Monday, December 31, 2018

Predictions from 2018

A year ago I made some guesses.  Let's see if they've come back to haunt me.

Domestic Politics:

The GOP tax plan will grow in popularity.

 
I'd say I got this wrong.

The Dems will not take the Senate.  They will gain seats in the House, but not take that either. 
 
Right on the Senate, way off in the House.

Justice Kennedy, enjoying his power, will decide to stay on the Supreme Court.
 
Completely wrong. I'm way off this year.

The baker will lose his case in Masterpiece Cakeshop.

Wrong again.  The Court split the difference, and let him win individually without establishing a serious precedent.

DACA will not be dealt with in a way that satisfies anyone.

Perhaps some were satisfied, but not anyone who cares about it.

Trump will keep tweeting (hardly a prediction, but I'm sure plenty are telling him to stop).

Not bad for essentially a non-guess.


International Politics:

Europe will see a major terrorist attack.

There were some attacks, but I'm not sure if you'd call any of them major.

Trump will not get an official peace plan in place for the Middle East.

He tried a bit, but nothing major so far.

There will be an attempted revolution in Iran which, based on recent history, will be put down harshly by the mullahs as the world watches.

Nope.


The Economy:

By the end of the year, the Dow will be lower than where it is now.

Unfortunately, my most accurate call.

Bitcoins will lose value.

Yep

Unemployment will be close to where it is now.

Perhaps.  It went down slightly.

Gas will be cheaper than it is now.


Prices at the pump may just be a wee bit lower than a year ago (though if you live in California it's hard to tell).


Sports: 

Alabama will beat Oklahoma for the national football championship.


Alabama won in OT--against Georgia.

The Wolverines will beat the Gamecocks today (and no one will care).


Nope.  South Carolina came back in the fourth quarter.

The Patriots will put it all together and once again take the Super Bowl.


Brady failed to come back and the Eagles took it.


Popular Culture:

Movies:
Solo will do comparably to Rogue One, though Alden Ehrenreich will not get great reviews.  Oceans 8 will disappoint.  Infinity War will be a major hit but not as big as the first Avengers movie. Ready Player One will disappoint.  Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom will disappoint.  Neither Aquaman or Black Panther will be playing in the big leagues.

Solo crashed.  Ocean's 8 did fine. Infinity War did better than Avengers (unless you want to take inflation into account).  It's a judgment call if Ready Player One disappointed, though I say yes.  Fallen Kingdom didn't do anywhere near how Jurassic World did, though it was still a huge hit.  The jury is still out in Aquaman (though it's doing quite well), but Black Panther was gigantic.

Oscars:  Tough picks this year.  Best Picture will go to Lady Bird.  For Best Actor, Timothee Chalamet will beat Gary Oldman (unless the Academy feels it's Oldman's turn). Lots of competition for Best Actress, such as Margot Robbie, Frances McDormand and Sally Hawkins, but Saoirse Ronan will take it.  Willem DaFoe will beat Sam Rockwell for Best Supporting Actor.  Very close competition for Best Supporting Actress, but it'll be a battle of the moms, and Allison Janney will beat Laurie Metcalf.

Best Picture was The Shape Of Water.  Oldman took Best Actor.  McDormand took Best Actress. Rockwell won Supporting Actor.  Finally got one--Allison Janney won Supporting Actress. 

TV:

There will be no new episodes of 
Game Of Thrones. (Okay, it's been announced, but they can still change their minds.)

I was right, they didn't lie.

On The Walking Dead, Negan will finally die.

With everyone else leaving the show, they couldn't kill him.  Sure, stick him in a small cell for years for no good reason, but not kill him.

There will be a major twist at the end of this season's The Good Place.

There was, but that's how the show works.

On Better Call Saul, he'll move into his Saul office.  The show will be renewed for a fifth season.

Jimmy has become Saul, but hasn't moved in yet.  The show has been renewed.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine will not be renewed.

Right and wrong.  Fox canceled, but NBC picked it up.  New episodes will soon be airing.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

PS

Happy birthday, Patti Smith.






Saturday, December 29, 2018

2018 Awards

I'm in a bit of a rush, so the awards ceremony will be shorter this year. (Compare a previous awards post.) Feel free to add to it by giving out your own awards in the comments section.

Story Of The Year:  I guess, domestically, it's the Dems taking back the House.  Not unexpected, but it's the end of whatever momentum the GOP had. (Don't know if it'll effect Trump much, whose politics aren't left or right so much as Trumpian.)

Person Of The Year:  Donald Trump.  This is his fourth year in a row. I'm not saying he's good or bad, just that everything is about him.  He makes it about him, but so do his enemies.

Winner Of The Year:  Bret Kavanaugh.  Sure, he got dragged through the mud, but some thought he was finished, and now he (probably) gets to spend the rest of his life on the Court. (I assume he's honorable enough that he won't use those years to get revenge.) Runner Up:  Christine Blasey Ford, who went from being an unknown academic to becoming a famous and beloved warrior for a cause.

Loser Of The Year: Les Moonves, who not only fell, but didn't get the $120 million severance (apparently).  Runner-up:  Michael Avenatti.  Are we done yet?

Top New Personality:  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  I admit I think the stuff she says is kind of silly, but her party (and the media, of course) has clutched her to their hearts. As they have runner-up Beto O'Rourke, though he lost.

