Monday, November 30, 2015

Pete's Brilliant Songs

Pete Townshend and The Who had an amazing creative period from the mid-60s to the mid-70s, releasing one brilliant song or album after another.  Since then (for forty years!) they've been repackaging that brilliance one way or another--tours, compilations, live albums, movies, orchestral versions.

Which brings us to Classic Quadrophenia, which showed on my local PBS station over the weekend:

An  orchestral presentation of The Who’s 1973 groundbreaking album and seminal rock opera [....] Recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in October 2014 at London’s legendary Air Studios, conducted by Robert Ziegler, and featuring popular Decca-signed British tenor Alfie Boe on vocals, with Townshend himself on electric guitar and performing cameo vocal roles along with special guest vocals from Billy Idol and Phil Daniels.

I won't review it.  It's okay, I guess, but I much prefer the original album and the surprisingly good film version.

What intrigued me is how this is the classical music of the Baby Boomers.  Years ago they went to rock shows where they wore jeans, smoked dope and lost their hearing.  Now they wear suits, sip wine and applaud politely when the orchestra finishes a number.

Even better, this is a major fundraising event for PBS.  In fact, the breaks where they begged for cash seemed longer than the concert itself.   Back in the days when public television was young, the people behind it probably saw rock music as the enemy--commercial crap TV was forcing on youth.  I hope those people are still around to see things come full circle.

And I hope the Baby Boomers don't mind when this stuff is replaced by classical hip hop concerts.  Or will PBS ever go that far?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

It's Very Fancy

I recently watched Crossing Delancey--which happens to be on TCM today.   It's a small romantic comedy that was a modest success when released in 1988. Watching it now, you realize it's become a sort of time capsule.  For one thing, the lead, Amy Irving, plays Isabelle, a women with a job in a Manhattan bookstore. In fact, her cultural life seems to revolve around this place.  How much longer will we see that?

There are plenty of scenes taking place on the street, and the film has a romantic view of Isabelle's world (even if Isabelle isn't always thrilled by it).  I wonder if the passing of time has made it more romantic?  Though the movie itself has built-in nostalgia from its own period--we see a disappearing Jewish world, featuring Amy Irving's Bubbie (Reizl Bozyk, who'd been a star of the Yiddish stage) and a matchmaker (Sylvia Miles--though a little of her goes a long way).

What's surprising is how little action there is.  The script is by Susan Sandler, based on her play, and is directed by Joan Micklin Silver, who'd already made other small, fascinating art films, like Hester Street and Between The Lines.  Irving's dilemma is basically she isn't sure what she wants.

She longs for for author Anton Maes (played by Jeroen Krabbe, so you know he'll turn out to be a rotter), and is stimulated by the literary world, so when she's set up with Sam Posner (Peter Riegert), who runs a pickle store, she doesn't feel any spark.  In general, she says doesn't need a matchmaker, she's happy with her life,.

Still, Sam is a solid guy.  He's kind and gentle and understanding, and not stupid.  It takes Isabelle a long time, but eventually she gets it, and that's the movie. If she figured it out right away, we could go home early.

What holds the film together are the two leads.  I'd always considered Amy Irving beautiful (look at Carrie or The Fury if you don't believe me) but here she's aging just a little--still lovely, but not an impossibly young knockout who wouldn't be believable.  And while you can see a confident woman, you can also spot a little sadness. (Irving, by the way, is not helped by her curly hairdo.  Sometimes I wonder if certain directors didn't want to play down her looks.)

But it's Riegert who centers the film.  He's decent looking, but not dazzling--it would throw off the story if he were. His performance is surprisingly still.  He's charming when he needs to be, but mostly he's quiet, as if he understands he has value, and is willing to wait for Isabelle to discover him.

Riegert never became a big star.  He'd started out in Animal House, which got him plenty of notice, and then did some memorable work in Local Hero, but since Delancey has mostly done supporting work.  You never know.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Bee Gee

Today isn't a great day to be born--too close to Thanksgiving.  But hey, you play the hand you're dealt. And that's what Berry Gordy, founder of Motown records, has to do with every year.

He's best known as a mogul, but he started out as a songwriter, and kept his hand in, so let's hear some of his best stuff.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Happy Day After Turkey Day

Let the shopping commence.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Turkey Day

It's my favorite national holiday, Thanksgiving.  I'm sure we can all think of things to be thankful for, and when things are bad, remember they can (almost always) be worse.

So here's hoping you and yours have a good time.  And remember, when the whole extended family gets together, try to avoid those touchy subjects.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Has Yakov used this yet?

In Russia at Thanksgiving, Turkey shoots you.

Spirit of the Season

The link is too hard to organize, but this is an actual headline from Ohio's best newspaper (the Dayton Daily News) among the biggies (apparently it's from the Chicago Tribune):

"Is true meaning of Black Friday being lost?"

On Holiday

The film Holiday--the famous 1938 version, directed by George Cukor, starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant--is a bit of a bait-and-switch. It promises to be a comic romp, but turns down a dark alley before the happy ending. I saw the original play in the library and read it to compare.

It's by Philip Barry, a playwright best known for comedies about high society.  The movie follows his plot fairly closely, but it's always fun to see the same characters saying things in different ways.  It starts by introducing Julia Seton, a beautiful young woman from a rich New York family, and her fiancé Johnny Case, born poor but an up-and-comer. In most works you'd figure they're going to have some troubles but get through them, except if you know the lead is playing Julia's sister Linda (as you certainly do in the movie--Julia is Doris Nolan while Linda is Hepburn) you can figure how things will really end.

The play is about yearning for something more than money.  Some stock Johnny helped build up is about to make him a bundle (five figures at the time) and rather than work for decades more to become a millionaire, he wants to take some time off to enjoy life.  Julia can't understand it--she didn't need an idler for a husband--and neither can her father.  Linda, meanwhile, watches from the sidelines, but understands what he's looking for, and once she knows Julia doesn't want Johnny she snatches him up.  The main problem in the plot is how Julia and Johnny fell for each other to begin with.  They met not long ago in Lake Placid, and I guess it's an infatuation.  The trouble is the audience--and some of the characters--can easily see Linda's right for Johnny, but it takes a long time to get there.

