Sunday, June 30, 2013

Dopey

You'll have to pardon my continued interest in closed captioning, but what I read on the screen so often falls short of what I hear.

As far as I can tell, there are two ways to do CC.  One is pre-packaged, where the material comes with captioning already done.  The second, generally used for talk shows and other vehicles that don't allow enough lead time, is for the CC typist to listen and respond in real time.  This is not only a far less accurate method of approximating what is spoken, but can be exhausting to watch, as the typist regularly falls behind and then skips ahead.  Oddly, some old shows, made decades ago, have the "type as you go" CC--perhaps because no one ever bothered to retrofit them with proper closed captioning, so the channel that airs the episode hires its own service.

Which brings me to The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis. In particular, a third season episode entitled "Names My Mother Called Me."This is an important episode in the Gillis canon (if such a thing is possible) in that the plot deals with how the titular character got his name. Turns out his mom named him after a childless Nobel Prize-winner.  So there.

He meets with the guy, who's retiring from public life. Dobie admits the world is in a horrible mess (after all, this was 1962, the most awful time ever in recorded human history), and feels people should be kinder.  The older Dobie agrees.  Young Dobie tells this to the media gathered outside as the Nobel guy's final statement.  (How that for hilarious sitcom material?)

But the part of the plot that interests me regards that latest of Dobie's many loves, Giselle Hurlbut.  She insists he change his ridiculous name if they're to be together.  By the end, Dobie decides he shouldn't change and she's okay with that. Why?  Because she's now going with another (very handsome) guy whose name is so complex I won't even try to write it.

Which is exactly the problem.  The CC typist couldn't figure it out either.  So what did she do?  Something I've never seen before in the annals of CC--she wrote her own joke.  She has Giselle say "I'm changing my name." I'm not sure if the gag plays in any case, but really, unless you're blind (which would mean CC is of limited use), you can clearly see she's with another guy, so the line is at best a non sequitur.

Go Flo

Today would have been the 70th birthday of Florence Ballard. She was one of the original Supremes--even singing lead in one (failed) single, "Buttered Popcorn." Many thought the was the best singer in the trio.  But Diana Ross, under Motown leader Barry Gordy, became the face and voice of the band.  Ballard also felt their sound was too poppy.

She started drinking a lot and regularly fought with her bandmates.   She became less reliable as a performer and started gaining weight.  In 1967 she was replaced and in 1968 forced off the Motown label.  Her solo career foundered and she fell into alcoholism, dying at the age of 32 in 1976.

But there are still all those great records.





Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Joy Of Sax

Before I forget, yesterday was the anniversary of the saxophone. It was officially patented on June 28, 1846, by Adolphe Sax, a Belgian instrument designer.  Little did he know what sort of music his gadget would be adapted to.






Perfectly Frank

Songwriters who do both the words and the music--Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, etc.--seem to have a unity in their work that teams often can't reach.  High up on that list is birthday boy Frank Loesser, who could be hilarious or touching, but always himself, and it's hard to beat that.







Nobody's Hart

Yesterday's salute to Richard Rodgers was all Lorenz Hart songs, but with June still busting out all over, let's try some Oscar Hammerstein and beyond.










Friday, June 28, 2013

Tal Tales

It's 21 years ago today that chess grandmaster Mikhail Tal died.  He didn't take good care of himself, but while he was alive he burned as brightly as any chess player ever.

He was not a positional player. He loved attacking, making shocking sacrifices just to keep the pressure up, sure he'd eventually come out on top.  In 1960, at 23, he became the youngest world champion ever up to that date.  In the 1970s, he played 86 consecutives games without a loss, and a bit later, 95 consecutive games--the two top streaks in the world of grandmasters.

His strategy didn't always work, but it was always exciting.





Dick's Ditties

Happy birthday, Richard Rodgers, perhaps the most talented tunesmith of the 20th century.  He had two collaborations, with Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein, either one of which would have made him one of the greats (and very rich). With Hart he wrote hundreds of smart songs. He got a little more earnest with Hammerstein, and created the modern, integrated musical.

When he started, did he think people would still be singing his songs into the 21st century?  Well, he wasn't that humble, but he wasn't Gershwin either, so probably not.












Thursday, June 27, 2013

Crazy 8

Last year I predicted the Supreme Court would punt on gay marriage, and I'm at least half-right.  In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case about California's Proposition 8, the Court avoided the substance of the issue and vacated the lower court's opinion by declaring the petitioners had no standing.  Unlike the 5-4 split of the other same-sex marriage case, this one was unusual--Roberts' majority opinion was joined by Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan while Kennedy's dissent was joined by Thomas, Alito and Sotomayor.

Not sure if I like the reasoning of the majority.  Standing is one of those tricky procedural issues, and it's often seemed in the past that conservatives had a narrower view than liberals, but perhaps that's changing.  It's hard to say how this precedent will play out, but if the initiative system was created to give people direct access to creating laws--sometimes over the heads of elected officials--it's strange then that these very same people are not allowed to have any say in court regarding that law, and if state officials don't want to defend it then that's that.

Cool

Tomorrow will be a great day, because tomorrow The Heat officially opens. Starring Sandra Bullock, who's been a star for a while, and Melissa McCarthy, who's the hot new star of the year, it's the eagerly-awaited follow-up film from director Paul Feig, who made the surprise hit Bridesmaids.

But that's not why this day is great. Haven't seen the film, have no idea if it's any good.  What I have seen is the trailer--about 157,000 times, to quote Melissa McCarthy.  You've probably seen it too if you've been to any movie in the past six months.  Bullock is an uptight FBI agent whom no one likes.  Melissa McCarthy is a crazy cop who plays things her way.  They're an "odd couple" forced to team up to catch the bad guys.  Enough already.

Just never having to watch that trailer again makes tomorrow a great day.

The Real Hustler

Today is the centennial of Willie Mosconi, the greatest straight pool player of all time.




Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Room For Improvement

Megan McArdle has a piece on how to punish a mother who left a gun around and had her daughter shoot herself.  McArdle asks under what theory should the mother be punished--she's already been punished enough.

Fine, but then we get this sentence: "Punishment should be enough to deter, to punish, and in the case of incorrigibles, to rehabilitate. "

Okay, it's a blog, and we don't hold it to the highest standards.  But Megan, by definition, incorrigibles can't be rehabilitated.

King Richard

Richard Matheson has died.  He's one of those guys who wrote so much it's hard to know where to start.  He mostly worked in sci-fi and horror, but his stuff was in many media--short stories, novels, TV and movies, to name the most obvious.

