Category Archives: Popular culture

Which five movies SHOULD be Best Picture nominees?

The stars of my fave.

I see that the Academy Awards are being broadcast as I type this. So, let me go ahead and get to my point before the Oscars do. Which should be easy.

As y’all know, I don’t follow this stuff, at least not in this century. I’m not going to bore you yet again with why. But I do have a new thing to say — new to me, anyway.

Because I haven’t followed this nonsense since the late 1990s, I didn’t know that nominations for Best Picture had been expanded from five to 10, back in 2009. I ran across this fact when reading about something else, and since it was new to me, I was shocked and appalled.

Oh, I’m not one of these people who goes around griping and moaning because all the kids in Little League get a trophy. They’re kids. They should get a trophy just for showing up at the games.

But with the Oscars, we’re talking about grownups. Rich and powerful (within their own little world) grownups. You don’t have to give them all a trophy. And you don’t have to pretend that ten films — more new movies than I’m likely to see in a year, now that I don’t worry about seeing all the nominees before the Oscars show — are worthy of serious consideration for the highest honor (to the extent that the Academy is capable of confering honor).

And yes, I know that there were 10 back before 1945. But that was during the Golden Age. Ten nominees made sense in 1939. Not so much now.

Anyway, as it happens, I’ve actually seen four of the Best Picture nominees. My wife and I watched the fourth of them just last night, on Peacock. I haven’t seen the rest, because from everything I read and heard about them, I was content to wait until they became available for free, which they haven’t yet. Nothing I’d seen about them in any way suggested “must see.” So, in presenting the five I’m about to list, I’m giving a gift to those who wish to disagree with me. You get to yell, “He hasn’t even see the others!” That’s fine. You go ahead. I’m pretty sure I chose the right ones to spend my time on — mainly, the ones acclaimed on all sides as Best Picture material since the moment they came out.

But I know I can be wrong, and I look forward to seeing your alternative lists. I was wrong abtou this sort of thing once before, back in 1998. That was when I dismissed the idea that “Life if Beautiful” could be Best Picture material. I was appalled by the idea of a comedy about the Holocaust. But it worked, and it was wonderful. I would have been happy to see it win in that highest of categories. It’s made me more open to films that fit more or less into that category. Before I learned that lesson, I might have avoided “Jojo Rabbit.” MIssing that would have been a sad loss.

So maybe you, too, will give me a gift, and turn me on to something I had overlooked. Please do, if you possess such a gift to share.

But for now, here are my five:

  1. The Holdovers — This is the one I saw last night. Yeah, it’s a little small and quiet to be the winner, but at least at this moment, it’s my fave.
  2. Oppenheimer — The most impressive film I’ve seen this year, so the one I would choose if “impressive” were my only criterion. I meant to write a detailed post about it, but haven’t gotten to it.
  3. Maestro — Also a very impressive biopic, about an impressive guy. Hard to watch sometimes, but then so was Oppenheimer. That’s not a disqualifier for a Best Picture.
  4. Barbie — Lots of creative fun.
  5. Killers of the Flower Moon — The only one I haven’t seen, and only because it was on Apple TV+, and I cancelled that service (once I finished the most recent seasons of “Slow Horses”) before getting to it. I still intend to see it, but… I love Scorcese, and I was SO disappointed by “The Irishman.” I don’t want to go through that again…

That’s it for me right now. I’m going to go get some dinner now…

The one I’d have gone with, had impressiveness been my one criterion.

Top Five Worst Cases of Using Nouns as Verbs

If you’ll recall, the Stooges often negatively impacted each other. And when I hear these words used these ways, I feel like Curly.

One of these just smacked me in the face a moment ago when I was innocently looking for something entirely unrelated. It came from a supposed institute of higher learning — although I assume it was written by an undergraduate intern or some such in the press office. (I did a word-study job like that at Memphis State in the early ’70s, for a dollar sixty-something an hour. But I wouldn’t have done this.)

So it’s time for a list.

I had trouble deciding upon criteria for this distinction. They aren’t necessarily the worst, although some a pretty horrible. I gave a lot of weight to their being overused. Some I could perhaps wink at if I heard them once every couple of years. But our ears and eyes are constantly hammered by these. They are ubiquitous, and therefore, in a sense, among the “worst.”

Here they are:

  1. impact — Don’t cite your “authorities” that say it’s all right. Yes, this mistake has been made for centuries — like using “they” to refer (in casual, lazy conversation) to a single person, which is a separate issue, of course. But “authorities” defend it because they have friends — academics, bureaucrats, and such — who think it makes them sound official, and serious, and expert. It’s like saying “persons” instead of “people” like a normal person. And it’s insufferable.
  2. gift — This one may be the most profoundly awful — particularly since the verb that should be used, “give,” is so short and convenient. But it’s not used as frequently in news stories as “impact.” and therefore is slightly more forgiveable.
  3. parent — Just gross. You can “be a good parent.” But you cannot “parent well.”
  4. partner — I couldn’t decide which of the “p” words to list first; they’re on about the same level. Seriously, what’s wrong with “work with?” Why the hell would you say “partner with?”
  5. dialogue — This one’s bad, but not as obviously so as the ones above. I just had to come up with five. Maybe you can come up with a worse one.

On another day, I’ll lecture the garment and advertising industries on the fact that there’s no such garment as a “pant.” “Pant” is what a dog does. People wear pants, and that’s what they are called. The singular item is called a pair of pants. Got that? If so, I won’t have to return to the the subject…

Our great national tragedy: No Leo McGarry

I’ve been re-watching “The West Wing” lately, which can make a guy wistful, if he loves his country.

Most recently, I watched a scene in which Toby presides over a “let’s get serious” meeting with a group of congressmen, including the Republicans who are blocking the Bartlet administration’s effort to allow sampling in the census.

That was a realistic scene, when it was first aired. Such a meeting today would be impossible. The Republicans in the room were raising thoughtful, serious objections to sampling (which even Toby admits privately, after the meeting). Things like that don’t happen anymore. Certainly not with House members.

Anyway, Trey Walker and I haven’t communicated directly in awhile, at least since I was on the opposite side in the 2018 election. But then last night he tweeted:

Well, I had started responding to him before I even saw his followup tweet:

We would live in such a better world if Leo, and of course, John Spencer, were among us.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve discussed Leo here before, of course. And Bryan posted this transcript of one of his best scenes. I tried and tried to find video of it to include here, but the best I could find was this murky still image. Which reminds us of The West Wing’s one flaw — the White House wasn’t that DARK. Nor are congressional hearing rooms…

Top Five Best Horror Films (or TV Shows)?

The big ‘jump scare’ in the best on the list.

Why a question mark on the headline? After all, aren’t Brad’s Top Five lists final and authoritative?

Well, not this one. Because I am not a horror fan. This may be an oversimplification — because there some films in this genre I do like — but in general, I feel like we have enough stress and disgust and shocks in real life. I feel the same way about scary rides at the fair. I’m not paying somebody good money to make me unhappy.

In some ways this is odd, I suppose, because when I was a kid — starting when I was 9 or 10 — I was a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. When I lived in Ecuador in the fifth and sixth grades, I had an hour ride on the bus either way. My friend Tony and I would sit in the back and tell each other the Poe stories we’d read, to while away the time.

Which reminds me. The creepiest of all Poe’s stories was “The Fall of the House of Usher.” I was very, very disappointed to see that Netflix was presenting a TV series with that title. The very straightforward story — the meat of the narrative takes place over a single evening, as I recall, although what goes before is creepy enough — lends itself in no way to a TV series. The only way you can do that is to hire some writers who are not Poe and have them cram a bunch of excess stuff into it. Worse, it appears to be one of those execrable “updates.” Enough said.

There are so many works in literature — such as my faves of recent years, O’Brien’s Aubrey/Maturin series of novels — that call for that kind of treatment, that beg for it. The world would be such a better place if Hollywood would address that need. But no, it’s considered more profitable to ruin Poe.

You might say I’d change my mind if I watched it. That is possible, but extremely unlikely. And not worth wasting time on. I watch a lot of TV (and movies on TV), but I am selective, because I do have a life. If it looks extremely unlikely that I’ll like it, or learn anything from it, I spend the time instead on something that I’m pretty sure will be rewarding — there are enough things out there fitting that description to fill 100 lifetimes.

For that reason, I have never seen, for instance, “The Exorcist,” the anniversary of which is being so overcelebrated at the moment. I paid attention to the marketing at the time — the head-spinning, the floating above the bed, the especially gross vomiting — and moved on to other things.

