Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Everything Is Food

Not sure what to eat today?  Let me help you.

Today is National Avocado Day.

And it's National Cotton Candy Day.

And it's National Raspberry Cake Day (didn't know raspberry cake was a big thing).

It's also National Shredded Wheat Day.

And, finally, it's National Jump For Jelly Beans Day.

So that should take care of the menu. Have a good time.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Mad Man Martin

With Mad Magazine leaving us, I borrowed from my library, in a fit of nostalgia, a collection of Don  Martin cartoons.  Martin, known as "Mad's maddest artist," died in 2000 at 68.  Though his characters look bizarre, and make weird sounds (Martin was famous for his sound effects), Martin was himself a quiet, normal-looking guy.

In reading three decades worth of his work at once, it was fun to see how often he returned to certain themes.  For instance, he liked doing cartoon about Mount Rushmore (a "barber" who snips a bush from Lincoln's nose, a cleaning crew that works on the legs of the statues underground and so on).  He also liked jokes involving novelty store gags (squirting flowers, compressed boxing gloves, funny glasses and nose).

Then there are quite a few takes on the Rapunzel legend (two climbers on different sides of the castle, climbing armpit hair, climbing a horse's tail) and seemingly endless variations on the princess kissing the frog (a prince whose tongue flicks at flies, a princess who eats frogs legs which turn into prince legs).

I also forgot how gruesome he could be.  There are a lot of severed limbs in Martin's work, along with drills through the head and people being opened up on operating tables.

What shocked me, however, was though I hadn't read any of this stuff in many years, I remembered a lot of specific cartoons.  I guess that's how deep an impression Martin made.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Neil's Meal

In my attempt to read all of Neil Simon's plays, I recently located a copy of The Dinner Party, one of the last original works he presented on Broadway.  The one-act comedy (his first, I believe) opened October 19, 2000 and ran 364 performances.

The plot is about a lawyer (never seen) who invites six people, for unknown reasons, to a dinner party at a fancy restaurant in France.  We're introduced to the characters one by one, and what starts in a farce-like manner ends a little more seriously as a contemplation of relationships.

Unfortunately, like other late plays of Simon, the wit is no longer there.  The one-liners are mostly weak.  There's no point in quoting them to demonstrate this, since they can be found on every page--it would be easier to quote the good lines, but I'm not sure there are any. (At one point, a character responds to an alleged laugh line saying "That's very good..." and the first character says "Thank you, I'm rarely ever funny." Watch it, Neil.)

While there is some mystery in trying to figure out why a dinner party, and why these six people, there's not much else to carry us along, even over one act.  The characters all have their quirks, but are fairly flat, constantly talking about their feelings rather than demonstrating them. Incidentally, they're all French, but they don't seem particularly Gallic.  Not sure why Simon set the play in France except maybe he was trying something different.

Perhaps good actors could bring some life to the characters--and the original cast included John Ritter, Henry Winkler and Len Cariou--but the script doesn't give them much to work with.

Simon was in his early 70s when he wrote the play.  Maybe he was tired.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Decadence

Every now and then, you'll see someone writing about New Wave music as if it were an 80s phenomenon.  It did last through the 80s, but punk and new wave started in the 70s and a lot of the most significant work was done then.

I guess if enough years pass, time starts to merge, and one decade may seem like another. But they're not.  It's worth remembering that the 1920s was the Jazz Age, the 1930s was the Depression (starting with the crash in 1929), the 1940s was World War II (the war started in 1939, but America didn't enter until 1941) and so on.

Why this preamble?  Because I saw a book entitled Wild And Crazy Guys about the comedy legends who arose in the early years of Saturday Night Live, and took over Hollywood.  On the cover it says "How the comedy mavericks of the '80s changed Hollywood forever."

Comedy mavericks of the '80s?  Yeah, sure, they did a lot of work in that decade, but didn't most of the guys pictured on the cover--Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd--come of age, comedy-wise, in the '70s? (I'll give them Eddie Murphy.) The title itself is a phrase coined by Martin in the 1970s.

Let's ignore their TV work, mostly done in the 70s, and concentrate on movies.  Chase became a star with Foul Play in 1978.  Belushi became a star in 1978 with Animal House (and died in 1982).  Steve Martin became a star in 1979 with The Jerk.  Bill Murray became a star in 1979 with Meatballs.

Sure, they all went on to make more movies--some of them big hits--after that decade, but in truth by the '80s they were barely mavericks any more.  They were the establishment.

PS  I saw Wild And Crazy Guys in a bookstore.  I opened it up and the first thing I read was a claim that Pulp Fiction (1994) was released in 1996.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Music In The Air

Let's celebrate some musical birthdays today.

Harvey Fuqua



Nick Reynolds



Bobbie Gentry



Maureen McGovern


Friday, July 26, 2019

Soon And Furever

In the next-to-last episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt they revealed the secret of Cats.  It's not a real show.  Weirdly-dressed actors simply sneak on stage in the middle of any performance, start singing whatever they want because no one's paying attention, and become permanent members of the Cats community.

I've never had any use for Cats.  There's no plot worth discussing, and the songs don't do anything for me.  I probably wouldn't have gone if you gave me a free ticket.  But the show ran on Broadway for 18 years and has made billions around the globe.  After years of waiting, a movie has been shot that will be released later this year.

And people are freaking out.  A number of websites have noted how creepy the actors in their CGI fur look.  On stage, you could get away with silly costumes, but half-human half-cat creatures are best suited to The Island Of Dr. Moreau.

The film features Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Rebel Wilson, Ian McKellen, James Corden and Jennifer Hudson.  Quite a cast.  But now people are wondering if it will fly.  Maybe this is why it took so long to get made.

