Friday, May 31, 2019

LR

Leon Redbone has died.  He was 69.  Really?  When he first came on the scene in the 1970s he seemed to be 69.





Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Last Word

Here's a piece in Variety about great TV finales.  You see these every now and then, usually around the end of the TV season (not that there is a TV season any more).  Such lists usually include classic endings like Newhart, maybe a controversial pick like The Sopranos (which I thought worked) and will even mention disasters like Seinfeld or St. Elsewhere or Lost.

The whole list, to save you a click, is:

30 Rock
The Americans
Breaking Bad
ER
Halt And Catch Fire
Happy Endings
M*A*S*H
Newhart
Nurse Jackie
Parks And Recreation
Six Feet Under
The Wire

A strange collection.  Let me make a few comments:

I never watched The Americans, ER, Happy Endings or Six Feet Under, so there's nothing for me to say. (Though I understand Six Feet Under ended with each character's death, which fit in with the style and funereal theme of the show.  Doesn't sound bad, though this had already been done in the novel The World According To Garp.)  And I gave up on Nurse Jackie after a season or two. Perhaps their finale worked--guess I'll never find out.  Edie Falco took part in The Sopranos finale, of course, so if Nurse Jackie had a classic ending, she must be especially pleased.

Newhart made it.  What did I tell you?  Though I don't see The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which ended just right.  Are people forgetting?

I thought 30 Rock and Parks And Recreation had decent endings, but were they classic?  I might add on comedies, the endings, where we send the characters off to something new, feel unsettling.  Sure, things change on sitcoms--people get married, have kids, move--but what we like are the characters being themselves, and if we end the show with them trying new challenges, it might make sense artistically, but it's not how we want to remember them.

Breaking Bad has become acknowledged as a classic finale.  It certainly wrapped things up, but I considered it just a solid episode, not a great one.  There's nothing wrong with that--in fact, a solid episode of BB is very good indeed.  But perhaps the finale is a bit overrated.

Not unlike Breaking Bad, though not nearly as watched, Halt And Catch Fire ended well, though I don't know if the finale, or even the last season, was the show at its absolute best.

And now, the most confusing additions to the list, M*A*S*H and The Wire.  Yes, CBS had a happy ending with monumental ratings, but that M*A*S*H borefest took forever, and went for sloggy sentiment over comedy (which, to be fair, was closer to the balance the series had moved to in its later seasons).  It should be on the list of the worst finales.  And something similar needs to be said for The Wire.  Just about everyone agrees its last season was its weakest, and while the final episode gave all the characters (still living) a future, it just didn't compare to the show at its height.

The list is packed with modern shows--better to attract readers, I guess.  But as such, I'm surprised they didn't mention The Leftovers, the best finale in recent years.  The show was always as much poetry as plot and, coming from the guy who made Lost, there was worry that they wouldn't know how to end it.  But they did it just right.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Crystal Visions

Oh, we just missed Stevie Nicks' birthday.  I don't think she'll mind that we're a few days off.  After all, Stevie was a latecomer to Fleetwood Mac, but she, more than anyone else, came to symbolize the band and all it could be.






Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Song And Dance And Voice

Tonight is the finale of Fosse/Verdon, a miniseries about two of the biggest names ever on Broadway.  They were married (though often separated) and regularly collaborated as choreographer and star--on Damn Yankees, Sweet Charity and Chicago, to name the biggest hits.  Fosse became a success as a film director as well, scoring an Oscar for Cabaret (a show he didn't do on Broadway).  Verdon also worked in movies and TV, starring in the film version of Damn Yankees and years later in Cocoon.

The show, starring Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams, is based on Sam Wasson's Fosse biography (or so it's claimed--the book is a start, but I assume they use a number of other sources).  It's weird seeing a show devoted to a Broadway couple from decades ago, since most Americans don't know anything about them, or much care.

And it's not just Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon being portrayed.  A whole panoply of show biz names, most of whom mean little to the public, are on display: Hal Prince, Neil Simon, Cy Feuer, Chita Rivera, Joel Grey, George Abbott, Michael Kidd and, above all, Paddy Chayefsky (Fosse's closest friend) and Ann Reinking (the dancer who became Fosse's new muse when he moved on from Verdon).

I'd recommend the show, though I suppose it's a bit too late now with the last of eight episodes airing tonight. (Though with binge watching these days, nothing is ever too late).

While the show is a bit melodramatic--though it's fair to say Fosse and Verdon's lives were melodramatic--what impressed me most is how well the two leads captured their characters.  Okay, maybe they can't quite dance or sing as well (though Williams is pretty good, and Rockwell is at least a better dancer and singer than Roy Scheider), but they really capture the feel.  The hair and makeup help transform them, even if we can see the original actors underneath, but they've truly got the voices down.  Both Fosse and Verdon were public people, so fans know what they sound like--bravo to both Rockwell and Williams who are not doing simple imitations, but drawing you in so that you believe these characters.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Remember

Today is Memorial Day.  It used to be known as Decoration Day, where people would decorate the graves of soldiers with flowers.

An organized day of remembrance started in the years following the Civil War.  There is dispute over precisely when and where it started, so don't ask me to settle the debate.  At first, it was about honoring the Civil War dead, but eventually, other wars were folded in.  It didn't become commonly known as "Memorial Day" until after World War II.

It used to be celebrated on May 30, but in 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act to create three-day weekends for a number of holidays.  Thus, starting in 1971, Memorial Day has taken place on the last Monday in May. (So don't check for mail today).

So let's take some time out and think about those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Long Shot

Here's a headline from a recent local news story

"Framed Photo Of Lord's Prayer Stops Bullet Fired Into Home"

Ah, a walk down memory lane.  This sort of story--where someone is physically protected by a religious artifact--used to be a perennial (perhaps still is).  Indeed, it became part of the popular culture.

In fact, when I read the piece, I couldn't help but think of Woody Allen's parody:

Years ago, my mother gave me a bullet, and I put it in my breast pocket.  Two years after that, I was walking down the street when a berserk evangelist heaved a Gideon Bible out a hotel room window, hitting me in the chest.  Bible would have gone through my heart if it wasn't for the bullet.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Not So Great

I recently watched The Great Man Votes.  It was not a major film in 1939--almost a programmer.  It's notable in that it's one of the last films starring John Barrymore, who had been a serious alcoholic for several years at this point, and is an early film directed by Garson Kanin, who's better known as a writer.

I don't mean to pick on a film that, though it has a small reputation, is not considered any great shakes.  But I have to say it has serious plot problems, something the Hollywood studios back then were usually able to avoid.  It's based on a short story, and I'm guessing in print it was a lot clearer.

In The Great Man Votes Barrymore plays a characters who's seen better days.  His two children believe he could be great, but his community doesn't think much of him and he's barely hanging on.  And then--here's the part of the plot that makes no sense--he becomes very important because 1) he's the only voter in his precinct and 2) this precinct has become very influential for some reason.

The film has its charms, and even when soused, Barrymore is worth watching.  But the central plot point comes out of nowhere and is never properly clarified.  There's a scene where a ward heeler, played by William Demarest, "explains" the situation, but I don't get it.  If you want to see a solid Hollywood comedy about corrupt politics from the same era--one that also features Demarest as a ward heeler--try The Great McGinty (1940) instead.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Bart's Blunders or Layers Of Checks And Balances

I've already blogged about how Peter Bart's book Infamous Players is dedicated to Harvey Weinstein.  But you can't blame Bart for not knowing when he wrote the book that Harvey's name would some day be mud.

However, you can blame him for playing fast and loose with the facts.  The story of his years at Paramount are a fun read, but I question his memory (or honesty).  He always seems to have known what would be a flop or a hit. Admittedly, that's what everyone in Hollywood does after the fact.

