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Do I have a sense of humor?

November 19, 2015 3 comments

I’m sure I used to have a sense of humor. When the Dilbert strip started I thought it very funny. When I sat at work meetings—which unfortunately I did most days, for big chunks of the day—I often got distracted by the unintentional humor, often to my detriment: sooner or later someone would notice the smile on my face or ask for my opinion and I would be left to choose between allowing I had long lost track of what they were saying or having to make up some non-answer answer. To my shame I usually chose the latter.
As my company changed, not for the best, and I found myself inhabiting the Dilbert realm, I stopped thinking Dilbert was funny. Since I retired, it’s been funny again.
I can’t tell whether I still have a sense of humor. Recently we watched the first episode of a Netflix comedy, “Master of None.” Neither Ruth nor I thought anything even remotely funny took place during the half hour show. In fact, we thought it particularly unfunny. And yet, a column by Emily Nussbaum in the New Yorker (11/23/2015) thought it was “strong, wide-ranging and genuinely funny.” She thought an incident was particularly funny: the main character, musing about having kids, thinks it could be an amazing experience though, what if he wants pasta and he couldn’t find a sitter?
“What? I’m not eating pasta? That would be horrible.”
That’s the punchline. Obviously I no longer know what is funny.
Maybe I’m old. (Actually, I am old) What I mean is that a sense of humor may deteriorate with age. Why not? So many other things do. Maybe. But I still crack up watching “The Court Jester” for the umpteenth time.
Last night we watched “Doll & Em,” an HBO comedy on its second season. I don’t know if Ruth likes it, its about two women friends. After watching the third half hour episode episode I tried the fourth and then I begged off, I could take no more.
Ruth asked me if we had watched the whole last season of “Episodes,” a Showtime series. Like “Doll & Em” it is based on English actors in America. All four seasons of “Episodes” are available on demand, so I replayed the last show. Ruth remembered it as soon as it started but we re-watched the whole show and we both laughed. It was funny when we first saw it and it is still funny.
Nussbaum’s article claimed “Master of None” cracks open, starting with the second episode, an ‘instant classic’ about second generation immigrants and their parents. Alas, I’m afraid I will miss it. I feel toward it the same way I feel about torture: the threat of it alone would be enough to make me confess. To anything. No way I’m watching that show again.

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The End of the World

March 21, 2015 1 comment

I have been watching “The Dig,” a TV show that—I’m not giving anything away—seems to be headed toward Armageddon, unless, one can only hope, the hero prevents it. In The Dig, fundamentalist Jews and Christians are part of the plot, which is not far fetched; all the ultra-religious, whether Christian, Muslim or Jews, have more in common with each other than they have with their coreligionists.
I bring it up because so far I have enjoyed the show. It is still in that early stage when new and unexpected co-conspirators pop-up every half hour and the viewer has little idea what it is they intend to do. Or why. They even have Essenes in the plot. I vaguely remember a mention of the Essenes as associated with the Dead Sea scrolls but as far as I knew they disappeared 2,000 years ago. Live and learn. (By the way, since they believed in celibacy, odds were they would dissapear. See The Shakers)
What fascinates me is the preoccupation with the end of the world, not only on the show, but in real life.
Isis (The Islamic State) fought hard to gain the Syrian city of Dabiq and its strategically unimportant plains. Seems that’s where the final battle between Islam and the armies of Rome will take place. I sure hope they don’t mean the Italian army. They didn’t fare too well when Mussolini send them to fight Ethiopians armed only with spears.
Fundamental Christians are also preparing for the end of days and the Rapture. That battle should take place near Har Megiddo (The Hill of Megiddo, hence the term Armageddon) which was strategically important way back, when caravans had to go through that valley. (I have been there. It is a lovely spot a couple hours north of Tel Aviv, with a small museum and various archaeological digs)
In The Dig even the Jews are in the end-of-world plot. Something about a prophecy involving the birth of a red heifer. Must be quite rare indeed, because the heifer is born somewhere in Scandinavia which led me to wonder what sort of monitoring of cattle births throughout the world they have in place. No matter. I didn’t know about any heifers. I thought we Jews were waiting for the Messiah, as we have for something like 3,000 years and that it would be a good thing when the Messiah finally arrives. Otherwise why would be waiting for so long?
These are big issues requiring deep contemplation. I do tend to analyze things but I am not as religious or spiritual as others. I am happy just sitting here, like one hundred and fifty generations before me, waiting. But this being the first day of spring, I am watching college basketball (March Madness) while it snows and snows outside. All day long. Looks like half a foot so far. I suppose that if it would be happening in the show, it would mean something.

Justified and Jindabyne; a tale of two tales.

