Thursday, January 29, 2009

Movie Song of the Week: “Yes, Yes, My Baby Said Yes, Yes”

The month is almost over. Winter has reminded us yet again that it's still around. And people are already dissing the new President before his first month is up.

Sounds like we need some good old-fashioned escapism from 1931's Palmy Days, brought to you by singer/actor Eddie Cantor and choreographer Busby Berkeley. And let's not forget those hard-working Goldwyn Girls. I don't know how they manage to do all that they do in this number and still keep smiling but if they could bottle it...

Anyway, I hope you all enjoy the song.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Movie Quote of the Week

Ah, we still have nothing, only more expensive.
--George Chakiris, West Side Story (1961)

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Literary Quote I Like

My dear imam, you must understand —- the Americans are idealistic to the point where they must lower their thermostat two degrees. Then they become very practical.
--Dominique Delamer-Noir in Christopher Buckley's Florence of Arabia

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I Looked at Ice from Both Sides Now...

We actually had a minor ice storm here in Dallas last night. A storm so bad I could not even open my car door this morning without first pouring water on it -- and even then I could only open the car door that was on the side facing the rising sun.

Okay, it could be worse. I could have had snow to contend with as well. And now that the sun is out, I suspect most of the worst ice patches will be gone by noon.

The ex-Detroiter in me should be glad about this weather. And if I were still a young kid who lived for snow days and snowball fights, I probably would be disappointed that the winter weather wasn't more wintry. But now that I'm an adult, ice and snow don't seem like that much fun. Especially if you have to drive somewhere and contend with all the drivers who seem to forget everything they ever learned about driving on snow and ice every winter. Or if you have to walk outside for a long while and have little more than a thin coat to protect you from the wind.

I thank God I have a good supply of thick gloves and winter caps. Then again I really need to break down and buy a good scarf. The habits that I acquired up North always seem to be useless in the South but then a day happens like today and suddenly I'm glad I learned them.

The only problem is that over the years, I've become addicted to the South's warmer temperatures. If I ever had to move back to Michigan where days like this are more frequent, I don't know what I would do.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pohl but Proud

Cool. One of my favorite science fiction writers has a blog now. Who knew?

Okay, writer John Scalzi obviously knew since I found out about it on his site but still.

Anyway, it's always nice to see that a writer I read while I was a teenager is still around in my adulthood. It beats the alternative.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Other People

It's only other people who have to worry about their kids being arrested.

About their kids being interrogated.

About their kids being beaten.

About their kids being tortured.

It's only other people who have to worry about all that stuff.

Of course, we're all other people to somebody...

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The One Question That Will Be Never Asked during the Ongoing Guantanamo Controversy

How would you want your son treated if he was suspected of being a terrorist?

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Whom Dogs Destroy


I recently allowed a female friend to talk me into seeing the new dog movie Marley & Me and found myself wishing that it really was as good as she seemed to think it was. But it wasn't.

Indeed, it is one of the worst movies about dogs I've seen in a while -- perhaps because it makes clear early on that it wants to be more than just another wacky dog comedy fit to go on the DVD shelf alongside Beethoven and Benji -- but does not quite achieve this.

The movie was based on the real-life memoirs of a former dog owner (played by Owen Wilson) who was apparently one of the most irresponsible dog owners on the planet. Granted, I give him and his wife (played by Jennifer Aniston) credit for not simply abandoning the pooch once he started becoming a problem. But my sympathy for the couple goes only so far. And not because I can't sympathize with pet owners. After all, my best friend is a dog owner and the woman I saw this film with also loved dogs. For that matter, I can spend all day going on about how my godmother's collie was the mellowest dog in the universe but unfortunately, the dog in Marley & Me is nothing like that dog.

The dog in question, a golden retriever named “Marley,” is a destructive young dog that seems to delight in destroying furniture and making life hell for his owners. The couple attempts to train the dog by taking it to a professional dog trainer but once that effort fails, the couple basically gives up on trying to bring the canine under control. The couple is not totally irresponsible; they do get the dog neutered. But they never quite get it controlled and worse yet, the movie seems to act like such efforts were totally unnecessary.

