Friday, June 25, 2004

I FEEL THE TEMPERATURE RISING: As referenced below, I did go to see "Fahrenheit 9/11" this evening. After shooting down the couple sitting next to me's argument that the movie would be "the biggest movie worldwide ever. They asked me for my view, and I said that I doubted it would surpass the record held by "Titanic." It's a provocative film, and a good one, but I think it's not as good as "Bowling for Columbine" was. My problems with the film:

1. Moore (as he often does) makes mountains out of molehills. He points to the blacking-out of a name in Bush's military records and uses this to build a chain "proving" that Bush and Bin Laden have certain ties. Now, there's a strong case to be made on that front without that leap of logic. Moore's case would be stronger if he states his best evidence and stops, rather than stretching his case to the next step.

2. While the "before the cameras really roll" footage of Bush and other administration officials is effective (and funny), I'd bet dollars to donuts that there's similarly embarassing footage out there of Clinton-era officials. While I understand that the film's one-sided and argumentive, this struck me as a little bit disingenuous.

3. Ultimately, while the anti-Bush message of the film comes across clearly, I'm not sure if the film ultimately will motivate people to vote for Kerry and other Democrats, or whether it will just rile up folks and make them angry at politics all together. The film's opening scene is effectively "Democratic Senators lack courage!," which is perhaps not the best message when the Presidential nominee is a Democratic Senator. Later on, there's a "where were the Democrats?" segment. I hope and believe that Moore is firmly behind Kerry, but I'm worried that the movie isn't sending that message clearly enough.

4. Ultimately, "Bowling for Columbine" asks tough questions about "us." Are "we" at fault for violence in America? What can "we" do to change things? On the other hand, "Fahrenheit 9/11" simply pounds one answer into the viewer's head--"Bush bad!" That's far less provocative filmmaking.

5. The film is preaching to the choir, and while the choir needs to be preached to, I'm not sure that's good politics at that point, and it's certainly not challenging art.

That said, it's worth seeing, and raises provocative questions and issues, but I just wish it were even better.

To add one more thing--despite Moore's whining, the film deserves its "R" rating. In addition to a sequence where the "Roof is On Fire!" chant is delivered (uncensored), there are multiple fairly gory moments, including surgery film and battered and bloodied people. Then again, I can't imagine your average 15 year-old wanting to see, much less sneak into, the movie, so who knows?

Addendum (6/26): Being at work today reminded me that during one of the early interviews, with a retired FBI counterterrorism specialist, I couldn't help but be drawn to the bookshelf in Moore's offices, where I noticed "Nimmer on Copyright" sitting there. God, I'm pathetic.
DOES THIS MEAN IT'S NOT A "WHITE SHOE FIRM" ANYMORE? According to this story, NYC legal behemoth Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen, and Katz has elected its first African-American partner. The truly disturbing fact? The guy claims to have billed an average of 3,400 hours a year to clients for each of the past 7 years. I was pretty busy last year, and billed just over 2,100 hours. If that's what partnership there takes, I think I'll pass.
PHILM - THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK: I did love Pitch Black, and was surprised to enjoy the supremely silly XXX back in summer 2002, but The Chronicles of Riddick has to be the worst-conceived sequel since Highlander II, and the most disappointing summer blockbuster I've seen since Dude, Where's My Dragon? Pitch Black was character-driven. XXX was funny. Chronicles, however, is just a bad, bad action movie.

The plot is approximately two-thirds of Conan The Barbarian, chromed-out and heaved unceremoniously into a rapidly decaying orbit. We have an impossibly muscle-bound and totally unstoppable barbarian warrior up against a mysterious death cult and its supernatural leader, running into the teeth of the cult's legions on the strength of a legend that one from his tribe ("Furians" ... ugh) is destined to destroy the bad guy. The details -- and there are plenty -- that embroider this outline are arbitrary to the point of being totally unmotivated, as if the production team storyboarded the action sequences and then sent them off to Ye Olde CGI Shoppe thinking they'd just throw a plot around them sometime later on.

I might have forgiven the ridiculously convoluted story if the production had sported a sharp, rich, coherent and compelling production design like that in, say, The Fifth Element. (Just to be clear, by "compelling production design" I do not mean "Milla Jovovich wearing nothing but orange suspenders", though that was pretty hard to argue with.) But Chronicles' aesthetic is as jumbled and inexplicable as its so-called story, melding the worst elements of the Sci-fi Channel's Dune miniseries with costumes -- particularly the bad-guy armor -- that look like they were rejected from LOTR or remaindered from a defunct Glen Danzig fansite.

The last hope, as this is an action flick, is the action, but unfortunately there's no there, there either. The fights are turbulent, blurred, close and quick-cut in that all too common style that recalls the still images of a superhero comic book without being nearly as compelling. The larger action sequences are simply larger, not better in any noticeable way, so the whole thing just lies there like a tired old balloon with nothing to inflate it.

