Sunday, March 31, 2019

Charles In Charge

I was talking to a friend who claimed Charles Darwin was a racist. My friend is an intelligent person, but his specialty is not science. (Neither is mine, but that's a separate issue.) I assume he'd heard some sort of argument, first- or second-hand, from a creationist type trying to undercut Darwin, generally through quote-mining.

Certainly Darwin said things that sound strange to our ears, but that's to be expected.  The vast majority of Europeans in the 19th century were what we would call racist.  They generally assumed--and even believed was scientifically proven--that the white race was superior to other races. After all, Europeans had a better lifestyle, had conquered much of the world and had a better understanding of how the things worked, both physically and morally.  Didn't that show they were naturally superior?

Yet there are still claims today that Darwin helped create modern racism.  It's rather absurd, since well before Darwin became famous there was more than enough racism (and slavery) to go around, and no one needed any notions from Darwin to continue that racism.

If anything, Darwin was more enlightened than most in his day.  He strongly opposed slavery, and believed that all humans are the same species.

But let's say Darwin was a racist, even more than others back then.  So what?  That doesn't mean his basic argument about evolution is wrong.  In any case, it's understood that Darwin's theories are far from perfect.  But that doesn't bother scientists, since his writings are not holy writ. In fact, he made a lot of mistakes, and was (obviously) quite incomplete in his knowledge, so much of what he argued has since been superseded.

I tried to explain this to my friend.  Maybe he'll change his mind.  I don't suppose it'll make much difference overall, but hey, one person at a time.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

AV

Agnes Varda has died.  She was one of the top filmmakers of the French New Wave and her work remained vital until the end.  As a director and writer, she most often worked in the documentary format, and also made a fair amount of short films, but perhaps her full-length dramatic features are her most memorable.

For instance, the first film she wrote and directed, La Pointe Courte (1955), is about a French fishing village.  It's not a big film, but it captures real life.

Even better is Cleo From 5 To 7 (1962), a film with a plot that couldn't be simpler--it follows a young woman around as she's waiting to receive test results from her doctor.  It's an existential film, as Cleo goes from moment to moment.  And Varda has fun with it, trying different things, including a short silent film (seen in a movie theatre) starring Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina.

Another one of my favorites is Vagabond (1985), the story of a young woman aimlessly traveling from place to place, falling in with different people.  She ends up dead, frozen in a ditch--it may sound depressing, but it's a powerful journey.

And then, in 2017, when I hadn't seen a new Varda film in years, came Faces Places (a fine translation of Visages Villages).  It's a documentary where Varda and photographer JR travel across France putting up photo-murals.  Readers may recall it made my list of the top films of the year.

So let's not say goodbye, just au revoir.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Jussie Justice

Yesterday President Trump tweeted that the Jussie Smollett case is an "embarrassment to our Nation!" (The capitalization is his.) I know--what else is new?  I would have hoped this story, even though it's gotten national attention, was beneath the notice of the President. (The capitalization is mine.)  In general, the President has enough to do without worrying about controversies that are, in essence, local.

Then again, there is the federal angle.  President Trump says the FBI and the DOJ will review this case. (It's not clear if they were planning to do this or if President Trump is ordering them to.)  But should they?

I have little doubt Jussie Smollett perpetrated a hoax. (Do you perpetrate a hoax?  I know you perpetrate a fraud.)  But, for whatever reason, he's managed to get off without even having to admit guilt.  This may not be fair, but that's how things worked out.  I'm not a fan of letting the authorities get a second bite at the apple in celebrated cases where the public isn't happy.

The second bite may be looking at the crime from a federal, civil rights point of view.  Or the second bite may be finding another crime (Smollett is accused of sending himself a fake threatening letter, which could be mail fraud). I'm not thrilled with either path.

In the first example, taking the same basic set of facts and characterizing it as a federal crime seems like a version of double jeopardy.  I don't care if the first procedure was flawed or corrupt, we shouldn't be trying defendants twice for the same crime.

The second example is a bit trickier, since we're talking about a second crime, with a different set of facts.  But, if the prosecution hadn't failed with the first crime, how seriously would the authorities have gone after the second one?  If they're just doing it because the public demands Smollett be punished in some way, that's not a good enough reason.

If people feel the Chicago authorities were crooked in giving Smollett a special deal, fine, investigate them. But don't go after Smollett a second time just because you think he got away with something. Maybe he did, but you don't get to keep going after someone until you get the result you want.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Ellie's Epic

I just read Ellie Kemper's book My Squirrel Days. As she notes in her introduction, if you're a sitcom actress, you get to write a book.  But what do you put in the book?

