Saturday, January 15, 2005

NERD ALERT: Quick, dumb question -- how much time allegedly will pass between the end of Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith and the start of Star Wars IV: A New Hope? Because during that same time frame, presumably, infants Luke and Leia grow up to their early twenties (at most), but Old Ben Kenobi ages from his thirties, as Ewan McGregor, to being played by Sir Alec Guinness as "Old Ben Kenobi" as a forgotten septuagenarian.

Is there a break in the time-space continuum here, or is there a logical explanation to this?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

IMPRESS US WITH YOUR DRINKING, DO: Fair Harvard has her Crimson, and, now, because of widespread lameness (heavens!), an official dean of pahties.

If I didn't know any better -- and I don't -- I'd swear this was an MIT hack.
THE WORLD IS COLLAPSING AROUND OUR EARS: Pioneering alternative radio station WHFS-FM (DC/Balto/Annapolis) is no more.

During my time in the area, it was the only station I'd listen to. But there is no more "commercial alternative" anymore, and there is no more HFS, and the 1990s are, officially, in case you missed it, over.
NO, IT'S BECAUSE YOU'RE AN AWFUL ACTRESS: The useful comic non sequitur club has a new member, which, sadly, I missed, because of ABC's evil practice of starting and ending shows at 9:01 and 10:02. When asked a question or told to do something, you can always give a few answers that (depending on the savvy of the other person) can easily provoke a laugh or a smile--be it "these aren't the droids you're looking for" or simply "42." But "Law & Order" has given us a new one with last night's "shocking" deparature of Elizabeth Rohm, chronicled here. At episode's end, DA Arthur Branch calls ADA Serena Sotherlyn into his office and fires her. Her response is not to fight him or argue with him, but just 6 (apparently horribly delivered) words--"Is this because I'm a lesbian?" Fade to black (I assume with the accompaniment of Mike Post's signature two notes).

Apparently, the awfulness was bad enough that the TWOP thread title is now "Original Law & Order: Is this because I'm a lesbian?," and the fine folks in the thread are already recounting the use of the phrase in everyday life, including men who have tried to use the phrase to get out of a traffic ticket.
THIS WASN'T THE SORT OF "ONE NIGHT STAND" I HAD IN MIND: Yes, not every reality show is "Survivor" or "TAR." Some get cancelled after only one airing. Hell, even "The Benefactor" and "The Rebel Billionaire" made it through one full "cycle" before they obtained their own unceremonious end. Of course, this permits us to march down memory lane and remember a few other shows that lasted one and only one episode, like "South of Sunset," "Public Morals," and "Turn-On." I mean, "Manimal" lasted nine episodes, so you gotta stink pretty badly to lose it after just one.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

JUST TELL THEM THE FABRIC IS EXPENSIVE, AND THEY'LL LOVE IT: In case we haven't been clear before: you must, must must start watching Project Runway if you intend to remain ahead of the cultural curve.

Take The Apprentice. Add demanding tasks that require real craft (designing dresses, purchasing fabric and then sewing the damn things together in 24h), a documentary filming style makes you feel like you're in a working fashion studio and not on a staged set, and you've got a show where the strong-willed, skilled competitors are the stars and not the host and judges. They actually have to create something every week -- a real, wearable dress -- and not merely present an idea or sell more [X] than the other team under controlled circumstances.

Or take America's Next Top Model, but let's add actual aspring New York models -- as Lady Shacklebolt has noted, the models here are bratty, waiflike teenagers, not women in their twenties trying to break into an industry that has already passed them by. (Why else do you think season one winner Adrienne Curry is on Surreal Life 4 and not the runways of Milan?)

This week's episode -- wedding dress design -- heightened the focus on the models' personalities and introduced us to a new concept, the Fashion Cemetery, where previous weeks' failed designs stand on permanent display. It's bitchy fun.

Here's the upcoming schedule, including a triple-shot of reruns Sunday night. Join in.
COME ON, DONNY, HE WAS THREATENING CASTRATION. ARE YOU GONNA SPLIT HAIRS HERE? Britain's Prince Harry may have just made Mr. Blackwell's list, sorta.