But he also reproduces old discussions, using quotation marks.  While I don't expect word-for-word accuracy, he goes too far.  For instance, here he is having a discussion with studio head Robert Evans about who'll adapt the musical Paint Your Wagon into a screenplay for the (disastrous) movie version. 

Evans said defensively [...] "We're hiring the best writer in the business to fix it, Paddy Chayefsky."

"Paddy Chayefsky writes movies like Network or Hospital," I said. "He writes great satire, but this is a period musical--"

This discussion never happened.  Paint Your Wagon was released to general disdain in 1969.  Hospital came out in 1971, Network in 1976.  It's not as if movie fans--you know, the kind who'd read Bart's book--don't know this.  And the weird thing is Chayefsky was already famous in the late 60s for writing Marty--why didn't Bart lie by putting that in his own mouth?  It's not as if kitchen sink realism would make Chayefsky any more fit to adapt a big musical.  In fact, it probably points to more problems than a script like Network.

Bart also mentions other projects Wagon's original scriptwriter Alan Jay Lerner hoped to do at the time.  One was Coco, a show about the life of Coco Chanel, which Katharine Hepburn was allegedly interested in.  Bart later lists Lerner's failures, noting "Coco never opened on Broadway." That would be news to Lerner, since the show was presented on the Great White Way in late 1969, starring Hepburn, running a season and turning a profit.

Bart also claims Erich Segal wrote Love Story--the book and movie both came out in 1970--and "later cowrote" the movie Yellow Submarine, though that film came out in 1968.  He also claims that once Love Story was in production other projects started coming together, including Rosemary's Baby.  That's funny, since Rosemary's Baby came out in 1968, before Love Story was even cast.

He also claims Herbert Ross directed Funny Girl, when it was William Wyler.  I assume he's thinking of Funny Lady, the not-very-good sequel from Ross.  And he writes "By 1973, fortified by the success of the two Godfathers, Bob Evans sensed it was time for a more aggressive strategy" when the second Godfather film came out in 1974.  And so on and so forth.  Does Bart, who used to work for The New York Times, believe in editors?

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Crumby

I just read The R. Crumb Handbook by Peter Poplaski and Crumb himself.  It's Crumb on his life and philosophy.  Published 15 years ago, I think it still relevant.

Though it's 440 pages, it's a quick read. For one thing, the pages themselves are small--about 6" by 7"--and most of them are comics or illustrations, both by Crumb and others he discusses, and some photos.

Anyone familiar with Crumb will have a good idea about the content.  He grew up in the 1950s with a tough dad and an older brother who encouraged (required) him to draw comics.  As a young man he got married, had a kid, and found a job creating greeting cards.  But he wasn't satisfied, and this being the 60s, he left his job and family to go to San Francisco, where he took LSD and tried to score with hippie chicks.

Then a surprising thing happened.  The underground comic movement grew fast and Crumb was its biggest star. Now he was in demand.  Crumb spends a lot of the book grumbling about mass culture and commercialism, and while we've heard the general complaints before, at least he can be specific about how it applies to him.

He wasn't against making money, but often felt he was being exploited, perhaps never more so than with Ralph Bakshi's Fritz The Cat film, based on Crumb's character.  Crumb hated it so much that he killed off Fritz with an ice pick.

The book also goes into his well-known obsessions, particular women with big butts.  It's hard to miss if you look at his stuff.  And, being at least a minor celebrity, Crumb was lucky enough to find a number of women who were his type and willing to indulge him.

Though some might have seen him as an artifact of the 60s, Crumb kept drawing through the decades.  He also got married again, had another kid, and moved to France.

The book is a pretty good introduction to his life, work and thought.  And though the quality of his content may vary, his artwork is always good.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

IU

Ian Underwood turns 80 today.  He's a musician who's played with a lot of people, but is best known for his work with Frank Zappa.






Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Thin Reed

I've been reading, and enjoying, Anthony DeCurtis's bio of Lou Reed.  But it does have what I call the Beatles' problem.  While Reed had a solid solo career, it's his work with his band in the 60s that is by far what interests me most.

So the question becomes, for both writer and reader, how much of the book will be about the early years, up to and including the Velvet Underground, versus the post-Velvet Underground years.

The book, all-in, is over 500 pages.  And Reed quits the VU around page 130.  The ratio is perhaps inevitable, even more so than, say, for a book on Paul McCartney. The Velvet Underground only released four albums when they were a going concern, none of which sold much, while Reed released 22 regular albums, and they generally sold better.

But as a reader, it's sad when Reed says goodbye to the band.  Sure, he's got some nice tunes coming up, and a personal life with ups and downs, but the best stuff is over and there's 300+ pages to go.

Monday, May 20, 2019

This Wheel's On Fire

Seasons ago, on Game Of Thrones, Daenerys promised to "break the wheel"--the system that led to perpetual wars and oppression.  Well, last week, she burned down the wheel, destroying most of King's Landing with dragonfire.  This week, in "The Iron Throne," the show's finale, we dealt with the aftermath.

It was by its nature a quieter episode, but plenty happened.  Plenty of fans were unhappy, but then, considering the choices the producers have been making all season, I don't know where they could have gone at this point that would have pleased most people.

The episode starts with Tyrion walking silently through the destruction wrought by Dany--I thought they made this point quite well last week, but just in case you forgot, let's continue the parade of misery.  And there's Jon and Davos, also horrified.  Okay, we get it.

The only one not horrified is Grey Worm, preparing to kill a bunch of soldiers who fought for Cersei but have surrendered.  Snow and Davos want him to stop, but he's got direct orders from the Queen.  No mercy.  Snow is not happy.

Meanwhile, Tyrion checks the burnt-out palace he once spent so much time in. He goes down to the basement where he finds, conveniently near the top of the rubble, his bro and sis, in each others arms, dead.  He feels bad, and he should--he sent Jaime here, for one thing.  If he'd let him stay locked up, rather than sent him on a cockamamie mission, he'd still be alive.

Now we see Arya, also horrified.  Okay, that's enough.  Dany is giving a victory speech to her troops--Dothraki (they're still alive?) and Unsullied, in a Nuremberg-like setting.  She's gone full-on Mad Queen. They love her, of course, since 1) she's a great conqueror and they won a great war, 2) these are people she's saved and who voluntarily followed her and 3) you try not cheering when someone has the world's only dragon watching you. Speaking in three different languages, Dany announces she has liberated King's Landing and plans to liberate the rest of the world. Not just the local areas, either--she Winterfell and Qarth.

Her Hand, Tyrion, walks up next to her. Pretty light security.  She tells him he committed treason by freeing her brother. (I'm surprised everyone's making such a big deal over this--seems pretty minor to me, and I don't even know how she found out so fast.) But she lit up a city, he responds.  He throws away his Hand medal (I don't want this Hand job), and she has him arrested, presumably to perish in dragonfire before too long.  He takes it pretty well--hey, even if he dies it's the final episode, so he gets paid in full for the season.

Arya meets with Jon.  She actually sneaks up on him, which is what she's good at.  She could easily do it to Dany, so I'm not sure why she's waiting.  Jon still supports his queen, though Arya says Sansa won't, and now that Dany knows who Jon really is, how long will he last?  He tells her he'll meet her at the gates later, but I don't believe that happens.  You're in politics, Jon, keep your appointments.

Jon visits Tyrion in his cell.  This is not the first time the Imp has been held, awaiting his death. Occupational hazard for him.  To tell the truth, Jon Snow, with his earnestness and reticence, is probably the last person you want to talk to before your execution.  They have a long discussion about a number of things, but the centerpiece is about love versus duty.  Tyrion can't be clearer--you may love Dany, but it's your duty to kill her.

