Monday, December 26, 2011

All The Smart People Are Saying...

This has been bothering me since yesterday.*  As is our wont on Sunday mornings, we watched McLaughlin Group and he was doing his annual year-end Awards Show where they all vote for things like "Best Political Comeback", "Lamest Apology", etc.  I don't remember what the specific topic of this one was, but McLaughlin had asked each guest to predict the outcome of something or other -- it may have been about Libya, but it doesn't matter.

Anyway, one of them prefaced his prediction by asserting, "All the smart people are saying...".

Here's the part that's got me bothered.  Does he mean the people who are saying "X" are saying it because they're smart or are they smart because that's what they're saying (i.e. agreeing with him)?

It strikes me as a wonderful phrase because it allows the person who hears it to interpret the information anyway s/he chooses to interpret it.  How wonderfully meaningless!

*"bothering", as in "causing me to think about it bemusedly a couple of times", not as in, "the bastard who said this has ruined my life".

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Have A Merry, Happy, Joyous, Festive, Jocund, and Jolly HoliYadaYadaYada.

Hope you're all having a wonderful day(s)!  I just thought I'd show you what I think may be the best tree I've seen this year in New York.  It's about 6" tall and it's on the counter at the coffee "lab" around the corner from my house.

Three things:

1. I wish Rockerfeller Center would try to duplicate this next year.  I think an 80' version of this would be cool beans.

2. I have no idea what's up with the broken Channukah* candles in the background.  A friend suggested it might be some sort of Channukah gang signal.

3. If you want more trees to look at, Steve has links to a bunch of 'em.

 *You'd think there'd be one spelling of the word Channukah that doesn't offend spell check.  You'd be wrong.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Trump GOP Smackdown Has Been Cancelled And The World Is A Poorer Place For It.

I guess I missed it when The Donald pulled out of moderating a debate between the GOP candidates, and I'm pissed.  I don't know about you people, but I was really looking forward to it. I've only watched highlights of the other debates but I assure you I intended to be glued to screen for this one. It would have been just like a spectacular blending of McLaughlin Group with Toddlers & Tiaras.

Personally, I refuse to accept that this glorious event will never take place.  In my tradition of pounding square pegs into round holes...I bring you news of the debate from an alternate (and much more entertaining) universe.

Image is embiggable.

Text of article:

After much hand-wringing over who would participate, last night Donald Trump "moderated" a debate between GOP hopefuls Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum.  In the interest of "fairness", Trump also tapped Gary Busey to stand in for Ron Paul and Rosie O'Donnell for John Huntsman, both of whom had declined the invitation.  Trump declared that they were both "terrific, terrific proxies since Gary is actually a bit saner than Paul and really, how many votes could Rosie lose for Huntsman?  A loser is a loser."  Also appearing, in spite of having suspended his campaign, was Herman Cain who said he "just wanted another shot at Michelle Bachmann.  Ooooooweeeee! She's a nine-nine-nine!"

The evening got off to a contentious start when Trump introduced Rick Santorum as "Rick from Pennsylvania".  When Santorum objected, Trump expressed his disgust that a Presidential Contender would have the temerity to adopt such a foul word as his last name and that he refused to use such language in a family setting. "Have you Googled that word?  You should be ashamed of yourself", he chastised the candidate.

That this would be an unusual debate was telegraphed from the setting; the debate took place in the Boardroom viewers have become accustomed to seeing on Trump's highly rated reality series. To further the theme, Trump was flanked by Donald, Jr. and Ivanka.  Their actual participation was limited to Donald, Jr. asking his father for hairstyling advice.

The format began with a fairly traditional series of questions for the candidates, but the director's choice of camera angles was oddly jarring.  Later, it was discovered that Trump had fired the director during the first five minutes of the telecast because the director had attempted to correct Trump when he claimed that this was the "first and only debate".  He then directed that the camera be kept on him except for brief cutaways to anyone he addressed by name.  An insider says that Trump insisted America would be best served by seeing his reactions to the candidates' responses.

Newt Gingrich, who recently asserted that anyone concerned with Gay Rights should "vote for Obama", expanded on that theme by reeling off a long list of other people who should do the same.  The list included anyone opposed to sweatshops ("we're outsourcing good American jobs"), child labor ("ditto"), or the folding of the Judicial Branch into the Executive.  

