Category Archives: Popular culture

My second favorite moment on ‘The Wire’

I loved the look on Terry D'Agostino's face as McNulty explains that he couldn't be bothered to vote in the presidential election between Bush and what's-his-name. ("Kerry," she says helpfully.)

I love the look on Terry D’Agostino’s face as McNulty explains that he couldn’t be bothered to vote in the presidential election between Bush and what’s-his-name. (“Kerry,” she says helpfully.)

Sorry, but I couldn’t find video to embed of this one.

Previously, I shared my delight at the scene from the first season in which Rawls tries to comfort McNulty, whom he hates, while cussing him out. Wonderful device for deepening the viewer’s sense of these characters. (Later, there is further cause to be sympathetic to Rawls’ dislike of McNulty, as the latter repeatedly shows his disregard for the opinions and prerogatives of other bosses and colleagues.)

I’m in the third season now, and my fave so far is the one in which McNulty and Terry D’Agostino are for once having dinner together before jumping into the sack, and she learns how apathetic he is about politics — which means there will be no jumping into sacks tonight.

As the scene was summarized by HBO:

McNulty, slightly intimidated, has dinner with Theresa D’Agostino in a fancy D.C. restaurant. The more she learns about him — that he only has a year of college under his belt, that he is essentially an apolitical being who doesn’t know the difference between a red state and a blue state and who didn’t even bother to vote in the presidential election — the less interested she is in him. When McNulty takes her home, she doesn’t invite him in…

Yeah, there was some class stuff going on there. But I think she liked his rough edges. The deal-killer, the anti-aphrodisiac for her seemed to be the moment he said he couldn’t be bothered to vote.

I was watching her face, and that was when he lost her. Up to that point, he thought he had a really hot borderline nymphomaniac eating from his hand. As from that instant, I knew Jimmy was out of luck.

I’ve heard SO many people say the dismissive things McNulty was saying about politics. It was refreshing and fun to see such a person pay for his apathy, in terms he could appreciate…

 

What in the world got into Ben Affleck?

As we wrestle with our own demons and angels here in South Carolina, let’s pause a moment to look away, look away, look away toward Tinsel Town and ponder this puzzling situation:

When Ben Affleck volunteered to be featured on the PBS genealogy program “Finding Your Roots” last year, he was hoping to find “the roots of his family’s interest in social justice.”

Researchers did turn up plenty for the actor-cum-activist to be pleased about: a mother who was a member of the Freedom Riders, an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War.

But they also found Benjamin Cole, a great-great-great grandparent on his mother’s side. Cole was a sheriff in Chatham County, Ga., in the 1850s and ’60s, according to historical documents uncovered by Family History Insider. And he was the “trustee” of seven slaves.

An attempt to cover up that unwanted detail has led PBS to suspend the show, citing Affleck’s “improper influence” on programming…

OK, it looks like the Ben Affleck we all respected for making “Argo” has disappeared, and been replaced by the old Ben Affleck whom everyone made fun of. To paraphrase “Good Will Hunting,” judging by this, our boy is wicked dumb.

This is Hollywood narcissism carried out to the Nth power, the ultimate example of movie star shallowness: He actually expected to be able to congratulate himself with a family tree full of people who held only 21st-century-approved ideas, and led perfect, ideologically correct lives.

Where does this kind of thinking come from? If he volunteered for this self-stroking show (I’ve seen a few minutes of it a couple of times, and come away wondering why anyone but the celebrity himself would care about some celebrity’s great-grandparents), why would he not want his actual ancestry to be revealed? What would be the point?

Folks, I had at least five great-great grandfathers who fought for the Confederacy. One of them owned slaves — possibly others as well, but I only know about this one. Whatever he was like as an individual — and I have no way of really knowing — there is no question that he was of the class that brought us the Civil War. He was a member of the South Carolina General Assembly both before and after the war.

Over the years, I’ve heard all these SCV types, in the midst of their making excuses for the flag, say that their ancestors didn’t own slaves, so don’t blame them. Sometimes I want to say to them, Well, my ancestors did, so why don’t you just hush up and let those of us with standing in this matter try to address the problem?

But I don’t, of course, for fear that that would sound, you know, kinda like I’m looking down on these folks for being from the slaveless classes. Which is more than a little uncool on a number of levels… It’s bad enough that I catch myself looking down on them for being so WRONG. As the Pope says, Who am I to judge?

Here’s the thing: I am in no way complicit in anything that people I never even knew did. You have to be pretty confused to think otherwise. But let’s just say that knowing my ancestry makes the horrendous sin of starting the bloodiest war in our history and committing treason against the nation I love just a bit more real to me.

Are we not put on this Earth to recognize and correct the sins and mistakes of our forebears? Aren’t we supposed to learn from the past, not just bow down to it?

Apparently not, if you’re Ben Affleck.

Why does his silliness bother me? Because he’s doing exactly what these people who defend the flag say that those of us who want it down are doing: Trying to erase the past, to deny it. When applied to those of us who’ve been working to get the flag down all these years, that’s absurd.

But then, some movie star has to go and act exactly the way the neo-Confederates claim the rest of us are acting.

So needless to say, I’m more than a little disgusted…

I know nothing, Jon Snow, about why people think this show is so awesome

I was directed to the above fun video by The New York Times‘ recap of the “Game of Thrones” season finale, which I watched almost in real time, having binge-watched, off and on, all the way from the first season, starting when HBO NOW came available in April.

Here’s that recap, and here’s the one from The Washington Post. Between the two, the NYT one is better, if “better” is defined as “more obsessive and exhaustive.” Although you may be interested that the Post also provides a second recap by someone who has actually read the books. (Must be nice to work at a paper that can afford to pay two writers to watch a TV show and go on and on about it. For that matter, it must be nice to still work at a paper.)

Now, SPOILER ALERT, in case any of y’all still haven’t gotten to that episode.