Now, this may strike some as a strange thing to say, but I had come to expect better from Vin Diesel.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

ITUNES INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM: Shockingly, Wonkette, in her frenzy to cover "Fahrenheit 9/11" and Dick Cheney using FCC-banned profanity, missed a golden opportunity--to observe what people downloading Bill Clinton's "My Life" off iTunes are also buying--sadly, they don't name precise tracks or albums, just artists, but here's the list (as of now): Ray Charles, PJ Harvey, Black Eyed Peas, Avril Lavigne, George Michael, Bebel Gilberto (a Brazilian singer), Alanis Morissette, Velvet Revolver, Beastie Boys, Al Franken, Dan Brown, Michael Moore, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Bob Woodward. Speculate as you will about what this might indicate about the demographic buying Bill's book. I will say it was apparently sold out at my local wholesale club--or at least it wasn't in the book aisle.
TODAY'S SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE: Yes, according to Box Office Mojo, America has a new number #1 movie--"White Chicks," the farce in which esteemed actors Marlon and Shawn Wayans play FBI agents who must go undercover as thinly-veiled clones of Paris and Nicky Hilton.

A related runner-up: You can, in fact, pre-order from Amazon both Paris Hilton's book Confessions of an Heiress: A Tongue-In-Cheek Peek Behind The Pose, and the book "written by" Tinkerbell Hilton, Paris' dog, and titled The Tinkerbell Diaries: My Life Tailing Paris Hilton.
MY TURN TO FEEL OLD: My workplace is a "business casual" one, which is great, especially in the summer, when it gets quite hot in the city. Of course, there are times we have to break out the suits, most typically, when we're going to court. I've been instructed I may be going down to court tomorrow to provide assistance on a matter--hence, the suit must be broken out. Now, ordinarily, this wouldn't be a problem, but I have tickets to see "Fahrenheit 9/11" tomorrow night, and am now considering just how much of a tool I'm going to look like walking into that theatre with a business suit on.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

A MOLE ON HIS NOSE? As noted by C. Sicha, today's Black Table reviews "entirely subjective list of major influences to what We Find Funny", those comedic cornerstones upon which is based everything we find funny today.

I want to add one to the list -- which, despite citing Self-Referential, Self-Important Mopey Boy, is a valiant effort, a television show that, I'd argue, set the stage for all the irony, self-referentialism and meta-ness to follow.

That's Moonlighting.

Moonlighting was the show that introduced me to the edges of the fourth wall. It demonstrated that silliness and drama could co-exist, that if a show wanted to just do "Taming of the Shrew" one week it just had to decide to do it, and trusted its audience to follow along.

From the Museum of Television and Radio's website, acting all smarty-smart:
Additionally, in many episodes, protagonists Maddie and David break the theatrical "fourth wall" convention with self-reflexive references to themselves as actors in a television program or to the commercial nature of the television medium. Such metatextual practices are techniques of defamiliarization which, according to certain formalist critical theories, epitomize the experience and purpose of art; they jar viewers out of the complacent, narcotizing pleasure of familiar forms and invite them to question and appreciate the artistic possibilities and limitations of generic forms. Moonlighting's use of these metatextual practices signifies its recognition of the traditions that have shaped it and its self-conscious comments on its departure from those traditions--characteristics typically attributed to works regarded as highly artistic.

Arguably, "It's Garry Shandling's Show" did it better, but it had to start somewhere.

(Of course, the show also introduced the world to Bruce Willis, and I'd argue that's a net positive.)
FREEWAYS, CARS, AND TRUCKS: The Chicago Tribune has a story (actually it is syndicated from "Tribune Newspapers," much like 75% of the paper on any given day) lamenting the demise of road songs, which includes a list of the top 25 road songs of all time. With its emphasis on songs from the 60s and 70s, such as "Born to Run," "Take It Easy," "America," and my four-year-old son's favorite Tom Waits song, "Ol' 55," the list backs up the main story's central premise: "Fading from popular music is the body of imagery, the poetic conventions that evoke the Mythic American Road."

Anyone heard any good road songs lately? We've got some driving coming up in July and August, and I'd love to put together a good road mix. Of course the perennial favorites will be there, but it'd be fun to get some lost classics or overlooked contemporary songs. And yes, "Windfall," will be track No. 1.
NEXT, WE'LL BE SEEING THE "GARY COLEMAN DEFENSE:" Spurred by this opinion which discusses at some length the "Sergeant Schultz Defense," in which a party claims to be unaware of something despite all evidence to the contrary, I'd like to propose a few other defenses.

The "Mike LaFontaine Defense"--In products liability cases, a way of expressing utter shock about how a product responded to unusual situations, simply by asking "Wha' Happened?"

