Monday, December 31, 2007

AND NOW, SOME DEEP THOUGHTS AS WE WRAP UP 2007, BROUGHT TO YOU BY DEPENDS UNDERGARMENTS: I was watching the usual NYC cop on TV this morning talking about the process for keeping Times Square's festivities under control, and I found myself wondering the same thing I wonder every year. The cop was talking about how people should arrive by 10 or 11 am if they want to stake out a half-decent spot, and how once they enter "the pen" they aren't allowed to leave again, and so on. So they arrive at 10 am and leave approximately 14 hours later. I don't know about anyone else around here, but I might want to find a bathroom sometime during the 14 hour stretch of interminable anticipation. Anyone have any idea how this task gets accomplished?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

KARCH KIRALY AND A BUNCH OF OTHER FOLKS: The folks at ESPN's Page Two pay tribute to the athletes who retired during 2007.

Add to that list Vincent Frank Testaverde, 44, who retired from the NFL today twenty-one years after his Heisman Trophy.
PROPANIACS: Memo to future Racers -- if you find yourself in this "how do I use the Yield/U-Turn?" situation in the future, with only this information:
  1. You know that you're probably near the back of the pack.
  2. You know that another team barely completed the last task ahead of you.
  3. You know that the other team did not Yield/U-Turn you.
  4. You know that the other team consists of a pair of jerks who probably would Yield/U-Turn you, given the chance.
Then there's only one thing you can do in those circumstances, because it's a Race, and that's to assume that you somehow passed that team, and Yield/U-Turn them instead.

The consequences of that decision are what this second straight outstanding leg turned upon, because nothing says TAR Classic like a small group of stressed-out teams having to navigate back and forth across a metropolis in India. (And read the newspaper.) Killer fatigue, killer tasks, one unfortunate bunch but, seriously, if you haven't enjoyed the past two episodes then you shouldn't be watching the Race.
PRESENTED BY LAST YEAR'S WINNER, MATTHEW PERRY: I'm honored to present the ALOTT5MA Award for Outstanding Performance On A Not-Very Good Show. This year, the winner is pretty darn clear, and it's Holly Hunter for Saving Grace. The oddball combination of edgy HBO police procedural (with plenty of language, sex, and nudity) and Joan of Arcadia has incredibly muddy theology and is almost invariably incredibly predictable, especially in its cop stories (Grace's self-destructive nature renders her a difficult witness, the "big reveal" of Grace's dark secret). But Hunter's performance, as, as the (great) theme song puts it, "a heart full of gold on a lonely road" who "don't even think that God can save [her]" is worth watching the show for. Bonus points for employing Graham Chase as Grace's brother, a Catholic priest (Also nominated in this category? Glenn Close for Damages, who loses because the show is just good enough to get out of this category and because Ted Danson also made that show worth watching.)
ALOTT5MA CLASSIC: Can we impose a waiting period before we determine that a sports tournament constitutes a "classic"?

Friday, December 28, 2007

DON'T TRY TO TELL ME THAT WEST VIRGINIA IS NOT ALMOST HEAVEN: So, what have we learned from pop music this yea?
  • That, apparently, everything I own can be found in a box to the left.
  • That my apology is belated. (And the related corollary--Timbaland can make ANYTHING sound funky--contrast this with this.)
  • That "Superman" is a verb.
  • That the proper way to count to 10 is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10.
  • That we should continue believing, and also hold on to that feeling.
  • That it has nothing to do with me, because it's personal.
  • Times Square does not shine as brightly as a woman named Delilah.
  • Rihanna apparently is very well prepared when it rains.
  • That Ashley Tisdale apparently has hallucinations.
  • "It's Britney, Bitch."
  • That hotness is directly correlated with flyness.
  • That Justin Timberlake is apparently a firm believer in karma.

Please provide your additional lessons for the year in comments.

IF YOU LISTEN TO FOOLS: I'm honored to hand out this year's ALOTT5MA Pop-Cultural Moment of the Year. Before I do, we need to work on the terminology. How long, exactly, is a moment?

A moment is less than the day or two it might take a full-grown adult, assuming indifference to familial and occupational obligations, to steamroll through a book that includes 200 pages or so on the difficulty of hiding from wizards in a muddy forest.

A moment is less than the 15 hours and 3 minutes it took a baseball team to delight its fans, the association of senile broadcasters, and absolutely nobody else.

A moment is less than the span of time it takes a white executive to reenact an entire group therapy session for racial sterotypes.

I'm not sure how long it takes to get rescued and go into the future and get all melancholy about wanting to crash on a deserted island with a bunch of pretty-but-damaged people, but I'm fairly certain that a moment is less than that. For that matter, it's also less time than it takes for an entire control room to fill with water and redeem a loathsome hobbit.

One might say that it only takes a moment for a person to shave one's head and kick-start an entirely new class of celebrity crazy and an entire year of celebrity jaily-lawsuity-ness, but to paraphrase Whistler: that kind of act may seem only to take a moment, but in fact it takes a lifetime of crazy.

Might a lingering glance, like FNL's Jesse Plemons imploring Mrs. Coach not to ask the follow-up question or Adrianne Palicki hating or pitying Lyla Garrity for her philandering father, be captured in a moment? Perhaps, but it doesn't matter.

That's because this category is easy. Whether a moment lasts a split-second or an entire year, the defining pop-culture moment of 2007 occurred when Steve Perry abruptly stopped singing, the family abruptly stopped eating, and Tony Soprano's story abruptly stopped. Some said that he was killed, some said he was doomed to a lifetime of sphincter-clenching tension (and it certainly was one of the tensest scenes I can remember), and some (I) said that it was neither -- just a meta commentary on the end of the story. Whatever it was, it resonated, in print, on the Interwebs, and around the water cooler. If I remember nothing else about music, television, film, literature, periodicals, web sites, advertainment, or found pornography in 2007, I will remember how hard I laughed when the screen went dark.
WHO GETS HOYNES? Two political stories that fall within our balliwick:

Thursday, December 27, 2007

THOMAS JEFFERSON'S SCREENING ROOM: In addition to providing us with an overly alphanumeric system for finding books in a large library, the Library of Congress keeps a film registry of films which are "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant, and announced 25 new inductees this year. A rather eclectic group this year, managing to find space for 12 Angry Men, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dances With Wolves, Back To The Future, Bullitt, Oklahoma!, and the intriguingly titled The Sex Life of the Polyp. Want to express your rage over Costner's newfound honor or espouse the awesomeness of BTTF? Do so in the comments.
STOMPANATO: Today's as good a day as any to return to a regular feature here: hey, what's everybody reading? For me, it's Jeanine Basinger's The Star Machine, an meticulously researched (yet fast-moving) survey of Hollywood's golden age. Its focus is on how the studios turned no-names and wanna-be actors into Stars, using an array of make-up artists, public relations gurus, diction coaches, dentists, singing coaches, posture gurus, plastic surgeons, biography fabulists and the like to spin straw into gold, an inexact science that sometimes turned Margarita Cansino into "Rita Hayworth" but usually failed. An excerpt:

It’s a crackpot business that sets out to manufacture a product it can’t even define, but that was old Hollywood. Thousands of people in the movie business made a Wizard-of-Oz living, working hidden levers to present an awe-inspiring display on theatre screens: Movie Stars! Hollywood made ’em and sold ’em daily, gamely producing a product for which its creators had no concrete explanation. Sometimes they made films that told the story of their own star-making business, and even then they couldn’t say what exactly a movie star was. They just trusted that the audience wouldn’t need an explanation because it would believe what it was seeing—star presence—could verify its own existence. “She’s got that little something extra,” muses James Mason in 1954’s A Star Is Born, quoting actress Ellen Terry for credibility. Since he’s talking about Judy Garland as he watches her sing “The Man That Got Away,” the point is made. ...

The truth is that nobody—either then or now—can define what a movie star is except by specific example, but the workaday world of moviemaking never gave up trying to figure it out. As soon as the business realized that moviegoers wanted to see stars, they grappled with trying to find a useful definition for the phenomenon of movie stardom, which is really not like any other kind. Marlon Brando called all their attempts “a lot of frozen monkey vomit.” Adding up the monkey’s offerings, it’s clear that over the years, Hollywood collected a sensible list of informed observations: A star has exceptional looks. Outstanding talent. A distinctive voice that can easily be recognized and imitated. A set of mannerisms. Palpable sexual appeal. Energy that comes down off the screen. Glamour. Androgyny. Glowing health and radiance. Panache. A single tiny flaw that mars their perfection, endearing them to ordinary people. Charm. The good luck to be in the right place at the right time (also known as just plain good luck). An emblematic quality that audiences believe is who they really are. The ability to make viewers “know” what they are thinking whenever the camera comes up close. An established type (by which is meant that they could believably play the same role over and over again). A level of comfort in front of the camera. And, of course, “she has something,” the bottom line of which is “it’s something you can’t define.” There’s also the highly self-confident version of “something you can’t define” that is a variation of Justice Potter Stewart’s famous remark about pornography: “I know it when I see it.”

