Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Gene Wilder was....

"It's pronounced, Fronk-en-steen."

And it was then I realized that Gene Wilder was just that good. 

Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein
I don't remember the first time I saw Young Frankenstein, but I remember it was funny. Very funny. For a while even among us black college students if someone said "Blucher" someone else was expected to whinny.  Or maybe it was just the group I hung out with. As a child from the seventies and teenager of the eighties, I just missed what might of been the last golden age of comedy. And now, as cable access and later the rise of the  internet has opened up our world, our response our comedy seems to have shrunk itself, catering more and more to a specific audience. Comedy usually comes from shared experience, and what's funny to say, someone from New York, or country fans, or "urban professionals" doesn't resonate with the rest of us like it used to. We've become niche funny in a niche world. 

But in the seventies and eighties, you had to be universally funny. Everyone had to get the joke. And Gene Wilder was genuinely funny. And the funny part of him being funny, the really funny part, is that he wasn't telling jokes. His talent was the reaction to a brilliant setup that left him with that prose taken out of context is just ordinary, but with him made funny. He was the straight man as funny. Wilder was the whole package: the writing, the timing, the looks he would give. We don't see that very much anymore. 

He will forever be remembered as Willy Wonka, that magical man and his factory that still thrills children, and former children, to this day. He was brilliant in Blazing Saddles as the Waco Kid, his turn as the aforementioned Dr. Frankenstein (pronounced Fronk-en-steen) or his turn as the accountant with a dream in The Producers with Zero Mostel. And then there is the stuff of film legend, his classic parings with Richard Pryor in Silver Streak and Stir Crazy. Pure Hollywood magic. Man but they were funny together. I hope they meet up in heaven. Well, I think Richard might be able to get day passes or something. (Richard was the greatest, but let's be real here.)
Mr. Wilder. We couldn't ask for more, and can't thank you enough. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Five Minutes watching: The Night of...

I used to not watch a lot of movies because I didn't have a lot of time. Now I have time, and a lot of television is horrible, and Turner Classic Movies isn't always on point. So, I watch a movie or two, or five, when I'm not writing, or reading, or playing video games, or sleep. You know, I guess I really don't watch a lot of movies. Go figure. 

This is really more of a critique/recap of the the last few episodes than anything else. Spoilers ahead by the ton, so if you haven't watched the series or the finale, ready the first paragraph comeback later after you're done. If you went into this thinking there would be a definitive ending, that we would find out what happened that night, that you're going to be sorely disappointed. I both like and don't like the ending, in that while there was no "earth shattering kaboom," the story doesn't as much end, as peter out into nothing and much like life, just keeps moving.

John Stone. Attorney. photo from HBO

First, to be honest, I didn't realize it was a ninety minute finale until the first half hour was over, which eased my fear that the show was going to end with the setup of the jury returning and the the setup being a fade to black there or an abrupt cut right after the phrase "We the jury find the accused Nasir Orenthal Khan..." Don't laugh, that's a critical darling dramatic ending, and I really didn't want to see it. What I really hoped to see that was that Naz would have been found not guilty in the first twenty minutes or so, and the rest of the episode focus on the aftermath for all the characters; from the mundane wheels of justice rolling on to Freddy figuring out his next move to Naz trying to figure out what happens from here, his relationship with his family or perhaps an examination of the current culture we live in, where verdicts don't matter just public opinion. But what we got was okay. 

