Friday, June 29, 2012

MST3K Friday: Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders

"What can we do for our young friend?"  "Show me the exit?"
"The cat was made of oily rags."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Tyranny of Cliches, by Jonah Goldberg

In 1946, George Orwell published his famous essay “Politics and the English Langugae”, decrying what he saw as sloppy writing driven by lazy thinking. His argument was the English Language “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” Orwell makes it clear that he has "not been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing thought.” Despite his injunction, we can see that in the intervening seventy years, very few have heeded his advice. Chief among language's abusers have been academics and politicians.

Syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg's latest book, The Tyranny of Cliches, is a sort of spiritual successor to Orwell. After numerous speaking engagements (and, most likely, watching a lot of cable news), he started to notice a trend. People mouth all sorts of cliches (“I disagree with you, but will defend your right to say it”, “Violence never solved anything”), defending principles they haven't really thought through. These outbursts are a way to avoid arguments by not even making them. People invoke these cliches as placeholders for arguments not won or ideas not fully formed. And these are usually the same folks who denounce a truly thought-out position as “ideological”.

Anyone familiar with Goldberg's columns knows he makes his arguments with a combination of serious research and humorous pop culture references. He's a writer who is at home quoting anyone from William F. Buckley, Jr. and Thomas Sowell to Jean-Luc Picard and Ron Burgundy. In the span of two paragraphs in his chapter on ideology, Goldberg references Fredrick Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Steven Bochco's Cop Rock. We're all familiar with parents hiding medicine in applesauce to make it more palatable, well, Goldberg's writing is like hiding your medicine in a hot fudge sundae.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Song of the Week: I Don't Wanna Go

Tomorrow (6/26/12) marks the release of Blues Traveler's tenth studio album, Suzie Cracks the Whip. In anticipation of that, here's one of their new songs:  "I Don't Wanna Go".

Friday, June 22, 2012

MST3K Friday: Master Ninja

I've been going through my Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XX collection recently, and just watched the two Master Ninja movies.  They're basically episodes of a failed TV show called "The Master" smushed together to form a feature.  What else can I say except it's a good example of a really bad, really cheap 1980's action television show.  It starred Lee Van Cleef (High Noon, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) and Tim Van Patten.  Van Patten's acting is horrible, and Joel and the 'bots have loads of fun with it. While his acting career went nowhere, Van Patten has had great success behind the camera, directing 20 episodes of The Sopranos, 8 episodes of Boardwalk Empire, 3 of The Wire, and one of Deadwood.  He also recieved story credit, with Terence Winter, on the beloved Sopranos episode "Pine Barrens".

One fun thing about the Master Ninja movies is how many recognizable faces show up.  The second movie features Crystal Bernard, David McCallum, and one-time Bond George Lazenby, while the first features a very, very, very young Demi Moore.

Unfortunately, there are no "Best of " clips on YouTube, but you can find the full movies (Master Ninja and Master Ninja II).  Instead, here are Joel, Servo, and Crow rapping their own version of the Master Ninja Theme Song:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Coriolanus (2011)

Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes) is a great Roman leader and fearless warrior for the Republic.  When an uprising by the Volscians, led by Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), threatens Rome, the Senate sends Caius Martius to dispatch the threat.  He does so, earning even greater admiration and the cognomen of "Coriolanus".  At the prompting of his mother, he accepts the nomination for consul and effortlessly wins the post.  However, two Senators plot to turn popular opinion against Coriolanus and succeed in banishing him from Rome.  Now an exile, he tracks down Tullus Anfidius, joins his army, and fights to bring Rome to its knees.

Coriolanus is based on a later play by William Shakespeare, but one that I was unfamiliar with until I saw a trailer a couple months back.  As with a lot of Shakespeare movies in the past 20 years, the filmmakers updated the setting to the modern era, but kept The Bard's famous language.  Indeed, the modern setting works well with the war theme, and the battle scenes are on par with many recent war movies (Blackhawk Down, The Hurt Locker).

Caius Martius is one of the less chatty Shakespearean heroes you'll come across.  He's not given to soliloquy like Macbeth or Hamlet, and he rarely speaks to his motives.  One aspect of his character that fascinated me was he couldn't accept praise from others (he left the Senate chamber when Menenius recounted tales of his brave deeds against the Volscians), but his pride is his downfall.  After the public turns on him, he launches into a diatribe against popular rule. He compares allowing plebeians to have power over the patricians to allowing "crows to peck the eagles". Coriolanus is condemned as a traitor for his words, and is ordered to be banished. Coriolanus retorts that it is he who banishes Rome from his presence.

Like I said, the war scenes are well done.  There are some fabulous performances by Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave (as Coriolanus's mother), and the ever smarmy Brian Cox as Menenius. Butler doesn't get much to do besides be physical, which he does well.

