Tuesday, December 31, 2013
These were my predictions from last year:
1. One of the following die in 2013
CastroResult: Yes- Exactly one of those folks died. One quit. One's possibly acting through his brother. One's in the cross-hairs of a revolution. One's an old lady with diminishing relevance and one was overshadowed by the birth of her great grandson.
Pope Benedict (Joseph Ratzinger)
2. Bad weather, price fluctuations, scandals, accusations and condemnations.
Result: Yes. I repeat this prediction for next year and from now until the end of time. And thereafter.
3. Belichik fails to get SB #4.
Result: Yes- though I hardly remember last year's Super Bowl, I see from the internets that the dirty birds of Crabstown took the crown last year.
4. Bill O'Brien stays at Penn State.
Result: Yes for 2013. Note- this will not be true for 2014,
5. The Fiscal Cliff (which I predicted would end as a Mediocre Bargain on Nov 5) will not result in "-cliff" becoming a political suffix like "-gate"
Result : Yes. I think I can say "-cliff" did not become a meme. It even failed to describe the budget issues halfway through the year as "sequester" superseded it. (Yes I know they are different things but they are close enough for casual conversation). Since nobody's happy with the current budget deal, I also think you can fairly call the current deal "mediocre" at least
6. Lincoln wins best bicture- Oscar voters romanticize statesmanship.
Result: No. Argo won because I think it had a better soundtrack ("She's my little rock & roll, ah-ah-ah...." stayed in my head for days afterward) and Ben Affleck sold himself as the future of the industry.
OK- So this year's 5-1 was purely a resume-building operation with lots of easy picks. This year I will attempt more challenging & specific predictions for 2014 in the next couple of days (Sample: The daily number on May 11 will be 4392. )
More than measured prose can say
"Far more troubling than can be characterized by measured prose."
And kudos to the headline writer: We pretend to teach, they pretend to learn
Predictions From 2013
It's the end of the year, so let's look back and see how well I guessed what would happen.
I guessed Chuck Hagel wouldn't be Secretary of Defense. Got that wrong. I guess I thought the Dems would put principle over party--always a mistake with politicians
I said Congress would pass no significant gun legislation. Correct. Wasn't that long ago some people thought it was inevitable.
I said they wouldn't pass immigration reform, even though it seemed to be at the top of their agenda. Correct.
I said there'd be no new Supreme Court Justice chosen. Correct.
I said the Court would find against affirmative action. I believe they punted, so I got that wrong.
I said the Court would punt on same-sex marriage, which I believe they did. Correct.
I said the Court would defer to Congress regarding FISA courts. I don't even recall if they had any cases about this.
I said the Court would get rid of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Correct.
I said Assad would fall. Wrong--if anything, he's stronger. I said Morsi would remain in power. Wrong--the military removed him after protests. So in general, I'm way off in that region.
I said Castro or Chavez or both wouldn't survive. Correct.
I said Angela Merkel would continue as Europe's leader. I think that's right.
I said Putin would remain in power, but be weaker. I'm not sure how you measure that, but I think I was wrong.
I said by year's end unemployment would be below 7%. Looks like I'm wrong.
I said the Dow would be over 13500 by the end of the year. Correct, but it's so much higher than that this feels wrong.
I said Alabama would have an easy time with Notre Dame in the BCS bowl. Not the bravest prediction, but correct.
I said the Wolverines would beat the Buckeyes. Considering how strongly the Buckeyes were favored, and how close it was, even though I got this wrong I feel like I'm right.
I said the Yankees wouldn't make the World Series. They didn't even make the playoffs.
I said Community would be canceled. Wrong. It gets one more short season (at least, and probably at most), with Dan Harmon back in charge.
I said critics would love the final season of Breaking Bad. Right.
I said Game Of Thrones would continue to gain fans and critical approval. I believe this is correct.
I said no major character would die on Mad Men. I think this is right.
I said Downton Abbey's third season would be considered greater than its second. I'm not entirely sure, but I think this is wrong.
For the Oscars, I called Argo as best film, Daniel Day-Lewis as Best Actor and Jennifer Lawrence as Best Actress. Missed on Best Supporting Actor and Actress, however. I also called Best Editor for Argo and Best Foreign Film for Amour.
I said Psy would not have another hit. Who's Psy?
Story Of The Year: Obamacare. Not just the disastrous website rollout, but the problems with the law so far. For years the Democrats kept promising once it happened it would finally become popular, but, if anything, it's in more trouble than ever. President Obama and the Democrats, after preferring the government be shut down than give in even slightly on the law, are falling over themselves to make concessions to stop the damage.
Non-Story Of The Year: The new Pope. He seems very popular, but is he really going to change anything?
To Be Continued Story: Benghazi. Despite the best efforts of the White House, and so many in the press covering their ears and humming (see The New York Times investigation published a couple days ago), the scandal, including the cover-up, still seems to be news.
Biggest Story Just About Over: Same-sex marriage. Yeah, there are still plenty of pockets of resistance, but recall in 2008 the issue was too hot ro touch for even a Democrat seriously running for President. The Dems, of course, have completely switched over, so the question is when will the Repubs come around.