In a way, it could be argued that Marley & Me is a parody of the traditional dog movie in that it expects the movie audience to wax sentimental over a pooch that is nothing like the well-trained dogs of the Lassie and Old Yeller eras. But then the dog starts interacting with people apart from Owen and Jen and suddenly the couple's inability to control their dog is not all that funny. The dog makes life hell for a would-be dog sitter and ruins an outing at a local dog beach. Yet we the audience are still encouraged to forgive all that and just pay attention to a few sentimental moments between the dog and his owners. The idea apparently being that it is perfectly okay for Marley to destroy stuff and harass people as long as he gives Owen and Jen an occasional kiss on the lips or accompanies them on a walk through the woods.

The movie does make a few attempts at realism -- for example, the “novel” revelation that marriage is hard work and so (surprise, surprise) is child rearing. But it also exploits the hell out of the dog's inevitable aging process and the last few scenes with the dog are especially lacking in subtlety.

At the end of the film, I did not really hate Marley. After all, he was not responsible for the way he was trained. But I did have great contempt for his owners, who seemed like the type of people who always have to be reminded to curb their pet and so forth yet consider themselves superior to more responsible pet owners.

Oh, well. At least the human protagonists managed to raise their children more successfully than they did the dog. Though I can't help but wonder if the audience would have liked this movie as much if they had to live next door to a dog like Marley...

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Citizen Cheech: Born in East L.A.


Long before Spielberg started taking heat from critics for the opportunities he had wasted with his adaptation of Andrew Niccol's The Terminal, classical film auteur Cheech Marin was wasting an equally promising premise with the 1987 movie version of his song-and-MTV-video “Born in East L.A.”

The main question posed by this movie is quite simple: if you were caught without your driver's license or other ID, how exactly would you prove you're an American citizen? More importantly, how could you keep yourself from getting deported? Granted, this is not the type of question that most Americans have to worry about. But there are unfortunately some Americans who have to worry about this question far more than other Americans. And while much of this film has become dated, this aspect unfortunately has not.

It would be nice to say this is a great film or even a promising comedy. But unfortunately, Marin never quite develops the plot enough to qualify the movie for either description. Too much of the film's running time is wasted on unfunny skits and overly sentimental subplots. And while the movie itself is not painfully bad, it hardly lives up to the promise of the main premise.

So why do I watch it so often?

Perhaps because it's one of the few movies that attempts to make a point about America's Kafkaesque immigration policies.

Or perhaps because of Daniel Stern's performance as a Tijuana conman who reveals in an understated scene that he -- unlike Cheech's character -- can never go back home to the US.

It's certainly not because of Paul Rodriguez, whose performance as a dumb immigrant can be mercifully described as being not much better than it should be.

Anyway, it hardly seems like the type of film that the Bill O'Reillys of the world would approve of, and it's tempting to recommend it for that reason alone.

But only if El Norte or Lone Star are not available...

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Movie Song of the Week: “When We Build a Little Home”

Mmm. Doughnuts.

But seriously, folks...

From 1933's Roman Scandals, it's Eddie Cantor and his musical salute to the spirit that got us through the Great Depression. Some of us, anyway. Not that I'm giving the incoming administration any hints, you understand, but still.

I hope you all enjoy it.

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Movie Quote of the Week

Now go out there and be so swell that you’ll make me hate you!
--Bebe Daniels, 42nd Street (1933)

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TV Quote of the Week

That’s the problem with heroic gestures. Succeed, and you look wonderful. Fail and all you do is leave the bloody mess for everyone to clear up.
--Lucy Brown, Primeval

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Song Quote of the Week

Make a country that's fat and smart
That doesn't love to screw its own
And gives, instead of sucks the world dry.
--Chris Butler and The Waitresses, “They’re All Out of Liquor, Let’s Find Another Party”

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Thoughts on the New Administration

Please don't screw up!