Jon approaches the castle.  A snow-covered Drogon is keeping watch, but Jon passes the Targaryen smell test and gains entry.  Inside already is Dany in the newly air-conditioned throne room. (By the way, it's snowing in King's Landing--is that Winter Coming, or is it just leftover ashes?)  This is what she's spent most of her life waiting for.  As a young girl she was told about the Iron Throne, and now it's hers.

Jon comes in and says she should be more merciful, but Dany says he's missing the big picture.  Dany explains how they can work together, "liberating" the rest of the world.  If other people don't want to be liberated, well, it's not their call.  He calls her his queen, they kiss and he stabs her to death.

Perhaps it had to happen dramatically (certainly Arya shouldn't be the one to do it, as some suggested--she already killed the Night King, and can't be killing all the big names), but only one scene ago he wasn't sure.  Just as Dany changed from hero overnight to villain, this was just too quick.  The producers have been rushing this season, or perhaps just not writing carefully enough.

Drogon, sensing something wrong, flies into the room and sees his mother is dead.  He then looks like he's going to melt some Snow, but Drogon won't kill a Targaryen, so he burns the Iron Throne instead (as I sort of predicted last week).  He then takes Dany in his claws and flies away, never to be seen again (as far as we know).

Okay, Dany's dead, what will happen next?  There's no superpower keeping everyone in place.  Maybe she had a point.

Some time later, we see Tyrion waking up in his cell.  He's marched to the dragon pit by Grey Worm, where a bunch of leaders are sitting. (Not clear how they chose this motley crew.  Sure, there are some clear heads of kingdoms, like Sansa, or Yara, for that matter--didn't expect to see her again--but also Davos, Samwell, Brienne and some others.  Brienne and Samwell might at least represent their Houses, but come on, can just anyone come to this meeting?  Also, as some have noted, there's a plastic water bottle on the ground next to Samwell--sitting all day in the dragon pit can make you thirsty.)

They also requested Jon Snow be brought out, but Grey Worm is still angry at him for killing his queen.  Anyway, they're assembled to decide what to do next. Some swore to follow Dany, and remember the good she did, but some are glad she's gone.  Davos, always the voice of reason, says it's time to stop the fighting.  Dany did a great job, and the Unsullied should at least get some land, but Grey Worm wants justice (or revenge).

Tyrion says Grey Worm can't decide what to do. (Why not, exactly? In fact, why not declare himself the new leader?) The Imp is a prisoner who shouldn't be speaking, but you try and stop him.  He explains they need a new leader to make decisions like what should happen to Jon Snow.  (Where's Littlefinger when you need him?) Time to choose, right now.  Some guy I don't recognize gets up to nominate himself, but Sansa, calling him "uncle," tells him to sit down.  I suspect he's a Tully.

Samwell suggests they let the people decide their next leader.  Everyone has a good laugh, and why wouldn't they?  Democracy sounds incredibly silly--the people don't know anything except their small, selfish needs, so letting them decide is insane.

Tyrion doesn't want to lead, since everyone hates him.  But he suggests they get rid of this hereditary thing and let the council decide.  And from now on, every time the king or queen dies, there can be another council.  They all agree, but I don't see this as stable.  It'll lead to assassinations, plotting, confusion every time there's a death (especially when there's no unanimous choice for replacement, as there almost never will be) and breakaway kingdoms. (The real question is who will command the respect of the largest fighting forces--that's who the king is, just as it decided who'd be the emperor of Rome.)

Tyrion then nominates Bran the Broken for King.  Really?  I can't think of anyone worse than this spacey kid.  He drifts off while eating breakfast.  An advisor, maybe, but king?  I'd rather be led by the anarcho-syndicalist commune from Monty Python And The Holy Grail.

But everyone seems to think it's a great idea, and he's voted in.  The only one who won't agree is Sansa, who says the North doesn't want to bend the knee, and will stay independent.  Bran says okay (it's all the family, after all).  Did everyone get that?  Don't want to be ruled by some guy in a far-off city, just say so and you're free.  That won't cause any problems. (This did clear up a question that's been bugging me from the start.  Is the North one of the seven kingdoms, or is it an independent territory.  We now know it's a kingdom, which makes Bran "Lord of the Six Kingdoms"--hey, don't they have a religion based on sevens, so won't this cause some problems?)

Bran accepts--he says it's why he came down here.  So Bran always knew this would happen?  Then why are we wasting our time dong anything.  Just let Bran tell us.

Bran chooses Tyrion as his Hand, and though Tyrion isn't happy about it, he has to accept, just as Bran had to. (Besides, he's an old Hand at it.)  The first order of business is what to do about Jon.  Killing him will start a war, setting him free will start a war. So they decide to send him to the Night's Watch?  Huh?  Jon himself asks if there's still a Night's Watch.  Good point.  The Night's Watch was mostly destroyed in a war, and was there protect the Wall, anyway, which has been breached.  Further, no one fears the wildlings any more, much less the White Walkers, so there's no need to rebuild that wall.

But Tyrion figures they can just send miscreants and bastards up North to do whatever. (Why not have them roam around like Guardian Angels to fix whatever's going on in the Six Kingdoms, while not letting them marry, etc.)

The action is over at this point, but the show's got to wrap up what happens to the shire.  For instance, the Unsullied are going back to their Island, where Grey Worm hoped to spend his days with Missandei.  Really?  This means there isn't even an army to back up the king.  It sounds like there'll be seven kingdoms I could name soon fighting a huge civil war to decide who's strongest. (I don't think we find out where the Dothraki will go.  I assume back to the Dothraki Sea, though they hate the water.  There other choice is to stay in Westeros, looting and pillaging.)

Jon meets up with the rest of the Starks.  This show started with the Starks, and in the first few seasons, the family was being killed right and left.  Didn't seem like much hope. But now they rule, and everyone else is defeated.  Bran is king, Sansa is queen of the North, and Jon rules north of that.  The only question left is what should Arya do.

She says she's going to sail west of Westeros--the mapmakers don't know what's out there. I can tell her: Qarth and a bunch of other cities. (Do people on the show know the world is round?  Someone ask Samwell.) This isn't really Arya's character, is it? She's not that much on sailing, and her specialty at present is international assassin.  But I guess she knows she won't feel comfortable staying anywhere, so she might as well go on a trip. (I smell sequel, though I'd rather have seen the further adventures of Arya and The Hound.)

Back in King's Landing, in a room with a ceiling (they still exist?), Ser Brienne pages through a book on the important names, or whatever they call their social register.  She gets to Jaime's unfinished pages and fills them in.  Good penmanship, Brienne, though I notice there's no mention of Jaime's booty call in Winterfell.

In the council room, Tyrion arranges the chairs.  No one will be seated during the chair-arranging scene.  In come the rest of the small council--Brienne, Samwell, Davos and Bronn.  Good to see Bronn got everything promised--it looked for a while all the Lannisters would be dead and he'd be SOL.  Seeing all these regulars who survived to the end sitting on the council, there's an important point being made here--politics is based on connections.

Samwell--the new Grandmaester who never even got his undergrad degree--comes in with a book someone wrote about the recent events. (Why didn't he write it--anyone else would take years doing the research, but Sammy was there.) It's called A Song Of Ice And Fire--George R. R. Martin might smile, but isn't this a bit too self-referential?  Think I'll skip the book and see the play, which should be opening in Braavos soon.

Bran comes in and says we need to fill in the rest of the council.  Meanwhile, he'll search for Drogon (in his head?).  Thanks, Bran, that's what you should be doing, rather than be king.  They all bow toward him and he leaves so they can deal with the actual problems of the kingdom.  I'm not sure if Bronn will be a great Master of Coin--sure, he was a mercenary so he gets money, but he still thinks like a lowlife.  But at least he can tell the Iron Bank to go stuff themselves.  Anyway, the whole place will soon be engulfed in civil war, so who cares?

