Friday, April 15, 2005

WELL, THEY'RE NOT THAT ANGRY: I finally got around to seeing the much-praised and much-extended Broadway production of "Twelve Angry Men" this evening, and this is a production that deserves all the praise it's received. Brilliant ensemble acting all about (led by Boyd Gaines as "#8," the Henry Fonda/Jack Lemmon role), clean direction, and great use of a small space to work. Two particular things stand out:

1. How shockingly funny the play is. The audience cracked up numerous times, and it's all the more astounding because of how violent and sudden much of the play is. The humor's black, to be sure, but it's there.

2. How much the play is about race. Even though race is never explicitly mentioned in the text of the play, keeping the play set in the 50s and having the entire cast be white guys brings across unspoken truths about race and plays up an "Us vs. Them" element in the play that remains relevant to this day.

A couple of tiny complaints--I was seated far house right/stage left, and it was like trying to watch a movie made for widescreen in pan-and-scan--characters would drop out of the frame. Be respectful of every seat in your staging, please. Second, Gaines is trying a little too hard to be Jimmy Stewart, with a somewhat cloying accent that we could do without. That said, it's a great evening at the theatre. Check it out, either in the final few weeks before it closes, or on tour next year.
TO CRUSH TOM'S ENEMIES, TO SEE THEM VOTED OUT BEFORE HIM, AND TO HEAR THE LAMENTATIONS OF JANU: And now, after a first-half of a Survivor season that was truly outstanding television, we shift to a show that won't contain any strategic tension maybe until we reach the final four.

Let me be absolutely clear: Coby was an idiot, and Our Hero Tom played the situation perfectly.

Coby talked a good game like he was a Hatch/Rob C.-level strategist. But he did absolutely nothing to further any particular plan to win. Simply telling Stephanie (the Allen Iverson of reality tv -- the worse things got, the harder she busted her ass to win) everything that's going on isn't a plan; you have to tell her what you want her to do and, more importantly, offer her something to persuade her to vote with you. Make her believe that the bulk of the tribe is lying to her and wants her out immediately, and offer her the Final Four is she aligns with you.

If Coby were smart, and he knew that some day Gregg and Jenn were ready to turn on Tom and Dolphin Boy, then the time to do that was right away. He blew it royally, and doubled that by doing that quickest, dumbest self-elimination in an immunity challenge since Scout tried to hang on the pole.

(And, by the way, as sucky as Scout was, Janu makes her look like she was Colby Donaldson times Andrew Savage. Dear Miss Showgirl: This show is called 'Survivor'; it's not called 'Lie Around And Decompose'.)

Instead, Coby's "master strategy" seemed to involve working with the Tom and Dolphin Boy to knock off the weaker women, then have Gregg and Jenn (and, I guess, Steph) turn on Tom and Ian and their allies. What he failed to account for, however, was that there was no reason for the other clique keep him around, and every reason to eliminate him early -- he was the sole shit-stirrer/strategist outside their friendly foursome, and there was every reason to oust him as soon as possible to prevent him from organizing a coup.

So, now, what? Now you can knock off the useless Janu and Caryn, which no one will have a problem with, because Gregg and Jenn aren't going to realize that, without those two votes, there's no way to knock Tom out. (To be sure, if they're worried, Tom and Dolphin Boy can just knock off Gregg, the last remaining immunity-run threat, next week. I don't think they feel that sense of urgency.)

We're down then to six, and Gregg and Jen may not still realize that Stephenie's in a foursome with Tom, Ian and Katie. It's too late. Welcome to your final four, and if Steph makes it that far, she's one of the Gratist Survivors Evir, no matter what else happens.
NOW ABE KNOWS HOW PETE ROSE FEELS: Sure the 16th president freed the slaves, but that and winning the Civil War wasn't quite enough to push Honest Abe into the the first class of inductees for the National Abolition Hall of Fame. Among those who did make the cut were Frederick Douglas, Lucretia Mott, and Harriet Tubman.
W_NK_TT_'S 25 L_A_T IN_LU_NTIAL P__PL_: Pat Sajak, Ralph Nader, and the insufferable Joel Stein highlight Nos. 25 to 16 of The Wonkette 25: A List of The World's Least Influential People.

