Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hauteur Cuisine

Mayor Bloomberg doesn't think much of New Yorkers, as evidenced by his planned ban on big sugary drinks.  With flimsy to non-existent evidence that sugary drinks are responsible for obesity, he then figures, with the reasoning of a politician who sees voters as children, that the only solution is to make the beverages harder to get.  (And when obesity levels don't go down what will be his next move?)

But that's not enough.  When addressing opponents of the plan, his tone is one of open contempt.  He denies outright that it would limit consumer choice, when, of course, the whole point is of the new regulation is to explicitly limit consumer choice.

I guess he figures the people of his city are stupid. And since they voted for him, he may have a point.

Oh Doctor

Let's say goodbye to Doc Watson, one of the greatest figures in bluegrass and folk of our time.  He composed, sang and was a highly influential guitarist.





Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Motown Gets Captured

Gladys Horton was born exactly 66 years ago today. She died last year, but let's still celebrate her birthday, and her work as the lead singer and founder of the Marvelettes.  Before Diana Ross and the Supremes, before Martha and the Vandellas, the Marvelettes gave Motown its first #1 hit, "Please Mr. Postman," and continued cutting some of the best grooves ever released by the label.





What They Knew

Jim Emerson on his Chicago Sun-Times blog has a piece about how TV shows are better than movies at telling stories these days.  Not exactly news, but worth discussing. However, he uses Lost as an example of how it sometimes doesn't work:

Yes, J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof claimed they sketched out the overall story of "Lost" at the very beginning, but: a) nobody knew how long the show would run; and b) they lied. (If all that latter-season stuff with Jacob and the tacky water feature had been proposed at the beginning, I doubt the show would ever have been greenlighted.)

Point A is correct, but B is a fantasy that some people pretend is true.  The showrunners didn't know absolutely everything, but they knew where they were going.  The pilot has Locke discuss the idea of black and white, good and evil, in conflict.  It would take time to reveal, but that's what was going on with the Island. It was a clash between two sides, who would eventually be personified as two brothers fighting for dominance.

One brothers was physically known from the start--the Smoke Monster.  He also appeared in the first season in the shape of Jack's father, Christian, to guide Jack toward a goal.  For that matter, there was Adam and Eve in the first season, one of whom turned out to be the original body of the evil brother.

The first season also featured shadowy characters known as The Others.  When we got to know more about them, we discovered they worshiped the other brother, Jacob, who was mentioned by name in the second season, and who grew in importance as the show went along.

It's possible some of this was retrofitted, but by and large they had the general ending in mind from the start.  Sure, along the way they decided who would die and what new characters would come along, and they made lots of decisions as to how the brother's plans would be worked out in particular, but there always was a guiding intelligence to the show. (On the other hand, it's possible they didn't come up with the alta-world until well into the run, though I bet they had the last shot of Jack closing pretty early on.)

PS  Here's a recent interview with showrunner Damon Lindelof discussing the ending of Lost.  What's most interesting is the interviewer has no idea what was going on.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Give Us Some Hope

Happy birthday, Bob Hope.  He was America's quintessential entertainer, yet he was born in England.  A major movie, radio and TV star, he first won great success as a Broadway musical star, introducing classic songs from Jerome Kern and Cole Porter.  In fact, if he hadn't been so funny, he probably could have made it strictly as a singer and dancer.

Throne Men

Only one more week of Game Of Thrones and two of Mad Men, and both are coming to a boil.

Game Of Thrones, "Blackwater":

Fan reaction seems to rate this episode highly, but I don't know. I guess they were thrilled that the long-promised big battle finally happened (thanks to HBO kicking in a little more money), but we can see much better action in movies. I like Game Of Thrones for the plotting and dialogue, not the slicing and dicing.  Furthermore, most of it took place in the dark so it was often hard to tell what was going on.

Anyway, this was a different sort of episode.  Since the beginning of season two, Stannis has been threatening to attack King's Landing, and with one episode left, he finally does.  And that's it, that's the show.  Jon, Daenerys, Robb, Bran, Theon, Baelish, Jorah, Arya, Samwell, Jaime, Brienne, Gendry, Hot Pie, Catelyn, Balon, Yara, Ygritte, Rickon, Luwin, Osha, Hodor, Xaro and Jaqen can go hang.  If you weren't at King's Landing in this episode, you were nowhere.

So we start with Davos and son sailing into Blackwater Bay to lead an attack on the Mud Gate.  Meanwhile, Tyrion lies with Shae, aware he may not make it out of this day alive.  Also, Pycelle brings poison to Cersei--for whom?  And Bronn and the men celebrate with ale and whores while the Hound comes in and there's some tension.

The bells ring and it's time for battle. Halfman suits up--he'll be leading the way today, since we all know Joffrey is worthless.  But that doesn't stop the cowardly king from naming his new sword Hearteater and demanding Sansa (who'd like to cut him) kiss it.

The fighters (and Joffrey) stand at the battlements while the women hide in the Holdfast.  Cersei taunts Sansa (and forces her to drink, but no poison), revealing what a nasty character she can be.  But she knows the likely outcome.  Stannis is not known for his mercy.  If Joffrey loses--quite likely, since he's outnumbered 10-1 and has low-morale troops--Cersei will probably be burned to death, and possibly raped first.  That's why Sir Ilyn is there.  Not to protect them, but to kill the women before worse happens. Cersei always said in the game of thrones, you win or you die, and she's leaving nothing to chance.

The Imp has not told Joffrey of his plans--a smart move.  The fleet is not going out, except for one ghost ship leaving a trail of wildfire.  When Tyrion gives the signal, Bronn shoots a burning arrow and a lot of Stannis's fleet goes up in a green explosion.  It looks like Davos buys the farm, and certainly his son does.  Stannis is grimly amused at the tactic.  It's not enough to stop him and his men prepare to scale the walls, even if it means thousands will die.

The Hound (who sure doesn't want any more fire in his life) and Bronn go down to the shore to do some of that killing they're so good at.  But Stannis has too many men.

Not too much action in the Holdfast, though it looks like Cersei will discover who Shae is when news comes that Stannis will breach the city walls.  She demands Joffrey be brought back.

Back on the wall, the Hound quits the battle and tells Joffrey to take a flying leap. So much for loyalty, but why be loyal to someone so unfit?  When Joffrey's told he's needed in the castle, he, predictably, leaves.  So it's left to Tyrion to inspire the men, which he does with a fine speech.  He also knows secret passageways so they can get down to the shore and attack Stannis's men from behind.

Cersei goes off the see her youngest, so it's up to Sansa to inspire the women.  After a bit of that, Shae shows her a way out and she runs back to her room to hide. She's got a shot at surviving, since Stannis's problem is with the Lannisters, not the Starks. The Hound, who's sweet on her (in his own fashion), is waiting there.  He offers her a way out, back to Winterfell. (Hey, isn't Theon in charge there?) He'll protect her.  But Sansa finds it hard to trust such a killer, though he points out every man who'll protect her is a killer.

Tyrion isn't bad on the battlefield, and the men chear him on.  But it's not long before his head gets sliced a bit (by one of his own?).  Not clear if it's fatal, but they wouldn't kill the single most popular character the show has, would they?  It's not even like killing Ned.

Cersei is with her young son and tells him a fairy tale.  Believing the day lost (the tale is intercut with the battle), she's preparing to poison him, when the door bursts open.  Tywin has saved the day (with Loras--he hates Stannis as much as anyone). I don't know what took him so long.  He should have gone to King's Landing as soon as he discovered Stannis was sailing, rather than hang out at Harrenhal and trade quips with Arya.

Anyway, decent episode, but I'm not sure I'd call it a highlight.  But for the fans complaining nothing was happening, I guess they finally got some action.  Though it never seemed to me that Stannis could win. He's a cold character we barely know--it would be bad drama to let him take over. Still, with his considerable advantages, I'm a bit surprised he was repelled so easily.  (Will he be back?)

Meanwhile, I guess it'll be next season when Robb finally makes his big move.  And after that, I guess, are the dragons and the wildlings waiting in the wings.

Mad Men, "The Other Woman":

It's getting predictable with Mad Men.  Fans complain nothing is happening, and then you get an episode like this and all is forgiven.

A lot of episodes could have been called "The Other Woman," but in this case, it most obviously refers to the Jaguar, which is sold as a mistress that you can buy, even if she's a lot of trouble.

We start with what Don promised last week--the agency is working overtime to come up with a presentation for Jaguar.  Don puts Peggy in charge of everything else. (The boys all get a nice lobster lunch from deep-pockets Roger and Peggy looks on.)

Ken and Pete dine with Herb, who's in charge of dealerships and has to say okay for the account to come through. He makes it clear what he wants--Joan. A night with her and he'll look positively upon them, but no Joan, no go.  He's married, by the way, but why would he let that get in the way?  After all, he knows Joan is married, too.  As Ken notes, this is what you get when you're in the car business.

At Don's pad, Joan is preparing for an audition tomorrow.  It's a dark comedy, Little Murders.  (She better hope she doesn't get it, since it'll flop badly on Broadway.  Then it'll do well in London and the Alan Arkin-directed off-Broadway production will be a hit.)  Don wishes she could help with Jaguar, though she seems turned off by the whole mistress angle.  Hey, that's why men, not women, buy Jags.

Next morning, Pete comes into Joan's office.  It's an amazing scene, letting us know this episode will be something different. Sure, Roger regularly gets call girls for clients, and Joan has slept around plenty (including with Roger), but pimping out Joan?  Yet Pete, who may not be lovable but knows what the company needs, is willing to broach the subject.  He tells Joan about Herb's proposition and says it's unfortunate this means the company won't get Jaguar.  He goes on trying to sell it.  It's not prostitution, it's business. You're like Cleopatra, you could be a queen.  (Not unlike Cersei's advice to Sansa in this week's Game Of Thrones, where she explains the power women have.)

