Thursday, February 28, 2013

Nick's Sick Flix Picks

In a short piece at, my old friend Nick Gillespie makes a stirring defense of Django Unchained as the only movie that mattered at this year's Oscars.  Just as Tarantino plays off old movies for his effects, Nick plays off the analysis of his favorite cultural critic, Leslie Fiedler, to explain the meaning of Django.

While there was much to like in Django, I ultimately found it a weak sister to the similarly revisionist but far superior Inglourious Basterds. But then, I'm talking about things like plot, dialogue and acting, while Nick has bigger fish to fry.  Decide for yourself.

But here's the part in Nick's piece that especially caught my eye:

In its depiction of stomach-churning sadism and tension that is typically aestheticized in gangster films, Reservoir Dogs effectively closed out an entire genre by refusing to turn the camera away at the exact moments when other directors would. Scorsese, for instance, would have figured out a way to literally and figuratively pull back from such moments [....] (Scorsese's tendency arguably reaches its nadir in Casino, which ends with an unintentionally comic screed against the Disneyfication of casino gambling).

Nick may be talking about their approaches in general, but specifically, he couldn't be more wrong. Reservoir Dog's most famous moment is probably the torture scene, where Mr. Blonde cuts off a cop's ear. But this is precisely where Tarantino pulls back.  Just as the slicing is about to start, the camera goes in the opposite direction so we can't see the actual event.  (This may have been an economic choice, but there it is.)

Meanwhile, in Casino, for all its "distancing" effects, we see, straight on, a man with his head in a vice whose eye pops out.  This, in fact, is only one of many violent and bloody scenes.

I may be taking Nick too literally, but it's just odd that what he describes seems to be the opposite of what I see.

Cindy And The Gang

Happy birthday, Cindy Wilson.  She's my favorite member of The B-52's.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Spice Of Life

Variety has been THE show biz magazine since long before I (or for that matter my parents) were born.  Daily Variety has been around for almost as long.  But things change, and in this age of the death of print, Variety has been in trouble.

I used to chek out its website regularly, but a few years back they put up a paywall. Like most reader (I'm guessing), I said goodbye and switched to its longtime rival, The Hollywood Reporter. But now, good news and bad news.

Variety is dumping the daily edition, but the weekly will remain. The good news is they're taking down the paywall so the show biz Bible will once again be available to all.

Along with three (!) new editors-in-chief, will this save Variety?  I don't know. It's tough to keep any publication going these days.  But I'm glad to see they're back in the game--well, my game, anyway.

Not Too Late For A Ring

It was a month ago but I don't care, let's celebrate the 70th birthday of Thom Bell.  As a songwriter and producer, he was one of the biggest names in soul music, Philadelphia style.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bun Done?

The first season (or maybe the second of two mini-seasons) of Bunheads just ended. It's on ABC Family, where ratings haven't been great, so this might be it.  And that would be too bad.  It may not be at the level of a Breaking Bad or Game Of Thrones, or, as a comedy, Community or Party Down, but it's a funny and charming show that deserves to be renewed.

The concept is Michelle Simms (Broadway star Sutton Foster--she's the reason I started watching), a Las Vegas showgirl in her thirties whose show biz career once showed promise, marries on a whim an old admirer, Hubbell.  He takes her to his home in Paradise, California, a city on the ocean not that far from Los Angeles, and promptly dies.  So widow Michelle stays at Hubbell's home with his mother, Fanny (Kelly Bishop), who has a ballet studio where the young bunheads train--particularly close friends Sasha, Ginny, Boo and Melanie.

The show, created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, specializes in repartee--I'd guess a Bunheads sript is ten or twenty pages longer than a regular hourlong. It also features musical numbers, which, unlike the overproduced Glee, are fairly realistic (if sometimes done as fantasy).

Bunheads does have problems, the central one being it's two shows that haven't quite coalesced.  The first show is Michelle's story.  She's stuck in this strange town and but would also like to get back into real show business.  What should she do?  The second show is the four bunheads and their coming of age story, featuring high school hijinks.  Michelle sometimes teaches the girls and they look up to her, but there are plenty of episodes where the bunheads and Michelle barely acknowledge each other.

Also, the show, though it has an emotional core, is a little too cute, as it reveals ever more eccentric characters in the overly eccentric town of Paradise.  Furthermore, it's picked up and dropped a lot of subplots, and doesn't always seem to know where it's going.

The final episode, "Next!," had Michelle driving to a cattle call in LA for a part in a Broadway chorus.  The girls secretly follow and watch the process. Michelle does well at the audition but discovers it's a union formality since the choreographer always hires the same people. Meanwhile, back in Paradise, the girls are wondering if they should have sex with their boyfriends, and seek out Michelle's advice.  It was an episode that, I thought, mixed the two stories and had them interact properly.  I hope, if they get a second season, this will be an episode that points the way.

Extra Texture

Yesterday's tribute to George Harrison was exclusively tunes he wrote with the Beatles. Yes, I know he had a solo career.

Monday, February 25, 2013

By George

George Harrison would have been 70 today.  We won't forget you, George.

Post-Oscar Post

Another year, another Oscars.  I thought Seth MacFarlane did a passable job, and mostly kept things moving.  Overall the production was okay, some so-so moments but no huge clunkers (except the First Lady giving out the Best Picture award--this is Hollywood's big night, let's not have politicians horn in on it).  But who cares. Let's talk about the winners.

Christoph Waltz won the first award given out, Best Supporting Actor--that wasn't expected (and wasn't deserved) and suggested a suprising night which didn't really happen, but at least it kept us on edge.

Here are all the awards, in fact:

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Best Animated Short Film: Paperman
Best Animated Feature Film: Brave
Achievement in Cinematography: Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda
Achievement in Visual Effects: Life of Pi
Achievement in Costume Design: Anna Karenina, Jacqueline Durran
Achievement in Makeup & Hairstyling: Les Misérables
Best Live-Action Short Film: Curfew
Best Documentary Short Subject: Inocente
Best Documentary Feature: Searching for a Sugar Man
Best Foreign-Language Film: Amour (Austria)
Achievement in Sound Mixing: Les Misérables
Achievement in Sound Editing: Zero Dark Thirty & Skyfall
Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Achievement in Film Editing: Argo
Achievement in Production Direction: Lincoln
Original Score: Life of Pi, Mychael Danna
Original Song: "Skyfall," Adele Adkins & Paul Epworth; Skyfall
Adapted Screenplay: Argo, Chris Terrio
Original Screenplay: Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino
Achievement in Directing: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Motion Picture: Argo

Lincoln for Production Design was a bit of a surprise, as was Tarantino for Original Screenplay and Lee for Best Director, but none of these were shocking.  The only real shock was a tie in Sound Editing. And Jennifer Lawrence tripping on her way to receive her Oscar.

