Friday, January 31, 2014

Did I say 'valid'? I meant "Vlad'

Mitt Romney Is the 2016 Republican Front-Runner

Three-Thousand And Thirty Funny Minutes

I just read Ken Bloom and Frank Vlastnik's Sitcom: The 101 Greatest TV Comedies Of All Time. I checked it out because I enjoyed their book on the 101 greatest Broadway musicals.  But don't rush out to your bookstore (as if there are bookstores any more) since the thing came out in 2007.

It's pretty good for what it is--a lavishly illustrated coffee table book with a short essay on each show.  Which shows?  The usual suspects (up to 2007). I won't bother to list them.

Not to put down the writing, but the photos are the best reason to buy the book, especially since they've chosen a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff and plenty of color shots for shows that were in black and white.

As for the essays, they're generally solid, though I caught a few minor errors, and some occasionally indifferent editing (re Eve Arden, she had "an Oscar-nominated role in Mildred Pierce, for which she bagged an Oscar nomination"; discussing The Phil Silvers Show they mention one character's "court-marshal"). Though they mostly point up the positives, every now and then they'll register some doubt.  For instance, they note in later years M*A*S*H could get preachy. And that while Julia was groundbreaking it wasn't much of a show.  And that Murphy Brown is now dated since it so often used topical references.  And that Bonnie Franklin on One Day At A Time is one of the most annoying TV characters ever.

It might be fun to see a book that goes all the way, coffee table be damned.  It'd be fun to see, amongst the encomia, some jaundiced views, like Leave It To Beaver is boring, Gilligan's Island is stupid, Frasier is bland, whatever. The reader wouldn't have to agree--after all, most buy it for the pictures.  But you could dip in here and there, never knowing what to expect.

Take Me To Your Lieder

Happy birthday, Franz Schubert. He died at 31 (officially of typhoid fever, though many today suspect syphilis), and while alive was not widely popular, but today is considered one of the top composers of the romantic era.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Things you suspect but never got around to documenting

Resolved: This is not a University of Chicago-style question.

Update: Unhappily, The Telegraph seems to have some virus issues, so link is in the comments.

USA Yesterday

On February 9th it'll be fifty years since the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan and changed everything.  As Edna Gunderson at USA Today notes, there'll be a celebration on CBS that night, featuring the two surviving Beatles and many other acts.  As well there should.

Edna goes on to report about their arrival in America a few days before the Sullivan spot:

The Beatles landed at the newly named Kennedy Airport in New York on Feb. 7, 1964. At the airport press conference, they were asked, "How do you find America?"

Starr quipped, "Turn left at Greenland."

A good line to be sure--even famous--but not to be found in the transcript of their Kennedy Airport press conference, but rather in the movie released later that year, A Hard Day's Night (where John says it).

The movie was written by Alun Owen, though he did base it on the Beatles' lives.  By the way, here are some lines from the actual press conference that Gunderson could have used:

Q: In Detroit Michigan, they're handing out car stickers saying, 'Stamp Out The Beatles.'

PAUL:  [...] we're bringing out a Stamp Out Detroit campaign.

FEMALE FAN: Would you please sing something? [....]

JOHN: No, we need money first.

Q: Are you going to get a haircut at all while you're here? [....]

GEORGE: I had one yesterday.

Q: What do you think your music does for these people? [....] Why does it excite them so much?

JOHN: If we knew, we'd form another group and be managers.

Q: What do you think of Beethoven?

RINGO: Great. Especially his poems.

Man Of Brooklyn

Happy birthday, composer Mitch Leigh.  Born Irwin Mitchnik, he studied music at Yale and became one of the top jingle writers around.  Then he turned to Broadway, where his first musical was Man Of La Mancha, a blockbuster.  He wrote a handful of other musicals, all flops.  But hey, one blockbuster and a bunch of jingles can pay for the rest.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Not clear on the concept

I love Professor Epstein (and his abbreviated version of the Constitution, in its entirety following the introduction: "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation"), but what does he think he gains by saying this?

"The President needs to recognize that the first order of business is growth, not transfer payments.

There is a fair chance the president will obtain amnesty this year, unless something penetrates Boehner's impenetrable skull.

That and Obamacare are enough to make him about the most successful leftist president in history. And that's not even counting the most important independent agency ever, CFPB.

What, exactly, does Professor Epstein think the president should do here, other than change his entire worldview? If we're talking about free markets, a free country, widespread prosperity, constitutional representative government, okay, that's one thing (well, maybe one constellation), but it's got nothing to do with Obama's policies. Rather, he should be addressing any institutions that are opposed to giving these things up, not those institutions that are successfully oiling up the handbasket.

I admit, it's a bit hard to find them. Who would he start with? The press? The Republicans? The universities? So I acknowledge his difficulty. But it undercuts his credibility to address his plea to the president. The president is doing just fine; like Willie Sutton, he knows what  his goals are.

Driving Music

Happy birthday, Bill Kirchen.  He was born in Ann Arbor, one of my favorite cities. He's best known as one of the guys behind Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, though he's done lots of other work in the years sine they broke up.


The spiritual grandfather of the modern folk movement, Pete Seeger, has died.

In the 40s he was a popular performer of folk music which he gathered from around the country.  He was also an outspoken communist, which would get him in trouble soon enough.  In the early 50s he had some big hits as part of the Weavers before they had trouble with the blacklist.  But he made his way back, as big as ever, as a singer and songwriter, not to mention an activist.  (He was also an early backer of Dylan, though he allegedly wished he could cut the cable when Dylan first went electric).

So let's sing out today.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sad Nights

Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, a two-act play about a woman who goes about her life even though she's mostly buried in the ground, is getting a revival at Pasadena's Boston Court Performing Arts Center.  The show is a tour de force for any actress, and also a sign of how Beckett tried to do more and more with less and less.

His plays are open to interpretation, of course, but he never approved of any significant changes in his pieces, even going so far as noting his disapproval in some playbills. (His later works have even less freedom for the actors, with extensive stage directions.) But that doesn't stop directors from trying to force their vision on Beckett.

A central theme to much of his stage work is deterioration.  Things are bad and getting worse, and often the best we can manage is to get used to it. A powerful theme.  But the short description of the production has me worried.  Here's the first sentence:

Renowned director Andrei Belgrader re-examines this Samuel Beckett classic, newly relevant to a generation burdened by climate change and environmental doom.

