Saturday, September 29, 2007
That is the true genius of Phillies fans, a faith -- a faith in simple dreams, an insistence on small miracles; that we can bring our children to the ballgame and know that the Phanatic won't hurt them; that we can yell what we think, blog what we think, without getting kicked out of the park; that we can scream for the Phillies at twelve of the other thirteen National League parks without fear of retribution, and that our all-star votes will be counted -- at least most of the time.
In the end, that’s what this season is about. Do we participate in a Phillies fandom of cynicism or do we participate in a fandom of hope?
Chase Utley calls on us to hope. Ryan Howard calls on us to hope.
I’m not talking about blind optimism here -- the almost willful ignorance that thinks the bullpen problems will go away if we just don’t think about it, or the lack of a fourth starting pitcher will solve itself if we just ignore it. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of kids in the Italian Market sitting around a fire singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"; the hope of suburbanites setting out for Citizens Bank Park; the hope of a young Aaron Rowand bravely patrolling the centerfield; the hope of James Rollins' son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a big kid at first base with the same name as a character on The Office who believes that the playoffs have a place for him, too.
Hope -- Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!
In the end, that is baseball's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead.
- Bionic Woman--Just a complete and utter bore, which you'd think would be hard to do with "Superwoman kicks ass!" I'm not sure if it's Michelle Ryan or how her part is written that's the problem, but Jamie Sommers is completely uninteresting and uncharismatic. Miguel Ferrer and Katee Sackhoff both get to industriously chew the scenery, and it's nice to see Lucy Hale (best known for playing Robin's little sister on HIMYM) again, but I don't regret opting not to DVR original showings, opting for Gossip Girl and Private Practice instead. I'll keep picking up repeats on SciFi for an episode or two to see how the retooling apparently done post-pilot affects things, but am not optimistic. (The change in the sister was obvious, particularly in the scene where Jamie answers the phone, and we see the light and TTY device on the phone.)
- Dirty Sexy Money--Almost as much fun as its title suggests. One part Brothers & Sisters, one part Gossip Girl with grownups, and a whole heaping load of self-aware humor in the mix. We all know Krause can play righteous indignation really well, and it's far better to watch him do this than the kinda repugnant Nate Fisher, Jr. Especially if this gets the sort of jump Brothers & Sisters did with a slight retooling about 6-7 episodes in, could be the best new show of the season.
- Private Practice--Actually watched this Wednesday night, but didn't post. While the three stories were rather disconnected, and I didn't really understand why the Violet/Cooper plotline got started (and if Violet is this woman's treating shrink, how did she not know the information that proved so critical?), the cast overall is so likable and charismatic that I'll keep on watching, especially if we can find some reason to have Audra McDonald sing in an upcoming episode.
Still sitting on the DVR unwatched--pilots for Cane, Journeyman, and Big Shots. I've heard the last is a particular act of masochism to watch, but will probably give a shot off my residual goodwill for Malina, Vartan, and Rob Thomas.
Win it for J-Roll. Win it for Chase. Win it for Ryan Howard, and to validate the masterful effort of Cole Hamels last night. And finish it today.
(Oh, you want to know why? Because the curse is dead.)
Friday, September 28, 2007
- A cast riddled with ALOTT5MA faves (Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman, and Jeremy Piven all have major roles, with Coach Taylor and Lyla Garrity both having bit parts).
- The direction by Peter Berg, who, despite a rocky start, is turning into one of the more interesting and diverse directors in the business.
- That the final 20 minutes constitute the best action flick since Bourne Ultimatium, while the first act (set almost entirely in Washington) is some of the best backroom politics stuff I've seen in a good while. (Also, it has one of the best and most hyperkinetic main title sequences of the year.)
- That it's a movie set in the Middle East and about America's role there that isn't making any simplistic political statement (No "Iraq Bad!," "Terrorism Bad!," or "Saudis Bad!" messages here). I think there are some (pretty powerful) themes in there, but unlike, say, In The Valley Of Elah, the movie exists and is highly entertaining wholly divorced from the political sentiments, which leave the audience asking more questions rather than giving answers.
