Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Craig's Last

Ever since David Letterman announced he was retiring and Stephen Colbert was hired as a replacement, it seemed inevitable that Craig Ferguson's Late Late Show, which followed Letterman, was on the way out. Now it's gone from inevitable to official: Ferguson announced he's leaving earlier this this week.  He claims it's his choice, and fine, if he says so, that's good enough for me.

I wasn't the biggest fan of the show, but in recent years I've grown to appreciate it more.  It eschewed a big band (or band of any sort) and a sidekick--unless you count a talking skeleton and performing horse--and was just Ferguson, often talking intimately into the camera. He'd share private jokes with the audience, and would spend at least the first half hour of his show doing whatever it was that interested him.  Only some time in the second half hour would he bring out the celebrities.  But this was my favorite part of the show.  At Ferguson's best he was able to establish a rapport with his guests that other late night shows couldn't match.

Maybe it's time for something new.  I think Seth Meyer is vulnerable, and perhaps a new name could beat him.  Still, I'll miss Ferguson, even if I only watched occasionally.


Happy 90th Sheldon Harnick, Broadway lyricist whose best-known work was with partner Jerry Bock.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Celebrate, Celebrate! Ding Ding Ding Ding Ding!

Big big day at Pajama Guy.  This is the 10,000th post ever!  I almost can't believe it. How much shallow analysis is that?  How many bad predictions?  How many cheap jokes?  How many anonymous comments (really guys, it's no big deal, leave your name)?

Anyway, instead of writing the great American novel, we put together a decent American blog, and I couldn't be prouder.

In addition--and not entirely by coincidence as we worked it out over the past few weeks--today is my birthday.  So while I'm busy double-celebrating, please enjoy music composed or performed by people who share my birthdate:

Monday, April 28, 2014

Off The Cliff

I don't get out to Pasadena that often--maybe every few months.  It's a nice place, but a bit of a hike.  Anyway, I was there over the weekend and stopped in Vroman's, one of the best independent bookstores around--of course, most of them that were here when I moved to L.A. are now gone. But then, even top chains have been closing, so what can you expect?

Afterwards, I walked over the Cliff's Books, just a block away.  When I first moved here, I discovered it by chance and thought it was the best used bookstore I'd ever seen.  Quite a bit of my collection comes from there--a huge selection and very reasonable prices.  And it was opened till midnight every day.

So imagine my horror when I discovered it had closed.  I guess used bookstores are closing just like new ones.  In fact, the place was all but giving their inventory away and I missed it.

So goodbye, Cliff's.  The world has move on, but I promise I won't forget.

On The Roof And Around The World

I doubt there could be a better book on the Fiddler On The Roof phenomenon than Alisa Solomon's Wonder Of Wonders, at least for the first two-thirds, but we'll get to that later.

The first of three sections starts where the story must--with Sholem Aleichem.  He was a Yiddish author from Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century. He wrote, comedically most of the time, on Jewish themes. His greatest creation was Tevye the Milkman, who'd relate his tales to Sholem Aleichem, telling of his troubles with his five daughters, often misquoting scripture, and slowly gaining self-awareness of what was going on.

Sholem Aleichem (a pen name that, in the Yiddish idiom, means "how do you do"), though popular, often had money problems.  He moved to America in the early 1900s, hoping to make some dough in the burgeoning Yiddish theatre.  But as beloved as he was, his talent wasn't in drama, and, furthermore, he misjudged the American market: Jews living in New York didn't view life in Russia with nostalgia, they wanted something more forward-looking, so Aleichem's plays didn't make money.  When he died in 1916, there were hundreds of thousand of mourners.  And, ironically, it was the start of a successful dramatic career.

Yiddish theatre adapted his fiction and it went over big.  They were able to emphasize whatever suited them best, making the stories more comedic and melodramatic, in ways that the original author may not have approved. (In fact, Sholem Aleichem could be pretty dark. In one of his later Tevye stories, the milkman's daughter Shprintze kills herself when rejected by her beau's rich family.)  It was actually the beginning of a struggle for the meaning of Sholem Aleichem, when the vulgar versus the elite would argue over what was truly "authentic."

His popularity waned somewhat between the wars when Jews were assimilating, but that changed with WWII, when suddenly Jews were far more oppressed than they'd been in czarist Russia.

Two things really brought him into American consciousness. First, in 1943, Maurice Samuel's highly popular English-language collection The World Of Sholom Aleichem. (Yiddish needs to be transliterated, thus the different spellings.)  Then in the 50s the play--or actually three one-acts performed as one piece--also titled The World Of Sholom Aleichem.  The book was the more sentimental piece, wallowing in old-style Yiddishkeit.  The play was created and performed by blacklisted artists, leftists who at the time were looking to celebrate folkways, and maybe saw in the struggles of their forebears something like they struggle they were going through.

Meanwhile, some thought of adapting Sholem Aleichem for Broadway, but it was still a time when Jews were putting their past behind them and becoming Americans.  Was shtetl life too Jewish for the Great White Way?

After some false starts, the songwriting team of Bock and Harnick, who'd written the score to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Fiorello!, deciding to take on Tevye.  They were joined by playwright Joseph Stein and soon were showing their work around--even before they'd secured the rights.

Harold Prince, who'd turn out to be their main producer, didn't like the material.  Like the authors (and so many others involved in the musical), he was Jewish, but this wasn't his German-Jewish history and he didn't go for the ethnic stuff.  But he thought if brilliant director-choreographer Jerome Robbins liked it, he could get behind it.

Robbins was in great demand, and it was hard to pin him down. But at that moment, he was looking into his roots (he was born Rabinowitz), and realized this could be the vehicle where he would express himself.  He got on board, started doing massive amounts of research, and demanded significant changes.  For instance, he didn't like the opening number about Tevye's family hurriedly preparing for the Sabbath.  He kept demanding to know what the show was truly about. Finally, someone said it's about the breaking down of traditions.  Robbins jumped on that and Bock and Harnick wrote the opening number that set up everything that followed--"Tradition."

Robbins also spent half a year casting the show--he wanted people who seemed authentically in character, not stage Jews.  Above all, the production wanted the great stage actor Zero Mostel, who had the spirit, the comedy and the size to make the role special.

Mostel had recently become a big name on Broadway after starring in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.  The musical--the first with a complete score by Stephen Sondheim--had been in trouble out of town.  They called in show doctor Jerome Robbins, who made it work.  The problem had been, though, that Mostel and his co-star Gilford had been blacklisted, while Robbins had been one who named names.  But Mostel said the Left didn't blacklist, and worked with Robbins, even if he didn't respect him as a person.

It took a while to pin down Mostel, but the star and the director remained uneasy with each other.  Mostel, always loud and demonstrative, would swear and mock, while Robbins, a martinet, would more quietly get his way.

The show tried out in Detroit (back in the days when shows did things like that) and later Washington.  Though it had problems, and was way too long, it clearly had something.  There was an early thumbs down from Variety, but in general the word of mouth was solid.

Robbins was a great procrastinator.  He'd work forever on minor scenes and put off major dances for weeks.  On the road, a lot had to be cut.  For instance, a long dance where Tevye lost his daughter Chava to another religion was very powerful, but too long near the end of the show.  Also, a song about when will the Messiah come was cut, much to the consternation of Zero Mostel, because while entertaining it didn't fit.  Austin Pendleton, as the hapless tailor Motel, saw a charming song about his sewing machine cut--it never played because it was too late in the show, his story was over and the audience wanted to action to move forward.  In fact, Pendleton's other song, "Now I Have Everything," was given to Bert Convy's Perchik.  He wondered if he was about to be fired. But then Bock and Harnick wrote "Miracle Of Miracles" (where the title of the book comes from) for Motel and it was a delight.

