Friday, January 31, 2020

FS

People wonder what to TV executives do?  After all, it's the creative people who make the shows.  The suits?  Well, they pick the shows, schedule them, cancel them, give notes and deal with budgets. It may sound like nothing (or like the cushiest just ever), but the difference between a good exec and a bad exec is the difference between a hit channel and one that flops.

Fred Silverman has just died.  He was a TV exec with one of the most storied careers in the business.  At a young age it was clear he was masterful at programming.  He even wrote his college thesis about it.

Before too long, he was in charge of prime time at CBS.  He made the famous shift in the early 1970s.  CBS was on top and had been on top for a long time, but (in an era when there were only three networks fighting for most of the eyeballs0 that wasn't enough.  They wanted a better demographic--younger, hipper, richer.  This meant getting rid of their "country shows"--Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, Mayberry R.F.D. etc.--and replacing them with smart show with more city appeal.  What followed were huge hits that made CBS bigger than ever--All In The Family, Mary Tyler Moore, M*A*S*H and so on. Silverman was also good at creating spinoffs from his hit--Maude, The Jeffersons, Rhoda, Good Times.

And then, in 1975, Silverman left for the perennial last place network, ABC.  And he turned that around with hits like a revitalized Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley (another spinoff), Three's Company,. Charlie's Angels (it was known as "jiggle television"), The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and a lot more, including major miniseries, such as Roots.  Critics complained Silverman was dumbing down TV, but, true or not, his job was the give the public what it wanted.

He tried for the hat trick, going to NBC in the late 70s.  This time he couldn't pull it off--Saturday Night Live even made fun of him, doing a sketch about his last days in the bunker (he did not appreciate it).  Still, he did manage to have some successes--for instance, he was a believer in the then-unknown David Letterman.

In the 80s, he started his own production company, creating shows such as Matlock and In The Heat Of The Night.  He also hoped to get into movies, though nothing came of it.  I know this because I worked on a project of his that we was developing.

Anyway, he was a programming legend.  How many people can you say that about?

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Is Dis What Enchant Meant?

I just watched the second season--ten episodes--of Disenchantment.  It's been around for a while, but I was in no rush.  Like the critics, I wasn't that impressed with the first season, but hey, it's there on Netflix, so why not? For those not up on the show, it's the creation of Matt Groening, who previously did The Simpsons and Futurama. Disenchatnment is no Simpsons.  It's not even Futurama.

The show is set in the medieval fantasy kingdom of Dreamland.  Princess Teabeanie is the tomboyish daughter of the crude but phlegmatic King Zog.  Elsewhere, naïve Elfo the elf leaves the elf world and becomes friends with Teabeanie.  Also, Luci, a demon, has been sent to pester Teabeanie and send her down the dark path.

The arc of the first season had much intrigue, ending with Dreamland destroyed and Elfo dead.  Season two has Teabeanie and Luci literally going to Hell to bring Elfo back to life and then going on to bring back Dreamland.  After that, they have various adventures.  At the end (spoiler), they're about to be burned at the stake before escaping.

The problems that plagued the first season are still around.  The biggest is it's just not that funny.  Some of the jokes land, but the percentage is low.  Just as bad--in fact, contributing to the problem--the characters aren't very interesting.

Teabeanie, a feisty young woman, is good, but the rest don't amount to much.  And the characters have gotten more blah as they've gone along. The pilot suggested Elfo would be hopelessly optimistic and Luci would be evil, but they've both devolved into friendly sidekicks of Teabeanie with a few quirks.

It looks like the show will have a third season.  Maybe I'll watch when nothing else is on. Or I could read a book. Just kidding.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Keep The Faith

Remember the 2016 Presidential election?.  Trump won 304 to 227--the Electoral College vote.  If you're good at math, you'll notice those numbers don't add up to 538, like they should.  This is because there were seven--count 'em, seven--faithless electors.  Colin Powell got three votes while Bernie Sander, Ron Paul, John Kasich and Faith Spotted Eagle got a vote each.

Can they do that?  That's what the Supreme Court will be deciding this term.  Are electors free agents or do they have to do what the states tell them to?  State law differs, but many require electors to vote for the popular vote winner of the state.  Some states have thrown out the ballots of faithless electors in the past.  Others fine them.  What is allowable?

Seems to me the ultimate question is can electors nullify state law once it's their turn to vote, the same way jurors can when they make decisions.  The argument is the states can make its rules to choose electors--they're required to by the Constitution--but when they vote for President, also according to the Constitution, they're allowed to use their own judgment.

I have no idea how I'd decide.  I don't know how the court will either, though my guess is, in the interests of stability, they will find that states can tell electors what to do.  Also, I also don't think this is a partisan issue, so which Justices will vote which way is anyone's guess.

No matter what they do, this could lead to a crisis.  If they decide electors can make up their own minds, there'll be tremendous pressure put on them, especially if it's a close vote in the electoral college.  But it could be dangerous in the other direction. Imagine if enough states pass laws so that they require electors to vote the way the country has voted (you know, so Hillary Clinton can beat Donald Trump in the future).  Imagine, then, that a state has voted solidly for a candidate and the slate of electors representing the state are told to vote for the other candidate.  Then you might see some real lack of faith.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Oh Boy

With hundreds of new shows I could watch, I decided to rewatch The Boys, available from Amazon. It's based on a comic book I haven't read.  Perhaps that's why the title is so bad.  But the show is great.

It's about a world where superheroes are real.  We've seen this before, but The Boys' take is fascinating and fun.  Superheroes are essentially celebrities, which means they're rich and beloved, and they've got an image to maintain, but if you meet them in person, many turn out to be jerks.

There are also different levels of superheroes, and at the top are "The Seven," promoted and essentially owned by Vought International, a powerful corporation.  Meanwhile, a lot of people are hurt by these superheroes as collateral damage.  In fact, that's what starts the story.  Hughie is with his girlfriend Robin when A-Train--the fastest person in the world and one of The Seven--runs right through her.

Billy Butcher soon catches up with Hughie.  Butcher's mission is life is to take down superheroes.  We find out why as the show goes along. Hughie joins forces with Butcher and others--together, these are "The Boys."

Meanwhile, Annie (superhero name Starlight), a young woman with superpowers, tries out for a slot with The Seven and succeeds. She's wide-eyed, but comes to Vought's headquarters in New York and soon learns how the world works.  Meanwhile, the greatest hero and leader of The Seven, Homelander, is revealed as perhaps the worst of the gang in person.

The eight episodes of the first season have The Boys take on The Seven, even though it seems an uneven match.  They uncover certain unsavory secrets.  While they do this, Hughie and Annie, the two nicest characters, start a relationship.  Meanwhile, Homelander on one side and Billy Butcher on the other will stop at nothing to get what they want.

