Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A College Widow Stands For Plenty

One of the friends of this blog is Matthew Coniam, who has his own blog on the Marx Brothers.  He spent much of 2014 writing a book on the team, and it's available on Amazon today.  Entitled The Annotated Marx Brothers, it'll be a fine addition to any comedy collection.

He goes through each film, explaining obscure references--lines that may have been clear in the 1930s, but baffle today's crowd.  And if I know Matthew, he'll do it in his inimitable and quite humorous style. (Also, I sent in some comments to his blog and I hope he's used some of my suggestions.)

It's never too early to buy Christmas gifts, so get on it.  I've already ordered my copy.

Dead Done

I didn't like the idea of a TV show about zombies.  Zombies in a movie with an ending I get, but the relentlessness week after week would get tiresome.  So at first I didn't watch The Walking Dead which nevertheless managed to become TV's biggest phenomenon.


Eventually I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, so I started watching and caught up during the fourth season.  The fifth season, which just ended, was the only one I watched as it was being aired.  I haven't changed my view much: it's not a bad show, but is far from great. It tries for some psychological depth, but generally fails, and much of the action is repetitive.

Still, the fifth season was maybe the best since the first.  It had a somewhat different plot from the usual--normally the main group has to fight nasty people (along with the zombies), but this season they had to live with people who were nicer than they were.  I especially liked Carol.  She started as a weak, abused woman who had to learn how to be tough.  This season allowed her to pretend to be a quiet homemaker to cover just how tough she's become.

But really, how much longer can this show go on?  Do the math.  Even if humans are outnumbered 100-1 by zombies, at the rate our heroes are killing them, they'd be pretty much gone by now.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Martin O'Malley smirked?

But when asked when he would announce his campaign, Mr. O’Malley smirked, saying: “I will make a decision this spring.

Smirked? Doesn't sound like a reporting verb. Of course it's the New York Times and they gave up on reporting long, long ago.

I do like it, though. Reminds me of Smurf. Now I can see O'Malley only in deep blue. I wonder which one he is?

EC Listening

Today would have been the 60th birthday of Randy VanWarmer.  You've forgotten already?  He's the guy who did "Just When I Needed You Most."

Okay, forget it, we'll do a tribute to Eric Clapton, who turns 70 today.














Sunday, March 29, 2015

Today's comedy

Speaking of art house films, we saw "Wild Tales" yesterday at the best of our local art houses, and boy was that brutally funny. It has the ColumbusGuy household stamp of approval, for sure.

Kidding

I just watched the original Heartbreak Kid, released in 1972.  Starring Charles Grodin, it's directed by Elaine May and written by Neil Simon.  I haven't seen it in at least twenty years, and this time around, certain things stuck out.

First, this was a mainstream hit comedy back then, but it's practically an art film by today's standards.  The film has some scope--set in New York, Miami and Minnesota--but most scenes are just two people talking for fairly long periods of time.  Comedies today require more action, and more editing.

Second, though Jeannie Berlin is quite memorable as Grodin's first wife--she deserved her Oscar nomination--I didn't know Elaine May's work so well last time I saw it.  Now that I do, I couldn't help but notice, as May's daughter, how similar her voice sounded.  Since Elaine May is a gifted comic actress, it actually made me wish she was playing the part.  I guess she was too old, though just the year before she played, in essence, the ingénue role in A New Leaf, also directed by May.  And she did a great job in that underappreciated gem.

Third, this is a rare Neil Simon screenplay that doesn't seem like a Neil Simon screenplay.  He wrote a ton of movies and most feature his wisecracking style.  This time the story, though comic, gets most of its laughs from the characters simply being their outrageous selves.  This could be because he's adapting a Bruce Jay Friedman story (which I've never read) and, as opposed to most of his films, which are either adaptations of his own work or original ideas, he wanted to remain true to his source.  Or perhaps it's the hand of May, who was a fine comic writer herself

Fourth, there's the acting.  There are really only four full characters in the film--Lenny (Grodin), his wife Lila (Berlin), Kelly whom he chases after (Cybill Shepherd) and Kelly's father Mr. Corcoran (Eddie Albert).  They may all be giving their best movie performances ever, probably thanks to May. They play something close to caricatures--Albert as the stern father (another Oscar nomination) and Shepherd as the vacuous blonde--but they play them all so straight and serious that the film seems to take place in something mirroring the real world, but not quite.

Fifth, I've been told that the filmmakers may have changed the meaning of the original story by making the first wife so Jewish and the second so Waspy.  Lenny can come across as a Jewish kid on the make who dumps his first wife on their honeymoon when he's got a shot at a shiksa goddess.  Apparently the women weren't quite so different in Friedman's original.  In any case, I think that misses the point.  Lenny is a voracious but empty man who always wants, and when he gets something, wants something else.  He becomes obsessed with whatever's in front of him, but he can never be fulfilled.  Sounds like a fun comedy, doesn't it?

By the way, the Farrelly Brothers remade The Heartbreak Kid with Ben Stiller in 2007, but aside from keeping the basic plot, changed it so much that it's a different thing.  Too bad it doesn't work.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Tour De Farce

Don't ask my why, but I was reading a review of an old Washington, D.C. production of A Funny Thing Happened On The Forum.  It's by Sophie Gilbert, a Londoner who's written for Slate among other places. A couple of excerpts:

Ignore the hoary old plot, so dated even Pliny the Elder might turn up his distinctly Roman nose, and focus on the [Stephen Sondheim] songs, which are [...] just lovely.

In the season of festive frivolity, you could do worse than snigger at [Burt] Shevelove and [Larry] Gelbart’s gags, even if they’re older than Rome itself.

So the writing is old and tired?  Shevelove and Gelbert don't try to hide the inspiration of Plautus, and they take basic characters and situations from Roman farce, but the gags are theirs and the plot is far more involved than any ancient (and most modern) farce. If the show is so tired, why was it a big hit on Broadway and why has it been such a popular show since? (And how many revivals of Plautus has Gilbert seen?)

She does praise the songs.  After all, it's Sondheim and critics know what they're supposed to say. But there was a time they didn't know they had to love Sondheim--this was his first full score whent he show opened. Originally the critics were drawn to Forum's hilarious libretto, but generally didn't think much of the music.  In fact, at the 1963 Tony Awards, the show won Best Musical, Best Producer, Best Script, Best Lead Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Direction.  Not only didn't it win best score, Sondheim wasn't even nominated.  How the tables have turned.

PS  Pliny the Elder lived two centuries after Plautus, so maybe Plautus was old hat to him. I still think he'd have liked this show.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Lee Way

Like many people of her era and political temperament, Lee Grant had an interrupted career.  In the late 1940s, in her early 20s, she got a part on Broadway in Detective Story (she was offered the ingénue role but wisely asked for a smaller but better character part) and got to repeat it in the hit film version, earning an Oscar nomination.  She was on her way up when she got blacklisted.  The prime years where she might have been a leading actress in Hollywood were lost.

