Saturday, March 26, 2005

UNTIL WE REACH "BECAUSE YOU LOVED ME: THE DIANE WARREN MUSICAL," WE'RE SAFE: Ann Althouse takes on NYT theatre critic Ben Brantley's rant about the horrifying (to him) "American Idol"-ization of Broadway from her perspective as an "AI" fan. I come at it from a slightly different perspective--my viewing of "AI" in its history has totaled somewhere around 10 minutes, but I adore Broadway, both the classics and the more contemporary. A few things to note:

1. Ann rightly observes that there's a long history of "belty" numbers in musicals. However, what's kind of a new development is the Act I finales of shows being big belty solo numbers. Most musicals reserve those numbers for the so called "11 o'clock" number, near the end of the show, but not quite there. In contrast, the Act I Finale has traditionally been a number for the full ensemble--witness numbers like "One Day More" from Les Mis, "La Vie Boheme" from Rent, and "Along Came Bialy" from The Producers, none of which focus on a single performer.

2. Brantley's smackdown is largely limited to female performers, an odd choice since this season is an uncommonly weak one for women's roles on Broadway--the season's two big hits thus far--Spamalot and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels are completely male driven. However, the showy self-importance that Brantley condemns isn't limited to women--Nathan Lane in The Producers, Michael Crawford in Phantom, and the various Valjeans in Les Mis have all commited much the same sin (or at least are forced to by the music). Heck, this season, we're subjected to an "Idol"-ized Act I finale of "I Am What I Am" in the mediocre revival of La Cage. Aside from a brief mention of Scoundrels, none of these people make the list.

3. In particular, Brantley singles out three scores for bashing. One, I haven't seen (Brooklyn), but the excerpts I've heard and reviews I've read suggest he's right on the money about it. However, the entire score is apparently written in that fashion, a far more understandable choice than having one "belter" song.

That's the problem Little Women has. In its effort to find something, anything, for its talented star, Sutton Foster, to do besides exclaim "Christopher Columbus!," they throw in an Act I finale ("Astonishing") that has almost nothing to do with the rest of the score and that degenerates into being nothing more than "look at me! I am the STAR of this show!" The lyrics have almost nothing to do with the show or the plot, and the music is wholly different from the rest of the score--a far more subdued endeavor. The song feels as though it was lifted from another, completely different, show.

The third song he singles out to bash is the Act One finale of Wicked, "Defying Gravity." First, it must be noted that in a lot of ways, "Defying Gravity" is a traditional Act I Finale. While the song is primarily sung by one of the show's two leading ladies, a substantial part of it is a duet, and it closes with punctuation from the entire ensemble. Second, unlike "Astonishing," "Defying Gravity" fits into the plot, both musically and character-wise. The lyrics relate to and advance the plot, and the music makes sense--the character singing the song has reached a breaking point in her life--a departure--and the music reinforces that--soaring into a belt at the end of the first Elphaba verse--as does the staging. Wicked does have songs that might rightly be proclaimed as nothing more than "Look At Me!" songs (most notably "Popular"), but this isn't one of them.

All that said, Brantley does have a point--overly showy singing and shows have, in some cases, overtaken actual theatrical merit. I don't know how else to explain the continuing success of "Mamma Mia!," while better, but equally commercial, shows like "The Full Monty" and "Ragtime" have closed, and more challenging shows like "A Class Act" and "Caroline, Or Change" fail to survive more than a few performances.
K-I-T, K-I-T, KEEP IT TOGETHER: Tom Cruise's new thing, Sofia Vergara, apparently knows what it will take to keep her man and so spent some time at Scientology's Head Office. But if you are looking for spiritual enlightment from an unorthodox source -- and aren't trying to bed Hollywood elite -- take a gander through Sarlo's Guru Rating Service.

