Saturday, July 26, 2008

THE HERO GOTHAM DESERVES: I guess we haven't had up a full-on spoilerrific discussion of The Dark Knight yet, but it's about time. (i.e., saw it tonight.)

And I want to start with what didn't work about the movie for me, so I can get it out of the way (not that it's insignificant), but the problem of the movie is Batman himself. Specifically, that he's basically physically indestructible (and esp. in hand-to-hand combat), and that he seems to have an unlimited ability to conjure the devices and resources he needs to do whatever he wants. A hero without limitations is not terribly interesting, and as good as Christian Bale was in Christopher Nolan's The Prestige (or, for that matter, American Psycho), I didn't feel he was given a lot to work with here.

Heath Ledger, however, was, and the performance is all that and then some. There's nothing at all linking this performance to his in Brokeback Mountain other than the presence of a Gyllenhall; it's all twitchy and crazy and all sorts of awesome just like you've heard that makes you sad once the film's over. Not that I'm among those who believes that learning this part made him mad; I'm just sad we won't get to see what else he could do.

The other part of the awesome was the plot -- in general, all the post-9/11 ruminations about what it takes to defeat irrational, implacable evil, and whether one must always abide by "the rules" in doing so; and specifically, holy frack, the prisoner's dilemma, one of those genius plot devices which, in concept and execution, even surpasses things like the endings of The Usual Suspects or The Prestige because it was about more than just entertaining the audience but also provoking them to reconsider the film's theme. (In that regard, the film that comes to mind is In the Company of Men, mostly because of the Aaron Eckhart connection.)

It's impossible to talk about this movie further without going into spoilers, and almost certainly we can't do it without lifting the No Politics ban for a bit. Play nice, and I'll meet you in the basement.
THE ENDOWED ALOTT5MA CHAIR IN CULTURAL STUDIES OF THE AMERICAN HEARTLAND STILL NEEDS A PRIMARY BENEFACTOR: Despite the diversity of our crew there there persists certain gaps in knowledge among the bloggers here -- metamorphic petrology and the Younger abstention doctrine still leading the list -- but I also recognized recently that we really don't know that much about country music between us. So given how much good press that Sugarland's been receiving of late, I invited our friend and frequent commenter Jenn to explain them to us Yankees:
I got better things to do than my to-do list anyway.

I came to country from folk music. So did one of my favorite country acts. In Decatur, Ga., there is a club called Eddie’s Attic. Folkies, like Indigo Girls, have been linked to it regularly, but Eddie’s Attic has also been prominent in producing acts such as Shawn Mullins (known for his pop song “Lullaby”), John Mayer, and the well-respected and increasingly popular country act Sugarland. Sugarland started out as a trio of folk singers -- Kristin Hall, Kristian Bush (of Billy Pilgrim), and Jennifer Nettles (of Soul Miner’s Daughters). In short, their background and resulting music is a bit more eclectic than you normally expect from mainstream country.

Not that I want to oversell this. Sugarland (now a duo with Nettles and Bush) is definitely country -— with a twang in the vocals, a sob in the voice (where appropriate), the use of the word “ain’t” in the lyrics, and the frequent appearance of a steel guitar and/or dobro and/or mandolin. But how many mainstream country records include a lyrical shout-out to an alt-country hero like Steve Earle? (Answer: I can think of one and I’m kind of reviewing it in this post.) Nettles and Bush write their own music, Bush plays on every song, and Nettles’ voice is one of the best in country music today.

And unlike with some country divas who could be mentioned, not every song is an exercise in the vocal gymnastics that Nettles can definitely do. Compare a few: Baby Girl was their first hit, and yeah, there are some serious glory notes going on. But Want To had a completely different vibe (and the video scored serious points with including shots of the Chrysler Building). Stay was a break-out for them, completely stripped-down. Their latest single All I Want to Do highlights their fun side.

Not that Sugarland is perfect. Sometimes, they get a little too cutesy. I was loving their song Steve Earle (where Nettles begs, “Steve Earle, Steve Earle, please write a song for me,”) when it took a sharp u-turn into goofy. I’ve enjoyed every CD -- I’m just waiting for the one that they will make where I love every song. Because I think they’ve got it in them. (No pressure.)

Some have asked if Sugarland will stay together, given a couple of well-received turns that Nettles has taken on her own, including a great version of The Night That the Lights Went Out in Georgia on the Reba McEntire Giants show (well worth watching, BTW, as it also features some other great performances, including two by a certain Kelly Clarkson, linked on that same youtube page), and a Grammy-Award winning collaboration with Bon Jovi, Who Says You Can’t Go Home? I hope that they stay together, as they mesh so well together as a duo and seem to like each other. Plus, someone, somehow, has to convince the world that there is something better in the world of country group/duos than Rascal Flatts and Montgomery Gentry, now that the Dixie Chicks are somehow no longer country. Really, that’s all I ask. (And 3under5 agrees, right?)

