Saturday, July 8, 2006

AVAST AND AHOY, MATEYS! Despite some dodgy effects work in the final act (Davy Jones and his crew are great, the Kraken, in many shots, less so) and a slightly messy first act that takes a bit too long to get the main characters in one place, I quite enjoyed Pirates 2. I won't spoil up here, but two suggested topics for discussion in the comments (which is a land for spoilers, matey!):
  1. Discuss the ways in which the film borrows from the second volume of other movie trilogies. There's one in particular I thought it hewed to quite closely (and to good effect).
  2. Compare and contrast--Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Malcolm Reynolds.
IT SOUNDED LIKE A SPRITE AD TO ME: Spurred by Rescue Me producer Peter Tolan's defense of his show's controversial plotting this year, today's Times has an interesting article about how showrunners are using the Internet to communicate with fans, noting such things as the Grey's Anatomy writers' blog, blogs run by showrunners for Battlestar Galactica and The Closer, and how Tolan and Veronica Mars mastermind Rob Thomas both post on TWOP from time to time. Indeed, Thomas admits to the Times that a character was modified from his original vision due to TWOP comments. However, how they managed to go without mentioning how TWOP actually inspired a quite memorable storyline on a major TV show escapes me. The TWOP recap of "The U.S. Poet Laureate" explains.
OVERTIME: Results of the literature fight being inconclusive, we're going to have to move to an extra frame to try to settle our France v. Italy showdown in advance of tomorrow's final.

So, and I'm not quite sure how to define it, but let's call this round Positive Contributions To World Civilization (1648-present), leaving aside anything culinary or literary which fit into the first two rounds.

Which has done more for the world -- the land of Marcel Duchamp, Louis Braille and Le Pétomane, or the peninsula which produced Alessandro Volta, Guglielmo Marconi, and a heck of a lot of film directors?
THE TOURETTE'S SYNDROME OF JOKES: A year after the hoopla, I finally got around to watching The Aristocrats last night. While I enjoyed it (particular highlights for me were Paul Reiser -- for the analysis, not for the telling of the joke itself -- Billy the Mime, Murder High's Favorite Son Bob Saget, the non-Friar's Club Roast Gilbert Gottfried stuff, and Mario Cantone-as-Liza-Minnelli), I found myself sharing Chris Rock's reaction -- "uh huh, and?" Once you accept the premise that every comedian is trying to be as filthy as humanly (or inhumanly) possible, what's one more element of incest or defecation among friends? As far as breaking all taboos is concerned, I was actually expecting more in the racist / sexist / pick your Title VII violation category.

As for the famed Gilbert Gottfried sequence: I get it, I get it, I get it because I saw a preview of Noises Off mere weeks after 9/11 and witnessed firsthand the howling catharsis of laughing your ass off when everyone is in a lot of pain. But I do agree with a point Adam made -- I would have preferred to see that particular telling in its entirety, without all the back and forthing about how funny it was.

On a related note: we rented both The Aristocrats and The 40 Year Old Virgin at an actual Blockbuster store last night. This marked the first time in I don't know how long that I've walked into a Blockbuster and actually picked up a pile of movies (including the two we rented plus Syriana, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Good Night and Good Luck, Serenity, and a couple others that are escaping me) that I would have been happy to watch. At least a couple of times over the last few years, I've walked into Blockbuster and walked out emptyhanded for lack of interest in a single movie. I guess that when you stop going to the movies, eventually enough solid content piles up that even Hollywood's best efforts otherwise can't prevent me from wanting to see a movie.
ROGER: Roger Ebert is recuperating from emergency surgery. Let's all wish him a speedy recovery. He is truly a gifted film critic. I know that many of you agree. There is a statement about his condition here.