I can understand why this plot had appeal to the theatre crowd in 1929, but movie audiences had a harder time buying it during the Depression when a good job was nothing to sneeze at. In addition, it's a little hard to buy Linda getting along with all the comforts she's used to, especially after we see her ordering the servants around whenever she needs something.  Maybe she'll be coming back to the bosom of her family before she knows it.

The biggest change in the movie, aside from how it's opened up (though not as much as it might--the movie is a bit stagebound), are Johnny's friends Nick and Susan Potter, who looks at things sideways.  In the play, they're high society people, but in the movie, trying to make them more relatable, they're of more common stock, if still eccentric.

Plays of the era can get pretty wordy. This may work on stage, but movies pare the talking down to the essentials, and with screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart preserving Barry's wit (as he'd also do in a couple years for The Philadelphia Story), the movie probably has better dialogue.  And as it worked out, Donald Ogden Stewart was featured in the original Broadway cast as Nick Potter, so he understood Barry.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Cass Sunstein to publish a book on Star Wars

The dark side of the force impedes proper reasoning is my takeaway

Not clear on the concept

How dare the Obama administration bail out insurance companies with our money in order to hide ObamaCare’s failures.

She's kidding, right? It's inherent in the design. Once the program is there, we can fix it into perpetuity, making it worse at every step. It's not like he tried to hide it. And you've always got propagandists like Krugman promoting the next fix.

Obama's retirement plan, working for you

"Nobody expected what happened last night"

What It's All About

I've never been a big fan of Michael Caine, but I recognize he's done a lot of interesting work. (My favorite film of his is probably The Man Who Would Be King.) I saw his autobiography The Elephant To Hollywood in the library and checked it out.  He wrote it five years ago, and it's actually his second memoir. The first he wrote about 25 years ago, when he figured his Hollywood career was coming to a close. How wrong he was, so he wrote another, though its still covers his life from the beginning.

Born in London in 1933, he saw both poverty and war in his childhood.  At a certain point, he figured he wanted to be an actor--couldn't see himself doing anything else.  There was some involuntary time off for national service and fighting in the Korean War, but aside from that he spent over a decade working in theatre, movies and TV to become an overnight success. His actual name was Maurice Micklewhite, but that wouldn't do.  For a while he was Michael Scott, but when he wanted to join the union, that was taken, so he changed in to Michael Caine in honor of The Caine Mutiny and his favorite actor, Humphrey Bogart.

His first big break was in the 1964 film Zulu, where he played an upper class British lieutenant, even though cockney came more naturally to him.  Tall, handsome and talented, he was soon offered lead roles, and made The Ipcress File and Alfie one after another.  Before you knew it he was an international star. The womanizing Alfie is still one of the roles he's most identified with.  These were British productions, and he was next invited to Hollywood, by Shirley MacLaine, to costar with her in Gambit.  Now he was really big time.

One thing about Caine--he believed in working.  For most of his career he's appeared in at least two films a year, perhaps figuring if this one doesn't work, the next one will.  He often played in action roles and crime dramas, but being in so many movies, there's hardly a genre he hasn't tried.

He's done a lot of memorable work, really too many titles to mention here.  So let me just list his Oscar nominated lead performances--Alfie, Sleuth (1972), Educating Rita (1983) and The Quiet American (2002).  Then there are his two Oscar-winning roles, both for Supporting Actor: Hannah And Her Sisters (1986) and The Cider House Rules (1999).

For years he was a leading man, but as he approached his 60s, he more and more played character roles.  Over the past couple decades, he's been, for instance, quite a few fathers of the lead.  Perhaps he's best known to young people today as Alfred the butler in Christopher Nolan's Batman movies.  So he went from Alfie to Alfred.  Quite a life.

Monday, November 23, 2015


"We have to find diverse revenue streams. We have to find alternative revenue streams.”

A classic example of "begging the question."


In the past decade or two there's been a revival of interest in Ernest Shackleton. He was never completely out of mind, but with books and documentaries and serials coming out, his story apparently strikes a chord today.  Maybe it's the stiff-upper lip way he has with his adventure, or maybe it's nostalgia for the end of the great age of exploration (followed by the modern age of instantaneous communication and world wars), but either way his story is compelling.

I knew the basic outline of Shackleton's tale, but after reading Nick Bertozzi's graphic novel Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey I feel like I was on the journey (without all the suffering).  We get introduced to all the people on the ship, what the plan was supposed to be and how it turned out.  I don't want to tell too much because I suppose some readers don't yet know and should be allowed to find out for themselves.

This isn't Bertozzi's first foray into historic adventure.  His previous book was about Lewis & Clark. Maybe I'll check that out, too.

Some treat the graphic novel as if it's for kids, but I think it's a respectable art form on its own.  The people who made Classics Illustrated retold famous novels this way, and perhaps that was a mistake--novels are words, and without all of them you lose their essence.  But history is about action as well as words.  And you know what a picture's worth.

Am I saying we should replace regular books with graphic novels in college courses?  Yes.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

P. F. We Love You

Caught up on this a few days late: songwriter P.F. Sloan has died.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Hey Mac

Dr. John turns 75 today.  He's been making music--rock and roll with blues and New Orleans mixed in--for most of his life.  And we're not tired of it yet.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Not So Easy

Fresh & Easy, a widespread grocery chain in Southern California, is shutting down all its locations.  A sad day indeed.

F&E originated in Britain.  The stores were small--at least compared to most of the supermarket competition--and catered to the same sort of patron as Trader Joe's, but was perhaps a bit pricier.  Still, not a whole lot.  I guess it couldn't take the competition, and didn't respond to the needs of the customers out here, but it can't all be about price.  Whole Foods is doing land-office business and it costs considerably more (not to mention is a lot more obnoxious about how special a place it is).

