Monday, April 30, 2018

Foreign Legion

I gave up on Legion pretty quickly.  I checked it out because I liked Noah Hawley's other show, Fargo, but split after the pilot and a bit of the second episode.  I felt the show was confusing and the characters annoying.

However, with other shows ending their runs recently, I found Tuesday night fairly open so I gave the second season a looksee.  I've watched four episodes so far, and guess I'll keep watching, though it's not high priority.  For instance, I don't feel compelled to catch up on the first season.  (And I certainly won't check the Marvel comic.)

Which makes the second season sort of interesting, since I approached Legion from the outside.  A whole lot has happened, and either I've got to figure it out, or I can ignore it.  I'm mostly ignoring it.

The basic plot I get.  The lead character is David, who has special mental powers (though everyone seems to have special powers, which makes them less special). He's in love with fellow mutant Sydney.

He lives and works at a government agency known as Division 3, where they're is trying to stop the force known as the Shadow King from reconnecting with his body. (Or something like that.  David may actually be trying to do the opposite.)

The show is filled with extravagant visuals, which are kind of fun, as well as a lot of music.  And it's an interesting cast, with actors such as Dan Stevens (in the lead), Aubrey Plaza, Bill Irwin and Jemaine Clement.  Jon Hamm narrates.

So I've come this far. I'll probably make it to the end of the season, unless something better comes along.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

They Say It's Their Birthday

Today is my birthday, so I'll take it easy and let some fellow birthday boys (and girls) play a little music.

Sir Thomas Beecham



Duke Ellington



Donald Mills of the Mills Brothers



Big Jay McNeely



Carl Gardner of The Coasters



Tammi Terrell



Tommy James

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Wait For Kate

I enjoyed yesterday's tribute to Kate Pierson, but that was all B-52's stuff.  She also did solo work, and made a fair amount of guest appearances on other people's records.









Friday, April 27, 2018

Kate The Great

Guess who's birthday is today?  Delightful singer, instrumentalist and songwriter for The B-52's, Kate Pierson.

Happy 70th, Kate.










Thursday, April 26, 2018

Hit It

Here's an article about "8 One-Hit Wonders We Want To Forget" by Lauren Spagnoletti.

Might as well get straight to the list (which is not numbered):

"Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba 1997

"I Touch Myself" by Divinyls 1991

"I'm Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred 1992

"Because I Got High" by Afroman 2000

"Mambo No. 5" by Lou Bega 2001

"Who Let The Dogs Out" by Baha Men 2000

"Macarena" by Los Del Rio 1995

"MMMBop" by Hanson 1997

This list sure let's us know when Spagnoletti was listening to music--the songs are all from 1991 to 2001.  I'd also note a lot of these are novelty numbers.  Perhaps that's how it often goes with one-hit wonders.

Anyway, I'm not impressed.  I can think of countless one-hit wonders with worse songs (not to mention multi-hit acts with numerous worse songs).

In fact, I like some of these, and I'd say there's only one I just don't want to hear any more.  I was going to leave you hanging, but it's the last one.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Get Lost

When I was a kid I watched reruns of Lost In Space, but it didn't take long for me to outgrow it.  Sure, it offered some campy fun, and Marta Kristen was pretty sexy, but by my teens I was into Star Trek and never looked back.

In 1998, there was a big budget film version of Lost In Space, starring William Hurt and Gary Oldman, but it was awful.  Now Netflix is offering an updated Lost In Space series. Is it worth it?  I watched the pilot yesterday, and my answer is...I don't know.

The reboot takes us a few decades into the future. (The original series was set in the late 1990s, I believe.) Earth is threatened--is there any genre more pessimistic than sci-fi?--so certain families have been selected to colonize space.

The first hour mostly concentrates on the Space Family Robinson.  They've got the same names as in the original, and the kids are about the same age, but it's a different sort of family.  Husband and wife John and Maureen have had marital problems, and their oldest daughter Judy comes from Maureen's previous marriage.

Also, the females are far more accomplished this time around.  Sure, John's a former Navy SEAL, but Maureen is an accomplished aerospace engineer who's in charge of their mission.  Also, teenage daughter Judy appears to be the doctor of the group.

Needless to say, things go horribly wrong--right from the start the family crash lands on a new planet and everyone is in mortal danger.  (The entire mission involves numerous colonists, and they're in trouble, too.)  Most of the action deals with the family just trying to stay alive.

Along the way youngest child Will Robinson gets lost and runs into an alien robot.  He saves him (it?) and ends up saving the family.  Also, before the hour is over, we meet engineer Don West and "Dr. Smith"--a woman (played by Parkery Posey--the only regular on the show I know well) who appears to be some criminal or psychopath who steels the uniform of the real Dr. Smith (a cameo by Bill Mumy of the original series).  Presumably, these two will meet up with the Robinsons and join in their adventures.

