Saturday, December 31, 2016

Back To The Reagan Era

Here's Jesse Water top ten list for the films of 1986.

1.   Hannah And Her Sisters
2.   Castle In The Sky
3.   Sherman's March
4.   Chicken Minced Meat
5.   The Singing Detective
6.   Manon Of The Spring
7.   Jean De Florette
8.   River's Edge
9.   True Stories
10. Stand By Me

Some decent stuff here, but I don't know how much of it would make my top ten list. The only two I know would make it would be Castle In The Sky and Stand By MeRiver's Edge and True Stories (which was not well-received in its day) would probably be top twenty.

Hannah And Her Sisters is passable Woody--some of the stories work, others don't.  Sherman's March (is that an '86 film?) is okay, but a little Ross McElwee goes a long way, and this is over two and a half hours.  Manon and Jean De Florette are solid adaptations of Pagnol.

The Singing Detective is Dennis Potter's greatest work (I don't even like Pennies From Heaven), but it's a miniseries.  "Chicken Minced Meat," now that I've seen it, is something special, but it's an ad, not a movie.  By the way, as long as you're accepting shorts, where's Heavy Metal Parking Lot (or Street Of Crocodiles, Precious Images and even Luxo Jr.)?

Here are Jesse's honorable mentions:

11. Blue Velvet
12. Man Facing Southeast
13. 'Round Midnight
14. The Green Ray
15. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
16. The Fly
17. RocketKitKongoKit
18. The Decline of the American Empire
19. Salvador
20. Nomads

Blue Velvet would probably make my top ten (and it almost made Jesse's).  'Round Midnight and Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer would also have a chance.

I remember liking The Green Ray--I'd have to see it again to know where to place it.  The Fly is pretty good Cronenberg.  Decline isn't bad, though I saw it under bad circumstances and maybe should give it another chance. Salvador may be the best Oliver Stone film of the year--Platoon was considered an immediate classic, but has it held up? (It's actually not bad, though whenever I think of it, I think of this (90 seconds in)).

12, 17 and 20 I haven't gotten around to.

Here are some other films from the year that might have made my top ten or twenty list:

Absolute Beginners

Aliens (far better than Alien, though a different genre)

Armour of god (though weakened by the fact that Jackie had his most serious injury ever during production and so the stunts are less spectacular than usual--the sequel is easily superior)


Down by law

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (John Hughes' masterpiece)

Little Shop Of Horrors

Peking Opera Blues

Ruthless People

She's Gotta Have It (this is the film Woody wishes he could have made then)

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (the best Star Trek film)

Here are other films I liked:

Back To School, A Better Tomorrow, Big Trouble In Little China, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Critters, Crocodile Dundee, Down And Out In Beverly Hills, F/X, Flight Of The Navigator, Hoosiers, Howard The Duck (parts of it, anyway), Labyrinth, Mona Lisa, Platoon, Raw Deal, The Sacrifice, Something Wild, Vamp, X: The Unheard Music

Here are other titles of interest:

8 Million Ways To Die, 9 1/2 Weeks, About Last Night, The Adventures Of Milo And Otis, American Anthem, An American Tail (this is what animation was before the new golden age), April Fool's Day, Armed And Dangerous, At Close Range, Behind Enemy Lines, The Best Of Times, Betty Blue, Big Trouble, Black Moon Rising, The Boy In Blue, The Boy Who Could Fly, Caravaggio, Children of a lesser god, The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Class Of Nuke 'em High, Club Paradise, Cobra, The Color Of Money, Crimes Of The Heart, Crossroads, The Delta Force, Desert Bloom, Devil In The Flesh, Dream Lover, Duet For One, Echo Park, Every Time We Say Goodbye, Extremities, Eye Of The Tiger, Family Business, A Fine Mess, Firewalker, Fist Of The North Star, Foreign Body, Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, Les Fugitifs, Ginger And Fred, The Golden Child, Gothic, The Great Mouse Detective, A Great Wall, Gung Ho, Half Moon Street, Hamburger: The Motion Picture, Haunted Honeymoon, Heartbreak Ridge, Heartburn, Heat, Heavenly Pursuits, Highlander, The Hitcher, House, Inside Out, Invaders From Mars, Iron Eagle, Jo Jo Dancer Your Life Is Calling, Jumpin' Jack Flash, Just Between Friends, The Karate Kid Part II, A Killing Affair, King Kong Lives, Lady Jane, Last Resort, Legal Eagles, Let's Get Harry, The Longshot, The Manhattan Project, Manhunter, Maximum Overdrive, The Mission, Modern Girls, The Money Pit, Murphy's Law, The Name Of The Rose, 'night Mother, Night Of The Creeps, No Mercy, Nobody's Fool, Nothing In Common, Off Beat, On The Edge, One Crazy Summer, One More Saturday Night, Out Of Bounds, Peggy Sue Got Married, Pirates, Police Academy 3: Back In Training, Poltergiest II: The Other Side, Power, Pretty In Pink, Psycho III, Reform School Girls, Rose Luxemburg, Running Scared, Saving Grace, Scene Of The Crime, Seize The Day, Shanghai Surprise, Solarbabies, Soul Man, SpaceCamp, Stoogemania, Sweet Liberty, TerrorVision, The Texas Chainsaw Masscare 2, That's Life!, Three Amigos!, Top Gun, Touch And Go, Troll, Twisted, Under The Cherry Moon, The Whoopee Boys, Wildcats, Wisdom, Wise Guys, Witchboard, Working Girls, Youngblood

Predictions From 2016

Time to check how well I did with my predictions for 2016. (If you click on the link, you'll notice there are also some predictions in the comments section.)

Domestic Politics:

Hillary Clinton will be the next President, winning the Electoral College handily.

Like everyone, I was way off.  I do have a lame excuse.  First, she did win the popular vote pretty handily.  Second, I gave Trump a 10% to 20% chance of winning.  I know that doesn't sound like much, but imagine someone is about to roll a die, and says to me "hey smart guy, what are the odds I'm going to roll a 6?"  I'd respond "around 16%." Then he rolls and gets his 6, and say "well, I guess you're not so smart after all."

There will be no brokered GOP convention.

One for me.  This may not sound so brilliant, but remember a year ago this seemed like a distinct possibility.

The Trump factor makes my crystal ball very cloudy, but I predict Marco Rubio will get the nomination.  Further, he will choose a woman or a Midwesterner (or both) for his running mate.

This is correct--the Trump factor made the whole year blurry.  Otherwise, way off, though I'll give myself an eighth of a point for guessing there'll be a GOP running mate from the Midwest.

President Obama will make some very controversial pardons (though this may happen in early 2017).

I think I get this one.  He's not only made a ton of pardons, but has had (as I should have clearly predicted) a highly controversial lame-duck period.

No Republican or Democrat who has run for the presidential nomination will run as a third-party candidate (even though there are already rumblings such a thing will happen).

Once again, might not seem like a brave guess, but this idea, as I noted, was in the air a year ago.

The Supreme Court will decide 5-4 that states can't compel government employees to pay union dues.

The Supreme Court will decide 5-4 that the University of Texas affirmative action program is unconstitutional (and colleges will continue to ignore the Supreme Court's rulings on this issue).

The Supreme Court will strike down new regulations in Texas for abortion clinics.

One thing I didn't predict was Justice Scalia's death, and so I declare these predictions inoperative.

There will be no new Supreme Court Justices seated in 2016.

One for me, and this turned out to be a braver guess than expected--if you'd asked a lot of people this question mid-February, they'd have said the opposite.

There will be no major, organized terror attack on U.S. soil.

This, alas, is a judgment call.  However, even with incidents like the Orlando nightclub attack, I don't think we had anything that you'd call truly organized.

International Politics:

ISIS will be better contained in 2016 than in 2015.

I think this is correct, though some may disagree.

Assad will remain firmly in power.


No significant progress will be made regarding Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Check.  If anything, the opposite.

Justin Trudeau will go down significantly in the polls.

This seems to be true, though perhaps helped along by how he gushed over Castro.

The Economy:

By the end of the year the Dow will be closer to 19000 than 18000 (though a lot of this depends on the election).