[Go ahead: watch this short 1936 film which introduced Judy Garland and Deanna Durbin, and you'll know that Garland has something Durbin doesn't, even if you can't articulate it.]

Basinger's hefty book is a witty journey through the factory where Hollywood's sausage was made, and helps give insight into present day attempts to define celebrity-dom downwards (The Hills?) and create new stars (Gretchen Mol?) in front of our eyes. My only wish is that there could be an e-version of it full of YouTube clips of the films as they're being discussed.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Patriots-Giants Game Now on NBC and CBS - New York Times

NO DOUBT, BRYANT GUMBEL WILL BRING THE APPROPRIATE LEVEL OF EXCITEMENT TO THE FESTIVITIES: The NFL Network's broadcast of Saturday night's Patriots-Giants game will be simulcast on both NBC and CBS.

[Actually, I like Gumbel's low-key play-by-play. Always wondered what it'd be like to have football games treated with the quiet reverence of a golf tournament, and Cris Collinsworth is probably the best analyst around.]
THOUGH THOMAS JEFFERSON DID OWN A HORSE NAMED CARACTACUS: Those Christmas morning Hessians in Trenton, 1776? Apparently not drunk.
IF I HAD SIX WISHES THIS HOLIDAY SEASON: A reminder that this evening at 9pm eastern, CBS airs the annual Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts. This years' honorees, whom we've discussed previously, are pianist Leon Fleisher, actor-comedian-author-banjoist Steve Martin, singer-songwriter Brian Wilson, singer-actress Diana Ross and filmmaker Martin Scorsese.

The Washington Post profiled all five honorees a few weeks ago, and gave a few mild spoilers for tonight's broadcast. Find out who says, of which honoree, "You have such a big brain. Is it heavy?"

Donner and Mrs. Donner are snuggling with their newborn foal. He baby-voices “mama” and “dada” for the first time, but when his nose twinkles, Donner is all “The hell? No son of mine … you better not embarrass me, newborn. Now put on this mud and a rubber stopper to hide our family shame, you freak.” Donner: Father of the Year.

Then we meet Hermey the Elf. Some of you – the ones in the Vai Sikahema Football League – know my undying love for Hermey, but for those of you who don’t, he’s the overly-theatrical elf with the calculatedly-insouciant twist of longish blond hair (the same haircut as all of the girl elves; all of the other boy elves are bald), the lisping twitter, the ineptitude at manual labor, and the singular ambition to work with orthodontia. And he sounds like Rip Taylor, for crying out loud. Anyway, he works in a factory, and his boss is an irredeemable dick. Boss Elf rips Hermey a new one for not working quickly enough (note: he’s applying red paint, and this is the Eisenhower era, so Hermey is basically eating lead chips, I think), then rips Hermey another new one for wanting to be a dentist, then rips Hermey another one for all of the ones he had to rip him, basically. What on earth could make a boss that hateful?

Oh, his boss, that’s what. Boss Elf organizes a nice little factory-elf sing-along for Santa. Guys, Santa is an asshole. When the elves finish their a-capella tour-de-force, a visibly-bored Santa just says, “needs work,” and walks out. Withholding love as a motivational tool? Brilliant. So when Boss Elf finds Hermey (who, confusingly, went truant from the choir stuff), in the nature of all dysfunctional families, he redirects all the abuse he took to Hermey.

Reindeer games. What you need to know: (1) reindeers are basically racist (no red-nosers!) and sexist (girls need not apply!); (2) Coach Reindeer is a dick. There are no positive role models in Christmastown; (3) when Santa sees Rudolph’s red nose, he’s all “Jesus doesn’t love you.”

So Rudolph runs away, and he meets up with Hermey, and Hermey does a little dance and tells Rudolph that they should be misfits together, and it’s exactly as gay as you think it would be.

Rudolph and Hermey meet up with Yukon Cornelius, basically a coked-up dog-beater who punctuates every sentence by whipping his lead mutt. On the run from the Abominable Snow Monster, they run aground on the Island of Misfit Toys, because Santa is such a prima donna that he refuses to deliver misnamed jacks-in-the-box, slightly irregular trains, and dolls with leftist tendencies. The king of IoMT, who is neither a toy nor a misfit, so we’ll call him a colonial governor, helps Rudolph, Hermey, and Yukon Cornelius back to the mainland, where they discover that Rudolph’s selfish lack of conformity has endangered the lives of Rudolph’s family and colorblind girlfriend (a doe with distressingly dilated pupils, take that for what you will). Hermey saves the day by removing all of the Snow Monster’s teeth and spending an awkwardly long time dawdling in the Snow Monster’s crotch. If you don’t believe me, watch the show. Then Yukon Cornelius pushes the Snow Monster over a cliff.

Rudolph and family show up back at Christmastown, where everybody is like “Rudolph, we hate your nose and everything that it represents, but to make ourselves feel better, we will tolerate you.” So basically this is a parable of white guilt. “You still can’t have a job on the sleigh; no offense, but you’re still a freak.”

Yukon Cornelius is back! And, having gotten rid of Snow Monster’s scary bits and put him on a leash, YC now says that Snow Monster is in his permanently-unpaid employ. YC’s dogs: “yeah, that’s about right. Mind the whip, Snowy.”

Then it snows really hard, and none of the reindeer want to fly, but they’re all, “okay, fine, Karl Malden, you can have a job.” And the rest is history.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

GREAT. THAT MEANS I'LL HAVE TO SIT THROUGH ICE CAPADES AGAIN. The Little Earthling, at three, has yet to express any interest in any sort of Thomas/Barney/Rafi/Wiggles/Proust on Ice show. A giant live dinosaur show, however, could be pretty cool.

Monday, December 24, 2007

MacGowan exclusive -

IT WAS CHRISTMAS EVE, BABE, IN THE DRUNK TANK: God bless modern medicine, and/or the human liver's capacity to absorb punishment, because the Pogues' Shane MacGowan turns 50 on Christmas Day, giving a memorable interview to celebrate and reflect. "Smoking, drinking, partying - that's why I've stayed alive as long as I have. And I've got better with age, that's what's meant to happen."

Meanwhile, for the third straight year, the winner of the UK's "The X-Factor" (i.e., Simon Cowell's other ridiculously successful show) has charted Britain's number one single at Christmas. Watch Leon Jackson's "When You Believe" here (yes, the Prince of Egypt song that Mariah and Whitney recorded), and then to restore your balance, the eternal Christmas number one: Billy Mack's "Christmas Is All Around". Enjoy.
LEGES SINE DONUM VANAE: From a reader: What is a good law school graduation/passed the bar gift? Can be pop culture related. Figured you were the folks to ask.

I'd suggest Kermit Roosevelt's In the Shadow of the Law, except for its being something of a downer. But at that book suggests, the best gift to give a newly-practicing lawyer is the reminder that she remains in control of her own life and her career, to not judge her happiness based on whether she's meeting her employer's criteria for making it happy ... so how about a gift certificate to a good restaurant for dinner, so that she remembers to leave there everyone once in a while?

Your suggestions are, of course, welcome.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

AS OPPOSED TO JUST HAVING TO SHAVE YOUR HEADS: And that, friends, is why you stay with The Amazing Race. So many turns of fate -- car trouble, route trouble during long car rides, bunches and anti-bunches, cranky local judges ... I mean, really, that's as classic an episode as we've had in years.

