Saturday, February 16, 2008

PERVERSE AND OFTEN BAFFLING: Even if you're not already a regular This American Life listener via the radio or podcast, last week's episode "Tough Room" (iTunes, while it lasts) is much worth your time for two reasons: Ira Glass' trip to The Onion's weekly writer's meeting, and Malcolm Gladwell's retelling of his early days in journalism at the Washington Post, where he and a colleague would run month-long contests to see who could get the phrase "raises new and troubling questions" into more stories in a month. Fun stuff.
YES, BUT WILL THERE BE INTERPRETIVE DANCING? Performers of the five nominated songs for next Sunday's Oscar telecast have been announced:
  • Amy Adams performing "Happy Working Song"
  • Kristin Chenoweth and Marlon Saunders (the calypso singer from the film) performing "That's How You Know"
  • Jon McLaughlin performing "So Close"
  • Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova performing "Falling Slowly"
  • Jamia Simone Nash and the IMPACT Repertory Theater of Harlem performing "Raise It Up"
I'm a little disappointed Adams isn't doing "That's How You Know," but both that and "Happy Working Song" should be fun.
SO, IS KITTY PRYDE AN INFINGER? If you're going to be working on improving your ability to walk through walls, please be notified of United States Patent Application No. 20060014125 as a potential basis for liability.

Friday, February 15, 2008

NEEDLESS TO SAY, I AM COMPLETELY THEORIZED IN DISAGREEMENT WITH THIS: In news that will be of intense interest to 15% of this blog's readers and ignored by the rest, Prof. Cass Sunstein announced this afternoon that he will be leaving The University of Chicago Law School for Harvard Law School. His announcement email reads, in part:
Everything I know, I have learned at the University of Chicago Law School. It is an amazing institution. It is a unique combination of high standards, curiosity, intellectual excitement, refusal to follow the herd, focus, generosity, personal kindness, intensity, desire to get it right, a nonsense-free zone, toughness, gentleness, amusement, and a sense of fun amidst it all -- and much more.
Full email in the Comments. This is truly a loss for the Law School, the legal-academic equivalent of a Red Sox signing of Johan Santana.
THERE WILL BE NO MORE LITERARY GHETTO: I was going to save this for when TPE gets around to doing the ALOTT5MA book club thing with World War Z (hint, hint), but since I just finished Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell a couple of weeks ago, I'll get to it right now: what is it that consigns a book to the genre-fiction ghetto?

I bought Jonathan Strange and Darkmans out of the General Fiction/Literature section (at B&N or Borders; I can't tell them apart other than that Borders still has better a better music section), but I picked up The Prestige and The Baroque Cycle in Sci-Fi/Fantasy. I got World War Z in Horror, but A Brief History of the Dead in General Fiction/Literature. Yiddish Policemen's Union and Casual Rex/Anonymous Rex: GenFic/Lit; L.A. Confidential/Black Dahlia: Mystery. A Good and Happy Child: GenFic/Lit; The Terror: Horror.

I can't see anything that justifies this weird classification. There's far more of the fantastic in Jonathan Strange than in Baroque Cycle. The Terror is more mythic than horror, and Good and Happy Child is the opposite. There are undercover dinosaurs in Casual Rex, for crying out loud. There isn't any legitimate stylistic basis for the distinction, I think (though one could argue the point with certain books). And yet one group gets to call itself highbrow; the other is stuck with the lowbrow tag (and often, but not always, the genre packaging, with the geeky graphics and the garish colors and the embarassing title font). Who makes these decisions, and why?
THERE IS ONE OTHER DUPLICATION, BUT THAT IS HIS AH . . . TRADEMARK, HIS CALLING CARD, SO TO SPEAK. HE ALWAYS LEAVES A WHITE MONOGRAMMED GLOVE.: I know theft is bad and all, but whenever there's a big ticket art heist, I cannot help but cheer the thieves on, just a bit. Of course, it's hard to fence $163M in art, but -- by God! -- the audacity of it. In five minutes, they've got Cezanne's ``The Boy in the Red Vest,'' Monet's ``Poppies Near Vetheuil,'' Degas's ``Count Lepic and his Daughters'' and Van Gogh's ``Blossoming Chestnut Branches.''*

Which leads me to ask our dear readership: when you take on a life of crime, what fine art are you going to lift?