So my body of experience producing this list is woefully inadequate. But I often find that I enjoy seeing what items y’all will name, and all of you are probably more knowledgeable about this than I am. So, to start a discussion, here goes:

  1. Psycho — You don’t get more classic than this, or more perfect. It might be Hitchcock’s best film, in addition to being the best horror film. Every touch is just right. Anthony Perkins is astounding, but of course the key scene is Janet Leigh naked in the shower. Doesn’t show much, but it’s pretty titillating for 1960. And it’s such a brilliant stroke to pull the viewers (the males anyway, especially the young ones) in with such a stunning woman in the altogether, and utterly shatter it with possibly the greatest “jump scare” in film history. By the way, I was inspired to write this post by a piece in the Post today assessing movies by the number of such “jump scares.” The writers seemed to think more is better. There are only three in this one — that I recall thinking back — and that’s just the right number: the shower scene, Martin Balsam climbing the stairs, and the final reveal about Norman’s mother. More than that would have ruined it.
  2. Dracula (1931) — Yep, I trend toward classics, and this, to me, is the very best of the great ones of the ’30s. It’s not about the blood, folks. It’s about the amazing creation and maintenance of a mood of dread and horror. Think of Dracula’s “brides” gliding across the room. That epitomizes what I’m talking about. That’s the essence.
  3. The Sixth Sense — This one would utterly fail that “jump scares” test I mentioned before. There’s really just one, at the end, and you build to it over the course of the film. And I’m not sure the intellectual realization of what’s been going on qualifies as such a “scare.” Probably not. Although at times it just feels like a Bruce Willis movie, only a bit darker, the kid who sees dead people keeps it in the horror genre throughout. Anyway, the director has been trying so hard for so long to be scary — even changing his middle name to “Night” when he was in college — that I feel like we should throw him a bone here.
  4. Alien — This was a great, ground-breaking sci-fi film, realistically depicting what extended life in space might conceivably be like, if it ever proves to be truly feasible. But in terms of plot, it was basically a haunted house story, and maybe the best ever. Also, it gave us Sigourney Weaver. Top that.
  5. The Walking Dead — This is why I added “TV shows,” parenthetically, to the headline. I felt obliged to include this as an illustration of when I was wrong for refusing to watch it for the longest time. I finally gave in and started, and was hooked — for six seasons. After watching the last episode of the sixth, I decided the writers had run out of ideas, and stopped. But there’s still a lot I love about it in those first seasons. Favorite character? Daryl Dixon, who adapted to post-apocalyptic life more smoothly than anyone. Least favorite character? Andrea, who never missed a chance to do the wrong thing and put her companions in danger. Finally, aside from this being a TV series, I debated most over including it because, is it really a horror movie? That whole genre seems a bit more like dystopian science fiction. But for awhile, I liked it. One reason why: Nobody says “zombie.” (I vaguely recall someone saying it and getting corrected once. Am I remembering that right?)

There are some honorable mentions in my limited repertoire, such as “An American Werewolf In London.” And if I had insisted on keeping the list to movies, the best of the zombie apocalypse genre was “28 Days Later,” which of course starts the same as “The Walking Dead.” And the same as the last great music video, “Party Rock Anthem.”

Some lists included “Young Frankenstein.” That is a great pick for any list — the best Mel Brooks movie by far — and if I included it in the five above, it would probably top the list. I love it. But I’m gonna be pedantic here, and admit it’s not a horror movie. It’s a brilliant comedy that mocks horror movies. That suggests another sort of list, which would include “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Little Shop of Horrors.” (Or should those two be on a sub-sub-list, “musical horror comedies?” It’s difficult to say.)

Anyway, ideas?

‘Alien’ gave us Sigourney Weaver. Top that.

Top 17 Best Songs (With Parentheses in the Titles)

What, indeed, IS so funny ’bout it?

I was trying to clean out my email a few days ago, but got distracted by this fun item the NYT was promoting. (Seems like the Times is just going out of its way to tempt me away from actual work these days, huh? First Wordle, then Spelling Bee, then this thing I had written about the same day I saw this…)

The Times called it “13 (great) songs with parenthetical titles.” Of course, it’s a rather silly category. One song with parentheses has nothing in common with other songs with parentheses, aside from that punctuational quirk. All it tells you is that the songwriter was engaging in an affectation, trying to say, Look, I’m deep. This song is written on multiple levels — including parenthetical!

Of course, I had to step in and correct it — narrowing the list to those that are actually good, if not necessarily great, and then expanding it to bring in equally good songs that the NYT left out. The proper thing to do then, of course, would have been to whittle the result down to a true Top Five list, but I didn’t want to spend days on the silly thing.

So here’s my Top 16 Best Songs (With Parentheses in the Titles). They aren’t in order with the best at the top, or anything. The first six are from the NYT list, the other 10 are ones I added. You may offer whatever suggestions occur to you:

  1. (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” — I agree to include this with mixed feelings. I love the song — it’s one that truly does rise to “great” — and let always feel kind of ignorant and out of it because for many years, this somewhat uncharacteristic number was all I knew about Otis Redding, the man who really knew HOW to express a lack of Satisfaction. I am wiser now.
  2. I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” — I agreed on this one, if only to give a nod to the late Meat Loaf, to make up for the fact that this is one of only two songs of his (the other being…) I can recall. And it really is a pretty decent song.
  3. (You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman” — The NYT was confused, citing the Aretha Franklin version. But I’m not as big a fan of Aretha as lots of other folks are, and so I prefer Otis Reading’s version of “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.” And on this, I have to give the credit to the woman who actually wrote the song, Carole King.
  4. It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll (But I Like It)” — This is far — very, very far — from bring among the Rolling Stones’ greatest songs, but it meets the criterion, and they’re the greatest rock and roll band in the world, so let’s include it.
  5. It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” — Not only the best R.E.M. song, but probably the best use of parentheses on the NYT list.
  6. I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” — A weaker use of parentheses than, say, R.E.M.’s, but a nice song, and it’s nice to contemplate something from when that lovely young woman was so full of promise, before her life started falling apart.
  7. It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” — This is a slight correction to the NYT list, which mistakenly chose “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Have Never Met).” To its credit, that list also mention this one, and “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later).” That third one — the one from Blonde on Blonde (What? You don’t have Blonde on Blonde?), is the best song of the three. But “It’s Alright, Ma” is the one with the punchiest use of parentheses.
  8. (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” — My fave of all of these. It’s an enigma: How can it sound like the quintessential Elvis Costello song when Nick Lowe wrote it? And how could the NYT have left it out?
  9. December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” —  Yeah, what you thought was the title is completely contained in the parentheses. This is Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons being… I don’t know what.
  10. Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love)” — Another of mine, as a way of getting a South Carolina band on the list. I lived in New Orleans when this was first big, and it was years before I knew that it and I were born in the same place.
  11. (Don’t Fear) The Reaper” — Of course, we need to hear it through the SNL skit.
  12. Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)” I threw in this one because it is my considered opinion that Randy Newman doesn’t get enough attention. He would probably agree. And it comes from a truly great album that you will never heard fully played on the radio because, you know. It’s a shame “Louisiana 1927” didn’t have some parentheses.
  13. Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” — Maybe the person who compiled the NYT list isn’t old enough to remember Kenny Rogers & the First Edition playing it on a variety show, back when those existed.
  14. She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)” — You have to be in a certain sort of mood, I suppose, to enjoy Jerry Reed. I include this in case you’ve feeling that way. I’m not…
  15. Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” — This Loretta Lynn number is probably the one item on this list that is truly a classic.
  16. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” — You thought I was going to forget the Fab Four? Perish the thought.

Some quick observations about ‘The Flash’

I mentioned in a previous post that I might go see “Oppenheimer” or “The Flash.” I ended up taking my younger son and my grandson to “The Flash.” I’ll see Oppenheimer soon. Bryan says he saw “Oppenheimer” today, and maybe he’ll post here about it. I hope he does. If not, I will when I see it.

But now, some quick observations about “The Flash.”

It was fun. We enjoyed it. One would hope so, when that much money and that many people are involved. More about the many people in a moment. Here are some bullets:

  • Since seeing it, I’ve answered each person who’s asked me about it that it was “weird, but we enjoyed it.” To elaborate on the weird… As much as I enjoy watching a movie, that, among its other attractions, features pretty much everybody who has ever played Batman on the big screen, the overly bizarre twists — such as multiverse realities colliding with all sorts of dazzling visual effects, and similar people in those other universes having very different lives and relationships — gets a bit wearying. You eventually wonder what your eye should be following, and whether there’s really ONE version of a character seen multiple times that you should care about. Why so much baffling complexity? Isn’t normal life complicated enough? I think the answer is fairly simple: When you keep investing your huge production budgets in the SAME stories about the SAME characters over and over — including multiple renditions of the “origin story” — you have to go to extremes to keep pulling people in.
  • I mentioned Batman. You think, Batman? I thought this was The Flash. Well, another way Marvel has found to deal with the repetition of telling the same story over and over about one guy — say, Spider-Man — is to mix superheroes together, say through such devices as the Avengers. This makes the simple stories about single characters more complicated by having them interact with each other. It also brings, say, Thor fans in to see a movie about Iron Man. And sure, it’s fun to see these familiar characters interact. (My favorite example? Watching the Avengers sit around exhausted eating shawarma after the credits of the first “Avengers” movie.) Anyway, it’s worked for Marvel, so DC has adopted this practice with a vengeance. Their vehicle for this is the Justice League. There’s not just Batman, there are multiple Batmen, and Supermen. And the treat of the stunning Gal Gadot appearing in a cameo — there are lots of cameos — as Wonder Woman. She makes Flash tongue-tied, quite understandably.
  • I mentioned a lot of people being involved. I also mentioned the nice bits that occur AFTER the credits, in Marvel movies at least — meaning that even people who are not habitual credits-readers stay until they’re over. Last night, as with other such CGI spectaculars, I watched as oceans of names of people washed across the screen, most of them working on effects. And something occurred to me last night as I watched… One of the great advantages of CGI, I’ve heard, is that you don’t have to hire hundreds of extras to be an army or a crowd at a football game or whatever — you can just fake them. But here I was watching all these names of people hired to work on the movie, and it occurred to me that with this many people on the payroll, you could stage just about any kind of crowd scene you wanted. And then, you wouldn’t need CGI — for that purpose, anyway. Which is ironic. And doesn’t it cost more to hire people who can write code than to hire extras to stand around? So tell me again how the studios are saving money by not hiring extras…
  • A lot of those tech people — a surprising number of them, it occurred to me — had Indian names. I don’t mean like Geronimo. I mean like Rajesh “Raj” Koothrappali, the character on “The Big Bang Theory.” This small trigger made me think of something totally irrelevant — that if you DID put all these guys in the credits in a crowd scene, they’d look kind of homogenous. Not that they’d all look Indian, but that they’d all little like all the main characters — Indian, caucasian, Jewish, and occasionally (but not often) a woman, such as Amy Farrah Fowler. (Or like the Geek Squad at Best Buy.) But not Penny. The Pennys are all in the acting credits, and wear spandex.
  • A side note about aging. Flash is played by a young actor I’ve never seen before. Which is probably why he was surrounded by stars who have played Batman, etc. The studios can’t take chances on people staying away because there are no stars! Among the supporting characters were his parents. And you know who played his Dad? Ron Livingston. You know — the jaded young hero of “Office Space!” And a leading figure among the legion of young actors featured in “Band of Brothers!” But those guys worked at Initek 24 years ago. And “Band of Brothers” first appeared on HBO in 2001. So now he’s the Dad of the hero. This is disconcerting. It was almost as big a shock as when Marisa Tomei appeared as Aunt May in one of the Spider-Man movies. I mean, come on! This is Marisa Tomei. And this is Aunt May. How can this be? (Of course, they worked it out by having Aunt May look like this, which I suppose was a very Hollywood thing to do.) Anyway, I want all these people to stop getting old, right now.
  • Of all the name actors who appear, the biggest is Michael Keaton, who appears of course as one of the Batmen — the best one, the one you paid to see. This was a tremendous gimmick that the makers came up with, and it delivered. It does not disappoint. I’d tell you why, but I’m holding myself back from spoilers.
  • Oh, I mentioned the young actor who plays the Flash. Looking up details about the movie today, I ran across a rather appalling recent record, which apparently caused great concern among the makers of the movie, although they proceeded anyway. Look at the list of incidents and allegations on Wikipedia, which you find when you click on “controversies surrounding Miller” in the main story about the movie. Wow. I don’t see how one person could have been involved in this many kinds of alleged misdeeds. I don’t think Keith Moon could have kept up with such a record, even when he was at his most destructively energetic. And it’s a shame. I mentioned recently that with AI, we may face a future in which no new, young actor makes it big, because all the movies can star Harrison Ford and Clark Gable and Ingrid Bergman. But this kid gets a break like this, and yet seems to be self-destructing. Assuming any significant percentage of the allegations are true.