I do object to this particular fast-forward -- anything that deeply-held religious/personal beliefs would forbid doing shouldn't be included as a quasi-requirement. Reminded me of Kimmi Kappenberg and the cow brains. But that's me. Great, great episode.
A FANTASY PLAYERS' LAMENT: For fifteen weeks, a roster centered on Drew Brees, Joseph Addai, Willie Parker, Terrell Owens, Marques Colston was enough to lead me to a division title, overall points title and general dominance in my one money-based fantasy keeper league. These week for the finals, oh dear ... they basically turned into the equivalent of Mr. Burns' softball team, with Parker fracturing his leg, Owens leaving with a high ankle sprain, and Colston gone early with a chest confusion contusion. All that's missing is Reggie Wayne getting benched for excessive sideburns. I'm just counting the minutes until Tom Brady officially ends my season.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

reality blurred + Ruben Studdard dropped from J Records

DON'T YOU REMEMBER YOU TOLD ME YOU LOVED ME, BABY? American Idol 2 winner Ruben Studdard has been dropped from J Records. His first album went platinum, his second gold, his third sold "only" 235,000 copies ... which means that up next for Mr. 205 is starring as Fats Waller in the national touring company of "Ain't Misbehavin'". Also joining the cast for this 2008/09 tour? Frenchie Davis.
PERHAPS IT'S BECAUSE RIGGINS WAS BARRED BY "NO PASS, NO PLAY:" The Pflugerville Panthers, which provide sets, uniforms, and football facilities for the fine folks at Friday Night Lights, lost their bid to become state football champions this evening. - Spector Rips Tina at Ike Turner's Funeral - Celebrity Gossip | Entertainment News | Arts And Entertainment

AND THE 2007 ALOTT5MA AWARD FOR CLASSIEST EULOGY (NOT) GOES TO ...: Okay, so you're Ike Turner's family. And you need someone to come in and speak at his funeral, someone from the industry who knew him well, someone who can put his musical legacy into proper context and perhaps find a way to -- well, certainly not to excuse his awful history of domestic violence and drug abuse -- but, at least, maybe suggest that he had learned and grown and changed in some meaningful way

The proper person, I'll suggest, was not Phil Spector. If I told you that he started his remarks by referring to "What's Love Got To Do With It" as "a piece-of-trash movie" and said that "Ike made Tina the jewel she was," that'll tell you if you want to keep reading.
I WAS NOT ANGRY SINCE I CAME TO FRANCE, UNTIL THIS INSTANT: I realize I'm noticing this two years after the fact -- having purchased a replacement PC with a good deal on the whole MS Suite -- but who in Hades decided to completely re-engineer the user interface of Microsoft Word?

One of the reasons I've resisted buying a Mac is that I'm used to the core Microsoft products. Not that they're good. Getting consistent formatting on a MS Word document still takes too much work (or the liberal use of the sec'y services pool), but I draft a document without ever needing to find anything.

I've been using this program for seventeen years and well in excess of a million words of product. I knew, reflexively, where all core commands were. Indeed, for my purposes the software had become utterly transparent to the task at hand. Yet Microsoft decided I would be more productive if I had to search for the "new document" or "save" buttons, the former of which just took me three minutes to find.

This product -- in which the task of "creating documents" has finally and completely overwhelmed the task of writing -- is now worse than useless to me.

N.B.: Yes, I am aware that most of the shortcut keys remain the same. Did Microsoft decide that those should be changed? No. Why not? Because, people were used to them.

Friday, December 21, 2007

WHO TOLD TRACY ABOUT ANAGRAMS? The floor is open for nominations for the annual ALOTT5MA Award for Funniest Half-Hour of Television of the Year.
AND TIM GUNN RECOILS IN HORROR: Sure, you've experienced Ugg Boots and Crocs, but how about combining them?
"IT IS SO HARD TO MAKE A GREAT COMEDY AT ALL, AND HARDER STILL TO MAKE ONE THAT IS INTELLIGENT, QUICK, CHARMING, MOVING, AND YES, VERY, VERY FUNNY": And that, apparently, is why the film topping Roger Ebert's list of the ten best of 2007 is "Juno".

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"IT'S NOT HAIRSPRAY": Thus reads the parental warning with A.O. Scott's mega-rave review of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which opens Friday:
It is cruel in its effects and radical in its misanthropy, expressing a breathtakingly, rigorously pessimistic view of human nature. It is also something close to a masterpiece, a work of extreme — I am tempted to say evil — genius. ... It may seem strange that I am praising a work of such unremitting savagery. I confess that I’m a little startled myself, but it’s been a long time since a movie gave me nightmares. And the unsettling power of “Sweeney Todd” comes above all from its bracing refusal of any sentimental consolation, from Mr. Burton’s willingness to push the most dreadful implications of Mr. Sondheim’s story to their blackest conclusions.
Ebert: "[T]here is an exhilaration in the very fiber of the film, because its life force is so strong. Its heroes, or anti-heroes, have been wounded to the quick, its villains are vile and heartless, and they all play on a stage that rules out decency and mercy. The acting is so good that it enlists us in the sordid story, which even contains a great deal of humor -- macabre, to be sure. As a feast for the eyes and the imagination, 'Sweeney Todd' is ... well, I was going to say, even more satisfying than a hot meat pie made out of your dad."

[Two Sondheim posts here in 24 hours? Ma nishtana halailah hazeh?]
EVEN THOUGH "SON OF A TURD MINER" DIDN'T WRITE ITSELF: Strike or no strike, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert return to tv on Monday, January 7, the night before New Hampshire's primary.

"We would like to return to work with our writers," Stewart and Colbert said in a joint statement. "If we cannot, we would like to express our ambivalence, but without our writers we are unable to express something as nuanced as ambivalence."
I KNOW I DIDN'T INVENT THE MOVIE 'ZODIAC'. WHERE IS IT? Nominations for the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards -- actors voting on their peers -- have been released. Highlights:
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

GEORGE CLOONEY / Michael Clayton – “Michael Clayton”
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS / Daniel Plainview – “There Will Be Blood”
RYAN GOSLING / Lars Lindstrom – “Lars And The Real Girl”
EMILE HIRSCH / Christopher McCandless– “Into The Wild”
VIGGO MORTENSEN / Nikolai – “Eastern Promises”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

CATE BLANCHETT / Queen Elizabeth I – “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”
JULIE CHRISTIE / Fiona – “Away From Her”
MARION COTILLARD / Edith Piaf – “La Vie En Rose”
ANGELINA JOLIE / Mariane Pearl – “A Mighty Heart”
ELLEN PAGE / Juno MacGuff – “Juno”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

CASEY AFFLECK / Robert Ford – “The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford”
JAVIER BARDEM / Anton Chigurh – “No Country For Old Men”
HAL HOLBROOK / Ron Franz – “Into The Wild”
TOMMY LEE JONES / Ed Tom Bell – “No Country For Old Men”
TOM WILKINSON / Arthur Edens – “Michael Clayton”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

CATE BLANCHETT / Jude – “I’m Not There”
RUBY DEE / Mama Lucas – “American Gangster”
CATHERINE KEENER / Jan Burres – “Into The Wild”
AMY RYAN / Helene McCready – “Gone Baby Gone”
TILDA SWINTON / Karen Crowder – “Michael Clayton”
Nominees for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture(as close as they come to "Best Picture") are 3:10 to Yuma, American Gangster, Hairspray, Into the Wild and No Country for Old Men. TV-related nominations and more at the link.
IF IT'S GOOD ENOUGH FOR MARK DARCY...: In case you cared, a whole lot of research and development goes into those lovely Christmas Sweaters. And no, the presence of cats on sweaters this year is not due to the "Crazy Cat Lady" parasite.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

BUDDY'S BLUES: So how excited does the potential combination of Sondheim + Sorkin + Sam Mendes on a film version of Follies make you? The only production of Follies I've was the rather incoherent 2001 Roundabout revival, which doesn't exactly indicate to me that there's great material there. Personally, the concept of Sorkin + The Flaming Lips interests me more, as would the potential of a Sorkin rewritten book/screenplay for Company updating it into the modern era.
SHE DOESN'T SUCK AT LIFE, BUT AT TELLING THE TRUTH, LET ME GET BACK TO YOU: Remember Denise, the lunch lady from this season's Survivor who bitterly told the contestants at the final tribal council that, unlike them, honesty and loyalty were the principles that guided her through life? And then at the reunion show she said that she had been demoted from lunch lady to custodian because she went on the show, so Mark Burnett gave her $50,000 to ease her loss? Denise wants to make a few corrections. As it turns out, by "demoted," she meant "promoted"; by "thanks for the $50,000," she meant "which I'll add to the greater pay and benefits I'm getting from the promotion I sought and received"; and by "having people's backs," she meant "falsely accusing people who gave her a promotion and cheered her on of demoting her."
YOU KNOW THAT OLD JOKE ABOUT THE DEFINITION OF CHUTZPAH: If I told you that there was a recent report that a prominent person was quoted as saying that the steroids scandal has made a mockery of baseball, well, you'd probably roll your eyes and say so what. But the fact that it is this particular person making the comments is ... flabbergasting.

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Depp named 'best autograph giver'

FROM THE ALOTT5MA DEPT. OF OBVIOUS JOKES--JUST DON'T ASK HIM FOR A SHAVE: For the third year running, Johnny Depp tops the list of Autograph Magazine's Best Hollywood Signers. Hollywood's worst signer, according to the magazine, is Will Ferrell.
DIDN'T HE WIN LAST YEAR? The management here can't find anything particularly funny or pop-culture-y about the fact that Vladimir Putin was named Time's Man of the Year. But our readership is more clever. Be our guest.
DOOMED OCEAN LINER: Ten years ago today, Titanic was released in theaters across America.

