Saturday, February 12, 2005

BASOONISTS, HOWEVER, REMAIN S.O.L.: The N.Y. Times reports on an unusual series of job openings--apparently, high quality professional oboists are much in demand. The Saturday/Sunday Times is an uncommon bounty this weekend, with Oscar predictions from the Times critics, an article on "Q-Tips," "Rent-Heads," and "Brookies," a tour of Roger Ebert's crib, and an impassioned argument for the elimination of the slam dunk in the NBA. Even more worth your time than usual.

Friday, February 11, 2005

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DEATH OF A PLAYWRIGHT: Arthur Miller, dead at 89. Leaving aside the whole marrying and divorcing Marilyn Monroe thing, and the fact that one of his plays ("The Crucible") is read by seemingly every American high school student, the best witness to his greatness is to look at the actors who have played roles he wrote on Broadway:
Even if Miller's later plays didn't reach the brilliance of his early work, he was a tremendous talent whose plays never shirked to tell the hard truths that we (and sometimes he) didn't want to hear. It is indeed a loss.
T-O-N-Y A-W-A-R-D? After stellar reviews following its opening earlier this week, investors are abuzz with bringing new musical "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" to Broadway, joining two of this blog's obsessions--academic competition and musical theatre. Their only problem? Finding a suitable theatre, since most smaller houses are currently booked with shows that aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Now, if there's a transfer by May, I think we've got our anchor events for ALOTT5MA-Con, to be held in conjunction with TARCON7.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

FROM ABC TO XTC IN TWELVE STEPS: I will warn you right now -- is a ridiculously addictive time waster.

So I expect you to share your favorite results in the Comments, of course.
DO YOU THINK I GIVE A DAMN ABOUT A . . . : Sunday night marks the return of what recently has become absolute must-see tv: the Grammy Awards.

Don't laugh.

A few years ago, the Awards were in disarray. The 2000 awards, for example, was dominated by Steely Dan; the year before, Santana; the year before that saw Celine Dion and the misevaluation of Lauryn Hill. Lenny Kravitz won four straight Best Male Rock Vocal Performance awards, the musical equivalent of Juan Gonzalez's multiple MVP honors of the same era.

And then, faster than you can say "Soy Bomb", something changed.

No, the award choices didn't get much better, unless you believe that Norah Jones is the future of American music. But the show sure improved. Somehow, the producers realized what a music awards show could do that no other awards (save the Tonys) could: focus on live performances.

And so, both the 2003 and 2004 broadcasts decided to lower the number of awards presented on stage, and amplify the performance aspects.

Over the past two years, we've seen Paul and Artie reunite; an angry rendition of "London Calling" by Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, Elvis Costello and Little Steven; Eminem and the Roots on "Lose Yourself"; that fantastic Prince/Beyonce medley to start last year's show; a touching tribute to Warren Zevon; and (and I'm quoting myself here, but I had it fine the first time) "a gloriously messy and exuberant funk segment with Big Boi, Earth Wind & Fire (featuring Verdine "Sexual Chocolate!" White on bass), Robert Randolph and P-Funk, the Mothership; and, finally, Andre 3000 bringing the house down with a wild, party-up, get-down, yeah-Native-Americans-are-going-to-be-pissed-but-it-was-fun performance of "Hey Ya", which was, like, wow."

Best yet: no lip-synching. At all.

So don't sweat the awarding -- pay no attention to the fact that they've again eliminated the Best Female Rock Vocal Performance category and folded Melissa Etheridge in with the men, and while it's good to hope that Kanye gets all the propers he deserves, his career might be better off without it. (Ask Lauryn.)

Just enjoy the performances, which will range from Franz Ferdinand to the Black Eyed Peas, Usher to U2 and Joss Stone to Gretchen Wilson. Because rock and roll isn't about the awards anyway. It's about the music . . . and the drugs . . . and the groupies.