Whatever Happened To...Award: Is the Arab Spring over? If so, who won? If not, what comes next?
Biggest Story That Sputtered Out: Immigration reform. (Though they'll probably give it another go in 2014).
Return To Normalcy Award: After a year of shutdowns and brinksmanship, the Ryan-Murray deal easily passes a Congress that seems tired of fighting.
Winner Of The Year: The Republican party. Not that they're so popular, but after 2012, with an easy win by President Obama, and losses in the Senate where they should have had easy pickups, it looked like a long four years ahead. But now the public is so fed up with the Dems and Obamacare that the GOP seems to be in place to do quite well in 2014. Of course, they've still got plenty of time to screw that up. Runner-up: Edward Snowden, hero to millions and still a free man.
Top New Personality: Glitch Girl
Most Underhyped Story: The IRS scandal. Seems to me huge, even historic, but the way it's being treated you'd think it's old news, or maybe even never happened (and is no longer happening).
Biggest Unforced Error: Harry Reid asks (or seems to) why would he want to help a kid with cancer.
Most Controversial Figure: Ted Cruz becomes a symbol of everything that's wrong with conservatives, which is what his fans love about him.
Toughest Job In 2013: Sorry Jay, but it's White House Press Secretary.
Bitter Ender Award: Nancy Pelosi. They passed the bill so we could find what was in it, and what we found we didn't like. But things are great, and no one lied, according to the former Speaker:
Be Careful What You Wish For Award: After a generation without one, New York City votes in a Democrat Mayor.
Worst New Trend (if it is a trend): Knockout.
People Are Weird Award: Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has a fan club.
Monday, December 30, 2013
New frontiers in measurement
And I thought happiness was problematic.
Our country's superhero, Better Man, has saved 9,200 lives in his term as hizzoner.
Well, Hell's bells. I can't wait for the numbers on this one (literally, I guess). Put off EPA and sewer subsidies, forget Obamacare, which has probably already saved, like, a billion lives, let's just go with guns. I'll bet Handgun Control's efforts have saved 100,000 lives since its founding. And defensive gun use 102,000, a clear win.
But wait, the big city lawsuits against gun manufacturers have probably already saved 500,000 lives . . . and those are just the good ones.
Stay tuned for more evidence-based policy . . . and news!.
The Nixon Era
Jesse Walker has now gotten back to 1973, when Hollywood was still in the middle (or is it at the end?) of a revolution, with new filmmakers, new stars and new techniques challenging the old ways.
Here's his top ten:
2. The Long Goodbye
4. The Last Detail
5. Charley Varrick
6. The Friends of Eddie Coyle
7. Mean Streets
8. Paper Moon
9. Day for Night
Must have been quite a year, because this is quite a list.
Orson Welles thought F For Fake might save his career, and he could go on making more film essays, building them in the editing suite out of variegated material. Instead, it was a complete financial failure and he never finished another feature. But time has been kind to the film, and many--like Jesse--now rate it highly. I don't know if I'd go that far, but it would probably make my top twenty, and maybe top ten.
Jesse notes Jack Nicholson was on a streak in the early 70s, but so was Robert Altman, and The Long Goodbye is one of his more fascinating works. Badlands starts Terrence Malick's amazing career and is as beautiful today as it was then.
I've never seen The Friends Of Eddie Coyle all the way through. (What I saw didn't impress me, but I missed the first half so I really can't judge.) The one film on this list I think shouldn't be here is Mean Streets. Many consider it a modern classic, but while I recognize there's some intriguing acting and memorable moments, overall I find it a bit of a mess.
Paper Moon is a lot of fun (and, little did Bogdanovich know, the end of a run--it'd be followed by three high-profile flops). Day For Night is about a subject Truffaut loves--film itself--and in doing so creating one of his best works. I wish the title has been translated American Night, even though it would have confused everyone over here. Sleeper is Woody Allen at his funniest, which is always top ten.
Here are Jesse's honorable mentions:
12. Don't Look Now
14. Juvenile Court
15. Frank Film
16. High Plains Drifter
17. The Sting
18. My Name is Nobody
19. Hell Up in Harlem
20. The Marcus-Nelson Murders
Jesse also tips his hat to O Lucky Man!.
I don't consider 11 top-notch Bergman, but I can see it on a top twenty list. I'm not always warm to Roeg films, but 12 is still pretty interesting. 13 has a good central performance but I've always found it a bit slow.
Jesse likes Frederick Wiseman, and so do I, but I've never seen 14. Haven't seen 15 eithers. It's a sign of how strong the year is, I guess, that the Eastwood film of the year didn't make the top ten. I think it's good for a Clint film of the time, but I don't exactly love it.
17 would make my top ten. It's a great example of what commercial Hollywood was capable of (though, looking back, ragtime to score a Depression film is weird). Haven't seen 18 or 19. 20 is a made-for-TV movie that led to Kojak.
And the surrealist romp O Lucky Man! would probably make my top twenty.