The Dow certainly started rising after the election, though I'm not sure if it's due to the Dems losing, or the sense of uncertainly gone.  Anyway, the Dow is now well above 19000, which I'd say makes me correct, though maybe the guess should have been whether it will be closer to 19000 or 20000.

By year's end employment will be slightly under 5%.

I'd say I got this right.

Gas prices will be significantly higher than they are now (which is about 2 bucks a gallon).

I don't know the December number, but as of the end of October, it was about 15 to 20 cents higher. I'm going to call that significant.  (In L.A. at that time, it was pretty close to 3 dollars.)


The BCS Bowl will have Alabama beating Clemson. (This prediction was made before the Cotton Bowl and the Orange Bowl.)

45-40.  I called it.

The Panthers will win the Super Bowl.

The Broncos didn't have too much trouble putting away the Panthers.

The Wolverines will do well, but not better than their 9-3 regular season record in 2015.

I guess they did do better, but in some ways, it was more painful, spending so much time undefeated, ready for a shot at #1.

Popular Culture:

I was going to predict
Star Wars: The Force Awakens will become the highest-grossing domestic film of all time, but it's hardly a prediction now.

True then, true now.

The new Ghostbusters will not do as well as hoped.  Hail, Caesar will also be a disappointment.  Finding Dory will be huge.

Called all three.

Season six of
Game Of Thrones--now completely off book--will be better than season five.  Jon Snow will be alive, one way or another.  By the end of the season, Arya will be back on her own, having graduated from the House Of Black And White; at least one of the Boltons will die, but Littlefinger will still be alive; Daenerys will have gotten her three dragons in order and will finally be on the way back West.

Whether it was better is a judgment call--I'd say it's hard to tell the difference.  Snow was alive (or came back to life).  Arya looked stuck on Braavos for a while, but made it out by the end.  The whole house of Bolton bought it, while Littlefinger is still maneuvering.  Dany is finally going West with her dragons, which we've waited the entire series to see.  Should have guessed we'd see the Hound again as well.

I don't remember a year where there were so few clear favorites for the Oscars.  Leonardo DiCaprio will win Best Actor for
The Revenant due to all his hard work and lack of competition.  Cate Blanchett would easily win Best Actress for Carol if she didn't have two already, so Brie Larson will win. For Best Supporting Actor, no room for Spotlight or Stallone, so Mark Rylance will inch out Christian Bale. For Best Supporting Actress, if they can't vote for Blanchett they can vote for Rooney Mara.  For Best Picture Spotlight and The Big Short will fight it out (don't see The Martian as being a contender), with Spotlight being the safer pick.

Four out of five.  Not bad when you're guessing two months out.

Leo won. (I should also have predicted he'd hijack the event to make a political speech.)  Brie Larson won.  Mark Rylance won.  I was wrong about Rooney Mara--Alicia Vikander took it.

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 Awards

Before I hand out the awards, I apologize that so many are related to the Presidential election. It's just that it was such an earthquake that it can't be ignored.

Story Of The Year: Pretty easy--the election of Donald Trump.  Any other year, it might have been Brexit, but Trump managed to make that look like small potatoes.

Person Of The Year: For the second year in a row, Donald Trump.  No matter how you feel about him, he's shaken up everything. 

Winner Of The Year: Mike Pence.  The guy had been around, but he wasn't exactly on everyone's lips. Then he gets picked for no obvious reason to be the running mate of someone who looks like a sure loser.  Instead, Pence is now second-in-command for a President whom a lot of people would love to impeach.
Loser Of The Year: James Comey.  When the year started, everyone thought highly of him.  Now both sides think he's horrible.  Runner-up: Billy Bush.  Just another show biz guy obsequiously laughing at whatever an important person says, and that laugh finished him (even if it didn't finish the person it was supposed to finish).  Second Runner-up: Merrick Garland.  A nice, reasonable guy who had to wait months and month, hoping he might get a hearing from the Senate.  And then, near the end of the year, he even could hope if Hillary Clinton won and the Dems took the Senate, he might lame-duck it in.  So close.

Glass Ceiling Award: Kellyanne Conway, the first successful female presidential campaign manager.

Winner/Loser Of The Year: Barack Obama.  I doubt he's happy a Republican won, and that his legacy may end up in the ash heap.  But, as much as I don't like mindreading, I can't help but wonder if he sort of enjoys still being the top person in his party, with no one else close.  He and Hillary (plus Bill) hadn't exactly been the best of friends in the past, and if she won, the Clintons would be back in charge, and who'd care about Obama?

Most Pathetic Figure: Hillary Clinton. It had been finally her turn 8 years ago, but we know how that turned out.  Now it was finally, finally her turn.  Could there be any doubt?  And then she lost to the most unpopular candidate for President the GOP had ever chosen.

Biggest Surprise Election Result: Let's go with Ron Johnson holding his Senate seat in Wisconsin over Russ Feingold.  Johnson had been losing in every poll, but won handily, and with a majority.

Most Quixotic Story Of The Year: Trying to flip the electors.  I guess you can't blame them (for trying to turn our nation into a banana republic), but did they really think there was a chance?

Runner-up:  Jill Stein's recount.

Time To Say Goodbye Award: Harry Reid.  A fighter who's been around forever--now he's leaving, his party not in great shape. Some will say he did what he could, some will say he's partly responsible for the mess.  Runner-up: The Bush and Clinton dynasties.

Do We Have To Prove This Every Year Story: The Clinton people spent about half a billion more than the Trump people, once again showing money isn't everything in politics.

Top New Personality. Steve Bannon.  No one had heard of him in 2015.  Now they're sure talking about him.
Biggest Non-Story: Fake news.  If it means anything, it doesn't mean much, but everyone is running around declaring it's significant.  (There are a number of runner-ups here related to other thing Hillary Clinton supporters blame for her loss.)
Biggest Story That Meant Absolutely Nothing In America: Brexit.  A huge story, yes, but we don't really care, and it doesn't really make much difference here.

Best Question:

To Be Continued Story: In 2010, President Obama lost the House.  In 2014, he lost the Senate.  Now his party lost the White House.  Will this finally mean his legacy disappears, or will he and his party be more resilient?

Biggest Story Still To Be Bigger Story: Trump's lack of foreign policy knowledge.  It meant something when he ran, but it'll really mean something starting next year.  He'll have plenty of advisors, of course, so maybe he'll make up for this deficit.  Stay tuned.
Most Overhyped Story: A rise in hate crimes.  Not clear if it happened, and less clear if the rise (which doesn't mean there's a lot in any case) is due to Trump supporters or Trump opponents.  Runner-up: Trump to change the Supreme Court.  Perhaps, but at present, he'll only be replacing Justice Scalia, which means the Court will probably stay the same or perhaps get more liberal.  We don't know if he'll end up doing anything more than that.

Biggest Unforced Error: Hillary Clinton's entire campaign.  She thought she had it easy (as did most people) and so will now get to spend perhaps the rest of her life wondering if, with just a little more effort--especially in the industrial Midwest--she might have won.

How Soon We Forget Award: Remember when people were thinking Trump might win the vote and Hillary win the Electoral College?

Whatever Happened To Award: John Kasich.  You could say this for a lot of Republicans who ran against Trump (or chose not to, Mitt), but if Kasich stands out it's because he was so clearly hoping to be the spokesperson for a rational GOP after Trump lost.  Now, who cares? Runner-up:  Evan McMullin.  For a while it looked like he might actually make a difference, but now I don't think he'll even rise to the level of a Jeopardy! question.

Celebrity Meltdown Of The Year: So many to choose from related to the election.  Guess I'll go with Chelsea Handler.  I couldn't find it by itself, so here's a compilation: 

Worst Trend:  Dead musicians.  I know it happens every year, but with David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Paul Kantner, Maurice White, Keith Emerson, Merle Haggard, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Greg Lake, George Michael and others, somehow it seemed worse than usual in 2016.

Most Unifying Moment:  MTV puts out a video where annoying people talk down to America.  It brought us together in that almost everyone except the people who made this hated it.  (MTV pulled it, but it's still easy to see.)

