Saturday, September 15, 2007

Television Without Pity 2006-2007 Tubey Awards: Tubey Awards of Questionable Cachet

INCLUDING THE AWARD FOR "BEST FAKE '80S-STYLE MUSIC VIDEO GENERATED FOR A SITCOM: Ah, it's TWoP's Tubey Awards season again, with sections including the reader vote-based Memorable Moments and Thingies, The Montgomery Burns Awards for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence, and The Biggies, plus the staff's Tubey Awards of Questionable Cachet, which includes this post's title and....
The Dr. Nikolas Van Helsing Memorial Award
What does every rich person need? An enabling medical doctor. And that's why Dr. Leo Spaceman, physician to 30 Rock's Tracy Jordan and Jack Donaghy, is this year's recipient of an award given to MDs who remind us that medicine isn't an exact science, but a frustrating venture that must continue even after the powerful bread lobby shuts down your groundbreaking studies. Now, who wants some reds and purples?

Sean Young still can't catch a break | Sean Young | Movie News | Movies | Entertainment Weekly | 1

"I'M NOT JULIA ROBERTS. AND I COULD HAVE BEEN": Entertainment Weekly catches up with actress Sean Young.

Friday, September 14, 2007

ANY PLACE THAT INSPIRED SONGS BY LOU REED, TOM WAITS, AND DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE MUST BE IMPORTANT: This week's news that Astroland, the Coney Island amusement park, may well be closing for good prompted a wave of nostalgia for Coney Island's supposed glory years. But Astroland dates only to 1962, and even the Cyclone, the park's signature coaster, is just eighty years old (a mere blink of the eye to us historians). For the true heyday of Coney Island, you really need to go all the way back to the turn of the 20th century, the era covered in John Kasson's marvelous book, Amusing the Million.

Kasson argues that urban recreation in Victorian America tended toward the "genteel" and the "rational," as exemplified by Central Park in New York and the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. But the amusement parks at Coney Island -- Steeplechase Park (1895), Luna Park (1903), and Dreamland (1904) -- provided a much different sort of public recreation. At these stunning new attractions, visitors of all classes could escape to an exotic world of sensation, excitement, and wonder, where for a few hours they could freely ignore the normal rules of everyday life.

A day at Coney Island offered an astonishing variety of entertainments to choose from. You could cavort on the beach, flirting with total strangers in revealing swimwear (scandalous!); you could enjoy a whole host of thrill rides, from "shoot-the-chutes" to the roller coaster; you could stay until dark and gape at the spectacular electric-light displays. Kasson argues that the Coney Island parks "manufactured the carnival spirit": they allowed turn-of-the-century New Yorkers to throw off social conventions and cultural norms for a brief time, before returning to the industrial-corporate order of the workweek.

A century later, however, even that limited feeling of communal rebellion has disappeared from today's massive theme parks, with their corporate management, synergistic cross-promotions, and hefty admission prices. And as the Astroland story suggests, the independent amusement park is a dying breed. Yet summer after summer, we keep coming back to these places. Why? At a time when we can amuse ourselves so easily on our various private screens (TVs, computers, iPods, video games), what kind of amusement can we get at an amusement park that we can't get anyplace else?

Next week: vaudeville, ragtime, Tin Pan Alley, and the birth of the movies.
GIVE ALL THE LeROYS TO THE LITTLE RICH BOYS: I hate to link to stories in the Wall Street Journal because of the whole paid-subscription issue, but this one is too bizarre to pass up. Apparently the new new niche among collectors of expensive artwork is children. Children such as nine-year-old Dakota King, who has been collecting since she was four and about whom one gallery owner effused, "she has such a great eye for art." Or eleven-year-old Charlie Rosen, who has decorated his room with Warhol drawings of airplanes and who recently spent $352,000 at a Sotheby's auction to buy a Jeff Koons sculpture of a gnome. Or the positively venerable Taylor Houghton, whose candy-themed art collection is sufficiently extensive that the 14 year old fields calls from dealers offering tips when new pieces become available.

