Saturday, January 10, 2009

IHOP to Bail Out Hungry Consumers

A DEAL EVEN NIHILISTS CAN BELIEVE IN: As its 2009 "Hungry Consumer Relief Plan," IHOP is offering all-you-can-eat pancakes for $4.99. According to the press release, "Pancakes are served fresh three at a time until the guest is satisfied."

(Whenever we reference IHOP here, I am compelled to repeat Bill's suggestion from 2007: "Steve Jobs buys IHOP, changes name to iHop, and reduces the number of items. Even though the pancakes are smaller and more expensive, no one minds because they're tastier and shiny. No one can explain why a shiny pancake is a good thing, but people are standing in line to get one.")

As good as the pancakes are, however, I've always believed that their hash browns are even better. Yeah, I said it.
FORE: I cannot watch young children playing Wii golf. Please kill me right now.

Friday, January 9, 2009

NEIL WITH AN I:NPH's hosting duty on SNL this weekend will feature at least one special guest. In addition, he and his HIMYM castmates are sitting pretty, as they've all signed deals giving them significant raises and locking up their services through Season 8.
HOLD ON, FOLKS, THE MAN'S TALKING ABOUT WASTE MANAGEMENT: Look, I'm all for the New York Times shaking up its op-ed page. As Stephen Colbert observed (as have others), most of the regular columnists keep very predictably to the same schtick column after column. But do regular op-eds from Bono, which begin this Sunday, constitute the sort of change we need?
AS JEWISH AS F*^KING TEVYE: Via Popwatch, Beliefnet's Esther Kustanowitz has posted a list of Top 10 Jewish Movie Characters that may be among the most poorly-constructed lists I've ever seen, a BFTJ compendium focusing on characters that are just brutally bad stereotypes (Judd Hirsch in Independence Day), in bad movies (Melanie Griffith in A Stranger Among Us), or who aren't even Jewish at all (Obi-Wan Kenobi and Gov. William J. Lepetomane, and just because the Native American chief spoke some Yiddish doesn't make him Jewish -- see Powell, Colin.)

We can do so much better, even without including the Steins and Fellers of Philadelphia. Let me suggest a few to start:
  • Moses (Charlton Heston), The Ten Commandments
  • Frances "Baby" Houseman (Jennifer Grey), Dirty Dancing
  • Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), Schindler's List
  • David Greene (Brendan Fraser), School Ties
  • Karen Hill (Lorraine Bracco), Goodfellas
  • Alvy Singer (Woody Allen), Annie Hall
  • Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver), Reversal of Fortune
  • Ben Stone (Seth Rogen), Knocked Up
  • Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau), Crimes and Misdemeanors (do they all have to be heroes? See also Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg), The Godfather, Part II, because he always made money for his partners)
  • Barton Fink (John Turturro), Barton Fink
  • Yentl (Barbra Streisand), Yentl

See, related, Lewis Beale, "Jewish Guys Get An Image Makeover," Los Angeles Times 1-4-09; Gail Dines, "Invisible In Hollywood: Jewish Women," The Boston Globe 1-16-06.

... SEX! ... YOUR HAIR! ... [X]! The folks behind the Broadway musical Avenue Q believe that "one of the most-loved lyrics" in the show -- from the show's closer "For Now" -- has to change in eleven days. They're running a contest for the replacement. Submit your suggestion here, and the winner will receive various autographed show swag, including an autographed copy of the revised script with the your lyric included.

