Saturday, July 7, 2007
Somehow, I don't expect Britney Spears' career to follow this arc. And people who've been just as big as Madonna but started later -- Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson, to name three -- just haven't had Madge's staying power.
What explains this? It's not just "sex sells," because lots of people are selling it, and it's not just singing talent, because she doesn't have that much of it. Is it just a combination of a strong work ethic -- including the willingness to do all the promotional things necessary for her career, (blonde) ambition and an amazing ability to locate the right producers to advance her musically? Whatever it is, it's worth appreciating and recognizing.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects!
Happy Birthday, Mr. Heinlein. And Thank You.
Friday, July 6, 2007
Usually, sporting event logos look like they're designed by the athletes themselves -- if you're going to call it an "all-star" event, then you actually have to cram in all the stars, the theory seems to go -- so this logo is surprisingly well-done. With all of the steroids, spousal threatening, and Yankee-stinking going on, MLB clearly and smartly wants to evoke a different, simpler, more innocent time. Everything about this serigraph by local graphic artist Michael Schwab serves a nostalgic idyll -- the uncomplicated blockiness that recalls the old WPA posters; the retro ballpark silhouette; the deep-blue late-afternoon summer sky; the stripped-down deco font. Even the last-minute edit -- the ball splashing into McCovey Cove, which, from Schwab's site, clearly came from MLB and not from Schwab himself -- helps place the event, both geographically and thematically. It's an aesthetically pleasing and commercially brilliant work.
I'm a little less enthusiastic about the secondary marketing, though. Hopefully these are readable (but you can click the picture to enlarge):
The geographic pieces are odd -- not clear what trolleys, the Golden Gate bridge, and, uh, the Mission bell tower (? -- I'm new around here) have to do with baseball. And I both like and am troubled by the two baseball players, especially the pitcher, whose shadowy image is hanging from every other lamppost downtown. I like them because they are even more directly influenced by the WPA posters and the WPA posters' own influence, Soviet propaganda (as an aside, one has to appreciate the kookiness of the war-time US government reinforcing American values and ideals through a socialist arts program appropriating the vocabulary of communist art). All three promote their message with the same iconography -- vigorous and clean-cut young adults (usually, but not always, muscular men) proudly engaged in wholesome or patriotic labor. So what's wrong? Well, it's the shadow. First, I don't exactly understand what MLB and Schwab are getting at with the shaded face. That baseball players are shadowy figures with terrible secrets? Well, yes, but I thought that was the stuff MLB wanted you to forget. That all-stars are anonymous everymen? Hmm, I thought they were supposed to be stars. Even worse than the mixed message, though, is that these guys are clearly impostors. MLB parks are oriented so that the line from home plate through the pitcher's mound runs east-northeast. Why? To figure this out, stare directly into the afternoon sun while somebody throws a hard object near your head at 100 miles an hour, and let us know how that works for you. Yet in the posters, the sun is directly at the pitcher's back and in the batter's eyes -- the pitcher seems to be standing at home plate, throwing toward the mound. As much fun as this might be for an inning or so (or would be, if Carl Everett or AJ Pierzynski were playing), again, I don't think it's what MLB had in mind.
- Indian take-out
- Newman's Own pineapple salsa.
- Sweet Baby Ray's barbeque sauce. It's possible that I've never used catsup with Sweet Baby Ray's in the house.
- Spicy tuna bowl. Sounds like the going rate to have this made to order up here is about $3-4 above the regular price in LA. Must ... not ... overdo it.
- Drive-thru McDonald's or Burger King or something, so that you can get a soda while the kids are asleep in the car. We've identified the nearest drive-thru to our house as about four miles away, with the second-nearest about eight miles away and the third-nearest about thirty miles away.
- Cut mango. Cut fruit is so expensive, but with mango it's worth it to avoid the hassle of trying to get the meat off the pit.
- Low-carb flour tortillas. They taste like uncooked dough. Mmm, uncooked dough. I wish I knew about these in law school, when I was broke and eating a ten-pound bag of potatoes every three days.
- Freschetta sauce-stuffed-crust four-cheese pizza. Before my doctor told me to cut my cholesterol, we used to eat this once a week. Our grocery store would frequently not stock it, so whenever they had any we would buy like five of them and hoard them in our freezer.
- Fat-Free Pringles, with Olestra. Now that we know, thanks to Malcolm Gladwell and Eric Schlosser, that Olestra does not cause loose stool but does taste like old-fashioned beef tallow, which you can't get anymore, what excuse is there not to cook in it? Also, I'm happy, but also a little sad, to report that after several years Pringles has corrected its packaging so that it reads "50% fewer calories" instead of the comfortingly ungrammatical "50% less calories."
