Saturday, September 8, 2007

Mark My Words (Flickgrrl)

I AM A STAR. I'M A STAR. I'M A STAR. I AM A BRIGHT SHINING STAR: Carrie Rickey [heart] Mark Wahlberg.

Gallery of  Contestants and Champions

EINSTEIN HAS BEEN SURPASSED: Reason #4,329 to love the internet -- the Gallery of Contestants and Champions from the recent World Beard and Moustache Championships. Here's Beard Team USA, which also runs a blog.
A REVIEW OF A COMEDY LANDMARK I BARELY REMEMBER*: Adam reminds me that it's been a few years since I posted about Herman's Head. Sorry if you've heard my spiel on this before, but it's worth raising from time to time so that people don't forget our common comedy lineage, in which Herman is our patriarch.

Herman's Head was an early Fox sitcom running from, I want to say, 1985-1988, despite what that liar IMDB says about it running from 1991 to 1994. Herman's Head told the story of boring everyman office drone Herman (William Ragsdale), who was less a character than a static boundary between the more interesting people surrounding him -- the vain beauty, the chummy misogynist, the lovelorn plain girl -- and the reified character defects inhabiting his brain (the humorless overthinker, the humorless immature idealism, the humorless pansy, the unfunny sex-obsessed slob; no wonder Herman lacked a whole lot of charisma). The people on the outside of Herman bounced off of him; the people inside him rattled around, and ever so rarely, one group would make an impression on the other.

To fully understand the influence that Herman's Head has had on all of our lives, we should first think about what wouldn't exist without it. Sex and the City, certainly, is basically a remake. I'm sure I've advanced here my pet theory that the characters on that show are really facets of the same single woman -- her ambition, carnality, domesticity, and self-obsession -- and that the perfect finale would have been to pan back to see them all stuck in the real character's Herman-like (but more annoying and dressed more like an overly theatrical four-year-old making her first foray into clothes selection) head. Entourage offers a similar, if more realistic, metaphor for the components of the average male brain in young Hollywood -- status-obsession, money-obsession, fame-obsession, debased sex-obsession, with pot-obsession spread over the entire crew. Those are the obvious ones, but Herman really informed a lot of other work more subtly, from Being John Malkovich to Fight Club to Friends. It's safe to say that none of those works would have seen the light of day if Herman hadn't blazed the trail.

Of course, if the show were nothing but high-concept, it would have gone the way of its contemporaries, shows about cat-eating alien puppets, hideously creepy childlike robots passed off as real children, and gassy blue-collar dinosaurs. What saved it from that fate was its stellar cast: William Ragsdale, a man so telegenically and ubiquitously bland that he later was perfectly cast as a non-threatening romantic foil to a pre-out Ellen, and who was tragically killed by George Newburn in a territorial battle over neutered chino-wearing marriage material (a territory now known as Tedmosebia); then-unknowns Hank Azaria and Yeardley Smith, taking complementary second jobs so that they didn't have to hold out for more Simpsons money; Jane Sibbett, later better known as the first of Ross Gellar's three wives (it seemed like 40% of the recurring players on Friends came from Fox's early sitcom lineup). It was 71 episodes of a legendary cast and groundbreaking innovation that laid the foundation for the next decade of televised comedy.

And don't get me started on its companion, the Tea Leoni/Corey "the Forgotten Corey" Parker/Clea Lewis/older brother of Paul Giamatti vehicle Flying Blind.

*Due to faulty memory, some aspects of this post may be fabricated or wildly overstated

Friday, September 7, 2007

DREAMS THE WAY WE PLANNED 'EM, IF WE WORK IN TANDEM: So I actually hadn't seen Wicked until seeing the touring company in Philadelphia tonight. Yep, that's one good musical -- whether as Oz retelling, political allegory, anthem for the misunderstood or just plain song-and-dance-and effects night at the theater. "Defying Gravity" kicks inordinate amounts of ass, and I only wish I had seen the original Menzel/Chenoweth production too ...

If you're around NYC, Chicago, LA, or any of the cities the tour is visiting, it's a must.
ROB GORDON'S LISTS ONLY GO TO 5: John Cusack thinks that "I've made 10 good films".