Some observations based on the latest, and for that matter the whole series:

  • As the NYT observes, no more awkward dinner parties for Jon Snow. Which brings me to the key point about all this to me: From Ned Stark to his bastard son, this is not a series that I can ever love, because it will capriciously and sadistically kill anyone I am capable of having any admiration for at all. Although Brienne is still around. I think.
  • And speaking of Brienne, why didn’t we get to see her kill Stannis, who so richly deserves it? This series now ranks in my mind as the most obscene in history. The very fact that anyone could even conceive of what happened to Stannis’ precious daughter, and then go ahead and depict it, sends my mind careening off into the darkness. Why, when we are “treated” to all kinds of graphic violence committed against far more admirable characters, are we cheated of the satisfaction of knowing for sure that this pretentious monster is dead?
  • And speaking of pretension: Where are we supposed to grab ahold of this series politically (seeing as how what it is about is people maneuvering for political power)? Where are we supposed to stand? We know that, under the monarchical rules of succession, Stannis was indeed the rightful heir — but who ever rooted for him for even a moment in the course of this series? So who are we supposed to want to win the game?
  • This season was at least a tad less adolescent than others, with fewer shots of gorgeous young female nudity. As though to make up for that, in the final episode Cersei is stripped naked and made to walk through the streets of King’s Landing for about a week and a half of screen time — although it’s fake, because they used a body double. And sorry, Beavis and Butthead, but there’s really nothing sexual about the scene. You remember when Jerry Seinfeld explained the difference between “good naked” and “bad naked”? Well, this was bad naked.
  • Whatever happened to Bran Stark? You know, the kid we thought we were supposed to care so much about ever since the Kingslayer tossed him from the battlements in the very first episode of the series? I mean, he reached the end of his quest, had a mind-expanding experience (I think, but it’s been awhile), and then, nothing. He was last seen north of the Wall, where a good bit of this season’s action takes place, but no Bran. I looked it up and got an explanation, but it’s still weird.
  • When, pray tell, does winter get here? For five seasons, we’ve been told it’s coming; it’s coming. Characters in the vicinity of The Wall always make like their running just half a step ahead of it. And we’re also led to believe that in this alternative universe, when it comes it will last for years. Well, it’s been five years since we were told to bundle up; where is it?
  • How long does it take a Khaleesi to gather up her dragons, cross over to Westeros and start sorting these clowns out? Hasn’t that been the plan since the first season? She seemed to be doing well there for awhile, gathering up resources and gaining power on her way to the sea, but then she takes yet another city, and stops there and gets all bogged down in local politics. Here she had this awesome fighting force, advancing with Tarquin’s ravishing strides, and then… she takes up residence in a pyramid and lets the Unsullied wear themselves out rumbling with the local hoodlums. What’s the plan here, Mother of Dragons? What does policing Meereen have to do with taking back the Seven Kingdoms? Talk about mission creep…

That’s enough for now; I’m sure y’all have plenty of other stuff to say.

Bottom line: I watched this to find out what everybody was on about, and it was intriguing enough to keep me going to the present point. But it’s not as compelling as many people seem to think it is, and in many ways is quite flawed. It’s no “Breaking Bad,” or even a “Mad Men” or “Walking Dead.” It doesn’t come close to “The Wire,” and no way does it measure up to “The Sopranos,” HBO’s proudest achievement in fictional drama to date.

That’s my verdict, anyway.

The Golden Age of Television Overload

Good riddance to you both! Now can I have my life back for awhile? And could somebody turn up the lights?

Good riddance to you both! Now can I have my life back for awhile? And could somebody turn up the lights?

Pope Francis recently disclosed that he hasn’t watched television since 1990. Which means he’s like way behind on “Game of Thrones.” Among other things.

I’m beginning to think His Holiness is onto something. I’m feeling… a bit out of control with my own binge-watching lately. Wouldn’t I be a better person — more productive, more attuned to the needs of those around me — if I stopped watching Netflix, HBO NOW, the downstairs TV, the upstairs TV, the Roku, the Apple TV, the iPad and on very rare occasions, actual broadcast television?

The Pope has enough on his plate keeping up with matters relating to this world and the next, much less Westeros and all those other fictional universes out there.

Today, the front of the Arena section of The Wall Street Journal raises the question, “How Many TV Series Can Your Brain Take?” An excerpt:

“Game of Thrones,” which will leave multiple story lines dangling for a year with Sunday’s season finale, is notorious for befuddling even ardent fans with its many clans, lands and simmering subplots. But it’s just one of many shows taxing the memories of audiences who have been flooded with complex story lines and crowded character ensembles.

“Orange Is the New Black,” which returns Friday for a third season on Netflix, uses more than 20 characters to populate a fictional women’s prison with inmates and staff. On “Orphan Black,” finishing its third season on BBC America this month, lead actress Tatiana Maslany plays six different characters, all clones, in a sci-fi conspiracy story. New viewers have to absorb dense mythologies if they hope to jump aboard returning shows such as CBS’s summer series “Under the Dome,” which, in its coming third season, might finally explain why a bubble is encasing the town of Chester’s Mill.

The deluge of compelling shows means fans have to be good at time management to keep up with the best offerings. But they also are grappling with the limits of memory. How many shows (and knotty plots and twisting character arcs within) can we keep track of at once? In a binge-watching world, where we aren’t limited to weekly installments of network TV shows, is there a limit to the number of narratives we can keep straight?

Actually, I don’t think that frames the question correctly. Binge-watching doesn’t cause the problem of having trouble keeping up. What I find is that failing to binge-watch makes it harder to know what’s going on.

Dramatic series are written for binge-watchers, not for people who watch an episode, walk away and lead real lives, then come back in a week or more to try to pick up the thread again. That is part of what makes the new breed of shows so absorbing — they pull you into a complicated world, and if you can’t stay there until the season (at least) is over, you’re likely to be disoriented when you return.

