Wednesday, February 28, 2018


Perhaps it's not polite to give away a lady's age, but it's hard to believe that Bernadette Peters is turning 70 today.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

This Window Is Too Big

I recently had some furniture delivered.  I was told to expect it from 11 am to 3 pm.

Isn't that a pretty big window?  I understand you can get a little behind, and there are uncertainties regarding how long it takes to unload items, not to mention traffic problems.

But shouldn't experienced delivery people from established businesses be a little better in their ETA? If an airline said "we usually land at 4 pm, but it may be in the evening" you wouldn't want to fly with them. (And the problems of airlines are a lot more serious when it comes to delays in schedule.) If you asked a waiter how long before a dish will be ready and heard "probably twenty minutes but it could be over three hours" you'd walk out.

But that's the thing--stuck in my house, I can't walk out. I'm a prisoner of the delivery guys.  Let's say I want to go to lunch.  If they said 11 to noon, or even 11 to 1, fine, I can plan on lunch after.  Of if they said 1 to 3 I can have lunch before.  But 11 to 3?

Seems to me a decent delivery service can get it down to two hours--one if they work at it.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Anno Domino

Fats Domino died last year.  Today would have been his 90th birthday.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Quiet One

George Harrison died in 2001, but today would have been his 75th birthday.  He's my fourth-favorite Beatle, which puts him ahead of almost everyone else.

It's hard to get originals, or even decent outtakes, of Beatles' stuff, so the rest will be after they broke up.

Saturday, February 24, 2018


Nanette Fabray has died.  I remember her from a lot of things, above all as a supporting actor in The Band Wagon and as Mary Tyler Moore's mother on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (even though she only made a couple of appearances).  She was also a Broadway musical star who never quite made it to the A-list because she starred in too many flops.

In her obit in Variety, they state she's in the "two most famous numbers" in The Band Wagon, "That's Entertainment" and "Triplets."

I can't say this is wrong, but it sure is a judgment call. "That's Entertainment" was the one song written for the movie, and it's since become a show biz anthem. "Triplets" is definitely a crowd pleasure.

But what about "A Shine On Your Shoes," a very colorful number featuring Fred Astaire?  The understated "I Guess I'll Have To Change My Plan," with Astaire and Jack Buchanan?  The big finish, "The Girl Hunt," featuring Astaire, choreographed by Michael Kidd and realized by Vincente Minelli?

Above all, what about the romantic highlight of the film, Astaire and Cyd Charisse doing "Dancing In The Dark"? Some have called it their favorite number--not just in The Band Wagon, but movie musicals in general.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Wild About Harry?

I just read Gabriella Oldham and Mabel Langdon's Harry Langdon: King Of Silent Comedy.  The subtitle is a bit much.  Langdon may be the "fourth genius" of silent comedy, after Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, but in comparison to those masters his inspiration is spotty and his achievements lesser.

Still, with so many books out there about the big three, it's good to finally hear Langdon's story.  I've seen some of his shorts and his better-known features, but not much else.  The book helped fill in the gaps.

He was raised in Council Bluffs, Iowa in the late 19th century.  He could have joined the family painting business, but instead left home as a teenager to join the medicine show.  He had always loved show biz and developed a vaudeville act and persona.  In particular, he toured in his routine "Johnny's New Car" for many years in the early 1900s (when the automobile was still relatively new).

The act had Harry traveling with his girlfriend (and sometimes others) when his jalopy breaks down.  The laughs came when his hapless character tried to fix it, only making things worth.

The act went through variations, but he played it for almost twenty years before Hollywood signed him in 1923.  No one was sure what to do with him, but he eventually started making shorts for Mack Sennett and became a popular comedian.  By this point, Chaplin, Lloyd and Keaton were well established, and doing features.

He took a while to adapt to the movies, and had the help of a team of writers and directors, including an up-and-comer named Frank Capra.  Capra would later claim it was the team that figured out what Langdon should do on screen, but this is an exaggeration, since Harry had been a solid star on stage for over a generation at this point. (Though he made it in films after the other great clowns, he was actually older than they were.)

Langdon was an original.  He played, essentially, a child in a man's body.  Whereas the other great clowns were generally fast, he was usually slow.  And while they could be quite efficient and even ruthless in getting things done, Langdon's specialty was being unaware and ineffectual.  If things worked out for him, it was often by luck. Critics saw something different, and special, in Langdon. Many welcomed him as the greatest new clown since Chaplin.