That many?
A LOSER AND A CREEP: Seven years into the 00s and VH1 has officially made it OK to start the '90s nostalgia with its list of the 100 Greatest Songs of the '90s. Ahead of the December five-part airing (Any early guesses on who will host? My hunch is Chris Kattan and Lisa Loeb, for no particular reason.), you can vote for your favorite top 10.

ALOTT5MAers, let's put together our own top 10. Leave your 10 picks in no particular order from the VH1 list in the comments below and we'll put together our ALOTT5MA Top 10 of the '90s early next week.

And, yes, the VH1 list sucks in many ways. Only one song per artist and in most cases they chose the artist's hit as opposed to their best song(s), but there is enough wheat here to put together a good list. As a bonus, list one song and one song only from the '90s you wish had made the list.

Here are my top 10 (in no order) and one omission:
  1. One (U2)
  2. Creep (Radiohead)
  3. Losing My Religion (REM)
  4. Closer (Nine Inch Nails)
  5. Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)
  6. Loser (Beck)
  7. Doll Parts (Hole)
  8. My Name Is (Eminem)
  9. Groove Is in the Heart (Deee-lite)
  10. MMMBop (Hanson)
And my omission is Son Volt's Windfall. Your turn.
LIKE AND EQUAL ARE NOT THE SAME THING AT ALL: Madeleine L'Engle has died--best known for A Wrinkle In Time and its sequels/compansions. Like C.S. Lews and J.R.R. Tolkien before her, she took stories that people thought were for children and turned them into something far greater for all ages. She will be missed.
LOVE AND THEFT: Blackface minstrelsy was perhaps the most popular form of stage entertainment in the 19th century -- and easily the most difficult for 21st-century Americans to understand. At first (and second and forty-seventh) glance, minstrel shows seem to be nothing but unadulterated racism: white performers in grotesque makeup and garish costumes singing in heavy dialect about happy, foolish slaves. And there's no doubt that racism drove much of minstrelsy's popularity, especially among immigrants and the working class, who now felt that they had somebody to look down on.

But both performers and audiences may have had additional motives and inspirations. American popular culture is full of moments when white producers have appropriated elements of black culture for purposes of entertainment -- ragtime, jazz and swing, rock 'n' roll, rap -- and minstrelsy represents the first chapter in that long history. At the same time, some white performers and audience members may have actually identified with black slaves, through a common nostalgia for rural life or a sense of lower-caste laborers locked in "mudsill mutuality" (as W.T. Lhamon claims in Chapter 3 of our textbook). This combination of admiration and appropriation -- of Love and Theft, in the words of historian Eric Lott (later adopted by Bob Dylan) -- makes minstrelsy incredibly complicated to analyze. Indeed, it's one of the most contentious topics in pop-culture studies, as evident in this brilliant review essay by rock-critic god Robert Christgau.

What's really remarkable, though, is just how long minstrelsy lasted. Well into the 20th century, movie stars like Al Jolson and Judy Garland were "blacking up" for musical numbers. Moreover, the stereotypes created by minstrel shows would dictate the roles that black performers could play on stage and screen for decades. Today, of course, we can't imagine any performer using blackface or singing about "darkeys" and "ole massa". But that instinctive revulsion makes it hard to understand the enduring power and appeal of the minstrel show. When Spike Lee used the minstrel format in Bamboozled, many viewers and critics couldn't get past the offensiveness of blackface and dialect to see the bitter (if ham-fisted) satire underneath.

So is minstrelsy really dead? Or does it live on in other forms? And what does its long history say about the role of race in American popular culture? Pretty heady stuff for a Friday, I know, but I'm confident you're up for it.

Next week: Barnum, dime novels, Westerns, and Coney Island.
AT LEAST GO TO VEGAS SO YOU CAN GET COMPED: Hidden in the story that Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-MNWI) has won a $1,000+ prize in a lottery for the third time is the bizarre fact that his most recent winnings came not from the "match numbers," but from "enter[ing] a Super 2nd Chance drawing. To enter, people mail at least $5 in losing tickets to go for the $1,000 prize in a drawing every Thursday." Am I the only one shocked that a Congressman (particularly one who apparently has an $11.6 million net work) has the time to do this?

