Saturday, June 21, 2003

UNPHAIR? Those wanting to get on the Liz Phair Sold Out bandwagon now have to line up behind Meghan O'Rourke, whose NYT article today just levels the one-time troubadour of Wicker Park:
Ten years later, having put out two albums, "Whip-Smart" (1994) and "whitechocolatespaceegg" (1998), that were both greeted with mixed praise, she is now releasing her fourth — the eponymously titled and much anticipated "Liz Phair." It is, Ms. Phair has suggested, her bid for center stage — the moment when she will finally make the leap from indie-rock quasi-stardom to teen-pop levels of superstardom.

Instead, she has committed an embarrassing form of career suicide.

The album introduces a new Phair: a divorced, 36-year-old single mom who nonetheless gushes like a teenager through relentlessly upbeat songs with bland choruses like "Rock me all night!" and "I am extraordinary/ If you'd ever get to know me" — ironic, yes, but somewhat limply and shallowly so. You half expect the "i's" in her liner notes to be dotted with little hearts. In place of a sometime feminist icon, we have a woman approaching 40 getting dolled up in market-approved teen gear (the bad schoolgirl look, recently embraced by Britney Spears). She's junked her oddball, sui generis eccentricity for songs about thirtysomething traumas wrapped up in bubble-gum pop that plays off a cheap dissonance: underneath this sunny soundscape lies the darkness of life's hard-won lessons. This is a superficial way of jolting us, and the result is that Ms. Phair often sounds desperate or clueless; the album has some of the same weird self-oblivion of a middle-aged man in a mid-life crisis and a new Corvette.

Not only will Ms. Phair alienate her old fan base, as she has defensively acknowledged in recent interviews, but in trying to remodel herself as a contemporary Avril Lavigne or Alanis Morissette, she's revealed herself to be astonishingly tone-deaf to her own strengths.

TWO TELEVISION ADS I JUST DON'T GET: Both in the fast-food genre:

First off, KFC's got a spot for a $4 Crispy Strips Meal in which Jason Alexander stresses that it's just as good as the $8 chicken tenders you can get at a "casual dining" restaurant. Now, I know what he means by that -- the tier of sitdown chains like Friday's, Bennigan's and Outback that have whittled away at the previous dominance of the fast food places -- but it's not a term that's generally used among the public. It'd be like talking about the quality of their "syrup-derived concentrated carbonated beverages," instead of their sodas.

Costanza, if you don't like Olive Garden, call 'em out by name.

Secondly, the McGriddle. McDonald's is running a series of ads all of which focus on how weird the McGriddles are -- they are, as the website says, "an innovative way for customers to eat warm golden griddle cakes (with the sweet taste of maple syrup baked right in), and different combinations of savory sausage, crispy bacon, fluffy eggs and melted cheese in a convenient sandwich." In other words, it's a McMuffin, but with pancakes instead of english muffins providing the sandwiching.

Is it weird? I guess. But why brag about its weirdness? Why call it “Weird. But a good kind of weird” and “Bizarre, but yummy”?

You're McDonald's, for pete's sake. You serve billions and billions annually by promoting how familiar, how typical, how of-course-you-knew-you-wanted-it all their food is. We're dealing with a company whose last successful product breakthrough was the McNugget, and that debuted in 1983!

(Rattling off failed McDonald's "innovations" is a competitive sport among Gen-Xers, isn't it? I'll start with three: Arch Deluxe, McRib, and, of course, the McDLT, which kept the hot side hot and the cool side . . . lukewarm.)

People don't come to McDonald's for innovation. They come for familiarity. So even if they think it's weird, they still should be promoting it as though stuffing egg, cheese and bacon inside a pancake, between your hands was something you've wanted your whole life. Yeah, it's a lie, but it's more persuasive than the truth is.

It's just a matter of time before the McGriddle goes the way of the McLean Deluxe.

Friday, June 20, 2003

HALL OF FAME INTELLECT? Baseball Hall-of-Famer Joe Morgan was always regarded as one of the smartest to ever play the game. But now . . . .

Well, here's what he wrote in a June 19 column:
On offense, the Mariners are getting hits in clutch situations while featuring the hit-and-run, the sacrifice bunt and the sacrifice fly. This is in contrast to the Toronto Blue Jays, who rely mainly on home runs.

