Breaking The Silence

Sometimes, you hold a secret that’s so inflammatory, so divisive, so certain to lead to sturm und drang, that you just hang onto it.  You keep it bottled up inside, and let it fester, for months, years, even decades.

Sometimes you take those secrets to the grave.

But sometimes – rarely, but it blessedly happens – something allows you to break the silence, and let the secret out, and let the truth be known.

This is one of those times.

Madeline LeBeau

The last surviving credited cast member from the movie “Casablanca”, French actress Madeline LeBeau, has died.  She was 92.

LeBeau, in a still from a scene cut from “Casablanca”

The cause was complications from a broken thigh bone, her stepson, documentary filmmaker and mountaineer Carlo Alberto Pinelli, told the Hollywood Reporter.

Ms. LeBeau (sometimes credited as Lebeau) was the last surviving credited cast member of “Casablanca” (1942), which the American Film Institute lists as the second greatest movie of all time. “Citizen Kane” is No. 1, according to the film preservation group.

She played Rick Blaine’s (Humphrey Bogart) jilted girlfriend in the early part of the movie…:

I have no idea where the subtitles come from. Bizarre.

…and then reappeared during the famous “La Marseillaise” scene:

(Along with her husband at the time, Emil the Croupier, who hands Major Renault his winnings at the end of the clip).

In The Closet

While Hollywood (a wholly owned subsidary of the American Left) toes the left’s designated political line, they get almost…conservative, sometimes, when the proverbial chips are down:

On some issues, Hollywood can be downright right-wing. From the value of guns in The Walking Dead to the honor of police in countless dramas to the importance of family in most sitcoms, there is a lot more conservatism, broadly understood, on TV than conservatives or liberals ever notice.

And so it is with abortion. With the exception of Maude (an awful left-wing 1970s TV show)  and some “edgy” HBO series, there have been no major sitcoms in which a character has had an abortion.

I’d add Neve Campbell’s “Julia Salinger” from Party of Five which, it’s alarming to note, was 22 years ago.

Why? Well, one reason is abortions aren’t funny. There’s no reason to write a storyline in which a character gets pregnant only to decide later not have a baby. That’s not a punch line, it’s a tragedy. Even the very liberal Mindy Kaling, star and producer of The Mindy Project, says the show won’t touch the issue of abortion — and Kaling plays a gynecologist.

And so while politics is downstream of culture, at least some part of the culture business finds it in its interest to remember that most people are, broadly, conservative.

Fear The Walking Dead: Exit 288

SCENE: The prairie.  It’s the dead of winter.  The sky sweeps above in 180 degrees of piercing blue, studded with a few isolated scudding clouds, pale with the reflections of frozen ice crystals in the air, as the very humidity itself is frozen.  The wind is light – 10 mph – as it sweeps across the plains.   As far as the eye can see, there is snow.  

A squad car rolls up a four lane freeway.  Behind the wheel, Officer Tom CHRISTIANSON, a Barnes County sheriff’s deputy, sails briskly up the road, his whoopie lights turned off.  CHRISTIANSON, a trim, purposeful man in his late thirties, looks tired, even a little haggard, but his eyes are focused and fierce.    The camera briefly focuses on a green freeway sign:  “Fargo 72; Valley City 12”.  And then another:  “Exit 288 – No Services”.

CHRISTIANSON slows and pulls up behind a Ford F150 Club Cab, which is idling on the shoulder of the eastbound lane just east of the exit  He climbs out of his squad car, dons his stetson, and walks up to the pickup, his breath steaming in the bitter cold as it blows away.  

Jake and Donna STADEL, a thirty-something couple, are standing by the tailgate.  Jake is carrying a hunting rifle; Donna, a long-barreled hunting shotgun.   CHRISTIANSON shakes Jake and then Donna’s hands.  

CHRISTIANSON:  Jake.  Donna.

J STADEL:   Deputy.

D STADEL:   Tom.

J STADEL:   So is it true what they’ve been saying?

CHRISTIANSON:  (Shakes head in a way that says “just a little numb from fatigue and confusion”).  No idea.  Last thing anyone knows is that all the TV and cable networks went off the air.

J STADEL:   Did you see that one live newscast where they…

D STADEL:  …overran the news crew live on the air, on camera…

J STADEL:  In the middle of that riot?

(All three go silent, shaking their heads, wincing in horror at the horrid memory).

CHRISTIANSON:   Yep.  I did.

J STADEL:   So they’re saying they (thumb points over shoulder, off-camera to the right) are pretty much everywhere these days?

CHRISTIANSON:   The whole east coast.  All of California.  The whole deep south.  Even the desert southwest.  The last ham-radio transmissions say they’re pretty much the only thing left walking in those parts of the country.   There’s a few survivors, I suppose, but they’re few and far between.

J STADEL:  Jeez.

D STADEL:  God.

CHRISTIANSON:  Yep.

J STADEL:  So we’re…

CHRISTIANSON:  Us and South Dakota, northern Minnesota, Montana, the U.P,. Alaska, Manitoba and Saskatchewan and parts of Alberta, Russia, Finland…

(All three shake their heads as the thought trails off).

CHRISTIANSON:  Well, thanks for calling this in.  Let’s get to it.

(Camera pulls back and pans right, and we see a large herd of zombies trailing off to the east, perhaps two hundred of them – all of them frozen stiff; a few jerk fitfully about and hack and gack feebly; most are utterly frozen.  The three grab machetes and axes, and walk toward group and start hacking).