It'll be about your life, of course, but which parts do you emphasize?  Kemper's best known for starring in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and The Office.  In fact, the subtitle of the paperback version is "Tales from the Star of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and The Office." So one might expect a fair amount regarding how she got on these shows, what it was like to work on them and related subjects.

Instead, each show gets a short chapter.  I'm not saying her other stories about growing up, trying to make it, and various issues that amuse or vex her aren't of interest, but would anyone care in the first place if they didn't know her from TV?

Don't get me wrong--I've read other show biz memoirs that recounted many amusing stories before the authors got to the sections dealing with their fame.  Still, if you stint on that, perhaps the reader will feel something's missing.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Vermin

The first personal computer mouse sold as a part of the package was introduced on this day in 1981.  Based on its shape, with the cord as its tail, "mouse" was kind of a silly name, but it stuck.  And the device is still here today.  At least it is for me--I just used it to create that link above.  Thank goodness the cord is gone.  Hope cutting the tail didn't hurt too much.

The mouse was a breakthrough in interactivity, the basic concept going back to the early post-WW2 era of computing.  And it was used with PCs at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, or PARC, in the 70s.

There have been innovations along the way.  Not just the wireless stuff.  There's right-clicking and left-clicking. There's double-clocking. There's scrolling.  Not to mention all sorts of fashions in mouse pads.

And yet I wonder how much longer the mouse will last?  Aren't there better ways?  Touch screens, voice commands.  And how long before we can just look at something to make it do what we want?

But I admit, I still use the mouse a lot.  I suppose I'll miss it if it ever goes away.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

No Longer Walking

Yesterday I blogged about how they kill a lot of characters on Game Of Thrones, but save the most popular.  Someone commented how, the previous night, The Walking Dead killed a whole bunch of its people.  I also saw a headline in The Hollywood Reporter about some "big deaths" on the show.  (Spoilers will be unavoidable, so beware.)

So I watched the latest episode.  I vaguely keep up with the show, and from what I've read, even their fan base has been deserting them in the past few years. (Over the past decade, GOT and TWD have arguably been TV's two biggest phenomena.) The show lost Andrew Lincoln, who'd been the lead from the start, and also did a time jump of several years, so in some ways, it's a totally new--and less interesting?--show.

Unlike Game Of Thrones, The Walking Dead is based on a comic book that's far ahead of the TV version.  But, apparently, the show differs in some major points with the comic.  So are they protecting their major characters, just as GOT does? I watched to find out who they killed.

This season, the bad guys are people who walk with the zombies, pretending to be them.  It seems silly to me, but then, this is a post-apocalyptic show about zombies, so is anything silly?  Anyway, the bad guys put a bunch of the good guys' heads on spikes.

At the end of the show, the camera panned along the ten heads and guess what?  I didn't recognize a single face.  I'm sure some of them have been with the show for a while. Perhaps some are fan favorites. But the characters I know (and like)--Daryl, Michonne, Carol, the King, Eugene--are all safe and sound. In fact, a number of them were captured and at the mercy of the bad guys, who let them go for no reason I can figure.

So, if anything, The Walking Dead is even more egregious than Game Of Thrones when it comes to keeping fan favorites alive (as long as they don't demand too much money, I guess).

Monday, March 25, 2019

Dethroned

The final season of Game Of Thrones airs in a few weeks.  The final battle is set up, and no one knows how things will end. (Spoilers to follow if you're not caught up.)

I started thinking about who the most beloved characters have been over the run of the show.  If I had to make a top ten (or fifteen) list, it would include Tyrion, Arya, Daenerys, Davos, Brienne, Samwell, Jorah, Bronn, Jon Snow and The Hound.  Notice something about them?  They're all still alive.

Not that the show hasn't killed off popular characters: Ned, Khal Drogo, Hodor, Ygritte, Catelyn, Shireen, Ser Barristan, Olenna, Tywin, Littlefinger, etc.  Yet, the ones that mean the most are, in general, still breathing.

I don't think this is a coincidence.  While the show may have followed the books (until it passed the books), I think the producers were also aware of what the audience wanted, and tried to move in that direction.

Which is what makes this final six-episode season so exciting.  There's no need to protect anyone any more. Sure, it would be a bitter pill to lose Arya or Tyrion, but it's too late for fans to give up on the show.

So I hope they go for it.  There are a number of characters I'd like to see do well, but I'm ready to take my medicine.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere

I recently saw this trailer for Yesterday, which won't be coming out for a few months.



It's an odd premise. (If you didn't watch it, the idea is everyone but one guy forgets everything about The Beatles, so he pretends to write their songs and becomes a big star). But it did make me wonder what it would be like if someone else wrote the Beatles' music.