In a few years he made the leap to features (against Sennett's wishes), making his three most famous full-length productions--Tramp Tramp Tramp, The Strong Man and Long Pants--in 1926 and 1927.  At that point, he fired Capra, who had directed the last two.  Capra claims all the comparisons to Chaplin went to his head and Langdon figured he could do everything himself.

This isn't entirely false, though Capra was bitter about what happened--and harmed Langdon by spreading the message around Hollywood that he was impossible to work with.  It is true that Langdon went downhill when he was in complete control of his films, and never recaptured his popularity.  Then sound came in, which was another blow.

This is when I mostly lose track of his career, but much of the book is about the work he did after the silent era.  Turns out he did plenty, both on stage and onscreen. He was no longer the name he'd been, and he did work in cheaper productions, for less money, often in smaller parts, but he didn't give up.

In fact, as the IMDb shows, he appeared in around 60 films (mostly shorts) in the 30s and 40s, before dying of a heart attack at age 60 in 1944.

There was some rediscovery of his work in later years, but so far, he's never enjoyed anything near the revival of someone like Keaton.

I haven't seen his films in years.  I remember liking him at his best, but not thinking he was on the same level as his greatest contemporaries.  The book has convinced me to give him a second chance. Though I wish I could see him on the big screen with an audience, since that's the truest and fairest test.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

That'll Show 'Em

I just read Jack Viertel's The Secret Life Of The American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built. Viertel has worked on Broadway for decades and knows his stuff.  He dives deep into the structure of musicals, using examples from (mostly) hits to show how they're constructed.

You might think a hit show is just about good numbers.  They're essential, but a show has to hold up overall or the audience won't put up with it for two and a half hours.  Viertel walks through what makes a show work.  There's no simple formula, but certain things that have played for decades.

For instance, there's the opening number which sets the mood and theme of the show.  Get this wrong and you're finished.  Then, early on, there's the "wanting" song where the protagonist expresses what she hopes for--and it better be good, because the story is built on it.

Also, early on, there's a love song, but it's generally tentative--the lovers are just meeting and not sure where the relationship will go.  Then, some time in the first act, you've got to introduce the secondary couple (if there is one) and the villain, and they usually get their numbers.

A bit later, you need a big number, often a comic one, for the lead.  And a big production number in the second half of the first act to rouse the audience.  And close on a curtain that makes people want to come back for Act 2.

Once they've returned, you generally have a lively ensemble number to get the audience back into the show.  You'll also have a number that really shows the depth of feelings of the main characters, since they're the ones we're invested in.

There's also generally a song to close up the subplot and secondary characters.  You've also got another big production number to get the audience on its feet, and an eleven o'clock number to let the star or stars give the audience a big moment.

Then finally an ending where everything is tied up satisfactorily.  And even a well-thought-out curtain call.

It may be dry to just list these things, but Viertel gives examples from numerous hit shows to demonstrate how they handle these moments.  If you're a fan of musicals, you can replay the numbers in your head.  And if you're not familiar with the show, you can always go to YouTube.

Of course, do it all right and you still might have a flop.  But get it wrong, and have a show where the plot is at odds with itself, or the character's motivations are too vague, or not significant enough, and you're all but guaranteed to fail.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


Let's say happy birthday to Jerry Harrison, the oldest of the Talking Heads, who turns 69 today.  (He's also the youngest in that he was the last to join the group.) Their albums in the 70s are my favorites, but they were always fun, no matter what they did.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

For The Byrdes

I got around the watching the Netflix series Ozark. It's a crime drama about Chicago financial planner Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) who has to move his wife and two kids to the Ozarks when the Mexican cartel he's laundering money for starts putting on the heat. The show also features Laura Linney as Marty's wife, Esai Morales as the representative of the cartel, and Peter Mullan as a community leader in the Ozarks.

The show was gripping enough that I watched all ten hours.  Yet it was full of flaws, and didn't make much sense.

First, there's simply too much going against Byrde. I know conflict is what drives drama, but they went overboard in Ozark.  The cartel is relentless, killing everyone Byrde works with and a number of others, and constantly threatening Byrde's family.  Then once Marty gets to the Ozarks, he meets up with the Langmore clan, a white trash (is that phrase still acceptable?) criminal family who tries to steal from him and kill him, not to mention the Snell family, a classier clan, but just as lethal and angry at Byrde.  He also has to deal with local law enforcement, that opposes him, as well as the FBI, which follows him down to Missouri.  And even the regular citizens Marty deals with push back.

Yes, you need tension in a story, but all this opposition tires you out. Just for starters, I would have gotten rid of the Snells. (The laundering itself, by the way, looks pretty easy.  The show doesn't spend too much time on it, but it looks like anyone can do it. If Marty were just left alone, there'd be no problem.)