CHRISTIANSON:  You still doing poker on Friday, Jake?  (Grunts has he hacks off a frozen head)

J STADEL:  Oh, ya.  You betcha. Won’t be there until after Shania’s basketball game.  (Plunges knife into zombie skull)

CHRISTIANSON:  How’s the team doing this year?

D STADEL:  She’s finally getting enough playing time.  Now we just gotta get her chemistry grade up…  (Smashes a head with an axe)

CHRISTIANSON:  I had to take away Ashley’s X-box…

(Fade to black over mundane small talk as the three matter-of-factly go about lopping off frozen zombies).  

(And SCENE)

The Stench Of Death

You walked in off of First Avenue in Jamestown, the sky still dark at 5AM, turned your key and tugged on an aluminum door frame that fit a little tight in its jamb, and stepped into a building that dated back to before 1900; on the main floor was White Drug – the first Whites in what is still today a major regional chain.

You walked up eighteen stone stairs to a small landing, turned left, and walked up six more, to a terrazzo-floored hallway.  To your left was an insurance office, dark and quiet  As you turned right, to your right was a law office of some kind.  But you walked straight ahead, toward the rear of the building.

On the right, after the men’s room, was a soundproof aluminum door that led into a room not much bigger than a walk-in closet.  We’ll come back to that.

Next to it?  Through a couple of large glass windows, a room, jammed with antique electrical and electronic equipment; closest to the window, a large, battleship-gray control console, looking a little like the front of a 1940 Buick; a control panel built literally before World War II, all Bakelite knobs and control keys, a couple of exquisitely-balanced VU meters bouncing their stately way back and forth – very unlike the meters that accompanied the age of cheap stereo gear, all herky-jerky and frenetic.  The meters seemed, themselves, to the throwbacks to a slower, more deliberate time.

To the right of the chair were two ancient turntables; to the left, a couple of bins of records.  Behind it?  Stacks of transmitter controls and reel-to-reel and cassette tape decks, and a couple of  “plectrons” – basically 1960’s versions of what we’d call “pagers” in the 1980’s, before even the pager became passe; about the size of a late ’90’s IBM PC, they carried fire calls, for the city and rural fire departments.  Each of the town’s volunteer firemen had one at home; the radio stations had ’em too.

Behind the stacks of gear?  Stacks of albums.  Thousands of them, tucked into wall shelves; stuff that’d be treasures today, sought after by rock and roll vinyl collectors (first-edition Beatles and Stones albums from the sixties), or retro collectors (obscure albums by Dean Martin, Perry Como, and even Lorne Greene); genres that haven’t shared shelf space in decades; modern jazz, forties pop, even copies of Devo and Ramones albums that snuck in there some how.  There was no rhyme or reason.  It was a huge jumble.

A door at the back led into the “closet” a few paragraphs back – the “newsroom”.  A single steel desk and a couple of file cabinets and, to your left, chattering away 24/7, an AP teletype, sitting in a closet, churning through boxes of yellow-y fanfold paper a week; an endless rotation of international headlines, national news, North Dakota and Tri-State news, National and North Dakota/Tri-state scores, and of course weather.  Forecasts updated hourly; extended forecasts and 24-hour temperature summaries; occasionally when things were slow, “lites” – funny stories – and, once a day around midnights, “pronouncers”, lists of phonetic pronunciations of names in the news (which were pretty vital, in 1980, as American newsmen learned how to convey news about Sadegh Ghotzbzadeh to the public).

Going to work on a Saturday morning at 5AM, the first job was to turn on the power to the transmitter and its remote controls; the transmitter was a mile and a half away, next to where the James River passed under I94, by the road to the State Hospital.  You turned on the big box full of vaccuum tubes – the station was years away from going solid-state – and watched the needles climb into their nominal operating range, noting the readings on the transmitter log.

Then, you went into the newsroom, and gathered up the 100 feet of fanfold copy that had streamed out overnight.  You rolled it up, hauled it through the studio, and into a room on the other side, with a table that seated eight people, and a small remote control board with a “1931” date stamp on the back, all brownish-red burled metal and impeccably-balanced bakelite knobs, nursed along year to year by a patient engineering staff and a famously penurious boss.   Although you didn’t know what “talk radio” was yet, and neither did anyone else, it was where the station’s owner and the news director hosted a one-hour daily talk show, five days a week, with guests from around town.

You sat down at the table, and started ripping and sorting the wire copy.  National news, regional, local, sports and weather – you’d wind up reading a little of each several times over the next ten hours.  With a little practice, you could flense 100 feet of wire copy down into neat stacks in a half hour, stack them into newscasts – you’d have full-hour news, weather and sportscasts at 6AM, 7AM and noon – buy a coke from the vending machine next to the boss’ office (across and down the hall), and wait for 5:50AM.

Then, it was time to flip the “Plates” control to “on”; this sent power to the transmitter’s final output stage.  It was accompanied by a buzzing, and smell of ozone, as vacuum tubes engaged and power and signal started moving through the wires.  You took readings voltage and wattage readings from the output stage and antenna, wrote them on the transmitter log, “signed on” the station with your signature on the log…

…and pulled out tape the tape cartridge that would accompany your signon.