I guess that’s enough. Back when I reviewed movies, I never wrote on this long.

Again, I enjoyed it. (The best part? Michael Keaton, of course.) When something else like it comes out, I’ll probably see that too, if the young guys let me come along. But there is a good bit of weirdness…

Of course, the reason to go is to see Michael Keaton. He does not disappoint.

And when she passes, each one she passes…

In was in a two-hour Zoom meeting when this came across my screen and all I could think to do was reject what I was seeing:

This is hard to accept. Y’all know what a fan of Astrud I am. It’s not just her voice — although the simple honesty of it when you listen to her first and most famous recording sort of sweeps me away. It’s not entirely her visual allure, although that was pretty overwhelming as well, whether she was dressed in modest mod attire or less formally. I’m glad I didn’t see that picture back in the day. I was just a kid.

Back then, fortunately, I didn’t see a lot of things that the web makes accessible. There was just the wonder of seeing her on the tube, and hearing her. The web complicates things, and often it does so with nonsense and rumor.

I remember reading once, in recent years, that she left her husband João for Stan Getz. I thought that was on Wikipedia, but it’s not there now. Apparently it was something in the Brazilian press, connected to her going on tour with Getz as she was getting divorced from João — something that (as I read elsewhere) was João’s fault, by the way. Trying to check it, I ran across multiple stories about how Getz exploited her, which is just disgusting:

Getz often boasted that “he’d made Astrud famous”, but it seems he did his best to make sure she never received her fair share of the royalties. Gene Lees, the editor of DownBeat magazine, who translated “Corcovado” into English, later alleged that Getz intervened as soon as it was clear “The Girl from Ipanema” was going to be a lucrative hit. “Astrud hadn’t been paid a penny for the session and within days, the record was on the charts,” he wrote in Singers and the Song II. “It was at this point that Getz called Creed’s office. Betsy, Creed’s secretary, took the call. Creed was out of the office. When he returned and she told him Stan was anxious to talk with him, Creed thought Stan must be calling to see that Astrud got some share of the royalties. On the contrary, he was calling to make sure that she got nothing.”

The extent of the financial injustice is also made clear in Ruy Castro’s 2003 book Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music That Seduced the World. Castro details that João Gilberto received $23,000 for his work on the album. Getz got the lion’s share of money for the album, estimated by some to be nearly a million dollars. Getz earned so much from its success that he immediately bought a 23-room “Gone With the Wind-style mansion” in Irvington, New York.

As for poor Astrud Gilberto, she was paid a relative pittance for turning millions of people on to jazz and the rhythms of Brazil. The woman “responsible for the record’s international success” (in Castro’s words) earned only what the American musicians’ syndicate paid for a night of session work: $120…

What an a__hole. How could anybody do that to Astrud? I mean, look at her. She was 22 when she recorded that. A babe in the woods. Someone a halfway decent person would want to protect. (See how my perspective shifts over the years from dazzled kid to father of daughters, and then to grandfather?)

Of course, maybe that story was just rumors, too. But I don’t think so.

To pull us all back from my digression — don’t look at her; listen to her. Here are some links. I’ll go away and leave you to contemplate them in peace, and become an Astrud fan. Some people like the piercing artistry of opera divas. I like this:

A nice read about a nice guy who gave a nice speech…

Well, here I go again — urging you all to read something that you probably can’t see because you don’t subscribe. But I don’t know what else to do.

Once communities across the country were tied together by common narratives. It was cheap to subscribe to the local newspaper (because the cost of producing the paper was born by advertisers, not readers — and that’s gone away). Their local journalists generally weren’t necessarily oracles of wisdom (I just said “generally,” mind you), but they had little trouble agreeing on basic facts of what had happened, and report it. And a calmer reading public accepted that plain reality, and worked from that as citizens.

But then several things happened. First, starting sometime in the 1980s, politics started getting really, really nasty, and partisan divisions started festering to a degree previously unseen in post-1945 America. Meanwhile, local media’s advertising base disappeared, and press and electronic media were reduced to skeleton staffs, increasingly finding it hard to cover anything adequately. Finally, people started more and more being deluged by media that had nothing to do with journalism, and cared more about advancing the fantasies of their respective bitter factions than about dispassionately informing the public. Tsunamis of it.

Even the best journals in the country, the ones that still had adequate, talented staffs, started focusing more and more on the bitter divisions, the things that separated us more than what we held in common as Americans. Why? Because that’s what the world looked like now. They were describing reality, although painfully superficially.

But sometimes, those journals still something thoughtful, something that offers a little hope for sanity, something that might even make you feel OK about the human race, sort of. In recent years, I’ve focused as a reader mostly on that stuff, not the latest shouting over the debt limit or whatever. Unfortunately, those things appeared in the still-healthy journals to which I subscribe. So I write about those things, and try to share them when possible.

To get to my point…

Today, there was a nice piece about a nice guy giving a nice speech. It was headlined, “At Harvard, Tom Hanks offered an increasingly rare moment of grace.” A long excerpt, which I hope the Post‘s legal department will allow me:

The language of the academy is increasingly centered on who or what is centered — what voices, what values — and there wasn’t the least doubt, on a day that also honored a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, a magisterial historian, a groundbreaking biochemist, a media pioneer and a four-star admiral, that Dr. Hanks was the center of attention. It takes an astute understanding of human physics to redirect all those energies and center the students. Over and over, he found ways to send the focus back to them, rising from his seat to kneel in awe before Latin orator Josiah Meadows, hugging Vic Hogg — who recounted a harrowing recovery from gunshot wounds suffered during a carjacking — grace notes and gestures aimed at the musicians and speakers whose names he wove into his own remarks, and at the parents whose pride pulsed across the sea of caps and gowns.

Our public square suffers an acute shortage of such acts of grace. Leaders find power and profit in crassness and cruelty, and signal that virtue is for suckers. It’s a cliché that Tom Hanks is “the nicest guy in Hollywood,” that he and his wife of 35 years, Rita Wilson, somehow manage to represent decency at a time when the country is so divided we can’t even agree on who is worth admiring. On a brisk spring day, watching the radioactive level of attention on him, and his ability to refract it into pure joy and shared humanity, was a healing energy in a sorry time. You can imagine that normal comes naturally to some people; but how often do people who are treated as being bigger, better, more special than everyone else resist the temptation to believe it?

And when it was time for Hanks to deliver his formal message, the script, while occasionally overwritten, rhymed with the mission. Flapping banners exalted the university motto, “Veritas,” and Hanks took up the battle cry. “The truth, to some, is no longer empirical. It’s no longer based on data nor common sense nor even common decency,” he said. “Truth is now considered malleable by opinion and by zero-sum endgames. Imagery is manufactured with audacity and with purpose to achieve the primal task of marring the truth with mock logic, to achieve with fake expertise, with false sincerity, with phrases like, ‘I’m just saying. Well, I’m just asking. I’m just wondering.’”

The opposite of love is not hate, Elie Wiesel said, but indifference, and Hanks put the challenge before his audience of rising leaders and explorers, artists and environmentalists, teachers and technologists. “Every day, every year, and for every graduating class, there is a choice to be made. It’s the same option for all grown-ups, who have to decide to be one of three types of Americans,” Hanks said. “Those who embrace liberty and freedom for all, those who won’t, or those who are indifferent.” Bracing as the words were, the actions spoke louder. For those of us in the truth business — which is to say, all of us — it was an actor who never finished college who set a standard we can work to live up to.

This is not a big-deal story. Just a writer — Nancy Gibbs, a former editor in chief of Time magazine — witnessing an incident in which a famous person was given a forum and used it to show respect to other people and to say a few words that made some sense. I thank her for sharing that, and the Post for running it, and I wanted to share it with you to the best of my ability…

When did THESE guys get so old?

I was reading something in The Washington Post this morning, and I saw dese two mooks in a picture, and they looked familiar.

My next thought was, When did THEY get so old? I mean, Marty looks like he could be Joe Biden’s dad! Johnny Boy’s not quite as bad, but can you believe he’s the guy on the left down below?

