20 Feet from Stardom

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This movie won the latest Best Documentary Oscar. We enjoyed it too. I'm not sure how it would go over with someone outside the Boomer demographic, but it resurrected a bunch of fond musical memories.

It looks at the world of the backup singer. Mostly female, mostly African-American. (Indeed, there's a bit of borderline reverse-racist slams at soulless white-girl singers. Oh well.) There's a lot of archive footage of performances and interviews, and a number of women are tracked down to what they are doing nowadays.

Shocker: Claudia Lennear, who was the inspiration for "Brown Sugar" by the Rolling Stones. Ex-Ikette. Performed and hung out with an array of superstars. Had a Playboy pictorial. What is she doing now? As the movie documents, she teaches Spanish in a dingy classroom. (Revealed after a bit of Googling to be Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut California, where she also teaches French, English, and Remedial Math.)

I believe I said "Whoa!" at this point in the movie. I did not see that coming.

Also appearing are other backup singers you've no doubt heard, if not heard of: Darlene Love, Táta Vega, Merry Clayton ("Gimme Shelter" would be unimaginable without her), Judith Hill, the Waters family, and more. Talking about backup singers: Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Sting, Stevie Wonder, …

I was somewhat surprised by how eloquent and insightful most of these wonderfully talented women were revealed to be: not just on their own careers, but also the nature of the music biz, fleeting fame and fortune.

It's a tad long. That's my only microgripe.

URLs du Jour — 2014-06-26

  • Readers of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch—there must be dozens of them—will no longer need to avert their eyes from words written by George F. Will, lest they become upset by, y'know, words. Their protector is editor Tony Messenger, who announced last week that Will's columns would be replaced with those of Michael Gerson.

    Will's sin, according to Messenger, was in writing an "offensive and inaccurate" column earlier this month about the hysterical moral panic surrounding college campus sexual assaults. You can read it here.

    Considering Messenger's assertion that the column was "offensive and inaccurate": that's at least half right: undoubtedly some people were offended, because some people are always deeply offended by anything clashing with their theology.

    But inaccurate? Fortunately Hugh Hewitt (HH) was able to press Messenger (TM) on that point. And:

    HH: […] so you are agreeing there is no place where a factual inaccuracy exists in Mr. Will’s column?

    TM: To the best of my knowledge, no, there is not, and we did not correct one.

    Uh huh. So forget about that "inaccurate" charge. Oops. It's Messenger's perfect right to publish whatever slate of columnists he desires, but he's either lying or inexcusably careless in explaining his reasoning.

    Like Messenger, many others on the left jumped to misinterpret Will's column. As always, it's hard to estimate how many did so in bad faith, and how many did so out of careless stupidity. But the media was soon filled with (yes) inaccurate characterizations of Will's column. Andrew Klavan (rtwt), like me, leans toward the least charitable explanation: the accusations are fundamentally dishonest and craven.

    These people know most people won’t read Will’s column for themselves. They know their characterizations will get more play in the leftist media than Will’s actual words. They know they can distort and lie about Will and some of it will stick.

    A not-unrelated factoid, reported by Chris Cillizza at the WaPo: "Trust in the media -- TV newspapers and online -- is at record low levels." There's a reason for that, Chris.

  • Michael Gerson, by the way, has been a near-nonentity during Pun Salad's 9.3-year lifetime; thanks to grep, I can tell you his name shows up here (1) in 2007, appearing in a Peggy Noonan column, which pointed out Gerson's, and others, unhinged vitriolic rhetoric about opponents of then-President Dubya's immigration bill; and (2) in 2010, appearing in a Don Boudreaux post noting Gerson's hypocrisy in decrying "nanny statism" while supporting the War on Drugs.

    So: two mentions, neither positive. My impression: Uninteresting on his own, but sometimes people make interesting observations about how wrong he is.

    Good luck with Mr. Gerson, St. Louis.

  • Suppose you wanted to drive through all 48 contiguous US States? What's the best route? One answer (from 2012) is here.

    I wouldn't ordinarily mention it, but if you decide to do that, the route will take you within a mile of Pun Salad Manor. So let me know when you are about to leave South Berwick, Maine; I'll come by and wave at you as you head toward Dover, NH on Portland Ave.

  • The Skeptical Libertarian invites you to play "Deepak Chopra or Random Gibberish? Trick Question." He pairs computer-generated random sentences against actual Chopra quotes; can you distinguish which is the product of a biological mind? A well-paid biological mind?

