Monday, February 29, 2016

Darrel's Special Sauce

"The man who gave legal backing to President George W. Bush’s controversial policies on torture and domestic spying operations today [evergreen headline, always newsworthy].

I swear to god, if I read one more story that begins, "The wife of the man who shoved a cigar up Monica Lewinski's vagina today . . ."

Beautiful, stirring, and perhaps socially beneficial

What Ed Driscoll calls the best movie review ever

World Of Today

Don't have much to say about the Oscar telecast except that it was awful.  By the end I wasn't sure if it was an awards show or a political rally.

You can check out my guesses and I pretty much got them all with a few minor exceptions.  I considered Mark Rylance to be neck and neck with Sylvester Stallone for Best Supporting Actor.  Rylance took it, and let me congratulate the Academy for not being sentimental.  You got the O and the T Mark, go for the E and the G.

The big surprise of the night--almost the only one--was Spotlight as Best Picture.  Congratulations to all of you who stayed awake till the end to see that moment.  I knew Spotlight had a chance, but after all those wins for The Revenant it was a shock.

As expected, Mad Max won almost all the technical awards but nothing above the line.

The worst choice was Bear Story for best short animated film.  I don't deny it's a very accomplished piece of work, but World Of Tomorrow was amazing.

Take A Leap

Guess who was born 100 years ago today?  Dinah Shore, that's who.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

A niggardly gesture

Harvard masters reach name change decision — now called ‘faculty deans

Cindy, Cindy, Cindy!

Happy birthday, Cindy Wilson.  At 59, she's the youngest of the B-52's.  But it doesn't matter how old they get, their sound will always be young.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

How about a war on stupid?

"I think he has been an absolutely outstanding U.S. attorney," U.S. District Court Chief Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. said of Stewart. Sargus said he respected Stewart's management skills and his "responding to the district's needs for the war on crime."

Next up, a war on war.

Vicente Fox reminds me of Fielding Mellish

Keep talkin', hombre. That wall just got 10 feet higher.

Musical Melange

Let's celebrate some musical birthdays today.

First, there's Jose Melis, Cuban-born bandleader who served as The Tonight Show's musical director during the Jack Paar years.

Then there's great sax man Dexter Gordon.

And our final item on the musical menu, Eddie Gray, songwriter and guitarist for Tommy James and the Shondells.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Speaking of liars

When I first read this, I thought, "1 in 5? NFW" What do the 4 in 5 think, that every carbon molecule she exhales is a lie?

But it turns out this is the figure for unprompted response.

Reminds me of Les Aspen under the Clintons, announcing that only 3 percent of the military wanted Rush Limbaugh on the armed services radio service. Turns out that it was unprompted responses to the question about what could be done to improve, etc. was 3 percent wanted Rush Limbaugh, one of the largest, if not largest response. Secretary Aspen apologized. (No wonder he died soon thereafter. That's just not a Clinton approach.) 

40 percent of the reponses were dishonest, belongs in jail, bad for the country, etc. 26 percent of the responses were "a woman" or "strong" or could otherwise be interpreted as favorable if you squint when you look at it. 36 percent unaccounted for, which leads me to believe it was more like a 70-30 split (or they would have lowered their cut off level to get what they wanted).

The Fat Man

Happy birthday, Fats Domino.  A lot of great rockers have left us, but Domino hasn't yet fallen.  How old is he?   How many keys are on a piano?

(Fats had a lot of songs about walking. You ever see this guy? The only walking he did was through a buffet line.)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Maybe Susan Sarandon can help

Pressure on Katie Couric to deliver for Yahoo

Thanks For The Memories

One of the delights of watching old movies and TV is to experience different mindsets.  It's always a useful reminder that what seems normal now wasn't always considered such.

When it comes to jokes, sometimes it dates them.  Occasionally it makes them seem prescient.

I was recently watching The Jack Benny Program.  Benny started on radio in the early 1930s and was still going strong on TV well into the 1960s.  This particular episode featured Bob Hope as guest star.  Hope, as you'd expect, did a barrage of jokes.  Here's one of them:

Beverly Hills is so ritzy it's the only city that has parking meters that take credit cards.

Fascinating.  Back then the idea of using a credit card for a parking meter seemed absurd, but now it's commonplace.

My only question: is this progress?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Been there, been there

Seattle Aquarium cancels octopus sex act due to cannibalism concerns

The Hughes Corporation

John Hughes would have been 66 last week.  For a decade or so, as a writer/director/producer, he burned about as brightly in the Hollywood firmament as anyone ever has.  I recently read Kirk Honeycutt's John Hughes: A Life In Film, a book that tries to place his life and work in that context.

Hughes was raised in Grosse Pointe and Chicago, and though he moved to Hollywood, he never fully went Hollywood. His movies were about the Midwest, and so was he.  As a young man he was a success in the advertising business, but much preferred writing humor.  He became a contributor to National Lampoon in the late 70s, writing stories like "Vacation '58," vaguely based on memories of car trips with his parents.

