Friday, April 22, 2011


Before these modern advances in science took place we were told that females were made of “sugar and spice and everything nice” and that males were made of “snips and snails and puppy dog tails”.

Well, whatever the ingredients might be, it was pretty obvious to most of us that men and women were simply different. You know, from Venus or Mars and all that stuffs.

I was pretty sure that most men’s brains were made of barbeque sauce and Beer Nuts while women’s brains were made of chocolate. (Except for feminists and/or liberal women, whose brains, I was sure, were more likely chocolate pudding.)

And then about two and a half months ago, I received an Email from my friend The Flying Aardvark and she – yes, she’s a “she” – included a link to a YouTube video of this marriage counselor comedian named Mark Gungor. Well, Gungor definitely straightened me out about men’s and women’s brains. Forget the chocolate and the barbeque sauce ‘n’ Beer Nuts, as it turns out that women’s brains are actually balls of wire charged with emotion and men’s brains are made up of lots of little boxes that never touch each other.

The video clip that Flyin’ Aard sent me was so spot-on that I decided to search for more.

“Generally” speaking, Mark Gungor has it mostly “EXACTLY” right! If you don’t recognize in these skits the attitudes and the behaviors of most of the men and women you’ve known, then I dare say you don’t get out much and you’re mostly sleeping while at home.

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


[From the STMcC archive; written on September 7, 2006.]

Did GARRY KASPAROV, the world’s greatest chess player, get rooked when he lost a six-game match to IBM’s supercomputer, DEEP BLUE, in 1997? That’s the question that this padded, but nonetheless interesting documentary asks you to consider.

I wasn’t even aware of GAME OVER: KASPAROV AND THE MACHINE until I stumbled over it while Amazon surfing last week. When I was unable to locate a VHS rental copy, I actually bought my first DVD player (NOT made in China, India, or Indonesia) just so I could view this.

If you have little or no interest in chess (the world’s greatest game!) then there is no chance you’ll find watching the 85 minutes of GAME OVER well spent. On the other hand, if chess fascinates, or even interests you, you’ll find the movie flawed but somewhat intriguing.

I got into chess as a result of the high profile 1972, Fischer versus Spassky match. Later in 1972, I joined the chess club at my junior high school and won the club championship in a three-game match. (But interestingly, the player who most intimidated me was blind. He was a “Chess Game Wizard.”) Back then, I wanted to be ranked a Master by the age of 16, but other interests began vying for my time and attention: art, girls, and sports, and the art of watching girls in shorts play sports! I never became more than mediocre at best in chess, but I never lost all interest in it either. Nor in watching girls play beach volleyball. ;o)

Of this movie’s hour and a half running time, likely 50% of it is unnecessary filler. We get shots of Kasparov revisiting the locales less than 10 years later; the same footage over and over of an old chess-playing contraption; shots of New York City ad nauseam, etc. As Christopher Lloyd playing the part of Max Taber said in the movie, 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest': "Play the game and knock off the bullshit." A little atmosphere is fine, but too much of it slows down an already slow contest.

The crux of Kasparov’s argument follows: After beating DEEP BLUE handily in Game One, in which the computer played a very mathematical, machine-like style, it made a “creative judgment” in Game Two which the man, Kasparov, was certain could only be made by a “man.” Subsequently, he became so unnerved – convinced that a human mind was responsible for that move (i.e., he was playing against not just a machine, but also one or more unseen Grand Masters) – that he prematurely conceded Game Two, which possibly cost him a draw and ultimately the match.

If chess was purely mathematical, I - the most mathematically-challenged person on the planet - would have never won a game. There are rich, creative and psychological elements to chess – it is NOT strictly mechanical, not just “black and white”, despite the colors of the pieces. It is closer to music than it is to algebra. I have no math skills whatsoever, but I’m extremely analytical and I discern patterns in things. And I can be quite a fearsome psych warrior! As a novice playing against novices, I frequently swapped queens when the only advantage to me was psychological: beginners – and even some half decent players – mentally surrender once they’ve lost their queen. But I KNEW I could win without her, and it only made me bear down and concentrate more. I’ve always been at my best under pressure. But does a computer “got game” when it comes to those additional chess factors?

When in Game Two, KASPAROV offered up a pawn (or two?) in order to gain a positional advantage in another sector of the board, and DEEP BLUE declined to take the piece, Kasparov became suspicious and lost his composure. It was as if a dog passed up ground beef because it “speculated” that there might be filet mignon three blocks away. Is a dog (or computer) capable of that kind of “thought”? Or will it immediately take the first gift offered? How can it sniff out a stratagem from a mistake? Well, Deep Blue saying, “Thanks, but no thanks” made Kasparov deeply blue. The rest is history.

I really wish that the filmmaker had dispensed with 15 minutes of superfluous “atmosphere” shots and spent it really analyzing that key move in Game Two. (One of the DVD’s Special Features replays all of the games with very basic commentary on each move, but no mention is made of the questionable moment in Game Two or of the importance it held.) What was Kasparov really attempting to accomplish by sacrificing a pawn or two? How obvious was the advantage in position that he would have gained? How much “creative thinking” did Deep Blue have to perform in order to “see through the ground beef”? How did the computer go from mechanical playing to “humanistic” playing overnight? Was IBM playing chess games with Kasparov, or playing mind games with him? You’ll never know until you check, mate!

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.

Friday, April 15, 2011


[From the STMcC archive; written September 29, 2006.]

This resurrected review is now being dedicated to my friend "THE SHREDDER".