I thought the pilot was okay.  If it had a problem, it was that they leaned too hard on action.  You want conflict, but they dialed it up a bit much. The family is about to land when everything goes nuts.  Fine, but once they land, it's one thing after another.  Maureen has broken her leg.  Judy, diving down to the capsized Jupiter ship that crash-landed, gets stuck in the quick-freezing ice.  Will, on a trip with dad to find magnesium, gets lost and then almost perishes in a fire.  And the whole family has to worry if they'll freeze to death once night falls.  Piling on one thing after another doesn't necessarily make for great drama--more likely it just tires you out.

The bigger question is do I want to follow this family through their adventures.  I watch too much TV already, so to make my rotation, I need to be invested.  All 10 episodes of the first season are available to binge. I suppose I'll wait until there's not much on and check out the second episode--then it better be going somewhere or I'm out.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Mac Attack

Shirley MacLaine celebrates her birthday today.  Or does she?

She's been starring in movies since the mid 1950s, and has been nominated for six Oscars, winning one, so her fame seems to go far back.  But to someone like her, who believes in past lives, perhaps it's not such a big deal.  How exciting is it to be a movie star compared to the thrill of living in Atlantis thousands of years ago?

At least she apparently remember her past lives.  I can't remember a thing.  Which raises a point--what's the difference between having past lives that you don't remember and not having past lives at all.  Seems about the same.

Anyway, happy birthday, Shirley, though I guess at this point you've been born into this world on pretty much ever day of the calendar (if you measure dates with such a modern device).

Monday, April 23, 2018

Name That Tune

I was watching Family Guy last night, the episode entitled "'Family Guy' Through The Years." I had the CC on, as is my wont.

During one bit, they parodied the end of the movie Hair, but instead of Berger taking Claude's place in Vietnam, Peter was taking the place of his son, Chris.  In the movie, this is when they play "Let The Sunshine In" (properly known as "The Flesh Failures (Let The Sunshine In).")  They used the same tune in Family Guy, except Peter is singing "Let my son die."

Except on the CC, they identified the song as "Aquarius." This is a pretty big difference.  "Aquarius" opens the show and the movie, "Let The Sunshine In" closes it.

I think I understand where the mistake comes from.  The medley "Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In" (also known as "Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)") was a #1 hit for The 5th Dimension--many think of the songs as being one piece.

But still, two different songs.  Don't even sound anything like each other.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Hey Good Lookin'

Amy Schumer has found herself in a controversy with I Feel Pretty.  The plot has her character getting knocked on the head and then believing she's a beautiful model-type.  Because she believes she's hot, she acts with confidence and good things happen.

Some in the #MeToo movement claim the film puts out a message of body shaming, and says that most women need brain damage to feel good about their looks.

Beauty is a ticklish issue.  We say it's only skin deep, but women still want to look beautiful, and men are still attracted to beautiful women.  Certainly everyone understands there are far more important things than looks, but biological urges can't just be wished away.

(I'm reminded of this exchange in The Importance Of Being Earnest--
Algernon:  You are the prettiest girl I ever saw.
Cecily:  Miss Prism says that all good looks are a snare.
Algernon:  They are a snare that every sensible man would like to be caught in.)

So movies and TV tend to use beautiful women for leading roles.  Yes, it's not just looks--personality and talent are still pretty important--but it's undeniable good-looking people have an advantage.  And yes, most entertainment is made by men, but they're doing what they believe appeals to the audience in general. And they didn't make it up out of nothing.  Tales told centuries before cinema often feature handsome heroes and beautiful heroines.

So I Feel Pretty, dealing with such a raw issue--in a fairly direct manner by its star, Amy Schumer--touches a nerve.  I'm reminded of a similar issue in Shallow Hal, which is sort of a male version of I Feel Pretty. Jack Black plays a guy who is obsessed with looks, and is hypnotized into believing the most beautiful women are those with the most beautiful inner souls (though how he knows at first glance who these are I'm not sure).

Both films end with the predictable message:  looks don't really matter.  I guess they have to say that, or there'd be real trouble.  Forget that everything else Hollywood does is telling you that's not true.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Give It A Spin

Today is Record Store Day.  As the people behind it explain:

Record Store Day was conceived in 2007 at a gathering of independent record store owners and employees as a way to celebrate and spread the word about the unique culture surrounding nearly 1400 independently owned record stores in the US and thousands of similar stores internationally.  The first Record Store Day took place on April 19, 2008.

So this is the tenth anniversary, I guess.  I've spent a lot of happy hours in record stores, and I'm happy to celebrate them.

