As long as I mentioned the Marx Bros. marathon on Turner Classic Movies, I figured that this is as good a way to go out the year with. Here's the Mirror Scene from Duck Soup. That Harpo who crashes into the mirror, and Groucho is...well, the other one.
Turner Classic Movies has a couple of movie marathons to fill out New Years Eve day (and night). Currently on now, beginning at 9 AM (West Coast time, noon in the East) is A Night at the Opera, followed by Animals Crackers, Monkey Business, Horsefeathers, and Duck Soup.
Then, starting at 5 PM PST (8 PM in the East) are all six Thin Man movies with William Powell and Myrna Loy, running consecutively for almost the next 11 hours.
By the way, the movie that follows all of this at 3:45 (PST...you know the rest), is fascinating for historical reasons. It's the 1936 movie, Things to Come, which stars Raymond Massey and Ralph Richardson (who we just had here playing Ebeneezer Scrooge in that BBC radio adaptation of A Christmas Carol). It's based on the H.G. Wells novel. What's so remarkable about the film is that the screenplay is written by...H.G. Wells himself!
The movie isn't wonderful, but there's enough good things in it to make it worthwhile, most particularly for seeing a movie written by H.G. Wells. The iMDB listing describes the plot as "A decades-long second World War leaves plague and anarchy, then a rational state rebuilds civilization and attempts space travel." (Given the timing of the film, it's anticipation of the start of a second world war isn't so far off.) Obviously the early morning timing isn't quite ideal for most people, but then that's why God created the DVR.
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that the first episode of the new season of Jerry Seinfeld's web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, would premiere on December 30 with President Barack Obama as the guest. At 11:30 PM last night, it went live.
The episode is hugely entertaining. And not surprisingly, longer than most, running about 20 minutes. The video begins with a particularly long description of the car they'll be driving in -- in part because it's an especially-impressive Corvette, but in part I suspect to build up the anticipation. And there are other differences, too -- like the whole, usual premise of driving around town to go out to a coffee shop. That takes a slightly, and entertainingly-different turn.
Obviously, this chat isn't centered on any policy discussion, but it's quite interesting on its own terms. Seinfeld does an extremely nice job dealing with the President in a very personal way, asking several unexpected questions that bring out a very conversational side, making this much more than just a Q&A interview. In fact, it all becomes so informal that at one point Mr. Obama turns the tables and starts questioning Seinfeld. ("Oh, good," the surprised comedian quips, "because you haven't worked yet.") Indeed, in the introduction, Seinfeld references Mr. Obama's qualification of being able to fall under the heading of "comedian." And not shockingly here's plenty of good humor throughout -- including from the president. Furthermore, it's not remotely just fawning over the Chief Executive. Seinfeld, after all, is a sharp, quick comedian and snarky enough to get some pointed comments in. (I particularly liked his thoroughly-unguarded reaction when they discuss how one spends their time after your main life's work comes to an end.) My favorite moment though comes very near the beginning: I won't give it away, but will just say that it concerns an apple, and a comment Seinfeld makes which cracks up the president.
You also get a look at the White House from a perspective the public rarely sees. This is no small thing, I found that part actually quite fascinating. You really gets a sense of the grandeur of the building, it seeming at times as much a palace as a "mere" mansion.
Stick around after the commercial at the very end. There's a short, amusing addendum.
I have no doubt that there will be some who'll criticize this for being a waste of the presidential time with so many serious things going on in the world. I also suspect these are the same people who would criticize the president for whatever it was he did about handling those serious things instead of spending time on this appearance. To a certain degree, Seinfeld and the president do address his appearance here to justify it, in a very small way. (Like when a president has gone on a talk show to not just be entertaining, but also build public support for some proposal.) Was it the best use of time for a President of the United States? Probably not, though looking behind the curtain and seeing an low-key, informal, personal side of the head of the country isn't without its benefits. I would also suspect that all presidents do have periods when they are, in fact, free to unwind and do some personal things like this. (After all, when we see "news stories" of a president go to a store to buy holiday gifts, as occasionally happens, that doesn't appear to be a high matter of state.) They just usually aren't recorded on film. Is this any less worthy of a president's relaxation time than watching a basketball game or playing golf? And clearly, if there wasn't the available time when this could be reasonably done, it simply wouldn't have been.