The clock ticked to straight-up 5:55AM.  You flipped the key on the main board mike to “on”, and read – or, after a few Saturdays, recited – the sign-on script that had ushered the station on the air seven days a week since 1949.

At this time, radio station KEYJ in Jamestown, North Dakota, begins the broadcast day.  KEYJ operates at a frequency of fourteen-hundred kilocycles at one thousand watts daytime and 250 watts at night, by authority of the Federal Communications Commission, and is owned and operated by KEYJ Incorporated of Jamestown, North Dakota.

We invite you to stay tuned to KEYJ for the latest in news, weather, sports, and information.  Good morning!

You then punched the “start” button to your tape cartridge machine – a “Cart”, which looked and functioned just like an eight-track tape – which launched the National Anthem.  At the end of which, you read the day’s forecast and long-range forecast, which took you to the 6AM newscast from Associated Press Radio.

And your day began.

That was how I spent my Saturday mornings in high school – at a little 1000 watt AM radio station; on the air from 5:55AM to 3PM; hours of news and info at 7, 8 and noon; “Trading Post” (a half-hour swap and shop show) at 10, and usually a taped Class B high school game of some sort or another after 1PM.

KEYJ launched a lot of careers; many of the biggest names in North Dakota radio started at KEYJ.  Not just North Dakota, either – Terry Ingstad, known to a couple generations of LA listeners as “Shadoe Stevens”, started there in the sixties; his youngest brother, Dick, a year a head of me in high school and a good friend, showed me the ropes when the boss and longtime owner, Bob Richardson, finally hired me in August of ’79.

KEYJ was sold to a group of slickee boys who tried to run it like a major-market station – including firing all the locals, including me, and changing the call letters to the charmless “KQDJ” – and failed in about a year.  More management teams came and went; the station changed hands many times, became a satellite oldies station, moved out of the old office above White Drug to a soulless little shack on the south hill, and finally became an “ESPN Sports” affiliate – like many small stations today, it has no local staff; it’s basically a computer in a closet, like Hillary’s email server, pumping digitally-sequence product and commercials to the transmitter (which is still in the same place, at least).

Like so much of the radio industry, it’s dead to me today.

Claudia Lamb writes about the implosion at once-great KGO in San Francisco – once the WCCO of the West Coast.   It illustrates a lot of what has ailed, and ultimately destroyed, most of the radio industry in the past 20 years, taking it from a thriving industry to a drain-circling corpse (outside of certain niche markets, like Spanish, Sports and conservative talk).

Worth a read.

Great Expectations

First, let me establish a couple things.

I’ve never really been into comic books. It just wasn’t really a thing when I was a kid.   I won’t say “you stopped reading comic books when you were 12” where I came from.  But I guess I did.

And while I am a pretty “live and let live” kind of guy, who is perfectly fine letting people have their own foibles and peccadilloes, I’ve always found over-the-top comic book fans inscrutable. That’s a polite way to put it; I’m tempted to mock intolerant people who get into holy wars about the DC and Marvel “universes”.

Comedy? Or documentary? You be the judge.

Like Star Trek fans writing each other out of their wills for preferring “Next Generation” over the Gene Roddenberry original, or Star Wars fans literally – I’m not making this up – screaming in anger over George Lucas’ re-editing of the Cantina scene in Srar Wars.  I’ve always found the obsessions of fanboys worth a chuckle: “Comic Store Guy” may be the only character on The Simpsons that really sticks with me;  he’s so brilliantly dead on, I can practically smell the waves of postadolescent funk rolling off of him. There just isn’t much in comic book “culture” that’s ever interested me.  (Except, of course, for The Flaming Carrot, which was a glorious spoof of comic book “culture”, and Queen and Country, which was just cool. Shut up).

And adaptations of comic books? X-Men? Captain America? Iron Man? Avengers? I’ve never watched any of them. I really just don’t care.

This ain’t hell. But it’s close.

So I’m probably as surprised as you are that I ever tuned in AMCs “The Walking Dead”. Moreso, in fact; I’ve always hated the horror genre, zombie movies in particular.

But I binge watched the first four seasons on Netflix; for seasons five and six, the weekly installments are just about the only thing I ever watch on my actual TV anymore.  It’s generally more or less capably written, frequently well acted, and by hook or crook generally winds up being a fairly addictive watch, even for this famously nonaddictive viewer.

“Hey – didn’t you play an almost identical part in Jericho?

But the most interesting thing about The Walking Dead is it’s timing. Think about previous shows that won the title of “number one show on television”; they cover a wide stretch of the media waterfront, obviously, but most of them have something to do with the mood of the nation at the time.

And for the last six years, the most popular show on American television is about a small group of misbegotten friends and neighbors surviving a civilization-ending catastrophe.  In the age of Obama, the number one show through most of the administration has been about complete, absolute, existential collapse.

And so I watch.

A cliffhanger out of a mole hill: if you have been near a browser or television for the past few weeks, don’t kid yourself; you’ve heard people talking about TWD’s season six finale, last Sunday night.

There has been much Sturm und Drang about the episode;  superfans, especially the ones who go back to the comic book, have referred to it as a “jumping the shark” moment.

Of course, they tend to be the same people who get disappointed by episodes where there is more story and less chopping off zombie heads, so I take that with a grain – no, a block –  of salt.

So I won’t go that far. Fact is, I expected a lot from last Sunday’s season finale – and year in, year out, the show has delivered.

