Saturday, March 21, 2009
Comments may be chock-full-a-spoilers.
Friday, March 20, 2009
[FWIW, as much as I like their Craig Robinson suggestion, why not increase it to the whole supporting cast of The Office -- or at least some subset of Brian Baumgartner, Leslie David Baker, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Paul Lieberstein, Creed Bratton and Kate Flannery.]
[Weird note: of twenty episodes completed or scheduled for this season, only three female hosts -- Anna Faris, Anne Hathaway and Rosario Dawson.]
We have gone to sleep on our laurels and we are now paying the consequences. Korea and Japan, two countries which are geographically really far away from the United States, have invested abundant economic resources into this imported, or imposed, sport.... Asians are not as physically strong as their western rivals. Nor are they as explosive. But strength sufficient is not enough to defeat the reflexes that their players have developed; and explosiveness in itself cannot compensate for the methodology and sangfroid of their athletes. Korea has tried to look for more heavily-built men who are capable of hitting more forcefully.
Our hopes were based on the patriotic dedication of our athletes and the fervor with which they defend their honor and their people, from a pool which is several times, even dozens of times, lesser in human resources as compared, for example, with Japan, discounting from those resources those that are weak in conscience and permit themselves to be bribed by our enemies. But this is not enough to maintain our supremacy in baseball. We have to apply methods that are more technical and scientific when we develop our sports figures....
To the rescue comes The House Next Door (and, again, is there any other web site that does what THND does even half as well? There may be no more valuable resource for culture criticism than that one). Sheila O'Malley's thoughts about Richardson's turn as Sally Bowles in Cabaret won't unclog my blockage about that particular medium, but it did a wonderful job explaining to this neophyte exactly what was important about Richardson's performance, and in the process filled out the picture of Richardson as a daring artist as well as an admirable human being.
- Your girlfriend and the captain of the opposing team condescend to fix on you a frown
- Televised news programs reveal that your lover is a spy named Valerie Plame
- Your girlfriend is killed by shots intended by her brother for you because she belongs to a rival gang
- You bet your son away to a blind brigadeer in a game of high-stakes canasta
- Your wife turns out to be a crane and has to fly away because you found her weaving cloth in a box
- You drown in a sentient river while rescuing your lover from your adoptive mother, who is a forest
- You and your spouse live happily ever after in a home built of packing foam
And over at 30 Rock, a question raised by Spacewoman's principal complaint about the episode ("why does everybody think he's so hot?"): Is Jon Hamm really All That if you haven't watched Mad Men? Because if it's Don Draper who's sexy, and not Jon Hamm, or if you didn't grow up with pre-puffy Alec Baldwin, then this could have been a very confusing episode.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
- Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog
- Lost--"The Constant"
- Battlestar Galactica--"Revelations" (midseason finale, with the big Tigh-Adama scene)
- Doctor Who--"Silence in The Library/Forest of the Dead") (the Moffat-scripted Time Travelers' Wife takeoff)
- Doctor Who--"Turn Left" (the "what if there was no Doctor?" episode? Really? Over the finale of either Who or Torchwood?)
Last night's was a very well-done episode. There were few big reveals, all minor in the grand scheme of things, but the show did a great job texturing the scenes we knew were coming. As far as transitional episodes go -- and this one did a lot of moving the pieces into place on the chess board -- it was excellent.
My favorite part, of course, was LaFleur going meta and delivering the audience's verdict on Jack's leadership. I never was a Sawyer fan (he always seemed like the stock TV renegade to me, a half-step removed from Lorenzo Lamas), but the Churchill-emulating LaFleur, with a long-con man's respect for the setup, is dramatically more interesting than either the old Sawyer or the eternal Jack. Because I like where LaFleur is now, personally and professionally, I'll be sorry to see the romantic tension over the next few weeks and the inevitable escalating pissing match with Jack over the next season and a half, but the last few episodes have been nice for both the character and the actor.