Stealth Story Of The Year:  Florida allows felons to vote.  Could change the entire calculus of that state, electorally, which would also change the entire calculus of presidential elections.

To Be Continued Story:  A federal judge in Texas declares Obamacare unconstitutional.  Will be appealed, of course, and if it makes it to the Supreme Court, that could be something. (Though more likely it will be nothing. We already know what the liberal justices will say, and hard to believe Roberts would give in.  Plus we don't know what Kavanaugh is thinking.)

Biggest Surprise Election Result:  Ballot harvesting in California helped guarantee a bunch of seats switched from R to D in the late counting.
 
Biggest Non-Story:  The Mueller investigation.  Going on two years, there's still no reason to think they're uncovering any serious Russian collusion (which was the original sine qua non).  Guess he's got 2019 to prove there was ever a real major crime in the first place relating to the Trump campaign.

Worst Trend:  U.S. life expectancy is declining slightly.  Probably due to opioids and suicide, but quite troubling no matter why.

Soundest Debate:  Do you hear Yanny or Laurel?



Dumbest Statement: There were tons of incredibly dumb stuff from politicians, but for a mix of stupidity and hate, I don't know if anyone topped Aaron Sorkin discussing his Broadway adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird:

"... now when I read the book and I hear Atticus talking about how there's goodness in everyone it starts to sound troubling to me, like 'there were fine people on both sides.'"

The funny thing is he's proud of his ignorance and malice.  He's said this in more than one interview, and clearly thinks he should be praised for his insight. 
 
Word Of The Year:  Boofing.  I'm not sure what it is, though a lot of other people are surprisingly conversant on the meaning of slang Brett Kavanaugh and his friends used 35 years ago.

Biggest Mystery:  The winner of a $1.5 billion Mega Millions jackpot has not yet stepped forward.  The numbers were announced October 23rd, and whoever bought the winning ticket has 180 days to claim it.  Some are guessing this person is waiting till 2019 for tax purposes?  Really?  It'll put the ticket-holder in a higher tax bracket?  Another distinct possibility is the owner of the ticket lost it, or isn't aware it's a winner.  I have to assume millions checked and checked again to make sure it wasn't them.

Biggest Question For Next Year:  Will the new Democratic majority in the House dare to take up articles of impeachment?

Most Pathetic Figures: The Clintons.  Bill has become an embarrassment in the age of #MeToo and Hillary...well, you know.  Not long ago they were the most powerful couple in the world, but in 2018 they had to offer groupons to get someone, anyone, to attend their speaking tour.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Thirty Years Ago Today

In 1988, we were transitioning from Reagan to Bush.  That may not sound like much, but when's the last time the same party managed three consecutive terms in the White House?  Okay, still not impressive.  But what about the movies?

Here's Jesse Walker's top ten list from that year.

1. A Fish Called Wanda
2. Apartment Zero
3. Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser
4. My Neighbor Totoro
5. Paperhouse
6. Distant Voices, Still Lives
7. Grave of the Fireflies
8. Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie
9. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
10. The Naked Gun

I'm a big fan of A Fish Called Wanda.  Not sure if it should be #1, but top ten, why not?

Back then I was planning to see Apartment Zero, but I guess I never got around to it.

The Thelonius Monk doc does really take you inside as few music films do.

My Neighbor Totoro is another classic from Miyazaki.

I've usually seen most of the top ten, but I haven't seen Paperhouse, Distance Voices or Grave Of The Fireflies.

Hotel Terminus is an impressive work, though Ophuls doesn't have much respect for your bladder.

The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen is a mess, but a fascinating one.

This was the first of The Naked Gun movies, and the best. This kind of anything-for-a-laugh comedy is harder to pull off than it seems.

11. Prometheus' Garden
12. Cane Toads: An Unnatural History
13. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
14. The Vanishing
15. Miracle Mile
16. Cannibal Tours
17. The Unbearable Lightness of Being
18. Running on Empty
19. Virile Games
20. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Didn't see #11 and #16.

#12 is certainly funnier than most documentaries.  #13 is one of Almodovar's best.  #14 is pretty good--certainly better than the English language remake.  #15 is a little-known but fascinating movie.  Quite dated today, but it's not what you expect it to be.  What's most fascinating to me is not that long after I saw it, I moved to the area where it takes place.  #17 I didn't think much of.  #18 would make my top ten.  #19 is a short (though a good one).  #20 was a lot of fun.

