Posts Tagged ‘humor’

The Gripes of Wrath

Posted in General on November 12th, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

The writers’ strike has left us with this shocking realization: Larry King is the most intelligent man on television. He doesn’t need a staff of ventriloquists; he really knows every Esther Williams movie.

In today’s spam, along with the usual offers from billionaire Nigerian princes, was this advertisement:


Earn $200 an hour harvesting punchlines. Our workers’ camps have showers and Yoga instructors.

Yes, they tempt you with Paradise. But once you load the wife, the kinfolk and the pug into the truck, then drive to Californie (making a detour to push some of the kinfolk into the Grand Canyon), you’ll find the wages have gone down to $110 an hour. You struggle all day but then don’t get paid; the overseer doesn’t like your satirical commentaries on the Byzantine Empire. (Jay Leno has never heard of it.) So, rather than being beaten up by Ward Bond to the tune of “Red River Valley”, I’ll forego my career in migrant labor.

But without my scab wit, will Hollywood be forced to surrender? Not quite. The producers know the American public and the extent of our attention span. So, expect the networks to premiere such new shows as “I Love Lucy” and “Gunsmoke”. Thanks to computer technology, the shows can be updated to include profanity and nudity. (A nude Spring Byington might be hotter than you think.)

Even the gameshows can prove that they can do without writers. “Wheel of Fortune” now will allow misspellings. On “Jeopardy” the contestants will take questions from the audience.

Furthermore, the networks can buy television shows from abroad. For instance, Britain’s “Coronation Street” has 47 years of episodes, and it is in nearly intelligible English. (Someone from London can dub what they’re saying in Manchester.) Add Japanese samurai series and Mexican soap operas, and you have a full broadcasting schedule.

In fact, the networks may never again have to hire American writers. High school students in India are willing to work for extra credit. As television has repeatedly shown, you can write for any series with just two years of English, a subscription to Playboy, and a copy of “Yiddish for Dummies”.

Eugene at the Movies

Posted in General on November 5th, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

To justify the cost of my cable television bill, I have to see 47 films a week. It is not that difficult. I sleep and eat on the couch; and the chamberpot fits under it. (Any olfactory indiscretions can be blamed on the pug.)

Here are my reviews of three films that I saw this weekend.

If you don’t have enough contemptible people in your life, “The Squid and the Whale” will make up for that deficit. To paraphrase Tolstoy, “Every unhappy family has its own story but I wouldn’t want it to be this nauseating.” The redeeming feature of the Berkmans of New York is that someday that they will die. Of course, in life and literature there are vicious, self-destructive families; they were a staple of Greek tragedies. However, Agamemnon and Clytemnestra are much more likable than Bernie and Joan Berkman. He is a pompous, pretentious bully; she is a self-absorbed, irrresponsible, aspiring psychotic. They are atrocious but without being interesting: petty monsters. You can imagine how endearing their children are. I suppose that the acting was good. Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney have never seemed so repulsive–although they will never pass for Berkmans. And here is an interesting footnote: one of their horrid brats is played by Owen Kline, the child of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates. In his role, the 14 year-old Owen is a thesaurus of obscenity–using language that I have never heard his parents say. (Of course, “Gremlins” did not really offer Ms. Cates the right venue to discuss oral sex.)

I did not intend to see “Gone With the Wind” again. The first five times might have seemed enough. But by accident, I switched to Turner Classic Movies just as the film began. Of course, I promised myself that I would just watch the first few minutes of the film–only until Clark Gable appeared; then I set a limit of half a hour, then maybe I’d stop after the burning of Atlanta, then after the first seven hours….The film is ridiculous but irresistible. Its purported history is outrageous: Abraham Lincoln should be ashamed of himself, ruining the lives of those kindly slaveowners and their adoring darkies. The never-ending melodrama of Scarlett O’Hara is absurd; fiddle-dee-dee, the man-eating monstress is laughably obvious.
And yet, Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, with an almost flawless supporting cast of Olivia DaHavilland, Thomas Mitchell, Ona Munson, keep you mesmerized. (Yes, I am omitting Leslie Howard; I’m saving him for the footnotes.) This is far from the greatest film ever made, but it really is the best example of the glamour and charisma of Hollywood’s golden age. We just don’t make Clark Gables anymore.