His first published story was "Born Of Man And Woman," which was voted one of the greateste sf stories ever.  I read it as a kid and found it immensely creepy.  It still holds up.

A lot of his novels were made into movies--The Shrinking Man (when he adapted it for film they added "Incredible" to the title), What Dreams May Come and several others.  His I Am Legend has been made into (at least) three films--The Last Man On Earth, The Omega Man and, most recently, Will Smith's big hit of the same name.



A lot of his short stories were turned into TV episodes, including a bunch of Twilight Zone episodes, such as "The Doll," "Nightmare At 20,000 Feet" and "Little Girl Lost."  He also wrote a lot of TV--it may be what he's best remembered for--including 16 episodes of Twilight Zone.

Trio

Let's celebrate a few birthdays today.

First we have Georgie Fame, who turns 70 today.  He had a pretty major career in England in the 60s, but only one true hit in America:



It's also the birthday of Rindy Ross, lead singer and saxophonist for Quarterflash, a band with one big hit (and a few minor ones) in the 80s:



Finally, a big birthday wish for Chris Isaak, who's recorded a lot of albums but has had only one major single, in 1990:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mad Men Goes West

The critics seemed to turn against Mad Men for the first time in season six.  Was it repeating itself?  Was it not moving forward?  Was the magic gone?  But the show finally settled into a groove and thing started paying off.  And now after the final episode, "In Care Of," the season is even being called one of its best.

Mad Men, even at its weakest, has always been fascinating.  But the last few episodes have been strong and, I think, there are just enough variations still to be played that one more season will cap it off.

The show ended the season with its three main character at crossroads.

First there's Pete, almost a figure of fun.  He's outmaneuvered by his new nemesis, Bob Benson, and loses his place in the Detroit account.  So he ends up going off to the new California branch. Siberia, yes, but perhaps a chance to find himself, now that he's lost everything (as his wife Trudy reminds him in a speech that's too knowing).  His mother also seems to have been murdered, but he takes it pretty well.

Poor Peggy has the toughest time of it, as she has no say in anything.  She lost one lover and was ready to go on to the next--Ted.  He seemed ready, too. Until he took the idea (from Don, who took it from Stan) that he had to leave for California just to get away.  He so strongly attracted to Peggy that he has to do it to save his family. (Ted's back-and-forth this season has been confusing, especially as he's essentially a new character and it's hard to get a bead on him).  So, like Pete, she's lost everything, except, as always, her career is going up and up--she ends the show in Don's office, and we get the iconic Mad Men shot from behind, but now it's Peggy.

Then there's Don, whose ongoing crisis came to a head.  He's had it tough this year with Megan, and then Sally catching him in the act, and has lately been living in a bottle.  At the pitch meeting, we first see the Don of old--spinning a tale and killing it with Hershey's.  Even his colleagues beam at how masterful he is.  Then he has a breakdown (or breakthrough) and needs to tell his clients the truth--about how he was raised in a whorehouse and how much Hershey's meant to him then. Much of this episode had callbacks to the beginning, and this was the biggest--a dark version of his first-season Carousel pitch. Then, he dug deep into his life to sell something, now he used it to sabotage his career.

Don had been ready to go to California with Megan and start over, but had decided instead to stay and face his fears (or avoid them and drink more--who knows with Don?).  But Sterling Cooper could only take so much of his erratic behavior, and, in the episode's big moment, Don gets the Freddy Rumsen treatment.  He'll be on indefinite leave--he even gets to see headhunter Duck on his way out.  And with Megan still going West, Betty unsure of herself and Sally not sure what to make of him, he could go in any direction.

The others had their stories, especially Roger, who's sharing in his new son's life (but not Joan's) while cutting off his grown kids.  But, by and large, most of the other main characters weren't well served this season.  Kenny seemed almost an afterthought, and he ended up back with his family, playing it safe.  Joan didn't have nearly enough to do (though, like Roger, I'm not thrilled she's with Bob).  Betty hardly seems in the series any more (fine by me).  And Harry, one of my favorite characters, simply pops in now and again for comic relief.

For that matter, Stan, who at least stood up for himself, seems to be going nowhere (anyway, he had no chance of getting to the promised land of California) while Ginsberg, who last season was doing most of the company's work, is practically AWOL. Meanwhile, Ted and the gang (especially the wonderful Harry Hamlin as Jim Cutler) provided a new dynamic--which was essentially an unstable nucleus that was bound to blow apart. And now it has, with the characters scattered all over.  Which leads us to wonder how they'll tie this all together in season seven.

I, Carly

Happy birthday, Carly Simon.  Daughter of the Simon of Simon & Schuster, she made a name for herself during the singer-songwriter era of the 70s (and married another major singer-songwriter, James Taylor).

Here's her first big solo hit.



Her next hit became even more famous when it was used in Heinz ketchup commercials.



For years there's been speculation as to whom her biggest hit is about.  Simon says it's about a composite of men she knew, though the favorite candidate has always been Warren Beatty.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Logging In

I just watched the season finale of Mad Men and I'll have more to say about it soon.  For now, let's just look at the log line--the short description of the plot made available before the show is aired.

I've written about Mad Men's log lines before.  When you try to find out what will be going from one of creator Matthew Weiner's, you often go away with less informed than when you started.  But he outdid himself this time.  Here's the logline for the big season blowout:

In the Season 6 finale, Don has a problem.

Well, they got the season number right.  That's something.

For those of you not familiar with the show, Don is the lead character who, of course, has a problem every episode.  The whole show is about Don and his problems. Which made it possible, considering the log line, that this would be the first time ever he didn't have a problem.

The Beckster

Happy birthday, Jeff Beck.  He was one of the top guitarists of the 60s, right up there with Clapton and Page.  He played in the Yardbirds, then formed the Jeff Beck Group and eventually went solo. He's still going strong.






Sunday, June 23, 2013

Summer Of 42

I finally got around to seeing 42, the story of Jackie Robinson.  It's a story worth telling, and the movie does a reasonable job of it.  But, as so often happens, I'm watching a scene and suddenly taken out of it by an anachronistic phrase.

In particular, there's the moment when someone tells Jackie "Branch Rickey told me to get you out A-S-A-P."  It's the 1940s, people are not saying "A-S-A-P" or even "ASAP."  I don't think the phrase had even been invented yet.

A bit later, one of the ballplayers wants to make sure he and Jackie are "on the same page."  Remember, these are the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

I can understand if a film is set in the 1400s and you want them to talk a bit more like we do today so we understand them. I can even understand using words widely accepted today--like "racism" or "racist"--that weren't so common in the 1940s.  But specific slang that wasn't widely used until decades later?  The filmmakers spent a lot of money to get the look right--costumes, hair, sets, cars.  Is it too much to ask them to let a linguist read through the script and red flag a term or two?  I mean, they wouldn't say Jackie Robinson played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, would they?

