Saturday, December 31, 2005

MORE THAN JUST AMERICA'S OLDEST TEENAGER: And we have a late-breaking entry into the Best TV Moment of 2005 race (prior nominees include the "reveal" in House: Three Stories, the chair slamming through the glass in Without A Trace: Malone v. Malone, the gasp-inducing elimination of Austin Scarlett on Project Runway, and the Tyrade on ANTM)--Dick Clark's genuinely touching, slightly slurred, return to the airwaves during New Years' Rockin' Eve. Especially in comparison to the peppy and vaguely robotic Seacreast/Duff combo, Clark's presence and genuinely moving remarks are up there.

New Year's Rockin' Eve also gives us the 2005 Award for Most Unfortunate Juxtaposition in a TV Promo. During an ad for the new ABC Monday night lineup, we get the following unfortunate statement: "The romance is back, Monday January 9, 9/8 Central, after an all-new 'Wife Swap.'" (Second worst unfortunate coincidence on the weekend behind NY Times Magazine editor Daphne Merkin's piece in this week's Magazine--what's next--John Toupay on scalp care?)
CARTMAN'S SIDE IS RIGHT, FOR THE WRONG REASONS. BUT WE'RE WRONG, FOR THE RIGHT REASONS: I'm calling for nominations for the ALOTT5MA Award for Funniest Half-Hour Of Television Of The Year. I believe last year's award went to the The Daily Show's coverage of night two of the Democratic National Convention, an episode full of biting, timely political humor.

As did my nominee for 2005: South Park episode 904, "Best Friends Forever", which first aired March 30, 2005, the night before Terry Schiavo died. Achingly funny, and given the limitations of animation, ridiculously timely.

So go ahead, nominate your Arrested Development and the like. But I plant my flag in Colorado.

Friday, December 30, 2005

WE WERE WAITING, ANTICIPATING: So where exactly does The Producers: The Movie Musical of the Musical of The Movie go so badly, badly wrong? I have a few suggestions:
  • Susan Stroman, in spite of her general talents as a stage director, is simply not a movie director. Her camera almost never moves during the film. Static shot is followed by static shot, and often, the edits are fairly bloody--you can see the cuts. For instance, rather than pulling back to expose the panorama of Little Old Ladies following Bialystock around, we get a close-up on Bialystock running, followed by a cut to the broader shot. It just doesn't work.
  • The stage musical is full of meta-theatrical jokes, all of which have been excised with no attempt to replace them with movie in-jokes or other jokes. The absence might not be so great to a viewer who wasn't familiar with the show.
  • At the same time, stuff that worked on stage is translated too literally. Particularly painful is Leo and Ulla's coupling behind the couch, which works on stage as a stage moment, but absolutely does not in the film. A joke that hits big on stage (Roger De Bris' dress) misses completely, but there's still the beat for the expected laughter, which turns into a painful silence. Also, the entire film feels like it was shot on sets. Hell, probably half of it feels like it was shot on the stage of the St. James Theatre. Sure, there's some opening up, but that opening up doesn't help, especially in "Along Came Bialy."
  • Part of the joy of many of the musical numbers in the stage show is that there's something going on everywhere on stage. Stroman and her cinematographer have chosen to shoot many of the musical numbers in close-up on individual performers, losing that.

That said, the movie's not a complete loss. Will Ferrell in particular is great, and "I Want To Be A Producer" is successfully (and excellently) opened up, at least at the beginning. Make sure to stay all the way to the end of the credits, though, even though the new "There's Nothing Like A Show On Broadway" song is bland, so you can hear Ferrell's power ballad rendition of "Guten Tag Hop Clop" and a closing farewell taken from the show. I'd be interested to see how people unfamiliar with the Broadway show and/or Broderick and Lane's theatrical performance view the movie, but somehow, I expect there won't be a whole lot of those people viewing the film.

OKAY, JESUS, COME OUT OF THE CLOSET: Okay, if I can laugh at the South Park episode about Scientology, I had better be prepared to laugh at this.

Sure, I'll burn a few hundred extra years in purgatory for downloading this on P2P, but what the hell. Fair's fair.
WHEN WILL THIS STRONG YEARNING END? For those of you who have been wondering when you'll get to gaze upon the glorious Princeton-educated visage of Wentworth Miller anew -- wonder no more. FOX has announced that Michael, Lincoln, T-Bag, Sucre, Westmoreland, and the rest of the Prison Break family will be returning on March 20. That's less than three months of wondering which part of Michael's anatomy contains the tattoo of the backup escape plan.
NEW YORK IS THE BIGGEST, MOST SPECTACULAR STATE IN ALLA THE WORLD: Today's hot political rumor? Donald Trump running for governor of New York. No, seriously. Suggest your campaign slogans for the Donald's inevitably doomed campaign.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

PRESENTED BY PRIOR WINNERS THIRD EYE BLIND AND DOGS EYE VIEW: It's time for an ALOTT5MA award that I must enlist your assistance on determining all the potential nominees, much less a winner. The category is Most Inane Lyrics In A Hit Pop Song. My proposed nominees thus far are:
  • Gwen Stefani, Hollaback Girl
  • Black Eyed Peas, My Humps
  • The Pussycat Dolls, Dontcha
  • Rihanna, Pon De Replay
  • Daddy Yankee, Gasolina

Note that this category is not for songs that have inane lyrics that actually wind up sounding kind of profound, either because of delivery or wonderful musical work--leaders in that sub-category would be Anna Nalick's Breathe (2 AM) and Natasha Bedingfield's These Words (I Love You, I Love You, I Love You)--but is instead designed for inane lyrics which revel in their inanity. (And, yes, Gwen Stefani's entire album is arguably enough to fill the category.)

JUST SAYING, IS ALL: Admittedly, I've seen some odd Google searches lead people to this site over the years. But "S. Epatha Merkerson NUDE PICS"? For real?

(No, we don't have them.)
I HAVE CONQUERED GAUL; I HAVE DEFEATED POMPEY MAGNUS. I THINK I CAN HANDLE A SMALL BOY AND A EUNUCH: In additional ceremonies prior to broadcast hosted by Khrystyne Haje (1986 ALOTT5MA winner for TV Babe Of The Year), three ALOTT5MA awards were presented to HBO's Rome: Fictional Journalist of the Year (non-Daily Show division) for the jolly town crier, Oddest Yet Funniest Take Of A Historical Figure for portraying Cleopatra as a nascent crack whore, and the It's Not Just TV, It's HBO Award for best exploitation of the relaxed broadcast standards of pay cable (the award itself is a gold-plated statue of Vern Schillinger from Oz) goes to the brutal gladiator fight at the end of episode 1.11, "The Spoils", which TWoP recaps in graphic detail.
MOVIE DIVISION WINNER PREVIOUSLY PRESENTED TO AEON FLUX: This year's ALOTT5MA Award for Biggest Waste of Substantial Amount of Talent (Television Division) goes to Stacked, which manages to completely suck despite the presence of Christopher Lloyd and Marissa Jaret Winokur in supporting roles. Don't these talented people have something better to do than play third fiddle to Pamela and her Andersons?
PRIOR WINNERS INCLUDE DIRE STRAITS, THREE DOG NIGHT, AND A POSTHUMOUS LIFETIME ACH IEVEMENT AWARD TO JEFF BUCKLEY: It's time to present an award that Aaron Sorkin has won all too many times--the award for Outstanding Use of Pop Music in A Television Series. And your non-winning nominees are:
  • Project Runway, Sarah Morgan, "Girl on The Verge." Let's leave aside the episode's wonderment quotient on the side (Austin Scarlett's runway breakdown and major misstep is part of what makes the show so great), and focus on the ditty which (unaccountably) did not become a hit, with a nice guitar line and clever lyrics.
  • Lost, ...In Translation, "Delicate." I love Damien Rice--"The Blower's Daughter" made Closer as a movie, and this song is equally gorgeous, but it's not the song or its lyrics that are why it makes the list. It's the brilliant closure--we pan across the beach where the Lostaways have made something of a home, and the music skips and stops, as Hurley's CD player finally runs out of batteries, reminding us that in spite of all the Lostaways' efforts, they're still lost. (Also, watch David LaChappelle's brilliant Lost promos for UK TV here, which contain equally beautiful moments.)
  • Grey's Anatomy, "Such Great Heights." Despite the fact that this song instantly makes you think of the show and leads off the soundtrack album, it's apparently only appeared on the promos for the show. But the use there is so perfect that it belongs here--managing to connect both the frenetic nature of the hospital and the emotions between the doctors and their patients. Brilliant use (as is the entire musical coordination of the show, which is worthy of an award of its own).
  • Lost, Man of Science, Man of Faith, "Make Your Own Kind of Music." I know many would pick this as the winner. At the start of Lost's second season we pull into an eye--the universal symbol for flashback. A man gets up out of bed and drops a needle onto a turntable and we hear the bizarre opening chords of Mama Cass' song. We follow the guy around as he goes through his daily routine. Then, we hear a BOOM! and realize that we're not in a flashback--we're in the hatch.

