Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Big Battle

Game Of Thrones has featured a lot of battles, but none bigger that "The Long Night." (A fitting title, since at 82 minutes it was the longest episode.)  The battle episodes, even when well done, tend to be my least favorite--I like the overall story to be moving forward, not all the action taking place in one spot and lasting the entire show.  (In general, my favorite scenes are usually a few people sitting in a room talking.)

On top of which, "The Long Night" was poorly done.  It took place at night, with mist and snow all around.  Maybe it was the brightness level on my TV, but I could barely see what was happening.  Usually I give a blow-by-blow account of the episode, but I don't know if I can this time.

Even worse, the last third of the episode had sad music playing over everything so that all the regular sound was muffled (and sometimes the action was in slow motion)--this is a guaranteed killer of drama, and yet it seems to be catnip to TV directors and producers.  I can't understand it.

I was able to follow what was happening generally, and even there they let us down.  The good guys had a lot of fighters but didn't seem to have much of a strategy.  Maybe there was nothing they could do (actually, there was something--get the Night King, don't worry about anything else), but their general plans were pretty useless.

There were a lot of name-character deaths, as expected, though not anyone who will change the story arc.  Let's look at the scorecard.  There was Edd, Beric (the early deaths were secondary characters, if that), Lyanna (who went out swinging), Theon, Melisandre and, ending the battle, the Night King. Arya gets credit for that kill (and it was clear she'd do it after Melisandre said she would--didn't that kind of ruin the surprise?). By the way, I thought Arya might try some of those tricks she'd learned from the Faceless Men, but it was pretty much a full-on frontal assault.

I left out the most affecting death, at least for me.  Ser Jorah finally bought it. (Not a great night for House Mormont.) It was pretty obvious he wouldn't make it based on the last episode, but one can dream.  Sorry you didn't make it to the end, pal.

So what comes next?  The battle with Cersei.  This is a bit of a Babylon 5 problem--resolving the big war first, then going back to the smaller war.  Humanity has been saved from the threat of extinction.  Is it that big a deal now who sits on the Iron Throne?

Anyway, I still like the show, even if this season has been on the mediocre side.

Monday, April 29, 2019

That Time Of Year

It's my birthday so I'm taking the day off.  No Game Of Thrones recap, no nothing.

Enjoy some Duke Ellington music--he was born 120 years ago today--while you wait for regular programming to return.








Sunday, April 28, 2019

Noah Way

There's a mini-controversy going on--Bloomberg columnist Noah Smith has tweeted that the only joke in the famed SNL "more cowbell" sketch is that there is no joke:

The actual humor is in watching people straining to understand the joke, or tricking themselves into thinking they get it.

Smith seems to be serious (in more ways than one), but his argument is not going over well.  I'm not going to bother to refute it, since the humor in the sketch, whether you go for it or not, is pretty clear.



A few observations, though:

1)  I like the sketch, though its reputation as maybe the greatest ever on SNL is a bit much.

2) I remember watching it when it first aired, and the part that made me laugh most was Will Ferrell prominently playing the cowbell before Bruce Dickinson demanded even more.

3)  I find it annoying when the performers start to lose it.  Thank goodness for Chris Parnell, who never broke.

4)  I have a friend who told me she doesn't find the David S. Pumpkins sketch funny.  I prefer it to More Cowbell.  Maybe she should tweet about that and go viral.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye

A musical version of Tootsie just opened on Broadway.  It features Santino Fontana as Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels, the role made famous by Dustin Hoffman.

Critic David Rooney gives it a rave in The Hollywood Reporter.  But then he has to go and quote from it:

One of the most uproarious developments is Dorothy's unwelcome love interest Max Van  Horn [....]  In "That Thing," he brings the same wooden earnestness as Max that Max brings to Craig in the show within the show, drawing maximum laughs from [composer David] Yazbeck's lyrics: "It's odd, you're so old, I'm so young/ And my abs are like slabs of fine granite/ My bod is like gold and I'm hung/ And you're old, oh I said that, but dammit!"

Ouch.  Yazbeck can't be bothered to rhyme properly.  Sounds like a pass.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Big Time

The stars have aligned so that we have two gigantic pop phenomena unspooling at once.  Avengers: Endgame is out, and expected to shatter opening weekend records, while Game Of Thrones is in its final month of episodes, expected to break HBO ratings records. It's like the Super Bowl and the World Series going on at the same time (Avengers is the Super Bowl--a one-off event---while GOT is the World Series.)

Both feature large casts which have been trying (successfully, I believe) to keep the storyline a secret.  Takes a lot of doing these spoilery days.  I certainly have no idea what to expect (though I suspect the Avengers will succeed).  But what interests me is what will happen a month from now once we know how these stories turn out.

After all, they're not going to stop making Avengers films.  There's too much money to be had. And there are already prequels planned for the GOT world. As for me, I don't care.  I suppose I might go see more Marvel films, though superhero films in general are getting tiresome.  They used to be events, but as monthly appointments with a familiar formula, they're easy to skip.

And I'll probably give up on more Game Of Thrones, as much as I've enjoyed the original.  I'm not a fan of fantasy in general, but even if I were, this particular story was the one worth telling.  I'm not the kind who feels the need for more exploration--or exploitation--of this world.

So enjoy it while you can.  We'll be back to normal soon enough.  Besides, there's new Star Wars later this year.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

People Who Need People

There's a revival of Kiss Me, Kate on Broadway starring Kelli O'Hara and Will Chase.  O'Hara is a big Broadway star, yet I'm a little surprised she's taken the role--it's a great show, but I've always felt the male lead has much better songs than the female. (And the secondary female has much better songs than the secondary male.)

The book has apparently been spruced up by Amanda Green, a lyricist and daughter of the great Adolph Green.  I'm generally not in favor of "fixing" classics.  If you can get the original creators to do it, or at least get their blessings, then fine.  But I'd just as soon see a show the way it was originally enjoyed by millions (especially if it's got a real book, and isn't just a pre-Oklahoma grab-bag of song cues and blackouts).

I guess the producers felt Kiss Me, Kate, though a classic, has problematic sexual politics (though perhaps they're missing some of the original's irony).  But looking at the list of songs, it's hard to miss something:  O'Hara's closing number, "I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple," has been changed to "I Am Ashamed That People Are So Simple." I'm aghast.

No one should be touching Cole Porter's lyrics.  But this is far worse.  Kiss Me, Kate is a backstager about a musical production of The Taming Of The Shrew.  At the end of the Shakespeare original, Kate has a monologue about how a woman should submit to her husband.  What Cole Porter did is take a section of that speech and set it to music.

I'm not saying it's the best number in the show.  In fact, it's one of the weaker songs.  But while rewriting Cole Porter is bad enough, rewriting Shakespeare is just bizarre.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Vote Veto

I've been enjoying this latest, and last, season of Veep.  It might be the best ever.  Selina Meyer is once again running for President, and this time she might win.  Jonah Ryan is also running, and who knows where that will end up.  I'm hoping he'll be a kingmaker at a brokered convention.

