Saturday, February 21, 2009

IT'S NANERPUS! The Denny's Nanerpus commercial has quickly become a favorite in my household, so much so, that for lazy Saturday night dinner tonight we dined on our own version.

You can catch our homemade Nanerpus video here.
AND YET, ODDLY, IT'S STILL HARD OUT HERE FOR A PIMP: The WSJ's Lauren A.E. Schuker on the easiest way for women to win Oscar nominations -- playing whores and strippers.
MY NAME IS ADRIAN MONK, AND I'M HERE TO RECRUIT YOU: Look, lord knows I don't expect Monk to be accurate, but given that there's an Academy Award-nominated picture which repeatedly explains that San Francisco is governed not by a "city council," but rather a "board of supervisors," how hard would it have been to rewrite an episode that involves Monk's implausible escapades before them? (And that doesn't even deal with the fact there are apparently 11 Supervisors, rather than 7, as the episode indicated.)
YES, BUT WILL THEY RETURN TO GILLIGAN'S ISLAND LIKE THE OCEANIC SIX? Joining a list of memorable rooftop performances that includes the Beatles' final concert and U2's "Where The Streets Have No Name" video, the Harlem Globetrotters will play on the roof of Philadelphia's Spectrum during their upcoming visit as part of the legendary arena's final year. I'm trying to decide: is Lucy, at 5 1/2, old enough to appreciate the Globetrotters?
TO BE HAPPY IS MORE OR LESS WHAT ONE SEARCHES FOR: I have loved the song Samba Saravah by Pierre Barrouh for many years.

The song is from a French movie that I cherish called "A Man and a Woman" ("Un Homme et Une Femme") from the 1960's. It's a moody and moving film about a couple slowly falling in love. The film tells the tale of a young widow named Anne whose late husband was a stuntman who perished in an accident and a widower named Jean-Louis who is a race car driver whose wife killed herself after Jean-Louis was in a near fatal car crash.

The two meet at the boarding school their children attend. They share a ride home to Paris one rainy night after Anne misses the last train. Their mutual attraction is obvious. The film depicts their relationship over the course of several trips to and from the school. As they fall in love, Anne tussles with feelings of guilt and loss regarding her deceased husband.

The couple share a magical first night together, but Anne finds herself unable to be unfaithful to the memory of her husband, and decides to leave Jean-Louis. I won't give away the ending except to say that is is unexpected, satisfying, and ambiguous (I love ambiguous endings).

The song is from a scene you should watch in which Anne is telling Jean-Louis about how remarkable her husband had been. She tells Jean-Louis a story about a time when Anne and her husband went to Brazil. Her husband embraced the joyful approach of the Brazilian culture. The scene flashes back to her husband, played by the French singer Pierre Barrouh, singing this song to her (see below for the lyrics in English). The joy he brings to her when he is singing the song is palpable.

I loved the song from the first time I saw the movie (in high school on a date at the Orson Welles Cinema in Harvard Square-- let's just say that it's an awesome first date movie). Really, it introduced me to my love of Brazilian music (well, that plus lots of Jobim songs). I bought the soundtrack when I was in high school and have been listening to it ever since. I must now have 30-40 Brazilian CDs.

"Samba Saravah" is a French version of the Brazilian song "Samba da Bençao" - written by Baden Powell with original lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes. Here is a version of the Brazilian song, sung by Toquinho, who is one of my favorite Brazilian singers.

The French lyrics are partly a literal translation of the Brazilian, but with a lot of new things added. Roughly translated (it's been a long time since high school French class):
To be happy is more or less what one searches for
I love to laugh and sing and I never want to keep people from feeling joy
Nevertheless can you have a samba without sadness?
That would be like a wine that does not intoxicate
A wine that does not intoxicate,
No, that is not the samba that I want

Friday, February 20, 2009

A foot and a half: Finally, A Use for Twitter

THE BLACK, BASKETBALL-PLAYING NIETZSCHE: I think my relationship with Shaquille O'Neal is officially at man-crush level after reading of his seeking Twitter-buddies yesterday while dining solo in Phoenix (and associated tipping habits). Just a great tale.

[Your classic Shaq quote of the day: "I'm tired of hearing about money, money, money, money, money. I just want to play the game, drink Pepsi, wear Reebok."]
VIOLA DAVIS NOMINATED FOR DOUBT, HAS NEVER BEEN NUDE: Mr. Skin's Anatomy Awards are out, but you have to scroll way down past the awards for "Best Nude with a Toothbrush Scene," "Best Nude Daughter of a Famous Mother" and the always popular "Hottest Dead Body" to find the startling news that Viola Davis, like Dr. Tobias Fünke, suffers from gymnophobia.

And congratulations are in order for Kate Winslet for winning the prestigious "Lifetime Skinchievement Award." Will she win her first Oscar Sunday night? Remember, this is the place to be for Liveblogging during the telecast.
THE JUICE IS ON THE LOOSE: A week ago, when the Alex Rodriguez steroid news was breaking, I cautioned people that they shouldn't condemn Rodriguez too harshly without asking difficult questions about their own favorite players, because it's naive to think that the (supposed) scourge of steroids tainted every team but one's own. Cue the carefully worded insinuation of another shoe dropping: The New York Daily News links Rodriguez to someone named Angel Presinal (a guy who traveled with Rodriguez throughout 2007, three years after Rodriguez supposedly quit steroids, and who has been banned from every MLB clubhouse because he tried to ship steroids to Juan Gonzalez in Canada). Presinal, the Daily News reports, also "has worked with some of the game's biggest stars," including Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Vlad Guerrero, Bartolo Colon (here the Daily News is using the term "biggest star" literally), and Adrian Beltre, as well as admitted users/Mitchell Report listees Juan Gonzalez, Miguel Tejada, and Jose Guillen. The love of a few Seattle fans (including me) for Adrian Beltre is strong, but Pedro and Papi? The day the Daily News (the New York Daily News, it bears emphasizing) firms up its insinuation against those guys is the day the Boston media collectively changes its tune from "Yankees = cheaters" to "let's put this steroid stuff behind us and concentrate on moving forward."
HE'S MY PATIENT! MY ENABLER! MY PATIENT! MY ENABLER! HE'S MY PATIENT AND MY ENABLER: Long ago, in an undergraduate architecture design studio, our professor brought in an architect to show some slides of his work. Upon reaching a picture of a large table topped by a huge single slab of wood with a prominent knotty hole in the center, he said one thing a designer needs to learn is to "make your mistakes your features."

