Saturday, January 29, 2005

SORRY, WE DON'T SIGN FAMILY ACTS: 95% of what I was going to say about my interest in Penn Jillette's Sundance feature The Aristocrats has already been written by Nick Gillespie. So go there to learn about a documentary that's just 100 comedians each giving their version of the same joke, and make sure to follow the links to the WaPo article and to Gilbert Gottfried's post-9/11 riff on it. To say that this movie will be divisive is an understatement.

"The Aristocrats" joke itself is about the filthiest one there is, even more deeply offensive, at its best, than the "The Most Offensive Song Ever" from Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics. But that's the point.

Don't believe me? Watch Eric Cartman tell the joke. (Or read a transcript.) (Last two links exceptionally NSFW).
I'VE GOT TO STOP THIS. MY ENTOURAGES ARE GETTING ENTOURAGES: If you're a sports fan who also reads this blog, that you should be reading Bill Simmons regularly is beyond peradventure.

But did you know his Quote of the Day archive is now online?

Two of the many gems:
"That was just instinct. Kind of like running from the cops, I guess you could say."
-- Virginia's Marquis Weeks after returning a 100-yard kickoff against UNC

"We have a lot of stars, just no one you've ever heard of."
-- 49ers GM Terry Donahue

One quote I'd add is from the late Tug McGraw. When asked what he'd do with his 1975 salary, he responded, "Ninety percent I'll spend on good times, women and Irish Whiskey. The other ten percent I'll probably waste."

Friday, January 28, 2005

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: While there are still several movies I ought to see before the Oscars to be an educated viewer (in particular, "Vera Drake," "Maria Full of Grace," "Kinsey," and "Being Julia"), I finished viewing the five films nominated for Best Picture this evening with "Million Dollar Baby," and can unambgiously say that "MDB" would get my Best Picture vote, at least among the nominees. "Ray" is a decent biopic carried by Foxx's performance in spite of a clunky framing device and overlong script, "The Aviator" is overly ambitious and fails almost as much as it succeeds, "Finding Neverland" is a formulaic (if effective) tearjerker, and "Sideways," good as it is, doesn't match up. "MDB" is full of body blows, not just in the boxing ring, but with a well-hidden plot turn (which I'd appreciate if people didn't spoil in the comments) that makes the movie far more than you may have expected. The three lead performances are great, and the script doesn't condescend or make a moral judgment on what happens--it tells a story and does it beautifully. There may well have been better films released in 2004, but of the final five, I think "MDB" would be my clear choice for Best Picture, though I'd split other votes ("Sideways" would get my screenplay vote, and Martin Scorsese would get my director vote).
YOU'RE NOT WORFWESS, AWEC BALDWIN: It's an exceedingly quiet day at the office--perhaps folks thought it would be a good idea to not come in in light of the subzero windchill--so I want to make a case to you fine folks--Alec Baldwin is a better actor than he gets credit for. Take a look at the filmography. There are a fair number of stinkers in there, but Baldwin, even in an utter disaster like "The Cat In The Hat" or a movie he's clearly doing for the paycheck like "Along Came Polly," Baldwin's part is almost always fascinating to watch. Baldwin also has a willingness to take smaller or unusual parts that many "name actors" might be reluctant to do, such as narrating "The Royal Tennenbaums" and providing a voice for the animated version of "Clerks.""

However, the key to Baldwin's talent is two-fold. First, he is enormously good at playing the profane but smart thug. Witness his Oscar-nominated work in last year's "The Cooler" as Casino owner and small-time hustler Shelly Kaplow. Also, Baldwin's performance in "Glengarry Glen Ross" is deservedly legendary, not just for its innovative usage of profanity, but for great delivery of lines like "We're adding a little something to this month's sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? [Holds up prize] Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired."