  • Eric Raymond has been reviewing some recent sci-fi novels. He pulls no punches on Unexpected Alliances: Book Two of the United League of Planets by M.R. LaScola.

    Here’s a clue: if you see nothing wrong with a near-future first-contact scene in which the commander of an armada of 30,000 starships many light years from Earth introduces herself as Nancy Hartley from the planet Ultron, you shouldn’t be writing SF.

    "Any relation to Bob and Emily Hartley, from Chicago, Planet Earth?"


Last Modified 2014-08-06 9:27 AM EDT

The Scarecrow

[Amazon Link]

Another excellent Michael Connelly crime novel. Connelly's usual protagonist, Harry Bosch, is absent, but gets indirectly mentioned here and there.

The primary hero is from a previous Connelly book, The Poet: reporter Jack McEvoy. Jack is working the crime beat for the LA Times as the book opens, but he's targeted in the latest flurry of downsizing. Does that mean a short book? No.

Jack decides to do One Last Big Story, triggered by a hectoring phone call from the grandmother of Alonzo, a teenage ghetto gangster currently in jail for a grisly murder. Initially, Jack's intention is to write about how a dysfunctional society and family structure turned a kid into a killer. But he notices something disturbing: the crime bears a beyond-coincidental similarity to a previous murder that Alonzo could not have perpetrated. Jack realizes that he's uncovered a serial killer who's also an expert in framing someone else for the deeds.

Jack turns to FBI profiling expert Rachel Walling for assistance, and they become a crack investigatory team, mostly flouting the rules and guidelines of their respective superiors.

Jack's tale is interspersed with chapters from the point of view of the murderer, Carver. (This is not a spoiler, it's revealed very early in the book.) He turns out to be a gifted hacker, working as a chief security officer for an Internet colocation firm. (He has a unique way of dealing with attempted breaches: planting child pornography on the attacker's machine.) He is as dangerously crafty as he is homicidally insane.

Connelly's dialogue is occasionally stilted, but who cares? He remains an expert at dragging this reader into the yarn.

Instructions Not Included

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Multicultural night at Pun Salad Manor: a Mexican movie which (according to IMDB) is the "highest-grossing Spanish-language film released in the United States." Although I wasn't as wild about it as the Netflix algorithm thought I would be, it was decent. It is tough to classify, since it starts out as a slapstick comedy, and then turns into a courtroom drama, eventually morphing into a tear-jerker.

It was directed, co-written, and stars Eugenio Derbez, who plays Valentín. He's initially an Acapulco beach bum whose sole purpose in life is to lure American female tourists into the sack. That works well, until one of his previous conquests, Julie, shows up on his doorstep with baby Maggie, claiming that Valentín is Maggie's father. It's a Three Men and a Baby scenario, except that it's missing Tom Selleck and Steve Guttenberg. And, er, Ted Danson not speaking English at all.

Valentín decides to track Julie back to the USA. But his plans to give Maggie back are derailed. Instead, they quickly bond, and Valentín decides to properly care for Maggie, getting good work as a movie stunt man. (This provides a lot of laughs.) But then, years later, Julie reappears, and we are quickly into a Kramer Vs. Kramer scenario.

Consumer note: mostly in Spanish, with subtitles. The original title in Mexico was No se Aceptan Devoluciones, which translates (according to the Google) as "No Returns are Accepted". Fun stuff, but note what I said above about tears.


Last Modified 2014-06-27 1:39 PM EDT

URLs du Jour — 2014-06-20

[//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/57/No_IRS.svg/256px-No_IRS.svg.png]

So in the past few days and weeks:

  • We've learned that the Internal Revenue Service is either inexcusably incompetent or dangerously lawless.

    Or both. "Both" is a real possibility.

    But (a) Democrats are using that as an excuse to give the IRS more money; and (b) (worse) you still have to pay your taxes.

    I liked this bit transcribed from a Congressional hearing today:

    “You are the IRS,” [Congressman Paul] Ryan told IRS commissioner John Koskinen. “You can reach into the lives of hardworking taxpayers, and with a phone call or an e-mail or a letter you can turn their lives upside down. You ask the taxpayers to hand us seven years of their personal tax information in case they’re audited, and you can’t keep six months’ worth of employee e-mails?”

  • You may have heard about Amazon's hardnosed negotiations with Hachette, a publishing company. A lot of people have gone over-the-top about this, casting Amazon as the mustache-twirling villain in a moral melodrama. (Example: Stephen Colbert, whose—tsk!—ox is being gored.)