Other films that would make my top ten (or twenty):

Beetlejuice

Big (goodbye, Penny Marshall)

Bull Durham

Coming To America

Die Hard

Heathers

Midnight Run

Red Sorghum

Tapeheads

The Thin Blue Line

Other film I liked: Biloxi Blues, Big Business, Cinema Paradiso, Comic Book Confidential, Crossing Delancey, The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II, Earth Girls Are Easy, Hairspray, Married To The Mob, Mystic Pizza, Oliver & Company, Rain Man (Oscar winner), She's Having A Baby, Stand And Deliver, They Live

Other films of note: 18 Again!, 1969, Above The Law, The Accidental Tourist, The Accused, Action Jackson, Alien Nation, Another Woman, Arthur 2: On The Rocks, Bat 21, Beaches, The Beast, Betrayed, The Big Blue, Big Time, Big Top Pee-wee, Bird, The Blob, The Blue Iguana, The Boost, Bright Lights Big City, Bulletproof, Caddyshack II, Casual Sex?, Child’s Play, The Chocolate War, Clara’s Heart, Clean And Sober, Cocktail, Cocoon: The Return, Colors, Cop, The Couch Trip, A Cry In The Dark, D.O.A., Dangerous Liaisons, Dead Heat, The Dead Pool, Dead Ringers, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Distant Thunder, Dominck And Eugene,  Eight Men Out, Ernest Saves Christmas, Everybody’s All-American, Far North, Feds, For Keeps?, Frantic, Fresh Horses, Full Moon In Blue Water, Funny Farm, The Good Mother, Gorillas In The Mist, Gotham, The Great Outdoors, Hanna's War, Heart Of Midnight, Heartbreak Hotel,  High Spirits,
Hot To Trot, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Illegally Yours, Jack’s Back, Johnny Be Good, Kansas, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, The Last Before Time, Last Rites, The Last Temptation Of Christ, License To Drive, Little Nikita, Mac And Me, Madame Sousatzka, The Man From Snowy River, Maniac Cop, Memories Of Me, The Milagro Beanfield War, Miles From Home, The Moderns, Monkey Shines, Moon Over Parador, Moving, Mr. North, The Music Teacher, My Stepmother Is An Alien, A New Life, The Night Before, A Night In The Life Of Jimmy Reardon, Off Limits, Out Of Tie, Patty Hearst, Pelle The Conqueror, Le Petit Amour, Plain Clothes, Poltergeist III, The Presidio, Punchline, Rambo III, Rampage, Rattle And Hum, Red Heat, Remote Control, Rent-A-Cop, Rocket Gibraltar, Salaam Bombay!, Satisfaction, School Daze, Scrooged, The Serpent And The Rainbow, The Seventh Sign, Shakedown, Shoot To Kill, Short Circuit 2, Some Girls, Spalding Grey: Terrors Of Pleasure, Spike Of Bensonhurst, Split Decisions,  Stars And Bars, Stealing Home, Story Of Women, Sunset, Switching Channels, Talk Radio, Tequila Sunrise, Three Seats For The 26th, A Time Of Destiny, Torch Song Trilogy, Track 29, Tucker: The Man And His Dream, Twins, Two Moon Junction, Vibes, Vice Versa, Willow, Working Girl, Young Guns

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Has It Been Twenty Years?

Ah, 1998.  Y2K was in sight.  Seemed like we were coming to some turning point.  Were we?  Probably not. (Bill Clinton was at the height of his popularity then...and he was impeached.  I wonder if he could have guessed that today he--and Hillary--would be wishing for the good old days of 1998. But enough about politics, this is about movies, which are more fun.)

Anyway, Jesse Walker has come up with his top ten film list for that year.  Here it is:

1. The Big Lebowski
2. Happiness
3. After Life
4. Rushmore
5. The Celebration
6. Oz 2
7. A Simple Plan
8. Out Of Sight
9. Velvet Goldmine
10. High Art

The Big Lebowski is a lot of fun (I much preferred it to the Coen Brother's previous, Fargo--unlike film critics of the day, who generally found it a letdown), and it has become one of the biggest cult films of all time.  But it's still a mess--a shaggy dog of a movie.  Top ten material?  If it is, it's on the lower half of the list.

Happiness should be here--it may be the best film in Todd Solondz fascinating filmography.

After Life is pretty good. Probably should be here.

Rushmore is the beginning of Wes Anderson's precious period (i.e., every film he's made after his first, Bottle Rocket).  It's got its moments, but I've never quite understood what everyone sees in it.

The Celebration is pretty good, despite the crass promotional tool of Dogme 95 behind it.

Oz is a TV show (not one that I really cared for) and so shouldn't be on this list.

I agree with Jesse that A Simple Plan is Sam Raimi's best movie.  That doesn't make it great, but good enough for the list.

Out Of Sight may be Soderbergh's best, and should probably be higher.

Velvet Goldmine, on the other hand, I find a glittery, pretentious mess.

High Art I like.

11. Pi
12. Buffy the Vampire Slayer 2
13. O Night Without Objects
14. There's Something About Mary
15. Buffalo '66
16. Dark City
17. Billy's Balloon
18. The Truman Show
19. The Last Days of Disco
20. Babe: Pig in the City

#11 established Aronofsky, but I think it's kind of dreary.  #12 is a TV show.  Haven't seen #13.  #14 is the best film of the year, and the best comedy of the past quarter century.  #15 sounds horrible on paper, but somehow works--should be top ten.  #16 was Roger Ebert's film of the year--it's not bad, but it wouldn't make my top twenty.  #17 is the short that established Hertzfeldt.  I remember reading the screenplay for #18 when it was the hottest script in town, and later remember pitching at Scott Rudin's shop at Paramount when they made a deal for the movie and excitement was in the air.  I didn't find the film that resulted too impressive, and the third act problems are so severe I don't think it even works.  I'm not going to comment on #19 since I know the director.  Everyone agrees #20 wasn't as good as the original, but I'm not even sure it's any good at all.

