Thursday, July 20, 2017

The W

Last night the Jimmy Fallon show had The Who.  Well, that's what Jimmy called them.  Actually, it was Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend.  Needless to say, John Entwistle and Keith Moon couldn't make it.

They sang one of my favorite Who tunes, "I Can See For Miles." There were other musicians, but no one cared who they were.

So is it fair to call them The Who?  I mean, if they had Paul and Ringo do a song, would anyone call it The Beatles?

I suppose there's a difference. It's easy enough to argue Roger and Pete are the two main members of the band--its voice and its songwriter.

But still, what if it had worked out that John and Paul were the only Beatles left?  If they performed, it would be an amazing thing, but I can't imagine anyone would call it The Beatles, even if they did Beatle favorites.

You can't argue with the math

Study finds that generous acts make you happy, irrespective whether it is small or large act.

To which the always right Professor Reynolds says, "So go with small, I guess."

Now that's cost benefit analysis. Make this guy Dick Windsor!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Gun Play

I've been watching Snowfall, the new series on FX about the crack epidemic in 1980s Los Angeles.

I don't have much to say about it, but let me know that six times in the first two episodes there's a meeting or confrontation where--surprise--someone pulls out a gun and aims it at another person's head.  The target tends to stay calm and no one gets shots.

A lot of people things guns solve any problem in a drama. (Some people think the same thing of guns in real life.)

I'm not denying pointing a gun at someone can be dramatically effective.  But you can't overdo it.

I'd suggest they keep it down to, say, once per episode.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Game On

The first episode of the seventh season of Game Of Thrones, "Dragonstone," puts us right in the thick of things.  There was a lot of downsizing, as it were, last season, and now we've got a clear group of characters circling each other, all based in Westeros.  Some complained there wasn't enough action, but I've always felt the best scenes tend to be a few characters just talking, not necessarily cutting off heads.

We start with old business.  In a pre-credits scene that could have been the ending of last season (but was probably too much for it), we get Arya, disguised as Walder Frey, killing off the entire House.  That's what he deserves for murdering people he invited in (though Arya is probably offended not due to his lack of hospitality, but for the fact he did it to his mother and brother, and she was there when it happened).  We didn't quite know that Arya was so good at changing faces--she can look exactly like anyone, and even do vocal impressions.

Anyway, the new Arya is at large in Westeros, and anything is possible.  Note she doesn't have the methods of the other killers from the House of Black--she doesn't do assignments, she's free lance.  You'd think she might want to meet her family, though it's not clear if she knows any of them are still alive.

After the credits, we get a vision of White Walkers on the march.  And now Meera (tough gal) has brought Bran to the gate of the Wall.  Edd let's him in.  Where will Bran go next?  Boy does he have a lot to say--especially to Jon Snow.

Speaking of whom, we watch Jon--the new King in the North--running a meeting at Winterfell.  Quite an interesting group collected there.  Not only all the heads of Northern families (including everyone's favorite, Lyanna Mormont), but also Sansa, Brienne, Pod, Tormund, Littlefinger and Davos.  A fun group, though I doubt they'll all be together for much longer.

Snow will allow the families who turned against the Starks to keep their ancestral homes, against the importuning of Sansa.  Snow learned his tactics fighting in the north, where being merciful to the wildlings was a good idea.  Sansa learned her tactics in King's Landing, where being merciless was more common, and being too honorable gets you killed.

Later, along with Sansa, Snow asks her not to undermine him in public.  A sensible request, though it's clear Sansa isn't quite happy with the power arrangements.  Will they end up completely at odds?  Will one of the leave to make room for the other.  (Cersei has asked Snow to come to King's Landing, but would he be so stupid?)

Anyway, Snow knows the real problem is in the North, but we can see there are plenty of problems down South.  And down South, in King's Landing, the finishing touches are being put on a floor map of Westeros, so Cersei can keep track of things more easily.  She and Jaime have a conversation about where they stand.  (Why is Jaime still there, you may ask, though he seems to have nowhere else to go.)

They are the last of the Lannisters (so have some more babies, then).  They've seen all their kids die, though Cersei doesn't really want to talk about it.  Cersei is too consumed with the enemies in every direction.  To the east, Daenery's sails to take over.  To the south are the Dornish, who want revenge.  To the west are the Tyrells, who also want revenge (and have all the food).  To the north is Snow and snow.