Thanks to Animal House, National Lampoon became a big name in the film business, and Hughes quickly became a superstar screenwriter with two hits in 1983, Mr. Mom and National Lampoon's Vacation, the latter based on his short story.  He was enough in demand that he was allowed to direct his next film, Sixteen Candles (1984), which was a minor hit that helped establish him as king of the teenage films.

Hughes was in his early 30s, but he still remembered what it was like to be a kid.  He didn't write down to teenagers, and they responded. If anything, he glamorized them, building up their actions and emotions while making adults look stupid or uncaring.  This was even truer in his next film, The Breakfast Club, where five high school students are stuck in detention, and form bonds--mostly by realizing it's all their parents' fault.

Hughes worked with the cast and allowed a lot of improvisation.  In fact, he shot so much film on his projects you'd think he was making an epic.  And though the studio didn't think much of the concept of The Breakfast Club, it made pretty good money, and it seemed like Hughes could do no wrong.

He continued making teen films, directing Weird Science and (his masterpiece) Ferris Bueller's Day Off, while also writing/producing other films such as Pretty In Pink and Some Kind Of Wonderful.  He was known for how quickly he wrote, generally churning out his scripts in less than a week.  Except that was the first draft--all through casting, shooting, even editing, he'd be rewriting.  (Also, no matter how serious he got, he gave the audience what it wanted, especially happy endings--he might have thought Andie should end up with Duckie, but if the public wanted her to get Blane, she got Blane.)

He was closing in on 40 and didn't want to be known as just the teen king, so the next few films he directed starred adults--Planes, Trains And Automobiles, She's Having A Baby and Uncle Buck.  Then came Curly Sue--the only film he directed in the 90s--which he thought was so bad that he pretty much gave up directing rather than put himself on the line again.

More important, while he'd had hits before, in 1990, he was involved in a blockbuster--Home Alone.  He wrote it, produced it and chose Chris Columbus to direct.  Warner Brothers had rejected the script, saying Hughes had to cut the budget by a million because the returns on a film starring a child are limited, so he took it to Fox. It became the biggest hit comedy of all time.

Hughes was as big as he could get, but now he seemed stuck making films starring kids--Dennis The Menace and Baby's Day Out, to name two fairly big budget items that disappointed.  He got the best deals he'd ever had, but he was never associated with another blockbuster (unless you count Home Alone 2).  For that matter, his films rarely had the quality of his 80s work.

He moved back to Chicago and spent more time with his family.  He was essentially retired--and looking at his later films, this was probably just as well.  He died of a heart attack in 2009.

Honeycutt lays it out pretty clearly.  The writing is only serviceable, but I like, for a coffee table book, that he notes the weaknesses of the films as well as the strengths.  And he also notes that Hughes had problems.  He could be mercurial, for instance, hiring directors and then firing them just before the shoot began.  He could hold grudges, shutting off old friends, not talking to them for years.

Hughes' films weren't nominated for Academy Awards--that's not the kind of stuff he made. But he left behind a legacy that will be remembered more than a lot of Oscar winners'.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Oh, Rob

Bernie as Grandpa Bot Fighter? What is that, another Marvel property, along with Susan Sarandon's vagina? I'm taking my retirement out of the lottery and putting it into Stan Lee.

A Four-Letter Word

I've been checking out Love, a new comedy on Netflix starring Gillian Jacobs.  Just as I started watching Josh Holloway in Colony because there's no more Lost, so did I pick this one because there's no more Community.

It's a relationship show, but it's taking its time.  The two main characters, Mickey and Gus, played by Jacobs and Paul Rust--who also helped create the show, along with his wife, writer Lesley Arfin, and the ubiquitous Judd Apatow--don't even get together until the end of the first episode.  In fact, I've watched three (of ten) episodes and so far they haven't gotten much further than the texting stage.

But that's the show's style.  It's low key. We get to see how both Mickey and Gus are thirty-something losers (sort of), who live in Los Angeles and work on the outskirts of show biz (she's an assistant at a satellite radio show, he's an on-set tutor for a child TV star), and are getting over bad relationships.  They "meet cute"--she can't pay for coffee and he helps her out.  Then they hang out for a while because it's not like they have that much else to do.

The dialogue is okay, and the leads are charming (and, this being a comedy, he's dorky-looking while she's stunning), but the lethargic plotting drags things down. In fact, my favorite part of the show so far is when they've had to deal with problems at their jobs and both seemed to finally care about something.

