Thursday, January 31, 2013

EC Comics

A number of people have suggested we abolish the Electoral College, but it ain't going nowhere, as too many small states find it advantageous. There's also the idea of states committing their electors to whichever candidate gets the most votes nationally.  This is legal since states can determine how to choose their electors--there's no right, for instance, to vote for President.  However, I think there's too much resistance to this idea for it to catch fire (and the states that support this seem to be doing it for partisan reasons, which will be troublesome to the states that haven't), and until a majority of electoral votes goes for it, it's a no-go.

There's another reform some are talking about now--which can be acted on by each state individually--where electors are appointed by districts, rather than winner-take-all.  Two states already follow this rule, Maine and Nebraska. But now it's being considered, or at least talked about, in states like Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.  However, this is such a blatant attempt by Republicans to get electoral votes from states they've been losing that it will not succeed.

But is it a good idea?  Not for these states alone (which would probably help Republicans in the short run but may hurt them later), but for all states?  One of the big complaints about the EC is it reduces a national election to a collection of swing states, with huge states like New York, Texas and California all but ignored.  Would making each district a separate prize make the candidates go to places they've been avoiding?

Perhaps, but aren't there plenty of districts, even in swing states, that lean strong Dem or Repub?  In fact, don't both parties work to make safe districts?  And wouldn't this lead to even more gerrymandering?

Yeah, I guess it would. Forget this post.  It's a dumb idea.

Have A Rotten Day

Today is the birthday of John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten.  Always a lot of fun.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Welcome To Marriott

Happy birthday, Steve Marriott.  He was a singer, guitarist and songwriter, most notably performing in Small Faces and Humble Pie.  In 1991 he died in a fire (probably one he started after he fell asleep while smoking) at the age of 44.  Tragic, but he left behind a body of work worth celebrating.

All You Need Is Love

Every now and then I read a piece and ask myself why would someone write something so silly?  For example, Michael Tomasky's column in The Daily Beast on the 60 Minutes interview with President Obama and Hillary Clinton.

The interview was sort of embarrassing.  Two of the most powerful people in the country, involved in numerous controversial policies, and all Steve Kroft could do was lob softballs. And what's Tomasky's take?

It was softbally, and Steve Kroft’s one real question—to Clinton, about whether she felt any guilt or remorse over Benghazi—she totally didn’t answer. But here, conservatives, is what you are missing and what you need to reckon with. Americans—except you—like these two people. Most Americans look at the pair of them—this black man who is still remote in some ways and this so-familiar woman who is now aging before us and allowing herself to look just a little frumpy—and feel reassured. Most Americans are cheering for them, and hence, most Americans probably wanted a softball interview. We have thus passed an important portal in American politics: Democrats are now the regular guys. Conservatives are the weirdos.

Bizarre for so many reasons.

First, why is he addressing himself to conservatives?  Any American should have been embarrassed that 60 Minutes was laying down on the job.

Second, just how popular are they? According to Gallup, Obama's popularity is in the low 50s, lower than traditional for a President starting his second term--certainly no more popular than Bush was at a similar point.  As for Hillary, perhaps she's popular because she's mostly been out of sight for the past four years and has gotten the kid gloves treatment from the media.  She wasn't so popular in 2008 when Obama was attacking her.

Third, why would anyone, much less a journalist, claim how popular you are should effect how you're treated by the media?  It's the job of reporters to ask tough questions, not smile in admiration at our wonderful leaders.

Fourth, "Democrats are now the regular guys"?!  The media have been painting Democrats as the "regular guys" and Republicans as "weirdos" for quite a while now, no matter which side the voters seem to prefer.

Tomasky goes on to teach Kroft what real ass-kissing looks like.  Here are some selections, and let me remind you, this is not a parody:

...they were both wholly believable and ingenuous when they were talking about their own political relationship. When Obama said, in reference to repairing the ruptures of 2008, “I think it was harder for the staffs, which is understandable, because, you know, they get invested in this stuff in ways that I think the candidates maybe don’t,” I thought: that rings really true. And I’d bet most Americans did too.

Obama and Clinton talked, in other words, like mature adults, and they sold it as genuine because it was genuine. And I’d contend that it made most people watching feel something like: Well, these are very smart and self-assured people, and they’re mostly pretty likable, too, and agree or disagree with this or that decision they make or action they take, I feel like my country is in pretty good hands with them.

[....] Kroft and his network were actually in touch here with the pulse of the country, which wants Obama to succeed and Hillary to go have a nice long rest (and, maybe, get ready for 2016).

But even Tomasky gets tired of praising Democrats and goes back to what he likes best, bashing Republicans.

[Obama and Clinton are] the real Americans now. It’s not that they have changed, but that America has. The measures for real Americanism are no longer clearing brush, hunting elk, hopping on top of various animals, dropping one’s g’s (in speech, I mean), and speaking in intentionally ungrammatical apothegmatic frontier “wisdom.”

[....] The Republicans? It’s not just the extreme ideology. Of course it’s that, but it’s more. The whole shtick is old.

[....] Paul Ryan [...] said: "[....]The way I see it, our defeat is all the more reason to lay out our vision with even more specifics—and with a broader appeal.” What he’s saying there, and throughout the speech, is that the GOP isn’t going to change its stripes a bit. “Broader appeal” means I suppose better (read: more dishonest) packaging for a bunch of reactionary policies that Americans don’t want.

Imagine if the entire mainstream media were made up of people like Tomasky.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Nothing To Lose

Happy birthday, Claudine Longet. She was a starlet on the rise in the 1960s, appearing on many TV shows, especially as herself, Andy William's wife, on his shows.  The couple separated in 1970 but stayed close.  Then, in 1976, she fatally shot her boyfriend, Olympic skier Spider Sabich, and was convicted of misdemeanor criminal negligence. (This led to the infamous SNL sketch "The Claudine Longet Invitational" which showed footage of skiers wiping out, all shot "accidentally" by Longet.)

Anyway, we haven't heard much from her since.

All Apologies

A few weeks ago the Atlantic published, on its website, an advertorial from the Church of Scientology.  Though clearly marked "Sponsor Content" it started a controversy which led to the magazine pulling the whole thing. The Atlantic released a statement:

We screwed up. It shouldn't have taken a wave of constructive criticism — but it has — to alert us that we've made a mistake, possibly several mistakes. We now realize that as we explored new forms of digital advertising, we failed to update the policies that must govern the decisions we make along the way. It's safe to say that we are thinking a lot more about these policies after running this ad than we did beforehand. In the meantime, we have decided to withdraw the ad until we figure all of this out. We remain committed to and enthusiastic about innovation in digital advertising, but acknowledge—sheepishly—that that we got ahead of ourselves. We are sorry, and we're working very hard to put things right.

Other Atlantic columnists, such as James Fallows, strongly support the decision.  I don't know.  Perhaps it's a wise commercial move, but are Atlantic readers so stupid and weak-minded that they can't take an ad that comes from a source they consider disreputable?  Lord knows I've read enough Fallows' pieces that I considered foolish and even dangerous, but it never occurred to me the magazine should pull them.

Do magazines implicitly endorse every ad they run?  Until now, I'd have thought no.  The same magazine, after all, will have columns that disagree with each other, and no one is confused.  The ads they run are just offering up information which readers can interpret as they will.

So stuff your sorries in a sack, mister, and run the ad again. I can take it better than I can take the idea of a magazine that thinks it has to protect me.

Monday, January 28, 2013


The latest episode of The Office, "Customer Loyalty," for the first time revealed a member of the documentary crew that's been, within the fiction of the show, shooting everything we've seen so far.  Apprently, as this final season continues, we'll see them even more.