* I think I only recognized the Degas; I know nothing about this stuff.
MOUNT "RAPMORE": In the most recent Sports Guy mailbag is a question we might like to ponder.

"Q: If they were going to construct the Mount Rushmore of the rap industry, who would the four members be? Keep in mind that it is the four most influential people to the history of the industry, not necessarily the four best rappers.
--Adam, Hillsville, Va.

SG: You'd have to call it Mount Rapmore and, by the way, it's not a bad idea for a tourist attraction in Compton or Watts. Anyway, Tupac had the most raw talent, the biggest creative impact and the most fascinating legacy. He has to be there. Dr. Dre played a crucial role during rap's formative years, helped launch the West Coast sound, found Snoop and the Dogg Pound, pushed rap into the mainstream with "The Chronic" and showed everyone else how to sell out. He has to be there. Jay-Z made the most money, bagged Beyonce and turned himself into a financial and cultural icon. He has to be there.

As for the fourth spot, Eminem reached the single highest peak of any rapper; Biggie Smalls was the greatest freestyler ever and had the single most distinctive sound; and Public Enemy had a bigger influence than both of them, only you couldn't just stick Chuck D. on there because it would belittle the contributions of everyone else in the group. So I keep coming back to this point: Biggie's major red flag was that he died too young, but if he had made one more memorable album, you'd pencil him in without an argument. Can you penalize him for dying young? I say no. Besides, you can't have a Mount Rapmore with Tupac and not Biggie when those guys are so intertwined historically. So Biggie would be my fourth pick for now, but it's up for grabs. We're an Eminem comeback album away from him knocking Biggie off and grabbing the fourth spot."

(I'd normally give you the link and spare you the long quotation, but the question and answer are buried in the second half of a 6,000+ word article.)

I perceive the same "group vs. individual" problem with the Sugarhill Gang that Simmons discusses regarding Chuck D, but I simply cannot imagine Mount Rapmore without some sort of homage to that band. Your thoughts?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

SAYID MAKE SEXY TIME: There is much to say about this week's Lost, and little I can say without spoilers. I will just note that we're really blessed by the producers' having an end-date, because without that I doubt we'd have seen that last minute quite yet.

I didn't mention this last week, but I am 98% sure who Ben's man on the freighter is. Two words: "find rescue".

e.t.a. Sepinwall: "You know, if this episode had featured nothing but the moment where Sayid pointed out that Jack trying to kill Locke wasn't 'good diplomacy' -- the latest instance this season where a character is allowed to question Jack's idiotic leadership skills -- I would have been happy with it. But 'The Economist' gave us so much more..."
BUT WE WERE REALLY HOPING YOU'D SHOW US SOMETHING MORE, YOU KNOW ... RUNWAYISCHE: If I've already gotten around to watching it off of Ye Olde DVR, then surely there are others who are ready for a Project Runway thread.

Personally, I hated the result because the winner (for the third time this season) took his top honors and glowing enthusiastic reviews from the judges with a design that I would have ranked dead last and laughable. On the other hand, I loved the result because others remained alive due to the Dreaded Cavalli Deadlock -- a little known principle of fashion judging that states any Italian designer of sufficient years and reputation can call bullshit on the likes of Michael, Nina and Heidi and get away with it.

And yet even Cavalli raved about the objective soul-searing atrocity perpetrated by this week's winner. He loved loved loved it. Obviously I know nothing about fashion, because I thought it was a bad joke. Not that the eliminated party's effort didn't look like it belonged on a female extra in an over-budget Lionel Richie video, because it did. As an aside, if you find yourself comparing some of the menswear in Richie's video (favorably) to the duds currently touted on Cavalli's site above, please let me know I'm not alone. Yes, anonymous commenting is acceptable for this purpose.

Here's an obligatory Final Fashion Week Collections link from Bravotv. Knowing you guys I bet I was the last one to that party, but I'm pretty sure we're yet to discuss. Favorites?
YES, BUT WHO IS THE NEXT BRIANA RAMIREZ-RIAL? Our friend Dan Fienberg runs down the men and women in Idol's final 24, featuring odds of victory, indicia of ringer-dom, and comparisons to Idols past including "Anthony Fedorov without the tracheotomy scar," "he's giving me a Matthew Metzger vibe," "from the hair to the tendency to shout, I keep thinking of Nadia Turner," and the utterly brilliant "Since I haven't the faintest what he sounds like, I'm goin' with Clifford the Muppet."