There are numerous other characters, such as Madelyn Stillwell, who's in charge of The Seven for Vought.  Also on The Boys' ragtag team is Mother's Milk and Frenchie, while two other prominent members of The Seven are Queen Maeve, who's become disillusioned, and the Deep, who can communicate with fish but isn't taken too seriously as a crimefighter.

The show is fast-paced and quite gory (in a comic book way), and also fairly funny.  All the actors do good work, though Karl Urban as Butcher and Erin Moriarty as Starlight stood out most to me.

If you haven't seen it yet, it's worth checking out.  In fact, I had seen it and enjoyed it the second time around.  If I have a complaint, the first season ends on sort of an open note that suggests a new plotline not as interesting.  We'll see, though, when the second season--already shot--debuts some time this year.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Can You Hear Me Now?

I've long said that nothing would destroy old movie plots more than the introduction of the cell phone.  How many horror films, where people are locked in an old dark house with the electricity cut, wouldn't work any more?

Another older film that couldn't work with today's technology is The Big Picture (1989).  I recently rewatched it.  Not a major film, perhaps, but an enjoyable comedy by Christopher Guest starring Kevin Bacon about a young filmmaker named Nick Chapman trying to break into Hollywood.

First Nick is hot, then he's cold.  It looks like he won't make it, but a simple thing happens to save him.  Someone important wants to talk to him but he and his girlfriend have decided to drive out to the desert that day so Nick is unavailable.  Word spreads he can't be reached, and there's nothing Hollywood likes more than something they can't have.  By the time Nick returns, he's the hottest thing in town.

If Nick had a cell phone, his career would have stayed cold. Let that be a lesson.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Bret's Brief

I've never ready any of Bret Easton Ellis's novels, so it's weird that when I saw his latest in the library--a non-fiction book called White--I checked it out.  It's a book-length essay dealing with what American is like today, politically speaking..

And Ellis isn't that thrilled.  Anyone who's been following his Twitter account or his podcast (I don't follow either) would know that.  We've become a nation where people are afraid to express themselves and anyone who doesn't follow the party line can be canceled. While I generally agree with Ellis, this book isn't designed as an editorial so much as a look into his life and his view of the world.

Much of White, in fact, is a memoir, with Ellis discussing how he wrote his novels (Less Than Zero, American Psycho, etc.), how he sees popular culture (especially movies) and the relationships he's had with various boyfriends and others.  A lot of it is fun stuff, since Ellis is willing to give his opinions (in an age when so many are afraid to offend) and he writes in a smooth, easy-to-read style. (Perhaps this is how he writes his novels. I don't know.)

Much of the final third or so of the book deals with how the left seems to have lost its mind since Trump was elected. Though he has a good point, and gives plenty of examples, the book is not structured as a rigorous argument, so I doubt it will change many minds. (On the other hand, I doubt rigorous argument will change many minds.) He will get attacked, of course, for being a privileged white male (and being gay will not protect him since he doesn't say the right things), but, of course, that's sort of the point.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Guy Lombardo's Favorite Poet

Scottish poet Robert Burns was born on this day in 1759.  For all his work, he's best-known piece by far is "Auld Lang Syne."

The tune it's sung to was taken from an old folk melody. It's pretty weird that this is the song traditionally sung at New Year.  I mean, the people who sing it--at least in America--have no idea what it's about.

I guess it's a reminder to remember good times, and good friends, and all that, but I'm not sure.  And I'd also guess most people couldn't spell it if you paid them.

I'm not saying it needs to be replaced with a new song. (And what would that song be?  Perhaps someone needs to write something new, like "Hey, It's Another Year, Don't Forget When You Write Your Checks.")  In fact, why sing at all when the clock strikes 12.  Can't we just throw some confetti and be done with it?

Friday, January 24, 2020

Stooge Story

I recently watched Gimme Danger, a 2016 documentary about one of the greatest rock bands of all, the Stooges.  It's mostly told through an amusing and articulate interview with Iggy Pop, but the story is the band's, not his.  Yes, most of the Stooges saga is about Iggy, but Iggy's extensive solo career is not covered.

The film is directed with verve by rock lover Jim Jarmusch, who intersperses the story with lots of old footage--not just the Stooges, but also of famous actors and plenty of stock footage--to comment on the story.

The Stooges made three albums in the late 60s/early 70s before falling apart (and reuniting for a period a few decades later).  I love the albums, but knew next to nothing about how they came about.  Enter James Osterberg aka Iggy Pop, a Michigan boy raised in a trailer.  He was into music and played drums at first, but got tired of looking at butts so he got out front.  He went through several bands before the Stooges got together.

It's fascinating to see Iggy hanging around Ann Arbor in his early years.  I recognized so many landmarks.  There's Iggy standing in front of the Michigan Theatre.  There's Iggy working at Discount Records where I bought so many albums.  There's the band playing in University buildings where I performed as well. Eventually they get out of town and the documentary follows their adventures to New York and Los Angeles and London.

(They were originally called the Psychedelic Stooges but dropped the first word.  One of them actually called Moe Howard to get permission for the name, and he said as long as you don't call it the Three Stooges I don't give a damn.)

The Stooges had a raw, powerful sound, very different from most music in the hippie-dippy 60s.  So raw that while the band always had a small circle of fans, they never got big.  Eventually they were dumped by their record company and allowed to die in the mid-70s (which is where the movie starts before moving back). Not that the band didn't help the downfall with massive drug use, sometimes blowing gigs.

But that music.  It influenced a generation, and the punk bands that came later saw it as holy writ.  Just look at the first album, The Stooges, featuring classics like "1969" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog." The follow-ups, Fun House and Raw Power, hold up just as well.  The Stooges had their own sound, inspired by rock and roll but owing nothing to any movement.  They were their own movement.  And Iggy went all out as a performer.  It's surprising he's still alive.  (Some of the other band members are no longer with us).

And then it was over. But the fans made sure their music wasn't forgotten.  And hopefully this film, a fine document of that crazy time, won't be forgotten either.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

TJ

Terry Jones has died.  Not exactly a shock as he'd been ailing for years.  But still, when a member of Monty Python dies, it's like a Beatle dying.  The troupe was a shining light in the world of comedy, and left behind much great work that still inspires today.

Even before Python, Jones did major work as a writer and performer, working on shows such as Complete And Utter History Of Britain and Do Not Adjust Your Set.  But no one could have known how the Python troupe would change comedy history.

When they created their TV show, the two poles were rational John Cleese versus emotional Terry Jones (to hear Cleese tell it).  Jones would argue his case till he was blue in the face.  He also represented the more visual side of the team, while Cleese was more about words.  Perhaps that's why Jones took on the task of directing the Python films.

He often portrayed meek characters, and was also considered their best woman, but, like all Python members, could play anything.  There are so many fine roles he played I wouldn't know where to start: upstanding member of society in Nudge Nudge, nude organist, Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson, funniest man in the world, performer on the mouse xylophone, newlywed buying a mattress, first man to jump the Channel, crunchy frog confectioner, man who teaches how to get hit on the head, Ewan McTeagle...I'm going to stop here or the list would never end.