Robbins was also busy adding new choreography, especially the show-stopping wedding dance.  He also wanted a big lively number to start the second act, but after creating a piece with all the citizens of the village joyously turning whatever was nearby into a percussion instrument, he cut it just before the production moved to New York. He and the authors agreed this moment was an excuse for a big number, but if the story demanded something quieter, they'd break the conventions of the musical.

Anyway, the musical was a gigantic hit--the biggest up to that time.  It certainly wasn't too "Jewish,"  In fact, it seemed universal, and played around the world.  It also restarted the old controversy, where the cultural gatekeepers, protecting the authenticity of the original, denounced it as kitsch.

In the third section of the book, Solomon looks at the spread of Fiddler through the world, including Israel, where its debut was a big cultural event. There's also the Norman Jewison movie. Jewison (a gentile) was a hot director at that point, having recently made The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, In The Heat Of The Night and The Thomas Crown Affair.  However, though Fiddler the film was a big hit, it's not exactly a classic.  He wanted something realistic, and downplayed the laughs and other aspects that make musical comedy musical comedy.  Perhaps this had to be done, but most feel the film only captures a small amount of what made the live show work.

Unfortunately, Solomon spends a chapter on a high school production in Brooklyn starring African-American kids that became a flashpoint for black/Jewish relations. (She also inserts some of her politics which don't really help the book.)  She also has a chapter on Fiddler in Poland.  Both these chapters, while featuring interesting stories, could have been told in a few pages, as part of a larger tapestry.

But if the final third of the book flags, they're more than made up by the first two sections.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Still Reaching

Happy birthday, Casey Kasem.  It wasn't top 40 till he said it was.  He also did a lot of voice work.

That Pierson Person

Happy birthday, Catherine Elizabeth "Kate" Pierson, of The B-52s.  We'll let the music speak for her.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Leftover Vanity Plates Of The Month

Saw LGL EGL on a Honda Accord.  I don't know, you want to impress people with your job, maybe you drive a fancier car.

ZINSTAR.  A zinc and tin star?

ARAINBW.  Could have been RAINBOW, but this person wanted to make sure we understood it was just one.

NE[heart symbol]GZUS.  Definitely a Christian.

INFIDYL.  Why no E?

D GRADE.  Don't be so hard on yourself.

Bjorn Yesterday

Oops, we missed yesterday's birthday boy, Bjorn Ulvaeus, one of the B people in ABBA.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Clowns to the left of me

Put yer John Hancock right on that Constitution. Or Affordable Care Act. Whatever. Keep your doctor, and watch George Stephanopoulos.

I suppose when you're a billionaire reading isn't all that important. French Revolution, American Revolution, yadda, yadda.

No Friend To Enemy

From Godfrey Cheshire's two-and-a-half star review of Enemy:

"Enemy," [director Denis] Villeneuve's latest (it was filmed between the two above-mentioned films, [Incendies and Prisoners.] though it is being released after the latter), differs from the earlier works not only in being set in Canada, but also in offering a story that's ostensibly less concerned with painful real-life struggles than with dream-like subjective perplexities.

[....] Less ambitious (and, at 90 minutes, far shorter) than those films, it's inevitably less impressive, more like a semi-whimsical short story by a master whose real forte is challenging realistic novels of epic scope.

Why does Cheshire think a film that intensely concentrates on a few people is less ambitious that two previous features that had more action and wider-ranging stories?  Breadth is not depth.  In fact, Villeneuve's previous film, Prisoners, is over two-and-a-half hours, but I found my interest flagging well before it was over. On the other hand, Enemy, for all its relative simplicity, I found much more gripping.

Even weirder is Cheshire's list of potential influences: Cronenberg, Bergman, Bunuel, Polanski, Kieslowski and Antonioni.  How could he leave out the most obvious name.  Enemy is a moody, surreal story that questions the meaning of identity.  If I didn't know better, I'd assume it's by David Lynch.

Rock And Roll Leiber

Happy birthday, Jerry Leiber, of Leiber and Stoller, one of the greatest songwriting duos of rock and roll.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Can't we all just get along?

Now, I love Roger Simon.

But I'm not sure what to make of this post: "And that’s not just the so-called establishment or the so-called Tea Party — it’s both.  Both are doing an atrocious job of taking their message to the people."

It's all well and good to say so, but I don't quite see the dynamic. I suspect the Republican establishment and Tea Party see each other as mortal enemies, probably as much or moreso than, say, Democrats or socialists. But I repeat myself. (And hasten to add that no one is more socialist than businesses, who want government above all to insulate them from failure.)

And they are all more or less right to see each other as mortal enemies.

So, thanks, Roger, but I'm not thinking you've advanced the ball. Better send $50 to Reason, buy a cheap bottle of wine, and await the apocalypse or singularity, whichever comes first.

Only Critics Left Awake

Okay, I've got to stop reading Rex Reed. He can't follow the most basic plots. I checked out his review of the latest Jim Jarmusch film, Only Lovers Left Alive, and the mistakes keep piling up.  And Jarmusch doesn't come at you too fast, so there's plenty of time to notice what's happening.

From the first paragraph:

He is Adam, a reclusive rock star who lives in a derelict mansion in Detroit surrounded by thousands of dusty old Motown records.

Okay, it's a minor error, but the records are from all over, not just Motown.  Another small error, but still annoying, is when Reed claims Adam pretends to be a "Dr. Faustus" when the film goes out of its way to show you he's Dr. Faust.

Then there's this curious claim:

Yes, they’re still around, along with Byron, Shelley, Kepler, Darwin and Copernicus—some of whom make guest appearances—some older and wiser than others.

Maybe I missed something, but I don't recall any such guest appearances. These names are mentioned, and some appear framed on the wall--could that be what Rex means?

Next we get this:

After a long nap, the lovers languish about in post-coital bliss sipping plasma provided by Adam’s assistant and rock fan, Ian (the always excellent Anton Yelchin), who polishes the plasma decanters

Huh?  Ian gets stuff for Adam, but he has no idea that the guy he works for is a vampire.  That's a not insignificant part of the plot, so how would Reed thinks he supplies plasma?

Just one more example:

For fun, they tour the ruins of the Motown Museum and the abandoned Ford Motors plant

They talk about the Motown Museum, but don't take the tour (and it's not in ruins), and I'm pretty sure they saw the abandoned Packard plant.

I don't ask a lot of critics, but they should at least stay awake at screenings.

Happy Cappy

Can you believe it?  Captain Sensible turns 60 today.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

President Perry, Governor Abbott

Screw day trips to New York, I'm moving to Texas. Governor Abbott has written a strongly worded letter to the BLM. (Nor am I poking fun. I bet it's more effective than whatever it is we've been sending to Putin. Viagra-laced ice cream, I suppose.)

President Perry, Governor Abbott, Secretary of Homeland Security Cruz . . . a guy can dream, can't he?

Meanwhile we'll have the Boehner Border Security Act of 2014 and Texas turns blue in 2020 . . .