I'm still waiting for the next Sabrina Sloan -- IMHO one of two contestants over the first six years eliminated before the final 12 who could have won the whole thing. (Frenchie Davis being the other.) Official bios available here; wacky dancing parade remains here.
DARN IT, I FORGOT TO PACK MY KNIVES: My hotel room in Miami has a lovely view of the bay and of Fresh Market--a/k/a "that place where Top Cheftestants shopped last season." That's a nice segue into noting that Hung, the most recent Top Chef, has landed an executive chef gig in NYC (at a Kosher restaurant, oddly enough) for the month of March.
I DON'T WANT BANANAS, I DON'T WANT GREEN PEAS: Sure, this video is partisan, and we try and keep it nonpartisan around here, but according to The Hollywood Reporter, it's what Carter Bays and Craig Thomas (better known as the creators of How I Met Your Mother) did with themselves during the strike, hence warranting linkage.

Still, the winner of most awesome thing done during the strike? My Name Is Earl creator Greg Garcia, who spent 30 days of the strike working (anonymously) as a janitor and cashier at an unspecified fast food restaurant.
I'VE IDENTIFIED AN ANOMALY IN THE SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM: There are more people in the San Francisco Bay area who wear North Face jackets than there are people in the San Francisco Bay area.

Incidentally, I remember from Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Weird and Wonderful Facts that "continuum" is one of the three words in the English language that employs a double-u. Vacuum is one of the others, but I forget the third. Anyone?
  • Uncommonly-Broad-Shouldered Person
  • Huge Carry-On Guy
  • The Lady With All That Perfume
  • The Guy Who Has the Loud and Pointless Conversation on his Cell Phone Until the Flight Crew Gives Him the Final Warning and then the Moment Wheels Are Down He Redials and Picks It Up Again as if He Never Hung Up and then You See Him Again in the Terminal and He’s Still Yammering On Loudly About the Same Basketball Game and Dude I Can Hear You From Across the Concourse So Give it a Rest Already
  • Twentysomething People in Conservative Clothing Going to D.C. who Could Be Either Democrats or Republicans Because in D.C. the Twentysomething Democrats and Republicans Look Exactly the Same Right Down to the Flag Lapel Pins and Sensible Haircuts
  • Dr. University of Chicago School of Advanced Medicine Laptop Bag who Doesn’t Ring his Call Button When the Flight Crew Asks for Someone with Medical Training Maybe Because They Didn’t Ask for Someone with Advanced Medical Training
  • Shushes People Who Sneeze Lady
  • Just Getting to The DaVinci Code
  • Feral Pack of People Pretending Not to Understand the Southwest Boarding System
  • Southwest Employee Who Doesn’t Give a Shit about the Southwest Boarding System
  • Guy Irrationally Obsessed with Enforcing the Southwest Boarding System (informally known as: “me”)
  • People Who Give the Evil Eye to People Who Get Into the Southwest Boarding Line Ahead of Them Even Though It’s Not Cutting if You Have a Lower-Numbered Boarding Card
  • Larry Craig
  • Unaccompanied Minor
  • Seductively-Dressed Tween
  • Guy in Exit Row Who Rolls Eyes and Says “There Goes My Peaceful Flight” when Someone Sits Next to Him Because I Guess He Has Taken Ownership of the Exit Row
  • Overpays for Last-Minute Souvenirs
  • Boring Guy Who Won’t Stop Telling Boring Stories about his Boring Family
  • Girl Who Is Thinking About Jumping Out of Plane to Get Away from Boring Guy
  • Giant Headphones Guy
  • Watches Movie on Laptop Without Headphones Guy
  • Very Friendly Person
  • Embarrassed by Poor Sudoku Skills
  • Waits Until At Front of Security-Checkpoint Line Before Removing Shoes, Laptop
  • Is That Kelly MacDonald? No, It Is Not Kelly MacDonald
  • People Who Look Like They’re On the Lam
  • 35-Year-Old Guy Hitting on College Freshman
  • College Freshman Leading on 35-Year-Old Guy
  • Guy Who Has a Medical Emergency That Causes Plane to be Diverted to Reno
  • Guy Who Complains Loudly and to No One About Having to Land in Reno (same as Guy in Exit Row Who Rolls Eyes)
  • Screaming Kid
  • Thinks Parents Can Do Something About Screaming Kid Guy
  • Compulsively Eats Everything Offered to Him (also occasionally known as: “me”)
  • Peanut Allergy Public Information Officer

