Wednesday, December 31, 2008

5-4-3-2-1: Having never watched Idol, I lacked familiarity with the oeuvre of Kellie Pickler prior to her inexplicable appearance on tonight's Primetime Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve With Ryan Seacrest (I'm not joking, that's its entire title), but I certainly think she needs to get off my television set effective immediately. Taylor Swift, on the other hand, continues to impress, especially considering that she was clearly not lip-syncing in the freezing cold (even if she seemed to be fake guitar-playing at a few points). Personally, I'm still looking forward to Will.I.Am, who's apprently going to perform "It's A New Day." Discuss your preferred countdown below.
VOCAL MINORITY: I don't think we've awarded an ALOTT5MA Award for Most Vehement Fan Base, Especially In Proportion to Quality of Work of Which They Are Fans, but this year, that winner is clear--it goes to fans of CBS' cancelled vampire drama Moonlight, who seemingly would spam to death anyone who had the slightest thing negative to say about their beloved show. Yes, there have been more vehement fan bases in the past (just about anything Whedon-y, Star Trek, Veronica Mars, maybe Babylon 5), but this seems to be a winner on the quantity/quality ratio. Other nominees for the award included Twilight and Ron Paul.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BLOCKING: Not every inspirational sports story ultimately has a happy ending (see, e.g., the occasional catch-up coverage on Hoop Dreams), so it's nice to see one that does. The Times catches up today with Michael Oher, subject of Michael Lewis' The Blind Side, talking about his struggles both on the football field and in the classroom at Ole Miss. While the article expresses skepticism about Lewis' projection that Oher is the next great offensive left tackle, it notes that he is a likely first round pick.
CLAP LOUDER! For December 31, we have the annual necrologies--Michael Riedel handles the stage and Alan Sepinwall handles the small screen. EW had a pretty good general set in the last issue as well. (And a subject for debate--who closes the Oscar necrology and gets louder applause--Ledger or Newman--or does one or the other get a special tribute separately, aside from a potential acceptance on Ledger's behalf?)
THE DAY THE "WHY DON'T YOU PLAY MUSIC ANYMORE?" DIED: How'd I miss this? Apparently, at 12:01 AM tonight, barring a resolution, all Time Warner Cable systems, including those in New York, L.A., Hawaii, most of Ohio and the Carolinas, and most major cities in Texas except Houston, will lose all Viacom cable channels--this includes MTV and its sister channels, VH1, Nickelodeon and its siblings and cousins, including Noggin, the N, and TV Land, and Comedy Central. If you're a cable watcher in one of those markets, maybe stick with Clark/Seacrest tonight.
"WE ARE GOING TO HAVE A BLACK PRESIDENT -- LITERATURE SHOULD CATCH UP": According to a new study of Newbery Medal winners for excellence in children's literature (and I can't find the primary materials online), "Characters depicted in Newbery winners are more likely to be white, male and come from two-parent households than the average U.S. child." Worse, the paper claims, is that "the trend has accelerated even as the U.S. has diversified, with fewer black and Hispanic main characters in the past 27 years than in the Civil Rights era of 1951-79," with the last book featuring a Hispanic protagonist to win being Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska, in 1965.

I believe we have folks here who'd like to comment on this.

e.t.a. via tortoiseshelly, go here and search for "Do You See What I See?: Portrayals of Diversity in Newbery-Medal-Winning Children’s Literature," and you'll be able to find the study.
SING ONCE AGAIN WITH ME, OUR STRANGE DUET: Does the world really need The Phantom of the Opera II: The Phantom Goes To Nathan's?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

ALPHABET SOUP: Even though it's the #4 show on TV so far this season (and the #2 scripted show), we have apparently never blogged substantively about NCIS. My Dad is a fan, and between the DVR, USA's constant repeats, I was subjected to multiple episodes over my trip to Houston for the holidays. And you know what? It's not that bad. Heck, it's actually kind of enjoyable. Let's see why:
  • Like CSI: Original Recipe (but not CSI: Extra Tasty Crispy or CSI: Now More Morose), we have a number of characters who are unabashedly dorky. And dorks are represented both in the younger sphere (Field Agent McGee, Forensic Specialist Sciuto) and the older ("Ducky," the medical examiner). Heck, even Mark Harmon gets to indulge his dorkiness from time to time.
  • However, we don't just limit it to dorky. Even though NCIS is an old-skewing show, it has the only regular Goth character on television in Abby Sciuto, who's the perkiest Goth you could ever imagine.
  • The show doesn't take itself too seriously, but rather has a sense of humor about itself. It's neither self-consciously wacky (I'm lookin' at you, Psych) nor so ponderous and self-important that it's no longer fun to watch (L&O:SVU). The mysteries are generally solid.
  • Even though it's filmed in Los Angeles, it's set in DC and generally looks like it rather than LA passing as DC.
  • Bonus points? GFTJ! The NCIS team has a female Mossad liason who's consistently portrayed as the most competent of the bunch and certainly could kick the ass of any of the other team members.
Is it Great Television? No. But it's a reasonably diverting way to spend a half-hour, and with Hizzy vacating the timeslot and other options being decidedly mixed--According to Jim, Idol, 90210, and Biggest Loser--especially for those of us not Idol oriented, it's not a bad choice at all.
LIKE THE NEW YEAR, THIS SNEAKS UP ON YOU: Because I'm old -- the kind of crochety old that knows nothing of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart yet dislikes their attitude -- I didn't get this viral video until now. Just in case we haven't blogged it: Ninja Kitty.
ON THE BORDER: Yesterday I happened to notice that the stock of Borders was trading at less than 50 cents per share (it was as high as $11.60 earlier this year). The same day I read this article about the woes affecting book retailers on account of people reselling books on the internet.

Olsson’s, the leading independent chain of bookstores in Washington, went bankrupt and shut down in September. Robin’s, the oldest bookstore in Philadelphia, will close soon.

My thoughts turned to the (many) Borders gift cards that my family has at the moment. When The Sharper Image recently filed for bankruptcy it treated all holders of gift cards as unsecured creditors, who got (I think) nothing in the bankruptcy plan.

I have NO idea if Borders will file for bankruptcy, but if it does then there is some chance that its gift cards will become worthless. In my neighborhood, these gift cards are very popular items. I did a quick hunt through my house and found we had ten such cards, worth over $350 in total. I am planning to make a concerted effort to use them promptly.

Monday, December 29, 2008

I WILL ONLY SUPPORT THE CANDIDATE WHO PROMISES TO MAKE ME A SPY: One of the most eagerly anticipated awards of every ALOTT5MA Awards Season -- especially if all we've given you in a day is an ad about toilet tissue which spares one the indignity of dingleberries -- is the annual award for Funniest Half-Hour of Television of the Year. Previous winners include:
2004: The Daily Show, Night Two of the Democratic National Convention ("My father was a poor Virginia turd-miner ... ")
2005: South Park, "Best Friends Forever"
2006: The Office, "The Injury"
2007: 30 Rock "The Source Awards"
The 2008 writers' strike impacted the field for this award significantly -- only twelve 30 Rock episodes this calendar year, sixteen of The Office.

There were decent episodes of HIMYM ("10 Sessions"), and I did give much thought to Office episodes like the more-painful-than-funny "Dinner Party", "Chairmodel" or "Did I Stutter?" -- especially the last one (fluffy fingers, Newsies), as well as 30 Rock's brilliant last pre-strike episode, "Episode 210" (about which Alan wrote today, with the Jewish donuts and Gladys Knight).

But ultimately, I have to go with a half-hour that aired the same night as "Chairmodel" -- April 17, 2008 -- because Stephen Colbert was in Philadelphia as part of his pre-primary coverage, and, um, folks showed up for an overstuffed genius episode. Go watch the clips of Barack Obama, noted repairwoman Hillary Clinton, and most brilliantly, John Edwards delivering the W0RD, a piece of intentional comedy that almost makes one want to forget the unintentional tragicomedy he provided later in the year. (Also in the episode: a review of the Philadelphia debate and a sitdown with Rep. Patrick Murphy, who isn't as funny, but he's my friend so I'm linking.)