Last night was the first night in a long time that I thoroughly enjoyed an episode of Grey's Anatomy, and while there were some things that predisposed me to like it -- a high Addison-to-Meredith ratio, a complete absence of Dr. Cartoon Autism, amusingly scene-chewing work by an unfortunately Botox-immobilized Faye Dunaway, and affecting work by a patient harking back to the work of a certain ALOTT5MA-enjoyed actor in a certain episode of a certain other program -- the main reason was, oddly, the treatment of the thing about which I usually complain. In the past, I've seen the show as a collection of abnormally self-involved characters only reluctantly turning their attention to the problems of others around them (both patients and colleagues), which turned me off. Last night was the first time I remember (and I fully accept that it may have happened before, but I'm dense) that the show fully committed itself to the idea that the characters' abnormal self-involvement is what causes the problems of others around them. Every principal character in the episode save last night's two heroes, Addison and Hunt, got so wrapped up in his or her own personal concerns that he or she couldn't help the people who needed it, even in obvious ways.

If the show is adopting this as a thesis, like The Sopranos adopted "people don't change," then the megalomania rampant at Seattle Grace becomes less an irritant than an accelerant, both something that drives the drama as small carelessnesses multiply into looming catastrophes and something that gives people, like Izzy in last night's episode, an enemy against which to strive. A mistake, to borrow a thought, that can become a feature. I hope last night wasn't just a happy accident.
YOU KNOW THE FIRST AND GREATEST SIN OF THE DECEPTION OF TELEVISION IS THAT IT SIMPLIFIES; IT DIMINISHES GREAT, COMPLEX IDEAS, TRENCHES OF TIME; WHOLE CAREERS BECOME REDUCED TO A SINGLE SNAPSHOT: So after all that, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is going to be handing out twenty-four awards Sunday night for outstanding achievement in the cinematic arts (plus Jerry Lewis' Hersholt), and we can for a moment get beyond all the politicking and the expectations-setting to the fundamental questions -- what are you hoping to see Sunday night, and does it matter?

I still haven't seen Slumdog, so beyond that the things which blew me away, and which I'd like to see recognized, are Anne Hathaway's performance in Rachel Getting Married and something for WALL-E beyond Best Animated Film -- yeah, I want it to receive that original screenplay award as well.

But beyond that lies a question I'm still not able to answer: to what extent should degree-of-difficulty matter? Do we evaluate Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler based on how much he was able to draw from real life for the role? Do we discount it on that basis? Do we give extra credit in the adapted screenplay category based on difficulty-of-adaptation -- i.e., adapting a play (including your own) isn't as hard as working from a short story or other source material? Is Best Makeup based on how much makeup is needed to get the actor from point A to point B, or for this -- and for all these questions -- is it just a question of how well the finished product stands on its own legs?

We'll see you here Sunday night.

e.t.a. And tomorrow -- which I keep forgetting to plug -- AMC Theaters is running its annual day-long Best Picture Showcase. All five films, plus a free, large, infinitely refillable tub of popcorn, for just $30. Details and local showtimes here on how you can start your day with morning Milk at 10:30 am and conclude with the deterioration of Richard Nixon's credibility (spoiler?) by midnight.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

IT'S TIME NOW TO SING OUT, THOUGH THE STORY NEVER ENDS CAN GET CENSORED BY SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS: Remember back in November 2007, when we were all excited about Rent: The High School Edition making its way across America? Surprise! Some high schools are having second thoughts. Still:

“Like it or not, we’re right smack in the middle of an enormous cultural shift right now, and that shift will give way to acceptance of homosexuality and acceptance of gay characters,” said Jeffrey Seller, one of the “Rent” producers, who are also backing a national tour now under way. “But it’s a process, it’s a messy process, and it makes sense to me that we’ll take steps forward and hit a pothole and take a step backward.

“But you know what?” Mr. Seller added. “The kids are going to win. They may not win this month, they may not win this year, but if they want to put on ‘Rent,’ then they are going to have to fight a little bit and stand up to their schools.”

I'm thinking that it's precisely in those hamlets that think they're not ready for Rent in which they need to be performing the show, those places in which folks living with AIDS, drag queens, documentary filmmakers and folks fired from their jobs for working on theories of "actual reality" remain just as much outcasts from society as the tuberculosis sufferers of yesteryear.
NEXT TIME, WITHOUT ?UESTION, GET THE NETWORK TO OBTAIN THE PUBLISHING RIGHTS YOU NEED: The Roots explain why they've signed up to be Jimmy Fallon's house band:
?uestlove has heard the warnings about the Roots becoming a late-show band. He says his friend saxophonist Branford Marsalis — who abruptly quit his gig as Jay Leno's musical foil in the early 1990s — cautioned against the move: "You'll be neutered!"

But ?uestlove says the band's new job has "enabled us to survive.

"This would basically match or surpass what we would make touring 200-plus days out of the year. And, two, this allows us to be home," he said.

It's a welcome respite from the road for a band that has always toured extensively. The band — most in their late 30s — are looking forward to living like "normal men," as ?uestlove says.
Meanwhile, Nathan Lane and Marc Shaiman pay musical tribute to Conan O'Brien.

