Monthly Archives: December 2011

Mini-Rumination: Song Lyric Quandary

Moon River, wider than a mile,
I’m crossing you in style some day.
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker,
wherever you’re going I’m going your way.
Two drifters off to see the world.
There’s such a lot of world to see.
We’re after the same rainbow’s end–
waiting ’round the bend,
my huckleberry friend,
Moon Ri…

Wait a minute:  what in the world is a “huckleberry friend”?

Exploitation Yesterday on “Today”

The Curmudgeon is not a morning person.  He rises slowly, carefully, almost gingerly.  If you didn’t know him, didn’t know he was a teetotaler, you’d swear he had a hangover.

For this reason, he’s never had much use for early morning television.  He can handle a little radio, as long as there’s no music and the volume is low, but the last thing he wants early in the morning is to view all those annoyingly energetic, upbeat, expensively dressed people who populate the network morning news/entertainment programs:  “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” and CBS’s “The Early Show” (confession:  The Curmudgeon had no idea what CBS calls its morning program and had to look it up).  This past summer he shared a beach house with members of his family for two weeks, accidentally awoke much too early one morning, and was surprised to learn that David Hartman is no longer the host of “Good Morning America.”

Yesterday, though, The Curmudgeon found himself in a doctor’s office at eight o’clock in the morning within earshot of a television blaring “The Today Show.”  (Note to doctors everywhere:  Why?  Why a television in your waiting room?  Do you really think it’s necessary, that we need you to entertain us while we wait?)  Despite doing his best to ignore the program, The Curmudgeon nevertheless heard Matt Lauer positively kvelling about how some D-list celebrity, a television personality named Giuliana Rancic, had previously shared the news – exclusively on “The Today Show” – that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and that she was going to be on the program shortly to talk about her health and experiences as a breast cancer patient.

Based on the excitement in Matt Lauer’s voice, you would have thought “Today” had gained a major scoop:  maybe a new development in the Middle East or the results of a poll showing a new front-runner heading into the Iowa caucuses or perhaps a significant shift in U.S. policy toward Pakistan.  You would have thought Lauer was telling us about something…something…important.

But really, “Today”?  Really, Matt?  Is this news?  Is it news that a D-list celebrity was ill?  Is this entertainment?  Do you find this woman’s battle with cancer entertaining?  Does it make you proud that some poor quasi-celebrity agreed to spill her illness all over your airwaves?  Does it make you feel good to capitalize on this woman’s illness, to attempt to lure viewers who want a peek at a pretty girl’s suffering?  Is this the kind of story that makes rising at three a.m. to put on a television show all worthwhile?

Or is this just one of those opportunities for “cross-promotion” that we’re always reading about when one major media conglomerate swallows another major media conglomerate and brings them all together under one large, unwieldy, messy umbrella?  The Curmudgeon was unfamiliar with the unfortunate Ms. Rancic but did a little research and learned that she is employed by the “E” entertainment cable network, which is owned by Comcast – which also owns NBC, which airs “Today” and keeps Matt Lauer in $800 suits.  That makes this little more than a thinly veiled attempt to boost the ratings of not just one but two Comcast-owned television networks and to elevate the status and popularity of Ms. Rancic – maybe to enable her to make the leap from the D list to the C list.

How unseemly.  How pathetic.  While it is sheer serendipity that The Curmudgeon is not normally a viewer of morning news/entertainment programs, today he feels quite fortunate for that serendipity.  There are so many people to blame here:  the people behind “The Today Show” for putting this on their airwaves; Matt Lauer, who seemed positively giddy about this big story laid at his expensively shod feet; and Giuliana Rancic, who apparently views one of the most feared diagnoses that modern medicine can render as an opportunity to promote her career by appearing on a television program that has more viewers than her own.  And please, spare us the suggestion that this was done to benefit viewers, to help other breast cancer patients understand that they’re not alone.  It’s all been done before (including an episode during the first season of “L.A Law,” all the way back in the 1980s).  We all know women who’ve had breast cancer; it’s not like Ms. Rancic suffered from schistosomiasis and this was a genuine opportunity to educate people about a virtually unknown malady.