Worse are the loose lips on Marty and his wife.  If you travel to the Ozarks to take part in a massive criminal conspiracy, it would be in your interest to keep a lid on it. Even one person finding out would be too many.  But before too long, everyone knows what's going on, and one of Marty's strategies seems to be to tell people what's actually happening.  And his wife even tells their kids.  I admit this is a different dramatic strategy, but as far as a criminal strategy, it's idiotic.

There are many characters in the show, and they're all too quirky. Once again, a little quirkiness is a good thing, but if you overdo it, it seems artificial. Take the lead FBI agent, who's the silliest one of all.  He seems to be on a personal quest to get Marty, and certainly is given a lot of leeway by his bosses--he almost seems like a rogue agent.  He rents a motel room in Missouri and seduces a guy in the Langmore clan so, after they start sexual relations, he can get him on tape admitting to breaking the law and turn him to get to Marty.  This whole subplot, and it's a major one, is just weird.

Then there are the relationships in the Byrde family.  They keep changing.  Do they hate each other or love each other?  This seems to change as demanded by the scene.

In addition, you never really get a sense of place.  Sometimes the Ozarks look like a backwoods sort of area. Other times like a middle-class commercial area.  Other times like a resort town.  And so on.  I realize the area is not just one thing, but I never quite knew where I was.

As Marty, Jason Bateman does a solid job.  Laura Linney does the best she can in a tough role.  Harris Yulin is fine as the dying old man who rents out his house to the Byrdes. Best of all is Julia Garner as Ruth, the smart young woman who runs the Langmore clan, dominating not just her siblings but even her uncles (while her dad is in prison).  Her arc, as she changes due to her contact with Marty, is perhaps the best thing in the show.

I recommend the show, for all its problems. Just don't expect another Breaking Bad, which seems like Ozark's model.  There's sort of a resolution at the end, and enough characters kept alive for another season.  There may be another season coming, and let me suggest they simplify--less quirk (less characters, in fact), and make it important no one know that Marty Byrde is a criminal.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Trailing Off

The people who make trailers are not the people who make the films the trailers are about.  Their job is to sell the film--exploit what they think is best, or most appealing, about it.  Which means, sometimes, they intentionally avoid telling you about the parts that are less appealing.

As I noted in my film wrap-up for 2017, two Matt Damon films last year, Suburbicon and Downsizing, had misleading trailers.  The first was sold as a black comedy, which it is, but a significant subplot dealing with nasty racial issues is ignored entirely in the trailer. I think the trailer people figured (correctly) no one would be drawn in by that. (They also give a somewhat false impression of the comedy--it's even darker than the trailer suggests.)

Downsizing goes along pretty much like the trailer until a certain point, when it takes a left turn and becomes about ecological disaster.  There was no clue given in the trailer not only because it's a downer, but because it has essentially nothing to do with the basic concept of tiny people living in a tiny world.  The trailer people were right--if the filmmakers had stuck to the concept that the preview emphasizes, I bet their film would have made more money.

Which brings me to Early Man, which I saw over the weekend.  I'd seen the trailer a couple of times, and it promised a film about stone age people bumping up against bronze age people, finding their advanced ways strange and mysterious.

While the film does feature a clash of the two ages, it's not really what the trailer suggests.  (Spoilers, but that's the point.) The main plot, which takes up most of the running time, is about a high-stakes soccer match between the stone age and bronze age people.

So why didn't the trailer tell me about this?  I assume it's because, in America anyway, no one cares about soccer.  (I don't know if the trailers overseas were different).  Finding out that's what the movie's about might turn off quite a few American customers. (They also won't like the game being referred to as "football" over and over.)

I guess I can't blame the promo people for being somewhat misleading.  But once I realized what the plot was, I admit I was a bit disappointed.  The concept the trailer suggested looked like more fun.

Look Here

Just a quick note.  Google has removed its "view image" button for image searches.  Apparently it was part of a settlement with Getty Images.

This move makes it tougher to embed an image in text, though it doesn't stop it altogether.  Legally speaking, I'm not shocked.  But it's still annoying.

Of course, this blog ran for years without images, so even if that was no longer possible, it wouldn't make much difference.  These posts are generally about the text, with images offered as useful illustrations, but not much more.