Oh boy.  The idea that there's something special about this generation when it comes to gloom and doom shows a lack of perspective that makes me question the whole production. The theme of Beckett's work is relevant today, yes, but that's because it was relevant when he wrote it and will almost certainly be relevant in the future.  To claim it's newly relevant, or specially relevant now, only cheapens the work.

The play stars Brooke Adams.  My advice--stick to the lines, you won't go wrong.

MF Good

Happy birthday Marty Fried of The Cyrkle. The band only had a few hits, but I know I still listen to them.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Armand T. Ringer

Just as many would go straight to the sports section of the morning paper, so did millions of readers for over a generation make a beeline for Martin Gardner's "Mathematical Games" in Scientific American.  Gardner's column was the most popular part of the magazine, in fact, and Gardner himself a hero to countless nerdy types.  And he was a lot more than a columnist, publishing numerous books about science, pseudoscience, magic, puzzles, poetry and philosophy, not to mention his annotations of other writers, such as L. Frank Baum, G. K. Chesterton and Lewis Carroll. (My Annotated Alice has twenty pages printed upside-down--I wonder if that makes it a collector's item?)

He died in 2010 and now, a few years later, comes his autobiography, Undiluted Hocus-Pocus.  The text is about 200 short pages, and so whimsically written I have to wonder if it was just notes for something he intended to do more seriously later on.  For instance, as short as it is, it's half over by the time he gets out of the navy and truly embarks on his journalistic career.

Worse, most of the book is impersonal--many of the chapters are about people he knew, followed by a description of what they did or thought.  The pages, for instance, on his years at the University of Chicago mostly deal with the administrators and professors he met, not what he did there himself. (Gardner often refers to other books he's written if we want more information--I'm glad they're out there, but that's the sort of stuff we expect in an autobiography.)

While he follows a general chronology, the book is fairly compartmentalized.  His decades at Scientific American, the central activity in his life to many, are dealt with rather quickly in one chapter.  And later we get an even shorter chapter on how he met and married his wife.

Only in the last two chapters does he discuss at length his personal philosophy.  While Gardner fans may already be aware of these beliefs, this is still some of the most fascinating stuff in the book.

Politically, he was a self-described democratic socialist, which essentially amounts to a big-government liberal.  He wanted nothing to do with communism, but seemed more frightened of unfettered capitalism breaking out in the U.S.  As far as religion, he called himself a philosophical theist.  There was a time early in his life when he was a fundamentalist, but studying science convinced him the Bible could not be taken literally.  In later years, he felt that atheists had better arguments and theological assertions were essentially meaningless, but still had a sense of wonder about the universe and believed in all sorts of unproven possibilities if for no other reason than it made him feel good.

Aesthetically, Gardner was a classicist.  Not that he didn't like anything new, but much modern art and poetry he thought little of--some of it, in fact, he felt was essentially a scam.

He was also a "mysterian." That is, he believed that there are some subjects, such as, say, free will and consciousness, that we will never truly understand.  Just as, say, a dog could never understand quantum physics, so are there great mysteries out there which our DNA precludes us from comprehending.  He certainly may be right about that, but I'm not sure where it leaves us--how can we tell what we can and can't understand before the fact? 

This may not be the best book on Martin Gardner we could have, but I guess it's the best autobiography we're going to get, and that's good enough for me.

One Of The Ettes

Happy birthday Nedra Talley, one of the Ronettes.  She was one of the Ronettes, comprised of sisters Ronnie Spector and Estelle Bennett, and Nedra, their cousin.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Write What You Know

In Variety, TV writer Brian Lowry announces "The Seven Most Tired Media Trends Of 2013."  The fifth is "Political columnists writing about pop culture." For instance, he complains about Ross Douthat commenting on 12 Years A Slave. As Lowry puts it:

Look, we all know newspapers are trying to reach a slightly younger audience, but that’s a poor excuse for dabbling in something about which most of these columnists [...] appear to know very little.

So I checked out the column.  Douthat is actually complaining about how liberal journalists, like Frank Rich and Jonathan Chait, are using 12 Years A Slave to prop up their own political viewpoints. They apparently hope conservatives will look at the horrors of slavery as depicted in the movie and be more likely to think it's wrong to oppose affirmative action or make a condescending statement toward President Obama.  Douthat, far from drawing any lessons from the movie, is merely noting these kinds of arguments are not persuasive--not even serious.

If anything, then, he's on Lowry's side when it comes to political columnists writing about pop culture.  And my guess is Brian Lowry would know that if he'd actually read the piece.

Call Him Responsible

Happy birthday, Jimmy Van Heusen, another one of those songwriters without the name recognition of George Gershwin or Richard Rodgers but still wrote a toe of hits.  Such as....

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Leftover Vanity Plates Of The Month

MSK TCHR.  I suppose MSC TCHR was taken.

GIN INSD.  A card player of some sort?


CNT W8.  And yet I saw the car waiting at the curb.

IRNMAN.  The first or a sequel?

GLOWRIA.  Good it's not normally spelled like this or Van Morrison would have been in trouble.

Underground Humor

I, Frankenstein just opened. Haven't seen it and don't plan to.  But I did check the reviews in the trades.

Here's the Hollywood Reporter: "Poor Mary Shelley is no doubt spinning in her grave."

Here's Variety: "[...] this listless supernatural actioner surely has Mary Shelley turning in her grave."

It's a natural line.  I wonder how many other reviewers are using it.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fine Whine

I think I've identified a new sitcom type.  Watching a few shows recently I noticed one thing they had in common--a female character who talk-whines.  Let me show you what I mean.

Example #1:  Gina in Brooklyn Nine Nine:

Example #2:  Dalia in Suburgatory:

Example #3, Myra in Episodes:

I think that constitutes a trend.

Catching Some Z's

He died a bit over ten years ago, way too early, but happy birthday, Warren Zevon.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

May I be excused?

This is what happened to me. In fact, I was a prodigy. I did most of my learning early--which turned out to be a mistake. It's slowed me down ever since.

B To The C

So Bill Cosby is planning to do another sitcom:

I want to be able to deliver a wonderful show to [a] network because there is a viewership out there that wants to see comedy, and warmth, and love, and surprise, and cleverness, without going into the party attitude. They would like to see a married couple that acts like they love each other, warts and all, children who respect the parenting, and the comedy of people who make mistakes. Warmth and forgiveness. So I hope to get that opportunity, and I will deliver the best of Cosby, and that will be a series, I assume, that we could get enough people week after week after week to tune in to, to come along with us.