I enjoyed a number of things about the series, and seeing the machinations that happen behind the scenes. What particularly rung true for me in this finale was the Prosecutor's decision to keep the case going even after Det. Box turned up new evidence. This was a perfect example of what happens sometimes, in that the prosecutor isn't interested in guilt or innocence, but only who can be reasonably prosecuted. It's an imperfect system, but it's what we have, and I think seeing it onscreen might give a few people pause after living with the nobility that was Law and Order for so long. I'd like to think that most of the time that once you get the guy with the bloody knife leaving the scene, well, then you've got your guy. But you've still got to do your due diligence, which this episode and Chandra's court room tactics showed the police clearly had not done. Which brings us to Chandra.
Poor Chandra. It was fascinating watching Chandra mature, then fall apart as the episodes went on. Pulled from legal obscurity into the courtroom, it looked like she was rising to the task and would end the series a slightly less jaded version of John Stone. So it was shock when she made out with Naz in holding, me screaming loudly at the television "what are you doing!?" And it just went down hill from there. I still can't for the life of me figure out why she decided to put Naz on the stand. That you do not do this is a basic concept of criminal law class, right up there with never ask a question for which you don't already know the answer. And that after she'd made that boneheaded decision, then saw her client was unstable, she KEPT GOING WITH IT, even bringing him the drugs he needed for his fix. This was the part that was beyond belief for me. Maybe she got a little overconfident with the him testifying thing, but for such a relatively naive lawyer to take such risks with her own career is just ....I'm still lost, why exactly I don't know.  

And then, after the disaster that was Naz's testimony, and it was a disaster, Box flipped the apple cart over by using the equivalent of  what is referred to in legal terms as a "noisy exit." By getting up and walking out during Helen's closing statement, loudly and looking disgusted, he may have been communicating with the jury that even he, the detective whom they knew had helmed the case wasn't okay with all this anymore. And it wasn't an accident, because having been on the force as long as he had, Box had to know what he was doing. Subtle beast indeed.  

And then we very neatly find out why John Stone, possessor of such a capable legal mind and wise to ways of the legal jungle relegates himself to the kind of law he practices. Despite his knowledge of what needs to be done, John almost can't do it. Forced to give the closing argument, his previously vanquished eczema returns with a vengeance, brought on by the stress of being responsible for man's life with his words. It was sad to watch in a way, and it explains why he pleads out clients he knows are guilty. It lets him sleep at night. But shrewd mind that he is, he's able to work his circumstance into his closing, sounding like a exhausted warrior at the end of a long battle giving that last rousing speech before he leads those who follow into hell. Which produces the definition of an  ambiguous hung jury. I was pleasantly surprised by Helen's decision not to re-try the case. But then I remembered Helen's uncharacteristically weak close, this after her almost gleeful gutting of the defendant. It was as though both she and Box had lost the heart to finish what they'd started.  

As stark as the case looked, and as disassociated as the characters were, it was nice to see bits of humanity seep through.as these cogs of the system going out on a limb for Naz. I'm sure that's what Chandra thought she was doing (after getting used by her boss for her race), but the real care came from John Stone and oddly, Freddy the prison bully. While John first seemed just interested in Naz as a client, a big payday and perhaps as the case that might change his career trajectory, he later became a shaman of sorts. Freddy I think, actually liked Naz as a person. It was Freddy who gave Naz the shoes for the shower, tried to get him the proper color shirt for trial, the private cell, and forgave him for not snitching. You could tell that even as the big bad, Freddy needed a friend, which is what he was finding in Naz. And then realizing his friend was innocent, made the move that should have gotten  his friend a mistrial save for a persnickety judge. This actual caring made it particularly sad that Freddy couldn't say goodbye to Naz when it was all over. 


Reading the overnights, I was expecting and found the howls of anguish at how Chandra's character was underdeveloped and wasted, which I read in large part to mean that it's a sexist racist misogynistic travesty that the woman of color didn't emerge the triumphant victor. As much as the parts which baffled me - the kiss, the drugs, the putting him on the stand - seem to come out of nowhere, the idea that she was under written, a plot device or part of the background after all the screen time she had is a hell of a stretch. Yes, she was introduced as a PR prop by a grandstanding attorney, but she turned into an able lawyer learning from an veteran lawyer, felt ashamed for her client's parents whom she tried to console, put together a pretty good case and maybe over identified with the client. Then a little heady from her success in exposing the narrow mindedness of the police investigation, got a little too cocky and went a little too far. It may have been ego which did it, we'll never know, because here is the part I didn't like: that we have no idea what comes next for her like we get for all the other principals. That part I'm angry about.  
Was it a good show? Yes, I found it worth the hours invested, and the hours I spent re-watching parts of it. It was well acted, well thought out as to be purposefully muddled, and excellently done from an acting standpoint. I liked it. 

