Saturday, April 22, 2006
Because if you're the kind of person who was considering seeing this movie, then, yes, you should see it. It's a warm, smart, inspirational film about a girl from Crenshaw who wants to make it to the National Spelling Bee, and it works. When I say that people were cheering in the audience, I'm not shitting you.
Look: the formulaic elements are in abundance -- characters using each other to replace missing family members, concerns about Keeping It Real, and, perhaps regrettably, The Evil Asian Speller With The High-Pressure Dad as the stock nemesis. But as a whole, the movie works: accept it on its own terms, and let it manipulate you well.
The cast is superb, from Keke Palmer as the serenely poised Akeelah Anderson all the way down to Dr. Jacques Bailly as himself, chief pronouncer at Nationals. It is disconcerting to see a grown-up Curtis Armstrong playing the well-meaning principal and not winning belching competitions, but it's even weirder to see a movie starring Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett where he's not beating the crap out of her. (Yes, there's one or two times in the movie where you're just waiting for him to call her Annie Mae.)
I want to say a few words about accuracy in the movie. First off, those of you who follow the Bee will recognize that they're re-using a lot of recent competition words throughout the movie. Nice verisimilitude. It's capped with the re-use of a word from the 2004 Bee which made Jen and I laugh out loud because of its association with a prior work of Mr. Fishburne's, and if you insist on having the in-joke spoiled, click on this link.
There were three problems in terms of strictly obeyeing actual Bee rules, though, but since they're spoilerish I'll make you highlight below if you want to know: first off, there's no rule at Nationals which states that when you're down to two spellers and one gets a word wrong, the other does not have to spell that word correctly to proceed, but, rather, the rule is just that you have to spell the next two other words correctly. (But this is invoked with a really nice twist, so I didn't mind in the end.)And obviously, the kids don't get to confer with their coaches again in the middle of the competition. Lastly, the final word used was not exactly a Championship Words caliber word, but I understand why it was used to pull the plot back to square one.
All in all, though, it's done with good heart and good intentions, and it's a good piece of entertainment in a season sorely lacking in joy. Grade: Bee-Plus.
Friday, April 21, 2006
So what's wrong? Pretty much everything else. The "political" material amounts to little more than an extended "Bush is Stupid!" joke, which stopped being funny sometime around, oh, 2003, and POTUS is miraculously changed during the course of the film, apparently as a result of reading volumes of Federal Reporter and West's Federal Practice Digest, straight through, from an oblivious idgit into...well...an idgit aware that he's an idgit. (My experience indicates that reading volumes of Federal Reporter straight through has little effect on a person other than putting them to sleep.) The biggest problem is that rather than firing the satirical gun at one target, Weitz has chosen about 20, ranging from American Idol to Xenophobia, with stops along the way at Us Weekly, Terrorism, and Matisyahu. Because Weitz hasn't focused his script like a laser, rather than hitting hard and punchy, he's fired birdshot at a big target. Sure, there's some pellets that hit, but they're not focused enough to make an overall impact. One of the big disappointments of this year.
Another mystery, born from a trailer before the film--why is Pulitzer Prize winner David Auburn writing a screenplay for a Keanu Reeves-Sandra Bullock Somewhere In Time knock-off? Actually, Auburn's involvement might actually get me to see this one.
The summer's best counter-programming is "The Devil Wears Prada," set for release the same weekend as "Superman Returns." The assumption: No one in America wants to see both movies.True, but there are plenty of us who want to see neither.
I have to confess that I find this idea strangely compelling. Then again, I will follow JJ anywhere. Even to a Tom Cruise movie.
I make his weekly recipes nearly every week, usually on Thursdays when my local farmer's market is open. Get in the habit of reading Bittman and trying his recipes. You'll be happy you did.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
But, still, the highlight of the episode was finding the producers finding ways to multiply just how awesome the "smash the plates"/"chop the coconuts" reward challenge is at precisely the splintering Aras feared: not only did they have to eliminate each other from the game, but they had to do so within the context of filling out and then revealing their answers to a virtual slam book about their castaways ("Like, who do you think has cooties?"), and then the winner had to figure out which two people to bring along on the reward. If people weren't thinking pecking order before, they sure are now, and, finally, we may have a season on our hands.