Friday, July 7, 2006

HE'S A REAL DOCTOR: I don't know why, but Here Comes Dr. Tran never fails to make me laugh. (NSFW, folks.) Hat tip to Douglasse for the reminder, whose blog is well worth checking out, now that he's restarted, especially for those who are studying for the bar exam (as he is).
I READ ABOUT THEM IN TIME MAGAZINE: Ok, so much to Adam's chagrin (I'm guessing) not many people have seen The Searchers, but let's try this film appreciation thing again with a slightly more popular film. Kenji Fujishima has a really nice piece about Die Hard on Matt Zoller Seitz's site today:
Screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven E. De Souza differentiate their hero from the other macho men of the era by making McClane fallible and vulnerable while being undeniably heroic. He is prone to making mistakes, whether in his relationship with his wife—who's just as sassy as her husband—or in his various fights with bad guys. At an inopportune time, he brings up an old bone of contention with Holly; at another point, while trying to stop two terrorists from bombarding police with a rocket launcher, he drops too much plastique down an elevator shaft and causes a bigger-than-expected explosion inside the building. Through it all, the filmmakers keep reminding you of McClane's desperation: how he’s trying to save the hostages while staying alive himself. As an actor, Bruce Willis contributes by allowing his character to seem sweaty and fearful at times: when the going gets tough, not only is does his tank top shirt get dirtier, he talks to himself. All of this deepens the emotional stakes of the action sequences. In such a context, the story's violent crests aren't mere "fun." They actually seem to matter. . . .

Walking in the bootprints of cruder 1980s action spectaculars (Rambo, Commando), Die Hard didn’t need to add brains to brawn; the filmmakers could have simply bombarded the audience with a lot of noisy action scenes, and most viewers still might have felt they'd gotten their money’s worth. But this movie understands that a great action film shouldn't just deliver action, but also construct an authentic emotional framework to support the action—to make us care about what is happening onscreen rather than just setting up the next sensory assault. For all its self-mocking humor, it's a rare pyrotechnic blockbuster dares to take the characters and situations seriously— a sense of conviction rarely seen in eighteen years' worth of imitators.

Via IMDB: "Bruce Willis was the fifth choice for the main character. It originally went to Arnold Schwarzenegger, then Sylvester Stallone, then Burt Reynolds, then Richard Gere before Willis got it."
I CAN'T BE THE ONLY ONE WHO THINKS OF CHARLES NELSON REILLY SELLING BIC PENS WHEN I SEE THE ALBUM COVER: The Velvet Underground & Nico's eponymous debut (the one with the bananna) tops Uncut's list of the top 100 first albums, beating out Televsion (Marquee Moon), Jimi Hendrix Experience (Are You Experienced) and The Stone Roses' self-titled initial effort.
I'M PUTTING YOU ALL IN: In case you tied off for last night's three-episode Office fix but still find yourself with the shakes, here are a few dates for you. First, the first of ten two-minute webisodes will be up on July 13, according to Angela's MySpace blog (bonus: a nice picture of Angela, Meredith, and Jenna Fischer in their civvies. That's civvies, not skivvies, you pervs). Second, according to the same blog, shooting begins on Season 3 on July 17. Third, the commentary tracks are recorded and the Season 2 DVDs will be available on September 12.
NO LOVE FOR OFFICER TOM HANSON: With Pirates 2 opening today, The Miami Poetry Review (?!?) lists Johnny Depp's 10 Greatest Performances.
I HEAR IT'S RATED ARRRRR: Although the reviews have been quite mixed, I'm sure I'm not the only one looking forward to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest in the hopes that it will rejuvenate what has, thus far, been a rather lackluster summer movie season. Thread's open for your thoughts and anticipation. My understanding is that there is a "big spoiler" about the movie--let's keep that one out of this thread.
RAIN ON THE SCARECROWN, BLOOD ON THE PLOW: Farm Aid, dedicated to supporting family farms, innovative practices and local farmers markets, is bringing its annual benefit concert to Philadelphia on September 30. (Okay, Camden.) Neil Young, John Cougar Mellencamp, Dave Matthews and Willie Nelson are all slated to appear.

