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Don’t mean to be one of those people, but I was actually at this show–or, at least, one of the shows that they stitched together to make the special. What? You actually thought that live albums represented one single performance beginning to end? Sorry. Next you’ll tell me that movies are all shot in sequence, and that great musicians just have songs pop out of their brains fully formed, and maybe after that you’ll favor me with tales about your homeland, A World Without Artifice. Anyway, there’s some really good, perceptive stuff in here. The bit on language and politics is particularly insightful. I’ve long maintained that comedians are our public intellectuals now, and while some people find this absurd I don’t think it is. Many comedians are idiots and frauds, as are many intellectuals, but at root it’s all about developing a point of view and expressing one’s ideas. It’s an intellectual connection when it works, and when you consider the cases of, say, Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker, who seemed to want to be comedians of a sort, the lines become even blurrier. Do people object to this because comedians haven’t read enough great books? Is that it? Oswalt certainly has. And written some too.

It’s good stuff. I’ve followed Oswalt’s career for nearly two decades now, ever since I saw him on an episode of Conan ages ago. He’s living proof that getting married, having kids, and being a dad doesn’t necessarily have to destroy a comedian’s sense of humor–his style has changed in some ways, but you want that to some degree. (Does anyone really want Gallagher anymore?) I still believe that Werewolves and Lollipops is his true masterpiece, a staggering work that remains untopped and likely never will be. From the enduringly great “KFC Famous Bowls” bit, through the definitive Star Wars prequels critique, to a surprising story about a visit to Planned Parenthood, it simply delivers on topics both highbrow and low, even on repeated listening, which is uncommon for a stand-up album. Even the topical political material doesn’t hold up that poorly, certainly not as poorly as something like David Cross’s Shut Up You Fucking Baby, which I can’t listen to without riding that skip button to get to the nonpolitical stories. Nothing against Cross, who I saw last week at Oakland’s legendary Fox Theater and was absolutely great, but his stuff is just more of the moment by design. Anyway.

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Guess I missed the en masse freakout about Bernie Sanders yesterday. I will say that what happened in Nevada is a bad look for Sanders, and his idea of fair play is as self-serving as the Republicans’ idea of the First Amendment. America has had particularly bad luck with presidents who combined self-righteousness with stubbornness, who regard all criticism as illegitimate and all opponents as corrupt–off the top of my head, this is a category that includes Dubya, Jimmy Carter and Woodrow Wilson. I’d be hard pressed to think of any bigger presidential disasters in the past century than those three, and of late Sanders has been displaying all of these traits. Warning flags, shall we say.

But on the other hand, the notion that Bernie Sanders is destroying Democrats’ chances is pretty silly. Obviously there’s Hillary Clinton in ’08 as a precedent, and Democrats nearly managed to beat Nixon in ’68 despite genuinely deep divisions over Vietnam, an assassination and, you know, convention riots. But also worth bringing up is 1992. After a point, Bill Clinton was obviously going to win the nomination. But Jerry Brown simply refused to quit. He wasn’t ever close to winning, like he was in 1976, but he simply refused to get out long after the writing was on the wall. And unlike Sanders, he lacked a compelling set of ideas: he campaigned on a grab bag of them, some good (cutting defense spending), some bad (flat tax), but overally generally incoherent. His style wasn’t too dissimilar to Sanders’s, though, as it was largely populist and outsider-oriented. Despite having no real shot at winning, he just stayed in the race, bitterly attacking Bill Clinton for reasons that were obviously just personal, for month after month. Who can forget this:

And guess what? Bill Clinton won. Nobody remembered it. Just like the PUMA nonsense was forgotten eight years ago. It’s just stuff political obsessives obsess about.

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I finally got around to reading Jane Mayer’s Dark Money. I’d definitely recommend it, though with some provisos. The first 170 pages or so were quite excellent, going into detail about plutocrats familiar (the Kochs, Richard Mellon Scaife) and unfamiliar (John Olin, the Bradley Brothers), their lives and all that. It was largely stuff I didn’t know. After that, it gets into how these dudes set up their operations, which I knew a bit about. Then it got into the Obama years. It wasn’t exactly pleasant to relive the 2010 midterms or the debt ceiling crisis or the Wisconsin labor fights, and although Mayer threw in some interesting details I didn’t know, it was mostly familiar ground to me. Obviously, though, the general public is going to need more setup than those of us who follow things obsessively.

In any event, in case you were wondering, these people pretty much are who you think they are. People raised in privilege who think they earned everything they have, who speak authoritatively about why the poors are doing it wrong despite never having met one, etc. It’s definitely interesting to read this in light of this election cycle, which has gone just about as badly for these folks as possible. All their plausible options were drummed out early, and the eventual winner of the GOP nomination is a guy who doesn’t have an atom of libertarian ideology within him. Trump won the nomination by slagging off big donors like the Kochs and rejecting many (though not all) of their most prized objectives. This doesn’t get at the institutional problems dark money poses, obviously, but it is definitely interesting that 2016 has in many ways been a rejection of dark money by the Republican base, and yet another sign that despite billions spent on the sales job, libertarianism is a product that almost nobody actually wants to buy. It’s four more years at least for them, and these guys don’t have many “four more years” left.

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Anyone’s guess what comes of this, but America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is one of those things that doesn’t really make much sense. I can buy the “better they’re inside the tent pissing out” argument to some degree, but they share no values with us, and our association with them tends to undermine any number of claims about our goals in the region. I suspect it’s because foreign policy elites think of history in WWII-centric terms and see this as equivalent to the USSR alliance. But that worked when the goal was wiping out Hitler by brute force, and the Soviets supplied that in unbelievable quantities. The Saudis haven’t done jack to help with ISIS.

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One of my favorite sci-fi authors, Charlie Stross, put up a list of ways to sabotage an IT workplace. I will admit that my workplace does 1 (though with telecommuting options) and recently decided to do 6 on the list, as well as 8, though in that case the software does actually work well enough.

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Tired of writing about Trump. Incredible to think that we’ll have almost another half year of this guy as a nominee. People think this election is going to be some crazy thing but it’s going to be super-tedious, in large part because the likely candidates aren’t terribly interesting people when you really get down to it–Trump’s a blusterer with no inner life and Clinton seems to have no identity apart from being a politician, as opposed to Obama, who clearly has intellectual and introspective sides that not many politicians possess–and since they’re operating on completely different levels it’s just going to be people arguing past each other. I give it until August until everybody is ready to adopt a last-episode-of-Battlestar Galactica solution with their electronic devices just to stop the noise.

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I was as big a fan as anyone of the first two seasons of the BBC’s Sherlock series. Longtime Holmes fan myself, read all the books multiple times. But when the third season came out, I was underwhelmed. So I decided to revisit it and figure out why it didn’t work for me. This is in the same style as my Star Trek Into Darkness review from a while back. And just in time for a new Netflix episode.

Episode 1 – The Empty Hearse

  • Man, not a good sign when they botch the reveal this way. “Back to Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes!” Why not add, “Famous detective, celebrity, wearer of unusual hats who we all thought was dead!” And they don’t even have him lift his face after that for the reveal. Inept!
  • Also, not really buying that a few hours is enough to learn Serbian in spite of its borrowed words from Turkish and German or whatever. Mycroft is a smart guy but Slavic languages have about twice the number of declensions of German, and while I don’t know much about Turkish, it’s linguistically quite different from both (no gendered nouns, emphasis on the passive voice, different structures). Just have him know Russian, which is quite close, just with different spelling conventions and vocab mainly.
  • Lots of belabored comic business “for the fans.” The “we’re not gay!” but nobody cares thing has gone from a play on gay panic to just being gay panic. And I’ll never understand why TV/movies think a mustache is the funniest thing ever. Because Mortdecai was such a success?
  • Cumberbatch as Holmes impersonating the French waiter is funny. But a bit too overtly comic for Holmes to be doing I think. Wouldn’t it have been more awesome if he left a riddle for Watson to find out the truth? As I recall, that’s what happened in the book.
  • I feel like Watson being this angry at Holmes doesn’t feel truthful. That may be the third or fourth emotion he feels, but Watson should be fucking elated that Holmes is alive. This makes me think they might actually be gay–being ditched by your lover who pretended to be dead is just about the only plausible reading of that scene.
  • The main flaw of this whole season is its excess. Like having Sherlock foil a terrorist plot. Really? The notion of him getting a security clearance alone is nonsense. Sort of like when the meatheads from Fast & Furious were hatching global intrigue plots. Perhaps James Bond is on vacation this week?
  • Has Miss Hudson really not let out 221B for two years? Considering London real estate prices, that’s the least plausible plot point so far.
  • There’s some Mary Sue-ing going on here: the rawness of Hudson’s and Watson’s grief after two years is crazy. Two months would have been believable. It would have been kind of interesting to see what a Watson without Holmes would be like, except the episode seems to be arguing that there’s no such thing.
  • This episode is so poorly structured. All of these alternate versions of Sherlock’s death should have been up front before he was back. It’s just tedious this way.
  • Also, not for nothing, I’m pretty sure faking your death is a crime everywhere. Inspector Lestrade should be the most angry of all, since now he has to get Sherlock off the hook and fill out endless paperwork. Instead, he’s more happy to see him again than his best friend, though that might have something to do with the fact that he can’t solve a crime without Sherlock.
  • A game of Operation! What is this, an indie quirk movie? We’re verging on self-parody here.
  • The “fuck off” thing veers even further toward self-parody.
  • Holmes: “You’ve been an unconscionable-”
    Cut to Watson’s office:
    Watson: “Pisspot.”
    Never thought Sherlock would be stealing joke structures from Austin Powers: Goldmember. And yet…
  • Is “will Watson and Holmes get back together?” the most forced drama of all time?
  • Is Sherlock solving “The Cask Of Amontillado” here?
  • Man, this whole fake Jack the Ripper memoir thing feels like they’re trolling me now. WHY?!
  • Halfway through and finally we’re presented with something resembling a mystery. No excess here, no.
  • Scene between Sherlock and Molly makes it seem like we’re getting back on track.
  • Kinda feel like these people have to be super dumb not to realize there’s a person under the pile of sticks they’re about to light on fire.
  • Aaaaand this is why nobody would be dumb enough to give Sherlock a national security-type case. He fails to notify anybody about a plot to destroy Parliament. Obviously he’s smart and capable but his contempt for authority makes this a crazy risk. Watson is right.
  • Amusing that Cumberbatch in this one is the one who says sorry, whereas in Into Darkness it’s Kirk who says it because of Cumberbatch. Eh, maybe it isn’t. This one got better after the first half and I’ve written like three things since then.
  • This extended “how’d he do it?” bit feels a little too much like Sherlock patting itself on the back for its cleverness. We already pretty much figured it out.

Episode 2 – The Sign Of Three

  • Lazy/blatant use of filters in this opening to mark different time periods. Reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica, which came out at about the time software made them easy to apply, and man did they use every single one in their software package.
  • I don’t remember having a receiving line when I got married. Maybe because THERE WAS NO TIME FOR THAT SORT OF THING! There are about 17,859 other things the couple is doing that day.
  • Sherlock’s smile after meeting with the creepy dude is a bit much. And by a bit I mean, what were they thinking? Also, bet that’ll pay off…
  • Quite a lot of filler up top here. Not unentertaining but this is the second time in a row.
  • Oh no, the best man speech. Feel like this had a laugh track originally that was taken out.
  • I remember finding the best man speech really annoying the first time around. But the constant flashback interruptions aren’t helping anything. Instead of breaking it up, it’s just prolonging the pain.
  • Really wonder why Watson didn’t vet the speech.
  • See, I don’t understand why anyone is going to go in with the “God is a ludicrous fantasy” bit after a religious service in a room full of old people. Even in the world’s least religious country, which the UK may arguably be, you’re still going to have a fair amount of them in that crowd. And then he turns around and is sincere and self-aware. Zany antics!
  • To think that he asked for help on this speech.
  • This whole speech is such a misfire. Tonally all over the place, alternating between hilariously off balance to painfully off balance to emotionally dead on. Almost as if the three dudes writing this thing had different ideas about what the speech should be. (I don’t know this for certain.) At times it’s completely self-aware and at times not at all. Lots of writing choices not being made here.
  • This time the mystery kicks in after 33 minutes. After all the “humor” I guess.
  • This episode is getting experimental with the transitions. Sidescrolling over the windows, stripes, wipes, never seen this stuff before on the show. It’s jarring.
  • Finally! Murder! That’s what this show should be doing!
  • God, the speech is still going on. I’ve heard Donald Trump speeches more focused than this.
  • The drinking out of laboratory flasks while clubbing thing is a comedic bit that doesn’t land.
  • Drunk Sherlock sleuthing. Excess. Self-parody.
  • For a second I thought the two of them would wake up in Guantanamo. Instead it’s the drunk tank. Would have been more interesting, and appropriate as this now feels like a Harold & Kumar movie.
  • Miss Hudson’s backstory is literally a Miami Vice episode.
  • Ah the speech again. I think this may literally be the worst speech ever in history. I can only imagine being one of the people getting yanked around emotionally listening to this thing. Even the most hippified boho weeding imaginable (which this isn’t–it’s very traditional!) would not have tolerated all this.
  • The mystery’s back! 20 minutes to go.
  • Will the shady guy we barely know kill himself? The stakes couldn’t be higher!

Episode 3 – His Last Vow

  • The way they chose to represent Magnusson’s mind working just looks like a T-800. It’s as though he’s putting on a Google Glass (remember those?) that takes control of him, horror film style. Kind of think this is a vote of no confidence in the actor to play the vicious, detached, robotic character, which he seems to be doing perfectly well.
  • Wonder if three slaps to the face is standard practice for dealing with a relapsed addict?
  • I’m perfectly fine with Watson’s wife having more of an expanded role in the series than in the books. I’m sorta fine with having her happen to be friends with the person whose boss she’s trying to kill. Maybe even having her also be this secret agent or whatever too. But it’s sort of a bit much to have it all, isn’t it?
  • Once he gets shot, Sherlock no longer is particularly convincing as a plain-vanilla homo sapiens. I’m now going with the theory that he had the same genetic engineering that Dr. Bashir had in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Makes even more sense if you figure that Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is also Cumberbatch’s Khan (the timelines almost match up!).
  • Remember The Dark Knight Rises? Pretty lousy.
  • I have to give it up, the way they had Watson finally piece it together was a nice little moment for this series.
  • I’m really tired of movie silencers. Everyone knows that silencers are basically useless, right? They mess up the balance of a gun and barely suppress the noise of gunfire. Of course, most people don’t actually know what gunfire sounds like, making them doubly redundant.
  • These fade-outs are a little too cute for the series.
  • Not so sure Sherlock reads The Guardian. Definitely your best bet among British papers, but while the character is apolitical, but you have to imagine he’d be more into the lurid tone and subject matter of your usual Murdoch rag.
  • Sherlock’s parents? Origin story? This used to be a mystery show. But nowadays we continually need this myth-killing “world-building” because reasons. Usually MOAR PRODUCT.
  • “Is everyone I’ve ever met a psychopath?” In this series, apparently.
  • Kinda dislike this “getting to the root of Watson’s character” bit, because I think it’s unnecessary. John Watson is the everyman. For those of you who don’t remember or were too young to catch shows which included this sort of character, which admittedly was a very long time ago, this is a type of character who is meant to resemble normal human beings going through their lives. Doesn’t mean they don’t have a dark side, or that they can’t do bad things–normal folks obviously do. But they tend not to have weird hangups and deep-seeded compulsions. Like I said, they’ve mostly vanished from prestige television, and I think the show is trying to sell me that Watson is really the sick one here, but come on. He’s the textbook everyman character. I’m fine with the BBC Holmes not really resembling Conan Doyle’s Holmes much, aside from using deductive reasoning. Less so with this pivot of Watson: not fatal, but not entirely on the mark.
  • This Watson forgiveness thing is kind of like the ending of The Tailor Of Panama. Not as good, though. Y’all should watch that movie.
  • “They’re just normal glasses.” Of course they are. Why would you think they weren’t, Sherlock? Did you watch the episode, Spaceballs style?
  • Never crossed my mind that there was actually a vault.
  • I have to admit, Magnusson was a pretty good villain. Kind of wish he’d stuck around.

Overall Verdict: The show clearly still knows how to craft interesting, exciting mystery plots. I just wish they’d done that more often. The third installment is the best because that one has the most of that. The second is worst because it has the least. Even when the premise is silly or implausible the show can still pull off a mystery very well when it wants to. This time around, it didn’t seem to want to all the time, frequently spending too much time on comedic material that didn’t quite fit the show, often heading into self-parody or just having the bits flop altogether. It’s an odd choice because the show was already funny to begin with. A midstream change in tone and subject matter in a show’s run usually spells trouble: recall again Battlestar Galactica, which got tired of being an action/sci-fi show with a brain and became a dumb religious allegory that defied you to care. Good news is that this third season is nowhere near as catastrophic as Battlestar‘s third season. The strengths are still there to be seen. Not worth giving up on, yet anyway.

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