Saturday, July 10, 2004

WIGGLE 'TIL YOU VOMIT FIRE: The Palm Beach Post went list-crazy on the music scene last week -- 50 worst songs by great rock and roll artists (re U2's "Numb": "At the time, people probably enjoyed the avant-garde-ness of it all," muses Jonathan Tully, but, um, no, we really didn't), 50 greatest rock intros (no "Crazy Train"?), and the 50 best (and worst) songs with "rock" in the title, a list which, shockingly, omits Freddie Jackson's "Rock Me Tonight". Go figure.
I AM THE GIRL YOU KNOW SO SICK I CANNOT TRY: I hate to repeat myself, but the Courtney Love saga has clearly transitioned from occasional schadenfreude to something really sad and desperate, and I would much rather everyone left her alone for a few years -- or forever -- to clean up her life rather than have to read more articles like this.

I don't find this stuff amusing any more. Poor Frances Bean.

Friday, July 9, 2004

STAY CLASSY, BLOG READERS! "Anchorman" has a lot of funny stuff in it, to be sure, but it suffers from a key problem--it feels like a sketch. There's no real plot momentum or growth in any of the characters, and hell, there's not really that much of a plot at all. Most of the characters are one-dimensional (albeit funny). It's a sharp contrast to "Mean Girls," where Fey makes clear that she has learned how to structure a story while still letting her do her thing. Ferrell and Co. are just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. Fortunately, a lot of it does, and that portion of it that does is quite funny--just don't go in expecting a plot.
I WANT TO BE YOUR MAN IN MOTION: I was looking at VH1's list of "Awesomely Bad Songs", and while some of the choices decidedly hold water, I want to suggest two they missed without good reason.

First, while "Broken Wings" does appear on the list, this song simply must be replaced by Mr. Mister's other (bigger) hit, "Kyrie." What truly makes it hysterical is taking the somber Latin chant "kyrie eleison" ("Lord have mercy upon us") and turning it into a power-pop hook, with the following chorus:

Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel
Kyrie eleison, through the darkness of the night
Kyrie eleison, where I'm going will you follow
Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light

Unintentional hysteria and inappropriate fist-pumping ensues. (I'm also reminded of the alumnus of my undergrad who proudly announced in the alumni magazine's "class notes" that he had recently finished his graduate dissertion, "Winger-ed Migration," which lamented the death of the "Power Ballad" in American music.)

But the truly most awesomely bad song ever? That honor is reserved for John Parr for the "classic" "St. Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion)." (Not to be confused with the instrumental "Love Theme From St. Elmo' Fire," subsequently covered by John Tesh.) Powerful 80s keyboard riff to start song followed by "wah-wah" guitar riff? Check. Random shouting of title of movie in which song is featured? Check. Painful over-emoting by singer? Check. Lyrics with inane inspirational phrases like "Play the game! You know you can't quit until it's won!?" Check. Unforunate potential venereal disease reference at end of song ("I can feel it burning!")? Check. Yeah, and I've got it on my iPod.

In the category of "strange music," though, I think the topper is the version of "Rainy Day Women #12 and #35" that showed up on the radio when I was tooling around New Jersey last weekend. Apparently, Dylan's repeated references to "getting stoned" were deemed inappropriate by the artisst who was covering it, so instead, the artist substituted "tortured" for "stoned." Somehow, the lyric "everybody must get tortured" lacks a certain suitability for a relaxing weekend.
NERD ALERT: Last year, we introduced you to Sho Yano, the 12-year-old college graduate set to enter the joint MD/PhD program at The University of Chicago.

A year later, the Chicago Tribune Magazine checks in on Yano, and while I'm generally opposed to advancing kids this far beyond their years, a fellow prodigy makes a good point:
Balamurali Ambati graduated from high school at 11, earned his bachelor's degree in biology from New York University at 13, graduated from Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York at 17 and went on to a residency at Harvard in ophthalmology. He's still listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest person ever to become a doctor.

As in Sho's case, Ambati and his parents were harshly criticized all along the way. "The hardest part about it was convincing people to let me do it," he says. "There was a lot of administrative inertia. A lot of people didn't want this to happen . . . . When people win an Olympic gold medal at 14, they're celebrated," he observes. "But excellence in academics unfortunately is not valued."

Meanwhile, other former prodigies quoted in the article have used their talents towards other ends.
WE INTERRUPT OUR NORMAL PROGRAMMING TO BRING YOU THIS UPDATE: From Bashman comes the sad news that a person you've probably never heard of (unless you're as a big an Establishment Clause geek as I am) has passed away--Sidney Schempp. Schempp has one and only one claim to fame--she was the plaintiff in Abington School District v. Schempp, the 1963 Supreme Court case that struck down mandatory bible reading in schools. Sadly, her name isn't as well-known as other plaintiffs who made their way to the court, like Ernesto Miranda, Clarence Earl Gideon, and Linda Brown, but the case contains one of my favorite judicial opinions of all time--Justice Brennan's concurrence. Scroll down in that report, and read it--it's longer than the majority opinion, but it's passionate, scholarly, and well-reasoned--everything that a judicial opinion should be. You can almost feel Justice Brennan's struggle between the principles of law and his own committed Catholicism leap off the page. It's the kind of writing I wish we had more of today on our federal bench. Return to snarkiness will follow later this afternoon.