We now cut to the Wall, which still stands for no good reason.  Jon Snow enters Castle Black and waiting for him is Tormund.  How sweet--the actor gets paid again. (Saw him in the opening credits, so wasn't surprised).

Now we see how the various Starks are doing, Jon at the Wall (meeting his direwolf Ghost), Sansa in Winterfell, Arya on a ship.  They're all moving on with their lives, in the places where they should be, I guess.

Jon ends the show the way it started, on a horse walking through a tunnel and into the woods (though this time Winter Has Come and perhaps spring is next.)  He's accompanied by Northerners who accept him.  In fact, he's done so much for them he might as well be called the King-Beyond-The-Wall.

The finale was a bit long, but overall made sense, and wasn't entirely predictable.  But, like the season (or last two seasons), the big plot moments were rushed and the motivations weren't properly prepared.

Game Of Thrones was a fine show--at its best, as good as anything on TV.  But the ending should have been both stirring and touching, and ended up, too often, being stilted and lukewarm.  Still, even at its worst, I enjoyed the show.

That's all folks.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

PT

Happy birthday, Pete Townshend.  Why use words to describe his music when we can just listen.










Saturday, May 18, 2019

Look To The Left

For some reason, this is "Mother Whistler Day."  Not Whistler's Mother, but Mother Whistler.  Though it does seem to be built around the famous painting.

The actual name of the painting is Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, though that's not nearly as catchy as "Whistler's Mother." The subject of the painting is artist James McNeill Whistler's actual mom, so it's a better title anyway.

It fascinates me how certain images become iconic.  They're so well known that we can't even see them for the original works they once were.

What other paintings are as well known (or as often parodied)?  I can think of three: Mona Lisa, The Last Supper (two for Leonardo!) and American Gothic.  Maybe Freedom From Want (Rockwell's Thanksgiving painting).  Sorry, I don't think The Scream or La Grande Jatte or Christina's World quite make it.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Weekend Of

The Big Bang Theory just finished its run. You'd think that would be the big finale of the week, or even the year, but as big a hit as that show has been, and it was one of the biggest, its ending hasn't gotten anywhere near the attention or excitement of this Sunday's Game Of Thrones finale.

There are a number of questions going into this sixth and last episode, yet most of the big stuff has been answered.  For instance, episode three dispatched the Night King and episode five took care of Cersei.  There may be more deaths to come, but considering the toll we've seen, there can't be that many.

In fact, let me reprint my prediction from earlier this year:

As the season commences, they've still got Cersei, Jaime, Tyrion, Daenerys, Jon Snow, Davos, Sansa, Arya, Brienne, Samwell, Jorah, Theon, Melisandre, Varys, Bronn, Gilly, Missandei, Grey Worm, The Hound, the Night King and two living dragons.  By the time it ends, at least eight will be dead (or in the case of the Night King, destroyed).  The invaders from beyond the Wall will have been repelled, but the Throne won't be what it was.

I listed 22 characters.  Of those, Cersei, Jaime, Jorah, Theon, Melisandre, Varys, Missandei, The Hound, the Night King and a dragon have died, so my prediction has been proved correct. (Pretty safe bet, to be sure.)

All that's left to deal with is how the handle the triumphant but vengeful Daenerys.  She's got the dragon, she's got the power, but she seems to have turned Tyrion and the Stark clan against her.  Will she end up on the Iron Throne or will she be toppled?  Or is the Iron Throne melted and there's no point in sitting on it any more?

Anyway, I'll be watching, along with millions.  But, sad to say, I don't think even a stellar ending can make up for the weak season. (And many fans agree.) The creators of the show would have been given as many episodes as they wanted, and they chose six for the final season.  Normally, you want the action to move swiftly, but not faster than makes sense for the character arcs.  So we've got incoherent action and incoherent motives.

The ratings will no doubt be stellar, and the series will long be remembered, but I wonder how much of its luster has been lost.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Hello, Dolly

I finally got around to watching the Netflix miniseries Russian Doll.  Created by Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland, it stars Lyonne along with Elizabeth Ashley and Charlie Barnett.

The show starts with Nadia (Lyonne) in the bathroom of a New York apartment.  She's unhappily celebrating her 36th birthday with her hip friends.  Before the complications set in, it seems like an annoying variation of This Is Us.  But then the fun starts.

Even explaining the basic premise is a spoiler, though I won't give away anything not in the first episode.  We follow Nadia through her day until she gets hit by a car and dies...and ends up back in the bathroom where she started.  It turns out she repeats from that point every time she checks out. (This includes hearing, over and over, Harry Nilsson's "Gotta Get Up" being played at the party.) Why is this happening, and what can Nadia do about it?

Getting stuck in a time loop isn't exactly a new idea.  The most famous example is Groundhog Day, though that wasn't the first use of such a gimmick.  A more recent and well-done story with a similar plot point is Edge Of Tomorrow.

But Russian Doll has enough tricks up its sleeve to keep you guessing.  And, at eight half-hour episodes, it doesn't overstay its welcome.  It also has a clear ending.  I hear rumors of a season two, though that seems unnecessary.

I wouldn't say anyone stands out in the cast (though I was surprised to see Burt Young pop up--I didn't know he was still acting).  Lyonne does a fine job anchoring the show, though her character isn't that different from what we've seen before in, for example, Orange Is The New Black.

Anyway, well worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

TC

Sad to hear that Tim Conway has died.  Like a number of other recent Hollywood deaths (such as Doris Day) I'm not sure what to say.  Conway was just one of those funny guys who delivered, and it was just good to know he was around.

He first came to fame as Ensign Parker on McHale's Navy.  The service comedy had a large cast, but I think it's safe to say that Parker as the klutzy but by-the-book Ensign was the show's breakout character.

The sitcom left the air after four seasons and there were a couple attempts to have Conway star in his own show--Rango and The Tim Conway Show--but both were one-season flops.  However, he showed his comic chops as second banana on The Carol Burnett Show, becoming a regular for several seasons, creating a number of memorable characters and winning an Emmy for his supporting work. (Though it was more fun when he lost to Chevy Chase or Harvey Korman.)

He was never featured so well again, though he went on to do a number of films--often teamed with Don Knotts--and in his final decades did numerous TV guest shots, usually on sitcoms. It's worth noting he wasn't being given charity roles for nostalgic reasons--he generally knocked it out of the park, even winning Emmys for appearance on Coach and 30 Rock.  I particularly remember him in the latter show, playing an old-timer who returns to NBC and turns out to be intensely creepy.

I can also recommend his memoir from a few years ago, What's So Funny?--as charming as the man himself.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

That Was Them

According to Variety, while numerous series are being canceled, This Is Us has been picked up for three more seasons:

This is not the first time the hit drama series has received a multi-season commitment at the network.  After it's first season kicked off to stellar numbers and critical acclaim, NBC gave it an early pick up for two more seasons, bringing the show to its current third season.

First, it's "its."

Second, while I can't blame NBC for locking in a huge hit, I question the move artistically.

The format of This Is Us has the three Pearson kids dealing with their problems in the present, along with regular flashbacks showing how the Pearson family, headed by husband and wife Jack and Rebecca, raised the clan to begin with.

The stuff set in the open-ended present can work, I suppose (though, like most shows of this type, the writers apparently couldn't help but descend into soap opera once the basic situation and characters had been explored).  But to continue to go back into the past, looking at how Jack and Rebecca did this or that, grows thinner each year.  We already know the general outline of their marriage, and we've also learned the big mystery--how Jack died--so going back to learn more about how things got to where they are today has become a case of diminishing returns.