    There's very good commentary on that from Nick Gillespie at the Daily Beast. Opening paragraph:

    Can you believe those…those…those…sons of bitches at Amazon? After launching almost 20 years ago and making virtually every book—new, used, dead-tree, electronic, audio, and I’m guessing any day now, olfactory—available to everyone in America at good-to-great prices, the company’s true character now stands revealed. It’s not pretty, folks. Despite a huge market share, Amazon apparently still wants books, especially the e-books that everyone agrees are the future of the medium, to be cheaper than what publishers and big-name authors want you to pay for them.

    RTWT. Disclaimer/Humblebrag: I've been an Amazon customer since November 1995 (their online store had only opened a few months previous), so I may be a bit sentimentally biased.

  • Outrageous on a smaller scale is the controversy over "The Hillary Tapes", kicked off when the Washington Free Beacon obtained and published a recording of Hillary Clinton's recollections of defending an "alleged" child rapist back in the mid-70s.

    You can decide on your own what the story says about Clinton's character. For me, the interesting thing is the demand by University of Arkansas Dean of Libraries Carolyn Henderson Allen to get the Washington Free Beacon to take down the audio it obtained through the "You of A" library. Dean Allen also put the WFB reporter on "double super-secret probation", barring her from further research there.

    Yes, attempted censorship of inconvenient truths. By a University administrator/librarian. (Who is also, by the way, a donor to Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign.)

    Is that irony? I can never tell.

    Anyway Matthew Continetti of the WFB has the story, and the attached letters from Dean Allen and the response from the WFB's lawyer are not to be missed.

  • I thought, by the way, that the marketing slogan currently used by the University Near Here ("Where education is more than a matter of degree") was lame and meaningless. But I hereby swallow my provincial pride and admit that the University of Arkansas' "The YOU of A" slogan makes UNH's look clever and insightful.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

We watched this movie (in which Martin Freeman plays Bilbo, the nebbish hobbit turned into courageous hero) sandwiched between the last two episodes of the Fargo miniseries (in which Martin Freeman plays Lester, the nebbish human turned into sociopathic murderer). It's a little weird to see the same actor, using some of the same acting tics (double takes, peeved exasperation) play two so-totally-different characters.

Otherwise, an action-packed installment in the Hobbit trilogy; we waited for the DVD instead of seeing in the theatre. It suffers a bit for being the middle entry: you're supposed to remember the characters and their goals, and you're also pretty sure things won't be wrapped up by the end of the (very long) movie.

So: the gang of thirteen dwarves plus Bilbo continue their quest to reclaim the kingdom and treasure lost to Smaug, the evil dragon that took over years back. Smaug's bad enough, but on the way to him, they are beset by orcs, a huge bear, and giant spiders. (Gandalf might be able to help out, but he spends most of the movie wandering on errands of his own.)

They encounter allies, mostly reluctant to get involved on a dangerous mission. We get to see our old elf buddy Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and learn how he found out that dwarves, humans, and hobbits aren't as gross and icky as he had been brought up to believe. A new elf character is introduced: Tauriel, played by the luminous Evangeline Lilly. (She has a recurring purpose: showing up just in time with sword/bow/elvish medicine to save the day.)

Eventually most of the band makes it to Smaug's lair. Then their troubles really begin.

The Weed Agency

[Amazon Link]

It is somewhat bad news that my book-picking algorithm's randomness brought up Jim Geraghty's new book The Weed Agency immediately after I'd read Dave Barry's hilarious Insane City. Now (don't get me wrong) Mr. Geraghty's book is funny. But Dave is a tough act to follow, humor-wise.

Mr. Geraghty's book is also kind of sad for those of us who would prefer smaller and limited government. For it is a tale of a truly worthless money-down-the-rathole federal agency, established more or less on a whim by Jimmy Carter and a Democratic Congress in the 70s, the USDA's Agency of Invasive Species. While this entity does not exist in the real world, it is emblematic of a host of others that actually do.

We follow the Agency from 1981 until roughly the present day, as it navigates the budgetary waters to survive and even thrive. Its head, Adam Humphrey, is a gifted bureaucrat, employing an array of tools to guarantee the dollars keep coming. He knows which fear/flattery/ego-stroking buttons to push: for the 80's Reaganauts, he notes (without any real evidence) that the Commies might be readying a biological attack using invading weeds and/or critters; for Al Gore in the 90's, he makes the Global Warming connection. Later in the decade, for Newt Gingrich, a whizbang web-based red-tape-cutting Federal clearinghouse for all things Weedy is proposed. And worst of all, post-9/11, Humphrey tries to market his agency as fighting the menace of terrorist crop-dusters.