While it's mostly Mickey and Gus, the supporting actors pitch in when required.  Among the most memorable are Mickey's boss, radio show host Dr. Greg (Bart Gelman of Go On) and her cheerful Australian roommate Bertie (Claudia O'Doherty).  On Gus's side there's Susan Cheryl (Tracie Thoms of The Devil Wears Prada), the tough executive producer of Witches, the show-within-the-show, as well as the child star of Witches, Arya (played by Iris Apatow, who's good enough to avoid any claims of nepotism).

So after three shows it's mildly entertaining. Since that represents 30% of the entire run, I suppose I'll see it through.

Monday, February 22, 2016

What does she do with it?

Hi, Guy

Happy birthday, Guy Mitchell, a tremendously popular singer back in the 50s in the US, the UK and Australia.  (Born in Detroit, by the way.)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Losing faith

Jesse Owens smoked, drank beer, had sex with a woman and then married another, and, particularly heinous, talked back to his coach.

And a Columbus reporter lost faith.

The Ohio Constitution says idiots are not eligible as electors. I'll be filing a complaint with the secretary of state if this guy is registered.

They always come in threes

Bush family, friends gather as end nears

It'll Soon Be Over

The Oscars are in a week.  Favorites are emerging, but a lot of categories are still fairly competitive.  Here's a list of the top categories with what I think will win and what I want to win.

Best Picture"The Big Short"
"Bridge of Spies"
"Mad Max: Fury Road"
"The Martian"
"The Revenant"

Not the most impressive list, but exciting in that there's no odds-on favorite.  In fact, with eight nominees you can get odd voting patterns so anything can happen.  I suppose the favorite is The Revenant--big film, big names, big money--but Spotlight and The Big Short are nipping at its heels.  If I had to pick one it would be either Room or The Martian.

Best DirectorAdam McKay, "The Big Short"
George Miller, "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Alejandro González Iñárritu, "The Revenant"
Lenny Abrahamson, "Room"
Tom McCarthy, "Spotlight"

Inarritu is the favorite.  If he hadn't won last year, it'd be over.  Both Miller and McKay have a chance to sneak in.  My pick would be Miller or Abrahamson.

Best ActorBryan Cranston, "Trumbo"
Matt Damon, "The Martian"
Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Revenant"
Michael Fassbender, "Steve Jobs"
Eddie Redmayne, "The Danish Girl"

A surprisingly weak crop.  It looks like it's DiCaprio's turn to win.  I'm not thrilled with any of these choices, but I guess I'd pick Fassbender or Damon.
Best ActressCate Blanchett, "Carol"
Brie Larson, "Room"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Joy"
Charlotte Rampling, "45 Years"
Saoirse Ronan, "Brooklyn"

Brie Larson will win and should win.

Best Supporting ActorChristian Bale, "The Big Short"
Tom Hardy, "The Revenant"
Mark Ruffalo, "Spotlight"
Mark Rylance, "Bridge of Spies"
Sylvester Stallone, "Creed"

I keep getting reminded of what a weak year this is.  It's looking like Stallone is the big sentimental favorite.  I'd give it to Bale or Hardy.

Best Supporting ActressJennifer Jason Leigh, "The Hateful Eight"
Rooney Mara, "Carol"
Rachel McAdams, "Spotlight"
Alicia Vikander, "The Danish Girl"
Kate Winslet, "Steve Jobs"

More weakness.  What a year.  The favorite now seems to be Vikander, perhaps due to lack of competition.  I guess I'd give it to Kate Winslet.

Best Original Screenplay
"Bridge of Spies"
"Ex Machina"
"Inside Out"
"Straight Outta Compton"

The favorite is Spotlight, since that's the most likely of these to win the Best Picture.  I guess I'd give it to Inside Out because there's not much else here.

Best Adapted Screenplay"The Big Short"
"The Martian"
The favorite is The Big Short--so get ready for a speech from a Hollywood multi-millionaire on the evils of greed.  I'd probably give it to The Martian, or maybe Room.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The first 90 seconds

A few weeks ago LAGuy performed another of his innumerable kindnesses and made us all aware of "A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Contemplating Existence," with a wonderful little clip.

I've been trying to recruit my usual suspect friends to watch it with me and I've been having a hard slog of it, for all kinds of the ordinary reasons, but high on the list is the threshold energy or engagement level that gets people inclined, or not inclined, to do a given thing. I suppose that's what blockbusters, or sequels, anyway, are all about, setting that engagement level, or more precisely taking advantage of an existing one.

Back to the important thing, I sat down this morning to take a quick look, not intending to do anything other than watch the start, and of course that's usually a fool's effort. It wasn't, though.

We must not allow a mineshaft gap

70's Man Now 70

Happy 70th, John Warren Geils, Jr. better known as J. Geils. He's a guitarist and, of course, the founder of the J. Geils band.  (Though the band is named after him, he hardly seems like the most significant member--Peter Wolf, Magic Dick and Seth Justman all seem at least as important.)

