A group of friends and I have been having a weekly movie night during quarantine. Each of us have nominated some movies, we put them into a rotation in a shared spreadsheet, and each Sunday night we all cue up the movie to stream or otherwise watch together and we text each other comments while we watch, then talk about it afterward. This last Sunday the movie was The Thomas Crown Affair /(the 1999 remake/).
There were at least two of us in the group old enough that we remember watching the 1968 version starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. So while we were contrasting the newer version versus our recollection of the original, a young friend in the group mentioned that the 1960 version of Ocean’s Eleven was awful compared to the newer version. I started to get affronted, but fortunately before I typed anything my second thoughts pointed out that I haven’t watched the old version since I was about fourteen years old.
And I honestly couldn’t say whether I would agree with 14-year-old me about the merits of the movie.
So, since it was available to stream for free on one of the services I subscribe to, I watch the 1960 version of Ocean’s Eleven that night.
Short review: I still really enjoyed it. However, I completely understood why younger viewers would not enjoy it at all. It was a great reminder that no creative work stands in isolation.
More detailed review: One of the film’s greatest weaknesses is that there is virtually no character development. As more than one contemporary review pointed out, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop — also known as the Rat Pack — aren’t playing fictional characters unique to this movie, but rather just playing the personas that each had become associated with over the course of several movies and other performances over the years before the release of this film.
Cesar Romero–who was never considered part of the Rat Pack–is essentially playing the same character he played in a large number of movies before this. And much less famous members of the cast (Richard Benedict, Norman Fell, Hank Henry, Robert Foul,, Richard Conte, and Henry Silva to name a few) were all playing a type of character that they were frequently cast as. So for a vast portion of the 1960 audience of the film, the script didn’t have to do any work to establish the characters—the audience knew what to expect when they saw the actor walk into frame.
A further example of this is the recurring gag during the first half of the movie. For no apparent reason, Sinatra’s Danny Ocean keeps doing or prompting others to do things that greatly upset the mastermind of the operation, Mr. Acebos /(played by Akim Tamiroff/). Nothing about this sub-plot ever contributes to the end of the film, let alone moving forward any part of the plot. Tamiroff was an exceedingly well regarded actor who had been nominated for an Oscar a few times in his early career, but by the late fifties he was often cast in roles like this one of a easily excitably, overly worried character. His main role in those sorts of files was the be the easily wound up character who was unnecessarily worried about the ability of the main character to do whatever he was supposed to do for the plot.
Slight digression at this point, Tamiroff was an Armenian-American who was never able to shed his accent, and thus enjoyed a 60-some year career in Ho0llywood being cast as virtually every ethnicity except Armenian. The character he played in 1940′ The Great McGinty is often cited as the inspiration of the character of Boris Badenoff in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons.
Another big shortcoming of the movie for modern audiences is the heist itself. The way that Danny Ocean’s eleven comrades go about stealing millions in cash from five casinos simultaneously is not even slightly as intricate or clever as the plots of later caper films such as The Hot Rock or either version of The Thomas Crown Affair or even any single episode of the television series Leverage.
But, to defend the movie (which made a tidy profit for the studios at the time), one doesn’t have to ignore all of those deficits. Rather, one should ask what sort of story was it trying to tell?
First, even though it usually presented as a stand-alone movie, that wasn’t at all how the movie executives (nor most of the audience) perceived it. If you were a studio making movies at that time, you didn’t cast Sinatra, Martin, Davis, Lawford, et al, to portray a new and unique character. You cast them to play a particular type of character they had become famous for. Similarly, if you were an audience member going to the theatre to see this film, you were expecting those actors to deliver a certain kind of entertainment.