Insert your own Edward VIII reference here.
AND A MARGARET ATWOOD JOKE TO BOOT: You know, I've been thinking about writing for a while on how though all the brilliantly shot and staged action sequences and shots of Jennifer Garner in various wigs and states of undress get all the attention, the real center of "Alias" is one of the most tender and authentic parent/child relationships on television. But Charles Taylor over at Salon says everything I'd say and more in his piece on the show today, headlined "Alias Grace." He specifically notes that:
To treat "Alias" as if it were about nothing other than Garner's costume changes, or as though it were some spy-girl fantasy for comic-sated fanboy geeks, is to miss the wit and emotion and twisty narrative pleasure it offers.
He's exactly right--"Alias" is phenomonally addictive and well written not merely because it does the spy stuff better than just about any other contemporary TV show or movie has (which it does), but because it takes characters that might, in lesser hands, be little more than cookie cutters and give them real emotional depth, with the possible exception of Agent Michael Vaughn, whose job frequently seems to be to stand there and be really, really good looking.

New episode airs tonight at 9, after "Lost" reveals the secrets of siblings (?) Shannon and Boone.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

WE DON'T DESERVE TO WIN. WE DON'T WORK TOGETHER AS A TEAM: If you were to ever choose to skip an episode of The Amazing Race 6, this was the one. Other than the oddity of Freddy's glasses and his team's decision to wear their medals to the finish mat, this was a poorly-constructed leg that failed to bring the funny. Or the fun. Or much racing. May I vent?

  • Last week's Fast Forward gave Lori and Bolo about a forty-minute advantage on the pack. That's it.

  • The leg started off with a task that required teams to show up, sleep in the streets and bunch up, then take a flight with little ability to separate yourself from the other teams, then show up at another easily-located spot, sleep in the streets and wait for the next clue. Had they either (a) had some nighttime task in Budapest or (b) an earlier hours of operation for the morning task there, there might have been some chance for a little meaningful separation.

  • Because the Fast Forward didn't allow multiple teams to make simultaneous attempts and was not difficult to perform, there was no drama whatsoever. It was just a matter of showing up first. Compare it to the multiple team chase at the Marrakech rug mart in TAR3 or the Momily/Team Guido battle in TAR1, where winning the FF was really a battle.

  • Another Detour where the choices are Do Something Macho or Find Something, Wimp -- only the Find Something option didn't take very long and failed to punish the team(s) that attempted it.

  • The Roadblock -- which, by the way, is a task only one team member can perform, and no team member can complete more than six Roadblocks during the entire Race -- really allowed no room for teams to separate themselves. Only driving did.

  • Finally, if you haven't seen the episode yet, and only knew from the previews that this leg of the Race started with just six teams and ended in Corsica, with all of Asia and Australia/New Zealand left to traverse, how would you figure this leg ended? Yep.
If there's something good about this episode I'm missing, please share.
GETTING BEATEN TO THE PUNCH: You know, sometimes I'll see a story about which I'll think "gee, that could be some nice blogging material--I just need the joke." And then you see that a bigger, badder (and sluttier) blog beat you to the joke, and probably came up with funnier and more obscure references than you could have. That doesn't feel so good, though might I suggest this addition to the playlist? Other additions are invited.
SADLY, RUSTY BURRELL HAD FAILED LORD VADER: Regardless of whether or not you've ever engaged in a debate over whether an Imperial Star Destroyer could kick the U.S.S. Enterprise's ass or whether you have an opinion in the whole "Greedo Shoots First?" debate (I've done one of those two), you'll enjoy this comic, which takes Han Solo, Darth Vader, C3-PO, and Greedo's mother, and put them into the People's Court.

Link via Tung Yin--you ARE reading him, right?
LISTS? OF COURSE WE STILL DO LISTS: A reader of this blog wrote in wondering what the hell happened to the list component promised in the blog's mouthful of a name. Well, this blogger's New Year's-plus 11 days resolution is to bring back the list a day (give or take) that was a hallmark of my former home. Thus...

Monday, January 10, 2005

JESUS WALKS WITH ME, BUT GUCCI GIVES ME THE BLING-BLING: Yes, it's time for another exciting episode of American Brandstand, which studies product placement in the songs on the Billboard Top 20 singles charts. Interesting tidbits:
  • Top brands placed (in order) are Cadillac, Hennessy, Mercedes, Rolls Royce, and Gucci.
  • Kanye West gives brands the most product placements (19 brands in 4 singles, everything from Boost nutritional supplement to Geico insurance)
  • "The most violent lyric of the year?"--"The AK go chop chop chop chop/The SK go fire fire fire fire/The AK go chop chop chop chop/The SK go fire fire fire fire." (Makes the list because it's a product placement for AK-47.)
  • The only non hip-hop song to contain a product placement? Jessica Simpson's "With You," which mentions Levi's. (Apparently "Redneck Woman," which plugs Wal-Mart and Victoria's Secret, didn't make the chart.)
  • Jadakiss' question "Why didn't they make the CL6 with a clutch?" is cited as "the first example of hip-hop lyrics as consumer feedback." No answer is yet available to that question, or Jadakiss' other burning questions, including "Why is Jadakiss as hard as it gets?"

