Saturday, October 31, 2015

Sweet And Scary

Halloween!  The favorite holiday of the under-10 set.  I'm not sure why candy and spookiness go together so well, but they do.









Friday, October 30, 2015

The Purge

Growing up in Detroit, October 30th was the date for Devil's Night.  I later found out other places didn't have it, though many had something called Mischief Night, which is pretty similar.

In Detroit, It was generally a night for mostly harmless (to us) fun--egging windows, teepeeing yards.  It eventually got out of hand, though, and featured arson, grand theft auto, that sort of stuff.  Thus the city came up with Angel's Night, where a bunch of volunteers spend the night watching out for major crimes.

Here's the part I never got.  Why is it the night before Halloween?  When you go out on Halloween, you say "trick of treat." Devil's night should be where you mete out the tricks for those with insufficient treats.  Sounds simple enough to me.

Maybe kids are too fat and happy the day after the holiday to cause too much trouble.  On the other hand, I think a sugar rush is the perfect time to go out and have some fun.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The name of the bird sucked into the jet's engine was Harold Meeker


I wonder what the Louisiana  papers write about? "Our Bobby is wicked smart; why does no one love him?"
 
As for the rest of the country, the only K sound they hear is Carson and Cruz. I don't see Ben making it through, but Cruz missiles get the job done.

Nine Tonight

A bit before he became a soldier in World War II, J. D. Salinger was selling stories to magazines.  He eventually broke into The New Yorker where he stayed until he stopped publishing altogether.  His first book, The Catcher In The Rye, came out in 1951--it was the only novel he'd ever publish, and its protagonist, Holden Caulfield, had previously appeared in his short stories.

His next book, Nine Stories, is, like the title says, nine of his stories.  It came out in 1953, featuring work first published in the late 40s and 50s, most of which appeared in The New Yorker.  He had plenty of other early work, but Salinger would never allow it to be anthologized.

He'd go on the write more stories, from now on about the Glass family, who'd already appeared in Nine Stories.  He published them in book form in two collections that came out in 1961 and 1963.   His last published work was in a 1965 edition of The New Yorker.  He may have kept writing, but his material, as well as Salinger himself, disappeared from sight.  Meanwhile, all his books sold well, led by Catcher In The Rye, one of the biggest-selling novels of all time. (It's easy not to publish when you've got steady royalty checks.)

But let's get back to Nine Stories.   I thought I'd read it years ago, but wasn't sure.  Anyway, I recently saw it in the library and either read it again or for the first time. In a way, it represents Salinger better than anything else--Catcher In The Rye is an oddity, since he works in short form, and his later work was when he was famous, and could indulge himself.  Nine Stories is a mature writer still earning a living.

Like the stories, the book is short--under 200 pages.  And they're clearly from an author with a distinctive voice.

For one thing, all the stories are short on plot.  Maybe if he were writing for some slick commercial magazine he'd need to have more happen, but he's a stylist at home in The New Yorker, happy to let his characters simply exist, and live at their own pace.  His specialty is dialogue.  Most of the stories are mainly characters talking, and not apparently doing much. Salinger has a great ear, capturing how people sound, but also how they reveal themselves without trying to.  Occasionally he'll use less dialogue, but those stories--"The Laughing Man" and "De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period"--have narrators, so are essentially someone talking to us at length.

Another thing that ties these tales together are a fascination with children, or teens.  They appear in almost every story.  Salinger was apparently fascinated by the young.  The stories also tend to feature characters from New York, or at least the Eastern Seaboard, in contemporary settings.  (Also, there's a lot of smoking--probably not so noticeable then as today.)

While I wouldn't call the writing comic, the stories often feature humor.  It's not quite as incisive as in Catcher In The Rye. Perhaps Salinger had Holden Caulfield's voice down so well he could do anything with it.

I'd say--and many would agree--that the best story is "For Esme--With Love And Squalor." It's almost pointless to describe the plot, since it's all in how Salinger handles the characters and what they say, but it's about an American soldier in England getting ready for D-Day.  He has a conversation with a precocious 13-year-old British girl, Esme, in a tearoom.  A year later, after having seen a lot of battle, he's cracked up, but is moved by a letter sent him by Esme.  Salinger himself saw some of the roughest fighting in the war, so this story may be more personal than much of his early work.

Another one of my favorites is "Just Before The War With The Eskimos." Once again, there's barely a plot--as a teenage girl waits at a girlfriend's house to get some money owed her, she talks to her girlfriend's brother and the brother's acquaintance.  That's pretty much it, but the witty and finally moving dialogue carries it along.

The last story, "Teddy," is the most different from the rest and the most troubling regarding Salinger's career.  It was the last written, published in The New Yorker in 1953, after Salinger knew about the success of his novel, and points to where his career was going.  Teddy is a ten-year-old traveling with his parents and kid sister on a cruise ship back home to America from Great Britain.  He's a prodigy, full of religious and philosophical ideas, and was in England to be interviewed by top thinkers.  Most of the story is a dialogue between Teddy and an adult on board who wants to talk to him about his view of life.

At this point in his life, Salinger, already into Zen Buddhism, had just discovered the Vedantic religion.  It changed his life.  Unfortunately, it changed his writing.  Teddy is a tough enough character to buy--a boy who's actually a wise old man. Compare this to Esme, a smart and talented young girl who makes charming mistakes trying to sound adult.  But Teddy we're meant to take seriously, and the adult he talks to is a stooge who doesn't quite understand.  Teddy is less a character than a mouthpiece for Salinger's religious views, and much of the story is close to a straight lecture. "Teddy" has less humor, less wit, less life than anything that precedes it.  I like some of Salinger's Glass stuff that was to follow, but he would become more and more self-indulgent.  Maybe he stopped publishing at the right time.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

All the world's a stage


"I think the process stinks."


It was murder

C'mon, sheeple! Wake up! Lou Reed didn't age out. Google's AI fed this to his smart phone:


Old Newhart

I've been watching reruns of Newhart on Antenna TV.  That's Newhart, a sitcom from the 1980s where he plays Dick, an innkeeper in Vermont, not to be confused with The Bob Newhart Show, a sitcom from the 1970s where he plays Bob, a psychologist in Chicago.  I like that earlier show, but think Newhart is better.

It's fascinating to watch it from the start, because very few shows have recognized their flaws and fixed them so well.  Take a look at the first season (like I just did).  It's shot on video.  Someone--creator Barry Kemp, developer Sheldon Bull (an acquaintance--I should ask him next time I see him) or Newhart himself--decided this didn't look good, and changed it to film.

But that's on the surface.  They made deeper changes that made the difference.  The show isn't bad at first, but it's sort of weak.  Bob is okay, but he doesn't have much to play off, which is his specialty.  Indeed, most of the supporting cast isn't especially funny.  Tom Poston as the inn's handyman is probably best, but the rest are pretty weak.