Update: The complete list is now up here.
FEELING GUILTY ABOUT CHOKING THE CHICKEN? Here's one way to make up for it. (Work safe).
AND I, FOR ONE, WELCOME OUR NEW INSECT OVERLORDS: If you start seeing unfamiliar names in the Comments from people wearing seersucker jackets and chinos, quoting Edmund Burke and Hadley Arkes, and complaining about Those Darned Democrats Holding Up Our Wonderful, God-Fearing Judicial Nominees, here's why.

I do know, at least, we all share one belief in common: however much we all wish him well during his current course of treatment, Arlen Specter is still a total douchebag.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

PUT DOWN THE SKOAL: Tonight on "The Apprentice," Donald instructed fired candidate Chris Shelton to, in the future, "watch your temper" and to "stay away from that damn tobacco." Chris promised to do so. Let's hope that quitting the dip is working out better for him than the whole watching the temper thing, as he was recently arrested for "refusing to calm down" at a casino in Florida. That added a nice touch of irony to a show that's never quite regained the heights of its first season, though is still worth watching.
WHO'S PLAYING THE RAPPIN' GRANNY? Following in the footsteps of The Producers and Hairspray, it's now official--The Wedding Singer will arrive on Broadway around this time next year. No casting has yet been announced, though might I suggest Kerry Butler as Julia? And I can't be the only one thinking of the possibility of "and Billy Idol as Billy Idol," right?
THERE ARE LEDES . . . And then there are ledes. Tony Scott, can you interest us in a movie review?
The reasons to avoid "House of D," David Duchovny's earnest, unwatchable coming-of-age drama, can best be summarized in a simple declarative sentence. Robin Williams plays a retarded janitor.

Yes, we love us some A.O. Scott
IF HE WOULD HAVE RECORDED "WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT," BUT NOT MADE THAT AWESOME VIDEO WITH THE GUY FROM ANIMAL HOUSE IT WOULD HAVE SUFFICED: The headline says it all: Dee Snider to Host "Matzo and Metal: A Very Classic Passover." Dayenu, indeed.
WHAT WOULD FACE READ? If you're like me, well, first I feel sorry for you, but secondly you've probably spent many a sleepless night womdering what book is on Dirk Benedict's nightstand. Wonder no more. Glenna Nowell, a librarian in Gardiner, Maine, who for years has been collecting celebrity reading lists, has assembled her 2005 list. And it seems that during those years in the Los Angeles undergound, Benedict developed a love for the biographies of pioneering female aviators. This year's list is a little low on the Q factor, with Oakland A's pitcher Barry Zito, Ralph Nader, and Mrs. John McLane weighing in with their picks, but a complete archive of past picks from Alan Alda to Oprah is available here.
NOT EVEN WENDY PEPPER GOT THIS SORT OF TREATMENT: The New York gossip pages are busy today. While Page Six recounts an childish (albeit somewhat amusing) incident involving Justice Scalia and some students at my alma mater, Lloyd Grove's Lowdown in the Daily News reveals that Project Runway winner Jay McCarroll hasn't lost his edge, as he was "sporting a 10-gallon hat, pink sunglasses and giant poncho that hid the wine glass he was holding at crotch level," and verbally assaulted a Lowdown reporter. Make sure to read the transcript of McCarroll's remarks--it's worth your time.
THIS GUY'S ONE OF THE BEST CHARACTERS WE'VE EVER HAD: Given this site's readership, I figure there will be much interest in Bryan Curtis' take on the decline of Trivial Pursuit -- and of trivia itself:
Then came the Internet: How could Trivial Pursuit survive in the age of Google? The Internet has the rewritten the rules of the game. The old measure of the trivia master was how many facts he could cram into his head. The new measure is how nimbly he can manipulate a search engine to call up the answer. The now-defunct ABC show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire included a lifeline called 'phone-a-friend,' in which a desperate contestant was supposed to call upon the knowledge of a smart companion. Seconds after the contestant dialed for help, you could hear the guy on the other end pecking away at a keyboard Googling and I thought, This is it. Trivia is dead.