My submission? Stick with the status quo. It'll still work, and in fact keeping it there reinforces the truth of the song's message. YMMV.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

THANK YOU FOR TELLING ME WHAT I ALREADY KNOW. YOU SHOULD WORK FOR THE HUFFINGTON POST: Yay, 30 Rock is back, and with some of the best use of guest stars I can remember. Dinklage! Hayek! Janis Jopler! I'm glad to see they've picked up the Liz-adoption angle from the season premiere, and oh, I'm just happy to have the show back.
DO YOU SCRIPT CHAIR SHOTS TO THE HEAD? Thankfully, I haven't had a Dead Wrestler of the Month post for some time, but on his way out the door of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, outgoing Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman has released the results of his committee's investigation into steroids and professional wrestling following the death of Chris Benoit. In his letter to Office of National Drug Control Policy Director John P. Walters (PDF), calling for ONDCP to become involved in the issue, Waxman notes:
  • In the first year of the WWE's testing program, which began in March 2006, 40% of wrestlers tested positive for steroids and other drugs even after being warned in advance that they were going to be tested. Six months after the WWE announced its 2006 steroid testing policy, it relaxed the policy to allow wrestlers suspended for steroid abuse to participate in "selected televised events" and "pay-per-views."
  • The WWE hired four of five wrestlers who tested positive for steroids in "pre-contract" testing conducted in 2007 and 2008.
  • According to WWE officials, Chris Benoit was tested four times for steroids prior to his death. He tested positive three times, but each time he received only a warning or no penalty at all. The Committee obtained no evidence that efforts were made to discourage his steroid abuse.
But really, where you can kill hours is by reading the transcripts of interviews by committee counsel of Vince, Linda and Stephanie McMahon (all PDF). Let's hear it, Vince:
Q: What led you to make, you the company, to make the magnanimous gesture of offering counseling services to current or former employees or contractors?

A: Two words. Public relations. That's it. I do not feel any sense of responsibility for anyone of whatever their age is who has passed along and has bad habits and overdoses for drugs. Sorry, I don't feel any responsibility for that. Nonetheless, that's why we're doing it. It is a magnanimous gesture.
And then they ask Vince about his own steroid usage. Read all this and more in the transcripts, if only to find out which McMahon states for the record, "Hulk Hogan was a terrible wrestler, and he still is."
THIS DATE IN ALOTT5MA HISTORY: One year ago tonight, the newly inaugurated Mayor Philadelphia stated that "I am Wonder Mike, and I'd like to say hello," before proceeding to bang-bang the boogie to the boogie and say up-jump the boogie to the bang-bang boogie, etc.
IF YOU DON'T LIKE THIS BOOK, I WILL BUY YOU A DR. PEPPER: My longtime friend, Steve Knopper, has written a new book, Appetite for Self-Destruction, which is a must-read for anyone interested in the sordid tale of how the major music labels self-immolated over the past 25 years. From the introduction of the CD to the battle over Napster to the birth of the iPod, Knopper, clever title aside, colorfully chronicles the whole sordid tale with a great eye for detail. And seriously, the soda offer stands, lest I run afoul of Axl Rose.
YES WII CAN: Sure, Sasha and Malia Obama don't yet have their promised puppy, but apparently, they did get a Wii for Christmas (last paragraph), which the President-Elect has used to improve his bowling skills. Somehow, the image of the incoming First Family having a rousing game of Wii Tennis just amuses me. (Via Kotaku.)
WHERE AN ADULT CAN ACT LIKE A KID: Apparently, there's a rather unexpected hotbed of criminal behavior in Harrisburg, PA--Chuck E. Cheese's, which has apparently averaged one police call a month in the past year. And it's evidently a national issue. Really?
EITHER WAY, THE SUN'S GOING TO COME UP THE NEXT MORNING: As FNL's third season, not as great as the first but better than the second and miles better than 95% of what you can catch on prime-time network television, draws to its season and likely series finale, I find myself incapable of objectively evaluating the show. I hope it is a sign of how thoroughly the actors inhabit the characters and not just of my dislike of change, but I don't want to let these kids go. At this point in its run, it's hard for FNL to do anything suprising -- and that's part of the show's thesis, too, how life in a town where nothing ever seems to change is lived from one small surprise to the next -- but the greatest joys of the show have never been in jolting plot twists. They've been in watching characters grow, react to each other, break apart and connect in new combinations. I almost regret that there was a football game last night to intrude upon that, or that we spent any time at all on the plight of JD, a character who presumably would be the centerpiece of any fourth season, but who right now just seems to be getting in the way of tying things up for our seniors. Even if this season rarely reached the highs of Season 1, I am going to be very sad at 10:00 next Wednesday.
THE AWARD WAS ACCEPTED BY CAPTAIN HAMMER: I wouldn't normally give much of a damn about the People's Choice Awards, with such inexplicable category divides as separate categories for "Movie Star," "Action Star," "Leading Man/Lady," and "Superhero," as well as inexplicable things like a "Favorite Sci-Fi Show" category won by "Heroes" and in which neither "BSG" nor "Doctor Who" was nominated. However, two categories in the results this year bear notice. "Barack Roll" beat out (among others) "An A Capella Tribute to Star Wars" for "Favorite User Generated Video," and Dr. Horrible won "Favorite On-Line Sensation."
JOE BIDEN, GOD BLESS THE GUY, WAS NOWHERE IN ATTENDANCE: Every year, our friend and regular commenter Marsha goes on a one-day movie binge. She files this report:
* * *
Once a year, my husband goes skiing and, for the last few years, takes the kids with him. They go for a week, and I stay home. The original staycation, I suppose. I get to sleep late, eat whatever I want, and do whatever I want, and what I want to do, over and over again, is go to the movies.

