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we love you forever and ever! god bless america!

Fans have to prepare for the World Cup, just like the players do. Yesterday gave us a preview of what we can look forward to next summer. In particular, those final games in the group stage, where matches are played simultaneously, and the standings change with every score.

All day, there were World Cup qualifiers in Europe, in Africa, in South America, and in Asia. I caught Ghana’s 6-1 trouncing of Egypt in the morning, then watched England-Poland and Spain-Georgia at the same time in the afternoon. But the best came in the evening, when the CONCACAF qualifying round reached its end. The key matches were Panama-United States, and Costa Rica-Mexico. The USA and Costa Rica had already qualified for Brazil 2014, and so the battle essentially came down to Panama and Mexico. At the end of the night, one of them would advance to a playoff against New Zealand, the other would be eliminated. Mexico had the upper hand, and it would take a complicated set of events for them to fall out of the competition.

Panama took a shock 1-0 lead over the U.S. in the 18th minute. That in itself would not be enough to qualify … they needed Mexico to lose, as well. Panama’s hopes were raised when Costa Rica took a 1-0 lead over the Mexicans in the 25th minute, but Mexico equalized four minutes later. At the halves, Panama was winning, Mexico was tied, which would mean Mexico would advance and Panama was done.

In the 64th minute of both matches, two things occurred which temporarily changed things. The U.S. equalized in Panama, but Costa Rica took a 2-1 lead against Mexico. That result would still advance Mexico and leave Panama behind.

Except in the 84th minute, Panama regained the lead against the USA, and suddenly, Mexico looked to be out of the World Cup. Their offense seemed deflated … I didn’t get the feeling they were going to score the one goal that would keep them alive in the qualifiers. Meanwhile, Panama-USA went into extra time. The referee indicated three minutes would be added.

At the 1:24 mark of those three minutes, the U.S. equalized. They then added a game-winner at the 2:40 mark. In those three minutes of extra time, Panama went from a trip to New Zealand to World Cup elimination, while Mexico, who never did score an equalizer, went from elimination to continued life in the qualifiers.

I was watching Andres Cantor do the Mexico match, and he was updating us on what was happening in Panama. It reminded me of the time a few World Cups ago when he was doing radio for a pair of games at the end of the group stage, and he was announcing two games at once … not announcing one and updating us on the other, but actually announcing them at the same time.

The frenetic ending was heart-stopping, and heart-breaking for the Panamanians. But the reaction in Mexico was … well, remember that Mexico and the U.S. are the main rivals in this region, and there is no love lost between them (I’m talking soccer, but obviously there are other ways in which the relationship between the two countries is a bit jagged).

Someone uploaded this, which is apparently from Mexican television. You can see both matches on the screen … on the right, Mexico is losing to Costa Rica, on the left, Panama is a couple of minutes away from advancing. In a supreme CONCACAF irony, Mexico’s future depended on the United States doing something in those last two minutes. And they did:

WE LOVE YOU! WE LOVE YOU FOREVER AND EVER! GOD BLESS AMERICA!


the walking dead, season four premiere

It is the most popular show in the history of basic cable. I don’t think AMC cares about anything beyond that basic point, and I don’t suppose they should. It makes The Walking Dead critic-proof to some extent, and I’ve certainly run out of things to say about it. When a series makes it to a fourth season, I’m mostly interested in whether anything new is happening, or if the familiar stuff of prior seasons still resonates.

I gave Season 3 a B+, admitting that I like the zombie gore much more than I like the attempts at character development. I also noted:

Quite simply, The Walking Dead is one of the most graphically violent shows in TV history. It speaks volumes about the cultural priorities of America that you will never see a woman’s bare breast on The Walking Dead, but you will see dozens, hundreds of murders every episode. The way they get around any possible censorship issues is pretty clever: the vast majority of victims of violent acts on the show are zombies. They are already dead, and we are repeatedly told they are no longer human. Oh, they need to be wiped out because they try to eat the brains of the living, so they deserve what they get. Nonetheless, even a regular viewer like myself is often astonished at the ease with which the show works on-screen slaughter into the mix. Beheadings, sharp objects thrust into eye sockets, gun shots to the head … every possible way there is to destroy a zombie’s head has been shown, often in detail, on The Walking Dead.

