In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Top Westerns
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Anne Thompson is rightly indignant at a new (and very square) Best Western Movies list issued by the Western Writers of America, and proposes a much more satisfying Top Ten list of her own. Anne also points out a fascinating diary of the making of "48 HRS" by one of the film's screenwriters, Larry Gross. Start here. Semi-related: Back here I wrote a blogposting about Westerns, and celebrated the first version of "3:10 to Yuma." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 5, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Video for the Day: "Singing the Blues"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back in the 1950s, Guy Mitchell (born Albert George Cernik in Detroit, the son of Croatian immigrants) sold millions upon millions of records. My dad -- one Guy's fans -- was especially addicted to the following song, and often filled our house with his own whistling-and-crooning performances of it: I love the tune itself -- can a song be more catchy? But I really-really love the performance. Guy's one golden-throated dreamboat, of course, but that Croatian heartiness sets him apart from the other popsters of the day. Small aside: Let me put in a word of appreciation for the skills and the enthusiasm of the silent girl who partners Guy. Who knows what she really thought about her job that day? Hey, one lesson that performers can teach the rest of us: Take whatever the moment offers and turn it into a positive. Read more about Guy Mitchell here. Here's the Guy Mitchell website. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 5, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In 1987, Americans drank 5.7 gallons of bottled water per person per year. In 2006, we drank 27.6 gallons each -- that's a rate of a billion bottles a week. Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 5, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, July 4, 2008

DVD Journal: "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" is a crime-caper- gone-wrong thriller that has been turned into a trying-awfully-hard Greek myth / Biblical-family drama by its director Sidney ("Dog Day Afternoon") Lumet. The emoting -- the cast is led by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, and Albert Finney -- never, ever stops, and the emotions expressed come from a big but narrow range, running from anguish to desperation to sorrow. It’s lugubrious and grim -- like a bin full of painful outtakes from “The Departed.” And the film is bafflingly unexciting. What an odd choice to make a crime film but forgo nearly all suspense and thrills. It isn’t heavy on the atmosphere either. But it’s fairly absorbing anyway, at least for those in the mood for a pushily overdone, '70s-ish, hyper-psychological, gritty, masterclass-style actorfest. It has got to be dreamily fulfilling being a performer in a Sidney Lumet movie. He’s enthusiastic, he’s knowledgeable, he knows what his actors are up to. You’re working with someone appreciative, and who’s always on your side. Albert Finney may have become a bit of a grotesque these days. But Ethan Hawke gives a daring performance as a spineless screwup, and Marisa Tomei is appealingly worn-and-torn as an aging pretty woman who thinks that her life should be working out a lot better than it is. (New flash just for da boyz: The lovely Marisa finally delivers some substantial nude scenes.) Now, all that said, I have something I do need to get off my chest. I really-truly don’t get the greatness of Philip Seymour Hoffman. He always seems to me to be “indicating” -- actor-talk for showing what your character is feeling rather than feeling it and letting the audience discover it for themselves. Now, I recognize that Hoffman does all kinds of things that we sometimes associate with great actors. He lumbers around like someone with a lot of presence, he takes oddly-placed pauses that may or may not seem brilliant, he plays tricks in order to dominate scenes ... But acting like a great actor isn't what makes someone a great actor. In Hoffman's case, he’s never not acting, and doing so quite furiously. And none of it works for me -- none of it -- either as dramatic acting or as enjoyable hamboning. There’s a scene in this film where Hoffman's character is semi-conscious and being wheeled along by ambulance assistants on a gurney. “He’s overacting being almost-dead,” I whispered to The Wife. But perhaps I'm the phony here, and not him. How do you react to Hoffman's acting? Fast-Forwarding Score: Nothing. Semi-related: Back here I wrote about Method acting. Here's a good intro to that actor no-no, "indicating." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 4, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Evolving College Bookstores