The Oscars were fairly spread out.  Life Of Pi won the most awards, with four. Lincoln, which looked like a juggernaut when the nominations were announced, took only two, though that includes Best Actor.  Django won two, both major and neither exactly expected.  Les Mis took three, mostly minor.  Zero Dark Thirty won only one (which it had to share).  Silver Linings Playbook, a rare film to get four acting nods, won only one Oscar, but it was a big one, Best Actress. Argo won Best Picture, but won only three overall, quite low for the big winner.

By the way, my post yesterday included my predictions, but I didn't say how.  If you look at the photo next to each category, they show what I expected to win (as opposed to what I wanted to win).  How'd I do?  Nine out of fifteen (though I got pretty much every other category that I didn't mention yesterday).  Not good, but in a  night where everyone knew they were going to spread the wealth, predictions were tough.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lots Of Kicks

I've been rewatching Route 66, the black and white drama from the early 60s.  It may not be classic, but it's unique.  It's about two youg men, Buz (George Maharis) and Tod (Martin Milner), who travel across American in a Corvette getting into adventures.  What makes the show different is it's shot on location--the company traveled to the putative spot the story takes place and managed to shoot a new show each week.

The show was created by TV and screenwriter Stirling Silliphant (who, if nothing else, has the greatest name ever).  It seems inspired by On The Road, except this being network television it's cleaned up considerably.  Milner is a bit more square than Maharis, but both are clean cut and almost impossibly moral.  They also manage to line up a job at every stop. (Though why give them a job if you know they're going to quit soon?  At least this explains where they get gas money.)  The series lasted four season, but Maharis got hepatitis and missed the last season and a half, and they never really came up with a proper replacement.

One of the best things about the show is the co-stars, some of whom were already famous--Boris Karloff, Rod Steiger, Buster Keaton, Ethel Waters--but most of whom would go on to greater fame--Robert Redford, Ed Asner, Tuesday Weld, Martin Sheen, William Shatner.  Actually, as the boys get involved in other people's lives each week, they're really guest stars in their own show.  This means a certain variable quality, but if you get bored at least you can look at the new scenery.

While the show may have been following the trail the beats blazed, it's really ahead of its time, having a searching quality that may be very American, but would feel more natural in the late 60s when the country itself was wondering about its place--it points to a work like Easy Rider (without the drug money funding it all).

Another great thing about the show is the theme.  The famous Bobby Troup song would have cost too much, so Nelson Riddle wrote a great, cool jazz number.

My Way

Oscars tonight.  Most of the big awards have clear favorites, but there are a few categories--especially Best Picture--where it looks like a fight (mostly between Lincoln and Argo, though with the vote-counting methods a dark horse could sneak through), so the evening might be pretty interesting.

Anyway, there are some decent nominees I'll be rooting for, even though most will lose.  Here are my votes (in categories where I've seen enough of the nominees) if I were in the Academy:

Best Motion Picture of the Year
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
MY PICK: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Direction
"Amour" Michael Haneke
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" Benh Zeitlin
"Life of Pi" Ang Lee
"Lincoln" Steven Spielberg
"Silver Linings Playbook" David O. Russell
MY PICK: Ang Lee (due to lack of competition--I can name a number of better jobs of direction this year not nominated)

Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Bradley Cooper in "Silver Linings Playbook"
Daniel Day-Lewis in "Lincoln"
Hugh Jackman in "Les Misérables"
Joaquin Phoenix in "The Master"
Denzel Washington in "Flight"
MY PICK: Daniel Day-Lewis (who hasn't always deserved it in the past)

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Alan Arkin in "Argo"
Robert De Niro in "Silver Linings Playbook"
Philip Seymour Hoffman in "The Master"
Tommy Lee Jones in "Lincoln"
Christoph Waltz in "Django Unchained"
MY PICK: Alan Arkin (the others performances in this category are generally overrated)

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty"
Jennifer Lawrence in "Silver Linings Playbook"
Emmanuelle Riva in "Amour"
Quvenzhané Wallis in "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Naomi Watts in "The Impossible"
MY PICK:  Jessica Chastain. Not a great performance, but she did what she had to do.

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams in "The Master"
Sally Field in "Lincoln"
Anne Hathaway in "Les Misérables"
Helen Hunt in "The Sessions"
Jacki Weaver in "Silver Linings Playbook"
MY PICK: Helen Hunt in a comeback (and is better than she's been before)

Animated Feature Film
"Brave" Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
"Frankenweenie" Tim Burton
"ParaNorman" Sam Fell and Chris Butler
"The Pirates! Band of Misfits" Peter Lord
"Wreck-It Ralph" Rich Moore
MY PICK: Franenweenie (where Tim Burton returns to his roots)

Best Foreign-Language Film of the Year
"Amour" Austria
"Kon-Tiki" Norway
"No" Chile
"A Royal Affair" Denmark
"War Witch" Canada
MY PICK: A Royal Affair

Adapted Screenplay
"Argo" Screenplay by Chris Terrio
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" Screenplay by Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin
"Life of Pi" Screenplay by David Magee
"Lincoln" Screenplay by Tony Kushner
"Silver Linings Playbook" Screenplay by David O. Russell
MY PICK:  Tony Kushner.  Getting across a fairly complex political battle without being completely boring takes some doing.

Original Screenplay
"Amour," Written by Michael Haneke
"Django Unchained," Written by Quentin Tarantino
"Flight," Written by John Gatins
"Moonrise Kingdom," Written by Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola
"Zero Dark Thirty," Written by Mark Boal
MY PICK: Mark Boal

Achievement in Production Design
"Anna Karenina," Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," Production Design: Dan Hennah; Set Decoration: Ra Vincent and Simon Bright
"Les Misérables," Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Anna Lynch-Robinson
"Life of Pi," Production Design: David Gropman; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
"Lincoln," Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Jim Erickson
MY PICK: Life Of Pi

Achievement in Cinematography
"Anna Karenina," Seamus McGarvey
"Django Unchained," Robert Richardson
"Life of Pi," Claudio Miranda
"Lincoln," Janusz Kaminski
"Skyfall," Roger Deakins
MY PICK: Life Of Pi

Achievement in Film Editing
"Argo" William Goldenberg
"Life of Pi" Tim Squyres
"Lincoln" Michael Kahn
"Silver Linings Playbook" Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers
"Zero Dark Thirty" Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg
MY PICK: Zero Dark Thirty, though I don't see how Argo can lose.

Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
"Hitchcock," Howard Berger, Peter Montagna and Martin Samuel
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," Peter Swords King, Rick Findlater and Tami Lane
"Les Misérables," Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell
My Pick: Les Miserables

Visual Effects
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and R. Christopher White
"Life of Pi," Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott
"Marvel's The Avengers," Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams and Dan Sudick
"Prometheus," Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley and Martin Hill
"Snow White and the Huntsman," Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Philip Brennan, Neil Corbould and Michael Dawson
My Pick: Life Of Pi--gee I'm giving this film a lot of awards when I didn't even like it that much.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hunger Games

A new restaurant opened up down the street.  It has a simple menu of a few sandwiches, soups and salads.  I decided to check it out, and when the cashier announced my price--I believe it was $8.45--she asked "do you want to round that up to nine dollars to fight hunger?" In other words, the extra I gave--I assume--would go to some specific charity.

Now I've got nothing against charity, and I've got nothing against fighting hunger, but I don't enjoy retail establishments forcing the issue.  Here I was in a position of having to say "no, I don't want to fight hunger" just to get my (overpriced) food.

I should have said "tell you what, if you're so keen on fighting hunger, why don't you take it out of your end?" And then in a few weeks, I could go in and announce "I'm making my own sandwiches, soups and salads now, and though you've lost my business, I'm sure you'll be thrilled to hear I'm saving a lot and giving some of it to good causes."

I've checked around and apparently a number of places have this deal.  If it's an unspoken option, fine, but if they're in your face about it, they making my continued patronage less likely.

What You Saw

Happy birthday, Larry Demps. He's the last surviving member of the Dramatics, a soul group best known for their work in the early 70s. The other four died fairly young.  Pretty dramatic.

(This is the Dramatics, not the Delfonics or the Dells, I promise.)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Nixon's The One

Happy birthday, Marni Nixon. Few know her face, but her voice is a different matter.  She's probably the best known dubber of singing voices in film history.

Here's some of her work:

Wilder Times

Penelope Niven has done quite a job in her biography of Thornton Wilder.  With unparalleled access to his papers, she has delivered 800+ pages on a man most people only know one thing about--he wrote Our Town.  And maybe that's the problem. I definitely recommend this book for those who want to know more about Wilder, but there's a good chance this will tell you more than you want to know.

Not that it wasn't a fascinating life. Born in 1897, Wilder was an academic type who, by the age of 30, published the novel The Bridge Of San Luis Rey, which won the Pulitzer Prize.  A bestseller in its day, I don't think it's much read any more.  (I've heard some claim it's still quite popular, but I'm not sure if I should believe them).

Wilder wrote other novels, but his heart was always in the theatre, even if he didn't approve of much that was on Broadway at the time. He felt the stage could offer so much more, wrote some short plays that dealt with cosmic themes.  Then came Our Town in 1938, which also won the Pulitzer.  It's been revived on Broadway four times, and may just be the most produced play of the 20th century.  This is partly because it's so easy to stage, but even more because it deals movingly but not too sentimentally with basic themes that touch everyone--family, love, life, death.

In 1942 Wilder won his third Pulitzer for The Skin Of Our Teeth, which is as extravagant as Our Town is simple, yet deals with equally large themes--nothing less than the existence of humanity. I've never seen a production of the play, but it's a wonderful read. Though it must be tremendously expensive to put on, it's had two revivals on Broadway.

Wilder had his longest Broadway run starting in 1955 with the farce The Matchmaker, a reworking of his former flop The Merchant Of Venice, itself an adaptation of a German play (that had been based on a British one-act). While The Matchmaker can still hold the stage it's been mostly superseded by its musicalization, Hello Dolly!  There's a fairly faithful 1958 movie adaptation starring Shirley Booth, Anthony Perkins and Shirley MacLaine that's worth checking out.

It's hard to place Thornton Wilder's place in the world of letters.  But unless something changes in humanity, I imagine Our Town will be performed centuries hence.  And, for that matter, Penelope Niven's book will remain his standard biography.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How Do You Find Nina?

Happy birthday, Nina Simone. She was a jazz/blues singer with a sound like no one else.


Senator Chuck Schumer is supporting Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. Many see this as Schumer selling out his principles for his party, which isn't exactly a big deal--business as usual in Washington.  It's just the way he does it that's so insulting.

Hagel has said a lot of odd things in the past, especially about Israel.  He's stated the "Jewish Lobby" has D. C. running scared, has noted "I'm not an Israeli Senator, I'm an American Senator" (so what are the others?), and has said "the State Department has become an adjunct to the Israeli Foreign Minister's office." He's complained about how Israel is run but has evinced sympathy for the terrorists surrounding it and their supporters.

Not that he's only spoken on Israel. He's said a lot of strange things about Iran, gay rights and America itself.  He's also failed to give full disclosure about his past.  If Hagel had been nominated by a Republican, I'm not sure if Schumer--or any Democrat--would be supporting him.

But here's how Schumer defends Hagel, discussing a private meeting they had:

He struck me as sincere, and you know, you have to be sitting there at the meeting obviously, but I also told him when he used the word Jewish lobby what it meant to Jewish people. 

And I told him what a double standard is. That Jewish people throughout the centuries have suffered a double standard. Everyone could be a farmer except Jewish people. Everyone could live in Moscow except Jewish people. I said when everyone else can lobby but all of a sudden when those of us who are pro-Israel lobby, it’s a negative, that’s a double standard. And I’m sure you didn’t mean it, but it harkens to the old days.

And he really, you know, he almost had tears in his eyes when he understood. So I believe he will be good.

Let me get this straight.  For years Hagel says things Schumer disapproves of. He says them over and over, in many contexts, and in situations where he's allowed to speak his mind. Then in one private meeting, hoping to be confirmed, he tearfully takes some of it back. (Just some of it--as far as I can tell, Hagel is sorry about how he put things, not about what he said.)

Schumer must also think Hagel is incredibly stupid to say these things and not be aware of how they sound, but apparently he won't hold that stupidity against him, either.

So how does Schumer explain a lot of the Republican opposition to this former Republican Senator?

The main fight on Hagel is coming from the neocons, who you know well. And they resent Hagel’s apostasy on Iraq. You may remember — the neocons helped push Iraq — and Hagel was one of the first Republicans to say Iraq wasn’t working. And he was right. But that’s where it’s coming from.

Let's ignore that "neocon" is another term often used as coded anti-Semitism. (Presumably Schumer gets a pass, though who knows, maybe years later if he's nominated for some position he'll tearfully abjure his former statements.) Let's also ignore "neocon" is a word used as a cheap smear that tells you more about the person using it than the people he's allegedly describing.

