Saturday, May 14, 2005

WE DIDN'T COME FOR THE ICING; WE CAME FOR THE CAKE: Tomorrow night's Survivor finale caps off a truly top-tier season of castaway competition.

For once, we had a season with many heroes, no villains, and up until this past week, not one ounce of castaway self-righteous complaining about the lying and scheming that too-often has taken the fun out of the show.

The show has been anchored by Skipper and Gilligan, challenge-wise and narratively, and either of them would be the most likeable-and-deserving winner of the show since season three's Ethan Zohn. In short, the difference between a great season and an okay season of Survivor is all in the casting, and this time, they got it right.

One thing I'll say about Ian: he may suffer the curse of the car reward (no castaway has won the car challenge and gone on to win the game, and man, did he misplay last week's episode), but that boy knows how to win a vote.

So: who are you rooting for? and who are you predicting will win?

Friday, May 13, 2005

THE OTHER SIDE OF SUMMER: Oh, dear -- NBC has unveiled its summer replacement series, and there's only one word to describe shows like "Tommy Lee Goes To College" and "The Even Bigger Loser" -- craptastic.

Between this and CBS's already-promised dreck (hey, look! A Wendy Pepper wannabe on a Project Runway wannabe show!), gosh, I might have to learn to read or something. . .
NO JOKING: We don't often talk seriously around here, but I think I speak for my colleagues here in expressing our utmost sympathy to Dave Chappelle and what he's going through right now.

Too many comics have fallen apart and lost their balance upon hitting the big time -- I think about the premature deaths of John Belushi, Freddie Prinze, Sam Kinison and Chris Farley. I hope Chappelle caught himself before it was too late.
BEE SERIOUS: Today, we invite you to speculate: if girls compete in (and win) spelling bees in equal numbers with their male counterparts, why have fifteen of sixteen National Geography Bee winners been boys?
ARRESTED CLEARED? According to at least one source, Arrested Development is "99.9%" certain of a two-year renewal.

Rejoice, celebrate, go out and buy the Season One DVD if you haven't seen it yet (or even if you have), then temper your excitement to reflect exactly how reliable you believe the source to be.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

YES, WE STILL MISS ELVIS MITCHELL: But in the meantime, Tony Scott and Manohla Dargis are blogging from Cannes.
THE NUMBERS GAME: Interesting look in Friday's NYT at the fluctuating intra-player market for jersey numbers. For #47, Tom Glavine paid for Joe McEwing's baby nursery; Jeff Feagles has received a one-week vacation in Florida and a new outdoor kitchen at his home for selling numbers 10 and 17 to Eli Manning and Plaxico Burress, respectively.

On the other hand, "In 1991, Philadelphia reliever Mitch Williams got No. 28 from John Kruk for two cases of beer."
I PUT A SPELL ON YOU: Tonight, by popular demand (and, actually, I'm not making this up -- people have actually been asking for it), ALOTT5MA initiates its coverage of the 78th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, taking place in our nation's capital June 1-2, 2005.

This is the third straight year we'll be covering the Bee (2003, 2004, and scroll up for liveblogging of both years), and we've decided to expand from the event itself to do some pregame work. (After all, with the Race over and y'all not interested in The Contender, what am I going to do? Wait for Bo's inevitable victory?)

So today, we start our S-P-E-L-L-E-R of the Day profiles right here with Tricia Powles of South Philadelphia, one of 69 two-time competitors in this year's finals:
Tricia has been studying and competing since she was 10, but she is still not used to attracting so many eyes. She is home-schooled, so she sees two people during her average school day: her 7-year-old brother Nathaniel and her teacher and mother, Pamela. . .

No matter how collegial her fellow contestants are, Tricia knows it hurts to miss words. Last year, she bowed out on ecchymosis (from the Greek, it means the escape of blood into tissue from ruptured blood vessels).

"It's really annoying, especially if I've studied it before," she said. "I was really nervous [last year]. I was mad because I knew a bunch of other people's words."