Other films of the year I liked:
Electra Glide In Blue, Enter The Dragon, Fantastic Planet, Heavy Traffic, Let The Good Times Roll, Love And Anarchy, The Mad Adventures Of Rabbi Jacob, The Paper Chase, That’ll Be The Day, The Three Musketeers
Of films of interest:
40 Carats, Bang The Drum Slowly, Battle For The Planet Of The Apes, Black Caesar, Blume In Love, Cahill U.S. Marshall, Charlotte’s Web, Cleopatra Jones, Coffy, The Day Of The Dolphin, The Devil In Miss Jones, Digby The Biggest Dog In The World, Dillinger, Don’t Play Us Cheap, Emperor Of The North Pole, The Exorcist, Five On The Black Hand Side, Godspell, Godzilla Vs. Megalon, The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad, The Harrad Experiment, Harry In Your Pocket, The Homecoming, The Iceman Cometh, Jeremy, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, The Last American Hero, The Last Of Sheila, The Laughing Policeman, Live And Let Die, Lost Horizon, The Mack, Magnum Force, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, Oklahoma Crude, Papillon, Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid, Save The Tiger, Scarecrow, Schlock, The Seven-Ups, Shaft In Africa, Sisters, Soylent Green, Superdad, The Thief Who Came To Dinner, Tom Sawyer, A Touch Of Class, Walking Tall, Wattstax, The Way We Were, Westworld, White Lightning, The Wicker Man, The World’s Greatest Athlete
Step Up To The Mike
Happy birthday, Mike Nesmith. Best known as one of the original Monkees, he was also a pretty decent songwriter.
Sunday, December 29, 2013
Too bad we didn't elect Mitt. He would never have allowed this to happen here.
A supernatural vortex that specifically targeted men named Ambrose
A bit out of the blue, but nicely done.
Tis the season for all those Christmas movies. One that seems to be gaining a reputation is the slight romantic comedy Holiday Affair, starring Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh. Released in 1949, it was a flop then, but maybe looks better today.
There aren't too many laughs, but it's not supposed to be a knee-slapper, for the most part. What works best are the personalities--not to mention looks--of Mitchum and Leigh. Mitchum is not best known for this genre, but he pulls it off.
But there are a couple things, at least, that don't work, preventing the film from being even a semi-classic. First, there's the kid, who gets an awful lot of screen time. He's not too obnoxious but he's given too much--he can't carry all that dramatic weight. Worse, plot-wise, is the Corey character. Wendell Corey often played secondary characters, but the trouble here is his lawyer is a decent, humorous guy who seems like a pretty good deal for Leigh. Okay, he's not Mitchum, but he does seem to love her and will certainly be a good provider. There are tons of romantic comedies where the woman has to choose between true love and money, or some stuffed shirt, but Corey doesn't seem that bad, and it hardly seems fair that Mitchum intrudes into the situation to take away Leigh.
Now onto 80s theme songs. The last great decade or the beginning of the end? You decide.
(Here's one that's not much of a theme but makes for a nice reenactment.)
Saturday, December 28, 2013
Oscar for Sexy No Sex
Hats off to Christian Bale.
Loved "Out of the Furnace," dark as it was, and now "American Hustle." Got me thinking about that comb over. If only I had enough hair.
Not sure how many Oscars this melange should take home, but I think someone should win an award for Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence playing sexy sexpots without any sex whatever. I mean, they weren't hiding anything, and you wouldn't call it hinting by any means, but there wasn't a single sex scene. Not sure whether to give them an attaboy for that or not.
The Gone-Gone 80s
Jesse Walker now turns his sights on the films of 1983. Here are his top ten:
3. The King of Comedy
4. Tender Mercies
6. Pauline at the Beach
7. The Meaning of Life
8. El Sur
9. El Norte
10. A Christmas Story
Sans Soleil is an interesting choice. It's certainly a fascinating, if odd, film. Videodrome is a great example of Cronenberg's mix of the organic and inorganic, though I'm not sure if I'd put it that high. Kind Of Comedy I'm never sure what to make of--I don't even think it's a good film, but it's hard to look away. Tender Mercies I find to be pure boredom. Zelig isn't top-tier Woody, but it's fun and, as a slight (but experimental) film has held up well.
Pauline At The Beach deserves to be up there. The Meaning Of Life was weaker than their last two films, but the good stuff is special enough that I can't object to it making the top ten. El Sur I've never seen. El Norte I like, if not love. A Christmas Story is also fun, though it probably wouldn't make my top ten.
Here are the honorable mentions:
12. John Cage
14. Trading Places
15. The Store
16. Risky Business
17. Local Hero
20. Chance Encounters
11 I like. Haven't seen 12, 13, 15 or 20. 14 would make my top ten--probably Eddie Murphy's best performance and a pretty good comedy all around. 16 would also have a shot at the top--a surprisingly well-done teen comedy. 17 should also be higher. 18 is a music video. 19 is hard to discuss--after being off the screen for a decade, Jerry Lewis made some comeback films in his old style, and all I can say is they're quite something to watch.
I do agree with Jesse that the big Oscar-winner, Terms Of Endearment, isn't the classic that so many seemed to think it was back then.
