Saturday, January 31, 2009


Hey, sorry, running late, overslept, gotta get to work, blah blah, the usual. But absent anything else, here's one of Lyle Lovett's greatest songs, She's Already Made Up Her Mind. Lovett is at his best as a songwriter when he drops his sometimes jokey persona and hokey big band arrangements and concentrates on small, perfect details, as here, and this great song, combined with his weary, lived-in voice and a beautiful arrangement...Well, just listen.

Friday, January 30, 2009


That horrible sense of disconnectedness continues around here, now yoked to a new chum--tiredness. Yesterday was my day off, and I spent much of it sleeping. When I woke up (at two in the afternoon), I puttered around for awhile, ate dinner (such as it was--a peanut butter and jelly sandwich) and...went to bed.

And slept. But not a nice, refreshing sleep. I woke up at my usual time, but I still feel cranky and out of sorts, as though I've gone several days without catching a wink. When I sleep, I dream, of course, but even my subconscious is uninteresting--last night I dreamt I mixed a nice chocolate shake, only once I poured the milk, I discovered I was using buttermilk! Oh, the hilarity! Oh, the humanity! Seriously, a dream like that is boring enough to put a person to sleep. (And a stupid gag line like that is so lame even Milton Berle wouldn't steal it. And a Milton Berle reference is so out of date even Jay Leno wouldn't use it. And a Jay Leno joke is---AARRGGHH!! Stop it!)

Anyway, as any commercial for mood elevating drugs can tell you, being tired and disinterested in things is one of the symptoms of depression, but that doesn't seem likely, considering how sunny things always are in my world. (Note: HA!) Usually whenever I enter what an old girlfriend used to call "depressi-mode" I pass out of it eventually, generally without the aid of therapy or, God knows, meds. I've tried both, and they don't help. (The aforementioned girlfriend's method of getting me out of it was...well, let's just say she gave great succor.) All I can do is resolve to get better, to battle this with steel-eyed determination. It's the eye of the tiger, it's the thrill of the fight, risin' up to the challenge of--say, I feel a montage coming on...

At which point I'd normally go to YouTube and look for a lame Rocky III clip to post, but I'm too disinterested to do even that. For that, at least, we can be thankful.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


First I direct you to yesterday's post. (Go ahead, scroll down. It won't take you too long.)

Next, I offer an entirely unrequested and largely self-indulgent explanation of its creation. Not because the details of my creative process are so interesting, but because I think there's some insight to be had into how a work of imagination--fiction, film, music, whatever--comes to exist, and how maybe the final version is never truly the best.

In this case, the writing was easy. The first paragraph popped into my head more or less fully formed. I didn't know who the unnamed "she" was, to whom she was speaking, or to what she was responding negatively. It could have been anything, but as I sat down to write, it became another dispute between two lovers, a depiction of a relationship in stasis. (Write about what you know, I say.)

But what you can read isn't what I originally wrote. The most obvious difference is, the piece was originally written in first person, the events filtered through the male protagonist's view. As I wrote, I abandoned this voice for two reasons: 1) Since most of the (non-fictional) posts around here are written from my point of view, and sometimes get painfully personal, I felt anyone reading this might assume I transcribed an actual occurrence in my life, and 2) I didn't like the tone, which was too judgmental of the female's point-of-view.

That change, though, altered not only the tone of the story, but the actual events. When I switched to a third person voice, I rejected the notion of an omniscient narrator, so the descriptive passages only suggest the character's attitudes, but can never describe what they're thinking. (I cheated slightly at one point.) Because of that self-imposed limitation (generally, I dislike the use of the omniscient third-person voice in what I read as well as what I write), I couldn't allude to past events in these characters' lives unless they brought them up. But why would they come out and say things both of them already know?

They wouldn't, of course. And so, I tried to keep them from doing that. But that became a limitation, because I had very little to build upon, and the piece became a sketch, not a fully-formed story. Which is fine, and obviously it's the version I chose to post, and on the whole, I think it's more consistent. Its original form was messier, and maybe it had a little more depth, and at its best was better...but I couldn't quite make it work.

This, I know, is what writing is--sometimes you sacrifice the very thing that inspired a piece because it no longer fits once you get into it. Sometimes you start something, but you realize your own limitations, and fall back into the familiar (which is what I think happened to the late Donald Westlake with his ambitious but ultimately unsatisfying The Ax) and sometimes you plow ahead into a realm in which you have no discernable talent (which is what happens whenever Stephen King tries writing "serious" fiction). Sometimes it all comes together, and you make a masterpiece.

But however great they are, even those masterpieces might have been improved. Consider this:

That, of course, was George Harrison's original demo for While My Guitar Gently Weeps. This isn't, obviously, the version that was originally released, the version that features the other Beatles. That song became a cornerstone of The White Album, surely one of the greatest works in the rock & roll canon...but isn't this version better? Or at least different--dreamier, languid, fluid, less hard-edged than the version we've always known.

On the other hand, should we have ever heard this? Isn't there something to be said for the official version being the only version? Though Harrison might have preferred the original, the fact is, he and his bandmates only officially approved one version for release. For better or for worse, shouldn't that be the final statement?

By offering any kind of opinion on the relative merits of released versus unreleased material, aren't we, in effect, second-guessing the artists themselves? Sure, democracy is great, but what gives us the right to do that? And can't that lead to artists second-guessing themselves? We know where that leads--George Lucas' awful attempts to improve the original Star Wars trilogy or, more seriously, the disaster known as Apocalypse Now Redux.

It's hard to keep from thinking what might have been. What we have is all we have, flaws included, and is perhaps all we should have. I find Huckleberry Finn maddeningly discursive, am less than satisfied with the second half of The Threepenny Opera, and dearly wish The White Album had been shorn of at least a quarter of its songs. (Mostly Paul's.) They could all be improved, yet they're all legitimately great, and maybe whatever problems they have are like fingerprints, signs of individuality, a reminder that even god-like creators are, after all, human.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


"No," she says, the words spoken with the casual indifference of somebody opening a box of crackers or folding socks, something requiring no thought at all. Clearly this subject is of no importance.

Surprised, he essentially repeats the question in the form of a statement. "We used to talk about having a kid."

She flips channels, TBS, Discovery, Lifetime, TNT. "We used to talk about a lot of things."

"Yeah, but specifically, we used to talk about this. It was something we were always going to do."

She stops on AMC, then sets the remote down on the slightly-widening gap between them on the couch. "It was something...Do you really want to talk about this?"

"Well, I don't know. It's just something I've been thinking about lately."

"But do you want to talk about this? Or is it enough to know that I don't want to have a kid right now. Or ever, probably."


"Not...I know you think I can be flighty or unfocused or ditsy or whatever you want to call it--"

"I've never said that."

"--but this is something I'm certain about: I don't want a kid." She sighs heavily. "With you."

"Me? I'm...What...does that mean?"

She sighs again, sitting absolutely still. "Look. Okay. It's like this. In all the time we've been together, I've never quite I feel, exactly. It's not that I don't love you. I do. And I know you love me, but with's all on the surface, you know? It's nothing grand, nothing passionate, if you left tomorrow, I'd maybe cry a little, but I'd basically be okay.