And I love that whenever somebody is running around in a state of utter confusion, no matter which decade, Jin pops up. Dharma should just start laying rakes around the jungle with pictures of Jin's surprised face stuck to the handle, so if you step in the wrong place -- wham -- Jin! Right in the kisser!
But: Paging Desmond to the island, please.
Still, I wanted to note for the record that the opening credits sequence was one of the best I've seen in years. The stills done as movies-with-people-trying-to-stand-still gave it an absolutely perfect comic book feel. And perhaps because I already cared about the Minutemen and the Watchmen, the Dylan rendition of "The Times They Are a Changing" sounded fresh to me for the first time in twenty years.
Three hours well spent.
But it's just a part of loving this band that you must have patience and accept a generous amount of ludicrousness, from the Max Fischer theatricality to the sense that at times bandleader Colin Meloy is auditioning to be the house band for a Renaissance Faire. If you can get past that stuff, The Hazards of Love is a sturdily built piece of work that, like The Crane Wife before it, manages to be improbably affecting and hummable without being too easy to digest. "The Rake's Song" is as cynical a piece as the Decemberists have ever done (other than, perhaps, "Los Angeles I'm Yours") about their most loathsome character to date, but there is still a hint of that character's insinuating charisma in the song's "all right, all right, all right" refrain. (If I'm not mistaken,
Changing the topic slightly, it occurs to me that we haven't had this thread in a while: to what are you listening right now, other than the
Was it the onset of spring that brought this song to mind? Was it thinking about the loss of Natasha Richardson or the parents of two friends who have passed away recently? Was it simply a yearning to get back on my bike after a long and cold winter? Or maybe it was the cheerful melody and the resilient spirit expressed in the lyrics? Give it a listen.
The poetic lyrics are here.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
edited.to.revise.and.extend.my.remarks: My initial reaction was, "hey, isn't this why you have the Idol Immunity?" I was never as gung-ho on Alexis Grace as the Idol Commentariat at large -- while most had her in the final 3-4, I'm still seeing Allison Iraheta as the one in the final three with Danny Gokey and Adam Lambert. But I can certainly concur that (a) it seemed possible for Alexis to make it towards the finals, and (b) there are plenty of folks left who can't -- Sarver, Anoop, Kris, Megan and, presumably, Scott -- unless his numbers are already off the charts, in which case we're doomed. And that's the first thing to be mindful of in evaluating whether the Idol Immunity should have been used -- the judges know the vote totals, and whether someone like Lambert was vulnerable after a performance like Tuesday's. Maybe they recognize his margin for error is such that he will need it after another questionable call, but that he's more worth saving because his upside. . (We now know Allison's vulnerable, and maybe it's being saved for her.)
At the same time, it's hard to imagine someone who could have been saved for more weeks than Alexis -- especially with Motown next week to reboot her fanbase, she could have catapulted into that final five mix (assuming she wasn't borderline in terms of fan support last week as well.) Maybe had folks seen Alexis perform in three weeks' worth of semifinals instead of one, there would have been more built-in loyalty to cover her in a week when she wasn't that bad.
It's hard thinking of someone who could have won this competition going out this early -- Nadia Turner (Final 8, season 4), Mandisa (Final 9, season 5) and Michael Johns (Final 8, season 7) come to mind, but they all not only went out later in the competition than Alexis but also had two extra semifinal performances beforehand on which the audience could evaluate them, making it a somewhat fairer cumulative assessment. So those were a different kind of disappointment, because we knew more of what they were capable of; with Alexis, we're just left to wonder.
My final thought is a repeated one from the comments: if they had switched it up with Adam Lambert singing "Jolene," White Stripes-style and Alexis Grace tackling "Ring of Fire," both of them would have done better, and Michael Sarver would be doing the farewell interviews today. If you're going to attempt Jolene, you do have to bring more to it than Alexis did last night.
