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Archive for August 26, 2018


Saturday night I was working on my list of the best comedy movies.  As always when I try to think through my list, the first movie that comes to mind is Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.  It’s not only that the movie teams up two of the best actors Hollywood ever met, Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, nearly every line of dialogue has a rhythm, perfect comedy timing that squeezes the pulp out of the English language.  Simon passed away today at the age of 91.  No writer accomplished what he did to entertain audiences with both his plays and films.  Simon put forward only the right words to optimize each moment of his stories.  Often the very best laughs were throwaway lines, humor that’s dropped along the stream of dialogue that must continue in furtherance of the story.  So that means frequently you don’t have time to laugh before the net joke is set.  I don’t laugh out loud at the movies very much–it takes something really funny to get me rolling, and no comedy writer has provided me with more laugh-out-loud moments of movie watching than Neil Simon.

My first introduction to Simon was in Barefoot in the Park.  He wrote the play and screenplay for the 1967 film.  If you love Robert Redford or Jane Fonda it could be in part due to Simon’s dialogue for their characters in this film, which showcases the actors’ talents and makes them incredibly likeable.  The film was an instant hit.  His characters are frequently frustrated, with others, with their own current circumstances, so the audience readily empathizes with them.  We’re right there with them.  For Barefoot in the Park, it’s a newly married couple trying to get their footing in their new apartment, with their new daily routine.  The humor doesn’t just flow through the lead parts.  The mother of the new bride gets her own laughs, as does the mystery man who lives upstairs.

Only a year later The Odd Couple arrived in theaters, another Simon play adapted to film.  Many are familiar with the television series adaptation later, but nobody gave the rhythm, drama, and glorious comedic tones to Simon’s sports writer Felix Ungar and his suicidal friend Oscar Madison like Matthau and Lemmon.  Ask me the funniest line ever written and I won’t skip a beat.  I’d swear I almost died laughing when I first watched this film late at night on cable by myself, lying on the carpet, holding my stomach, tears filling my eyes, trying to breathe.  It was one line that hooked me, a dropped laugh that scoots along with another Oscar Madison rant about Felix, this one about Felix leaving notes on his pillow.  I’d include the video but you need the context to maximize the punch.  Just put The Odd Couple on your list at the top of your comedy must-watch list.  I wasn’t around yet in 1967 and 1968, but I’m sure all I need to know I can find in these two films.  Simon’s works are far-reaching.  The most obscure reference I can think of is a recent homage comic book cover from Buffy the Vampire Slayer that was an homage to The Odd Couple.

Simon achieved critical acclaim on Broadway and for his films, four Oscar nominations, 17 Tony nominations, and his dialogue resulted in 50 Tony nominations for the actors that said it.  One of his only actual wins was the Golden Globe Award for his screenplay to The Goodbye Girl, a 1977 film he wrote directly for the screen, with his then wife Marsha Mason in the lead role opposite Richard Dreyfuss fresh off his success in Jaws and released in the same year as Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  It’s easy to feel for the single mother actor auditioning for roles that keep getting taken by younger women. The juxtaposition of drama and humor in Simon’s work can hardly be found as electric as in the rants between Mason and Dreyfuss’s characters here.

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Four artists are helping a UK company’s bionic arms become the functioning hands of many with the benefit of stylish designs.  Open Bionics is an entrepreneurial company that has created and fitted hundreds with its advanced, multi-grip bionic arms since their release this April.  Called the Hero Arm,  it’s the next step toward true borg technology and it’s been called a game-changer in health technology alongside genome sequencing, Fitbit, and smartphones.  From kids as young as nine years old who haven’t had arms and hands since birth to amputees of all ages, the 3D printed devices go beyond prosthetics of the past.  With the slogan “We turn disabilities into superpowers,” the company is doing that in more ways than one.  Instead of making the arms look like real arms, they are adding eye-popping designs–a feature praised by their users, who have remarked, “This is a cool way to stand out for all the right reasons.”  Instead of asking “what happened to your hand?” those seeing the Hero Arm on a person for the first time ask “how does that work?”  “Can we shake hands, can we do a fist bump, can I have a photo?”  The difference is a big one for wearers.

Open Bionics boasts the Hero Arm as “the first medically approved 3D printed arm.”  The Hero Arm is a lightweight, powered bionic hand controlled by the wearer’s muscles.  Because muscles generate small electrical signals when they contract, electrodes placed on the surface of the skin can measure muscle movements.  A full suite of tools provides feedback to the user, including posable wrist, posable thumb, and a freeze mode (for use when holding something like a glass), plus proportional control for varying tasks.  Comfortable, adjustable and breathable, the arm can lift more than 15 pounds of weight.  According to the company, the Hero Arm is half the price of its closest competitor.  Still, Open Bionics has stated that it has received donations to be able to provide free Hero Arms for qualifying children residing in the UK–the only place the bionic arms have been approved for sale.  They aren’t covered by the nation’s healthcare system yet and can cost about U.S. $2,500 on up.  Compare that to similar functioning U.S. electrical prosthetics with a cost upward of $50,000 to $100,000, and anyone can see why this product looks like the future of cybernetics.  (You can help a woman get her own Hero Arm via crowdfunding.  Learn more about her story below).

Hero Arms can also be worn with swappable custom covers.  And now Open Bionics has four new styles for wearers to get a Hero Arm that best fits their personality.  Each work shown (above, top, in order), was designed by an artist in Bristol: “Handala” by Daniel Bowler, “Tree Rex” by TRex, “Palette of Patterns” by J West, “Nebular” by Cheba, and “Open Bionics Doodles” by Kid Crayon.  Even more covers are available for the Hero Arm, like the futuristic Deux Ex design (above).  The Deus Ex video games explore human augmentation in a near future world.  Open Bionics partnered with Eidos Montreal, basing the Deux Ex cover on the game’s protagonist Adam Jensen.  (But they issue a disclaimer: It won’t give you the power to smash through walls!).  Check out the future of this technology at the partnership website AugmentedFuture.com.  Candidates for the Hero Arm can see customization options at the Open Bionics website here.

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