Biggest Show Biz News:  It appear Saturday Night Live will once again be making fun of the President.

Biggest Sports Story:  Could there be any doubt?  In some years, this could have been the biggest story of the year.

Most Compelling TV Show:  Stephen Colbert's election night special on Showtime.  He was off from CBS that night for obvious reasons, so planned an hour that was supposed to be a victory lap, and one last chance to slam Trump.  Instead, as the awful truth started to dawn on Colbert and his guests, it turned into a wake.  You couldn't take your eyes off it. 

Most Surprising Prize Prize:  Bob Dylan wins the Nobel for literature.  Seems ridiculous until you look at some of the other recent Nobel Prize winners.
Fifteen Minutes Award:  Ryan Lochte.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The 90s Generation

Jesse Walker now has his top ten movie list from 1996.  Let's get right to it:

1.  Fargo
2.  Flirting With Disaster
3.  Trainspotting
4.  The Delta
5.  Chris Rock: Bring The Pain
6.  Microcosmos
7.  Conspirators Of Pleasure
8.  I Shot Andy Warhol
9.  Kingpin
10.Three Lives And Only One Death

My main problem with this list is Fargo--I blow hot and cold on the Coen Brothers, and this one doesn't quite do it for me.  When I insisted their next film, The Big Lebowski, would hold up better, I was met with something approaching derision. (My biggest problem with the film is the character of Marge Gunderson, for which--naturally--Frances McDormand won an Oscar.  I've enjoyed the TV version a lot more.)

The rest of the list is pretty impressive.  Flirting With Disaster is one of the best comedies of the decade. Kingpin is the best Farrelly Brothers comedy that didn't make money. Microcosmos is one of the coolest documentaries of the decade (though I don't like the trick they play on the dung beetle).  Conspirators Of Pleasure may be Svankmajer's best feature (admittedly, he mostly makes shorts).

I Shot Andy Warhol was good, though I don't think top ten good.  Same for Trainspotting.  The Chris Rock thing is a monumental performance, but, as an HBO comedy special, shouldn't be on the list.  I haven't seen The Delta or Three Lives And Only One Death.

Here are Jesse's honorable mentions:

11. Personal Belongings
12. Schizopolis
13. Breaking The Waves
14. Gabbeh
15. Paradise Lost
16. Citizen Ruth
17. When We Were Kings
18. Capitaine Conan
19. Big Night
20. Private Confessions

Schizopolis and Breaking The Waves would make my top ten.  Citizen Ruth, When We Were Kings and Big Night might make my top twenty.  Paradise Lost is a decent documentary.

I haven't seen 11, 14, 18 or 20.

A lot of double directors in the top twenty.

Other films that would have made my top ten:


Bottle Rocket

Secrets & Lies


Other films I like:

Beavis And Butt-Head Do America, The Birdcage, Bound, Broken Arrow, The Daytrippers, From Dusk Till Dawn, Grace Of My Heart, Hard Eight, Kids In The Hall: Brain Candy, The Last Big Thing, The Line King: The Al Hirschfeld Story, Lone Star, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Mother (though weak for Albert Brooks), Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, Police Story 4, Shall We Dance?, Sling Blade, That Thing You Do!, Tin Cup (starts top ten but peters out), Trees Lounge, Walking And Talking

Other films of note:

101 Dalmations, August,  Beautiful Girls, Bio-Dome, Blood And Wine, Bogus, Bordello Of Blood, Bulletproof, The Cable Guy, Carpool, Carried Away, Chain Reaction, City Hall, Courage Under Fire, The Craft, Crash (Cronenberg), Daylight, Diabolique, Don't Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood, Down Periscope, Dragonheart, Ed, The English Patient (Oscar winner), Emma, Eraser, Escape From L.A., The Evening Star, Everyone Says I Love You, Evita, Executive Decision, Extreme Measures, Eye For An Eye, Faithful, The Fan, Fear, Feeling Minnesota, First Kid, The First Wives Club, Fly Away Home, Freeway, The Frighteners, Get On The Bus, Getting Away With Murder, The Ghost And The Darkness, Ghosts Of Mississippi, The Glimmer Man, The Grass Harp, Hamlet, Happy Gilmore,
Harriet The Spy, Head Above Water, High School High, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, I'm Not Rappaport, If Lucy Fell, In Love And War, Independence Day, Indian Summer, Infinity, Irma Vep, Jack, Jane Eyre, Jerry Maguire, Joes Apartment, Johns, The Juror, Kansas City, Last Dance, Last Man Standing, Letters From Home, Mad Dog Time, Manny & Lo, Mars Attacks!, Marvin's Room, Mary Reilly, Matilda, Maximum Risk, Michael, Michael Collins, The Mirror Has Two Faces, Mission: Impossible, Mother Night, Mrs. Winterbourne, Mulholland Falls, Multiplicity, My Fellow Americans, North Star, The Nutty Professor, One Fine Day, The People Vs. Larry Flynt, A Perfect Candidate, The Phantom, Phenomenon, The Portrait Of A Lady, The Preacher's Wife, Primal Fear, Ransom, Ridicule, The Rock, Scream, The Secret Agent, Set It Off, Sgt. Bilko, She's The One, Sleepers, Space Jam, Space Truckers, The Spitfire Grill, Star Trek: First Contact (the best film this crew made), Stealing Beauty, Striptease, The Stupids, The Substance Of Fire, SubUrbia, Temptress Moon, Thieves, A Thin Line Between Love And Hate, Thinner, A Time To Kill, To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday, Tremors 2: Aftershocks, The Trigger Effect, The Truth About Cats & Dogs, Twister, Two If By Sea, Unforgettable, Up Close And Personal, White Squall, The Whole Wide World, The Winner

Debbie Dances

Carrie, and now Debbie.  Not much to say, so say "Good Morning."

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Times Have Changed

For years I wondered if the Plymouth Rock line from Malcolm X...

...came from Spike Lee or Malcolm X himself.  Yet all it took was five seconds of research to answer this mystery:

The reason I wanted to know was to discover if it was Spike or Malcolm who was the fan of Cole Porter:

That'll scare 'em

"The concerns voiced by dissident doctors do not appear to imperil Senate confirmation of Mr. Price, but they do ensure that his confirmation hearings next month will be as contentious as any held for a Trump nominee, featuring a full public examination . . ."

Yeah, Trump's really worried about press blowback.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Decade's Perspective

My friend Jesse Walker has an annual tradition--top ten lists of movie from previous decades ending with the number of the present year.  And at Pajama Guy, we have a tradition of critiquing these lists.

So here's the first, for the year 2006.  His top ten:

1.  Deadwood 3
2.  Pan's Labyrinth
3.  Children Of Men
4.  The Wire 4
5.  Everything Will Be OK
6.  The Lives Of Others
7.  Volver
8.  Meditation - Light
9.  The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
10. Dreamgirls

Jesse breaks my rules for top ten movie lists by including TV shows for 1 and 4. They may be good (The Wire) but they are not movies, so shouldn't be here.  He also includes a short--Everything Will Be OK is pretty special, but it's also 17 minutes, and shouldn't be competing with features.

As for the others, Pan's Labyrinth and The Lives Of Others would make my list.  Volver's okay, but not for top ten.  Children Of Men didn't impress me like it did others--I had trouble with its tone.  Dreamgirls isn't much of a show (or much of a score) to begin with, and I thought the movie lost the one thing it had going for it--its staging.

The other two I haven't seen.  Haven't even heard of 8.  I'd definitely like to check out 9.

Here are his honorable mentions:

11. Time
12. Veronica Mars 2
13. Bug
14. Tell No One
15. Stranger Than Fiction
16. Inland Empire
17. The Host
18. The Departed
19. A Scanner Darkly
20. Tekkonkinkreet

Haven't seen 11, 13, 17, 19 and 20 (though I've caught bits of 17 and 19). 12 is another damn TV show.  Doesn't leave much.