His wife, played by Mary Frann, never really got into a groove.  Admittedly, it's a thankless role, but perhaps someone else could have done better. Then there's Jennifer Holmes as the maid--she's actually wealthy and is slumming.  Perhaps this could work, but either the part or the actress or both just make her another straight, dull character.  Worst of all is Steven Kampmann as the owner of the café across from the inn. His quirk is he's a chronic liar. I think the hope was he'd be the breakout character, but the character is just annoying, not helped by Kampann's lackluster performance.

So what did the show do?  At the start of season two they replaced Jennifer Holmes with Julia Duffy, who plays another rich girl maid, except she's spoiled and has been cut off.  Duffy (who lost the role of Diane in Cheers to Shelley Long just before getting this part) is excellent, and was nominated for several Emmys in the role.

Also in season two they introduce Peter Scolari (fresh from Bosom Buddies with Tom Hanks).  Dick gets to host a local TV show--which adds a lot of new plots--and Scolari is his slick, fast-talking producer, a great foil to Newhart.  He also starts dating Julia Duffy's character.  He became a regular by season three, by which time Kampmann was off the show.

Then there are the townspeople, who get more eccentric as the show goes along.  There's Officer Shifflett, the too serious cop, Harley, the unemployed sadsack and town leaders Jim and Chester, who keep making odd demands of Dick.

Best of all by far are the actual breakout characters, Larry, his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl.  Introduced in season one, the audience loved them from the start.  You can plan all you want, but breakouts happen when they happen.  They play three brothers, though only Larry talks. (Though in a first season episode, the Darryls appear to talk to Dick over the phone.)  L, D and D are backwoodsmen whose ways are not like yours or mine.  To make them regulars, they took over the cafe when Kampmann left. Till the end, they added electricity to every scene they were in.

The show was actually a success from the start, but I'm glad the people behind it realized it needed improvement, or I wonder how long it would have been on the air.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A pogrom, er, program I can support


I'm down with it. Some people might think I'd want to take away their cars, jets and plastics, but I prefer to go straight to their carbon. Once that's gone, or at any rate completely disassociated with the global bishops, we can start planning next steps. And I'm not so reckless as they are; why risk catastrophe by waiting 35 years? I say we do it now.

King Of The One Liners

I just read Henny Youngman's autobiography Take My Life, Please.  Took me long enough, as it was written about 25 years ago and Henny died over 15 years ago.  It's a bit over 200 pages, but you wouldn't expect anything long from a man who's known for one-liners.

His life was like a template of so many Jewish comics of his era--he grew up very poor in Brooklyn.  The only thing slightly different is his father, having left the Old Country but not yet come to America, stopped in London long enough to have his first son, Henry, in 1950.  This son later changed it to Henny--he was called "Hen" but didn't think it looked good on a marquee.  Henny couldn't be President so what else was there but show biz?

He barely attended school, preferring to schmooze with friends. His father insisted he learn a trade, so he became a printer. One of his specialties was printing old jokes on cards, which he'd sell for a dime.  Like a good Jewish boy, he also learned the violin.  This led to him forming a group known as the Swanee Syncopators, though they'd change their name to fit whatever gig they played.

He started doing humorous bits on stage and was asked to fill in for an emcee and his true career was born.  He kept the violin to have something to do, but his delivery was so fast he barely needed it.  Soon   Soon he was a tummler in the Catskills, keeping the guests amused any way possible. (he also got married--and spent half his career doing jokes about his wife and mother-in-law.) He got his big break in 1937 appearing on the Kate Smith radio show.  He became a regular, and started burning through a years worth of material every week or two. 

Powerful columnist Walter Winchell named him the King Of The One Liners, and he remained in that position pretty much until his death in 1998.

He talks about the many people he met along the way.  Jackie Gleason, the funny Irish kid who grew up nearby. His closest friend, Milton Berle--a few years younger but who made it big faster.  Then there are all the gangsters he had to deal with playing in clubs. In the final chapter, he even mentions modern names--the new kids he likes, such as Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Jay Leno, as well as those he doesn't, such as Andrew Dice Clay and Sam Kinison. (He also talks about Jack Ruby and Donald Trump, neither of whom he thought much of.)

His number one rule in show biz--Nem di gelt, which means take the money. Don't be too proud, don't price yourself out of the market, don't count on promises. Take the money.

If the book has a problem, it's that he spends too much time on his youth. Not that it isn't interesting, but I figure most of the book would be about his years as a successful entertainer. Instead, the book is half over before he even become a working comedian, and at the two-thirds point, we're still in the Depression.  It's not until the final third of the book that he deals in a whirlwind way with the last 60 years or so of his career.

But he does sprinkle plenty of his famous one liners along the way:

A man says to another man "Can you tell me how to get to Central Park?"  The guy says no. "All right," says the first, "I'll mug you here."

I just got back from a pleasure trip.  I took my mother-in-law to the airport.

A doctor gave a man six month to live.  The man couldn't pay his bill so he gave him another six months.

I've been married fifty years and I'm still in love with the same woman. If my wife every finds out, she'll kill me.

Funny then, funny today.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Is that you, Cass?

Too many options create anxiety and leave us less satisfied. Could one answer lie in a return to the state monopolies of old?

Brother Walt

I just read Walter Mirisch's book I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History.  If you're a film fan, you may recognize the name.  The Mirisch Corporation, which he operated with his brothers, has its name on a lot of fine movies.

Born in 1921 (and still kicking), he was the youngest son of father Max.  He and brothers Marvin, Harold and Irving scrambled around during the Depression, but were able to get a foothold in the movie business.  Still in his 20s, Walter started working for Monogram Pictures, one of the cheapest studios around.  They had no theatres (studios owned theatres back then) and made B pictures, designed to run at the bottom of a double bill (back when theatres showed double bills).

Mirisch quickly rose to producer, learning how to do things on the cheap.  One way to get a regular income was devise a series, and he came up with a Tarzan knock-off, Bomba, The Jungle Boy, debuting in 1949.  He managed to create a jungle with a little studio space and a lot of stock footage.  Mirisch produced a couple of these films a year until the series ran out of steam in the early 50s.

By then, he'd expanded to other projects, with somewhat higher budgets.  He also became head of Allied Artists.  With limited budgets, he tried to offer what he could, including a second-rate color process (better than nothing) and stars on their way up or down.  He managed some hits, if nothing really first rate.  During this time, B pictures were on their way out, replaced by TV.  The future was first-class films.  The Mirisch brothers stepped up, but most of their product failed.

They regrouped and by the end of the decade teamed up with United Artists, recently bought from original owners Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, and under new management.  It was here where Walter really took off.

