Friday, May 28, 2004

(TITLE REMOVED DUE TO REQUEST OF ESTATE OF MILDRED HILL): Is there a better way of wasting time than wandering around the IMDB? Today's irrestiable tidbit? It's James Michael Tyler's 42nd birthday today. Yes, Gunther is 42 and still has that silly dye job.

Other noteworthy birthdays today? Gladys Knight and Rudy Giuliani are both 60 today. The real "Patch Adams" is 59. Rump shaker Kylie Minogue is 36, and "Survivor" babe and "View" co-host Elisabeth Filarski Hasselbeck is 27. I'd like to note that I'm available to be paid obsene amounts of money to sit on a couch for an hour every morning and ask questions of celebrities. Hell, screw "The View," just give the bloggers around here a show.
BEST. COMMENTARY. EVER.: I used to love "Alias." The smart, intricate plotting of the first two seasons, the awesome acting, the great action sequences. I own the first two seasons of the show on DVD. I was looking forward to the third season, given the massive and clever cliffhanger that ended the second season. Yet this season, it felt like they were making it up as they went along, a problem compounded by the fact that Lena Olin wouldn't come back, and fangirl outrage caused the change of a major plot arc.

I wasn't going to pick up the S3 DVDs for that reason, but now, I might. Yes, for the first time, a TWoP recapper will be providing commentary for a DVD episode. Now, can I ask for the following other ones? Miss Alli providing commentary for DVD sets of either "The Apprentice" or "The Amazing Race?" Deborah providing commentary on "West Wing" or "Joan of Arcadia?" Shack providing commentary on a new "From Justin to Kelly" DVD (read the recap. No, seriously.)?

And just to add to my shameful "AI" confessions--never watched an episode, but I really like the Kimberly Locke single. Maybe she just got better songwriters than other folks did ("Some people wait a lifetime for that one special kiss?").
THE FACE THAT LAUNCHED A MILLION PIZZAS: Cartoonist Gill Fox passed away at the age of 88 earlier this month. While his name won't be familiar to most and a the good share of his life's work is unheralded, buried all the way in the sixth paragraph of his obituary is the news that Fox is the man responsible for one of the enduring icons of the later half of the 20th century: "Examples of his line drawing and advertising illustration include the betoqued chef, winking and making an A-OK sign, who was nearly ubiquitous on pizza boxes in the 1980's."

Tonight, please raise a slice and honor Gill Fox.
YES, BUT FROM HERE HE'S GOING TO SKADDEN: Submitted for your amusement is this month's version of the I Can't Believe Someone In A Law Firm Wrote This, So Now I'm Forwarding It Around To Everyone I Know e-mail.

It comes to us from the San Diego branch office of a major West Coast-based law firm, and it goes a little something like this:
As many of you are aware, today is my last day at the firm. It is time for me to move on and I want you to know that I have accepted a position as "Trophy Husband". This decision was quite easy and took little consideration. However, I am confident this new role represents a welcome change in my life and a step up from my current situation. While I have a high degree of personal respect for [Name] as a law firm, and I have made wonderful friendships during my time here, I am no longer comfortable working for a group largely populated by gossips, backstabbers and Napoleonic personalities. In fact, I dare say that I would rather be dressed up like a piƱata and beaten than remain with this group any longer. I wish you continued success in your goals to turn vibrant, productive, dedicated associates into an aimless, shambling group of dry, lifeless husks.

May the smoke from any bridges I burn today be seen far and wide.

Respectfully submitted,


Details deleted just because, well, you never know how legit one of these things is.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

HUNG WANKENSTEIN, MOULIN SPLOOGE, AND H.R. MUFF N' STUFF: That's just a taste of what you'll find on the list of The 100 Worst Porn Movie Titles. (Note: Kind of safe for work. I mean there's no pictures other than a couple of pornographic cartoons, including a X-rated take on Hello Kitty. Listen, you know where you work better than I do. Use some judgment. If you think this kind of thing will reflect poorly on you in the workplace then show some restraint and wait until you get home. If your boss and co-workers, however, enjoy a good laugh, then click away.)