And the winner....

  • House, Honeymoon, "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Two reasons--first, the brilliant bookending--one of the first lines out of House's mouth in the pilot is a quote from "the Philosopher Jagger--you can't always gets what you want," to which Dr. Cuddy responds "but, if you try sometimes, you can get what you need." Then, in the final scene of the season finale, as House sits at home as his one true love is with her husband, he throws a pill up in the air and it spins in the air--he catches it in his mouth and turns to the camera. The music asks the questions--what does House want? What does House need? Can he get either of them? We don't know, and that's why it's the winner.
THE GAY CHRISTIAN APE COMPROMISE: With a single night available for moviegoing during the holiday season, Mr. Cosmopolitan and I sat down with the movie listings to figure out what we should see.

Me: I want to see Brokeback Mountain.
Mr. Cosmo: I'm going to see one movie all winter and it's gonna be gay cowboys?
Me: Yes.
Mr. Cosmo: I want to see The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Me: I'm going to see one movie all winter and it's gonna be Christian lions?
Mr. Cosmo: Yes. And it's not about Christian lions. Read the damn book.
Mr. Cosmo: So. I guess it's King Kong?
Me: Yup. Let's go.

As conscientious readers may recall, the preview for King Kong had moved me from a meh to a yeah. And seeing the three-hour version -- a rather monumental expansion of the three-minute trailer -- did not disappoint.

Neither Mr. Cosmo nor I had ever seen a prior King Kong iteration. For those of you similarly inexperienced with the genre, the three hours can be divided into three chapters: (1) Depression-era Manhattan, in which filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) finds out-of-work vaudevillean actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) and convinces her to join the cast of his new film, which is setting sail that very day for Singapore for filming. But oops, little does anyone involved with the film know, but they are actually filming on ominous secret (2) Skull Island, on which bad things happen to many people, Jackson's brontosauruses kick the snot out of Spielberg's, and King Kong (Andy Serkis, in a role so close but yet so far from Gollum) and Ann meet. Kong is captured as he attempts to keep Ann with him on the island, and he is forcibly removed to (3) Depression-era Manhattan, where Kong proves to be stronger than anyone gave him credit for, and there's a little scene involving Kong, Ann, and the Empire State Building.
  • Fastest three hours in a movie theatre ever. It didn't even bother me that it takes 90 minutes to catch a glimpse of an ape. The only area where I might have considered asking for a little extra slicing and dicing was toward the back end of the Skull Island sequence, where an awfully long time was spent lovingly filming all sorts of ooky monstrosities and big bugs and the like munching on various sailors.
  • CGI has really become astonishing. The only point at which you notice the artificiality of the process is during the brontosaurus stampede, and even then it's not because the dinosaurs look fake, but because the actors didn't quite nail the running-for-their-lives-while-looking-over-their-shoulders-to-avoid-being-trampled reactions.
  • Naomi Watts: Wow. Lovely and heartbreaking and impressively interactive with the giant green or blue or whatever-color-they-use-these-days screen that was her constant and sole companion throughout much of the movie.
  • This was my first Adrien Brody experience. He's much more appealing than I previously gave him credit for being. Jack Black was enjoyable too. And Colin Hanks has gotten older since Orange County.
  • I hope Peter Jackson is getting a serious kickback from the New Zealand government for the boost he has provided NZ tourism. Gorgeous, gorgeous cinematography. And watching the credits, I found myself wondering what percentage of the NZ population worked on this film. It can't be a small one.
I HATED, HATED, HATED, HATED THIS MOVIE: The only thing better than a "best movies of the year list?" A "worst movies of the year" list--and David Poland offers up his "barfer's dozen" of the worst 13 movies he's seen this year. Frighteningly, I've seen 6 of his bottom 13, and will likely see a seventh. But Dave, how could you leave out the exerable XXX: State of the Union, which manages to take servicable behind the camera and in front of the camera talent along with a decent government conspiracy plotline (a Secretary of Defense plotting a coup d'etat) and create ludicrousness such as the "low rider tank" and (I'm not making this up) a chase sequence involving the "secret White House escape train?"
TWO AND A HALF WOMEN? The Women's Film Critics Circle Awards are not really on the level of the Golden Globes, the Oscars, or, hell, even the National Board of Review, but how can you resist an awards ceremony with categories such as "Best Female Image in a Movie," "Most Offensive Male Characters," "Best Equality of the Sexes," and the induction of Tony Scott into the "Hall of Shame" for Domino? And, yes, this is the only awards ceremony you're likely to see State Property II pick up a couple of "awards."
FOUR BACON SQUARES: For those of you not of the Bay Area, you might otherwise miss the brilliance which is Jon Carroll's Xmas Quiz.

9) If Prince Charles ascended to the throne, and chose to keep the name Charles, what number Charles would he be? There are rumors that Charles is thinking of becoming King George instead; why ever would he do that?

10) "Dendrochronology" is the science of studying what? "Mogigraphia" is the disorder more commonly known as what?

11) Each of these people is better known by his nickname. Name the nicknames. Wilmer David Mizell; Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown; Clement John Dreisewerd; Walter Perry Johnson; Harold Henry Reese.

Answers tomorrow, so give it a shot while you can.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

THE REAL PROBLEM WOULD HAVE BEEN IF DANIELS PLAYED THE OTHER LEBOWSKI: A few thoughts after seeing the lavishly over-praised, but still excellently acted all around (even by William Baldwin) The Squid and The Whale.
  • Am I the only one who, from time to time, has difficulty remembering whether Jeff Bridges or Jeff Daniels is the lead of a particular movie? I mean, Daniels used to have the more "affable stoner" characters, and then Bridges did Lebowski. Here, Daniels' Squid and the Whale character is a variation on Bridges' excellent performance in last year's underseen The Door in The Floor. Maddening.
  • Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates have a very talented child, and must be extraordinarily permissive and understanding parents to allow their child to play the role he plays.
  • Perhaps this demonstrates that I am now thoroughly a New Yorker, but isn't there something inherently wrong with an "Angelika Film Center" with state of the art projection and seating setups (including the lack of a train running from time to time behind the screen) and which is playing Rumor Has It... on one of its screens?
CHICK-A-CHING-CHING-CHING: The Washington Post reports on the annual Philadelphia Mummers "after-party" on Two Street, but oddly, the words "urine" and "vomit" fail to appear in the article.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

"I'M ONLY KISSING IF HE LOOKS LIKE HEATH LEDGER, THOUGH": A History of Violence dominated this year's Village Voice film critics' poll, but, as always, the real fun is in the comments section:
The movie that best captured our conflict over the moral imperatives of violence was—duh—A History of Violence. It essentially frames our national debate: As a citizen of the world, are we Tom Stall or Crazy Joey Cusack—and does it matter as long as we kill the right people? --JIM RIDLEY

Brokeback Mountain wasn't even the first mainstream gay romance of the year. Did no one else see the barely suppressed homoerotic longings beneath the hetero posturing of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in Wedding Crashers? --NICK SCHAGER

If War of the Worlds' Tom Cruise was the good father, Hayden Christensen was the ultimate bad dad in Star Wars Part the Last. While I'd hesitate to use the word subversive, the movie was more interesting than people gave it credit for. When I was young, we knew who the Empire were; they lived on the other side of the iron curtain. By the end of Revenge of the Sith that presumption has been spun around on its axis; a democracy can lose its way just as easily as a good man can be led to evil. --TOM CHARITY

Hail Keira, hail Heath and Jake, hail Scarlett and Cillian and all the cuties delightfully making good on the dream that stars can also be devoted to serious craft. Never has the schism between Federlinian trash-fame and bona fide talent seemed so pronounced; with yesterday's model short-circuiting on Oprah's couch, maybe it's time for the real actors to stand up. --JOSHUA ROTHKOPF

I propose a truce. Broadway promises to stop making mediocre stage versions of so-so movies, and Hollywood vows to forgo crappy screen adaptations of middling musicals. --JORGE MORALES

Go back to the 2004 poll comments via this link, and we even blogged the 2002 poll over here.
LET HIM GO! Thirty years later, we now know who Deep Throat is, but does anyone know what Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" is supposed to be about? Notes The Times:
Some interpreted it as a way of dealing with [Freddie Mercury's] personal issues. To this day the band is still protective of the song's secret.