While we can all bemoan the fact that this is the highest-grossing film of all time (as well as blame it for that song), it did help launch the worthy careers of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio into the stratosphere, and beyond the hokey melodrama is a kick-ass action movie which covers the second half of the film. When (spoiler!) the boat goes straight up vertical and the people start dropping, it's as awesome as any peril sequence in Jurassic Park. Also, the narrative framing device of "let's show you a computer simulation of what's going to happen, so that you know more than the passengers when stuff starts going wrong" remains one of the great screenwriting moves in recent memory.

So, Titanic: great film? greatest film? or overrated, subtle-as-a-sledgehammer crap?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

THAT CHAINED ROTTWEILER IN AN ILL-FITTING JACKET: This year, as we do every year, we open the ALOTT5MA Award season with the award for Reality TV Host/Judge of the Year. These awards are intended to recognize notable achievements in the year of pop culture and society, for better or worse, and are doled out on our whim.

Past winners in this category include Robert K. Oermann of Nashville Star (2003), Ralph Garman (as Derek Newcastle) for Joe Schmo 2 (2004), Project Runway's Tim Gunn (2005) and Tyra Banks for America's Next Top Model (2006), and normally, there's a long debate and public discussion as I work through who the winner should be.

This year, however, there's no need. In 2006, we wanted more Bourdain. In 2007, we got more Bourdain, and it was awesome. Really: "They were cleaning Bob Marley's house and they found this in the closet." "It's kinda got a home cooking kind of a thing, but a home I wouldn't want to live in."

Do I need to say more? No. No need to waste time reviewing other potential nominees. Anthony Bourdain is the 2007 Reality TV Host/Judge of the Year.

2008 Pro Bowl rosters

AND IF YOU FIND A TIKI IDOL IN THE RUBBLE, LEAVE IT ALONE: NFL Pro Bowl rosters were announced today, a fact we'd ordinarily ignore as this is the least relevant of the three major professional sports all-star games -- indeed, if pressed, I might argue it's less relevant than selections for the P-Funk All Stars (ironically, also a combination of fan balloting and player selections), and just a nice gift of a week's vacation for the players involved and their families.

But this year is different. Why? Because they left out an entire division's players -- there is no NFL South representation whatsoever, including from the playoff-bound Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Nor is there anyone from the 10-4 Jacksonville Jaguars. Yes, folks, if you'd like to find a Pro Bowler on a team from the southeast, your only selection is Jason Taylor of the 1-13 Miami Dolphins. Odd.
PAPA DON'T PREACH, OR IF YOU DO, START WITH MY SISTER: We already know how dumb you have to be to knock up a Spears: approximately as dumb as Kevin Federline. But how dumb do you have to be to knock up a 16-year-old Spears? Meet 19-year-old Casey Aldridge, who surely soon will be learning the details of Lousiana age-of-consent law. I presume he is familiar with the old adage: "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of -- say, it just occurred to me, I'm giving the business to one of the most famous high-school juniors in America, even though I'm old enough to drink in Canada! And I can throw caution to the wind because nobody will ever find out! Wait, what was I saying?"
DOES NOBODY LEARN FROM JENNIFER GREY? I have to say that I am not loving Ashley Tisdale's new nose. Rather more like a toy poodle than a Shar Pei, n'est ce pas?

Monday, December 17, 2007

MICHAEL BOLTON WANTS YOU TO KNOW THAT WHILE HIS HEAD IS SHORN, HE STILL HAS A LOT OF CHEST HAIR: That's one thing we learned in the premiere of the week-long Clash of the Choirs tonight, and given this community's interest in a capella singing I figured it was worth at least an initial thread. I don't think it's just my hometown bias talking when I claim that Miss Patti LaBelle's choir kicked the most ass, as its "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands" was the only song that tried to work in the gospel tradition. Really, if you've got a good choir, why waste it on "Living on a Prayer" or "Life Is A Highway"?

The show itself ... I mean, we've seen enough audition segments in our lives already, right? But for a week of programming, this'll do.
THAT'S ALL IT TAKES, REALLY, PRESSURE AND TIME. THAT, AND A BIG G.D. POSTER: In Union County, NJ, on Saturday night, "Two inmates escaped from a county jail, hiding the holes they made in the walls by putting up photos of bikini-clad women, officials said."

No word on the amount of crawling required to reach freedom, however.
REMEMBER, WHEN SNL USED TO BE FUNNY? THAT WAS AWESOME: As the New York Post reminds us, today marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Chris Farley. What's your favorite Farley moment? Is it him reminding us of the danger of making poor choices (accompanied by dynamite deadpan work from Phil Hartman and Christina Applegate)? Farley trying out for the Chippendales to the sounds of Loverboy? Farley discussing how the Beatles were awesome with Paul McCartney? Unlike his successor as designated "party hearty big man," Horatio Sanz, Farley's stuff was never mean-spirited, but always had heart to it--he's still missed.
NITPLAY, NITLAST, NITWIT: Survivor: Sucked. But with a group of people this dumb, I guess you could see their mistaking action for intelligent action.

Incidentally, is China the most product-placed brand this year?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

PLAY YOUR EIGHT-TRACKS AT HALF-MAST TONIGHT: Dan Fogelberg has lost his battle with prostate cancer. He was 56.
HERE'S A LITTLE STORY I'VE GOT TO TELL ABOUT THREE BAD BROTHERS YOU KNOW SO WELL: The Beastie Boys were denied induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, their first year of eligibility. Did the grandees of Cleveland get it right?

Let's start with a definitional question: with the induction of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in 2007, and the placement of the Beastie Boys on the ballot, the Rock Hall braintrust has determined that hip hop artists are within their definition of "rock"; to use Isaac's analogy from long ago, rappers are second basemen and not soccer players.

The Beastie Boys' recording career formally started twenty-five years ago as a punk band; it wasn't until the 1986 release of LICENSED TO ILL that their existence as we now know it really began, and with that, let's run the Keltner Test:

1. Were the Beastie Boys ever regarded as the best artists in rock music? Did anybody, while they were active, ever suggest that the Beastie Boys were the best artists in rock music?

2. Were the Beastie Boys ever the best artist in rock music in their genre?

First, obvs, they're still active, and while the answer to the second question is unquestionably yes around the time of PAUL'S BOUTIQUE (Rolling Stone called it "the Pet Sounds/Dark Side of the Moon of hip hop," Robert Christgau's 1986 review of LICENSED TO ILL suggests the first might be true as well:
The wisecracking arrogance of this record is the only rock and roll attitude that means diddley right now. With the mainstream claimed by sincere craftspeople and the great tradition of Elvis Presley, Esquerita, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Sex Pistols, and Madonna sucked into a cultural vacuum by nitwit anarchists and bohemian sourpusses, three white jerkoffs and their crazed producer are set to go platinum-plus with "black" music that's radically original, childishly simple, hard to play, and accessible to anybody with two ears and an ass. Drinking, robbing, rhyming, and pillaging, busting open your locker and breaking your glasses, the Beasites don't just thumb their noses at redeeming social importance--they pull out their jammies and shoot it in the cookie puss. If you don't like the joke, you might as well put your money where your funnybone is and send a check to the PMRC. A+
And it was a joke. As Michael Diamond (Mike D) said years later, "The only thing that upsets me is that we might have reinforced certain values of some people in our audience when our own values were actually totally different. There were tons of guys singing along to [Fight For Your Right] who were oblivious to the fact it was a total goof on them. Irony is oft missed."

[1986 was a great year for music -- the only albums to top the Beasties on the Pazz and Jop survey were GRACELAND, THE COSTELLO SHOW, Springsteen's live discs and RAISING HELL. Just past those? SO, LIFE'S RICH PAGEANT and CONTROL.]

In 1998 (HELLO NASTY),the band was named by Rolling Stone as Artists of the Year by the critics and the readers, Best Album by the readers, Best Hip Hop Artist by the readers, Best Single by the readers, and named Band of the Year by Spin.