The Toll On The Washington Bridge Only Goes One Way

Here's Chris Christie on the Colorado laws allowing recreational marijuana:

For the people who are enamored with the idea with the income, the tax revenue from this, go to Colorado and see if you want to live there.

I'm sorry, but no governor of New Jersey should ever suggest his citizens sample other states.  Even day trips to New York are taking a chance.

Out Of This Orb

Happy birthday, Roy Orbison.  He had a voice like no other.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mad Game

I don't think I have the energy to fully recap both Game Of Thrones and Mad Men, but both shows were top notch this week.

Game Of Thrones episode, "Breaker Of Chains," showed us the new possibilities that open up when you kill a king.  Don't get me wrong--you don't need a reason to kill Joffrey.  But now that he's gone, a bunch of new plots can start.

For instance, Sansa's been moping around King's Landing for more than two seasons, and now she's finally on to a new adventure.  She's rescued by Littlefinger, who it turns out was behind the murder (along with unknown others)--using that necklace, as we predicted two weeks ago.  He's also been plotting to get Sansa to go with him for a while as well, so it's killing two birds with one necklace.  We might have some fun with this couple, the most naïve and the most cunning.

Meanwhile, Joffrey lies in state and except for Cersei, no one seems especially broken up.  Tywin uses the opportunity to lecture Tommen about what it will take to be king--which mostly means listening to Tywin-- while Jaime takes his sister by force.

Oh yeah, she wants Jaime to kill their brother, Tyrion, who's in a dungeon with only good old Pod to visit him. Tyrion has become surprisingly noble--he'll face his fate, and seems mostly concerned those close to him.  (Which proves he didn't do it--like Littlefinger, he'd have arranged to take care of these issues.)

Tywin, who never lets a murder go to waste, also goes to Prince Oberyn, offering him a spot on the Small Council.  Time to get close to Dorne, no matter how much they hate the Lannisters.  Oberyn knows a lot about poison, but doesn't seem to be involved in the murder--though now he'll be one of  Tyrion's judges.

Meanwhile, Olenna, the only strategist in King's Landing who compares to Tywin, discusses the new opportunities Joffrey's death opens up with Margaery, who wonders if she's cursed.  Maybe she isn't, but I wouldn't want to marry her.

At Dragonstone, Stannis received the good news, but tells Davos that they've got to make their move, but they don't have the soldiers or the money.  Soon after, Davos gets an idea--King's Landing has been borrowing heavily from the Iron Bank of Braavos for the wedding, so I think Davos will get them on Stannis's side, promising they'll be paid back if they help overthrow the Lannisters.

Things are a lot worse at Castle Black. They've got 100 not-so-great soldiers. Meanwhile, tens of thousand of wildlings are pillaging the land to the south, and massing at the Wall to the north.  How can they defend themselves?  Just as Samwell worries Gilly can't defend herself, so he takes her to Mole's Town where allegedly she'll be safer, though you have to wonder if it's Sam who can't take it.

Finally, there's the actual Breaker Of Chains, Daenerys, who, after Daario easily defeats Meereen's silly champion, uses a bunch of trebuchets to shoot all the chains she's broken into the city.  Show the slaves what'll happen if they revolt.  Not a bad plan.

There's one more thing, but I consider it almost a separate show inside Game Of Thrones.  It could be spun off into its own series--"The Adventures Of Arya And The Hound." This time they come upon a poor farmer and his little daughter.  He feeds the couple but before too long the Hound has robbed him of what little silver he owns.  Arya isn't happy but he figures the guy will be dead soon anyway in this new world.  They continue on to House Tully--isn't that where Littlefinger is going?  Maybe Arya and Sansa will have a reunion (though Arya's specialty arriving just in time to watch her family members die).

Mad Men's "A Day's Work" was a smart episode, filled with smart dialogue, taking place on Valentine's Day 1969.  Don is getting backdoor info from Dawn, who's still faithful.  However, when Sally--good to see her back--drops by the office while playing hooky, she meets Lou and starts to figure out something's wrong. Jerky Lou isn't happy with the intrusion, so he wants a new secretary.  Peggy is also mad at her secretary over some roses she mistakenly thinks are hers--Peggy was less sympathetic than usual this episode.  This happens on Mad Men--you never know how people will turn out.  Anyway, there was shuffling around of secretaries until Joan got kicked upstairs--time she took care of accounts, not personnel--opening a slot for Dawn, who's moving on up herself.

On top of all this, Roger feels he's losing his power under the new administration, while Pete feels he doesn't even exist, living out in California.  Will they bounce back?  Will they lose out?  Will nothing happen because that's how this show works?  Tune in next week.

Back to Don and daughter.  Sally finally meets her dad at his apartment.  He lies to her, of course, and then discovers she lied to him. He drives her back to her school, but at a gas station diner he finally opens up and tells her why he got the heave-ho, and how things are going with Megan.  Sally is still recovering from certain revelations last seasons (she tells him how horrible it was to go to his building where she might have to share a ride with That Woman), but they seem to reach an understanding by the show's end.  The last thing she says to him as he drops her off is "I love you."  A more hopeful ending than usual for Mad Men.


Happy birthday, Mel Carter. He had one big hit in the 60s and several other minor hits.

Monday, April 21, 2014

BC Sunday

I caught Billy Crystal's 700 Sundays on HBO.  The title refers to all the Sundays he spent with his father, who died of a heart attack when Crystal was a teenager.  Crystal did the one-man show on Broadway ten years ago, winning a Tony.  Now, at 65, he's revived it as a document for his kids and grandkids.

The stage set is the exterior of the house he grew up in on Long Beach, Long Island, and there are old photos and films projected onto it during the show. Still, 700 Sundays is all Billy.  It's not easy to hold the stage for two hours, but he manages, with no real dead spots.  Of course, he had plenty of time to prepare--in a way, it's the culmination of decades of standup, where many of these routines originated.

He talks about his childhood in the 50's, growing up in Yiddish culture.  But there was another world he saw--his father worked in a record store and put together shows, so great jazz artists would hang around the house. In fact, when his dad died, Duke Ellington and Count Basie came to the funeral.  Then there are other subjects, such as his early attempts at comedy, his love of baseball and the struggles of puberty.

There are a lot of laughs--some pretty cheap, but still funny.  Then, in the second half, when he deals with his father's death and the aftermath, it gets fairly serious.  But the sentiment is earned.  The last parts of the show take him through his mother's death decades later up to the present, and you really feel when it's done, he's left something of hinself behind.

The Cure For The Common Song

Happy birthday, Robert Smith, singer, performer and songwriter for The Cure.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Not Far To Go

A month or so ago I noticed an ad on the side of a bus promoting Fargo on FX.  I thought why would they go out of their way to advertise a showing of a movie that's been around almost two decades.  Only a bit later did I realize it's been reimagined as a miniseries.  The show's created by Noah Hawley and stars Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman, along with some other well-known TV faces like Bob Odenkirk and Kate Walsh.

I caught the pilot, "The Crocodile's Dilemma," and it was weird.  Not the show, exactly, but watching this world which is a parallel universe to the original film.  It takes place in Minnesota, with everyone talking in their Minnesota way, and it still features a criminal (Thornton) and a timid guy who's failing in his life (Freeman), but the resemblance, so far anyway, doesn't go much further.