But a lot has changed since the concept of this day was born.  Back then, megastores ruled the roost, but the warning signs were already there. Technology allowed people to download music (often without paying) and Amazon was killing brick and mortar.

Maybe a decade ago indie record stores needed a little boost, but now all record stores need help.  The big chains that were everywhere are gone.  In Los Angles, I used to go to Tower or Virgin, but now there's hardly a single major record store outside Amoeba (which is always rumored to be on the verge of closing).

So let's celebrate the record store today.  While we still can.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Not Quite Infinity, But Almost

Avengers: Infinity War will open next week.  Perhaps you've heard about it.  With all the publicity, it would be harder not to notice.  There's tremendous anticipation.  It's got a shot at being the biggest hit of the year, though thanks to Black Panther it's got its work cut out.

Looks like it could be fun, and Marvel superhero films have a pretty good percentage, but I can't help but wonder if it's too much of a good thing.

The film will be a bit over two and a half hours (with the audience remaining in the seats till the end).  And the cast will include Iron Man, Spider-Man, Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, Captain America, Thor, Loki, Black Panther, Star-Lord, Dr. Strange, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, Hulk, Falcon and a fair number of others.  This means we get maybe ten minutes per superhero.

Wouldn't you prefer a little more time with your favorites?  A movie should have a good hero and a good villain (and maybe a good love interest), but if you keep adding to the scorecard, after a while enough is enough.

If your idea of a great comedy is It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, maybe this film is for you.  Too bad that's not my idea of a great comedy.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Wise Child

Hollywood likes to put geniuses in their films.  They're like magicians--they can magically fix any plot holes by doing whatever it is they're allegedly expert at.  It's easy enough to ignore, I suppose, except when they're front and center.  It's even worse when they're kids. Which is what I was thinking while recently watching two 2017 films about brilliant kids.

First there's Gifted, which features a girl who seems to be around eight years old.  She's a math whiz. I don't mean she can operate at a high school level, I mean she can solve problems that stump people with graduate degrees.

The story is more about her relationship with her father, and a custody fight, but the genius part of the story is insane.  I don't care what kind of brain a kid has--no eight-year-old, or nine-, ten-, or eleven-year-old, is that brilliant, sort of in the same way no ten-year-old is ready to play college football.

The filmmakers don't care, of course.  The girl being a genius makes her interesting to them.  But unbelievable to me.

Then there's The Book Of Henry.  This one was much worse---both as a film and as a portrayal of genius.  In fact, the film was such a disaster that director Colin Trevorrow was fired from directing the next Star Wars film. (Well, some people believe it's due to The Book Of Henry, though others claim it was over creative differences.)

The movie is a mess, top to bottom.  Not even the talented Naomi Watts can make her dialogue and character (mom of the genius) work.  Henry is an eleven-year-old who lives with his brother and his mother, who's a waitress.  Henry is such as whiz at the stock market that he's built up enough money (starting with what?) to make the family financially secure.

Henry can also build about anything.  And is able to come up with complex plans for tricky situations taking into account every real-life permutation. Also, when he has some medical problem, he know as much about the condition as the specialist who treats him.  He's also amazing at reading people's psychology.

Many geniuses are good at a particular subject, but can't do much else any better than the average person.  But Henry is one of those movies geniuses who knows everything about anything.

The filmmakers then go on to make a bigger mistake.  At least the girl in Gifted was taught not to show up adults.  Henry is an obnoxious jerk who doesn't just treat adults as equals, he talks down to them.

Ridiculous kid geniuses are bad enough, but obnoxious ones are worse.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

COB

Conan O'Brien turns 55 today.  He's had an odd career.  A writer for Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons, he somehow got to host a NBC's late night talk show.  He didn't get great reviews at first, but he stuck around and developed an audience.

Then he graduated to NBC's Tonight Show where the ratings were weak and he was unceremoniously kicked out and replaced by Jay Leno, the very man he'd replaced.  After a short period in the wilderness, he landed a talk show on TBS, where he's been ever since.

I remember watching him from the start.  I think his best show was his original Late Night show.  And he had his take on things.  In general, he had a strong self-deprecating style (as befits someone who didn't come up in show biz the normal way).

And from his very first regular bit, "Actual Items" (at least partly created by staff writer Louis C. K.), you could see his show was different.  Where Letterman, who had the show before him, would regularly look at real items in the news, or real people and places in the streets, and mock them, here was Conan showing you real items with fake stuff added--found comedy versus fake found comedy (or "fake news" if you like).

Here are a few of my favorite moments from his show:











Tuesday, April 17, 2018

How Do You Like Your Coffee?