For instance — when the third season of “House of Cards” came out several months back, I did what I had with the first two seasons. I started watching to see what everybody was talking about, then got fed up with it and quit, and then, when curiosity built up enough, came back and pushed through the rest of it.

SPOILER ALERT! Consequently, when I saw the season finale the other night, I was somewhat at a loss: Why was Claire leaving Frank? Yeah, they had been slightly weirder together the last few episodes — which means five percent more than their usual standard, which is creepy as all get-out. But what precipitated this blow-up? Surely nothing that had happened recently had showed her anything she didn’t know about her husband. Not to mention that she’s no bargain herself on the decent-person scale.

If I’d watched it all straight through, I think I might have a good feel for it. But as things stand, I don’t.

Not that it matters, right?

Last year, David Carr wrote in The New York Times about the problem of “Barely Keeping Up in TV’s New Golden Age.” I could really identify:

The vast wasteland of television has been replaced by an excess of excellence that is fundamentally altering my media diet and threatening to consume my waking life in the process. I am not alone. Even as alternatives proliferate and people cut the cord, they are continuing to spend ever more time in front of the TV without a trace of embarrassment.

I was never one of those snobby people who would claim to not own a television when the subject came up, but I was generally more a reader than a watcher. That was before the explosion in quality television tipped me over into a viewing frenzy….

And what a feast. Right now, I am on the second episode of Season 2 of “House of Cards” (Netflix), have caught up on “Girls” (HBO) and am reveling in every episode of “Justified” (FX). I may be a little behind on “The Walking Dead” (AMC) and “Nashville” (ABC) and have just started “The Americans” (FX), but I am pretty much in step with comedies like “Modern Family” (ABC) and “Archer” (FX) and like everyone one else I know, dying to see how “True Detective” (HBO) ends. Oh, and the fourth season of “Game of Thrones” (HBO) starts next month.

Whew. Never mind being able to hold all these serials simultaneously in my head, how can there possibly be room for anything else? So far, the biggest losers in this fight for mind share are not my employer or loved ones, but other forms of media….

I think back to a time before all this. Say, the ’80s. In that whole decade, I can remember watching only one dramatic series on television that in any way compares to the shows I’m juggling now: “Hill Street Blues.” There was that, and maybe “Cheers” — both on the same network on the same night. I was very, very busy with a demanding job in the daytime and a family full of young children at night, and entertainment wasn’t high on my list — which made the lack of high-quality options a good match for my lifestyle. And “Hill Street” was written for people who only visited that world weekly. There were continuing story lines, but everything was episodic. One episode held you for a week.

Lately, I’m juggling, off and on:

  • Blue Bloods” — My only current show written in that old fashioned episodic form, and the only one coming from commercial broadcast television. But I’m watching it the new way. I had never seen it before a couple of months ago, when I started the first season on Netflix. It’s the perfect length for a workout on the elliptical. I’m not quite as obsessed with it as I was with “The West Wing” last year, but I do like it.
  • Foyle’s War” — Watching this on two temporal streams. We just finished the current season of new ones on PBS last night. Meanwhile, we’re almost done with the previous seasons on Netflix.
  • Game of Thrones” — ALMOST caught up. I’ve got one more episode to watch (last week’s) before this Sunday’s season finale. And I’ll be glad to be done with it for awhile. I wanted to be up on the cultural phenomenon, and now I almost am. I don’t find it very satisfying.
  • The Wire” — The best of the lot right now. I’m trying not to spend it all at once. I’m past the halfway mark in the second season.
  • Orange is the New Black” — We were really into this, but my wife and I sort of lost interest during the second season, and didn’t get more than a few episodes into it. With the new season out today, will we get back into it? I don’t know.
  • Daredevil” — Probably the best adaptation of a Marvel franchise ever to appear on television. I’ve only got one episode left in the Netflix season, still waiting to see him in the red superhero costume. The series is taking the origins thing at a stately pace.
  • True Detective” — Got started on this and got sidetracked. Want to finish the season before the new one comes out.
  • Mad Men” — Lost interest a couple of seasons back. There’s just so much moral vacancy one can take. But my wife and daughter say the last season was as good as the early ones, so I’m going to take it back up soon.
  • The Walking Dead” — Haven’t watched it in months, but I do want to get back to it and catch up. I just want to know one thing before I do: Daryl doesn’t die, does he?
  • Justified” — It’s as good as some of my friends here say, but since the only way I can see it is on DVDs from Netflix, I only get back to it periodically. I’m only up to the second or third episode in the second season.
  • Better Call Saul” — Since we don’t get AMC (the only station I miss from cutting back on cable), I bought the season on iTunes when it first came out. So since I paid for it, I really must get back to it and watch the rest of the season at some point. It’s good, but it’s not as compelling as “Breaking Bad.” I’ve just got this investment in it.

It’s over now, but for a few weeks there, we were really into “Wolf Hall” — which we’d watch on Apple TV the night after each episode’s release, because I didn’t want to stay up past 11 on Sunday night. (One good thing about this — it forced me to go ahead and finish reading Bring Up the Bodies in order to stay ahead of the show — which I shoved aside The Guns of August in order to push through.)

Meanwhile, it seems that Netflix releases a new series daily, and some of them are bound to be good. It’s just ridiculous.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to read The Guns of August, a really compelling history book, for months. But if I read a chapter in a sitting, it’s unusual. And it was interrupted first by the trip to Thailand, and then by Bring Up the Bodies. Mostly, it’s a couple of pages over dinner. And talk about losing track of characters and story lines — of course, books are supposed to be that absorbing and complex. TV never was before.

Yeah, it’s true, and it’s appalling: I’ve only finished on new book so far this year.

The Pope has the right idea. I just need to summon the self-discipline…

"Daredevil:" Matt Murdock still hasn't fully donned his superhero persona.

“Daredevil:” Matt Murdock still hasn’t fully donned his superhero persona.