The "Clara Peller Defense"--When a plaintiff is unable to present a sufficient case, the defense responds with one simple question--"Where's The Beef?"

The "Chico and the Man Defense"--Where an individual is sued for failing to undertake a certain responsibility, his response is simply "It's not my job!"

The "Family Feud Defense"--In a trademark case, where a survey is the most critical evidence, the judge simply shouts "Survey Says!" and waits for the buzzer or bell to sound.

Other creative defenses? You know what to do.
THERE'S NO EARTHLY WAY OF KNOWING: Not only did I call the top song on the AFI list, but, on the flipisde not one of the other songs I referenced yesterday's post made it to the top 100.

(Not even "Hooray for Captain Spaulding". Among the other biases I cover below, it was an anti-comedy compilation.)

As you can see from the full list, there's a lot of Garland/Minnelli, a lot of Streisand, and much less Disney and Elvis than I would have expected. No "Circle of Life"? No "Be Our Guest", no "Under The Sea", no "Heigh Ho", no whiny immigrant mouse song?

It's an odd list in several ways. By including songs so many songs previously written for Broadway or popularized elsewhere ("It Had To Be You", "Moon River"), it was unclear what the real criteria was. (According to the press release, factors were to include cultural impact, legacy and "music and lyrics . . . that set a tone or mood, define character, advance plot and/or express the film's themes in a manner that elevates the moving image art form".)

Because if one were to focus on songs written for that movie and based on impact in that movie, then works like "I'm Easy" (Nashville) and "Suicide Is Painless" (M*A*S*H) would've been higher, "Eye of the Tiger" and "In Your Eyes" would've made the cut and Fame's "Is It Okay If I Call You Mine?" would've . . . naah, it still wouldn't have.

A few other notes for now:
--If there were an Internet in the 1930s, there would have been a whole host of Shirley Temple Turns Legal Countdown websites, no?

--Could they have found someone other than Michael Feinstein to comment on every song from the b&w era?

--Not surprisingly, the list was deeply anti-contemporary. No Prince. Nothing from South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. Nothing from Top Gun. Nothing from O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and nothing from a John Hughes or Cameron Crowe film.

--I got no quarrel with any of the songs in the top ten. I might've changed them around, but they're all worthy. (That said, Paul Robeson's "Ol Man River"? Chills. Top five.)

--And there were some great musical numbers that got ignored -- "Say A Little Prayer" from My Best Friend's Wedding, "I'm Through With Love" from Everyone Says I Love You and Beetlejuice's "Day-O" to name three. (Again, what were the real standards here?).

We're fortunate that there have been so many great movie songs that you could come up with a list of 100 different songs, and it'd still be three great hours of television.

But seriously, how can you have a list of 100 top movie songs and not include a single song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Who can take a sunrise . . .

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

SHE'S JUST PREPPING FOR HER NEW ROLE IN EATING OUT: A MUSICAL JOURNEY THROUGH ANOREXIA REHAB: As Defamer and CNN both report, Mary-Kate Olsen has entered rehab for "a health-related issue." Sources close to the twins confirm that it's anorexia. No word yet on whether this finally settles the dispute, stemming back to their 1993 album, over which one is the cute one.

(Seriously for a moment, anorexia and other eating disorders are terrible illnesses, and I'm glad that a celebrity is willing to both own up to the existence of such a disorder and get help for it while in the limelight.)
LONDON CALLING: The Observer picks The 100 Greatest British Albums, and all the usual suspects from ABC and Astral Weeks to Zep and Ziggy Stardust are there. No. 1 is an upset, as it comes from a Manchester, and not a Liverpool, Fab Four. Weep not, Beatles fans; the band places albums at Nos. 2, 5, 6, 28, and 32. The top 10 lists of various British musicians and whatnots are worth perusing, too.

In other list news, Margaret McGurk, film critic of the Cincinnati Enquirer, picks her 10 Best Film Songs, in anticipation of tonight's AFI special. Let's pray the AFI has the good sense not to pick The Doors' "The End" (Apocalypse Now) as its top pick.

And while in my world, Bill Clinton's My Life is the second-most anticipated release of the day behind Wilco's A Ghost Is Born, you'll want to check out USA Today's examination of past presidential memoirs, which includes to stunningly idiotic observation that "Abe Lincoln is loved for his 300-word Gettysburg Address. He never wrote a memoir."

Monday, June 21, 2004

HOORAY, HOORAY, HOORAH! In honor of Alex's one-year bloggiversary, the American Film Institute proudly presents Tuesday night its seventh annual 100 Years, 100 Something list, taking up three relaxing hours on CBS. If you haven't sat back and watched one of the AFI list shows before, it's just a great night for movie fans.