This is a mistake.  The whole fiction of a documentary crew has been silly from the start (as it is on most other shows that employ the "documentary" feel).  It doesn't stand up to scrutiny that they'd be everywhere catching every important moment, that those being filmed would put up with it, or that they'd be shooting this documentary for nine years.  It was barely buyable in the 12 episodes of the original Office in Britain, but it's stretched far beyond credibility here.

Also, the reason they finally got on camera was weak.  Pam was crying over something so the sound man came up to her and asked the crew to stop shooting.  This is the same crew that's shot tragedy and pain for nine years, not to mention all sorts of secrets, such as affairs and so on, without so much as a peep. (In addition, the sound man looked like an actor--I've seen lots of documentary crews and this guy was several standard deviations more handsome than normal.)

There are a lot of ways to wind down a show.  I think 30 Rock, which has been making big decisions in its characters' lives but still being funny and true to itself, is doing it right.  The Office, by taking us out of the show and reminding us how silly its concept is, is going in the wrong direction.

Sam She Am

Happy birthday, Sam Phillips--the beautiful singer-songwriter, not the grizzled record producer.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Data Off Base

Here's the storyline of the recently-released Movie 43, according to the IMDb:

A series of interconnected short films follows three kids as they search the depths of the Internet to find the most banned movie in the world.

This is simply wrong.  Perhaps it was an earlier version of the plot, or maybe it was sent out as a decoy, but there isn't a hint of this in the finished film.

True, the movie is a series of shorts generally revolving around the repulsive, but what holds it together is the plot of a man pitching a movie to a producer.

I'm a little surprised to see this error at IMDb, which tends to be pretty reliable.  Now that the film is out, it'll be interesting to see how long it takes them to fix it.

Singing On MT

Happy birthday, Margo Timmins.  She's the lovely lead singer who gave the Cowboy Junkies their distinctive sound.

Saturday, January 26, 2013


I just received a bill from the LA Department Of Water And Power.  It was significantly higher than usual.  Had I been using more energy lately?

Then I saw the page attached to the bill--every bill has the latest info on the goings on at the DWP.   Here's what it said:

After nearly two years of public education and building stakeholder support [the LADWP will begin implementing rate hikes, with another coming soon. ]

The City Council's approval of the two-year electric rate increase [....] was supported by a broad cross-section of both the business and environmental communities...

They're proud that they're punishing us.  This is part of the green agenda, which the state has mandated.  They may not be able to make alternative sources viable, but at least they can make conventional energy unpleasant.

So there's broad support?  I don't recall being asked about it.  If there's really support, how about a direct vote on the rate increase?  Of course, in this state, they might just approve it.

Chained To Django

Happy birthday, Stephane Grappelli.  He had a long career as a jazz violinist, working with numerous greats, but I think he's best-loved for his work with Django Reinhardt. (Note Django would usually give him the first chorus.)

Friday, January 25, 2013

At The Helm

There's no bigger story in the world of geekdom than who will direct the new Star Wars.  It now appears to be J.J. Abrams (after he denied it at first).  I have mixed feelings about this.

Actually, I have mixed feelings about new Star Wars.  The original trilogy is classic, but the second trilogy is a disaster.  It's not only three weak films on its own, it also tarnishes the lustre of the original.  On the other hand, a trilogy set after the original is not only a new hope for good films, but should not retroactively makes the earlier films worse because (presumably) it won't show us dumb characters and plotlines that make the original less interesting.

But is J.J. up to it?  Years ago, Spielberg would have been willing, but he's beyond such stuff now.  James Cameron certainly has the talent, but doesn't want to do anything where he doesn't have complete control.  There are certainly a number of decent action and sf directors out there, but we need the absolute best.  Does J.J. measure up?

I've never thought too much of him as a writer.  His best production was the TV show Lost, but after the pilot he left the day-to-day writing and producing to others. The movie scripts that established him--Regarding Henry, Forever Young--are no great shakes.  More recently he did Super 8, which had a nice concept (and was a tribute to the sf pictures of the 70s), but didn't quite have the oomph it needed.

On the other hand, he won't be writing the screenplay (though no doubt he'll have input), he'll be directing it.  And lately, he's done some good work on big action films.  His Mission: Impossible was one of the better in the series, and I like his reboot of the Star Trek franchise (no doubt the main reason he got this gig).  Still, this is Star Wars we're talking about, so he's got to raise his game.  It's a chance to restart the greatest franchise of all.  Guess we'll be watching his new Star Trek movie closely to see if he's got what it takes.

This Tome's For You

I'm a big fan of Neil Young (if you don't believe me check my profile), so I'm glad he wrote a memoir, Waging Heavy Peace.  I just wish he'd done a better job.  It's written in a conversational style, but the sort of conversation you might have at a party where a hippie backs you up against the wall and goes into a long-winded tale about the old days.

Actually, I wish most of it were about the old days.  Neil shoots back and forth, and spends a tremendous amount of time talking about present-day issues, like how bad digital sound is and how he's writing this book--the very one you're reading now.

But then, what could we expect?  Neil was always mercurial--refusing to play old hits in concerts, dropping out of tours without notice, recording odd albums that seemed to test his fans.  Still, that's the Neil we love. I don't know if he could have done it any other way, and the results, at their best, are as good as it gets.

The book is almost 500 pages, with a bunch of short chapters (68) so Neil, in his haphazard way, does get around to most of the periods in his life you'd like to know about, but it can be rough sledding.  It would be great if someone cut this up and rearranged it in chronological order, so fans could concentrate on the stuff they want to know (which is probably less than half the contents).

He sometimes muses on life, and it's not too deep, but what do you expect from a guy whose spent a large portion of the last 45 years smoking weed? He laments a lot of lost friends and band members, which is, alas, how it works in rock and roll.  He's quite generous with his compliments, but when you read between the lines--and when Neil is being most honest--you get the feeling he was a strong-willed artist who wouldn't let anyone or anything get in the way of him and his music.  This is great for the millions who love his stuff, but it may have been tough at times on a lot of people who were close to him.

Anyway, I recommend the book for Neil fans.  It could have been a lot better, but there's no place else to get this perspective.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Oh Ray, Oh Ray

Happy birthday, Ray Stevens.  Corny, but popular, he was probably the most successful novelty artist of the rock era.  He even had two #1 hits, the very dated "The Streak" and the very non-novelty "Everything Is Beautiful."

Out Of The Past, Back To The Future

I just read Do The Movies Have A Future? by film critic David Denby.  The title is a bit of a misnomer, since the book is mostly a reprint of (rewritten) pieces first published in The New Yorker.  As such, it's not bad, but it's a book to be enjoyed piecemeal.

He arranges chapters according to certain categories, such as trends, stars, director and critics.  The best stuff is found in the essays, as opposed to the reviews.  There's a nice piece on appreciating Joan Crawford in an age when it's hard to take her seriously. I also liked his look at Victor Fleming, a man's man of a director who made some memorable films in his day yet is so often forgotten by the critics when they look back at the studio era.

But the piece that makes the book worthwhile is his discussion of fellow critic Pauline Kael.  This is because it's personal.  Kael had spent decades in the wilderness before becoming a--perhaps the--major film critic.  Suddenly, at 50, she was an oracle, writing the reviews everyone talked about, helping to form the opinions of a new generation of critics.