Friday, July 25, 2008

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: I was never a big X-Files fan, but I enjoyed the movie enough that I took in the sequel tonight. Remarkably, in a world of Internet spoilers, very little about the plot has leaked, other than that it's a stand-alone story (with no aliens, black oil, or the like) and that questions about Scully and Mulder are answered. Both are accurate. The movie opens with a woman being attacked for unknown reasons, followed by a creepy old man (Billy Connolly) leading a pack of FBI agents through a snow-covered field. The old man franticly begins digging and uncovers a severed human arm.

Thereafter, two FBI agents come to a hospital, looking for "Dr. Scully," who, apparently, has become a Dr. Addison Montgomery clone over the past few years, helping sick kids with highly experimental surgery--an FBI agent is missing, and their sole lead is a man claiming to have psychic visions who led them to a human arm--they'd like her help finding Fox Mulder. Cue spooky electronica. From there, the plot spirals madly, hitting the Catholic Church, stem cell research, what happened to Mulder and Scully over the past several years, several quite gory off-screen deaths, medical experimentation (both licit and illicit), and an appearance by one character that provoked mild applause. It's all well and good until an ending (particularly an epilogue during the credits) that paints an overly sunny face on the whole thing. Overall, it's slight, but entertaining--it would be a darn fine TV movie, but on the big screen? Not so much. Response in my theatre ranged from "That was awful!" to "Well, except for the last 5 minutes, that would have been a pretty good episode of the show!" View at your own risk.
ANOTHER REASON TO BE UPSET ABOUT PHIL'S SNUBBING: Nikki Finke reports that this year's Emmys will be co-hosted by the 5 "Reality Competition Host" nominees--Tom Bergeron, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, Jeff Probst, and Ryan Seacrest. Over/under on number of Klum wardrobe changes during the night is 3. Could we at least work Tim Gunn in there somehow?
PART OF THE "BERLANTI FULL EMPLOYMENT ACT:" OK, Sassy Nurse Edna on Pushing Daisies is awesome enough, but add to it that she's playing Emerson Cod's mother, and we reach new and daunting levels of awesome.
BESIDES AN OBVIOUS DAY TRIP TO THE BOYHOOD HOME OF JUDGE REINHOLD: The family and I are heading to Bethany Beach, Del., tomorrow for a week of sun and fun. The sun part I've got pretty much covered--we are a short walk to the beach--but I am reaching out to you for some suggestions on the fun end, especially stuff a girl nearly seven and a boy nearly nine might enjoy. Dining recommendations are also gladly accepted.


Given British weather, it is nearly inconceivable to me that the British did any serious astronomy without wintering in Spain. It may be enough that , prior to the 20th century, before the skies were choked with street lamps, one could simply step outside to observe on a favorable evening. No special purpose trip to the country required.

So when we did a jaunt through the UK in 2002 and spent a couple of nights in Bath, I stopped at the Sir William Herschel Museum. Not much of a tourist trap (a Boy Scout tourist snare, perhaps), no gift shop with an "I saw Herschel's Uranus" t-shirt. But as most of my pre-Industrial Walter Mitty fantasies involve my being a gentlemen-scientist, as well as my being a bit of an astronomy buff, we checked it out. Herschel, of course, is the fellow who discovered Uranus in 1781 and who, rather grateful for the a 200 pound annual stipend from King George III, suggested the 7th planet be named Georgium Sidus, George's Star.

We spent a couple of nights at a lovely bed and breakfast just up the hill across the Avon. It was a warm evening, ahead of dinner, and we were sitting out on the lawn when the proprietor offered us a drink. Mrs Earthling, as is her want, asked for the fellow's own preference. On a fine English summer day, he said, one should have a Pimm's Cup.

And so we did. The weather that day and evening was clear and perfect and it wasn't much of a stretch, with the sun just starting to head down for the day over the city, we raised a glass to Sir William Herschel, discoverer of Planet George.

I am, generally speaking, not a fan of infused aperitif. Pernod, Campari, the inexplicably artichoke-based Cynar. Pimm's No. 1 is a gin-based drink, infused with all sorts of citrus and spicy things. Kind of bitter sweet on its own, but it mixed with some combination of lemonade, ginger ale, soda water, and a variety of citrus over ice, it becomes a very crisp afternoon drink.

My preferred mix is:

3 ounces of Pimm's (Pimm's is about 25% ABV)
5 ounces of lemonade
2-3 ounces of sparkling water

or, alternately, 3 ounces of Pimm's, 8 ounces of ginger ale

Mix all over ice, garnish generously with citrus. The English will often add a slice of cucumber, which is more traditional among the English. But then, so was flogging.
BECAUSE THERE ALREADY WAS ONE DEVOTED TO CHRIS FARLEY: A bunch of interesting tidbit's in EW's "oral history" of Dr. Horrible, including:
  • NPH read for, and almost got, the part of Simon Tam on Firefly. (Personally, I can see why that didn't work--casting NPH as a "brilliant young doctor" has a lot of baggage--though NPH as Wash would have interesting.)
  • Whedon "has a little recording studio built into his attic."
  • At various points in scripting, Dr. Horrible hijacked a wheelbarrow and the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier rather than a van.
  • The "Dr. Horrible Van Remote" application will soon be available for iPhone.
  • The entire opening monologue/blog entry was done in a single take -- no cuts or digital edits. While cuts were originally planned, they loved NPH's delivery so much that they did it that way.
  • They're hoping the DVD will include the following language tracks: "French, Spanish, Japanese translated back very badly into English, classical Latin, and panther noises."
THE QUEST FOR MORE SLIDERS: Now, while the idea of Harold & Kumar 3 certainly sounds interesting, and John Cho and Kal Penn are both signed already, there can be no H&K without "Neil Patrick Harris," right?
THE BALCONY IS CLOSED: Roger Ebert blogs about the end of "Ebert & Roeper at the Movies", and the early days with his dear friend Gene Siskel. Did Gene and I hate each other? Yes. Did we love each other? Yes.

