Saturday, March 3, 2007

THERE'S MORE THAN ONE WAY TO LOSE YOUR LIFE TO A KILLER: Zodiac is a movie about the difficulty of learning the truth, and in a very post-9/11 way: so much data and information is out here about a serial killer that no one knows what to do with it all, or even how much it actually has to do with his crimes. And no one's even on top of all the information, since killings in multiple counties have led to various police departments each having a stake in the case, and they're doing an awful job of sharing. (No better advertisement for the Total Information Awareness program exists.)

Obsessive open source research, Robert Downey Jr. "acting" as a guy with alcohol/chemical problems, Chloe Sevigny still atoning for Brown Betty Bunny by playing another sexless, repressed woman, plus a toupeed Anthony Edwards and a Gyllenhaal? Mark Ruffalo looking like Bruce McCulloch in Dick? Sounds like a hell of a movie, right?

Okay, I'm not describing it right. This movie kicks ass. Real life doesn't fit the neat narrative structure of a traditional serial-killer film like Se7en, and this is a film committed to telling the truth about this police investigation and the paranoid culture that a (possible) serial killer can cause, and not the cheap thrill of seeing Gwyneth Paltrow's head in a box. Or any cheap thrills or easy drama at all. As Nathan Lee notes, "It's a film that never raises its voice because it needs to speak clearly and carefully. It's got a hell of a lot to say."

Zodiac is an absolutely compelling take on the difference between believing and proving, and the how much it can take to reach the latter point. See it. Oh, yes. See it.

e.t.a.: Russ makes the appropriate Malcolm Gladwell point in the comments -- Zodiac is a film about a man who sees a mystery where everyone else sees a puzzle.

Friday, March 2, 2007

COME ALL YE LOYAL CLASSMEN NOW, IN HALL AND CAMPUS THROUGH: Hurrah, hurrah for the red and blue University of Pennsylvania Quakers, who won their third straight Ivy title tonight, beating Yale to become the first official entrant in the field of 65. (While you're setting up your brackets, be mindful of the fact that this isn't one of those Penn teams, with Allen/Maloney or Jordan.)