He started working with top talent, including directors such as William Wyler, John Sturges, Blake Edwards, Norman Jewison and, above all, Billy Wilder.  Walter Mirisch was behind Some Like It Hot, The Magnificent Seven, The Apartment and West Side Story, the last two winning back-to-back Oscars.  Later, Walter would be help bring about such titles as The Great Escape, Irma La Douce, The Pink Panther, A Shot In The Dark, The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming, Hawaii, The Fortune Cookie, In The Heat Of The Night (another Oscar winner), The Party and The Thomas Crown Affair.  The Brothers had some weak years in the late 60s and early 70s, producing mostly flops, but along came Fiddler On The Roof in 1971 to fill up the coffers.  He continued producing films through the rest of the 70s and into the early 80s, and then moved into television, but his best work was behind him at that point.

There are plenty of interesting stories in the book: writers who didn't work out, directors who got fired, casting that never happened, actors who wouldn't leave their trailers and so on.  Alas, Mirisch's writing is stiff and repetitive.  And, being a producer, he concentrates more on putting the project together and seeing how it does than the directly creative side.  Still, he gives you insight on how movies are really made--there's as much happening in office suites as soundstages.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Go Ask Alice

As readers of this blog might guess, I'm a big fan of 1930s Hollywood. One film often listed as a classic from that era is Alice Adams (1935) but I don't think I can go that far.  I recently watched it again and the same problems were there that I always have.

The film is based on Booth Tarkington's 1921 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and had already been adapted into a silent feature in 1923.  Tarkington is one of those middlebrow authors highly regarded in his day, but now would be almost entirely forgotten if Hollywood hadn't based some movies on his work, especially Alice Adams, Monsieur Beaucaire and The Magnificent Ambersons.

Katharine Hepburn plays the title character.  Director George Stevens does a good job showing the desperation of Alice.  Her family isn't doing well (though only by Hollywood standards--looks to me like they've got a pretty nice house, and the father, though stuck in bed with an unnamed and not too unpleasant illness, is still receiving a salary from his former employer) but she wants very badly to be part of the social scene.  The high society people in her town, however, don't see her as much more than a pushy social climber, which isn't far from the truth.

She goes to a fancy party, dressed in last year's clothes, requiring her brother as an escort.  There she meets Arthur Russell (Fred MacMurray), a rich, handsome stranger from out of town.  He seems taken with her.  The question is why?

Of course, the young Hepburn is adorable, so we don't need another reason.  Except if that's a good enough reason, then why aren't all the other boys in town flocking to her.

Anyway, the couple begin an odd relationship.  In the novel it takes place over several weeks, but it's pretty much a day or two here--the magic of movies.  The question becomes, once again, what does he see in her? There's Mildred Palmer, beautiful as well, and from a good family, waiting for him.  Perhaps Russell likes things from the rough side of town, but there's no indication of that.  His character is a cipher, existing only as an object that Alice wants to win.

The trouble is everything Alice says is transparently false.  It's doubtful she says one honest line to Arthur--she's always trying to convince him her family comes from money and so on.  Why doesn't he see through her, and if he does, why doesn't he care that she can't be truthful? (It's not as if they have sex--their relationship is chaste.)

The big set piece is Arthur coming to Alice's house for dinner, where she tries to convince him how classy her family is but everything goes wrong. It probably plays well as comedy in a theatre, but when you watch it alone, it's mostly sad.  And Alice is at her worst--she comes across as a frantic, neurotic girl.  There's just nothing to entice Arthur.

And yet, at the end, even after she tells him to go, he sticks around and the two embrace.  This is not the ending Hepburn or director George Stevens wanted, but the front office demanded it. No doubt they were right, box office-wise.  Still, it makes no sense.  But even if Hepburn got her bittersweet ending, it'd still be impossible to see how her character got as far as she did with MacMurray.  Most guys would run from a girl like Alice, and they'd be well rid of her.

The film isn't helped much by George Stevens' direction. He's considered a classic, and I suppose that's fair, but so often he adds a lugubrious layer to the proceedings.  His romantic comedies of the era like Swing Time, Woman Of The Year and The More The Merrier (some call Alice Adams a romantic comedy, and maybe it is) are famous, but I've never found his work to have quite the sparkle of contemporaries like Capra or Hawks or Lubitsch or McCarey or Cukor or Preston Sturges or even La Cava.  Stevens and Hepburn shaped the material and made it their own (often going back to the original novel), but I bet any one of these directors would have turned out something a bit more lively, and perhaps brought Alice a little more down to earth.

Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe Stevens understood the material and did it the only way that could work.  The film was a success in its day, and is still remembered.  But just to name Hepburn movies of the era, I'd rather see Hawks' Bringing Up Baby or Cukor's The Philadelphia Story or La Cava's Stage Door.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

It's always the last place you look


#Witch-Hunt? #FoundHer

October Octaves

A bunch of musical birthdays today.

For instance, did you know J.P. Richardson, Jr., better known as The Big Bopper, could be turning 85 today if he hadn't died in a plane crash?



Then there's Bill Wyman, still rolling along at 79.



And Jerry Edmonton, drummer of Steppenwolf, would be 69 today if he hadn't died in a car accident in 1993.


Friday, October 23, 2015

What Pulitzer ought to be doing

Not quite sure of the metaphor; it seems clumsy.

But I love this line: "the problem out-scoped your capacity."

I'm thinking it's another gift from the military.

Once In Love With Amy?

Trainwreck was my introduction to Amy Schumer. I'd heard about her, but never watched her TV show or stand-up act.  Until now. I just watched her recent HBO special Amy Schumer Live At The Apollo.

Her stand-up character (which is essentially herself, she'd have us believe) is a cute girl who's not Hollywood gorgeous and isn't ashamed to admit she has certain urges.  I don't know if her act has changed much from earlier days, but from what I can tell, it consists of her talking about eating, drinking and sex.  Mostly sex.

A lot of her material is about double standards women face. How they have to be beautiful in Hollywood, or how they're not supposed to want sex as much as men, or how they have to not eat too much (publicly), or how if they talk about sex in a raunchy way they're labeled differently from how a male comedian would.  She's also got a lot of material explaining the differences between men and women. She spends a lot of time mocking others, but just as much mocking herself.

The material is alright, but not particularly deep or clever  She has a take on life, but sticks to areas we've seen covered by other comics, and her insights never quite rise to the level of brilliance.  The best stand-up comedians, when they get to do an hour, take you on a journey.  People like Chris Rock (who directed Schumer's special, though I have no idea how much the director has to do for this kind of thing beyond turning on the camera) or Louis C. K. can penetrate deeper than most, and even make you see things differently.