"I have a perfectly clear idea of what was in Freddie's mind," [guitarist Brian] May said. "But it was unwritten law among us in those days that the real core of a song lyric was a private matter for the composer, whoever that might be. So I still respect that."

[Producer Roy] Baker said, with a hearty laugh, "If I tell you, I would have to kill you."

I believe some of the usual suspects around here have some ideas.
YOU JUMP FIRST, WE HAVE A DEAL: I've considered Project Runway's Going Postal challenge, the Giant Jigsaw Map from The Amazing Family Travelogue, TAR6's Ethiopian Church match game (just for the jaw-dropping locale) (or that season's lock + key + Chinese Mountain) and the Ishe-Ahmed fight from The Contender, but I just don't think anyone's going to take the 2005 ALOTT5MA Award for Best Reality Competition Challenge from Survivor X's Tom and Ian on the Buoys competition at the final three. A Herculean physical task with Shakespearean dramatic impact. But I'm willing to listen to your ideas.

(2004 Winner: TAR5's caviar challenge.)
I JUST SWITCHED TO SANKA. I'M RUNNING A LITTLE SLOW TODAY, SO HAVE A HEART: Vincent Schiavelli, a Hey It's That Guy! guy if ever there was one, has passed away.

Monday, December 26, 2005

IT WAS CHRISTMAS EVE, BABE, IN THE DRUNK TANK: A brief item in the NYT about the not-just-important-in-fiction U.K. Christmas singles chart reminds me of a sad truth -- last week marked five years since singer/songwriter Kirsty MacColl was taken from us.

Find out about the Justice for Kirsty campaign, or visit the MacColl website here.

P.S. The Pogues -- yes, Shane McGowan too -- will be touring the East Coast in March 2006.
SINCE I'VE BEEN GONE: Okay, back to Philadelphia, and I hope y'all had a wonderful start to the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwaanza season. More substance to come later, of course, but for now a question that's been bugging me for a few days.

In the Kelly Clarkson hit "Since U Been Gone," when she sings that "Thanks to you now I get what I want," does 'get' mean 'understand' or 'obtain'? Your detailed responses are welcome.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

I'LL BE PWND FOR CHRISTMAS: The horizons of Christian Gaming continued to expand during 2005 with a pair of FPS (first-person smiter) releases from N'Lightning Games. If the screenshots and blurbage are any indication, they're running Doom or Morrowind-like engines sans gore and with religious narrative driving the action.

While the promotional material is good for a giggle, they won't be pulling me out of Azeroth to investigate any time soon. I'll have to hold out for the next generation, or maybe for titles produced by "an applied religious philosophy" with a little more to offer in the carnage and mayhem department.

On a more serious and optimistic note, is anyone else excited about DarkFall?

Friday, December 23, 2005

SANTA'S BRINGING YOU A SET OF STEAK KNIVES: McSweeney's gives us a nice complement to Glengarry Glen Claus with a little piece called "A Christmas Message From Alec Baldwin's Character in Glengarry Glen Ross."
BUT NOW I'M FOUND: Making me feel like an even bigger loser since I Tivo'd the first few episodes last year and then deleted them for space, the cast of Lost has been named the "Entertainer of the Year" by EW. Following the Lostians on the list were Steve Carell, Naomi Watts, Kanye West, Felicity Huffman, George Clooney, Vince Vaughn, Gwen Stefani,Harry Potter, and Terrence Howard.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

SOME LISTS, JUST BECAUSE I CARE: Yeah, people are still making lists. Here are some for your edification.
  • Toronto film critics liked A History of Violence best in 2005, while those wacky critics down in the town whose name is German for "Giant Whale Vagina" picked King Kong as the best film of 2005. Meanwhile, Phoenix film critics, proving a punch drunk lot, picked Ron Howard's subtle Cinderella Man as their top film.
  • The omnipresence of bacon in every restaurant dish made both Epicurious' best and worst food trends lists for 2005. The omnipresence of Rachel Ray, though, only made the worst list.
  •'s Bill Syken assembles his top 10 NBAlumni teams, with the trio of Vince Carter, Antwan Jamison and Rasheed Wallace being enough to put UNC in the top spot, followed by Arizona, UConn, and Duke.
  • ET is the greatest family film of all time according to a new poll done by Britain's Channel 4. Shrek came in second, followed by Mary Poppins, Pirates of the Caribbean (?) and Toy Story.
  • Bono has some more hardware to put next to his Time Magazine Person of the Year honor. Adam Clayton's bandmate tops Pop Candy's Whitney Matheson's annual list of the top 100 people of the year. No. 19 on her list is Surfjan Stevens, whose 2005 release Come on the Feel the Illinoise may be the best CD of the 2000s. The folks over at Pitchfork may not be willing to go that far, but it is No. 1 on their list of the best CDs of 2005. All of Pitchfork's Best of 2005 lists can be found here.
  • Meanwhile, I pointed to them before, but for more Best of 2005 lists, be sure to check out both Fimoculous and Metacritic.
GREETINGS FROM VACATIONVILLE: A few notes on the culture, from which I'm currently (largely) disconnected:
  • Project Runway was another A-level episode this week. I don't quite get what was so good about Daniel V's collection, but I couldn't stop humming "Springtime for Hitler" while watching Santino's team work. Still, between Santino and Daniel Franco, the latter's narrative arc already had closure, while Santino's quest for world domination needs a few more episodes to fully flesh out the drama. Also, big ups for my girl Magneto, who rocked again with another focused collection.
  • The Family Stone is a manipulative piece of dreck. Worse, it rarely rings emotionally true -- brothers, sisters and fiancees-to-be just don't behave the way these characters do. And worst of all -- even worse than the pseudo-Amherst geography of the thing (the writer-director is son of Prof. Robert Bezucha), is the way in which the film seems to share in the characters' masochistic beat-down of the Sarah Jessica Parker character, whose sole sin seems to be that she's a career-driven professional. Bad movie!
  • Johnny Damon going to the Bronx is just wrong.
  • The 2005 ALOTT5MA Award for Most Disappeared Star of the Year (2004 winner: Winona Ryder) goes to Mena Suvari. Any explanation needed?
  • Your next reality job-search show? Who Wants To Write Think-Pieces About Midlevel Bands Struggling With Their Limitations In The Face Of Stardom?
FROM THE HOUSTON SATELLITE OFFICE: While I (along with much of the rest of the ALOTT5MA staff) is on vacation, a couple of links from our comrades at TV Tattle worth your reading and discussion:

A very merry Chrismukkah to all!

YOUR MOTHER'S MISS AMERICA? Of all the updates I've posted on the status of the homeless orphan that was the Miss America pageant until Country Music Television offered it a new home, this one doesn't give me the oogies. According to the NYT (something of a graceful old lady herself), CMT has elected to ditch the various ridiculous embellishments that have been haphazardly pinned to Miss America's bosom over the years, electing instead to return to the pageant's roots.

This may sound odd from an organization that has moved Miss America from Atlantic City to Vegas and from September to January. But as the article points out, CMT viewers are something of a traditional crowd. And traditional crowds will welcome the return to tradition. No more casual-wear competition. No more O-Town (farewell, my Ashley Angel!) and Clay Aiken. No more multiple-choice civics quiz, the results of which always served to indicate that no matter how much scholarship money you throw at Miss America, she still doesn't know a darned thing about how many U.S. senators we have.

What are we getting back? Actual full-length talent performances, in all their cringeworthy glory. Evening wear with sashes displaying the name of the contestant's state. A swimsuit competition without real-time voting as to whether there should be a swimsuit competition. And, in a truly fabulous development, the return of the Miss Congeniality title, absent since 1974.

For the first time in many a year, I'm feeling a little optimistic about Miss America's prospects. The dream of a million more-than-pretty girls may still come true.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

NO KEVIN BACON INVOLVED: Here's a fascinating series of Hollywood connections. Jenna Fischer, best known as Pam on the U.S. version of The Office, is married to screenwriter/director James Gunn (Scooby-Doo, Dawn of the Dead, Slither), whose brother is Sean Gunn (Kirk on Gilmore Girls), who, according to IMDB, was formerly a roommate of Judy Greer. Now that would be a fun family holiday gathering.
DOES ANYBODY CARE? DOES ANYBODY SEE WHAT I SEE? So with all the press hubbub about Michael Vartan's appearance on Alias last week, the powers-that-be managed to squeak an honest-to-God surprise under the radar! And quite a doozy, too. It felt like the Alias of Yore, did it not? I'll save my rhapsodizing for the comments.

