Sunday, June 30, 2019

Laughing Back

It's only the middle of the year, but we're starting to get decade-best lists.  For instance, TVLine's best sitcoms of the past ten years. Here it is--seems to be in alphabetical order.

30 Rock

Atlanta

Bojack Horseman

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Community

Crazy Ex-Girlfiend

The Good Place

Happy Endings

Parks And Recreation

Veep

Not a bad list.  30 Rock is a fine show, but it had more seasons before 2010 than after, so should it count?  If it makes it, how about The Office, then?  Or Arrested Development, with a couple late seasons in recent years after its cancelation a long time ago? Or Family Guy or The Simpsons?  For that matter, how about one of my favorites which no one saw, Party Down--two seasons, twenty episodes, in 2009 and 2010.

Atlanta I like a lot, though, as some have wondered, is it a comedy?  Actually, it reminds me of Louie, where it can be very funny sometimes, but does whatever it wants.  I expect Atlanta was inspired by Louie.  And yet, somehow, Louie isn't on the list.  Has Louis C. K. been officially forgotten?

I don't get the love for Bojack Horseman.  I sampled a fair number of episodes and it didn't do it for me.  But as long as they're listing animated sitcoms, how can they leave out Rick And Morty?

Good to see Brooklyn Nine-Nine make it.  Even better to see Community make it (my favorite three sitcoms of the past decade are two from Dan Harmon--Community and Rick And Morty--and Party Down).

I've never seen Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.  Of course, there are so many shows these days no one can catch them all.  I did watch a bit of Happy Endings and I'm surprised to see it on a list of good shows, much less a top ten list.

The Good Place is one of my favorites. Should definitely be on the list.  And I guess we can let Parks And Recreation in, too.  Though does this make the list a bit Michael Schur heavy, since he created both these shows as well as Brooklyn Nine-Nine?

And Veep seems right.  But is it the show to represent HBO when they've also got Silicon Valley and, if you allow it, Curb Your Enthusiasm?

A number of titles are conspicuous by their absence.  The two that stand out most are the biggest the networks have to offer--Modern Family, which dominated the Emmy awards in the past decade, and The Big Bang Theory, which had the biggest ratings.  Guess the list-makers are tired of them, or maybe feel they don't need the help.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Things To Come

I just got the latest edition of Chicago's Law School Record, where they keep you up on the latest.  This includes class notes, so I quickly checked if they had anything to say about the city's new mayor Lori Lightfoot, class of '89.

There was a paragraph about her running, but as it was written before the February election (that's a long lead time) they didn't yet know the outcome.  Actually, it's sort of fun to read something looking toward the future when you already know the outcome. (The best/worst example of this in recent times may be from Vanity Fair's editor Graydon Carter when he wrote a piece assuming Trump would lose that wasn't out on the stands till after the election.)

When I put down the law school publication, I picked up a hardcover copy I'd borrowed from the library of the musical She Loves Me.  The score is by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick.  Here's part of their description from the dust jacket:

While working on She Loves Me, they also prepared a new musical based on Sholem Aleichem's Tevye's Daughters for forthcoming production.

She Loves Me was a charming, well-reviewed show that ran almost a year and lost money.  Their next show, referred to above, opened in 1964.  It was Fiddler On The Roof and it ran forever.  I get the feeling future inner sleeves noted this show more emphatically.

Friday, June 28, 2019

A Hard-Knock Life?

Danielle Brisebois turns 50 today.  The name doesn't ring a bell?  Let me refresh your memory.

She rose to fame--or at least celebrity--in the Broadway production of Annie, a blockbuster musical that opened in 1977.  While Andrea McArdle got a lot of attention in the title role, another child actor, Brisebois, got almost as much love as Molly, the youngest of the orphans.

A busy child actor, she jumped from Broadway to TV, becoming a regular on All In The Family (and its sequel Archie Bunker's Place), as Stephanie, the singing, dancing girl the Bunker's take in.  It's tough for a child actor growing up, and while Brisebois kept working before the cameras for some years, she didn't maintain her prominence into adulthood.

Which is why it's such a shock to hear she's 50.  You always think of her as a little girl.

Not that she didn't have a second act.  She's had a fairly successful career in music, singing, composing and producing. Her songs have been recorded by numerous artists, including Donna Summer, Paula Abdul, Kelly Clarkson, Kylie Minogue and Mandy Moore. She was even nominated for an Oscar for her song "Lost Stars" in Begin Again.

So happy 50th, Danielle. Considering you were a show biz veteran when you were 20, good to know you're still at it.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Give Me A Hand

It's the last Thursday in June, so you know what that means. It's National Handshake Day.

No one knows when or where the handshake originated, but it's been around for centuries.  There's evidence it goes back at least the ancient Greece.  Some people believe Roman soldiers would shake hands to be sure the other didn't have any secret weapons.  I'm suspicious.

Handshakes are widespread--found around the world for essentially the same reason.  To be honest, I've never liked the handshake.  For one thing, it's a great way to spread germs.  Plus some people judge you by your handshake, and who needs that?

