Tuesday, October 31, 2017


On the most wonderful day, here's an interactive map that shows the most popular Halloween candies in each state based on candystore.com online sales.

The state I was raised in, Michigan, likes candy corn best. Some consider this shameful, but I've got no problem with it.  However, second and third are Skittle and Starburst.  Is there really no place for chocolate?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Fright Night

It's the official kick-off to the end of the year with the big three, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Each with their own colors and food.  Tomorrow's will be orange and black, and candy.

And while Christmas has the best music, Halloween has a few decent tunes. Here are a few to get you in the mood.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Top Fourteen

I notice on the internet, especially YouTube, people ranking the songs of each Beatles' albums, so I thought I'd take a shot at it.

I figured I'd start with Revolver, because it seems to have become, somewhat surprisingly, the one that wins all the polls as their best. (It's also a great album, which helps.)

I'll use the 14-track British version, which has become the norm, even though I was raised on the 11-track American rip-off.

It's not easy choosing the best with such great material, but I guess it's easier than ranking the 30 songs on the White Album (which includes a lot of mediocre material, actually).

1.   I'm Only Sleeping
2.   Here, There And Everywhere
3.   And Your Bird Can Sing
4.   For No One
5.   Good Day Sunshine
6.   Yellow Submarine
7.   Taxman
8.   She Said She Said
9.   Eleanor Rigby
10. Tomorrow Never Knows
11. Got To Get You Into My Life
12. I Want To Tell You
13. Doctor Robert
14. Love You To

To be fair, some of these songs are so close in quality, if different in style, that you could move them up or down a bit and I wouldn't notice.

Saturday, October 28, 2017


Cleo Laine turns 90 today. Happy birthday.  (Also, Julia Roberts turns 50, but she's not much of a singer.)

Friday, October 27, 2017

True Regret

I was watching the 1969 True Grit on TV with the CC on, as is my wont.  And there was John Wayne and Kim Darby having a discussion about "coon hunting."

However, instead of writing out the word "coon," the CC typist had it as "XXXX" every time it appeared.

I assume someone felt it was an offensive racial epithet.  That it is, but not in context, where the characters are discussing the hunting of a raccoon.

In any case, why do readers of the movie need to be protected while the much larger crowd of listeners can apparently handle it?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Perfect Square

Keith Strickland of The B-52's turns 64 today.  He's generally been in the background, playing drums and guitar, but rarely singing, but has been central in creating their sound.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Starch Day

Today is World Pasta Day.  (Earlier this month it was National Dessert Day.  Shouldn't pasta come before dessert?)

It's been official since 1995. But isn't every day pasta day?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Call It

Let's talk about something important--curtain calls.  I've never quite understood the need for them.

You've just put on a show.  Given the audience a story, taken them on a journey.  Why should you step out of character at the end just so they can express their approval?

Years ago there were more curtain calls, actually.  There would be one at the end of each act (and there were more acts then).  So I suppose just keeping it down to one big one at the end is an improvement.

Maybe the best argument is the audience has got pent up happiness, so the big bow allows them to let it out (and also let the actors know which ones they liked best).

But if there's to be a curtain call, I suggest a few rules.  First, have the director choreograph it, so it looks professional, like the show we've just seen.  And, if possible, add a little kick.  For instance, a special goodbye song was written for the curtain in The Producers. Or, at the end of Arsenic And Old Lace, all the dead men referred to in the show but never seen actually came out.

But, above all, do it and get out.  Don't ring up the curtain over and over--unless the audience literally won't leave, which I doubt will happen.  In fact, if the curtain call goes on too long, I suggest we train audiences to walk out and teach the cast a lesson.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Hey Abbott

Having recently read the memoir of Harold Prince, one of the most important producer/directors Broadway has ever known, I figured I'd go back and read the memoir of his mentor, George Abbott.

It's called Mr. Abbott--not George's idea, but his publisher's.  That's what everyone called him, after all, so why not?