I have to confess that I'm a little concerned about the fact that no one emailed me to ask me why I hadn't mentioned this fairly major plot twist. Given that the show is getting a real sendoff instead of a sudden cancellation or a summer-cliffhanger-that-never-gets-resolved, I have faith in the Disciples of JJ that they'll make these last episodes count. Sark's back, I feel pretty confident that we haven't seen the last of Vaughn, and then there's that little matter of last week's development -- hang in there!
YOU'LL NEVER MAKE A MONKEY OUT OF ME: Joseph Stalin once wanted to make a race of half-man, half-ape superwarriors.
I'M WAITING WITH BATED BREATH FOR LAGUNA BEACH, SEASON 2: In our continuing quest to find the most pointless DVD ever produced, we have a new contender. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Gastineau Girls on DVD, available in better electronics stores everywhere on January 31, 2006. Fortunately, there are better things arriving on DVD that day as well.

(Unrelated grammatical point--as pointed out to me by a faithful reader, "bated breath" is the technically correct usage, but "baited breath" is now common parlance. I have repaired to be technically correct.)
MYSTIC CRYSTAL REVELATION AND THE MIND'S TRUE LIBERATION: Nielsen has entered the Age of TiVo. Starting Monday, DVR data will be included in the Nielsen ratings. Their representation will be small at first -- only 100 out of 9000 homes -- but by the fall, Nielsen expects 800 DVR homes to be included. (About 8% of US homes currently have DVRs, as compared to 93.7% of ALOTT5MA homes.)

As part and parcel of this transition, Nielsen will offer three sets of ratings for each program: (1) live, real-time viewing (the current ratings system), (2) live viewing plus same-day playback, and (3) live viewing plus playback within seven days of initial airing. It'll be interesting to see how these three data sets stack up against one another once all 800 DVR households are included.

I'm thinking that advertisers are going to be kind of pissed when they see just how many of us start watching Lost (remember Lost? that show that's on hiatus for six weeks?) at 9:30 pm.

Monday, December 19, 2005

FOOTNOTE OF THE DAY: From Pump, Inc. v. Collins Mgmt. Inc., 746 F.Supp. 1159 (D. Mass. 1990) a case relating to a dispute about the use of "Pump" as a title for an Aerosmith album, comes the following assessment:
As most persons interested in rock music are aware, Aerosmith has developed a well-earned reputation as one of America's louder rock bands and has cultivated a devoted adolescent following since the early 1970s. Its hit songs include such classics as "Walk This Way," "Dream On," "Sweet Emotion,""My Big Ten Inch," and the poignant "Dude Look Like A Lady." The Court expresses no opinion as to the socially redeeming aspects of Aerosmith's work.
BRING BACK CAROL MERRILL: NBC, desperate for something, anything, that works after a generally disastrous fall launch, begins a 5 night television event tonight--"Deal, Or No Deal?" Gameplay is ludicrously simple:
  • A contestant is presented with 26 briefcases. Those briefcases have some amount of money in them, ranging from a penny to one million dollars. They choose one, which remains closed.
  • The player then eliminates 6 briefcases from contention, which are opened, revealing how much money was in them.
  • Based on which briefcases have been eliminated, "the bank" makes an offer--keep playing, or take an offer calculated to be (roughly) the mathematical expected value of the remaining briefcases, including the "chosen one."
  • Repeat (with the number of briefcases to be eliminated prior to an offer being made reduced each round) until the player either takes the deal or there are only two suitcases remaining.

This could be interesting with the right host. However, color me unconvinced that Howie Mandel is that "right host." Also, it seems to me that there is an ideal way to play the game assuming the goal is to maximize winnings. Any of our more mathematically inclined readers care to explain?

MORE PULIZER PRIZE-Y THAN ALOTT5MA AWARD-WORTHY: The New York Times has had a hard year this year, what with JudithMillerpalooza, that scathing New Yorker piece last week, and the increasing insanity of Maureen Dowd. However, that doesn't mean that the Times, when it sets its mind to it, can't still do exemplary journalism, as today's extraordinarily lengthy front page article about webcams, child pornography, and one boy's spiraling descent into addiction proves. The accompanying essay by lead reporter Kurt Eichenwald about how the story was developed is also worthy.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

AS HOSTED BY PAST WINNERS TRAMPOLINE BEAR AND SIDD FINCH: The following 2005 ALOTT5MA Awards were handed out in ceremonies prior to broadcast:

Saddest Celebrity Deaths: Luther Vandross and John Spencer

Best-Orchestrated Celebrity Comeback: Woody Allen (not that I've seen the movie yet, but he's doing the publicity well, at least.)

Favorite Recurring Joke On 'Pardon The Interruption': Tony doesn't stay up late enough to watch anything after 8:30pm.

Least Favorite Recurring Joke On 'Pardon The Interruption': Still joking about their obsession with The Yanks and the Sawks. We get it, guys.

That Couldn't Have Been Scripted WTF!?! Reality TV Moment of the Year: TAR7's Kelly and Ron talk about commitment.

Least Talented Reality TV Competitor of the Year Who Nevertheless Advanced Way Too Far In His Competition: Scott Savol, American Idol 4. Go ahead, you can blot him out of your memory again.

Sign That I'm Getting Old: I'm getting honestly offended by some of the lyrics I'm hearing on the radio these days. We heard a song called "Laffy Taffy" on the radio on Thanksgiving evening that included the line "Girls call me Jolly Rancher/Cause I stay so hard/You can suck me for a long time/Oh my lord!" Now, really. Call me a prude, if you must, but does this belong on over-the-air radio?

Favorite Pop Culture Court Decision: American Movie Classics cable channel successfully sued for no longer showing "movie classics".

More to come. Still trying to figure out how to walk back the cat from Kingsley's claim in April that "no matter what happens for the rest of the season, Survivor's Stephenie LaGrossa will not only win the 2005 ALOTT5MA Award for Reality TV Competitor of the Year (2004: Rob Mariano), but will enter the Pantheon of favorite reality tv people ever with Ruthie and Teck, Team Guido, Jeff Balis and Chris Moore, Miss J. Alexander and the rest."

I guess that "for the rest of the season" does not exclude consideration of what she did in the following season, if Tom Westman and Austin Scarlett have anything to say about it . . .
PREVIOUS WINNERS INCLUDE GEORGE AND TALK: The winner of this year's ALOTT5MA Award ("Fivesies?") for Most Premature Death (Non-Human) was an easy call. Though you wouldn't know it from the magazine's website, Radar magazine has (again) died. Radar was the closest thing we're likely to see to a magazine version of this blog, with a smart and funny take on pop culture, and semi-scholarly articles on subjects like Tom Cruise's martyr complex/insanity and the mysterious allure of Angelina Jolie. A child of the late, lamented Spy (in the best way), unfortunately, it seems it has followed Spy to a premature grave. (Runner-up? Gawker Media's fairly short-lived gambling blog Oddjack, which somehow apparently managed to be the only part of the poker craze that didn't work out.)

Last year, Toni Bentley won the category for Most Overexposed Female "Celebrity." This year, that honor again goes to a writer, though not for a book. The award goes to author (and wife of Michael Chabon) Ayelet Waldman as a result of this piece. Our good friend Alex Balk explains why better than I ever could.
DOES THIS MEAN THEY'LL BE LICENSING "I STILL HAVEN'T FOUND WHAT I'M LOOKING FOR" TO MICROSOFT? Who woulda thought that the creator of Microsoft Bob and a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would wind up sharing Time's Person of the Year for 2005?
YOU THINK YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE. YOU HAVE NO IDEA: I haven't most of the movies on Roger Ebert's year-end top ten list, but I have seen its #1 and #10 (which Matt also liked), and am glad to see both recognized.

Ebert's traditional bias in favor of Liberal Message Movies (and slightly against comedy) is in full effect, but, hey, the man's also giving you every top ten list of his from 1967-present today. So enjoy.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

DO NOT DEFEND THE SHOE: It is time for us to begin presenting the 2005 ALOTT5MA Awards, given each year for outstanding achievement in the field of excellence in the subset of popular culture. Decisions are made either individually or collectively by the blog, but, basically, we're all free to do what we want.

And because I started this site, I get to kick things off with the third annual award for Reality TV Host/Judge of the Year. Past winners include Robert K. Oermann of Nashville Star (2003) and Ralph Garman (as Derek Newcastle) for Joe Schmo 2 (2004).

This year, I don't think there will be too much debate. While perennials Tyra Banks (the Susan Lucci of this category) and Jeff Probst (for the Janu council, via Isaac) did solid work and Phil Keoghan was great in the one season of The Amazing Race which aired this year -- there was only one, right? -- a new entry into the field gave us such pleasure that to ignore him would be absurd.

