August 2007 Archives

strut!

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August 31 movie: Strut! Documentary about the Philadelphia Mummer's Parade. Georg and I agreed that this wasn't the best in term of movie-making. It had some structural problems: three false endings, for one thing. And they offered frustratingly brief hints to issues from the parade's past (for instance, blackface was common until it was banned in the 60s, and women were excluded until I think the 70s, which the movie alludes to but never says outright).

Still, we both thought it well worth watching because it did such a good job of capturing the Mummer experience. If you've never seen the Mummers, it can be summed up in a few words: String bands. Ostrich feathers. Sequins. Elaborate musical numbers. Longshoremen in drag.

I learned some things, for instance there are apparently several different styles of mummer's strut. I had no idea. They had a guy demonstrate three styles: Polish-American strut, Italian-American strut, and string band strut. The kind I learned was the Italian style, which he said is favored by the comics. It's also the simplest of the three, or maybe I just think that because it's the one I know.

Also, I didn't know that the comics march to New Orleans-style jazz, not string bands. (They don't show the whole parade down here, and only sometimes show any of it, and so it's been decades since I've gotten to see the comics.) They interviewed a jazz band which marches with the comics every year, and I have to say they were terrific. Really talented.

They hardly showed any of the fancies in the movie, I guess because the fancies are the least, what's the word, the least dynamic part of the parade. I like the fancies, though. My least favorite part of the Mummer's Parade is the fancy brigades. Because to me, the fancy brigades are just like the string bands, except no string band. Also the fancy brigades don't have to walk the parade route so their props are much more elaborate, more like sets. Which, if you like big props I guess that's an improvement. Personally, I like the fact that everything in a string band's show had to travel the whole route. (I'm guessing the string bands are allowed to bring their props on a truck. If they have to push and/or carry everything, that would be hardcore.)

I highly recommend this movie if you've ever heard of the Mummers. It's worth it for the archive footage of historical parades alone. And there were a couple of segments showing truly spectacular still photos. If the director had been half as talented as the photographer, this would have been an Oscar-worthy documentary.

There was one hysterical anecdote from the movie: a member of one of the string bands (I forget which one, Ferko maybe?) is talking about how one year their club got in trouble with the cops and their captain got arrested. Apparently the parade route goes through some ritzy neighborhoods, and the city hadn't thought to put in port-a-johns along the route. And the people in the string band were relieving themselves on sidewalks and yards along the way, which had the residents in an uproar. The mummer calmly explained, "You can't march 3 miles and drink beer the whole way and not have to pee. It's not our fault." That's inarguable logic right there.

the doctor takes a wife

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August 30 movie: The Doctor Takes a Wife. Romantic comedy starring Loretta Young and Ray Milland as two professionals (a writer and a medical school professor, respectively) who have hate at first sight. When a rumor gets started that they're married, they discover that it would be bad for their careers to deny it, so they pretend it's true. This was a good movie. Not great, but good, genuinely funny. Good supporting work by Reginald Gardiner (who played Noel Coward in The Man Who Came to Dinner), Gail Patrick and Edmund Gwenn. For once Gail Patrick isn't a villain. Just a poor crass sap who's destined to lose the guy.

The best part of the movie may be the title of Loretta Young's book: Spinsters Aren't Spinach, a wildly successful self-help book for single women.

monkey business

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August 29 movie: Monkey Business. The perfect pick-me-up after the solemnity of Solaris the other night. I think Monkey Business is one of the funniest Marx Brothers movie. It's got the Maurice Chevalier sequence, and Harpo in the punch and judy show, and Groucho hiding in the gangster's closet. I've also got Duck Soup to watch this weekend.

One odd thing about this movie is the recurring theme music: it's the same music used in Rope. They play it in a different key, I think, and Farley Granger gets more and more twitchy as he plays, and the effect is fairly creepy. It's strange to hear that same creepy music played so cheerfully by Chico Marx.

ow my eyes

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Another long day of programming today. We had to convert an entire site from ASP to PHP, and by we, I mean me, since I'm the only person in the office who knows any PHP. I'm starting to think I might need glasses. I've always been a little farsighted, and lately I've been noticing that a long stretch of concentrating on my computer screen leaves me exhausted, headachey and sore around and behind my eyes. Which is a weird sensation. Is that what eye strain feels like? I guess it must be eye strain.

I've always been a bit farsighted, and figured that eventually I was probably going to need reading glasses. As a kid I used to think glasses were cool, and I wanted to wear them, so I would read in the dark to try and "ruin my eyes" which is what my mother told me would happen. Here's a tip: it doesn't work. Kids, your mothers are wrong about reading in the dark! But they're probably right about dangling your arm out the car window (another car could chop it right off!) and running with a lollipop in your mouth (trip and you'll choke to death!). And they're definitely right about not sticking your finger in your ear. Trust me on that one.