The one below is from 1973, and I realize that was a couple of years ago, maybe a little more, but this is ridiculous! The dames aren’t gonna go for the guy in the picture above, no matter how many Seven and Sevens he buys them! On the upside, maybe Johnny Boy’s calmed down a bit, and Charlie won’t have to worry about him so much.

But come ahhhn

Scorsese (center) directing De Niro and Keitel in ‘Mean Streets’…

Oh, wait. With “Mean Streets” in the air, I shouldn’t end this with a still. Here’s a clip, the one with the mooks:

An Identity Politics dilemma

Newspaper advice columns used to be entertaining, but easier to sort out. For instance, I just went hunting for some of Dear Abby’s zingers, and here’s a good one that showed up in a couple of places:

Dear Abby: Are birth control pills deductible?
Dear Bertie: Only if they don’t work.

Ah, for those simpler times! Check out this one from “The Ethicist” in The New York Times, which cropped up this week:

I am involved with a well-regarded community theater that has made significant efforts to diversify its membership, casts and audience. A conflict has arisen over a proposed production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” (Yes, we know, “Fiddler” has been done to death in community theaters. A different issue.) The director proposing the production has committed himself to colorblind casting. Others involved say that, in view of the Jewish community the play is about, they would consider this to be a cultural appropriation. How should we approach this conflict in values?

Set aside the fact that someone thought this was an “ethical” question, rather than a conflict between — I don’t know what to call it — two currently fashionable cultural phenomena. But this person so troubled as to feel the need to apologize for putting on a play from benighted times of long ago.

The Ethicist made quick work of the cultural appropriation issue: “Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, the Jewish American duo behind ‘Fiddler,’ certainly weren’t hung up on anything like cultural appropriation; early on, they were in touch with Frank Sinatra for the part of Tevye…”

Alfred Molina as Tevye.

Yeah. I like the idea of having an all-Jewish cast (and I’m glad Ol’ Blue Eyes didn’t get the part), but it’s certainly not necessary. I saw it on Broadway in 2005 with Alfred Molina as Tevye. It was awesome. It was the best show I’ve ever seen on Broadway. Of course, it was the only show I’ve ever seen on Broadway, so…

It wasn’t a stretch to believe in Molina as Jewish. He’s Spanish-Italian. But did being Mediterranean make him look more the part? I dunno. Wasn’t Tevye Ashkenazi? Maybe not. It doesn’t matter.

It’s certainly not an ethical issue. It’s an esthetic one. Did Molina work in the role? Did Topol? Yes to both.

Ditto with the recent fashion of casting black actors in “white” roles — does it work? Are they compelling as the characters they portray, or do you perceive a distinct lack of, I don’t know, verisimilitude?

For instance, here’s an example that I think worked. (And of course, all I can tell you is what “I think,” since whether a particular bit of casting in a film or a brushstroke on a canvas “worked” is a complex subjective impression.) In 2016, Sophie Okenedo played the part of Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, in the second season of The Hollow Crown, an excellent presentation of Shakespeare’s plays covering the Wars of the Roses, all strung together chronologically.

Sophie Okonedo as Margaret of Anjou

Did she “look like” Margaret, to use that fave phrase of Identity Politics? Or like we would expect Margaret to look? Well, no. She’s the child of a Nigerian father and a Jewish mother. And I suppose my eyebrow rose, as it might if a tall, healthy Richard III appeared (speaking of which, Benedict Cumberbatch was an interesting choice in that role, in the same series).

But then I watched, and she brought the character to life vividly. Which is what matters, you see. She was great.

Creators of art might also be trying to say something larger through casting. My initial reaction to the multiracial cast of “Hamilton” went beyond eyebrow-raising. I was like, Are they messing recklessly with one of my favorite periods in history? (You understand, I’m also suspicious when, say, “Hamlet” is staged in modern clothing. And I really hated the Leonardo DiCaprio version of “Romeo and Juliet.”)

But it didn’t take me long to realize that I loved the idea. It was, in fact, a rebuttal to some of the sillier aspects of Identity Politics. Who could now dismiss the achievements of the Founders as the irrelevant doings of a bunch of “dead white men?” This magnificent musical told even the most skin-conscious observer that these were people who did something pretty wonderful for all of us, and the amount of melanin they exhibited didn’t matter.

At the moment, there’s a lot of hullabaloo over Cleopatra being portrayed by a black actress in a show on Netflix. The Egyptians are calling it “a falsification of Egyptian history,” and I suppose they’re right, on the melanin front. She was of Macedonian heritage, being of the Ptolemaic dynasty. In her case, she might have also had some Persian DNA, but that seems neither here nor there to the controversy.

Of course, rather than the case being considered on its own merits, it’s become another obsession in the never-ending shouting match between the ones and zeroes people. To give you an idea, Vogue has proclaimed, “Let’s Just Call the Outrage Around Queen Cleopatra What It Is: Racism.”

And, you know, here we go again, with both sides of the IP obsession going at each other hammer and tongs.

As for “its own merits,” such as they are, I see a couple of things going on. One, you have someone thinking it would be cool to dramatize the widely held, but rather dubious, notion that Cleo was a sub-Saharan. Personally, I’d rather see some random historical queen played by a black actress (say, Margaret of Anjou) than reinforce erroneous notions about history, but that’s me. The difference is, my way says race doesn’t matter; the other way seems to argue that it matters quite a bit. And misleads people doing it.

The second thing is that someone is trying to ride the cultural wave that has given us “Sanditon,” “Bridgerton,” and “Queen Charlotte.” That seems popular at the moment, so why not? Next year it will be something else. I once wore wide, white belts on houndstooth pants with loud-colored shirts. Briefly. Then, the Carnaby Street thing passed.

The thing is, there is no great overriding moral issue here. Slavery is a moral issue, one of great consequence. So were Jim Crow laws. The complexion of Cleopatra, not so much.

But some people are terribly worried, and fortunately we have The Ethicist to sort it out.

At this point I would go into the strange contradiction of the same group of folks both a) worried about having a “diverse” cast and b) afraid of committing the sin of “appropriation.” And someone sitting between them feeling conflicted. But so go our modern modes of “thinking.”

I’ll just stop there. If I ever watch the new “Cleopatra,” I’ll report back on whether it worked. But I warn you, I don’t think I ever got all the way through the Elizabeth Taylor version…

What? Are you saying Cleopatra had purple eyes?!?!

Remember Orison Whipple Hungerford Jr.?

This is how time gets wasted. And consequently, why I post so seldom, among other derelictions of duty.

The other day I had an earworm, and I was trying to figure out what it was. You know how those torment me. Rather than a pop song, it was an instrumental piece, of the grandiose sort. I decided it was the theme music from one of those blockbuster war movies from the 1960s or ’70s, with every actor from the A list, but apparently no writers, and no directors capable of demanding decent acting. You know, like “The Longest Day.”

But it wasn’t that one. No play on Beethoven’s 5th. For a moment, I reached into the ’70s, deciding it might be “A Bridge Too Far.” I went to YouTube to check the theory, but before the first notes sounded, I stopped the video. I had realized it was from “The Battle of the Bulge.” And, as I clicked around trying to confirm, I became unsure it was actually the theme. It was an instrumental version of the “Panzerlied” — which does crop up in the theme, briefly (go to the 29-second mark in this), and is the only memorable tune that emerges. It’s the song those young officers sing while stamping their feet to prove to Robert Shaw vat gut little Nazis zey all vere.

That made me start thinking about what an abominably disappointing film it was. It wasn’t quite the greatest insult Hollywood has ever flung at my late father-in-law’s war service. That distinction belongs to “Hogan’s Heroes.” (My father-in-law was captured in the Ardennes, and spent the rest of the war in a German POW camp. A real one. There was nothing cute or amusing about it.)

But it was pretty bad. I got to pondering what made it so bad. Was it Henry Fonda? Of course not. How could I be critical of Mister Roberts (although don’t get me started on how he was more than 20 years too old for that role)? Although the prig colonel played by Dana Andrews, whose job it was to scoff at Henry’s premonitions, was pretty insufferable. Telly Savalas? Well, the cuteness of the black marketeer’s relationship with the impossibly pretty Belgian girl (yeah, like she’d go for Kojak) was utterly absurd. Both he and Robert Ryan were more fun in “The Dirty Dozen” (of course, as much as I loved that one as a kid, I assure you it didn’t hold up well over the years, either).

As I ran through the cast, trying to thing of the scene or role or actor that best exemplified how little the filmmakers cared, I settled on the guy who played the leader of one of Otto Skorzeny’s units of German soldiers disguised as Americans during the battle. The guy who looked like he’d be equally at home playing one of the non-speaking surfers standing behind Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in one of those beach movies with Eric Von Zipper. I seemed to recall the same guy appearing in “P.T. 109,” with his hair dyed blond, as JFK’s XO Leonard Thom.

Yep. Ty Hardin. He had also starred in one of the less-well-remembered Warner Brothers TV westerns. To check this (as I do everything, all day long), I looked to Wikipedia. Yep, he starred in “Bronco.”

But that’s not the good part of what I read in Wikipedia. The good part was that his real name (you already realize it wasn’t really “Ty Hardin,” of course) was Orison Whipple Hungerford Jr.

No, not making it up.

I’ve always taken something of a dim view of people changing their names, which I see as sort of disrespectful to their parents — especially if they are “juniors.”

But I think I might give ol’ Ty a pass on this one. He had a career to think of, such as it was.

OK, I’ll go do some work now…

Hey, Hollywood! Have I got a pitch for you, baby…

Michael Jayston as Peter Guillam in 1979.

OK, admittedly it’s not boffo in, say, Marvel Universe terms, or last year’s “Top Gun” sequel. We’re talking more of a niche thing here. In fact, few of my readers here will take interest, unless they are avid Le Carré fans. (Which they should be.)

There’d be nothing blowing up, or people flying about under their own power in colorful tights, or other improbable things. In fact, maybe this idea might not be right for you, Hollywood, in your current state. Can we book Shepperton?