3. Was the Beastie Boys ever considered the best at their instrument/role?

As rhymers and samplists, yes. Chuck D of Public Enemy was quoted as saying that the "dirty secret" among the black hip-hop community at the time of release was that "Paul's Boutique had the best beats." Indeed, here's the samples for "The Sounds of Science" (fantastic fan video) alone:
  • "Back in the U.S.S.R" by the Beatles
  • "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (crowd noise) by The Beatles
  • "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" by The Beatles (drums, orchestra tuning, violins)
  • "When I'm Sixty-Four" by The Beatles (oboe)
  • "The End" by The Beatles (scratching)
  • "Walk from Regio's" by Isaac Hayes
  • "Don't Sniff Coke" by Pato Banton (the I do not sniff the coke I only smoke the sensimilla insert)
  • "Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved" by James Brown
  • "My Philosophy" by Boogie Down Productions ("Right up to your face and diss you)
And as rhymers, well, let's try this, from "Shadrach" (a great video too):
Stealin' from the rich and I'm out robbing banks
Givin' to the poor and I always give thanks
Because I've got more stories that J.D.'s got Salingers
I hold the title and you are the challenger
I've got money like Charles Dickens
I've got the girlies in the coupe like the Colonel's got the chickens
And I always go out dapper like Harry S. Truman
I'm madder than Mad's Alfred E. Newman
4. Did the Beastie Boys have an impact on a number of other bands?

They opened up the rap world to white artists, and for every Eminem, we had to suffer through 3rd Bass, House of Pain, Insane Clown Posse and Vanilla Ice. They also raised the bar in a positive way for the intricacy of sampling and wit that could be enjoyed in rap, and later albums furthered the rap/funk crossover movement -- but "Sabotage" and the like also led to rap-rock crap like Kid Rock, Korn, Linkin Park and Limp Biskit. So, "yes, but mostly negative."

5. Were the Beastie Boys good enough that they could play regularly after passing their prime?

Still headlining festivals globally.

6. Is the Beastie Boys the very best artist in history that is not in the Hall of Fame?

Did the Beastie Boys record "Enter Sandman"? Did they record "Werewolves of London," "The French Inhaler" and "Carmelita"? Then, no.

7. Are most bands who have a comparable recording history and impact in the Hall of Fame?

As far as cultural transgressors go, the Doors are in without having nearly the volume of work as the Beasties. As far as sales, they've had four #1 albums. There are lots of artists in the Hall without the two decades of solid production which the Beastie Boys have given us.

8. Is there any evidence to suggest that the Beastie Boys were significantly better or worse than is suggested by their statistical records?

When they were performing with women in cages and giant inflatable penises on their early tours, you'd hardly think that the Beastie Boys would ultimately be thought of as a critics' band more than a commercial band, but, yeah, they kind of are. Hits like "Sabotage" never broke through on the charts as much as they did in the general culture through videos.

9. Are the Beastie Boys the best artist in their genre who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

Who is eligible? Yes. But Run-DMC is around the bend, and at that point, the answer will be no.

10. How many #1 singles/gold records did the Beastie Boys have? Did the Beastie Boys ever win a Grammy award? If not, how many times was the Beastie Boys nominated?

LICENSED TO ILL was the first rap album to hit #1 on the pop charts. Four #1 albums, just one top-10 single ("Fight For Your Right To Party"). Two Grammys for HELLO NASTY, a handful of other nominations in the "rap" and "alternative" categories.

11. How many Grammy-level songs/albums did the Beastie Boys have? For how long of a period did the Beastie Boys dominate the music scene? How many Rolling Stone covers did the Beastie Boys appear on? Did most of the bands with this sort of impact go into the Hall of Fame?

This list is incomplete, but it'll do: "Hold It, Now Hit It", "The New Style", "Paul Revere", "Brass Monkey", "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)", "No Sleep Till Brooklyn", "Hey Ladies", "The Sounds of Science", "Egg Man", "Shake Your Rump", "Pass the Mic", "So What'cha Want", "Professor Booty", "Sabotage", "Sure Shot", "Intergalactic".

12. If the Beastie Boys was the best band at a concert, would it be likely that the concert would rock?

Hells yeah. Phil and I saw them at the UMass Spring Fling in 1992, after Phish, Fishbone, fIREHOSE and the Bosstones, and nothing energized the crowd like chanting "Ali Baba and the forty thieves!"

13. What impact did the Beastie Boys have on rock history? Were they responsible for any stylistic changes? Did they introduce any new equipment? Did they change history in any way?

LICENSED TO ILL changed music. It brought heavy metal riffs (and white people) into rap, excited thugs and ironists alike, and gave Rick Rubin the basis for a long, huge career. They also deserve some credit for their frequent use of obscure 1970s samples.

14. Did the band uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

The Tibetan stuff. General advocacy of progressive causes. Sure. All they've stolen are samples, though I can't say I have full confidence in the "we were just kidding on LICENSED TO ILL" talk given songs like "Girls".

Conclusion: Yes, they belong in, a trio that has stood the test of time with fun, smart, memorable music. When the question is asked "if hip hop artists belong in the Hall, who are the first five who get in?", the answer is these guys, Run-DMC, Grandmaster Flash, Public Enemy and LL Cool J.

As a matter of personal taste, though, their induction should be delayed until Run-DMC gets in first. It just would feel weird to have the Beastie Boys inducted at a point when they're still so young and vital; they do not need a gold watch anytime soon. But some day, three mc's (and one dj) will find their plaque in the Cleve where it belongs.

(Much help from Beastiemania.)
I CALL CARTOGRAPHERS FOR SOCIAL EQUALITY: According to Facebook, today is Big Block of Cheese Day (video explanation is available as well). How are you celebrating?

Saturday, December 15, 2007


INDEED, IT IS NOT OVER: Your best-selling album of 2007? Daughtry. Top single? Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry". Tons of interesting Billboard charts linked.
I DON'T REMEMBER THIS BEING PART OF THAT ATARI ARCADE GAME: How much should one provide one's New York Times Sat-Sun home delivery carrier as a holiday gift, when an envelope is provided annually for such purposes by the carrier and, one year, one found oneself receiving increasingly intermittent and inaccurate service from a previous carrier for not having gifted promptly?

Friday, December 14, 2007

SO THE ISLAND'S ACTUALLY JUST A HOSPITAL: The most shocking thing about ABC's spring schedule is that they're yanking almost everything that doesn't have new episodes. Grey's Anatomy? Gone. Pushing Daisies? Gone. Private Practice? Gone. Brothers and Sisters? Gone. Dirty Sexy Money? Gone. Of note for folks around here--Lost goes in to Thursdays at 9 starting 1/31, replacing Grey's in the "flagship" slot. (And to keep it away from Idol.) It gets the odd pairing as a leadout--Eli Stone, Greg Berlanti's midseason drama about a young lawyer who starts having visions (I suspect SpyDaddy + Berlanti + Lawyers alone = substantial ALOTT5MA tune-in).

reality blurred + Saleisha's modeling experiences and work with Tyra raise questions about her win

YES, I ALREADY MISS JASLENE'S MY LIFE AS A COVERGIRL SEGMENTS MORE THAN YOU CAN POSSIBLY IMAGINE: But to win America's Next Top Model, should you just maybe not be so successful that you've already been featured in a Wendy's commercial and done runway work on a previous cycle of ANTM?

This was not a great season -- cycle two (Yoanna/Shandi/Mercedes/Xiomara/TinyJenascia) remains the pinnacle, with cycle seven (CariDee, Melrose and the twins) high up there. But even a pretty-good season of TyraMail is better than most other reality shows.
THINKING OUTSIDE THE ENVELOPE: F/X, apparently eager to prolong the long-overdue retirement of the "box" analogy as a way of distinguishing one's own thinking from boring, rote, uncreative adherence to convention (conventions like using "box" analogies, for example), has adopted a shiny new stupid promotional campaign: There Is No Box.

Leaving aside the fact that, as our children all know, it's not a box, the FX World is a cold and uninviting place. Witness a typical Saturday in this dystopia: You wake up and tap a barrel of Special K for breakfast over the newspaper, where you read that Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg have been arrested for indecency. You drive down to your local big-pile store, where you buy some gifts, including the Wire: Season 4 bagged set. In the afternoon, you spend some quality time reading to your kids, puzzling over the enduring appeal of a story about a behatted feline who unseals a burlap sack to release the bloodied and exhausted Thing One and the wet carcass of Thing Two. After making a coinpurse of Annie's Organic Arthuroni Mac + Cheese for the kids and tucking them in for the night, you settle down with a sack of Franzia for the Mayweather-Hatton slapping match. Ah, slapping -- the sweet science.
SO LONG, IT'S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YA: I think last night's 30 Rock was the last one they got in the can before the strike. The plots dragged, but the throwaway lines were great, so I'm happy. My favorite: in keeping with the show's role as network television's most subversive parody of race relations and liberal hypocrisy about the same, Liz Lemon's home town is "White Haven."
ROCK, ROCK, ROCK AND ROLL RECESS: In May of 1974 Jon Landau reviewed a concert of a guy so utterly unheralded at the time that he was the opening act for Bonnie Raitt at a tiny club in Cambridge (where I grew up). Landau famously wrote:

“I saw my rock-and-roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock-and-roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.”