And in the end, it's very well-done, thoughtful, and very entertaining. If it felt forced, it would be a far more questionable undertaking. But this comes across as seamless. Which is impressive, because I'm sure it's anything but.
I can't embed the video, but you can watch it here.
Since this song is about New Year's Eve, I was going to post it tomorrow. But then I realized the lyrics are about someone trying ahead of time to get a date for New Year's Eve. So, I'm posting it today instead.
This is a video posted by Zooey Deschanel, a charming duet with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. She writes the following about it --
"I have known Joe Gordon-Levitt for going on 12 years. We first met in the summer of 2000 while doing a tiny movie called Manic, where we bonded over a mutual appreciation for Harry Nilsson and Nina Simone and I have been lucky enough to call him one of my dearest friends ever since. When we did 500 Days of Summer 8 years later, we spent every lunch hour dancing to Marvin Gaye in the hair and make up trailer; we had loads of fun. I hope to do a thousand more movies with him because he's simply the best. But in the meantime, we made a little New Year's duet for all of you! The original by Nancy Wilson. ENJOY!"
Two quibbles. First, the original recording was not by Nancy Wilson, but rather in 1947 by Margaret Whiting. And second, while I know it's become fashionable these days, thanks to shows like The Voice, to say a song is "by" person who sang it, in fact it was written by the great Broadway composer-lyricist Frank Loesser, though it's not from any show and was written before he had started his Broadway career.
That aside, it's a lovely rendition. Ms. Deschanel even wore her tiara for the occasion. It's the perfect accessory for a ukulele...
A friend was coming to Chicago to visit her two sisters, and asked if I had any movie rental recommendations. That was quite a wide assignment, I said, given that I have no idea what kind of movie she liked – let alone that the three sisters together liked. Comedy, adventure, thriller, foreign, romance, sci-fi…
I did my best putting together a list, knowing what little I did of the three, all accomplished professionals. I figured that since the list is done, I might as well post it here. Keep in mind that this is not even remotely a definitive Moves To See list. It's focused on these three sisters. Without knowing their specific tastes. And I chose to come up with lesser-known films that they were less-likely to have seen. And I didn't want to take too much time researching and thinking about this, so it was done pretty quickly, in about a half-hour. I have no doubt that if I took more time and had different criteria, the list would be significantly different. And there were others I even thought of including, but decided there was a limit, and stopped since I didn't want to inundate her with an interminable list.
So, again, this is not a definitive list in any way, shape or form. Just something I dashed off given the limited criteria I mentioned above. And which I thought would be fun to post here, to help end out the year, perhaps even if you're looking for something to rent on New Year's Eve.
So, here then are some random thoughts.
A few movies I loved that few people have seen, let alone even know about –
“The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio.” Julianne Moore should have won the Oscar for this, but almost no one saw the movie, and she wasn’t even nominated. It's a brilliant performance. Based on a memoir about the author’s indomitable mother who, in the 1950s, helped raise her large family (whenever her well-meaning, but irresponsible, often-drunk husband, played by Woody Harrelson, screwed up their lives) by regularly entering product write-in contest in the newspaper and winning so much of the time. The full title of the book it's based on is "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio -- or How My Mother Raised 10 Kinds on 25 Words or Less." The movie also has the single greatest ending to a true-story film I've ever seen.
“Proof”, based on the Tony-winning play, about a young woman determined to prove her brilliant father isn’t going crazy by trying to prove the theorem he’s spent a lifetime working on. With Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins, co-starring Jake Gyllenhaal, and directed by John Madden, who directed "Shakespeare in Love" and "Mrs. Brown."
“Rosewater” is the movie that Jon Stewart took time off from “The Daily Show” to write and direct. It got a tiny release, almost insignificant, but it’s really quite good. A true story about a journalist in Iran who is arrested for supposedly dealing with an American spy, who actually was just “correspondent” from “The Daily Show.”
“Kon-Tiki”, a very good recent retelling of the famous documentary (and book) about an effort to prove how civilization migrating from Asia, as a group of men build a raft and attempt to sail across the Pacific Ocean.
