Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Jordan Riefe Now

I don't particularly like one-man shows.  It's generally best to have characters bouncing off each other if you want drama.  But who knows--a one-man show about Frederick Douglass might illuminate this significant figure.  So I thought I'd find out about it in this review in The Hollywood Reporter by Jordan Riefe.  I was disappointed. Not by the show, but by Riefe.

Frederick Douglas Now (don't like that "Now"--the show should be relevant without grabbing you by the lapels and telling you) is written and directed by its star, Roger Guenveur Smith.  He's a busy actor who may be best known as the mentally challenged Smiley in Do The Right Thing.  Here's how Riefe describes that role in his first paragraph:

While Smiley isn’t the sharpest resident of Bed-Stuy, his canny solution to the systematic denial of rights to minorities is a combination of Malcolm’s militant call to arms when power concedes nothing and King’s efforts to expose the barbarism of bigotry via dignity, eloquence and courage

He had a canny solution?  What I recall is everything gets destroyed and no one ends up with anything but a hollow victory at best. In any case, this is our first indication that Riefe isn't interested in reviewing the show so much as informing us of his political views.

In fact, it's pretty hard to get an indication of what the show is like at all--the minimum requirement of a review--except that it's mostly made up of essays and letters from Douglass, with modern interpolations from Smith.

Here are some selections from this "review":

Ostensibly the work is about race, but as the middle class diminishes and people of all colors find themselves further and further from the American dream, Smith and Douglass’ words take on meaning beyond the context of black and white...

...Douglass’ words ring true today when minorities are targeted under stop-and-frisk laws or a homeless grandmother is beaten by a cop on the 10 Freeway, or when peaceful protesters are pepper-sprayed at UC Davis and no one is made to answer for it...

...Douglass’ arguments, as irrefutable as they are, made him an outlier in his time. The fact that some of his ideas remain controversial even today is a sad reminder of how far we still are from a “post-racial” America.

I thought The Hollywood Reporter was a professional journal covering show business.  So what is this empty editorial masquerading as a theatre review doing in it?

PS  Here's a line from a review at the AV Club by Gwen Ihnat of this week's episode of Masters Of Sex, set in the late 50s:

I know it’s been a rough week for us all—especially as we witnessed that current-day Ferguson, Missouri does not appear to be so far removed from 1950s St. Louis.

Oh, it's pretty damn far removed.  But that doesn't stop critics who don't know much about history, but know what people will pat them on the head for, from making this comparison.

Singing In The Reeves

Happy birthday, Jim Reeves. Died at 40 in a plane crash, but was one of country's biggest acts in the 50s and 60s.   The following are all #1 hits.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My copy lost in the mail

It must be on my desk somewhere . . .

The Voice

Don Pardo has died.  He may have the most famous voice of our time. He was the announcer for numerous game shows, most famously Jeopardy! in it's original version.  He was also an announcer for NBC News. And then, when other men might think of retiring, he had a second act and became the announcer for Saturday Night Live.

He was one of those rare guys whom you wouldn't recognize in person, but imagine if you heard him over the phone.

Fumio In Stereo

Today is the centennial of composer Fumio Hayasaka. He didn't live very long--died in 1955--but in his short time on Earth not only created some pretty decent stand-alone compositions, he also managed to create the scores for several classic Japanese films, including Kurosawa's Rashomon, Ikiru and Seven Samurai as well as Mizoguchi's Ugetsu and Sansho The Bailiff.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Not Young

Happy birthday, Tony Sandler. He was part of the singing duo Sandler and Young, the type of act that was so outmoded in the rock era that it's hard to believe anyone ever enjoyed them.

Back To Bach

Happy birthday, Barbara Harris.  Not the actress, not the ADR expert, but the lead singer of The Toys.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

You said a mouthful there, sister

"Porn industry satisfied-for now"

Go Go Girl

Happy birthday, Belinda Carlisle, lead singer of the Go-Go's.  She also had a successful solo career.

Late To The Party

I was planning to celebrate the birthday of cowboy singer Carson Robison. I'm a little off, but better late than never.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Age of Obama

Close One

Here's the headline:

Huge Asteroid that 'could end human life' defying gravity as it moves towards Earth, scientists say

Then you read a little further and discover the scientists are talking about "asteroid 1950 DA, which has a one in 300 chance of hitting the planet on 16 March, 2880."

I realize headlines are supposed to grab you, but they're not supposed to make you spit up your cereal.

Forget the one in 300 chance--let's assume it's 100% certain it'll smash into Earth.  Not only will we be long gone by then, but we'll have eight centuries of more technology.  Compare what we have today with the 1200s, then multiply the advances by 100.