The show is impossibly cynical about politics, but (is that the right conjunction?) very funny.  This week's episode featured serious voter suppression.  And recently, Billions had serious voter suppression guaranteeing Chuck Rhoades political victory.

I'm all for cynicism about politicians, but these shows treat suppression as if it's common and easy to pull off.  I don't think either case is true.  I'm not referring to casual voter suppression, where you simply do what you can to encourage your voters and nothing to help voters you don't think are on your side, using whatever rules are available to legally discount troublesome voters.  (Note that getting your base out in higher numbers has the same effect as voter suppression, in that you're trying to make sure the vote don't represent the feelings of the public at large.)

But full scale, election-changing voter suppression?  Maybe in small races where everyone knows the landscape, and there are clear powerbrokers.  But pulling it off in states, much less in the nation overall, is not only hard to get away with, it's hard to even try.  We've seen systematic, widespread voter suppression in the past, and nowadays even the slightest activity sets off alarms.

The real lesson is while it's fun to see powerful people do outrageous, immoral things on TV shows, when they do it in real life, we like it and believe it's moral if it supports our side.  (I know this paragraph doesn't seem to follow from the previous paragraphs, but I don't have time to rewrite.)

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

To Be Frank

Frank Borzage was born on this date in 1894.  Maybe not that well remembered today, he was a major film director in the 20s, 30s and 40s.  He had a solid visual sense and an intense romanticism. I was pretty sure he won an Oscar, so I checked and it turned out he won two--the first ever Best Director award for 7th Heaven (1927) and again for Bad Girl (1931).

It got me thinking--Frank was a big name for directors in the early days of the Oscars.  Frank Capra told a story about how he was nominated for Lady For A Day (1933) and host Will Rogers announced "Come up and get it, Frank!" Capra got up only to discover Frank Lloyd won it for Cavalcade (1933).  It's true Lloyd won, and Capra was nominated, but the tale, like so much in Capra's autobiography, turns out not to be true.  But why would a good director let truth get in the way of a good story?

Anyway, thought I'd check how many times a Frank won in the early Oscar races for Best Director.  Here are the stunning stats: of the first twelve Best Director winners, a full seven were Franks.  Two for Borzage, two for Lloyd, three for Capra.

However, since then, the Oscars have been Frank-free, unless you count Franklin J. Schaffner for Patton (1970) or Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather Part 2 (1974).

Monday, April 22, 2019

Intersectionality

Game Of Thrones started in the North, mostly at Wintefell, when the Lannisters and Robert Baratheon visited the Starks.  The action kept expanding outward, as more characters were introduced and they traveled farther and farther apart--until recent seasons where the plot has been contracting.

And in the most recent episode, "A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms," (the titles are only known after the show is aired--do they really need that much secrecy?), all the action takes place at Winterfell.  But that's fine, since just about every character we care about, except for a few at King's Landing, are holed up there.

Off the top of my head, Winterfell has Tyrion, Daenerys, Sansa, Jaime, Arya, the Hound, Davos, Brienne, Jorah, Varys, Missandei, Bran, Theon, Grey Worm, Samwell, Gilly, Pod, Gendry, Tormund, Beric, Edd, the dragons and a number of others.  In the past, you usually had two or three regulars in a place and that was enough, but this episode featured a whole bunch of scenes with numerous characters we care about all together.  It's hard to remember who did what to whom to keep track of all the intersecting going on.

It's also an episode about waiting for the big battle with the Night King and his army, who only show up at the last second.  For about a third of the way though, you think they might see the battle, but nope, it'll be, I presume, the entire next episode. (They wouldn't dare hold it off just to waste our time in King's Landing, would they?). Some fans may be disappointed, calling it all table setting, but there was enough going on--even if a lot of it was more sentimental than tense--to be entertaining.

We start where we left off. Jaime, alone, rode into Winterfell. He's got a lot of splaining to do, and he's now before Dany, Sansa and Jon.  This is the Kingslayer, of course, who killed the last Targaryen on the Iron Throne.  Dany has dreamt all her life of getting revenge. Jaime better do some quick talking.  But this is a less glib Jaime--one who wants to help, and whose sister won't.

But with the intersections, it's hard to keep track of everything.  For instance, how does the Imp feel, having been fooled by Cersei and saved by Jaime?  How does Bran feel, who remembers being pushed out that window?  Etc, etc.  The Imp loves his brother and tries to defend him, but Sansa remembers the attack on her father.  Jaime won't apologize.  Bran says "the things we do for love."  He's not just quoting 10cc, but also Jaime when he pushed Bran out the window.

Who should stand up to defend Jaime but Brienne, whom Jaime saved--see, good deeds pay off.  (She mentions he prevented her rape, but doesn't tell the bear ordeal, where he saved her life, which is a better story, I think).  Brienne was then sent to save Sansa because Jaime promised it to Catelyn.  That's good enough for Sansa since he trust Brienne (even though it's not like Brienne has been by her side that long).  As for no-nonsense Jon, he's just glad to have another sword on hand, so Dany is outvoted.  She assents, but walks out complaining about Tyrion, while Jaime and Bran stare at each other, meaningfully.

Meanwhile, Gendry is forging wight-killing weapons at the foundry.  Arya comes in and wants her special weapon.  As I said last week, I know they've got a relationship, but the couple we care about is Arya and the Hound.  Anyway, she shows she's plenty tough while he tries to explain what it's like to fight the Dead--if only Rick were there he could explain a lot better.

Jaime and Bran finally have it out by the weirwood tree. Bran didn't tell anyone because he'd just as soon have Jaime fight for Winterfell as be murdered right then and there.  Besides, Bran is a different person, if he's even a person.  Jaime, for his part, feels sorry for what he did. (I admire the new Jaime, though when he's upright he's a little less fun.) After the fighting, we'll see what happens--as Bran notes, how does Jaime know there'll be an afterwards. (But doesn't Bran know?)

Now Tyrion and Jaime meet in the courtyard (Jaime's getting around a lot in this episode).  The Lannister boys aren't too popular here, but who would have guessed they both end up defending this castle.  They discuss Dany and Cersei.  Jaime sees Brienne from the battlements and goes to talk to her.  It's a bit awkward because he's not needling her--there's that earnest Jaime again. He says he'd be honored to fight under her command.  She apparently accepts the offer, though I thought she might say she didn't need a cripple to look after.

Meanwhile, Jorah comes in to see the Khaleesi (haven't heard that title in a while).  He's there to champion Tyrion.  Jorah never liked him, and wanted to be Hand himself, but now that he knows him he wants her to overlook his mistakes just as she forgave Mormont his.  He also has another suggestion...

Next we see Dany's going in to meet Sansa, so I guess this was Jorah's idea.  She wants to clear the air.  They talk about how tough it is to be a female leader Westeros (does Lyanna Mormont agree?), but also how easy it is to manipulate men.  Sansa explains how she trusts Brienne and how Tyrion was honorable toward her.  They also talk about how dumb it was to trust Cersei--the audience sure knew better, so how were Tyrion and Dany fooled, anyway?  Then they get down to the nitty gritty.  Jon loves Dany--are you manipulating him?  Dany answers in a way that, as I noted last week, I wish Winterfell would figure out already.  Dany wants to take back the Throne, yet here she is using everything at her disposal (which is just about all they've got) to save the North, so who did the manipulating?