Best scene from ‘The Wire’ (so far in my watching)

Rawls McNulty

Excuse me for writing about another show that’s been off the air for years (like “The West Wing”), but hey, we’re in a new TV world, in which when something was on the air is pretty much irrelevant. Today, you see a show for the first time when you see it.

And I just wanted to share the best scene I’ve encountered on “The Wire.” It was in episode 11 of the first season, titled “The Hunt.” (I’m now on the second episode of the second season.) YouTube won’t let me embed it, but you can see it here.

Even if you haven’t watched the show at all, you can sort of appreciate it with a little setup, if you can abide the intense, concentrated, rapid-fire use of cusswords — which is so over the top that it adds a slightly comic touch to this deadly serious scene. But you don’t want your kids hearing it. Or your parents.

Anyway, the anguished guy in the muted red polo shirt with blood on his face is Jimmy McNulty, the protagonist — a singularly insubordinate, know-it-all cop who is extremely upset because a colleague and friend just got shot. This is the first time you’ve ever seen McNulty at a loss, doubting himself. The guy in the suit “consoling” him is his erstwhile boss, the head of homicide, who — as you may notice — hates McNulty’s guts. And not just in the usual, cliched, “I’m tired of defending your shenanigans to the commissioner” way that we’re accustomed to in ranking cops on TV.

And yet, in his own furious, about-to-blow-his-stack way, he’s trying to make McNulty feel better. And does so pretty effectively.

Interesting leadership style. Impressive, yet… do you really want this guy as your boss?

Capt. Furillo

Capt. Furillo

In the early 80s, when I was in my first management position, running the news coverage of a small daily in Tennessee, I used to watch Captain Frank Furillo on “Hill Street Blues” and aspire to be exactly that kind of firm-but-fair, graceful-under-fire boss that he was.

But Capt. Furillo was a Sunday-School teacher compared to this guy, who makes you re-evaluate the whole tough-but-fair thing.

Anyway, I love it when a scene tells you something new and unexpected about a character in a way that is completely believable (instead of the contrived way that is too common on most TV shows — see “24”).

Good writing, good direction, great acting.

Thoughts on the end of David Letterman’s 33-year run?

Just thought I’d put this up in case anyone had any observations about the close of David Letterman’s extraordinary 33-year run.

Personally, I didn’t see the last show, but I did read this blow-by-blow description of it.

And in fact, I didn’t see him all that much over the years, either. When he started out, I was already a dad with young kids and a pretty intense job that started at 7 a.m. every weekday.

But I’ve seen him enough to appreciate his brand of humor, which one of my favorite books of the 80s, “The Catalog of Cool,” described (I think; I don’t have my copy at hand) as “Perry Como on mescaline.” (Actually, according to a Google search, that description may have come from TIME magazine.)

The Top Ten List. Stupid Pet Tricks. Paul and the band. There’s a lot to remember. Share, if you’re inclined to…

Gender aside, who would YOU rather see on the $20 bill?

After reading this piece by the wonderfully named Feminista Jones, arguing that putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill would actually undermine her legacy, I got to thinking: Who would I rather see on the double sawbuck in place of Andrew Jackson?

I mean, you know, demographics aside. Me not being all that big on identity politics and all.

The simple answer is “just about anybody,” including Harriet Tubman and whoever the also-rans were behind her in the Women on 20s contest.

Jackson’s not my fave president. I’ve always sort of seen his electoral victory over the vastly more qualified John Quincy Adams as a moment, if not the moment, when American politics went off the rails. I mean, good one on the Battle of New Orleans (even though the war was over), but just not one of the greats, to my way of thinking. Also, Davy Crockett was my hero when I was a pre-schooler, and Davy (who split with Jackson over the Trail of Tears), if anything, thought less of him than I do.

So whom would I pick to replace him? This is an occasion for another Top Five List:

  1. John Adams — My favorite Founding Father. I have long believed that history gave him short shrift. Everybody remembers Jefferson for writing the Declaration of Independence. But there would have been no declaration without Adams. He’s the guy who tirelessly rammed it through the Continental Congress, while Jefferson sat there like a bump on a log. In fact, it’s likely that it was Adams’ decision to have Jefferson draft the actual document, because he knew the Virginian had a way with words. But Adams was far more the author of our liberty than Jefferson. You say Washington is the Father of our Country? Well, Adams was the one who set him up to become that, by pushing him as the guy to lead our army. For that matter, Adams was the one who proposed that there be a Continental Army to begin with. Then there were his significant contributions as a diplomat in Paris and London during and after the war, which did a lot to make our victory possible. Sure, his presidency wasn’t anything to brag on, but you don’t even have to have been a president to be on a bill. Ask Franklin and Hamilton.
  2. Franklin D. Roosevelt — Led us through the greatest crises in our history, outside of the Civil War — and Lincoln’s already on the five. And he did it with such elan. Who else in our history could have bucked us up and kept us going through the ’30s and early ’40s? No one. And yeah, he’s already on the dime, but he still comes in second — or even first, making Adams second — on my list.
  3. Martin Luther King — After you mention Lincoln and Roosevelt, whose spoken words stirred the American spirit with more power? He inspired us to be the kind of country we always meant to be. We’re still working on that, and he still inspires us.
  4. Harriet Tubman — For all the reasons she won the recent competition to come up with a woman to put on the list. And not just because she’s a twofer — y’all know I don’t go in for such things. Did I ever tell you that when my wife spent a year up in Pennsylvania with our youngest daughter, while the daughter was training at a ballet school, they lived in an antebellum house that had been part of the Underground Railroad? True story. So I must confess to that personal connection.
  5. John Glenn — I’ve always found the first American to orbit the Earth one of the more admirable people of my lifetime. Also, I wanted to have at least one surprise nominee in my five, and Bryan got me to thinking again today about how much I love “The Right Stuff.” And while he’s a nonpresidential nominee, he was my favorite candidate in 1984, even though he didn’t make it. Godspeed, John Glenn.