Where else would you learn about U.G. Krishnamurti who offers, in the words of the rating service: "[N]o message for mankind . . . No gatherings, no lectures, no courses, no method, no mantras, no organization, no office, no secretary, no telephone number, no fax and no fixed address."
DO IT! Honestly, I don't know if I've seen a more unintentionally funny clip this year than the one you'll find if you click here and then click on "professional journalism." Suffice it to say that CNN apparently is having some difficulty finding stuff to fill the spaces between Schiavo-palooza, and this clip involving "reporter" Rick Sanchez and a 50,000 volt stun gun demonstrates exactly how far they'll go.
YOU CAN RIDE MY TAIL ANYTIME: Expanding the turf Quentin Tarantino covered a decade ago, one website presents more Dynamic Homoerotic Duos of Hollywood. HoYay!
THIS IS THE REAL TEST OF A DRINK'S THICKNESS: I might be remiss, amid all this talk of Wendy's, were I to not point you towards excerpts from Joe Wenderoth's Letters to Wendy's (some text NSFW), a collection of letters Wenderoth wrote on the restaurant's "Tell Us About Your Visit" cards:
September 20, 1996

Today I had a Biggie. Usually I just have a small, and refill. Why pay more? But today I needed a Biggie inside me. Some days, I guess, are like that. Only a Biggie will do. You wake up and you know: today I will get a Biggie and I will put it inside me and I will feel better. One time I saw a guy with three Biggies at once. One wonders not about him but about what it is that holds us back.

More here.

Friday, March 25, 2005

SADLY, IT'S ONLY MADE $300,000 SO FAR: You've probably not heard much about "Millions," which Fox Searchlight has kind of dumped in its quest to find another "Napoleon Dynamite." Since this film is far more "arty" and family oriented than Searchlight's last big success, they've chosen to dump it. The plot is simple--shortly after two children lose their mother and move to a new town, the younger one, played wonderfully by complete unknown Alexander Nathan Etel, builds a fort out of boxes which he uses to spur daydreams. However, when a bag of money falls out of the sky, the family is changed forever--especially since the younger child believes he's talking to God. Of course, in an American film, this could lead to cut rate slapstick comedy, or (after the revelation of where the money came from) a cookie-cutter "thriller." Instead, the movie maintains a kind of dreamlike tone, as the children try to figure out how to do what's right with the money. The only detraction is an ending that abandons logic, but the film as a whole is an authentic and touching film for the entire family--it's well worth your time, and ought to become a Christmas perennial (most of the film is set at Christmas). It's only in 77 theatres right now, but will continue to expand over the next few weeks, so check it out.

In fact, the only false notes were in the trailers, which included "Herbie: Fully Loaded," which only deepens my despair over Michael Keaton's career, and "Roll Bounce," the upcoming movie about roller disco.
MARGIN OF ERROR IS +/- 25 RBI: Apparently, polling firms need something to do now that we're in the political off-season, so they're surveying Baseball's Hall of Fame voters to see how they feel about McGwire and Bonds being in the Hall. Bonds was at 80.8% among those surveyed, while McGwire was at 55.6%. The article scores automatic bonus points due to mention of the hatable Dan Le Batard, who gives Bonds some dap.
NEXT, THE ANNOTATED "JOEY:" I'm a big fan of annotations. For instance, large chunks of Shakespeare are (at least to me) somewhat incomprehensible without annotations, and The Annotated Sherlock Holmes is somewhat charming (if more than a bit obsessive). Hell, arguably this blog is an attempt to provide slective annotations to the world of pop culture. But do we really need "USA Today" to annotate "The O.C." for us? My favorite are explanations of what exactly references to the magazines GQ and National Geographic relate to.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

IT INCLUDES THE SCHWA, BUT NO 'Q', BECAUSE THAT'S A YANKEE LETTER: Ballplayers getting arrested for DUIs? It's unfortunately, but typical.

Baltimore Oriole Eric DuBose's explanation, however, bears noting:
The report states DuBose informed [the officer] he had 'a couple' drinks at the Cafe Gardens and Daiquiri Deck in Sarasota. When instructed to recite the alphabet, DuBose allegedly said, "I'm from Alabama, and they have a different alphabet."

Hot on the heels of Dobby's ouster from Survivor and this proposed legislation, however, it's a bad week in the heart of Dixie.
SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!!!! Okay... no it's not. It's totally made up. It's just a thing in a movie with Charlton Heston and Ernest Borgnine (also allegedly people).

