Saturday, December 31, 2005

MORE THAN JUST AMERICA'S OLDEST TEENAGER: And we have a late-breaking entry into the Best TV Moment of 2005 race (prior nominees include the "reveal" in House: Three Stories, the chair slamming through the glass in Without A Trace: Malone v. Malone, the gasp-inducing elimination of Austin Scarlett on Project Runway, and the Tyrade on ANTM)--Dick Clark's genuinely touching, slightly slurred, return to the airwaves during New Years' Rockin' Eve. Especially in comparison to the peppy and vaguely robotic Seacreast/Duff combo, Clark's presence and genuinely moving remarks are up there.

New Year's Rockin' Eve also gives us the 2005 Award for Most Unfortunate Juxtaposition in a TV Promo. During an ad for the new ABC Monday night lineup, we get the following unfortunate statement: "The romance is back, Monday January 9, 9/8 Central, after an all-new 'Wife Swap.'" (Second worst unfortunate coincidence on the weekend behind NY Times Magazine editor Daphne Merkin's piece in this week's Magazine--what's next--John Toupay on scalp care?)
CARTMAN'S SIDE IS RIGHT, FOR THE WRONG REASONS. BUT WE'RE WRONG, FOR THE RIGHT REASONS: I'm calling for nominations for the ALOTT5MA Award for Funniest Half-Hour Of Television Of The Year. I believe last year's award went to the The Daily Show's coverage of night two of the Democratic National Convention, an episode full of biting, timely political humor.

As did my nominee for 2005: South Park episode 904, "Best Friends Forever", which first aired March 30, 2005, the night before Terry Schiavo died. Achingly funny, and given the limitations of animation, ridiculously timely.

So go ahead, nominate your Arrested Development and the like. But I plant my flag in Colorado.

Friday, December 30, 2005

WE WERE WAITING, ANTICIPATING: So where exactly does The Producers: The Movie Musical of the Musical of The Movie go so badly, badly wrong? I have a few suggestions:
  • Susan Stroman, in spite of her general talents as a stage director, is simply not a movie director. Her camera almost never moves during the film. Static shot is followed by static shot, and often, the edits are fairly bloody--you can see the cuts. For instance, rather than pulling back to expose the panorama of Little Old Ladies following Bialystock around, we get a close-up on Bialystock running, followed by a cut to the broader shot. It just doesn't work.
  • The stage musical is full of meta-theatrical jokes, all of which have been excised with no attempt to replace them with movie in-jokes or other jokes. The absence might not be so great to a viewer who wasn't familiar with the show.
  • At the same time, stuff that worked on stage is translated too literally. Particularly painful is Leo and Ulla's coupling behind the couch, which works on stage as a stage moment, but absolutely does not in the film. A joke that hits big on stage (Roger De Bris' dress) misses completely, but there's still the beat for the expected laughter, which turns into a painful silence. Also, the entire film feels like it was shot on sets. Hell, probably half of it feels like it was shot on the stage of the St. James Theatre. Sure, there's some opening up, but that opening up doesn't help, especially in "Along Came Bialy."
  • Part of the joy of many of the musical numbers in the stage show is that there's something going on everywhere on stage. Stroman and her cinematographer have chosen to shoot many of the musical numbers in close-up on individual performers, losing that.

That said, the movie's not a complete loss. Will Ferrell in particular is great, and "I Want To Be A Producer" is successfully (and excellently) opened up, at least at the beginning. Make sure to stay all the way to the end of the credits, though, even though the new "There's Nothing Like A Show On Broadway" song is bland, so you can hear Ferrell's power ballad rendition of "Guten Tag Hop Clop" and a closing farewell taken from the show. I'd be interested to see how people unfamiliar with the Broadway show and/or Broderick and Lane's theatrical performance view the movie, but somehow, I expect there won't be a whole lot of those people viewing the film.

OKAY, JESUS, COME OUT OF THE CLOSET: Okay, if I can laugh at the South Park episode about Scientology, I had better be prepared to laugh at this.