Thursday, July 6, 2006

ROUND TWO: Clearly, the Azzurri chased Les Bleus out of the kitchen in our first World Cup cultural showdown, but being down 1-nil doesn't scare Zizou.

So here's your next tossup: French literature or Italian? Will it be Hugo, Flaubert and Verne or the land of Dante, Eco and Pirandello? And does spawning Derrida, Barthes and Lacan count for the French, or against?
WE'LL FIND 'EM. JUST AS SURE AS THE TURNIN' OF THE EARTH: On Slate today, Stephen Metcalf challenges the canonization of John Ford's The Searchers on its 50th anniversary.

It took me until some time in law school before I finally overcame my anti-Western (the film genre, not the big concept) bias to view the film, and I'm definitely on the pro-Searchers side of this. It's just a remarkable film about single-minded obsession, about the poison of racism, about vengeance, about the ways lonely people construct meaning for themselves through projection and other means. (John Wayne's Ethan Edwards, the protagonist of the film (I'd hardly say "hero"), is surely the cinematic grandfather of Travis Bickle.)

Metcalf essentially criticizes the film for being all subtext and -ism fodder, and not being entertaining or pleasurable enough. Well, to be sure, it's not a fun movie. But it's a gripping character study of a tragic figure, and it really is essential viewing. You've seen it, right?
NEXT, "THE HULK GOES TO THERAPY," BY JONATHAN FRANZEN: When some people opt for guest-writing stints on comic books, it makes a lot of sense--for instance, I immediately understood why Kevin Smith would want to write Daredevil and Green Arrow, why Brad Meltzer would want to write Green Arrow and Identity Crisis, and why Joss Whedon would want to write X-Men, and why the comic companies would want them to write, as their names appeal to a traditional comic book audience (especially Smith and Whedon). But the news that Jodi Picoult will write 5 issues of Wonder Woman leaves me perplexed. I doubt Picoult's audience and the comic book buying audience have a great deal of overlap, and Picoult's not exactly known for thrillers. That said, I'll certainly be taking a look when it comes out.
YES, THAT'S RIGHT, AMERICA, THERE WERE FIVE BETTER DRAMATIC ACTING PERFORMANCES LAST YEAR THAN HUGH LAURIE AND JAMES GANDOLFINI: The 2005-6 Emmy nominations are out, and man, is this a mess. No nominations for any Sopranos castmember except for Michael Imperioli. No noms for any of The Office's supporting cast. Only technical noms for Lost (except "23rd Psalm" for writing and Desmond for guest actor). Lots of nominations for Two and a Half Men, only two minor noms for How I Met Your Mother.

The good nominations: South Park's "Trapped in the Closet", Rome and Big Love's title sequences, the President and First Lady for 24, Yang and Bailey and Christina Ricci for Grey's, and Housewives shut out of the major noms.

Also file under "great": our friend Shonda Rhimes, for Best Writing for a Dramatic Series, for "It’s the End Of The World, As We Know It (Part 1 & 2)".

But, generally, yuck.

edited to add: Sepinwall insta-reacts: "There was a sprinkling of fresh blood -- "The Office," Denis Leary, the First Couple from "24" -- but overall this is a fiasco. Not that "Desperate Housewives" was good this year, but the fact that neither of last year's comedy or drama series winners were even nominated this year makes me think that the Academy is going to do an about-face on the new system in, oh, two or three days."