But what about Wendy's Chili? Do note from the second to last paragraph of that article, that "health inspectors assume the finger likely entered the food chain as a result of the manufacturing process." Insert "advanced meat retrieval" joke *here*.

Hyde Park McDonalds... step off!
NEXT UP, THE DIRECTOR'S CUT OF "WATERWORLD," WHERE COSTNER DIES: For those of you really ticked off about the success of "The Pacifier," now, you can watch Vin Diesel die on DVD. (OK, it's not Diesel himself, but Diesel's "XXX" character played by Diesel's stunt double.)
BETTER CUT DOWN ON THE CHEETOS: Angelina Jolie tops FHM's annual list of the women most masturbated to. Brittney Spears, last year's No. 1, didn't even make the cut this year, but inexplicably Paris Hilton, Mariah Carey, and Pamela Anderson did, And where the hell is Sabine Ehrenfeld?
WORDS ESCAPE ME: Yes, it's the Kidz Bop cover of Modest Mouse's "Float On." Hurry, before the link goes down.
MOTION IN THE OCEAN (OOO, WOO): The WaPo handles a pressing national issue -- what is to be done with really large lobsters?

How about steaming them in sea water?
THE BALL IS TIPPED . . .: You might have asked yourself at some point -- how does the MascotMatcher protocol evaluate multiple appearances of the same mascot, such as the three different Wildcats appearing in the regional semifinals?

How does it do it? Charlie insists that the methodology is sound. Tonight's four games:

Louisville Cardinals v. Washington Huskies: The pretty birds will be singing their swan song when faced with beefy, plus-sized youth. It's time for some exercise. Huskies.

Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers v. Illinois Fighting Illini: Never underestimate the power of an angry, warlike ethnic stereotype. Too bad for these jungle cats that they aren't playing the "Fleeing Frogs." Illini.

Texas Tech Red Raiders v. West Virginia Mountaineers: See above. Back to your stills, clay eaters. Red Raiders.

Arizona Wildcats v. Oklahoma State Cowboys: Herders with guns, felines red in tooth and claw. I say "yee-ha!" Cowboys.

THAT'LL BE A FUN GROUP SESSION: Billy Joel, Pat O'Brien and now Whitney Houston all in rehab at once?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

MORE 'ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT' WORSHIP AS GAIL BERMAN LEAVES IT TO FEND FOR ITSELF WITHIN RUPERT MURDOCH'S SATANIC EMPIRE: Or is that title too obvious? Anyway, Defamer has a hilariously uninformative IMterview with David Cross. If you like AD, you'll love the interview. If you don't like AD, you'll love this week's Crossing Jordan.

Also, go Huskies.
EPISODE ONE--"WOKE UP EARLY THIS MORNING, DRANK MY COFFEE LIKE I ALWAYS DO:" While I'm pretty firmly on the Rob and Amber love train for TAR, not every reality contestant should try another show. Yes, AI reject Kimberley Locke is working on an Ashlee Simpson Show-esque reality pitch, to be titled "Aren't You That Girl?" Next up, Paul Giamatti will have his reality show, "Hey, It's That Guy!" Other reality-based reality programming ideas are invited.
THIS JOKE YOU CANNOT CHA-A-A-A-NGE: The Wall Street Journal tries to uncover the roots of the tradition of screaming "Freebird" at every concert. While the origins remain murky, there's some great stuff in here, including former Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty's attempt to make the Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men" the new "Freebird" and the kicker that even current Lynyrd Skynyrd lead singer Johnny Van Zant isn't immune from the phenomana, having once yelled "Freebird" during a Cher concert.

Link via Pop Culture Junk Mail.
THREE OUT OF FOUR AIN'T BAD: I thought I'd post this list of the greatest NCAA Tournament upsets (Bucknell over Kansas ranks, though it isn't clear if the list is in order, and oh man, those painful DePaul upsets from the early ''80s still sting), as a way to gloat about my overall lead in the vaunted ALOTT5MA Tournament Pool. Yes, despite all the bracket busting in the first two rounds, I have three of my Final Four teams left. Start readying my "One Shining Moment" montage.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

HE'S BEEN WALKING THE STREETS AT NIGHT, JUST TRYING TO GET IT RIGHT: If I was ever 11 years late on a legal brief that had already cost the client $13 million, I sure don't think anyone would be sending the Times a letter like this about me. But it'd be cool to have friends like Axl Rose's. Just imagine:
Adam was one of the only lawyers I ever worked with who was never motivated by money. He consistently put the quality of his legal output above all. Whether you consider him to be a jurisprudential genius on hold, a poster child for the misunderstood, or a narcissist, all of his actions are motivated by a pure desire to make every pleading count as a true reflection of his own high standards.