Other Films That Might Make My Top Ten

Saving Private Ryan

Run Lola Run

Rounders

Other film I like:

Antz, A Bug's Life, The Decline Of Western Civilization III, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Gods And Monsters, The Life And Times Of Hank Greenberg, Mulan, Next Stop Wonderland, The Opposite Of Sex, The Parent Trap, Small Soldiers, Smoke Signals, Zero Effect

Other films of note:

Addams Family Reunion, Almost Heroes, American History X, An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn, The Apple, Apt Pupil, Armageddon, The Avengers, BASEketball, Beloved, The Big Hit, Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss, Blade, Blues Brothers 2000, Bride Of Chucky, Bulworth, Can’t Hardly Wait, Celebrity, Central Station, Chairman Of The Board, City Of Angels, A Civil Action, Clay Pigeons, Cousin Bette, Dance With Me, Dancing At Lughnasa, Dangerous Beauty, Dead Man On Campus, Deep Impact, Desperate Measures, Dirty Work, Doctor Dolittle, Down In The Delta, Ever After, The Faculty, Fallen, The Farm: Angola USA, Finding Graceland, The Gingerbread Man, Godzilla, Goodbye Lover, Great Expectations, Half Baked, Halloween H2O, Hard Rain,
He Got Game, The Hi-Lo Country, Holy Man (a fascinating flop), Home Fries, Homegrown, Hope Floats, The Horse Whisperer, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Hurlyburly, Hush, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, The Impostors, Jack Frost, Jane Austen’s Mafia!, Judas Kiss, Kissing A Fool, Knock Off, Krippendorf’s Tribe, Kurt & Courtney, Lenny Bruce: Swear To Tell The Truth, Les Miserables, Lethal Weapon 4, Living Out Loud, Lost In Space, Madeline, The Man In The Iron Mask, The Mask Of Zorro, Meet Joe Black (a fascinating flop), Meet The Deedles, Mercury Rising, Might Joe Young, The Mighty, Monument Ave., Music From Another Room, My Giant, The Negotiator, New Rose Hotel, The Newton Boys, A Night At The Roxbury, No Looking Back, The Object Of My Affection, The Odd Couple II, One True Thing, Overnight Delivery, Palmetto, Patch Adams, Pecker, The Pentagon Wars, A Perfect Murder, Permanent Midnight, Phantoms, Phoenix, Playing By Heart, Pleasantville, Polish Wedding, Poodle Springs, A Price Above Rubies, Primary Colors, The Prince Of Egypt, Quest For Camelot, The Replacement Killers, Restaurant, Return To Paradise, Ringmaster, Ronin, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Rush Hour, Safe Men, Senseless, Shakespeare In Love (Best Picture Oscar Winner), The Siege, Simon Birch, Since You’ve Been Gone, Six Days Seven Nights, Slums Of Beverly Hills, Snake Eyes (amazing opening shot), Soldier, Sour Grapes, Species II, Sphere, Spice World, Star Trek: Insurrection, Stepmom, Suicide Kings, Tarzan And The Lost City, The Thin Red Line, Twilight, Urban Legend, U.S. Marshals, Vampires, Very Bad Things, The Waterboy, The Wedding Singer, What Dreams May Come, Why Do Fools Fall In Love, Wide Awake, Wild Things, Without Limits, Woo, Wrongfully Accused, The X-Files, Your Friends & Neighbors, You’ve Got Mail

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Back Ten Top Ten

It's that time of year--my friend Jesse Walker is announcing his top ten film list. Not for 2018, but for every year before that ending with an 8.  So his first list is the best of 2008:

1. I Am So Proud of You
2. The Dark Knight
3. WALL•E
4. Burn After Reading
5. The Wrestler
6. Wendy and Lucy
7. Man on Wire
8. The Class
9. The Order of Myths
10. The Headless Woman

I'm a big fan of "I Am So Proud Of You," and Don Hertzfeldt in general, but this is a short, and I don't put shorts on my movie lists.

Heath Ledger is memorable in The Dark Knight, but I don't particularly care for Christopher Nolan's Batman movies. Don't understand the fuss.  Why?  Because they're better than the previous series?

WALL-E is good, maybe good enough for the top ten list.

I didn't like Burn After Reading when I first saw it, but it's grown on me.  I guess once you understand it's going nowhere, it's easier to enjoy it for the quirkiness and weird performances.  Especially good are a couple of scene with David Rasche and J.K. Simmons as CIA bigwigs.

The Wrestler probably makes my top ten. (I vaguely know the writer, Robert Siegel, who attended the University of Michigan--also the alma mater of Jesse and me.)

Wendy And Lucy might sneak onto my top ten list.  Certainly Kelly Reichardt's best.

Man On Wire deserves to be here.

I found The Class highly annoying, and haven't seen #9 or #10.

11. The Baader Meinhof Complex
12. Bronson
13. The Wire 5
14. Mock Up On Mu
15. In Bruges
16. Lies
17. Civilization
18. A Matter of Loaf and Death
19. Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
20. The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow

I thought #11 was okay, and might put #15 in my top ten.  #13 is a TV show, so shouldn't be here (and, by the way, as almost everyone admits, season 5 is the worst season of The Wire).  I'm a little shocked, but I don't believe I've seen any of the others.