Tell No One, if I recall correctly, is good faux-Hitchcock.  Stranger Than Fiction came from a script by a hot writer who wasn't so hot after his films came out--Jesse, being a good auteurist, only mentions the director at his website. The movie (which features a lot of actors I know from Chicago in bit parts) is a good idea that doesn't work, mostly due to the writing.  Inland Empire certainly has moments of interest, but at three hours is a compendium of some of the worst habits of David Lynch--he hasn't made a feature since. The Departed, which won the Oscar that year, is not one of Scorsese's best (and I'm not even that much a fan of his work to begin with).

Here are other films that would have made my top ten or twenty list:

Clerks II (not everyone loved it, but I think it's one of Kevin Smith's best)

The Devil Wears Prada (expert Hollywood entertainment is nothing to sneeze at)

Heart Of The Game

Infamous (the good film about Truman Capote)

Jackass Number Two

Little Children

Little Miss Sunshine


The Queen

Trailer Park Boys: The Movie (saw it before I knew there was a TV series)


Other films I liked:

Art School Confidential (seemed disappointing after Ghost World, but has held up well), Cars (weak for Pixar, but still fun), Casino Royale (the only Daniel Craig Bond I liked), Friends With Money, Idiocracy, The Illusionist, Mission: Impossible III, Pittsburgh, A Prairie Home Companion (Altman's last--flawed but fascinating), The Prestige, Rocky Balboa, RV, Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby, Thank You For Smoking, Tristram Shandy, The TV Set, Venus, Wristcutters: A Love Story

Other films of note:

16 Blocks, Akeelah And The Bee, American Dreamz, The Ant Bully, Apocalypto, As You Like It, The Astronaut Farmer, Away From Her, Babel, Basic Instinct 2, The Black Dahlia, Borat, The Break-Up, Click, The Da Vinci Code, Date Movie, Death Of A President, Deja Vu, Delirious, The Descent, Factory Girl, Factotum, Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift, Find Me Guilty, Flushed Away, For Your Consideration, The Fountain, Freedomland, Fur, Game 6, The Good German, The Good Shepherd (some have noted they should have worked together and made "The Good German Shepherd"), Goya's Ghosts, Grandma's Boy, The Green Hornet, A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, Half Nelson, Happily N'Ever After, Happy Feet, Harsh Times, The History Boys, The Hoax, The Holiday, Hoot, I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With, Ice Age: The Meltdown, Idlewild, Inside Man, John Tucker Must Die, Lady In The Water, The Lake House, Letters From Iwo Jima, Looking For Comedy In The Muslim World, Lucky Number Slevin, Madea's Family Reunion, Man Of The Year, Matador, Miami Vice,  Monster House, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, The Nativity Story, Neil Young: Heart Of Gold, Night At The Museum, Notes On A Scandal, The Omen, Over The Hedge, The Pacifier, The Painted Veil, Paris Je T'Aime, Penelope, Phat Girlz, The Pink Panther, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dean Man's Chest, Precinct B13, Puccini For Beginners, The Pursuit Of Happyness, Red Riding Hood, Saw III, Scary Movie 4, School For Scoundrels, The Science Of Sleep, Skinwalkers, Slither, Smokin' Aces, Snakes On A Plane, Southland Tales, Step Up, Stick It, Superman Returns, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Underworld: Evolution, United 93, We Are Marshall, Who Killed The Electric Car?, Who The $&% Is Jackson Pollock?, The Wicker Man, Wild West Comedy Show, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, World Trade Center, X-Men: The Last Stand, You Me And Dupree

Carrie Fisher

I don't want to write about Carrie Fisher's death.  It's so sad.  I've read her non-fiction books, which detailed her wild and often troubled life.  She also has a new book out about her Star Wars days that I've been planning to read.  And I've seen her in numerous movies and TV shows, not to mention films she wrote.  But of course, she'll always be Princess Leia.

Star Wars was the film phenomenon of my lifetime.  I still remember walking out of the theatre feeling I'd just witnessed magic.  And Princess Leia was an important part of that.  She's the first human you see (even before the film started, I remember standing in the lobby looking at photos from the film--the one that intrigued me most was Leia bending down to R2-D2), and the whole plot revolves around her rescue, not to mention the other two leads fighting for her attention.  The wonder Luke felt when he first saw her hologram--that's how a whole generation of boys viewed her.  The film ends with Luke and Han receiving medals from the Princess, and three deep friendships (four if you count Chewie) being forged--but it was the beginning of a lifelong relationship with millions around the world.

While there were plenty of cool characters in A New Hope, Leia more than held her own.  She wasn't intimidated by Grand Moff Tarkin or Darth Vader.  She suffered maybe more than anyone, seeing her home planet blown up, but she still held it together.  And she didn't put up with any nonsense, even when Luke and Han rescued her.

The Empire Strikes Back deepened her character (and her relationship with Han, now that Luke was out of the question), and Return Of The Jedi, of course, featured her iconic slave costume.

But that wasn't all for the Princess.  We saw her origin in the prequels, and she returned, decades older, in The Force Awakens. Then, only a couple weeks ago, the same young Princess Leia Organa we loved in the first Star Wars made her appearance at the end of Rogue One.  Her last word is "hope."

Strange To Say

According to The Hollywood Reporter (which seems to have become a political periodical--Tom Arnold is threatening to release yet more Trump secret tapes--I'd love to hear them, but hasn't the time for that passed?), President Obama says he would have beat Trump.  He says he would have "mobilized a majority of the American people." I thought that's what he was trying to do for Hillary.

I'm not saying he wouldn't have won. It's just odd to hear the President talk like this about the man who's about to replace him--it seems untoward. On the other hand, as he sits in the White House reading Donald Trump's tweets, I can understand why he thinks there are no rules any more.

He also believes a "double standard" applied to Hillary.  There's been a "longstanding difficulty in her relationship with the press." So does that explains how he beat her in 2008?  No, it only applies to 2016, where "her flaws were wildly amplified relative to" Trump's.

This is the same media, you'll recall, that endorsed Clinton over Trump 57 to 2.  Gary Johnson got more endorsements from major papers than Trump.  A fair number of conservative journals went for Hillary.  Some papers simply said do what you want as long as you don't vote for Trump.  So I guess when Obama says "relative to" Trump, he means that Trump is a 50 times worse than Hillary, and the press only made him seem 25 times worse.

He also noted Hillary Clinton had "performed wonderfully under really tough circumstances." That might have been the cruelest thing he said.

Monday, December 26, 2016


Good TV credits get you jazzed.  The main thing is the show, of course, but you've waited a week (if you're not binge watching) and good credits set up a Pavlovian response.

I didn't love Westworld, but I watched it.  And week after week I was surprised how weak the credits were.  HBO retooled the show, and spent $100 million on it--they couldn't come up with a better opening sequence?

Okay, it's just my personal taste, but let me show you the credits of three other HBO favorites. If you're a fan, they'll get you going. We'll follow with Westworld.  Wake me up when it's over.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Log In

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Very Merry

I know I said I wasn't going to write regularly for this blog any more.  That's still true.  I just write when there seems like something to say, and since I've had a little more free time lately, it's been no trouble to produce a post a day.

I expect the posts will be considerably more sparse next year.  But on this Christmas Eve, let me note that the year will end with a flurry, as we give out annual awards, go over past predictions, and make new ones.  So at least stick around for that.

Friday, December 23, 2016

To Begin With

I just watched some adaptation or other of A Christmas Carol on TV.  There are numerous versions out there, so it plays pretty regularly this time of year.

It got me thinking.  Who is this Scrooge character?  Well, he's a miser who's given visions and has a change of heart.  So in the ever-after present, he is always a joyous and generous man.  But when you call someone a Scrooge, you mean someone who's odiously tightfisted.

This happens with a lot of characters.  Their plot is about how they change, but they are permanently known as their before, not their after.  Interesting how it works.

PS  What about Marley?  Unlike his old partner, he's not redeemed--in fact, he's forever cursed.  But he never got the chance that Scrooge is given.  Is that fair?