(One final note: this is going to be one hell of a Necrology this year. Ray Charles, of course, takes the lead, but between Johnny Ramone, Laura Branigan, Rick James and the O.D.B., there's a lot of tears to go around.)
HE'S GOOD ENOUGH, HE'S SMART ENOUGH: But do people like him enough to vote for him? Yes, Al Franken's running for the Senate. No word yet on the proposed Fey/Poehler '08 ticket, or Jimmy Fallon's attempt to run for the House in Boston after his movie career dies.

Edit: OK, so he's not running after all (at least not in 2006).

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

I KNOW, IT'S ONLY ROCK AND ROLL, BUT, OY VEY! Adam Horowitz, Susanna Hoffs and that David Roth will have to wait: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is suing the founders of the proposed Jewish Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for trademark infringement.

Says co-founder Jeffrey Goldberg, who by the way his mother is very proud that he is a Washington correspondent for the New Yorker magazine, kinahora: "Speaking as a layman, I don't think they own rock and roll and I don't think they own the phrase 'Hall of Fame' and I know for sure they don't own the Jews."
IS THIS BECAUSE I'M A . . . : The NYT's Virginia Heffernan, on tv's favorite sexual preference for sweeps month.

I know it was in January, but how can you leave out that Boston Legal episode about . . . all together now . . . lesbians!

NEXT, JOE MANTEGNA TO PLAY ANTONIN SCALIA: OK, can someone explain why, on tonight's "West Wing," a show that's taken pride in completely making stuff up ("The Republic of Equatorial Kundu?" "The Republic of Qumar?" "The Women's Leadership Coalition?"), we decide to go meta-real tonight, not just with a main plotline that's "ripped from the headlines!," but with an appearance by "Prof. Larry Lessig," who's, bizarrely, not played by Prof. Lessig, but by Christopher Lloyd. Yes, Doc Brown played Prof. Lessig.

The episode was more than a bit disjointed, with the Lessig plotline and a comic relief plotline involving a visit by Miss World not fitting with the main foreign policy plotline. And it's February in D.C., and nary a mention of who's up and who's down in the primaries? No mention of who won New Hampshire or Iowa? C'mon! Bonus points, however, for finding a way for Kristin Chenoweth to sing in character without it seeming entirely gratuitious.
FOLLOW THE...ANYONE? ANYONE?...MONEY: With Deep Throat said to be ailing and promises that the shadowy Watergate source for WaPo reporters Woodward and Bernstein will only be named once he has slipped this mortal coil, Editor and Publisher has a look at the list of all the usual (Rehnquist, Ford, Haig) and unusual (Ben Stein, Nixon himself) suspects.
WELL, IT'S ONE LESS THING TO TIVO: Following in the footsteps of the WB, which has chosen to substitute the insufferable "Summerland" for "Everwood" for the next two months, leaving Monday night television as an utterly complete wasteland, Fox has upped the stupid ante. Not only are they cutting back on the order for Emmy-winning comedy "Arrested Development," but they're giving "AD"s timeslot to the godawful "American Dad," which I turned off halfway through the post-Super Bowl preview--it's THAT bad. The good news? "AD" has rounded up top-notch guest stars for the rest of the year, including Zach Braff as the tycoon behind the "Girls With Low Self-Esteem" video series and Ben Stiller as GOB's new rival.
STAY IN SCHOOL: The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll is up today, and days before he'll mop up at the Grammy's, Chicago's own Kanye West has the honor of the consensus No. 1 CD of 2004. The top single of 2004 was Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out." Both West and FF show up in the top 10 of both lists, a feat repeated only by Modest Mouse, U2, and Jay-Z (counting his contribution to The Grey Album).

And either I am getting hipper in my mid-30s or the critics are coming back to my tastes, but I actually own (and by own I mean I downloaded them or better yet downloaded them from CDs from the library, my own private Napster) about half of the 20 CDs, including the single non-kid friendly CD (think Ralph Covert and Dan Zanes, not Raffi) I actually purchased in 2004, Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose, which if I had a vote would have been No. 1.