Now, this was debatable, and probably wrong, since Toronto is only third in the league in home runs. So in a June 20 chat on, a reader called him on it:
Stevie Ridzik (D.C.): Dig your work Joe...But one bone to pick, how can you say "the Blue Jays rely mainly on home runs." when they lead the league in BA-SLG-OBP-OPS-RUNS-RBI and are only 3rd in taters?

Joe Morgan: Listen to what I say and do not put somebody else's words in my mouth. I said they have a chance of winning because they have a great offense. I'm not sure where you got that. It seems that people want to put words in my mouth.

You mean, like the guy who ghostwrites his columns, which Morgan himself isn't reading?

Via Clutch Hits.
WENDELL UPDATE: He's finally eating a little, drinking a little, moving around . . . a little. But still fearful, still in a lot of pain, and still . . . no leads.

I'm reminded of the scene from The Big Lebowski, when The Dude's at the police impound lot trying to find out who stole the briefcase from his car:
DUDE: Hey, man, are you going to find these guys? Or, um, do you got any promising leads, or . . .

The policeman laughs, agreeing broadly.

POLICEMAN: Leads? Uh, yeah, sure. I'll just check with the boys down at the Crime Lab. They've got four more detectives to the case! They got us working in shifts! Hahahahahehehehe . . . leads . . . (more laughter)
BALIS! It took me a while, but after hours of quiet contemplation I was able to come up with my Top Ten Reality Seasons Ever (So Far) list: Amazing Races 1-3, Survivor 1 (Palau Tiga) and 6 (Amazon), Real World Hawaii and San Francisco and Joe Millionaire were the easy first eight.

(Fun though it may be, American Idol is just a talent show -- there's really no narrative, and you never really get to observe how the participants behave.)

The other two were both on HBO. One was the first season of NFL Films' Hard Knocks: Training Camp With The Baltimore Ravens, a brilliant, tense, funny, fun mini-season two summers ago that made stars out of Tony Siragusa and Shannon Sharpe and took you inside Ray Lewis's unfinished house. Hard Knocks kicked ass because it was 100%, completely, undeniably real: no contrived environment, no silly contests, just a bunch of guys fighting for their actual jobs in the real world while the veterans prepared their bodies for one more war.

And then there's the one that's the reason for this post: Project Greenlight, the show that showed just how much can go wrong in filming a movie when the director's an amiable, stubborn dunce, the producer's a hard-driving asshole, the cinematographer's more interested in making an artsy highlight reel than filming a movie, the kids in the lead role can't swim (yet are scripted to swim in Lake Michigan), Ben Affleck is drunk half the time and, finally, the incomparable Jeff Balis, serves as coproducer and all-around punching bag, whose relationship with executive producer Chris Moore was so hysterical (and abusive) as to warrant its own side filmmaking contest.

Again, a real environment and a hilarious one. A real movie, with real actors and a real crew, was being filmed -- the only contrivance was the neophyte director. You got to see all the details, all the waiting, all the tension . . . just a great, great show (leading to an awful, awful movie), made even better because HBO supplemented it all with an exceptional online archive.

Well, Project Greenlight 2 begins Sunday night (after SatC), and, by all accounts, we're in for some high-quality entertainment. What's more: Balis is back. Balis, get me my coffee!

Do watch.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

I LIKE TONY SCOTT WHEN HE'S ANGRY: And in tomorrow's New York Times, the devastation begins:
If memory serves, the angry green Marvel Comics superhero who is the subject of Ang Lee's new movie used to be known as the Incredible Hulk. At some point, though, he shed that defining adjective, and the film, which opens today nationwide, is just called "The Hulk." It might be described, in any case, as incredible, but only in a negative sense: incredibly long, incredibly tedious, incredibly turgid. As for the grumpy green giant himself, I'm sorry to say that he is not very credible at all.