This isn't an "Oscar Flick." It's way too popcorn-y and the performances, while solid, are not overwhelming (though Garner again gets to prove that she can kick ass, look pretty, and act wordlessly). That said, it's an entertaining time at the movies, which, sometimes, is all you want and need. Check it out.
Three games. A ridiculous number of possibilities, with about half of them breaking our hearts. But there is no other time to push your hearts all-in to the center of the table. Go Phightins!
Madonna, the Beastie Boys, Leonard Cohen, Donna Summer, Afrika Bambaataa, John Mellencamp, Chic, the Dave Clark Five (again?), and the Ventures.The links will take you to the Keltner profiles already done of this year's nominees, and I doubt there's much need to do one on Madonna other than to demonstrate just how towering her influence is.
According to FutureRockHall.com, among those artists eligible for the first time this year -- but denied -- are Metallica, Sonic Youth, The Cure, Don Henley, 10000 Maniacs, Ice-T, Janet Jackson, Michael McDonald, Wham! and the Violent Femmes. And, of course, again no Replacements. Review our bitching and moaning at last year's ballot, and then let us renew it.
In motion pictures, the New Woman appeared as the "movie modern," a type of heroine who showed even more independent spirit (and considerably more leg) than her cinematic predecessor, Mary Pickford. The movie moderns worked in offices and department stores, danced and drank at nightclubs, and cultivated their appearance through fashion and make-up. In many cases, these women found themselves romantically frustrated, as evident in Gloria Swanson's memorable put-down from 1920's Why Change Your Wife?: "The more I see of men, the better I like dogs." Yet they still vigorously pursued their men, determined to land a handsome, preferably wealthy catch. Perhaps no screen actress embodied the New Woman more than Clara Bow, the original "It Girl" -- so named because of her winning performance in the 1927 film It. As this clip shows, Bow's character displayed all of the flapper's physical and sexual appeal. And yet in the end, her goal was to get a rich husband and live happily ever after.
Some performers did extend the freedom of the New Woman beyond such conventional frameworks. In films like She Done Him Wrong, Mae West pushed the boundaries of sexual frankness, outraging cultural and civic leaders and helping to usher in the era of the Hays Code. Equally uninhibited -- and even further removed from the pop culture "mainstream" -- were the "blues queens" of the 1920s and 1930s. Singers like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Ida Cox used the blues to express sorrow over lost homes and displaced families, but they also embraced their sexuality with gusto and mocked the pathetic lovers who failed to measure up (check out Ida Cox's "One Hour Mama" for a classic example of this style). Once again, though, this vigorous sensuality went too far for white middle-class tastes, and the blues queens were confined to the commercial ghetto of "race records."
The dilemma of the New Woman persisted throughout 20th-century popular culture (and we'll spend more time on the post-WWII era in a few weeks, when we discuss Susan Douglas's Where the Girls Are). Even today, pop culture frequently portrays independent women as successful, sexual, seemingly satisfied individuals who are nevertheless unhappy and unfulfilled because they lack a mate. Is this image really so inescapable? Can you offer any examples of pop-culture characters or performers who've been able to step outside the boundaries of the "New Woman" ideal?
Next week: the birth of radio and the phenomenon of Amos 'n' Andy.
And that's not just because of the bottomless reservoir of goodwill she built up with NATM.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
On ANTM, it's still too early in the season to tell for sure, but it looks like two of the major arcs this season will be (1) the battle for the Sassy 'Hood Model slot (we like Lisa, who is gorgeous, but don't really see her pigeonholed that way; Spacewoman rightly points out that Bianca seems correctly jealous of Lisa's looks, poise, and foster-care upbringing); and (2) "Tyra Cures Autism" (tm Spacewoman). Of the latter, in a show that exploits illnesses leeringly, this episode was the most leeringly exploity of all. I do hope it works out for Heather, both because I sympathize with her difficulties and because the delta between rolled-out-of-bed Heather and makeup-and-lingerie Heather is astonishing. Incidentally, does Yale Girl have Aspergers too? In short-term news, the panel got the bottom three right and cured Tyra's biggest casting mistake this season in enjoyably comic fashion.