Little Things....
■ There were a lot of little moments that became things later on.  I want to go back to the first episode and see if that new suspects photo was in the frame by the bed like I think it was.

■ I don't think they showed the passage of time right. There should have been about a year between the arrest and the court date, but it looks like he got arrested in October, and the trial was in February the following year - as evidenced by the date stamp on the camera that caught Chandra getting Naz his "stuff."- Seemed a little quick, but this is dramatized for your protection.

■ In trying to figure out why Chandra kissed Nas, and I think that the writers tried to setup a rationale but failed. During the lovable scene where Stone reveals the holy grail of jurors - Young urban females - Chandra admits she's depressed because she broke up with boyfriend, and now feels alone. Stone offers some weak sympathy, but we leave it there. Now, the prep for murder trial leaves little room for socializing, so it's possible that Naz and Chandra's shared loneliness caused a lapse in judgment. I realize I'm grasping at straws here, it's not like Chandra had a complete lack of sense. And if you could think of another way to get Stone into the first chair, let me know. 

■ It may have seemed like a tossed off moment, but I think two things spurred Box to try, even at the eleventh hour to go back to see what he missed. First, it was Chandra putting him on the stand to talk about his history, the procedure he'd disregarded and all the suspects he overlooked, and second, it was the overheard conversation in the bar, about the cop who doesn't care. Box realized he was that cop, that he'd become a bored professional, and it irked him.
■ John, lose the cat. I'm a dog guy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What's a little Traffic between friends?

Ramblings Post #320
While the city of Atlanta contains one of the worst stretches of highway in the world that doesn't contain land mines, the rest of the city's traffic isn't really all that bad. Sure you've got your problem people on the road, but all in all if you know the proper side streets and connections you can get around pretty good. With rare exception. Or soon to be not so rare exception, if somebody doesn't do something soon. 

The Westside of Atlanta is hot right now. And by Westside I mean that tiny little bit of real estate parcels between Northside Drive and Marietta Blvd, right around the reservoir. Not to be confused with like, the actual west side of the city where all the black people live. The new restaurants, shopping, wine places, apartments are all fusing together to create that "place" feel that has been successful in Atlanta over the last decade (see Atlantic Station, Shoppes of Buckhead, Avalon.) A quick peruse of Curbed Atlanta shows that even more development is planned for this busy little corridor. So in the Westside, not on the West Side, it seems that everybody with a few million to rub together is trying to get in while the getting is good. 

Now I drive through this area pretty much everyday, as it's on the way to and from work. Note I said drive. Primarily because Atlanta has a slack public transportation system due to too many reasons to go into here, and partly because I no longer completely trust the parking lot at the Marta station on the West Side. But I digress, because right now, during the morning and afternoon rushes, the area's former livestock trails that they've paved over and pretend to be streets are filled to bursting. I get through the morass by knowing when to get in the right, left or bus lane at which particular intersection or stretch of road, having the timing down, and blind luck. A single bus, slow driver, rain or a person trying to do something silly and the whole thing goes to hell very, very quickly. 
From Google Maps, with some drawing on it...
Was a traffic study required before all this was allowed to be built up practically right on top of each other? Is one going to be required in the future for all the other things they're still trying to cram in there? Because all these sweet amenities mean nothing if the streets that connect them are designed for a quarter of the traffic. As much as this city wants to be a New York South, that namesake major city has fairly good public transportation that people actually use. Because it goes places. Atlanta is distinctly a car city.

Under current conditions, there are blind driveways leading to and from shopping, spots where a single car making a left turn means backing up traffic for a block, where I think the light timing is probably set on randomizer, and places where the parking rules for a gin joint from 1935 are the current fashion. And that's on a Tuesday afternoon. Imagine a Friday night, when the nightclubs and bars are open. And since they've just finished knocking something else down to make room to build something else - right across the street from the apartment building I think they finished this spring that already has parking issues - it's only going to get worse. I realize that developers run Atlanta and that zoning laws are merely suggestions to them, but damn. 