In a sea of legal mediocrity and generic advocacy processed into greatness by LEXIS, Adam achieved the American dream in law without compromising his integrity for the sake of fame or fortune. . . .

Seriously, how much of that $13 million did Axl spend on kissing this guy's ass?
SURVIVE THIS: In an odd evening of Tuesday reality, we had a meh Amazing Race and a pretty darn good American Idol.

Solid performances by the AI hairdressers and backup singers, Sully and Denise, the horse that threw Joyce around, Carrie Underwood, and, thank goodness, the return of Hey, Which Team's Coming In To Next-To-Last, SeƱor Phil? Could You Point In The Distance When They Show Up?

Mikalah's going home, unless Federov does, and each will have earned it. They're children in a competition with adults this year.

On the Race, it just felt very been there, done that on that Detour, and little strategery to be done. Just luck. Bring back the trickery!

updated: America voted, and now America gets to vote again? D'oh!
SPIDEY, YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND MY PLIGHT: Oscar nominee Thomas Haden Church will play the villain in "Spider-Man 3," which starts shooting next year. It's certainly an interesting choice, but I'm having difficulty figuring out which of the historical Spidey villains Church would appropriately play--Electro, Scorpion, and Rhino seem logical, though Mysterio would also be a possibility.
LBW: Cricket-mania sweeps the Bay Area! The 2005 Season starts April 3.
WHEN YOU CALL MY NAME, I SALIVATE LIKE A PAVLOV DOG: The NYT's Virginia Heffernan -- a sinner and a saint who does not feel ashamed --investigates a certain five-letter epithet's that all over the airwaves, and she's stone-cold sober as a matter of fact.

Thirty-two times she mentions said word in her column, which gained in current usage from its derogatory use in describing inter-prisoner relationships on HBO's "Oz", though perhaps used most powerfully in Ryan's welcoming to the O.C. and on "Chapelle's Show", when Wayne Brady's deciding who he's going to have to choke, as well as, of course, Rick James' greeting of choice.

Also, I think Kyle's mom is one. In D minor.

Monday, March 21, 2005

EITHER YOU AH EEN OH YOU AH OUT: And, thank goodness, Project Runway is 'in' for another ten episode season on Bravo, and "very little on the show will change."
SCHMIDT IS ALREADY PREPPING A MALPRACTICE SUIT: Sadly, Dennycrane goes on hiatus after last night's episode, but the new fill-in certainly looks interesting. It's called "Grey's Anatomy," and once you get past the awful pun of a title, looks promising. Sure, you have the obligatory 80s star trying to make a comeback (who apparently did a failed pilot based on the movie "About A Boy"), and the former WB star trying to assert herself as a real actress, but the lead is charming newcomer Ellen Pompeo, who was particularly good in "Moonlight Mile," and we get Sandra Oh, which is always a good thing.

I'll be checking it out, even though the creator's credits include Britney Spears' "Crossroads" and the screenplay for "Princess Diaries 2." Given that the network alternatives are made for TV movie "Suzanne's Knockoff of 'The Notebook' For Nicholas," and "Crossing Jordan," I'd suggest that you may want to as well.
'SCUSE ME...: While I mention that Q Magazine has picked Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" for the top slot on its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks Ever.