They're the greatest band of all, with the best songs, but would that mean their stuff would work any time, anywhere?  In fact, forget the when. Let's assume we're back in the 60s.  Would the music still sell from a different source?

At the very least, you've got to get the right publicity.  The earliest Beatles' songs that were huge hits in Britain, like "She Loves You," weren't released by Capitol in America at first, so were distributed by smaller labels, where they didn't get much attention. It was only when the time was right, and the promotion was there, that the Beatles had their first American hit with "I Want To Hold Your Hand"

For that matter, would the songs have been hits if the Beatles hadn't performed them?  The songwriting may be great (and Lennon and McCartney wrote hits for others as well), but it's the particular recordings that were hits, and it would seem to be the band's particular sound that made the difference.

I don't think just any song, or any recording, can be a hit.  And I think there can be plenty of good stuff that goes unnoticed for various reasons (and plenty of lousy stuff that does well).  But, as special as The Beatles' song are, I don't think they'd work no matter what.  A lot of it is being in the right place at the right time.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Roger That or Bannister's Barrier

Roger Bannister died last year.  Otherwise, today would be his 90th birthday. (I guess it still is.)  Bannister did a lot of things in his long life, but he's remembered for one thing he did at the age of 25--he ran the first four-minute mile.

There was a time when people may have thought the barrier would never be broken--in the 1800s, no one even came close to breaking 4:10.  But the fastest times slowly crept downward.  In 1931 came the first sub-4:10 run, but four minutes was still a long way off.  By the 1940s, some runners came close to 4:01.

By the 1950s, the four-minute mile was more a psychological barrier than anything else.  Finally, in 1954, in Oxford, Roger Bannister, who'd already run in the 1952 Olympics (and didn't medal), ran the mile in 3:59.4.

He'd been trying to break the barrier for a while, and had some pace-setters to help him.  The crowd went wild, of course, when the time was announced.

The record didn't stand for long.  It happened in May, and by June another runner ran the mile in 3:58.  Not that anyone remembers his name.  It's Bannister who'll be forever famous.

The mile kept getting faster and faster.  It became no big deal to run the four-minute mile.  By 1975  the record dropped below 3:50, and today it stands at 3:43:13.  Imagine how far ahead of Bannister that runner would have he'd have been.  No woman has run a four-minute mile yet, or even a 4:10, though give it another century and see what happens.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Who Has The Energy?

TCM showed The China Syndrome (1979) last night.  About a potential nuclear power plant disaster, the hosts noted its relevance, and much of Hollywood still agrees.  Michael Douglas, producer and star of the movie, just appeared at a panel on its 40th anniversary "A New Nuclear Arms Race? Hollywood's Role in Building Momentum for a Safer World."

A person on the panel noted, the film "had a lot of criticism from the nuclear power industry.  Then Three Mile Island happened and that alerted Michael to the real danger.  This wasn't just a script element. It was a real danger, and he started feeling of responsibility [sic] to get involved and do something about it."

So Douglas started working for nuclear peace.  But what does this have to do The China Syndrome?  Nuclear power isn't the same as nuclear weapons.  The Soviet Union dissolving may have something to do with lowered fear of nuclear war, but not the closing of nuclear plants.

And that's what The China Syndrome was about.  There was a strong anti-nuclear energy movement that the film supported, one that exists to this day.  Considering nuclear is still the cheapest, safest alternative power available, in an age when climate change is a threat, fighting against such energy was, and is, a disastrous decision.  I don't think that was brought up at the panel.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Oh The Pain

Today is French Bread Day.  So I guess it's as good a time as any to note what a cliché the baguette has become in movies.

Whenever anything is set in Paris, there's always someone walking around with a grocery bag which has some long, thin loafs sticking out over the top.  It's such an easy way to say "hey, this is France!" that filmmakers can't resist.  (At least this is in American movies set in France--do the French do it, or would it be like a Hollywood film where Americans are always walking around with bags of fast food?)

I haven't been to France in many years, but I don't remember seeing a lot of French bread.  Certainly not all Parisian eat that much bread.  Aren't any on Atkins?

By the way, I like baguettes.  At a local sandwich shop , there's a choice between baguette and ciabatta and I almost always pick the former.  On the other hand, I'm not a big fan of that other French form of bread, the croissant--too flaky.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Sprung

It's the first day of Spring.  Some say the first day is tomorrow, but I have it on good authority (a web page from the Farmer's Almanac) that it's today.

Not a moment too soon.  I don't know what it's been like for you, but this has been the coldest winter I can remember in Los Angeles.  There was barely a day over 70, and it regularly got down to the 40s at night. It was also one of the rainiest.  What's great about L.A. is it's a warm place that generally doesn't get too hot and, while it cools down at night, doesn't get too cold. (It's also not humid.) However, things were about ten degrees too low on average these past few months.