Footnote No. 1: The role of Ashley Wilkes is a thankless role; a badly written part, Ashley is little more than an aesthetic cipher. Leslie Howard had certainly distinguished himself portraying men of ideas rather than action: “The Petrified Forest“, “Of Human Bondage” and especially “Pygmalion.” But Mr. Howard really had nothing to do in the film but languidly sigh. Worse, at 49 he clearly was too old to be Ashley. And if I may be so tactlessly ethnic, Mr. Howard’s aquiline nose and dark, world-weary eyes are not found among Southern aristocrats. His Ashley would have had to join the Ku Klux Kohens, wearing a long tallith instead a sheet. The young Tony Curtis, alias Bernard Schwartz, said, “When I went to Hollywood, I wanted to be the Jewish Leslie Howard; then I discovered Leslie Howard beat me to it.”

Footnote No. 2: While watching Vivien Leigh as Scarlett and Butterfly McQueen as her idiot servant Prissy, I kept thinking of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

If I speak of “Narrow Margin” you are likely to think of a mediocre thriller with Gene Hackman and Anne Archer about a cop transporting a witness on a train filled with mafia killers. That film was a padded remake of a taut, excellent, but low-budget movie made some 30 years earlier. The original has been described as “one of the best B-movies ever made”, and I would testify to that before any grand jury. It starred Charles McGraw, a gruff-voiced, hard-bitten actor who most of us would recognize as a second-string villain. For example, in “Spartacus” he was the brutal gladiator instructor who Kirk Douglas drown in a cauldron of boiling stew. Here, however he is the hero, an honest cop with a dangerous and distasteful assignment of protecting an odious character. He doesn’t know whom to trust, and he has to wonder if the assignment is worth the risk. Most of us might be tempted to take the proferred bribe and let the Mafia have the pleasure. The story is gripping and brilliantly filmed; you really sense the constricted space of a train. (Claustrophobes be warned.) Yet, this film’s budget entire cost less than the catering bill for “Gone With the Wind“. Check Turner Classic Movies for the next broadcast of “Narrow Margin.”

And tonight I plan to tape “Night of the Hunter.” After all, I have only seen it once.

Gidget Goes To Washington

Posted in General on November 1st, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 — In adamantly refusing to declare waterboarding illegal, Michael B. Mukasey, the nominee for attorney general, is steering clear of a potential legal quagmire for the Bush administration: criminal prosecution or lawsuits against Central Intelligence Agency officers who used the harsh interrogation practice and those who authorized it, legal experts said Wednesday.

The biggest problem for Mr. Mukasey remains his refusal to take a clear legal position on the interrogation technique.

Addressing the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Mukasey explained, “I am personally opposed to waterboarding because I look terrible in a bathing suit. However, Sandre Dee, Annette Funicello and Deborah Walley looked great. And James Darren and Frankie Avalon weren’t bad in their pre-toupee days. I would not condemn surfing per se, but would judge each of the beach movies on its individual merits.

Gidget is pretty good. And Gidget Goes Hawaiian is very enjoyable; if you don’t like Eddie Foy Jr. and Peggy Cass, you must be UnAmerican. Under no circumstance, are these beach movies a torture.

Beach Party is problematic. It is painful to see Dorothy Malone in such a dumb role; otherwise the film is okay. Regarding Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach and Beach Blanket Bingo , individually each is within the limits of the Geneva Convention. But a double feature could be torture. How to Stuff a Wild Bikini and The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini are crimes against humanity. And Harvey Lembeck is definitely a terrorist.”

Flagging Efforts

Posted in General on April 12th, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

What happens when you combine a Greek and a Jew?  Aside from 241 lawyer jokes, you also get the national flag of Great Britain.

Until April 12, 1606, the flag of England was ostensibly the “cross of St. George”, two straight red lines transecting on a white background. St. George was the patron saint of England, although you can hardly imagine a cosmopolitan 4th century Greek bishop visiting the backwoods of Britannia.

Until April 12, 1606, the flag of Scotland was ostensibly “the cross of St. Andrew”, two white diagonal lines intersecting on a blue background. St. Andrew was the patron saint of Scotland, although you could be certain that a 1st century Jewish fisherman never heard of Caledonia.

On April 12, 1606, however, the two flags were combined because both country were ruled by James, England’s first and Scotland’s sixth. King James was somewhat brighter than the average Stuart and considerably shorter, but he had the full extent of Scottish parsimony. (Being cheap did spare him a conflict over money with Parliament; his son should have been so stingy.) He probably thought that combining the two flags would save on fabric.

