The zombie newspaper.

I see the word got out that my alma mater, the News-Sentinel of Fort Wayne, Ind., alma mater of my husband as well, not to mention a few of our commentariat and some very good journalists who used it as a stepping stone to bigger careers elsewhere, is muerte.

Or rather, not dead, just downsized. How, you might be wondering, is that even possible, when the staff — around 80something when Alan and I worked there — is now down to eight? Easy. You lay off seven of them. This allegedly daily newspaper, which dispensed of its print product when it downsized to eight, will now be staffed by a single soul, who happens to be the right-wing columnist who also does news stories, because hey, having a columnist is kind of a luxury, when ya think about it.

Here’s the closest thing to a company press release, delivered two full days after the layoff happened. Get a load of this bullshit:

“We’ll still have a website. We’ll still have a page in The Journal Gazette every Monday through Saturday. And we’ll still have a presence at key events in the area,” he said. “Kevin Leininger is staying with us to provide great community, business and political coverage.”

That’s the “publisher,” a company man recently called back to corporate HQ in West Virginia. I hope he enjoyed his time squeezing every last nickel out of the place. I wonder who will get the Pulitzer hanging on the wall when they finally call it quits.

Guys! Let’s put together a raiding party and steal it! If the building security is anything like it used to be, it’ll be a proverbial candy/baby situation. (Once a female security guard maced herself. It’s a long, embarrassing [for her] story; another time.) We can donate it to the Newseum or find a more useful place for it than on the wall of an empty newsroom, or, worse, on their corporate boardroom wall, assuming they have one. For all I know, this outfit operates out of a former strip-mall insurance office down there in Parkersburg, West-by-God.

Yes, a little testy about this, I must say. I’ll also say this: There is always meat on a carcass’ bones, no matter how long after it dropped to its knees and expired out there on the prairie. And there is always a scavenger willing to gnaw off its share.

Otherwise, not a bad weekend. Got a fair amount done, including two workouts and a dinner on the table. Alan’s been curious about Filmstruck, the new all-movies streaming service, for a while now, and finally bit the equipment-upgrade bullet necessary to get it here — it only works with the second-generation AppleTV, evidently, unless you want to link it to your laptop somehow. So I’m accustomed to hearing chortling coming from downstairs as I drift off to sleep, as Alan plows through the entire Jim Jarmusch catalog, for instance.

Last night we watched “Reflections in a Golden Eye,” a John Huston adaptation of Carson McCullers’ novel, c. 1967. Talk about ahead of its time: Marlon Brando plays a repressed homosexual Army major, teaching “leadership” or some such on a remote southern base, so far off the beaten path it could be existing in a dream. (It’s dedicated to the mounted — as in, on horseback — cavalry. This after World War II.) Elizabeth Taylor is his wife, described in the synopsis as a “nymphomaniac,” which I guess means that she finds sexual solace other than in her gay husband’s arms. Her lover is Brian Keith, of all people. Her role is basically Martha from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” almost down to the letter — she’s a middle-age spoiled brat whose husband will never be as manly and powerful as daddy. Then there’s Julie Harris as Keith’s neurotic wife, Zorro David as her mincing Filipino houseboy and “Introducing Robert Forster.” He plays a young private, gifted with horses, who becomes obsessed with Liz while Brando becomes obsessed with him. (He — the private — likes to take a horse out for a bareback spin, stopping to shed his own clothes after he’s out of eyeshot of the barn. Bareback and bareassed.

It’s quite a story, and of course it tanked. The gay stuff was probably unheard-of for a mid-’60s audience, and very explicit without being so; at one point Liz takes off all her clothes to taunt her husband, who flies into a rage. The idea of America’s violet-eyed sex goddess not being devoured by a healthy man couldn’t have sent a stronger message that Maj. Penderton was not all there, sexually.

Fun fact, via Wikipedia: Stills of Brando in character, and in uniform, as Maj. Penderton were used in “Apocalypse Now” — they’re the pictures in the dossier about Col. Kurtz that Martin Sheen looks through as he goes upriver.

Now I think I’ll go downstairs and start scaring up some dinner. There might be some purple involved:

Variations on a theme of #Purple. #farmersmarket #detroit

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Have a good week ahead, all. The pace should be slower. I certainly hope so.

Posted at 6:12 pm in Media, Movies | 46 Comments
 

Phoning it in.

Sorry for the spotty posting, guys. I’ve been busy, and will continue to be until the end of the month. Today, in fact, I’m working. But it being Sunday, I may do some of it in my underwear.