When an actual crisis occurs involving an invasive Mexican weed devastating southwest agriculture, the agency is seemingly caught with its pants down: its incompetence threatens its raison d'être. But, after a symbolic resignation, this fact is cynically used to (once again) increase the funding of the agency. Gee, that sounds "ripped from the headlines", doesn't it?

Humphrey and a number of other characters inside and outside the agency are, pretty much, set-up to illustrate Geraghty's thesis and historical events. So when one of the characters quits the agency to go to work for a dot-com in the late 90s… well, we pretty much know the broad outlines of what's gonna happen there.

Recommended, of course. You can read a tome on public choice theory, and you probably should, but this is more fun, and you'll get the basic idea.

Saving Mr. Banks

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A few days back, I noted that Nebraska was "a tad sentimental". Friends, Saving Mr. Banks is more than a tad sentimental. Bring hip waders to avoid being soaked in sentiment. Bring a snorkel to avoid being drowned in sentiment. Duck and cover to avoid being nuked by sentiment.

But I liked it.

It's the based-in-fact story of how Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) brought Mary Poppins to the big screen back in the 60s, just a few years before he died. His big obstacle was getting the legal OK to do so from P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson), original author of the Poppins books. She objects to having her creation Disneyfied, but her agent pressures her into a trip out to California, where she's promised input into the movie creation process.

This tale is interspersed with flashbacks to P.L.'s early life in early 20th-century Australia. She adores her charismatic Irish daddy (Colin Farrell), but he's an irresponsible drunkard in poor health. Her mom is overwhelmed. Eventually, Aunt Ellie shows up to bring order to the dysfunctional chaos. (You can see the seeds of inspiration there.)

Emma Thompson is wonderful as P.L., initially full of prickly British snobbish propriety, gradually worn down by the genuinely nice Disney-American people she works with, seduced by California sunshine and optimism. She objects to everything that (eventually) made Mary Poppins magical and memorable: Dick van Dyke? Horrors! Bouncy show-biz tunes? No, no, no! Dancing animated penguins? Absolutely not! (There's a hilarious bit where P.L. initially assumes the dancing penguins will not be animated: how, she wonders, do you train them to do that?)

The movie apparently takes broad liberties with history in order to make a good story with a happy ending. Hey, that's OK. I have dim memories of Mary Poppins from when I saw it in an Omaha theatre back in 1964; I'm not sure how well this movie would work if you don't have at least a basic inkling of that movie.

Stranded

[0.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Out of habit, I am compelled to chronicle each and every movie I even sort-of watch. But this one did not hold my interest, not even in a so-bad-it's-good way. About the only way it would be enjoyable is as an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. But Joel and the robots were not around.

Since I have nothing much interesting to say about the movie itself, let me tell you the meta-details. Mrs. Salad used one of those "if you liked that, you might like this" sites to put this on the Netflix queue. I'm wondering if some other movie than this was recommended: IMDB has quite a few.

And it even turned out to be a pain in the rear to get!

  1. Netflix's first try was sent from its Salt Lake City facility.

  2. That disk was unplayable; it had a visible crack.

  3. So we sent it back and asked for a replacement.

  4. They sent (I'm pretty sure) the same darned DVD back to us as a "replacement". At least it had a very similar looking crack.

  5. OK, second try at a replacement: this time, the disk came from Oklahoma City.

  6. Success! Unfortunately, then we watched it.

So, the plot: the first manned spaceflight to Mars. Instant kvetch: Their communications with Earth are instantaneous, a neat trick given that Mars never gets closer than about 4 light-minutes from us.

No big surprise: they crash. Bet you saw that coming, given the title. The survivors talk a lot about survival strategy. Maybe a few could survive until rescue if the others committed suicide!

Trivia: the late Johnny Ramone (yes, of the Ramones) plays "Lowell". His only acting role, according to IMDB.

The biggest star is Joaquim de Almeida, who has long been a Hollywood favorite for playing vaguely-Hispanic villains (off the top of my head: Clear and Present Danger, 24, Desperado). Spoiler: he's a good guy here, and he croaks.

Also here is the wildly-inappropriate Maria de Medeiros; she's in a lot of foreign movies (it turns out), but I only remember her as Bruce Willis's squeaky bewildered girlfriend in Pulp Fiction. Here she's a squeaky bewildered astronette.

