Wednesday, December 31, 2014

EH

Edward Herrmann has died.  A sad way to end the year.  I'm surprised at how The Hollywood Reporter sees him: "an Emmy winner best known for his work on The Gilmore Girls."

When I think of Herrmann I think of his great supporting work over the years in many movies--The Paper Chase, The Purple Rose Of Cairo, The Lost Boys, Overboard--not to mention his Emmy-nominated guest shots on St. Elsewhere and his Emmy win for The Practice.  Above all there's his portrayal of FDR on TV that got him tremendous attention as well as two Emmy nominations.

So The Gilmore Girls?  I don't know.

Here's a taste of him as Robot Pimp.

Predictions from 2014

Looking back at the predictions I made about 2014, I don't think I can say I scored too well.

Let's go over them and see.

Domestic Politics:

I was right, Congress did not pass significant immigration reform.

Also, there was no federal government shutdown.

I was right that the Supreme Court would uphold Michigan's law that prohibits race-conscious admissions, and strike down campaign finance limits on First Amendment grounds.  I was also correct that no new Justice would be seated.

For that matter, I called it that Mitch McConnell would be reelected--hardly guaranteed a year ago.

I'm not sure I was right that no new name has risen in the Democratic party to challenge Hillary Clinton--not with Elizabeth Warren (what is wrong with the Democrats?) being bruited about.

But all the accuracy is for naught, because I missed the biggest story of all.  I predicted the Republicans would not take back the Senate, which they did with room to spare.  I based it not on polls, which don't count for much 10 months before the election, but on their weak performance in the past two elections.  But past performance does not guarantee future results.

(Also, while I don't claim to be clairvoyant, I didn't even hint at the U.S. ending the Cuban embargo.)

International Politics:

Did Assad solidify his power in Syria?  I'm not sure how you measure that, and I'm not sure how Isis figures in.

I was right that Snowden didn't come back to the U.S., and that Iran didn't announce they had a nuclear weapon.

As for a major terrorist event in Europe, I'd say I got that wrong.  There were events, but I don't think they'd fit my description of major.

The Economy:

I said by year's end unemployment would be in the mid-6's.  As of this writing, it's actually in the high 5's (high five!), I believe, so I missed that.

I said the Dow would be over 17000. It's been up and down, but I called that. Maybe I should have said over 17500, or 18000.

Sports:

I said Florida State would beat Auburn in a closely-fought BCS bowl.  I sure called that one. Early on it looked like Auburn might run away with it, but it turned into a seesaw and Florida State won 34-31.

I said the Detroit Tigers wouldn't make the playoffs, but, in fact, they won their division.  Though they were out of the playoffs so quickly it would be easy to forget they were in them.

I said the Michigan Wolverines would have a winning record in football.  Right now, the less said about this team, the better.

I said the Seahawks would not win the Super Bowl. They did more than win it. It was a huge blowout.

Popular Culture:

I said it would be Community's farewell.  I think I'm right in that NBC canceled it, even if they were picked up by Hulu Plus. I said they'd go out on top, comedically speaking.  I don't know.  Season five was a clear improvement over season four, and at its best was as good as ever, but it didn't really match the first three seasons. I think the new concept, no Chevy Chase and less Donald Glover made a difference.

I said there'd be renewed interest in Mad Men. I think I was wrong.  I think it's stuck around too long and, if anything, the audience is annoyed at splitting apart its final season.

I called it on King Joffrey not living through the season.  In fact, Game Of Thrones took him out pretty early.

As for the Oscars, I knew I was picking some long (or longer, anyway) shots and I paid for it.  I got the Best Picture wrong (in fact, American Hustle didn't win a single award), the Best Actor wrong and the Best Supporting Actress wrong.  But I did get Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor.

2014 Awards

Story Of The Year:  The GOP takes the Senate.  In Barack Obama's first two years as President he had both houses of Congress, so now we're ending his years in office with a mirror image. It'll be interesting to see how it works out.  This also sets the stage for 2016--if the Republicans can take the White House it could reverse the Obama years (or not).

Non-Story Of The Year:  Two African-Americans die in altercations with the police and no one is indicted. It's hard to draw too many conclusions about America from these stories, but they fit a narrative (or were force-fit into one) and this led to much protest--which is a real story. 

Dud Story Of The Year:  The Democrats hoped putting out documents on CIA torture would create a firestorm of controversy. Instead, the public shrugged it off (and, if anything, supported the tactics).

To Be Continued Story:  Round two for Obamacare in the Supreme Court.  Though even if they declare the subsidy rules must change, will it make a difference?  Second place: Elizabeth Warren, who keeps saying she is not running for President, but never says she won't run.  Third place:  With the GOP taking over Congress, maybe we'll get another--and much deeper--investigation of the IRS.

Winner Of The Year:  Mitch McConnell. When the year started, he was worried about holding his seat.  Now he's the second most powerful person in the world.

Loser Of The Year:  Jonathan Gruber.  The guy made (makes?) a good living behind the scenes advising on health care, and then one old tape after another comes out where he says Obamacare was sold on lies and the public is too stupid to get it.  Next thing you know, he has to go to Congress, hat in hand, to deny he did what he did and said what he said.

Top New Personality:  Joni Ernst.



Whatever Happened To Award: Remember when Wendy Davis was an up-and-comer?  Neither do I, but just in case you forgot, the Dems' standard bearer in Texas lost in her run for Governor by more than 20 points.

Already Forgotten Story Of The Year:  The Malaysia Airlines mystery, which was all anyone could talk about for a few weeks.

Surprise Of The Year:  After the election, President Obama ends the embargo on Cuba.  There was plenty of planning involved, but I didn't read one word about it before it happened.

Most Overhyped Story:  Ebola in the U.S.  No joke in Africa, but not too much to worry about here.

Biggest Story That Sputtered Out:  Rolling Stone's UVA rape story.  Every time someone looked at it, there was less and less that was true.  But it shouldn't have been printed to begin with.

No Longer A Controversy Award:  Same-sex marriage.  No matter what the Supreme Court declares next year, the battle is over.

Celebrity Meltdown Of The Year:  Short and sweet--John Travolta introducing Idina Menzel at the Oscars.



Biggest Hollywood Scandal:  The Sony hacking, of course.

He Just Won't Go Away Award:  At rallies, on TV, and hanging with the Mayor of New York and the President of the United States, Al Sharpton was everywhere.

Saddest Election:  The Louisiana runoff.  It looked like it might determine the Senate, but instead, in an afterthought to the GOP rout of the Dems, three-termer Democrat Mary Landrieu gets kicked out.  Even her party had abandoned her at that point.

Luckiest Person Of The Year:  In a bad year for Democrats, incumbent Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire was one of the few of her party who held on in a close race.  Second place: Mark Warner of Virginia for the same reason.

Future Fireworks Award:  Both parties have wings that are unhappy with the establishment. Progressives are sick and tired of Hillary while the Tea Party feels the GOP establishment stands for nothing (while the GOP establishment is congratulating itself for taking back control).

Biggest Unforced Error Award:  President Obama, in The New Yorker, calling ISIS the "JV team."