But I have a couple of big beefs with the story, anyway.

“Negan”. The comic version. Not that it makes much difference at this point.

The first is with the idea of the Omniscient Villain.  To fully explain this, I have to throw out a bunch of spoilers – so I won’t.

But the worst, dumbest, most insulting overstretch of the imagination and over suspension of disbelief?

One of my favorite characters is Abraham – a grizzled veteran of combat, not just against zombies but against actual armed, trained humans.

Patton’s armored column drives toward the Elbe River. No, just kidding. It’s the group, debouching from their chosen combat vehicle.

The season finale asked us to accept the notion that a supposedly seasoned veteran of actual armed combat, would accept the idea that, although the party is at war with a large, powerful, human enemy (not to mention a countryside awash in zombies), he would allow Rick to load the entire group, including the sick pregnant girl, into a Winnebago – a flimsy, unreliable, unarmored, heavily-glassed-in vehicle that is the absolute worst combat vehicle ever designed – and blunder around the post-apocalyptic countryside, like they’re Chevy Chase on the way to Wallyworld, with no scouts, no reconnaissance, no mutually supporting teams, no overwatch?

Tactically speaking, this might have been a better formation than they tried in the Season 6 finale. Even with red coats and pipes and drums.

Not only did I not buy it, I groaned  out loud.  These idiots survived the apocalypse for two years?

This is what happens when comic book writers take over.

Note to producer Scott Gimpl, if you happen to be reading this: it was a terrible ending to a good season. Don’t do it again.

#OscarSoProportional

For roughly the everyeth year in my life in a row, I skipped the Oscars last night.  But I did catch a little bit of Chris Rock’s opening monologue.  And he had a couple good ones:

  • For most of Oscar history, black people had much bigger things to worry about than Oscars.
  • “Jada Pinkett-Smith boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. Neither of us were invited!”

But Alan West notes another inconvenient truth; while this year was a slow one for black nominees, African Americans over the past 20 years have actually won “Actor/Actress” and “Supporting Actor/Actress” statues exactly in proportion to their share of the population:

The problem isn’t that black people are underrepresented at the Oscars.  The problem is that the narrative needed a chanting point for February.

 

Triumph Of The Bern

Bernie Sanders is proud to call himself a socialist.  He’s happy to continue the ideological legacy of Mussolini, Peron and Hugo Chavez.

I know I’m not the only one who sees the photos of his campaign rallies, and imagines them debouching out onto the street to look for pockets to pick and (fill in the unfavored minority) to beat up.

And yet, I can’t help watch this spot and think “hell yeah!”

It takes my (far and away) favorite Simon and Garfunkel song, and wraps it around a whole lot of stirring images, and says absolutely nothing, and says it with glorious style.

Of course, it’s dishonest.  Bernie Sanders loves “America”, provided it acts like Sweden (or like Sweden did, until recently).  But it’s not Swedes he’s trying to convince to vote for him.

But who cares, really?    I want fill up a bathtub with this ad, and soak in it for hours.  The imagery, the videography, the intersection of picture and sound – all of them are absolutely glorious.

Glorious pictures and sound have a long history, of course. We’ve seen that before; all the way back to Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will), the signature movie by Leni Riefenstahl, the greatest female filmmaker of all time (that’s gotta sit just wonderfully with the Feminists) – a film (as opposed to a TV spot) that punches a lot of the same buttons.

And no, I’m not comparing Sanders to Hitler, at least as far as the whole “genocidal madman” thing goes.

But there’s little content.

There’s very little substance.

But oh, lord, the imagery and sound and cinematography.  Is it any wonder that a nation of low-information voters turned out in droves back then, just as Sanders hopes they will now?

Messages

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Al Sharpton is upset the Oscars didn’t recognize a Black actor.  It makes the awards “fraudulent.”

For crying out loud, how dense are they?  There’s an award for every category down to Junior Lunch Caterer’s Assistant, why not add one more?

And let’s be blatant and clear about it – this is not an award for excellence, those awards went to Best Actors.  This is an award to shut up critics.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this year, the ‘Token Award for Black Actor’ goes to . . . .”

Joe Doakes

It’s all about “sending messages”. `

Halpert The Headless Thompson Gunner

I saw 13 Hours over the weekend.

Several reactions:

Worst Fears Not Realized:  I’ve been rooting for this movie for a long time – ever since I met “John “Tig” Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa), and Mark “Oz” Geist (portrayed in the movie by Dominic Fumusa and Max Martini, respectively), and got a chance to interview them on my show last year.

But when I saw that Michael Bay was directing it, I felt my hope curdle into a icy ball of despair.  Bay was behind the loathsome Pearl Harbor and all the bad Transformers movies that followed on after the good one.    (Of course, he also did The Rock and the very underrated Pain and Gain, so perhaps I’m being a little harsh on the Bayver).

In a Michael Bay movie, .223 rounds apparently use napalm as a propellant.

But while it included some of Bay’s signature moves – the MTV-era editing, the slow-mo explosions, the Die Hard-style wisecracking between battle scenes – it all actually worked well.  And sometimes superlatively – as in a scene when a group of State Department employees in an armored Mercedes are getting shot at at point-blank range by a group of locals.  Really, really stunning sequence.

But the movie largely focused on the story.  And it’s there that things get interesting.