Slightly Better-known Movies, but Still Under the Wire –
“Temple Grandin” – an HBO movie that won the Emmy for Outstanding Made-for-TV film. Really wonderful. A true story about a young woman with autism who confronts it head-on and ends up breaking through major stigmatisms and becomes a famous animal behaviorist. It won seven Emmys in all, including Outstanding Actress in a Mini-series of Movie for Clare Danes.
“Ball of Fire,” a classic screwball comedy from the ‘40s, where a gangster’s girlfriend has to hide out among a household of adorable, brilliant and totally innocent academics who spends all their time indoors researching and writing an encyclopedia. Loosely based on “Snow White and the 7 Dwarves,” with Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper Grant (as one of the academics).
Several Brilliant Foreign-language Films –
“Character” (or “Karakter”) – one of my favorite films of the last 25 years. This 1997 Dutch movie was the Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, and it’s like a long-lost Dickens novel -- as well as a a long-lost film directed by David Lean (“Dr. Zhivago,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Great Expectations, “Oliver Twist.”) The story has the sensibility particular of "Nicholas Nickleby," telling of a young man from a poor background, trying to make his way in the business world, whose every move seems blocked by the omnipresent town elder, but who has a friendly benefactor guiding him. A love story, too, as he also tries to discover the story of his past.
“La Vie en Rose” – Marion Coitillard became only the third foreign-language actress to win the Oscar as Best Actress, in the life story of singer Edith Piaf. And though I suspect more people saw this than would have otherwise because of the award, my guess is it still hasn't been seen by many. It's a tour-de-force performance, but a very well-done movie beside that.
“No Man’s Land” – Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, beating the hugely popular “Amelie.” It starts out as a war movie about the Serbo-Croatian War, and then suddenly takes a huge turn with one of the great twists I’ve seen in the movies. (So great that I’ve never told anyone the plot, not wanting to give it away.) It’s largely a personal drama over a specific dilemma that is utterly gripping. Since the U.N. plays a major role, probably 25% of the film is in English, making it more accessible than most foreign-language films. I saw this an an "awards screening," and the response in the room was so visceral that when people asked me my "Oscar predictions," they were stunned that I said this (which they hadn't heard of) rather than "Amelie," which they'd seen and loved. But I was right. It won.
“Joyeux Noel,” – Oscar-nominated Best Foreign Language Film (that should have won), based on a true story in World War I, when several armies were facing each other in trenches on Christmas Eve, and they get the idea to call a one-night truce. It’s absolutely wonderful – taught, but endearing and beautifully made. It lost the Oscar to a South African film, "Totsi," which was good and had a Very Good Message -- but (and I know this is all personal taste) "Joyeux Noel" was just an exquisite film and a total joy..
“Hero” – probably the most gorgeously-photographed movie I’ve ever seen. In fact, I was so taken with it that I wrote an article about the film (here). It was made by famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou, an artist of impressive craftsmanship, who best known to American audiences for directing the otherworldly spectacular opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. The story is good, and interesting, albeit a bit thin, an adventure about a swordsman’s journey for retribution against a warrior, but the movie is so amazing beautiful to watch that it sucks you in with every frame..
“Lagaan” – another Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film from India. It’s VERY long (about 3-1/2 hours), and has traditional India goofiness, like big musical numbers that break out for no reason, but an extremely accessible, fun story – basically “Rocky” meets “Romeo and Juliet.” The word “lagaan” means tax. The film takes place when the British still ruled India, and the local tax is raised on a poor village, which they can’t pay. But they make a bet with the British governors – if they can beat the British at cricket, there will be no tax. If they lose, though, the tax will be tripled. There's one slight problem – the villagers don’t know how to play cricket. A British girl is in love with a young man from the village, so every day she sneaks over to teach them how to play.
And okay, that’s enough. Other lists may vary...including my own. But that's a quick start.
But here's the opening 10 minutes of "Character," co-adapted from a novel and directed by Mike van Diem.
There are a series of photos which are making the rounds of the Internet these days, and they are just too freaking adorable and wonderful not to bring to your attention.
Allan Dixon is an adventurer based in Australia who travels the world and, among other things takes photos of animals. No big deal, I know, but so many of these photos are selfies with the animals, and they're just...well, otherworldly. Here's just one example --
And most of the rest are almost just as wonderful. Really. I'm not exaggerating.
Like this one, for example.
Don't worry. I didn't give away "all the best" of them. In fact, I had a difficult time trying to figure out which ones to use.