Sunday, February 18, 2018


I caught The Cloverfield Paradox on Netflix.  I'm not exactly enamored of the Cloverfield films--the first one had a neat look (for the time) but was kind of dumb, and the second one had a decent set-up but could have paid off better--but this one seems the most pointless. (Spoilers ahead)

The action is set on a space station that's trying out some new thingamajig that will save the planet by providing limitless energy.  But there's some sort of sci-fi danger when they click on the switch and tear a hole in space-time.  Before they know it, the crew is in a parallel universe and weird things keep happening.  They finally get back to our Earth, and save the day energy-wise, but monsters have been unleashed on the planet.

That's it.  The crew fights, most get in danger and die, and things happen with little rhyme or reason.  There's not much consistency to the plot and the characters are pretty thin.  It's a good cast, but there's only so much they can do with this material.

In addition to the weakness of the film, I don't exactly get how this fits into the world of Cloverfield.  This is set in the near future (where we're having an energy crisis, which is always around the corner)--but I thought the first Cloverfield film was set in the present.  Is the film saying when they caused the trouble, the monsters were sent back a few decades ago onto the Earth and so the planet in the "present" is used to them?

I don't really need an answer.  Who cares?  I didn't need to know the origin of the monsters, and if I was gonna get one, I'd want a better explanation than this.  After reading about the movie, I found out the script was written independently and adapted to the Cloverfield series.  Better they left it alone.

Saturday, February 17, 2018


I was rereading Stanley Kauffmann's review of Pulp Fiction. (Don't ask why, I just was.)  Kauffmann's a good writer, clear and succinct. But it intrigues me how certain things bother some critics, things no one else notices, or even cares about.

There are certain parts of the plot that he doesn't buy.  For instance, people shooting guns in residential neighborhoods and the neighbors doing nothing.  This I understand.  When Travolta and Jackson dispatch some people in an apartment, you'd think someone would call the police.  Personally, I allowed them a little poetic license, since the two hitmen do mention they have to leave before too long, so do recognize you can't just shoot people and hang around

But I don't agree with the other things Kauffman doesn't buy.  He notes during the diner holdup dozens of people having breakfast are ordered to lie on the floor.  "Not one of the makes a sound or a move [...] during long conversations among the principles."

First, they're extras, and I have no trouble with extras quietly allowing the leads to go about their business.  But on a realistic level, this business takes, say, ten minutes.  If someone brandished a gun and announced loudly I'd be executed if I moved, I think I could manage to keep quiet for ten minutes.  Maybe Kauffmann really doesn't like his breakfast disturbed.

Then there are basic mistakes Kauffmann makes.  This is always a problem with critics--no one understands everything, especially during a first viewing. The trick is to avoid too many mistakes (and I can think of certain well known critics who abuse the privilege).  Here's what he says about Bruce Willis: "Willis kills a man, wipes the gun free of his fingerprints and then puts his prints on a doorknob."

Certainly Kauffmann didn't miss the overall point of the scene.  After screwing over a criminal boss, Willis returns to his apartment to retrieve his father's watch.  As he fears, the apartment is guarded, but he manages to shoot John Travolta with the gun that was meant to be used against him.  This isn't his gun, so wiping clean a murder weapon is understandable.  However, this is his apartment, so having his fingerprints all over it, including the doorknob--especially the doorknob--will not arouse suspicion.

Or did Kauffmann not get that?

Friday, February 16, 2018

Smart Luck

A woman in New Hampshire who won a gigantic lottery prize has asked a court that she be allowed her anonymity.

Apparently, in New Hampshire, a winner's name, town and prize amount are public information.  I'd like to know who passed such a law.  I can see announcing the amount, and perhaps even the town, but it should be up to the winner to decide if her name is public or not.

I realize this isn't a widespread problem, but if suddenly I have a few hundred million dollars, the last thing I'd want is for people to know about it.  It'd be bad enough to have your friend's hitting you up.  But then there'd be all the solicitors, all the charities, looking to get a chunk.  You'd never be left alone.

Worse, there'd likely be criminals who figure you don't need to keep everything you have.  It's no wonder she's asked to remain anonymous.  The only thing I don't get is why her request isn't granted automatically.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Bad Spell

I caught Chris Rock's new stand-up special Tamborine on Netflix.  His first comedy special in ten years (I guess there was nothing to make fun of when Obama was president), it's also his weakest.  Admittedly, he's created a pretty high standard.

It's also quite personal.  He ends the show talking about his divorce.  But what really caught my attention was the title. It's a reference to his discussion of relationships--your job is to service your partner, which means sometimes you're just playing the tambourine.

And that's the thing.  The proper spelling is "tambourine."  Even the CC got it right. Was there a reason he spells it differently (wrong)?