In her memoir I Said Yes To Everything, Grant discusses the inner turmoil she went through in great detail.  In fact, much of the book is inner-directed.  Much of it is about troubled personal relationships with her friends, lovers and children.  Often I wish she spent more time talking about her projects.

She was born Lyova Rosenthal in 1927, growing up a fairly pampered only child on the Upper West Side.  She tried a lot of different arts--singing, dancing, etc.--before recognizing her talent lay in acting. Blossoming into a beautiful young woman, she soon got work.  She also trained at the Actors Studio, learning from one of the main exponents of the Method, Sanford Meisner.

Grant had never been particularly political, but working in New York theatre at the time, she naturally fell in with those on the Left, often agreeing with their viewpoints.  When the government started investigating communists, and the blacklist started, Grant was caught up in the net.

She kept working in theatre and TV shot in New York, but Hollywood was out until the mid-1960s.  Grant was now looking at 40--a dangerous age for movie actresses.  She got a facelift and was careful about makeup, but really it was her talent that kept her in the game.  She ended up doing a lot of fascinating projects, appearing in movies such as In The Heat Of The Night, The Landlord, Plaza Suite, Shampoo, Voyage Of The Damned and Defending Your Life.  She won as Oscar for Shampoo.  She also played the lead on Broadway in Neil Simon's hit The Prisoner Of Second Avenue, appeared in numerous TV shows and had a fairly successful career as a TV director.

Though much of the book is about her inner life, there are a fair number of interesting stories about her work.  There was the time she had her period on stage while appearing in Arms And The Man.  Or her trouble with Two For The Seesaw--a play she turned down that became a hit.  She was replacing Anne Bancroft but wasn't ready, so co-star Henry Fonda essentially had to carry her through the second act. On the other hand, late in the run of Prisoner Of Second Avenue, she went up on her lines and co-star Peter Falk looked at the audience and gestured to her--it was traumatic enough that she never went on stage again.  And even in movies and TV she worried about remembering her lines.

Interrupted or not, it's been quite a career.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Classy

People enjoy Downton Abbey partly because it's a romanticized view of the past--an elegant lifestyle where everyone had a place.  Of course, if you were downstairs, your place was drudgery and poverty, but never mind.  Still, even as the audience is fascinated by the class system, no one beleives in it any more.  Which is why so many of the plots are built around people attacking these distinctions, and those who try to uphold such traditions generally look foolish.

What fascinates me is how people could believe in something that seems so artificial--even ridiculous--today, building their society around it.  And how did attitudes change?  The play Pygmalion, which deals with the class system, was first performed in 1912--the same year the story of Downton Abbey starts--and was set in the present.  The successful 1938 film adaptation was also set in its present.  You barely notice, but when Higgins is out on the street dodging cars of the day, it takes you out of it a bit. But My Fair Lady, the musical version, first performed in 1956 and made into a movie in 1964, moves the action back to the original's date.  I'm guessing the creators decided all this class stuff, while not entirely dead, just doesn't play in the 1950s.  Back in the 1910s, the West had conquered the world and was full of itself.  But two world wars, a Depression, the threats of communism and fascism, and growing opposition to imperialism, made the West question itself. (We're still in this phase.)

Which brings me to The Admirable Crichton, J. M. Barrie's play from 1902, which I read recently,  It was a big hit in its day and has a story that's been adapted into film several times.

The plot, as you may know, is about a British Lord, his family, and his servants, especially Crichton, the butler.  They're shipwrecked on an island and nature takes over.  The classes do separate, but not as expected--Crichton is soon running things and all others serve him.  Then they're rescued and things return to the way they were.

The play isn't revived too often--certainly not as much as Pygmalion  Much of this is because Barrie, though talented, is no Shaw.  But also, it's a plot that's hard to believe these days.  It was always a fantasy, but to make it work, you have to believe enough in the class system for it to make a difference when its upended.

In the final act, the upper classes pretend they were the heroes on the island, and Crichton, who could spill the beans, decides instead to leave service.  On the island, he and the Lord's eldest daughter Mary (Lady Mary--where have we heard that before?) were to be married, and she was delighted.  But back in England--"The Other Island," as Barrie calls it--she will marry Lord Brocklehurst, not half the man Crichton is, but a suitable partner socially.  While the play has a bittersweet ending, I'm not sure if it works any more.  If it had to end this way, in a modern writing it'd probably be played as something more tragic.  But more likely we'd have seen the lovers get together despite society's opposition.  Allegedly, Barrie considered this ending, but he realized his audience--especially the ones in the expensive boxes--wouldn't stand for it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

PM

How did I miss Patricia Morrison's 100th birthday last week?  A fine singer and actress, she was the original Kate in Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate.








Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Preposition Position

Gregory Walcott died a couple days ago.  He appeared in a ton of movies and TV, often Westerns, but would be virtually unknown were it not for the fact he starred in Plan 9 From Outer Space. This led to an odd paragraph in the Hollywood Reporter obit:

Walcott starred as pilot Jeff Trent in 1959’s “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” which is widely considered one of the worst films of all time. Despite its reputation, it gained a large cult following, which Walcott was reluctantly at the center of.

Despite?  Plan 9 was completely forgotten until a couple decades later, thanks to critic Michael Medved, it started appearing on the worst films of all time lists.  From that point on people couldn't wait to see what was the worst film ever. (Not that it deserves it. It's awful, but fairly entertaining.  Just about every week films that are no fun at all come out--that sounds worse to me.) So for almost two generations, the film has been famous solely because it's, allegedly, so bad.

How did Walcott feel about Plan 9?  Let's give him the last word. "I didn't want to be remembered for that. But it's better to be remembered for something than for nothing, don't you think?"

Monday, March 23, 2015

Definitive Review

To no one's surprise, Insurgent, the second movie in the Divergent trilogy (which will be split into four movies), was the highest-grossing film of the weekend.  It's also a critical flop.  But that doesn't mean that anything you say against it is true.

Take Amy Nicholson's nasty review in the LA Weekly (and elsewhere).  She thinks the whole dystopian set-up makes no sense.  Lighten up, Amy--the main fun of such books and movies is how their post-apocalyptic worlds operate.

In the Divergent series, the entire community is fenced in, living in and around the ruins of what was Chicago.  Each person's aptitude is tested at a young age, after which they must choose which faction to join. The five groups that makes up society are Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Slytherin...excuse me, I mean Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite--and congratulations to author Veronica Roth for introducing these vocabulary words to millions.  Most stick with the gang they were raised in, but not our heroine, teenage Tris, who's born into Abnegation but chooses Dauntless. (She better choose Dauntless or we're not going to have much action.)