Friday, February 19, 2016

Use the Force

My son and I will have something to talk about over spring break:

Harvard professor Cass Sunstein uses ‘Star Wars’ to talk world issues, fatherhood

Special price on focaccia

Starbucks CEO warns the U.S. presidential elections are turning into a 'circus'

Are You Game?

I'm on record as being against coupons or special store cards (so special they give them out for free) that get you discounts.  All this foofaraw does is slow things down at check-out, not to mention adds to the overall cost.  Just sell me your items at the lowest possible amount and we'll be fine.  (Oh, I get the psychology behind it all, but that doesn't mean I like it.)

As if all these cards and other transactions (I think people do more banking at the grocery store than the bank) don't slow things down enough at my local supermarket, they've just added a new twist this month: there's now a Monopoly game we get to play, like it or not.  With each purchase, the store gives away little cards which you open up to see what property you've got, or something like that.  The number of cards you get depends on the cost of your items, so the transaction now includes the cashier waiting to get the receipt, then circling in pen the number of cards you've been awarded (because if they didn't circle it in pen how would you know where to find the number on your receipt to check and make sure you got enough cards) and then count out the cards and hand them to the customer.

I'd guess this adds 10% to the already too long wait in line.

No doubt the contest is the kind where there are a few rare cards that win for you while the rest are worth nothing or are minor coupons you could probably get elsewhere.  I don't go to the supermarket to play games, but I'm forced to participate.  How about creating a special line that doesn't offer these cards, so I can be on my way?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Wonder what Uncle Milty would have said about this

"Hell money" is counterfeit bank notes that are intended to be "presented as burnt offerings to the deceased."

Must present some interesting audit issues to the various authorities involved.

Math is hard

"Women who had more sex scored better on the word test but not the numbers test."

Gutting It Out

I've already discussed the five nominees for the Academy Awards best short animated film ("World Of Tomorrow" better win).  Now I've seen the nominees for best short live action film:

Ave Maria

Day One

Everything Will Be Okay



My pick usually doesn't win. Last year, for instance, my favorite by far was the unusual Butter Lamp, but the Academy went with the more conventional The Phone Call.  But this year I think my favorite may just take it.

Short films can be tricky.  If you go for too much--the death of children, for instance--it's often too heavy for the running length. And I think Shok, about kids stuck in the 1990s war in Kosovo, is too much.  As is--to a lesser extent--Day One, about a rough first day on the job for an interpreter in the US Army.

Meanwhile, Stutterer is pleasant, but a bit light, with a predictable (yet nonsensical) ending, while Ave Maria--the film that goes most for comedy--is a trifle.

Which leaves us with Everything Will Be Okay, German title Alles Wird Gut.  It's about a divorced father who kidnaps his daughter and plans to run to another country because he fears he'll lose her.  I've already given away too much, but I thought it was the most powerful film of the bunch.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Algorithm tries to determine whether couples should stay together



Character actor George Gaynes has died at 98.

You might remember him from Punky Brewster or Tootsie or Police Academy.

But let's not forget his years as a fine singer on Broadway.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

62 year old man says online dating was different in the 90's

"You have to pull teeth to get people to meet you."

The Music, Man

Vinyl is the HBO's much-touted new show about the recording industry in the mid-70s.  It's produced by Mick Jagger, Martin Scorsese, Rich Cohen and Terence Winter.  Scorsese also directed the pilot, which was co-written by Winter.  Those two previously worked together on Boardwalk Empire, an HBO show that had a lot going for it but could never quite get it all together.  That may be Vinyl's fate, but we'll have to see how things develop.

That's because they throw a lot into the first episode (which is two hours long), but it's a stew with ingredients that don't necessarily fit together well.

We start in medias res, which is getting to be a tiresome formula, and is specifically ill-suited to Vinyl's format, as we'll see.  It's 1973.  Protagonist Richie Finestra sits in his car, parked on a rough street in New York.  He seems troubled.  He buys some drugs, gets high, and then gets out and follows young people to a concert, where he sees the New York Dolls and really gets into it.  Is this the new sound?  Will it save the recording industry, or even just this record man?

Then we flash back a few days.  Richie's spent many years in the record industry and is in talks with PolyGram to purchase his label, American Century.  It'll make Richie, as well as his crew--his head of promotions and head of sales--rich.  We also get to see some of their sybaritic lifestyle as they fly home on a private jet with plenty of drugs and young women.

This is a decent enough plot, but soon so many things are tossed in that it's hard to know what we're supposed to care about.  I realize this is a series, so you need more than one plot-line, but best to keep it simple at first and establish how things work.  Instead, here's some of what we get:

--Richie and his wife having marital troubles because he doesn't seem satisfied with what he's got

--Richie losing a deal to buy Led Zeppelin, which will make his company more valuable

--Richie trying to find a new act that will get the company hits

--Richie's label losing airplay when a radio guy is mad at one of his artist

--Richie and another guy killing the radio guy (arguably in self-defense) and dumping his body and then worrying if they've been discovered.