You’ll hear no moralizing about this from me … like I say, it’s my favorite part of the show. But there’s always an underlying pretense that The Walking Dead is deeper than the surface gore. And I get that in an abstract way, but  I’ve never much cared about the regular characters, so I can only hope that this season, they’ll finally make me care.There are a couple of possibilities … the great Larry Gilliard, Jr. shows up, and Melissa McBride’s Carol has shown some actual development over the years. For now, I’ll keep giving it a B+, but it would be nice if it finally pushed its way to a higher level. It is more likely that it falls further down.


what i watched last week

Star Trek into Darkness (J.J. Abrams, 2013). I always feel the need to emphasize from the start that I don’t know much about the Star Trek franchise. It doesn’t matter much here … there are regular nods to long-time fans, but the movie stands on its own, at least enough that I never felt confused. I gave the first Abrams Trek movie 6/10, then watched it again and bumped it to a 7 for no apparent reason. While I was watching this one, I felt a 7 coming all along. Perhaps I’m just in a good mood. There is nothing special about the film, with the possible exception of Zachary Quinto as Spock. The action scenes are good in a functional way, they pop up just about the time you tire of the dialogue, and that dialogue isn’t as annoying as it could be. (There’s a bit too much C3PO/R2D2 to the conversations between various combinations of two characters, but not enough to drive me up the wall.) Philosophical questions arise, and it’s true, they are usually just the pretense of another action scene, but they add a bit of depth to the movie. I’m not the audience for this … I don’t have any emotional attachment to the characters, which means I’m probably missing something, But I liked it while I watched it, so 7/10.

Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013). A film that succeeds on several levels. First, I saw it in 3D IMAX, which is unusual for me … I like IMAX, don’t care for 3D. But since Cuarón intended 3D from the start, and since he recommended seeing it in that format, I went for it, and was glad I did. There are a couple of the requisite show-off 3D scenes, but what was more important was the way the format was used to immerse the viewer into the actions on the screen. This is something that 3D is good at, but it seems to me that it is rarely used that way. Paradoxically, the razzle-dazzle of 3D results here in visuals that seem quite lifelike. You have Sandra Bullock floating in space, and you don’t think, “wow, great FX”, you think, “wow, space is magnificent and scary.” The 3D is not a distraction; it just adds to the movie. For all of the extravagant visuals, the film’s narrative is stripped down to basics. They spent $100 million to make it seem like Bullock and George Clooney really are floating in space, but what really matters is how the characters deal with their plight. This is the type of thing that often elicits bogus faux-characterizations … the stock stereotypes exist just to provide people around which the FX will happen, but no one really cares about those characters. In Gravity, you care very much about Bullock’s character. And it is this that raises Gravity far above the standard blockbuster. It needs to be mentioned that Bullock is up to the challenges presented to her in the film. Mick LaSalle pointed out, “If ever a movie demanded the casting of movie stars, it's ‘Gravity,’ because the audience requires vivid examples of humanity and - as the lead actors are covered up in spacesuits most of the time - we need to feel we know these people.” And Bullock and Clooney are certainly movie stars. But both of them also manage to go deeper than just their movie star status. Bullock has the showier role, but Clooney is also excellent in his supporting role. Alfonso Cuarón is one of my favorite contemporary directors. Y tu mamá también is a particular fave of mine, Children of Men is wonderful … heck, he directed the only Harry Potter film I liked. Add Gravity to the list of my Cuarón favorites. 9/10.


music friday: pink concert #5

I set aside this Music Friday to talk about the Pink concert from last night, but since it’s the second time we’ve seen her on The Truth About Love Tour, there’s not much I can add to what I wrote in February. The show was the same in its essence. She added a cover (“Time After Time”), accompanied herself on the piano (“The Great Escape”, which she hadn’t sung last time), and dropped a couple of songs from the earlier set list.

She screwed up several times on “The Great Escape”, which was pretty charming, although if you search YouTube, you’ll find that she screws up on that one almost every night. The crowd loves her for it, which gets to the core of why her fans find her so appealing: no matter how big a star she becomes, no matter how many jaw-dropping acrobatics she performs, she still seems just like us reg’lar folks in the audience.