Then, of course, there are all the great roles he played in the Python films: Sir Bedevere, Prince Herbert, Brian's mother Mandy and perhaps his most famous role of all, Mr. Creosote.

He will not be forgotten.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Ship Shape

I caught the new HBO show Avenue 5, created by Armando Iannucci.  He's best known for political satire, such as Veep, but this is the tricky genre of sci-fi comedy.

The concept deals with a huge spaceship--Avenue 5--that's traveling around Saturn on an eight-week pleasure cruise.  The artificial gravity goes on the blink and by the time it's fixed the ship is off course, and will be out in spaces for years. (Presumably they don't have enough food--I'm guessing since this point wasn't made in the pilot.)

The captain is played by Hugh Laurie (who had a recurring role in Veep).  He's British but he puts on an American accent to give the passengers more confidence. Unfortunately, his title is just for show--he doesn't really know how to run a ship that runs itself (with the help of engineers, though the best one died during the accident).

Other characters on the cruise include Herman Judd (Josh Gad), the spoiled and not-too-swift billionaire who owns the ship; Matt Spencer (Zach Woods), head of hospitality who doesn't really like his customers; Iris Kimura (Suzy Nakamura) who seems to be (wasn't quite sure) a high-placed, hardworking aide to the Captain as well as to Judd; and a number of other crew members and passengers.

I thought the show was entertaining if not hilarious.  It features the cynical characters and acerbic dialogue Iannucci is noted for, though it's not as harsh as Veep.  I'll continue to watch, but I hope it gets better as it goes along.

Also, Curb Your Enthusiasm is back for its tenth season.  The first episode was solid--better than what I remember from the last season.  There were a lot of different gags, though my favorite was Larry figures out another way to keep people away (and who doesn't want to keep people away?)--wear a MAGA hat.  It certainly works in Los Angeles.  Also, there was a #MeToo plot about women thinking Larry was harassing them.  It utilized the fact that Jeff Garlin can be mistaken for Harvey Weinstein.

Last year the overall plot dealt with Larry putting on his musical Fatwa!.  This year the arc seems to be about a store he's bought in a strip mall with the plan to put the next-door coffee house out of business.  Or perhaps it's about Cheryl coming back into his life.  Either way, it's good to have the show back.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Secret Of His Success

The films that demonstrate stardom aren't the major titles.  It's the minor films, the ones that do well because the star is in it. For instance, Top Gun (1986) helped turn Tom Cruise into a big star, but it might have been a hit if someone else got the lead. On the other hand, would anyone have gone to see Cocktail (1988)--which made a ton of money--if Cruise weren't in it?

That's what I was thinking when I recently caught The Secret Of My Success on TV.  It's the first time I saw it since it opened in 1987.  It came out two years after Fox hit it big with Back To The Future. It's a minor comedy that got weak reviews but was still a solid hit.

The plot is a mix of a young man rising in business and a sex farce.  It's reminiscent of films such as The Apartment and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.  Also, the formula of having someone with little experience take over a major company and know how to run it can be seen in other comedies of the go-go 80s, such as Nine To Five and Working Girl.

The plot has Fox, fresh out of college, moving to New York to make it big.  He gets a job in the mail room (are there still mailrooms?) thanks to his CEO uncle, played by Richard Jordan.  He takes over a vacant office, pretending to be an executive (shades of Spielberg).  Meanwhile, he's romancing young exec Helen Slater, who's also having an affair with his Machiavellian uncle.  In addition, Jordan's wife, played by Margaret Whitton, is tired of her marriage and makes a play for Fox.

After plenty of complications, some fun, many annoying, everything is sorted out.  Fox gets the girl and the company is wrested from Jordan. It's not awful, exactly, but it doesn't have much going for it.  The script, by the team of Cash and Epps (who wrote Top Gun, as well as Legal Eagles and Turner & Hooch) is fairly crude, and the direction, by Herbert Ross, is professional but not much more.

The cast is okay, but there are certainly no names in it after Fox. (Though watching it today I recognized a lot of people I didn't know back then--John Pankow of Mad About You and Episodes, Bill Faggerbakke of Coach, Mark Margolis of Breaking Bad and Carol Ann Susi of The Big Bang Theory, not to mention short bits by Bruce McGill and Mercedes Ruehl.) So Fox made the difference.

His star would fall over the years. Happens to almost everyone.  But for a brief moment, he showed he could turn even second-class material into a hit.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Way Off

I just checked some of my predictions for 2020, just a couple weeks old, and so far, it looks like it'll be a bad year for my guesses. A lot is still open, but I've already blown a handful.

For instance, I predicted (against conventional wisdom--I should have joined the convention) that Clemson would beat LSU.  The game was a bit of a struggle, but Clemson lost 42-25.

I'm really in trouble when it comes to the Oscars.  I knew it would be tricky, but I'm already grounded on some of the guesses.

I said Renee Zellweger would take it over four others--I got three of the four, but Lupita Nyong'o didn't make it. (Actually, I'm surprised I didn't make the wrong guess of Awkwafina.)  Instead, it's Saoirse Ronan. But that's a minor error--and getting four of the five nominees is actually pretty good.

But I also said Noah Baumbach would surprise everyone by beating Martin Scorsese for best director.  That would be quite a surprise, since he isn't nominated in that category.  I also guessed that Jennifer Lopez would beat Laura Dern for best supporting actress.  In one of the big snubs, Lopez wasn't even nominated.

Finally, there's my prediction that James Holzhauer would win the Greatest Of All Time Jeopardy! tournament, beating the "elderly" Ken Jennings. But Ken still had it in him, and took the tournament handily, winning three out of four shows.  Good for you, Ken--and bad for my predictions.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Song Is Her

I recently watched the new NBC show Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist.  The pilot is available, though it won't go into its regular timeslot until mid-February.

It's an hour-long starring Jane Levy. She plays Zoey, a coder who works at a tech firm in San Francisco (there was some location shooting in the pilot).  The twist is she gets an MRI during an earthquake, and all sorts of music goes into her brain.  When the earthquake is over, she has the ability to know what's going on in people's minds because they suddenly (and only to her) break out into song (and dance) expressing their innermost feelings.

Even if you accept magical things can happen, there are certain questions about the logistics.  For instance, while she hears these songs, and sees the dances, is time passing for the rest of the world?  Is she moving or standing still during the number (since she's sometimes moving in her head)?  Do the people performing have to know these songs, or is it enough that Zoey has the numbers stored in her head?  But why look a miracle in the mouth--there's no show without this power, so accept it.

The music she hears are actual hit songs.  One of the earliest is a big production number, performed by a whole community, of The Beatles' "Help"--so I guess it expresses how everyone around her feels. (That song's gotta be pretty expensive.  Will each show feature such well known titles or was that only for the pilot?)