Thursday, July 5, 2007
This having been a business trip, the whole experience was rather different than it would have been with my beloved restauranting partner Mr. Cosmopolitan. For starters, one of my dinner companions - the adorer of fine dining who decided we had to eat at Ducasse in the first place - was all bummed because Ducasse at the Plaza Athénée didn't have the same delicious risotto on the menu that he'd had at Louis XV, Ducasse's Mediterranean restaurant in Monaco. I exerted extreme force of will, for which I should be heartily commended, when I refrained from asking whether he thought we were dining at Le Jardin d'Olive.
The room itself was quite lovely in a simple and restrained way -- with the exception of a couple of astonishing chandeliers from which I could not rip my eyes away. I can't find a photo that really does them justice; instead, I will just note that they looked as though Professor Dumbledore had done a number on them, causing hundreds of crystals to drift away from the chandeliers and float about them in a shimmery nimbus. And the chairs had that too-too-precious handbag shelf that I remember reviewers getting all cutesy about when they reviewed Ducasse's New York restaurant -- although, looking at the handbags carried by my fellow diners, I could understand why one might not want to place such items on the floor.
As for the service: it was suitably attentive and french, although Ducasse had made some interesting choices. The example that leaps to mind is that the menus were placed upright in these little placecard holder doohickeys on the table. One need not sully one's fingertips by touching one's menu while selecting one's dinner, but one also could not see one's dining companions over the top or around the sides of one's menu, which struck one as rather weird. My risotto-deprived colleague asked for olive oil in which to dip his monumentally delicious bread (which was just about the most insane thing I'd ever heard, given the array of artisanal butters on the table), and instead received about a pint of olives in a lovely crystal bowl. (Language barrier notwithstanding, they meant well.)
Oh, and the food. Perhaps weirdly, I have less to say about the food than about other aspects of the restaurant. I had the lobster appetizer, which was prepared with the freshest spring peas and asparagus the soil has ever produced. I adore lobster, and this might have been the best I've ever had. Come entree time, I decided to try one of the classic Ducasse specialities -- Volaille de Bresse, morilles et asperges vertes en fricassée (aka chicken) -- figuring (a) I was already really full from the (many) yummy breads I'd been nibbling, the various amuses bouches with which we were showered, and the heavenly lobster; and (b) that this was probably a good opportunity to try the best chicken ever cooked. And yes, the chicken was very good. But -- and now I'm cutting to the punchline a little bit early -- permit me to disclose the price of said chicken dish. Ready? 130 Euros. 130 Euros! You're probably thinking, "wow, $130 is an insane amount of money to spend on an entree, and especially on chicken!" And of course you're right, but you're also forgetting the Euro-to-dollar conversion, which is less than favorable for Americans travelling in Europe right now, which brings the cost of this tasty morsel of chicken to 177 dollars. I am not one to balk at an expensive dinner, but holy shit.
One gushworthy cheese course, several bottles of wine the identities of which I cannot recall (I am usually an unabashed label-requester, but somehow it didn't seem like an appropriate request), a "chocolat en géométrie de goûts et de textures" comprised of about 20 different varieties and formulations of chocolate, and some hand-trimmed jasmine-infused marshmallows later, we dragged ourselves off to our hotel and passed out. I (fortunately) was not tagged with the check, but by my calculation, the tab for my food alone ran about 350 euros. Much as I adore my husband, I think it's safe to say that this one will be reserved for expense-account meals only.
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Interestingly, Harry Knowles, who you'd figure would be the bullseye for the film, didn't care for it, for exactly the reason I did. He wanted the movie to be more a story about the Transformers, rather than about the humans. It works precisely for that reason--it puts the human characters first (though there are at least one too many human plot threads kicking around in the second act). Also, there's an effing awesome trailer attached, which had me from the moment the big "Bad Robot Productions" card came up on screen at the start, and is the only time I can remember seeing a trailer with no title attached.
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
- Those that are so obviously both still great songs and were big commercial successes, including "Hey Ya!," "Crazy In Love," "Mr. Brightside," and "Since U Been Gone."
- Those that were substantial radio hits, but have not aged well, including "A Thousand Miles," "You're Beautiful," "Fergalicious," "Pon De Replay," and "With Arms Wide Open."
- Those which you can't really understand why they're on the list at all. "You Raise Me Up?" "If Everyone Cared" by Nickelback (if you're going with a Nickelback song, why not "Photograph")? "Flake" by Jack Johnson? "With You" by Jessica Simpson? "Like A Stone" by Audioslave?
What would you add or subtract? I'd put in some more Clarkson ("Breakaway," for certain), maybe "The Space Between" by Dave Matthews Band, and take out the Audioslave and Jack Johnson for sure.
- Dealing with about 15 hours from depature at JFK to arrival at Edinburgh (including both an emergency stop in St. John's Newfoundland for medical reasons and a transfer through the "good in concept, but rather a mess in practice" Flight Connections Centre at Heathrow) in the same clothes? Not fun. Even less fun? Not recieving your clothes (or anything besides your minimal carry-on luggage) for approximately 48 hours after departure from JFK due to a variety of circumstances, including (I kid you not) the luggage being locked in the back of the delivery truck and the delivery company being unable to open the truck.