I know it goes against how show biz works, but NBC, and show creator Dan Fogelman, should be figuring out how to end it.  It's already tired.  They should have a plan to end it by, say, season five.  Is going out on top so awful?

Monday, May 13, 2019

When Dragons Attack

I thought last week's episode of Game Of Thrones, "The Last Of The Starks," was the best of the season.  I hoped it would lead into a great final two episodes.  But after seeing the fifth episode, "The Bells," it looks like they're on the wrong track again, and it's almost certain this season will be the weakest.

We start with Varys writing a note, presumably meant to be spread by raven, about who should be truly be in line for the Iron Throne.  Last episode he made it clear it was the time to back Jon, but is he really being this obvious, and so soon?  One of his little birds walks in to give him info on the Queen, who's been refusing food since Missandei died.  Is Varys still playing these kinds of games with informants--wasn't it time for something different with the Mother of Dragons?

Actually, he's even dumber than that.  Jon lands at Dragonstone and right away Varys starts talking treason.  The reason the Spider and Littlefinger lasted as long as they did during the trickiest situations is they knew how to be subtle, but when you've got to end a huge series, I guess there's no time for that.  I figured maybe Varys would see how the war goes first and then make his move. Is now the time?  Especially when you can't win the war without Dany's Dragon. Predictably, pure-heated Jon will have none of it.

Next thing you know, Tyrion goes into Dany's chamber.  Dany's already sussed it out--Jon told Sansa who told the Imp who told the Spider--a whole game of telephone.  Tyrion admits to it.  Why would he do that?  Isn't that asking for trouble.  Amazingly, he's there to snitch on Varys.  Is now the time?  Once again, let's win the battle first and then we can deal with this guy who, after all, can only whisper.  Dany--though she ultimately blames Jon for talking (and is right--she told him what would happen and it did)--decides to execute Varys.

I didn't expect it to happen so soon, but then I didn't expect Varys to play it so stupidly.  He's brought out onto the shore by torchlight and Dany has Drogon roast him.  Everyone's standing really close to Varys, so I'm surprised the dragon is able to control the burn area that well.

Varys was out of character, but almost everyone seemed unseasonably stupid in this episode, as we'll see.  Dany was also murderously angry, but they've been setting that up all season, so it was no surprise.  And, as I'll note later, her point of view isn't that crazy.

The reason everyone seems so stupid is the producers haven't earned it.  The characters tell us certain things that don't really make sense, but because a character says it, we're supposed to accept it.  At least starting last season, where a whole bunch of characters figured going up north in a dangerous expedition to bring back a zombie would impress Cersei, major character have been making ridiculous choices.

Dany goes back to plotting her war, now that Jon's forces have made it.  Jon comes in and says she's still his queen, but she explains that the people of Westeros love him, not her.  So if she can't get love, guess she'll have to live with just fear.  They're really going all out on this Mad Queen pivot.

Tyrion comes in and once again bangs the drum about how she can't be killing all those innocents in King's Landing to get to Cersei.  It doesn't matter how many times the writers tell us, we don't care about this, and find it hard to believe anyone would.  Dany has already given Cersei more than one chance, and every time gets her offer flung back in her face.  And while we're at it, Dany sacrificed more than half of what she had to save humanity before turning back to King's Landing.  What more is she expected to do if Cersei chooses to hide behind innocent people?  (I also don't get the logistics--can't she just fly in her dragon to Cersei's castle, over the soldiers and the innocents?) Even if we know it's wrong, we don't feel it.  It wasn't that long ago Cersei killed a whole lot more people to take over King's Landing, and while we knew what she did was wrong, we didn't feel those deaths one-one-hundredth as much as the death of Shireen burned at the stake.

Dany also mentions Jaime was captured trying to cross their lines. Why, exactly?  Didn't he fight with them against the Night King?  Let him do what he wants.  Even if he wanted to help Cersei, what could he do?

That night, the troops are gathered outside King's Landing, ready to attack at dawn.  Arya and The Hound have made it, by the way.  Tyrion goes in to talk to his brothers, who's chained.  Jaime spent most of an early season chained in a northern army camp, so he's used to it.  Jaime, by the way, was captured because he showed his golden hand.  Huh?  Even if they care who he is, wouldn't they recognize the Kingslayer (or not care about a golden hand)?  Cersei always said he was the stupidest Lannister, but in this episode the three siblings will fight for that honor.

Tyrion insists King's Landing will fall tomorrow.  He is insanely confident about this, considering everything we've seen this season suggests Dany will lose.  Her people are tired and beaten while Cersei's people are strong and her ground is well-defended.  Literally the only thing Dany's got going is her dragon, and since she's lost two already, and Cersei's forces are armed and know how to kill dragons, it seems like a longshot Drogon will survive.  In other words, Tyrion's speech is the writers saying "forget everything you know, forget everything we've shown--we want you to pretend, so the plot can move forward, that Dany will easily destroy King's Landing." This is the kind of stuff that makes you want to give up--are they even trying any more?

Tyrion unlocks Jaime--it wasn't that long ago Jaime broke Tyrion out of a cell to save him--and the dwarf has a bizarre plan that his brother can go up a secret passage and spirit away Cersei, smuggling her off to Pentos where they'll live happily and secretly (just don't show anyone your damn golden hand).  Just get her to ring the bells, open the gates and all will end without bloodshed.  Just to be clear, a couple days ago Cersei cut off Missandei's head rather than surrender, and what exactly has changed since then?

Morning, everyone's ready for war.  Now maybe this is better explained in the books, but the logistics are very confusing.  Where are all the regular folks?  They seem to be moving around, and they seem to be inside the gates, but then are locked outside the gates.  So there are gates to the city at large, and separate gates to the Red Keep, or something like that?  And why does it make a difference?  Where are we?  What's happening?  (Where's Flea Bottom?) And why do Arya, The Hound and Jaime expect to have any sort of individual plan work in the midst of a huge battle?

The Golden Company stand in formation outside the gates (I think).  Euron is with his fleet. (Why? Will anyone be fighting on the water today?). Then in flies Dany.  Last week, Drogon was almost killed by the huge bolts shot at her by the scorpions, and barely got away.  This week, even though Cersei's forces would be as prepared as they'll ever be, Dany has decided she can't be struck anymore, so Drogon has no trouble swooping down and burning Euron's fleet.  Then she flies from behind the parapets and burns down the walls of King's Landing, especially attacking the scorpions.

At this point Dany's forces charge, though why?  Why should they fling themselves into a battle when indestructible Dany has all the firepower needed to kill anyone out there.  In fact, stay away from the King's Landing for an hour or two and only go in when it's time to mop up. Indeed, Dany and Drogon are so destructive I have to ask why she waited this long to take King's Landing.  There were all these arguments about what she needed to do first, but even if she had to destroy the Night King, she should have just said "listen, give me about two hours, I'll fly to King's Landing with my three dragons, take it, then I'll come back and we'll head up North to take care of business there."

Nevertheless, Dany's Army rushes into King's Landing while Cersei's forces are being burned en masse.  I hope they're wearing clearly marked and very different uniforms so Drogon can tell the difference.  Cersei watches the destruction from the Red Keep.  Qyburn comes in and explains the scorpions have all been destroyed (really, no hidden ones?  None at the Keep?), the Iron Fleet is gone (who told him that?), the gates are breeched, etc., but Cersei, vying for the most stupid Lannister, is insanely confident she can still pull it out.

Led by Jon, Grey Worm and Davos (why put a smuggler at the front line?), Dany's boys line up in front of a fearful group of Golden Company men, who toss their swords. (What do you expect from sellswords--their allegiance goes to the highest bidder?)  They've seen the destruction and know it's over. The poor city folk run in fear.  The show does our best to make us feel for them, but isn't it a bit late in the series to build up that sympathy now?