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

AT LEAST YOU WEREN'T PORTRAYED AS A SEMI-RETARDED PUPPET: Y'know, Ben Affleck has gotten a lot of ridicule in recent years (I mean, being played by Mindy Kaling in an Off-Broadway play is pretty bad), but I still like the guy. In his SNL appearances in particular, he's got a self-deprecating charm that manages to work well. His next two big projects are certainly interesting. First comes Hollywoodland, a speculative true crime drama based on the story of the murder of George Reeves, television's first Superman, which has a solid cast beyond Affleck (Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, and Bob Hoskins. Second comes Affleck's debut as a writer-director, Gone Baby Gone, which is based on Dennis Lehane's chilling novel about two private eyes investigating a kidnapping, and stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, and Ed Harris. I hope and believe Affleck can get his career back on track with this sort of stuff.
WAKE ME UP INSIDE: Largely based on Alan Sepinwall's rave, I gave Rock Star: Not Replacing A Dead Guy This Time a shot tonight, and it's good to see a talent competition with talented adults again, polished performers who know how to sell a song. And it's good to see real rock and roll in such competitions -- "Lithium" and "Rebel Yell" aren't songs you'd hear on Idol because they've got no glory notes, though I wonder why no one's tackled "She Talks To Angels" before on that show.

Not sure if I'll stick with it all summer, but I know this much: Dilana scares me. Unreal intensity on the Nirvana song.

edited to add: Sepinwall has more. On Dilana: "Okay, wtf was that? I have no idea if she's any good or not, but I was mesmerized by the whole thing, from the decision to stand rock still at the mic for the song's first two thirds to the complete spaz-out at the end. (Though she should've pulled the hood off at that point.) Very weird voice, sort of Laurie Anderson-ish at points. Definitely someone I want to see and hear more of."
BABBO V. BOULUD: So, it's France v. Italy in the World Cup final this weekend, and you can go to other blogs to evaluate the matchup on the pitch. As you know by now, are not that blog.

So, instead, an opening toss-up question: French cooking versus Italian -- who ya got?

(And, yes, I'm reading Bill Buford's Heat right now, so I'm hardly in a position to be objective about this.)
SO WHAT EXACTLY RHYMES WITH "SHIPOOPI?" The answer, of course, judging from the lyrics, is "Shipoopi." Though do you really see "Shipoopi" as a term of affection? I mean, that's almost as bad as Huckapoo. (Spurred by this Family Guy clip, which, as usual, is a lengthy comic non-sequitur that does nothing to serve the plot.) Updated with better video locale.
SHOULDN'T THERE BE AN ASTERISK AND A DISCLAIMER? In the footsteps of "What Happens In Vegas Stays In Vegas," Atlantic City has apparently adopted the tourism slogan "Always Turned On!" One little problem--due to the New Jersey budget showdown hi-jinks, a pretty significant portion of Atlantic City hasn't been "Turned On" since 8 AM this morning--all gambling is shut down.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

I THINK WE STILL HAVE AMTRAK IN THE NORTHEAST CORRIDOR: A couple of things that bugged about tonight's second House. First, why did House and Stacy need to travel to Baltimore to meet with a Medicaid administrator? I assume the vast majority of House's cases in the clinic are New Jersey residents, and Princeton isn't close enough to the border that they'd be getting a lot of Maryland residents. Second, much of the plot stems from House being stuck in an airport due to weather. Now, leaving aside the question of why they'd fly at all given the short distance, why didn't House and Stacy just hop in a cab to Baltimore Penn Station (or take the shuttle to the BWI airport rail station) and get on Amtrak back up to Princeton? Would have been there in just a couple of hours, there's regular service, and House could have remained in constant cell phone contact. Of course, then, we wouldn't have had much of an episode...
THERE'S A TRICKLE OF SWEAT DRIPPING IN YOUR EAR: I've spent most of today sitting at home wondering whether the Cosmopolitan family would end up with a Yankee Doodle Baby. Unless something dramatic happens in the next three hours, I won't have a chance to add Yankee Doodle Dandy to my Independence Day repertoire, so will have to stick with the tried and true choking up that comes from 1776:

I see fireworks!
I see the pageant and pomp and parade
I hear the bells ringing out
I hear the cannons roar
I see Americans -- all Americans -- free forever more!