Fresh & Easy had fresh produce and well-made prepared foods.  It also had a friendly staff (you checked yourself out, and more than once I needed help when the computer broke down). I thought it filled a niche but today is just one more tale of bankruptcy.  It is a pretty tough market to crack, considering how much more the mega-chains offer than they used to, not to mention new competition from places like Target and even Amazon.

I've heard there's a chance a new concern will buy the chain, but will they reopen to stores, or will it be for the real estate?  And even if they do make them grocery stores, would it still be Fresh & Easy?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Malcolm In The End

Here's a pretty good discussion of Malcolm In The Middle at the A.V. Club by Matt Crowley.  The show lasted for seven seasons and never got the credit it deserved.  It was a family sitcom--an overworked genre--but was smarter, faster, sharper and filled with better sight gags than most.

My problem with the A.V. Club's piece, however, is the ending where it references Malcolm's finale.  Crowley thinks it perfectly caps the show, whereas I think it almost destroyed the previous seven years.. He quotes at length the big speech mother Lois makes to son Malcolm--about how his life has been hard because it was supposed to be hard.  No easy path for him--he needed to have a rough time so he can become President, and understand how people like his family have it tough, and do right by them.

The speech, by itself, is filled with stupid populist pieties--as if the problems we have are because politicians don't understand our plight.  But far worse, the idea that Hal and Lois actually had a plan the whole time, with Malcolm or any of their kids, rather than they were doing the best they could with what they had, is ridiculous. More than that, it makes the whole series a lie, and everything that happens a secret plot.  Every episode is weakened retroactively.

It also makes Hal and Lois cruel.  So they were torturing their smart son, and we're supposed to approve?  No, this show is about a hopeless family that can't do anything right, and takes it on the chin regularly, but keeps coming back for more.  For a fan there are only two choices regarding the finale: ignore it, or pretend that (once again) Lois is making up on the spot an absurd excuse for her actions.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

I clicked but the link didn't work

"Untold Superbowl stories"

The Dog, Or Who Is Sylvia?

I've long been a fan of A.R. Gurney, but though he's written numerous plays, he's only been represented on a Broadway a handful of times.  So I was surprised to see a revival of Sylvia is now on the Great White Way, starring Matthew Broderick and recent Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford.  Since I don't live in New York (see my name) I did the next best thing and read the play.

It was originally produced 20 years ago off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club, starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Charles Kimbrough and Blythe Danner.  The title character is a dog who comes into the life of a middle-aged couple faced with an empty nest.  The husband, Greg, is taken with her, but wife Kate sees her as a rival.

Half the fun is the concept: Sylvia talks.  But no one makes a big deal of it.  The characters converse with Sylvia, who thinks (mostly) like a dog.  Greg is suffering from a midlife crisis and needs Sylvia, while Kate wants to get on with their new life and doesn't want the commitment.  It's a comedy, but considering how silly it could be, the play produces some fairly deep emotions, and even intriguing love scenes, as it were, between Sylvia and Greg. It's mostly these three characters, but there's a fourth actor who plays three supporting roles--a man, a woman and someone in-between.

The main issue throughout is with Sylvia devoted to her master, and Greg obsessed with Sylvia, will Kate force her out of the house?  Or will Greg leave his wife behind and keep Sylvia? Gurney has managed to find a twist in the classic love triangle.  And the outcome is uncertain till the end--I won't spoil it for you.  But I'd like to see a production some day to see how it comes across on stage.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ten Little Indians

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said on Tuesday he was suspending his campaign for theRepublican nomination for president in 2016, saying it was “not my time."

Ah, Bobby, we hardly knew ye.

Investigative reporter nails it

"None of us ever thought this could be a movie,” Pfeiffer said. “We also thought no one wouldwant to see a movie about clergy sex abuse."

I've got a dollar that says it doesn't do as well as "Black Mass."

I bet it's better than Zuckerberg right now

Facebook will be 'better than humans at vision, hearing, language, and general cognition' in a DECADE, Mark Zuckerberg claims

John, Glenn and Kevin

In drama, death is good.  It gives a sense of finality, and means the stakes are high.  But in TV (and movies), threatening popular characters but keeping them alive is good business.  Thus we have several cases of seeming death in TV drama these days where fans wonder if it's final.

I think it goes without saying there'll be spoilers ahead, but if you watch these shows you know already, and if you don't watch them, it shouldn't matter.

The biggest name is probably Jon Snow in Game Of Thrones, who when last seen at the end of Season 5 was bleeding out after being turned on by his Brothers.  But is this the end?  Aparently the books don't offer an answer, but the show often doesn't follow the books so they wouldn't help anyway.

It would seem impossible--if the show has a linchpin, it's Snow, and for five years they've been teasing about his illustrious birth. If he dies, all that mystery and future die with him. What good is a song of Ice and Fire without the Ice?  But, as has been noted, there's magic on this show, and people have been known to come back to life--in fact, those who die up North come back in unpleasant ways--so few people think we've seen the last of Snow.

The Walking Dead is also magical, in a way, with zombies walking the Earth, but the rules are consistent (if ridiculous).  Glenn, a regular since the first season, was last seen several episodes ago in a dead end surrounded by hundreds of zombies.  It seems unlikely he has survived.  It would be fine with me if he died, since I'm not heavily invested in the show, and think he's one of the weaker characters as it is, but he has lots of fans who want him alive (though I hear he's died in the comic books).

But the real problem with the show is why anyone dies?  How did these zombies kill anyone after the surprise factor wore off?  They're slow and stupid, yet practically every episode some zombie--who are usually loud and obnoxious--comes out of nowhere to chomp down on someone's arm.  A properly organized force could march through any area and leave behind thousands and thousands of lifeless zombies without a single casualty.  Instead, Walking Dead characters keep ending up surrounded by zombies with no way out.

Finally, you've got a far less popular drama, but a more "real" one--I use quotation marks because it's a show about the aftermath when 140 million people vanish from the planet.  So magical things can happen, but the characters are otherwise grounded in fairly honest psychology.

