Saturday, December 10, 2005

PRYOR RESTRAINT: Richard Pryor, the most deserving first ever winner of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, has died at 65. Pryor was unique in that while he could be exceedingly funny when he was raunchy and transgressive, he could even be funny without being dirty--witness the excellent "Brewster's Millions." While Pryor made his own autobiopic, I wonder who will play him in the almost-certain biopic.

Friday, December 9, 2005

ASA, THEY GOT THE SL! The movie is still a few weeks away, but Leon Wieseltier has begun the war over Steven Spielberg's Munich:
The film is powerful, in the hollow way that many of Spielberg's films are powerful. He is a master of vacant intensities, of slick searings. Whatever the theme, he must ravish the viewer. Munich is aesthetically no different from War of the Worlds, and never mind that one treats questions of ethical and historical consequence and the other is stupid. Spielberg knows how to overwhelm. But I am tired of being overwhelmed. Why should I admire somebody for his ability to manipulate me? In other realms of life, this talent is known as demagoguery. There are better reasons to turn to art, better reasons to go to the movies, than to be blown away.

(BugMeNot works.)
IN A QUEST TO GET FAMOUS WE'LL LET HIM PLAY US LIKE ANDY AND AMOS: Remember Eddie Murphy's all-time-classic "Mr. White" SNL sketch? According to the BBC, Ice Cube and RJ Cutler have decided to extend and expand the concept into a two-family reality television show. Imagining how it will all play out has the needle on my cringe-o-meter jumping, big time. Even if Hollywood make-up technology has advanced astoundingly since 1986, I predict a lot of extremely awkward moments in which the participants get the fabled "funny vibe" more for so obviously trying to seem to be what they're not than for being anything they're trying to seem to be. I would have much preferred Cube to spend his time on a reprise of his timeless role as James 'Desolation' Williams.
IF NOTHING ELSE, NO. 6 WILL KEEP ME IN THE THEATER: contributor Dave White presents The Straight Dude's Guide To Brokeback Mountain. Why?
“But I am a heterosexual man,” you’re thinking, “very, very, very, very straight.” And you’re kind of freaking out as the release date quickly approaches — and even the expression “release date” is making you kind of jittery. You’re hoping to remind your female life partner that, while you feel gay people are very wonderful, colorful, witty additions to the human population and that Ellen sure is fun to watch dance in the credit card commercial and that Tom Hanks really deserved that Academy Award for whatever that movie was where he died at the end, that you are very, very, very, very straight and that it should exempt you from seeing Adorable Jake…um… do “it” with Heath Ledger. You really don’t even want to know what “it” entails because you’ve lived this long without finding out. You’re thinking the words “red-blooded,” as in “I am a red-blooded American male, etc,” don’t sound so retro anymore.

And yet, you’re still going to see it whether you like it or not. This necessarily presents a dilemma: how to make her happy and endure your first gay-themed movie where guys actually make out on a very big screen right in front of your face? And that’s where I come in. . . .

The last note is particularly apt: "And finally, it’s just your turn. Really, it is, and you know it. Imagine how many thousands of hetero love stories gay people sit through in their lives. So you kind of owe us. Now get out there and watch those cowboys make out. "
EVEN MORE ELITE THAN THE FIVE-TIMERS CLUB: The fact that Alec Baldwin will, tomorrow night, tie John Goodman for the coveted second place position on the list of "Persons Who've Hosted SNL the Most," with 12 hosting gigs (Steve Martin remains #1, with hosting appearance 14 slated for the spring) is interesting enough on its own, but the Times article on the subject includes the following cryptic remark--"Michaels is . . . preparing to say goodbye to several mainstays, whom he will identify sometime next year." So, who's going? I think the arrival of Kristin Wiig makes the departures of several female cast members (Poehler and Dratch in particular) exceedingly likely, and it's time for Hammond and Meyers to step aside and let the new talent take over. And can we just fire Horatio Sanz for the hell of it?
FOR 12 HOURS A DAY, 7 DAYS A WEEK, MY COLLEAGUES AND I ARE KILLING MONSTERS: Americans are now outsourcing our videogame playing. Basically, Americans are hiring low-paid Chinese workers to play through the early rounds of the multiplayer fantasy games for them, so that they can start off with already-loaded-with-virtual-gold supercharacters without any effort. Fascinating.
NEXT TIME, USE THE SCARF: The WaPo has a nice recap of this week's Runway premiere, including a tidbit which was, at least, news to me:
Last year's "Project Runway" winner, Jay McCarroll, whose style was an enticing blend of sci-fi, technicolor and street style, declined both [$100,000 to help finance his own business and mentoring support from Banana Republic]. (But he did appear in Elle.) In an e-mail conversation, he didn't detail the precise reasons for turning down the money: "Use your imagination there for I am not allowed to talk about it." But he did not dispute the suggestion that, perhaps, there were too many strings attached to such a windfall. As for the mentorship with Banana Republic, "everything was fine with them, just bad timing. I couldn't think about mass production in China the week I won the show. It was all just way over my head. I was pretty emotional for months. 'What the [bleep] just happened to me?' kind of thoughts," he says.