All That Jazz

Happy birthday, Bob Fosse. You could always tell a Fosse number.

He started as a performer.



By the mid-50s he was one of the top choreographers on Broadway.  He holds the record for most choreography Tonys at eight.



He started directing as well as choreographing, and by the late 60s, was even adapting his shows into film.



He didn't make too many films, but they tended to be notable: Cabaret (for which he won an Oscar), Lenny, All That Jazz.  That last one was was semi-autobiographical, and ended with his death by coronary.  The real Bob Fosse died of a heart attack when he was 60.  Young for a dancer (but not necessarily a major smoker).  But he continues to inspire new generations of dancers.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Icing

Before I forget, it was just Ice Cube's birthday. I hope he had a good day that day.

Hello, It's Him

Todd Rundgren turns 65 today.  Still touring, so I don't think he's retired.  But his big hits are from the 70s and 80s.






Friday, June 21, 2013

Joe Helps Out

Joe Biden has been talking about gun control.  Though the massive overhaul the White House hoped for in the wake of Sandy Hook has not come to pass, he still feels the issue is in play:

We need everyone in the country to know the fight is not over. Far from it . . . I assure you one thing each of us says to our colleagues about the votes: ‘The country has changed. You will pay a political price for not getting engaged and dealing with gun safety.’

In the final episode of this season's Game Of Thrones, Tywin Lannister, the real power behind the crown, shuts down the young King Joffrey by noting "Any man who must say 'I am the king!' is no true king."

Sort of like Biden, saying as loudly as possible there's going to be a political price.  If he were sure there was a price to be paid, at this point he'd probably keep his mouth shut, hoping conservatives would fall into the trap.  What he's really saying is "please oh please let there be a price for this."

There may be, though it seems to me the biggest bloc of voters who truly care is still those who don't want more gun control.  Meanwhile, the White House seems to be paying at least a temporary price for the scandals that have arisen since their gun control plans failed.

What will make a difference in 2014?  Way too early to tell.  Maybe none of this.  But the last thing I'd do if I were a politician would be listen to advice that someone in the opposite party gives me.

Give The Day A Break

Wake up. It's the longest day of the year.  Now go back to sleep, you've got plenty of time to do whatever it is you need to do.





Thursday, June 20, 2013

Yodel-oo

Let's say goodbye to Slim Whitman.  An American singer, he was big in Europe but little-known here until a direct marketing plan made him a big seller starting in 1979.






Cut To Black

James Gandolfini has died. Bit of a shock.  He'll be forever remembered as the lead in one of TV's most highly-regarded shows (recently voted the best-written show ever), The Sopranos.  And the show hold ups--HBO has been repeating episodes every weekday and I watch it regularly.

For years Gandolfini was a character actor who usually played tough guys, such as in True Romance and Get Shorty. Then he got to play Tony Sopran (partly thanks to his work in True Romance) and, as he explained when accepting one of his Emmys, it just shows that you can be kicking around in obscurity for a long time but all it takes is the right role to change everything.

The Sopranos led to prominent roles in movies--The Mexican, The Man Who Wasn't There, The Last Castle, In The Loop, Where The Wild Things Are, Zero Dark Thirty--but nothing could erase Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in the popular imagination.

It may have been the greatest sustained performance TV has ever seen.  Gandolfini played a character who was essentially a horrible human being, but he was able to make you care about this man who cheated on his wife and killed for a living.  Creator David Chase seemed surprised that no matter how awful Tony Soprano was, the audience still rooted for him.

The show featured a huge ensemble, but Gandolfini played a huge part in each episode, and what he had to do ran the gamut. On the surface, he was a tough guy, but he was also troubled, and had feelings he couldn't always suppress.  The part also called for both dramatic and comedic chops--Chase once said the show was half Godfather, half The Honeymooners--which Gandolfini managed with equal aplomb.

The show's finale--where it suddenly cut to black--was controversial.  Most fans didn't like it, but, if nothing else, it's memorable.  I've always felt Chase was simply saying Tony had died...while also leaving just enough ambiguity for a potential movie if it ever came to that.

Now there can be no sequel.  The Sopranos without Tony is unimaginable.  The show ended in 2007  and while Gandolfini has done decent work since, we'll never know if he would have had another part that could compare.  But that's what a once-in-a-lifetime roles can do.  Most actors are lucky to get to play one indelible character.  But if Gandolfini was lucky, David Chase was just as lucky to have cast the perfect actor.

From The Brain Of Brian

Happy birthday, Brian Wilson, the genius who made the Beach Boys click.  Wilson himself had plenty of problems in his life but seems to have come out the other side.










Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sharp Flatt

Lester Flatt would have been 99 today. Along with partner Earl Scruggs he was the face of bluegrass for years.  Flatt played guitar and mandolin, Scruggs played banjo.  Lester wasn't a bad singer, either.





Ask A Stupid Question

A lot of people are making something of Miss Utah's rambling answer to a question asked during the Miss USA Pageant.



But I'd rather concentrate on how stupid the question was.  If anything, it's more incoherent than what Miss Utah said--and the writer of the question had plenty of time to prepare it.

A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?

Let's unpack this a bit.  There are several issues mashed together, so where would one start to answer? (I'm not saying that there aren't empty, mindless responses that would satisfy the judges, but I'm trying to deal with the issues actually brought up, not talk in slogans.)

First, there's the point about women earning less than men.  How meaningful is that, unless we're talking about people with approximately the same education, the same job and who work equally hard and well?  Is the questioner suggesting we should ignore all that and just ensure that women make on average the same as men, or the government force women and men to be represented equally in all jobs?

Then the question brings up an issue that seems only tangentially related--that women are the primary earners in 40 percent of familes.  What are we supposed to do with that?  Should a woman go to her boss and say "I'm the primary earner in my family so give me a raise"? If you think there's something to that, then note it would have been a good argument for men to make more money than women (for the same job) in the past. And the question also brings children into the equation. Once again, can you go to your boss and say "I have kids so give me a raise"?

In any case the 40 percent figure needs to be explained better.  Why are these women the primary earners?  Because the husband is out of a job?  Because the woman has a better job?  Because the father left? Because the father is dead?  We're mixing up a lot of things here, so to throw in this figure as if it means something by itself isn't helpful.