We'll be living on other planets then. We'll have repellant rays that can move moons around.  And anyway, our minds will be in clouds, ready to reload any time necessary.

If the asteroid was coming in a decade, yeah, let's drop all wars and get on this project.  But as for 1950DA, let's save it for the people of the 29th century to deal with.

Bill, Not Gil

Happy birthday, Bill Evans. He died fairly young--a seeming occupational hazard for jazz musicians--but in his day he played piano like no one else.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Is it the hat?

Pope Francis squeezes into Kia

Big deal. I do this every day.

Knick Of Time

I caught the pilot of The Knick.  The Cinemax show, starring Clive Owen, is set at the Knickerbocker Hospital in New York in 1900.  Steven Soderbergh, whom I thought had retired, is producing and directing the first season.

There are plenty of things to like about the show. The cast is game.  The period setting is convincing.  And a serious look at the medical profession over 100 years ago--advances are being made, but it is still hopelessly primitive by today's standards--is fascinating.  The pilot shows us two rather graphic operations, and I assume more are to come.

But there are problems which make me question if this is a keeper.  While it's a sociological look at the city, concentrating on a hospital, the actual drama so far isn't much.  Much of the conflict is pretty weak.  This includes a black doctor the others don't want to work with and a woman who, as part of a powerful family, wants to have a say, which, once again, bothers all those white men.  When Mad Men deals with the casual sexism and racism of its era, it fits in pretty easily, and even then they sometimes overdo it.  But the issues here seem forced--more so we enlightened people today can scoff than for legitimate dramatic interest. For that matter, there's a scene where two rich men at the hospital bemoan how weak the poor immigrants are.  They might as well be twirling mustaches. In general the dialogue isn't great.  At one point Clive Owen makes a speech where he notes people used to live to the age of 39 but thanks to advances now live to 47.  I find it hard to believe anyone would talk that way back then.

Speaking of Owen, while he has the talent and presence to carry a series, they've felt it necessary to weigh down his lead character, Dr. John Thackery, with an opium addiction.  I've complained in the past about the need for that extra problem to make the protagonist interesting--Kelsey Grammer in Boss has dementia which is killing him, Claire Danes in Homeland is bipolar.  When you've got compelling characters in tough situations, weighing them down with a serious medical issues to make them more "complex" usually ends up just being a drag on the action.

I think I'll keep watching, but let's leave the waiting room and get this operation going.

Smokin' O.P.

Happy birthday, Oscar Peterson, one of the top jazz pianists of all.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Odds And Ends

The upcoming election is all about the Senate.  The House isn't going to change hands in any case, but the GOP has a real chance of taking back the World's Greatest Deliberative Body. (If the parties had their pick of one, they'd probably take the Senate, if for no other reason than it has a say in Supreme Court picks.)

In fact, the latest polls indicate Republicans are likely to have a majority when the dust settles.  Here's why I'm still predicting they won't--or at least, that the odds are against that result.

First, it's still too early to read much into the polls. Sure, the elections are less than 100 days away, but it's summer vacation.  It's not till after Labor Day that millions start paying any sort of attention.

Second, while polls shows unhappiness with the President, and the party with the leader in the White House is usually blamed for the nation's problem, they also show Republicans are highly unpopular.

Third, a lot has to go right for the GOP to win.  They need a minimum net gain of 6 seats.  Don't underestimate the power of the incumbency. Yes, I know, in "wave" elections people are swept out, but the GOP still has to unseat--in addition to winning three empty spots previously held by Dems--at least three Senators who will give it everything they've got.  And let's not forget in two states, Kentucky and Georgia, the Dems have a decent shot at a pickup.

Finally, the GOP has been underperforming, if that's what you want to call it, lately. Yes, sometimes they've picked awful candidates, but it's not just that.  In 2012, it looked like that had two or three easy pickups in the Senate, and instead they lost two seats.  Even in 2010, another wave election, they had a decent shot at a net gain of 8 but only took 6.

And note 2012 is our most recent data point.  The question is was that different because it was a Presidential election, or was it a case of the Obama team doing a great job getting out the vote (in a country with a growing percentage of Dems), presaging a new era where the Dems, if anything, outperform the polls?  Don't forget that most of the races where the GOP hopes to beat an incumbent are so close right now that if the polls are even slightly overstating support for the Republican they'll probably lose.

Don't get me wrong---things are looking up for the GOP.  A few months ago I thought they had about a ten to fifteen percent chance of taking back the Senate.  Right now I'd put it at about one in three.  But the people who are acting like it's a lot more likely than not are jumping the gun.

The First One

Happy birthday, David Crosby, singer and songwriter for the Byrds and Crosby, Stills and Nash.  He turned 73 today, though his liver is only 20.

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