At a phone call in Harry's office, Peggy, on the spot, comes up with a new campaign for Chevalier Blanc and saves the day.  She's still got it, even if Don doesn't seem to appreciate it.

Meanwhile, Pete meets with the partners.  It was odd enough to discuss it with Joan, but here they have a whole business meeting about it.  Don is disgusted (he wants to work to win them over) and walks out. (So Don, who for four seasons slept around more than anyone, is the nobel one know--actually, he always was the purist when it came to their work.) The others are outraged, but they don't leave.  Pete explains this is how it must be if they want Jaguar.  Perhaps they could offer Joan that $50,000 extra they've got, as a finder's fee, which especially bothers Lane, who's already taken his cut.  The others don't want to get soiled by the deal, but they don't say no.

Meanwhile, Don and the gang are still failing at the Jaguar pitch.  Peggy, Harry and Ken come in and discuss her great work, but Don is testy, and even throws money at her in contempt. Ken follows Peggy to her office and tries to explain about Jaguar.  She's still not happy.

Lane drops in on Joan.  She's disgusted to discover there was a partner's meeting about the situation.  He's there to talk her out of it.  Especially the part about paying her $50,000.  (She says that's four times her salary, so she makes 12.5--not a bad amount in 1967, though not enough to make, a single mom, rich, especially in Manhattan.)  He says she should ask for a 5% stake in the company.  Hey, I thought you didn't want her to do it at all, but right now Lane just wants that bonus.

At home, Pete reads Goodnight Moon to his baby while Trudy watches.  A regular domestic scene, but we knows he's not happy.  A bit later, he complains about this life in the country. He wants an apartment in the city if they get Jaguar.  He's tired of the commute and likes Manhattan, but she wants to raise her kid in the country.  Is this marriage unhappy, or is Pete taking his problems home with him?

At the office, they're still working, and Megan comes in with her friend Joy to say hello.  Don and Megan go into the office and before the audition she wants a little confidence and sex (or is it confidential sex?).  Meanwhile, Joy, a game girl, crawls on the table in the conference room like a jaguar.  Ginsberg watches and thinks.

Joan goes home. She and her mom don't get along and certainly she and her baby Kevin would be a lot better if she made the sacrifice Pete has suggested.  She's already done the same thing in the past for much less.

In the morning, Megan notes she's made callbacks.  She explains if she gets it she'll have to go to Boston for about three months for previews.  Don says forget it. I guess it's possible as as adman he didn't think about how Broadway works, but Megan figures he figured she wouldn't be cast.  Has there been an episode yet where these two didn't fight?

At the office, Joan meets with Pete and demands to get a percentage of the firm, just like Lane suggested. They're treading on new ground here, and it's both funny and horrifying.

So Mike has had an idea.  In Don's office, he tells his boss that he's going back to the mistress idea, even after Don scotched it.  Ginsberg kept at it and came up with a good line--"Jaguar.  At last, something beautiful you can truly own." It's a hit.

Meanwhile, Joan lunches with Freddy Rumsen, of all people. He's still around?  She puts her toes in the water and considers looking elsewhere. He eggs her on.  Say it ain't so, Peggy. Freddy will even set up a meeting (and then ask Don if he can fill the vacancy left by Peggy).

That night, Pete tells Don he loves the campaign.  He also notes he's taken care of all other problems.  Don thought the subject was finished, but Pete explains it's not over when he leaves the room.  Don is very unhappy.  He goes to visit Joan and tell her it's not worth it, and that he walked out of that meeting.  (Last week we had more great Don/Joan stuff.  They don't get that many scenes together, but they make them count.)

Next morning, at Jaguar, the Sterling Cooper men march in as another agency walks out, like a scene out of Anchorman or something.  Don's at his salesman best, like the old days (though in the old days he came up with the slogans).  He sells them the idea and it goes over great.  And there seated at the board is Herb, grinning.  See, we intercut Don's speech with his gruesome "date" with Joan.

It's a bit obvious.  We got from the start that Joan is like the Jaguar--beautiful, out of control, something you can't have (unless you're willing to pay a lot).  We got that Joan, as much as the Jaguar, is the Other Woman.  Still, it's effective.  And if you're complaining that you saw it coming, the punchline makes it work.  We're seeing what happened last night, and we end with Don coming to see Joan, in fact, after she's already done it, and wanting to take a shower to feel clean. (Second time this season we've had the time switch.)

Next day at the office, they're feeling good about the pitch.  Joan is feeling a bit removed.  She did what she felt she had to do, but it's hard to celebrate.

Meanwhile, Megan doesn't do well at her callback.  At lunch, Peggy meets with Don's arch-enemy Ted Chaough.  Ted wants Peggy, so she writes down a number on a pad. Thank goodness they let us see it. She wants $18,000.  A very good salary in 1967.  But does she really want to go?  Does she even know?  He offers her $19,000.

At home, Don and Megan compare notes.  She mentions at least she wants him to get it.  (Hey, Megan, when you don't get into Little Murders check out this off-Broadway musical called Hair starting later in the year--it'll move to Broadway a be huge.)

Next morning at the office, they're excited. Then they get the call.  All the partners gather in Roger's office and get the good news.  Don is surprised to see Joan there.  So she did what it took to become a partner. (He probably figures it was after his pep talk, too.)  Meanwhile, Lane is still worried about the bonuses. He's got two more episodes this season to pay for it.

Everyone pulls out the champagne but Peggy wants to talk to Don privately.  Peggy thanks him for spotting her, and being his mentor, but she's leaving.  Don figures he can apologize, pay her more and get her back (he's done this before when they were starting a new firm).  No.  It's time to move on.  (To work with Ted Chaough.)  Okay, no need to wait two weeks, you can leave now.  Good luck.

Wow.  This may be even bigger than hiring out Joan.  The single biggest relationship throughout the show, bigger than even, say, Don and Betty, has been Don and Peggy.  Peggy leaving changes the dynamics in profound ways.  (And Elisabeth Moss is a lead.  She can't be leaving the show, can she?)  As everyone else celebrate, Joan watches as Peggy walks out of the office. Could it be Peggy is the Other Woman? She gets on the elevator and the Kinks sing "You Really Got Me."

I think it was the best episode of the season.  Not only did a lot happen, but we saw stuff we've never seen before, and probably thought we never would.  I especially like how they didn't back away.  While I'm not thrilled as a fan to see Peggy leave, they didn't wimp out. Even better was Joan.  Most shows (especially on the networks) wouldn't even consider letting Joan do what she did.

The only question is what's left in the next two episodes.  With Peggy gone for good (I assume) and Joan a partne (as Don explained to Peggy, she's been there 13 years--he still lies pretty well), there are still a lot of unanswered questions.  How will SCDP respond to being in the big leagues?  What will Betty and Henry do?  What happens with Don and Megan, especially if she gets a major role?  Will Ginsberg step up and take Peggy's place (as he practically has).  Will Lane 1) get fired 2) go to jail 3) be deported?

A lot of possibilities before the season ends.  And two more seasons to go after that.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Cheerio

There's a shop up the street that makes decent sandwiches so sometimes I pick one up for lunch.  Apparently, I've been there enough that the cashier noticed me, since last time she asked for my name. I told her and she said good, now she knows.

It reminded me of the theme to Cheers:



"You want to go where everybody knows your name."

No I don't.  I just want to go in, get my sandwich, and leave.  In fact, I found it sort of creepy that this woman wanted to know my name.  Not sure if I'll be back.

Old Fogerty

Can it be John Fogerty's birthday already? There aren't too many songwriters who can go up against his catalogue.





Sunday, May 27, 2012

Black Sunday

Cilla Black never really hit it big in America, but she ripped up the charts in the U.K.  Happy birthday, Cilla.

Three of her hits were written by fellow Liverpudlian's Lennon and McCartney:





Lynch Party

I just read Greg Olson's David Lynch: Beautiful Dark.  Olson is the film curator at the Seattle Art Museum and his book, published in 2008, is the most comprehensive look at Lynch's life and work that I'm aware of.  He goes into every feature Lynch made at length, as well as discussing his TV work and numerous side-projects.

Lynch has had quite a life. When you think about it, it's stunning that such an original but not especially commercial filmmaker has made so many major works.  He started as a painter in the 60s, and wanted to see his painting moves, so got into short films.  They got longer and longer and he won a fellowship with the AFI, out of which came his first feature, Eraserhead (1977).  It took years of painstaking work, and could have easily been forgotten, but turned into a major midnight film success.  This got the attention of big names, including Mel Brooks, which got Lynch his job directing Elephant Man (1980), for which he got an Oscar nomination, and showed he could work in the big leagues.

That led to what he'd come to think was his biggest mistake, since he lost artistic control--the megabudget (for the time) Dune (1984).  He quickly rebounded with Blue Velvet (1986)--funded by the same people who paid for Dune--which is on the short list for best films of the 80s.  Then came Wild At Heart (1990), which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, as well as Twin Peaks, the TV phenomenon.  Lost Highway got a lot of attention in 1997, and then Lynch took a failed TV pilot and turned it into a great film, Mulholland Drive (2001), which won him Best Director at Cannes.

He came out with the bewildering (even for him) Inland Empire, shot on video, in 2006.  He hasn't done a feature since, though he regularly works on art of all sorts--painting, photos, music, shorts, documentaries, etc.