There's been a call to boycott Starbucks after two African-American men were arrested for allegedly trespassing at a franchise in Philadelphia.  Yesterday there were protests in front of that store.

As the protest organizer Abdul-Aliy Muhammad claimed, "We don't want this Starbucks to make any money today."  A regional vice president tried to talk to the people on the street but was shouted down.

About two dozen protestors were chanting slogans such as "A whole lot of racism, a whole lot of crap, Starbucks coffee is anti-black."

This is disappointing.  They had a whole day to come up with a chant, and they can't even rhyme properly?  Even by the standards of today's popular music, "crap" and "black" is pretty bad.

Who comes up with these things, anyway?  Shouldn't the assignment be given to people who have already proved they understand what a real rhyme is?

And while we're at it, it doesn't even scan.  They should work on that as well.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Tangled Webb

I read Jimmy Webb's memoir The Cake And The Rain.  Unfortunately, it's one of those books that keeps popping back and forth in time.  People writing memoirs should remember: chronology is your friend.

Webb was (is?) a solid songwriter.  Memorable melodies and evocative lyrics--even something as silly as "someone left a cake out in the rain" from "MacArthur Park" is hard to forget (though I wish I could).

He had an odd career, though.  Webb wrote a bunch of hits in the late 1960s, when he was in his early 20s.  But starting in the 1970s he began recording his own stuff and mostly disappeared from the charts.

But those early hits are still being played:  "Up, Up and Away," "By The Time I Get To Phoenix," "MacArthur Park" (or "MacArthur's Park" and Richard Harris pronounces it), "Wichita Lineman," "Worst That Could Happen" and "Galveston," to pick the biggest ones.

He's won Grammys and been recorded by hundreds of artists. I assume the royalty checks are still coming in.  So even if he stopped being the hit maker he once was, still not a bad life.

PS  The book is a memoir, so it's based on his personal knowledge.  But it's full of errors.  Shouldn't he, or his publisher, have employed some fact-checkers, at the very least, to avoid embarrassment.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Reality

I saw the movie Ready Player One and was curious how it compared to the book.  So I borrowed a copy from a friend.

It had the same general outline--a dystopian world, though one where people slip away into a virtual world where they can do almost anything.  The creator of this world dies and leaves his creation, not to mention billions, to the person who finds three hidden keys and completes a quest.

To turn the book into a movie, however, Spielberg and company changed almost every specific part of the quest.  Perhaps this disappointed some, but since I saw the movie first, it was fine with me.

The book is well done, and a true geekfest.  Though it's set in the 2040s, a lot of the fun is all the references to 20th century movies, TV shows and videogames--especially from the 1980s.

Ready Player One was published in 2011, and one line, I think, resonates differently today. It's on page 201.  Elections are being held, both in the real world and the virtual world. The virtual election is more important to the protagonist, since it actually affects him.

As for the real world election, the hero states "It didn't matter. [...] Besides, now that everyone could vote from home [...] the only people who could get elected were movie stars, reality TV performers, or radical televangelists."

Saturday, April 14, 2018

RB

Today is the birthday of Ritchie Blackmore.  A founder of Deep Purple, his riff for "Smoke On The Water" was the one every beginner guitarist learned.





Friday, April 13, 2018

This Day Is Numbered

It's Friday the 13th.  There are a lot of superstitions, and the idea that this day is bad luck is one of the dumbest.

It's not clear when the superstition started, though it's been around for centuries.  Of course, other cultures believe other days and other numbers of unlucky.

I wonder if anyone has ever figured out any reasonable metric for figuring how unlucky any random day is. Maybe you could play poker on that day and see how well you do (versus other days).  Of course, your bad luck there could be someone else's good luck.

Anyway, I have no doubt if they did some correct measure, Friday the 13th would be no different luck-wise from any other day.  (In fact, Fridays are usually pretty good days.) I suppose it's possible you could have a self-fulfilling prophecy, but more likely that means people notice unlucky things on the day, not that there is less luck.

So enjoy your day, and don't even think about bad luck.  In fact, pretend you never read this.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Wave Bye Bye

So Paul Ryan won't run for reelection. He says he wants to spend more time with his family.  (What do politicians without a family say?  That they want to take time off to start a family?  Or they just want to be alone?)

Paul Ryan, at 48, is not that old for a politician, especially one who's only two heartbeats away from the presidency. It's hard to believe anyone in such a situation would give up so much power.

I can't read his mind, but I would guess he doesn't like what he sees in the future, and maybe isn't that happy with the present.  Part of it may be having to work with an unpredictable and unconventional president.  But likely a lot of it is he sees his party in trouble.