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- If you attended the University of Michigan, you might not have the slightest idea of what I'm writing about: the college bookstore. True, there were and are bookstores atop the hill in Ann Arbor that sell textbooks, art and engineering supplies, notebooks, pens, pencils and even college-logo sweatshirts and beer mugs. It's also true that the original Borders store was there -- though that comparatively cozy establishment is gone and a huge newer one is around the corner and down Liberty Street. But none of those are bookstores controlled by the university or perhaps the student association, and that's what this post is about. (Okay, I over-dramatized. Gotta snare eyeballs somehow. Those non-Borders Ann Arbor bookstores are pretty much the same as "official" college bookstores aside from the nature of the ownership and for-profit/non-profit status.) Speaking of Borders (and Barnes & Noble), before they went big-time it was often the college bookstore that was the most comprehensive in town. That was true in Seattle, where the student association-owned University [of Washington] Bookstore reigned for decades. It had its rivals, of course. Across the street for many years was the for-profit Washington Bookstore that also sold textbooks and college-related items. Downtown department stores used to have fairly decent book departments, and there once was a large used-book store downtown. Nevertheless, the University Bookstore was It for a long time and I still hold fond memories of its glory days. My fondest memory is of the day Sophia Loren waltzed through the lobby wearing a bright red dress. The University Bookstore has several branches, some of which seem harder to justify than others. Besides the main site on a business street a block from campus, there are branches at the student union building and the medical school: that's okay. Also okay are branches at the UW brand-extension campuses (University of Washington Bothell, University of Washington Tacoma). On the other hand there was a bookstore branch in the heart of Seattle's business district for a number of years. It was situated a few blocks from where the original UW was, but the university departed for its present site in the mid-1890s. And there is a campus-less branch across Lake Washington in Bellevue. It sells textbooks. Not textbooks for UW classes, but instead for classes in private secondary schools. And of course it sells trade books, school supplies, logo gear and the rest. I also see that there is yet another branch in a suburb north of Seattle, not near a campus. This seems a far step removed from a student-services bookstore, even though the non-student items sold probably contribute to the support of the original functions of selling textbooks and supplies. When I entered Dear Old Penn, the campus bookstore was wedged into one end of the basement floor of Houston Hall, the student union building. Yes it was cramped. But the charm of that was enhanced by something so odd that it is unique in my... posted by Donald at July 3, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It seems that even the Brits -- the Brits! legendary for coldness towards children! -- are now making too damn much anxious / selfish fuss over their kids, and are producing a cohort of overentitled brats. Funny new word for the day: "kindergarchy," defined as "an affluent new world order in which children rule." Scary! But, my, isn't there a lot of evidence around for it? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 2, 2008 | perma-link | (73) comments

Chute's Bollywood Tips
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- David Chute writes very amusingly about a Bollywood epic called "Sivaji," which sounds like it might very well be the greatest movie ever made. One of many fond and funny passages: I say without irony that the constinacy and conviction with which the filmmakers have labored to make every speck of this movie eye-gougingly super-collossal deserves nothing but respect. Ranji and company make the act of driving an audience half crazy with entertainment seem the noblest calling on earth. But read the whole posting, which is full of information, perceptions, and felicities. Buy a copy of "Sivaji" here. For those who may not know: David Chute is the critic who has been most instrumental in opening up the Asian popular cinema to American audiences. Hong Kong action? David was the Western critic who was there first, and his writing on these films has never been surpassed. Semi-serious filmbuff though I am myself, Bollywood has always been a baffling closed book to me. Where to start? What game is being played? What values are being tendered? Since I don't take to these films naturally I need guidance. So I'm very happy that in the comments on his posting David has included links to many of his own pieces about Bollywood: here, here. A fun and twisty passage from this excellent survey: For the last two decades, domestic distributors have tried to woo the art-house audience with "transgressive" films like Takeshi Miike's Audition (or anything by Guy Ritchie). Such an approach is hopeless with Bollywood, which is a radically conservative cinema not of unease, but reassurance. Still, the very things that make it seem square could potentially attract the hipster audience that loves Gilligan's Island. David also recommends this book. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 2, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Strategizing Summer
