Monday Miscellany #2

TV The NewsroomYou, dear reader, might wonder about the #2 in today’s title. Obviously it signifies a second, so you may wonder wither the first? That one wasn’t in the normal catalog, but in Brain Bubbles, and it is, in fact, misfiled due to my own historical lack of precision about what belongs in that catalog. Full-length articles about movies do not.

So today’s post, another meander through three (recommended) movies, two TV shows (one recommended, one not), and a commemoration of the end of a great (cable) TV show, goes in the main catalog where it belongs.

Truth be told, I just couldn’t come up with a better title.

14-12-15 no snow

Compare this pic to the one posted just two days ago!

Firstly: the weather. It’s been well above 40 degrees (Fahrenheit) for three days now, and the snow, she is-a almost-a completely gone.

[Why does that phrase so strongly remind me of Chico Marx? It did even before I added the politically incorrect “dialect.” Did he have a line like that in one of the movies?]

I — and seemingly hundreds of my neighbors — went for a long walk yesterday to enjoy the global warming. I’ll be out again today.

And there’s a light December 15th mist rain falling as I write this. I think it was that Danish Marx Brother who said, “Time is out of joint.”[1]

electric fireplace

Does warm up the living room.

The weird thing this weekend is that my electrically controlled fireplace and my electronic outside temperature gauge (and the florescent lights in my laundry room) all went on strike this weekend.

The fireplace works intermittently, so I can get it to turn on (most times; eventually), but there’s probably a service call in its near future. (Its function is more decorative than utilitarian, so there’s not much urgency, especially considering the weather lately.)

outdoor gauge

Work, damn you!

The lights just need to be replaced (ugh: minor charge to recycle the old ones), but the temperature gauge was disconcerting. I’ve had it less than two months, so failure is unexpected and unwelcome (this condo, and hence the fireplace, are over 15 years old, I believe).

Bringing the unit inside overnight seemed to restore its function. Can an outside electronic temperature gauge be sensitive to all the moisture in the air the last few days? Crappy design if so.

My electronic woes are washed aside by the enjoyment provided by last night’s movie triple feature. As with the recent Sexy Trio post, this isn’t a movie review so much as movie recommendations. I thoroughly enjoyed all three I’ll mention.

And — once again — all three confirm that I’m so over superhero and big action movies. To quote yet another Marx Brother, they are too often “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”[2]

Saving Mr BanksFirst Feature: Saving Mr. Banks. This is the story of the development by Walt Disney Studios in 1964 of the beloved movie, Mary Poppins. As you probably know, Tom Hanks plays Walter Disney and the great Emma Thompson plays P.L. Travers (born Helen Goff) who wrote the children’s books that gave us Mary Poppins (always the full name, never just “Mary”).

Even as a kid I was never a fan of Mary Poppins (or Peter Pan, for that matter), and until last night I would have said I have no intention of ever seeing either of them again. After watching the movie, now I want to watch Mary Poppins again. The movie was that enjoyable and interesting.

Mary PoppinsWhat made the movie compelling for me is that it’s a redemption story (and I have a major weak spot for those — A Christmas Carol is an all-time favorite).

Sadly, the redemption is mostly fictional, as Travers never accepted what Disney did with her character, never liked the animated penguins and remained ambivalent about the music.

But fiction is often better — or at least more fun — than real life.

Second Feature: Tim’s Vermeer. Directed by Teller (of Penn & Teller), this is the story of inventor-technologist Tim Jenison’s desire to “paint a Vermeer.” That is, he wanted to replicate Vermeer’s amazing realism, detail and use of light.

Tim's VermeerJohannes Vermeer, now acknowledged as one of the great painters of his era, is renowned for his use of light. A Vermeer is said to “pop” and look more like a projected slide than a painting — the colors are that bright.

The near photo-realism of painters like Vermeer leads many experts to believe painters used technology to accomplish the level of detail and realism. Specifically, it is thought they used a camera obscura to project a view which they painted over.

As the film points out, there are some major problems doing this, mainly having to do with matching paint color. Only white paint faithfully reflects the color of the scene, so painters would have had to compensate for that somehow.

The Music Lesson

Vermeer’s The Music Lesson [click for big]

Tim Jenison — who is not a painter — wanted to use invention and technology to attempt to replicate Vermeer’s work. He had a stroke of genius in coming up with an idea that not only removes the problems of a camera obscura, but turns the process of painting realistic scenes, with extremely well-matched color, into a process almost anyone could do!

It’s really quite extraordinary to watch him, attempting his process for only the second time, create an incredibly accurate oil painting off a photo of his father-in-law.

On the flip side, the process is hugely time-consuming. It took Tim seven months of laborious, careful work to re-create Vermeer’s The Music Lesson (and nearly a year to create the scene and set-up).

If the name Tim Jenison rings a bell, he’s the founder of NewTek and the inventor of the famous Video Toaster (which has a fond spot in my heart as the machine used to create much of the CGI for Babylon 5).