Thursday, December 22, 2016


I'm not blogging regularly any more (though I can understand why some would think I am), but I thought I'd repost something I put up in 2009 about an old friend, one I still miss:

I don't usually get too personal here, but I just want to talk a bit about one of my closest friends, Liz, who died yesterday of ovarian cancer. I could tell you hundreds of stories about what a delight she was, but I'll keep it short.

I still remember how we met our first year in law school at Chicago. Torts class was discussing Bolton v. Stone, an important case (or actually a series of cases) on negligence. The professor asked a student about a specific thing in it and he had no idea what the prof was referring to. So the professor asked the same thing of Liz. She said sorry, she didn't know. Then he asked me. I said "this isn't your day, is it?"

After class, Liz and I got in the elevator to the library, and she said "thanks for taking the heat off me." We started talking and, before you knew it, became friends.

She was easy to be friends with. Very sweet, very open. She was also quite striking. And I don't mean that as a weasel word--she was very tall and beautiful. You noticed her when she walked into a room. I remember thinking it almost wasn't fair she was smart and charming as well. (She used to talk about how as a teenager she felt too tall and skinny and didn't like her stringy hair, but a lot of attractive women talk that way.)

Everywhere she went she made friends. I remember she took a Shakespeare seminar at Chicago with Allan Bloom, and got to know him. Meanwhile, she was working downtown at the Sonnenschein firm, where she got to know attorney Scott Turow. I told her she must be the only person to be pals with the authors of the bestselling fiction and non-fiction book at the same time.

After law school, we both lived, for a short period, in Chicago's Near North Side, a few blocks from each other. We studied for the bar in the same class, and took it in the same building. We went out to lunch during the breaks, and promised not to talk about the test in case one of us got something wrong. (We both passed, by the way.)

We saw each other pretty regularly before I left for LA. She then followed the pattern of other friends and kept moving farther away from downtown, first getting a very nice place in Lincoln Park, and then some years later marrying and having a wonderful home in North Center.

I would come back once or twice a year and the trip wasn't complete until I saw her. (She also visited me in Los Angeles a few times.) When I came by, she would often take me to her latest favorite hangout--bar or restaurant. The people there always greeted her effusively. I asked (as if I didn't know) "why is it everyone is always so happy to see you," and she replied (jokingly, though we both knew it was true) "don't you know?--I'm adorable."

Sometimes we'd sit on her balcony and have long talks. She traveled a lot and would tell me stories about her various adventures. But, she said, for all the things she did, there was nothing she liked better than lying in the sun, reading a book and drinking some wine.

We talked over the phone occasionally. I actually kept a message (it's somewhere, probably in the back of a closet) she left on my machine. She'd moved into her new place in Lincoln Park and had requested I send her a photo. So I sent an old shot of me as a three-year-old in a cowboy suit. She called to say I was very cute, but she'd like something more contemporary.

Once I called her and she was weeping. I asked what's wrong. She said Jimmy Smits died. Jimmy Smits? The actor? Yeah, but not the actor, his character on NYPD Blue. I laughed and told her to get over it. I think she got mad at me.

She went to work in-house at an alcohol company. I met her in Vegas when she was there on business. She invited me to an exclusive party she was hosting at the Hard Rock. The date was September 10, 2001. I went back to my room but had trouble sleeping. I woke up, turned on the TV and saw the news. I called her and told her I had to drive back immediately to LA (though, thinking back, I'm not sure why I felt that way). She was actually stuck in Vegas after 9/11, since all flights were grounded and the rental cars were quickly gone. I later apologized for leaving her in the lurch.

One of the best things about her--she loved to hear me tell jokes. (She even said it was okay if I'd told them before since she always forgot them.) That may not sound like much, but it is. You hate to impose, so there's nothing like an appreciative audience.

In the last decade, we stayed in touch mostly via computer. She would demand I send her the latest gags. Luckily, I kept many of her emails. Here's a rare one (from 2000) where she relates a joke:

...if I'm travelling over the weekend, I treat myself to the Sunday New York Times. I always feel guilty about not finishing it when I'm at home. Strange Catholic logic.

Any good political humor out there these days? I was just in Alberta, Canada on business. We own a distillery up there. We stayed to hike around Banff and Lake Louise. It was stunning. But I digress. In Alberta there are huge enclaves of Mormons. I heard my first Mormon joke. "How do you keep a Mormon from drinking at a party? Invite another Mormon." Not very funny but I guess I laughed because I'd never heard a Mormon joke before. Although now I know I can never live in Alberta.

I can just hear her saying this in her rich, musical voice.

Then there was a period I didn't hear from her much. I visited Chicago and called her up. She was married at this point and her husband explained how she'd been diagnosed, had been getting treatment, and was pretty weak. Must have been six or seven years ago. Ever since then, she'd been fighting. And there were times when she seemed to be doing well, perhaps had even turned the corner.

Though she was often feeling poorly, we'd still work it out so I could drop by, usually for dinner. She never let her illness stop her from living her life. She kept traveling, too.

About a year ago I was in Chicago, and we had a great time. Even if I hadn't seen her for a while, it was as if I'd never left. Then a few months ago I dropped by, and we planned to get together, but she had to cancel. Which brings us up to yesterday.

It's hard to believe I won't see her again, or talk to her, or hear her laugh. I don't think I ever knew anyone who was more alive.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


Will Smith's new film, Collateral Beauty, had a poor opening weekend.  Apparently, those who saw it liked it, but it's hard for films to come back from a bad start these days.

The film tested well, but the critics piled on, and perhaps the concept just didn't play with the audience at large.  I wrote about the film's trailer, which I didn't think much of.  I'm not sure how to sell such a film, though there must have been a better way.

But that's not what I want to write about.  I was looking over some of the reviews when I came across Kyle Smith's pan in The New York Post.  The headline is "'Collateral Beauty' does collateral damage."

I don't know if Smith writes his headlines, or if an editor is responsible.  Whoever it is, I guess they're trying to be clever, but the title Collateral Beauty is obviously playing off the phrase "collateral damage." So to use that phrase, as if you're witty for pointing out the resemblance, is an embarrassment.

If critics want to impress us with their cutting thrusts, they shouldn't humiliate themselves before they even start.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The L Word

Here's a piece with Bill Clinton angry over the election, and so calling others (those who voted against Hillary) angry.  Par for the course, really. At the end, though, he said something interesting.

He also scoffed at the regular claim from Trump and his team that the president-elect's Election Day win represented a "landslide" victory, despite the fact that he lost the popular vote.  "Landslide?  I got something like 370 electoral votes," Clinton said, correctly recalling his 1992 total.  "That was a landslide."

He's right about Trump--no way was the election a landslide. But then, neither was Clinton's.  Trump won the Electoral College 306 to 232*, while Clinton won with 370 and then 379 such votes.  This is not only more than Trump got, but also more than two-termers Obama and George W. Bush got.  But still not that impressive.

"Landslide" is a relative term, of course, but when you consider the huge electoral landslides we saw before Clinton, you can see how paltry modern victories are.

1988:  George H. W. Bush defeats Dukakis 426 to 111
1984:  Reagan defeats Mondale 525 to 13
1980:  Reagan defeats Carter 489 to 49

(After the 1980 election, there were many on the left who insisted it wasn't a landslide.)

Other landslides in the 20th century:

1972:  Nixon defeats McGovern, 520 to 17
1964:  Johnson defeat Goldwater 486 to 52
1956:  Eisenhower defeats Stevenson 457 to 73
1952:  Eisenhower defeats Stevenson 442 to 89

That's far back enough, though you could also throw in four victories by FDR, not to mention Hoover, Harding and Wilson.

I don't know where the cut-off point is, but unless you get 400+ electoral votes, let's not even think of using the L word.

*According to the original voting.  If you figure in the faithless electors, I believe it's 304 to 227.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Race To The Bottom

Ta-Nehisi Coates recently appeared on The Daily Show to discuss the presidential election.  Coates is a leading public intellectual on issues of race, though based on what he said, it's hard to understand why:

If I have to jump six feet to get the same thing that you have to jump two feet for--that's how racism works.

To be president, [Obama] had to be scholarly, intelligent, president of the Harvard Law Review, the product of some of out greatest educational institutions, capable of talking to two different worlds...Donald Trump had to be rich and white. That was it. That's the difference.