The central character, if there is one, would be Kevin Garvey, former cop who has moved with his new family to a new city this season.  This being The Leftovers, nothing ever goes well. In the first season, we see the Garveys were pretty miserable even before the vanishing.  This year, things seem to be even worse, and Kevin is haunted by a women he saw die.  The rational explanation (and the one I buy) is he's having a psychotic break, not unlike what his father suffered.  But Kevin wants to get rid of this vision so much that he drinks poison which will allegedly lead to a cure.

So he seems to die at the end of the episode, and the man who promised to revive Kevin shoots himself. But then Kevin is led away, so perhaps he'll survive--we were never clear on how deadly that drink was, after all.  (And the posters show him swimming to the surface of some water, a scene they haven't had yet.)

The show without Kevin would be very different, and I hope he survives.  Still, everyone is so miserable on it, he'd probably be better off if he didn't come back.

Monday, November 16, 2015

I'd Almost Forgotten

Let me note that the story this weekend was what happened in Paris.  It may seem trivial to discuss college football after that, and maybe it is, but one reason you follow it is to have a little fun amidst all the bad news.

Anyway, the Jim Harbaugh era as coach of the Wolverines has brought back hope for fans.  And that's dangerous.  The previous several seasons, the team wasn't good enough to worry about.  Now that they're good--but not great--Michigan fans are reminded of how tough it is to care about a team that has so many close games.

Michigan lost its first game, but then won five in a row by solid margins with a defense that rarely gave up touchdowns.  But three of the last four games since have been coronary-inducing.  There's the disastrous Michigan State loss from a screw-up on the last play.  Then the Minnesota victory, where the Golden Gophers screwed up on their last play.

Next, after an easy time against Rutgers, we had this weekend's game.  I don't want to go into it too deeply because even tkough Michigan won 48-41 it was pretty hard to watch at times.  At first it looked like the Wolverines wouldn't have too much trouble handling the Hoosiers.  But Indiana didn't give up and suddenly seemed unstoppable, while the Michigan rushing defense collapsed.  At the same time, the Michigan offense wasn't doing its job.

In the fourth quarter Indiana easily marched across the field to take the lead, and then ran for the two-point conversion that was so easy you wondered if the defense was trying.  Now Michigan was a touchdown behind with two minutes left (thank goodness Indiana marched down the field so quickly).  They made it only after screwing up near the goal line more than once.  Then there were two overtimes, and Michigan pulled it out (when, some say, Indiana screwed up by not sticking to its running game).

This against a team that wasn't supposed to be so tough. Next comes Penn State in Happy Valley, which will be tough enough.  After that, for Thanksgiving weekend, we'll get to see the OSU game, which will be impossible.  A couple years ago you'd say "Who cares?"  But now that we do care, Saturdays are a lot tougher.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

That's Funny

The Writers Guild just voted on the 101 funniest screenplays ever.  As I've noted before, it's sometimes hard to tell whether it's the original screenplay or things that happened afterward that made the comedy work, but there's little question it all starts with words on a page.

The titles aren't too surprising--fairly predictable, in fact.  Here's the list with comments.

1. Annie Hall
Hard to complain about this one.

2. Some Like It Hot
Also should be up there.

3. Groundhog Day
Way too high--and not that funny for the funniest screenplays.

4 . Airplane!
Good choice, though I'm starting to thing the WGA is ignoring great comedies from the first half of the 20th century, which are as funny or funnier than anything else.

5. Tootsie
Good call, though this one was written by a bunch of writers and a star and director who fought every step of the way, showing how it sometimes works.

6. Young Frankenstein
Too high, and not even Mel Brooks' best.  (And a bunch of better stuff from Woody Allen should be above it.)

7. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Definitely top ten.

8. Blazing Saddles
More Mel.  Once again, too high (and not his best).

9. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Fair enough.

10. National Lampoon's Animal House

11. This Is Spinal Tap
This best screenplay was mostly improvised.

12. The Producers
Finally.  But boy, Mel has three in the top 12 while Woody has only one.

13. The Big Lebowski
From cult film to greatest pretty quickly.  Good, but too high (and I think Raising Arizona is better)

14. Ghostbusters
A lot of SNL people involved in this list.

15. When Harry Met Sally…
A solid screenplay, deserves to be on the list somewhere.

16. Bridesmaids
Ridiculous.  Shouldn't be on list.  Certainly shows it's weighted toward the modern.

17. Duck Soup
Should be even higher, along with other Marx Brothers scripts.

18. There's Something About Mary
Good to see this modern classic in top twenty. Perhaps the best comedy of the past quarter century.

19. The Jerk
Too high.

20. A Fish Called Wanda
Interesting.  John Cleese is the best writing Python, I guess.

21. His Girl Friday
Should be on list.  An update of a fine play--keeping much of the original--but the gender twist turns out to make it even better.

22. The Princess Bride

23. Raising Arizona
Good to see it made it.

24. Bringing Up Baby
It's taking a while, but we're starting to get the classic screwballs in (especially with Cary Grant and directed by Howard Hawks).

25. Caddyshack
Not much of a screenplay--not really that much of a movie, though fun.

26. Monty Python's Life Of Brian
Three Python or Python-related titles in the top 26.

27. The Graduate
Should be even higher.

28. The Apartment
Fair enough, but rated too high.

29. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Another improvised movie that the Guild thinks is a great screenplay. Could it be that they're judging the movie and not the script?

30. The Hangover
Maybe the best comedy of the last decade.

31. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
We're started to get into the world of Judd Apatow, though this movie, and presumably the screenplay, is a bit of a mess.

32. The Lady Eve
Finally, some Preston Sturges--maybe the king of comedy writers in Hollywood.

33. Ferris Bueller's Day Off *TIE
Good call. John Hughes' best.

33.  Trading Places *TIE
A well done piece--not sure if Eddie Murphy ever topped it.

35. Sullivan's Travels
More Preston, though I'm starting to worry they won't have my favorite, Hail The Conquering Hero.

36. Planes, Trains and Automobiles
A not so great piece from John Hughes.  An acceptable movie, but a top 100 screenplay?