One strong memory of the show? Their 1987 year-end list, when both men had high praise for a movie I had never heard of called House of Games, and I decided I just had to see it, and have more-or-less been a Mamet fanboy ever since. That, and their constant championing of Hoop Dreams in 1994. It was always about quality, never about pumping the big commercial releases, and as a movie fan I am so grateful they used their thumbs for good.
BUT, AQUAMAN, YOU CANNOT MARRY A WOMAN WITHOUT GILLS. YOU'RE FROM TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS: On BART today, I saw a lawyer-looking fellow reading one of those godawful monthly lawyer magazines put out by the California bar association. He was sitting, I was standing. And yet, he was flipping through a smaller book inside the "Northern California Super Lawyers" special issue. Having not a book of my own to occupy myself, I decided to snoop and hoped - perhaps - for a free peak at a Playboy or some such.

No, it's Marvel's Secret Invasion. Now, geeky as I am, I am not a comic book guy but, at the end of the day, if I had to read some Cal Bar publication, I'd be hiding it behind a comic book.

N.B.: Summer Cocktail Series #8: Pimm's Cup, will be up tomorrow a.m.
COOKIN' IN BROOKLYN: Magical Elves sighted in Williamsburg; aspiring Top Chefs reported at Whole Foods, Craft.

Also: Real World, Red Hook?

In a related story: third-hand entertainment rumors promulgated on late-night blog post.

H/Ts: Chez Pazienza, Gothamist, Village Voice, insomnia.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

LADIES STILL LOVE COOL JAMES, 20 YEARS AFTER HE WENT BACK TO CALI: I am apparently the worst prognosticator since Sybil Trelawney. Wah.

p.s. this is a post about SYTYCD
"OTHERWISE, I'D BE KNOWN AS THE GUY WITH HEMORRHOIDS": On July 24, 1983, twenty-five years ago today, I sat in my cousins' kitchen in Brooklyn on a Sunday afternoon watching the end of the Yankees-Royals game on a 13-inch tv. George Brett hit a two-run home run in the top of the ninth to give Kansas City the 5-4 lead ... but then Yankees manager Billy Martin had a question about Brett's bat. You know the rest.

Or do you? I've never actually read American League president Lee MacPhail's ruling before today, in which he reinstated Brett's home run on the grounds that the umpires' nullifying it was contrary to the intent and spirit of the rules, which "do not provide that a hitter be called out for excessive use of pine tar. The rules provide instead that the bat be removed from the game." Further:
Although Manager Martin and his staff should be commended for their alertness, it is the strong conviction of the League that games should be won and lost on the playing field -- not through technicalities of the rules -- and that every reasonable effort consistent with the spirit of the rules should be made to so provide.
SCIENCE MARCHES ON: Recent advances in the field of theoretical particle sociology have led the nice folks at orgtheory to propose a Standard Model of Sociophysics. This early model may be overly internet-centric, and underinformed by analysis of traditional analog social equations. Still, it has me wondering if the Caffeine levels in my work environment are optimal for YouTube-induced Liketon production.

Via Cosmic Variance.
PMC 2008: I’d like to thank you again for your past support of the Pan-Mass Challenge (“PMC”). Your generosity really means a lot to me. I’d like to ask for your support again this year.

On August 2nd and 3rd, I will be biking nearly 200 miles across Massachusetts to support cancer research as part of the PMC. I want to tell you a little about the ride and to ask for your support. The PMC benefits the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the leading cancer research center in Massachusetts. I am riding in memory of my father David Elwood, who was treated at the Dana-Farber before he died suddenly of cancer in 2004, and my beloved Uncle Murray, who died of cancer the year before that. You might enjoy re-reading here the thoughts I shared last fall about baseball, Mexican culture, Russian literature, fathers, sons, cancer, life, and death.

A few weeks ago, I happened to ride my bike to the gym. I ran into a guy in the locker room whom I know only a little. We tend to be on the same workout schedule so he’s someone I see at the gym regularly, but we generally just say hello or make small talk. He noticed my biking clothes and we started chatting. I was starting to tell him about my plan to ride in the PMC, when he interrupted me.

"That ride benefits the Dana Farber, right? About 5 years ago when things looked hopeless for my mother and her lung cancer, she was treated there. She made an amazing recovery. And although she is not doing well at the moment, my family feels as though the doctors there gave her at least 5 more years than she might have had.”

He asked me about how to make a contribution. I wrote out the information for him on a piece of paper. A week or so later, there was a generous donation for the PMC in my mail.