"And that's...kind of what I wanted when we first met. I wanted a relationship that was committed but...disposable. I wanted to feel like I could pull up roots at any time and go away, start all over, be a whole new person. And if that didn't happen, if I didn't do that, I wanted it to be because I'd fallen deeply in love."

Her eyes stare at him, mercilessly but not unkindly. "Two years. I didn't plan on being with you this long. And after all this time, I'm still not sure how I feel. About you, and everything else. The same job, the same town, the same friends. It's not how I imagined my life, and I don't know...anything right now. But I do know if we started pumping out kids right now, I'd resent them, and I'd resent you, and I'd blame you for making me choose a life I never wanted." She begins to cry, and he makes no move to comfort her.

Her tears play out, and all is silence, except for the TV: Kevin Kline is smugly self-important, Jeff Goldblum is self-consciously eccentric, Glenn Close is whiny. "Jesus," he says at last. "Are we actually sitting through The Big Chill?"

"Yeah," she says, wiping her eyes. "I just noticed that myself."

"Maybe we should shut it off." He forces a half-smile. "We need to talk."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I noticed it last night when I got home from work--creeping apathy, a sense of not caring about anything. I fixed something to eat, I messed around on the computer, I even watched an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, usually a guaranteed mood-lifter...but I still felt numb.

I still do. Not sick, not depressed, just disconnected somehow, like I'm not quite here and don't quite care. And this sense of detachment is so strong that I didn't even react with the expected sense of horror to the story in today's New York Times that they're turning Michael Jackson's Thriller into a Broadway musical. No creative team is set, and Jackson may or may not be involved, and this probably is the final nail in the coffin of the Broadway musical, and a clear demonstration that some forms of popular art are even more creatively bankrupt than the movie business.

But...whatever. Nothing more than a shrug from me.

On the other hand, this news ought to cheer everyone up. Not me, but all regular readers. (That's right...both of you!) As the dancing Ewoks indicate...

...with the end of the Bush administration, I'm officially retiring my tendency to use labored Star Wars metaphors whenever I write about politics. The Sith Lord Cheney has been vanquished! The rebel alliance has triumphed! A new day is dawning!

(Meanwhile, in New York, the senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton is filled by Kirsten Gillibrand, who calls herself a Democrat but spends most of her time hanging with her Republican cronies. Will she secretly manipulate her colleagues in the Democratic party to her own evil ends? Is she merely a front for a shadowy cabal, or could she actually be...The Phantom Menace?)

Monday, January 26, 2009


It's been suggested by many friends and co-workers that I...well, that I like to complain.

Fine, yes, granted: I do complain a lot. But it's not something I enjoy. It's not as though I view the world as somehow failing to live up to my lofty standards. Let's face it, living in these interesting times, anyone who is awake and paying attention can't help noticing how far out of control things have spiraled, and I consider it my duty to point this out, thank you very much. Far too many of us have been bred for cynicism, have noticed all that is wrong with the way we live and responded with a passive shrug. Me, I'd rather rage. Even if I know that rage will be ultimately impotent, I'll know that I by God fought instead of submitting.

Trouble is, sometimes I complain even when others see hope. Take Obama, for instance. Yes, he's doing some good things, he's making the right moves. For now, that's all very inspiring. And I hate to rain on anyone's parade, but...

The fact is, nothing susbstantial will change. Obama's just a tool, a cog in a machine he and his supporters may not fully understand. They still think in terms of nations and peoples, but...Well, let's let Paddy Chayefsky break it all down, in this classic scene from the 1976 film Network. There is much valid criticism to be made of this movie--none of the characters are characters, just mouthpieces for the author's points of view, and the thing as a whole is bitterly misanthropic and borderline misogynistic--but its impossible to argue with Chayefsky's fundamental point, best expressed in this beautifully written scene, and expertly delivered by Ned Beatty. The fact that some of the particulars may have changed, that ITT and ATT have been replaced by newer entities only underscores the point: There is no entity, only a system. To which I would merely add, complaining about such a system is the least--and maybe best--we can do.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


1. Somehow, use of a random quote from Larry King as a title became my trademark for another Random Thoughts post. This isn't up there with "Morgan Fairchild is a special, special lady," but honestly, what could be?

2. I'm still not fully onboard the Obama bandwagon or anything (for one thing, he signed off on the continued use of remote-controlled aircraft bombing the hell out of Pakistan, allegedly targeting terrorists but routinely killing civilians), but holy crap: the quick move to close Gitmo, and explicitly banning torture and removing Bush's ban of federal funds to groups that provide abortion and striking Bush's revisions of the Freedom of Information Act--this guy hasn't even been president for a week, and already he's made this country into something somewhat resembling the America I used to know.

3. Understatement of the week, courtesy of The New York Times: "The economic record of President George W. Bush was largely a disappointing one."

4. Ex-Hitler Youth member Pope Benedict has welcomed back into the fold (or "rehabilitated" in Vatican-speak) a rogue bishop who had previously rejected efforts to modernize the Catholic Church. Though Richard Williamson is on record as saying, "I believe the historical evidence is hugely against six million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolph Hitler," Our Boy Benedict is A-OK with him now, since he's agreed to hew to whatever the Vatican says. And if he makes a few more anti-Semitic statements, eh, what are you gonna do?

5. Movie producer Charles H. Schneer has died at the age of 88. He learned at the hand of B-movie expert Sam Katzman, and his films were always produced on tight, tight budgets. Though he did other things (Ronald Reagan's Hellcats Of The Navy, for one), Schneer will always be beloved by millions as the guy who partnered with stop motion animation god Ray Harryhausen for a string of matinee classics, from 1955's It Came from Bemeath The Sea to the 1981 semi-classic Clash Of The Titans. Sure, some of the movies they made together are incredibly dull or silly whenever there are no monsters on screen, but without Schneer's involvement, Harryhausen likely would never have gotten the chance to strut his formidable stuff for so many years. And along the way, the Harryhausen/Schneer team produced the 1958 epic The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad, which is simply a milestone in the annals of fantasy filmmaking and the movie that gave the biggest imaginable mindfuck to several generations of ten-year-old boys. That's a legacy worth celebrating.

6. Whenever I crank out one of these Random Thoughts things, I usually wind up mentioning the cats. But--ssshhh. They're sound asleep, and if we're very quiet, maybe they'll stay that way.

Friday, January 23, 2009


There was a time--I guess--when the annual Running Of The Mediocrities known as the Oscar nominations had a certain mystique.

Not just because there were fewer award shows back in the day, or because in the pre-wired world it was much more rare to see celebrities on your home entertainment delivery system, though there was that, too. But once upon a time, the Academy Awards really were a celebration of what Hollywood perceived as its best.

True, they got it wrong nearly every time out (Mrs. Miniver? Seriously?), but the award was never really meant to represent artistic excellence, but to celebrate Hollywood professionalism. Oscar winners from the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties nearly always exemplify the industry's ability to turn out competent, uninspired entertainment.

The New Hollywood revolution of the seventies caused an unusual number of truly great films to get the Best Picture nomination for a decade or so--Taxi Driver, All That Jazz, Apocalypse Now, both Godfathers--and occasionally win. That wouldn't last, and with the back-to-back Best Picture wins in '81 and '82 for Chariots Of Fire and Ghandi, it was clear that the Academy was back to celebrating dull respectability.