In a year in which political comedy mattered a great deal, Colbert's being a bit too forgotten (and, yeah, the Xmas special was underwhelming), but for that half-hour, the comedic and political universes centered on his set, and he made the most of the opportunity. Tina who?
FROM THE "WHO ARE THE AD GENIUSES WHO CAME UP WITH THAT ONE?" DEPARTMENT: Seriously, yo, what market research determined that toilet paper users were desperate for a product that promised a dingleberry-free experience?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

FLABBERGASTED: The window crack through which the Eagles could enter the playoffs today to enter the NFL playoffs was staggeringly narrow -- the pigskin equivalent of going five million dollars in debt, having one rival fall in Iowa due to anti-Mormon sentiment with the Iowa winner unable to capitalize on said victory, another rival waiting until week twelve to start playing football and a third simply falling asleep when the game was about to begin.

Yet here we are. In the playoffs, again, with a team good enough to beat the Steelers and Falcons (at home) while splitting with the Giants; bad enough to tie the Bengals and get swept by the Washington club. And good enough to capitalize off every Dallas mistake today to turn a 3-3 nailbiter into a 44-6 asswhipping so complete that words cannot describe the giddiness at the Linc tonight. A crowd that showed up not even expecting this game to matter gathered on the concourses to cheer on the Oakland Raiders, then quickly filed into their seats for one of those games that we'll be talking about in the future with the same glee that The Tommy Hutton Game still gives us tsuris.

I cannot explain this maddening, ridiculous team, and I have no hope for them to advance far in the playoffs. But, hey, we're in. What a year for Philadelphia sports.
FROM THE ALOTT5MA CANINE NOMENCLATURE DESK: Via long-time Jeff (jam) and Sara (sbr929), this update:
Jeff: Thanks for the many excellent suggestions, which have been so inspiring that they have in some ways made a final decision even more difficult to reach. We love many of the ideas, and we have refrained from posting an update mostly out of embarrassment over our ongoing state of indecision.

At this point, we are trying out a few possibilities to see how they fit her personality, which is still emerging as she makes the adjustment to a new home. We are focusing primarily on Lily, Fiona, and Olive (though we also love CJ, and Lottie, and ...).

Sara: yes. we are just that pathetic. but i hasten to add, according to Jewish tradition, we still have a few days...
GFTJ/BFTJ: This has not been a great year for Jewish heroes -- aside from the Ha'aretz headline "Two Jews and a black man help Phelps fulfill Olympic dream," it's mostly been a year for the Spitzers and Madoffs of the world to take center stage in representing the Tribe.

So I was delighted to see the article in today's Times about Ed Zwick's upcoming film Defiance, the real-life story of "the triumph of the three Bielski brothers, Tuvia, Zus and Asael, who fought the Nazis in the deep forests of Belarus and saved 1,200 lives." And then I looked to the IMDb page to see who's playing the brothers, and I see that ALOTT5MA doppelgänger Mark Feuerstein is in the cast ...

... only he's not playing one of the three heroic Jewish brothers, who are instead being portrayed by Liev Schreiber (good), the new blonde James Bond and the boy from Billy Elliott, the latter two of whom don't strike me as being very Semitic. Feuerstein's playing "Malbin," and my immediate thought is, Oy. He's probably the town baker, with lines like Before you go off resisting the Nazis, can I pack you with some knishes to go? or Malbin the Tailor, offering to hem Daniel Craig's garments (some more pockets, perhaps?) before heading into the forest, or just Malbin, First-Reel Victim.

So I did some homework, and discovered that Lazar Malbin was the chief-of-staff of the operation (Jen: "Chief of staff?" Is that like a community organizer, only more bookish?) , a charisma-free man with military experience and "a sense of national responsibility [with a] determination to save Jews, any Jews," but also a "a stutterer [whose] speech would deteriorate greatly when he experienced any emotional stress." So maybe he does get to kill some Nazis after all (while stuttering), and that would be awesome.

Also in this film? Ladies and gentlemen, at long last as prophesied, we have an Iben Hjejle sighting. (Also, the girl who played the gymnast in In Treatment who everyone liked.)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

COURTNEY COX, I LOVE YOU, YOU'RE SO HOT ON THAT SHOW: A Hanukkah confession -- I can no longer sing "I Have A Little Dreidel" without drifting into the South Park version.
THEY DID NOT, IN FACT, EAT VINCENT SPANO FIRST: Four of the films of note this season -- Milk, Valkyrie, Frost/Nixon and Marley & Me -- share the fact that they are all based on real-life events, and in each film there's a question for film critics (and anyone commenting on the films) as to how much to reveal about the Act III of each -- how does Harvey Milk's tenure in office go? Does Tom Cruise kill Hitler? What happens when Frost interviews Nixon? And does anything surprising happen in a movie about an ill-behaved dog as he ages?

From what I've read, critics seem to have no real compunction about discussing the dénouements of the first three films, but at least some seem to be holding back on the fourth -- and I'm not sure why. Given how widely-read Grogan's book was, I'd have to imagine there's at least as much awareness of how that film ends among American moviegoers as there is of the success of Operation Valkyrie or the details of a thirty-one-year-old television interview. And in all these cases, to discuss whether the movie works as a whole requires discussion of their endings, doesn't it? For all these films, how much should we be able to discuss without posting major SPOILER warnings -- and, yes, everything's fair game in the Comments.

Friday, December 26, 2008


Of course, I also resent people that talk during the trailers.


Died ... What has?


The playwright. Pinter.


The playwright.


Pinter. College. Read maybe ... four of his.


You did?


We did. Had to. You won't remember, of course. Always skipping class.


Well, yes. Better things to do. You know. ...or maybe you didn't, at the time. Pinter, you say?




Died? Well. Do you remember...


Yes. Quite recently.


Do you remember her? ...Susan?


Susan. Yes. Loved Pinter.


In college?




No. Not really. Not at the time.


We read for hours.


Read. And then?


And then? Oh, you know. I suppose...


No. You didn't. Never did.


No. We didn't. She... I suppose she had...


Better things to do. Yes.


IN MY DAY, TELEVISION WAS CALLED BOOKS!: So, what books have the holidays added to your infinite reading list? Me: Six Frigates, a history of the founding of the American Navy, the Forgotten Man, a history of the Great Depression, A Frozen Hell, a history of the Russo-Finnish War of 1939-40 and Thomas Freidman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded.

But first, I need to finish up the cheap set of John Carter of Mars books I picked up.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

SANTA BABY: Eartha Kitt, 81, has died.
THE LAWSUIT IS TEARING THEM APART: Nikki Finke is reporting that the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has issued a preliminary order finding in 20th Century Fox's favor and enjoining the distribution and release of Watchmen by Warner Brothers. This same judge previously nailed WB with an injunction they had to buy out before releasing Dukes of Hazzard, and given that the publicity blitz has already begun, WB will pay out. (A commenter at Finke indicates that this may be a power play by Fox to get the rights to the 60s Batman TV show for release on DVD.) Keep watching the docket.
AUNT CLARA HAD FOR YEARS LABORED UNDER THE DELUSION THAT I WAS NOT ONLY PERPETUALLY FOUR YEARS OLD, BUT ALSO A GIRL: A open thread for any comments on Christmas goings-on and a Merry Christmas from the ALOTT5MA Management.

ETA: For some reason, I though Hannukah started tomorrow. Otherwise, I'd have framed this more broadly. Happy Hannukah, likewise!

Also, it was amusing that the one thing I really needed to open the clam-shell-encased Leatherman Mrs. Earthling got for me was a Leatherman.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

NOW DOCTOR HORRIBLE IS HERE, TO WIPE OUT ALL YOUR FEAR: As requested, here's a thread to discuss the Dr. Horrible DVD, which either arrived in ALOTT5MA reader mailboxes last week or will likely show up as Chrismukkah gifts for other readers. I've watched some of the features (namely, the ELE applications) already, and yes, Tur-Mohel remained the highlight.
I HEAR REGGAE-INSPIRED NAMES BRING NOTHING BUT HAPPINESS AND GOOD BEHAVIOR: Via long-time readers Jeff (a.k.a. jam) and Sara (a.k.a sbr929), this special holiday request (which, unfortunately, I missed until now):
My wife and I are both long-time readers and occasional commenters. We are hoping that you might call upon the ALOTT5MA community to help us out in a moment of need.We are adopting a puppy this week, an adorable 1-year-old, female black lab mix, and we are having trouble coming up with the perfect name.