Seeing movies in the theater was my first, and in many ways remains my only, casualty of my entry into the ranks of parenthood. I still go to the theater, and baseball games, still go to my book clubs, and still have dinner with friends. But it's almost impossible to justify the cost of a sitter, parking, and two tickets, just to see a movie that will be on one of my 500 cable channels in less than a year (or for $4.99 On Demand in 6 months). Very few movies are worth the hassle and $40 a person. So since Son #1 was born nearly 4 years ago, my husband and I have seen exactly 2 movies together in the theater, and they both started with "Harry Potter and."

So when I'm left to my own devices for one week a year, I go to the movies. But I also go to work, and do other things, so I have to be efficient. Thus, the Day-O-Movies was born. I make lists. I scrutinize the schedules at area theaters. I arrange and rearrange the puzzle pieces to see as many movies as possible. Two years ago I managed to see seven movies in 36 hours, five in a single day. This year, I only managed four in one day - Revolutionary Road, Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, and The Wrestler - in that order.

Each year I send out emails to lots of friends inviting me to join me. Most people join me for one or two of the movies, and nearly all wonder how I can "sit through" that many movies in one day. I cannot understand this mentality. Sit through? I was unhappy that I couldn't manage a 5th movie this year! Four movies in a day is a joy. It is a blessing.

I arrive early. I buy tickets for the first two movies (in case plans change later - I always pay for all my movies). I buy a large soda, because that will give me free refills all day long. I find good seats. I wait for my friends. I pee at the last possible second. I watch many commercials, then many trailers. And I fall in love with movie going all over again.

Watching four movies in a day is not like watching one at a time. It gives you a new perspective. I try to guess what trailers they will show me before a given film, what demographic they think I am likely to be as a viewer based on what commercials I see. I play games to see which trailers I will have seen most frequently at the end of the day. I watch the people who are at each showing - who goes to the 10:20 am showing of Revolutionary Road? Why does the 1:10 pm showing of Slumdog Millionaire sell out on a Sunday five weeks after it was released? How many people seeing Milk gasp at the end, clearly not having known the story before arriving? I wear layers - my sweater goes on and off as the day goes on. I go to the bathroom between every single movie - sometimes twice, if the break is long enough. At no point does my tush hurt; movie theater seats are far too comfortable these days. And I am never bored. Not remotely tired. Not once.