The biggest problem with the book is its repetitiveness. Olson will note of film A it's just like films B, C, and D in a certain aspect, and when he gets to film B, he'll note it's just like films A, C and D, and so on. He also uses certain quotes and concepts over and over, often within the same chapter. And much of his discussion of the films are lengthy recountings of the plots. The book is over 700 pages, but with some judicious editing, I bet it could be under 500 without losing anything important.

Nevertheless, I'd recommend the book.   Lynch is one of my favorite filmmakers, and if you're going to read just one book on him, this is it. Whatever problems it has, Olson overcomes them with his enthusiasm, his personal knowledge of the subject, and, even if it goes on a bit long, his willingness to go deeply into Lynch's whole messy ouevre.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Bag It

As expected, the LA City Council, which rules this town with an iron fist, has banned plastic bags at supermarkets.  Paper bags are still okay, but they'll cost ten cents (and may be banned yet.).

They claim they're doing it for the environment, but I'd like to see the stats.  Plastic bags are one of those small things that make life easier, and whether or not they're used should be left up to the stores and their customers.

Attorney H. David Nahai, who used to work at the Department of Water and Power, claims plastic is a danger to marine life and "it is an unconscionable burden to taxpayers who have to foot the bill for cleanups year after year.”  I've apparently been footing this bill for years and have never found it unconscionable.  All I can say is, after this ban takes effect, my DWP bills better go down drastically.

PS  For some excellent analysis of the issue, here's a piece by my friend Jay Beeber at Reason.com.

Speak The Speech

When I saw the Norwegian film Headhunters I was impressed with star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau--not so much with his performance as the realization that he's Scandinavian.  Like millions, I knew him as Jaime Lannister on Game Of Thrones, and had assumed from his accent he was British.

I recently saw him as a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. (The show is taped.  Why the title?) The weird thing was when he spoke--in English, of course--he had a distinct Danish accent.  I know from GOT he's capable of speaking English with the accent of a native.  Why wouldn't he choose to speak English that way all the time?

For that matter, is it even a choice? Why didn't he learn to speak English in such a way that he'd naturally sound British whenever he spoke?  (Or American, depending on his teacher.) Is it that much harder for him to speak English with a "correct" accent than with what must be a "natural" Danish accent?

Friday, May 25, 2012

An Old Hope

Thirty-five years ago today, it was released, and the world was never the same.  Actually, Lucas said it wasn't released, it escaped. He was working on it until the last second.  He even worked on the sound mix after it was out.  Maybe if he's known how big it was going to be, he could have gotten it just the way he wanted, but I doubt it would have made much difference.  He got the second trilogy how he wanted, after all.





Games And Luck

Scott Meslow writing on The Atlantic blog has a theory about Game Of Thrones--it's all about luck, especially bad luck.  I don't deny coincidence and chance play a part in the show, but it's often how the characters react to what the world has thrown them that decides their fate.

Here are some examples from Meslow:

Like any great story, you can trace back the twists of fate in Game of Thrones and imagine how things could have played out differently: if King Robert hadn't died from his hunting wounds, if Khal Drogo's wound hadn't been infected, if someone had stopped Ned's execution in time.

I'm not sure if Meslow has always been paying attention.  Robert's death wasn't just bad luck.  Because the character of Ned Stark was to be honorable, and the character of Cersei was to use whatever means she could to protect her children, when Ned told her that he knew who was the real father of Joffrey, Robert's fate was sealed.  Ned was giving Cersei a chance to leave town, but she saw to it that Robert would get drunk and his being gored by a boar was no coincidence.

The fate of Khal Drogo was also determined by his character and others'.  He fell for a foreign women, which was not exactly the Dothraki way, and he paid for it.  He didn't intend to take his horses across the sea, but once Robert tried to assassinate his wife Daenerys, he went crazy and vowed to capture Westeros.  This caused a lot of trouble for him, including the fight that wounded him.  It also meant he raided a village for material needed to help in his new conquest.  And then when a woman of this village was requested by Daenerys to save Drogo, she actually did what she could to harm him.  (Daenerys had her burnt to death--was that bad luck, or the result of decisions she made?)

As for Ned's execution, yes, bad luck played a part.  Any king not as sadistic and stupid as Joffrey would have let him live if for no other reason than his execution would start a war.  But it was Ned's character--his honesty--that got him in trouble to begin with, as noted above.  Maybe he could get away with that decency stuff in Winterfell, but not as a Hand in King's Landing.  Even when Renly and Littlefinger offered him ways out, since he considered their paths dishonorable, he did not take them. As warm a family man as he was, he was just as unyielding in his sense of what's right as Stannis Baratheon.  Ned died due to his character, just as surely as the Hand before him, Jon Arryn did.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Zimmy

It's the birthday of everyone's favorite septuagenerian, Bob Dylan.  His first album came out fifty years ago and he's got a new one coming out later this year.  How many great artists remain relevant that long?  He's gone from being the voice of a generation to a voice for all time.







(Original Dylan versions are taken down from YouTube pretty quickly, so I can only hope by the time this posts the videos above will still be working.)

What's In The Daily News?

Michael McKean, presently appearing on Broadway in The Best Man, was hit by a car on the Upper West Side (of Manhattan, not McKean). And how is he identified in the New York Daily News headline?  "Actor Michael McKean of 'LaVerne & Shirley.'"

There's no question that show introduced him to the public at large, and I suppose it's probably still his best known role, but the show's been off the air for almost 30 years.  Since then he's been a regular on SNL, starred in several Broadway productions and has been featured in hundreds of TV shows and movies.

Above all, he's singer/songwriter/guitarist David St. Hubbins of Spinal Tap--the band and the movie.  That's what I think of most when I think of him.  He's also done memorable work as part of the ensemble in Christopher Guest titles such as Best In Show and A Mighty Wind.

But now he can lie in his hospital bed, read the Daily News, and discover no matter what he does, he'll always be one half of Lenny and Squiggy.  At least he's the first half.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On The QT

Harvey Weinstein presented some footage of Quentin Tarantino's latest, Django Unchained, at Cannes.  Here's what Guardian writer Peter Bradshaw thought:

The footage looks good – of course it would – but it's impossible to tell what the movie is going to be like. It could be brilliant, like Kill Bill, or underwhelming like Inglourious Basterds. Well, the chains come off at Christmas and we'll see then.

Since I thought Inglourious Basterds was perhaps Tarantino's best since Pulp Fiction, while the Kill Bill films were flashy but empty--the first time in his work little or no humanity shone through--I guess I know whose review to avoid when the film comes out.

Wendy, What Went Wrong?

I just finished Julie Salamon's biography of Wendy Wasserstein, Wendy And The Lost Boys.  I don't think Wasserstein was a playwright of the first rank, but she did write well about a generation that she knew intimately.

She came from a high-achieving family.  The generation before her were Polish Jews who came to America and made their money in ribbon manufacturing. Her older sister Sandra and older brother Bruce were highly successful in the business world.  Wendy, the youngest, born in 1950, felt constant pressure from her mother, Lola, to lose weight, marry well, and, in general, do better.

It was also a tight-lipped family.  Wendy didn't know until she was an adult that Sandra's father had died young so Lola married (in a Biblical move) his younger brother, who was Bruce and Wendy's father.  She also didn't learn for some time that she had an older brother Abner who had mental problems and was put away in a home, and never discussed.

Wendy, on the outside, was bubbly and girlish, but, according to Salamon, had the Wasserstein drive that made her feel both superior and inferior. It hurt her that she didn't do well academically, but she didn't show it.  One thing she could do was write, as early mentor Joseph Heller saw, and she was accepted to the Yale School of Drama, where she met people like Christopher Durang, Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver.

A New York girl, she continued to meet and charm people in the theatre, such as up-and-coming producer Andre Bishop, and by 1977 had a well-reviewed production of Uncommon Women And Others (featuring Glenn Close, Jill Eikenberry and Swoosie Kurtz) running off-Broadway.  It was based on specific women she met attending Mount Holyoke--some of whom weren't pleased. In fact, the play caused quite a few angry letters from alumnae.  Still, Wasserstein was able to capture her Baby Boomer generation, where women still went to sex-segregated colleges, and were taught gracious living, but also saw their status as changing--that maybe there was more to life than marrying well.  But she was smart enough to see it was a mixed blessing, and funny enough to make the story (with a weak plot) entertaining.  She was also hardheaded enough to rewrite and cut as much as necessary to make her work stageworthy.

Her next major play, Isn't It Romantic, looking into her Jewish background, was another success.  It's funny, but often, critics complained, in a sitcommish sort of way.

Her next play was her first Broadway production, and probably her ultimate statement, The Heidi Chronicles.  We follow Heidi Holland (a role originated by Joan Allen) and her Boomer friends from high school in the 60s up through life in their 40s.  Trends come and go, and, in the end, Heidi decides to have a child on her own, which may have been a brave choice for a woman at the time, but was put down by many feminists as a cop-out.

The play was a hit, and won Wasserstein a Tony and a Pulitzer.  The Heidi Chronicles still entertains, but I'm not sure, as the Boomers' fascination with themselves (which Wasserstein mocks) starts to fade, that it has aged well.  We still have the characters, and some decent jokes, but is it all about a Boomer girl whining that life wasn't as easy as she'd hoped?

Wasserstein was now a big name.  She made large fees giving speeches and writing articles, books and movie scripts.  But her central focus was still the theatre.  Her next play, The Sisters Rosensweig, was directly about her family (though she left Bruce out), and though it was a hit, she seemed to be repeating herself, drawing from the same well.  Wendy herself thought the play was darker than her earlier work, but it still came out as comedy (partly because actors like Madeline Kahn make everything comedy).

Her next play, about politics, An American Daughter, flopped.  Still, she was trying to stretch, and would continue to do so until her death--I can't say much about her later work since I didn't see or read any of it.

