Tweets from 2013-03-24 to 2013-03-30

We are too serious to be having fun

I am in DC for PCA/ACA this week, so lieu of enlightening commentary or my irascible wit, here’s a picture of a bunch of children who were playing dress up before this rude adult herded them into a photo where they couldn’t move for fear of blurring the image.

British Children in Fancy Dress
British Children in Fancy Dress

Taking a dive

I am in DC for PCA/ACA this week, so lieu of enlightening commentary or my irascible wit, here’s a picture of Brenda Karr diving into the ocean.

Beatrice Karr diving from a platform
Beatrice Karr diving from a platform

“I shall school you in this ancient game of strategic asskickery,” says one genteel lady to another.

I am in DC for PCA/ACA this week, so lieu of enlightening commentary or my irascible wit, here’s a picture of some Korean ladies playing ‘Go.’

Korean women playing "Go"
Korean women playing “Go”

 

 

Kosmin is the best one for mouth and teeth

Etching on the wall
A Japanese man etching  on the wall, how else to advertise toothpaste?

Going for a swim…

I am in DC for PCA/ACA this week, so lieu of enlightening commentary or my irascible wit, here’s a picture of a boy getting overwhelmed by seaside waves.

A small boy in the surf
A boy having a nightmarish time standing up in the surf

The Supreme Triumph of a Popular Song

I am in DC for PCA/ACA this week, so lieu of enlightening commentary or my irascible wit, here’s a picture of a man playing a hand-organ for some kids in New York.

A man playing a hand organ in New York
A man playing a hand organ in New York

Bit parts on / Favorite episodes of … the West Wing

Bit Parts: Following up on my post earlier this week… Oh my goodness, I hadn’t realized how many people whom you would later see in more prominent acting roles had bit parts on The West Wing.  I’m not speaking about prominent roles, but rather the occasional one-off role.  Here are a few:

  • Clark Gregg, now known as Agent Coulson in The Avengers, played a Secret Service agent in several episodes.
  • Jane Lynch played a reporter in the press room and asked a single episode
  • Nick Offerman played an environmental advocate trying to save wolves on one of the Giant Block of Cheese episodes.
  • Jason Isaacs, as the photojournalist with whom Donna has a fling
  • Christopher Lloyd as Lawrence Lessig.  How strange that is.
  • Steven Root as one of Alan Alda’s campaign managers.
  • Patricia Richardson as Alan Alda’s other campaign manager.

There are also quite a few notables who took multi-episode arcs.  Among my favorites are:

  • Edward James Olmos, as a nominee to the Supreme Court
  • John Larroquette, as the lead White House Counsel
  • Oliver Platt, the lead White House Counsel who replaces John Larroquette
  • Christian Slater, the dreamy Navy Attache who has a flirtatious moment with Donna
  • Matthew Perry, the replacement for Ainsley Hayes

Favorite Moments / Episodes:

  • Toby gets sent to sit with a progressive protest group and opens up a can of whoop-ass on them for their disorganized rabble politics.
  • C.J.’s first day as Chief of Staff and the way she takes control of the job.
  • The episode where Jed decides whether to run for re-election and we learn the backstory of his relationship with Mrs. Lanningham.
  • The two-part episode when Toby and Josh and Donna get stuck in rural Iowa.
  • Any episode that focuses on Charlie.
  • The Ainsley Hayes episode arc.
  • The slow burn Danny Kincaid sub-plot.

 

Tweets from 2013-03-17 to 2013-03-23

PCA/ACA and being busy

So I leave for DC to attend the PCA/ACA conference on Monday morning.  Between now and next Sunday, I expect I will be too busy to post here.  I will try, but it’s likely you’ll get only brief snippits until next week.

In the meantime, here’s a cool picture from the Flickr archives that came up when I searched “popular culture.”

Beatrice Karr in a clown outfit
Australian swimmer, diver and vaudeville entertainer Beatrice Karr (left)

Game Hard (OR: Die Change)

A Good Day to Die Hard
A Good Day to Die Hard

Game Change
Game Change

A Good Day to Die Hard (GDDH) follows the adventures of John MacClaine as he tries to get his son out of some gangster-related trouble in Russia.  The film makes knowing winks toward the other films in the series, mostly along the lines of “I’m too old for this shit.”  There is one moment where one of the criminals growls at Bruce Willis “This isn’t 1986 anymore.”

Game Change (GC) is one of HBO’s docu-dramas about recent events.  The film follows the meteoric rise of Sarah Palin to the national stage and her downfall as a serious contender for national office.  The film has all the political backroomery of an Aaron Sorkin film without the righteous undercurrent that gives his stuff the frisson of passion.