By the end of the day, I am rejuvenated. I smile all day, thrilled to know that there is such good entertainment in the world. I am happy that there are people in the world as beautiful and talented as Kate Winslet, and happy that I can watch brilliant actors about whom I know nothing from other countries about which I know little. I am thrilled to watch Penn and Rourke disappear into characters so deeply that I forget I'm watching Penn and Rourke, and I am thrilled that once a year, I can have popcorn for lunch if I want. the only damper on the day is the same as it is every time - that validated parking at the theater expires after four hours, which means I pay exorbitant parking fees, but also that movie theaters do not imagine that anyone does what I did yesterday. It's a shame. Everyone should do this. it's not something I endure, sit through, or survive. It's something I love. I'm pretty sure, if you're reading this, you would too.
* * *
Revolutionary Road is not an easy two hours at the movies, to be sure, but when you're done, you'll feel just great about your own marriage and parenting skills. Kate Winslet has never looked more beautiful, and both Winslet and DiCaprio put on extraordinary performances. Winslet's, in particular, is a master class in acting - the expressions on her face when her husband disappoints her after a play she's been in are truly marvelous and heartbreaking. But it doesn't take long to for your focus to move from how beautiful she looks (despite her brown eyebrows and blond hair) and how well Leo has matured and how wonderful these two are in these parts into being immersed in their marriage.

This is a painful marriage in so many ways, but in a very different way than most bad marriage movies. There's no abuse, there isn't even an extraordinary circumstance of any kind. This is just two people who are growing apart, or who maybe shouldn't have gotten married in the first place, and they're trying to figure it out without being sure that they want to make it work. That's why it's devastating - because it's easy to see yourself in it. It's easy to feel both empathy and dislike for both Frank and April because at various points in the film, they each represent the best and worst of our own selves and our own relationships.

Mendes has created a beautiful-looking film, and the script manages to surprise us even within the constraints of the New York suburbs - there are so many ways the film could have ended and the one they chose rang very true for both the characters and the time. Mendes created a character study, but in many ways, the character is the marriage, not either of its participants.

For those who have seen the film, I ask this question, which won't spoil anything for those who haven't seen it. Does she love him?

Slumdog Millionaire worked for me when there were so many ways it shouldn't have. Set aside the things it has become known for - showing us a side of India most of us have never seen, the poor-kid-makes-good story, the beautiful cinematography, the fine acting by a cast most of use couldn't pick out of a lineup even after seeing the film. All true.

The thing that worked when it shouldn't have here is the device. We complain all the time in television when there's a plot device that ties A and B stories together. We hate it when the patient of the week on "House" or "Grey's Anatomy" has an ailment that mirrors whatever is going on in the personal lives of the doctors, we get cranky when clever sitcoms like HIMYM or "30 Rock" mess up the tone of their quirky asides. So if you're going to tie the life of a poor orphan tea slinger to the questions on a game show, you'd better do it right.

Thank goodness for Danny Boyle. Slumdog Millionaire gets it exactly right, and I'm honestly still not sure how. While there were certainly surprises throughout, I thought some of the details of the ending were so telegraphed that to call them foreshadowed is laughable. And I still cried and grinned in all the right places. Maybe it's that the device of the police interrogation works so well to tie one to the other, or maybe it's that the newness of the actors allowed me to get more deeply into the story than watching Brad!Pitt! and Cate!Blanchett!, or maybe it's just that after seeing Revolutionary Road anything with an even remotely positive outlook was gonna knock me out of my seat, but damn if this movie wasn't firing on all cylinders. It's a wonderfully visual movie - bright and energetic and fast-moving, showing us a huge variety of locations and taking advantage of every one of them. And despite the fact that this is, at core, a fairly conventional underdog-makes-good story with a love interest component, it feels, at every turn, fresh and new.

I wish I had something to present here to make you all talk a lot in the Comments, but honestly, this film just made me happy. And I don't think I want to overanalyze myself out of that mood.

I also saw Milk and The Wrestler, and we've already discussed them in this space (Matt on Milk, Adam on The Wrestler) so I'll leave them be except to say that I liked them more than those who originally posted about them did. I go to the movies to be engaged and entertained, and all four of these movies did that in spades. All in all, a good day to be me.

Wide open Top Chef tonight, with a deadly double elimination, eerily arrayed whole fried snapper, and a quickfire challenge that invited the viewer to suspend disbelief and imagine that agave syrup is something other than sugar. Not that it's my place to call them out here, but if you're going to go that far, why not corn syrup, or, you know, granulated crystalline cane sap?

