Saturday, January 6, 2007

ALOTT5MA TIVO REMINDER: Two notes on your Sunday viewing pleasure -- first, that Who Wants To Be Systematic, Automatic and Hydromatic? debuts on NBC at 8pm, and if the Greaser competition is even halfway decent I imagine this blog will be covering it weekly; and secondly that HBO begins re-airing three episodes of Rome nightly starting tomorrow to catch you up before season two begins next week. Rome won three 2005 ALOTT5MA Awards and is a real favorite of mine, even though, sure, I still haven't gotten into Deadwood or The Wire. Largely historically accurate, mega-budgeted, compelling drama set in a time "when men were men, women were frequently naked and numbers were letters." Do give it a shot, else the Thirteenth Legion may kick your ass.
NOTES ON NOTES ON A SCANDAL: Yes, you should see this movie, but you should know as little about it as possible coming. The marketing really spoils things, but I'm not quite sure how you make the movie a compelling sell without giving away the twist -- it'd be like trying to promote Titanic without mentioning that the boat sinks. Still, I can say this much:
  1. Judi Dench is stunningly good, in a glamour-free, fierce performance. And Bill Nighy does enough to get the Oscar nomination he's deserved for a few years.
  2. It is very, very weird to see one's own (obscure, old, text-message friendly) cell phone have a prominent role in a movie in which its particular functionality is an issue.
  3. STFU, Obtrusive Philip Glass Score.
  4. Watch how Judi Dench's lighting suddenly becomes so much warmer, and less chilly and natural, once she figures out her big move mid-film.
  5. This is a book that is, I think, impossible to adapt completely to the screen, because the language of cinema may not accommodate the existence of an unreliable narrator. In a movie, we know to believe that which we see, so I don't know how one pulls off the trick of the novel in not making us realize until later what's been going on the whole time. So instead of a narrator lying to herself, what we feel instead are her lies to the others around her. With that limitation, it's well worth your time.
DO YOU THINK YOU'RE WHAT THEY SAY YOU ARE? Finally getting to watch this year's Kennedy Center Honors helped me answer two questions: (1) what was the last Broadway song to have mainstream pop success? -- how about "Memory" from Cats?; and (2) what does one do after fronting the most important (slash, "only") black rock band of the 1990s? Apparently, you play Judas.
ANOTHER EXCUSE FOR SCREWING MARTY SCORSESE: After seeing Dreamgirls this evening (and, yeah, wow, though I have concerns about the longevity of Hudson's career after this), a thought came to mind--as of now it's widely presumed that our five Best Picture nominees at the upcoming Oscars will come from the following group (with the first four being viewed as almost certain locks to appear on the list):
  • The Departed
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Dreamgirls
  • The Queen
  • Letters From Iwo Jima
  • Babel

(There's an outside chance a wild card like United 93, Pan's Labyrinth, or Little Children could sneak in, but that seems fairly unlikely.)

Isn't this an unusual year in that three of the presumed contenders aren't really "about" anything from a "larger issue" perspective? Sure, you can argue that Departed and LMS are both about "the seedy underbelly of the American Dream" (albeit in very different ways), and Dreamgirls can be construed as being about race in the music/entertainment industry and the manipulation of entertainers, but that seems a stretch. It's a fascinating contrast to last year, when four of the five nominees were clearly "about an issue." (Crash=racism in America, Brokeback Mountain=homosexuality in America, Good Night and Good Luck=the media in America and the free press, Munich=the relationship between vengeance and justice in the terrorism context.)

Friday, January 5, 2007

ALL THE BALLS ARE BACK IN THE TANK: The writing staff on Family Guy has returned to work after a 2.5 month lockout by the fine folks at Fox.
MANY A PROMISING CAREER HAS BEEN RUINED BY THE PRACTICE OF ANTITRUST LAW: Sorry to say that I, like everybody else on Leslie Skolnick Hauser's U of C listserv, just heard the sad news about Bernie Meltzer's passing. For those that don't know the details of a career that included stints as a New Deal insider, a Nuremburg prosecutor (his annual reminiscences of this were a highlight of the law school calendar), a labor lawyer, and, by all accounts, that rarity among legal scholars, a dedicated teacher, here's an account.