I'd prefer a wave or a smile or even a fist-bump--anything a little less personal.  And when you get to know someone better, go straight to the hug.  So though it's Handshake Day, I don't plan to go out of my way to do it.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

MG

Milton Glaser turns 90 today.  He's one of America's top graphic designers.  You may not know his name, but you probably recognize his work:



Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Learn How To Play The Game

Believe it or not, Michael Jackson died ten years ago today.  It was a huge shock, and a year ago I would have believed we'd see a lot of tributes on this anniversary.  But after the documentary Leaving Neverland aired this year, Jackson has become so toxic that I don't imagine too many will celebrate his music today.

So instead, how about noting it's Global Beatles Day. (I know, every day is Global Beatles Day.) The day was founded ten years ago, apparently (when Jackson died?).  June 25th was the day in 1967 the Beatles performed "All You Need Is Love" on live television, broadcast to hundreds of millions around the world.

The song, written by John, was selected for its basic message, easily understandable in any language. (The other choice was Paul's "Your Mother Should Know," which would have been a bit more whimsical.)

Actually, part of the "live" recording was a backing track. The Beatles, by 1967, were taking days and days to record their material.  They weren't going to go out live across the world without some of the stuff already prepared.

The chorus, both in words and music, is pretty basic, but the verse is unusual, especially for a song that went to #1 around the world.  For one thing, rather than being strict 4/4, the time signature changes more than once.  And for a positive song about love, the words are pretty negative, with "nothing," "no one" and "nowhere" sprinkled throughout.

It's not in my Beatles' top ten, or twenty, but it's a good song.  It could have easily been a piece of propaganda, but somehow, after John wrote it and the Beatles arranged it, something beautiful came out.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Keeping Up With Jones

I just finished the third, and last, season of Jessica Jones.  It picks up where season two ended, and features the regulars--Jessica, Trish, Malcolm, Hogarth, Dorothy, Costa--along with a few newbies.

The show's best season was the first.  It not only introduces (to TV) Jessica herself, but also the world she lives in, where some have special powers.  And it gives Jessica a dynamite villain, Kilgrave, who can control people's minds.  The second season was a letdown, where Jessica meets her biological mom, who's like Jessica--two characters with the same powers facing off lacks contrast.

The third season is better than season two, but still falls short. Before I go on, please be advised spoilers will follow.

The basic idea was good--instead of a villain with special powers, make him a regular person.  This is Sallinger, a sociopathic killer who has trained and educated himself as much as he can, and who resents the specials whom he feel haven't earned their place. (A bit like Syndrome in The Incredibles, though that character and his abilities are more fantastic.) There's also Erik, Jessica's new lover as well as someone with the power to tell if a person is evil.

However, once establishing the villain (it takes several episodes to discover him, as is the Jessica Jones style), they don't know quite what to do with him.  He's a bit too pathetic, and seems too easy to catch. That he's so much trouble seems less due to his ingenuity than the fact that Jessica and others keep making dumb mistakes.

There are also a number of side plots that add motivation but not enough interest: the amorous adventures of Malcolm, now a top-notch but morally compromised security specialist; Hogarth's attempts to reconnect with an old lover; the troubles of Erik's sister, whom he takes off the street.

But perhaps the most questionable thing is Trish's arc.  In fact, season three concentrates on her story so much that's she's arguably the lead.  And, arguably, the true villain.  In the aftermath of season two, she's now got powers, but has trouble handling them.  Eventually, she goes off the deep end and starts killing "bad" people without due process (or remorse). In the penultimate episode, she kills Sallinger, so the finale is about Jessica trying to capture her sister.

Not a bad plot, necessarily, but it's hard to buy Trish going over the edge.  Sure, she's pushed (Sallinger kills her mother, for one thing), but she goes from zero to sixty pretty quickly, and simply can't be reasoned with.  If you're not buying the motivations of the alpha bad guy, there's trouble.

Krysten Ritter is still fine as Jessica, and Rachael Taylor is equally solid as Trish.  And Rebecca De Mornay does a good job as Dorothy, especially in the flashback episode that shows how she was the stage mother to end all stage mothers.

So the show didn't exactly go out with a bang.  But it was good enough that I wish it weren't over.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Gish Wish or Whitewashington

Bowling Green is removing Lillian Gish's name from a theatre because she appeared in Birth Of A Nation and, further, never renounced the film.  Meanwhile, a San Francisco high school may be covering up a mural of George Washington because he was a slaveholder among other evils.

Gish and Washington aren't exactly the same (and high schools aren't colleges) but the arguments the authorities make are pretty similar--these moves are to protect the students and the inclusive environment the administration hopes to foster.

I've discussed similar cases of censorship at great length, so I won't rehearse my arguments here.  I'll just note that the biggest irony (among several) is these schools are actively harming these students they're claiming to protect by impoverishing their imaginations and treating them as so brittle and ignorant.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

TR

Is it Todd Rundgren's birthday already?







Friday, June 21, 2019

Lit

Don't look now, but it's the summer solstice.

