Saturday, July 1, 2006

YOU CAN BEND THE RULES PLENTY ONCE YOU GET TO THE TOP, BUT NOT WHILE YOU'RE TRYING TO GET THERE. AND IF YOU'RE SOMEONE LIKE ME, YOU CAN'T GET THERE WITHOUT BENDING THE RULES: Our good friend Gretchen, not seen here in long form since her Olympic figure skating analysis, interrupts her Bar study to review The Devil Wears Prada:
You have no style nor any sense of fashion: The Devil Wears Prada is a Cinderella story in reverse, a Pygmalion for the fashionistas and those who love them. For those of you who managed to avoid the Prada juggernaut, either as a book or as a trailer, the story is about Andy, an aspiring journalist who finds a job as the second assistant to Miranda Priestly, the Anna Wintour-esque editrix of a thinly disguised Vogue magazine. Anne Hathaway plays the wide-eyed newbie, and there is great fun in watching her stumble into her interview, all college newspaper clips and earnest looks and bad clothes, with Miranda. Of course, young Andy soon realizes that she won't survive her job unless she trades in Old Navy for Gucci, Chanel, and Balenciaga. Her transformation is one of the highlights of the movie, and there's a fabulous sequence of Andy moving through her morning in a never ending parade of expensive labels and lethal stilettos. The fashion in the movie has been criticized
for too much Chanel and not enough Chloe, too many gold chains and not enough boho, but while it may not be a perfect reflection of daily life at Vogue, the costuming (by Patricia Fields, the former costumer for Sex and the City) is a vital and effective part of the narrative.

But the real reason to see Prada is Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly. She is both terrifying and utterly hilarious. She's ruthless in her ambition and decisive at every moment. But she's not a cartoon: when the movie dips into her personal life, you see the costs that this entails. But Miranda Priestly never lets her life interfere with her quest for power or, more importantly, her absolute faith in the importance of the work that she does. Miranda may be a bitch, but she knows exactly who she is and what she wants and she gets it. While Andy may be our heroine, the movie rests on the shoulders of Miranda, who owns the movie just as she owns Runway. And you know, while Andy may not want to work for her (and neither would I), there's something awe-inspiring about that kind of authority.

This is the part of the review where I talk about what Devil means for gender politics, for women in the work force, for the uneasy balance of women and power. (I did have the thought that it would be interesting to watch this movie and Working Girl together--they have similar premises, but very different outcomes.) Or perhaps I talk about the uneasy balance between career ambition and family life, and complain about Andy's boyfriend, who deserts her in the midst of her career crisis. Or talk about the ultimate "be true to yourself" message. But I'm not sure the movie stands up to that kind of analysis. Instead, I enjoyed it for exactly what it was--a hilarious romp through the furiously competitive world of high fashion, and an divine star turn from Meryl Streep. And a great break from studying for the Bar.
As always, if you've got something long-form you'd like to submit, send it to the address over on the left.
I'M GUESSING IT WON'T BE STAR JONES: Interesting question at the year's midpoint -- If Time Magazine had to name the Person of the Year for 2006 today, who would it be? (Via Althouse.)

My tentative vote is for Justice Anthony Kennedy, given his pivotal role in this Term's key decisions, but that's very tentative and based on too-recent events. Thoughts?
HIPPIES. THEY'RE EVERYWHERE. THEY SAY THEY WANT TO SAVE THE EARTH, BUT ALL THEY DO IS SMOKE POT AND SMELL BAD: Avid readers of The Green Bag may have been wondering what's happened to the Rainbow People since Judge Dave last encountered them. Are they trying to be sanitary? Today's NYT investigates.

(And, of course, they have a website now.)