(Not a good sign when someone refers to himself in the third person.)

Of course, in the 80s, the sitcom was moribund and needed him.  He saved the form, as well as NBC. However, at present the sitcom (if not NBC) is doing just fine, with hits such as The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family.  Indeed, the latter is doing a lot of what Cosby says he plans to do--has he been watching?

Cosby must really want to do this, since he obviously doesn't need the money. If it gets on the air, this'll be his fourth sitcom.  The first was The Bill Cosby Show.  The second was The Cosby Show. The third was Cosby.

So I'm guessing this one will be known as Cos.  Or maybe just C.

Unchained Melody

Happy birthday, Django Reinhardt, perhaps the greatest guitarist of them all.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Statesman protects the big picture

Hey, Pat, good to hear from you.

Any idea where I can buy some lightbulbs?

Bring in Mickey and the job'll be done

Now here's a trade:

"Ezra Klein leaving Washington Post"

"The Volokh Conspiracy joins the Washington Post"

Maybe Ezra could do a content versus clicks chart before he goes.

Going To The Dogs

The third season of Suburgatory premiered a week ago.  As a show it's okay, though I suppose I only watch it because it's between The Middle and Modern Family.  Anyway, part of the plot was about the protagonists taking in a dog that one of the neighbors wanted sent back to the pound. It would have been fascinating if the neighbor found the dog and had it put down, but that's never going to happen on a sitcom--they compromised and the dog was neutered.

I note this because before Suburgatory I watched a rerun of Modern Family where the plot was about how Stella, the dog, was eating Gloria's shoes and getting too much attention from Jay.  Then I watched The Middle, where the plot was about Colin Firth, the dog the Heck's have found, and how they think it may be the missing dog of Frankie's boss, so they return it.

Quite a few sitcoms have had dogs--The Simpsons, Frasier, Married With Children, The Brady Bunch and probably about a hundred others.  I generally don't like pets in sitcoms, because they're often there for the "aw" factor, plus they're not good at handling dialogue.  I suppose it's how you write around them that counts.  And now that ABC Thursday has three dog shows in a row (I haven't kept up with Super Fun Night so it might be four), I suppose I should get used to it.

Now We're Cooke-ing

Sam Cooke was murdered when he was 33. Otherwise, he might still singing in that smooth, beautiful style on his birthday today.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Speaking of Congress

He fails to account for several important issues that are vitally important for policy recommendations.”


Alas, the two teams I was rooting against on Sunday will be facing off in the Super Bowl. Why don't I like them? I have my reasons.  If it weren't for the commercials I might not even watch the game.

That said, it could be a classic Super Bowl, with the best defense--the Seahawks--versus the best offense--the Broncos. (Though I find both teams offensive.)  I believe the Seahawks are slight favorites, but I wonder if most fans wouldn't call it even.

What Was He Good For?

Happy birthday to soulful Motown singer Edwin Starr.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Does she know anyone who voted for Nixon?

This review is a lot of fun. I'm picking up the merest patina of dislike for Roger Ailes, a soupcon. It seems to be outweighed, though, by her dislike of an apparatchik who just can't close the deal.

They hate Congress too?

Caught Looking

I just watched Looking, the new HBO comedy-drama that some are calling Sex And The City for gay men (though I thought Sex And The City was Sex And The City for gay men).  It's apparently about the lives and loves of a group of men living in San Francisco.

The show announces itself right from the start, with one of the leads getting a hand job in the park--before it's aborted, anyway.  But that's what happens to most of the plotlines so far.  For instance, the main action of the pilot has one of the leads (sorry if I keep calling them leads, but I don't know the actors and can't tell the characters apart yet) goes on a first date that doesn't work at all.

The show is reasonably slick and literate, but not especially witty or penetrating.  Worse, though I'm sure we'll get more deeply into the relationships in the 8-episode season, for now, there's not much forward motion.  The characters may have a general longing to connect, but at present the goals aren't that specific.  If they want me to stick around, I'll need more.

Give Earl A Whirl

Happy birthday, Earl Grant.  He wasn't a huge star, but was a reasonably popular singer in the 50s and 60s.  His big hit, "The End" (not "The End OF A Rainbow"), got to #7 on the pop charts in 1957.  He died in a car accident when he was 39 or he might have also been popular in the 70s.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Hey! Old people! Get offa my lawn!

"They buy one cup of coffee, and they’re literally here for hours."

What are we talkin' here, Starbucks and hipsters?

I Should Worry

Happy birthday, Ish Kabibble (born Merwyn Bogue--well wouldn't you?). He was the most famous member of Kay Kyser's band beside Kyser himself.  He played cornet and also sang after a fashion.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Paramount first studio to stop distributing film prints

What were they using it for? To prop up uneven tables and chairs?

(And how do you link titles, anyway? Pre-death cycle ColumbusGuy was able to do that, so why can't I? Improvements in the interface to make things easier?),0,5245137.story

Mickey Rooney, call your agent

'. . . threatening the “slap of a million exploding suns” that he learned from three masters. The cast’s Alyson Hannigan, Cobie Smulders and Josh Radnor served as said masters, dressed to make them look as though they were Asian.'

I don't know. Sounds like Undercover Brother, if you ask me. Now, where's my secret agent ring . . .

Picture This

Just checked out This Land Was Made For You And Me (But Mostly Me), by Bruce McCall and David Letterman.  In case you don't get it, it's noted on the back " illustrated guide to the outrageous display of obscene wealth by the world's one percent."

I've long been a fan of Bruce McCall, a humorist who's worked for National Lampoon and The New Yorker. Drawings of the fantastic, dealing with the absurd scale of massive human inventions, are his specialty, so this book is right up his alley. Unfortunately, the drawings do it all in this 105-page book.  The text (I assume by Letterman) beats you over the head with the joke that's already clear from the illustrations--callous billionaires despoiling the land and laughing at the less well-off.

So I can recommend this book as something fun to look at, but not so great if you plan to read it.

True Det

HBO's latest drama, True Detective, stars a couple names more commonly found in movies these days--Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.  Turns out the series is an anthology, so only this season's eight episodes will feature MM and WH.  I guess that's how you get movie stars to commit.