I just looked up the etymology. "Solstice" comes from Latin.  The "sol," as you might guess, means sun.  The rest come from a verb meaning to stand still.  Not sure if I entirely get it, for the summer or winter solstice, but I'm not complaining.

Anyway, enjoy all the sunlight.  As I've noted in the past, you should feel optimistic all year 'round.  For six months, the days are getting longer, and for six months (with a three-month overlap) the days are over 12 hours.  And during the three months after September's equinox, while the days are short and getting shorter, you've got Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas to look forward to.

Celebrations of the summer solstice go way back, before recorded history.  After all, different cultures have different stories, but they've all got the same sky. Well, they've got the same sun and moon, anyway.

So go out and do something that requires sunlight.  You'll never have a better day for it.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Rick's Per Morty

The next season of Rick And Morty won't start till late this year. Until then, let's look at this list at Collider ranking all 31 episodes.

If you don't know the show, this will mean little, but even if you know the show, you may not be entirely familiar with the titles--if so, click on the link.  I've included a number after the title to indicate which season the episode comes from.

31. "Pilot" (1)
30. "Something Ricked This Way Comes" (1)
29. "Raising Gazopazorp" (1)
28. "Lawnmower Dog"(1)
27. "Ricksy Business" (1)
26. "Look Who's Purging Now" (2)
25. "Anatomy Park" (1)
24. "Get Schwifty" (2)
23. "The Rickchurian Mortydate" (3)
22. "Big Trouble In Little Sanchez" (2)
21. "A Rickle In Time" (2)
20. "Rixty Minutes" (1)
19. "Rickmancing The Stone" (3)
18. "Interdimensional Cable 2: Tempting Fate" (2)
17. "The ABCs Of Beth" (3)
16. "M. Night Shyam-Aliens!" (1)
15. "The Whirley Dirly Conspiracy" (3)
14. "Rick Potion #9" (1)
13. "Close Rick-Counters Of The Rick Kind" (1)
12. "The Wedding Squanchers" (2)
11. "Rest And Ricklaxation" (3)
10. "The Ricks Must Be Crazy" (2)
9.   "The Rickshank Redemption" (3)
8.   "Meeseeks And Destroy" (1)
7.   "Vindicators 3: The Return Of Worldender" (3)
6.   "Auto Erotic Assimilation" (2)
5.   "Mortynight Run" (2)
4.   "The Ricklantis Mixup" (3)
3.   "Morty's Mind Blowers" (3)
2.   "Total Rickall" (2)
1.   "Pickle Rick" (3)

I usually put up these lists to criticize them, but I must say this one is pretty good.

Looking it over, I'm reminded of the high quality of the show.  There's not a single bad episode, and even those in the bottom ten are pretty good. In fact, "Something Ricked This Way Comes" is quite good--ranked too low--as is "Look Who's Purging Now."

Also, the show has improved each season as the writers figure out how to come up with imaginative plots that offer plenty of laughs but also explore the characters.  Thus, the bottom five are from the first season, while three are the top four are from the latest season.

I have a few quibbles.  I think the worst episodes are the ones that feature mostly stray jokes and don't work that well in adding to the overall arc.  In particular, the two that deal with interdimensional cable at 20 and 18. They're not ranked high, but they should be even lower.  (On the other hand, "Morty's Mind Blowers" took this scattershot approach and folded it into the arc quite well--maybe not #3 well, but probably top ten.)

Worse is the high ranking of "The Ricklantis Mixup." The story takes us away from the main story and brings us into the Citadel, where we get a lots of characters, but no plot worth caring about.  Should be in the bottom five.

I also disagree with "Pickle Rick" at the top.  It's a fine episode--stripping Rick of everything to see how he manages, not to mention delving into the psychological dynamic of the family.  But #1?  Top ten I could see.

And with "Pickle Rick" demoted, "Total Rickall" would take its proper place at the top.  It's one of those special episodes--like "Remedial Chaos Theory" from an earlier Dan Harmon show (Community)--that features a great concept perfectly executed which sets it apart from (and above) the rest of the show.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Dethroned

Okay, it's been a month since the final episode of Game Of Thrones and I think I can safely say--the last season was no good.  It seemed that way while it was unspooling, but now I'm sure. It was six episodes long, and resolved all the major issues, but everything was rushed.  Or if it wasn't rushed, it just wasn't well written, with motivations taking a back road to big moments.

There'd been significant problems with the show in the last couple seasons, but it still managed to maintain a fairly high level.  The last season, however, had maybe two decent episodes ("A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms" and "The Last Of The Starks" if you were wondering.)

There are many things to complain about, but here are some of the biggest:

--The two big battles were poorly done.  Sure, no expense was spared, but the fight against the Night King was poorly planned and too dark to see.  The battle of King's Landing was confusing, filled with individual plans that made no sense, and spent too long trying to beat into our heads that Dany is wreaking terrible destruction.  We would have got that, as would the characters, even if they didn't show it.

