Saturday, July 4, 2009

STEVE McNAIR, 1973-2009: Steve McNair didn't win a Superbowl, but he almost did, riding the Music City Miracle into the Superbowl against the Rams, where Kevin Dyson caught McNair's last-minute pass but fell just short of the end zone. Though famed for his toughness -- McNair frequently played through debilitating pain -- he also suffered an uncommon number of injuries that even he couldn't play through, and that left him playing at less than his peak when he wasn't on crutches. When perfectly healthy, though, he could dominate games, both with his passing (to a cast of mostly unheralded receivers, some of whom McNair turned into second-tier stars) and with a running style that was more brute force than fleet. McNair also devoted considerable time and energy to charity (even after his career ended), in the manner of a person who did it because he wanted to, rather than because it was expected of him. I don't know what went wrong that ended up with someone shooting McNair to death, but I regret more than a bit that a guy who worked as hard as he did in the NFL didn't really get a chance to enjoy his retirement.
GOT! TO! HAVE! A! CEL! A! BRA! TION! Happy Independence Day, everyone. I'm not going to try to top Isaac's rewrite of the Declaration from last year, nor do I have time -- there are sauces which need preparing for the mussels which Jen and Lucy are currently harvesting down Route Six (sausage/fennel/cream and fra diavolo, if you were wondering), and a large piece of meat in imminent need of grilling.

Today we think of all that makes America great -- baseball, Ray Charles, the First Amendment and the ice cream sundae (among many other things), but first among them are our dedicated soldiers who remain in harm's way. A good friend of many of us here, Major Evan Wollen, is in Iraq right now and for once hoping not to see any fireworks today. We honor his service today and every day, and look forward to his speedy and safe return.

Open thread.

Friday, July 3, 2009

GENESIS 4:9: The changes made in the film adaptation of Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper are noteworthy, if just for large they are. Picoult's ending has been abandoned altogether, and replaced with something considerably more straightforward. In addition, the guardian character has been eliminated entirely, along with Campbell's romantic subplot, replaced by a judge with her own complicated backstory. Other subplots get truncated as well (in particular, the brother's subplot is almost eliminated), and a new subplot added involving a romance between Kate and another cancer patient, which, while genunely affecting, adds a troubling "romantic" overtone to a key choice Kate makes in the film.

The major changes are so noticeable because at the start, the film is slavishly faithful to the book's structure of rotating narrators, with every character getting a voiceover segment to explain how they see it, and big chunks of prose seemingly being recited verbatim. It's not very cinematic to do so, and the performers give it a good effort, but are unable to overcome that obstacle.
I'VE GOT FEET/FEET CAN DANCE/DO YOU WANT TO SEE ME DANCE/YOU DO? Not much to say about the SYTYCD results except (a) how random; (b) Kayla's group dance costume was the most comprehensive amount of fake nude I've ever seen on non-comedy network television; and (c) no matter how many shows ask me to listen to Kelly Clarkson, I still can't find anything interesting to latch onto there. Oh, and (d) take some time off, Tyce Diorio.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

IN WHICH THE OCEAN'S NAME IS A BITTER IRONY: I learned something while catching up on Sepinwall's loving and compulsively enjoyable archival recaps of Band of Brothers, among my favorite seasons of television ever. Actually I learned a lot, but the one thing I wanted to share with you is that HBO has released a trailer for the long-in-coming follow-up to Band of Brothers, Hanks & Spielberg's The Pacific. Obviously there's already a lot of great recent material covering some of this ground already, from Clint Eastwood's Flags of our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima diptych to Tsuyoshi Hasegawa's Racing the Enemy, but it's not as if Band of Brothers lacked for prior art, and look how that turned out. I'm pretty insanely excited for this.
UH UH, NO, NO WAY, NOPE, NOT GOING TO HAPPEN: I don't know how much you'd have to pay me to get me to walk out into the glass box newly affixed to the outside of the 103rd floor of the Sears Tower, but I'm confident you don't have it on you right now.
YOU CAN STAND UNDER MY PARASOL: We're almost halfway through the summer, and, as far as I can tell, we haven't had a big summer song yet--recent years have been scattered:

2005--"We Belong Together" (#1 for all but one week of June-August), "Hollaback Girl" (#1 for all of May)
2006--"Promiscuous" (#1 for 6 weeks)
2007--"Umbrella" (#1 for 7 weeks)
2008--"I Kissed A Girl" (#1 for 7 weeks)