And in an attempt to wrap things up, the question ends with the all-purpose "what does this say about society?" Since what's been said is already pretty confused, it's hard to draw bigger conclusions.  But even if you could, there are other factors to explore.  For instance, how have these numbers you're referring to changed through the years?  And how do other societies compare?

As far as I'm concerned, Miss Utah gave the question the answer it deserved.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Cahn Man

Sammy Cahn was born a century ago today.  One of Frank Sinatra's favorite lyricists, he often collaborated with Jule Styne and Jimmy Van Heusen.  He would write for the stage every now and then, but his most memorable stuff is usually found in movies and TV.







Pyay Thet Myan Hees Mawney

Rounders, the 1998 John Dahl film about the underground poker scene, wasn't a hit.  It opened just before the poker boom, and wasn't what people wanted to see.  It turned classic Hollywood formula on its head. Poker demon Matt Damon has to choose: will he take the straight and narrow--law school and his true-blue girlfriend--or the sleazy world of cards. He chooses the latter.

But the film has become a cult classic, with lines quoted back and forth wherever poker is played.  It captures the tension and strategy in actual poker, and is filled with colorful characters.  Damon, as the lead, Mike McDermott--a decent guy with indecent talent at the table--is good, especially with the smart narration.  Then there's Worm (Edward Norton), the old friend who gets the plot moving by being a jerk and putting Mike in deeper and deeper trouble.  There's Knish (John Turturro), the veteran who's turned gambling into a job, and knows how to grind it out--a wise older figure but the kind of guy who doesn't take chances.  There's Grama (Michael Rispoli), the enforcer, ready to make Worm and then Mike pay in blood for their debts.  There's Petrovsky, the law professor who's a mentor to Mike.  And above all, there's Teddy KBG--played by John Malkovich with an outrageous Russian accent--a powerful man who runs the big underground poker joint. (There are also the women, who are ill-served--Gretchen Mol as the wet-blanket girlfriend who tries to pull Mike away from all the fun, and Famke Janssen as the very hot Petra who has a thing for Mikey because, I guess, he's the star of the film.)

I watched it again, recently.  It's the ending I want to talk about.  It's fun and it works, but it's full of all sorts of odd stuff.  Mike owes $15,000 to Teddy and his enforcer, Grama, after taking on the huge debt that Worm has stupidly got into. In fact, they'd have the money but due to other stupid things Worm has done (before he ran away), Mikey has only $10,000 and then because he was able to borrow it from the Professor.

So he walks into Teddy KGB's place with eight hours to go before he owes the debt, and offers to play Teddy head-on. He can either double his money and pay off his debt or lose and be owned by Teddy and Grama.

The story started with Mikey losing large to KGB, not to mention losing all his confidence. The rest of the film is about his gaining it back.  In the one-on-one, no-limit Texas Hold 'Em tournament, Mikey quickly doubles his money.  He can pay off Teddy and pay back half his debt to the Prof.  And here's where the odd stuff starts happening.

Teddy razzes him.  Mocks him. He's only paying Mikey the money he took from him a while ago.  He wants to goad Mike into playing more.  (What is this, Back To The Future?)  Mikey's about to leave when he turns around and decides to see if he can't double his money again.

This is insane.  Mike's life is in danger. We don't know what'll happen if he can't pay back the debt (the debt, remember, that his "friend" Worm originally rolled up), but it won't be pleasant, and may even lead to his death. So he could walk away with his life and a small bankroll that, as we've seen, he can grow into a bigger bankroll in games around town. But instead, he decides to put his life on the line in a high-stakes game with no guarantees, no matter how good he is.  This may be necessary for the big Hollywood finish, where everything is at stake, but there's no reason for him to do it.

So he and Teddy sit back down.  Teddy always had a stack of Oreos at the table.  Mike notices Teddy's "tell." When he's got the cards, he eats the Oreo, when he doesn't, he picks up the Oreo but doesn't eat it.

Come on. Most good players don't have any tells, but this is ridiculous. No one would have that obvious a tell, and if they did, they'd figure it out soon enough and stop doing it. (And if he didn't, everyone would be beating Teddy KGB all the time, not just Mikey.) So Mikey has two pair and realizes Teddy has made a straight, and tells Teddy as much.  What?!  You don't let on when you've found Teddy's tell. Sure, this rattles Teddy, but no way would a real poker player ever ever let on. Mikey's got this golden view into Teddy's hand, and that will get him the victory a thousand times more certainly than putting Teddy on tilt.

Then comes the big hand.  Mikey draws the nuts, and goes on checking as he has been all evening.  Teddy is drawn in.  Mikey keeps saying how weak he is as he calls Teddy.  This is a pretty obvious tell--acting weak when you're strong. But maybe it's buyable--who knows why he's saying what he's saying, he could be trying to double fool Teddy.  Except at the same time, Damon is acting up a storm.  He gets his final card (even though he's got the nuts well before this) and frowns openly.  This is the biggest tell of all.  You don't show anything, good or bad, when you get a card.  If you try to look like it's a bad one, and decent player will suspect you're sitting pretty. But not the great Teddy KGB, who puts all his chips in (splashing the pot all the way) and loses.

Then another strange thing happens.  Grama seems upset.  Take this guy down, he says. (Why doesn't Grama understand Teddy's lost--why even suggest this?) Grama doesn't make any money if Teddy wins, but the huge debt will be paid if Mikey wins. So why is Grama disturbed. He even knocks over a chair. Why?  Because he won't get the pleasure of beating someone up?  I would think it's preferable to get your $15,000 right there than having to act the enforcer.  At the very least, he shouldn't care much either way.  I can see Teddy being upset for losing, but Grama?

Then Mikey starts lipping off about how he's a better player.  He can probably get away with it, but why mess with a tough guy like Teddy?

So Mike walks away with a ton of money.  He pays off all his debts, and has a nice sum left over to start up again. (And his old girlfriend even seems sort of interested. It is a movie after all.)  When last seen, Mikey is heading to Vegas and the World Series Of Poker. I haven't seen the name Mike McDermott at the finals table yet, so who knows where he ended up.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Iggy

Happy birthday, Igor Stravinsky.  He's maybe the leading name in modern concert hall music, and maybe the best.






Tony And Jack And Felix And Oscar

About nine years ago Tony Randall died.  Jack Klugman, Tony's friend and partner--but not an author--decided to write a book about him, and in 2005 Tony And Me came out.  It's just barely a book--141 short pages, about half of which are photos, but it's heartfelt and entertaining (and somewhat similiar to, if much shorter than, another tribute to a dead partner, Dean And Me, by Jerry Lewis--except Jerry still felt bad about how he grabbed all the attention, while Jack never outshone Tony).

