Wednesday, June 30, 2010


See, I could have used Larry King's announcement of retirement as an excuse to post a quote from the great man, and as we all know, when that happens around here, it leads to a Random Thoughts post. 

And I thought about that, but my thoughts were derailed by the fact that The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, the cumbersomely-titled new entry in the story of a sparkly vampire and the sullen teen who loves him, opens today, and I should grapple with the fact that the sullen teen in question is named Bella.  Like my dog.

Believe me, I was not thinking of a wannabe Goth chick with low self-esteem when I named my dog.  I mean, the whole Twilight thing pretty much exists outside my sphere of interests, but whenever someone asks the dog's name, I say "Bella," and they'll say...something about that stupid movie.  And I'll just sort of mumble and pretend I'd thought of another name.

Except, you know, I like her name.  It's short for Isabella, which is the name I'd originally chosen for my much-missed German Shepherd Elinore, until my mom pointed out that I'd probably shorten it to Izzy, and I already had a cat named Izzy.  (Izzy Cohen, to be exact, named after the Howlin' Commando with the most ethnically stereotyped name.)  And even though I never thought I'd get another dog after Elinore--the pain of losing her was way too intense--I filed the name away, figuring maybe I'd use it someday.  (Possibly for an actual kid, had I ever had one.)

Anyway...I'm sorry...Where was I?  Something about wanting to write about a couple different things, but not really having anything much to say about either....I dunno.  *sighs*  Hey, here's a girl getting a splinter in her eye!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


It's been awhile since I've written anything here, and I fully intended to come back with the laziest post ever, a clip job.  Specifically, a clip job highlighting one of the most-reviled characters in TV history, Twiki, Gil Gerard's would-be hilarious robot sidekick from the '79 TV series Buck Rogers.  Not a big deal, I was just going to show a morally repugnant scene of Our Boy Twiki hitting on a female robot, a bit that has been floating around YouTube for as long as I can remember.

Except...the listing for the clip is still up on YouTube, but when you try to play it, a notice appears informing you that "this video contains content from NBC Universal, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds."  Unbelievably awkward syntax aside, this notice is infuriating.

I mean, seriously?  Is this another case of NBC zealously guarding its "intellectual property"?  As a writer, I appreciate the notion of copyright protection as much as anyone, but it's not like anyone posting and enjoying clips on YouTube is earning a profit from somebody else's work.  In fact, if the suits at NBC had a lick of sense, they'd realize this is the only way that this particular product can remain viable.

It's not like they're currently raking in a ton of cash from Buck Rogers.  The entire series was released on DVD a few years ago, and it didn't sell particularly well, but even if it had, it wouldn't have sold beyond its fan base, assuming it even has one.  What good does it do to own a property that nobody wants?

But when seen in campy, out-of-context clips on YouTube, the show actually looks entertaining, albeit in a heavily ironic way.  Still, hey, that might get people interested in watching it, perhaps even in picking up the DVD boxed set, if it's on sale or something.  At best, it may make the property slightly more valuable, and at worst, who the hell gets hurt by showcasing brief footage from a deservedly-forgotten TV show?

Free Twiki!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


It's not so much the rain, which has been a daily occurrence around here for weeks, as what comes in its immediate wake: The clouds, still gray, but not so dark, and rushing to the east; the sudden drop in the temperature, as if the mood of nature itself has shifted; and of course, the wind, no longer furious as at the height of the storm, but still insistent, making limbs tremble and grass bow to its will.  Sometimes I only catch glimpses of this spectacle, on my way to and from work, yet it's enough.  My mind reels briefly, and I fall back.

Back to where, exactly?  To a school bus.  I'm five, or seven or nine, sitting next to the window, as I almost always did, trying to ignore the overpowering din shattering my eardrums, a singalong of Ninety-Nine Bottles Of Beer On The Wall or discussion of a TV show from the night before or...I can't remember anymore.  It was my reality, nearly every day between late August and the end of May, and yet I can't remember much about life on the school bus.

Except how the mood always changed when we drove through a storm.  We were farm kids; as young as we were, we knew all too well the consequences of bad weather.  Conversation would dwindle to nothingness, the only sound the THUMP-THUMP of the windshield wipers as they chased each other back and forth, steely sheets of water soaking the beanfields and cornfields that were the only scenery on the way home.