This is nuts.  I wasn't even going to write about it, figuring anyone could see the absurdity of his stance, but I noticed many seemed to think he was making a good point. (For instance, the headline of the piece I linked to is "Ta-Nehisi Coates Perfectly Explains How Racism Helped Donald Trump Win.")

First, let's look at Barack Obama.  He was, by most standards, underqualified to be President.  He'd been a community organizer, spent some time in the Illinois Senate, and then a couple years in the U.S. Senate. He had no executive experience.  Compare him to George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon...just about anyone who's been elected President in modern times, and you'll see how meager his record and his accomplishments were.

As far as coming from our top educational institutions, the political world is lousy with Ivy Leaguers--there are too many of them, if anything.  As for being a scholar, who gives a damn?  Being a legal scholar helps you become a law professor, and maybe a judge, but isn't especially helpful or attractive in politics.  The scholar's life (not that Obama led one--he was a lecturer in law, but didn't publish papers) is about spending time in musty libraries, not getting political experience.

Then there's this weird stuff about being able to talk to two different worlds.  A lot of politicians can speak "classy" when they need to, and "down-home" when they need to.  To claim Barack Obama is special because he can talk...what, "black" and "white"?...sounds pretty condescending.

Obama defeated John McCain and Mitt Romney (as well as Hillary Clinton, whom many on the left would later describe as the most qualified candidate ever for President).  McCain had military experience, and, of course, was tortured for years as a prisoner of war.  He served in the House of Representatives and spent decades in the Senate, chairing a number of committees.  Mitt Romney (with a JD and MBA from Harvard--not that it matters) had a significant business career, notably managed a successful Olympics, and was a Republican governor of the blue state of Massachusetts.

But their qualifications and experience ultimately didn't matter.  Voters only care so much about that stuff.  Barack Obama won two terms because he was the right person at the right time--no one can become President without that.  He ran a good campaign, and was a smart, charming candidate (not to mention someone who employed vicious tactics when necessary), but it also takes a lot of luck and good timing to win the office, and Obama had more than his share. 

And yes, an important part of his political career was related to him being black. (I know he's half black and half white, but for simplicity's sake I'll call him black, as so many political commentators do.) It helped him--set him apart, made him more appealing--and I doubt very much he'd be President if he were white. In fact, with his far-left ideology (in his short time in the U.S. Senate, he had the most liberal voting record there), I don't know if he would have had any political career had he been white.

Now let's address the even more absurd part of Coates' argument, and look at Donald Trump.  Coates says all he needed to be was rich and white.  I think we can see, when it comes to presidents, Trump is an anomaly.

The normal candidate--of any race, ethnicity, sex, whatever--has political experience. The normal candidate doesn't say outrageous things on a regular basis, or tweet his personal feelings at three in the morning.  The normal candidate is not Donald Trump.  So to use him as an example of how easy politics is for white people makes no sense.

In any case, he wasn't just handed the nomination, he had to take down a huge GOP field--did Coates forget that? Most of them were more conventionally qualified, and most of them were white, so tell them that white politicians have it easier. (Many of his opponents were also highly educated--some were brilliant Ivy Leaguers who I'm sure could give Obama a run for his money.  Who cares.)  Trump won because, once again, he was in the right place as the right time.

And with the right message.  He was saying things that resonated with many in the GOP, as well as disaffected Democrats.  He was also saying something that the other Republicans not only didn't say, but often denounced.  He had a message of economic populism, that both parties--the "elite," if you like--seemed to be fighting against. (This populism isn't a black/white thing, or even a left/right thing--Bernie Sanders, as much as he disagreed with Trump, tapped into some of the same feeling and almost took down Hillary Clinton.)

So, against all odds--considerably higher odds than Barack Obama's, I'd say--Trump somehow managed to become President.  Mind you, it's not unique to have no political experience and be a popular Presidential candidate--Herman Cain and Ben Carson come to mind. (Wait a second--they're African-Americans--that's not supposed to be possible.) But they were flavors of the month, while Trump's campaign was enduring due to its substance, even if it was wrapped in what was to many, even his supporters, a distasteful package.  And that's "the difference"--not that he was "rich and white."

PS  I'm going to ignore that Coates apparently believes a white man defeating a white woman is a sign of racism.  It's also not a sign of sexism, but that's for another post.

PPS  Coates also believes it was "unique circumstances" that allowed Obama to be the first African-American president:

I think Barack Obama was born into a home not just to a white woman and white grandparents, but a white woman and white grandparents who shockingly told him it was okay that he was black and that he should not be ashamed of it and that he should in fact be proud of it.

Coates feels (according to the linked article) this "limited Obama's ability to fully understand the trauma of racism." Coates compared Obama's childhood to his own, where the experience with white people was often malevolent--this was simply not part of Obama's background.

So, according to Coates, Obama was able to succeed, and rise higher than any African-American ever, because he was (relatively) free of the trauma of racism.  Okay, Ta-Nehisi, I'll take you at your word.  If this is true, what do you think is a better strategy to help black people achieve more--dwell on the pain of the past, and obsess over bigotry, or move beyond it, and treat the world as if racism isn't a factor that explains almost everything?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

No Fun or Go Figure

The A.V. Club has been running an excellent series on the best action films, year by year.  They recently got to 1991, and the obvious choice was Terminator 2.  But I have a question about what Tom Breihan writes.

In the paragraph describing how Arnold Schwarzenegger, now a superstar (he wasn't when the first Terminator film came out), is introduced, we get:

...that scene establishes Schwarzenegger as a badass.  But then he walks out, in his head-to-toe black leather, and revs that motorcycle while George Thorogood's weekend-warrior anthem "Bad To The Bone" blares on the soundtrack.  And then, when the bartender threatens him with a shotgun, he grabs the shotgun and the poor guy's sunglasses.  So he's a badass and a figure of fun.

Maybe I'm misreading this, but I don't think Breihan understands what "figure of fun" means.  From the context of his piece, he seems to be saying that Arnold's new terminator is a tough guy, but also a fun guy, or at least an android involved in humorous moments that we can have some laughs with.

But a "figure of fun" isn't someone who's enjoyable to watch or be around.  A figure of fun is someone who's considered ridiculous.  You're laughing at him, not with him.

"Figure of fun" is a great phrase.  Nothing quite like it.  But is the original meaning being lost?  If enough people start thinking like Breihan, it's gone.

A thing of beauty

"The best thing about being a girl is, now I don't have to pretend to be a boy."

There's a statement to parse.

What does the Venn diagram look like when it comes to the populations of people tearing up and celebrating that statement, versus calling all their opponents climate deniers and science deniers?

And I hate to ask, but what role does the penis play in all this? The dominant one, I suppose, as always.

Saturday, December 17, 2016


Eight years ago, it seemed perfect--Tina Fey had to play Sarah Palin.  The demand was so great she came back to SNL to do some classic bits.  Fey herself said she didn't see it, but even her young daughter saw the resemblance.

But not long ago, when I saw the trailer for Why Him?, I thought the lady playing Bryan Cranston's wife was Fey.  For a second anyway.  Then I realized it was Megan Mullally.

Maybe there's not the same call for doing Megan Mullally impressions--Mullally does just fine as herself.  But still, if she ever drops out of a project, they know who to call.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Got You Covered

Some years ago, TV news decided not to call any state in a Presidential election until the polls closed there, and not to release the results of exit polls regarding who got the most votes until all the voting was done.  I never thought this was necessary, though I suppose withholding information for a few hours isn't too harmful.

But it does mean they know something we don't know.  And I felt it during the Clinton-Trump election.   At least I thought I did.

On Election Night, I was flipping from channel to channel, and early on, before there were too many actual results, it seemed like the newspeople knew Hillary had it in the bag from early exit polling (which turned out to be wrong, of course), and it informed their analysis.

