A grab-bag of different topics this March morning, starting and ending with cars.
Car crazy: First—for those of you who like cars—have you noticed that there are currently not one but two car shows out there that are both pale copies of the old BBC "Top Gear"? The old show with the new presenters is one, while the new show with the old presenters, Amazon's "The Grand Tour," is the other. Neither one quite hits the mark. Both are okay but just a bit lame. Neither is as good as the old "Top Gear" in its prime.
An odd situation, but there it is.
Prime advantage: Speaking of shows, I missed the Academy Award show this past weekend. (I haven't owned a television since midway through 2014.) I gather there was a sort of bollix about one of the presentations, and it seems to have gotten folks who care about such things all in a dither. A $36 billion corporation, PricewaterhouseCoopers, now called "PwC," the second largest professional services firm in the world, is in crisis mode because one guy handed an old actor the wrong envelope? Human Beings can be silly sometimes. "Mistakes happen"; ever heard that? It's true; they do. The wonder is not that it happened, the wonder is that it hasn't happened before*.
The great Faye Dunaway
One more grumpety-grump comment: cosmetic plastic surgery ought to be outlawed. Movies, which are to the era just ending as novels were to the 19th century, tend to be most important to people when they're coming of age—teens to mid-twenties—whenever that is. Faye Dunaway was one of the greatest actresses in that era of my lifetime, integral to some of the finest movies of the period, such as Chinatown, Bonnie and Clyde, Little Big Man and Network. (Well, I guess she wasn't integral to Little Big Man, but she was memorable.) A great actress. Now I almost can't recognize her beneath the plastic-surgery mask. All that, and does anybody really think she's still thirty? It would be nice to know what she was supposed to look like at her age now. Just say no to the knife, Hollywood.
Anyway, I reached a sort of nadir this year, one toward which I have been trending for many years: I saw none of the nominated films prior to the awards. Not one. Usually I've seen at least a couple, and there were a few years when I deliberately went to the theater to see a few of the nominees just to make watching the Academy Awards more interesting. I guess I solved that problem this year the other way around.
In my defense, I will say that there are hardly any movie theaters in my part of the world. Aside from the frothier sorts of entertainment, I'd have to drive an hour and a half to either Rochester or Ithaca to see a film in a theater, basically.
I did have one dog in the fight, though. Casey Affleck is terrific is a terrific actor. That opinion is based on a slim and paltry foundation: I saw him in one movie. But in that one movie (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), he gives a deep, psychologically nuanced performance that is worth seeing the movie for. I like real actors, and there aren't many of them around. Bravo for him** winning Best Actor.
By the way, you can watch both "The Grand Tour" and Casey Affleck's Oscar-winning performance in Manchester by the Sea (coming March 6th) on Amazon Prime Video. Matter of fact, both are Amazon original productions. If you don't know already, Amazon Prime, which gives you free shipping on all your orders, also gives you free access to thousands of movies and TV shows, books and magazines, ad-free music streaming, and more. You can sign up for a free trial here. I've canceled my memberships to both Netflix and Hulu Plus and transitioned to Amazon Prime for movies and TV shows these days.
The few I watch, anyway.
The new 'King of Bokeh'? This...
...Really tickles me. It's possible to make a decent, if slower, normal lens with four elements; the traditional double-Gauss design has six; in the 1960s, Pentax, trying harder and reaching for the stars, made a Super-Multi-Coated Takumar with a whopping eight. The Leica 50mm Summicron Apo-ASPH has eight elements too (at just about $1,000 per element, which is a wee tad more than they actually cost to produce), and the huge ƒ/1.4 50mm for the Leica SL has eleven.
So how many elements does this normal lens have? NINETEEN.
That has got to be a record.
It is the Olympus 25mm ƒ/1.2 for Micro 4/3—sorry, the full name is the Olympus M.Zuiko ED 25mm ƒ/1.2 PRO—and it is so over the top that it's, well, just ga-ga. From a lens design perspective, the purpose of more elements, of course, is greater correction (and normal to short tele focal lengths are the easiest to correct), so it stands to reason that this must be the most highly corrected lens ever made for photography. Up there at the top of the list, anyway.
The seat-o'-the-pants rule is that one aspherical element does the work of two spherical elements, so perhaps the Leica Summicron-SL could get credit for 13 elements. But the Olympus has one aspherical element itself...along with one "super extra-low" dispersion element, two extra-low dispersion elements, one extra high refractive index element, and three high refractive index elements.
Why did Olympus make such a thing? Because they could? Maybe they wanted to test the effectiveness of their multicoating. Olympus admitted to DPReview that the new E-M1 Mark II was "overdeveloped," and if that's true, well then the 25mm ƒ/1.2 is over-overdeveloped. The lens itself makes me smile, but what makes me laugh is this: look at the bokeh. The lens's blur is probably where you'll actually see all that correction most easily. Perfect correction predicts ideal bokeh behavior. Just sayin'.
Only $1,200. And that's cheap, believe me.
Stealth Ferrari: Ever wanted a Ferrari? Lots of guys do. But since the cheapest one costs a Leica lens or two above $200,000, it's typically a tough sell to the spouse.
You might think that buying one used would help, but in some cases it doesn't, not with Ferrari.
Or maybe you have a Ferrari, and want another one with four doors, something Ferrari doesn't make. (It also doesn't make an SUV. What, a holdout?)
2017 Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio. Photo by Robin Trajano for Motor Trend.