Before we get to the twist, the show seems to be a relatively conventional comedy-drama about a young women trying to make it in the world.  She's got a whacky next door neighbor (Alex Newell) who plays and sings along to very loud music in the morning.  At her job she's got a quirky boss (Lauren Graham) and a quirky co-worker (Skylar Astin) who's secretly in love with her. (We find this out when she hears him sing the Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You.")

She's also lusts after a handsome coworker (John Clarence Stewart).  They bond when she finds out, through song, he's secretly in great pain, but later she discovers he's engaged.  She's also got a mom (Mary Steenburgen) taking care of her dad (Peter Gallagher) who's suffering from a neurological degenerative disease.  This role would seem limited, since he can't talk and can barely move. However, as you may have already guessed (spoiler alert), before the hour is over, he sings to her (Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors"), expressing his feelings in ways he can't otherwise.

Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist is hardly the first series in recent years to have a strong musical component--in fact, another new NBC show this season, Perfect Harmony, is about a choir and features musical numbers.  And even if I hadn't known about the premise (or the title) of Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist beforehand, I might have guessed there would be music, since a number of its actors are known for their work in musical theatre.

The show is charming, though not yet compelling.  So far, I'm not sure how intriguing Zoey's adventures will be, or if the gimmick will get tiresome before too long.  But I'm a big enough fan of Jane Levy that I'll give it a shot when it starts up again.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

On Call

To no one's surprise, Better Call Saul has been renewed for a sixth and final season. A highly respected show--it's been nominated for a ton of Emmys (though it never wins)--let's hope it gets the farewell it deserves.

But as good as the show is, I've often been disappointed.  While Jimmy McGill may be a complex character, he's no Saul Goodman. Did we really need five seasons for him to develop into the shyster? (I believe the original concept was a comedy showing Saul's cases before he met Walter White. Sounds like a good idea to me.)

In particular, all that drama with his brother.  This was the centerpiece of the show, but it was drawn out, and all the stuff with the brother's imaginary disease was tiresome.  The two siblings could have struggled just fine without it.

But the final season has promise.  There are a lot of questions to be answered.  We need to see the complete transition, and perhaps a meeting with Jesse or Walter.  We also don't know what happens to the characters who we didn't see in Breaking Bad.  In particular, Kim.  Will she simply leave Jimmy, or is it something worse?

Above all, there's the ultimate fate of Saul.  I've noted before I still don't get why he had to go underground, but he's now a Cinnabon manager.  I certainly hope we'll see where he ends up.  Will he be uncovered?  Will he give himself up (though I'm not sure for what)?  Will he find someone?  Will that someone be Kim?  Huell?

Anyway, stay tuned.  We know Jimmy and Mike and Gus will survive.  But just because they can't die doesn't mean there isn't still some life left in them, dramatically speaking.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Beach Ball

I'm a fan of the Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello beach movies.  Silly B-pictures, perhaps, but a lot of fun.  The biggest problem, however, is aside from some guest appearances (such as Stevie Wonder, James Brown and The Kingsmen), the music is pretty weak.

For instance, here's the theme song to the first movie in the series, Beach Party:



It's not the song, really, it's the arrangement.  While better than most of the tunes the Beach Party series has to offer, it still lacks the power and spirit of good rock and roll.  The funny thing is, Annette Funicello, not particularly remembered as a rock star, had far superior arrangements on her albums.  Here's her doing the same song:



Now that's better.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Was Prince Right?

I recently discussed the top ten movie lists of my friend Jesse Walker, who looked back at every year ending in a 9.  And he concluded it was 1999, not 1939, that was a truly great year for Hollywood.

Turns out there's someone who agrees with him.  Brian Raftery's Best.Movie.Year. Ever. looks at the films of 1999.  Well, not all of them, but the ones he thinks made a difference.  Most of them get their own chapter, where Raftery discusses how they got made and the impact they had.

Some of these films were major hits--The Sixth Sense, American Beauty, The Blair Witch Project, The Matrix.  But a surprising number didn't do that well at first and took their time to find an audience--Fight Club, Office Space, Election, Galaxy Quest, Being John Malkovich, The Limey.

I should also add there are a number of films that Raftery (what a name--I want to type Rafferty) lauds that I don't think much of--Magnolia, Three Kings, The Insider.  There are also some notable films I like from 1999 that he barely thinks worth mentioning, such as The Green Mile (though I agree The Cider House Rules isn't much).

Overall, the book is an entertaining and informative look back (except when Raftery tries to relate the films to the political situation today in a predictable and tiresome way).  Jesse Walker suggests 1999 may replace 1939 as Hollywood's great year.  Not yet, but give it a few more decades.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

It's A Mystery

There have been a lot of reactions to the Oscar nominations, with many people misinterpreting "snubs" along political lines.  But enough of that.

Instead, here's an article in Variety with statements from those who received recognition from the Academy.  I would like to see a parallel piece for those who were snubbed, but I don't think that will ever happen (though this piece has a long statement of gratitude from Greta Gerwig, whom you would assume wasn't nominated at all if you listened to the uproar).

But the thing that really caught my eye was Rian Johnson's statement. His murder mystery Knives Out was nominated for original screenplay.  It's Johnson's first nomination and the only one for his film. Here's part of what he said, according to Variety:

I'm blown away, man.  We just set out to make a fun movie that audiences could enjoy. [....] The fun thing is thinking about it in the context of Agatha Christie and Poirot or Mrs. Markle.

Mrs. Markle?  Will the Duchess of Sussex be solving murders in his next film?  The Marvelous Mrs. Markle?  (Not to insult my readers, but apparently the transcriber--who knows of and can spell "Poirot"--has never heard of Miss Marple.)

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Oscar, Oscar, Oscar

With a compressed schedule, the Oscar announcements happened so soon I was barely prepared. (No big deal, since I wasn't nominated for anything.)

Let's go over the list with some comments.