The movie, you'll recall, was about a loser who needed money and got involved with some criminals.  Their plot falls apart and soon there are dead bodies and a big investigation.  That's sort of happening in this show, but the relationships are all different and so are the crimes.  (Spoilers ahead) Freeman is 40 yet still being pushed around by his old high school bully.  He meets Thornton and Thornton, already a badass criminal who messes with people, gets the idea he should kill the bully, which he does (after having killed someone else on an assignment).  Then Freeman gets fed up with his wife and kills her. Then the police chief shows up to ask Freeman questions and Thornton shows up too and shot the officer.  And we're off.

The show has been described as a dark comedy, though it seemed more dark than funny.  I also found the action a bit hard to believe.  I wouldn't call the show compelling, but at least it wasn't boring. I'll probably check it out next week--it's only a miniseries, I might as well stick around.


Happy birthday, Tito Puente, the Latin bandleader and composer.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

One thing I know

I enjoyed a rare matinee yesterday, without ColumbusGal, who, heh heh, was working.

I used an expired Groupon--you know, residual cash value--to watch "The Unknown Known" by Errol Morris.

Utterly fantastic.

I had read a review of it in our local events paper of the sort that every city has, and needless to say the reviewer was smug and snide, observing how careful Morris was to show how divorced Rumsfeld was from the, you know, truth.

But I'm experienced enough to know there was a fair chance the reviewer was projecting his own views, and sure enough, I left with more respect for Rumsfeld than when I entered. Truly remarkable man, delightful.

Now my main question is, what is Morris's view? Was he merely what one would hope he would be, a disinterested documentary producer? Or did he feel the evidence was so overwhelming that Rumsfeld was the clueless one? Or is he a closet conservative?

I lean to the middle choice, because one of those things the reporter mistakenly took for refutation was a dozen or so of the Abu Ghraib images, which Morris clearly intended to Shock and Appall. I  could only note that, for every image Morris added, he could have added 200 more of, you know, bodies falling, nay, leaping from the World Trade Center. But those images, of course, are verboten, proclaimed prejudicial. So let's all get in a tizzy over a hooded naked combatant. There were dozens of them, tortured don't you know. And then of course there's the poster's tag line, "Why is this man smiling?" I don't know, because he's smart, confident and a good and generous human being?

In any case Rumsfeld came off wonderfully, and Morris looks like a fair reporter. I call that a win-win

Ambassador Stone

Oliver Stone doesn't like international co-productions, based on remarks from a seminar at the Beijing International Film Festival.

Most international co-productions are bullshit. They often don’t work. Money is the dictator.  'Iron Man’? ‘Transformers’? Is it really a Chinese experience?

Chinese actors when they try and act in English, it doesn’t have the same meaning. Words are important. I hope you never bastardize yourselves to become American.

Stone's politics in general are so horrendous that it's a bit silly to cavil at this. Yet this is a great example of the condescending bigotry of so many multiculturalists.  They jet around, enjoying the best every culture has to offer, but tell the people there to stay in their little corner of the world and not mix with others, lest they lose their purity.  (Or I could be reading him wrong.  Perhaps this simply stems from a crazed hatred of America.)

Meanwhile, let's all enjoy a mini-Stone film festival this weekend, with such title as Salvador, South Of The Border, Castro In Winter and so many others where he mixes with other cultures and proves how he can come into another land and explain what's going on.

Finale Ultimo

So I watched the season finale of Community, "Basic Sandwich," thinking it might be the final episode ever. The ratings have been bad and NBC hasn't picked up the show yet.  No doubt the producers understood this, as they sort of wrapped things up--against all odds, Greendale was saved, which meant Jeff and Britta didn't have to get married.  (Don't worry if that doesn't make sense.)  Abed also noted just in case the show doesn't return it will mean all humanity has been destroyed by an asteroid, and that's canon.

The funny thing is the show has been on the edge of cancelation the last three years, and each of those seasons had a finale designed to wrap everything up.  If it's possible to look back before we're certain the show is over, here's what I'd say about the series.

Mainly, it's been the best comedy on the air during its time (with the possible exception of Party Down, which was of such short duration I'm not sure if it can be included in any such list).  Community never got the acclaim of Modern Family or the ratings of The Big Bang Theory (in fact, it was scheduled against TBBT and was regularly crushed), and there were some other shows that were pretty funny as well, mostly on NBC Thursday nights, but nothing was as special as Community, and nothing was anywhere near as daring.  It didn't always hit its target, but when it did, nothing could touch it.

That said, the last two shortened season were letdowns.  Let's put it this way--the "real" Community was the first three seasons.  Fans may argue which of those seasons was best, but each offered more than its share of classic episodes.  The fourth season was the zombie season, when we still had the same actors, the same sets, etc., but without creator Dan Harmon, the show didn't have the same insides.  There were some amusing moments, but the characters didn't have the same charm and the plots generally seemed off.  Then came season five, with Harmon back--better than four, but something was missing.  Pierce was gone the entire season and Troy most of it.  The show was built around the main seven and losing two hurt the chemistry, no matter how many guest stars and recurring characters they added.  Also, whereas previously it was seven students in a study group, now it was a bunch of adults trying to save a school.  Not a disastrous difference, perhaps--something had to be done with the fact they'd graduated--but still, not the same thing.  The fifth season offered some pretty good to very good episodes, but nothing I'd call classic.

So while I'm still hoping for one more year, if this is it, at least we know we got three amazing seasons.  I can't complain.

By chance, I caught another season finale that was quite aware it could all be over--The Neighbors. I watched the show its first season because it was on between The Middle and Modern Family. The premise was pretty stupid--a regular family moves into a neighborhood where their neighbors are aliens--but it turned out to be fun.  Hardly great, but Larry Bird and Jackie Joyner-Kersee made the show work for me.  (Once again, don't worry if that makes no sense.)  Then it moved to Friday nights and that was pretty much the end for me.

The final episode of the second season, "There Goes The Neighbors' Hood," had all the aliens leave the community except the main family, which meant regular humans are about to move in. Also, Larry Bird got pregnant.

So clearly they're set up for a third season which probably won't come. So if this was the end, they went out in a blaze of glory. Early on the two aliens recap what happened last week for Tim Allen fans who may still be watching (and for me, since this was the only episode I watched all season).  Later, Jami Gertz as Debbie Weaver admitted she can't believe the nonsense that's been coming out her mouth this season.  Finally, all the regulars stood together at the end, certain that they're up for another season.

I hope they get it.  I may not watch it, but it'd be nice to know it's around.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Making me nervous

Not sure how much credence I give this.

"When men and women are exclusively in the company of their own sex, for women it's often liberating; for men it's often anxiety-inducing."

I thought the idea was that when a woman walked into a room, every man looked at her, and so did every woman?

Mr. Woods, Man

Happy birthday, James Woods.  I wasn't planning to celebrate, but just by chance I was enjoying a rerun of Welcome Back, Kotter (and its overly demonstrative audience) the other day and there was James.  Clearly a sign.

They seem to be setting him up as the nasty, elitist teacher, but it was the only episode he ever did.  Not sure whose choice that was, but it probably was for the best.

Hey Mickey

Happy birthday to Miklos Rosza (put an accent over each O), the great composer.  He did concert works but is best known today for his grand, old-school scores for film.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Everybody knows


"If you are like most people, you probably spend a lot of time wondering, "What is the absolutely worst environmental policy on the planet?" And if you are like most people, you probably think itis America’s ethanol policy."

A simple majority, I guess. He should get together with Stephen Breyer (and George Will, intent on denying voters his essence).