David Bowie, Life on mars? | Songza

NEVER TELL ME THE ODDS! You could excuse Anne Hathaway, Melissa Leo, and Angelina Jolie for channeling their inner Han Solo after learning that Nate Silver, he of fame, has pegged their chances of walking away with a Best Actress statuette as 0.0%. Silver's picks for the top categories are Kate Winslet (beating our Meryl Streep 67.6% to 32.4%) Mickey Rourke (easily besting Sean Penn), Slumdog Millionaire in a rout, Danny Boyle likewise in a romp, Heath Ledger and Taraji P. Henson.

In other Oscar news, the Chicago Tribune's Mark Caro has a fun list of 10 reasons you should watch this year's broadcast (as if readers of this site need reasons). Savvy ALOTT5MAers will note that Caro's No. 10 reason ("No matter how long, predictable and dull any Oscarcast may be, one element always delivers the goods: the death montage! Which recently deceased Hollywood figure will get the loudest tacky applause? Wanna know? Watch the show!") is sadly a moot point.

And speaking of montages, here's
MTV’s Movies Editor Josh Horowitz channeling his inner Billy Crystal as he takes a trip through some of this year's Oscar contenders.

Finally, if you haven't seen it yet, Roger Ebert offers a touching rememberance of his friend and co-host Gene Siskel on the 10-year anniversary of the skinny one's untimely passing.

Plus, don't forget to be here Oscar night for liveblogging of the Oscar festivities. The fun begins at 7 pm EST.
AT CHICAGO, THEY'D QUICKLY DETERMINE THAT THE PROTEST WAS ECONOMICALLY INEFFICIENT AND STOP: Look, I'm sympathetic to protesting against injustice, but I have trouble taking seriously the students who've occupied NYU's Student Center, making demands such as a full investigation about whether Coca-Cola products should be banned on campus, unrestricted public access to the NYU library (which is already kinda available), and that they be provided with vegan food immediately. Doesn't this just prove the wisdom of Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy?
WHERE DOES SLASH RANK? A young music fan posed what I found to be an interesting question to me yesterday: where would you place Slash on the list of the greatest guitar players?

I answered with essentially a variant on the "big hall" vs. "small hall" discussions that we often have here regarding the Baseball HOF and the R&RHOF. In other words, I don't think Slash is considered a "Willie Mays", but he would likely rank higher than a "Catfish Hunter." I'd welcome your thoughts.

A related question: would it be fair to call Slash a virtuoso?

For your listening pleasure.

For a list of the honors Slash has received, look for "honors" here.
HERE'S TO YOU, MRS. ROBINSON...AND AGENT STARLING...AND RAYMOND'S MOTHER...AND THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST: Pop Matters weighs in with a look at 100 Essential Female Film Performances. Make sure you read the introduction first; the rationale for who did and did not make the list is intriguing in its own right. The roles are broken down into groups of 20, so far focusing on supporting performances, classic roles, and the dark side, which means there are only 40 slots left for Paris Hilton's star turn in The Hottie and the Nottie to garner some much deserved recognition.

supplemented and afforded the rare ALOTT5MA bump by Adam, because it's that good: Part 4, From Page to Screen, is now up, including praise for the acting prowess of ... Whoopi Goldberg, in The Color Purple: "Perhaps the most talented, underappreciated actresses of her generation, and maybe also one of the most hard-to-cast, Goldberg’s film debut (!) for Steven Spielberg remains her superlative dramatic achievement in a career full of comedy. What casting agents just don’t seem to get about Goldberg is her commanding knowledge of cinema history and pop culture, and her ability to relate it to whatever role she happens to be tackling—her abilities as an intuitive, instinctive actor are unique and sorely missed. ... This should have been the first Oscar for Whoopi, rather than the one she received a few years later in 1991 for her ace comedic role in Ghost, in the supporting category. It is her depth and her gravitas in Purple that will ensure her place in film history, though. Unless, of course, some brilliant scribe out there provides her with a properly-written new dramatic part. One can dream…"
EASILY THE GREATEST ATHLETE INTRODUCTION SINCE APOLLO CREED IN ROCKY IV: If there's one thing I wish I had been able to blog during my brief vacation over the past few days (the Idol piece was written in advance), it's Shaq + JabbaWockeeZ from the NBA Finals All-Star Game. That's some moves right there. Oh, I do love the Big Aristotle.

[Your Old School Shaq quote of the day, from his Welcome to Miami presser in 2004: "I'm like toilet paper, toothpaste and certain amenities - I'm proven to be good. I've still got five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years left."]
TOP CHEF NOLA, ROUND ONE: Lots of beautiful food last night on Bravo. Close-up after close-up of dishes that hammered home the biggest problem I have, week after week, with the whole Top Chef Experience. When the show is at its best, I hate hate hate watching all of that good stuff and not eating it. Freshly made andouille on a pot de creme? I want that. Gumbo I can't even smell?? You must be joking. The whole episode long, the bamboo of sensory deprivation was being tap-tap-tapped further beneath my otherwise reasonably entertained fingernails. I'm hungry again just thinking about it. Ouchie.

That's not to sell short the enjoyment that is available from good TV. Big props for a second week in a row to the Magical Elves. The 'last supper' set last week was quiet fun, and very well done. And the 'escape of the crawfish' footage that was cut into the Quickfire this week as Jamie, Jeff, and Leah threw down was just inspired. Add some mardi gras floats and long shots capturing the beautiful old buildings for an installment that was very satisfying visually.

Elimination-wise, we're getting into the real drama now, and I'm not sure what else to say about the competition without possibly spoiling something for those that still have the show cached on ye olde dvr.

Personal abuse, on the other hand, is probably safe, so what on god's green earth happened to Fabio's hair? I didn't catch how much time had passed since the prior elimination, but they obviously let him go back to LA. Skee-vy!