They need allies, who are in short supply.  Even the rotten Frey's are gone.  Which is why Cersei has invited Euron Greyjoy, who looks to play a large role this season.  The Iron Islanders don't impress anyone--certainly not the Lannisters.  They rebelled, which is bad enough, but they also were put down easily.  Who can trust them.  But they've got a lot of ships and Euron has a lot of practice on the seas.

He comes in to meet with Cersei (though can't get too close, thanks to the Mountain), and would like to join up with her.  While it's clear there's plenty of mistrust, he says he'll prove himself and bring her something.  Dany's head?  Tyrion?  The Sand Snakes? Guess we'll find out.

Now we go to the Citadel, where Samwell is in training, if training means doing nothing but scut work.  In a montage that lasts maybe a bit too long, we see him perform his duties, which includes a lot of cleaning out bedpans.  But he was sent there for a mission--to learn about the White Walkers and help Jon Snow. Though at this rate they'll all be engulfed before he even gets to read one of the books locked up in the special area.

For his eagerness and presumption he gets a speech from an Archmaester, played by Jim Broadbent, about how there are always problems, but the maesters work apart from that, guiding mankind. Broadbent is sure the wall will always be standing, but will it?

So Samwell, who has learned to steal things he think he's owed, gets the keys to get to the books he needs.

Back at Winterfell, Pod is in training with Brienne, while Tormund pants at the thought.  Watching them is Littlefinger and Sansa. Sansa is quite dismissive, as is Brienne, of Baelish. I don't like this diminished Littlefinger, who seems to be so in love with Sansa that he's lost his senses.  This is the man, don't forget, who plunged the Seven Kingdoms into chaos, and saw to it that Joffrey was assassinated.  And now Sansa easily bests him in repartee?  Perhaps he's biding his time, and perhaps Sansa will come around, though. (But let's get to it--this is fan service and not much else.  So Sansa had a rough wedding night.  Theon Greyjoy had his penis cut off and he's stopped whining about it.)

Now Arya is riding through the Riverlands.  It's a new Arya.  Up till now, she's always had a mentor, teaching her things.  Now she knows what she needs to know (she thinks).  When she rode through this area earlier, she couldn't have survived without the Hound.  Now she's the master killer.

She meets up with some soldiers, and while there is some tension, they tend to be good sorts, and she enjoys their hospitality.  She even tells them she's going to Kings Landing to kill the queen, though they take it as a joke.  I think Arya has the ability to get to Cersei, though will something get in her way?  Will she meet up with some family members?  With the Hound?  There are a lot of reunions in her future.

Speaking of the Hound, he's marching with the Brotherhood Without Banners.  Just like Arya, we've got a new Hound.  He's still got a smart mouth, but is more easily moved--he's been hanging out with religious people for a while now.  The group comes upon the farm where he hurt the farmer and stole his silver.  The Hound finds two corpses--the father realized they were going to starve and killed his daughter and himself.  That night the Hound digs them a grave, which is the best he can do at this point.  Earlier, he looks into the fire and sees a vision of Whit Walkers coming around the Wall by the sea. Is this where he'll be heading?

At the Citadel, with his stolen books, Samwell makes a discovery. (Pretty easily.  All those nasty maesters were sure slowing him down.)  You can get all the dragon glass you need at Dragonstone. Makes sense, I guess.  He'll inform Jon.  We'll this lead to some confrontations?

Meanwhile, Samwell, on his duties, is feeding the quarantined.  An arm comes out to him, full of greyscale.  It's Jorah, of course.  Jorah was ordered by Daenerys to cure himself, so it would make sense he came to the seat of learning to see if there was a way.  He's not looking too well, but he wants to know if Dany has landed.

We cut to Dany's fleet, and they sail smoothly into her ancestral home of Dragonstone.  Too smoothly.  Cersei and Aegon know she's coming here--why don't they try to cut her off at the pass (even with her dragons about)?

Dany and her retinue, including Tyrion, Varys, Missandei and Grey Worm, don't do much more than open the gates and walk in.  This is the moment she's been waiting for all her life--her return to Westeros. But it's just the beginning.  Now that she's here, she's got to move on King's Landing to the real throne she wants.  But they're going to need a strategy, presumably.  The former occupant of Dragonstone tried a full assault and it didn't go well.