Let’s all do everything we can to stomp out cancer in our lifetimes. The chances are that you or someone you love has had to grapple with cancer. It would mean a lot to me if you could help me to raise money for the Dana-Farber. I hope to raise over $6,000 this year and I need your help. Please click here for more information (including the harrowing tale of my ride in 2007) or to make a contribution (this website looks best if you use Internet Explorer; also, please add a note to my guestbook there).

There is quite a moving transcript of a speech by an "evangelical oncologist" here.

LADY LUCK HAS LEFT THE BUILDING: I'm with the jidges -- this was an unusually good night on SYTYCD. Not much to complain about, but this is ALOTT5MA, after all, so I have to single out a few areas for criticism:
  • Can we PLEASE either eliminate disco as an eligible genre or else find someone -- anyone -- who can choreograph a disco routine other than Doriana Sanchez? We've seen everything she has to offer as a choreographer several times over, and now that she's finally found someone strong enough to do the Patrick Swayze / Jennifer Grey lift (who knew that this was the hardest lift in the entire lifting pantheon? Go Johnny Castle!), it's time to pack it up and go home for a while, a la Shane Sparks.

  • Many of the solos were pretty blah (with one obvious exception, to be discussed in the next set of bullet points) -- Joshua, in particular, looked like a clumsy fire hydrant who had suddenly grown arms and legs and wasn't quite sure what to do with them.

  • I was never really under Comfort, but to the extent that I was under her, I'm over her. "I was just a bad girl from the street until my parents sent me to performing arts school where, shoot, there wasn't no hip hop!" Enough. And that foxtrot (with the exception of the Mark does Tommy Tune bit at the beginning, which I thought was gorgeous and which he didn't get enough credit for) was sad. So we've sacrificed Kherington on Comfort's behalf -- can we please stop before we send a truly deserving girl home?

But there was a whole screaming lot of good, starting with:

  • Will performs an ode to the love child of James Brown and Morris Day. Yes, Will has absorbed the lesson of Danny Tidwell -- it's all well and good to be the best dancer on the show, but America has to want to vote for you.

  • Twitch and Katee perform not one but two dances of rejected womanhood. Unlike a certain disco choreographer of our acquaintance, Mia Michaels has this incomprehensible ability to constantly come up with things that are totally different than anything she's done before. The door dance was phenomenal. Meanwhile, I agree with Toni Basil that Katee's performance in the Broadway number was a little too light-hearted for the gravelly vocal of Sweet Georgia Brown, but the fact that this is the worst criticism anyone can come up with for her dancing should be telling us all something.

  • Courtney and Will's samba (loved the music there, too), both hip hop routines (it was nice to see Tabitha and Napoleon choreograph such different routines), Dmitri's Argentine tango -- all good stuff.

And so for predictions. Bottom two girls: Comfort and . . . I'll go with Chelsie, who I think came off as less charismatic than Courtney. (Although I must say that Courtney is starting to tread a little close to Brooke White levels of shut the fuck up, which may be starting to annoy people other than me.) Bottom two guys: It kind of has to be Mark, right? And I'll toss Joshua into the mix, as he just seemed kind of off.

LET'S DO THE TIME WARP ONE MORE TIME: Ok, so what's weirder: a sequel to Hairspray (see Matt's post of last night) or a remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show?

(The fact that this story hit at roughly the same time as the Hairspray sequel news is just plain strange.)
THEY TOOK MAH OVARIES! As part of the AV Club's review of "the new cult canon," Scott Tobias defends The Devil's Advocate, which I've already acknowledged in these parts as containing one of my favorite overacting performances of all time. Call me Dad.

This trivia, via IMDb: John Cusack and Edward Norton were briefly considered for the role of Kevin Lomax, which ultimately went to Keanu Reeves.
TRIPPIN' BALLS: If there is a status above ALOTT5MA Fave he has surely surpassed it by now; Neil Patrick Harris to live-chat on at 10am EDT today. What will you be asking?
I WROTE THIS POST, YES I DID, YEAAAAAAAAAAAAH: This is just a placeholder until KCos does a real recap, but I wanted to tell you about the SYTYCD drinking game I invented. Every time that Mary tries to fake out the dancers, punch her in the face.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

NOT TO UNDERESTIMATE BREAKIN' 2: Despite many efforts, there has never been a successful theatrical musical sequel, despite efforts such as Annie 2, Bring Back Birdie, and The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public--so which one do you have more faith in--Hairspray 2 with book/script by John Waters and music and lyrics by Shaiman and Wittman (apparently a screen project) or Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom: Once Upon Another Time?

ETA: It was late when I wrote this, but I would be remiss if I didn't note Grease 2. (Though to be fair, Hairspray 2 plans to reunite most of the movie's cast.)
WHERE'S SEAN PENN ON THIS ONE? Look, I know nothing about the SAG/AFTRA internecine union wars, but I am hard-pressed to think of a way that I wouldn't vote for a slate of board nominees that included Charlie Young, Andrea Zuckerman, Dr. Addison Forbes Montgomery, gay Matt from Melrose Place, and the White Shadow himself!
AND YOU WANT TO BE MY LATEX SALESMAN: HR World has a list of 15 Great TV Bosses (No Michael Scott or David Brent), but what about the worst TV bosses?