Whom would you choose?

 

A musical interlude, with Puddles Pity Party

Just a little change of pace. My younger son alerted me over the weekend to the oeuvre of Puddles Pity Party, the band fronted by Puddles, the 6-foot-8 clown with the powerful voice.

Don’t know what to say about it, exactly. I just… sort of enjoyed the weirdness. Even though I don’t like clowns…

I was particularly attracted to the selection of the song to cover. “Royals.” When my grandson was just over a year old, he was obsessed with this song. He kept asking to see the original video on one screen or another. He called it “ah-ooh,” which was how he interpreted the sound made by background singers. (I think they’re saying “I’ll rule; I’ll rule…”)

Here’s Puddles doing another fave, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Your humble malchick hath become a grumpy starry veck, munching our zoobies together, o my brothers

malcolm

When I went to YouTube to seek a link to “A Day in the Life,” I ran across the above ad, showing this grumpy old man in a cardigan and his top shirt buttoned, and when you moved the pointer across his face, he grimaced in a way that looked like his dentures weren’t seated right.

About the second time I made him grimace, I realized — that’s Malcolm McDowell!

Yes, the very figure of uncontrollable, raging, violent youth, turned into the sort that Alex and his droogs would single out in the night, smeck at, tolchock a bit, then leave moaning in his red, red krovvy.

What’s this cal? What grazhny bratchny is responsible for this, o my brothers? Our former malchick, ever dressed in the heighth of fashion in his platties of the night, reduced to this starry, drooling veck?

It’s made worse by this video in which he is shown amongst the young, failing to pony the latest version of Nadsat.

This is not horrorshow. This is baddiwad. This is making my gulliver hurt. It’s like a kick in the yarbles. O, that I should have lived to viddy this with my very own glazzies, my brothers!

alex

 

Wait a second — why was the GOVERNOR announcing that Paul McCartney was coming?

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I saw the news today, and oh, boy was I puzzled. I got the part about the lucky man who made the grade, but…

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one wondering this this morning:


In response, several people said they were wondering the same thing. Debbie McDaniel did. Don McCallister said he had left the same question as a comment on the story in The State.

Susan Corbett said:

Because in case you haven’t realized it she is the biggest opportunist around and will take credit for anything she can and deny everything else

And my old colleague Dave Moniz said, “I love Paul McCartney… But it seems like just fell off the turnip truck stuff for a governor or politician to announce…. drum roll.. a rock concert…”

So, if others were thinking the same thing, maybe I don’t have to explain that it would have made more sense for someone, say, associated with the University to announce it. Or better, the promoter. Or if a politician, maybe Steve Benjamin. A big draw coming to your town sort of fits within the realm of things that mayors get excited about. Of course, people would be somewhat justified in seeing it as cheesy, a pol trying to get some Beatles magic to rub off on him.

When I initially heard that the governor had announced it, I thought I had heard it wrong. But I had not. There she was in the paper. And there she was getting all excited on Facebook:

So excited to announce rock n roll royalty, Sir Paul McCartney will be gracing us in South Carolina for his “Out There” tour at Colonial Life Arena June 25! Thanks to AEG Live and Marshal Arts and the rest of the team for making this happen. Tickets go on sale May 4. #GetExcited

So… did the Commerce Department arrange this or something? How did the gov get involved?

By the way, the governor sort of betrayed that she’s way too young to be this excited about a Beatle with that “rock ‘n’ roll royalty” thing. Those of us who were listening at the time called it “rock” — at least, we did toward the end of the era. “Rock ‘n’ roll” referred in the ’60s to stuff that had been big in the ’50s. The Beatles were solidly rooted in “rock ‘n’ roll,” but from the time Beatlemania hit until the news came in early 1970 that they were breaking up, that term had an anachronistic connotation to it. (To simplify: When they looked like this, they were still rock ‘n’ roll. When they looked like this, they were more or less mod, and people weren’t yet sure what to call their sound. When they looked like this, they were at the apex of rock.)

A hasty shot of the former Honolulu International Center, taken while stopped at a traffic light.

A hasty shot of the former Honolulu International Center, taken while stopped at a traffic light.

“Rock ‘n’ roll” returned to favor, as a term to describe the whole realm of pop music including what we regarded as serious “rock,” in the early ’70s, with a wave of nostalgia about the ’50s. That’s when Chuck Berry made his big comeback. I was privileged to see him shortly before he became big again, as the warm-up act in front of a one-hit wonder at the Honolulu International Center in 1971. He was amazing. All I had known about him before that was that he was this old guy who had inspired the Beatles and the Stones, et al. We booed the headliner off the stage and chanted for Chuck to come back. I took a driveby picture of the HIC, now called something else, when we were in Hawaii last month. That’s also where Burl and I and the other 600 in our class had our high school reunion.

But I digress.

Bottom line, why did we hear about this from the governor?

 

Way late, over-the-weekend, DVD movie review

Colin Firth crosses the bridge over the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi.

Colin Firth crosses the bridge over the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi.

Yeah, I know, y’all give me a hard time for going on and on about The West Wing a decade late, but hey, I’m not anachronistic — watching stuff when I feel like it puts me perfectly in synch with my times. I’m now bingeing on the third season of “Game of Thrones,” and that’s perfectly cool, so get outta my face.

And here’s my review of movies I watched over the weekend. You will kindly ignore the fact that both were released in 2013…

The big news is, I lost my status as the last parent or grandparent in America to see the cartoon blockbuster “Frozen.” I had watched the hilarious video of the snowbound Mom who wants to throttle every character in the movie a number of times and enjoyed it. I had not, however, seen the source material. But Saturday night, the Twins were spending the night with us, and I took the plunge.