It would still take a lot for the Democrats to win the House (and probably more to take back the Senate), but I would also think Ryan's announcement is a wake-up call.  Here's a guy with inside info.  It's way too early to tell, but if trends continue as they have, 2018 is shaping up as a wave election.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Unhappy Valley

I watched Paterno, HBO's drama about Joe Paterno and the Sandusky sex scandal that brought him down.

Directed by Barry Levinson and starring Al Pacino (who's been doing a lot of this in recent years, also portraying Phil Spector and Jack Kevorkian in TV movies), it's gotten a lot of publicity.  Too bad it's so poorly told.  Even the basic framing device, where Paterno thinks back on his life while getting an MRI, seems like a bad idea.

But it did bring back memories of the original story.  In 2010, Paterno, in his 80s, had been head coach of the Nittany Lions for over 40 years.  He was the king of Penn State, the most powerful, respected, beloved man at the college. (I saw something like this at the University of Michigan with Bo Schembechler, though I would guess JoePa was a much bigger deal.)

He was planning to retire, and must have looked back at his career and life with a good deal of satisfaction.

Then, in 2011, former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested for years of sexually abusing children.  It was a huge scandal that brought down the people around him, including Paterno, who had seemed untouchable. At first a lot of students were angry at the sudden dismissal by the Board of Trustees, who didn't even allow Paterno to finish out the season and retire, as he had planned. 

This happened in November 2011, and Paterno, who had heath problems, died in January 2012.  It seemed to many at the time it was the scandal that killed him.

PS  Was Pacino a good choice for the role?  Well, he's about the right age, and you've go to admit "Al Pacino" has the same rhythm as "Joe Paterno."

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Go All The Way

A Quiet Place made a lot of noise at the box office over the weekend, but the makers of Blockers must also be pretty happy, since their small comedy grossed close to $21 million.

The film is about three teenage girls going to the prom who make a pact to have sex for the first time that night.  Their parents find out and try to stop them.  The trailer looked awful, so I don't think I'll be seeing it.

But one thing does interest me: which way will the movie go?  I've seen quite a few comedies set in high school where the main characters plan to have sex.  I haven't done any rigorous research, but I would guess in most of them they come up short.  There may be a chaste kiss in it for them, but generally not much more.  Most of them will have to wait until they get into a college comedy to get what they want.

At least there's a possibility, though.  If you watch Hollywood comedies in the 50s and early 60s, where there's no possibility of sex before marriage, and little enough after, you get what amounts to a lot of sexless sex farces.  And that's with adults.  Teens can't even think about it.  Since the opening up of censorship in the past few decades, you do get raunchy sex comedies where even teens make it.

And Blockers is rated R, which is a sign they might go further than usual.  On the other hand, the story is told from the point of view of the parents, it seems, not the kids.  Which way would that lead?

One thing is sure--both the parents and the kids will learn valuable lessons by the end of the movie.  But will that lesson be to hold off till you're ready (the kids' lesson, of course), or to let your kids lead their own lives?  Maybe they'll split the difference.  The mystery almost makes me want to see the film.

Monday, April 09, 2018

The Time Of Nicks

It seems that just a few year ago there was a bio of Stevie Nicks out.  Guess what?  There's another--Gold Dust Woman by Stephen Davis.  It's not especially well written, but it's still about a fascinating life.

Nicks met Lindsey Buckingham in high school.  They later get together in a band named Fritz and played around San Francisco.  The band was invited by a producer to come down to Los Angeles.  They didn't get a contract, but Stevie and Lindsey were told they should split from the band to make it as a duo.

That they did.  They also become romantically involved.  They could have made a decent living in a cover band, but they refused to do other people's songs, so they had some lean years where Stevie earned their keep as a waitress.  They finally got a recording contract, though their first album didn't do much and they were dropped by their label.

It wasn't clear what was next, but Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac was at the same recording studio as the two.  He was looking for a new guitarist and he heard some of Buckingham's work and decided to hire him, though he understood he'd have to take Stevie too--not that he had to be convinced, since Stevie had talent and was a knockout.

In fact, Lindsey had to be convinced.  There was some renewed interest in Buckingham Nicks (the imaginative name of their duo) and he knew if they joined Fleetwood Mac, they just be the bands new junior partners, perhaps disposable.  (The only member of Mac, which was down to a trio, who had to be convinced was Christine McVie--there was concern she wouldn't get along with another woman in the group.)

So the two joined, and while it was a step up, it was just as good a deal for Fleetwood Mac.  Suddenly they had two new great songwriters and singers, and Buckingham was a master of the studio.  Previously, the band had been mid-range popular, selling hundreds of thousands per album, but rarely going gold.  Now they were the superstars of soft rock (which was a new category for them).

