Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Cirroc Lofton, 35.

Good stuff:

1. "Don't Quit Your Day Job." Jay Ulfelder on making it as an independent research consultant.

2. Lots of parties links...I may write on some of this, but I'll link to them here in case I don't get to it. I'll start with Seth Masket on parties and ideology.

3. Andrew Sabl uses the Jim Messina news (the Obama campaigner is working for the Conservatives in the UK) to think a bit about party affiliation.

4. Mark Thompson on Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and the possibility that Republicans will get their act together.

5. And, yes, Ishtar is a good movie. David Haglund is correct. That it became the poster child for flops had something to do with sexism, and something to do with eagerness to go with standard Hollywood narratives...but whatever else Ishtar is, it's a good movie. Not a great one -- it's not an unrecognized classic or anything like that. But it's fun, and funny. On the other hand, I finally got around to seeing A New Leaf recently, and I was totally disappointed. I'm thinking that it's mainly because Walter Matthau isn't as funny as Hoffman or Beatty.


  1. Elaine May is a criminally underrated director. Mikey and Nicky is the definition of an unrecognized classic, Heartbreak Kid is nearly perfect, and I agree that Ishtar is pretty good. Her screenplay for Preminger's Such Good Friends is also fantastic.

    Surprised that you didn't like A New Leaf - May's character is one of my favorites. I agree that Matthau isn't great, but he's not bad either.

  2. 5) Good call on the mix of reasons behind "Ishtar"'s cultural notoriety. It truly was a financial flop, but there's an interesting feedback loop behind that. By the time it was released, the industry and most movie critics had been reading plenty of negative trade news about its cost overruns, and it seems like that contributed to critics' otherwise inexplicably harsh drubbing of the movie qua self-contained work of art/entertainment. Once the movie got awful reviews and press coverage as a movie-industry logistical debacle, then viewers stayed away from it more than they might have. The self-fulfilling prophecy of a massive flop was achieved, with little box office revenue to compensate for the production overruns.

    The late '80s were also the era of macho action movies: Top Gun, Rambo Part 2, Predator, Commando, Rambo III, Chuck Norris shlock, Red Dawn. The ones that were slightly more comedic and sillier almost always seemed to deal with cops, not the military: RoboCop, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Beverly Hills Cop, Police Academy. And war/military movies from a critical or vaguely left/liberal POV tended to go for tragedy, bleakness, and bitterness, not outright satire or farce: Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Empire of the Sun, Casualties of War

    Ishtar flew in the face of all of these trends (maybe the Zucker brothers' low budget "Top Secret" or "Stripes" are the only comparable military/foreign policy satires of the era), so both the industry and viewers were primed to take the movie down.

    1. "The self-fulfilling prophecy of a massive flop was achieved..." That I think really hits the nail on the head. I once watched a great documentary about the rise and fall of so called "New Hollywood" in the 70's called "A Decade Under the Influence" and that's a point some of the people from that era make in describing the decline of New Hollywood. Namely that as a lot of the New Hollywood directors went from making their small budget movies to big budget ones with almost total creative control a lot of reviewer and studio folks almost thought to sabotage them. If you pan a movie before it comes out for cost over run and a director acting like a nutcase, then people think "oh what a joke, that director is a megalomaniac narcissist," so no one goes and sees the movie so you can then pan it as a flop. The emerging quest for the blockbuster also played into this from a business stand point, as the movie industry went from wanting to make a lot of independent visions to creating this big blockbusters like Star Wars and Jaws that would play in every theater, for every show, everywhere, it was in their interest as studios to undercut their big time directors that didn't make big populist movies. Raging Bull is probably the best movie of the 80's, but it didn't make much money at all.

      To be sure the New Hollywood generation did a lot to deserve their reputation as being totally out of control, but the behavior of a lot of critics and others was pretty bad as well.

  3. As far as kids-in-sci-fi, Jake and Nog were pretty good. Not too too often in "Lost In Space" style peril*, not really Wes Crusher super-geniuses. Just ordinary kids with girl problems who aren't excessively exploited by the writer's room. Less is quite often more.

    Switching space stations, it reminds me of an unofficial rule on the set of Babylon 5: "No Cute Kids, No Cute Robots. Ever!"

    *Nog-as-Cadet might get into more action, but I haven't seen that deep into DS9 yet.

  4. I think that Hollywood occasionally needs big flops, if only to serve as butts of jokes or cautionary tales. "Don't make another Ishtar" loses punch with kids who weren't even alive at the time it was made. Hollywood provides us with flops kinda regularly. The three biggest ones "recently" (in terms of, well, my memory, which is trying to capture some kind of cultural relevancy, but there's no way I can claim it is) in my mind are Waterworld (which IS terrible), Gigli (which I've heard from people who've seen it is awful) and John Carter (the critics scared so many people away from this I don't know of anyone who's admitted to seeing it).

  5. Interesting discussion on Hollywood "flops." Hollywood studio subverting the outsider rings true to a certain extent, although it's also self-destructive. I recall seeing Ishtar, enjoying it. I'll have to look at it again if it's available.

    I'm not a big fan of DS9 in many respects, but the father-son relationship, Sisko and Jake, was special, and very important to see, as Avery Brooks realized-- role modelling black father and son. So much about Star Trek was creating models for a better present, and therefore better future. Now if they'd gotten Elaine May to play Captain Janeway! (Just kidding, Kate Mulgrew was the right choice.)


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