Editing to clarify that Mr. Sensenbrenner is from Wisconsin.
THE POPCULT FANTASY DRAFT: With last night arguably marking the start of the new TV season with "season premieres" of Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? and Don't Forget The Lyrics, time to note the tough TiVo decisions and moments that make us grateful for cable company provided dual-tuner DVR's this fall:
  • Mondays at 8--How I Met Your Mother v. Chuck. I'll be DVRing both, but Chuck would lose out if I had a single tuner (in part because I'm sure it'll be rerun on Sci-Fi to no end). I'm still undecided if I'll give The Big Bang Theory a shot. Likable cast and hyper-aggressive ad campaign, but buzz is horrible. Maybe I'll give Aliens in America (which has positive buzz) a shot instead.
  • Tuesdays at 9--House v. Reaper. Again, will try both, courtesy of the dual-tuner, but Reaper will have to offer more than cheesecake of Missy Peregrym to stay on the list.
  • Tuesdays at 10--Boston Legal v. L&O: SVU v. Cane. Boston Legal gets a slot, if just because I am a charter member of the Society For Post-Ironic Shatner Appreciation (SPISA). Cane is either going to be really good, or unspeakably bad. Any thoughts?
  • Wednesday at 9--Private Practice v. Criminal Minds v. Bionic Woman v. Gossip Girl. Much as I like Joe Mantegna, "generic Bruckheimer procedural #412" doesn't play for me, which leaves us with Shonda v. Ron Moore v. Josh Schwartz. I think I'll take Shonda and Josh, especially with Bionic rerunning on Sci-Fi.
  • Thursdays at 8-10--Ugly Betty/Grey's v. Survivor: China/CSI v. "Comedy Night Done Right." NBC/ABC win for me, though I'm still undecided about being a late adopter of Betty this season (the pilot left me a little cold, but the bits and pieces I've seen since have had promise).

Any other TV-watching dilemmas you have for the upcoming season, besides "Why god why is Cavemen on the air?"

Thursday, September 6, 2007

SPECIAL TO COMMENTER KATE: I know it's juvenile, but given U of M's drop from national championship contender to "others receiving votes," I had to post this list from Radar of The Worst Colleges in America, which includes a certain East Lansing school as the Worst of the Big Ten. (You Cornell grads may want to skip the article.)
I CAN'T DO THIS, TROY. NOT WITH EVERYONE STARING AT ME: In what's either a deft maneuver to extricate herself from High School Musical 3 (Ms Darbus: "Gabriella's going to be away for the next ... nine months") or a really dickish invasion of her privacy perpetrated by intended beneficiary Zac Efron, a nude picture of HSM star Vanessa Hudgens has surfaced on the internets, which she has acknowledged is real.

No, I'm not going to link to it -- you can find it easily enough if you're so inclined. Instead, I'll pose two questions: (1) is this going to end up being the most scandalous nude photo release since the days of Madonna and Vanessa Williams?, and (2) okay, what lines from High School Musicals 1 & 2 can be ironically quoted in this context?

All I have to say is, thank goodness 11-14 year-old boys don't know how to use the internet yet.
THAT'S LIKE FAILING WOOD SHOP, OR LOSING TO MERRILL HOGE IN A GAME OF MEMORY: Deadspin's new weekly column, Big Daddy Drew's Thursday Afternoon Dick Joke Jambaroo, isn't particularly insightful, and it isn't even particularly safe-for-work, textwise. But it sure is funny. An example:
Five Potential Key Injuries

