"Crap! I wish I hadn't seen Ricky on the sidewalk."

"You will be fine for 31 minutes. You will be dead in 32 minutes."









Sunday, April 28, 2013

SNEAKY, CHEEKY

Remember I told you I started watching Doctor Who?  I'm just scratching the surface of the Tennant-Smith years, but I noticed something in "The Bells of Saint John" episode that premiered on March 30, 2013.


Here, let me vastly oversimplify things.  Aliens are uploading humans via Wi-Fi and The Doctor (Matt Smith) prevents Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), his latest companion, from becoming a casualty.  

Then he sends the aliens a message, quickly typing that Clara is "Under My Protection."

Of course, the next shot is a close-up:

Which to me and my twisted way of thinking is a sly way of getting the phrase "my erection" past the BBC.  

Is it me?  Maybe it's just me.

TWO LEGS GOOD, FOUR LEGS BETTER

The Intouchables (Nakache & Toledano, 2011)
Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin all performed death-defying, rib-tickling gags that could have ended in a wheelchair, but I don't remember any that started in one. And no fair counting the movies featuring someone pushing a wheelchair, accidentally letting go, and then chasing after it.  

Ha ha, funny as a crutch.

The Intouchables isn't a slapstick comedy, of course. It's not really a comedy at all despite moments of genuine, laugh-out-loud hilarity. It's based on a true story of a wealthy, wheelchair-bound aristocrat and his kindhearted but rough-around-the-edges attendant. 

Philippe (François Cluzet) likes art and classical music; a paragliding accident left him paralyzed. Cluzet reminds me of a Gallic Dustin Hoffman, depending on the camera angle. Driss (Omar Sy) has zero interest in administering sponge baths and feeding Philippe. He's a low-level thug with street smarts and an extended family.  He applies for the job expecting to be turned down in order to collect unemployment.  An unlikely friendship ensues.  

Predictable?  You bet. It's no spoiler that Philippe and Driss teach each other valuable lessons.  That's the kind of movie this is, you know that going in. But I laughed out loud and I enjoyed the performances very much and only a total asshole would knock this movie.




Tuesday, April 23, 2013

SAY MAN

Go Bo Diddley (Checker LP1436)

I started buying Bo Diddley records back in the late '80s, on sound advice from music-loving co-workers.   

Go Bo Diddley. Bo Diddley is a Gunslinger.  These were the original Chess masters, reissued by MCA.  I worked in Westwood and lived in Santa Monica.  It was a nice walk home, an opportunity to unwind.  

On days when I had money in my pocket, I frequently stopped at the old Rhino Records on Westwood Blvd.  When my pockets were empty, I purposely walked on the other side of the street, to avoid temptation.

I don't remember the first time I heard "Say Man."  

There's a chance I was sitting on the floor in front of my stereo, listening intently, reading liner notes about Diddley's legacy, his influence on other artists.  Or maybe I was  standing at the kitchen sink, washing dishes, listening to the music waft in from the other room.  Either way, the song's been in my consciousness for nearly 30 years.

Do you know "Say Man?"  It's basically Diddley and Jerome Green goofing on each other, three minutes of classic chops-busting over a hellishly rhythmic beat.

Say man 

What's that boy?
I want to tell you 'bout your girlfriend
What about my girl?
Well, you don't look strong enough to take the message
I'm strong enough
I might hurt your feelings
My feelings are already hurt by being here with you

Well, I was walking down the street with your girl the other day
Uh-huh
And the wind was blowin' real hard
Is that right?
And the wind blew her hair into my face
Uh-huh
You know what else happened?
What happened?
The wind blew her hair into her face
Yeah?
And we went a little further, you wanna hear the rest of it?
I might as well
The wind blew her hair into the street

Okay, since you told me about my girl, 
I'm gonna tell you about yours.  
I was walking down the street with your girl
Yes?
I took her home, for a drink, you know
Took her home?
Yeah, just for a drink
Oh
But that chick looked so ugly, s
he had to sneak up on the glass to get a drink of water

You've got the nerve to call somebody ugly. Why, you're so ugly, the stork that brought you in the world oughta be arrested
That's alright, my momma didn't have to put a sheet o
n my head so sleep could slip up on me