Other films that would (or could) make my top ten:

Encounters At The End Of The World

Happy-Go-Lucky

Iron Man (the most significant film of the century so far, commercially speaking)

Let The Right One In

My Winnipeg

Slumdog Millionaire  (Jesse didn't go for this Oscar winner, but I thought it was a lot of fun)

Tell No One

Trailer Park Boys: The Movie (I'd never even heard of the TV show, so this one was a real surprise)

Other films I liked:  Bolt, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (the best of the series), Hancock, Synecdoche New York (didn't like it at first, but has grown on me), Paranoid Park, Hamlet 2 (didn't like it at first, but has grown on me), Be Kind Rewind, The Bank Job, The House Bunny, The Visitor, Frozen River, Role Models, Anita O'Day: The Life Of A Jazz Singer, Frost/Nixon, Wanted

Other film of note: Seven Pounds, Dear Zachary, Leatherheads, Rambo IV, Smart People, Funny Games, Milk, Four Christmases, Meet The Spartans, First Sunday, Semi-Pro, Rocknrolla, Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, Strange Wilderness, OSS 117, Horton Hears A Who, Rachel Getting Married, I've Loved You So Long, The Dukes, Waltz With Bashir, Cadillac Records, Diminished Capacity, Journey To The Center Of The Earth,  Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Kung Fu Panda, Mama Mia!, Madagascar 2, Quantum of Solace, Cassandra's Dream, Cloverfield, Fool's Gold, Charlie Bartlett, Funny Games, Stop-Loss, Prom Night, Street Kings, 88 Minutes, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Baby Mama, Deception, Redbelt, Speed Racer, What Happens In Vegas,
Sex And The City, You Don't Mess With The Zohan, The Happening, The Incredible Hulk, Get Smart, The Love Guru, Garden Party, Meet Dave, Step Brothers, The X-Files: I Want To Believe, The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor, Swing Vote, Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Rocker, Death Race, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, Towelhead, The Women, Ghost Town, Eagle Eye, Blindness, Flash Of Genius, How To Lose Friends & Alienate People, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, Religulous, Body Of Lies, W., Passengers, Zack And Miri Make A Porno, Soul Men, Twilight, Milk, Cadillac Records, Nobel Son, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Gran Torino, Doubt, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, Last Chance Harvey, Marley And Me, Revolutionary Road,Valkyrie, Defiance, Prom Night

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Bring Out The Chestnuts

It's Christmas, so let's gather round the Yule log and stay warm.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Tonight's The Night

Tonight is Christmas Eve, so let's get in the mood with some classic Christmas music.





Sunday, December 23, 2018

HS

Believe it or not, Harry Shearer turns 75 today.  Maybe you believe it because you don't recognize the name, but you should at least recognize his voice.

He started as a child actor, appearing in Abbott And Costello Go To Mars as well as on Jack Benny's show in the 1950s.  Starting in the late 60s he was a member of The Credibility Gap, a comedy group.  In the 70s, he started to movies and TV again.  For instance, he acted in and co-wrote Albert Brooks' film Real Life (1979).

He also was a cast member on Saturday Night Live in 1979--the year Belushi and Aykroyd left.  Shearer left after a year, but returned for most of another season in 1984, when the show hired experienced comedians like Billy Crystal and Martin Short.

In-between, he'd starred in Spinal Tap as one of the main band members along with his pals Michael McKean and Christopher Guest.  And in the early 1980s he started his weekly PBS radio show, Le Show, which included satire and music, and a lot of political impressions.

Shearer, for all the TV and movie work he's done, is best known for his voice work as on The Simpsons.  The show cast the voices for the family, but needed an expert to fill in other character, which is where Harry came in.  There was no way they could have figured just how many characters they would eventually create, so I'm sure they were glad they had someone around like Shearer to take on yet another character.

Among his voices for the show: Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner, Kent Brockman, Lenny, Otto, Dr. Hibbert, Reverend Lovejoy, Scratchy (of Itchy and Scratchy), Kang (of Kang and Kodos) and Jasper.  Then there's Mr. Burns, not to mention Waylon Smithers--they regularly share scenes so Shearer often has to talk to himself.

For most of the show's lengthy run, Shearer's been making six figures per episode.  It may sound like a lot, but figure it per character and it's reasonable.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Present Day Composer Refuses To Die

Must be no fun to be born just before Christmas.  You get lost in the general celebration.  But hey, that's how it goes.

Wonder if it drove birthday boy Edgard Varese to compose the following:


Friday, December 21, 2018

Good Gig

I was just watching National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.  It's no classic, though apparently it's become a holiday favorite.  But it got me thinking. Kid actors don't usually have much of a career when they grow up, but they've done pretty well in the Vacation series.

In the first film, National Lampoon's Vacation, Anthony Michael Hall played the Griswold son, Rusty.  He obviously caught the eye of the screenwriter John Hughes, since Hall got to star in a bunch of other Hughes films and became an iconic teen star.  The same film also features Jane Krakowski as Cousin Eddie's kid, and she went on to become a TV star in her adult years.

I admit the kids in European Vacation didn't do that well, so let's skip ahead to Christmas Vacation.  The Griswold children are played by Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki. Lewis became a major name in films and Galecki is a huge star on TV.