Friday, June 30, 2006

KNOCK THREE TIMES ON THE CEILING: I've lately been digging on Andrew Sullivan's "Picture from My Window" feature -- random snaps sent in by readers -- though today's is from the same building and same apartment (albeit 20 floors lower) as where I used to live in Chicago.
THE DEVIL WEARS KYPTONITE: At least in New York City, it's harder to get tickets to The Devil Wears Prada tonight than it is to get tickets to Superman Returns. No idea if it's playing out the same way elsewhere, but that would be more than a small surprise for folks.
SPEAKING OF MICHAEL MCDONALD: I'll break my radio silence (going on vacation every other week it seems makes for a hectic schedule), to mark the fact that Yacht Rock has filmed its final episode. What's that? You've never watched Yacht Rock? Well, clear an hour out of your schedule, start with episode one and learn the real story behind the genre that spawned the Doobies, Kenny Loggins, Christopher Cross, Toto, Hall and Oates, and all those smooth sounds you loved in the late 70s and early 80s.
FROM LAKE GENEVA TO THE FINLAND STATION: In factchecking the Glass Tiger reference last night, I came across this site, which lists all the #1 songs as well as the overall top 100 for 1986, along with some trivia on each number one. With hits by Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Madonna and Bon Jovi among those hitting the top of the charts, it may make you feel like twenty years is just not that long a period of time anymore.

Number one twenty years ago this week, for the third straight week? Written and produced by Burt Bacharach and Carol Bayer Sager, it's "On My Own", by the incomparable Miss Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald.
WHAT ARE YOU REBELLING AGAINST? WHADDYA GOT? It's of some small interest (to me anyway, at this hour) that I'm off to a meeting in Hollister, CA here ahead of the 4th of July weekend. I don't remember if Marlon Brando is dead or not, but if I see an apparation of Johnny Stabler, I'll let you know.
The record companies got the right to use the FCC to cripple the satellite and terrestrial digital radio businesses by curtailing consumers' ability to store music. ... The telephone companies got the right to get into the video business quickly, without a requirement that they actually serve an entire franchising area and without pesky local oversight. The cable companies got the right to get out from pesky local oversight when their current franchises run out. The cellular companies, largely owned by the phone companies, got themselves exempted from state consumer protections. Such a deal for all -- consumers excepted.

Then bop over to Ye Olde Wikipedia and consider what broadcast flags could mean for your Tivo. Oh yeah. I've got your Demodulator Robustness Requirements right here.
YANKEE SWAP IS LIKE MACHIAVELLI MEETS . . . CHRISTMAS: I don't know when you'll see a funnier hour of television than tonight's The Office combo of "The Injury" and "Christmas Party".

The former is just plain loopy and brilliant as Dwight deteriorates, while the latter is a supporting character showcase with significant roles for Angela, Meredith, Creed, Toby, Kevin, Darryl and a pair of elven ears. Does Meredith love alcohol ("The deal is that this is my last hurrah 'cause I made a New Year's resolution that I'm not going to drink anymore . . . during the week") more than Michael loves his morning bacon? Oh, it's all good.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

I THINK I SAW PRAS IN THE BACKGROUND: As a followup to my recent post, there are two reasons why "Hips Don't Lie" by Shakira w/Wyclef Jean will not be The Song of the Summer: (1) it still sounds like she's sounding out the English language one syllable at a time, and (2) this video just doesn't do it for me.