Apparently, "Boom Boom Pow" had held #1 for 12 weeks until getting knocked off by "I Gotta Feeling" this week, but neither of those are doing it for me. The rest of the Top 50 doesn't do much for me either. So whatcha got? Are you going with Jay-Z? The almost unhealthily catchy Cobra Starship/Leighton Meester pairing? Sadly, the iTunes charts are all akimbo due to Jackson-related dominance, so help me ThingThrowers, you're my only hope.
ALL HOST CHAT WILL BE THE NAMES OF BLACK SITCOMS FROM THE 70S and 80S: It's not yet official, but reports are that CBS has learned its lesson well from last year's Emmy disaster, and are in negotiations with someone with substantial, recent, awards show hosting experience who will make you all very happy. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman had better also be hired, and not just for a song at the end of the show, OK?
ROMEO AND JULIET IS REDUNDANT WHEN YOU'VE ALREADY DONE THE STAR-CROSSED LOVE BETWEEN AN ALIEN AND THE LAST MAN ON EARTH: I think I'm still on SYTYCD duty with KCos out of commission, returning this week. If I'm wrong, expect this recap to disappear shortly, like the dowdy dress Karla was wearing.

Very strong night tonight, and a night when the bottom three, whoever they turn out to be, probably would have been in the middle or upper tier the last two weeks. Since I can't really separate them into three tiers, I'll do the highlights: Kayla's control over her legs, as usual, but also her tight synchronization with a revitalized Kupono. Sonya Tayeh, marrying her usual eccentricities with some surprisingly conventional, and beautiful, lines. Melissa doing her thing. Caitlin's game energy in a routine that was really weird even for this show. Ade's two-second intro thing, and maybe also his pas de deux even though he was outclassed by his partner, but especially the lift he did where Melissa looked like she was skateboarding (Juliet was the right age for shredding, right?). The teenager behind Jean-Marc with the giant fur hat. The magic with Karla's dress. Cat's dress in HD, which turned my whole TV room pink during closeups. God, I love HD.

If I had to pick my own bottom three, I think it would be Phillip and Jeanine's chain dance (because I never like Napoleon and Tabitha -- too cheeseball for hip hop), Brandon and Janette's cha cha cha (I think I just don't get the fast ballroom stuff at all) and Evan and Randi's Broadway routine (because it was so low-energy for a pair that depends upon high energy). I think, though, that Karla/Vitolio and Caitlin/Jason are far more likely to end up in the bottom three than the first two pairs I picked. Actually, I would be okay with my prediction last week that Karla and Vitolio would go home. I'll regret that Karla never got to strut her stuff with a good partner, but Vitolio is so weird that he makes me uncomfortable.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

BOTH ARE FANCIFUL EXPLORATIONS OF THINGS THAT ARE PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE: In researching a Tyler Perry argument for the AMPAS thread below, I hit on something that I think deserved an ALOTT5MA Viewer Alert: when you set your Netflix queue a few months from now, be sure that you sign up for 2009's Up, not 1976's Up!.
DON'T LEAVE THIS MORTAL WORLD WITHOUT IT; OR DUSK FALLS OVER THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO; OR BANG THE GONG ONE LAST TIME, BRETT: Two shocking bits of news for you. First, as of yesterday, Karl Malden was not dead. Second, as of today, Karl Malden is dead. Premorse! (tm The Pathetic Earthling.) To my generation at least, he was known as (a) the famous butt of "Karl Malden's nose" jokes by comedians of a prior generation; (b) the namesake of the Veal Karl Malden (veal in white wine sauce with capers) at legendary Hollywood eatery Dan Tana's; (c) the don't leave home without it guy; and (d) the bioentity from which was made the five clones of Karl Malden who convene annually in the Hollywood Star Chamber to choose the winners of the Oscars.
I'VE GOT CHILLS, THEY'RE MULTIPLYIN', AND I'M LOSIN' MY WIIMOTE: Grease: The Video Game for Wii. Coming soon. Sadly, Kim, the linked article notes that songs from Grease 2 will not be included.
MAJOR LEAGUE 4: Following up on our prior report about the canning of Moneyball: The Movie, the LAT has a story discussing exactly what changes made by director Steven Soderbergh to the script made the green light turn red, the biggest being the wholesale deletion of a major character, whose portrayal in the script was pretty awesome. Interestingly, while the project is in turnaround, they are considering alternate directors, who are subject to Pitt's approval, in an effort to salvage their investment.
I'D LIKE TO THANK THESE PEOPLE: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has invited 134 new members to join its ranks. Among notables who have been invited on the acting side are Anne Hathaway, Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, and Hugh Jackman. Directors include the overdue Danny Boyle and Henry Selick, and a pair of "Huh?" inducers--David Frankel (Devil Wears Prada and Marley and Me are his only film credits) and Tyler Perry.
HOCKEY HULLABALOO: Happy Canada Day, everyone. Feel free to name something you like about Our Neighbours to the North. I'll start the list with your ginger ale and the slowly-creeping-southwards Tim Hortons donut chain. [Their bacon? Not so much a fan.]
GUTTENBERG! SCHROEDER! UNDERWOOD! If "We Are The World" represents the Who's Who of the musical universe circa 1985 (plus Dan Aykroyd, minus Prince and Madonna), then Michael Jackson's video for "Liberian Girl" truly represents the Wait? Who Was That Again? of the early 1990s. I don't know that I had ever seen it until VH1-Classic started airing it this weekend, and, wow, weird.