This is ironic, because for years we've spent a fair amount of idle time randomly throwing out great dog names, but for whatever reason none of our favorites is sticking to the dog that we met today and will be living with come Tuesday. It's an emergency, because we can't live with a nameless dog.

Ideally, we'd like a name that is fun, fits a puppy's personality, rolls off of the tongue, and has some subtle connotation that reflects our interests. Since this last qualification leans heavily on pop culture, we though there would be no better community to help us come up with something subtle, knowing, and fun than this one.

For example, one of our current leading contenders is Pixley, which seems to reflect the playfulness of a puppy while also bringing to mind one of our most favorite shows. We have rejected both Suki and Rory as too obvious in their references (though each has appeal on the personality front). And we've rejected many more ideas as too masculine sounding.

We've thought and thought and thought some more, all without identifying a clear winner. Can you help us out?
HALLELUJAH, HALLELUJAH: As predicted, this year's UK Christmas number one song is the bombastic cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" by X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke, which you can see her perform here with all the subtlety, hand gestures and tone-deafness-as-to-lyrics of a Young David Archuleta.

In a surprise second place, however, is the late Jeff Buckley's version of the song, which I'm happy to provide in studio and live formats. The song joins such other better-than-the-one-that-won #2s as "Fairytale of New York" and Mariah Carey's "All I Want From Christmas Is You" (see, also, the much-enjoyed Love Actually version by Olivia Olson).

And, of course, I can't let this post end without bringing in your old friend Billy Mack with "Christmas Is All Around," and inviting you to share your favorite songs of the season, a list surely including Eric Cartman's cover of "O Holy Night".

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

ESPN Page 2 - Easterbrook: Armageddon

WHERE WAS THIS IN 1991? The tastefully named Gregg Easterbrook argues today that the NFL playoffs should be changed to a format in which "the top 12 teams should be taken regardless of division or conference". Instead of seeing the Cardinals and Broncos/Chargers in two weeks ...
If the season ended today as a seeded tournament, these (using simplified tiebreakers -- I did not run every ramification) would be the pairings. Byes: Titans, Giants, Steelers, Panthers. First round: Jets, Bears or Bucs at Colts, Cowboys at Pats, Ravens at Falcons, Vikings at Dolphins. Is there one single NFL fan anywhere who does not think this seeded postseason tournament would have more appeal than the first round we're going to end up with?
Eh. I like keeping the conferences separated until the Super Bow. I like divisions. I like respecting divisional winners, even when the results are as absurd as these, because the regular season still matters and will produce a hella-fun week 17 this year. As I often say with regards to the NCAA men's basketball tournament, while we can argue about teams being squeezed out in the margins, you can't really make the case that the teams being excluded (this year, likely Chicago, Philadelphia, Tampa and two AFC East teams) have any legitimate claim to being The Best Team In Football.

What I wouldn't mind, however, is only guaranteeing division winners a playoff slot, but not necessarily a home game. In other words, let Denver travel to Indianapolis in the wild card week this year and not vice-versa, with the 10-5 Falcons hosting a wild card game rather than travel to Arizona or Minnesota. I could live with that.

49ers to sport mustaches in throwback game

CANNOT PLAY WITH THEM? CANNOT WIN WITH THEM? CANNOT COACH WITH THEM? CAN'T DO IT? As part of a Throwback Game this Sunday with retro unis and the like, the San Francisco 49ers are all growing 1970s-style mustaches.
"THE CRUISE PERSONA, LIKE A JUNK BOND, WAS NEVER MEANT TO REACH MATURITY": Stephen Metcalf on Tom Cruise, with a particular emphasis on what's been lost since Risky Business:
It is a beautiful and authentic piece of acting. To watch his performance today—and you should—is to be present again, not only at the creation of Cruise, the movie star, but at the death of Cruise, an actor bounded by normal human proportion.... The common half-memory of Risky Business conjures up Cruise in asshole eyewear, pimping out his parents' suburban Colonial. But its distinctive pathos derives from its first half, from the nocturnal weirdscape emanating out of Joel's jumbled libido. As this Joel, Cruise allowed himself to be everything the publicity team has tried to convince us, for 25 years, he isn't: insecure, sexually confused, and as Brickman's camerawork takes no pains to hide, physically small.
For more on Risky Business -- and why not? -- visit The House Next Door. As Matt Zoller Seitz notes in the comments, "It's a movie with a happy ending that's actually unhappy; the hero gets all he wanted and more, but at the cost of having the last vestiges of innocence burned right out of him. This is the story of how Ben Braddock from The Graduate turns into Mrs. Robinson's husband."

Monday, December 22, 2008 Springsteen News

THERE'S A BIG BOX ON THE EDGE OF TOWN: A new Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band greatest hits compilation will be sold exclusively at ... Walmart? Walmart, Bruce? It's the working, the working, just the working life.
I PREFER TO THINK OF IT AS AN EXODUS FROM AN UNDESIRABLE PLACE: Hejira Henry, Gator Purify, Mace Windu, Elijah Price, Mr. Señor Love Daddy, Romulus Ledbetter, Zeus Carver, Jules Winfield, and Elijah Price -- whom they called Mister Glass -- who gets better character names than Samuel L. Jackson, who turned 60 years old today?

Feel free to celebrate any aspect of his illustrious career (which didn't really take off until after he turned 40) tonight. Enjoy a beer. One things that makes me happy is knowing that if I see that Deep Blue Sea is on cable, I can wait until exactly one hour in to watch the greatest speech in film history. You think water moves fast? You should see ice ...
WILL THERE BE BAT MITZVAHS? Now, the premise "It's like Sex and the City, except with werewolves!" is awesome enough, but think about what's the most offensive, yet accurate, thing you could title this project? And, yes, they went there.
THANK GOD FOR THE HARD HATS: Comes a time every year -- and this may be a little tardy, but you're industrious -- when we recommend recent fiction and nonfiction books pertaining to this site's themes (or not) for your holiday gift-giving and reading. Along those lines, I'll again commend to you Mark Harris' Pictures at a Revolution, about which I've written previously, which surveys the five films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture for 1967, a moment which reflected and furthered the shift away from the studio system and towards independent, more personal, youth-oriented films.

Something of a bookend to that, though I hadn't recognized this before, is Nixonland by my friend Rick Perlstein, about which I probably don't need to say too much at this point given that it's made just about every top-ten year end list from The Economist to Entertainment Weekly. The cultural revolution reflected by films like The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde led to a backlash from the squares which Richard Nixon recognized and shrewdly capitalized upon, turning a nation that voted 60-40 for LBJ over Goldwater in 1964 to a 60-40 Nixon rout of McGovern eight years later. It's a political history and a cultural one as well, and if you appreciate this excerpt, you ought to read the whole thing.

What books of 2008 do you recommend?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

BACK AT YOU, RED: I just saw an NBC promo noting that Conan O'Brien has been "serving late night for over fifteen years." Fifteen? Wow.
IF THE POEM'S SCORE FOR PERFECTION IS PLOTTED ALONG THE HORIZONTAL OF A GRAPH, AND ITS IMPORTANCE IS PLOTTED ON THE VERTICAL, THEN CALCULATING THE TOTAL AREA OF THE POEM YIELDS THE MEASURE OF ITS GREATNESS: Via sconstant, it's high time we demonstrated some appreciation for the chart-based music reviews of Andrew Kuo in the NYT, and not only because three of the charts below mention Superchunk:
Kuo, who has a blog, has inspired some derivative works as well.
GATHER 'ROUND THE POLE:Our Friend Alan Sepinwall has his annual Festivus column today---enumerating television people, shows, and events that disappointed him in this past year. Expand Alan's list to other forms of pop culture. Does Kanye West have some explaining to do for releasing an album featuring him singing with AutoTune? Does Judd Apatow need to justify Drillbit Taylor or You Don't Mess With The Zohan? I understand there are still a fair number of angry goth girls about how the Twilight series ended, as well. Air the grievances in the thread, which won't end until you pin someone.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

