Saturday, January 1, 2005

A TRIVIA QUESTION: What legal error do both Harry Knowles and Matt Drudge commit on their websites? This should give you a clue.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

PLAYING AGAINST TYPE: Over the holiday, my TiVo picked up the lovely "Weekend" episode of "My So-Called Life" (the one where Graham and Patty spend the weekend on a vacation while Angela and the gang attempt to liberate Rayanne from her position handcuffed to the bed), and shock of shocks, it's Laura Innes in a guest role. Even more shockingly, Innes, now best known as crochety Kerry Weaver on "ER," plays the utter ditz who's Graham's brother's "girlfriend of the weekend." The "MSCL" guest-star list is littered with the quasi-famous (Kaley Cuoco from "8 Simple Rules" appeared in several episodes), the under-appreciated (Mary Kay Place as Sharon Cherski's mom), and the infamous (Shar Jackson, Kevin Federline's baby mama, showed up in one episode). What are your favorite "Wow! That's him?" moments of guest-stardom?
DISASTER RELIEF: As the bitterly sarcastic one, I was kind of waiting for somebody else to pass the hat, but whatever. It has never been easier to give a little of that Chanukkah gelt (or Christmas money, or Kwanzaa forints) to relief efforts. Amazon, for example, has a simple one-click donation process. Over 89,000 people have already donated over $5.5 million -- over $61 apiece -- to the Red Cross through Amazon alone. As all good hipsters intuit, 89,000 is a large enough number to give some credibility but still small enough that it's not uncool. All I'm saying is that for maximum cred you should catch this donation thing at the Outlandos d'Amour stage, before your parents make you take your little brother to the Synchronicity tour and way before your mother-in-law asks for "Brand New Day" for her birthday.

I now return you to your regularly-scheduled traffic jam, courtesy of the President of Synagogue. Anyone? Is this on?
AND THIS IS THE GREATEST AND MOST ASTOUNDING BLOG POST PRESENTLY BEING POSTED: You know, I've been wondering if the fine staff over at the New York Times Arts & Leisure section is beginning to lose it. Leaving aside references to airborne masculine anatomical features, the first real sign of losing it came when lead movie critic A.O. Scott wrote:
We are so hung up on blue states and red states that our only hope may lie in the primary color that has been left off the map. We need something -- or someone -- yellow, and also absorbent and porous enough to soak up the ill will and scrub away the lingering bad feelings. Now more than ever, the country needs SpongeBob SquarePants.
I wrote this one off to post-election angst along with (possibly) a heady dose of whatever drug makes people enjoy "SpongeBob" (I, for one, don't get it). However, the weirdness returns today, when Virginia Heffernan asks whether "Jack & Bobby"s Grace McAllister could cut it as a real college professor. The piece is good, but one note struck me as off--Heffernan writes:

Oh, why are television's humanities professors so banal? The late, lamented belle-lettrist Asher Fleming of "Gilmore Girls" is a possible exception, but only because he was sleeping with Paris Geller (played by Liza Weil), the greatest comic character currently on television.

Now, I love "Gilmore Girls" as much as any straight man does, but referring to (the admittedly quite amusing) Paris as "the greatest comic character currently on television" seems a stretch. How about any character with the last name "Bluth" or "Funke?" Or Dr. Perry Cox from "Scrubs?" Or even Lorelai Gilmore herself? Who's on your list for great comic characters currently on television?

(And as great as Liza Weil is as Paris, let's not forget that she can also be an excellent dramatic actress, as her single great scene with John Spencer on The West Wing demonstrates.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

SQUANDERING THE REMAINING GOODWILL: I don't hand out a lot of lifetime passes. The only present holders of ones from me are playwright/TV genius Aaron Sorkin (as a result of "Sports Night" and "The West Wing"), actress Parker Posey (if just for her work as slutty Dairy Queen attendant Libby Mae Brown in "Waiting For Guffman" and as "Jackie-O" in "The Houst of Yes"), and writer/directors Wes Anderson and Christopher Guest. However, I do hand out "10 year passes." And I'd like to highlight two people who have 10 year passes, which they are rapidly squandering.

Jason Schwartzman (pass expires 2008) earned his pass for "Rushmore." And what have you done for me lately? "Slackers?" "Simone?" "Spun?" A sitcom co-starring Molly Shannon? None match. Schwartzman's showing a bit of a sign of rebound lately, with "I Heart Huckabees," and upcoming movie choices like "Bewitched" and Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" showing some promise. I'm hoping he can make a rebound.

Julia Stiles (pass expires 2009) earned her pass for "10 Things I Hate About You." Stiles is a little different from Schwartzman--rather than making almost nothing in subsequent years, she's been constantly in action. Her problem is a lack of selectiveness. While there are highs (Michael Alymareda's "Hamlet," David Mamet's "State and Main," Tim Blake Nelson's "O"), they've been mixed with lows ("Save the Last Dance," "A Guy Thing," "Down To You," "The Prince & Me"), movies in which she's been good but the movie hasn't ("Mona Lisa Smile"), and the two "Bourne" movies, where you get the feeling she got largely left on the cutting room floor. A smart script will help her, but she needs to avoid crappy romcoms and chick flicks.
TWO SEPARATE BUT EQUALLY IMPORTANT PARTS: "Jerry Orbach Dead At 69." That's how CNN headlines the obit. At least they didn't go as far as VH1 did a few years ago, referring to him in a promo as simply "That guy from 'Law & Order.'" To be sure, Orbach's work on "L&O" is worth remembering--there probably is no truer depiction of either the criminal justice system or the city of New York than the one "Law & Order" has been offering for years now. As a New Yorker in law school, the show's great both for H!ITG! spotting and for H!It's That Place! spotting. Furthermore, the show would invariably be the topic of discussion in Thursday's criminal law class during my 1L year, and the antics of Briscoe and McCoy would lead us into many discussions in other classes as well. Orbach was (and even now, still is) the face of the "L&O" franchise, and that's worth remembering.