Right. Picky, picky.

The idea of seating the contestants to judge the group they weren't cooking with? Genius! The results? I have no idea!

Sadly I was called away just as the first group brought the plates out and began gaping at the second seated uncomfortably across from The New Judge. So what happened? Did the contestants play favorites? Did they single-out the strongest of their opponents for the harshest criticism in an attempt to thin the field? Was this endlessly foreshadowed New Judge all that and a fish 'n chips? Was Eugene horribly, horribly wronged, or was his increasingly in-the-edit attitude shown to get fatally ahead of his chef fu?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

WHITE DEVILS BE CRAAAAAAAAAAZY: According to the Sun-Times, having been inspired by Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen, the real Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson will, for real, be recording their own version of "Solid (As Barack)" to be released online in time for the inauguration, a week ahead of a greatest-hits release. $1.29 on iTunes?

[To briefly play the role of Bob -- did you know that among the songs Ashford & Simpson wrote are "I'm Every Woman,""Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "You're All I Need To Get By," and "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)"?]
IT'S BETTER THAN GOING TO NEW JERSEY, TO THE TOWN OF PRINCETON: Our friend (and ALOTT5MA '07 rotisserie baseball champion) Daniel Fienberg has joined a new entertainment-insider website,, which is now live in beta form, with his blog moving over as well. Don't miss his sit-down with Daniel Craig, among other features.
DONNA MARTIN GRADUATES:Apparently, after much backstage drama, Tori Spelling will make an appearance on 90212.0 near the end of the season. Does anyone care? (I've only watched part of last night's, but Lucille Bluth Tabitha Wilson attempting to play Pictionary was amusing.)

"Burn After Reading," written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
"Milk," written by Dustin Lance Black
"Vicky Cristina Barcelona," written by Woody Allen
"The Visitor," written by Tom McCarthy
"The Wrestler," written by Robert Siegel

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," Screenplay by Eric Roth; Screen Story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord; Based on the Short Story by F. Scott Fitzgerald
"The Dark Knight," Screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan; Story by Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer; Based on Characters Appearing in Comic Books Published by DC Comics; Batman Created by Bob Kane
"Doubt," Screenplay by John Patrick Shanley, Based on his Stage Play
"Frost/Nixon, "Screenplay by Peter Morgan, Based on his Stage Play
"Slumdog Millionaire," Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy, Based on the Novel "Q and A" by Vikas Swarup

"Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story," written by Stefan Forbes and Noland Walker
"Chicago 10", written by Brett Morgen
"Fuel", written by Johnny O'Hara
"Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson", Screenplay by Alex Gibney, From the Words of Hunter S. Thompson
"Waltz with Bashir," written by Ari Folman

I simply cannot comprehend how Vicky Cristina Barcelona gets nominated for anything, except perhaps Penelope Cruz's performance, but especially for its writing of all things. The use of voiceover narration was just brutal and should be an automatic disqualifier. Did anyone actually like that movie? At some point, however, I will talk about The Visitor, which Jen and I watched earlier this week -- it's quite good.

There are also nominations for tv and radio, including a Best Episode - Animation category with four Simpsons episodes (including the crosswords one) competing against two from King of the Hill.
THE COKE MACHINE MOMENT: Last night's second Scrubs, featuring a fine performance by Baltimore's own Mayor Clarence Royce, finished with a nice montage set to Death Cab's "I Will Follow You Into the Dark." Scrubs is one of those shows that uses music very effectively and gives good montage. In fact, if I recall correctly, it's one of only three shows on television that have caused me to go out and buy a song on iTunes, back when I downloaded Colin Hay's melancholic solo acoustic version of "Overkill." The second of those shows was Friday Night Lights, where I first heard Bright Eyes's cover of "Devil Town" from the penultimate scene in Season 1. (Incidentally, the DirecTV channel uses that same song for its bonus pre-credits credit sequence for Season 3 of FNL. I don't know if non-DirecTV users are even going to get the Devil Town credits, but they are stunning in HD.)