HERE TO BE RECRUITED: Milk is certainly a fine film, with darn fine performances throughout, and by its nature, it's hard to talk about it without getting political, but three points that in my view weaken the film:
  1. The film owes a significant (and acknowledged at length in the credits) debt to Oscar winning doc The Times of Harvey Milk, and already, more people have probably seen the biopic than saw the documentary. That said, the biopic doesn't add a lot that wasn't in the documentary. Sure, there's a bit about Milk's tumultous personal life and a couple of miscellaneous points here and there (some of which may be the result of dramatic license), that aren't cribbed straight from the documentary, but the film doesn't really add to what's already out there.
  2. Obviously, California's passage of Prop 8 in November is important context to how viewers react, and the film was completed before the passage of Prop 8. To the extent we now read it as a response to Prop 8, it seems misguided. It's entirely possible there would have been a substantial number of people who'd oppose Prop 6 (the 70s California prop calling for homosexuals to be fired as teachers) but support Prop 8. It all reads just a little too on-the-nose and generalized. (Though that's not the fault of the filmmakers.)
  3. The most interesting part of the film is the part that explores the relationship between Milk and his assassin, Dan White. I wish there'd been more of that and the filmmakers showed us more of White, which would have helped limit the extent to which the biopic becomes a hagiography.
It's still a very well-done and moving film, especially for those not familiar with the Milk story already, but certainly isn't dislodging Slumdog Millionaire and Tell No One from the top of my list thus far this year.
AND WHEN I SEE HOW SAD YOU ARE IT SORTA MAKES ME ... HAPPY! Having witnessed first-hand a stadium-closing NFC Championship Game loss at Veterans Stadium,** I've got to say my heart just grew three sizes watching the Baltimore Ravens close Texas Stadium tonight by running right through the Dallas defense.

In a year with so many exhilarating sports moments -- Wimbledon, the 4x100 men's freestyle relay, Bissinger v. Leitch and so many others we need to review at some point -- this is a relatively minor one, but I'm grinning ear-to-ear right now.

** Yes, the Phillies still played their season thereafter, but it was the last football game at the Vet.

ESPN - Former major league pitcher Dock Ellis dies at 63

TAKE A TRIP ONE SUMMER'S DAY/DON'T FORGET YOU HAVE TO PLAY: Dock Ellis, the journeyman pitcher who in 1970 threw a no-hitter while tripping on acid, has passed away at the age of 63. Said Ellis, "The ball was small sometimes, the ball was large sometimes, sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn't." Where does that rank in the list of extraordinary single-game achievements?
MONIER? We haven't blogged about Dirty Sexy Money in a while, but hasn't this season been a disappointment? Sure, there's still been some great stuff--Glenn Fitzgerald and Donald Sutherland have both been darn fine--but story points have just become incredibly ludicrous. Dumb story calls include, but are not limited to:
  • Pretty much everything to do with the Nola Lyons plot. including her ludicrous affair with Jeremy, the Nola-Simon "who's zooming who?" plot, and the like.
  • Brian's new wife is magically cured of cancer as his previous wife and kids just disappear.
  • The decision to break up Nick and his wife and make Nick less of the "one sane man in a crazy world" than he was last season. This makes him far less of a sympathetic character.
  • Having Leticia basically disappear for much of the season--seriously, I hope Jill Clayburgh is being paid well for her few lines, and I don't think she's had a single really substantive scene with Sutherland this year.
  • Certain plotlines this week at least bordered on shark jumpage--Patrick becoming a malicious murderer? Dutch George may not actually be dead?
This was a pretty damn great show last season. Too bad it's going out on a low note.
TIME FOR ANOTHER TRIP TO REHAB? In addition to whatever other addictions she's battling, The Sun reports that Amy Winehouse is addicted to UK game show Hole In The Wall and playing Rock Band.

Friday, December 19, 2008

AND HE CARRIES THE REMINDERS OF EVERY GLOVE THAT LAID HIM DOWN OR CUT HIM, 'TIL HE CRIED OUT IN HIS ANGER AND HIS SHAME: It helps to have a SAG member in the family, and especially one who travels with screeners. So thank you, Molly, for bringing The Wrestler east on this trip.

So here's the thing: Mickey Rourke? Pretty much everything you heard -- a charm and decency one can't fake, and obvious and moving parallels to his real-life woes. He does some really nice things with what he's given, and the film does an exceptional job of capturing life at the bottom of the professional wrestling world. The physical universe of this film feels deeply authentic.

What Rourke's given, unfortunately, is a thuddingly obvious melodrama, with anvil-laden speeches that make sure you never miss the point. I mean, really, did he need to say to his estranged daughter, “Now I’m an old, broken-down piece of meat, and I’m alone and I deserve to be alone. I just don’t want you to hate me"? This film doesn't seem to have learned the difference of show v. tell. It's got all the subtlety of being punctured by a staple gun.

That said, Rourke's charisma does carry you a pretty long way through this, and there are little moments -- at a deli counter, by the boardwalk, playing a twenty-year-old Nintendo wrestling game in which he appears -- that do get to you. So lower your expectations, and enjoy the Rourke.
WHEN YOU REALLY THINK ABOUT IT, "I HOPE SOMEDAY YOU'LL JOIN US AND THE WORLD WILL LIVE AS ONE" CAN TAKE ON A PRETTY OMINOUS TONE: "X of the year" is a weird and slippery concept, like "most valuable player." It could mean best X, most popular X, or most influential X. In the hands of a different blog, we might put our heads together and try to isolate the best music of the year, or the most popular among the best music, or the best among the most popular music. But this is not a different blog, and so I am hereby awarding the 2008 ALOTT5MA Song of the Year to David Archuleta's "Imagine."

But it is depressing where the original was hopeful, you may object. It is boring filler, pandering to the least common denominator. It is sung by the hollowest of human beings, a husk of a boy shriveling as his dreams of a day without obligations to prepubescent girls, postmenopausal cat lovers, and pedophiles drift away. Hey, I hear you. But it makes no difference.

By my count, Archuleta wheeled out his "Imagine" one hundred and seventeen times during the twelve episodes of last season's AI finals, give or take. In any event, he flogged that horse every chance he got. It sounded as if he took Lennon's sheet music as the merest suggestion without ever hearing the simple, straightforward original, or at least as if he were offended by Lennon's failure to pack in enough vocal runs to make the girls squeal. He gave it a comic emphasis:
no need for greed or hungerrrrrrr
Imagine all THE! peoplllllle …
Allow me this heresy, please: this was never that great a song to begin with. It is a bit obvious, right? Too on-the-nose? I mean, at some point people figured out that a good pop love song can't just whisper "I love you I love you" in reverent tones, so there has to be a better way of conveying "I want world peace" than saying "world peace, please." Yet if the original was a bit adolescent, a bit McCartneyesque, in presentation, at least it had content. Archuleta, however, manages to separate the words from their literal meaning, so that they are just a string of hummable syllables arranged in a melodic order intended to suggest not any kind of specific complaint (religion, commercialism, human imperfection) but rather a generic, abstract unease and a concomitant hope that by really caring about it it will go away. And by separating the words from their literal meaning, Archuleta doesn't alleviate the triteness; he amplifies it. Everything is stickier, slower, more dour, and, paradoxically, more conspicuously, facetiously earnest.

And that's the best thing about the song, the truly impressive part of it -- its lavish, epic cynicism. I've read a lot about Archuleta's quiet paring away of an important part of the song's thesis ("imagine there's no heaven … no religion too"), ostensibly because it's at odds with his own beliefs, but isn't it more likely that the verse was cut because it might offend significant portions of his fan base -- of the aforementioned prepubescent girls and postmenopausal cat lovers, if not the pedophiles? After all, we can't really take seriously the notion that Archuleta agrees with any part of the song at all. It takes a pair of giant, diamond-encrusted balls to sit through the Seacrest dramatic open, the giant spaceship and computerized metallic vocalist and montage of triumphant belters credits, the ads for iPods and talking-dog movies, the Ford skits, the Coke product placement, the SYTYCD and X-Factor cross-promotion, and a series of lectures by Simon Cowell about what will and won't mint money, and then submit, as one's stage-parent-certified entry in the competition for the right to a record contract, a featured spot on the national tour, and the official title of "Idol," the statement that we should "imagine no possessions." The fine print, if you will: No possessions other than David Archuleta CDs, mugs, sparkly pencils, sticker books, and t-shirts (with holes where the dead, dead eyes should be). One must be a special kind of genius, a kind of commercialist-savant, to pull this off and still come out the other end looking more like Benji than Billy Mack.