And that's just Richie's plots.  We also meet other regulars, such as Jamie Vine, an assistant in the A&R department who thinks she's found a new, hot band and sleeps with their lead singer (played by James Jagger, Mick's son).

This might sound like more than enough to keep the show spinning, but large portions are taken up with flashbacks to Richie's early years.  This is why we didn't need the opening--because it led to a flashback to catch us up, but suddenly within the flashback we get numerous earlier flashbacks. Unnecessarily complex.

We see how Richie got into the music business.  He couldn't play music, but he had great ears.  He started to manage a blues singer, but when Richie got him on a label, they made him sing silly pop numbers.  When the mob buys out the singer's contract and he complains, they beat him up.  Just some of the compromises of being in the recording industry.

These 60s flashbacks are well done, and make you wonder if maybe the show shouldn't have been set back then instead.  But the "present" of this show is the 70s.  It was an intriguing era--essentially we're still in the hangover of the 60s.  Rock music is bigger than ever, but in danger of bloat.  There were tons of drugs around, and albums were selling like never before.  And New York, where Vinyl is set, which was more violent and dirty than ever before, saw punk starting to bubble up.  This transformation seems to be a major part of the show, which is fine, except that punk, and later new wave, while it did change the sound of the time, and had its successful acts, was never that big (in America), and didn't exactly save the recording industry.

By the end of the pilot, despite all the problems, PolyGram makes an offer.  Richie will be rich, except I can't believe he'll sell his company or there'll be no show.  Then we cut back to him watching the New York Dolls.  He sees the building start to crack.  At first we figure its a drug-induced hallucination, but no, it's real.  The building caves in and there's Richie, crawling from the wreckage.  It's a "big" ending, but silly.  This would have killed him.  This event is based on the time when the Mercer Arts Center fell down, but no one was playing then, and people there were killed.

Bobby Cannavale is a good choice for the lead.  He often plays tough guys, but he's got enough range to pull off whatever's required.  Juno Temple is pretty good as the ambitious assistant, as is Ato Essandoh as the blues singer.  The rest, including Ray Romano, Olivia Wilde and Max Casella, have so far gotten lost in the blur.

One of the interesting questions the producers had to deal with--should the music be real or made up for the show.  Their answer: mostly real. The soundtrack is full of actual recordings, from the 70s and earlier days.  They even have actors playing real characters, such as the New York Dolls and Led Zeppelin.  But the band the assistant goes after are called Nasty Bits--they and they're music were created for the show.  It's a weird mix, a bit reminiscent of Mad Men--sometimes the clients are ads were what actually happened in the 60s, sometimes they were fictional.  The trouble with music, though, is stuff you make up for a show can rarely compete with known classics.

Monday, February 15, 2016

I'm going with a phillips screwdriver. Or my car keys. I can never find the G-- D------ things.

Biohackers implant computers, earbuds and antennas in their bodies 


By now you've probably heard about the Ted Cruz ad "Conservatives Anonymous."

It's well shot, if a little silly.  Then again, most attack ads are silly.

But the reason it's gotten so much attention is not the ad itself, but the story behind it.  Turns out one of the actresses, Amy Lindsay--the one who warns against voting for a "pretty face"--has done softcore porn.

"The actress responded to an open casting call," Cruz communications director Rick Tyler told POLITICO in a statement. "She passed her audition and got the job. Unfortunately, she was not vetted by the casting company. Had the campaign known of her full filmography, we obviously would not have let her appear in the ad. The campaign is taking the ad down and will replace it with a different commercial."

What kind of nonsense is this?  The Cruz people "obviously" wouldn't hire someone who's been in porn?  Why not choose the best person who auditions? It makes me wonder how much Cruz believes in the free market.

I know Cruz is fighting hard for the evangelical vote, but does this move demonstrate Christian values?  Seems like the woman is trying to better her self.  (Or at least Ted Cruz people should think that--I have friends who think porn is a higher calling than a Ted Cruz ad.)  You want to shove her back down and never forgive her, rather than rejoice in someone you believe is fallen who's now finding a better way to make a living?

Strange.  (And I don't believe this is a publicity stunt to draw attention to the ad, though that has been the effect of it all.)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Is that you, Cass?

Surprisingly, they find that hedging – using language like “it could be the case” – is actually associated with more persuasive arguments.


Why It's Not "Ferrous " Wheel

Today is National Ferris Wheel Day.  Yeah, I know, they got a day for everything.  It's in honor of the birthday of George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., who invented the contraption.

So enjoy the ride.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Our brave heroes

Yeah, what about exterminating the Jews? I hate Delaware Nazis.