The funny thing is, with people talking about how weird it all looks, I'm now interested.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

BB

Happy birthday, Benny Benjamin.  He died way too young in 1969, but for most of his last decade, he was the main house drummer at Motown (and part of the Funk Brothers who played there, including James Jamerson on bass).

He had a sound like no one else.  And whenever you hear a classic single from that label, there's an excellent chance it's him setting the groove.






Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Up To Eleven

I just read The Birth Of Loud, a fun and fascinating book by Ian S. Port about the development of the electric guitar, centering on the rivalry between Leo Fender and Les Paul.

The electric guitar had been around since the early 30s, and both Fender and Paul became fascinated by the instrument.  Paul because he played it professionally and was an innovator, and Fender because he loved electronics and inventing and wanted to help musicians--he wasn't one himself--find the perfect sound.

Acoustic guitars--i.e., all guitars before electricity got involved--had hollow bodies to make sound.  So did early electric guitars, though that could lead to feedback.  Eventually people such as Fender and Paul helped develop the solid-body guitar, an impossibility without electric pickups to amplify the sound.

Fender started a small shop, making guitars and related musical appliances.  He liked to tinker and would often be late with shipments because he cared deeply about getting it right.  No matter how big he got, he was always the guy in the warehouse working on various problems--employees would mistake him for the janitor.  Fender was friends with Les Paul, a well-known sideman who built a studio in his garage and would sometimes try out Fender's latest.  Paul, along with singer-guitarist-wife Mary Ford, started experimenting in multi-tracking, and became a huge recording artist in the early 50s.

Not long before, guitars were background accompaniment.  Electricity allowed them to be heard, finally, along with the other instruments in big bands, but they rarely took the lead. Paul helped the electric guitar become a major player in the industry.  Fender, who was developing a new solid-body, wanted Paul's endorsement, but Paul instead went with Fender's bigger rival, Gibson.  That started the rivalry, but neither could know how big the electric guitar was about to become.

Because in the mid-50s rock and roll started to take over.  This new music had much less need for brass or woodwinds than jazz did.  Now, if you wanted to form a band, you bought an electric guitar.  At this point, Port goes beyond Fender and Paul and their associates, devoting many pages to those who helped bring the electric guitar (and bass) to the fore, such as Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Dick Dale, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Carol Kaye (of the Wrecking Crew), James Jamerson (of Motown), Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. In the rock era, guitars became highly desirable, then practically mandatory.

It may not have been the music Fender expected, but his line--which included the Telecaster, the Stratocaster, the Precision Bass and various Amps--exploded.  He gave rockers what they wanted--something light and contoured for the body, for one thing. (Big Band players sat, rockers stood when they played.)  When he finally sold his company in the mid-60s, he became a multimillionaire.

Meanwhile, time had passed Paul by, musically.  By the late 50s he was a nostalgia act.  And the line of guitars Gibson had named after him were poor sellers.  Then something odd happened.  Some major rock artists, especially Eric Clapton, started playing the "Les Paul" guitar, and now everyone wanted them.  The originals from the 50s became collectors items, and Gibson started a new, highly popular line in the late 60s.  (Not everyone played a Les Paul.  The Beatles helped make Rickenbackers famous, and Hendrix and many others stuck with Fender.)

Guitars still sell, though not as much as they did in the heyday of the rock revolution.  And thanks to that revolution, Leo Fender and Les Paul--probably to their surprise--will not be forgotten.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Royal Family

I just read The House Of Barrymore by Margot Peters.  Published about thirty years ago, it tells the story of siblings Lionel, Ethel and John (Jack) Barrymore.

They could hardly help but be actors, born into the illustrious Drew family, who trod the boards through much of the 19th century, not to mention their dad, noted theatrical star Maurice Barrymore (actually a stage name).  By the time they were teenagers they'd made their debuts.

We're talking about the turn of the last century, when theatre was it, as far as entertainment was concerned.  Well before radio and TV, and while movies barely existed, large groups of people in every town went to the theatre.  And Broadway stars, who toured their shows, were national idols.

The first of the three to break big was sister Ethel in the 1901 hit Captain Jinks Of The Horse Marines.  Just in her early twenties, she was the darling of the stage, and America's sweetheart.  She was the First Lady of American Theatre well before other big names of 20th century Broadway came to the fore, such as Helen Hayes, Katharine Cornell and Lynn Fontanne. (She was big in London, too--many men pursued her, including a young Winston Churchill.)

A few years after, handsome younger brother Jack became a matinee idol, starring in light comedies, later followed by serious dramas--considered cultural events--culminating in his 1922 Hamlet, acclaimed the greatest in living memory.

Finally came older brother Lionel, making a name for himself in 1918 with The Copperhead, particularly notable for a scene where he conjured up the image of Abraham Lincoln in a big monologue.

The three were temperamentally different.  Ethel loved everything about the theatre--long runs, touring, the perks of being a star (which, in her case, included being imperious and forbidding). Jack, on the other hand, got tired of shows quickly and eventually gave up theatre for movies. (After Hamlet, he only returned to the stage once near the end of his career in a trivial piece entitled My Dear Children--large crowds turned out not for the play, but to see him ad libbing and parodying himself.) Lionel didn't even want to be an actor--he'd rather have been a painter and composer.  But realizing it was the only way to make a living, he, more than his siblings, would become consumed by his part.  Whereas Ethel and Jack were stars, always allowing their personalities to peek through, Lionel was a born character actor, disappearing inside a role.

