Saturday, August 12, 2006

NOTHING LEFT FOR ME TO DO BUT DANCE: Am I the only one who's more than a bit shocked that the Number One movie in America this weekend is going to be the apparently dancetastic Step Up?
STILL NOT A DUMP TRUCK: Tron Guy and that guy who dresses like Peter Pan have (quite amusingly) joined the crusade for Net Neutrality with "We Are The Web." This could be the biggest charity record since Rockers To Help Explain Whitewater.

Friday, August 11, 2006

BACK, AND TO THE LEFT: Today's an appropriate day to talk about the career of Oliver Stone, with this collection of Ebert reviews as a starting point.

While recognizing that there are severe problems with Stone as a historian, I am a definite fan of him as director/provocateur. As with Coppola, I am a big fan of directors with ambition and operatic reach. Say what you will about JFK and Natural Born Killers in terms of plot, accuracy and coherence, but in terms of fully employing the director's toolkit to make an impact, there are few like Stone.

Which is not to say that I'm that interested in World Trade Center -- I'm more likely to rent United 93, which I regret missing. But that's me.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

YET ANOTHER OPTION FOR SEN. LIEBERMAN? Well, if Tucker Carlson is going to be on Dancing With The Stars, I don't see why we can't cast the entire show with wonky political figures, though I'm not sure how well So You Think The Director of the Office Of Management And Budget Can Dance would do in the ratings. I'm still waiting for Hannity and Colmes to turn into breakdance fighting.
I AM, I AM, I AM SUPERMAN: As TPE has previously observed, Sci-Fi's "Who Wants to Be A Superhero?" is astoundingly fun. Sure, I'm not a huge fan of some of the "Fear Factor"-esque challenges (walking on a balance beam across a high chasm, making the way across a yard with a pair of attack dogs), and either this is the best edited reality show ever or it's highly scripted. Sure, the special effects are incredibly cheesy, but that's all part of the charm. I think my favorites are Monkey Woman, for her sheer tenacity, fighting off attack dogs for nine minutes, and Major Victory, who looks like a classical superhero, even with the cheesy catchphrase--"Be a winner, not a weiner!" (prounced like the sausage, not the name). While I prefer my cheesesteaks with provolone, sometimes, you want the TV equivalent of Cheez Whiz, and this delivers that in spades.
HEY 33, THAT'S 'RETHA FRANKLIN. SHE DON'T REMEMBER THE QUEEN OF SHRIEKING AS LOUD AS SHE CAN WITH NO APPARENT RESPECT FOR THE SONG ITSELF: Oh, am I giving away my Rock Star: Supernova bias here? Anyway, hard to argue with the elimination this week. One comment and one question, though. First, after the way Metallica famously treated Newsted after he replaced Cliff Burton, and after they made Dave Mustaine, in a similar position, cry on-camera in Some Kind of Monster, I never thought anything would make me take James Hetfield's side. That said, Newsted's showy ponderousness is getting me pretty close. Like Jay Bennett in I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, he's the classic Exasperatingly Fragile Bandmate. If you've been in a band, you know (or are) this guy. And he wears fingerless wool gloves in Los Angeles in August. How can he be in a band with party monsters Lee and Clarke?

Second, why do Tommy Lee's shirts have buttons?
BLAME IT ON THE RAIN, YEAH, YEAH: One of my occaisional forays into Wikipedia revealed an interesting topic for discussion--who is the most embarassing ever Grammy Winner for Best New Artist? (Milli Vanilli, which had its Grammy stripped from it, is, of course, disqualified.) Sure, you can ask "Wow, whatever happened to Shelby Lynne?," but the out and out embarassments come in the 60s, which featured winners Robert Goulet, The Swingle Singers, Tom Jones, Bobbie Gentry, and Jose Feliciano. Of course, the 1963 Grammys may be the most bizarre ever, with Vaughn Meader winning the big award.

Conversely, who's the best choice the Grammy folks have made based on longevity, etc.? 1970 (Crosby Stills & Nash), 1972 (Carly Simon), 1974 (Bette Midler), 1991 (Mariah Carey), and 1995 (Sheryl Crow) would probably lead the list (assuming you exclude the Beatles, who won in 1965).
I GET PAID TO DO THIS. IT'S THE BEST JOB IN THE WORLD: For the next two days, video of the last week's Stephen King/John Irving/J.K. Rowling reading from Radio City Music Hall is available online for free. The Wife (who, by the way, is doing the MySpace thing now) writes about it here, and last week I wrote about it as well. If you want to see a world in which writers are worshipped like rock stars, watch the video.
I CAN'T TAKE IT; SEE, IT DON'T FEEL RIGHT: I've got a soft spot for the Kidz Bop albums if only because they're some of the few rock-ish things I can get away with playing in the car with Lucy without provoking a "Want Laurie Berkner!" response, even though what they are is a series of contemporary hits karaoked by a bunch of anonymous, pitchy kids. Kidz Bop, Vol. 10 is now available, and as always, the Kelly Clarkson cover is the best (you've seen the Since U Been Gone video with the rockin' tiger, right?), with recent hits by Natasha Bedingfield, Daniel Powter and Madonna among those also featured.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