Alan’s working too – leadership change at Fiat Chrysler, so it’s all good. Fortunately, it’s raining and muggy as hell, so we’re not missing much. And I’m suffering from wicked allergy symptoms at the moment. Alan and Kate are 365-day antihistamine takers, but I’ve only been bothered in recent years, and only intermittently. Yesterday I sneezed more or less continually for about 15 minutes. Love when that happens, eh? By the end they’re what I call “snoughs,” pronounced “snoff,” because everything that can be sneezed out has been, and it’s more like a cough with a convulsive nose element.

So, today I’m back on Zyrt*c and Fl*nase, which I asterisk so as not to attract the ‘bots that have been sending me increasingly sophisticated email spam: “Hi, it’s Jenny. I see you’ve been writing about (some stupid fucking product),” accompanied by a link to this blog that may be 10 or 12 years old. “Can we partner on some branded content?” All of which is merely a nuisance; how long does it take to click the Spam button on your email? But then come the followups — “Hey, it’s Jenny again. I know we’re all crazy busy these days, but I wanted to circle back and make sure you’d seen my offer,” etc.

Go away, Jenny.

I did make a little time this weekend to go to the movies. Saw “Sorry to Bother You,” which was absolutely bonkers and entirely enjoyable, a social-satire mashup of art, culture, organized labor, wealth and then, whoa, sci-fi. It reminded me of what Spike Lee might have made if he were, you know, funnier.

But that’s been pretty much it. Work, sleep, movie, a little sushi.

I have a couple links saved, but at three days old now, they seem positively outdated. But here goes:

This should lead to some interesting speculation, if it doesn’t get lost in the garbage pile: Trump properties have been paying their property taxes late. What does it mean?

The missed deadlines puzzled real estate experts, who said that for a long-established property company such as the Trump Organization, paying property taxes should be a routine task. The bills arrive for predictable sums of money, at predictable times, with predictable penalties for paying late.

Many companies use computer programs to track upcoming bills and flag them long before they become overdue.

“If you’re a professional organization, you’re typically not late on property-tax bills,” said Matthew L. Cypher, a former real estate executive who runs a real estate center at Georgetown University’s business school. He said the Trump Organization did not seem to have saved itself any significant amount of money by delaying the payments; in fact, it did the opposite.

This is a pattern change, too. These businesses have previously paid on time.

You all know my fondness for Neil Steinberg’s blog. This past week he’s been traveling, and pre-loaded a series of posts he called Traitor Week, a daily look at some famous turncoat in history. He winds up today with guess-who. My Yes moment:

Honestly, I’m not that interested in what Trump actually did. What is more important, to me, is how indifferent his supporters are to the possibility of Trump treachery. They just don’t care. Nothing is going to make them care. This is worse than any meeting with Russians. Their my-side-versus-your-side, dodgeball mentality is a staggering revelation.

…Maybe the horror of the Trump years is not that America became some awful place under his watch, but that a certain segment looked around and realized what we are. The illusion vanishes, the beautiful skin withers, and we see the grinning skull that has been here the whole time.

I actually read a social-media post by a local lunatic saying this very thing: So what if Russia helped? Big deal.

Finally, because we have librarians and library-lovers in this community, behold the stupidest thing ever written: Amazon should replace local libraries to save taxpayers money The author made the mistake of posting a link on Twitter and is currently being ratio’d to beat the band. Pretty sure Forbes.com is one of those brands with a website that shames its print counterpart. This certainly does.

OK, I’m out. Gotta shower, grocery shop and then do an interview. Have a good Sunday and I’ll see you back here…eventually.

Posted at 11:09 am in Current events, Movies | 71 Comments
 

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

It’s Memorial Day as I write this, and while I have largely kept my resolution to minimize screen time this weekend, even a reduced schedule of check-ins reveals the patriots are out in full force, demanding I give thanks for my freedom, purchased with the blood of brave soldiers.

Which is why I was struck by a final post, by a veteran, positing that we haven’t fought a war for our freedom since 1945. Korea, Vietnam, Gulf Wars I and II and the many skirmishes in between — Grenada, anyone? — were mainly foreign-policy blunders for which we are still paying, in one form or another, while their architects go about unpunished.

A bold statement. And yet, one with which I largely agree.

Grenada, man. Haven’t thought of that one for a while. I sat next to a Grenada vet at a dinner party once, who had me in stitches describing the ambitious officers who swarmed all over the island during that brief war-with-umbrella-drinks, getting their campaign ribbons so as to continue their career climbs unimpeded by a failure to “see combat.”

“And what did you do there?” I asked.

“Maintained a radio beacon for aircraft,” he said. “It was on the beach. I had to check it every 30 minutes, which was good, because it reminded me to turn over and tan the other side.”

And yet, still, about 20 American lives were lost, 6,000 troops were sent, to protect 1,000 American civilians in residence, most of them medical students. I wonder how those dead soldiers’ loved ones feel about their sacrifice.