(Link via the guy last spotted singing "Almost Paradise" with Kate Lee on karaoke night.)
WELL, STILL BETTER THAN UPN: Sadly, while I was away, I missed network up-front season, where new shows are announced and cancellations are confirmed. I'm only mildly ashamed to admit that there are a couple of shows I watch on the WB. "Everwood" and "Gilmore Girls" are both (at least when they're at their best) among the best television has to offer. In particular, the way both shows have dealt with teenagers and sex this year has been both memorable and excellent. Thus, I'm saddened to see that the WB will offer the following new shows next year:

"Blue Collar TV" (Wednesday at 9): Taking a "Blue Collar" perspective, each show begins with a standup routine by Jeff Foxworthy. The rest of the episode then continues with skits based on the them set up at the beginning.

"Commando Nanny" (Friday at 8:30): A 20-year-old ex-commando for the British Special Forces moves to Beverly Hills and takes a job as a nanny for three spoiled rich kids.

Other low-lights:

"Wife Swap" (ABC, Wednesdays, 10 PM): Another British import, this one swaps the matriarch of two families for 10 days. For the first half, the women must follow the established rules of the house and family they're now responsible. For the second half, they get to do things their way.

"dr. vegas" (CBS, Fridays, 10 PM): Rob Lowe and Joe Pantoliano star in a cut-rate ripoff of "Las Vegas." Lowe's the casino doctor, and Joey P is the bouncer.

"Father of the Pride" (NBC, Tuesdays, 9 PM): The CGI animated comedy about a family of lions who work in Siegfried and Roy's Vegas show. No word on if there will be any maulings.

And the few new shows I'm actually looking forward to:

"Lost" (ABC, Wednesdays, 8 PM): A group of survivors of a plane crash must make a new life for themselves on a desert island. From J.J. Abrams, wunderkind behind "Alias."

"The Practice: Fleet Street" (ABC, Sundays, 10 PM): Spader + Shatner = Gold.

"The Jury" (FOX, Tuesdays, 9 PM): Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana (creators of the brilliant "Homicide) take on a new style of crime drama--this one told from the point f view of the jury.

"Jack and Bobby" (The WB, Sundays, 9 PM): An eccentric single mother raises two boys, one of whom is destined to become President of the United States--the story is split between now and the future. From Greg Berlanti and Mickey Liddell ("Everwood"), political thriller author Brad Meltzer, and directing wunderkind Tommy Schlamme.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

THANK YOU, DISILLUSIONMENT: An item I've been meaning to mention for a few weeks -- I think we've found one of the finalists in the 2004 competition for Best Political Column Invoking The Lyrics Of Alanis Morrisette. (Yes, I know you've been concerned about the lack of entries to-date.)

Former Oregon labor commissioner Jack Roberts' May 11 column in The Oregonian tackled once-beloved former Portland mayor Neal Goldschmidt, his recently revealed hidden "relationship" with a 14-year-old girl back in the 1970s (please, can we call it what it was -- child molestation?), and Morrisette's unfortunately ignored 2002 single, "Hands Clean". Somehow, he pulls it off. Good writing.
YEAH, YEAH, YEAH YEAH YEAH: Fantasia won, and all is right with the world. While the show has had better pure singers before, no one had ever made the kinds of emotional connections with the audience as she did in her performances, and tonight's finale capped it.

(Credit to Alan Sepinwall of the Newark Star-Ledger, by the way, for predicting back in March that "the winner of this year's contest will either be an R&B diva or a teen pop starlet", based on placement in the wild card round.)

But, seriously, seeing Matt Rogers on stage again? What. A. Douchebag.
I'LL SEE YOU UP THERE: One more note on this week's Sopranos, which I rewatched earlier tonight: man, Michael Imperioli put in a hell of a performance. Christopher goes through a lot of emotions in a short time, often without words, and he pulls it off, perfectly.
A BAD WEEK FOR VERMONT: It's been a bad year in general for the Green Mountain State, what with the whole Howard Dean thing, but Vermont seems to be taking it on the chin this week, in particular.

First, the entire state was a placed on the list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2004, due to an invasion of Wal-Marts and other "big box" retailers. (Closer to this blogger's home, the majestic Cook County Hospital made the list. Perhaps it could be converted into a Wal-Mart?)