Second–and possibly most important–this film is not part of the modern genre of caper film. The title itself foreshadows the ending. Early in the film Sammy Davis, Jr. sings a song called "Ee Oh Eleven." The song is about a person who is trying to claw their way out of a less than advantaged background, and almost reaches financial success, but life is a crap-shoot, and the character rolls an eleven, losing everything he had amassed. And that is the clue that was meant to tell audiences what was coming. The title appears to refer to Danny Ocean and his ten army buddies who, as a gang of eleven, are going to do the impossible. But the eleven in the title actually refers to that moment in a game of Craps where the person rolling the dice rolls an eleven and loses everything.
While I was looking things up about the film to make sure I remembered all the details of its release and so forth correctly, I happened upon a quote from a contemporary review of the movie: "In the end, it is just an amoral tale told for laughs."
I think the reviewer who wrote the line thought that it was a scathing rebuke of the film. But when I read the line, my thought was, "Yeah? So?" Because an amoral tale simply told for laughs sounds like a quite wonderful way to spend an evening. We don’t usually come to stories and other works of art hoping for a deeply profound life-changing exploration of a erudite philosophical question.
We just want something that makes us laugh and feel entertained. And there is nothing wrong with that.
I mentioned in an earlier post that one of the presents my husband got me for Christmas was a replacement coffee maker, since the heating plate on the one I have been using for years was rusting out. I have only been using the coffee maker for about a month, so I was a little surprised after making the a new pot of coffee on Monday that the clean light was flashing on the maker. Which means that as soon as I finished drinking the coffee, I needed to clean everything out, load up the reservoir with a blend of vinegar and water and run a clean cycle.
Since that took a while late in the afternoon, I didn’t make a second pot of coffee.
My usual routine is to make a fresh pot of coffee on Monday morning, then after I drink the first pot, I make a second pot in the afternoon. I only drink about half of the second pot. Then usually on Tuesday morning I heat up the leftover from the previous day in the microwave until I finish it off, then I make a second pot which is usually consumed that day.
So I’ve used to having some coffee I can drink first thing on at least two days a week so I don’t have to try to make a new pot without already having some caffeine in my brain. I got through the rest of Monday by drinking a couple of cans of a brand of Cold Brew I sometimes mix with the homebrewed coffee to make a kind of mocha.
Even though I knew what had happened Monday afternoon, I was a bit shocked when I came into the kitchen Tuesday morning that the carafe was completely empty. I put some coffee beans in the grinder, then went back to my desk to boot up the work computer. There were several urgent messages awaiting me, so I started working on various things.
During a break between urgent calls from various co-worker, I headed into the kitchen to get some coffee. Except there wasn’t coffee. There were just fresh ground beans waiting to be put into the filter basket. I hadn’t remembered to come back and do the next part of the process. So I put the gounds into a filter.
And because there were a lot of alert sounds coming from the work phone, I headed back to the computer to deal with the follow up questions. By the time there was a break, I was developing a caffeine-deprivation headache. So I headed into the kitchen again…
…I had put the grounds into a fresh filter and put the filter into the coffeemaker, but I hadn’t put any water in the reservoir, let along turned the coffee maker on.
I didn’t get the coffeemaker actually going until about noon.
So it wasn’t exactly the best day.
Maybe Wednesday will go better…
I guess I’ll find out!
While discussing with my husband the middle bit of my review of episode four of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier I was reminded of this truly bizarre argument I was involved in during college. The setting: a freshman level World History class at a Community College in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. in 1980. Several students in the class were adamant that the instructor (and those of us who sided with him) were absolutely incorrect to say that the Spanish Civil War was not a portion of the U.S. Civil War that spilled over into Mexico. And why in the world would we think that it happened in Europe?
Sadly, it was not the dumbest thing I ever heard a college or university student argue over the course of my academic career…
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that the most recent Friday Five was an almost unreadable mess. The reason is kind of a funny (infuriating) story.
I logged out of my work computer on Friday evening sometime around 6pm, as I often do, then switched to my Macbook Pro to start working on the usual Friday Five post. As usual I started by going through my list of bookmarked news stories for a bit to get an idea of which ones I definitely wanted to include.
