Saturday, December 14, 2002

ONE BAND, ONE SOUND: There are few things I enjoy more in movies than a well-made formula movie, and one of the oldest, best formulas is The Prodigy Who Needs To Learn Disclipine And Be A Team Player For The Sake Of The Mission. From Top Gun to Purple Rain to Rocky to Bring It On to Harry Potter to The Program, the formula is an eternally renewable resource, the solar power from which many great movies have emerged.

To that list, I am happy to add the just-released Drumline. Think of it as Top Gun, only instead of a flight academy it's a historically black college marching band. You've got the rebel prodigy drummer who plays by his own set of rules, the disciplinarian mentor, the by-the-rules competitor, the love interest, the wacky friends. That's the formula.

What makes Drumline special are the ways it enhances the formula. First off, and most importantly, is the subject matter. These bands have a rich history and tradition which is to be cherished, and this movie does right by them. Heck, go here and here to see and hear some of the best of what's going on right now. And the movie takes the bands seriously, and brings their joy and craft to a wider audience.

This is a movie about values: of musicianship over flashiness, of discipline and teamwork over narcissism and rebelliousness. These are not typical values to be pushed in a movie targetting towards the same teens who are otherwise seeing "be the rebel" movies like xXx and The Fast and the Furious, but they are there and the message is strong.

And finally, this is a well-done movie. The performances are all strong, led by (new-to-me) Nickelodeon's Nick Cannon and Orlando Jones of 7-Up commercial fame, surprisingly good as the serious, traditionalist marching band director. Kudos as well to Charles Stone III, the director (of Budweiser "Wazzup?" fame) -- the movie was well-paced and especially well-shot. Sometimes you just need to know where to put the camera to make the screen come alive, and with a minimal of showy effects, he did so here. You will understand every drum beat, every cymbal crash, every step. The marching band performances are all highlights of this movie, which is filled with opportunities to sit back, watch and listen. The finale, shot before a live crowd of 50,000+, is something to behold. Even if you think you know how it's going to end, you'll be surprised.

This is a movie for the whole family. Its values are good, its language is clean (how it got a PG-13, I have no idea), its heart is in the right place and its entertainment value you will keep you smiling. Not every movie has to break ground or be challenging -- sometimes, a movie is worth seeing just because it knows what it wants to do, and does it well, with heart, sincerity and enthusiasm. This is one of those movies.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

IF HE DIES, HE DIES: Okay, I may have spoken too soon. There's even worse news today. Ladies and gentlemen, there will be a Rocky VI.

For Bill Simmons' take on Rockys I-V, enjoy yourself here.
DEUCE BIGALOW AND HOWARD THE DUCK HAD PREVIOUS COMMITMENTS: Now bringing joy to the children of the Middle East: Patch Adams!

For more, see Roger Ebert on Patch Adams.
AND NOW, FOR THE WORST NEWS ALL DAY: The NFL has re-upped with DirecTV for another five years for its Sunday Ticket package, as opposed to moving the all-access package to digital cable. The NFL will not be able to revisit the issue until 2006.

Why? Because if they switched over to digital cable, too many people would be able to watch it. Seriously. And the networks don't want that. Let ESPN Page2's Gregg Easterbrook explain the rest.
A TRICKLE BECOMES A DRIZZLE, BECOMES A STORM: Here's a good summary of Trent Lott's voting record on racial matters. If nothing else, he's consistent.
TWO TO ONE SAYS HE GETS REINSTATED: With all that's in the news about Pete Rose lately, it's worth reminding people that all the source material concerning his activites is available online, along with this great summary of the evidence by baseball writer Sean Lahman. Perhaps Bud Selig needs to be reminded of Commissioner Giamatti's remarks at the press conference announcing Rose's ban:

The matter of Mr. Rose is now closed. It will be debated and discussed. Let no one think that it did not hurt baseball. That hurt will pass, however, as the great glory of the game asserts itself and a resilient institution goes forward. Let it also be clear that no individual is superior to the game.

A NOBLE THOUGHT: A bunch of us were emailing around one day debating the following question: the next time a writer working in the English language wins the Nobel Prize for Literature, who should it be?

Philip Roth and Thomas Pynchon were among the more worthy names tossed around, and I added two to the discussion. My first choice was the Czech-born playwright Tom Stoppard, whose brilliant words and sheer wit, questioning and considering everything, embody the best of what writing can do.

My number two choice was a bit of an odd one: Princeton's John McPhee, America's best nonfiction writer, and I'm posting this today because this profile in yesterday's Boston Globe makes this case for his all-encompassing brilliance far better than I could (which does not get much more articulate than drooling over his Bill Bradley pieces.)

He would not be the first Nobel laureate to win for non-fiction writing, and he would be as worthy as they come.