Here's my list:
  1. The Skipper
  2. Mr. Drysdale
  3. Louie De Palma
  4. Mel Sharples
  5. Mr. Pitt
  6. Vice Principal Woodman
  7. Col. Klink (the guy was a real Nazi)
  8. Mr. Burns
  9. Boss Hogg
  10. Rico (parents, you know who I am talking about).
NOW GRADY, THERE'S A MAN WHO DESERVED HIS OWN ACTION FIGURE: This list really should be called 9 Most Undeserving Celebrities Who Got Action Figures, because what kid in their right mind wouldn't want one of these?

Seriously, my 40th just came and went on the 13th, so if you were still planning on getting me something the auction ends tomorrow.
KILLING IS MY BUSINESS, AND BUSINESS HAS BEEN BETTER, BUT IT'S A CYCLICAL BUSINESS AND THE INDICATORS SUGGEST THAT IT WILL PICK UP: We haven't talked about Generation Kill yet, and it doesn't seem to be getting more than low-grade buzz. That's odd for a high-profile HBO drama backed by the Wire team of David Simon and Ed Burns debuting in a drama-thin summer following a long strike drought.

Part of the problem is that outside of Baltimore Simon and Burns (or whoever is responsible creatively; I haven't been paying attention) have been seduced by the same material used by every Iraq drama from Three Kings on -- hazy desert landscapes and sunsets, anachronistic collisions between 21st-century warriors and medieval farmers, the moral dilemmas confronted by soldiers who try to mediate between their jobs and the effect they have on the people around them. Add to that a theme common to both Iraq movies and The Wire, that of bureaucracy and bureaucrats confounding the work of the men of action, and the show seems disappointingly familiar. It's hard to fault Simon and Burns for having less of a command of Iraq and the military than of Baltimore and the BPD (and it's certainly unfair to compare anything to The Wire), but Generation Kill, despite its source material, definitely seems written from the outside looking in.

That's not to say it's not worth watching. I'm enjoying it, and as genius TV auteur follow-up projects go, it's not a mess like Studio 60 or John from Cincinnati. And I don't remember how I felt about The Wire two episodes in. I was just hoping for more, that's all.

Incidentally, if you're inclined to post a comment, remember: NO POLITICS.
THE TRAGEDY OF THE UNUSABLE ONE-LINER: It's always fun to read Sepinwall's daily accounts of the annual press tour -- which, if I understand correctly, is less a tour than a conference; we don't call it the ABA Antitrust Tour or the Hadassah Tour, right? -- so if you fall into our TV-saturated target audience and you haven't been following along, all of the entries are right here. I just wanted to make a special mention of two things.

First, since the word josswhedon, whispered softly in a breeze, seems to cause spontaneous orgasm among a nontrivial segment of our audience, we would be remiss if, upon noticing that there is a breeze now blowing toward today's Sepinwall entry, we failed to whisper josswhedon. You're welcome. Even to those of us less, er, sensitive to Whedon's charms, the following line is more than worth the price of admission:
They canceled "Shark," so I never had a chance to use the phrase, "Man, that show really swam under the Fonz."
Second, Alan, I can speak for nobody but myself (ETA: and Marsha) in begging you to tell the story of "Ian McShane delivering a verbal smackdown to a reporter who got hung up on semantics."
THIS WILL NOT PLEASE BAD HORSE: Because Dr. Horrible wasn't enough, let's give you a little more NPH + singing awesome--NPH as the "shoe fairy" on Sesame Street. (Also, Jack Black explaining Octagons and an exploration with Elmo's "good friend Mr. LL Cool J.")
SHE'S GOT ELECTRIC BOOBS, AND NO HAIR TOO: Obligatory followup mondegreen thread.
WE'VE COME A LONG WAY FROM "I'VE FALLEN AND I CAN'T GET UP": It often feels like you can't go minutes without seeing some ad for drugs treating an awkward medical condition, and in each case I feel most sympathetic towards the actors or actresses who are called upon to convey the sensation of that impairment and its release.

One can imagine the commercial's director announcing, "Okay, Bob,, I need you look like you're suffering from low flow ... now smile like you just produced a gusher!" Or as I just saw on tv, "Mary, I need you to sit in that airplane seat and convey that your stool is not soft ... great! Now get in that hammock and smile contentedly." And, of course, "I recognize that I have herpes but I'm not going to let that stigmatize me, because it's under control, but I can't act too excited, can I?"

My favorite such ad, however, is neither on tv nor reflects a medical condition -- it's signage that filled Philadelphia International Airport until recently which instructed "Don't be a victim: don't go with an unlicensed limo driver," greeting tourists with the prospect of unsavory chauffeurs luring unsuspecting passengers into their lorries with the promise of Lower Merion and the reality of Upper Darby, the looming threat of shady operators not knowing their Cherry Hill from Chestnut Hill. And these ads were illustrated with headshots of the ostensible victims of unlicensed limousinery -- middle-aged folks with confused looks on their faces, as if to say "I really don't think this is the way to Huntingdon Valley, but I'm afraid to say something."