--Wrong order.  From the start of the show, the big battle was the fight against the Wights.  It made the game of thrones look puny by comparison.  Who cares who sits on the Iron Throne when the whole of humanity is at stake? So what does the show do?  It disposes of the Night King and his army in the first three episodes and then moves on to the trivial problem of who'll rule from King's Landing.  Does it matter?  Rulers come and go.

--Whipsawing of characters and motivations.  Dany comes into Westeros, listens to the advice of others (though they often make mistakes), saves the entire world, loses half her army and two dragons, yet everyone (including the audience) is supposed to hate her because she's out of control. Varys, after being the smartest character in the world, turns on her immediately, rather than trying to advise her otherwise, or waiting until he's in a position to do good (and turns on her in such an obvious way this brilliant strategist is easily caught and executed).  Sansa has to know she and everyone she loves would have been slaughtered if not for Dany, but all she does is complain about the Breaker Of Chains. And Jon would just as soon kill her as talk her down.  I guess he knows nothing.

--Plot is told and not shown.  There are a lot of examples, but to pick an obvious one, there's the moment when Tyrion has an emotional speech about how Cersei must surrender because she has no chance to win, and thousands will die needlessly.  Wait a second there, Imp.  Cersei has no chance?  Cersei, who's got a huge, well-rested army and the best fleet in the world?  Cersei, who decisively won the previous face-off, destroying her opposition's fleet and taking out one of Dany's two dragons?  Cersei, who's facing a tired, decimated army which has already seen the desertion of many of its allies?  Cersei, who hides behind the walls of a city that's better at withstanding armies than any other?  Cersei, who easily killed one of Dany's dragons and only has to kill the other one to put an end to Dany's chances?  Yep, she's guaranteed to lose, that's the plot, now shut up and accept it. (I also don't get why thousands will die needlessly, but we have to accept that, too.)

--Bran is chosen King.  Tyrion argues that he should be king because he's got the best story, and, amazingly, everyone agrees.  First, who cares if he has a story--will he be a good ruler is a better question, and a kid who acts like he's stoned hardly seems the ideal choice.  Second, his story is so boring the show wrote him out for a season.  Third, he's the three-eyed raven--isn't that a special position where you're supposed to sit in a cave and watch everything?  Fourth, what evidence at all is there that this creepy kid knows how to get anything done--I'm not sure if I'd even trust him as an advisor, but a ruler?  Literally everyone else in the dragon pit would have made a better king.  By the way, his first decision is to set the North free, so it's now six kingdoms, not seven.  Why would anyone else stay?  His first decision, then, doesn't just weaken his kingdom and smack of favoritism when he needs to rule all fairly--it's a disastrous ruling that guarantees instability and almost certainly civil war.

--A girl is ill-used.  I won't even discuss Sansa, who was never a great character, and actually more boring once she got powerful.  But Arya was one of the most reliable characters through the first five seasons, when she had a series of mentors.  Then she became a master assassin who could disguise herself, but for some reason this skill was never displayed in the final season.  Sure, she got to kill the Night King, but not through deception--instead, to get close (to the most protected character around, since if he dies his whole army dies), she simply leaps at him.  Then, in her attempt to kill Cersei, which she decides not to do anyway, she once again figures she'll just be good old Arya.  Jaqen would be disgusted--why did we waste all that training on her?  And instead of sticking around Westeros to work her magic and right wrongs, she decides to sail into unknown territory.  Since when is she a captain?  Maybe I could buy Yara doing this, but Arya is a landlubber.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

When There's A Will

Will Smith is a movie star.  That I know.  What I don't know is what he's like in private. But I wonder how he feels about this summer's movies.

For some years now, Hollywood pundits have been saying we're past the age of movie stars--it's the film that counts.  They say that blockbusters come not from big names, but from projects generally based on well-known intellectual property.  The best example of this would be, I suppose, all those successful Marvel films.

Another example would be films based on D.C. Comics--Smith was even in one, Suicide Squad.  He was the big name, but some claimed his stardom wasn't responsible for its grosses--that it would have done just as well with someone else.

So how does he feel about so many projects, big ones with major IP, falling by the wayside?  Dark Phoenix, Godzilla, Rocketman, Dumbo and others have posted disappointing numbers. Meanwhile, Smith's Aladdin is one of the few significant hits in the past few months. How much was due to the property, how much to Smith?

But here's the part that depends on his personality.  I'm sure he's pleased he's in a hit, but how does he feel about the relative failure of the Men In Black reboot? The original is the film that turned him into a major star, and for which he did two sequels.  Now Sony has decided to produce an MIB without Smith and it looks like it's in trouble. Deep down, I wonder if he isn't a little bit pleased that they can't do it without him?

Monday, June 17, 2019

When It's '64

Don't ask me how, but I just got a copy of Collier's Encyclopedia Yearbook for 1964 (published in 1965, of course).  This comes from the time when such compendia weren't created afresh each day, so an annual update was helpful.

I was particularly happy to get the 1964 volume, since that was the year Beatlemania broke in America--while there's a lot of fascinating stuff in its pages, forgive me for concentrating on the Fab Four.  The band is discussed at some length twice: in an overview of that year's popular music, and in a section on "Personalities Of The Year."