Abnegation serves others, Amity are the farmers, Candor runs the court system, Dauntless are the police and/or militia, and Erudite are the doctors, scientists and teachers.  Kind of cool, I'd say.  Not really worth picking holes in.  But that doesn't stop Nicholson from grumbling.  Why are Amity farmers, for instance?  Well, why not?  Someone's got to grow the crops, so why shouldn't the easygoing, back-to-nature types prefer a simple bucolic setting, rather than the more harried, confrontational world of the city.

Nicholson also doesn't think the math adds up--why would you want one-fifth of society to be lawyers, for instance?  You wouldn't, but I don't recall the movies saying each clan represents 20% of the population.  In fact, I'd hope that vast majority are Amity, since raising food is the most important activity around.

But Nicholson seems most exercised about Tris, because she doesn't clearly fit into any group, and is thus "divergent."

...there's a [...] furtive faction who register positive for the traits of all five tribes, classifying them as Divergent. One would think that people who combine the separate traits would be called Convergent, but then one would be expecting the source material to exert the barest minimum effort.

Nicholson is wrong--the divergent simply have inconclusive aptitude tests--but let's forget that.  The bigger point is calling this group convergent makes no sense, dramatically or etymologically.  The whole point of this book--indeed, every teen book ever written--is to have a lead character who doesn't fit in. (And discovers it's because she's special, aka, better than everyone else, but that's for later.)  And, in fact, by the dictionary definition, Tris is divergent.  She can develop in different directions, not just one.  Furthermore, in her society, she's divergent as she doesn't fit neatly into any one category.

To put it into terms Nicholson can understand, imagine a society where everyone is divided into racial groups.  Then you get a mixed-race individual, and this person's treated as an outsider.  Would Nicholson complain "they wouldn't do that--this person is more inside than anyone since she shares the traits of all the groups."

Nicholson ends her review lamenting: "If only [the filmmakers had] spent a few bucks on the latest Merriam-Webster." Sounds like she might want to spend some time paging through a dictionary herself.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Open The Door To Season Four

I recently rewatched the dreaded season four of Community.  The first three season the show was at full strength--all the study group seven were there and creator Dan Harmon was in charge.  But then Harmon got fired and new producers were brought in.  The behind-the-scenes people weren't all changed, but without Harmon is wasn't the same, and the first time through the season seemed hollow.

Did I change my mind?  Not entirely.  But while there are a fair number of dreadful episodes, such as "Paranormal Parentage," Alternative History Of The German Invasion" and "Cooperative Escapism In Familial Relations," just as often there are shows that would have at least been considered passable in earlier seasons, such as "Herstory Of Dance," "Intro To Knots" and (written by Community actor and Oscar-winning writer Jim Rash) "Basic Human Anatomy."

Still, it's hard to ignore the problems.  Above all, the show just isn't as clever.  A lot of the lines land with a thud, and rarely surprise, as they so often do when Community is at its best.  About as bad, the show doesn't pay off on the emotional side--changes in relationships are too rushed, and there are too many unearned moments where people simply speak their feelings rather than demonstrate them.

What the fourth season seems like is fan fiction--they know the characters and their plots from the past quite well, but don't generally capture the magic that made them special.  But maybe I'm looking at it as half empty.  Even in so-so episodes, such as "Conventions Of Space And Time" or "Heroic Origins" (which makes a hash of the past) there are some solid  moments.

So, overall, I guess we should consider the season part of the show, not simply a mistake. But if you want to watch the ten top episodes, or even the top fifty, they're not here.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

C'mon, Drudge

I realize Drudge is about the only news organization in the United States--well, okay, much of Fox and some of the WSJ--but is this really necessary?

Obama Admin Tracking Details about Visitors to Government Websites

As probably anyone might guess, it's just web analytics. The story or scandal would be if they didn't do this, not that they do. It's sort of like writing, "McDonalds notes customer preferences and habits." The one thing I hate, and I'm confident anonymous will join with me here, is when somebody wastes my time with a stupid link.

Now, if we were talking NSA or creepy Cass Sunstein tracking and nudging, that's something else again.

Deride And Conquer or Gooooaaaaalllllll!

I was recently in North Hollywood--or as locals call it, Noho--when I walked past their 24 Hour Fitness gym. Looking in, I saw a huge sign on the wall reading "Conquer Your Goals."

Conquer them? Wouldn't it be better to reach them, or achieve them? What good would conquering them do? Conquer your fears, your foes, but not your goals.

So I checked around and apparently this isn't the only place that suggests you conquer your dreams. One place even suggests you conquer the obstacles between you and your goals.  Wouldn't it be better to get around them, or past them? Anyway, once you conquer your obstacles what do you do when you reach your goals, conquer them too? Put them in the same detainee camp holding your obstacles?

Maybe people are too tired to notice, but I can't imagine gym-goers are that inspired by the writing on the wall.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Niche

Just heard an advertisement on NPR for "HomePay," to help you take care of payroll taxes for your nanny. So, basically, it's ADP.

Fascinating that it's worth distinguishing yourself from ADP for this niche, and fascinating, if that's the word (perhaps predictable is a better one), that NPR is where they find it's worth advertising.

Retirement planning


It's that or the Lottery.

In-N-Out

According to a recent study, a local zoning ordinance that restricts new fast-food restaurants in one of the poorest sections of Los Angeles failed to lower obesity levels.

Of course it didn't.  The people in these areas (and everyone else in America)--before and after the study--can pretty much get whatever food they want.  No one was forcing fast food on them before, and no one plans to open a new fast food restaurant unless they think there's a market.  These same people can also eat healthfully if they choose--and no doubt many do--even though politicians seems to think they're children whose lives are controlled by corporations like McDonald's (but not Whole Foods).

Needless to say, it doesn't matter if the plan seems to be working or not.  The politicians know they have good intentions so they'll keep at it:

"We never said this ordinance was the silver bullet" to solving the obesity problem, said Gwen Flynn of the Community Health Councils. "As long as we can make sure people have more options, that's the important thing."

City Councilman Bernard Parks, who supported the zoning law, said he was hopeful that the area can attract more markets selling fresh food.
 
Let me see if I've got this straight, Gwen.  You want more options, so you're restricting what's available.  At least Bernard Parks is a bit more open about his methods.  He wants less competition so markets can open for fresh food.  But if there was a market for fresh food, it would already be selling in these areas (as it was, actually)--restricting competition would only allow them to raise their prices. (I'm allowing "fresh food" to stand in for healthy food.  Fast food places can sell fresh food, and just because food is fresh doesn't mean it's healthy.)

Let's face it, the trouble with the ordinance is it still left people free to run their own lives.  Next time I suggest politicians lock them in cages and only feed them salad. Or they could let people decide what they want to eat for themselves.  I realize we can't allow choice in everything, like education, but can't we allow what they put in their mouths to be their own business?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Don't drink the Kool Aid, George

His sometimes sandpapery personality actually might be a sign of authenticity that helps him connect with people who, he says, think “he understands my problems and he kind of gets me.”