I took a break to sort laundry and discuss dinner plans with my husband. Then I took the laundry down to the laundry room and got it started, came back up, assembled a burrito from the massive pile of burrito fixin’s my husband had made for our lunch and scarfed it down. Then I swapped the laundry from the washers to the dryers, and sat back down to actually type up the Friday Five in HTML in a text editor.
Around 9pm Pacific Time, while I was in the middle of working on the Friday Five Wordpess.com killed the Classic Editor (in the background; I didn’t find out until I was finished typing and went to set up metatags and such), which is what I was used to using… And even though the new Block Editor has a Block that is called "Classic" if you put HTML in there, it publishes it the way that last Friday’s post turned out.
Between working on the post, dinner, and dealing with the laundry, by the time I was ready to publish the post, it was my usual bedtime, and the editor I was using disappeared. I don’t want to explain all the hoops I had to go through to salvage my HTML code which suddenly just vanished, and then try to get the web site to let me publish it. I just reached a point where I said, "Screw it! The HTML publishes fine of Dreamwidth, but you can click on the links at WordPress and they work; it just looks horrible." And I went to bed.
Here’s the thing: I’m old. I’ve been publishing stuff to the web since the 1990s, but I really started in the late 1980s writing help files for a small software company in SGML, which is an ancestor of both HTML and XML. So I type HTML tags really fast. It’s all muscle memory. I don’t think "less-than sign space a space href equals sign quotation mark" to type the beginning of a hyperlink referenece, I just think "link" and my fingers type out
<a href=" almost faster than I can say the word "link" out loud.
In part that’s because I learned to type on old manual typewriters before the advent of electric typewriters or personal computers, so I type at about 105 words per minute on modern keyboards. It’s just a thing.
The new WordPress editor does offer a Markdown block element, and if I type Markdown in to that, it works fine. The problem on Friday was that I already had the entire post ready to go in HTML, and retyping the whole thing in Markdown would have taken more time. There ought to be an option with any Web publishing tool to publish HTML. But stupidity, apparently, reigns.
Some folks will ask why I haven’t been typing the Friday Five posts in Markdown before this, because "everyone uses Markdown now" and the whole point of Markdown is that it is fewer keystrokes than HTML and the raw text is even easier for a human who doesn’t know anything about coding or the Web to parse. I know! A few years ago I was pulled aside at work to help with a side project one of the vice presidents was working on, and they wanted to do the help in Markdown. I reviewed John Gruber’s web page of the syntax, opened up my favorite plain text editor, and I wrote help in Markdown. Because the help was fairly simple there wasn’t much of a learning curve. And while, yeah, Markdown is a lot fewer keystrokes, that one project wasn’t enough to get Markdown into muscle memory. I have to think about the Markdown syntax, as simple as it is, to write this blog post.
I know HTML well enough that I don’t have to think to type it. And yes, that means that right now I still can type
<a href=" as fast or nearly as fast as I can think, "Uh, let’s see, the link text goes in the square brackets while the link goes in ordinary parenthesis, I think?"
It won’t be long before I’m not pausing to remember what to type for the less often used things, but it’s a new habit I need to learn. And like most humans I am lazy. I’d rather keep using the thing I already know than to get as good at the new thing as I already am with the old thing.
So this is that part where you imagine me as Grandpa Simpson shouting at a cloud.
But writing this post has been good practice for the next Friday Five.
One thing that is different this year is that I have adopted the habit of placing the coffee carafe and all other machine-washable bits of the coffee maker into the dishwasher on Sunday. Then make a couple of pots of tea for my caffeine intake that day. Also, Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) fell close to the last day of Thanksgiving that it can, so I had one less week than I do most years to get through the bulk of the holiday blend coffee. Therefore, I shouldn’t be surprised that it took several extra weeks to use up the holiday coffee this year.