I had the same problem with this book that I had with Prince's.  It's not a long book, and considering how many shows he had a hand in--as actor, author, director and producer--I wish he'd devoted practically every page to these productions.

Instead, we get lengthy discussions of his personal life (not to mention occasional short essays on some subject of interest to Abbott) while practically no play gets more than a page of discussion.  I'm not saying no personal stuff--some of it is fairly interesting--just a smaller percentage (or a longer book).

I actually glanced at Mt. Abbott many years ago. It's been around a while--it came out in 1963.  At that point, he'd been earning a living on Broadway for 50 years, and was still at the top.  In fact, his last three plays--Take Here, She's Mine, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and Never Too Late--had been hits.  He had no idea he was about to suffer through 20 years of flops (that's how theatre works sometimes).

Not that he didn't do interesting stuff after 1963, but he didn't snap out of the string of failures until he directed a revival of an old hit, On Your Toes in 1983. (I saw the production, which featured a friend of mine.)

If you're the mathematical type and think I got the dates wrong, let me note he directed the revival of On Your Toes when he was 95.  He died in 1995 when he was 107.

His credits read like a history of 20th century Broadway.  Some highlights (in chronological order): Broadway, Chicago, Coquette, Twentieth Century, Three Men On A Horse, Boy Meets Girl, On Your Toes, Room Service, The Boys From Syracuse, Pal Joey, Best Foot Forward, On The Town, High Button Shoes, Where's Charley?, Call Me Madam, Wonderful Town, The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Once Upon A Mattress and Fiorello!.

What I like best about Abbot is his no-nonsense approach to theatre, as well as life.  He had plenty of ups and downs, but he's not sentimental.  You just do your job and keep going.  And when you're directing a play, if something isn't working, you change it, or take it out.

He didn't think he was making art.  He was in the commercial theatre, which meant his job was to attract an audience.  If some art leaked in, fine, but that wasn't his focus.  It's true, some people who were going for something deeper might have surpassed him, such as Harold Prince or Jerome Robbins (both of whom he mentored), but I'm not sure if anyone on Broadway was ever responsible for so much entertainment.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Feature Teacher

I was doing something with the TV on in the background.  A rerun (of course) of Johnny Carson's show was playing.  His guest was film and theatre director Elia Kazan.

Johnny started listing Kazan's famous movies, and I thought he said "Beavis And Butt-Head."

Obviously this couldn't be true--Carson went off the air in 1992 and the Beavis and Butt-Head film didn't even come out until 1996.

So I tried to reverse-engineer it.  After going over Kazan's filmography, I'm pretty sure it's got to be Viva Zapata!.  It's got the right rhythm and sounds.  Nothing else really comes close.

Viva Zapata! isn't a bad film, by the way, but it's no Beavis And Butt-Head Do America.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Carrie Over

It's Carrie Fisher's birthday.  In her honor, I've been reading The Princess Diarist, the book she put out late last year.  It's about her experiences with Star Wars, including her affair with Harrison Ford.  It features an old diary she kept during its making.

Fisher died not long after it came out.  What she couldn't know was how spooky this would make some of the book sound.

For instance, from her diary (which has the sort of emotional outpourings one might expect from a young women):

If anyone reads this when I have passed to the big bad beyond I shall be posthumously embarrassed.  I shall spend my entire afterlife blushing.

You might remember her mother Debbie Reynolds died the day after she did.  And we get this in the acknowledgments:

For my mother--for being too stubborn and thoughtful to die.  I love you, but that whole emergency, almost dying thing, wasn't funny.  Don't even THINK about doing it again in any form.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Lower The Ceiling

During the summer, Rick And Morty's third season became one of the top comedy hits on TV, at least in the most valued demos, 18-24 and 18-34.

It made me wonder how producer Dan Harmon felt about doing so well after coming off Community, another great show, but one that was never a hit.