Second is Baldwin's utter willingness to self-parody. It's rarely seen on the big screen, with the best examples being his unbilled work as a drunken lout of an actor in "Notting Hill" and as a lecherous actor with a thing for underaged girls in "State & Main," but it shines. Where Baldwin's comic edge really shines are his many appearances on "SNL." Be it making fun of himself as being nothing more than a "handsome actor," talking about his "Schweddy Balls," reminiscing about the late, great Bill Brasky, or even delivering a very uncomfortable presentation with a coworker, Baldwin always brings the laughs.

Personally, I'd love to see Baldwin on a sitcom or dramedy--maybe a more comic, network-friendly variation on "The Sopranos" about a goodfella who goes into witness protection but can't quite seem to give up "the life." Hell, if it weren't too late, I'd advocate seeing Baldwin as a Presidential candidate over on "West Wing," and he still could make an interesting recurring character as an angry Senator.
THROWING STONES: As many of you heard two days ago, Philip Johnson, the unofficial dean of the American architecture establishment, died Wednesday, or possibly Tuesday night, at the tender age of one jillion. For those of you who believe that one should speak no ill of the dead, Johnson was probably best known for the AT&T building, which reintroduced the purely ornamental sculptural top to the modern skyscraper form. His most well-received work, however, may have been his first: his own home in New Canaan, a small glass box (minimally framed in steel atop a narrow brick-fronted concrete slab) on a low grassy hill punctuated with trees. Although the materials are thoroughly modern, the transparency and apparent weightlessness of the house draw the natural surroundings into and through the structure. Makes for pretty pictures and probably a neat place to do the NYT crossword on a spring morning.

For those of you who don't care about speaking ill of the dead, I will add that Johnson is one of those architects who feed the myth that the only important thing about a building is how it looks from the outside. His glass house is beautiful, but glass transfers heat (and cold), so the house is uninhabitable all winter and on most hot days. Johnson's skyscrapers also (necessarily) focused on the skin of a building, leaving the innards to be carved up by the developers and tenants.

Johnson was also a Big Idea guy (not one Big Idea -- I would say that he was the Madonna of architecture, except that there were others who fit the bill) whose big ideas didn't always translate. The idea of blowing up smaller architectural forms to skyscraper scale, for example, never did it for me -- things that feel perfectly normal when properly scaled to the human body can look grotesque (and childishly simple) when just blown up to 50x scale. The glass house creates two completely different kinds of theoretical problems. One is that you can take the transparency only so far -- even Johnson wanted his toilet hidden in a brick cylinder. The other is that the transparency is false -- easy to build a glass house where distance creates the privacy that walls don't; harder to do it in Park Slope.

One other thing about Johnson: his greatest work was a ripoff of Mies's Farnsworth House, which is superior because of the way it seems to float. There are a ton of other interesting things about Johnson, but I'll stick to the architecture here.
IS SHE LIVIN' ON THE AIR IN CINCINNATI, CINCINNATI, WKRP? Ann Althouse wonders whatever happened to Fiona Apple, whose third album has been indefinitely shelved by her record label. Her first album, "Tidal," is one of my favorites, as is her cover of "Across The Universe" from the "Pleasantville" soundtrack, though her second album "When The Pawn..." (I refuse to type the full 70 word title), is rather pretentious and more than a bit of a mess. Of course, I knew something was up when I went to this quasi-legendary show featuring a likely coked out of her gourd Apple shouting at the sound system, an inexplicable appearance by Jimmy Fallon, and a "five minute break" that still seems to be going on. Apple obviously has some issues that need sorting out, and dating this guy is probably not the best way to deal with that.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

DID DOOGIE HOWSTER JUST STEAL MY CAR? Maybe I'm way late on the cultural curve here, but I finally rented Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, and, hot damn, that's some quality filmmaking.

It's the movie that Old School dreamed of being. Funny as hell, but it's a humor that's based on entertaining, likeable characters, not just outrageous situations or tag lines.

This is a great, episodic stoner comedy. It pays due homage to New Jersey, to Old Nassau and to the one and only Slider. It includes the funniest parody of a Just Say No ad I've ever seen, solid grossout humor, and you get to see Sh*tbreak from American Pie stoned off his semitic gourd. And there's a sweetness to it that feels authentic, both from the characters and the writing, and it's unmistakeable.