Tell me this, folks: who will stop Santino (whom I might start referring to as General Zod)?

Thursday, December 8, 2005

I DON'T THINK THAT WORD MEANS WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS: Season 2 of Dancing With The Stars again stretches the definition of "Stars," with a roster of dancers led by Jerry Rice, Tatum O'Neal, George Hamilton (who clearly wants to be the new John O'Hurley), Tia Carerre and Giselle Fernandez (who clearly want to be the new Kelly Monaco), and (I'm not making this up) ESPN personality Kenny Mayne. C'mon, couldn't you get Kornheiser?
THE DEFENSE IS "WE WERE ON A BREAK:" While Matthew Perry appears to be on the verge of a very wise career decision, David Schwimmer appears to be headed the other way--he'll be appearing in The Caine Mutiny Court Martial on Broadway starting in April. This smells like every bit the potential disaster that Curb Your Enthusiasm forecast for Schwimmer's Broadway debut last season.
SINCE U BEEN SNUBBED: Grammy nominations are out. Obviously, due to the ridiculous number of categories (107 this year), a comprehensive commentary is beyond me now, but a few quick thoughts:
  • Ugh to Mariah Carey getting substantial nominations for the schmoopy "We Belong Together" and The Emancipation of Mimi.
  • No nominations for Kelly Clarkson at all in the top 3 categories is a big surprise, given that "Since U Been Gone" and "Behind These Hazel Eyes" were both big hits. Also, Coldplay got generally snubbed in the top categories (though they did well in Rock).
  • McCartney beating out Stevie Wonder for the obligatory "comeback album" slot is a bit of a surprise.
  • Oddest duo in "pop collaboration?" Herbie Hancock featuring Christina Aguilera.
  • Given that Fantasia picked up several R&B nominations, it's a surprise to see that Ciara, Fall Out Boy, and SugarLand beat her into the Best New Artist category (which is rather weak this year).
  • I'm not one for category quibbling, but how is Kanye's "Gold Digger" purely a rap song rather than a "rap/sung collaboration" like "Rich Girl" and "1,2 Step?"
  • Devils and Dust is a "Contemporary Folk Album?"
  • Best series of nominees, as usual, is in spoken word, where Garrison Keillor, Al Franken, Sean Penn, Sen. Barack Obama, and George Carlin will duke it out.
  • "Grammy Award nominee Rick Moranis?"

I'm sure there will be much to be said.

GOOFUS AND GALLANT -- GUBERNATORIAL EDITION: Good Outgoing NJ Governor Richard Codey spends a night in a psychiatric hospital to learn more about conditions and encourage others to care about the mentally ill.

Bad (Or, At Least, Odd) Outgoing NJ Governor Richard Codey spends thousands in public money to send Rutgers students to a bowl game.
WHILE YOU'RE BUSY MAKING OTHER PLANS: Today, December 8, 2005, is the twenty-fifth anniversary of John Lennon's murder.

I have a feeling that were he still alive, he would not be doing ads for investment brokers or performing at sporting events. I wonder if he'd find Bono's activism to be inspiring or annoying. I wonder what he'd be doing now, at the age of 65.
FOR THOSE WHO WERE UNSURE WHETHER WAS A PROPER MORNING BEVERAGE: Meet Coca-Cola Blak -- a combination of Coke Classic and coffee extracts, being rolled out stateside in 2006.