All of which is a long-winded prelude to observing that this year's list of Oscar nominations is one of the most boring on record. While there are some nice surprises in the acting categories (it's always nice to see some love for Richard Jenkins, Melissa Leo and Michael Shannon), the main nominees represent typical Oscar Bait. All right, I admit I haven't actually seen any of the Best Picture nominees, but if you had to make a template for a list of dull, respectable Oscar nominees, this batch would surely be it: Long, sentimental weeper (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button), unadventurous adaptation of a middelbrow play (Frost/Nixon), biopic of a safely dead liberal icon (Milk), moderately edgy psuedo-indie (Slumdog Millionaire) and of course, Holocaust drama featuring Kate Winslet naked (The Reader).

If I had to see one of these movies, it would be Milk. I'd see The Reader just for the opportunity to see Kate Winslet naked, but really, pretty much any of her movies will suffice for that.

(But not, sadly, her best movie, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. She alternates between blue and bright red hair in that movie, and I wanted to see if she was commited enough to her characterization to dye the carpet to match the drapes. The one movie in which her nudity could give us insight into the person she played, and she kept her clothes on. Go figure.)

I don't care about the Academy Awards, and I care less and less about movies in general these days, but if I have a point to make, it's that I do respect the Academy for nominating Winslet for movies in which she appears naked. And I'd like to take this opportunity to suggest that Lauren Graham and Thora Birch, two wonderful but underused actresses, ought to use Winslet as a role model. Abundant nudity is clearly the way to go to get awards attention, and I for one would applaud it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


PBS this week trotted out a show called The Electric Company. Here are two clips.

Pretty standard fare for current "educational" kid's shows. Bland, freshly-scrubbed multi-culti cast, dull flash animation, a level of professionalism but not a trace of wit or invention. There are songs, too, mostly hip-hop lite, the kind of thing designed to be as inoffensive (oh, and instructional, of course) as possible.

Which is fine, I guess, but why call the show The Electric Company? Why claim it as an updated version of the coolest kid's show ever? Produced in the early to mid-seventies, but shown in reruns until the eighties, the original was designed to teach kids simple language and grammar concepts, but what it really did was showcase a variety of comedy styles, a wide range of animation design and a whole lot of ultra-cool music.

Like its Children's Television Workshop partner Sesame Street, The Electric Company was ostensibly designed for inner city kids, children research claimed lacked basic English skills. Many aspects of the show seem designed specifically to an "urban" audience. Yet those very same elements blew the mind of at least one Iowa farm kid, who had no conception of the wider world beyond his own small area and the white, white kids he knew. So, sitting in his first grade class, watching Morgan Freeman's unbelievably funky Easy Rider strut onto the scene and duet with Rita Moreno--my mind was officially blown.

Leaving aside the retro-cool vibe ("Is that heavy? IS THAT HEAVY?") and slight salaciousness ("He can't seem to get enough"--even as a six-year-old, I understood these two must have had some kind of, uh, history), this is just a kick-ass song. And by the way--Morgan Freeman! Rita Moreno! What an awesome cast The Electric Company had, and not just in front of the camera. Satirical songwriter Tom Lehrer was lured out of retirement to pen a number of tunes, including this absolute classic.

Much of the animation was produced by the great John Hubley and was very individualized. Notice how precise the movement is in this sequence, something that would be impossible with the flash cartoons used in the new show.

Here are a few more brief animated sequences showing the astonishing range of visual and musical styles this show routinely deployed.

Hard to know if other kids were as struck by this wide range of visuals, by the sophisticated wordplay, by the way it combined a funky urban vibe with Borscht Belt shtick. (Did I mention Mel Brooks was an occasional contributor?) Me, I was transported by this show, taken to places I'd never been. It seemed designed to be different, to introduce viewers to new ways of looking at the world. The new Electric Company is clearly intended to educational show. Kids may learn basic grammar from it, but they won't learn anything else, if you know what I mean.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


What can I say, folks? Some days inspiration (well, maybe not inspiration so much as the ability to write lengthy screeds attacking George Bush or praising Vincente Minnelli) strikes, some days it doesn't. Today, I got nothin' Could be a whole week like this.

But in the interest of providing some kind of diversion, here's Joaquin Phoenix rapping. Was he serious when he said he'd quit acting to pursue a music career? Was he sober? Are we watching an elaborate Andy Kaufman-styled joke here, or a guy on the verge of a breakdown? What controlled substances has he likely ingested? Will they lead him to follow his brother in death? If so, can we still make fun of this?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


...namely, Lynda Carter clips.

Yes, the drive-in screen practically explodes from the combined charisma when Marjoe Gortner joins Our Lynda on a rebels-on-the-road car-chasin' shoot-'em-up. Presumably AIP honcho Sam Arkoff decided he wanted yet another redneck action movie, and when Peter Fonda and Claudia Jennings weren't available it was decided to call in the B Team.

I've actually seen this and though I remember absolutely nothing about it, it at least hasn't seared itself into my brain like the horror of Lynda's variety specials. So, you know, that's something...


No, I've never really believed the hype, and realistically, I know things won't really be much different for people at the bottom of the heap.

But as the cold blue sky loomed over the National Mall, in a city that was once the epicenter of the slave trade, as a man whose very existence as the product of a racially-mixed relationship would have until very recently marked him as illegitimate in many states was sworn in to the highest office in the land...once I tuned out the inane babble of the clueless network know-it-alls and finished laughing at the Blofeld-like sight of Cheney in a wheelchair, then the images of all those people gathered to witness this historic event began to get to me. Reality and image and expectation ceased to matter. I started crying like a damned baby, is what I'm saying.

We can kid ourselves all we want that we live in a society where race is no longer an issue, but it still is, and will always be. It will be something that divides and unites us, will be the source of pride and shame. But it's there, and our reactions in times of crisis and joy will always be dictated by cultural factors. We will always be what we have always been. Human nature can never be transcended.

And Obama, after all, he's just one guy, and the reality of his presidency signifies nothing. He's surrounded by sycophants and business-as-usual types, and all along received the backing of corporate donors who will naturally expect a return on their investment. Hope? Change? Surely these are just buzzwords. Surely they are meaningless.

Except...that crowd. So many faces of a darker shade than usually seen at such events. So much love, such a feeling that maybe, just maybe, there's finally something to believe in, that there's a future that might include them. So many people filled with a spirit, a sense they can make something happen, a feeling the world has changed. So many questions--if this can be done, what else can be done, what else can be accomplished?

It will dissipate, of course, this moment in time. But it will always be remembered that it was here. It happened, and can happen again.


As the final minutes of the Bush administration tick away, I'll rush to throw one final dart. One of the things the few remaining Bush supporters try to salvage from the ashes of his reign is the notion that he kept us safe. That is, after 9/11, there have been no more attacks on U.S. soil.

This, supposedly, makes everything okay--the abuses of Gitmo, the horrors of Abu Ghraib, the illegal wiretapping and suspension of civil liberties. It's all good, or at least forgiveable, because, dammit, it helped protect us.