Even taking as a given that “authenticity” is a problematic concept in popular music, Pink walks a fascinating line between performance and “real”. She never reverts to Alecia Moore on stage … she is always Pink … it’s as if “Pink” is the real Alecia. (When she appears as an actress in Thanks for Sharing, she is billed as Alecia Moore … when she plays someone else, she does it as Alecia, when she plays “herself”, she does it as Pink.) The show is too tightly constructed for her to take requests, and there are too many set pieces to allow for changing the set list from one night to the next. But I can attest, after seeing basically the same show twice in eight months, that the production is very satisfying. The big production numbers still astonish, the emotional ballads still reach your heart, the flat-out rockers still fill the arena, and there are so many more women in the audience than men that the men’s room I used before the show had already been taken over, guerilla style, by women who weren’t going to stand in a long line just because the people at the Coliseum hadn’t though to convert a few men’s rooms to women’s to deal with the female/male ratio for the how.

The crowd is wonderful. I felt like an honored visitor. The show isn’t for me, a 60-year-old white guy, but for all the girls (and girls who have become women during Pink’s career) who relate on a more specific level to the songs Pink sings. It’s a joy to see that connection between the audience and the performer, and it points to the ways Pink is a role model, whether she intends it or not. I’m not a fan of artists being role models … I’d rather they made they art without worrying about being an exemplar … but in Pink’s case, her art comes first, yet it also establishes her as a model.

There is one area where I wish she wasn’t so conscious of this. I couldn’t make out all of the words, but she gave a little speech prior to performing “Fuckin’ Perfect” that explained why she wouldn’t be saying the f-word. Sure enough, we got the “clean” version, and to be honest, it’s one of the better clean versions of a song, but I don’t like the idea of a clean version in the first place, and I was disappointed. (Of course, the performance was great, no matter my thoughts on the matter.)

Perhaps it’s just another way Pink constructs her reg’lar gal persona. I’ve long thought that she tosses in an occasional, audible deep breath when doing some of the acrobatics, just to prove the mic is live and she is really singing. And most of her fans are well aware that Pink is a mom, but she makes it part of her act of authenticity when she says she won’t sing the f-word because the kid might hear it. In this way, she is able to use the original “Fuckin’ Perfect” to show she’s the kind of “real” artist that puts the word “fuck” into a song title, and then later can use the song to show that she’s the kind of “real” mom who tries not to curse so much.

Part of what makes her so winning, though, is that thoughts like these seem irrelevant when you are watching her. Of course “Pink” is a construction, of course we’re watching a “show”, but she shifts so easily between pop star and human being that we are charmed … we root for her to succeed, and then she succeeds beyond our wildest dreams, and somehow all of us are raised up.

For this reason, I love “Try”, a ballad that might normally strike me as a bit over the top, but which, in concert, lives up to its message that we must get off the floor once again and try. As she so often does, she uses the acrobatics not just to impress us, but to extend the point of the song. As she floats above the stage without a harness, we get a fuller understanding of how a person can “try”. Similarly, the various versions of “Sober” she has presented always result in her being in the air, which matches perfectly with the lyrics of the song.


pink is tonight

I’ve been going to Pink concerts pretty much as long as I’ve been writing this blog.

The first time I saw her, the blog was just under six months old: June 25, 2002. It was the “Party Tour” in support of Missundaztood, and included covers of Janis Joplin, Mary J. Blige, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Aerosmith, and 4 Non Blondes. The concert was held at the Warfield, which holds around 2300. I wrote:

“Don't Let Me Get Me" was the anthem all the girls had been waiting for, and seeing and hearing them sing along to this complex song was bizarre. What does it mean when a bunch of kids happily shout out "I wanna be somebody else"? The closest thing I can think of is when the audience would sing along with Johnny Rotten's "No Future!" ... as if in the act of proclaiming our nihilism, we were expressing our love of life. Except I don't ever remember wanting to be Johnny Rotten, while I think a lot of people in that audience would have been happy if the "somebody else" they got to be was in fact the woman who introduced those words to us in the first place: Pink.

Next was the “I’m Not Dead Tour”, which kicked off on June 27, 2006 in San Francisco. At the Fillmore, which somehow seemed appropriate. It was, and will probably always remain, the most intimate setting in which I saw her perform (it holds around 1200 people). It was an odd night, as I learned after the show that Sleater-Kinney would be going on the hiatus that continues to this day. Still, I wrote about the Pink show:

Pink fit right in at the Fillmore, of course, no matter how weird it sounds on paper. Her hip-hop days are completely in her past now ... this was a rock show. Pink herself was very winning, showing off her vocal chops, kidding with the audience, promoting gay rights and dissing George Bush, and just having a good time. Her audience was completely in love with her ... there were a lot of young girls there, young women as well, as is appropriate, and it was their show, they knew every song and sang every lyric.