Look a here
What's that?
Where are you from?
South America
What's that?
South America
You don't look like no South American to me
I'm still from South America
What part?
South Texas

Where are your workin' boots at?
I've got 'em on
There aren't no boots you got on, those are brogans

Hey, look a here
What's that?
I've been tryin' to figure out what you is
I already figured out what you is
What's that?
You that thing I throw peanuts at

Look a here
What's that?
You should be ashamed of yourself
Why?
Calling people ugly
I didn't call you ugly
What you say?
I said you was ruined, that's all

You know somethin'?
What?
You look like you've bin whooped with a ugly stick
Hey, I ain't got nothin' to do with it but I beat a fella right

Back then, I never thought I'd own any original Diddley vinyl, but I picked up a ratty but still playable copy of his debut six months ago. 

The other day, I found Go Bo Diddley.

Do you know I have the same record player from my Westwood days?  It's older than my daughter, but it still plays like a champ.  

I put the record on and I filled the kitchen sink with soapy water and I waited for the last long on the first side to play.

Bo Diddley died in 2008, but "Say Man" still plays like a champ.



SINGLES GOING STEADY

"Yesterday b/w Act Naturally" by The Beatles (Capitol 5498)
"The Dangling Conversation b/w The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine" by Simon and Garfunkel (Columbia 4-43728)

Monday, April 22, 2013

SUPREME COURTENAY


Is it wrong to admit I strongly self-identify with the moment in The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner (Richardson, 1962)where Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay)stops running the race?

Despite a healthy lead, despite "energy in reserve" according to the race announcer, despite a cheering crowd chanting his name, urging him on, begging him to finish, Smith refuses to take another step, refuses to finish the race, refuses to give his reform school the win.  

Suck it!

Smith won't bow to authority, but he does bow to the second-place opponent who finally catches him and scores the victory for his own school.  

Once the Governor (the reform school's top administrator) realizes Smith has thrown the race on purpose, Smith smiles.


It's no Billy Liar (Schlesinger, 1963), but it'll do.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

FOLIE "I DO"


Is Take This Waltz (Polley, 2011) supposed to be a feel good movie about adultery?  Does it really matter one way or the other?

Margot (Michelle Williams) is married to Lou (Seth Rogen). They seem happy in the beginning, and Margot certainly seems committed, but after a chance encounter with Daniel (Luke Kirby) all bets are suddenly off.  

Writer-director Sarah Polley does a fine job of keeping things honest and non-judgmental. In order for the film to work, all three lead characters need to be immensely likable.  After all, Margot just wants to be happy. Daniel just wants to love Margot. Lou just wants to finish his chicken cookbook. He loves his wife, but it's painfully obvious they've run out of things to talk about. When it comes to figuring out Margot, Lou seems like he's run out of energy. Enter Daniel. Daniel, enter Margot.

Take This Waltz is an emotionally complicated movie and the payoff is considerable even though there are no answers, no guarantees of happiness. 

There is a lot of beautiful camerawork, courtesy of Luc Montpellier. It's not just Lou and Daniel who want to kiss Margot's face; so does the sunlight.

I didn't see Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe and I skipped the movie with the dog (Wendy & Lucy), but she's smart and talented and she and Gosling killed it in Blue Valentine (Cianfrance, 2010). She's terrific as Margot.  

Life is short.  Be as happy as you can be.







Friday, April 19, 2013

EASY GO, EASY GO

I gave a stranger five dollars today.

I'm not in the habit of doling out cash. I write checks on birthdays and Christmas, and I'm a sucker for a sob story, but I seldom carry any folded green. If you walk up to me and ask if I have any spare change, I will jam my hands in my empty pockets as a courtesy. Then I'll pause for a moment before apologizing.  

Sorry, man. I don't have any cash.

I was financially molested by my family. True story. There was a period of time when I wrote checks to cover missed car payments and overdue electric bills and when I finally had enough we didn't speak for long time.  

I bought some pool chemicals this afternoon.  

It's always more than you want to spend when you're taking care of a pool you're not even swimming in, but there I was buying chlorine tablets and shock. 

As it happens, I'm between jobs at the moment. I'm okay through June, but that's when I start making big decisions.  