Tim Gunn teaches a course called concept development at the Parsons School of Design in New York City, and concept devlopment is what he did so well on Project Runway. In his role as both task assigner and mentor on the show, Gunn has been the bridge between the viewer and the intricate work being done by the competitors. His position on the show is unique -- his purpose is to improve the work of all the competitors and does not judge them, formally or informally. His criticism is constructive in the best sense of the word. In this, he gives viewers clarity in an arcane field -- much like 2003's winner Oermann, he gives the context in which we understand that "pretty" is not always "good" and the importance of balancing one's own vision with the client's.

Without Tim Gunn, Project Runway is just American Idol with scissors. With him, it's an educational hoot.

And he has a blog.
I MUST FIND A PLACE CALLED 'THE MALL': Ten years ago this month, two young men from Colorado were given $2000 to produce an animated Christmas card for a Fox executive. It cost them $750, and they pocketed the rest.

That cartoon, "The Spirit of Christmas", can be downloaded here. It is still really f'n funny.

When the history is told of individuals who reached mass prominence through recognition on the Internet (Bill Simmons, Glenn Reynolds, Dane Cook, etc.), doesn't it start with Trey Parker and Matt Stone?
NO SPECIAL APPEARANCE BY J. WALTER WEATHERMAN: My TiVo picked up an old episode of David E. Kelley's late Boston Public (repeats are on a cable network known as TVOne, which is apparently "television for the upper-middle class African American"). This particular episode opens with Vice-Principal Scott Guber and his quasi-girlfriend shopping for prostethic hands. The kicker? The prosthetic hand huckster is played by Will Arnett.
JOE SCHMO . . . IN SPACE! Neat British reality tv idea -- con people into believing they're competing for a flight into space. They borrowed the space shuttle built for the movie Space Cowboys, and ran with the concept full speed. Via Althouse.
HELP ME END HOMELESSNESS: I'm going to be off to Parts Unknown next week, and you all will be in more than capable hands during my absence.

I did not want to leave, however, without saying a few words about an organization I hope you'll consider supporting as the year comes to a close.

This year, I joined the board of directors of The Philadelphia Committee to END Homelessness.

That's right. End it.

Our philosophy is simple: we believe believe that the best way to help homeless and at-risk individuals and families is to secure them housing first, then connecting them to the mainstream and neighborhood services they need to maintain permanent housing. This community-based approach helps prevent people from entering the homeless service system, and helps those already homeless to rapidly exit the cycle of temporary solutions. Give people the stability and dignity that permanent housing affords, rather than use the more expensive shelter system as a bandaid.

Our plan is called Safe Home Philadelphia. Because we don't accept public money, we exist outside the network of service providers dependent on a constant supply of homeless people to fill our shelter beds and keep people employed. Indeed, when we have finished our plan, we want to turn our offices into more family housing, and declare ourselves out of business.

Here are some of our success stories this year:

  • Nanette, her 18 month-old daughter and 6 year-old son were constantly moving between friends and family while she desperately tried to create a normal life for her family. SafeHome Philadelphia found her a modest apartment, helped her move in, arranged for IKEA Philadelphia to donate bunk beds, installed smoke detectors and arranged for separate electric metering. Nanette is thrilled to have her very own kitchen, is able to look for work and is proud that her son is enrolled permanently in a local school.
  • Juanita was afraid for her own life and her teenaged daughter was threatening to run away from home because of unrelenting abuse. It was literally at the 11th hour when their call for help came. SafeHome Philadelphia helped Juanita remain in a welfare-to-work program so important to her future, and paid the security deposit on a one-bedroom apartment. Juanita's terror is over and her situation stabilized to the point where she confidently looks forward to being self-sufficient in no time.
  • Having lost his job, Tom and his pregnant girlfriend Tanya were scheduled for eviction on December 12th. Without other resources, the shelter system loomed large. SafeHome Philadelphia moved Tom and Tanya into their new apartment on December 11th, pre-paid the required 3 months rent (security deposit, first and last month) and helped Tom locate a part-time second job to ensure that rent will be paid. Having helped Tanya sign up for medical and other benefits, she is able to confidently prepare for their new arrival.

Want to help the homeless? Help us help them no longer be homeless. We know what works; give us the resources to succeed.

Learn about our programs, read the 2010 plan, and feel free to ask me questions about PCEH. I can also try to direct you to good organizations in your area.

What's important here to realize is that homelessness is not a permanent, intractable condition. We can do something about it.

Thanks for your time. Help us if you can.

Friday, December 16, 2005

OOH . . . POOR MRS. THOMAS: This Tuesday and Wednesday nights at 11pm, TVLand will be airing the What's Happening!! two-parter "Doobie or Not Doobie", a prescient study of the intellectual property/fair use and Fourth Amendment issues that are much in the news these days. Michael McDonald, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and the rest of the brothers Doobie as themselves.

For readers of a certain age, it's a TiVo must.
FRIDAY'S LISTS: It's damn cold out, my kids and wife are watching Polar Express and I am waiting for a drain to live up to its name so I can dump another load of toxic materials down it in hopes that it will once again be of use, so I figured I could either do work, pay bills, straighten up my office, or link to some lists. Guess which I chose?
  • Metasearch engine Dogpile has comdogpiled a list of the most-searched terms of 2005, and while I'll give you Nos. 1 and 2 (music lyrics and Paris Hilton), I want to know who uses a search engine to search for Google, eBay, and Yahoo (gee I always forget those sites tricky URLs). And are there really that many people who give a hoot about Jennifer Anniston's hair still? I am guessing they excluded racier terms from their list, since I'm sure 95% of the Paris Hilton searches included other terms.
  • Apparently many of those folks who used Dogpile to search for Yahoo, then used Yahoo to search for Britney Spears, according to the Web site's own list of the most-searched terms of 2005.
  • At least one critic liked The Producers. AP film critic David Germain put it on his top 10.
  • The Chicago Tribune's TV critics hashed out a combined top 10 list.
  • Those nasty hurricanes and whether it was all of us who made them worse is Discover Magazine's No. 1 science story of the year. A decent pick, yes, but, I would have gone with this experimental partnering of Mentos and Diet Coke (watch the video!). Mentos: the explosionmaker.
  • Confirming what I think most of us already knew, Babyfit has determined that Overland Park, Kansas, is the healthiest city in America to be pregnant in.
  • And finally, the POTUS lists some more of the artists on his iPod, including The Archies.
NAUGHTY, NICE, OR JEWISH? Spot the ALOTT5MA brother-in-law in this Defamer post.
ENTIRELY TOO DEPRESSED TO THINK OF A CATCHY INTRO: CNN is reporting that John Spencer died today of a heart attack at the age of 58.
KILLER SWEET DEAL ON THE BOOP BEE BOOP: For the few readers who don't have TiVo or TiFaux and/or are interested in giving TiVo as a Holiday gift, I draw your attention to this promotion--$49.99 (after rebate) for a basic 40 hour TiVo box with three months of service included, and $249.99 (after rebate) for the 40 hour box with built-in DVD burner/player.
YES, BUT IS IT ART: Living in New York, you often don't take advantage of the cultural institutions that people view as staples of the city. I usually make it to the Met once a year, my sole visit to Lincoln Center was to see Contact several years back, and I haven't been to MOMA in at least 3 years. That last one will change, since I am determined to see MOMA's new temporary exhibit, exploring the art and artistry of Pixar.
DIAGNOSIS: CUTE DEFICIENCY: Prescription: Cute overload.
A MESSAGE FROM ONE OF THE THREE PEOPLE STILL WATCHING 'THE APPRENTICE': Just in case the other two people who watch Apprentice IV: Man vs. Beta Version of Robot Created in Image of Trump's Ideal Television Businessman (Bug List: No Blinking; No Penis) read this blog, I'll open up this thread. This episode started weird with the Grandpa Donald narration framing device and only got weirder as the edit ruined the surprise, the surprise came, and there was an even greater surprise. I'll spoil in the comments.
BUSH WAR: I just noticed that the San Francisco 49ers are playing the Houston Texans on January 1st. Not since the Soccer War have two bottom-of-the-barrell teams been pitted against one another. Although here, at least, there may be something worth fighting for.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

WILL IT FLOP OR WILL IT GO? What Susan Stroman did to her own Producers, Booth did to Lincoln:
NYT: How come the movie feels, in every sense, like a rip-off?

ChiTrib: It is not very funny. It doesn't look right. It's depressing.

LATimes: "The Producers" has been entombed -- lox, shtick and two smoking bagels -- as a theatrical fossil.

NYDN: What the heil went wrong?

You'd almost think they wanted it to fail, but why?
NOMAAAAAAAH! If there's another newspaper section in the country with a devoted enough national following to sustain a significant online pay-per-access reader base, it may well be the Boston Globe Sports section.
LEFTOVER LISTS: The lists, they be coming fast and furious.