Then the rain would stop, or at least lighten, and the winds diminish, the bus no longer shaking furiously.  Voices would return, tentatively, and the conversation and the singing and whatever else broke out again, but never at the same full volume.

A pleasant background hum, never distracting, and I relaxed, finally able to dig out a book and read.  But what was I reading?  Whatever I'd checked out from the library that day.  There were so many books, and I read them with passion, but how odd: I can't remember a single title or premise of any of them.  I lived under their spell briefly, but they are forgotten now.  Still, it's enough to know that they existed, that they gave me comfort, that under those cold gray skies they provided a literal shelter from the storm.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


A few thoughts on Toy Story 3:

1) Yes, like I suspect every adult who sees this, I cried.  This is certainly a wonderful movie for kids, but the final scene--in which our non-human protagonists realize they must move on to a new point in their lives, and a major human character discovers how far he's grown since childhood, and how he misses it--can really only resonate with people who have lived their lives, suffered loss, made plans that didn't quite work out.

And yes, this scene is extremely sentimental, and perhaps overplays its hand just slightly.  But you know what?  It earns the right to its sentiment.  We've known and loved these characters so long, they have more than earned the right to makes us cry as much as they've made us laugh.

2) And we do love these characters, don't we?  They're smart, they're funny, they're childish and silly and cranky and sad.  Unlike the protagonists of so many movies these days, we want to spend time with Woody, Buzz, Rex and all the rest.  As characters, they're made out of plastic, and they're created out of numbers and zeroes, and yet they seem more real than all the Robert Pattinsons or Megan Foxes of the world.

3) Compared to more recent Pixar efforts, particularly Brad Bird's two films for the studio, Toy Story 3 is a little bit generic.  Wall-E director Andrew Stanton and Up director Pete Docter are both long-term Pixar hands, but there is a genuinely unique sensibility in their films, a filmmaker's voice, that is largely absent here.  This isn't to knock what Lee Unkrich has done with the film.  It's solid, professional work, and the third movie in a series doesn't really allow for much personal expression, anyway.  It feels almost like a throwback to the old studio days, when all the departments functioned so well even a non-auteur like Michael Curtiz could knock out a masterpiece or two.

(Incidentally, I was originally going to compare Pixar to the Arthur Freed unit at MGM, suggesting Bird as the equivalent of the Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen duo, Docter as Vincente Minnelli and Stanton as Charles Walters, but the whole thing fell apart because I couldn't figure out a counterpart for Unkrich.  George Sidney, maybe?  No, that wouldn't work.  Also, Docter-as-Minnelli doesn't entirely make sense, either, but since I'm possibly the only human being on earth who thought of Yolanda And the Thief while watching Up...Ah, forget it.)

4) The opening sequence of Toy Story 3, a frantic action sequence that brings all the characters together in a scenario involving a runaway train, a speeding sports car, an atomic blast and an alien spaceship, is meant to conjure the hyperactive playtime of a seven-year-old boy.  It also feels like every overly-caffeineited Hollywood action movie.  The resemblance is, obviously, intentional, and possibly the best joke in the film.

5) But will any studio executives get the joke?  More to the point, will they look at the huge success of this film, easily dominating a summer full of flops, and realize that if they make a movie that's well-written, well-made, and stuffed full of things that people actually, you know, enjoy, maybe audiences will respond?

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Isabella's chewing the upholstery on the recliner again.  True, it's a well-worn recliner I rescued from a trip to the dumpster, but still--AAUUGGHH!  When it's not the recliner, she's tearing up threads from the carpet, or pawing at power cords, or otherwise showing absolutely zero comprehension of the word, "No."

All of which is exasperating, and results in much apoplectic teeth-gnashing and arm-waving on my part.  (Imagine a cross between Jackie Gleason and Jerry Lewis.)  But despite all the frustration, and even while asking myself why I thought any of this was a good idea in the first place, I realize I finally understand the dog thing.

Don't get me wrong: Cats are awesome. But though they can be pampered, and can certainly be demanding, they don't really need much from people.  Give a cat a fresh litterbox, plenty of food and an adequate supply of water, you can be gone for a week.  True, he may be a little standoffish when you get back, but that's just because you weren't around to provide a lap for sleeping.  It's not like he missed you.