They play partners solving a ritual murder in Louisiana in 1995. They visit the crime scene, which seems occult-related, but already we can see a lot more is going on, not just crime-wise, but politically.  But there's more.  We see them being interviewed in 2012 about the case.  Turns out there's a new murder that seems related, so maybe they got the wrong guy?  I don't know, I've only seen the first hour.  I guess the series will move along the two timelines, investigating the two cases together.  I'm not sure if this is necessary, even if it's the "twist" that makes the show different--the original crime seems intriguing enough.

That said, McConaughey and Harrelson both do fine work, the former as a moody, philosophical detective with a mysterious past and the latter as a the family man who knows how to play the game.  I'll definitely keep watching.  I'm glad there's only eight episodes--I like a good story, but I like closure, too.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Questions everybody is asking

Ah, mon cheri, here is an insight for you: "'He is the kind of man who can fall in and out of love,' said Thierry Mandon, a Socialist deputy."

Put that man in charge of health care.

Man On The Moon

Andy Kaufman would have been 65 today. Some think he's still around, and I guess he still is.


Happy birthday Susanna Hoffs, best known as the main voice and face of The Bangles.

Oscar Oscar Oscar

You already know what I thought of last year.  Now come the Oscar nominations.  Who got picked?  Who got snubbed?  Who cares?

Let's look at the main categories.

Best Picture
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Nine choices here (there could have been ten).  No surprise choices, though Her and Philomena weren't guaranteed.  What's missing?  Lee Daniel's The Butler, August: Osage County, Inside Llewyn Davis, Saving Mr. Banks, Fruitvale Station--all titles that are going to see a lot of snubs.  No Blue Jasmine, either, though it'll get other nods.

Best performance by an actor in a leading role
Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio The Wolf Of Wall Street 
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave 
Matthew McConaughey,  Dallas Buyers Club 

Bale and DiCaprio weren't shoo-ins, but not shocks either.  The shocks here are no Tom Hanks, no Robert Redford.  (Is the Academy getting younger?)  No Forest Whitaker or Joaquin Phoenix either.

Best performance by an actress in a leading role
Amy Adams, American Hustle 
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine 
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

The only slight surprise here is Amy Adams, though the Academy does like her.  They love Meryl Streep, and can't stop nominating her. In fact, everyone here has already been nominated.  Biggest snub by far is Emma Thompson. Also no Adele Exarchopoulus from Blue Is The Warmest Color (which the Academy ignored entirely).

Best performance by an actor in a supporting role
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Jonah Hill is becoming an Academy favorite. Who would have guessed. (He did his best work in Superbad but that's not what wins awards. For that matter, he wasn't bad last year in This Is The End, but that's not going to get nominated either.) Abdi a bit of a surprise, as since Hanks was snubbed for that film (and was also snubbed in this category for Saving Mr. Banks.).  Cooper also a bit of a surprise, since he wasn't as notable as his co-stars, but the Academy loves American Hustle and gave the actors a nomination in all the categories.  Missing--though no shock--are Will Forte, Daniel Bruhl and James Gandolfini. Leto will win, though this category--usually the best--seems a  bit less inspired than usual.

Best performance by an actress in a supporting role
Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
June Squibb, Nebraska
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine

Pretty much all the names expected here, though Sally Hawkins was far from guaranteed.  First supporting role nomination for Roberts (though her part could be called the lead, the filmmakers decided that's where Meryl goes).  Lawrence is young and already a favorite of the Academy.  Should be a good battle.  Some are saying Oprah got snubbed except I never thought she had much of a chance. Some thought Jennifer Garner had a shot, though she had the nothing role in Dallas Buyers Club.  Some believed Lea Seydoux had a chance but, as we've seen, Blue Is the Warmest Color simply wasn't on the Academy's radar. Some thought Scarlett Johansson's voice in Her had a chance, but that was never going to happen.

Best animated feature
The Croods
The Wind Rises
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine

The big snub here--Monsters University.  Rare a Pixar film doesn't make it, and this one deserved it.  Otherwise, no surprises, though I'm sure The Croods and Ernest & Celestine are happy to be here.

Achievement in directing
American Hustle, David O. Russell
Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron
Nebraska, Alexander Payne
12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen
The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese

This gives an idea of the favorites in best film, and the only slight surprise here is Nebraska, though the Academy likes Payne.  And Scorsese, shunned for so many years, has become the Meryl Streep of directors. No room for Spike Jonze or Paul Greengrass.  No Woodman, no Lee Daniel's, though I guess it had to be that way.

Adapted screenplay
Before Midnight, Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Captain Phillips, Billy Ray
Philomena, Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
12 Years a Slave, John Ridley
The Wolf of Wall Street, Terence Winter
Just as the day is ending, Before Midnight gets a nominations.  The rest pretty much expected.
I like how the Academy is saying August: Osage County was good enough for a Pulitzer Prize, but not good enough for us.

Original screenplay
American Hustle, Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen
Dallas Buyers Club, Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
Her, Spike Jonze
Nebraska, Bob Nelson

The Woodman gets another chance to snub the Academy.  The rest expected. Yet another snub for the Coen Brothers.

Best documentary featureThe Act of Killing 
Cutie and the Boxer 
Dirty Wars  
The Square 
20 Feet From Stardom 

A bit surprising not to see Blackfish or Stories We Tell.

Overall, it's looking pretty good for American Hustle, which got the most nominations at ten.  (Gravity also got ten nominations, though they were more for technical categories.)  12 Years A Slave got nine, which is pretty good, except a lot of pundits expected it would win the derby for most nominations.

As we get closer to the day, I'll give my predictions and/or choices for the winners.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

First they came for the comedians

"Having an unusual personality structure could be the secret to making other people laugh, scientists said on Thursday[.]"

Impulsive non-conformists, the whole bunch of them.

Something Ventured

Bob Bogle helped found the Ventures, the most successful instrumental band in rock.  If he were still around today would be his 80th, so let's hear some guitar.

Write And Wrong

Last year a documentary of J.D. Salinger came out, but the reviews were weak so I took a pass.  After all, I'd read a biography a couple years ago and didn't feel I had much to learn about the reclusive author.  Recently at the library I saw the book that came out with the doc and decided to check it out.  It still had the same basic outline, of course, but at almost 700 pages, including notes, was able to go more in depth in many areas.

It's actually an oral history, though not just of people who knew Salinger.  Some of them, for instance, talk about the battles he was involved in during WWII, others about his literary output.  But there's also a lot from people who met him, and a few who even had affairs with him.