You can keep morning television.  The Curmudgeon will stick with “Morning Edition” on public radio.  Or his morning paper.

Or just plain silence.

 

Mini-Rumination: Say it Ain’t So, Whoopi

The Curmudgeon was leafing through the coupon inserts in his Sunday paper recently – he loves a bargain – when he noticed a familiar face staring out at him:  Whoopi Goldberg.

Ms. Goldberg was decked out in what appears to be some kind of Egyptian royalty costume – perhaps Queen Tut? – in a one-dollar coupon for “Poise Liners.”  The headline of the ad explains the product:  “Royal Protection Against Light Bladder Leakage (LBL).”  (A quick Google search also found Whoopi in a television commercial for the product.  The Curmudgeon had never seen the commercial – of course, he hasn’t seen a television commercial since 1987, when he purchased his first television set that came with a remote control.  See the commercial here.)

While The Curmudgeon is not among those who poke fun at such products – he can’t imagine people who have such problems finding anything even remotely funny about them – he is certainly not going to restrain himself from poking fun at Ms. Goldberg.

Really, Whoopi?  Dressed like an Egyptian queen to promote female undergarments?  Are you that hard up, is money so tight, that you need to debase yourself and dress like an Egyptian queen or princess or whatever that is to shill for a female protection product – or any product, for that matter?

Really?

The Long Lost Song

It only took forty-one years.

Have you ever heard a song, really liked it, and then never heard it again?  And then, periodically over the years, you’d try to find it but never succeeded?

That’s what happened to The Curmudgeon.

In the summer of 1970, The twelve-year-old Curmudgeon and his family took a car trip to North Carolina to visit family friends.  If you know anything about AM radio back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, you know that once you drove south of the Washington, D.C. reception area, all you heard was country music.  Not Lucinda Williams, Keith Urban, or Emmylou Harris country, either; this was the 1970s, which meant Conway Twitty country, Loretta Lynn country, Eddy Arnold country.  Just execrable.

Amid all that pretty awful stuff, The Curmudgeon heard a song he liked – liked a lot.  He heard it several times, in fact – enough for the tune and the words (or at least what he thought were the words) to make an indelible impression.  Once he returned home to Philadelphia, he spent days scanning up and down the AM dial in search of the song – the family wouldn’t have an FM radio for a few more years yet – but found nothing; the song was gone.

But not in his mind it wasn’t.  For the next forty-one years, the song played on in The Curmudgeon’s mind.  Occasionally he would hum it to someone, or even sing it to someone if he was feeling particularly uninhibited, to see if they recognized it.  No one ever did.  No one ever came close.  A few wondered if The Curmudgeon was delusional.

Parenthetically, The Curmudgeon worked his way through college in part by working in a large record store, where customers – usually people our parents’ or even grandparents’ age – would come in search of a song they heard on the radio, only they didn’t know the title and sometimes didn’t know the singer, either.  There was no internet for us to look up a radio station’s play list, so the only thing we could do was ask them to hum or sing the song for us.  On such occasions, all of the employees on the sales floor would gather ‘round while our customers made semi-fools of themselves.  Usually, the song they wanted was one of three songs:  “What I Did for Love,” from “A Chorus Line,” as sung by Johnny Mathis; “I Go Crazy,” by Paul Davis; or “Hey, Won’t You Play Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” by B.J. Thomas.  After a while, The Curmudgeon and his co-workers would know what song they were looking for as soon as they started to describe it, but we got such a mean kick out of watching these authority figures sing in the aisles of Peaches Records & Tapes that we’d feign ignorance and ask them to sing anyway.

What did we know?  We were just kids.

Deep down, The Curmudgeon knew that eventually, the internet would enable him to find his long lost song, and on several occasions in recent years he tried, but without success – without success, yes, but now, for the first time, with real hope.  He knew it was just a matter of time.

And that time finally arrived last weekend when, after a few quick Google searches and a visit to You Tube, he found his song:  it’s called “Mississippi,” and it’s by the late John Phillips, co-founder of the Mamas & Papas.  The song is almost exactly as The Curmudgeon recalls it:  a little jauntier and more “country,” perhaps, but the very song he’s been hearing in his mind’s ear for the past forty-one years.