Today is the birthday of Grant Wood.  He trained in Europe, but was part of the American Regionalism movement in the first half of the 1900s.  Not that many paintings from that movement have survived in the public consciousness, yet Wood managed to create one of the most iconic images ever, "American Gothic."

The woman in the painting, by the way, is based on his sister Nan, while the man is based on his dentist.  The painting was first displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago.  They decided to buy it and it's still there. Many Iowans of the time weren't happy at how they were being portrayed. Whether the piece honors or mocks the people it represents, I couldn't say.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Clever Hans

Ethan On Stephen

Ethan Mordden has written a lot of books about show biz, and most of that has been about musicals, and a fair amount of that has been about Stephen Sondheim.  So maybe it was inevitable he'd write a book solely about Sondheim one day, and now he has, On Sondheim: An Opinionated Guide.

It's a short book--under 200 pages.  When he gets down to discussing Sondheim's shows, he averages about six or seven pages per.  If you collected everything he's written about Sondheim in the past, it would probably be close to the same length.

Mordden has long worshiped Sondheim, and he's hardly alone.  Sondheim towers above his contemporaries, and it can be claimed most musicals written since 1970 are a response to him one way or another.

Of course, Sondheim's rise corresponds with the death of the musical as THE music of America.  In the 20s and 30s, the point of a score was to get a hit or two.  Even in the integrated era of Rodgers and Hammerstein in the 40s and 50s, when songs now had to fit the character and further the plot, songwriters still hoped to make the hit parade.  And Sondheim did his apprentice work during these times, writing the lyrics to West Side Story and Gypsy, as well as the full score to A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.  But by the time Sondheim was in full flower, rock music had taken over and the landscape was different.

Sondheim was famously mentored by next-door neighbor Oscar Hammerstein.  Mordden notes that Rodgers and Hammerstein's first five musicals--Oklahoma!, Carousel, Allegro, South Pacific and The King And I--changed everything.  But on top of that, with the exception of Allegro, they were all blockbusters that provided hit tunes.  On the other hand, the big five shows that Sondheim presented in the 70s (with producer/director Harold Prince)--Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures and Sweeney Todd--were just as revolutionary, yet none were blockbusters and, in fact, only two showed a profit.  In addition, they produced only one true hit among them--"Send In The Clowns."

These shows made Sondheim a divisive name.  He allegedly didn't provide the fun or melody people sought in musicals.  His work was difficult; the "tired businessman" didn't want to be challenged by a "concept musical." As a teen, Sondheim had actually worked backstage on Allegro--the one flop Rodgers and Hammerstein had in their early days, and their one "concept " show.  Some suggest Sondheim has spent his career trying to fix Allegro.

According to Mordden, though, Sondheim gets his revenge.  His shows may first seem divisive and even unpopular, but they go on to be revived regularly and treated as classics.  And as the score becomes more familiar, the tunes become more hummable.  So who cares if you have a hit today--Sondheim is for posterity.

Even after he stopped working with Harold Prince, Sondheim kept stretching the boundaries, with shows like Sunday In The Park With GeorgeInto The Woods, Assassins and Passion.  To Mordden, this all adds up to an unparalleled record.

I certainly agree there's no one like Sondheim, and he's done amazing work through much of his career.  But does Mordden overpraise him?  I like his tunes, yes, and admire his witty words, but I wouldn't say he has the melodic inspiration of a Richard Rodgers. Of course, few do.  But am I failing to fully appreciate it because Sondheim's music, and his harmonies, are more sophisticated compared to earlier composers of the Great American Songbook?  In other words, have I failed him, or has he failed me?

People are still performing Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, though the two are long gone. For that matter, they're still singing Rodgers and Hart tunes, even though that duo's first hits are now almost a century old. So the real question is will Sondheim live for decades after his heyday.  I don't know and neither does Mordden, but we can enjoy him now, anyway.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Mr. Majestyk

The Evolution of the Pickup Buyer Told Through 30 Years of Commercials.

I haven't viewed this yet, but I've got a dollar that says Charles Bronson plays a prominent role.

UPDATE: Well, I viewed it, and I lost my dollar. I should have done the math.

But c'mon. Who talks about pickup commercials and uses freakin Chevy? Pussies, that's who. (Hey, Trump said it, not me.)

Now that's a leader we can get behind

Mount St. Mary’s University’s president liken[ed] struggling freshmen to bunnies that should be drowned . . .

I think we've found the guy who can take out Trump.

Head Of The NSA

I just read Word Nerd by John D. Williams Jr., former executive director of the National Scrabble Association.  I'm a big fan of the game and was looking forward to it, but the book didn't live up to my expectations.  Much better--a classic, really--is Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis, published over a decade ago.

Word Freak takes us into the world of Scrabble (still a trademarked name), both the game and the personalities wrapped up in it.  On the other hand, Word Nerd is written like a corporate brochure--full of stilted language, clichés and punchlines without much punch.   Williams worked for decades as the game's spokesperson, and he still seems to be doing public relations, which makes the book more innocuous than entertaining.