David Edelstein of Slate also gets his digs in early and often:
That's not to say that Hulk—or the $150 million blockbuster built around him—isn't a fascinating piece of work. I couldn't take my eyes off it. As the heroine of Ghost World (2001) might put it, it's often so bad it's almost good, but then it's so bad it goes past good and back to bad again. It's certainly serious—deadly serious. Little could I have predicted when, as a boy, I pored over the fun comic or watched the cartoon show that one day art-film eggheads like Lee and his longtime producer/writer James Schamus would bring their vaunted intellects to the project … and come up with something akin to a Sam Shepard rewrite of an old Japanese giant monster picture.
CHUBBY CHECKER IS AN ANGRY, BITTER MAN: He thinks he belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he holds my entire city responsible for his not being there:
"Memphis loves Elvis - plays his music and talks about him," he said. "Liverpool loves their Beatles ... I marvel at the way Philadelphia eats its young. Where is my honor? Where is my glory? Why am I still sitting in the back of the bus?"

Come visit his website, where he compares himself to Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, George Washington Carver and Walt Disney for his (alleged) invention of "dancing apart to the beat".
I KNOW GOD DIDN'T GIVE ME ALL THIS FOR NOTHING": Following on the heels of the WaPo and NYPost articles on American Idol star (and TT fave) Frenchie Davis, today's Philadelphia Inquirer has more on the thriving diva.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

EXPERT OPINION: Cosmo Macero of the Boston Herald has solicited my determination -- and yours -- on a vital issue of major national importance: Who's hotter among the over-50 set: Sigourney Weaver or Susan Sarandon?

I am happy to take on the challenge. Here's my first cut at the problem:

Let's start with a simple fact: Susan Sarandon has had at least three movies in which she is sexier than Sigourney Weaver has ever been on screen: Bull Durham, Atlantic City and White Palace, where she's doing the hippity-dippity with James Spader all over the place. All three feature really nice, memorable, sensual performances from Big Red. Then Sigourney's Half Moon Street and Heartbreakers enter the picture, and then we can get into the whole debate about whether Lt. Ripley in the Alien series can be viewed as sexy while kicking a lot of ass, and whether there's anything sexy about a death-penalty-fighting-nun.

There is no rational way to decide this -- it's all a matter of taste. Some guys go for smoky redheads. At the same time, my mother is a redhead, which steers me pretty clearly in the opposite direction.

And there's something to be said for Sigourney Weaver's WASP-power-bitch persona, and the way characters of hers like the caustic, adulterous Janey in The Ice Storm and especially archetypical career woman Katharine Parker in Working Girl just use their power and standoffishness to make you want them, that you know they'll only give into temptation on their own terms, that you are never the one in control. And Lieutenant Ripley is clearly always in charge whenever she's on screen.

I've got no quarrel with Susan Sarandon or her politics, but there's something about some of her characters that's so deliberately and overtly sexual as to turn me off a little. Like she's trying too hard or something.

But Sigourney? She can come to my key party anytime.

Readers, any thoughts? Do I have this all wrong? Click on the Comments below, and let me know. We've got a debate to solve.
LEAVE IT TO MY BROTHER TO FIND THIS: Phoons From Around The World.

What's a phoon? You'll have to click and find out.
WENDELL UPDATE: Still no sign of Wendell's assailant. No leads. The manager at Essene is seeing what else he can do, but the guy ended up not buying anything while at the store.

Wendell's doing poorly. Still scared, still not eating or drinking, still resistant to our trying to give him his medicine. It's sad. I'm angry.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

AND TWO -- BECAUSE YOU'RE A MAN: I'm just sayin', is all, because it was on my tv last night . . .

. . . . but is there a worse case of vanity casting in recent film history than Kevin Smith putting his wife Jennifer Schwalbach as "Missy" in Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back.

Schwalbach was, of course, a journalist at USA Today when they met, and this was her first acting role. (It is not her last; however, she has yet to be cast in a movie not directed by Smith or a friend of his.)

Now, true, when you look up "self-indulgent" and "onanistic" in the film dictionary, this movie may well top the list. But, still: putting your wife in a black PVC jumpsuit and filming her with the same leering, slo-mo photography afforded Eliza Dushku in the movie?

I didn't need to see that.
"WAS I A CONQUERING CAPITALIST OR A SOCIALIST ACTIVIST?" Ladies and gentlemen, David Schwimmer Wants To Be Taken Seriously.

From his trip back to his alma mater, Northwestern:
"Would you say something as Ross?" someone asks.