I can't be alone in appreciating these actors and their craft, or in listing other maladies (real, future or fictional) for such ads.
AND NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES LUCY ASKS ME, NO, TINKER BELL IS NOT A PRINCESS: From the "We Get Letters" department, via commenter Jim Bell:

Walt has reached right into [our daughter's] life and solicited her for a future breakfast with his trademarked and copyrighted princesses... well, not exactly, but somehow a sippy cup has entered the shore home unbidden with pictures of three Disney princesses emblazoned on it (and I hate to say it, this cool perspective thing that comes from putting one cylinder inside another semi-clear cylinder with art on both... So, anyway, I know the one with black hair and ruby red lips is, like, Snow White, but how is one to tell apart the one that is supposed to be Cinderella from the one that is supposed to be Sleeping Beauty.. And, how do I know they aren't really Ariel or that one from Aladdin with hair dyed blonde, and could there more princesses waiting in the wings, and will I ever get used to all of this? Shouldn't they have nametags? Help please. You are parents. Will I be able to play the violin? That is to say, will I be sane?
For this question, I've turned to Chuck, one of our less-frequent commenters, but who is A.B.D. in Female Royalty Studies from a school you've heard of:

My nearly four-year old daughter is becoming increasingly obsessed with all the princess junk.

I keep my sanity by pointing out to her the repetitive motifs in the stories. I try to make it fun for her, but internally I am mocking the stories. For example, Ariel and Jasmine:

Ariel: Ariel has to live in the world under the sea, but she is curious about the wider world. She meets a man from "above" and falls in love with him, but this love is forbidden by her father, the king, until her father sees how happy she is, blah blah blah, they live happily ever after.

Jasmine: Jasmine lives in the sheltered world of the palace, but she meets a man from the wider world and falls in love with him. This love is forbidden by her father, the sultan, until her father sees how happy she is, blah blah blah, they live happily ever after.

You can also contrast, although I'd stick to the internal thinking on this and not sharing it with the child: Ariel is separated from the land above the sea based on species (mermaids shouldn't really be able to live on the land), and thus the story could be understood as being a veiled lesson on racism. Jasmine, however, is separated from Aladdin by class. Discuss.

Enjoy trying to find other similarities and differences, I don't want to spoil them all! Like the "small critter is your conscience" motif (Jiminy Crickett in the (non-princess fable) Pinocchio; Sebastian the crab in The Little Mermaid). Ponder why none of the true princesses have mothers, and why their stepmothers are always making them do chores. See, e.g, Snow White and Cinderella.

Also, stick with Belle, she likes to read books and she learns to love an ugly dude. I find that story more tolerable than the others. Even though she has no mother.

Thrill at and mock the marginalization in the Disney universe of the swarthy "princesses" (Mulan, Jasmine, Pocahontas). See, even you are wondering right now, "are Mulan and Pocahontas really princesses?" Note that the movie is called "Aladdin" and not "Jasmine." In no other princess movie is the princess dissed in the title. Meanwhile, Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, the whitest, least interesting, least resourceful, least curious, least clever princesses are of the highest order and are most prominent. Two of them are rescued by a kiss, the other by a fairy godmother. You go girls!

Try to learn the other names by which Sleeping Beauty is known! Learn to distinguish Sleeping Beauty from Cinderella. Cinderella has been transformed over the years from a brunette to a blonde, making this tricky. Even Disney can't keep it straight, I suspect, so in modern renderings, they tend to put Cinderella's hair up and dress her in blue. Sleeping Beauty is super blonde and is almost always in pink nowadays. She is my nominee for "most banal princess."

I know one mother who keeps her sanity by, inter alia, insisting to her daughter that in order to be a princess, one must excel at math.
THERE: Somehow, the Spacepeople haven't mentioned these fine t-shirts since moving up to my neck of the woods.

In other deliberate fashion news, I recently picked up this one. And I really, really need to get this one, too.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

FOR THE FINEST IN LAWN ORNAMENTS AND INAPPROPRIATELY CATCHY POP SONGS: One of the few plusses of driving around Jersey to defend a deposition in suburbia today was the opportunity to drive past Fountains of Wayne, the store from which the band took its name.
THEY GOT THE GOLDEN ARCHES; MINE IS THE GOLDEN ARCS. THEY GOT THE BIG MAC; I GOT THE BIG MICK: The WSJ today reports on why you can't invite "Explorer Girl with Backpack" or "Squishy Guy" to appear at your kid's birthday party without running afoul of an anti-fiesta trio of intellectual property lawyers:

Miriam Sorkin, an office manager in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., threw a fourth-birthday party for her daughter in May and arranged for a costumed impersonator of Dora the Explorer. Though the walk-about "Dora" had the expected pageboy haircut and backpack, her expression was blank and her legs appeared out of proportion to the rest of her body. "When Dora came out," Mrs. Sorkin says, "none of the kids would go to Dora, including my daughter, and a few of the kids started crying."