So now, for your listening pleasure, The Curmudgeon is pleased to present “Mississippi,” by John Phillips, notorious boinker of his celebrity daughter.  Enjoy it here.

And here’s hoping you find your own long-lost song before it slips free from your memory.

Mini-Rumination: Another Mystery Solved

As an avowed leftist – which sounds a lot more subversive than it really is – The Curmudgeon is a fan of the magazine The American Prospect.  Like any publication that approaches subjects from an ideological perspective, it sometimes goes too far and verges on the foolish, but for the most part, it’s in the right places on most of the issues near and dear to The Curmudgeon’s heart.

Among the publication’s contributors, The Curmudgeon is still on the fence about Robert Kuttner, the magazine’s co-editor.  He’s right on some matters, silly on others, but probably an okay sort; like a lot of journalists, his writing suggests that he’s never worked in a business that actually aspires to make money and that he suspects that such enterprises are inherently evil.  In the December 2011 issue, though, he offers a truly profound statement about the Occupy Wall Street movement (which the publication dubs “OWS,” no doubt because everything sounds more important when you endow it with an acronym).   In a feature entitled “Protest and Possibility,” which you can find here, Mr. Kuttner writes:

OWS has put the Republican right, Fox, and friends in an exquisite bind.  The more they ridicule the protests, the clearer it is which side they’re on.

Thank goodness Mr. Kuttner cleared that up for us.  Without his insight, readers – including The Curmudgeon – might have mistakenly assumed that conservative America heartily endorsed the Occupy Wall Street movement and its scruffy participants.

A Traditional Jewish Christmas

The end of his brother’s marriage left The Curmudgeon with nothing to do and nowhere to go on Christmas day for the first time in more than twenty-five years.  Cultural instinct is a powerful force, though, so without even giving it any real consideration, The Curmudgeon thought “Mmm, Chinese food!”

First he called his brother – who, not so coincidentally, also had nothing to do on Christmas day for the first time in more than twenty-five years.  No luck:  brother had Chinese food the night before.  While The Curmudgeon has never found having eaten Chinese food one night a reason not to eat it the next night as well, he grudgingly recognizes that not everyone feels that way.

The Curmudgeon is a bit of a promiscuous eater of Chinese food.  He lives in an area in which you can scarcely throw a stick and not hit a Chinese restaurant – not that The Curmudgeon makes a practice of throwing sticks out in public.  He has one set of Chinese restaurants he uses when dining out and several more he uses for take-out, depending on what he wants to order on any given night.

So he called his orange chicken Chinese restaurant.  He gets take-out from this place about once a month, but when he called, the phone rang – and rang and rang.  He was just about to give up amid the heartening thought that maybe, just maybe, the proprietor had decided to treat his employees like human beings for once in his life and close his establishment and give them off for Christmas.  But no, after eight rings,  a familiar voice, that of the owner, answered.

“Can you call back in ten minute?”

The Curmudgeon heard a great deal of noise in the background.  He wasn’t sure he was hearing right, so he said “hello” again.

“Can you give me ten minute and call back?”  Taken by surprise, The Curmudgeon said “Sure” and hung up.

Apparently, The Curmudgeon wasn’t the only Jew interested in a moo shu Christmas.

But he had no intention of waiting ten minute.  He called Chinese restaurant number two, his designated chicken chow fun restaurant, and placed an order to go; he was told it would be ready in ten to fifteen minutes.

A proprietor who understands plurals – a Christmas present for the grammar-fussy Jewish boy.

The Curmudgeon arrived fifteen minutes later to another surprise:  he had never seen more than two or three of the restaurant’s fifteen or so tables occupied, but there, before his very eyes, were people sitting at each and every table – and all of them looked like they could pass for members of The Curmudgeon’s family (except for the strange-looking old guy with the Elvis sideburns).  He went to the counter and asked about his order, and he could see from the owner’s reaction that it had never gotten from the front desk to the kitchen.  The owner went off to “investigate.”