37. The Philadelphia Story
A fine play, an even better adaptation.  Should be higher.

 38. A Night at the Opera
The second and I'm guessing only other screenplay for the Marx Brothers.  Should be higher.

39. Rushmore

40. Waiting for Guffman
One of Guest's best, and again, a "screenplay" that's largely improvised.

41. The Odd Couple
One of the funniest plays ever written, and a screenplay by the same author who doesn't screw it up.

42. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!
Pretty good, but maybe not top 100.

43. Office Space
Another cult film that made it big.  Well done, but not great, and falls apart in second half.

44. Big
Good choice.

45. National Lampoon's Vacation
A funny movie, if not the best constructed screenplay.  John Hughes gets one in before directing his own--in fact, they made so many changes to his script he felt he had to start directing.

46. Midnight Run
Pretty well done. Maybe should be on list.

47. It Happened One Night
Probably Riskin's (and Capra's) greatest.  Should maybe be top ten.

48. M*A*S*H
Should be much higher.  Ironically, Ring Lardner, Jr. was incensed by the liberties Robert Altman took (or at least was until he won an Oscar).

49. Harold and Maude
Another cult film.  Shouldn't be on the list.

50. Shaun of the Dead
Fun, but top 100?

51. Broadcast News
A bit long, but a great script by James L. Brooks, the kind of script you know was written, and I mean that as a compliment.

52. Arthur
Sort of a miracle--came out of nowhere and revived romantic comedy, and did it with really good jokes.

53. Four Weddings and a Funeral
Well constructed, maybe should be on the list, but not too high.

54. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy *TIE
Okay, but shouldn't be here.

54.  Dumb and Dumber *TIE
The second best by the Farrelly Brothers, but not sure if it deserves a spot.

56. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Launched a franchise, but too minor to make the list.

57. The General
About half the top comedies of all time are silent, but don't expect much love from the WGA.  Glad to see we finally got something.

58. What's Up, Doc?
A fun movie, and a tribute to older screwball (which is already on list, but some major titles are still missing).

59. Wedding Crashers
A good, modern (21st century) comedy, even if some have trouble with the third act.

60. Sleeper
Finally, more Woody. Hope we get Love And Death before we're done.

61. Galaxy Quest
A well done script, even if the film didn't get the respect it deserved at first.

62. It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
A massive monstrosity.  Shouldn't be on list, unless we're judging by length.

63. Best in Show
More improve.

64. Little Miss Sunshine
Decent, but shows modern bias.

65. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
I liked it, but really?

66. Being There
A tricky adaptation by the novelist that pays off.

67. Back to the Future
Brilliantly constructed script. Should be studied.

68. Superbad
Probably the best comedy from the Judd Apatow world, even if he didn't write it.

69. Bananas
More Woody.  Good.

70. Moonstruck
A beautiful script from a playwright who did it right.

71. Clueless
Good script, but not top 100.

72. The Palm Beach Story
I love Preston Sturges, but this title has been overrated--at least compared to his others.

73. The Pink Panther
Not the greatest script, but fun.

74. The Blues Brothers
A bit of a mess.  What is this doing here?

75. Coming to America
Another one of Eddie's best comedies.

76. Take the Money and Run
I think Woody has the most titles on the list now.

77. Election
Good, but overreated.

78. Love and Death
Woody does it again.  Should be even higher.

79. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels *TIE
An okay adaptation, but shouldn't be here. And if you want to pick something by Dale Launer, what's wrong with Ruthless People or My Cousin Vinny?

79. Lost in America *TIE
I was waiting for something by Albert Brooks.  This is his best and should be much higher.

81. Manhattan
I think Woody doubles anyone else.  Perhaps not a pure comedy, but why argue?

82. Modern Times
The funniest man of all time finally makes an appearance.

83. My Cousin Vinny
So they did get to this one.

84. Mean Girls
Okay, but not top 100.

85. Meet the Parents
Not even very good.

86. Fargo

87. My Favorite Year

88. Stripes
Fun film,  Nice to see it here.

89. Beverly Hills Cop
Shouldn't be on list.

90. City Lights
It's never too late for more Chaplin.

91. Sideways
A good film, but shouldn't be on list.

92. Broadway Danny Rose
I'm going to have to say this--enough Woody, already.

93. Swingers
An interesting choice. Deserves a spot.

94. The Gold Rush
Chaplin makes the hat trick, if a bit low.  This should probably be top ten.

95. The Miracle Of Morgan's Creek
No Hail, but I can't complain about more Preston.

96. All About Eve
An old classic that's overrated.

97. Arsenic and Old Lace
Fun, but they left out so many older comedies (including other by Capra, not to mention Lubitsch and La Cava and a few others) that I wonder why this chose this.

98. The Royal Tenenbaums
Probably doesn't deserve it.

99. Mrs. Doubtfire
What is this doing here?

100. Flirting with Disaster
Nice way to end the top 100.

101. Shakespeare in Love
Not a great way to start the next 100.

So that's the list.  Nothing too surprising.  A lot of greats that always make it, a bunch of relatively new stuff that will likely drop by the wayside as time goes on.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Timing award 2

John Kasich, 3:25 pm EST Nov. 13: Ohio Gov. John Kasich had harsh words for President  Barack Obama’s decision to send roughly 50 military advisors to support rebels in Syria’s civil war late last month.

John Kasich 6:30 pm EST Nov. 14: Because “an attack on one is an attack on all of us,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich says NATO must launch military action against ISIS in response to Friday’s terror attacks in Paris.

Kasich the hawk says he wants to "convene meetings immediately." Our man of action.

Go home John, go home. To DC, I mean. Or maybe Pennsylvania.

Bonus tidbit: How the press helps a guy out. Only Obama usually gets this treatment, but hey, it's a hometowner.

"He did take issue with Obama’s plan to admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. over the next year. While he came out in support of the proposal about two months ago, he changed his mind a couple of weeks later after an admission by the Obama administration that it could not weed out terrorists from the flow of refugees."

Well, hell, I'd change my mind too. I didn't know that.


Who gets the best timing award?