But then I thought about the numbers. Community ran for six seasons and 110 episodes.  For a flop, that's pretty good. Rick And Morty have only done 31 episodes. At the rate they're going, it would be quite an achievement to make it to 100.

And how many watched? (That number is getting trickier to measure with fewer people watching a show when it airs.) Even in Community's first, most-watched season, it rarely had over five million viewers.  By it's fifth season, and last on a TV network, it was averaging around three million.

How many watch Rick And Morty (at least at the time it airs). The numbers have been going up each season, which is a good sign, but even in its latest season it's only averaging about 2.5 million viewers.

So congratulations to Dan Harmon on creating a hit show. But part of the trick was moving from the big networks to Adult Swim, where expectations are lower.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Best PR Job Ever

With the Nobel's recently announced, I've been reading up on Alfred Nobel.  Fascinating life.

He was a morose fellow who felt he was a failure.  And why not, considering what people thought of him.  His creation and manufacture of dynamite had him condemned worldwide (though much of it was cheap attacks at an easy target).

His pariah status was not merely due to his materials used in war.  After all, his father was a munitions maker, so he was used to that.  But dynamite, and related discoveries, led to numerous industrial deaths.

(By the way, in later years Nobel had heart problems, and was not happy to find he was prescribed nitroglycerin.)

His brother Ludwig died in Cannes and was mistaken for Alfred. The headline for the obit read (in French) "The Merchant Of Death Is Dead." No one wants to be remembered that way, so Nobel, who had amassed a fortune, wrote a will pledging his assets toward annual prizes. They'd be given out in science (physics, chemistry and medicine), in literature (Nobel always wanted to be a writer) and in peace (that'll show 'em).

His relatives were not thrilled, and challenged the will, but five years after his death, the Nobel Prizes were first awarded.

And since then, they've become the greatest honor in the world (and include a nice chunk of change). Now when anyone thinks of the name Nobel, the thoughts are almost all positive and high-minded.  Nice work, Alfred.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


I just missed the birthday of Kevin MacLeod.  Who he?  A composer who's released 2000 pieces of royalty-free music at his website, incompetech.com.

Because he only requests attribution, his music is heard on numerous YouTube videos and films.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Bloom Is Off The Berg

One stop I often make on the internet is Bloomberg View, which has a number of interesting contributors to its editorial department--some of them friends of mine.

But the website is now requiring registration to read its content.  They promise it's free, but I consider it an imposition and won't do it.

If there's one thing that's easy to get on the internet with nothing standing in your way, its people's opinion.  And that's how I like it.  Even the slightest hindrance makes me think twice.

In other words, I can get along fine without Bloomberg View, and I guess they've decided they can get along fine without me.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Hang Fire

Halt And Catch Fire has ended its four-season run.  The ratings were always low--well under a million for the initial airings--but its fans got to see it grow from a Mad Men knockoff to something much deeper.

It focused on five characters in the computer business, and how they maneuvered through the 80s and 90s. I didn't go for the fourth season as much as the second or third, perhaps because it was a little slower.  Near the end, one of the major characters died, and the last three episodes were essentially about how the others handled it. Still, Halt And Catch Fire was to the end one of TV's best (if least seen) dramas.

It did have one flaw, if that's the word for it, that it could never get around.  The show is set in the real world, and real brand names are mentioned.  The characters are on the cutting edge, always in on a trend just before it would break.  But we know they'll never make it to the top, because we know which firms really did hit it big.

I liked all five leads, so let me list them: Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Mackenzie Davis, Kerry Bishe and Toby Huss.  I look forward to seeing them in other projects. (You've probably seen them already and don't know it--an actor like Toby Huss has done tons of TV guest shots.) Maybe they can return in a few years as their characters for an episode set in the present (their future) and we can see how they turned out.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

What's So Funny?

TV shows and movies sometimes run up against the news.  Tragedy strikes and suddenly a plot point is too painful.  I heard some show--forget which--had to cut some stuff about a shooter after the recent Vegas incident, for example.