What have you all got? Any memories of great meals in and around NOLA particularly welcome.
I'M STILL STANDING HERE AND I'M THE RAM: Sure, if you slavishly put crabmeat, asparagus and bearnaise sauce atop all your food, then every night is Oscar Night, but for most of us it only happens once a year. This Sunday, do join us as we try to repeat our insanely popular Grammys liveblog with 4+ hours of CoverItLive-powered chatter, observation, commentary, fashion critique, polling and whatever else comes to mind. We'll go live with a pregame show about an hour before Hugh Jackman hits the stage; do spread the word.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

WE'RE NOT GOING TO GUAM, ARE WE: Spoiled -- we watchers of Lost are spoiled. So spoiled by the first five episodes of this season that an hour of mostly question-asking rather than question-answering now feels a trifle . . . slow. I wonder how many episodes it's going to take to answer all the questions that "316" posed. And given that most of them involve the Oceanic Six instead of the characters who we've all come to find much more interesting -- well, yes, it felt oddly slow. List the questions in the comments if you like, or at least tell me what kind of shoes you like to travel in.
ENJOY YOUR THREE-WEEK VACATION: You'll recall that we don't always do a separate Idol results post, but hey, why not. Great to see Carly Smithson and Michael Johns doing "The Letter" again -- it bugged me that the format of the AI tour this summer didn't allow for an encore of this particular number. Nice that the new format allows us to see the good performances on a results show instead of the miserable ones. And I'll leave the results for the comments, but will just note here that it's nice to see a few surprises this early in the season!
OUR OWN EFFORT AT A BESTSELLING BOOK: You know how there's that very succesful "Stuff White People Like" site? As someone who is very much a "White Person" within that site's definition, I'd like to propose a corollary site--"Stuff White People Don't Get." I'll offer up an initial suggestion--the films, plays, and television programs of Tyler Perry. Can someone (anyone?) explain this to me?
NOW, I'M NOT SAYING DAVID HERNANDEZ'S CAREER IS IN TROUBLE. I'M JUST SAYING THAT HE'D INCREASE HIS OPTIONS IF HE LEARNED THE WORDS TO "TODAY FOR YOU, TOMORROW FOR ME" AND HOW TO DANCE BACKWARDS IN HEELS: USA Today checks in with last season's Idol finalists. If there's anyone who you believe isn't reaching his/her career potential, suggest what that potential is and how s/he should get there.
[OUR FAIR CITY]: The Wall Street Journal profiles Mary Louise Cronin, whose job it is to figure out what phone calls are worthy of handling on NPR's Car Talk. Among the things which may earn the time of Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers,
"The more immediate the problem, the better -- because the energy is better," she said. This translates into "I was driving down the highway yesterday and my engine started making this horrible clanging noise and smoke started coming out and now my car is dead at the side of the road." If, somehow, a fiery explosion is part of the mix, you're golden. "The guys really like fiery explosions," confided Ms. Cronin, who for the record drives a 2006 Mazda 3.
WEDNESDAY MORNING, 3 A.M. (OVERHEARD AT A MID-‘90s COCKTAIL PARTY AT JAMES CAMERON’S HOUSE EDITION): In which another entirely imaginary conversation belabors a previously-raised point. The premise of said conversation may already have been joked about somewhere else on the web. If that is the case I am anxious to acknowledge the fact; however, a prudent amount of googling has failed to refresh my recollection as to any specific prior source.

James Cameron (James Cameron)
Wanker1 (middle age, slim, bloodshot, agitated, sniffly)
Wanker2 (older, doughy, tan, stern, slurring)
Wanker3 (younger, obsequious, overdressed, nervous)

(four men stand aside from the other attendees, speaking intently)

JC – I just don’t get it guys, how can there be a problem with the iceberg?

Wanker2 – Well, it’s random, for one.

– It is. Totally. Just right out of the blue!

– Black, really, in this case, but the point is: why? Where does it come from? How does the audience relate to it suddenly intersecting with the established development of the characters? How do we provide the context, you know, to, to…

– To explain the damn thing, James?

JC – What’s to explain? It’s an iceberg. An iceberg hits the boat.

Wanker1 – The boat hits the iceberg, really, but the point is: if we’re going to use it we have to establish it.

JC – Establish it? An iceberg?

Wanker2 – We’re speaking for the studio here, James. Looking out for the interests of the investors.

Wanker3 – It’s not that they aren’t behind you! You’re the alpha! They love you! It’s just a question of connecting with the widest possible market.

Wanker1 – Consider it from the perspective of your audience. The point is: Who’s ever seen an iceberg? This isn’t an ice age. Who’s going to understand that? How can we prepare them for that?

JC – What are you talking about?

Wanker1 – If we don’t take the time to provide them with a context for the thing, the audience is going to get lost asking: “Why an iceberg?” This isn’t PBS. We can’t take time out of the story to set this up.

JC – But that’s what happened!

– Historically, that’s what happened.

Wanker3 – As a matter of history!

Wanker1 – Ancient history, really. This isn’t a matter of history. This is not a historical question. We’re not doing a documentary. This is art. This is a movie. The boat can hit anything we want.

– Anything we want? Um… Oh, god. What do you, uh, have in mind?

Wanker3 – The most recent research shows a stronger identification, you know, than with icebergs – Or! Or storms! You know, for that matter… There’s a stronger identification…

Wanker2 – Tell him about the pirates.

JC – The studio wants pirates?!

Wanker3 – No, no! This beat pirates by 23% among males 13-35 years old! Can you believe it?

– I’m sure I can’t.

Wanker1 – The point is: it’s a lock. It’s an absolute green money lock.

– Green mo… Jesus. … So what the fuck is it?

Wanker3 – A sea monster!

– A giant squid, actually, in this case. A colossal motherfucking squid. Big as midtown Manhattan. Clears up the motivational problems…

JC – Motivational problems?

