September 29, 2018

The Ladykillers - lessons in subtle comedy amid farce

Well, I wondered, what would be a subtle funny movie?  Long ago I saw Kind Hearts and Coronets and thought it had some subtle business amid the broad humor.  Reflecting back on it, I realized I had never made time for that other Ealing masterpiece, The Ladykillers.  Well say no more!  One trip to Blockbuster later I popped it into the old Betamax and away we went.

It's bloody brilliant.

Here is John Badham's entry in Trailers From Hell -

The sets, especially the color palette are inspired, even Hitchcock would approve.  The opening scenes, as the menacing Alec Guinness character shadows Mrs. Wilberforce, are brilliantly filmed (apparently an homage to Hitchcock's The Lodger), and Guinness' entrance is - wow:

The script is aces, too, everyone gets good bits, even Mrs. Wilberforce:
Mrs. Louisa Wilberforce: ...May I ask you where you studied? 
One-Round: ...Well, I didn't really study any place, Lady... I just sort of... picked it up. 
Mrs. Louisa Wilberforce: You know, I was so surprised when I heard what you were playing. It brought back something that, really, I'd completely forgotten all about: my 21st birthday party. You see, my father had engaged a string quintet to come in and play in the evening; and while they were playing Boccherini, someone came in and said the old queen had passed away. And everyone went home. And that was the end of my party, all that time ago, in Pangbourne. 
Mrs. Louisa Wilberforce: Well, if you'll excuse me, I'll run and make the tea. The kettle *must* be nearly on the boil. 
[She leaves] 
One-Round: Who's she talkin' about? Old queen who?

That nice actress won a BAFTA award, and holy crap that brilliant cockney thug was Peter Sellers!?

One and the same

We even get a cameo from Obi-Wan Kenobi -

If you haven't seen it, you must. If you've seen it, see it again. There's nothing in theaters right now, and it has a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes because it is perfect. And in a few places it is even...somewhat...subtle.

For Terence Davies, an Ealing alum, one of the subtleties of The Ladykillers was its depiction of failed men of all kinds, in a nation that had just lost an Empire:

The Guardian:  "The greatest comedy caper" (link)


Down payment on a discussion of subtle humor

Ok, I've never been a big fan of subtle humor, but I have always thought Wendy Liebman was a singular talent:

Here she is during her comeback following a serious car accident in 2014:

She did appear on America's Got Talent, and Howard Stern did bring her back on a wildcard, so I guess she's not invisible.  And sometimes she is so smart and and subtle that I find I'm appreciating her cleverness but not laughing.

That's the problem with subtle humor - it's hard to be the GREATEST subtle anything, because we're accustomed to thinking of greatness as a kind of exhibitionism.  Making a living as comedy headliner, as Liebman has, deserves some kind of award.

Something understated, of course.


Suggested activity for Port Townsend

September 28, 2018

Guest Blogger #1 recommends

In which Benedict Cumberbatch gets paid in full.

Check Out the Big Brain on Brett

Mashable on Kav.

September 25, 2018

Then they came for the "rape apologists"...

There are dumpsters, there are dumpster fires, and then there's what's happening with Linux:

I blame the Russians.

Key point in the comments:  "Part of Linus’ email was written in an editor that inserts smart quotes, something he has never done in his entire email history."

Maybe this isn't a good time, but I was wondering about how it's going with the Ubuntu Unity desktop...?  Never mind, I'll come back later.


That time of the year again

As the Warriors begin camp, someone has posted this very fine informator on the skills of one S. Livingston.  Very nice.


September 23, 2018

Let me explain. No...there is too much. Let me sum up.

Tiger Woods won his 80th golf tournament today, five years and two spinal fusions after winning his 79th.