I mean, you take some care in putting together a special, including choosing the title.  Is there something going on that I don't get?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Little Bang

The Big Bang Theory has been TV's top comedy for almost a decade.  But, as fans know, it went through big changes before airing on CBS.

Creator Chuck Lorre shot a pilot that the network rejected.  But they asked for another if he'd make changes.  And now I see that original pilot is on YouTube.

Here's the opening:

Here are the rest:

Johnny Galecki as Leonard and Jim Parsons as Sheldon are there, but very little else is that we know as The Big Bang Theory.

As it is, Sheldon and Leonard are different.  Sheldon in particular is much more normal--he's even had sex (and the first thing we see is his returning from making a deposit in a sperm bank).

But at least the two actors are game, and work well together.  They meet a rough girl on the street named Katie (Amanda Walsh).  The pilot is about how she comes to live with these nerds.

This plot doesn't really work, and, I assume, is why the network rejected it.  The guys don't have much chemistry with Katie, even though she's set up as Leonard's love interest.  And she's too mean.  She seems to be playing them, treating them as patsies. (I'm sure her vulnerable side would have come out more if the show went to series.)

There's one more regular, Gilda (Iris Bahr), a sort of Zelda Gilroy type who's a friend of the guys--a fellow nerd who is smart, open and honest, and meant to end up with one of them.  Perhaps she could have worked, but we'll never know.

Congratulations to CBS for demanding a reworking, rather than junking the project.  And congratulations to Chuck Lorre for going back to the drawing board.  How much difference did the tweaking make?  About a billion dollars worth.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Crash Smash

I watched Wedding Crashers for the first time since it opened in 2005.  It was a huge hit in its day.  Does it hold up?

The concept was original--two guys who, for years, have been crashing weddings, where they get free food and drink, and willing young women who are feeling romantic.  The plot is the old boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl, but it's all in how you do it.

The boy, in this case, is Owen Wilson, in some ways an improbable romantic hero, but his off-center charm works here.  And he doesn't even see the girl until the end of the first act. In fact, that's what starts the second act.

Because the film has a problem.  We like our heroes--they're fun people, and resourceful--but they're men in their 30s who seem to be stuck in perpetual adolescence.  Which is why we get the scene where Owen Wilson tells partner Vince Vaughn that maybe it's time to stop.  So they'll go to one last big wedding.  And when Wilson sees Rachel McAdams, the bride's sister, that's when he's jolted into something different.  He keeps our sympathy, because even as he plays his tricks on her, we know this is the real things.

Meanwhile, Vaughn's got a more comic plot, going head-to-head with the other sister, played by Isla Fisher.  At first she's just another notch on his belt, but turns out to be more than his match.

The second act is the two getting deeper and deeper into their latest adventure, as they go off to stay at the home of the rich, powerful family, with Christopher Walken as the patriarch and Bradley Cooper (not well-known then) as McAdam's boyfriend.

There's a lot of fun stuff here, the most famous being--there's no nice way to say it--the crotch-rubbing-under-the-dinner-table scene.  I remember seeing this with a packed house and it tore the roof off.

Wilson and McAdams start falling for each other but then he and Vaughn are found out.  Boys loses girls and we're propelled into the third act.  And it's this final act that's the most controversial section.

For one thing, this film is long--almost two hours.  I realize in an age of Judd Apatow and the Farrelly Brothers, long comedies may not seem like a big deal, but it's hard to keep the balls in the air that long.  It's even trickier when the film is built on imposture.  Generally, once that's exposed, the air leaks out of the balloon and you want to get to the end as soon as possible.

But the film takes its time in the final act.  Some might even say it dawdles.  Maybe this is good in a way, showing it takes the characters seriously, but the high comic excitement is gone, so we get a lot of Wilson mooning around and the two friends breaking up.

Then there's a third-act surprise--in an attempt for a comic shot in the arm, we meet the original wedding crasher, played by surprise star Will Ferrell.  I don't remember his appearance being that well-loved back then (and it is a bit absurd once the film is trying to get serious), but it is something different, and has held up reasonably well.

But it sure takes us a long time to get Wilson and McAdams back together, as well as Wilson and Vaughn.  We end the film with the two couples speeding off to more adventures, but it does feel like the post-disclosure material could have been handled more effectively in half the time.

Overall, I think the film works. There's some slack, and not every idea pays off, but at its best it's got true comic momentum.  Wilson has rapport with both Vaughn and McAdams (who's never looked lovelier).  Above all, Vaughn is a comic dynamo.  If you want to see a film that shows what he can do, this is it.