This year, it's 100 Years, 100 Songs, and while Madonna's "Hanky Panky" (from Dick Tracy) and the Kellerman's Anthem from Dirty Dancing weren't nominated, it's going to be a good night of second-guessing and anticipation. Where will cabaret standard "Through The Eyes Of Love" end up? Was Zimmy's "Things Have Changed" better than "Hooray for Captain Spaulding?" Will "We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)" edge out "Big Bottom"?

For once on an AFI list, I'm not sure which of the 400 nominees is going to win, but if I had to guess, I'd figure your last clip features Judy Garland singing in black-and-white from somewhere resembling Kansas.


(My extensive comments on last year's 100 Years, 100 Heroes & Villains list can be found here.)
CANON FODDER: Pop critic and Adam interviewee Jim Derogatis has a new book out. Kill Your Idols is a collection of critics reconsidering -- or attacking -- the Great Albums canon, both the hipster-certified (Dylan, Young, Sex Pistols, Public Enemy, Wilco) and commercial (Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Springsteen) variants. Apparently nobody was willing to tackle Velvet Underground & Nico or Slanted & Enchanted. Anyway, to sum up some of the highlights, and I must emphasize here that the opinions are not necessarily (and not necessarily not) those of the management:
Pet Sounds: Woof.
Tommy: Why?
Trout Mask Replica: Fishy.
Led Zeppelin IV: Zo-so.
Harvest: Rotten.
Rumors: Heard it already.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: Nonsense.

BUT YOU DON'T REALLY CARE FOR MUSIC, DO YOU? While Adam and Matt were watching movies this weekend, I went to a concert, which, given the fact that I have two kids, live in the suburbs, can't tolerate cigarette smoke anymore and have seen most of the artists I would bother hiring a babysitter and battling traffic etc., to see when said artists were younger and better, in itself is noteworthy.

That said, when you have the chance to see a Ben Folds/Rufus Wainwright twin bill in your backyard, it's hard to pass up. I guess the duo are touring with Guster for most of the summer, but Friday night it was just the two of them, each playing solo sets with nothing but a piano (though Rufus picked up the guitar, too).

Overall a great show, made better by the setting, the takeout sushi we picked up on the way, the commute (we biked), and the babysitter only charging $7/hour. I am a fan, but not a fanatic of either, so I don't feel I can really judge their performances, other than to say, my wife and I, along with everyone else in the park (which seemed to be even split between a fratish crowd for a Folds and fabulous crowd for Rufus) seemed to enjoy themselves. The highlight of Folds' set might have been a spot-on cover of "Careless Whisper," while the moment we were waiting for, Rufus' rendition of "Hallelujah, was a slight disappointment due to Rufus' temporary amnesia when it came to the second verse ("Your faith was strong..."). Still, he recovered nicely and really sold the song, even without the visual punch of, say, a forlorn ogre or mourning press secretary.
A LIST A YEAR: Though the title of this post may refer to my recent input into this collaborative effort, it is actually a reference to my one-year anniversary of entering the blogosiverse. Yes, a year ago (yesterday, actually), I wrote this little item (scroll all the way down) about Jennifer Aniston heading up the Forbes Celebrity 100.

I'd love to offer a long retrospective about my first year in blogging, but I can't imagine that it would even interest the half-dozen or so people who tend to care about what I think about such things. Still, it's been a fun year, I guess, highlighted by my blog's merger, which brought me here. To those of you who have been reading my musings on lists and whatnot, thank you. I look forward to another year of bringing you the same combination of nonsense, and I can't think of a better way to kick that off than with the exciting news that Mel Gibson has replaced Jennifer atop Forbes Celebrity list this year.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

NEXT TIME ON THE APPRENTICE -- TRUMP'S NEPHEW COMPETES: Prof. Yin wasn't too bothered by the "Last Comic Standing" judging brouhaha previously mentioned on these pages, saying it "turned out to be much ado about nothing. At least, the producers were able to make it look that way" based on Drew Carey's apparent mollification after having it explained to him that, no, he was just a "judge", but not a real judge.

As edited by the show's producers, he seemed satisfied. But in real life, however, he called the show "crooked and dishonest" several weeks later. Somehow, I don't trust the producers' edit on this show.

And, really, have you ever seen a disclaimer for a legitimate competition containing language like this?
Prior to the start of the contestant selection process, some talent scouts had various levels of familiarity with some auditioning applicants.

Either it's an actual competition, or it's predetermined casting for "Big Brother: The Comic's House", with two of the final ten being managed by one of the show's producers. Make up your mind, Jay Mohr.

Also, just as the sequel to "America's Next Top Model" should've been named "America's Next Next Top Model" or "Seriously, Dude, Where's America's Next Top Model?", shouldn't season two of this show be "The Penultimate Comic Standing", "One Comic's Still Standing" or something?