Worst Trend:  Campuses, already opposed to free speech, are also giving up on due process (though to be fair, the Department of Justice is insisting on it).  Second place:  Movie admissions way down (though some would say the trend here is bad product).  With so many other ways to see movies, and so many other choices for entertainment, is moviegoing finally on the way out?

Photo Of The Year:

How Am I Doing? Award:  Bill de Blasio takes office January 1, and before the year is out is embroiled in a gigantic controversy that may haunt him his entire term.

Behind-The-Times Man Of The Year:  Cartoonist Gary Trudeau. He's been behind the times since the early 80s, but the recent Doonesbury strip that accepts the debunked UVA rape story is bizarre. I know he writes his stuff weeks ahead, but he couldn't put in a replacement?  Or does he still believe it's true?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ike And The Like

The 50s was a tricky decade for film, with TV destroying the movie-going habit. Hollywood has never really recovered.  At the time, it responded with widescreen and color and epics and so on, but the hold movies had on the public was gone, never to return.  (Meanwhile, Europe and Japan had dug themselves out of the war and were doing imaginative work that Hollywood couldn't, often due to its self-censorship.)

I admit the florid, overdone films of the decade--especially after the sharp, snappy, confident Hollywood of the pre-WWII years--make it one of my least favorite decades, even as many critics try to reclaim the era.

And now Jesse Walker has returned to 1954.  Let's look at his top ten list:

1.  Rear Window
2.  Seven Samurai
3.  Johnny Guitar
4.  Wuthering Heights
5.  On The Waterfront
6.  Sansho The Bailiff
7.  Inauguration And The Pleasure Dome
8.  Illusion Travels By Streetcar
9.  Track Of The Cat
10.  La Strada

I should note that Jesse has no honorable mention list. Guess the year didn't offer up that much.

I like Rear Window, but don't love it. In general I find Hitchcock overrated, though Rear Window is a rare Hitchcock "experiment" that works.  Seven Samurai--maybe Kurosawa's greatest--should definitely be at or near the top of the list.  So should Sansho The Bailiff--quite a year for Japanese film.  Johnny Guitar is one of those auteurist classics which fills the 50s--I admit it's kind of fun because it's so bizarre, but not great.  Wuthering Heights (is that 1954?) and Illusion Travels by Streetcar should be here, but I disagree with Jesse that Bunuel's other film that year, Robinson Crusoe, doesn't make the top ten.  There he was in Mexico, doing low-budget films and trying to revive a career, and while this color film in English may be one of his more conventional works, I think it's the best thing he did in 1954. I know people who think On The Waterfront is the greatest film of all time.  I consider it--ignoring all the politics behind it--a passable melodrama with great acting.  Inauguration is an art film (and a short) that I haven't seen.  Same for Track Of The Cat, which is a Wellman feature.  La Strada ("granted, La Strada was a great film") is from Fellini before he went surreal, and is one of his best.

Other film (in addition to Robinson Crusoe) that would have made my top ten:

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (guess I like musicals more than Jesse does)

Top Banana (really a ridiculous choice, since it's pretty much a filmed stage musical, and not a great one at that, but it's a lot of fun and captures the live Phil Silvers as nothing else)

Other films I like:

Casanova's Big Night, Creature From The Black Lagoon, Dial M For Murder (not a big fan of Hitchcock, but apparently I like his two films this year), Doctor In The House, Godzilla (didn't I tell you it was a great year for Japanese films?), Hobson's Choice, Late Chrysanthemums, Living It Up, The Million Pound Note, Touchez Pas Au Grisbi, White Christmas (though it's no Holiday Inn),

Other films of note:

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, 3 Ring Circus, Alibaba And 40 Thieves, Apache, April In Portugla, The Atomic Kid, Bang! Your Dead, The Barefoot Contessa, The Beachcomber, Beau Brummell, Betrayed, The Black Knight, Black Widow, The Bob Mathias Story, The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters, The Bridges At Toko-Ri, Brigadoon, The Caine Mutiny, Carmon Jones, The Count Of Monte Cristo, Dangerous Cargo, Demetrius And The Gladiators (do you like movies about gladiators?), Desiree, Destry, Dragnet, Drums Across The River, The Egyptian, Executive Suite, Father Brown, Fear, Forbidden Cargo, French Cancan, The Glenn Miller Story, Go Man Go!, Gorilla At Large, Hell And High Water, Hell's Half Acre, The High And The Mighty, Impulse, It Should Happen To You, Jail Bait, Journey To Italy, King Richard And The Crusaders, Knave Of Hearts, Knock On Wood, The Last Time I Saw Paris, Lost Continent, Ma And Pa Kettle At Home, Magnificent Obsession (Jesse has no love for Sirk?), The Men Of Sherwood Forest, Night People, Phffft, Prince Valiant, The Raid, Riot In Cell Block 11, River Of No Return, The Rocket Man, Sabrina (maybe should be in the like column, but elongated and so-so Wilder), Salt Of The Earth, The Silver Chalice, A Star Is Born (so neither Jesse nor I go for this one), Star Of India, The Student Prince, Susan Slept Here, Them!, There's No Business Like Show Business, Three Coins In A Fountain, Twist Of Fate, Valley Of The Kings, Young At Heart

Artie

A few years ago Artie Lange* was on top of the world.  He worked on The Howard Stern Show, jetted off to weekend standup gigs where he made top money, and even put out a bestselling book of humorous stories about his life entitled** Too Fat To Fish.  At the same time, however, he was an addict, ingesting monumental amounts of drugs and alcohol, and barely functioning.  Things got so bad that at the start of 2010 he attempted suicide, stabbing himself in the abdomen several times.

He's back, mostly recovered, and tells his story in Crash And Burn.  About two-thirds of the 300 page book tell the story of his addiction.  The stories are often funny--objectively, a guy screwing up time after time can be amusing--but the overall effect is harrowing.  He was destroying himself, and not just physically.  His business relationships, such as those with Howard Stern's show, and his personal relationships, such as the one with his girlfriend Adrienne, were falling apart. Because, as an addict, nothing mattered except getting the next fix.

He was rich enough to deal with money problems, but he couldn't keep it up forever. Friends wanted him to get help, and there was even a short period he got clean, but it didn't take long for him to fall off the wagon. Finally came that night on January 2, 2010.  He was sick, high and depressed.  He claims he wasn't trying to kill himself, but, in his addled state, was just trying to get some sleep. So he drank some bleach which he figured would make him pass out. Instead, he vomited all over his place.  Then he took a knife and cut his stomach several times, figuring he'd bleed enough to pass out.  A bit later his mother called and then came over.  She discovered what he did and called an ambulance.

Artie spent some time in a hospital recovering, then some time in a mental hospital while they made sure he could safely be left alone.  Next he stayed over a year at his mothers place, but he continued to get high and regularly contemplated suicide. Finally, all but kidnaped*** by his good friend, comedian Colin Quinn, he went to a place where he dried out, followed by months of rehab.  At first he fought it, but finally started accepting he needed help.  He even admitted to himself it was an attempt at suicide. (Not his first, by the way--he notes in passing he took an overdose of sleeping pills while working at MADtv in the 1990s.) In the book he thanks many of his friends who stuck by him and helped out--his mother and sister, a lot of standups, and people like Howard Stern and Bruce Springsteen.