People start shouting Ring Dem Bells.  Eventually someone starts ringing the bells, signaling surrender.  Hey, I thought that was Cersei's call, and I haven't seen her assent.  Anyway, Dany sits on Drogon and watches from on high.  She's won.  But she's gone all-out Targaryen and needs to wreak revenge, so she keeps slaughtering all the helpless people and destroying all the buildings, including the Red Keep.

We're supposed to disapprove, and I guess we do, but it's not entirely insane. Or, at least, we can see how she was driven to this.  She came ashore awhile ago, all ready to conquer. Instead, her advisors suggested she take it easy and concentrate on the fight in the North. She did as she was told, losing over half of everything she had, including many of her closest friends and two dragons.  And after she did all that, most of her allies treated her like dirt, working against her.  For that matter, Cersei, who was given more than one chance, gave Dany the finger.  Maybe it is time to make examples of a lot of people to show them who's boss.  We're supposed to think Dany should show mercy, but she can't count on anyone right now, so being soft may not work as a strategy for her.

Of course, she's pissing off everyone (except maybe Grey Worm, who's as mad as Dany).  Jon Snow, her most faithful ally, is seeing the destruction at ground level.  So is Arya.

Now Jaime is at the shore, near the tunnel entrance to the city.  (He was in the city earlier for reasons that are unclear--whatever he thought he'd do, it didn't work).  And who should be there by Euron, whom we thought perished in dragonfire.  The last person we want to see is Euron.  No one likes him and no one cares about him.  If Jaime is going to die, he can't die like a punk at Euron's hand.  Of course, the old Jaime would have made mincemeat out of him, but the left-handed Jaime has struggles.  He ultimately dispatches Euron, but not before receiving two--count 'em, two--wounds that would be mortal for any character without plot armor.

Back at the Red Keep, Qyburn enters Cersei's watching room.  He says the funniest line of the night:  "Your Grace, it isn't safe here any longer."  You think so?  Cersei responds with a line almost as humorous: "The Red Keep is the safest place in the city." For the last ten minutes, she's seen Dany destroying large portions of her city at will, with no weapons to stop her, and, if Dany chooses, she can have Drogon burn down the Red Keep in under a minute, so Cersei, once again, displays that unearned Lannister confidence.

Anyway, Cersei finally decides to go down to the Holdfast because a basement seems safer--though if the whole place collapses, you'd think the best place to hand out would be as far away as possible.

Now we're back to Arya and The Hound, crawling from the wreckage, walking through the castle's map room.  You think they'd hightail it out of there, but they've both got a mission (that you might think has been superseded by Dany's decision to destroy everyone and everything around them).

They stop for a second and have the best scene of the show.  He tells her to leave--Cersei will be gone soon enough, she's lost.  Meanwhile, all he cares about it getting back at his brother.  She can be better than that.  He'll die, but she should leave and live and do more with her life. (By the way, she's supposed to be a bad ass, but here she seems like the old vulnerable Arya.)  She calls him Sandor--a great moment--and thanks him.  She gets while the getting is good, but Sandor's got a ticket to Clegane Bowl.

We've been waiting for years to see this, but it ends up being pretty pointless.  For one thing, Cersei has lost the war, so who cares what the Mountain does at this point, he's done.  Second, it's not really Gregor, it's zombie Gregor, which doesn't quite count.  Third, he'll probably be crushed by falling debris (along with Sandor) before their fight is over.  She why bother?

Zombie Mountain has enough Gregor in him to fight his brother, ignoring Cersei's demands, and flinging away Qyburn, killing him.  Cersei decides to run along and the two brothers fight it out, though what is dead may never die, thus Zombie Mountain can take whatever you stab at him.  Finally, after it seems hopeless, The Hound rushes him and they plummet down to their presumed deaths--though if they just stuck around on the same spot and not moved, the same thing probably would have happened.

Cersei meets up with--surprise--Jaime in the map room (sounds like Clue).  They hope to escape, but all the routes below are blocked by debris.  She doesn't want to die (now she tells us) but there's nothing to be done. Assuming Tyrion has no kids, that's the end of the line.  They hug each other before the roof caves in.  I suppose this should be touching, but both made a whole bunch of stupid decisions to get to this point.

Arya runs through town, seeing scenes of destruction, just in case we didn't get the point that Dany is causing a lot of trouble.  Arya is knocked out.  Some time later comes the calm after the devastation.  Arya wakes up, finds a white horse (was this the horse she rode in on?) and rides away.

So a lot of deaths this week.  Let's see.  There was Varys, Jaime, Cersei, Qyburn, The Mountain, The Hound, Euron, most of the Golden Company and thousands of innocent citizens (and animals).  In fact, it's almost easier to list those still around.

Next week, the aftermath, which is also the finale.  Dany had to destroy the city to save the city.  (Echoes of Harrenhal).  She's queen now, and has an army of the unsullied headed by Grey Worm who still like her, not to mention Drogon.  On the other hand, you've got Tyrion, Jon Snow and Arya who all saw the devastation and are horrified.  And you've got the people up North, headed by Sansa, who don't like Dany to begin with.  Is this the beginning of Dany's reign, or the end?

Next week, the last recap of Game Of Thrones I will ever write.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

What's In Store

Driving from Burbank to Hollywood, taking Barham, you will get a glimpse of Cloud 9 on land owned by Universal studios.  Cloud 9 is the fictional retailer in the sitcom Superstore.  It looks like a real store, though it's only a façade, along with a (real) parking lot.

I was recently watching another NBC show, Good Girls.  It's set in Detroit.  It doesn't look the slightest bit like Detroit, but they'll occasionally mention things like Lafayette versus American Coney Island to remind you of the setting.  But I was shocked that a recent episode featured a scene where characters were outside a Cloud 9.  There are no Cloud 9 stores in Detroit, or, indeed, anywhere except on the Universal lot.

Crossovers between TV shows are not uncommon.  But to go from a bizarre comedy like Superstore to a drama like Good Girls gives you whiplash.  Good Girls has humor, as did Breaking Bad, but you've got to take the threat of violence and prison time seriously for the show to work.  To see a fake store that signifies comedy takes you out of the action.

I suppose it's cheaper to shoot on a standing set, but couldn't they at least have changed the sign?  I suppose next they'll walk into a bar and Ted Danson will be serving drinks.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

In The Arena or Til Tuesday

The Arena Cinelounge, just up the block from where I live, is a unique movie house.  There are numerous art houses in town that show indie films, but the Arena Cinelounge alone, as far as I can tell, shows indie indie films--stuff you can't see anywhere else, with microbudgets starring actors you've never heard of.

The Cinelounge had this deal where tickets were half off on Tuesdays.  I'd guess Tuesday is the worst night of the week for movie-going, so why not?  However, last time I went on Tuesday, the tickets were full price.

I usually see bigger name films on weekends, so the Tuesday deal was pretty good for me.  I mostly stay home on weeknights, but If I could get away, I'd take a chance and check out something that could be disastrously bad or fairly interesting.

But now--sorry Cinelounge--I don't think I'll be dropping by nearly as often.  I realize, based on how empty the arena was most Tuesdays, that this change in policy won't have much effect on receipts.  Still, we had a good thing going.  You had me, and now you lost me.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Dedicated To The One I Love

I was looking through Peter Bart's Infamous Players.  It's a memoir about his days as an executive at Paramount. (He's always writing about his days at Paramount.)

But before I got into the text, I was stopped short by the Acknowledgements page, which starts thus:

This book would not have happened without the prodding and encouragement of Harvey Weinstein....