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

AMERICA WILL GET THE IDOL IT DESERVES: Indeed, it always does. Our 24 finalists have now been introduced -- a more professional and less quirky group than most -- and it's up to (in truth, the people who dial more than) us to eliminate 23 of them between now and the end of May. Any favorites?

e.t.a. And here, America, is your Wacky Dancing Parade.
TO BOLDLY MOVE RELEASE DATES: Sure, the strike is over, but it's now hit an in-production film--J.J. Abrams' Star Trek has been pushed from Christmas 2008 to May 2009. Reports were that Abrams wanted to do revisions to the script, but couldn't due to the strike--the delay will allow him time to do so, and (I hope) make a film that both honors the franchise (even if I'm not the biggest Trekkie) and is as much fun as Abrams' prior work.
IT IS AT THE EDGE OF THE PETAL THAT LOVE WAITS: The day greeted us with a coating of slick ice everywhere. The start of school was pushed back two hours. With a special holiday looming, my eldest son came to me and asked a favor.

“Dad, can you take me to a florist? I want to buy a rose for J.” He paused a moment, a little unsure of himself. He’d never bought flowers of any kind for a girl before.

“Dad, with a gorgeous wife like Mommy, I bet you’ve bought her roses lots of times. Will you show me what to do?”

How could I possibly say no? We drove together to the local farmer’s market, where the best local florist has a stand. I guided him to the roses on display. “What do I do now” he asked?

“Pick out the color you like best. Red is traditionally the color of romance.” He decided he liked the white ones best.

“How do I know which one to choose?”

“Choose one that looks fresh and healthy. Look for one that still has a tight bud.” He selected his favorite one.

I beckoned to the florist. “This is the first time my son has bought a rose for a girl. Did he pick out a good one?”

She smiled. “The one you picked smells especially good. Yes, I’m sure she will love this one.”

While she wrapped it, I asked my son “what do you think J will say when she sees this?” Suddenly he was a little boy again. He stared at the floor.

“I just want her to be happy because she makes me so happy.”

Let's make this our "open Valentine's Day" thread. Share a favorite memory. When was the first time you bought someone special a rose (or received one from someone special)? Tell a tale of a Valentine's Day to remember.

MISREMEMBER ME WHEN I'M GONE: We need to thank Roger Clemens for finally bringing to our attention the terrible scourge that performance-enhancing drugs have been to an institution as American as apple pie: Mom.

As Clemens bravely pointed out in sworn testimony today, his long-time friend Andy Pettite -- a guy who bears Clemens no grudge, and who appears to have been a key factor in luring Clemens out of fake-retirement to pitch for the Astros a few years back -- "misremembered" a conversation in which Clemens said that his wife took synthetic human growth hormone. Pettite mistakenly believed that the HGH was for the professional athlete, not the professional mom.