Days later, I wondered if I imagined it.  But now on YouTube you can see the live ABC coverage, hour by hour, which supports the thesis.  It was fascinating to watch before the tide started to turn.  For instance, every time it was mentioned Trump was ahead in Florida, some analyst would hurriedly note there are a lot of votes still out, and  Clinton has an excellent chance of winning. You got similar takes on states like Pennsylvania and Michigan.  In other words, they knew the proper conclusion, and tried to fit the facts to it. (You can take my word for it, but if you'd rather, go ahead and watch the video below, which shows ABC that night from 9 PM to 10 PM. Same for NBC, if you want to watch an 8 hour video, or CBS, which is only 6 hours--though the first hour or so of that is quite something.)

YouTube has ABC's later hours as well. It's intriguing to watch the process, knowing how it will turn out.  At 9, they're still signaling (without quite saying) Hillary's got it. By 10, they're starting to realize it's going to be a long night.  By 11, they see Trump is the clear favorite.  By midnight, it's all over but the counting.

So what's the message?  Maybe it's best to report what you know, not what you think you know.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Vanity Project

Magazines have a problem. (Aside from the fact they're magazines and thus on the way out.) They put a later date on the cover than when they publish, so their product can stay fresh on the newsstand.  Not necessarily a big problem, unless they post-date something topical.

Vanity Fair's December issue--with the Adele cover--came out in November, and was written before the election.  In particular, let's look at the "Editor's Letter" from Graydon Carter--"The Deciders And The Damned."  Carter made his bones decades ago, mocking Donald Trump at Spy, and today, like many an editor of a slick magazine, writes with Olympian disdain at the fools whose politics differ from his (certain his readers agree).

He starts this way:

At this point, I suspect that Donald Trump is deeply regretting his rash decision to run for the presidency.

He goes on:

In drawing attention to himself, which is the basic point of his political career, Trump got more than he bargained for—but also as much as someone like him warrants. [...] Trump’s family members, exposed to myriad slights, speculations, and accusations, no doubt wish he had left it all alone. The brand, such as it ever was, is tarnished, perhaps permanently. Trump has learned the hard way that decisions made brazenly from the gut can have dire consequences. [...] And poor [Jon] Stewart—his decision to retire before Trump’s ill-fated run for the presidency will probably haunt him forever.

The piece may be set in a present just before the election, but it's clearly meant for a world soon to have President-Elect Hillary Clinton. Instead, it's a world where Graydon Carter has egg on his face.

But don't feel bad for Graydon.  Unchastened, he'll now write editorial after editorial against President Trump, certain he knows what next month will bring, and more certain his readers will agree.

PS  Literally seconds after I wrote this, I read that Donald Trump is tweeting nasty things about Graydon Carter.  Not about the Editor's Letter, though.  Apparently he's angry at a negative review of Trump's New York restaurant Trump Grill.  Here's the tweet:

Has anyone looked at the really poor numbers of @VanityFairMagazine.  Way down, big trouble, dead!  Graydon Carter, no talent, will be out!

I'm feeling nostalgic.  The two were feuding back in the days of Spy.  Trump predicted the magazine would be out of business in a year, so Spy ran that quote every issue, with a countdown calendar.

Of course, back then, Trump was merely a short-fingered vulgarian.  Now he's President-Elect.  You'd think he has better things to do than help out his old pal Graydon.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Does It Register?

People are talking about the Golden Globes nominations, but they mean nothing. Sure, it's a fun party, but otherwise, who cares?

On the other hand, the 25 films just added to the National Film Registry, they're worth talking about.  So let's do that.  Here's the list, alphabetically, with my comments.  These films, by the way, are chosen due to their cultural, historical or aesthetic significance.

Atomic Cafe (1982).  A collection of government films from the early days of the nuclear age.  Worth including.

Ball of Fire  (1942)  I recently wrote about this.  One of my favorite Hawks comedies, and underrated.  There are already plenty of Hawks films in the Registry, but there's always room for more.

The Beau Brummels (1928)  A short from the early days of sound, starring the comedy team of Shaw and Lee.  Just by chance I recently saw it.  It's fun, but of mostly historical interest.

The Birds (1963)  Famous, and memorable, if not top-tier Hitchcock.  Why not, though I'd rather see more Hawks than Hitch.

Blackboard Jungle (1955)  No classic, but historically important, if nothing else, for breaking the song "Rock Around The Clock" and giving a boost to the rock and roll fad.

The Breakfast Club  (1985)  Ugh.  A dumb movie that apparently means a lot to people (who are now old enough to make decisions about the Registry).

The Decline Of Western Civilization (1981)  Penelope Spheeris documents the early world of L.A. punk rock. She'd make sequels, but this one is still the classic.

East Of Eden (1955) Overrated, like all of James Dean's films (he starred in three), but I guess an inevitable choice.

Funny Girl (1968)  I don't think that much of it, but as the film that introduced Barbra Streisand to the movie audience, I guess it's worth something.

Life Of An American Fireman (1903)  Film isn't yet a decade old and you can see how it's moving forward with this Edwin S. Porter short.

The Lion King (1994)  Not my favorite Disney animated film of the second golden age, but one of their biggest hits, and good enough to make the list, I suppose.

Lost Horizon (1937)  A long and hollow film by Frank Capra, and I love Capra.  Some have mistaken it for a classic.

Musketeers Of Pig Alley (1912)  A short by D. W. Griffith. Important in the development of film, and still has power.

Paris Is Burning. (1990)  An inside look at New York's drag scene a quarter of a century ago. Haven't seen it since it came out--I wonder how it plays today?

Point Blank (1967) A fascinating if flawed film by John Boorman, starring Lee Marvin at his Lee Marvin-est.

The Princess Bride (1987)  After commencing his directing career with three fine films, Rob Reiner stumbled with this one, which, while it has some laughs, doesn't quite work as fantasy, adventure or romance.  But there sure are a lot of people who disagree with that.

Putney Swope (1969) A comedy from Robert Downey Sr. that's not particularly good.  Perhaps its racial politics made it more striking in its day.

Rushmore (1998) Just by chance I watched it today.  We can see the beginning of the patented Wes Anderson style.  I never quite warmed to it, but there are some nice moments.

Solomon Sir Jones films (1924-1928)  A documentary about black life in the 20s.  Never seen it.

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)  One of Buster Keaton's best.  Can't go wrong with this pick.

Suzanne, Suzanne (1982) A short documentary about a young black woman who had to deal with her physically abusive father.  Never seen it.

Thelma & Louise (1991)  Not a great film, but certainly a memorable one.

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1916)  The earliest version, and I've never seen it.

A Walk In The Sun (1945)  A World War II picture from Lewis Milestone.  I didn't know it was so highly regard these days.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)  A fun film from Robert Zemeckis that also was a technological step forward (though soon CGI would leave it in the dust).

Monday, December 12, 2016

Collateral Damage

The best movie trailers make you say "I need to know how that turns out." I remember a few years ago two film--neither of which looked like they'd be that big--had great trailers that showed you enough to get you interested, and made the stories look like fun rides.  They were Now You See Me and We're The Millers, and both turned into major hits.

Perhaps you've seen the trailers for the new Will Smith film (opening this week) Collateral Beauty.  Here's the latest:

There's this a guy who goes through a personal tragedy, writes letters to abstract concepts, and then meet these concepts in person while his friends worry about him. So what?

The genre seems to be drama with fantasy (and not a lot of humor), and the trailer suggests a life-affirming story about a guy who works through his pain. While there's a vague mystery as to who these people claiming to be abstract things are, I wouldn't say the trailer makes us wonder what will happen next, or how things will turn out.

Smith is one of the biggest stars in the world, so his trailers often say, more than anything, "hey folks, a new Will Smith movie!" But if it weren't a Will Smith movie, and starred a no-name, would this trailer be appealing?

For all I know, the movie is great.  It's got a good cast (and presumably Smith gets offered the best scripts in town), so I'll probably check it out.   But based on the trailer alone, it doesn't look that enticing.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

So close, Michael

"Donald Trump is actually a fascist"

Sorry, Michael. You've been living under a fascist for the last eight years, and you liked it!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Feel The Bern

I was driving recently when I saw a Bernie Sanders for President bumper sticker on the car in front of me.  Then this car started to brake, rather suddenly.  I was able to avoid a crash, but what would have happened if I rammed into him?