Offend a Commie? No Prom For You!

Goddess of Democracy DC defy censorship.JPG

As viewers of The Big Bang Theory know, Newton Massachusetts is most famous for being the thing Fig Newtons are named after. (Not Isaac Newton.) But now Newton has a new claim to fame: punishing a kid, one Henry DeGroot, whose vile sin was expressing anti-government sentiments.

Times change. Back in 1763, Boston's Faneuil Hall was dubbed the "cradle of liberty" based on anti-government words spoken by James Otis there. But that was 10 or so miles away from Newton, and 250 years ago, and things are way different now. Faneuil Hall might still be the cradle of liberty, but Newton is where liberty grew up to be insulted and abused.

Anyway, about Henry: his sin was doing this in China, where he was visiting as part of a study abroad program run by Newton North High School. When he was asked to write his e-mail address in the Chinese students' notebooks:

“Democracy is for cool kids,” he recalls writing. “Don’t believe the lies your school and government tell you,” said another message, and “It’s right to rebel.”

Oops! James Otis would have patted him on the back, but not Chinese school officials. Right up front, Henry was whacked for a five-hour detention. And things did not improve when he got back to the Land of the Free. Newton school officials, allegedly Americans themselves, banned him from the prom.

Why?

Newton school officials say he violated semester abroad rules, embarrassed the principal of the Chinese school that was hosting Newton students, and showed so much disrespect for the Chinese that the longstanding relationship with the school may be harmed.

Here's what I really doubt: that there were any "semester abroad" rules that said anything close to: "While in China, don't write anything that will irk or embarrass Chinese officials." My guess is the rules are vague enough to allow arbitrary punishment of any behavior that sufficiently irritates the tinpot administrators of Newton North.

Specifically, Newton School Superintendent David Fleishman is quoted:

“We certainly want our students to be thoughtful and critical thinkers,” said Fleishman. “We encourage that, and we pride ourselves on giving students that opportunity. But this is not about free speech.”

Not passing the giggle test there, Superindendent Fleishman! "This is not about free speech. This is about violating our rules that disallow you from expressing your opinions freely! A different thing altogether!"

Also irritating: the hand-wringing that DeGroot's actions might cause the "longstanding relationship" between Newton North and the Chinese school to "be harmed."

Please. Yes, even hinting at the truth about the brutally repressive and corrupt Chinese government might irk the authorities. Since when should anyone with a decent respect for liberty worry about that? Why aren't Newton North administators ashamed of a program that requires participants to be silent about that?

Insane City

[Amazon Link]

The latest novel from Dave Barry. Yes, of course it's funny. Laugh-out-loud funny in parts.

Seth, the hero, is Dave's Everyman. He's engaged to Tina, daughter of a billionaire. Seth wonders: what does she see in me? The answer is eventually revealed.

The Miami nuptials approach, and complications arise. A Haitian refugee is cast adrift by bandits off the Florida coast, with her young son and infant. Seth's entourage is devoted to getting him drunk and stupid; they succeed beyond their wildest dreams. Add in a number of other colorful characters: the groom's parents, who have developed an intense fondness for magic brownies; the bride's sister, also devoted to the weed; stripper LaDawne with her "agent" Wesley; Duane, who makes his living handling Blossom, a large albino python; Duane's friend Cyndi, famous for participating successfully in Hot Bod contests; and (last but not least) Trevor, a large, amorous orangutan disappointed with his captivity at Primate Encounter.

I could go on, because… there are a lot of characters.

The book is a little slow setting this all up, but eventually things take off, with ever-increasing levels of absurd hilarity. It reminded me very much of the classic movie What's Up Doc?, turned up to 11. (In fact, it's written like a movie, and I was casting roles as I went through.)

The Bourgeois Virtues

[Amazon Link]

To get it out of the way: the recorded author of this book is "Deirdre N. McCloskey", but for the first 53 years of life was known as "Donald". Fine. My opinion about this sort of thing is pretty much the same as that of Kevin D. Williamson: Deirdre is not a woman. But I'll give Deirdre the respect owed for writing a fantastic book, and use the feminine pronoun here, as I imagine she might wish.