Her audience, mostly in their 20s, loves her. (How do I know how old her audience is?  She asks them in her act, and then makes fun of how all those 20-somethings view life.) And now with a film hit I guess she's bigger than ever.  As a stand-up, however, she's professional, but not top tier.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

This explains everything

Vatican denies report Pope Francis has small, curable brain tumor

"Has a large, incurable tumor replaced his brain altogether?"

"No comment."

Halloween

The Scary Specter of Ted Cruz

Boo!

Nuts To You

Today is National Nut Day. Yeah, it's news to me, too.

Nuts are high in fat, but good for you.  Especially when not covered by something sugary.

My personal taste in nuts is fairly conventional.  My favorite is the almond, followed by the cashew, pecan, peanut (is that a nut or a legume?--anyway, I'm not allergic), walnut, pistachio, brazil nut, macadamia, hazelnuts and pistachio.

"Nut" can mean a lot of other things.  It can mean the amount you need to take care of basic needs.  In the plural, it can mean to be crazy, to love something, to be disappointed, or testicles.

Nuts is the name of a play by Tom Topor that ran 96 performances on Broadway in 1980 and was turned into a pretty bad movie starring Barbra Streisand in 1987.  Peanuts is the name of the highly popular Charles Schulz comic strip.  The strip was originally named Li'l Folks but was changed because it sounded similar to other comics.  Schulz never liked the name.  Life can be nuts like that.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

It's A Scammy Day

I got two calls yesterday from the IRS.  Well, maybe not the IRS, but a robo-voice claiming is was the IRS.  They said it was my final warning about a lawsuit they were filing against me.



Final notice?  I didn't remember the first notice--though I guess the first call of two was that.

I suppose I should call the number they gave me to clear this up.  I'll certainly give them any information they ask for--I don't want trouble.

The message I got was exactly the same as the video above except the phone number they gave me was different.  How many numbers do these people own?  It was a Delaware area code.  Hey, isn't that the place where they do all that incorporating?  Maybe this is for real.

Earlier this year I got a live call from the "IRS" telling me I was in trouble and they're sending the cops over right away.  I listened for a few minutes thinking there's a less than 1% chance this is authentic, but do I want to hang up if it is?  Finally I got tired of it (and the people I talked to were surprisingly abusive) and ended the call.

I got another call with someone telling me he could fix my computer problems.  I'd been having trouble with my computer, incidentally, but that's not so uncommon.  Anyway, I played along as I googled the directions he was giving me so I could make sure it was a scam.  Which of course it was.

How did I get on this list?  More important, how do I get off?  There should be a scam call that promises to get me off the list if I'll just give them my credit card and social security number.

PS Amazingly, as I was writing this, a pop-up screen with a loud warning buzzer appeared saying I had a serious problem with my computer, and to call a number they provided for help.  I might have ignored it, except last month I got this message at every website I went on telling me to call my cable company to make sure I get a new modem--and it turned out to be legit. (And why not--they charged me for the modem, after all.  Maybe it's just a different sort of scam.)

Anyway, the pop-up number was toll free, so I figured I'd check it out, even though I was almost certain it was a fake. They were very helpful, wanting to access my computer remotely to fix things.  My curiosity sated, I hung up.  However, I couldn't get rid of up pop-up, so I shut things down and rebooted.

Now I need to run a virus scan. I hope that will be enough.

PPS  I just got another call from the "IRS." These robocalls are especially annoying since you can't talk back to them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The endorsement that puts him over


Between that and Boehner's Jackass, I think we can all agree Cruz is the man. Amiright, Anonmyous or amiright?

And yet the media assured us Hillary won the debate

A new CNN/ORC poll released Monday showed Sanders with the biggest leap among any candidate in the 2016 field. And a new poll in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire found him slightly expanding his lead there over former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Slightly. Just a smidgeon. Hardly noticeable, really.

It Was Here Just A Second Ago

I was watching this week's The Leftovers and what should I hear but "Where Is My Mind?," a tune originally recorded by The Pixies.  I knew I'd heard it elsewhere recently.  Oh yeah, in an episode of Mr. Robot (almost too on the nose there).

Turns out it's been heard in over 10 movies or TV shows. It's amazingly evocative.  Of course, what it evokes in most people is the ending of Fight Club, one of the first to use it.



However, The Leftovers and Mr. Robot used a piano instrumental, which is even spookier since it takes you a little to recognize the tune.



If this keeps up, the song is going to be bigger than "Here Comes Your Man," "This Monkey's Gone To Heaven" and "Debaser" combined.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Dan Rather from Beyond the Grave

I was a liar and a beast

Spielberg Spiel

Steven Spielberg's latest film, Bridge Of Spies, is out.  It's gotten great reviews.  Whether or not it'll be a hit is up in the air. But there's little question Spielberg is the most successful director of our era, perhaps ever.  He's turned out numerous hits, and won a ton of awards along the way.

So when I saw there was a Vulture list ranking his 29 features, I was intrigued.  As you might expect, I have some serious disagreements.

Here's the list, bottom to top, with my comments.

29.  Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

Definitely a mistake.  I guess he loved making Indiana Jones films, but if you're going to come back to it, do it better than this. Perhaps it shouldn't be last, but definitely near the bottom.

28.  Hook

Not much here, but like so many of his weaker films, it's because the idea was bad to begin with.  We get a grown up Peter Pan going back to Neverland just so he can discover how great it is to be a father.  I'd have rather Spielberg just done Peter Pan and done it right. (Or stay away from fairy tales altogether.)

27.  1941

Maybe his biggest flops, but underrated. It's too big for a comedy, but it's still fun. I'd put it in the middle of his work.

26.  Always

Dull, maybe his worst.  But A Guy Name Joe wasn't much to begin with, and didn't need a remake.

25.  The Sugarland Express

Way too low. It's his first official feature and you can see right off the bat this is a talented filmmaker.

24.  The Adventures Of Tintin

Technically dazzling but not much else.

23.  The Lost World: Jurassic Park

A few excellent set pieces, but he needed to make this as much as he needed to make Jaws 2.

22.  The Terminal

I like Spielberg, I like Hanks, but why did they both agree to make a story so dreary in the first place?

21.  The Color Purple

Interesting how low it's rated, considering it got 11 Oscar nominations including Best Picture. But I agree, it's pretty weak.

20.  War Horse

I've heard to play is good, but it's about the puppetry.  Not sure why Spielberg, or anyone, wanted to turn it into a movie.

19.  Catch Me If You Can

Why is this rated so low?  The first one in the list that should be top ten.  It showed, if nothing else, that Spielberg hadn't lost it--he could still be fun, even with a serious theme.  (Still goes on too long, but that's a problem with a lot of his films.)

18.  Amistad

Some decent performances, but doesn't really work.