First came Fleetwood Mac, which sold millions, followed by Rumours, which sold zillions.  And it turned out Stevie was the star of the show.  Her songs like "Rhiannon" and "Dreams" were hits, and she got the most attention at their shows.  She became the face of Fleetwood Mac, with millions of young women who wanted to copy her style, not to mention a fair amount of young men who had other designs.

While there was plenty of success in the future, Nicks' story gets a bit sad at this point.  She splits from Buckingham and there are endless affairs and drugs (same deal for the rest of the band).  She also had some health problems along the way, and a lot of heartbreak.

Stevie, at least, was the one band member who managed to establish a major solo career, starting with her multi-platinum album Bella Donna, which included the hits "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," "Edge Of Seventeen" and "Leather And Lace."

Meanwhile, Fleetwood Mac went on to record a number of successful albums (though none as big as Rumours), and Stevie contributed classic tunes such as "Sara" and "Gypsy." Ironically, Stevie was not treated well by the band, who still acted as if she were the most disposable member, just some chick who sang an occasional number.

Worst was the treatment she got from former lover Buckingham, who helped produce her songs but could be awfully condescending.  The book does not paint a pretty picture of Buckingham, who seems to have had problems.  More than nasty, he had a temper and could turn violent.  And yet, in later years, when Mick was trying to get a new album or tour going, the only essential member was Stevie.  (Fleetwood seems to have spent lavishly, as he was constantly in need of money--of course, he didn't write songs, and so earned half as much as those who did).  In fact, At different times, Fleetwood Mac went ahead without Buckingham, without Christine McVie and without Nicks, and the only time they truly failed was that last case.

So here we are today, with Stevie, still out there performing, being the godmother of so many female singers.  If the book did nothing else, it got me to go back and listen to all those old tunes.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Namely

I was watching the 1947 film Crossfire.  It's a film noir directed by Edward Dmytryk, and some consider it important since it deals with anti-Semitism.

It was highly regarded in its day, receiving five Academy Award nominations (though it didn't win any), including Best Picture.  I don't consider it a classic.  However, it is better than that film that won Best Picture--Gentleman's Agreement, which also takes on anti-Semitism.

There is one thing that distinguishes Crossfire, though.  It's the Robertest film ever made.

Look at the leads--Robert Young, Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan.  I don't think there's ever been that many Roberts at the head of a cast.  In fact, I can't recall any movie where the three leads shared the same first name.  (Last name sure--any Marx Brothers film will do.)

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Rude Food

I recently saw Ramen Heads, a Japanese documentary about the world of ramen.  It's reminiscent of Jiro Dreams Of Sushi--no doubt they'll be on a double feature some day, especially since RH also features a chef who takes great pains to make the dish and is considered the best in his field.

But sushi, a dish that's been around for centuries, is part of fancy cuisine. Japanese ramen didn't come into existence until a bit over a century ago, and is simple, everyday food that became popular after World War II in a hungry, impoverished nation. In recent decades, Japanese cooks have played around with ramen and come up with numerous variation.  But though it's gotten more hip, it's still served, generally speaking, in hole-in-the-wall spaces.

But forget that.  What fascinated me is the difference in Japanese table manners.  If the movie is accurate, ramen is meant to be slurped up.  The louder the sound, the more you appreciate it.  I couldn't help but be reminded of this scene from Tampopo:


Friday, April 06, 2018

What The L?

I don't know if you caught Judd Apatow's The Zen Diaries Of Garry Shandling, but it's worth checking out.  It's a four-hour documentary on Apatow's mentor, who was a talented a troubled man.

But I want to talk about the closed captioning.

One of the people they interviewed was Paul Willson, who acted on It's Garry Shandling's Show and The Larry Sanders Show. (He might be better known as one of the regulars on Cheers and one of the Bobs in Office Space.)

The closed captioning spelled his name "Wilson."  An understandable mistake, I suppose, except he'd been identified onscreen as "Willson" about ten seconds earlier.  Does the CC typist not pay attention to the video?

Also, writers Al Jean and Mike Reiss, who worked on It's Garry Shandling's Show and later The Simpsons, talked about other Shandling people who moved to The Simpsons, including David Mirkin. They didn't give his first name, though, and the CC typist guessed the last name was spelled "Merkin."

I'm afraid a Merkin is quite something else.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

What She Had

I recently read I'll Have What She's Having, Erin Carlson's book on Nora Ephron.  The subtitle is How Nora Ephron's Three Iconic Films Saved The Romantic Comedy.  Those three films, by the way, are When Harry Met Sally..., Sleepless In Seattle and You've Got Mail.  I wouldn't say they saved romantic comedy, but they were hits and did have an effect on the field.