When I was volunteering at my son’s school recess on Wednesday I saw something similar. It began like something you’d see in grainy black and white footage documenting the early days of Beatlemania. The vast majority of the third grade came out of the building in a screaming pack. Soon I noticed that they all appeared to be chasing a boy named Isaac.

I started to worry about the safety of Isaac and the other kids. I asked my son Liam what was going on. “Isaac promised us that he would sing at recess!” he replied.

Eventually the crowd more or less calmed down. Isaac and a few other children hopped up on the edge of one of the circular cement planters. Holding his hand near his mouth as if he were holding a microphone, one lad yelled “Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for my friend and the world’s greatest singer, Isaac!” Isaac sang! I confess that I couldn’t make out the words well enough to tell you what song he was singing, but he clearly had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Then a few other kids sang.

The highlight of the scene for me took place when it was a boy named Alex’s turn to sing. He started with an apology. “I’m just going to sing the chorus of this next song.” Then, with a dashing smile like an altar boy doing something the nuns might not approve of, he announced “I’m gonna sing a song by the group Kiss.”

He began to sing in a clear and melodic voice:

“I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day
I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day”

The crowd started to clap their hands in time to the music with their hands above their heads. A moment later about 60 3rd graders were singing along at the top of their lungs:

“I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day
I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day”

As the song petered out, the crowd gave Alex a huge round of applause. The bell announcing the end of recess rang.

To paraphrase Landau’s august pronouncement, these children made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"SWEET, MERCIFUL CRAP" OR "ONE DAY YOU'RE OUT, AND THE NEXT DAY YOU'RE IN": We should have a space to talk about this week's dramatic, sad Project Runway with a thankfully predictable and deserved ending.

Also: "I've made more bad decisions at 3 o'clock in the morning than I can count." Thank you, Tim.
NEXT, THEY'LL TRY AND GO AFTER DIRTY SEXY MONEY: With Colbert off the air, we must provide our own Threatdown. Needless to say, bears remain at #1, but at least according to the fine folks at the New York Observer, there's a new contender--namely, Gossip Girl, which spreads the message that "Do not adjust your sets—everybody everywhere in this wonderful country is doing fabulously well! Especially in the fabulously big cities! Buy! Buy! Buy!" I know we have a number of fans (myself included), so react.
MICHAEL, I'VE MADE A HUGE MISTAKE: OK, so how awesome is the concept of Will Arnett as the voice of the Knight Industries Three Thousand in NBC's upcoming Knight Rider remake (aka--well, after Bionic Woman, maybe we can get it right this time)? Provide your favorite GOBisms for KITT to say, and KITT had better keep his radio tuned to some Europe.

A 'pointless Listmaking' Special Report: VH1 Ranks The '90s, Blames Gerardo Inclusion On Viewers

'90s NOSTALGIA, HEROIN, NOT STEROIDS VERSION: VH1 has finally made its list of the 100 Best Songs of the 90s.

Here's VH1's top 10 list:
1. Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit
2. U2 - One
3. Backstreet Boys - I Want It That Way
4. Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You
5. Madonna - Vogue
6. Sir Mix-A-Lot - Baby Got Back
7. Britney Spears - ...Baby One More Time
8. TLC - Waterfalls
9. R.E.M. - Losing My Religion
10. Sinéad O'Connor - Nothing Compares 2 U
And here was our user-generated list from back in September:
1. One by U2 (VH1 rank--2)
2. Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana (1)
2. Losing My Religion by R.E.M. (9)
4. You Oughta Know by Alanis Morissette (12)
5. Jeremy by Pearl Jam (11)
5. Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O'Connor (10)
7. Loser by Beck (22)
7. Groove Is in the Heart by DeeeLite (67)
7. I'm Just a Girl by No Doubt (NR)
7. Buddy Holly by Weezer (59)
THEY HIT THE SECRET CHORD THAT DAVID PLAYED AND IT PLEASED THE LORD: While the fact that John Mellencamp would be getting into the Rock Hall was disclosed some time ago, and anyone could tell you that Madonna was a Nolan Ryan-level first ballot shoo-in for the Hall, we finally have a formal announcement--joining Madge and Mellencamp as inductees this year:
  • Leonard Cohen ("Hallelujah," "Everybody Knows")
  • The Ventures ("Theme From Hawaii Five-O")
  • The Dave Clark Five
  • Little Walter ("sideman" category, blues harmonica player)
  • Gamble & Huff (producers behind the Philadelphia International label)

(Not making the cut? Afrika Bambatta, Beastie Boys, Chic, and Donna Summer)

SO I'VE GOT THAT GOING FOR ME, WHICH IS NICE: Some fellows have digitally reprocessed the last scene in Lost in Translation. So if you want to know what Bill Murray said to Ms. Johansen, here's your chance.
FROM THE SAME PEOPLE WHO BROUGHT YOU PIA ZADORA AS "BEST NEW STAR OF THE YEAR": Golden Globe nominations have been announced, including seven (?!) nominees for Best Picture-Drama, a John C. Reilly nod for Best Actor-Comedy/Musical for Walk Hard, a clearly not-yet-updated-online Best Actress list for Comedy/Musical,** and much general love for Atonement, Charlie Wilson's War (as a Comedy/Musical?), Michael Clayton and No Country for Old Men. No mention of Sidney Lumet's Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, which I know had many awards-rooters as well.

**Actual list, according to the wires, which will please many here: Amy Adams, "Enchanted"; Nikki Blonsky, "Hairspray"; Helena Bonham Carter, "Sweeney Todd"; Marion Cotillard, "La Vie En Rose"; Ellen Page, "Juno."
MAKING A LIST, CHECKING IT TWICE: The Mitchell Report comes out tomorrow, also known, for those of you living in the wrong time zones, as "today." Sorry, not that Mitchell Report, this Mitchell Report. Hold it, hold it, wrong again -- this Mitchell Report. Different Mitchells. What's that? Oh, the same Mitchells. Guy gets around. Anyway, ESPN reports that it will name "as many as 80 current and former players" in connection with the use or acquisition of performance-enhancing drugs. ESPN promises that the report will be "salacious," so maybe it will have a little bit of steroids and a little bit of Stephon Marbury.

My question, prompted by the chance viewing of a photograph this week: will the list include Willie Mays? I know that picture was taken before modern steroids were synthesized, but willya look at those guns?

In conclusion, steroids, yay.

edited by Adam, 11:50am: Here's the first leaked list of names expected to be named: Albert Pujols is the big shocker.

1:45p: The media source is no longer standing behind that list.

2:15p: Here's the Report. There is no "list" -- you'll have to search through it. Many of the neames on that initial list do not appear here, including Pujols. Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite, however ...

2:47p: Deadspin does the work for you. Here's the list.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

WHAT ABOUT FROSTING? Important dilemma--cake: a lie or a pretty funky alt-rock band? (Or cup?)
I'LL RECONSIDER MY FOOLISH NOTION/I NEED SOMEONE TO HOLD ME, BUT I WAIT FOR SOMETHING MORE: In Part 1 of our Life of Pi book club discussion, we talked about our unreliable narrator's stories and which one(s) we think are true. This isn't a book about boys and tigers, though -- it's a book about religion. How do Pi's stories inform his discussion of religion? How does religion inform his stories of his journey? And what is Martel -- the real one, not the fictional one -- saying about religion? Put another way, is Pi a spiritual man or a pragmatic one?
THAT NAME'S GOT MY DADDY'S BLOOD WRITTEN ALL OVER IT: One of the more complicated and terrifying villains in both screen and twentieth-century musical history, Ike Turner has passed away at the age of 76.
NO STANK, NO AUTISM: The tale of the tape for tonight's ANTM finale -- traditionally the tightest, least-bloated finale in reality TV:

Height: Tall
Girth: Thin
Hair: The masterpiece of a talented and extravagantly angry wig stylist
Signature runway move: Dimple + shrug
Personal journey: Arrived looking like the model-equivalent of a litter of puppies stapled to a kitten hanging from a tree that has been trimmed to resemble a baby in an Anne Geddes photograph. For undisclosed crime, was sentenced to a season wearing the scalp of Dorothy Hamill. Judges felt that ugly hair and occasional jumping completed transition from "commercial" to "edgy/high-fashion" (the latter being another way of saying "ugly").
Most likely signature sponsor: Pottery Barn Kids
Will not win because of: Commerciality, hair
Will win because of: Best remaining spokesmodel (then again, Danielle and Jaslene have won, so this doesn't matter), Tyra's pending adoption of her, Cover Girl acceptability

Height: Tall
Girth: Thin
Hair: Ivana Trump circa 1982
Signature runway move: Self-gratification
Personal journey: Declared self the best model; never wavered; never once wiped bangs from eyes
Most likely signature sponsor: Ford concept car, 2009 Detroit Auto Show
Will not win because of: Thorough ordinariness, no story arc
Will win because of: Judicial indifference, accident

Height: Tall
Girth: Thin
Hair: Unfurled steel-wool weave, painted with yellow Hi-Lighter pen
Signature runway move: Violent head-swivel, self-doubt-and-pivot
Personal journey: Started strong, but finished strong in a way that made judges doubt commitment and fortitude
Most likely signature sponsor: Bausch & Lomb Specialty Extra-Large Contact Lenses for the Bug-Eyed
Will not win because of: Poor judgment in obtaining tooth extensions; insufficient supplication to Tyra
Will win because of: General modeling aptitude when teeth are concealed

Edited to add: Eh. Girls, never ever ever forget: Once Tyra eats your tears, she has no more use for you.
DIRTY HANDS: This is simply priceless. It appears that the Jets were videotaping the Patriots last year!