I do want to second the nod for Nelly Furtado's single "Promiscuous" with Timbaland. It's got a good beat, and it's hard to get out of your head. Also, we're now twenty years since Glass Tiger made it big, so it's time for another Canadian mega-hit. And, no, the Crash Test Dummies don't count.
THEY'D BETTER BE CHEAPER THAN THE HBO SETS: I love TV on DVD. I'm slowly making my way through Veronica Mars: The Complete First Season, and picked up Entourage: The Complete Second Season yesterday. But something's been giving me some pause--in a world where you can get The Flying Nun, Charles in Charge, and Gimme A Break!, why aren't other TV series available. Here's three I'd buy in a heartbeat:
  • L.A. Law. Sure, it's incredibly unrealistic, the characters are frequently shallow as all get-out, and wow, some of those plot contrivances. (Need I say more than "elevator shaft?"), but 12 Emmys (including 4 for best drama)? That says something.
  • Picket Fences. Every criticism and joy of David E. Kelley is on display here--the sometimes excessive weirdness, political sermonizing (particularly in the later seasons), and unnecessary cross-overs with other shows in the Kelleyverse. But 14 Emmys (including 2 for best drama) should speak for themselves.
  • My So-Called Life: Special Edition. Sure, an extremely expensive, extras-free edition arrived in 2002, but I want a full edition, with commentary tracks, documentaries, cast reunion, and everything else. Logically, they should have done a 10th anniversary edition in 2004-2005, but can we maybe get a "15th Anniversary edition?" I know music rights have been a big tie-up for this show (and I do want the original music), but I suspect Buffalo Tom could use the money.

(Also, in research for this post, I learned that the following shows were nominated for a "Best Drama Series" Emmy--Quantum Leap (3 times), Beauty and The Beast (twice), and Moonlighting (twice? isn't it a comedy?).)

YOU CAN THINK I'M WRONG, BUT THAT'S NO REASON TO QUIT THINKING: Now, I can get why the pilot for My Name Is Earl took this year's Humanitas prize (for "life-affirming television") for 30-minute television for "its light hearted portrayal of how we can right our wrongs." More interesting is that House, everybody's favorite drug-addicted misanthrope, won the 60-minute prize for "Three Stories," namely, "its poignant probe into the pain and confusion that comes when someone we love disappoints us." I love Dr. Hizzy as much as the next guy, but weren't there other episodes that might have fit better ("Autopsy," with the girl fighting cancer, or "Honeymoon," the Season 1 finale, for instance)? Also, Tuesday's second episode, "The Mistake," demonstrates why the House writers need to abandon the standard (albeit effective) format more frequently.
AND YOU MAY ASK YOURSELF -- WHERE DOES THAT HIGHWAY GO TO? Today marks the 50th anniversary of America's interstate highway system, and I'm not sure which direction we want to take this today:
  • the American Road & Transportation Builders Association wants to discuss the songs and movies inspired by our highways;
  • there's a great network of sites covering the highways of Philadelphia, NYC, Boston and Balto/DC (including those unbuilt near my house);
  • we could all just talk about great, long road trips we've taken, though I've never done a longer drive than Philadelphia to Chicago; or
  • we could go all sociological on this. According to Wiki, Charles Kuralt wrote in his memoir A Life on the Road, "The interstate highway system is a wonderful thing. It makes it possible to go from coast to coast without seeing anything or meeting anybody. If the United States interests you, stay off the interstates."
Yeah, we've got a great, big convoy. Ain't she a beautiful sight?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

RONALD MILLER RETURNS! So did the Cuban rumba remind anyone else of Patrick Dempsey's dance in Can't Buy Me Love? Very cool and all, but oh-so-reminiscent of one of my favorite 80s films.

Tonight proved a few things: (1) No one ever excels at the quickstep. (2) Choreography is of critical importance to this competition. That Natalie/Travis travesty sucked in a way that struck me as primarily a choreography problem, and Alex Da Silva's routines were spot on gorgeous tonight. (3) Hurray for Ashley finally getting to dance hip hop! (4) The whole pop "style" of dance bothers me.

Aleksandra is toast, I believe. As for the guys, my own personal ouster vote goes to Jaymz or however he spells his ridiculous name.
THEY WANT TO DIGNIFY, ANALYZE AND TERRIFY YOU: Sleater-Kinney, the Portland feminist punk trio of whom Robert Christgau once said "Like a new good lover the second or third time, they're so confident of their ability to please that they just can't stop", is calling it quits this summer after a decade of rock.
A GROOVE, SLIGHTLY TRANSFORMED: Is it too early to start taking votes for the official 2006 Song of the Summer? If not, I'm putting in an early vote for "S.O.S." by Rihanna, just for the killer "Tainted Love" sample.