- Bob Dylan's Toilet Stench Blowing in the Wind (and numerous variations thereof)
- It Don't Stink Nice, It's Not All Right
- Tangled Up in Poo
- How Does It Smell? Like a Moldering Stool
- Neighbors Hope Dylan's Home Won't Smell Forever Dung
- Stink Inside of Malibu With the Malodorous Blues
- Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man! Fix Your Toilet!
- Supraterranean Home's Sick Blues
- Defecation Row
- Rainy Day Women #2
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Really Really Liked
I must be more suggestible than I think I am, because my two favorite performances this week are renditions of two of my absolute favorite songs.
- Anoop. After last week's debacle of debaclean proportions, which came on the heels of a fun but not terribly singerly outing, which in turn followed that glurdgey song from his semi-final performance, I was starting to think that I must have hallucinated Anoop's early promise. But I was moved by his "Always on My Mind." If you're going to sing a ballad, you want to do it like this -- open and honest.
- Megan. I can't help it. I love Megan. I love her voice. I love her dopey accent. As soon as I heard what she was singing (perhaps my favorite country song of all time), I knew I was going to love it, and I did. But let's focus on the bigger issue here: the Megan Waggle needs more supportive undergarments.
Going into country night, there are always some people you worry about. Can the chick rocker and the R&B diva find something in their wheelhouses, or will they end up tackling one of those overly chatty non-melodic country songs with too many words in a line, which have never served anyone well in the history of this show despite the fact that someone tries to do them at least once per season?
- Allison. She's one of the ones I was concerned about. Apparently I needn't have been, because you can always find some big belty song somewhere in the country catalog. Allison sounded great, as always, although I did feel like she was running out of breath in the middle of that big long string of adjectives -- somewhere between lying cheating and cold dark beating, or whatever it was she was trying to get out before expiring.
- Danny. I have a visceral dislike of this song. I like my shout-outs to Jesus to be more subtle. Nothing subtle about this song. (Paraphrasing a friend's comment: Wouldn't steering into the skid be a better tactic in this situation?) And what the hell was with the Snow Miser outfit? You could practically see the icicles dripping from his glasses. But neither the song choice nor the take-me-up-to-heaven parka could hide the fact that Danny Gokey can sing his ass off.
- Kris. I know I like Kris more than most people around here, but I really kinda liked this. I think Anoop stole his tender open honesty thunder to some degree, and I'd never heard Kris's song before, but it's basically the same idea. Sing a good, pretty song, sing it well and with emotion, and connect with the viewer.
- Alexis. I liked this more than the judges did. I also liked it a lot better than Brookie's effort to sing it last season. Not everything she sings needs the full-on dirty. I also like how Alexis interacts with the judges -- polite, respectful, and she defends herself without being defensive.
Okay, this is as good a time as any to talk about Adam. I felt like I was watching one of those weird drug-soaked performance scenes from The Doors. I didn't like that movie, and I can't say I particularly liked this performance. I found myself sitting there thinking hm, I don't particularly like this, but I'm sure Adam's fans will eat it up -- but then I remembered hey wait, I am one of those Adam fans who loves everything he does, but I don't particularly like this. The vocals were great, as always, so it wasn't that, and I like a good sitar as much as anyone (although I was waiting for Katee and Joshua to bollybop themselves onto the stage at any moment). I think it was the standing still. Usually, Adam channels his dramatic tendencies into a performance from his whole body, but tonight, with his feet planted, he was relegated to squirming from the waist up and making fucky eyes at the camera. In any event, the whole experience gave me the oogies to some degree, but he did sing it well.
- Lil. I actually thought the chorus was quite good. But then, I think Independence Day has one of the best choruses out there. And I got some chills during that not-overblown last note. But when you choose to honor the genre, you also choose to bury your own style. I don't think Lil is going home this week, but I do think she's at serious risk for bottom three.
- Matt. I don't get Matt. I think he's second rate Gokey. I don't particularly like Michael Buble or Justin Timberlake, so the fact that he's their genetic love child doesn't do anything for me.