Ah well. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

The long weekend was much-appreciated, even if it was fairly formless. The heat descended like a sledgehammer, and I spent much of Monday indoors, reading lazily and trying to avoid the outdoors. Had a long bike ride early, just to shake off the laziness, before it got too steamy. Saw an old friend, met a new one — Icarus, one of our commenting community. We sat in a nearly deserted air-conditioned bar and had a couple of beers, chatting about Grosse Pointe and Chicago. Sunday was a long day, starting at 5 a.m., when I went to a sunrise party, one of the many, many unofficial events connected to the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, or Movement. It was held at an art park run by a merry chap, and a certain happy anarchy presides over the place. Note the spire, a new addition in the last couple of years:

It shoots fire:

Gentrified Detroit is creeping out to him, and I wonder how long the place can endure. A graffiti artist died there a while back; he fell through a roof. It seems only a matter of time before someone decides such lawlessness can’t be tolerated, especially with flamethrowers. But for now, it rocks on, and I was happy to be there, one of a handful who arrived after a night of sleep. Most appeared to have played through the night.

In between all this lazing about and dawn’s-early-light partying, we watched “All the Money in the World,” a reminder that rich people are often some of the absolute worst ones in it. And I read the news, paying attention to the repeal-the-8th vote in Ireland, and the conservative keening about it stateside. I wish they’d spend less time worrying about culture war and more studying politics. A friend told me that a four-point win or above in any race qualifies as decisive, and this one, with 66 percent in favor, is a legit landslide, without qualification. That speaks to a deep dissatisfaction among the people who had to live with this law, the humiliation it heaped on women who had to go abroad to get abortions, the real harm done to those with medical complications related to pregnancy (including the worst complication of all), not to mention Ireland’s shameful history with the Magdalene laundries and other mother-and-baby homes. A vote that lopsided speaks to a people trying to right a wrong, and at times like this it’s probably best to keep your mouth shut, if you disagree.

And now, in the waning hours of this lovely long weekend, I’m going to return to my book. A novel. An escape. Let the summer begin.

Posted at 5:51 pm in Current events, Detroit life, Movies | 65 Comments
 

A weekend of wonders.

Hey, everyone! I finally saw “Black Panther.” And…well. I didn’t dislike it. In fact, I found a lot to like about it. The costumes were fantastic, production design ditto. Can’t complain about the acting, certainly, and the script was pretty good, too. It’s taken this long, but now I can state with confidence: I just don’t like comic-book movies.

I felt the same way about the equally praised “Wonder Woman.” Every story is the same hero’s quest, every outcome predetermined. The fight scenes go on and on and ON, and ever since Chinese kung-fu movies decided human beings could run straight up walls, what’s left for superheroes to do? Apparently Black Panther’s suit “absorbs kinetic energy” and allows him to dish it back out in equal measure. So you shoot at him, and he only gets stronger. Wow, how exciting.

The most interesting character in the story is the bad guy. (And — spoiler alert — he dies in the end.)

Why is this so hard for writers to understand? People’s flaws are as important as their strengths, maybe more so. They’re the shadow that makes the light more defined. The worst thing you could say about T’Challa, i.e., Black Panther, is that he’s too good. Bor-ing.

Good thing the outfits were so fab. And T’Challa was hilarious on “Black Jeopardy.” But the people talking about this being a Best Picture nominee are full of it.

That was the second cultural event we took in Saturday. The first was the Tom of Finland show at the local contemporary-art museum. For those not up on Tom of Finland: He was to leather daddies what Alberto Vargas was to pin-up girls. Google if you dare, but much of it is porn, with comically outsized dicks. This pretty tame piece gives you the idea, though:

Well, hello sailor. At the Tom of Finland 🇫🇮 show.

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I still chuckle whenever I see a bunch of kids dancing to “YMCA.” Gay culture seeped in under the door, and hardly anyone noticed.

And then, because last week was our 25th anniversary, we went out to dinner on Sunday night, a rare event for us. It was great, at a pop-up space in Hazel Park run by a photographer I worked with once when I was a freelancer. Four courses with twin themes of Thai and Springtime, which meant fiddlehead ferns in chili oil with something called a 63-degree egg, which is, I learned via Professor Google, a thing. It was amazing — almost an egg pudding. The menu was full of wonders, including soft-shell crabs and avocado ice cream. The photographer seated us at the table closest to the action, so we could watch the cooking and the plating and all of it. Quite a night. I woke up with a food hangover today, but pushed through. I don’t expect to be hungry again for two days.