As for Gossip Girl, which I again thoroughly enjoyed (favorite thing this week -- realizing that Dan has just enough of a vestigial accent to make him believable as a Brooklyn outsider trying to crack a wealthy Manhattan social circle), may I venture two constructive criticisms? First, as many well-wishers as Kristen Bell has, and as much as her voice-overs are more cleverly-written than those on SATC and less ham-fisted as those on Heroes, they do nothing for the show except give it a title. The show hasn't made much effort to establish the blog's cultural significance, it makes no sense in real time, and as a framing device it's a rather blunt tool. Dial it back to prologue and epilogue. And as for our leads, HIMYM and FNL have shown that the Sam-and-Diane paradigm is not a rule inviolate -- you can have a good show built around relationships and romances without needing to use courtship as a plot crutch. The Dan-Serena Vanderwoodson tiff seemed forced and artificial, and I hope it doesn't take the rest of the season before they patch it up over a swelling power ballad.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Hung, Casey, Malarkey and Dale had a month off before packing their knives up into scenic Pitkin County, Colorado, where, at the foot of Independence Pass, along the Roaring Fork River, there is a tiny little mountain hamlet called Aspen:
The city has its roots in the winter of 1879, when a group of miners ignored pleas by Frederick Pitkin, governor of Colorado, to return across the Continental Divide due to an uprising of the Ute Indians.Aspen endured many ups and downs over the years (but only one subsequent major Ute uprising, in 1887) before the Top Chef III finalists arrived this past summer, and emerged in the second half of the Twentieth Century as a celebrated alpine recreation hub and jet set destination. Some locals -- as well as dilettante sympathizers from the flatlands who, let's face it, probably don't know what they're talking about -- have since been heard to complain that the valley has degenerated into a playground for the wealthy, an extended collage of exclusive destinations and extremely private enclaves, surrounded by bedroom communities for the folks that service them. You know, like Vail, but for people with real money. Still, every once in awhile, something fairly amazing still happens up there.
Among the annual goings on is the Aspen Food and Wine Classic, which provided the background for the contestants' final battles on Top Chef III. (Later in the summer, other fun things that I like to plug to anyone who'll listen happened down valley.) To prepare, Malarkey "won awards and did research"; Dale "found his chef"; Hung worked to further advance his already more-advanced-than-you skills and techniques and (if the deadening drumbeat of up-by-the-bootstraps invocations is a reliable indication) practiced his immigrant song, and Casey got some really extreme highlights. Time well spent, on all counts, I'm sure.
The guest judge for Part One of the finale was the renowned Eric Ripert, responsible for -- among other things -- Manhattan's Le Bernardin. For some reason, he now appears to comb white stuff into his hair. Because he was up near 8000ft, his Quickfire Challenge(tm) was to prepare a tasty trout entrée in twenty minutes or less. A couple of notes: (1) Those were some big trout. Your average Rocky Mountain Brook Trout would not eat like that. (Record catch, 7lbs 8oz, 1947.) (2) If you catch a trout, and can't for the life of you remember what the Top Chefs did with theirs, the Colorado Division of Wildlife has a helpful recipe page. (3) If you're out of wireless internet range, just gut it, rub the inside with oil and butter and whatever good stuff is in your kit (sage and cumin, salt and pepper), and pan fry it on top of a strip of bacon. Two days in, that beats freeze dried chicken ala king every time. (4) Chef Ripert complained to Dale about the cayenne pepper he employed "kicking" and lingering "in the throat" after eating. This is what cayenne pepper is for. Have a beer with that.