Please don't screw up!

Please don't screw up!

Please don't screw up!

Please don't screw up!

Please don't screw up!

Please don't screw up!

Please don't screw up!

Please don't screw up!

Please don't screw up!

Please don't screw up!

Please don't screw up!

Please don't screw up!

Please don't screw up!

Please don't screw up!

Please don't screw up!

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Brevity Is the Soul of...Well, Something

Apparently there's not just one but two sites dedicated to the notion that when it comes to storytelling, less really is more.

Apparently one site was inspired by a famous short story by Ernest Hemingway who bet someone that he could write a story with just six words -- and then won his bet. I don't remember hearing of said story until this week so I guess it's one of those famous short stories that no one ever heard of. Either that or my memory's going out on me.

Anyway, after seeing the way poor F. Scott Fitzgerald is being snubbed by the producers of the recent Curious Case of Benjamin Button movie -- which is, of course, inspired by a F. Scott Fitzgerald story (yet another famous short story I never heard of) -- it does my heart good to see someone as old as Hemingway still influencing modern-day writers. Too bad he's no longer around to appreciate it.

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These Boots Were Made for Walking but Not Selling

Geez, I didn't realize it until I passed not one but two such stores with a sign advertising a going-out-of-business sale, but apparently Western Warehouse is going out of business. And so is Boot Town.

Not that it's likely to affect me much. After all, I don't wear boots. But it does say something rather ominous about the local economy when even a store that sells boots can't stay in business here in Texas.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day

It's MLK Day again and while it's always tempting to wax cynical about how far we Americans still are from Dr. King's original vision of a society in which people are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, it's hard for me to deny that a lot of progress has been made since 1968.

For many years, even liberal Democrats used to consider the idea of a black President as something that was unlikely to occur in real life within our lifetimes. But now it has.

That's not to say that there still aren't other problems that face us. Indeed, one could argue that merely electing a black President was a relatively simple task compared to what lies ahead. Nor do I care for the fact that it's becoming more and more fashionable to judge one by one's class. The more we Americans seem to embrace classlessness, the more obsessed we seem to be with class. And it doesn't help matters that the same Internet that has been frequently touted as a medium to inspire unity has just as often inspired division.

But I like to believe that we have more potential to solve these problems than any other country. Indeed, it's worth noting that many of the ideals we take for granted in this country aren't always shared by the rest of the world. (A fact that I learned myself when I traveled outside the country back in 1987.)

Perhaps I'm being overly optimistic. But sometimes optimism seems like a more realistic attitude than pessimism for no other reason that it's all too easy to think of reasons why such and such will never be accomplished. Accomplishing such and such anyway, of course, is a lot more harder.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

R.I.P. Andrew Wyeth



As if enough famous people didn't die last week, painter Andrew Wyeth passed away this Friday. Most noted for his 1948 painting Christina's World and the set of nudes known as the Helga paintings, Wyeth was perhaps the last traditionalist artist in America.

Personally, I always admired his style -- not just because he was one of the painters whose work my late father collected in artbooks and because his work inspired the cinematography of Peter Weir's Witness but also because Christina's World (seen above) was my idea of the definitive painting. I don't really care if his art can be considered conservative or not. I do know that it spoke to me in a way that most art created within my lifetime does not -- and without being created with me in mind.

As long as I'm alive -- and hopefully longer -- he will be most ardently missed. But at least his artwork is still with us to observe and to appreciate.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Movie Song of the Week: “La Bamba”

From 1947's Fiesta, it's a song from the American debut of the late Ricardo Montalbán. I was originally going to post something else but after I saw this, I changed my mind. And no, I don't know what Los Lobos thinks of this version.

I hope you all enjoy it.

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Movie Quote of the Week

Arrows cost money. Use up the Irish. The dead cost nothing.
--Patrick McGoohan, Braveheart (1995)

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TV Quote of the Week

You still have an independent mind... There are very few of us left.
--Patrick McGoohan, The Prisoner, “Checkmate”

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

R.I.P. Patrick McGoohan

Patrick McGoohan, best known for playing the title character in the 1960s TV series The Prisoner, passed away yesterday.