I was raised in Michigan, so I know what cold is like.  But you get used to good weather.  In fact, I've wondered if I could ever move back.  I still take trips back home, but I avoid going there during the coldest months.  So Spring means one more thing--I can starting planning to visit to the Midwest again.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Say What?

I recently got my copy of The University Of Chicago Magazine.  In it was an extract from a conversation on freedom of speech. (Why?  Because it's the 100th anniversary of Schenck v. United States, which the magazine mistakenly identifies as the Court's "first decision on the First Amendment." It's the first decision on freedom of speech under the First Amendment--there are First Amendment religion cases decades older.)

The discussion is between two Chicago law professors, Geoff Stone and David Strauss.  They're contributors to a new book entitled The Free Speech Century.  Here's Stone discussing how changing media may mean a changing First Amendment:

Stone:  People our age grew up [generally getting] their news and information from mainstream sources that were reasonably trustworthy and reliable [....] 

With the invention of radio, Congress imposed the fairness doctrine, which provided that if you got a license to operate a radio of television station, you were under legal obligation to cover public affairs and public matters in a fair and balanced way.  [The doctrine was repealed by the Reagan administration but] if you go to ABC, PBS, or the New York Times you generally see a fairly responsible, mainstream approach, even though nothing in the law requires them to do that.

But cable was never subject to the fairness doctrine.  [.....]  And then with social media, we see a kind of tribalism to which many individuals get their news and information from what one would have to say are highly unreliable, highly ideological sources that lead them to be deeply polarized in their views, and even in their understanding of what the real facts are.

The First Amendment was based upon the notion of a free marketplace of ideas in which people would responsibly get access to information, ideas and different opinions, and be able to debate them with one another and come to some sensible conclusions, but the tribalism that we're now seeing raises serious questions about whether those basic assumptions can be carried into the future.

A bit later in the conversation:

Strauss: One kind of simplistic, almost caricature of the First Amendment and the American system of free speech is that, yes, private parties do all kinds of bad things, but the real threat comes from the government.  Is that fair, and do we need to change that attitude?

Stone: [....] On one hand, the fundamental concern of the First Amendment is distrust of government. But on the other, there are circumstances where trust of government may be better than distrust if we are giving it limited powers and monitoring to make sure they enforce those powers in an appropriate way.

The fairness doctrine, I think, was a great success....

Let's just stop here, because I don't have the energy to reply to all this.  I'll just note, in general, I disagree with almost everything they say.

Do I think they're espousing unreliable, even tribal, views?  Yes, I do.  Would it be a good thing if I had the legal power to guide them into making better and more responsible arguments that would serve the public interest?  I don't know, but I'm pretty sure if I had that power they wouldn't be happy about it.  So why do they think others should be happy if they, or people not unlike them, get to legally decide who's responsible and who isn't?

Monday, March 18, 2019

Dale's Tale

Dick Dale, king of the surf guitar, has died.  He recorded a ton of guitar instrumentals in his heyday, the late 50s and early 60s, and helped define the surf rock sound.

He never completely went away, and had a bit of a comeback in the 1990s when Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction repopularized Dale's famed version of "Misirlou."

I saw him some years after that, performing live at the Amoeba record store up my street.   Everyone was waiting to hear "Misirlou." He played the first few notes then stopped, saying if you want to hear the whole thing, you'd have to pay to see him at some club where he was booked that night.  Kind of a dick move, Dick.




Sunday, March 17, 2019

JS

Believe it or not, John Sebastian turns 75 today.  Lead singer and songwriter for The Lovin' Spoonful, he created a beautiful sound.









Saturday, March 16, 2019

Pith

Writing headlines isn't easy.  You've only got a few words to summarize the content of the article, as well as capture the attention of the reader. It's an art many haven't quite mastered.  Here's a recent, if minor example of what I would consider a failed headline:

"Democrats upset over Omar seeking primary challenge"

I understood they were referring to controversial Congressperson Ilhan Omar, but I still had to read the piece to figure out what they meant, because the headline as I read it didn't make any sense.

It sounded like Democrats were upset because Omar was seeking a challenger in her next primary.  Why would they be upset?  More important, why would Omar seek a challenger?  You'd think it's the last thing she'd want.

Of course, the story is about how those upset Democrats are seeking a challenger to bring down Omar.  Oh, that's what you mean.  Never mind.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Notorious

Today is Ruth Bader Ginsburg's 86th birthday.  She's not just another Supreme Court Justice.  She's a superstar.  People cheer her name (or initials).  People wear her likeness.  Movies are made about her life.