And one more tangent, those of you with kids and some musical taste, will want to run out and buy the latest kid friendly CD from They Might Be Giants, Here Come the ABCs, which drops next week.
IS IT REALLY THAT HARD TO COUNT? Yet again, case names generate inappropriate amusement. Forfeiture cases are always fun (as are 1983 actions), for generating case names like Bivens v. Six Unnamed Federal Agents and United States v. 16 Reels of 35 mm Film, but I think United States v. United States Currency in Amount of $119,984.00, More or Less, 304 F.3d 165 (2d Cir. 2002), may well take the cake. It's the "more or less" that makes it art.
WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, FERN? I wanted to open up a separate thread to focus on the overall problems with TAR6, which to me were independent from who ended up winning.

One, we've discussed every week: too much bunching, especially late in legs, though the final episode did finally provide consequences for finishing late in the prior leg.

The other, I think, was the Racers: not that they were unlikeable. They just weren't that good. No team really seemed to try to find shortcuts consistently -- whether with planes or on the ground -- and stake out consistent leads and break themselves out of bunches. Remember Colin reserving the town car for Dallas? Charla and Mirna always finding faster flights when they had to change planes? Cha Cha Cha using hotel concierges and local guides? Or Millie and Chuck, always over-thinking each task? None of that here.

So bring on Rob and Ambuh! (And then, um, The Amazing Family Race?)

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

PLANES, BOATS, TRAINS, TAXIS AND FEET: The TAR6 finale featured every form of transportation I can think of -- and from China to Chi . . . okay, no spoilers here. Straight to the Comments, people.
SADLY, THE PEACH PIT ISN'T A PARTY: I feel so sick and wrong--I'm working on a case where opposing counsel's address concludes in "Beverly Hills, CA, 90210," and every time I send out a letter, fax, or even read the address in a document, it cues the immortal "Duh-na-na, Duh-na-na, thunk thunk!" that began the "90210" theme song in my head.
WAX ON, WAX OFF, WAX NOSTALGIC: Upon the arrival of the special edition, four-disc DVD set of The Karate Kid series, Ralph Macchio, 43 (yes, he's 43) takes a look back at the Daniel-san phenomenon.

On a note that no one will find interesting, the summer before my freshman year in college, I went to see Karate Kid 2 at the Old Orchard theater with the girl with curly hair that is sitting right behind Sloane in Ferris Bueller's Day Off in the scene in which she is pulled out of class by the school nurse.
WHATEVER YOU DO, REMEMBER TO CARRY ON YOUR LUGGAGE: And just like that, it's almost gone -- The Amazing Race 6 concludes this evening. Each TAR finale has been action-packed, filled with more drama and suspense than just about anything else on tv, so as relatively weak as this season has been, I am still eager to see how it all shakes out.

So, between Rebecca and Hellboy, Kris and Jon, Aaron and Hayden, and Kendra and Freddy's glasses, who do you want to see win? Who will win?

(And is it just me, or is this the youngest group of teams ever to make it to a finals? Freddy's the oldest competitor left, but more than half of last year's final four were older than him.)

Monday, February 7, 2005

EMBARRASSING SPORTS INJURY OF THE WEEK: At last, Northwestern's sports program seems to be back to their pre-Gary Barnett/Darnell Autry era, as a Medill freshman Kyle Adams disclocated his kneecap in the halftime shot contest.

Unlike former Wildcats, at least I don't think this kid missed on purpose.
WHAT'S URDU FOR "CAJONES"? Time Online reports on the retirement villa of A.Q. Khan, former head of Pakistani nuclear research and architect of the coming decade of Arab nuclear proliferation:

To the casual observer, the house provides just one clue to its owner's sinister profession. At the end of his driveway sits a large jasmine bush, trimmed into an odd but unmistakable shape: that of a mushroom cloud.

NOW THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN AN OSCAR-WORTHY PERFORMANCE: USA Today has a look at how black actors like Will Smith in Hitch and Ice Cube in Are We There Yet? are getting roles that in the past might have gone to white actors. While I think that is a somewhat dubious trend, there is one interesting nugget in the story:
But the real breakthrough for Hollywood's black actors came quietly on Jan. 21.