By the time I got to Chicago, Meltzer was long past the prime of his legal career, but he remained warm and generous with his time and advice -- the title of this post is what he said to me when I told him I really enjoyed my antitrust class. At the law school auction, a friend and I won lunch with him, where he told stories with misleading and unwarranted modesty about how he lucked into many of the highlights of his career. We tried to talk him into teaching a class, which his wife vetoed for health reasons, so we were left to regret not showing up soon enough to learn more from him.
IT'S HOT IN HERE: Spacewoman and I loved last night's Office. Quoth Spacewoman: "You know what TV needs more of? TV needs more Ed Helms." Wonderful episode with equal doses of mathos and pathos, sometimes in the same spoonful. And I take it Jan hasn't heard about the photograph yet?
A PRAYER FOR THE NEWSPAPER: I don't know what's cooler--that Buzz Bissinger reads and comments on blogs (scroll down), or that he's willing to take on pompous gasbag Stephen A. Smith and say that he should quit his Inquirer job in the interests of limiting the layoffs that have now hit the paper. I'm not a regular Inq reader, but certainly it's always a shame to see layoffs at such an august insitution.
SLOUCHING TOWARDS MYSPACE: Joel Stein at the LATimes is pining for an age when columnists weren't expected (at least by management) to confront (or appear to confront, or appear to be open to confrontation with) their readers through the interactive matrix of the interweb tubes. It's funny, if you like curmudgeonly rants. As an aspiring curmudgeon, I do like me a good rant. Here's Joel (Reg. Req.):
I get that you have opinions you want to share. That's great. You're the Person of the Year. I just don't have any interest in them. First of all, I did a tiny bit of research for my column, so I'm already familiar with your brilliant argument. Second, I've already written my column, so I can't even steal your ideas and get paid for them.

There is no practical reason to send your rants to me. If you want to counter my opinion publicly, write a letter to the editor. If you want me fired, write a letter to the publisher. If you want a note back, write a letter in lipstick on the bathroom mirror. Or you could just write mean things about my column on some blog. Don't worry, I'll see them. I have a "Joel Stein" RSS feed that goes straight into my arteries.
Joel Stein! Welcome to ALLOT5MA, a congenial corner of the interwebs where we eagerly take the mainstream media at its word! (We particularly appreciate your adjectival candor about the degree of research you devote to the topics you address in print.)


More seriously, the particularly great part is that what's causing the chaffing for Joel is the half-step interactivity that results from putting an email address at the bottom of his columns. Management has effectively saddled writers like Joel with all the bother of having readers respond to their musings, but without the magic comment boxes that permit those readers to engage one another in the process of cobbling together a community. Deprived of this outlet, poor Joel laments, readers with recourse to the interwebs will try to take out all their richly deserved free time on an article's author.

So Joel demands, and receives, exactly what he's been missing: a comment box. He's now fully interactive! Web-enabled! A virtual community unto himself. However, having taken care to initiate a process that will produce vinegar rather than wine, the results are predictable: an avalance of disjointed venom, a smattering of encouragement, a lot of earnest but irony-deficient pronouncements and a gaggle of uncompensated keyboardists flogging their blogs. Joel can now happily conclude that internet communities are horsesh*t and retreat to the good old days when media did not feel pressure to be more than one-way conduits of information. It's a good stunt; one which appears to prove his point while missing the actual point of new media spaces entirely.

I don't want to sound unsympathetic. In fact, I agree with Joel Stein: Take the poor man's email off of his columns and let him do what he does best. I'm sure folks who feel like being "talked at" will continue to attend his every word. I'll be grateful to be somewhere else, talking with people, and probably not about him.

Hat tip (and worthy related perspective): The Escapist.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

INCIDENTALLY, THE GRILLED GRUYERE AND CARAMELIZED ONIONS SANDWICH ON RYE AT 'WICHCRAFT IS QUITE TASTY: So this is my first season watching Top Chef. I'm enjoying it, but in my view, it's wasting its biggest asset: Tom Colicchio.