And granted, with Ferrari, the name itself, not to mention the prancing horse logo, is gold. But if you should happen to want a four-door Ferrari in all but name, check to see if you have an Alfa Romeo dealer near you***. Turns out the new Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio (say that three times fast) drives suspiciously like a Ferrari. And for a very good good reason—the same guy had a hand in both. Here's Jason Cammisa at Motor Trend:
"...Whether driving in a straight line, in corners, or on a racetrack, the Alfa is incredible. Over broken, twisty tarmac, this sedan’s family lineage becomes clear. Ferrari’s former chief engineer Roberto Fedeli is now Alfa Romeo’s chief technical officer, and the Quadrifoglio’s dynamics bear his stamp. This five-seater possesses the same preternatural ability as the best recent Ferraris to follow your wishes no matter how absurd the request. It does things that seem impossible, feeling like it could change direction while airborne. It shrugs off jumps, bumps, surface changes, and camber swaps as if the laws of physics were rewritten especially for it. You know there must be electronic trickery happening, yet you feel none of it. And better, all of this capability is met with equal parts fun, and that’s something so often missing in very fast cars. The Giulia Quadrifoglio is the closest thing to a Ferrari sedan you can buy."
But it's not actually the prancing horse, and here's how you know: Alfa Romeo also makes an SUV.
*Turns out it has happened before—to Sammy Davis Jr., in 1964. You can see the vintage footage at WGN Chicago. Thanks to Rick Barry for this.
**ADDENDUM Wednesday afternoon: I did not know about the sexual harassment allegations against Casey Affleck when I wrote this post—as you might have gathered I'm pretty out of touch with "celebrity culture." We're not in a position to pass judgement, but I do not in any way condone or excuse harassing or abusive behavior by anyone against anyone. —Mike the Ed.
***Given Alfa's longstanding reputation for reliability, you might be getting to know your dealer very well. But that was then and this is now, so the jury on that is still out. Best be prepared, though.
"Open Mike" is the editorial page of TOP, in which Yr. Hmbl. Ed. wanders off and worries everyone. It appears only, but not always, on Wednesdays.
Original contents copyright 2017 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Kent Phelan: "Speaking of Amazon Prime Video, be sure to check out the Amazon original series 'The Collection.' About Paris post World War II, it features prominently a young photographer and his twin lens Rollei. Many scenes shot through the Rollei groundglass, and accurately I must say. The actor has his TLR M.O. down, complete with the Old Pro 'palming' of the wind lever, to advance the film. The series is beautifully photographed as well. Visually delicious."
Cliff R.: "For Christmas I rented a Pen F and the 25mm ƒ/1.2. What a wonderful combination they are. I took a few Christmas gift opening pictures stopped down but everything else was at that luscious, buttery ƒ/1.2 aperture."
k4kafka: "Your mention of Faye Dunaway sent me back to Wikipedia to confirm that, yes...she was once engaged to photographer Jerry Shatzberg and then, 11 years later, married British photographer Terry O'Neill."
John: "Oh, the coincidence. I just rented the 25mm Olympus PRO and I'm scheduling a test drive in the Alfa, which I my case is sold by the regional Ferrari dealer...."
Mike replies: Get back to us on both those experiences, willya?
MikeK: "I had an Alfa dealer near me, and was moved to buy a Giulietta about 18 months ago. Then about five months ago they closed the dealership—now I have to take it 40-odd miles away to get it serviced. Still like the car though. Maybe not perfect but, compared to a Golf, it's a lot less...grey."
Mike replies: Given your name, you might want to borrow one of my favorite (mis)quotes: "The best laid schemes o' Mikes an' men / Gang aft a-gley"...with apologies to Rabbie Burns. ("Gang aft a-gley" means "often go awry" in Scots dialect.)
A.: "As a longtime owner of multiple Ferraris, I disagree with everything that's in that MT piece. First, the premise. Why would anyone entertain owning a Ferrari-like sedan? A sedan is for everyday use, hauling family, groceries, dogs. It needs to be reliable, dependable, comfortable, and reasonably economical to maintain. Ferraris, Maseratis and—I have no doubt—Alfas are none of the above. There is a reason why four-door Ferraris never sell. Hot Italians are for weekend blasts for one (max two), not weekday commutes and errands.
"Now look at the details for the Alfa, as narrated. An 'obscenely quick steering ratio'? You don't even want that in a sports car, never mind a family sedan. One of the most criticized aspects of the 458 when it came out was its obscenely quick steering ratio. You sneeze, you die. That alone should disqualify the Giulia as a family sedan. As to handling and ride, Ferraris, while not harsh like some AMGs and Japanese fast models, are never known to 'shrug off jumps, bumps, surface changes, and camber swaps.' Matter of fact, you feel every road imperfection, every bit of loose gravel—as you should in any serious sports car.
"You want a fun, sporty sedan with well-sorted ride and handling? Go with a German or a Ford. Sorry, but the writer does not know what he is talking about. Don't fall for it."
Speed (partial comment): "Given the choice I'd take the Alfa over the surgery. Was that the choice?"
Joe: "Speaking of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, I highly, highly recommend the original novel by Ron Hansen. He's such a good writer. (I'm in the middle of his latest, The Kid.)"
Colin Work: "Re 'Top Gear,' Chris Evans admitted himself that he'd made a bit of a mess of it...turned it into an over-the-top game show with far too many celebrities and guest appearances. But for me the surprise of the show was Matt LeBlanc...a new series starts in the UK this Sunday with LeBlanc at the helm, sans Evans. The Amazon version is really where the old 'Top Gear' was heading anyway."
Mike replies: Sounds right—into an ego trip for Clarkson. Which was, when you come to think of it, the root of the reason why he got sacked from the BBC. The problem to me is that what they've ended up with at Amazon is not enough of a car show, but not enough of a general entertainment variety show to be genuinely entertaining alone. And regarding guest stars, they've taken to treating them like they treat the cars—as expendable. Literally, in the case of the running but not-so-funny joke about the guest stars being killed while trying to reach the set.