17.  Empire Of The Sun

One of my least favorite Spielberg films, so it's odd that some call it a classic.

16.  Bridge Of Spies

Considering how long it is, it moves along well, but not as good as the critics have it.

15.  Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade

His first three Indiana Jones films were delightful, so maybe they should all be top ten.

14.  Duel

The only TV film allowed on the list. And it is great--before Jaws, he showed he knew how to ratchet up the tension, creating elemental fear from just a truck.

13.  A.I.

Way too high.  This film is almost a complete disaster.  Looks good, but almost every plot point makes no sense.

12.  Jurassic Park

This is about right.  Well done, and some amazing set pieces, but he'd done terror better in Jaws.

11.  Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom

I like how it's rated higher than Last Crusade. They're about the same, but I've never understood why this Indy got slapped around so much. (Until he made Crystal Skull--that's what a bad Indy looks like.)

10.  Munich

A bottom ten film.  Like other recent films, it's too on the nose in delivering the message.  And these messages are always pat anyway--it's the story, Steven, and how you tell it.

9.    Lincoln

Looked like it could be a dry disaster, but turned out to be one of his best.  Helped by a great lead performance, but plenty of fine support..

8.    Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

Perhaps his most overrated.  Some decent set pieces (I'm getting tired of saying that, but Spielberg will always give you one or two no matter what he does), but the whole thing is kind of silly and doesn't hold together well.

7.    Minority Report

Some very nice sections, but not top ten.

6.    War Of The Worlds

What is this doing here?  There's exciting action here and there, but overall quite dopey.

5.    Saving Private Ryan

One of his best, even if it never again quite reaches the level of the opening Normandy Beach sequence.

4.    Jaws

A classic.  Probably should be number one.

3.    Schindler's List

A great film.

2.    E.T.

Another delight.

1.    Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Unquestionably the best of the Indiana Jones films.  And one of Spielberg's most influential films, in upping the number of quality of action sequences in such film.  But I don't know about the highest slot--tremendous fun, but doesn't have the soul of his other top work.  On the other hand, certainly deserves a place somewhere in the top five.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

I presume LAGuy was in LA


Me, I was standing outside a pizza house in Warsaw, "watching" the game by following the delayed play by play that si.com does.

What can you do but laugh? Has to go down in the coaching annals, though, doesn't it? Better thinking next year, Jim. If it makes you feel any better, things are looking pretty good. And contrary to commonly expressed opinion, stupid like this is pretty easy to fix.

They're Back

There are some shows I consider appointment TV--try to watch them as soon as they're aired, or if I'm out, as soon as I can.  Then there are shows that I sort of watch but if I miss it's no big deal.  Three of those shows are back for another season.

First is The Knick, starting its second season on Cinemax.  Starring Clive Owen and a bunch of lesser known people, it's set in and around a New York City hospital in 1900.  The storylines for the characters are actually pretty weak, but the design is impressive, and it is sort of fun to see surgery that's hard to tell from savagery.

I don't think the ratings are particularly high, but the critics love it.  I think that's mostly because every episode is directed by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh.  I agree Soderbergh is a fine director, but what difference does it make without a compelling plot?

Then there's South Park.  I've always liked it, but never really loved it. The satire can be pretty effective, even if the animation is rudimentary.  But it's now in its 19th season, and we're not really seeing much we haven't seen before, even if the plots are often ripped from the headlines.

The first two episodes this season looked at political correctness from both sides.  In the first episode, the PC people are portrayed as bullying frat boys who'll beat the crap out of you if you don't say what they want (such as admitting Caitlyn Jenner is a hero and a stunning woman).  Now PC is a juicy and deserving target, but it's almost too easy.  The second episode was a bit more pointed, with regular character Mr. Garrison getting tired of the PC attitude. He speaks his mind, saying crazy stuff, and is soon running for President. His plan is to build a wall to keep the Canadians out of the U.S.  But before you know it, the crazy Canadian leader has already built his own wall.

The show is still fun, but I'm already two episodes behind and don't feel any need to catch up.

Finally, there's one of the biggest hits on TV (though recent ratings suggest it may have peaked), The Waking Dead.  I avoided this show for a few seasons, as unending zombie attacks seemed boring, but I caught up with it around season three, and here we are at season six and I still check it out.

As always, there's not too much to the show. We've got the nucleus of characters, some of whom die along the way--though I can't see them killing Rick, Daryl, Glenn, Maggie, Michonne or Carol any time soon--and they get attacked by zombies and sometimes by other humans. That's it.  Honest.

Plenty of gory deaths each episode, which is a large part of the fun.  The main characters haven't been heavily developed, but they have their quirks, and seem to like each other, so that's something to hold on to.

As long as people watching, I suppose it can go on forever--though won't they eventually run out of zombies?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Art or He Didn't Put A Bolt To A Nut, He Didn't Tell You The Law Or Give You Medicine

Today is the centennial of Arthur Miller, perhaps America's best known playwright, and graduate of the University of Michigan.  (Some call him the American Ibsen, but I don't know if I'd go that far.)

He was a playwright back in the days when that meant Broadway.  His first success there was All My Sons, which can still hold a stage.  Next came Death Of A Salesman, his most famous work, and as powerful as it ever was.  He followed that with The Crucible, almost as well known and popular as Death Of A Salesman. He followed those with works of varying quality, many of which you could still make a case for, including A View From The Bridge, After The Fall and The Price.

Though he generally writes about America subjects, his stuff is performed around the world, because, at his best, he gets to the heart of the human condition.

He also wrote some fiction, some essays and some screenplays, but it's his plays for which he'll be remembered.






Friday, October 16, 2015

Says the man polling just below Kasich

Nothing “Sexy Or Cool” About Socialism

Killing tens of millions and still getting the chicks and news coverage? There's something compelling about it. Apparently people's number one fear is being let alone.

The Only 100 Days

If you read between the lines, I've been a bit hard on Gov. Kasich. The local newspaper, of course, is as excited as can be. They've got a team of reporters following him around New Hampshire and nothing could be better than Columbus playing San Clemente. All week they've been prepping Kasich's big speech and his "first 100 days."

I have to say it isn't entirely terrible, what he proposes. The main problem is he's not real. It would have been nice if he'd done this sort of thing from the beginning of his governorship and stuck to it. He's got capacity flowing out of every orifice. But he found it more expedient to accept that free Obamacare money (et tu, DG?) and then, literally the next day, fly out to New Hampshire to give his balanced budget speech. To do so, he gamed the state process for approving programs, AND attributed it all to his Christian duty. (Local politicos joke about Kasich: "A good quarterback says to his team, 'C'mon guys, let's block and execute and we'll get that ball in the end zone'. John Kasich says to his team, 'If you assholes would get out of my way I could score'.")