Then, for the elimination, Battle Elk. All of this looked delicious to me, Casey's "black and blue" loin chops especially. Rare as hell? Crusted with mushrooms? Sign me up! I was also amazed that Dale's impulse control issues were, for once, seamlessly self-correcting. Similarly impressive was Brian's calculation that yes, though you might doubt him, he could braise that much shank in three short hours. Finally, Hung's growing enthusiasm for elk, culminating with a near scientific pitch in presenting his meal to the judges and Colicchio's explicit recognition at the judge's table that Hung's kung fu was indeed the best... well, that was fun to watch.
All that remains, for this post, are the compulsories. So first, here's your link to Bourdain's blog. His post on this episode is not up as of this writing, so here's some bonus Bourdain, fielding audience questions about foie gras, seal eyeballs, Peruvian hallucinogens, and his choice of last meal. And last, here's my link to Denver's own Buckhorn Exchange, where you can get your trout on, and get your elk on, and also get many, many other things.
And speaking of old things that are obsolete, I know I'm jumping the gun, but Blair Underwood plays a philanthropic inventor on Dirty Sexy Money? Come again?
Two essays in the reader Hollywood's America examine the rise of the movie star during the late 1910s and early 1920s. Charles Musser looks at Charlie Chaplin, whose "Little Tramp" character became one of the most beloved and identifiable icons in movie history. During the 1910s, movie theaters promoted Chaplin shorts simply by placing a life-size cut-out of the Tramp on the sidewalk outside, with the legend "I am here today." The Tramp's appeal was obvious, even in a charming trifle like 1916's The Pawnshop; Chaplin expressed the everyday frustrations of the working class through physical comedy that spoke to viewers of all backgrounds. The phenomenal success of the Tramp films made Chaplin rich, famous, and hugely influential -- in short, a movie star.
Lary May's essay (drawn from his excellent book, Screening Out the Past) focuses on Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. While they played a wider variety of characters than Chaplin did, both Fairbanks and Pickford favored the same types of roles again and again: he, the dashing and athletic young adventurer; she, the pure yet independent modern woman. Here again, these stars' on-screen personas neatly reflected the culture of their times. But what really catapulted Pickford and Fairbanks' stardom to a new level was their off-screen life together. They were the first movie-star couple, the precursors to Liz & Dick, TomKat, and Brangelina -- their private lives tracked in fan magazines and gossip columns, their salaries discussed with wonder and amazement, their commercial and cultural impact felt far beyond the nickelodeon.
Today, we continue to debate the qualities of a "movie star," compiling list after list of Hollywood's biggest performers. Even more interesting is the tricky business of distinguishing an "actor" from a "movie star." Ask performers to define themselves in these terms, and you'll get some very puzzling responses indeed. So instead, I'll ask you. What exactly is a "movie star"? And is being a "movie star" somehow different from being an "actor"? If so, how? Please show all work and provide specific examples to support your wild generalizations.
Love it, "don't love it but wouldn't ban it," or ban it, folks? I'm on the freedom side of this one, and regret that some local restaurants have succumbed to the pressure and pulled it from their menus.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
I'm just back from a quick trip to Orlando, where eight college friends met up with us for a four-day marathon through all four theme parks and the Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Since this is the blog of choice not only for parents of four year olds planning Disney trips but also for overeducated urban professionals planning Disney trips, here are a few highlights from our trip.
First, the bad: namely, Disney-MGM Studios. (Or, as it will soon be renamed, Disney's Hollywood Studios.) Rock-n-Roller Coaster was closed, and let me tell you that without that ride, the whole park is sorely lacking in headliner attractions. We rode Tower of Terror a few times, but found ourselves scrounging for stuff to do. We also got rained out of the Indiana Jones stunt show (lightning). The unexpected highlight for me was the art class with a "Disney animator," which was really fun and very non-Disney. I drew a killer version of Pluto. I also really loved the Lights-Motors-Action stunt show, which was fast-paced and intense. We just missed the opening of the High School Musical 2 show, called "School's Out!"