There are rumors of a sequel. Bad idea.  For one thing, Wilson and Vaughn reteamed in The Internship, and seemed tired.  Would we really want to see their wedding crasher characters over a decade later?  It sounds depressing.

Monday, February 12, 2018


The Writers Guild handed out its awards last night, and I don't like what I'm seeing.  Not unlike the Oscars, there are some fine choices available, and some weak ones I wish they'd avoid.  The WGA didn't avoid them. (I'm talking about movies--no one cares about TV right now.)

The nominees for best original screenplay were The Big Sick, Get Out, I Tonya, Lady Bird and The Shape Of Water.  There were a few titles I wouldn't have minded seeing, but four of these five are good to great.  The only one that shouldn't be up there is Get Out, which was sort of fun, but overall shallow and silly.

Needless to say, Get Out won.

For best adapted screenplay, the choices were Call Me By Your Name, The Disaster Artist, Logan, Molly's Game and Mudbound.  Not as distinguished a list as that for original screenplay, but still pretty good.  The Disaster Artist, Logan and Molly's Game were all well done in their own way.  I was less impressed by Mudbound, but it was okay.  The only one I didn't like--it resulted in one of the most boring films of the year--was Call Me By Your Name.

Needless to say, Call Me By Your Name won.

The Oscars will be handed out in a few weeks.  I hope the voters snap out of it.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

To The Point

Last night I saw a program of Oscar nominated shorts, in both the live action and animated category.  My thoughts:


The nominees in this category are pretty good.  I would vote for Negative Spaces, which is short (5 minutes), to the point and very well done.

The Academy, however, rarely listens to me.  I would think the favorite is Revolting Rhymes, which is hard to compare with the others, since it's almost half an hour and bites off a lot more.  It's a fun retelling of classic fairy tales.

Also great (my #2 choice) is Garden Party, about frogs overrunning a home.  It's probably the most technically accomplished nominee.  I might add that these three shorts all traffic in dark humor and death.

This year's entry from Pixar is LOU, which isn't bad, but I don't think has what it takes to win this year. (Though I note it has the highest rating of these five nominees at the IMDb.)

The only short I wouldn't want to see win is Dear Basketball.  The animation is decent, but created, written and financed by Kobe Bryant, it seems more like a promo for him than anything else. And hasn't Kobe won enough awards?

Live Action:

A weak group.  None I would call great.  (And since most are political, we're likely to get an annoying speech from the winner.)

My favorite was DeKalb Elementary.  It's a pretty basic story--really a situation--where a guy comes into a school with a gun. It's based on a real event, apparently.  (Three of these shorts are based on real stories, and they all have guns.)  It's not particularly complicated, but that's what shorts are for--you make your point, make it memorably, and get out.  DeKalb wins for me because the two leads did a good job and showed more humanity that any of the other films.

My second favorite was The Silent Child, about a deaf girl and a social worker who fights with her parents to get her the right treatment.  My biggest complaint is the film ended with stats about deaf children and a plea about what to do, which made it more like a PSA than a short.  It's touching enough that I think the Academy might go for it.

Then there's The Eleven O'Clock, about a psychiatrist with a particularly troublesome patient.  It's the only humorous short.  It's also the shortest short (though still 13 minutes), which is a good thing, because there's really only one joke, with variations.  I thought the punch line was telegraphed, but the audience was laughing, so I wouldn't rule it out.

My two least favorites (not bad, but not good enough), are My Nephew Emmett and Watu Wote: All Of Us. The former is the story of Emmett Till, which is an important subject, but that doesn't make the film important.  The latter is about the violence in Kenya and Somalia between Muslims and Christians. It's based on an event where Muslims put their lives in danger to protect a Christian from terrorists.

At the end of these films we were shown video of the filmmakers hearing they were nominated for Oscars.  It was funny to see the films, often about serious, deadly subjects, and then watch the filmmakers jump up and down in joy: "Hooray! Because we exploited horrific stories we'll get to dress up nice and be on TV in front of millions!"

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Like A House On Fire*

There's a well-known episode of Seinfeld where Jerry gets in trouble for making out with his girlfriend during Schindler's List.

I couldn't help but think of that when attending a re-release of Andrei Tarkovsky's 1986 classic The Sacrifice.  The film is a contemplation on life, death, religion and the end of the world.

And right in front of me was this couple making out.  They were really going at it.  For a while I thought they might even go all the way.

I didn't bother them, because, if you're familiar with Tarkovsky, you know his films are long and arty, and occasional distractions aren't the worst thing.