When Mitt Romney was asked about recent reports of wireless companies tracking and recording each keystroke customers make on their mobile devices, he brandished his phone and said, "This is indeed ominous".  Before he could continue, Michelle Bachmann angrily interrupted, saying, "Now this is what I've been talking about.  The Media keeps accusing me of saying dumb things and here you've got Mitt Romney waving his phone around and calling it 'ominous'.  I can see clearly from here that it's a Motorola!"
One of the things that separated this debate from traditional debates was Trumps willingness to insert himself into the proceedings at every opportunity.  
At one point, he said to Rick Perry, "Do you mind if I sit back a little? Because your breath is very bad"*
He made the observation, "It's always good to be underestimated"* to Ron Paul stand-in Gary Busey.

Rick Santorum was advised, "Part of being a winner is knowing when enough is enough. Sometimes you have to give up the fight and walk away, and move on to something that's more productive."*

After responding to a question about foreign debt and balance of trade, Bachmann was informed, "All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me - consciously or unconsciously. That's to be expected."*

And once when Trump seemed to have become distracted and lost interest in the proceedings, he said, "That's one of the nice things. I mean, part of the beauty of me is that I'm very rich"*

The second hour of the debate consisted of "Candidate Challenges" the most mesmerizing of which may have been the Obama Dartboard Competition.  Rosie O'Donnell was ironically closest to the bullseye and leading when Rick Perry's turn came.  Pulling a large handgun from his waistband, he obliterated the target but was judged to have lost points when the recoil knocked him on his backside.
 Trump closed the evening by saying he would refrain from declaring a winner until the "wonderful, wonderful, exciting Results Show" he'd be hosting immediately after the conclusion of The Super Bowl.
*These are actual, albeit completely out of context, Donald Trump quotes!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Film Is A Visual Medium. Your Work Will Be Obscured To The Fullest Extent Of Available Technology. Thank You For Playing. (Part Two, Take Two).

I left you a few days week or so ago, half-way through talking about how each member of the crew on a movie has the heartfelt conviction that their part in making a movie is the mostest importantest, critical, necessary and worthy part in the process.  I alluded to the sad fact that most of those people are wrong; how could their contribution be the most important when obviously, my contribution is the one that really matters? (he said self-mockingly).

Let's pick up (again) where we left off; a bit more about instances where the location was clearly the star of the scene but the Director, the D.P., and the Editor didn't get the memo.

There's this really great Dim Sum place in Chinatown Called Nom Wah Tea Parlor.  It's on Doyers Street and it's been there, more or less, forever...or at least, since 1920. It sits at the spot where Doyers Street makes a sharp dogleg turn which was once known as The Bloody Angle. (The blind angle offered a wonderful spot for various gangs' "hatchet men" to catch each other unawares.  It's said that more people have died violently at this spot than at any other street intersection in America.)  Here's a shot looking toward the present day site of Nom Wah from the early 20th Century and another similar shot from a few weeks ago.

The first time I ran across Nom Wah was on my very first job as a Location Manager.  It wasn't going to be featured in the video, but, like every other place on the block, I needed to make arrangements to keep their lights on throughout the shoot.  This gave me the opportunity to meet Wally Tang, who owned the place from 1974 until a couple of years ago.  Here's a shot of Wally from, I think, the early 80's.

Two things came about from this shoot.  1. I met Wally and discovered that he spoke no English at all the first time I met him, then became progressively more fluent as the week went on and I stopped in a few more times, and 2. Nom Wah is one of those locations you get a look at and then decide you're going to get it into a movie if it kills you.

When I worked on True Believer not much later, (see Part One of this bit), Nom Wah wasn't really going to show up any better than it had the first time I saw it. Once again, I just needed Wally to keep his lights on throughout the night.  Once again, Wally spoke no English at all on my first visit and became perfectly fluent within a week. He also invited me to have dinner with him and his extended family while the shoot went on in the cold and dark.  It was very enjoyable.

Fast forward a bunch of years to when we shot A Good Night To Die.* This is a movie that either should be better than it is or is better than it has a right to be; I've never seen the whole thing, so I can't judge.  It did have a cool premise; a bunch of freelance hitpersons all hired to off each other including Deborah Harry as a big boss and Ally Sheedy and Ralph Macchio as a seriously whacked-out brother/sister hit team.**

Anyway, the lead-up to the finale of the movie was supposed to take place in a restaurant.  The type of restaurant wasn't specified, but I thought of Nom Wah right away.  Here's some more shots (interior and exterior) to give you a better idea what the place has to offer visually.

