Saturday, January 26, 2008

ASIDE FROM ITS BEING THE BIRTHPLACE OF JAMES BROWN, STEPHEN COLBERT AND SHE-CRAB SOUP: Yes, I have another reason to be a fan of South Carolina tonight. [Open political analysis thread.]
SADLY, NO BAR MITZVAH INVOLVED: After a long (and rather unfortunate) day at the office today, I hopped in a cab to head homeward, and, rather unexpectly, Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" came on the cabbie's radio--there are few songs guaranteed to make folks happier than that. Any other songs that just make you inexplicably happy?

School of Arts & Sciences - University of Pennsylvania

FELLINI'S 8.5: Mathematics Professor Dennis DeTurck at the University of Pennsylvania wants elementary schools to stop teaching fractions, long division, the manual calculation of square roots and by-hand multiplication of long numbers.
DAMN YOU, BERLANTI! Amidst all the Lost hype, a reminder that it's probably worth staying tuned for (or setting your DVR for) the premiere that follows--new Greg Berlanti lawyer drama Eli Stone. As a fan of Berlanti going back to the Everwood years, I'm sure to turn in, but if that's not selling point enough--the cast includes Jonny Lee Miller (aka "Angelina's Pre-Brad Man"), SpyDaddy! (who apparently will get to sing), Loretta Devine, B'way faves Laura Benanti and Joanna Gleason, Veronica Mars alum Julie Gonzalo, and Patch Abbott himself (plus regular cameos from George Michael. Sure, I'm not exactly thrilled by reports that the pilot has a major plot endorsing the (at best) dubious "vaccines cause autism" theory, but that cast is enough to make me interested regardless of how much political sermonizing we may get.
DIE FOR SOMETHING, OR LIVE FOR NOTHING: "I can't think of another blockbuster action franchise that has been so unabashedly right wing in its world view," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in his review today of Rambo and appreciation of the four-part series:
For all of Rambo's enjoyably absurd superheroics and chunks-a-flyin' combat -- not to mention its nostalgic spectacle of a Reagan-era action hero shredding hundreds of greasy louts -- it's that phrase, more than anything else, that lingers in the mind: War is in your blood. Read it, hear it, memorize it -- and don't be surprised to see it on bumper stickers or t-shirts after Rambo has left theaters, and newspaper critics have all had to write pieces explaining why this supposed liver-spotted relic of a film made so much money. Like its three predecessors, Rambo strikes a nerve, and it's not a nerve that America's left-leaning critical establishment wants struck.
Matt concludes: "Rambo is America's undying warrior spirit made flesh -- a human incarnation of the "sleeping giant" that Japanese Admiral Yamamoto claimed had been awakened by Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor. By defining Rambo this way, and pitting him against murderous, torturing, decadent Others who, unlike Rambo (and us), have no code, no sense of decency, no humanity, this series aims to show that our nation is right even when it's wrong, and that it makes war because it is a righteous warrior nation in a barbarian world. The warrior spirit is America's defining trait, the double helix from which the rest of its character is built. We've come full circle."

[Adds the AV Club: "Stiffly written, woodenly acted, and indifferently directed, yet full of s--t blowing up real good and motherf------s getting killed, Rambo is fun-bad, then bad-bad, then ultimately fun-bad again, before its abrupt end. A plea for international intervention in Burma cunningly disguised as a B-movie bloodbath, Rambo is paradoxically both a condemnation and celebration of mindless slaughter."]