March 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Sometimes I understand how critics feel. It is more fun to write a bad review than a good one. I’m more likely to write a review because a bad experience, whether a film, TV show, concert, play or whatever may annoy me enough to make me do something about it.
In this case there is also an interesting parallel. This piece is about two ‘shows’ I watched within a few days, one really good, one really bad, both based on short stories by famous writers.
“Jindabyne” is a movie based on a Raymond Carver short story while “Justified” is a TV series on its third season airing on FX and based on an Elmore Leonard story.
Ruth and I just finished watching the end of Justified’s first season. The first show, a one hour pilot, was quite good. I imagine it owed the most to Leonard’s short story (Fire in The Hole). In it straight talking, matter of fact, fast shooting deputy Marshal Rayland Givens has just been transferred from Miami to his hometown in Kentucky after killing a drug dealer in a very public manner. “He drew first” is the Marshal’s oft repeated explanation and presumably the source of the shows title.
Harlan County in Kentucky is not like Louisville or Knoxville, cities I have visited on numerous occasions. It is rural and apparently inhabited mostly by criminals. Including deputy Marshal Givens’s father and most of his childhood friends. The shows following the pilot were stand alone half hour extension/adventures which from time to time introduced or expanded on or eliminated characters and though watchable, I consider them standard cable fare. But the last few episodes, comprising the end of season 1, DVD 3—about three hours of non stop viewing for us—were riveting. And even after that marathon of watching we wanted more and watched the producer/writer narration of the last episode, which was quite interesting.
I imagine that after the pilot, which probably owed much to the Leonard short story, the writers needed to figure out what the show was about. Eventually they elevated one of the early baddies—Boyd Crowder, who was shot nearly to death in episode 1—to a recurring role that kept us guessing because he was much worse and much better than we ever imagined. And quite a bit more complicated.
The charm and draw of Justified is the relationship between the Marshall and his past, his ex-wife, his former crush, his father, and Boyd, a childhood friend who is his friend and adversary. There are bonds formed in childhood that remain a strong influence throughout one’s life. And there is a parallel where both have complicated relationships with their respective fathers. How they handle these adds a great deal of complexity.
I suppose one should comment on the acting though I’m usually reluctant. Tim Oliphant plays the Marshall and Walton Goggins the key baddie. They both do their job well. The whole cast is good.
There are two kind of actors: bad—which you immediately notice—and normal, or good, or competent or whatever term you might want to use. In other words, I either notice the acting is bad or I believe the actor and willingly suspend disbelief.
This issue of good and bad acting reminds me of a (now obsolete) maxim I coined long ago. Given a chance to watch a movie with Henry Fonda or one with Tony Curtis, always chose the latter. If you wonder who those guys were you are too young to be reading this. Otherwise you’ll know that Fonda was universally recognized as one of the best actors while Curtis was a competent pretty boy. Nevertheless, Curtis almost invariably appeared in good, sometimes great movies like “Some Like it Hot”—the best comedy film of all time—or The Great Race, The Defiant Ones, Spartacus, The Vikings and so forth. Henry Fonda made great movies but too often he was featured in bombs. Maybe the credit should go to their respective agents or to their ability to pick the right scripts. My point is that I’m happy with competent acting and seldom notice ‘great’ acting. In fact if I notice it, if I say, “wow that was some great acting,” it draws attention away from the story and defeats the whole concept of acting.
Nonetheless, this whole issue of ‘good’ actors has another corollary: a tendency to watch films with great casts. “Oh, wow, look at this, it has Lawrence Olivier and Meryl Streep and…” Which is how I came to watch the film that compelled me to write this piece.
I just had the unfortunate experience of watching “Jindabyne,” the film based on Raymond Carver’s short story. Jindabyne is 123 minutes of characters acting stupid and having the director play games with you, with your emotions and perceptions, making it appear this or that is going to happen, that someone is hiding in the weeds while never intending any of it to materialize. If anything you wonder whether there is anyone portrayed in the film or running the show who is an adult or capable of acting like one. After a while I was merely curious, not about how it will all end—I didn’t care—but how much longer will this film go on. Why did I watch it to the end? We were with friends and they wanted to know how it ended. A cast headed by Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne should have promised something better.
I wonder what effect Raymond Carver would have had on the film if he’d been around. Elmore Leonard plays a role—at least as producer—in the TV series.
There is no moral to this piece. Film is a director’s medium and the director gets to make ‘artsy’ films—which Jindabyne is not—at his or her own risk. TV has to deliver on a consistent basis and writing, in my opinion, is more important. So I suppose all I can suggest is to check Rotten Tomatoes—which had a surprising 50% audience approval for the film—and Netflix which at 2.6/5 was closer to my opinion albeit still too high (I think people are reluctant to give films the single star rating it deserves) As far as TV, do as we do: wait for a while and then watch it “on demand,” streaming or, as we did with Justified, on DVD. We are anxiously awaiting the delivery of the season 2 DVDs.