The book isn't even that well organized, but it does tell the story of the two stars--how they got started, how they knew each other, how they worked together in the TV version of The Odd Couple and how they remained friends afterward, often working on stage projects.  I'm tempted to tell some of the stories, but the book is so short I don't want to steal its thunder.

Randall was the bigger star when the show debuted in 1970.  Klugman was respected and worked regularly, but wasn't exactly a household name. (Klugman had actually replaced Walter Matthau as Oscar in The Odd Couple on Broadway, but it turns out the TV show's producer Garry Marshall hired Klugman because he'd seen him in Gypsy.) For Randall, TV may have been a bit of a comedown.  He'd been a regular in movies for years, sometimes as a star.  (He was handsome, but not leading-man handsome unless it was a comedy).  But the two worked well together and became fixed in the public's mind as Felix and Oscar. And in fact, during season breaks, they'd tour in the original Neil Simon play.

Years later Klugman had an operation for throat cancer and lost his voice.  He almost gave up on acting, but he saw a therapist (untrained--do I smell a King's Speech sequel?) and Randall convinced him to come back on stage to do a benefit performance of The Odd Couple. With his old friend's encouragement, Jack started acting again.  I actually saw their Broadway production of another Neil Simon work, The Sunshine Boys.  It was great seeing them live, and after a few minutes you got used to Klugman's harsher voice--which actually fit the character of a retired Vaudevillian. (If anything, it was Randall's old-style, Yiddish inflected comic that was harder to accept).

Both men had intimacy issues, though they helped each other get through them, so that by the end of their lives they could be open with each other.  Randall's long-time wife died in 1992 and he married a woman about a third his age.  They had kids and Randall became a doting father in his dotage.  He was always an energetic guy, and Klugman explains it was tough to see him bedridden in his final days.  He spoke movingly at Randall's funeral but this book is probably a better tribute.

PS.  This has nothing to do with the book, but I've been watching reruns of The Odd Couple (I'm surprised how well I remember the plots) and I just watched the episode where Felix has a band and needs Oscar's help to get on a TV show.  He plans to have Oscar sit in on drums to get him involved, but Oscar is horrible. So as Felix plays a sprightly version of "How High The Moon" on piano he has Oscar miming the drums, saying they can get someone offstage to play the actual drums.  This is specially funny because Tony Randall is clearly not playing the piano, but someone offstage is.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

ELO'J

Happy birthday, Eddie Levert.  The name may not be that well known, but the voice--as lead singer of the O'Jays--is known far and wide.





Who Is Sally Kellerman And Why Is She Writing These Weird Things About Herself?

I just finished Sally Kellerman's memoir Read My Lips.  When you think about it, it's almost surprising she wrote the book at all, since her fame rests almost entirely on one supporting role.  Still, she has some nice stories to tell.

She was born in Long Beach and has always lived in and around Los Angeles.  As a young woman, she waited tables at a place on the Sunset Strip, where she met many stars, including her heartthrob, Marlon Brando--who asked her out--as well as a pre-fame Warren Beatty--who also asked her out.

She took acting classes and went out for roles.  Tall, blonde and beautiful (and reasonably talented), eventually parts came her way.  She appeared in numerous TV shows throughout the 60s--most notably as Dr. Elizabeth Dehner in the Star Trek pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before." She still drops in on the occasional Trek convention, and the fans love her.

But as she hit 30 she felt her career was going nowhere. She wanted to break into movies.  Then came a small service comedy set in a medical unit during the Korean War called MASH.  She was offered the lead female role, a character known as Hot Lips --finally, the break she was looking for.  She excitedly read the script to find the character had very few lines and disappeared halfway through.  She complained to director Robert Altman and suggested she should stick around for the rest of the story.

Kellerman decided to play the character as someone who sees the Army as where she lives, and who views the new, unruly doctors as people messing up her home. She could have been a mere comic villain, but this gave her character a backbone that made a difference.

Early on they filmed the big scene where the tent flap would go up while she was taking a shower.  She hit the deck so fast that she was down before anything happened. (And next to the camera was co-star Gary Burghoff completely nude, trying to help her keep things in perspective).  Altman got the shot he wanted on a later take and then Kellerman had the scene where she goes to commanding officer Henry Blake to complain.  Her attitude when she threatens to resign her commission impressed Altman, who felt the character now was vulnerable and so could continue on. (Compare this to her lover Frank Burns, played by Robert Duvall, who exits the film in a straitjacket.) 

So her character (and some critics see it as a baffling and even misogynistic turnabout, though I think it fits into the story) goes on to have a secret love affair with one of the new doctors, and then--fulfilling an old dream of Kellerman's--becomes a cheerleader at the climactic football game.  The small film went on to be a blockbuster, and Kellerman was so impressive she got the film's only Academy Award acting nomination.

(She also takes part in my favorite joke in the film, which has a punchline that someone came up with on the set.

Hot Lips: (After being insulted by Hawkeye) I wonder how a degenerated person like that could have reached a position of responsibility in the Army Medical Corps.

Fauther Mulcahy: (Looking up from his Bible) He was drafted.)

So Sally Kellerman is in her early 30s and her career is red hot.  What does she do?  She picks some bad roles, such as Rafferty And The Gold Dust Twins, The Big Bus and the musical version of Lost Horizon, and also turns down a lot of other roles to take time off and establish her singing career.

Since then, she's continued to work regularly in films and TV, occasionally getting a decent role and even appearing in some big hits, such as Rodney Dangerfield's love interest in Back To School, but she never recovered the heat she had after MASH.

The book has plenty of her Hollywood stories--people she worked with, good and bad, and people she knows in general (Harrison Ford was her carpenter just before he got Star Wars), but just as much is about her private life, which includes a disastrous first marriage, a shaky second marriage, adopted kids in her fifties, and lots of therapy.

Now in her mid-70s, she seems to have a acquired a decent perspective.  She may not have made it as big as she could have, but she's done well, and had a good time along the way.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

EG, For Example

Erroll Garner turns 90 today. Of course, he died in 1977, but we won't let that stop us.  It's hard to think of anyone who got a more luxurious sound on the piano.





Facts And Opinions

Checking out various radio stations while driving (which is still legal--I don't believe the same can be said for TV stations) recently, I stopped when I heard someone mention Darwin.  And this was a commercial station, not public radio, where you might expect to hear science talk.

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered it was some nonsense about how evolution is a theory in crisis, or something like that.  If these anti-Darwin people want to be taken seriously, they should at least be honest and say they desperately want the theory to be in crisis, but the world of science hasn't obliged them yet.