Sure, Hagel has said stupid stuff about Iraq, but that's hardly why many Republicans have lined up against him.  Yet Schumer desperately wants to deflect attention from the unpopular things Hagel has said and get back on the classic "hate Bush and Iraq at all costs" ground where he feels most secure.

I find it hard to accept that Schumer, even in the fever of partisanship, actually believes this is what the nomination fight is about.  The question is does he think we're dumb enough to believe it?

It looks like enough Republicans have made their peace with Hagel that he'll likely be confirmed.  It may make sense--no matter how hateful or nutty you find his views, you might as well let the President have the man he believes will reflect his positions.  But someone tell Schumer he's overdoing it and it's not making Hagel--or Schumer--look better.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hey J

Happy birthday, John W. Geils, Jr.  Yep, J. Geils himself.  He founded the J. Geils Band but wasn't its main songwriter or even especially its best known member.  In fact, the band could just as easily have been called the Peter Wolf Band or the Seth Justman band or the Magic Dick band.  But J. Geils is was and J. Geils it remains. (In fact, Geils is suing the band for still using his name though he's no longer in the lineup--come on, J., they gave you the best years of their lives.)

What's That I Hear?

Don't ask why, but I was reading some old film reviews by Andrew Sarris, and came across his take on National Lampoon's Animal House, mixed in with his looks at Revenge Of The Pink Panther, Foul Play and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Here's a short selection:

...there are at least three mentions of "asshole" on the sound-track of the movie, but they didn't get much in the way of laughs.  The audience seemed more puzzled than anything else, perhaps because the National Lampoon people, all new names to film (director John Landis, and writers Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney & Chris Miller), have decided to fly in the face of current box office wisdom.  At a time when everyone seems to be selling his or her soul for a child-admitting PG, Animal House has opted for a raunchy R.

As we all know, Animal House became the biggest hit comedy of all, and one of the most influential, unleashing a tsunami of raunchy comedies that continues to this day, even if most are vastly inferior to the original. So Sarris's observations don't look too smart in retrospect.

But what gets to me is how he's telling us what others thought of the movie.  Andy, just let us know what you thought.  It always bothers me when critics do this, especially about comedies.  I can judge what I think is funny, and, for that matter, I can judge at least as well as they can if the audience is enjoying themselves.

I still remember reading Stanley Kauffmann's pan of Raising Arizona (here's a sample).  I'd already seen it and, for what seemed like the first time in years, laughed unreservedly at a contemporary comedy. Yet Kauffmann had the nerve to not just note his disapproval, but to take notice of the audience, which he claimed didn't laugh at all, thus confirming his view.

Even worse was Roger Ebert's thumbs down on Wedding Crashers:

The concept is terrific. The ads will fill the theaters on opening weekend, but people will trail out thinking, gee, I dunno ... why all the soppy sentiment and whose idea was the potty-mouthed grandmother? And don't they know that in a comedy the villain is supposed to be funny, and not a hateful, sadistic, egotistical monster who when he hits people really wants to hurt them, and who kicks them when they're down?

Roger has lots of problems with the film, apparently problems only he had, as Wedding Crashers was a blockbuster.  Roger is entitled to his opinion, but felt he was entitled to everyone's opinion, putting words of disapproval in the audience's mouth.  Gee, I dunno, maybe they'll walk out of the theatre thinking what a ninny Roger Ebert is.

I've said it before, so I guess I'm saying it again: I barely care what a critic thinks of a film.  I care less than nothing what a critic thinks of what others think of a film.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I Didn't Know What Time It Was

If you've been spending time in movie theatres lately you might not be sure what decade it is.  Since the year began, we've had new action films from Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Last Stand), Sylvester Stallone (Bullet To The Head) and Bruce Willis (A Good Day To Die Hard) (not to mention Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher last December). But how is this mini-80s action revival doing?

Not too well.  The only one making real money is the Die Hard film, and that's due to the franchise.  Reviews have been--quite properly--savage.  This is by far the worst of the series, and while it'll show a profit, it's underperforming. (I should add that if Willis isn't quite the action star he once was, he's still big enough to carry a movie, and was never quite in the same position as Stallone or Schwarzenegger, who are both about a decade older.)

Then there's the Walter Hill-directed Bullet To The Head.  Though reasonably budgeted, the film is a flop. It's also terrible. It doesn't point to Stallone carrying too many more action films on his shoulders alone in the few years he has before he becomes a septuagenarian.

Schwarzenegger, of course, had a lengthy hiatus from the screen, being governor of California and all that.  But even before he took that job, his career seemed to be on the way down, with his last several films that didn't have "Terminator" in the title not doing well.  Anyway, he's back with The Last Stand, and even though they kept the budget down, it's flopped as much as the Stallone film.  Too bad, since I sort of liked it. It may not compare with the best of his earlier work, but it's at least as much fun as, say, Commando or Raw Deal, and what's wrong with that?

So I wouldn't expect too many more straightforward action films with 80s action stars in the lead--except for The Expendables, which is a chance to wallow in 80s nostalgia, and has become a franchise of its own.

PS After a lengthy hiatus of my own, I've resumed putting occasional links in the titles to my posts. (I stopped when I got a new blog template and couldn't figure out how to do it.) You can tell there's a link when three dots appear before the title.  Generally, the links have nothing to do with the body of the post but are related to the title.

No One Can Sing Like Him

Happy birthday, Smokey Robinson.  He was one of Motown's greatest singers and composers, not to mention an executive.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Don't Count On It

James Wagner, President of Emory College, has gotten himself into a bit of hot water.  In a column praising political compromise, he gave as his example the "three-fifths" clause of the Constitution.  A typical response in Salon states "under Wagner’s formulation, one of the basest and demeaning political deals of American history, if not the basest, is an example of working toward a 'highest aspiration.'"

But such complaints seem to be missing the point.  What was base and demeaning was slavery itself.  The clause was not about the worth of slaves as people--that issue was decided when their rights were taken away through their enslavement.  The political compromise dealt with an ugly subject, but had nothing to do with the personhood of anyone--it was about how to count the population to figure out states' representation in Congress. (In the same sentence non-tax paying Indians don't get counted at all.)

Slaveholders would have preferred slaves count as full persons, not because they thought slaves were their equal, but because it gave them more power. Those against slavery would have preferred they not be counted. So they compromised.  Compromise can be ugly, and is almost by definition unprincipled (at least in some ways), but out of it can come good.  In this case, while neither side got what they wanted, the "base and demeaning deal" allowed the Constitution to be ratified.  I consider that a good thing, and if writers at Salon or elsewhere don't agree, they should state it clearly.