It really is a fine book on a topic one might not even have recognized as important: the role of ethics and virtues in philosophy generally, and (specifically) their role in economic development and business operations. (Subtitle: "Ethics for an Age of Commerce") 400-plus pages of that sort of thing could be awful, but Professor McCloskey makes things sparkle. (I've muttered before about USA-Todayese, a kind of breezy, semi-condescending prose that seems to be the norm in popular non-fiction. McCloskey's writing is the opposite of that: personal (addressing the reader as "you" throughout, and plenty of "I"s to do the addressing), very funny in spots, fearless and aggressive in argument. And not at all condescending: although it's accessible to the average schmoe who has a nodding familiarity with economics and moral philosophy, it's very much an advanced course in the latter area.

The overall thesis is simple enough, the Bourgeois virtues are the classical ones recognized in their nearly complete form by thinkers such as Aquinas and Adam Smith: Prudence, Temperance, Justice, Courage, Love, Faith, and Hope. The first four are the "pagan" virtues, the latter three sacred. All are necessary and balance each other; neglecting any, or over-emphasizing any, leads to bad luck and trouble. Since McCloskey's training and professional emphasis is in economics, many of the arguments presented are economic ones, prosperity vs. privation. But it's clear that a virtuous society does not merely prosper, but is a better all-around place to live. The implied insult that has historically been attached to the word "bourgeois" is not just undeserved, it's perverse.

We were led off this correct path by the serious moral philosophers post-1848, who set out (with whatever motives) to come up with alternate theories of ethical behavior. The result has been bad, ranging from the awful up to horrible. Kant gets an especially withering analysis. I haven't seen Kant beaten up so badly since I read some Ayn Rand a few decades ago.

In addition, there's a Bacon takedown. I didn't expect that. (And nothing much at all about Edward Burke, which I find puzzling.)

I am not adequately conveying how much fun the book is to read. It is filled with brilliantly pithy examples from all of history, around the world. (It is also the second book I've read in the past few months to discuss the great movie Groundhog Day.) I've put McCloskey's second book in the series (Bourgeois Dignity) into my to-be-read pile; there are two more volumes projected but not published, and they'll go in there too.

Angel Face

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Arrgh. What was I thinking? When Netflix's algorithm predicts I'll find a movie to be mediocre, I should probably just believe Netflix. But it looked so good! Robert Mitchum! Jean Simmons! Film noir! But no.

Mitchum plays Frank Jessup, a Beverly Hills ambulance driver with dreams of setting up an automotive shop specializing in sports cars. He's got a steady girl, Mary. He's struggling, but on the right path.

Oops! His ambulance is called out to a mansion up in the hills, where fantastically wealthy Catherine Tremayne has nearly suffocated in her bedroom, due to a gas jet somehow being turned on. She's OK, but the call gives Frank the unfortunate chance to meet the beautiful stepdaughter, Diane (that's Jean Simmons). She loves her daddy, a washed-up Brit novelist, but clearly hates Catherine. Did she try to do Catherine in? Yeah, probably.

It would just be a chance encounter, except that Diane stalks Frank back to the station, and corners him in his after-shift hangout. Before you know it, Diane has easily driven a wedge between Frank and Mary, enticed Frank into accepting a job as a driver for the Tremayne family, and displayed all sorts of devious, deceptive, and dangerous behavior.

It's all fun and games until someone drives their car off a handy cliff, though. Things go downhill (ha!) from there, with a far-fetched courtroom strategy, and far too much dialog. Mitchum just kind of goes along with everything, to his ultimate disappointment.

Nebraska

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Nebraska was nominated for 6 Oscars, including Best Picture. (I've now seen 5 out of the 9 best-picture nominees.) Pretty good, albeit a tad sentimental.

Bruce Dern plays Woody, a cantankerous old fart who has somehow got it in his head, based on a personalized magazine-subscription/sweepstakes mass mailing, that he's won a million bucks. He sets out from his home in Billings, Montana to the contest headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska to claim the prize.

Is it dementia, or just a combination of gullibility and boredom with his Montana life? It's unclear. His family consists of his equally cantankerous wife, Kate (June Squibb), and two grown sons, David (Will Forte) and Ross (Bob Odenkirk). They are at a loss at how to deal with Woody's increasingly stubborn attempts to get to Lincoln.

David is himself kind of a sad sack, professionally (as an ineffective salesman of audio equipment) and romantically (a girlfriend to whom he was unable to commit has just moved out). So he decides to drive Woody to Lincoln, to Kate's consternation.

But they decide to take a small detour to the small town of Hawthorne, Nebraska, where the family lived before moving to Billings. Most of the movie happens there. (Google Maps recommends I-90 out of Billings, hopping down I-25 through Wyoming, and then just going east on I-80, but that would have made a less interesting movie.)

