Saturday, December 31, 2005
New Year's Rockin' Eve also gives us the 2005 Award for Most Unfortunate Juxtaposition in a TV Promo. During an ad for the new ABC Monday night lineup, we get the following unfortunate statement: "The romance is back, Monday January 9, 9/8 Central, after an all-new 'Wife Swap.'" (Second worst unfortunate coincidence on the weekend behind NY Times Magazine editor Daphne Merkin's piece in this week's Magazine--what's next--John Toupay on scalp care?)
As did my nominee for 2005: South Park episode 904, "Best Friends Forever", which first aired March 30, 2005, the night before Terry Schiavo died. Achingly funny, and given the limitations of animation, ridiculously timely.
So go ahead, nominate your Arrested Development and the like. But I plant my flag in Colorado.
Friday, December 30, 2005
- Susan Stroman, in spite of her general talents as a stage director, is simply not a movie director. Her camera almost never moves during the film. Static shot is followed by static shot, and often, the edits are fairly bloody--you can see the cuts. For instance, rather than pulling back to expose the panorama of Little Old Ladies following Bialystock around, we get a close-up on Bialystock running, followed by a cut to the broader shot. It just doesn't work.
- The stage musical is full of meta-theatrical jokes, all of which have been excised with no attempt to replace them with movie in-jokes or other jokes. The absence might not be so great to a viewer who wasn't familiar with the show.
- At the same time, stuff that worked on stage is translated too literally. Particularly painful is Leo and Ulla's coupling behind the couch, which works on stage as a stage moment, but absolutely does not in the film. A joke that hits big on stage (Roger De Bris' dress) misses completely, but there's still the beat for the expected laughter, which turns into a painful silence. Also, the entire film feels like it was shot on sets. Hell, probably half of it feels like it was shot on the stage of the St. James Theatre. Sure, there's some opening up, but that opening up doesn't help, especially in "Along Came Bialy."
- Part of the joy of many of the musical numbers in the stage show is that there's something going on everywhere on stage. Stroman and her cinematographer have chosen to shoot many of the musical numbers in close-up on individual performers, losing that.
That said, the movie's not a complete loss. Will Ferrell in particular is great, and "I Want To Be A Producer" is successfully (and excellently) opened up, at least at the beginning. Make sure to stay all the way to the end of the credits, though, even though the new "There's Nothing Like A Show On Broadway" song is bland, so you can hear Ferrell's power ballad rendition of "Guten Tag Hop Clop" and a closing farewell taken from the show. I'd be interested to see how people unfamiliar with the Broadway show and/or Broderick and Lane's theatrical performance view the movie, but somehow, I expect there won't be a whole lot of those people viewing the film.
Sure, I'll burn a few hundred extra years in purgatory for downloading this on P2P, but what the hell. Fair's fair.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
- Gwen Stefani, Hollaback Girl
- Black Eyed Peas, My Humps
- The Pussycat Dolls, Dontcha
- Rihanna, Pon De Replay
- Daddy Yankee, Gasolina
Note that this category is not for songs that have inane lyrics that actually wind up sounding kind of profound, either because of delivery or wonderful musical work--leaders in that sub-category would be Anna Nalick's Breathe (2 AM) and Natasha Bedingfield's These Words (I Love You, I Love You, I Love You)--but is instead designed for inane lyrics which revel in their inanity. (And, yes, Gwen Stefani's entire album is arguably enough to fill the category.)
- Project Runway, Sarah Morgan, "Girl on The Verge." Let's leave aside the episode's wonderment quotient on the side (Austin Scarlett's runway breakdown and major misstep is part of what makes the show so great), and focus on the ditty which (unaccountably) did not become a hit, with a nice guitar line and clever lyrics.
- Lost, ...In Translation, "Delicate." I love Damien Rice--"The Blower's Daughter" made Closer as a movie, and this song is equally gorgeous, but it's not the song or its lyrics that are why it makes the list. It's the brilliant closure--we pan across the beach where the Lostaways have made something of a home, and the music skips and stops, as Hurley's CD player finally runs out of batteries, reminding us that in spite of all the Lostaways' efforts, they're still lost. (Also, watch David LaChappelle's brilliant Lost promos for UK TV here, which contain equally beautiful moments.)
- Grey's Anatomy, "Such Great Heights." Despite the fact that this song instantly makes you think of the show and leads off the soundtrack album, it's apparently only appeared on the promos for the show. But the use there is so perfect that it belongs here--managing to connect both the frenetic nature of the hospital and the emotions between the doctors and their patients. Brilliant use (as is the entire musical coordination of the show, which is worthy of an award of its own).
- Lost, Man of Science, Man of Faith, "Make Your Own Kind of Music." I know many would pick this as the winner. At the start of Lost's second season we pull into an eye--the universal symbol for flashback. A man gets up out of bed and drops a needle onto a turntable and we hear the bizarre opening chords of Mama Cass' song. We follow the guy around as he goes through his daily routine. Then, we hear a BOOM! and realize that we're not in a flashback--we're in the hatch.
And the winner....