Thursday, July 8, 2004

PUTTING SOME SPRINGA IN YOUR RUMP: Despite all the early outcry, it's official: UPN's "Amish In The City" reality program debuts in three weeks.

Are thee excited? You know, the irony is that none of the principals -- or their families -- are going to be able to watch this show.
THE STATE OF LITERACY: Attention current and prospective parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc., it may have been cute or kitschy to buy the first children's book by the acclaimed author of Sex, but now that she's on No. 3, please just stop it.

While, I recommend Harold and the Purple Crayon, Goodnight Moon, The Little House, or CDB, for the wee folk, one children's book, that, alas, you aren't able to buy outside of an anthology is The Pet Goat, the story that so entranced our president on 9/11. Michael Moore's people should be working hard on publishing a stand-alone movie tie-in version in time for the election.

And please, don't just read to the kids; give the Tivo a rest tonight and pick up a damn book yourself. Just please be careful when using a 90-year-old guide book to navigate in Bavaria.
SOME STIFF COMPETITION FOR OBAMA: Former Chicago Bears coach and current erectile dysfunction drug pusher Mike Ditka is being urged to toss his gum into the Illinois race for U.S. senator, taking the GOP spot recently abandoned by Jack Ryan.

Why Ditka? Well, for one, it seems Da Coach has been giving his fair share of cash to Republicans for a over a decade. Plus, Ditka has shown he isn't afraid to embrace lost causes.

But given Ditka's past pattern of willful ignorance of facts ("I find it hard to believe that people try to shove the secondhand smoke theory down your throat because I don't believe it. I don't believe it even hurts you. It might make your hair smell a little bit, but that's about it.") and his temperament, I have to believe the only pork the coach will be dishing out in the years to come will be at his restaurant.
SO DOES THIS MEAN ALFRED MOLINA IS GOING TO GET TO SING AND DANCE WITH THE TENTACLES? Playbill reports that "Spider-Man: The Musical" is in active development as we speak, with possibly the most bizarre creative team ever. Book by Neil Jordan, Music and Lyrics by Bono and the Edge, and direction by "Lion King" puppet maestro Julie Taymor. I'm drawing the line on seeing it if they don't open or close with a rendition of the classic 60s theme song--"Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Does Whatever a Spider Can/Spins a web, any size!/Catches crooks just like flies/look out! Here comes the Spider-Man!"
WONK'D AGAIN: Greetings to those who have arrived by way of this morning's Wonkette link. We apologize for the general lack of penis jokes and references to sodomy. We're working on it, but you'll have to settle for our brand of pop cultural snark and odd links, like this link to a full-fledged version of Spider-Man 2, in Lego. Reminiscent of my experience seeing the movie, where the dialogue track blew out shortly before the climax.

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

AND THERE WAS MUCH . . . OPPORTUNITY FOR MERCHANDISING TIE-INS: Coming soon to a Broadway stage near you: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, starring the men who voiced Sideshow Cecil and Apu de Beaumarchais, and directed by comedy deity Mike Nichols.
WHAT IS . . . EVEN COOLER? Jeopardy! God Ken Jennings is a TWoP poster (and, seemingly, a pretty friendly one), and also maintains a website with his 10 favorite movies for every year from 1921-2003.

Or, as Frederick Polawatski (Donald Gibb) first exclaimed twenty years ago this month, "NEEEEERRRRRDS!"
IT'S THE FOLLICLES, STUPID: The Two Johns, (a.k.a. The TMBG Ticket) came out swinging today, hitting the Bush-Cheney team where it hurts, right on top of the head:
"We've got better vision, better ideas, real plans, we've got a better sense of what's happening to America and we've got better hair."

Look for the Two Johns to step up the attacks in coming campaign stops by pointing out how they have whiter teeth, fresher breath, and if it comes to it, more down there.

(Of course, the last tactic wasn't enough to push Al Gore over the top in 2000.)
WELL, IF PHIL THROWING AND MICHAEL THINGS RUN AS A PRESIDENTIAL TICKET, WE'RE IN GOOD SHAPE: As the Washington Post reports (link via Volokh), the hot investment today is Kerry/Edwards domain names. The luckiest of them all? Indiana resident Kerry Edwards, who bought his name a couple of years back. So far, the Kerry camp has declined to purchase the domain name, for which he's asking "five figures." The owner of other domain names is demanding similar payment. As a trademark lawyer, I can say that maybe you should have done a domain name search--we always do that as mark clearance just to make sure no one's using your name and causing you to expend more. Of course, then, lord knows what we might have gotten as a VP nominee.
STOPPO, POR FAVOR! Yes, the Race is back. I forgot how much I missed Exposition Hands, The National Greeter, and, God bless 'em, the smartest cameramen in television, who repeatedly spotted missed clue boxes which the racers kept ignoring.