I have a feeling lawyers are going to try to keep this stuff out of public schools too.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

DID ANYONE MISS NOLE MARIN? Another Top Model cycle is in the books, and while tonight's winner wasn't my favorite heading into the last hour, she certainly won tonight's competitions.

Oh, well -- season two of that show will be very hard to top -- they may never have women as interesting as Shandi ("You had sex?"), Mercedes, Yoanna, April, Camille, Jenascia, Xiomara, Sara and Catie . . . wow, that was pantheon television. Season five, not so much.
WILL MAGNETO SURVIVE? I'm only halfway through the two-hour premiere of Project Runway II: Less Peppery, but I am excited. As I hoped, the success of season one inspired a tremendous level of talent for the sequel, and this should be a great competition.

As Kingsley noted before, the thing which sets this show apart is the level of craft involved. There is no faking the skill it takes to design and sew great fashion, and the level of effort put in on a weekly basis is exceptional. Combine that with judging which is both tough and fair, and the awesome mentoring work of Tim Gunn, and you've got a must-see show for anyone who likes any of the Who Wants To Be The Next [X] reality genre.

Kudos to Matt, the earliest of adopters on the show, for getting me on board early.
SO WHO DOES SHE WANT TO WANT HER? So, La Lohan has a cover of Cheap Trick's "I Want You To Want Me" on her new album (iTunes link), which, judging from the sample, is less than stellar. (And don't even get me started on the inexplicable cover of "Edge of Seventeen" or her"Confessions of a Broken Heart (Daughter to Father)" video, available here, which could be the new "Trapped In The Closet.") But, of course, even if it were awesome, Lohan's cover would have to remain in second place behind Letters to Cleo's cover of the same song featured in Ten Things I Hate About You (inexplicably no longer available on iTunes), at least in the "vaguely riot grrlish covers of Cheap Trick songs" category. I'm fully supportive of covers that bring something new to the table, but why cover a song that has been covered in a superior manner and in the same style relatively recently?
NO, IT'S NOT JUST CALLED ORDER: So here's a question--is a Law & Order spinoff still a Law & Order spinoff (even when it features a former L&O cast member returning to the fold) when it:
  • Apparently contains no cops (all lawyers).
  • "Will be dealing extensively with characters' back stories and personal lives."

Fortunately, it's ADA Alex Cabot (late of SVU) who's returning to the fold, rather than Serena "Is this because I'm a lesbian?" Southerlyn, with a supporting cast including Anson Mount (best known around here as the guy Cameron Diaz energetically couples with in a bathroom during the opening credits of In Her Shoes), Julianne Nicholson (Ally McBeal), and J. August Richards (Angel), as a squad of young ADA's. Hopefully, this is better received and better TV than Trial By Jury, though life imitated TV for one of its stars recently.

DOES STUDIO 7 HAVE A WENUS? Apparently Aaron Sorkin has approached Matthew Perry regarding taking on the leading role in Studio 7 on the Sunset Strip. I'm thinking that Perry is likely a candidate to play the former Studio 7 writer and recovering cocaine addict whom the new network president convinces to return to the show. (That, of course, is the role that I have earmarked for Josh Charles, but I have not yet been officially consulted.) The same Ausiello item indicates that feelers have gone out to Amanda Peet to play the network exec.
EITHER YOU ARE EEEN OR YOU ARE OUT: After a disappointing season of the Race, it's going to be refreshing to see some top-notch reality TV again, and Project Runway returns to Bravo this evening for what promises to be fun, excitement, and drama. Also, if you really want a shot at winning some Project Runway DVD's and a bag designed by Season 1 winner Jay McCarroll, TWOP is running a contest.
HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE QUINTANA? Joan Didion's memoir is coming to Broadway, and in a just world, it won't be a one-woman show but a musical called Think! with songs like "No Day But To... Wait, Today's No Good", "Soup's On! Dunne's Done?" and "My Heart Will Go On (Yours, Not So Much)". Ideas?