But sometimes it's a closer call.  Take the latest Modern Family episode "Catch Of The Day."

I don't know the lead time such shows have, but it's at least a few weeks at this point. Anyway, early on Claire notes she and Phil are going to a Steely Dan concert at 3 pm.  Phil wonder why it's so early and she replies "They are not young men."

A passable joke.  At least before Walter Becker, one half of Steely Dan, died last month.  Now it's just sort of gruesome. It makes you wonder why they didn't edit it out.  Perhaps because it becomes part of the plot, as Phil and Claire need to get to Haley to borrow her car keys and make the concert on time.

Almost makes you wonder if they thought about doing a Dr. Strangelove.  In that film, the pilot, played by Slim Pickens, listing what's in the crew's emergency kits, notes "a fellow could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff."

Originally, however, he said "Dallas," but between the shooting of the film and its release, John F. Kennedy was assassinated, thus the change.  It's an easy enough line to sync in--it matches close enough that you won't normally notice it (though the joke is somewhat weakened).

I wonder what band they could have had Julie Bowen say to replace Steely Dan.  Is Steeleye Span still performing?

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A Second Helping

Today is National Dessert Day.  (Not to be confused with National Desert Day, which doesn't exist, and shouldn't.)

So treat yourself.

Friday, October 13, 2017

You've Read The Book, Now See The Movie

No sooner do I finish Molly Haskell on Stephen Spielberg than I catch the HBO documentary on the same subject.  Featuring interviews with the man himself and numerous big names who worked with him, as well as footage from his movies, it does a good job giving you a feeling for both the man and his work.

The story is told chronologically, for the most part, with his films dominating over his private life.  Even with a career like Spielberg's, it's a bit long at two and a half hours. It's also highly positive, though it stops short of hagiography.

It made me think about his accomplishments.  Is there any director (let's not even get into his producing) in Hollywood history who can compare to him--someone who's had both gigantic hits and significant films, and sometime both?

Look at the list: Jaw, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, E.T., Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, Lincoln.

A lot of directors would be glad just to have done the films that are his secondary (according to me) efforts: The Color Purple, Empire Of The Sun, Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Amistad, A.I., Minority Report, War Of The Worlds, Munich, Bridge Of Spies and so on.

He's a natural-born filmmaker who speaks in the language of cinema (though he also proves to be fairly articulate in his interview). But it's not as if he has no flaws. For instance, he often has extended codas which he may believe lends something extra-special to his films, but generally weakens the overall effect.  He also has certain themes, such as the break-up of the family, that he has trouble taking head on so he has to hide behind genre.

But at his best, and even second-best, he's something special.  Now 70, he maintains a busy pace.  Soon he'll be releasing The Post and Ready Player One.  I'm looking forward to both.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

That Was Fast

I don't have too much to say about the Harvey Weinstein scandal.  He seems to have done some disgusting and perhaps criminal things, and there isn't much to add beyond that.

What's intriguing is how the scandal happened.  For years, apparently, he was harassing women (and worse), and many who seemed to be aware of it looked the other way. In fact, he was feted, both by Hollywood (for his movies, mostly) and the Democratic party (for his noble work on their behalf).

Then, the story comes out in a respectable journal (The New York Times and soon after The New Yorker), and the dam breaks.  Suddenly, a bunch of people who wouldn't talk for years rush to tell their stories, or, if they have no stories, denounce Weinstein.

The most fascinating thing may be how he Weinstein first reacted, figuring he could charm his way out of it.  He acknowledged (weakly) he needed to be a better person and would work on that, but meanwhile he'd go after the NRA and Donald Trump.

Probably nothing would have worked, but he clearly didn't know the mess he was in.  The cascade started and before you knew it, he was a non-person.  His credits were removed from some projects, and other projects that required his money were shut down.  In a matter of days, he went from being a power broker to a pariah.  It seems Hollywood is done with him.

He must be bewildered.  He got away with it for so long, why now? (Perhaps he didn't even think he was getting away with anything.)