The flag soon was named the Union Jack, an allusion to the fact that the Latin form of James is Jacobus, alias Jack. Initially, the Union Jack was the monarch’s personal banner. England and Scotland continued to fly their respective “crosses.” But in 1707, someone kept Queen Anne sober enough to sign the Act of Union, combining Scotland and England into one country and under one flag.

In 1801, the Union Jack’s appearance was “freshened” and updated with the addition of a red sash of intersecting diagonal lines: “the cross of St. Patrick”.  Patrick was the patron saint of Ireland and, in an unprecedented coincidence, he really had been there.  You can just imagine just how thrilled the Irish were to be be represented on the Union Jack.

Wales, however, is excluded from the Union Jack. Its “cross of St. David” is two straight yellow lines transecting on a black background. Wales might have stayed independent if its soldiers had clashed as ferociously as its color scheme.

The Quality of Mercy

Posted in English Stew on February 25th, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

Mercy was the stock and trade of the Roman Empire. True, an Empire of mad Caesars, blood-crazed mobs and well-fed lions would not seem very charitable or lenient. (You could ask a Carthaginian if there were any left.) However, in its original Latin, mercy had nothing to do with virtue. It meant “trade.” The Latin word “mercari” proved remarkably versatile, the root for market, merchant, mercenary and even the name of a God. Fleet-footed and sleight-of-hand, Mercury was the patron of traders…and thieves. Mercari also provided France a way to say “thank you.” Finally, and unintentionally, mercari became the English word for clemency.

Let’s begin this mercurial odyssey. The Romans introduced “mercari” to Gaul but it hardly made a good first impression. After all, at Roman insistence, the Gaulish traded their liberty, land and livestock in exchange for the right to keep breathing. For four centuries, mercari meant supplying the local garrison with wine and pornographic pottery. Beginning in the fifth century, however, the word was reinvented, “new and improved” by a software company called Christianity.

Its sales force understood the principles of marketing. Prospective converts needed an incentive if they were to trade Jove for Jesus. So, the missionaries offered their customers a mercedes. No, it was not a deluxe German chariot, but it was a miracle of marketing. The word mercedes , in fact, was a variation of mercari, but its meaning had been embellished and burnished. A mercedes was more than a mere trade; it was a bargain, a reward, a blessing!

Those missionaries made a compelling sales pitch, guaranteeing morality and salvation. All that paganism could promise was provocative theater. The Gaulish realized which religion was the mercedes. In the fifth century, the conquering Franks came to the same conclusion and traded in Wotan. Since mercedes was synonymous with reward or blessing, the French began saying it to express appreciation. They did abridge it to two syllables-“merci”-but the French were never long on gratitude.

The English learned “mercy” from the Normans, and the lesson was in both Latin and French. The Norman conquerors included bishops as well as barons. The new prelates of England were bound by the tenets of Christianity, and the Church still promised “mercedes.” However, after six centuries in the Dark Ages, the Church really wasn’t feeling chipper. In this bleak 11th century perspective, the world was sinful, and mankind was unworthy of God’s mercedes. Such blessings were an undeserved favor. Of course, the Norman clergy were eager to terrorize their conquered congregations, promising eternal damnation unless the English proved abjectly servile. Even then, their hope of salvation was slim, dependent upon the generosity of Heaven. Any fate other than Hell was an act of mercedes.

Living under the Normans, the English already had a familiarity with Hell. The Normans were descended from Vikings who had overrun France. Over a century, they had acquired a facade of French culture, although the Norman idea of Christian conduct was limited to shaving. Now the new masters of England, they made no attempt to endear themselves to their subjects. On the contrary, the Normans routinely terrorized the English to teach them their place-with the livestock. The battered and cowed English became accustomed to abuse and degradation.

Then, the unexpected occurred in the 12th century. It might have been during Lent or in the wake of the Chivalry craze. An English servant had just finished his debasing drudgery (perhaps licking the stables) and now expected to receive a slap or a kick from the Norman lord or lady. Instead, the Norman muttered “merci.” The servant kept waiting for some affliction but nothing happened. The Norman repeated “merci” and waved the Englishman away. The amazed and relieved servant had never before heard the word “merci” but he could guess its meaning. The Norman was saying, “I won’t hurt you.”

By the 13th century, the distortion of mercedes and the misinterpretation of merci had converged into our meaning of mercy. So, from Roman greed, medieval gloom and Norman arrogance, we derived an expression of virtue. Whether or nor mankind is inherently sinful, we are habitually ironic.