*I generally don't explain my titles, but I know most people haven't seen this film, and unless you guessed from the photo above, it famously features a house burning down.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Build The Wall

NBC's The Wall is a well-designed game show, with an exciting mix of skill, luck and tons of money.  One of things designed to make it appealing are the couples who play the game have life stories of community service and sacrifice.

I assume this is to make it easier to root for them. But after watching a lot of episodes, I wonder if there wasn't more to this calculation.

That's because, in general, these people are not great game show contestants.  When it comes to trivia, they don't seem to know a lot.  They also don't seem to know how to game multiple choice questions.  Watching the show, I often smite my forehead--they either don't know pretty basic stuff, or rule out the right answer off the bat because it's designed to look like the wrong answer.

So maybe, in a game show that can potentially give away millions, this is insurance.  If the people are going to get most of the questions wrong, and wrong answers mean you lose money, that could be worth quite a bit for the producers in the long run.

Or am I being too cynical?

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Mint Hint

On the way to a Super Bowl party, I stopped at See's Candies to buy a box of chocolates.  See's isn't cheap, but the Super Bowl is only once a year.

I picked out the assortment one by one.  I asked for a chocolate mint truffle.  Before the clerk (is there a name for See's sellers--chocaristas?) put the piece in, she stopped and said something about how if the mint truffle is in the box with other chocolates long enough, they may start smelling like mint.

So this truffle has a powerful smell.  So strong, in fact, that apparently See's requires a warning.  Did they get a lot of complaints?  "All my milk butterchews have a minty smell!"

Since the chocolates would be consumed in a few hours, I wasn't too worried.  But now I want to do some experiments.  We'll need to isolate a bunch of other pieces with the mint truffle and see how long the transformation takes.  And we'll do blind testing, with control groups.

Sure, it won't be cheap, but this is important research.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

What'd I Say?

People are talking about this recent exchange between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a woman in the audience at a town hall meeting.

When I first saw Trudeau telling this woman to say "peoplekind" instead of "mankind," my immediate thought was she should say "I look forward to the day we no longer say "Prime Minister Trudeau.'"

It reminded me of when I saw Barbara Boxer insist on being called "Senator" instead of "Ma'am":

If she tried to pull that on me, I would have said "seeing as how I'm a citizen of California, would it be okay if I call you 'Employee Boxer'?"

It's a good thing I've never been called to testify before Congress.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

This Was Us

This Is Us, already NBC's biggest show, got the slot after the Super Bowl, and earned the biggest post-Bowl rating of any show since 2012.

Of course, it wasn't just any episode--it was the one where paterfamilias Jack died, something the show had been teasing since the first season. In addition, it's set on Super Bowl Sunday--did creator Dan Fogelman plan that before or after he knew when it would air?

While a lot of people tuned in who don't normally watch, this episode would have gotten high ratings whenever it was shown.  Why?

I'm not asking why is the show popular, but why would people tune in to see a beloved character die?  There's the mystery of how it happened, I suppose, but fans who have grown to know and love the Pearson family would have to watch scenes of these characters being miserable.

We watch movies and TV to be moved--to laughter, to tears, etc.  But it's odd that fans wanted to see characters feeling awful, with no guarantee of any hope at the end.  (Some viewers record their reactions to big TV events and put them on YouTube.  So I guess people want to see people crying at other people crying.)

Monday, February 05, 2018

Tunnel Vision

There's a parking garage next to the Burbank AMC 16 Theater.  To get to the movies, you walk through a small tunnel.  And on both walls are a huge blow-up of a photo of people sitting in an old movie theatre.

From the looks of them--the hairstyles, the dresses, etc.--it appears to be in the 1920s.  There's even an organ near the screen suggesting the silent era.

And what are they looking at?  Groucho Marx and Marilyn Monroe in a scene together.  Of course, neither were movie stars during the silent years.  But that's not the odd thing.

The image is from Love Happy.  Why pick this shot?  I realize they're both icons, but the film was not a high point for either.

It's the last feature that could honestly be called a Marx Brothers movie, but really it's a Harpo movie which Chico joined because he needed the money and Groucho joined so they could get funding. (Groucho was the biggest star at the time, and the Brothers as a team meant something).

But not only is it a weak film, Groucho is barely in it.  And Marilyn has even less to do--she was an unknown at the time and her part is just a walk-on.

So of all the countless images they could have put up, they chose this?  Something to think about as you walk through the tunnel.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Vincent Furnier

Happy birthday, Alice Cooper.  He's 70 today.  There was a time he was considered frightening, but he was always a good guy.  (And a son of Detroit.)