Or he could just be a fargin icehole.

Here's the best part: An unmarried mother who had a child at 16 and another at 18 told him she “doesn’t think [her life] is hard.” This comes from “living in a community where everyone is just like you.” So, we “have to show them there’s a whole other world.” 

There's a humble guy, for you. What you think is wrong, but look at me and you'll want more. Whenever I see Geoff Stone, I think to myself, "There but for the grace of God go I."

Orwell lives

Scott Walker Ends Freedom of Contract in Wisconsin

Yes, freedom of contract of course means either a monopoly or, same thing, the government mandating it. This is a man who needs to see The Princess Bride. Too bad he can't be bothered to form a corporation and do it the right way himself. I suppose the legal fees are prohibitive.

Happy bankers


Hmm, no, no, I'm sorry, I won't accept your money.

All right! I'll throw in another .15 percent!

Bill's Eye

I like William Saletan. He's wrong on a regular basis, but he makes his points clearly and forcefully.

Here's the opening of his recent article in Slate about Netanyahu:

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is going out with a bang. Trailing in polls four days before Israel’s parliamentary election, he’s shedding his pretense of friendly relations with the United States. Finishing second next Tuesday won’t, by itself, destroy Netanyahu’s career. But the manner in which he’s doing it has made him toxic. His days as a credible representative of his country are over.

Saletan went out on a limb, which was then sawn off.  Still, I don't think this will ever replace his classic "Why Bush Is Toast" piece:

Since Labor Day, the media have released about 20 polls on the presidential race. Three show a dead heat, one shows George W. Bush leading by a single percentage point, and the rest show Al Gore leading by one to 10 points. In the latest polls, Gore leads by an average of five points. It's fashionable at this stage to caution that "anything can happen," that Bush is "retooling," and that the numbers can turn in Bush's favor just as easily as they turned against him. But they can't. The numbers are moving toward Gore because fundamental dynamics tilt the election in his favor. The only question has been how far those dynamics would carry him. Now that he has passed Bush, the race is over.

As we all know, there's no punishment for pundits getting things wrong.  They're generally no more accurate than guessing, and since they're allowed to choose what they look back on, they can even pretend they've got an impressive record.

So keep guessing, Bill.  The main thing is to remember that's what he's doing.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I don't know. Will John Kasich balance the budget?

Maybe Chris Christie can break through with honesty about the budget

Silly me. I saw this headline and thought it was about New Jersey's budget, and I thought, "Hasn't that ship already sailed?"

But no, it's just fiscal responsibility posturing. Actually, it's something worse--a pundit promoting fiscal responsibility posturing.

Christie, toast. Bush, toast. Rubio, toast. America, starting to cook . . .

That's the same way I feel about the Second Amendment

The Sondheim Of Music

I was recently discussing with a friend how prickly Stephen Sondheim can be. Yes, that's the sort of conversations I have.  Sondheim takes his work seriously, and doesn't appreciate it when others mess with it.  He's even had old friendships torn asunder when he criticized bad performances of his material.  He also will defend the work of other top Broadway composers when their work is done poorly.

One of the memorable moments of the recent Oscars was Lady Gaga's tribute to The Sound Of Music.  I thought she did a respectable job--not inspired, perhaps, but better than most pop singers would do.



Stephen Sondheim is less impressed

...she was a travesty.  It was ridiculous, as it would be from any singer who treats that music in semi-operatic style. She had no relationship to what she was singing. What people liked was her versatility.

He's not entirely wrong.  She doesn't fully connect with the songs, but then, she's just doing a tribute on a show that's about pageantry, she's not actually in The Sound Of Music.  And Gaga is certainly better than Carrie Underwood was a few years ago when she did the show live on TV, though that's setting the bar pretty low.  There are a number of Broadway singers who could have done a better job, I suppose, but let them perform at the Tonys where they belong, the Oscars are about big names.

The funny thing is I don't really like the tunes in The Sound Of Music that much, and I wonder how much Sondheim does.  He certainly recognizes the greatness of Rodgers and Hammerstein, though he's also been willing to attack them when he doesn't feel their work is up to a certain standard.

He's had relationships with both men.  Hammerstein was his mentor, the man who taught him the ropes.  Of course, by the time The Sound Of Music--the last show by R&H--was on Broadway, he was Hammerstein's professional contemporary, as his lyrics to Gypsy were being heard at a nearby theatre.  The Sound Of Music was and is a far bigger hit, but I think the score to Gypsy has held up considerably better. (Sondheim has mocked Hammerstein's attachment to birds--just what does "a lark that is learning to pray" mean, anyway?) After Hammerstein's death, Sondheim wrote a score with Rodgers--Do I Hear A Waltz?--that didn't make it, and the two didn't get along.

Anyway, even if he comes across as a grumpy old man, it's good to have people who are hard to please, people who want to maintain certain standards.  Though let's hope Sondheim's not around when some as-yet unborn singer tears into a medley of Into The Woods on its 50th anniversary.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sigh

Oh, Tom, what an editor could do with this. Only a fool doesn't love Sowell, but c'mon.

Update: Now this is good timing. He found his editor here, inner or otherwise.

I think we should start calling these laws Mandatory Unemployment Laws Enforcement, or MULE, because the righteous fools who promote them are as stubborn as.

Ezra finally says something worth listening to

Al Gore should run for president

Yes. Yes he should.

Terry Tunes

Terry LaVerne (?) Stafford died on March 17 in 1996.  He had one big hit, "Suspicion" in 1963.  Elvis had already recorded it, but it didn't do much.  Stafford's version went to #3 (and when The Beatles held the top five slots, Stafford was #6).

His career sputtered quickly after that, but he had some success in the 1970s reinventing himself as a country singer.










Monday, March 16, 2015

Craigslist?

Border Patrol: Increase in Sex Offenders Crossing the Border

That's The Breaks

I'm about halfway through the first season of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.  The show was originally offered to NBC but the network declined to air it and it's now available on Netflix.  This would have been considered a sign of failure a few years ago, but today I'm not so sure.

In any case, the show isn't bad.  Certainly better than a lot of other sitcoms NBC has tried in the last few years--which have pretty much all failed--so I'm a little surprised they passed.  It's from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, who did 30 Rock, which was well-respected but never a huge hit, and maybe NBC felt the appeal was too narrow.

The concept is Kimmy, in her late 20s, was stuck in a bunker with three other women for 15 years.  They were part of a crackpot doomsday cult, and have only just been liberated.  Kimmy decides to make it on her own in New York, hiding her past.  She gets a cheap apartment and finds a job as a nanny for a wealthy socialite's family.