He too will be missed.

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R.I.P. Ricardo Montalbán



Internationally famous actor Ricardo Montalbán died today at age 88. He was most famous for his role as the mysterious Mr. Roarke on TV's Fantasy Island and for playing Captain Kirk's nemesis Khan on both the original Star Trek series and 1982's Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan. He also played Armando in 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. The last movie I remember seeing him in was 2003's Spy Kids 3D: Game Over but he also voiced a character for 2006's The Ant Bully. Unfortunately, his last recorded acting role involved voicing a character on an episode of Family Guy.

He will be missed.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Here We Go Again

Apparently I wasn't all that wrong when I called 2012 the new Y2K. True, it never hurts to be cautious, but still.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Movie Song of the Week: “What Do I Want with Money?”

Apparently January is going to be Eddie Cantor Month here on this site.

This week, I post a little tune by Eddie Cantor and Joan Davis from 1948's If You Knew Susie. And yes, it seems like an apt candidate for being the new American anthem. (Unless, of course, you prefer this one, which is unfortunately also an apt candidate.)

Anyway, I happen to like that bit with Ms. Davis' chair. And the singing ain't bad either. I hope you all enjoy it.

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Movie Quote of the Week

You know, you guys are amazing. You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth!
--Robert Redford, Three Days of the Condor (1975)

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TV Quote of the Week

The public doesn’t know anything about wasting government money. We are the experts.
--Nigel Hawthorne, Yes Minister, “The Economy Drive”

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Song Quote of the Week

Well we know where we're goin'
but we don't know where we've been...
--David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads, “Road to Nowhere”

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Science Fiction Quote of the Week

He doesn’t know which of us I am these days, but they know one truth. You must own nothing but yourself. You must make your own life, live your own life and die your own death... or else you will die another’s.
--Alfred Bester, “Fondly Fahrenheit”

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Nonsequential Links IV

Yet more items that you might have missed, which means I have to post stuff like this way more often. As always, my comments are in parentheses.

To wit: It is easy to dismiss an ugly, angry man who makes his point through yelling at you; not so easy, however, to dismiss a man who has made the very same point whilst being clever and well-dressed and making you laugh. Doh! (I need to remember this point the next time I’m tempted to write a really really angry post on my blog.)

One friend of mine hated the movie, mainly for this particular plot point, but I found it entirely realistic. I've known people who have made these kinds of choices in their lives. (I’ve always been a bit more cynical about this movie than Jaquandor yet there are parts of it I love quite well. It might not be the ultimate romantic comedy but it is one of the most successful attempts at one that I have seen within the last decade.)

I already knew what America looked like during the Depression because the Stooges had shown it to me. (No, he’s not talking about Iggy Pop’s former group. And yes, I could nitpick and point out that many of the Three Stooges shorts -- especially the most famous ones -- were shot in the 1940s, but I’ve seen quite a few such shorts recently and I can see what Mr. Mannion is talking about.)

Perhaps the world is changed for the better one person at a time; one relationship at a time. Maybe personal utopia is possible; even if social justice remains perpetually just out-of-reach. (As always, Mr. Muir comes up with an insightful review, this time of one of my favorite sci-fi films of the late 1970s.)

And one more thought for the day: Remember that whatever group you belong to, like it or not, you are a representative of your group. I’m talking about Democrats, Republicans, White, Black, Oklahomans, New Yorkers - whoever you identify with. The way you act in public, including online, colors the way people not in your group think about all members of your group. (I should have posted this last year but I got busy and I forgot. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.)