Update: The full list is here.
NEXT UP, KANDINSKY KONG: For everyone who's wanted to combine their love of Modern Art with their love for classic 1980s video games, I give you Pac-Mondrian. Yes, you too can play Pac-Man on a giant electronic replica of "Broadway Boogie Woogie." This may well have surpassed Pac-Manhattan as my favorite piece of Pac-Man related synergy.
WILL, BETTE, AND THE DUKE: What's more astounding? That it took Premiere Magazine two years to painstakingly craft its list of the 50 Greatest Movie Stars of All Time or that in order to gauge the worth of the list, the New York Daily News queried noted film historians Mark Groblewski, a 51-year-old a construction director from Long Island, Jessica Faurie, a 25-year-old Manhattan medical secretary, and Beverly Dawkins, a 56-year-old receptionist from Queens. Groblewski thinks Julia Roberts (No. 7) shouldn't even make the list, while Fauire finds fault with Tom Cruise (No. 3) ranking so high. Dawkins, however, defends the list, but quibbles with the order, no doubt dismayed somewhat by Al Pacino finishing a spot above Robert De Niro.

OK, we've seen what the experts think, now it's time for your reaction.
FROM LONG BEACH 2 BRICK CITY: Just mean to report that Mrs. Earthling and I were in Long Beach this weekend and each of the three times I was forced to listen to someone else's car stereo (once at the gas station, once at a cross walk, once in the parking garage), it was Snoop Doggy Dogg -- his constituency continues to rock a mean coat.

Bow wow yippee yo.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

THE GIRLS....THEY'RE GOING....WILD: OK, I know Thursdays are the customary movie release date in the rest of the world. And I know that to combat movie piracy, studios have on occaision gone with a Thursday US release and day and date worldwide for big movies that are likely to lead to piracy--Star Wars Episode II, Matrix sequels, and Lord of the Rings. What I can't figure out, for the life of me, is why "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous" warrants this treatment. Thoughts?

And Sandra Bullock, if you're looking for your next role--I give you your source material--for some reason, the New York Times decided it would be funny to send Maureen Dowd on Spring Break to Cancun. We learn many important things, including Maureen Dowd's fixation on nachos, and, um, that Maureen Dowd finds herself supremely interesting. Dowd does at least have the good sense to make the obvious "Girls Gone Mild" joke in the headline.
NAJAI: You knew coming into tonight's Contender episode featuring the late Najai Turpin that it would either be tremendously moving or remarkably distasteful.

Thankfully, it was the former. The sadness that permeates the episode is overwhelming; every remark by or about Najai Turpin carries with it the dread of knowing what becomes of him. It is, at times, simply unbearable to see him so clearly dependent on his two-year-old daughter for meaning, so visibly in need of that unconditional love and support. (I mean, his daughter is my daughter's age, living in this same city. It's heartbreaking.)

I wish the NBC website allowed for online donations to the trust in his daughter's name, and I just hope that those who knew Najai believe this episode did him justice. This poor, troubled soul.

By all means, yes, watch the episode.
MISS TYRA MAY NOT BE HAPPY: America's First "Next Top Model," Adrianne Curry, has had some trouble getting "real" modelling jobs, but no trouble landing a spread in Maxim. (It's a spread in Maxim, so use your discretion as to whether it's work-safe.)
"I'M A VERY QUOTATIOUS PERSON": And now, your Shaquille O'Neal Quote of the Week. Asked about the difference between playing with Anfernee Hardaway in Orlando, Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles and Dwyane Wade in Miami, the Big Aristotle explained:
The difference between those three is in 'The Godfather' trilogy. One is Alfredo, who's never ready for me to hand it over to him. One is Sonny, who will do whatever it takes to be the man. And one is Michael, who, if you watch the trilogy, the Godfather hands it over to Michael. So I have no problem handing it to Dwyane.

I'm trying to remember . . . how did Fredo and Sonny end up, anyway?
NO, SERIOUSLY, WHAT'S IN THE BOX? And, on the flipside, for our returning-from-vacation-soon Mr. Gordon, the 25 greatest movie endings ever?

Via Information Nation.

Okay, what did they miss? My first nomination: Raiders of the Lost Ark. Just a wonderfully ironic last note.
GARY'S GOT ONE. AS DOES FRED MERKLE: Check out this vintage Batman comic from 1951. It really stands out.
WAIT UNTIL YOU SEE THE HEARSE HE DESIGNED: Noted automaker and time machine designer John DeLorean has passed away.