The article's author, Kelly Crow, calls the phenomenon "a collision of the art boom, the wealth boom and the Baby Einstein approach to parenting," which I suppose is accurate on some level, but to me it just seems kind of weird.
HAS HE MELLOWED? Roger Ebert's reviews today include six four-star reviews, including three major releases (The Julie Taymor/Beatles Across the Universe, Paul Haggis/Tommy Lee Jones' In the Valley of Elah and David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises), plus three-and-a-half stars for Jodie Foster's The Brave One, her revenge flick directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, The Butcher Boy) and co-starring Terrence Howard and ALOTT5MA fave Naveen Andrews.

Back in college debate, we used the expression "point fairy" to describe those judges who magically sprinkled extra points on the debaters in a round, but I've never taken Ebert to be overly generous with his ratings. (That said, our friend Carrie only dropped two stars on Jodie Foster, and three on Mr. Cronenberg.)

The fall movie season has begun. What's your choice this weekend?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

BETTER THAN TKTS: A few theatre ticket things for those on a budget. Roundabout Theatre is offering $20 tickets (through Hiptix!) for its shows, which currently include Pygmalion (starring Claire Danes, Jefferson Mays, and Boyd Gaines) and The Ritz (with Kevin Chamberlin and Rosie Perez). Similarly, the Kline/Garner Cyrano De Bergerac is offering $20 last row tickets through Ticketmaster. 3 shows for $60, even if from the very back? That's a pretty sweet deal. Field trip, anyone?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

TONY BOURDAIN - CHEF TOPPLER: The man has a gift. I may get all fan-boy if I don't watch myself.

Colicchio gets his serious face on and says "this was the worst dish we've had in three years," but the criticism, though doubtless it is fair and well-observed, is flat and lifeless when placed next to Tony's spicier more creative expressions of culinary dismay. Tom's dig would have sounded better -- more serious, dramatic and more direly condemnatory -- if Bourdain had not just busted out with "not in prison, you couldn't serve that" as the culmination of his own acrimonious tear against the dish in question. In his own words, from this week's blog post:
"Short of biting the heads off kittens while dressed up as a storm trooper, I don't think I could look any less sympathetic."
Far from it, Tony -- Mr. Bourdain... CHEF BOURDAIN! My apologies! -- allow me to do more than sympathize: allow me to pretend I could actually taste the food and so participate vicariously in your charismatically expressed disgust! Yes! YES!! That was the Devil's Own Broccolini! You just kicked my favorite remaining contestant off the show and all I can say is "thank you." Thank you for keeping this artificial process of illusory culinary adventure amusing for me.

It's down to five now, so everybody chime in with who you've got for the finals and the win. I'll take Casey v. Dale with Casey as the winner, based entirely on the "guitar of victory" overdub that she got tonight while presenting her elimination challenge dish. They've been setting us up to like these two for awhile, quietly, and NorthPark Center vs. Halsted Street makes for an amiable contest with tidy cross-appeal for key Bravo target demographics.
MAY YOU BE INSCRIBED IN THE BOOK OF PARODY: The year 5768 is almost at hand, and the folks who brought you watched the "I've Got A Crush On Obama" video have this clever holiday greeting.

L'Shana Tova, everyone.
"WHERE YA HEADED, COWBOY?" "NOWHERE SPECIAL." "NOWHERE SPECIAL....I ALWAYS WANTED TO GO THERE." "COME ON.": We often seen the Western as a nostalgic genre, full of romance, adventure, and longing for a mythical age of wide-open land, good guys and bad guys, and trusty horses. But even as Americans were settling the frontier during the 19th century, the Western had already emerged as a popular style of entertainment. James Fenimore Cooper celebrated the "nobleman of Nature" in Natty Bumppo, the frontiersman hero of his Leatherstocking Tales. Davy Crockett, a real hunter and Indian fighter -- who reportedly kil't him a b'ar when he was only three -- became a mythic Western figure through the tall tales of the Crockett Almanacks, best-sellers in the 1830s, '40s, and '50s.

Westerns really took off with the development of dime novels: cheap, sensationalistic adventure stories targeted toward adolescent boys. Beginning in the 1860s, dime novel publishers churned out thousands of these tales, mixing standard narrative formulas and promises of "virtuous" heroes with heaps of violence and a fondness for outlaws. The most famous Western dime-novel hero was "Buffalo Bill" Cody, a former Pony Express rider, army scout, and, yes, buffalo hunter who became the subject of hundreds of books and dozens of stage shows (performances in which Cody often played himself). Cody's celebrity reached its peak in the 1880s and '90s, when he toured the world in Buffalo Bill's Wild West, a spectacular outdoor show that combined historical re-enactments, Indian performances, horse races, riding contests, and marksmanship demonstrations featuring "Little Sure-Shot" herself, Annie Oakley. The Wild West shows spawned numerous imitators and shaped popular impressions of the frontier; ironically, though, they flourished at precisely the moment when that frontier was seemingly "closing."