Saturday, February 03, 2018


Dennis Edwards has died.  He replaced David Ruffin as the lead singer of the Temptations in 1968.  Which means he left behind a lot of good work.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Places, Everyone

The Good Place just ended its second season.  It's never been a big hit, but it has been renewed for a third season.  The show is funny, though I wouldn't necessarily call it the funniest show out there.  But it's got the most original plot. In fact, I can't recall any show quite like it.

I will now discuss the plot, meaning there'll be plenty of spoilers.  I wouldn't want to ruin it for anyone--there are only 26 half-hours, so if you haven't seen it, it wouldn't be a tough binge. Okay, here we go.

When I first heard about the show, I didn't get it.  All I knew was it was about a woman who dies and goes to heaven.  Heaven?  How can there be conflict there? And a show with no conflict is pretty dull.

But of course the show's creator Michael Schur knew that.  The twist was this woman, Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), wasn't supposed to be there.  In fact, she'd been a pretty awful person on Earth.  But due to a clerical error--she died the exact same moment a much nicer person with the same name did--she was in the wrong place.  So the plot was how she could cover up that fact, even as her presence in heaven (a particular heaven built for her and the other residents) was being harmed.

She eventually got to know three other residents pretty well--Chidi, an ethics professor and her putative soul mate; Tahani, a beautiful jet-setter in her previous life; and Jianyu, a Buddhist monk.  Overseeing this heaven was Michael (Ted Danson), the Good Place's architect and caretaker, along with Janet, a sort of robot ("Not a robot" she'd reply) who could answer and questions and provide anything needed.

However, as the season wore on, and Eleanor fought harder and harder to keep up the ruse, she discovered odd things about her neighbors.  Chidi couldn't make up his mind and drove people crazy.  Tahani was arrogant and overshadowed by her amazing sister.  Jianyu was actually Jason Mendoza from Jacksonville, Florida, a stupid and slimy street tough.

After all sorts of twists and turns, the finale of season one gave us the biggest twist of all.  This wasn't heaven, this was the Bad Place--devised by Michael so that these four would spend all time torturing each other.  But when Eleanor figured it out, Michael decided to erase their memories and reboot "The Good Place."

So we had some idea what would happen in season 2. Except not quite.  What happened was no matter how many times Michael re-ran the experiment (more than 800), these four would find each other and figure out what was going on rather quickly.  Meanwhile, Michael was hiding his troubles from his superior Shawn, to avoid being punished himself.

Michael and the four started to work together so the humans would pretend they were being tortured.  And they all, Michael included, started taking moral lessons from Chidi.  Eventually they were discovered and went on the run.  They ended up in front of a powerful judge who decide who goes where.  Michael argued they had improved themselves, which wasn't supposed to happen.

So, in the season 2 finale, the Judge is trying a new experiment to see if the humans are worthy--they're sent back to Earth and saved from death to see what direction their lives take. (They can't know it's an experiment or they might just try to be good for the reward.)  Michael and Janet follow their progress and then Michael slips out to intrude on Eleanor's life and perhaps send her in the right direction.

So the next season is set up to take place on Earth, with perhaps the four eventually finding each other, partly through Michael's intervention.

While I would watch this, it's odd, since it is so far from what the show has been.  No matter what else happened, the setting was always the afterlife.  Will putting the action in real life make it less special?  That's the question fans like me are left to ponder while awaiting new episodes.

Of course, Schur might take a left turn and send the show somewhere else pretty quickly.  Even at 13 episodes a season, it's quite a juggling act to keep things moving forward.

Thursday, February 01, 2018


February 1st already?  You know what that means--it's Change Your Password Day.

Who would have guessed what survival skills our brave new world would require?  It wasn't that ago you you probably didn't think, for instance, that typing skills would be so important.  (And maybe they aren't--you just need to know how to type with two thumbs, and half the time your words will be filled in anyway).

But, apparently, one things that's necessary are good passwords (though what am I protecting that's so valuable?).  We all know the guidelines to making secure passwords--no birthdays or words that mean something to us, lest the Mr. Robots of the world get into our private stuff.

But I long for the days of simple passwords, like 12345 and PASSWORD.  Because the new problems with passwords is they keep you out when you can't remember them.  So you've got to write them down somewhere in a place where no one can find them.  And then you lose that, and you're screwed again.

And don't get me started on thumbprints and retinal scans.  I've seen enough Mission: Impossible movies to know they won't keep you safe.

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