Except...relatively few of the prisoners in Gitmo could be tied to terrorist cells in any meaningful way (most were transparently innocent), the prisoners in Abu Ghraib were Iraqis who posed absolutely no threat to America, and it has yet to be demonstrated that any of the sweeping constitutional changes brought about by the Homeland Security boys have had any impact on the war on terror whatsoever. (Most likely, warrantless wiretaps were used to keep tabs on political enemies.)

But even that pales beside the obvious fact that The Decider's apologists choose to ignore: HE DIDN'T KEEP US SAFE! 9/11 happened on his watch, after all, nearly a year after the al-Qaeda- backed bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, an act designed to prompt a response from the U.S., an act that was not forthcoming. Though the Cole bombing took place during the waning days of the Clinton administration, the aftereffects were up to Team Bush...and they responded by doing nothing. They took no action against Bin Laden, and they ignored intelligence reports suggesting an attack on U.S. soil was imminent.

As a result, nearly 3000 Americans died. The Bushinistas like to claim everything they did was done to keep us safe, but they did nothing when it counted. They failed us, as they failed us in every other way. This was, surely, the most callously unfeeling regime in the nation's history. None of them will be missed, and their absence should be celebrated.

Monday, January 19, 2009


...but I overslept--aren't you sick of hearing me say that?--and I have no time for writing, so this is what you get.

Which is to say, not much.

The lengthy piece I intended to write was about Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino, and then not so much about the movie as the somewhat clueless critical reaction to it. Maybe later.

And of course, I should probably say something about Our Beloved President's last full day on the job. Mere hours remain. Can he use his limited time to screw the country over one last time? Come on, Decider! I know you can come through!

As far as Obama goes, man-o-Manischewitz, am I glad I don't live in the D.C. area anymore. Yeah, because it's going to be crowded for the inauguration and all, but mostly because you never know when Bono might be stopping by the White House, filling the very air with the noxious fumes of self-regarding douchebaggery.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


The more I think about that whole John Mayer variety show thing--and yes, I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about it--I wonder how bad it could be.

Yeah, it'll suck--that's a given. But could this faux-hipster American possibly crank out something as bad as a German variety show? A German variety show guest starring Telly Savalas? A tuxedo-clad Telly Savalas inexplicably warbling a Don Williams shitkicker classic? Forget it; Mayer's a pisher, an amateur, a fool. But this is how you do a crappy variety show.

Friday, January 16, 2009


My friend Julian tried putting it in semi-poetic terms. "Why do you worry so much about the women that left you? They're gone, but that's okay. How many more are out there? Hundreds, thousands, millions? More than you could meet, and so many of them looking for someone. Many of them just like you."

Which sounds good, but after awhile, it becomes difficult to inflict the misery on myself. Women, it seems, don't want to be with me. The relationship will be going along, just fine as far as I can tell, then, KAPOW, I'm sucker-punched by the old "Can't we be friends?" line. And that's if I'm lucky; sometimes they just stop returning my calls.

It's hard to keep from taking these things personally.

Clearly, there must be something about me that initially attracts, then repels. I don't have looks or a smooth line of patter, but I have a sense of humor and a sense of empathy, which is enough, but only for awhile. Once I'm comfortable enough to finally be myself around a woman, she decides she doesn't like who I really am. (Apparently, women aren't charmed by impersonations of Phil Silvers or Woody Allen. Maybe I should stop developing impressions of Great Jews Of Comedy, though my Lou Jacobi is coming along quite nicely.)

Katie and I broke up in May (or, more accurately, she broke up with me), and I decided okay, that's it. I vowed to spend my entire summer free from all attempts at pitching woo with the ladies. (Also, I've discovered most women don't particularly like being called "ladies" and are unamused by my hyper-ironic use of archaic terms like "pitching woo".) My plan was so successful, it stretched into autumn and, now, winter.

And I must say, I'm getting tired of it. I want to be in a successful relationship. Or even an unsuccessful one, just for old time's sake. Hell, I'd be grateful for a weekend fling at this point. Yet...the fact is, the last time I succumbed to the pleasures of the flesh (you don't want details), I honestly couldn't wait to get her back home so I could get back to my place to be annoyed by my cats. (True, the fact that I had no particular feelings for her beyond base physical desire may have had something to do with it...but again, you don't want details.) And maybe that's my ultimate fate: I'll be a crazy old guy who lives in a rotting house with dozens of cats.

Of course, the economy being what it is, it seems unlikely I could afford even a rotting house. Still, that scenario seems more probable than the notion of me ending up in a loving, mutually supportive relationship. But I still crave that, and the desire to go in search of love has reasserted itself. One could almost say that ice is slowly melting. I wouldn't say that, of course, because the only Beatle lines quoted around here are John's (this post's title, for instance), but metaphorically, it works. All hesitations and doubts have fallen away, and I'll state it boldly: I want to give love, receive love, and above all, share my Lou Jacobi impression.

Okay, that last part is optional, but you get the idea.


Seriously: applause?

I knew The Decider's farewell address to the suckers out there would be given before an invited audience of cronies and lickspittles, but the full implication of that had somehow eluded me. I knew there'd be a parade of half-truths and outright whoppers--although I admit, one last attempt to link Iraq to 9/11 came as a surprise--but the standing O he received as he came out, and the wave of adulation when he finished...AARRGGHH!!

It had all the credibility of the enthusiasm greeting Jay Leno when he walks out in front of his pre-hyped audience every night, only Bush can't even match Leno's level of smirking mediocrity. What should have been a somber farewell to the nation was instead turned into some bizarre Shock Treatment-esque commentary on itself, Our Beloved President providing himself with the tears and clapping he otherwise would not have earned.

Lies wrapped in dishonesty--the perfect end to the Bush era.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Though I was pretty much raised on network TV, I admit I barely watch it these days, so who am I to second guess the wisdom of the programming poobahs at CBS? Nonetheless, I don't feel like I'm going too far out on a limb when I say their notion of giving John Mayer a variety show is a profoundly bad idea.

For one thing, you can't do variety shows anymore. Yes, I'm a devotee of the form at its worst (and watch out, I could bust out a Lynda Carter clip at any minute), but that's just it: The variety show is essentially a relic of a bygone era, a corny joke-and-music machine produced without any sense of irony whatsoever. To even attempt such a thing now--as we learned from that Rosie O'Donnell stinkburger a month or two ago, and that Jessica Simpson/Nick Lachey horror from a few years ago--is to admit to propping up a dead horse, a pointless effort in giving us a form of entertainment we clearly no longer want.

But the even more mystifying aspect of this concept is its host. John Mayer? Really?

Does anybody, anywhere, care about John Mayer? Isn't he mostly famous for boning Jennifer Aniston, when he's not boning a parade of anonymous supermodels? Beyond that, what? He seems like an affable enough presence when he has a guest spot on someone else's show, but so what? Is bland likability all it takes to get you a TV deal these days?

But presumably, the focus of the show would be on Mayer's music, which is...Let me put it this way: I used to date a girl who had a copy of Heavier Things on her kitchen counter, where it always seemed to stay. When I asked her if she ever listened to it, she said no, she'd ordered it through a record club and only played it once and never bothered giving it another spin. She'd left it on the counter to remind her to drop it off at Goodwill, but somehow always forgot. That's John Mayer's music: So utterly dull you can't even remember to dispose of it.