Friday, January 25, 2008

FOR KARL EMIL JULIUS ULRICH SALCHOW: The 2008 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships are this weekend. Though ALOTT5MA fave Stephanie Rosenthal is skipping them to focus on her studies at Yale, our roving correspondent Gretchen nevertheless files this report:
While spunky Emily Hughes had to pull out due to an injury, there are still some good competitions to come. Kimmie Meissner, a world champion, has been floundering this season -- can she get her act together and pull off a clean program? Or will young Carolina Zhang will steamroll right over the older skaters? I'm also rooting for Alissa Czisny, who has been working with Brian Boitano to improve her jumping technique. In ice dancing, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto should have no problem pulling off another gold in ice dancing (and they have a really cute original dance to Aaron Copland music). As for the pairs, they'll probably be just as tragic as they always are, but at least this time, they won't have the Chinese and European pairs to outclass them. But the highlight will probably be the men's competition, where Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir will again fight for the gold medal.
Okay, fine, because someone will insist: you can have your Plushy again.
HE'S NOT GAY ANYMORE! In my experience, the test of when a voting-based reality show has won me over is the moment when I am inspired to actually pick up a phone and vote. And thus I can report that as of last night, I am officially a maker of supermodels. That whole routine with Frankie the Deeplie Oogie announcing that Holly was too drunk during the sex shoot to model properly got me sufficiently incensed to go track down a phone and vote for Holly eight times. (I gave Aryn my other two statutorily mandated votes, partially because Jay is such a dud and partially -- ok, mainly -- because I am curious to see whether it will be Aryn or Ronnie that gets Ben to cheat on his wife first.)

In general, I vastly prefer the guys to the girls, although that may be attributable to the fact that after umpteen cycles of ANTM, I'm a little burned out on TV shows about girls trying to become models. And, you know, some of the guys are pretty hot, unlike the usual "let's find some really tall really thin girls with really weird features" routine. Perry and Casey are not exactly painful to watch. And Ronnie has skyrocketed since his makeover -- the blonde "young Elvis" hair is doing well by him. As for the girls, Jacki is a no brainer, and there's something about Holly that I like as well. My money is currently on a Perry / Jacki showdown, but it's still too soon to make a reliable call.

Things I dislike about the show? Mainly just two: the weekly measurements sessions and Niki Taylor.

So . . . who's watching Make Me a Supermodel?
I NEED A HERO. I'M HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO UNTIL THE END OF THE STATUTORY PLANNING COUNCIL OBJECTION PERIOD: He's got to be strong. And he's got to be sure. And he's got to have a mock-Tudor single family home / castle (with cannon!) concealed within a wall of hay bales on his farm.
"The council wants the building near Redhill some 30 km south of London to be demolished, along with an associated conservatory, marquee structure, wooden bridge, patio, decking and tarmac racecourse."

Featured at Yahoo!, obvs. And I do hope he gets away with it. Yes indeed I do.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

THE OLD EEN AND OUT: Since there's clearly demand for it, and in an effort to remove spoiler discussions from other threads, here's a thread for Project Runway discussion. Behave yourselves, or we'll get Tim Gunn to gently, but firmly, reprimand you.
TOUCH ME I'M SICK: As I suffer mildly through a nettlesome acute viral nasopharyngitis -- known to the uninformed as the "common cold," or, inaccurately, "flu" -- it occurs to me that we don't have enough cute nicknames for our diseases these days. Sure, there's occasionally shingles or whooping cough and less-frequently mad cow, but mostly we're so damn clinical. Nobody self-diagnoses ague or grippe. I've never heard of drug-resistant consumption. Gone are the days of the French Disease, which was what you got when you graduated beyond the Kissing Disease. Even yellow fever, which seems like it might be a cool nickname, is an actual scientific diagnosis (and far less evocative than its kicky nickname, "vomito negro"). The last time I remember somebody trying to work a nickname into the popular lexicon was in the early 1980s when idiots were running around trying to pin "gay cancer" on a disease that was neither gay nor cancer (seriously, why not "junkie anemia" or "Haitian pallor"? Not in-your-face enough?). I'm just saying that if you're going to get a disease, it at least should come with an interesting or fearsome-sounding nickname.

Some suggestions:
  • Rickets: Don Rickles
  • Oral gonorrhea: Emma Nelson's Disease
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome: Fat Charlie the Archangel
  • E.Coli: Gratuitous Punctuation
  • Tetanus: Careless Hippies' Folly
  • Measles: Hot Freckles
TODAY'S SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE: Fox's new "game show" The Moment Of Truth (aka "Let's Hook People Up To A Lie Detector And Ask Them Embarassing Questions") made the highest rated debut of the season last night, beating prior winner Terminator: Excessively Long Title by a substantial margin.
QUANTUM LEAP: OK, so the Bond series hasn't exactly been known for brilliant titling, but doesn't the title for the next one--Quantum of Solace--sound a lot more like a bad indie film than a major action flick? I can't picture 20-something meatheads walking up to the ticket counter and asking for a ticket to "Quantum of Solace" (or maybe even being able to pronounce it correctly).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