Not Etta, Not Aretha, But...

Happy birthday, Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bobby Baby

Happy birthday Bobby Lewis.  He was a rock and roll singer whose biggest hits came in the early 60s.

Streets Behind

I'm sorry to say the first two episodes of Community this season have not been up to snuff  They're not horrific, exactly, but they don't seem to have the magic of Community at its best, or even its middleground.

I wondered if I was just convincing myself of that, since I know that creator Dan Harmon and other producers have left.  Am I setting up some sort of block in my brain that prevents me from appreciating it as much as I should?

I doubt it.  I just discovered three mini-episodes of Community on YouTube.  They're from the first season and are all set during 90 second study breaks.  I found the comedy, as short as it was, to be superior to what we've been seeing lately.

I still watch the show, and have hopes it will improve as it goes along. I even hope, against everything I know, Community will be renewed.  But one thing I can't do is fool myself into liking something more than I do.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Postal Post

So the post office is going to stop Saturday mail.  Though it's been obvious for a while we need their services less and less, this is still a sad development.  Sure, I rarely get personal mail any more--there are too many other ways to send messages--but still every day (except Sunday) I go to my mailbox hopeful there'll be something of interest.  Now I have to sit out the entire weekend.

Maybe I should take the hint and stop posting Saturdays on this blog. Saturday is the least-read day, after all. 

Extended Dance

I was recently playing music with some friends when someone suggested we do "When You Dance."  I said great and he started into this Neil Young tune:

A fine song to be sure, except I'd started into this classic by the Turbans:

The moral: finish the title.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Ronald Dworkin has died.  He was perhaps the preeminent legal philosopher of his day.  He put forth views that took on the legal positivism of H. L. A. Hart (the theory, put simply--or simplistically--that law is the rules we make, not necessarily connected to morality), believing that certain basic morality could not be ignored.  His career, in fact, was a series of jousts, going mano a mano with such names as Rawls, Rorty, Bork and Posner.

He clerked for Judge Learned Hand and Felix Frankfurter, and split his academic career between Oxford (where he had Hart's old chair) and NYU.  By all accounts, he was fun to be around.  I never met him, but read some of his books, such as Taking Rights Seriously and Law's Empire, and countless pieces in The New York Review Of Books. For a legal philosopher, he wrote with liveliness and clarity (which may not matter as much in academia, but makes a big difference to me).

He was a New Deal Democrat and it showed.  In fact, the strongest criticism of him was no matter what issue he took up--and he loved to write on controversies of the day--his philosophical investigation always ended up agreeing with what a modern-day liberal would believe.  For that matter, his arguments could sometimes be condescending, claiming his opponents didn't really understand what they were saying.  But they were well-made and generally represented the best in his tradition--he was one of the few players in the debate you couldn't ignore.


Happy birthday, Harold Arlen.  He doesn't get quite the attention that Cole Porter or George Gershwin get, but his songs are still pretty amazing.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

You Doesn't Have To Call Him Ray

Teller, the quiet half of Penn &, turns 65 today.  They're an interesting team, and it's hard to imagine they'd have done half as well as solo acts.  But sometimes Teller does his own routines, and they're quite something.  His most famous, which has been in their act from the start, is the shadows illusion.  (Unfortunately, the only version I can find comes with people talking about it.)

Long Walk

I recently watched Walk On The Wild Side.  The 1962 film has a slight reputation and even that is too much.  I've never read the Nelson Algren novel it's based on, and maybe that was hot stuff, especially in the 50s, but the film's plot is both too simple and plodding.  If it was ever daring, it sure isn't any more.

It's about a drifter, played by Laurence Harvey, traveling from Texas to New Orleans to find his lost love.  She's played by Capucine, and she's now in a bordello.  They broke up for tiresome plot reasons, and have trouble getting back together for tiresome plot reasons.

But maybe I could overlook it all if it weren't for the two leads.  They're supposed to have an intense love, but Harvey and Capucine, though good-looking, are two of the coldest actors the cinema has known.  Everyone falls for them in the film--Jane Fonda and Anne Baxter for Harvey, Barbara Stanwyck (!) and a bunch of johns for Capucine--but between them, they barely generate a spark.  Allegedly they didn't get along offscreen, but even if they had, considering the screen presence of both, I'm not sure if it would have made a difference.

There are some reasons to watch the film.  It's fun to see the young Jane Fonda as a tramp.  The Elmer Bernstein score isn't bad.  And the Saul Bass opening sequence following a black cat is justly celebrated.  But overall, a dud.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Happy birthday Boudleaux Bryant (what a name!).  He wrote songs with his wife Felice (another cool name).  They're best known for their hits with the Everly Brothers, but had their songs covered by numerous artists.

Byrd Lives

Great jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd has died.  He first distinguished himself in bebop and later became successful is jazz fusion crossover. I admit I don't have too much use for his later music, but the earlier stuff still sounds nice.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

All Is Lost

I've noted in the past that, based on its references, 30 Rock takes place in the world of Lost.  But that's a guess.  There's practically no question that Once Upon A Time does.

Of course, the show was created by a couple of Lost writers, so it figures. Take the latest episode, "Tiny."  It features Jorge Garcia and Emilie de Ravin, but that just means the producers like using old pals.

No, the real evidence is the little things.  For instance, early on, Belle (Emilie's character) is watching TV and what's on?  Exposé--the show in the world of Lost featuring Nikki, of Nikki and Paulo fame. And at the end of the show, as Emma, Gold and Henry are preparing for takeoff, what airline are they flying on?  Ajira--the airline the Oceanic 6 took to get back the island.

When you think about it, the show takes place in all realms, so I guess Lost would be included anyway. But it sure is prominent lately.

PS  Speaking of Lost, you might want to check out Alan Sepinwall's new book The Revolution Was Televised, which includes a chapter on the amazing story of how Lost got on TV to begin with.

Ray Door

Happy birthday, Ray Manzarek.  His organ (including the bass notes) helped define the Doors sound as much as Jim Morrison's voice.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Imminent Domiciles

Across the street from where I live is a block of nothing but houses.  Or was.  About a month ago, a fence was put up around the houses and since then they've all been knocked down. I have no idea what's going up, but I'm guessing apartments. (I probably got a notice in the mail from the city which I tossed.)

The houses were old, and nothing special, but they were decent and people lived in them.  So how did the city get the residents out?  What sort of notice did it send them?  How much did it have to pay?  Was there any help in finding a new place?  How tough would it have been to resist?  We're talking over twenty houses, with families that have been there for years.