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

NO, DUDE, INDEPENDENT FILMS ARE THOSE BLACK AND WHITE HIPPIE MOVIES. THEY'RE ALWAYS ABOUT GAY COWBOYS EATING PUDDING: Eric Cartman's famous words. Did I mention that The Wife was ridiculously excited about this one?
ABOUT AS EXCITING AS STARING AT THE GAS GAUGE AND HOPING YOU HAVEN'T RUN EMPTY: Other than a random reference to Jame Gumb and a woman at a "task" who looked like the White Stripes' Meg White, was there anything of note in tonight's Race?

Next week, thank goodness, it ends, and we can look forward to a new, better-designed season come spring. I hope.
NO DISCUSSION OF THE STEREOTYPING IN DEUCE BIGALOW INCLUDED: What does it take to get your letter published in the New York Times? Apparently, being Rob Schneider and writing about race in the movies. At the end, Schneider suggests that the "most talented person" should always be cast in any given role. If that were the case, would Schneider ever be employed?
WHAT'S COLDER THAN COLD? Frigid, as in the Film Threat Frigid 50, the magazine's annual look at Hollywood's 50 coldest stars, studios, and trends. Topping the 2005 list is Tom Cruise, followed closely by his Katie Holmes, Brett Ratner, Tom "Whizzinator" Sizemore, and JLo.

Previous year's winners include Michael Moore, Russell Crowe, Robin Williams, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Jack Valenti.

And speaking of Ratner, the preview of X3 is online, and based on the preview alone it looks like Ratner won't destroy the franchise. And seeing Frasier Crane in the Beast makeup has to be worth the price of admission alone, no?
GIVE ALL THE TOYS TO THE LITTLE RICH BOYS: The holidays are coming. How do I know? Because XMRadio, resident in my car, has added not one, not two, but five Christmas-themed stations to the lineup. (Sirius apparently only has two, the scrooges.)

XM's Holly channel -- which has replaced all-important lite-FM (lite-Satellite?) channel The Heart through December 25 -- is focusing on the "hits of the holidays," while the Holiday Traditions channel is handling Bing, Burl, and the whole gang of Christmas Classicists. (For other interests, we also have Nashville Christmas, Classical Christmas, and Special X-mas, the latter of which seems to be all the novelty "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" kind of stuff.)

Which brings us to this: what are your favorite Christmas tunes, both classic and pop/rock divisions? On the more traditional side, I'm rather partial to Silver Bells, O Holy Night, Silent Night, and Jingle Bell Rock. As for the more recent stuff, Springsteen's Santa Claus is Coming to Town is best of breed, with the Kinks' Father Christmas and Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas not far behind. But I have to add one other to the list, which I hardly even consider a Christmas song because it's just so depressing: Robert Downey Jr.'s haunting version of Joni's Mitchell's The River. If you haven't heard it, kindly do so immediately. And then dance around to Jingle Bell Rock and Father Christmas a few times to recover.

Monday, December 5, 2005

SAY BRAINLESS, DON'T YOU KNOW WHERE COCONUTS COME FROM? Over at Cinematical, they've chosen the seven best Christmas movies, and no one should be surprised with the wonderful film that tops the list (No. 4, on the list, however...)

Sunday, December 4, 2005

"HE THINKS THAT PUNCTUALITY IS RESERVED FOR CRIMINALS, WHORES AND POLITICIANS": Excellent WaPo profiles today of the five recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors tonight -- the unstoppable Tina Turner, Sundance Institute founder (and occasional actor) Robert Redford, "singer's singer" Tony Bennett, first lady of the American stage Julie Harris and dancer Suzanne Farrell.

The Honors will be broadcast on CBS on December 27.
HERE'S MY VISOR, MY DIXON TICONDEROGA #2 PENCIL, AND MY BIG FINISH! So I was thinking again about that article on the non-"star"ness of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, and trying to figure out this: if they had decided to recast The Producers with bigger names for its film adaptation, who should it have been?