The other question: what happens if they prevail?  If Dany's in charge, will she demand the North bend a collective knee.  It's a tricky question, and before it can be answered, in comes Theon.  Sansa embraces him--not a certain thing, since he betrayed the Stark's more than anyone else, before he was tortured for a while and finally saved Sansa.  He asks if she'll let him serve her--there's an awful lot of men humbling themselves before women this episode.

In the courtyard, Davos is head of the soup kitchen, serving regular grunts their meals.  Isn't he more important than that?  Did he add the onions?  He explains to a nobody that anyone can fight (so shut up and do your duty).  Meanwhile, Gilly Gilly is explaining how the women and children will hide in the crypt and be safe during the battle.  We've seen this sort of thing before on the show, but 1) even in the best battle, if you lose, the women and children are at the mercy of the victors, who can kill them or enslave them, and 2) if the army of the dead win, they'll be pretty relentless and come for everyone--perhaps even some converted former loved ones will come for them--so how helpful is this hiding stuff?

A little girl tells Davos she wants to fight because her brothers are soldiers.  We can't help but think of Davos and Shireen--Shireen's death is still the most painful moment on the show.  Gilly tells her she can stay in the crypt and protect everyone there.

Tormund, Beric and Edd return, greeted by their old pal Jon.  We saw them last week at the Last Hearth.  They've beaten the zombies back to Winterfell, but only by about half a day, so let's get ready for battle.  And Tormund wants to see big, bad Brienne, too.

There's a huge war counsel with all the big names there.  Must be tricky to write such a scene, since you want to give everyone a good line.  Jon knows their enemy has too many soldiers to beat back, so his plan is to take out the Night King, and the others will fall.  Great, except, as it's noted, the Night King won't expose himself so easily.  Not so fast, says Bran--the Night King wants to get at the Three-Eyed Raven.  So Bran will wait outside as bait.  Theon says he and the Ironborn will defend him (how many Ironborn are available?--I thought they all went back home). Next, Dany insists the Imp stay safe in the crypt.  When he objects, she notes he's too valuable to be on the battlefield (and besides, he's the only one she's taller than).

Then they all leave and Tyrion says he wants to hear Bran's story.  It'll take a while, but they're not going anywhere.

Missandei and Grey Worm meet in the courtyard.  It's clear they're not too welcome in Winterfell.  Grey Worm suggests after Dany takes the throne, they cut out of there, go back home to where they're welcome.  1) Is this a racial thing?  That hasn't come up before.  2)  Hey, didn't you both swear yourselves to Dany--do you think you can just leave any time you like?  3) I know it's cold in Winterfell, but there are plenty of other places in the Seven Kingdoms you've never even been to.  Take a chance. If you want warm, there's Dorne.  4)  Back in the old country, you were slaves.  What's the rush to get back?

On the battlements, Jon admits to Sam he hasn't told Dany yet about his parents.  He's waiting for the right moment.  Then Edd joins them--it's a Night's Watch reunion, though they have a little fun at his expense, since in the meantime they've both become ladies men.  So much for that Oath.

In the castle hall, Tyrion and Jaime are having a heart-to-heart.  Hey, I thought Tyrion was listening to Bran's story.  The two brothers talk about how far they've traveled since episode one, when they were both in this same hall.  They're joined by Brienne and Pod.  Everyone's waiting for the battle.  They sit down and share a drink (though Brienne says no thanks).  She wants to get some sleep, which sounds like a good idea, but no one is going to get any sleep.  I don't know--I'd want to be well-rested before I took on the Night King.

Now Davos enters to warm himself by the fire.  Tormund comes in as well.  He tells a bizarre story about how at ten he was suckled by a lady giant.  I think he's making it up, but it might help explain his obsession with Brienne.

At the freezing battlements, we finally get Arya and the Hound together.  They still communicate through insults, but clearly love each other.  He explains why he's fighting for Jon--he fought for her, after all.  The intimate moment is ruined when Beric walks over.  The Hound asks Arya "Was he on your list?"--by far the funniest line of the night.  Arya exits with a parting insult.

Where's she going?  For better or worse, she and Gendry get together.  She's never been with a man and figures it may be now or never--usually it's the man who makes this argument. Anyway, we've seen a number of deflowerings on Game Of Thrones, but none so willing.  It may be shocking to see our little Arya stripping down, but hey, if death is coming soon, I'd expect similar scenes to be happening all over Winterfell. (We'd have seen it with Missandei and Grey Worm if not for...you know.)  By the way, Arya says she's not the Red Woman--would be pretty cool if she were.

Back at the hall, Tyrion notes how all of them there have survived so many battles. This is quite a meta moment, since we've been following these characters for years, as they survived fight after fight while so many costars didn't make it.  Next thing you know, Ser Jaime is officially knighting Brienne--it's a touching scene, and where the episode gets its title. (I didn't know Knights had this power, but I guess it's like a captain of a ship marrying people.)

In the courtyard, an unexplored intersection I mentioned last week is being dealt with--Lyanna Mormont is arguing with relative Jorah Mormont.  She wants to fight, so I guess she will. (She doesn't mention how he brought shame to the family, which I guess shows she's a softie down deep.)  Next Jorah talks to Samwell, who gives him his family's Valyrian steel sword.  Good--Jorah is a special Knight who deserves a special weapon.  And it's good to see Sam doesn't hold a grudge about his dad and bro being killed.

Back at the hall, Tyrion wants a song. (Easy for him to be jolly--he'll wait out the fight in the crypt).  Too bad Bronn isn't there--he's got the best singing voice. Turns out Pod isn't bad, and sings a decent enough song.  During the song, we get a montage of everyone while they await battle.

Then we get the biggest reveal of the night.  Jon and Dany are down in the crypt, looking at the statue of Lyanna Stark.  Dany brings up the story of her brother Rhaegar Targaryen, whom she's been told was a great guy--too bad he raped Lyanna.  This is a good opening for Jon, who spills the beans: actually, they loved each other, were secretly married and had a baby boy whom Ned Stark raised as a bastard.  How does he know this?  Bran and Samwell told him.  She's suspicious--the only two guys in the world who know this are a pal and a brother?  Search your feelings, Dany, you know it to be true.

Dany immediately sees the implications--he'd be the last male heir of the House Targaryen. (Notice she's not particularly bothered that she slept with her nephew--in her House, that's known as Tuesday.) Before he can discuss how he feels about his claim to the Iron Throne, the battle horn rings out and the fight is about to start.  And that's how we end the episode.  A question: did Jon really need to bring this up right now?  Just before a huge battle, with Dany--and her troops and dragons--an essential part of their forces.  The last thing they need is her preoccupied with other matters.

So anyway, that's the show.  Not a lot of action, but that never bothers me.  I guess we'll get more than enough carnage next week to even things out.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Just Kidding

I just read Paul Myers "authorized biography" of The Kids In The Hall.  Myers interviewed all the Kids as well as many who worked with them and admired them, so I don't think there's a better book available on the subject. (I'm not sure if there is another book available on the subject).