But that isn’t my only coffee problem.
I have so, so many bags of non-holiday coffee beans. Partway through the holiday season I finally realized that there were at least three times as many bags of the non-holiday blends hiding on the shelf behind the holiday blends than I thought. And it really confused me for a moment. Then I realized what happened.
My favorite coffee, bar none, is Wings of the Morning Kona Coffee from Ka `Io Farms. Which is usually carried by Central Market (and which I originally discovered at Ballard Market back when we lived only four blocks away from that store). But the availability is kind of seasonal. It seems every year (but not at the same time of year), the bags of Wings of the Morning vanish from the store shelf for about three or four months. And the last time I found some on the shelf was in either late August or early September.
It’s a more expensive coffee than most of those I drink, so I save it as kind of a special treat. I have also often stretched the Wings of the Morning supply by mixing the beans with Lowry’s Dark Hawaiian Blend, which still tastes really good, but makes me feel less guilty about the cost per cup of the coffee.
Anyway, the reason I have so much extra coffee in the pantry is that every time I went to Central Market hoping to find Wings of the Morning, but found that spot empty, I would buy one or two bags of some of the other coffees they sell there. Of the stores I regularly shop at, Central Market has the widest selection of coffees from different roasting companies. And once in that some period Ballinger Thriftway had the Lowry’s coffees on sale really discounted, so I bought two bags that week.
Which all adds up to a whole lot of coffee beans in my pantry.
When I noticed, mid-December, just how much more coffee there was in the pantry than I thought, I added a new item to the Shopping List on my phone: “DO NOT BUY COFFEE.” So, unless, by chance, Wings of the Morning suddenly appears in the store in the next few months, I’m not going to be buying any new coffee. Because it will clearly take that long to make a significant dent in the coffee in the pantry.
And before anyone suggests that I used that as an excuse to drink extra: I drink, on average, one and a half pots of coffee per day all by myself. I really don’t think I need to increase my intake.
Otherwise, I might vibrate myself into another dimension.
When the lightning burns, the wolfsbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright – or, more of why I love sf/f
I have been trying to write a review of the sixth book in the Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire, and realized that I couldn’t really talk about it without talking about the rest of the series, and I had somehow neglected to write about the previous book when I read it last year, so I need to talk about it before I jump into the latest. So, this will be a review of the fifth book. For reference, I wrote about the first three novellas in this series here. And then I wrote about the fourth book (which left me sobbing uncontrollably), here.
I should preface this with this statement: before I read the first book in this series I was predisposed to love them, as the author had explained on a panel at a sci fi convention I attended, that the inspiration for the first story was her own reading of tales (when she was a child herself) in which a child or group of children were transported to a magical world where they faced danger, monsters, and adventure but managed to save that world… and then were forced to go back home and just be ordinary kids again!
And I definitely loved the first book in the series, as well as the next several sequels.
The fourth book, In An Absent Dream was—for me—the most devastating, but the first three had been pretty moving.
When the first teasers for the fifth book came out, I must admit I had mixed feelings. The first book had introduced us to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a refuge for those children who were not happy to be sent back to mundania after having slipped through the shadows into another world. Among the children we met in the first book were the twin sisters Jack and Jill, who had been to a world of horrors. And they had turned out to be central to the mystery of the first book. The second book in the series is a prequel to the first, and tells the story of how Jack and Jill (or Jacqueline and Jillian as they were known by their parents) went to that world, had their adventure, and come home.
It was clear from both the announced title of the fifth book and its official summary that we were going to be treated to yet another adventure involving Jack and Jill. And while I had enjoyed the first and second book in the series, there had been a whole lot of other characters introduced in the first and third books whose stories I really wanted to learn more of. So giving yet one more book to Jack and Jill, who had already had two books, seemed like it was giving the shaft to some of the other characters.