Geena's Gender

Geena Rocera, a model I admit I'd never heard of, has just come out.  She explained at a TED talk that she was born a boy but became a woman.  The photos sure look like a woman.

The question is how will this affect her career. (I assume it wasn't widely known already, even inside her industry.)  Very possibly, as someone who already has a reputation, and someone who's relatively novel in coming out, it won't make too much difference, or might even help her.

But still, you have to wonder if people will look at her differently.  You can look at someone differently based on what you know about them.  To most men, of course, sexy is sexy, but we'll see if this challenges that concept.

Furious Music

Happy birthday, Billy Fury.  He was huge in England, but never made it over here in America--the fate of most British acts before The Beatles. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lost Then Found

Brian Tallerico gives Finding Vivian Maier two and a half stars. A bit low, I thought.

The documentary is about a women who worked as a nanny and took thousands and thousands of photographs. She's be forgotten unless John Maloof, who made the film, hadn't discovered all the rolls of film and gotten her work displayed.  And it's impressive--she strikes me as a master of street photography.

So I read Tallerico's piece and it wasn't so much a review as a discussion of the morality of such a project.  Would Vivian Maier have liked it?  She was a private woman who died a few years ago, completely unknown. Would she approve of someone snooping around in her life?  It seemed to me Tallerico should have rated the film for how gripping it is, and if he felt bad about it, note his moral qualms. Instead, the review seems to reflect how he feels about the making and displaying of the film, not the film itself.

He's not the only critic to have some problems with this, but I'm surprised anyone is bothered.  Haven't these people seen other documentaries, or read any newspaper or biographies?  When someone does something of interest, whether it's noble or dastardly, people like to find out about them, and its commonplace for reporters or other to investigate into their lives.  Maybe it's not nice when the person (even after this person has died) would prefer to remain anonymous, but it's pretty much business as usual.

My guess, by the way, is Maier would have liked to see her work praised, and exhibited in museums.  It's certainly possible she wouldn't have liked some of the revelations about her personal life, but, as unfair as this may seem, it's not up to her.  As to what those revelations are, see the movie. If you think your conscience can handle it.


It's the 90th birthday of Henry Mancini, one of the most successful soundtrack composers ever.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pay And Play

Happy Tax Day. It is a happy because it means you're done with your taxes.  And if you're not, stop reading this and get on it.

Update:  I just watched the lunar eclipse.  Somehow, though, on this day it would feel more right to have the sun extinguished for a while.


"Finally" what?  We'll get to that.

Anyway, the second episode of the fourth season of Game Of Thrones, "The Lion And The Rose," written by George R. R. Martin himself, was pretty memorable.

We start at a hunt in a forest.  Turns out to be Ramsay Snow and his girlfriend, along with his servant Reek, the prince formerly known as Theon, chasing after a woman who made the girlfriend jealous.  She's brought down by an arrow and fed to the hounds.  You know, we get the idea that Ramsay Snow, in addition to being Roose Bolton's bastard, is just a bastard in general; still, at least it wasn't more torture of Theon, so I guess we should be happy it was something different.

At King's Landing Jaime and Tyrion dine. Been a while since we've seen them together.  Jaime is still sulking a bit, but wouldn't you if you were a great swordsman who lost his right hand?  He needs to practice with his left, but with whom?  If word gets out he's a novice how can he lead the King's Guard?  It's Bronn to the rescue.  Cross his palm with silver--or preferably gold--and he'll fight you and also keep it on the qt.

Over at Dreadfort (yes, it's Dreadfort, though I didn't know last week, where Ramsay keeps Theon) soft-speaking turncoat Roose Bolton drops by with his fat Frey wife and his nasty pet Locke.  He's not happy with his bastard.  Tywin made Roose guardian of the North, but what good is that if he still has to sneak in past the Greyjoys.  And now Snow has flayed Theon.  Boltons may enjoy flaying, but he's not much of a hostage now.  But Ramsay shows Reek will do anything now, including give out valuable information, like Bran and Rickon are still alive--can't have them still alive if you want to hold the North.  Maybe they're hiding with Jon Snow, who knows? (All bastards have such basic last names. Down in Dorne, we learn this episode, they're called Sand.) Roose tells Locke to chase down the kids and has Ramsay go with Reek to take back a castle or something from the Greyjoys.  If he does a good job, maybe he'll get to be a Bolton.

Back in King's Landing where most of this episode is set, Varys tells Tyrion that Shae has been discovered by Cersei, who'll soon tell Tywin.  And Varys won't lie about it when asked.

At the wedding breakfast, everyone's assembled and Joffrey, under the thumb of Tywin, seems to be on his best behavior, even graciously accepting a book from Uncle Tyrion. Then he gets that Valyrian steel sword we saw forged last week and he cuts loose, chopping up the book and once again, in case you forgot, proving what a dick he is.

Back in his chambers, Tyrion knows he must force Shae away or his uncle will hang her.  This time instead of trying to convince her she's in trouble, he acts the part of noble husband, saying he can't sleep with whores any more.  He has Bronn (who's pretty busy this episode) put her to a ship to Pentos (a city, not a mint) where she'll be provided for.  So she's off and out of the series? Somehow, I doubt it.

At Dragonstone, Melisandre is burning more people for the Lord Of Light, who apparently can't see well at night.  Stannis allows it, his wife loves it and Davos holds his tongue. At dinner, the queen fears for their disfigured daughter, who doesn't seem to get this new religion.  Melisandre visits her and tries to explain how the Lord Of Light works, but she's got to forget these Seven Gods.  (They wouldn't dare burn that sweet girl, would they?  That's too much even for Game Of Thrones.)

Up north, Bran the warg is seeing things though his direwolf Summer.  Then he's awoken. Summer may be killing and eating a stag, but that doesn't nourish Bran's body.  He has Hodor carry him to a nearby tree with a face on it. He touches the tree and has visions, and when he comes to he knows where they have to go.  I thought he already knew where he had to go, but I guess he just knew they had to be north of the Wall. Now that they're there, he needs more specific directions.

Back in King's Landing, the wedding of Joffrey and Margaery takes place.  They grow up so fast.  Sansa may be married to Tyrion, but at least she escaped this.  A bit later Tywin complains about the extravagance, but Lady Olenna tells him to enjoy loosen up and enjoy life.

Then the massive reception. Everyone who's anyone is there.  Not that they're all thrilled.  There are a whole bunch of characters meeting up in interesting combinations.  Margaery gets to make her big announcement--the leftovers will be distributed to the poorest in the city.  It's good for the First Lady to have a project.

Jaime tells Loras he won't be marrying Cersei.  Actually, neither want this (though I'm still bothered Jaime has reverted to his season one character), but Loras has a good comeback--neither will you.

Lady Brienne presents herself. Still weird seeing this sworn enemy of all things Lannister in the middle of the celebration.  Cersei buttonholes her and thanks her for bringing back Jaime, but then gets a bit sharper.  She knows that Brienne loves Jaime.  Does Brienne?  I think she's conflicted, just like Jaime, who's watching the conversation from across the yard.

Cersei's on a hot streak and goes to see her favorite Maester, Pycelle. Well, he used to be--now she's into the more despicable Qyburn.  She sends Pycelle away to tell the kitchen to give the leftovers to the kennels--now that's the Cersei we know and love.  She's still not done.  She meets up with Tywin and they talk to Prince Oberyn and his wild gal Ellaria Sand.  They exchange barbed lines for a couple minutes and then move on.