Here are a few other films that would make my top ten:
The Fourth Man
Other films I enjoyed in 1983:
They kept churning out TV themes like there was no tomorrow in the 70s. A few selections.
Friday, December 27, 2013
Just how long is the post-coital time interval, anyway?
“In starting to answer these questions, we’re gaining a better understanding of the ways that post-coital behavior relates to relationship satisfaction and healthy couple functioning."
Not to mention the plots of "Covert Affairs" and "Nikita."
It's all about sharing confidences and doin' the nasty. Apparently orgasm plays a key role, so all I can say is, ColumbusGal's secrets are safe with me.
A Generation To Think About It
Jesse Walker's top ten film list now goes back to 1993. Here's his top ten:
2. Groundhog Day
3. A Perfect World
4. The Nightmare Before Christmas
5. Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould
6. Latcho Drom
8. Manhattan Murder Mystery
9. Dottie Gets Spanked
10. True Romance
Short Cuts and Groundhog Day would definitely make my top ten. I consider A Perfect World overlong but boring at any length. The Nightmare Before Christmas is okay, but I keep wanting it to be better. Thirty Two Short Films would also make my top ten.
Never got around to seeing Latcho Drom, and though I've caught parts of Fearless on TV, I haven't really seen it all the way through. Jesse thinks MMM proves Woody still had it, while I think it shows how much he lost it. (Though I haven't watched it in 20 years--maybe I should give it another chance). Didn't see Dottie Gets Spanked. True Romance should at least be top twenty.
12. Red Rock West
13. Mad Dog and Glory
14. The Scent of Green Papaya
15. The Wrong Trousers
16. The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl
17. Body Snatchers
18. The Junky's Christmas
19. The Hour of the Pig
Haven't seen 11. 12 is a lot of fun. 13 I don't think works. 14 is pretty good. 15 is excellent, though I'd call it a lengthy short (which would keep it off my lost). 16 should probably be top ten. Haven't seen 17, 18 or 19. 20 is good, if a bit overrated.
Here are some other films that might have made my top ten:
A Bronx Tale (though the first part is better than the second)
The Fugitive (one of the best action films of the past quarter century)
King Of The Hill
The Remains Of The Day (I don't always go for Merchant-Ivory, but this is their best)
Ruby In Paradise
Schindler’s List (the most-honored film of the year is pretty good)
The Bride With White Hair, City Hunter, City On Fire, Crime Story, Dazed And Confused, Farewell My Concubine, Grumpy Old Men, Matinee, No More Mr. Nice Guy, Six Degrees Of Separation, Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, What’s Love Got To Do With It
Other films of interest:
Okay, the 60s. Lotsa good choices for TV themes. In fact, I like this decade so much I'm going to double up:
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Maybe Mitt Romney should have played on this theme, courtesy of Netflix: "A Denver reporter takes matters into his own hands when police fail to challenge a band of Mormon avengers who may be harboring a serial killer."
Pro: Charles Bronson
Double con: Trish Van Dever
WTF: Mormon serial killers?
Hits tend to be way down between Christmas and New Year's, so let's take it easy and listen to some TV themes this week. First, the 50s:
You don't notice how many Christmas songs are about snow until you move to Los Angeles. In fact, that's the original point of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," as demonstrated by the rarely-sung verse:
The sun is shining, the grass is green
The orange and palm trees sway
There's never been such a day
In Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it's December the 24th
And I'm longing to be up North.
Of course, no one sings that any more. The song first became associated with WWII and all those soldiers overseas, and it hasn't stopped being popular since, but no one thinks it's about LA. Though I sometimes fill in the verse myself before the song starts.
But that's hardly the only example of snow songs:
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
The Village Voice used to run Stan Mack's Real Life Funnies, where all the dialogue was guaranteed to be verbatim from people he met or overheard. Every now and then I feel like doing something similar (though I can't draw) because you never know when you'll overhear something interesting. Mack lived in NYC, where it's crowded and there are plenty of oddballs, so it made his job easy, but there are plenty of "interesting" people out here, you just have to keep your ears open.
I'm not leading up to much, except that while leaving the grocery store a few days ago, I overheard part of a conversation between two guys who were sitting at a table. I only wish I could have stuck around to hear the whole thing. Instead, I got a snatch. One man was replying to what another had just said. I have no idea if they were old friends or if they'd just met, but here's what he said.
...I only care about where I'm living now. I don't care about other dimensions. I don't care about other people living in other universes....
Yep, that's all. I wish I could have heard more, but I couldn't just stick around to listen, it would have been too obvious. Still, I have to agree with the guy. Perhaps there are billions of beings out there in other dimensions, but as long as they leave us alone, we should leave them alone.
It's that day, so let's have the music one more time.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
So I hear Phil Robertson's consulting with Oprah Winfrey to start his own network.
Not much is known about it, other than it'll be bigger than A&E when it launches. Among pre-booked sponsors are Cracker Barrel and Sleep Train.