More Instagram? Sure why not:

What else happened this weekend? Oh, right: Two people in England got married. Don’t tell me your problems with the dress, because I’m not hearing them. That dress was perfect for a 36-year-old divorcee marrying into a royal family in front of 1 billion eyeballs. Of course, there were 2 billion photos, but for my money, I love the official ones released by the palace, if only because it captures the royal family in all its weirdness. I know Phil and Betty are now in their 90s, but man, he looks like a cadaver these days. I expect he won’t truck with having a little concealer dabbed around those sunken black eyes. The kids are adorable, of course. All these pictures needed was a corgi or two.

And with that, I’m out and offline. I need to sleep off 2,000 calories, still.

Posted at 8:00 pm in Detroit life, Movies | 53 Comments
 

Deplorables.

Alan came home from work one day last week and reported his employer was about to drop a break-the-internet story, and a few hours later, it did, with the publication of this piece about Matt Patricia, the new head coach for the Detroit Lions. It turns out that 22 years ago, while a college student on spring break on South Padre Island, he and another young man were charged with raping a woman. He was arrested, charged and indicted by a grand jury, but the case never went to trial because the alleged victim decided she didn’t think she could handle the stress of a trial and declined to testify. Charges were dropped.

This is the nut of the story, to my mind:

Although both men have gone on to successful careers, the relevance of even old and untried charges raises questions for the Lions at the height of the “Me Too” movement, which has brought new scrutiny to sexual misconduct allegations.

The indictment remained an untold part of Patricia’s past during his rise in the coaching ranks, and the Lions said it eluded them during a background check that only searched for criminal convictions.

When approached by The Detroit News, team president Rod Wood initially said “I don’t know anything about this” — but hours later said his review of the situation only reinforced the team’s decision to hire Patricia.

The NFL prides itself on its towering moral superiority — witness how lovingly they look after the reputations of its cheerleading teams, for instance — but somehow no one knew this. Patricia’s record was literally part of his Nexis profile, available to anyone with an account and the dexterity to punch his name into a search field. You can argue whether a dismissed 22-year-old case should matter today, and whether it should be brought up in the news media, and I will listen respectfully. But virtually no one in the Lions fan base is doing that, preferring to leave steaming turds in the comment section of, well, this follow-up piece from the weekend, detailing that, contrary to Patricia’s lawyer’s description of the case, this was not a he-said/she-said scenario, but one with medical evidence. Here’s one:

Ok, let me point something out for Snell. Let’s take each witness on their own merit.
1) Detective = took statement
2) Roommate = heard roomate talk about sex with two football players including DP.
3) Nurse = found semen in slut
4) Doctor = confirmed semen in slut
5) Slut = slut. Enough said

And this:

Without dna evidence tying these two guys to the sex, you have a bunch of witnesses who can testified that the accuser had sex, maybe aggressive sex. Now think about all the possibilities on south padre island during spring break.

And this:

Us older Americans think if the “#” system as the pound sign. So guess what we we’re thinking when we saw #MeToo.

I know, I know: Never read the comments, especially on a sports story. But I did, because I’m stupid.

Happy mothers’ day, if you read this while it’s still going on. I’m spending it with my feet up, at least for a while, until I have to make dinner. The only person who qualifies me as a mother — besides Wendy, of course — is not in a place where wifi is easy to get to, so she’s forgiven.

In other news at this hour, the grifting goes on. But enough current events.

After having my heart dug out of my chest by last week’s Saturday-night couch movie, “Call Me By Your Name,” we opted for simpler fare this week, “Dr. No,” the first Sean Connery Bond movie, produced in 1962. A different time, you’d say. Two characters who are supposed to be Asian, or half-Asian, are played by white actors, including Dr. No himself. I know makeup artists back then used to try to Asia-fy white eyes with tape, and it looked like something similar was going on with Joseph Wiseman and Zena Marshall, who played The Girl, or A Girl, or more accurately, A Girl Bond Screws Before the Real Girl shows up, and that was, of course, Ursula Andress in her white bikini and knife belt. I thought she played the Bond girl who shot a guy with a pair of guns hidden in her pasties; as I recall, she was doing a sexy striptease or something, and gave him the old one-two with a couple of shoulder shrugs. Cherchez la femme, Bond actors! Which one was that? You guys can dig up any information, but all the googling I’ve done so far is fruitless.

And if there’s a bra available with shoulder-activated firearms built in, I’d like to know where I can buy one, because you never know when you’re going to overhear someone bitching about the Matt Patricia story, right?

Kate just called. Said she’s having a blast, working very hard, and they will soon be learning Santeria dances of the various orishas. Good. I may need her to summon Chango when she gets home, just in case we have to deal with some pissed-off Lions fans.

Great week ahead, all. I’m going to read something fun and non-Twitter-adjacent.

Posted at 4:46 pm in Media, Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 57 Comments
 

The fashion show.

O hai, guys. I guess I forgot to blog yesterday. I think I just flat ran out of gas and decided to watch the Oscars, and then flat ran out of gas on that, too. This morning I decided to make this an in-the-office day, which wiped out daytime blogging opportunities, but really, who cares about these lame excuses?

