Sunday, July 31, 2016

As God is my witness, we are still a going concern

"From Thursday through Friday afternoon, callers to many Dispatch numbers heard a message that the line had been disconnected." 

Okay, class, let's review our lesson on "newsworthiness."

Robot Reboot

The hottest new drama of last year was Mr. Robot, and it's got the Emmy nominations to prove it.  The second season has started and there's always the fear of the sophomore slump.  Three episodes in, it's looking okay, though some say it's a bit slow. Unfortunately, it's almost impossible for it to be as startling as it was the first time around.

However, the latest episode had the worst scene I've seen on the show.  The third episode starts with a flashback to Elliot and sister Darlene hanging out and, almost unknowingly, starting the plot that will take up all of season one.  Origin scenes can be fun--but just as often, they can be dangerous.  We've already accepted where we are, and showing how we got there isn't necessary, and may be disappointing compared to what we've imagined.  (I felt this disappointment a number of times on a show as fine as Breaking Bad.)

But that wasn't the problem.  The plot of the first season (spoilers) involves hackers destroying all recorded debt. But in this origin scene, when Elliot has the spirit of Mr. Robot take over and start to describe the plan, he almost dismisses what it would take to do this, and starts going on at length about how the actual hard part starts after it's done.

This is ridiculous.  No matter how fictional the hack is, it's a major deal--in fact, if it isn't a big deal, there's no reason to have a first season.  But because we're now in season 2, and have to move forward, we're going to pretend what lies ahead is even trickier.

This is fine if characters are saying it in the present of the show. You obviously want viewers to believe what's happening now is at least as big as anything that's happened yet.  But to go back to the beginning of the plan, and have characters say things that they would never say just because we're now past season 1, rings false, and cheapens the entire concept.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

You're not doing it right

Sweden to investigate sex lives

Smile When You Say That

Happy National Cheesecake Day.  That's certainly something worth celebrating.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Oh, I thought he was a lawyer

The blogs I follow often cite Randy Barnett, and so when I saw "Our Republican Constitution" on display at my library I thought, 'Why not?'

I'm a book skipper. I always read the end first, then do a Posner read of the thing.

And what do I see as the big pitch? He wants to "amend the text of the Constitution in ways that cannot be evaded."

Uh-huh. What should we call that, the Wile E. Coyote approach to legal interpretation? The Scooby Doo Meddling Kids approach? It's odd, since he starts the book out with a chapter on how Roberts evaded the existing text to uphold Obamacare.

Anyway, I'm glad I followed my method. It'll probably save me a lot of time.

The Devil's In The Details

I was recently watching The Devil's Disciple (1959) on TCM*, a not especially successful adaptation of the George Bernard Shaw play.  In general, Shaw has not been well-served by the cinema.  Yes, there was the 1930s film version of Pygmalion which most consider a triumph--but Shaw had his hand in the rewrite.  Since then, while you could make a case for a title or two, most fall far short of how Shaw is best seen, in the theatre.

It was probably doomed from the start.  Shaw himself recognized movies are a different art form.  He was a voluble writer, and his plays are about the words.  But movies can't be like plays, artificially stuck in a room for 45 minutes while the players talk.  But if you take away the talk from Shaw, or try to rewrite him, you lose the Shavian and get something much worse.

I can see why stars/producers Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster wanted to do the film.  Shaw's name would lend class (and the recent blockbuster My Fair Lady meant his stock was high) while at the same time this is his most action-packed play.  Shaw wrote it as melodrama--almost a parody of melodrama--with every clichéd situation he could think of: the reading of the will, one man putting his life in danger by pretending to be another, the last-second rescue and so on

But still, they had to open it up, and that's where most of the problem is.  As enjoyable a plot as the play has, it's not an adventure story, though the movie often tries to make it one.  It's especially bad inventing action scenes for Burt Lancaster.  The trouble is that Douglas gets to play Dick Dudgeon, the title character and clear lead. (Apparently the two stars flipped a coin.) So they beefed up Lancaster's role as the Reverend Anthony Anderson, and gave him scenes which simply don't play as well as the original Shaw, and, in fact, take away from what tension the plot has.

One thing that does work is Laurence Olivier as General Burgoyne.  In the play, Burgoyne doesn't appear until the final act, but with his sly lines almost steals the show from Dudgeon.  Olivier's take is perfect, and you can almost see the delight he takes in his wonderful dialogue (even though Olivier later claimed he was miserable during the film) while outclassing the American movie stars he's allegedly supporting. While he's on screen, you can see what might have been, if the film were done properly--or perhaps I should say if it were possible for a film to do it properly.