- House, Honeymoon, "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Two reasons--first, the brilliant bookending--one of the first lines out of House's mouth in the pilot is a quote from "the Philosopher Jagger--you can't always gets what you want," to which Dr. Cuddy responds "but, if you try sometimes, you can get what you need." Then, in the final scene of the season finale, as House sits at home as his one true love is with her husband, he throws a pill up in the air and it spins in the air--he catches it in his mouth and turns to the camera. The music asks the questions--what does House want? What does House need? Can he get either of them? We don't know, and that's why it's the winner.
Me: I want to see Brokeback Mountain.
Mr. Cosmo: I'm going to see one movie all winter and it's gonna be gay cowboys?
Mr. Cosmo: I want to see The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Me: I'm going to see one movie all winter and it's gonna be Christian lions?
Mr. Cosmo: Yes. And it's not about Christian lions. Read the damn book.
Mr. Cosmo: So. I guess it's King Kong?
Me: Yup. Let's go.
As conscientious readers may recall, the preview for King Kong had moved me from a meh to a yeah. And seeing the three-hour version -- a rather monumental expansion of the three-minute trailer -- did not disappoint.
Neither Mr. Cosmo nor I had ever seen a prior King Kong iteration. For those of you similarly inexperienced with the genre, the three hours can be divided into three chapters: (1) Depression-era Manhattan, in which filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) finds out-of-work vaudevillean actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) and convinces her to join the cast of his new film, which is setting sail that very day for Singapore for filming. But oops, little does anyone involved with the film know, but they are actually filming on ominous secret (2) Skull Island, on which bad things happen to many people, Jackson's brontosauruses kick the snot out of Spielberg's, and King Kong (Andy Serkis, in a role so close but yet so far from Gollum) and Ann meet. Kong is captured as he attempts to keep Ann with him on the island, and he is forcibly removed to (3) Depression-era Manhattan, where Kong proves to be stronger than anyone gave him credit for, and there's a little scene involving Kong, Ann, and the Empire State Building.
- Fastest three hours in a movie theatre ever. It didn't even bother me that it takes 90 minutes to catch a glimpse of an ape. The only area where I might have considered asking for a little extra slicing and dicing was toward the back end of the Skull Island sequence, where an awfully long time was spent lovingly filming all sorts of ooky monstrosities and big bugs and the like munching on various sailors.
- CGI has really become astonishing. The only point at which you notice the artificiality of the process is during the brontosaurus stampede, and even then it's not because the dinosaurs look fake, but because the actors didn't quite nail the running-for-their-lives-while-looking-over-their-shoulders-to-avoid-being-trampled reactions.
- Naomi Watts: Wow. Lovely and heartbreaking and impressively interactive with the giant green or blue or whatever-color-they-use-these-days screen that was her constant and sole companion throughout much of the movie.
- This was my first Adrien Brody experience. He's much more appealing than I previously gave him credit for being. Jack Black was enjoyable too. And Colin Hanks has gotten older since Orange County.
- I hope Peter Jackson is getting a serious kickback from the New Zealand government for the boost he has provided NZ tourism. Gorgeous, gorgeous cinematography. And watching the credits, I found myself wondering what percentage of the NZ population worked on this film. It can't be a small one.
10) "Dendrochronology" is the science of studying what? "Mogigraphia" is the disorder more commonly known as what?
11) Each of these people is better known by his nickname. Name the nicknames. Wilmer David Mizell; Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown; Clement John Dreisewerd; Walter Perry Johnson; Harold Henry Reese.
Answers tomorrow, so give it a shot while you can.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
- Am I the only one who, from time to time, has difficulty remembering whether Jeff Bridges or Jeff Daniels is the lead of a particular movie? I mean, Daniels used to have the more "affable stoner" characters, and then Bridges did Lebowski. Here, Daniels' Squid and the Whale character is a variation on Bridges' excellent performance in last year's underseen The Door in The Floor. Maddening.
- Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates have a very talented child, and must be extraordinarily permissive and understanding parents to allow their child to play the role he plays.
- Perhaps this demonstrates that I am now thoroughly a New Yorker, but isn't there something inherently wrong with an "Angelika Film Center" with state of the art projection and seating setups (including the lack of a train running from time to time behind the screen) and which is playing Rumor Has It... on one of its screens?
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
The movie that best captured our conflict over the moral imperatives of violence was—duh—A History of Violence. It essentially frames our national debate: As a citizen of the world, are we Tom Stall or Crazy Joey Cusack—and does it matter as long as we kill the right people? --JIM RIDLEY
Brokeback Mountain wasn't even the first mainstream gay romance of the year. Did no one else see the barely suppressed homoerotic longings beneath the hetero posturing of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in Wedding Crashers? --NICK SCHAGER
If War of the Worlds' Tom Cruise was the good father, Hayden Christensen was the ultimate bad dad in Star Wars Part the Last. While I'd hesitate to use the word subversive, the movie was more interesting than people gave it credit for. When I was young, we knew who the Empire were; they lived on the other side of the iron curtain. By the end of Revenge of the Sith that presumption has been spun around on its axis; a democracy can lose its way just as easily as a good man can be led to evil. --TOM CHARITY
Hail Keira, hail Heath and Jake, hail Scarlett and Cillian and all the cuties delightfully making good on the dream that stars can also be devoted to serious craft. Never has the schism between Federlinian trash-fame and bona fide talent seemed so pronounced; with yesterday's model short-circuiting on Oprah's couch, maybe it's time for the real actors to stand up. --JOSHUA ROTHKOPF
I propose a truce. Broadway promises to stop making mediocre stage versions of so-so movies, and Hollywood vows to forgo crappy screen adaptations of middling musicals. --JORGE MORALES
Go back to the 2004 poll comments via this link, and we even blogged the 2002 poll over here.