Which reminds me of something I've been meaning to post about: my belated ALOTT5MA Award for Best Montage of 2008. First, the runner-up*: The end of the Season 2 premiere of Chuck, set to Frightened Rabbit's "Twist." And the winner: The end of the second episode of the Jordana Brewster arc on Chuck, set to Frightened Rabbit's "Keep Yourself Warm." The two share more than just a show and a band -- both also are pivotal moments in Chuck's continuing imprisonment in the spy world and alienation from regular life. The latter, though, had two extra things going for it: slow motion running (a hallmark of good montage), and an extremely well-acted Coke Machine Moment.

The Coke Machine Moment, if you don't know, is the moment when you realize that you are in the middle of a huge and totally unnecessary mistake exactly at the moment when you realize it is irreversible. It is named for the moment when, very close to the end of the lives of 2.18 persons a year, those persons realize that shaking the malfunctioning vending machine to dislodge a stuck Coke is going to end not in ice-cold refreshment but rather in blunt trauma or asphyxiation, because that thing is a millimeter past its tipping point and there's nowhere to go but down. The pain of the Coke Machine Moment is the cruel junction of avoidability, inevitability, and unexpected clarity. My own defining Coke Machine Moment came on, and then off, a motorcycle, but every time there's a strange tragedy like an air disaster or a tsunami, I can't keep myself from imagining it for the victims. In the Chuck montage, that moment comes when Yvonne Strahovski and Adam Baldwin freeze, then Baldwin's usually locked jaw parts a bit in surprise and Strahovski inhales a little. A perfect moment, just as the (badly-dubbed, because let's face it, the song drops like 70 f-bombs) music crests. For all that Chuck did right the last half-season, I think that was my favorite moment.

*Second runner-up, and I know somebody's going to kill me for not making this #1, is The Wire.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

ALL HE EVER DOES IS GET INDUCTED: The seventeen finalists for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame are:
Cris Carter, Dermontti Dawson, Richard Dent, Russ Grimm, Bob Hayes, Claude Humphrey, Cortez Kennedy, Bob Kuechenberg, Randall McDaniel, John Randle, Andre Reed, Shannon Sharpe, Bruce Smith, Derrick Thomas and Rod Woodson, plus contributors Ralph Wilson, owner of the Buffalo Bills, and former commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Semifinalists who missed the cut, according to one FO contributor, include Roger Craig, Terrell Davis, Chris Doleman, Kevin Greene, Ray Guy, Charles Haley, Lester Hayes, Art Modell, Ken Stabler, and Steve Tasker.

John Randle, Shannon Sharpe, Bruce Smith, and Rod Woodson are all first-year-eligibles; Dawson and Kennedy were eligible before, but made the final ballot for the first time this year. The voters are listed here, and somewhere between 4-7 of these men will be inducted. Before looking at the statistics (to the extent that football performance can even be measured numerically), I'd have to think Shannon Sharpe, Bruce Smith, and Rod Woodson are as close to locks for eventual induction as can exist, and Derrick Thomas and Cris Carter sure as heck belong in.
SCRUB IN: Just a reminder that Scrubs, a show that I both find inconsistent yet consistently enjoy, premieres on ABC tonight. Sepinwall tentatively approves of the new season. As a bonus, he reminds us to re-set the DVR, since it's a new channel.
MAYBE IT'S NOT TOO LATE TO LEARN HOW TO LOVE, FORGET HOW TO HATE, AND DOWNLOAD THIS SONG: Continuing the iTunes theme today (and hey, get well, Steve Jobs), I just noticed that Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" (1980; I owned) and Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" (1982; I mocked) are numbers 75 and 79, respectively. I could triangulate Journey's route back to the top a few years back, but does anybody know what pop cultural phenomenon is driving these guys back to the charts?
YOU LACK THE ONE THING THAT IS DEVOTION: The WSJ is reporting that Apple either will be announcing or already has announced (depending on the MacWorld schedule, which is something I don't monitor) changes to the iTunes pricing structure. Rather than selling all songs for 99 cents, the company will move to a three-tiered system, whereby the most popular songs will go for $1.29, others for 99 cents, and others (supposedly the "vast majority") for 69 cents.