They all made movies in the silent era, but in different ways. Ethel did them on the side--along with Vaudeville appearances--to make money.  Even in later years when she needed Hollywood for the salary, she gave the impression she was slumming. Lionel took to movies the most in the early years, working with D. W. Griffith and even writing and directing some films.  Jack starred in a number of motion pictures, some passable, most indifferent, and when he was being called the greatest actor in America, signed with upstart studio Warner Brothers for a huge salary and never looked back.

Ethel in her early years was presented by impresario Charles Frohman.  He would pick her plays--not necessarily notable (few plays were in the early 1900s) but perfect as star vehicles.  When he died on the Lusitania, she flailed a bit, appearing in questionable roles and not a few flops.  However, she had a late-career smash, The Corn Is Green in 1940, which she played on Broadway and on the road for years.

Meanwhile, sound came to Hollywood and Jack and Lionel jumped right in.  They both worked at MGM for a while and appeared in a few movies together. All three siblings appeared in Rasputin And The Empress, a big film that was a big flop, and put Ethel off movies for another decade.

Lionel was generally a supporting actor, appearing in numerous major productions, including Grand Hotel, Dinner At Eight, David Copperfield, Captains Courageous and You Can't Take It With You.  But this being Hollywood, the actor who could play anything on stage soon became typecast, usually playing crotchety old men.

Meanwhile, even as his matinee idol looks were fading, Jack--the Great Profile--was a leading man, and in the early 30s did distinguished work in a number of films. From just 1931 to 1934 this included Svengali, Grand Hotel, A Bill Of Divorcement, Topaze, Dinner At Eight, Counsellor-At-Law and Twentieth Century.  Though he was a big name, he didn't achieve the same box office success of new faces such as Clark Gable or Gary Cooper.

Then there were the personal lives of the Barrymores--they had a number of marriages (especially Jack) and affairs and children and so on.  They were all spendthrifts, living above their means--not an easy thing to do for Jack, who had one of the highest salaries in Hollywood for a number of years. 

On top of which there was the Barrymore curse.  Both Ethel and John appear to have been alcoholics.  John was especially bad.  During the early 30s, when he was doing such good work, he was also getting a reputation for unreliability.  By the mid-30s he often had to take supporting roles, or parts in B pictures, just to keep earning.  Meanwhile, Lionel, who had arthritis, became addicted to morphine and cocaine.

But they kept working.  Ethel, who'd had an off-and-on relationship with movies, became a mainstay in film from the mid-40s to the mid-50s.  On Broadway she was still remembered as a one-time America's sweetheart, but because of her film appearances we mostly think of her today as a more matronly woman in her 60s or 70s.  She did some good work, such as in None But The Lonely Heart and Portrait Of Jennie, but she was never a major film star and is, I would say, the least remembered of the three. (Mind you, she was nominated for four supporting actress Oscars, winning one--of course, on stage she didn't play supporting roles.  By the way, Lionel also won an Oscar, while Jack was never even nominated.)

Jack flamed out--the youngest sibling, he died first, in 1942, only 60.  His last few years featured a number of regrettable films, but even then he could still pull something off--look at his fine supporting work in the delightful 1939 farce Midnight.

Lionel died in 1954, age 76.  By the late 1930s, he was wheelchair-bound, but that didn't stop him from acting.  He played curmudgeonly Dr. Gillespie in a series of Dr. Kildare films, and movie fans certainly remember his performances in titles such as It's A Wonderful Life (1946) and Key Largo (1948),

Ethel died in 1959 at 79.  She has been the First Lady of the Stage, and the Barrymores Broadway's First Family, but it's worth remembering how fame changed in the 20th century.  By the 1920s or 30s, film celebrities far surpassed stage stars.  Someone like Tallulah Bankhead may be remembered by some, but she's no Bette Davis.

If the Barrymores, after establishing themselves on stage, hadn't gone on to film careers, would their name still live on?  Think of contemporaries like Laurette Taylor or Pauline Lord, who were major stars on stage, but made almost no movies, and are forgotten except to a precious few.

Of course, even old movie stars are being forgotten, so perhaps some day the Barrymores will join all their stage friends in obscurity.  Until then, they left behind some fine work we can still enjoy.

Monday, July 22, 2019

I Don't Want To Be Wrong

The Play That Goes Wrong has been running in London since 2012, ran two years on Broadway and is being performed around the world. When I recently saw it out here in Los Angeles, the audience was having a great time, laughing, whooping, applauding.  I found the whole thing dispiriting.

The title should have warned me away.  It says it all.  It's about a fictional troupe putting on a fictional mystery entitled The Murder At Haversham Manor.  I guess I don't see the point.  Why put on a fake play just so it can fail?

Actors love playing bad actors in lousy productions.  I've seen it in countless movies and plays.  And while it can work as part of a larger story, a whole night of it and nothing else gets tiresome quickly.

The cast of The Play That Goes Wrong portray the actors in the troupe as well as the stagehands.  In fact, before the play officially begins, the stagehands are seen trying to prepare the set (and failing).  Meanwhile, one was in the audience asking people if they'd seen a dog that was on the loose.  I hate that kind of stuff--please try get us involved through how well you do the show on stage, not by bothering us in the audience.

Anyway, the play soon begins and things fall apart immediately.  But we don't really know the characters.  I don't mean the "characters" in The Murder At Haversham Manor, who are negligible, but the actors in the troupe playing these roles.  While we get some glimpses of them as people beyond the show within the show, it's not much.

So we barely know them.  Why should we care if their play is failing?  And the murder mystery itself is nothing approaching a real play.  If it were put on without all the mistakes, it would be terrible--actually nonsensical.  It's designed not to work dramatically in any way, only to be funny (allegedly) in the context of the play being a disaster.