Some interpreted it as a way of dealing with [Freddie Mercury's] personal issues. To this day the band is still protective of the song's secret.
"I have a perfectly clear idea of what was in Freddie's mind," [guitarist Brian] May said. "But it was unwritten law among us in those days that the real core of a song lyric was a private matter for the composer, whoever that might be. So I still respect that."
[Producer Roy] Baker said, with a hearty laugh, "If I tell you, I would have to kill you."
I believe some of the usual suspects around here have some ideas.
(2004 Winner: TAR5's caviar challenge.)
Monday, December 26, 2005
Find out about the Justice for Kirsty campaign, or visit the MacColl website here.
P.S. The Pogues -- yes, Shane McGowan too -- will be touring the East Coast in March 2006.
In the Kelly Clarkson hit "Since U Been Gone," when she sings that "Thanks to you now I get what I want," does 'get' mean 'understand' or 'obtain'? Your detailed responses are welcome.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
While the promotional material is good for a giggle, they won't be pulling me out of Azeroth to investigate any time soon. I'll have to hold out for the next generation, or maybe for titles produced by "an applied religious philosophy" with a little more to offer in the carnage and mayhem department.
On a more serious and optimistic note, is anyone else excited about DarkFall?
Friday, December 23, 2005
Thursday, December 22, 2005
- Toronto film critics liked A History of Violence best in 2005, while those wacky critics down in the town whose name is German for "Giant Whale Vagina" picked King Kong as the best film of 2005. Meanwhile, Phoenix film critics, proving a punch drunk lot, picked Ron Howard's subtle Cinderella Man as their top film.
- The omnipresence of bacon in every restaurant dish made both Epicurious' best and worst food trends lists for 2005. The omnipresence of Rachel Ray, though, only made the worst list.
- SI.com's Bill Syken assembles his top 10 NBAlumni teams, with the trio of Vince Carter, Antwan Jamison and Rasheed Wallace being enough to put UNC in the top spot, followed by Arizona, UConn, and Duke.
- ET is the greatest family film of all time according to a new poll done by Britain's Channel 4. Shrek came in second, followed by Mary Poppins, Pirates of the Caribbean (?) and Toy Story.
- Bono has some more hardware to put next to his Time Magazine Person of the Year honor. Adam Clayton's bandmate tops Pop Candy's Whitney Matheson's annual list of the top 100 people of the year. No. 19 on her list is Surfjan Stevens, whose 2005 release Come on the Feel the Illinoise may be the best CD of the 2000s. The folks over at Pitchfork may not be willing to go that far, but it is No. 1 on their list of the best CDs of 2005. All of Pitchfork's Best of 2005 lists can be found here.
- Meanwhile, I pointed to them before, but for more Best of 2005 lists, be sure to check out both Fimoculous and Metacritic.
- Project Runway was another A-level episode this week. I don't quite get what was so good about Daniel V's collection, but I couldn't stop humming "Springtime for Hitler" while watching Santino's team work. Still, between Santino and Daniel Franco, the latter's narrative arc already had closure, while Santino's quest for world domination needs a few more episodes to fully flesh out the drama. Also, big ups for my girl Magneto, who rocked again with another focused collection.
- The Family Stone is a manipulative piece of dreck. Worse, it rarely rings emotionally true -- brothers, sisters and fiancees-to-be just don't behave the way these characters do. And worst of all -- even worse than the pseudo-Amherst geography of the thing (the writer-director is son of Prof. Robert Bezucha), is the way in which the film seems to share in the characters' masochistic beat-down of the Sarah Jessica Parker character, whose sole sin seems to be that she's a career-driven professional. Bad movie!
- Johnny Damon going to the Bronx is just wrong.
- The 2005 ALOTT5MA Award for Most Disappeared Star of the Year (2004 winner: Winona Ryder) goes to Mena Suvari. Any explanation needed?
- Your next reality job-search show? Who Wants To Write Think-Pieces About Midlevel Bands Struggling With Their Limitations In The Face Of Stardom?
- Would you watch an Alias spinoff that was all-evil, all the time?
- Have you read the blog from the writers of Grey's Anatomy, which seems to be the equivalent of a DVD commentary track without having to wait for DVD?
A very merry Chrismukkah to all!
This may sound odd from an organization that has moved Miss America from Atlantic City to Vegas and from September to January. But as the article points out, CMT viewers are something of a traditional crowd. And traditional crowds will welcome the return to tradition. No more casual-wear competition. No more O-Town (farewell, my Ashley Angel!) and Clay Aiken. No more multiple-choice civics quiz, the results of which always served to indicate that no matter how much scholarship money you throw at Miss America, she still doesn't know a darned thing about how many U.S. senators we have.
What are we getting back? Actual full-length talent performances, in all their cringeworthy glory. Evening wear with sashes displaying the name of the contestant's state. A swimsuit competition without real-time voting as to whether there should be a swimsuit competition. And, in a truly fabulous development, the return of the Miss Congeniality title, absent since 1974.
