Thursday, October 21, 2004

POOR BOYS AND PILGRIMS: Courtesy of the laptop I borrowed from the office and the office's Internet connection, just some random observations from Memphis for you.

1. When did Chrysler's PT Cruiser become an "economy vehicle" for car rental purposes? I figured when I rented an "economy" car, I'd get a Dodge Neon or something along those lines. Instead, I'm tooling around the Mid-South in this surprisingly compact behemoth. Also, the car radio has the novel feature that (at least for some stations), the artist and title playing scroll on the radio. (On a side note, is Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway" as annoyingly ubiquitious everywhere else as it has been here?)

2. Is there anything you can't make a slot machine theme out of? I had some luck on "Price Is Right" and "Hollywood Squares" machines, but I think my favorite was "You Might Be A Redneck If..." penny slots. Just as a thought, if you're playing "You Might Be A Redneck If..." penny slots, you might be a redneck. I wound up losing about 10-15 bucks, but given that I got a free lunch, pretty much a breakeven.

3. Are the members of Men At Work so desparate for money that they felt compelled to license "Who Can It Be Now" to Kmart for use in their Halloween costume ads?

4. One thing I always do when I'm in Memphis is visit one of my favorite independent bookstores. Just one reason why I love it? It's one of the very few places where you can find "Satan Is Real" on the record shelves and a copy of "The Official Fahrenheit 9/11 Reader" on the table right next to it. I only purchased one of the two, in an effort to balance the sales, though.
IF I HAVE A DOZEN EGGS, I'M PRETTY SURE THAT WHEN THEY HATCH I'M GOING TO HAVE A DOZEN CHICKENS: What's with all the Red Sox Nation citizens on the radio this morning talking about how the curse has been lifted? Just because they made it to the World Series? I don't remember hearing about how they had laid the curse to rest in, say, November 1986.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

W.C. HANDY, WON'T YOU WATCH OVER ME: Well, even if I don't have a pair of blue suede shoes, I'm headed to the airport and boardin' a plane shortly to get out of here for a long weekend, down to Memphis for my college reunion (with potential side trip to the slot palace Tunica, MS). I'm sure Alex, Isaac, Kingsley, and Phil will provide you with amusement in the event that I don't find time to blog while I'm down there.
BIG DADDY GONE BAD: I'm not sure about how many of our dozen or so loyal readers give a rat's ass about baseball, but that's not going to keep me from posting this sad story about the downfall of former Detroit Tigers slugger Cecil Fielder. The Round Mound of Longball is on the lam and has lost it all thanks to a nasty gambling sickness. In one tragic 40-hour period, Fielder losses $580,00 at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City and now he's lost it all--businesses, his family, his mansion. Here's hoping that the once affable Fielder can get some help and turn his life around, lest he end up like this or this.
TWO SETS OF "STONED SLACKERS" AND CHRISTINE LAHTI PLAYING A STONER: All sorts of newsy goodness over at TV Tattle, but I'll cover the high points:

1. Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes will appear on three episodes of "Degrassi: The Next Generation" this season. Guess Jay still has that thing about girls who say "a-boot."

2. In the wake of the Crossfire incident, Wal-Mart is pulling "America: The Book" from its retail shelves. Why? Well, there are some (clearly doctored) photos of the Supreme Court justices in there that show rather more of William Rehnquist than I, for one, needed to see. These were deemed offensive. Glad to see Wal-Mart is following in its proud tradition of banning the utterly inoffensive. Remember, this is the chain that banned Sheryl Crow's second album, not because of foul language, but because in a song titled "Love Is A Good Thing," she included the lyric "watch our sisters/watch our brothers/watch our children as they kill each other/with a gun they bought at Wal-Mart discount stores."

3. TV schedule changes ahoy! Two are of particular note. First, "Jack and Bobby" moves not to the slot it should be in (Mondays at 8) but to die against "The West Wing" and (if you're into that sort of thing) "The Bachelor" on Wednesdays at 9. Second, and likely cause for celebration around these parts, "Amazing Race 6" will replace "Clubhouse" Tuesdays at 9 starting November 16. Unfortunately, that pits TAR6 against "Scrubs," one of the two consistently funny and original sitcoms on network TV today (the other one's "Arrested Development," BTW), but I'll still be tuning in.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

NEVER BUY A USED WETSUIT: Scuba divers and others take note of 10 Things That You Should Never Buy Used.
JUST THE FACTS: I'm one of those people who only likes to read movie reviews after I have seen the movie. And usually, the first review I go back and read is Roger Ebert's. For some time, I've been troubled that almost every time I go back and read an Ebert review there is at least one factual mistake about a plot point in the review. Now, I understand that some days a critic can see three or four films and that a mistake here or there is inevitable. Why, Ebert and other major film critics don't employ an intern or assistant to watch the movies and act as a double-check of the facts, I can't say, other than perhaps the screening rooms are too crowded. (Should any Chicago-area critics, or Roger himself, want to employ me for said purposes, e-mail me a alistaday--SHIFT KEY

Now I have evidence that the problem might not be limited to Ebert. As a case study, let's examine the Steve Martin family comedy Cheaper by the Dozen. (I have kids, so sue me.) For those who missed it, this except from the Austin Chronicle describes one of the film's plot points:
Things get underway when Tom (Martin), a Division 3 football coach in rural Illinois, is offered the job of his dreams coaching Division 1 ball at his alma mater outside Chicago and moves with his happy family from the countryside to the big city.
And here, like a game of film critic telephone, are those basic facts getting mangled.