Returning, he announced “One minute” after asking The Curmudgeon to repeat his order.  That’s what poker players call “the tell:”  the sign that he had no idea what the order was.

Three minutes later the proprietor returned.“Two minute,” he announced, raising the interesting question of whether a non-native English speaker loses his plurals under duress.

Ten minute, er, minutes later, the chicken chow fun arrived and The Curmudgeon was off for the four-minute drive home.

The chow fun was excellent.  Some Christmas traditions never die; they just go on a quarter-century-long hiatus.

At the Movies: “New Year’s Eve”

Garry Marshall must be the most popular guy in Hollywood.

Either that or he has incriminating photos.

What else could explain the cavalcade of stars of screens large and small who answered his call to appear in “New Year’s Eve,” a movie that ultimately is little more than a really bad episode of “The Love Boat” that lacks only Gavin MacLeod’s exposed knees and an appearance by Charo?

The Curmudgeon knew very little about the movie before arriving at the theater:  he knew it was a Garry Marshall movie, which is usually a good thing; he knew it had a great cast, which is usually a good thing; but while he had not read any reviews of the movie, he had seen the headlines of a few reviews and they were not exactly glowing – which is not usually a good thing.

But how bad could it be?  After all, while Mr. Marshall isn’t exactly aspiring to the level “Citizen Kane,” he’s been a pretty successful director over the years.  He’s made some apparently entertaining movies (not that The Curmudgeon has seen many of them, but he’s heard, he’s heard), including “Beaches,” “Frankie and Johnny,” “Georgia Rule,” “Nothing in Common,” “Runaway Bride,” “The Flamingo Kid,” “The Princess Diaries,” “Valentine’s Day,” and others that either were popular or at least somewhat engaging.  (The Curmudgeon has nothing positive to say about what is probably Mr. Marshall’s most famous movie, which glorifies the antics of a rich guy who buys a hooker for a week.)

Still, since he didn’t know much about “New Year’s Eve,” The Curmudgeon arrived at the theater with minimal expectations.

Unfortunately, those expectations proved realistic.

The first hint that this might not have been the best choice for the evening was the audience.  Until the second of the fourteen or fifteen coming attractions, The Curmudgeon and his date had the entire theater to themselves – never a good sign.  Word of mouth usually matters, and the words associated with “New Year’s Eve” apparently had spoken volumes.

When the movie finally begins, the cast starts unfurling – like the sail on a boat.  Like a red carpet fleeing an approaching Joan Rivers.  Like a roll of paper towels that has been tugged with too much gusto while held aloft outdoors in a stiff breeze.  Scene after scene brought pleasant surprise after pleasant surprise – a combination of enjoyable performers, some of the most beautiful women and hunky men in show business, and plenty of reliable actors and familiar faces.  Like a cinematic Noah’s ark they generally arrived in pairs, bearing their own subplots – subplot after subplot after subplot after subplot that at first subtly and then not-so subtly slowed viewers’ recognition that despite these many subplots, all of them put together didn’t add up to any plot at all.  For 118 minutes, “New Year’s Eve” proceeded without plot or purpose, a mere picaresque about nothing at all.

You have to wonder why so many highly employable performers would choose to make such an egregious employment decision.  The Curmudgeon understands why Seth Meyers decided to appear in this movie; Hollywood is almost certainly not knocking down Seth Meyers’ door.  Others are still in the process of developing movie careers and probably saw “New Year’s Eve” as a good opportunity to work with a very successful director and his cast of distinguished thousands, so The Curmudgeon shall give a pass to Zac Ephron (confession:  The Curmudgeon has heard the name but had no idea which one was him until his beautiful and much more learned companion for the evening pointed him out), Sarah Paulson, Carla Gugino,  Russell Peters, Lea Michele (better-attuned companion had to explain who she was as well), the always fun and reliable Larry Miller, and Yeardley Smith, also always fun.

The Curmudgeon also will give a pass to Penny Marshall.  Blood, after all, is thicker than water.  And to Sarah Jessica Parker:  it was a relatively minor role but appropriate for a relatively minor talent.  The cute is fading fast and Ms. Parker needs to take pretty much anything that comes her way because it won’t be coming much longer.