Dogs...aren't like that.  They require a good deal more effort on the part of their human companions, and sometimes that can be frustrating.  For instance, I used to be able to do stuff as soon as I got off work--going out to eat, catching a movie, hanging out with friends, whatever.  But now I have to go home first, because it's been over nine and a half hours since I left for work, and poor Bella needs to be taken for a walk.  Sometimes that seems like such a millstone.

Certainly it's a routine, a ritual enacted with little variation day in and day out.  Yet this routine gives me exercise (I've dropped six pounds in the last month), brings me into contact with my neighbors and allows me to explore new blocks and see aspects of my neighborhood I've only previously seen from behind a steering wheel.

Mostly, though, these walks allow me plenty of bonding time with my beloved baby girl.  Bella is never more blissfully unaware of my existence than when we're out for our afternoon walk, when her nose is low to the ground, catching a new scent every ten seconds or so, every new thing more interesting than the last.  And though she may not notice me much at times like these, I bask in every moment, as she leaps into the air to bat at low-hanging branches, or whips her head around as birds flutter in and out of her peripheral vision, or simply wags her tail furiously over some fresh marvel.  She's living fully in the moment at times like these, and thanks to her, I am, too.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Hollywood is in the midst of one of its periodic tizzies, and with good reason: We're well into the summer movie season, and every weekend brings another heavily-promoted release that tanks immediately.

This past weekend's big loser was the much-unanticipated movie version of The A-Team, a TV show that is fondly remembered by some, but never had the fanatical fan base of, say, Star Trek.  That the movie failed to perform isn't really surprising; the real question is, why did it get made in the first place?

Screens big and small have been littered lately with doomed attempts to revive popular TV shows from the seventies and eighties, and one would have thought by now it would be obvious to even the most thick-skulled executroid that audiences just don't care.  A once-popular title alone doesn't mean anything; the circumstances that made a TV show a hit likely can't be duplicated by even the most dedicated marketing team.  The A-Team may have been successful on TV a generation ago, but did the studio really think that would somehow translate into huge box-office?

Apparently so, because they did absolutely nothing to insure the movie would stand on its own merits.  The cast seemed to have been assembled at random.  Liam Neeson presumably got the gig because of the unexpected popularity of Taken, just as Bradley Cooper's in it because The Hangover was a hit, and Sharlto Copley was cast because of the success of District 9.  Clearly, no more thought was given to the casting process than the financial success of each actors' previous project.  Were they right for their roles?  Hey, it's a would-be tentpole picture!  Who cares about silly things like characterization?

To insure mediocrity down the line, the studio chose Joe Carnahan to direct, a guy who, in a perfect world, would go back to moving furniture.  Carnahan's continued ability to find employment is a case study in everything wrong with the movie business right now.  His debut feature, Blood, Guts, Bullets And Octane announced itself as a third-rate Tarantino knock-off by its very title, and his gritty, realistic cop movie, Narc, played as an imitation of James Gray's similar cops-and-criminals character studies, which are themselves largely imitations of Sidney Lumet.  Carnahan followed that with the dismal Smokin' Aces, yet another desperate Tarantino wannabe.

It's not that Carnahan is untalented, exactly, but he clearly has never had an original idea--his movies are full of things you've seen before, and better.  More to the point, none of his previous films were successful critically or with audiences.  If you were a studio head betting big bucks on what you hoped would be a new franchise, wouldn't you want to hire people with a proven track record?

You might, but you're not running a studio.  The thing with The A-Team isn't just that it flopped over the weekend, but that those who did show up, according to tracking numbers, were mostly disappointed.  Think about that for a second.  Nobody would go to a movie like this expecting high art, but it clearly failed to deliver even a modest level of entertainment.

How hard is that to achieve, really?  Audiences don't demand much from summer movies, but they expect them to be watchable.  But with the likes of The A-Team, Sex And The City 2, Killers, Get Him To The Greek, Prince Of Persia, Robin Hood and so on, it's like studios are willfully turning out crap, performing some sort of experiment to see just how bad a movie can be before audiences turn away completely.  Maybe at some point they'll try making good movies, just to see what happens, but...nah, probably not.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


With considerably more ooh-ing and ah-ing from the assembled masses than accompanied the Sermon On The Mount, Steve Jobs officially revealed the iPhone 4 this week, and those media types in attendance who touched the hem of His garment--sorry, I mean handled the phone personally--agreed that it is indeed The Greatest Thing Ever.  It's smaller than the previous iPhone, it's sleeker, it has hi-def resolution, it has multi-function capabilities which allow you to run numerous apps at once, which  I guess?

