others, including those on the many Academy Awards he produced.

The celebrities, not to mention all the behind-the-scenes people, rush by in the book, often given only an anecdote or two before Kanter moves on.  Sometimes he praises them, sometimes he settles scores  Either way, he usually comes out on top.  The punchlines roll off the assembly line on a regular basis, but few of them knocked me out.  It might have been better if he'd tried to be less funny and more interesting.  In fact, it's when he takes his time and goes into greater detail, discussing how he dealt with Elvis as a director, or created Julia, a sitcom in the 60s with a black female lead, that the book gets considerably better.

It may be true he rarely did inspired work, but he was no hack.  He was a true professional whose work always deserved (and generally got) respect.

Monday, November 07, 2011

DC

Happy birthday, Dee Clark.  I don't think he's well remembered, but from the late 50s to the early 60s he burned up the R&B charts.  He also appeared pretty regularly on the hot 100.  His first appearance there was "Hey Little Girl."



His biggest hit by far--went to #2--was "Raindrops."

Big Secret

Happy birthday, Johnny Rivers.  He's a big rocker from the 60s.  Broke into the big time out here in LA, creating a party atmosphere doing covers at the Whisky A Go-Go. And at a time when it seemed British acts were taking over, Rivers had his biggest hits.

His only #1 was "Poor Side Of Town," but I prefer his more rousing material, especially the following:

The Round Mound Of Sound

It's the birthday of Al Hirt.  A classically trained, technically skilled trumpeter from New Orleans, he usually kept it simple, which worked quite well for him.  He had sixteen albums hit the top 100 in the 60s, including three in the top ten.  He was injured in a Mardi Gras parade in 1970.  He recorded less after that and never charted again.

His biggest hit was "Java," which went to #4 in 1964.

Roberta Joan Anderson

She can be pretty quirky, but there's no one like her. Happy birthday, Joni Mitchell.

She was born in Alberta. Her dad moved to Saskatchewan and she spent much of her childhood in Saskatoon. She got a lot of early exposure on Canadian television.



I never knew "Chelsea Morning" was partly inspired by the Mothers Of Invention.



By the late 60s, other artists were having hits with her songs. By the early 70s, she was a big on her own.



She soon moved from folk to more jazz-inflected music.



She went further and further out musically through the years. Not all her fans followed. While she made moves into pop and acoustic in the 80s and 90s, her albums never sold like they did in the 70s.

She's slowed down her pace in the last decade, but even if she never records again, she's still one of the greatest singer-songwriters of our time.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Kahn!

Lyricist Gus Kahn was born 115 years ago today.  The songs he wrote were considered fun but dispensable.  Too bad he died fairly young, in 1941, or he could have seen his work live on.





There Are People Inside

People love to put up videos of their kids at The Happiest Place On Earth. But sometimes it gets ugly.

I wonder if they have rules on how to react when the kids goes crazy.



This one is literally going to bust a cap in Pluto's ass.



I'm surprised more characters don't go berserk.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

In Front Of The Music

Happy birthday, Ike Turner.  His "Rocket 88" has been called the first rock 'n' roll record, and who am I to argue?



He's more famous, of course, as the brains (and brawn) behind Ike & Tina Turner.  They had a bunch of r&b hits in the 60s and 70s.  The most famous is "Proud Mary," but we've all heard that enough.  Let's try something a bit earlier:



Ike had a lot of trouble in his life, and hurt a lot of people. He's gone now, so maybe we can go beyond that and remember the great music he made.

The Big Reveal

I've probably blogged at some point about how I was in line for The Empire Strikes Back the day after it opened and some idiot spoiled the surprise at the end for me.

Luckily, kids aren't born knowing (spoiler) that Darth Vader is Luke's father. Here's a video of a four-year-old learning the awful truth.



A lot of the comments claim the whole thing is fake. I have no idea. He may be aware of the camera, but that doesn't mean it's a set-up.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Bad Headlines

Is it possible the people at the Boston Globe don't like Rick Perry? Take a look at these objectively accurate but eye-catching jump headlines.

First, there's this

N.H. GOP leaders say Perry was sober at dinner in state last Friday

and there is their take on the Cain story:

Perry tries to pass blame for Cain revelations to Romney campaign


I think they loathe Mitt, but apparently he is their hometown guy when it comes to the Texan.

Got Shorty

I just watched Get Shorty for the first time since it played theatres in 1995.  It's slight, but good, and was a hit in its day. It's about East Coast loan shark Chili Palmer who travels to Hollywood and decides his talents are better suited to producing movies.  While the film is packed with menacing gangsters the tone is comedy-satire.  It's got a good script by Scott Frank, adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel I haven't read (though I've heard "Shorty" is based on Leonard's dealings with Dustin Hoffman).

John Travolta is the lead.  This was just after his comeback breakthrough in Pulp Fiction, and it's a real star role in that the character is the ultimate in cool and wins every scene.  Everyone else (except love interest Rene Russo) is basically his stooge--Gene Hackman as the feckless producer, Danny DeVito as the self-involved star and Delroy Lindo, Dennis Farina, James Gandolfini and Jon Gries as various goons.  Part of the joke, of course, is that the thugs are starstruck themselves and want to get into show biz--and that show biz is the perfect place for them, since it requires more bluster than talent (you can hire talent).

The film has a perfect director in former cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, who knows how to make things look good while keeping the story afloat.  Something this whimsical, almost farcical, looks easy when it's done right, but if you've seen the sequel made a decade later, Be Cool, where Chili gets into the music business, you can see how hard it is to maintain the proper tone.

PS One of the scenes has a billboard featuring Danny DeVito as Martin Weir starring in a film about Napoleon.   I remember seeing it on the Sunset Strip.  It caused some confusion at the time.