And it was… OK. I can see why the little girls in the family like it. And I can see why feminists, who’ve been complaining about the fact that little girls love princess movies, and in the past all movie princesses have needed a prince to save them, like it. But it was flawed.

And the biggest flaw had to do with that very same plot twist that kept this from being the standard Prince Charming plot. We are told that Anna can only be saved by an act of True Love (the second-best thing in the world, right behind a good MLT, where the mutton is nice and lean), which the audience (and the other characters) are programmed to believe would be a kiss from the appropriate prince.

I think it’s fine that that turned out not to be the case (because if it had been, it would have been boring). I think it’s fine that the act of true love was actually the princess deliberately sacrificing herself for her sister. Greater love hath no princess, etc.

But what didn’t work was the device of having the would-be savior prince turn out to be a villain at the critical moment — thereby necessitating the self-sacrifice scenario.

The Twins had warned me of this. They had told me that he was really a bad guy, from the moment he was introduced, and even sketched out exactly how he was a bad guy, but it just didn’t sound plausible. I decided they weren’t remembering it exactly right, because what they were saying didn’t add up.

Oh, they were remembering it right.

I was willing to believe that he wasn’t the guy Anna should marry. I agreed with all the other characters who were appalled that she tried to get engaged to the guy the day she met him. I could see an outcome in which the commoner Kristoff would turn out to be more suitable. The thing with the prince could easily be an ill-founded infatuation.

But until the moment when his bland, concerned face took on a wicked leer just as he was being asked to save the day, we had had no indication that he could be not merely unsuitable, but downright evil. I mean, the guy we had come to know up to that point might not be husband material, but he would at worst be a good friend to Anna. How about that song in which they were finishing each other’s sentences? They had a lot in common. And there he was seemingly doing his best to run the kingdom in the absence of the princesses, if somewhat ineffectually. (OK, another thing that didn’t work was Anna letting him run the kingdom in their absence when she had just met him that day. But hey, he was the only nobleman handy.)

You just don’t do that. It’s bad writing. You at least give an audience a hint of a guy’s character flaws before he becomes Cruella De Vil.

It didn’t work. It was like the thing that makes “24” so cheesy, with people the protagonists utterly trusted turning evil in one hour, then turning back into allies in the next, just to keep the plotline moving.

Harrumph.

Then, after the Twins had gone to bed, I put in the other DVD I had from Netflix — “The Railway Man.” I had heard about this one from a Brit I met on a bus to Kanchanaburi. The film was partly set in the town I was headed to, which piqued my interest even more than it might usually have done.

It’s based on the true story of Eric Lomax, a man who at the outset of the film is a mild but slightly dotty Englishman of middle age, circa 1980. He is played by Colin Firth. All we know at first about him is that he obsesses about train schedules. He knows everything about every train in Britain, where it goes and when it goes there. He also has a delightfully encyclopedic knowledge of the towns where the trains stop. This, among other things, helps charm Patti (Nicole Kidman) into falling in love with him, and they marry.

But then, along with Patti, we learn that Eric is a deeply troubled man. Even dangerously so. And eventually, we learn why: As an officer in the British Army during the war, he was captured at Singapore by the Japanese and became one of the slaves forced to work on the Death Railway. He was already what he terms “a railway enthusiast” in his youth, and he was able to explain to his fellow prisoners what was in store for them. After noting that building railroads was such harsh work that most were built by oppressed outsiders who had no other option (Irish navvies fleeing famine in Britain, Chinese coolies in America), he said that the reason no rail line had ever been laid from Bangkok to Rangoon was that everyone knew it would be an unprecedented act of incredible human brutality to build it through jungle and mountains that lay in the way. It would take “an Army of slaves” to do it. And they were that Army.

Lomax ended up suffering more than most. When he is caught with a contraband radio, he is tortured at length by the Kempeitai. And when they see the map he had drawn to explain the project to his comrades, they absolutely do not believe his explanation that he is merely “a railway enthusiast.”

Things come to a head when Lomax learns that not only is the Kempeitai man who had interrogated him during the torture still alive, but he’s in Kanchanaburi as curator of a museum about the building of the railroad, which killed thousands of Lomax’s comrades.

So Lomax takes a knife and travels to Thailand, determined to bring an end to his torment. (A dramatic moment involving that knife takes place on the very bridge over the River Kwai that is behind me in this picture.)

I had an exchange with M. Prince the end of last week about the horrors of war, and about the question of whether anything honorable can be found in war. I thought about that while watching “The Railway Man,” because I have never seen a more profound examination of that question — showing the worst man can do to man, and how honor can be twisted into its opposite — than this film.

Nor have I ever seen — major SPOILER ALERT here — a more beautiful evocation of the power of forgiveness and reconciliation between deeply wounded, hurting human beings.

I highly recommend this film. Five stars. It may not have the epic sweep of “Bridge on the River Kwai.” It’s a quieter, less assuming film. But I actually think it’s better.

The sheltered Anna exhibited poor judgment in choosing a fiance.

The sheltered Anna exhibited poor judgment in choosing a fiance.

Who didn’t know these things about ‘American Pie?’

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As long as I’m going on about the days of my youth…

I was flabbergasted by this piece in the WSJ over the weekend:

Earlier this month, one of the greatest mysteries in rock ’n’ roll was finally solved. The unnamed “king” and “jester on the sidelines” in Don McLean’s iconic 1971 song “American Pie” were revealed to be Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan, respectively….

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hang on! Greatest mysteries?

Who did not know, soon after the song’s release in the fall of 1971, that “the king” was Elvis and the “jester” was Dylan?

Nobody! At least, nobody who was old enough to take a consuming interest in listening to the radio and who had time on his hands to talk endlessly about such drivel. In other words, nobody who was in college then.

I checked, and I was right — the columnist who wrote that was 3 years old when the song came out. So… maybe this was a big revelation to her, but not to Rob, Barry, Dick or me.