- Could the difference between really-pregnant Jennifer Garner and pretend-pregnant Jennifer Garner have been any more stark?
- Did Dixon age 15 years since we saw him last, or what? What exactly has Carl Lumbly been doing with himself?
- Irina Derevko would appear to be the single smartest, most powerful, and wiliest person on the planet.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Bob Balaban taps USC lit student Sydney Bristow to be his super-special weapon for the CIA's black-ops SD6 division, because the best way to find a tireless worker with infinite focus, superlative athletic chops, and loads of free time is to raid the grad schools. Syd spills the beans to her fake-French fiance, who gets killed for security reasons. Balaban will do the same for Syd if she doesn't get out of bed and back to the ass-kicking, so her dad outs SD6 as a pro-terror syndicate and himself as a CIA/SD6 double-agent and SD6 truancy officer. Syd Run Lolas through the CIA front door and enlists with the legit agency, not realizing that the "6" in SD6 indicates that there may be some other SDs out there.
Syd's colleagues at real CIA include a real French love interest, Vaughn, (not to be confused with the fake French fiance) and Seth Rogen. Her colleagues at fake CIA include by-the-book Dixon and hobbit Marshall, both of whom will later join her at real CIA.
Syd roundhouse kicks her way into the control rooms of a loosely-organized network of terrorist nightclub operators, where she copies discs containing the plans, the lists, the passwords, and perhaps bootlegged copies of "Dude, Where's My Car." Each week Syd defeats what she believes to be the greatest danger known to mankind. Because it's the CIA, or the fake CIA, each week she learns that last week's greatest danger is, in fact, the second-greatest danger, right behind this week's greatest danger. For exactly one and a half years, she kills exactly zero people. Incompetent spy.
Bob Balaban is obsessed with a 13th-century prophet/Leonardo wannabe named Milo Ventimiglia. He invented a magical way of painting a globe red. Syd's part-time job is to steal pages from Milo's collected works so that Balaban can make himself a red globe and rule the world. In discharging her duties, Syd discovers that (a) Milo drew a really good picture of her; and (b) she is the Key Master. She also meets an atelier who hints that Milo is still alive, but JJ Abrams later forgot about this so it didn't happen. Or did it?
For a year, roommate Frenchie and deadbeat Will fail to notice that Syd's bank job requires her to be out of the house for several days a week and that she always returns with three broken legs. Frenchie has a boyfriend who sings, or maybe that was on Ally McBeal. Will has a smoking-hot intern who leaves for The L Word. They congregate in Central Perk behind a sepia-toned camera filter before being killed, replaced by an identical but evil twin who is killed (or is she?), or put into witness protection. Frenchie doesn't like Rocky Road ice cream. Or does she?
On approximately SuperBowl Sunday, Syd's lingerie jumps out of a plane as Bob Balaban takes down the SD network. Syd kills somebody in the basement, thus ending her pacifist period.
Syd's mom, who was previously dead, is in fact not dead, but bad. Later, she is captured, good, and escaped. Still later, she is bad, and dead. Still even later, she is alive, bad, and captured. Yet even still more later, she is good, and escaped. Do I need to tell you that she is now perhaps bad? Or is she? Also, she killed Vaughn's dad, who actually may not be dead, but who in fact may be dead. It's not entirely clear. And she has a whole separate ass-kicking family, including erstwhile Skinemax stalwart Sonia Braga, severe-haircutted Isabella Rossellini, and current bombshell-with-a-porn-name Mia Maestro. That's right, a Russian family entirely played by Swedish, Brazilian, Italian, and Argentinian women. Oh, the betrayal. Which reminds me, Balaban is secretly bad, then openly bad, then through-and-through good but bad-curious (this is his World Health Organization/research into Milo juice phase, if you're scoring at home), then meets the Enlightened Master and drops the whole bad thing completely, then has a bad relapse, then is in jail, then is good and in charge of the CIA, then is bad in the service of saving his daughter (Mia Maestro), then is remorseful, then cuts exactly the same deal to be bad again to help his daughter (except with the sister of the first person with whom he dealt) but reneges. Or does he?