For the first time in many a year, I'm feeling a little optimistic about Miss America's prospects. The dream of a million more-than-pretty girls may still come true.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
I have to confess that I'm a little concerned about the fact that no one emailed me to ask me why I hadn't mentioned this fairly major plot twist. Given that the show is getting a real sendoff instead of a sudden cancellation or a summer-cliffhanger-that-never-gets-resolved, I have faith in the Disciples of JJ that they'll make these last episodes count. Sark's back, I feel pretty confident that we haven't seen the last of Vaughn, and then there's that little matter of last week's development -- hang in there!
(Unrelated grammatical point--as pointed out to me by a faithful reader, "bated breath" is the technically correct usage, but "baited breath" is now common parlance. I have repaired to be technically correct.)
As part and parcel of this transition, Nielsen will offer three sets of ratings for each program: (1) live, real-time viewing (the current ratings system), (2) live viewing plus same-day playback, and (3) live viewing plus playback within seven days of initial airing. It'll be interesting to see how these three data sets stack up against one another once all 800 DVR households are included.
I'm thinking that advertisers are going to be kind of pissed when they see just how many of us start watching Lost (remember Lost? that show that's on hiatus for six weeks?) at 9:30 pm.
Monday, December 19, 2005
As most persons interested in rock music are aware, Aerosmith has developed a well-earned reputation as one of America's louder rock bands and has cultivated a devoted adolescent following since the early 1970s. Its hit songs include such classics as "Walk This Way," "Dream On," "Sweet Emotion,""My Big Ten Inch," and the poignant "Dude Look Like A Lady." The Court expresses no opinion as to the socially redeeming aspects of Aerosmith's work.
- A contestant is presented with 26 briefcases. Those briefcases have some amount of money in them, ranging from a penny to one million dollars. They choose one, which remains closed.
- The player then eliminates 6 briefcases from contention, which are opened, revealing how much money was in them.
- Based on which briefcases have been eliminated, "the bank" makes an offer--keep playing, or take an offer calculated to be (roughly) the mathematical expected value of the remaining briefcases, including the "chosen one."
- Repeat (with the number of briefcases to be eliminated prior to an offer being made reduced each round) until the player either takes the deal or there are only two suitcases remaining.
This could be interesting with the right host. However, color me unconvinced that Howie Mandel is that "right host." Also, it seems to me that there is an ideal way to play the game assuming the goal is to maximize winnings. Any of our more mathematically inclined readers care to explain?
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Saddest Celebrity Deaths: Luther Vandross and John Spencer
Best-Orchestrated Celebrity Comeback: Woody Allen (not that I've seen the movie yet, but he's doing the publicity well, at least.)
Favorite Recurring Joke On 'Pardon The Interruption': Tony doesn't stay up late enough to watch anything after 8:30pm.
Least Favorite Recurring Joke On 'Pardon The Interruption': Still joking about their obsession with The Yanks and the Sawks. We get it, guys.
That Couldn't Have Been Scripted WTF!?! Reality TV Moment of the Year: TAR7's Kelly and Ron talk about commitment.
Least Talented Reality TV Competitor of the Year Who Nevertheless Advanced Way Too Far In His Competition: Scott Savol, American Idol 4. Go ahead, you can blot him out of your memory again.
Sign That I'm Getting Old: I'm getting honestly offended by some of the lyrics I'm hearing on the radio these days. We heard a song called "Laffy Taffy" on the radio on Thanksgiving evening that included the line "Girls call me Jolly Rancher/Cause I stay so hard/You can suck me for a long time/Oh my lord!" Now, really. Call me a prude, if you must, but does this belong on over-the-air radio?
Favorite Pop Culture Court Decision: American Movie Classics cable channel successfully sued for no longer showing "movie classics".
More to come. Still trying to figure out how to walk back the cat from Kingsley's claim in April that "no matter what happens for the rest of the season, Survivor's Stephenie LaGrossa will not only win the 2005 ALOTT5MA Award for Reality TV Competitor of the Year (2004: Rob Mariano), but will enter the Pantheon of favorite reality tv people ever with Ruthie and Teck, Team Guido, Jeff Balis and Chris Moore, Miss J. Alexander and the rest."
I guess that "for the rest of the season" does not exclude consideration of what she did in the following season, if Tom Westman and Austin Scarlett have anything to say about it . . .
Last year, Toni Bentley won the category for Most Overexposed Female "Celebrity." This year, that honor again goes to a writer, though not for a book. The award goes to author (and wife of Michael Chabon) Ayelet Waldman as a result of this piece. Our good friend Alex Balk explains why better than I ever could.
Ebert's traditional bias in favor of Liberal Message Movies (and slightly against comedy) is in full effect, but, hey, the man's also giving you every top ten list of his from 1967-present today. So enjoy.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
And because I started this site, I get to kick things off with the third annual award for Reality TV Host/Judge of the Year. Past winners include Robert K. Oermann of Nashville Star (2003) and Ralph Garman (as Derek Newcastle) for Joe Schmo 2 (2004).
This year, I don't think there will be too much debate. While perennials Tyra Banks (the Susan Lucci of this category) and Jeff Probst (for the Janu council, via Isaac) did solid work and Phil Keoghan was great in the one season of The Amazing Race which aired this year -- there was only one, right? -- a new entry into the field gave us such pleasure that to ignore him would be absurd.