The fact is that while all parents reach daily the limits of their performance capacity -- do I have the strength to wrestle the Sharpie from my toddler-vandal's death-grip, the speed to grab him before he depantses himself and pees on the rug again, and the stamina to tuck him into his big boy bed for the 91st time in 90 minutes? -- we cannot even begin to understand the pressure on elite moms like Debbie Clemens. With nary but the help of a large and difficult-to-locate-at-the-request-of-Congress household staff, she must supervise the care and feeding of the Clemens boys while simultaneously maintaining a body suitable for a Sports Illustrated swimsuit photo and hair as blonde as the color of the Hummer that the Yankees gave her husband on the occasion of his first retirement. Who in that position wouldn't be tempted by a little synthetic help to put some extra snap in the reach-back fastball, so to speak? And who among us has never wondered whether we couldn't gain an edge on the maternal competition if we (or our wives) weren't more muscular and indefatiguable (even at the expense some pattern baldness and the tendency to throw broken bats at Mike Piazza -- again, so to speak)? So isn't Clemens right that what we really need is a Mitchell Report to investigate the sordid world of elite mommery?
LEARNIN' THE BLUES: I recently learned that the song that Alicia Keys and "Frank Sinatra" sang at the Grammys, "Learnin' the Blues", was composed (in part) in the house where I now live. I think that's pretty cool.
FOR THE HOURS THAT AREN'T OCCUPIED BY IDOL OR HOUSE: Just because the strike is over doesn't mean we're going to stop seeing wacky unscripted TV. Fox has announced that it has acquired rights to Japanese game show "Hole In The Wall." I'm not even going to try and explain. Let's just go to the videotape.
MAMA SAID KNOCK YOU OUT: So I re-upped my Netflix the other day and just got around to seeing Knocked Up and, lo, was that movie boring. Other folks seem to have enjoyed this, but Mrs. Earthling and I didn't much get it. A few funny bits, sure, but what was the big deal with that? Mind you, I think it was -- as movies go -- kind of a realistic look at the whole situation with joy and ambivalence and angst. The sister's family was, at best, tedious. The trip to Las Vegas was pointless. The movie, on the whole, stunk. I've got 40-Year Old Virgin in the queue, but if Knocked Up is any indication, should I bother?
THANK GOD SHEINHARDT WIG COMPANY CAVED TO THE WGA: A pair of NBC-related tidbits from today's Times:
  • SNL will return on February 23 with hostess Tina Fey (and, you must expect, appearances from other 30 Rock cast members) with Ellen Page hosting on March 1.
  • A profile of the women of Deal or No Deal, noting that they have a wide range of backgrounds--from former Playboy centerfold to member of the California bar.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

MAYBE OZYMANDIAS CAN FIGURE THIS ONE OUT: Twentieth Century Fox is claiming that they have a superior option right to Alan Moore's Watchmen and has turned to court in an effort to shut the current production down. I'm a little confused by their copyright claim, which seems to rest on infringement of copyrights that are registered to D.C. Comics and which Fox doesn't seem to be claiming ownership of. Indeed, there's no explanation in the complaint of how Fox got its license (though there's a lot about how WB allegedly took it from Fox).

Michael Jackson's masterpiece still a 'Thriller' - Los Angeles Times

MAMA SE, MAMA SA, MAMACU SA: Hard to believe that Michael Jackson's Thriller is now the subject of a 25th anniversary re-release, and yes, it's damn hard to just listen to the music and ignore everything that's happened since. But as someone who has fond memories of rollerskating to "P.Y.T." at the Palace Roller Rink, this song-by-song LA Times appreciation was a good read:
The dirty stuff is all there. But so is wonder, pure and complex, and some willful forgetting can bring you back to it. Put aside Jacko, the tragic example. Return to Michael, the musical prodigy who filtered a host of cross-cultural and intergenerational influences through his own weird radar to create music as surprising as it was definitive.

Enjoy that Michael, at play in the fields of new technology with producer Quincy Jones and the best team of studio pros since Brian Wilson roped in the Wrecking Crew. At 24, that Michael embodied the vertiginous power of being young -- his love songs were all longing and playful innuendo, his angry songs half bluster and half nightmare. That Michael believed that pop songs could have the effect that classic tales have on kids, coloring their dreams and staying forever in their memories. "Thriller" was the first Neverland he built -- the one he'll never lose in bankruptcy court.

EW's Ken Tucker dissents some: "Here's the thing: Thriller isn't a perfect creation. Quick, can you hum ''The Lady in My Life,'' the album's hookless closer? Didn't think so. The core of Thriller's music was executed by members of Toto, the ultimate L.A. session-hack band (remember their hits ''Hold the Line'' and ''Africa''?), in arrangements that sometimes required Michael's masterfully expressive vocals to mask their mere slickness. And if you ignore the hype and look around at other 1982 releases, Thriller is arguably not even the most-sustained quality album of that year: I could make strong arguments for George Clinton's Computer Games (come on, ''Atomic Dog'' alone influenced more hip-hop than any Michael song ever did), Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, and, yes, Marshall Crenshaw."