But hey, the ladies seem to like him (well, not any ladies I know, but apparently CBS has demographic studies suggesting they do), and he's vaguely telegenic, and maybe if he has a show he can persuade Aniston to guest star (which would be ratings gold, because her post-Friends career has gone so well) and presumably he knows other famous people who could stop by and hang out and...what? Be famous?

The very existence of this show could be more than just a portent of the End Of Days, it could be The Big One itself: The day the world is finally bored to death.


It's ungodly cold outside, and I have the day off, so I'm staying inside until the temperature at least approaches zero. Ideally, I'd be cracking some great books or getting started on that novel I've meant to write for twenty years or so. Instead, I'm watching cable.

Which is how I stumbled across the low-rent 1972 epic Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes. This would be the fourth entry in the series, and it was the most economically filmed to that point. It's a heavy-handed racial allegory (the apes are slaves, you see, and no, it's best you not think too closely about the use of apes to stand in for African-Americans) with a particularly silly set-up (all cats and dogs got wiped out in some world-wide plague, and apes were domesticated to take their place), and, aside from Roddy McDowell and the late Ricardo Montalban, the cast is dominated by Familiar Faces (Don Murray, Hari Rhodes, Severn Darden) from seventies TV.

And's highly watchable. Not good, necessarily, but then again, with a movie like this, most standards of quality don't really apply. But it has endearingly simple characterizations, a fair amount of honest suspense, and, best of all, some striking wide-screen imagery, beautifully shot by the great cinematographer Bruce Surtees (who worked with directors as varied as Clint Eastwood, Sam Fuller and Bob Fosse), including some chilling shots of desolate locations--unmanned escalators, empty plazas--that wouldn't be out of place in an Antonioni film.

Paul Dehn's script efficiently sets up the story, and J. Lee Thompson's direction is unremarkable but competent, which is a fair description of the film as a whole. It's easy to laugh at some of the movie's sillier notions (its futuristic America is a facist state, so naturally all cops must be dressed in Nazi uniforms) and occasional cheapness (only McDowell got fully-articulated make-up, so most of the rebelling ape army appears to be wearing costume-shop masks), but given a chance, it becomes surprisingly involving.

It does this simply, by staging the action cleanly, and shooting it well. When a movie is well-made, it can become a compelling experience no matter how trite the material. Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes doesn't try to reinvent the wheel, it never congratulates itself on its own cleverness, it has no sense of irony, yet at the same time it never feels like its just going through the motions, delivering the bare minimum level of entertainment needed to keep an audience from walking out. Best of all, it's over in less than ninety minutes. It never overstays its welcome, fails to pile climax upon climax upon bloated, endless climax.

It's a solid little little B-picture that knows its place, but also knows how to accomplish its limited goals. In 1972, it was considered a throwaway, mostly fodder for matinee audiences. Thirty-seven years later, it looks like a model of craftsmanship, something I devoutly wish more contemporary filmmakers understood.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


What can I tell you? Some days you just need a Fab Four fix. Here's one of my favorites, though Lennon himself reportedly hated it. Even geniuses can be wrong sometimes.

Here's the original vocal track for one of Lennon's most ambitious numbers. Yeah, the lyrics are a bit soup-headed, but the melody is gorgeous, the arrangement ambitious and, Lord, those harmonies--Have I mentioned how great these guys were?

And, just to keep this from being totally John-centric, one of Paul's loveliest ballads. Is it just me, or was McCartney at his best when most melancholy?

And--why not?--let's wrap it up with Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed performing one of George's best.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Three (hopefully) cute anecdotes, and a concern.

1) Tabbatha turns thirty this week. I mention this only because when we first met, still in the exchange-of-personal-information mode, and she told me she was born in 1979, literally the first thought that popped into my head was, "Gee, that means she was only a year old when The Empire Strikes Back opened."

In a rare instance of self-restraint, I did not say that out loud.

2) Hanging out with Paul this weekend, he mentioned his proficiency playing Lego Star Wars. "I just bought my own thermal detonator!" he said proudly.

"Thermal detonator?" I asked. "What's that, like a bomb?"

"Thermal detonator! You know, like Leia uses in Return Of The Jedi when she's trying to rescue Han."

"Oh, right. I forgot what it was called."

"Well, it's a thermal detonator."

"Ah," I said, then continued. "You know, at this point, I think you know more about Star Wars than I do. The apprentice has become the master."

Paul paused for a moment, then cried in mock indignation, "Are you saying I'm a geek?"

3) After finishing lunch at a fake Mexican restaurant, I asked Paul to please not drag his new sweatshirt on the snow-encrusted floor as he started to put it on. "This isn't a sweatshirt," he said, "it's a jacket."

"No, it's a sweatshirt. It has a hood, it's made of some sort of cottony-wooly-fleecey material--definitely a sweatshirt."

Paul turned to a kid in the booth behind us, a total stranger. "Is this a jacket or a sweatshirt?"

"Definitely a jacket," the kid said.

Paul laughed, pointing at me. "He says it's a sweatshirt. Also, he doesn't like the Ewoks."

The kid looked at me. "Who were the Ewoks?"

"The little furry guys in Return Of The Jedi."

"Oh, yeah. No, the Ewoks rock. They beat the stormtroopers. They were the heroes."

"He also hates Jar-Jar," Paul explained.

"Jar-Jar was kind of stupid."

"But he was funny," Paul said.

"Yeah, he was funny," the kid agreed. "Jar-Jar's okay."

"No," I said firmly. "I'm sorry, but no. Everyone hates Jar-Jar. It's a fact."

"We don't hate him."

It kind of continued that way for awhile, until, as we walked out the door, the kid jumped up and pointed an accusing finger at me. "The Force definitely isn't with you!"

"Well, it's not with anyone who likes Jar-Jar, either," I said, realizing I'd lost an argument to two pre-adolescents. I gotta work on my debating skills.

4) Those little tales are all well and good, but here's my concern: Do they have any meaning if you're not a regular reader of this site?

In other words, I'd like to expand my readership--theoretically, I mean; it's not like it's actually happening--and if a new visitor came here and read these pieces cold, would he or she be asking, "Who the hell is this Tabbatha person? Who is Paul? Why should I care?" True, said reader could plow through my back pages in hopes of finding an answer, but why should they have to? Is this site too insular? Is my writing clear enough for a newbie to understand? Are my concerns misplaced? Are my anxieties unfounded? Should I vow to never again use the word "newbie"?

For that last question, at least, I already know the answer.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Exciting news: The Republicans have caught Obama fever!

Well, okay, not really. But in a desperate bid to get with the change in the political wind, the GOP has actually nominated two--two!--black guys to be the party's new national chairman.


After Strom Thurmond, after the opposition to The Voting Rights Act, after Nixon's Southern Strategy, after Jesse Helms, after Willie Horton, after redrawing congressional districts to favor white voters, after the blatant suppression of black votes in Florida in 2000, after Katrina, after George Allen's macaca comment, after Sarah Palin's scorched earth attacks against Obama, after all that and so much more--this may be the single most racist thing the GOP has ever pulled.

They're basically using the two black nominees, Michael Steele and Kenneth Blackwell, as puppets, as the guys they can point to and say, "But some of our best friends are..." It's utterly shameless; is there a person within the party who honestly thinks this is going to fool anyone?