• Thomas Jones (strained calf)
• Eli Manning (withered psyche)
• Chad Johnson (broken inner child)
• Warren Sapp (swollen gunt)
• Rodney Harrison (elephantitis of the mandible)
I'll be looking forward to this one all season.
SORKIN SENDS HIS REGRETS: Official ALOTT5MA TV Critic/Ambassador to New Jersey Alan Sepinwall, empaneled with TV Guide's Matt Roush and Television Without Pity's Wing Chun (note: 100% Canadian; 0% Asian), will be discussing how online TV criticism is shaping the medium at this weekend's New York Television Festival. If you're nearby, you should go (and it looks from the comments like Matt will be there). Suggested audience questions:
  • If asked to rate Pushing Daisies on a scale of 1 to 10, is there any acceptable answer other than "twee"?
  • Alan, can you please tell New York what web sites you visit for amateur TV criticism, and can you please speak slowly when giving the URL?
  • Tara, what exactly happened with the name MightyBigTV?
GOOD TIMING: The mail just came and it included a big renewal pack from the University of Michigan Alumni Association, replete with my very own commemorative Big House photo. On the bright side, at least, my alma mater isn't "Hot, Hot, Hot!"
I'M GONNA KILL JIM HALPERT: In sad, somewhat surprising (if you read her MySpace blog, but I suppose not if you're a cold-hearted realist or if you were listening to what Ethan Hawke said) news, Jenna Fischer and James Gunn are divorcingseparating.

Over/under on kudos doled out by Pam Beesley's MySpace friends?
SO YOU THINK YOU CAN...: Snap judgment time! "I Won't Dance," "I Don't Dance," or "I Can't Dance?"

Luciano Pavarotti, Italian Tenor, Is Dead at 71 - New York Times

THE MAESTRO: Luciano Pavarotti, Italian Tenor, Is Dead at 71. Speaking of that debate about the line between High Art and popular culture ...
HAVE YOU SEEN HER LATELY? According to the NYT's Virginia Heffernan, Chelsea Handler's late-night show on E! is finally the show that lets her talents shine: "She’s just good, this Handler girl. She’s a writer, above all, so she can turn a joke around fast. She’s also genuinely good looking, and has a way of saying withering things through a smile that works. She makes late-night look pretty easy."

Of interest to some here will be the way Heffernan positions Handler among Joan Rivers' comedic heiresses. "Her style is a friendlier, more workaday version of the haughty self-abasement practiced by Sarah Silverman, another junior Rivers, leavened by the everywoman spirit of Kathy Griffin.... There’s something suspiciously sophisticated about how her jokes line up that suggests the moral austerity of a comic not of Ms. Rivers’s bad-girl school: Tina Fey."
ANOTHER PALACE TO IMPLODE: My fellow natives of Northeast Philly and thereabouts will be saddened to learn that the Orleans 8 Cinema has closed. The two big screens at the Orleans, in their bowling-alley shaped rooms -- were still among the grander in the City, especially feeling that way when I got to first base with a high-school date during Say Anything. The Orleans is also where I saw the midnight preview of Tim Burton's Batman, one of the more thrilling cinematic experiences of my life, and where my friend Craig and I went the night of our senior prom, opting instead to see -- Craig, correct me if I'm wrong -- Peter Greenaway's The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, an odd choice for anti-prom night or, really, any night.

The space where the theater stands is likely to become a Target.
IT’S ALL ABOUT MAKING THE MOST OF WHAT YOU HAVE: Good advice, Padma. And it’s true whether you’re playing fantasy football or competing on Bravo reality television programs with pretensions to presenting high culture. That’s not to say, however, that it isn’t ridiculous to expect folks to shop for two hours of food for seventy people on $350 and then present something truly fabulous, or that I didn’t giggle to myself on draft day every time someone felt like their best option was to take a Brown or a Raider.

This week on Top Chef III, one contestant decided that making the best of what he had meant trying to quit, twice — standing pat on “pride” the first time and “You know what? F*ck them. I’m great. They don’t get to judge me…” or words to that effect, the second time — as his ego repeatedly wrote checks that his subsequent performance failed to cash. He closed with some almost believable speeches about how he was going out of his way to be less pushy and abrasive, and how he had finally come to realize that competition could make room for team work. We’ll call him “Terrell”, for now, to protect the innoce—er, the eliminated. We wish him luck in his future endeavors.

In the Quickfire, everybody got $10 and a single randomly chosen aisle of the supermarket to shop on. To abuse a metaphor, we might liken their predicament to having to take a random NFC Defense to fill in during your regular squad’s bye week: unless you draw Chicago, Dallas or Philadelphia, god only knows what you’re in for.

