Friday, December 28, 2007

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

Please provide your additional lessons for the year in comments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 27, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

What are you reading?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

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

Monday, December 24, 2007

MacGowan exclusive -

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

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

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

Your suggestions are, of course, welcome.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

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

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