At this point, I’d seen her twice, but had never seen her extravagant stage show. That changed for “The Funhouse Tour” in 2009. This happened to be the first time Robin came, too. We saw her in San Jose, at a venue that held around 13,000. She covered the Divinyls, Led Zeppelin, Queen, and Gnarls Barkley. By this point, she was doing her trapeze stuff. I wrote:

This was one of the best shows I have ever attended, and I’ve been going to shows for more than 40 years (and had seen Pink twice before, as well). Pink just rocked the house … she’s always been a confident performer, but the bigger stage really gave her room to strut. Yes, seeing her at the Fillmore was more intimate and in some ways better. But she pulled off the extravaganza like she was born to do it.

She played a lot of Funhouse, and a handful of her earlier hits. The crowd loved them all. She did her acoustic segment … she sang while spinning in the air (a separated shoulder prevented her from doing the kind of trapeze work we saw at the VMAs, but otherwise she was fine) … she changed costumes … she farted around … she screwed up a song, allowing her to remind us she wasn’t lipsyncing … she was good with the rockers, good with the ballads, good with the pop stuff.

And then there was the audience. When I saw Pink seven years ago, there were a lot of men my age, taking their daughters to the concert. In 2009, those daughters are grown up, and don’t need Daddy along any more. So there weren’t many Dads. There weren’t a lot of men, period … at least one men’s room was transformed into a women’s room for the night. A rough guess of the makeup of the crowd would be 90% female, with a sizable lesbian contingent. The cheering was very high-pitched, another sign that the gender split was pretty extreme. It was also very loud … almost Beatlemania-esque at times.

Bottom line? I don’t know that I’ve ever had more fun at a concert in my life.

Finally, we saw her earlier this year (same venue) on her current tour, “The Truth About Love Tour”. This time they squeezed in a bit more than 14,000. I wrote:

It’s one of the remarkable things about Pink that whatever she does, she comes across as a real person. She’s a diva, a pop star, she puts on gargantuan concerts … yet when she talks to us between songs, she’s just Alecia Moore. She may not take requests, but she does comment on the signs, even stopping a few times to autograph one or two. She may have set pieces that are necessarily the same, night after night, but her patter is always off the cuff, and if she’s a perfectionist regarding her own safety during her more acrobatic moments, she’s also able to fluff a lyric in a way that makes her audience love her even more.

These big concerts are terrific: thoughtful, overwhelming, touching, thrilling. It says something that the two songs last night that brought tears to my eyes were both songs that Pink performed at least partly while dangling in the air (“Try” and “Sober”). Pink crosses so many barriers in her music (this is the person, after all, who followed her gazillion-selling hit, Missundaztood, by cutting an album with Rancid’s Tim Armstrong), and in her concerts, where she can sing a song with a quiet piano accompaniment, scream in front of her rockin’ band, and then touch the heart while flying. The only question remaining is one Ann Powers asked a couple of years ago: why isn’t she a bigger star? It’s all relative … she is a big star, to be sure. But it’s not clear than anyone outside of her hardcore fans know this, even though there are a lot of those fans. Like me, for instance.

Maybe people finally recognize how big Pink has become … according to Wikipedia, she’s won 3 Grammys, 6 MTV Video Music Awards, and 2 World Music Awards. She’s won around 50 awards overall, and sold more than 40 million records. She has 4 Billboard Music Awards, including a recent one as “Woman of the Year”.

Rob Sheffield gets at what makes her special, in the Ann Powers piece from 2010: “I think people respond to her sense of independence and dedication. It inspires people. This is a prolific pop artist who is sometimes famous and successful, sometimes obscure, who nonetheless keeps making her own kind of music. Every few years, the spotlight comes back around to her — but her fans can trust that when the spotlight moves along, Pink will keep on writing Pink songs.”

Yet, for all of that, I can’t convince people I know to join us at her concerts. That’s the real puzzle.


an excuse to show my favorite scene from robot monster

The New Parkway Theater in Oakland is always asking interesting questions on its Facebook page. I never answer them, because by the time I see them, a hundred people have already responded and it feels excessive to add to the pile. Then I thought, why not answer some of those questions here?