I hope that with the coming of the Westside Reservoir Park, no relation, on the actual west side of Atlanta, some of that development will move maybe, to the west. Westerly if you will. To where the black people live. I find it odd that in the black mecca of America that all the development is taking place in the areas without the black people. Funny, huh? This process of economic inclusion could probably be sped along by basically zoning out the rest of the Westside so that you can get close, but not right in there, or starting the next little "place" on the actual west side. Like, say, up the street from my house? Which if anyone is reading this besides those two guys in Russia and the nice lady in Singapore (love you guys! mean it), that means that property values and TAX revenues increase in a broader area. Which might be a good thing, I don't know, not a politician. 

I am wondering exactly how they're going to pull the gentrification that has to happen around the new Georgia Dome in preparation for the Super Bowl. That's a very 'urban' area. I dunno, maybe some of that development will rub off.  I kid. 

Barkeep, A cold beer. No, it doesn't have to be from the brewery by the reservoir, jeez. As long as it's cold.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Gawker ye shall be missed.

Ramblings Post #319
You never really miss something until it's gone. Because usually, and quite mistakenly, we all have a tendency to believe that those things we care about, or at least like, or have gotten familiar with will be around until we come back to it. It's that sinking feeling when you get a taste for something, then ride over to get it only to find that the place that served that certain something is now a Starbucks. Unless you wanted Starbucks, in which case I'm ashamed for you. 

Gawker. Good Media. Gone too soon.
I used to read Gawker a lot. It was kind of what I like to call Buddy Media, and by that I mean that it's selection seemed more like things a guy you actually know would chose than an actual media outlet. A smart guy, but a guy you know, like from school or the bar. Sometimes it was insightful and meaningful stories that made you think. Other times it was dumb or silly reporting that made you wonder if people actually got paid for that crap. But, it was always interesting. And now, out of spite, it's gone.

Online media has always been an odd play for real news. Professional organizations like CBS and NBC seemingly just edited their regular news stories down and stuck them on the web. Other professional groups, like Slate, takes serious questions and cuts them down into a mix of short articles, bite sized chunks and blurbs. So how to differentiate yourself? That would have been Gawker, whose slightly opinionated occasionally off kilter and sometimes oddly refreshing and informative news articles kept you coming back. Important journalism, with things you didn't even know you needed to know, mixed with stories you knew you didn't need to know, but read anyway. Then they branched out, covering sports, video games, women's issues and more. It was good journalism, but a few times  a week you knew they'd just posted something and left the office early, maybe for margaritas.

Now, I understand most of it survived. Jezebel, Kokatu, Deadspin and the others will live on. But the linchpin, the hub, Gawker itself, is too toxic a brand to be viable. And so the digital fourth estate loses its class clown, leaving behind a void of much needed slightly reckless reporting that keeps the news fresh and from appearing to be what most of it is now....PR work. Tough shoes to fill.

Hey, I'll give'em five dollars for the address. Let those who will be offended sue me.

Barkeep, first article, how to get free drinks at the bar. What? What did I say? I have cash! 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

So, there is more to it than just costumes?

Ramblings Post #318
Twenty five years ago I wanted to write a comic. Okay, I've wanted to write a comic for longer than that, but twenty five years ago I sat down, created a alternate universe, populated it with characters, made some maps, wrote a history, write a dense and detailed story line...found out that I really like the process of world building just as much as writing. I got started on some other things, but that experience helped me understand the comics I'd been reading as more than just pictures on a page. It's the understanding that's elusive. As a lot of people are finding out at Warner Brothers.

With the arrival of Suicide Squad on the heels of the poorly conceived BvS, two things are becoming increasingly clear: One, you can't just put people in tights and call it a superhero movie, and Two: DC doesn't know what it's doing. Or rather, the people doing DC movies don't know what they're doing. 