Even worse, it turns out this show has a weekly hour with spokespeople from the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute, where they discuss, I assume, the latest propaganda.

Then comes Thursday's unanimous Supreme Court opinion which declares human genes can't be patented. Fine, probably the right result.  But at the end comes a weird concurrence in part from Justice Scalia.  Here it is in full:

I join the judgment of the Court, and all of its opinion except Part I–A and some portions of the rest of the opinion going into fine details of molecular biology. I am unable to affirm those details on my own knowledge or even my own belief. It suffices for me to affirm, having studied the opinions below and the expert briefs presented here, that the portion of DNA isolated from its natural state sought to be patented is identical to that portion of the DNA in its natural state; and that complementary DNA (cDNA) is a synthetic creation not normally present in nature.

Part I-A is an unexceptional two-page review of basic genetics, seems to me.  I don't mean to bore you, but here's a selection from the first and last paragraphs:

Genes form the basis for hereditary traits in living organisms. [....] The human genome consists of approximately 22,000 genes packed into 23 pairs of chromosomes. Each gene is encoded as DNA,which takes the shape of the familiar "double helix" that Doctors James Watson and Francis Crick first described in 1953. Each "cross-bar" in the DNA helix consists of two chemically joined nucleotides. The possible nucleotides are adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C), and guanine (G), each of which binds naturally with another nucleotide: A pairs with T; C pairs with G. The nucleotide cross-bars are chemically connected to a sugar-phosphate backbone that forms the outside framework of the DNA helix. Sequences of DNA nucleotides contain the information necessary to create strings of amino acids, which in turn are used in the body to build proteins.

[....]


Changes in the genetic sequence are called mutations. Mutations can be as small as the alteration of a single nucleotide—a change affecting only one letter in the genetic code. Such small-scale changes can produce an entirely different amino acid or can end protein production altogether. Large changes, involving the deletion, rearrangement, or duplication of hundreds or even millions of nucleotides, can result in the elimination, misplacement, or duplication of entire genes. Some mutations are harmless, but others can cause disease or increase the risk of disease. As a result, the study of genetics can lead to valuable medical breakthroughs.

I don't see what problem Scalia has.  Supreme Court opinions regularly require the Justices to become mini-experts on all sort of issues.  Does a Justice ever say in a financial opinion "I don't understand the nitty-gritty of what banks do, to be honest, but I agree with the majority"?

If Scalia has a problem with the scientific description in Part I-A, I wish he'd be more specific, rather than just say he can't personally be sure he believes it.  I could be wrong, but I suspect Scalia doesn't want to officially admit the conventional view of science is correct in the world of genetics since he thinks that might close out the possibility of intelligent design.

In any case, I have to ask--is this what being a religous conservative now means?  You have to have trouble with evolution?  There are plenty of political battles going on between right and left, but this one does conservatives no honor.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Critical Care

The Writers Guild had their shot at the best TV of all time, and now the critics pick their favorites for the past season.  They did a pretty good job (because I mostly agree with them).

Being a TV critic is a pretty silly position.  Unlike theatre or movies, people get TV for free (or at least have already anted up the dough) so they can sample what they like when they like without any gatekeeper telling them to save their money.  But as long as we've got critics, they might as well give awards.

They didn't draw much attention to unknown shows this time around. Most of their winners are already hits.  Not a bad thing. Some good shows fail, some bad shows succeed, but overall quality tends to get rewarded on TV these days, where niche viewing happens even on the nets.

The Big Bang Theory won best comedy, which is fine with me.  It's been consistently good all these years and has never dipped in popularity.  The weird thing here is long-time favorite Modern Family wasn't even nominated.

Louis C. K. won best comic actor.  Not sure about this, since he's playing sort of a version of himself.  Have Jerry Seinfeld or Larry David ever won such an award?  Julia Louis-Dreyfus won for best comic actress.  I think she does a good job on Veep--I would have preferred a surprise pick like Sutton Foster, but I'd rather Louis-Dreyfus take it than Lena Dunham on Girls.

For best supporting comic actor, Simon Helberg of Big Bang Theory won, and about time.  He's been doing great work for years without getting nominated for an Emmy, while Modern Family wins each year. (They didn't get any nominations in this category--were the critics trying to make a point?) It would have been nice to see Danny Pudi--or anyone from Community--win something, but to be fair it was a weak season.

For best supporting comic actress, a tie--Kaley Cuoco and Eden Sher.  Isn't Kaley pretty clearly the female lead of TBBT?  But fine, give it to her. (She beat her co-star Melissa Rauch, and Mayim Bialik wasn't even nominated.) As for Eden Sher, she's been the best thing about The Middle, so I'm glad she's getting some recognition.

Patton Oswalt won for best guest performer in a comedy for his turn on Parks And Recreation. He did a good job, but I can't help but think he won it for his famous Star Wars fillibuster that was put up on YouTube but not used on the show.  I would have preferred David Lynch for his bizarre TV coach on Louie, but you can't have everything.

For best drama, another tie--Game Of Thrones and Breaking Bad.  Great picks both.  I can't think of any shows that are better.  Not unlike the Modern Family blackout, there's no nomination here for Mad Men.

For best dramatic actor, Bryan Cranston. Once again, well done. He's operating on another level. He certainly deserves it more than the overpraised Damian Lewis.  For best dramatic actress, Tatiana Maslany for Orphan Black, a show I've never seen. (See, that's why critics give awards--to make you aware of stuff you should check out.) In fact, I haven't seen half the women in this category. I do like Claire Danes in Homeland, but I guess she's won enough awards elsewhere that she can handle it.

Best supporting dramatic actor is a tough one, with so many good choices to be found on Game Of Thrones and Breaking Bad alone.  Two of those actors were nominated--Jonathan Banks and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau--but the winner was Michael Cudlist from Southland, another show I don't watch.  For supporting dramatic actress we get names like Emilia Clarke, Anna Gunn and Abigail Spencer, but Monica Potter won for Parenthood.

For guest performer in a dramatic series, somehow Jane Fonda won for The Newsroom.  Her character is ridiculously conceived, but then, almost everything about the show is absurd, so how they decided to give her--or anyone related to that show--a nod I can't understand.

Best movie or miniseries went to Behind The Candelabra, which had a fancy pedigree, but wasn't that great--though I was aware the critics loved it, so I'm not surprised. Best actor in this category is Michael Douglas as Liberace, another non-surprise.  Best actress is Elisabeth Moss, fresh off her loss in Mad Men, for Top Of The Lake.  She beat out a lot of big names--Angela Bassett, Rebecca Hall, Jessica Lange and Sigourney Weaver.  For supporting actor and actress, Zachary Quinto and Sarah Paulson in American Horror Story: Asylum, which I didn't watch.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart took best talk show. (Letterman and Leno weren't even nominated).  Enough, people. It's already won ten Emmys in a row for best variety series. Even if the show were as good as you think, it doesn't deserve all this.