THAT'S FOR TAKING THE KID OFF THE RAFT: With eight days to go, it's time to officially kick off this blog's Lost hype-fest for season 4. Having recently finished re-watching season 3 of Lost on DVD, here's just some of the questions I still have:
  • So, what's the deal with Naomi and the freighter?
  • How was Penny able to access the Looking Glass?
  • Whose funeral was it?
  • Is it possible to kill Mikhail? What is the deal with the island's magical (healing and other) powers, anyway? Will they help some of those folks on the beach?
  • Uh, Walt? How'd you get there? Did Walt and Michael ever return to civilization?
  • Why does Richard not seem to age?
  • Who is the musician who programmed "Good Vibrations"?
  • Jacob?
  • Is Kate pregnant?
  • Where is the island? How does one get there from the mainland, and why can't it be found easily?
  • Who are/were the "good guys," anyway?
  • What up with the Hurley Bird?

What are you wondering about?

I HATE, HATE, HATE THIS NEWS: Roger Ebert is going in for more surgery tomorrow, so while he has written a number of reviews, Great Movies and Answer Man columns in advance, Jim Emerson and the Sun-Times B-team will have to pick up the slack again. May he be speedily restored to perfect health.
THE 2007 SPACECARS (TM), SPONSORED AND BOYCOTTED BY THE WRITERS' GUILD: Herewith, the 2007 winners of the Spacecars, awarded every few years or so for achievements in films that I saw in theaters during the relevant calendar year:

Best Picture: Knocked Up
Best Actor: Matt Damon, Bourne Ultimatum
Best Actress: Franka Potente in the dead-floaty recycled footage from Bourne Ultimatum
Best Supporting Actor: Martin Starr, Knocked Up
Best Supporting Actress: Julia Stiles, Bourne Ultimatum
Best Song: Ambient noise, Bourne Ultimatum
Best Adapted Screenplay: Bourne Ultimatum (adapted entirely by changing the second word of the title from Supremacy to Ultimatum)
Achievement in costume and makeup: The person who dressed and coiffed Martin Starr in Knocked Up
Best Animated Feature: None (also nominated: Bee Movie)

The term "Spacecars" is an unregistered trademark of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Spacehold. AMPAS protects its trademark vigorously through legal, extralegal, and illegal actions, which include but are not limited to NAFTA arbitrations, cover-two zones, flash mobs, ninja incursions, tickle time, and swiftboating.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I WAS NOT EXPECTING THIS ONE: Just a few days after the Brad Renfro news, it looks like Heath Ledger is another young actor who will not be making more movies anytime soon.

(Maybe this is presumptuous of me, but I'm going to say it anyway. Attention young actors: stop doing drugs.)
STUDY IS MORE VALUABLE THAN SLEEP: The Orange County Register has a nice profile of the most recent TAR winners, and how they managed to successfully overcome that last Roadblock, courtesy of a detailed race journal.

Edited to remove spoiler in text per requests from commenters.
OH, THE SHARK, BABE: From Rebel Without a Cause to Eastern Promises, see if your favorite movie made the cut in this dissection of the 10 Best Knife Scenes in Movies.

Via Pop Candy.
ATTACK OF THE LITTLE GOLD MEN: Oscar nominations are out. Some interesting surprises:
  • Tommy Lee Jones in for leading actor, but for Valley of Elah rather than No Country.
  • No love for The Simpsons Movie or Shrek The Third in animated feature--instead, we get Surf's Up and Persepolis. Ratatouille is the clear leader in the category, though--also nominated in screenplay, sound mixing, sound editing, and original score.
  • Although Into The Wild won the Golden Globe for original song, it's not even nominated, but Enchanted racks up three nods there (and even if there's no WGA waiver, the performance of "Happy Working Song" should be a hoot).
  • Best Picture? Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood, and No Country for Old Men.
  • The mismatch between picture and director is not (as was expected) Jason Reitman being out, but Joe Wright being out and replaced by Julian Schanbel.
  • A surprise non-nomination in live action short for Hotel Chevalier.
  • Among your nominees--Norbit (best makeup), The Golden Compass (art direction, visual effects), and Transformers (sound editing, sound mixing, visual effects).