Link via The Trademark Blog

Sunday, January 9, 2005

TOMORROW'S PETER KING MMQB COLUMN TODAY: "GREEN BAY, WI -- I am standing here next to the greatest American born since Abraham Lincoln.

"I am speaking, of course, of Brett Lorenzo Favre of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who again today at Lambeau Field put together the kind of performance that future generations will look at with awe and wonder. People toss around words like 'bravery' and 'heroism' far too often in this society, but rarely are they as appropriate as they are when discussing what this modern Zeus put forth today.

"Amid tremendous pressure all around -- the death of his father last season, the tsunami devastation in South Asia and Mary Beth King's recent mock trial loss -- Favre completed 22 of 33 passes, a remarkable 67% rate, and led his team to scores in three different quarters before the hometown faithful.

"Brett is a reminder of heroes of the past -- not Unitas, Namath and Bradshaw but Churchill, Toussaint L'Ouverture or a young King David, perhaps the last time that athleticism, beauty and wisdom were combined in one package so perfectly. When you look into Favre's eyes, you cannot see the pains of twelve brilliant years in the NFL, but instead you peer into the future, a future in which Brett's arm remains true and my Starbucks latte always has good foam, just the right temperature and no bitterness. Just like Favre himself. No bitterness.

"There was no need to sully Brett's moment by asking him about the four interceptions or the fourteen-point home loss. Mere details for the nerds sitting at home in front of their computers. What Favre performed on the gridiron today transcended simple statistics or the realm of sports. He was Brett Favre, professional quarterback, and he can ride my tail anytime."
THE SMARTEST LETTER YOU'LL READ ALL WEEK: Comes from Minneapolis' Joe Andrews, addressing last Sunday's NYT Arts & Leisure article which attacked Saturday Night Live for abandoning sharp political satire in recent years to make dull jabs at celebrity culture.

As Andrews properly explains:
When a show has been dominated by men with a strong focus on political satire, what is it to do when its strongest contributors, behind and in front of the camera, are women? In other words, if "Saturday Night Live" is to leverage the best collection of female talent it has ever had, what will the source material be? Beyond Maya Rudolph's brilliant send-up of Condoleezza Rice, who else might they satirize? Barbara Boxer? Dianne Feinstein? (Of course there's Hillary Clinton, but best to wait until 2008 for that.) Should they ignore the female cast altogether and do traditional male-centric political satire in spite of the missing gender-appropriate talent?

While Mr. Itzkoff's article is ostensibly about a shift from political satire to cultural satire, it is really about a shift in focus from men in politics to women in popular culture - a place where power comes in different shades.

He's absolutely right about the amassing of female talent, only slightly off its peak when they had the current crew and Ana Gasteyer, and he's right that the show lacks the male talent to do politics well. (Mostly, they miss Will Ferrell.)

What he misses, however, is that the show is cyclical, and over the past few years we've already seen the best of what Fey/Rudolph/Dratch/Poehler can do with celebrity culture and modern life. All that's left is rehashing old characters (Donatella Versace, Debbie Downer) and Fey's wonderfully acerbic attitude, only without the great content Weekend Update once had.

Every couple years, SNL needs to evict everyone and start fresh. With Darrell Hammond now in his eighth season, I'd say that time is now.
NA, NA, NA, GONNA HAVE A GOOD TIME: Various thoughts after having seen Fat Albert yesterday, arranged in numbered paragraphs to disguise the fact that I have no transitions between some of them:

1. Let's start with the central decision that sets this movie apart from all its peer movies over the past decade that also remade favored television shows of the past -- The Brady Bunch Movie, Scooby-Doo, Starsky and Hutch, etc. Those movies existed primarily to mock the original characters for their squareness and reward the hipster-viewer for his superiority, that You Are Better Than This Now And Wasn't It All Silly? They take a cynical, deconstructive view of the original tv shows, treating their primary attractions as dismisible kitsch.

This is defiantly not so with Fat Albert. Yes, there are a few cultural dislocation jokes ("What's a divduh?" upon seeing a DVD poster), but the absolute essence of the movie is that the values that Fat Albert and the Junkyard Gang carried in the 1970s remain relevant today: Believe in yourself. Don't let fear stop you from caring about someone. And most all all, if a friend has a problem, reach out and help.

Not once does this movie condescend to its characters, and our contemporaries within the movie who mock their sweetness and good intentions are treated with scorn.

2. I should explain the plot for a moment, and I will assume that even if you're still planning on seeing the movie, no spoiler I can tell you here will ruin your enjoyment. (If I'm wrong, click here to skip ahead.)

So, Fat Albert and his friends are in the animated junkyard, conscious of their status as characters on a television show. From the edge of their universe, they see a teenaged girl crying on her remote control, and Albert is moved. He forces himself through the portal into the "real world" of "North Philadelphia" (see #3), his friends all following (except little brother Russell, who's left behind to fend off some bullies.)

Cultural immersion. Confusion from the girl. Giggles from the False Friends Who Don't Get It. Trip to the mall, where Albert visits a Big & Tall menswear shop. Problems are gradually solved. Fun is had. Members of the Junkyard Gang start overcoming their own problems -- Mushmouth learns to speak clearly, Weird Harold becomes not so weird, and Dumb Donald not so dumb -- and they all have to make a difficult decision about whether to stay in our world or return to their own.

3. Okay, so it's not exactly North Philadelphia. Half the people there are white, the high school seems well-funded, and there are no poor people. (Indeed, aside from one background in a carnival scene and a few WDAS-FM signs, no actual Philadelphia exists in this movie.)

I grappled with this for a while during the movie -- shouldn't FA&TJG be addressing contemporary problems of urban poverty, addiction and crime?

But that would be a very different movie, and one which inevitably would mock the kids for their sincerity and simple solutions in a world of seemingly intractable problems. No good could come of having Dumb Donald donating his ski mask to a homeless person. Bill Cosby didn't want to make that movie, and I didn't really want to see it.

4. Minor quibbles: in the original series, Rudy is the mack-daddy-playah-in-waiting. Here, he's just a nice, sweet guy. The Brown Hornet only appears as a logo on Bill's sweatshirt, not otherwise coming to life. There could have been a little more early introduction to the characters, so that you understand that Bill's the level-headed one, Weird Harold is clumsy, etc. Also, the animated portions are done in a modern, 360-degree-swirling style, and not the beloved low-tech flat style of the original. That was disconcerting.

5. Is it "Fat Albert and the Junkyard Gang" or "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids"? This is the Bluto v. Brutus of our age.

6. Back to the sweetness. There is not one in-joke in the movie designed to take the audience out of the frame, not one wink to the viewer, not one note of sarcasm. The movie practically bludgeons you with its sincerity, and that's a good thing. All the performances work, esp. Kenan Thompson's genial take on Big Al.

7. The meta thing, and here's where it gets interesting. Because I also saw Ocean's 12 yesterday, and it was tired and unambitious. The only interesting notes in it were the meta-moments -- disruptive hotel guest Topher Grace being admonished by the Brad Pitt character for "pulling a Muniz" in his room, with Grace noting that he had half-assed his way through "that Dennis Quaid movie" he just finished, and then Tess (Julia Roberts) being asked to pose as pregnant actress Julia Roberts to help pull off a heist, only to be confronted by the real (?) Bruce Willis who starts talking to her about Tallulah and Taos. It's trying to be in-jokey, but because it's the only thing that's alive in the movie, it's not as enjoyable as it could be.

Now back to Fat Albert, where the meta augments and deepens the story, instead of being the whole thing. Frustrated with the dilemma of whether to return to the animated world, Fat Albert visits the home of Bill Cosby. And William H. Cosby Jr. Ed.D., very much looking his 66 years, after getting over the initial shock of greeting his creation starts to ask Albert about the teenage girl he was helping. Albert explains that her name is Doris Robertson, that she lives in North Philadelphia and that she had been sad since her grandfather passed away.

Her grandfather? Oh dear, says Cosby, and it all comes together: Doris Robertson's grandfather was Albert Robertson, one of Bill's real-life childhood friends, on whom Cosby based the 'Fat Albert' character. That's why you were able to see her cry, Cosby explains. There's a mystical connection.

8. And then there's the big whammy. (big emotional spoiler alert)

When all is said and done and the problems are all solved, the gang heads back into the tv. We're left in a cemetary, at Albert Robertson's gravesite. And there's Bill Cosby. And Russell Cosby, his brother, whom he slept with. And the real-life* Weird Harold, his afro balded with age, and Mushmouth, and Dumb Donald and Rudy, the older gentleman shown on the screen with the animated character each inspired.

(*from here, I'm just hoping these are the real guys, not actors, because the credits didn't say beyond Russell Cosby.)

It's a really moving scene, with these old men honoring their fallen friend. But they will all live on forever through television and DVD, and that's something.

9. So I'm not saying that this movie was brilliant or anything. But it's a very good family movie, with solid lessons to impart, and for us Gen X-ers looking for an uncynical two hours of warm nostalgia, it's time and money well spent. Thanks, Bill.