And yet, some are unhappy with her.  They think she should have resigned when Barack Obama was president and the Democrats held the Senate (up till the election of 2016), and been replaced by another liberal.  Now, with Trump in office, if she leaves the Court, she'll be replaced, almost certainly, by a conservative.

Why didn't she quit?  I don't know, but my main guess is it's the best job in the world, so why leave?  Even if she were planning a strategic resignation, perhaps she was waiting for the first female president to choose her replacement.  Hillary Clinton seemed to be a likely winner for 2008, and even more likely for 2016, so why not wait?

It's strange this is what we've come to.  Justices used to retire when they felt it was time, and the Senate would usually vote them in regardless of politics.  Now Justices wait to retire till the party they support (and yes, they do support parties) is in power, and nominees only get through when their party runs the Senate.

At least this has been the pattern for the last four Presidents.  Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump have this one thing in common--all have gotten two nominees onto the Supreme Court and all did it with a majority in the Senate.  (Obama had a chance to replace a conservative with a liberal, but since the GOP were running the Senate at the time, they didn't even hold a vote.)

It certainly didn't use to be this way.  Two of our most liberal Justices, Brennan and Marshall, retired when a Republican, George H. W. Bush, was in office.  (Their replacements, respectively, were David Souter and Clarence Thomas.)

It does make you wonder what the Democrats will do if RBG is replaced by a conservative.  If they get in power, will they attempt to impeach a conservative Justice?  Will they try pass a court packing plan?  Or can we somehow go back to the old days when the Court wasn't as important as the legislature in getting things you wanted?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

I Thought I Knew The Answer

I was listening to The Beatles' Abbey Road medley.  At the end, which is "The End," they have the famous line:

And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make.

Some see this as beautiful summation of what The Beatles were all about, as well as an important message we should all heed.

But is it?  At the very least, I'm not sure if the math works.

If this equation is true, it would mean if you don't send out any love, you don't get any back.  Sort of nasty, but okay, I'll go along with that.  But then, if you do send out love, you will get an equal amount back.

That sounds surprisingly precise.  Couldn't a little be lost along the way?

But okay, it's exactly the same.  So you send out x amount of love, and get x amount back.  Let's just say there are two people stuck on an island, so you're getting back x from this one person.  But wait a minute, doesn't the same rule apply to her as well?  Except she didn't send out any love.  She just sat there and got x amount of love for doing nothing.  Sure, she can send back x, but that's up to her.

Or is this love you're taking based on your openness to it, and those who know how to make it also know how to take it?  But that doesn't really help us.  Say you're really open to receiving love, and you send some out to another person.  But the other person is closed, and doesn't get any of this love.  So she won't send any back.  Or do you get some back anyway--what sort of weird deal is that?  She got nothing, and gave nothing, but you still managed to get some back.  I don't understand how that would work.

"Can't buy me love" I understand.  I even get "the movement you need is on your shoulder." But this hippy-dippy math about making and taking love is just dumb.  I'm glad they added "Her Majesty" to close things off.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Seventh From The Sun

On this day, in 1781, astronomer William Herschel discovered Uranus.  It had been seen before, but Herschel was the first to officially observe and report on it. Not that he understood what he saw.  He figured it was a comet.  It took other astronomers to study its orbit and determine it was actually a planet.

Nevertheless, Herschel so impressed the people of his day that King George III granted him an annual stipend of 200 pounds. A new planet was a pretty big deal, after all.  Uranus is the one that comes after Saturn, and Saturn had been spotted by human eyes since before written history, and the ancients knew it wasn't just another star.

Uranus is named after the Latin version of the Greek god who was the father of Cronos--Saturn to the Romans--and grandfather of Zeus--Jupiter to the Romans--so I think you get the pattern. You wouldn't think the seventh planet would fire the imagination as much as, say, Mars or Jupiter, but I'm guessing it's the most spoken about planet outside Earth, especially among schoolboys.

Modern research suggests Uranus smells like rotten eggs.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

HB

Hal Blaine has died.  He's about as significant a drummer as existed in the rock era.  As part of the Wrecking Crew, he played on countless cuts, hundreds of hits.  When you wanted the best, you hired Hal Blaine.  He played with everyone, from The Beach Boys to Frank Sinatra to The Mamas & The Papas to Simon & Garfunkel to Neil Diamond to Barbra Streisand.

Here's a small sampling of his work, all from records that went to #1:









Monday, March 11, 2019

The Boys

Years ago, I took a chance and saw a film I knew nothing about--Trailer Park Boys: The Movie.  I thought it was quite funny.  Only later did I discover it was originally a TV series.