*The TCM introduction claimed Shaw didn't think much of the play, and, they said, he refused to stage it in London.  This is ridiculous. At the time, Shaw was an unsuccessful playwright trying to establish himself, and wrote this work for a particular actor-manager in the West End--who was soon after stabbed to death.  Shaw would have loved to get a production in London, but failed.  And, in fact, The Devil's Disciple ended up being his first commercial success in Richard Mansfield's American production.  This allowed him to quit journalism and make a living in the theatre.  So TCM is way off.  (They also claim, on their website, that because he wrote in the play's preface "The Devil's Disciple does not contain even a single passably novel incident" that this means he didn't like it.  They're missing Shaw's love of paradox.  As noted above--and the point Shaw is making--is that he took a pile of clichés, mixed them in a pot, and came up with something entertaining and original.)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Good idea

Excellent. Don't publish anything they say or do, or where they are from, or even, really, anything that happened.

And double your staffing for reporting hate crimes of people badmouthing Islamic culture. You'll know where to find those stories--right where the ones you won't report happen.


A friend of mine named Mark recently died.  I wasn't sure if I would write about it--it's personal and most readers of this blog don't know him--but I figured I would share with the world a little about him.

I met him my first year in college.  He was a bit older, and was the kind of fun friend who'd let you know about cool things going on.  We went to various event in Ann Arbor while I was in college.  A bit later, one time when I went to his house out in the country (but not far from Ann Arbor), I looked through his video collection to see what rarities he had. I remember him showing me, of all things, Faces Of Death, the first in a series of cult films that purport to show you footage of actual deaths.  Not quite so hard to find in the age of the internet, but the kind of thing that got passed around a few decades ago.

Mark was always entertaining to be around, and we stayed in touch no matter where I lived.  Whenever I'd visit Ann Arbor we'd meet for lunch, and we also met up a few times in Vegas. Unfortunately, Mark missed our last lunch in the Fall of 2015--he'd promised to explain to me why Interstellar sucked, but now I'll never know.

I always thought he could make a living in stand-up, because he had an odd way of looking at the world--let's call it joyously cynical--and a great delivery.  He was very suspicious of government, and had good reason.  Let me tell you one of his best stories, which I often asked him to repeat. (I fear I don't remember all the facts perfectly, but since Mark isn't around to correct me , I'll relate it the best I can.)

He had some government official in his house (basement?, garage?) for some mundane reason (meter reading?).  On one of his shelves he had a bottle of glycerin.  As a joke, he'd written on it "nitroglycerin." The official saw it and went nuts. Mark tried to explain, but it didn't matter.  The guy called in the EPA (or whoever is in charge of such things).  They brought in some bomb experts (or whoever deals with such things) and safely disposed of the bottle.  And, of course, charged Mark thousands for the expense.

He was into movies, and, in fact, once helped run a theatre.  We sometimes dreamed about getting together and running one on our own--especially after there was a contest announced earlier this year in the small town of Houlton, Maine.  The owner of the only cinema there wanted to sell it for $350,000, but couldn't find a buyer.  So he said send in a short essay and $100 and if there are enough entries the winner gets to own it.  Mark had several idea for the essay.  First he suggested that we promise we'll show nothing but gay porn, helping out an underserved minority in Houlton.  Next he suggested we write "All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy" for a few pages. No one won, by the way--not enough entries.

Of course, if we had won, Mark knew what it really meant--we'd take on the debts and operating costs of the theatre.  It's getting tougher on exhibitors these days, and, as Mark noted, they're not in the movie business, they're in the popcorn business.

Even more recently, I told him a local theatre had a special night each month where they only showed old 16mm industrial shorts. He got mad, saying he had that idea years ago. In fact, he told me he came up with YouTube, Starbucks, Amazon, weird soda flavors and cell phones as detonators, but someone always beat him to market before he could exploit it.

Anyway, that's Mark.  I miss him.  He leaves behind his wife Dori, who I also know since the old days.  I hope she's holding up.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A wicked man

"The odds are 4-4 that this will not happen."

Strange To Say

I've been watching the new Netflix series Stranger Things.  Created by the Duffer Brothers, it stars Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Matthew Modine and a whole bunch of kids.  It's set in early 1980s suburbs, so we're in Spielberg-land.

Since it's a series, and not a movie, it has two plots.  I'm three hours in (out of eight) and they haven't come together yet, though I assume they will.  First we see some sort of monster escape from a government facility.  We're not clear what this monster does, where it comes from, even exactly what it looks like, but we do know it kidnaps children and seems to take them to another realm.