Meanwhile, her life took a chapter out of The Heidi Chronicles.  She'd had affairs, and plenty of crushes (often on gay men), but had always turned away from marriage.  Now in her forties, she wanted a child, so tried to become pregnant.  After she'd almost given up, she had a daughter, Lucy Jane, when she was 48.  However, it was a rough pregnancy and she was weakened.  She never completely recovered, and in her 50s, suffered from severe ailments, including Bell's palsy.  Some believe the fertility treatments could have been part of the problem, but no one can be sure.

She died of lymphoma at the age of 55. (Her sister, Sandra, had already died of cancer at 60, and her brother, with whom she'd place her child--sticking with family till the end--would die soon after of heart failure at 61.) As she'd kept her illness secret, it came as a shock to most people.

It's hard to say where her career would be today if she'd stayed at full strength.  She seemed to be turning a corner, and some insiders thought her last works were deeper than anything she'd done. Still, it's hard to change once you've become a brand name--the public usually doesn't like it.  But it would have been nice to see if she could have managed it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I Believe

You may have seen this story about a woman who died attempting to live on sunlight.  She saw a documentary on some guru who claimed that's all he needed.  She wasn't the first to die this way.  It reminded me of a movement I heard about years ago--breatharians--who said they could live on air alone since it had all the nutrients your body required.

If it weren't so tragic, it'd be funny.  Yet, this sort of thing is all too common.  In fact, according to Michael Shermer's latest, The Believing Brain, if anything, it's symbolic of how all of us think.  Sure, we don't usually go to such extremes, but we've got a brain set up to believe almost anything if the conditions are right.

First, we're pattern-seeking animals.  Living in nature, noticing patterns can save your life.  But the point is false positives (that sound in the grass is a snake) don't cost too much, while false negatives (these oddly colored berries aren't harmful) can kill you. And once they've got the pattern, humans will seek causes, and thus impute agency even to natural or coincidental actions.  They'll even make up things to fit their world view.

Shermer then looks at research into brain activity and shows how our brain acts diffferently toward things we believe and those we don't.  And also there seem to be certain types who are more disposed to believe than others, and some of this difference appears to be genetic.

The book is a sort of follow-up to Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things, with some new research that's been done since then.  It's written in a popular style, which Shermer says is more important than academic work.  (He also claims social sciences are "hard" because they take into account so much, while hard sciences are "easy" because the domain is limited and filled with certainty).

Shermer also goes on to look at how people can build up various belief systems. For instance, based on certain assumptions we have (and, it looks like, our genetics), people tend to identify with what we today call the liberal or conservative side of politics.  Once they do this, they're much more amenable to confirmations of their beliefs and will naturally caricature the other side.

I'd recommend this book though, ironically, I don't think it'll change any minds.  At least not about beliefs beyond how our brains work.  Knowing how we can fool ourselves doesn't necessarily change our feelings.  And, as the story above shows, some people would rather die than question their beliefs.  Unfortunately, intensity of belief has nothing to do with how correct the belief is.

Mad Game

Some interesting doings on Game Of Thrones and Mad Men this week as both approach their finales.  The odd thing is though we've known where GOT is going from the start, there was little forward motion this week, while MM may have finally given us a glimpse of this season's endpoint.

Game Of Thrones, "The Prince Of Winterfell":

As the ironic title indicates, we're going to see Theon. We start with him, still holding Winterfell, after having allegedly killed and burned Bran and Rickon.  His sister rides in and isn't happy.  She killed the boys--his main bargaining chips--and is holding a castle over a hundred miles inland.  They're islanders.  He needs to come home, not stay and die there.  It's hard to see how things will end well for Theon.

Meanwhile, Jon Snow is bring brought to Mance Rayder.Turns out thanks to Jon's screwing around with Ygritte, his whole patrol was captured and killed but one, their leader.  Ygritte at least speaks up for him and saves his life, but Jon must not be feeling too great.

Robb and Lady Talisa walk through a lovely forest and make googly-eyes at each other.  They're both so noble they make a pretty dull couple, but at least we know there's trouble in Robb's camp.  Turns out--as we expected last week--his mom freed Jaimie Lannister (though how she did this without being seen I'm not sure).  He rushes back to camp and makes his mom a prisoner.

Meanwhile, Brienne escorts a tied up Jaime...somewhere.  Not clear what the plan is, but I assume this is the deal Littlefinger has worked out for a trade.  Still, how does it work?  I might add that as tough as Brienne is, is she a match for Jaime, tied up or not?

Back at Harrenhal, Tywin knows Stannis will soon be at King's Landing.  Tywin decides there's no time to lose, and gets his troops moving again.  He's been at Harrenhal a long time--not sure why it took him so long to get going.  All this gets Arya, who's been listening in, to spring into action.  She rushes to find Jaqen for one last kill, but Tywin is gone before anything happens.

Snow is being marched to Mance, and his former leader makes a show of fighting him so they might trust Jon, and have this crow become an insider with the Wildlings.  Jon obviously has great things ahead of him, though it's not clear for which side.

At King's Landing, Tyrion and Bronn, soon joined by Varys, try to figure out how to deal with Stannis's soon-to-be siege.  There's no easy answer, though at least Bronn has practical experience.  His solution (seconded quietly by Varys) has been to round up all known thieves and kill them, so they can't make trouble when food becomes more valuable than gold.  Tyrion at least knows they have the "pig shit" fire available, and it looks like he'll use it.

Back beyond the Wall, Jon's old buddies are digging snow trenches.  They discover an old cloak left by a Night's Watchman filled with interesting stuff.  More on this later, presumably.

Arya finds Jaqen, too late.  Tywin seems impossible, so Arya names Jaqen.  This displeases him, so she unnames him if he promises to help her and her friends to escape.  He agrees.

Cersei and Tyrion have a talk.  For the first time in a while, she has the upper hand.  She believes Tyrion wants Joffrey to die in battle.  Turns out she's captured Tyrion's "whore" and if Joffrey dies, she'll die even more painfully.  The woman is brought in, but it's not Shae, it's poor Ros. Tyrion doesn't let on, but he is shaken. He goes to his quarters to see her.  (How is it Cersei can't find Shae?  All you need to do is set up someone to watch Tyrion's door.)

Robb Stark talks to his advisor about Theon.  He'll let the Iron Islanders go if they leave Winterfell--except for Theon.  If Theon's men don't respect him--and they don't--why not just turn him in?  Next Talisa comes in and tells a long dull story about why she became so decent.  Then she and Robb strip and do the nasty.  This is Game Of Thrones, after all.

At Harrenhal, Arya, Gendry and the fat boy escape by walking right through the gates, as Jaqen told her.  Turns out he's killed the men who seem to be standing guard.  So Arya's on the road again.  Can Gendry protect her?  Is Jaqen gone as a character?

We check in quickly with Stannis, whom we haven't seen for a while.  Like Bronn, he tells a story of a siege. This one he had to deal with while brother Robert and Ned Stark were out being heroes.  Davos the smuggler brought in food and saved the day.  Now he promises lowborn Davos will be King's Hand when he takes King's Landing.

Vayrs and Tyrion are at the walls with Joffrey, who's in a cocky mood.  He actually thinks he can take Stannis.  Varys and Tyrion, the two wiliest men around (with Baelish gone) have a talk. They both plan to stay in power, but have to deal with the Stannis threat one way or another.

Interestingly, Varys has gotten word from Qarth (can ravens fly that far?) that Daenerys is still around and has three dragons.  But as the Imp notes, "one game at a time."  I guess Dany won't be in the battle royale this season.  Still, we cut to her and Jorah.  He wants to get out of Qarth on the ship he's procured, but she won't abandon her dragons.  She gets all high and mighty, as she does once a show--she's a real Targaryen.  She wants to go to the House of the Undying, but Jorah fears she won't come back. But he's pledged to her (and loves her) and will stick with her.  And that's all from Qarth this week.

Back at Winterfell, we see that Osha doubled back and brought the boys and Hodor back.  They're hiding, with the help of the maester, underground.  This solves where the mystery of where they are--no one was fooled by those charred bodies.  Bran does overhear the unpleasant fate of the two farmboys, however.  Heavy lies the crown and all that.

So only two episodes left.  This episode was a little more listless than most, but we checked in with almost everyone and know Stannis will be at Winterfell in about 24 hours.  Also, there are a lot of loose baragining chips out there--Sansa is firmly ensconced in King's Landing, but Jaime and Arya are floating around while Bran and Rickon are hiding.

Mad Men, "Christmas Waltz":

A waltz has three beats, and the three beats of this story concentrate on character who sometimes don't even show up--Lane, Harry and Joan.  (Last week I wondered why Harry was getting so little to do.)

We start with Lane, taking a secret call from a man in England.  Turns out the tax collector is demanding about $8000 in 1960s money from Lane.  (Matt Weiner couldn't have planned the timing better, with Facebook's Eduardo Severin renouncing his citizenship for tax reasons while some American politicians wish to chase him to the ends of the earth to collect the money.)

Meanwhile, Harry gets a call from Paul Kinsey.  Of all the characters who have fallen by the wayside, Kinsey may have been the most interesting.  He was always a loser with a highly inflated opinion of himself, and when much of the original firm was raptured away, he got left behind.  What's been going on with him?

Lane comes in to see next year's projections.  He wants good news so he can get more money now and stay out of prison.  (It's not entirely clear what Lane does for this firm. He seemed so competent when we first met him, but does he have a place now?  Harry may not be much, but he has a job to do.  What does Lane do that Joan can't already do better? But then, Joan could do Harry's job better, too.)  Anyway, Lane goes to the banker to get $50,000 more for the firm, no doubt planning to cut himself a check.