Tricia's mother is confident her daughter is prepared this year. Tricia loves reading science fiction, which often incorporates many offbeat words, and she packs in study sessions between her usual lessons. She studies French and Spanish to help with foreign words assimilated into English.

"This year," her mother said, "she knows what's coming."

To win, Tricia must defeat recent history as well as her opponents. Philadelphia-area students have won twice in the bee's 78-year history, but no Philadelphian has won since 1971.

Beyond S-P-E-L-L-E-R of the Day, we'll also be looking at Rules changes, Bee history and random Google searches for former Bee faves, like Jamaica's Trudy McLeary. Welcome to Sweeps Month in the blogosphere . . .

AMAZING RACE DRIBS AND DRABS: Via TVTattle, let's wrap up Amazing Race 7:

  • The NY Post reports (reg req'd, grr) that Uchenna and Joyce did, indeed, have to pay the cabbie: "As it turns out, the couple risked being disqualified -- and losing the $1-million grand prize -- if they'd made a mad dash for the finish line without settling up with the cabbie. The game's rules say that contestants cannot do anything illegal -- and stealing a cab ride is, to say the least, breaking the law. Although the Agus were running low on cash before they even got into the taxi, the game's rules also forbid them from begging for cash in any U.S. airport. "
  • Meet Dr. Allan Gross, a cosmetic dentist who gave them money in front of Bonnet House. My, that's a snazzy website. ("Dr. G, the man who can put a smile on anyone's face.")
  • Lynn and Alex are getting married in Canada.
  • Philip Michaels thinks he can fix the Race. My favorite idea? If you win two legs, you can't be eliminated the next time you come in last. (And, then, you can eliminate the non-elimination legs.) Also, as we've argued here before, make sure that multiple teams can attempt a Fast Forward simultaneously; otherwise, it's first-come, automatically-wins.

And, with that, we move on.

KNOW YOUR INTERIMS: Hey folks, it's quiz time again. This week I'll test your knowledge of two of America's favorite interims: interim CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer and interim Kansas City Royals manager Bob Schaefer. So, which of the following refers to Schieffer, which to Schaefer:
  1. Led the New York Mets' Triple-A Tidewater club to the International League title in 1985.
  2. Has covered all four major beats in Washington: the White House, Pentagon, State Department, and Capitol Hill.
  3. Selected by St. Louis Cardinals in the 1966 June Free Agent Draft.
  4. In 1965 became the first reporter from a Texas newspaper to report from Vietnam.
  5. Moved David Dejesus down to the No. 2 spot in the order.
  6. A member of the Broadcasting/Cable Hall of Fame.
  7. Winner of the University of Connecticut Distinguished Alumni Award in 2005.
  8. Winner of six Emmy Awards.
  9. Served as Royals interim manager for one game in 1991 after John Wathan was fired.
  10. Also serves as anchor and moderator of Face the Nation.
15 MINUTES OF FAME AND GRUNTING NOISES: I just came across The Superficial, a fine fame-abusing website:
Fame is so damn weird. Ben Affleck has basically been in one really good movie. And that was 40 years ago. And he was only in about 10 percent of it. If not for that, he’d be the dude saying he just lost another loan to Ditech. But he was in 'Good Will Hunting', and he’s been rich and famous ever since, and now he gets to water down Jennifer Garners genetic pool with his seed. But, whatever, the greatest thing about this story is that Afflecks rep is named Ken Sunshine. Whatever underserved millions he makes as a rep, rest assured, he does it with the gayest possible name. If your name is Mr. Sunshine, you shouldn't be trying to cover up the secret tryst Jennifer Garner and I had three months ago, you should be on PBS with a puppet named Montgomery Moose reading stories about ugly kids who achieve their goals.
Or this tidbit about Ms. Lopez:
Sources say Sony execs were thrilled with his film, but that J.Lo hated the sound of her voice and ‘scenes showing her abusing her employees.’ Thus, the project was scrapped…” I don’t know what madman thought this up. Of course the footage was gonna be of her singing badly and yelling at her underpaid staff. It’s J.Lo. This is like wearing meat-pants into a tiger cage and then wondering what that lip-smacking sound is.
Check it out.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

EACH WITH ITS OWN PROS AND CONS: While we wait for the four-person family teams in TAR8, I open this thread for our readers to convert their own travel experiences, street knowledge into good Detours, Destinations, Roadblocks and Rest Stops.