Salinger was an odd duck.  It's hard to say why, though it's possible he never fully recovered from WWII. He landed at Normandy and was in the middle of the toughest fighting in Europe for ten months. He also helped liberate the death camps, and as a member of counter intelligence interrogated many Nazis.  Soon after, he had a nervous breakdown.  Some in the book believe his life post-war was one long episode of PTSD.

He also had early success, and that can change a person.  He became an influential New Yorker writer in his 20s, and by his early 30s cane out with his first--and only--novel, one that would become a touchstone for a generation (or two or three).  I haven't read Catcher In The Rye in years, but I did stop to look at a few pages not long ago and I admit Holden Caulfield had me laughing.  The book was not only a bestseller in its day, but it kept selling through the years.  This meant, if nothing else, Salinger never had to work again if he didn't want to.

But it was also the kind of book that made readers want to meet the author. He moved up to Cornish, New Hampshire to have peace and quiet while he wrote, but numerous fans made pilgrimages.  Perhaps more troubling, his book inspired three assassins in the 1980s, two who succeeded in killing their target, a third who came close.

He sampled many religions, searching for something--even dabbling in Christian Science and Scientology--but seemed most interested in Eastern thought.  He mainly followed Vedanta, which saw life in four stages.  First the apprenticeship; then worldly duties, where you might marry and raise a family; next a withdrawal from society; and finally a renunciation of the world.  We can see the effect of his beliefs on his writing--after Catcher, Salinger concentrated on the Glass family, publishing several stories and books about them; at first his religion informed these stories, but by the end the stories sometimes seemed to be mostly about selling his religion.

His first marriage, to a woman he met overseas, was a mistake.  In his second he had two kids, but the detached (to put it kindly) Salinger didn't seem to be much of a husband or father.  He devoted his life to his art, and would not allow any disturbances.  He perhaps reached religious transcendence working on his stories--his religion believed this work was what counted, not the fruit of the labor--but it couldn't have been pleasant for his wife and kids, stuck in Cornish with hardly any friends and not even Salinger around much.  (They did have a TV--Salinger liked shows such as Andy Griffith and Dick Van Dyke. He also loved movies, and would often pull out the projector to watch Hollywood classics.) His wife took the kids and walked out.  He'd have a third marriage years later, though she seemed to be as much his nurse as his spouse.

He did have friends--some of whom called him quite charming and witty (not hard to believe)--but with most of his acquaintances he had a falling out, as they couldn't measure up to his strict requirements. Sooner or later, most of his friends "betrayed" him, which usually meant they didn't do exactly what he wanted.

He published less and less, and stopped publishing entirely in the 1960s. It may have been his religion, or perhaps his reaction to the harsh reviews his latest work was getting.  But he did keep writing in the last decades of his life. One of the big revelations of the book is some of his work--including more on the Glass family, but also material about WWII (a subject he didn't directly write about after the war was over)--will be published by his estate starting in 2015.  If this is true, it'll be a major event.  Still, his last few works were awful, so I think it may be best to take a wait and see attitude.

Whatever the work is like, I guess his reputation is made.  All it takes is one memorable book.  But part of that reputation was his silence, which makes one wonder if that wasn't partly the idea.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Film Year In Review--2013

Time for our eagerly awaited film wrap-up for 2013.  Overall, a pretty good year, and regular readers know I don't usually say that. In fact, I've sometimes had enough trouble finding ten films I liked at all, much less a decent top ten list.  This year it was no trouble (despite the fact I missed a number of well-received films*). Furthermore, a lot of films I felt didn't work were still, at least, interesting--bizarre, or thoughtful, or beautiful, or quirky or something worth noting.

Before we get to the fun, let's go over the ground rules.  I discuss only feature films first released in theatres or made widely available in theatres in 2013.  No TV, no shorts.  I'll give out some awards, note some trends, tell you which films were good, bad or ugly, and then list my top ten.  You can rush to the bottom right now, but really, most of the best stuff is along the way.

Please feel free to leave a comment, whether you agree with me or not--in fact, I doubt very much you'll agree with me.

(*I don't generally mention the films I don't see, or people will ask what's the point of my top ten list, but here are a few that, for one reason or another, I didn't get to in 2013: Short Term 12, Fruitvale Station, The Wind Rises, The Act Of Killing, Before Midnight, Stories We Tell, Wadjda, Blue Is The Warmest Color, The Great Beauty, At Berkeley, Fill The Void, To The Wonder, The Selfish Giant.  Some are only getting wide releases in 2014, so maybe they'll be in next year's wrap-up.)

2013 AWARDS:

Star Of The Year: Tie (and co-stars this year)--Sandra Bullock, no longer an ingénue, scores in two very different films, The Heat and Gravity; Melissa McCarthy, against all odds, has become the most bankable comic star in movies, turning two so-so comedies, Identity Thief and The Heat, into big hits.

Performance Of The Year:  Tie--Daniel Bruhl in Rush and Steve Coogan in Philomena

New Face Of 2013:  Jackson Nicoll as the grandson in Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. The kid really commits. 

The Robert De Niro Award For A Once-Respected Actor Who Now Just Shows Up For The Paycheck:  Since this is the first time we've given this award, I think it only fair it goes to Robert De Niro, who starred in (at least) four awful films last year, The Big Wedding, The Family, Last Vegas and Grudge Match.

Song Of The Year: Frozen was reasonably tuneful, but the winner is from Inside Llewyn Davis.

Best Dialogue: 12 Years A Slave.  I don't know if people used to talk in such an ornate fashion, but with so much dialogue these days sounding like it was made up on the set (because it often was), it's nice to hear characters talk in a literate manner.

Worst Dialogue: The Counselor.  Cormac McCarthy's script, where characters stop the action every ten minutes to discuss the meaning of it all, may work in a novel, but not a movie.

Worst SequelDespicable Me 2. A gigantic hit, but I didn't see any point to it--Gru starts as a softhearted good guy, so where was there to go?  Didn't think much of the plot, either, and the solution to the crisis was too easy.

Most Disappointing Sequel:  Kick-Ass 2.  The original made my top ten list, but this just didn't work.