It makes sense, then, that Williams was the guy who removed offensive words from the official Scrabble dictionary when pressure groups got to Hasbro.  He doesn't seem to feel bad about it, but I don't see how anyone could be happy.  Scrabble is a game based on words in dictionaries.  It makes no moral judgment about these words.  In fact, once Williams started removing some of the words* it meant that Scrabble was, for the first time, making value judgments.  So if you find anything in the official dictionary that you think offensive, Hasbro is saying "screw you, you're wrong."

Still, if you like SCRABBLE, you might as well check out the book. Some useful background information, and some nice lists in the back.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Black Knight gets a lick in

"Ohio Gov. John Kasich vaulted into the top tier of GOP presidential contenders."

Plus the Iron Law of Presidents: "Since World War II, either the winner or runner-up in New Hampshire has gone on to take the GOP nomination."

America can only hope that South Carolina voters have more brains than the "Live Free or Expand Medicaid" voters. But even if they do, this blunder means we'll be listening to this guy for weeks.

And now for something completely different

Seems mislabeled, somehow. Shouldn't it be "Certified Professional Innovator Professional Certificate of Innovation Program"?

Late To The Party

For months I've been hearing how good the TV show Jessica Jones is, but I only just got around to watching it.  And since it's on Netflix, I can watch its first season--13 episodes--at any pace I choose.  So far, I've seen the first three hours.

Jessica Jones is based on the Marvel character, but since I've never read any of her adventures, it's all new to me.  Perhaps fans of her comics know what's coming, or at least know what's in the past, but I am blissfully ignorant.  In fact, until she demonstrated her powers halfway into the first episode, I wasn't even sure if I was watching a superhero show.

Jessica Jones is a cynical private eye, who takes sleazy jobs and seems to have a sad and bitter past.  Among the characters in her life are Trish Walker, an old friend who now hosts a popular radio show; Jen Hogarth, a powerful attorney who sometimes hires Jessica; Luke Cage (I'm sure some of you Marvel fans recognize that name) who owns a bar and is sometimes used as a booty call; and Kilgrave, a man with the power to bend other minds to his will, and who once had Jessica under his control.

Though there's action in each episode, the whole show (as much as I can tell) is a long reveal, as each episode teaches you more and more about the characters, though perhaps at a certain point we'll know everything about the past and live strictly in the present.  The main plot of the first season seems to be the return of Kilgrave, whom Jessica thought was dead.  He's back in town (the town is New York, by the way) and using more and more people to do his bidding while Jessica plots to bring him down.

Krysten Ritter (of Breaking Bad) is solid as Jessica.  She plays hard-bitten well enough to hold the show together.  The rest of the cast--including Carrie-Anne Moss, Rachael Taylor and Mike Colter--have had less screen time to establish their characters, though three hours in they're starting to make a clear impression.

So I like it.  I wouldn't call it a revelation, but it's better than most police and/or super hero dramas out there.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

I don't think it means what he think it means

America Is Flint

He's The Queen Of France

The Oscars are always fun (at least them handing out the awards are--the lengthy show surrounding this activity often leaves something to be desired), but they're a lot more fun if you've seen the nominees. I generally see most of the nominated features and performances, but not always the shorts.  But I did get a chance to see the five from the animated category.  Here they are.

Bear Story


Sanjay's Super Team

We Can't Live Without Cosmos

World Of Tomorrow.

If you've seen any, it's probably Sanjay's Super Team, a Pixar short shown before The Good Dinosaur.  Pixar has been nominated--and won--before, but I don't think this is its year. That's because while all the films are well done (Bear Story is especially impressive in its technique and We Can't Live Without Cosmos has a solid story), one truly stands out--World Of Tomorrow.

It could be called a science fiction film, but that doesn't really give you the proper impression.  It's by Don Hertzfeldt, who's been doing his own hand-drawn work for a couple decades.  He started with short, funny films with an absurdist bent, such as Billy's Balloon, the film to first get him a lot of attention.  He followed it by a classic, Rejected, which was nominated in 2000 for an Oscar and (inexplicably in retrospect) didn't win.

Since then his films have gotten a little longer, and more serious, but are still filled with quirky humor.  World Of Tomorrow is a 17 minute film about a little girl being instructed by a woman of the future on what her life will be like.  But that bare bones description misses both how bizarre yet touching the story is, not to mention the look.

Here's a clip:

The Academy blew it last time.  Here's their chance to make it up.

Monday, February 08, 2016

The times, they are a changin'

So I just looked up my record at one of our local libraries. My card there was issued in 2002. It's nice to know that; it makes me remember how I happened to get a card at this library.

But what I really love is the expiration date: 2050.

Say, isn't something important supposed to happen then?