Second, there's a young girl named Eleven--El for short--who has also escaped from (I think) the same facility.  She was raised in a lab and experimented on, and has telepathic powers.  The government (or whoever was holding her) will do anything to get her back, including murder people.  A bunch of nerdy boys who play D&D--and whose friend was kidnaped by the monster--find her and discover her magic powers.  Pretty busy time for them.  The boys agree to help her, and promise not to tell any adults what's going on, which is a good idea, since it would probably lead to them all dying.

Meanwhile, the main nerd has a teenage sister who's got a boyfriend pressuring her to have sex.  The kidnaped boy's got an older brother who secretly likes the girl, but is considered a weirdo at school.  It'd be your classic teenage romance if there weren't all the monster stuff happening in town.

There's decent action, and the kids are portrayed relatively realistically, considering the genre.  The period details are fine, though it's probably not that much trouble to bring the 1980s to the small screen.

The actors are fine.  Among the adults, Harbour as the police chief who's had troubles of his own, and now finds what he thought was a quiet town isn't so quiet, stands out.  Though Ryder gets top billing, so far her role, as the mother who lost her son, gets less attention that the kids get.  The other name, Matthew Modine, as the scientist who seems to be behind it all, has even less to do so far.

Certainly good enough to make it to the end.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Nixon's The One

Marni Nixon has died.  You may not know her face, but you know what she sounded like.  She was Hollywood's top voice double.

Tony is also dubbed.

This has both Marni and Audrey on different channels.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Park It Here

I watched Parks And Recreation for several weeks when it first aired and didn't like it.  Later, I heard good things and checked it out again.  It wasn't bad.  I ended up watching most of its seven seasons.

I recently rewatched the early episodes to see if I was wrong in my original appraisal.  For the most part, no.  Now that I like the characters, they went down easier, but they still don't quite have it.

At the center of the show is Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope, a government bureaucrat in Pawnee, Indiana.  Except her character, rather than being the enthusiastic, highly competent woman she'd become, is more confused in her duties than anything else.  And since the show is built around her, it doesn't quite operate as it should.

Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) isn't quite there, either.  He's not thrilled with his job, but isn't yet the lively, superficial playa he'd become.  Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt)--who's dating Ann, not April--is sort of a douche and layabout, and not quite the happy innocent he'd become.  Jerry Gergich and Donna Meagle (Jim O'Heir and Retta) are not regular cast members yet, and barely register--they're essentially office drones who haven't established personalities.

There are three characters who are close to what they'd be.  There's Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), the government-hating bureau director.  He's distinctive from the start, though he'd grow even more dominant, and more traits were added--his sexual connection to women, his love of meat, his libertarian paranoia, his rough masculinity, his saxophone playing, his closeness to Leslie.  Even better at the start is April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza), the cynical intern, who just doesn't care about anything.  Surprisingly, she'd keep up this character for seven seasons without having to change too much--though her relation with Andy would humanize her.  Then there's Ann Perkins, who meets Leslie in the pilot, and will become her best friend.  Rashida Jones is fine in the part, though she's mostly playing a straight woman--the character who responds as the audience would to much of the action.

Worst of all is Paul Schneider as city planner Mark Brendanawicz.  Leslie spends a lot of time mooning over him, but he's just dull.  I don't blame the actor, since this is how he's written--a straight man to set off the others.  But we've already got Ann Perkins, that's more than enough.  The relationship between him and Leslie pulls down the show.  The producers recognized their mistake, and he was gone by season three.

Also bad about the first season is the arc--Leslie spends an awful lot of time trying to turn a pit next to Ann Perkin's house into a park.  The plot isn't particularly funny, and we don't really care about the project.

Almost every sitcom starts off a bit soft as it tries to find its footing.  But if P&R hadn't changed significantly, it wouldn't be remembered today.  In fact, it probably would have been canceled early in its run.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Poor radical terrorists

Geez, I thought the point of terrorism was to promote a message?

"as authorities searched an apartment in the city's Maxvorstadt district, there was no immediate indication of why the gunman had struck, according to the German news wire DPA."

Yep, it's a mystery.

The attack was condemned across the world. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi decried "the killing of innocent and defenseless people,” according to IRNA, Iran’s official news agency.

That's nice. The Iranians are being helpful.

Street Smarts

A lot of the graffiti you see (in Los Angeles, anyway) is on the sidewalk. Often stenciled.  Lately, a phrase I've noticed popping up more than once is: "Leave People Better Than You Found Them."

The line is sometimes attributed to Marvin J. Ashton, a Mormon leader.  The full quote goes:

Be the one who nurtures and builds. Be the one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart.  One who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them.

Sounds pretty good. In fact, the worst part is the end, so it's too bad that's the sentence these anonymous street-scrawlers love so much.

Telling people to leave others better than they found them is an open invitation for people to get all up in your business.  For them to start lecturing you about morality.  For them to demand you do your duty, whatever that is.