It’s hard to believe it even made headlines. Oh, I see why — McLean just sold the lyrics for $1.2 million. OK.

You know what? Now that I think back, I’m hard-pressed to explain how we knew all that stuff that we knew about the song. There were no social media. There was no Wikipedia. And mass media were firmly in the hands of the older generation, which didn’t care and didn’t engage such topics. Did we get it from DJs on the radio? From Rolling Stone? I don’t remember how we knew; we just did. Or thought we did, anyway…

Long, long before they were stars

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I love the Internet Movie Database, in part because it allows me to make connections in much-loved films that would never, ever have occurred to me otherwise.

I discovered this one a year or two back, but was reminded of it today and thought I’d share it.

Remember the skinny kid leaning up against the bars of the jail cell in “Trading Places” when Billy Ray Valentine was bragging to his cellmates about beating up on “nine, ten cops?” You know, because he’s a “chain-belt kung fu” master?

Here’s the scene.

He was the kid who said, “But you told me last night you cut the dude…”

No? Well, he was forgettable in that role.

But Giancarlo Esposito was hard to forget as Gus Fring in “Breaking Bad.”

Talk about an actor taking on gravitas, and menace, as he aged… Wow.

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Does smoking dope make reggae less monotonous?

I got to thinking about that question yet again when I saw this:

KINGSTON, Jamaica — President Obama, who arrived here Wednesday evening for a meeting with Caribbean leaders, made an unscheduled nighttime visit to the Bob Marley Museum.

“I still have all the albums,” Obama, in rolled up shirtsleeves, told museum guide Natasha Clark, as he toured the home in central Kingston where the Jamaican reggae great lived from 1975 until his death in 1981.

Marley’s family has turned the rambling, Victorian style house and outbuildings into a museum where all things Marley are sold –T-shirts, posters, albums — and artifacts from his life and Jamaican culture are displayed.

As Obama toured, strains of “One Love,” a Marley great, with its chorus of “let’s get together and feel all right,” echoed out the windows and into the night….

And this is not an Obama-baiting post or anything. I just know that POTUS was something of a toker in his youth, and I’m wondering whether that’s why he is a Marley fan and I’m not.

I’ve just always reggae sounded:

  • Like music made by and for people who are really into ganja.
  • Monotonous.

I’ve just never been able to get into it, and I’ve wondered whether that’s because I’m not, you know, stoned. It has a kind of gently bouncing, going-nowhere, chilling-along sort of sound to it that seems like something that would appeal mainly to people who are artificially relaxed.

Oh, and as long as I’m confessing to being so uncool, I also have a problem with blues. Something about the whole basic, predictable progression, the first line that is repeated, the whole SAMENESS about blues makes it hard for me to listen to it for very long.

I can enjoy maybe one blues song at a time — I love Hendrix’s “Red House” (below), which follows the form religiously — but after a couple of them, they tend to sound repetitive. Unless they are the sort that departs from the standard pattern, such as “House of the Rising Sun” or “St. James Infirmary.” Those are special. But on the whole, listening to a whole set or album of blues wears on me.

I did sort of enjoy that album of blues covers that Eric Clapton put out in 1994, “From the Cradle.” He put a lot of energy into making every song special. But when I misplaced the CD sometime in the middle of that decade, I didn’t look for it very hard. And back to my original topic, “I Shot the Sheriff” is easily my least favorite Clapton track.

I’ve tried hard over the years to be a blues connoisseur — because all cool people are, right? — but failed. And yes, I know that a huge proportion of the pop songs I’ve enjoyed in my life are based in blues, but they appeal because of the innovative things they do on top of the basic form — near as I can tell, not being a musical scholar.

Anyway, consider the source in contemplating my comments on reggae — they’re coming from a guy who doesn’t even dig the blues…

The long-awaited collapse of the ‘bundle’

Sopranos

This is me in the past, wondering why I couldn’t just pay for the channels, or specific shows, that I actually wanted to see.

Back when I was editorial page editor, Bud Tibshrany used to ask me out to lunch about once a year. That’s because he was doing PR for Time Warner Cable, and his job required that he check in with me periodically, and going to lunch with him was less of an interruption to operations that a full editorial board meeting. I had to eat anyway.

Each year, he’d ask me if I had any questions about Time-Warner or the industry. And I always had just one question: When will I be able to buy channels a la carte instead of having to pay for scores of channels I didn’t want just to get AMC? It was really all I wanted to know.

I knew I was being a pain, but he asked.

The answer was always the same: Not in the foreseeable future. The cable providers’ hands were tied by the contractual demands of the content providers, and so forth. Which was true.

True then, that is. Times are a-changin’:

Web streaming is upending the neat arrangement long enjoyed between TV channels and cable providers such as Verizon and Comcast. Verizon pays ESPN and other channels a certain amount to carry their programming, a cost that gets factored into customers’ monthly bills. But with consumers complaining about paying for too many channels and switching to online streaming alternatives such as Netflix, cable firms are feeling the pressure to cut costs — and even drop channels, especially those with plummeting ratings.

The swift decline in cable has been particularly harmful for Viacom, which typically presses cable distributors to run all of its channels — including MTV, VH1, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon — or none of them. The company announced this week that it will cancel some shows and lay off staff as part of a broad restructuring plan….

Talk about creative destruction.

Just last night, in response to an invitation via my Apple TV, I signed up for a free one-month trial of HBO NOW, which markets itself with the pithy tagline, “Now, all you need is the Internet.”

Well, that and $14.99 a month, which I probably will not spring for when the free month is up.

But in the meantime, it’s pretty awesome. We watched “Jersey Boys” last night, and enjoyed it. I see that I can catch up completely on “Game of Thrones” if I care to binge, starting with the first season. Or watch “The Sopranos” again all the way through, or any other series that has ever been on HBO. And I can send back that DVD from Netflix with the first episodes of “True Detective” on it. The whole series lies before me now.