Tim Gunn teaches a course called concept development at the Parsons School of Design in New York City, and concept devlopment is what he did so well on Project Runway. In his role as both task assigner and mentor on the show, Gunn has been the bridge between the viewer and the intricate work being done by the competitors. His position on the show is unique -- his purpose is to improve the work of all the competitors and does not judge them, formally or informally. His criticism is constructive in the best sense of the word. In this, he gives viewers clarity in an arcane field -- much like 2003's winner Oermann, he gives the context in which we understand that "pretty" is not always "good" and the importance of balancing one's own vision with the client's.
Without Tim Gunn, Project Runway is just American Idol with scissors. With him, it's an educational hoot.
And he has a blog.
That cartoon, "The Spirit of Christmas", can be downloaded here. It is still really f'n funny.
When the history is told of individuals who reached mass prominence through recognition on the Internet (Bill Simmons, Glenn Reynolds, Dane Cook, etc.), doesn't it start with Trey Parker and Matt Stone?
I did not want to leave, however, without saying a few words about an organization I hope you'll consider supporting as the year comes to a close.
This year, I joined the board of directors of The Philadelphia Committee to END Homelessness.
That's right. End it.
Our philosophy is simple: we believe believe that the best way to help homeless and at-risk individuals and families is to secure them housing first, then connecting them to the mainstream and neighborhood services they need to maintain permanent housing. This community-based approach helps prevent people from entering the homeless service system, and helps those already homeless to rapidly exit the cycle of temporary solutions. Give people the stability and dignity that permanent housing affords, rather than use the more expensive shelter system as a bandaid.
Our plan is called Safe Home Philadelphia. Because we don't accept public money, we exist outside the network of service providers dependent on a constant supply of homeless people to fill our shelter beds and keep people employed. Indeed, when we have finished our plan, we want to turn our offices into more family housing, and declare ourselves out of business.
Here are some of our success stories this year:
- Nanette, her 18 month-old daughter and 6 year-old son were constantly moving between friends and family while she desperately tried to create a normal life for her family. SafeHome Philadelphia found her a modest apartment, helped her move in, arranged for IKEA Philadelphia to donate bunk beds, installed smoke detectors and arranged for separate electric metering. Nanette is thrilled to have her very own kitchen, is able to look for work and is proud that her son is enrolled permanently in a local school.
- Juanita was afraid for her own life and her teenaged daughter was threatening to run away from home because of unrelenting abuse. It was literally at the 11th hour when their call for help came. SafeHome Philadelphia helped Juanita remain in a welfare-to-work program so important to her future, and paid the security deposit on a one-bedroom apartment. Juanita's terror is over and her situation stabilized to the point where she confidently looks forward to being self-sufficient in no time.
- Having lost his job, Tom and his pregnant girlfriend Tanya were scheduled for eviction on December 12th. Without other resources, the shelter system loomed large. SafeHome Philadelphia moved Tom and Tanya into their new apartment on December 11th, pre-paid the required 3 months rent (security deposit, first and last month) and helped Tom locate a part-time second job to ensure that rent will be paid. Having helped Tanya sign up for medical and other benefits, she is able to confidently prepare for their new arrival.
Want to help the homeless? Help us help them no longer be homeless. We know what works; give us the resources to succeed.
What's important here to realize is that homelessness is not a permanent, intractable condition. We can do something about it.
Thanks for your time. Help us if you can.
Friday, December 16, 2005
For readers of a certain age, it's a TiVo must.
- Metasearch engine Dogpile has comdogpiled a list of the most-searched terms of 2005, and while I'll give you Nos. 1 and 2 (music lyrics and Paris Hilton), I want to know who uses a search engine to search for Google, eBay, and Yahoo (gee I always forget those sites tricky URLs). And are there really that many people who give a hoot about Jennifer Anniston's hair still? I am guessing they excluded racier terms from their list, since I'm sure 95% of the Paris Hilton searches included other terms.
- Apparently many of those folks who used Dogpile to search for Yahoo, then used Yahoo to search for Britney Spears, according to the Web site's own list of the most-searched terms of 2005.
- At least one critic liked The Producers. AP film critic David Germain put it on his top 10.
- The Chicago Tribune's TV critics hashed out a combined top 10 list.
- Those nasty hurricanes and whether it was all of us who made them worse is Discover Magazine's No. 1 science story of the year. A decent pick, yes, but, I would have gone with this experimental partnering of Mentos and Diet Coke (watch the video!). Mentos: the explosionmaker.
- Confirming what I think most of us already knew, Babyfit has determined that Overland Park, Kansas, is the healthiest city in America to be pregnant in.
- And finally, the POTUS lists some more of the artists on his iPod, including The Archies.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
NYT: How come the movie feels, in every sense, like a rip-off?
ChiTrib: It is not very funny. It doesn't look right. It's depressing.
LATimes: "The Producers" has been entombed -- lox, shtick and two smoking bagels -- as a theatrical fossil.
NYDN: What the heil went wrong?
You'd almost think they wanted it to fail, but why?
- Dwayne Wade tops AI and LeBron on the list of the NBA's best-selling jerseys.