And perhaps there are a bunch of other powerful men out there right now who are wondering if this will happen to them.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Brief Episode

Before we forget, let's say goodbye to Episodes, which just aired its finale.  A minor pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless.

The premise was simple.  Sean and Beverly Lincoln (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig, who co-starred in the British show Green Wing), an English husband-and-wife writing team, reluctantly come to Hollywood to have their successful sitcom, Lyman's Boys, adapted for American television.  Bit by bit, as it goes through the process, all originality and comedy is drained from the show.

Lyman's Boys, about a British boys school, is changed to Pucks!, about a boys hockey team.  Perhaps the greatest indignity is the lead character, once portrayed as a wise, kindly, middle-aged teacher, is to be played by Matt LeBlanc (Joey on Friends, if you've forgotten).  LeBlanc played that part, of course, though his version of himself was much nastier and amoral than in real life (I hope).

Throughout the series LeBlanc and the Lincolns have a love/hate relationship, as their show biz fortunes go up and down.

Episodes was created by David Crane--who co-created Friends--and Jeffrey Klarik.  The writing tended toward conventional sitcom--you'd expect that from Crane, I suppose--but, generally speaking, well done conventional sitcom.

Mangan and Greig were professionals, creating sympathetic character who knew how to put over punchlines.  But it was LeBlanc who added something extra, making the show more than just generic Hollywood self-mockery.

There was also good supporting work from actors such as John Pankow, Daisy Haggard and especially Kathleen Rose Perkins as Carol, head of programming (at least at the start), who becomes Beverly's best friend.

Episodes really only needed the one season to say what it wanted to say. And in Britain, that might have been it. This is America, however, and even on a premium cable channel like Showtime, they kept it going and bled it dry--which is what the show suggests American TV is about--running for five seasons.

But based on Episodes, there's something to be said for the American model.  Yeah, the show kept going after it made its point, but it was fun all the way through.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Let's Be Clear

Blade Runner 2049 had a weaker opening than expected, making around $33 million domestic.  When you spend $150 million to make a movie, you need more.  Overall, you probably require at least $500 million worldwide to go into profit.

Maybe the film was never going to make it big.  The original, though it has a great reputation, was muddled, and a financial disappointment.  For all its cult following, it's not clear the younger audience was awaiting a sequel.

Though perhaps nothing was going to make this sequel work at the box office, I don't think director Denis Villeneuve's attitude helped.  According to Deadline Hollywood:

In his review of the sequel, Deadline's Pete Hammond said that before a critic's screening, a letter from Villeneuve was read asking the press not to reveal any plot details, to let audiences discover the movie for themselves.

The original came out 35 years ago.  Much of today's audience hasn't seen it recently or hasn't seen it at all.  Worse, the new film (like the original) isn't always that easy to follow.  I would suggest Villeneuve write a letter explaining the more obscure plot points, to be handed out to every audience so they'll understand what's going on.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Nein Nein

One of the my favorite comedies is Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  It doesn't get much recognition--outside Andre Braugher and its stunt work, it's never received an Emmy nomination.  But I don't care (though they might).  As long as it's funny, that's enough.

But it may not be enough for Fox.  Never a ratings juggernaut*, the show has sunk to its lowest ratings yet--the first two episodes of the show are its worst start in any of its five seasons.  The latest episode had under two million viewers and only a 0.6 rating in the coveted 18-49 demo.

Some of this may be due to the fact it's up against one of the hottest shows on TV, This Is Us.  (For comparison, that show's 18-49 demo is five times greater.)

But that's no excuse.  Shows cost more each year, so with low ratings that are moving downward, I get the feeling this may be its last year.  Which means I should either sit back and enjoy what's left, or start a letter-writing campaign.

By the way, Brooklyn Nine-Nine usually ends each season with a cliffhanger.  They might want to wrap it up this time.