June, and eventually Ross, decide to join David and Woody in Hawthorne. While there, ancient family history is unearthed, an old nemesis (played by Stacy Keach) is confronted, and characters are revealed when Woody lets slip his "news" about being a millionaire, and people believe him.

It's a fine movie, funny and poignant. Will Forte reveals himself as a fine character actor. Only quibble: IMDB trivia claims that Barbara Bain, Cinnamon Carter herself, auditioned for a role in this movie. Alexander Payne, How can you not cast Barbara Bain in your movie?

URLs du Jour — 2014-06-04

  • It's the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square and the brutal repression of pro-liberty demonstrators by the Chinese Communist government. Matt K. Lewis (ML) interviews Marion Smith (MS) of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

    ML: These students were victims of Communism. How should we honor their sacrifice for the cause of freedom?

    MS: By telling the truth about what happened there in June of 1989. For 25 years now, the Chinese government has covered up the truth and denied the well-recorded historical fact of the Tiananmen Square massacre. The Chinese government has largely been excused for this egregious and unconscionable act of aggression against its own people.

    The Chinese government, and a lot of Americans, want you to fuhgeddaboutit. Don't.

  • Very cool: Dean Norris playing Ben Franklin.

    One can dream:

    The King: Hey, white boy. They call me "George the Third". You know what that means?

    Ben: If I have to guess, I’d say that’s British for "asshole.”

  • If you had the slightest doubt about the sheer ditziness of Gwyneth Paltrow (quoted here):

    I am fascinated by the growing science behind the energy of consciousness and its effects on matter. I have long had Dr. Emoto's coffee table book on how negativity changes the structure of water, how the molecules behave differently depending on the words or music being expressed around it.

    It's all fun and games until someone drowns because the structure of water changed.

  • Ed Krayewski at Reason gave me a chuckle with one of the items in his "A.M. Links" list:

    According to contract documents, the Secret Service is purchasing software that can detect sarcasm on the Internet. Great idea guys!


Last Modified 2014-08-06 9:24 AM EDT

Frozen

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

We might be the last people in America who had not seen Frozen. If Pun Daughter were 15-20 years younger, we probably would have seen it a half-dozen times by now, owned the soundtrack, bought some action figures for Christmas, etc. Instead, it just showed up via Netflix, and Mrs. Salad and I got to bathe in the Disney magic all by ourselves.

The plot: Anna and Elsa are royal sisters in some vaguely Scandinavian locale. Emma has the occasionally useful, but mostly dangerous, power to command the power of cold. (Kind of like the X-Men's Iceman, but cuter.) Elsa decides she must exile herself to avoid unintentional tragedy, but manages (somehow) to set her kingdom into deep-freeze before leaving. Anna must track her down and convince her to return. She's assisted by Kristoff and his impossibly intelligent reindeer, Sven.

There are twists and turns, a cute snowman sidekick, suspense, clever gags, and action. Won two Oscars. What's not to like?

Local note: Frozen's (Oscar-winning) co-director, co-writer, voice talent Jennifer Lee is a graduate of the University Near Here, and was the Commencement speaker a few weeks back. The gathering sang the "Let It Go" song for her, and Mrs. Salad reports that everyone seemed to have known the words.

Also included on the DVD was a wonderful Mickey Mouse cartoon "Get a Horse!". The YouTube version:

But this mainly made me sad that we didn't see this in 3-D in the theatres.

URLs du Jour — 2014-06-03

  • Via this morning's WSJ: New Hampshire's own Jeanne Shaheen is one of nine US Senators targeted in an ethics complaint filed by the Center for Competitive Politics, an organization (in their own words) "dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment political rights." That is … not surprising.

    The detailed complaint is here. Jeanne is named for her co-signing of a 2012 letter to the IRS then-Commissioner, Douglas Shulman, urging the investigation of 501(c)(4) groups for their political activities. (Pun Salad noted that before.)

    I doubt this complaint will go much of anywhere in a Democrat-controlled Senate. But one would think there would be more outrage about powerful politicians even attempting to recruit the IRS as a political weapon against their critics.

    Senator Jeanne is also a co-sponsor of SJ13, a proposed Constitutional amendment aimed at reducing Americans' First Amendment freedoms.)

  • I don't have much new to say about Bowe Bergdahl, the American recently exchanged for five Gitmo terrorists. Bret Stephens notes the UCMJ allows the death penalty for desertion "in time of war". But, Stephens notes, we aren't in "time of war"; we are in "Time of Obama".