About two years after his suicide attempt, he was clean and sober again.  He started working on a sports talk show with fellow comedian Nick DiPaolo (whom he beat out to be Stern's sidekick). He even got back his girlfriend, Adrienne.  They still fought, though, and he started drinking again on a trip to Paris to see a Springsteen show. While he was writing the book, it looked like the relationship was done, But then, just before it went to press, they got back together and are engaged. For now, anyway.

So the book seems to have a happy ending, but who knows?  Artie's fallen off the wagon before.  I wouldn't be surprised to read he marries Adrienne.  And I wouldn't be surprised to read he kills himself, or dies of an overdose.

It's up to you, Artie. I guess we'll find out in his next book.

*It only just hit me now how "Artie Lange" sounds just like R. D. Laing.

**Some say "entitled" is wrong--that you should use "titled." I disagree and feel fully entitled to keep using the word.

***I spell it with one "p." Screw you, Horrible Bosses 2.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Making a list

America needs to study the enemy within

I agree. Let's start with Jared Diamond.

Comeback Gone Away

So the second and final season of The Comeback, starring Lisa Kudrow as actress Valerie Cherish, is over. I think it may have worked better in many ways than the first--perhaps because it was more compact, eight episodes versus thirteen.  But the ending, though good, suffered from the same defect--if that's the word--that I've seen elsewhere on limited series.

I'm referring to shows with protagonists who lack self-knowledge, which leads to their problems, as well as the comedy--shows like The Office and Hello Ladies.  Then, at the end, it's as if the creators take pity on them with happy endings where they finally do the right thing.  This may be satisfying to the audience (from the A.V. Club: “Valerie Gets What She Really Wants” isn’t a perfect episode of The Comeback, but it is a perfect ending to Valerie’s story) but isn't true to the characters.

In The Comeback, Valerie has been chasing after stardom for years, and she's finally reaching the top--she's been nominated for an Emmy. But her relentless desire for fame has apparently cost her her marriage, since her fed up husband has left.  Then, at the awards ceremony, she gets a text from him about her hairdresser, who's very ill.  So she leaves and watches the Emmys from his hospital room. He's fine by the way, and her gesture gets her husband back (who, as far as I'm concerned, was a dick not to go to the Emmys).  She also wins the Emmy, though isn't there to accept it.

Good endings to series are hard.  You want to give the audience what they want, yes, but still be true to the show.  Plus you want to give the audience something they didn't expect, but in an organic way.  The ending of the first season of The Comeback actually did that.  Valerie was unhappy about her new series and its producer Paulie G and thus was going on Jay Leno to denounce him, but before she can discovers she's bigger than ever thanks to the feud.  Instead of sticking to her guns, Valerie is seduced by her new celebrity and so gets what she wants in the worst way possible.  Now that's an ending.

MGM

Let's shake off the holiday blues with today's birthday--great bluesman Matt "Guitar" Murphy.





Sunday, December 28, 2014

Write Right

I just read Ben Yagoda's How To Not Write Bad.  It's sort of a follow-up to Strunk and White's classic Elements Of Style.  Yagoda gives pithy advice on avoiding traps so many fall into, and he should know--he's taught journalism at the University of Delaware for years and has seen all sorts of bad writing.  In fact, many of his example of what not to do come from (anonymous) students' papers.

I guess the book's name gives it away.  He has rules, but he's cool enough to recognize standards change, and writing style should fit the circumstance. The title, after all, splits an infinitive and uses "bad" where proper usage is "badly." More important, he doesn't say he's going to teach you to write well--that may be the goal, but first you've got to learn how not to write bad.

He's also up to date.  There are a lot of writing manuals, and he notes that many, especially older ones, list problems that are rare today, and ignore newer ones.  For instance, we live in an age of spellcheck, which gets rid of a lot of old mistakes, but gives people false confidence and therefore creates new ones.

His main advice for writers is to read.  Though he admits in the age of the internet, where most writing doesn't go through any editing, this advice isn't as sturdy as it once was.  He also wants writing to be mindful--go over what you wrote, correcting mistakes and looking up things when you're not sure.

The book starts with the basics, such as punctuation, spelling, word choice and grammar (which he considers overrated as a cause of bad writing--all native speakers have a basic understanding of grammar).  Then he goes into question of style--using precise words and short sentences, avoiding repetition and clichés, etc.  This section is the most entertaining part of the book, particularly when he gives examples of bad writing and shows how he'd fix them.

The book is short and easy to read (it better be), and though he doesn't lecture, exactly, he makes it clear that there's good and bad writing.  I don't know if it'll become the new standard, but it'll at least do for now.

Something To Chew On

The first patent for chewing gum was recorded on December 28, 1869.  What better way to celebrate than to hear some classic bubble gum pop.









Saturday, December 27, 2014

Whose?

NFL Fines Marshawn Lynch for Crotch Grab

Choose the best answer:

a) Inquiring minds want to know.
b) Some people just don't know facts when they see them.
c) Can you say 'Commissioner Teresa Sullivan'?
d) Wasn't John Erlichman Seattle's best lawyer?

Numbing Number

With another potential Bush versus Clinton race for President, Bill Kristol tweets:

Random fact: Every winning GOP ticket since 1928 has had a Nixon or a Bush on it.

Like most stats about Presidential races, there's less here than meets the eye.  (My favorite meaningless statistic last race: a conservative friend noted no President even won a second term by getting a smaller percentage of the vote than in his first, and I told him then sit back and watch it happen for the first time.)

First, 1928 is a bit dishonest.  Okay, that was Hoover (who's probably related to Bush anyway--everyone is).  But then the GOP had a huge dry spell, and didn't win an election until 1952, when this streak actually starts.

Then you've got the Nixon years.  Eisenhower didn't think much of him, actually, but in the days of smoke-filled rooms, the party powerful figured this energetic Red hunter would help fill out the ticket, though Ike was going to be President no matter who got picked--Nixon was along for the ride.

If he hadn't been chosen, he probably wouldn't have been prominent enough to run in 1960 and lose. This allowed him to make a comeback in 1968 (which, admittedly, was impressive).  The timing was right and, after being kicked around, Nixon was the one.  Due to Watergate, he had to resign, so the Republicans ruled without a Nixon or Bush as Prez or Veep, but that new ticket didn't win the next election and thus don't exist in Kristol's accounting.

If anything, the story of H.W. is even less impressive than Nixon's.  He ran a losing campaign against Reagan, putting down Ronnie's plans as voodoo economics.  Gerald Ford was almost picked as Veep (and if he had we'd probably have Kristol tweets about a Ford in our future) but he wouldn't play second fiddle, so Bush was the safe, uninspired choice.  It was mostly thanks to Reagan's general popularity (and a weak campaign from Dukakis) that Bush got himself elected as President.  Once.

His son was more charismatic and a better politician, but still lost the popular vote to Gore the first time around. (Following Clinton was tough for Al--people were happy with the state of things, but didn't like BIll's personal life, so Gore had to distance himself somewhat, whereas Bush 41 had to run as the guy who'd follow through.)  And once you're President, you pretty much get to automatically run again if you want.