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- My grad school training inculcated a strong respect for statistical data and reasoning. Alas, this is a low-budget blog when it comes to research, so cold reality dictates that when we absolutely, positively have to crank out some content, anecdotal evidence is king. Having spread my rationale as thickly as I might peanut butter on a sandwich [Yummmm!], I introduce the subject of vacation travel planning for summer 2008. The USA is being hammered by the double whammy [thank you, Al Capp, wherever you are] of high fuel prices and a weak dollar. That doesn't mean that the entire nation will hide under beds until fall, but there surely will be behavioral changes "at the margins" as economists are fond of saying. Behavior at the margins à la chez Pittenger takes the form of not going to Europe. Readers will recall that we were in the Great Lakes area in May for about ten days. In September we have a 12-day trip scheduled to Boston and then to Québec, Montréal, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Rochester and points between. Flying for both trips is financed by cashing in frequent flier miles. There also will be our usual late-October, early-November trip to Santa Barbara and the week in Vegas shortly afterwards. Plus some short trips around Washington and Oregon. After all, we're retired and wish to travel while it's not much of a physical chore -- as it surely will be later. Our bottom line seems to be economizing by avoiding unfavorable exchange rates for pounds and euros along with some air fares. Automobile travel will be about normal, however. What money-saving steps, if any, are you taking this year with respect to travel? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 1, 2008 | perma-link | (15) comments

Monday, June 30, 2008

Stop Signs for Thee, Not for Me
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I used to hear the train whistles occasionally when I was young. The sounds came from over the hill, near the shore of Seattle's Lake Washington where there was a railroad line that wasn't heavily used. Nowadays along the rail route you hear conversational voices of walkers along with the low swishing sounds of bicycle tires. That's because the tracks and ties were pulled up years ago, asphalt was laid, and the route renamed the Burke-Gilman Trail. At a number of points the trail is pierced by arterial streets, two of which I drive frequently. Where a street and the trail cross, there are painted crosswalk stripes on the street. At the same point on the trail are regulation stop signs -- hexagonal shape, painted red with the word STOP in white. From this evidence I glean that vehicle drivers are to be cautious when approaching the crosswalk and should stop when pedestrians or cyclists enter it. Pedestrians should exercise normal caution, halting at the street and crossing when traffic permits. Cyclists should come to a complete halt and then treat the crosswalk as a pedestrian would. It doesn't always work this way. Fairly often I see cyclists zipping across the street at high speed, ignoring the stop sign. My impression is that these particular cyclists are mostly the Tour de France wannabe type who wear spandex garb and peddle expensive bikes. When I crank up all the empathy I can muster, my supposition is that these cyclists are frustrated at stopping every quarter mile or so and finally get a To Hell With It attitude. On the other hand they are breaking the law and endangering themselves. They cross the streets in the paths of cars traveling 25 or 30 miles per hour. And, due to vegetation, buildings, terrain and other factors, cyclists cannot be seen (at the crossings I use most frequently) until they are less than 15 or so feet from the street. They seemingly appear out of nowhere. Empathy aside, the non-stopping cyclists are jerks, pure and simple. If they get killed, they asked for it. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 30, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Authors against Obama. * Steve Sailer points out that nearly everyone everywhere -- globalism-lovin' elites aside, of course -- dislikes high immigration levels. * Another good one from Steve, with smart and funny comments from the Steve Gang: Perhaps the authors of the Anti-Federalist Papers were right. Me, I gotta confess that I had no knowledge at all of something called "The Anti-Federalist Papers." Call me Mr. History. * Meet "ordo-liberal" economist Wilhelm Ropke, too-little-recognized and a special favorite of mine. Here's an excellent John Zmirak intro to Ropke. * A great passage from an interview with horror junkie / satirist Polly Frost: The thing about horror movies is they need to be made with utter conviction. So even if they go wrong and become camp hootfests, they still endure. The only horror movies I have contempt for are the ones made by meek committees, trying not to really offend anyone while cashing in on the appeal of the genre. Horror fans are often likable, unpretentious enthusiasts, aren't they? Buy a copy of Polly's collection of stories here. * MBlowhard Rewind: I looked at some recent trends in ad design. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 29, 2008 | perma-link | (20) comments