To show you how clueless the GOP really is, two of the other candidates for the chairmanship include Katon Dawson, who quit an all-white country club right before entering the race, and Chip Saltsman, much in the news lately for distributing a CD among his cronies including the parody song Barack The Magic Negro.

(About that last part: Saltsman and his many defenders within the party have tried to downplay the offensiveness of the song by saying, hey, he didn't write it himself, he didn't create it, it wasn't his doing. No, he wasn't responsible for the racist ditty, he merely shared it. On the moral relativism scale, that's kind of like saying, "Hey I don't create kiddie porn, I merely masturbate to images of pre-teen boys having sex with each other. What's the big deal?")

The sky above, mud below approval ratings of Obama and Bush suggest the smartest thing the Republicans could do right now is just shut the hell up and try to avoid bringing race up at all. Don't elect a black guy, which will look like pandering. Don't elect Dawson or Saltsman, because they're openly racist. Just deal with the fact that you lost big time, and the racial makeup of this nation no longer favors wealthy, bigoted southerners. Your time has finally passed, and if you don't rethink yourself from the ground up, you will always be an embarrassment.

And we certainly wouldn't want to make fun of Republicans, would we?

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Uh, doesn't this seem a little, uh, well...Oh, just watch:

Yes, little boy, enjoy allowing your action figure to remain limp while your female companions play bondage games with their large-breasted fantasy toys. That's fine; whatever problems you'll encounter in your future--and there will be many--military service most assuredly won't be among them.

Seriously, this thing got on the air? Nobody thought it was kind of, you know, creepy? Unwholesome? Just plain wrong? I'd say it was a more innocent time, but this comes from the seventies--the era of porno chic, key parties and, apparently, fetish dolls for children.

On the other hand, maybe it really was simply produced and accepted as some sort of empowerment object, giving little girls heroic action figures to call their own. Maybe it really is innocent. After all, I was a kid when this commercial aired originally, and I turned out okay. no issues in my life, no sir. It's not like I go around obsessively looking for Lynda Carter clips or anything.


Friday, January 09, 2009


Not a gradual awakening...I'm asleep, then I'm not. My apartment is very quiet, no radio playing, no hum of a radiator or fan. Outside, sirens blare, cops or an ambulance.

I think about going to work in a few hours, and how much I don't want to. Rumors are flying thick and fast about layoffs, forced retirement, reduced hours. Management is doing nothing to quell this. In fact, one of our supervisors repeatedly tells us things are only going to get worse. This does not create a happy workplace.

On every level but administrative, all employees were stiffed on any kind of Christmas bonus, and my department couldn't even be bothered to throw together even the most desultory holiday party. Anger and disillusionment is in the air, and it carries over to how we treat each other. Just showing up takes a major effort, because every day feels like eight hours of soul drainage.

Ordinarily, that would mean time to look for another job. But the economy being what it is, available jobs may not even pay the pauper's wages I earn here. So for now, there is nothing to do but endure.

The elevator roars and rattles to life, then clunks to a stop on my floor. The doors clang open and shut. I hear voices, male and female. At this time of night, that likely means someone's getting laid.

Good for them, I guess. That hasn't happened in my world for awhile, and the last few times it did, it was divorced from any real feeling. I haven't had any actual girlfriend since Katie, and that ended over half a year ago. I haven't actually been in love since Tabbatha.

Funny. When she called it quits with me, Tabbatha told me if I searched my feelings, if I was really honest with myself, I'd realize I wasn't truly in love with her. She prides herself in being right about most things. She was very, very wrong about that.

Wump, wump, wump--the sound of a cat bouncing across the floor. Most likely Monika, the more exuberant of the two. Neither of them are on the bed.

I absent-mindedly finger my wrists, a bad habit I've tried to break. I no longer have the urge to slice them, but it's somehow comforting to feel the scars, to recall a time when I cared enough about life to want to end it.

I was...eighteen? Nearly nineteen? My first time was a half-hearted effort, mostly a play for attention, and it landed me in therapy. Nothing new for me. My history with therapy is that I'm usually pronounced well, then sent on my way as if I've been magically cured. But there is no cure for the disordered mind, there's just...this. Life, and everything it throws my way. Sometimes I deal, sometimes I don't. Mostly I do, I guess. After all, I'm still here.

Delmar hops on the bed, the mattress trembling with his every heavy step. I'm laying on my side, and he bumps his forehead into my chest, curling up, purring his odd, squeaking purr. Soon Monika stretches out along my back, and she purrs as well. Together their sounds provide a soothing white noise, and sleep at last approaches.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


It seems half of the sites on the Web this week are bracketed by ads for the new movie Defiance. That would be the new Daniel Craig vehicle in which he stars as a Nazi-fighting Jew.

This isn't the first time Craig has appeared as an ass-kicking representative of The Chosen People, and though he's not actually a member of the tribe, it would be so cool if he was. A Jewish Bond? Imagine the possibilities: From Russia With Guilt, say, or You Should Be So Lucky As To Live Twice or A Quantum Of Matzoh. If nothing else, it would be a nice memorial to Ian Fleming, a not-so-veiled anti-Semite.

Leaving out the whole Judaic angle, just the notion of a movie in which James Bond fights Nazis is enough to take me to Fanboy Heaven. The ads even show exploding Panzers, which--wow! My inner eight-year-old is practically wetting his pants in anticipation.

But then there's this unfortunate tagline: From The Director Of The Last Samurai. Oh, right! Thanks for the reminder! This is an Edward Zwick film, and as his filmography (The Seige, Glory, and the unintentionally hilarious Legends Of The Fall) makes clear, there's no potentially interesting subject matter he can't reduce to boring middelbrow Oscar bait.

I guess what I'm saying is, if Zwick can make a boring movie featuring a Jewish James Bond fighting Nazis, his Directors Guild card should be torn up and he should never work again.


Sure, the folks at Eon were a bit callous in their firing of Pierce Brosnan. He'd served honorably in his time as Bond, and he certainly would have been fine as the lead in Casino Royale, which was shaping up to be one of the most serious-minded entries in the series, and the first one in a long, long time actually adapted from one of Ian Fleming's novels.

But producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli had something else in mind. They wanted to completely restart the whole franchise, and Brosnan, for better or worse, came with the baggage of his four films. He simply wouldn't be able to do what they wanted. (I would suggest they should have gotten rid of Judi Dench's M at the same time--she also seems too closely associated with the Brosnan years.)

So he was terminated, and despite the initial howls of protest over his casting, the seemingly left-field choice of Daniel Craig as Bond proved a stroke of genius. Not that he did it alone: Casino Royale is easily one of the best in the series, smartly written, sharply directed, perfectly cast down to the smallest role.

And didn't quite feel like a Bond movie. In some ways, this is because it was simply too good: No puns, no suggestively-named maidens, no nehru-jacketed supervillains. But also no Moneypenny, no Q Branch, none of the familiar tropes and supporting characters long-time fans had come to expect.

Which was fine, for one movie. But when none of those elements appeared in the follow-up, Quantum Of Solace, some fans got angry. This isn't Bond, they said. This plays like a knock-off of a Jason Bourne movie. Where's Q, dammit?