To wit:
ARE WE DONE HERE? YEAH: There are two ways to gauge a Sports Night episode: tallying the parts that make you laugh and sighing about the parts that make you mist up. The wit is always fast and furious, making Sports Night a really good show, but it's the lump-in-your-throat moments that make it a show that we still talk about as though it were on the air much more recently than 1998-2000.

I've been working my way through Disc 5 (middle of second season) lately. Here are the Moments. Feel free to rewatch your own Disc 5s and offer up alternatives.

A Girl Named Pixley: Jeremy has been nominated for an award, and spends much of the episode unsuccessfully trying to engage Isaac in a discussion of whether he should write an acceptance speech ahead of time. Later, Isaac naps on his couch while waiting for a party his wife is attending to end -- Isaac isn't at the party because of the lingering aftereffects of his stroke -- and Jeremy awakens him to discuss the award further. Isaac tells him that he didn't win. The conversation concludes:

Isaac: You know what sucks?
Jeremy: Losing an award?
Isaac: I was going to say not being able to dance with your wife.
Jeremy: I was going to say that too, sir.

"The Giants Win the Pennant . . .": Dan wants to do a feature on the 49th anniversary of the Giants coming from 13 1/2 games behind to win the 1951 pennant. He discovers that Isaac was at the game, but Isaac refuses to let Dan interview him on camera for the story. Dan pesters Isaac, who finally confesses that he missed the famous home run because he was in the men's room.

Dan: You never saw Thompson's home run.
Isaac: No.
Dan: You were at the game.
Isaac: I was washing my hands.
Dan: Never wash your hands.
Isaac: If only you'd been my mother.
Dan: You didn't see it.
Isaac: No.
Dan: You were washing your hands.
Isaac: Yes.
Dan: Were you bummed?
Isaac: For a while. But then you get older, and it just joins all the other things in your life that happen while you were looking the other way.
Dan: Did you see your daughter get born?
Isaac: Yeah.
Dan: Did you see her graduate college?
Isaac: Yeah.
Dan: Are you watching Sports Night tonight?
Isaac: Yeah.
Dan: Then shut up.
Isaac: Yeah.

The Cut Man Cometh: The dating plan breathes its last. Dana apologizes to Casey for putting him through the whole moronic process. She asks, eyes aglow: "If I were to ask you out tonight, would you say yes?" Casey pauses for a moment. "No."

Dana Get Your Gun: This episode has no Moment. It's good and all -- Sam finds Dana's Revolutionary War musket under her desk and bunches her panties a bit, and the guy subbing in for Dan gets yanked when he goes all stalkery towards his girlfriend on the air, but not so much with the eye-misting. Even Sorkin takes a pitch occasionally.

And the Crowd Goes Wild: Natalie and Jeremy have broken up, and Jeremy wants his stuff back. Simultaneously, the NYPD wants Sports Night's stuff -- in this case, their footage of a riot outside the Garden. Natalie is insistent that they shouldn't turn over the footage because of the First Amendment. Jeremy keeps demanding his stuff. Natalie speaks her piece on the riot footage and the First Amendment to Isaac, who unsolicitedly offers her the night off to cope with her grief over Jeremy.

Natalie: I'm not upset about this, Isaac. I'm upset because there's a principle. a bedrock principle that doesn't change, and now I'm supposed to hand over these things, I'm supposed to hand over these things that are ours.

Isaac opens his arms, and Natalie runs crying into them.

Celebrities: This is the last episode of Disc 5, and I was pretty convinced that it had no Moment. But then we get to the last scene. Jeremy, as the ex-boyfriend, isn't invited to participate in Natalie's game of Celebrity. Jeremy returns to the Sports Night studio after his encounter with Jenny the porn star. He sits silently in Dan and Casey's office while the Celebrity war rages in the newsroom. The episode ends with Jeremy listening in and quietly chiming in the answers before everyone else. "Lenny Bruce . . . Thoreau . . . Josephine Baker."

The Sweet Smell of Air: I pulled this one out of chronological order and saved it for last because it has three separate Moments. The first is a little one. Isaac has been obsessing over an article about prospects for engineering new species of birds and sealife that can survive in outer space. Dana asks Isaac why he's so caught up with the Space Squid. Isaac's response: "Because I won't live to see it."

I smiled and wrote that down as the Moment, but then everyone finds out that the exclusive interview they'd nabbed with Michael Jordan was only offered to Sports Night in the first place because Jordan's people thought that CSC would be the only network sufficiently concerned about its ratings that that it would agree to relinquish editorial control, thereby ensuring that the interview would be nothing more than an infomercial for Jordan's new cologne. Sam and Dana report this development to Isaac. Isaac says, "They thought we were desperate enough for the ratings to do it. Are we, Sam?" A pause, while Dana looks at Sam, sure that he's going to insist that they do the interview to get the ratings. Sam solemnly shakes his head no. Isaac concludes: "Then tell them Isaac Jaffe says to go to hell." Sam beams. Dana looks on in astonishment.

But then Sorkin decides to offer up riches in abundance, and there's one more Moment. Casey has to demonstrate something at his son's school, and he has no idea what to do. When he returns to the studio, everyone is sitting in rundown. Casey announces: "I'm back and I'm triumphant. I did what I do, Dan, I did what I do. I got there early, I'm standing out on the playground during recess. I'm trying to think what I can come up with at the last minute. But I can't concentrate on that because all around me, kids are playing games. There's some kickball going on over there, dodgeball over here, hopscotch in the the corner. And like a flood, like a surge, I'm suddenly filled with a sense of I-know-what-the-hell-I'm-doing. And when recess was over, we go back into the classroom." Dan interrupts: "And you called the highlights." Casey nods. "I called the highlights."

Am I a little too excited for Studio 7 on the Sunset Strip?
NOW THEY'RE JUST DOING LISTS BECAUSE THEY RHYME: The AFI is out with another ballot for another list of movies. This time around, it's AFI?s 100 Years...100 CHEERS: America's Most Inspiring Movies. The movies on the initial ballot range from 1940's Abe Lincoln in Illinois to 1939's Young Mr. Lincoln, plus some 298 other films that in no way deal with the 16th president, like Glory, The Red Badge of Courage, and Dances With Wolves.

Odd choices abound: The Bad News Bears? The Green Mile? Forrest Gump? Jesus Christ Superstar? Love Story? 9 to 5?

And all you It's a Wonderful Life haters will be happy to see it's on the ballot.

And speaking of haters, the KC Star's Robert Butler has had it with the AFI and its lists.
T'WAS BEAUTY THAT KILLED THE BEAST: So, in spite of the generally glowing reviews and massive hype, doesn't look like King Kong is doing at all that well. It opened yesterday to right around $10M, an impressive sounding number until you realize that that number puts its opening day beneath all three LOTR movies, both Men In Black movies, both Spider-Man movies, and even Pokemon: The First Movie. With New York City looking to be unlikely to be in a moviegoing mode this weekend, Kong could be a 800-pound gorilla that fails to deliver.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

LIKE A HALLOWEEN TABLECLOTH: If there's one thing I'd add to Project Runway, it's a Pop-Up feature or web glossary to cover some of the technical terminology on the show. Like, I have no idea what went on with Daniel Franco and the elastic thread/bobbin issue this week. I feel like I learn a lot from this show, but I'd like to learn more.

That said, no quarrel with the winner or loser this week. Particularly loved the winner this week, for all the obvious reasons -- wow! on the fabric choice.
MAYBE . . . IF SHE'S 5' 3": A delightful cover by Jonathan Coulton of a Seattle classic. Via the AV Club's 2005: The Year in Music, which is worth your time, though I don't think I've got more than one album mentioned. Man, am I lame.
BEST...EPISODE...EVER? The folks over at Ask Metafilter are debating the question that has plagued a generation for over a decade and a half--what is the funniest episode of The Simpsons?