Here's the original trailer. Oh, just see it. For me to say more would spoil the fun.
HOW THE PREMIERE OF "DR. VEGAS" DIDN'T MAKE IT ON, I DON'T KNOW: The Futon Critic offers this list of the 50 best television episodes of last year. (They offer similar lists back to 2000.) Now, I can't say I agree with all of the placements (for instance, in 2001, the list places TWW's "Two Cathedrals" in 24th place for the year, behind episodes of CBS's deservedly short-lived "Fugitive" remake and several episodes of "Buffy," and "Arrested Development" only makes one appearance on the list for last year), but it's certainly a nice reminder of some great TV you may have forgotten or missed, including nods to deserving episodes of "Scrubs," "Everwood," and the soon-to-arrive-on-DVD "Wonderfalls."
DON'T WORRY ABOUT A THING, BE HAPPY: Apparently there is more widespread confusion about Bob Marley than I imagined in my post last week. Witness Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell's comments about the Condoleezza Rice nomination hearings this past weekend on CNN's "The Capitol Gang":
"But her performance at times reminded me of Bob Marley's song, 'Don't worry, be happy,' just take our word for it, everything's going well. We have trained the right number of Iraqis. We can turn this over to them after the election. It's just Fantasy Island. They're telling us things that just aren't true. And if they don't confront the true realities of Iraq, who will, and what's going to happen?"
Incidentally, Bob (Marley, not McFerrin or Dylan) is having (or would of been having) a little 60th birthday party celebration next month.

And one last thing, if she's going to be our secretary of state, we should at least spell her name right?
AND PRESENTING OUR NEXT AWARD--HE WROTE ABOUT SPIES, SHE PLAYS ONE ON TV--NORMAN MAILER AND JENNIFER GARNER: NBC and Vivendi Universal have announced plans for the "Quills," which attempts to cross the National Book Awards with "American Idol," and which will be broadcast in October on the 14 NBC owned and operated TV stations in a "star-studded" ceremony. Categories include "Rookie of the Year," which is apparently the Quill equivalent of "Best New Artist," "Literary Fiction," and "Graphic Novel of the Year." Somehow, I expect this is going to be a little more accesible than the average book awards--expect Stephen King and John Grisham to clean up.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

A THEORY: Picking up on something mentioned in one of the Comments sections below, do you remember how in the movie Office Space, Ron Livingston's Peter thinks that Jennifer Aniston's Joanna once slept with his boss, Lumbergh? Peter is haunted by the image of Lumbergh having relations with Joanna, so much so that he has to break up with her. It's just a theory, but is it possible that Brad Pitt just recently found out that his soon-to-be ex-wife once dated Oscar-nominated Counting Crows singer and Sideshow Bob stand-in Adam Durtiz?
WIDE RIGHT: Come the night of February 6, will TO unexpectedly limping on to the field a la Willis Reed for a last-minute touchdown drive knock Montana to Taylor off ESPN's list of the 100 Greatest Super Bowl Moments? Or will Owens make a gaffe worthy of joining the Norwoods and Smiths on ESPN's list of 10 Biggest Super Bowl Goats?

By the way, Scott Norwood's kick shows up at No. 1 on the goat list and No. 4 on the memorable moment list. Sports Illustrated tracked down Norwood for their "Where Are They Now" issue last summer. The story is only available to subscribers, alas. And amusingly, searching Google for the first five words in the article, "This stocky man, in brown" brings up no results, other than an unexpected ad for "Hot, Gay Hardcore."
IF MICHAEL IAN BLACK IS BEING PAID, THEN THE INTEGRITY'S GONE: In the wake of the Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher payola scandals, it was only a matter of time before payola stretched to the world of pop culture snark on VH1. The New York Daily News reports today that VH1 has terminated pundit Jonathan Cheban for making an undisclosed plug for Evian during "The Fabulous Life of Cameron Diaz."