Overall, the Nixon/Bush thing worked out that way by chance.  It tells us little about our past and nothing about what's ahead.

Does This Ring A Belle?

I finally saw Scarecrow, a 1973 road picture starring Gene Hackman and Al Pacino.  There were a lot of road pictures in that era, since the genre allowed for two things New Hollywood loved--location shooting and character development. It wasn't that great, actually, as it also features the lassitude found in too many films of the era.

So why am I writing about it?  Because of my continued obsession with Closed Captioning. (I saw it on TCM.)  The CC typists regularly make mistakes, but I found one particular mistake fascinating.  For the entire film Hackman and Pacino are traveling toward Detroit.  They finally get there and Al, who once lived there, says, according to the CC: "I know a place across the river. It's called Bell Island."

Even if I hadn't had the sound on I would have known what he was actually referring to. Perhaps some of you readers have already guessed it. He was talking about Belle Isle, a state park well known to Detroiters.

So the typist hears "Belle Isle" and just figures it makes more sense as "Bell Island." I realize it's not the highest paying job, but is getting it right that hard?  I just typed "Bell Island Detroit" into Google and the first thing that came up was Bell Isle. (If you type in "Bell Island" you'll find there are several places with the name, but none across the river in Detroit.)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Dead buildings walking

This is pretty unsettling, Seattle's 100 to 150 year old or so year old brick buildings being demolished slow motion by a tunneling project.

That's a shame. Urban renewal on steroids. I don't see how those buildings are saved, but perhaps I'm wrong. I don't consider this to be as difficult a question as zoning policy, but it's close, when to demolish the old and bring in the new--say, Vancouver 1980 and Vancouver 2015.

Yes, yes I would

I saw a link to this yesterday--a mere two days after the Greatest Birthday of All Time--and I'm not quite sure why the poster saw fit to do this two and a half years after it was published. Nevertheless, it's a great article. It belongs with the Ann Arbor communications professor who hates Republicans, gladly. (I empathize with her.)


The author, Kate Gunn, is wonderful. "So here's the lesson kids - straight from the Supreme Court of America - 'You have a right to own a gun. Go buy a gun. Use it if you ever need to shoot someone who's threatening you."

And that's her clincher.

Gliding Along

Now that we're all taking it easy, let's stop for a moment and think about Life.  That is, Life, the computer game created by today's birthday boy, John Conway. From the simplest rules we can get such beautiful complexity.  (He created it in 1970, before computers could easily do simulations--it's painful to think about people drawing this stuff on grids by hand.)



Free From Facts, Free From Facts!

Stephanie Zacharek is at it again.  Her review of Selma isn't really a review (that would be boring) so much as a discussion of civil rights--an uninformed one that doesn't recognize how massively things have changed in the past 50 years, a clueless one that doesn't recognize any different solutions are ever possible.

So she doesn't understand the problem, and can't really help solve it, but at least she can call most Americans names, which I guess makes her feel noble.

Here's the penultimate line:

In the past year, as Americans we've had too many occasions to look at ourselves and realize we don't know who we are anymore.

Talk about film projection.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Real Sixties Begin

Just because it's Christmas doesn't mean we're going to stop looking at Jesse Walker's top ten lists.

It's 1964.  The Beatles have conquered America--and the film world, too.  Let's see what Jesse has to say about it.  Here's his top ten list:

1. Dr. Strangelove
2. Woman in the Dunes
3. Diary of a Chambermaid
4. The Killers
5. Kwaidan
6. The World of Henry Orient
7. Onibaba
8. A Shot in the Dark
9. The Americanization of Emily
10. A Fistful of Dollars

Can't argue with Strangelove at #1--it's one of my favorite movies of all time.  I like Woman In The Dunes and it might make my top ten.  Diary Of A Chambermaid is quite good, even if Bunuel around this time was capable of doing better.  The Killers is pretty cool.  Kwaidan is uneven, but that's the lot of anthology movies.  The World Of Henry Orient is a fascinating trifle (Jesse mentions something about Angela Lansbury--why does he not note this is a most amazing year for Peter Sellers?). Haven't seen Onibaba.  I don't know if A Shot In The Dark is the best Pink Panther film, but it's good enough.  (Jesse is quite kind in noting it's based on a play, since Blake Edwards threw that out and started over.) I find The Americanization Of Emily, like much Paddy Chayefsky, to be overwritten and dopey.  A Fistful Of Dollars certainly started something, and isn't bad, but I don't consider it a classic.

Here are the honorable mentions:

11. Kiss Me, Stupid
12. I Am Cuba
13. Band of Outsiders
14. Séance on a Wet Afternoon
15. The Train
16. Mermaid
17. Becket
18. My Fair Lady
19. Nightmare in Chicago
20. The Evil of Frankenstein

Kiss Me, Stupid is a film that fascinates me.  It's Billy Wilder's bitterest (even more so than Ace In The Hole), and it is memorable, but the story just doesn't work.  Maybe it would have worked better with Peter Sellers (as if he didn't do enough this year) rather than Ray Walston.  I Am Cuba is a pretty impressive technical achievement.  I'm not much of a fan of Godard but I suppose I can see why his fans go for Band Of OutsidersSéance is alright.  Same for The Train.  Haven't seen Mermaid. I find Becket to be a rather dull historical drama.  The film version of My Fair Lady is a bit slow, and whatever it achieves it does as a reflection of something that works better on stage.  Nightmare is an early TV work from Robert Altman that I've never seen.  The Evil Of Frankenstein is one of the many perfectly competent British horror films of the era.

Films that might make my top ten:

7 Faces Of Dr. Lao (I'll call your three Peter Sellers and raise you seven Tony Randalls)

A Hard Day's Night (I don't think Jesse like the early Beatles, but it boggles the mind that this isn't in the top ten--it should make a top ten list of the decade)

Mary Poppins

The Naked Kiss

The Patsy


Films I like:

Adventures Of Zatoichi, Gertrud, Goldfinger, The Incredible Mr. Limpet, Mothra Vs. Godzilla, Muscle Beach Party, Pajama Party, The T.A.M.I. Show (a concert more than a film, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable), Topkapi, The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg


Other films of note:

Bedtime Story, Before The Revolution, Behold A Pale Horse, The Best Man, Black Like Me, The Carpetbaggers, Carry On Spying, The Castle, The Creeping Terror, The Disorderly Orderly, Emil And The Detectives, Ensign Pulver, Fail-Safe, The Fall Of The Roman Empire, Fanny Hill, Father Goose, For Those Who Thing Young, Get Yourself A College Girl, Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster, Good Neighbor Sam, Goodbye Charlie, The Gospel According To St. Matthew, Hag In A Black Leather Jacket, Hercules Against The Barbarians, Hercules Against The Moon Men, Hide And Seek, The Horror Of Party Beach, Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Zombies (I once got this title in a game of charades), Kisses For My President, Kissin' Cousins, Kitten With A Whip, The Last Man On Earth, Lilith, The Luch Of Ginger Coffey, Mail Order Bride, Man's Favorite Sport? (even weak Hawks can be interesting, but  compare this to Bringing Up Baby to see how far he'd fallen), Marnie (I prefer weak Hawks to ridiculous Hitchcock), Marriage Italian Style, The Mask Of Red Death, McHale's Navy, The Misadventures Of Merlin Jones, The New Interns, Night Must Fall, The Night Of The Iguana, Nothing But A Man, Of Human Bondage, One Potato, Two Potato, Paris When It Sizzles, The Pawnbroker, The Pleasure Seekers, The Pumpkin Eater, The Red Desert (Antonioni in color and neither Jesse nor I put it on our list), Robin And The 7 Hoods, Robinson Crusoe On Mars, Roustabout, Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, Send Me No Flowers (even if you're a fan of Doris Day and Rock Hudson, this is the weak one), Seven Days In May, The Seven From Texas, Sex And The Single Girl, Shock Treatment, The Soft Skin (Truffaut's weakest up to this point), Spartacus And The Ten Gladiators, Surf Party, Two Thousand Maniacs!, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, The Visit, Viva Las Vegas, What A Way To Go!, The Yellow Rolls-Royce, Your Cheatin' Heart, Zorba The Greek, Zulu