So when you decide that OMG, I have to buy that treacley AI single the very minute it goes on sale after the confetti finishes falling into the winner's hair, the privilege will cost you $1.29, but presumably my download of Soup Dragons' Divine Thing, which I heard in the gym last night for the first time in ages and which I can't believe I didn't download back when I was creating a sweeping digital music library of every song I'd ever heard via Napster a wholly legit music-sharing platform, will go down to a mere 69 cents.

Will this change your music purchasing behavior in any way?

(edited to add: Less relevant to me, but likely more relevant to others, are a couple of other forthcoming changes: (1) elimination of digital rights management (aka the annoying thing about iTunes that restricts the number of times you can copy a song purchased on iTunes and which kinds of devices you can play the song on) and (2) procurement of licenses to sell music directly over the air to the iPhone.)
DON'T YOU KNOW WHO I AM? John Nance Garner memorably claimed that the Vice-Presidency wasn't worth a warm pitcher of spit. Apparently, being Vice-President-Elect is worth even less, as Joe and Jill Biden couldn't get in to see Benjamin Button at a sold out-showing Saturday night in Delaware.

Monday, January 5, 2009

WHAT IS THE PERFECT DOT-MATRIX IMAGE FOR THE SEGUE FROM 'THINGS CAN ONLY GET BETTER' TO 'YOU BE ILLIN'?: What, I was wondering today, is the current program, the mission, of the art form known as marching band? I don't mean this as a swipe at marching musicians, though perhaps it is inevitable that this will read that way. It's just that I have never really grasped what took over when the productive marriage between band and military drill faded into anachronism.

Are marching musicians marchers or musicians first? Does the formation serve as decoration for the music, or is the music just accompaniment for the field show (and if either, wouldn't you expect either better music or a better show)? Or are they both supposed to enhance the other, like the way that a great song is always better than the sum of its music and lyrics? Or is it none of the above -- just a way for a bunch of like-minded kids to goof off at football games? Do the marchers perform for the audience, or despite it? I just don't get what we're trying to accomplish here.
ALOTT5MA PSA: Perhaps the least effective possible method of getting something* urgent done quickly is wearing a button demanding that it be done NOW. Contrary to an apparent consensus among button-wearers, printing "NOW" in bold capital letters in a font other than the remaining text does not hasten the doing of things.

*Other than things that can be done within a person-width radius of the button-wearer, like "Read this button NOW" or "Kindly punch me in the face NOW."
SIX DEGREES OF WHA? Have you ever thought "You know what really needs to be studied? The mathematics of Kevin Bacon?" I know I have. And how about combining that with support for the theory that Paul Erdos is the center of the mathematical universe? I give you the comprehensive article (from Wiki, naturally) on the Erdos-Bacon Number. Notable folks with finite Erdos-Bacon numbers include Natalie Portman, Mayim Bialik, Stephen Hawking, and Danica McKellar.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

FROST/NIXON: (X-Posted on Big Orange)
Frost: Are you really saying the President can do something illegal?
Nixon: I'm saying that when the President does it, that means it's not illegal!
Frost: ...I'm sorry?
To try to put yourself in the environment of Frost/Nixon, imagine it's 2010 and George W. Bush has decided to sit for his first post-Presidency interview as a twenty-plus hours exclusive taping with ... Carson Daly, or somewhere halfway between Ryan Seacrest and that guy who does the sex predator busts for Dateline.

Because that's who David Frost was back in 1975 when he landed the interview -- a 36-year-old lightweight pseudo-journalist more comfortable with the Brothers Gibb than with hard news. But Frost had an idea -- secure disgraced former President Richard Nixon's first post-presidency interview as a means of boosting his credibility, and pay whatever he had to do to get it. After a small bidding war with NBC and other outlets, Nixon's price was $600,000 and 20% of the profits, and the interview was landed.