After making his name at Gramercy Tavern, Colicchio opened the first solo restaurant of what is now a burgeoning Jean-Georges Vongerichten-style national empire: Craft. Craft is probably my favorite all-around restaurant in all the world (or, not to engage in undue hyperbole, those parts of the world I have visited). I am a huge fan of the "single perfect ingredient cooked perfectly" model, and no place does it like Craft. Here's their menu -- everything is just stupendous. I have sworn repeatedly to Mr. Cosmo that the next time we go, I am composing an entire meal just from the vegetable side dishes -- the Hen of the Woods mushrooms are to die for. (And I am now noticing that my favorite dish, the poached lobster, is currently not on the menu, so -- attention Mr. Cosmo -- perhaps now is a good time to go! ) It's an incredible restaurant.

So, having Colicchio on board for Top Chef, why in the world would you waste him as a mere judge, when you could use him in a Tim Gunn capacity and bring the show to a new level? Currently, he visits the competitors while they're working on their elimination challenge dishes and hears what they're planning, but doesn't engage in any substantive discussion other than the occasional eyeroll or skeptical eyebrow so as not to influence the dishes, which he will subsequently be judging. I understand why they do it this way -- the competitors are not supposed to become a bunch of Colicchio sous-chefs -- but think of Project Runway. The genius there is the education we as viewers gain about fashion design and garment constuction via Gunn, not just the successes and failures of the competitors.

Colicchio's blog helps, but still, wouldn't it have been great to hear him talk to Elia after the Quickfire (when he couldn't change her decisions) and have this discussion with her (lifted from his blog):

My mind reels from all the possibilities one has with “White” as a starting point. Fresh ricotta cheese, cream, cauliflower, root vegetables like turnip and parsnip, the radish world -- jicama and daikon. You’ve got egg whites and lardo, an extravagantly flavorful form of bacon fat. Sour cream, goat cheese, mozzarella, every white fish in the book, and don’t even get me started on potatoes.

You get some of this sort of thing in the tasting comments as well as judges' table, but I wish there were some way to incorporate it into discussion with the competitors themselves. More Tom! More Tom!

P.S. I have been watching a few of last season's episodes lately. Who in the world decided that Katie Lee Joel should be permitted to appear on TV? Ouch, that accent! It's like she tried to eliminate her West Virginia roots by covering it up with a nice dose of Philadelphian nasality. Even the band must face the music -- that's what the moral is to me.

IN MY COUNTRY THERE IS PUBLIC RADIO STATION: Even if you are sick of Borat by now, I advise you to tune into Fresh Air today if it hasn't aired in your market (if it has, the audio is up on the Web here).
DEPARTMENT OF THE OBVIOUS: Somehow, we missed this New York Post story, disclosing that many law firm associates are unhappy with the long hours and hard work, noting that 77% of attorneys leave their first firm within the first 5 years. The one masterful moment is the headline--"Lawyers, Fun, And Money."
MEET THE NEW BLOG? SAME AS THE OLD BLOG? Anybody have any thoughts on new Blogger vs. old Blogger? I haven't made the switch and don't know if anybody else here has.
THEY CAN SAY THAT AT 8:20 ON A WEDNESDAY, BUT THE NBC -- EXCUSE ME, NBS -- STANDARDS GUY WON'T APPROVE 'JESUS' AT 11:30 ON A FRIDAY NIGHT? As more evidence that Sorkin's bogeymen are made of straw, last night a character on Friday Night Lights said that he really wanted to name his band "Stigmatalingus." By the way, the most offensive real band name I have ever heard belonged to the band of a college acquaintance's boyfriend-from-home: Alcoholocaust.

In other news, I have developed a platonic crush on Connie Britton.
HOPING FOR THE RETURN OF THE ROCKIN' TIGER: Sadly, neither Fergie's "Fergalicious" nor Nelly Furtado's "Promiscuous" make their way onto Kidz Bop 11, perhaps due to the substantial lyric edits necessary, or because T to the A to the S-T-E-Y was deemed inappropriate for Kidz Bop's learning mission, but I think we have finally found one artist that should under no circumstances be allowed to cover Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy." The Kidz Bop Kids also get the opportunity to serenade you with their versions of The Fray, Snow Patrol, and K.T. Tunstall. And YouTube has the bounty of "Chicken Noodle Soup." (For explanation of the headline, try around 2:30 here.)