That's overstating it a little. Trivia lives; it's generalist trivia, the kind of fluency that Trivial Pursuit prized, that's ailing. . . . Gone is the proud generalist of the original Trivial Pursuit, who knew the most common Russian surname (Ivanov) and the international radio code word for the letter O (Oscar). In his place is the specialist, who knows every inch of Return of the Jedi.

When's the last time you picked up a Trivial Pursuit board? And where does Quizzo fit into all this?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

THERE'S NOTHING WORSE THAN GETTING BOOED AT HOME: You know, I have all the sympathy in the world for Terrell Owens, trying to renegotiate his contract in a sport where non-guaranteed contracts allow owners to cut veterans or demand salary rollbacks all the time, playing a sport in which death and paralysis are everpresent risks. His risk of permanent injury to try to win this town a Super Bowl earn him the right to seek an advance of the money which the team has agreed to pay over the next six years.

But then I read this story about Oriole reliever Steve Kline, whining about the $5.5M/2y contract he signed to leave St. Louis and how much he now regrets it, and all that sympathy starts flying out the window. Did he not realize that Baltimore wasn't quite as good (of a team, of a baseball city) as The Lou? This followup interview/apology doesn't walk back the cat all the way home quite yet.
I HAVE NEVER IN MY LIFE YELLED AT A GIRL LIKE THIS: True, I haven't said word one yet about America's Next^4 Top Model, and, even with the move to Los Angeles, it's not fresh enough to really compete with the first three.

But tonight? The last fifteen minutes? When it re-airs on Friday, do watch, and you'll see why Miss Tyra always gets my vote as the best reality tv host, bar none.

(Minor tv note of the night: We like South Park continuity here, so welcome back, Scott Tenorman!)

edited to add: We now also have video and a transcript.
ALL THIS JOY, AND WITHOUT THE SUBSCRIPTION CARDS FALLING ON THE FLOOR: Each year, the American Society of Magazine Editors honors the best magazine writing of the past year. Their 2004 awards were announced today, and there are a few worth noting:

If there's one thing I wish had been recognized, it would be ESPN the Magazine's continuing excellent coverage of mental health issues with athletes, a trend which this week's piece on Bill Pulsipher continues admirably. (See, e.g., this link, skip to "He was all packed.")

What else should have been given props?
IT MIGHT BE...IT COULD BE...IT IS: It's the list of the 101 Best Baseball Announcers, according to author Curt Smith, author of "Voices of Summer."

The top 10 are:
  1. Vin Scully
  2. Mel Allen
  3. Ernie Harwell
  4. Jack Buck
  5. Red Barber
  6. Harry Caray
  7. Bob Prince
  8. Jack Brickhouse
  9. Dizzy Dean
  10. Lindsay Nelson
Rankings are based on a munber of criteria including longevity, continuity, language, popularity, voice and knowledge, which may explain some of the more dubious choices such as Tim McCarver at No. 17. And Chicago is well-represented beyond the two prominent names in the top 10, but the exclusion of Steve Stone is a head-scratcher. At least Smith had the good sense to leave off Ron Santo.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

EVERYBODY'S HIGH ON CONSOLATION: It's time to get serious about American Idol 4. I find that as time goes on, the more my opinions align themselves with Simon's -- I am judging for the competition that he wants to run, for the type of singer he's looking for, and it's impossible to break out of that framework. So, as such:
  • Constantine gets it. This is a competition looking for a pop singer who can hit glory notes and oodles of charisma. It's not looking for a "rocker", and even if it were, it's not him. So he does what he does well -- it's cheesy and smarmy, but he knows his niche here, and he exploits it.
  • Bo, on the other hand, I still don't get why he's there. The more he tries to do "his thing" with an orchestra, not a rock band behind him, the less authentic it feels. "Freebird" in two minutes? I held up my lighter and requested something else.
  • Vonzell is this year's LaToya/Tamyra/Hudson: completely competent, and will hang around for a while, and be eliminated through no fault of her own.
  • Carrie resurrected GoatGirl tonight, and it was not pleasant.
  • I have nothing good to say about Scott or ThroatBoy. Beyond his moral failings, Scott's also an uncompelling singer with no stage presence. What he did to "She's Gone" tonight, Andrew Jackson did to the Creeks. And Federov would do well on the British version, which goes for asexual teenybopper boys like Will Young, but he's utterly outclassed here.
  • Which leaves the enigmas. Nadia has always seemed to me to be way too rehearsed, like she's singing in a pageant with all the overblown, overdetermined stagey gestures. And Anwar, dawg, you do your thing well, but if he's going to overtake the big two, he needs a breakout performance already.
Maybe it's just me, but this season has not seen the blown-away equivalent of Kelly's "Stuff Like That There", Ruben's "Superstar", Clay's version of that immigrant mouse song or Fantasia's "Summertime" -- this season's best remains yet to come. Or am I wrong?
TEA FOR FIVE: An interesting episode of the Race, exposition-wise, but it wasn't much of a competition. Somehow, a ten-minute lead established early is never overcome, and while comedy ensues at times, there's not much tension -- unless you count the gritting of my teeth every time Gretchen opens her mouth. Oh my God!