I don't know much about golf, but I know you don't see this every day:

In these situations our go-to guy is Thomas Boswell:
This wasn’t a day for those double Woods uppercut fist pumps. He held his emotions in, no energy or will to spare. “Fight and grind,” he said afterward of his day. Then, referring to his year: “I found a game. I put pieces together.” And of the final hole: “I was having a hard time not crying coming up to the last green.” 
Against injuries, against eight surgeries, against self-inflicted shame and mortification, against the golf gravity of a 10-year slump without a major championship and five years without any victory, Woods still led by two. 
At that moment, the same question went through 19th holes, press boxes, living rooms, bars, sports departments and locker rooms all over America, all over the world for that matter, as everyone realized that one evaluation needed to be made about Woods’s win. 
Was this the greatest individual comeback in the history of sports?

Maybe Ali?  But if we're comparing your comeback to Muhammed Ali, you have climbed a hell of a mountain.

I'd say welcome back, but this is the first time it's been like this, isn't it...?  After all those tournaments he was supposed to win...maybe tomorrow morning Tiger Woods wakes up and feels a new sensation:  gratitude.

Never too late.


September 20, 2018

"Eating Menacingly": The nominees

Liberty Valance


Angel Eyes

September 18, 2018

Sunny Side

Doc explains

The Old Hotness

Neil Armstrong with X-15 number 1

Here is the cockpit of an aircraft that could go 4,520 mph

September 15, 2018

Yes, you'll probably get a pardon

No, you don't get your stuff back.  And thank you for your donation!


Addendum:  No pardon either?

Will this clickbait never end...!?

CNN homepage has an item on "The world's fastest plane."  The SR-71 Blackbird, which first took flight in 1964, when I was two.  This is news!?

Granted that is one sweet plane...


September 13, 2018

Current mood, VMM edition

Authentic, heart-felt music from beloved local performers, Thee Oh Sees:

Keeper of the flame

[Norm MacDonald] is resolutely nonpolitical in an industry bent on producing new versions of “The Daily Show,” an ironist working on the same platform as “Nanette.” At a moment when comedians work for applause as much as laughter, by being vulnerable, honest, outspoken, socially relevant, Macdonald is still pursuing the laugh — and nothing more. This anachronistic approach might be limiting his audience, but it could also explain his enduring appeal, because it lends him a kind of moral authority. He is something like a comedy ascetic, demanding a purity that temporal jokes cannot achieve. He seems vital and transgressive again, but pushing 60, he also seems tragic. One thing that makes him a captivating figure onstage is the tension between his refusal to do material about himself and the sympathy you feel for a craftsman who has not been rewarded in proportion to his talent.


Here's a strategy - stop pretending to believe bullshit

In a recent interview with Tim Boyum of Spectrum News, [North Carolina's Senator] Tillis said, “I think we have to come up with several strategies to recognize reality. That climate changes. Sometimes it changes just because it has over millennia, and other times it changes because of human factors.” Tillis said he was influenced by the U.S. military’s concerns that climate change could lead to global instability and is a threat to national security.


Here's a fact you can practice on -

I think that's "WE must own..." but otherwise I'm in full agreement

"You must own what you've done."

Stephen Miller, an architect of President Trump's immigration plans, is being criticized by his childhood rabbi, Neil Comess-Daniels, for the policy of child separations at the border."


September 12, 2018

Current mood

Yes, that's Ginger Baker. Yes, that's Jack Bruce. Yes, that's (pre Mahavishnu) John McClaughlin.

"Other musical contributors were – and remained – obscure." - Wikipedia

Which is a bit unfair to the sax player, who is raging here.  Words now fail me, but it is from this movie, which I am going to force my family to watch this weekend.


Steady as the rhythm of a clock

There is a brilliant brief ballet entitled "The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude". This is the rock and roll version, 2:02 of succinct musical expression.

From the California shore to New York City
The beat don't never stop
You can hear it on the radio anywhere you go
It's steady as the rhythm of a clock
It cuts through the noise of the city life
It won't seem to go away
It's the devil in disguise I tell you no lies 

My fingers do the walking everyday

Yonder comes a young girl she wants to take a whirl
She thinks it's all a dream
She got rock and roll way down in her soul
She wants to know where's the limousine
Get up honey let your mama sit down
You're too young anyway
The devil in disguise give her the prize
Then you can carry her away
When the road I travel starts to unravel
Every which way it goes
The beat starts to press on my bullet proof vest
And my high turns out to be low
Give me my guitar I'm going to go far
Let me see it let me hold it in my hand
I'm the devil in disguise I tell you no lies
I'm playing in a rock 'n roll band

Here it live in a Dutch studio in 1994 with the estimable Christine Lakeland clowning Cale as they play:

September 10, 2018

Cultural recommendation from the younger people

Hmmm...not bad....