To give an example--and the evening offers nothing but examples--one character asks for a scotch.  Because the actual bottle of fake scotch has been mistakenly emptied, a stage hand supplies some fluid which happens to be corrosive.  So the actor drinks it and spits it out.  This I could see, but the gag is milked beyond belief.  Over and over the characters in the murder mystery drink scotch, though there's never a good dramatic reason for them to do so.  Worse, why would the actors in the troupe put up with this?  Even assuming they couldn't somehow rustle up something potable, why wouldn't the actor mime that he's pouring the scotch?  And why wouldn't the actors receiving glass after glass mime drinking it, rather than actually sipping it before spitting it out in disgust.

When things fail--props aren't ready, parts of the set fall apart, etc.--the actors "cover" by doing things that wouldn't fool anyone. No actor, even one in a failing show, would be stupid enough to do the sorts of things they do to allegedly make things better. Even in the most absurd farce, the characters have to believe in what they're doing, and make the audience believe.

There is a play that starts with a troupe in trouble and makes it work--Noises Off by Michael Frayn.  But that play is much better constructed. In the first act we watch a low-level troupe rehearsing a sex farce, so we get to know both the characters and how the play should work.  The second act, ingeniously, takes us backstage where a different farce is taking place while the sex farce is being played onstage. The third act shows us the set again, but things have fallen apart completely. (Admittedly, the third act can't compare to the brilliant second act.)

The actors in The Play That Goes Wrong did fine, professional work, and the set was cleverly designed to fall apart. But sorry, I don't get it.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Egged On

I was at a local Whole Foods where I saw a poster on the wall.  It read

All eggs in our dairy cases are cage-free or better.

Better?  They're not referring to the quality of the eggs, but the treatment of the chickens.  So what's better than being cage-free?

Do the chickens receive massages while they're laying?

Do they get vacations in Cancun to work on their tan?

Or maybe they're just referring to their bacon, which they think is better than eggs.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

GrEgor meNdEl

Today is Gregor Mendel's birthday.  Born in 1822, he became a friar--it was a time, however, when science wasn't consigned to professors in universities, but had plenty of gentlemen doing important experiments in areas that interested them.

As anyone who attended high school knows, he studied pea plants and discovered that traits were passed down through generations via dominant and recessive genes, as he named them.  People already had some idea of how things worked, but he put it into math, and helped explain why there wasn't blending that ended up with everything the same.

He published in the 1860s, at a time when everyone was talking about Darwin theory of evolution.  Alas, Mendel's importance was not recognized until the early 1900s, well after his (and Darwin's) death.

Ironically, as he was being rediscovered and debated in the early 20th century, many felt his research challenged Darwin.  It wasn't until the 30s and 40s, when Mendelian genetics were fused with natural selection for the modern synthesis, that it was truly understood how Mendel backed up the Darwinian model.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Strangest

It's 1985, the year of Miami Vice, Back To The Future and new Coke.  And now, the year where Stranger Things 3 is set.  I just finished watching tis season and I must say it's good to have it back.  Apparently, millions agree--it seems to be the most popular show on Netflix.  I'll try not to be too spoilerish in what follows, but I can't guarantee anything.

Since all the characters--the kids, the young adults and the adults--start in different places, I didn't always remember who was related to whom, but it didn't matter.  The show picks up not long after season 2 and is fun from the start. In fact, though this is sci-fi horror, the first couple hours play more like 1980s teen comedy, as the kids hang out and explore the new mall in town (a great set which is put to good use).

El and Mike are together, as are Lucas and Max.  Dustin is out of town and poor Will just wants things to be the way they were.  Meanwhile, Nancy and Jonathan work as interns at the local paper (remember when small towns had papers?) and Steve works at the mall's ice cream parlor, Scoops Ahoy, with newby Robin.  On top of which, Joyce and Hopper have their love-hate connection going full steam.

If that paragraph made you nostalgic, the show is for you.  If it confused you, maybe you should start with season 1.

This time around, we don't spend too much time in the Upside Down.  Instead, the portal has been reopened--thanks to Russian collusion--and there's a new plan to take over Hawkins, Indiana and get at El.  At only 8 episodes, the Duffer Brothers have created a season that moves quickly.  With so many characters, each doing their own thing, it makes for constant action--there aren't too many blind alleys, so when character check something out, it tends to pay off.

Among the kids, the central couple are Millie Bobby Brown and Finn Wolfhard as El and Mike, learning that friends don't lie, but boyfriends do. The adult leads are Winona Ryder and David Harbour (doughier than most action heroes, which is fun) as Joyce and Hopper in a complicated relationship.  And the main young adult couple are Natalia Dyer and Charlie Heaton as Nancy and Jonathan, who, to be honest, don't register as strongly as the others.

But that's how it goes.  Part of it's the writing, part of it's the personalities of the actors.  For instance, of the four boys who started in season 1 playing D&D, Mike and Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin are the most memorable, while Noah Schnapp as Will is the least involving.  I guess it didn't help that through most of ST1 he was MIA--it's like being the member of the wolf pack who's stuck on the roof in The Hangover.

And though Nancy and Jonathan may have been intended as the heartthrobs, it's Steve who really scores.  As played by Joe Keery, he's changed a lot since ST1 where he was BMOC.  Now he's almost a figure of fun, scooping ice cream in a sailor suit and hanging out with younger kids.  But as both clown and hero, he's one of the most intriguing characters on the show.

