Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Has Yakov used this yet?

In Russia at Thanksgiving, Turkey shoots you.

Spirit of the Season

The link is too hard to organize, but this is an actual headline from Ohio's best newspaper (the Dayton Daily News) among the biggies (apparently it's from the Chicago Tribune):

"Is true meaning of Black Friday being lost?"

On Holiday

The film Holiday--the famous 1938 version, directed by George Cukor, starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant--is a bit of a bait-and-switch. It promises to be a comic romp, but turns down a dark alley before the happy ending. I saw the original play in the library and read it to compare.

It's by Philip Barry, a playwright best known for comedies about high society.  The movie follows his plot fairly closely, but it's always fun to see the same characters saying things in different ways.  It starts by introducing Julia Seton, a beautiful young woman from a rich New York family, and her fiancé Johnny Case, born poor but an up-and-comer. In most works you'd figure they're going to have some troubles but get through them, except if you know the lead is playing Julia's sister Linda (as you certainly do in the movie--Julia is Doris Nolan while Linda is Hepburn) you can figure how things will really end.

The play is about yearning for something more than money.  Some stock Johnny helped build up is about to make him a bundle (five figures at the time) and rather than work for decades more to become a millionaire, he wants to take some time off to enjoy life.  Julia can't understand it--she didn't need an idler for a husband--and neither can her father.  Linda, meanwhile, watches from the sidelines, but understands what he's looking for, and once she knows Julia doesn't want Johnny she snatches him up.  The main problem in the plot is how Julia and Johnny fell for each other to begin with.  They met not long ago in Lake Placid, and I guess it's an infatuation.  The trouble is the audience--and some of the characters--can easily see Linda's right for Johnny, but it takes a long time to get there.

I can understand why this plot had appeal to the theatre crowd in 1929, but movie audiences had a harder time buying it during the Depression when a good job was nothing to sneeze at. In addition, it's a little hard to buy Linda getting along with all the comforts she's used to, especially after we see her ordering the servants around whenever she needs something.  Maybe she'll be coming back to the bosom of her family before she knows it.

The biggest change in the movie, aside from how it's opened up (though not as much as it might--the movie is a bit stagebound), are Johnny's friends Nick and Susan Potter, who looks at things sideways.  In the play, they're high society people, but in the movie, trying to make them more relatable, they're of more common stock, if still eccentric.

Plays of the era can get pretty wordy. This may work on stage, but movies pare the talking down to the essentials, and with screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart preserving Barry's wit (as he'd also do in a couple years for The Philadelphia Story), the movie probably has better dialogue.  And as it worked out, Donald Ogden Stewart was featured in the original Broadway cast as Nick Potter, so he understood Barry.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Cass Sunstein to publish a book on Star Wars

The dark side of the force impedes proper reasoning is my takeaway

Not clear on the concept

How dare the Obama administration bail out insurance companies with our money in order to hide ObamaCare’s failures.

She's kidding, right? It's inherent in the design. Once the program is there, we can fix it into perpetuity, making it worse at every step. It's not like he tried to hide it. And you've always got propagandists like Krugman promoting the next fix.

Obama's retirement plan, working for you

"Nobody expected what happened last night"

What It's All About

I've never been a big fan of Michael Caine, but I recognize he's done a lot of interesting work. (My favorite film of his is probably The Man Who Would Be King.) I saw his autobiography The Elephant To Hollywood in the library and checked it out.  He wrote it five years ago, and it's actually his second memoir. The first he wrote about 25 years ago, when he figured his Hollywood career was coming to a close. How wrong he was, so he wrote another, though its still covers his life from the beginning.

Born in London in 1933, he saw both poverty and war in his childhood.  At a certain point, he figured he wanted to be an actor--couldn't see himself doing anything else.  There was some involuntary time off for national service and fighting in the Korean War, but aside from that he spent over a decade working in theatre, movies and TV to become an overnight success. His actual name was Maurice Micklewhite, but that wouldn't do.  For a while he was Michael Scott, but when he wanted to join the union, that was taken, so he changed in to Michael Caine in honor of The Caine Mutiny and his favorite actor, Humphrey Bogart.

His first big break was in the 1964 film Zulu, where he played an upper class British lieutenant, even though cockney came more naturally to him.  Tall, handsome and talented, he was soon offered lead roles, and made The Ipcress File and Alfie one after another.  Before you knew it he was an international star. The womanizing Alfie is still one of the roles he's most identified with.  These were British productions, and he was next invited to Hollywood, by Shirley MacLaine, to costar with her in Gambit.  Now he was really big time.

One thing about Caine--he believed in working.  For most of his career he's appeared in at least two films a year, perhaps figuring if this one doesn't work, the next one will.  He often played in action roles and crime dramas, but being in so many movies, there's hardly a genre he hasn't tried.