- Kanye West's Late Registration tops both Rolling Stone's and Spin's list of the best CDs of 2005, beating out the Rolling Stones and MIA, respectively, for the honors.
- A list of 42 Songs, of which I can vaguely recall the tune of one ("So Long and Thanks for All the Fish" from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), are in the running for the Best Original Song Oscar.
- Paris Hilton tops PETA's worst dressed list, while Kate Moss tops Coke Fiend Magazine's list of the Best Dressed Women in the World.
- U2 tops the list of the highest grossing tours of 2005, edging The Eagles and Neil Diamond.
- ESPN Classic is putting together a list of 20 Greatest Sports Performances of All-Time. You can let your voice be heard here, but it's got to be Wilt's 100, no?
- England's digital music video channel The Box named "Thriller" the greatest video of all time. The channel also recently picked Lionel Richie's sublime "Hello" as the worst video of all time.
I've been working my way through Disc 5 (middle of second season) lately. Here are the Moments. Feel free to rewatch your own Disc 5s and offer up alternatives.
A Girl Named Pixley: Jeremy has been nominated for an award, and spends much of the episode unsuccessfully trying to engage Isaac in a discussion of whether he should write an acceptance speech ahead of time. Later, Isaac naps on his couch while waiting for a party his wife is attending to end -- Isaac isn't at the party because of the lingering aftereffects of his stroke -- and Jeremy awakens him to discuss the award further. Isaac tells him that he didn't win. The conversation concludes:
Isaac: You know what sucks?
Jeremy: Losing an award?
Isaac: I was going to say not being able to dance with your wife.
Jeremy: I was going to say that too, sir.
"The Giants Win the Pennant . . .": Dan wants to do a feature on the 49th anniversary of the Giants coming from 13 1/2 games behind to win the 1951 pennant. He discovers that Isaac was at the game, but Isaac refuses to let Dan interview him on camera for the story. Dan pesters Isaac, who finally confesses that he missed the famous home run because he was in the men's room.
Dan: You never saw Thompson's home run.
Dan: You were at the game.
Isaac: I was washing my hands.
Dan: Never wash your hands.
Isaac: If only you'd been my mother.
Dan: You didn't see it.
Dan: You were washing your hands.
Dan: Were you bummed?
Isaac: For a while. But then you get older, and it just joins all the other things in your life that happen while you were looking the other way.
Dan: Did you see your daughter get born?
Dan: Did you see her graduate college?
Dan: Are you watching Sports Night tonight?
Dan: Then shut up.
The Cut Man Cometh: The dating plan breathes its last. Dana apologizes to Casey for putting him through the whole moronic process. She asks, eyes aglow: "If I were to ask you out tonight, would you say yes?" Casey pauses for a moment. "No."
Dana Get Your Gun: This episode has no Moment. It's good and all -- Sam finds Dana's Revolutionary War musket under her desk and bunches her panties a bit, and the guy subbing in for Dan gets yanked when he goes all stalkery towards his girlfriend on the air, but not so much with the eye-misting. Even Sorkin takes a pitch occasionally.
And the Crowd Goes Wild: Natalie and Jeremy have broken up, and Jeremy wants his stuff back. Simultaneously, the NYPD wants Sports Night's stuff -- in this case, their footage of a riot outside the Garden. Natalie is insistent that they shouldn't turn over the footage because of the First Amendment. Jeremy keeps demanding his stuff. Natalie speaks her piece on the riot footage and the First Amendment to Isaac, who unsolicitedly offers her the night off to cope with her grief over Jeremy.
Natalie: I'm not upset about this, Isaac. I'm upset because there's a principle. a bedrock principle that doesn't change, and now I'm supposed to hand over these things, I'm supposed to hand over these things that are ours.
Isaac opens his arms, and Natalie runs crying into them.
Celebrities: This is the last episode of Disc 5, and I was pretty convinced that it had no Moment. But then we get to the last scene. Jeremy, as the ex-boyfriend, isn't invited to participate in Natalie's game of Celebrity. Jeremy returns to the Sports Night studio after his encounter with Jenny the porn star. He sits silently in Dan and Casey's office while the Celebrity war rages in the newsroom. The episode ends with Jeremy listening in and quietly chiming in the answers before everyone else. "Lenny Bruce . . . Thoreau . . . Josephine Baker."
The Sweet Smell of Air: I pulled this one out of chronological order and saved it for last because it has three separate Moments. The first is a little one. Isaac has been obsessing over an article about prospects for engineering new species of birds and sealife that can survive in outer space. Dana asks Isaac why he's so caught up with the Space Squid. Isaac's response: "Because I won't live to see it."
I smiled and wrote that down as the Moment, but then everyone finds out that the exclusive interview they'd nabbed with Michael Jordan was only offered to Sports Night in the first place because Jordan's people thought that CSC would be the only network sufficiently concerned about its ratings that that it would agree to relinquish editorial control, thereby ensuring that the interview would be nothing more than an infomercial for Jordan's new cologne. Sam and Dana report this development to Isaac. Isaac says, "They thought we were desperate enough for the ratings to do it. Are we, Sam?" A pause, while Dana looks at Sam, sure that he's going to insist that they do the interview to get the ratings. Sam solemnly shakes his head no. Isaac concludes: "Then tell them Isaac Jaffe says to go to hell." Sam beams. Dana looks on in astonishment.