The title comes from the punch line to the famous fake orgasm scene in the deli from When Harry Met Sally.  The book explains how Rob Reiner had to convince Meg Ryan to do the scene, and go all out.  (Though the book is about Ephron, the line was actually suggested by Billy Crystal.)

The scene is famous--maybe the most memorable thing Ephron is associated with.  Yet, I have to admit I've never thought it made sense.  The Sally character is straitlaced, and practically has OCD.  Then suddenly, she let's go in public?--seems the exact opposite of what her character would do.

But then, in drama, some things work for the audience even if they don't make sense.  The example I think of most often is the title number to Hello, Dolly!  Harold Prince was originally offered a shot at directing the show, but he told the creators the number where Dolly returns to the fancy restaurant and everyone makes a big deal is absurd.  He was right.  Dolly had never been there before, or if she had, she wasn't a regular patron.  She was essentially a con woman who did the best she could, not some grand dame in the past who'd fallen on hard times.

But when the number is choreographed by Gower Champion, it doesn't matter.  People are dazzled.

Another example, much closer, comes from There's Something About Mary.  Perhaps the most famous bit is the hair gel scene.  It was referred to on the poster, in fact.  Yet the director (either Bobby or Peter Farrelly) had to convince Cameron Diaz to do it.  She made an excellent argument.  The film is about how all these guys go crazy for Mary, so Mary has to be the sensible center, worth fighting for.  If she's so out of it she can't tell hair gel from other substances, she loses credibility.

Absolutely correct, but Farrelly had a better comeback--this will be the funniest thing ever, don't you want to be part of it?

And when Meg Ryan takes part in the scene in the movie that everyone is talking about  (and Rob Reiner's mom get's the topper), it shows, I guess, that there are more important than being true to character.

But it better be funny.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

The Tragedy Of The Common Culture

Someone sent me an article "How A Generation Lost Its Common Culture" by professor Patrick Deneen of Notre Dame.  It starts thus:

My students are know-nothings. They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their brains are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation. They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten nearly everything about itself, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference to its own culture.

Ah, so it's a trip down memory lane.  I've been hearing this "students are so dumb these days" jazz for as long as I've been alive, and I'm pretty sure it goes back well before me (to, say, Socrates).

In fact, when I read Deneen's paragraph, I thought for a second it was a cut-and-paste job from Allan Bloom's 1980s bestseller The Closing Of The American Mind.  The 80s was a golden age of concern over student ignorance.  For instance, there was the kinder approach of E. D Hirsch's Cultural Literacy, which listed thousands of facts that everyone needed to know (but, by implication, didn't).

I note that the loss of our common culture was a big deal in the 1980s because that's when Patrick Deneen was in college.  And he turned out fine (or at least a lot of his generation did).

Look, 18-year-olds are only gonna know so much, so it's pretty sad when someone who's spent decades learning literature, history, political science or whatever (or just watching the news) mocks them for lack of enlightenment.  I suggest he spend more time teaching and less whining.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

What's The Score?

Today, for some reason, is National Film Score Day.

A score is an odd things.  Going back to its earliest days, drama was often accompanied by music.  But why?  Real life has no musical background? On the other hand, film scores were there before dialogue.  When films started to be shown to the public, it wasn't long before someone decide to play music along with it.  And at the height of the silent era, fancy movie theatres would have orchestras playing music, often written for the particular film.

Then came sound, and the score would be the same at every performances. (Think of it--silent movies were different in every theatre, based on what the musicians did.) Though the earliest producers sometimes worried the customers would think it odd that there was music coming out of nowhere.  Some would even film musicians playing just to reassure the audience.

Scores became an important part of the film, though, ironically, they're often best if you don't notice them too much. (Or maybe there's something wrong with the storytelling if you're noticing the music.)

I have a friend who's very into film scores.  When I first met him, he had hundreds of albums of his favorite stuff.  While I was aware of scores, there were probably only a few back then I'd specifically recognize (half of them probably by John Williams).

But once you get into it, you start recognizing certain styles, and even certain eras.  You've got Steiner and Korngold and Stothart and Alfred Newman and Herrmann and Waxman and Tiomkin.  And you also start getting jazz scores and pop scores and rock scores, and people like Elmer Bernstein and John Barry and Mancini and Jarre and Rozsa and Morricone and Rota and North.  More recently there's Goldsmith and Morris and Conti and Zimmer and Horner and Shore and good old John Williams and Silvestri and Newton Howard and Elfman and Mothersbaugh and Burwell and Giacchino.  (Of course, there's also the soundtrack made up of old tunes replacing the specially written score.)

So here's to you guys, and all the others.  When done right, you add something to the movie (but not too much).