One thing I'd love to see TAR do is a junior version of the Henley-on-Todd Regatta, perhaps followed by the four hour drive to Uluru.
2037 IS THE OVER/UNDER DATE FOR WILL FERRELL: Steve Martin has won this year's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. A fine choice indeed (and certainly better than previous winner Whoopi Goldberg), but given that (among others) Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, and James L. Brooks have yet to be honored, seems maybe a tad premature. Given his recent tendency to appear in crappy movies, you may have forgotten such moments of brilliance as "The Tonight Song," "A Holiday Wish From Steve Martin," and his highly witty "encounter cards."
'UNDETECTABLE', MY ASS: Now, I happen to think I'm an okay lawyer, but I'm not quite sure how I'd get Vikings RB Onterrio Smith, already suspended once by the NFL for drug violations, out of this mess:
Smith acknowledged to airport police that he was carrying dried urine, along with a device called 'The Original Whizzinator' and a bottle of pills labeled 'Cleansing Formula.' He told police the kit was 'for making a clean urine test,' according to the police report, and said he was taking the materials to his cousin. . . .

The $150 device includes a prosthetic penis attached to a jockstrap and plastic bag. Using a syringe, the user fills the bag with a precisely measured amount of water blended with the urine powder to create a clean sample. When the user takes a drug test in front of an observer, the water is released through the prosthetic with a valve (the instructions recommend the user cough to hide the sound of the valve unsnapping).

On its website, manufacturers of The Original Whizzinator market the instrument as an "undetectable", "foolproof" and "re-usable" urinating device.

Oh, the old "my cousin needed clean urine for a school show-and-tell" excuse . . .

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

THE AMAZING FINALE: Pop Quiz: which one of these factors will best determine whether you've won The Amazing Race 7?
  • An aggressive airport strategy to get you onto a delayed earlier flight
  • Not having all your money taken away from you in a Third World country, or getting a flat tire therein
  • Completing a roadblock in a getaway city faster than the other teams
  • Competing in challenges you might have been familiar with from other reality shows on which you previously participated, like building and paddling a raft or leaping from tall heights into the water below
  • Realizing that in Little Havana, things are named in Spanish.
  • The providence of St. Anthony, patron saint of Lost Things and Missing Persons.

Your thoughts on the justice of the finale will largely depend on whether you believe the Race should be one by the team you liked best, or the one which raced best. See you in the Comments.

DESCRIBING JUST HOW THEY'LL HAVE TO GET ME INTO THE THEATRE: So just how bad is this weekend's Will Ferrell vehicle, Kicking and Screaming? Well, David Poland tears the film a new one today. High points include:
[C]haracters go through dramatic arcs for no apparent reason. You can virtually hear the "Try that... it'll be funny" conversation happening before every gag. All of that would be almost acceptable if the movie was funny in any way. But it is really, really unfunny.

I have to go back to A Man Apart to find a movie as sloppy, arrogant and disastrously unwatchable as Kicking & Screaming. And here's the part where I remind you that I like stupid family comedies with a lot of physical schtick. The film isn't even a too-long SNL sketch.