Hung (San Francisco) was so screwed he decided he might as well go finger-paint, praying that bold juvenile improvisation might make up for any number of other factors. His division rivals loved him for it. The scoreboard… not so much. “Terrell” (Atlanta), was optimistic (as always) about his chances given what he had to work with, but messed up big time, lost a key player, and had nothing to present once the season started. CJ (Tampa Bay) had some hope of a respectable showing, but added the wrong ingredient (Jeff Garcia) to the mix at the last minute. (And am I the only one wondering if CJ ever gets to say “Oh, just have fun with it Padma” when they’re off camera?) Dale (Arizona) cooked up a spicy spectacle that obviously managed to make an impression, but not necessarily in a good way. Nice, though, that he knew what the judges were in for, and had the water ready. Casey (yes, Dallas is Dallas) pulled off a passable wafer pudding, and Sara (Philadelphia) came through with “free form ravioli” deserving of accolades, but Malarky (Chicago), crushed all opposition and took the win with his inspired everything-from-a-can combo of spam, eggs, something, something and spam. Just goes to show that if the rest of the pieces are in place, even spam (yes, that’s you, #8) can be a winner. Around here, we positively loved that Bombay honored their contractual obligation to suggest a “perfect” accompanying Sapphire Cocktail for Brian’s spamtastic winning dish. Hey there Bombay! What do y’all stir up to go with the Cheese Whiz, yo? Because I’m tailgating this weekend, and I do love me some nachos!

As a side note, yes, technically there is a spoiler in that last paragraph, if you can count. But if you’ve watched the show this season then you knew who “Terrell” really was right about “F*ck them. They don’t get to judge me.”

At this point in the post, I’m all out of football tie-ins and I haven’t even got a dig in at Jay Cutler yet. (Could he be the next Jake Plummer? Ah, that’s better.) There is just nothing footbally (which is, I emphasize, not a word) about a fashion show and dinner party on a yacht, unless you invite the Minnesota Vikings and your idea of a “fashion show” is more or less clothing-optional. This, for better or worse, is not that kind of blog.

Though the result in this episode was abundantly just and arguably overdue, I have to say I’m chaffing at the “squeeze them with $350 on the front end, second-guess every sacrifice they make on the back end” format of so many Top Chef episodes. If you want them to create and impress, then give them a budget to create and impress on. If a half-decent job has been done picking talented and passionate contestants, then there should be at least as much drama in the culinary decisions they make as Bravo is currently milking out of the corners that the chefs feel compelled to cut. We all might even learn a little bit more about food. Collichio’s rap against Team Leader Malarkey, that it was his job to hold everyone to one dish, felt in this instance like a hindsight gripe unworthy of the air time it was given. That’s not to say that fewer dishes wouldn’t have been better. No doubt Chef Tom was correct. It just felt like they could have put that speech on cue cards for him the second they settled the budget.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I'M GONNA BE HONEST, I DON'T REALLY WANT THE NATION TO SEE MY UNDERWEAR: I've watched less than 15 minutes of Tim Gunn's Guide To Style, but, unsurpisingly, Tim Gunn + Lawn Guy Land Housewife = Comedy Gold. (And Veronica Webb minces no words, either.) For Gunn fans (and who isn't a Gunn fan?), this is essential viewing.

Exclusive: ER Doc to Make a House Call - Ausiello Report |

WHATEVER THE OPPOSITE OF CHARISMA IS -- THAT'S HER: In a move that may suck as hard as bringing in Dr. Kumar Patel remains awesome, former Homicide/E.R. actress Michael Michele will be joining House M.D. at some point this season.
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A LOT OF PEOPLE THINK I'M STUCK UP. PRETTY MUCH THAT I'M ARROGANT. I ONLY DO THAT WHEN I'M ON THE FIELD: Remember when we liked Terrell Owens, then we didn't like him, then we had some sympathy for him? Based on his new Open Letter to ESPN Fantasy Owners, we like him again, even if he is a g.d. Cowboy, and the fact that he's on the roster of my two keeper teams (Replevin for a Cow, Harold's Chicken Shack) has nothing to do with my optimism. - When Genius Fails: The 10 Biggest Wastes of Talent