... Relax, folks. It's almost all out of my system. All that's left is a half-formed post parallelling Michael Jackson with Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa damning them all for turning what should be cherished memories into something complicated and uncomfortable. I was listening yesterday to a Belle and Sebastian live cover of "Billie Jean" and there's this wonderful moment when the whole crowd goes "HEEEE!" in the middle of the chorus just like Jackson did, and given how big Jackson was to so many of us in our youth we should be able to just delight in these shared memories, like when we watch Ferris Bueller's Day Off and see the parade viewers do the "Thriller" dance or laugh at Wesley Snipes' faux-badassness and the Martin Scorsese "Wanted For Sacrilege" poster in the "Bad" video. I wish I could just sit back and appreciate unconditionally what Jackson gave us the way that so many of the presenters at the BET Awards seemed to, the way that SI's Gary Smith got to enjoy McGwire, Sosa and Griffey on consecutive days in the summer of 1998, before we all started learning the truth. I wish I didn't remember punchlines like "boy's underwear -- half off" and "a row of Big Wheels in his driveway" so easily. I wish I could enjoy younger Michael performing with his brothers and older Michael performing with N'Sync without wondering if he was ever happy inside, even when he was performing. I wish Joseph and Katherine Jackson had allowed Michael to have the childhood he deserved so that he could some day grow up and be a well-functioning adult, and I wish that cause-and-effect were simple enough that we could just blame Michael's parents and not Michael himself for the man he became.

It's ironic, isn't it? What I'm wishing for, basically, is to have the naivete of a twelve year old again when it comes to Michael Jackson -- but grownups don't get to go back to Neverland. Life doesn't work that way.

[Okay. Done.]

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

BETTER OFF GIVING IT A SHOT BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT GOING TO FIND ANYTHING BETTER ON TV TONIGHT ANYWAY UNLESS YOU'RE SOME KIND OF MASOCHIST: Last season's best new show: Better Off Ted. Last week's best new episode: Better Off Ted. Tonight's best new episode? I'm guessing it'll be Better Off Ted (ABC, 9:30).
WELL, ALRIGHT. [PAUSE] LET'S SEE. [HE READS] I FIND THAT I AM SEXIST. THAT I AM ELITIST. I'M NOT SURE I KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS, OTHER THAN IT'S A DEROGATORY WORD, MEANING 'BAD': One door gets slammed shut, another opens. My group informs me that the Los Angeles revival of David Mamet's 1992 play Oleanna, starring Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles, will be moving to Broadway this October.
NOT PART OF YOUR WORLD ANY LONGER:Disney's Broadway musicalization of The Little Mermaid will close at the end of summer.
YOU KNOW, JUST TEN YEARS AGO, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN HARD TO IMAGINE A BLACK MAN SELLING COLOGNE: I've never really gotten the underlying appeal of celebrity-endorsed fragrances. I understand dressing like your favorite movie star, I understand wearing the sneakers that your favorite athlete claims to prefer. I even kind of get the celebrity restaurant concept. But why exactly would one wish to smell like Patrick Dempsey? Or, in this case, smell like the relationship between Dempsey and his wife? Ew.
In: Farmers' market organic rainier cherries
Out: Grapes
So Last Winter: Satsumas
WE HAVE TO MOVE THE ISLAND: The state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations apparently no longer wants a state name bigger than the state itself, and a referendum to shorten the name to simply "Rhode Island" is likely to appear on the November 2010 ballot.
I WON'T LET YOU DOWN; I WILL NOT GIVE YOU UP: After four years, the Washington Post's insightful and well-named pop music critic J. Freedom du Lac is putting his keyboard away for a while for paternity leave before shifting to a "special-ops enterprise reporting team." He has saved me the trouble of compiling his greatest hits by doing it himself today, and it's worth your time.