So what if Archuleta's "Imagine" was more industry than craft (the opposite of, say, my favorite pop song of the year, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin's "Think I Wanna Die")? So what if he didn't beat that ecumenical music-lover and Daughtry tag-along David Cook? AI is just a battle, and when the key battle comes down to Cook vs. The Archuleta, Archuleta's side has already won the war. And it's muscular displays of mock-earnest sentiment like Archuleta's "Imagine" that prove it.
IT'S LIKE BEING IN VAUDEVILLE IN THE '60S! Our good friend Alan Sepinwall has an op-ed in today's NYT on the state of the television network, which concludes:
[T]he networks are Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff. So long as they pump their legs and assume there’s solid ground beneath their feet, they get to keep moving. But as soon as one of them gives up and looks at where it is, as NBC has with the Jay Leno deal, there’s nowhere to go but way, way down.
Still, one would hope that this is good news for television critics, who are more needed than ever in helping viewers sort out all the options which exist, multiplied not only by the number of channels creating quality tv but by the year-round cycle of introducing new programming. But as was noted to me earlier today, one still needs a viable media platform from which to speak such criticism, and with newspapers being in the shape that they are ...
SHORTER, BUT WEIGHING MORE, THAN ALLY MCBEAL: Even though Pushing Daisies is dead, and apparently can't be revived with a touch of a finger, Emmy nominee and Tony winner Kristin Chenoweth has already found new work--she'll be starring on Legally Mad, the new dramedy from David E. Kelley for NBC, where she'll play "Skippy Pylon, a cheerful and brilliant attorney who nonetheless exhibits flashes of psychosis -- and enjoys being mistaken for a teenager." I'm just disappointed we're not get my hoped for Kristin/NPH musical (1:55 here makes my case well).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I AM (PERHAPS NOT) LEGEND: It has been seven years (Ali) since Will Smith released a movie that did not gross over $130M. Tony Scott suggests that Seven Pounds might be different:
Near the end of “Seven Pounds” a carefully laminated piece of paper appears, on which someone has written, “DO NOT TOUCH THE JELLYFISH.” I wouldn’t dream of it, and I’ll take the message as a warning not to divulge the astonishing things that happen, not all of them involving aquatic creatures.

Frankly, though, I don’t see how any review could really spoil what may be among the most transcendently, eye-poppingly, call-your-friend-ranting-in-the-middle-of-the-night-just-to-go-over-it-one-more-time crazily awful motion pictures ever made. I would tell you to go out and see it for yourself, but you might take that as a recommendation rather than a plea for corroboration. Did I really see what I thought I saw?

And I wish I could spell out just what that was, but you wouldn’t believe me, and the people at Sony might not invite me to any more screenings.
Ebert dissents:
Some people will find it emotionally manipulative. Some people like to be emotionally manipulated. I do, when it's done well.
Variety breaks the tie:
A movie that, like “The Sixth Sense,” depends entirely upon the payoff for its impact, “Seven Pounds” is an endlessly sentimental fable about sacrifice and redemption that aims only at the heart at the expense of the head. Intricately constructed so as to infuriate anyone predominantly guided by rationality and intellect, this reteaming of star Will Smith and director Gabriele Muccino after their surprisingly effective “The Pursuit of Happyness” is off-putting for its manifest manipulations, as well as its pretentiousness and self-importance. All the same, the climax will be emotionally devastating for many viewers, perhaps particularly those with serious religious beliefs, meaning there’s a substantial audience out there for this profoundly peculiar drama, if word gets around.
So, folks, what movies are you looking forward to seeing this holiday season? My list starts with Milk, Slumdog Millionaire and, if it's still playing anywhere, Rachel Getting Married.

e.t.a. Bang bang! Mick Foley raves about The Wrestler: "[A] few people have suggested that I inspired that grisly wrestling scene. But I can claim with a clear conscience that I never used a staple gun on an opponent. Thumbtacks, yes; barbed wire, definitely; but never a staple gun."
I'M NOT PROGRAMMED TO RESPOND IN THAT AREA: Majel Roddenberry, a major fixture in the Star Trek universe and widow of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, has died.
PAGING JOHNNY DRAMA: Yes, Entourage tells us that Marty Scorsese is working on a contemporary version of The Great Gatsby, but Nikki Finke is reporting that Baz Luhrmann will follow up Australia with his own version of the Fitzgerald classic and invites your casting suggestions there. Respond here as well.
STAY TUNED FOR AN ALOTT5MA LIST OF SCHOOL CLOSURES: I know it's been cold and snowy in the Northeast, but now we're getting snow in places where it's downright strange. An unusual volume in Seattle, an inch or so on the Strip in Vegas, and even enough in Berkeley the other day for a guy to pretend to cross-country ski for the cameras in Tilden Park (you almost want the snowline to have been a little bit lower just to see if a kid on a tobaggan could break the sound barrier coming down Marin Avenue). When I was a kid in upstate New York I had my share of four-foot blizzards (and the attendant task of digging out the driveway, one made Sisyphean by the plows that would then push all the street snow right back onto your cleared and salted pavement), but my favorite snowstorm was one I heard about only in letters (remember those?) and hushed retellings. In Seattle in 1989 or 1990, after the weatherman predicted a light dusting, a freak storm dropped two or three feet in just a couple of hours. It surprised and paralyzed the city. One woman with whom I worked said it took her 10 hours to get home. People abandoned their cars (and their Metro buses) on the freeway. I think they made a Jake Gyllenhall movie about it.

Any good snowed-in stories out there?
LOCAL TOP CHEF WATCHING HAS BEEN DELAYED: General Top Chef commentating, however, may begin immediately.
DIRECT FROM THE HOSER HUT: EW's annual "best/worst" issue arrives on newsstands and in mailboxes later this week, but bits are already up (seriously? "Love In This Club" is the best single of the year?), including the cast of HIMYM emulating major pop culture moments of the year (featuring NPH as Michael Phelps, Josh Radnor as Mr. Big, and Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segel as Sarah Palin and Joe Biden).
HUG IT OUT OF A JOB: Despite good reviews, Jeremy Piven has left the Broadway production of David Mamet's Speed-The-Plow, due to "a high level of mercury." (The article hints that perhaps "mercury" was not the real reason for his abrupt departure.) More interesting is that Broadway fave Norbert Leo Butz (Wicked, Thou Shalt Not, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Is He Dead?) will be replacing Piven in the production on an interim basis.

ETA: Butz will replace Piven for performances from December 23 through January 11. William H. Macy takes over January 13 through the run's end in February. Barring a ruling from the Tony committee, neither Butz nor Macy will be eligible for awards, which are reserved for opening night performers absent special permission.
FROM THE ALOTT5MA READER REQUESTS DIVISION: Since you asked for this space, please let us know what shows y'all are watching that we never talk about here, so you can form a support group for each other and/or encourage us to actually watch these shows ...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

YouTube - The Price is Right exact showcase bid

KEN JENNINGS WAS NEVER THIS PERFECT: Actual retail price of your showcase is ... well, this guy yesterday proved the show's title to be true for the first time in 30+ years, and Drew Carey has no idea how to react.
I'D MAKE ROOM FOR YOU, I'D SAIL SHIPS FOR YOU: We don't always award an ALOTT5MA Award for Unrequited Crush of the Year, but 2008 was a special year indeed. He was covering the American Idol beat for the LA Times and she, of course was "the greatest performer in 'Idol' history." And I might have forgotten about it, except that Richard Rushfield wrote Carly Smithson again today, God bless him:
"American Idol," for all the fame it bestows, can be a marketing handicap. A surprising number of former contestants face the question, "What kind of artist are you?" This is certainly the case for Smithson, whose powerful vocal skills broke through the clutter in Season 7 but whose pop/rocker style was difficult to express around the songs of Mariah Carey, Dolly Parton and Broadway musicals. ...