I walked out of the pool supplies place and a kid came up to me. He explained that his car was across the street and he was trying to pay for gas but the pump kept declining his card.

Pretty fishy.  That's the first thing that came to mind.  Also: don't give this kid any money.  He'll just use it to buy meth.

He asked if I had any spare change and I put my pool chemicals on the ground and stuck my hands in my pockets while simultaneously shaking my head and apologizing.  

"I'm sorry man," I said. "I don't have any cash."

He thanked me and then he walked one way and I walked another.  The kid looked to be about my son's age. Baggy shorts, a cap on his head. He was talking on his phone, probably calling someone for help.

I got to my car and I put the pool chemicals in the back seat and then I pulled a five-dollar bill from my wallet and stuck it in my pocket. Then I walked back over to where the kid was standing. 

"Here," I said, handing him the money. I looked him in the eye and tried to determine if he was hustling me.  

Why was he over here when his car was across the street? Wasn't that gas station closed anyway? Maybe he realized the gas station was closed and he was trying to raise money to buy a gas can. 

I didn't ask him any questions. At this point, it was about trying to do a very small good deed for a kid who could have been my son, not about dissuading a stranger to refrain from purchasing narcotics.

He asked me if I worked in the area and I shook my head.  I couldn't figure out why he was asking and then it dawned on me just as he said it.

"I'll pay you back," he said.

Methheads don't do that, do they?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

NAIVE MELODY


Other than Jared, I don't know anyone who saw Paolo Sorrentino's This Must Be The Place. It played Cannes in 2011, but didn't get a U.S. release until last October. 

Sean Penn hunting a Nazi war criminal sounds like Oscar bait, until you get a glimpse of him sporting Robert Smith's lipstick and eyeliner and hear his haunted whisper of a voice. It's a hard film to market, a difficult sell.  

I watched it the other night, and again this morning. Maybe not a masterpiece, but a fun movie filled with great scenes.  

Cheyenne (Sean Penn) is a retired pop star, living off his royalties in Dublin with his wife (Frances McDormand) and trying to make sense of the tragedies in his past. A couple of Cheyenne's fans killed themselves back in the 1980s, and he still visits their grave. He's given up on performing and hasn't spoken to his father in 30 years. 

Ultimately, This Must Be The Place is a road trip movie filled with motels, gas stations, and colorful locals. What sets it apart is all the sadness and fear, all the regret and revenge. I would explain the Nazi war criminals, but that would give too much away.

There's a moment about an hour into the film that tells you all you need to know. The scene is so calm and quiet, but it has a strong pulse.

Cheyenne sits at a bar, nursing an orange soda. A bald, heavily tattooed guy in a black wifebeater strikes up a conversation.  

Eyeing the soda, he asks Cheyenne if he used to drink a lot.
"Enough to decide to stop," he says.

He asks Cheyenne if he likes tattoos.
"I was just asking myself that.  I was looking at you, I don't know. I haven't made up my mind."

The guy says he makes tattoos for a living, and Cheyenne says, "that must be a good job." Tattoo Guy corrects him. "It's not a job," he says.  "It's an art." 

Tattoo Guy asks Cheyenne what he does. 
"At this particular moment?  I'm trying to fix up a sad boy and a sad girl. It's not easy. I suspect that sadness is not compatible with sadness."

They continue talking for another few minutes. Relationships, gratitude, how life is filled with beautiful things.  

It's not the kind of exchange we normally see in movies, which is what makes This Must Be The Place so memorable, so special.











Sunday, April 14, 2013

ALL THE SINGLES, LADIES

I traded some books in this morning, before meeting Sammy for lunch.  I didn't find many new books, but I picked up some nice 7" singles, all with picture sleeves.  

"Don't Worry Baby b/w I Get Around" by The Beach Boys (Capitol 5174)

"Paperback Writer b/w Rain" by The Beatles (Capitol 5651)

"You Don't Have to Tell Me b/w Nobody I Know" by Peter and Gordon (Capitol 5211)
"Glad All Over b/w I Know You" by The Dave Clark Five (Epic 5-9656)
"Daydream b/w Night Owl Blues" by The Lovin' Spoonful  (Kama Sutra - KA 208)
"Surf City b/w She's My Summer Girl" by Jan & Dean (Liberty 55580)








EVERY WHO DOWN IN WHOVILLE


I started watching Doctor Who last week.  BBC America shows runs two episodes a day and the current season airs on Saturday night.