The Kids In The Hall, if you didn't know, are a comedy troupe of five Canadians, born in the late 50s and early 60s, best known for their TV show which lasted five seasons.  They've also done live appearances, a movie and have worked in various other projects individually.

I'm a fan, though I don't consider them as classic as, say, Monty Python--one of their inspirations.  And, in fact, their story reads a lot like Monty Python's, just a generation later.  Python was five writer-performers (plus an animator) who came together when one writing team (Terry Jones and Michael Palin) started working with another (Graham Chapman and John Cleese) plus a fifth who was on his own (Eric Idle).

In the case of The Kids In The Hall, you've got one duo who worked together in Calgary--Bruce McCulloch and Mark McKinney (a lot of "Mc" names in the troupe)--and who came to Toronto as part of a sketch comedy group The Audience.  Once there they met two other guys, Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald, who were in their own troupe, The Kids In The Hall.  Like Monty Python, the two teams had different strengths (Foley and McDonald were a bit more traditional while McCulloch and McKinney were a bit more conceptual). They decided to work together--flipped a coin to see which name they'd pick--and soon after, a fifth member, Scott Thompson, joined them.

There were other names who worked with them and fell out along the way.  One of them was Mike Myers, who followed his own very successful path. (Author Paul Myers is Mike's brother.)  Eventually, the five got a reputation as being one of the smartest, funniest troupes in town.  They knew all about Second City-style comedy, but wanted to move a bit beyond it, both grounding their pieces more in reality while also taking them to more absurdist levels.

They got the attention of Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels.  After some consideration, Michaels figured he shouldn't split up the group--but he also couldn't hire all of them for SNL--so he got them their own show.  Michaels brought them to New York and made them perform there, a baptism of fire to make sure their material would play everywhere, not just in Toronto.

It was tricky to find enough funding to underwrite the show, but HBO and the CBC both agreed to put in some money, and split up the rights between America and Canada.  After a few seasons, HBO dropped out and CBS stepped in.  The original show ran from the late 80s to the mid-90s.  However, it wasn't until it was rerun on Comedy Central that many caught the troupe (including me).

Reading the book, I was surprised how many routines I remembered.  Like Python, their show was a mix of live sketches and filmed bits shown to their live audience.  Some of the material that stays in the mind (and is now available on YouTube): the Headcrusher, Chicken Lady, Cabbage Head, Buddy Cole, the Flying Pig, the two cops, the two prostitutes and many others. (One bit that hasn't aged well is "He's hip, he's cool, he's 45"--when the troupe were in their 20s, a hip guy of 45 seemed ridiculous, but now they wish they were that young.)

The show ended after they'd produced 102 half-hour episodes, but the troupe wasn't finished.  Not unlike Python, it was time to make a movie.  The troupe had often fought, but it was nothing to what happened when they tried to write their film.  Dave Foley, who was working on a film of his own (The Wrong Guy) and had been offered the lead in a network sitcom (NewsRadio) didn't seem to be involved, and was rubbing the troupe the wrong way--and vice versa.  They had a serious falling out, and while Foley agreed to be in the movie, his participation was minimal.

The film, Brain Candy (1996)--about a pharmaceutical company that develops a mental health drug with dangerous side effects--was a flop, though has since become a cult classic.  The story is a bit wobbly, and often it's more intriguing than funny, but it does represent The Kids on a bigger scale, and shows a lot of imagination.  However, because it didn't make money, the troupe did not have a film career.

After the movie, the team went off in five individual directions.  Foley, as noted, became a TV star.  McCulloch got more into directing, helming such films as Dog Park and Stealing Harvard.  McDonald worked a lot in TV, including guest shots on Seinfeld, Friends and That 70s Show.  McKinney became a cast member on Saturday Night Live and today is a regular on Superstore.  Scott Thompson became a regular on The Larry Sanders Show.

But the group never split up. In fact, they patched things up and over the past 20 years have done numerous live appearances.  They also did a mini-series in 2010, Death Comes To Town.  Unfortunately, it wasn't at the same level as their original show.

Still, it's good to know the troupe is still around.  In any case, nothing can take away what they've already done.  They're a major influence on the comedy of the past generation, and I'm guessing will continue to have influence as younger people discover them.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Not So Merry

I was recently listening to the score of Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along (1981).  It's one of his best, with songs such as "Old Times," "Not A Day Goes By," "Our Time," "Good Thing Going" and "Opening Doors." Yet the show was a flop, the original, troubled production running only 16 performances.  Unlike most Sondheim shows, it's never had a Broadway revival.

After writing in a Japanese vein for Pacific Overtures (1976) and operatically for Sweeney Todd (1979), you might think that going back to 32-bar tunes would be like taking a vacation, but Sondheim claims it was one of the hardest scores he ever had to write--a modern show in an old style.

With such fine results musically, why did the show fail?  Probably because it's built on a gimmick--one that didn't work in the original play the musical's based on.  The story is told backwards.  We start in the present with the leads successful, but cynical and unhappy.  Each scene goes back in time as we see how they succeeded career-wise, but gave up a lot along the way.

Telling a story backwards is a questionable tactic. It can work if you're clever, and have something worthwhile to reveal as you uncover the past.  But in this case, it comes across as a trick that palls as the evening wears on. Just as bad, we start with people we don't care about, so why bother to see how they got this way?  Further, as was noted about the original, we start with a fabulously successful character and then try to answer how did he get into such a mess?

Sondheim and book writer George Furth would go on to tinker with the show for years before they were satisfied.  And Merrily has had some notable revivals.  But I'm still not sure it works.  It's worth seeing for that score, but the story is still weak and not particularly involving.  Though maybe it works better today because you go in knowing what to expect.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Back To Back

I just read Casseen Gaines' We Don't Need Roads: The Making Of The Back To The Future Trilogy.  Most of the book deals with the first film, since that was the blockbuster that came out of nowhere, establishing the world of BTTF.

The movie has a lot of dramatic irony, where we know what's going on while the characters don't.  And that how the book works, at least for the original.  No one could know the film they were working on would turn out so big.

The Bobs--Gale and Zemeckis--were a writing team that had done good work, but their films (1941, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Used Cars) had not done well. Zemeckis stayed in the game as a director when he finally had a hit with Romancing The Stone (not his script).  But even so, Gale and Zemeckis's script for Back To The Future was turned down by every studio.  (I've read the original screenplay that didn't sell--it's a fine piece of work, though the team made considerable improvements before it was filmed.)

They finally got it set up an Universal and--this was what I wanted to know about most--it almost died before it was completed.  Zemeckis had wanted Michael J. Fox, a TV star on Family Ties at the time, for the lead of Marty McFly.  However, though producer Steven Spielberg was friends with Family Ties creator Gary David Goldberg, Goldberg wouldn't even show the script to Fox, much less let him out of his contract.

They cast Eric Stoltz as Marty.  Zemeckis and Gale wouldn't have chosen him but Sid Sheinberg, head of Universal, was a champion, since he'd seen Stoltz's leading work in Mask, not yet released.  They shot with Stoltz for over a month and it just wasn't working.  Zemeckis and Spielberg convinced Sheinberg to let them fire Stoltz (paying him his entire salary) and work out a deal for Fox.  A lot of films would have been shut down for good, but Sheinberg believed in the team.