Lately I've been checking out the show on Netflix.  I'm still in the middle since there are twelve seasons of the original (though that only adds up to 102 episodes).  I just finished season five, so I have a pretty good idea how things work.  In fact, I think I've caught up to the movie, which was released during the TV run.  When I finish the regular episodes, there's a Trailer Park Boys mini-series set in Europe and another in the U.S., as well as a couple of specials.

Trailer Park Boys is, to put it simply, a sitcom about trailer trash.  It's about life in a Nova Scotia trailer park and is shot in documentary style--the characters often refer to the film crew, in fact.  It's apparently based on a feature film (not the one I saw several years later) created by Mike Clattenburg, who also created the show.

The three central characters are friends Ricky, Julian and Bubbles.  Each season has an arc which generally involves the guys getting involved in some crime scheme and ending up in jail.

Ricky is dumb and violent, but knows what he likes, which is mostly smoking, getting high, getting drunk and eating pepperoni and chips.  He's also capable of talking his way out of bad situations with the police.  Julian is the "brains" of the organization, which in this group simply means he reads books, thinks coherently and is capable of planning for the future.  He also always has a mixed drink in his hand. Bubbles is sort of the odd man out.  He lives in a shed (which isn't that bad considering Ricky lives in a car), wears coke-bottle glasses, loves kittens and Rush, and makes money stealing shopping carts and selling them back.

There are a lot of characters surrounding the trio.  Their nemesis is alcoholic trailer park supervisor Jim Lahey and his assistant/lover Randy, who has a huge gut and never wears a shirt.  Lahey's ex-wife, Barb, owns the park.

Ricky's got a dad, Ray, who pretends to be wheelchair bound to get disability payments.  Ricky also has an on-again off-again relationship with Lucy, who lives in the park.  The two have a daughter, Trinity.  Lucy's friend is Sarah--in general she's no fan of Ricky.

Then there are Cory and Trevor, two guys who idolize Ricky and Julian and will do whatever they're told.  There's also J-Roc, a white guy who lives in his mom's trailer and thinks he's a black rapper.

The show is fairly raw, but entertaining.  It's about a world where no one has a college education and just about everyone smokes a lot of weed and/or drinks a lot of alcohol.  In fact, when they're not settling their differences, no one thinks about much more than getting drunk or high.

Few have regular jobs.  Most are involved in crime, and the boys are sometimes quite successful--before they're caught and thrown back in jail.  Beneath it all there is some humanity shining through, though not so much that it slows down the action.  There's also a surprising amount of gunplay, though no one ever gets seriously hurt.

Maybe I will get tired of the show eventually, but right now I plan to keep watching till the end.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Crashed

Tonight will be the finale of Crashing, the HBO comedy about a guy trying to make it in stand-up comedy.  It was only just announced the show had been canceled after three seasons.  Not a bad run, but I assume it wasn't getting great numbers (and no Emmy nominations) if they're saying goodbye.  I'm sorry to see it go.  HBO hasn't been doing that well in comedy for a while and this is one of their few bright spots. (I wondered if it stayed on as long as it did because Judd Apatow is an executive producer.)

The star and creator of Crashing, Pete Holmes, based it on his life as an aspiring comic.  The show started with Pete walking in on his wife who's with another man.  So he soon leaves her, but continues trying to make it as a comic (one of the reasons his marriage was having trouble).  The title comes (partly) from how he, especially in the first season, needs to crash at various places since he's essentially homeless.

Pete is a nice guy--or at least plays a nice guy--and doesn't always fit the well into the world of stand up.  Many comedians actually play themselves. In fact, each episode has at least one name comic in it, and the names have included Artie Lange, Sarah Silverman, Dave Attell, Bill Burr, Whitney Cummings, Ray Romano, John Mulaney (who I hope is playing a much meaner version of his normal self) and Amy Schumer.

We get to see a lot of material from Pete and other comedians, but it's actually the story that makes the show work.  Pete tries to get better and, at least in the show, does improve.  And each season has been a little different, as Pete enjoys more success, as well as changing his outlook on life.  In this (final) season, he also got a new girlfriend, played by Madeline Wise, an actress I've never seen before who did a fine job.

So we'll say goodbye to Crashing--though maybe they'll get to do an HBO movie.  It was a good show and I hope the people who missed it the first time around will eventually catch on.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Extra Credit

About twenty years ago John Cleese agreed to be a visiting professor at Cornell.  In fact, he was delighted.  The deal was he'd come over every now and then for a short period and give a talk or lead a discussion on whatever interested him.  Seven of these sessions are collected in Professor At Large: The Cornell Years.