And she didn't just do this over a distance, she often did it directly.  Many young people, usually men, would send her letters or samples of their work, and if she saw something, she'd invite them over.  She would give her opinions, good or bad, on their work, goad them to do better, and often recommend them for jobs at various papers and periodicals.  This group was often referred to as the "Paulettes," and Denby was one.  After he convinced her of his worth, she got him a job writing on film for the Atlantic.

It could be intoxicating to be in her presence, but also dangerous.  She was funny and smart, but quite insistent that her opinion was the only one that mattered.  You could disagree with her for a while, but if you kept it up you'd soon be out of the charmed circle. Many of her discoveries who didn't leave on their own were eventually cut off--as happened to Denby a few years after he met her.  In fact, she made a pronouncement: criticism wasn't for him.  Denby, needless to say, wasn't thrilled, but he didn't quit.  For the rest of her life (she died in 2001--Denby wrote this piece looking back), she was cold toward him.

Denby's portrait is mostly positive, praising her lively, powerful prose, but he's hardly blind to her flaws.  (He also sees flaws in his early writing, too easily following Kael's style.)  For instance, she preferred the rough to the smooth, which made her suspicious of work that was too controlled, and sometimes made her feel highbrow work was lifeless.  And while her take--often raising up work that other critics might have dismissed as pop, and questioning those that followed modern pieties--was helpful coming out of the tradition she did, it wasn't so helpful by the end of her career, when pop had decidedly taken over, and the new generation was seduced by it.

Denby got in at a time when the film world--and the critics who wrote about it--was hopping as it never had before, and perhaps never will again.  Kael's books, generally collections of her reviews and essays, were bestsellers.  I doubt the same thing will happen to Denby.  Maybe a better title would be "Does Movie Reviewing Have A Future?"

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Darkest Timeline

Community, my favorite sitcom, will be airing new episodes in a couple weeks.  Until yesterday, I held out hopes there was some slight chance the show would be renewed despite minuscule ratings.  But I no longer see that happening, now that series regular Donald Glover has a pilot that NBC just picked up

I don't see how he can do both shows (unlike Alison Brie's occasional appearances on Mad Men, or, for that matter, Glover's work on Girls), and I don't see how Community could continue without him.  His character, Troy Barnes, unlike Chevy Chase's Pierce, is central to the show's dynamic. In fact, in "Remedial Chaos Theory," we got to see what happened to the group when Troy left for just a minute:

So this is a fond farewell.  We don't get six seasons and a movie, but thirteen more episodes and a box set.  Or maybe Glover's new show will fail and they'll bring back Community.  Nah, why fool myself.

PS On a much lower level, I'm also sad to see Don't Trust The B---- In Apartment 23 apparently get the axe.  I didn't love it, but thought it was pretty good.

It's Magic

Back in the 90s I used to hang out in a comic book store where a friend worked.  Around then it seemed everyone was buying Magic The Gathering cards.  At the time it seemed to me a silly offshoot of Dungeons & Dragons.  But after having read Johnny Magic & The Card Shark Kids, I have a new respect--it may have all the fantasy trappings, but apparently it's a killer game (not D&D-like at all) of complex strategy.

The book spends some time with Richard Garfield, who invented Magic.  He asked why should card games have a set deck?  Why not one where players can create it themselves?  It's also a good deal for the manufacturers, who keep putting out new cards that fans have to buy.

But the majority of the book is spent with Jon Finkel, aka Johnny Magic. (He gave himself the name--certainly better than nicknames others game him, like Stinkel or Finkeltron.) Like so many smart, nerdy kids, he was mercilessly made fun of growing up.  Then he found Magic, which not only gave him hours of fun, but a sense of purpose.  It turned him into a champion.  And when they started having tournaments, into a major money-winner.  He was recognized as the greatest Magic player ever, a hero for millions of kids around the planet.  They even named a card after him.

But that's just the start.  The talent required to play Magic at top level worked in other games, and when he came of age (actually, a little before), he started making money--millions--translating those skills to poker, blackjack and sports betting. He also helped bring in many fellows players, and to the surprise of the old guard, they're starting to take over the gaming community.

Stuff like online poker was made for them, and in the early 2000s these upstarts began to appear at the World Series Of Poker.  If you follow the sport, you may have heard of one--Finkel's good friend David Williams, who finished second to Greg Raymer (on a tough beat), winning $3.5 million in 2004.  Maybe I should start learning Magic.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Trippingly On The Tongue

There wasn't anything too surprising in President Obama's second inaugural speech.  He spoke in the generalities we're used to in politics, but said enough to make it clear the next two years will be more about division than unification.  And why not?  He's got a Republican House, and if he could just replace it with a Democrat House, then he could get his way and go back to speeches where he reaches out to everyone.

The speech had an emphasis on collective over individual action that sometimes bordered on the surreal:

No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future. Or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses toour shores.

Who are these people claiming a single individual should train all teachers, or build all roads?  (And if anyone is saying it, who is this individual they're referring to--I want to meet him.)

He did bring up climate change, though he seemed to say dealing with it will help our economy, rather than admitting the true trade-off--we have to be willing to significantly harm our fiscal well-being to avoid potentially worse ecological damage.

After speaking out for women's rights and gay rights, he made an odd statement:

Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.

So it's not enough to have the right, the government has to keep the line short.  Fine with me, if that ethos spreads to lines for paying parking fines and other fees at government offices.  (Of course, when it comes to Second Amendment rights, he's not as concerned about the limitations government places on citizens.)

Then there was this:

We cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.

Noble words.  So from now on, I assume the President and his party will be willing to give in to Republicans on major issues, not make a big deal about it to the press, and not say the GOP is hurting the country.

The Cat Lives In The Top Ten

Happy birthday, Sam Cooke.  The singer was shot to death in Los Angeles in 1964, only 33 years old.  He might still be with us today. Instead, we have these keepsakes:

Monday, January 21, 2013

New You

YouTube has changed.  Not so long ago, if I checked out, say, some particular artist performing some particular song, on the right side of the screen there'd be suggestions for other videos that would mostly be other versions of the same song, other songs by the same artist, or similar songs in the style of what I'm watching.

Now it's gotten more personalized, and those suggestions are salted with stuff that refer to former YouTube videos I've watched that otherwise have no relation.  I don't need this.  Not only is it creepy, it's irrelevant. I know what I watched in the past, but right now I'm interested in this video, and if you're going to make any suggestions at all, just show me what this particular video might lead me, and others, to.  For that matter, I like how any time I watch the video I'll get the same suggestions, so I can go elsewhere and then return later to check something else out.

The Play's The Thing?

For a long time I've had trouble with most one-man or one-woman shows where an actor portrays some famous figure for an evening's entertainment.  I'm not denying they can be enjoyable, but is it drama?  That generally comes from the clash of two or more characters, not one person relating a series of anecdotes.

Then I read a (negative) review in the LA Times of Freud's Last Session, featuring Judd Hirsch as Freud and Tom Cavanagh as C.S. Lewis, and it got me thinking.  The action has them meeting and arguing for their viewpoints.  It's only the latest of a number of such plays featuring a couple (or three of four) famous people having a meeting--sometimes fictional, sometimes based on a real meeting--where the playwright dramatizes what they said and did.  For instance, there's the highly regarded Copenhagen, featuring Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, or The Meeting, with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.

Okay, we've got two (or more) people with opposing goals, and that can make for drama, but there's something else that's troublesome.  These are not characters invented by the playwright.  Not entirely, anyway.  These are famous people.  So rather than being required to create characters that will hold our attention, the playwright starts with an advantage--names we're intrigued by before we've bought our ticket.  So I've got to ask, would I care if these were two characters I'd never heard of before?  Because if I wouldn't, then the show is closer to a stunt than a good play.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Case Closed

I sometimes watch TV with the closed captioning on to make sure I can decipher what's said, though the danger is I'll start reading the show rather than listening to it.