Also, have any of you experienced the "Narnia" attraction? It's unbelievably lame. You watch the DVD extras while you stand in line, then go into a big room with a lamppost and fake snow. An actress dressed like the White Witch gives this short speech, you watch 10 minutes of movie highlights and a preview of Prince Caspian, and then you leave. It really doesn't even deserve the Disney name. Given the amazing things you could do with a Narnia-themed ride, this just seems tragic. And I like Beauty and the Beast just as much as the next bookish girl, but I'd love to see a new and spruced up stage show in the theater, especially if it featured performers who could either sing live or lip-sync more plausibly.
Luckily, thanks to the aforementioned rain, we had no waits for anything, which made even the bad attractions palatable (although there's no excuse for the Drew Carey "sounds" attraction, which is terrible). And the rain gave us some extended time in the video arcades, where my friend managed to win the entire cast of Finding Nemo out of those grab machines, much to the amazement of friends and small children everywhere.
I love the theming of this park as you walk down Sunset Boulevard, but I think the whole place is experiencing an identity crisis. There are so many missed opportunities. I hope that with the new Toy Story attraction (modeled after Buzz Lightyear) and with the name change, the park will move forward and develop content that lives up to its promise.
Now for the best: On Friday night, we went to the Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom. I wasn't sure that it would be worth the $50 price of admission (that's $10 per hour!) but it was fabulous. The big rides, as well as the good Fantasyland rides, were all open, and lines were very short (posted at ten minutes, we basically just walked on to everything.) The Haunted Mansion is decked out with a live actress in front playing a ghost and the cast members in full ghoul makeup. Cast members and characters have trick-or-treat stations scattered throughout the park. But the core message of the Halloween party is this: Villains Love Techno. The themed Halloween fireworks are set to techno versions of Disney classics (which is scary all by itself!). The Villains float thumps to the beat of some random guy playing a fake guitar. And the Villains show on the steps of the Castle is totally priceless. Imagine, if you will, Cruella DeVille vamping with Jafar, while dancers in Sydney Bristow bright red wigs, pleather corsets, and fishnets do kicks in the background. Men in muscle shirts and leather pants thrust and pump around Maleficent. I've never seen anything quite like it at Disney.
Onto Animal Kingdom! Expedition Everest is amazing. The park was quiet enough that we had lots of time to watch the animals (I love the big bats on the Jungle Trail). And I just thoroughly love the theming in this park. The entire park really screams Julie Taymor to me---everything, from the parade to the costuming to the attractions, feels like it was inspired by her direction of the Lion King for Broadway. There's also a new Finding Nemo musical, with music apparently done by the Avenue Q guys. It's air conditioned (always a plus) and uses great puppetry, black light effects, bubbles, and other traditional stagecraft devices to really create something special. I think it's a must-see at Disney.
And that leaves Epcot. Best ride: Test Track. Worst ride: Journey Into Imagination. Also awesome: Soarin' Over My Home State of California and the pavilion where you can drink exotic Coke products from around the world. (Clearly, they save money by only letting you sample virtually unpalatable drinks. If someone tells you to try Beverly, just say no.)
World Showcase was totally fun. After watching both the American movie/show and the new, Martin-Short-narrated Canadian movie, we all decided that Canada looked pretty darn good. It combines the "beauty and grandeur of Canada" with actual humor, which we really appreciated. (Disney's Americana is all so SERIOUS! At one point in the Hall of Presidents, I laughed at a line that I'm pretty sure was intended to be funny, and this ten-year-old boy sitting in front of me turned around and glared. Apparently, I wasn't being sufficiently reverent.) The Norwegian cast members were hot as usual. We loved the very cold beer in the Germany pavilion, and had a pretty good Moroccan dinner. I decided that between the focus on world peace through dining on world cuisine and the optimistic look at a future governed by the triumph of science and genetically modified crops, EPCOT is the Park of the Enlightenment. (I think Magic Kingdom is medieval and MGM is twentieth century, but I'm still working on this theory.)
