Sunday, August 28, 2011

Another Terrific Movie...You've Probably Never Seen

Northridge quake aftermath
Well, the earthquake wasn't enough so Irene had to barrel through! We made it through pretty much unscathed: power stayed on, no leaks, no downed trees. I think we lost cable service for five minutes and I was just furious! Situations like this give one perspective, eh? Anyway, having lived through the Northridge earthquake in L.A. (left: now that was an earthquake!) ...

...and a horrendous mudslide that destroyed the house we were living in at the time, this was the proverbial piece of cake.

We also took the opportunity to watch some movies and I was reminded of another of those terrific little movies that a lot of people may never have seen, "Going in Style", starring Art Carney, George Burns and method acting guru Lee Strasberg. It's about three men, widowers, living together in Astoria, Queens: Joe (Burns), Al (Carney) and Willie (Strasberg) are tired and bored and living on Social Security, which barely gets them by. Then one day one of them comes up with the idea of robbing a bank, just to put a little zing into their lives. And if they get away with it, so much the better.

Get away with it they do, but this isn't just a caper movie about three cuddly old codgers. While it's often very funny, it's also very sweet and poignant. It goes without saying that Art Carney gives a wonderful performance, and Lee Strasberg is good-- a little muted but very good. But George Burns gives the performance of his lifetime here. He was best know for those "Oh, God!" movies, but he really hit his stride with "The Sunshine Boys" and "Going in Style". Director Martin Brest takes the viewer on a real journey with three very real, human characters living real lives.

You'll likely cheer at several points and get a little misty and smile and applaud... infinitely worth it!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

PR Shame: Associated Press and the Dictator

Consider this from the Huffington Post, by Thor Halvorssen and Pedro Pizano of the Human Rights Foundation:

"Fidel Castro just celebrated his 85th Birthday. One would think that after 52 years of running a police state in Cuba, the media would accept that Castro is a brutal oppressor and tyrant. Comparable, no doubt, to any of the totalitarian despots still alive today. For example, Bashar al-Assad in Syria (41 years of dynastic tyranny) or Teodoro Mbasogo Obiang in Equatorial Guinea (31 years of bloody oppression). Yet, surprisingly, when it comes to North Korea and Cuba, one of the most trusted wire services in the world, the Associated Press (AP), cares more about business than about journalistic ethics and the truth.

"Now consider this recent press release from the Associated Press commemorating Fidel Castro's birthday:

"Castro is proclaimed by the AP as an "iconic" leader and a "source of inspiration for many people throughout the world." Ché Guevara is lauded as a "revolutionary hero" in the picture captions. Castro is no more "iconic" than Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, or Pinochet in historical context. However, it is highly unlikely that the AP would try to sell pictures and collections of Hitler as an "enigmatic" historical figure who is "still a source of inspiration." Castro and Ché may, indeed, be a source of inspiration for ignoramuses, washed-up ideologues, tendentious institutions, or people who still believe that he accomplished some "good things," (much as Hitler "created jobs" or Mussolini "made the trains run on time" or Pinochet "saved Chile from communism") but it is shocking that the AP would sink this low to make a buck."

You can read the whole article here. It's unbelievable to me that so-called "journalists" can be so ignorant of historical fact... willfully or otherwise.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Working Too Hard on Broadway

Last week I received an e-mail message from with a special offer for discounted tickets to see Daniel Radcliffe in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying". I scrolled down and clicked on the link for the preview video, and was treated to a montage of choreographed scenes from the show to the tune of "Brotherhood of Man", one of the "big numbers" from the show. Intrigued I found the whole number on YouTube as presented at the Tony Awards.

It's very athletic, gymnastic, aerobic, intricate and involved... there's so much going on every moment that you can become short of breath just watching it. I have no idea what incredible shape those dancer/singers must be in to do that night after night. And after the first couple of viewings I told myself that this was a must-see; I mean if one number was that amazing...

But there was a nagging little voice in the back of my mind that was telling me that, as impressive as the number was, it wasn't quite... right, somehow.