While I share some of those concerns--it was a mistake to hire the editing team from the Bourne series, because the action scenes are so herky-jerky as to be incoherent--I find many of them off-base. There is much here that feels like classic Bond, from the globe-hopping locations and odd settings to the disposable female dalliance and organization of supercriminals.

(That last point is potentially the most fascinating. The film works overtime to set up the Quantum consortium as the SPECTRE of the new millenium, and it's strongly suggested that Bond's next adventure will involve the search for a new Blofeld-style archcriminal. More than likely, the next adventure will be more along the lines of a classic Bond, with this film serving largely as a bridge between the grittier, more emotional Casino Royale and another larger-than-life epic. At least, I hope so.)

Mostly, what Quantum Of Solace has going for it is Daniel Craig. In only two films, he's made any comparisons to past actors irrelevant. He simply is Bond at this point--brooding and weary yet elegant and unflappable, learning to appreciate the good life (his hotel upgrade here is a classic moment), and convincing us he's a gentleman agent who is also a ruthless killing machine. He's worth following wherever he goes--he's so good, he might even have been able to make Live And Let Die worth watching.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Nobody gives Timothy Dalton credit for saving the Bond franchise, but in essence he did just that with 1987's The Living Daylights. He brought the series back down to earth, and for the first time in a long time, the character of James Bond was recognizable as Ian Fleming's creation.

And it really was Dalton's doing. Writer Richard Maibaum and director John Glen had prepped the film as just another Roger Moore outing, but when Dalton unexpectedly became the new Bond, the whole thing was retooled, partly simply to fit Dalton, obviously a younger, tougher presence, but largely at Dalton's insistence--he'd read Fleming's books, and that was the character he hoped to play.

The Living Daylights may not be top-tier Bond--the plot is absurdly complicated, the humor often feels forced, the whole thing runs at least twenty minutes too long--but it represents the first time in damn near two decades that it seemed like the curators of the franchise actually expected audiences to care about what they were seeing, when the storytelling and characterizations were more than rote--when, in other words, the film attempted to function as an organic whole, not a random assemblage of proven elements.

Yes, the Moore years had been popular. And most of his movies were fun, when viewed on the proper level. (Hey, I even like Moonraker. Kind of.) But they continued to be released to diminishing returns--audiences still showed up, but they likely went home feeling empty. In the era of Star Wars and the Indiana Jones pictures, spectacle for its own sake wasn't enough anymore.

The common perception is, Dalton's two Bond outings were failures, and he nearly killed the series. In fact, The Living Daylights was a success on a par with Moore's later outings--the glory days of the series were simply behind it. And while License To Kill did underperform financially, it was due more to a crowded marketplace and poor advertising--though not officially based on a Fleming novel, it contained more of a feel for his work than any movie since On Her Majesty's Secret Service. And it likely gave the producers some sort of baseline when they rebooted the franchise--keep the serious tone of the Dalton pictures while re-adding the elegance of the Connery years.

And it worked, mostly. The Pierce Brosnan era was certainly the most financially successful the series had been in ages (though not as successful as often claimed--I'll try getting to that in a future post), but creatively, they sure were a mixed bag. Goldeneye was about as good as it could possibly have been, and I still say time will confirm my view that The World Is Not Enough is one of the best of all, but Brosnan's run was marked by a thin patina of flop sweat, as if the producers weren't quite sure of themselves, tossing in elements at will, consciously tooling the character and his stories to what they thought audiences wanted, not to what the filmmakers wanted.

Sadly for Brosnan, his tenure ended in a blaze of bad faith, as Die Another Day tries so desperately to be all things to all audiences, it fails on even the simplest level: it's downright unwatchable, from the cartoonish CGI to the already-dated speedramping and AVID-crazed editing to the unwanted cameo from past-her-prime icon Madonna. It's easy enough to see what it tried to do: Combine a Fleming-styled grittiness with the broad spectacle of the Moore era. But it has no idea how to do either, and fails miserably at both.

It did okay at the box office, but so had recent Bond knock-offs like xXx. And just because it made money doesn't mean anyone liked it. If felt like just another disposable entertainment, there and gone. After being the Bond that recaptured the public's interest, would Pierce Brosnan kill the series?

No. But first, Brosnan's Bond would have to die.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


As I promised (or threatened, depending on your perspective) yesterday, this is shaping up to be James Bond Week around here, if for no other reason than I've derived so much pleasure from recent viewings of Thunderball.

This is the movie in which the Bond series officially entered its rock star phase. Though the first two films in the series had been popular enough to continue making more, the public reaction to the third, Goldfinger, was something akin to the reaction to Star Wars in its initial release: It was not only a massive box office success but a huge cultural happening, the source of hundreds of spoofs and knock-offs, and referenced repeatedly in the media of the day.

But despite the reaction after the fact, Goldfinger the movie is actually relatively modest, almost austere. Thunderball would be the first film made in actual reaction to the Bond craze, the first time the producers deliberately set out on a path of bigger and better. And it would set a pattern that would effect the Bond series, mostly negatively, for the next twenty years.

First let me say, I love this movie. It has one of the best teasers in the series, Maurice Binder's titles and John Barry's score rank among their best, the physical settings are stunning and it features two of the hottest Bond babes, Claudine Auger and Luciana Paluzzi. (Both redheads, incidentally.) The action sequences are beautifully staged, the underwater photography is gorgeous, the dialogue is witty--it's a lot of fun to watch.


Though money was clearly spent freely in its production, Thunderball was obviously made rather quickly, to cash in on its pop cultural moment. Things happen to impress us, not because they make any sense: Bond eludes some minor henchmen by donning a jetpack that materializes out of nowhere, MI6 stages a top secret meeting in a hallway with huge open windows so anyone could peek inside. (Though it makes no sense, that set is one of Ken Adam's most memorable creations; it was with this film that his production design officially became the key creative element in the series.)

More distressingly, Bond himself shifts from insouciance to outright boorishness. Though his repeated humiliations of supervillain Largo are fun to watch (particularly his skeet-shooting oneupmanship--that scene makes me laugh out loud every time), they make Bond seem like a smug prick, and fatally weaken Largo's status as a threat. Since it's impossible to seriously believe our hero is in any serious danger at any time, there can be no real suspense.

Some fans feel Thunderball marked the point where Sean Connery started phoning it in, but that's not really true. He does everything that is asked of him quite well, but he has no character to play. If it seems at times as though he's just going through the motions, well, so is Bond himself. He seems to exist primarily to nail beautiful women, punch bad guys and make atrocious puns. He's just a prop, moving through elegant settings, accompanied by incredibly cool music, but there's nothing to him, no life, no depth, nothing.

And that, unfortunately, is how he would continue to be played. Though I dearly love the next entry in the series, You Only Live Twice (it has Barry's most drop-dead gorgeous theme song, among other things), its story makes even less sense than Thunderball's, and the whole thing is even more blatantly a series of Ken Adam's Greatest Hits. After that, a brief reprieve--On Her Majesty's Secret Service, not only my favorite Bond picture but one of my favorite movies, period. For one brief, shining moment, the Bond series returned to solid storytelling, adding a new factor: emotional resonance.