One thing: if you're doing tasks in India, why not look at modern India? Have the teams type up five minutes worth of dictation from American executives. Let them operate a Dell call center and let them explain to senior citizens how to ALT-CTRL-DEL their way out of a jam.

I'm stuck for things to say. Maybe, you won't be.

Related: What's on President Bush's iPod? 'My Sharona' and More

AND THEY DON'T EVEN MENTION ERIC CARTMAN: The Washington Post would like to keep you posted on the fact that kids are swearing a lot. Apparently, children do not know what constitutes profanity and what does not. Do we need to be teaching George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" monologue to our children to clear this up? It's certainly an option.

Also amusing is the sidebar on "Tips To Tame Your Tongue," suggesting such tips as "Make your point politely," and "Work at it." One tip is "use alternative words," as other authorities on swearing among children have suggested, though with a much jauntier beat.
OUT LIKE A LAMB: Today's Guardian reports that the unquiet life of Andrea Dworkin has come to a quiet end. I've heard it said that every Martin Luther King needs a Malcolm X to serve as a lightning rod, and Dworkin certainly fit that bill for a generation of feminist scholars and activists. I'm really not qualified to deliver any proper obituary, having never known anyone to completely buy into Dworkin's view of the world. Even my most activist lesbian friends seemed to take the position that -- to paraphrase Randy Newman's southerner's nod to Lester Maddox -- "she may be a fool but she's our fool."

In any event, I did learn two things from the Guardian obit. First, although I always believed Dworkin to be fervently anti-man (in college, I went to a talk she gave where she agreed to take questions only from women), her life partner was a man. Second, either the Guardian uses poor fact-checking or Gloria Steinem added a letter to her name.
IF THE PUPPETS DID TO EACH OTHER WHAT WE SHOW THEM DOING, ALL THEY'D GET IS SPLINTERS: The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression has announced its 2005 Muzzle Awards, for the most egregious restrictions on free speech over the past year.

Winners include the MPAA (for censoring the puppet sex in Team America), the Democratic and Republican parties (regarding protestors at the conventions), and, gosh, every year you think high school principals and state legislators have exhausted the ways they can look stupid, it just gets worse. Even your Calvins are under attack.
AND THE GIFT SHOP HAS GREAT DOLLS FOR THE KIDS TO PLAY WITH: Does flying into Ronald Reagan National Airport give you the oogies because of the whole PATCO thing?

Well, now, conscientious fliers into the DC Metro area will have more options, because the Maryland Legislature last night approved a bill to rename BWI in honor of Thurgood Marshall, a Maryland native.

So if you want your bags processed with all deliberate speed; at an airport where reason, not power, is the currency of the TSA's decisionmaking; and where the best available social science research is used to determine gate assignments, well, you know where to go.

Monday, April 11, 2005

SO DRIVE THEM STAPLES DEEP: Question occasioned by this week's SNL and this recent application of the Keltner List: is Green Day the Curt Schilling of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

Think about it: Dookie is the 1993 Schilling season; American Idiot as the late-career WS MVP heroic seasons that bring a previously solid career into serious consideration, and now, for both, another few great years, and they're probably in. Right?