IGNORING FOR A MOMENT ALBERT EINSTEIN'S ILL-FATED LINE OF GOURMET PET FOODS: Cracked takes a look at the 10 Biggest Wastes of Talent, including A-Rod on the Rangers, John McCain's current bid for the White House, Chinese Democracy, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
BECAUSE I DON'T SPEND ENOUGH TIME WATCHING YOUTUBE ALREADY: OK, I'm not sure if I'm ready for the iPhone yet, but yes, I'll take the new iPod Touch, which is an iPhone except with WiFi, rather than the cell phone stuff, including full access to the iTunes Music Store via WiFi as well as internet browsing, as long as you've got WiFi. $299 for 8 gig, $399 for 16 gig--in stores later this month.
AND A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD TO HAPPY THE DOG: The Parents TV Council's annual report about what horrible things the networks are airing is always worth looking at. Among the high points:
  • A count of "815 uses of foul language," "677 sexual scenes or spoken sexual references," and "754 instances of violence" in the family hour. (Note, on page 12 of the report, the list of words deemed to be "foul language," including any and all bleeping, and the breakdown by which word was used most often in Table C.)
  • The finding that My Name Is Earl has the most foul language on television.
  • The surprising finding that the CW is, by the PTC's standards, the "cleanest" network (helped by 7th Heaven, their "cleanest" scripted show).
  • Although 24 tops the violence chart for live action shows (it's beaten by The Simpsons), if you're concerned about sexual content? It's A-OK! (Also, Standoff, which, as I recall, was pretty double-entendre ridden, gets "zero sexual content.")
  • Although "verbal references to homosexuality" allegedly constitute "sexual content," TARStars was "sexual content"-free. Huh?
  • How I Met Your Mother is praised for its complete lack of violence. Apparently, slapping someone as hard as you can does not count as "violence." I'm quite sure Barney would disagree.
  • American Idol has "no sexual content or violence." I'm quite certain that those who voted for Haley Scarnato, or fans of the songs Sanjaya "sang" would disagree.
THE PLAY'S THE THING: Matt's post about Broadway's position in the media marketplace offers a neat segue into our next topic in pop-culture history. After all, in the early-19th-century United States, live theater was popular culture. At least, that's the argument made by historian Lawrence Levine in his book, Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America, which is excerpted in Chapter 2 of our textbook. Specifically, Levine claims that performances of William Shakespeare's plays attracted large, enthusiastic, diverse audiences throughout the antebellum period and across the expanding nation. His evidence is pretty impressive, ranging from playbills advertising Shakespeare alongside minstrel shows and acrobatic troupes to the numerous 19th-century parodies of the Bard's work, which worked only if audiences knew the originals. (Levine's work isn't readily available online, but for a wonderful collection of materials on this theme, check out Shakespeare in American Life, a Web-based exhibit from the Folger Library featuring images, documents, and sound and video clips.)

Levine's analysis goes one step further, though, as he argues that, despite (or perhaps because of) Shakespeare's antebellum popularity, his work soon ceased to be pop culture in America, instead entering the realm of the "highbrow." Levine offers several reasons for this shift: increasing ticket prices, the growing availability of commercial amusements, the enshrinement of Shakespeare in academia, and especially class tensions over culture. This last factor is epitomized in the Astor Place Riot of 1849, in which working-class supporters of American actor Edwin Forrest clashed with highbrow fans of British actor Charles Macready. (Pop-culture digression: the story of the riot inspired Richard Nelson's 1992 play, Two Shakespearean Actors, starring SpyDaddy and the voice of Disney's Robin Hood.) After Astor Place, the story goes, Shakespeare was gradually "sacralized," taken off the people's entertainment menu and transformed into cultural spinach, to be consumed only by those intellectual elites who properly appreciated it.

But is this argument persuasive? Even Levine himself granted in a 2002 interview that he might have overstated his case, admitting, for instance, that Joe Papp's Public Theater has brought Shakespeare to the peepul with its free performances in Central Park. The mass media have extended Shakespeare's reach even more, whether you're talking about the dozens of feature films of the plays or the many television parodies. That said, it seems undeniable that Shakespeare still carries a highbrow air, a mark of cultural sophistication that's not consistent with "pop culture" as most folks understand it.