He will issue other passes as well.

Hilary Swank probably decided to appear in the movie because for once, she got to play an ordinary person.  For Sofia Vergara and Alyssa Milano, the appeal was probably the opportunity to appear in a movie instead of on television (and Vergara was easily the best thing in the movie).  Jim Belushi probably had some time on his hands and figured an easy payday wouldn’t hurt.  Ditto Cary Elwes.  The Curmudgeon is even willing to go out on a limb and accept the improbable appearance of an aging but still lovely Michelle Pfeiffer, who undoubtedly has come to realize that her days with her name above the title have passed and it’s time to start building a new career in supporting roles in a manner that leading men never seem to need to do but that others like Ms. Pfeiffer failed to do – Jill Clayburgh, Amy Irving, and Dyan Cannon come to mind, although there surely are others – and disappeared as a result.

And finally, The Curmudgeon awards a pass to Hector Elizondo, who apparently is one of the official Garry Marshall Players.

But Robert DeNiro?  What on earth could he have been thinking?  Is it even remotely conceivable that he read the script, called his agent, and demanded, “Get me in this movie, no matter what it takes, no matter what they want to pay me”?

And Halle Berry?  Surely she has her pick of the choicest roles, so why oh why oh why did she pick this one?

And Katherine Heigl – did Hollywood tire of her that quickly?

And Jessica Biel – was the appeal that someone offered her a role in which that astonishing figure of hers was irrelevant?

Jon Bon Jovi takes on acting roles every once in a while, but of all the opportunities, why this one?  Someone?  Anyone?  Bueller?

Speaking of Bueller, Matthew Broderick – well, his wife was already there so he might as well tag along and look his age (and even older and pastier) for once in a very short scene that was utterly irrelevant to the movie.

Josh Duhamel?  Wasn’t he supposed to be on his way to being the next Big Thing?

John Lithgow – one of the most versatile and fun performers in the entire entertainment industry?  Slumming like this?

Ashton Kutcher?  Really?

But the questions go further.  Somebody spent perfectly good money to make this movie.  The Curmudgeon has no idea how much it costs to make such a movie, but let us assume, purely for the sake of discussion, that it cost $40 million.  What studio head read this script and said, “Sure, I’ll put up $40 million to make this movie”?  (And, parenthetically, is it possible for The Curmudgeon to get some of whatever that studio head was drinking/smoking/snorting/shooting?)

You know a movie is bad when the funniest thing in it is the bloopers they show as the credits start to roll; at least, that’s what elicited the most laughter from the audience (if you’re willing to call four people an audience; The Curmudgeon calls it a point guard short of a basketball team).

In high school, The Curmudgeon had to read a play by Luigi Pirandello called “Six Characters in Search of an Author.”  “New Year’s Eve,” it turns out, was a cast of dozens in search of a movie.  Alas, they never found one.

 

Mini-Rumination: White Chocolate

White chocolate doesn’t look like chocolate, doesn’t feel like chocolate, doesn’t smell like chocolate, and certainly doesn’t taste like chocolate.  Love it or loathe it, that’s up to you, but please – please – don’t call it chocolate.

Because it’s not chocolate.

Just sayin’.

Mini-Rumination: Hey There, Georgy Girl

Remember “Georgy Girl”?  There was the movie, with Lynn Redgrave and James Mason, about a dowdy woman who through a very circuitous path ends up marrying her parents’ wealthy and much older employer (ewwww) and raising a baby.  More memorable than the movie, at least to The Curmudgeon, was the song – a great tune and memorable lyrics that began:

Hey there, Georgy girl
Swingin’ down the street so fancy-free
Nobody you meet could ever see the loneliness there – inside you
Hey there, Georgy girl
Why do all the boys just pass you by?
Could it be you just don’t try or is it the clothes you wear?