The Story Behind The Story:  The movie, of course, is about one of the most controversial events in recent years – the September 11, 2012 attack on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.  During the attack, the US Ambassador, a State Department communications staffer, and two CIA security contractors were killed.   The situation could have gotten much worse but for the team of CIA contractors – ex-military men working as guards for the CIA compound – who responded, defending the State Department compound for 13 hours, until a scratch team of American intelligence and military led a friendly Libyan militia to the rescue.

In a typical Michael Bay movie, there’d be a twist at this point. I won’t give you any spoilers, but any infantryman can probably tell you how this turns out.

The controversy – for those of you who’ve been asleep for the past three years – is over whether a “stand down” order was given to successive levels of potential US paramilitary and military response, from the contractors on the scene all the way up to the Air Force in Italy and the 10th Special Forces group in Croatia.  If so, of course, then the Ambassador and the contractors were left dangling for half a day without any government support.  The Administration and the CIA have angrily denied it; Hillary Clinton said it made no difference at this point; the contractors on the scene all swear by it.

It’s Michael Bay – and yet it works.

The movie plays a little peek-a-boo with the issue, but for one key episode; as the State Department and CIA staffers on the scene ask, then beg, for support, we are treated to scenes of CIA contractors being held on their leash; F16s in Italy sitting on the runway, unmanned; Green Berets in the Balkans, sitting and waiting.

Why?  That question is left danging out there.

And two of the conservative reviews I’ve actually read mirror the controversy; Armond White thinks Bay defers to entertainment over substance, using the tension as just another showy Michael Bay editing trick.   Cranky T-Rex at Hot Air thinks it’s a feature, not a bug:

Bay and screenwriter Chuck Hogan wisely avoid having the story they are telling sidetracked by political concerns.  Instead they are able to hammer home the horrible truths about Benghazi that have thus far been written off as Republican political pandering.

Of course, this blog’s standard procedure is to assume all bureaucrats are lying, so you know where my money is.

The movie has been portrayed as a challenge to the inevitability of Hillary’s coronation.  I’m way too cynical to think the American people are that perceptive – but hope springs eternal.

Brothers In Arms:  The casting, of course, was interesting to say the least.

For starters – if there’s one actor in Hollywood that’s benefitted from being utterly and completely typecast, it has to be Max Martini, as Mark “Oz” Geist.

Martini and Geist at the opening. The resemblance is more than just physical.

I interviewed Geist last year – and met him, shortly after that, at an event on the 13 Hours book tour – which was the first time I’d heard that the book was going to become a feature film (which shows you how closely I follow all things Hollywood.

And while I can’t honestly say I thought “Max Martini would be the perfect casting choice to portray Geist”, it all made perfect sense, personally as well as in terms of resemblance, in the actual movie.

Of course, the casting of Jon Krasinski as the pseudonymous and fictional “Jack Silva”, portrayed as a former SEAL colleague of Tyrone “Ty” Woods (played by James Badge Dale, of Longmire fame) is a little riskier.   I thought, going in – “Jim Halpert as a SEAL?”

It’s not Krasinski’s first take at a military character (he played a bit part in Jarhead, in 2005), but it’s his first since he became “Jim Halpert” in The Office, one of the best sitcoms of the century so far.  Did he blast out of the typecast?

Yes and no – and to the extent that he didn’t, that’s OK, since he’s not in the movie to portray a real former SEAL with a striking resemblance to a sitcom character; he’s basically the audience’s third-person-omniscient stand-in in the story.

Does he pass as a SEAL?  Well, he doesn’t pass as the Hollywood stereotype of a SEAL – which is probably a good thing.

So yes, it took me a bit to get past the habits picked up in 11 years of watching The Office (and yes, I’ve seen every episode, at least in the first seven seasons, at least a few times, and yes, it’s better than the Brit version), but I pulled it off.

(The film’s other Office alum, David Denman – who played warehouse worker and Pam’s first fiance “Roy”, plays the real-life David “Boon” Benton, and passes pretty easily as a former Airborne Ranger).

Krasinski and Denman.

Conclusions:  As filmmaking craft?   It was great bit of filmmaking.  The things that play as whiz-bang cliches in most Michael Bay movies generally work, here.

Acting?  It never stretches credulity.

The message?

Well, I’ll let you watch it, and leave it to each of you to figure out what you think about it.

Worth seeing in a theater.

RIP Alan Rickman

When a great actors dies?  Well, that’s Sheila O’Malley’s turf.  And she’s got Alan Rickman’s obit over at rogerebert.com.  I loved the graf about my favorite Rickman film, Truly, Madly, Deeply, which was his American big-screen follow-up to Die Hard:

Rickman could have had a nice career playing villains. But 1990’s “Truly Madly Deeply”, directed byAnthony Minghella, upended expectations. Rickman played Jamie, the ghost of Juliet Stevenson’s dead lover. Stevenson’s character had been grieving the loss for a year, and one night she sits down to play the piano. As she plays, a cello suddenly starts up off-screen, and “Jamie,” who had played the cello in real life, is seen sitting behind her. The reunion that follows is one of such wrenching emotion that it puts “Ghost” to shame. It’s barely romantic. They clutch and hold, they weep and coo, they sob. As “Jamie,” Rickman is both hilarious (he’s always freezing, always cranky) and tragic (if she can’t let him go, then he really can’t let her go.) An entire new world opened up for Alan Rickman, at least in terms of the audience who had only seen him in a gigantic blockbuster as a multinational terrorist-villain. When Jamie says to Nina, “Thank you for missing me,” his tone is quiet and thoughtful, but Rickman filled the line with a sense of almost humility: “This fabulous woman grieved ME this intensely? I have this much value?” His line-reading cracks open the heart of the film.