That reminded me of a debate we had on [this blog's predecessor] several years ago and might be worth revisiting now: are there any words more redolent of faint praise than "tasteful" and its more vulgar cousin, "classy"? To me, when a person says tasteful, what it means is "I don't like it, but it looks expensive," or "could have been worse, given your poor taste." When a person says "classy," it means "this is among the nicest emergency rooms/dialysis centers/strip clubs I've ever patronized" (an association perhaps colored by the fact that my old friend Robyn, prompted by this theory, told me that she lived near a strip club called "Bob's Classy Lady").
edited by Adam to enforce the first rule of Fight Club.
And Detective Agent Weiss, please stop sucking all of the life of this show. Do we really need a two-year tutorial in how not to use Greg Grunberg?
Monday, September 24, 2007
The rest of last year's cast is back for this season, including Darrell Hammond for a record-breaking 12th season.
updated Tuesday 5:38pm: She changed her mind. Did they offer her UGG BOOTS!?
e.t.a.: Check out the three-minute recap of the first two seasons.
Most critics and audiences applauded Birth of a Nation for its extraordinary cinematic and narrative power. The filmmakers even promoted endorsements from President (and former history professor) Woodrow Wilson -- who reportedly described the film as "like writing history with lightning" -- and Chief Justice Edward D. White, himself a former member of the Klan. Not surprisingly, though, African American leaders vigorously protested the film, calling for its censorship or withdrawal. After discussions with the NAACP, Griffith did consent to some minor changes to the movie, and he offered his next epic film, Intolerance, as evidence of his opposition to bigotry and prejudice. But the damage had already been done: Birth of a Nation cemented the Dixonian version of Reconstruction, reinforced racial tensions in 1910s America, and helped inspire the 1920s revival of the Klan.
So how should we deal with Griffith's film today? We could conduct academic symposia about its historical and cultural significance; we could debate its place among the all-time "great films"; we could reduce it to convenient shorthand for pop-culture racism; we could even subvert it through creative reinterpretation. Ultimately, though, we're still left with a troubling dilemma. Is it really possible to acclaim Birth of a Nation for its cinematic influence and cultural impact while simultaneously condemning its virulent racism and historical distortions? Can you think of any other pop-culture moments that inspire this same combination of artistic admiration and moral revulsion?
The first one, in particular, bugs me. I’ve thought about lines a lot in my life – some of my earliest memories are of standing in line with my parents in Brezhnev-era Moscow – and I think the cardinal rule is this: One should never approach the register without a plan. I have never understood how a person could stand in a long line at Starbucks or Panda Express (note, if you will, the “Express” in the title there) or the BART turnstile and not have used the time spent waiting to figure out what he or she wants and how to get it. And it’s no excuse that the line wasn’t all that long – if a line is too short to give you enough time to read the menu, then it’s short enough that you won’t lose much time by standing aside while you figure out what to get. Sure, there are times when a person legitimately needs to ask “what’s bubble tea?” or to hatch a plan B when the Orange Chicken is four minutes from coming out of the kitchen or to deal with a de-magnetized train ticket, but lack of preparation is inexcusable.
By the way, Super Dave Osborne is awesome.
(thanks to ThingThrower MBR for the tip)
Sunday, September 23, 2007
I just can't believe PBS is showing it up against the network premieres, as opposed to two weeks ago or against the December reruns.
e.t.a.: I can't really post this without linking to my favorite Ken Burns parody.
The thing that always strikes me when reading it is that at one point in the ceremony, the Kohen Gadol speaks the actual name of the Lord -- it is the only day of the year in which YHWH, and not Adonai, is pronounced. And the Hebrews are so humbled by hearing the name of the Lord that they prostrate themselves on the ground in awe, so overcome they are.
I was trying to think of anything in contemporary society that produced such universal awe and trembling, and I don't know that we come close. Maybe it's that we no longer feel as dependent on G'd's protection for our well-being; maybe it's that our ability to create spectacle through technology has overwhelming our capacity to be truly moved. (In this regard, this post directly links with Professor Jeff's below.) I suppose the sight of a newborn baby comes close -- especially if it's one's own. But in terms of other phenomena, all I could think of was a solar eclipse or comet, and I don't think either of those comes close to the sensation that's described in the Avodah service.