Update: The NFL reports that what the Jets did was legal.
I'VE MADE A HUGE MISTAKE: That, I suppose, is what Bobby Petrino was thinking at some point in this first year of his coaching the Atlanta Falcons, when his star quarterback was getting fitted for black-and-white striped pajamas (literally -- Georgia actually still uses the black-and-whites), his star backup was starting and starring for the Houston Texans when healthy, and his remaining options were awful Joey Harrington and broken Byron Leftwich. So Petrino walked out, quitting after only 13 games to take the head coach job at Arkansas. Don't be surprised, though, if Arkansas partisans are saying the same thing -- "we've made a huge mistake," that is -- in the not-distant future. They hired a guy too lazy to make even a full-season's worth of effort to fix the problems with the team he agreed to coach and one too dumb to play Jerious Norwood (who leads the league in yards-per-carry among RBs with more than 20 carries, ahead even of Adrian Peterson) enough to find out if he really is the best player on the team. There are some rules that you just can't go wrong following, and alongside "don't eat fast food fish" and "never trust a man with a mustache but no beard" is "when you meet a grown man with a little boy's name, expect him to act like a little boy."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

IT SUCKS TO BE GREEN: Three years ago, Avenue Q garnered an upset Tony win for Best Musical over Wicked (as well as The Boy From Oz and Caroline, or Change). With the benefit of hindsight, and with more of us now having seen both productions, is it time to say that the puppet-preferring plebiscite may have gotten it wrong?
WHAT IS MYOCARDIAL INFARCTION, ALEX? The news that Alex Trebek has suffered a heart attack (and is expected to make a full recovery) coupled with the fact that Jeopardy! continues to get darn solid ratings (10 million viewers, putting it ahead of Oprah, and in the neighborhood of prime time ratings for Private Practice) raises a question--when Trebek hangs it up, who's the replacement? In discussion over Thanksgiving, my mother proposed Ken Jennings, though his moment may have passed. What communal wisdom do the ThingThrowers offer on this pressing issue. Please be sure to phrase your answer in the form of a question.
HE'S GAINING ON YOU SO YOU BETTER LOOK ALIVE: The latest Speed Racer trailer.

[Sweet Merciful God. I think they get it. -Ed.]

N.B.: You can see a few still photos and a better version of the trailer here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

SIT RIGHT BACK AND YOU'LL HEAR A TALE: Some reasons why I'm unqualified to lead this inaugural/experimental ALOTT5MA book club:
  • Never led a book club;
  • Never participated in a book club;
  • Never led a club;
  • Most serious literary analysis performed: English 129, 1988-89 (note: faked way through Ulysses);
  • Occasionally read slowly
All of the reasons why I'm qualified to lead this inaugural/experimental ALOTT5MA book club:
  • Have read book
So everybody please take a breath and lower your expectations to, say, "stars Dane Cook and Whoopi Goldberg," and then please, please, please join me in discussing Life of Pi.

I'd like to do this discussion in two parts: Pi's actual journey, and then his spiritual journey. Man and earth first, then God and heaven. Or, for you lawyers out there, the facts now, the holding later.

Martel tells us a number of times, in a number of subtle and not-subtle ways, that Pi's narrative is not going to be entirely straightforward. He gives us an introduction that is mostly-fiction, but part real. On the very first page of that introduction, Martel (or "Yann Martel") tells us that "the word bamboozle was my one preparation for the rich, noisy, functioning madness of India," and whatever we think of Pi's story, it's clear that we're being bamboozled. Near the end of the introduction, he promises inaccuracies, but -- playfully, or perhaps ironically? -- invokes the literary acknowledger's boilerplate disclaimer that any such inaccuracies "are mine." In Chapter 96 of the book, Pi himself gives two possible versions of the story, one improbable and the other gruesome, and on re-reading, one might notice some of the other hints Martel has dropped about the different picture one can get by observing details carefully:
This house is more than a box full of icons. I start noticing small signs of conjugal existence. They were there all along, but I hadn't seen them because I wasn't looking for them.
Before we can pick the better story, we have to know our choices. So put on your Japanese Transport Ministry badge and tell me, what exactly did happen on that lifeboat in those 227 days? Pi gives us two options: A tiger, an orangatan, a zebra, a boy, and a blind Frenchman; or a cook, a sailor, a mother, and a boy. I say that there are more options than that -- I have my theories. And, to paraphrase Marsha, what the hell does the carnivorous vegetable island have to do with it?
SO WHAT'S THE STORY WITH YOU AND JOHNNY? Mr. Cosmo just summoned me into the living room: "Close your eyes, walk in here, and prove your bona fides." I walked in, and he unpaused the TV. After a mere two measures of the intro (at most, as I was giggling after about four notes), it was time to dance and sing along:

"Come on everybody, gather round. I'm gonna show you how to (caesura) knock 'em down."

(HBO Family, right now.) Mr. Cosmo was more than a little dismayed at the depth of my knowledge.

Rather than issuing my standard clarion call for the Grease 2 love, I will instead solicit views on the following topic:

Resolved: "They can try to stop the paradise we're -- dreaming of" is the gratist caesura evir.
THIRTY-EIGHT PITCHES: As part of our ongoing celebrity endorsement tracker, an unkempt Curt Schilling has cut a New Hampshire tv ad for John McCain, while three-time Grammy Award winner for Best Spoken Word Album Maya Angelou (1994, 1996, 2003) has released a South Carolina radio ad on behalf of Hillary Clinton (1997 winner in the category), in her race against 2006 Grammy winner Barack Obama, who's up again in the 2008 awards against Dr. Angelou, Bill Clinton (2005 winner), Alan Alda and Jimmy Carter, the latter two of whom have endorsed anyone yet. But we'll keep you posted.
PLEASE USE NO. 2 PENCILS AND FILL IN THE CIRCLES COMPLETELY: Well, we've reached the end of the semester. I hope you've enjoyed HIS 2781, "Popular Culture in the United States." Since you all are just auditing this course, I've decided that you're officially exempt from the final exam -- but you are still expected to fill out the student evaluations. In the comments, please let me know what you thought of our little virtual classroom. Which topics worked best and worst? Which subjects did you want to spend more or less time discussing? Which topics did I leave out? Would you have organized the course differently? (It might also be useful to discuss various ways to frame the whole concept of a "lecture series," seeing as the ALOTT5MA management has solicited proposals for future guest posters.)

FYI, and in case you missed anything, here are all of my posts in chronological order, with main themes highlighted.

  1. Introduction
  2. Theories of Pop-Culture Studies (and the Pop-Culture Autobiography)
  3. Early American Bestsellers
  4. Shakespeare and/as/in Popular Culture
  5. Blackface Minstrelsy
  6. P.T. Barnum
  7. Westerns
  8. Coney Island
  9. Vaudeville
  10. Tin Pan Alley and the Phonograph
  11. The Birth of Motion Pictures
  12. Birth of a Nation
  13. The First Movie Stars
  14. The "New Woman" in Movies and the Blues
  15. Radio
  16. Amos 'n' Andy on Radio
  17. Amos 'n' Andy on Film and TV
  18. Gangsters and Detectives
  19. Jazz and Swing
  20. Mickey, Bugs, and Cartoons
  21. Hollywood's Golden Age
  22. Wartime Hollywood
  23. Television
  24. Movies in the 1950s
  25. Comic Books
  26. Rock 'n' Roll
  27. Elvis
  28. Boomer Girls' Pop Culture
  29. Boomer Women's Pop Culture
  30. Counterculture and Counterrevolution
  31. The 1970s Revival of Hollywood
  32. Punk and Disco
  33. VCRs and Cable
  34. MTV
  35. Rap and Hip Hop
  36. Content Ratings Systems
  37. Media Consolidation
  38. Reality Television
  39. Video Games
  40. "Smarter" TV
  41. Is Pop Culture Really Good for You?