My office is in Livonia, another inner-ring suburb that feels like it is a million miles away. Forty minutes in moving traffic, 60 in rush hour. If I had to do this every day, I wouldn’t. All the podcasts in the world can’t make that commute work on the regular. But once or twice a week is tolerable, and today was a very tolerable day. So Monday, nearly in the books, will go down as a not-bad one.

I see you were discussing the Oscars today. I think I saw all of them but “The Post” and “The Shape of Water,” but fortunately, our brethren on the right were at work today to brief us all:

A reader writes to ask if I’m going to do an Oscars post. The answer is no; I didn’t watch the show, or see the movies nominated. He responded by saying that I really ought to write something. “The Academy used to play it safe with controversy, but now it’s moving the Overton window faster than in real life,” he wrote. “Who’d have thought one decade ago that the most prestigious award in the film industry would go to a film about bestiality, and casting it in a positive light?”

He’s talking about The Shape Of Water, a movie in which the female protagonist falls in love with a humanoid amphibian, and has sex with it (“cod coitus,” according to Sonny Bunch).

I can’t even. So I’m not gonna. But imagine how exhausting it must be to filter everything — everything! — through one’s politics, one’s “culture,” one’s whatever-it-is that keeps us from simply enjoying art. I’ll see this film eventually, but I simply refuse to believe that it’s “about bestiality, and casting it in a positive light.”

I’d rather experience the Academy Awards via Tom & Lorenzo, who are almost always how you say spot-on with their assessments. My overall impression: Almost all the hair was ugh, and I simply do not understand why anyone wants to wear a formal dress that blends in with one’s skin. One reason Lupita Nyong’o always looks so damn good is, she uses her skin as a canvas, and paints with color. (Her co-star in that picture painted with paint — on her head.) To be sure, her lean, muscular body doesn’t hurt a bit, but if all she did was dress in coffee-colored clothing, I think I’d be meh on her as I am on the Beige/Blush Girls.

Man, if I looked like Margot Robbie — so beautiful she sucks all the oxygen out of the room — the last thing I’d do is go to the Oscars with hair that looks like I let it air-dry after a shower where I was too lazy to rinse all the conditioner out. And another pale-on-pale color thing, only the detailing looks like Christmas garland.

One exception — because there are always exceptions — has to be Jane Fonda. As T-Lo like to say: BOW DOWN. She’s 80. Years old.

So that was my Oscar night. In bed by 10:30, missed most of the good stuff.

Posted at 7:56 pm in Movies, Popculch | 52 Comments
 

Rotten Apple.

Someday we’re going to look back on this era and…marvel, I guess, although “recoil in horror” may well be an option, too. I think often how long it’s been since I’ve done business with a larger outfit that didn’t make me seethe with anger or sneer with contempt. This weekend it was Apple’s fault.

My iPhone 6 is three years old and going strong, except that the battery is failing. How do I know this? Because the power falls from 75 percent to 20 percent in 10 minutes, that’s how. Sounds like a failing battery to me! Apple recently acknowledged it was slowing down the older model phones accordingly, and, chastened, offered replacement batteries for them for $30. How very convenient, because I need a battery.

I followed all the links, which led me to an appointment at the Genius Bar. I arrived on time: Hello, I need a battery. The nice lady plugged my phone into her iPad and ran all sorts of diagnostics. It turns out? I need a battery. I surpassed my impulse to eye-roll. So let’s get it done. It turned out there were none in stock, but when one arrived, they’d let me know.

So, one trip to the Apple store down.

The email came a few days later, and said, “come anytime.” I headed out in a gathering snowstorm on Friday. The nearest Apple store is about 15 miles away, I should mention. I arrived and handed over my phone. Give us 90 minutes, they said. So I went back out and shopped the clearance sales, got a French press at Nordstrom, then came back to the warm, bustling Apple store. Are those places ever not bustling? Just asking.

The tech greeted me like a mother who’d brought her child to the ER with suspicious bruises. He showed me a photograph of the phone’d innards. “We can see that this phone has had liquids inside it,” he said. Yep, that sounded right — I was caught in a drenching downpour last summer with the phone in my back pocket, ports facing up. I’m sure it got wet then, because the speaker and mic failed for a couple of days. But I dried it out in a bag of rice and it’s worked fine ever since. So fix the battery, OK?

“We can’t do that,” he said. “We don’t work on phones that have been penetrated by liquids.” Options: Buy a reconditioned iPhone 6 – a three-year-old phone, mind you – for three! Hundred! Dollars! Or just do the usual upgrade thing. Hundreds of dollars more. But to fix a “penetrated” phone in fine working order, only in need of a battery? Out of the question.