Elvira Grau, who owns Space Odyssey USA, where Mrs. Sorkin held her daughter's party, says the costume companies that service her parties try to make their costumes look sufficiently different from the trademarked characters to avoid lawsuits. When Mrs. Sorkin complained to her that Dora was "hideous," Mrs. Grau gave her a $250 credit. "But I told her, 'You can't have the real Dora. If you want the real Dora, call Nickelodeon.' "

COLD STONE 3:16 MEANS I JUST FREEZED YOUR BRAIN: The AV Club confirms what I already believed -- the Creamery's various cake batter ice cream flavors are awesome. Says one taste tester, "It's just like real batter. It sounds like a really good idea until you've licked two mixers of it."
THANK YOU FOR BEING A FRIEND: Younger than her Golden Girls co-stars Betty White and Bea Arthur (whose mother she played), Estelle Getty passed away today at the age of 84. EW has some nice clips.
FIND ALL THE SECRETS IN REGINA GEORGE'S HAIR: I'm quite sure that ThingThrowers can offer solid suggestions for levels for the upcoming Clueless, Mean Girls, and Pretty in Pink video games. (Personally, I'm holding out for the "Find Sam's Underwear" level in the Sixteen Candles video game.)
BECAUSE MAN CAN NOT LIVE ON BUDWEISER ALONE: This cheered me up in the wake the Cubs not being able to take advantage of Rich Harden's stellar effort last night.

Holy Cow, what a meal!

You to have to love a spokesman who isn't afraid to go with the take where he is trying to deliver his signature line with a mouthful of nacho. Maybe Findus should have tagged Harry to sell their frozen peas.
SIC SEMPER HSM: I caught maybe 20 non-consecutive minutes of the HSM audition show last night (while flipping away from the Mariners game in disgust -- how can a major-league team play Miguel Cairo at DH? Everybody associated with the construction and management of this team should be banned from baseball for life). I've never seen HSM itself, so maybe this is obvious to everybody, but this is a stultifyingly bland show. The judges are polite and reserved, the setting sanitized (an Epcot public stage with an audience consisting of passers-by), the costumes mild (generic jeans and bright-colored plain t-shirts), the singing inoffensive, the performance cloying, the eliminations off-screen. How can you leave the tearful elimination -- the reality show money shot -- on the cutting room floor? Pointless.

But there was one beautiful thing that happened. There is (or perhaps was) a girl on the show named "Tierney," but I didn't find that out until nearly the end. Every time somebody referred to her, her name sounded like "Tyranny." So for an intermittent 20 minutes, I thought somebody actually had the balls to give a kid the greatest name of all time. The name literally means that the kid can get away with murder.
YES THAT'S MY NAME UP IN BLACK AND WHITE, MAYBE I'M DOING SOMETHING RIGHT: Omigod you guys, we have a new Elle Woods! On Wednesday, Bailey Hanks will begin her six-month Broadway run in the Great White Way's pinkest role. I've thought for a few weeks that the outcome was inevitable, making last night's finale feel more like a coronation than a competition. So when I discovered this morning that frequent commenter Marsha had a diametrically opposed take as to who should be the next Elle, we obviously had to invite her to sing Autumn's praises. (Caveat: neither of us has ever actually seen Legally Blonde: The Musical, although we are both big fans of Legally Blonde: The Movie.)

Marsha: I think the judges got it wrong. I thought both Autumn and Bailey did a very strong job with the final audition. But in the end, I think Autumn was the right choice. It seems to me to be easier to turn Autumn into a better dancer than to turn Bailey into a better singer, but either way, they both need work. So it turns on who I think was better for the role. I found Autumn to be compelling in the role – I couldn’t take my eyes off her, and she acted circles around Bailey. The scene work that Autumn did had so much more depth and resonance. You believe her pain when Warner leaves her, and you believe all her self-doubt. Bailey hams it up even when she’s supposed to be serious, and has no emotional maturity in the role at all. (Thank you, Mr. Mitchell, for the word “schmacting.”) Perhaps most importantly, Elle has to be believable as a smart girl who simply never had to be anything but pretty until now. From the beginning of the show, she’s smart – but only about certain things. She has a very high GPA in fashion merchandising, knows all about half-loop top stitches, and takes her role in the sorority very seriously. She just never had to dig into her inner smartitude. But she’s smart from day one, and you have to believe she’s always been, inside, the girl she becomes at Harvard. She has to be the smart girl with the ditzy exterior, not the ditz who grows a brain. Autumn has those layers, she acts beautifully, and she has the vocal chops to not only sing the hell out of the songs but to show Elle’s character in them as well. Bailey, on the other hand, is very one dimensional. She’s young, she’s cute, she can dance. But her acting is weak, and her singing is sub-par for Broadway. Her Elle is a ditz both inside and out. I’ll agree that she’s likeable (to a degree – I have to say I didn’t like her very much during this show, so it’s translating into me not liking her Elle as much) and watchable, but she has no inner core of maturity and strength. There’s no sense with Bailey that Elle is finding something inside herself that was always there – because in Bailey, it never is there at all. Bailey’s Elle is fluff. Autumn’s Elle is a real woman. But that’s why I’m not a Broadway casting director.