There are often mistakes that take you out of the action.  For instance, I was watching Abbot and Costello in Jack And The Beanstalk.  Costello was singing his song when I noticed the CC got the words wrong.  This is bad enough, but the wrong words meant the rhyme didn't work.  This is unfair to songwriters Lester Lee and Bob Russell, who no doubt worked hard on getting it right.  But it also shows an insensitivity to lyric-writing that's all too common these days, or the CC person would have known there was an error.  What do you expect in an age where no one blinks an eye at rhyming "together" and "forever"? (I'm not mentioning the specific error only because I've already taped over the movie.)

Then there was last Thursday's 30 Rock that had Liz and Jack going down to Florida, allowing the writers to mock the Sunshine State. One gag had Jack calling 911 and getting a recorded message dealing with common problems--for an anaconda in a crawl space, press 1, a sinkhole full of Indian bones, press 2, if you want to know why JAG wasn't on last week, press 3.

Okay, but then just as Jack hung up, we heard "If your Shabbos..." and that's all. Odd line. At least unless you read the full line on CC. Apparently, these people are given the scripts to work from, since it read "If your Shabbos goy..."

For you gentiles out there, a Shabbos goy is a non-Jew who works for Jews on the Sabbath, doing things Jews aren't allowed to do. "If your Shabbos goy..." is a decent joke, while "If your Shabbos..." isn't much. I have to assume someone at NBC felt the term was offensive in some way.

I saw something even stranger in Platinum Blonde, a 1931 Frank Capra movie starring Jean Harlow and Loretta Young.  In it, actor Walter Catlett does that thing people have been doing for decades to imitate American Indians--hitting your palm on your mouth and going "woo woo woo." Yes, I'm sure this isn't an ethnographically accurate.  But here's how the CC puts it: "Making racist war cry."

Isn't this a bit too judgmental?  Or at least a little too heavy on the moralizing?  (It's not even clear.  What would a deaf person make of it--a war cry that calls out all inferior races?)  I've started to see the words "racist" and "sexist" and "misogynistic" pop up rather peremptorily in certain newspaper headlines, but I figured I'd be protected from editorialzing in my closed captioning.

I Feel A Song Coming On

At the AV Club they ask their writers for favorite musical numbers in non-musicals.  An intriguing category.  I love when, out of nowhere, a musical number starts up.  Though in lots of comedies--from Laurel & Hardy to the Marx Brothers to Bob Hope to Mel Brooks to The Simpsons--the occasional musical number is expected, so I'm not entirely sure if that counts.

Then there are "serious" directors, such as Jean-Luc Godard or David Lynch, who figure film can do anything, so sometimes stick in a song.

What about Bollywood?  Their movies aren't always musicals, but since they're willing to throw in the kitchen sink, you've got to expect the occasional production number.

One of my favorites that's mostly forgotten is in Bagdad Cafe.  This number really makes no sense, which is part of the fun. Though showing it by itself will probably give you a false idea of the movie.

(I like how they have English subtitles for English singing, and then are way off anyway.)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Top Of The Bottom

There's an old joke about the man who travels to an African village.  For several days and nights he hears drums beating in the background.  Then one day they stop and he asks a native what that means.  He's told "very very bad--it means the bass solo is about to start."

Bassist Israel Crosby, whose birthday we celebrate today, is allegedly the first man to take a bass solo on a jazz record.  I think we can forgive him, considering what a fine player he is.

Pajama Guy Salutes The Jazz Age (#9 In A Series)

Jesse Walker wraps up his look back at films made in years ending in the number 2. By the 20s, the film industry was going like gangbusters, but like so much of the silent era, the films are not often shown. Thus he has no list of films from 1922, though he does like Nosferatu (and he mentions titles from 1912, 1902 and 1892). So add another vampire film to his top-of-the-list.

True, it's rare to even have seen ten films from 1922, much less have a top ten, but enough was going on then that I bet some cinephiles would love to give it a shot.

Above all, you have the great clowns.  Chaplin was seriously slowing down his schedule, but in 1922 managed to produce his last short--one of his favorites--Pay Day.  Meanwhile, Buster Keaton was in his second year of an amazing run of shorts.  He put out seven in 1922, all worth watching, including his most famous, Cops. In the same year, Harold Lloyd showed the way, leaving shorts behind to concentrate on features, which meant his breakthrough, Grandma's Boy, as well as Dr. Jack.  Right there you have ten films.

Other shorts in 1922 included the start of the Our Gang series from Hal Roach, not to mention animation like Felix The Cat and Walt Disney stuff before he was Walt Disney. There's even the avant-garde short Manhatta, available on YouTube.

Then there were the big stars.  Douglas Fairbanks made Robin Hood, one of his best swashbucklers.  Mary Pickford made Tess Of The Storm Country. John Barrymore made Sherlock Holmes.  Norma Talmadge made Smilin' Through. Lon Chaney made a handful of films, including Oliver Twist with Jackie Coogan.

There were also some big-name directors around.  D. W Griffith made One Exciting Night. Cecil B. Demille made Manslaughter.  Ernst Lubitsch made The Loves Of Pharaoh. Fritz Lang made Dr. Mabuse The Gambler.  Erich von Stroheim made Foolish Wives. Robert Flaherty made one of the most famous documentaries of all, Nanook Of The North. (Even Frank Capra made his first film, Fultah Fisher's Boarding House, though I don't believe it's available.)

There were also a lot of big screen adaptations of famous titles, such as Lorna Doone, The Prisoner Of Zenda, The Scarlet Letter and Vanity Fair.

It does take an effort to see silent films, but perhaps Jesse will get around to checking out enough of them that eventually he'll have some silent top ten lists.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Ike, Paul and Hari

I loved Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy when I read it as a teen. It had a scope you didn't often see in science fiction.  Asimov decided to do something based on the rise and fall of a civilization, after all.  Looking back, the overall story is done in a pretty haphazard fashion.  It's a collection of shorter pieces written at separate times, and one can see Asimov pulling plot points out of nowhere to keep things moving.

I may have outgrown the series.  I can't be sure since I haven't read it since, but I know I didn't like Asimov's post-trilogy Foundation books--though admittedly he wrote them decades later.  In any case, good or bad, the central premise--that a guy named Hari Seldon develops "psychohistory" into a science, and can predict precisely what will happen, and what needs to happen, centuries into the future--is absurd.  It's an exciting sf sort of idea, but in the real world it seems ridiculous that anyone could make useful predictions beyond the most general that go beyond a decade or so. (Not that they don't try, but history laughs at them, when it isn't horrified.)

Turns out Paul Krugman loved the trilogy, too. And why not--a world controlled to the nth degree by technocrats is right up his alley.  Krugman apparently sees himself as a mini-Seldon, claiming to have predicted what's going on these days while others were way off.  Good for him, except every pundit claims to have a great track record.  So please Paul, make a list of ten very specific, anti-intuitive predictions that will come true in the next decade, and then we can judge.  And if you're wrong, you've got your own foundation for a great science fiction series.

Oh Kaye

Today is the Danny Kaye centennial.  That sure crept up on us fast. A popular comedian who did special motor-mouth material, he rose up through Vaudeville into Broadway and then movie stardom.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dance Time

Chris Montez turns 70 today.  Who he? A singer from the 60s who only had one big hit, but it was a good one.