Worst Reboot:  Man Of Steel

Put It Out Of Its Misery Award:  The Hangover III

Least Honest Film Based On A True Story:  I think American Hustle has it right, starting the film with "Some of this actually happened." Virtually every film is ready to sacrifice reality for dramatic reasons.  For some films this is easy enough to ignore, such as The Conjuring, which is allegedly based on an actual case of demonic possession, but is about as realistic as Ghostbusters.  It's the stories that viewers may believe that are more troublesome.  For instance, some claim the captain in Captain Phillips was no hero but a screw-up (I have no idea), and P. L. Travers apparently despised the movie version of Mary Poppins. But I think the winner is Lee Daniel's The Butler, loosely based on the life of a real White House butler.  The film not only created two sons who existed only so they could live through every cliché of the civil rights movement, but also seems to have taken one of the highlights of the butler's life and turned it into a moment of bitter reflection, all so the filmmakers can lecture us.

Best Opening:  The first 13 minutes of Gravity.  How they got this shot without actually going into space I have no idea.

Worst EndingThe Spectacular Now.  I've heard the novel is more depressing, but really guys, after all you put us through, I don't need ambiguity to make the story seem deeper.

Nudest Nudity:  Rosario Dawson in Trance.

Nudest Suggested Nudity:  Cameron Diaz in The Counselor.

No One To Root For Award:  A tie--The East (eco-terrorists versus evil corporations) and The Kings Of Summer (overbearing parents versus snotty teenagers)

Most Effective Trailer:  Tie--Now You See Me and We're The Millers, trailers so well done that they helped take two titles no one thought would do much and turned them into solid hits.

Most Mindless Violence:  Tie--A Good Day To Die Hard and Man Of Steel.

Worst Villain:  Benedict Cumberbatch, you're no KHAANNNNNNN!

Least Sensible Motivations:  Maybe I couldn't follow its complex plot, but nothing anyone did in the last hour of Fast & Furious 6 made any sense to me. (Perhaps buying a ticket didn't make too much sense either.)

You Me And Dupree Award For The Film That While Nominally A Hollywood Comedy Is Actually A Surrealist Masterpiece Where Plot Points Are Introduced And Dropped For No Reason, Dialogue Is Unrelated To The Action, And Characters Do Things That Bear No Resemblance To How Humans Act: Grown Ups 2

Best Channeling: Sam Rockwell as Bill Murray in The Way Way Back, Miles Teller as Vince Vaughn in The Spectacular Now, Cate Blanchett as Blanche DuBois in Blue Jasmine

Most Enjoyable Screen Presence Who Appears In One Bad Film After Another:  Jason Statham, who starred last year in Parker and Homefront

Movie Most Like A Very Expensive Episode of Star Trek: Elysium (certainly not Star Trek Into Darkness, which didn't feel like Star Trek at all)
Most Predictable PlotThe East, where an agent infiltrates a group of people fighting against evil corporations.  Wonder if she'll turn?

Least Predictable Plot:  Tie--The Place Beyond The Pines and Movie 43.

Most Unnecessary Sort-Of British Accent: Will and Jaden Smith in After Earth; runner-up, Jodie Foster in Elysium

Worst Framing Device Now You See Me.  You know what's a good plot?  A ragtag bunch of magicians using their talents to lead the authorities on a merry chase. You know what's an idiotic plot?  These same magicians committing serial felonies at the behest of a secret figure all because they want to be part of a fictional magic society.

Enemy I'd Most Like To Face: Orcs from The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug. They swarm a place but barely kill anyone, and their heads come off real easy.

Film They Made A Decade Too Late:  Not Anchorman 2, but The Internship

Least Deserving Performance Guaranteed To Win An Oscar:  Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

Most Missed Shots: White House Down—every ten minutes the bad guys have a clear shot with machine guns at Channing Tatum and miss every time (much to the audience's chagrin)
Story That Relies Most On Coincidence And NonsenseBlue Jasmine.  A few examples:  Jasmine's sister Ginger visits Jasmine in New York, where she spies Jasmine's husband Hal with another woman.  It's a big city, but okay, that's the one coincidence you're allowed. Oddly, it never really goes anywhere as Jasmine finds out her husband is a serial cheater elsewhere.  Once in San Francisco, Jasmine plans to become an interior decorator. Even if this is the sort of job a real person would do outside a Woody Allen film, how does she decide to do it?  She takes a computer class where she can learn all about this mysterious thing called a computer so she can get some sort of decorating certificate online (rather than have a friend turn on her computer and go to the page where Jasmine can take this pointless test or course or whatever).  A friend in the computer class invites her to a tony party in Marin County where she meets Dwight, who's articulate, handsome, rich, connected and, oh yeah, his wife just died and he needs an interior decorator.  Jasmine lies about her past but when they're downtown to pick up an engagement ring for this whirlwind romance, by pure coincidence they run into Augie, who hates Jasmine and knows all about her background, which he spills on the spot.  Dwight, who could have easily checked these things if he actually cared about the woman he plans to marry, dumps her on the spot.  Then Augie mentions he just saw Jasmine's adult son Danny, who'd disappeared.  This is a double coincidence--Augie knows where her son is, and the son, last seen on the East Coast, just happens to live nearby (doing one of those Woody Allen jobs where he deals in second-hand musical instruments though he's a Harvard-trained lawyer).  And I'm not even getting into the simplistic characters and plot mechanics surrounding Chili, Dr. Flicker or Al. Still, it's one of Woody's better efforts in recent years.

Film That's Really As Horrible As Everyone SaysR.I.P.D.

House Of Sand And Fog Award For Reminding Us How Miserable Life Is:  Inside Llewyn Davis, a depressing week in the life of a depressed loser who's on a losing streak.

Went A Long Way To Go Nowhere AwardThe Secret Life Of Walter Mitty


Numbers Racket: Movie 43, Room 237, 42, 20 Feet From Stardom, 2 Guns, 12 Years A Slave

Impacted Colon: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, August: Osage County, Thor: The Dark World, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters, Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions Of A Marriage Counselor, Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain, The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones, One Direction: This Is Us

Names Make Good Titles:  John Dies At The End, Parker, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Frances Ha, Blue Jasmine, We're The Millers, Don Jon, Percy Jackson, Captain Phillips, Inside Llewyn Davis, Lee Daniel's The Butler

Why So Serious?: Ender's Game, Man Of Steel, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire--action films don't have to be jokey, but they shouldn't be grim.