Art Vandalized

A friend sent me this list, from Vulture, ranking all 169 episodes of Seinfeld.  It's so wrong I'm sorry that it exists.  It would be best to just ignore it, but let me note a few things.

I'll start from the bottom and work my way up, as the list does.  The two worst episodes are "The Puerto Rican Day Parade" and "The Outing."  As far as I can tell, they're at the bottom because they're politically incorrect.  It's certainly not about the comedy, as "The Outing" is a classic or at least near-classic. (It's where a newspaper article appears claiming Jerry and George are gay, and they keep noting "not that there's anything wrong with that.")

In general, the first two season, where the show was good but still finding its way, and the last two seasons, where the show was getting tired and Larry David left, should have the most in the bottom half, but there seem to be more that there should be from the middle years.

The fourth worst episode--#166--is "The Jacket," a fine episodes where the guys meet Elaine's tough-guy father, memorably played by Lawrence Tierney.  #160, "The Ex-Girlfriend," has the classic moment where a girlfriend dumps Jerry because his act is not funny enough.

Others in the bottom 69 that shouldn't be there:  "The Gum," where Lloyd Braun is going crazy; "The Shoes," where George looks at Bob Balaban's daughter's breasts; "The Susie," where there's confusion at J. Peterman over Elaine's name; "The Soup Nazi" at #143, when this is top ten for sure!;  "The Watch," where George screws up the NBC deal; "The Big Salad," which is top 100 for the salad stuff alone; "The Wink," one of the better episodes with George and the Yankees; "The Junior Mint," the classic "Mulva" episode which may be top ten and is certainly top 25; "The Strike," which brought us Festivus and has only improved through the years; "The Comeback," where George will go to any lengths to deliver an insult; "The Switch," where Jerry and George plot on how Jerry can change from his girlfriend to his girlfriend's roommate; "The Boyfriend," the one with Keith Hernandez and pretty decent for a two-parter; "The Parking Garage" where they spend the whole episode looking for their car; "The Virgin," where George gets Susan in trouble he kisses her; "The Pitch," where George insists to executives his show is about nothing; "The Andrea Doria," where George tells his sad life stories to win enough sympathy to get an apartment.

(Let me also note they say of the pilot that the Jerry-George scenes don't work but the Jerry-Kramer stuff is good--if anything, the opposite is true.)

Here are episodes listed from #99 to #51 that are either too high or too low:  "The Calzone" where George's tip isn't seen by the employees is too low; "The Junk Mail," where Kramer discovers a conspiracy at the post office, is too low; "The Sponge," where Elaine decides which suitors are "spongeworthy" is too low; "The Yada Yada" is too low; "The Busboy," an early episode, is one of the worst; "The Pony Remark," an early episode where Jerry mistakenly insults a relative, is too low; "The Puffy Shirt," a classic, is too low; "The Chinese Restaurant," a classic, too low; "The Pilot"--not the pilot, but "The Pilot," is too low; "The Dealership," a weak, late episode, is too high; "The Frogger," a weak, late episode, is too high; "The Pool Guy," a weak episode, too high; "The Marine Biologist," a classic where George explains how he found the golf ball, is too low; "The Barber," one of the worst episodes, is way too high.

The top 50:  "The Cigar Store Indian," not a great episode, should be lower;  "The Trip" is okay, but not top 40; "The Voice" is a weaker episode, bottom fifty; "The Bris" is a horrible episode, bottom ten, why is it listed at #35?; "The Stall" is no classic, rated way too high; "The Burning" is not great, far too high; "The Bizarro Jerry" is a top five episode and only makes #27; "The Café" is okay, but shouldn't be anywhere near #21; "The Gymnast" is okay, but not top 20; "The Mom & Pop Store" is okay, but not top 20; "The Conversion" is okay, but not top 20: "The Merv Griffin Show" is okay, but is regularly overrated; "The Secret Code" is good, but not top ten; "The Old Man" should be in the bottom fifty; "The Pen" is a memorable episode, but nowhere near the top ten; "The Subway" is okay, but no way is it #2.

So once again, my main point: ignore this list.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit and New Orleans, Alex

Who are next year's championship game teams? Not hardly.

Self knowledge is the best knowledge

"I ought to be running in a Democrat primary."

Take It Away, LJ

Laurie Johnson turns 89 today.  He's one of the top British composers of TV and production music.  You may not know his name, but you probably know his tunes.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Positive Vibration II

Is it 2050 already?

I doubt that's the right use of "virtual."

Positive Vibration

Bob Marley would have turned 71 today.  He died in 1981--hard to believe he's been dead almost as long as he was alive.  In the short time he was around, he proved to be the greatest reggae artist ever.

Friday, February 05, 2016

We're not worthy

He executed two wives, one more than O.J. Simpson allegedly managed.

If his head's a-hit, you must acquit.

Montel Williams endorses Kasich

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