He'll be remembered for that, but had some other numbers that were pretty cool:

Depressing List

It's 1932--new stars from the sound era are emerging, Hollywood wasn't yet gagging on the Production Code and everything was up for grabs. But the deepening Depression, combined with higher costs for sound films, had most of the studios in the dumps.  Still, they made a bunch of amazing films that year. 

Let's see what Jesse Walker, continuing his look back to years ending in "2," thinks of 1932.

Here's his top ten:

1. Vampyr
2. Island of Lost Souls
3. Ivan
4. Freaks
5. Love Me Tonight
6. Horse Feathers
7. Boudu Saved from Drowning
8. Land Without Bread
9. Trouble in Paradise
10. Million Dollar Legs

Quite a list.  I've never seen Ivan, but the rest look pretty good.  Pretty high on horror.  I like Vampyr, Island Of Lost Souls and Freaks, but they're all ranked a bit too high.  In fact, first place should be a tie between Horse Feathers, the Marx Brothers' best along with Duck Soup, and Trouble In Paradise (which Jesse predicted I'd put on top), Lubitsch's most stylistically perfect film.

Love Me Tonight is the best ersatz Lubitsch operetta ever, with a better score ("Isn't It Romantic?" may be the best tune in the entire Great American Songbook) than Lubitsch ever had.  Boudu is a Renoir classic.  Land Without Bread--I don't know what the hell it is, exactly (I'm not even sure if I can dismiss it as a short), but it's too bad Bunuel would essentially be required to leave behind directing for about 15 years after this. Million Dollar Legs can't be compared to Duck Soup, as it sometimes is, or even later W.C. Fields, but it's still a glorious mess.

11. Betty Boop, M.D.
12. Shanghai Express
13. American Madness
14. Betty Boop for President
15. One Hour with You
16. Minnie the Moocher
17. Red-Headed Woman
18. Murders in the Rue Morgue
19. The Idea
20. Kongo

A bunch of Betty Boop Cartoons.  They're fine, though Jesse knows I don't approve of comparing shorts to features. But if you're going to have them, where are the Disney shorts?  Or Laurel and Hardy (this was the year of The Music Box and County Hospital)?

Shanghai Express is my favorite von Sternberg--should probably be (and at #12 almost is) top ten.  American Madness is pretty good, even if Capra would go on to better things.  One Hour With You is my favorite Lubitsch musical, and would be in my top ten. (1932 was quite a year for Ernst--two classics, Trouble In Paradise and One Hour With You, along with a fascinating if deadly serious drama (that flopped), Broken Lullaby, and a fine segment in If I Had A Million.)

Red-Headed Woman is fun, if no classic. Murders In The Rue Morgue is also good (big year for horror).  The Idea I haven't seen. Kongo may be weirder than Island Of Lost Souls and Freaks combined.

Jesse notes Scarface didn't make the list.  He does't like the scene inserted into the film that lectures the audience about crime so the rest of the film wouldn't be considered too offensive.  I consider it comic relief (and, interestingly, the most offensive part of the film by today's standards) and think the rest of it--the stuff Howard Hawks shot--is the best gangster film of all.

Here are some other film of 1932 that might make my top ten:

Grand Hotel (Jesse has mixed feelings about this Oscar-winner, but I consider it solid Hollywood entertainment)

I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (a little surprised not to see this film on the list--it remains powerful)

Red Dust (shiny new stars Clark Gable and Jean Harlow at their pre-Code best)

Other films I like:

Broken Lullaby (as mentioned above--originally entitled The Man I Killed--you can see why they changed it), The Crowd Roars, Jewel Robbery (a Trouble In Paradise knockoff), Movie Crazy (probably Harold Lloyd's best talkie), The Mummy, Night After Night (Mae West's debut), The Old Dark House, One Way Passage (one of Hollywood's best romances with fine direction by Tay Garnett), Skyscraper Souls, Tarzan The Ape Man, Tiger Shark

Other films of note:

20,000 Years In Sing Sing, Air Mail, The Animal Kingdom, Arsene Lupin, As You Desire Me, Back Street, The Big Broadcast, A Bill Of Divorcement, Blonde Venus, Chandu The Magician, Doctor X, A Farewell To Arms, Flesh, Forbidden, The Greeks Had A Word For Them, If I Had A Million, The Kid From Spain, The Lost Squadron, The Mask Of Fu Manchu, Me And My Gal, The Miracle Man, The Most Dangerous Game, No Man Of Her Own, No More Orchids, The Passionate Plumber, The Phantom President, Polly Of The Circus, Rain, Rasputin And The Empress, Rich And Strange, Ride Him Cowboy, Scarlet Dawn, Sherlock Holmes, Shopworn, The Sign Of Four, The Sign Of The Cross, So Big!, Speak Easily, Strange Interlude, Taxi!, There Goes The Bride, Thirteen Women, This Is The Night, Three On A Match, Three Wise Girls, Union Depot, What Price Hollywood?, White Zombie

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Size Matters?

Someone sent me this important piece of scientific research--"Study: Women with large breasts are smarter."

I don't think it's they're smarter so much as the guys around them act dumber.

Our Stars

I just read film critic Ty Burr's Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom And Modern Fame.  It's fascinating to contemplate that the idea of movie stardom, which didn't exist a little over a century ago, has become part of our everyday lives, and also has changed through the years.

At the start, movies existed to show motion, not particular people.  Soon filmmakers started telling stories, and the public wanted to know who these people in the stories were.  But companies were promoting themselves, not the people (not clear if they could be called "actors" yet) in their product.  The first star became known as The Biograph Girl, for her company.  She jumped ship and went to the newer exhibitors (who would eventually take over the industry), who were more than happy to put out her name, Florence Lawrence.  They also started creating publicity that wasn't completely accurate--so that started from the beginning.

Soon there were major stars, creating a sort of worldwide celebrity that the world had never known.  They were people who filled a niche that no one knew needed to be filled.  So by 1920 the three biggest stars--Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks--were famous names, but also meant a specific character to the public, the little tramp, America's sweetheart and the great swashbuckler. No one had seen this sort of adoration.  When young star Rudolph Valentino, who symbolied the Latin Lover, died in 1926, there were outpourings of grief that not even heads of state could expect.

There were also scandals, such as the rape accusations against Fatty Arbuckle.  It destroyed his career, but the titillation and finger-wagging became as much as part of film fandom as idolization.  Meanwhile, some of the new celebrities discovered there wasn't that much to being a star.  Everyone believed things about them, but their lives were the same--they weren't those characters they portrayed up on the screen.  And the fans would grow tired of them if they didn't watch out.  Even before the silent era was over, some stars ended up dying by their own hand.

There were many major stars in the silent era--Gloria Swanson, Norma Talmadge, John Gilbert--but then sound came in and changed everything.  It became more personal, even brought some stars down to earth, now that they could talk to us.  The insinuating Mae West, the virile Clark Gable, the suave Cary Grant, the tough Jimmy Cagney.  And moguls understood, in ways they hadn't always before, that running a studio meant creating and maintaining stars, including a solid publicity department.

The system worked for a couple decades, but America was changing.  World War II took away some of the glamor, and the Supreme Court broke up the studios.  There was a new movement in acting, starting in theatre but spreading into film. No one personified this more than Marlon Brando.  A sexy hunk, he was also a fine actor whose naturalism made everyone else seem fake.  And as a star, he didn't play the game.  Which was itself a new game.  Now new stars didn't have to pretend to be someone they weren't.  In fact, whereas old stars had to play to fans, new stars could act surly and seem more authentic.