Pete thinks he might have gotten Jaguar back now that they've replaced the firm's old contact.  It's still a bit of a dream, though, and Don isn't impressed.  Though Don and Pete essentially run the firm, they're still pretty snippy with each other.

Harry meets Paul who's now part of the Krishna consciousness movement.  Late '66, Kinsey was fast to jump on this trend, but then, that was one thing he was always good at. Kinsey and his new haircut says how he's got his life together.  Thought it may be he's more after the delectable Mother Lakshmi.  Paul, Lakshmi and square Harry chant for what seems like hours. Harry seems to be getting into it--and into Mother Lakshmi.

Lane calls a meeting (without Joan) and announces they've got a surplus of--surprise!--$50,000, so let's cut some bonus checks right now.  Don says wait till the Christmas party.  Pete agrees. Sorry, Lane.  Meanwhile, Pete is still unhappy that people aren't thrilled with what he's done about Jaguar.  Cooper doesn't even like the car.

It's Pearl Harbor Day so Roger is wearing an Hawaiian shirt.  Joan isn't happy.  Roger is giving her money to raise "their" kid, but it's not how Joan wants to play it.  She's not sure if she even wants Roger in his life.

Paul and Harry go out to eat.  Turns out his commitment to Krishna isn't as great as his desire for Lakshmi.  He wants to take her away. But Harry has no job for him.  No, he doesn't want that. Instead, he pulls out a script for this new TV show Star Trek.  Harry, to his credit, knows the show's ratings aren't great and it may not be coming back next season, but Paul insists.  He can't clear his head like others (including Harry) while chanting, he needs this.  Harry has connections, he can show it to someone.  Paul is still petty, and a whiner, but Harry takes pity on him.

Meanwhile, Don and Megan attend a somewhat avant-garde play that attacks consumer society and the corpulent swine who run advertising.  The play's dialogue is a bit heavy-handed even as a parody of such work.  D and M get back to their pad and Don is a bit miffed. It might not be a great work, but Megan tries to defend it.  Don reminds her that she's made a bigger stance against advertising than the play ever did.  Trouble seems to be brewing, but I've never got why Don needed her at the office.  Because Wife #2 was supposed to be different?  Well, she is, but not always how you want.

Lane sneaks into the office and cuts himself a check to cover his debts.  You can never be sure with this show, but it looks like we can start to see where this season is going, finally, and Lane may not be with the firm much longer.

Harry comes into the office next morning and asks Peggy to read the script.  He wants to know if it's as bad as he thinks it is.  It's a heavy handed parable about racism and here's the twist--the oppressed people are white!  (Actually, this sounds like the kind of stuff Roddenberry would love.)  We do discover at this point that Kinsey has been falling lower and lower in the ad world until he was pretty much out of it.

Pete tested a Jaguar and wants Don to go--with Megan if possible. Don doubts that'll happen.  Joan is told to meet someone n the lobby and is served with divorce papers. She loses it--rare for her.  Don sees her distress and decides to take her out to test Jaguars. (Is this a job or what?)

I like Don and Joan scenes. Joan is like the female version of Don--amazingly sexy and super-competent at her job.  It's fun when they acknowledge each other, but it's hard to have regular scenes with them because they fit together too well.

At the dealership they pretend to be married.  They want to drive one model together but the salesman can't let it leave without him.  So Don casually writes him a $6000 check and says if they don't return it consider it bought.  (The play Don saw was about comment on materialism, but so is this episode, with Jaguar dangled in front of everyone, Roger offering money for his kid, Paul wanting to sell a teleplay despite his religion and Lane trying to buy his way out of trouble with a fake Christmas bonus.)

Don and Joan go to a bar--plenty busy in the middle of the day, because this is Manhattan in the 60s--and discuss how their marriages fell apart and where they're at now.  Then he leaves her behind so he can drive home drunk while she can pick up someone.

Lakshmi comes to Harry's office, and unlike Pete's daydream, it's real.  She burns for Harry. Hard to believe, but with Don missing in action, it's good to see someone getting something. Harry betrays Paul and his wife (he's had trouble there before) and has her on his desk.  Turns out to be a trick.  She's had a tough life and played the only card she felt she had, though it's hard to understand how this will help, since she can't blackmail him over it.  Anyway, her plan is he tell Paul how bad the script is and keep him with the Krishna people where he belongs, and where he's a pretty good recruiter. (Guess even a bad adman is better at that than most people.)

Done comes home late and drunk, and Megan isn't pleased.  Where has he been?  He tells her, but she's still not happy.  Why didn't he call her?  Megan is clearly not Betty.  She won't play the long-suffering wife who waits with a cold dinner.  (Not that Betty didn't try to get her way, she just had different expectations.)

Meanwhile, Lane lies to his wife and says his needed in the office to land the Jaguar account, so they can't travel over the holiday.

In the biggest moral moment of the show comes up when Harry meets Paul again at a diner.  He says he showed the script to a reader who loved it but for legal reasons they can't ever ever meet and Paul can't talk about the script with anyone.  But he does give Paul a check for $500 to go to Los Angeles and try to make it.  You can never guess with Harry, but he does feel for his friend, and wants him to escape from the cult. Paul is moved. No one likes him, and here's finally someone who's doing something for him.

Before the big meeting at the office, Pete discovers Mohawk is on strike and suspending their ad budget.  This screws things up for the firm, but especially for Lane, who needs to cover with Christmas bonuses.  But the partners decide not to take anything. (Lane tries to explain this at the meeting, but it takes Rogers clarifying statements--don't worry, you employees are all getting bonuses.)

Then, to everyone's surprise, Don wants to speak. It's rare enough that he even shows up to meetings.  This whole season he's been in the doldrums, but has he finally snapped out of it.  Megan has noted how he loved his job, even before she was there.  He seems to be on fire again, and gives an inspirational speech to the gang, saying how they're going to work through Christmas to get Jaguar, and how they'll be big soon.  Will this be their first car or another American Airlines?  And more important, is the old Don back? He seems to be.

There are three episode left.  The firm isn't teetering on the brink, exactly, but where is it going, with a reenergized Don (whom a lot of people don't want to work with) and an account to win?  Also, as we see flashes of the old Don, does that come with the old philandering? We've also got Lane's money problems, which it doesn't seem he can keep hidden. For all we know, the firm will be flying high at the end of the season, or falling apart.  Same with Don's marriage.

PS  What to do in a few weeks when these shows are over?  Help is on the way.  AMC has officially announced the final season of Breaking Bad will start its run on July 15th.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Satisfaction

When the Rolling Stones first appeared on SNL in the 1970s, it was a sign the show had arrived.  When Mick Jagger was announced as the final host this year, more likely the reaction was why are they giving him the spot, he hasn't done anything anyone cares about in decades. (This assumes, of course, people have heard of him.)

They really put the old guy through his paces.  He appeared in most of the sketches (generally trying to act) and sang in several musical bits generally doing old Stones songs.  But they saved the best for last. Whatever reservations I had disappeared when Mick and the rest sang "She's A Rainbow" and "Ruby Tuesday" to the departing Kristen Wiig.  As the cast danced with her and said goodbye, it was surprisingly emotional--something rare on SNL, and TV in general.

Not Stayin' Alive

Wow, just a few days after Donna Summer, Robin Gibb dies.  The Village People must be getting nervous.

Robin was one third of the Brothers Gibb, better known as the Bee Gees.  They were a popular band in the late 60s/early 70s but exploded during the disco era, achieving chart success comparable to the Beatles.





Sunday, May 20, 2012

Little Annoyances

A friend bought this fancy new California scratcher ticket.  It was ten dollars and you could win a million.  So he scratched it off and, predictably, won nothing. But then he brought it home because you could still use it to enter some second-chance lottery.

No, no, no.  Either you win right away or you lose right away.  Let's not spread out the losing to two rounds and pretend you're doubling your chances.

I was in a grocery store and gave the cashier a hundred-dollar bill.  If I have a hundred-dollar bill I try to spend it as soon as possible since a lot of places will only take a twenty or less.  So I got change--which included a fifty-dollar bill.  This totally defeats the purpose, since it's just as hard to unload one of those.

I bet the cashier knew exactly what he was doing.

Different Differentials

There's only one episode of House left.  It was a great show, though it's probably time to move on.  As we say goodbye, let's also say goodbye to all the diseases and syndromes that kept coming up on the show.  Sure, occasionally there'd be a rarity, like Mirror Syndrome or CIPA (congenital insensitivity to pain), that would be a one-off.  But a mainstay of the show were certain diagnoses that they'd toss around regularly.  Here are my favorites:

sarcoidosis

Wegener's

paraneoplastic syndrome

lupus

dengue fever

scleroderma

Cushing's syndrome

heavy metal poisoning

toxoplasmosis

Wilson's disease

These were rarely were the correct call--too obvious?--but as long as they fit the symptons, House or one of his acolytes would throw it out sooner or later, on the way to figuring out the actual medical mystery.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Late Summer

So Donna Summer is gone.  She was the unquestioned queen of disco.  I didn't go for a lot of her music, but sometimes it was fun.



Too Little Of A Good Thing

It was quite a Thursday, as NBC played the last 30 Rock of the year and also burned off the final three (!) episodes of Community. I'd prefer them one week at a time, but I should just be happy they're showing them at all. It seems like NBC believes both these shows are at the end of their run, and are allowing them another 13 episodes to say goodbye properly.