THERE IS SERIOUS HIGH FASHION GOING ON HERE, AND I MADE A TINKERTOY: Finally, the Michael Knight-centric episode of Project Runway we've been waiting for -- or, as we'll be calling him from now on, Captain Save-A-Ho -- and while I was not a fan of the topsy-turvy models-pick-the-designers thing, the fashion icon thing was a treat. (Hasn't Model run a challenge like that a few times?)

Alison, Laura and Uli are so safe right now that they barely appeared in the episode in which we found out who still wears short shorts, that Angela may have taste after all, and that for those who can't associate Cher with the name Bob Mackie, well, it could be bang bang, you hit the ground . . .

The show has done an exceptional job this season of fleshing out the personalities from all the designers from early on, and it's a great group of really talented people. Seriously, yo, does anyone still miss Malan?
I'M TIRED OF THESE M**********G MESSAGES ON MY M**********G ANSWERING MACHINE: Leaving aside that the prior holder of my phone number apparently skipped out on a lot of debt, and I still get debt collection phone calls for her, I loathe robocalls, especially before elections, when random elected official (who I may not know or like) implores me to vote for a person for an obscure position or reminds me to vote for someone who I was already going to vote for. But today might have changed all that, for when I listened to my answering machine, I heard the dulcet tones of Samuel L. Jackson, exhorting me to see Snakes on A Plane. Pretty damn awesome.
DO THESE COME IN THREES TOO? Having kicked other, substantially less legal, substance abuse problems in the past, Robin Williams has entered rehab for alcoholism. Let's hope he can both kick his alcohol problems and start being funny again. In related news, Disney allegedly wants nothing to do with Mel Gibson's Apocalypto--it's trying to sell the flick off.
I GOT SHOOSHED DURING "DESPERADO": An enterprising reporter at the Wisconsin State Journal looks into one of those great mysteries of pop culture--why The Eagles' "Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975" is the best-selling album of all time.

The RIAA list of the Top 100 best-selling albums is here, and more interesting than the ones at the top of the list are some of those toward the bottom. For instance, sharing real estate in the 5-million units sold area with albums like Paul Simon's "Graceland," The Beatles' "Revolver," and Bob Dylan's greatest hits collections are albums by Wilson Phillips, The Spin Doctors, and C+C Music Factory.
BOUGHT IT AT THE FIVE-AND-DIME: Guitar World takes a break from its recent excellent coverage of the crisis in the Middle East (make sure to read Joe Satriani's take on how the war spreading to Syria could benefit the U.S. effort in Iraq) to make a list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Albums of All-Time. Topping the list is Led Zep's Zoso album, which also recently topped the list of album title most often sketched on blue three-ring binders by seventh graders trying desperately trying to stay awake in during a social studies lecture on Reconstruction.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN, KRISTA ALLEN IS BALKING AT A NUDE SCENE? Though I'm not a fan (at all) of the horror genre, I adored Project Greenlight 3, in no small part due to the bizarreness that was selected director John Gulager. Sadly, the product of Gulager's madness will only get a two-day midnight show theatrical release before arriving on DVD this October. The Feast script is still online, and while it has a few funny jokes, when I read it a couple of years back, I found it to be a bit tiresome.
WE'RE TALKIN' BASEBALL: In what seemed to me to be a blatantly obvious application of INS v. AP, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri has ruled that fantasy baseball leagues can use real player names and statistics without a license from MLB. This raises all sorts of questions--can a video game use real player names and statistics, but not team names or uniform designs, without the consent of the league? And in a related issue (which I'm reminded of both by my father and by the fact that I was involved in litigation about a similar issue recently), what's the deal with the new NFL officials' uniforms?
CONNECTICUT LEADS THE NATION: Actor Charlie Sheen announced today that regardless of the voting results on August 27, he plans to declare himself as the Emmy winner for Best Actor in a Comedy Series for his work on "Two and a Half Men". Said Sheen, "We're television's top comedy. I'm not going to let a small elite group of voters distract the general public for recognizing the great work I've accomplished."