Best Picture
“Ford v Ferrari” (Disney/Fox)
“The Irishman” (Netflix)
“Jojo Rabbit” (Fox Searchlight)
“Joker” (Warner Bros.)
“Little Women” (Sony)
“Marriage Story” (Netflix)
“1917” (Universal)
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Sony)
“Parasite” (Neon)
No surprises.  All titles are notable and well-reviewed. And--this is important--not a single flop, no Bombshell or Richard Jewell.  No Knives Out, though that was probably considered too trivial.  No Uncut Gems, but there's not room for everything, and the Academy didn't cotton to it.
Best Director
Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”)
Todd Phillips (“Joker”)
Sam Mendes (“1917”)
Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Bong Joon Ho (“Parasite”)
No Greta Gerwig (or any woman), though it's nothing personal--the Academy has nominated her before (and she got one for screenplay this year). There are only five slots so there are a bunch of people missing--also no Noah Baumbach (he and Greta are a couple so they can commiserate) or Taika Waititi.
Best Actor
Antonio Banderas (“Pain and Glory”)
Leonardo DiCaprio (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”)
Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”)
Jonathan Pryce (“The Two Popes”)
It was a very competitive category, and all these names were expected, which means a bunch of other names didn't make it. Perhaps a bit of a surprise Pryce (in his first nomination) got in over other illustrious names.  Maybe the biggest surprise is no Robert De Niro.  Also, no Adam Sandler, which makes it clear the Academy wasn't that impressed with Uncut Gems.  No Christian Bale.  No Taron Egerton (good thing--his movie was weak).  No Eddie Murphy (which would have been fun).
Best Actress
Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”)
Scarlett Johansson (“Marriage Story”)
Saoirse Ronan (“Little Women”)
Charlize Theron (“Bombshell”)
Renee Zellweger (“Judy”)
One big surprise--no Awkwafina. (I believe The Farewell was entirely skunked--maybe it was released too early in the year.) I'm a little less surprised there's no Lupita Nyong'o.
Supporting Actor
Tom Hanks (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”)
Anthony Hopkins (“The Two Popes”)
Al Pacino (“The Irishman”)
Joe Pesci (“The Irishman”)
Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
I'm surprised Tom Hanks got in.  You may think he's an Academy favorite, but they've been skunking him for years.  And with De Niro missing, it's interesting to see his costars Pacino and Pesci making it.  Considering Two Popes isn't a Best Picture nominee, the Academy sure like the acting.  It would have been fun to see Willem Dafoe but The Lighthouse was just too weird.
Supporting Actress
Kathy Bates, (“Richard Jewell”)
Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”)
Scarlett Johansson (“Jojo Rabbit”)
Florence Pugh (“Little Women”)
Margot Robbie (“Bombshell”)
One of the biggest shocks--no Jennifer Lopez for Hustlers.  Whether or not she deserved it, it was expected.  I guess the Academy just felt the whole film was too seamy.  Scarlett was a bit of a surprise--maybe the halo effect from Marriage Story helped--note she's never had a single nomination before and now she's got two (while the kids in Jojo didn't get any nominations).
Adapted Screenplay
Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”)
Steve Zaillian (“The Irishman”)
Anthony McCarten (“The Two Popes”)
Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”)
Todd Phillips and Scott Silver (“Joker”)
No surprises.  I believe they've all been nominated before.
Best Original Screenplay
Rian Johnson (“Knives Out”)
Noah Baumbach (“Marriage Story”)
Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns (“1917”)
Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won (“Parasite”)
No surprises.  Note there are five directors nominated.  If Quentin wins, it'll be his third writing Oscar (and none for directing).
Animated Feature
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”
“I Lost My Body”
“Klaus”
“Missing Link”
“Toy Story 4”
Another shock.  No Frozen 2.
I could continue with the other categories, but no one really cares.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Marvel Less

The Marvel Mrs. Maisel started with a good concept--a Jewish housewife in the late 1950s pursues a stand-up comedy career.  It was a lively show with fun, quirky character that went all out on costumes and sets.  And Rachel Brosnahan did a great job as the title character.

I've just finished the second and third season and, while it's still fun, the bloom is off the rose.  If anything, they're spending more for the look, but leaving the characters and plot behind.

This is probably the faults of the show's creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, as well as her husband and fellow executive producer Daniel Palladino.  I watched and enjoyed their previous show, Bunheads, which only lasted one season.  Even in its 18 episodes, however, it showed signs of ADD. It started with a fascinating group of characters and an intriguing premise, but they kept adding new characters and subplots rather than exploring what we liked about the show in the first place.

Same goes for Maisel, which so far has had only 26 episodes over three seasons.  I can understand with so few episodes per season you might want to move things along, but what we get are bizarre character flips as well as unwanted subplots that move us away from the center of the show--Midge Maisel's career and her relationships with those close to her.

Thus, in the second season, Rose, Midge's mom, runs away to Paris.  Spending a few episodes overseas allows for some nice new sets, but just takes us away from what we find interesting.  Later, Abe, Midge's dad, quits both his job at Bell Labs and at Columbia University.  Since Abe and Rose live in a fancy Manhattan apartment, she visits her rich family to get an increase on her allowance, but, unhappy at how she's treated, cuts all ties with them. Thus the family has no income and must find a new place.

First, they're both acting too silly.  I know this is a comedy, but when you do absurd things it's not entertaining, it's annoying.  Second, it was fun to have them deal with and criticize their daughter from their expensive Manhattan nest.  Forcing them out of their digs--even if it means they've got new stress to deal with--makes the show less entertaining. (Maybe after twice as many episodes I'd be happy to see them move, but there was still plenty to do there.)

Another example is Sophie Lennon, the popular hack comic who becomes Midge's enemy.  For no sensible reason, Sophie decides to hire Susie--Midge's small-time manager--to represent her. To make it more absurd, Sophie wants to play Strindberg.  This is a major subplot to season three, but it probably would have been better to leave Sophie (even if she is played by Jane Lynch) alone.

The show has other problems, the greatest probably being all the anachronisms in the characters' speech--especially bad when Midge does her routines which get big laughs rather than the quizzical stares they would have received.  Still, you could overlook that in the first season when the plot was on track. It's not so easy to ignore it any more.

I don't know what direction the show will go in its fourth season.  But (and I don't usually recommend this) it would be great if it could return to the basics.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Hot Rod

I've been going over Nicholas Parisi's book on Rod Serling.  It discusses every script Serling ever wrote for television, and he wrote hundreds. Even before Serling created The Twilight Zone he was recognized as one of TV's best writers, winning Emmys for his scripts Patterns, Requiem For A Heavyweight and The Comedian.

It's interesting to see who worked on his early shows.  To pick just one example, look at "The Velvet Alley," first aired in early 1959 on Playhouse 90.  The plot is about an unsuccessful TV writer with an agent who believes in him.  He ultimately finds success and fires the agent.  (The was somewhat based on Serling's own story--perhaps he felt guilty.) It was directed by Franklin Schaffner, who would go on to direct Planet Of The Apes (with a Rod Serling script) and Patton.  And what a fascinating cast.

The two leads are Art Carney and Jack Klugman.  Both would star in Twilight Zone episodes. Also, Carney created Felix in the original Broadway production of The Odd Couple, while Klugman would replace Walter Matthau in the role of Oscar, and later, of course, be Oscar in the TV version.

Also in the cast, Leslie Nielsen, a romantic leading man at the time who'd become most famous for the wild comedies of his later years.  And child actor Mickey Braddock, who'd grow up to be Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees.  And in small roles, future movie stars Burt Reynolds and Dyan Cannon.

It makes you want to watch these old show to see what all the fuss was about.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

NP

I'm not a fan of Rush, so I'm not really a fan of recently-deceased Neil Peart. (I guess you can like an instrumentalist in a band and not like the band, but it's not as easy as it sounds.)