A few thoughts about these two films together:

  • Both films follow the classic formulas of their genres– GDDH remembers the first pair of Die Hard movies (I want the plural to be not Die Hards but Dies Hard), in that it puts MacClaine out of his jurisdiction, ostensibly “on vacation.”  They eschew Christmastime, which is a mistake, but include lots of the tropes of the genre, including the bloody “Bruce Willis face,” an overconfident thieving villain, and a scene with broken glass all over the floor.  Game Change feels a lot like other political movies about the contemporary era (C.F. Primary Colors and W).  Being aimed at the “highbrow” HBO crowd, it aims for a more talkie style, but otherwise works well.
  • The lead ladies in each film deceive everyone with innocent acts — Palin emerges early in the film as very successful at bringing in crowds and money, even if her grasp of the politics is poor.  The villainess in GDDH is equally crafty, shifting back and forth along different valences as the film moves along.
  • Similarly, the men in both films seem too old for their jobs.  While John MacClain, like Bruce Willis, seems to have stalled out the aging process but complains of being too old for Die Hard shenanigans, McCain comes off as ineffectual, uninformed, and old.
  • In the acting department, the films meet their quotas nicely, but only Game Change gives its actors a chance to really stretch.  In particular, Julianne Moore does a commendable job bringing empathy to a woman whose public statements make her very unsympathetic (at least to me).  Game Change tells a tale of hubris, in which Palin goes from unassuming and shy to overconfident and aggressive.  While she’s sympathetic early on, her arrogance eliminates that sympathy right quickly.

Ultimately, both films play to their base.  I thought A Good Day to Die Hard was enjoyable, but as much for being a familiar old friend as for being a film in its own right.  As an action movie, it’s mediocre.  Game Change had the same appeal — it pushes the same buttons that led me to enjoy both The West Wing and Too Big to Fail, but it’s neither a great movie nor one that will appeal outside its target demographic.

 

Rewatching The West Wing

The West Wing
The West Wing

I never watched The West Wing when it was airing live.  The first time I watched the show, it was running in syndication and I watched an episode every day with lunch.  I watched through the end of season four which is, I recall, when Aaron Sorkin left the show.  I never returned to see how it all turned out.

If you haven’t seen it, The West Wing is a political melodrama about a progressive Democratic President and his hard-working staff.  The show blends personal drama with political dramatics, often using narratives in one line to augment the other.

When the show became available via streaming I decided to check it out again, and have recently finished re-watching the whole series.  Some thoughts:

  • There’s a distinctive decline in the writing quality after season four.  The last three seasons of the show become less reliant on complex characterization and more reliant on big plot moments to push the narrative forward.  If the first seasons represented Sorkin holding together a group on a centrifuge, the last three show the center failing to hold. That said, the characters are beloved enough to me/us that the last three seasons are enjoyable anyhow, once the new showrunner figures out how to make things work in a new way.  The low point, as my friend Brian Doan pointed out at the time, is when Josh makes a major misstep and stops to shout at the Capital building in the middle of the night.  “You want a piece of me?”
  • My favorite episodes are the ones where the narratives blend nicely.  The best is the one just after Donna has found out a major secret, but most people don’t know yet.  She learns that a Chinese satellite is dropping out of orbit and will fall out of space soon, and spends the whole episode fretting about the shoe about to drop.  The metaphorical parallel between the two works very well.
  • The West Wing was certainly an ensemble show with many strong characters, but toward the end of the series, it became clear that Josh and C.J. were the twin poles of the series.  Each had the strongest development arc and some amazing episodes for character building.
  • I like the way the show complicated things by making people with depth on both sides of the aisle.  There were certainly cartoonish villains, but also many moderates who, with the power of script-writers behind them, made great speeches and argued their case well.
  • I spent much of the show trying to puzzle out when Sorkin’s alternative universe split from our own.  Past Presidents from our own world where mentioned, including Nixon and (I’m pretty sure) Johnson, but we also see James Cromwell, the presumably two-term President Bartlett followed.  (Wikipedia informs me that “Fictional Presidents who served between Nixon and Bartlet include one-term Democrat D. Wire Newman (James Cromwell) and two-term Republican Owen Lassiter.”)  As far as I can tell, the series never mentions LBJ, Carter, or Reagan.  The series holds elections in 2002 and 2006, so there’s a mis-match with reality anyhow, but the twelve years accounted for by the Newman and Lassiter Presidencies leave blank the time between 1980 and 1986.  Perhaps that’s when some time-traveler caused our two timelines to diverge.  The biggest difference in the two timelines is 9/11, which didn’t happen in the West Wing universe.

It was fun to watch this show again.  If you have Netflix and haven’t ever watched before, I encourage you to do so.

 

The Zack Morris of the Pocket Calculator set

Pocket Jenga
The first time I saw this, I thought it was an image of Pocket Jenga

No (my answer to Slate’s question: Did Veronica Mars Ruin Kickstarter?)

These things come in waves.  This serves as a follow up to my essay from last week about the economics of copying and David Lowry.

Sam Adams crafted this piece on Slate a couple days ago.  Here’s a key paragraph:

But is it the dawning of a new day or the end of an era? Will Veronica Mars be looked at as a watershed in demonstrating the power of fans to move a corporation’s will, one more step on the long road from Comic-Con? Or will it be seen as the moment Hollywood got wise and realized they no longer needed to wait until a movie or a TV show or an album actually exists to soak fans with an overpriced deluxe package? (link)

Adams’ tone wavers between snarky and ideologue, arguing both for audience choice and against corporate villainy.  He suggests simultaneously that Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas is a loser (who can’t, after numerous pitches, get Hollywood to fund his movie) AND that Veronica Mars fans are morons who don’t know a dead property when they see it.  He seems to have no sense that maybe this was successful because movie executives don’t inherently know best.