Hell, I don't know.  The point seems to be, you'll never need another media device, ever.  It's the best phone you'll ever own, unless you want to call someone, since Apple inexplicably maintains its ties with the notoriously unreliable AT&T network, but whatever.  Who makes phone calls anymore, when all your friends are online?

On a totally unrelated note, a new study by researchers at the University of Michigan shows a marked decrease in levels of empathy among college students today.  When presented with simple statements such as "I sometimes have tender feelings for those less fortunate than me," students were 40 percent more likely to issue a negative response than their counterparts in decades past. 

The study did not seek to analyze the reasons for this drop in compassion, but the director of the project, Sara Konrath, was willing to hazard a guess.  "The increase in exposure to media during this time period could be one factor," she said.  "Compared to thirty years ago, the average American is now exposed to three times as much information."

Indeed, though calling much of what we're exposed to "information" seems a bit kind.  Mostly we're confronted with sensation, empty experience, most of it from several directions at once.  Texting a friend on your phone while also updating your Facebook status on your laptop while sipping an overpriced drink at Starbucks means you're not really devoting your attention to any single task, and while the coffee at Starbucks isn't really worth savoring, many things in life are. 

The bitter irony here couldn't be more thuddingly obvious, and yet so many people seem still unable to get the point: The very technology that was supposed to bring us all together has instead driven us all apart.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


1) Yeah, another wholly random and out-of-context Larry King quote, which I guess signifies another Random Thoughts post.  Only this one isn't so much random as a few things that have been annoying me lately, minor nuisances that aren't worth more than a paragraph or two.  Still deserving of wrath, though.

2) A ubiquitous pop-up ad at The New York Times promotes Cirque du Soleil's new show, something called Banana Shpeel.  Instead of the usual self-consciously arty line-up of contortionists and whatnot that is Soleil's usual fare, this is apparently a salute to vaudeville, featuring a trio of clowns (or, to use the preferred nomenclature, "funsters") bedeviling a conniving impresario...or something.  Who the hell cares?

The point is, the ad for this thing bills it as "a collection of ha-has, la-las and ta-das," and dear God, has there ever been a less appealing tagline in the history of advertising?  There is no way anybody, anywhere, would be drawn to such a thing.  It's like the producers of this thing suddenly realized they'd made a show with clowns as heroes, and wanted to warn people away.  Mission most definitely accomplished.

3) While it might seem hopelessly insular to rag on a local free weekly, the Des Moines-based yuppie funtime rag Juice is after all available to everyone everywhere thanks to the miracle of the Interweb, and besides, it's so consistently awful it needs to be thrashed whenever possible.

The most recent issue featured a profile of the paper's brand-new advice columnist, Chris Gardner, a local boy who once wrote for People and Variety but has inexplicably chosen to return to Des Moines to write for a shitty giveaway.  Anyway, in his first column, he offers this bit of wisdom to a young woman who is concerned that all of her friends are getting pregnant and making her feel self-conscious: "Girl, I gotta give you snaps for recognizing you and your husband aren't ready, but shame on your friends and fam for pressuring you to relocate to familytown." 

It goes on from there, but at this point, any sentient reader has crumpled the paper and thrown it away, unless they're reading online, in which case, they're wondering how much it'll cost to replace the monitor they just punched.

4) Somebody suggested a lame running Saturday Night Live sketch would make a good movie, and somebody else agreed.  The result was MacGruber, which in its third week of release found its box-office receipts dropping ninety percent from the week before.  The people responsible for this earn more in a year than I'll make in a lifetime, and will inexplicably not be tried for crimes against humanity.

Monday, June 07, 2010


Having a little bit of time to kill today, I ducked into a Salvation Army store, absent-mindedly thinking I might find some cheap bookshelves or something.

What I found instead was a graveyard, a stark reminder of the inevitable passing of all things.  There will always be remnants of obsolete technology in a thrift shop, the occasional 8-track tape or off-brand turntable.  But when they sit unloved and unwanted on shelves, passed over even by kitsch collectors, all the Anne Murray lps, the tube TV sets, the boxless, homemade VHS tapes, Selectric typewriters and ColecoVision cartridges seem to take on an almost unbearable poignance.  The world they were made for no longer exists, and yet they still exist, ready to perform whatever task was once asked of them.