I guess we'd get out and compare salaries.  Whoever makes the most pays.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

The End Of The Beginning

Early this year, Keith Emerson died.  Now Greg Lake has died.  I don't mean to sound flippant, but is Carl Palmer getting a little nervous?

When I was a kid, learning guitar, Lake was definitely one of those artists who set the standard we all aspired to.  And he still remains an inspiration.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Go West

Game Of Thrones won't be around much longer, so HBO has a much-needed hit in Westworld to anchor their schedule and burnish their brand.  But is it any good? (Spoilers ahead.)

After watching the first season, I've got a lot of problems with the show.  Above all, it's slow going.  We know the robots (they're called hosts and guests on the show, but I'm going to call them robots and people) are going to rise up.  That's the whole point of the thing.  That it took ten hours when it could have been accomplished in two doesn't speak well for the show. I know they want to set up the basic situation (before blowing it up), but we get a ton of repetition, in both action and theme.

Most of the subplots along the way don't really work, or make much sense.  Take Maeve, a favorite of the audience.  She's a robot brothel madam who becomes aware of her situation and plots to get out of Westworld.  Hers is a necessary character arc, but every step of the way is ridiculous.  First, to help her along, are two bumbling lab technicians, essentially Laurel and Hardy, who screw up numerous times.  That Westworld doesn't have basic lab protocols, not to mention basic security surveillance, to prevent guys like this from messing around, is absurd. (It turns out there's someone who programmed Maeve to behave this way--very possibly Ford, who created the park--but even so, there is presumably free will on the part of the humans, who behave with continual stupidity.)

As Maeve starts figuring out her situation and wants to do something about it, one of the lab boys supports her--another necessary plot development which I didn't like--while the other has misgivings.  It would have been easy for the latter to stop Maeve along the way (without endangering his job) but he blows every chance he gets. For instance, Maeve's intelligence is set at 14--as high as any robot in the park.  She asks this guy to raise it up to 20, which he does.  Wouldn't this have been a good time to lower it to 1, so she'd be manageable, and he could figure out what to do with her?  In any case, since no one wants any robot to be smarter than 14, why is it even possible to set their intelligence higher?

Another part of Maeve's strategy has her shutting down programmer Bernard by voice command.  We first thought Bernard was a human, but he turned out to be a robot created by Ford.  But Bernard is a secret creation whom everyone else thinks is human.  We've seen other such robots, and Ford makes sure they only respond to his voice.  One would assume he built Bernard this way--it would be pretty embarrassing if someone told a different robot to cease all motor functions and suddenly their good friend Bernard shuts down.  But nope, this is Westworld, where the plot is as dumb as needed for the scene.

By the end, Maeve, with some robot compatriots, shoots her way out of the tech area.  The lack of competence in the security staff is stunning.  The robots should never have gotten so far to begin with, but once you've got three of them armed with machine guns, that's when you should really swing into action.  You cordon off the area and encircle them. Instead, in Westworld, every security guard works alone so he can be picked off, as one after another they run right into the line of fire, even after they've seen others killed this way.

Then there's the story of William and the Man In Black.  I didn't bother to read much theorizing about the show, but even I heard about how these two characters were the same person, just in different timelines.  This was confirmed in the finale. I wish I hadn't heard about it, since I could have had the pleasure of figuring it out, or the pleasure of being surprised.  But once you think about it, their story makes no sense.

William, the young man, went to Westworld thirty years ago or so.  He meets Dolores, a robot, and they fall in love.  In the real world, he's set to marry into a rich family and become an important player in Delos, the corporation that will buy Westworld, but he finds his true self in the park.  However, his journey, in addition to being dull, isn't buyable.  Okay, having a fling with a beautiful young woman is what you do in the park.  But after falling in love too fast, he turns into a bloody killer even more quickly, ready to do anything to find Dolores after she's taken away.

This is bad enough, but when we discover he turned into the nasty Man In Black years later, it doesn't seem earned.  The transition is hinted at, but it doesn't make much sense--so you lost Dolores, snap out of it.  Making even less sense is why William--a rich philanthropist back in the real world--would come back regularly to Westworld on a quest.  I can see him coming back every year to sate his bloodlust, but he's searching for the "maze" he's heard about to help him understand the place. Why?  What's to understand? What can he possibly think he's going to find?  He already knows Ford.  There's no special mystery.  The park is what it is.

He'd also like the stakes to be higher, because he knows the robots aren't allowed to kill him. Okay, no big deal, just create robots who can kill you--though I don't think that would be a popular attraction at Westworld--or, for that matter, go out into the real world and do dangerous things.  The rules in Westworld, I should add, aren't that clear.  The humans can rape and pillage all they want while the robots have to put up with it, but we see William (and others) getting bashed around pretty bad.  Perhaps at the edges of the park life gets tougher, but we see humans cut (creating permanent scars, one assumes), almost hanged, and beaten within an inch of their life. Dolores delivers this particularly rough beatdown to the Man In Black.  Which raises a couple questions:  We just assume the robots are stronger than humans (though why should they be)?  And no matter how expert the robots are in human anatomy, how does Dolores know how far to go without killing William?  The stuff she does to him sure looks like it would cause serious, perhaps permanent, injury.

(Speaking of this violence against the humans, I don't see how the park stays open.  The insurance alone must kill them.  People pay $40,000 a day for the privilege of going there, but isn't the park too dangerous--even beyond the savage beatings which, apparently, are considered acceptable?  How do people know if others are robots or humans--you start a knife fight with a real person, someone can get hurt.  And with all the action around, don't guests get hurt, just by, say, falling and hitting their head on something?  I know they'd have to sign waivers, but if enough people got hurt, wouldn't the authorities shut the place down?)

Anyway, despite all the nonsense of the William/MIB plot, at least, at its heart, it matters.  There's a whole lot of people just playing cowboy throughout the first season, and none of it makes any difference. It's all a game, so it's hard to get involved in this side of the story.  Remove this pointless stuff and the season has two or three less hours.

Then there's Dolores, a robot who's been at the park from the beginning.  Evan Rachel Wood does a fine job with the character, but her new direction in the finale, that points to next season, doesn't bode well.

Dolores is troubled from the start.  Her character starts each day fresh and full of hope, but lives through tragedy--her family is killed, she's abducted, etc.  But she can't shake these memories--in fact, she's got to work them out.  It's part of her going through the "maze," which leads, through suffering, to Dolores confronting herself.  This allows her, allegedly, to gain consciousness.  She merges with a new villain, Wyatt, and becomes a killer.

This is all Ford's plan (which makes you wonder if there's consciousness, or free will, involved).  In the end, she shoots Ford, and the robots are ready to go on a rampage against all the upper class people invited there.

There are two problems with this.  We're supposed to be on the side of the robots, who are treated terribly by the humans, but this is horrifying.  If the robots don't have any consciousness, or self-awareness, what happens to them is no big deal.  And even if some of them have achieved some level of consciousness, after they're struck down, they can still be brought back to life and their memory wiped, so it's not quite a complete tragedy. But the humans they're killing?  They're gone permanently.  Why should anyone support the robots, even if the humans aren't so nice?

Second, I just don't see where this can lead, unless the humans who live outside Westworld are as stupid as the ones who live inside it.  If any of the humans escape the finale's rampage, they'll report to the authorities what's going on in Westworld and have it shut down. (This is assuming there's a real world out there that we would recognize--we see nothing in the first season outside Westworld, except a glimpse of Samurai World, meant to whet our appetite for the next season.)  And even if no one survives (or some ridiculous plot development like Delos tries to cover it up), a lot of rich people not returning from Westworld would be noticed.  The authorities would investigate and, finding the park full of killer robots, shut it down.

I guess the question is will I return to Westworld? On the positive side, there's some fine acting and a well-done (and expensive) look.  In addition, I'm a sucker for sci-fi, and robots on the verge of consciousness.  So I guess I'll keep watching.  But I wish they'd up their game to a 20, or at least a 14, since right now it feels like it's about a 3.

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