The musical discussion includes a full-page picture of the Beatles performing in a Seattle auditorium, so even Collier's, which would rather discuss classical music, knows they're a phenomenon.  The tone, as you might expect, is amused condescension.

They make the mistake--common at the time--of believing Paul wrote the music while John wrote the lyrics.  Understandable, in a way, since so many composing teams then, especially on Broadway, split those tasks.  They also get the title of one of their songs wrong, calling it "She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)."

From their description of the group:

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Beatles is their physical appearance, which to some observers suggested a contemporary and youthful version of the overdressed British dandy of 18th- and 19th- century tradition.  But the most recognizable aspect of their appearance is the quartet's long hair, somewhere between Elvis Presley's and Little Lord Fauntleroy's.

To be fair, Collier's is impressed with their talent, praising the tunefulness of Paul's balladry, the wit of Lennon's book In His Own Write and the comic quality of their movie A Hard Day's Night.

The discussion of the band in the personalities section is similar.  It starts thus:

Beatles, The (1940/1943-    ), a hirsute four-man English rock 'n' roll group that twice invaded the United States in 1964, producing epidemics of Beatlemania, a malady that afflicts teen-age girls especially and can be recognized by outbreaks of shrieking, swooning, twitching, police-line stampedes, predawn airport vigils, and other forms of collective hysteria. Taken together, the Beatles look alike--the body is encased in a collarless Edwardian four-button jacket and tight pants, the characteristic "yeah-yeah" sounds are emitted from beneath a mop of shaggy hair to the eyeballs.

The article ends:

The importance of the Beatles is not well understood by the adult population, but the group has undoubtedly been beneficial to makers of records, wigs, T-shirts, collarless suits and other stigmata of Beatledom.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Still Happy

The phrase "jump the shark" has become part of the lexicon.  As I've mentioned before, I know the people who came up with it at the University of Michigan.  They told me about it years before it was in widespread use.

I was recently watching a video where some British people tried to guess the meaning of the phrase.  They couldn't, of course.  It's impossible.  It means when a TV show (or anything, really) has passed its high point and is going downhill, never to be good again. It comes from the episode of Happy Days where Fonzie, in leather jacket and water skis, literally jumps over a shark.

Reading the comments below the video, however, it's clear most people don't know the full story.  They seem to believe this moment came late in the series when the show was flailing and the writers couldn't think of anything.  I'll leave it to you to judge if the writers were out of ideas, but, in fact, it happened while the show was very popular.

Happy Days did okay in its debut season, but looked like it may be in trouble until Fonzie broke out as a character.  That's when creator Garry Marshall did two things--make Fonzie far more prominent and start filming the show in front of a live audience.

It did the trick, and in its fourth season, Happy Days hit #1. It had previously never been top ten.  When it became a big hit, it would start each season with a series of related episodes often filmed at a location.  In season four, it was the romance of Fonzie and Pinky Tuscadero.  Season five started with a storyline where the characters go out to Hollywood--these were the episodes that included the shark jumping.  Season six started with the gang going out to a dude ranch.

Ratings-wise, these were the glory years of the show, where it was #1, then #2, then #4.  It remained a hit after that, but was never top ten again.

Okay, it's true the ratings started moving downward after Fonzie jumped the shark, but in the entire season after he did the deed it was still the second most popular show on TV, just a little behind Laverne & Shirley.  The next four seasons after that the show was still in the top 20. Only in its eleventh and final season was it truly low-rated.  To put it another way, the "jump the shark" moment happened at the beginning of season 5, and the show ran 11 seasons--the shark was jumped in the 91st of  255 episodes.

So yeah, maybe the moment was ridiculous, but at the time the viewers didn't seem to mind.  Except a few who some years later attended the University of Michigan and made the moment famous.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Let George Say It

George Clooney and partner Grant Heslov have produced the new Hulu mini-series Catch-22.  The 1970 movie version, directed by Mike Nichols, was a disaster, but maybe the extra screen-time will allow for them to capture the absurdist comedy of the source. (Too bad I don't get Hulu.)

George and Grant were just interviewed at Deadline.com. The first question is about how Clooney speaks out on political issues.  Then we get this exchange:

Q:  Grant, as George's partner, when you're sitting there and the questions about Trump or something else off-topic floats by on a hook, do you ever think, 'George, don't swallow the bait?'

Grant Heslov: No.  I don't think you give up your right to be a citizen if you become a movie star.  It makes me proud.

Can't blame Heslov for backing his (more famous) partner.  And he's right, movie stars have the same rights as all citizens.  But there is a difference.

You see, plumbers and accountants have opinions, too, just as valid as Clooney's.  But they don't get interviewed by the press, and their opinions aren't spread across the globe.  In fact, if I hired a plumber and he kept going on about the world situation, rather than snaking my toilet, I'd probably fire him.