And then comes the news that after 21 years, Vermont's favorite sons, Phish, are reeling it in for good after this summer's tour. The band's last show (before the inevitable comeback tour slated for the summer of 2007, that is) will be a festival in its home state, where you can expect to see many people claiming to suffer from glaucoma.
YOU'RE OUT OF ORDER: Who better than a bunch of lawyers to choose Hollywood's best closing argument (Gregory Peck in "To Kill a Mockingbird"), best cross examination (Tom Cruise in "A Few Good Men") and the best performances in a few other courtroom cinematic categories? Any legal favorites they overlooked? You know the drill: Use the comments.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

IF THERE'S ONE THING AMERICA NEEDS, IT'S MORE LAWYERS: Slightly belated congratulations to Scott and Matt of Life, Law, Libido, who graduated from law school this weekend.

Good luck on bar prep, guys. It's the last test you ever have to take.
AND IF YOU SHOULD FALL, REMEMBER, YOU ALMOST HAD IT ALL: Yeah, Diana kinda had problems during her last song, in the same way that Roseanne Barr once had problems with the National Anthem. It just wasn't there.

Lookit: I've been a Fantasia fan since early on, and she has impressed me time after time, even with some weird genre selections. I thought she did as best as she could with Tamyra's attempt to out-Diane Warren Diane Warren, and infused every song with her own personality and unique style.

The D.I.A.N.A. bot never did it for me. It always felt too rehearsed, too controlled, and I never felt much personality from her. Great voice, but she belongs on Broadway as Belle in Beauty and the Beast, not as America's Next Pop Superstar. That is what we're voting for, right?

I do want to agree with Ann Althouse on one thing: Fantasia's good, but she's no Frenchie Davis. Or Tamyra Gray. But unlike Ruben Studdard, who's just as talented, she brought it every week to the show, and never coasted on charisma. (That said, maybe the answer is to not have judges at all for the final night, and just trust the people to decide.)

This was not the deepest pool of singers we've ever seen. I miss Scooter Girl, Lisa Leuschner and Bree. I wish there had been a more talented group of men this year, as opposed to the novelty acts they advanced to the round of 12. There weren't a lot of people in this pool who were close to the level of previous winners -- it was just a matter of time before Fantasia and someone made it to the finals.

Compare that to America's Next Next Top Model from this winter, in which any of the final six (Camille, April, Mercedes, Sara, Mercedes and Yoanna) could conceivably have won the whole thing, and each of the competitors had to fight for her slot every single week. By that standard, this season of AI was a disappointment.

Truthfully, I don't think of American Idol as "reality" tv. It's just a talent show, and this season, dawg, it was just a'ight. It did its thing, yo, but didn't blow me away.
CIRCUS LIFE, UNDER THE BIG TOP WORLD: This hasn't been a good week for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

First, aerial acrobat Dessi Espana fell 35 feet to her death during a stunt in front of a St. Paul crowd on Saturday.

Then today came word that Spanky the Clown (real name: Thomas Riccio) was arrested as part of a online child pornography investigation. Now, I don't like engaging in stereotypes too often, but if ever there was a clown who just looked like a child-molesting pervert, it's this guy.
12. THEY REALLY DO CALL IT A ROYALE WITH CHEESE: In closing of my European coverage, I give you "20 Things I Learned In Europe."

1. I've softened my verdict on "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." While the show needs tweaks--the "Child Catcher" character should probably be eliminated altogether, and in order to get Kristin Chenowith to play Truly, which the producers allegedly want, they need to tweak and expand the role considerably. The songs do stick in your head, though, which is the basic start for a show.

2. Courtesy of Rupert Murdoch's flagship paper, "The Sun," an important journalistic lesson--the correct use of the word "funbags" in a sentence. "Glamour Girl Jordan admits that her massive funbags are sagging."

3. Julia Stiles is really freakin' tall (almost as tall as I am, at 6 foot 2). And her performance in the London revival of "Oleanna" opposite Aaron Eckhart as an angry undergraduate student proves that she's probably the best young actress out there right now. Eckhart's quite good, but he's a spitter. I was sitting in the front row, and I think he almost spat on me a couple of times--there was, indeed, visible spit throughout.

4. Bizarre moment of the trip: When at Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guard, the military band closed with a medley of "How Deep Is Your Love," "Tragedy," and "Grease." The medley went on for nearly 20 minutes. Apparently, the Queen had left a little earlier, so perhaps the band decided to cut loose as a result.