As long as we're on blogger/journalist anniversaries, it's worth acknowledging that the irascible Mickey Kaus just marked his tenth anniversary as a blogger, and he too compiles some of his highs, lows and rich creamy middles. I think of Kaus as being among the first political bloggers -- cranky, obsessive about certain topics (welfare reform, cars, John Edwards' fidelity, telling Democrats not to be liberal), and often a better compiler of links than an analyst thereof. I don't read Kausfiles regularly because I think he's right -- to the contrary, it's because he's often wrong in consistent ways that I still find interesting and provocative, ten years down the road.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Two more Oscar tweaks - Entertainment News, Award Central News, Media - Variety

FIRST HE KILLED THE HOLOCAUST CLOWN GENRE, NOW A CHERISHED OSCARCAST SEGMENT: Remember watching Jerry Lewis receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at last year's Oscars? Good. Because in addition to expanding the Best Film category from 5 to 10 nominees, AMPAS is shunting off any lifetime achievement awards (Hersholt, Thalberg) to a November ceremony. They're also playing around with nominations in the Best Song category so that there may be years with no such Oscar being awarded if there aren't enough good-enough songs to honor.

The latter, sure. I've never understood the annual need to perform or recognize songs about which no one cared.** But I like the idea that the Oscars took time each year to honor living legends of the industry, especially through the Thalberg and Honorary Oscars -- if they need to streamline the competition, I'd much rather they move more categories into the separate technical/scientific ceremony -- sound effects and sound editing, makeup, etc., which would also free such a ceremony to find time to honor achievements in stunt work as well.

** I used to care, but things have changed.
AND THE WHOLE WORLD HAS TO ANSWER RIGHT NOW JUST TO TELL YOU ONCE AGAIN WHO'S BAD: For those rewatching it on Fox tonight from 8-10p, and even for those who aren't, our insta-recap of the AI Michael Jackson Night (including links to many others, and of course your comments) might prove interesting.

ETA From Matt: I am a non-Idol viewer, though obviously, I read the commentary here and elsewhere, but I watched the replay, ff'ing through judge comments and pimp packages (and man, that makes the show VERY fast to watch). My thoughts:

Lil ("The Way You Make Me Feel")--There needs to be some funk in this song, and I didn't feel any funk. Don't shout at me, and don't turn that last "feeeeeeeeeel!" into a spurious glory note.

Scott ("Keep The Faith")--Not an MJ song I'm familiar with, but eeewww. Even though I like the man with a piano genre generally, a flat-ish Elton John take on MJ is not gonna be startin' something, particularly with the piano flourish at the end.

Danny ("P.Y.T.")--I'm not sure if he's a douchebag or a dork trying and failing to be hip. I'm also not sure if the silly white boy dancing is amusing or not. A little bit too Michael McDonald for my taste, on the whole/

Michael ("You Are Not Alone")--What may be MJ's cheesiest song (you can see R. Kelly's handiwork over it) solidly but blandly performed. It's adequately sung, but there's no charisma or audience connection at all.

Jasmine ("I'll Be There")--Wow, that's an unflattering dress, and I am distracted by the giant hoop earrings. A servicable Whitneyesque effort, but again, lacking in charisma or the instinct to realize that not every note needs to be a glory note.

Kris ("Remember The Time")--Acoustic guitar + new jack swing is not exactly a logical connection, and might have worked better had they let it be more stripped down. Nice vocals, but reminds me off too many guys I went to college with who would play the guitar as part of showing that they were Sensitive New Age Guys. Hard to believe from that performance he was the winner.

Allison ("Give It To Me")--I didn't like the rock arrangement, but no denying she's got a heck of a voice and impressive onstage presence, though the inability to see her eyes due to the floppy hair reduces her impact. Perhaps something by Jamie Jimpler would have been a better choice.