The book was published in 2011, well before Weinstein became a non-person, so a nod to Harvey isn't that surprising. But I wonder how Bart feels about it today.

In fact, if the book ever goes through another printing, I wonder if some sharp-eyed editor won't remove the reviled name and mention of his prodding so as not to offend the sensitivities of readers.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Yes Sire

If you were into punk and new wave in the late 70s and early 80s, Sire was your label.  So many great bands, and tunes, came from that company, founded by Seymour Stein.  He was just a name to me, though, until I recently read his memoir Siren Song: My Life In Music.

He was born Seymour Steinbigle (in an age when people changed their names to keep things simple) in Brooklyn in 1942.  He loved music, and knew he had to work in the industry one way or another.  He couldn't sing, couldn't play an instrument, but he had ears, and figured he'd make his mark on the business end.  But he wasn't a number-cruncher or bean-counter, it was always about the music.  In fact, he believed in the music so much he generally wouldn't tell his acts what to do--he figured he signed them for a reason, so let them make their art as they saw fit.

He started at the bottom in the late 50s, working at whatever job he could get.  As was said about him, he had shellac in his veins.  By the late 60s he formed his own label, Sire.  He was always trying to keep up with the latest trends, but it might have seemed strange that he would become the one in the vanguard--before he got into punk, his biggest acts were groups such as the Climax Blues Band and Renaissance.

One of his most important signings came in 1975 when he caught the Ramones at CBGB and knew he had to work with them.  It's hard to overstate how much the music industry back then hated the band.  This was a time when Elton John, Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd ruled the airwaves.  To most music moguls, the Ramones, with their buzzsaw rock and roll, were some kind of sick joke.  But they would go on to be perhaps the quintessential punk band, highly influential and (reasonably) popular.

Other major acts he signed in the 70s were new wave mainstays such as Talking Heads (probably Stein's favorite band, from the way he writes about them) and the Pretenders.  Numerous major songs from that era were put out by Sire--"One Step Beyond," "Mirror In The Bathroom," "I Melt With You," "Ca Plane Pour Moi" and so many others.

During this period, Stein was looking for a new distributor and signed with Warner's.  In fact, they became a joint venture, with Warner's essentially buying him out.  He made decent money, but later considered it a mistake--he was now a glorified executive, and if he wanted to sign someone, he had to get permission from a bunch of suits in Burbank.  And the music division at Warner's (which grew to dominate the industry) was at the time run by Mo Ostin, a smooth-talking killer, who's the villain of the book, if the book has one.

Still, Stein was about to sign his most successful artist--even though Ostin and others at Warner resisted.  Madonna, as we all know, went on to become as big an act as there was, selling countless records and making millions for the company that didn't want her at first.

Stein kept busy during the 80s and early 90s, getting involved with acts such as Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, the Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Smiths and even performers you might not expect, such as Seal and Ice-T.

During that time, there were internecine battles at Warner's which Stein goes into in great detail.  He also spends a fair amount of time in the book discussing his personal life--his parents, his marriage, his homosexuality, his drug use.  I'm not saying this stuff is boring, but like Stein, I'm about the music.  And there's enough of it here to make the book well worth reading.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

The Man Who Sold The Future

I just read Strange Stars.  What a strange book.  It's about how rock and sci-fi melded in the 70s.  Who would have come up with that as a theme?  Hugo Award-winning author Jason Heller, that's who.

And when you think about it, there's something there.  The patron saint of rock and sf--the star of the book--is David Bowie.  I never put it together before, but certainly science fiction played a major part in his music.  He was a fan as a young man, and it regularly came out in his work.

Just before the 70s, Bowie was starting to gain fame with his single "Space Oddity." The title, of course, is based on Kubrick's Space Odyssey, which came out the year before, and the song was released around the time Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. (Alas, Major Tom doesn't do quite as well as Armstrong.)

A few years later, Bowie was doing a whole album with an sf concept--The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, which include his classic "Starman." A bit later, he did another science fiction-concept album, Diamond Dogs, which includes his Orwellian "1984."

Next thing you know, he was actually starring in a sci-fi film, The Man Who Fell To Earth.  His music also had a futuristic feel to it at the time.  And then he ended the decade with Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), which includes "Ashes To Ashes," the song that catches us up with Major Tom of "Space Oddity."

And that's just Bowie.  There's a lot more in the book.  I'm not sure who Strange Stars is for, but there must be some quirky subset of rock and sci-fi fans that have been waiting for this.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Those Were The Plays

I just read Curtis Armstrong's memoir.  If you don't know his name, perhaps you know his most famous role: "Booger" in Revenge Of The Nerds. In fact, the book is called Revenge Of The Nerd.  He tells you everything you'd want to know about working on that film, as well as on Risky Business and Moonlighting.

I didn't know he was from Detroit.  It made the book more personal for me, especially his early years.  For instance, he started a theatrical troupe in Ann Arbor.  They needed a place to perform and found a "run-down suburban mall called Arbor Land."

I remember Arborland, and he's right, it would have been a miserable place to perform.  But hey, the rent was free.

He also notes his first professional acting gig when he was 23:

For the record, it was in the role of Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Terence Kilburn, at Meadow Brook Theatre in Michigan. (You probably didn't see it.)

But I did, Curtis.  Meadow Brook was a fine regional theatre and my parents took me there regularly.  On the campus of Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, it was a great place to see the classics, and well as 20th century Broadway hits.

I remember his Puck.  At that point, all Armstrong wanted to do, he says, was work in theatre, going from town to town, like so many others he met at Meadow Brook.  He lists a number of these actors and their names brought back memories.

Cheryl Giannini--a lovely women I saw in a number of shows. I particularly liked her Rosalind in As You Like It. William LeMassena, another regular who I remember best as the lead in Harvey.  G. Wood, who played Prospero in The Tempest.

All these actors did occasional movie or TV work--look at G. Wood as General Hammond in MASH.  But it was in the theatre where they really got to stretch--and not just regional theatre, they all did Broadway.  And it's their live work where audience members like me got to see something special that will stay with us.

Monday, May 06, 2019

In Between

The latest episode of Game Of Thrones, "The Last Of The Starks*," threatened to be a breather, coming between the war to save humanity and the war to rule the Seven Kingdoms. Instead, it turned out to be the best episode of the season so far, filled with intrigue, emotion and action.

It starts where we left off.  The battle with the Night King over, the living are putting the dead to rest in a huge pyre.  All those who died gloriously last week get their moment, with the biggest reserved for Daenerys crying over Jorah.  (It's also a chance for the actors still employed to say goodbye to their costars.)

This is followed by a night of revelry, where those still around can have some fun before the next battle. (This would be a good time for Cersei to attack Winterfell, though I guess she's mostly concerned with holding King's Landing.)

We get another chance to see those intact interact.  Gendry is looking for Arya (and the Hound knows why).  Dany calls him out, and declares he's no longer a bastard, but a true Baratheon who will be in charge of Storm's End.  Good strategy, but she still can tell she's not accepted in the North.  Everyone's backslapping Jon, but don't seem to appreciate what she did. (And those who do appreciate her have been dying in large numbers.) And what did she do?  Oh nothing except lend the North her troops and her dragons, allowing them to defeat the Night King.  But they still don't trust her.  Those damn, stubborn Northerners. (And now without Jorah by her side she seems more alone than ever.)

Meanwhile, among many other mixings, Jaime, Brienne and Tyrion are playing drinking games.  Tormund makes his move, but it's clear he's the Ralph Bellamy here.  There's also a reunion we haven't had yet, one that would be easy to forget--Sansa and the Hound.  There was a time when he was sweet on her, and asked her to run away.  That would have saved her a lot of trouble, but she wouldn't be the woman she is now if she hadn't traveled that other path.  The Hound himself needs to do something, but he doesn't tell her what--though we've got a pretty good idea: Clegane Bowl.