Well, it was nice to visit Nordstrom. Good coffee. And I got some tights at 40 percent off.

Why do we let tech companies treat us like this? Why do we happily help them run established businesses out of town for a slightly better price, and then scrape to them and beg them for the latest sacred object? I wish I knew.

I’m going to Office Depot. The hell with this.

And I’m sorry about that rant. It’s cold again, and I’m feeling cranky. Plus it’s the auto show this week, and I’m on my own. To whoever asked in the comments, the prom is this coming Friday, and I’ll have my usual report. From what I’m hearing, the tl;dr is: Trucks for days.

While Alan was working at the kitchen table, I took myself down to the DIA and saw “Bombshell,” the documentary about Hedy Lamarr, movie star and frustrated scientist. It’s very fine, and I recommend it. If you didn’t know that this legendary Hollywood beauty also had a restless, problem-solving intellect, then you should know now. The story is both triumph and tragedy, but what I found most interesting was what it had to say about the human imagination, and how ideas can come from anywhere. Engineering ideas don’t always come from engineers; Lamarr’s singular idea – a way to make radio communications secure via switching frequencies – came from who-knows-where, because she wasn’t even college-educated, and the man she worked with was inspired by player-piano scrolls. But their idea was sound, even as the military brass scoffed at it.

They didn’t get paid. (And she could have used the money.) But her reputation has made a comeback.

Tomorrow will be warmer, and it’ll be Monday. And we’ll await what fresh hell might be around the corner from Shithole-gate. Sigh. Bundle up.

Posted at 8:11 pm in Movies, Same ol' same ol' | 70 Comments
 

A ‘Christmas Story’ story.

So, in the recent enthusiasm for what’s inevitably called “the high-wire act of live television,” Fox did a live musical version of “A Christmas Story” the other night. Hank hated it, and I will take his word for it. I, too, have grown weary of “A Christmas Story,” mainly because I’m tired of all its, what’s the term? Brand extensions. So to speak.

That would include, a few years back, stories about the guy who bought the house that played Ralph’s house, in Cleveland, and turned it into a museum. I wrote a column on an entrepreneur in Fort Wayne – surely there are dozens more – who started building and selling leg lamps. (“Of course they come in a big box with FRAGILE stamps all over it,” she enthused.) The where-are-they-now/you-won’t-believe-how-the-actors-look-today junk slideshows turn up in social media for weeks every year. And then there are the wags upon wags who trot out the familiar lines at office mixers, in elevator small talk, and everywhere else from Halloween through New Year’s: You’ll shoot your eye out, kid being only the most familiar.

It hurts. I used to love this movie. It was so sweet and charming. Then NBC sucked up rights to “It’s a Wonderful Life” and turned its annual screening into a national celebration of commercial television. So the thing you used to find in your holiday insomnia, playing on some UHF channel at 2 a.m. when you were likely to be feeling dark and hopeless, like George Bailey was in most of Act II, is now a primetime spectacle clogged with ads and celebrity interstitial moments and GET IN THE SPIRIT, AMERICA admonishments. “A Christmas Story” became a kind of counterprogramming on cable, with the 24-hour repeat broadcast on TBS finally wearing through whatever veneer of goodwill toward men I still have by Dec. 24.

Or, in so many words, “A Christmas Story” is now the TV version of Aretha’s “Respect” – if I never see/hear either again, I’d be perfectly happy.

(Meanwhile, another Frank Capra film from the same era, “Meet John Doe,” with a strong Christmas plot line, is ignored year after year. Go figure.)

And all of this is happening after the death of Jean Shepherd, the humorist whose story “A Christmas Story” is. I think a few years I wrote about the Clinic, which was a tradition at the Columbus Dispatch, where I used to work. The Clinic was our annual all-staff, year-in-review gathering (even though it was held in March), at the publisher’s family’s garishly decorated country retreat, the Wigwam. We’d have a few speakers, and then break for cocktails and dinner, followed by more drinking among the cigar-store Indians and various souvenirs of the family’s considerable influence in Ohio – a framed thank-you letter from Spiro Agnew, who had once been lodged there when a snowstorm cancelled his flight, was a highlight of the many glory walls in the place. The evening was raucous and absolutely drenched in alcohol. Very Mad Men, very Front Page in many ways; it has since been significantly revamped, and is dry, I believe.