    In Time of Obama, dereliction of duty is heroism, releasing mass murderers with American blood on their hands is a good way to start a peace process, negotiating with terrorists is not negotiating with terrorists, and exchanging senior Taliban commanders for a lone American soldier is not an incentive to take other Americans hostage but rather proof that America brings its people home.

    There's more, detailing what a major disgrace it is; check it out.

  • I'd tell you if I saw a hippo in my backyard. In that vein, let me report that I saw a remarkably well done criticism of occupational licensing in the (egads) New York Times. First paragraph:

    IN Minnesota, more classroom time is required to become a cosmetologist than to become a lawyer. Becoming a manicurist takes double the number of hours of instruction as a paramedic. In Louisiana, the only state in the country that requires licenses for florists, monks were until recently forbidden to sell coffins because they were not licensed funeral directors.

    True fact: New Hampshire is one of only five states to require that shampooers be licensed. Live Free or Conditioned!

  • OK, it's been a while since Iowahawk tweeted this, and you've probably already seen it elsewhere, but:

  • I've become a fan of the Time Zone Database "Announcements" list, which describes (mostly) wacky political and religious changes to local time calculations around the world; all computers must upgrade lest they start giving out the wrong time.

    The latest release involves a problem with zic, the "Zoneinfo Compiler" that produces machine-readable datafiles from (barely) human-readable ones. The fix description:

    zic no longer generates files containing time stamps well before the Big Bang.

    Ah. Wish that all software developers were as careful with their code.


Last Modified 2014-10-07 5:02 AM EDT

American Hustle

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A bizarre and funny movie, semi-based in fact. It was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture; although it didn't win any, it's still pretty good.

A brief opening scene sets up the situation: Irving (Christian Bale) and Sydney (Amy Adams) are obviously trying (and, initially, failing) to bribe Mayor Carmine (Jeremy Renner); they are in cahoots, but also in conflict, with Richie (Bradley Cooper).

How did they get here? An extended flashback describes Irving as a semi-respectable businessman with a chain of dry-cleaning establishments. He's also a small-time grifter, dealing in forged art and getting finder's fees for loans that he never actually gets around to finding. By chance he meets Sydney at a party; they bond over a mutual love of Duke Ellington. When Sydney finds out about Irving's criminality, she decides to team up with him.

All is well until they try to con Richie, who turns out to be an ambitious FBI agent. Instead of sending them off to the slammer for petty crimes, they decide to go after bigger game: corrupt politicians. Carmine is the initial target: he's the mayor of Camden, New Jersey. But it eventually involves the Mafia, putting everyone in danger.

Then there are personal entanglements: Irving is married to Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence); Richie and Sydney develop a certain attraction, which is aided by Irving's unsettled relationship with Rosalyn. Richie's superior (Louis C.K.) is also reluctant to go after the big game, and Richie persuades him through fair means and foul (including unhinged violence) to power through.

All the major characters are, to some degree, conning the others. But they're also somewhat sympathetic, so you're wondering: will any of them come out intact at the end?

Everyone involved is wonderful, giving a complex life to each character. In addition, if you want to see either or both Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence talk dirty in revealing garments, this is a pretty good choice.

Savage Run

[Amazon Link]

After reading three C.J. Box novels, I know what I'm gonna get: a gripping story, well-told, diligent (albeit flawed) heroes, nasty villains, spectacular outdoors scenery. This is no exception.

It is the second book in his Joe Pickett series. It opens with a scenario worthy of Carl Hiaasen: a radical environmentalist (or eco-terrorist, depending on your POV) named Stewie Woods is out spiking trees in the Wyoming mountains with his airheaded wife of a few days. They come across another assault upon wilderness: a herd of grazing cows. Unfortunately, one is booby-trapped. It explodes and makes a mess of itself, Stewie, and his bride.

Joe Pickett is sent in to help with the investigation. The official conclusion is that Stewie blew himself up in a botched eco-vandalism stunt. Joe suspects differently, and (of course) he's not wrong. He quickly butts heads with an obnoxious rancher with deep political connections, which gets him into professional trouble. And (did I mention that Box is fond of Dickensian coincidence) Joe's wife, Marybeth, seems to be way more upset about Stewie than one might expect.

Minor spoiler alert: if you note the title of the book, and the accompanying explanation in the text, you'll see an important plot development coming pretty easily.


Last Modified 2017-11-30 11:47 AM EST