So, sorry to see you are as bad at recognizing opportunity as Ken Blackwell, John (not to mention the entire Ohio Republican Party, whose solitary capacity is beating Ohio Democrats whose only brain is at the Consumer Finance Protection Racket), but it's been time for you to go since before you started.

AL In The Big Leagues

Angles Lansbury turns 90 today.  She was successful as a movie actress, often playing older women, or nasty ones. Her career has been long and varied enough to win her an honorary Oscar last year.  And in TV she starred in the long-running series Murder, She Wrote.  But it's on Broadway, particularly in musicals, where she was as big a star as you could be, winning five Tonys.









Thursday, October 15, 2015

Not by Cass Sunstein


Huh. The angle Cass took was entirely different. Who woulda thunk. It almost sounds like he's listening to an echo chamber.

Charitable works


"The 35-year-old former NBA player was discovered unresponsive by employees of the Love Ranch on Tuesday after spending several days at the establishment."

Never occurred to me that it could be multi-day. That's the difference between me and an NBA star and Kardashian husband, I guess. Time for a new ad campaign: "Goin' to Love Ranch."

How Far Can They Go?

When I first heard about the TV show Fargo, I was confused.  How would they make a miniseries based on the movie?  It turned out to be set in the same area, and have characters similar or related to the originals, but with a story of its own.

It also turned out to be pretty good (and I wasn't even a big fan of the movie).  It was over the top in places, and sometimes the writing strained to be literary, but it held together pretty well.  And now it's back for another season.

The film, which came out in 1996, was a period piece--though many forget that--set way back 1987 (allegedly about a true case, though the Coen Brothers made it up).  The first TV season, aired last year, also looked back, though this time to 2006, long after the events of the movie, but referring to them.  This new season is set in 1979, the era of Jimmy Carter's malaise, but once again features nods to the movie (and the Coens in general). But let's not worry about the period.  The accents and the quirkiness of the North are timeless.

With all the character thrown at you it takes a while to follow what's going on--you don't even know who will count and who will die. Though once name actors like Ted Danson, Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons show up, you figure they're going to stick around for a while.

Spoilers, but it's just the pilot: This season is about a crime family, the Gerhardts, based in Fargo.  The head of the family has a stroke, so it looks like his wife, Floyd, played by Jean Smart, may be taking over. One of the dumber sons in the family goes down to Minnesota to pressure a judge, and gets involved in a shootout in a "Waffle Hut." He kills three before getting hit by a car.

The crime is investigated by a state trooper (Wilson) and a local sheriff (Danson), who have a relationship and troubles of their own.  The driver of the car that hit the killer is Peggy Blomquist (Dunst,) who drives back home and parks in her garage with the unconscious killer still on top.  This is discovered by her husband, Ed, who ends up killing the man.  They decide to hide the crime.

On top of all this, others are trying to move in to take over the Gerhardt's territory.  So you've got a lot of crime and violence to unravel.  Enough, anyway, to last ten episodes.  Looks like it'll be worth it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

You're going to need a bigger hammer

It’s like taking a hammer and pounding into a dam, at some point we’re going to see some water.

I gather this is John's appeal to environmentalists. He might be better off talking to the Corps of Engineers (Simile Division).

(Seriously, though, doesn't that just sound like a Democrat policy? No nexus with reality whatever. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but the logic is even worse than his signature policy, JobsOhio. It's often true that the worst thing you can do to someone is quote them.)

Jay's Way

On Saturday Night Live, during the years when Lorne Michaels wasn't there, the two biggest names were Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo.  They were both known for their impressions, but Murphy went on to be maybe the biggest star the show ever produced, while Piscopo, though you could admire the technique behind his work, didn't have the comic life that Murphy offered.

Jay Pharoah, who turns 28 today, is now starting his sixth season on Saturday Night Live, and seems to be falling into the Piscopo camp.  He is known for his impressions, but has yet to make a big impression otherwise.  I recently watched his Showtime stand-up special Jay Pharoah: Can I Be Me? to see if he had anything to offer on his own.  Unfortunately, it doesn't look like he's got much beyond sounding like others.

He's energetic and professional enough that the proceedings don't flag, but his observations aren't particularly witty or incisive, and you end up waiting for the next impression.  Along the way, we get his Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle (he's better doing other comedians being funny than he is being funny himself), Kanye West, Barack Obama, Denzel Washington, Jay Z, Will Smith and, sure enough, Eddie Murphy.  But while the work is flashy, there's no depth, and not much originality.

So it appears, at least for now, Pharoah, though undeniably talented, isn't a major talent.  He's found plenty of other people entertaining, and can show you why, but he hasn't yet found himself.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Never The Twain

Mark Twain said "a classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read" (or some variation thereof).

Twain suffers less from this than most classics in that his books are fairly easy, enjoyable reads.  But it's a good point.  There are long lists of classics every educated person is supposed to have read but hasn't.  In fact, if you weren't required to read them in school, many are so forbidding that you just leave them on your bookshelf, if they make it that far.

Still, I was a bit surprised by this list by Ben Domenech at The Federalist: "The Top Ten Books People Lie About Reading." His evidence is that people often discuss these books with little understanding of them, but is that proof?  Here's the list, with my comments.

10. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

I've read it.  I didn't read any of Rand's novels when I was in high school or college, but after hearing so much about them I figured I should check out her major work.  First I read The Fountainhead.  It's long, and she's a pretty clunky writer, but she has a certain power and the book wasn't hard to get through.  Atlas Shrugged, her magnum opus, isn't as good, and the characters are less human, but I was still able to finish it without too much trouble, even though I skimmed through the chapter where John Galt makes his big speech explaining everything explicitly that the rest of the book is also trying to say (usually explicitly).

9.  On The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin

I've read it.  Though it does have some of the fussy style of the time, Darwin is a clear writer who makes his points elegantly. (Don't forget he wrote this quickly for publication, considering it a precis of a fuller work.) Domenech notes that many "pro-evolutionists" don't understand that 21st century biology has moved far beyond Darwin's understanding.  I doubt that's true, but in any case I don't get why Domenech thinks he has a point--people who have even a vague understanding of evolution may admire Darwin as a great thinker, but don't worship him as inerrant.

8.  Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Hey, that's two books.  I'll admit it, I've never read Les Miserables, though I have seem dramatizations.  (Can't stand the musical, by the way.)  It's on my list.  But Dickens?  He was a very commercial writer, and is generally a good read.  Does Domenech think A Tale Of Two Cities is the biggest selling novel of all because people buy it to not read it?

7.  1984 by George Orwell

You bet I've read it, and Animal Farm too.  When I was a teen. Don't know if it'd still hold up, but Orwell's vision of Big Brother is still hard to shake.