Sure, I'll burn a few hundred extra years in purgatory for downloading this on P2P, but what the hell. Fair's fair.
WHEN WILL THIS STRONG YEARNING END? For those of you who have been wondering when you'll get to gaze upon the glorious Princeton-educated visage of Wentworth Miller anew -- wonder no more. FOX has announced that Michael, Lincoln, T-Bag, Sucre, Westmoreland, and the rest of the Prison Break family will be returning on March 20. That's less than three months of wondering which part of Michael's anatomy contains the tattoo of the backup escape plan.
NEW YORK IS THE BIGGEST, MOST SPECTACULAR STATE IN ALLA THE WORLD: Today's hot political rumor? Donald Trump running for governor of New York. No, seriously. Suggest your campaign slogans for the Donald's inevitably doomed campaign.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

PRESENTED BY PRIOR WINNERS THIRD EYE BLIND AND DOGS EYE VIEW: It's time for an ALOTT5MA award that I must enlist your assistance on determining all the potential nominees, much less a winner. The category is Most Inane Lyrics In A Hit Pop Song. My proposed nominees thus far are:
  • Gwen Stefani, Hollaback Girl
  • Black Eyed Peas, My Humps
  • The Pussycat Dolls, Dontcha
  • Rihanna, Pon De Replay
  • Daddy Yankee, Gasolina

Note that this category is not for songs that have inane lyrics that actually wind up sounding kind of profound, either because of delivery or wonderful musical work--leaders in that sub-category would be Anna Nalick's Breathe (2 AM) and Natasha Bedingfield's These Words (I Love You, I Love You, I Love You)--but is instead designed for inane lyrics which revel in their inanity. (And, yes, Gwen Stefani's entire album is arguably enough to fill the category.)

JUST SAYING, IS ALL: Admittedly, I've seen some odd Google searches lead people to this site over the years. But "S. Epatha Merkerson NUDE PICS"? For real?

(No, we don't have them.)
I HAVE CONQUERED GAUL; I HAVE DEFEATED POMPEY MAGNUS. I THINK I CAN HANDLE A SMALL BOY AND A EUNUCH: In additional ceremonies prior to broadcast hosted by Khrystyne Haje (1986 ALOTT5MA winner for TV Babe Of The Year), three ALOTT5MA awards were presented to HBO's Rome: Fictional Journalist of the Year (non-Daily Show division) for the jolly town crier, Oddest Yet Funniest Take Of A Historical Figure for portraying Cleopatra as a nascent crack whore, and the It's Not Just TV, It's HBO Award for best exploitation of the relaxed broadcast standards of pay cable (the award itself is a gold-plated statue of Vern Schillinger from Oz) goes to the brutal gladiator fight at the end of episode 1.11, "The Spoils", which TWoP recaps in graphic detail.
MOVIE DIVISION WINNER PREVIOUSLY PRESENTED TO AEON FLUX: This year's ALOTT5MA Award for Biggest Waste of Substantial Amount of Talent (Television Division) goes to Stacked, which manages to completely suck despite the presence of Christopher Lloyd and Marissa Jaret Winokur in supporting roles. Don't these talented people have something better to do than play third fiddle to Pamela and her Andersons?
PRIOR WINNERS INCLUDE DIRE STRAITS, THREE DOG NIGHT, AND A POSTHUMOUS LIFETIME ACH IEVEMENT AWARD TO JEFF BUCKLEY: It's time to present an award that Aaron Sorkin has won all too many times--the award for Outstanding Use of Pop Music in A Television Series. And your non-winning nominees are:
  • Project Runway, Sarah Morgan, "Girl on The Verge." Let's leave aside the episode's wonderment quotient on the side (Austin Scarlett's runway breakdown and major misstep is part of what makes the show so great), and focus on the ditty which (unaccountably) did not become a hit, with a nice guitar line and clever lyrics.
  • Lost, ...In Translation, "Delicate." I love Damien Rice--"The Blower's Daughter" made Closer as a movie, and this song is equally gorgeous, but it's not the song or its lyrics that are why it makes the list. It's the brilliant closure--we pan across the beach where the Lostaways have made something of a home, and the music skips and stops, as Hurley's CD player finally runs out of batteries, reminding us that in spite of all the Lostaways' efforts, they're still lost. (Also, watch David LaChappelle's brilliant Lost promos for UK TV here, which contain equally beautiful moments.)
  • Grey's Anatomy, "Such Great Heights." Despite the fact that this song instantly makes you think of the show and leads off the soundtrack album, it's apparently only appeared on the promos for the show. But the use there is so perfect that it belongs here--managing to connect both the frenetic nature of the hospital and the emotions between the doctors and their patients. Brilliant use (as is the entire musical coordination of the show, which is worthy of an award of its own).
  • Lost, Man of Science, Man of Faith, "Make Your Own Kind of Music." I know many would pick this as the winner. At the start of Lost's second season we pull into an eye--the universal symbol for flashback. A man gets up out of bed and drops a needle onto a turntable and we hear the bizarre opening chords of Mama Cass' song. We follow the guy around as he goes through his daily routine. Then, we hear a BOOM! and realize that we're not in a flashback--we're in the hatch.