Favorite Tim Burton movie? I wrote the following, about Corpse Bride (7/10): “It's unusual and idiosyncratic, different than most other movies you've seen other than Tim Burton movies, it reflects painstaking work, it has a look that is unique, it effectively blends a dark side into the lighter aspects. And I liked it ok, but that's faint praise considering everything that works in the film. I generally admire Burton's movies, but I rarely enjoy them ... my favorite period for his films would be the early-90s, when he did the fine, gross Batman Returns, Ed Wood, and the goofy Mars Attacks. It's not that I think Burton is overpraised for things like the idiosyncratic nature of his movies in what sometimes seems a cookie-cutter film world, or his attempt to keep alive the tradition of stop-motion animation. But myself, I tip my cap to him for those things without falling in love with the movies that result.” I haven’t seen those early-90s movies in a long time. I suspect I’d think less of Mars Attacks, and more of Ed Wood, while I mostly stick up for Batman Returns because I have the (mistaken?) notion that it is underrated. So my tentative answer to the question is Ed Wood.

Dumbest/cheesiest monster/horror movie you've ever seen? Doesn't mean it wasn't fun... A lot of the answers to this one fell into the so-bad-it’s-good category, which I understand. Certainly Plan 9 from Outer Space deserves mention. But the one I cherish most is Robot Monster:

Seriously scariest movie you've ever seen? I was pleased to note that someone mentioned Five Million Years to Earth (aka Quatermass and the Pit). I think the most scared a movie ever made me was Don’t Look Now, although the biggest scare came as we walked to our car after the movie. I’d go with either of those two choices.

Favorite movies about ghosts and haunted houses and spooky stuff like that? Not sure I have one. Does The Innocents count? Evil Dead II?

Movies you admire but don't actually like? Whatever it is, it’s probably directed by Terrence Malick.

Favorite "feel good" flick? Top Hat.

Favorite Christian Slater role/movie? Pump Up the Volume.

Favorite Johnny Depp movie/role? Again, it’s been awhile, but probably Ed Wood. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape might be the runner-up.

Favorite Robert De Niro movies/roles? Nice of them to give me a chance for multiple answers. The Godfather Part II, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver. Honorable mention to Midnight Run.

Favorite Meryl Streep role/movie? The Hours or Angels in America. I also liked her in Adaptation.

Favorite Jack Nicholson role/movie? Chinatown or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Or Five Easy Pieces.

Favorite Sean Penn role/movie? It’s probably Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but the movie isn’t that good. Maybe Mystic River.


thoughts on longmire and justified

Last month, I posted some comments about the first two films in the “Riddick” series of movies. A friend mentioned Longmire, a series which shares an actress (Katee Sackhoff) with the new Riddick movie. He noted that he watched the second season of Longmire at the same time he was watching the first season of Justified, adding “I'd really love to see a good essay on the two of them”. That has stuck with me ever since I read it, and since I have now finished Season Two of Longmire, perhaps I can give it a go.

Replying to his comments, I wrote:

I think Justified is one of the best series on right now. Justified and Longmire aren't in the same league as each other, to my mind, but I do find myself thinking about the reasons for that, or rather, why is it that a show like Longmire, which is a nice ratings success for A&E, isn't thought of alongside shows like Justified. Partly, I think, it's old-fashioned in its tendency towards standalone episodes. That's something which works for CBS, and really, Longmire's just a procedural with a nice setting and good acting from Robert Taylor and Katee Sackhoff. I don't usually watch procedurals, so I can't actually say how Longmire compares to the L&O franchise or NCIS or Criminal Minds. Anyway, season-long arcs are the core of so-called classic TV today. (Justified actually walks a nice line between standalone and long-term, with standalones dominating early episodes of a season and the long arc gradually coming into focus.)

The key phrase here, I suspect, is “old-fashioned”. Take out the occasional use of the word “shit”, and tone down the violence a hair, and Longmire could have aired on broadcast television during just about any era. There is nothing wrong with this, and to the extent Longmire is good at what it attempts, it is unfair to judge it for being “old-fashioned”. Having said that, I’m pretty sure that’s one reason I consider Longmire to miss the top level, and I’m guessing that is true for most of the top TV critics, who to my knowledge rarely talk about the show. If Longmire were part of 80s television, if it was up against Scarecrow and Mrs. King and Remington Steele, it would fit right in … a bit darker, with the female lead having less to do, but otherwise, similar in structure. In today’s TV environment, though, Longmire’s dark side is barely noticed. Next to characters like Walter White, Don Draper, Nicholas Brody, Nucky Thompson, Vic Mackey, and Dexter Morgan, the Gary Cooper-ish Walt Longmire is just a regular guy with a bit of backstory. And again, there is nothing wrong with this, but the stakes have been raised.