So let's take a trip back to the Motown 25 celebration, and one of the few lip-synched performances I can forgive, because it's hard to remember a world before the moonwalk, and it's hard to imagine a future in which any album again dominates the culture the way Thriller did back then.
HOLLYWOOD! Damn, I really missed the group singing portions of the Idol Hollywood round tonight, which in the past have given us the Frenchie/Locke "Band of Gold" and the Blake Lewis/Chris Sligh/Two Other People "How Deep Is Your Love?", as well as the quite fun Kim Caldwell v. Julia DeMato backstage drama. But if you're not rooting for Josiah The Street Urchin or Young David Archuleta, well, I'm not quite sure why you're watching.

e.t.a. Also, Wednesday's one of my favorite obscure Idol traditions: the annual parade of the final 24 doing their wacky dances.
WELL, THERE GOES THE BERNARD/ROSE HOUR: Ausiello has what seems like a comprehensive "how many more episodes, and when?" list for tv shows returning post-strike. "We will have to condense some stories," says Lost honcho Carlton Cuse, explaining the downshift from sixteen to a thirteen episode season.
INSTANT KARMA'S GONNA GET YOU, GONNA KNOCK YOU RIGHT ON THE HEAD: I am generally about as "left brain logical" as anyone I know. But when it comes to sports I am superstitious. Let's just say that my view was made manifest near midnight on Saturday October 25, 1986.

The links below consist of several "intent-to-use" trademark applications filed by Kraft Group LLC, which is owned by the owners of the New England Patriots. These claims state, under penalty of law, that as of Jan. 18, 2008 (roughly three weeks before the Super Bowl!), Kraft Group LLC had a bona fide intent to use the trademarks '19-0,' 'PERFECT SEASON,' 'ROAD TO PERFECTION' and '19-0 THE PERFECT SEASON.'

As someone on the Sports Guy’s website observed: “Such hubris does not go unpunished by the karma police."

Monday, February 11, 2008

THERE WILL BE RUMINATIONS: Several of our readers asked for a piece on Paul Thomas Anderson’s film There Will Be Blood. My thoughts are below. I would also suggest that you look at the many perceptive reviews by professional reviewers available at Metacritic. I particularly liked David Denby’s piece in The New Yorker.

The characters and themes in There Will Be Blood echo those in Anderson’s earlier movies. I have four main observations to share. First, in Anderson’s films you will often find characters whose capacity for a truly meaningful and loving connection to another person has been thwarted in some way. That usually leads to some sort of sublimation. Second, in most of his movies there is a flawed father figure. Third is the way that characters throughout Anderson’s films rely on drugs and alcohol to ease their pain. Finally, there is Anderson’s uncommonly skillful use of music.

1. Love and Related Matters

In Hard Eight (1996), the seemingly avuncular Sydney (played brilliantly by Phillip Baker Hall) has a secret that is revealed at the end of the film, which puts his display of kindness to John (John C. Reilly) in an entirely new light. John, in turn, has been damaged by the death of his father when he was a young boy. He has a relationship of sorts with Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow) but that relationship is unreal. Clementine says what she thinks people want to hear. John chooses to ignore the fact that she is hooking on the side.

Boogie Nights (1997) provides an interesting parallel with the plot of There Will Be Blood. In Boogie Nights, the characters sublimate their need for love with a fervent quest for sex, fame, and drugs (love -> sex), while in There Will Be Blood, whatever capacity Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) might have had for love appears to have been transformed into an obsessive competition for wealth (love -> greed). Most memorably in the earlier film, Eddie/Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) can find fulfillment only when he is acclaimed as a star of adult films. When his career tails off, he turns to drugs. Throughout the film, Diggler, a narcissist fond of clothes and a fast car, seems unable to respond to any sort of real love. Similarly, Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), a former housewife, is now a porn star who makes sobbing telephone calls late at night to her ex-husband, begging to speak to their child. Another narcissist, the Nina Hartley character (a real life porn star who plays a porn star in the movie) seeks sex rather than love. She continually humiliates her husband Little Bill (William H. Macy) by having sex with other men, occasionally in public.