But then Sorkin decides to offer up riches in abundance, and there's one more Moment. Casey has to demonstrate something at his son's school, and he has no idea what to do. When he returns to the studio, everyone is sitting in rundown. Casey announces: "I'm back and I'm triumphant. I did what I do, Dan, I did what I do. I got there early, I'm standing out on the playground during recess. I'm trying to think what I can come up with at the last minute. But I can't concentrate on that because all around me, kids are playing games. There's some kickball going on over there, dodgeball over here, hopscotch in the the corner. And like a flood, like a surge, I'm suddenly filled with a sense of I-know-what-the-hell-I'm-doing. And when recess was over, we go back into the classroom." Dan interrupts: "And you called the highlights." Casey nods. "I called the highlights."
Am I a little too excited for Studio 7 on the Sunset Strip?
Odd choices abound: The Bad News Bears? The Green Mile? Forrest Gump? Jesus Christ Superstar? Love Story? 9 to 5?
And all you It's a Wonderful Life haters will be happy to see it's on the ballot.
And speaking of haters, the KC Star's Robert Butler has had it with the AFI and its lists.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
That said, no quarrel with the winner or loser this week. Particularly loved the winner this week, for all the obvious reasons -- wow! on the fabric choice.
I know "Marge vs. the Monorail" gets a lot of support round these parts, but for me I think the answer is "Cape Feare" (though I was disappointed to read that Sideshow Bob's German tatoo is gramatically incorrect; it should be "Der Bart Der").
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Not that this leg didn't have its plusses -- namely, a pair of tasks requiring deliberateness and thoroughness once Killer Fatigue had set in, and a final Roadblock which, quite frankly, is up there with the Ice Globes from TAR2 as my favorite Final Leg Task ever.
[Also, kudos to Rolly Weaver, who's up there with Colin (of -and-Christie) for being one of the best task completers in the Race's history.]
But seriously, yo? Next season can't come soon enough. Thank goodness this one's over.
All three lists, by the way, are topped by Chicagoans--Kanye West, Common, and Andrew Bird, respectively. Along with the near-universal praise given to early Pazz and Jop favorite,Sufjan Stevens' Illinoise, 2005 is shaping up to be the best music year for the Land of Lincoln since the Guyville hey-day of 1993.
And over on the movie side of things, critics from N.Y., Boston, San Francisco, and L.A. agree that there ain't nuthin' like gay cowboys. By the way, you can read the original short story "Brokeback Mountain," which was published in the New Yorker back in 1997, here. Perhaps someday soon the movie will actually open in Chicago.
Lastly, here are TV Guide's Matt Roush's Top 10 shows of the year: 1. Lost; 2. My Name Is Earl; 3. Battlestar Galactica; 4. Grey's Anatomy; 5. FX Dramas (Over There, Rescue Me, The Shield and Nip/Tuck); 6. Veronica Mars; 7. 24; 8. HBO Historical Dramas (Deadwood, Rome); 9. House; 10. Everybody Hates Chris.
Two immediate questions, and I'm sure you'll have more: how do you nominate A History of Violence for best drama, and then, of the three main performances, only nominate Maria Bello but not Viggo Mortensen or especially William Hurt? How do you nominate Matt Dillon for Crash but not Don Cheadle or Thandie Newton?
[Edit by Matt--IMDB's list includes the TV categories, which are dominated by the new, with only Curb Your Enthusiasm having a debut date before 2004 in the top categories, and with nods for Drs. McDreamy, House, and Yang as well as all four Desperate Housewives.]
"We had a kid who was really into 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,' " James recalls, "so we had a purple suit made for him, and we hired these people to be Oompa Loompas and they came out and danced. We had these trees with candy all over them, with signs that said 'Do not eat.' It was fantastic."
I have two things to note: one, is that it doesn't cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to put a kid in a chair and have him carried around the room by strapping relatives, which is as big a thrill any thirteen-year-old ever needs.
Second is that if you want an antidote to all this, pick up Mark Oppenheimer's Thirteen and a Day: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Across America, which only briefly covers NYC-area ridiculousness ("selling an experience more ethnic than any that the children’s parents would allow them to experience for real.”) to then focus on some really wonderful celebrations -- Lubavitchers in Alaska, an eccentric reform community in Arkansas, adult b'nai mitzvah in Lake Charles, Louisana, and the like. Y'know -- where the theme isn't "Austin Powers", but Judaism.
- Mission Impossible III--If the Alias pilot didn't establish that J.J. Abrams can do dialogue and intrigue as well as the blowing stuff up material, I'd be a little worried from the trailer, which is largely narratively incoherent (and features almost zero Keri Russell), but interesting, and looks like more in the vein of the first MI than the second one.
- Miami Vice--We've seen a lot of quasi-spoofy TV show remakes, but what makes this one odd is that it's decidedly not that sort of thing--instead, it takes itself perhaps even more seriously than the show did (and certainly looks a hell of a lot darker than the TV show). But making Tubbs the hip and cool one? That's just wrong.
Monday, December 12, 2005
The more I think about it, the Family nature of this season wasn't the problem. At all. I miss the Gaghans, the Blacks and the Paolos. Having kids and teenagers were fine.