If I had my own can of paint--and some turpentine--I'd change the message to something much simpler:

Leave people alone.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A serious man

A reporter who thinks himself serious wrote this, and a newspaper that thinks itself serious published it:

July Grab Bag

Some birthdays of note today:

Calvert DeForest

Bert Convy

Don Drysdale

Don Imus

Edie McClurg

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Friday, July 22, 2016

Seems unlikely

Human intelligence is being defined and measured for the first time ever

Maybe they should put it on a scale. I wonder what the average will be?

All's Well

I think Source Code is a well done sci-fi thriller.  It came out five years ago and still holds up.  Recently I stumbled across a page that argues the ending is disturbing, though people don't notice.  Actually, I've been hearing this complaint since the film came out, and I'd like to take it up.

First, for those who haven't seen Source Code, or have forgotten it, let me relate the plot.  There are twists and turns in this story, so if you don't want to be spoiled, stop here.

It's about Army pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) who finds himself on a Chicago commuter train.  A woman on the train, Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) seems to know him, though he doesn't know her.  He looks in a mirror and sees he's someone else.  Then the train explodes and everyone dies.

Stevens is now back in a cockpit who-knows-where.  An army captain (Vera Farmiga) communicates with him through a video screen.  Turns out he's on a mission, made possible through some new quantum technology, that sends him into this situation where he can find out who planted the bomb that blew up the train. The incident has already happened, though.  It can't be changed.  But his consciousness can be sent back into the mind of a guy name Sean Fentress--Christina's boyfriend.

Unfortunately, he can only go back for the last eight minutes before to the explosion   He has to keep going back, over and over, to get information and prevent a far more deadly bomb expected to explode in a few hours.

One surprise along the way is we discover Stevens was hurt in Afghanistan, and is in a coma.  He's lost most of his body and is hooked up to life support, kept alive to solve this problem.

After a bunch of tries, he figures out who the bomber is.  He asks to go one more time to save everyone on the train, though the guy in charge of the program insists what's happening isn't real, and the explosion has already happened.

He goes back and stops the bomb, catches the bomber and kisses the girl.  This should be the end, where it all goes black.  Indeed, his body back in the original story is disconnected from life support.  But instead, the timeline continues beyond its endpoint and it looks like he and Christina have a rosy future.  So either he's changed history, or at the very least, there's a new timeline where the bomb didn't explode.

What's disturbing to many people is the fate of Sean Fentress.  What happened to him?  His body's been taken over, and he no longer exists.  Stevens, in effect, murders him.

Also, if these trips back are real, what Stevens (and his controllers) are doing is murdering numerous people over and over.

One more thing--poor Christina in the final timeline is fooled.  She thinks she's got her boyfriend, but it's actually a guy she doesn't even know, no matter what he looks like.

None of this bother me, and it shouldn't bother anyone else.  I'm willing to assume, due to the final scene, that Stevens' trips back to the train aren't just play-acting, but are real timelines that exist in some alternate world.  So what?

Here's what happened to Sean Fentress.  He loved a girl and got blown up with her.  If there were no experiment, that's his lot.  So he's got nothing to complain about if there's an alternate timeline where another guy--in his body--gets his girl.  You can't lose what you never had.

A similar argument goes for all those real people who get blown up several times.  This is extra minutes they're enjoying, that wouldn't have existed otherwise.  And since they don't know the bomb is coming, but suddenly die, all those minutes are a bonus.

Finally, Christina Warren.  She's got a new boyfriend, but doesn't know it.  First, it's not so bad.  Stevens seems like a nice guy.  Second, her other choice is to be blown up--which would you pick?  And who knows, maybe some day Stevens will tell her what happened, though I doubt she'll believe him.

On top of all this, thanks to Stevens' heroism, it's likely tens of thousands of Chicagoans were spared the effect of a dirty bomb.

The people who are disturbed by the ending should stop whining.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

What fascism looks like

This will go on your permanent record


I finished Sitcom: A History In 24 Episodes by Saul Austerlitz.  Feels like I've been working on it forever.  It took so long not because it was bad, but because each chapter covers a show, and I'd read it, something would come up, then I wouldn't get back to the book for another week or so.  I think it took as long as a full TV season, which these days tends to be 24 episode, thus the 24 shows the book investigates.

What are the shows?  The books lays them out chronologically:

I Love Lucy
The Honeymooners
The Phil Silvers Show
Leave It To Beaver
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Gilligan's Island
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
All In The Family
The Cosby Show
The Simpsons
The Larry Sanders Show
Sex And The City
Freaks And Geeks
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Arrested Development
The Office
30 Rock

Each chapter is built around a specific episode, but also looks at the show as a whole, and, indeed, at other sitcoms that followed in the original's footsteps.