Pretentiousness Alert (Pointless Black And White Division): Nebraska, Frances Ha and Much Ado About Nothing

British Women With Stories To Sell Must Be Brought To The United States: Philomena, Saving Mr. Banks

Game Time:  Ender's Game, Hunger Games, Computer Chess

Harrison Ford, Ultimate Authority Figure: Ender’s Game, 42, Anchorman 2, Paranoia

Want To Be A Winner? Team Up With Losers: The Internship, Monsters University

Middle Class White Girls Who Steal To Be Cool: The Bling Ring, Spring Breakers

Shaggy, Burned Out Hipsters Who Run An Old-Style Water Amusement Area Like To Make Jokes Over Megaphones: The Way Way Back, To Do List

Guaranteed Comedy—Jump In The Pool And Lose Your Trunks: The Way Way Back, The To-Do List

Art Is Life Moment: In The Wolf Of Wall Street we watch a woman get her hair cut off for $10,000 to buy new boobs, while in real life we're watching a woman get her hair cut off to be in The Wolf Of Wall Street.

The End Of The World As We Know It: Apocalypse now with This Is The End, Elysium, Oblivion, Man Of Steel, The World's End, Thor 2 and maybe a few others I missed.
Side Entrance—Movies That Start The Plot At A Sideshow: The Lone Ranger, Oz The Great And Powerful

Sympathy For The Terrorist (because, after all, we're the real terrorists): The Reluctant Fundamentalist, The East, Closed Circuit, Captain Phillips

White Guys In A Moving Vehicle Embarrassingly Singing Along To Wimpy Rap: Don Jon, We're The Millers

City Out Of Time: San Francisco, seen in 100+ million dollar movies in the past (Lone Ranger) and the future (Pacific Rim, Star Trek Into Darkness) but never in the present as far as I can remember.

Home Insecurity: The White House is attacked twice in Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down

Whimsy Is Hard:  Girl Most Likely, Serial Buddies, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty
The Internet Is For PornDon Jon, Thanks For Sharing

Magicians In Vegas: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Now You See Me

Ooh, Look At The Nice Houses In Los Angeles: The Bling Ring, Enough Said, Afternoon Delight, Much Ado About Nothing

A Ripped-Open Fuselage Really Sucks: Iron Man 3, World War Z

Michael Cera Is The Most Awful Person Who Ever Lived This Is The End, Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus

Marky Mark Kidnaps A Rich Guy, Ties Him To A Chair And Beats Him Up: 2 Guns, Pain And Gain

If You Stand Right Outside Someone's Car A Vehicle Will Hit You: World War Z, The Spectacular Now

Kids Who Grow Up Without A Father Will Go To Great Lengths To Find Out About Him Though They Will Often Be Disappointed: The Place Beyond The Pines, Girl Most Likely, The Spectacular Now

When You Go Out In Nature You Really Find Yourself: The Kings Of Summer, Prince Avalanche, Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus, Drinking Buddies

Female Valedictorians Believe A Great Job Is Protecting People Around A Pool: The To-Do List, The Lifeguard

Jane Lynch Is A Poor Therapist: A.C.O.D., Afternoon Delight

Leonardo DiCaprio Is Ostentatiously Wealthy But Has A Big Secret: The Great Gatsby, The Wolf Of Wall Street

If You Work Alongside Kristen Wiig She Is Your Soulmate: Anchorman 2, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, Despicable Me 2

Scarlett Johansson Is A Demanding Girlfriend: Don Jon, Her



Play Dead, Side Effects, Sound City, The Croods, The Way Way Back, Captain Phillips, Kill Your Darlings, Philomena, Saving Mr. Banks (though the flashbacks slowed the story down)


John Dies At The End, Oz The Great And Powerful, Olympus Has Fallen, Wrong, It's A Disaster, Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries And Mentors Of Ricky Jay, Now You See Me, 42, This Is The End, Epic, Blue Jasmine, We're The Millers, When Comedy Went To School, The World's End, Pacific Rim, Afternoon Delight, Bad Grandpa, All Is Lost, The Ackermonster Chronicles, The Hobbit: The Desolution Of Smaug (not bad considering the first film was just awful), Jack The Giant Killer, Thor 2, Dhoom 3, Wrong Cops

Not Okay:

Struck By Lightning, Movie 43 (though so disgusting it's almost worth seeing), The Last Stand, Parker, Bullet To The Head, Admission, Identity Thief, A Good Day To Die Hard, Gangster Squad, Snitch, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Adventures Of Serial Buddies, Spring Breakers (though James Franco was something), Somebody Up There Likes Me, Gimme The Loot, The Place Beyond The Pines, Trance, Oblivion, Iron Man 3,  Pain And Gain, The Great Gatsby, Star Trek Into Darkness, Frances Ha, The Hangover III, Fast & Furious 6, The Iceman, The Internship, The Kings Of Summer, Man Of Steel, The East, World War Z, Much Ado About Nothing, The Bling Ring, The Heat, The Long Ranger, Despicable Me 2, Grown Ups 2, Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus, Red 2, The To Do List, Girl Most Likely, 2 Guns, The Spectacular Now, Europa Report, In A World...., Elysium, Prince Avalanche, Kick Ass 2, Lee Daniel's The Butler, R.I.P.D., After Earth, White House Down, Drinking Buddies, The Grandmaster, The Conjuring, The Family, Prisoner, Don Jon, Thanks For Sharing, Nebraska, A.C.O.D., Escape Plan, Percy Jackson 2, Last Vegas, Ender's Game, Hunger Games 2, The Counselor, The Call, Delivery Man, Broken City, Homefront, Inside Llewyn Davis, About Time, Anchorman 2, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, Her, August: Osage County

Bubbling Under The Top Ten (in alphabetical order):

12 Years A Slave

Conjures up the horror of slavery as well as any films I've seen.

20 Feet From Stardom

Everybody is a star, but they don't all get the same attention.

AKA Doc Pomus

Maybe not as well put together as one might hope, but with such a great subject it barely matters.

Enough Said

Nicole Holofcener makes small, sweet films, and you think that's easy, try it youself.

Happy People: A Year In The Taiga

Werner Herzog takes us yet again to another place and another people.  It did, in its way, look like a happy life, except I'm too used to the warm weather out her.

Monsters University

Wasn't expecting much, but I think this was better than the original.

Our Nixon

Some amazing footage and more amazing sound from an era that seems so long ago, but whose influence is still felt today. (And the Ray Coniff singer who protests the war in the White House right in front of Nixon just before singing "Ma He's Making Eyes At Me" is startling.)