You’re always window shopping but never stopping to buy
So shed those dowdy feathers and fly – a little bit

As 2011 draws to a close, Republican voters are reminding The Curmudgeon of Georgy Girl:  they’re always window-shopping but never stopping to buy.  Trying desperately not to concede the inevitability of attending the 2012 big dance in a Mitt Romney design, at various times this year they’ve peered into the window to check out Sarah Palin, Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Ricky Santorum (still the subject of one of the best sites on the web), Michele Bachman, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Ron Paul (actually, everyone tries this one on but no one seriously considers wearing it), Rick Perry (remember Rick Perry?  It seems so…long ago), Jon Huntsman, and Chris Christie and ultimately found them all wanting in one way or another.  Right now, some of them are pretending they want to try on Newt Gingrich, but that’s pretty clearly a brave attempt at self-delusion that either will fade when people come to their senses or explode when Gingrich reverts to form and does something characteristically stupid.  (For fun reading, see this Mother Jones feature entitled “13 Reasons Why Newt Will Never Be the GOP Nominee”).

In the end, Georgy got what she wanted – or at least what she thought she wanted.  Republican voters may enjoy a similar happy ending – but first, they’re going to have to figure out what they want.

Oh, Canada!

The Curmudgeon apologizes in advance for what looks like a post about sports.  Yes, this is an item about something that just happened in the world of sports, but no, it’s not really about sports at all.

The Montreal Canadiens are a professional hockey team.  The Canadiens’ history and traditions, for those of you who don’t know anything about hockey, are every bit as distinguished and celebrated as those of the New York Yankees baseball team.  In fact, for years The Curmudgeon has insisted that the three most difficult jobs in sports are head coach of the Canadiens, manager of the New York Yankees, and head coach of Notre Dame’s football team.  For The Curmudgeon’s money – not that his money is at stake here – the Canadiens’ coaching job is the toughest of the three.  By far.

The Canadiens have not fared well of late, and last week they decided to fire their coach and replace him with a man who appears very well-qualified for the job.

Except that he doesn’t speak French.

As it turns out, that’s very important to many residents of Montreal and Quebec province – whether they care about the Canadiens or not.  An uproar ensued.

The new coach, a fellow named Randy Cunneyworth, is now being described as an interim coach, implying that the position may not be his permanently (but then, there’s no such thing as a permanent coaching job in the world of sports.  For proof, see Paterno, Joe).  While team management originally suggested that they hoped Mr. Cunneyworth would succeed and remain on the job, the team’s owner retreated in the face of outrage over the new coach’s inability to speak French – apparently, inability to speak French didn’t prevent Mr. Cunneyworth from earning his previous job as the team’s assistant coach – and said that the ability to speak French and English will be “a very important factor in the selection of a permanent head coach.”  The team is owned by the Molson family, which also sells beer, and ownership apparently fears a boycott of its team, its brew, or both.

So how big an uproar was it?

According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, “In one of the more extreme examples, columnist Rejean Tremblay argued team management have long wanted to ‘eradicate’ French from the club to strength its iron grip on communications.”

If that’s one of the more extreme examples, what is one to make of this outburst from Gilles Rheaume, who is identified by the web site “SB Nation” as “the head of one of those Separatist groups” in Quebec?

There are many in Quebec and in all of French America who are asking, the day after a unilingual anglophone was given the head coaching job, if the Canadiens’ management hasn’t been stricken with francophobia, characterized by a total insensitivity to the French fact in Quebec.

A unilingual anglophone – hurry, lock up the women and children, there’s a unilingual anglophone on the loose in Montreal!

(By the way, a note to Microsoft:  your spell check function didn’t know what to make of “unilingual,” “anglophone,” or “francophobia” – a literal hat trick (a hockey term) in a single sentence.)

Not to be outdone, public officials needed to get in on the lunacy, too.  The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that Christine St. Pierre, the province of Quebec’s culture minister, told The Canadian Press that “There is an element of pride for Quebecers.  The Canadiens are in our genes.  It’s an institution and the Canadiens should be sensitive to it.”

The Curmudgeon wonders whether she made a fool of herself in English or in French.

While sports will not be the focus of this blog and will appear in it only occasionally, The Curmudgeon is a fairly avid sports fan.  To the degree that he is less avid now than he was in the past, it’s largely because he thinks so many of the fans and most of the news media have taken so much of the fun out of the fun and games.

And The Curmudgeon offers the fans of the Montreal Canadiens as exhibit A.