In the studio, two songs seem to be the full expression of the power she only hinted at on "Idol" -- an intense ballad titled "Lie With Me" and "Let Me Fall," a blazing power-rock anthem. The songs seem very personal (although she insists they are not taken from her life), about relationship anguish and tormented love.
Oh, the memories. Rather than going back to his legendary elegy for Ms. Smithson's Idol run ("Shock, grief, anger, betrayal. These were the feelings that swept through the Idoldome after the stunning dismissal of Carly Smithson...."), let's instead highlight what he wrote the following week:
The Idoldome was a colder, emptier place Tuesday night than it had been a mere week ago, when the most electrifying singer in "American Idol" history, Carly Smithson, still walked among us. In the life of every "Idol" partisan, sooner or later this day must come when one must look defeat dead in the eye and search for new reasons to keep faith in the system.

In the end, democracy cannot be just a way to force one’s own candidate into office; the means must be more important than our individual ends and, bitter though it may be, the will of the electorate must be embraced. Were it not for American Idol, one must recall, we would have never known Carly Smithson at all. However, taking my seat in the Carly-less Idoldome, I recounted the words of the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert in his Elegy of Fortinbras, when he wrote, putting words in the mouth of Hamlet’s sole survivor ...
You get the idea. Rushfield may not get the girl, but darn it, he gets the ALOTT5MA Award. (Perennial runners-up: Peter King on Brett Favre, Jim DeRogatis on Billy Corgan.)
[SPACEMAN'S HEAD EXPLODES]: If you were wondering who would win the ALOTT5MA award for the Year's Shittiest Supposed News Source, and you were thinking you would lay some money on TMZ/Us/InTouch, or the Montclarion, or the (now three-days-a-week if you like it on your doorstep) Detroit Free Press, or Sam Zell's profitably smouldering but unkillable twins, or the Captivate Network, or Woman on Cell Phone at Bus Stop Loudly Misinterpreting the Day's Headlines, Vegas is no longer taking bets.

That's because we have a last-minute, come-from-behind, runaway winner: Oklahoma Today, which just named lying scumbag Clay Bennett its seventeenth "Oklahoman of the Year," and not in a Time Magazine "isn't this such a controversial choice" way, but rather in a "we think this guy ably represents all that is good about Oklahoma" way. I guess one person's "resourcefulness, tenacity, and acumen" is another person's "lying, cronyism, and ability to turn a 52-win division champion into the worst team in the NBA (on pace to tie the worst record in league history) in only three years, eliciting boos in only a few weeks from a crowd that never booed the Hornets." Apparently, for the editorial staff of Oklahoma Today (and not for an Oklahoman or two among us who I know will dissent from the choice), Oklahoma is a state of proud douchebag buffoons. Hey, just like in the old cartoons!

ETA: Speaking of terrible news decisions, the top headline on CNN for an hour or so this morning was "No Good Way To Tell Kids They Have Cancer." Breaking!
RACE OF CAKES: Combining a few of our favorite topics around here--namely culinary pursuits and odd child names--is this tale of how the ShopRite grocery store in Greenwich Township, N.J., refused to decorate a birthday cake for three-year-old Adolph Hitler Campbell, forcing the Campbells, whose two other children are named JoyceLynn Aryan Nation and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie, to get their cake from a local Wal-Mart.

Some choice nuggets that are perhaps lost in the story:
  • The Campbells said they wanted their children to have unique names and didn't expect the names to cause problems. Despite the cake refusal, the Campbells said they don't expect the names to cause problems later, such as when the children start school
  • Disabilities, the couple says, have left both out of work: [35-year-old] Heath Campbell can't landscape or pump gas because he has emphysema, and [25-year-old] Deborah can't waitress because she has a bad back. They live on Social Security payments.
  • There are swastikas on walls, on jackets, on the freezer and on a pillow. The family car had swastikas, Heath Campbell said, until New Jersey's Department of Children and Families told him they could endanger the children. The swastikas, Heath Campbell said, are symbols of peace and balance. He considers them art.
  • A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart said the store won't put anything illegal or profane on a cake but thinks it's important to respect the views of customers and employees. "Our No. 1 priority in decorating cakes is to serve the customer to the best of our ability," Anna Taylor, the spokeswoman, said from Bentonville, Ark.
SADLY, "YOU" DID NOT APPEAR ON THE BALLOT:In decidedly unshocking news, Time's Person of the Year is Barack Obama. Runners-up were Henry Paulson, Nicolas Sarkozy, Sarah Palin, and Zhang Yimou. For pop culture, you have to go into the third tier--"People Who Mattered"--where Robert Downey, Jr., Tina Fey, and Stephenie Meyer make appearances.
SPEIDI? I've alluded to this before, but the 2008 ALOTT5MA Award for Cultural Phenomenon That I Should Probably Know More About, But Just Haven't Bothered To Figure Out goes to The Hills.

Runners-up: Fall Out Boy, Lil Wayne, "CSI: [Any]".

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

First Face Transplant Performed in the U.S. -

FACE/ON: Within a few years, our favorite Travolta/Cage flick will seem eerily prescient, as American doctors have successfully completed their first face transplant, the fourth in world history. No word on how many doves were present.

[This, I hadn't thought about before: "Critics have also raised ethical concerns, among them how to protect the identity of the donor of the facial tissue."]
THIS IS THE SECOND NOTICE: This is the second notice [the n+1th second notice, where n = the number of times we have left this exact same message on your office phone, cell phone, and wife's phone] that the factory warranty for your vehicle [we don't know what vehicle you own, or if you own a vehicle, or if you're old enough to drive, or if you're old enough to pedal a bicycle, or if you live in a country where people of your sex are allowed to use vehicles] is about to expire [where "about" is less than or equal to the entire warranty life of your vehicle]. If you would like to extend your warranty, you must call us [calling us will not result in any extension of any warranty] at [number, where you may be asked to leave your social security and credit card numbers while also providing confirmation that this number is a live line that we may aggregate on a list of non-do-not-call numbers for sale to telemarketers who can then call you at work or while you're driving].
SLURISPRUDENCE: Jewish hipster magazine Heeb suffered a setback at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week, with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirming the office's argument that the name can be refused registration for being "disparaging." Those hoping for coherence in this jurisprudence, with its mixed results (DYKES ON BIKES, not disparaging; ethnic slur for African-Americans, disparaging; WASHINGTON REDSKINS, still up in the air and substantive issue not decided) will have to continue to wait.
DON'T MAKE A HUGE MISTAKE: If you're still looking for Chrismukkah presents, it's our duty to note that Arrested Development: The Complete Series is today's Amazon Gold Box deal, giving you all three seasons for $28.99 or 54 cents an episode--that's shipped to your door (or some other door, if you prefer) by no later than December 24. It's worth every penny of that. Feel free to use this thread for AD quotes and/or clips or to provide your own submissions to the ALOTT5MA Holiday Gift Guide.

Monday, December 15, 2008

JUST ONE LAST THING: It's being reported that Peter Falk is suffering from Alzheimer's. If just for Columbo, he'd be an icon, but his pitch perfect performance as the narrator in The Princess Bride cements his position as a legend. That final scene gets me every time.
WHEN I WENT TO SCHOOL ... IN OLYMPIA ... Given recent controversies, there will be no Festivus pole on Washington's state capitol grounds this year. Alert the Summum, as they know how to air this grievance.
SABERKITTENS DEMAND BAILOUT: Having once watched three minutes of a San Jose Sabercats game on TV36, I'm devastated: Arena Football is canceling the 2009 Season.
I THINK STILL YOUR PROBLEM IS THAT YOU'RE FORGETTABLE: As we have since 2003, 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 based on whim and caprice.

[Yes, we recognize that the Emmys have finally caught up to us in honoring this category.]

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), Tyra Banks for America's Next Top Model (2006), and Anthony Bourdain for Top Chef (2007).

It took me a while to figure out this year's winner, because there wasn't much new talent to evaluate -- what, I'm going to give this to Anne Slowey? But then it hit me, and it all made sense.

Because I've never given this award to Simon Cowell, yet without him this category might not even exist. C'mon.

This year, Cowell did nothing controversial, but that's the mark of his success: his judging criteria has become so well-elaborated and is so consistent and persuasive that viewers have generally incorporated it as their own. He's no longer America's Most Hated Judge; he's really the most trusted at this point. By and large, folks have rejected Paula's it's great that everyone's trying really hard babble and instead like judges who judge. And judge he did this season.
On CtCM, "I Shot The Sheriff": “Jason, stand back. That was utterly atrocious. That is a song you do not touch. The arrangement was atrocious, the performing and the singing was as bad as I ever heard. That was like a first round audition massacre. I don’t know what you were thinking.”