Now Joffrey stands up and announces something important. He's bored with the entertainment so far, so he brings out five dwarfs to reenact the War Of The Five Kings. He certainly finds it funny, though some aren't so amused, especially Tyrion, not to mention others who lost dear ones in the war, such as Loras and Sansa.

As if that's not enough, Joffrey suggest Tyrion join in to see how he'll do, but the Imp refuses, and verbally jousts back.  Joffrey goes over and pours his wine over his uncle.  They had enough trouble at Tryion's wedding, but what will happen now?  Tyrion tries to be polite (and everyone else, even Tywin and Cersei, keep quiet), but Joffrey demands he be his cupbearer and refill his goblet.  (Too bad Arya isn't there, since she'd know what to do.)

It's getting ugly when Margaery shouts that the pie is coming, one with four and twenty birds baked in.  This distracts everyone and Joffrey gets to cut it open with his new sword.  The new queen feeds him some pie, but he's not done.  Tyrion and Sansa hope to slip out quietly, but the King calls back his cupbearer, who pours him another round.  Then, as Joffrey's about to hurl another insult, he starts choking. It gets serious. Jaime, Tywin and Cersei rush over but it's too late.  The King is dead (long live who?  Tommen?).

In the madness, someone spirits Sansa away, saying, in effect, come with me if you want to live.  I didn't catch who it was.  But Cersei thinks she know who killed her son--Tyrion, of course, still fumbling with the goblet.  She has him arrested. But it doesn't seem to be him, so who?  Who'd want Joffrey dead, aside from most of the characters and every viewer. Perhaps Prince Oberyn, but more likely the Tyrells (who waited until after Margaery became Queen).

And we end on a shot of the dead Joffrey which will no doubt be a popular screen saver.  During the credits we get a mournful rendition of King's Landing's biggest hit, "The Rains Of Castamere."  Fitting.

So that's the finally part.  Joffrey may have been the most loathed character ever on TV, and everyone has been wishing him dead almost from the start of season one.  Now their wishes have been granted, but what happens next?  After you get what you want you don't know what to do?  Whom should we hate now?

Tyrion is certainly in trouble, and Sansa better get away (along with Shae, or has she been captured already, or worse, will she foolishly return).  We'll find out next week, but all we know is Joffrey's dead--just like Melisandre said would happen, by the way--and, as we know, Westeros abhors a power vacuum.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Men's End

Didn't watch Game Of Thrones yet, so please, no spoilers.  But I did check out the debut of the seventh, and final season, of Mad Men.  The episode was called "Time Zones," and was set equally in California and New York--and it seems likely the season will follow that bicoastal (which is how Pete describes Don--was that term in use back then?) approach.

It's January of  '69, not too long after last season, and we spend most of our time catching up with all the old characters.  And the first is a blast from the past--we see a sober Freddy Rumsen, cashiered from Sterling Cooper a few seasons ago for drinking (and when you drink too much for Madison Avenue, you've got a problem), making a pitch to Peggy.  Shocking, but the pitch is great.  Peggy, now in charge of creative, is impressed.

Meanwhile, Roger's at the end of some orgy, or whatever his new deal is, when his daughter (I think she's estranged, but then, just about everyone's estranged in this show) calls to set up a brunch at the Plaza.

Peggy and her team go into the meeting with their new boss Lou, and he doesn't seem that impressed with Peggy. Last season left Peggy in charge, but is she really?  Upstairs, Joan meets with a disturbed, one-eyed Ken. With Pete kicked out to L.A., he's in charge of everything and needs help.  He demands Joan meet with the head of marketing at some footwear account, because it's beneath him.  Joan still seems competent, but, even as a partner, not entirely respected.  Hey, it's 1969.

All along we're asking where's Don? He's on the outs at Sterling Cooper, and with his wife, Megan, so what's he decided to do?  To the tune of Chicago's "I'm A Man," (or was it The Spencer David Group) he's flying out to Los Angeles. He takes the moving walkway, just like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, and outside he's met by Megan, who's trying to establish her acting career out there.  She takes him straight to a restaurant where they meet her flamboyant agent (I think it's her agent) who thinks she's going to be cast on Bracken's World (which will only last a season if she does).  He also mentions in passing fixing her teeth, which has been a subject of conversation since Jessica Pare was cast.

Back in New York, Ted isn't happy (after a trip to L.A.).  And Peggy's not happy about Ted. In general, it's awkward between them.  Joan's meeting doesn't go too well.  The marketing guy wants to fire the firm and work in-house.  She's good enough to hold him off, but we now see why this meeting was meant for Ken.

Don goes up to wife's place in the hills (in the days of Sharon Tate).  She just wants to go to sleep. He watches Joey Bishop on a black and white set with poor reception.  Hey, it's 1969. Next morning, after Megan goes off the class, Don meets Pete for lunch at Canter's (which still pretty much looks like it did then).  Pete has gone native, embracing, as best he can, his new city. Sure, it doesn't have good bagels, and the air is horrible, but there's nothing left in New York anyway, with his failed marriage, so why not go out to the place where America is heading. He shows Don the California office.  Will this be a new, regular set where we spend a lot of the season? It may be Siberia, or maybe it's the beginning of something big.

Over the weekend Joan meets a professor at a business school to come up with arguments against an in-house agency.  He's nicer than she thinks and she's smarter than he thinks.

Back at Megan's place she's preparing coq au vin. Don has a nice new, huge color set delivered, even though she thinks it's too nice--people around the neighborhood have a lot less.  But he's going to be staying long enough to have a big fight over it, so we know this relationship is still on the rocks.  Later, they watch the opening to Lost Horizon, but she's so tired they just go to bed.  The next day, he's got to leave.  When he flies home on the red eye, he's seated next to a woman played by Neve Campbell.  Mad Men has a penchant for hiring old TV stars.  The two get on quite well (which happens when you look at good as Don Draper) and it looks like Don's ready for yet another conquest.  Amazingly, he turns her down.  Is this a new Don?

He's headed to New York, but before we get there, we see that Peggy, who now lives by herself and is the landlady of her apartment in a not-so-great area, has to deal with unhappy tenants.  And back at the office she's still failing with Lou.  Later she practically has a fit in front of Stan--is she the only one who actually cares about quality any more?  Roger meets with his daughter, and maybe she's fallen in with some sort of new-age religion, but she's forgiven him. Not that he thinks he needs to be forgiven.  He goes back to his place where his woman waits, along with whomever else is hanging around.  Joan discovers the guy she met has gone behind her back to schedule a meeting with Ken where presumably he'll fire the firm.  Still no respect.  Joan calls him and makes a good argument, but it's pretty uncertain if she can save the account.

At Don's apartment--a lot emptier without his wife--he watches Nixon's inaugural on his beautiful color TV.  Guess who's there?  Freddy Rumsen. It was Don's campaign all along. I knew it was too good for Freddy. (The surprise echoes the pilot, when we finally see Don's home and find out he's married.)  So I guess Freddy is out there doing Don's business.  Don can't because he's still receiving a paycheck from Sterling Cooper.  Even though no one ever calls him. He's still as talented as ever, it's just his attitude. How long can this state of affairs last?