I forgot to mention that some kid named Sark, after the famous Cutty, is exactly like Syd except (a) male; and (b) bad. They are made for each other. He gets beaten up and jailed a lot, but has a pretty healthy attitude about it.
Syd falls asleep and wakes up two years later, with Vaughn married to an unaccountably English-accented blonde. She is a double agent, and is killed. Or is she? Syd discovers that she is a "Project Christmas" kid, meaning that whenever somebody says "Queen of Diamonds," she assassinates the President. Then JJ changes his mind, and this didn't happen. Or did it? Syd gets engaged to Vaughn, who reveals that he's a double agent and then is killed in a car accident. Or is he? He's not, because he is later killed by the bad guys. Or is he? An unwitting bad-guy analyst who conveniently wears the same wig size as now-pregnant Syd jumps the fence and kicks ass with slightly less enthusiasm but more va-voom than Syd. She also has a love interest, Agent Liev Schreiber. And now Mama's back.
Tally: Principal spies: 13 (Syd, Balaban, Jack, Dixon, Marshall, Seth Rogen, Vaughn, Irina, Lauren, Nadia, Rachel, Liev, Sark)
Spies who have not been double-agents or worked for both sides: 3 (Seth Rogen, Nadia, Liev)
Conclusion: internal controls insufficient. Or are they?
So, folks, what is your favorite lyric? Mine is probably "Switching it over to AM/Searching for a truer sound/Can't recall the call letters/Steel guitar and settle down/Catching an all-night station somewhere in Louisiana/It sounds like 1963, but for now it sounds like heaven." For some inspiration, watch this "One"-inspired clip from "The Ben Stiller Show."
I have to think that Ace leaves us tonight. Kellie's whole "Ah Butchered It, Ah'm So Sorreeeeee" thing probably saves her, and it's not like she's ever in the bottom three anyway.
And did anyone see the commercial for the rapidly impending return of So You Think You Can Dance? Coming in May!
7. Mike Mills: You'd want to talk music with the bassist from REM. Sleep with? Not unless you're trying to get to Pete Buck.
29. Don Zimmer: The gerbil's got a massive, ivory-white noggin' that never did much thinking to begin with. Ask any Red Sox fan over 35.
60. Joe Lieberman
67. Robert Patrick: Seriously, try lying in bed next to him without thinking about the T-1000
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
One student, from the vaunted Parkway North High School in St. Louis, got into all eight schools to which he applied, including Stanford and Brown, apparently on the strength of his "extra something" -- in his case, a deep commitment to vegetarianism. (Note to self: encourage Cosmo Girl to stop eating chicken nuggets ASAP.)
The article continues in this vein, until we reach my favorite part:
"Amy Seymour is near the top of her class at the Pennington School, a private school in New Jersey. Besides her straight A's, her interests in video and film production took her to Brown University for a three-week program last summer. She also co-founded a mock-ESPN video program featuring her school's sports teams. Her applications to both Stanford and Cornell were turned away. But she was admitted to Princeton, and both she and her mother believe that her father's job as a math professor there may have played some role. Princeton this year took only 17% of the 1,886 valedictorians who applied."
They think it may have played some role, do they? (Note to self: make sure that ALOTT5MA Full-Time Television Viewing Fellowship includes tenure at major university.)