September 07, 2018

Let me show you my new D&D character

Bad Trixie is a Dragon Disciple sorcerer in Baldur's Gate 2.  People criticize this kit because you get fewer spells in exchange for an allegedly nerf-ish breath weapon (currently 6D8 fire damage to everything in the affected zone), some extra magic and fire resistances, and some hit points.  To which I say:  First of all, survivability is a good thing.  Second of all, Bad Trixie can breathe fire so shut up.

I said SHUT UP

But Bad Trixie recently got better - came into her own really, and became my favorite D&D character of all time...when she learned the "Disintegrate" spell.

It goes like this:

Look out for that Umber Hulk!

Never mind

This works best if you have the Robe of Vecna, so you can cast the spell really fast, and also if the Umber Hulk fails to make its saving throw.

When rested Bad Trixie has four of these ready, which I customarily burn in the first two minutes of game play.

By the way, Bad Trixie's alignment is "I don't give a fuck."  Mine too, lately.

September 06, 2018

Bitcoin bodice rippers

“It’s a highly popular genre,” she said. “The trope of the rich person sweeping the poor person off her feet; usually the woman is the poor person. You see it from Cinderella to Pretty Woman.”

Forbes, who is Irish, started Bitcoin Billionaires after completing a four-part series, brilliantly and punnishly titled Endowed, about young members of the British peerage in a contemporary setting. Inheritance took care of where to find their seductive piles of money at such a young age. With Bitcoin Billionaires, she was looking for another source of wealth.

“I wanted it to be realistic, and I wanted the heroes to be attractive,” she explained. How could her heroes be under 40 and fantastically wealthy without having inherited the cash or—an idea she considered but rejected for character reasons—being perhaps a ruthless, workaholic startup founder?

“How would they be that rich, and still be that young and still have their ideals intact?” she said. “That meant reading up on bitcoin.”


September 05, 2018

Bronstein's regrets

I am not going to apologize for bullfighting. It is a survival of the days of the Roman Colosseum. But it does need some explanation. Bullfighting is not a sport. It was never supposed to be. It is a tragedy. A very great tragedy. The tragedy is the death of the bull.  - Hemingway

On that day fifteen years ago when I made my third post to this blog, my mind turned, as it often does, to David Bronstein, the creative man of Soviet chess who in 1951 climbed to the pinnacle, played Stalin's man Botvinnik even, and went home. He was the "loser" of a drawn match for the World Championship.

You have failed succeeded achieved eternal neurosis.

Much has been written about this episode over the years, with Bronstein himself saying different things at different times, before his passing in 2006.  That's not too surprising, says Garry Kasparov..."mid-twentieth century Soviet reality was so complicated that nobody is truly capable of depicting it accurately."

Bronstein has for many years been an idol of mine, for both his creativity and his courage.  But in 2014 a clearer but darker picture of Bronstein began to emerge.  Grandmaster Genna Sosonko, who knew Bronstein well, wrote a book called The Rise and Fall of David Bronstein.  Sosonko portrayed a man who never recovered from the Draw/Loss, and gradually become saddened and embittered about it all:
I don’t understand what is happening. I don’t know what’s right or wrong. I don’t understand anything at all. We’ve all been dragged into this hole. They said that chess is the same as Shakespeare, Velázquez, and Raphael. An art. That’s what they said, right? But what is it in reality? Nobody needs it, nobody. It’s neither good, nor fair – it’s cruel. 

In The Sorcerer's Apprentice, a quasi-autobiography written in 1995 with Tom Furstenberg, Bronstein presented himself as having made his peace with the lost championship.  From then on, he confided, he thought of himself as a chess artist who would generously, in a kindly and fraternal way, crush you in your favorite variation of your favorite opening, to honor you.