And the winner....

  • House, Honeymoon, "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Two reasons--first, the brilliant bookending--one of the first lines out of House's mouth in the pilot is a quote from "the Philosopher Jagger--you can't always gets what you want," to which Dr. Cuddy responds "but, if you try sometimes, you can get what you need." Then, in the final scene of the season finale, as House sits at home as his one true love is with her husband, he throws a pill up in the air and it spins in the air--he catches it in his mouth and turns to the camera. The music asks the questions--what does House want? What does House need? Can he get either of them? We don't know, and that's why it's the winner.
THE GAY CHRISTIAN APE COMPROMISE: With a single night available for moviegoing during the holiday season, Mr. Cosmopolitan and I sat down with the movie listings to figure out what we should see.

Me: I want to see Brokeback Mountain.
Mr. Cosmo: I'm going to see one movie all winter and it's gonna be gay cowboys?
Me: Yes.
Mr. Cosmo: I want to see The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Me: I'm going to see one movie all winter and it's gonna be Christian lions?
Mr. Cosmo: Yes. And it's not about Christian lions. Read the damn book.
Mr. Cosmo: So. I guess it's King Kong?
Me: Yup. Let's go.

As conscientious readers may recall, the preview for King Kong had moved me from a meh to a yeah. And seeing the three-hour version -- a rather monumental expansion of the three-minute trailer -- did not disappoint.