Disclaimer: My wife was a student of his at Princeton.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

AND IN CASE YOU'RE KEEPING SCORE AT HOME: Trent Lott voted against making Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's birthday a federal holiday. Heck, even Strom Thurmond voted for that.

note: after a thorough Google search, that was the best verification I could find. If anyone can find better, let me know.
AND HERE'S THE PARAGRAPH THAT MIGHT BE THE NAIL IN THE COFFIN: All credit to Josh Marshall for uncovering Trent Lott's pro se (in other words, he wrote it himself -- don't blame the lawyers) 1981 amicus brief to the Supreme Court supporting Bob Jones University's right to maintain tax-exempt status while barring its few black students from dating or marrying whites. (Lott and Bob Jones lost, 8-1).

Anyway, here's the paragraph from the brief to put in bold, underline, italicize and, in my case, block-quote:

Moreover, racial discrimination does not always violate public policy. Schools are allowed to practice racial discrimination in admissions in the interest of diversity. Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978). An institution's right to pursue diversity is not constitutionally protected, but its right to practice its religion is protected by the First Amendment. If racial discrimination in the interest of diversity does not violate public policy, then surely discrimination in the practice of religion is no violation. (emphasis mine)

Equating affirmative action with mandatory segregation and anti-miscegenation policies? Not too many people, in or out of the great state of Mississippi, are going to find the moral equivalence there, even if they disfavor the use of affirmative action in college admissions. I've got a funny feeling this might bite the Senator in the ass -- unless, that is, his apology-of-the-day finally quiets the story.
A LESSON IN TV ECONOMICS: Today's LA Times explains why Friends won't be renewed for a 10th season, no matter how high its ratings are.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

REGRETS, I'VE HAD A FEW . . . Unless you're controversial Philadelphia sportscaster Howard Eskin, profiled in today's Philadelphia Daily News, that is. But does he really mean it when he says "Not only wouldn't I leave, but I would never change anything I have done"?

Perhaps, he needs to be reminded of this 1997 incident, which, just maybe, he wishes he had handled differently.
WHENEVER THEY MENTION MOOSE MURDERS, LOOK OUT: This is not a good morning for Jim Steinman, Amherst class of 1969. His new $10 million musical, Dance of the Vampires, starring Phantom of the Opera's Michael Crawford, opened on Broadway last night and, umm . . .

The New York Times: It is an enterprise to be associated with only under the veil of anonymity.

Washington Post: The advice for theatergoers is just what you might give to those garlic-wearing villagers: Run for your lives.

New York Post: [T]his vampire excursion needs a transfusion.

Newsday: For this, Michael Crawford has chosen to return and show his fans the other side of the face beneath the mask. He is either very brave or very foolish.

Well, at least the class of 1969 still has Teller to be proud of.

Monday, December 9, 2002

"THE CORONER? I'M SO SICK OF THAT GUY!" Younger fans of The Simpsons might not be aware that bumbling Dr. Nick Riviera has a real-life antecedent: Elvis' personal doctor, George "Dr. Nick" Nichopoulos, who freely dispensed drugs to stars like Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Well, it looks like Dr. Nick has an heir: Dr. Jules Lusman. According to public documents, it looks like Dr. Jules has been hooking up Hollywood types like Winona Ryder and Courtney Love with their drugs of choice for some time (and perhaps, some non-Jewish celebrities, or ones with careers on an upswing as well). Presumably, Dr. Jules was responsible for some of the liquid Demerol, liquid Diazepam, Vicoprofen, Vicoden, Percodan, Valium and morphine sulphate found in Ryder's possession at the time of her arrest. Plus the syringe.

Remember kids: Don't Do Drugs.
TODAY'S DIVERSION: It's time for America's favorite Asian teen-pop video parodists, 'NChink!

[Three videos by a bunch of UCLA students. Very professional. And hysterical.]
A SIGHTING? I spent the last four days in Las Vegas with my family for a joint birthday celebration. It was my third time in Vegas in the past three years, and everyone had a good time.

If you've never been to Vegas, go. At least once. It really isn't just for gamblers anymore. Between the sightseeing, the quality dining (we did everything from mega-gourmet-buffet to Brazilian steakhouse) and the shopping and people-watching, there's plenty to do without ever setting foot in a casino.

[That said, I did set foot. Multiple times. Netted around $250 playing $10 blackjack, broke even on the sports wagering.]

Trying to find an entertainment option for a group ranging in age from 26 to 90, we settled on a Neil Diamond impersonator for Saturday night. Jen and I kept waiting for all the lines from the Will-Ferrell-as-Neil-Diamond SNL skits ("Here's a song a wrote after I killed a drifter to get an erection"), but Jay White played it straight. He didn't introduce his friend, Gay Speedskating Hitler. He simply became Neil Diamond.

Okay, not really, but it was good enough, whether enjoyed ironically or un-. Especially since he didn't sing "Heartlight".

Finally, three celebrity sightings of varying degrees of significance: rapper Ja Rule on the Bellagio casino floor Saturday afternoon, NBA journeyman Buck Williams at dinner at La Chine on Saturday, and, Sunday morning, Todd spotted former Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil at the Bellagio sports book Sunday morning.