It's a solid list.  Most of the shows are classics, or at least pretty good, but they also show the development of the form.

For instance, many sitcoms to this day still follow the basic rules I Love Lucy set up in the 1950s (especially all those hit shows done live on CBS).  Then you get to The Dick Van Dyke Show in the 60s and The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 70s, and the form becomes more sophisticated--the themes are more adult and the big laughs not just from farcical situations. You also get titles like All In The Family, which shows that sitcoms can deal with controversial subjects, and M*A*S*H, where it takes on war in a serious way (unlike service comedies such as The Phil Silvers Show).

The form further develops in the 1980s with Cheers, where there's an arc shared by the leads--whole seasons are devoted to their up-and-down romance, whereas on previous shows, each episode would essentially be a reset.

Then in the 90s The Simpsons stretches the sitcom so that it can go anywhere and do anything (it helped that the show was animated), while Seinfeld looks at the minutiae of everyday life, but also shows us that lead characters don't have to be lovable. Also there's The Larry Sanders Show, which is a self-aware sitcom--show business as a product.

By the 21st century, the form had been around so long that it was in its post-modern era.  The Office is (allegedly) a documentary, where the cameras are (supposedly) just trying to catch the action, and the actors speak directly the camera.  And 30 Rock--another show about a show--is fully aware of the history of sitcoms, and plays off it. Finally, you get to Community, which is full meta, often playing with different formats, while showing that even with these alienation effects the audience can still care about the characters.

So, all in all, a pretty good book.  Austerlitz knows his material, and is also willing to say when it's less than great.  But you better love the subject, or it might come across as too much.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

This party sucks

What does a Dead Head say when you take away his drugs?

Happy Life

Garry Marshall, one of the most popular writer-producer-directors ever, has died.  I always wanted to meet him but now I never will.  But by all accounts, he was one of the nicest guys in Hollywood, and one of the happiest.  He was working till the end, directing Mother's Day, which appeared earlier this year, and helping produce the new TV version of The Odd Couple (also appearing in it as an actor).

I've written about him before.  For instance, I once had a post on how he retooled Happy Days.  The following is my discussion of his memoir, published four years ago:

I just read My Happy Days In Hollywood, a memoir by writer-director-producer Garry Marshall. Though I haven't noticed anyone saying it, it's essentially an update of his 1997 memoir Wake Me Up When It's Funny.

Marshall has had quite a career, though I have to admit I read the book for his earlier years as a TV writer.  His work as a film director, starting in his later 40s, is nothing to be embarrassed about--some decent titles, some major hits (especially Pretty Woman), but very few of his films are my favorites.  On the other hand, he's been involved in a lot of memorable TV.
He was born in the Bronx and had a mother who loved putting on shows.  After serving in Korea he returned to New York to be a comedy writer.  He ended up working for names like Joey Bishop, Jack Paar, Lucille Ball and Dick Van Dyke, in one year turning out 31 freelance sitcom scripts with his partner Jerry Belson.  By 1970, he was running his own hit show, The Odd Couple.  Even though stars Tony Randall and Jack Klugman could be tough to deal with, Marshall knew how to handle them and made something special.

Next he created a show that would run eleven years and become one of TV's biggest hits, Happy Days.  He made the pilot and no one wanted it, but then American Graffiti was a huge hit and suddenly a comedy set in the 50s starring Ron Howard seemed like a brilliant idea.  It was, but no one could guess how big the Fonzie character would become. (Marshall also talks about the phrase "jump the shark"--named after the episode where Fonzie does the deed.  Marshall, as he has before, gets the phrase wrong, claiming it means "a TV series is nearing the end of its run." Actually, it means the show has turned a corner and will never be good again, even if it runs ten more years.)

According the Marshall, Happy Days was the happiest of sets, filled will kind, decent people. His other big hit, Happy Days spinoff Laverne & Shirley, was so miserable a place that it got tough to find writers willing to work there.  It's sort of odd since sister Penny was one of the stars, but apparently she and the other lead Cindy Williams, for whatever reason, had trouble dealing with their sudden fame, and their unhappy personal lives, so they made everyone else around them miserable.

Marshall helped turn ABC from the perennial also-ran to the top, and his third huge hit in the 70s was another Happy Days spinoff Mork & Mindy.  He originally wanted John Byner as the lead, but Byner dropped out and someone nobody had heard of, Robin Williams, became TV's biggest star overnight (though the show burned out in a few years and Williams moved on to movies).
Around this time he got into movies, essentially starting on a second career.  It wasn't an easy transition, but he's been doing it now as a main gig longer than he was known primarily as a TV man (though I still think of him as a TV man). He's also started a fairly successful second career as an actor, though for me he's never topped his work as the casino manager in Albert Brook's 1985 classic Lost In America.  He's also written a few plays, one of which got to Broadway (and flopped).