I still remember the moment clearly: It was one day, probably in “The Summer Of Love” (1967), I was eight years old and my Mother was behind the wheel as we turned a corner in Garden Grove, California. Referring to a group of colorful, flowing Flower Children on the corner, waiting for the light to change (second-rate rebels!), I asked, “What are those people, Mom?” Her reply was the first time I’d ever encountered the term hippie. A couple of years later, I would be dressing just like them – Keith Partridge and Greg Brady had nothing on me! (I still have the original patches from my denim jacket: the Yellow Smiley Face; the star-spangled hand forming the Peace Sign; Have A Nice Day; Come Together, etc.)

The one thing that nearly every big city American who came-of-age in the 1960s and ‘70s has in common is the LP soundtrack from the Broadway musical, HAIR. That “Licorice Pizza” (LP) with its green and red cover was in everyone’s collection. Mine spent a lot of time on the turntable.

In 1979, Milos Forman – unquestionably one of cinema’s most talented directors – only four years removed from his monumental, 5 Academy Awards-winning achievement, 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest', decided to put the old 1960s icon, HAIR, onto the silver screen. It went mostly unnoticed. The old hippies were now too respectable and forward-thinking in their three-piece suits and plush offices to look back at their past, and the kids had shaved heads and the loud, lean sound of Punk Rock on their minds. Hair? Nobody wore it. Nobody saw it. Too bad.

In a sense, the entire movie is almost like an LSD hallucination. HAIR opens with peaceful shots of a green, pastoral Oklahoma landscape and a son and his dad attempting, in their painfully rigid way, to express their mutual affection before the young man, Claude Bukowski (John Savage), boards a bus for New York City to answer Uncle Sam’s draft notice for an adventure in Vietnam. The old man says, “Don’t worry too much. It’s just these smart people that’s got to worry. The Lord will take care of the ignorant ones.” Soon the screen explodes into Free Love and Psychedelia, but at the end of the picture, the old man’s joke is revealed to have been weirdly prophetic.

[An aside: This has no bearing on anything, but numerous times in the past, Yours Truly was told that he looked nearly identical to John Savage. I always shrugged it off until one day in 1981, Savage’s own best friend, actor Charles Haid, told me the same thing. Then I knew it to be true. Now you know: this reviewer looks like a Savage.]

[John Savage then, and . . . ]

[. . . Later.]

In New York’s Central Park, Claude meets up with a band of hippies led by George Berger (Treat Williams). There are a couple of nifty performances in HAIR: Savage with his hangdog, fish-out-of-water country reticence; Annie Golden as the screen’s most likeable little airhead since Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday; and Miles Chapin as Steve, the put upon “proper” product of old school traditionalism. But unarguably, HAIR belongs to Treat Williams.

Very rarely does an actor just light up the screen with “presence.” James Dean did it in 'East Of Eden' in 1955. Girls in the theatres began screaming the moment he appeared on screen, inexplicably drawn, no doubt, to the brooding intensity of his animal magnetism. In recent times, Val Kilmer playing Doc Holliday in 'Tombstone' stole every single scene he appeared in with the power of his charisma. (Many would put Brando’s portrayal of Stanley Kowalski in 'A Streetcar Named Desire' in this class, though I found it too mannered to believe.) There have been a few others, Treat Williams in HAIR amongst them.

When I first saw this movie in the theatre, I labeled Williams a can’t-miss soon-to-be superstar. Though his work in 'Prince Of The City' was highly acclaimed, somehow Williams whiffed. I thought Kenneth Branagh’s performance in 'Dead Again' was going to propel him to megastar status, too. (Remind me of these misjudgments the next time I tell you that I’m never wrong.) It’s the ultra-cool confidence and dynamic presence Williams exudes that carries this movie and keeps it moving. He is the follicle of HAIR. (I’m sorry! I really can’t help myself.)

Although Forman ultimately comes down on the side of the Hippie Movement, he takes jabs at, and also embraces, different aspects of the two social armies engaged in a cultural war that took place at home concurrent with an American “police action” on another continent. And Berger, despite his narcissism and hedonism (the real foundation of the counterculture) which often antagonizes the “authorities” and widens the Generation Gap, is also the peacemaker who can empathize with others and effect a reconciliation. He’s a complex, interesting character and worthy of deep analysis.

There are a few abysmal songs to be found in HAIR, but also some real winners. Most notably, 'Where Do I Go?' (with poor lip-synching from Savage), 'Good Morning Starshine' (For me, Oliver’s #3 hit version from 1969 captures this era like no other song), and especially 'Easy To Be Hard'. This last one anchors a brilliant segment in which Forman’s extraordinary directorial skills are on display. 'Easy To Be Hard' (an outrageously powerful performance by Cheryl Barnes and alone worth the price of the soundtrack) is an exceptional piece in which hippie Lafayette’s cold distance toward his girlfriend is expressed in snowy long shots of him walking away from her and into the city. This is contrasted with close-up shots of her singing, signifying the fullness of the heartrending emotional wound he has inflicted upon her. If this scene doesn’t give you a little chill, you’re a mighty chilly person, friend.

There are several other memorable scenes in HAIR: Though I don’t approve of nudity in movies and I hardly needed to see chunky Beverly D’Angelo sans the costumer’s art, if that bit where she hails a taxi in Central Park doesn’t make you laugh, check for a pulse! And I’m as “straight” as the term gets, but if the Black Boys / White Boys segment with the Army’s induction board doesn’t at least elicit a smile from you, you’re definitely wound a little too tight. Berger’s brief visit with the folks back home is a gem (with a delightful cameo by Antonia Rey playing his mom). And then there’s that surprise ending with its growing sense of claustrophobia and impending doom swallowing up the helpless George Berger – another example of Forman’s artistic vision brilliantly executed.

There is plenty to like about this movie, and it certainly beats the vast majority of what is being produced today. HAIR is a strange “trip”, but one that is worth taking.

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.