It must be pretty tempting to speak your mind, knowing millions will hear your words.  But I'm pretty sure Clooney knows he's not being interviewed for his geopolitical acumen.  I can't stop movie stars from saying what they want when they want, but I'm still not clear on why the press finds it newsworthy.

Friday, June 14, 2019

JW

Happy birthday, Junior Walker.  He would have turned 88 today.  He was at Motown, but had his own sound.





Thursday, June 13, 2019

CC Follies

Here's another example of mistakes in closed captioning.  They can be annoying, but when they screw up lyrics it's worse, since they're destroying specially crafted material.

I'm referring to the musical You Can't Have Everything (1937), music and lyrics by Harry Revel and Mack Gordon.  Early on, Alice Faye sings the title song.  I was watching with the CC on and read this:

You can't have everything
Be satisfied with the little you make and
You can't have everything
Don't envy neighbors and the fortunes that they get

The CC typist must have thought very little of Gordon's talents.  Who would try to rhyme "make and" with "they get"? It doesn't even make sense--you can't tell people to be satisfied with the little they make when you don't even know if they have a job.

When the words were repeated later in the song, the CC made the same mistake, but I'd already reverse-engineered what she was actually singing.  You've probably figured it out by now:

You can't have everything
Be satisfied with the little you may get
You can't have everything
Don't envy neighbors and the fortunes that they get

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

What Said Fred?

I was recently looking up Fred Astaire on the IMDb and, while scrolling down, checked the films they claim he's "known for." Here's the list:

The Towering Inferno, Funny Face, On The Beach and Three Little Words

Fine films, for the most part, but really?

First, two of them are dramas.  Astaire is known for musicals, which he starred in for most of his career.  I can understand The Towering Inferno, not because it's a great film or role--he's not even the lead--but because it's the part that got him his only Oscar nomination.

But even then, the list should probably all be musicals.  And the two that are mentioned--Funny Face and Three Little Words--shouldn't make the "known for" four.  Funny Face comes close, but Three Little Words, a musical biopic with limited dancing, wouldn't make Fred's top ten.

Even worse, there's not a single title he did with Ginger Rogers, which are the films that brought him to fame and are still the crown jewels of film musicals.

So what four films should he be "known for"?  Well, there'd have to be at least two with Ginger, and by general consensus I guess those would be Top Hat and Swing Time.  Of the films he made without her, you've got to include The Band Wagon.  So there's only room for one more--let's say either Holiday Inn or Easter Parade.

If anyone knows the IMDb people, please forward this to them.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Nettlesome

Some time ago a friend served me some tea and I asked her what kind.  She said it was nettle leaf.  Later, I looked for nettle leaf tea and found it at Whole Foods.  It was part of a line of herbal teas from Traditional Medicinals. (They claim it's good for you, but that's not why I drink it.  They also note it's non-GMO, which means less than nothing to me.)

So for months I was making nettle leaf tea.  Not every day--I don't drink tea that much, just occasionally.  Then, not that long ago, I went into my local Whole Foods and could not find any.  No big deal.  I figured they were temporarily out.  But the next time I checked, they were out again.  Meanwhile, all the other teas were there.

So I went to another Whole Foods. (This is Los Angeles--there are a whole bunch of Whole Foods in a ten-mile radius.) They were also out, while every other flavor seemed to be available.

Over the past couple weeks, whenever I was near a Whole Foods, I'd check it out, and every single one was missing Nettle Leaf.  And not just missing it. Often the row that promised nettle leaf was empty. This was no coincidence.

So I have to ask, what's going on?  Has Traditional Medicinals stopped making Nettle Leaf? Did Jeff Bezos say "we'll stock every flavor but nettle leaf--I hate nettle leaf"? Was there a recall of the product when they found out it was, in fact, GMO? Did scientists discover nettle leaf is actually deadly, and there was a rush to withdraw it?

I checked the internet to see if anyone is covering the nettle leaf story, but came up with nothing.  The mystery continues.

Monday, June 10, 2019

You Don't Say

I recently watched on TCM The MacKintosh Man, a minor spy thriller from 1973, starring Paul Newman and James Mason, directed by John Huston.  It's okay--worth watching if you're a Newman or Huston fan.

Most of the story is set in England and Ireland (and Newman, for some reason, does an Australian accent for much of the film--not a particularly good one). I've discussed closed caption mistakes before, but they were a little different this time.

Generally, the CC typist gets it wrong because she doesn't hear something clearly.  In this case, the person in charge wasn't quite familiar with certain phrases used across the pond, so we got some entertaining errors.

Early on, Newman is being tried in a British court.  A barrister refers to him, saying "the prisoner sits over there in the dock." The CC typist had apparently never heard this phrase, and so rendered it "the prisoner sits over there in the dark." She must have at least thought that a strange line, since Newman looked pretty well illuminated to me.

Later, a British politician promises to buy drinks for some Irish citizens, one of whom replies "your obedient servant, sir." Once again, the CC person hadn't heard this phrase, so pretty much turned it on its head: "you're an obedient servant, sir." Mason was offering to buy, I guess, but I don't think his character would have appreciated being called a servant.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

All Good Places Must Come To An End

My favorite network comedy, perhaps my favorite network show, The Good Place, is going to end after its fourth season.