It's nothing serious, it's not like I bought a goddamn scarf.  

Trust me, it's just a phase.  It'll pass.  

GIFTS

Last Saturday, Sammy and Julia drove to my house for lunch.  On the way, they stopped at Best Buy and bought me a gift for my birthday.  

It was a copy of Lincoln. 

I smiled, thanked him for thinking of me.  I gave him a big hug, which I do even when it's not my birthday.

He asked me if I had it already, and I said no. "If you read my blog," I said, "you'd know how I feel about that piece of shit movie."  

This is the kind of relationship I have with my son. I know he's not a big reader, and the last thing I expect him to do is read my goddamn blog. We all had a good laugh over that one.

"I wanted to buy you The Master," he said, "but they didn't have it."

I'm a tough guy to buy for, I'm the first person to admit it.  

I told him I loved The Master, said it would've been perfect.  

He said he couldn't find it at Best Buy and the woman who helped him kept asking if he wanted Master & Commander or a movie from 1984 called The Master starring Lee Van Cleef. 

At Christmas, Sammy gave me a gift card. He didn't want to go that route again, which is how he came to buy Lincoln.  

I asked him if there was a gift receipt. There was, and we went to lunch.  

On Thursday, I went to Best Buy and bought a copy of The Master.

I need some new headphones, but I couldn't find any I liked. I thought I'd end up with a $10 gift card, but the cashier gave me cash. 

On Friday, a package arrived from Sara.  

She'd called the night before, said two things were headed my way. She's been busy with work, and hadn't had much time to shop. A care package would arrive first, followed by a separate package a few days later. 

There was a card, two Tanqueray minis, an 8-pack of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and a copy of Make-Ahead Recipes from Cook's Illustrated. The card was hilarious. I could tell the Reese's were a little melted, so I stuck them in the refrigerator.

The gin was unaffected by the weather.

  




FREE LUNCH FRIDAY


If there's an upside to not working, it's this: everybody wants to buy you lunch.  

On Thursday, I had lunch with Veda, Gloria, Jim, and Doug. There's a Chinese place Doug and I go twice a month, right next to a Mexican place we never go. Someone suggested the Mexican place, so that's where we met.

I threw in my ten dollars when the bill came, but it was loudly refused. I assured everyone it wasn't my last Hamilton, but everyone insisted I put it away.  

Gloria and Veda each pulled hundred dollar bills from their purses, which impressed me. Who carries money around these days?  

I hugged everyone outside, thanked them for their generosity, told them I can't go to lunch in the future unless they let me pay my way.

On Friday, Doug called from my old office and asked if he could take me out for my birthday lunch. Somehow we got a week behind, but a tradition is a tradition.

I got to the birthday place at 12:45 and put my name down. Doug showed up ten minutes later.  The weather was nice, so we sat outside. The birthday place does a couple of things very well. There's a special salad we always get along with some manner of thin-crust pizza. For your birthday, they bring you a huge cookie (chocolate chip, peanut butter, macadamia nut, etc.) covered in ice cream. It's the kind of place you should say it's your birthday whether it's your birthday or not.

The waitress came and we ordered our food.  Doug mentioned it was my birthday. 

The pizza arrived a few minutes later.  Our waitress walked by, noticed we weren't eating. She clapped her hand to her mouth.  I forgot your salad! She asked if we still wanted it and Doug nodded vigorously.  

Ten minutes later, the salad came.  

A shaggy haired kid with a bunch of bad tattoos wandered over to the bar area. He said hello to everyone, hugged a few waitresses.  He put his arm around our waitress, who stopped refilling our water glasses to talk with him. He was there for his last paycheck, wanted to say his goodbyes.  

Our waitress came back, asked if we wanted anything else. Doug reminded her it was my birthday.  Her hand went back up to her mouth. That's right, happy birthday!  Dessert is on me. As she left, I noticed she had a couple of scabs on her leg and I immediately blamed the tattooed kid, who was still milling around. I pointed the scabs out to Doug.  