He's done a lot of memorable work, really too many titles to mention here.  So let me just list his Oscar nominated lead performances--Alfie, Sleuth (1972), Educating Rita (1983) and The Quiet American (2002).  Then there are his two Oscar-winning roles, both for Supporting Actor: Hannah And Her Sisters (1986) and The Cider House Rules (1999).

For years he was a leading man, but as he approached his 60s, he more and more played character roles.  Over the past couple decades, he's been, for instance, quite a few fathers of the lead.  Perhaps he's best known to young people today as Alfred the butler in Christopher Nolan's Batman movies.  So he went from Alfie to Alfred.  Quite a life.

Monday, November 23, 2015


"We have to find diverse revenue streams. We have to find alternative revenue streams.”

A classic example of "begging the question."


In the past decade or two there's been a revival of interest in Ernest Shackleton. He was never completely out of mind, but with books and documentaries and serials coming out, his story apparently strikes a chord today.  Maybe it's the stiff-upper lip way he has with his adventure, or maybe it's nostalgia for the end of the great age of exploration (followed by the modern age of instantaneous communication and world wars), but either way his story is compelling.

I knew the basic outline of Shackleton's tale, but after reading Nick Bertozzi's graphic novel Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey I feel like I was on the journey (without all the suffering).  We get introduced to all the people on the ship, what the plan was supposed to be and how it turned out.  I don't want to tell too much because I suppose some readers don't yet know and should be allowed to find out for themselves.

This isn't Bertozzi's first foray into historic adventure.  His previous book was about Lewis & Clark. Maybe I'll check that out, too.

Some treat the graphic novel as if it's for kids, but I think it's a respectable art form on its own.  The people who made Classics Illustrated retold famous novels this way, and perhaps that was a mistake--novels are words, and without all of them you lose their essence.  But history is about action as well as words.  And you know what a picture's worth.

Am I saying we should replace regular books with graphic novels in college courses?  Yes.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

P. F. We Love You

Caught up on this a few days late: songwriter P.F. Sloan has died.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Hey Mac

Dr. John turns 75 today.  He's been making music--rock and roll with blues and New Orleans mixed in--for most of his life.  And we're not tired of it yet.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Not So Easy

Fresh & Easy, a widespread grocery chain in Southern California, is shutting down all its locations.  A sad day indeed.

F&E originated in Britain.  The stores were small--at least compared to most of the supermarket competition--and catered to the same sort of patron as Trader Joe's, but was perhaps a bit pricier.  Still, not a whole lot.  I guess it couldn't take the competition, and didn't respond to the needs of the customers out here, but it can't all be about price.  Whole Foods is doing land-office business and it costs considerably more (not to mention is a lot more obnoxious about how special a place it is).

Fresh & Easy had fresh produce and well-made prepared foods.  It also had a friendly staff (you checked yourself out, and more than once I needed help when the computer broke down). I thought it filled a niche but today is just one more tale of bankruptcy.  It is a pretty tough market to crack, considering how much more the mega-chains offer than they used to, not to mention new competition from places like Target and even Amazon.

I've heard there's a chance a new concern will buy the chain, but will they reopen to stores, or will it be for the real estate?  And even if they do make them grocery stores, would it still be Fresh & Easy?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Malcolm In The End

Here's a pretty good discussion of Malcolm In The Middle at the A.V. Club by Matt Crowley.  The show lasted for seven seasons and never got the credit it deserved.  It was a family sitcom--an overworked genre--but was smarter, faster, sharper and filled with better sight gags than most.

My problem with the A.V. Club's piece, however, is the ending where it references Malcolm's finale.  Crowley thinks it perfectly caps the show, whereas I think it almost destroyed the previous seven years.. He quotes at length the big speech mother Lois makes to son Malcolm--about how his life has been hard because it was supposed to be hard.  No easy path for him--he needed to have a rough time so he can become President, and understand how people like his family have it tough, and do right by them.

The speech, by itself, is filled with stupid populist pieties--as if the problems we have are because politicians don't understand our plight.  But far worse, the idea that Hal and Lois actually had a plan the whole time, with Malcolm or any of their kids, rather than they were doing the best they could with what they had, is ridiculous. More than that, it makes the whole series a lie, and everything that happens a secret plot.  Every episode is weakened retroactively.

It also makes Hal and Lois cruel.  So they were torturing their smart son, and we're supposed to approve?  No, this show is about a hopeless family that can't do anything right, and takes it on the chin regularly, but keeps coming back for more.  For a fan there are only two choices regarding the finale: ignore it, or pretend that (once again) Lois is making up on the spot an absurd excuse for her actions.

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