So, ThingThrowers, I turn it over to you. William Shakespeare: pop or not pop? That is the question.
BEND AND SNAP: A question spurred by the recent announcement that Legally Blonde: The Musical will be taped and televised in its entirety on MTV later this month, while continuing to run on Broadway--is this sort of thing good or bad for live theatre? I'd submit it's probably good. Even poorly received film versions of musicals in recent years (Rent, Phantom of the Opera) have led to significant bumps for their Broadway versions, with well-reviewed versions (Chicago, Hairspray) sometimes breathing life into a wobbly-selling show. While a lot of the stuff in Legally Blonde is a great fit for MTV, I don't know how well an extended "Greek Chorus" joke and the Riverdance parody/tribute "Ireland" are going to go over with viewers of The Hills, but "Omigod You Guys" could score with a bullet.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

BIG PILE OF BLOW: I suppose we ought to talk about the Entourage finale, a show which remains, as Isaac wrote two years ago, "SATC with guys instead of women, less sentimentality, and modestly more plot. In other words, instead of being a gay man's fantasy about what it's like to be a fabulous woman in NY, it's an adolescent guy's fantasy about what it's like to be hip in LA."

And in a fantasy, there are no consequences. Over the course of the last season or two, Vincent Chase has lost Aquaman 2, the Ramones movie, the Edith Wharton movie and Lost in the Clouds, on which he could've worked with Curtis Hanson. And MedellĂ­n (surprise!) looks like a disaster. Still, even after having pissed away a $75M distribution deal and being stuck with Billy Walsh on his next film, there's no reason to believe anything in his life will be less than copacetic.

This was a lousy season of television, with every new character -- Yair Marx, Harvey Weinsteingard and Still More Billy Walsh -- just adding to the suck. They're not interesting characters, and they don't make for a funny or interesting program. Give me a season with Drama ascendant and Vincent struggling. Bring back Turtle's Sneaker Girl. Anything but more of the same.
DANCE PARTY TAKES AWAY WACO! While I can't guarantee we'll be providing coverage, there are certainly some pretty awesome panels at this year's New Yorker Festival. Of particular interest:
  • Jenji Kohan (Weeds), David Milch (Deadwood), Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica), David Shore (House), and David Simon (The Wire) on the art of making television.
  • Tim Kring (Heroes), Jonathan Lethem (The Fortress of Solitude), Mike Mignola (Hellboy), and Grant Morrison (X-Men) on superheroes.
  • Calvin Trillin's walking/eating tour of Little Italy and Chinatown.
  • Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen sit down with David Denby.
  • The New Yorker Dance Party, hosted by Sasha Frere-Jones.
SAL'S PIZZERIA RUNS HOLLYWOOD: Spike Lee talks to the New Statesman:
He is clear about the reasons for the dearth of big-bucks black film talent, but torn about the solution. Recently, he had a James Brown biopic project turned down by every major studio. "It's the trilogy that has not been made," he says, laughing bitterly - "first Jackie Robinson, then Joe Louis, now James Brown. For me, it has been a wake-up call. I thought after the worldwide success of Inside Man it would be a little easier to make what I want, but I was mistaken. It all goes back to the gatekeepers. There are very few people in Hollywood - and these individuals are predominantly white males - who decide what you are going to see. And it's a problem. Many times when I go to these meetings, the only black person I see is the brother at the gate who lets me in. Even today, I will sit in meetings about James Brown and I'm the only black person in the room. These people in Hollywood don't see James Brown as the universal figure that he is; they only see him as the subject for a black film."
Raise your hand if you want to see a Spike Lee-directed James Brown biopic, because I sure do. Joe Louis, hells yeah. Jackie Robinson? My first reaction was that there was no way to make such a movie that wasn't a sentimental, cliched "inspirational" movie, and my second reaction was that there'd be nothing wrong with that. For every Miracle, Rudy, or Invincible-type underdog sports movie that's about the triumph of white athletes, it's about time we had one starring a black person that's better than Radio.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Rock Stars More Likely to Die Prematurely - New York Times

RUST NEVER SLEEPS: Shocking headline of the day, based off a new study by researchers at the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University -- Rock Stars More Likely to Die Prematurely.