So I guess I need to make an appointment with an optometrist. The good news is the variety of super fashionable glasses; the bad news is the expense of same. In the meantime I'm going to get one of those cooling eye mask thingies for the office. On a day like today, I really could have used it.

guilty pleasures

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Last night was a great evening of relaxing, upgrading my blog software, having green tea ice cream and watching one of my favorite guilty pleasures: I Wanna Be a Soap Star. I love this show. They take ten wannabe soap actors, make them act out a crazy scene each week, and the last one standing gets a 13 week contract on a soap.

The winner of season 2 and the runner-up of season 3 have gotten lasting jobs out of it, though the other two winners got very small parts and were dropped when their contracts were up. I didn't watch season 1, but the season 3 winner was terrible. Could not act his way out of a paper bag. I never understood what they saw in him. The runner-up was much better, and I'm really glad she's the one who got a decent part.

This season, the fourth, the winner gets a contract on Days of Our Lives, and two of the judges are the head writer and an actress (Mary Beth Evans) from that show. Last week the "mean judge," agent Michael Bruno, lived down to his reputation by giving a Brazilian contestant a hard time over her accent. He went on and on about it until one of the other judges interrupted to remind him that an accent isn't like an outfit you put on in the morning. I guess the producers must have had a word with Bruno, because this week first thing he told the Brazilian contestant "when I said you needed to work on your accent, I meant you need to enunciate more clearly." If I recall correctly, he actually told her she needed to get rid of her accent. Which may actually be true, TV casting being what it is. Still I can see why they wouldn't want to say that so openly on the show.

My favorite thing about I Wanna Be a Soap Star is that the contestants are judged based on exactly what they would be doing if they got a job on a soap. It annoys me when America's Next Top Model makes the contestants do ridiculous tasks and pretends it has something to do with modeling. ("Now you have thirty seconds to put on makeup while riding in an elevator! Now you have to pose while escaping through a field of laser beam! Now you have to perform a Japanese tea ceremony!") But on Soap Star, they're acting out the exact same ridiculous scenes that appear on real soaps every day.

solaris

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August 26 movie: Solaris. I probably should have waited a couple of weeks, or even a couple of days, to watch the commentary. But I couldn't stop thinking about the movie and really wanted to get some perspective on it. Plus I wanted to get the movie on its way back to Netflix.

I had heard that the commentary was outstanding, and it was. Criterion seems to always have wonderful commentaries. This one was done by the co-authors of a Tarkovsky biography. As you might expect, they provided deep, thoughtful commentary, answered many of my questions, and many others I hadn't even thought of. And there was an unexpected bonus: the commentary narrators had a great sense of humor. For example, at one point they quote Tarkovsky as saying that Solaris would have been better if he had dropped the science fiction element. The narrator drily observes, "that raises the question, what would be left?"

They explained the lack of special effects: partly Tarkovsky's lack of interest in the "science" part of science fiction, and partly the severe budget restrictions put on Solaris by the Soviet government. They said the budget wasn't big to start with, and was cut in half by the end of the project. The low budget also put Tarkovsky very short on film. Which meant that most scenes were filmed in only one take. That is astonishing.

They also explained the only part of the movie that I didn't enjoy: that interminable scene of Burton driving in and out of tunnels. Due to the budget issues, Tarkovsky decided to show "the city of the future" by filming at the World's Fair in Japan. But it took so long to get the passport issues worked out that he missed the World's Fair. So he filmed driving around the streets of Japan instead. At that time it was difficult to get permission to leave the Soviet Union. He had to use the footage, and so much of it, to justify the trip. Really fascinating to think about making a movie -- not just a movie but a monumental achievement -- under such crazy restrictions and issues.

The rest of my observations are spoilerish and so I will put everything behind a cut.

born yesterday

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August 26 movie: Born Yesterday. I've resisted watching this for years. Mainly because I saw the remake, and it was so very bad, and it put me off the whole concept. TCM showed the original on Saturday during Broderick Crawford day -- and by the way, kudos to TCM for doing the best "Summer Under the Stars" they've done in years. It had gotten pretty tedious, nothing but big, overplayed movies by the biggest stars, day after day, August after August. Well this year they highlighted some lesser-known actors. Which made "Summer Under the Stars" much more interesting.

Anyway. They featured Broderick Crawford on Saturday, and what the heck, I decided to give Born Yesterday a try. And it was great! Really funny. Judy Holliday was great, and William Holden, well, I'd watch him read the phone book. I've seen plenty of movies that were less interesting than William Holden reading the phone book. I concede that the movie was bit preachy, but you know, it's nice to see some glorification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. A refreshing change of pace.

timing is everything

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What's worse than being ten minutes late for work when you have a 9:30 a.m. meeting? Being ten minutes late for work when you have a 9:30 a.m. meeting, and the client is a half hour early.

On the bright side, the day did get better after that.

solaris

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August 25 movie: Solaris. Wow. Didn't I just say that I most enjoy science fiction about ideas? Boy howdy, did I get my wish with Solaris.

