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?