There's an important component to all of this. As an article here on the Huffington Post notes --
"As an adventurer, Dixon is cautious: He sometimes spends hours hanging out with an animal and gaining its trust before snapping photos. Travelers 'should be very careful as to not upset or provoke the animal when they’re trying to take the photo,' Dixon told Bored Panda. 'Gain the animal’s trust in a calm relaxed manner, and the results will be golden.'
"Of course you should avoid approaching an animal you don't know to be friendly and keep your distance behind gates or other barriers when they're set up, National Geographic points out. Practice respect, though, and nature will show you its good side, as Dixon can certainly attest."
The article linked above show many of the best photos. But if you want to see a far-wider collection of Allan Dixon's photos, check out his own terrific gallery here on Instagram.
Yesterday, San Diego Charger safety Eric Weedle was fined $10.000 by the team for staying on the field during halftime and not coming into the locker room, which is team policy.
The 31-year-old Weedle was in the wrong. At the very least, he should have informed the team he was staying on the field. As a result of his actions, he missed a team meeting.
Okay, there's something I'm leaving out of the tale here, which you might have figured out at this point.
The reason that Eric Weedle stayed on the field, you see, was because he wanted to watch his young daughter who was dancing during the the halftime show. And yes, the Chargers fined him $10,000 for that.
Again, it was against team policy, and he was wrong. But...well, seriously guys. Not only was the team leading 23-0, so it wasn't likely that anything terribly important was being discussed in the locker room, but...well, okay, y'know, the obvious: it was his young daughter. Even though it was "against policy," and therefore some sort of penalty was due, surely there should be a codicil in there amidst Team Policy which reads, "If a player heretofore fails to return to the aforesaid locker room at half-time and also does not henceforth inform team management because his child is performing on the field, the penalty ipso facto will be reduced from $10,000 to enough money to buy pizza for all his teammates and the equipment managers."
Here's how reporter Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote about it, in part --
"Weddle did not tell team officials beforehand that he was staying on the field. He should have done that. But he missed a seven-minute halftime and a much shorter address by defensive coordinator John Pagano during the intermission in a game in which the Chargers had a 23-0 lead. The team did not have to penalize him for what it termed “conduct detrimental to the team.”
"Detrimental? How about completely alienating a player who spends as much time at the facility as anyone and has started 93 of the past 95 games through myriad injuries and taught younger players on and off the field and been like a coach during games. In addition to making plays that others screw up, this is one of the great family men and role models in the game.
"Between 2011 and ‘14, Weddle played more than 98 percent of the Chargers’ defensive snaps and almost half (49percent) of their special teams snaps. No other player in the NFL played even 75 percent of his team’s defensive snaps and 49 percent of the kick team snaps in that span."
Oh, it should also be mentioned that Eric Weedle is the team captain.
So, clearly through all his actions on the field as a player -- and off, as a human bean -- this is a person who doesn't even remotely hold the respect of of his teammates... A most highly detrimental character and action, indeed.
The NFL has had a lot of off-the-field scandals in recent years, with murders, shootings, physicals assaults and spousal abuse. So, you'd think the Eric Weedle "transgressions" of staying on the field to watch his daughter are the ones that the league would actually love to, well, you know, promote.
Weedle tends to be an outspoken character, which doesn't always play well with the highly-structured NFL. And since the end of last year, the team has been positioning itself to ending its longtime relationship with the player. Something that at this point seems a given. But still...it was his daughter performing at halftime. And they fined him $10,000.
I know that brain injuries are a major concern these days for the National Football League. But I didn't think it affected the front office.
I say this too often, but -- It's been much too long since I've had a bit of Jiminy Glick here. So, before the year gets away, let's rectify that, and here is Martin Short as his bizarre but wonderful would-be Hollywood insider interviewing Mel Brooks.
This is belated by a couple weeks, but when Pete Rose's application was again denied to have his lifetime ban from baseball overturned, I just wasn't up to writing about Pete Rose at the time.
I was quite taken by the moving plea that Rose made at a press conference about his little granddaughter wanting to see grandpa in baseball. While I’m sure that his sadness was heartfelt, my main thought was that you sort of wished he’d figured out that the responsibility was on him and his actions, not on baseball. And that the responsibility had been there for 26 years when he was banned for life, a lifetime ban which he signed an agreement to.