It should be no surprise that I thought it was brilliant. Best movie I've seen in ages. An extreme illustration of the principle that big special effects are not necessary for a science fiction movie. Solaris is an intense, immersive experience with almost no special effects. The set design of the space station is magnificent. A huge place, nearly empty, neglected and littered with debris. It speaks volumes about the lost aspirations of the project, and the mental unraveling of the remaining scientists.

The movie is extremely atmospheric. The set design and the soundtrack work together so well. So much so that to be honest, I wish I hadn't watched it while Georg was out of town. There was something very creepy about the space station. Cree-pee. I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn't Alien, a monster wasn't going to leap out of anyone's stomach and start eating people. Which, of course, I didn't know for sure. But I figured that if it was actually a scifi horror movie I would have heard that.

I only knew the barest plot outline going in: it takes place on a space station, and the main character's dead wife appears to him. Of course, plot isn't really the point. The movie is a complex meditation on, well on a lot of things. Identity, the subjective nature of truth, emotion vs. reason, guilt and regret, the desire to return to the past and undo past mistakes. Lots to think about. Right now I'm thinking about the irony of Kris' wife, or of her manifestation I should say. From the beginning she knows something is wrong, but at first she thinks she's has amnesia or epilepsy or something. As she spends more time "alive," she develops enough mentally and emotionally to realize what she is. The more real she becomes, the more she understands the unreality of her own existence. At first Kris is so repelled by her that he tries to kill her, and by the end he needs her more than she needs him. [Kind of a spoiler: In trying to undo a tragic loss from the past, Kris causes the same tragedy to happen all over again. This same idea shows up in the Time Machine remake, of all places, except in that movie it's a hilarious failure.]

Comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey are obvious of course. But while I was watching it I was reminded more of the Kore-eda movie Maborosi. The slow, meditative pace, the dreamlike unreal quality, and theme of a spouse's suicide. With very little narrative, almost no pans and almost all long shots, Maborosi was much more distancing than Solaris. It was more like viewing a series of paintings than like watching a movie. At the time I thought it boring. (I much preferred After Life by the same director.) Though I found myself thinking about it for weeks afterwards. I wonder if I would enjoy Maborosi better now.

One thing confused me: After finishing Solaris I read a few reviews, a couple of which described the ending as "ambiguous" or a "twist". To me the ending seemed to be fairly straightforward, and seemed the natural conclusion of the story. Beautiful, lyrical, and not a surprise. Was my reading of the end overly simplistic? I'd like to watch it again with the commentary on before sending it back.

I'm also wondering whether I should watch the remake of Solaris. It's by Soderbergh, so I wouldn't expect a stinker like so many science fiction remakes. I heard it was more of a love story. I wonder if anyone who has seen both can comment on the relative merits.

small town girl

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August 25 movie: Small Town Girl. Janet Gaynor plays, believe it or not, a small town girl. Bored with her ordinary, predictable life (the kind of life usually depicted as idyllic in old movies), she impulsively accepts a ride from rich townie Robert Taylor. They spend the evening together and when he drunkenly suggests marriage, she sees it as her ticket out and accepts. Come next morning, he wakes up sober and not happy to be married. Plus he already has a fiance. Uh-oh!

The movie is charming, I enjoyed it a lot. Only one quibble: Gaynor's boring small town life comes complete with a boring boyfriend, played by Jimmy Stewart. Which, hello? What in the what now? Jimmy Stewart is crazy about her and she can't wait to get away? What is she, some kind of freak?

my sister eileen

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August 25 movie: My Sister Eileen. Rosalind Russell and Janet Blair star as two sisters who move from Columbus, Ohio to New York to pursue their dreams of being a writer and an actress, respectively. They end up in a crummy basement apartment in Greenwich Village and interact with a series of colorful characters. Much of the plot focuses on Russell's attempts to get her stories published in The Manhatter magazine. (Three guesses what magazine that represents, and the first two don't count.) Brian Aherne costars as an editor at The Manhatter who helps Russell get published and falls for her along the way. He's kind of self-absorbed and annoying, but he means well and he loves Russell's writing so I guess it's okay.

The best part of the movie is the interaction with the colorful characters who populate the Village. From the slightly dishonest landlord who fancies himself an undiscovered genius painter, to the former college football player turned househusband, to the neighborhood cop who marks the sisters as troublemakers, to the Portuguese merchant marines who start a riot by dancing the conga through the streets. The supporting characters are weird and funny and just barely stay on the right side of too wacky for my taste. No mean feat, as wacky colorful characters annoy me immensely if I'm not in the mood for it.

Wow, I just googled this movie to look up Janet Blair's name, and found out that it's based on a true story! There really were two sisters named Ruth and Eileen who really did move from Columbus to the Village. Ruth really did write a series of stories called "My Sister Eileen" about their experiences, and really did sell the stories to The New Yorker. The stories became a Broadway play, then this movie, then another movie (starring Janet Leigh as sister Eileen, which was a good choice as Janet Blair strongly resembles her), then a TV series. I can't believe I never heard of it before.

copacabana

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August 24 movie: Copacabana. This was exactly what I wanted. A silly, funny musical starring Groucho Marx and Carmen Miranda. She's a singer, he's her agent, they're broke and trying to break into the business. Groucho gets her not one but two contracts at the Copacabana, as herself and as a French chanteuse named "Mademoiselle Fifi" who wears a veil. Most of the movie follows them trying to juggle the two acts (and Carmen trying to fight off admirers) without anyone finding out about the deception. Andy Russell costars as another singer at the Copacabana. Coincidentally, I just found out last week during the Latin a la Lounge show that he was Mexican American, born in California to Mexican parents. His biggest song, "Amor," was partly in Spanish.

paula deen's scary dead eyes

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pauladeenscarydeadeyes.jpg DeenPaula.gifWhat the hell happened to Paula Deen? Did she have herself made into a wax museum figure while we weren't paying attention? I swear she used to look like a real human being. I'm sure of it.

(Not to mention, why does she have a holiday baking magazine for sale in August?)

Paula, I think you're great. Please, please fire your photo retoucher. You don't need to look like a plastic five-year-old with "doll eyes." Here's a slightly less retouched photo, to remind you that maturity is beautiful.

[Maybe she decided to join the child pageant circuit.]
childpageant.jpg

the checklist

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So how am I doing on my weekend checklist?

  1. Indolence: check. Spent last night and tonight with butt firmly planted on couch.
  2. Happy isolation: check. Blew off AV Geeks tonight, stocked up on groceries, and except for my show I don't have to leave the house for the rest of the weekend if I don't want to. I love having time to just hang out with the dogs.
  3. Soap operas and goofy movies: check. I had been saving my soaps for a couple of weeks & have watched twelve episodes so far (they had Nathan Fillion back on One Life for a couple of days! He was the best Joey ever!). And Copacabana is on right now, and I have a couple of other movies lined up that sound like fun.
  4. Geek project: check. The massive indexing project continues apace. It's actually fairly enjoyable to do while watching TV. It's so trivial it's like doing nothing, but I'm actually doing something, so I don't have to feel guilty about lying on the couch watching soap operas all night.

Looks like I'll have to violate the checklist tomorrow morning, as the lawn needs mowing. Otherwise? Butt, meet couch.

bachelorette days

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So Georg is out of town for a couple of days. I have a few habits for those days when I have the house to myself. Generally it involves holing up in the house by myself, cooking something I love that Georg doesn't, watching old movies and soap operas, and doing some geek project. Yes, I have a thrilling life.

Haven't done the cooking yet (leftovers tonight) but I've made a valiant effort on the movie and soap watching. Tomorrow I can start on the geek project. Which will be the massive indexing project. iTunes made it a lot easier, and now I need to get to work on the CDs that weren't in iTunes.

Trivia last night was fun, as always. We didn't win but we still had a good time. We were doing well, until we were stymied by the category One Hit Wonders of the 90s. If it had only been the 80s! Dain's was much more crowded, I guess because the students are back.

the women

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August 23 movie: The Women. I never miss an opportunity to watch this. Everyone in it is terrific. Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Mary Boland, Joan Fontaine, Paulette Goddard, and especially Rosalind Russell. Too bad Virginia Weidler is so awful. She has one good scene, trading barbs with Joan Crawford, then she gets all saccharine again.

meet the stewarts

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August 19 movie: Meet the Stewarts. William Holden and Frances Dee star as a newlywed couple from different economic backgrounds -- she's rich and pampered, he's an ordinary working guy -- who split up over budgeting, then get back together. They seem to have no business being together at all, but then somehow they magically transform into people who can sensibly compromise and economize. If only real life was like that.

cha cha de amor

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I think the show went well! The playlist is here in case anyone is interested.

It was a little shambolic behind the scenes, though Georg told me he couldn't tell by listening. I had a couple of flubs, the worst being I read the same PSA twice, and realized it in the middle of the second read-through. I probably should have just kept going, instead of stopping and saying "Wait, I've already read this one!" I would say I'll know better next time, but here's hoping there is no next time for that one.

It was great having Santa Salsera sit in on the show. She brought a good perspective to the theme, not to mention her incredible music collection, & had some really interesting things to say about the artists we played. I really hope we can do another Latin theme show like this in the future.

ETA: I forgot to mention the one annoying thing that happened: a long-time regular listener called, told me he was going to have to "educate" me, and tried to convince me, tried to get me to say on the air, that the Andrews Sisters were of Afro-Cuban descent. Excuse me, Afro-Cuban? I've seen their picture. At least try for something remotely plausible. But I guess tricking a dj into saying something stupid on the air seems funny, and I guess the more outrageous the dubious factoid, the funnier the prank. I'm just glad we have access to Google in the control room.

Note to self: from now on, check all information provided by listeners before repeating it on the air. Well, the Birthday Man (who writes in every week to let us know who had a birthday) seems knowledgeable and not mean enough to trick me. Everyone else, I will fact check.

(Santa Salsera and I did Google the Andrews Sisters and they are half Greek, half Norweigian.)

salt & pepper

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August 18 movie: Salt & Pepper. Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford star as co-owners of a hip, happening nightclub in London's Soho who get caught up in a plot to overthrow the British government. This movie is bad. Deliriously bad. Gloriously bad. I loved it.

busy busy

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It's been a busy weekend, much more socializing than I'm used to. Yesterday I had lunch with Santa Salsera so we could chat about the Latin a la Lounge show. She has an amazing collection of LPs and she played a few choice examples for me. It was kind of funny how we value different things in midcentury music. For instance when she pulled out an album, made a face and said something to the effect that, this isn't any good, you won't be interested in this, only to have me exclaim with delight, "The Harmonicats? I love the Harmonicats!" The other example was Enoch Light and the Light Brigade's album of all cha chas, which she called it "unlistenable." Now I have to concede, I haven't actually heard the album and it might indeed be unlistenable. But the very idea of Enoch Light doing an all cha-cha album, to me that sounds like it just has to be good.

After lunch I drove out to Raleigh to see an old friend of mine who I haven't seen in ages. We had a very mellow afternoon. She brought her dog, an adorable Bichon named Tank, and we sat and hung out at an outdoor cafe downtown. Then we went to a neat little Italian market named Conti's, where I spent far too much money. The owner was really nice. He not only let my friend bring her dog inside, he even gave Tank a biscuit.

In just a few minutes we're going out to have dim sum with D. and S. Who are good at finding great restaurants, so I'm really looking forward to this. Then at 3 it's the Latin a la Lounge show, and we'll probably have dinner with Santa Salsera afterwards. I can't remember the last time I did so many social things in two days. Which is great, I'm not complaining! I just feel like I need a weekend to recover from my weekend.

roots of rhythm

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August 16 movie: Roots of Rhythm. I confess this was a bit disappointing to me. It's a three part documentary narrated by Harry Belafonte about the history of Latin music. Actually it's about the history of Cuban music, but Belafonte consistently conflates the two. Which was the first problem for me. I want to learn about Cuban music, and I also want to learn about Brazilian music and Argentinian music and Mexican music. By talking about "Latin music" but only ever showing that of Cuba, this movie sort of implied that the others don't exist. I think the only non-Cuban musician they showed in the entire series was Carmen Miranda. She was given about a half-minute of one of her more ridiculous Hollywood numbers, and then dismissed as inauthentic.

My second problem was not really a problem with the movie in itself, more with my expectations. Because the reason why I rented the movie was research for the Latin a la Lounge show this weekend. Unfortunately, only the third part of the documentary was about Cuban music in the US. The first two parts were about the Spanish and African origins of Cuban music, and the history of music within Cuba.

There was about 45 minutes to cover 50 years of Cuban music in the US. Which is a big, big topic. There just wasn't time to go into any kind of detail. For instance, Mongo Santamaria is mentioned, but just in a list of musicians who are named once. Perez Prado was never even named. So, I didn't really learn anything.

Well no, that's not true. I learned about Anacaona, an all-female orchestra of 10 sisters who toured the US and Europe in the 30s. I learned that Desi Arnaz's father was the mayor of Santiago during the Machado regime, and that Arnaz introduced the conga to the US. I learned that Chano Pozo deserved co-songwriting credit for "Manteca" (whether he received it or not was unclear.)

Which is not to say this was a bad documentary. The first two parts created a wonderfully vivid portrait of a culture steeped in music. I probably would enjoy it more if I watched it another time, when I wasn't after specific information.

love crazy

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August 12 movie: Love Crazy. William Powell and Myrna Loy usually star in sophisticated, arch comedies like the Thin Man series. Here they go slapstick. Way, way slapstick. Powell pratfalls, gets his head stuck in an elevator door, hangs upside down in a tree, and wears drag. I still enjoyed it. The part of Ralph Bellamy was played by Jack Carson.

hot fuzz

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August 10 movie: Hot Fuzz. Based on the description alone, I should have hated this movie. But I love Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. I loved Sean of the Dead, and I loved this too. We had a great time picking out the many visual references to classic movies (some of them, I should say; I'm sure we missed many). At one point near the end I think I saw a reference to Empire of the Sun!

heuristic algorithmic

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We had a great time at Dain's trivia night tonight. And I'm not just saying that because we won!

Last time we teamed up with D. and S., but this time they called (and wrote) the questions so we were on our own answering them. During the challenge I thought it was really hard and we were going to do poorly. But we had a few lucky guesses, for instance Mr. Bill's dog (Spot) and the movie which featured the WOPR computer (War Games). Also a couple of the questions weren't as hard as I thought they were: for instance one of the questions was the full name of the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I thought that by "full name," they must have meant what words formed the acronym HAL. Because "HAL 9000" was clearly too easy. And I was crushed that, as many times as I've read 2001, I couldn't remember what "HAL" stands for. (it's Heuristic ALgorithmic computer, in case you're wondering.) But in fact, "HAL 9000" was the answer they were going for. I thought for sure we had missed that one, but I was wrong about being wrong. Georg tells me that it's a sign of what a geek I am, that I think "HAL 9000" is a gimme. Only about half the teams got it right, so he might have something there.

We had one goof where I whispered an answer to Georg, but he couldn't hear me over the ambient noise and didn't write it down, and then it turned out to be the right answer. (Question: what is the highest calorie food at Taco Bell. Answer: Taco salad. No, I have never eaten one. I'm pretty sure I have never in my life eaten at Taco Bell.) I have to admit, if we had lost by one point I would have been annoyed. But in the event it didn't matter.

It was interesting to talk to D. and S. about how they developed the questions. It seems like it would be really difficult, to come up with questions that are hard enough to present a real challenge, but not hard enough to discourage people. I think I'd be bad at writing questions because my knowledge of trivia is poor in some areas that would be commonplace to a normal person (for instance, sports or current music), and fairly thorough in some obscure areas. We were joking that "The Misunderstood Films of Alan Hale Sr." would be the perfect category for me. Actually D. and S.' last category, "Fictional Computers and Robots," was pretty much perfect for me and Georg. That was the category that asked about War Games and HAL 9000.

The prize was a $25 bar tab, which made our evening almost free. Plus, we hung out with D. and S. after the contest and got to try a new dessert they're working on: deep fried mini Milky Way bars. It was pretty much exactly what you would think. In other words, if you think that sounds disgusting, you wouldn't like it. And if (like me) you think it sounds great, you'd probably enjoy it as much as I did.

the joy of flat files

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Many thanks to Lisa and Kevin for yesterday's excellent suggestion about flat files. It worked great! I just exported the db as a monstrous huge html table. Two actually, one sorted by song title and one by artist. Uploaded them both to my web server and loaded them up on the computer in the MCR at the beginning of the show. Once the pages were loaded, searching them was easy. The results weren't grouped as nicely as they would have been with a web app, but the search was fast enough that it didn't matter.

And thank goodness the suggestion came in time for yesterday's show. Searching the flat files let me fill a couple of requests that I wouldn't have been able to otherwise. (Who knew I have two songs by Eddie Fisher?) The show went really well, if I do say so. Lots of requests, which keeps it fun. And I even got a nice email after the show from a listener, wow! I'm starting to feel more comfortable with the show & better able to handle the pace. I find Divaville Lounge more hectic than a regular playlist show because the songs are all so short. In a normal show, if you get behind you can always put on an eight minute song and get caught up. But in this format, almost all the songs are 2 1/2 minutes, and there are no really long songs. So you're always in a hurry to get the next song cued up. Still, I'm feeling much less harried as I get used to the pace.

Next week is a show I'm really looking forward to: Latin a la Lounge, a special theme show of Latin music. Over the weekend I made a list of potential music for the show. I have enough for about 5 shows, not even counting whatever cohost Santa Salsera will bring. Why not, it's good to have options!

why i hate dick cavett

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First, I hate Dick Cavett because he is so obsequious. When interviewing a big star (which are the only ones they show on TCM) he cooes and flutters with such giddiness that it's just embarrassing. He tells Bette Davis all about the moment when he fell in love with her, and gushes "I can't believe I'm sitting next to you," to Katharine Hepburn. He's Waylon Smithers. He makes Kurt Loder look like a hard-hitting journalist. If that was the level of interaction I wanted to see, I'd go to a soap star fan luncheon.

Second, it was on Cavett's show that Woody Allen told that repulsive joke about his ex-wife's rape: "the Times said she had been violated, and knowing her, it wasn't a moving violation." I can't imagine how hateful a person must be to make a joke like that about the rape of someone he used to love. And I can't imagine how much of a weaselly ass-kisser it takes to laugh along like it was the funniest thing he had ever heard, much less brag that the victim (of the rape and the joke) would probably sue him for laughing.

Third, I recorded The Bride Came C.O.D. and I've been looking forward to watching it all week. Finally found the time today, settled in on the couch with the remote and my knitting, only to discover that the movie had been pre-empted by Dick Cavett interviewing Ingmar Bergman. Of course Bergman was a hugely important figure in movies, and of course TCM would celebrate his work on the occasion of his death. I wish I'd known about the marathon and if The Bride Came C.O.D. had been replaced with a Bergman movie, I would have watched it. But did it have to be Dick fucking Cavett?

the massive indexing project

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If there was ever any doubt in my mind about my lack of time management skills and general insanity, it's gone now. Because, now that the massive archiving project is over and all my CDs are nicely organized and labeled in their binders, I've decided that I simply must start another humongous music-related project. This time it's a database of all songs in the Divaville Lounge collection.

It sound nuts, but there's a good reason for it. Christa showed me to use allmusic.com to search for music info. Which is necessary more often than you might think. Supposing someone calls in requesting Jeri Southern. I don't have any albums of hers, but I might have a song or two on compilations. Or they want the song, say, "Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider," but they don't know who sings it. Again, I might have it, but if I haven't played it before, I probably don't know where.

During the hustle and bustle of a show, there is simply no way I could find these songs just by flipping through the binders. Especially if I don't know for sure if I even had them or not. So allmusic.com becomes an invaluable resource. I can search for an artist or song, and see if they turn up on any albums I have. Christa used it even when she knew she had the song, to quickly find the album it was on. If you have over 20 albums by one artist, this can save you a lot of time!

The only problem is, allmusic.com hasn't been working for me. It's been timing out every single time I try to use it. In the past 3 weeks I've tried many times, during the show or not, on different computers and different browsers. Not one successul search. Christa warned me that the site was flaky, but this is ridiculous.

After 3 weeks of this I'm ready to write off allmusic.com. And I've realized that what I really need is a searchable online database of my own music collection. The massive indexing project! Luckily, due to the massive archiving project, at least half the collection is still on either my computer or Georg's. (We didn't want to delete the files in case one of the CDRs went bad.) A thousand thanks to Lisa and D. for pointing out last night that iTunes generates an XML file of its library. Thus sparing me from having to import the data from all those hundreds of albums, one at a time.

It was easy as pie to import the iTunes libraries into Filemaker. Unfortunately Filemaker's "web publishing" feature leaves much to be desired. If I had a permanent IP address for my computer, I could link directly to the database through a web interface. But, I don't. If I had the more expensive "server" version of Filemaker I could export the DB to a searchable web page. But, I don't.

What I'm left with is exporting the DB to one big long humongous web page, comprising a big long humongous table which displays every record. Not exactly what I wanted. So the next step will be to export the Filemaker database to MySQL, and then write PHP pages to display the song info exactly the way I want.

It won't be ready by today's show, since I don't feel like rushing to get it done this morning. And then there are still all the albums that weren't in our iTunes, which will indeed have to be added manually, one at a time. Still, I feel better just knowing that I have a plan. In the meantime I can search Christa's and my old playlists if I need song info. It's not perfect because it only includes songs that have been played on prior shows, but it's a pretty good stopgap.

a truth universally acknowledged

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Read this and you will have no need to go see Becoming Jane. Which may be a perfectly acceptable movie, but has been panned by enough people whose opinions I trust, that I have no desire to see it. Heck, I couldn't finish the Rozema Mansfield Park, and this sounds even more problematic.

Many of the complaints I've heard about Becoming Jane focus on the idea that in the movies, if a male author/artist has a female muse, all she has to do is exist and be beautiful to inspire greatness in him. But if a female author/artist has a male muse, then he must have tutored her, improved her work or otherwise deserved some degree of credit for her talent. I don't think I've seen enough movies about female authors and artists to have an opinion on this one. I saw Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle and I don't remember Benchley teaching her to write, but I don't remember it that well in general. I haven't seen any of the movies about Elizabeth Barrett Browning, also didn't see Frida. I did see that terrible movie The Muse, in which the muse inspires men and women in exactly the same way (I think so at least: it's been a long time and it wasn't that memorable). Help me out, somebody, is there a counter-example?

it's the ideas

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Tonight at dinner Pam asked me, apropos of nothing, what I look for in a science fiction movie. I don't know what prompted the question, but it's a good one.

I told her that what I look for is ideas. A good science fiction movie has interesting ideas, and explores the implications of those ideas. A bad science fiction movie has no interesting ideas. Or worse, starts with an interesting idea and abandons it in favor of a generic action movie plot. Paycheck is a particularly egregious example of the latter, and there are countless others.

A good example of the former is Gattaca. By objective standards, it's not that great of a movie. I love it nonetheless, because the story is so thoughtful. I've seen it several times and would happily watch it again. The Rod Taylor version of The Time Machine is another wonderful movie about ideas, which I forgot to mention to Pam. As I've written here before, The Time Machine is one of my favorite science fiction movies, if not my very favorite. Which makes the stupidity of the Guy Pierce version all the more sad.

It's really not about the special effects for me. Effects have their purpose, they can be impressive, beautiful and/or exciting. When used well they can create a sense of immersing yourself in another world: The Lord of the Rings for example. But the effects have to serve the story, not the other way around. The Time Machine proved that a science fiction movie can be engaging without expensive special effects. (I know it was a long time ago, but I think the stop-motion effects in The Time Machine were not state of the art even for their time.) Gattaca goes even further; in fact I can't remember a single effect in the entire movie. There's a scene where Ethan Hawke longingly watches a spaceship take off, but I can't remember if you can see that it's a spaceship, or if it could have been actual footage of a plane overhead. Either way, the effect is clearly not the point of the scene.

On the other hand, I have no desire to see an sf movie with impressive effects and a weak story. Like, for example, Star Wars episodes 1, 2 or 3. Haven't seen them, don't really care if I ever do. I guess I've lost my tolerance for movies that rush from one explodo-fest set piece to the next. I want science fiction to give me something to think about.

So what do you look for in a science fiction movie?

sales tax holiday

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We had a rather unproductive afternoon, driving around trying (and failing) to take advantage of the sales tax holiday. First we went out to SRI shoe warehouse in Raleigh. It's a long drive, generally worth it because they have such a big selection. But not today! I was looking for these shoes, another pair of casual summer sandals, and dressy white or light blue sandals to wear tonight. Didn't find a thing I liked, and neither did Georg. Then we went to the Apple store at Crabtree mall, to get an external hard drive. The mall was insane, but we managed to find a parking space, fight our way to the Apple store, and find somebody to help us. Only to find that hard drives aren't included in the sales tax holiday! Argh! The official announcement from the government said it covered "computer storage media," and we figured that would include hard drives. It's storage media, right? Apparently "storage media" means CDRs. Too bad I don't need any of those.

By that point we were so sick of crowded stores and not finding what we needed, that we stopped for lunch at a sandwich place in Cary that we like, and then just went home. I made label cards for a few new CD acquisitions, notably several of the amazing Music for a Bachelor's Den series, then did some online shopping research. Turns out to be a good thing that today's shopping efforts were such a bust: I can get the same hard drive for $40 less from Amazon, with no sales tax or shipping. Woo!

This evening was S. and D.'s wedding reception. Which was great fun, great food, great music, a great time all around. Nice to see people we care about so happy.

The only bummer was that I couldn't find any dressy sandals at SRI to wear tonight, so I wore my wedding Fluevogs. Which I love, they're beautiful shoes and they matched the dress, but they really need to be worn with hose of some kind. My feet were bare, and what with walking to the reception location, a lot of standing at the event, and then walking back to the car, I ended up with blisters on my little toes. Owie! I've been wearing sneakers to my radio show, but I think I'll wear sandals tomorrow.

test pilot

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August 1 movie: Test Pilot. According to this movie, back in the 1930s the military hired hotshot pilots to find out the limits of airplane technology by going up and flying the new planes until they failed, then crash landing or bailing out, if they could. Is this true? It seems like throwing your best pilots into a job with such a high mortality rate wouldn't be the most efficient way of doing things.

In any case, this risky career is the setting for an interesting psychological drama with Clark Gable as the pilot, Myrna Loy as the girl who falls in love with him and Spencer Tracy as the loyal mechanic/copilot/best friend. The movie kind of made me feel sad because Gable and Loy are clearly supposed to be together, and the actors have tremendous chemistry, but I felt like Loy's character would have been happier with Spencer Tracy. He understands her a lot better than Gable does, and his temperament seems better suited to her. But there's no sexual tenson between them at all (Tracy's character is almost a heterosexual "gay best friend"). Much of the movie is about Loy finding out that the qualities which made Gable so attractive after a day's acquaintance, also made him not a very good husband. The ending is pat and a bit unconvincing. But it's classic Hollywood; they had to have a happy ending.

a date with judy

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July 1 movie: A Date with Judy. Now this is the perfect movie for staying home sick. A silly little musical with Jane Powell and Elizabeth Taylor as high school girls who fight over "older man" (about 24, I think) Robert Stack. How can you not love a movie in which the B plot features Carmen Miranda secretly teaching Wallace Beery to dance the rhumba so he can surprise his wife at their anniversary party. But the burning question is, will he learn how to rhumba in time? Will he?

ivanhoe

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August 1 movie: Ivanhoe. I went home sick yesterday, which sucked, but at least I got to watch some movies. I've seen this many times & I'm always happy to see it again. The battle scene at the castle and the big single combat scene at the end are extremely well staged. The cast is terrific: Robert Taylor, Joan Fontaine, Elizabeth Taylor and especially George Sanders. I love George Sanders.

singing in the rain

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July 29 movie: Singing in the Rain. What a delight this movie is. I never miss an opportunity to watch it. This time I found out that Rita Moreno has a small part as Lina Lamott's friend & fellow actress Zelda. Her character must have been based on Clara Bow; she was called "The Zip Girl."

strike me pink

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July 29 movie: Strike Me Pink. I said that the movie with Cary Grant and the dancing caterpillar was the silliest movie I had ever seen, but now I'm not so sure. This movie featured Eddie Cantor managing an amusement park and trying to fend off mobsters who want to install crooked slot machines in the park. The movie gets more and more ridiculous and slapstick, until eventually (as Georg put it) it became a live action Bugs Bunny cartoon. All it lacked was a robot girl bunny. Instead of the robot girl bunny it had Ethel Merman, as kind of a villain! That was a shocker.

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