But then it was back to light-hearted foolishness with Diamonds Are Forever, and once Roger Moore took over as Bond, jokiness became the order of the day. True, Moore had his moments, and For Your Eyes Only is mostly excellent (though its teaser is one of the worst things in the Bond canon), but the series seemed destined to play itself out as a series of tired jokes, exotic locations and nonsensical plots.

Fortunately, that would change...

Monday, January 05, 2009


Recent repeated viewings of Thunderball (a big thanks to Paul for giving me the remastered DVD for Christmas) have led me to two conclusions: 1) I'm probably going to spend much of this week writing about James Bond pictures (again), and 2) John Barry is an absolute genius.

Barry, of course, is revered for his Bond scores, as well as his ultra-romantic scores for Somewhere In Time and Out Of Africa, but I've been spending plenty of time on the Interweb exploring his pre-film scoring days as the leader of the instrumental combo The John Barry Seven. So I found this gem, an instrumental piece called Zapata, which sounds for all the world like it came from one of Ennio Morricone's Western scores. But it predates those, and was apparently an admitted influence on Morricone. Since Morricone has always loomed far higher in my personal pantheon than Barry, the very existence of this work is forcing me to do some reevaluating.

In any event, this piece kicks ass.

Sunday, January 04, 2009


Almost asleep, the comfort of dreamland within sight, then--CHUK CHUK CHUK.

Delmar's curled up beside me, so it must be Monika in the litter box. Great. This'll take awhile.

CHUK CHUK CHUK CHUK CHUK CHUK CHUK. The sound of her scratching at the litter. All this before she actually tends to her business, which takes no time at all. But the preliminaries--that can take a full minute or two. And even though the litter box is in another room, it's as loud as thunder.

Then, of course, once she's done, the dainty little creature must cover her unsightly mess. So CHUK CHUK CHUK CHUK CHUK, scratching at the litter, this time for three whole minutes. Three minutes--I counted.

A few minutes later, she hops up on the bed, but as if on cue, Delmar hops down. And heads for the litter box. CHUK CHUK CHUK. I turn on the TV, just to drown out the noise, and flip channels until Del reappears.

Then I shut off the TV, snuggle under the blanket--SHHHHHKKKK! Monika is pushing her water dish around, and as it scrapes along the tile floor of the bathroom (I keep it in the bathroom so it's separate from the food dish, otherwise both cats would dunk their food in the water), I look at Del, still sitting at the foot of the bed. Somehow, I know as soon as Monika is done pointlessly pushing the dish, he'll take his turn.

It's going to be one of those nights.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


It's the weekend, I have to work, I'm in a bad mood, I overslept, I still have laundry to other words, no time for anything but a clip job.

But good clips, with some great music. John Barry's title number for the British teensploitation epic Beat Girl is about as awesome as it gets, plus we get the incredibly hot Gillian Hills working her pout. I've never actually seen this movie, but with Hills, a spaz-dancing Oliver Reed and Christopher Lee as a pimp(!), how bad could it be?

Some Bernard Herrmann? Why not? Here's the theme music from Taxi Driver.

And might as well wrap this up with some Kurt Weill, with lyrics by the always-sunny Bertolt Brecht.

Friday, January 02, 2009


A few headlines from today's New York Times:

In A Broadening Offensive, Israel Steps Up Diplomacy

Well, yes. If your definition of "diplomacy" is "slaughtering hundreds of civilians for no apparent reason," then they're stepping up diplomacy. I could suggest the notion that since Israel's right-wing leadership seems determined to wipe Palestinians from the face of the earth, using Hamas as a boogeyman to justify their murderous racism, the word "genocide" would be a more appropriate term than diplomacy.

But to even suggest such a thing would result in being labeled anti-Semitic, so forget I even brought it up.

Donald E. Westlake, Mystery Writer, Is Dead At 75

I could have devoted the whole post to this. If you've never read any of Westlake's books, do so immediately. I'd start with his Parker novels, published under the pen name Richard Stark and which are among the finest, toughest crime novels ever written. You should read The Axe, even though it doesn't quite live up to its ambitions, and any of his old paperback originals, some of which have been recently republished. Oh, and I suppose his series of comic novels featuring professional thief John Dortmunder (imagine Jim Rockford on the other side of the law), though they strike me as Westlake's most formulaic creations.

The point is, Westlake was one of the best and, despite his advanced age, remained prolific as ever. A sad way to start the new year.

Kung Fu Monks Asked For Tourism Blessings

Any headline using the phrase "Kung Fu Monks" is automatically awesome.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


She dangles her feet off the jetty, curling and uncurling her toes in the water. He sits beside her, cross-legged, lazily holding her hand. They sit in silence for several minutes, then she clears her throat. "Okay, I know I shouldn't, but I have to ask you something."

He slowly, instinctively withdraws his hand. "Okay..."

"Well, I'm just wondering what we're doing here."

"What do you mean?"

She gestures at the surrounding beach. "This. This whole day. What was it about?"

"Something to do..." He shrugs. "Like I told you, my grandma used to live out here. I thought you might like seeing it."

"It's not that I didn't want to see it, it's just--" She stops, looks at his face, looks out at the water. "It just feels like our usual pattern. We fought last night, today we're off doing something, like if we run away from home for the day it'll magically make everything okay."

"No, it's not like that. I just thought this might be fun." He unwraps his legs and moves ever so slightly away from her. "Apparently, I was wrong."

She hugs herself as if keeping warm. "I just feel like we fight all the time. And we never resolve anything, we just kind of ignore it and go on to something else. But I don't like that. I want things to have an ending. I want to know where we stand."

"I love you. Does that mean anything?"

"I love you, too. But God, that's not the solution, you know? Okay, we love each other, but love is this big, complicated thing and...It's like, I love my parents, but I couldn't live with them."

He stands. "What are you saying? Is this it? Just like that?"

"No. No! Didn't you hear what I just said? 'I love you'? But, God, we're together so much, all the time, really. When we're home, we're together, when we go out, we go out together. Maybe we shouldn't. Maybe we need time apart from each other."

"So...What are you saying? You love me, and you don't want to break up with me, but you don't want to live with me?"

"You're really not listening to me, are you?" She pauses, as if wondering whether to continue. "After last night, after the things we said to each other, I didn't really feel like spending the day with you, you know? I wanted to be by myself, or with friends. My friends, the friends I wish I had more of, since most of my friends were your friends first. I feel like I don't have a life of my own here, I only have my life with you."

"I didn't...I don't..."

"And I know you don't mean for it to be like that, and I know you don't realize I feel trapped sometimes, but I do. You love me so much it's overpowering, and sometimes it's too much. Sometimes I just want to be alone. right now."

He stands for a few seconds or a few minutes, like he's waiting for his cue. Finally he says, "We came out here together. You want me to take the car? How will you get back?"

"Taxi. Train. 'Far Rockaway, that's the last stop on the A Train.' See?" She smiles. "I was listening to you."

He fakes a smile, stands for a bit longer, then drops the keys beside her. "I'll feel better if you take the car. The train here can be a little rough for a non-native."

He turns to leave, then stops. "You know the way back?"

"There's signs everywhere. Astoria's not that far away."

He nods, then walks slowly along the beach and up the hill. He turns and looks, she's still sitting there, her feet making ever-wider circles in the water.