But it would be good. I’m excited about it. Just as I was excited last year, when I read one of Mr. Le Carré’s last efforts, A Legacy of Spies. It was such a gift to those of us to whom Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy opened such a wonderful world half a century ago.

It’s at this point I will lose you, dear reader, if you’re not into Le Carré….

Basically, Legacy plunged back through the decades to resurrect favorite characters from Tinker, and from the earlier masterpiece, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. It was better than a high school reunion, way better. (At least, I assume that. I didn’t go to my 50th reunion; I’m not even sure that there was one. I had only been in touch with one of my 600 classmates — our good friend Burl — and he died two years before such a gathering would have taken place.)

Better in the sense that it wasn’t just wandering about glancing at name tags and trying to figure out who these old fogeys were back in your heyday. This book took one of our very best friends from those days and plunged him back into the events of that intense time, in a way that was immediately relevant to all concerned.

To set the scene — Peter Guillam, George Smiley’s long-ago protégé, is in retirement on a farm in France. Out of nowhere, present officials of the Circus (or former Circus) descend on him from their garish new building on the Thames, requiring that he come to London and dive into the records and explain to them what happened to Alec Leamas — and to what extent Control, and Smiley, and Peter himself are responsible for those shocking Cold War goings-on.

You know how tediously judgmental these young folks can be about such things — come back, old man, and justify yourself.

I’m not going to tell you any more, except to say that as Peter endures their interrogations and immerses himself in the official, and unofficial, records, much of the novel takes place in his flashbacks, and the past comes very much to life.

I really enjoyed reading it last year.

So imagine how pleased I was to see Peter Guillam himself appear before me just last night, much older but still the same former head of Scalphunters.

OK, not the fictional character himself, but the next best thing: It was Michael Jayston, who portrayed him so perfectly in the 1979 Tinker Tailer TV series (possibly the best TV show in history), alongside Alex Guinness as Smiley. He was Guillam. Sorry, Michael Byrne and Benedict Cumberbatch, but he was, and you were not — especially not you, Benedict.

Here’s how it happened — I had just come in last night from a late-evening walk, finishing up my 10,000 steps for the day. My wife was watching the very last episode of “Murder in Suburbia” (an underrated ITV cops programme that only lasted two “seasons,” as the Americans call them) on Britbox, and she called my attention to the screen and said, “Look who it is!” She was talking about Olivia Coleman. But a couple of seconds later, someone else showed up.

It was Michael Jayston. It was Peter! Much older and greyer, of course, but unmistakably the same guy. He even had the same hair cut, and the same expression he wore when listening to Ricki Tarr tell his tale about the mole.

Of course, this had first been aired in… July 2005, shortly after I started this blog. And while he looked perfect for the part on the screen, he’s now, um… 87. Oh. Dang….

But so what? 2005 was just minutes ago, and this is Peter Bloody Guillam! Certainly he’s stayed in shape! But let’s get moving. I’m envisioning a high-quality TV-series rendition of A Legacy of Spies here, and I can’t wait to see it! And no one else (especially not you, Mr. Cumberbatch) could play the main protagonist.

I stand ready to help in this noble endeavor. Writing, casting, whatever you need done.

In fact, it occurs to me that Alex Guinness is no longer available, and here I am. Of course, I’m somewhat young for the role, unless you want me for the flashback scenes.

But I’ll do anything you need. Be the third assistant gofer to the gaffer, whatever. Let’s just get started…

And suddenly, there he was — Peter Guillam, much older! (The guy in the middle. Duh…(

What should have won, since 1976

Can you BELIEVE it wasn’t even nominated?

As y’all know, I love movies, and I used to care about the Oscars. I even made a point back in the day of seeing all the Best Picture nominees before the big night — and mind you, in those days that meant going to the theater and buying a ticket. But I stopped caring after the debacle of 1998. I knew the Academy’s judgments were random, whimsical, and dumb before that, but that was the last straw.

And since then, I haven’t seen any evidence that my 1998 judgment was wrong.

So while I generally ignored all the hoopla over the Oscars over the weekend, my attention was grabbed by this story in The Washington Post: “The Oscars always get it wrong. Here are the real best pictures of the past 47 years.

By the Post‘s critic’s standards (I’m using “critics” loosely here), that headline is somewhat misleading, since they occasionally agreed with the Academy’s judgment. And so do I. But in general, it states a truism.

I don’t know why they started with 1976, but since that is about when I started reviewing movies for The Jackson Sun, it works for me.

So I copied their list, and corrected it, by stating which was truly the Best Picture in these given years. You can thank me later. Oh, and to explain — especially in the earlier years, a huge criterion for me is whether it holds up. Is it as impressive now as it was then, or even more so? Do I think “Star Wars” was a great, profound cinematic statement? No. But boy, has it held up…

If I say “I dunno,” it’s because I didn’t see the nominated films — or saw one or two and was unimpressed, and wasn’t interested enough to see the others. You’ll see me do that a lot in the last few years. I’ve seen some good films over those years, but no really great ones — and of course I’ve felt far less obliged to go out and see them. I mean, I’ve got a nice HD screen in my house. I wait at least until they appear on a streaming service that will show them for “free.”

And no, I didn’t give this a lot of thought, and didn’t elaborate. I just saw it as a good topic for discussion. Or a bunch of such topics. If anyone engages, I’ll explain my choices.

My version of the list:

Nominees: All the President’s Men, Bound for Glory, Network, Rocky, Taxi Driver
Best Picture winner: Rocky
The actual best picture: All the President’s Men, OR Rocky. Quite a year.

Nominees: Annie Hall, The Goodbye Girl, Julia, Star Wars, The Turning Point
Best Picture winner: Annie Hall
The actual best picture: Star Wars

Nominees: Coming Home, The Deer Hunter, Heaven Can Wait, Midnight Express, An Unmarried Woman
Best Picture winner: The Deer Hunter
The actual best picture: The Deer Hunter

Nominees: All That Jazz, Apocalypse Now, Breaking Away, Kramer vs. Kramer, Norma Rae
Best Picture winner: Kramer vs. Kramer
The actual best picture: Apocalypse Now, with a good word thrown in for Breaking Away

Nominees: Coal Miner’s Daughter, The Elephant Man, Ordinary People, Raging Bull, Tess
Best Picture winner: Ordinary People
The actual best picture: Coal Miner’s Daughter

Nominees: Atlantic City, Chariots of Fire, On Golden Pond, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Reds
Best Picture winner: Chariots of Fire
The actual best picture: Chariots of Fire

Nominees: E.T. the Extraterrestrial, Gandhi, Missing, Tootsie, The Verdict
Best Picture winner: Gandhi
The actual best picture: E.T.

Nominees: The Big Chill, The Dresser, The Right Stuff, Tender Mercies, Terms of Endearment
Best Picture winner: Terms of Endearment
The actual best picture: The Right Stuff, OR Tender Mercies

Nominees: Amadeus, The Killing Fields, A Passage to India, Places in the Heart, A Soldier’s Story
Best Picture winner: Amadeus
The actual best picture: Amadeus

Nominees: The Color Purple, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Out of Africa, Prizzi’s Honor, Witness
Best Picture winner: Out of Africa
The actual best picture: Witness

Nominees: Children of a Lesser God, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Mission, Platoon, A Room with a View
Best Picture winner: Platoon
The actual best picture: Hannah and Her Sisters

Nominees: Broadcast News, Fatal Attraction, Hope and Glory, The Last Emperor, Moonstruck
Best Picture winner: The Last Emperor
The actual best picture: Moonstruck

Nominees: The Accidental Tourist, Dangerous Liaisons, Mississippi Burning, Rain Man, Working Girl
Best Picture winner: Rain Man
The actual best picture: Working Girl

Nominees: Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Poets Society, Driving Miss Daisy, Field of Dreams, My Left Foot
Best Picture winner: Driving Miss Daisy
The actual best picture: Field of Dreams

Nominees: Awakenings, Dances With Wolves, Ghost, The Godfather Part III, Goodfellas
Best Picture winner: Dances With Wolves
The actual best picture: Goodfellas

Nominees: Beauty and the Beast, Bugsy, JFK, The Prince of Tides, The Silence of the Lambs
Best Picture winner: The Silence of the Lambs
The actual best picture: Oh, surely there had to be something better than these.

Nominees: The Crying Game, A Few Good Men, Howards End, Scent of a Woman, Unforgiven
Best Picture winner: Unforgiven
The actual best picture: Unforgiven

Nominees: The Fugitive, In the Name of the Father, The Piano, The Remains of the Day, Schindler’s List
Best Picture winner: Schindler’s List
The actual best picture: The Piano

Nominees: Forrest Gump, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption
Best Picture winner: Forrest Gump
The actual best picture: Four Weddings and a Funeral

Nominees: Apollo 13, Babe, Braveheart, Il Postino, Sense and Sensibility
Best Picture winner: Braveheart
The actual best picture: Apollo 13. (The critics simply said “not that,” referring to the Mel Gibson film. They’re right.)

Nominees: The English Patient, Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine
Best Picture winner: The English Patient
The actual best picture: Fargo

Nominees: As Good as It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, L.A. Confidential, Titanic
Best Picture winner: Titanic
The actual best picture: As Good as It Gets, OR Good Will Hunting

Nominees: Elizabeth, Life Is Beautiful, Saving Private Ryan, Shakespeare in Love, The Thin Red Line
Best Picture winner: Shakespeare in Love
The actual best picture: Life Is Beautiful, OR Saving Private Ryan

Nominees: American Beauty, The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, The Sixth Sense
Best Picture winner: American Beauty
The actual best picture: The Sixth Sense

Nominees: Chocolat, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Gladiator, Traffic
Best Picture winner: Gladiator
The actual best picture: Gladiator, for the lack of anything better.