This was there template. They wanted more of this.
Sometime ago, perhaps after the first ridiculous incarnation of the Fantastic Four, Marvel decided to take cinematic control of the destinies of the film versions of its characters. They gathered up the heroes they hadn't sold off yet and created a plan. A long range overarching plan that encompassed multiple films, introduced characters who retained their core elements, had a connecting theme or elements, used crossover appearances, etc., where each piece built on, reinforced or extended the others. It was, and is, like a multi-issue comic book event, something they actually knew how to do, only on film. And they went forth to made a buttload of money.

Which brings us to DC, who is desperately trying to emulate the success of their competitors, who've managed to elevate B-List heroes into superstars. But it's like PS4 v Xbone. Yes, I said Xbone.   

DC? I don't think whoever is over there has a plan. Not a movie release schedule, a plan. Maybe I don't see it yet, but right this second it looks like they're just throwing stuff at the wall and waiting to see what sticks. Their iconic characters have shed their elemental core values, the very things that made us like who they are, the things that have made the characters enduring, and no one seems to have a vision for how Hero Movie #1 will tie into Other Hero Movie  #2 until after the CGI is done. So much CGI! And the scripting of these things seem like they are being  written for video games, an by that I mean the stories seem to be just moving from grand cinematic moment to grand cinematic moment, cut scenes if you will, rather than telling a coherent story. And finally, just because Batman was dark doesn't mean everything else had to be too!  

So, how do we fix the DCCU (DC Cinematic Universe)?


Hell, comic books restart all the time. A new #1 of everything came again for like the fifth time two years or so ago, so just scrap everything and start over. No, I'm not crazy, we're about to get like the third restart of Spiderman in less than twenty years and we're still excited about it. DC can do that with their characters too, if they stop acting so desperate. Movie fans are less stringent than comic book fans, they'll get over it. But this time, create a plan - not a schedule, A PLAN - so that a central theme runs through each movie leading up to a cinematic event. I'll throw it out there, one film for each core hero, then a second round of three, where the villains start teaming up. Then the event can be the creation of the Legion of Doom, in this incarnation a kind of super-villain syndicate. The existence of which leads to the birth of the Justice League. 

This means that DC habit of killing the villain at the end of the movie... has to stop, which leads to my next item. They need to require the director who wants the seat at the helm to read at least 100 issues of the comic they'll be bringing to life. And write a 5,000 word report, in their own handwriting, explaining what the important themes of the character and story lines are. Yes, I just said the director needs to write a book report to get the job. That's how you avoid a Zack Snyder. I'd also require a similar report and an audio-visual presentation for the writer. No, for the writer, I need to see his comic book collection. And there will be a test. 
Why reading? BvS. They based the whole film on this one page of comic. One page. With no sense of context.
Why? Because not being familiar with the source material, the material the expected fans who will turn out to see the movie will be familiar with, is just stupid. It would be like making a period drama about the civil war and not looking at any history. If you treat it as though it's trite, as though its history and canon merit no respect, you get crap out the other end...like Suicide Squad. 

But I digress. The reboot. Each movie needs to have it's own look or feel, so that they're distinctive. I mean Batman needs to be dark and brooding, that's who he is. But Superman is hope and justice, dark isn't really appropriate. Neither does Wonder Woman, whose trailer looks like they ran it through the Darko-Gritty Filter 3000 after they shot it. Each character needs their own take, their own style. And the event film can either switch styles, so you know who the focus is, or have a separate style all its own.  

I would also like to remind everyone in Hollywood that the fate of the world need not hang in the balance to make a movie all dramatic. Nobody expects the hero to die, so give them something else to fight for. Did you see Cap's Civil War? Nothing world destroying, just relationship stuff.  

This scene however, should never appear on film anywhere.
There is a reason it's Marvel and DC. The longtime stalwart Detective Comics has created some great characters and stories over the years, which have been enjoyed by those who few who still read and savor the feel of the paper and the print. Yes, I know the idea, Marvel creates people while DC creates icons, still, it would be a shame if those tales don't make it to the big screen. But if they don't change something soon...well, I always did prefer Marvel anyway. 

Barkeep. Let me get a Bat-tini. I swear they used to drink on that old TV show. Seriously.