My first year, all the young people on staff except me ate marijuana-laced brownies on their way to the Wigwam and I guess they kicked in sometime during the speakers’ portion of the event. As I recall, the keynoter was the president of the Associated Press, and just about as scintillating a public speaker as you’d expect from that outfit. Anyway, he repeatedly pronounced the 50th state Huh-WHY-yuh, with each repetition setting off muffled giggles in the rows around me, which should have been a clue what was going on, but honestly, I had no idea. I only learned of this much later. I suspect the management eventually did, too, because in a subsequent year, one of the brownie-eaters – the film critic – was made chairman of the following year’s Clinic. The naming of next year’s chairman was the climax of the evening, indicating a mix of favor and let’s-test-your-mettle assessment by upper management. He or she had to plan the whole shitshow, with wide latitude, and when the critic’s Clinic rolled around the keynote speaker was Jean Shepherd.

The two had met when the critic had gone to Cleveland to report a story about the making of “A Christmas Story.” I’d never heard of Shepherd, but suffice to say, he could pronounce Hawaii and knew how to hold a room. (He was, in addition to a writer, a successful actor and superb radio personality.) He didn’t talk about journalism at all, but just told wonderful shaggy-dog stories about his childhood. He skillfully wound it all up with the Ovaltine anecdote, and that’s what I remember when I see it in the movie: Shepherd acting out the Little Orphan Annie decoder ring action up there at the podium, building to the punchline, with the historically inaccurate murals of Indians all around. The story, as he told it, had nothing to do with Christmas.

Anyway, I wish he’d lived to see all this. At the very least, he could have used the money.

So, as we skip to the bloggage, let me see a show of hands of those who are watching “The Crown,” or just have an interest in the British upper classes…only a few? Pity. Well, you’ll still want to check out Nicole Cliffe’s Twitter thread about British boarding schools through the years. Or you will after you watch “Paterfamilias,” a positively wrenching episode of “The Crown” dealing with Prince Philip’s insistence that his firstborn son attend the brutal Scottish academy he did. The place was a veritable penal colony, and is said to have been the seed of the father-son estrangement that followed. Anyway, Cliffe’s thread is both funny and fascinating:

I recall, as a child, lapping up stories of English children away at various schools/penal colonies/great houses isolated in hostile countrysides. I loved “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase” best of all.

If you have approximately a week to fall down a YouTube rabbit hole, I suggest Freshout, the series about life in and out of, but mostly in, prison. Fascinating material covering everything from sex to gangs to recipes for a County Taco.

And if you have an interest in Everest, you should enjoy this lavishly presented NYT piece about the removal of corpses from the highest reaches of the mountain. It’s no easy task. And it’s a good story.

As for the rest of the day’s events, well.

Posted at 5:54 pm in Movies, Television | 121 Comments
 

New post, in which I give up.

I’m looking at the post-ette I started day before yesterday. It was about Garrison Keillor. Remember him? Seventy-two hours ago, maybe 48, he was in the news, which now seems like 25 years ago.

At some point in the last few hours, I gave up, and watched “Fifty Shades Darker.” It was on HBO. It’s the second movie in the Fifty Shades franchise, I believe. I’ve never seen the first one, and won’t see the third one, but God help me I watched the second one. And this is my manifesto:

The rule of threes is important in storytelling: Beginning, middle, end. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. Couple meets and does sex stuff, couple breaks up and does more sex stuff, and whatever the third movie is about, I don’t care, because hoo-boy, this second movie. It’s hilarious.

It also follows the contemporary model of girl-centered soft-core porn movies, in that sex is only a fraction of the guy’s appeal. The rest is his money, which is ludicrously abundant. Christian Grey is under 30, has a billion dollars and a million exquisitely decorated houses. Lines like “I have a place there” and “I own that” and “I had it made at my shipyard in Seattle” are repeated so often it’s kind of a joke, and needless to say, all the work we see Mr. Grey doing consists of sitting at the end of a boardroom table, while people make notes on legal pads in leather covers. He also has a closet stocked with designer gowns for his girlfriend Anastasia Steele – these names, right? :::eyeroll::: – all of which fit her perfectly and the ones she wears? Someone manages to speak the name of the designer. (I see you, Monique Lhuillier, and I’m sorry the moment went by so fast I didn’t quite catch the proper pronunciation.) Oh, and a helicopter. I think a plane, too, but that was in the first movie. At one point they go to a party, and travel in a three-vehicle motorcade. Of Audis. Like the president.

They have lots of sex, needless to say, which is very well-lit and free of awkward moments like ow you’re on my hair or move your leg or so forth. And here you’re not going to find me getting on the S&M-is-abusive train, because you don’t even need to have taken Psych 101 to see the appeal, especially for women who are submissive. If your hands are tied to the headboard, no one is going to ask you to fold the laundry, or drive them to soccer practice or even touch someone else’s body parts. You just go OK, sure, happy not to make any decisions here. (I’ve always heard this is popular among CEOs, who are mostly submissives.) But this sex is pretty boring, anyway, although there is some tension in seeing how Dakota Johnson can manage to have so much of it without ever smearing or even touching up her vivid lipsticks.