The show has never been huge in the ratings, so I suppose fans should be happy with what they got.  Creator Mike Schur says four seasons is what the writers always planned anyway.    Considering how fast the plot moves, and how far it's come, I can believe him.  Though I have to wonder what he'd say if NBC offered him two more seasons. (The articles about this sometimes imply ending after four seasons was Schur's decision, but that could be just be to save face.  Or let's put it another way.  Perhaps Schur decided four seasons was enough, but if he wanted more, would they have given it to him?)

They only do 13 episodes a season, so they'll have a grand total of 52.  While that's not much for a network show--you usually want at least 100 to be worthy of syndication--it's really quite a lot when you think about it.  Think of British favorites like Fawlty Towers or Black Adder, which had many fewer episodes.

When we left the fearless four, and their helpers Michael and Janet, they were beginning a new experiment in the Good Place. (I could be a lot more specific, but I'm avoiding spoilers--the show will soon be over and that's when some people will start bingeing.)  I'm sure there's a lot to resolve, but I think 13 half-hours with six characters is easier to handle that dealing with all the problem of Westeros in 6 episodes.

So I look forward to the final season.  And hope they give it a nice send-off.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Chi Shy

I've enjoyed the first two seasons of Showtime's The Chi. It's about various people in the south side of Chicago whose lives intersect.  It's an ensemble drama, but if there were a lead, or a central character, I think it would be Jason Mitchell as Brandon, a chef who wants to play it straight but has a lot of trouble.

And now the actor is in trouble.  He's been accused of personal misconduct and has been kicked off the show. In fact, it looks like Mitchell, who was an up-and-comer, may be finished in general, as everyone he's associated with is dropping him.

So the third season of The Chi will be without Brandon.  There are plenty of other characters, of course, but I suppose every viewer will have to ask if they want to continue watching with Mitchell gone.  I'm not sure I will.

I don't think The Chi is that big a hit--certainly it doesn't get numbers comparable to Homeland or Billions.  And the ratings dropped considerably in the second season.  The show was renewed before Mitchell's issues came to light. I wonder if Showtime would have committed if they'd known.

Friday, June 07, 2019

The Night Tripper

Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John, has died.  He's best known for his one big hit, but he recorded a ton of albums and contributed to a few tons more.

He sang, played piano and wrote songs.  His music was rock mixed with blues, R&B, funk, boogie woogie and a whole bunch of other things.





Thursday, June 06, 2019

1966 And All That

I've been reading Steve Turner's Beatles '66: The Revolutionary Year.  The title's not lying--it's all about The Beatles in 1966.  The theory behind the book is that particular year was a transformative one in their lives and careers, "the year that changed everything."

True.  But not especially meaningful.  The Beatles went through so much that every year in the 60s was a transformative year.  Let me demonstrate:

1960--Their first residency in Hamburg where they learn to tear it up so well that they return to Liverpool the most exciting rock band in town.

1961--Their first professional recording (backing Tony Sheridan) and the year they sign with manager Brian Epstein, who will put them on the road to success.

1962--Their first recording as The Beatles and their first chart hit in Britain.

1963--Beatlemania takes over Britain.

1964--Beatlemania takes over the world (and they star in A Hard Day's Night).

1965--Their music becomes more sophisticated as they record and release Rubber Soul.

1966--They experiment more than ever in the studio (and stop touring), recording and releasing Revolver.

1967--They put out Sgt. Pepper, perhaps the high point of the 1960s cultural revolution (and Brian Epstein dies).

1968--The Beatles record The Beatles (aka "The White Album") and the cracks start showing between the band members.

1969--They get it together and record their last hurrah, Abbey Road.

1970--They officially break up.

Don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying the book.  But you could write such a book for each year they were around.  I wish someone would.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Black Wednesday

We're finally getting the fifth season of Black Mirror, dropping on Netflix today. Season four came out in late 2017.  Since then, Black Mirror released "Bandersnatch," which, while part of season five, I guess, is its own thing.

"Bandersnatch" is an interactive episode, so the show had to film hours of scenes to fit all the paths the viewer might take.  In other words, it was the equivalent of shooting three episodes.  Which may explain why, though Black Mirror has offered six episodes per Netflix season in the past, only three more are being made available today.

They will be:

--"Smithereens," starring Topher Grace

--"Rachel, Jack And Ashley Too" starring Miley Cyrus

--"Striking Vipers" starring Anthony Mackie.

I've seen the trailer, which doesn't give away too much.  As always, they seem to be sci-fi horror tales set in the near future which artificial intelligence playing a large role.  I know what I'll be doing the next few days.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Sooner Or Later

James Holzhauer* was such a dominant Jeopardy! contestant that it almost seemed like he was unbeatable.  Almost.

He had a 32-game winning streak, but more than that, the games were never close.  He won by huge margins, guaranteed victory by the time he got to Final Jeopardy.  So powerful was his game that he broke the record for single-show winnings 14 times.  If I had to compare what he did to anything, it would be the season Wilt Chamberlain averaged over 50 points a game.  No one had ever seen anything like it.