In other news, the Amherst (25-2, #6 in the country) open Div III tournament play tomorrow night when they host the Widener University Pride (15-12) in round two. It's the Lord Jeffs' seventh straight tournament appearance and sixth straight first-round bye. Nice going, Coach Hixon.
IT'S THE EPISODE MY WIFE WANTS: My wife is desparate to see the Andrew Lloyd Webber episode of Grease: You're the One That I Want (Week 5). If you have the means to burn it on a DVD or somehow transmit it over the Internets or know of a place to find it on the Google, please, please contact me in the comments.
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA, LOVES ITS DONUTS: Pay close attention to the small text in the Krispy Kreme graphic on this local NBC newscast (YouTube), and learn a lesson about not blocking-and-copying your broadcast art from the Internets, or at least reading them before you do. Link via Deadspin; punchline via Chris Rock.
INDUCTION JUNCTION: It's yet another installment of the post that keeps you up-to-date with all things Halls of Fame related.
  • Van Halen's bumpy road to the Hall of Fame induction continues. First a much-anticipated reunion tour with Diamond Dave taking the stage with the brothers and son Van Halen was canceled. And now comes the news that the band itself won't even perform at the ceremony. That honor will inexplicably belong to Velvet Underground Revolver, the band led by ex-Stone Temple Pilots helmsman Scott Weiland and featuring Slash on guitar.
    In other Rock Hall news, the list of presenters has been released. Eddie Vedder will do the honors for R.E.M. And VH1 Classic will air the entire ceremony live on March 12, 8:30 EDT.
  • The other big Hall news this week was the fact that baseball's revamped Veteran's Committee kept its perfect record intact by failing to elect anyone to Cooperstown. Ron Santo again came closest to election, being named on 57 of 82 ballots (70 percent--75 is required for induction). You'll find a lot of hand-wringing on the Google about why Santo, of for that matter, anyone, can't get elected, but I thought this quote from Bill James in a column by ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski says it best:
    "To me it is clear and unequivocal that Santo is a Hall of Famer. ... Putting guys like George Kell, Freddy Lindstrom, and Tony Lazzeri in the Hall of Fame while you leave out Ron Santo is like putting Dalmatians, Palominos, and Siamese in the zoo while you let the lions roam the streets."
  • Former Reds and Tigers skipper and Torey Lovullo booster Sparky Anderson, who was enshrined in Cooperstown in 2000, will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame this summer in recognition of the seven years of minor league ball he played in the Great White North. And speaking of our neighbors to the north, Darren Flutie, little brother of Doug, was elected to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, which ordinarily would not be newsworthy except for the fact that Doug, who last fall was named the top player in CFL history, has yet to be so honored despite being eligible.
  • As promised last week, this year's WWE Hall of Fame class includes Dusty Rhodes, Jerry "The King" Lawler, and the late Curt "Mr. Perfect" Hennig. Still no Macho Man? What's up with that, Vince? This year's induction ceremony is March 31 at Detroit's Fox Theater.
  • Dave Hyde, a columnist for the South Florida Sun Sentinel, proposes a Sports A to Z Hall of Fame, but can't find a worthy X candidate. I say the X-Man deserves the honor if for nothing else than the greatest sports cameo of all time.
  • Here's an interesting story about two competing organizations in San Antonio both claiming the name the National Hispanic Sports Hall of Fame. Both will have separate induction ceremonies this spring with different honorees.
  • And in our semi-regular "Small Hall" feature, congratulations are in honor for Billy Long who was inducted into the Missouri Auctioneers Hall of Fame, which I encourage all our readers to visit should their travels ever lead them to the Resort at Point Arrowhead at Lake Ozark
ALL WE NEED IS A DRUMMER: I was recently asked to prepare a mix CD for a dance party. The crowd will be mostly in their 30's and early 40's. Give me some ideas. What would get you out on the floor?
AND MORGAN FREEMAN AS THURGOOD MARSHALL: Commenter Kate brings to our attention this item in the Washington Post, which strikes me as worthy of front-paging. Linda Greenhouse's Becoming Justice Blackmun has been optioned for development as a stage play. Sadly, Greenhouse notes in the article, "We're not talking 'Harry Blackmun: The Musical.' It would be an intimate, character-driven drama." Two directions we can go with this, of course. First, suggest your own musical songs or titles for SCOTUS-related musicals ("Machinery of Death" as Blackmun's big 11 o'clock number? "How Do You Deal With The Dissent of Scalia?" Whizzer!: The Bryon White Musical?). Second, the article suggests Sean Penn, Liev Schreiber, Hugh Laurie, and William H. Macy as potential leads. I'm sure you can do better. (James Gandolfini as Scalia?)