Magnolia (2000) is chock full of characters yearning for love and mostly failing to find any sort of significant connection: Frank Mackey (Tom Cruise) a repugnant stud, damaged by his adulterous and unloving father, has distorted “love” into a coldly calculating approach to seducing women, his father Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) on death’s door looks back at a life of business success and a loveless family life full of betrayal, Linda Partridge (Julianne Moore) is Earl’s unloving wife, who has become addicted to prescription painkillers, former quiz kid Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) is a pathetic loser, who thinks all would be good in his life if he only had orthodontics for his teeth, Jimmy Gator (Phillip Baker Hall) is the host of a quiz show, and another adulterous phony. Even the few kind caregivers such as a cop played by John C. Reilly and a nurse played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, are unable to forge any sort of rewarding relationship. The theme of the movie is loneliness. The film interweaves nine separate yet interlocking stories about these characters covering a single day, yet all of these relationships are so fragile that none can really prosper.

Enraged, depressed, and frantic, Barry Egan (Adam Sandler), the central character in Punch-Drunk Love (2002), initially seems incapable of love. Wearing a mask of cheerful blandness with which to face the world, he often erupts in horrifying outbursts. Barry appears to be on guard most of the time, unsure of himself, threatened by something beyond his understanding. Yet when he meets Lena Leonard (Emily Watson) somehow they overcome the odds and figure out a way to connect. The climax in Hawaii is full of vivid romantic colors, echoing the rare joy the two have found. This is one of very few examples of a fulfilling romantic relationship in any of Anderson’s movies. (There is an amazingly good analysis of the film here.)

We know very little about the back story of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. We know that he has no wife, no friends, and no interests except for alcohol, the pursuit of wealth, and, intermittently his “son” H.W. He states that he “hates most people” and that:

“There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money that I can get away from everyone.”
A proud narcissist incapable of love or simply disinclined to love, he fills that void with a ferocious entrepreneurial energy and ruthlessness.

2. Father Figures

Anderson’s films frequently focus on flawed father figures. Sydney (Phillip Baker Hall) in Hard Eight, Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) in Boogie Nights, Jason Robards and Phillip Baker Hall in Magnolia (and Michael Bowen in the same film as a browbeating father of a young quiz show star), and, of course, Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood.

3. Drugs and Alcohol

Characters throughout Anderson’s films rely on drugs and alcohol to ease their pain. The alcohol-fueled Reno party scene in Hard Eight. Dirk Diggler’s insatiable quest for coke and meth in the second half of Boogie Nights. Amber Waves’ cocaine addiction, which causes her to lose custody of her child. Donnie Smith as the alcoholic former quiz kid in Magnolia. The self-medicating character played by Julianne Moore in Magnolia. The junkie played by Melora Walters who is befriended by John C. Reilly in the same movie. Plainview’s use of alcohol in There Will Be Blood.

4. Music

Anderson has a rare gift for incorporating music into his films. Michael “Romeo in Black Jeans” Penn wrote the soundtrack for Hard Eight. The song that plays over the end credits is sung by Aimee Mann, who would later inspire and provide most of the music for Anderson's film Magnolia. The Boogie Nights soundtrack is simply sublime. The hits from the 1970’s capture the hedonism of the time that is depicted in the film. Aimee Mann’s tender songs of lonely longing echo perfectly the theme of Magnolia. The score to Punch-Drunk Love was composed by Jon Brion (Aimee Mann’s frequent collaborator), featuring heavy use of the harmonium. The oddly dissonant sounds of the harmonium seem to parallel the unsettled emotional state of Barry Egan (the Adam Sandler character). At the start of There Will Be Blood, a discordant, threatening electronic screech, written by the Radiohead guitarist and composer Jonny Greenwood, presages danger ahead. An excellent analysis of the music in the film is in this New Yorker article.

5. What it All Means

Like the vast majority of the characters in Anderson's other films, Plainview has at best a limited capacity to love. He fills that void with a tremendous quest for wealth, but that wealth brings him no closer to happiness. In that regard, his tale is similar to the other Quixotic quests for happiness upon which various characters in other Anderson movies embark. You can also see some of Barry Egan's (the Adam Sandler character in Punch-Drunk Love) unsettled rage in Plainview's violent outbursts.

As is the case in other films by Anderson, Plainview is a flawed father figure who numbs his pain with alcohol.