You think I'm bullshitting you?  I am not bullshitting you.  Here American grandmaster Yasser Seirawan describes (starting at 2:00) a 65 year-old Bronstein doing exactly that to six-time U.S. Champion Walter Browne.

It sounds as if, later on, Bronstein started to realize that he was kidding himself a little bit.  In reality,  his beautiful triumphs were never creative dances with his opponents.  They were brutal affairs.  Chess fans most admire the sudden shock, the wave of destruction, the flash of lightning that destroys the opponent where he stands in as spectacular a way as possible.  It was never Velázquez - it is Manolete, all the way.

R x c5!

When Bronstein scored his amazing victory over Ljubojevic in 1973, the result was a work of art for the ages, but nothing but pain for Ljubojevic.  And maybe it sucked just as much for Ljubojevic - then #3 in the world, and never that high again - as it had for Bronstein that fateful week in Russia, 22 years before.
I didn’t live my life right, not at all. I got it all wrong, everything. I believed in chess, that somebody needed it. It sounds like I’m reciting my own obituary, doesn’t it?

Well, that's just silly.  You were what you were, every day, the whole way.  You can't just go be someone else, David.  You played chess with wounded men in hospitals in World War II, and with politicians and master spies.  It got you a nice apartment and a lot of fans, and works of chess art that will be remembered for as long as the lights are on.  You even got into a movie:

On the board:  Bronstein-Spassky, 1960 ...Bronstein lost

But even a modern career counselor would say - you couldn't have been something else.  You were a chess genius.  You weren't "talented" like Edward Lasker, who decided to focus more on engineering and invented the breast pump.  You weren't a self-made grandmaster like Korchnoi, who in another place and time might have successfully applied his incandescent rage to appliance sales, talk radio, or hedge funds.  Korchnoi knew this.  Sosonko asked him about Bronstein:
He answered with a tirade: "Was Bronstein an outstanding player? He was a genius, what a genius! A genius is somebody ahead of his time, and Bronstein was far ahead of his time. If Botvinnik said that Bronstein was very strong when the opening was making a transition into the middlegame then that was a very weak statement. In reality, at that point in the game, Bronstein demonstrated many ideas that were complete revelations. That's the sign of a genius."

No, David, for you and a few other natural chess geniuses, there never was a Plan B.

I shoulda got into the stock market.

Sosonko had a few regrets as well.  Late in the book he starts to think he has made a mistake:
[A] powerful thought pierced my mind: 'Why did I write all that stuff about this great chess player who suffered so much at the end of his life? Why? What was the point of all that philosophizing and those attempted explanations Who was all that for?' You see, I knew deep down that I shouldn't have tried to recall anything. I should have left the departed alone in their graves and should have allowed the living to keep their illusions.

But what illusion is there?  There is no illusion.  Chess is the coldest, most deterministic game imaginable.  The rules are clear and rigid, there is no element of chance except that which derives from the imperfections - or inspirations - of the players themselves.  When a game is done the moves are there in writing for all time, open to inspection and computer analysis, from now until the end of our species.

The hand that moved the pieces may be dead, but, as Shakespeare understood, the mind - or at least its pattern and particular rhythm in a given moment - endures.  And David Bronstein had a beautiful mind.

  • The Sorcerer's Apprentice was revised after Bronstein's death and named The Guardian's "Chess Book of the Year" - available here
  • See also Bill Price's "An Encounter with David Bronstein" here
  • Leonard Barden's obituary of Bronstein for The Guardian is here
  • September 02, 2018

    Tick tick tick

    SFGate: Forgotten websites you can't believe are still around 

    Blogger -

    Google made this the first mass-market blogging platform in 1999, giving tech newbies an easy way to post hot takes, write essays, or promote their businesses before Wordpress or social media came along.Blogger’s cookie-cutter technology is hopelessly outdated by modern standards, giving the publisher little control over the look of their site. And platforms like Medium have drastically reduced the barrier to entry for more complex blogs. At last check Blogger ranked No. 389 on Alexa among largest US websites. Abandoned Blogger pages abound, but you can still start one for free.