No Need To Pretend

James Honeyman-Scott would have been 55 today.  He was a great guitarist, but died due to cocaine use at only 25.

Here they are sounding pretty bad (I blame the bass) on Fridays:



Here's the intro Andy was referring to.  Honeyman-Scott should have taken it to heart:

Thursday, November 03, 2011

A Squared

Today Adam Ant blows out the birthday candles. When he first hit in the early 80s, people over here weren't sure what to make of him and his odd, punkish sound, but he was huge in England (where punk was always bigger).



Then he got a bit more poppy and scored his biggest hit in America with "Goody Two Shoes." I can't say I was ever much into his music, but there was a lot worse out there.

Spotless Or Listless?

When I first saw Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind I thought it was cold.  The critics loved it and it won the Oscar for best screenplay, but the audience agreed with me.  I wondered was I just another filmgoer who can't help but reject Jim Carrey in a "serious" role (when you look at his grosses, it's like clockwork--a comic hit followed by a dramatic flop).

So I watched it again. I still feel the same way.  The film still has a great reputation, and many fans, but ultimately it doesn't quite work.

There are certainly a lot of good things in the film.  Above all, Charlie Kaufman's clever screenplay, taking us in and out of the mind of Joel Barish, who's having his memories of girlfriend Clementine erased.  There's also a fine cast, including Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, Jane Adams and David Cross.  And the subplot, about the goings on at Lacuna, Inc, the company that does the erasing, works really well.

But at the center of the movie is a love affair that's just not interesting enough.  First, there isn't much chemistry between Winslet and Carrey.  Carrey is on mute here, and his inwardness prevents much spark. (I'm not saying he's always got to be doing farce, but there are times he seems catatonic.)  Worse, though the relationship is cleverly shown as it's being erased, all we get is a mosaic, mostly of happy moments and unpleasant moments. It doesn't add up to much and worse, has little forward momentum.  There are a few plot shifts as Carrey resists the treatment and goes into odd memories, but too much of the film seems to be the same scene over and over--a small moment in a relationship that's about the be erased.

Admittedly, Kaufman, and director Michel Gondry, are going for something tricky.  Most romances are either about love triumphant or love tragic.  This is about something more realistic--love ambivalent.  Relationships often start with infatuation and eventually peter out as one or both get a bit tired of or annoyed with the other.  It's not a message people love to hear.  It's also a tale dramatists rarely tell, because, unless handled very well, can be quite boring.

I'm still glad I saw the film a second time.  The first time can be quite confusing, even if you know the basic plot, since for some time you're not quite sure where you stand.   The second time you know what's happening and can enjoy all the touches Gondry puts in.  But all I can say is if you're going to do a film about a relationship, even if you surround it with fascinating accoutrements, the romance itself better not be dreary.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

kathryn dawn

k. d. lang turns 50 today.  She's been putting out records about a quarter-century. When she started she was generally considered country, though now she's more pop.

She's been nominated for a bunch of Grammys.  Her best-known song, "Constant Craving," was nominated for song and record of the year in 1993. What beat it?  "Tears In Heaven." (Hey, it could have been "Achy Breaky Heart.") At least it won for Best Female Pop Vocal.

I Didn't Count On That

I was watching The Heiress (1950).  Early on Olivia de Havilland goes to a party where she meets Montgomery Clift.  We watch as the band play several numbers, including one where the two stars dance:



I watched with the closed captioning on, and every single tune was described as a waltz.  Sometime up-tempo, sometimes mid-tempo, but always a waltz.  In 1850's New York, however, they didn't just waltz the entire night away.  They'd break things up with polkas and minuets.  In fact, at least three of the numbers in the scene weren't waltzes. Some were clearly in 2/4 or 4/4 time.

It's not that hard to tell.  Just count one-two-three to the music and if it doesn't fit, it can't be a waltz.  In fact, Clift even counts "one-two-three-point, one-two-three-point" to de Havilland.  That should be a pretty strong clue we're not in waltz-land.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Fresh Parallel

Fresh is a film about a kid involved in the drug business who figures out how to take down the adult dealers and thugs surrounding him.  When it came out in 1994 I couldn't help but notice something. It features Samuel L. Jackson as a brilliant street chess player in New York who teaches valuable lessons to a young man--just like how Searching For Bobby Fischer in 1993 featured Laurence Fishburne as a brilliant street chess player in New York who teaches valuable lessons to a young man.  Jackson and Fishburne have often been confused for each other, and I'm sure these two roles didn't help.

But watching Fresh today made me notice something that I couldn't have noticed back then.  The film is about how an underling in the drug business uses a long-term chess-like strategy which involves lying to others and pinning false crimes on a smart Latino drug lord played by Giancarlo Esposito who's threatening him and his family.  Very much like Breaking Bad's fourth season, where an underling in the drug business uses a long-term chess-like strategy which involves lying to others and pinning false crimes on a smart Latino drug lord played by Giancarlo Esposito who's threatening him and his family.

Vanity Plates Of The Month

On a Mercedes: STEPS 12.  Any car referencing 12 steps I give wide berth.

HBRDH8R.  The guy hates hybrids.

MARCH5.  I'm guessing it's a birthday.  Didn't see who was driving, but it could be Niki Taylor or Eva Mendes.

A 45.  Think this is a guy in the recording industry.  Or maybe he's packing.

SHKNLA2.  I think he's shakin' in Los Angeles. Or maybe he's a sheik out here.

NICE 2.  Does this mean he's nice, too, or is this his second car?

USC CAR.  Do you really want everyone to know?

[heart symbol]2MNM S.  So he loves to eat a few M&Ms?

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