On the other hand, the magical world that Jack and Jill had traveled to, known as The Moors, was based on the old Universal Horror movies of the 1930s and 1940s. And I loved those particular movies, which had contributed quite a bit to how much I had loved the second book in the series, Down Among the Sticks and Bones. So I wasn’t really complaining about getting to spend more time there.
McGuire has explained several times that the series is set up thusly: odd-numbered books will be set at the school and involve groups of children who have already had at least one magical adventure on their own working together to solve a problem, while even-numbered books will be straight up Portal Fantasies where we see one or more children going to one of the magical worlds for the first time, and how that transforms them.
So. Come Tumbling Down begins with Jack unexpectedly coming back to Eleanor West’s school after taking her deranged sister back to the Moors and needing help. Several characters accompany Jack and her resurrected girlfriend, Alexis, back to the Moors to try to stop Jill from doing something truly horrible that will (among other things) cause great harm to her sister, Jack. Not to mention cause a lot of other bad things to happen to the mostly innocent bystanders trying to live their lives on The Moors.
It is clear right away that something is very wrong. Jack and Alexis explain the situation, and beg some of the students of Eleanor West’s school to come back with them to The Moors to stop Jill’s evil plan, because Jack can’t do it without them. A couple of the other wayward children we met in earlier books, as well as at least one we haven’t seen before this book answer Jack’s call and go back with her to the Moors.
We get to see aspects of this world that weren’t covered in Down Among the Sticks and Bones, which is cool. But as the rest of the quest unfolded I had a bit of a problem. Most of the characters that Jack persuaded to come back weren’t actually needed to complete the quest. Honestly, exactly one, and only that one and only for one specific task of the characters that Jack begged to come back with her did anything that actually contributed to solving the problem. All of the other actions that contributed to the solution were performed by Jack on her own. So most of the characters (including one who paid a very significant price) were not needed after all. Their only purpose in the plot was to get hurt (or worse) to create some tension, and not actually to contribute to the final solution.
It can be argued that Jack didn’t know that when she pled her case early in the book… but the author should have known that, and should have structured the story somewhat differently.
Mind you, I enjoyed the quest, its solution, and the new things we learned about the Moors. I just think the author dropped the ball at a couple of points in the plot, is what I’m saying.
However, the over all story—most importantly the explicit revelation that what some people call a monster can actually be the hero of the tale—was very entertaining and quite good. So like every other story I’ve read by this author, by the end despite some things not going the way I thought, I was still left mostly happy with that tale and looking forward to the next story in the series.
But it didn’t feel either as tight nor as poignant as the fourth book. And maybe I should just accept that sometimes an author hits their stride on every single aspect of a book in an incredible way, and other times they only hit it on say three out of five major components.
I mean, I liked the book. I went back to reread it and enjoyed it the second time. And as soon as I knew their was another book in the series coming out I preordered it. Which means, I guess, that I’m saying some of the books in this series are Incredible and Stupendous, and others are merely Really Good.
And that’s okay.
I was also feeling as if the coffee wasn’t tasting right. With the current pandemic, any times things don’t taste as you expect there is a fear that you’ve caught the virus, but it wasn’t all food—just coffee. I finally remembered that last summer the coffee was tasting too strong, so I had turned the dial on my fancy grinder that determines how much coffee is ground up on a single push of the button a few notches. Which means I was using few beans per pot. But it had tasted right then.
There are (marketing) studies out there that people want stronger, darker coffee during cold weather than during warm weather. Which is why many of the coffee roasting companies use darker roasts in their holiday blends, for instance. But that doesn’t effect the strength of the coffee. So I turned the dial up a couple of notches for the next pot of coffee. It was better, but still not right. Then I turned it up a few more notches, and I’ve been liking how the coffee tastes since.
If it takes me two more months to finish off all the Holiday Blends, I guess I’ll just have to live with it!