Neither Mr. Cosmo nor I had ever seen a prior King Kong iteration. For those of you similarly inexperienced with the genre, the three hours can be divided into three chapters: (1) Depression-era Manhattan, in which filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) finds out-of-work vaudevillean actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) and convinces her to join the cast of his new film, which is setting sail that very day for Singapore for filming. But oops, little does anyone involved with the film know, but they are actually filming on ominous secret (2) Skull Island, on which bad things happen to many people, Jackson's brontosauruses kick the snot out of Spielberg's, and King Kong (Andy Serkis, in a role so close but yet so far from Gollum) and Ann meet. Kong is captured as he attempts to keep Ann with him on the island, and he is forcibly removed to (3) Depression-era Manhattan, where Kong proves to be stronger than anyone gave him credit for, and there's a little scene involving Kong, Ann, and the Empire State Building.
  • Fastest three hours in a movie theatre ever. It didn't even bother me that it takes 90 minutes to catch a glimpse of an ape. The only area where I might have considered asking for a little extra slicing and dicing was toward the back end of the Skull Island sequence, where an awfully long time was spent lovingly filming all sorts of ooky monstrosities and big bugs and the like munching on various sailors.
  • CGI has really become astonishing. The only point at which you notice the artificiality of the process is during the brontosaurus stampede, and even then it's not because the dinosaurs look fake, but because the actors didn't quite nail the running-for-their-lives-while-looking-over-their-shoulders-to-avoid-being-trampled reactions.
  • Naomi Watts: Wow. Lovely and heartbreaking and impressively interactive with the giant green or blue or whatever-color-they-use-these-days screen that was her constant and sole companion throughout much of the movie.
  • This was my first Adrien Brody experience. He's much more appealing than I previously gave him credit for being. Jack Black was enjoyable too. And Colin Hanks has gotten older since Orange County.
  • I hope Peter Jackson is getting a serious kickback from the New Zealand government for the boost he has provided NZ tourism. Gorgeous, gorgeous cinematography. And watching the credits, I found myself wondering what percentage of the NZ population worked on this film. It can't be a small one.
I HATED, HATED, HATED, HATED THIS MOVIE: The only thing better than a "best movies of the year list?" A "worst movies of the year" list--and David Poland offers up his "barfer's dozen" of the worst 13 movies he's seen this year. Frighteningly, I've seen 6 of his bottom 13, and will likely see a seventh. But Dave, how could you leave out the exerable XXX: State of the Union, which manages to take servicable behind the camera and in front of the camera talent along with a decent government conspiracy plotline (a Secretary of Defense plotting a coup d'etat) and create ludicrousness such as the "low rider tank" and (I'm not making this up) a chase sequence involving the "secret White House escape train?"
TWO AND A HALF WOMEN? The Women's Film Critics Circle Awards are not really on the level of the Golden Globes, the Oscars, or, hell, even the National Board of Review, but how can you resist an awards ceremony with categories such as "Best Female Image in a Movie," "Most Offensive Male Characters," "Best Equality of the Sexes," and the induction of Tony Scott into the "Hall of Shame" for Domino? And, yes, this is the only awards ceremony you're likely to see State Property II pick up a couple of "awards."
FOUR BACON SQUARES: For those of you not of the Bay Area, you might otherwise miss the brilliance which is Jon Carroll's Xmas Quiz.

9) If Prince Charles ascended to the throne, and chose to keep the name Charles, what number Charles would he be? There are rumors that Charles is thinking of becoming King George instead; why ever would he do that?

10) "Dendrochronology" is the science of studying what? "Mogigraphia" is the disorder more commonly known as what?

11) Each of these people is better known by his nickname. Name the nicknames. Wilmer David Mizell; Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown; Clement John Dreisewerd; Walter Perry Johnson; Harold Henry Reese.

Answers tomorrow, so give it a shot while you can.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

THE REAL PROBLEM WOULD HAVE BEEN IF DANIELS PLAYED THE OTHER LEBOWSKI: A few thoughts after seeing the lavishly over-praised, but still excellently acted all around (even by William Baldwin) The Squid and The Whale.
  • Am I the only one who, from time to time, has difficulty remembering whether Jeff Bridges or Jeff Daniels is the lead of a particular movie? I mean, Daniels used to have the more "affable stoner" characters, and then Bridges did Lebowski. Here, Daniels' Squid and the Whale character is a variation on Bridges' excellent performance in last year's underseen The Door in The Floor. Maddening.
  • Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates have a very talented child, and must be extraordinarily permissive and understanding parents to allow their child to play the role he plays.
  • Perhaps this demonstrates that I am now thoroughly a New Yorker, but isn't there something inherently wrong with an "Angelika Film Center" with state of the art projection and seating setups (including the lack of a train running from time to time behind the screen) and which is playing Rumor Has It... on one of its screens?
CHICK-A-CHING-CHING-CHING: The Washington Post reports on the annual Philadelphia Mummers "after-party" on Two Street, but oddly, the words "urine" and "vomit" fail to appear in the article.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

