Monday, February 27, 2017

The envelope, please.

"And the winner for best picture is--(rip)--'Your account is now seriously overdue...' Uh, I think this may be the wrong envelope. Unless the winner for best picture is American Express."

Was that the best Oscar ceremonies production ever? With the best opening, thanks to Justin Timberlake, despite his frightening haircut? Even though some of the audience needed Duke Ellington there to give them hand-clapping lessons?

And was Jimmy Kimmel the best host since Bob Hope? And will those people from the tour bus get their own TV series? Or were we just carried away by our bowl of hash popcorn? (Only kidding, officer.)

Even the Rolex commercial deserved an award. Give everybody an Oscar. And a Rolex.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Oscars...sigh.

Watching the Academy Awards ceremony has become an almost inescapable annual ritual, even though at the end of it, viewers feel drained and wasted and realize they'll never get those hours back (a frightening number of hours, if they also tune in for the Red Carpet welcome).

For journalists on the entertainment beat, which may be trivial, but is not as ghastly as the political beat, this weekend is an easy one: they get to run through all their guesses--who should win, who will win, who should have been nominated.

Once again, our grizzled moviegoer, who has seen every film since "The Great Train Robbery," laments the non-winners: Henry Fonda, who won for "On Golden Pond," but should have won for "The Grapes of Wrath" (inexplicably, named best actor that year--1941--was James Stewart, for "The Philadelphia Story," and while Stewart was a gifted thespian, his role in "Philadelphia" was as minor backup to Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn); Richard Jaeckel, a journeyman actor who gave an unforgettable performance as a hot-blooded, hymn-seeking lumberjack in 1971's "Sometimes a Great Notion;" Paul Newman, who finally won for "The Color of Money," after deserving the award a half-dozen times; Hugh Grant, not even nominated for "Four Weddings and a Funeral;" and Peter Sellers, who should have won three Oscars for his triple roles in "Dr. Strangelove."

And then we come to films. Nominated fourteen times this year is "La La Land," a return to the classic Hollywood musical. But "Singin' in the Rain" from 1952, almost universally acknowledged to be the best musical ever (Andre Previn: "I am reluctant to call anything 'the best,' but I will say, unreservedly, that 'Singin' in the Rain' is the best musical ever filmed") was not even nominated. (Happily, Gene Kelly's 1951 "An American in Paris" did win six Oscars, including Best Picture.)

Jean Hagen, who appeared in "Singin' in the Rain" as Lina Lamont, the glamorous silent film star with a voice more grating than Pat Burns's, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. She didn't win. We love her anyway.

So while trillions of people have seen "La La Land," and many more will, after this weekend, we plan to stay home and watch, for possibly the twenty-fifth time, "Singin' in the Rain."

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tuning out Trump

It's not easy to do. You want to sit down with a drink and watch re-runs of "The Simpsons" or hide in your den and work on your stamp collection, but there he is, standing like a great semi-literate Colossus over the news media.

He's been in office a month, and already his supporters are campaigning for 2020. "Four more years!" they cry. How do we handle four more weeks? Four more days? Four more hours?

There have been many warnings about the dark side of universal literacy and advanced communications technology, and Trump, with what Philip Roth called his "seventy-seven word vocabulary," and his fervid supporters, are examples of that.

There is hope. There is hope that the forty-fifth President of the United States may, under the enormous weight of his self regard, emotional neediness, pulsating bluster, manufactured news and monumental ignorance, collapse.

Or go the way of the glutton in the Monty Python sketch who gives in to "one more small mint."

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Trump-Trudeau Tete-a-Tete

Inside the long-awaited meeting of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Donald Trump.

Trump: Welcome to my White House, Justin. I'm sure you're thrilled to be here.

Trudeau: C'est mon travail.

Trump: Listen, Justin: I've been thinking of making Sarah Palin our ambassador to Canada. Whaddya think about that?

Trudeau: Un idée effrayant.

Trump: I knew you'd be pleased! Now tell me frankly--what do you think of those Saturday Night Live routines?

Trudeau: Vraiment desopilant!

Trump: That's right, very disrespectful. Well, Justin, good to get to know you. Give my regards to Stompin' Tom Connors.

Trudeau: Il est mort.

Trump: Yes, I mean whee, a great guy.

Trudeau: Au revoir. Monsieur President.

Trump: Well, Ivanka, that seemed to go very nicely. What did you think of our new Canadian pal?

Ivanka: Un hunk magnifique.

Trump: Ha ha--I guess you picked up some of that French lingo sitting next to him at lunch. What does "un hunk magnifique" mean?