A sample of his Shakespearean work:

More temporal?

RIP, Alan Rickman.

With Our Feet

Over the weekend, I went out looking for a movie to watch.  I don’t go to a whole lot of movies, but I’d heard that Truth, the mash note to Mary Mapes and Dan Rather, staring Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford (someone I dimly remember being a star when I was in grade school) had been out for a couple of weeks.  So I tried to find it on a screen somewhere in the Metro.  It wasn’t so much out of interest, or any expectation that the film would be anything but a rhetorical tongue bath for Rather and Mapes from their BFFs in Hollywood.

But the collapse of Rather (along with the Gordon Kahl shootout) is one of two major news stories where I’ve been, if not “involved”, at least watching from the sidelines rather than the bleachers; John Hinderaker and Scott Johnson were co-hosting the NARN at the time they broke the story; the show on the Saturday following the seminal “Sixty First Minute” posting at Powerline was one of the most intense programs I’ve ever been involved in in my life.

I couldn’t find the movie.  A month after release, after a disastrous opening (one of the 100 worst wide-release openings in history), I couldn’t find it anywhere.  The shamefully revisionist retelling grossed a little over $2 million on a budget of $11 million.   “Lucy Ramirez”, Bill Burkett’s fictional source for the fraudulent documents, is easier to find than a screen playing Truth.  [1]

The search for a screen – any screen – in the Twin Cities showing Truth, starring Robert Somebodyorother and Cate Galadriel over the weekend, got a little intense.

Now, even the critics thought the movie adequate at best, for starters.  But is the fact that it’s also basically unvarnished American progressive propaganda part of the reason it tanked so very very badly?

Tankage: I don’t expect much from our self-appointed coastal “elites”. Most of them serve only as warning signs about the diminishing value of an “elite” education.

But I have always counted on Hollywood, if no one else, knowing how to protect its own market.

Apparently, not so. More and more, Hollywood seems to find its ideology – at the corner of which is preening contempt for everyone who lives between the Hudson river and the Sierra Madre – more important than its bottom line.

And this seems more clear than ever, given last weekend’s box office results; three other “can’t miss” movies open to results anywhere from bad to disastrous.  None of the movies were especially political – but their stars certainly took an ill-advised run at it.

“Secret In Their Eyes”, vehicle for Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts (a pair of women most famous for being redheads  married to vastly more talented men back in the 1990s, both of whom have been flexing their hatred for conservatives, Republicans and Christians on overdrive for years) opens to less money than the Northern Alliance earns on a typical weekend.

Documentary evidence that Julia Roberts once existed.

And the latest Seth Rogen movie – whose name elludes me, but was probably about being really drunk – tanked with a bullet not long after the notoriously self-impressed Rogen erupted in an obscene tirade against Ben Carson for, presumably, leaving the plantation.

No – the photomeme caption is not satire.

Most shockingly? The “can’t miss” final episode in the Hunger Games franchise came in about 20% below expectations.

Jennifer Lawrence, this time in the indescribably wonderful and utterly apolitical Silver Linings Playbook, for which she earned a very well-deserved Oscar, back before she tried to turn into Rosie O’Donnell. No, you know what I mean. Seen here with her co-star, Bradley Cooper, long before his own Oscar-caliber turn in American Sniper, which probably renders him trayf to J-Law. I’m just going to sit and think what could have been for a few minutes, here.

Why?  Well, maybe this:

A mere ten days before the film’s release, Lawrence went so far as to expose her anti-Christian bigotry, telling Vogue magazine that Christians are “those people holding their crucifixes, which may as well be pitchforks, thinking they’re fighting the good fight. I grew up in Kentucky. I know how they are.”

“I know how they are”.

In Silver Linings Playbook, Cooper and Lawrence’s characters hilariously botch their big final move at the dance contest. Cooper reputedly reprised this scene with Joy Behar during rehearsals for American Sniper  to simultaneously build bulk and method-act some of the horror and depression Chris Kyle felt when he came home from the war.

Presumably she means “like a bunch of undergrad Social Justice Warriors out seeking confessions from politically incorrect professors”.

Bradley Cooper, out of his dancing shoes, trying to find a screen showing Truth anywhere in the Metro, and failing.

Anyway – these, along with the almost complete lack of box office interest in non-Hurt-Locker-related left-wing propaganda using the War on Terror as a stage, especially compared to efforts like American Sniper, Zero Dark Thirty, Lone Survivor and Act of Valorwhich treat war as complex and horrible, but somehow fail to show Americans and American troops as bloodthirsty racists savages, make me wonder – does Hollywood really not care about the market as much as it does carrying the hard-left’s water?

Yes, it’s a partly rhetorical question.

[1] I know, I know – it was one one screen at the Lagoon – the art-house multiplex over in Uptown.  That may actually reinforce my point.

Open Letter To Netflix

To: Netflix
From: Mitch Berg, Angry Viewer
Re: Grrrr

Dear Mr. Flix,

It’s a good thing Narcos is so very, very good.