One thing you'll note is that viewed from certain angles, the restaurant offers some really interesting backgrounds and viewed from certain other angles...not so much.  The powers that be chose...not so much.  I mean, sure, I accept that the scene is about the people, but you can get a tight shot of people and still line it up so you're seeing the cool counter in the background instead of the friggin heater hanging from the ceiling.  Am I right?  Here's the scene.

Sorry, but I felt dissed! 

That scene cuts short of it,  but after Michael Rappaport leaves the restaurant (SPOILER ALERT), he gets shot enough times to make Bonnie & Clyde and Sonny Corleone look positively un-perforated.  I could only track down some screenshots from the interior looking out; not any viewed from the exterior if any of those angles made the final cut.  I guess I get a little bit of artistic vindication from that part.***

Incidentally, I had lunch there a few weeks ago on the day I shot the more recent of these pictures.  The restaurant had been closed for a while, but was re-opened about a year ago by Wilson, Wally's nephew, and he's updated the kitchen but left the dining room and exterior alone.   Of course, I approve.  (Wilson is behind the counter in the first interior shot above.)  As to the food?  I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of dim sum, so my opinion doesn't count for much.  If it's any indication, the place was packed by the time I left.
*The film has a release date of 2003 but it was shot a few years earlier and experienced all sorts of difficulties getting distribution.  That's another story entirely and I only know the dirty details third, fourth and fifth hand, so I won't go into it.

**  Here's a clip of them with Lainie Kazan. It's important to note that throughout this scene, I was lying on the floor in the back seat so I could relay info from the director and give them directions on where to go.  I spent about 4 hours trying not to laugh during takes.

***It's also not necessary to point out that the bullets slamming through Rappaport's body seem to dematerialize just short of hitting the front window.  We didn't have the time or budget to replace the front windows for five takes of that scene.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Finally! I'm Ahead of the Curve On Something!

It's difficult to express my pride at having beat XKCD to the punch on this issue of global import.  And yes...I've left in the "I-guess-he-told-me" response from Benny the Grocery Assemblage Engineer. Those of us who are at the leading edge of complaining about the really important stuff need to be prepared to face the consequences when we're asked to display the courage of our convictions.*

*The flavored-coffee lobby scares the shit out of me, so I tread a little bit more lightly there.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Goy To The Woyld

So it's that time of year when we all find ourselves deep in the trenches of the War on Christmas and I just thought I'd take a moment to point out a few of the war's unacknowledged heroes.  The covert agents serving deep behind enemy lines.  The ones living each day in danger of exposure and punishment.  But they soldiered on and since many of them have passed on, I think it's high time to give them the recognition they so deserve.

Of course, I'm talking about Jewish songwriters.  As I'm sure you're aware, many of the perennially favorite Christmas songs were written by Jews.  Irving Berlin, Jerry Herman, Johnny Marks ... the list goes on and on.  And the explanation has always been that they were just writing songs for a large demographic and that the songs, if successful, would have a really long shelf-life and continue paying royalties for years to come.  And while there's certainly some truth to that, I can now point out that those reasons were just providing cover.

I haven't been made privy to all of their (Ha, I fixed it.) heroic actions in the War on Christmas, but I can now let you in on a little secret; All of those Christmas songs contain subliminal subversive messages.  Let's start with the Godfather of covert caroling, the 19th Century French composer Adolphe Adam who wrote "O Holy Night".  His rebellion was somewhat arcane and difficult to decipher, but courageous nonetheless.  If you follow a complex code, utilizing every third note from every other line of the score (and leaving out the bassoon's part), there's a message that says, "Watch out fellow Jews. Serving in the French military will get your ass tossed in jail." If Alfred Dreyfus hadn't been such a music snob, he might have avoided a great deal of unpleasantness.

Silver Bells, if played backwards contains the message "Shop at Kresge's, Shop at Kresge's" repeated ad infinitum.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer includes coded references to the locations of discount Chinese delivery and discount movie tickets.

The Christmas Waltz is a bit more bizarre but no less seditious in its intent.  The song includes an hidden recipe for potato knishes and knaidlach.

Obviously, discovering these folks' heroism has been difficult; they were double agents serving under the most trying of conditions and their secrets have been well kept.  If you're aware of any of them I've missed, please let me know.  I, for one, think it's time their heroism was celebrated.