The music piped through the store seemed in a strange way to reinforce the eerie mood--a "Best of the eighties, nineties and today!" radio station, blandly pumping out the likes of Jason Mraz, Jason Fucking Mraz, music seemingly designed to be as non-threatening as possible, and utterly disposable.  Popular now, but soon destined to seem as strange as the copy of the You Light Up My Life soundtrack which somehow made its way into my hands.

The thought of buying it flickered across my brain, to see if this slab of vinyl could act as a sort of time machine, to take me back to the person I was back in 1977, when the title song played on the radio in a seemingly endless loop.  But now that song, and all this now-failed technology, once so bright and shiny, seemed so old, and what did that say about my past?

And what does it say about my present, or anybody's?

Friday, June 04, 2010


So I was wasting time at The Huffington Post--yeah, yeah, I know, but where else can you read political analysis by the likes of Sean Combs?--when I saw a photo of two people I didn't recognize under the ominous headline IT'S OVER.  Being a naive, trusting sort, I clicked on the photo and was immediately linked to People magazine's website, where I discovered the anonymous divorcing couple turned out to be...Mark-Paul Gosselaar and his wife?  Seriously?

Does anyone, anywhere, care about the private life of the erstwhile Zack Morris?  Even if I did have an inexplicable obsession with Saved By The Bell (and I'm not admitting anything), I would still say that Gosselaar is a non-entity, and he should have dropped off the tabloid radar about the time he stopped being profiled in Teen Beat.  I realize he's a working actor and all, but hell, Lark Voorhees still gets gigs, and it's not like I have to read details of her private life anywhere.

These people aren't even celebrities on the Danny Bonaduce level.  I mean, I think we all assume Screech will be found dead any day now (my bet: autoerotic asphyxiation), and his former castmates will try with all their might to say something nice about him, and when this happens, I sincerely hope that is the last we will ever hear about the behind-the-scenes lives of anyone connected with Saved By The Bell.

Until Mr. Belding does a sex tape.  Because that seems inevitable.

Thursday, June 03, 2010


1) Yes, another Larry King quote, signifying as always another Random Thoughts post.  This particular quote, as you might have guessed, is lifted from his scintillating interview with Lady Gaga.  Asking an entertainer when she became interested in performing--that's the kind of probing, daring question that made Larry King what he is today.

2) Long-time readers of this site--both of you!--may remember how often I would go off on some screed or other, usually decrying the Bush administration, or the sorry state of the Democratic party, or just vent on some international incident of some sort.  Clearly, I don't do that sort of thing anymore.

And the massive oil spill in the Gulf explains why.  Everything about this--from the blatant lies perpetrated by BP officials from the very beginning, to the hapless dithering of Team Obama in response, to the widespread death of so many living things, both in the water and above it--is, well, unbelievably depressing.  Given the somewhat fragile nature of my psyche, it just seems wise to avoid thinking about this sort of thing too much.  Kind of a cop-out, and a type of attitude I once would have decried as unforgivably disengaged, but what can I say?  Just scanning the front page of The New York Times makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry. 

3) Speaking of things that are deeply depressing, the long-unawaited remake of Footloose is apparently scheduled to start shooting this summer, despite the fact that it seems to have no cast or script yet, but hey, whatever.  The most-jaw-dropping aspect of this whole enterprise is the studio's claim that this version will differ from the original by focusing less on elaborate dance numbers and more on the drama of the story.  Because, yeah, that's what everyone who has ever seen Footloose was thinking: This would be so much better if it was gritty and, you know, real.

I don't even know why they're bothering with this thing anyway.  It was originally announced in the wake of the whole High School Musical hoo-ha--in fact, it was originally intended as a star vehicle for Zac Effron--but it makes no sense now.  I can't imagine any audience for this thing, but they're going to waste precious money and time cranking it out anyway.

How many good movies aren't getting made because studios are wasting their resources on crap like this?

4) Today's gratuitous musical clip comes is of early eighties Frank Zappa, with special guest vocalist Jimmy Carl Black: Harder Than Your Husband.

5) Jeez, sorry, it seems I didn't really have that many Random Thoughts worth expressing. Still, at least I'm not going on about the dog again. At least, not yet.