Candidate No. 1:
Stanley Greenberg for "Why 2016 could be shattering for Republicans," the logic of which is "It is easy to imagine, then, that after the coming shattering election, some Republican leaders will repudiate this campaign’s anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim appeals and actively embrace the United States as an immigrant nation"

Candidate No. 2:
Hussein Obama, "We have contained them"

 (To be fair, Obama was probably focused on Netanyahu.)

Project much?

Why aren't conservative intellectuals disgusted with the GOP?

Oh, we are Damon, we are.

They Say It's Their Birthday

Some musical birthdays today.

First, it's the birthday of Frederick Garrity, lead man of Freddie and The Dreamers.

Then there's Cornell Gunter, singer in The Platters and The Coasters.

How about singer-songwriter Stephen Bishop, who had a number of hits but might have been most memorable in Animal House.

Finally, we've got Joseph Simmons, the "Run" of RUN-D.M.C.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Older Man

Were Neil Young's best years behind him when the 70s ended?  I can't tell you that, but I can tell you he still had plenty of good stuff left in him.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Not that I care that much, but Iowa is number 5, based on wins over Wisconsin and Northwestern? A bit hard to believe there isn't a stronger candidate on deck than that.

If those assholes would just get out of his way, he'd win

I’d thought that Kasich might be engaged in an elaborate tactical bank shot. First, get on the radar screen by any means necessary. . . .  part two of the strategy, I’d assumed, would be a pivot — once he had found his footing, he would move back to the right. Kasich was conspicuously not doing that in Milwaukee, however. Instead, he was going out of his way to pick fights with other Republicans, usually to prove how moderate he was.

Maybe that pivot is still coming — there’s still time in New Hampshire, especially if someone like Carson wins in Iowa. But Kasich’s declining numbers in the state are a sign that he may already have worn out his welcome.

No worries, Nate. John's got 'em right where he wants 'em.

Either that, or you're overthinking it.

Old Man

When I joined this blog I answered some questions, and you can still see today, in my profile, one of my favorite musicians in Neil Young.  Well, Mr. Young--a name that gets more ironic each year--turns 70 today, so let's all sing along with Neil.

Today, the 60s and 70s.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

This is a felony?

It really is time for the revolution.

Maybe this could justifiably be a minor misdemeanor. Better to arrest them on disorderly and let them spend a night in the tank and let them go the next morning without charges. Or, you know, tell them to knock it off.

But why worry about this, when the University of Missouri is about to shut itself down? No sane person would attend, but they'll attract lots of insane "scholars." That's an alumni organization to watch.

Post throws Hillary under the bus

Never, ever, ever, not in a million years, would I have expected the Post to trash Hillary Clinton. Apparently they do have integrity after all.

The Post's View: The Truth Still Matters

Where It's AT

Allen Toussaint has died.  He was a musician and producer, and, above all, a fine songwriter.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

At Your Leisure

I finally got around to watching The Leisure Class.  It's the result of this season's Project Greenlight, an HBO show about the making of a film.  So I know all about the behind-the-scenes story, but what of the film itself. It's gotten pretty bad reviews, but were the critics and audience lying in wait after seeing the reality show?

Those who watched Project Greenlight know The Leisure Class was not the film they originally set out to make.  There was a script for another comedy--Not Another Pretty Woman--that was tossed overboard when they chose contest winner Jason Mann to direct the film.  Mann felt that script was too broad, not the kind of comedy he liked, and wanted to adapt a short film he'd worked on--a more satirical piece.  He got his wish.

We don't know much about the original script, which was by a professional comedy writer, but the scene we got to see--something about speed dating or a blind date, I'm not sure--looked like it might hold some promise.  Meanwhile, Mann's plot, about some jerky guy ruining his brother's upper class wedding, felt cliched and tiresome even before the cameras rolled, and the few bits we got to see in Project Greenlight looked weak.

But maybe Mann had something to say, or some exciting plot twist.  Alas, not so.   The Leisure Class, which takes place over 24 hours, is about William, about to marry into Fiona's rich and powerful family, with the blessings of her parents Edward and Charlotte.  Then brother Leonard shows up and messes up everything.  It also turns out William himself is a con man who's fooling his fiancé and her parents about his past.

There are possibilities here, but from this point on the motivations make little sense.  It's hard to believe William and Fiona care about each other, though we're told they do.  It's hard to believe no one could find out about William's past, even though Edward has looked into it.  It's hard to believe Fiona's sisters Carolyn and Allison act as they do--one highly suspicious, one hot for Leonard (basically channeling Isla Fisher from Wedding Crashers--in fact, this film owes a lot to Wedding Crashers).

Leonard himself has no motivations, except mindless malevolence.  And after some farcical goings on which are hard to buy, we get into a more dramatic situation--the film changes tone, though it hasn't earned it--and we're suddenly bringing up issues of money and elections and family and so on that don't mix together or make much sense. (The whole concept of this moneyed family, by the way, seems old-fashioned, like it came out of a 1930s film.)  And then when everything is revealed and William and Fiona decide to get married anyway and the father goes along with it, you feel a reel is missing explaining why any of them would do such a thing. The film then stops, more than it ends.

Most of the comedy comes from the two brothers, played by Ed Weeks and Tom Bell, simply riffing on the situation and spinning absurd lies.  They get a few laughs, though it's hard to buy the others accept them, and in any case what they're doing is not very satisfying plotwise.  Meanwhile, the three sisters, not to mention their parents, played by veterans Bruce Davison and Brenda Strong, are stranded by the script.

This is the fourth film to come out of Project Greenlight. Right now they're 0 for 4.  But I hope they keep going.  I didn't like any of the songs to come out of American Idol either, but I did enjoy the show.

Monday, November 09, 2015


There have been a number of Hollywood films about the blacklist.  Most can't capture the feeling of the times because it's hard to relate to--we just don't care about communists today, so it all seems crazy.  Yes, it was crazy, but not quite in the way we think of it.  Imagine, say, a film about the government uncovering a fascist conspiracy in the 40s and you might start to get the feeling.