The actors, generally speaking, aren't going outside their comfort zone.  Ellie Kemper as Kimmy is sweet and naïve, very much like her character on The Office.  Carol Kane as her landlady is kooky, like many roles she's played.  Jane Krakowski as Kimmy's employer is shallow and vain, like her role on 30 Rock.

The reality level is pretty low, as you'd expect.  The characters are mostly caricatures--not unlike 30 Rock.  Much of the humor is about Kimmy still talking like it's the 90s, and learning about today's world.  How long can this last before she starts to figure things out?  (Looking at The Beverly Hillbillies, I'd say about 274 episodes.)

Kemper is quite good, holding the show together with her character's energy and optimism.  The stuff with her job works best. Unfortunately, that's only half the show.  The other half, with her landlady and especially the material with her gay, African-American roommate, is a lot more tired.

Still, I'm enjoying the show and will watch the whole season, and probably the next one when it's available.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A bridge too far

"That's a trade-off people generally seem happy to make."

I love Megan, who doesn't? I'm probably fourth or fifth on the blog in intensity thereof.

But I think this column is a touch careless. Her main point, people need and want work, is absolutely sound. (Is that you, Scott Walker?) Her ruminations about automation, eh, okay.

But who are these "people" she is referring to who "seem happy" to make the trade off she discusses? And for that matter, how tight is the link between trade policy and her other points?

She references only a few people who are of course experts and highly sophisticated. They, presumably, are in fact happy to suggest the trade off is a good one, or anyway they may be happy to do so.

But the idea that "people" are willing to make this trade off seems ludicrous. I wouldn't think more than 1 in 1000 could articulate it, much less be happy with it. (Is my guesstimate off? Should it be one in 500? 100? 10,000?)

Now, if she's suggesting but forgot to make explicit that the only people who will have jobs in Obama's remade America will be the couple of experts she references, okay, now I'm with her, and I admit, that does seem a reasonable possibility. And I'm not so stressed about the 999 in 1000 who won't have jobs or self worth, as clearly Secretary of the Interior Paul Verhoeven or his avatar will give them jobs, generating a suspicious amount of nutritive paste.

This Isn't Her Second Memoir, Is It?

I just read Andrea Martin's Lady Parts.  Unlike SCTV costar Martin Short's recent book--which was better than expected--this was a disappointment.

Martin (Andrea, that is) takes a scattershot approach, with each chapter haphazardly looking at various aspects of her life and interests.  Quite a lot of it is, shall we say, skippable.  In any case, I would have much preferred something more chronological--I bet her publisher would have as well.  Maybe she thought this would be some sort of straitjacket, but hey, they're paying you, Andrea, do a little rewriting.

And let's face it, while Martin has had a long and varied career, working in TV, movies and on stage, her best work, and what she's known for, is her Second City material.  She should have devoted a fair amount of the book to those years.  Instead, we get one chapter at the end where she looks back on those days.  Considering its placement, I have to wonder if she wasn't sending in chapters and finally her exasperated editor said "this is fine, Andrea, but where's the SCTV stuff?"

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Has anyone ever seen Jeb and Obama in the same room?


That rascally ol' Jeb, always sweet-talkin' the base.

Bum Bum bumbum Bum Bum bumbum

RIP to Gene Gene the Dancing Machine.    The man behind the only song I can play (sorta) on the piano

Turn around artist

Well, the Obama economy is humming along and everyone has free health care now.

There really isn't a lot to do to secure the president's legacy, other than defeat the hate-mongers of backwards countries, such as Missouri.

At this point, the president is sort of puttering around, promoting $100 million tech jobs programs, which undeniably constitute our future.

Oh Canada or Cinqo De Spocko

Ever heard of Sir Wilfrid Laurier?  Me neither.  Turns out he's the seventh Prime Minister of Canada, back around the turn of the last century. He's also the guy on their $5 bill.  And, according to some, he bears an unfortunate resemblance to Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame.

Since Leonard Nimoy died, Canadians have been "Spocking" their fivers--drawing Spock hair and eyebrows over Sir Wilfrid.

Canada is discouraging it, but I think it looks pretty cool.  Hey, what good is money if you can't have some fun with it.

Maybe we should try it with our fives--Lincoln isn't that far from evil Spock, is he?

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Fifth Ramone

The four original Ramones--Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy--had quite a story to tell, and some of them left behind their version, but they're all gone now.  Happily, Marky--the guy who replaced Tommy, and saw plenty of the good stuff--has written an autobiography that fills in a lot of what others missed, Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life As A Ramone.

The book surprised me.  It's quite entertaining, but I didn't expect the tone.  I thought we were going to get the recollections of a headbanging punk, but it's wry and witty, and slightly regretful.  I guess the trouble is I keep thinking of Marky as the wild, young drummer, not a man of 62 who's seen a lot and is looking back.

He's actually got quite a story before the Ramones.  He doesn't join the band till page 125.  Born Marc Bell in 1952, he grew up a hell-raiser who loved to play drums.  He joined a band, Dust, that got a record contract before he turned 18.  They had some success, toured and broke up before Marc turned 20.  Next he played in Estus, Wayne County And The Backstreet Boys and Richard Hell And The Voidoids.  Not the biggest names, but not insignificant work either.

Meanwhile, the Ramones created punk music.  Bell was part of the whole CBGB scene and knew the band well.  Indeed, he was a fan.  When drummer Tommy decided he'd had enough, they auditioned Marc (soon renamed Marky--Marcy didn't work) and he was an easy choice.

Each of the band's first three albums were landmarks in the punk world, and their fourth--Road To Ruin, where they broadened their sound a bit--stood up to those classics.  Next the band was immortalized in the cult movie classic Rock 'n' Roll High School.  Marky admits they weren't great actors, but that was never the point. (The film sure made a fan out of me.)

Up to this point, the Ramones got a lot of critical attention, and had a solid base of fans, but never broke big. To fix that, they hired eccentric but highly successful Phil Spector to produce.  He worked them as never before, even pulling a gun on them once. Unfortunately, Spector's "Wall of Sound" didn't fit their stripped down style, and the album, End Of The Century, while it has its moments, was their weakest yet. Worse, it wasn't a huge seller, and it seemed (correctly) the Ramones would never be as big as they deserved.

Marky goes into detail of their tours, done fairly cheaply so they could make money.  But the band wasn't easy to get along with.  Johnny--the one who cracked the whip--was a loudmouth reactionary.  Dee Dee was a hopeless drug addict.  And Joey suffered so much from OCD that it took him hours just to leave his apartment.  Furthermore, they often feuded, and Joey and Johnny wouldn't even speak to each other.