– Right. There’s no need for a complicated back-story here. No set-up. It’s a giant squid! Of course it’s eating the boat! You don’t have to explain that to anybody. It gives the protagonists a villain to contend with … brings the background into the foreground … so to speak ...

JC – So to speak? I, um… Are you high? Are you serious?

– Yes! I mean, so what? Yes. The data doesn’t lie, man.

Wanker2 – It doesn’t lie James.

– And the best part is we get another 4% of the teen-agers if the squid is an alien with psychic powers of any kind.
EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE: Every paragraph in this story about a chimp that attacked a woman is either absolutely horrifying or bizzarely hilarious. Should a story about a brutal mauling include also descriptions of how the chimp "used a key to escape," attacked an officer in a police cruiser (was the cop letting him ride shotgun?), had a cup of tea with Xanax before the attack, starred in Old Navy commercials, was unfazed by a knife-and-shovel assault, enjoyed a nice glass of wine, and liked to surf the Internet but was confused by changes in coiffure? I don't like to feel like a bad person, so why write such a sad article in a way that demands Yakety Sax?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

TATIANA! THERE WERE MOMENTS! After those first few performances, I thought to myself, man, this is one amazing group -- all of these performances were as good or better than many of the finalists during prior seasons! And then we got to Stevie Wright and the world just fell apart. And then Anoop Desai, and Casey Carlson, and it was just a whole lot of ick in there. Things got a little better, but oh my, did we have a low patch going there.

The Spectacular:

  • ALEXIS GRACE. Who knew that switching up the haircut was going to reveal such a performer? Her "Never Loved a Man" was one of the most sophisticated performances I can recall seeing on any season of this show. The unquestionable highlight of tonight's first-twelve. And her father is apparently Meat Loaf!

The Good:

  • Robert Downey Jr. Jr. I'm with Simon on this one -- Danny Gokey was good, but not as good as Kara/Randy/Paula thought. I'm a Gokey fan (although I don't think he can win the year after David Cook), but I didn't love his Hero.
  • Ricky Braddy. That was an awfully dull song (not to mention one I've never heard of), but he sang it well. Based on the judges reactions, he should land in Wild Card Week even if it doesn't boost him into the top three. (And his parents are Vicky and Ricky Sr.!)
  • Jackie Tohn. I really liked that she went down a different road than the designated rocker chicks usually choose. I'm with Simon on the "trousers" -- dude, they're spandex, and with the Reebok hightops they land you squarely into the realm of 1985 aerobic instructors leading their troops of low-impact aerobicizers in another chorus of "Let's Get Physical."
  • Tatiana del Toro. Who knew that someone so hopped up on Lithium can actually perform a challenging song successfully? To my -- and every single one of the judges' -- shock, Tatiana actually did quite a nice job on a Whitney song, of all things.
  • Repeated NPH sightings!

The Meh (oh, it's good to be back, AI fans, in the post-Hollywood rounds, where The Meh gets to be a category again!):

  • Anoop Desai. Oh, Anoop! What were you thinking, picking such a gloppy song? Have you never watched the show before? You never pick the song that's "really special to me," or the song that "I just really really like." Glurdge. He should make the wild card round, though, so maybe he'll get another shot. He deserves it, if for no other reason than that he deserves to have a good brow artist get to him with a pair of tweezers.
  • Brent Keith. It wasn't a good draw for him, ending up in the same group as Michael Sarver, especially when Sarver picked the familiar song and Keith picked a more nichey country tune. But he sang it well -- certainly better than some of the stylings of the Bucky Covingtons of the world.
  • Michael Sarver. He's totally better than this performance, and I think he's another good candidate for the wild card show if the fans of the roughneck call in for someone else. But this was a really awesome bar band performance and not a lot more.
  • Ann Marie Boskovich. I thought she sang it fine. But, to paraphrase my favorite Tim Gunnism -- that's a lot of song. If you're going to take on Natural Woman, you've got to go big or go home. She'll do the latter.
  • And then there's the flaw of the 4-judge format: when they all agree on something (which tonight was most of the time), it takes a long, long, loooong time for everyone to speak their piece.

The Ick:

  • Casey Carlson. Ow dear lord make it stop now now NOW!
  • Stevie Wright. See Casey Carlson.
  • Steven Fowler. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. AI's black male tenors are not well served by picking their songs from the universe of uptempo R&B songs originally sung by black male tenors. (This, incidentally, was the great tragedy of Jamar Rogers' too-early ouster -- he knew how to pick a song.) They are not singerly. They are not vocally impressive. They are often great dance party songs, but that does not make them great AI song choices. As you were.

It's hard to handicap outcomes at this point, since in the past we've never really known who the top votegetters were in any given week. Alexis Grace, for sure. RD Jr. Jr., presumably. But then who's the third? I think it's one of the guys, and I think prior pimping will trump vocal quality. So I'll go with Michael Sarver for now.

CAPTAIN ORTHOGONIAN: I finished Rick Perlstein's monumental (in physical size, scope, and achievement) Nixonland the other day, and while there's a lot of stuff to talk about in the book (much of it not for this site), what it reminded me of in part was Watchmen. One of the achievements of Watchmen the book is that while it's a "superhero" story (sort of--only one character has any superhuman powers), it's also a meditation on Nixon and what Perlstein calls "Nixonland." As is hinted at in the book, through background details and the like, the Watchmen dwell in a United States where Nixon successfully repealed the 22nd amendment and is still President in the early 1980s. What's interesting is how the characters reflect a variety of perspectives on Nixon:
  • Rorschach--The "right and wrong" absolutist of either the left or the right. What is right must be proclaimed, and what is wrong must be eliminated.
  • Ozymandias--While depicted as a liberal and no fan of Nixon, Veidt's actions and motivations say more is a spoiler.
  • Silk Spectre/Nite Owl--The "average American," who may not like Nixon, but sure as hell doesn't like those punks either.
  • The Comedian--Revels in the idea that "if the President authorizes it, then that means it's not illegal."