VH1--to restore your integrity, it's time to hire some unbought and unbossed pop culture pundit types. Might I suggest that there are some folks around these parts who'd be interested and willing to restore your dignity?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

NANCY, BOY: And just when you thought the Race was back to its normal greatness, we travel to Sri Lanka, the now-besieged island nation in which no mistake is too great to be overcome by a second re-bunch with thirty-eight minutes already gone in the episode -- no mistake, that is, except the last one.

Other than a great Roadblock task, this leg stank. (Okay, the little Esther Williams number at the end was cute, but it's countered by that vicious Bolo = Monkey edit.) Yes, it was nice to see FloZac again, albeit with the genders reversed, but when starting first doesn't matter, and neither does finish the detours first, or making a train within 1h30m of other teams, or a pointless detour to a temple, then what does?

Five teams, three hours, two episodes to go.
HER KINDNESS BANGS A GONG: The comments in the Oscar thread reminded me of a question--is there a better pop song out there that manages to eschew both the standard "verse-chorus-verse" structure and even any real attempt to have a rhyme scheme than Counting Crows' "Anna Begins?" And the brilliant use of the song in last season's top-notch "No Sure Thing" episode of "Everwood" solidifies my love for it even more.
HOPEFULLY HE'LL PLAY "GOTTA TO GET YOU INTO MY LIFE": The 25th anniversary of Paul McCartney's arrest in Japan with 7.7 ounces of marijuana quietly passed on January 16th. The Cute One's long history with narcotics came to mind this morning when I read that the NFL's thought police had pulled Los Lonely Boys from the pre-Super Bowl Pepsi Smash Concert Series after the band's drummer, "no-not-that" Ringo Garza, was arrested for marijuana possession. "We were uncomfortable with it," was the reason given by NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy for giving Garza and the Boys the boot. McCartney, you may recall, is the NFL and Fox's hand-picked choice to entertain the masses at this year's Super Bowl half time without barring his breast.

A look at the list of the league's past Super Bowl entertainers reveals some other moral stalwarts in game's history, including Super Bowl XXVII's dynamic duo of coin-tosser O.J. Simpson and half-time entertainer Michael Jackson.
BOLD PREDICTION O' THE DAY: Given that Oscar nominations have arrived and that I apparently cursed Paul Giamatti into not getting a nomination, I probably shouldn't be doing this, but my bold prediction is this: Giamatti will win the Supporting Actor Oscar next year for "Cinderella Man." Also, I'm going to go out on a limb and make the following early predictions in the top categories:

Best Picture: "Million Dollar Baby"
Best Director: Martin Scorsese, "The Aviator"
Best Actor: Jamie Foxx, "Ray"
Best Actress: Hilary Swank, "Million Dollar Baby"
Best Supporting Actor: Thomas Haden Church, "Sideways"
Best Supporting Actress: Natalie Portman, "Closer"
Best Original Screenplay: "Eternal Sunshine"
Best Adapted Screenplay: "Sideways"
IF THIS ISN'T A REASON TO OVERINDULGE IN SOMETHING QUAFFABLE, I DON'T KNOW WHAT IS: Apparently, Paul Giamatti's performance in Sideways was not one of the best five male lead acting performances of 2005, at least according to The Academy.

Here's the nominations, fresh off the presses. There's much to discuss.

Monday, January 24, 2005

I STARTED OUT IN A GASEOUS STATE, AND THEN I COOLED: Just about every Johnny Carson obit -- and, really, start with this one -- has made mention of the lengthy profile of Carson that Kenneth Tynan did for the New Yorker in 1978.