What You Wish For
I'm sure many of you have seen how the latest poll shows New Yorkers are excited about Bill de Blasio taking office. They've just been through 20 years of Democrats who called themselves Republicans, so they're excited about getting a guy who, whatever he is, actually calls himself a Democrat.
Of course, what they've seen in the past 20 years or so is a massive drop in crime and violence, so you'd think that might be a big issue, but apparently what counts most, according to the pollster, is "whether or not [de Blasio will be] able to close the income gap."
Because that is such an important thing. Whenever I go to Wall Street and see a multimillionaire walk by, my first thought is If only this guy had less money, my life would be so much better. Heck, I even think that when I walk down a dark alley in the Bronx.
And I'm sure de Blasio will do something about that. I'm not saying he can help the poor, but certainly it won't be tricky to make life harder on the well-off. Ultimately, if he works hard at it, he can even force them out of town, and the income gap will go way down.
It's that time of year. And it's time for that kind of music. (Actually, you might be sick of it already, but since it'll be over soon, let's enjoy it for a little longer.)
Monday, December 23, 2013
Best title ever
Hulu mines a lot of old material (I know, don't we all) and right now they're promoting "Dirty Sexy Money."
That's better than Democracy Whiskey Sexy; heck, it's even better than Cunnilingus in North Korea.
Happy to celebrate the greatest birthday of all time, so enjoy it everyone.
I recently had a medical appointment with a urologist. What discussion we had was generally limited to medical issues, but he reminded me of another doctor I once went to who wanted to talk about politics. In general, I would prefer not to discuss politics with my doctor, particularly if he's a urologist. The last thing I need is to have any tension with someone about to perform a digital rectal exam.
Which reminds me of a story of my old friend John Baker. He once told me he got such an exam (I can't remember the circumstances--could it have been just a regular physical?) and he tightened up so much the doctor could barely get in. The guy told John to relax. John told him "you try to relax in this position."
Hold Your Tongue
I was watching Incubus, a film William Shatner starred in just before he did Star Trek. It's not much of a film, but at Shatner fans know, it's special--the performers speak Esperanto. (Too bad the film wasn't shot at Universal.) I watched on TV, and the film was subtitled. Doesn't that defeat the purpose?
It's obviously an impossible project to begin with. You can't force everyone to suddenly speak a wholly new language (and if you can that's a world I don't want to live in). I guess the idea was the world would pick it up voluntarily. Perhaps the language is easier to learn than others (especially if you already know some Romance language), but the dislocation in getting everyone there is too great. In specialized domains, I suppose, you can make people learn a certain jargon, but every word they say?
But what it you could? What would happen? Well, pretty quickly, almost immediately, regional accents would appear unless you've got strong accent police keeping everyone in line. How long would it take before one accent might become unintelligible to another.
Then, of course, localities would create new words to respond to new situations. These words may not spread across the whole word, and, in fact, other places might make up other words, so soon the regional variations would drift apart. Then there'd be slang, which would at least create expressions that would seem odd and perhaps incomprehensible to others. Then there might also be differences across classes and perhaps ethnicities within a community.
So it would actually be a fun experiment. If you started with one language and seven billion people, how long would it take before you had another language. Isolation would help, but even in a connected world it could happen.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Speaking of attribution
"Experts consider health insurance unaffordable once it exceeds 10 percent of annual income."
Fair enough. Sounds plausible, reasonable, and it's the right kind of thing for a benchmark to be. I buy it absolutely--as a benchmark.
But that's it? "Experts consider"? Really?
Of course this is exactly what you expect from second tier, second rate newspapers. At least they had three reporters working on it, which gives it all the gravitas it needs. And certainly you can't expect them, under such limited resource constraints, to have the time to put any meat on them bones.
He's Back To Looking Back
My friend Jesse Walker (whose excellent book The United States Of Paranoia is available in bookstores and online) is back with his yearly top ten best films list. But instead of 2013, he's looking at 2003. And he'll be going back every decade ending with a 3 back at least to the beginning of the talkies. (He's been doing it for over a decade, so he'll soon be going over old lists and seeing how they stand up.)
So what does he think of 2003? Here's his top ten:
3. The Saddest Music in the World
5. Lost in Translation
7. Kill Bill: Vol. 1
8. Good Bye Lenin!
9. Looney Tunes: Back in Action
10. Capturing the Friedmans
As Jesse knows, I don't agree with putting TV shows on film lists. First, episodic television is simply a different medium. (I don't even include made-for-TV movies). Second, if you put them on the list, over the past decade of so I can envision top ten "film" lists mostly made up of TV shows, and somehow that can't be write. That said, The Wire is one of the greatest TV shows ever (though I think season 2 is the weakest except for season 5).
Tarnation should be on the list. Probably the same for The Saddest Music In The World. Haven't seen Osama or Saraband. Lost In Translation I don't get--very little happens and I don't really care about any of it. Kill Bill I has some nice set pieces, but overall I think the KB films are Tarantino's weakest, and wouldn't make my top ten. Good Bye Lenin! should at least be top twenty. Looney Tunes: Back In Action isn't bad, but not top ten material. Capturing The Friedmans should probably make the list.