Back at Peggy's depressing place, where she's still dealing with tenants' plumbing problems, she falls down to the floor and cries.  Things aren't going so well, are they. Meanwhile, at Don's fancier pad, while we hear "You Keep Me Hangin' On" by Vanilla Fudge, Don can't close his balcony door. So he goes out into the cold night air and sits there, depressed.  Don't jump Don, it's just as bad for Peggy.

Missing in action?  No Betty, no Sally, no Harry (always fun to see Harry), no Bert.  I'm sure we'll catch up with them soon.

It did seem last season that Mad Men may have already peaked. Or at least interest had.  It wasn't winning all the awards anymore, or even being nominated.  Could six seasons of a guy who can't talk about himself finally gone too far?  Well, we've got one more season to find out.  True, there are new, shiny series that caught the critics attention--Downton Abbey, Homeland, Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones.  And most of those have a lot more action.  But after about half an hour, this episode reminded me of why I liked the show in the first place. It's moodier, and not filled with too much action (or something any action except for someone writing something), but once you get into the rhythm, with smart dialogue and well-defined characters, it is like no other.

R&R From R&B

Happy birthday, Ritchie Blackmore, guitarist and songwriter who worked with a lot of acts before becoming a founder of Deep Purple.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

All Avatared Out

So here's the big announcement from James Cameron: he should be done with the scripts for three Avatar sequels in six weeks.

The second, third and fourth films all go into production simultaneously.  They’re essentially all in pre-production now because we are designing creatures, settings and characters that span all three films. And we should be finished with all three scripts within the next, I would say, six weeks. [....] The biggest pressure I feel right now is cutting out things I love to get the film down to a length that is affordable.

How about cutting out enough so there's only two sequels. Or one. Or none.

With $2.78 billion worldwide, Avatar has grossed more money, by far, than any other film.  Second place is Cameron's Titanic, with $2.19 billion.  After that, it drops to $1.52 billion for Marvel's The Avengers.

Yet, does anyone really want to see a sequel to Avatar, much less three?  Does anyone want to return to that boring land with those giant blue freaks?  Cameron promises new habitats and cultures.  That might work, if we could drop anyone and anything from the original.

Green Day

Happy birthday, Al Green, maybe the best singer of the 70s.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

When There's A Will

I recently heard someone making an argument about free will.  I disagreed with his premise, his logic, his facts and his conclusion. In general, I considered his claim a disguised version of the strong anthropic principle.

I was going to discuss it here but I just decided against it.  If I do have free will, I think this was a good decision. If I don't have free will, what else was I gonna do?

The Other Bernstein

Note:  This was meant to go up on April 4, but somehow it dropped out.

Happy birthday, Elmer Bernstein. (Born in 1922, he may be the last person ever to be named Elmer.)  Bernstein was one of the greatest film composers ever.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Dave To Steve

The big news is not only that CBS has chosen Stephen Colbert to replace David Letterman, but the rapidity with which they made the decision. Maybe they should have waited a little longer.

Certainly Colbert is fast, witty and knows how to handle hosting duties, but is he really the best choice? (I realize some people, like Jon Stewart, simply weren't available, but plenty of other names were.)  I guess he's young enough, though he'll be starting about a decade later than average for the 11:30 network slot.  But does he have enough appeal--will he cross over?  He's a success on his Comedy Central show (helped by the Stewart lead-in), with good numbers and great demos, but will it mean he can get and hold the wider audience CBS wants?

After all, we don't know if he can run a "regular" talk show.  His character is a loud-mouthed conservative who says idiotic things.  On CBS, he'll have to play it straight.  Will that work for him?  For his fans?  Running a show straight is a different sort of talent.

Also, he's a well-known liberal.  Will he let that get in the way of his show?  There are plenty of liberals doing late night talk shows, but few so identified by their politics.  As Johnny Carson, who kept his politics quiet, used to say, why should I lose half my audience before I start?

Who would be better? Heck if I know.  Though perhaps they could have chosen someone a little less predictable.  Maybe even a relative unknown, like Letterman and Conan were when they started.  That would have been exciting.

First To The Party

Happy birthday Nick LaRocca.   He was a jazz cornetist in the early days, and by early days I mean this guy claimed to have created the music.  That's a bit much, but the Original Dixieland Jass Band, in which he played, did apparently make the first jazz recording, "Livery Stable Blues."  LaRocca also wrote "Tiger Rag," which is enough for anyone.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Pretty exciting--new Mad Men soon.  Speaking of which, here's an essay in Slate by Ann Helen Petersen, who teaches media studies at Whitman College: "Don Draper 101."  It's about a class she taught on Mad Men.  Some people might think it silly to devote a class to a TV show, but hey, even if you don't think its art there's always the anthropological angle.  The students, along with watching episodes, read books and essays relating to the culture of the time the show represents. So far, so good.  But then we get to this:

We didn’t necessarily arrive at answers so much as develop strategies—and identify traps to avoid. Because when you love a period piece, it’s easy to excuse its faults in the name of historical or narrative accuracy. The blatant racism, misogyny, classism—that’s the point. There’s some merit to this argument (I loved Willa Paskin’s recent application of it to True Detective) so long as we’re constantly talking about the absences—of characters of color, of fleshed-out female characters—instead of simply forgetting them.

Which is why we read “Mad Men's Postracial Figuration of a Racial Past,” a superb essay by historian Kent Ono that not only expands the critique of Mad Men’s racial politics to include its treatment of Asian-Americans but effectively undercuts the claim that Mad Men’s depiction of racism is, in truth, an anti-racist act. Characters of color—even relatively well-developed ones like Carla or Hollis—become foils to elucidate the actions of white (main) characters. It’s not just the setting that segregates and devalues them but the narrative itself.

I read the essay she refers to and it's exactly the sort of blather that gives the academic world a bad name.  Filled with the sediment of second-hand thinking (that was questionable enough when it was first-hand), it actually prevents serious appraisal of art or entertainment.  Any professor who calls it "superb" is probably best avoided.

No matter what your view of racism, or sexism, or the Cold War, or price controls, or Norwegian fishing quotas, or whatever it is that interests you, art is not required to represent anything in any way, no matter how much you wish it would.  The aesthetic operates in its own realm.  To Petersen, and Ono, it's not enough that Mad Men shows the casual sexism and racism of the era (not that it has to, by the way--that's a choice)--the show must make sure certain characters on the sidelines are given more depth, and not just be unnecessary adjuncts to the main character, who are generally white and privileged.

This is hogwash, and hateful hogwash at that.  The artist chooses what story to tell, and on whom to concentrate. The job of the artist--or even the harried TV writer--is to make that story compelling, not to have any particular message, or, even more limiting, tell the story in any particular way.  If anything, demanding a show conform to rigid (and all too shallow) ideological constraints will likely weaken the art and make any message less meaningful.

I've read serious, intelligent criticism of Mad Men, but this sort of prattle isn't it.  Though let me give some advice to the students.  We've all had this kind of class.  Just regurgitate what the professor wants on the final and you'll be okay.  The last thing you'd want to do is challenge her thinking or disturb her worldview in any way.

The Sheb Meister

Happy birthday, Sheb Wooley.  He was an actor and singer.  He had a #1 hit with the novelty song "Purple People Eater" and then pretty much left the pop charts, though he went on to a fair amount of success in country music, including performances as drunk songwriter Ben Colder.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Not Just Any Office

After Game Of Thrones, before Veep, is Mike Judge's new comedy, Silicon Valley.  It's about a bunch of programmer nerds and their start-up conmpany.  They live in Silicon Valley, surrounded by newly minted billionaires, but so far have little to show for their efforts.