Cleese is one of the greatest comic writers and performers of the past fifty years.  Unfortunately, only a small portion of this book has him discussing his career in comedy.  Instead, we get discourses on decision-making, religion, politics, group dynamics, face recognition and a bunch of other things he's picked up over the years.

What he says isn't without interest, and he makes some decent points (and some foolish ones).  But, while he's interested in sharing what he's learned, let's face it, the main reason he was invited to talk, and the main reason people attended these meetings, was his celebrity.

When he talks about comedy, it's worth listening to, since he has a deep understanding, not to mention a wellspring of personal stories.  When he talks about other things that may be fascinating, we're getting them, at best, second-hand; Cleese often refers to studies and writings of others, which makes us wonder if it wouldn't be better to hear from them directly. (There's also a lengthy interview Cleese has with screenwriter William Goldman, though Goldman mostly repeats old stories and ideas he's written about elsewhere.)

So I'd recommend this book only for Cleese or Python completists.  Like me.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Looking Down At Something

According to a survey on tourist attractions, the worst in the world is the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.

As someone who lives in the general area, I've never felt the Walk Of Fame is disappointing. (I also tend to throw in the handprints at Mann's Chinese, though I guess that's a separate thing.)

Maybe it depends on your attitude.  I mean, it's kind of different for a tourist attraction.  It's not some spectacular building in a specific place, but a few thousand stars in the sidewalk, spread out for over a mile on two streets.

Sure, a lot of the sidewalk is dirty, and Hollywood Boulevard isn't as fancy as Rodeo Drive, but so what? (Though let me add it's much nicer today that it was in the 90s.) It's the idea that you either go for or not.

And I still go for it.  Even though I've walked those sidewalks countless times, I can't help looking down to see the names (and what they're famous for--each star indicates movies, TV, radio, recordings or live performance). In fact, sometimes I actually avoid looking down, because I want to stop and read every name.

You never know who you'll see.  The most famous names in show biz are mixed with obscurities who've dropped off the map.  Often you'll see people kneeling down to get photographed next to a favorite star.  And when a big name dies, you'll see a bunch of flowers at their star.

Occasionally, you'll see a ceremony for a new star.  I remember years ago walking down Hollywood Boulevard and by chance catching James Cameron giving a speech honoring the new star for Sigourney Weaver.

So, all in all, a pretty cool attraction.  Not a tourist trap.  (And if it is a trap, easy enough to escape--they don't charge you, after all.)  Further, you know what you're getting.  Why would anyone be disappointed?


Thursday, March 07, 2019

Go Phish

I recently got a call from an automated voice offering me money.  Apparently, I'd paid some computer people money in the past and they were going out of business so there was a refund waiting for me.  What computer people?  You know, the people who run Apple and Windows, those sort of people.

The weird thing was they gave me a phone number to call. Usually when I get scam calls it's from people who are willing to cheat me right then and there.  But these guys were lazier.  They actually wanted me to call a (toll free) number so they could steal from me.

I admit I was tempted to call just to see how it works.  I assume they would want me to send them personal information so they could ascertain I was the guy who was due a refund.

But however it was supposed to work, let me send out notice: I'm lazy myself.  If you want to rip me off, don't ask me to do the heavy lifting.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Where There's A Wil

A common sitcom trope has the main characters meeting a celebrity.  Lucy meets William Holden.  Archie Bunker meets Sammy Davis Jr.  The Huxtables meet Stevie Wonder.

The Big Bang Theory has gone to this well more than once, with the cast usually meeting sci-fi, or just sci guest stars, such as Summer Glau, Stan Lee, George Takei, Katee Sackhoff, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Steve Wosniak, James Earl Jones, Stephen Hawking, Buzz Aldrin, LeVar Burton and others.

In fact, one of the show's recurring characters is Wil Wheaton of Star Trek fame playing himself.  He's sort of a friend of the gang.  And in a recent episode, "The D & D Vortex," TBBT went all out with celebrities.  The plot was about getting invited to Wil Wheaton's house to play Dungeons & Dragons.  Who else was there?  A somewhat strange mix: William Shatner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Joe Manganiello and Kevin Smith.

Of course, the gang were all excited to meet such celebrities.  Which is what often gets me about the concept.  While the list of people playing D&D with Wil Wheaton isn't bad, you know who are bigger celebrities?  The cast of The Big Bang Theory--at least at this moment in time, when the show has been a hit for over ten years. (It's a judgment call, and that's my judgment.)

So sure, the Big Bang characters ooh and ah over the celebrities, but in real life, it's those celebrities who are being asked what was it like to be on The Big Bang Theory.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

A Scream

In Jamaica, a lottery winner picked up his loot wearing a Scream mask. He wanted to head off future problems.