So that's where we stand.  We get to see most of the characters, and they've all got clear goals.  There are only so many episode left, so the clashes, and the reunions, are going to start piling up pretty fast.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Men Who Started It All

Night Of The Living Dead (1968) was a low budget film shot in Pennsylvania that became a huge hit.  It was considered outrageous at the time, but has held up quite nicely.

Also, it spawned not one, but two revolutions--the low-budget horror film becoming a big deal, and a spate of zombie movies and TV shows, which are as big as ever almost fifty years later.

The film was written and directed by George Romero, who just died.  He would go on to make other films, generally horror (including the fine sequel to NOTLD, Dawn Of The Dead), but none would equal the impact of his first big hit.

So here's to George.  I'm sure there are many in Hollywood who know the difference he made.

In more bad news, Martin Landau died.

Years ago I met him at a party (yes, I occasionally get invited to those kinds of parties).  He said "hi, I'm Marty" as if he weren't world-famous.

He had an offbeat look that, when he was starting out, put him on the character actor track.  Early on he did the occasional movie, such as his memorable turn as James Mason's henchman in North By Northwest, but through the 50s, 60s and 70s, was mostly in television.

The role he was best known for then was Rollin Hand, part of the Mission: Impossible team. In the mid-70s, he played the lead on Space: 1999.  By 1981, he was playing a mad scientist in the TV movie The Harlem Globetrotters On Gilligan's Island.

So there he was, in his 50s, making a decent living as an actor, but not really getting the parts he wanted.

Then, in 1988, he was nominated for a supporting actor Oscar in Tucker: The Man And His Dream.  So now, at 60, he became one of the top character actors in movies.

He'd go on to appear in Crimes And Misdemeanors (Oscar nomination), Mistress, Rounders, and his greatest role, Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood, for which he won an Oscar.

Not many actors manage a second act, but he got it, and made the most of it.

How is he at Potions?

Sigh. Was there ever a time when the Times could be taken seriously?

Sunday, July 16, 2017

I'm Telling You For The Seventh Time

Today is the big day--the premiere of Game Of Thrones, season 7.  The first episode is entitled "Dragonstone"

I don't want to go out on a limb here, but I'm guessing it'll have something to do with the return of Daenerys to her ancestral home Dragonstone. It's hard to say how that works out, story-wise, but it symbolized something important--the show, after years of expanding, is finally starting to contract.

Dany spent seasons after season gaining her army and learning harsh lessons in Essos. Now she's finally returning to Westeros to take back what's hers (she thinks).

Meanwhile, Cersei is holding King's Landing, Jon Snow has the Night King to worry about, and the Stark kids--Sansa, Arya, Bran--are all free agents, moving about on their own quests.

But with only two seasons left to go--really a season and a half by episode count--the stories are all converging and the end is in sight. This should lead to interesting clashes, as we get combinations of characters we haven't seen yet.

The last new episode was aired June 2016.  It's been a long wait.  Which makes fans excited, but also has them saying "it better be worth it."

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Dutch Master

It's July 15th, which, of course, means it's Rembrandt's birthday.  Perhaps the most famous painter in history.  What John Hancock is to signatures, Rembrandt is to paintings.

Stop us before we compete again

I'm guessing they oppose interstate sales of insurance, too.

It really gives the whole game away. Talk about collusion.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Bang A Gong

I watched the new Gong Show last night.  It's one of a number of supersized, prime time revivals of old game shows on ABC.  I'm not sure why this trend is happening--maybe because such shows are so cheap to produce.

This latest is hosted by British entertainer Tommy Maitland, who's actually a disguised Mike Myers.  The whole bit adds little to the show, so I'm not sure why this is happening either.  I guess it was the only way they could get Myers to sign on.

But that's neither here nor there.  Is the show any good?  Well, it's mostly the gong show you'd expect, where amateurs come on and do their acts while celebrity judges rate them or gong them.

That's why I don't like it.  I remember watching the Chuck Barris Gong Show, which was a bit of a phenomenon in its day.  And it created a whole attitude toward entertainment that I hated.