Thursday, March 1, 2007

THE EXISTENTIAL WILLIES: It's been a while since I've seen a movie get as universally good reviews as David Fincher's Zodiac, opening Friday and starting Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards. Concludes EW's Owen Gleiberman:
Zodiac never veers from its stoically gripping, police-blotter tone, yet it begins to take on the quality of a dream. It's an analogue of the post-9/11 world, where the enemy is specific yet, by virtue of his self-projection, omnipresent, and therefore impossible to pin down. As the '70s roll forward, the investigators move on to other cases, but Graysmith, the amateur, can't, and Gyllenhaal, who marinates his boyishness in quivery tension, makes that obsession ours. Slithering into police libraries, interviewing suspects, tearing his family life apart, he's eaten up by the need to know, and he makes connections no one else does, but does he solve the case? By the time he fastens on to a monster, maybe the monster (and maybe not), Zodiac leaves us haunted by the knowledge that he's looking for something that can't be found: a way to make the monsters go away. A
Or if you're going to see Black Snake Moan this weekend, you can tell us.
NOTE TO SELF: Self, before bringing up the infamous John Bolaris "Storm of the Century" incident with a local anchorman in conversation at a benefit dinner, please check next time to ensure that said anchor was not, in fact, working at that station at the time. D'oh. He was cool about it, however.
FEELING GOOD . . . OR NOT: Who knew that AI had a curse? Two of tonight's four bootees weren't necessarily among the four worst singers of the week, but I feel pretty confident that none of them had the slightest chance of winning. No injustice to be found here.
FREE THE SWEET TEA! The New York Post gives us both good and bad news for those of us who enjoy high quality and (relatively) low cost fast food in NYC. The good? Three Fatburgers in NYC within the next 12 months! The bad? Chick-Fil-A continues to say no plans to enter the market.
WEDNESDAY NIGHT (LOW)LIGHTS: There were some sour notes last night in what could have been a nice evening of highbrow, lowbrow, and middlebrow TV. To wit:
  • Sure, a Hurley flashback on Lost is welcome respite from this season's misguided focus on Jack, the Others, and Zoo Island, even if the main story didn't advance the plot or tell us anything we didn't already know. Nonetheless, I think that stuntcasting Cheech Marin is the most glaring casting mistake the show has made (it usually does a great job finding character actors who can play with nuance and dignity). Also, I always find it distracting when the show tries to pretend that Oahu is somewhere else. I'm pretty sure that the fences in Diamond Bar, California aren't made out of volcanic rock.
  • This seemed like the weakest and, in other ways, the most confounding Friday Night Lights I can remember. The weakness was in the writing of the "thanks-Mean-Joe" Riggins plot, which smacked of a network note reading "give us a cute kid to warm Riggins's heart," and in the miscasting of a hammy eight-year-old irritant in the Cousin Oliver role, to mix a metaphor. (An aside: I read an article in an LA alternative weekly about how the actor who played Cousin Oliver is the Quincy Jones of the unhip LA power-pop scene.) The counfounding was in the appreciation of the writers' comfort in acknowledging a conflict between two heroic and likeable characters (Tami and Tyra) arising from the fact that both care about and have good intentions for Julie, mixed with disappointment in the recognition that both are a little bit wrong and in the too-neat way the plot was tied up. And by the way, who played Cousin Oliver's mom? It's really bugging me.
  • Welcome back, America's Next Top Model. Too bad I can't watch you this season. I've thought that Tyra's recent assault on beauty norms was disingenuous, but it's just plain silly to carry that over into her show about models. Even the Britain's Next Top Model Cycle One contestants are laughing at this ugly bunch.
DOUBLE DOSE OF DENBY: This week's New Yorker has two pieces from one of my favorite film critics, David Denby -- an essay on the whole narrative-out-of-order thing which has been the rage in contemporary cinema for the past decade-plus (Pulp Fiction, Eternal Sunshine, etc.), and a glowing review of Amazing Grace, the story of British abolitionists starring Ioan "The Human Typo" Gruffudd, which concludes with an insight that surprised me, yet seemed true, and upon which some here might want to opine or offer insight:
Our founding crew of statesmen and intellectuals were no less gifted than Pitt and Wilberforce, but, despite an endless number of best-selling books about them, there isn’t a single good movie devoted to their efforts.

If he's right, why hasn't it happened? What particular slice of history would make a good movie about the Founders?

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

THE KIRBY SILVER SURFER IS THE ONLY TRUE SILVER SURFER: Now, I'm all for summer blockbuster hype starting early, but does anyone else consider it a little odd that it seems like advertising for Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer, which doesn't arrive until June, has reached moderate saturation already? I mean, there's substantial outdoor ads in NYC, and the 30-second spot on Lost tonight couldn't have been cheap. I've yet to see substantial advertising for Nanny Diaries, Shrek The Third, Pirates 3, or Spidey 3, all of which arrive in theatres before FF:ROTSS. Obviously, they want to try to get out the message that "this one doesn't suck" as thoroughly as possible, but isn't this a bit extreme?
THIS WEEK'S "PLEASE STOP IT WITH THE ASL HAND MOTIONS ALREADY" AWARD GOES TO . . . ALAINA! So here's the problem with the girls' bracket on AI. As I mentioned last week, generally speaking, the black girls have it all over the white girls this year. But thus far, the black girls are all poorly differentiated from each other -- except for Lakisha and Melinda, who are each fairly distinctive and whose backstories have gotten a lot of airtime. I don't think this is going to be outcome-determinative just yet, as there are still plenty of non-differentiated sub-par white girls to kick off (Alaina / Antonella / Haley), but I suspect that we will ultimately see a Stephanie, a Jordin, or a Sabrina depart the show before her time just because of the way AI demographics tend to work.