Here's my first pass: I don't know if he can sing, but it strikes me that Al Pacino's constant overplaying and mugging for the camera might make him a perfect Max Bialystock. All the traits that make him occasionally unbearable work perfectly in that role, and I can easily envision him barreling his way through big numbers like "Betrayed" ("Wait a minute! My name's not Alvin! That's not my life! I'm not a hillbilly. I grew up in the Bronx! Leo's taken everything. Even my past!") It's about time Pacino did a Brando-in-The-Freshman and ran with his excesses for comedic gain.

And for Leo Bloom? I know Edward Norton can sing, because I remember his light touch on "My Baby Just Cares For Me" and "Just You, Just Me" from Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You. We know he can pull off the innocent-lured-astray. The only question would be whether an actor so often interested in dramatic and challenging roles would be interested in doing musical work.

Your nominees are, of course, welcome.
NO DAY BUT TODAY? There is much to admire about the film adaptation of Rent -- the performances are all solid, especially Jesse L. Martin as Tom Collins, and some of the numbers really benefit from being opened up on screen ("Rent", "La Vie Boheme"). If you don't get misty during the funeral scene, you don't have a soul.

But the film as a whole didn't engage me and the culprit, I think, is a too-faithful adaptation. Rent 2005 failed to address the changes in the world between the late 1980s and now, making a work that's supposed to feel urgent into a dated period piece.

Let's be blunt: this is not a society which treats domestic AIDS as a crisis anymore, despite the statistics, but the fates of those who suffer from it are no longer controversial within our political discourse. When senators like Rick Santorum are among the leaders of the fight for AIDS funding for Africa, we are in very different times from a show in which the entire cast defiantly stops a song to shout "Actual Reality -- ACT UP -- Fight AIDS!"

(Look, I understand -- if you pull the line about ACT UP, then you've got a whole other mess on your hands -- but when was the last time you saw a Silence = Death t-shirt?)

And AIDS is no longer an automatic death sentence, thank God.

So the question is, then, how do you persuade an audience in 2005 that our protagonists are doomed martyrs at the edge of society? And I think you just need to add in more context here. Or something. Because what you can get away with on Broadway in 2005, given the visceral impact of having the performers right in front of you, just doesn't automatically work as well mediated through a projection screen.

There are minor issues too regarding fidelity in translation: if you've seen the original work, you understand coming into Maureen's big number that she's N-V-T-S nuts and her big production is a parody of bad performance art. But in 2005, who even remembers what performance art is -- and I don't think the Tango Maureen number gives enough framing to let you know that you're supposed to view her number as ridiculous. (That said, Idina Menzel does a fantastic job from that point forward conveying her character's instability.)

And another thing, which I'll credit Jen for spotting: much is made of Mark's fear of "selling out", that it would be bad for him to, y'know, Get A Job and not be True To His Art. And for those of us who remember the "should Band [X] sign with a major label?" debates of the late 1980s and especially the post-Nirvana early 1990s, well, we can put it in context. But as Jen points out, hip hop music has totally subverted that argument -- there now is nothing ignoble about coming up from the streets and making it big; selling out and entrepeneurialism are heroic (paging Thomas Frank!)

I'm sure there was a real fear of tinkering with Larson's text, given the whole backstory. But something probably had to be done -- maybe, just letting a new cast work with the material, or using some kind of framing device to put us back in the late-1980s mindset again, one in which those suffering with AIDS were just as much outcasts as those stricken with tuberculosis in La Boheme.

We know that Angels in America was remade recently for HBO, and it was brilliant. But Rent didn't work. Or did it, and am I just too hard on it?
DEPARTMENT OF CAREER SERVICES: For those of you looking for alternative careers to pursue with your law degree, today's Times has two suggestions. First, you could be a college football coach. Second, you could drop out, become a modestly well-known and well-regarded character actor, and then become a third-string political figures. Alternatively, you can sue your bar review course for anti-trust violations.
AN AN-CHEE-LA-DA ... I WILL HAVE AN AN-CHEE-LA-DA: A San Francisco Chronicle writer says what needs to be said about the 2006 Turin Olympics.
CHANGING OUR COMIC WHIPPING POST: OK, I've read the fawning EW profile and heard people talk about him for quite a while, but after watching this week's SNL, I'm left with a very significant question--in what alternate universe is Dane Cook worthy of being on anyone's "funniest people alive" list?