Another ten minutes went by. Our waitress had disappeared. Doug had to get back to work, so we looked around for someone to bring us our check.  

We tried flagging down another waitress just as ours reappeared. They didn't bring you dessert yet?  She seemed genuinely disturbed. We told her to forget about it, but she insisted on running back to the kitchen. Doug paid the bill with cash. She ran back to our table. Do you want the dessert to go?  It's ready. The warm cookie was in a to-go box. There was a Styrofoam cup filled with ice cream.

I thanked Doug for lunch, told him the next one was on me.

When I got home, most of the ice cream had melted.  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

CATASTROPHE INSURANCE

I had lunch with Paul and his wife on Tuesday and they got me thinking about catastrophic health insurance.  

I'm currently between jobs and my current insurance expires in three weeks.  I'm not big on doctors, don't take any regular meds.  I had my teeth cleaned this week and I'm wearing new glasses.  I don't have a regular doctor and haven't had a check-up in over a year.  Is there a kind of horse that doesn't get regular check-ups?  I'm as healthy as that horse.

Paul told me a story about a mutual friend who went two days between insurance policies and racked up $10,000 in medical expenses. Clearly, it's better to be safe than sorry. 

After lunch, I drove over to Goodwill.  I haven't been scouting in a couple of weeks.

Right off the bat, I found this:

I saw Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory in the movie theater, that's how old I am.  It's a popular movie now ("Good day, sir!"), but there was a fairly long stretch when nobody gave a shit.  

I had the soundtrack when I was a kid and now I have it again as an adult.  

One of the joys of browsing is finding something you've been searching for.  For me, that might be anything: a valuable book or record, a sentimental item from my youth, something I've heard of but never actually seen.

One of the other joys of browsing is finding something you've never heard of at all, something you didn't even know you needed. 

Almost Authentic Folk Songs (Reprise, R-6038)by Dolan Ellis & The Inn Group falls neatly into that category. The songs (by Leon Pober & Bud Freeman, who masterminded Katie Lee's Songs of Couch & Consultation) parody folk music in a variety of styles, including calypso, medieval & western ballads, work songs, etc.

Dolan Ellis (in his pre-New Christy Minstrels days) nails the songs by singing them nice and straight. Careful listeners will get the jokes immediately.

"Dat Man is My Daddy" is an excellent example:

Mommy, dat man is my daddy
Dat man, dat man standing over there 
In the blue uniform

Hush, you embarrass me!
That man is not your daddy
Can't you see that man is the chief of police 

And he is a total almost stranger to me

I've included an mp3 on the right for sampling purposes only. It's coming down just as soon as I explain to my children that I'm not actually their father.




Monday, April 8, 2013

WORKING WITHOUT ANNETTE

I know Margaret Thatcher just died too, but I don't have any of her record albums.

Annette Sings Anka (Buena Vista BV-3302) 


Hawaiiannette (Buena Vista BV-3303)


Sunday, April 7, 2013

GRETA (LOLA VERSUS)























Lola Versus features Greta Gerwig doing another variation on the brainy but fucked-up luminous blonde she played in Greenberg. The movie was written by Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein, who also directed.

Lola (Gerwig)is happily writing a dissertation on Mallarmé and planning her wedding to Luke (Joel Kinnaman).  Everything is perfectly swell until Lola's fiancé dumps her a few weeks before the wedding, leaving Lola to cry in the bathroom and sleep on the floor. 

Alice (Lister-Jones), her best girlfriend, administers rice chips and wisecracks and sprays "weed in a bottle" into Lola's mouth. Lola's mother (Debra Winger) administers a beat down to the groom's mother, pointing out that 40 wedding guests have already bought airline tickets to a destination wedding in Chiapas. 

Henry (Hamish Linklater), her longtime platonic friend, hangs out, drinks alcohol, and offers consolation.  It's only a matter of time before they end up sleeping together, right?

Well, it's 30 minutes before the lines blur.  Lola and Henry attend a show Alice is in. Lola asks Henry to spend the night, says "nights are really hard."  They sleep in the same bed.  Henry admits having feelings for Lola, but wants to take things slow.  Lola gets up in the middle of the night and calls Luke, says she misses him. 