I know "Marge vs. the Monorail" gets a lot of support round these parts, but for me I think the answer is "Cape Feare" (though I was disappointed to read that Sideshow Bob's German tatoo is gramatically incorrect; it should be "Der Bart Der").
BEND....AND SNAP: It's just a reading at this point, but Legally Blonde: The Musical has an interesting cast, fronted by Laura Bell Bundy (original Penny in Hairspray and a Glinda replacement in Wicked) as Elle Woods, Scott Bakula as Professor Callahan (the Victor Garber part from the movie), and Rachel Dratch as beautician/mentor Paulette. Book adaptation is by Heather Hach (who wrote the Lohan/Curtis Freaky Friday), and score is by the folks responsible for Bat Boy: The Musical.
RETROPERSPECTIVE: Like many of the millions who watched the original Miami Vice, I cannot claim to know a lot about Miami itself except as a backdrop for Michael Mann's supremely stylized and covertly self-loathing chronicle of Reagan-era decadence. But Matt and Kim's mentions of the Miami Vice movie-related websites and subjects in recent days sent me, one way or another, to this impressive rumination on the City of Miami's development over the last two-and-a-half decades written by Brett Sokol for the Miami New Times back in October. From the gritty reality that inspired the original television concept to the Big Willy Style renaissance that is South Beach in the new millennium, Sokol's thoughtful piece provides a compelling portrait of the living center behind the flashy images we came to know in the 1980s as well as a fascinating reflection on the synergy between media and money in the remaking of a major American city.
TWO NETWORKS NOT RUN BY MR. F: Both Showtime and ABC are talking to 20th Century Fox about potentially picking up Arrested Development once Fox admits that they're cancelling it. As we say here in the subtle and incisive commentary biz: Woohoo!
FRONKENSTEEN: Now, I can understand how Matthew Broderick might see Gene Wilder as a role model for a career, but couldn't they find someone better to step into Wilder's shoes for Young Frankenstein: The Musical? Allegedly, Susan Stroman and Mel Brooks want Roger Bart as Igor (which could be excellent) and Kristin Chenoweth as Elizabeth (which seems dicier). And might I suggest Shuler Hensley as the Monster (given that his performance in unintentional comedy Van Helsing was the best part of the flick)?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

THERE'LL BE GALA OPENING NIGHTS AGAIN/YOU'LL SEE MY NAME IN LIGHTS AGAIN: Sure you want to see The Producers, but would you pay $12.75 per ticket to see it opening week in NYC?
NYC! SAN FRANCISCO! SEATTLE! PHOENIX! DALLAS! CHICAGO! FORT LAUDERDALE! . . . .LEWISTON, NEW YORK? That about sums up the difference between this Race and the ones which proceeded it.

Not that this leg didn't have its plusses -- namely, a pair of tasks requiring deliberateness and thoroughness once Killer Fatigue had set in, and a final Roadblock which, quite frankly, is up there with the Ice Globes from TAR2 as my favorite Final Leg Task ever.

[Also, kudos to Rolly Weaver, who's up there with Colin (of -and-Christie) for being one of the best task completers in the Race's history.]

But seriously, yo? Next season can't come soon enough. Thank goodness this one's over.
FROM WHYY IN PHILADELPHIA: For you six or seven die-hard ALOTT5MA readers, you'll want to listen to today's "Fresh Air" (audio available online), which covered on two topics recently discussed here, Neil Diamond and bar mitzvahs.
LISTS A COMIN': Those year-enders are coming fast and furious. On the music side, both Chicago critics, the Trib's Greg Kot and the Bright One's Jim DeRo, have released their lists of the year's top CDs. Do yourself a favor and subscribe to the podcast of their Sound Opinions radio show ("The World's Only Rock and Roll Talk Show"), which recently made the leap from XRT to public radio. Also, Francis, the proprietor of the always excellent Heaneyland, checks in with his list.

All three lists, by the way, are topped by Chicagoans--Kanye West, Common, and Andrew Bird, respectively. Along with the near-universal praise given to early Pazz and Jop favorite,Sufjan Stevens' Illinoise, 2005 is shaping up to be the best music year for the Land of Lincoln since the Guyville hey-day of 1993.

And over on the movie side of things, critics from N.Y., Boston, San Francisco, and L.A. agree that there ain't nuthin' like gay cowboys. By the way, you can read the original short story "Brokeback Mountain," which was published in the New Yorker back in 1997, here. Perhaps someday soon the movie will actually open in Chicago.

Lastly, here are TV Guide's Matt Roush's Top 10 shows of the year: 1. Lost; 2. My Name Is Earl; 3. Battlestar Galactica; 4. Grey's Anatomy; 5. FX Dramas (Over There, Rescue Me, The Shield and Nip/Tuck); 6. Veronica Mars; 7. 24; 8. HBO Historical Dramas (Deadwood, Rome); 9. House; 10. Everybody Hates Chris.
I WANT ORIGINALIST BARTENDERS: Robert Bork, not content with attempting to reshape law and public policy according to "original understanding," has some words to say about the martini. Apparently, the Cosmopolitan and the Appletini are more signs of our country's surefooted slouch toward Gommorah.
GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS ARE OUT: Start analyzing, Oscar-watchers. It looks like Brokeback is now the official favorite (with Munich not nominated), Good Night, and Good Luck and and Constant Gardner, The Squid and the Whale and Woody Allen's Match Point are now frisky sleepers to watch.

Two immediate questions, and I'm sure you'll have more: how do you nominate A History of Violence for best drama, and then, of the three main performances, only nominate Maria Bello but not Viggo Mortensen or especially William Hurt? How do you nominate Matt Dillon for Crash but not Don Cheadle or Thandie Newton?

[Edit by Matt--IMDB's list includes the TV categories, which are dominated by the new, with only Curb Your Enthusiasm having a debut date before 2004 in the top categories, and with nods for Drs. McDreamy, House, and Yang as well as all four Desperate Housewives.]
SO UNSURPRISING, I CAN HARDLY BELIEVE I'M POSTING ABOUT IT: While perusing today's story of the lengths to which parents are willing to go to fĂȘte their offspring's 13th (to quote my husband's favorite riff on bar mitzvahs: "Today I am a man. Tomorrow I return to the eighth grade."), I noticed that Colin Farrell has gone into rehab. Color me shocked, shocked.
BFTJ WATCH: The WaPo's David Segal (as opposed to my accountant David Segal) gets his own Bar Mitzvahs Are Getting Ridiculous story, following around NYC event planner Pat James:
"We had a kid who was really into 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,' " James recalls, "so we had a purple suit made for him, and we hired these people to be Oompa Loompas and they came out and danced. We had these trees with candy all over them, with signs that said 'Do not eat.' It was fantastic."

I have two things to note: one, is that it doesn't cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to put a kid in a chair and have him carried around the room by strapping relatives, which is as big a thrill any thirteen-year-old ever needs.

Second is that if you want an antidote to all this, pick up Mark Oppenheimer's Thirteen and a Day: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Across America, which only briefly covers NYC-area ridiculousness ("selling an experience more ethnic than any that the children’s parents would allow them to experience for real.”) to then focus on some really wonderful celebrations -- Lubavitchers in Alaska, an eccentric reform community in Arkansas, adult b'nai mitzvah in Lake Charles, Louisana, and the like. Y'know -- where the theme isn't "Austin Powers", but Judaism.
NEXT SUMMER'S PREOCUPATIONS TODAY: A couple of movie trailers of note that are easier to find online than in theatres, and which you may want to take a look at:
  • Mission Impossible III--If the Alias pilot didn't establish that J.J. Abrams can do dialogue and intrigue as well as the blowing stuff up material, I'd be a little worried from the trailer, which is largely narratively incoherent (and features almost zero Keri Russell), but interesting, and looks like more in the vein of the first MI than the second one.
  • Miami Vice--We've seen a lot of quasi-spoofy TV show remakes, but what makes this one odd is that it's decidedly not that sort of thing--instead, it takes itself perhaps even more seriously than the show did (and certainly looks a hell of a lot darker than the TV show). But making Tubbs the hip and cool one? That's just wrong.

Monday, December 12, 2005

TO THE ONE DEFECATING HERE, BEWARE OF THE CURSE: Via, authentic Pompeiian graffiti.
'TIS THE SEASON FOR THE AIRING OF GRIEVANCES: I think it's appropriate to keep separate from tomorrow night's The Amazing Family Caravan Across America Finale liveblog our general gripes towards the suckfest that was this season.

The more I think about it, the Family nature of this season wasn't the problem. At all. I miss the Gaghans, the Blacks and the Paolos. Having kids and teenagers were fine.

No, the problem was with the racing. Specifically, the lack thereof. There just weren't any real opportunities for teams to do what I call "outracing the Race" -- finding ways, through devious airplane connections, local guides and smart planning -- to use their wits and create leads for themselves. Even just having tasks that involved real skill would've been nice -- think of the "build an Ikea desk set" or "deliver these wine barrels across town" tasks, for starters.

None of that here. Making it to the final three of this season required Not Screwing Up Too Badly, and not any amount of Doing Things Really Well. When you think about the great teams of the past -- Team Guido, Colin and Christie, Charla and Mirna, Rahb and Ambuh, Cha Cha Cha -- they all found ways to shorten the vast distances of the race to their advantage -- and the Race was structured in such a way to allow them to do so.