When baseball commissioner Rob Manfred denied the application, he issued a pointed explanation, but at the core of it was that Pete Rose had done nothing to show he had turned his life around and continued openly gambling in Las Vegas.
I had mixed feelings about the commissioner’s reasons for keeping the ban. On the one hand, I loved that he pointed out that Pete Rose has done nothing for decades to rehabilitate himself in order to overcome a LIFETIME ban. Not just the continued gambling, or that he'd denied it for 15 years even after signing the ban (only to finally acknowledge it 11 years ago when promoting a book -- though just that he bet when a manager, not as a player...only to have evidence turn up this year that, in fact, he lied and had also bet while a player), or that he had regularly gone to Cooperstown on Hall of Fame weekend to promote himself by intentionally spitting in the eye of baseball at this annual, hallowed event. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s the reason commissioner Manfred should have used. After all, even if Pete Rose had become an angel on earth, I think a perfectly proper reason to say the ban was being continued was because it was LIFETIME. And Pete Rose had agreed to it.
I watched with a certain bemusement how a few commentators thought it was an unfair reason, since Pete Rose was no longer in baseball, and “Everyone else has the right to gamble legally in Las Vegas, so why not Pete Rose?” Seriously, guys?? Really?? In fact, Pete Rose actually does have every right to gamble legally in Las Vegas to his heart’s content. And nothing the commissioner said or did alters that. But “everyone else” isn’t trying to get a lifetime ban for gambling overturned so that they can return to an involvement in professional baseball and get voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. If Pete Rose wants to keep gambling in Las Vegas, godspeed, go ahead. Bet to his heart’s content and even double-down as much as he wants. Triple-down, even. But if you want to convince organized baseball that they should throw out your ban for life which came about because of gambling, that’s a really poor way to go about it. If a restaurant says you can’t eat there if you’re wearing sandals, you are free to wear sandals every single moment of the day. But you’re not going to be allowed in the restaurant to eat. It’s not a hard concept.
Years ago, the great pitcher for the San Francisco Giants Juan Marichal got into an ugly incident on the field, swinging a baseball bat at catcher John Roseboro of the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was seen as likely the reason he didn't get elected into the Hall of Fame. But Marichal was openly regretful for the attack and for the next several decades became a model ambassador for baseball, and even became close friends with John Roseboro, even being invited by Roseboro's widow to speak at the catcher's funeral. And eventually, Marichal was elected into the Hall of Fame.
Years ago, too, Cubs pitcher Ferguson Jenkins was arrested on a cocaine charge, after his baseball career. It also was seen as a reason he didn't get elected to the Hall of Fame. And Jenkins, too, took personal responsibility, and became an admired ambassador for baseball. And not long ago, he also was finally elected to the Hall of Fame.
To be clear, these are different cases. Neither Marichal or Jenkins had a lifetime ban from baseball. But they had done something that tarnished their reputations and kept baseball from voting them into the Hall of Fame. They had every right to live their lives however they wanted, but they clearly had such love for baseball that they did everything possible admirably in an effort to be included in the baseball community. And both did finally get included. And if, indeed, one of the criteria that commissioner Manfred said was used for assessing Pete Rose's application for reinstatement was whether he turned his life around on the standards baseball required, then Pete Rose has had a quarter of a century to show his interest. And he's pretty much spit in baseball's face for that whole time, while asking them to overturn a lifetime ban -- that he agreed to.
I'm not completely convinced that Pete Rose should be re-admitted to baseball if only he stops gambling and becomes an ambassador to the sport. Maybe that's enough, maybe not. But if it is, then him not getting re-admitted falls entirely on Pete Rose. And if his granddaughter is sad to see that, then it's her grandpa's fault. And for him to try and put the onus on baseball itself, that's just one more example of what Pete Rose has been doing since 1989 -- actually before that, since he began betting on baseball while still an active players: spitting on the sport and denigrating it, all by himself.
This week's contestant is Cynthia Schwab from Joplin, Missouri..The tune was incredibly well-hidden, but then at one point the song became completely clear (at least to me). As for the composer style, I happily got it pretty quickly. So, as a happy holiday treat, I got both parts of the Puzzler. O joy.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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