Funky Christmas

It's the holiday season, time for holiday music, but it's also the anniversary of the death of James Brown.  One of the top artists of our time, he didn't just make great music, he invented whole genres that others are still following.














Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Thoughts On Thoughts On Thoughts

Daniel Dennett is one of the best known philosophers out there, having published popular books such as Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Freedom Evolves and Breaking The Spell, not to mention co-editing the delightful compendium The Mind's I.  And for a scholar dealing with abstract ideas, he's very readable. His latest, Intuition Pumps And Other Tools For Thinking, is sort of a greatest hits.  It has 77 short chapters dealing with issues in which he's gone into greater detail in previous work.

The first few sections explore various mental tools he's created or learned from others that can help sharpen one's thinking (thus the title).  You want to make sure that arguments, yours and others, don't get away with easy tricks, and you also want to force yourself out of ruts all too easy to fall into. (He also has a detour about computers, which he believes can be helpful in thinking about certain issues.  He actually explains how they work to a reader with essentially no knowledge of them.)

Once these tools are established, Dennett takes us on a quick excursion through issues he's spent most of his career investigating--evolution, consciousness, free will (which are all related).  Some of his views are controversial, but he doesn't demand you agree, just that you consider them.  He then ends with a few bits on philosophy in general.

It's a decent tour of his work. In fact, if you haven't yet read him, this might be a good place to start.

PS  I once met Dennett after he gave a lecture at Caltech.  I found him to be a charming man. We even had a short conversation. Perhaps some day I'll write about it.

In The Middle Of Our National Nightmare

It's 1974, and Hollywood still is in an age of discovery--new directors and new techniques still promise adventure at the cinema.  But the big discovery that hasn't quite taken yet is the blockbuster--one picture can make unimaginable amounts of money.  After Jaws and Star Wars, the studios will once again understand what they're put on earth for, but for now, it's still up for grabs.

Let's see what Jesse Walker's top ten for the year are:

1. Chinatown
2. Monty Python And The Holy Grail
3. The Conversation
4. Lenny
5. California Split
6. The Godfather Part 2
7. Swept Away...by an unusual destiny in the blue sea in August
8.  A Woman Under The Influence
9.  Phantom Of The Paradise
10. Young Frankenstein

Good or bad, every one of these is a major title.  Makes you realize it was quite a time.  That said, Jesse's #1 pick, Chinatown, has never done it for me.  I recognize (as with the entire list) there are some fascinating things here, but overall the story leaves me cold.  Monty Python And The Holy Grail is the team's best film--a bit ragged (due to budget constraints) but closest to the anarchic spirit that made them great.  The Conversation should be on this list--though, as great as it is, I question its placement above Coppola's Godfather 2 (which, as great as that is, is not as good as the original).  Lenny is another film that fascinates--the design, the cinematography, the performance--which I don't believe works overall.  When you think about it, it's amazing California Split was even made--it's not a very commercial film (like most Altman of the time), but the director was at his most creative in this period and Split is one of my favorites.  I'm not a big fan of Lina Wertmuller, but Swept Away may be her best film.  A Woman Under The Influence features a great lead performance, but, as with so many Cassavetes films, it has a (very long) self-indulgent story that goes this way and that and doesn't amount to much.  I'm not sure what to say about Phantom Of The Paradise--I don't think I like it, and yet I've seen it many times, so it must do something for me.  Perhaps I'd go for it more if it didn't have such an awful score. (It's also dated in that whatever outrageousness the musical acts had would soon be surpassed by the reality of punk music.) Then there's Young Frankenstein.  You might think I'd be a huge fan of Mel Brooks, but I much prefer Woody Allen from the era.  I find Brooks' comedies patchily funny, and even at his best (which was definitely this year), falling short of classic status.  Still, I like Young Frankenstein--especially Marty Feldman.  However, I think Brooks' other film this year was maybe better.

Which brings us to Jesse's honorable mentions:

11.  Thieves Like Us
12.  Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia
13.  The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three
14.  Alice In The Cities
15.  Blazing Saddles
16.  The Parallax View
17.  Celine And Julie Go Boating
18.  The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser (Jesse uses the original title, but does he refer to Wings Of Desire as The Sky Over Berlin?)
19.  The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
20.  Space Is The Place

What do you know, another director with two films, and I agree with Jesse's placement--Thieves Like Us is weaker Altman--probably wouldn't make my top twenty.  Bring Me The Head was a major flop in its day but has since achieved a certain reputation, due to, I think, the director's name, and one of the greatest titles ever, but not much more.  The Taking Of Pelham would probably make my top ten--it's fun to watch 70s thrillers before the Joel Silver rule of an explosion every ten minutes took over.  Haven't seen #14.  I first thought Blazing Saddles was too crude, but I've gotten over it--and today I can see it's fairly witty.  The Parallax View may be the ultimate paranoid thriller, even more than The Conversation--tremendously uneven, but memorable.  I like Celine And Julie, but did Rivette have to make it over three hours?  Kaspar Hauser is pretty good Herzog.  Texas Chain Saw is monumentally influential, and memorably rough, but I consider it kind of silly (like many films of the genre).  Never saw #20.

Film that would have made my top ten:

The Phantom Of Liberty (part of the late flowering of Bunuel)

Other films I like:

Ali: Fear Eats The Soul, The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz (I have relatives in the background), Bread And Chocolate, The Cars That Ate Paris, Female Trouble, Five Shaolin Masters, Going Places, Juggernaut, Lacombe, Lucien, The Longest Yard, That's Entertainment! (though I don't approve of the concept), We All Loved Each Other So Much,

Other films of note:

11 Harrowhouse, 99 and 44/100% Dead, Adventures Of Sinbad The Sailor, Airport 1975, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, And Then There Were None, Andy Warhol's Frankenstein, Arabian Nights, Benji, Big Bad Mama, Black Christmas, Bruce Lee: A Dragon Story, Buster And Billie, Butley, Caged Heat, Claudine, The Clockmaker, Conrack, Crazy Joe, Daisy Miller, Dark Star, Death Wish, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, Emmanuelle, Flesh Gordon, For Pete's Sake, The Four Musketeers (not bad, but a weaker sequel to The Three Musketeers), Foxy Brown, Freebie And The Bean, The Front Page, The Gambler (the remake will be out tomorrow), Ghost Story, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad, Gone In 60 Seconds, The Great Gatsby, The Groove Tube, The Harrad Experiment, Harry And Tonto, Hearts And Minds, Herbie Rides Again, Huckleberry Finn, I Dismember Mama, I Spit On Your Corpse, If You Don't Stop It...You'll Go Blind, It's Alive, Killer Bees, The Korean Connection, Ladies And Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones, Lancelot du Lac, The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams, The Little Prince, The Lords Of Flatbush, Macon County Line, The Man With The Golden Gun (the low point of the series?), McQ, Mr. Majestyk, Murder On The Orient Express, The Nine Lives Of Fritz The Cat, The Odessa File, The Return Of The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe, Rhinoceros, Son Of Dracula, S*P*Y*S, Stardust, Stavisky, Sugar Hill, The Sugarland Express, The Super Cops, Sweet Movie, T.N.T. Jackson, The Tamarind Seed, The Terminal Man, Three The Hard Way, Thunderbolt And Lightfoot, The Towering Inferno, The Trial Of Billy Jack, Truck Turner, Uptown Saturday Night, Vampira, Willie Dynamite, Winnie The Pooh And Tigger Too, The Yakuza, Zardoz

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sexism lurks everywhere

I never saw Froma Harrop as a conservative, yet here is the headline for her latest: Unzipping the Elizabeth Warren Package.

No, there will be no unzipping of packages with Ms. Warren.

May everyone enjoy the Greatest Birthday of All Time.

Happy Harry

Happy birthday, Harry Shearer.  He's a humorist who's as good playing it as saying it.








He Got By

Joe Cocker has died.  He was a soulful singer whose covers often surpassed the originals--or at least gave us a great new take.














Monday, December 22, 2014

Speak The Speech

Lots of discussion about the New York police officers who were shot to death.  Jazz Shaw wants Bill de Blasio to resign.  I wouldn't hold my breath.  The part of his piece that caught my eye was this:

The Mayor can not pretend that he has failed to see what was going on in the streets leading up to this horror. While he has been cloistered with those fomenting violence and rebellion against law enforcement, we know that he has been made aware of this video. In it, he has seen his own citizens marching in the hundreds and chanting, “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!”

The Mayor must surely be aware that this is not constitutionally protected free speech any more than shouting “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater. That is incitement to riot and mayhem.

Really? I don't know what the Mayor is aware of, but it doesn't seem obvious to me that calling for something in a march, even something despicable or illegal, is the same as saying something that causes immediate panic that leads to people being trampled.  Did this crowd promptly run off and start killing people?

Censors always use the shouting fire line for anything they want, and I'll give Jazz credit for coming closer to the meaning of the concept than most, but still, what is he claiming? Leaders should denounce this chant, but what does Jazz suggest the authorities do beyond that?  Round up everyone who took part, throw them in jail and convict them of a speech crime?  And even if doing that wouldn't be unconstitutional, does Jazz truly believe it would quiet things down?

LT

Happy birthday, Lynne Thigpen. She died, too young, about ten years ago.

She was probably best known as The Chief on Carmen Sandiego, but she did a lot of great work on stage and in film and TV, often in musicals.







PS  This has nothing to do with Lynne Thigpen, but I watched the third part of the Godspell documentary and this comment on YouTube really woke me up:

one of the best times to grow up in, in my opinion. LOVE IT ALL! I dont think any other flim/choreography was shot on top of the twin towers. I wonder how they all felt after the so called 9/11 attacks. (which I know now was a hoax) but the buildings were in fact imploded.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Professor Reynolds celebrates Anonymous

Along for the ride:

"Finding no ready target for their confused rage at the unwelcome intrusion of reality into their carefully constructed fantasy world, these people did what they always do: They lied.

"Notice that the lefties spend a lot of time trying to keep part of the populace riled up, and the rest of the populace embarrassed and apathetic. I wonder what would happen if the balance-of-anger were reversed? Their fear and hatred of the Tea Party suggests that they’d find that catastrophic."

Beware The Savage Jaw

People were waiting for the year 1984 so long that by the time it came it seemed like an anticlimax.  But what about the movies?  Let's return to a time when scores had synthesizers and blockbusters had no CGI.

Here are Jesse Walker's top ten for the year:

1. Repo Man
2. Love Streams

3. This Is Spinal Tap
4. Once Upon a Time in America
5. Nothing Lasts Forever

6. Antonio Gaudí
7. Secret Honor
8. Amadeus
9. Ghostbusters
10. Blood Simple


I still remember how wild it was to see Repo Man--I had no idea what it was, and it looked to be pretty stupid, but it sure wasn't. How come Alex Cox's career fell apart?  Love Streams is one of those Cassavetes titles I haven't gotten around to, but if it's anything like his other films, I doubt it'll make my top ten.  (My favorite Cassavetes film is Mikey And Nicky and it's not even his.)  This Is Spinal Tap was, like Repo Man, a wonderful surprise.  Rob Reiner started out so strong in his first few features and then...  There are some fine sequences in Once Upon A Time In America, but I don't consider it a classic (though I don't think I've seen the long version, even if I doubt it would make a difference).  Haven't seen numbers 5 and 6.  Many times I've walked by the building where Secret Honor was shot, but I only caught about half an hour of it once, so I can't comment on the actual film. I consider Oscar-winner Amadeus minor--probably shouldn't be on this list.  But Ghostbuster should definitely be here.  I blow hot and cold on the Coens, and consider their debut, which got them so much attention, to not quite work--it wasn't until Raising Arizona that I became a fan.

 Honorable mentions:

 

11. King Lear
12. Before Stonewall
13. Favorites of the Moon
14. There Will Come Soft Rains
15. After the Rehearsal
16. Paris, Texas
17. Return to Waterloo (Ray Davies)
18. Stranger Than Paradise
19. Two Tribes (Kevin Godley, Lol Creme)
20. A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven)


Jesse's seeing a lot of them arty films.  I haven't caught 11, 13, 14, 15 (which is a TV movie originally), 17 or 19 (is that a video?).

Before Stonewall is a well done doc.  Paris, Texas isn't bad, but could profitably lose half an hour.  Stranger Than Paradise should be near the top of the top ten.  A Nightmare On Elm Street is better than most slasher films but it's not a genre I go for (I prefer The Simpsons parody.)

Other films that might make my top ten:

The Brother From Another Planet

Choose Me

Comfort And Joy

Gremlins

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Splash  (Ron Howard's career reminds me a bit of Rob Reiner's)

Stop Making Sense

The Terminator (surprised this didn't make Jesse's list)

What Have I Done To Deserve This?

Wheels On Meals


Other films I liked:

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (seriously flawed by still fascinating), Bachelor Party, Broadway Danny Rose, Finders Keepers, Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, The Last Starfighter, Night Of The Comet (quite a year for Catherine Mary Stewart), Revenge Of The Nerds, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (if not as good as II or IV), Streetwise, A Sunday In The Country, The Times Of Harvey Milk (if I have to pick one gay documentary from 1984 it'd probably be this one), Top Secret!