The new film about Dalton Trumbo--probably the most important screenwriter to be blacklisted in the 1950s--looks at this era.  It has the same trouble as those other films.  But on top of that, the filmmakers can't help but comment in ways that exploit the prejudices of today, so (mixing old and fake-old footage) they try to show Ronald Reagan, then president of the Screen Actors Guild, as someone who sold out his people in his testimony to HUAC.

You can certainly make this argument, but Reagan (as is so often the case) was a least a little more subtle than his critics.  For one thing, communists were trying to infiltrate Hollywood unions and incite violence. They also threatened him personally, saying they'd throw acid in his face.  So if this was a witch hunt, there were some real witches.

But the most unfortunate thing is movies like Trumbo imply Reagan was willing to destroy rights to get at the communists.  It's not that simple.  Here's the closing of his testimony:

MR. REAGAN: In opposing those people, the best thing to do is make democracy work.  [....]  As a citizen, I would hesitate to see any political party outlawed on the basis of its political ideology. [....] I never as a citizen want to see our country become urged, by either fear or resentment of this group that we ever compromise with any of our democratic principles through that fear or resentment. I still think that democracy can do it.

For some reason, this part of his testimony never makes it into any film.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Give Them Some Credit

There are a number of channels devoted to old TV shows from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s.  I don't mean the ones that show Friends or Seinfeld or The Simpsons, etc.--that's too modern (though eventually 90s shows and beyond will be slotted into the really old file).

There's TVLand, for instance, though I rarely watch it and don't particularly like its schedule (which includes plenty of new shows).  I much prefer MeTV, followed by Antenna TV and COZI TV.  They feature the shows of my youth, as well as the shows that were in reruns during my youth.

One thing bothers me, though. The credits.  Shows used to be longer because there were less commercials.  So the question becomes how to fit them into half hour or hour slots.  MeTV seems to be the best, apparently keeping the originals--or am I missing something?

But Antenna TV runs the end credits on one side of the screen while playing the opening credits of the next show on the other side.  Don't like this at all.  One of the nostalgic joys of watching these shows is seeing a time when there was so little competition, and so few remotes, that a program could spend plenty of time showing credits week after week, even if they offered nothing new.

Worst of all is COZI TV, which often cuts out the end credits altogether, or shortens them greatly.  Sometimes to opening credits as well.  Not only do I not get to hear the entire theme song of, say, My Favorite Martian, but I don't even get to find out who the guest stars are.

It's enough to drive you to premium cable.

Saturday, November 07, 2015


Joni Mitchell is recovering from a stroke.  I wonder if she listens to her music to cheer herself up.  I know other people do (even though her music can be dark at times).

Anyway, today is her 72nd birthday, so let's hear some of that great catalogue.

Friday, November 06, 2015

The revolution is upon us

Exxon Mobil Investigated for Possible Climate Change Lies by New York Attorney General

This guy needs to be taken out of office.

Any divorce lawyer has known this since representing his first husband

Getting The DTs

Donald Trump will be hosting Saturday Night Live this weekend.  Considering his notoriety, it's a pretty major get.  Still, even as a former host of a reality TV show, no one expects him to have comic chops.  In general, I prefer SNL to make fun of politicians, not have them on the show.  But they do have a long record of political cameos (such as a recent Hillary appearance) as well as the occasional hosting job.

So I can't blame them for taking Trump, even if it'll damp down the entertainment value as it ups the controversy.  I'm more surprised Trump took it, since you'd think he has better things to do.

All too predictably, a lot of people, including politicians who should know better, are protesting, essentially arguing that people who have politics different from theirs shouldn't be allowed on TV.  And some entertainment writers, who should know better, are saying it's a mistake for political reasons.  Who?  Well, a couple examples are Brian Lowry in Variety--"By Booking Donald Trump, 'SNL' Looks Like The Biggest Loser"--and Dennis Perkins at The A.V. Club--"Donald Trump Threatens To Wipe Out What Political Relevance SNL Has Left."

I'd recount their arguments except they don't have any.  The articles are hissy fits from people who can't stand Trump's politics.

I guess I'll watch.  I usually watch the show anyway, though mostly through force of habit.  But if Trump is better at comedy than, say, Steve Forbes, I'll be shocked.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

That'll empty the stadium

'Rumblings' of Super Bowl Boycott After Houston Equal Rights Measure Rejected

Are these the kind of people we want to listen to?

That's Gross

Celebrities sometimes say controversial things, but it takes a lot for something to hurt their career.  But this doesn't stop conservatives from hoping they'll crash and burn every time they speak out politically (often in stupid ways, but who cares).

John Nolte at Breitbart has been on a tear lately about how big names have been hurting themselves with their political statements.  For instance, he thinks Seth Rogen's profanity-laced attack on Ben Carson is the reason Steve Jobs tanked.  First, Steve Jobs didn't do well because it's an undramatic gabfest.  Second, most people don't even know Seth Rogen's in it--he's not the lead, after all, though after reading Nolte you might think he is.  Third, all of Seth Rogen's biggest hits have been raucous comedies--the few times he's done more serious films his audience didn't show up.  He does have a wild comedy coming out in a couple weeks, but if it tanks--as some of his comedies have--it'll be because it doesn't deliver, not because Seth Rogen fans are offended on behalf of Ben Carson.

Nolte also believes Sicario failed because of lead Emily Blunt's statements about America.  Actually, what she said was pretty mild, and not widely publicized.  But I wouldn't even say Sicario flopped. It's doing decent business for a relatively low-budget film without the kind of names that open movies.  The idea that the audience was planning to bust down the doors until Blunt said something stupid doesn't wash.

Nolte needs to learn not all films are blockbusters.  In fact, we've just had major flops from Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper and Bill Murray, though I don't recall them shooting off their mouths recently.  Or look at The Walk, directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring Joseph-Gordon Levitt.  It's a sweet film that certainly says nothing bad about America, but the audience stayed away in droves.  That's show biz.