All that being said: I continue to believe that Melinda kicks the snot out of Lakisha. Last week it was more a matter of taste, but this week it was the difference between a good singer and a great one. Truth be told, I also preferred Sabrina to Lakisha, who was just sort of generic-Gladys-Knight-coverish. I actually kind of liked Leslie this week, too, especially the more-or-less a capella part at the beginning, although she makes me nervous every time she moves any part of her ungainly body. (Who knew that AI could give us two performances of the same Nina Simone song in a single week?)
VANITY FAIR IS FULL OF CARBS: An interesting follow-up spurred by Alex's magazine posting--aside from the wonder that is this series of tubes, what do you find essential in your "media diet" for obtaining information? For me, it's most of the NYT, a fair amount of NPR, The Daily Show, and a few magazines here and there (Newsweek, Washington Monthly, EW). The last time I watched any significant TV "news" was that I TiVo'ed Katie Couric's CBS debut. What say you--what are the fruits and vegetables of your media diet (say, The Economist) and what's the sugar (say, US Weekly)?
AS A BONUS, HE'S ONE OF THOSE UNEMPLOYED PEOPLE LEE ELIA WAS TALKING ABOUT: If you really follow the Chicago Cubs, you already know this, but Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wants to buy the Cubs from the Tribune Company.

I don't know what the sentiment is like there in Chicago, and I don't know what Cuban's chances are, but if I were a Cubs fan, I would start sending Cuban money to get this done. A lot of people get irritated by Cuban's antics -- hounding the refs; staging publicity stunts -- but he is otherwise exactly what a team should want from an owner. First, he's a critical thinker who is likely to hire like-minded people, and critical thinking can have more of an effect in baseball (where "because it's always been done that way" still is an accepted rationale) than in some other sports. The Cubs have made a lot of easily-avoidable mistakes (Soriano and Baker come to mind), and my guess is that Cuban ownership would put an end to that. Second, he thinks hard about how to improve the fans' experience -- he's been more of an innovator in that area than anybody in the NBA. For Cubs' fans' sake, I really hope this happens.

GOOD Magazine | Goodmagazine - The 51 Best* Magazines Ever

GOOFUS JUST CLICKS ON THE LINKS; GALLANT TAKES NOTE OF THE BLOGGER'S WITTY TURNS OF PHRASE AND CLEVER SUBJECT HEADS AND OFTEN LEAVES ENLIGHTENING AND INSIGHTFUL COMMENTS: Good Magazine lists The 51 Best Magazines Ever, including not only obvious choices like The New Yorker (No. 2), Playboy (4), and National Geographic (12), but singling out title's particular halcyon eras like Esquire 1961-73 (No. 1), Spy 1986-91 (7), and Rolling Stone 1967-76 (11). And any list inclusive enough to include Might (No. 19), Tiger Beat (51), and, yes, Highlights (24) earns my praise.

Dylan Hears a Who!


Deadline Hollywood Daily » Seinfeld Auditioning To Host 80th Oscars?

GREENER THAN THOU? The NYT investigates whether Whole Foods is "lagging behind [its] leading shoppers" and has become insufficiently committed to locally grown produce, reducing its carbon footprint, etc.

On the flipside, when I served on an exploratory committee during this mayor's race, I seriously recommended turning a part of the City's website into a version of the Whole Foods bulletin board -- the City should be confident enough in its ability to deliver services to allow citizens to make their complaints public and demand specific answers (and results) in return, though I'll settle for a well-functioning 311 system.

Philadelphia Inquirer | 02/28/2007 | Daniel Rubin | A casualty of an everyday battle

"THE IDEA I HAD MY NECK BROKEN BY A STUDENT ... IS OVERWHELMING": Having wrapped up Blinq, the Inq's Dan Rubin begins his term as print columnist by visiting with the local high school teacher who got beat up for confiscating a student's iPod. Sad.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The New York Times > Robert's Steak House Restaurant Review > New York City Restaurant Reviews

DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING TO? The "send a restaurant critic to a strip club to try the steak" review subgenre usually seems tired, and yet Frank Bruni makes his trip to the Penthouse Executive Club worth reading. For the steak -- not the women. Promise.
FELL IN LOVE WITH THE DRUMMER, FELL IN LOVE WITH THE DRUMMER: No, Isaac, no one did Wilco on Idol tonight, but we did see a fascinating innovation: DrummerCam. I want that back -- tomorrow, next week, all season long.