The recasting probably made the difference, but it must have been nerve-wracking.  It's bad enough to fail normally, but this would have been extra-special failure, spending millions more just to flop.  But, as we know, the rest is Future history.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Tomei To Me

I watched a video on the top ten worst Oscar wins for Best Actress or Supporting Actress.  Some I agreed with, some I didn't, but one of the worst things was the lack of memory.  Most of the choices are from the last 30 years or so, because I guess no one remembers anything older.

But the main reason I watched was to see if they included the one choice that always seems to make such lists.  And I wasn't disappointed. (Or, to put it another way, I was disappointed.) Sure enough, at #3, was Marisa Tomei winning Best Supporting Actress for My Cousin Vinny (1992).

Why is this on the list?  She's great in the film.  A comic dynamo.  Her scenes are memorable and she definitely adds something to the proceedings--something I'm not sure too many other actresses could have pulled off as well.

The video complains her performance is not layered enough.  Well, as the award says, it's for a supporting role--her job wasn't to carry the film, but to add some fun, which she did exceedingly well.  The video, in fact, seems to make the common mistake of preferring drama (with all those layers) over comedy (and doing something cheap like getting laughs).

Let's look at Tomei's competition.  There's Judy Davis, who was good in Husband And Wives, but not overwhelming (partly because the film is a bit overrated).  There's Vanessa Redgrave, who actually I found kind of weak in Howards End.  There's Joan Plowright, who was fun in Enchanted April, though really, that film is as slight as My Cousin Vinny, maybe slighter.  And there's Miranda Richardson in Damage, a performance I don't even remember.

Sure, they were all British, and perhaps split to vote, allowing Tomei to slip through.  But who cares what the reason?  The Academy, for once, got it right.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

GE

Let's say goodbye to Georgia Engel, who died a few days ago.  She had a way about her like no one else.

After doing some stage work, Engel's first movie was Taking Off (1971), Milos Forman's first film after he moved to America, and one of his oddest.  It's about how times are changing, and though it isn't well remembered, from the start you can see that Georgia is a memorable presence.

Engel also had a weird role as a crime victim in a curious film about a French hit man in Los Angeles called The Outside Man.  Then she booked a guest shot on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, playing Georgette, a fellow employee of Rhoda Morgenstern's who shows up at one of Mary's parties. It was supposed to be a one-off--she only had a few lines--but Engel was so delightful they asked her back.

Before long she became a regular and Georgette started dating, then married, anchorman Ted Baxter.  The relationship helped to deepen his character, and the show as well.  Georgia herself became a fan favorite as the goofy and generally cheerful woman who may not appear to be all there, but knows what's what when it matters.  Engel received two Emmy nominations before the show left the air.

(Perhaps this is an odd thing to note right now, but Valerie Harper was diagnosed with brain cancer over five years ago. It's good to know she's still around, but since then, Mary Tyler Moore and now Engel have passed away.)

She continued to do good work over the next few decades, mostly on TV.  Other notable roles include Shirley Burleigh on Coach and Pat MacDougall on Everybody Loves Raymond.  She even got three Emmy nominations as Guest Actress for the latter.

But she'll always be Georgette to me.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Catching Up

I watched "Winterfell"--the premiere episode of the final season of Game Of Thrones--24 hours after it debuted.  Waiting that long, I discovered how hard it is to avoid spoilers.  As soon as the episode was over, everyone on the internet started talking about it.  Anyway, "Winterfell" was filled with reunions, as expected, and clearly big battles are to follow.  Right now we're catching up with the show, just as numerous characters are catching up with each other.

We start (after snazzy new credits) with people lined up at Winterfell, including Arya, to see the massive army that's come up North to fight the White Walkers.  There's Daenerys--in a fabulous off-white winter outfit--and Jon leading them (from the middle), along with Tyrion, Varys, Grey Worm, Missandei and the rest.  Above them fly the two (used to be three) dragons--Arya seems to be thrilled by the sight, though Sansa at the battlements looks a little concerned.

I generally remember where we left off from last season, but it's hard to recall who hasn't met whom in how many years.  But from the way Jon Snow reacts, it's clear he hasn't seen any of the Starks in a long time.  First he greets Bran, sitting (natch) in the courtyard, followed by sis Sansa, now the Lady of Winterfell.  His favorite, Arya, is around somewhere, though not available.  Sansa seems a little cold about the appearance of the Unsullied, the Dothraki, two dragons and, above all, a hot new queen.

Bram, by the way, knows who Jon Snow's real parents are (Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen), but he's not telling.  I guess it's not the time--let bro unpack his bags first.  But the Three-Eyed Raven notes there's no time to waste anyway, not with the Night King on the march.

So the Starks hold a meeting, and want all the houses to fall back to Winterfell. Young Lord Umber will hurry back to fetch his people.  Why make a point of this--wonder if he'll have some trouble?  Lady Lyanna Mormont, a little older and no less tough, explains to Snow that the North isn't thrilled that he left as their king and has since bent the knee to Dany. (While we're at it, does Lyanna know disgraced relative Jorah is Dany's advisor?  That'd be a reunion I'd like to see.)  Jon and Tyrion try to explain they need allies right now, especially Dany.  I realize Northerners are Iowa Stubborn, but I find this all kind of boring.  Yes, they're set in their ways, but certainly they understand by now that everything is at stake.  Haven't they ever heard the phrase "Winter Is Coming"?  Well, it's come.  Time for everyone to concentrate on the goal at hand.  We don't need all these wet, frozen blankets.

Everyone is grumpier still when the Imp says the Lannister armies will soon join them.  Meanwhile, they've imported dragonglass so Gendry can forge new weapons.  Considering dragonglass easily kills the enemy, as well as fire, and they can't travel through water, and if you kill one all those he or she converted will also die, these zombies don't sound that scary.

Sansa mocks Tyrion for believing Cersei will help them out.  Good point--in fact, how is it Tyrion can believe such nonsense?  He's usually smart--it's sort of like Littlefinger getting dumber in the last few seasons.  It is nice to see Tyrion and Sansa back together--it's easy to forget they were married and Sansa ran off after Joffrey was killed at his wedding celebration.

Out at the weirwood tree Arya and Jon finally get their reunion.  They were close growing up, and I don't think they've seen each other since before Ned was executed.  Arya explains for all the problems Jon is having getting everyone together, she stands with Sansa (something she rarely did in the past) and hopes Jon remembers the importance of family.  Et tu, Arya?

Now we go to King's Landing, where Qyburn tells Cersei about the dead breaking through the Wall.  Good, she replies.  Meanwhile, Euron's ships, carrying the Golden Company, are arriving.  I'm not saying that Dany couldn't trust Cersei, but mightn't she have left a spy or two in KL just to check for this sort of thing.  Then they could send a raven with the latest so Dany can fly down and light up the ships when it's clear Euron hasn't gone back to the Iron Islands like he promised.