Other films of note:

Against All Odds, All of Me, Alphabet City, American Dreamer, Angel, Another Country, Bad Manners,  Beat StreetBest DefenseBeverly Hills Cop, Birdy, Blame It on Rio, Blind Date, Body Double, Bolero, The Bostonians, The Bounty, Breakin', The Buddy System, C.H.U.D., Cal, Cannonball Run II, Carmen, Cheech & Chong's The Corsican Brothers, Children of the Corn, City Heat, Cloak & Dagger, The Company of WolvesConan the Destroyer, The Cotton Club, Crackers, The Dollmaker, Double Trouble, Dreamscape, Dune (it does have a good look), The Dungeonmater, Electric Dreams, Falling in Love, Finders Keepers, Firestarter, Firstborn, The Flamingo Kid, Footloose, Friday the 13th: The Final ChapterGarbo Talks, Give My Regards to Broad Street, The Glitter DomeThe Goodbye PeopleGrandview, U.S.A.Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the ApesHardbodiesHarry & SonHeartsounds, The Hit, Hot Dog…The Movie, The Hotel New Hampshire, The Ice Pirates, Iceman, In Heaven There Is No Beer?, Irreconcilable  DifferencesJohnny DangerouslyNational Lampoon's Joy of SexThe Karate Kid,  The Killing Fields, Lassiter, Le Bon Plaisir, The Little Drummer Girl, The Lonely Guy, Love Letters, Maria's Lovers, Marlene, Mass Appeal, Meatballs Part IIMicki & MaudeMike's Murder, Missing in Action, Moscow on the HudsonMrs. SoffelThe Muppets Take Manhattan, Nadia, The Natural, The NeverEnding Story, Nineteen Eighty-Four, No Small AffairOh, God! You DevilOxford Blues, A Passage to India, The Philadelphia Experiment, Places in the Heart, Police Academy (it had some nice gags), The Pope of Greenwich Village, Protocol, Purple Rain, Racing with the Moon, The Razor's Edge, Red Dawn (fun concept almost makes it work), Rhinestone, The River, Silent Night, Deadly NightSixteen CandlesSlapstick of Another KindA Soldier's Story, Songwriter, Starman, The Stone  Boy, Streets Of  FireSupergirl, Swann in Love, Swing Shift, Talk to Me, Tank, Terror in the AislesThief of HeartsTightrope, The Toxic Avenger, Toy Soldiers, Twist and Shout, Under the Volcano, Unfaithfully Yours, Until SeptemberUp the Creek, Where the Boys Are '84The Wild Life, The Woman in Red

After You've Gone

Rita Reys, Europe's First Lady of Jazz, was born 90 years ago. Her best known song may be "After You've Gone," but she's done a lot more.








Saturday, December 20, 2014

Social justice warriors

Algeria has the world's tenth-largest military. Maybe that doesn't sound like much, but I found it impressive. It's practically the same as the bottom five, all around 500,000 to 600,000 active personnel. I'm too lazy to check, but I'd guess per capita it's right around the top.

As far as maintaining an army of given capacity, the two Koreas (ALERT ALERT SHUT DOWN BLOG), Iran, Pakistan all make sense. Algeria?

I'm thinking they've achieved what President Obama has himself made pretty good progress on, turning the military into a social program. Which is fair. It's an instrument of justice, not violence. Violence should be reserved to the agencies that really need it, like the IRS, the Department of Agriculture, and local police, preferably SWAT divisions with all that equipment for which the military can no longer can imagine a use, but not necessarily. Any rookie ought to be able to shoot a 12 year old if protocol calls for it. The main point is, some laws just have to be enforced. You never know when a Tea Party group is going to start stealing our taxes.

Updated List

It's about time someone did it--Vulture has ranked all the Saturday Night Live Weekend Update Anchors.  Too bad they screwed it up.  Okay, they vaguely get it right, but certain specific flaws ruin the list.  Here are the top ten (of seventeen).

1.  Dennis Miller
2.  Tina Fey and Amy Poehler
3.  Norm MacDonald
4.  Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd
5.  Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey
6.  Chevy Chase
7.  Jane Curtin and Bill Murray
8.  Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers
9.  Jane Curtin
10. Seth Meyers

The big problem is Chevy Chase at #6.  Any list that doesn't have him at #1 should be ignored.  This is not just the man who originated the role of Weekend Update Anchor.  This is the man who took something that could easily have been a one-off bit on a show where the format was up for grabs, and turned it into the focal point of the program.  This is a man who made the show itself famous, and did it more through Weekend Update than anything else.  That he was not only able to create something out of nothing, but do it really well, makes him #1 in any rational list.

Other than that, I have to disagree with Dennis Miller on top, or even second. He certainly was a major figure at Update, but I think he's a bit overrated.  I see him near the top, but not too close.

On the other hand, Tina Fey really did a great job, but her best partner was Jimmy Fallon, who was her opposite, while I didn't think the teaming with Amy Poehler (though I liked Poehler better as a sketch performer than Fallon) really worked--even though Vulture says their "chemistry was palpable."

And I think Norm MacDonald is rated too low. Since I place Chase at #1, you can deduce I put MacDonald at #2.  He was the only person after Chase to completely make the position his own, and not owe anything to anyone in the past.  I can still remember a lot of his jokes, while I can't say the same for anyone else except Chase.  For years, I'd been putting up with Weekend Update, hoping the bits would work but not seeing it as a highlight.  MacDonald was the first guy since Chevy Chase to make me look forward to the segment.

Not That One. No, Not That One Either.

Happy birthday, Little Stevie Wright, the Australian musician and songwriter who played with the Easybeats (who were huge in Australia but only had one hit in America--see if you can pick it out.)






Friday, December 19, 2014

It does seem to follow

"Why Gun-Control Advocates Lie about Guns"

"The facts aren’t on their side."

Fooled By Cool?

Consumer Reports recently rated fast-food restaurants.  The ratings are based on surveys of thousands of readers.  Here's what they found.

Burgers:  The best burgers are The Habit Burger Grill and In-N-Out Burger--both regional and, lucky me, both based in California.  The three worst burger joints (of those listed) are Burger King, Jack In The Box and--the lowest-rated of any place on any list--McDonald's.

Chicken:  The favorite by a solid margin is Chick-fil-A (which came to Southern California several years ago).  The least favorite is KFC.

Sandwiches and Subs:  Two of the bottom three are Arby's and Subway.  The top two I haven't even heard of--Portillo's Hot Dogs*, which gets the highest rating of any place, and Firehouse Subs.  (I checked and Portillo's serves Chicago-style hot dogs. I lived in Chicago for years.  I tried a Chicago-style hot dog once and that was enough for me. But then, I didn't like the famous Chicago-style deep dish pizza either.)

Mexican:  The highest-ranked is Chipotle Mexican Grill and the lowest is Taco Bell.

Notice a pattern?  The most successful, widespread chains get rated the lowest. The highest-rated tend to be regional chains, sometimes regional chains only recently spreading across the country.

I'm not saying the ratings are wrong.  But is hipness a factor here?  It's possible the most popular places are the worst.  It could be some lowest common denominator sort of thing.  But aren't some chains cool and others not, partly due to familiarity?  I have to wonder how people who had never eaten at any of these places and took blind taste tests would feel.