Of course, the end of the real frontier didn't mean the end of the Western. The genre moved easily and successfully into motion pictures; in the early decades of television, Westerns dominated dramatic programming, with 28 primetime "oaters" in 1958-59 alone. In recent years, though, pop-culture critics have argued that the Western's time has passed, and that occasional critical or commercial triumphs like Dances with Wolves or Unforgiven are merely the exceptions that prove the rule.

What do you think, pardners? Is the Western really dead and buried? After all, last weekend's debut of 3:10 to Yuma and the pending release of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford -- movies featuring big-name stars like Russell Crowe and Brad Pitt -- has sparked some discussion that the Western might finally be back. And there was certainly lots of love 'round these parts for Deadwood. Or have Westerns simply transformed into other genres, set not on the plains but in the final frontier of space?
WELL, HE DID TEACH AMERICA ABOUT KING TUT: This year's Kennedy Center Honorees "for their lifetime of contributions to American culture through the performing arts" are Martin Scorsese, Brian Wilson, Diana Ross, Steve Martin and pianist Leon Fleisher.

I would have argued that Martin's honors were a bit premature, but he's already 62 years old, and compared to Scorsese (64), Wilson (65) and Ross (63), I guess he fits.

A list of past honorees can be found here.


LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE: The title says it all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

WON'T YOU PLEASE ALLOW ME TO CLEAR MY THROAT? As part of my continuing quest to link to sixty percent of the AV Club's list content, here's their 10 Great Songs Nearly Ruined By Saxophone ("Young Americans", anyone?), and in the comments (both there and, hopefully here), those for which the addition of saxophone helped. Buena, buena, and I hope we'll have some lively debate on "Who Can It Be Now?", "Never Tear Us Apart", "Never Surrender" and other hits.

This 80's Sax Solos page is an awesome resource.
SCHINDLER'S LIST AND MUNICH. I THINK I SPEAK FOR ALL JEWS WHEN I SAY, "I CAN'T WAIT TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS TO US NEXT." TRILOGY!: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is set to invite Jon Stewart back to host its 2008 awards show. - Wolf drives a hybrid to NBC

DUN DUN: Next for L&O helmer Dick Wolf -- Law & Order: Med Mal Unit.
EIGHT ESSENTIAL VITAMINS AND THEY'RE MAGICALLY DELICIOUS: Last week I promised to compile and total your lists of the best songs of the '90s. First let me say that of the 100 songs on VH1's list, more than 70 received at least one vote. Now on to the top 10.
7. Loser by Beck (5 votes)
7. Groove Is in the Heart by DeeeLite (5)
7. I'm Just a Girl by No Doubt (5)
7. Buddy Holly by Weezer (5)
5. Jeremy by Pearl Jam (7 votes)
5. Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O'Connor (7)
4. You Oughta Know by Alanis Morissette (8 votes)
2. Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana (9 votes)
2. Losing My Religion by R.E.M. (9)
1. One by U2 (11 votes)
U2's victory gives me an excuse to link to the my all-time favorite Ben Stiller Show sketch.
PARENTAL GUIDANCE SUGGESTED: I always enjoy observing the MPAA's explanations for their ratings, which appear below the rating in small type, be they noting that "some teen partying" helped warrant a PG-13 rating for Mean Girls, or that "momentary teen smoking" was why Hairspray was rated PG. Matineer has gathered his 10 funniest MPAA explanations, including that "strong bloody ninja violence" warrants an R, "a bawdy puppet show" warrants a PG-13 (but "graphic, crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language; all involving puppets" can get you an NC-17), and "intense depiction of very bad weather" can get you a PG-13.
ALWAYS REMEMBER 9/11 -- NOW OPEN UNTIL 12AM: The Burger King on Columbus Boulevard nearest my house never fails to disappoint with its slightly inappropriate signs around this anniversary -- last year, I believe, was "Always Remember The Heroes -- Italian Chicken Is Back!"