That's one of the real achievements of Watchmen as a novel--and one I hope the film maintains--it's not just (or even really) a story about larger-than-life heroes saving the world, but a meditation on whether our world, with all its flaws and defects, is worth saving at all.

EITHER CARRIE UNDERWOOD DOESN'T WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW SHE'S DATING A HOCKEY PLAYER OR DAPHNE JUST FOUND THE SECRET TRAPDOOR THAT FRED AND VELMA WERE LOOKING FOR: I can't say that Carrie Underwood is all that successful in hiding from the cameras, but you have to admire her commitment.

Hat trick: Deadspin.
THE KID IS OUT OF THE PICTURE: I just have to thank Ken Griffey Jr. today. I have no particular pique (nor surprise, frankly) at his dissembling musings about how it would be great to come home to the team of his greatest successes, which stopped as soon as somebody else offered him the same contract, and I have no doubt that in the end he made the right decision for himself for the right reasons -- he will be playing much closer to home and will get to spend much more time with his family. I want to thank him, though, because he is a shell of his former self (and he was overrated defensively to begin with), so his decision to sign with Atlanta means he cannot taint the great memories I have of his time in Seattle -- especially 1995 in that impossibly loud Kingdome -- with his current incompetence. To chief Atlantan correspondent Jenn, prepare to cover your eyes. I used to think your team was well run, and I suppose it used to be, but the notion of an NL team signing Griffey this offseason is almost impossible for me to comprehend.

The Best Conservative Movies on National Review / Digital

MAMA ALWAYS SAID, TAX CUTS ARE LIKE A BOX OF CHOCOLATES: Yet again veering dangerously close to the political, The National Review is out with its 25 Best Conservative Movies of the Last 25 Years. While no Chuck Norris films made the cut, among those on the list are Juno, 300 and Fahrenheit 9/11.
THE FIRST EVER CHICK FLICK SUITABLE FOR SPIKE TV: Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Pride and Predator. See also Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which "features the original text of Jane Austen's beloved novel with all-new scenes of bone crunching zombie action." (Alternate headline considered--"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of BRAAAIIINS!")
I'M SURE THE FINANCIAL REPESS WILL BE WATCHING: For those who find Tatiana del Toro to be an insufficient dose of train wreck TV, I remind you that tonight at 10 pm, you can start revisiting the lives of the Real Housewives of New York. See Luann order pizza to be delivered to the Countess de Lesseps! See Jill's surprise at finding out that comments she made to a gossip columnist ended up in a gossip column! See polyglot boy genius François survive public school! See whether the new girl in town is as cuckoo for cocoa puffs as the others!
ABE THE BEST, W NOT THE WORST: C-SPAN asked a gaggle of historians to rank the 42 presidents in a variety of categories (ranging from best facial hair to hottest wife...wait a second...what's that?...oh, I guess the categories were things like crisis leadership and relations with Congress) and the results show that we needn't take a wrecking ball to Mt. Rushmore anytime soon.

The top five (Abe, George, FDR, Teddy, and Truman) were unchanged from C-Span's last survey in 2000. The biggest dropper among the elite presidents was Woodrow Wilson, who tumbled from No. 6 to No. 9. Bill Clinton was among the biggest gainers, going from No. 21 to No. 15 largely on the strength of his Economic Management ranking, but the biggest mover of all was good old U.S. Grant, who catapulted to the No. 23 spot, 10 points higher than he ranked in 2000.

As for the poll's newcomer, W, he was sandwiched at No. 36, right between John Tyler and Millard Fillmore. Particularly damaging to Bush's ranking, were his scores on Economic Management (No. 40, just beating out Hoover) and International Relations (No. 41, just above William Henry Harrison, he of the one-month presidency).
THE LUNATIC IS IN MY HEAD: Consider this a BSG thread for last Friday's episode. I apologize, but I haven't yet gotten a chance to sit through it nor (of course) given it any thought. I'll not be reading or commenting in the thread, but please feel free.

Monday, February 16, 2009

STEVE JOBS IS LAUGHING ALL THE WAY TO THE BANK: According to papers filed in Federal Court in Colorado--as of last week, "the Apple iPhone App Store offered no fewer than 75 different flatulence simulation software applications from no fewer than 50 different developers." The complaint also features a discourse on various types of flatulence (Paragraph 11), and a detailed explanation of the "pull my finger" joke (Paragraph 13).

More disturbing, however, is their line of Precious Moments wormfodder.

Via BoingBoing
SEMI THIRD-TOUGH: In advance of tomorrow's Idol Group 1 semifinals I thought I'd handicap the field. This is an absolutely brutal semifinal group, with I think seven or eight people who in some past seasons could have laid a legitimate claim on a finals spot. As Adam points out, the odds are not that great for any given contestant, and they're made worse by an unusually strong Group 1. Anyway, here's how I see their chances, in descending order of the likelihood that Seacrest will tell them their Idol journey ends here.

Danny Gokey. DEFINITELY NOT DOOMED. Nice guy, looks the part, apparently beloved by competitors, has a voice that is strong, rich, warm, and boring the way that Idol likes it. HE HAS A DEAD WIFE. I think in the Idol backstory sympathy tree, dead wife trumps, in order: orphan; going to Iraq as soon as eliminated; one dead parent; single mom; uncommodifiably sick brother; abject poverty; prior failure as recording artist; debilitating stupidity; and closetedness. Gokey may be a little mature for the tweens, but what Idol-voting grandma isn't going to vote for him? They should play him in with the score from Sleepless in Seattle. I'm sad, though, that Jamar Rogers isn't still here, because every time they hugged I sang "it's guy love … between two guys."