Readers of Television Without Pity, outraged by Sheen's unwillingness to accept the results of the Emmy vote, have begun to raise funds to promote Steve Carrell, who is viewed as Sheen's principal opponent in the field.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

SO VERY SPECIAL: Okay, so I haven't seen Rockstar yet because I was stuck in a room with Rick Santorum, Ed Rendell and Raj Bhakta tonight (none of them funny), but Alan Sepinwall has, and you should head over there to discuss.
CRACKED COWBELL: As a preteen juvenile delinquent, I was once detained by the manager of a Walgreens for slipping a copy of third-rate Mad Magazine rip-off Crazy under my down jacket. I got off easy with just a call to my mother and a canceled sleepover. (Oddly, I was actually arrested in college for another periodical theft. I slipped the New York Times Magazine in a copy of the Sunday Chicago Tribune, which was a few dollars cheaper than the Times, and was actually caught and booked by Ann Arbor's finest. I got fingerprinted, had to go and tell the judge what I did--he laughed--and serve community service for this crime, which has since been expunged from my record.)

All this is to say I had no idea second-rate Mad Magazine ripoff Cracked was still around. Apparently it is relaunching in a week or so as a National Lampoon meets EW meets The Onion. Normally I would think it would suck (Michael Ian Black is a contributor, need I say more?), but this list at the magazine's Web site of Will Ferrell's 10 Greatest SNL Skits makes me think the new Cracked might not be half-bad.

Rather than choosing the slam-dunk pick "More Cowbell," the magazine picks an obscure and hilarious skit about the boss from hell, Mr. Tarkanian. Many of Ferrell's go-to characters are missing from the list in favor of some actual gems from his years at SNL. And there are You Tube links, to boot. Cowbell does make the list, but is at No. 6, due to the fact that it's Christopher Walken and not Ferrell who is doing the heavy lifting.

Link via Pop Candy.
GREASE IS THE TIME IS THE PLACE IS THE MOTION: In the continuing quest for new reality TV concepts, NBC will follow Man, America's Freaky, hosted by Regis Philbin, with You're The One That We Want, in which America will determine who will play Sandy and Danny in a Broadway revival of Grease. Your judges will be revival choreographer/director (and Tony winner) Kathleen Marshall, co-writer of Grease Jim Jacobs, and producer David Ian. How bad an idea is this, and how quickly is this revival going to close?

Monday, August 7, 2006

USE ANY EXCUSE FOR WHAT YOU WANT: Insofar as Tuesday is Connecticut Day for the blogosphere, we ought to participate in a way that only a studiously apolitical blog can.

So, folks, you are invited to discuss in the comments your favorite items of popular culture emanating from or set in the Nutmeg State, be it The Ice Storm, "Gilmore Girls" or the song stylings of Bridgeport native John Mayer. Floor is open.
AMAZING TREASURE HUNTING CODE QUEST THINGY WEEKLY THREAD: Another satisfying episode, with clues that were actually clues (several of which were really well-designed), nice intra-team drama and STFUing, and one of my favorite tropes of reality tv -- The Team That's From The City Which Gets Lost In Its Hometown, capped with a trip from the Land Title Building in Philadelphia to nearby Girard College that somehow ended up in Camden, NJ. Put away your Killer Race Fatigue, and let's enjoy the ride to the finish.
I LOOK AROUND FOR THE FRIENDS THAT I USED TO TURN TO, TO PULL ME THROUGH: Times have been rough these days for Mel Gibson and Joe Lieberman, but the good news is that they've got friends in high places to save them at their moments of peril.

Here's a list of well-known figures. For each, determine whether s/he is supporting Mel Gibson, Joe Lieberman or Lieberman primary rival Ned Lamont in this hour of chaos:
  • Actress/director and Yale Drama School graduate Jodie Foster
  • Actor/director Tim Robbins
  • Tennis legend Andre Agassi
  • Actress/director/former Agassi "companion" Barbra Streisand
  • Wimpy singer-songwriter Jackson Browne
  • Colbert Report star Eleanor Holmes Norton
  • Actor/dancer/singer Patrick Swayze
  • Organic foods magnate Paul Newman
  • Lethal Weapon co-star Danny Glover
Who's supporting the threatened Jew, who's backing the threatener of Jews, and who's behind the second coming of Jefferson Smith? Answers in the comments.
BEARS ARE GODLESS KILLING MACHINES! And they're also the winner of "Best Villain" in the first set of Tubey Awards. Few surprises--TWOP voters hate 7th Heaven and love Arrested Development and Veronica Mars, but I must dissent from the "Hell Yeah!" Moment winner, where my vote was for the runner-up. Agree, disagree, discuss.
A LITTLE BIT FRIGHTENING: As a further sign of the robust entreprenurial spirit taking root across China, the BBC is reporting on a newly chartered Rising Sun Anger Release Bar in Nanjing. The gimmick? Patrons are encouraged, presumably for a fee, to physically abuse the waitstaff.