Nominees: A Beautiful Mind, Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge!
Best Picture winner: A Beautiful Mind
The actual best picture: The Lord of the Rings, starring New Zealand

Nominees: Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Pianist
Best Picture winner: Chicago
The actual best picture: Chicago

Nominees: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Mystic River, Seabiscuit
Best Picture winner: The Lord of the Rings
The actual best picture: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Duh.

Nominees: The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby, Ray, Sideways
Best Picture winner: Million Dollar Baby
The actual best picture: The Aviator

Nominees: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Crash, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich
Best Picture winner: Crash
The actual best picture: Munich, or Capote

Nominees: Babel, The Departed, Letters From Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen
Best Picture winner: The Departed
The actual best picture: The Departed

Nominees: Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood
Best Picture winner: No Country for Old Men
The actual best picture: Michael Clayton

Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Picture winner: Slumdog Millionaire
The actual best picture: Gran Torino, which I can’t believe wasn’t nominated. Actually, yes I can.

Nominees: Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air
Best Picture winner: The Hurt Locker
The actual best picture: The Hurt Locker OR A Serious Man

Nominees: Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King’s Speech, 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter’s Bone
Best Picture winner: The King’s Speech
The actual best picture: The King’s Speech

Nominees: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse
Best Picture winner: The Artist
The actual best picture: Moneyball

Nominees: Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty
Best Picture winner: Argo
The actual best picture: Lincoln

Nominees: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street
Best Picture winner: 12 Years a Slave
The actual best picture: Gravity

Nominees: American Sniper, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash
Best Picture winner: Birdman
The actual best picture: Dunno — despite the fact I saw most of these.

Nominees: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Spotlight
Best Picture winner: Spotlight
The actual best picture: Brooklyn, OR Spotlight

Nominees: La La Land, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Arrival, Fences, Lion, Hidden Figures, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water
Best Picture winner: La La — no, wait! MOONLIGHT!
The actual best picture: Manchester by the Sea

Nominees: Call Me By Your Name; Darkest Hour; Dunkirk; Get Out; Lady Bird; Phantom Thread; The Post; The Shape of Water; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Best Picture winner: The Shape of Water
The actual best picture: Dunkirk

Nominees: BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, Roma, A Star Is Born, Vice
Best Picture winner: Green Book
The actual best picture: Dunno.

Nominees: Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, Parasite
Best Picture winner: Parasite
The actual best picture: Jojo Rabbit (or anything, I’m sad to say, other than The Irishman)

Nominees: The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, Mank, Minari, Nomadland, Promising Young Woman, Sound of Metal, The Trial of the Chicago 7
Best Picture winner: Nomadland
The actual best picture: Dunno. Tried to watch both Mank and Trial of the Chicago 7, but didn’t get to the end of either.

Nominees: Belfast, CODA, Don’t Look Up, Drive My Car, Dune, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog, West Side Story
Best Picture winner: CODA
The actual best picture: Dunno.

Nominees: All Quiet on the Western Front, Avatar: The Way of Water, The Banshees of Inisherin, Elvis, Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Fabelmans, Tár, Top Gun: Maverick, Triangle of Sadness, Women Talking
Best Picture winner: Everything Everywhere All at Once
The actual best picture: Dunno, although I still plan to see All Quiet on the Western Front and The Banshees of Inisherin, soon as I can grab the time.

I had meant to post this over the weekend before the Oscars, but didn’t, and who cares? I didn’t have an opinion on this year’s…

Hey, I liked it when I reviewed it at the time, and it holds up.

Another song I should have paid attention to at the time

Almost 10 years ago, I put up a post headlined, “Top 12 Songs I Either Missed Entirely, or Didn’t Fully Appreciate at the Time.” I enjoyed looking back at it just now, although it filled me again with regret for the decades during which I had missed some amazing music.

This happened to me again the other day. I was looking for something else on YouTube, and it suggested I might want to watch the above video of The Moody Blues playing “Go Now.” I immediately remembered it was a great song and wanted to hear it, although I hadn’t known, or had forgotten, that it was by The Moody Blues. Another one of those bands I had been aware of but not really followed in the ’60s. And when I say “aware of,” I mean just barely. I immediately thought something along the lines of “oh, that artsy band with one of those two songs with ‘white’ in the title.”

Yes, to embarrass myself further, I can’t ever remember which is which between “Nights in White Satin” and “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” not for sure, until it gets going good — maybe not until I actually hear the title in the song. (Which means I recognize the Moody Blues song more quickly.) And I know even less about Procol Harum than about The Moody Blues. (But gimme a break on my confusion — don’t both songs have a similar atmosphere about them? They’re in a category together in my head.)

Anyway, once I know who it is, I can tell, and think, Yeah, this is what the “Nights in White Satin” group would have sounded like three years earlier, at the height of the British Invasion. (For you kids just joining us, in the 1960s, music and fashion changed so quickly, everybody went through an eon or two of cultural evolution each year. Today, everybody dresses and looks the same as they did 30 years ago.)

See how different they looked in 1967, boys and girls?

Oh, and speaking of the fact that this was 1964, I’ve thought of an excuse for why “Go Now” was dim in my memory — I didn’t hear it until a long time later. I was living in Ecuador at the time (from November 1962 to April 1965), and missed a lot of stuff. The Beatles had filtered down to us, and to some extent The Beach Boys, but that was about it.

Anyway, as I learned the other day, the song is more wonderful than I had dimly remembered from having heard in on oldie stations over the years. In fact, the thing that makes it so wonderful is that series of piano chords you hear over and over, so I’m hoping Phillip Bush will read this and explain to me the spell those chords cast.

The closest I come to having any musical insight into it is to recognize that it’s in a minor key. And I may be wrong about that. I think it’s F minor, but I got that specific detail from Googling, and there were dissenting opinions (don’t go trying to tell me about the “wisdom of the crowd”). But Phillip will know. I was just going by it having a minor-key feel.

But the story gets more interesting. I was so into in the song as I listened that I started reading about it online, and found that unlike “Nights in White Satin,” this was not originally a Moody Blues song.

You know the old story of pop music — of white guys making it big with black folks’ music? This is kinda one of those stories.

It was written by an American R&B man named Larry Banks. It was first recorded by his estranged wife Bessie Banks. She thought it was going to make her career, because it was getting some airplay. Then the Moody Blues released it, that that was pretty much it for major stardom for her. There’s this quote from her on Wikipedia:

I remember 1963 Kennedy was assassinated; it was announced over the radio. At the time, I was rehearsing in the office of Leiber and Stoller. We called it a day. Everyone was in tears. “Come back next week and we will be ready to record ‘Go Now'”; and we did so. I was happy and excited that maybe this time I’ll make it. ‘Go Now’ was released in January 1964, and right away it was chosen Pick Hit of the Week on W.I.N.S. Radio. That means your record is played for seven days. Four days went by, I was so thrilled. On day five, when I heard the first line, I thought it was me, but all of a sudden, I realized it wasn’t. At the end of the song it was announced, “The Moody Blues singing ‘Go Now’.” I was too out-done. This was the time of the English Invasion and the end of Bessie Banks’ career, so I thought. America’s DJs had stopped promoting American artists.[3]

Wikipedia sort of questions her details because the Moody Blues’ version didn’t come out until a year after hers. But, when it happened, I don’t doubt a bit that it was a moment of deep dismay for her. She and Larry were splitting up at the time, near as I can make out from looking it up. I sure hope she got some of the money. Come to think of it, I hope Larry got some money from the deal.

I don’t blame the Moody Blues for this at all. They heard a song that sounded good, covered it, and got rich and famous. It launched them to stardom. Although they didn’t do much to “make it theirs.” It’s very much the same as hers, down to those piano chords. They may have speeded it up slightly, à la “That Thing You Do.” But that’s about it.

For that matter, going to the larger historical trend, I don’t blame Elvis, either. Elvis was making the music that welled up out of him. He couldn’t help it that Sam Phillips saw him as the “white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel” he’d been looking for….

You want to blame somebody? Blame the white fans. (But don’t blame me on “Go Now;” I was in Ecuador.) But I do feel bad for Bessie Banks. Her version was great as it was. In both cases, though, I think the piano was a big part of what made it so…

On streaming British and European cop shows

“Murder in Suburbia:”

OK, I did it again. I was riffing on Doc Martin because Paul had brought him up, and got carried away on the topic of British and European cop shows, and decided to turn it into a separate post. This could be a Top Five list, or a couple of them, but I’ve got stuff to do and I don’t have the time. Anyway, here it is:

Oh, speaking of Doc Martin — you know the pretty dark-haired woman who plays his wife on that?

We’ve been watching and enjoying a good buddy-cop story that stars her. It’s called “Murder in Suburbia,” and she’s the more normal, straitlaced detective who is paired with a blonde who is a bit of a mess. (But this being TV, she’s also quite pretty — actually, that’s not a prerequisite so much on British TV, but she is.)

You can watch it on BritBox if you have that (and you should; it’s good). If you don’t, if you get the PBS Masterpiece add-on on Prime, I think it’s there, too.

As y’all know, my wife and I have been watching a LOT of Brit murder mystery/police procedural shows lately. (Two of the best we’ve watched in the last year or so — “McDonald and Dodds” and “Sherwood“) Sometimes we start watching one we don’t like, but most are good.

And we’ve been branching out to the continent lately, with German shows (“Luna and Sophie,” which has a very similar female-buddy-cop dynamic to Murder in Suburbia) and French ones — “Paris Murders,” “Astrid.”

The female-buddy-cop show is big across the pond — and across the Channel, in a number of languages. I recommend both “The Bay” and “Scott & Bailey.” My wife loves “Vera,” and I like it, too, but haven’t seen it as much. That’s not a female-buddy one, though. Vera works with guys up there on the Tyne.