View at your own peril, or better still, wait for Star Wars, which National Review already says is "unbelivably bad."
TARA REID, HOWEVER, FELL OFF THE LIST: Dangerously overexposed and under-dressed Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria tops this year's Maxim Hot 100, up a stunning 90 slots from last year, when (for some reason) she was #91 despite having her sole credits being a soap role and a role on Dick Wolf's failed Dragnet retooling. Longoria's placement puts her ahead of such "surprises" as Jessica Simpson (#9), Jessica Alba (#5), Christina Aguilera (#16), Jennifer Garner (#3), Katie Holmes (#22), and Natalie Portman (a suprisingly low #42, given, y'know, "Splits In A Thong").
WHERE'S THE LOVE FOR GOOD VIBRATIONS? Tony nominations are out. Suffice it say that unsurprisingly, Monty Python's Spamalot dominated with 12, and there are some surprising omissions (no Denzel Washington, David Hyde Pierce, Jeffrey Tambor, or Maureen McGovern), and some utter blandness (the same 4 shows are squaring off for Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Book, and Best Score). Sadly, I haven't seen enough of this season's shows to intelligently comment (though Glengarry Glen Ross deserved all six of its nominations, especially the set design one), and I have work-related program activities to attend to, so I throw the floor open.
7 CHINESE BROTHERS: I've been hitting the Y fairly regularly and wanted some tunes to pass the time. So yesterday I went down to Circuit City and bought myself the lowest-end 4GB Mini iPod (green, if you care). I'm not only not an early adopter of technology, I'm just not an adopter. I don't want a cellphone with browsers, wifi, PDAs, text-message and low resolution digital pictures. I want a phone so I can call my wife or the auto club. Last time I went to buy a new cellphone, I told the guy at the Nokia store that I wanted one "that let's me make phone calls. And nothing else."

So I've been slow to this iPod business. It's actually pretty clever, once you understand the logic of the interface and the sound resolution is beyond my ability to notice any drop off from the compression. My only beef is that the iTunes software is geared very much towarded piling stuff on to the device and not removing it. Sure, I've got plenty of space, but I don't want to sort through the preloaded crap.

I don't think this thing will change my life. I'm already finding huge gaps in the iTunes catalog. But it's a terrific little portable music device handy for the gym and the occasional plane trip.

But that's not what this post is about. This post really is about the fact that I found my copy of R.E.M.'s Reckoning -- the soundtrack to one perfect day I spent at a friend's house on (not at, on) Lake Tahoe in the summer of 1987 -- loaded it up, and remembered at last why I blew $50 on all that crap after Green. These guys used to make really great records.
THEY BETTER SHAPE UP, BECAUSE THEY NEED A MAN: Can a Brat Productions, a small Philadelphia troupe, put on an all-female production of Grease?

According to Samuel French Inc., which licenses the script, there aren't worse things they can do, and if they don't make those magic changes, there will be tears on their pillows from the lawyers.

In response, Brat Productions says they may perform Grease and Desist instead . . .

Monday, May 9, 2005

FORGIVE THEM, THESE BLEATING BLOWHARDS, THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO: You know, there's legitimately mean and then there's LA Weekly's Nikki Finke on the Huffington blog: "Her blog is such a bomb that it's the box-office equivalent of Gigli, Ishtar and Heaven's Gate rolled into one. In magazine terms, it's the disastrous clone of Tina Brown's Talk, JFK Jr.'s George or Maer Roshan's Radar. No matter what happens to Huffington, it's clear Hollywood will suffer the consequences."

And it gets worse.
THERE ARE TEAMS AT THE ROADBLOCK NOT MOVING BECAUSE YOU CONVINCED THEM NOT TO MOVE. HOW DO YOU DO THAT? Within twenty-four hours, we will know who has wonthe seventh season of The Amazing Race.

So before we get there, I want to ask: how does this season compare to previous ones? And how do you feel about the changes in this season (a celebrity team, a non-circumnavigatory route, less gross eating and less airport strategery) carrying forward into future Races?

For me, regardless of tomorrow's outcome, this has been a good season -- some fun teams (the brothers, Romber, the much missed biker brothers Ryan and Chuck), some good challenges (balance it or milk it?) and strategery (all of which revolved around Romber), but nothing jaw-droppingly-unbelievable. (Honestly, for emotional impact this reality season, it's all about The Contender.)