Monday, January 21, 2008

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: While the group of ThingThrowers (joined with a pair of random strangers) that was at the Big Quiz Thing and dubbed "Strom's Lil' Bastards" did not prevail (nor even finish in the top 10)--due largely to a nasty round of "Songs About Drugs" and a difficult multi-point question involving the identification of heavy metal bands from album names (such as the classic "Killing Is My Business, and My Business Is Good")--a good time was had by all, and "Smart-Ass Points" were awarded to our response in the audio round of giving the title and artist of a reggae song as being "Bob Marley--the one about weed" (though I liked our response of "Led Zeppelin--the one they ripped off from a black guy" better). I don't know that I've ever been to a better run bar trivia night--I hope to keep going in the future, and other ThingThrowers are welcome to join in in the future.
I'VE BEEN TO PARADISE, BUT I'VE NEVER BEEN TO MESA VERDE: Smithsonian Magazine has a very manageable list of 28 Must See/Experience Destinations, and depressingly I have seen/experienced five (Pompeii, Aurora Borealis, the Lourve, the Uffizi Gallery, and Venice).

So how many have you been to? And what one destination would you add to the list? My nominees included star-gazing on Mauna Kea, sunrise at Lake Louise, and Guernica, but I think my one addition would have to be the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota.
COUNTERPROGRAMMING: Since I've already remarked on, and heard remark of, my curmudgeonly nature this morning, and since the sight of Favre doing what I will remember most about his last four or five years (that is, flinging wild interceptions) was not quite enough to clear out the stink of the Patriots yet again winning a losable game to a mediocre (without LDT, anyway) team, then just to prove that I am capable of enjoyment, I'll mention two things that did make me smile:

1. The Wire. I know that a lot of people think that the McNulty serial-killer storyline is this show's Landry-and-Tyra-Kill-a-Rapist, but I don't really care. This was a damn funny episode, with Bunk's petulance, Barlow's impermeable density, Freamon's gameness, Marlo's monolingualism, Omar's Honey-Nut Cheerios-free domesticity, Michael and Dookie's game (the game with the girls, not with the drugs, that is), Bug's Batman mask, and McNulty's fresh-air shenanigans. And for an episode to be that funny while still giving us and the characters so much heartbreak -- the minor character who bowed out this episode always was one of my favorites, though I feel like I say that every time a minor character gets written out -- requires a genius of which strike-replacement television is not capable.

2. This YouTube soccer clip. I never thought that the voice of absolute undiluted joy would come ragged from vodka and cigarettes and extolling the virtue of Leeds, but surprise, it does. As a bonus, I have it on good authority that many of the words spoken are in English, though for the life of me I can't identify which.
LITTLE BLACK BOYS AND BLACK GIRLS WILL BE ABLE TO JOIN HANDS WITH LITTLE WHITE BOYS AND WHITE GIRLS AS SISTERS AND BROTHERS: A few years ago, and by that I mean exactly a few years ago, I mentioned that when my parents' marriage was consecrated, it was also illegal in a great number of states. Today I'll note that, while their marriage was not illegal in the state in which they lived, it nonetheless was painfully scandalous, even to my family. I grew up biracial when there seemed to be very few of us, and even when I shared a geographic, economic, social, and educational background with mostly white people, most of the time my chief identifying characteristic was the part of my race that wasn't white. I had a lot of friends and family who, when we were growing up, probably couldn't have imagined themselves dating someone who isn't white.