“Astrid” is a twist on that buddy thing. In France, it’s called “Astrid et Raphaëlle.” Raphaëlle is the detective, and Astrid is the brilliant autistic criminal records keeper who becomes her friend and informal partner — the one who always has the insights that solve the crimes. Lately, that’s been my fave…

“Astrid et Raphaëlle.”

First Five Poems that Come to Mind

I like ol’ Edgar Allan, and I don’t care who knows it!

I was going to say Top Five, but that’s not accurate. More like the first five I could think of that I actually like.

I was recently interviewing a lady who writes poetry, and to have something to ask — since I’m not a person who thinks a great deal about poetry (which you will be able to tell from this list) — I asked who her favorite poets were. She named Robert Frost and several people I’ve never heard of.

That got me to thinking, well, what would mine be? And since evaluating a writer’s entire body of work is too much effort, I changed it to fave poems. And I’m pretty sure these five had come into my mind before the phone conversation ended.

None were by Frost. I mean, he’s good and all — I guess. I only know that one that everybody knows, and it’s fine. No, I mean those two that everybody knows. OK, those three. But none of those came to mind right away.

Here are the ones that did. Since one of them isn’t technically a poem, if I think of another to make up for it, I’ll give you six:

  1. Annabel Lee — At some point in my life, I learned that some people who are snobby about poetry (you know, English majors) look down upon Poe’s verse. As a fan since I was a little kid of his Gothic horror stories, I feel I must stick up for him. But I think “The Raven” is too obvious, don’t you? Barry would sneer at me if I picked that.
  2. Ballad of the Goodly Fere — I first read this in my college days at my uncle’s house, thumbing through an anthology he had. I was drawn to it because I had run across a lot of mentions of Ezra Pound in reading about Hemingway and such, but had never read anything by him. And I loved it. Mind you, this was at the time that “Jesus Christ Superstar” came out, and the Messiah tended to be depicted as a sort of wimpy hippy, so I appreciated the contrast of depicting him as a stronger, more working-class sort. I also enjoyed the dialect. Of course, it’s still the only thing I’ve read by Pound. We don’t tend to run into — or seek out, for that matter — a lot of stuff written by writers who are infamous for their fascist leanings. Or at least I don’t — there too much else to read. It’s still a good poem.
  3. La Belle Dame Sans Merci — Just to stick in one of the Romantics. I mention it not just because I have an avid interest in the Matter of Britain, and this has to do with a knight. It’s because, well, it inspired the worst nightmare of my life. This was also in my college days, and the shocking state of mind the dream produced caused me to get up, leave my dorm room and go sit on the floor in the well-lit hall until I could shake the spell. Fortunately, I got better. I can’t tell you the content of the dream. It was more of a vague horror, related to what the knight felt when “I awoke and found me here, On the cold hill’s side.” I’ve never been a partaker of hallucinogens, but it was like Aldous Huxley on mescaline, when he looked upon an ordinary chair and saw it as the Last Judgment. It was a moment of existential horror that defies easy rational description– little to do with knights.
  4. No Man is an Island — OK, this is the one that isn’t actually a poem, although it’s frequently quoted as one, since John Donne is the only famous metaphysical poet., and you often see it presented as a poem. And that’s not the title. It’s a part of Meditation XVII, which is in turn a part of a prose work called “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions.” My supposed title quotes the most famous line, or second most, if you count the one Hemingway turned into a novel title as leading the list. Anyway, if we count it as a poem, it’s definitely one of my favorites. Because, you know, it’s way communitarian.
  5. The Second Coming — Since Donne’s most famous work isn’t a poem, this may be my favorite — thereby confirming your impression that my taste in poetry is stunningly unoriginal and mainstream (although I tried to throw you there with Ezra Pound). It’s a contest as to which is more often quoted or paraphrased — this or the Donne thing. Hemingway went with that, and Joan Didion went with the Yeats. Well, a lot of people fall back on the Yeats these days. Maybe because it was written 104 years ago, but nothing written since goes as directly to the heart of what’s happening now in politics and society than “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,” or perhaps even better, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.”

Anyway, if we were ranking, and you counted the Donne piece as poetry, those last two would be my top choices. Stories about knights and ladies are all very well, but I like words to express ideas.

You’ll note they’re all pretty short poems. I love to read book-length prose works about the Matter of Britain, but don’t go expecting me to read a poem that long, Lord Tennyson. I still haven’t read The Iliad, for instance, and not just because I have no Greek. Poetry is too much work to read on and on.

Maybe I’ve been trained by pop songs. With Emily Dickinson, of course, it was hymns, and I think she was onto something.

Genealogy alert! So was my ancestor Thomas Wyatt the elder. He introduced to English a nice, short, disciplined form called the sonnet. Within a generation, William Shakespeare was making a name for himself with that form. I’m not really into sonnets (I prefer Will’s plays), but I respect the limits. Fourteen lines, baby, and that’s it. You’re done!

For that matter, I also enjoy haiku. And limericks

Yeats, rendered by another artist I like, Sargent…

A matter of perspective and proportion…

I really need to go through the notifications on my iPad and turn some of them off. Or turn most of them off.

I would start with that irritating app called “Apple News,” except… occasionally, it offers me something interesting from The Wall Street Journal. I recently dropped the WSJ from my subscriptions, because I wasn’t using it enough to justify paying for it – and the cost is high, compared to my other subscriptions. When Apple News scoops one up to offer me for free, I can read it. And I like to check in with the WSJ – which has probably the strictest paywall in the business – occasionally. That app lets me do it.

So I like getting notifications when they have one – because I’m not going to be looking there on a regular basis. I need the heads-up.

Unfortunately, that means I get a lot of junk from it as well.

As you can see above.

But as you can also see above, they’re not the only ones hassling me. You’ll see notes from The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post. None of which I would want to turn off, because there are no entities in the world more likely to alert me to actual news, which is, you know, what I subscribe to five newspapers to get. (Well, that, and commentary.)

The problem comes when we get to deciding what “news” is.

As you can see, for awhile there last night, the most important in the universe was that Beyoncé has won a heap of Grammys. Which I suppose is important to her, at least. Personally, I have never cared for a moment about who has or has not won a Grammy, much less who has won the most of them. There was a time when I cared about who won this or that Oscar. But I quit caring about that a quarter-century ago. And now I’m not sure I can tell you clearly why I ever did care. It mystifies me.

But a lot of people care about things I don’t care about. For instance, I’ve noticed that some people – perhaps even some of you – take an interest in football.

So never mind me.

We have all these news organizations in consensus about the fact that Beyoncé winning all these music awards is the most important thing happening, so they must be right – right? In fact, it makes you wonder what’s wrong with The Washington Post, wasting time telling me about some dumb ol’ earthquake that has now killed – let me go check – 3,800 human beings.

But wait – that was a few minutes earlier than the really earth-shaking news at the Grammys. So surely the Post got on the stick later. Well, actually, I don’t think they did. I never got a notification from them about it, last night or today.

Which makes those slackers, well, my kind of newshounds, I suppose.

Now, you will protest that those notifications are merely a snapshot of a few minutes in time, and that those other organizations no doubt turned to actual, hard news later. Especially the NYT. And you’d be right – at least in the case of the NYT.

But you’d be putting your finger on something that still worries me.

You see, back in the olden days, when newspapers still roamed the Earth and I spend a great deal of time each day agonizing over what to put on the front page and how prominently to play it, editors saw it as their job to present news all at once, and in a hierarchy of importance. We assumed people had a finite amount of time in their lives, and didn’t want to waste any of it. So we told them the biggest news right up top, but gave them the other stuff, too, in case they had time for it. That was up to them.

We were able to spend time weighing how to present things, and in what order, because we only presented it once a day – or two or three times if we had that many editions. So we had some time to think before deadline arrived.

No more. Mind you, I think it’s awesome that it is now possible to provide news to readers right now, without having to spend the day using 19th-century technology to physically get a paper product to them. I used to fantasize about that back in the early ’80s – at that point, there were no more typewriters, and all writing was done on computers (a mainframe system), and I kept thinking, What if when I hit the button to send this to the copy desk, it just went straight to the reader?

And when that became possible, I rejoiced. But then something else happened. We went from being able to send stories out immediately to having to send them out immediately. No time to stop and think, How does this compare to all the other things going on?

No. Whatever was happening now became the most important thing in the world, the way things had always been on TV news – which was something I didn’t like about TV news. You could only see one thing at a time, so at that moment, there was nothing else.

Suppose you – like so many – didn’t agree with what the editors said was the most important news. That didn’t matter. You could decide for yourself. It was all presented to you at the same time, instead of this stream-of-unconsciousness madness that we have now: Now, it’s THIS is the most important thing. No, THIS is. No, THIS is…

And for awhile last night, that most important thing was that Beyoncé had won those awards – so I received a tsunami of notices about it.

Of course, newspaper readers can STILL see all the news presented on a paper’s app. Which is great. And it’s all freshly updated. And better yet, now the TV stations have websites where you can see a bunch of stuff being offered – not in any thoughtful hierarchy, but at least there’s a selection.

So that’s good – as long as you go looking for your news that deliberately, and consider it more or less holistically.

But I fear that not enough people do. I worry that too many let it wash over them the way the Grammys were washing over me last night. And I think it causes them to lose all perspective. And it causes the journalists to lose it, too, since decisions of what to cover and how to play it and what to send notifications about are now so driven by clicks.

At this point, many of you are rolling your eyes and thinking (as many of you habitually do), there goes that has-been newspaperman, reminiscing about how great things were in the old days. Which means you’re missing the point entirely.

It’s not about me. I actually love my iPad and the incredibly wide access to dependable news sources it gives me. In the unlamented old days, I wouldn’t have been able to subscribe to all these papers and received them while the news was still hot. And this is of great value.