Or, as the WSJ's James Taranto would say, what would we do without experts?

Rick Rubin - Recording Industry - Rock Music - New York Times

GURU: There are a few reasons why you should read Lynn Hirschberg's profile of Rick Rubin in the NYT Mag. First off, a Hirschberg profile that's completely positive? Secondly, this analogy:
[Then-Columbia Records head Steve Barnett] supported recruiting Rubin. "My wife's father is Dick Vermeil, the former coach of the St. Louis Rams," Barnett explained. "My sons would go to training camp, and when Marshall Faulk started playing for the team, they called me and said, 'Not only is this guy a great player, he makes everyone around him better.' Of course, the Rams went on to win the Super Bowl. I think Rick Rubin is our Marshall Faulk. I knew he would change the culture here."

(If he's the industry's Faulk, is Daniel Lanois its Curtis Martin and T-Bone Burnett its Hines Ward?)

And, you should read the piece just because Rick Rubin is awesome -- for what he has done, for his intelligence about where the music industry needs to be, and for how he got here. Y'all know this, right?
In 1983, while he was attending N.Y.U., he borrowed $5,000 from his parents and recorded "It's Yours" by T La Rock and Jazzy Jay, a 12-inch single that became a local dance hit. Rubin then invented a label, calling his company Def Jam ("Def" meaning great, and "Jam" meaning music), and ran the business out of his dorm room. "The clerk at the front desk handled all the shipping," Rubin recalled.

Russell Simmons, who was then a hip-hop producer, loved "It's Yours" when he heard it on the radio. "I thought for sure that Rick was black," Simmons said. In 1984, a 16-year-old named L L Cool J (Ladies Love Cool James) sent a demo tape to Rubin's dorm room/Def Jam. "He was much better than anything else I heard," Rubin recalled. "And he still is. 'I Need a Beat,' L L's first single, was the real birth of Def Jam." Rubin did not release the track right away — he tightened up the structure, editing the rhymes so they more closely resembled verses in a song. The result is a spare, clean sound, rather than the endless repetitions of most early rap. "I thought the record would do well, and I asked Russell to be my partner at Def Jam. I did all the work from my dorm, and he did the promotion. Russell was five years older, and he was established. By myself, I was just a kid making records. He gave me credibility."

"I Need a Beat" sold 100,000 copies, and in the next year, Def Jam released seven more 12-inch records, selling a total of about 300,000 units. The major labels had ignored rap, dismissing it as a regional fad, but they took notice of Def Jam. CBS offered Rubin and Simmons $600,000 to pick four acts a year, a kind of finder's fee. "I was 20," Rubin said. "I sent a Xerox of the check to my parents. That's when this stopped being a hobby. At that point, I wanted to live the life of an artist."
Indeed, he's living it now.
YOU CALL THAT AN ACTION MOVIE? NOW, HERE'S AN ACTION MOVIE: I'm still trying to persuade myself that Shoot 'Em Up is going to be everything I've been waiting for -- basically the bang bang genre equivalent of Hot Fuzz -- but xkcd has an alternative proposal that we could probably all get behind.
SHATTERED DREAMS: In the current "Monday Morning Quarterback" column, Peter King included a first person account written by Ross Tucker, a Princeton graduate, about how he felt when he was cut from an NFL roster and realized that his pro football career had come to an end. I found the piece utterly riveting.

Even if you are not an NFL fan, you should nonetheless read it. I bookmarked it and plan to read it the next time I have a major setback in my life. Tucker's words are inspiring.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

I THINK YOU ARE GOING TO BE HEARING HIS NAME A LOT MORE OFTEN NOW: Last night Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz threw a no-hitter in his second major league start.

The highlight of the game for me was this play by Dustin Pedroia (the play takes place about 30 seconds after the start of the clip). Is there any doubt that Pedroia is the consensus pick for the AL Rookie of the Year? Unless it turns out to be Daisuke?