Yes, I know, XTina's going to get some votes, but who else?
IT'S HARD OUT HERE FOR A PIMP: Tryin' to find the money to pay the IRS. No word on if feathered hats, low-riders, and large golden medallions are deemed legitimate, deductable, business expenditures.
CATCHES CROOKS, JUST LIKE FLIES: The trailer for Spider-Man 3 has arrived--brief glimpses abound, with us getting momentary shots of Gwen Stacy, the Sandman, Spidey, Harry Osborne, Mary Jane, and Topher Grace--but very few answers, other than it looking like they're going Ultimate Venom with the black suit and discarding the whole "alien symbiote" plotline from the original comic books. Thoughts?
JUST KIDDING, GUYS: The Tonys giveth and the Tonys taketh away. Without ever having awarded the new prize for Best Performance by an Actor or Actress Recreating a Role, the Tonys people have eliminated the category, citing practical difficulties in adjudicating the award. I suspect I understand the issue -- this category would require the Tony folks to see an entirely separate set of shows than they need to see to come up with nominations and votes in every other category, and how many times does one need to see Phantom of the Opera in a single lifetime? -- it's a shame nonetheless. Setting aside the folks like Jonathan Pryce who completely recreate a role in a highly publicized way when they step into someone else's shoes, there is a whole universe of replacement actors who go unrecognized year after year despite their excellent work. One who leaps to mind is Burke Moses, who took over the Sky Masterson role from Peter Gallagher a number of years ago as well as the Fred Graham/Petruchio role from Brian Stokes Mitchell. Or Carolee Carmelo, who has played Penelope Pennywise, Lilli Vanessi/Katharine, and Abigail Adams (among others), all on a replacement basis.
HAVE YOU EVER SPENT TIME IN A TURKISH PRISON? If not, why not book a stay at one on your next holiday? Or, if an ice hotel is more your fancy, Unusual Hotels of the World has a comprehensive listing.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

NEVER TRUST THE DUTCH: Frequent commenter Bill, who runs the So Quoted blog, has some additional summaries of the films on the AFI Inspirational 100 list, such as:
1. "It's a Wonderful Life," 1946. Inspirational, my ass. It's a dark, deeply cynical movie. Guy gives up on his life's hopes and dreams to babysit a town of ignorant bedwetters. Screw showing George waht his life would be like if he'd never existed. Let's see what his life would have been like if he'd gotten on that train. Maybe he'd have become a banking genius and come back and bought out Mr. Potter. And that ending. Not only has Potter stolen the money, but the town's people scrape together what little money they have so George can pay him again. Let's see the sequel, where the S&L is closed down six months later and the only jobs available are as spittle collectors at the Potter estate.

5. "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," 1939. Naive idealist goes to Washington and the first thing he does is to try and draft a pork bill to spend money on a pet project.

23. "The Shawshank Redemption," 1994. An innocent man spends twenty years in prison being buggered by psychopaths. His only way out is to become an embezzler and tax cheat. Eventually crawls through a pipe of shit.
IT'S DRIVING ME OUT OF MY MIND: Speaking of Bell Biv Devoe's "Poison", my brother has sworn to me for years that you can hear one of the group members say, in between "miss her, kiss her, love her" and the chorus, the barely audible threat "Rob Moore, you're dead", an apparent reference to the then-Jets WR who, according to my brother, had knocked boots with someone he shouldn't have.