It probably goes without saying that an old-fashioned hero like Walt Longmire would be appealing to viewers who are sick of all those anti-heroes. And the series does good things with this difference. Robert Taylor, the unknown-to-me Australian actor who plays the title role, is masterful as a 21st-century version of Gary Cooper. Walt Longmire has some skeletons in his closet; he is not a perfect man. But he is a good man who has occasionally done bad things. The standard anti-hero of today thinks they are doing good, but they are lying to themselves (see Mackey, Vic). Walt Longmire isn’t sure he is good, but his actions prove otherwise.

Toss in some solid acting in the secondary roles. Katee Sackhoff is fine, of course, and it’s not Lou Diamond Phillips’ fault that his character, a Cheyenne, never uses contractions when he speaks. Longmire also does a good job of bringing interesting actors into semi-recurring roles: A Martinez, Charles S. Dutton, Gerald McRaney, Lee Tergesen, Peter Weller. (It’s also worth pointing out that everyone I just mentioned, with the exception of Sackhoff, is male … Walt has a daughter, and a woman runs the sheriff’s office, but the series is essentially male. Even Sackhoff, one of the prime ass-kicking female actors of her time, plays a role where the primary sub-plot has her terrified by a male stalker.)

I haven’t addressed the relationship between Walt and the neighboring Native American reservation. It’s a bit like what the show does with Katee Sackhoff … they take advantage of what is being offered, but the show is never more than the story of Walt Longmire. The often fractious interactions between Walt and the Cheyenne seem fairly presented to me. I can’t claim to any expertise on the subject, but I’d say the Cheyenne come off better than the Mexicans of Juárez in The Bridge.

The truth is, the above marks the most thought I have given to this series in its two seasons on the air. It doesn’t require that kind of analysis. That’s another way it is old-fashioned, and another reason, I bet, that it’s relatively popular. Grade for series so far: B, with the added note that I’ve watched all of the episodes and don’t hate the show. That is, I’ve given it one of my lower grades, but in sticking with it, I’m placing it above all of those series I give up on.

What does this have to do with Justified? Nothing, except both series are quasi-Westerns based on the work of popular novelists, with strong, silent types at the center.

Start with those novelists. I haven’t read Craig Johnson’s Longmire novels, which says less about the quality of Johnson’s writing and more about my own taste preferences (having read a zillion detective books in the years I was writing my dissertation, I find I can’t get too excited about them any longer). I’ve read some of Elmore Leonard’s work, although again, not any of his Raylan Givens stories. I do know that Leonard’s reputation is that of a fine writer who rises above the limitations of the various genres in which he writes. I’m speaking anecdotally, but I think Leonard is a far more highly regarded writer than Johnson … at the least, he is more well-known. This allows Justified to have a bit of snob appeal that Longmire lacks. (This didn’t help with the late, lamented series Karen Sisco.)

While Justified has its own “old-fashioned” roots, it mostly avoids them. Raylan Givens is a better person than, say, Vic Mackey … at least Raylan tries to rein himself in. But it becomes clear over time that the difference between Raylan Givens and his long-time nemesis Boyd Crowder is slim.

There are two areas where I think Justified rises above not only Longmire, but most TV series. First is the dialogue. Not since the days of Deadwood (another series that featured Timothy Olyphant) has there been a show that combined complex, witty dialogue with actors well-suited to pull it off. I am not the only person to claim that I’d watch an hour of nothing but Raylan/Olyphant and Boyd/Walton Goggins sitting around talking in their semi-menacing, known-each-other-a-long-time, saying-something-different-than-the-words-suggest way. It isn’t fair to say that the dialogue on Longmire, which tends to be functional, doesn’t measure up to Justified, because I’m not sure if any show reaches that level.