Then we come to the final Chevy Chase film in the series, Vegas Vacation.  The daughter is played by Marisol Nichols, who's having a pretty decent career on TV, and the son is Ethan Embry, who's had a decent career since in movies and TV.

There was a reboot of Vacation a few years ago, starring Ed Helms.  He plays Rusty, all grown up.  And now Rusty has two kids.  Those young actors seem to be doing okay, but let's give them a few years before we decide if they've made it or not.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

We Can Work It Out

Thomas Brothers' Help! is an odd book.  It's about the magic of collaboration in music, which is already sort of a strange subject, and then he confines his discussion to Duke Ellington and The Beatles.

Now there are some similarities between the two--both came to a new type of music and expanded its vocabulary, and were perhaps the greatest acts in their genre--but aside from that they wouldn't seem to have too much in common.

The Ellington half of the book surprised me.  I always assumed he was a great composer, but Brothers, while he admires Duke, calls him out.  He claims Ellington took riffs and tunes and arrangements from his own people--Bubber Miley, Johnny Hodges, Billy Strayhorn, etc.--and often took all the credit himself.

Ellington could arrange it and edit it and so on, but Brothers gives you the impression as a tunesmith on his own, he wasn't that impressive.

The Beatles I'm more familiar with, but Brothers has his own take.  Whereas some fans try to claim songs for John or Paul or George, Brothers emphasized how they affected each other, and created something greater than the sum of their parts. (Plus they had other collaborators, such as George Martin.)

Of course, John and Paul famously both took official credit for all the songs they wrote, even though it was often mostly the work of one.  But Brothers says what should be noted is how they influenced each other.  All the members of the Beatles brought in numerous influences which were mixed into the pot--John inspired by Dylan, Paul by Brian Wilson, George by Ravi Shankar, to mention some obvious examples.

And Brothers goes album by album as the Beatles grew out of the rock and roll tradition and then changed it with Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper all the way to Abbey Road.  At the start, John and Paul write nose to nose, but even when they wrote alone, in the studio, all the band members had their say.

According to Brothers, however, McCartney was first among equals.  The others recognized he had the most musical skill, and so let him push them in certain directions.  He also had more energy, making sure things were moving ahead.  John would often come up with new song ideas that would revolutionize rock music--"Tomorrow Never Knows," "A Day In The Life," "Strawberry Field Forever," "I Am The Walrus" and so on--but it was Paul who would take these basic ideas and push them in new directions, guaranteeing a memorable recording.

It's a fair way to look at the band.  They all contributed something special, and could step up when needed (like junior partner George providing "Something" and "Here Comes The Sun" on Abbey Road).  Perhaps the best evidence for this is when they went their separate ways.  They continued to make good music, but it was rarely as magical.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

PM

Penny Marshall has died. A bit of a shock.  We hadn't heard much from her lately, but it seemed like she'd always be around.

Her big brother was Garry Marshall, already a successful comedy writer in the 1960s when she decided to go into show biz.  She had a knack for comedy, so when Garry hired her to play Oscar Madison's nasal secretary, Myrna Turner, on the TV version of The Odd Couple, it wasn't nepotism.  (She also had a recurring role on The Mary Tyler Moore Show as Mary's neighbor Paula, but that never quite took off.)

She later did a guest shot on brother Garry's big hit Happy Days as Laverne DeFazio.  She and Cindy Williams as Shirley Feeney played two favorites of Fonzie whom he calls to help Richie Cunningham during a dry spell.  In their original appearance, they're actually floozies, but when they were given their own show, Laverne & Shirley, they were good girls. (Well, better girls, anyway.)

L&S was a huge hit out of the box, and by its third season was the #1 show on TV.  Some saw the show, with its physical comedy (and being set in the 50s), as a return to the days of I Love Lucy.  I was never a fan, but L&S certainly made Penny Marshall rich and famous. (I love her appearance as herself during this time on an episode of Taxi.  Low-class Louis De Palma is hoping to get into a high-class condo.  He sees Marshall being interviewed for a spot and then turned down because she's a sitcom actress. He goes for his interview and asks Was that Penny Marshall from TV I just saw leaving?  They say yes. He says She won't be living here, will she?)

Marshall was married to Rob Reiner in the 70s, who was then on All In The Family, so for a few years they were in the two biggest shows in television.  In 1978, they starred in the charming TV movie More Than Friends.  Both would soon graduate into movies as top directors (as would Penny's brother Garry, and her acquaintance from Happy Days, Ron Howard.)

She directed a handful of Laverne & Shirley episode and then got a chance to do Jumping Jack Flash in 1986.  It's a Whoopi Goldberg comedy that's no classic, but showed that Marshall could handle a feature.  Her next film was gigantic--Big.  It helped turned Tom Hanks into a major star and made Marshall a sought-after director.  I think it's her best film.  There were actually several body-switching films out at the time, and Big, the last released, was the only hit among them.  That's because Marshall (and the screenwriters) took a fantastic premise and played it straight, grounding the comedy in reality.  In most body-switching film, the switch happens and the characters act like idiots. In Big, when a 13-year-old wakes up as a 30-year-old, its traumatic, but he tries his best, step by step, to deal with the situation.

Marshall stretched with her next film, Awakenings--a drama about mental health starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.  I'm not a big fan, but Hollywood thought enough of it to give it a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.