(Less ridiculous analogy suggestions are welcome. Is Mariah Carey the Ken Griffey Jr. of music?)
HE SHOOTS, HE SCORES A BIRDIE: I'm not a big fan of watching golf on TV, but sometimes, there's a highlight that's so worth the time. This shot from Tiger Woods on Sunday is one of those moments--maybe even on a level with that shot from the floor a few weeks ago in Minnesota--what makes it is not just the beauty of the shot (a medium distance chip in from off the green), but how the ball hangs on the edge of the cup for two agonizing seconds before it softly plunks in and Tiger's pure joy after the ball sinks. It's well worth 60 seconds of your time.

(Mea culpa: I'd misremembered the circumstances surrounding the basketball shot, and have corrected.)
FILE UNDER "OVERKILL:" OK, was there some compelling reason that this week's "SNL" required not merely the standard hostess and musical guest, but three special guests in the form of the hostess' boyfriend, the hostess' buddy, who happened to be shilling her new movie, and the hostess' buddy's co-star in that new movie, who happened to be an "SNL" alum? And when you're thinking of great sketches that cry out to have another version of them done, does anyone think of "The Barry Gibb Talk Show?" (All that said, I admit that the close of "Update" featured the line of the night courtesy of that third "special guest"--"I hate 'Taxi,'" and Drew Barrymore as Ann Coulter was priceless.)

Sunday, April 10, 2005

NOT ONLY THAT, BUT HIS FACE IS ON MONACO'S THREE-DOLLAR BILL: Euphemisms used in today's NYT article to describe the new Monegasque ruler, Prince Albert:
  • "enigmatic"
  • "unmarried and has shown no public inclination to produce a royal heir"
  • "Choosing a bride . . . is an almost insurmountable task"
  • "Prince Albert's uncertain marriage plans"
  • "his ascension to the throne is making people uneasy"
  • "widely described as stuttering and shy"
  • "not expected to rule with the firmness of his father"
  • "more of a democrat"
  • "the Nice Boy on a Bobsled"
  • "has been linked to a long list of high-profile women known for appearing on the arms of middle-aged bachelors. There have been no signs of anything like a romance."
  • "reticent"
Did I mention he sang in the Amherst College Glee Club? And, okay, is there a more phallic Olympic sport than the four-man bobsleigh?

Not that there's anything wrong with that.
NERD ALERT: Oh, dear. I'm just going to let this early review speak for itself:
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie is bad. Really bad. You just won't believe how vastly, staggeringly, jaw-droppingly bad it is. I mean, you might think that The Phantom Menace was a hopelessly misguided attempt to reinvent a much-loved franchise by people who, though well-intentioned, completely failed to understand what made the original popular - but that's just peanuts to the Hitchhiker's movie. Listen. . . .

This is a terrible, terrible film and it makes me want to weep.

Holy mother of Malkovich! Yes, you'll want to read the review and read all the stuff in-between.
I JUST DON'T LIKE THE WAY THEY MANIPULATE CHARDONNAY IN CALIFORNIA: In a cinematically-fueled consumer trend unseen since the days of Clark Gable's not wearing an undershirt in It Happened One Night (or, okay, Reese's Pieces in E.T.), post-Sideways pinot noir sales are up 15%, and fewer and fewer Americans are drinking any f^%#ing merlot.
MONEY CHANGES EVERYTHING: Go. See. Millons. Now. Like Matt said.

What an absolutely wonderful fable about belief, goodness, and the disposition of more than £220,000 which seemingly falls from the sky. A children's movie that us adults can truly enjoy, it is sweet without being saccharine, with adorable kids who, surprisingly, never make you want to puke. But when an athletics bag filled with cash crashes into your world and your older brother explains that if dad finds out he'll have to pay 40% of it in taxes ("about all of it!"), what's a kid obsessed with Christian saints supposed to do -- on the eve of the conversion to the Euro, no less?

Yes, it's by the director of Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, and the screenwriter did previously pen Hilary and Jackie and 24 Hour Party People, once described as "the first movie structured like a DVD bonus feature." But this movie brilliantly fuses its creators' imaginations with a child's, and the results are remarkable. Boyle employs here the visual style and that once placed a baby on the ceiling of a detoxing junkie's bedroom, and it's just freakin' cool.

As many reviewers have said, this movie deserves to be a holiday season perennial. Watch it now -- with or without kids of your own -- and help make it so.

One trivia note: the older British actor you'll see in the Euro Countdown ads in the movie? Is the voice of The Sorting Hat.