On Kristy Lee Cook, "God Bless The USA": “That was the most clever song choice I’ve heard in years.”

On CtCM, "Memory": "Jason it felt to me, and I'm sure to you, like the longest two minutes of your life, right? The reality was it came over as a young guy being forced by your mom and dad to sing a song at a wedding you didn't want to sing. It did, it did. You were miserable throughout, I was partly miserable throughout, it's not your style of music."

On YDA, "Another Day in Paradise": "You're becoming... like it's all getting a little bit gloomy here. You haven't got to keep singing sad songs. We had 'Imagine' last week, 'Another Day in Paradise' this week... I just think you've got to lighten up a little David. There's no question you're going to make it through to the finals next week. Probably going to be in the Final 2. But I think now we've got to say a slightly different more fun side occasionally, otherwise it might get a bit depressing."
Look, I could find plenty, you can find plenty. Cowell's harsh when it's deserved, but it makes his praise meaningful. Remember David Cook's cover of (Chris Cornell's cover of) "Billie Jean"? Here's what Cowell said: "David, that was brave. I mean, it could have either been insane or amazing, and I have to tell you, it was amazing."

And then there's the nuance. Michael Johns was eliminated from the show for a performance of "Dream On" that most of us liked. Here's what Simon said, though: "Michael look, I thought it was a very good performance. Why I'm slightly with Randy on this though is I don't like it when you do an impersonation of a rock star. I prefer it more with the kind of blues, R&B thing in your voice -- which we heard last week. So while I wasn't jumping out of my seat, I thought it was a little bit wannabe-ish."

He was right, and Johns went home. Cowell's judging is entertaining in and of itself, and when America listens to him (and we usually do), it makes for a better group of competitors overall. Justice delayed is not justice denied here, but it's about damn time that Simon Cowell won this award already. Done.
SO IF YOU BELIEVE IN FATHER CHRISTMAS, CHILDREN, LIKE YOUR UNCLE BILLY DOES, THEN BUY THIS FESTERING TURD OF A RECORD: The Telegraph (UK) handicaps this year's field for the Christmas number one song, with the overwhelming favorite apparently being this cover of "Hallelujah" by Alexandra Burke, who just won X-Factor over there, even though (as Jen notes) she seems to have no idea what the song is about. (We're still pulling for "Fairytale of New York," though we're not opposed to the Rick Astley push.)

(See, also, Burke w/Beyonce, "Listen"; "On The Radio"; but thank your lucky stars we don't see production numbers like this on Idol.)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

REALLY? Amy Poehler really said her goodbye to SNL last night. Really. May she be rockin' both her legs long into the future.

update: Gov. David Paterson's office was not amused by his portrayal.
THE AYATOLLAH OF ROCK AND ROLLA: Apparently, the Iranian press is unhappy that the villain in Mickey Rourke's The Wrestler is a wrestler known as Ayatollah. What the hell was Voice of America doing all these years that they did not make the Iranian people aware of the success of the Iron Sheik?
BONJOUR! THIS IS THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE. I FIRST MET MONSIEUR FRANKLIN ... : Philadelphia's beloved (and low-tech) underground Franklin Court museum, with its sliding diorama show and bank of rotary phones to dial friends of Franklin's for their reminiscences, is in serious need of money (and allegedly, a technological upgrade for the kids these days.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

IF BLANKETS ARE JUST TOO COMPLICATED FOR YOU: Get Snuggie! (YouTube here.) Who doesn't want to dress like a monk at home?
OBVIOUS REFERENCES TO STINSON AND ERIKSEN WILL GET YOU SLAPPED: Some weeks ago, Spacewoman and I were recounting the details of an irritating (do I use that word too much? I think I must be irritable) encounter she had with someone. The details are lost to me -- it could have been about an old roommate (she has crazy ones), a passerby (today I actually reprimanded a young man in a suit for weaving aimlessly while he walked slowly on a crowded sidewalk and talked on his cell phone; it was impossible to pass him and people were queuing up), a service-industry worker. But, we mused, what if the law allowed everybody one non-injurious slap against everybody else?

There would be some rules. You can slap as many people as you want, but you get only one slap against any one person. That one slap would bear no legal repercussion, but the law wouldn't require that people allow themselves to be slapped -- businesses could impose no-slapping rules; people could employ bodyguards. Thus, you could be banned from US Airways or Best Buy for using your slap (and would be, until they had banned so many customers that they'd have to allow it) but you wouldn't be prosecuted. You'd never get close enough to Tom Cruise or Rod Blagojevich to take your shot. And just to keep this honest, I'm banning slaps-for-hire.

The best part of this fantasy is not imagining the crack of hand against the cheek of, say, the stranger on my flight two days ago who, while boarding, took somebody else's bag out of the overhead compartment and just left it in the aisle, but rather thinking about how you'd use your one slap with your loved ones. Strangers are easy -- you'll probably see them only once, so you'll either use it or you won't. But with your friends and family, you need to conserve your precious resource. How much regret would Spacewoman have if she used her slap on me that one time at the toll booth in 1996, when we were just dating, not knowing about the ear-reddening argument we'd have in 2003 about the Nike 17205 case? How much more valuable would my slap have been throughout middle- and high-school as a lingering threat, knowing that my impulsive sister would have used hers on me already, leaving kind of a slap-missile gap in our household cold war? Do I know anybody who, at some point, I wouldn't have slapped, and who wouldn't have slapped me?

Come to think of it, would I be proud or shamed to know, at the end of the day, that I had both suffered and doled out more than the average number of slaps? And which speaks better of you -- to have been more slapper than slapped, or the contrary?
WOLVERINE! The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has confirmed that Hugh Jackman will host the 2009 Academy Awards. Jackman was a pretty great Tony host the couple of times he did it, but those shows are typically filled with song and dance material and inside theatre jokes and production numbers. I'm not quite sure how (or whether) that carries over to the Oscars.
SOMEONE'S GOING TO NEED A LOT OF COFFEE: For those suffering from Lauren Graham withdrawal, two tidbits. First, "Super Karate Monkey Death Car," one of the funniest NewsRadio episodes, featuring Graham as an efficiency expert administering lie detector tests to the WNYX crew and an even better B-Story involving Stephen Root's Jimmy James (an odd forebear of Jack Donaghy) having the best-selling memoir in Japan--Jimmy James: Macho Business Donkey Wrestler--is now up on Hulu. I watched it yesterday afternoon, and while the "reading" sequence is the funniest part, Graham gets moments as well, including in the opening sequence, where she suggests some "roleplaying," leading into a "Zoom" joke.

Second, once Graham finishes her Guys and Dolls run, she'll return to TV in a new project for ABC from some of the folks behind Arrested Devlopment, in which she'll play "a self-help guru who teaches women how to live a stress-free life -- but struggles to follow her own advice when her boyfriend dumps her." Seems to me like they're looking for a companion for Samantha Who? Of course, unless it's going to be filmed in NYC, that may mean Graham's G&D run will be cut short, so plan accordingly.
WELCOME TO HOLLYWOOD, BABY: MJsBigBlog leaks an interesting Fox memo on American Idol's upcoming season:
FOX Network Program Executive Council

When will the schedule and any new details about this season be released?

January through March details will hopefully be released before the Holidays. All episodes will be Tuesday-Wednesday. No Thursday’s planned; same overall number of hours as last year. There will be 3 weeks of auditions and 2 weeks of Hollywood rounds. There will be 36 contestants coming here to Hollywood as opposed to 24 last year. There will be a wild card week and there will continue to be 12 contestants in the Finals. There will be a couple of more 2 hour shows than in the past. Promotional thrust will have fewer bad singers and more ‘aspirational’ singers. There will be no Idol Gives Back.
Okay. Other than the "no Idol Gives Back" thing, since we're a fan of anything that gets Annie Lennox in front of television's biggest audience every year (as well as Carrie Underwood's cover of "Praying for Time"), this is all good. We've seen enough delusionally bad singers for a lifetime, and I'd rather they spend the time ensuring that we get to know all of the semifinalists before it's time for America to vote than trying to make bucks exploiting the mentally ill.