The relationship between Raylan and Boyd points to the second area that Justified does so well. The community of Harlan County is completely believable. There are characters that aren’t exactly realistic, if that’s what you’re looking for. But the way the various characters interact is the essence of the show. It’s not just Raylan and Boyd, it’s the entire Givens and Crowder families. It’s the mines, and the drugs, and the gangs, that too, but the deep-seated familial ties make Justified a truly great show. Raylan’s relationship with his scumbag father, and his fear that inside he is just like Dad, gives depth to everything Raylan does.

The believable community works as a base from which each season expands the parameters. The second season, still the best, brings in the Bennett family, who have long-standing problems with the Givens. Margo Martindale’s performance as Mags, the matriarch, was one of the great acting jobs in TV history, and her Emmy was well-deserved. The third season introduces Ellstin Limehouse, head of the black community of Noble’s Holler, and you believe from the start that this character has always been there, that he has a history with Harlan County.

It’s a funny thing … the show is filmed largely in California, so the veracity of the community comes from the writing and the acting (and the production team). Longmire also feels “real”, and while they don’t film in Wyoming, New Mexico and Nevada work just fine.

Is Justified “new-fashioned”? I’d argue that a 1980s Raylan Givens would be more clearly a good guy, perhaps like Andy Sipowicz on NYPD Blue, who was a racist alcoholic but who was redeemed. In 2013, it is unlikely that Raylan will ever be redeemed … his problems aren’t with alcohol, but with a terrible father and some kind of essential love of violence. In the 1980s, Raylan Givens would have been a bad guy.

Justified could fall apart … most series eventually lose whatever made them great. But I imagine Longmire will remain as it is until the end of its run. And I’d be surprised if I ever gave it a grade higher than B+.


what i watched last week

How to address the one movie I watched last week? I could make it a “By Request”, even though that’s hardly accurate … I saw my brother writing about it on Facebook and thought, hey, maybe I’ll watch that, which isn’t really a request. Besides, it hardly deserves anything more than a brief write-up. So here goes.

Invisible Invaders (Edward L. Cahn, 1959). How can I describe this movie without actually talking about the movie? How about this: it was released as part of a double bill with The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake. The director, Edward L. Cahn, has 125 movies listed on the IMDB as directed by him. They include such classics as Captain Spanky’s Show Boat, Creature with the Atom Brain, Shake, Rattle & Rock, Riot in Juvenile Prison, and Frontier Uprising. (Believe it or not, I have a story about Frontier Uprising. It was a total cheapo “remake” of a 1940 film, Kit Carson, which wasn’t the greatest movie ever made, but it was at least a major picture with a decent budget. Frontier Uprising, the “remake”, used a ton of stock footage from Kit Carson to fill out its 68-minute running time. The footage didn’t match very well, since the earlier film looked better. We watched Frontier Uprising on afternoon on a tiny B&W TV. We were on acid, and we didn’t know about Kit Carson. What we did notice is that it seemed like we were watching two movies in one.)

Oh yeah, Invisible Invaders. It starred John Agar, Shirley Temple’s first husband and the man who supposedly said, “Who wants to shake the hand of the first man to put it to America's sweetheart?” It had John Carradine, who claimed to be in more movies than any other actor. It had Jean Byron, who went on to play the mom on The Patty Duke Show. It had a zombie inhabited by an alien from outer space who showed up at a hockey game to announce over the public address system that the Earth had less than 24 hours before it would be destroyed. It was filmed in Bronson Canyon, aka “Where Robot Monster took place”. My brother called it a “low-budget masterpiece”. 4/10.


the bridge, season one finale

I gave the pilot for The Bridge an A-, noting the fine cast (Demián Bichir is a favorite, and Diane Kruger was interesting), and describing the possibilities that might make The Bridge a classic: “the buddy picture, the procedural, the autistic heroine, the border between Mexico and the USA”.

None of these were particularly groundbreaking on their own, but the combination was intriguing, and I looked forward to watching the show progress. How did they do?

The “buddy picture” retained interest, which makes sense … we got to know the characters better as the series continued. Both characters exposed sides that weren’t expected. Kruger had the harder job, given the awkward nature of her character. Bichir was able to ride the goodwill that accompanies his screen presence, and rewarded our attention.