I don't recall studying eminent domain in law school, but I imagine the state of California and the city of Los Angeles doesn't have too many limitations, and is pretty tough on just compensation.  Right now I'm trying to imagine what it feels like, if you're not planning on moving any time soon, to be told by the authorities to hit the road.

Is It Good To Be The King?

I just read Warren Harris's biography of Clark Gable.  While he may not be as celebrated today as, say, Cary Grant or Humphrey Bogart, he was the star of stars.  During the glory days of the studio era, he was the biggest name at the biggest studio.  He was known as the King of Hollywood, even though he thought the title rather silly.  And he remained a star until his premature end.

Born in Ohio in 1901, he was stagestruck as a young man.  Mostly earning a living as a laborer, he also did his apprenticeship in front of the footlights and by the late 1920s was a Broadway leading man.  Sound came to movies and he went to Hollywood.  With his big ears and somewhat simian appearance, not everyone was sure he was destined for stardom, but as soon as appeared on screen, in 1931, the audience knew.

Fan mail came in.  Women wanted to know who this virile man was.  Within a year, he was a leading man at MGM, playing the tough guy with leading ladies such as Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo.  The film of this early era that probably shows best what he could do is Red Dust, where he's such a he-man that he easily seduces the "good" woman, Mary Astor, before ending up with the "bad" one, Jean Harlow.

Then he was lent to Columbia where he made his best film, and won his only Oscar, in Frank Capra's It Happened One Night, which essentially invented the screwball genre.  While Gable didn't specialize in romantic comedy, he showed he could handle himself onscreen as a fast-talking charmer who was all man underneath. Many of his future performances show flashes of this character.  (There's a scene where he's talking fast and eating carrots, and some claim it was the inspiration for Bugs Bunny.)

In Hollywood back then (just back then?), it seems that everyone was sleeping with everyone else.  Certainly Gable was.  He had affairs with most of his leading ladies, including a torrid one with Joan Crawford and another with Loretta Young that left them with a daughter who didn't find out for years who her real father was.  There was so much fear at MGM of scandal that they threatened to cancel Gable's contract if he didn't marry the older woman he'd been living with for years.  It was a marriage in name only, but it satisfied the hypocrisy of the times.

By the mid-30s, he was firmly established as the big man on the lot, and he went from one major hit to another--Mutiny On The Bounty, San Francisco and so on. The stardom also trapped Gable somewhat.  He stopped stretching and learned to stay within his comfort zone--a tough, heroic guy who saved the day and got the girl.

Then of course came Gone With The Wind.  Independent producer David Selznick searched and searched for a Scarlett O'Hara, but there was never any question that Gable would be Rhett Butler. In fact, the need for Gable was a major reason Selznick teamed with MGM to get the film made.  Gable actually didn't want the role. He wasn't thrilled with period pieces (and wouldn't do the accent) but most of all feared his job was to support Scarlett.  He had a point, but Gable is great, one of the best things about the film. GWTW became the biggest hit of all time, and even in its rereleases through the years was generally the biggest hit on MGM's yearly slate.

Around this time, he also had his great romance with Carole Lombard.  (Ironically, she was making more money than Gable at the time since she was a freelancer getting paid by the film while he was on salary at MGM.)  After he finally divorced his wife, they married.  However, she died in a plane crash in early 1942.  She was the love of his life and he never fully recovered.

Even though in his forties, he enlisted in the military.  He didn't ask for a soft assignment, and served as a gunner, flying on missions in Europe and earning the rank of major. When he returned to movies in 1945, things were different. He was still a star, but he was getting older, styles were changing, and TV was a huge threat.  Suddenly the misses were more common than the hits.

He made some decent films in the post-war period, but generally not as good as the work he'd done in the 30s.  He also continued to have affairs, such as with Mogambo (remake of Red Dust) costar Grace Kelly--half his age--and also got married a couple more times.

His age was showing, but audiences still wanted him as a romantic lead.  His final film, however, was an oddity--The Misfits.  With a script laden with symoblism by Arthur Miller, and a cast that followed the Method, Gable seemed like the misfit.  The film didn't do well, but even before its release, Gable--a big smoker and heavy drinker--died of a heart attack.

Gable was, by most accounts, a sweet, charming man.  He knew what he liked and was fairly straightforward about it.  He also didn't take his mystique seriously--he'd spent years in the theatre without women swooning, so he knew how much stardom really meant.

He's in a handful of truly good films and a fair amount of decent ones.  Someone's got to be the biggest star.  Why not Gable?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hammering Nagel

I started writing a long piece on philosopher Thomas Nagel's new book Mind And Cosmos, where he questions neo-Darwinism from his well-known anti-reductionist stance. It got too long and boring, so I'll just make a few short points instead.

First, this seems to be (though Nagel might not agree) yet another attack on modern science, particularly Darwin, by a philosopher.  While they're free to attack--and novel arguments that "wake you up" are some philosopher's stock in trade--so often their lack of scientific rigor (or science of any kind) make their claims sound pointless to actual scientists who work in the field.

Second, Nagel is an atheist who doesn't agree with the Intelligent Design movement, but I'm not entirely sure why.  The questions he has about evolution are the exact same ones the creationists ask.

Finally, having trouble with the mind is as old as the theory of evolution itself.  Alfred Russel Wallace, who "discovered" evolution with Darwin, split with evolutionists in later years over questions about the mind. (I won't go over the specific debate, though Wallace was a bit of a hyper-adaptationist.)  Consciousness is a tricky question, no doubt, but Nagel seems far too confident that he must be right, and as far as I can tell, his main argument still seems to be he just can't understand how it can be any other way.

Sweet Melissa

Tongues are wagging about Rex Reed's pan of the weekend's big film Identity Theft.  The surprise isn't the thumbs down--it's gotten bad reviews everywhere--or even that anyone pays attention to Reed any more (or that he's still alive).

No, it's the way he describes star Melissa McCarthy.  Here are some examples: "tractor-sized Melissa McCarthy," "female hippo" and "Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) is a gimmick comedian who has devoted her short career to being obese and obnoxious with equal success."

Okay, she's overweight, we get it.  But does Reed have a point?  After all, actors are hired for their looks, shouldn't that be fair game?

It's a delicate matter.  Not just with Melissa McCarthy, but with any actress.  For most lead actresses, being goodlooking is part of the job, and when their looks fade, their career does as well.  It's just not gallant to draw attention to it.

There seems little question that Reed is being unnecessarily cruel.  It's one thing to criticize a performer, it's another to sling cheap insults. (Though without cheap insults I'm not sure if Reed would have a style.)  But I think what he's doing is even worse--he's not just nasty, he's wrong.  McCarthy is recognized for her size, sure, but she's been working for over a decade and has proved she's about a lot more than that.