But we are at a sixth anniversary of that awful day, and while others can handle the geopolitical ramifications, our beat here remains culture, and there is no question that the day's effects are dotted across our cultural universe -- whether in explicit responses like United 93, Bruce Springsteen's The Rising, "24" (whose creation preceded the attacks, but which has undoubtedly been influenced since) or The Onion's 9/11 Issue and South Park's brilliant "Osama bin Laden Has Farty Pants" episode, or in more subtle ways -- "Lost," which sometimes plays in the fields of parable.

I am not sure that we've had a "great" piece of art or culture which accurately conveys that day; I don't know that we could. But I figured I should open up the space to talk about the ways in which pop culture has attempted to interpret that day, six years ago today.

Stu Bykofsky | Flyers, Sixers offer all-you-can-eat plans | Daily News | 09/11/2007

FROM THE CITY THAT BROUGHT YOU WING BOWL AND CHUBBY CHECKER: For the 2007-08 season, the Philadelphia 76ers and Flyers will be offering two sections' worth of "all you can eat" seats entitling you to all the hot dogs, popcorn, nacho chips/cheese/salsa and soft drinks you can stomach while watching the locals disappoint you again.

Monday, September 10, 2007

MAYBE SHE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO DOING ANOTHER MUSICAL: In the category of "puzzling career decisions," Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson will follow-up the ensemble drama that she just finished shooting with a supporting role as Carrie Bradshaw's assistant in Sex And The City: The Movie. Given that SATC took its fair share of lumps for being less than wholly racially inclusive, certainly an interesting casting choice.
"ONE MORE REASON TO BELIEVE THAT EVERYONE IN NEW YORK CITY HAS LOST THEIR MINDS": It's not often, I suspect, that one can try to excuse one's lack of posting by referring others to a documentary on the subject. However, today would be that rare occasion. (Getting in . . . Kindergarten airs again tonight at 2 am.)
BREAKING!!: Kornheiser 60% less irritating when seated by Jaworski vs. Theisman. Related: Jaworski 100% less irritating than Theisman. Eagles fans, take heart! Question: Could moving the Capitol back to Philadelphia lead to less irritating government?

Developing: Government in Philadelphia rumored EXTREMELY IRRITATING. Repercussions of main story likely confined to football.
CUE HEDWIG'S THEME: With two movies to go, the Harry Potter film franchise has passed James Bond and Star Wars as the biggest film franchise in history. $4.47 billion (and still counting on Order Of The Phoenix) worldwide ($1.47 billion domestic). (Bond is at $1.44 billion domestic, and Star Wars at $2.1 billion domestic, counting all re-releases/reissues.) Let's use this as an open thread to discuss the movies. Some suggested discussion points: Who'd you like to see direct Deathly Hallows (Alfonso Cuaron is probably a contender, but remember that Azkaban was the lowest grossing of the films in the U.S.)? Would you go see a "marathon" screening of all 7 in a row? (Likely starting early in the day and climaxing with a midnight show of Deathly Hallows.) What should the kids do with themselves now? Is Radcliffe making the right choices or the wrong ones?
THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS: P.T. Barnum towers over American popular culture, working in nearly every major medium and cultural form of the 19th century and wielding a breadth of influence unmatched until perhaps Walt Disney. Barnum presented and even performed in blackface minstrel shows, further popularizing that hugely successful format. He organized the triumphant American tour of opera singer Jenny Lind, a/k/a "The Swedish Nightingale," demonstrating the continuing fuzziness of highbrow/lowbrow boundaries in antebellum American culture. Later in his career, he reinvented the once-disreputable circus, re-imagining it as a family-friendly spectacle and showcasing the most famous elephant in history, Jumbo. He wrote a classic American autobiography, Struggles and Triumphs. He even served a term as mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut -- though there is no proof to the rumor that he built the city's first jai-alai fronton.

But Barnum's most fascinating legacy came from his American Museum (brilliantly recreated online by CUNY's American Social History Project). Opened in 1842 and flourishing until its destruction by fires in 1865 and 1868, Barnum's American Museum cleverly mixed entertainment and uplift, sensationalism and moralism. In the showman's words, his museum offered "an encyclopedic synthesis of everything worth seeing in this curious world": natural history specimens, waxworks figures, historical paintings and dioramas, live animals, and random bizarre objects (most notoriously, the famous FeJee Mermaid, which was promoted like this but actually looked like this). And then there were the human oddities -- the "freaks," as they would later be called. Some, like Chang and Eng or Tom Thumb, were displayed because of their physical differences; others, like the supposed missing-link "What Is It?", fed on popular anxieties about race and evolution. Whatever the attraction, though, Barnum knew how to sell it. Even (or especially) when the exhibit was a hoax, Barnum's audiences actually enjoyed the "humbug." As he put it, "the public appears disposed to be amused even when they are conscious of being deceived."