Whatever Works (movie)Third Feature: Whatever Works. This is yet another Woody Allen film, and I can’t think of a film he’s directed I don’t like. Some are really great while others are less so (and some are almost trivial), but they all rise above the usual empty crap.

This one isn’t one of the greats, but it was pretty enjoyable. It features Larry David in the Allenesque role of Boris Yelnikoff, a self-proclaimed genius, former string theory physicist (who was almost nominated for a Nobel), now a social dropout who teaches chess. He’s a bitter, raging misanthrope, so I totally get him.

Boris Yelnikoff

Boris speaks to you!

The plot involves a simple-minded, uneducated 21-year-old runaway (Evan Rachel Wood) who winds up on his doorstep and who insinuates herself into his life (eventually becoming his wife). Then her now-divorced mother (Patricia Clarkson) shows up, and later, so does her father (Ed Begley, Jr.).

All four characters experience growth and change.

It’s cute and diverting. As many of Woody’s characters do, Boris is aware of, and speaks directly to, the film viewing audience. None of the other characters can see them. If you like Allen’s films, you’ll enjoy this one.

Meanwhile, on the television machine

State of AffairsI’ve gone long, so very briefly, I’ve been watching NBC’s new show, State of Affairs. Each episode (four so far) makes me squirm more and more, and the show is getting close to my cut-off point. It seems like a loveless corporate committee attempt to combine ABC’s (ugly, vile) Scandal with Showtime’s Homeland (and perhaps hoping to capitalize on CBS’s vastly superior Madam Secretary).

The show features Katherine Heigl as lead of the CIA unit that prepares the daily briefing “book” for POTUS (played here by Alfre Woodard). The problem is (to make it actually interesting) her unit also runs covert CIA operations addressing the top problem of the day.

And, of course, there’s a mysterious conspiracy involving past bad actions and blah, blah, blah. Plus I just don’t buy Woodard as POTUS. Definitely thumbs down on this one as far as I’m concerned.

Forever (TV series)I do like ABC’s new Castle-alike, Forever.  I’m not kidding, it’s really, really like Castle (a show I’ve come to love). Both take place in New York City. There’s a beautiful, capable homicide cop, the handsome non-cop sidekick (a pattern that goes at least back to The Mentalist). There’s a black female unit commander and a male partner. Even the shows logos are somewhat similar.

The schtick in Forever is that the non-cop sidekick is medical examiner Dr. Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd) — who has a secret: he’s immortal.

Forever Castle

Maybe not that similar.

A twist that seems inherently problematic is that, if Henry dies, his body vanishes and he reappears (alive and naked) submerged in the East River (or other nearby body of water).

There is a reason for this that I won’t go into, but it raises some odd conflicts (such as what happens to Henry’s antique pocket watch).

But something about the show makes it engaging to me. It might be the lack of  big-name actors (although Judd Hirsch plays Henry’s adopted non-immortal son and the only other person in on the secret). Maybe it’s just that I tend to like cop shows. A definite thumbs up on this one.

And finally

The NewsroomWe are gathered here today to honor the life and memory of a wonderful cable television series, The Newsroom, another delightful creation by my favorite script scribe, playwright Aaron Sorkin.

Last night aired the final episode of the all too short final season. I’ll miss Sorkin’s idealism, intelligence and tasty dialog. If only people actually thought and talked like they do in a Sorkin script — that is a world in which I would dearly love to live!

The Newsroom castI’ve written before about how his The West Wing is in my Top Five favorite TV series of all time. In that same TV Tuesday set of posts, I also wrote briefly about The Newsroom.

So let there now just be a moment of silence to commemorate the passing of a fine, intelligent, adult show about decency, journalism, love and courage.

Better yet, go have a walk-and-talk with someone!


[1] Hamlet Marx
[2] Macbeth Marx

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

2 responses to “Monday Miscellany #2

  • ~ Sadie ~

    Enjoyed the post – thanks for the reviews, really haven’t seen any of these … with the exception of The Newsroom!! I LOVED that show and will truly miss it. THAT is what journalism is supposed to be about.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Yes, I imagine you’d have a special love for a show about journalism, and I obviously agree. His The West Wing, likewise, was what government is supposed to be about. Man, oh man, if only! (And as you know, the characters in The Newsroom were themselves explicitly making the statement about what journalism should be.)

      As I’ve said many times, I love everything Aaron Sorkin has done. Have you ever seen his Sports Night or Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip? Two other short-lived masterpieces. The former, IIRC, went only two seasons, the latter only one. And the movie he wrote, The American President (Michael Douglas and Annette Bening) is second only to Dave (which I adore) for movies about the Presidency.

      The cute thing about the movie is that Martin Sheen plays President Michael Douglas’ Chief of Staff, and later Sheen, of course, would play the President in The West Wing. (The role was originally meant to be a one-time walk on — the show was supposed to be about the staff with the Prez rarely seen — but his scene at the end of the first episode was such a knockout the focus of the show changed to include him. It is, in fact, the scene I show people who’ve never seen the show to give them the flavor.)

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