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

YOU REMEMBER THE NAME OF THE TOWN, DON'T YOU? Per my New Year's discussion, here's a picture of how La Cruz de Huanacaxtle meets the world:

We were constantly amazed by the number of "you are now entering a Prodigy Infinitum zone" and other Internet- and cellular-related advertising seen in even the most run-down parts of Nayarit and Jalisco. As in other things, we can accomplish through technology what law and policy can't do alone.
OKAY, SOMETIMES WINNERS USE DRUGS TOO: I was blindsided by this week's episode of Top Chef. Yes, caught totally by surprise, but only because Bravo decided to put Season Two on re-run/hiatus through the holidays. After disappointment on successive Wednesdays it had all but faded from my pop-culture consciousness.

Somewhere in there is fruit for speculation about the evolving scheduling calculations of cable networks in the internet/DVR/RealityTV era, but I'm not that guy.

Seems that, for the Seven Sins challenge, the sin of choice was Wrath. Teen Wolf got called out by ...well, everybody. And everybody but the judges (and the ever-mortified Elia) was feeling down and dirty enough to dip into their Deadwood Dictionaries to do it. I admit enjoying that, and will take it like a man if folks think I'm a willing victim of villain editing. ...gah. No, I won't. How could you sympathize with anyone carrying that prima donna attitude and that anime hair? Full pardon for all his sins to date if he gets together with Mikey next episode and figures out how to make me a latte with Vicodin foam.

Speaking of Mikey: how 'bout that? First of all, who trades away Lust for Envy? What's better than Lust? ...okay, in this case, Envy, but you see my point. And did somebody maybe give him a hand in the kitchen, as well as with the presentation, seeing as he was feeling poorly? I'd like the address of his dentist so that I can be sure to never, ever go there. Looked like he got punched in the mouth.

On a week when the judges acknowledged their general satisfaction with the competitors' offerings, I'd say the elimination as presented was just. The fallen will be sorely missed in some quarters, but it's pretty much over when your dish falls down on taste, texture and presentation.
I AM A LEAF ON THE WIND, WATCH AS I EXCHANGE BODIES WITH FRASIER'S DAD: While I'm not exactly thrilled by the concept of Annie Parisse (the last former L&O ADA) as the female lead, John Mahoney and Alan Tudyk in Prelude To A Kiss is probably enough to sell me a ticket. (Though, interestingly, can you think of two more different actors than Tudyk and Alec Baldwin, who originated the part on Broadway and in the film?)
YET ANOTHER THING TO MAKE DR. HOUSE CRANKY: The O.C. will end its run on February 22. I've only seen one or two episodes, but has there been another show that fell from grace so hard and so fast?
NYT OP-ED ON NET NEUTRALITY: Don't take my word for it. Cooler heads at a high profile publication with a long institutional pedigree and, you know, some actual credibility, have now set it out in plain English: Internet service providers should not be able to favor some content over others.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

HIGH FLYING ADORED: Does this strike anyone besides me as, well, weird? And by weird, I'm not just referring to the notion of opening a fancy finishing school for poor black girls in South Africa -- I'm all for education and as such I suppose that everyone in the world should have an opportunity to attend a school with china and sheets hand-selected by Oprah and aspirational closets yawning for the opportunity to house the new wardrobes that the girls are assumed to want to purchase with the money they will have the opportunity to earn on campus -- but more the notion that Oprah personally selected each of the students (seemingly based at least in part on their knowledge of Oprah's wealth and their willingness to question her about it -- that's "moxie," and it gets you admitted), considers them her daughters, and intends to retire to a home she will build on the school's grounds. Everyone likes to be loved and all, but this feels a smidge much.