But in his image as "That guy from 'Law & Order,'" it's Orbach's other work that gets lost. His filmography is littered with memorable roles, from a bit part as a baseball manager in "Brewster's Millions" to Baby's father in "Dirty Dancing" to singing and dancing candelabra Lumiere in "Beauty and the Beast." Orbach's Broadway work is often forgotten as well. Did you know he not only originated the role of Billy "Mr. Razzle Dazzle" Flynn in "Chicago," but also originated the role of Julian Marsh in "42nd Street," and even played Sky Masterson in "Guys and Dolls."

I'm sure tonight's "L&O" will pay tribute in some way, and I expect the franchise will, in some way, commemorate his passing, but I pay my own humble tribute here.
THREE LAST BESTS: Admittedly, "Best Romantic Comedy" is kind of like "Best Diet Soda". It might also be admitted that I do not like diet soda, so to speak. Undeterred, I offer the following end-of-year kudos:

BEST ROMANTIC COMEDY: Shaun Of The Dead. For obvious reasons. Also a strong contender for Movie Of The Year and Best Zombie Movie Ever. I want my ZOMBAID t-shirt, like, now. Zombaid, the zombie game shows, the hundred little ways in which people were zombified before the "outbreak" occurred and the compromise by which the protagonist's externalized cro-magnon / zombie impulses are retained but exiled to the shed so that he may have an adult relationship were all extremely freaking brilliant. A movie to live by. See it with someone you love.

BEST ROMANTIC COMEDY NOT FEATURING HORDES OF FLESH-HUNGRY UNDEAD: Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. Also obvious. Really just brilliant. The missing letter in the "Lacuna" logo on the company truck? Brilliant! As this film has been adequately fawned-over elsewhere, I'll say no more. Not to be missed.

BEST ROMANTIC COMEDY WITH NO SCI-FI PREMISE WHATSOEVER: Sideways. Though I've never been to a winery where anyone, uh... pours, yeah, quite like Sandra Oh, the whole film was touching, hysterical and true to life in a way that most (all? counter-example? comments? Beuhler?) in this genre are not. Some might argue that they've never felt like Miles (Giamatti) or known anyone like Jack (Church), but I have and I do (or I do and I have) and this is one of the best romantic comedies ever made (despite a conspicuous lack of space aliens).

All told, a good year for a tired genre.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

92: Reggie White, the most dominant defensive player to don the green and white in my lifetime, passed away today. He was 43. I'm just stunned.

All the other Philadelphia sports stars of my formative years were decidedly unemotional types -- Mike Schmidt, Julius Erving, Steve Carlton, Randall Cunningham and Ron Jaworski were all players who directed their energies towards the field. They all had a certain kind of asceticism to their game -- for them, it wasn't about displaying emotion, or playing to the crowd. They did their jobs, and did it well, but they were all more admired than beloved.

Not so Reggie White. The Minister of Defense was larger than life -- on the field and off. His game was intense, with a power/speed combination few have ever had on the defense line, and a battery of moves to skirt offensive linemen that was just stunning to watch. That swim move? Wow. He had nine straight seasons with double-digit sacks to start his NFL career, retiring number one all-time despite spending his first two seasons in the USFL. (Bruce Smith ultimately totaled two more sacks, but needed three more years to do so.)

But it was off the field that he galvanized a city. He showed us his sweat, his fury, his emotion. His heart. Randall Cunningham was exciting to watch, but it was Reggie and that defense we loved, never more so than that 1991 season in which Randall went down, and the defense rose to #1 against the run, #1 against the pass, #1 overall, bringing the "house of pain" to Houston and obliterating all that lay before it.

And when his teammate Jerome Brown died in an offseason car wreck, it was Reggie who comforted us.

Sure, he had his controversies -- whether deciding as a free agent to go "where God told him" (which happened to be the city offering the largest contract), his three separate retirements or his outrageous remarks before the Wisconsin legislature in 1998, which made John Rocker seem mild. Even today, I cannot defend any of what he said, but can only accept the sincerity of his commitment towards bettering the urban poor, that he did not simply abuse the language of religion in order to further political or personal ends. As he would have us do, I suppose, I detest the sins of that speech, but still loved the sinner and hoped he would change.

Five straight seasons with ten-plus wins in Philadelphia, then a Super Bowl ring in Green Bay. Thirteen Pro Bowl selections. I can't believe he's gone.

Just before I moved to Chicago for law school in 1994, Reggie came back to Philadelphia for his first game as a Packer. No one booed. They welcomed him back with the kind of open arms and loud cheers that this city never extends to anyone who leaves. Except Reggie.

SI's Peter King has more.