The next obvious step, I think, is to have special event nights with a cover charge to witness and/or participate in customer bouts with visiting celebrity servers. Anger-Release Busboy Patrick "Roadhouse" Swayze takes on all comers this Tuesday-TUESDAY-tuesdaaayyyy from 4pm until close at the Rising Sun!!! Could be a check in there for all sorts of washed up wrasslers, boxers, politicians...
HE'S LIKE A RARE VINTAGE RIPPLE, A VINTAGE THEY'LL NEVER FORGET: Jim Broadbent, and not the long-rumored Billy Crystal, will be playing Wilbur Turnblad in the film adaptation of Hairspray. Given his most excellent work in Moulin Rouge!, I'd say this is a change for the better.
LOOKS LIKE I MADE IT: I finished the (very very long) Pan Mass Challenge bike ride. Read all about it here (it's full of pop culture references). Possibly too emotional an account to read at work.

I'd like to thank all of you who supported me by making a donation to the Pan Mass Challenge (via the Jimmy Fund) to fund cancer research at the world renowned Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I won't name names here because some of you prefer to remain anonymous, but, believe me, your incredible generosity means a lot to me.
SPLITTING KINGS: We don't normally have post-Entourage threads, but I have to ask -- is Johnny Drama really that oblivious, or is there some latency going on?

Sunday, August 6, 2006

I WOULD'VE NAMED THEM 'DR. QUINN' AND 'MEDICINE WOMAN': Look, there is a lot to commend about Talladega Nights, and I share Matt's recommendation that you see it. There's a lot of really funny stuff going on there, starting with Will Ferrell's wonderful dumb exuberance, and the cast is well-stocked with comedy greatness -- John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, 40YOV's Jane Lynch (at 46, playing 39-y.o. Ferrell's mom, though?), Molly Shannon, Fish from Ally McBeal, Amy Adams, Bill Lumberg, Andy Richter . . .

. . . if anything, it's overstuffed, and there's just too many characters running around for the overall plot arc to be anything that matters -- not, necessarily, that you were supposed to care. But I'd trade off all the father issues and the gay stuff (really -- isn't just being a French NASCAR driver funny enough?) for a little more Ali G, and a little more of an attempt at emotional resonance.

Still -- see this movie. The two kids are also great, and laughing aloud in public is what movies are all about.
HEY NONNY NONNY, AND YOU'RE UP ON ROUTER 2: During the trend of pretty good modern re-imaginings of classics in modern language in the late 90s (Cruel Intentions, 10 Things I Hate About You, O), I always thought that there was a darn fine comedy to be made based on Much Ado About Nothing. Sure, we already have a very good version of it with big stars (save the awful Keanu Reeves and the tiresome Rude Mechanical bits fronted by Michael Keaton), but a modern dress/modern language version had the potentnial for greatness. I'm only 20 minutes in to BBC's ShakepeaRe-Told version of the play, which transposes the action to modern television news. It's Shakespeare crossed with Sports Night, which, at least in my view, is a pretty darn good combination.
YOUTUBE KILLED THE MUSIC TELEVISION STAR: Have you seen the video for obscure not yet hugely famous Swedish Chicagoan pop-rock band OK Go's Here It Goes Again? No better evidence that the collective intelligence, backed by YouTube's democratic format, is now serving in the aggregator/filter/tastemaker role that used to be filled, at varying times, by top DJs, influential critics, MTV, payola purveyors (note: I have absolutely no problem with payola; in fact, I think that laws against it are indefensible), and label executives.

Witness the mania surrounding Here It Goes Again. The band posted its video on July 31. The video is cheap -- allegedly shot for $25 -- but fun (a synchronized treadmill dance) and the song is well-crafted and catchy. In other words, the kind of stuff that would never get onto MTV has a reasonable probability of being ignored by MTV. On YouTube, however, where people get to choose for themselves what to view, it took off like a rocket. By August 3, OK Go's popularity had grown so much that it had to cancel its free concert at the Glendale Galleria; on August 4 the band appeared in a segment about YouTube and their video on CBS's The Early Show.

Granted, it's just Julie Chen, but that's still better than Hot Topic and Cinnabon.

Edited to add: Aw, for chrissakes, just watch the video. It's catchy and cool-looking. It gets the Spaceman Seal of Spacepproval.