Quite a life.  Marshall's work may not always be top of the line, and tends to be somewhere between lowbrow and middlebrow, but he's entertained millions and done it well.  Maybe he's not the kind to be named for the Kennedy Center Honors or the Mark Twain Prize (though who knows?), but he's given America about as much honest entertainment as anyone else I can think of.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Maybe LAGuy can lead the Third Amendment Caucus

An unusual coalition of 13 Republicans and 12 Democrats on Wednesday announced the creation of the House Fourth Amendment Caucus.

It's Worn Well

It shouldn't be a big deal when Hollywood puts out a well-made film that's a mainstream success yet doesn't rely on special effects.  But we're lucky to get one a season.

Anyway, that's what I was thinking when I read this Variety piece by Ramin Setoodeh on the 10th anniversary of The Devil Wears Prada.  Made for a relatively modest budget, it was a global hit.  It showed the industry that Anne Hathaway could carry a film aimed at adults (she didn't get top billing, but she's the lead), that Stanley Tucci had range and wit, and that Emily Blunt existed. (Meryl Streep got the Oscar nomination, but she was already Meryl Streep.)

But what really caught my eye was this line: became a modern-day "Working Girl" for a generation of millennial women--and some men--who could relate to the idea of losing your identity to your job.

Why bring up Working Girl?  It's not some sort of cultural touchstone, is it?  Anyway, Prada was a bigger hit, even taking inflation into account. But more important, I think Setoodeh misses the appeal of the film.

Sure, the explicit message is be true to yourself, and walk away from things that take you from your path.  But the explicit message of a film isn't necessarily why people care about it.  Some examples:

Explicit message of The Public Enemy: Crime does not pay.
Implicit message: It's cool to be a tough guy!

Explicit message of The Wizard Of Oz: There's no pace like home.
Implicit message: Man, Oz is one wild place!

Explicit message of Saturday Night Fever: It's time to grow up and get out of Brooklyn.
Implicit message: It sure is fun to go disco dancing!

The point of The Devil Wears Prada is not about losing yourself to your job.  It's a Cinderella story about a young woman who's tested in the high-pressure world of high fashion and, after showing talent and resolve, gets rewarded with romance, Paris, power and cool clothes.  Yes, at the end she has to turn her back on all this to do what she originally intended to do (and we don't doubt she'll be a success--though the journalistic enterprise she ends up with has probably gone bankrupt by now, so maybe she made a mistake), but the fun of the film, and what made people identify with Hathaway, was how she rose to the challenge and rose to the top.

When done properly, this is a message that sells.  And The Devil Wears Prada does it well.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Radical ideas

France's "operational reservists" include French citizens with or without military experience as well as former soldiers.

I thought France had the most severe gun control laws? Isn't this a bit crazy, expecting your average Joe to be a competent, independent citizen?

Much safer to contract the job out to ISIS. They've got experience and a proven track record. Maybe loosen your immigration standards. Praise the ideas being promoted by your attackers, to assure them you recognize that they, and anyone who supports them, are good people who have nothing to fear from you.

Top TV

The Emmy nominations are out. It's hard to say much about them, since there are so many shows I don't watch (even though I watch too many as it is).

Still, here's the list of the main categories with my comments:

Game of Thrones
Mr. Robot
House of Cards
Downton Abbey
Better Call Saul
The Americans
Nothing too surprising.  Mr. Robot deserves a nod.  I like Better Call Saul, but it's no Breaking Bad.  Some of the other shows are getting tired, but who else can they pick?  A little surprising not to see Orange Is The New Black.
Modern Family
Silicon Valley
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Master of None
Some good choices (and some titles I haven't seen).  Note that only two are on the networks, and three of them aren't on regularly scheduled TV.  Not sure if black-ish deserves the spot (especially with The Middle being ignored year after year).  No Big Bang Theory, no Brooklyn Nine-Nine and nothing animated.
Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)
Rami Malek (Mr. Robot)
Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul)
Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan)
Kyle Chandler (Bloodline)
Matthew Rhys (The Americans)
It'd be nice to see Rami Malek win for his moody performance.
Robin Wright (House of Cards)
Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder)
Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black)
Claire Danes (Homeland)
Taraji P. Henson (Empire)
Keri Russell (The Americans)
Maslany has been great in this role, though the show has become a mess. Claire Danes is always fine, but does she need another Emmy?
Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent)
Anthony Anderson (black-ish)
Will Forte (The Last Man on Earth)
Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley)
Aziz Ansari (Master of None)
William H. Macy (Shameless)
Jim Parsons, who's won this category a number of times, isn't even nominated.  Overall, a good category. I'd like to see Middleditch win an award, even if his performance doesn't have the breadth of others.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep)
Amy Schumer (Inside Amy Schumer)
Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)
Laurie Metcalf (Getting On)
Tracee Ellis-Ross (black-ish)
Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie)
Laurie Metcalf is an Academy favorite, with three (!) nominations this year. Hard to compare a sketch actor like Schumer with the others.  I'd like to see Kemper win something.
The People v. O.J. Simpson
American Crime
The Night Manager
I'll be rooting for Fargo, which managed once again to pull off something that you'd think wouldn't work.
The Voice
The Amazing Race
Top Chef
Project Runway
Dancing with the Stars
American Ninja Warrior
A good time for a bathroom break.
All the Way
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride
A Very Murray Christmas
It would be a good laugh if the ramshackle Bill Murray special wins, but it's a miracle it was nominated.
Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)
Ty Burrell (Modern Family)
Matt Walsh (Veep)
Louie Anderson (Baskets)
Keegen-Michael Key (Key & Peele)
Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)
Tony Hale (Veep)
The boom for Modern Family is over.  It used to get three nominations here, but now just one.  Tony Hale is a favorite, but they've added Walsh from Veep as well.  Why him in particular, as the show has several fine male supporting performances?  Same could be said for Braugher and his show.  A lot of people loved Anderson in Baskets, but not me.  And I'm also not enamored of Burgess in Kimmy Schmidt.
Niecy Nash (Getting On)
Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live)
Gaby Hoffman (Transparent)
Allison Janney (Mom)
Judith Light (Transparent)
Anna Chlumsky (Veep)
As elsewhere, hard to compare a sketch performer like McKinnon to the others--though I'd give her an award for her Hillary Clinton alone.  Allison Janney is an old favorite of the Academy, though really, with six Emmys, it's time to spread the wealth.
Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul)
Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline)
Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)
Kit Harington (Game of Thrones)
Michael Kelly (House of Cards)
Jon Voight (Ray Donovan)
I think Banks outshines lead Bob Odenkirk in Better Call Saul, and since he never won for this show, or Breaking Bad, you'd think he's due.  I guess you could say the same for Voight, except he has an Oscar so who cares?  Game Of Thrones has two nominees, though for all the action surrounding Jon Snow, I'm not sure if Harington is the outstanding actor on the show.
Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey)
Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)
Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones)
Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones)
Maura Tierney (The Affair)
Constance Zimmer (Unreal)
Game Of Thrones keeps getting more and more nominations, even as the show gets weaker. They've never gotten three nods in this category before--it'll probably split the vote so the laugh's on them.  Last year's winner, Uzo Aduba, isn't even nominated, but then, it's never struck me that she's the top supporting performer on Orange Is The New Black, so why is she always singled out?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

We're not worthy

Jagger has seven other children — all but three of whom are older than Hamrick.

Best heuristic ever

He could become the first vice president from Indiana since Dan Quayle took office in 1989 under George H.W. Bush.

Screw the Federalist Papers. If you want to understand America, know your vice presidents from Indiana.

I Want Answers!

A couple weeks ago I posted my list of all Pixar features from top to bottom.  And I wondered how likely it was that someone had the same preferences.

A friend much better at math has helped me out.  I won't show all the work he did, but I'll give you the results.

First (and this is the easiest thing I asked), the odds that someone in the world would make the same list is about 1 in 50,000. That's because the number of permutations of the film list is 17!, or about 350 trillion.  Now figure there are about 7 billion people in the world, each one making a list, and divide that into 350 trillion and you get a 0.002% likelihood of a match.  (This is assuming all titles are as likely to be in one slot as another.  This is not the case, but was used for ease of calculation.)

The more interesting question, I think, is how many people would you need to make lists before it's more likely than not that you can find two that match.  This is a variant of the "birthday problem"--where probability shows us that 23 random people are more than 50% likely to share at least one birthday, and 70 people have a 99.9% probability of having at least one match.

For my problem, with 350 trillion permutations, it turns out if you've got a bit more than 22.2 million people, you've got a better than even chance that at least two have the same list.  Though it's my guess, with certain titles so much more popular than others, that you'd need less than a million lists--perhaps somewhere in the thousands or tens of thousands--to have a 50%+ shot at a match.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

No judgment here

Shouldn't it be 'in obviously flawed new minor tracking "poll"'?

I mean, if we're going to maintain professional objectivity.