12. Swimming Pool
13. The Agronomist
14. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring
15. A Mighty Wind
16. All the Real Girls
18. Code 46
19. My Architect
20. Cunnilingus in North Korea
11 would make my top ten list (and just missed Jesse's). 12, 14, 15, 18 and 19 should all be at least top twenty. The rest I haven't seen.
And I agree with Jesse--the year's biggest hit and winner of the most Oscars ever, The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King--is a huge snooze.
Here are some films Jesse doesn't mention that might make my top ten:
The Barbarian Invasions
The Station Agent
The Wild Parrots Of Telegraph Hill
Saturday, December 21, 2013
Dan Rather, call your office
How hard can it be to check a quote?
It's rather shocking to see how often quotes are simply not attributed at all.
I don't mean simply by name--a name is often or even usually used. But it's only the name, leaving you to guess where and when it was said. "George Washington" and "Alexis de Toqueville" may as well be "insert attribution here"--although in Toqueville's case it's a little easier to guess where they're thinking it must be.
It's rather more shocking to see how often they are simply erroneous.
Here's a great one, "A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury . . ." blah, blah, blah.
Wonderful idea. Remarkable precision with which it is repeated. And yet no one other than hack circulators of semi-clever office joke material has ever said it. Too bad. It's a great concept. Probably true. Or as my good friend Dan would say, absolutely true.
So this guy has a plausible column, plausible point, nice title and tie in, and he throws it all away.
Bad Time For Tanning
Today is the shortest day of the year, so get a move on before the sun sets and you can't see what you're doing.
Across And Down
Believe it or not, the first crossword puzzle was published 100 years ago today in the New York World. (The first Believe It Or Not column wouldn't appear until several years later.) It was called a "word-cross" puzzle then, which actually sounds better to me.
It's a pretty good format. It required a lot of varied, specific knowledge, and the more you do the better you get at it. Part of the fun is constantly attacking the puzzle, wearing it down, getting clues you didn't previously understand. (I think how well-written the clues are is the secret to a good crossword.)
It's fascinating to discover that so many things that are givens in our world are relatively new. I wonder the puzzles felt like when they were a novelty. I was thinking it may have been like Sudoku is now, except 1) it really isn't and 2) Sudoku is actually as old as crossword puzzles, it was just forgotten for a long time.
Friday, December 20, 2013
Whatcha gonna do, Leander?
"It was alarming how many people I talked to who are highly placed people in AI who have retreats that are sort of ‘bug out’ houses” to which they could flee if it all hits the fan."
And what do they expect to do in those bug houses? Read a good book until they are liquified into nutritive paste supplement?
Artificial intelligence, indeed. (I wonder if this has anything to do with intelligent design?)
What A Time
I've been watching Once Upon A Time out of the corner of my eye lately, and it's gotten so weird, and so labyrinthine, I'm not sure what real fans are making of it. I may have gotten a lot of this wrong, but the first half of the third season has mostly been an excursion to Neverland where Peter Pan, the most evil force in the universe, runs things with his thugs the Lost Boys. The whole gang comes to save Henry--Emma, Regina, Snow White, Prince Charming, Rumpelstiltskin, Captain Hook--and others join in, such as Tinkerbell (who's lost her magic) and Baelfire.
My guess is the trip to Neverland is playing like the first part of season three in Lost, where a handful of Lostaways were stuck on the Other's separate island. Most fans thought it took the action to the wrong place (though I liked it).
The scene of Emma and Henry living a normal life at the end was interesting, but of course they couldn't let it be, so at the last moment Hook knocks on the door and says he needs Emma's help. She doesn't remember him, but that's clearly where the show is going when we return.
Will I return? I doubt it. I only catch a few minutes of it now and then, and it's too silly to get invested in characters who turn on a dime and plots that pile one coincidence on top of another.
"Little" Stevie Wright turns 65 today. He was singer-songwriter with the Australian 60s band the Easybeats. They only had one hit in America but they were huge in their home country.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
Here's Peggy Noonan on Barack Obama:
He is steady, calm, and [...] shows good judgment in terms of whom to hire and consult, what steps to take and moves to make.
Of course, that was in 2008. She's changed her tone since:
[...] I have begun to worry about the basic competency of the administration, its ability to perform the most fundamental duties of executive management
I've noted her turnaround before, so that's not what this post is about. What it's about is noting (unless someone's done a quick fix) that in a column entitled "Incompetence"--please check it out--the Wall Street Journal has printed the same text twice.
Happy birthday, Maurice White. Founder of Earth, Wind & Fire, he did it all--composed, produced, arranged, played, sang.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Not quite sure where the incompetence lies in this story, with the reporter or the researchers.
Of course I always agree with ColumbusGal, and I've never been happier.
Here's an essay making waves, "On Smarm," by Tom Scocca at Gawker. It's quite long and at times incoherent (though that's probably just me). He mostly seems to be saying sometimes we need to be rough on others, and so the calls for an end to nastiness are foolish. His piece has excited a lot of reaction, such as Malcolm Gladwell's response at The New Yorker. I don't really know what to make of all this, but right now I seem to disagree with both sides.