A century and a half later, much as we'd like to think that we're more sophisticated than Barnum's audiences, the popular fondness for hoaxes and freaks endures. Does this mean that we're still living in the Age of Barnum? Or did old Phineas simply tap into something deep within the human psyche, something far beyond any particular time or place? Share your own Barnumesque experiences with freaks, geeks, and hoaxes, and help us figure out whether a sucker is, indeed, still born every minute.
FEATURING WILLIAM HUNG AND HIS HUNG JURY: There is a massive billboard in Times Square, as well as many subway ads, for the upcoming TV show Jury Duty, in which (according to the website) "Celebrity Jurors Deliberate REAL Small Claims Cases." Of course, "Celebrity" is used loosely, with the touted "jurors" including Bruce Vilanch, Jm J Bullock, Dawn Wells, and Shadoe Stevens. Is it wrong that I'm still holding out for Mock Trial With J. Reinhold?
ARCHEOLOGY IS THE SEARCH FOR FACTS, NOT TRUTH: We can complain that nothing interesting happened on the VMA's, but we did get an official title for Indiana Jones 4 out of Shia LeBeouf--Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Here's the "official logo." No idea what "crystal skull" Dr. Jones and his cohorts will be seeking, but you bet I'll be there.
GIMME, GIMME LESS: I saw enough of last night's MTV Video Music Awards to confirm that way out of the network's target demographic at this point. I guess I'm supposed to know who Fall Out Boy is by this point, and I think I saw them mentioned in Blender once, but, wow, am I old.

(As is Ms. Spears, who now stands barely months away from playing eight shows a week in Tunica and Branson, the less said about her lethargic, pathetic "performance" the better. And was she so desperate for a "comeback" that she couldn't get a pledge from MTV that she wouldn't be immediately followed by five minutes of Sarah Silverman just eviscerating her?)

Oh, for the good old days, when the VMAs mattered, or you could at least see a good performance, a memorable one or a halfway-decent spectacle, or at least see a guy get hit in the head with his own falling guitar (4:00 in).

Sunday, September 9, 2007

NFL Game Center: Play-by-Play - Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay Packers - 2007 1

UN-SPECIAL TEAMS: Wow, was Jeremy Bloom that bad? Ugh.
THE AWARDS WERE GIVEN IN A SPECIAL BOX AT WAIST LEVEL: Last night, the Creative Arts Emmys were presented (a/k/a: all those categories that usually no one cares about). Winners included a number of ALOTT5MA faves and focuses (foci?), including:
  • Friday Night Lights (Outstanding Casting For A Drama Series)
  • Elaine Stritch (Outstanding Guest Actress/Comedy, 30 Rock)
  • House (the episode with the really, really, obsese guy who dies of cancer, for prosthetic makeup)
  • TAR (for reality program editing and cinematography)
  • Dexter (for main title design and editing)
  • HIMYM (outstanding art direction, for three episodes, including the ones with the quietly vanished blue horn)
  • Wade Robson and Mia Michaels (choreography)
  • Timberlake, Samberg, et al. (outstanding original song, "D**k in a Box")
  • South Park (outstanding animated program, "Make Love, Not Warcraft")
  • Battlestar Galactica (outstanding visual effects)
  • Rome (cinematography, art design, hairstyling)
  • Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (outstanding guest actor, drama, John Goodman)
  • Kathy Griffin: My Life On The D-List (Best Reality Program, distinguished from Best Reality: Competition Program, over Penn & Teller: B******t and Crying and Hugging Time With Ty Pennington)
  • Spike Lee (outstanding director, nonfiction programming, for When the Levees Broke)

Some inexplicables (Stanley Tucci beating Martin Landau and Beau Bridges for Guest Actor/Comedy, Leslie Caron beating Kate Burton for Guest Actress/Drama, The Tudors beating 30 Rock for theme music) but a pretty good series of awards.