The first three seasons set an impossibly high standard, and a merely "good" season of the Race is still better than almost anything else out there. And there has never been a bad finale, so Tuesday night is an absolute must-see for everyone. Who ya got?
A LATTER-DAY BIFF TANNEN: Yeah, like anyone legitimately pulled the $864,253.50 Superfecta bet at the Kentucky Derby, espeicially the day after the MIT Time Traveler Convention.
HE ALSO ENDORSED KRAZEE EYEZ KILLA FOR SECDEF: We've given The Huffington Post enough negativety today, so I must reward Larry David for his "endorsement" of the nomination of John Bolton to be UN ambassador.
AND SHE'LL SEE A RED SOX TITLE WHEN SHE'S 85: Per our previous speculation, ESPN's Page 2 confirms that Bill Simmons is now the Sports Dad. Will we get a Childbirth Diary?
THE MAROON BOOK MEETS ORGANIZED LIVING: No, Ticky, you're not a bad person for not alphabetizing your CDs. However, if you want to avoid those awkward moments -- dissipating that first-kiss excitement by accidentally queueing up the Reverend Horton Heat instead of the Reverend Al Green; turning a group buzz harsh as you hunt for King Curtis's mellow, melodic Live at Fillmore West only to grab King Crimson's difficult Live at Fillmore East -- then you need some filing system. You may find it easier to remember that the U2 and Bob Marley albums have a cartoon island on the spine and the Pavement, Cibo Matto, and good Liz Phair discs have a little pennant, and file them by label. You may remember that you bought London Calling in 1989 because a friend told you it was cool and that you bought ELO's Greatest Hits in 2004 because you knew it was not cool, and file them by date of purchase. As Nick Hornby suggests, you may file them by genre, quality, or importance to your love life. But you must file them.

If you do choose to alphabetize, some simple guidelines: (1) As Jenn says, keep soundtracks in a separate section. You should also keep separate sections for compilations, foreign-language discs (particularly if they are foreign languages where you can't read the writing, e.g. Hebrew and Russian), and children's music. (2) As Jenn and Elwood Blues (this list's resident musicologist) agree, file by common name -- meaning that you likely think of a "Ben Folds" (F) or "Polly Harvey" (H) song, not a "Ben Folds Five" (B) or "PJ Harvey" (P) song, and that as much as you think of Dino Jr. and Bright Eyes as solo projects, they are "D" and "B," not "M" and "O," respectively. (3) Under no circumstances should you try to avoid intermixing your CDs with your spouse or SO's discs. If this means that an entire two shelves are devoted to Natalie Merchant solo product, so be it.
THEN AGAIN, THERE'S ALWAYS TWO AND A HALF MEN: One of the underlying themes in this week's EW is this--"what happened to the live action sitcom?" Since Friends and Sex and the City left the air, has there really been a live action sitcom in half-hour format that's become buzz-worthy with both critical and commercial success? The closest we come is Everybody Loves Raymond, which I've never really "gotten." Yeah, it's amusing, yes, the timing and casting is impressive, but generally, eh. There've been a couple critical favorites that haven't crossed over (Arrested Development, The Office), and there are a few sitcoms that generate solid ratings even though I can't think of anyone who actually watches them (According to Jim, The King of Queens, Stacked). At the same time the half-hour comedy's been going down the tubes, what's interesting is the rise of the hour-long comedy with dramatic elements. Gilmore Girls and Desperate Housewives both fall into this category, and I'd expect more shows to follow suit. So, a couple of questions for discussion: 1. What's wrong with the American sitcom? 2. How do you fix it?
SO WILL BILL MURRAY PLAY CAPT. VON TRAPP? In this week's sign of the apocalypse, theatre impresario and formerly talented composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has declared that he wants film starlet Scarlett Johansson to play the lead in his next big West End production--a revival of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic "The Sound of Music." No word on other casting or whether Johansson's interested.
NICK HORNBY WAS TOO BUSY SELLING HIS SOUL TO JIMMY FALLON TO HELP ME OUT WITH THIS: As a reminder that the compromises one makes in marriage are both great and small, last night was the Periodic Re-Alphabetizing of the CD Collection, which usually lasts for a year or two before additions and toddler-aided entropy require a complete reboot. And it continues to pain me every time that Vanilla Ice both precedes and is adjacent to Townes Van Zandt in the alphabet. This is by far the worst border condition in the collection, lapping Wham-Wilco.
NOW, HER EX-HUSBAND'S BLOG, ON THE OTHER HAND . . . I took a quick scan over Arianna Huffington's celeb-blog project upon its debut today, and I am not moved.