I don't quite get Scocca. People are always being nasty and people are always calling for civility, so what's the big deal? In general, civility is a good thing, especially in more official forums, but the harshness can't always be contained and we wouldn't want it to be. I suppose in the internet age we can see there's plenty of outrageousness out there, but wasn't it always there, just not as visible? And now that so many can have a public forum, what would you expect? The question is what is effective. Scocca seems to believe being nasty or cutting is--I don't know if that's true and, in any case, seems to miss the bigger point, which is what still counts most should be how good your argument is. How cogently is it put together, how solid are your facts, that sort of stuff. How it's put may make a difference, but in the long run it's still mostly window-dressing. Which is why so much of Scocca's piece is disheartening, as we see through his examples not what tone should be used, but his seeming incomprehension of arguments on the other side (usually the conservative side). If he calmed down and tried to express himself more calmly, would he be fairer? Probably, but does that matter? Would he be more willing to change his mind? Probably not.
(I should add I don't like the title at all. Scocca contrasts "snark" with "smarm" and feels the latter, with its insincere calls for civility--our built-in but ultimately fake response to alleged outrages--are in the interests of the privileged and powerful, shutting out different voices. I was once going to post something on words I am constitutionally unable to say (or write) because I don't like the sound or feel of them, and "snark" was #1 on the list, so I don't like it used anywhere. But smarmy was a word I liked, even if I didn't quite use it in the sense Scocca does (since I prefer the unctuous side of the word), so if Scocca has made it harder to use that word, then he's done a disservice.)
Then there's Gladwell's response. I'm not sure if he gets Scocca (though maybe he does, since I'm not sure I get Scocca, or Gladwell.) He claims Scocca says civility and seriousness serve the ruling class while the truth is the opposite. Gladwell says it's satire and snickering and a sardonic tone that don't change society, and, indeed, one they become institutionalized--perhaps today's examples are Stewart, Colbert, SNL, not to mention Gawker--are actually forms of complacence, the feeling something is getting done without real change, and even helps to control dissent by giving us a release.
This strikes me as more wrong than Scocca. Of course most satire doesn't change anything, but it never did. It's just part of the overall conversation society is having--including the serious and sincere, which don't change things much, either. In an age with more voices, and, more important, where people are more free to speak, public debate, if anything, has less effect than it once had. (It is a bit of a paradox, but freedom of speech weakens the power of your speech--it's in a non-free society, where you can't openly express yourself, then any debate, even in coded language, becomes more powerful.)
Very few are heard above others, and very few have the power to move other very far. That's just the game. Satire isn't magic, but neither is reasoned debate. You just do what you can. If we have a problem, it's more that people, even those who pay close attention to the debate (indeed, especially those) aren't that open to ideas, new and old. How and where those ideas come from I can't say. Civil debate (whatever that means) is invaluable, just so we can hear what an argument sounds like, without the snideness carrying it across; but the idea that we shouldn't go for the jugular when we feel we need misses something, even if it's just an appeal to emotion. (Not that we're in trouble of any lack of outrageousness. I guess if I had to come down on one side, it would be with being calm and rational--I wonder how many readers of this blog would have guessed that.)
Play With Fire
Today is a day many thought would never happen--Keith Richards turns 70. Everyone's favorite Rolling Stone has written and performed on so many great tunes it's hard to know where to begin.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
The last paragraph of this post is about Master Of Sex. For the rest, let there be a general SPOILER ALERT for Homeland:
The trades recently announced Morena Baccarin and Morgan Saylor, who play Brody's wife and daughter on Homeland, were being demoted from regulars to recurring characters. This made sense, as their relation to the show, with Brody long gone from the household, became more and more tenuous (not to mention in the case of Saylor annoying). But after watching the final episode of this season, "The Star," it's even clearer why they're gone. See, they killed off Brody.
The deal was to pick up Brody, thus assuring Javadi's continued influence, but leave Carrie behind. But Carrie didn't want to be left behind, so she went back to her hotel, the beginning of implausibility piled upon implausibility. She might not like what happened, but she should be smart enough to get the heck out of there as fast as possible. There's nothing more for her to do on the ground.
So she goes back and is immediately picked up by Javadi's people. She confronts him, demanding he free Brody, as if this were possible. In fact, despite what she and Saul hoped, this play made sense--and in any case, there was nothing Javadi could do at this point. So the question here is not can he let Brody go, but why would he let Carrie go? She's already shown herself to be a loose cannon, and she knows all about the Javadi deal, so why not just kill her and try to explain to the CIA how things got away from him.
But the main thing is Brody dies, thank goodness, so we can all heave a sigh of relief. But that doesn't stop the implausibilities. Four months later, we see Iran is now much more pliant diplomatically, thanks to Saul's machinations. Her wife congratulates him, telling him it's his doing. She knows?! He's the head of the CIA, but apparently he spreads the deepest secret the government has as pillow talk?