Schwimmer's face changes. "I came to talk to you guys as myself," he replies, with pain in his voice.

From that point on, the mood in the room sours for good.

"You are always cursed by a character you play on television," says director [James] Burrows a few days later in a phone interview. "You are always known as that character."

"I was so sad on my drive home," Schwimmer says a few days removed from his Northwestern appearance, sitting over a beer in the back room of Jack's tavern on Southport Avenue. "You would have thought they would have taken advantage of an opportunity like that. I was so disappointed in the level of stupidity of the questions. It was all like, 'Who's the best kisser?' "

Did David Schwimmer sell his artistic soul for the past ten years? Can he buy it back through his Lookingglass theater troupe? Keep reading.
THE VIKINGS' WEDGE: Want to understand how NFL contracts really work under the salary cap?

Click here to load Gregg Easterbrook's TMQ column today, then scroll down until you see the phrase "All These Fictional NFL Contracts?". Great analysis.
1, 2, 3, WHAT ARE WE FIGHTING FOR? Everyone loves lists, like Pitchfork's new list of the top twenty post-breakup debacles in alternarock history. Number three?
03: The Heads (Talking Heads)
Their late-80s resurrection of the Tom Tom Club was bad enough, but this 1996 disaster is an atrocity. David Byrne has consistently refused to reform the Talking Heads in the members' collective golden years, but rather than accepting the situation or relying on their already established side project one more time, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz obstinately took their barely-developed ideas to MCA, who leapt at the chance to fund this open mic hate crime. Every singer that appears on No Talking Just Head was clinging to their careers in 1996, and rushed to contribute vocals to a once unassailable band's potential return to form, sans their stubborn, egotistical former leader. You'd have to believe that load of bullshit to participate in this travesty; it's always been to Byrne's credit that he's refused to sully the band's good name. Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano, Michael Hutchence, Shaun Ryder (Happy Mondays) and Gordon Gano (Violent Femmes) all weighed in with their overbearing personalities, alongside original Talking Heads marquee mates Richard Hell and Debbie Harry. None of the songs on this album sound remotely like the Talking Heads; in fact most feel like the Tom Tom Club, warped by feeble attempts to play catch-up with chic electronic sounds. Debbie Harry's title track nicely sums it up: "No heart/ No imagination."

The truly shocking presence here is Ed Kowalczyk, better known as the Christ-posing asshole singer from Live (saved from eternal damnation by the even bigger dickhead fronting the equally worthless Creed). Ed spent his pre-Live years in an atrocious R.E.M./U2/Bunnymen cover band called Public Affection, writing fawning postcards to Michael Stipe begging for advice on how to "make it." How did a megalomaniacal famewhore like this wind up working with three of the four Talking Heads? Live were on MCA, for whom Jerry Harrison produced their first three records. Take me to the river, I feel dirty.

But why does we (and by we, I mean me, and maybe you, because you're here, aren't you?) love them so? The WaPo's Peter Carlson tries to explain today, in an article that contains its own list: "The 11 Best, Worst and Most Inane Magazine Lists We Could Scrounge Up on Short Notice." Enjoy.

(Both links via TMFTML).
WENDELL RETURNS HOME: He's back from the animal hospital. No organ or internal damage, but several wounds. He's in a lot of pain, and scared to death -- hiding behind chairs, cowering in dark corners of the house.

All it does is firm up my resolve that whoever did this will pay -- in shame and in dollars.

Monday, June 16, 2003

OUR DOG HAS BEEN ATTACKED: See Jen's blog for the details. We are looking for any information about the owner of the husky who violently attacked our Wendell about an hour ago. If you have any information about his owner, email Jen, right now. Thanks.