At one point I noticed that both Marcia Gay Harden (who plays Mr. Grey’s mother) and Dakota Johnson were wearing the exact same shade of cranberry-colored lipstick. That’s how boring this movie is. Of course it ends with a marriage proposal, and then I noticed that Dakota Johnson’s character will be Anastasia Steele Grey. That’s sorta funny.

And of course I did all this because if I didn’t, I’d read another million Twitter threads of other sharp analyses of the day’s events, and honestly, I’d rather think about whether cranberry lipstick is right for me.

The rest of you have a good weekend, OK? And please don’t fight anymore.

Posted at 6:48 pm in Movies | 73 Comments
 

Bad moms.

Wednesday is upon us, and I’m still mulling over last night’s entertainment — with Alan off this week (pulling the boat, putting storms in the doors, that sort of thing), we’re doing weeknight thing we never get to do otherwise. Staycation fun, peeps! Monday night was open-mic comedy night at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, at which we were the only white folks and I heard more N-bombs than in a month of streaming hip-hop. And last night we saw “The Florida Project,” a spectacular micro-budget film about poverty in the Sunshine State. I can recommend it highly, for standout performances and an almost perfect mastery of tone in a story that’s essentially plot-free but still has a lot to say.

What plot there is revolves around Moonee, a six-year-old who lives with her mother Hallee in a dive-y motel near Disney World. Hallee has the emotional maturity of maybe a seven-year-old, so they get along like aces. Moonee is charming and fearless, and her mother is the same way, only in the adult you can see the sociopathy that lies beneath. (I don’t recommend this to Jeff, unless he can fit it in during work hours.) As a journalist, all I could think about were the stories I and my colleagues have been writing for years, calculating how far behind Moonee must be in school by now (even as a first-grader, yes), her behavioral deficits, even the toll her diet – which seems to consist solely of waffles, jelly sandwiches on day-old bread from the food bank, soda and pizza – is taking on her baby teeth. The film takes place over part of a summer, when Moonee and a couple of friends run wild through the motel, and others like it nearby, having charming kid adventures, while her mom tries to avoid work but still make the weekly rent on the $38/night room they share.

Things happen, expected things. But the story still feels like a series of snapshots laid in a row. Both thrilling to watch and deeply unsettling. Find it at an arthouse near you.

I see somehow the comment thread on the last post skated off on a tangent about wind turbines. Michigan is starting to add them here and there, primarily in the Thumb, but the ones we see most often are on the Canadian side of Lake St. Clair, and by “see” I mean that driving home on a dark night when it’s reasonably clear, you can see their red lights blinking way over the water.

A more vivid experience was a few years ago, when we drove to Stratford for a little theatuh, and took the Port Huron route, which is less freeway and more country road than you get by crossing in Detroit. It was a foggy day, and these behemoths were obscured until we were almost upon them, and they’d loom up out of the mist, turning slowly. Very dramatic, like something in a fairy tale. It was almost enough to distract from the unexpected (for an American, and especially a Michigander) pleasure of driving on a well-maintained, non-potholed road.

Canada. They get the job done.

I have yet to see a driverless car on the roads around here, although truth be told, you wouldn’t know one to see it – they still have people sitting in the driver’s seat. There’s a robot bus running around north campus at U-M in Ann Arbor, not sure of the human-override factor on that one, although my guess is, they have one. The technology isn’t advanced enough yet, but it’s getting there, and fast. David Leonhardt wrote a column about testing a driverless Volvo that got to the heart of the adoption problem, I think:

I expect that we will agonize about using them, out of both legitimate caution and irrational fear. Any driverless crashes will be sensationalized, as has already happened, while we ignore tens of thousands of deaths from human crashes. But I still expect that driving will be revolutionized sooner than many people now understand. …Those researchers at Penn and Chicago also studied the circumstances in which people get comfortable with computer control, and found a theme: When the choice isn’t all or nothing — when people have “even a slight amount” of control — they are more open to automation.

That’s where driving is headed. The shift will be gradual, not sudden, as Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian, told me. Cars will handle many tasks, while a human driver will have override power. The combination won’t be perfect, but it can be much better than the status quo.

I suspect he’s right. What he’s describing sounds like the cake-mix problem I read about somewhere. Duncan Hines is fully capable of producing a just-add-water cake mix, but they don’t, because customers prefer to add an egg and half a cup of oil. It makes them feel like they’re baking, not just phoning it in.

It’s funny. I know people who are terrified to fly for fear of crashing, but think nothing of driving every day, when statistically one is leagues safer than the other. But the feeling of control is powerful, no doubt.

I was charmed by the WashPost’s account of David Letterman’s Twain award ceremony. Perhaps you too.

Posted at 10:44 am in Current events, Movies | 135 Comments