That weekend, Ice Cube's road trip comedy Are We There Yet? opened against Assault on Precinct 13, a thriller starring Laurence Fishburne and Ethan Hawke.

"That's the first weekend I can remember when the only two big-studio movies you had opening starred primarily black actors," says Tom Sherak, co-founder of Revolution Studios, which produced Yet.

When Yet knocked off Coach Carter as the No. 1 film that weekend, it also marked the first time that black-led movies claimed three of the top six spots at theaters, according to box office tracking firm"
Even with that feat occurring in the box-office hell that is January, it's a noteworthy feat nonetheless.

The story also ties into the fact that an unprecedented 20% of the best acting nominations went to black actors this year. Amusingly, though, the story is teased on the paper's main page with a picture of Jamie Foxx holding up a trophy he got for his star turn in Ray with the following blurb:
Black actors break through
They're starring in major films that only a few years ago would likely have gone to white stars
And I finally got around to seeing Ray this weekend in the second-rate, second-run theater, and while Foxx is unbelievable in the title role and justly deserves the praise he's getting (he was also excellent in Collateral, which I really enjoyed up until Foxx has to go into the club and pretend to be Tom Cruise's character), the movie itself is a little slow and cliched, playing like a musical (the "Hit the Road, Jack" scene) than a biopic. I give Foxx the edge over Eastwood in a battle between Hollywood's liberal guilt vs. its guilt over never rewarding Eastwood for his acting.
WELL, GUESS SHE'S NOT QUITE SO OVERPROTECTED BY HER INSURANCE COMPANY: My law firm litigates big stuff for big clients all the time, but what finally lands us in the mainstream media? Representing Britney Spears in a lawsuit with insurers over tour cancellation insurance. No, I'm not involved. No, I've never met her.
WORK IT, GIRL: At least two media outlets attended the "Project Runway" fashion show on Friday night and write about it today. Smartly, all four current contestants exhibited and were scored, either for secrecy's sake or because of a forthcoming twist. The Times-Herald Record gives the edge to Kara Saun, and disdains Austin's collection, calling it "at best--baaaddd." The Boston Herald gives the edge to Jay McCarroll. Two weeks remain, and three designers will still be told "Auf Wiedersehen!" by hostess Heidi Klum. If you're not watching, you're missing high drama indeed.
NEXT, SHANNEN DOHERTY TO STAR AS MARIA IN "THE SOUND OF MUSIC:" Now, taking a few tentative steps away from football, in the "Huh?" category, I'm struck by this story. James Eckhouse, best known as Jim Walsh on "90210," is headlining the L.A. production of Edward Albee's "The Goat, Or, Who Is Sylvia?" What makes it weird is the play's content--the play centers around a middle-aged architect (Eckhouse, in a role originated by Bill Pullman) whose world falls apart when his family discovers he's having an affair with Sylvia. The real problem is that Sylvia is, as the title suggests, a goat. Yes, it's a play about bestiality, which is always what I think of when I think of "90210."

Sunday, February 6, 2005

FARAWAY . . . SO CLOSE! If there is such a thing as "losing with honor", I suppose this was it. The Philadelphia Eagles lost to a superior football team which didn't make costly mistakes. They lost, and there will be no parade, but it hasn't sunk in. Yet.

So, as in years past, as a bitter Quaker exacts his revenge once more, we must begin The Five Stages of Eagles Grief:
DENIAL: That's it? They get the ball back with a minute to go . . . and then it just ends with an interception like that? And now, as the air piffles out of the Philadelphia balloon, all there is to do is wait until September? There's really no more football for seven months? I have to watch the Sixers now?

BARGAINING: I didn't get greedy or cocky this year. I was humble about the team's chances. And still, nothing. Do I have to name our second-born Donovan F. Bonin? Okay, so last year all I asked for was a trip to the Super Bowl, and now, yes, I want to win one. I'll accept another decade of Phillies futility if that's what it takes to get the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Andy Reid's hands.