But the band was magical onstage.  And their new albums in the 1980s, such as Pleasant Dreams and Subterranean Jungle, may not compare to the best of the 70s, but still have some good stuff.  Meanwhile, Marky was drinking more and more until it was clear he was an alcoholic, and got kicked out of the band.  He still couldn't admit he had a problem, but after coming close to killing people in a car accident, he finally started taking AA seriously and has been clean and sober to this day.

After four years on his own, the band took him back.  And in the 90s, with punk rock becoming commercial, the Ramones were respected elder statesmen, ready to win over new fans. Their albums still didn't chart high, but they kept selling in catalogue. (In fact, their first album, Ramones, released in 1976, finally went gold in 2014).  The new rock gods looked up to them, and in certain areas, such as South America, the Ramones were able to fill stadiums.

The band had done everything it could, and, before they faded away, decided to call it quits. Part of the reason was Joey was quite ill.  He died of lymphoma in 2001, before the Ramones were voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Not long after that, Dee Dee died of an overdose.  A couple years later, Johnny died of prostate cancer. (Both Dee Dee and Johnny are buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, about a mile from where I live.  Johnny had a huge collection of movie and sports memorabilia, and I won one of his horror film videotapes in a raffle.)  Tommy, the forgotten Ramone, died last year, leaving Marky as the only Ramone left who counts.

In the book, Marky calls it as he sees it.  He loves these guys, and loves the music they made, but isn't afraid to show them warts and all.  Too bad we'll never know how his bandmates would have reacted.  But at least we get to enjoy it.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Short Work

When you think about it, Martin Short has had an odd career. Almost universally beloved and admired, he's never really had that hit that put him over the top.  And now he has a memoir out--I Must Say: My Life As A Humble Comedy Legend--that's better than it has any right to be.  It's engaging, funny, warm, and well-written (some thanks due to co-author David Kamp, whose name is not on the cover).

There are plenty of laughs, but Short's life also has had more than its share of tragedy.  As a boy growing up in Ontario, his older brother died in a car crash.  A few years later, his mother died.  A few years after that, his father.  But, in general, he always had a positive attitude.  And though he never saw himself as someone who'd go into show biz, he loved the whole world of it and would put on shows in his bedroom.

He did theatre in college and decided to give himself a year to see if he could make it as a performer. (He was an orphan with some money, so he had choices without that much guidance.) In very little time he was cast in a big Canadian production of Godspell, along with Gilda Radner, Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas, Andrea Martin and Victor Garber.  Paul Shaffer was the musical director.  The show was a hit and during its run he also hung out with Dan Aykroyd, John Candy and Catherine O'Hara.

He had a tempestuous relationship with Gilda for a couple years before they split up and he started dating future wife Nancy Dolman.  Meanwhile, he was making a living as a Canadian celebrity, appearing on stage and TV. That he could also sing--not fake sing for comic purposes, but really sing--was a plus.  However, as his friends were joining Toronto's Second City, he wasn't sure he could do it.  Soon, some of them were on Saturday Night Live (including another new friend, Bill Murray) and he felt he was falling behind.

So he joined Second City and started developing his style, and particular characters--most notably Ed Grimley, whose catchphrase "I must say" (see title of book) came about because "eh" was taken by Second City TV's McKenzie Brothers.

Short came out to LA where he got some work, including the lead in The Associates, a fine sitcom that didn't pan out.  He came back to Canada to be a cast member on SCTV. It was here he did a lot of his best work, and became known to a larger (if still cultish) audience.  He did great impressions, such as his devastating Jerry Lewis, and created even more classic characters, like the cross-eyed Albino crooner Jackie Rogers, Jr. and ancient Jewish songwriter Irving Cohen.

While he was on SCTV, Saturday Night Live was going through a rough patch--it looked like it might even be canceled.  Dick Ebersol was producing and decided to bring in a bunch of ringers--Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and, of course, Marty Short.  Short wasn't sure if it was a good idea, and after a few weeks of the hectic pace wanted out.  But he held on for a year (while Shearer quit).  He actually scored pretty well, using characters he'd already developed, but also coming up with amazing new stuff, such as his bit with Shearer as two brothers who hoped to make it as Olympic synchronized swimmers (though Short was actually using a minor character he'd created on SCTV) and best of all, the highly defensive lawyer Nathan Thurm.

Now he was a star, and movies beckoned.  He join Steve Martin and Chevy Chase (not friends yet, and much bigger names at the time than Short) for Three Amigos! and then starred in a fine action-comedy Inner Space.  However, these films underperformed (though they, along with the bizarre Clifford, where Short plays a ten-year-old, were rediscovered on home video) and after a few more flops, he was no longer considered lead material.  But he still scored in supporting roles, such as a bizarre agent in The Big Picture and wedding planner Franck in Father Of The Bride.

Always moving forward, he tried out Broadway, starring in a musical version of Neil Simon's The Goodbye Girl, and even winning a Tony for a revival of Little Me.  He also returned to TV, starring in a few shows that failed before creating the corpulent and clueless interviewer Jiminy Glick, who had on real celebrities and treated them like they were nobodies.

Short keeps on working--on stage, TV and movies, such as his recent stint on the failed sitcom Mulaney, and was just in cinemas as a drug-loving dentist in Inherent Vice. (He also has a long-running deal with Steve Martin and Tom Hanks where they get colonoscopies together.) But during the past decade, he suffered another tragedy. His wife got ovarian cancer, and died in 2010.  It was a tough blow, but he knew he had to keep going on, just as he had during the tragedies of his youth.

So perhaps Short was never quite the star that many of his friends became, but he still manages to have a reputation for being as funny as anyone around.  And, as the book shows, as gracious as anyone, too.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Almost everybody into the pool

Not sure what the best analysis is in this story about Greece. The nominees are:

"Greece is not Venezuela"

and

“We’re not going to prevent them from doing cash pooling, which is what any normal treasury should do anyway.”

"Pooling" is taking social security funds to pay government worker salaries and . . . pensions.

Shouldn't the pooling start with government pensions?

Nah. C'mon in. The water's fine. I'm just going to step over here and dry off before I wrinkle.

Step One

Step Six: Stay relaxed and success will follow.

It is excellent advice, no question.

But it's also at best a mere foundational element, and a non-essential (and in many or even most cases counterproductive) indicator. This is as close as he comes to the real step one, which is obvious, though perhaps not to Bill: Buy low, sell high.

King Me

Supreme Court watchers are awaiting the opinion in King v. Burwell more eagerly than any other this term.  If you've forgotten, this is the case investigating whether IRS regulations can be allowed that provide subsidies for states without state-run health care exchanges*.  One side argues the law is clear--only states with their own exchanges get subsidies.  The other side claims this is either a defect in how the law is written, or a defective interpretation, and either way, can be interpreted by the IRS to allow subsidies for all states.

I'm not sure what the big deal is. First, I question if the Court will say the IRS can't help out the Affordable Care Act by spreading the subsidies all around.  There are four certain votes for this point of view and at least two possibles.