It's hard enough to go out in front of an audience in the best circumstances. But once the crowd has the gong mentality, they're just frothing at the mouth, waiting for you to slip up so they can hate you.  It took years after the Barris Gong Show left the air for things to go back to normal.

Let's not return to those days.  We don't need it. (There are also too many shows that feature judges rating amateur performers, but that's a separate issue.)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tell A Vision

It's harder to discuss the Emmy nominations than the Oscars or the Tonys, because there are so many damn categories.  And I've seen most of the movies around, and none of the plays, so I have complete knowledge of complete ignorance, whereas no one can keep up with all the TV shows no matter how much you watch.

But the Emmy nods were announced today, so let's look at some of them:

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Claire Foy, The Crown
Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder
Elisabeth Moss, Handmaid’s Tale
Keri Russell, The Americans
Evan Rachel Wood, Westworld
Robin Wright, House of Cards

I watch almost none of these. I liked Evan Rachel Wood in Westworld, but the show is sort of silly, despite all the nominations it got.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us
Anthony Hopkins, Westworld
The hot new show This Is Us gets two nominations--will that split the vote. (And how do the other costars feel about this?)
I guess it's nice to see Bob Odenkirk get nominated, but I don't think he'll win. 
A lot of good shows get nothing, of course,  I guess it was never in the cards that The Leftovers would see any nominations
Outstanding Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
Carrie Coon, Fargo
Felicity Huffman, American Crime
Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies
Reese Witherspoon, Big Little Lies
Jessica Lange, Feud: Bette & Joan
Susan Sarandon, Feud: Bette & Joan
Nice to see Carrie Coon here, though I preferred her work in The Leftovers.  A lot of big movie names here (women of a certain age apparently can get better roles on television).  I was more impressed with Lange and Sarandon in Feud than Kidman and Witherspoon in Big Little Lies.
Outstanding Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
Riz Ahmed, The Night Of
Robert DeNiro, The Wizard of Lies
Ewan McGregor, Fargo
Geoffrey Rush, Genius
John Turturro, The Night Of
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock
Quite a few big names.  The Emmys, as always, have Oscar envy.
The other guy who played the younger Einstein in Genius had a lot more to do than Geoffrey Rush, but he's not an Oscar-winning actor.
Turturro was fine, as was Riz Ahmed in The Night Of, though they'll likely split the vote (and Bill Camp was the performance to see in that show).
De Niro is here because he's a huge name, not because his movie was anything special.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie
Jane Fonda, Grace and Frankie
Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish
Allison Janney, Mom
Pamela Adlon, Better Things
I'd like to see Ellie Kemper win, though Louis-Dreyfus seems to take it every year (and she is great in Veep)--has she broken he record for most Emmys yet?
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
William H. Macy, Shameless
Anthony Anderson, Black-ish
Aziz Ansari, Master of None
Donald Glover, Atlanta
Zach Galifianakis, Baskets
Interesting mix, though I don't know if any of them deserve it.  Note most of these are not network shows--no Big Bang Theory, for example.  Be interesting to see if Glover takes it--I like his show (which is as much a surreal drama as comedy at points).
Outstanding Reality Competition Program
The Voice
Top Chef
The Amazing Race
Project Runway
American Ninja Warrior
RuPaul’s Drag Race
Don't care.
Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality Competition Program
Tom Bergeron, Dancing With the Stars
Anthony Bourdain, The Taste
Cat Deeley, So You Think You Can Dance
Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, Project Runway
Jane Lynch, Hollywood Game Night
RuPaul, RuPaul’s Drag Race
Don't care.
Outstanding Variety Talk Series
Full Frontal With Samantha Bee
Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
The Late, Late Show With James Corden
The Late Show With Stephen Colbert
Real Time with Bill Maher
Looks like they're picking on Fallon the same way they picked on Leno.
I think both Corden and Oliver have carved out their own niches and it would be fine if either get the Emmy.
Outstanding Comedy Series
Modern Family
Silicon Valley
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Master of None