Oh Lordy, I can already tell this is going to get ranty.  So here we go.  I’ll put his text in blue

Why should a major entertainment studio like Warner Bros. risk their own money when they can get fans to pay in advance? Investors expect a return on their investment, but the VMMP’s backers paid many times the value of the rewards they could expect to receive: $50 for a DVD and a t-shirt; $100 to add a Blu-ray and a poster. Of course, return on investment isn’t the point. Fans are used to accepting intangibles as payment

Adams seems to suggest here that studio art is about profit while indie Kickstarter art is about … uh … I don’t know.  Crowdsourcing is exactly about moving risk, but it also moves profit.  Yes, the studio doesn’t take the same risk, but they also don’t get the same rewards.  They don’t own the project in the same way as they would have if they put up the money, and thus they won’t reap the same profits.  A better question shouldn’t have been whether this ruins Kickstarter, but whether it ruins Warner Brothers.  If a producer can get funding directly from an audience, what do they need the studio for?

One thing, at least, is certain. As semi-employed showrunners rush into the breach, we’re not far from another, less glorious, moment in history: The first show to try a fan-funded reboot and fail.

Misdirection. Kickstarters fail all the time.  This just seems like snark.

And what of the little guys, the experimental art films and the new albums from cult rock bands who’ve never had the promotional might of a major studio behind them? They’ll struggle the same way they have since Kickstarter began, tapping friends and coaxing dollars from middle-class culture vultures who get a rosy glow from the thought of playing Medici in miniature.

This just makes me mad.  The rest of the piece seems to be suggesting the “true purpose” of Kickstarter is to fund scrappy indie projects.  But then why take a pot shot at the people who do the funding?  I think Adams couldn’t come up a cogent argument about why John Boldrick was wrong when he asked if VM ruined Kickstarter, so he just wrote an uneven, undirected piece that doesn’t know what it’s trying to say.

They Might Be Giants at the Vic – Nanobots Tour, 16 March 2013

They Might Be Giants
They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants played a great show at the Vic last night.  Being officially old now, we got there early and snagged front row seats in the balcony, where we had a great view.  A few thoughts:

  • My first thought, on seeing the band, was “Wow, they’ve gotten much older.”  But then I realized the last time I saw them was on the Severe Tire Damage tour, in 1998 or 1999.  It’s been more than a dozen years.  No wonder they look older.  I do too.
  • They played a great mix of catalog and recent numbers, with something like five or six songs from Nanobots, the new album, and a whole bunch of other songs.  I’ve compiled a partial list below.
  • TMBG sparkles as a stage presence.  Eminently comfortable in front of a crowd, they talk enough to make you feel connected, but also provide a heck of a music show.  There was a sequence with puppets that was very amusing, and the lights were pretty great (except for one song, perhaps Dr. Worm?, where the lights turned red and blasted the audience.  How annoying.
  • The show took place on St. Pat’s Day, so it’s a little bit of a bummer that they didn’t work up a Danny Boy cover or something, but that’s okay.  There were several jokes about the revelers outside, and the crowd joined in enthusiastically in the audience-pariticpation parts of “Drink.”
  • I liked the Vic Theatre.  It was intimate but big enough to feel like a significant venue.  The drinks were kind of expensive, but that’s to be expected.
  • The opening band was a saxophone/bari-sax/drum trio called Moon Hooch.  As John F said later in the show, “They prove there’s no bad time for some bass clarinet.”

Overall, a delightful show.  Here’s my best recollection of the songs played:

  • A run of mini songs (avg 15 seconds)  from Apollo 18 including Fingertips, Who Is That Standing At My Window?, Who’s Knocking on the Wall?, I’m Having a Heart Attack, Something Grabbed Ahold of My Hand, Which Describes How You’re Feeling, What’s that Blue Thing Doing Here?, Hey Now Everybody, Please Pass the Milk, The Day that Love Came to Play, Mysterious Whisper, Leave Me Alone, I Heard a Sound,  I Hear the Wind Blow, I Found a New Friend, I Don’t Understand You, Catching on Fire, All Alone By Myself, Aren’t You the Guy?
  • Cloisonne
  • The Mesopotamians
  • S-E-X-X-Y
  • New York City
  • James K. Polk
  • Tesla
  • Nanobots
  • Call You Mom
  • Circular Karate Chop
  • Birdhouse in Your Soul
  • Whistling in the Dark (performed in the dark, lit only by a mirror ball on the ceiling)
  • Judy is Your Viet Nam
  • Drink! (Audience participation here — they said it was not a metaphor, but a direct representation of the revelers outside)
  • Dr. Worm
  • She’s An Angel
  • Ana Ng
  • Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head
  • Don’t Let’s Start*

* I think they played this, but I’m not 100% sure

I’m sure I missed some, as they played a nice long show with two encores, but this is what I could remember.  Very enjoyable show.