Much of the rest of the film is drunken sex, self-loathing, sighing, hurt feelings, confusion, tears, quiet contemplation, slow realizations, and apologies.

I wish I could say that this was someone else's fault.  That it was Luke's fault or Henry's fault or Alice's.  But it's not.  It's me.

What feels real is that it all works out in the end for Lola.

What doesn't feel real is the final scene, where all of Lola's exes and mistreated friends show up for her birthday party. I don't think that's how it works in real life, even when there's free pizza at stake.  

People give up, they walk away, they hold grudges. 

Sometimes they never speak again.  









AND NOW, A LITTLE DITTY FROM MILDRED & PATTY HILL

It's getting harder and harder to find things older than I am, but here are two:

I didn't grow up with this record, it's something I found in a thrift store years ago. 

If the price is correct, I paid $2. It's from 1961 and features the title song, "Hooray!  Today is Your Birthday."

Sample lyrics:

Today, today is your birthday/It's not the beaver's or the bear's/Or the pickle's or the pear's . . .

You can also groove along to "Jim Along Josie," "Clap Your Hands," "The Birthday Cake," and "Hello Song."  

Nice, huh?  This is surely why adults drink alcohol at children's parties.

The other artifact is more personal, more one-of-a-kind.  

My father made it on the occasion of my birth, used it to print up some announcements.  I remember seeing a finished print once, years ago.  I don't think it exists anymore.




Pretty handy, huh?


GRETA (GREENBERG)























I'm fascinated with Greta Gerwig, though I've really only watched her in a couple of indie films: Greenberg (Baumbach, 2010) and Lola Versus (Wein, 2012). She's performed in some big budget movies I couldn't get through (Arthur, No Strings Attached)and didn't exactly try.

Frances Ha, the new Noah Baumbach film, opens in limited release on May 17th. It played festivals in Telluride, Toronto, and New York last September and screened in Berlin in February.  The reviews have been very good. Baumbach and Gerwig share the screenwriting credit.


I've seen Greenberg several times and it's still growing on me. I realize Gerwig is acting. All the things she says, all the things she does, have been hammered out in advance and rehearsed. Still, there's something very real and appealing about her performance. She has a lovely presence, a real luminous quality.  

To call Greenberg something of a downer is an understatement.  

It's emotionally complicated, frequently painful to watch.

It's a film about people and romance that is only occasionally funny; anybody hoping for a romantic comedy will be disappointed.  

In fact, some movie theaters posted specific rules about refunds pertaining to Greenberg. 

Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller), failed musician and accomplished writer of letters of complaint (American Airlines, Starbucks, Hollywood Pet Taxi, Mayor Bloomberg) visits Los Angeles straight from the mental hospital.  He's socially awkward, prone to outbursts, addicted to ChapStick.  He takes Zoloft and refuses to drive a car.   

Phillip, Roger's brother, is a great success; he's taking his whole family to Vietnam as the film opens and leaves instructions for his assistant, Florence Marr (Gerwig), to help Roger as needed. An unlikely, unsteady romance begins.            

They bond over Mahler, the family dog, who gets sick with an autoimmune disease. Despite the on-again/off-again nature of their relationship, Florence sticks around for the dog, knowing full well Roger cannot take care of himself, much less a pet.\

There's so much raw pain in Greenberg, so much emotional damage, so many false starts and stumbles.  At one point, Florence asks Roger if he thinks he can love her.  He says he doesn't know. 
"Roll on, roll on, roll on/Night birds are flyin/Come on, the light is gone/Hope's slowly dyin'."
Admittedly, Greenberg is a dark film.  Much, if not all, the light comes from Gerwig's portrayal of Florence.  Early in the film, she invites Roger to come hear her sing at Silverlake Lounge.  He shows up as she launches into Judee Sill's "There's a Rugged Road."

Later on, Florence sums things up by telling Roger, "you like me so much more than you think you do." Such a smart, telling moment. Roger and Florence are two painfully honest people who don't like pain.  They're burdened with insecurities and uncertain futures.  