Not the greatest Shakespeare adaptation, but not a bad little movie.  Check out the IMDB link above and watch the trailer.  If it looks like something that would strike your fancy, check it out.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Song of the Week: Love You Like Mad

When you've been a successful band for thirty-odd years it means you've written a whole bunch of songs.  Some are hits, some are flops, and some go unreleased.  As fans, we're always hungry for more, so we pounce on any fresh music from our beloved bands.  Often we wonder why a song went unfinished.  There are quite a number of unreleased and B-Side Billy Joel tunes that I felt would've been massive hits.  Same goes for the band U2.  There are three U2 songs that easily pop into my head that I'd rather have on a record than some of the tunes that actually made it.  This week's Song of the Week is one of them.

It's hard to figure out why "Love You Like Mad" was cast off.  Recorded in 2000 as part of the All That You Can't Leave Behind session, this song was finally released in the fan exclusive compilation Medium, Rare & Remastered.  Maybe it didn't fit thematically with the rest of ATYCLB (there are a couple riffs that feel more at home with 2009's No Line on the Horizon).  Whatever the reason, I think it's better than the majority of their output from the 1990's.

Here is U2's "Love You Like Mad":

Friday, June 15, 2012

MST3K Friday: Rocket Attack USA

"You guys still sure Lucas was the first one to do this?"
"Everything went boom."  "Uh, can you put that into layman's terms, please?"

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Presidents' Club

For political junkies, this kind of thing is like catnip.  The President's Club is the story of how the former chief executives of the US interact with each other and with the sitting President.  I saw an interview with authors Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy last week and the book sounds like it's filled with scores of interesting anecdotes.  Dwight Eisenhower telling LBJ to push through Kennedy's agenda?  Bill Clinton and Bush 43 becoming best of friends?  Those sound highly unlikely, but Gibbs and Duffy show exactly how and why these things happened.  And, of course, nobody in the fraternity seems to like Jimmy Carter.

Given the diverse backgrounds and interests of the men who served as President, you realize that the only club that would have all of them as members would be the one they formed themselves.

As with all the best interviews, this one makes me want to read the book.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Song of the Week: Twist & Shout

Ah, if only we could follow Ferris Bueller's lead once in a while.  Life would be better lived if we could pull off more Bueller Days.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sacred by, Dennis Lehane

A piece of advice:  if you ever follow someone in my neighborhood, don't wear pink.

A beautiful, grief-stricken woman has vanished without a trace.  So has the detective hired to find her.  The woman's father, a dying billionaire, hires Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro to find his daughter.  What first appears to be a missing persons case soon turns out to be much more complex and twisted than either Patrick or Angie had ever imagined.

Sacred is the third book in Dennis Lehane's Kenzie & Gennaro private detective series. (My reviews for the first two are here and here).  What I've said about Lehane's other books still applies.  The world of Kenzie & Gennaro is rich with fully realized characters who leap off the page.  The protagonists themselves are deep, interesting people with whom you'd like to share a beer.  And Lehane's lyrical prose just keeps getting more vivid and more powerful.  I don't think I could stop myself if I wanted to print some quotable lines, there are just that many.

One of the most talked about aspects of Lehane's work is how deftly he weaves social commentary into what could be run of the mill genre stories.  Though I'm not sure what the theme of this book would be (except perhaps as a diatribe against the corrupting power of wealth).  The plot is littered with twists and reversals and untrustworthy people.  Nobody, except perhaps Patrick's mentor Jay, tells our heroes the truth.  In this way, it's a throwback to the earlier novels of Raymond Chandler or Ross Macdonald.

The real selling point of Sacred is the relationship between Patrick and Angie.  They had a fling when they were 16, but it didn't go anywhere.  In A Drink Before the War, they maintained a platonic, if flirty, relationship.  After the horrific events in Darkness, Take My Hand, they start to come together, but there is a wall between them because of Angie's grief over her lost husband.  When they finally accept their feelings for each other, the sparks fly off the page.  Fans of the novels probably feel the same sense of relief as Patrick does when he recognizes that he's always loved Angie.

I'll indulge myself with quoting a couple paragraphs here.  This scene takes place in the latter third of the book, after our heroes had been beaten, deceived, and had their expectations turned upside down:
[Angie] fell asleep curled on my chest as my own eyelids fluttered.  And I found myself wondering, just before I lost consciousness, how I could have thought - even for a second - that Desiree was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen.
I looked down at Angie sleeping naked on my chest, at the scratches and swollen flesh on her face, and I knew that only now, at this exact moment and for the first time in my life, did I understand anything about beauty.
I can't recommend the Kenzie & Gennaro series highly enough.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Song of the Week: Vertigo (theme)

Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) was one of the most popular and prolific composers of the mid-20th Century.  His early work in radio was mostly for Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre, and he moved to Hollywood to score Welles's debut Citizen Kane.  But perhaps his most famous collaborations were with Alfred Hitchcock. he nearly scored all of Hitchcock's films between 1955 and 1964, including The Man Who Knew Too Much, North by Northwest, and Psycho.  Some of the other films he worked on were Cape Fear and Taxi Driver.

One of my favorite scores, and also a great movie, is for Vertigo.  I took the time to re-watch Vertigo the other week, and couldn't help but notice how Herrmann's theme played up the dreamlike nature of the film.  A hard film to classify, I think everyone should see Vertigo at least once.

Here is Herrmann's main theme for Vertigo: