The Clouseau Question

Breakfast at Tiffany’s streamed over Turner Classic Movies this evening. It includes a bizarre character, Mr. Yunioshi, an irritable and clumsy Japanese photographer played by Mickey Rooney, who delivers a crass cross-cultural performance that has been excoriated as being stereotypically offensive. I completely see the point in the criticism, but it makes me wonder why the equally crass cross-cultural stereotypical performance that Peter Sellers (an Englishman) gives as Inspector Clouseau (a Frenchman) in the Pink Panther films does not get criticized for being bigoted and offensive.

Hallmalarkey Movies

It’s that time of year when Hallmark Christmas movies (and their imitators on Lifetime, Netflix, et. al.) are streaming 24/7.  In these Christmas-cookie-cutter cinematic confections, you are apt to encounter many of the items on the following list. (N.B. you can use the list for a drinking game—at your peril.)

  • A first kiss between the leads is interrupted just as their lips are about to make contact
  • A homemade ornament is made/shown/discussed (a homemade wreath can substitute if necessary)
  • A gingerbread house is constructed, or, at least, prominently featured in several shots
  • There is a Christmas ball or dance, and the female lead is the only one there in a bright red gown (about which the male lead says, “You look amazing/beautiful/stunning/…)
  • Firewood is chopped
  • Someone says, “I can’t move here! My life is in (New York/Seattle/St. Louis/Minneapolis/some big city)”
  • Eggnog is ostentatiously served
  • Two characters (usually, but not necessarily, the leads) bond while ice skating
  • A major expository scene between major characters takes place as they pick out a Christmas tree
  • A Christmas tree is decorated
  • There’s a snowball fight
  • One of the leads is a single parent or is raising a cute niece/nephew who has been orphaned
  • One or more of the main characters is mourning the recent loss of a parent/parent figure
  • One of the leads delivers a variation on the line, “Mom always loved Christmas!”
  • There’s a town tree-lighting ceremony
  • A conflict between crass commercialism and small town values drives part of the story (in a drinking game, two drinks if the villain is a real estate developer)
  • Someone says, “You can’t have too much Christmas”
  • There’s one final misunderstanding/plot crisis that is handily resolved within the final three minutes

Re-beam Me Up an Episode Concept, Scotty

Interesting: the 3rd non-pilot episode of Star Trek: The Original Series (which was the 4th episode aired because the show’s 2nd pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” was the 3rd episode broadcast) was “The Naked Time,” about a mysterious disease infecting the Enterprise crew. The 3rd episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation was “The Naked Now,” about a mysterious disease infecting the Enterprise crew. The 3rd episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is “Ghosts of Illyria,” about a mysterious disease infecting the Enterprise crew.

I think the Star Trek writers’ room has been preserved in the transporter’s pattern buffer and is being rematerialized for each new Star Trek series set on the Enterprise.

R.I.P. Harlan Ellison

I learned from several tweets on Twitter today that Harlan Ellison has died. I didn’t know the man, though I had read a number of his works, but I do have one tale to tell of him.

It was many years ago at the Writer’s Guild theatre in Beverly Hills. I had gone with a Guild member friend to a screening. I don’t recall the film we saw, but I have a vague recollection, likely unreliable, that it was a new (at the time) James Bond film. In any case, after the film a few of the filmmakers responsible held a question-answer with the audience, at which point the diminutive Harlan stood up (looking scarcely taller standing than seated) and made some sort of snarky comment. In response, a number of the audience members groaned and several shouted, “Sit down, Harlan!”

My friend later told me that this was not the first time the Writer’s Guild theatre had hosted such a display of authorial camaraderie.

Harlan Ellison may be gone, but, if there is any sort of after-life, I suspect that he is not resting peacefully in it. It would be wholly out of character.

“The Intern”

On the one hand, this movie is truly a script-by-the-numbers modern fairy tale, which could easily be subtitled, “The Unbearable Whiteness of Being.”

On the other hand, DeNiro and Hathaway are so engaging, and they speak the lines they are given with such élan, that I quite enjoyed the movie despite all of its predictability and happily-ever-afterishness. So, yeah, 👍.

Lex Eisenberg

I’ve been seeing a lot of astonishment and outrage at the reported casting of Jesse Eisenberg in the yet-to-be-titled sequel to Superman; even my friend Josh has evinced some disdain at the choice.

Yet, to me, Eisenberg seems a natural choice to play the Lex Luthor that I grew up reading about back in the early 1960s. This is how the Superman Wiki describes that Lex:

>In Adventure Comics #271 in 1960 (written by Jerry Siegel), the Silver Age origin of Luthor is retroactively revealed, along with Luthor finally gaining a first name, “Lex.” It was revealed that when Luthor was a teenager, his family moved to Smallville, with Lex becoming a large fan of Superboy. In gratitude and to encourage Lex’s scientific pursuits, Superboy built for Lex a fully stocked laboratory. There, Lex began an experiment in creating an artificial new form of life, along with a cure for kryptonite poisoning.

>However, when a fire caught in his lab, Superboy mistakenly used his super-breath to extinguish the flames. This rescue attempt spilled chemicals that caused Luthor to go prematurely bald and destroyed both his kryptonite cure and his artificial life form. Luthor attributed Superboy’s actions to jealousy and vowed revenge. First, he tried to show Superboy up with grandiose technological advancements to improve the life of Smallville’s residents, which time and again went dangerously out of control and required Superboy’s intervention. Unwilling to accept responsibility for these catastrophes, Lex rationalized that Superboy was out to humiliate him, and vowed to spend the rest of his life proving to the world he was Superboy’s (and later Superman’s) superior by eliminating the hero.

In other words, the young Lex was a boy scientist: a nerd! Not the thick-necked bruiser I have seen in more recent Superman cartoons and comic books, but a nerd!

Eisenberg would be perfect.

Syncing Vinny with TBS

Vin Scully is doing the play-by-play announcing for the National League Championship Series on the radio. The series is being telecast by TBS, which has its own announcers. They aren’t national treasures like Vin Scully is.

A billion years ago, in the Analog Age, I would have listened to Vinny on the radio while watching the TV with the sound off. But I live in a place with very bad over-the-air radio reception, so that’s not possible. However, I do have the MLB app on my iPhone, and that does provide my local radio feed (KLAC). Problem solved?

Not quite. The MLB audio feed can be delayed anywhere from 6 to 20 seconds behind the TV broadcast. Luckily, my cable box is a DVR: if I pause the live feed for just as long as the MLB app lag, I can sync the video and the audio.

Dodgers playing for the pennant and Vinny on the radio. Some things are timeless.

What I learned in the TWC-CBS war

Time Warner Cable and CBS are having a spat over pricing, and, as a result, no CBS channels are currently available on Time Warner Cable in my community. CBS, to retaliate, has decided to block access to CBS Web sites from anyone who uses Time Warner as an ISP—a bizarre attempt to win hearts and minds by attacking non-combatants in the struggle.

This war of media predators should not affect me very much, however, but it does mean that I was unable to watch the premiere of the retooled CBS TV series “Unforgettable” last night. This show, in its original incarnation, was not a particular favorite of mine—I think I’ve seen about four episodes—but I was curious about the changes the producers were going to make to it in an attempt to resurrect the previously cancelled series. (It is not unheard of for a failing or flailing TV series to be, as the Firesign Theatre put it, returned for regrooving, and I always find it instructive to see what choices TV producers make in their attempts to revivify shows that have failed.)

As luck would have it, though, the show was available for purchase from iTunes, and, on a lark, I decided to buy the premiere and watch it on my Apple TV 2, something I have never done before (I use my Apple TV quite a bit, but not for purchasing TV episodes). I was impressed: not with the show itself (which was, as I more or less expected, not particularly superior to previous episodes), but with the technology. Although my Apple TV is of the previous generation, capable of only providing 720p resolution instead of the 1080p resolution that current models provide, the video was distinctly sharper than the 1080i feed that I get from Time Warner Cable. What’s more, the purchase process was painless, the download was playable within moments, and was accessible well before the west coast air-time of the show. Even better, the show is available for me to redownload from Apple’s cloud service any time I like on any of my Apple devices, so I don’t have to worry about backing it up, either, or taking up storage space on my Mac.

My takeaway lesson? Time Warner’s cable service technically sucks, and I need to reconsider whether or not I wish to continue as a TWC subscriber. If those two media giants had not gone to war, I may not have discovered that.

Sorry, Lisa, “Larry Crowne” is Better Than That

Lisa Schwarzbaum trashes “Larry Crowne” with a grade of C+ while giving “Transformers 3” a B. Oh, my.

Romantic comedy has this in common with romance: when you’re not in the mood, it can disappoint. Maybe Schwarzbaum was just having a bad day.

The film that I saw this afternoon was a cute, light-hearted, broadly painted romantic comedy, showcasing some likable actors delivering engaging performances. It was funny. I laughed out loud a lot. Hanks and Roberts pair well together and they’re charming enough that you want them to get together, as they, of course, eventually and obligingly do. In the supporting roles, I particularly liked George Takei’s slightly manic and off-center economics professor. Schwarzbaum dismisses his part as “an economics professor who sounds like Mr. Sulu,” but, if so, maybe it’s because Sulu sounds like George Takei. He’s still the funniest economics professor I’ve seen recently.

Yes, “Larry Crowne” is a fluffy, pat, feel-good story in which nothing ever seems really at risk, but sometimes I don’t want to feel at risk. I want to laugh and feel good. “Larry Crowne” made me laugh out loud and I left the theatre feeling good. That’s worth more than a C+ to me.