Many thanks to Adam & Company for generously agreeing to host this pedagogical experiment, and to all of you for your witty and thoughtful contributions to our discussions. I've learned a lot from this experience, and I hope that you have, too. See you in the comments section.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

LIKE TETRIS: On the one hand, a really likeable team was Philiminated from the Race tonight. On the other hand, it was because airport intrigue actually mattered, and one of those tiny rules that Race fans know well crept up again.

This has been a very old-school season for the show, and I'm a fan. That said, part of that means we're likely going to end up with Young, Athletic Types in the end, and are already bereft of all-female teams. We've got a lot of world left to travel with not a lot of teams remaining ... they're usually well into Asia by the time there's just six left.
I DIDN'T STEAL TELEVISION, BUT IF I DID, I DID IT FAIR AND SQUARE: Aaron Sorkin's The Farnsworth Invention got pretty roundly panned by Ben Brantley, but my assessment of it is far more kind. The first question is whether Sorkin has learned from the failings of Studio 60, and the answer is mostly yes. Although the play could be read as being self-justifying with Farnsworth as Sorkin's proxy being taken advantage of by the evil RCA/NBC people, two things undermine that reading. First, Sorkin's clearly been fascinated by this story for a long time (see, e.g., the early Sports Night discussion of the topic). Second, David Sarnoff (the RCA head) isn't one-dimensionally evil--he's as close as there is to a villain in the piece, but is far more complex (and credit not only to the script, but to Hank Azaria's performance there). Also, this is Sorkin's least political (and certainly least partisan) work in a good while. There's little or no political sermonizing.

And the good stuff's mostly still there. People still talk fast and talk smart. Sorkin's big themes--the goodness of American idealism and innovation, the dangerous relationship between addiction and creativity, and the idea that television can be a force not just for moneymaking, but for good--are evident in his prior work as well. Indeed, the play ultimately is about the power of American innovation winning over obstacles and the joy of creativity (the response not just when there's an initial image, but when Farnsworth figures out how to get a sharp picture are just moments of unbridled joy). Yes, there are flaws (the narrative device of having Farnsworth and Sarnoff each narrate the other's story isn't entirely effective, and the play can be a bit didactic at times), but it's a darn solid afternoon or evening at the theatre.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

ALRIGHT, WE'LL GIVE SOME LAND [...], BUT WE DON'T WANT THE IRISH: I do hate it when AMC edits down classic films for broadcast.

Three trivia notes on Blazing Saddles: Brooks approached Johnny Carson to play the Waco Kid; he declined. Gene Wilder agreed to do the role so long as Brooks would consider his movie idea next ... and his idea was Young Frankenstein. And it is apparently the first Hollywood film to have a fart joke.
HOW CAN YOU DO THAT FOR $595? The Commodore 64 is 25 years old, and it still has a lot of fans.
AND YOU GOT THIS FAR WITHOUT A SENSE OF SMELL: The first ten minutes of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story are available this weekend for free, and certainly indicate a much more deadpan and less manic tone than prior Apatow films.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Roger Catlin | TV Eye: Repurposing the Grammys

SHOUT IF IT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD: So, last week's 25 Greatest Grammy Performances Ever special (sorry I'm late, but the whole childbirth thing) was an interesting telecast, though the list itself was probably in reverse order, thanks to fan voting on the Internet and the general tendency of the Grammys to get things wrong.

Yup, if you told me that the top five ever included Aretha Franklin's "Nessum Dorma", Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand's "You Don't Bring Me Flowers", "No More Drama", Jamie Foxx and Alicia Keys on "Georgia on My Mind" and the incomparable Melissa Etheridge/Joss Stone "Piece of My Heart" (about which I've said plenty) (that link also contains much YouTubage), I'd have believed that far sooner than a top 5 list with Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera, Shania Twain and Green Day's "American Idiot" bizarrely at number 1.

Still, it's a decent piece of fodder, but no 14 Minutes of Funk!, no Soy Bomb, no ODB?

Philly's own 'Bonnie & Clyde' | Philly

"HAPPINESS AT THE MISFORTUNE OF OTHERS"? THAT IS GERMAN! For a week in which I've had very little time to think deeply or about complicated issues, the tale of Philadelphia's '07 Bonnie and Clyde, Rittenhouse grifters Jocelyn Kirsch and Edward Anderton, has just been a heck of a lot of fun.
CAUTIONARY WHALE: Juno has gotten a lot of Oscar buzz, with Dave Poland's Gurus of Gold having it in the top 10 for picture, screenplay, leading actress (Ellen Page), and supporting actress (Jennifer Garner). Yes, the screenplay's great (though at times it reaches the level of being a bit too post-ironic and self-aware), and the ensemble is damn solid (though I wish Michael Cera had more to do). Also, credit to the trailer cutters and promotions people for not giving away a substantial plot turn late in the film at all. It's Garner's performance, though, that really makes the movie work--in the hands of a lesser actress, her character could have easily wound up as a tightly wound caricature, which would throw the movie off-balance. Instead, Garner turns the character into something far more nuanced, which makes Juno's decisions at the end of the film much more plausible and affecting. It's well worth your while, even if you have to put up with the jackasses who sat behind me, apparently passing a bottle of Old English back and forth during the film while shouting at the screen.
NUTHIN' BUT A "G" THANG: In Part One of Everything Bad Is Good For You, Steven Johnson argues that popular culture (particularly video games and television) has become increasingly complicated and intellectually demanding over the past generation or so. In Part Two, Johnson asks whether this cognitively challenging culture is indeed making its consumers "smarter." As you might imagine, his answer is "yes."

Johnson builds his argument around the phenomenon known as the the Flynn Effect, named for the philosopher James Flynn, who discovered that IQ scores have been steadily and significantly rising over the past fifty years (once you remove the periodic recalibrations that help to ensure an "average" IQ is 100). This increase has been particularly striking on tests that measure "general intelligence factor," or g, which governs our problem-solving and pattern-recognition abilities. Although experts have offered a range of possible reasons for the Flynn Effect (broader education, better diet, growing familiarity with standardized testing), Johnson's hypothesis -- summarized in a May 2005 article for Wired -- is that the growing complexity of popular culture may well be contributing to the increases in IQ and g. After all, the features of today's video games, TV shows, and movies that Johnson most celebrates -- probing and telescoping, following narrative threads, tracing networked connections, "filling in" and "leaning forward" -- both shape and reflect precisely the cognitive qualities measured by g. Now, Johnson is careful to frame this claim as a hypothesis, not a causal analysis, and he also admits that the whole enterprise of intelligence testing is fraught with controversy. Still, he comes pretty close to stating that playing Zelda or watching 24 will help you score better on an IQ test.

But why have we been choosing more "complicated" pop culture in the first place? Isn't pop culture all about the race to the bottom, the lowest common denominator, what 1970s TV executives called the Least Objectionable Programming? Johnson argues (in a section excerpted here) that this conventional wisdom is undermined by some fundamental economic, technological, and neurological realities. The "economics of repetition" demonstrates that producers will profit most by creating popular culture that can withstand and even encourage repeat viewings, as consumers uncover and enjoy the complexity of a multi-level video game or a richly layered TV show like The Simpsons in syndication or Lost on DVD. Technology has reinforced this economic trend over the past couple of decades, thanks to devices like VCRs, DVDs, and DVRs, all of which facilitate repeated "close readings"; moreover, the rapid appearance of these and other technologies (video games, PCs, the Web) itself forces our minds to "adapt to adaptation," exploring and mastering complicated new platforms and systems and thereby becoming more receptive to challenging content. And neurologically speaking, Johnson asks, don't we want, even need to be mentally stimulated and exercised? Neuroscientists have found that our brains are hard-wired to seek out challenges, not to wallow and atrophy. For all of these reasons, then, consumers have demanded more complicated popular culture over the past thirty years, and it's that complexity -- rather than any offensive or objectionable content -- that Johnson believes deserves our attention, even our praise.

So, once more, with feeling: How persuasive are Johnson's arguments? Do you believe that today's popular culture actually fosters increased intelligence? Why or why not?

Next week: classes end Monday, so we'll fill out some course evaluations, and then we're done. Hope you're ready for finals!