The very idea of fame changed in the 50s and 60s when Elvis and then the Beatles came to the fore.  (The book is mostly about movies, but Burr also discusses other types of fame--I think the book would be stronger if he stuck to the film world.)  And as the old studio system died, and the Production Code jettisoned, the oldest rule of all--that stars had to be goodlooking--didn't even apply.  Dustin Hoffman, in The Graduate--a role that almost went to pretty boy Robert Redford--became a representative of his generation.  He'd go on to a lengthy career as, essentially, a character actor who starred in films. Others would follow, combining the commitment (and antics) of Brando without the matinee idol looks--Pacino, Nicholson, Hackman, etc.

There was a return to glamor, however, in the 80s.  Part of it was America saying it wanted fun over substance (this was a turn in movies, though Burr sometimes plays up the political changes too much--even in cinema it's easy to overstress the difference between movies in the 70s and 80s).  But even now, the new stars were wised up.  Harrison Ford was handsome, but grumpy. Arnold Schwarzenegger winked at his audience.

Burr goes on into the last twenty years, listing literally hundreds of stars and the movements they're part of, but I'm not sure if he, or anyone, has a clear enough perspective for fame in the internet era.  But up until then, the book is a fascinating look at how movies and (to a lesser extent) other media consistently changed the very idea of fame in the last century.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Explain something to me--why is breakfast in bed considered the ultimate in luxury?

Some obvious problems:

--You've just woken up and are dirty, waiting to clean up.

--You're lying back, which is a fairly uncomfortable way to eat and drink.

--Worst of all, you're running the risk of getting food all over your sheets and your pajamas.

If someone came into my bedroom with a tray, I'd say go back to the kitchen and keep it warm while I catch a shower.

Springer Break

I'm of two minds about TV show host Jerry Springer, and so, apparently, is Springer.  He recently said, somewhat in jest. "I am the father of the destruction of Western civilization."  He claims his show was "stupid" and had "no redeeming social value."

Springer got a little more animated when discussing politics.  He did, after all, start out as a politician, and served as Mayor of Cincinnati.  Here's some of what he said:

We didn’t hold hearings and say, ‘how much is this going to cost?’ We just went to war. But then you talk about something that’s real, the diseases that would affect us all, and somehow it’s okay 30 million Americans don’t have health insurance? [...] How can you say you love America, and not give a damn about Americans?

So there's a good Springer and a bad Springer.  Unfortunately, Jerry has it backwards. His show brought entertainment to millions.  It's as a political thinker that he has no redeeming social value.

He's wrong about the war stuff.  Take Iraq--we discussed it for over a year (including the cost), held hearings, and took a vote in Congress. But let's forget that and concentrate on health care.  Rather than listen to the national conversation, the Democrats decided to ignore what the majority was saying and force a plan on the public which, no matter how much they lectured us, the people didn't want. The new regime will likely lead to less choice in health care for most Americans (the vast majority of whom, let's not forget, were happy with their health care before the new law was passed) and has a decent chance of slowing down innovation in a way that could negatively effect billions of people.

Jerry, you may love America, but we'd be a lot better off if you didn't give a damn.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Film Year In Review--2012

Time for our eagerly awaited film wrap-up for 2012. Not being a professional critic, there were plenty of titles I missed, including a handful that sounded pretty good, but I believe I saw enough to get a general feeling for the year.  And I didn't think 2012 was much of a year--though to be fair, I can't remember ever thinking so little of so many films supported by the audience, the critics, or both.

In fact, I had to cheat to fill out my top ten, putting in a few films that didn't deserve to be there.  But before we get to that, let me explain how this works. I discuss only feature films released in theatres, or first made widely available in theatres, in 2012.  No TV, no shorts.  I'll give out some awards, note some trends, categorize the films I saw and then list my top ten.  You can rush to the bottom right now.  I can't stop you.  But most of the fun is on the way.

Whether or not you agree with me--in fact, you won't agree with me--feel free to leave a comment.

2012 AWARDS:

Male Star Of The Year: Channing Tatum.  He starred in three big hits in three different genres, 21 Jump Street, The Vow and Magic Mike.

Female Star Of The Year: Jennifer Lawrence.  She established herself as the lead in a blockbuster series (Hunger Games) and got an Oscar nomination for an indie hit (Silver Linings Playbook).

Actor Of the Year: No performance really stood out, but I'll give it to Sam Rockwell for Seven Psychopaths.

Man Of The Year: Abraham Lincoln, who passed the Thirteenth Amendment and took care of the vampire threat.

Disease of the Year: A perennial--alcoholism (Smashed and Flight)--tied with polio (The Sessions and Hyde Park On Hudson).

Crime Of The Year: Dogsnatching--Killing Them Softly, Seven Psychopaths
Weapon Of Choice: Bow and arrow--Hunger Games, The Avengers, Brave, Snow White And The Huntsman

New Face Of 2012: Bella Heathcote in Dark Shadows and Not Fade Away.

Worst Performance Guaranteed To Win Lots Of Awards:  Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables.

Best Surprise Good Performance:  Megan Fox, quite funny in This Is 40.

Most Pointless Performance:  Chris Tucker, who hasn't done a non-Rush Hour film in 15 years, shows up in Silver Linings Playbook to do nothing.
Best Performance In A Bad Movie: I liked Mary Elizabeth Winstead as an alcoholic in Smashed, and really she's the movie, but somehow I didn't like the movie itself.

Worst Year Ever:  Taylor Kitsch, an unknown, got to star in two mega-flops--Battleship and John Carter (to be fair, they grossed okay overseas, but they're still huge disappointments).  And you can throw in another high-profile miss, Savages.

Funny Money:  Certain consistent comic moneymakers better watch it. For years an Adam Sandler comedy was the surest bet in Hollywood, but now with 2012's flop That's My Boy following the previous year's Jack And Jill, is his audience deserting him?  Then there's Ben Stiller (co-starring with Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill) in the expensive flop The Watch. These guys need hits if they want to justify their salaries.  There are always Seth MacFarlanes waiting to become the new comedy king.

Best Musical Number: "This Must Be The Place" from This Must Be The Place (though the movie edited out the best part)

Worst Title: Tie--Brave (generic and not particular relevant), To Rome With Love (sounds like Woody is sucking up, and anyway it's an old TV series)

That's Not A Title, That's A Warning:  Atlas Shrugged II

Most Misleading Title: Tie--Lincoln and The Comedy

Best Missed Title:  Big Miracle, about an effort to rescue a whale trapped in ice.  Why was this not called Freeze Willie?

Worst Accent: Helen Hunt, with a character from Salem in The Sessions. Or was that even an attempt at an accent? (Though if I were giving a Best Breasts award I think she'd win.)

Worst Historical Impersonation: Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock in Hitchcock. Kept thinking I was watching a chubby Anthony Hopkins

Fairy Tale Of The Year:  Snow White in Mirror Mirror and Snow White And The Huntsman (not to mention Once Upon A Time on TV).

You Me And Dupree Award For A Film That While Nominally A Hollywood Comedy Is Actually A Surrealist Masterpiece, Where Plot Points Are Introduced And Dropped For No Reason, Where Dialogue Is Unrelated To The Action, And Where Characters Do Things That Bear No Resemblance To How Humans Act: Playing For Keeps

Clint Eastwood Award For Most Boring Film Of The YearLes Miserables. They just wouldn't stop singing.(For the first time in a while, the Clint Eastwood film didn't win--maybe because he didn't direct.)
Best Final Shot: The Avengers

Worst Idea For A Film:  Rise Of The Guardians. I don't care if it's based on something, do we want to see a story that messes with beloved children's figures?

Oddest Plot: This Must Be The Place—an old, retired goth-style rocker living in Ireland travels across America hunting Nazis.