*I wrote this before my recent trip to Chicago, where someone explained to me what Portillo's was.

Mr. Tiger

Al Kaline, probably the most beloved Detroit Tiger of all, turns 80 today.  A decent guy and a great ballplayer.

His stats are interesting.  Home runs, 399, just short of the 400 club.  Batting average, .297, just short of .300.  Doubles, 498--so close.  But he had 3007 hits, and that puts him in a rare group indeed.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Scary

Holy yellow streak, Batman!

I laughed out loud when I heard about the theaters that decided to show "Team America" in place of "The Interview."

Now that's even too risky? Goodness, it is a scary world.

A season of hope

"Desmond’s achievement is a feat that could only be accomplished by someone who has never been subject to much in the way of biting criticism."

Say, wasn't Obama a Harvard Law Review editor? Or was that sort of like his professorship at the University of Chicago, a special edition? And there's this: "Many schools don’t deliver on what they promise but generate a ton of debt in return for not learning what’s most useful. It’s an “extended adolescence.

Politeness and apathy are deadly, apparently, as we follow incompetents to our doom. Oh, well, perhaps it makes no difference, in which case we may as well enjoy the spectacle. Kasich 2016!

One Score And Zero Years Ago

I recall 1994 as a pretty good year for movies.  Let's see what Jesse Walker says.

Here's his top ten for that year:

1.  Pulp Fiction
2.  Crumb
3.  Hoop Dreams
4.  Before The Rain
5.  The Secret Or Roan Inish
6.  Red
7.  Chungking Express
8.  Ed Wood
9.  Complaints Of A Dutiful Daughter
10. Pipsqueak Profiles

A good list, and I'm glad to see Pulp Fiction at the top. It was such a hip hit out of nowhere that it's become fashionable among the hippest to put it down--I'd call it my favorite film of the decade.  Crumb should be on the list, though I've always found Hoop Dreams vastly overrated.  Before The Rain I haven't seen but I've been planning to for twenty years.  I'm a bigger fan of John Sayles than Jesse is, but I think he likes Roan Inish more than I do--I like it, but not enough for my top ten.  Red should definitely be here, and maybe White too.  Chungking Express may be my #2 for the year.  Ed Wood I certainly like--just watched it last week--but there are still certain weaknesses that might keep it out of my top ten. The last two films I haven't seen.

Honorable mentions:

11.  Burnt By The Sun
12.  The Last Seduction
13.  The Kingdom
14.   Heavenly Creatures
15.  The Madness Of George III
16.  White
17.  Faust
18.  Barcelona
19.  Fresh
20.  True Lies

Somehow I missed 11.  The rest I like, to varying degrees.  At least a few of them would make my top ten. (It's hard for me to be impartial on Barcelona since it stars a close friend.)  The Kingdom I know as a film from a few years later, but Jesse is referring to a TV series it was taken from.

Here are a few other films that might have made my top ten:

Bottle Rocket (I'm not sure if Wes Anderson has ever topped it)

Dumb And Dumber (it was the year of Jim Carrey, but this was the one that worked--in no small part thanks to the Farrelly brothers)

The Legend Of Drunken Master (Jackie Chan proved he still had it)

Speed (Like True Lies, a fine action film with one weak act)

To Die For

Here are other 1994 films I liked:

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Backbeat, Bullets Over Broadway (one of Woody's best plots--if only he were still writing dialogue rather than scenarios for actors to fill in), Cabin Boy, Chickenhawk, Clerks, Eat Drink Man Woman The Endless Summer II, Fist Of Legend, Forrest Gump (sorry it was such a big hit, but it's still an amusing and innovative film that runs out of steam about two-thirds of the way through), Four Weddings And A Funeral, A Great Day In Harlem, The Hudsucker Proxy (seriously flawed but the stuff that works is great), Il Postino (wonderful tribute to a Stalin-lover), Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision, Muriel's Wedding (almost turned me into an ABBA fan), Once Were Warriors, Spanking The Monkey, Vanya On 42nd Street (it shouldn't work but it does),

Other film of note:


47 Ronin, 8 Seconds, Above The Rime, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Air Up There, Airheads, Angels In The Outfield, Angie, Bad Girls, Being Human, Beverly Hills Cop III, Blank Check, Blankman, Blind Justice, Blown Away, The Browning Version, Car 54, Where Are You?, The Chase, City Slickers II: The Legend Of Curly's Gold, Class Of Nuke 'Em High 3: The Good, The Bad And The SubhumanoidClean Slate, Clear and Present Danger,  The Client, Clifford, Cobb, Color Of Night, Cops & Robbersons, Corrina, Corrina, Country Life, The Cowboy Way, The Cremaster Cycle, Crooklyn, The Crow, D2: The Mighty Ducks, Death and the Maiden, Disclosure, Don Juan DeMarco, Double Dragon, Dream Lover, Drop Zone, L'Enfer, Ernest Goes To School, Exit to Eden, The Favor, Fear Of A Black Hat, Federal Hill, The Flintstones, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Freefall, From Beijing With Love, The Getaway, Getting Even With Dad, Go Fish, God Of Gamblers Returns, Godzilla Vs. SpaceGodzilla, Greedy, Guarding Tess, House Party 3, How The West Was Fun, I Love Trouble, I'll Do Anything, I.Q, Immortal Beloved, In the Army Now, In The Heat Of The Sun, The Inkwell, Intersection, Interview With The Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, It Could Happen to You, It's Pat, Jason's Lyric, Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, Junior, Just Friends, Killing Zoe, Ladybird, Ladybird, The Land Before Time II: The Great Valley Adventure, National Lampoon's Last Resort, The Last  Supper, Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses, Leon: The Professional, Leprechaun 2, The Lion King (biggest worldwide hit of the year), Little Big League, Little Buddha, Little Giants, The Little Rascals, Love Affair, A Low Down Dirty Shame, Major League II, A Man of No Importance, The Mask, Maverick, Men of War, Milk Money, A Million To Juan, Miracle on 34th Street, Mixed Nuts, Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle, My Father the Hero, My Girl 2, Nadja, Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final InsultNatural Born KillersNell, The Next Karate KidNo Escape, Nobody's Fool, North, Octobre, Oleanna, On Deadly GroundOnce Upon a Time in China VOnly You, The Paper, Police Academy: Mission to MoscowPrêt-à-Porter, Priest, Princess Caraboo, Quiz Show, Radioland MurdersRampo, Rapa-Nui, Reality BitesThe RefLa Reine Margot, Renaissance Man, Richie Rich, The River WildThe Road to Wellville, S.F.W., The Santa ClauseThe Scout, Serial MomThe Shadow, Shallow GraveThe Shawshank Redemption (how this film is now considered one of the greatest of all time is beyond me), A Simple Twist Of FateSioux City, Sirens, Sleep with Me, Somebody to Love, The SpecialistSpeechless, Star Trek GenerationsStargate, Street Fighter, Sugar Hill, Swimming with SharksTerminal Velocity, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, That's Entertainment! IIITimecop, Tom & Viv, Trapped in Paradise, The Violin Player, Wagons East!The War, When a Man Loves a Woman, Wild ReedsWith Honors, Wolf, Wyatt Earp

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