She followed that with another big comedy hit, A League Of Their Own, starring Tom Hanks and Geena Davis, about the women's baseball league in the 1940s.  Aside from an unfortunate framing device, I think the film moves pretty well.

Marshall was on a streak, but it was here her career faltered.  Her next film was Renaissance Man (shot in Detroit, near where I grew up), starring Danny DeVito as a teacher on an army base.  It didn't do particularly well.  That was followed by The Preacher's Wife, an African-American update of The Bishop's Wife*, starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston, which was a mild hit at best. Then she did the drama Riding In Cars With Boys, starring Drew Barrymore, which was not well-received.  She continued to work as an actor and director, but she never directed another feature.

Overall, a pretty impressive career.  She proved herself as both an actor and director, and her best work still holds up.

*A few years earlier I'd actually pitched the same idea.  No one was interested, but I think my version solved the problem of the original, while Marshall's version kept the problem--the leading man should be the preacher, not the angel.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

GM

Galt MacDermot has died.  Actually, I didn't know he was still alive, but I certainly knew his music.

MacDermot took the world by storm with his tunes for Hair.  And when I say tunes I mean tunes.  The original Broadway production had 30 songs, and there were a number from the off-Broadway production that had been cut.

Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical--a countercultural show with book and lyrics by actors James Rado and Gerome Ragni--was the surprise hit of the 1968 Broadway season.  Truth is, it's a pretty ramshackle affair. The secret ingredient that holds it all together are the wonderful tunes by MacDermot, who, unlike Rado and Ragni, was a square who hardly knew anything about hippies. But they gave him the words and in about three weeks he gave them the music.

The original cast album became a bestseller, and a number of its titles became hits for other artists in the late 60s: "Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In" went to #1 for the Fifth Dimension, "Hair" went to #2 for The Cowsills, "Good Morning Starshine" went to #3 for Oliver and "Easy To Be Hard" went to #4 for Three Dog Night.

MacDermot would go on to write the music for the Tony winning Two Gentleman Of Verona, not to mention some major flops, like Dude and Via Galactica.  But it didn't matter. It's the songs from Hair that will live on.





Monday, December 17, 2018

BP

Thought maybe I'd mention Bill Pullman turns 65 today.  He's one of those actors who are so reliable that you're always happy to see them. (Bill Paxton was another--he's no longer with us, but he was a contemporary of Pullman's and they were often confused with each other.) He's mostly been in movies, though he's also done a fair amount of TV work and also a little Broadway.

Pullman's often played the lead, but is perhaps considered more a character actor.  He's never been nominated for an Oscar or an Emmy or a Tony, but who doesn't like him?

He made quite a film debut in 1986 with Ruthless People, playing Earl, maybe the dumbest man on Earth. After that he starred in Spaceballs, Mel Brooks' sci-fi comedy which has become a cult movie.  But he did more than comedy, such as his next starring role in the horror film The Serpent And The Rainbow.

He went on to appear in many high profile projects, such as The Accidental Tourist, A League Of Their Own and Sleepless In Seattle.  He was the love interest in Sandra Bullock's breakthrough movie While You Were Sleeping, got to make a stirring speech as the president in Independence Day, and was haunting and haunted in David Lynch's Lost Highway.

I also liked him a lot in the little seen Bottle Shock.  And just last year he did a fine job in The Ballad Of Lefty Brown--a Western that asked what happens when only the sidekick is left alive.

Pullman is now at retirement age, but as long and they're wanted, actors don't have to quit.  I hope he keeps doing great work for many years to come.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Word On The Street

I've been rewatching The Wire lately, so when I saw an oral history of the show--All The Pieces Matter--in the library, I picked it up.

In it, one of the writers, Dennis Lehane, has an amusing story.  He had to figure out how two of the cops would locate a CI (confidential informant) when they don't know where he is.  And he suggests perhaps they run into another CI, ask him, and he says something like "oh yeah, that guy is in the soup kitchen on such and such."

Ed Burns, a former cop who co-created the show, couldn't stand anything that seemed like it had been used in countless bad network cops shows.  So he says "In twenty years as Bal'more police, I never, not once, just happened to come across a CI who was conveniently in possession of the location of another CI.  I mean, who is this guy, [F-word] Huggy Bear?"

Ah yes, Huggy Bear.  That made me laugh. As a writer I've come across the Huggy Bear problem before.  Perhaps you remember him.  On the 70s TV show Starsky And Hutch, whenever they wanted to know the word on the street, they'd go to Huggy Bear who'd give them the latest.  It's incredibly convenient for plot purposes, but ridiculous.

It's one thing for an informant to know, say, where people have been selling cocaine.  But for him to say "there's a big shipment of cocaine coming in tomorrow night at this dock, and it'll be picked up by this gang" is absurd.  Criminals might not be too smart, but they know enough to keep big crimes they're planning secret.  The last thing they want is "word on the street" messing with their criminal conspiracy.

This makes it harder on writers, but that's as it should be.  If it were so easy to pick up this information, the criminals would be too dumb to be worthy antagonists.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Low Point

There are countless YouTube videos telling you how to pronounce certain words.  Helpful, but there's often more than one proper pronunciation.  Plus, of course, people with different accents say things differently.