6. Democracy In America by Alexis de Tocqueville

I've read selections, but hey, this is a long book. Like the Federalist Papers, it's probably the kind of thing that works best in small parts.

5.  The Wealth Of Nations by Adam Smith

Except for a few excerpts, I haven't read it, but this book is very long and very dry.  It's the kind of work that's better read about than read directly.

4.  Moby Dick by Herman Melville

I read it in high school. It was a bit tricky, but impressive.  I've since read it as an adult, and while Melville throws a lot at you, the book is a delight.  (It's his later novels that are much harder to get through.)

3.  The Art Of War by Sun Tzu

In recent decades, this has become a hip book.  Good or bad, the "book" is more a longish pamphlet, so I expect plenty have read it.

2.  The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

Like Sun Tzu, another short book that anyone can finish.

1.  Ulysses by James Joyce

This is the kind of difficult book I expected would comprise the entire list.  I have gotten through it, and it's quite an achievement (the book, not reading it). Each chapter is done in its own style, which makes some parts easier than others.  On the other hand, while I may dip in every now and then, I can't imagine I'll ever read Finnegans Wake all the way through.

Monday, October 12, 2015

1492 And All That

Happy Columbus Day.  Who would have thought fifty years ago it would be so controversial?

The celebration has been around in the United States one way or another since the mid-1800s.  There was sentiment against it back then due to anti-immigration and anti-Catholic feelings.  That was eventually overcome and the day has been celebrated nationally since 1937.

But now, many see Columbus as a symbol of colonialism, slavery and genocide, and some historians note he wasn't a particularly nice guy.  Some states refuse to recognize the holiday.

Well, nobody's perfect.  We celebrate our Founders, and they were certainly flawed. Our newest national holiday celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr.--a great man, but far from perfect himself. (And yet how would those who won't recognize Columbus Day treat those who wouldn't recognize MLK Day?) When we celebrate such people, we celebrate the best in them, and the best we aspire to.

As such, Columbus Day is a celebration of the spirit of exploration, as well as a celebration of the Italian people.  That people in 1492 don't live up to our moral standards today isn't a good enough argument--in fact, it's a blinkered one. (Even more blinkered are the thoughts of opponents on the meaning of exploration, as well as how the world works, but that's for another post.)

So have a nice day. Kiss an Italian, but don't go to the bank.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Wow, Just Wow

It's hard to believe a coach can make such a difference, but the Michigan Wolverines, 5-7 last year, are now a dominating presence in college football under coach Jim Harbaugh.  Sure, he has great players, but so did Brady Hoke.  The difference is they're now playing like a fearsome, cohesive unit.

Yesterday was going to be the toughest test of the season--taking on a ranked, undefeated Northwestern.  It was the battle of two great defenses, but it sure didn't look that way.  The first play from kickoff was a 96-yard TD return for Michigan, and from that point on it didn't get any better for Northwestern.  Final score: 38-0.

The offense did a fine job, of course, as did the special teams, but the most impressive performance came from the defense.  This was their third shutout in a row. This team reminds me of the great 1980 Wolverines, the first coached by Bo Schembechler to win the Rose Bowl.  When you played that team, scoring a touchdown was an accomplishment. 

After the opening day 23-17 loss to Utah, I felt the Wolverines had improved under Harbaugh, but that this would be a transitional year.  Now, after five convincing victories in a row, I guess the transition is over.  A few weeks ago I thought this team was good enough to be top twenty, but now I think they're top ten, knocking on top five.

The question, then, is how will they stack up against other top ten teams?  Can they keep pressing when the going gets tough, or will they fold?  We'll know in a week.  Longtime nemesis Michigan State is coming to the Big House.  Not too long ago, most figured this would be a win, even a blowout, for the undefeated Spartans. Now it's too close to call, and I'm guessing they're getting nervous in East Lansing.

After the way the Wolverines manhandled the Wildcats, anything is possible. And if they can beat MSU, I can see them winning all the way up to the final scheduled game against Ohio State.  I don't think I've been this excited about a Michigan football team in over a decade.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. One week at a time.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Looking ahead

When I left for a 20 mile bike ride, OSU was tied at 21. A bit disappointed they pulled out. Always happy to see an early season loss. Keeps the traffic down.

On the other hand, Big Blue is starting the second half out strong, it looks like, though they did have to settle for a field goal. But hey, up 28-0, you can trade touchdowns for field goals the rest of the game.

More John

Yesterday, the Beatles.  Today, John Lennon's solo years.












Friday, October 09, 2015

Three theories

This story seems a bit hagiographic, that McCarthy is a wise man who sees the country needs an actual conservative Speaker.

Another story I read today implies it's a Bob Livingston situation. (You know, if you're a lying, cheating Democrat, we need to reward you and do what you say, but if you're a lying, cheating Republican, we need to destroy you and feel ashamed of your name.)

The third theory would be that the conservatives had the votes to torpedo him.

Of the three, I suppose I'd jettison the last first. Womanizer or wise leader? I'll go with womanizer for $500, Alex.

A new tack

I asked the three girls if they would take care of my monkey.

Time warp

This was an angry, petulant, lecturing leftist straight out of the Occidental teacher’s lounge. It was also the first time this country saw the real Barack Obama.

The first time? You mean the first time today? In the last 48 hours?

John

John Lennon would have been 75 today.  Some people think he's been overpraised because he was taken from us before his time. (Even Paul has hinted at this.)  Even if that's true, he's still my favorite Beatle, which makes him the best of the best.

Today, the Beatles.













Thursday, October 08, 2015

I would walk 5,000 miles

10,000 year lifespans?

No, thank you. We have a hard enough time finding something worthwhile to watch now.

Who knew?

THIS CASS SUNSTEIN PIECE ON THE SECOND AMENDMENT is just embarrassing.

I don't understand. Is he saying Cass is just a liberal, Clinton supporting hack? 

hey-hey, hey

Ohio Republicans now favor two GOP presidential candidates over their own governor,according to the latest poll released this morning.

PG Rated

Before I forget, let me recommend this season of HBO's Project Greenlight.  It's already halfway through, but at only eight hours complete, it'll be easy to catch up.

Project Greenlight is a reality show produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon where a director is picked to direct a low-budget film, funded by HBO.  In past seasons, he also sometimes wrote the screenplay.  PG ran for three seasons and then went on hiatus for a decade.  I'm glad to see it's back.

The show starts with the competition but spends most of its time on the making of the film.  Anyone who's ever worked on a film (especially with a limited budget) knows the process tends to be a series of disasters.  By the end, you're often amazed it got finished.  That's the drama the show tries to catch.

This season is as good as ever, maybe better.  Ben, Matt and the rest have a lot of talented directors to pick from.  (Spoilers)  This year, they pick 13 candidates (ten isn't enough) and let them direct a scene from the script they'll be shooting--a broad comedy.  Also on board are the Farrelly brothers, who know something about broad comedy.