You know I love Hollywood Week. I am thrilled to see more of it.

The shift from 24 to 36 semifinalists, and the existence of a wild card week, suggests that instead of doing the 24-to-20-to-16-to-12 eliminations, it'll be back to something like the old days -- perhaps three weeks with groups of twelve performing on Tuesdays, with the top three each week making it to Hollywood, followed by a fourth week with "judge's favorites who didn't make it the first time," with the top three from that week joining them. The format used the past few years created too many incentives against risk-taking (until the perilous 16-becomes-12 week); this will be better.

[Anyone else remember the year in which the wild card week brought back folks who we had never seen before? What season was that?]

American Idol returns on January 13, 2009, barely a month away.
DESERVES: Given how quickly the third act of Million Dollar Baby was spoiled in the media, reviews like Manohla Dargis' of Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino make me want to see it quickly:
He knows that when we’re looking at him, we’re also seeing Dirty Harry and the Man With No Name and all his other outlaws and avenging angels who have roamed across the screen for the last half-century. All these are embedded in his every furrow and gesture.

These spectral figures, totems of masculinity and mementos from a heroic cinematic age, are what make this unassuming film — small in scale if not in the scope of its ideas — more than just a vendetta flick or an entertainment about a crazy coot and the exotic strangers next door. As the story unfolds and the gangbangers return and Walt reaches for his gun, the film moves from comedy into drama and then tragedy and then into something completely unexpected. We’ve seen this western before, though not quite. Because this isn’t John Wayne near the end of the 20th century, but Clint Eastwood at the start of the still-new 21st, remaking the image of the hero for one more and perhaps final time, one generation of Americans making way for the next.
Sunday's Times will have a profile of Eastwood, which notes: "Despite what you might have read on Wikipedia, Mr. Eastwood is not a vegan, and he looked slightly aghast when told exactly what a vegan is. 'I never look at the Internet for just that reason,' he said."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT, ISAAC WASHINGTON AND A SPECIAL APPEARANCE BY TINA FEY'S HUSBAND: Oh, my goodness, that was one fine hour of NBC comedy. "The Office" was reaction shot heaven, and the Phyllis-Angela stuff was just brilliant as Pam & Jim, for once, stayed on the sidelines. As for "30 Rock," Elaine Stritch earned her annual nomination and Alec Baldwin his Emmy tonight. Just wow.

See, NBC? You can do scripted television shows that people like!
DID WE LEARN NOTHING FROM THE EMMYS? Nikki Finke reports that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has chosen a host for this year's Oscars, who's not a TV personality or a comedian, but is involved in the movie business, and is "outside the box"--the traditional monologue will be omitted Defamer speculates (mostly in jest), but you should do so as well. (A commenter on Finke suggests that Tom Hanks fits, and would make sense.)

Finke also notes that protests have arisen over the planned honoring of Jerry Lewis with the Academy's Humanitarian Award due to his recent use of anti-gay slurs as schtick in his public appearances. Personally, I'm still waiting for Day The Clown Cried.

Finke is now reporting that an offer has been made to Hugh Jackman.
A LIST FOUNDED BY CAL TRILLIN'S ROOMMATES, THATCHER HADLEY BAXTER, HADLEY BAXTER THATCHER, AND BAXTER THATCHER HADLEY: Via Drew Magary at Deadspin, Inside Lacrosse's 2009 All-Name Team. And not a Knox Mowgli among them.
PAGING THE BLIZZARD MAN: Incredibad isn't the sequel to Superbad, but the debut album from Andy Samberg and his cohorts at The Lonely Island. The lead single will apparently be "J*** In My Pants," as featured on last week's generally painful SNL, and the album will also feature "D**k In A Box," "Lazy Sunday," and "Natalie Raps," along with new material, including collaborations with T-Pain, Norah Jones, and Jack Black.
NUB NUB: Things discovered today--the word "Ewoks" is not recognized by Microsoft's spell check as a valid word. Guess some people didn't much like Return of the Jedi.
'STEFAN,' IT'S FINNISH FOR 'JACKASS': Okay, the guy is good television, what with the constant provocations and the "I MAKE GOOD BABY" t-shirt. He is a good strategist, with the constant undercutting of, well, everyone around him. He is a good gamester with a good palate as well. Still, I did want Jamie to punch him in the face. Her analysis that he's "a button-pusher" is dead on, and the edit showed her more amused than harassed, but I would have found a little direct physical correction appropriate and reassuring. What kind of man corners an avowed lesbian with bargaining for a kiss in such an uncomfortable manner that a fraggle has to come swat him away with book? The kind of man who married and divorced the same woman twice and still calls her a "chick" on internationally syndicated cable television. Yech.

Speaking of fraggles, "hootie-hoo"?? Muppetier and muppetier! How much more muppety could it be? The answer is none. None more muppety. ...unless of course there is a kids episode later in the season and costumes are involved.

Good quickfire this week with really good challenges where, for once, the drama about the elimination got me right in the gut. The arguments for sending Gene home were all there, and I was shocked to discover that deep within all my vortices of snark and bile there is still a small kernel of something human that cares about the outcome of reality television shows.

But enough of that. Does anyone think it's plausible that Danny shoved those inexplicable notches in his beard so that he wouldn't look too much like the other large bearded cheftestant? Is that giving him too hard a time? I believe he did show up with a full beard, and the notches appeared only after they got to the residence.
THE 75 MOST POWERFUL PEOpLE IN HOLLYWOOD: Golden Globe nominations are out, and a few quick thoughts before I run to work:
  • All four Doubt performers are nominated, as is the screenplay, but no best picture or director nomination?
  • Big love for Vicky Christina Barcelona (unsurprising, as the HFPA tends to love Woody Allen and foreign performers)--acting nods for Bardem, Rebecca Hall, and Penelope Cruz, as well as a best pic nominee.
  • Meryl Streep is nominated in both best actress categories (Doubt and Mamma Mia!), and Kate Winslet is nominated as a lead actress for Revolutionary Road and a supporting actress for The Reader.
  • Even though the Globes don't divide their supporting acting categories into comedy/drama, two comic actors got in on supporting actor--both for Tropic Thunder--Robert Downey, Jr. and Tom Cruise. Both are, naturally, going to lose to Heath Ledger.
  • Clint Eastwood--two nominations--both for music.
  • Kevin Connolly for lead actor in a comedy? Seriously? (And NPH is the sole nod for anything on CBS Monday.)
  • Aside from Sean Penn's performance, Milk is shut out.
Other oddball nominees include Miley Cyrus (best original song), James Franco (best actor for Pineapple Express), Melissa George (supporting actress TV for In Treatment), and multiple nominations for In Bruges.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Alinea At Home

XANTHANTASTIC! For those of you who found the Julie/Julia Project to be insufficiently hardcore, Carol Blymire is cooking everything in Grant Achatz' Alinea cookbook and photo-blogging about it. The WaPo profiles Blymire here, and explains:
At close inspection, none of Alinea's recipes requires terribly advanced techniques. There are unfamiliar ingredients, such as soy lecithin, a commercial emulsifier, and tapioca maltodextrin, which helps transform liquids into powders. But the dishes are intricate, requiring patience, time -- and a lot of dishwashing. To make the liquefied popcorn, Blymire used 17 bowls, pots, strainers, utensils and glasses for weighing, cooking, blending and serving the tiny post-dessert shot. And that was one of the easy ones.
See, e.g., Blymire on "Sea Urchin, vanilla, chili, mint", or indeed "Caramel Popcorn, liquefied":
My first reaction was that it looked like the aftermath of the Delts' 1987 Heaven and Hell party, but after straining it, it looked more like corn pudding, which was much more appetizing for all of us.

Let me take a minute to talk about the smell. It's sooooo much better than the farty movie theatre popcorn smell (which smells great for the first 30 seconds, and then just ends up smelling, well, farty). This popcorn pudding purée (because it went into the blender and was strained again before serving, but that's one of the steps I don't have a photo of) was sweet and salty and smelled like my favorite corn pudding dish, only better, and more like fall, if that makes sense. We tasted it at this point, and the only way I can think of to describe how it tasted is to say that it tasted like chewed-up popcorn... but not in a gross-out kind of way. In a really awesome kind of way.
Oh, and she already spent eighteen months cook/blogging The French Laundry at Home.