That was the highlight of the night. Number two would be Blake Lewis' triumph over Chris Richardson in this week's "white guy who can funk" competition, with "Virtual Insanity" topping "Geek in the Pink", whatever that is. No one, truly, was as good as the top 4-5 women last week, but nor was anyone as bad as the bottom guys this week . . . except for Sanjaya, who whispered his way through "Steppin' Out With My Baby" like he was Michael Jackson circa "Man in the Mirror".

Other than that? Sligh was pretty good, but not great, on Ray LaMontagne's "Trouble", and everyone else was just kinda there. Nothing special. Bring on the ladies.

e.t.a.: Oh, snap. The NYT's Virginia Heffernan lets loose on the show: "Known at the outset for her busty tops and sweet cheerleading — her 'mom I’d like to sleep with' vibe — [Paula Abdul] has lately become a different kind of mother. Dazed, delirious, sulky, petulant, lascivious: she often looks tired and confused, running some words together and inventing others. ... No [Corey Clark] specifics seemed to stick to Ms. Abdul, who Fox maintained had done nothing wrong, but the aura of loucheness is almost palpable. Gone is the perky soccer mom with the ’80s dance moves. She now regularly wears the pliant smile, smeared makeup and bedroom eyes of a woman who’s about to pass out."
THE PRICE IS WRONG: So, will Bob Barker playing "Bob Barker" on HIMYM when Barney manages to get on TPIR be more or less fun than Bob Barker in Happy Gilmore? I particularly admire the (inadvertent, I assume) description of Barker as "legendary" in the article. Relatedly, last night's HIMYM got me to download "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" and led to the question--what exactly does "And if I haver yeah I know I'm gonna be/I'm gonna be the man who's havering to you" mean?
CLUCK THA POLICE: In the petting zoo justice system, the furry animals are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups: the chickens, who investigate rabbitry; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the rabbits. These are their stories. Thanks, YouTube.
IT'S IN YOUR HEAD: One of the joys of RockStar: SuperNova is that we got get to hear the competitors perform songs that aren't the same twenty songs we hear every year on Idol -- not just "And I Am Telling You", not just the same ten Motown songs, not just Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Wonder, but songs like "Zombie", "Bitter Sweet Symphony", "Heroes" and "Pennyroyal Tea" which present enough of a vocal challenge that they wouldn't be out of place in Idol's singing competition.

So help them out, dawg: suggest a song you haven't heard on Idol with which you believe someone could do an impressive job. I've previously suggested "White Flag" by Dido for any of the show's belters, and here's one more: almost any guy on the show should be able to nail "Wonderwall" by Oasis, and it could be awesome. I imagine, though, that you could do better.

Monday, February 26, 2007

HELP ME ALOTT5MA READERS; YOU'RE MY ONLY HOPE: To pick up on a conversation from earlier today, I've long wondered how to introduce my daughter to the Star Wars films when the time is right -- in the order in which we saw them (IV-VI, then I-III), or in the order in which they go chronologically (I-VI)? As PJ put it in the comments,
You have think - which would be the bigger shocker. finding out that Darth Vader is Luke's father (which means you start with IV), or following the story from the start and wondering if Luke and Leia will find out who they are and who Vader really is.
Of course, there remains the issue of figuring out what happened in the twenty years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope ...
I'M WAITING FOR WOLVERINE MEETS ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: There are things so bizarre, we couldn't make them up. I think there is little or no question that Archie Meets The Punisher makes that list.
I DON'T WANT TO BE A PRODUCT OF MY ENVIRONMENT. I WANT MY ENVIRONMENT TO BE A PRODUCT OF ME: I think it's useful, after a night like that, to remember that the Academy Awards reflects just one particular way of honoring a year in film. Plenty of memorable films and performances were not even nominated for last night's Oscars, and we should take a moment here to jot down their names before it's all forgotten.