I was thinking about that when checking how to say nadir.  I've always preferred to pronounce it like Ralph Nader's last name, though I understand some say "Nah-deer." (Not unlike "fakir."  Both words come from Arabic, I believe.)

Thus, when I checked out YouTube, I was confronted with these choices.







And there are other choices.  I pity people who have to learn to speak English as an adult.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Centered

Everyone knows malls are in decline.  They've got to adapt or die.  Out here in Los Angeles, land of malls, the Westside Pavilion has lost its two anchor stores and is in its death throes.  Meanwhile, the Westfield Century City has rebuilt and seems to be doing well. (It even poached Macy's from the Pavilion).

The mall that was closest to me when I moved here was the Beverly Center.  Then someone built the Beverly Connection next door, not to mention The Grove next to the Farmers Market, both of which took away business.  The Grove, in particular, is thriving.  So not too long ago the Beverly Center shut down for rebuilding.

It's just reopened and I must say, it looks pretty much the same.  I'm sure some stores have changed, but it doesn't look that different from when I used to go there years ago.  The most obvious difference is actually at street level, where there are a bunch of new restaurants.

The most annoying thing is they still charge for parking.  That's what drove me away in the first place.  Maybe they've got to do it since they're next door to Cedars-Sinai and figure patients (ambulatory ones, anyway) will just park there and walk over.

So good luck, BC.  Don't think I'll be going there much, but it's sad to see malls die.

PS  I bought something at a store there and when they rang it up, the cashier said "do you want the receipt or shall I put it in the bag."  That's a choice?  What do I care?  I mean, ask me if I want a bag or not, or a receipt or not.  But are you announcing that I have the option of the receipt in the bag or in my hand?  Just put everything in the bag (or don't) and be done with it.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

TV--Get It?

Tom Verlaine turns 69 today.  He's spent his life in music, but is best remembered for singing, composing and playing guitar for the group Television.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

It's Official

The latest 25 titles added to the National Film Registry have just been announced.  As usual, it's a mixed bag.  The people who choose have been charged with picking American films that are "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant.

So let's look at this year's list and see how they did.  In alphabetical order:

1. Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

I've never been much of a fan of this Spencer Tracy crime drama, but it's got a lot of fans, so I guess it's no surprise to see it in the Registry.

2. Broadcast News (1987)


A very enjoyable film, so I'm glad it's getting some recognition.

3. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
 
Maybe not as good as people remember, but it is beautifully shot, has some nice performances, and, as a mainstream gay film, is, I guess, culturally and historically significant.

4. Cinderella (1950)

 
Guess they've already put all the best Disney features in the Registry, so they're going for what's left. Still, a pretty good film.

5. Days of Wine and Roses (1962)

I'm surprised it's not already on the list.  Not a great film, perhaps, though it does show Jack Lemmon's range.


6. Dixon-Wanamaker Expedition to Crow Agency

Never saw it.

7. Eve’s Bayou (1997)

An okay film.  Not sure if it needs to be on the list.


8. The Girl Without a Soul (1917)

Never saw it.

9. Hair Piece: A Film for Nappy-Headed People (1984)

Never saw it.

10. Hearts and Minds (1974)

Oscar winner, though perhaps today more of historical interest.

11. Hud (1963)

A noted film in its day, and a hit, but not that special.  Not surprised it made the list, though.


12. The Informer (1935)

Was considered important in its day, though I don't know if it's held up that well.  (And there are already enough John Ford film in the Registry.)

13. Jurassic Park (1993)

A huge blockbuster, and a technological breakthrough, and I guess the Registry wants some of those type films on the list.

14. The Lady From Shanghai (1947)

Not a great film from Orson Welles (and not the first film he made to be taken out of his hands), but is certainly worth watching, and has the amazing mirror sequence.

15. Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

A huge hit in its day. Not great, but does have pretty nice color of 1945 (not to mention the very pretty Gene Tierney).

16. Monterey Pop (1968)

The festival Woodstock wishes it was, and a well-done film that shows us what we missed.  Should already be on the list.

17. My Fair Lady (1964)

A passable Oscar-winning adaptation of a Broadway blockbuster.

18. The Navigator (1924)

I'm shocked this wasn't on the list already, as it's often considered Buster Keaton's second-best feature after The General. I don't rate it that high, but certainly good enough to be in the Registry.

19. On the Town (1949)

An overrated MGM musical, but still fun (even if they cut out most of Leonard Bernstein's magnificent Broadway score) and historically significant for its location shooting.

20. One-Eyed Jacks (1961)

One of my favorite Westerns, even if it's not quite what you're expecting.

21. Pickup on South Street (1953)

Sam Fuller's best.  Should already be in the Registry.

22. Rebecca (1940)

Helped established Hitchcock in Hollywood, even if it's not that Hitchcockian.  Okay to put in Registry after a number of better film from Hitch already made it.

23. The Shining (1980)

Was slammed by the critics when it came out, and they were right.  Still, looks pretty impressive and sticks with you.

24. Smoke Signals (1998)

A pretty decent movie, in addition to its cultural significance as a contemporary film about American Indians.

25. Something Good – Negro Kiss (1898)

Never seen it.  I've heard it was recently discovered.  If nothing else, seems historically significant.

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