It's now online, and if you've got a few minutes, it's well worth your time, starting with this observation made by the late, great writer-director Billy Wilder:
“By the simple law of survival, Carson is the best,” he said. “He enchants the invalids and the insomniacs as well as the people who have to get up at dawn. He is the Valium and the Nembutal of a nation. No matter what kind of dead-asses are on the show, he has to make them funny and exciting. He has to be their nurse and their surgeon. He has no conceit. He does his work and he comes prepared. If he’s talking to an author, he has read the book. Even his rehearsed routines sound improvised. He’s the cream of middle-class elegance, yet he’s not a mannequin. He has captivated the American bourgeoisie without ever offending the highbrows, and he has never said anything that wasn’t liberal or progressive. Every night, in front of millions of people, he has to do the salto mortale”—circus parlance for an aerial somersault performed on the tightrope. “What’s more” and here Wilder leaned forward, tapping my knee for emphasis—”he does it without a net. No rewrites. No retakes. The jokes must work tonight.”

No one will ever dominate the medium the way Carson did, or do so with such wit and grace.
IT'S THE ONLY AWARDS SHOW THAT HAS NO NOMINATIONS WHATSOEVER FOR "SIDEWAYS:" Yes, your nominees for the 25th annual Golden Raspberry Awards have arrived. Leading the nominations, with 7 (including Worst Picture, Worst Actress, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay) is "Catwoman." Right behind is "Alexander," with nods for Farrell, Kilmer, Jolie, and Stone. The surprise big "winner?" "Fahrenheit 9/11," which racked up five nods, including George W. Bush for Worst Actor, Donald Rumsfeld for Worst Supporting Actor, and both Britney Spears and Condoleeza Rice for Worst Supporting Actress.

For the silver anniversary, the Razzies are also recognizing the nadirs of the last 25 years, with the "Worst Comedy" category being particularly painful, pitting "The Cat In The Hat" against "Freddy Got Fingered" against "Gigli," with the dark horse opportunity for "Leonard Part 6." What should win?
PICTURES CAME AND BROKE YOUR HEART: A quarter-century or so after the Buggles declared the radio star dead, done in by video (in the conservatory with the candlestick), a new poll conducted by British cell phone company 3 seems to suggest that the video star might now want to look into estate planning, as Johnny Cash's haunting video for "Hurt" topped a list of the Top 20 Music Videos of All Time. That Cash's simple and haunting video for a Nine Inch Nails' song could beat "Thriller," even after "13 Going on 30," has to be considered a major upset and a odd coda to Cash's legendary career.

I couldn't find the full list, picked by musicians like Michael Stipe, Robert Smith, and Bjork, anywhere on the Web, but rounding out the top five were "Thriller" Aphex Twin's "Come to Daddy," Radiohead's "Just" and "Billie Jean." Refreshing absent from the top five were such perennials as "Sledgehammer," "You Might Think," "Money for Nothing," and Madonna's entire oeuvre, though you can bet they--and the Spike Jonze collection--made the top 20.

Related: Slant Magazine's top 100 music videos; MTV's 1999 list of the 100 best videos; and MTVe's top 20 of 2004.
AND BY THE WAY, SOYLENT GREEN IS MADE OUT OF PEOPLE: Sometimes, you just couldn't make up opinions. On a theatre message board I frequent, a hot topic for discussion today is whether NYT theatre critic Ben Brantley improperly "spoils" a plot point in the new musical "Little Women" by revealing that Beth dies during the course of the show. Of course, the segment of the population that this would be a spoiler to is rather small.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

E! A! G! L! E! S! For once, I don't have to dust this post off for another two weeks.

Man, New England's going to eat us up like Sam Waterston on untouched scenery, but I'm happy to keep enjoying this ride until then.
WELL, THAT ANSWERS THE QUESTION OF WHO'S GETTING THE MOST APPLAUSE DURING THE NECROLOGY: Johnny Carson, dead at 79. CNN has a comprehensive obituary. Most of Carson's career was before I was old enough to be watching late night, but I do have a clear memory of his final shows, particularly his last one with guests Robin Williams and Bette Midler. Interestingly, Carson died only a few days after the New York Post broke the story that Carson has been feeding jokes to David Letterman for several years. I'm sure both Letterman and Leno will pay their respects on Monday night, and NBC is likely to (rightly) preempt its regular programming tonight to pay tribute.