Incidentally, my favorite thing about Rogers was that he looked like he walked into a piercing studio, blindfolded the guy with the needle, spun him around three times, and told him, "just poke a hole into whatever you run into first." It's Pin the Tail on the Donkey with a higher risk of infection. And not to spend half this post talking about somebody who's already been eliminated, but I disagree more with the reason given for Rogers's departure -- "took bad risks" -- than with his departure itself. As far as I can tell, by "bad risks," the judges mean that when Rogers came to the part of a song where every other Idol contestant would cram in as much melisma as would fit, Rogers did that staccato "aa - aa - aa" thing (Ann Powers attributes this tic to Jason Mraz, with whom I'm mostly unfamiliar because I'm not a fan of the Mraz/Mayer/Blunt frat-boys-getting-laid-music genre), which may be just as bad but at least was different and surely isn't worse.

Stevie Wright. MAY NOT BE DOOMED. I have no particular thoughts about Stevie Wright except that she seems likeable and competent enough to get into the top spot, for work-related reasons I've been almost everywhere in California but have never heard of her hometown of Phelan, and she has a giant mouth. I would like to see a competition between Stevie Wright and Kristen McNamara to find out which of them could stuff the largest whole cantaloupe into her mouth. My money is on Wright, though I think McNamara would work harder. If there were a biathalon where the two events were singing and putting whole cantaloupes into one's mouth, I would sponsor Wright.

Jackie Tohn. UNFORTUNATELY MAY NOT BE DOOMED. Every year there are a few bargain-bin Melissa Etheridges who think they're Janis Joplin. One of them usually gets through with the judges saying they want a bluesy rocker, and then the bluesy rocker gets a deserved weekly beat-down for having only one tired and amateurish note to play, but survives on the 10% of the Idol voting audience that loves the sound of cigarettes and cough syrup because it reminds them of the carefree days before the sobriety and the child-rearing and the dead-end job and the visits to the oncologist. Jackie Tohn is schtick, every bit as much as Norman Gentle but less funny. Her lean-back-arm-askew-limp-wrist-head-toss-strut is pure Jenna Maroney-is-Janet-Jopler. She even looks like she follows Joplin's fitness regime. It's not that easy to get love handles on a skinny girl. She has a better chance than she deserves. I think it's Tohn vs. Wright for the top female spot this week.

Michael Sarver. MAY NOT BE DOOMED. I see him anywhere from two to five in this group if he gets to sing something country. Remember that Joshua Gracin has a career. Those people are out there. Sarver has a much better voice than Gracin and seems like less of a dork, though more likely to mumble a vaguely threatening insult questioning your sexual preference. Given the right songs and arrangements, he could last a while.

Anoop Desai. MAY NOT BE DOOMED. I don't know if Anoop Dogg's stiffness will play on the stage, but he is goofily likeable. What was he thinking, doing "My Prerogative," I wonder? I think it was wry and subtly ironic, but he may just be an unironic nerd. Hard to say. After Scrubs, I kind of want to call him Other Indian Guy (Spacewoman said this first). He's non-threatening enough to maybe appeal to the tweens and grandmas, and he has the folklorist bloc in total lockdown. He'd have to knock off Sarver to get through this week, and I'd give the edge to Sarver. I would probably watch a sitcom where Sarver and Anoop have to share a one-bedroom apartment.

Alexis Grace. PROBABLY DOOMED BUT POSSIBLY NOT DOOMED. Alexis Grace has had the two mommiest haircuts in Idol semifinalist history. A streak of pink in a mom haircut does not make it young; it just means that mom fell asleep in the Kool-Aid again. Also, she wore mom jeans to her audition. When you are a teen mom going to an Idol audition, I would think you'd want to emphasize the "teen" half of your inevitable description. Frankie Jordan and Megan Corkrey are also young moms, but they didn't roll up with Honda Odysseys and canvas totes with their kids' school pictures on them. Anyway, I think I remember Grace lacking the pipes or star quality to gather enough votes. Then again, who doesn't love a teen mom? I don't give her much more than an outside shot at beating Tohn or Wright, but stranger things have happened.

Casey Carlson and Anne Marie Boskovich. DOOMED; REPRIEVE TO FOLLOW. Conventional wisdom says that Idol's most active voting blocs are grandmas and tween girls. That means that in Idol's world, and only in Idol's world, a boy's table manners and unstubbled chin are more valuable currency than a woman's bedroom eyes and long legs. I am guessing, though I'm not sure, that a very high level of attractiveness is actually a burden that a female Idol contestant has to overcome with Idol's core voters, outweighing the relatively small group of people who will vote for a woman because they saw her bikini shots on My guess is that short of superstar chops, the only hope either of these women would have with voters would be if they were so cute that the tween girls wanted to be just like them -- an idea that may be more myth than reality. Incidentally, I don't mean to suggest that these women are pretty in the same way or measure. Carlson is magazine-cover pretty, and would fit right into the cast of any brightly-colored youth-skewing show you could imagine -- The Hills; 90210; Chuck. Boskovich could get there with a makeover, but right now she's more the kind of pretty that pens a horrifying tale of loss and reflection in Glamour, where the text is "perseverence blah blah character," but the subtext is "suffering is beautiful in proportion to the beauty of the sufferer." I guess basically the difference is that Carlson is out and about in bikinis or cowboy boots with puffy mini-dresses, and Boskovich is office casual. Both of these women sang competently the few times we heard them (though Carlson forgot the lyrics once), which I presume elevates them beyond all-look-no-chops contestants like Antonella Barba or Hayley Scarnato or Kristy Lee Cook. That leaves a theoretical chance that either could rise into the Underwood/McPhee "pretty but also good" category. Idol, though, seems to want to squelch that chance by putting both attractive brunettes in the same group, splitting their votes and signaling that Idol itself (as opposed to its judges) doesn’t believe that attractive women lead to better ratings. Whatever happens I think at least one of them will go into the Wild Card round by judicial fiat. My advice to them would be to sing to Simon, not to the cameras.