- Edinburgh is a charming and gorgeous city, though friggin' cold, especially when all one has to wear is the long-sleeve button-down shirt one already wore through a 15-hour flight the previous day. Also nice is that it is a city that is almost completely walkable, even if it features a Parliament building that appears to have been furnished from the 2004 Ikea Catalogue. (Seriously, tell me this picture doesn't look like something you'd see at Ikea.)
- There seemed to be a station available in our hotel in Edinburgh which aired nothing but quickly cancelled Fox programming, including both Vanished and Killer Instinct. Sadly, no evidence of Firefly, though the cool British version of Serenity was on special at numerous retailers.
- It's somewhat disturbing just how easy it is to find a Starbucks both in London and in Edinburgh. I certainly understand the desire for familiarity (and yes, we ate at KFC one day for lunch), but in a country that at least used to be known for its coffee and tea houses, it's kind of sad to see such standardization. At least the ubiquitous Pizza Express is a British chain.
- Hampton Court Palace (Henry VIII's summer place), about half an hour outside of London, is the best Palace of the options (though I've not been to Windsor). Plenty of stuff to see and do, including hedge maze. Well worth the half hour trip from Waterloo (though somewhat disturbing that we never once were asked for a ticket on the journey).
- There's a fascinating contrast between the US and the UK media. While the "alert level" was raised while we were in London, there was remarkably little sensationalism and panic in the media. Such sensationalism and panic was reserved for truly important news, like the upcoming Spice Girls reunion, the question of the romantic status (or lack thereof) between Prince William and Kate Middleton, and the fact that Kylie Minogue will be in an upcoming episode of Doctor Who. Even the Brown-Blair handover (which happened on our first day in Lodnon) was remarkably even-keeled. (Also, very little U.S. news made its was onto UK television--only the Libby commutation and the Obama/Hillary fundraising stuff made anything of note.)
- Saw Mary Poppins in London. Astounding production values throughout (especially on "Step In Time" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"), and the old songs are as great as they ever were, but even though the show hired a new and well-respected bookwriter, the narrative thread is kind of weak. (Avenue Q, which I saw before leaving NYC, had a similar problem, though less pronounced, in part because the songs which kind of detract from the Princeton/Kate narrative throughline are some of the best in the show, like "The Internet Is For..," "Schadenfreude," and the like).
- The most brilliant staging in London, though, must go to the exhibition of the Crown Jewels, which first has a queue that wends past video screens of the jewels close up and in use so you don't just feel like you're queueing, and then, conveyor belts moving just fast enough past the jewels so people don't attempt to park themselves in front of them and block everyone's view but still giving everyone a good look.
- The Bourne Supremacy was one of the features on today's flight back, and, even with some awkward dubbing ("son of a witch?"), that's just a remarkably well-made movie, which makes the smart decision to not paint any of its characters in black and white. Makes me look forward to Bourne Ultimatium all the more.
Good to be back to rejoin the fun in these parts, and looking forward to (work permitting) seeing many of you in Philly on the 13th (spooky though that sounds).
What's the funniest thing a fan has ever said to you?
Not much bright stuff coming out of stands. They're just a bunch of idiots.
Monday, July 2, 2007
So go on and read his writing to remember him, whether it's his Koufax award-winning "Al Gore and the Alpha Girls" or just any random page in his archives. His pen could slash, but there was always a sweetheart holding it. I'm going to miss him plenty.
For those of you who loved his first compendium of negative reviews, I Hated Hated Hated This Movie, you will be pleased to know that he has finally published Your Movie Sucks, covering the past five years or so. Of one film, he writes "The pun, it has been theorized, is the lowest form of humor. This movie proves that theory wrong. There is a lower form of humor: jokes about dinosaur farts."
Those of you who laughed at this line -- and especially, those who can identify the film which provoked it -- should buy the book immediately. It is fun, inessential reading.
I'll note that there are only three films (so far) which he disliked that I did, in fact, like: The Princess Diaries, which is a formula film that works; Just Friends, because Anna Faris is brilliant in it and my brother-in-law produced it; and Wet Hot American Summer, which Ebert treated as a straight, crappy movie rather than a witty, loving homage to a specific subset of crappy movies.
e.t.a. 5:10 pm: We did it! We did it! We did it, hooray! ¡Lo hicimos!
What's more, this "Teensurance" program offers to conduct a psychological profile of your child to determine her potential risks behind the wheel -- is she a "me driver" or a "not me driver"? "How is your teen’s desire to engage in new, exciting, perhaps unconventional or even illegal experiences and sensations?" they ask. Apparently, "Teens that receive a high score on this scale are more likely to crash." Go figure.
Sunday, July 1, 2007
This is an open thread.