Monday, April 02, 2018

ReBarr

I wasn't planning on bringing up the revival of Roseanne, but as the show's become a phenomenal hit, I thought I'd discuss it.

In general, I don't like the idea of reviving old TV shows.  They tend to be of a time and place, and it's hard to recapture the magic. It's usually just sad when they try.  But it's being attempted a lot lately because, I guess, network ratings have been going down for years, and even the lower ratings these old hits used to get are looking pretty good.

I did watch the old Roseanne when it first aired.  Roseanne Barr herself was a standup comedian who came out of nowhere to be huge, and the sitcom version of her life did the same.  It debuted in 1988 and was in the top three for its first five years, and remained top ten for its first seven years, reaching numbers that are essentially unobtainable today--often getting more than twice as many viewers as the revival has gotten.

I thought the show was pretty good.  Though it was built around Barr, it wasn't a vehicle, it was a true ensemble.  As the years went by, though, I watched it less and less (though I did go to a taping of a later episode written by some friends).  I stopped watching a few years before the show went off the air. (By the way, I noticed one episode of the misbegotten final season had Roseanne meeting First Lady Hillary Clinton, though she was played by an actress.)

As much as I don't like revivals, I watched the debut of the new Roseanne (and it was two half hours, back to back) just to see how they'd pull it off.  In some ways, it was nice to see the gang back, but overall, I wasn't impressed.  The jokes seemed strained, and the politics--which everyone seems to be talking about--seemed forced.

The old show could be political, but was rarely so on the nose.  The new show had debates about Trump versus Hillary in ways that I don't think All In The Family would have even tried.

Also, the show seems tired already.  Sure, the characters are older, but it's more than that--it just fells like we've seen this before, no matter how "modern" the plots are (surrogate motherhood, a boy who dresses like a girl).

Much has been written about how Roseanne (the character, as well as the person, I suppose) supports Trump.  I admit it is odd to see anyone saying good things about Trump on a mainstream show.  Trump fans--who after all, are about half the country--are used to relentless hatred from network shows.  Perhaps this is part of the reason the premiere did so well (and note the show isn't even taking sides, it's just showing someone who thinks Trump is okay), but I think conservatives are exaggerating the effect.  Mostly people wanted to see an old show they loved back on the air.

It's ironic, by the way, to see conservative backing the show.  There original show often got the support of leftists, who saw it as a blue collar call to arms.  But then, times were different--white blue collar voters were Democrats, and rich whites were Republicans.  Somehow, that's been switched.

It is nice that all the main characters have shown up--Roseanne, Dan, Jackie, D.J., Darlene and even the two Beckys.  Word is Johnny Galecki will even come back for an episode. (I wonder who thought back then that he'd become so big?)

The balance has changed, though.  Originally, they were all unknowns, and Roseanne was the name.  Now, John Goodman is the bigger star, I'd say--he's certainly done a lot more than Barr has since the show went off the air.  For that matter, Laurie Metcalf--if just for her work on The Big Bang Theory and her Oscar-nominated performance in Lady Bird--is better known to the modern audience than Barr.

I was going to say I don't plan to watch the new Roseanne again. But I might, at least for a while, since it's become a lead-in to a show that is on its final legs, but, unlike Roseanne, a show about an average family in the Midwest that I watched all the way through nine seasons, The Middle.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Foolish

Today is April Fools' Day.  It's celebrated, if that's the word, in America and many Western countries in general.

The origin of the day is unclear. That sort of figures.  It's not the kind of day that, at a particular point, some king or parliament would say "okay, we've never done anything like this, but starting today, on an annual basis, you can do any stupid thing you want."  It is mentioned, sort of, in The Canterbury Tales, so it goes back at least several centuries.  Of course, many cultures, for millennia, have had days when things are turned upside down.

Can't say I like the day.  I like all sorts of fun, but practical jokes aren't fun at all.  (April Fools' Day is supposed to be about harmless pranks, though there's wide disagreement over what constitutes harm.)

There have been many famous hoaxes perpetrated in its name.  There was San Serriffe, the fictional island created by the Guardian in a story full of typographical gags.  There was Taco Bell claiming it had purchased the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell.  They got a lot of free publicity, but was it really the kind you want?

Best of all, I suppose, was Sidd Finch, the fictional baseball pitcher invented by George Plimpton in Sports Illustrated.  Finch was allegedly a yoga master who could throw the ball faster than anyone (even without a windup).

The story came out in 1985.  I remember people discussing it as if it were real, though the story didn't really make any sense.  Some people, I guess, will believe anything in print.  It was necessary to point out that the issue of SI, though released in March, was dated April 1.

PS  Congratulations to the Michigan Wolverines, who are playing for the basketball championship on Monday, and that's no joke.

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