Because it might almost make up for you cancelling Lilyhammer.

Almost.

Seriously:  how am I supposed to tell my granddaughter the world is a decent place when Lilyhammer is cancelled, while Orange is the New Black just keeps on and on?

That is all.

Guffaw

So after decades of ignoring the place, Hollywood has apparently set some sort of television show in “North Dakota”.

“Blood and Oil”, starring Don Johnson (who some of you may remember from, ahem, thirty years ago) airs on ABC – which is one of those “TV Networks” your parents used to talk about before even they switched to Netflix.   It gives off the appearance of being a Dallas-style soaper.

How do you think it turned out?

That was the question no doubt going through the minds of many people in the state when ABC’s new drama “Blood & Oil” premiered last week to modest ratings. The show is ostensibly set in North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields, though it’s hard to tell, given the snowcapped peaks of the Rocky Mountains looming in the background of exterior shots.
The Rockies, in case you needed an update on your geography, reside hundreds of miles to the west of North Dakota.
There were other guffaw-worthy moments for North Dakotans in the show’s first episode. A character killed a white moose at one point — moose aren’t at all common on the prairies of North Dakota — and a scene depicting two characters wrestling in jet black oil was downright incongruous.

But it could have been changed – with the help of subsidies, naturally.  North Dakota doesn’t offer them; Utah does:

Turns out it’s all about money. Utah offers filmmakers a 25 percent tax rebate. For filming “Blood & Oil” in that state, the Utah Film Commission gave the show’s creators an $8.34 million tax credit.

North Dakota, on the other hand, offers filmmakers exactly nothing. Which is why some in the state think subsidies could fix “Blood & Oil’s” scenery problem.

It’s the same reason Gran Torino, whose screenplay was set in Saint Paul, was filmed in Detroit; because Michigan has a program to transfer wealth from Detroit to Hollywood.

Which is something North Dakota’s legislature turned down by a 2-1 margin.

Which is roughly the ratio of Republicans to Democrats in the North Dakota legislature.

On Her Majesty’s PC Service

One of the primary tenets of conservatism is that we sit on the shoulders of giants, and th burden of proof for “improving” a good idea is necessarily and justifiably high.

With that in mind:  James Bond is getting a 21st-century update:

In a new book, however, James Bond will be getting a dose of modern morality, as author Anthony Horowitz reveals the tricks he used to drag the spy kicking and screaming into the era of political correctness.
Horowitz, the writer of new Bond novel Trigger Mortis, said he had worked carefully to preserve Ian Fleming’s original character and ensuring his 1950s attitudes remained in tact.
But he has introduced a cast of new characters to point out the error of his chauvinistic ways, including messages about smoking causing cancer, women who give him a run for his money, and an “outspoken” gay friend.

Anyone but me thinking “Will and Grace” with car chases?

If there is one thing in Western Civilization that not only needs no “update”, but in fact

Pro And Con: Twin Cities Summer

Subject:  Summer in the Twin Cities.

Pro:  Hot weather brings out women in sundresses.

Con:  Hot weather brings out women in sundresses with so many tattoos they look like tooled saddles that got thrown through a set of Walmart drapes.

Tattoos are like graffiti; a little, cleverly done, in the right place, can be interesting and evocative and even a little artistic.  Otherwise, it’s just vandalism, and ugly, and it dominates the space; whatever the intent, neither graffiti nor tattoos ever look like much of anything, at best, to anyone else.

Verdict:  TBD.

First Prize Is An Eldorado; Second Prize Is A Set Of Steak Knives

Sales figures for the first couple of days for Trulbert:  A Comic Novella about the End of the World As We Know It are coming in:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank:

#5,713 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

#16 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Political

#31 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Political

#77 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Humor & Satire > General Humor

I guess that means I’ve made at least one best-seller list…

Funnier Than Thou

As the Middle East spirals into war, the economic “recovery” continues to enrich Wall Street but skip Payne Avenue, and the national debt stands ready to leap from “OMFG that’s high!” to “OMFFFFFG that’s really murtha-farging high!”, our nation’s political class is deeply enthralled with the departure of cable TV star Jon Stewart from The Daily Show, and What It All Means.

Oliver Morrison at The Atlantic confims my thesis that nobody named “Oliver” who isn’t also named “Wendell Holmes” or “Hazard Perry” ever did anything worthwhile, in this bit of brow-furrowing and navel-gazing over why there’s no “conservative Jon Stewart”.

I’m not going to bother pull-quoting the article a whole lot; the guy’s name is Oliver, for chrissake.  There’s really one big thing you need to know about the article.

The One Big Thing You Need To Know About The Article:  It’s wrong.

Three Theses:  To be fair, Morrison takes a game whack at it; the piece is unexpectedly short on much overt condescension and patronization.  Morrison thinks there are three potential reasons that there’s no “conservative Jon Stewart”:

  • There are fewer conservative comedians
  • “Political humor has a liberal bias”
  • Conservatives and Liberals have different senses of humor

None of them is right; one of them is a classic example of self-absorbed tone-deafness.  Two of them come close, but not for the reason Oliver “Who The Hell Names Their Child Oliver” Morrison thinks.

The Number Game:  There are fewer conservative comics.  Indeed, there are fewer self-identified “conservatives” in most “creative” fields; writing, music, art, dance, film, and certainly comedy.