ANGER: The same lousy clock management skills which were evident earlier in the season reared their ugly head tonight. Where was the urgency in the fourth quarter? Donny threw a bunch of balls that he shouldn't have -- lots of passes too or too low -- and the running game was still attempted long after it was proven ineffective. And, you know what? If T.O. was that healthy, he should've been part of the game plan even more.

DESPAIR: I'll just repeat what I said last year, except I have to add to the numbers now: It's Philadelphia. We will never win another championship in any sport.

Do you realize that the Eagles last won a title in 1960, and have only been in the Super Bowl once? That the Phillies have won fewer World Series in their 120-year history (1) as the Florida Marlins in thirteen years of existence (2!)? That the time a Philadelphia team won a title -- my beloved 76ers -- it was so long ago that Cheers was in its first season? How long ago? When the Sixers won the title, no one in Philadelphia yet knew that Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia were siblings, because that was the week Return of the Jedi debuted in theaters.

You want despair? Since the last time a Philadelphia team won a professional title, New York-area teams have won ten -- heck, even Boston has seen six champions (three Super Bowls, two NBA and a World Series) emerge since we last won one. And that's Boston, which was supposed to be the pinnacle of sports disappointment. Please. No franchise in professional sports history has lost more games than the Phillies. No one. Hell, if the Phillies won every single game for the rest of this decade, they still would be a sub-.500 team for their history.

Philadelphia: we can't win, we don't win, we won't win. That's our story.

ACCEPTANCE: There is no reason to believe that this Eagles team will not be back in the Super Bowl next year. On both sides of the ball, they dominated this conference, and will do so again in 2005. They are young where it counts, and there will be no significant free agency losses. Next year, we get 100% T.O. in the Super Bowl. There is no reason to panic. We'll be back.

Just thinking about -- tomorrow -- lifts away the cobwebs and the sorrows. Come what may . . .

(Pitchers and catchers report in 10 days, 14 hours, 36 minutes . . . )
THE SEASON-ENDING BIG GAME IN JACKSONVILLE EXPERIMENTAL LIVEBLOGGING: While Adam covers the sports side of the material later this evening, I'll be blogging the game from a pop cultural perspective.

5:58 PM: The Black Eyed Peas substitute "Overseas they got football, but we like our American football" for "Overseas we tryin' to fight terrorism, but we still got terrorists here livin'" in their version of "Where Is The Love?" The live version also makes one recognize how much Timberlake contributed to the record.

5:59: Will.I.Am proclaims "Everybody have a happy football!" I'm not quite sure what that means.

5:59: Eugene Levy as a "football scientist." Levy's always a good thing. And it's actually funny, which is all the more shocking.

6:10: Alicia Keys doing "America the Beautiful" with a signing choir in honor of Ray Charles. But couldn't we have done without the product placement for Charles' last CDs?

6:15: "Buy an extra pair of underwear" for tomorrow night's 24? That's not a problem from a decency standpoint?

6:16: Michael Chiklis introduces the AFC champ Patriots. We can be thankful he did not say "It's Clobberin' Time!" to plug his upcoming movie role, and be even more thankful we didn't have to endure an introduction from this blog's favorite whipping boy, Jimmy Fallon.

6:17: Will Smith introduces the Eagles. Am I the only for whom "Let the Eagles soar" summons as many memories of John Ashcroft as it does of McNabb and TO?

6:22: Michael Douglas leads a tribute to the "Greatest Generation," including appearances by Presidents Clinton and Bush the Elder. No, I don't know why either, though Clinton and Bush are, for some reason, both wearing identical awful-looking blue jackets.

6:27: Cut to "Camp Victory" in Iraq. Not quite sure where exactly that is.

6:32: Contender #1 for "Obvious Statement of the Night." "The Ford Kickoff Show Has Been Brought to You By Ford."

6:42: "Constantine" is rated "R" for "violence and demonic imagery." James Dobson must be proud.

6:45: Ah, officiating call reversed. I already know what my dad (who officiates high school football for fun) will spend much of tomorrow discussing.