First up, Ebert:

He's a football coach for a cow college in Midland, Ill., but is offered the head coaching job at Lincoln University in Evanston.
Actually, Martin's first job is at Lincoln in Midland. The new job is at Illinois Polytechnic University.

Next, the New York Daily News:

The gang-written script...stars Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt as Tom and Kate Baker, a high-school football coach and an aspiring writer with 12 kids.
Tom, of course, is a college coach.

Now, a two-fer from the New York Post and USA Today:

When Tom makes the reasonable decision to accept a well-paid job as head coach of his alma mater's football team, the family is required to move from their bucolic small town to Chicago.

The family lives a fairly idyllic existence in a small college town until Martin is offered his dream job coaching at a big university in Chicago.
The new job is in suburban Chicago, which is perhaps a minor distinction if we are talking about Denver or Chattanooga, but given that a lot of the film deals with the family's adjustment from farmland to an upscale suburb and not a big city, it's a hard point to miss.

And finally, the Washington Post:

In "Cheaper by the Dozen," the disaster begins when high school football coach Tom gets his dream job: head coach of his alma mater's football team. The job also means moving from their Chicago suburb to a bigger one.
Here not only is Tom's profession wrong (high school vs. college), but the family's rural home can in no way be mistaken as a smaller Chicago suburb.

In the wake of all the journalism scandals of late, this, I know, hardly represents a media crisis, but it's a pet peeve of mine. And given that all these reviews were found online are easily corrected, you'd think someone somewhere might go in and fix the mistakes.

Seen a movie lately? Go to Ebert's new site or a review compendium like Metacritic and try and find mistakes yourself. Use the comments, if you care to share.
WILD AND CRAZY FRESHMEN: As reported on the AP Wire this morning, Who Wants To Go To Vassar? is becoming reality:
Steve Martin is teaming with ABC to give bright, ambitious high school students a chance for a free education at a top university of their choice.

Tentatively titled "The Scholar," the series will take place on the campus of a major university. Fifteen qualified high school seniors who might not otherwise have an opportunity to pursue a college education will compete against each other in such challenges as academics, leadership, school spirit and community service.

Great idea. Which is why Adam mentioned it six months ago (on April Fools Day):
Each week, the students will be competing in a variety of challenges designed to test their fitness for college. In week one, it's a science test -- give them a pack of index cards, some paper clips and a roll of scotch tape, and see who can best design a contraption which will protect a raw egg from a three-story plunge. Future weeks will feature competition in parliamentary debate, swimming tests, conceptual art, drinking with the women's rugby team and writing self-righteous letters to student newspapers.

However, as those who know IP law would be quick to say: "Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something. You may express your ideas in writing or drawings and claim copyright in your description, but be aware that copyright will not protect the idea itself as revealed in your written or artistic work."

Still, Steve: feel free to send Adam an email.

Monday, October 18, 2004

AT LEAST HE WASN'T WATCHING "THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE:" The AP reports on the story of a man who decided, after drinking 9 or 10 beers and watching "The Day After Tomorrow," that it would be fun to make his own disaster movie. Therefore, "he decided to set fire to pillows on his bed." The last sentence really says it all, though: "The flames destroyed his doublewide mobile home."

Sunday, October 17, 2004

TEAM AMERICA? HECK NO: Saw it. Was underwhelmed.

The good news first: the puppetry is ridiculously cool. If you appreciated Being John Malkovich for its puppetry, well, this puts it to shame.

The notorious puppet sex scene, and all the puppet vomiting? Awesome. (If you're into that sort of thing, which I am.)

The Rent parody? I liked it. "Montage"? Yes, okay, cute.

But as satire of Bruckheimer/action movie formula, it was decidedly unsophisticated and obvious, and as political satire, well, it was underwhelming. The whole [slang for male genitalia]/[slang for female genitalia]/[slang for anus] speech that's ostensibly the movie's point doesn't actually make much of a point -- it just says "sometimes America needs to kick ass, and sometimes we're clumsy at it, but no one else can do it," and, well, yawn.

More: Not only is the anti-Hollywood stuff juvenile -- the puppets neither look nor sound much like the actors being mocked. Having Kim Jong-Il pronounce all his l's as r's is just crude and unfunny stereotyping. And many of the jokes were recycled from the 1/3 as long, twelve times funnier Osama Bin Laden Has Farty Pants episode of South Park.

I am someone who adored South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. That movie was brilliant -- as political satire, as musical satire, and you even cared about the plot. There's nothing as memorable in this movie as the phrase "German schiesse video" or a relationship as nuanced and compelling as that between Saddam Hussein and Satan, and you will not be singing the songs from Team America for years on end.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone have set really high standards for what we could expect from their work. Team America, sadly, is far closer to BASEketball than it was to SP:BLU, and moviegoers should severely lower expectations before they go see it.