Printed lyrics suggest the line is "Wrong move, you're dead", and there's only 1-2 posts via Google referencing this. But still, I'll ask: (a) have you heard this rumor before, and (b) do you believe it's true?
BUT DOES IT INCLUDE "I'M SO RONERY?" Sure, it's no, but the official website shop of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (which is neither democratic, popular, nor a republic--discuss) can serve all your shopping needs if you are in need of songs or videotapes glorifying the Great Leader or the Dear Leader. Via The Plank.
THE ABRAHAM BENRUBI AWARD: A thought spurred by my last post--the Emmys recognize leading actors and supporting actors, but what about the "tertiary characters?" These are typically characters who are regularly on a show, but not billed in the opening credits--having a few lines every episode, or sometimes, a priceless reaction shot. Can we give them their credit? The two shows that immediately spring to mind are the brilliant ensemble of The Office (Mindy Kaling, Angela Kinsey, Oscar Nunez, Paul Lieberstein, and Phyllis Smith), and Scrubs (particularly Robert Maschio as "The Todd," Aloma Wright as Nurse Laverne, and Sam Lloyd as Ted Buckland). Any other tertiary characters you'd like to give some love to?
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: If I were trying to make a case for why Donald Faison deserves some love in the Supporting Actor Comedy Emmy category (after Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, and Michael Cera), this would be Exhibit A. Nominations are a week away, folks. (Via Alan Sepinwall)
YOU'RE A MEAN ONE: As if the intolerable movie wasn't enough (though I have to give it credit for the production design), we'll be enduring Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas! -- The Musical on Broadway this holiday season. One interesting tidbit is that like the Radio City Christmas Spectacular (which I really ought to see at some point), Grinch will play 12 shows a week, doing 8 on weekends, meaning it's going to be quite a workout for the cast.
AS LONG AS IT'S NOT KINGSLEY: J.K. Rowling told a U.K. talk show yesterday that two significant characters will die in the final Harry Potter book, explaining, "One character got a reprieve, but I have to say two die that I didn't intend to die."

Let the speculation begin.
IF THE WHOLE PLANET IS WATCHING, CAN WE NOT SHOW THEM SOMETHING MORE INTERESTING? Based on the early reviews of Superman Returns, you will believe that hundreds of millions of dollars can sink.

Superman is vulnerable to one, and only one, substance: kryptonite. He knows this. We know this. Lex Luthor knows this. Yet he has been disabled by kryptonite in every one of the movies. Does he think Lex Luthor would pull another stunt without a supply on hand? Why doesn't he take the most elementary precautions? How can a middle-aged bald man stab the Man of Steel with kryptonite?

Every era gets the superhero it deserves, or at least the one filmmakers think we want. For Mr. Singer that means a Superman who fights his foes in a scene that visually echoes the garden betrayal in "The Passion of the Christ" and even hangs in the air much as Jesus did on the cross. It's hard to see what the point is beyond the usual grandiosity that comes whenever B-movie material is pumped up with ambition and money. As he proved with his first two installments of "The X-Men" franchise, Mr. Singer likes to make important pop entertainments that trumpet their seriousness as loudly as they deploy their bangs. It's hard not to think that Superman isn't the only one here with a savior complex.
More favorable: the Globe's Ty Burr and the Inq's Steven Rea.

Monday, June 26, 2006

SHAMEFUL AND INDEFENSIBLE: On the Phillies/Brett Myers situation, I agree with Tom Durso 100%:
The Phils have moved from being a laughingstock on the field to being morally bankrupt off of it. If I needed another reason to cancel my season-ticket package at the end of this season, I now have it. Underachievement is bad enough -- this weekend's behavior, from Myers to Charlie Manuel to Gillick, is unacceptable. I'm just glad my daughter is too young to read the sports page. I'd hate to have to try to explain this franchise's shameful and indefensible behavior to her.

More from Bill Conlin, recounting some local history, and the Globe's Dan Shaughnessy.
YOU GOT FOGALED: Episode two of The Amazing National Treasure Code Chase Thingy was decidedly better than the pilot, if only because we're used to this sort of task-drive-task-drive-etc. pattern for a show. Still, with a final clue that hard, I'd like to be able to play along at home, y'know?