As noted, there's constant action, and a solid finale where all the separate configurations of plot and character come together.  And for such a fun show, it's not all sweetness and light.  Bad things happen. (In fact, along the way, the tone can get tricky, since certain scenes are played for comedy but involve the characters, including kids, in deathly serious situations).

Some may not be happy at where everyone ultimately end up.  But Stranger Things 3 definitely scores.  While I don't think there's any need for another season, I suspect the show's popularity guarantees it.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Paul Fall

So it looks like Paul McCartney is going to write a musical based on It's A Wonderful Life.  All I can say is Sir Paul, don't do it.

You are perhaps the best songwriter alive.  And you're great at telling little stories in those songs--think of the worlds conjured up in "Eleanor Rigby," "Lovely Rita," "Rocky Raccoon" and so many more.  But telling a lengthy tale through music is a talent that can take years to develop, and you've got nothing to prove.

In a way, it's beneath you.  Your songs have always stood on their own--why should you start writing some that exist merely to prop up a story that isn't yours?  Can you imagine the titles: "Save Me, Clarence," "She's A Librarian," "When A Bell Rings..." Awful.

Sure, some rock musicians have written musicals with books by others.  Usually the results aren't that impressive.  I prefer them to write original rock operas, which may have weak stories, but still have wonderful songs.

The Beatles, of course, starred in movies that were musicals, but they just wrote great songs that didn't have to further the narrative.  And while Paul came up with the concept album Sgt. Pepper, really, except for the opening two numbers and the reprise of the title tune, the concept is a fake-out.

On top of that, Paul has been accused of being a bit sappy.  So has Frank Capra, who directed the original It's A Wonderful Life.  The two are both masters of their craft, but it's questionable how well they'll mix together.

So anyway, Paul, you may like challenges, but you don't really need this.  Your songs are great and will be remembered.  The same goes for It's A Wonderful Life.  No need for the two to meet.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

They Do Nothing But Give Out Awards

The Emmy nominations are out. I'll give my comments, but let me note that it's hard to say too much since there are so many shows I don't watch. No one can keep up with all the TV out there.

Drama Series
“Better Call Saul” (AMC)
“Bodyguard” (Netflix)
“Game of Thrones” (HBO)
“Killing Eve” (AMC/BBC America)
“Ozark” (Netflix)
“Pose” (FX)
“Succession” (HBO)
“This Is Us” (NBC)

No big surprises here. Game Of Thrones, though its final season was pretty bad, was expected to be nominated (and it got a ton of nominations overall).  And other favorites such as This Is Us and Better Call Saul are still around, as expected.  Notice no True Detective, which was the right call.  I haven't watched Bodyguard or Pose or Killing Eve, but I would guess it's Game Of Throne's to lose.
 
Comedy Series
“Barry” (HBO)
“Fleabag” (Amazon Prime)
“The Good Place” (NBC)
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon Prime)
“Russian Doll” (Netflix)
“Schitt’s Creek” (Pop)
Veep” (HBO)

For a while the Drama category has been more interesting, but I think this time around Comedy is better.  No surprise to see Veep and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  I suppose they'll be battling it out for the win.  But shows like Fleabag, Russian Doll (is that a comedy because it's half an hour long?) and Barry provide a lot of different ways of getting laughs.  And it's great to see my favorite The Good Place, sneak in, though I'd also like to have seen GLOW and Kimmy Schmidt. (And when did the voters start liking Schitt's Creek?)  Notice two long-time network favorites, The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, are missing.
 
Limited Series
“Chernobyl” (HBO)
“Escape at Dannemora” (Showtime)
“Fosse/Verdon” (FX)
“Sharp Objects” (HBO)
“When They See Us” (Netflix)

Only saw Fosse/Verdon and Sharp Objects.  The former was great and I hope it wins a lot of awards, though, like the Bette Davis/Joan Crawford Feud from not too long ago, I'm afraid it might lose out to more "serious" fare.  I liked Maniac, but I guess it didn't register.

 
Television Movie
“Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” (Netflix)
“Brexit” (HBO)
“Deadwood: The Movie” (HBO)
“King Lear” (Amazon Prime)
“My Dinner with Herve” (HBO)

Only saw the first and last.  Liked both.  Bandersnatch was more a game than an episode, but it would be fun to see the path that allows it to get an award.
 
Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Jason Bateman (“Ozark”)
Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us”)
Kit Harington (“Game of Thrones”)
Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”)
Billy Porter (“Pose”)
Milo Ventimiglia (“This Is Us”)

Some decent work on this list.  Not sure if either from This Is Us had a great season.  And Jason Bateman is fine, though his work is so understated will it rise above the rest?  Kit Harrington was poor in a weak season, but will voters figures it's his last chance?  Maybe it's time Bob Odenkirk finally wins this--I'm not saying he's another Bryan Cranston, but he's pretty reliable.

 
Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”)
Jodie Comer (“Killing Eve”)
Viola Davis (“How to Get Away With Murder”)
Laura Linney (“Ozark”)
Mandy Moore (“This Is Us”)
Sandra Oh (“Killing Eve”)
Robin Wright (“House of Cards”)

Clarke has never won for her role, and this is her last chance, but I don't think she should be rewarded in this weak season.  I believe this is Mandy Moore's first nomination--that'll probably be her award.  Laura Linney sort of stepped up in Ozark, but is it her time? (Hard to say without having seen most of the others.)
 
Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Anthony Anderson (“Black-ish”)
Don Cheadle (“Black Monday”)
Ted Danson (“The Good Place”)
Michael Douglas (“The Kominsky Method”)
Bill Hader (“Barry”)
Eugene Levy (“Schitt’s Creek”)

I like Cheadle, but was his role too silly--is he being nominated because he's a movie name?  I like Danson, who's become the steady center of his show, but is it really the lead?  Michael Douglas was fine, though I'm not as impressed with his series as others are (though note the TV Academy didn't nominate it for Best Comedy).  Good to see nothing for Jim Carrey and his awful Kidding.  Bill Hader's role and show are pretty odd, though I thought the second season of Barry may have surpassed the first, so perhaps he's in line for a second Emmy for the title role.
 
Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Christina Applegate (“Dead to Me”)
Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep”)
Natasha Lyonne (“Russian Doll”)
Catherine O’Hara (“Schitt’s Creek”)
Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”)

Haven't seen them all, though I suppose it's most likely Louis-Dreyfus, who's already won a bunch of Emmys, against up-and-comer and last-year-winner Rachel Brosnahan, though maybe a dark horse, such as Natasha Lyonne, will sneak through.  And where's Alison Brie for GLOW?

 
Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
Mahershala Ali (“True Detective”)
Benicio Del Toro (“Escape at Dannemora”)
Hugh Grant (“A Very English Scandal”)
Jared Harris (“Chernobyl”)
Jharrel Jerome (“When They See Us”)
Sam Rockwell (“Fosse/Verdon”)

Haven't seen most, but I would love to see Rockwell win for his amazing Fosse.

Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
Amy Adams (“Sharp Objects”)
Patricia Arquette (“Escape at Dannemora”)
Aunjanue Ellis (“When They See Us”)
Joey King (“The Act”)
Niecy Nash (“When They See Us”)
Michelle Williams (“Fosse/Verdon”)

Once again, haven't seen most, but if Rockwell wins for Fosse, Williams should win for Verdon.
 
Competition Program
“The Amazing Race” (CBS)
“American Ninja Warrior” (NBC)
“Nailed It” (Netflix)
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” (VH1)
“Top Chef” (Bravo)
“The Voice” (NBC)

Don't watch these shows, don't care.

 
Variety Talk Series
“The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” (Comedy Central)
“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” (TBS)
“Jimmy Kimmel Live” (ABC)
“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” (HBO)
“Late Late Show with James Corden” (CBS)
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert” (CBS)

Should this category be renamed "Who Hates Trump The Most"?  I've seen them all, though I don't watch most regularly.  I would think Oliver is the one to beat, partly because he only has to do half an hour per a week, so he can prepare. Note there's no Fallon, no Meyers, no NBC.
 
Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Gwendoline Christie (“Game of Thrones”)
Julia Garner (“Ozark”)
Lena Headey (“Game of Thrones”)
Fiona Shaw (“Killing Eve”)
Sophie Turner (“Game of Thrones”)
Maisie Williams (“Game of Thrones”)

Look at that, Game Of Thrones gets four nominations for its weakest season.  I believe this is Christie's first nomination, and she just may win, due to her part in one of the few memorable moments in this year's GOT, when she was knighted.  On the other hand, no person should more clearly win in any category than Julia Garner, who is the best reason to watch Ozark, and just about the best reason to watch anything on TV.
 
Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Alfie Allen (“Game of Thrones”)
Jonathan Banks (“Better Call Saul”)
Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau (“Game of Thrones”)
Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”)
Giancarlo Esposito (“Better Call Saul”)
Michael Kelly (“House of Cards”)
Chris Sullivan (“This Is Us”)

Only three from Game Of Thrones?  They're slipping.  Two from Better Call Saul.  I hope they don't split their vote, since it's time Jonathan Banks, who's been doing great work for decades, finally won an Emmy.

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Alex Borstein (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
Anna Chlumsky (“Veep”)
Sian Clifford (“Fleabag”)
Olivia Colman (“Fleabag”)
Betty Gilpin (“GLOW”)
Sarah Goldberg (“Barry”)
Marin Hinkle (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”)
 
An impressive list.  Not sure if Marin Hinkle deserves to be here, splitting the vote with co-star Alex Borstein, who won last year.  Kate McKinnon has won this before, more than once, but I don't think she dominated as much as usual on SNL (and, as always, how do you compare a sketch actor with someone playing a single role in a series?).  Anna Chlumsky has been nominated but never won--maybe it's her time, though it's easy to get lost in the Veep shuffle.  But I would love to see Betty Gilpin win for the under-nominated GLOW.  I'd like even more for Sarah Goldberg to win for her conflicted but often awful character on Barry--just the monologue she gave when she tried to explain all the pressure and jealousy she's feeling should be enough for the award.

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Alan Arkin (“The Kominsky Method”)
Anthony Carrigan (“Barry”)
Tony Hale (“Veep”)
Stephen Root (“Barry”)
Tony Shalhoub (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
Henry Winkler (“Barry”)

Winkler finally won an Emmy last year--he should have got one decades ago.  Would be fine if he won again, though the Barry vote could be split pretty thin among its three nominees.  The other three names all have a solid chance.  There's Alan Arkin, an actual Oscar winner, and the Emmys worship the Oscars.  Then there are former Emmy winners Hale and Shalhoub, who could turn this show into the Tony Awards.
 
Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
Patricia Arquette (“The Act”)
Marsha Stephanie Blake (“When They See Us”)
Patricia Clarkson (“Sharp Objects”)
Vera Farmiga (“When They See Us”)
Margaret Qualley (“Fosse/Verdon”)
Emily Watson (“Chernobyl”)

Haven't really seen enough of these performances to judge, though note most of them are movie names.

Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
Asante Blackk (“When They See Us”)
Paul Dano (“Escape at Dannemora”)
John Leguizamo (“When They See Us”)
Stellan Skarsgård (“Chernobyl”)
Ben Whishaw (“A Very English Scandal”)
Michael K. Williams (“When They See Us”)

I know the actors, but I don't know their shows.
 