Community's third season has probably been its weakest, since it was more hit and miss than usual, and--even for a meta show like this--swallowed its tail a bit too much. But when it was on, it was amazing.  In fact, "Remedial Chaos Theory" wasn't just the best Community episode ever, it was one of those amazing moments, like "Walkabout" "Three Stories" or "Steve Guttenberg's Birthday" when TV seems to transcend itself.  And if the final three episode didn't hit this level, they were all above average.

You have to realize they were written and shot when no one knew if the show would be picked up, and I think Dan Harmon and the crew decided these would be the ones they'd go out on if they had to.

First you had "Digital Estate Planning." The show has tried a lot of formats and parodies, but having the gang appear as a 30-year-old video game made it irresistible.  This also helped close off Pierce's story (not that anyone needed closure).

Then there was "The First Chang Dynasty."  Chang isn't a favorite of mine, but it gave the show a chance to do a great parody of Ocean's 11.  It also let them solve the missing Dean plot and settle old scores.

Finally there was "Introduction To Finality"--the title tells you they thought it might be their swan song.  It was all over the place because there were so many plots to tie up:  Troy finally dealt with the air conditioning school, good Abed defeated evil Abed,  Britta showed some value as a therapist, Shirley got her sandwich shop and Jeff finally understood what was important (and it's not getting a degree to be a lawyer).  Even Pierce showed some personal growth. I suppose the biggest thing hanging was Annie and Jeff (and to a much lesser extent Troy and Britta).

I hope we'll get to that next season.  And the next.  And the next.  And the movie.

PS  I don't know what to think of this late-breaking news.  After losing some major producers, Community has now lost showrunner Dan Harmon.  Is Community Community without Harmon?  Is guess the final episode was his goodbye.  Goodbye.

Friday, May 18, 2012

MM

Happy birthday, Mark Mothersbaugh.  I just saw him in concert last week, and he's still going strong.  One of the founders of Devo, he was probably their best known member, often singing lead and writing many of their songs.  He's since become one of the top TV and movie composers around.





It's Friday, Friday

NBC has announced next year's schedule and it's a head scratcher.  They're going with more comedy, but the order is odd.

On Tuesday and Wednesay they're breaking in four new sitcoms, but not mixing them with more established shows.  Are these slots a test to see what'll eventually wind up on Thursday?

Speaking of which, they're breaking up the (critically acclaimed with decent demos but hardly the old powerhouse that made the network #1) Thursday lineup. Community, my favorite show, is out.  Instead, in the 8 pm death slot, up against Big Bang Theory, is Emmy winner 30 Rock.  I guess that's because it's only got a 13 episode order and they need a sacrificial lamb while they figure out what to put there (while giving the show a chance for a decent funeral).  It's followed, in a slot not much better, by Up All Night, which could just as easily have been canceled.  Is this another holding pattern until they figure out what to do?

Then at 9 you've got the tentpole, as it were, of The Office.  The ratings are a bit down and the show hasn't been the same since Steve Carrell left, but it looks like NBC hopes to keep this thing going, and not spin it off into The Dwight Schrute Show, even as some actors and producers move on.  This is followed by Parks And Recreation, which the network also hopes will go on, even if it's never had huge ratings.

At 10 pm, Awake has been put to sleep. In its place, in the slot that for decades has represented top TV drama, they've put in a news show, and a very low-rated one at that, Rock Center With Brian Williams.  Do they owe Williams something?  (I'm happy to see the show has been picked up since I have a friend who works there.)

Finally, in the Friday wasteland, they start the night with surprise pick-up Whitney.  I guess that makes it even easier to ignore, but it's now followed by Community. It's hard to find two sitcoms more temperamentally opposed.

Nevertheless, it's great Community is on at all.  No doubt its small but intense following will watch it no matter where it goes (though whether they'll watch on the night it's broadcast is a different question), but with a 13 episode order, it seems, once again, that NBC is leaving a good show out to dry.  Should Dan Harmon et al start planning right now to make sure their 13th episode will be a proper viking funeral?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Time's Up

Five years ago the World Wildlife Fund wrote a report that said we could stop global warming but we had to take the necessary actions within five years.  We've hit the deadline and still haven't done what they wanted.  So it's hopeless, we're doomed.  At least we can stop trying.

Humor Him

I like the idea.  Humorist Roy Blount Jr.'s Hail, Hail Euphoria is a book--or at 144 pages, somewhere between a pamphlet and a book--about Duck Soup.  If any movie deserves a book, it's this one. Not a big hit in its day, it's now almost universally recognized as the Marx Brothers at or near their peak.  (Though one of my favorite blogs, The Marx Brothers Council Of Britain, rates it the lowest of the Paramounts.)

The execution, however, leaves something to be desired.  Blount basically sits down and watches the movie, describing it as he goes along.  At least half the book is his paraphrased version of the movie, and no description could compare to the actual experience  I'm not saying film essays shouldn't include some rehearsal of the work, but for a film I know back and forth, unless the explanations are highly amusing (which is not how I'd describe Blount's occasional attempts at Chicoesque punning), it's not really worth it.

The rest are his musings on the film and related items (such as director Leo McCarey's career), including quite a few anecdotes that are probably familiar to Marx Brothers fans.  Whilesome of this is enjoyable, Blount can be amazingly sloppy: among other things, he twice says Horse Feathers was a stage piece written by George S. Kaufman when clearly he means Animal Crackers, he states Rodgers and Moss Hart wrote Pal Joey, he claims Woody Allen's character in Hannah And Her Sisters is Alvy Singer when that's his role in Annie Hall, and he misspells Merian C. Cooper.

Still, he has an easy-to-read style, and definitely gets the Marx Brothers, which is half the battle.  Also, he's read widely to prepare for the book, and occasionally comes up with insights into a movie that has been considered a classic now for nearly half a century.  Then there are all the neat photos included.

And, let's face it, no book about the Marx Brothers could be that bad. I recommend it, but it's got to get to the back of the line behind a bunch of others on the team.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Instruments As Weapons

Happy birthday, Krist Novoselic.  He was the least notable member of Nirvana trio.  He may be best remembered for tossing his bass in the air and having it hit him in the head.



Still, he was a central part of their sound.

Flop, Not-Flop

I just read Peter Filichia's book on Broadway musicals. Filichia is one of the better writers on the Broadway scene, and the odd format of the book has him looking at each of the last 50 years of Broadway (the book came out in 2010, so that's 1959 to 2009) and writing a few pages on the biggest hit and biggest flop.

He doesn't just recount the plots (though that's quite helpful for flops--otherwise you'd have no idea about most of them).  He takes on these shows.  He has conversations with them.  Many of the biggest hits are examined and found wanting.  And occasionally a flop is reconsidered.

One fascinating thing is how to decide what the biggest flop is. The biggest hit isn't that hard, but flops are not only more plentiful, but harder to define.  Do you pick shows that closed out of town? That had the shortest run? That lost the most money? That were the most critically reviled?  Filichia admits it's a judgment call and tries to explain his decisions.

The weird thing about musicals is ever since they were revolutionized by Rodgers and Hammerstein, no one knows what will work. The most bizarre or ridiculous concept could be a blockbuster.  So while reading about the flops, as ridiculous as they sometimes sound, you can understand why some people, somewhere, thought they'd work.  Honestly, if you didn't know they were hits, how would these concepts sound to you: a musicalization of the signing of the Declaration of Independence (1776), a bunch of dancers on a bare stage telling their life stories (A Chorus Line), a revue based on a collection of poems by T.S. Eliot (Cats) and a story of a couple of guys stuck in a Latin American prison (Kiss Of The Spider Woman). But each was the biggest hit in its year.

I guess that's the magic of Broadway.  I only wish the book started earlier, since the golden age of the American Broadway musical is almost over by 1959.  Meanwhile, a lot of hits of the past 30 years are far from the integrated ideal that was once common--instead we get revues, jukebox musicals, concept shows and pop operas. Maybe some day Filichia will do a prequel and fill in all that he, and we, missed.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How Do You Like Them Apples?

At the A.V. Club they've got a list of bad apples--parts of otherwise good cultural phenomena that stink. There are a lot of the usual suspects: Godfather III, Cars 2, Lost's Nikki and Paulo, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal SkullThe Sopranos' "Christopher."

Sometimes they've got TV episodes, sometimes entire seasons--usually the first, before everything's worked out (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Newhart, Parks And Recreation).

And then there are a bunch of albums.  I don't agree with all the picks, but the one that bothered me most is Neil Young's Everybody's Rockin'.  Not that it's a classic, or even that great.  But it's fun, and there are far worse choices available.  When Young signed with Geffen in the 80s, he went through an odd period, experimenting with different sounds--some claim this foray into rockabilly was actually Neil giving the finger to his label.  The music was so different that Geffen sued him for not sounding enough like Neil Young.

But I like the album.  And I don't think it's Metal Machine Music, I think it's Neil keeping it light and enjoying himself.  I certainly prefer it to Old Ways, Landing On Water and Life.

Triple Trouble

This is the last week, thank goodness, that I'll be doing a recap of three dramas in one post, since Once Upon A Time had its season finale on Sunday.  For that matter, Game Of Thrones only has three more episodes and Mad Men four.  Hard to believe they're almost over and Sundays will return to normal and boring.

By the way, due to computer problems, I can't put any pictures up. I hope my words will paint them.

Once Upon A Time, "A Land Without Magic":

I'll give them credit, the show delivered.  No holding back.  There was more forward motion in the finale than just about all the rest of the season.  Whether it was good or not, or bodes well for season two, is a different question.

Anyway, after so many episodes where things proceeded at a snail's pace, it was thrilling to have Emma realize right off the bat what's going ont--the Curse and everything.  Henry, who ate Regina's poisoned apple, is brought into the hospital, but the doctors can't figure out what's wrong.  Of course they can't, their machines don't measure magic.  I've always been squeamish about allowing magic in the "real" world of Storybrooke--I like two different realms.  Tobad for me, I guess, since the writers like using magic to solve their problems.