Not So Much
- Sarver. Mumble mumble. Someone stop letting people pick these songs every damn year. Mumble.
- Scott. I spent the whole time thinking how does Scott learn these songs on the piano? does he have special sheet music, or does he just figure it out? And doesn't this song have the same name as the band from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure? Wyld Angels? Or was it Wyld Horses? Wyld Stallions? So yeah, I guess he was singing, but it wasn't having much of an impact on me. Interesting, though, about "losing a lot of hat picks." So I guess he would have been dancing it up to "Satisfaction" or maybe writhing to "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" but for that damn sorting hat.
I don't care whether it's Sarver or Scott this week, but let's get one of them off the show and off the tour.
I have been a big fan of Richardson's. She first came to my attention when she played the lead role in The Handmaid's Tale in 1990. I also admired her work in The Comfort of Strangers and Nell. A list of her roles is here.
We are awaiting further news and are praying for the best for Ms. Richardson and her family.
Anoop was a member of the University of North Carolina Clef Hangers, an all male group with a strong reputation. They’ve been around more than 30 years (a long time in the a cappella world), have made sixteen albums, have had five songs featured on BOCA (Best of Collegiate A Cappella) compilations, and have been nominated for several CARAs (Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards). They perform in a lot of different genres.
Disclaimer – I do not watch American Idol. I don’t have a great sense of what it takes to succeed on AI, except that I know that singing ability isn’t the whole (or maybe even the main) point of the thing. But in preparation for this post, I’ve now listened to a whole lot of Anoop’s a cappella work and I can tell you this – I’m a fan.
Anoop falls right into the quintessential a cappella mold. He’s a talented singer, and one his group trusted with many solos (three each on their two most recent albums). He was clearly a fan favorite (listen to the cheering for him on his signature song, “I’ll Make Love to You”). He has a lovely tone – warm and round and very easy on the ears, with an excellent falsetto; that he moves into nearly effortlessly. He’s also versatile – he can do sexy, and doesn’t sounds ridiculous doing hip hop or even rap. I’m guessing he didn’t have a difficult time with the audition processes – vocally, he’s got what they want as a soloist.
Anoop also does well backing up his group – I can’t really show you a video of him *not* sticking out from the group, but watch him do supporting vocals on “What Hurts the Most”. He’s blending beautifully with the soloist, never pulling focus, and making this something special. It’s also clear from this video that he spent at least some time directing the group – he’s the one conducting here, which is usually done by the musical director. That says a lot about his musicality – the guys in his group would have voted him the job, so he both had the musical chops for it AND was well-liked.
But collegiate a cappella is so much more than the voice. He’s got to be able to please the audience – he has to know how to put over a song live. Live is the bread and butter of the college group. You have to not just want to hear him, but to watch him. Watch this performance of Chris Brown’s "Kiss Kiss". He’s standing in a spotlight, surrounded by 14 guys, who are all singing their hearts out. He’s gotta make himself heard, be the leader, be the voice that matters while still connecting with the group. At the same time, he has to connect with the adoring women and gay men in the audience, giving them the right level of sexy and fun, without missing a note. And on a moment’s notice, he’s got to cede that spotlight to someone else – right in the middle of the song. This is a strong performance. He doesn’t speed it up, he doesn’t over play it. He’s confident, and he sounds great. Then look at “Angel of Mine” – early in the song, he gets hooted at a bit, and he gives that shy smile. Never lets his voice change, but acknowledges the compliment. Maybe not a great quality in a pop star, but just want you want in a college a cappella soloist. A little humility goes a long way – no one likes an arrogant a cappella singer. He’s also got a sense of humor and can make fun of himself.