Now there's Quentin Tarantino, who has gotten himself into hot water for saying some nasty things about the cops.  Many police unions are calling for a boycott of his upcoming The Hateful Eight.  I doubt this will have much effect on the grosses, but the trouble is it'll be had to tell.  His last two films, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, were the biggest hits of his career. I've been expecting The Hateful Eight to do less well, since it's--or so I've heard--a smaller film, mostly set in and around a cabin and lasting three hours.  But I'm sure if it doesn't break records, John Nolte will be claiming another scalp.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Can't we all just have a dedicated funding stream?

No bias in that headline, no sir.

Is that a Marvel property?

The US has overtaken Singapore, Luxembourg and the Cayman Islands as an attractive haven for super-rich individuals and businesses looking to shelter assets behind a veil of secrecy, according to a study by the Tax Justice Network (TJN)

(See, they're going to use "TJN" later in the story.)

Felix, Felix, Felix

Felix Mendelssohn died on November 4, 1847, only 38 years old.  I wonder if it would comfort him to know that two centuries later his music is still alive.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Anywhere but here

Add David Brooks to the list of idiots (I know; but he's eligible multiple times):

If Trump Is Republican Nominee "I Will Have To Go To Canada"

So cool black people want to be him

Rollins On

Henry Rollins made some interesting music with Black Flag.  Now he has a regular column in the LA Weekly, and it's not nearly so interesting. If he wrote about music, it'd be great, but most of the time it's his latest political harangue.  And once you get past the thicket of clichés, there's not much there.

Look at a recent piece, "I Am Basically A Vinyl Cat Lady." He explains his money is spent on essentials and music.  Now that could be a worthwhile theme--the necessity of music, or what it means to him.  But he can't help himself and in no time at all is back to mindless politics. (I was going to say posturing, but he really may believe it.)

Somehow he gets to how we're despoiling the Earth. An oldie, but a goodie. You'd at least think he'd admit we do it so that more people (not just raw numbers, but percentage-wise) are benefitting, but he seems to think only a small group of rich bastards get to enjoy the bounty.

Among the problems--we're "super busy mutating crops and livestock."  Ah, so that's the culprit.  It's true, we do genetically modify our food (and other thing plants and animals provide). We've been doing it since humanity began, and before that animals and plants were doing it.  True, in the last fifty years or so, we've gotten better at it.  Thus the abundance all around us (that allows us to worry about things like harming the planet because we're not busy saying "we need food or we'll die" or "we need to cure this plague or we'll die").

He goes on about the march of folly:

Despite catastrophic famine [...] of millions of Soviets by their own leader, Joseph Stalin, thousand cried [when he died, just as they will with Dick Cheney].

We pine for the "good old days," when people knew their place and things were better.  The Great Famine, aka the Irish Potato Famine, wasn't so bad!

It's good to know Rollins at least acknowledges thing were bad in the days before we started "mutating" our food.  But it takes a lot of nerve to bemoan massive starvation in the past when much of it could have been avoided if they had genetically modified foods then as we have today.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Voted Off The Island

I'd heard good things about The Secret History Of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore, but it wasn't at my local library.  What it did have was Wonder Woman Unbound by Tim Hanley, so I checked that out.

The superhero age started with Superman in the late 1930s, and among all those he-men was a lone woman who lives on to this day.  Wonder Woman was different from the start, and not just because of her chromosomes.  Most superheroes have origin stories where some tragedy sets them on the path--Batman's parents die, Superman's planet explodes.  Wonder Woman's story is one of triumph.  She lived with the Amazons on Paradise Island when Steve Trevor, a U.S. intelligence officer, crashes his plane there.  Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman, nurses him back to health and then wins a competition to be chosen to go back to the Man's World with Trevor to fight crime (and Nazis).  Soon after, she's chosen to be the secretary at the Justice Society Of America.

The comic was created by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist who also invented the polygraph.  Marston wanted to create a female superhero because he thought woman were superior to men.  And Wonder Woman would show girls what their ideal could be.  She'd have the tender characteristics associated with women, but also superhero strength. She had numerous other powers , including bracelets that made her bulletproof and the lasso of truth (like a polygraph).  However, she'd lose her strength if a man could bind her bracelets.  This became a plot point--it seemed Marston was into bondage, and Wonder Woman has got to be the most tied-up superhero of all time.

The comic was ahead of its time. Ironically, as the women's liberation movement grew, Wonder Woman receded.  For a while, starting in the late 60s,  she gave up her powers.  She ran a boutique and started wearing mod clothes.  In general, while woman were advancing in society, she became more girlish.  Later, she also got married to Steve Trevor. On top of which, her origin story kept changing.

DC comics rebooted all their superheroes in the 1980s, trying to simplify what had become too complicated.   Wonder Woman got a little tougher--too tough, maybe, since she seemed more willing to kill.  In the past few years, she's been rebooted again.

Wonder Woman has become a symbol of powerful women, and she appears throughout our popular culture.  There was a Wonder Woman TV series in the 1970s, and many people still have the image of Lynda Carter in their head when they think of the character.  There's never been a major WW film, even in an era when Ant-Man gets his story told...until now.  Gal Gadot will play Wonder Woman in the upcoming Batman v. Superman movie, after which she will star in her own eponymous film.  After that, she'll play an important part in the Justice League films, which Warner Brothers hopes will become its own Avengers.  If it doesn't, I guess she goes back to the Island.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

It ought to be easy to come by

Isn't that the problem to begin with?


November already?  You know what that means.  It's National Model Railroad Month.

You may think we only need a day, or perhaps a week, for model railroads.  After all, May 12 this year was National Train Day.  If actual trains only need a day...

But what do you know? There have been millions of model railroad fans, including Rod Stewart, Neil Young, Ringo Starr, Buster Keaton, Roger Daltrey, Fred Rogers, Johnny Cash, Peter Sellers, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Tom Brokaw, Tom Snyder, Gene Hackman, Warren Buffet, Winston Churchill, Mandy Patinkin, Tom Hanks, Eric Clapton, Gary Coleman, Phil Collins, Bob Costas, John Entwistle (his name makes more sense for this than Roger Daltrey's), Merle Haggard, Michael Jordan, Sally Jesse Raphael, Bruce Springsteen, Donald Sutherland and Mel Torme.

So there.

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