6:51: Someone spent 2 million bucks to promote LeBron James bubble gum on the big game. Perhaps not the best use of funds.

6:54: The sole reason I'll even think of seeing "The Pacifier" is the presence of Lauren Graham as second-billed, and the fact that she has yet to appear in a trailer or ad, that's not reassuring.

6:55: FedEx takes the early lead in the "best ad of the night" sweepstakes with their "10 elements to a great ad" ad.

7:53: After a break (cooking and eating dinner), during which nothing of any real popcultural significance occured, we return to the obligatory pan of the stands for celebrities. Somehow, we have a very awkward cut from Bill Clinton to John Travolta, followed by Jeff Gordon.

7:58: We get a first real look at "Batman Begins." Looks like they're throwing back to the Tim Burton era, which is a good thing, but continuing the overloaded casting that helped do in the franchise before--Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Christian Bale, and Morgan Freeman all get screen time in a 30 second spot, making it a little too quick.

8:19: Halftime show. No real spectacle. Paul McCartney, a band and a guitar. Bizarrely, he leads with "Baby You Can Drive My Car." He follows it up with "Get Back," which is more suitable. The stage is oddly designed, with the band members each having their own separate platform in corners of a cross.

8:25: McCartney walks over to a piano, and begins to play "Live and Let Die" with much meaningful handwaving in the background, and massive fireworks as the guitar solo after the first chorus kicks in. The crowd moshing in front of the stage seems far more Nirvana than McCartney.

8:31: No surprise that the big closer is "Hey Jude," but can someone explain what genius decided that it would be a good idea to have cards held up that made the stands spell out "Na Na Na?"

8:49: Have movie studios learned no lessons? Even after seeing the trailer and the Super Bowl ad for "Robots," I have no idea what the movie's actually about other than that it's computer-animated and features celebrity voices as robots.

8:59: The ads have been genuinely unspectacular this year, though the "I work with a bunch of monkeys" ads have been decent.

9:03: OK, that "War of the Worlds" ad was pretty darn impressive, and spooky considering it was filmed like two miles from where I sit right now.

9:04: Ah, the "erections lasting longer than 4 hours, though rare, require immediate medical attention" disclaimer has made its glorious return.

9:16: Fox--you've got "American Idol" to use as a promotional tool--is there really a need to have so many self-promotion spots? At least they made fun of it with a "24" spot making the point that "it's worth 2 million dollars to us to say this to you."

10:20: OK, the liveblogging kind of petered out, but that's because for once, the game overshadowed the external trappings of the show, and, honestly, there wasn't much pop cultural to snark on. Was one of the best games in recent memory, though, even though I know some folks around these parts are probably less than thrilled with the outcome.

10:24: Thought I was done, but time to be a little indignant. Seeing, moments ago, an "Arrested Development" ad made me realize that while we've had incessant promotion for "24," "American Idol," and "House" throughout the game, that was the first ad for what is Fox's most critically and awards-wise successful series right now. Ridiculous.
THE SEASON-ENDING BIG GAME IN JACKSONVILLE OPEN THREAD II: This thread now open for all commentary on the game, the commercials, the pre-game, the entertainment, etc.

T minus two hours. Wow.
THE SEASON-ENDING BIG GAME IN JACKSONVILLE OPEN THREAD I: Comments area is open for pre-game predictions and what-not. Later today, we'll set one up for comment on the commercials, the entertainment, and, God forbid, The Game itself.

As for me, while I entered this period thrilled but not optimistic, at some point this week I decided to drink the Kool-Aid. I still can't rationally explain how it's going to happen, though cliches like "in one game anything can happen" and "watch the turnovers and special teams" are involved, but it will. And the fact that over the course of his career, Jim Johnson's defenses have held 60+% of opposing teams to 17 points or under. Also, Terrell Owens will score a touchdown.

I don't know when we've ever had two Super Bowl teams with such brilliant, creative coaching staffs before. It's going to be a treat to watch, and a glorious party when we win. Eagles 23, Patriots 17, but as long as the Eagles don't lose this in a nailbiter, I'll be okay.