Biggest Disappointment: Brave. Following their worst film, Cars 2, Pixar does not come back, but rather gives us their take on a Disney princess story, and shows with a muddled plot they're not very good at it.

Worst Soundtrack: Rock Of Ages.

Worst Reboot: The Amazing Spider-Man.
Worst Remake: Red Dawn
Worst Sequel: Taken 2

Most Cliche-Ridden Film: Trouble With The Curve. Clint Eastwood plays a crotchety old man who secretly goes to his wife's grave to talk to her. He has an adult daughter he was never able to raise properly, and now they've got issues. She goes to visit him on the road even though she's a hotshot lawyer who has to leave behind a big case that just might get her that partnership she's been working every Saturday for seven years to achieve. Clint's a baseball scout who's being replaced by a weasely guy at the front office who uses those newfangled computers and seems to have never even attended a ballgame. But that guy doesn't understand you need the wisdom that Clint brings—in person—to spot talent.  Unfortunately, Clint's eyesight is failling--though he stubbornly refuses to do anything about it.  Hope his daughter can help him. Along the way they meet a former pick Eastwood brought up to the big leagues—he's become a scout, too, since, against Eastwood's direct advice, they had him pitch too much until he threw out his arm. They go to scout a kid who's obnoxious, ugly and, turns out, isn't that good—though only Eastwood can tell because the computers say he's great. Meanwhile, a poor, hardworking, noble kid that the ugly kid mocks--one who's not even on the baseball team but sells hot dogs at the stadium to help out his family--turns out to secretly have great talent (amazing this small town has two MLB prospects). Maybe if they sign him it'll save Clint's jobs and even bring him closer to his daughter, who will also be able to deal with her intimacy issues and be with the other scout.
House Of Sand And Fog Award For Reminding Us How Miserable Life IsAmour

Movie That Most Makes You Wish You Had Memory Loss:  The Vow.

Best Location Shooting:  Ann Arbor in The Five-Year Engagement.


Islands In Trouble: The Dark Knight Rises, Beasts Of The Southern Wild, Moonrise Kingdom

Performing Surgery On Yourself To Remove Something Dangerous Put Into Your Body: Prometheus, The Bourne Legacy, Total Recall

Disgruntled Asian Domestics Are Funny: The Campaign, That's My Boy

Assisted Living: Amour, The Sessions, The Intouchables

Bostonians Who Were Famous As Children But Today Live Forgotten, Dissolute Lives Love To Party Hard With Forgotten Celebrities:  That's My Boy (with Vanilla Ice), Ted (with Sam Jones, aka Flash Gordon)

Smoking Is Cool: This Must Be The Place, Flight, Chicken With Plums, Holy Motors

Nothing Is More Exciting Than A Chase Over The Old Rooftops Of Istanbul: Taken 2, Skyfall
Water Kills: Life Of Pi, The Impossible, Kon-Tiki

Lots of Business Is Done Inside Well-Equipped Luxury Cars. Cosmopolis, Arbitrage, Holy Motors

Old People Do The Darnedest ThingsThe Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet, Amour

Chris Hemsworth Goes Into The Woods Where People Try To Kill Him. The Cabin In The Woods, The Avengers, Snow White & The Huntsman, Red Dawn

Everything Is Food:  Jiro Dreams Of Sushi, Lunch, The Hunger Games

Worst Trend: Found footage movies,. Project X, Chronicle, the latest Paranormal Activity and others. The concept has been spreading through TV and movies for years now, and it's gone from novelty to encumbrance. The sort of cheating involved to create a scenario where everything necessary to tell the story just happened to have been captured by some camera is not only absurd, but leads to annoying and unpleasant footage.

Got A Message? Use Western Union: Promised Land, Killing Them Softly, The Campaign, The Lorax

Fifty Shades Of Grey: The Grey, The Woman In Black, Dark Shadows, Men In Black 3, Snow White And The Huntsman, Dark Horse, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty

This Is 40 Minutes Too Long. Yet another Judd Apatow comedy, This Is 40, easily over two hours. Do we need this?  Citizen Kane was under two hours.  There were a bunch of films this year that took two and a half hours or more, though the tedium started setting in well before. If you're in the editing room and you see the cut is over two hours, you better make sure it's justified. And if it's a comedy, aim for 90 minutes.

What The Hell Was That?: The Master, Holy Motors, The Comedy, Dark Horse

Lost In Translation: Gigantic hits in their own countries met with quizzical stares in America. The Intouchables, The Inbetweeners, Klown The Movie
It Started Well, Anyway: Dark Shadows, Flight, Rampart, Chronicle, Jack Reacher

Tricky Titles When Buying Your Ticket: A Late Quartet and Quartet (especially the late showing)
Best Argument For Occupy Wall Street: Cosmopolis

Best Argument Against Occupy Wall Street:  The Dark Knight Rises

Best Pro-Torture Argument:  Zero Dark Thirty

Best Anti-Torture Argument: Think Like A Man (because the film is torture, get it?)

Best Argument Against Child Care: Beasts Of The Southern Wild

Best Argument Against Old Person Care: Amour

Least Effective Argument:  2016: Obama's America

Loved The Atmosphere, Not The Movie: Dark Shadows, Not Fade Away.

Nowhere To Go: Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World, A Thousand Words

Violent, Crazy People Are Charming: Silver Linings Playbook, Seven Psychopaths, That's My Boy, Killing Them Softly

History Mystery: Three films nominated for Oscars based on specific and well-known historical situations—Lincoln, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. It's sort of cheap, in that you can claim this is real to make it seem more exciting (even as you invent things that never happened), but also excuse weakness by saying that's how it really happened. Still, it's interesting to make something dramatic where we already know the ending.

Disappointing Directors: A number of my favorite directors had films that did well, or were critically popular. Some were even considered comebacks. But they all disappointed me, to one extent or another--Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom), Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), Todd Solondz (Dark Horse), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook).



Carol Channing: Larger Than Life, The Secret World Of Arrietty, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope, Bernie, Marvel's The Avengers, Paul Williams Still Alive, Argo, Pitch Perfect, Wreck-It Ralph, Frankenweenie, Lunch, A Royal Affair


Chronicle, Let The Bullets Fly, Footnote, Jiro Dreams Of Sushi, 21 Jump Street, The Hunger Games, Headhunters, Natural Selection, Ted, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Klown The Movie, Dark Horse, Beasts Of The Southern Wild, Side By Side, Sleepwalk With Me, Robot And Frank, The Inbetweeners, Looper, This Must Be The Place, Lincoln, The Sessions, Life Of Pi, This Is 40, Jack Reacher, Django Unchained, Barbara, Amour, Kon-Tiki

Not Okay:

Contraband, Coriolanus, Haywire, The Grey, The Woman In Black, Man On A Ledge, Rampart, Thin Ice, Safe House, Wanderlust, John Carter, Friends With Kids, Mirror Mirror, The Lorax, American Reunion, The Three Stooges, Project X, The Five-Year Engagement, Dark Shadows, Moonrise Kingdom, The Dictator, The Intouchables, Men In Black 3, A Cat In Paris, Battleship, Prometheus, Rock Of Ages, Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World, Brave, To Rome With Love, The Pirates! Band Of Misfits, The Amazing Spider-Man, Savages, Snow White And The Huntsman, The Dark Knight Rises, Killer Joe, Ruby Sparks, Total Recall, The Campaign, The Bourne Legacy, A Thousand Words, Paranorman, The Expendables 2, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, That's My Boy, Premium Rush, 2016: Obama's America, Hit & Run, Lawless, The Vow, The Master, Taken 2, End Of Watch, Smashed, Flight, Skyfall, The Details, The Comedy, Silver Linings Playbook, Trouble With The Curve, Hitchcock, Killing Them Softly, Red Dawn, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Rise Of The Guardians, Playing For Keeps, Stand Up Guys, This Means War, Les Miserables, Not Fade Away, The Guilt Trip, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Big Miracle, The Impossible, Think Like A Man


A few of these are charity cases, but ten is a tradition.  So here they are in alphabetical order:


Okay, maybe it shouldn't be here, but a reasonably intelligent genre film dealing with the world of finance, featuring a good lead performance from Richard Gere and a plot that's not entirely obvious puts it a cut above.