But I worry very much about the effect these “news” tsunamis I’m speaking of have on society as a whole. It’s not just a matter of people being overly concerned with silly pop culture stuff. Hey, I love pop culture, as any reader of this blog knows. But the problem is, serious things – such as politics – get covered this way as well. It’s gotten to be all about the outrage of the day, the stupidest things that were said or done, the things most likely to drive us farther apart from each other. And yeah, it helps explain – not entirely, but in part – how Donald Trump got elected in 2016.

As I’ve said so many times, nothing like that ever came close to happening before that election. And I keep trying to figure out why it did happen. And this is one of the things I see contributing to it – this utter lack of perspective and proportion with regard to news…

Shute’s got nothing to worry about at the moment

Louden weighs in.

An unpleasant thing happened the other day.

But first, a bit of background…

Last time I mentioned my usual weight-loss standard — which involves losing down to 168 so I can “wrestle Shute” — I was actually almost there.

That was early 2018. I was spending a lot of time on my elliptical trainer at home, and walking miles downtown every day, and averaging about 15,000 steps a day. I was eating more or less paleo, and feeling pretty good.

That’s not where I am now. A series of events occurred since then. First, later that year, there was the campaign, which left me basically no time for serious walking and forced me to grab whatever I could to eat. And since then, there was the stroke, and the long COVID, and other stuff, punctuated finally by lightning frying the electronics in my elliptical. I still get out and walk, but it’s not regular, and I haven’t been at all thoughtful about what I eat.

And then, the unpleasant thing happened. It was a week ago today. I had an appointment at one of the many medical offices in which I find myself these days. No big thing, just a followup. But as the nurse led me in, we paused for one of those little rituals that are usual in such places. We stopped at the scale.

Now first, so that you know the scale was in some way dysfunctional, she had trouble getting it to come on. I made a lame joke about “Who broke it?” She muttered something about “batteries,” and fiddled with the back of the column that has the display atop it, and it came on. And I stepped on.

And it said I weighed 190. Actually, it said 190 point something, but I’ve managed to block that much of it out. What I can’t forget is that I have made a scale register 190 for the first time in my life. An unhappy landmark.

Now let me quickly say that I was not only fully dressed — shoes, shirt, pants, belt, plus iPhone, wallet, keys — but I had on a jacket, and I think even a hat. So I don’t really weigh 190. Since this happened, I’ve stepped on the scale at home a couple of times when getting into the shower, and I was in the low 180s.

That doesn’t erase the fact that in the past, I always considered 180 an unhealthy mark.

Now I know a lot of you guys will laugh, and say you wish you could get back down to 190. After all, my BMI may say I’m slightly overweight, but I’m still below the average weight for my height, which is 199.7 in this country.

But not me. I was a super-skinny kid, and a skinny young man, and it’s a bit late to expect me to adopt a new self-concept. To give you an idea based on the Vision Quest standard, when I was Louden Swain’s age and still on a high school wrestling team, I was in the 132 class. And the same height I am now. Yeah, I was a real Ichibod, but I was strong and except for the injury that ended my wrestling career, I felt great.

And now, I have made a scale register the weight that Louden started at, before losing down through two weight classes to wrestle Shute. And I don’t feel at all great like this.

So when the New Year comes (there’s not much use trying before that), I’m going to get serious. I’m going paleo again. And I’m getting serious about the walking — I’m even looking around for a replacement elliptical, so the weather can’t stop me.

Warn Shute. It’s the fair thing to do. The poor beggar deserves that much…

This is me when I was Louden’s age. See? I’m really a skinny guy…

Top Five (or so) Samba Songs

I’m trying to get back into my walking routine, after having gotten off-track what with my stroke and long COVID, and that means listening to Pandora while I pound the pavement. And while I’m not sure which of my many stations is my official favorite, the “Astrud Gilberto” one has been getting a good bit of play.

And yeah, I know I’ve mentioned Astrud before several times. To evoke another form of pop music, I can’t help myself.

Most of my “Top Five” lists come from the very center of popular culture — predictable stuff. Like, you know, “Can’t Help Myself.” This is one that’s slightly to the side, the thing that gets me closest to being a jazz fan (and you know, they’re all cool). It may not interest you. (It may not have interested you the many times I’ve mentioned it before — but this is different; it’s a Top Five List!) If you’re not familiar with it, at least try listening to a song or two on the list. You may find yourself rewarded.

I was first exposed to it when I lived in South America. No, I didn’t hear it on the radio in Ecuador, or from the turntable when my parents had people over to dance. That was very different. I might have missed it completely except my Dad had to go to Rio for an international naval conference, and he brought back an album or two. Not having much access to the stuff in which I would be inundated when we came back to the States in 1965, I used to listen to my parents’ albums on the Telefunken — Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Patty Page, the Mills Brothers — and these new ones really grabbed me.

When I got back to the states, I found that folks here were really grabbed by the second song on my list, and Sergio Mendes was big, but that’s about all the samba I heard back here.

The list:

  1. Mas Que Nada — Had to put this at the top because I included it on my “slapdash ‘Top Ten (plus) Songs of All Time’ list.” To save myself some typing, here’s what I said then: “If you want to evoke the 1960s in the mind of someone who actually lived through them, you’ll play this perhaps even more readily than something by the Beatles or the Stones. That’s what Austin Powers did, and it worked. Coming from me, it also represents my love of samba music from that era.” But I could easily have chosen one or more of the following on that list…
  2. Girl from Ipanema — Which introduced me to Astrud. If you’d like to be introduced to the girl who actually inspired the song she sang, here she is at the right, below. Don’t you think it was really classy of me to use one in which she’s fully dressed? There are plenty of bikini shots on the web, but frankly it would kind of creep me out to post cheesecake picks of a 17-year-old, which is what she was at the time. Anyway, this is probably the best-known samba song ever in this country. About half the singers on the planet covered it. Anybody who lived through the period will find “Mas Que Nada” almost as familiar, but they probably can’t name it.

    Helo Pinheiro

  3. Desafinado — Another one with an extremely familiar tune, but most can’t name it. Hey, I might not be able to name it — or classics below such as Corcovado or Agua de Beber, if you just play the tune. But I’ll know them, and love them. I’m bad about that. Songs that I hear in Portuguese are like instrumentals to me. I’m terrible with instrumentals. I can tell you it’s John Phillip Sousa, but not which tune. And I’m terrible with Big Band music. I’ll say “Hey, is that Begin the Beguine?” and it’s “In the Mood.” Embarrassing. (Although I sometimes do better if it’s Ellington.) Anyway, Portuguese is enchanting to here in this form, but it might as well be instrumental. I grew up speaking Spanish, which is a great help in understanding Italian — but little help at all with Portuguese.
  4. One-Note Samba — I’ve brought this one up before, asking Phillip and other music wizards how in the world it works. He explained it. I still don’t understand it. I can’t tell you why I like the Beatles, either. When it works, music is magic to me. Maybe Gandalf would understand it, but I don’t.
  5. Corcovado — Some of my gringo friends may know this as “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars.” But whatever you call it, it’s beautiful. It makes me want to go to there.
  6. Agua de Beber — And again, I don’t have a lot of commentary on this one. It’s just awesome.

Yeah, that’s six. But who’s doing math here? It’s samba. And I just couldn’t decide which one of these to drop. In fact, if I poked around a bit more, the list would be a lot longer. For instance, I can’t believe I left off the song in the video below. Some of you modernists may note that they’re all from the ’60s (and a couple date from 1959). Well, yeah. To me, that’s the era of samba.

By the way, before someone who knows way more about music than I do points to one of these and says, “Technically, that’s not samba!”… I thought I would go ahead and say I don’t pretend to be an expert. If it’s Brazilian, and from that era, I call it samba. If I get it wrong, don’t look at me. Blame it on the bossa nova.

I labored a bit to set up that bad joke, didn’t I?

Maybe it would help to have a POINT to the story

The Washington Post ran a review of the new Tolkien prequel — financed by the newspaper’s owner, Jeff Bezos, or at least by his company — today.

It was headlined, “‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ is beautiful, banal boredom.

Which, frankly, was about what I expected. I think if Tolkien thought what had happened (in his imagination, not Tommy Westphall’s) in Middle Earth 3,000 years earlier was as compelling as The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, he’d have written the stories out, rather than summing them up in an appendix.

Coincidentally, the Jesuit magazine America ran something related today, headlined “C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Inklings: Telling Stories to Save Lives.

It concentrates on those Oxford writers as besieged Christians taking comfort from their friendship — and their work — in a time and place of growing indifference and even hostility to faith, and it’s worth reading. You can probably do so without subscribing as I have — as I recall, America still uses the model in which you can read two or three pieces before the pay wall goes up.

Frankly, when I read Lord of the Rings, I saw it as a warning against the isolationism that was so dominant in Britain and this country before the Second World War. (The writing of the work started in 1937 and continued until several years after the war.) I tended to see Sauron as Hitler, Saruman and Wormtongue as the quislings who were undermining Europe — I mean, Middle Earth — ahead of the orc blitzkrieg, and Gandalf as the sort of Churchill/Roosevelt figure who ran about trying to wake everyone up before it was too late.

But yes, Tolkien’s mind was working on deeper levels as well, as the piece in America notes:

Everyone loves an underdog, of course, but these tales feel more meaningful than a standard superhero film because their authors had their eyes on a deeper set of truths. Sin and corruption are real, but salvation is still available. They knew, as Tolkien explained to Lewis in the early years of their friendship, that the Christian story is the truest story, of which all others are echoes. When all appears to be lost, we always have recourse to the deep magic from the dawn of time.

Recently, I drew your attention (or tried to, anyway) to a homily by Bishop Barron in which he used the experiences of Bilbo Baggins as an example of what God expects of us — that we’re supposed to get out and encounter the world and have a great adventure, not sit comfortably in our hobbit holes smoking choice Shire pipeweed, and enjoying the copious food and drink of our larders.

Anyway, however you interpret it, it helps for your story to have a point, and consist of more than breathtaking CGI scenery and battle sequences. Those can leave you feeling rather empty…