Stephen Fowler. DOOMED. I liked him, but his voice was less memorable than his inability to remember the lyrics to a song he said would be easy to remember. Also, he seemed uncomfortable moving around on stage, preferring the barrier of the piano. He seems like a better and less frivolous musician than this show requires. I don't think he has the charm to outdo four other guys in this group.

Ricky Braddy. DOOMED. Ricky Braddy is the assumed identity of an undercover agent added to this show at the last moment as part of a nationwide manhunt for sinister criminal mastermind Keith Brent. Even for men in deep cover, the habits of a Company Man die hard, and while a grey suit and red tie are out of the question on this show, "Ricky Braddy" managed to wear a sport coat in his happy dance video and a cardigan in his AI contestant bio shot. Since the key to being undercover is keeping a low profile, "Ricky Braddy" successfully avoided all cameras during the audition and Hollywood rounds. That's fine, because the government expects to have to chase sinister criminal mastermind Keith Brent elsewhere next week, and low profile = no votes.

Brent Keith. DOOMED. He used to be Keith Brent before the authorities got wise to his sinister criminal masterminding. One of the first things you learn when on the lam is to pick an assumed name that is close enough to your real name to kindle an immediate association when you hear it. The moment Brent Keith gets voted off, he will start setting up checking accounts as Kent Breith.

Tatiana Del Toro. MUST BE DOOMED, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY. Sepinwall's Fienberg's theory was that she and Norman Gentle (and, I'd add, maybe Nate Marshall so there can be one in every group) were pushed into the top 36 to neutralize Vote For The Worst, because VFTW only works when contestants start with a sizeable enough fan base for them to make a difference. An alternate theory is that Idol thinks she's good television (though, via Sepinwall again, note that Miss Alli believes that viewers aren't as enamored of villains as TV producers think they are). She sings poorly and is freakishly annoying. Even if you are a VFTW sympathizer, I would hope that you could find it in your heart in this case to VFT second-W.
THAT'S ONE WAY TO CUT THE SHOW'S BUDGET: There's more TV than just TAR and Conchords on Sunday nights, though I may be one of the few ThingThrowers still watching both Desperate Housewives and Brothers and Sisters. Both have been running in circles for much of the season with silly plots like "Nora builds the Ronald McDonald House," "Crazy Identical Twin Mix-Up,"and "Really Uninteresting Corporate Structure Debates," though Housewives had a very solid 100th episode with Beau Bridges as the neighborhood handyman. But what triggers the thread isn't anything that happened last night, but the previews that claim Brothers and Sisters will feature a major death in two weeks. Even money says it's Rob Lowe, whose character has grown tiresome, with other contenders being Patricia Wettig (turning her shares in Ojai/Walker Landing/Whatever over to Rebecca would be an interesting development) and Balthazar Getty. Anyone else care to speculate?
IDLE COMPUTATIONS: The changes in Idol's semifinals will make for a much different show, bringing a different type of talent into the final twelve:
  • Before: Survive from 24 to 20 to 16 to 12 -- a 5/6, then 4/5, then 3/4 chance of advancing from week-to-week, an overall success rate of 50%. "Bottom two of each gender go" means that the goal is to not-suck for three straight weeks; no advantage to being a top vote-getter.
  • Now: Three weeks, but each competitor has a 1/4 chance of advancing the first time, and then a (9 or 10, they've said) chance in 27 of advancing to a wild card round in which three will be selected by the judges, an overall 33.33% success rate.
What does this mean? It means that one great performance gets you into the final twelve this time, and consistency isn't as much of a factor. It's good news if you're a one-trick pony like Justin Guarini ("Get Here") or John Stevens, bad if your selling point is your competence rather than flash -- does an Elliott Yamin make it to the finals if he has to blow everyone away once? Jordin Sparks? Syesha Mercado? And remember that "Hello" was David Cook's third semifinal song -- neither "Happy Together" nor "All Right Now" probably would have advanced him into the final twelve.

Of course, given only one chance, Cook probably doesn't sing "Happy Together" in the first place -- he reaches high, pulls out a "Hello" or a "Billie Jean" sooner, and history rights itself. So maybe we do see more adventurous choices sooner and we won't feel like we already know everyone well by the time the Final 12 begins ... but I'm willing to guarantee that we'll also have 1-2 flukes make it through who'll be completely exposed soon enough. Song choice, gang.
THE LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME, WHICH IS KEITHA: We haven't mentioned Flight of the Conchords yet this season, and I suspect the reason is a combination of "Spaceman is the only one watching it" and "what Sepinwall said" (i.e., the songs aren't as strong as last year and the episodes have been somewhat uneven). But tonight's episode, in which Jemaine experiences the forbidden love of a New Zealander for an Australian, was the best this year, matching the highs of last season. Excellent visual jokes (which I won't spoil, except to say I appreciated the return of the camera phone), a nice opportunity for the show to get payback for some of the anti-New Zealand stereotypes the Aussies have dished, and one great and funny song that was beautifully filmed. If you've never watched the show but you're a fan of very dry absurdist comedy, this week would be a good one to track down Conchords on HBO.

ETA: Via Sepinwall, the really cool "Carol Brown" video, which is worth watching even if you don't watch the show.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

WHO MOVED MY CHEESE? No Detour on this week's Race premiere, but a pair of uncommonly hard physical tasks for a premiere episode, multiple incidents of train fu, a new opening sequence, featuring "BOMP! (Techno Remix)," a minimum of shouty annoying teams (though team Harvard Law could get annoying really quickly with their over-strategizing, and the multiple teams who already seem to be experiencing preliminary stages of Killer Fatigue could be tiresome), and an ending (both at first and last place) that was suspenseful. I'm willing to bet that Team Schneebly already has a few fans around here, but this is looking like a solid season all around.