The Cabin In The Woods 

Joss Whedon did another decent film in 2012, but this was the really exciting one.  Not a horror film so much as a comment on the horror film.  Funny, clever and exhilarating.

Chicken With Plums

A film (in French) about a man who lies down to die.  Sounds depressing, but this is a fantasy filled with life and imagination.

Cloud Atlas

A very flawed film. It bravely takes a stand against slavery, blackmail, murder, false imprisonment, human trafficking and the apocalypse.  But what it lacks in depth, it makes up for in amazing breadth.

Holy Motors

A man drives around all day in a limo performing in different scenarios, every time playing a different character.  Quirky, even bizarre, I'm not even sure if I like the film.  The biggest problem is I didn't feel any cumulative power, but the stuff that worked was fascinating.

Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present

I was worried this would be an insufferable document about a pretentious performance artist. Instead I got both a great history of a pioneering woman, and a moving portrayal of her latest installation/retrospective.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

No matter how many we've seen, there's always room for another coming-of-age film as long as it's done with this much emotion, humor and imagination.
Safety Not Guaranteed

A lot of little films that come out of nowhere deserve to return there, but this was funny and intriguing.  And the relationship between Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass was perhaps the most moving of the year.  Still not sure about that ending.

Seven Psychopaths

Martin McDonagh's people are violent and unpleasant.  But they're also witty and interesting.  The cleverest film of the year.  It was too much for some people, but I'd think the title would have told them what they were in for.

Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow's detailed, no-nonsense take on the labyrinthine hunt for bin Laden raises the film far above the procedural it might have been.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Dark Days

I  predicted there'd be a Zero Dark Thirty backlash, and many believe Kathryn Bigelow's failure to get a Best Director nomination from the Academy is part of it.  It certainly seems possible, especially now that politically involved character actor David Clennon has publicly stated he opposes Zero Dark Thirty winning any Oscars:

...I firmly believe that the film Zero Dark Thirty promotes the acceptance of the crime of torture, as a legitimate weapon in America’s so-called War on Terror. In that belief, following my conscience, I will not vote for Zero Dark Thirty in any category. I cannot vote for a film that makes heroes of Americans who commit the crime of torture.”

The usual suspects, such as Martin Sheen and Ed Asner, have joined in, saying Academy members should vote their conscience for the upcoming awards.

I believe they're misreading the film, and hold a simplistic view of its implications, but apparently they want clarity and propaganda, not ambiguity and art. (I also believe they've got foolish politics that would lead to less respect for human rights, but that's a separate issue. Or is it?  See below.)

Nevertheless, there you have it.  Films are to be judged by their (perceived) message above any aesthetic criteria.  This is ugly.  It's really a form of blacklisting, where rather than have an open debate you punish people directly (or indirectly) for their politics and the politics of their art.

I have to ask Clennon, and Sheen and Asner: are you so confident in your politics that not only are you convinced you must be right and others are wrong, and you can read works of art better than others, but also that you'll always have views popular enough that you have nothing to fear?

This Means War

Jesse Walker is now back to 1942, listing the top ten films of that time.  1942, of course, was the first full year the U.S. entered the war that had already engulfed much of the world.  This is reflected in Hollywood's output, but will it be reflected in Jesse's list?

Here's his top ten:

1. Cat People
2. The Magnificent Ambersons
3. The Talk of the Town
4. Casablanca
5. The Man Who Came to Dinner
6. The Palm Beach Story
7. The Major and the Minor
8. To Be or Not to Be
9. The Male Animal
10. The Road to Morocco

I might change the order around a bit, but a prett good list. And as Jesse notes, all-American (though what can you expect with Europe and Japan in flames).

Cat People is fine, especially for its budget, but not #1.  Even as a compromised film, Ambersons is still a masterpiece.  I'm not sure if Talk Of The Town would make my top ten.  It's fun, but strains too much at social significance (and when you look at how every other Cary Grant film preceding it for the last five years was a classic, it's a letdown). Casablanca really can't be improved upon.  The Man Who Came To Dinner is no classic, but does preserve Monty Woolley's performance and gives us a glimpse of what the play might have been like.  I consider Palm Beach Story second-tier Sturges but good enough for the top ten.  The Major And The Minor may be Wilder's most charming film.  To Be Or Not To Be is one of the Lubitsch's greatest, and perhaps would be my #1.  The Male Animal--see Talk Of The TownThe Road To Morocco is the best of the Road pictures.

I might add, since Jesse include short films, I'm surprised to see none--this was a great era for shorts.

Jesse has no honorable mentions, but notes he likes Random Harvest and Holiday Inn.  I don't love the former (though it's a lot better than Greer Garson's big Oscar-winning film of the year Mrs. Miniver), but the latter would make my top ten.

Here are a few other films of 1942 that might make my top ten, or at least top twenty:

Bambi (Not Disney's best, but every early feature is a classic)

For Me And My Gal (Judy Garland and Gene Kelly in his screen debut)

Saboteur (doesn't get the respect of other Hitchcock classics)

Went The Day Well? (an alternative history movie about a small British town fighting back against a Nazi takeover)

You Were Never Lovelier (Astaire with the woman he considered his greatest partner, Rita Hayworth)

Other films I liked:

I Married A Witch, It's All True (unfinished Welles but the footage is fascinating), Jungle Book, Larceny, Inc., My Favorite BlondeYankee Doodle Dandy

Other films of note (including a lot of musicals with enjoyable numbers):
A-Haunting We Will Go, Across The Pacific, The Affairs Of Martha, Alibi, Andy Hardy's Double Life, Arabian Nights, The Battle Of Midway, Cairo, Cowboy Serenade, Flying Tigers, Four Jacks And A Jill, Gentlemen Jim, George Washington Slept Here, The Ghost Of Frankenstein, The Glass Key, Hold That Blonde, I Married An Angel, In Old California, In This Our Life, In Which We Serve, Johnny Eager, Journey For Margaret, Kings Row, Lady For A Night, The Magnificent Dope,  Manpower, Miss Annie Rooney, The Moon And Sixpence, Mr. And Mrs. North, Mrs. Miniver, My Gal Sal, My Sister Eileen, Now, Voyager, Once Upon A Honeymoon (biggest disappointment of the year--McCarey directs Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers and it doesn't work), Orchestra Wives, Panama Hattie, Pardon My Sarong, Pittsburgh, The Pride Of The Yankees, Reap The Wild Wind, Ride 'Em Cowboy, Rio Rita, Roxie Hart, Springtime In The Rockies, Star Spangled Rhythm, Tales Of Manhattan, Tarzan's New York Adventure, Tennesse Johnson, There's One Born Every Minute, This Gun For Hire, Tomorrow We Live, Tortilla Flat, The Tuttles Of Tahiti, Wake Island, We Are The Marines, What's Cookin'?, White Cargo, Woman Of The Year, The Young Mr. Pitt

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