5. Sadly, the press here in the U.S. did not pick up on the "Luke Perry Saves The Day" story that got much play in the UK. I did not suffer through "When Harry Met Sally," but apparently, the ceiling started falling, and Perry broke character and helped with the evacuation of the theatre. No word on if Alyson Hannigan managed to use her magical witch powers to reinforce the ceiling.

6. Biggest ripoff? The London Dungeon, a 13 pound "museum," that amounts to a series of bad actors screaming in a low-rent variation of the Madame Tussaud's "chamber of horrors." Yes, there was a neat fire effect at one point, but for the most part, bad acting, poor attempts at frightening an audience, and just pathetic.

7. Brush with major current event #1: I was walking past Westminster and the Houses of Parliament on the afternoon when Tony Blair was attacked with flour filled condoms by "Fathers For Justice."

8. My reaction to the Victoria and Albert Museum?--"Yes, that's another very nice silver pitcher. And another very nice silver platter. Yes, and another one!"

9. If my trips to the various modern art museums in London and Paris taught me only one thing, it's that perhaps our definition of "art" has become a little too expansive. I'll soon be selling the first of my masterpieces--"Dr Pepper in Plexiglas," in which I pour Dr Pepper into a Plexiglas vase, dump a box of styrofoam peanuts in it, and blow it up. The video loop plays in a darkened room as a powerful statement of the meaninglessness of consumerism.

10. "Jerry Springer: The Opera" is brilliantly funny, though I'm not sure how long it can last over here--I'm not sure that the lyrics "This is my Jerry Springer moment/I don't want this moment to end/So dip me in chocolate/and feed me to the lesbians" followed by a tap dancing line of (fully robed) KKK members is going to fly, and the "f**ked in the ass with barbed wire!" chorus is not exactly going to replace the Hallelujah chorus.

11. I passed on "We Will Rock You," the story of Gallileo Figaro, who fights on Planet Mall to show the people how to rock again, with, of course, the music of Queen as his guide, and "Tonight's The Night: The Rod Stewart Musical," which apparently involves a girl named Maggie May. There's also "Jailhouse Rock," the stage version of the Elvis film.

12. In France, they do, in fact, call it a Royale with Cheese. However, McNuggets are McNuggets everywhere, and are not McDelicious anywhere.

13. Yes, Jen's books were available in better bookstores in both England and France. I'm now kicking myself, because I could have picked up Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim, David Sedaris's new book, not yet available in the States, in England, but didn't, thinking it must be coming out here.

14. Yes, I saw L'Dejuner Sur L'Herbe. It was not the life-changing experience one might expect. In fact, I preferred some of the sculpture in the Orsay to the work by Manet.

15. I didn't particularly care for many of the Paris museums (particularly Versailles and the Louvre) were the massive tour groups that liked to stand in doorways and around major pieces and stare. These were often Japanese grandmothers with little earpieces in their ears, so they could hear their guide, who was speaking rapid-fire Japanese into a handmike.

16. I also really don't understand the allure of taking pictures of famous artworks. "Oooh! Look, here's my shaky photo of the 'Mona Lisa!' And here's a picture that's half my thumb and half of 'The Raft of the Medusa!'"

17. My general response to Paris: "Yes, that is a very nice ceremonial garden."

18. Tip: When going up the Eiffel Tower, bring a sweater. It was a gorgeous day when I went up, but suddenly, there were a number of gusts of wind, and it gets quite cold. Add to this my moderately severe case of vertigo, and it was perhaps not the most fun experience in the world.

19. My hotel in Paris had two English-language (or close enough) channels. One was CNN International, and the other was German MTV. And honestly, you haven't lived till you've attempted to watch "The Osbournes" in English with German subtitles. If only I read German, I assuredly could finally have answered two questions--first, what the hell is Ozzy saying, and second, what exactly is the vernacular German for certain curse words?