Guest Actress in a Drama Series
Laverne Cox (“Orange Is the New Black”)
Cherry Jones (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Jessica Lange (“American Horror Story: Apocalypse”)
Phylicia Rashad (“This Is Us”)
Cicely Tyson (“How to Get Away With Murder”)
Carice van Houten (“Game of Thrones”)

Didn't see most of these.  Van Houten was okay, but it wasn't her best season, not even close.  Rashad was fine as a tough mother, but I don't know how much she stood out.
 
Guest Actor in a Drama Series
Michael Angarano (“This Is Us”)
Ron Cephas Jones (“This Is Us”)
Michael McKean (“Better Call Saul”)
Kumail Nanjiani (“The Twilight Zone”)
Glynn Turman (“How to Get Away With Murder”)
Bradley Whitford (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)

Only saw half these performances.  Don't think anyone should win an Emmy from This Is Us (though Ron Cephas Jones deservedly won one for the show previously).  And I've always found the whole Michael McKean plot from Better Call Saul, as central as it is, to be an irritant.
 
Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
Jane Lynch (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
Sandra Oh (“Saturday Night Live”)
Maya Rudolph (“The Good Place”)
Kristin Scott Thomas (“Fleabag”)
Fiona Shaw (“Fleabag”)
Emma Thompson (“Saturday Night Live”)

Not that impressed with Lynch in Maisel.  The SNL performances didn't really stand out.  Maya Rudolph did solid work in The Good Place, maybe she should win.
 
Guest Actor in a Comedy Series
Matt Damon (“Saturday Night Live”)
Robert De Niro (“Saturday Night Live”)
Luke Kirby (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
Peter MacNicol (“Veep”)
John Mulaney (“Saturday Night Live”)
Adam Sandler (“Saturday Night Live”)
Rufus Sewell (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)

Wow, look at all the SNL. Actually, Damon was actually pretty good as Brett Kavanaugh--maybe he'll win.
 
Variety Sketch Series
“At Home With Amy Sedaris” (truTV)
“Documentary Now!” (IFC)
“Drunk History” (Comedy Central)
“I Love You, America With Sarah Silverman” (Hulu)
“Saturday Night Live” (NBC)
“Who Is America?” (Showtime)

What a weird category.  I suppose it's SNL against the rest.  I don't particularly like Drunk History.  I did like previous episodes of Documentary Now!, but I haven't seen the latest season.
 
Variety Special (Live)
“The 76th Annual Golden Globe Awards” (NBC)
“The 61st Grammy Awards” (CBS)
“Live In Front Of A Studio Audience: Norman
Lear’s ‘All In The Family’ And ‘The
Jeffersons'” (ABC)
“The Oscars” (ABC)
“RENT” (Fox)
“72nd Annual Tony Awards” (CBS)

I thought the Norman Lear thing was fun--it'd be cool if it won, rather than another Emmy for an awards show.

Variety Special (Pre-Recorded)
“Carpool Karaoke: When Corden Met
McCartney Live From Liverpool” (CBS)
“Hannah Gadsby: Nanette” (Netflix)
“Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé” (Netflix)
“Springsteen On Broadway” (Netflix)
“Wanda Sykes: Not Normal” (Netflix)
 
Haven't seen them all, but the Carpool Karaoke with McCartney was something special. It better win.

There are about a hundred other categories, including stuff like, you know, writing and directing, but this is enough.  Though let me note the "ronny/lily" episode of Barry was something special, and I hope it wins some awards.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Martin And John

We celebrate 10th and 25th anniversaries, and so on.  But today is a biggie--the 500th anniversary of a debate between Martin Luther and John Eck. Luther you've heard of.  John Eck was an important theologian of his time, and a major opponent of Luther.  They had a series of debates that lasted a few weeks in 1519.

500 years ago today, Luther denied the divine right of the Pope.  I don't have anything to say about the particulars of the debate, since I don't really support either side.  But it reminds me of what's fascinating about history.

First, we see people with different assumptions from us.  There are so many things that were believed on both sides that would seem so foreign to the average person--even the average Christian--today.

Second, events like these can be seen as turning points that change the world we live in, even if the conditions of the time and the beliefs expressed seem remote.  For better or worse, the arguments of Luther and Eck affected billions of lives.

Yet most people aren't particularly aware of their debate.  And why should they?  They have lives to live, and can't be intimately familiar with every big moment from the past.  But it doesn't matter if you care about history or not, since it cares about you.

Monday, July 15, 2019

CL?

Here's an odd story.  Actor Charles Levin has been missing, and now the authorities have found some remains in Oregon they believe to be him.  I guess more information will follow.  You probably haven't heard of Levin.  He was a character actor in the 70s through the 90s--don't know what he's been doing since.  Though he never got to be the lead, I definitely noticed him.

I remember seeing him in Woody Allen's Annie Hall.  One of my favorite scenes in the movie is where Alvy (Allen) is in rehearsals with a play he's written based on his relationship with Annie, except in the play, things work out.  Levin plays the actor who's a stand-in for Allen.  Not long after, in Allen's Manhattan, Levin plays one of the actors in a sketch comedy show--a show that Allen's character hates so much he quits.  I don't know, the sketch didn't look that bad.

Levin did a lot of TV.  He was a recurring character on Alice, for instance.  But the part that really got him a lot of notice was another recurring role, Eddie Gregg on Hill Street Blues. If memory serves, the character was a doomed homosexual, and he got to show off some chops.