Anoop ("Beat It")--Stiff as a board, not helped by the strange Matrix-esque graphic behind him. A bad karaoke bar performance, including bizarro glory notes ("truth or daaaaarrreee?"). Ewwww.

Jorge ("Never Can Say Goodbye")--Your bizarre eyebrows are not enough to distract me from that mess of a performance. Why are they putting these two clunkers back to back? It might have been less noticable if I'd watched the pimpfilms, judge "banter," and commercials which split them up.

Megan ("Rockin' Robin")--Oh, dear lord, is this Kellie Pickler 2.0? Actually, it's not quite that bad--she's got some singing ability, and the huge tat on her right arm kind of freaks me out, in part because her face and hair read rather differently from that. Lost me at the end with the glory note fail and "CAW! CAW!"

Adam ("Black or White")--Has a bit of a tendency to mumble his lyrics so that they're incomprehensible, and I'm not sold on some of the vocal gymnastics. The bridge of that song is the weakest part of it, and turned into an excuse for a glory note/scream. But you can see him connecting with the audience as he goes deeper into the song, which is worth something.

Matt ("Human Nature")--Hey, Scott, THAT'S how you do the "piano man" thing. And he very much knows how to work the camera and audience. The falsetto glory notes were a bit much, but appropriate for the song, and he could pull them off.

Alexis ("Dirty Diana")--Suffers immediately from being a less strong singer than Allison, who's trying to play in a somewhat similar vein. Nice arrangement of the song, making it rock rather than be a pop song. The vocal flourish at the end, though? Big mistake.
YOU CAN DO THAT ON TELEVISION: Alanis Morissette's upcoming seven-episode run on Weeds prompts Gawker to ask what other singers should act more often. Two words: Aunty Entity.
WHOA!: I like a Where Are They Now? internet slideshow as much as the next guy, but this 42 (forty-two!) page retrospective of Blossom is more comprehensive than most.
THIS SHOW IS ONLY FOR NOW:Avenue Q will close on Broadway in September. In volatile market, this show was an extraordinarily good investment, returning investors 23.5M on an initial investment of 3.5M.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Neverland Ranch - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

THE SANTA YNEZ VALLEY DOES NOT, TO MY KNOWLEDGE, SHINE LIKE A NATIONAL OR ANY OTHER BRAND OF GUITAR: As we jump forward to the third- and fourth-order questions following the death of Michael Jackson, one I've been working through is the future of Neverland Ranch, Jackson's deteriorating Xanadu in Los Olivos, California, currently owned by a consortium of investors and some .

It strikes me that Neverland is too large and expensive for any purchaser to maintain in its most advanced state, as the WSJ reported earlier this month:
The 2,600-acre estate, named for a magical place where children never age, has since yielded to reality and time. The amusement-park rides, elephants and orangutans have been hauled away. The two helicopter landing pads are empty. The private railway line stands idle and the ornate "Neverland" gates that framed the driveway are in storage. Bats hang over the doorway to the building that housed Mr. Jackson's private arcade; guano stains the threshold....

Among the $35 million worth of amenities he added were enough amusement-park rides for a state fair, a zoo, a go-kart track and two separate railway lines -- one large enough to accommodate full-sized antique steam engines.

A 50-seat theater features state-of-the-art projection and sound systems, a private viewing balcony, and a stage that includes trap doors for magicians' assistants. Mr. Jackson converted a rustic red barn into a herpetarium with displays for a dozen exotic and venomous snakes, including a Burmese python and a monocled cobra. He created a Neverland Valley Fire Department, with a small fleet of working engines and full-time firefighters who were occasionally dispatched to battle brushfires on neighboring properties.
If the similarly isolated Hearst Castle can draw 1 million visitors a year and Graceland 600-700K annually, how many international visitors would travel to Neverland Ranch?

Some things will need to be resolved first: as with the upstairs at Graceland where Elvis Presley died, I'm presuming Jackson's bedroom would be off-limits both for privacy and additional because-it-may-have-been-a-crime-scene reasons. They'd have to decide whether to return the amusement park rides to the facility. And I assume Jackson will not be interred there, as he reportedly never returned to Neverland after the 2005 trial.

Still, even with those limitations, I have reason to believe that there's a large number of people who would like to be received at Neverland. And its co-owners are starting to think the same thing ...
BUT WAIT... THERE'S (NO) MORE: Pitchman Billy Mays, dead at 50.