Sides of beef. Games of chance. Ferries, taxis, zip lines, buses and planes. Oh, it's on, and I couldn't be happier.

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

YES, AND I'M CHANGING MY NAME TO C-SPAN 2: Yes, according to this AP story, there are not just one, not just two, but at least three couples who have decided that the appropriate name for their child is "ESPN." I'd like to commend my fellow bloggers on their restraint in not naming their children after their favorite cable network.
MO' SCHMO: Yet another week goes by, and it's quite possible that Joe Schmo 2 is quite possibly the most inventive show on TV. I don't want to spoil things for those of you readers who didn't catch the late night premiere last night (of course, spoiling in the comments is fair game), but like last week, this week's is well worth watching. Two major twists (one involving the falcon and one not) surface, a new player appears, "Meet My Folks" is brutally satirized, and we have (as always) "the most shocking eviction ceremony yet!" The producers work their way out of a jam artfully, and you get a whole new perspective on the "game" as a result. Now, probably not worth skipping TAR for tonight, but pick it up. And a tip for those of you TiVoing or taping the Monday night airing--make sure to pad by at least 15 minutes, since it follows live wrestling, which invariably runs over, and you don't want to miss the promos.
OOPS, I DID IT AGAIN: As if last fall's incident in which it published an editorial lamenting the Boston Red Sox's victory in the ALCS wasn't bad enough, the New York Post has managed a screw-up even more colossal. Though you wouldn't know it from their website (which is running slowly, since they've had to scrub it), the front page of today's Post, still on sale throughout the metro area, proclaims the Post's "exclusive"--"KERRY'S CHOICE: Dem picks Gephardt as VP candidate." Guess we know that's not right as of now. More stories of journalistic reliability as they develop.

Monday, July 5, 2004

"WE NEVER CAUGHT THAT NEXT WAVE": On the heels of their heartbreaking recent article on former DC spelling bee champion Ashley White, featured in Spellbound, today's WaPo catches up with William Gates and Arthur Agee of Hoop Dreams, the documentary ever, period.

While both men have lived more exciting lives than most, in part because of the movie, what's sad about the article is how little their lives seem to have been ultimately changed as a result of appearing in the film, or by basketball success, or anything. You would have hoped that the world to which they were exposed could have made their lives better, but, unfortunately, it doesn't seemed to have elevated them from where they began when the camera started following them in 1986.

If you've never seen it, Hoop Dreams is not a basketball movie. It's a movie about inner-city poverty in America, as experienced by two kids who happen to play basketball:
And as the film follows Agee and Gates through high school and into their first year of college, we understand all of the human dimensions behind the easy media images of life in the "ghetto." . . . Arthur's mother asks the filmmakers, "Do you ever ask yourself how I get by on $268 a month and keep this house and feed these children? Do you ever ask yourself that question?" Yes, frankly, we do. But another question is how she finds such determination and hope that by the end of the film, miraculously, she has completed her education as a nursing assistant. "Hoop Dreams" contains more actual information about life as it is lived in poor black city neighborhoods than any other film I have ever seen.

As Ebert wrote upon its release, "Hoop Dreams . . . is not only a documentary. It is also poetry and prose, muckraking and expose, journalism and polemic. It is one of the great moviegoing experiences of my lifetime."

It is true magic, and affected me like no other movie. You've seen it, right?
FLO GETS STRESSED OUT IN THESE SITUATIONS: At long last, reality tv's greatest show comes back this Tuesday night, as The Amazing Race 5 kicks off from Santa Monica Pier at 9:30p eastern, 8:30p central.

TAR isn't just "great reality tv"; it's Great Television, period, and even at its worst (last season), it's still appointment television. As I've noted before, what sets the Race apart (well, it and The Apprentice, now) is that its challenges take place in the real world, dealing with unscripted, real people, and that it doesn't feel contrived like every other reality tv competition. Strategy counts, and so too does luck (like, who finds the Seattle cab first?), but it's not about screwing over the other teams (though the new "Yield" feature may change that). It's as close to a meritocracy as you can find on a competition: it's all about the clock.

Not only is the show well-structured, it's well-cast: even Survivor hasn't yielded as many memorable characters, proportionately, as a show that's given us Kevin and Drew, Flo and Zach, the fabulous Danny and Oswald, Team Guido, the Groanies . . . . in fact, has there ever been a top-to-bottom better cast reality tv season than The Amazing Race 2? Anyone?

That they've already greenlighted (greenlit?) season six for the fall suggests that we've got something good in store this summer. Set your TiVos now.

edited to add: WaPo, Toronto Star, Sun-Times weigh in.