Around the same time, Levin was shooting something that would have given him a really high profile.  He played a newlywed in Ghostbusters.  He and his wife are having problems, not aware it's due to ghosts.  Apparently, the scene was hilarious, but it slowed down the action, so director Ivan Reitman cut it.  That's the peril of being a character actor: your best stuff is left on the cutting room floor.

Some years later, he played the mohel in the Seinfeld episode "The Bris:--it's sort of a wacky role, and one of the worst episodes the show ever did.

Anyway, if this is it, goodbye Charles.  You will be remembered.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Stormy Weather

Hey, it's Bastille Day.  Exactly 240 years ago, during the French Revolution, came the storming of the Bastille, a fortress and prison in Paris that represented royal power.  The moment was seen as a turning point, and helped lead to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

Both left and right have attacked various aspects of the French Revolution and what came out of it--both for going too far and not going far enough. (And, unlike America, France has changed its republic a number of times since the Revolution.) But even if we don't always live up to the greatest ideals of 18th century thinkers, and don't always agree with their beliefs, they still helped create a path that was worth following.

America, of course, doesn't celebrate Bastille Day, but it's still a big deal in France.  And their colors are also red, white and blue (though not in that order), so if you want to wave the flag today, it would be fitting.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Earle's Pearls

It was just composer Earle Hagen's 100th birthday (though he left us about a decade ago).  We can't let this go without a musical remembrance.








Friday, July 12, 2019

Oh What A Night

Believe it or not, it's the 40th anniversary of Disco Demolition Night.  For those of you who missed it, it happened during a doubleheader between the Chicago White Sox and (my team) the Detroit Tigers in Comiskey Park.

Chicago deejay (who'd formerly worked in Detroit) Steve Dahl came up with the idea.  A lot of rock fans were tired of so much disco on the radio, so Dahl and his station sponsored a special night where people could bring disco records to the stadium and have them blown up en masse in between the games.

The promotion worked and the stadium was packed.  After Dahl blew up the records, fans rushed the field and ran riot.  They did damage to the grounds and had to be dispersed by the cops.  Tiger coach Sparky Anderson refused to let his team back on the field, claiming it was too dangerous, so the second game was canceled (though I'd say the fans got their money's worth).  The game was forfeited by the host team the White Sox.  Since Detroit had already won the first game, if nothing else, it was a great day for the Tigers. (Though Tiger great Al Kaline, broadcasting the game, was not happy, I believe, seeing the whole event as a desecration of the sport he loved.)

Commentators have read a lot into what happened, but they tend to overdo it (just as they do today--in fact, it's often the same people making the same arguments). Mostly I see it as youthful antics gone too far.  As bad as it was, I don't think it compares to some of the soccer hooliganism we've seen around the world.

Hey, how about for nostalgia's sake we go to a game tonight armed with thousands of digital downloads of our least favorite music.  During the seventh-inning stretch toss it onto the field and see what happens.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

People, People Who Count People

Today is World Population Day.  It was established by the UN in 1989, when there were a lot less people.  According to the link, there was a big conference on population in 1994 and "Twenty-five years have passed since that landmark conference, where 179 governments recognized that reproductive health and gender equality are essential for achieving sustainable development."

I don't quite see the connection, but then, the UN tries to force its views onto everything it does, whether it makes sense or not.  I'm certainly not impressed by the number of signatories--nations love signing statements that don't force them to do anything but might increase their power.  What I want are serious arguments with as little cant as possible.

Moving beyond politics, the world's population is a fascinating subject.  There are over 7.7 billion people on the planet today.  China and India, both with well over a billion people, count for a combined 2.8 billion. The USA is third, but it's a big drop to 329 million.  There are 14 countries with over 100 million people, and none are European (unless you want to count Russia).

There are widely varied estimates as to how many people have lived on this planet.  One popular number is 106 billion.  That would mean around 7% of all people who ever lived are alive today.

The Earth reached a population of a billion for the first time around 1800.  That number doubled in 130 years (around 1930), doubled again in 45 years (1974) and will likely be doubling again before too soon.  This is a sign of success, at least in the short term--if humans at any time in the last several thousand years had the agricultural, hygienic and medical advances we enjoy today, they would have easily reached one billion people and beyond fairly quickly.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

RIP Rip

Rip Torn has died.  Quite a career--he started out as the next James Dean and turned into a comedy classic.

He appeared on Broadway regularly throughout his career, cutting his teeth on Tennessee Williams' fare such as Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird Of Youth in the 50s.  He also started working in film and TV in the 50s, often playing tough guys.

He rarely played the lead in films, but was memorable in supporting roles such as his turn in The Cincinnati Kid. He famously was offered the part in Easy Rider that made Jack Nicholson a star, but lost it when he pulled a knife on director Dennis Hopper (according to Hopper--Torn says it was the other way around).

He kept working regularly, but was probably better known in Hollywood as a reliable supporting actor than by the public at large.  He did get some recognition, though, with his Oscar nominated performance in Cross Creek (1983).

Then he got the part that changed everything--Artie the producer on HBO's Larry Sanders Show.  Artie was originally intended as more a straight man, but Torn's ferocious yet charming take turned the role into a comic tour de force.  It got him six Emmy nominations and one win. Even among a solid cast in a great show, Torn stood out.

For the rest of his career he was probably best known for his comedy work, such as Zed in Men in Black, Patches O'Houlihan in Dodgeball and recurring character Don Geiss in 30 Rock.  Then, about seven or eight years ago, he seemed to have retired.

No matter what else, he'll at least be remembered for his work on Larry Sander.  Sure, he did a lot more, but how many actors find that perfect role?

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