Amusing, but I have to agree.  As I've stated before, if a miracle occurs, and you win the lottery, you shouldn't let anyone else know.  Criminals, of course, would be interested, but then, if you bought a nice new house, they'd be interested anyway.

What's more troublesome is you'd be on the radar of charities.  While you should give to charitable causes, they should be the ones you choose, not the ones who pester you the most.  And, of course, there are your friends, and your "friends." Suddenly, everything is on you.

So be prepared.  You never know when you'll win the lottery. (Okay, you do--never.)  Have that Scream mask ready in the back of the closet.

PS  The jackpot was $158.4 million in Jamaican dollars.  The Jamaican dollar is worth about three-quarters of a penny, so that's equivalent to $1.17 million U.S..  Still pretty exciting, but is it worth wearing a mask over?

PPS In a related story, the winner of last year's $1.5 billion lottery payoff has finally stepped forward to accept the money.  Actually, his lawyer stepped forward--the winner wishes to stay anonymous.   Or was it the winner pretending to be a lawyer?  If that's a real lawyer, I hope the deal is payment per hour of services, and not by contingency fee.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Classical Education

Let me recommend Steven Hyden's Twilight Of The Gods, a highly entertaining book about classic rock.  Hyden is aware classic rock is not what it once was.  Classic rockers are dying out, and fewer people listen to it.

But even when Hyden was a teen in the 90s, classic rock was dinosaur music.  That didn't stop him, and millions of others, from being attracted to its aura.  When you're young, the music matters, and there was so much to discover in all those albums.  As a kid (and even an adult) titles like Led Zeppelin IV or Dark Side Of The Moon help explain what life is about.

Before discussing various facets of the music, Hyden has to explain just what classic rock is in the first place.  It may not be what you think.  After all, Chuck Berry and Little Richard are "classic" rock, but they're not "classic rock."  By the 70s, the dividing line was clear--the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album in 1967.  Before that, rock was oldies, after, classic rock.

While the canon was being created, it wasn't called classic rock, of course.  But by the 80s, through clever marketing, that's what it became.  The concept became a radio mainstay.  And while classic rock stations mostly played old songs, the music could grow to include new acts.

Hyden's short description of classic rock is music from acts who sell millions of albums, do shows in stadiums, and have four to six songs that everybody knows.  So David Bowie is classic rock, while equally-cool-in-critics'-eyes Lou Reed doesn't quite make it.

For that matter, Lou Reed's old band, the Velvet Underground, though considered one of the greatest ever by critics, isn't quite classic rock, while Led Zeppelin, whom the critics at first hated, most definitely is.  And the performers don't even have to be great rockers.  Billy Joel is classic rock (though Randy Newman isn't).

Hyden admits (sadly) the quintessential classic rock band is the Eagles.  He doesn't like them, he doesn't know anyone who likes them, but they check all the boxes.

Hyden has a sense of humor about his taste in music, but also clearly loves the stuff. By the way, I often disagree with his musical taste (and his politics), and I expect you will, too.  But that shouldn't stop you from checking out the book.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Bested

There have been a lot of people whining that Green Book didn't deserve to win the Oscar for Best Picture.  It didn't bother me--Green Book was certainly better than most of the other films on the list, at least half of which were seriously flawed.

But who got the idea that the Oscars were about picking the best film?  It's rare enough they even pick a good film.  I just looked at a list of all the winners and here are my stats.

Great films to win the Best Picture Oscar: 8

Good films to win the Best Picture Oscar: 23

Okay films to win the Best Picture Oscar: 38

Bad film to win the Best Picture Oscar: 22

I apologize that I don't list the titles--I'm just giving an overview.  I might change my mind on a few if I saw them again, but the basic numbers wouldn't change much.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

One Of These Things

The Academy Awards offered new Rolex commercials that featured directors Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron, Alejandro Inarritu and Martin Scorsese.  An impressive line-up of Oscar winners.

There have also been magazine ads featuring the formidable four:


Looked at the assembled talent, I have one question:  Just how short is Martin Scorsese?.  He's standing, the others are seated, yet they seem to be the same height.

I wonder if Marty suggested it.  All four understand framing, of course.

Friday, March 01, 2019

AP

Andre Previn has died.  He was one of the top film composers in the 50s and 60s, winning four Academy Awards. (He was also married to Mia Farrow in the 70s--overall, he was married five times).

He often worked with Billy Wilder, and just by chance, last week I'd been listening to his music from The Fortune Cookie (1966), one of my favorite scores.



Previn also recorded a lot of jazz music.



And he did a lot of work in classical music.


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