Ivanka: Someone with whom we could enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The President's Valentine's Day

The Prime Minister of Canada is here today, and he has brought me Valentine cards from all the people of his country, in both official languages. I expect tomorrow there will be truckloads of Valentine cards from my millions of supporters in the United States, and from fans around the world, like Marine Le Pen and Rodrigo Duterte.

It brings back happy memories of Valentine's Day when I was at my school for exceptionally privileged children. Remember how each class had a box for Valentine cards? In my room, there were two boxes, one for me and one for everyone else. My box was so full, the teacher had to call in assistants to lift it. I probably received more Valentine cards than anyone else in the school, probably anyone in history. I know some said Ronny Fitzgibbon got more, but that was because he illegally sent himself dozens of cards, all signed "Guess Who." Well, folks, I guessed who (or should it be whom?) Who cares, I was determined to get to the bottom of it.

Some people got comic Valentines, even, I'm sorry to say, rude Valentines. Disgraceful! Mine were all declarations of adoration. Beautiful!

Let me close with my own special Valentine for you:

Roses are red, violets are blue;
'Til 2020, I'm here for you.
(And Stevie is, too.)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Rainy Day Playlist

"It Looks Like Rain in Cherry Blossom Lane."

"Stormy Weather" ("Don't know why there's no sun up in the sky")

"The Day That the Rains Came"

"Rain on the Roof" ("I love the patter of the rain on the roof")

"Famous Blue Raincoat"

"Singin' in the Rain" ("There's a smile on my face, I'm happy again")

"Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head"

"Till the Clouds Roll By" ("Helter-skelter, we must run for shelter")

"Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella"

"Look for the Silver Lining" ("You know that somewhere, the sun is shining, and the thing to do is try to make it shine for you")

"Look to the Rainbow"

"Why Does It Have to Rain on Me?"

"The Rain in Spain"

And today's #1 Pick:

Irving Berlin's "A Fella with an Umbrella" ("I'm just a fella, a fella with an umbrella, looking for a girl to share my love on a rainy day")

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Second Half Curse

Okay, how many times has it happened that a team has a great first half and is wiped out in the second? If you have the answer, please call the Atlanta Falcons sports psychologist.

As for the Pointless Digressions crew, we're taking a long break while we figure out how to deal with our losses betting on the Falcons.

But they did have a brilliant first thirty minutes. And Lady Gaga was pretty terrific, too.

P.S.: Why is the overtime rule different in the NFL? There, it's sudden death--the first team to score wins, unless it scores by a field goal--another weird rule. In the CFL, the other team gets a chance to come back.  --Slap Maxwell.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

What to Skip at the Super Bowl

It has been announced that prior to Sunday's Super Bowl telecast, Bill O'Reilly will interview Donald Trump, who is a declared Patriots fan, but don't hold that against Brady and Belichick.

For years, Canadian viewers have had US commercials during the Super Bowl blocked. Please, this year, could we have the O'Reilly interview blocked?

There was also the danger that Trump might join Lady Gaga to perform in the halftime show. "Not going to happen," said the President. "I know I could sing with her better than Tony Bennett, but they couldn't come up with the right price. Losers."

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Happy Birthday, Norman Mailer and the Glass Family

Noted on January 31 in "A Book of Days for the Literary Year": This was the day, in 1948, when "A Perfect Day for Banana Fish" appeared in The New Yorker.

"Banana Fish" is the first in J.D. Salinger's "Nine Stories," and it is also the beginning of his chronicle of the Glass family, from Seymour to Franny and Zooey. And while Salinger always will be remembered primarily for "The Catcher in the Rye," the other stories and novellas are equally rich and rewarding.

As many artists have, Salinger rejected his earlier work, but some of these forgotten stories, especially "The Inverted Forest," have tantalizing moments. The only place to find descriptions of them (unless you can turn up late 1940s copies of "Cosmopolitan") is in a collection of critical essays edited by Henry Anatole Grunwald, and called, simply, "Salinger." It was published in 1962, when Salinger's work was a very hot literary topic.

The essays--not always favorable--are by a dozen writers of note, including John Updike, Joan Didion and Leslie Fiedler. But our favorite line on Salinger--not in the collection--comes from John Cheever: "Jerry Salinger could slam a cab door with more authority than any other writer in America."

And speaking of slamming cab doors, how about Norman Mailer? Mailer sent 5,000 invitations to his fiftieth birthday party (January 31, 1973) at Four Seasons in New York. Invitees were told the cost of attending would be fifty dollars a couple, with the money to be used to set up "a democratic secret police."

Only 500 people came to the party, and no one knows if Mailer got his secret police force. But maybe he did, and it's still a secret.