The first film I remember her from is the little-seen The Nines (2007) where she did a great job.  She was nominated for an Oscar in Bridesmaids, and didn't just get it for just being fat.  Indeed, there are plenty of overweight actors, so shouldn't Reed ask himself why did this one rise to the top?

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Stay Alert

In the latest Big Bang Theory, Leonard walks out on Sheldon because the latter drops a few spoilers regarding the Harry Potter books.  Of course, by the end, after machinations relating to moving in with your girlfriend, or your girlfriend moving in with you, Leonard is back.

In a way this is an episode that's been a long time coming--the plot where Leonard finally gets fed up and bolts.  In fact, it was a bit silly considering Sheldon does much worse things on a regular basis. I suppose they did it now because with Leonard seeing Penny he had a place to go.

But that's not what I want to talk about.  As a topper gag, as Leonard is returning, Sheldon drops yet another spoiler, this time about The Walking Dead.  Now I don't watch The Walking Dead, but I imagine I might some day, so this was a spoiler for me too.  (I assume this spoiler must be from a while back, but if you haven't seen anything, everything is a spoiler.)

I'd tell you the name of the character Sheldon said who dies on the show, but I don't want to spoil it for you. Besides, I'm trying as hard as I can to forget it.

He Put The Bomp

Happy birthday, Barry Mann.  He, with partner and wife Cynthia Weil, was one of the great Brill Building songwriters.  Among their hits, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin',"On Broadway," "Kicks," "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place" and "Here You Come Again."

They wrote a ton of tunes for others, but Mann even recorded his own hit:

I'm also fond of their song "Shape Of Things To Come," and regularly perform it with friends at parties.  It was composed for the exploitation movie Wild In The Streets where it was performed by the fictional Max Frost And The Troopers:

Another song of theirs, done by Mama Cass. I always liked it, but it took on a whole new resonance when it was used on Lost.

Friday, February 08, 2013


So after waiting practically a year, new Community last night.  The study group is in its fourth year and it looks like when they graduate the show is done.  But the main question is what will these (almost certainly) final thirteen episodes be like without fired creator Dan Harmon.

Early word wasn't good.  The New York Times panned the new version of the show and stalwart fan Todd VanDerWerff at the AV Club said it felt a little hollow.  Alas, I agree.  The show still has the look, the rhythm and the characters, but not the content.  It was reasonably enjoyable, but not special.  Community has always been variable in quality, but this first Harmon-free episode is one of the weakest I can remember.

The plot has the gang getting back together after summer break, trying to get into a course about the history of ice cream. Winfer is being very helpful, and it's discovered new Jeff acts this way because he's taken summer courses and needs this history class to graduate, so wants them group with him one more time.  So he's still old, selfish Jeff.

Soon the Dean gets involved, requiring games of skill and strength to gain a seat in the class.  The plot promises a parody of the Hunger Games but it's dropped surprisingly quickly.  The real action is all in Abed's mind. He's having trouble adjusting to changes, like the potential breakup of the group, and after Britta has taught him to go to a happy place when he feels anxiety, gets stuck in a sitcom (complete with laughtrack) within his mind. (Actually, he gets stuck within a cartoon within a sitcom within his mind).

The concept isn't bad, but it does't sparkle like past episodes.  Is this the new Community?  I've come this far, so I wouldn't give up anyway, but I sure hope things improve next week.

Where The Air Is Sweet

Happy birthday, Joe Raposo.  Not that many know his name, but they sure know his tunes.  There are a bunch below, but don't worry, they're pretty short:

Thursday, February 07, 2013


In the latest New Yorker Emily Nussbaum looks at Girls, the HBO show about four young, privileged, confused women making their way in New York. Nussbaum's a big fan and seems to think the second season may be better than the first. Girls has gotten tremendous media attention if not commensurate ratings--though this being HBO, the numbers aren't as important as they might normally be.

But it's not enough for Nussbaum to share her enthusiasm.  She's got to put down those--especially men--who don't like the show.  She places Girls in a tradition of art that discomfits males, thus they seek to dismiss it.  As she puts it:

While other female-centered hits, with more likable heroines, are ignored or patronized, these racy fables agitate audiences, in part because they violate the dictate that women, both fictional and real, not make anyone uncomfortable.

I've given Girls a chance. More than once. So far, I don't particularly like it and it hasn't grown on me. Sorry. And I can promise you, Emily, that's it not because it makes me uncomfortable. It's because it makes me bored.  The show isn't awful, but it's not good enough to go into my regular rotation.

Maybe some day I'll see the light, but until then, tell us what's going on in your mind, Emily, not mine.

PS  In the same piece Nussbaum notes how much she likes another HBO half-hour, Enlightened.  Sorry, Emily, I like that show even less than Girls. And not because it's, as she claims, "unnerving and out of control," but for the same reason I don't like Girls, only more so.

All Hail

Happy birthday, King Curtis.  He was stabbed to death in 1971, only 37, but he laid down some nice tracks before that tragedy.

He started as a session saxophonist, working for R&B acts like The Coasters:

But he became famous for his own singles:

Wednesday, February 06, 2013


Happy birthday, Rick Astley.  I don't have much use for him, but I couldn't resist doing a straightforward rickroll for my readers.

Got It

Over the past few weeks I've watched all 35 episodes of the sitcom Get A Life, recently made available on DVD. The show, which aired for one and a half seasons in the early 90s, starred Chris Elliott as Chris Peterson, a 30-year-old paper boy living with his parents.  Chris (the character) is naive, incredibly dense and greets the world with a fatuous laugh, since he thinks it's everyone else who doesn't get it.

The show had some initial interest--both from critics and the TV audience--but ultimately didn't make it.  What's surprising is anyone took a chance on it to begin with. The concept was bizarre and it's not as if Elliott, who at the time was best known for his recurring characters on the David Letterman show, was a big name.  But the fledgling Fox network wanted to be noticed, and was going for edgier material.  So they allowed the show to reflect to comic worldview of Elliott and co-creators Adam Resnick and David Mirkin.  And what a bizarre worldview it is.

From the start Get A Life was an anti-sitcom, not doing what the average TV viewer would expect, and it only got stranger as it went along. It would sometimes feature a classic sitcom trope--Chris and his dad go to a father/son picnic, Chris has to stay overnight in a haunted house, Chris owes someone money so works it off as a houseboy, Chris gets stuck in a meat locker--but the take would be so off that it was more a comment on what other sitcoms do than a plot meant to be taken seriously.  More often the story would explore bizarre territory--a beautiful model falls in love with Chris for no good reason, Chris builds a small submarine and almost drowns in his bathtub, Chris is exposed to toxic waste and becomes a master at spelling bees, Chris goes back in time to stop a friend from peeing on someone. The show also loved musical montages--I'd say more episodes than not have them.  It also loved seeing Chris getting beaten up--that happens almost as much.  (It also has an annoying laugh track, though the DVD allows you to remove it for many of the episodes.)