Emma looks at the contents of Henry's bag (including an Apollo bar) and sees that big damn book of his. Of course, it's all true!  Regina runs in. Emma shoves her into a closet and confronts her. It was quite satisfying to have both finally understand each other.  Regina, for her part, isn't happy that Henry is dying.  (So Emma's first take on her that made her stay in Storybrooke--that Regina doesn't love Henry--was false. Of course, the producers have gone in and out and around on motivations so many times already in the first season that you can't expect them to keep things consistent.)

So they go to Gold's to find out how to save Henry.  Turns out he's still got a little magic hidden away. It's surprising how much magic remains in Storybrooke considering it's not supposed to be there at all.  There's some true-love juice in a dragon that Regina is still hiding underground.  How convenient.

Meanwhile, Regina reneges on his deal with Jefferson, so he frees Belle from Regina's hidden asylum.  Huh?  How'd he know? Can his telescope see through walls?  Anyway, Belle is told to go to Gold.

At this point, I might add, we're not sure what side to be on.  Everyone seems to be trying to help Henry, but should Emma trust Regina or Gold?  She goes to August who's almost all wood, which she can see.  Why is he wood?  I thought getting her to believe would save him, but apparently his being a good boy is tied up in breaking the curse.  And while we're at it, just what breaks the curse?  That's never been made clear, but you would have thought Emma accepting her place as Storybrooke's savior would do it.

Anyway, Emma goes far underground, helped by Regina, to slay the dragon. (In the fairyback we get similar activity, leading to where the show started--with true love's kiss saving Snow White and freeing the entire realm.) I might add considering an hour ago Emma didn't believe in magic, she's taking slaying a dragon pretty calmly.

She gets the true love and on the way back up to the surface Gold, who's tied up Regina, tricks Emma into giving it to him.  Hey, I though Gold just wanted the curse to be over so he could go back and be with his son--how come he's got this new intrigue going on?

You might have thought Gold was angry at Regina for her treachery with Belle, but only now does Belle drop by Gold's shop.  It's a tearful reunion, and, once again, though Gold gets what he wants and has own personal true love, he still wishes to continue with his nefarious plan.

Henry dies.  But we know what can revive him, as we've known from the start of the show, and have been wondering why Emma, who now believes in fairy tales, can't figure out.  Henry needs true love's kiss, and it works between mom and son as well as it works between lovers.  She kisses Henry, he comes back to life, and, in fact, a wave passes through Storybrooke and everyone's memory is restored.

I see. So to break the curse, not only does Emma have to realize who she is, but her son has to be dying and she has to kiss him. Lucky for her it worked out that way.

Anyway, everyone is in the know, and Regina realizes she better watch out.  Snow White and Charming reunite. Unfortunately, we don't get to see Emma meet her roommate, who's the same age as her, but is also her mother (and Henry is Mary Margaret's grandson).

I guess the producers figured if the show had been canceled, they could have finished with this nice sense of closure. But the show is a hit, so they need to move it into the next season.  So Gold dumps his true love juice down a well and a big cloud sweeps through town bringing back magic.  I guess.

It's very unclear, then, what the next season promises.  I can't imagine they'll cut out the fairyback sections, but what exists and what doesn't?  Is fairytale land around anymore, but completely depopulated? Will Storybrooke people be able to pop back and forth?  Won't cobblers and dwarves and crickets and fairies feel a little sillly living in modern-day Maine?  Will the magic be confined to Storybrooke, or will it work anywhere on the planet?

Why did Rumpel even need this?  With the curse lifted, couldn't he go back to his old realm, and enjoy the love of Belle and his son?  And if he wants more magic, he could go back and dump Belle and the gang?  I don't understand his plan.  The only one who seems to like it is Regina, Gold's main enemy, who will finally get her magic back.  But, once again, with the curse lifted couldn't she just have gone back to the realm and assumed her old powers?  The real question would have been where Emma and Henry go, since they're creature of the real world, but their bloodline is of the other realm.  (Also, what about the poor doctor, who has to go back and be a cricket, or the editor, who has to go back and be a mirror.)

Anyway, more magic, no matter where, promises a duller second season to me.

Mad Men, "Dark Shadows":

The title comes from Megan's friend who's auditioning for the Dark Shadows soap.  (Matt Weiner must have known a Dark Shadows movie was coming out, but could he have planned this episode to fall on the same weekend?)  But it's also about characters showing their dark side.  I'm not sure if we've ever had an episode where everyone looked so bad.

We start with Betty (she's back) on her diet.  Breakfast: dry toast, half a grapefruit and some cheese cubes.  She seems to have lost some weight since last time, so maybe it's working.

On the elevator with the name partners, Pete is happy that Victor (Navasky, as it turns out) of The New York Times is doing a profile on hip (or hep) agencies, and wants to talk to him.  Meanwhile, Don reviews recent work from the agency and notices Ginsberg is doing most of it.  The kid's a dynamo. It seems to unsettle Don a bit.

Bert is unhappy that Pete is bringing in all the business, so he tips off Roger to a Manishewitz product.  Jane is Jewish so she could help.  Hey, they're not divorced yet.

The kids are staying with Don and Megan.  Sally is working on a family tree project.  Megan gives her some acting tips.  Don has to drop into work and looks through Ginsberg's file for Sno Ball material and is amused, but also stirred--how long has it been since he's done any new work?  He starts dictating new ideas, see if he's still got it.

Betty picks up the kids at Don's apartment and runs into Megan.  That used to be her--not just Don's wife, but a young beauty.  It's uncomfortable for both of them. When Betty puts Gene to bed, she has a quick hit of whipped cream in a can, and spits out most of it.  Hard to keep on that diet.

At the SCDP meeting, Ginsberg's Sno Ball idea--hit me in the face with one--is greeted with approval.  Don then pitches his own idea with the devil (as in "chance in hell") and the others are impressed.  But it's an odd moment, the man in charge pitching to his underlings.  Ginsberg is impressed that a guy who no longer writes came up with it.

Betty's at her Weight Watchers meeting.  She's lost a pound, but she had a bad week due to her confrontation with Megan in Don's snazzy new pad.  Is Betty softening a bit. Is her new, miserable position teaching her anything?

Megan goes over Dark Shadows lines with her friend Julia, and Megan (who's so with it) thinks the show is idiotic.  Maybe, but her friend figures she's lost touch, living on 73rd and Park, not having to wait tables if she can't find work.

Roger calls in Ginsberg. He wants help for ideas with the Manishewitz meeting.  Have these two been together before?  It's fascinating.  Michael, almost a parody of a tummeling Jew, and Roger, with his caustic Waspy wit.  The two most overtly funny guys facing off.  Anyway, Roger is doing this because of his opposition to Pete.  Roger has to pay off Ginsberg.  This is the third time this season Roger hands over a wad of dough to get what he wants. The show knows fans have noticed, so Roger says, in one of the better lines this year, he's got to start carrying less cash.

Henry is up late cooking steak. He's been eating fish with Betty and can't take it any longer. She  comes in and they sit down.  Henry is worried about John Lindsay's prospects.  (Henry, or the modern writers, are smart. Linday's career would be one of the more spectacular crash and burns of the era.)  Betty commiserates, but is she wondering if she bet on the wrong horse.  Here she is out in the country, while Megan lives the high life in Manhattan.  Betty says she'll support Henry. Once again, is she learning to empathize?  Betty?

Roger calls Jane for helps with the new account.  She demands he pay for a new apartment. He agrees.  I know Roger's rich, but with alimony, pay-offs, etc., can he afford this?

Meanwhile, Pete's affair from last week comes in to his office to have sex.  We knows it's fantasy, though this is the second time the show's pulled this trick this season.  Of course, one was Don's fever dream while this is Pete's daydream. He can't wait for the Sunday Times to come out.

At Betty's place she helps the kids, and sees a love note Don left Megan on construction paper.  That's it.  Sally's doing the family tree and Betty drops the bombs about Anna Draper.  The bitch is back. For the first few seasons, Don's true identity was a major issue.  Better finally found out and it led to the end of their marriage.  Don told Megan and seems to be okay with it now.  But this is a show that doesn't drop things easily.  Let's not forget, Don impersonated an officer and deserted the army. These are felonies.  What's to say the show won't end with Don doing serious time?  This is not something you drop on a kid, but Betty doesn't care. She's mad and wants to hurt Don.

Pete, Ken and Harry look over the Sno Ball material--Mike's and Don's.  They like both, but they like Mike's better.  Can Don take this?  Mike quotes "Ozymandias" though Stan, of all people, tells him he's missing the context.

At Don's place Sally is pissy with Megan. She's mommy's girl, all right. (And she seems to have food issues.)  Sally brings up Anna, and Megan's tries to explain best she can.  Betty's bomb has hit its target.

At Weight Watchers, if nothing else, we learn Thanksgiving is coming up--at this rate we'll be well into 1967 by the end of the season.

Megan tells Don about Anna.  He explodes, and wants to call Betty, but Megan stops him.  It's just what she wants.  Sally overhears it all.

At the  office, Ginsberg comes in late and sees Peggy. He drops he's doing work for Roger, just like she  did.  She hasn't been happy all episode (and probably longer) with the success of this new dynamo. The one she discovered.

Next morning, Pete calls Don about the Times article (apparently a real one) where SCDP is not mentioned.  Pete is more pissed than Don, who doesn't need to be woken up by Pete's failures.  The kids are up, so Don has a talk with Sally about Anna.  Don says some nasty things about Betty, but tries to explain about Anna.