My family today is not scandalized by interracial marriage -- all of my cousins' children are biracial. I live in a city, or at least a part of a city, where it seems that half of the families are multiracial, and I'm sending my kids to a religious school where almost all of the families are interfaith. If you read this site at all, you know that I am not prone to excessive sentimentality. My most common emotion is mild irritation, followed by annoyance, pique, exasperation, dumbfoundedness, strong irritation, schadenfreude, despair at the human condition, concealed affection, and all-consuming rage. Nonetheless, I always think that today is a good day to remember that in a lot of ways we live in a better world than the one in which our parents lived, and that we ought to be grateful to the people who sacrificed a lot to get us here.
CAREFUL THE THINGS YOU SAY, CHILDREN WILL LISTEN: While wandering through the airport newsstand at LAX the other day, I happened to notice the cover of this month's Seventeen, which features Vanessa Anne Hudgens discussing "the scandal that made her sorry--and grateful." Was the Sondheim reference intentional or unintentional, you think? Personally, I'm waiting for "Not Getting Married" with the next celebrity breakup or maybe US paying appropriate tribute to "The Ladies Who Lunch?"
GOODBYE, BOB: Suzanne Pleshette has died.
ANYONE WHO HAD A HEART: A week from Tuesday Shelby Lynne will release a new album entitled Just a Little Loving featuring covers of songs popularized by Dusty Springfield. The album has received regular airplay on WXPN in Philadelphia.

My initial reaction to the songs I've heard so far was negative. Lynne's "readings" of these classic songs are generally contemplative and a little dark. The originals, many of which you can find on the incomparable Dusty in Memphis, have a soulfulness that I find deeply moving. Springfield infuses the songs with a buoyant joy. See also The Look Of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection.

Then I started to read a little bit more about Lynne. I'd known, of course, that her sister was the alt-country singer Allison Moorer (who is married to Steve Earle). I had not known, though, that when Lynne was just 17 years old Lynne's father, an abusive alcoholic, shot and killed her mother and then turned the gun on himself while his daughters looked on. Shortly after she turned 18, Lynne began supporting herself and her sister by playing music in local clubs. Over the ensuing 20 years, she's had some successes (notably, her 2000 release I Am Shelby Lynne, which led to her being awarded the 2001 Grammy for best new artist) but perhaps more than her share of disappointments in the music business.

Looking back over her career, I find that I prefer Lynne's darker songs: her Aretha Franklin-esque "Thought It Would Be Easier", the bitter "Your Lies", and her profound cover of "A Rainy Night in Georgia." Given what life has dished out to Shelby Lynne, maybe there's a reason for her focus on the dark side. Sometimes it feels like it's raining all over the world.
LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD: The classic French film Last Year at Marienbad is being shown at the Film Forum in New York through Jan. 31st. The 1962 film has inspired uncommonly strong reviews and is part of Roger Ebert's Great Movies series. From the Film Forum's description:
Perhaps the ultimate puzzle film, with dizzying time shifts and flashbacks, real or imagined—or are they shifts into the subjunctive? Possible solutions have included the Orpheus-Eurydice myth; a visualization of the process of psychoanalysis; or the whole as a kind of stream-of-consciousness of a single mind, encompassing truth, lies, and visualized whatifs.

You can see the trailer here.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I TRIED TO POST THIS ON LEMONLYMAN.COM: Though the Broadway revival of 60s sex farce Boeing-Boeing bears little inherent interest to me, a cast that's now reported as including Bradley Whitford, Christine Baranski, and Mary McCormack (with Sarah Jessica Parker offered a part as well) certainly could generate some excitement around here.
GUTS, AND GLORY: To the extent that past season finales of the Race have been "fly from Asia to Hawaii or Alaska, do a bunch of tasks there that lead to a bunching into the final city," this one can be commended for its relative efficiency. And I did like the detour, and the number of intra-city navigational tasks.

But, my lord, that final Roadblock? You know, there's a reason they don't broadcast the logic games section of the LSAT on primetime tv. I always like a final task that involves remembering things which had happened during the race, but this was ridiculous. Bring back the ordering of the flags!

The other thing I missed this time around was any sense of final leg desperation/super-crazy-we-gots-to-win hijinks -- shipping the backpacks home to not have to carry them, renting a local, exorbitant bribes to cabbies, etc. ... just Ron's killer sweet move at the Taipei Airport.

Overall? Very good, but not great season, which still made it much better than a bunch which proceeded it.
A COLD DAY IN HELL: Unfortunately, San Diego isn't playing New England in Green Bay today, because the conditions are right there for a win.

Who you want? Who you got?

(Want: GB, SD. Will Get: GB, NE).