In addition to Chris, the first season featured his parents, played by real-life father Bob Elliott and TV face Elinor Donahue. They're usually sitting around the breakfast table in their bathrobes (even when the go outside they often stay in their bathrobes), barely putting up with Chris and his shenanigans. There's also Larry (Sam Robards), Chris's best friend, a meek, conventional guy, who goes along with Chris's schemes--the pilot has the two playing hooky, getting stuck upside-down on a roller coaster. Then there's Larry's wife, Sharon (Robin Riker)--the strongest presence on the show after Chris--who hates Chris and tries to get him out of her life, sometimes through violent means.

In the shortened second season, Chris moves out of his parent's place and into the garage of a house owned by Gus, a grumpy, retired cop (Brian Doyle-Murray). We see his parents a lot less while Larry (who was probably invented as a sounding board for Chris but otherwise added little) runs away, leaving Sharon around to torment Chris on her own.

In addition to Adam Resnick and David Mirkin, other writers included Bob Odenkirk and Charlie Kaufman.  But it must have been hard to write for the show, since there's no core.  There's the childlike Chris at the center, but there's really nothing to believe in.  Sitcoms aren't just about jokes--they're usually about reasonably consistent characters put in reasonably plausible situations.  However, nothing effects Chris--he even dies at the end of several episodes. But I suppose that's the cost of creating such a strange show.  You can only do it if you're unmoored from reality. And really, that's the show's greatest appeal--a willingness to be as strange as it dared.

I wouldn't call Get A Life a forgotten classic, but it's a lot of fun (though how much you enjoy largely depends on how much you're willing to put up with the Chris Peterson character).  In fact, if it were around today, it'd probably be a long-running cult hit on cable.  But maybe because it helped created a new landscape where such shows are possible.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Leftover Vanity Plates Of The Month

Saw ICOOK4U.  Hope it was some sort of business and not a disgruntled housewife.

CRANKYJ.  Better not cut him off.

SRACUSE.  I'd think if you wanted to promote Syracuse you'd keep every letter but the "E.

IMANL7.  It's hip to be square.

XPERT4U.  Do I really want an expert who advertises on his car?

Who Would Have Guest

Christopher Guest turns 65 today.  A multiple threat--director, writer, actor--his specialty is musical parody.  He's been doing it least since he started working on The National Lampoon Radio Hour in the early 70s.

Monday, February 04, 2013


For those of you not caught up on Downton Abbey, I'll make this as unspoilerish as possible.

I've always thought "Sybil" was a great name, with its Greek roots and appearance in classical literature.  Sybil is not in the top 1000 names in the US at present, though I have to ask if you can find fellow classical Greek names like Cassandra and Daphne on the list, why not?

Downton Abbey, of course, features Lady Sybil, the most beautiful (in my--and most people's--opinion) of the three Crawley sisters. Now there's a baby named Sybil. I think that'll set something off.  I expect to see Sybil rising up the names list.  I wouldn't even be surprised if it cracks the top hundred.

For years there weren't too many Sybils out there in popular culture--you had the frightening Sybil Fawlty, and the book and movie Sybil about a girl with a personality disorder.  Now with Downton Abbey there are two positive associations with the name. The show might not get the same ratings as a network hit, but the smart set watches it, and if they put the name out, others will follow.

On the other hand, the names of Sybil's sisters, "Mary" and "Edith," will continue their descent. Mary will stick around, but for decades it was #1 and now it's out of the top 100.  I can't imagine it being top ten again, not in our lifetimes, anyway.  And Edith?  I wouldn't be surprised if it drops out of the top 1000 altogether. (Certainly the Downton Abbey character won't help.)

Welcome To His Nightmare

Happy birthday, Vincent Furnier, aka Alice Cooper. He turns 65 today, but there was a time he fightened respectable people.  Not for long, though--he was always too much fun.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

A Disaster Of Biblical Proportions or Yes It's True, This Film Has No Peter

Have you heard?  Ghostbusters 3 is coming!  Exciting news for all those fans who treasure Ghostbusters 2.

Of course, it won't have Bill Murray, who's made it clear he wants no part of it. (He's too busy playing ghosts himself.) According to Dan Aykroyd, the main talent behind the new sequel, this means Murray's abrogated all rights to have any say in the film.  Great, so it's a go.  Except they still need funding--like every other movie that's never been produced.  But Aykroyd is optimistic.

How to deal with the missing--one would think essential--character?  The script, apparently, will let the old Ghostbusters hand things off to a new generation. Wait a second, didn't Aykroyd already destroy the Blues Brothers franchise--such as it was--the same way?

Are there any other old films of his he'd like another whack at?  Spies Like Us without Chevy Chase?  Driving Miss Daisy without Miss Daisy? 1941 without the war?  Have at it.

Like A Rock

As excited as I am to get new Community this Thursday at 8, it also means the run of 30 Rock is over. The show went out like a champ.  The final season, especially the last few episodes, were great.  They knew they were exiting--after seven seasons, just like The Mary Tyler Moore Show which they're sometimes compared to--so got to explore all the relationships and give us closure.

More important, the show was funny all the way through, with its high joke density and quality. It was somewhat sentimental, but never maudlin. Liz and Jack got to understand how much they meant to each other.  Liz got a husband and some kids (who are suspiciously like Jenna and Tracy).  Jack got to be CEO, then quit, then came back.  Tracy got to say goodbye to everyone properly, while Jenna got to sing the theme to The Rural Juror. Lutz got revenge on the writing staff.  Pete faked his death to get away from his family (for a year).  And Kenneth became the ageless head of NBC.

30 Rock was never a huge hit, and they knew it, so they decided to go in odd directions, figuring their smaller fan base (with excellent demographics) would follow.  Partly because they were critically admired--three Emmys for best comedy and a ton of nominations--amd partly because NBC was doing so poorly in general, the show got to stay on the air for as long as it did, and we should be grateful.  I don't know if I'd place it at the top of the list of great sitcoms, but it's not far from it.

Meanwhile, The Office continues its final season with the idiotic plot introducing the crew that shoots the "documentary." It looks like the dreamy sound man will have some sort of relationship with Pam.  The whole concept of a documentary crew filming the show is an embarrassment that makes no sense. Concentrating on them makes the show worse than the already tired shell of itself it's become.

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