"I'M ONLY KISSING IF HE LOOKS LIKE HEATH LEDGER, THOUGH": A History of Violence dominated this year's Village Voice film critics' poll, but, as always, the real fun is in the comments section:
The movie that best captured our conflict over the moral imperatives of violence was—duh—A History of Violence. It essentially frames our national debate: As a citizen of the world, are we Tom Stall or Crazy Joey Cusack—and does it matter as long as we kill the right people? --JIM RIDLEY

Brokeback Mountain wasn't even the first mainstream gay romance of the year. Did no one else see the barely suppressed homoerotic longings beneath the hetero posturing of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in Wedding Crashers? --NICK SCHAGER

If War of the Worlds' Tom Cruise was the good father, Hayden Christensen was the ultimate bad dad in Star Wars Part the Last. While I'd hesitate to use the word subversive, the movie was more interesting than people gave it credit for. When I was young, we knew who the Empire were; they lived on the other side of the iron curtain. By the end of Revenge of the Sith that presumption has been spun around on its axis; a democracy can lose its way just as easily as a good man can be led to evil. --TOM CHARITY

Hail Keira, hail Heath and Jake, hail Scarlett and Cillian and all the cuties delightfully making good on the dream that stars can also be devoted to serious craft. Never has the schism between Federlinian trash-fame and bona fide talent seemed so pronounced; with yesterday's model short-circuiting on Oprah's couch, maybe it's time for the real actors to stand up. --JOSHUA ROTHKOPF

I propose a truce. Broadway promises to stop making mediocre stage versions of so-so movies, and Hollywood vows to forgo crappy screen adaptations of middling musicals. --JORGE MORALES

Go back to the 2004 poll comments via this link, and we even blogged the 2002 poll over here.
LET HIM GO! Thirty years later, we now know who Deep Throat is, but does anyone know what Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" is supposed to be about? Notes The Times:
Some interpreted it as a way of dealing with [Freddie Mercury's] personal issues. To this day the band is still protective of the song's secret.

"I have a perfectly clear idea of what was in Freddie's mind," [guitarist Brian] May said. "But it was unwritten law among us in those days that the real core of a song lyric was a private matter for the composer, whoever that might be. So I still respect that."

[Producer Roy] Baker said, with a hearty laugh, "If I tell you, I would have to kill you."

I believe some of the usual suspects around here have some ideas.
YOU JUMP FIRST, WE HAVE A DEAL: I've considered Project Runway's Going Postal challenge, the Giant Jigsaw Map from The Amazing Family Travelogue, TAR6's Ethiopian Church match game (just for the jaw-dropping locale) (or that season's lock + key + Chinese Mountain) and the Ishe-Ahmed fight from The Contender, but I just don't think anyone's going to take the 2005 ALOTT5MA Award for Best Reality Competition Challenge from Survivor X's Tom and Ian on the Buoys competition at the final three. A Herculean physical task with Shakespearean dramatic impact. But I'm willing to listen to your ideas.

(2004 Winner: TAR5's caviar challenge.)
I JUST SWITCHED TO SANKA. I'M RUNNING A LITTLE SLOW TODAY, SO HAVE A HEART: Vincent Schiavelli, a Hey It's That Guy! guy if ever there was one, has passed away.

Monday, December 26, 2005

IT WAS CHRISTMAS EVE, BABE, IN THE DRUNK TANK: A brief item in the NYT about the not-just-important-in-fiction U.K. Christmas singles chart reminds me of a sad truth -- last week marked five years since singer/songwriter Kirsty MacColl was taken from us.

Find out about the Justice for Kirsty campaign, or visit the MacColl website here.

P.S. The Pogues -- yes, Shane McGowan too -- will be touring the East Coast in March 2006.
SINCE I'VE BEEN GONE: Okay, back to Philadelphia, and I hope y'all had a wonderful start to the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwaanza season. More substance to come later, of course, but for now a question that's been bugging me for a few days.

In the Kelly Clarkson hit "Since U Been Gone," when she sings that "Thanks to you now I get what I want," does 'get' mean 'understand' or 'obtain'? Your detailed responses are welcome.