*I once used "juggernaut" in an article and the editor changed it to "unstoppable juggernaut." That was pretty annoying.  The whole point of a juggernaut is it's unstoppable.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Fluff This

Try to remain calm.  Today is National Fluffernutter Day.


Saturday, October 07, 2017


I just found out that Maggie Roche died earlier this year.  How did I miss that?

I was a fan of the Roches from their first album.  Maggie was the one with the low voice.

Friday, October 06, 2017

A Real Prince

In the mid-70s, though he was still fairly young, the great Broadway producer and director Harold Prince wrote a memoir.  It hasn't been available for a long time, but now it's back, and updated, in A Sense Of Occasion. He actually reprints the original, with new notes at the end of each chapter, and then takes up where he left off.

It's hard to imagine the Broadway musical since World War II without Harold Prince.  He's been involved, as producer and/or director, in numerous show, including The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, West Side Story, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Fiddler On The Roof, Cabaret, Company, Follies, Sweeney Todd, Evita and The Phantom Of The Opera.

Prince, almost 90, is still working.  His entire story is yet to be written, but it's fun to find out his point of view.  When you read the memoir of a songwriter or playwright, you hear about the struggle to create.  Prince has that, to a degree, but the producer in him never fully goes away, and he often discusses the fiscal negotiations behind his shows.

If there's a problem with the book, he's simply got too many productions and can't discuss them all fully.  As it is, he tends to be terse.  Perhaps it's the training he got in theatre, where you cut anything you have to keep the story moving.

But most of Prince's productions, even the biggest, only get a handful of pages, when they deserve--and readers want--20 or 30 pages.  And not just for the big hits, but also for some of the interesting failures, such as She Loves Me, It's A Bird...It's A Plane...It's Superman and Merrily We Roll Along.

It may sound like such a book would be too long, but A Sense Of Occasion has less than 300 pages of text.  I think we could manage something twice that.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Spielberg Spiel

I just read Molly Haskell's book on Steven Spielberg.  It's part of a series on Jewish lives.  But the question film fans asked, even before it came out, is why Haskell?

She's been a film critics for decades, and has never particularly liked Spielberg.  Was it that hard to find someone who did?  She doesn't have to be a starry-eyed fan, but if she doesn't appreciate his popular stuff, maybe she's not the one who should be discussing his work.

Spielberg is one of the top entertainers, as well as respected directors, in the history of Hollywood.  And the films that made him--Jaws, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, E.T.--in addition to being blockbusters, are fun.  Haskell was negative about Spielberg back then and still hasn't come around.  If anything, she's one of the people who thinks Spielberg ruined the kind of film she likes.

Haskell is a good writer, and the book isn't bad, but I still think it's a mistake.  And just when you're annoyed that she doesn't go for something, she mentions a film she likes, and it's invariably one of Spielberg's weakest--Empire Of The Sun, Amistad, A.I.  (I think they're all weak, but A.I. is stunningly bad.)

Spielberg has flaws, and who knows which of his films will hold up in the long run.  But he has created a special body of work, and knowing that without feeling it makes the book a non-starter. (Or at least not the place to start if you want to read about Spielberg.)

PS  Haskell claims Saving Private Ryan won the Oscar for Best Picture.  The film lost that to Shakespeare In Love.  I'm surprised no one caught the error.

PPS  HBO will air a documentary on Spielberg this Saturday.  Perhaps that's the best way to learn about him, since it's hard to ignore the visual side.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Could Be Sitcoms

CBS has begun its new season.  It's a network full of old-style police procedurals and sitcoms.  I don't watch the former, but am at least willing to check out the latter.

The new show with the greatest expectations is Big Bang Theory prequel Young Sheldon.  It's all about the exploits of 9-year-old Sheldon Cooper, following the limitations set by the original series.  Sheldon is a young genius being raised in uncongenial Texas.  He's got a religious mom, a father (who I believe will one day leave), a twin sister with a very different temperament and an older brother.