Still, I recognize many thought he was a great drummer, so maybe I'll say a few things.  Actually, I don't have to--I just got an email from a drummer friend who had some interesting stuff to say. He explained that Peart's parts were very complex, but not improvised.  In other words, all those thousands of beats were done the same in concert every time.

My friend also noted that after decades of being considered one of the great rock drummer, Peart changed his style, which meant changing his grip from "match" to "traditional." It's pretty mind-boggling thing when you think about it.

Peart was also on my radar because he was a fan of Ayn Rand. Here's a pretty funny 1978 interview from Miles where he argues with the band over their politics.  Well, it's not really an argument. He quotes them, and then explains, in a hopelessly dishonest way, what their politics actually are and how they can't possible work. (Not that Ayn Rand's politics would work--I just want them explained properly.)

Peart wrote the lyrics for the group.  (I can't think of another case where the drummer was a band's lyricist.)  His political leanings were often expressed in those lyrics.  This led to some weird songs.

For instance, one of their better known numbers is "Freewill." The song is about how others may believe outside forces control their fate, he the singer doesn't buy it--he is the author of his life.  Fair enough, but the way it's put is very strange:

You can choose from phantom fears
And kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that's clear
I will choose free will

This is not a great argument.  It assumes there's free will and says this is the way I'll go.  Either there's free will or not, regardless of what you'd like.  You may be able to choose a lot of things, but the one thing you can't choose is free will. (Though once you have free will, you can choose how you will deal with it.)

Anyway, here's to Neil Peart.  I just discovered he lived in Santa Monica.  I never ran into him.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Stronger Than Dirt

I was going to celebrate the birthday of Doors' guitarist Robby Krieger, who just turned 74.  Sorry I'm a couple days late.  Strange days.

Jim Morrison was the face and voice of the band, but Krieger was the secret sparkplug that made them so popular.  He was the one who came up with their first big hit:



He also wrote a number of their other biggest hits:





Thursday, January 09, 2020

BH

Buck Henry has died.  A well-liked figure in show biz, he accomplished quite a bit as a writer, actor and director without being too much on the radar.

He worked in comedy in his early years, including improv.  He became a successful TV writer in the 1960s, creating, with Mel Brooks, Get Smart.  Then, when director Mike Nichols needed someone to adapt the novel The Graduate, he found in Henry someone on the same wavelength.  The movie version in 1967 went on to become one of the biggest hits of all time, and Henry got an Oscar nomination. (He also appeared in the film as a hotel clerk.) Henry continued to work with Nichols, writing, and appearing in, Catch-22 and The Day Of The Dolphin.

In the 1970s, he became best known as an actor for his appearances on Saturday Night Live, which he hosted ten times in its early run with the original cast.  The show liked him so much they generally chose him to host the final episode of the season.  He created a number of characters, the most famous being Uncle Roy, the pedophile babysitter. (Would they still do that sketch today?)

He also enjoyed one of his greatest triumphs in Heaven Can Wait (1978), the hit comedy he co-directed and co-starred in with Warren Beatty.  He got another Oscar nomination for his direction. (He wrote another Beatty film years later in 2001, Town & Country, but it was a major flop.)

He wrote less and acted more in later years, but still managed to knock out some quality work, such as his script for To Die For in 1995.  Meanwhile, he popped up in numerous TV shows and movies. One memorable--if short--bit was in Robert Altman's Hollywood film The Player (1992).  Henry plays himself, pitching a sequel to The Graduate, where Mrs. Robinson has had a stroke.

Buck Henry came across as an unassuming guy (and I've heard was like that in real life), but his dry wit had quite an effect on comedy over the past fifty years or so.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

The Last Bang

The Big Bang Theory ran from 2007 to 2019.  It was the most popular sitcom of its time.  The show took a while to catch on, but by the last eight seasons it was in the top ten, usually first or second.  It's also been getting good numbers in syndication.

Truth is, the show, even though it was top-rated, was getting tired in its last several years.  They had the milestones that keep a show going--marriages, babies, etc.  But what was fun about the characters was pretty much mined halfway through.

Also, while The Big Bang Theory started with an intriguing romantic comedy template, it ended as a less interesting domestic comedy. Once Leonard caught Penny, Howard caught Bernadette and Amy caught Sheldon, a lot of the spark was gone. (I should add that Howard and Bernie seem to have a horrible marriage.  All they do is insult each other.  If the show had gone on, I wonder if they would have split up.)

I watched the show fairly regularly when it was on, but I guess I'm all Big Banged out.  Not to put it down (not that it matters--everyone involved is already superrich), but, unlike a number of other sitcoms I've enjoyed, I don't see me watching any of the episodes again.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Lunch Time

I just watched the Netflix special John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch.  The idea didn't sound too appealing, actually, but I was paying for it, so what the heck. Turns out it's really good.  Written by Mulaney and Marika Sawyer (including song lyrics to great tunes composed by Eli Bolin), it's a parody of a children's show from the 70s or 80s.  Mulaney is the adult host who hangs out with a bunch of kids.  There are also several guests, including David Byrne, Natasha Lyonne, Richard Kind and Jake Gyllenhaal.

The Sack Lunch Bunch may look like an old-style show, but it features Mulaney and the cast discussing issues in ways that are far too personal and knowing for a kids' program.  Best of all are the musical numbers, ten in all.

There's "Grandpa's Boyfriend Paul" which pretty much describes the contents, trying to explain how grandparents can have new companions and how that will lead to your parents saying bad things about them.  There's "Algebra Song!" where a tutor, played by Andre De Shields, explains in song and dance how not knowing algebra can--in a tortuous way--lead to losing your eye.  There's "Plain Plate Of Noodles" about how hard it is to be a kid when all you'll eat are noodles with butter.

Also interspersed throughout the show are (apparently) actual interviews with the kids and the rest of the cast discussing what truly scares them.

Anyway, definitely worth checking out.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Film Year In Review--2019

It's time for our eagerly awaited annual film wrap-up.
 
2019 offered a varied slate of films, but not a particularly good one.  Most of my top ten wouldn't have made it in a decent year.  I should note there were a number of celebrated films I didn't see--particularly foreign films--but I think I saw enough to make my list worthwhile.
 
Before we start, a few ground rules. I discuss only feature films released or made widely available in U. S. theatres in 2019. This means no shorts and no TV, though the latter distinction is getting more complicated. A number of major titles last year were released in theatres but soon after made available on streaming services such as Netflix. Which, as unfair as it may seem, means I will consider those I saw in a theatre (e.g., Marriage Story, The Irishman, Les Miserables) but not those I saw on television (e.g., Dolemite Is My Name, The Two Popes, The Laundromat).
 