Kim: Yes, yes, Autumn is a better singer than Bailey. But I find Autumn to be a big black hole of charisma and as such have never been able to imagine her as the eminently lovable Elle Woods. We don't need to see an inner smart girl needing to escape the shackles of blondeness to be taken seriously -- Elle becomes a success on her own terms. Law becomes another part of the Elle canon, alongside the fashion and flirting expertise. Ultimately, I think that Bailey's success in the role will hinge on the degree to which Jerry Mitchell can direct her into some additional depth (the cutting of the schmacting). What she's got going for her on stage is star quality -- the extraspecial zhuzh that makes the audience (or me, at least) watch her even when there are thirty other people on the stage. You can coach the acting and the singing (and her singing is perfectly fine, even if it's not Autumn-quality), but the star quality is either there or it's not. (This, incidentally, is why Rhiannon survived so long despite her obvious flaws in both the singing and the dancing realms.) I can't say for sure that Bailey will become a Broadway star out of this experience, but I do think she can make an audience smile for three hours -- and at the end of the day, Elle Woods is someone who makes people smile.
ARE THERE OR AREN'T THERE ARTESIANS? It was a fine show on This American Life last week, including a segment on embarrassingly lingering misconceptions (including adults who thought that the "xing" in "deer xing" was a word pronounced "zing," believed that all Nielsen families were named "Nielsen," and were confused as to whether unicorns were extinct or just endangered).

It reminded me of a story I heard in college about a road trip some of my classmates took to Chicago. "Why do they call this the Windy City? There aren't any trees," said one. "What?" said another. The first one repeated himself. "I don't understand," said the second. "Look around," said the first one, exasperated. "Do you see any trees? But they call this the Windy City." "What are you talking about?" asked the second. "Look," snapped the first. "Everybody knows that trees make wind ..."

If you have any stories about embarrassing [edited to correct the embarrassing misspelling of "embarrassing," but at least I caught it before anybody else pointed it out] misconceptions, please share them. For the record, thinking in adulthood that Billy Crystal is funny counts.

Monday, July 21, 2008

AUTUMNGHETTOSUPERSTARSWEATER: I've been meaning to talk about Girl Talk's Feed the Animals album for weeks now, and Rob Walker's NYT Mag piece yesterday reminded me I need to seriously promote this album I can't stop playing. Greg Kot helps describe the music:

Just about every note heard on "Night Ripper" and now "Feed the Animals" is a provocation, a test of copyright law. Each track on both albums consists entirely of electronic snippets meticulously stitched together from hundreds of major hits, most by high-profile artists. In the process, Gillis has become a somewhat reluctant poster boy for fair-use advocates in the ongoing battle over copyright law. Girl Talk's music demands that a distinction be made between simply copying someone else's work for profit, and reconfiguring and recontextualizing it to create a new piece of art.

Girl Talk does not traffic in working with obscure or obscured fragments; instead, he positively revels in the way he can put a new spin on the overexposed. Some of his source songs are so hoary that they were clichés nearly the instant they were originally released (Tag Team's "Whoomp! (There It Is)," we're looking at you). Yet by pairing "Whoomp!" with the drums from Big Country's bombastic "In a Big Country," Gillis re-energizes both tracks. Tag Team sounds suddenly more urgent, and Big Country loses some of its clenched-teeth earnestness.... The laugh-out-loud juxtapositions, such as the Carpenters' somber "Superstar" ushering in Metallica's rivet-gun riffing in "One," are all the more enjoyable for the way Gillis makes them sound utterly natural, almost inevitable.

There's a wonderful moment near the end of the album where Lil Wayne's ubiquitous "Lollipop" slips inside John Frusciante's lyrical guitar riff from the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under the Bridge." They are songs separated by two decades and two cultures, but in the context created by Gillis, they couldn't be more right for each other.

It's just hard to describe it; you just have to listen to the lessigtastic album yourself. Sample a piece via YouTube (annotated!), and then pay Gillis whatever you think it's worth and download the whole thing to your iPod. So worth every penny you choose to spend.
STROKE, BREATH, STROKE, BREATH. CAN'T BELIEVE I'M ACTUALLY DOING THIS: Jen and I try to keep the intra-family cross-promotion to a minimum, but she ran her first triathlon yesterday and I'm ridiculously proud of her. Here's Jen's report.
311 DAYS AND COUNTING: Start your countdown timers now. Jay Leno relinquishes the Tonight Show desk on May 29, 2009.
A PERFECT GIFT FOR HOLIDAY BRO-INGS ON: The Bro Code, by "Barney Stinson," will arrive in bookstores in late November.
COMING WITH ALL DELIBERATE SPEED TO A THEATER NEAR YOU: Gary Ross is one of those directors I wish would work more--Pleasantville was a darn fine film, and Seabiscuit wasn't half bad--to have also written Big and Dave means I'll give pretty much anything he's directing a chance--and certainly his just-announced Crusaders, in which he'll (again) direct Tobey Maguire in a film about Brown v. Board of Education written by Danny Strong (Emmy nominated for writing Recount) has basically pre-sold me a ticket. Sure, not as exciting as Lauren Graham in a movie about patent law (coming this October!), but it'll do.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

E STRAβE: Bruce Springsteen. Is there anything he can't do?
YEAH! TOBY! That was my response to today's Times wedding announcement for the marriage of Paul Lieberstein and Janine Poreba.