Unlike Big Bang, it's shot one- camera style.  It has a certain charm, but overall isn't much.  The kid is okay, and the mom, played by Zoe Perry, is solid.  I was impressed how they found someone who could be so much like Laurie Metcalf (who plays Sheldon's mom a generation later) until I discovered Metcalf is Perry's mom.

Then there's Me, Myself & I, about one guy at three different times in his life--at 14, 40 and 65.  The idea is somewhat new, but not one I like.  While the stories are supposed to reflect on each other, I like my action set in a well-defined present (with perhaps occasional flashbacks and flashforwards).

Aside from the gimmick, the stories are pretty conventional, as are the jokes.  Further, Bobby Moynihan as the 40-year-old version is the most charming actor with the best story, and I don't like cutting away from him. (And how does he grow into John Larroquette anyway?)

Unlike the other shows, 9JKL is multi-camera.  It's about a divorced actor who moves into an apartment right next to his parents and his brother and sister-in-law.  It's got a good cast, but haven't we seen this show before?  In any case, the plotting and writing seems pretty lame.

So 0 for 3.  Just as well.  I watch too much TV anyway.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Witches At 30

This week I got myself invited to a Showcase Superlux "EventCinema" commemorating the 30th anniversary of The Witches of Eastwick featuring a Q&A with screenwriter, Michael Cristofer.

I had seen the movie when it came out and couple times on cable but not for years and I liked it well enough so I figured what the hey. 

Don't know if I am a fan of watching a film in a recliner after heavy appetizers and wine and unlimited popcorn.  Not really all that comfortable if you are still in work clothes (yes I am showing my age in still wearing work clothes).   Anyway, I thought film aged well, was enjoyable and still didn't make a lot of sense plot wise though that didn't seem to matter.   Sure there were the rotary phones and old cars and no screens anywhere, but the film didn't seem too out of date- probably has to do with the bright cut and good sound quality that made it feel like a new release.  The actors all looked like how I remember them- Jack Nicholson, Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer although the younger versions of a few veteran character actors (Richard Jenkins who was confusingly not bald) threw me a little.  Jack's character's line about liking a little pussy after lunch got a very knowing laugh. 

The screenwriter (also an actor currently in Mr. Robot and a director)  gave a short talk at the end and gave some good gossip.  He said "What the hell- nobody's here."   Well nobody except an occasional contributor to the Pajama Guy blog (I left out the really business-y stuff):

- Jack Nicholson saved the film 3 separate times when people walked out and he talked them into coming back.
- People took lots and lots of cocaine back in the 80s. (He kept repeating this). 
- He thought his screenplay held up really well though (SPOILER)  he completely disowned the tacked on horror movie ending which made no sense. He wrote the film to end with Jack's speech in the church and which point the witches' machinations with dolls and spells were supposed to send him away and then the jump to the 3 babies in the future epilogue.  Instead, for some reason, the witches stop their spells,  Jack's character, stays alive, recovers, drives home and does some Poltergeist level special effects battling with the Witches before he disappears.  Michael blamed the decision to include this stuff on cocaine (this was a theme) and addiction to "new toy" of special effects in the 1980s.  This last scene seemed to be a big part of the cost of the movie and his artistic consistency concerns were not a good enough reason to dump such expensive footage.
-As screenwriter, he only very occasionally stopped in to see the filming, as they would always ask him for changes. He found they were better about sticking to his script when he wasn't there.
-Lots of love for Jack Nicholson's acting  who he claimed only ever uttered screenwriter's words and never improvised (even though he clearly gives the impression that he is improvising).
-Although it very much feels like a treatise on feminism , the only sort of culture war complaints they got back in the day was from the religious who objected to a sympathetic portrayal of the devil. (I assume the mocking of the pious probably got to them too).  They filmed in Massachusetts because ministers in Little Compton, Rhode Island objected to filming there.
-The "ladies" only had one problem with the script (Cher actually dug working with the snakes)- They hated the part where they laughed and floated and then later dropped into the pool as the spell was broken.  Not sure I would have remembered that scene had he not brought it up. 
-Originally Diane Wiest and Barbara Hershey were cast but they got replaced so that there would be a better poster per the studio.  Susan Sarandon originally had the part Cher ultimately played.  Bill Murray was also originally cast in the Jack Nicholson role.  I could see that. 
-He said the Updike book (which I have not read) was far more dark in that it showed women turning on each other and doing horrible things whereas the film is more like a yeah yeah sisterhood.
- Due to the economics, "could never make this film except maybe on cable except they prefer soap operas and zombies.{Some golden age...[grumble]}"