But I posted on Facebook and linked to the video extolling the surprising performance of Daniel Radcliffe who really can sing and dance. Shortly thereafter a friend posted a comment, wondering if musical numbers have become more aerobic. He included a link from the film version (1967) featuring Robert Morse (whose casting as a shrewd and canny business man in the series "Mad Men" is a stroke of genius). The difference between the two numbers was striking.

In the film Morse's character, J. Pierpont Finch, is trying to convince the head of a large corporation not to fire his top staff. It begins slowly and builds and builds and has the added benefit of Morse's dimpled, gap-toothed appeal. I then checked out the same number from the Matthew Broderick B'way revival and noticed that, there too, the number starts out a bit slower. The chorus doesn't immediately start jumping and whirling and doing all the odd steps and moves it does in the current revival (push-ups, knee-walking, really?). The choreography is simpler and focuses on the characters! There's no conflict in the Radcliffe version. The number starts out way up at number 10 and has nowhere to go except out of control. It's like a very impressive, six-foot tall wedding cake that looks fabulous but tastes like...nothing much.

Onstage there must always be conflict. There must be something at stake, even in a classic piece of musical comedy fluff. If every character in a show agreed with each other right away, there would be no "Hamlet", no "Importance of Being Earnest", no "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", no "Oklahoma!" or "Sweeney Todd". The show would be over before it began.

And a show like "How to Succeed..." has stood the test of time. The story and music are still appealing to audiences 40 years after its debut. It doesn't need what I'd call "all that foolishness".

Check out the current version here -- then take a look at the 1995 revival. See if you don' get what I mean. (The movie version is also available on YouTube, probably closer to the original staging.

I just thought it was kind of interesting. More isn't necessarily always better.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

  A recent article I received via email gave me something to think about, and I thought I'd share. It's from a website which used to be called but which I think has changed names... 
   Summed up here, though, it basically talked about the rationalizations we live by (from the title of a recent book about same) and how we use them to justify ourselves to the rest of the world. The authors of the book suggest that an excuse is a lie we tell to others; a rationalization is a lie we tell ourselves. To wit:
  • Everybody does it.
  • I'll save even more if I buy nine of these.
  • After a crummy day like this I deserve these shoes.
  • You only live once.
  • He'll only spend it on liquor.
  • Einstein had a messy office.
  • If God didn't want us to eat baby sheep, He wouldn't have given us mint jelly.
   (There are many more. Unfortunately you have to join a website (a pay site) to read whole articles, but I think you can get regular email messages if you contact
   Basically, it's what psychologists call "self-justification bias", which refers to the decisions or beliefs we arrive at for emotional reasons and which we support or defend by cherry picking data that supports what we're saying.
   "As Socrates declared, 'the shortest and surest way to live with honor in the world is to be in reality what you would appear to be.'"
   I do it all the time. But, like those new shoes (or whatever I've used to try and make myself feel better) the comfort of the justification only lasts so long. 

Darn that Socrates!

Monday, August 1, 2011

"Ridiculous!" Across Party Lines

I knew I wasn't alone: everybody's had it with these nitwits in Washington and the games they're playing. The majority of them really are behaving like children -- blaming, pointing fingers and having little jumping-up-and-down tantrums. The few who seem to have concrete ideas of any kind are, of course, portrayed as terrorists and extremists and blah, blah, blah...

According to the Washington Post, referring to a WashPost/Pew Research Center poll, "Asked for single-word charactertizations of the budget negotiations, the top words in the poll -- conducted in the days before an apparent deal was struck -- were 'ridiculous', 'disgusting' and 'stupid'. Overall, nearly three-quarters of Americans offered a negative word; just 2 percent had anything nice to say."

Two percent! Which alternate-universe version of planet Earth are they living on? These are the people who think Washington can solve all our problems. Somehow. Someday. *sigh*

You can read the full article here.

I also saw somewhere else today that, in another poll, a lot of Americans seem to think the best days of the country are over, that we're slowly sliding toward oblivion or, worse, Europe.

I have nothing to add...