Great story, from reliever Luis Aponte trying to explain to his wife why he was coming home at 3am, to Cal Ripken's "It's the only time I ever remember our postgame meal being breakfast" to the fact that RedWings catcher Dave Huppert somehow caught 31 innings that night. The lede in the next day's Rochester Democrat and Chronicle? "Not since the time they had to shoot the drunken camel at the city zoo has there been this much excitement in Pawtucket."
This thread is open for discussion of that topic, as well as speculation and recommendation for tonight's performers, in tackling (Rod Stewart tackles) The Great American Songbook.
Monday, April 17, 2006
He has truly given his all in ten years as a Sixer, and the two-month 2001 playoff run remains the greatest joy that professional sports has given me as a fan, more than the Phils in 1980/1983/1993, more than the Eagles' stellar 2004 run that ended in Super Bowl defeat.
Night after night after night, he brought it against the Pacers, Raptors, Bucks and Lakers -- 32.9 PPG, 6.1 APG, 4.7 RPG and 2.4 SPG, all while in a ridiculous among of pain. Those of us who were here, and especially those of us fortunate enough to be in the arena (I was at 6/13 of the home games) will not forget the electricity he provided, the effort and passion which were manifest every night.
He has been a source of fascination and consternation --the injuries, the hairstyles, the run-ins with the law, and, yes, one of the greatest press conferences in sports history.
But now, it's two straight years without a trip to the playoffs. Through no fault of his own, we aren't getting better with Allen Iverson in the lineup, and GM Billy King hasn't given him the supporting cast he deserves. The nature of the NBA salary structure demands that it's time to move on, time to trade Iverson while his value is still decent and, like Charles Barkley and Curt Schilling before him, time to give him the second chance he's earned to pursue a championship elsewhere.
I am not happy about this, and I do not look forward to the lousy Sixers team we'll have for the next few years. But Iverson gave us everything he could for a decade, and we owe it to him to let him thrive elsewhere.** And I will root for him no matter what uniform he's wearing.***
**That said, if we get a top-three lottery pick, I reserve the right take it all back.
***Because they won't trade him to the Lakers, Celtics or Knicks, right?
"1 a : the sudden appearance of the commonplace in otherwise elevated matter or style. b : ANTICLIMAX
2 : exceptional commonplaceness : TRITENESS
3 : insincere or overdone pathos : SENTIMENTALISM"
Why am I defining this word? Because it's the perfect word to describe the incredibly overplayed, incredibly inspid song "You're Beautiful" by James Blunt. Can anyone say anything favorable about this song?
Here's my basic objection. If a beautiful woman smiled at me on the subway in a situation in which there was no real chance for furthering the connection, then I'd chock that up as a good thing. I mean having an attractive woman smile at you is kind of a rush, isn't it? It would never cross my mind in a million years to moan and groan about how I'll never get to know her.
Sunday, April 16, 2006
I can't imagine I'm the only one here who now believes the answer was 'yes'. Other than the TiVo-freezing "Hey, isn't that . . . ?" from the opening funeral scene, the episode just completely missed the mark. Too much presidential transition plot, not enough sadness. A Very Special Episode was called for, and they failed to deliver.
Leo McGarry deserved better, and John Spencer certainly did.
After the urgency of the first five Sopranos episodes, tonight was a more comic, less complicated affair. A number of characters had visions of how else their lives could be, we heard a lot of different slang terms for homosexuality, and Finn was put in an awkward position.
But, still? Weakest episode of the season. I prefer my Sopranos to err on the side of obscure symbolism, not thuddingly obvious final scenes, 'k?
edited to add: Sepinwall's take: "Since Tony came out of his coma, I've had a running argument with our other TV critic, Matt Seitz, about whether Tony has been changed by the experience. After last night, I'm with Matt: Tony wants to learn and grow from what happened, but the business he has chosen won't let him. . . . . [A]s we head into the second half of this spring season, I keep returning to something Chase told me last month: 'Once we realized we were doing a show in which characters would and could die, that was very liberating in a way. Because it meant that they could change also.' As I said before the season began, the opposite is true, too: on this show, when people change, they usually die."