The snippets they show suggest the candidates have talent.  One by one (or two by two when they have teams who direct) they interview them, and the oddest seems to be Jason Mann.  Unlike all the others, he's got serious problems with the script, and almost seems like he'd rather not make it. Needless to say, they pick him.  Perhaps it's because he was the most talented, but also maybe because they knew he'd make for a good show.

Mann proves to be as unmanageable as you'd expect.  He's tall and gaunt--looks like an ascetic who only lives for film.  When it's announced he's the winner, rather than celebrate, he starts making demands.  He wants to shoot on film and he wants the writer fired.  Firing the writing is a time-honored tradition in Hollywood, but Jason Mann is a nobody.  Pete Jones is the writer, by the way--you may not have heard of him, but he was the winner of Season One.  (They don't fire him--they'd probably already paid for his services.)

Jason makes another demand early on--replace the script with a different but similar comedy he wrote.  Following the modern cult of director, they accede to this demand.  Pete Jones goes along with it--he is a writer after all, so he knows his place. Incidentally, Jason learns to love Pete.

The demand for film is even crazier.  Some directors who can afford it still shoot on film, but it's a hassle and an unnecessary expense on a low-budget production.  But Jason digs in his heels (like he does on everything else) and eventually Ben, Matt and HBO agree to put up the extra money.

Aside from Jason, the other major character on the show if Effie, the hardnosed producer of the film in question.  She needs to keep Jason in line with reality. For instance, she takes him to see how video can look as good as film, but he won't have it.  She also rubs some people the wrong way.  In fact, she gets into a tiff with the Farrelly brothers, who walk off the project.  They thought they could be helpful mentors--they didn't sign up for this.

To be fair, it's hard to say what any of these people are really like.  Like any reality show, each half hour we see probably represents a hundred hours of video, and they cut to make it as dramatic as they can, and to make the characters as extreme as they can.

Anyway, with Project Greenlight half over, we haven't even started production yet. Instead, we see Jason reject house after house in Los Angeles for the main location because none have to "old Connecticut" look he's going for.  Jason, this is LA, what did you expect?  People are tearing out their hair--we're shooting in just a few days, we need time to plan.  Meanwhile, Jason complains about all the compromises he has to make. What compromises?

Most viewers probably find Jason a privileged, annoying creep, but no doubt some admire him. Here's a guy who was plucked out of obscurity, but he still sticks to his guns.  Maybe you have to learn to compromise to make a film, but don't we admire artists who do it their way no matter what (even when the result isn't that great)?  Maybe Jason is wrong, and maybe he's blowing it, but if this is his big shot, he doesn't see any point in doing it any way but his.  People with unflinching principles are no fun to be around--some are even dangerous--but once in a while, they get something accomplished.

The show will finish its run and then, presumably, the film will be released. It's a satirical comedy, as far as I can tell. The little snippets of dialogue here and there don't sound that promising, but it's impossible to tell out of context.

I suppose I'll go see it out of curiosity. I don't expect much.  I saw the first two Project Greenlight films, Stolen Summer and, The Battle Of Shaker Heights, and they were awful.  And box office flops as well. But I don't see Project Greenlight as a show designed to turn out a good film, even if that's their hope.  It's like American Idol.  The process is the fun part, but I never thought for a second I'd buy any music they were making.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

It's a miracle

ColumbusGal and I just saw "Sleeping with Other People," and the first hour was excruciating. We nearly walked out.

The last half it seemed to come together and we left the theater feeling pretty good about it. I guess if you have to pick a half, that's the one to pick. Alison Brie's sex addict act was fabulous--too good, ColumbusGal thought, because it fit a drama better than a comedy.

Screw Cruz, I'm going with Trump

Barry Diller Says He'll Leave the Country If Donald Trump Wins the White House

Are these people really so clueless that they can't remember the parade of idiots making this promise? Just hold to your word, Barry, that's all I ask. Well, that and add the entire list of Republicans to your list.

Genius is as genius does

You see apple pie and flags and eagles coming out of his ass when he talks.

Sunday, Sunday

A couple dramas just returned to cable, The Leftovers and Homeland.  Let's see how they're doing.

The Leftovers, based on Tom Perrotta's novel and created by Perrotta and Damon Lindelof, now starting its second season, is critically admired, even though it got no Emmy nominations.  The premise is simple--2% of all people on Earth mysteriously disappear.  The show is essentially about how people react to this event.

The first season concentrated on a small town in upstate New York, and centered on the Garvey family.  It featured good writing and solid performances, but had a serious flaw (which some supporters say is its strength)--there's no engine behind the show. It's all about people adjusting to loss.  There's no endgame, they're just living their lives, and for that matter there doesn't seem to be any headway on figuring out why those people disappeared, that's just a sad fact in the background.

The first season generally followed the novel, but apparently we're off book in the second.  We change setting to the renamed Texas city of Miracle, where no one disappeared.  To make it even more disorienting, we spend most of the show following an entirely new family, the Murphys, and don't even see any Garveys--who have just moved into town--until the second half.  (Actually, it's even weirder.  We start with a prehistoric prologue, where a woman loses her tribe, has a baby, gets bitten by a snake and dies.  Don't ask.)

The show once again features good, evocative writing.  The characters have their reasons--not always obvious--and their troubles, and things happen, including an earthquake at the end that causes a lot of pain.  But the show is still not going toward any goal.  Which is what makes The Leftovers more a mood piece than a mystery or a thriller.  It may be well done, but it doesn't feel first rank.

Homeland--a show that's won plenty of Emmys--is more familiar territory.  This is its fifth season and by now we know its tricks.  It's about CIA agent Carrie Bradshaw, along with boss Saul Berenson and special ops Peter Quinn, fighting terrorism. Sure, it's "sophisticated"--the terrorists are smart and allowed to make arguments for their side--but the fun stuff is the intrigue, the oversized emotions and the bursts of violence.

This season starts a couple years after the last.  Carrie is working for private security, which breaks Saul's heart.  She also seems better adjusted, and is raising her daughter. (The early hook of the show was her mentally instability, but apparently she's on her meds now and we've left that behind.) There's been a major leak and the CIA's work for the German government has been exposed.  So it looks like this season will spend most of its time in Germany.

In a way, Homeland has never recovered from its first season. It was fresh and new, and dealing with the specific story of a POW coming home and treated like a hero, while Carrie was the only one who could see he'd been turned. Maybe it would have worked better as a miniseries.  But the show has continued, and is a well-done thriller. There are a lot worse things.  This season looks pretty promising, actually, and I like the change of venue.  Now if only Carrie would rejoin the CIA we've got something.

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