I do have to note, though, the unbelievably rich irony of Jason Alexander's just having sung a reworking of "Run Freedom Run" entitled "Come Freedom Come" as the introductory number of A Capitol Fourth. It's a gloriously magnificent song -- the best Urinetown has to offer -- but with just the slightest inkling of context, oh, it's just really really rich.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS -- RATED R? Apparently the MPAA has inspired a bit of a furor via its PG rating for Facing the Giants, a low-budget film about a football coach's faith in God produced by two pastors at a Baptist church in Georgia.

The MPAA -- never a terribly forthcoming entity -- is a bit all over the place as to the explanation behind the rating. (Religion? Football violence? Depression? Infertility?) I haven't seen the movie, but according to Terry Mattingly, the director of something called the the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, "overt Christian messages are woven throughout" the movie, including "waves of answered prayers, a medical miracle, a mysterious silver-haired mystic who delivers a message from God and a bench-warmer who kicks a 51-yard field goal to win the big game when his handicapped father pulls himself out of a wheelchair and stands under the goal post to inspire his son's faith. There's a prayer-driven gust of wind in there, too."

But Mattingly identifies a discussion between the coach and one of his players as the likely culprit for the PG rating. That conversation ends with the following statement by the coach: "Following Jesus Christ is the decision that you're going to have to make for yourself. You may not want to accept it, because it'll change your life. You'll never be the same."

Let's set aside the actual content of the film, as (1) it hasn't been released yet and (2) for some reason I can't get sound on the preview. But if you assume for the sake of argument that it's the evangelical Christian themes that won the film its rating, what do you think of the idea of religious content moving a film from "G" land into the realm of "PG"?
WHAT A COUNTRY: Today is the 20th anniversary of the centennial rededication of the Statue of Liberty, and before all the fireworks went off President Reagan said:

Believe me, if there's one impression I carry with me after the privilege of holding for 5 1/2 years the office held by Adams and Jefferson and Lincoln, it is this: that the things that unite us -- America's past of which we're so proud, our hopes and aspirations for the future of the world and this much-loved country -- these things far outweigh what little divides us. And so tonight we reaffirm that Jew and gentile, we are one nation under God; that black and white, we are one nation indivisible; that Republican and Democrat, we are all Americans. Tonight, with heart and hand, through whatever trial and travail, we pledge ourselves to each other and to the cause of human freedom, the cause that has given light to this land and hope to the world.

My fellow Americans, we're known around the world as a confident and a happy people. Tonight there's much to celebrate and many blessings to be grateful for. So while it's good to talk about serious things, it's just as important and just as American to have some fun. Now, let's have some fun -- let the celebration begin!

Of course, today's anniversary also means it's twenty years to the day that Yakov Smirnoff has been a U.S. citizen.
NOW, I UNDERSTAND WHY PHIL STICKS WITH THIS TOPIC SO MUCH: As part of his shepherding of the "net neutrality" debate, Senate President pro tempore Ted Stevens (R-AK) explains just how the Internet works:

There's one company now you can sign up and you can get a movie delivered to your house daily by delivery service. Okay. And currently it comes to your house, it gets put in the mail box when you get home and you change your order but you pay for that, right.

But this service isn't going to go through the internet and what you do is you just go to a place on the internet and you order your movie and guess what you can order ten of them delivered to you and the delivery charge is free.

Ten of them streaming across that internet and what happens to your own personal internet?

I just the other day got, an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why?

Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the internet commercially. . . .

[T]he internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck. It's a series of tubes. . . .

Yes, this is the Internet. It does not look like this.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS: Today's WaPo wistfully remembers the days back when fireworks were legal.

Monday, July 3, 2006

IF THEY HAD HIRED JIM LEYLAND, WE WOULDN'T HAVE TO GO THIS ROUTE: Not to pile on at a time of severe Phillies misfortune and self-inflicted woes, but another question for the Phillies organization: it's bad enough that the Phillie Phanatic persists in gay bashing and inducted himself into his own "hall of fame", and that he refuses to take his hat off for the National Anthem (about which I once emailed the team to ask -- their response was, basically, "he still loves America very much"), but why, oh why, can't he at least set a good example for kids and wear a helmet when he's speeding around on his ATV?