Anyway, whatever I do going forward, I appreciate this brave new world…

I don’t watch ‘an awful lot’ of TV — or maybe I do. How about you?

Turn-S1-Launch

“TURN: Washington’s Spies” — fictionalized, but at least the models for these people actually existed…

 

For whatever reason, our regular commenter Barry said this over the weekend:

One thing I have learned about Brad- he watches an awful lot of television.

Sounds awful.

At which I bridled.

Moi? Watch a lot of idiot box? Never!

Or maybe sometimes…

No, I really don’t — at least, not by American standards.

But you know, I think I probably watch more of it than I used to — mainly because of Netflix, and to some extent AMC. For the first time in my life, if I feel like vegging out in front of the tube (or working out in front of it, I hasten to add), I can always find something that interests me. And that was bound to increase my screen time.

Oddly, I don’t even get AMC any more. We subscribe to a below-basic level of cable that simply ensures that we get the local broadcast stations clearly, and nothing else. (And I don’t really watch those, except for an occasional “Masterpiece” series on ETV.) But I can watch all of the AMC shows a bit later, on Netflix, and that’s generally good enough for me.

Here’s what I have watched on the tube over the past year or so. It may sound like a lot, but compared to most people’s viewing habits (with the Tube always on, with sports and “news” shows and Reality TV), it’s actually fairly contained. I’m listing everything I can recall watching, including shows I’ve lost interest in:

  • Turn: Washington’s Spies — I JUST started this, because it just arrived on Netflix. My interest increased when I realized that Abraham Woodhull, Anna Strong, Caleb Brewster and Ben Tallmadge were all real people, although this is obviously fictionalized. Don’t think the show’s been quite fair to Robert Rogers.
  • Bluebloods — Got belatedly hooked on this about a month ago. It’s now my standard show to watch while working out in the mornings. My parents have loved this show for years, and I think I probably enjoy it for the same reasons.
  • Better Call Saul — As with the last season of “Breaking Bad,” I couldn’t wait on this one, and went ahead and bought the season via iTunes. But I fell three episodes behind while abroad, and haven’t caught up. Not quite as riveting as the original series, despite having Mike Ehrmantraut.
  • “The West Wing” — Y’all already know how crazy I was about this last year, watching all seven seasons while working out in the mornings. But now it’s gone, and while I’ve watched some favorite episodes two or three times, I need to wait a while (a few years, I think) before watching it all the way through again.
  • Endeavour — Very engaging prequel to the Inspector Morse series. It’s hard to beat a well-made series set in Britain circa 1964. Guess I’ll never get over the brainwashing effects of the British Invasion. That’s when I really fell in love with that island. Also, having spent a few days in Oxford in 2011, I’m drawn toward anything set there.
  • Inspector Morse — Didn’t get very far into it. Not as engaging as either its prequel or its sequel, “Lewis” — which I haven’t watched lately only because there have been no new episodes.
  • House of Cards — The American version. I watched three or four episodes of the third season, but haven’t gotten back to it.
  • Foyle’s War — Love it. My main complains it that the war ended too quickly, owing to the British habit of two few episodes per season, and the show basically following a sort of real-time format.
  • Grantchester — Very enjoyable, while it lasted.
  • Father Brown — The original, of which “Grantchester” is a Protestant imitator. I’ve only watched two or three of these, but my wife is really into it.
  • Orange is the New Black — Only watched a couple of episodes of the most recent season, then we lost interest.
  • Outlander — Over the weekend I watched part of the first episode, because the disks were at my house. Lost interest pretty quickly. Like a slower-moving, chick-flick version of “Life on Mars,” which I loved. This Sassenach woman should have stayed in England.
  • Hawaii Five-0 — Watched a couple of episodes of both the old and the new series before and after visiting Hawaii, for the scenery. Both series are deeply flawed in different ways. The newer one, with its all-young-and-sexy cast (Kono as a hot young girl? Really?) and hyper-action, is the more ridiculous of the two, although production values are much better. But the scenery is awesome. As with the Oxford mysteries, it’s fun to get to visit faraway places that I’ve visited and enjoyed. What we need now is a good drama set in Thailand…

That’s about all I can think of.

Oh, wait! Last night, I passed on the first episode of Wolf Hall because it was on too late on a work night. But I plan to watch it tonight via PBS app on the Apple TV. I’ve really been looking forward to this one. Maybe it will spur me to go ahead and read Bring Up the Bodies, which has been awaiting me on my bookshelf…

How about y’all? What are your viewing habits, if any? How have they changed, with our liberation from the TV schedule and explosive increase in platforms and options?

wolf-hall

Hoping to enjoy ‘Wolf Hall’…

 

Jon Stewart’s replacement, Trevor Noah

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Any thoughts on Jon Stewart’s announced replacement, Trevor Noah?

I mean, beyond the purely superficial sort of hail-the-Obama-of-talk-show-hosts observation?

I don’t know what I think, because the clips I’ve seen today meant to explain who Trevor Noah is have been kind of light and limited. Perhaps he has the comedic range and ironic take on American politics that make him a good replacement. But I haven’t seen it.

We knew what we were getting with Jimmy Fallon (a guy I used to not like, but who had grown on me by the time he took over the Tonight Show). We know what we will be getting when Stephen Colbert takes over for Letterman, although some might wonder a little as to what he’ll be like as himself.

The president of Comedy Central said, “You don’t hope to find the next Jon Stewart — there is no next Jon Stewart. So, our goal was to find someone who brings something really exciting and new and different.”

So, I suppose we’ll see what that something different will be.

On a completely unrelated note, I ran across this quote today from Stewart, which was new to me:

I view America like this: 70 to 80 percent [are] pretty reasonable people that truthfully, if they sat down, even on contentious issues, would get along. And the other 20 percent of the country run it.

Good one. If Comedy Central had given me a vote, I’d have voted to hire somebody who will come up with more quotes like that, whoever that might be…