The pilot, "Minimum Viable Product," does what a pilot is supposed to do--introduce the characters and set up the story.  The programmers put in time at the incubator, the house of Erlich, the guy who sold his company and made enough to buy a place and live decently, and is trying to develop something new. He's a low-rent Steve Jobs, into the vision thing over the actual technical stuff.

The main nerd is Richard Hendrix, who invents a new code without fully realizing how important it is. But the big guys hear about it and are willing to pay him a lot. Gavin Belson, the cant-spewing, cultish leader of the biggest company on the block, Hooli (a stand-in for Google) offers as much as ten million for the discovery.  Meanwhile, another big name, Peter Gregory (played by Christopher Evan Welch, who has since died, so I'm not sure what will happen to the character), offers a few hundred thousand for a stake in a future company.

After making himself sick over it (and hearing personally from Gregory's hot assistant Monica), he decides to go with the stake money. He and his pals, all wisecrackers in their own way, will try to develop their company.  Will they succeed?  Stay tuned.

The acting is fine and the script fairly humorous, though I wouldn't say laugh-out loud funny.  A good start, anyway, and worth checking out.

For Art's Sake

Happy birthday, Art Van Damme.  He was a jazz accordionist--I know it sounds like a contradiction in terms, but listen to this:

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Gold Standard

Sounds about right:

"I’ve found it to be a pretty reliably . . . rule of thumb that any policy that Goldman Sachs supports (especially issues on which Goldman has a direct financial stake) is probably driven almost exclusively by rent-seeking to benefit Goldman, not the public interest."

Just add the Republican and Democrat parties and network news and you've got the terrain covered.

In Between Weddings

Game Of Thrones starts its fourth season with a lull.  The episode is "Two Swords," suggesting violence, but there's less tension than usual.  Robb is dead, Stannis is licking his wounds, Jon Snow's back with the Night's Watch, Jaime Lannister is back in King's Landing, Daenerys is gathering her forces, nothing too threatening just yet. But we know something is coming, and not just winter. We're still recovering from the Red Wedding, and soon there'll be Joffrey and Margaery's nuptials--we know these big events never go quite as planned.

We start in King's Landing, where Tywin has a new sword forged (along with a second for some reason--a wedding present?) for Jaime from the Valyrian steel of Ned Stark's old head-slicer.  You'd think Tywin would be thrilled to have his number one son back, but they're already at odds.  Jaime doesn't want to marry and return to Casterly Rock, he wants to remain as part of the King's Guard, even if he's missing his right hand.  I'm a little surprised.  I thought last season knocked the swagger out of him, but now he seems to be a lot like the old Jaime, parrying his father's demands.

Meanwhile, a new character's in town, Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne. We've heard a lot about Dorne but I think this is the first character we've seen from there. It's the southern spot in Westeros, and seems to be the Game Of Thrones version of something like Spain.  Oberyn is a tough customer and, as he tells Tyrion, he'd like to avenge the death of his sister and her children at the hands of the Lannisters.  As the Lannisters run the town, I'm not sure how he'll do it, but this is certainly something to watch for.

Out east, Dany's dragons are a lot bigger, and harder than ever to manage.  Her company marches on Meereen to free yet more slaves.  Oh Dany, when are you coming home to Westeros?

At King's Landing poor Sansa is still digesting the news of the Red Wedding.  Just as well, since she's not digesting anything else.  Tyrion tries to ease her pain, but there's not much he, or anyone, can do.  Meanwhile, Shae, Tyrion's true love, is still whining about their relationship.  Happily, one of Cersei's sources seems to overhear the argument, so maybe there'll finally be some action on this front, rather than endless spats.

Qyburn, who's becoming a favorite of Cersei, fits Jaime with a golden hand, even if a hook would be more useful.  I was surprised to see Jaime make his move with Cersei. I thought he'd grown past that during his tough travels with Brienne, but instead it's Cersei who petulantly pulls back.  She's unhappy her brother wasn't there for her when she needed him.

Just south of the Wall, Ygritte and Tormund await orders.  They meet a bunch of man-eating Thenns sent over by Mance.  The attack on Castle Black can't be too far away.  Meanwhile, Jon Snow explains himself to a council.  He's rather cocky, actually, considering breaking his vows means death.  I guess he's confident that no one supports Janos Slynt and Masester Aemon's got his back.  (I was shocked to learn how casually those who take the Black betray their vows at local brothels--I got the impression they took them more seriously.) The council lets him go back to duty, but not before he warns them of Mance's attack from both sides.

Lady Olenna is helping Margaery prepare for the wedding when Lady Brienne drops in.  (I guess the lady warrior has been accepted in King's Landing due to Jaime's word--no one even talks about it, but she was a supporter of Renly and Lady Stark, both enemies of King Joffrey.)  She tells Margaery about the dark shadow that looked like Stannis and killed Renly.

Meanwhile, Jaime is preparing security for the wedding while Joffrey is giving him lip.  That Joffrey, he never changes.  Jaime takes it (Joffrey thinks he's his uncle, and doesn't know he's his dad, though Jaime does), but really, do you want to piss off the guy in charge of making sure your throat isn't slit?

Miles from Mereen, Dany discusses strategy with Daario, now played by a different actor (unless he's one of those face-changers).  He flirts with her and she likes it.  I guess she's still just a teenage girl turned by a pretty face.  Pretty disappointing, actually.

Jaime and Brienne discuss what's to be done about Sansa. I agree with Jaime--he has no duty left now that Catelyn's dead.  I'm also disappointed that the spark between the, seems to be gone--maybe they need danger to keep it alive.  (She's even nagging him--has she forgotten how he risked his life to save hers?)

Sansa is followed into the woods by a guy who used to be a drunkard knight but is now just a drunkard.  Her mercy saved his life and he's grateful.  He gives her a necklace, the only thing he has of value.  There must be more to this necklace than he's letting on, or otherwise why have the scene?  If it were a modern-day show, I'd guess there'd a bug in the necklace to keep track of her.  But this being a Middle Ages fantasy, maybe there's a bug that crawls out and kills people.

Then we cut to Arya and The Hound, and I smiled. These two are now my favorite part of the show. With her family gone, he's taking her to the Vale where her crazy, rich aunt should pay a nice ransom.  They take turns insulting each other and come to an inn.  The Hound would just as well pass it by, as there are too many men there to fight on an empty stomach, but Arya recognizes Polliver--who's on her death list!  Lady Brienne talks tough, but when it comes to vengeance, little Arya is a lot more effective.  Polliver stole her sword, Needle, and killed a boy before her eyes, so she marches in. (The original two swords were a fakeout--this is the second sword of the title.)  Plenty of tension at the inn when The Hound is recognized, and he won't play their games. Before too long, he's busy killing everyone. Well, not everyone.  Arya, who's become a stone-dead killer, helps out.  They eat some chickens and leave with a new pony for Arya--just what they were arguing about at the beginning.

End of show.

Pretty good, even if we're mostly touching base with the characters. Missing?  I guess there was no Bran and gang, and that's okay.  No Theon or his torturer, which is a good thing--unless that story is going somewhere, no need.  No Littlefinger, no Varys, no Stannis, no Davos, no Melisandre, no Mance, but they'll all be back in good time.

By the way, the opening credits showed us Dreadfort, part of the North, but I didn't notice any action there.  I assume we'll get something soon.

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