Euron still holds Yara, who's getting tired of waiting to die.  Euron (a character no one likes, though it's cool he's got a name that sounds like urine) determines to bed Cersei, and through his insolence, does just that. It helps he's brought her ships, troops and horses (sorry, no elephants--they don't sail well).

Meanwhile, Qyburn visits Bronn (who's busy with some prostitutes) to tell him the Queen has a request: kill her brothers.  Yep, Tyrion and Jaime, Bronn's benefactors, are now his targets.  Don't know if I like this development.  I hope Bronn's smart enough (he's probably not faithful enough) to avoid killing them, but who knows on GOT?  He's got to kill them with a crossbow, just as Tyrion killed Tywin. (Maybe he will. Or maybe it'll be a Manchurian Candidate sort of twist.)

I might add at present we're far more interested in the characters at Winterfell, and all this stuff at King's Landing is comparatively dull.

While Euron is otherwise disposed, Theon and a small crew sneak onto his ship and rescue Yara pretty easily.  You'd think that ship would be especially well protected, but I guess no one figured there'd be any problem.  Yara, after head-butting her brother, accepts his help and soon they're sailing away.  She wants to take back the throne at the Iron Islands.  But it's clear Theon wants to fight with the Starks, and Yara tells him to go. 1) He's still got a lot to make up for, and while this might not be enough, it's a start. 2) After Dorne, the Iron Islands are the most boring place in the show, so we're all happy Theon isn't going back.

Back at Winterfell, Varys, Tyrion and Davos are trying to figure out how to get the loyal (that's putting it nicely) Northerners on their side.  They'll have to earn it, says Davos, who's been there a while.  He suggests, in fact, the Seven Kingdoms be co-ruled by a woman and a man this time around.

Meanwhile, Dany and Jon are prancing around like schoolkids.  Dany is worried Sansa doesn't like her.  Have we stumbled into an episode of Square Pegs? They go to her dragons and Dany suggests he get on one.  She's surprisingly casual about getting Jon to ride a dragon, since it's seems like a pretty good way to die.  But he catches on--he is a Targaryen, after all.  There's special music written for the scene, though perhaps "Can You Read My Mind?" would have worked.  (And don't forget, never raven and fly.)  It's good for the dragons to have a little fun, since they've been moping around since they got to the North.

The two land near a beautiful waterfall and we're reminded of the fun times Jon had at a hot spring with Ygritte (except this time around he knows something). They make kissy-face as the dragons watch.

Gendry makes a battle axe of dragonglass for the Hound, who then runs into Arya.  Another big reunion--in fact, they may have the best relationship in the entire show.  He reminds her she left him to die, and she counters first she robbed him.  He calls her a cold little bitch and says that's why she's still alive. High praise from the Hound.  While I would have liked a little more, it's good to see they still care about each other though they can't openly admit it.

Arya goes on to talk to Gendry--another reunion--and they both seem to have a gleam in their eye for the other. Fine, but let's not waste too much time on this relationship, please?  She wants a special weapon made of Valyrian steel.  Now this is the stuff we want to see.

Sansa tells Snow that the House Glover isn't coming to Winterfell.  She explains it's because he abandoned the North.  Once again, there aren't that many episodes left and already I'm tired of Jon explaining the obvious point that he did what he had to do.  What good is being King of the North if everyone's dead?  (He also assures Sansa that Dany is not like her father.  The Targaryens are a family where madness skips a generation.)

In another quiet chamber, Dany and Mormont run into Samwell.  This is the guy who cured Jorah, so they're grateful.  He'll certainly do well in the Citadel after she's Queen.  They're having a good time when she mentions "oh, by the way, I killed your father and brother when they wouldn't bend the knee." Sam didn't like his family much, but it's still a shock and he walks out--though you might have thought he'd tell her "by the way, you're sleeping with your nephew."

He goes out in the courtyard and there's creepy Bran saying it's time for Samwell to tell Jon about his parentage.  He explains Jon trusts Sam. (And he doesn't trust Bran, the kid he grew up with? Sounds like Bran just doesn't want the hassle.) So Sam finds Jon in the crypt and after a little talk about Dany killing his family, breaks the news.  Poor Jon, a simple bastard who didn't want power but was named leader of the Night's Watch, then King of the North, and now has the best claim to the Iron Throne.  Jon isn't sure how to take it.  And how will Dany take it?  She's spent quite a lot of time planning to be in charge. (Maybe Davos's idea isn't so bad after all.)

Then we cut to a place I had to check on the internet, because I had no idea where it was.  Turns out it's the Last Hearth, and Tormund and Beric Dondarrion are looking around.  They've seen the destruction of the Wall and are on their way back to Winterfell.  They run into Edd from the Night's Watch and compare notes.  Then they see young Lord Umber nailed to the wall with a bunch of limbs attractively attached.  The first episode ever started with Spirograph designs the White Walkers made with dead bodies, so we've come full circle (or spiral).

Suddenly, Umber awakes and it's as if we're in a crossover with The Walking Dead.  They torch him before he can cause any trouble.

Finally, we meet the only major character missing this episode as Jaime Lannister arrives at Winterfell.  The Imp is expecting a whole army, but this is all he's going to get.  Across the courtyard, staring at him, is creepy Bran.  This has got to be the reunion with the longest wait time, since Jaime pushed Bran out the window around the same time Tiger Woods won his previous major.  I assume Bran remembers, because he knows everything now.  Wonder what the two will have to say?  We'll have to wait till next week.

So that's it.  Not a great episode, and a lot of table setting, but it's still nice to have the gang back. Hard to believe only five more left in the entire series.

Monday, April 15, 2019

By The Way

I haven't yet watched the latest episode of Game Of Thrones, so please don't tell me what happened.

Ides Idea

Today isn't just the deadline for your tax return.  I got a post card last month from Fidelity month reminding me that April 15th is also the deadline for an IRA contribution.

I guess that makes sense, though I think it would be better if, like our taxable income, such contributions were cut off by the new year.

Looking at the card, I saw a small notice at the bottom:

Investing involves risk, including risk of loss.

What's this?  There's risk involved?  And that risk could even mean losing money?!  Why didn't you tell me?  You almost had me, Fidelity, but you foolishly let me know this is not an ironclad guarantee that I'll be better off.  That was a close one.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

What A Day

December 7th is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.  And 9/11 has come to symbolize tragedy in our national lexicon.  So I've often wondered why we don't stop and think for a while on April 14th.

What happened on April 14th?  Oh nothing, except Lincoln was shot.  In 1865, attending a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre in Washington, he was shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth.  Booth, an actor, knew the play well, and apparently timed the shot so that it was during one of the plays biggest laughs.

I realize Lincoln is honored in many other ways, but I'm a bit surprised we don't have a moment of silence on April 14th, or flags at half mast.

By the way, if that's not bad enough, April 14th is also the day Titanic stuck an iceberg.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

AG

Happy birthday, Al Green, one of the greatest soul singers ever.  His biggest hits were in the 70s--he had a sound like no one else's, and it still sounds as good today as it did back then.






Friday, April 12, 2019

Late In The Game

I saw Sound Pictures: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, The Later Years, 1966-2016 in my library, so I checked it out.  Certainly the book covers interesting times, as it includes just about everything the Beatles did starting with Revolver.