Carrie meets with Lockhart, who wants to name her head of Istanbul. Huh? If there's anyone he'd want out more than Saul, it'd be Carrie. She was insulting to him and also showed herself to be a rogue in the field. He was the one who gave the order to make sure everything Carrie wanted wouldn't happen. (This on top of the implausible scenario that Carrie would ever be allowed back in the CIA after she was discovered to have mental problems that required medication and didn't tell anyone about it.) Lockhart would either give her a dead end position or have her quietly cashiered.
The future plot is uncertain. Carrie has always been the center of the show, so presumably she'll continue with her merry adventures. But Saul is gone. How is that gonna work? Brody out of the picture is fine with me, but I don't want to continue without Saul, and not as a private contractor.
By the way, I also watched the finale to the first season of Masters Of Sex. It was okay, but the show still doesn't even try to have the dialogue sound like how people talked in the 50s. Within a ten-minute stretch, I heard the phrases "wrap my head around," "done deal" and "game changer."
Happy birthday Dave Dee (who left us a few years ago), the most important member of the band Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. They never quite made it in America, but they were huge in Britain.
Monday, December 16, 2013
Running Rings Around
"Most influential" and similar polls generally strike me as inherently invalid. By and large I can't imagine they are anything other than "say the name of first famous important person you think of who isn't Miley Cyrus."
So unsurprisingly the president always wins because our press by and large behave as if they are lazy idiots of the first order and feel they must report on the president every day, no matter how inconsequential his activities may be.
Even so, pollsters justify such nonsense polling as showing "top of mind" attitudes and awareness, no matter how loosely connected such tomsense may be.
So what does it mean that Ted Cruz is third most influential, behind the "I am not a Marxist" Marxist Pope Francis (how did he beat King Barack I?) and Dear Leader?
That somehow does not have the ring of truth to me. And for my liberal friends, I'm sure it's leading us right down into a ring of fire.
p.s. Miley twerked in at No. 8. Personally, I'm going with "not sure," only because they didn't offer "how the frack should I know." It's top of mind.
Who's that behind that beard? Why it's birthday boy Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.
Peter O'Toole has died. He was one of the last stars from a specific age of Hollywood glamour, just before the idea of what a leading male could look like widened. O'Toole, if nothing else, was beautiful. But he turned out to be so much more.
And he was up to the task. You can't carry an epic simply on looks, and his physical grace and beautiful voice mattered just as much. He received the first of eight Best Actor Oscar nominations for the part (though he never won). He'd go on to appear in other major historical roles in his first decade of stardom, in movies like Beckett and The Lion In Winter, but showed plenty of range, appearing in contemporary comedies such as What's New Pussycat and How To Steal A Million, cult oddities like The Ruling Class and even musicals like Goodbye, Mr. Chips.
In his 50s now, he made some questionable choices and his movie stardom soon gave way to more theatre and TV appearances. Hollywood, probably figuring he was finished, presented him with an honorary career Oscar in 2003. But he wasn't done yet, and in his 70s played a venerable King Priam in Troy (2004) and, even better, an over-the-hill actor attracted to a young woman in Venus (2006). Indeed, the latter led to his eighth Academy Award nomination.
When I think of him, I remember him best in his "big" parts. Lawrence, of course, is what he'll be forever associated with, but I don't just mean historical roles--his insane British Earl in The Ruling Class is quite something, and Eli Cross, the eccentric director who seems to run the world in The Stunt Man, may have been his best performance. But, just as important, no matter how big he got, no matter how crazy the role, he always had an elegance and control that made him special. I didn't recognize his voice when I first saw Ratatouille, but I could tell there was something special there. And even in his weakest roles, and worst movies, there was always something unique.
PS Just as I wrote this I heard Joan Fontaine died. Also Tom Laughlin. And a few days ago, Audrey Totter. Sorry that I don't have to time to write them all up.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Like many other Americans, I've been in various showrooms pricing electronic gadgets lately. I don't really know what I want, and I barely know my way around, but I'm fascinated by all the bright, blinking lights.
Nevertheless, I think I have an instinct for all this--I can walk down an aisle and figure out the best product. I know this because whenever I stop to look over an item, a salesperson will come up to me and tell me secretly this is the exact model that they buy. It can't be a coincidence. Guess I have the magic touch.
Appice Of Rock
Happy birthday, Carmine Appice, singer and drummer in a lot of great rock bands. He even occasionally wrote a song.
Saturday, December 14, 2013
Enough to make me support Obamacare
So I noted the other day the government is going to start measuring Americans' happiness, because measuring their dollars is having unintended consequences.
Nothing could go wrong there.
Anyway, I've embraced the idea, and I've found something that has increased my happiness to the point where I'm ready to support pretty much anything government comes out with.
Lip-Flapping About Arm-Flapping
There's been a lot of talk about the sign-language interpreter at the Nelson Mandela memorial. He was apparently a complete fake (or going though a mental episode, or making up a language known only to him.)
No one was hurt, so let's face it, this was hilarious. A solemn occasion with numerous heads of states in attendance, and there at the podium was a bizarre man waving his arms about meaninglessly.
I'm sure some will see a deeper symbolic meaning here, but really, let's just enjoy the moment.