Because the blogosphere, like Thomas L. Friedman's universe, is truly flat, being a celebrity makes your website no more or less easy to access than anyone else's. It's just a question of typing in the right address. So while a person's being famous might help them make it onto tv or get a movie made, it has minimal impact on the ability to be heard in this space. [Insert point about push/pull technology.]

There are people writing there whose essays I am interested in reading -- writer/directors Mike Nichols and David Mamet -- but that's because through their works they have demonstrated an ability to perceive the world in intereresting and different ways. In other words, their celebrity stems from the same reasons that would make someone popular within this sphere as well.

But contributors like Brad Hall, Meg Ryan, Renee Zellweger, Paul Reiser, Ivanka Trump, or Tina Brown? There is nothing interesting about their perspectives (that i know of) unless it is animated somehow by the fact of their celebrity and their experience in the public eye. If they end up just pontificating about the same issues that everyone else does, who cares? Whatever credibility they have outside this realm, it does not automatically translate into this space: it needs to be built from scratch.

Actually, Tina Brown is instructive in one sense: with Talk Magazine, she proved that celebrity buzz alone cannot sustain a content provider in a saturated market.

Do we have time for one more website? Only if it provides something we don't get elsewhere, and Celebrities Talking About The Same Things Other People Here Are just doesn't cut it for me.

Sunday, May 8, 2005

ALL I WANT TO DO IS KILL YOU, OR BE KILLED BY YOU: I have very little meaningful to say about Kung Fu Hustle, which Jen and I saw last night. If you were thinking about seeing the movie, then, absolutely, hell yes, see it.

If you know that kung fu/comedy is not your thing, then stay away. It's not that good that non-fans of the genre need to see it, in the way that I'd tell "I don't like Westerns" folk to nevertheless rent The Searchers. But it's good, and the Axe Gang will kick your ass if you don't see it.

If you're not quite sure, watch the trailer, and if it makes you smile, know that the rest of the movie is even better. Stephen Chow has given us one of the best physical comedies in years, with shout-outs to the Matrix movies, Spider-Man, Forrest Gump and others.
BETTER THAN MAUREEN DOWD: As usual, the Sunday Times arts section is fascinating. A couple of articles are very much worth your time. First is this piece, making the argument that ABC's hit Grey's Anatomy is one of the first "post-racial" shows on television, with a diverse cast, yet no mention of race during the average episode. Less thought provoking, but more amusing is this lengthy piece about "The Supersizing of the School Play," profiling a $20,000 high school production of "Into The Woods" at New Albany High School in Indiana. Frighteningly, this is the high school's "small" show--the fall show (a production of "Beauty and the Beast") had a budget of $165,000. Bizarrely, "Into The Woods," a Sondheim musical with a difficult score and a second act that consists of, as the Times puts it, "an existential journey toward death and disappointment," has become the fourth most-popular show for high schoolers.
AND I THOUGHT THEY TAUGHT BETTER IN ANN ARBOR: Continuing this weblog's nonstop coverage of Philadelphia 76ers woes at Philadelphia International Airport comes today's Inqling tidbit about Chris Webber:
Scene: Thursday, late afternoon. The 76ers' Chris Webber emerges from a white stretch Cadillac Escalade at Philadelphia International's private-jet area. A baggage handler loads his two golf bags, three garment bags, two duffel bags, and small leather briefcase onto the plane. Webber, the third-highest-paid player in the NBA last season ($17,531,250), hands the guy a dollar.

Well, he hasn't shown up in this database yet, but maybe now we can find out if Dan Kahan was right all along. . .