I undertstand they felt confined to the Americas. Fine. But too much of the racing took place in inert, confined spaces -- isolated ranches, closed-down museums, etc -- where there was no interacting with the locals, no randomness, and little need for skill. Find Buffalo Bill and take a picture in old-timey clothing? Look at the funny trained bear? Find Les at the gas station?!? Come on.

Okay, sure, they cut down on the Fear Factor and Gross Eating Challenge stuff. But where was Sell Fruit To The Locals? Navigate A Major City's Public Transit System? Challenge a local in the native sport?

This spring, let's pray they put some racing back into the Race. Because after Tuesday, it's all about the Runway for a while.
I WAS TALKING TO A CAT THE OTHER NIGHT, HE SAID WHAT EVERYBODY IS LOOKING FOR, WHAT EVERYBODY'S LOOKING FOR TODAY, THEY'RE LOOKING FOR ESCAPE-ISM: Considering what I'd rather be doing for a living I'd be remiss if I did not point readers to the NYTimes on-line article on the Michener of Fantasy, George R. R. Martin. Say what you will about the propriety of comparing him to Tolkien (no really, please do), the man is definitely living the dream.
COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT: If the hot dog makers and hot dog bun makers can come together and reach a peaceful accord on a common number of wieners and buns in a standard package, can't the auto makers and windshield fluid makers reach a similar agreement. Is it only my car (a 1999 Honda Accord) that doesn't have a one-gallon capacity windshield fluid reservoir? I'm guessing my car hold about .85 gallons, leaving me with just enough left in the container that I don't want to throw it out. Yet if I put the jug back in my trunk, it always rolls all over making all sorts of noise. Sometimes I just dump the extra on the windshield, but that seems like a waste. Couldn't the automakers just agree on one gallon being the minimum size for the reservoir?

This issue might be best taken up by a new blog that is quickly becoming one of my favorites: The Consumerist. Yes, it's yet another site from the Gawker Empire, but it's a goodie, filled with tales of customer service from hell, fiendish rip-offs, Kafkaesque help lines, and the occasional good deal. Think of it as that cloying consumer help guy from the local news with the right does of attitude.
COMPETING TO BE AMERICA'S TOP LIST-MAKER: The American Film Institute has announced its top ten movies and TV programs for the year 2005. The film side is fairly cookie-cutter, though a few surprises (the absence of Memoirs of a Geisha and the presence of 40 Year-Old Virgin) shake things up a little. The TV list is a little more intriguing. 5 of the 10 nominated programs are cable programs, there's nary a sitcom among the bunch (no love for AD, Earl, or even Curb Your Enthusiasm), and mini networks get a lot of love (FX, Showtime, Sci-Fi, and UPN all have programs nominated). Perhaps odder is the jury, especially for films, which is perhaps the only list that contains both crowd-pleasing comedy directors Jay Roach and Martha Coolidge and self-important film critics Kenneth Turan and David Denby.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

FINAL SACRIFICE: As far as Survivor seasons go, this year wasn't up with the elite seasons -- the original, All-Stars and last season's Fireman Tom v. Ian plus The Tribe That Keeps Losing would be the pantheon seasons.

But on the level below that you've got Amazon (Boys v Girls, Rob C's strategery), Pearl Islands (Rupert, Johnny Fairplay and the Pirates), Australia and, I think, this season, which may have never reached heights of drama, but had a good level of strategy, personality and humor to it.

The winner -- whom we can discuss in the comments -- is one of the most worthy we've had because [added Monday morning] Danni did a ridiculously good job in taking control of her own destiny in the game. Coming into a merge where she was outnumbered, she bided her time, grabbed a key immunity (why did no one in the alliance outbid her at the auction to ensure she couldn't get it?) and then, most critically, didn't rest on her immunity but seized the opportunity to create a rift between Steph and Judd and take control of the game.

Most players in that situation, once they received the immunity, would've just been happy with that, and not worried about the results of that night's council. She, instead, kicked ass. Also, note this: she started voting with the majority as soon as it turned on one of its own, Jamie, and had only one vote cast against her the whole time -- Lydia's, at final four.

Just one last question: didn't the Mayan civilization die out centuries ago? If so, who the heck were those visitors?
WE BELIEVE YOU; THOUSANDS WOULDN'T: Dave Poland has an early review on The Producers (and, yes, this blog has become increasingly Broadway-attentive over the past year), and it's mixed, for reasons I can totally accept:
The Producers: The Musical is a 50% an absolute joy and 50% a disappointment. When the musical feels right shot as though it was on stage, it's terrific. . . .

The trouble comes when Stroman is called upon to act like a film director and not a stage director. Most of the time that is the case, she fails. And one gets the impression that boss man Mel Brooks wasn't in a big rush to keep her from simply recreating a lot of his handiwork from the original film as well as from the show. . . . [T]here was the question of how Ms. Stroman would handle Max's soliloquy, "Betrayed." Would this be the showstopper that it was on stage? And the answer was that she did a decent job, but no, it doesn't have the power on film that it does on stage. Part of that is the natural subtext of watching a movie and knowing that the singing's been prerecorded. And part of it, again, was that there was no real invention in the sequence. The filmmaking needed to match the magic of the song and it was lacking.

I told y'all: it should've been Pacino.
BARBIE AS GALADRIEL IS OUT OF STOCK: Perhaps the oddest thing I found while poking around on Amazon seeing if I could find suitable holiday gifts this evening--the "Ken As Legolas" doll. Perhaps the only thing more frightening than this doll's existence was that it showed up on a gift suggestions list.
THE MILTON BERLE OF SATELLITE RADIO? The WaPo's Howie Kurtz previews Howard Stern's move to Sirius.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

PRYOR RESTRAINT: Richard Pryor, the most deserving first ever winner of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, has died at 65. Pryor was unique in that while he could be exceedingly funny when he was raunchy and transgressive, he could even be funny without being dirty--witness the excellent "Brewster's Millions." While Pryor made his own autobiopic, I wonder who will play him in the almost-certain biopic.

Friday, December 9, 2005

ASA, THEY GOT THE SL! The movie is still a few weeks away, but Leon Wieseltier has begun the war over Steven Spielberg's Munich:
The film is powerful, in the hollow way that many of Spielberg's films are powerful. He is a master of vacant intensities, of slick searings. Whatever the theme, he must ravish the viewer. Munich is aesthetically no different from War of the Worlds, and never mind that one treats questions of ethical and historical consequence and the other is stupid. Spielberg knows how to overwhelm. But I am tired of being overwhelmed. Why should I admire somebody for his ability to manipulate me? In other realms of life, this talent is known as demagoguery. There are better reasons to turn to art, better reasons to go to the movies, than to be blown away.

(BugMeNot works.)
IN A QUEST TO GET FAMOUS WE'LL LET HIM PLAY US LIKE ANDY AND AMOS: Remember Eddie Murphy's all-time-classic "Mr. White" SNL sketch? According to the BBC, Ice Cube and RJ Cutler have decided to extend and expand the concept into a two-family reality television show. Imagining how it will all play out has the needle on my cringe-o-meter jumping, big time. Even if Hollywood make-up technology has advanced astoundingly since 1986, I predict a lot of extremely awkward moments in which the participants get the fabled "funny vibe" more for so obviously trying to seem to be what they're not than for being anything they're trying to seem to be. I would have much preferred Cube to spend his time on a reprise of his timeless role as James 'Desolation' Williams.
IF NOTHING ELSE, NO. 6 WILL KEEP ME IN THE THEATER: contributor Dave White presents The Straight Dude's Guide To Brokeback Mountain. Why?
“But I am a heterosexual man,” you’re thinking, “very, very, very, very straight.” And you’re kind of freaking out as the release date quickly approaches — and even the expression “release date” is making you kind of jittery. You’re hoping to remind your female life partner that, while you feel gay people are very wonderful, colorful, witty additions to the human population and that Ellen sure is fun to watch dance in the credit card commercial and that Tom Hanks really deserved that Academy Award for whatever that movie was where he died at the end, that you are very, very, very, very straight and that it should exempt you from seeing Adorable Jake…um… do “it” with Heath Ledger. You really don’t even want to know what “it” entails because you’ve lived this long without finding out. You’re thinking the words “red-blooded,” as in “I am a red-blooded American male, etc,” don’t sound so retro anymore.

And yet, you’re still going to see it whether you like it or not. This necessarily presents a dilemma: how to make her happy and endure your first gay-themed movie where guys actually make out on a very big screen right in front of your face? And that’s where I come in. . . .

The last note is particularly apt: "And finally, it’s just your turn. Really, it is, and you know it. Imagine how many thousands of hetero love stories gay people sit through in their lives. So you kind of owe us. Now get out there and watch those cowboys make out. "