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Literary Quote I Like

She wanted to excuse him because he was forced to be an insurance salesman when he really wanted to be out there on the gridiron again, but I want to be President and I’m an automobile salesman and I don’t go around giving women black eyes. 
--Donald E. Westlake, “Nackles”

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All the Donald E. Westlake Books That I Have Read

1. High Adventure (1985).



A caper set in Belize that involves a plot concerning Indian relics and a would-be invasion. Contrary to what the cover may indicate, the protagonist of this novel is nothing at all like Indiana Jones but one can understand why an overoptimistic book publicist might want to see it that way. It's not a bad book but I have read better.

2. Humans (1992).



A demon and an angel compete in a contest in which the stakes include the end of the world and the game pieces include a motley crew of humans. Actually it's quite a good book. And yes, the plot does sound similar to Neil Gaiman and Tim Pratchett's Good Omens.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Mother Nature Doth Make Fools of Us All

A freezing rain had knocked out the electricity at my condominium complex yesterday so I made up my mind to spend the night over at a friend's house only to discover the next morning that the electricity had come on about an hour after I arrived there.

Of course, I had no idea it was going to do that. In fact, one of the reasons I didn't leave for my friend's house when the trouble first started is that I naively assumed that the electricity was going to come back on any second. But then the seconds passed and the lights were still off...

Fortunately, I had plenty of batteries and a flashlight but the incident did remind me quite harshly how dependent I had become upon electricity. I sleep with an oxygen machine to compensate for my sleep apnea so I have gotten used to going to sleep to the hum of the machine. Last night, of course, that was not an option. Nor was logging onto the Internet, watching television, listening to CD's, in short, doing anything that required electricity. Of course, I still could have read my books with the light of a flashlight and if worse came to worse, I could have lit a candle but still.

Anyway, I can't help but be haunted by what could have happened if the electricity had not come back on...

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

R.I.P. Donald E. Westlake



Mystery writer extraordinaire who never quite got the attention he deserved despite living to see several of his novels made into movies. He passed away on New Year's Eve.

He was nominated for an Oscar and won an Edgar for his screenplay for the 1990 film The Grifters. He was also nominated for an Edgar for his screenplay for the 1987 film The Stepfather and for his collaboration on the screenplay for the 1999 made-for-TV movie A Slight Case of Murder.

He will be missed.

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Cuento de Mi Id

“Suburbia”

Life in the suburbs! It was hell, I say. Sheer hell.

Ah, for the good old days of the Detroit slums where all one had to worry about street gangs and race riots. I much rather be stared at by the same Detroit cop who beat the hell out of my less law-abiding buddies than have to go through the sheer soul-crushing horror you have to go through in suburbia.

I much rather work for hours in a noisy, dirty assembly line than to actually have to work with my mind for some ad agency. At least, on the line, you're spared the chore of having to think all the time. In fact, the job goes a lot better if you don't.

And the conformity. Egad! Much better to live in the type of bad neighborhood where you get shot for wearing the wrong color jacket than to have to work in one of those offices where they have a dang dress code. Don't they realize how torturous it is to have to wear a neck tie?

But what do today's kids know? They have no idea what hell we had to go through in the days of endless prosperity. And thanks to the current administration, they never will.

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Movie Song of the Week: “Bend Down, Sister”

From 1931's Palmy Days, it's yet another shameless and politically incorrect musical number from the 1930s, this time featuring gym instructor Charlotte Greenwood and the Goldwyn Girls. Plus you get the choreography of a pre-42nd Street Busby Berkeley and a guest appearance by a very very young Betty Grable (she played the girl with the wink).

I have tried to find a more condensed version but alas, none were available for posting. For that matter, I have tried to resist posting this -- but between all the holiday desserts that have been available and all the New Year's Resolutions that are being made as I write this, it is kinda hard for me to convince myself that this is an inappropriate song to post this week. At least that's the explanation that I intend to stick with.

I hope you all enjoy it.

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Bienvenidos, 2009!

For a while there, I thought...oh, never mind.

Feliz Año Nuevo, everybody!

Edited to add:

Those of you who have been keeping up with my Pop Songs of the Week just know that I had to post this. Had it not been for Ms. Eartha Kitt's recent passing, this probably would have been my Pop Song of the Week this week. I hope you all like it.

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