Gendry runs off and sees Arya shooting some arrows.  He's been made a Lord, and asks if she'll be his Lady.  We're thinking no, we don't want her and Gendry together, we want her and the Hound.  Happily, Arya knows (as she has from the Stark start) that she's no lady.

Speaking of proper couples, Jaime comes into Brienne's room (pretty sizable place, not bad for a guard) and seduces her.  Well, it's not so much a seduction as a long-term relationship finally clicking. (It's not the first time they've been naked together.  Remember the bath?) I don't think anyone was hoping for Arya and Gendry to do a couple episodes ago, but this they've been waiting for almost since these two met.

Then the meeting that had to come--Jon and Dany.  He says some nice things about Jorah and Dany says she never loved him like she loves Jon.  Good thing Jorah's not alive because this would kill him.  They kiss but then pull away.  No, still not because they're nephew and aunt--it's the claim he's got to the Iron Throne.  He says he's got to tell his sisters. He'll support Dany no matter what, but she explains if word gets out there'll be an unstoppable movement to place him on the throne, since that's how it works with him--he says he doesn't want anything and then they put him in charge.  Sounds like she's right, but will honest Jon be able to curb his tongue?

Next day, in the war room, they look at what they've got left.  Still enough to beat Cersei, they hope.  But it's close (even though Yara has taken back the Iron Islands and Dorne promises to support Dany).  There's a debate over whether to attack now or catch their breath.  Worse, the Stark gals don't seem too happy about supporting Dany.  I'm sorry, but Dany gave up almost everything to save Winterfell, and now they don't want to help her because she's an outsider?  Jon reminds them what they promised, and, as always, bends his knee to the queen.  Jon, Davos and the troops will march down the King's Road while Grey Worm and Dany's advisors will come by sea, with Dany flying her dragons. (Jaime will stick around Winterfell, since that's where his main squeeze works.)

The Stark kids meet outside to discuss what's going on.  Arya and Sansa don't trust Dany, but Jon vouches for her.  And then he needs to come clean, and has Bran (who says it's Jon's choice to tell) spill the beans.  So much for that secret.  But don't worry, he has them swear not to tell anyone else.  So who knows now? Only Jon, Dany, Bran, Samwell, Sansa and Arya.  No problem then.

That night Tyrion and Jaime are having a heart-to-heart before the Imp (how do you like that?) leaves for battle.  Then in bursts Bronn, who's been charged with killing both. Guess it was easy enough for him to get in.  He holds them with his crossbow, explaining the deal.  He's been promised Riverrun, but he's not sure if Cersei will survive, considering those dragons.  So Tyrion promises him Highgarden.  Bronn is truly a wild card--there was no guarantee both Lannisters would survive--but for now, he's with them and not their sister.

Outside, the Hound is on the road when he runs into Arya.  They're both going to King's Landing, apparently.  He to kill his brother, she to kill Cersei. (Can she kill Cersei?  She's already killed the Night King, so even though she's got a talent for assassination, it seems a bit much.) Anyway, it's good to have them back together.

Meanwhile, Sansa and Tyrion talk about what Dany will do if she becomes queen.  Sansa, of course, knows a secret, and before too long, she spills it.  At this rate, Cersei will find out before Jon gets there.

Tormund tells Jon he's leaving the south to go home. (Winterfell, Dorne, it's all the same.) Once again, while I understand the Free Folk don't care about the Seven Kingdoms, didn't Jon and Dany just sacrifice a whole lot so these guys could live free.  Don't they owe them a little?  Jon also says goodbye to Samwell (he's not coming?) and pregnant Gilly.

Dany's fleet is traveling south.  Tyrion and Varys discuss Jon's parentage.  Oh great, now Varys knows, too.  The Spider mentions J and D can't serve together because they're aunt and nephew.  Thanks you!--it finally matters to someone.  Varys seems all too ready to abandon Dany and support Jon for the throne.  He may claim he serves the realm, but he sure is quick to give up on her.

Suddenly, and unexpectedly, they run into Euron's fleet. (Why is this unexpected?  It's amazing how Dany has been outmaneuvered every step of the way.) The last time Dany faced Cersei's troops, they had a contraption to take down dragons, so of course Qyburn has made improvements and they've got a bunch of these weapons, and manage to kill another one of Dany's dragons.  These dragons once gave her superiority, but now she's only got one and it doesn't seem that hard to kill. Drogon isn't exactly a liability, but if you're too scared to fly him close to Cersei's troops, how much help is he?  (What Dany really needs is more dragon eggs.  Is it too late for that?)

Dany's fleet is decimated, though some manage to make it ashore, including Grey Worm, Tyrion and Varys.  But no Missandei. Hmm.  Over in King's Landing, Cersei discusses her plans with Euron and Qyburn.  And, in chains, there's Missandei, a hostage.  Cersei's plan, by the way, is to open the door and let Dany kill thousands of innocent people.  Okay, whatever.

Meanwhile, Dany has made camp, and discusses what to do with her advisors.  Varys tells her not to storm the city--it's wrong to kill all those people.  Dany will have none of it (and after what just happened, I can understand).  But she does agree with Tyrion that she should at least offer Cersei a chance at unconditional surrender--this will buy them time (while Jon marches) and, more important, show the world that she was willing to do it all without bloodshed.  After that, Varys and the Imp have another talk, and Varys seem even more willing to go against Dany--but how far will he go?

News of Dany's disaster has reached Winterfell.  Now the battle is all or nothing (presumably with Cersei dying at the end). That night, Jaime leaves Brienne's bed and saddles up. He has to go to save Cersei.  Really, he still cares?  Brienne follows him, telling him he's a good man, but he tells her all the rotten things he's done, always for Cersei.  He leaves her behind, blubbering--no one asked you to fall in love, Brienne. (So he's going to save Cersei?  How, exactly?  Or is he going to get her--I wasn't entirely clear on this.  I should add if it's dramatically wrong for Arya to kill her, it would be pretty cool if the Kingslayer did it.)


The next day, Dany stands outside the walls of King's Landing.  She's got all her close advisors with her and a ridiculously small complement of troops.  We understand this is a parley, and everyone is allegedly protected, but since when does Cersei respect any rules.  Why doesn't she just kill Dany now and end this?

The gates open and out walks Qyburn. He's met by Tyrion.  Both will accept unconditional surrender. (They don't raise their voices, so do the others have any idea what they're saying?) When Qyburn says he's only speaking for the Queen, Tyrion walks on and addresses Cersei directly.  Okay, you don't care about your people, they don't care about you, but what about your soon-to-be-born child?  That's one thing you do care about. You can survive, as can your child, if you end this now.

No go.  Cersei asks Missandei if she has any last words.  She knows a bunch of languages, so she probably has plenty, but she says "dracarys," which means dragonfire.  Okay.  Won't do a lot of good right now, though, since Dany left Drogon behind.

Cersei gives the word and zombie Mountain slices off Missandei's head.  1)  Apparently word had gotten out about this death before the show aired, though luckily I hadn't heard about it (not that by the end you couldn't see it coming).  2)  I like Missandei, but the whole romance with Grey Worm was going nowhere, so I'm glad that's over, though I wish they'd have taken him out instead.

Anyway, that's where things stand.  The final war is going to start, and the odds seem about even.  Maybe more important, even if Dany wins it's not clear if she'll be the one to take the Iron Throne.  Only two more episodes left, and we're primed for some high adventure.

* Don't think I get the title. (Could it refer to Sansa?  Theon is dead, Jon is leaving and not the son of Ned, Arya isn't hanging around and Bran isn't even human.)

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