The Sapphires

Australian soul, and a great performance from Chris O'Dowd.

Warm Bodies

Yet another fine zombie film--who though the genre could keep working so well.

The Wolf Of Wall Street

Okay, it's overlong, and it often felt like Goodfellas II, but the stuff that did work was a lot of fun.

TOP TEN (in alphabetical order):

American Hustle

I'd been worried about David O. Russell. His last two films may have brought him awards and money, but I thought they were missing something.  But this film had what, at his best, he can bring to a film--spirit and humor and a sense that anything can happen.

Computer Chess

Generally, mumblecore doesn't do it for me, but this film, shot like a 1980 video, kept getting weirder and weirder until it reached a place few film do.

Dallas Buyers Club

I have no idea how accurate it is, but as a film this story of early underground treatment for AIDS is compelling, and Matthew McConaughey gives a great performance.  (It's also a good lesson in how black and grey markets start when you make something the public wants illegal.)


The most delightful animated feature since Tangled.  Not surprising, since many of the same people worked on both films.


When you think about it, it's only got two paper-thin characters and the simplest of plots, but who cares?  It's dazzling.

In The House (Dans La Maison)

An intriguing mixture of storytelling and a contemplation on storytelling.


How slick ads were used to convince people to vote out Pinochet.  (Some say it was a sad day when marketing entered politics, but they're usually the people who wish they had complete control of what the public hears.)

Room 237

Obsession is a great subject, and the crazier the obsession--in this case, crackpot theories about the meaning of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining--the more fascinating it is.  And, using footage from Kubrick and elsewhere, very well put together.  Wonder if people will start obsessing about this documentary now.


I knew nothing about Formula One racing and didn't want to know, but that's what movies can do--take you to a time and place you have no interest in and make you care.

Upstream Color

Small bits of it seemed to make sense, but essentially--on first viewing, anyway--it's incomprehensible.  Yet it still manages, on a microbudget, to be beautiful and touching. (Show this to your friends on a double bill with Computer Chess and then look for new friends.)


Happy birthday, Earl Hooker, a great blues guitarist and yes, cousin to John Lee Hooker.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Beginning Is The End

Jesse Walker has taken us through the top ten films of 2003, 1993, 1983, 1973, 1963, 1953, 1943 and 1933.  Now he's come upon the silent era, where many films no longer exist, and those that do are harder to see.  Thus, he has no top ten list, but he does have a few notes.

His favorite film of 1923 is Harold Lloyd's Safety Last!. Can't argue with that, but that's the only title Jesse lists.  I'm not asking for a top ten here, but there are a few more he might mention.  For instance, Lloyd, who was doing two features a year then, also did Why Worry?, another classic (and another title with its own punctuation).

Even more productive in 1923 was Buster Keaton, who made his last two silent shorts, The Balloonatic and The Love Nest (like them both, especially the latter), and his first two true Keaton features--Three Ages and Our Hospitality (like them both, especially the latter).

Another film I like is Cecil B. DeMille's silent The Ten Commandments, which, unlike his sound version, is mostly set in the present.

Other films of note in 1923 include The Covered Wagon, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, Rosita, Scaramouche, The White Rose and A Woman Of Paris.  The last is by Chaplin, but doesn't star Chaplin--some call it a classic, which is vastly overrating it.

Going back ten years to 1913--a century ago in cinema--Jesse likes the Fantomas serial.  I've never seen any of it.

The film world was a wild place in 1913, with moviemakers still developing techniques and trying to establish an industry.  You had early versions of Ivanhoe, Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, A Christmas CarolHamlet, The Sea Wolf, David Copperfield and other titles that would be remade over and over.  You had D. W. Griffith making a film a week, some of which are still pretty entertaining.  You had Keystone Studios, where they made wild comedies, and where boss Mack Sennett hired some stage comic named Charles Chaplin, though he didn't appear in anything until 1914.

And that's where Jesse ends.  Odd, actually, since 1903 has some well-known stuff I bet he's seen--Electrocuting An Elephant, The Music Lover, Life Of An American Fireman and, above all, The Great Train Robbery.  And 1893 is the beginning of film as we know it, with Edison's famous Blacksmith Scene made at the Black Maria studio.

Anyway, now that Jesse is done, I will take over. Tomorrow I'll put up my look at the 2013 film year, so stay tuned.

Smashing Time

Guess what, it's the birthday of Chas Smash--instrumentalist and occasional singer and songwriter for Madness.  And don't we all need a bit of Madness now and then?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bag It

Well, it's happened. Now that the year's started, the grocery store doesn't offer plastic bags any more and paper bags cost 10 cents.

So thank you, government, for taking a system that was working fine and messing with it. Thank you for not really helping anyone and making everyone just a little more miserable. What would we do without you?

Forward Pass

Happy birthday, Joe Pass, a true virtuoso of the guitar.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Questions no one is asking

"Why Bridgegate made headlines but Obama’s IRS scandal didn’t"

Are you kidding? (Sorry to steal from Mr. Taranto, but we didn't have the energy to think up our own. And anyway, are you kidding?)


I caught the first two episodes of The Spoils Of Babylon, the six-part comedy miniseries on IFC produced by the folks at Funny Or Die.  The concept is intriguing--a send-up of a 1970s-style miniseries "event."

It's a big-name cast--as big as any of those 70s events were to begin with. You've got Will Ferrell, looking like Orson Welles, as Eric Jonrosh, author, producer and director of the series, introducing it while drinking a lot of wine in a restaurant booth.  The show itself stars Tobey Maguire, Kristen Wiig, Tim Robbins and many others in a  melodrama vaguely dealing with the oil industry (as far as I can tell--the story may be going in any direction).

While some of the humor hits, it's rather scattershot.  Some of it is making fun of the overacting of the players in their overheated plot, but sometimes the joke is on how cheap the whole "epic" looks, and sometimes it's just self-aware jokes (such as patriarch saying the country was built by hard-working hands, mostly African and Chinese).  I suppose with such a wide target you go for what you can, but I wonder if it might have worked better if it just went in one direction.

The acting is generally fine, with Tobey Maguire holding the center with the proper earnestness.  The idea isn't bad, though it reminds me vaguely of Fresno, a 1986 comedy miniseries that spoofed the prime time soaps of the day.

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