Best animated series was Archer.  I've been meaning to check it out.  The Simpsons was nominated--what is this, 1994?  No Family Guy though, and no Robot Chicken.

From Z To A

Happy birthday, Rod Argent.  He was one of  the founders of the Zombies in the 60s and led his own band, Argent, in the 70s.








Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bo Knows

Bo Donaldson turns 60 today, so happy birthday.  Along with the Heywoods, in the 70s he had one huge hit, one minor hit, and one even more (less?) minor hit. Here they are in order of release, as well as popularity:






Game Over

There's not too much tp say about the final episode of Game Of Thrones this year, except that season 3 was over way too soon.  They really should make 13 episodes, or maybe 20.  As in previous seasons, the show ended with essentially a bunch of cliffhangers, or at least characters in positions where we wonder what their next move will be.  I guess that's what the show is--far-flung characters maneuvering to gain or hold onto power, and some fall by the wayside. I'd hope by the end of the series (and the novels) there can finally be some sense of closure.

A quick recap of the action:

Last week was the "red wedding," so it's time to catch up with everyone we missed. (That's another GOT tradition--the big moment happens in the ninth episode, and the tenth gives you a chance to collect yourself).  We start with the aftermath of the fighting, and dead Robb Stark--with a direwolf's head--is ridden around on his horse in mockery.  Arya and the Hound get to see all this.  Poor Arya.  She saw her father beheaded, had to travel around undercover to avoid being killed, and just as she was about to be reunited had her brothers and mother killed--the only kid with a worse childhood is Sally Draper.

Cynical Tyrion and sweet Sansa seem to be getting along, but his watch isn't going to end any time soon.  Shae, who cares deeply for one and loves the other, wonders where she fits in.  Varys gives her money to flee, but she won't take it. (Varys thinks Tyrion can do a lot to help the realm if he gets a chance.)  King's Landing is a dangerous place--she should get out while she can.

At the Small Council the news has arrived--Robb and Cateyln are dead.  Joffrey, in a dick move even for him, wants to serve Robb's head to Sansa at his wedding.  Tyrion threatens him but Tywin knows how to handle the King, and essentially puts him to bed.  A great scene.  Tywin is the power in King's Landing, but Joffrey is still dangerous, seems to me.  Meanwhile, Tyrion is not willing to bed Sansa. (I wonder how the audience would react if he did).

Bran and company (with Rickon gone) shack up in a haven near the Wall.  At night, who should come in, spookily, but Samwell and Gilly? Sam knows of Bran and is willing to help.  After last week's failed reunions, it's nice to have friendly people finally bump into each other.  Sam is going back to Castle Black, but Bran must go beyond the Wall. Sam shows him the way, and gives him his anti-White Walker weapons.  Not sure where that's going, but Bran obviously has a destiny (though Stark men don't tend to do well on this show).

At the Twins, Walder Frey and Roose Bolton cackle in glee at their evil. A lot of viewers would like their comeuppance. Roose also makes it clear that Theon has been delivered to his crazy bastard son (he's a bastard son who's crazy, not a crazy bastard who's a son) Ramsay, who has been torturing Theon for half the season.  He's now sending Theon's body parts to the Greyjoy family, demanding they leave the North (which is now watched over by Roose).  This plot has been going on too long.  At the end, at least sister Asha is finally making a move to get him back, so maybe we'll get some action in season 4.

The Hound and Arya travel by horse through the woods. They pass Frey's men bragging about what they did to Robb.  Arya jumps off the horse, pretends she's a poor little girl and then kills the guy with the Hound's knife.  The Hound comes by and finishes off the rest.  Arya killed a boy in self-defense earlier, and had dangerous people killed on request, but this is the new Arya, the one who will see a lot of death.  After a season of waiting, she takes Jaqen's coin and is ready to call out. To be continued.

Ygritte catches up with Snow.  They have a nice talk and she shoots three arrows into him before he gets back on horse to Castle Black, barely conscious.  Already there are Samwell and Gilly, who have explained their situation to the Maester.  A bunch of ravens are sent out to inform the Realm of the threat.

At Dragonstone, Davos talks to the imprisoned Gendry. He's sort of like a son to him and Davos isn't pleased that Stannis wants to use blood magic--and Gendry's death--to become king.  Davos, who can now read, receives the raven's message.  He goes to see Stannis, who is celebrating Robb's death with the Red Woman.  Her magic is working, they figure.  Davos speaks up for Gendry but nothing doing.  Fed up, Davos (who is becoming the moral center of the show?) frees Gendry.  Stannis sentences him to death, but then Davos informs him of the White Walkers.  Melisandre looks into the fire and sees Stannis will need Seaworth, so he gets to live.  (She's right about a lot of things, but I still don't like her.) Ha, saved by the religion you mock, says Stannis.

At King's Landing, an unrecognizable Jaime enters the gates along with protector (?) Brienne. Since we've been waiting the entire season for this, it's fairly underplayed.  He quickly gets to the castle and into Cersei's room.  They haven't seen each other since the first season.  Once again, underplayed--little dialogue, little time spent.  Okay, there's a lot to do, but everything about this homecoming is a big deal. Some questions. Is Jaime a changed man?  Can he continue his affair with his sister?  Will Tywin finally crack a smile?  Will he be infuriated that his favorite child has been mutilated?  How will Brienne, sworn to the enemy, be treated?  Will she get to return?  Where?  Will she stick around with Jaime?  I guess the big moments are waiting for the next season.

As almost an afterthought, we cut to Daenerys outside the gates of Yunkai.  How will the "liberated" slaves take to her?  They shout "Mhysa" (the title of the episode), which means "mother," and sweep her away in their arms.  So she's a hit.  End of show.  This isn't really that big a deal, since we saw her conquer the city last week, and take Astapor earlier. She's a great success in Slaver's Bay, but we're still waiting to see how she does when she crosses the Narrow Sea.  Her final moments in seasons 1 and 2 were far more stirring--this season she mostly gained strength and adherents but stayed on the sidelines when it comes to the big fight.

So a whole lot of characters poised to make their next move.  What else is new?  But this time we're not even at the end of a novel, but in the middle of one (the third). And we have to wait till next year to get more episodes. It's almost enough to make one break down and buy the book.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

2-3-2

Happy birthday, Len Barry.  Born Leonard Borisoff, he was lead singer of the early 60s band the Dovells.