But even if the Court says no go, how much difference will it make?  Some seem to be saying this will destroy the ACA, but how?  At first it may mean some dislocation, but I think this is exaggerated.  It'll only effect a small percentage of the population, and many of these people either weren't buying health insurance a few years ago and getting health care anyway, or sometimes buying it but not always.  At worst, we'll go back to that.  And that's at worst--many will just continue to buy it, or go onto a government program.

More important, if a bunch of states suddenly lose a subsidy their citizens are enjoying, many of them may quickly set up an exchange.  Meanwhile, there'll be pressure on Congress to fix the glitch, or at least patch it up.  Perhaps the Republicans won't want to play along, but it wouldn't take too many of them to cross the aisle for a majority, and if there's public pressure, they might all rush to create a one or two year fix while the states work things out.  (And if there's no public pressure, it's probably because it's no big deal to begin with.) On top of all that, the White House can put tremendous pressure on insurance companies to keep costs down for certain types. It also might even find imaginative ways to give out subsidies that can be challenged in the courts, but by the time those cases come up this Administration will be long gone.

Meanwhile, the law will still be in place.  That won't change.  So destroy Obamacare?  No, that boat sailed with Robert's decision in the previous case.

*As far as I can tell, 14 states have their own health care exchanges, including California and New York.  But another 19 have some sort of state-federal mix--it's not clear what will happen in these cases.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Then it's back to Ohio to expand Medicaid

Gov. John Kasich to head to New Hampshire for balanced budget tour

SS

Over the weekend I was thinking of two great TV people who were diagnosed with a terminal illness a while ago but are still around--Valerie Harper (who just did a guest shot on 2 Broke Girls) and comedy writer extraordinaire Sam Simon.  I wondered if they'd beat the odds.

Well, as you may have heard, Sam Simon just passed away.

Simon worked on some of the greatest shows of our time.  He rose to prominence as a regular writer for Taxi, one of the most imaginatively plotted sitcoms ever.  He then worked on such varied yet high-quality shows as Cheers, It's Garry Shandling's Show and The Tracey Ullman Show.

That last was where the Simpsons characters first appeared, and it may be why when they got their own show, Sam was one of the creators, along with Matt Groening and James L. Brooks.  Groening was the cartoonist who came up with the family (based on his own) and James L. Brooks was the big name writer-producer who protected the show from interference in its early years.  But it was Simon who was in the trenches, guiding through each script, setting the tone and quality, creating characters such as Mr. Burns and Chief Wiggum.  If I had to pick one person most responsible for making The Simpsons the phenomenon it was, it'd be Simon.

He would work on other titles, such as The Drew Carey Show, but also spent a lot of his time and money on philanthropic ventures.  He was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago and given six months, so his death today wasn't shocking, but still quite sad.

Monday, March 09, 2015

We've all been there

Replace The 'Mats

Hey, the Replacements will be issuing an eight-disc box set of their original recordings.  (What's a disc?)  What are you waiting for--go out and buy it.  (Or stay in and buy it.)

They're even going to be touring again.  I see they'll be in Hollywood April 16 at the Palladium.  I actually saw them years ago at the Palladium--my ears are still ringing.












Sunday, March 08, 2015

Good technical work

Cheers to these folks in Iowa for some nice analysis of polling, or perhaps I should say excellent reporting on polling.

While their political views probably don't track my own, their work is excellent. Hat's off to them. May we someday live in a world where this sort of thing is ubiquitous.

Maureen takes a break

I accidentally read a Maureen Dowd column the other day. Of course my first instinct upon realizing what I was doing was to gouge my eyes out, but inexplicably I continued to the end.

Really, it's tolerable and even not badly done. Even a stopped clock is right twice . . . a millennium or so.

She does manage to run off the rails in a couple of spots:

Everyone is looking for signs in how Hillary approaches 2016 to see if she’s learned lessons from past trouble. 

Of course they have. They're masters at it. This is a pretty good example. The only question is whether the country has learned any lessons from it.

Given all the mistakes they’ve made, why do they keep making them? Why do they somehow never do anything that doesn’t involve shadows?

What mistakes? It's an effective strategy that has stood them in good stead for decades. You can't help but admire the record. But, just for kicks, assuming this fact not in evidence, we can ask ourselves as Maureen does, Gosh, why is that? If we could only know.

In any case, cheers to Maureen. Now that she's got that out of her system she can get to the real business of trashing Scott Walker for the next two years, or 10.

Dick Johnson finishes off

"The woman who finished off Anthony Weiner’s political career . . . has struck again."

Some writer. I think I want to join whatever club he's a member of.

(As for her, isn't there some code of professional responsibility?)

This Is Not Your Older Brother's Community

New Community on March 17, though it's only on Yahoo Screen.  The new trailer promises something, though what I can't quite say. At least Dan Harmon is behind it, so it'll have some of the Greendale spirit, if nothing else.

There's no Pierce, no Shirley, no Troy, but Dean Pelton and Senor Chang seem to be stepping up.  Also, Paget Brewster and David Keith have been added.  And since no one is a student any more (I don't think), it'll have to be coming at things from a new angle.



Saturday, March 07, 2015

Older

So what do you suppose, LAGuy, is the second time the charm for Sutton Foster? Younger has a 40-ish woman playing a 26-year-old woman, with vagina jokes as common as penis jokes in a Porky's movie.

We can't decide in the ColumbusGuy household. ColumbusGal tolerated it but was clearly challenged by the premise. I think it's developmental on her part so I'll ignore her hesitation.

Since my development is arrested, that did not affect me and I more or less enjoyed it. Traditionally, this dooms the show. Regardless, I did find the vagina jokes to have a diminishing return after the fourth or fifth one, so on behalf of all men over all time, I apologize to all women over all time.

Justice

Man in Finland gets $60,000 speeding ticket

If he's especially callous, or perhaps saintly and doesn't really care about money, maybe the Finns can bring back the death penalty. Eight miles over limit, sure, but fourteen?

Ernie It

Happy birthday, Ernie Isley.  The Isley Brothers was well established when he joined his older siblings, but he helped bring them into a new era, playing guitar, bass and drums, as well as singing and composing.










Friday, March 06, 2015

Grammar Nazi

“I intend to hold you to account for alienating the affection of my wife.”
“Affections.”
“What?”
“Affections. In that context the plural is used.”
“I didn’t come here to have my grammar corrected.”
“Not grammar. Diction.”

Take your medicine

Ah, this is an oldie but goodie: The right is suffering mental illness.

The people who want the government to shoot you if you fail to be cheerful about anything and everything the government can do under the commerce clause think the right are fascists.

I wonder what it would take to get these people to read "The Road to Serfdom"?