Morrison cites an academic – Alison Dagnes, a poli-sci prof at that home of comedy, Shippensburg University – who says conservatives are less likely in particular to be drawn to the lifestyle involved in getting established in “comedy”; awful hours, lousy pay, a very steep learning curve with rare tangible rewards is just the beginning; “success” adds in endless travel, often crummy working environments, and very long odds of ever being able to support oneself, barring getting that shot at the big time.  There’s probably a point there; given a choice between putting in ten years in crappy nightclubs, or ten years at a bank or factory or software company or pretty much anywhere else, most conservatives will take the, er, conservative choice.

And I think there’s something to this.

And I think Morrison and his panel of experts missed an offshoot of this thesis that illuminates the truth a lot more effectively.

We’ll come back to that.

A National Healthcare Plan Walks Into A Bar…:  The second theory – political satire fundamentally favors the left – is easier to dispatch.  The idea is that the reality of this world is just plain easier for the left to tackle than for the right.

In what I’ll be nice and call “support”, Morrison quotes Prof. Dagnes:  “Conservatism supports institutions and satire aims to knock these institutions down a peg,” she wrote.

Which is true in a sense – conservatism supports tried-and-true intellectual, moral and political institutions – and complete baked wind in another; there is no institution bigger than the government, and networks of governments, that liberals support.

Morrison goes a little further – and comes as close to the truth as this thesis gets:

Theorists have been trying to explain humor as far back as Plato. The ancient Greek philosopher said humor got its power from the pleasure people get when they feel superior over others, laughing at their foibles and flaws.

We’ll come back to that one as well.

Teri Gross Is A Gas:  The third theory; conservatives and liberals prefer different strains of humor.

One of Morrison’s pet academics trots out the claim that liberals prefer irony while conservatives prefer hyperbole.  Morrison’s “evidence”:  the difference between Stewart and Rush Limbaugh; against Stewart’s “deft satire” (big talk for mugging and snark – and I’m a Stewart fan) – Morrison cites Limbaugh’s referring to Sandra Fluke as a “slut” as the apotheosis of his sense of humor.

Which is as patronizing a few as one can take; Limbaugh walked back and apologized for the “slut” slur – and Limbaugh’s humor is a lot more subtle than that.  Limbaugh has a keen ear for affectation, and weaves his impression of it into a very sneaky, deft satire that sneaks up on you if you hear it, and that’s easy to miss entirely (as liberal critics tend to) if your frame of reference is entirely stereotype (as it is with liberals slumming it and listening to Rush).  Camille Paglia gets it – but Camille Paglia is the rare lefty that can park ideology long enough to form a coherent, dissident opinion, and much of the left hates her for it.

But again – there is a grain of truth here.  We’ll revisit that grain in a bit.

Funny People:  There is, however, one thread that all three of Morrison’s theses have in common, that I believe does explain pretty capably why liberals dominate “comedy”.

If there’s one thing I do in fact like less than Jon Stewart, it’s self-indulgent social-“science” studies that torture often sketchy, minimal and/or out-of-context data to reach a self-serving conclusion, usually some flavor of “liberals are smarter, more enlightened and better people”.

With that in mind, I’m going to cite a bunch of research in that general weight class.

This blog has cited over the years – usually with tongue firmly in cheek – numerous surveys showing that conservatives are happier than liberals; they have better sex lives, they’re less angry, more open-minded and accepting of cognitive dissonance.  Again – I mention them tongue-in-cheek…

…while noting that it confirms by (admittedly biased) observations in the real world.

Now, the thing about comedy is is that it doesn’t come from happiness; it comes from pain, anger and hurt.  And it shows; many standup comics are among the most dismal human beings you can imagine – although by no means all; I have some very good friends who are comics, and wonderful people.  Still, at the time of my life when I spent a lot of time with comics – when I was producing Don Vogel, almost thirty years ago – I noticed it; standup comics were disproportionately angry, peevish, churlish, oversensitive and cranky.

If conservatives are happier – and you can take or leave the studies at your leisure – then it’d stand to reason that they’d feel less desire to use humor to pass the anger on down the comedic food chain to the next less-fortunate sap.  Happy people don’t feel the need to pass misery on.

And that, I suspect, is why there isn’t a “conservative Jon Stewart”, and likely never will be.  And never needs to be.

http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/why-theres-no-conservative-jon-stewart/385480/

There’s A Reason They Called Bobby Heenan “The Brain”

Over the last year, former Gov. Jesse Ventura went to court against the estate of the late Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, claiming – successfully, in court – that Kyle’s statements about him defamed him in the eyes of veterans. Especially SEALs, of which Ventura is a former member.

And then Ventura, rose to fame pretending to throw people around a ring, said (emphasis added)?:

A hero must be honorable, must have honor. And you can’t have honor if you’re a liar. There is no honor in lying,” Ventura told The Associated Press from his winter home in Baja California, Mexico. He also noted that the movie isn’t playing there.

Ventura also dismissed the movie as propaganda because it conveys the false idea that Iraq had something to do with the 9/11 attacks. “It’s as authentic as ‘Dirty Harry,’” he said, referring to fictional movie series starring Clint Eastwood, the director of “American Sniper”

or perhaps it’s as authentic as professional wrestling.

So Ventura just spent $1 million trying to rebuild his reputation among veterans – and then he says this?

Who’s he going to sue now?