20. Brush with history #2: I flew out of Charles De Gaulle this morning, two terminals down from the one where the roof collapsed. Don't worry--I was at no risk, but I did learn that Paris' airport personnel are almost as friendly as those in New York and efficient as those in Dallas.
MAKE SURE YOUR INSURANCE IS PAID UP: If you live in Dallas and drive a 1995 Saturn SL .
TRUE PATRIOT LOVE: The sporting world is abuzz over tonight's opening of the Stanley Cup Finals. Actually it should be a great series, but even as a hockey fan and a person that covers the sport, it's hard to get fired up over a Calgary vs. Tampa Bay matchup. (Well, it seems some people are excited by it.) Since this is the first Finals series in a decade to feature a Canadian club, ESPN's Page 2 has a list today of the Ten Greatest Canadians. Some may quibble with the exclusion of Dr. Frederick Banting, a Nobel Prize winner who was the first researcher to treat diabetes with insulin, in favor of the rock band the Tragically Hip, or wrestler Bret Hart making the list over James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, but at least Celine Dion, Bryan Adams, and Tom Green fell short.
OH, I, I'M STILL ALIVE: Apologies for the lack of European cultural coverage over the past week and a half. It's surprisingly hard to find good and affordable Internet access overseas. Coverage of various European cultural issues will follow tonight, once I plow through the nearly 1,000 pieces of Spam sitting in my magic Yahoo in-box.

Monday, May 24, 2004

I'M A SOLDIER. YOU GOTTA REMEMBER THAT: In a season filled of grade-A episodes, last night's Sopranos may well be the pinnacle. But to say anything about its substance might ruin it for others, so let's save that for the Comments.

Every once in a while, a show can start off on a high level like this -- the creator has a vision, and takes his or her time to work things through and present interesting themes through a core set of characters. Think about ER's first two seasons, or Homicide: Life on the Streets. But to be at this level in the fifth season, in every episode? Extraordinary. Truly television at its best.
SAD: Doug Pappas, staff writer for Baseball Prospectus, blogger and one of the nation's top analysts of the business of baseball, died of heat prostration while hiking in Big Bend National Park on Friday. His BP colleague Joe Sheehan has more thoughts.

I only knew Doug via his writing, and he had no peer in deciphering and explaining the economic and labor issues central to our national pastime. We will feel his absence every time a franchise claims to need more taxpayer subsidies, and every time Bud Selig cries for pity. He will be missed.
MAD TAKES ON THE ONION: And it's actually funny.
KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD AND YOUR HANDS UPON THE WHEEL: When the traffic on the autobahn is backed up, German motorists don't think so much about getting off the highway as they think about getting off, according to an important new survey. A third of German drivers in traffic jams distract themselves with thoughts of sex, while 10% think about trying to find a quicker route, another 10% think about their families, 8% worry about their gas, and 7% percent fixate on shopping lists or going to the bathroom or damaging their clutch. (Link via Best Week Ever.)

In other news from the open road, a British road-safety group has tagged Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" as the most dangerous music to listen to when behind the wheel, while Norah Jones' "Come Away With Me" is the most soothing road music. Here's the top five in each category:
Most dangerous: 1. Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries. 2. The Dies Irae from Verdi's Requiem. 3. Firestarter by the Prodigy. 4. Red Alert by Basement Jaxx. 5. Insomnia by Faithless.

Most soothing: 1. Come Away With Me by Nora Jones. 2. Mad World by Gary Jules. 3. Another Day by Lemar. 4. Too Lost in You by The Sugababes. 5. Breathe Easy by Blue.
(Thanks to Daniel Radosh, whose New Yorker story on a literary agent and the bloggers she loves is all the rage today, for the tip.)
From today's New York Post:
"Roger Ebert generally is considered one of the film world's greatest commentators. But the Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago Sun-Times film critic and co-host of the syndicated television program "Ebert & Roeper" also has a keen eye for investing.

Ebert was an early investor in search and advertising giant Google, according to the company's Securities and Exchange Commission filings. He and his wife Chaz were part of an elite group of Series B investors that included founder and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos, Sun Microsystems co-founder Andreas Bechtolsheim and noted Silicon Valley attorney Larry Sonsini."

From Ebert's review of "ALONG CAME A SPIDER" (2001):
"As Cross and Flannigan follow leads, we also see the kidnapper and his victim, and are filled with admiration for her imagination; she is able to escape, set fires, swim toward shore and perform other feats far more difficult than a Google search."
"A Google search turns up 524,000 Web sites using "redneck"--amazingly, two and a half times as many as those using the n-word."
"THE CORE" (2003):
"So rare is this substance that a Google search reveals only 8,060 sites selling Unobtainium ski gear, jackets, etc."
"Strangely enough, her name is not included on the movie's official Web site, or in the Internet Movie Database, and it is a measure of her unknown status that even Google, mightiest of the search engines, turns up absolutely no references to her.