I also saw quite a few independent films you've never heard of.  I'll try to be fair with them, though I admit it's hard not to make allowances for micro-budget projects. (I also saw a rough cut of a bigger budget film set to be released this year, and I promised not to talk about it till then, so for that you'll have to wait for my 2020 wrap-up.)

I will give out some awards, note some trends and tell you which films were good, bad and ugly--and I was very charitable, rounding up.  Then I'll list my top ten. You can rush to the bottom right now to see the list (and a bonus), but really, the best stuff is along the way.

Feel free to leave a comment, whether you agree or not. In fact, comments tend to be better when you don't agree.
 
 
2019 AWARDS

Actor Of The Year:  Florence Pugh, who gave notable performances in three different films, Fighting With My Family, Midsommar and Little Women.
 
Star Of The Year:  Nicolas Cage.  He starred in six movies--Grand Isle, Primal, Kill Chain, Running With The Devil, Color Out Of Space and A Score To Settle.  I only saw three of them, though that's three more than most people.

Best Impersonation:  Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly in Bombshell.

Best Appearance As Himself:  John Amos (blink and you'll miss him) plays an uncooperative neighbor named John Amos in Uncut Gems.

Most Bizarre Performance: Matthew McConaughey as a snaggle-toothed stoner-poet in The Beach Bum.

Best Sequel: Zombieland: Double Tap (worth the wait)

Worst Sequel: It Chapter 2 (and the first one wasn't much either)

Worst End To A Saga:  Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker

Most Disappointing Sequel: Happy Death Day 2U -- the first film was a low-budget winner.  The second one adds nothing, maybe even takes away something.

Worst Film That Sets Up A Sequel That Likely Won't HappenAlita: Battle Angel

Best Reboot: Joker (not sure if it's a reboot, but it's certainly a new take on an oft-seen villain)

Worst Reboot:  Charlie's Angels

Most Pointless Reboot: Men In Black: International (was anyone waiting for an MiB without Will Smith?)

Put It Out Of Its Misery AwardTerminator: Dark Fate--they keep trying to revive this franchise when the audience doesn't want it.

Worst Remake: The one that was the biggest hit, The Lion King.

Best Half MovieWaves.  It's essentially two movies, and I'm sorry, I liked the first one better.

Most Extended Fight ScenesJohn Wick: Chapter 3 -- Parabellum

WTF AwardThe Lighthouse

Most Generic Title: Marriage Story

Movie That Was Better Than You'd Think Based On The Concept: Framing John DeLorean

Scariest Film:  Cats (I was so frightened by the trailer I didn't see it)
 
Best Opening Credits:  Jojo Rabbit.  I've been waiting for a long time to hear "Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand" in a movie.



Most Bizarre Plot:  Flashout, a small film that few saw.  I'm trying my best to reconstruct it.  It's about three beautiful women who live in an alternate universe.  They play a virtual reality game where they have Flashpoints with game characters, which apparently lead to a strong sexual feeling but also destroy the character they're playing with.  They figure they'll get in a quick round before doing other things, but soon discover the game is different.  It turns out they've been transported to Earth.  Meanwhile, they're being chased by a being from another reality who hasn't quite adapted to Earth but needs to catch them to shut down the virtual reality game.  They're mostly unaware of what's happening, and have a number of weird adventures, mostly dealing with being in an escort service, since their Flashpoint abilities are very popular.  Will they get back to their universe before the hole between the two realities is closed?  If you can find a copy, please let me know since I'm no longer sure about anything, though I promise you it's a real movie and not a dream--it's on IMDb.

Least Believable Scene:  From The Kitchen (which many would say was the least believable movie).  The wives of some recently jailed criminals want more financial help from the guys in the gang still at large.  So they go to a gang meeting and give them some cookies.  The women get tossed out, and then the new head of the gang throws the cookies in the trash.  Sorry, but why throw out perfectly good cookies?

Best Song: "My Bathroom" from Bathtubs Over Broadway.



Worst ScoreUncut Gems gave me enough of a headache without all that music.

Babette's Feast Award For Best Food Porn: Downton Abbey.  Runner-up--Little Women, which had some nice old-time spreads. Second runner-up--Parasite, though they mess with the food too much.

First Man Award For The Film That Tries All Too Successfully To Avoid Excess Emotion Ad Astra.

Jason Statham Award For Actor Who Appears In One Bad Film After Another But Still Manages To Be Appealing: Jessica Chastain, who had a poor year with X-Men: Dark Phoenix and It Chapter 2.

You Me And Dupree Award For The Film That While Nominally A Hollywood Comedy Is Actually A Surrealist Masterpiece Where Plot Points Are Introduced And Dropped For No Reason, Dialogue Is Unrelated To The Action, And Characters Do Things That Bear No Resemblance To How Humans Act: Stuber

House Of Sand And Fog Award For Miserable People Doing Miserable Things That Ends Up In Misery: Uncut Gems

Worst Title: Doctor Sleep.  It's a sequel to The Shining.  I don't care if it's the name of the Stephen King novel--I was so put off by the title I didn't go.

Most Work To Get An Actor Into A Sequel:  Bill Murray appears in Zombieland: Double Tap--and not as a zombie--though he died in the original.

I Liked This Film Better When They Called It Erin BrockovichDark Waters

I Liked This Film Better When They Called It Bonnie And Clyde: Queen & Slim


TRENDS AND OBSERVATIONS

By The Numbers: First Love, Second Act, 3 Days With Dad, 3 From Hell, Five Feet Apart, The Russian Five, 7 Days To Vegas, 10 Minutes Gone, Apollo 11, 21 Bridges, 47 Meters Down, 1917, 3022

Take Your Places: Stockholm, Virginia Minnesota, Canal Street, The Last Black Man In San Francisco, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Under The Silver Lake, Arctic, Spider-Man: Far Away From Home, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, The Wandering Earth, The Hidden World, The Sun Is Also A Star

All WetDark Waters, Aquarela, Waves, Frozen II, Under The Silver Lake,

That's About The Size Of It:  Little, Little Women, Long Shot, Five Feet Apart, The Biggest Little Farm, Long Lost

We Are FamilyFamily, Ma, The Addams Family, Good Boys, Motherless Brooklyn, Honey Boy, Fighting With My Family, A Brother's Love, One Child Nation, Marriage Story

Say My Name:  Say My Name, Harriet, Phil, Judy, Stuber, Pinksy, Shaft, Aladdin, Richard Jewell, The Glicksmans, Luce, Diane, Frankie, Greta, Anna, Gloria Bell, Brian Banks, Red Joan, Queen & Slim, Matthias & Maxime, Hobbs & Shaw, Goodnight Charlene, The Addams Family, Alita: Battle Angel,Where'd You Go Bernadette, Brittany Runs A Marathon, Jay And Silent Bob Reboot, Ben Is Back, Lucy In The Sky, Love Antosha, The Death Of Dick Long, Jojo Rabbit