Alvin McEwen opined this week that it’s okay to feel exhausted by the year, and that it’s okay to be angry—because despite being exhausted we aren’t totally beaten down, and our anger is righteous anger. (If, by the way, you don’t follow Alvin’s blog, Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters you should check it out! He’s doing good work there.) He’s right. It’s okay if all we’ve done is survive. Because the first step in fighting back against the darkness is to be here, ready to fight.
And as I finished that sentence, I finally figured out what this year’s wish is:
Don’t look to others for hope. Be hope.
There have been times when other people gave you hope. Now it’s time to pay it forward. Be hope.
You can be the hope that changes the world. Show up. Remember that exhaustion, and be kind when necessary. Harness that righteous anger, and be resolute and unyielding when it is called for.
Even when you are afraid, be hope.
I’ve had a variant of that conversation with myself on about 128 work days since going into quarantine, and virtually every time I correctly knew what day it was when I was barely awake. Yet, at later moments in each of those days, I would feel a confusion about what day it was. Which seems like a contradiction. But human minds are messy things. Our consciousness is processed in or through our brains, but those brains are not neatly and precisely designed microchips, with an organic melange of neurons and neurochemicals intimately entwined with our endocrine system and all the other messy imprecise organs and organelles evolved for various purposes that may not always be apparent.
When I said that my waking up process involves one part of my brain asking itself, I wasn’t merely speaking metaphorically. There really are multiple systems involves in making up this notion we have of our mind, and they don’t all function the same way. There is clearly a logical, verbal part of my mind that can respond to that question of what day it is by checking memory and finding out that yesterday was Wednesday, therefore today much by Thursday. But other parts of the system use different criteria and inputs to perceive and understand the world. It’s those systems that become confused with our personal routines are disrupted.
I’ve started quarantine on February 17, before our state had it’s first stay at home orders because I woke up with a persistent cough. I didn’t think it would be a big deal once the actual orders came out, because I had worked from one two-days each week for a few years at that point (and any time I got sick but was well enough to work, I’d work from home for longer stretches). My husband still works outside the home, getting up each morning at a godawful hour to commute in, yet he also has these moments of confusion about the day… because the routines around work have also changed.
I don’t feel free to just pop off to the store anytime I want an ingredient that we don’t have for a particular recipe. I should limit the number of times I go out and get exposed to other people, right? And if I am going out, I have to make sure I have my mask, have washed my hands, and have a plan on what I’m picking up so that I minimize the time I’m inside any buildings other than home. While there I have to pay attention to how close I’m standing or walking past someone. And that doesn’t even get into keeping a wary eye out for the fuckwits who refused to wear a mask or have it pulled down so their nose is hanging out, et cetera.
So familiar stores are no longer the same kinds of place they were, because how I behave there, how others behave, and so forth has changed.
It’s strange little things that sometimes get to me. For instance, in the before times, I tended to handle one of my weekly chores (putting away the recently washed laundry) while listening to a particular conference call (with my mic muted) on work-from-home Tuesdays. Sometime during quarantine I just stopped doing it. I stopped having the automatic thought—after logging into the meeting, greeting the other early joiners, and then muting myself when enough people were there to start the business part—that now it is time to go deal with the laundry.
I don’t know when it happened. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because every work day is a work-from-home day, therefore Tuesday doesn’t feel like Tuesday any more?
The way the pandemic is going, we’ve got a lot more of this to get through. And even when we do, the new normal isn’t going to be like the before times. We can’t predict what that new normal will be, exactly, but I know that some things are just not going back to the way we used to do them.
That is one of the reasons that, while I’m happy to see 2020 end, I don’t feel much like celebrating the arrival of 2021. I’m not going to be cheering, “We did it! We made it through that hellish year!” Which gets to the second reason I’m not feeling the celebration: not all of us made it. At least 333,000 Americans didn’t survive 2020—and a whole lot of them ought to have, and could have, if certain someone’s hadn’t made the politically calculated decision to abandon plans for testing and contact tracing and so forth.