To me, remembering 2006 in film also means remembering Spike Lee's return to form in Inside Man, an entertaining genre film like The Departed filled with solid star performances and twists aplenty. (Indeed, 2006 was the year that Clive Owen became a star, between that and Children of Men.) While I only saw one dueling magician film last year, The Prestige has stayed with me for a while, and it's only a matter of time before Christian Bale starts compiling his own deserved set of nominations.

And on the lighter side, Will Ferrell may have made a lot of crappy decisions over the past few years, but Talladega Nights isn't one of them. We know that Snakes on a Plane wasn't perfect, but it still had a lot of snakes on a MF plane, and the months of hype beforehand were their own form of bliss. And finally, the 2006 hit that wasn't released in a single theater, but which our kids will pinpoint to this year just as we do 1977 for Star Wars -- High School Musical -- a sappy, formulaic, and utterly wonderful little happiness factory. Just because it's pitched to tweens doesn't mean it's not a lot of fun for us as well.

And for you?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

I CAN'T DRIVE 55 50 40: Tonight's Race was a set-up to an excruciating climax -- you knew someone was going to screw up the driving directions on the last leg of the night. It was just a question of who and how, and it did not go down as I expected. We'll talk about that, about Schmirna's increasing loathsomeness and one kick-ass little roadblock -- and yes, you are allowed to follow me to the Comments.
TIME TO RETIRE FROM THAT MALT SHOP IN THE SKY: Okay, so Frankie's gotten a little long in the tooth to play Teen Angel. But tonight, for the first time, I feel like we really have a bona fide frontrunner for the role of Sandy. Laura (Small Town Sandy) is the first girl to try to do a "sexy" Sandy who has actually come across as affirmatively sexy. See Ashley's "These Boots Were Made For Walking" and Allie's "I Love Rock and Roll" for examples of how angry ≠ sexy. After three weeks of strong performances, Laura has become the one to beat. Tonight's farewells were the right ones, I think, although I'll save the discussion for the comments since I suspect that many people are watching this on a delay. Next week is all-Danny week -- Greased Lightning, here we come!
A TWO FOUR HOUR MEAT PARADE, A PUBLIC DISPLAY WITH CONTRIVED SUSPENSE FOR ECONOMIC REASONS: Welcome to the 79th Annual Academy Awards. We'll all be live-blogging in the comments -- join in!

Fametracker :: Blue Moons :: The 2007 Rasco P. Soultrain Awards

ONE PART CIRCUS, ONE PART FREAK SHOW, ONE PART DANCING MONKEYS, ONE PART NUCLEAR MELTDOWN: If tonight is what it is, then now has up its Oscar Predictions via the Five Clones of Karl Malden and the The 2007 Rasco P. Soultrain Awards for outstanding achievements in the arena of famous-ness, including Most Undeservedly Famous Person of the Year, The William H. Macy Memorial HITG! Graduation, Famous Person of the Year, and some worthy thoughts on Anna Nicole Smith.
YOU'RE A GENERAL KNOWLEDGE GOD! A small movie out worthy of your attention is Starter for 10, which they're having difficulty marketing and figuring out how to sell. While they've done their best to sell it as a standard issue British Romantic Comedy, it's more a coming of age movie about Brian Jackson (James McAvoy, best known to American audiences as Mr. Tumnus from Narnia or the guy tormented by Forest Whitaker in Last King of Scotland), a working class kid in England who goes to college, where he pursues his goal of becoming "clever." And how does he do this? By playing University Challenge--hence piquing my interest. While there, he's torn between his hot blonde UC teammate (rather inaccurate, based on my experience) and a politically active brunette, as well as his old working class friends. It's a tender and touching flick, made all the moreso by the soundtrack--the movie's set in the 80s, and the soundtrack is full of great 80s songs (The Cure, The Smiths, Kate Bush, Tears For Fears, and a most memorable use of Motorhead). Well worth checking out, and pretty much unquestionably the top in its limited genre of "Comic Movies Featuring Academic Competitions As Major Plot Points."

On the Web, a new life for deleted scenes

WHO THE HELL IS RYAN TALKING TO? Nice piece from our friend Alan Sepinwall on the increased online availability of deleted scenes from favorite tv shows. If you have just a minute to investigate, this clip from last week's Office will delight.