My reference to the “autistic” heroine demonstrated my own ignorance … Kruger’s Sonya Cross had Asperger syndrome, not autism. In my defense, I’ll note that the show took its time explaining exactly what her condition was … she was clearly “different”, but they purposely let a specific diagnosis emerge only gradually, if at all. Some critics felt this was a bad move … one commented that without an explanation for Cross’ behavior, the audience might just think Kruger was doing a poor job of acting. (This wasn’t the case … she’s one of the best thing about the series.) There’s a leap of faith involved in accepting Sonya’s presence in the police department … she’s not just a cranky genius like House, who purposely acted out, she’s someone who really lacks social skills. She most resembled Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison on Homeland, minus the manic element.

The procedural aspect was the least interesting, to me. I don’t generally watch that type of show, and wasn’t going to be too concerned one way or the other, unless it crapped out like The Killing. I’ll leave it to others to decide how effective The Bridge is in that regard.

I was most interested in the depiction of life on the border, and for most of the season, I felt this was the strongest part of the show. Both sides of the border were corrupt … perhaps it’s better to say, they were connected in their corruption. Having said that, as the overall plot arc grew, it became clear that Juárez was supposed to be worse than El Paso. It’s not the ugliness that was bothersome, but rather the way Juárez seemed to be the home of most of that ugliness.

Robert Andrew Powell wrote a piece for Grantland, “Burning The Bridge”, that addressed what he saw as the show’s problematic representation of Juárez:

I didn't think it could be done to a town with a reputation as bad as Juárez's, but the writers of The Bridge have delivered a cheap shot. They've revealed themselves as out-of-touch Americans, the latest to marginalize Mexico for personal gain. Their show is offensive and perplexing. Authenticity is the stated aim. The model, supposedly, is The Wire. Yet they don't care to get the city right? Obviously they don't spend time here. But why not? Are they scared?

In particular, Powell cited the study of two anthropologists, a Juárez newspaper publisher, and the city’s U.S. consul general, all contesting the “myth” of Juárez as a place where women are constantly in danger. All agree that Juárez has endemic problems that often end in violence. All also agree that women are not specially endangered. As Powell writes, “Focusing only on dead girls is like focusing on only murdered left-handers, or baseball fans. You can do it, and the victims deserve justice, but it's a bit odd to single out only one group when more than 97 percent of all murders in Juarez go unsolved.”

Powell isn’t going to be happy with Season Two, since all indications are that the “lost women” of Juárez will be the key plot arc next year.

As a basic dramatic move, the sensationalized portrayal of the border works. To say that The Bridge has problems isn’t to say it’s worthless. If for no other reason, it deserves credit for showing Matthew Lillard, who was seemingly born to play Shaggy in Scooby-Doo, shining as a reporter with substance abuse issues. There is a lot to like about The Bridge. But I’m no longer certain I’m seeing a realistic depiction of the border. Gritty, yes. Well-made, yes. Realistic?

Grade for Season One: B+.


music friday, robin's birthday edition

Since it’s Robin’s 60th birthday today, I thought Music Friday should have a Robin connection. These are all artists we have seen live over the years.

Bob Dylan and the Band, “Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine”. The first concert we attended together was Bob Dylan and The Band in 1974. This was the opening number.

Patti Smith, “We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together”. We saw Patti for the first time in 1976. This was the opening number.

The Who, “I Can’t Explain”. We saw them in 1976, when Moonie was still alive. The link is to the actual show we attended, which means the audio sux. Yes, this was the opening number.

Lou Reed, “Coney Island Baby”. We saw Lou a bunch of times over the years. Robin once made me a Coney Island Baby t-shirt.

Talking Heads, “Take Me To the River”. We saw them in 1978. The audio is from the show we attended. This time the sound is good.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse, “Like a Hurricane”. We saw them at the concert which became the movie Rust Never Sleeps.

Iris DeMent, “Let the Mystery Be”. We saw Iris a few times.

Van Morrison, “Jackie Wilson Said”. We finally got to see him in 1998.

Sleater-Kinney, “Little Babies”. Robin actually went with us three times to see S-K, although I’m not sure she ever liked it.

Prince, “Purple Rain”. We saw him a few times. I wish he let folks put more of his stuff on YouTube.

Bruce Springsteen, “Born to Run”. We’ve seen him together more than 30 times. We’re not alone in thinking of this as “our song”.

Pink, “So What”. Normally, Bruce would close the show. But we’re going to see Pink again next week, so she gets the honored spot. This video was taken the last time we saw her, earlier this year.