But I would very much like to read the first book, Maximum Volume, which discusses Martin's early years.  However, that wasn't available at the library.

So do I want to read the second book first--or never read the first book at all?  It's not just about getting things in the right order.  The author cleverly split the Beatles' story in half, knowing what his audience wants.  But the first half of story, from 1962 to 1965, where Martin discovers (and is charmed by) The Beatles and teaches them how to use the studio, is probably more exciting than the tale of a superstar group going on to new levels of sophistication.

So maybe I should just return the book for now and wait till I get a chance to read the first one.  By the way, Sounds Pictures is well over 500 pages. I like George Martin, but couldn't his whole story have been told in just one reasonably-sized book?:Martin himself thought so--his memoir, All You Need Is Ears, was around 300 pages.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Woody, Should He?

There aren't too many filmmakers more reliable than Woody Allen.  Since 1969, with rare exceptions, he's come out with a new film every year. (He's reliable in that he releases films--quality-wise he's all over the place.)

But now his backers wish he weren't making so many pictures.  In the #MeToo era, he's become persona non grata.  In fact, his latest completed film, A Rainy Day In New York, is at present unreleased, and it's uncertain will ever see the light of day. (Something similar happened to Louis C. K.'s feature I Love You Daddy.)

So Woody's suing Amazon Studios for $68 million since they want to back out of their four-picture contract.  Perhaps it wasn't a great deal when it was signed--Allen may have meant prestige, but not necessarily profit--but there's no question Amazon now wants nothing to do with him.

Woody argues Amazon can't walk away over "baseless allegations" about his behavior (his stepdaughter says he molested her 25 years ago).  Amazon responded it's not just that, but also his "controversial comments" and the "increasing refusal of top talent to work with him...."

It's not clear what's in the contract--though there's apparently no morals clause--but can Amazon legally blame Woody for their problems?  The molestation allegation may have resurfaced, but it was around when they signed the contract.  As for top talent not working with him, that's still to be seen, and, besides, why should Woody be blacklisted by Amazon because other people want to punish him?

And as for his controversial comments, he was known to speak his mind when he signed the contract.  And are his controversial statements that controversial?

Woody has made statements supporting #MeToo in general. But some were bothered by his saying "The whole Harvey Weinstein thing is very sad for everybody involved...Tragic for the poor women that were involved, sad for Harvey that his life is so messed up." I assume everyone feels for women who are harassed or attacked, but is it so completely beyond the pale to also feel sad for the mess that is Harvey Weinstein's life?  There are different ways to interpret this, but wouldn't it have been better if Harvey never harassed anyone and so weren't in trouble right now?  And even if you violently disagree with Allen, is this enough to drum him out of show business?

Another "controversial" statement dealt with Allen warning against a "witch hunt atmosphere...."  Even if you think Woody is taking the problem too lightly, it shouldn't be considered outrageous to say that we should be careful about a movement going too far, no matter how positive the cause. In fact, if you're not allowed to criticize a movement, it's a sign that things probably have gone too far.

So maybe Amazon blew it with this contract. And maybe it was due to unforeseeable changes in the social atmosphere.  But even if Amazon is stuck with a white elephant, that doesn't mean they don't have to pay up.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Overday!

Here's one I missed.  A friend sent me the obit of Ron Sweed, aka The Ghoul, who died, fittingly, on April Fools' Day.

If you grew up at the right time and place--a few cities, but especially Detroit--you knew The Ghoul.  He was a highly popular weekly TV host of bad horror movies.  He wore a fright wig, sunglasses with only one lens and a fake goatee.  (The character was inspired by a previous Cleveland horror host Ghoulardi.)

The Ghoul had little budget, but a lot of energy.  He'd add sound bites to the film to mock it.  And in between he'd do comedy routines.  His most popular character was Froggy, a rubber frog he'd abuse in different ways, often blowing it up with firecrackers. (Firecrackers were big for The Ghoul.  Kids would build model cars and send them in, begging him to blow them up.)

He had a lot of catch phrases. He liked to invoke "Parma," for some reason.  And he regularly said "Overday!," which was apparently a positive thing.  And Froggy's catch phrase was "Hiya hiya hiya!"

He also had a lot go-to musical cues.  For instance, Froggy's theme was "Night Owl Blues" by the Lovin' Spoonful.  He also liked the Osmond's "He's The Light, He's The Light Of The World" and John Lennon's "Well Well Well."



So here's to you, Ghoul.  We won't forget.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

SC

Seymour Cassel has died.  A popular character actor for over 50 years, he's best known to film fans for the work he did in independent films, especially with John Cassavetes.  In fact, his first film appearance was in Cassavetes' groundbreaking Shadows (1958).  He went on to appear in several other Cassavetes films, garnering an Oscar nomination for Faces (1968).

He also worked regularly with Wes Anderson, appearing in Rushmore (1998) (as Jason Schwartzman's barber father), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004).

 Not that he didn't do more conventional fare.  He worked regularly in television in the 1960s, and appeared in films such as Convoy (1978), Johnny Be Good (1988), Dick Tracy (1990), Honeymoon In Vegas (1992) and Indecent Proposal (1993).

Perhaps my favorite performance was in In The Soup (1992), a low-budget comedy about low-budget filmmaking.  Steve Buscemi is a screenwriter and Cassel a shady producer who promises to get financing by hook or crook.

I saw the film in Santa Monica not long after I moved to Los Angeles.  After leaving the theatre, who should I run into but Cassel.  I asked "Are you Seymour Cassel?" to be sure.  He said yes, then asked who I was.  We talked a little and I mentioned I was writing screenplays.  He told me to let him know if anything I wrote was getting produced.  An actor to the end.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Is An Emmy Such An Awful Thing?

Some odd news--the Justice Department is warning the Motion Picture Academy that changing their rules to limit streaming services (read Netflix) from winning Oscars might raise antitrust and open competition law.

I don't get this.  There's no right to win an Oscar.  I don't even see how there's any right to compete for an Oscar.  The Oscars have all sorts of ornate rules as to what is eligible.  For instance, if a movie is shown on TV first, no nomination.  And if a movie is shown at a festival but doesn't get distribution for at least a week, no nomination.  Seems to me making it tougher for streaming services to get nominations is the sort of thing they do.

But even if they'd never done anything like this, so what?  The Oscars are run by a private organization (and the Academy has a colorful history--one reason it was created was to hold the line against unionization), so they can decide whatever they want.  Just as, say, the Tonys are only given to shows that run on Broadway, ignoring the considerably larger group of shows that run off-Broadway, or aren't done in New York at all, why can't the Oscars decide they want to show movies that are meant first to have serious theatrical runs.

In any case, there are plenty of better things the DOJ can do.  Let's hope they figure that out before this goes on much longer.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

What A Difference Half A Century Makes

There were many paths that led up to the internet, but some feel April 7, 1969, is the proper day to commemorate its symbolic birth.  Why?  Because the Arpanet, which was the essence of what became the internet, published the RFC--Request for Comments--process on that date.  It's still in use today, underlying the internet.