But still, a frustrating episode: because TAR's producers would have known how to wring out all the drama from that final three, and tonight fell short in that regard. Because I'm sick of stereotypical casting in reality competitions: African Americans who just all coincidentally happen to have problems with water-based challenges, "earthy" types who just happen to be really dumb (but, seriously, pay Burger King for the product placement!), "smart" people who aren't as smart as they think they are, etc.

Also, obvs, it seems like tonight's results aren't exactly final, if the previews for next week are to be believed. I call shenanigans.
CARNIVORES, UGH! The one bit of culture I inhaled this weekend that I'm happy to recommend to others is Animal Planet's new reality show, Meerkat Manor. I don't care whether they've completely superimposed a false narrative on the Whiskers family; it's a great concept (let's study a large family of meerkats in the Kalahari Desert and explain their social organization), well-executed.

And they don't shy away from reprehensible behavior; indeed, Youssarian will be vying with ANTM's Jade for Most Loathsome Reality TV Villain in the 2006 ALOTT5MA Awards . . .
'TWAS A NAME KNOWN TO FAME IN DAYS OF YORE: Voicemail message from my alma mater when I came home today, seeking contributions for the Annual Campaign. Here's the odd thing: based on the caller's accent and mispronounciation of my alma mater's name (failing to drop the 'h'), I'm guessing the school has employed an overseas call center for this task.

Is it wrong of me to be a little wigged out by this? Aren't these the kinds of things you have to have done by people on campus in order to be effective, or am I just not donating enough money to receive that kind of treatment any more?
KARMA ANAKINMELEON: Apparently today, or perhaps sometime recently, Boy George was sentenced to community service for the 13 bags of cocaine he had sitting around his apartment in plain view when he called the police to report a (fake) burglary. I think it's really saying something to note that "that plumbs the depths of incompetent criminal behavior" was only the second thought I had when I read the story. The first: "Boy George looks exactly like Darth Vader."
I LIKE THE LITTLE THINGS: Three pop-cultural events hit my radar screen this weekend. Sadly, third prize goes to the only one I hadn't seen before -- Cars. Generally speaking, I think I can summarize Cars in a single word: yawn. Pretty animation, the tractor-tipping bits were cute, and the last 15 minutes were highly enjoyable if rather predictable. But the hour-plus in the middle where Lightning McQueen learns that he isn't the only car on the road? Yawn. (The customary short feature before the movie, One Man Band, kicked Cars' chassis all over the place.) Cosmo Girl spent most of the movie running around the theatre, and has requested that in future, we only see movies at home so that if she gets bored, she can run around and do something else without getting lectured about her inappropriate behavior. I have to say, I feel her pain.

Second prize goes to last night's early Season 2 rerun of Grey's Anatomy -- Deny Deny Deny -- in which we get to know Ellis Grey a bit, Bailey loses it a bit, Cristina loses it a lot, and George gets to announce repeatedly and with increasing futility that he is a surgeon. (Incidentally, promos indicate that starting on Thursday, July 6, ABC will be reairing Grey's from the beginning, in what may be two-episode blocks, for the rest of the summer to get everyone used to their new Thursday night viewing schedule.)

But the big winner of the weekend (or maybe it actually aired earlier in the week, but I watched it last night so it counts as part of the weekend) was Bartlet for America. I miss John Spencer in a way that I never miss dead famous people whom I've never met. Ain't nothing but a family thing.
GUESS HE WANTED IT THIS WAY: In the category of "news absolutely no one cares about, but is still frontpage at" we are compelled to note that Kevin Richardson has left the Backstreet Boys. This seems almost as exciting as a Timberlake-free NSync reunion.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

ART CONTINUES TO LOSE THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN ART AND COMMERCE: Pants-Off Dance-Off--greatest idea for a television show ever or sign of the inevitable decline of humanity?