The Hardest Part

For a while, it looked like Tom Petty was clinging to life. But now it's been confirmed, he has died.

It's funny, I was just talking about Petty over the weekend with friends. Twice, in completely unrelated conversations. (Might have been due to his recent sold out shows at the Hollywood Bowl.)  We talked about how long he'd been around, how much good work he'd done, and what he was doing now.

I'm still pretty shocked. He's another one of those guys it was good to know was still around.

I liked him from the start, but for the first decade or so I thought he kept getting better. I still remember hearing "Mary Jane's Last Dance" (which may be my favorite song of his) and thinking this is like a Dylan song with harmonies by Crosby, Still and Nash and guitar work from Neil Young, yet it sounds completely original.

Anyway, he won't be forgotten.

Monday, October 02, 2017

How Novel

I recently read The Novel Of The Century, a book on how Victor Hugo went about writing Les Miserables.  It's odd, because I've never read Les Miserables.

I know the basic plot, thanks to the movies, but I haven't gotten around the reading the original. (It's on my list.)

Even so, how Hugo wrote it is pretty fascinating.  From his earliest days, Hugo was a success.  Born in 1802, his poetry won him a royal pension when he was 20.  He wrote The Hunchback Of Notre Dame and the highly successful play Hernani before he was 30.

He intended Les Miserables to be a major work.  He thought of the idea in the 1830s and started writing it in 1845, getting pretty far into the five-volume work, but stopping in 1848.  Hugo was part of the National Assembly and France was going through political upheavals at the time.  (Actually, there were upheavals throughout the 1800s.)

With the rise of Napoleon III, Hugo was considered a traitor and had to leave the country.  He eventually settled in Guernsey, and island in the English Channel, where he completed the book.  He was paid a huge sum for the book and it was released in 1862, with a major marketing campaign (almost unheard of at the time).

The logistics of sending the corrections back and forth between Guernsey and the publishing house is fascinating--it was just before trains and telegraphs, and the printing presses of the time were tricky.  But the publisher wanted to saturate the market (to defeat the copies, which weren't all illegal in a time of questionable copyright laws) with each volume.

The book was not well-received by the critics of the day, but was an immediate bestseller, and has been one ever since.  Hugo lived to 1885, so got to see his book become a classic.  It was also adapted, almost immediately, to the stage, so I'm guessing he wouldn't mind the musical that so many know today.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Grim And Bear It

Last year, a lot of big celebrity deaths took us by surprise--Prince, David Bowie, Garry Shandling, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and a number of others who left before their time.

This year, the big celebrities saying goodbye tend to have been around a lot longer--Jerry Lewis, Don Rickles, Chuck Berry, Roger Moore, Hugh Hefner, Monty Hall. (I'm cherry-picking a bit, but not much.)

This post is getting a bit gruesome, so let's be clear, I hope everyone does just fine.  My point is that, inevitable though it may be, it can be weird when people who have been a presence all your life--people who have given so much enjoyment--are no longer there. (I'm not superstitious, so I'll name some I love to this day who have done great work over the years--Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Dick Van Dyke, Bob Newhart, Norman Lear and Stan Lee, for example).


"Dennis Hevesi, a former reporter for The New York Times, died in 2017."

Not particularly notable, perhaps, but his last published piece appears to be Monty Hall's obit.

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