EXACTLY HOW OFTEN DOES A PACK OF RABID OTTERS REQUIRE HOUNDING, ANYWAY? I seem to recall that we've got a few folks around here who enjoy a good dog show now and again. I'm through the hounds and partway through the terriers -- Westminster was made for the DVR -- and I have to say that I was a little bummed that the Harrier wasn't the hound of choice.

ThingThrower MBR is taking the MBRgirls to tomorrow's daytime dog events -- perhaps she'll offer up a little commentary as to what it's like in person. For me, it's certain to be an allergy nightmare, so I think I'll stick to the CNBC coverage.
BEFORE HE STOMPS: I wasn't actually around for the Grammys last night -- was on a quick trip to Chapel Hill for what ended up being one of the more extraordinary games I've ever attended, but thanks to the miracle of YouTube we can review some of last night's performances:
No winner on the Necrology -- they didn't broadcast any audience sound during the roll call.

85 hens close Phila. high school | Philadelphia Inquirer | 02/11/2008

ONE CAN ONLY HOPE THAT THE SPARC PROGRAM WAS NOT AFFECTED: In a prank that will be warmly appreciated by some here, "multiple culprits" let loose 85 chickens and a trail of feed at Philadelphia's Northeast High today, forcing a shutdown of the school. Among other notable facts, Northeast is where Frederick Wiseman shot his landmark 1968 documentary High School. Also, next door is the once-fabled Country Club Diner which, as previously mentioned, has gone to shite under new ownership.
A TALE OF TWO SHITTIES: Of all the loose ends that The Wire left last year -- and there were many -- the one that bugged me the most was what happened to Randy "Not Cheese" Wagstaff. I suppose that I knew exactly what had happened to him, but Maestro Harrell's performance last night, in Randy's coda, was chilling. And it wasn't just a tacked-on goodbye, either. It set up the parallel between Carver settling Randy into an institution where he didn't belong and McNulty doing the same for "Donald"/Larry. Carver's dashboard-beating rage at the way that he had both betrayed and failed Randy was the emotional high (or low) point of Season Four, and it was a nice contrast to McNulty's slight pause -- a moment's hesitation quickly overcome by the idiotic belief that it's all for the greater good -- leaving the homeless shelter after dropping Larry off. As Bunny reminded us in Season 2 or 3, Carver was a lousy cop. Since then, though, he's taken Bunny's advice to heart, and the show's moral center has drifted toward him as old stalwarts like Daniels and Freamon have compromised themselves with politics, cynicism, and Oceanic Air black-ops money. Meanwhile, McNulty, whose ends always seemed to justify his command-confounding means, is starting to look like just a crooked cop. The parallel between Randy and Larry was a nice way of throwing that into high relief.

Another nice blast from the past: Nicky Sobotka coming out of witness protection to shout down the Mayor.

But: I am so bored with the Baltimore Sun and the Stephen Glass subplot.

ETA: From a commenter at Sepinwall, Columbia sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh -- whose work observing as something like an embedded reporter among Chicago street gangs is chronicled in Gang Leader for a Day -- watches The Wire every week with a bunch of gang members and reports their thoughts. Pretty engaging -- the consensus reaction to two of Marlo's acts of violence was surprising, for example.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

ALOTT5MA--A DIVISION OF TRIPADVISOR: Over the next few weeks, I'll be travelling to Miami and Port Canaveral, Florida, and to Nassau and Freeport/Lucaya, Bahamas (some for business, some for pleasure). ThingThrower suggestions on exciting things to do in some or all of those places are appreciated.

He was good in a whole lot of stuff. (But see, SeaQuest DSV). He'll be missed.
FREEDOM FOR SPYDADDY! Given my utter lack of interest in the Grammys, I decided to watch the first two episodes of Eli Stone tonight. I had to stop watching at the 1:43 point so that I could come directly here and inform the world that not only is Victor Garber definitely going to be doing some solid singing of the George Michael catalogue on this show, but he is doing so precisely 43 minutes into the second episode.

Could the demeanor of Garber's various TV personae over the last seven years be any different from the tone of his singing voice? It's one thing to see him doing the hippie curlytop tenor thing in Godspell a zillion years ago, and another thing entirely to hear that sweet voice coming from the grumpy curmudgeon in a well-cut suit.
SING A SONG: Consider this your open Grammy thread. Other than observing that Feist is hardly a new artist, I have relatively little to say so far.