He also had a successful solo career.

Your Shows Of Shows

Perhaps you saw the Writer's Guild list of the top 101 best-written TV series.  Here are the top 30, and a few comments:

1. THE SOPRANOS
2. SEINFELD
3. THE TWILIGHT ZONE
4. ALL IN THE FAMILY
5. M*A*S*H
6. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW
7. MAD MEN
8. CHEERS
9. THE WIRE
10. THE WEST WING
11. THE SIMPSONS
12. I LOVE LUCY
13. BREAKING BAD
14. THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW
15. HILL STREET BLUES
16. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT
17. THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART
18. SIX FEET UNDER
19. TAXI
20. THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW
21. 30 ROCK
22. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
23. FRASIER
24. FRIENDS
25. SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE
26. THE X-FILES
27. LOST
28. ER
29. THE COSBY SHOW
30. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM

See the rest yourself.

My first observation is the list is top-heavy with newer shows--over half are from the last twenty years, while there isn't much from the 50s and 60s.  This probably reflects the age of the voters more than the quality of the shows. Which makes me wonder how many of these recent shows will stand the test of time?  I'm talking about you, Six Feet Under, Friday Night LightsDownton Abbey, The Good Wife, Everybody Loves Raymond, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire and a fair number of others. And what of current darlings The Daily Show and The Colbert Report--how will people look back at them when they're no longer timely?

A number of British shows made it--Fawlty Towers, Monty Python, Absolutely Fabulous and so on.  But perhaps the Writer's Guild of America should stick to American shows, since they only know a smattering of what's been done across the pond.

As for The Sopranos being #1, why not? It has flaws--too many dream sequences, a premise about psychiatry that went on too long, questionable subplots like the gay life in New Hampshire--but at its best, which was often, it offered amazing writing, both tough and humorous.  Seinfeld may not be the greatest sitcom ever, but it's top ten, so I won't complain.

The Twilight Zone at #3?  It was good, especially for an anthology show, but so many episodes hammered the point home over and over.  And when they tried to be funny, ugh.

Then there's the big three from CBS in the 70s--All In The Family, M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore--I'd probably flip the order, but they deserve to be up there.

Mad Men is ongoing, and is certainly special.  I wonder what it'll look like when we're looking back at the 2010s as that show looks back on the 1960s. Cheers is another classic, though it may have hung on for too long. The Wire should definitely be up there--if it had been #1 it would have made just as much sense.

The West Wing featured some brilliant writing (though it wasn't the same after Aaron Sorkin left), but it's not the kind of show I imagine I'd ever watch again.  Should that count for anything?

The funny thing is 11-20 and 21-30 are just about as good as the top ten (minus a few questionable choices).  For comedy, The Simpsons (for the first decade, anyway) was as good a show as there ever was, and Dick Van Dyke practically created the modern, funny, sophisticated sitcom. And dramas like Breaking Bad (ongoing) or Lost (even with its disappointing final season) were as compelling as anything I've ever seen on TV. Then there's Saturday Night Live, which is its own category.

So overall, a worthy, if mostly conventional list. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Warped

Part of the IRS hearings have dealt with $50 million spent on conferences for morale, team-building and the like. The Star Trek parody video they made has gotten a lot more attention than I'm sure they ever thought possible.



Plenty of people are outraged at this sort of stuff, but it's a distraction. (One that gets the attention of the public, to be sure). Yes, it's annoying--especially the idea in the video that the IRS is saving us from anarchy--and probably a waste of time, but this is the sort of stuff every big organization does. Such conferences are one of the perks, if that's the word, of the job.

I realize the IRS is doing it on our dime, so it's a bit different, but even if it's a lavish conference, the money spent is nothing next to the damage done by allegedly misusing the agency to go after groups based on their politics.  That goes to the very foundation of what government is about.  To give these conferences so much time in the spotlight is to trivialize what this scandal really means.

Let's Twist Again

Happy birthday, Joey Dee, of Joey Dee and The Starliters.  They had a few hits in the early 60s, but the biggest by far was the "Peppermint Twist," named after New York's famous Peppermint Lounge.





Monday, June 10, 2013

Toned

So the Tony Awards were last night, if you noticed.  (Here's a fun experimment--go to your local bar and say "do you mind changing the channel from that sporting event to the Tonys" and see what happens.) They're the unwanted stepchild of the big four awards shows (Emmys, Grammys, Oscars, Tonys).  Broadway used to seem part of the national entertainment landscape, but to most people now it seems about stuff New Yorkers are interested in.  Sure, some of the big musicals--the ones filled with spectacle--will tour, but mostly this is stuff no one will ever see in any version unless a movie is made.

It's hard for me to rate how good the choices were since I didn't see any of the productions, but the Tony Awards show itself was, as usual, a cut above most other awards shows.  Fairly witty and entertaining, with a certain amount of star power, you wonder why the other shows can't manage this. (Maybe because they figure no one is watching?) One good bit, for example, brought together Broadway headliners Megan Hilty, Andrew Rannells and Laura Benanti, who sang about how it sucks to have the TV show you were cashing in on get canceled. Neil Patrick Harris seems to have become the regular host and he pulls it off each year (though tongue-kissing Sandy the dog was weird).

As to winners, the voters spread things around.  Kinky Boots won for best musical, score (by Cyndi Lauper), actor and three other awards, but favorite Matilda won four awards including best book and featured actor, while Pippin won best musical revival and three other major awards, including one for Andrea Martin. (I should add the Tonys can be seen as a lengthy add for the musicals, since we get to see a lot of numbers from them, but I have to admit not much I saw would make me pay for a full-price ticket.)

For straight plays,  Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike won Christopher Durang a Tony---I'm sure he deserved it, but maybe the voters thought they might not get another chance to give him an award.  Somewhat surprisingly, the play didn't win any acting awards. For that matter, Tracy Letts won best actor for Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, even though he's known best as a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright for August: Osage County.  Furthermore, he beat out some truly big names--Tom Hanks, Nathan Lane and David Hyde Pierce (maybe they figured these three guys have enough acting awards).  Woolf also won best revival and directing, but three other dramas shared the rest of the acting awards--A Trip To Bountiful, Lucky Guy and The Assembled Parties.  And The Nance, which was snubbed in not getting a best drama nomination, ended up winning three technical awards.

Overall, a worthy show.  My main problem was I didn't really have any rooting interest, which makes it harder to get involved.

Cole Continued

Yesterday's salute to Cole Porter was songs from the 20s and 30s, but he did some fine work in the 40s and 50s, too.












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