Doesn't matter, I suppose. Our friend Cass could tell us all about confirmation bias (though only on the Right, making the reference inapt), so I suppose it's the old "a communist is someone who reads Marx; an anti-communist is someone who understands Marx."

SS

Today's birthday boy Stephen Schwartz might not get the respect of a Stephen Sondheim, or even a Jerry Herman, but when you think about it, for modern Broadway composers who write both words and music, he's about as big as it gets.

Almost 45 years ago, when he was in his early 20s, he wrote the score to Godspell, which no doubt is still being performed somewhere out there right now.  Then came another huge hit, Pippin (though he and director Bob Fosse didn't get along--Fosse banned him from rehearsals).  Then another blockbuster, The Magic Show, though that was probably more due to Doug Henning's tricks.  At this point, Schwartz is still in his mid-20s.

His career slowed down for a few decades, but he did some decent work on Working and Rags in the fallow years.  He also did some nice writing--mostly lyrics--for a few Disney films.

And then in 2003, Wicked, which may become the biggest hit anyone's ever written.  Close to 5000 performances and still going strong.

I admit his scores don't always resonate like Sondheim's (or Herman's), but he's tuneful, knows how to turn a phrase, and is better than most of the competition.







Thursday, March 05, 2015

The Greatest Deliberative Body on Earth

The Ohio House of Representatives has (again) named "Hang on Sloopy" as state something or other. (The article says "rock" song but that seems limiting and makes me wonder what the a cappella song is.)

My coalition lost. We were pushing Tubthumping.

(Tomorrow's post: Italics or quotation marks?)

I think I know that guy

 
I don't know what from privacy, I just think these are the coolest glasses ever.

God's Love

Scott Walker, God's Gift to the Democratic Party


God watches out for drunks, fools and Democrats, apparently. Personally I find them and their over-reliance on faith a little hidebound.

Chappie

Peter Ackroyd's biography of Charlie Chaplin is described by his publisher as "brief yet definitive."  Brief, to be sure, but as for definitive I'd have to go with David Robinson's classic bio.  But that book is about 800 pages, while Ackroyd's is well under 300, and that's a virtue.  Chaplin lived a long, productive and controversial life, which makes the action fast and furious in Ackroyd's no-nonsense account.

Ackroyd is a novelist and critic who's written a number of biographies, so he's in his element.  He often writes about great artists.  Chaplin is his first movie star, but Ackroyd makes sure to situate him in a longer line that includes names like Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.

By now the general outline of Chaplin's life should be well known to anyone interested in film.  Born in Dickensian poverty in London in the late 1800s, he gets on the stage and becomes a major comedian in his early 20s.  He goes on tour in America where he's seen by Mack Sennett, who signs him to a contract at Keystone pictures.

Chaplin had a different rhythm from the other clowns, and in almost no time becomes an international film star--arguably the biggest ever.  He goes from Keystone to Essanay to Mutual to First National and finally to his own company, United Artists, growing as an artist with each move, and turning out mostly hits, many of them classics, such as The Kid, The Gold Rush, City Lights and Modern Times.

But he has trouble in the domestic sphere, marrying four times and being involved in a number of notorious lawsuits.  He also has political troubles, and is suspected of communist sympathies.  After forty years in America he leaves for Switzerland, only to return twenty years later to receive an honorary Oscar and make up with the country where he had his greatest success.

Ackroyd does an admirable job of moving the story along, and is also willing to judge his subject. Ackroyd is incisive in analyzing Chaplin's film's, which are the work of a major artist who, especially in later years, could get self-indulgent.  As a man, Chaplin comes off less well.  He was an egomaniac (wouldn't you be if you pulled yourself out of poverty and became the world's biggest star in your twenties?) and inflexible in his relations with others, including family members.  But that was all part of being someone who stopped at nothing to do it his way, which led to some very idiosyncratic work, but also greatness.

If you need an introduction to the man's life, this is an excellent place to start.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

False dilemma

What’s the Higher Priority for Leftists, Raising Revenue or Punishing Success?

Can't they do both?

It's no contest, anyway. Who gives a shat about revenue? Certainly not Leftists. Bill, Hillary, Obama, Harry, Elizabeth and all their corporatist friends (and yes, anonymous, all their Republican hangers on, too) all have revenue by the boatloads. It's all the people who vote for them, and the rest of us, who have to worry about something so plebeian. Maximizing total revenue is an inferior good for these people, because it would upset the whole system.

The Battle Begins

I've been to Battle Creek.  It's a pleasant town located in the central part of lower Michigan.  It's best known as Cereal City, the headquarters of Kellogg's, the area's largest employer. They used to give tours, but they stopped.  Not sure why, but I hope it's not because the terrorists won.

Anyway, now there's a police drama on CBS called Battle Creek, though I'm not quite sure why.  They don't play up the cereal connection.  They seem to be using the place as a stand-in for any hick town, which is a bit unfair--it's not that far from Detroit or Chicago (and even closer to Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor).  It's big enough to have a decent downtown, and seems reasonably up to date.

But not to street-smart Detective Russ Agnew.  He's a big fish in a small pond, and he's not happy with how rundown the pond is.  He and partner Detective White have to work with outmoded machinery that falls apart while they're trying to make an arrest.  So he complains to Commander Guziewicz for some help.  And they get it, just not in the form Agnew wants.

The new help is in the form of the very professional (and professionally handsome) Special Agent Milton Chamberlain, who will run the new FBS office there.  He used to work at the Detroit office but is being sent to the bush leagues for some deep dark secret we haven't yet been told.  Chamberlain isn't thrilled with the assignment but tries to make the best of it.  In no time, he's got everyone but Agnew oohing and aahing at his big-city ways.

So (as everyone knows from the get go) it's inevitable this odd couple team up.  Chamberlain has top moves that distinguish him from the small city cops, though Agnew has picked up a thing or two along the way. (At least, I assume he has--in the pilot Chamberlain is almost always right when they clash).  The plot deals with two murdered drug dealers, and has the good guys follow a few false leads until they find the real killer.  As for Battle Creek, the show allows its streets to be as big or small as needed to fit whatever the script demands.

Dean Winters is Agnew. I've never liked this actor before, but probably because he played such a jerk on 30 Rock.  Josh Duhamel is his handsome self as Chamberlain.  He's a bit stiff, but I can't tell if it's the actor or the character.  Aubrey Dollar brings a fresh face as Holly Dale, one of Agnew's coworkers, who seems to be in love with him.  In smaller, unrewarding parts are Kal Penn--late of House--as White, and great British stage actress Janet McTeer as the very American Guziewicz--hey, Janet gotta eat.

The show was created by David Shore of House and Vince Gilligan of Breaking Bad, so it's got something going for it.  It did seem a cut above, but only a slight cut.  As a police procedural, it'll fit right into the CBS lineup.  Which is why I rarely watch the CBS lineup.

web page hit counter