Roger gets loaded at a party and leaves a rambling phone message for Florence.  "Oh Florence," he tells her. "I really like you.  Love, Roger."  

The complaint writer has finally written a love letter.

The final moments of the film are devoted to Florence, lying on her bed, about to hear the message Roger left.  
























Beautiful. 

Roll on, roll on, roll on . . .

Saturday, April 6, 2013

MASTER BATES

I'm of two minds on the Psycho spin-off, Bates Motel, which should come as no surprise to anyone.

The show's creators (Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin, and Anthony Cipriano) are taking real liberties with Robert Bloch's original characters, hatching a contemporary plot with a teenage Norman (Freddie Highmore) and his overprotective mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga).  They've moved the action to White Pine Bay, Oregon, and introduced Dylan, a Bates half-brother, a bunch of Norman's classmates (including one short-timer with cystic fibrosis), and a town full of pot farmers.  I understand all of it, but I just don't get it. I'm not exactly sure why we need a show like Bates Motel. I certainly didn't need any Psycho movie sequels. Hitchcock's original was plenty for me, even though author Robert Bloch chose to revisit Norman from time to time.  

I quit recording Bates Motel, but happened to watch the fourth episode.  It wasn't terrible but I just don't see the point.  I'm officially checking out of Bates Motel.  It'll be fine without me.

As it happens, I picked up a copy of the Psycho novel the other day.  I've never read it, but I think I'll give that a whirl instead.  

I have plenty of time on my hands.




Friday, April 5, 2013

ROGER EBERT (1942-20013)

Like so many other young cineastes, I loved and hated Roger Ebert.  I was only 8 when Sneak Previews started turning up on PBS stations, but I was a regular viewer by junior high. 

To be honest, I always liked Siskel a little better and I never really forgave Ebert for his dismissal of Full Metal Jacket, a film I know in my heart is flawed.

At some point, I picked up a signed copy of his first book, A Kiss Is Still A Kiss.  

It's autographed to Leslie.  Ebert wrote an exclamation point after the title, and added "and you should hear about a sigh . . . Thanks, Roger Ebert 10.12.84"

He probably signed a thousand copies that way.  

I had a brief but meaningful interaction with Ebert myself in 2001.  Like a lot of people, I purchased the newly remastered Citizen Kane dvd and was delighted by the presence of two audio commentaries.  One was by Welles-loving, ascot-wearing Peter Bogdanovich.  The other was Ebert's.

Delighted as I was, I took issue with an error on Ebert's track.

Approximately five minutes into his commentary (00.05.38), Ebert draws attention to the "backward language" in the "News On the March" newsreel that gives viewers much needed information on the newly deceased Charles Foster Kane:

"To forty-four million U.S. news buyers, more newsworthy than the names in his own headlines, was Kane himself, greatest newspaper tycoon of this or any other generation."

Ebert says it's "a little dig at Times-style" and goes on to remind listeners "there was a famous parody of Times-style in The New Yorker in which E. B. White wrote, 'backwards ran sentences until reeled the mind.'"

Except it wasn't E. B. White at all.  It was Wolcott Gibbs.  

I don't know what possessed me, but I actually emailed Ebert and pointed out his error.  I don't have his response in front of me, but he was very gracious and said something like, "Wolcott Gibbs, of course! How could I forget?"  

I told him I enjoyed his Kane commentary and fans would probably snap up any feature-length commentaries he saw fit to record.  He thanked me, told me it sounded like a lot of work.  

This was 12 years ago, in the pre-podcast era.  Nowadays, everyone's doing it.  

So Ebert's gone and there won't be any additional emails or personalized books.  

It's been a few years since I've watched Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Meyer, 1970), the one produced screenplay Ebert wrote.  I'll probably watch it again over the weekend, if only to hear Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell (John LaZar)utter the immortal, "This is my happening and it freaks me out!"

The movie is impossibly campy, about what you'd expect from a Russ Meyer production.  But it's got the music of Strawberry Alarm Clock and The Carrie Nations and a cast of eccentrics.

"Nothing could be too outlandish, obvious, stereotyped, cliched, gaudy or extreme," wrote Ebert.  "The basic thrust behind Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Meyer said more than once, was to leave the audience wondering what had hit it."

It worked.