They're still nominating Modern Family--it's like a reflex.  But Big Bang Theory is out.  Most of these are pretty good. Maybe they'll go for the new and shiny Atlanta, though Silicon Valley, even not quite a full strength, is still pretty good, and Kimmy Schmidt is for those who miss 30 Rock.
Outstanding Drama Series
Better Call Saul
House of Cards
The Handmaid’s Tale
The Crown
This Is Us
Stranger Things
A bunch of new, still-trending names here, like This Is Us, Stranger Things, Westworld (undeservedly) and The Handmaid's Tale.  Maybe the most interesting contest.  I hope the winner won't feel the need to make a political speech (I hope this everywhere, though this category seems likely to bring it out).
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Tony Hale, Veep
Louie Anderson, Baskets
Alec Baldwin, SNL
Brian Tyree Henry, Atlanta
T.J. Miller, Silicon Valley
Modern Family used to get three of these.  I don't think Anderson deserves it, though he's probably the favorite.  T.J. Miller is fine, though hasn't Zach Woods become the guy on Silicon Valley?  Baldwin's situation is odd--a continuing bit on SNL, not a sitcom.  Tony Hale is always fine, as are others on Veep, but time for something new.  Brooklyn Nine-Nine is one of the best regular sitcoms around and doesn't get enough love.  If I were voting, I'd pick Brian Tyree Henry, who is reliably great on Atlanta.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory
Anna Chlumsky, Veep
Gaby Hoffmann, Transparent
Jane Krakowski, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Zazie Beetz, Atlanta
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
Donna Lynne Champlin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Judith Light, Transparent
Rita Moreno, One Day at a Time
Just how many people are they allowed to nominate?  A number of these I haven't seen, but most of them I like.  Like Alec Baldwin above (who's not even a regularly member of SNL), Kate McKinnon seems to be the odd person out here.  But she's been amazing and it would be great if she won.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Movie
Hank Azaria, The Wizard of Lies
Martin Freeman, Sherlock: The Lying Detective
Alfred Molina, Feud: Bette & Joan
Alexander Skarsgard, Big Little Lies
David Thewlis, Fargo
Stanley Tucci, Feud: Bette & Joan
I'd prefer Molina or Tucci for Feud.  Thewlis seemed odd at first, but in the long ran, I think he gave the top performance in Fargo, and I'd vote for him.
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series
Gerald McRaney, This Is Us
Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline
BD Wong, Mr. Robot
Denis O’Hare, This Is Us
Brian Tyree Henry, This Is Us
Hank Azaria, Ray Donovan
Beau Bridges, Masters of Sex
A second nod to Brian Tyree Henry--quite a year for him.  The three nominations for This Is Us show you the TV Academy really likes the show.  Maybe McRaney, playing a different sort of role, deserves to take it. (Certainly not Bridges or Wong, who aren't even particularly good.)
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
Alexis Bledel, The Handmaid’s Tale
Ann Dowd, The Leftovers
Carrie Preston, The Good Fight
Gillian Anderson, American Gods
Cicely Tyson, How to Get Away with Murder
Alison Wright, The Americans
Finally, a nomination for The Leftovers, and it's the wrong one.  It wasn't even Dowd's season--that was last year in The Leftovers.
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series
Matthew Rhys, Girls
Riz Ahmed, Girls
Dave Chappelle, Saturday Night Live
Aziz Ansari, Saturday Night Live
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Saturday Night Live
Tom Hanks, Saturday Night Live
Hugh Laurie, Veep
Peter McNicol, Veep
Jon Hamm, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
A second nod for Riz Ahmed and Aziz Ansari.  Some people must be feeling really good today.  Two decent performances from Veep, but where were all the regular guys in the supporting category.
Four Saturday Night Live hosts, most of whom did fine work, though Hanks should win for David S. Pumpkins alone.
Hamm was great on Kimmy Schmidt, so it would be fine if he won.
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
Melissa McCarthy, Saturday Night Live
Carrie Fisher, Catastrophe
Laurie Metcalf, The Big Bang Theory
Maya Rudolph, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Christine Baranski, The Big Bang Theory
Laura Dern, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live
Angela Bassett, Master of None
A bunch of double nominations here.  Don't know who I'd pick.  I didn't see Catastrophe, though I wouldn't be surprised if Fisher got a sentimental nod.
Outstanding TV Movie
Black Mirror
Churchill’s Secret
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Sherlock: The Lying Detective
The Wizard of Lies
Only saw The Wizard Of Lies, which I'll be rooting against.

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