Not for long

Here I am, at my law school graduation:

Bloody coup

This is dramatic: Turkey’s lira plunged as much as 6 percent against the dollar, the most since 2010.

I suppose if they shoot Ergogan it will rise as much as 8 percent. (As I write, no word from Obama, but I'm guessing he opposes overthrow of Islamist governments.)

Bombs Away

It's the anniversary of the Trinity nuclear test, back in 1945.  Good or bad, it changed the world.  If you want to find out more, you could go to your local library, where there's plenty written about it.

But a picture is worth a thousand words.  And motion pictures are worth even more.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Like all Turks, he wants to go to Germany

Turkish President Erdogan is reportedly seeking asylum in Germany.

And if they say no?

What, no pictures of Jonathan Safran?

Looking for a link.

D. C. Comics

Daniel Clowes has a new graphic novel out, Patience.  It's 180 pages and tells one long story, but unlike a lot of his best-known work--Ghost World, Ice Haven, Wilson--it has a sci-fi plot.  It starts out as a realistic, troubled romance--Clowes territory--where two young lovers without much money or prospects face the demands of a pregnancy.  But then things change. He comes home and finds her murdered.

Her name, by the way, is Patience, hence the title, though I think, considering what the hero and heroine go through, it has a double meaning.  Because, it turns out, they both have a lot to go through, in an adventure that will take years.

Because he lives on, in misery, until he finds out about time travel and decides to return to earlier years to save Patience and her baby.  The question then becomes not only will he mange to control the technology, but will this be one of those stories where going back in time doesn't mean you can change things, but simply means you fulfill what already happened.

I prefer his other, more down-to-earth stuff.  Sure, there's plenty of gritty material once you get beyond the fantasy aspects, but that sci-fi aspect (as much as I love it in other stories) can get in the way of the connections between people we see in previous work.

Still, I would recommend it. It's well-drawn and moves well, keeping you guessing until the end.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A helping hand

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, will not deliver a speech to the delegates during the Republican National Convention. Portman has spoken at every GOP convention since 1996.

I've heard Portman speak at a convention. This is the best way possible to support Trump. 

The V-Boys

I just read The Brothers Vonnegut: Science And Fiction In The House Of Magic, Ginger Strand's book about the early years of author Kurt Vonnegut and his brother Bernard.

They, along with their sister Alice, grew up in Indianapolis.  Kurt was the kid brother, trying to get a word in edgewise.  Their German ancestry put the family in an odd position during World War I, which started just before the kids were born.  A few decades later, Germany was once again unpopular, and Kurt was a pacifist.  But the U.S. declared war, and Kurt would find himself fighting in Germany.  And becoming a POW.  (Anyone who's read Slaughterhouse-Five has an idea of his experience.)

Older brother Bernard was an academic star, earning degrees in chemistry at MIT.  Kurt preferred the humanities, but his family urged him to be serious and go into science, and he all but flunked out of Cornell before the war.  After the war, he went to the University of Chicago and studied anthropology.  And then both he and Bernard found employment in Schenectady, New York, working for General Electric.

GE was the future.  And Bernard was on the cutting edge.  He's the guy who came up with seeding clouds with silver iodide to make it rain.  While the discovery was ultimately of limited use, he was unhappy when it was taken over by the military as a potential weapon.

Meanwhile, Kurt worked in public relations.  He didn't like the job, but he had to provide for his family.  In his spare time, he wrote short stories, selling enough to eventually move on.  (Placing four stories a year to big magazines could make him as much money as his job.)  Some of his stories express his political views of the time--which editors, in an age of patriotism, would sometimes soften. Some of his work also express how he didn't fit in at GE--it's hard to miss the autobiographical elements in a piece like "Deer In The Works," about a young man applying for a job as a publicity writer in a large corporation in upstate New York, only to find the experience dehumanizing.

Kurt wanted to become a novelist--more respectable and fiscally reliable.  His first published book, Player Piano, explored the idea of humanity amidst modernization and corporate culture.  The book got good reviews but did not sell well--and also got Kurt the reputation as a science fiction writer, even though his plot was essentially about what was going on at the time at GE.

Not only was Kurt's family growing, but his sister and her husband died (within days of each other) and he adopted her three kids.  Meanwhile, with the rise of TV, the market for short stories was weakening.  He would eventually become a successful novelist (and the star of the family), but times were tough for a period.  And this is where the book leaves us--with Kurt on the precipice of fame, and Bernard wondering about what he'd done.

But the book isn't simply a dual biography. It's more a skeptical look at post-WWII, full of promise and hope, but in danger of selling out.  Whether or not you agree with Strand's take, her book certainly takes you into the Vonneguts' world, and helps explain how they became who they were.

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