Anoop is going to have a big problem as an AI contestant that he never had as a collegiate a cappella start – credibility. When you sing with a group as good as the Clef Hangers, the audience will go where you take them. They’ll love it when a blond haired white girl raps, and they’ll buy that a bunch of college guys who look like frat boys want to sing Amazing Grace. They’ll believe anything if the voice is there. But it doesn’t work as a pop star. As a pop star, you need a niche. Anoop is going to do very well on the ballads, because he’s cute, and because he seems to have made a “nice guy” impression with the audience. But he’s going to have a hard time convincing the world that his version of “Kiss Kiss” should be taken seriously, or that he could even remotely sing “Crazy Train”, even though he’s good at both. He’s a clean cut Indian guy, and maybe a pop crowd will be comfortable with him singing “I’ll Make Love to You,” but I seriously doubt he’ll do ok with the audience if he goes too far out of his wheelhouse.
The other problem, having now watched his AI videos, is that he’s not comfortable up there. He’s breathy, he’s pushing too hard, and he’s not letting his voice fly. You can hear him strangling the notes as if he’s afraid they’ll get away from him. He looks uncomfortable dancing and he’s not able to bring off songs like “My Prerogative” in the pop arena the way he could as a college a cappella singer. And oh, is his version of “Beat It” painful. He did a weak karaoke version of it and tried to turn it into a lounge act.
Bottom line, this is great voice with a lot of soul, but he’s not a credible pop star. You can get away with a lot of versatility when you’re standing in front of fourteen white guys in tuxes, but I don’t think he can do it on American Idol.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go buy a few Clef Hangers albums.
Monday, March 16, 2009
At about 3:30 p.m. on the Saturday before Labor Day, I receive a call from Lenny. Speaking in a voice even more slurred than usual, he says: “Hey, bro, a guy from this jet company is going to call you in a few minutes and ask for your credit card.”
“What the hell for, Lenny?”
“He’s not going to charge your card, bro. It’s just an authorization on it so I can reserve a private jet to get me to Atlanta, where I’m going to pick up half a million dollars in cash.”
This is pretty much the precise moment when things begin to go wrong—when I should’ve realized that no matter how enthralled I was with the idea of working for Nails and his high-rolling magazine, I should’ve simply said no. I ask why a supposed multimillionaire needs an employee’s credit card for his flights. He mumbles something about having “high-limit cards off the charts” that, for reasons unknown, do not allow him to make telephone authorizations....
None of it ends well, and the folks who wrote unquestioning, fawning profiles of Dykstra should be embarrassed that they failed to see through the charade. [Also, he's a racist.]
In any event, the Times now owns a local monopoly on the kind of news that blackens your fingers daily, and the P-I becomes the nation's largest former mainstream newspaper now reimagined as an Internet-only venture, a fact that will seem significant only until the totally unreadable but still famous San Francisco Chronicle folds (which some people seem to expect will happen this year).
Anyway, the thing I did want to mention was the opening. Has there ever been an SNL cold open that was that pre-taped? I realize they often roll tape in the middle of the monologue, especially with the run-here-run-there types of hybrid skit-monologues, but I can't remember them ever starting the show with a long taped sketch. It didn't go live until the very end, with a couple of lines from Fey and then the "live from New York ..." tag. Strange.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
[Actually, take a look at this map and list of countries they've visited over fourteen seasons -- where have they never gone that you'd like to see? How about Jordan and Israel?]
Except (and you knew there was an "except," because otherwise why blog?) there was a Message. (Well, there were two messages, but we'll set aside the Buy Our Sponsors' Products for tonight.) And that message -- as demonstrated through the Washington Generals' various thwarted efforts to place a sheet of plexiglass above the Trotters' rim, or manipulate the scoreboard to give themselves extra points -- was that Cheating Is Bad. [They should have listed to this guy.] Indeed, they asked the kids to chant it -- No Cheating!
But these are the Harlem Globetrotters, and, um, isn't deception and playing fast-and-loose with the rules pretty much their raison d'être? Isn't blowing an airhorn at a foul shooter, or stuffing the basketball under the back of an opponent's jersey (so he'll be called for traveling) a form of cheating? What am I missing?