The industry-sponsored ATV Safety Institute's first Golden Rule is to "Always wear a helmet and other protective gear." So, please, let's not have the Phanatic join Mariner Moose in the ICU.
THEY'RE JUST TRYIN' TO BE BETTER PEOPLE: Am I the only one who, while watching tonight's episode of Treasure Hunters saw the Wild Hanlons as a far less sympathetic variant of the characters from My Name Is Earl? I've got to say, this show is improving--the clues are challenging, and the idea of giving all the teams cell phones has created a lot of effective interaction and alliance play.
HE'S ONLY A MAN IN A SILLY RED SHEET: There are a number of joys in Superman Returns--the technical work, particularly in the IMAX 3D version I saw, is wonderful--be it in a big action sequence like Superman saving a jumbo jet and space shuttle or just soaring through deep space during the opening credits, and the performances from Kevin Spacey and Parker Posey as the villains are sparkling. Two big problems, though. First, the "evil scheme that Superman must stop" makes no sense. Lex Luthor wants to destroy North America and have a new continent rise in the middle of the Atlantic for what exact reason? He claims it will contain "secret alien technology," but the "new continent" appears to be inhospitable and barren. Second, Kate Bosworth is badly miscast as Lois Lane. There's neither any real chemistry between her and Superman (or Clark Kent, or her new boyfriend, played by James Marsden), nor is there any spark or sass in Lois, intrepid girl reporter. Allegedly, Rachel McAdams was pursued for the rule and turned it down, and I wish they'd offered her the money or the rewrite, because she would have provided some much needed spark in the film.
KILLER FATIGUE MULTIPLIED? There's a spoiler as to the path of The Tenth Most Amazing Race, which recently completed filming, via Reality Blurred, and it's something about which I've wondered in the past. How will this change affect the competitors?
LOOKS TO BE S-C-I-N-T-I-L-L-A-T-I-N-G: How were we not informed of the existence of this book? I ran across (and purchased it) while killing time at Barnes and Noble this morning before my showing of Superman Returns (comments will follow later), utterly shocked that we were unaware of this. Publishers, producers, and the like--I'm sure that if you have something you want us to read or see, we'll be happy to take the manuscript, tape, DVD, screening, or whatever else. Contact us by the address over on the left.

Sunday, July 2, 2006

WE DON'T NEED NO EDUCATION: In New York, Alan Bennett's The History Boys is the hot play right now, having swept the Tonys and having a much-anticipated movie version scheduled to arrive for awards season. There's a lot of great stuff in the play--the intellectual debate between the two lead teachers, the withering sarcasm and arch eyebrows of the only major female character, the way each of the 8 "History Boys" emerges as a fully drawn character. That said, this isn't going to "play in Peoria." Leaving aside the subject matter--a major and sympathetic character is arguably a pedophile--this is a play that requires 110% of the brain to even follow. There's a long scene in French (which I will be interested to see if they subtitle in the film), and throughout, there are constant references, with little or no explanation, to 18th and 19th century British poetry and British history. Matters are not helped by the fact that the play features (and the movie will feature) the original, often highly accented, British cast. I enjoyed it (especially once the people sitting next to me declined to return for Act II, and I could move from my obstructed view seat to a full view seat), but it's a play that I fear has to be read, then seen, to be understood.

That said, expect Oscar nominations for Frances De La Tour (if her part isn't cut back too much in the film adaptation), Samuel Barnett (as the "Boy" with the most dramatic plot arc), and Richard Griffiths (though he may wind up running as a supporting actor depending on how the film works).
WORST SEAT IN THE HOUSE: SFGate has a cute little exploration of the worst seats at Oakland Colesium and Pac Bell Park. I especially like the first photograph.