Holzhauer was on the edge of surpassing Ken Jennings record for total winnings, and in less than half the time, when he lost last night.  Any loss would have been dramatic, but this made it extra exciting.

Of course, it was always a matter of time--no one lasts forever.  It just required the right conditions.  First, he had to be up against one or two (in this case it was two) good players who not only knew most of the answers (as most contestants do) but who were about as quick on the draw as he is. Then there's the luck of getting categories for which they're just as good as Holzhauer, or better.

But the real key would be the Daily Doubles.  Holzhauer, who understood strategy (but was also brave) would bet a lot, putting himself out of reach by the Final Jeopardy round.  However, if it happened that either Holzhauer lost a big Daily Double in the second round, or if any good opponents lucked into picking one or both Daily Doubles in the second round, that could put them in a position to win.

Which is what happened.  Emma Boettcher was behind, but had been keeping pace with Holzhauer when she picked the first Daily Double in the second round and bet big. She got it right and was ahead for the rest of the game.  She also picked the second Daily Double and didn't bet that big, but keeping it out of Holzhauer's hands was enough--if he'd picked it he certainly would have bet big and probably won the game.

There was a chance he could still pull it out in the final round, but the last clue was easy.  All three contestants got it and history was made.  Or unmade.

Now we'll get to see how far Boettcher goes.

*I had a professor in law school named James Holzhauer.  Not the same guy.

Monday, June 03, 2019

CM

Curtis Mayfield died, too young, about 20 years ago, but let's celebrate his birthday today.









Sunday, June 02, 2019

All Talking, All Singing, All Dancing

When Hollywood started talking in the late 1920s, it also started singing.  In fact, musicals became so numerous they almost wrecked the industry.  Those early years are the subject of A Song In The Dark: The Birth Of The Musical Film by Richard Barrios.  I finally got around to reading it (it was published in the 90s).

When people think about the earliest musicals, they often think about titles such as 42nd Street or Top Hat.  In fact, a lot of people might think 42nd Street kicked off the Hollywood musical.  But these films, released in 1933 and 1935, were latecomers.  Barrios starts with the beginning of sound and takes us up to 1934.  It was the early musical hits--The Jazz Singer (1927), The Singing Fool (1928), The Broadway Melody (1929)--that convinced Hollywood to get into the sound business as well as the musical business.

Barrios takes us year by year, genre by genre, listing over a hundred films and going into detail on many.  We get to know the stars, the directors, the producers, the songwriters, the choreographers. Barrios realizes Hollywood was still adjusting to the form, and while he makes allowances, he isn't afraid to be critical when called for.

And he explains what many aren't aware of--there were so many musicals that the audience got sick of them.  All those revues and backstagers and men singing "Mammy" songs created a surfeit.  But late 1930, the studios, already in trouble due to the Depression, started pulling back on musicals, which were expensive and troublesome to shoot.  In fact, they even took productions planned to be musicals and removed the songs.

There were still the occasional musical film in the early 1930s, and some were even hits, but it wasn't until Warner Bros.--which released The Jazz Singer, the film that started the whole craze--came out with 42nd Street and then every studio had to have its big production.  Warner Bros. itself soon followed up with Gold Diggers Of 1933 and Footlight Parade, also big moneymakers.

RKO's big musical was Flying Down To Rio (1933), featuring, in supporting roles, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  They were teamed up and started their own series of hits.

Somewhat surprisingly, Barrios laments this revival.  Sure, he likes Busby Berkeley's choreography in the Warner films, and greatly appreciates Fred Astaire's technique.  But he feels the form became standardized, all the rough edges smoothed over. (The censorship of the Production Code starting in 1934 didn't help, either).

The earliest musicals involved a lot of experimentation.  Different studios, and different directors, tried a lot of different things.  They combined the musical with every kind of genre.  Plenty of these films were failures, artistically and financially. After 1934, everything was more consistent and professional, but some of the excitement was gone.

Anyway, if you want to know more about these early films--little seen and even less appreciated--this is the book.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Eric The Actor

Earlier this year I saw a very low budget film called Billboard.  It did have two actors I recognized, though--Heather Matarazzo and, in a small part, Eric Roberts.  Last year, I saw another small film called Taco Shop.  And sure enough, there was Eric Roberts in a small part.

What's going on?  Back in the 1980s he was on the edge of major stardom, playing leads in Star 80 and The Pope Of Greenwich Village, not to mention receiving an Oscar nomination for Runaway Train.  Has his star fallen so low that Roberts (brother of Julia, father of Emma) has been reduced to small roles in no-budget films?

Well, yes and no.  It turns out (as far as I can tell) he'll work for anyone, as long as they pay and the part can be done quickly.  In fact, he plays a new role about every week or two.  At present, he's done more than 500 parts!

He's 63 years old.  As long as he stays healthy, I think he's got a good shot at 1000.  Go, Eric!

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