No, the problem was with the racing. Specifically, the lack thereof. There just weren't any real opportunities for teams to do what I call "outracing the Race" -- finding ways, through devious airplane connections, local guides and smart planning -- to use their wits and create leads for themselves. Even just having tasks that involved real skill would've been nice -- think of the "build an Ikea desk set" or "deliver these wine barrels across town" tasks, for starters.
None of that here. Making it to the final three of this season required Not Screwing Up Too Badly, and not any amount of Doing Things Really Well. When you think about the great teams of the past -- Team Guido, Colin and Christie, Charla and Mirna, Rahb and Ambuh, Cha Cha Cha -- they all found ways to shorten the vast distances of the race to their advantage -- and the Race was structured in such a way to allow them to do so.
I undertstand they felt confined to the Americas. Fine. But too much of the racing took place in inert, confined spaces -- isolated ranches, closed-down museums, etc -- where there was no interacting with the locals, no randomness, and little need for skill. Find Buffalo Bill and take a picture in old-timey clothing? Look at the funny trained bear? Find Les at the gas station?!? Come on.
Okay, sure, they cut down on the Fear Factor and Gross Eating Challenge stuff. But where was Sell Fruit To The Locals? Navigate A Major City's Public Transit System? Challenge a local in the native sport?
This spring, let's pray they put some racing back into the Race. Because after Tuesday, it's all about the Runway for a while.
This issue might be best taken up by a new blog that is quickly becoming one of my favorites: The Consumerist. Yes, it's yet another site from the Gawker Empire, but it's a goodie, filled with tales of customer service from hell, fiendish rip-offs, Kafkaesque help lines, and the occasional good deal. Think of it as that cloying consumer help guy from the local news with the right does of attitude.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
But on the level below that you've got Amazon (Boys v Girls, Rob C's strategery), Pearl Islands (Rupert, Johnny Fairplay and the Pirates), Australia and, I think, this season, which may have never reached heights of drama, but had a good level of strategy, personality and humor to it.
The winner -- whom we can discuss in the comments -- is one of the most worthy we've had because [added Monday morning] Danni did a ridiculously good job in taking control of her own destiny in the game. Coming into a merge where she was outnumbered, she bided her time, grabbed a key immunity (why did no one in the alliance outbid her at the auction to ensure she couldn't get it?) and then, most critically, didn't rest on her immunity but seized the opportunity to create a rift between Steph and Judd and take control of the game.
Most players in that situation, once they received the immunity, would've just been happy with that, and not worried about the results of that night's council. She, instead, kicked ass. Also, note this: she started voting with the majority as soon as it turned on one of its own, Jamie, and had only one vote cast against her the whole time -- Lydia's, at final four.
Just one last question: didn't the Mayan civilization die out centuries ago? If so, who the heck were those visitors?
The Producers: The Musical is a 50% an absolute joy and 50% a disappointment. When the musical feels right shot as though it was on stage, it's terrific. . . .
The trouble comes when Stroman is called upon to act like a film director and not a stage director. Most of the time that is the case, she fails. And one gets the impression that boss man Mel Brooks wasn't in a big rush to keep her from simply recreating a lot of his handiwork from the original film as well as from the show. . . . [T]here was the question of how Ms. Stroman would handle Max's soliloquy, "Betrayed." Would this be the showstopper that it was on stage? And the answer was that she did a decent job, but no, it doesn't have the power on film that it does on stage. Part of that is the natural subtext of watching a movie and knowing that the singing's been prerecorded. And part of it, again, was that there was no real invention in the sequence. The filmmaking needed to match the magic of the song and it was lacking.
I told y'all: it should've been Pacino.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Friday, December 9, 2005
The film is powerful, in the hollow way that many of Spielberg's films are powerful. He is a master of vacant intensities, of slick searings. Whatever the theme, he must ravish the viewer. Munich is aesthetically no different from War of the Worlds, and never mind that one treats questions of ethical and historical consequence and the other is stupid. Spielberg knows how to overwhelm. But I am tired of being overwhelmed. Why should I admire somebody for his ability to manipulate me? In other realms of life, this talent is known as demagoguery. There are better reasons to turn to art, better reasons to go to the movies, than to be blown away.
“But I am a heterosexual man,” you’re thinking, “very, very, very, very straight.” And you’re kind of freaking out as the release date quickly approaches — and even the expression “release date” is making you kind of jittery. You’re hoping to remind your female life partner that, while you feel gay people are very wonderful, colorful, witty additions to the human population and that Ellen sure is fun to watch dance in the credit card commercial and that Tom Hanks really deserved that Academy Award for whatever that movie was where he died at the end, that you are very, very, very, very straight and that it should exempt you from seeing Adorable Jake…um… do “it” with Heath Ledger. You really don’t even want to know what “it” entails because you’ve lived this long without finding out. You’re thinking the words “red-blooded,” as in “I am a red-blooded American male, etc,” don’t sound so retro anymore.
And yet, you’re still going to see it whether you like it or not. This necessarily presents a dilemma: how to make her happy and endure your first gay-themed movie where guys actually make out on a very big screen right in front of your face? And that’s where I come in. . . .
The last note is particularly apt: "And finally, it’s just your turn. Really, it is, and you know it. Imagine how many thousands of hetero love stories gay people sit through in their lives. So you kind of owe us. Now get out there and watch those cowboys make out. "