Of course, no one foresaw the change it would bring into our lives.  Indeed, even people heavily involved in the computer world a generation later didn't see how central the internet would become.

I often wonder why so many didn't see how important the internet would be.  They thought people would be happy with their computer doing computer things--maybe it's because they lived their lives soldering stuff in their garage, and didn't want to reach out to others.

That's how innovation often works, and why top-down planning isn't enough.  Look at our phones. Or should I say "phones." Mobile phones were a great advance, but it turned out, after a certain point, what people didn't want was a better phone and email system, but a device in our hands that could do almost anything (and could last a long time on a short charge).  That's why the mighty BlackBerry that dominated the market not so long ago fell on hard times.

Anyway, happy 50th, internet.  I'd wish you 50 more, but who knows what we'll have by then.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

A Golden (Sponge Cake With Creamy Filling) Day

Today is National Twinkie Day.  I didn't know that either.

Some interesting facts about the Twinkie:

--invented in Illinois on April 6, 1930

--the name was inspired by a billboard in St. Louis for "Twinkle Toe Shoes"

--the filling was originally banana cream but, due to shortages in WWII, was changed to vanilla cream

--Dan White, who killed Harvey Milk, claimed he had diminished capacity due to depression which was shown by his switch to sugary foods like Twinkies, and his argument became known as the "Twinkie defense"

--in 2012 Hostess announced was filing for bankruptcy and Twinkie production was temporarily shut down

--there are many variations of the snack, one of the most popular being deep-fried Twinkie

--Twinkies have appeared in a number of  movies, including Ghostbusters, Die Hard, WALL-E and Zombieland

Here's another fact--I haven't eaten a Twinkie since I was a kid.  Maybe I should try one today.

Friday, April 05, 2019

He's No Locke

Happy birthday, Thomas Hobbes, one of the most important of modern philosophers.

He wrote on a lot of subjects, but is best known for his work on government, in particular, his Leviathan.  To Hobbes, we created civil society to raise us out of a state of nature and avoid the war of all against all. As he famously puts it (this has got to be in the top ten most famous philosophical quotes of all time), the natural state of humanity, if it weren't for government, is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

There is a counterargument that we're born free but are in chains everywhere, but I'd say most agree, in general, with Hobbes.  So we need to make a social contract, and in doing so, give up some of our freedom in letting others rule us.

Where we have trouble with Hobbes is his idea of what sort of power we need to control us.  He felt a sovereign holding all power--essentially an absolute monarch--is the answer.  There are still plenty of dictators around, and millions who long for a strong hand to rule things, but, in general, this sort of leadership is not considered cool any more.

So thanks, Hobbes.  But no thanks.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Countdown

Fifty-five years ago today, here were the top five songs on the Billboard Hot 100:

5.



4.



3.



2.



1.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

LL

Congratulation to Lori Lightfoot, the mayor-elect of Chicago.  I didn't even know she was running.

I vaguely knew her in law school.  It's good to see she's doing well.

JB

Happy birthday, Jeff Barry.  There were so many great songwriters in the Brill Building era--including the husband and wife teams Goffin and King, Mann and Weill, and today's honoree, Jeffy Barry and wife Ellie Greenwich.










Tuesday, April 02, 2019

See My Way

I'm a huge fan of The Who, and have read Dave Marsh's story of the band as well as Pete Townshend's memoir.  Roger Daltrey's Thanks A Lot Mr Kibblewhite, may be the best book yet.  It certainly moves the fastest, telling the story of an eventful life in under 250 pages. (It's also well-written, which suggests a ghost writer, though none in credited.) The title refers to his headmaster, who told him he'd never amount to anything.

Of all the major rock bands, probably none was made up of such distinct individuals as The Who.  It's surprising they stuck together as long as they did.  They certainly fought a lot, sometimes physically.  Daltrey was probably the toughest member of the band.  Raised in post-war poverty, and kicked out of school and working in a factory at 15, he had to be.

Daltrey loved music and saw it as a way to get off the path that life seemed to have in store.  In fact, though as a young man he had a shotgun marriage (not uncommon in his circle), he made the decision to keep on playing with The Who (a financially dubious decision at the time) rather than staying home and taking care of his family.  He was a guy who didn't believe in looking back. He did financially take care of his wife and kid, but eventually found the love of his life, Heather, and started a new family. (Part of the new deal, and he claims Heather understood it, was that he would and could seek out companionship while on the road. In fact, Daltrey has fathered children in a number of countries.)

The Who's regular line-up was in place by 1964, before Daltrey was 20.  They had a great sound, but here's where their story is a bit different from other major groups.  Several months after The Beatles recorded their first tune, they were the top band in Britain, and by early 1964 had conquered America.  The Rolling Stones followed in their wake and within a year had hit it big as well.

The Who, on the other hand, though they released great singles throughout the 60s, didn't really make it big until they put out their rock opera Tommy in 1969.  And it was a bumpy ride along the way.  At one point, in fact, Daltrey was kicked out of the band. He was tired of the other three getting high and playing lousy, so after one gig he flushed Keith Moon's stash.  A fight followed and Daltrey knocked Moon out.  The band decided he had to go.  However, they soon discovered without the face and voice of The Whoe, they weren't doing as well, so they brought him back.  There was a tentative truce, but it took a long time for the psychic wounds to heal.

After Tommy, they were flying high, but well into the 70s weren't make much money (claims Daltrey).  Apparently, high expenses (including destruction of instruments, hotel rooms and cars parked in swimming pools) were part of it, but perhaps a bigger part was questionable management.  It took a while to convince Pete Townshend to make a change--he was the only one who didn't have to worry about money since he wrote the songs and got the royalties.

Throughout the 70s, the band went from strength to strength, selling out stadiums and releasing albums such as Who's Next and Quadrophenia.  But drummer Moon, who'd always overindulged, was having personal problems, which led him to drink so much and take so many drugs that he couldn't play like he once did.  Then, in 1978, he died.  Daltrey says it was a shock since the band had been expecting him to die for so long, by that point they figured he'd keep on going.

The who were never the same, but decided to carry on.  And during their next tour, 11 fans were crushed to death in Cincinnati. (Not long after, they played Detroit.  I saw them, and Pete was paranoid about the fans rushing the stage.) The group took a break and, after a little more touring, split up.  Daltrey says he had to leave since he felt their new drummer, Kenney Jones, didn't fit their style.  Daltrey spent much of the 80s concentrating on his acting and solo music career.

In a way, The Who died with Moon.  In another way--fiscally--they never died.  Daltrey and bassist Entwistle needed money, so the band eventually had a reunion tour in 1989, and have been performing one way or another since.  They were about to begin a new tour starting in Las Vegas in 2002 when Entwistle succumbed to the rock and roll lifestyle. (He went to bed with a stripper at the Hard Rock Hotel and never awoke, dying of a heart attack induced by cocaine overdose.)

It was a tough blow, but The Who, even at half strength, still sold tickets.  Daltrey and Townshend have been doing shows, on and off, since then.  As long as they stay healthy, it looks like the two will continue rocking.  Townshend had his say in his book, so it's nice that Daltrey let's us see things his way.

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