Other than general parameters that each of the four 90-minute segments to air would focus on a different aspect of the Nixon record (Watergate, foreign, domestic, personal), there were no restrictions on any of the questions Frost could ask. And while Frost thought he could make a name for himself, Nixon predicted he could school Frost, filibuster when necessary, and use these hours to rebuild his legacy.

As with many other films this season -- [insert spoiler discussion ALOTT5MA has read before] and, yes, whether anything interesting happened between Frost and Nixon.

(Hell, you can guess: tell me who'd want to see a movie about a Richard Nixon running circles around a naive playboy.)

So I don't know how much one can or should "spoil" about what happens in the movie, which sticks pretty well to the historical transcripts while on-set, to contemporaneous accounts of much of the rest, plus one /dilly/ of an invented phone call towards the end that is entertaining as hell, and tells at least screenwriter Peter Morgan's sense of the "truth" of Nixon, though anyone familiar with Rick Perlstein's exegesis of the Franklin/Orthogonian dichotomy will feel comfortable with it.

And it's entertaining as hell, in a way neatly parallels one of my modern favorites, Shattered Glass, the way you spend that whole film waiting for Chuck Lane to kick Anakin Skywalker's Paduan-lying ass from one end of the New Republic's offices to the other. As many have noted, the film is structured as an intellectual boxing match, and the talking-head interviews along the way (perhaps, too many) make you really appreciate the knockout blow.

The frustrating thing about Frost/Nixon, though, is that the climax to which it builds is, however dramatic, meaningless in the grand scheme of things. I spoil nothing to say that no matter what he says in the interview, Nixon doesn't go to jail, though he doesn't get rehabilitated, and that things worked out well for David Frost. So?

Well, it's still fun on its own terms, and Frank Langella (Nixon) and Michael Sheen (Frost) do own their characters well. More importantly, the film has one true insight that's worth remembering, and it's spoken by one of Frost's research assistants, James Reston Jr., played by Sam Rockwell:
You know, the first and greatest sin or deception of television is that it simplifies, it diminishes, Great, complex ideas, tranches of time. Whole careers become reduced to a single snapshot. ... David had succeeded on that final day in getting, for a fleeting moment, what no investigative journalist, no state prosecutor, no judiciary committee or political enemy had managed to get: Richard Nixon's face. Swollen and ravaged by loneliness, self-loathing and defeat, filling every television screen in the country. The rest of the project and its failings would not only be forgotten, they would totally cease to exist.
Think about that claim for a second -- that we really see truth from public figures in those interstitial moments, the pauses, the ums, the you knows, the little unconscious, unforced gaps in the script that we believe provide insight into character. [Discussion of Gov. Palin omitted to adhere to the no-politics rule.]

But these reactions can also be deeply unfair -- think about the novice politician who says you know a lot just because he's not trained in being on television yet, the error that's just that, an error. Or, hell, Nixon himself, forever tarred with the sin of sweating during a televised 1960 debate because he was recovering from the flu, which folks took as proof of his untrustworthiness.

Okay, so they were right about Nixon. So in thinking about this question, let's do this: take a look at this two-minute clip from the actual interviews, and just watch Nixon's reaction as Frost is asking the question. Watch the unconscious way he seems to dread having to answer the question, the little gulps he takes. Does that tell you everything you need to know, regardless of what he says later?

The achievement of Frost/Nixon, and of the actors involved, is that you may not look at another political interview the same way ... or, perhaps, may finally recognize how you've been subconsciously watching them all along.
I'M WARNING YOU. I WILL BE FORCED TO THRASH YOU: "Fact" that has made its way into Wikipedia of dubious plausibility, but let's give it a fair hearing. In Coming to America, remember the robbery scene with Samuel L. Jackson? Take a look at the boy on the ground, about :30 in. Is that, as various websites now allege, a young Alex Rodriguez? It does look an awful lot like him, and he would have been 11-12 at the time of filming, but, really? Really?