Color My World: Red Joan, More Than Blue, The White Crow, Black And Blue, The Sky Is Pink, Ash Is The Purest White, The Cold Blue, Black Christmas, Greener Grass, Dora And The Lost City Of Gold, Men In Black: International

Turn On The Light Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, Dark Waters, Terminator: Dark Fate, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Late Night, Blinded By The Light, The Lighthouse, Bright Ones

Creature Comforts: Cats, Penguins, The Mustang, The Nightingale, Arctic Dogs, The White Crow, The Goldfinch, Dumbo, The Lion King, Spider-Man, The Secret Life Of Pets, A Dog's Journey, Parasite, Jojo Rabbit, The Peanut Butter Falcon, Pet Sematary, Birds Of Passage, Mia And The White Lion, The Hummingbird Project, The Giant Spider Invasion, Dogman, The Unicorn

Afterlife Angel Has Fallen, The Dead Don't Die, Alita: Battle Angel, Jumanji: The Next Level, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Pet Sematary, Hail Satan?, Running With The Devil, 3 From Hell, Charlie's Angels

Trouble At The Box Office:  Safe Spaces and No Safe Spaces were playing at the same time.

Scariest Moment:  Happened during It Chapter Two.  Nothing to do with what was on the screen, of course.  This was one of those theatres with electric recliner seats.  In the middle of the film, the unoccupied seat next to mine started reclining for no reason.  Spooky.

Fair Weather Woody:  In the first three Toy Story movies, Woody is the toy most dedicated to making his child happy.  Then in Part 4 the kid puts him in the closet and suddenly Woody, who's made so many speeches about steadfastness, decides to skip out on the child.

Truth In Art:  There were only four people in the theatre.  One of them was a beautiful young woman who was actually in the movie.  She apologized beforehand for how bad it would be.  (To protect her identity I won't mention the title, but it's an indie film you almost certainly didn't see.)

Beatles Versus Bruce:  Yesterday--the story of one man reintroducing the songs of The Beatles to the world--was a hit.  Meanwhile, Blinded By The Light, about a teenager in 1980s Britain who loves Bruce Springsteen's music, flopped.  As did Springsteen concert film Western Stars.

Worst Trend:  A tie.  First, too many films over two hours.  Films should be as long as they need to be, but so many films over two hours test my patience and my bladder.  Second, a little too much lecturing.  If you want to have a message, fine, but a good (or bad) message doesn't effect the quality of the film, though talking down to your audience does.


RANKINGS

GOOD

Antiquities, Arctic, Fighting With My Family, Apollo 11, Joseph Pulitzer: Voice Of The People, Transit, Shazam!, Hotel Mumbai, Diane, Family, General Magic, Aladdin, The Souvenir, Loopers: The Caddie's Long Walk, Say My Name, Framing John DeLorean, Sword Of Trust, Love Antosha, Honeyland, Fiddler: Miracle Of Miracles, Joker, Friedkin Uncut, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound Of My Voice, Running With The Devil, Pain And Glory, Parasite, Zombieland 2, Knives Out, Les Miserables, Waves, Bombshell, Varda By Agnes

OKAY

Adult Life Skills, Cold Pursuit, West Of Sunshine, Goodnight Charlene, Pinsky, The Last Resort, Virginia Minnesota, Dragged Across Concrete, Flashout, The Beach Bum, Long Lost, The Holy Fail, Under The Silver Lake, Avengers: Endgame, Long Shot, Room For Rent, Non-Fiction, John Wick: Chapter 3--Parabellum, The Professor, Dumbo, In Echo Park, Toy Story 4, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Phil, The Art Of Self-Defense, David Crosby: Remember My Name, Yesterday, Mike Wallace Is Here, The Kitchen, Good Boys, Angel Has Fallen, Brittany Runs A Marathon, Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool, 7 Days To Vegas, Judy, The Glicksmans, Jojo Rabbit, Semper Fi, The Parts You Lose, Motherless Brooklyn, The Lighthouse, The Irishman (might have been ranked higher if they cut an hour from it), Honey Boy, Primal, Marriage Story, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, 3022, Frozen II, Recorded: The Marion Stokes Project, What She Said: The Art Of Pauline Kael, Jumanji: The Next Level, Dark Waters, Little Women, Give Me Liberty

NOT OKAY

The Upside, Glass, The Unicorn, The Wandering Earth, Alita: Battle Angel, Isn't It Romantic, Donnybrook, The Bellwether, Billboard, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Captain Marvel, Us, High Life, What Men Want, The Dirty King, Booksmart, Rocketman, Relaxer, Late Night, Midsommar, Stuber, Summer Night, Hobbs & Shaw, Where'd You Go Bernadette?, Blinded By The Light, Killerman, Aquarela, It Chapter 2, Hustlers, Ad Astra, Downton Abbey, 3 Days With Dad, Ready Or Not, 10 Minutes Gone, First Love, Gemini Man, The Lion King, Greener Grass, Terminator: Dark Fate, Charlie's Angels, Locusts, Grand Isle, Queen And Slim, Uncut Gems, Happy Death Day 2U, Little, Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, Men In Black: International, Lost Holiday, 21 Bridges


TOP TEN (in alphabetical order):

1917

A technical achievement that would mean nothing if the story didn't work.

Bathtubs Over Broadway

The parallel universe of musicals.

Birds Of Passage/Dogman/In The Aisles

Three foreign-language films that deserve more attention.

The Death Of Dick Long

An unusual mix of comedy and drama about people who want to see a man about a horse.

The Farewell

Family problems are the same everywhere, but also different (which we also see in Parasite).

Ford V Ferrari

An old-style Hollywood rouser of the type we rarely see these days.

A Hidden Life

Terrence Malick with an actual plot.

Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood

Tarantino's best since Inglourious Basterds, and his most personal.  I'm amazed he got away with it--not rewriting history, but having half an hour of plot in a two and a half hour movie.

Richard Jewell

A no-nonsense retelling that has all the drama of the actual story.

They Will Not Grow Old

WWI helped shape the modern world, and (like 1917) this film brought it back to life on ground level.


BONUS LIST: TOP FIFTEEN OF THE DECADE

3 Idiots

The Cabin In The Woods

Columbus

Edge Of Tomorrow

Exit Through The Gift Shop

The Florida Project

Guardians Of The Galaxy

I, Tonya

Kick-Ass

La La Land

Roma

Tangles

The Tree Of Life

Upstream Color

Zero Dark Thirty

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Dogtooth, Winter's Bone, City Island, The King's Speech, The Social Network, True Grit, Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol, Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Safety Not Guaranteed, Seven Psychopaths, American Hustle, Gravity, Room 237, Rush, The One I Love, Ant-Man, Faults, Tangerine, What We Do In The Shadows, Korla, Hunt For The Wilderpeople, The Big Sick, The Post, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Wind River, Your Name, The Death Of Stalin, Eighth Grade, Free Solo, Green Book, Faces Places

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