Roger meets a snippy Peggy in the elevator.  She feels spurned, but he reminds her they're not marrid.  Meanwhile, Don, Ken and Harry are in a cab preparing for the Sno Ball pitch.  Don leaves Ginsberg's idea behind.  Like everyone else, he's showing his worst side this week.

Betty tells Sally she got an A+ on the family tree but is really trying to pump her about Megan and Don.  Sally turns the screws and says how they talked fondly about Anna.  Betty is not happy, but she should know Sally learned from the best.

At Roger's dinner, Jane seems to have eyes for the Jewish son of the client.  Roger doesn't seem thrilled (though Ginsberg's ideas go over well).  They have words in the cab.  She shows him her new place and they have sex. The next morning, she's says the place is ruined now--she left the last place due to memories.  I thought this was a little too sensitive, but Roger agrees--that's the bad sort of thing he does to people.

Back at the office we find out Sno Ball bought it.  Good work.  But Ginsberg (showing his bad side) is pissed they didn't even hear his pitch.  Peggy seems pleased (showing her bad side)

Pete is snide to his commuter train friend, even joking about porking her wife.  It may be his bad side, but it's out so often it's hard to notice.

We get the third elevator confrontation of the episode when Ginsberg fights with with Don over Sno Ball. When Don says they bought it, that's what counts (and he doesn't like going in with two ideas), Ginsberg tries to stick it in a little by saying who cares, he's got a million ideas. Don responds good thing you work for me.  Mike, reminding us a bit of Jimmy Barrett, says he feels bad for Don. Don--shades of The Fountainhead--says he doesn't think about Ginsberg at all.  Is the agency big enough for these two?

It's Thanksgiving and Megan prepares a simple meal.  Julia will be coming, and she got the part.  How does Megan feel about that?  Meanwhile, she doesn't want Don to open the window--it's a smog emergency, the air is toxic.  Life before the Clear Air Act.

At Henry's place, Bets it about to dig in when Bobby says they have to say what they're thankful for first. (Sally notes Betty is hungry--was that a shot?) Bobby likes he's got two great houses to live in.  When it's Betty's turn, she's happy for what she's got, but also that others don't have anything better.  Got that, Megan?

We hear some old Chevalier and we're done.  No Lane, litttle Joan.  A little more Harry than usual, though he hasn't had a single episode this season where he really got to let her rip.  Not much time left.  Give Harry something to do, Matt.

A lively episode without a single big theme.  While I've been hoping for Don to get back into the thick of things, I'm not sure if I wanted him to try to compete with the new kid on the block.  Anyway, everyone is unhappy for one reason or another.  Pete doesn't get the appreciation (and sex) he wants. Don has to pull tricks to beat Ginsberg, who himself is tugging on his leash.  Roger and Jane try to make up a bit, but neither are where they want to be.  Betty wonders how she got where she is. Sally is growing up into a testy, suspicious young woman.  All in all, another week in Mad Men land.

Game Of Thrones, "A Man Without Honor":

A lot of people snapping at the betters, and their inferiors, this week.

We start where we left off.  Theon wakes up and sees the aftermath--the two boys, Hodor and Osha gone.  Theon the leader is pissed.  One of his men lips off an Theon beats him.  He's learning, in a way, but he's still a major jerk.  Theon gets the hounds and tries to track the boys.  They meet the Maester on the way, and Theon explains what's the big deal, it's all a game. True, but these games easily end with death.  Theon is waiting for his sister to get men there so they can hold Winterfell against a much larger group.

Meanwhile, the young Lord of Winterfell and his gang are figuring out what to do. They've got a lead, but they're on foot. And any place they stop at will be tortured for information.

Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow wakes up, holding Ygritte.  What did you dream of, Jon?  She taunts him and he doesn't know how to respond.  The Night's Watch may be noble, but are the Wildlings much worse, or really any different, from the Crows.  (Jon may be the show's biggest hearththrob, but he can also be fairly prissy.)  Their byplay is like classic romantic comedy.  Sort of a 39 Steps vibe.  But he's trying to get her back to the watch, while she knows the territory.  Not good for Snow. The spar and bicker across the lovely, barren landscape, but Snow is lost. She leads him into Wildling territory. Somehow, I don't think this is the end of Snow. If anything, he could be a better leader for them that Mance Rayder, if he's willing to think a little differently.

By the way, Ygritte, like Ser Jorah, is a refugee from Downton Abbey. I like them both better here.

At Harrenhal, Tywin is hanging as many as he can to find who wanted to kill him. Little does he know that his little cupbearer, right there in the room, was behind it. As he talks of slaughter, she considers stabbing him in the neck, but that's a no-go.  They verbally spar--these Tywin/Arya scenes are among the show's best.  She admires him in a way, and has always sought approval from father figures.  But she knows he's the enemy and she's got a secret.  He sees something in her, but also sees through her. First he knew she was a girl.  Then he knew she was from the north.  Now he figures she's high-born. There's only one more revelation left to make.  She even shows off a bit for him, but he warns her not to be presumptuous.

Sansa runs into the Hound. He's got a thing for her, but his words are harsh because he knows they must be apart. (At least that's my take.)

Meanwhile, Xaro is demanding a meeting of the Thirteen.  He's vouched for her, but that also mean he's vouced for Qarth.  Is he playing some sort of bigger game?

At Robb's camp, he's still making googly eyes at Lady Talisa. He also shows himself to be a kind leader--too kind?  Sir Alton has returned with Cersei's torn up paper, and since his old pen is filled, he's put in with the Kingslayer.   Now he's off for a day--with Talie--to work out terms of a surrender.

Theon stops at a farm but can't find the boys.  He decides it's better to be cruel than weak. Perhaps, but it's better yet to be smart.  Theon does finally get an idea, and sends the Maester home.

Ser Jorah returns to see the devastated Daenerys.  What's the point of taking over Westeros if she has no people. She barely knows the Targaryens and the Dothraki don't like her either.  Her only follower left seems to be Jorah (who loves her, but has to hold himself back), and she even turns on him bit.  At this point, all she wants is her dragons.  He'll go out to get them.

Sansa dreams of violence and wakes up to discover she's had her first period.  A big moment in a girl's life, but for her, great fear, since now it means it's time to have babies with Joffrey.  Shae wants to help her hide it, but the Hound (what's he doing there?) finds out.

Cersei has a nice talk with Sansa.  Don't love anyone but your kids.  Love weakens you, but you can't but help love them.  Even Cersei is willing to admit now Joffrey is difficult. But she had plenty of trouble with Robert, of course. (Not that it was his child anyway.)

In the pen, Alton has a nice talk with Jaime.  We haven't seen Jaime since the first episode.  (Well, I have, but it was in a Norwegian picture called Headhunters.)  Good to see him back. He's very smat and a great fighter, but has no honor at all--hence the title.  They both talk about how wonderful certain moments of life are when things are done right.  Jaime has him lean in to help him--and then kills him, which is how he helps him.  The prison guard comes in and Jaime kills him to, and escapes.

This is no fun. Jaime was Robbs ace in the hole.  Without him, the Lannisters can threaten Sansa and even Arya with impunity.

Jorak talks to the lady with the mask.  Those weird Qarthians.  She seems to know all about him--even that he loves Dany and has betrayed her. She tells him the thief is already with Dany.  And we cut to the meeting of the Thirteen.  It's a set-up.  I thought they had a good system set up, but apparently Xaro didn't agree, so he gangs up with the House of the Undying (who have the dragons) to kill the other merchants..  Xaro names himself the King of Qarth. Maybe the merchants were getting a little inbred, but is Xaro's ambition too much? And does this mean Dany's way is free (if she teams with Xaro), or is she even in more danger?  Jorah gets their too late.  He even stabs one of the magicians, except it's just a spectre.

Back at Robb's camp, he's still out, but the Kingslayer has been caught.  They want his head, but Catelyn (with Brienne) save him--for a while, anyway.  Vengeance is fun, but Jaime is valuable.  (Meanwhile, the men are losing a little faith in Robb due to his love affair.)

Late at night, Cersei and Tyrion have a talk.  For the first time, brother and sister seem to feel a bit for each other.  Tyrion knows Stannis (who's not in this episode) will be there within the week, and it's far from clear, without Tywin, they can defend themselves.  Instead, they've got Joffrey, who's stupid, sadistic and cowardly.  Cerseia wonders if he's not punishment for her incest.  The Targaryens did it that way, but they had mad kinds.  Tyrion says two out of three good kids isn't bad.

It's getting dark at Robb's camp.  Men are drinking. Soon the Karstarks, who lost a man to Jaime, will be ready to kill. Who'll defend him.  Catelyn goes into the pen. Jaime knows his fate, but he's as smart ass as always.  He even rubs Ned's unfaithfulness in her face. (Hear that, Jon Snow?) He explains about all the vows a knight must take--so many, sooner or later you have to break them. (Hear that, Jon Snow?) And is it really worth defending a sadistic, insane leader?

Catelyn asks Brienne for her sword.  But she has to know the Jaime is a card that hasn't yet been played.  I get the feeling  we'll be seeing more of Jaime.

At Winterfell, Theon shows he means business and unveils the two burnt corpses of Bran and Rickon.  Or are they?  This show has no trouble doing in people, but we didn't see them captured, nor can we recognize them now.  I guess we'll find out next week.

So more maneuvering, but that's what the show is about.  Only a few more episodes left, and a bunch of kings fighting for power.  We don't know who will win, but they will clash, and it's guaranteed a lot of characters will die.

I've heard the show is starting to diverge more and more from the books.  Good.  Not only will spoilers be harder to create, but why should GOT literary fans get to be surprised along with the rest of us.

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