There's really a wealth of detail to giggle about in the article, but let me simply note that apparently one of the reasons for the school's existence is so that young African girls can be told in a beautiful setting that they have beautiful dimples. I am inspired.
ISN'T EVERY BLOG REQUIRED TO HAVE A RESOLUTION-RELATED POST AROUND THIS TIME OF YEAR? I resolve this is the year I finally read both Kavalier and Clay and Middlemarch after several false starts, watch No Direction Home, The Sopranos and The Wire, and The Best of Youth on DVD and get through When the Levees Broke on my Tivo.

So, ALOTT5MAers, which dusty books on your nightstand or DVDs you keep moving down your Netflix cue do you resolve to tackle this year. Which shows on your Tivo do you vow to plow through. Are you resolving to watch any new shows this year? Any new music acts that you have ignored that you plan to sample?

Keep the exercise more/not fight with my family resolutions to yourself, but any book/TV/movie/music/stage/pop culture-related resolutions belong in the comments here.

Monday, January 1, 2007

THROW ME THE IDOL, I THROW YOU THE WHIP: Steven Spielberg says that Indiana Jones 4 will be his next directing gig. If it opens in May 2008, as expected, it'll be going up against a new Chronciles of Naria flick and Speed Racer.
CATCHING UP: Having returned from a family trip to the "Exotic Western Caribbean" (at least that's how the cruise itinerary brochure described it), some catching up to do:
  • I am apparently the only member of my immediate family not even remotely susceptible to motion sickness, as I was Dramamine-free all week and suffered no ill effects.
  • If you are ever in Belize City, going cave tubing is well worth your time, because, seriously, do you really need to go to all seven Diamonds International shops in the "tourism village?"
  • Costa Maya, Mexico--this port has been sanitized and vaguely Disneyfied for your protection.
  • In Cozumel, if you can survive the ferry over to Playa Del Carmen (dubbed "The Barf Boat" by members of my family due to the prevalence of motion sickness among locals and tourists alike), Tulum is absolutely gorgeous.
  • Watching CNN on Saturday, it seemed that we were alternating between coverage of "Gerald Ford, Still Dead," "James Brown, Still Dead," and "Saddam Hussein, Still Dead." The James Brown coverage was particularly odd, especially the moment where one performer proclaimed how glad he was to see MC Hammer there.
  • Taiko Drum Master is oddly addictive, though it is somewhat disturbing to see your father attempt to drum excerpts from Carmen correctly.
  • Did NBC really need to promote The Apprentice: LA during each and every commercial break of the Tournament of Roses Parade this morning? And, yes, Ivanka Trump is attractive, but using her as a selling point seems a bit of a desperation move.
  • Fashion Police tip of the week--if you are going to wear a novelty t-shirt about the properties of tequila, you should be in the 19-25 age range--no younger or older.
RING IN THE NEW: The WaPo's Hank Stuever lets us know what's in and out for 2007, though let's be clear, Hank: Jay-Z is never out.

One thing that's very in, and still world-changing in ways we won't contemplate for a long time, is this whole internet thing. We're wrapping up our vacation in the Nayarit region of Mexico, and there's this tiny town -- the pueblo pesqueros of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (pop. 2000), that's got a guy selling carnitas and bbq ribs at the side of the road, a small rosticeria de pollos, a stand for tacos con mariscos, a few bodegas and a butcher's shop that's still half-abbatoir . . . and a dingy little stall with three computers where the sign says punto de connecto internet.

And you think about it, knowing that Thomas L. Friedman and others already have, but it really hits you -- any teenager here can set up a free email account and research the world around her, have the expertise of the globe brought to her monitor, and learn of the world's possibilities; she can set up a store online so that his grandmother's handicrafts can be shipped around the world to people who've never known this place; she can design a t-shirt and have it sold on; etc. She can find this blog and join our community, and none of us need know that she's not another thirtysomething overeducated attorney riffing on pop culture for the heck of it. And she can set up her own blog, and tell her story to the world. For free -- to her and her readers.

It's a heck of an interesting world in which we now live. Welcome to 2007.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

RING OUT THE OLD: Is there still time to lose 15 pounds and enter all of my time on a daily basis?

Happy New Year -- or, if you prefer, Happy New Year's -- everybody.