If you own a blog that is frequented by Philadelphians, I'd appreciate it if you'd post a link to Jen's post on your blog.
BEFORE THE LAW stands a doorkeeper. To this doorkeeper there comes a man from South Philly and prays for his parking ticket to be dismissed. But the doorkeeper says that he cannot dismiss his parking ticket at the moment. The man thinks it over and then asks if he can just pay the fine and leave. "It is possible," says the doorkeeper, "but not at the moment." Since the gate stands open, as usual, and the doorkeeper steps to one side, the man stoops to peer through the gateway towards the administrative appeals judge. Observing that, the doorkeeper laughs and says: "If you are so drawn to it, 'just try to go in despite my veto. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the least of the doorkeepers. From hall to hall there is one doorkeeper after another, each more powerful than the last. The third doorkeeper is already so terrible that even I cannot bear to look at him." These are difficulties the man from South Philly has not expected; clearing a parking ticket, he thinks, should surely be accessible at all times and to everyone, but as he now takes a closer look at the doorkeeper in his fur coat, with his big sharp nose and long, thin, black Tartar beard (not to mention the bobbing head Donovan McNabb doll on his desk) he decides that it is better to wait until he gets permission to enter. The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down at one side of the door. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to just pay the parking ticket and leave, and wearies the doorkeeper by his importunity. The doorkeeper frequently has little interviews with him, asking him questions about his home and many other things, but the questions are put indifferently, as great lords put them, and always finish with the statement that he cannot be let in yet. The man, who has furnished himself with many things for his journey, sacrifices all he has, however valuable, to bribe the doorkeeper. The doorkeeper accepts everything, but always with the remark: "I am only taking it to keep you from thinking you have omitted anything." During these many years the man fixes his attention almost continuously on the doorkeeper. He forgets the other doorkeepers, and this first one seems to him the sole obstacle preventing him from paying his parking ticket. He curses his bad luck, in his early years boldly and loudly; later, as he grows old, he only grumbles to himself. He becomes childish, and since in his yearlong contemplation of the doorkeeper he has come to know even the fleas in his fur collar, he begs the fleas as well to help him and to change the doorkeeper's mind. At length his eyesight begins to fail, and he does not know whether the world is really darker or whether his eyes are only deceiving him. Yet in his darkness he is now aware of a radiance that streams inextinguishably from the gateway of the administrative appeals judge. Now he has not very long to live. Before he dies, all his experiences in these long years gather themselves in his head to one point, a question he has not yet asked the doorkeeper. He waves him nearer, since he can no longer raise his stiffening body. The doorkeeper has to bend low toward him, for the difference in height between them has altered much to the man's disadvantage. "What do you want to know now?" asks the doorkeeper; "you are insatiable." "Everyone strives to get rid of his parking tickets," says the man, "so how does it happen that for all these many years no one but myself has ever begged for admittance?" The doorkeeper recognizes that the man has reached his end, and, to let his failing senses catch the words, roars in his ear: "No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it."

Apologies to F. Kafka.
HAPPY BLOOMSDAY! Of course, if you're not in Philadelphia for it, you'd better be in Dublin.
THINK OF IT AS A WELL-DESERVED MOVIE-STAR SEMI-RETIREMENT: Or so goes Fametracker's new Fame Audit of Harrison Ford, which aptly notes: "You have to assume that Harrison Ford gets sent every big screenplay in Hollywood, and takes his pick of roles. And yet....Six Days, Seven Nights and K-19: The Widowmaker, the title of which apparently referred to suicides among tragically bored male audience members."

Indeed, here's his last movies: Sabrina, The Devil's Own, Air Force One, Six Days Seven Nights, Random Hearts, What Lies Beneath, K-19: The Widowmaker and Hollywood Homicide. Not only is there nothing Raiders-level in the bunch, there's nothing Presumed Innocent level either -- though, to be sure, Air Force One and What Lies Beneath both made buckets of money.

So is it that Ford's not getting good scripts? Not at all. In fact -- and I'm surprised the Audit didn't note this -- Ford was offered, and accepted, the role in Steven Soderbergh's Traffic that eventually went to Michael Douglas. Great dramatic role for a mature actor, and Ford even worked with Soderbergh on the character to complicate the part. But then Ford declined to take K-19 instead, and Kevin Costner declined to take 3000 Miles to Graceland, leaving it to Douglas to take the great part.

(Indeed, Douglas, his contemporary picks much more wisely: why didn't Ford take on Douglas's parts in Wonder Boys, Falling Down or even Basic Instinct? All would have worked for him.)

Ford's a great actor, with a nice comic touch (see: Working Girl). It'd be nice if he started picking roles that were up to the standards of his pre-Regarding Henry career.