Saturday, December 19, 2009

WELL, IT'S NOT LIKELY TO BE THE NORM COLEMAN DECADE: TV Tattle wonders whether tonight -- for fourth straight last-show-of-the-decade -- the now-junior Senator from the great state of Minnesota will appear on Saturday Night Live to declare the next ten years The Al (or Joe) Franken Decade.

HTMLGIANT / Grammar Challenge!

LET THEM ENTERTAIN YOU: Though EW doesn't give it the cover this year, the Entertainers of the Year are ranked, unlike the Entertainers of the Decade, which just offered 15 names in no particular order. Possibly because of the lack of a cover package, we were spared anything Twilight related, but your top fifteen are:
  1. Sandra Bullock
  2. True Blood
  3. Lady Gaga
  4. Alec Baldwin
  5. Taylor Swift
  6. Meryl Streep
  7. Ryan Reynolds
  8. Adam Lambert
  9. Adult cast of Modern Family
  10. James Cameron
  11. The Black-Eyed Peas
  12. Jane Lynch
  13. Mo'Nique
  14. Woody Harrelson
  15. Dexter
Any surprise omissions there? Any surprise inclusions? (Seems premature to honor Cameron, IMHO, until we see how Avatar shakes out commercially.)
SNOWPOCALYPSE NOW: We've got an inch already outside the house, 8-12" to come. Open thread for East Coasters and those who like to amuse us during The Most Shocking Weather-Related Event Ever.

[I saw one news report noting that an El Niño effect might be playing into this. As a reminder, all other tropical storms must bow before El Niño, and for those of you who don't habla Español, El Niño is Spanish for.. The Niño!]

Friday, December 18, 2009

JERK STORE: Twelve years later, MLB finally sees the wisdom of George Costanza. Get your tickets now for Snow Tire Day.
I ♥ THE AUGHTIES: I will inevitably contribute to, and get overenthusiastic about, the "Best [something] of the Aughts" discussions we're likely to have here in the next few weeks. This isn't that post. I deservedly take some flak for being hypercritical, partly because I don't find it all that fun to write posts that say no more than "gosh, I liked this." In fact, though, I think that within the four corners of the ALOTT5MA Mission Statement, it's been a pretty great ten years. I wanted to write not about the things I thought were the best, or things that fit neatly into a category that can be ranked by favorites, but just some things that I loved about the decade. These are their stories:
  1. TV eclipsing movies as the most rewarding filmed medium. For Hollywood people, movies have a cachet that TV can't match. I still read stories about Alec Baldwin or Glenn Close or Holly Hunter reaching the point in their careers where they have to settle for the small screen. But you can do so much on TV that you can't do in a movie. You can tell more intricate, nuanced stories. You can build characters slowly. You can jettison things that don't work. Wonderful shows like The Wire and Mad Men, with so much slow build or seeming inactivity, couldn't be done in two hours. In the Aughts, TV exploded creatively. You may not think that The Wire, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Friday Night Lights, Lost, and Battlestar Galactica are the best TV dramas of all time, but you wouldn't think a person who took that position is crazy. And on the comedy side, there were shows that melded The Simpsons' gag rate with Seinfeld's "no-hugging-no-learning" mantra (Arrested Development, 30 Rock, Better Off Ted), as well as more traditional comedies (The Office, for example) that eschewed the three-beat formula for more nuanced, even loving, writing. Part of the reason why I don't miss movies is that there's just so much great TV that I don't need them any more.
  2. The iPod and iTunes. I know I just criticized iTunes this week, but that's a blip. I don't know if I agree with Spacewoman that the iPod has changed the way we listen to music, but it's true that I now listen to orders of magnitude more music than I did before I had one. iTunes, though -- the tail that now wags iPod's dog -- was revolutionary. The biggest cost of finding new music used to be the search cost. I remember plunking down $12.99 for Exile in Guyville without having heard a single track, virtually praying that it would be good. With iTunes, you can browse endlessly, trying on 30-second samples, and generally getting comfortable before spending the first $0.99 (or $1.29). You're not stuck with the Kiss-album dilemma (is it worth the cost of a full album for two good songs?), which may actually be forcing artists to be more consistently good. You can see what others bought or what Genius thinks you might like (Genius doesn't insult me like Pandora does). Or, like I did with states and months, you can just do a random word search and find completely unheard-of music. I owe iTunes for completely resurrecting my love of indie pop, of which there is an endless supply.
  3. Digital photos and videos. Digital photography was still in the "huh, that's kind of cool" stage when the Aughts began, and there was no consumer digital video. Remember when you were afraid of developing bad pictures? When you couldn't post a video of yourself falling off a roof on YouTube? The world is so much better now.
  4. The HBO Death March. Adriana, Christopher, Big Pussy, Richie Aprile, Bobby Bacala, Ralphie Cifareto, Wild Bill, William Bullock, Francis Wolcott, Mr. Ellsworth, Wallace, Stringer, Omar, Bodie, Snoop … uh, spoiler alert.
  5. The Body, the Blood, the Machine, the Thermals. Unlike the other things on this list, this is pretty specific. But it is definitely my favorite album of the decade. Sparse, messy, aggressive post-apocalyptic post-punk with great hooks and a sci-fi theme that I cannot sever from how I remember Battlestar Galactica. It's not perfect, but it's perfectly imperfect. I probably will be the only person on the entire Internets who ranks this #1, though.
  6. DVR. As Spacewoman says, the decade started with her chiding me for spending money on a gadget we didn't need and ended up with her wondering whether four tuners is enough. Some months after we got TiVo, I started noticing situations -- on the telephone, listening to the radio -- where I had to consciously remind myself that I couldn't just rewind to catch something I missed. Last month, Spaceboy 1.0, overtired and cranky, burst into tears, crying because "we can't pause time -- it just continues!" I wrote a heartfelt breakup letter to TiVo on this blog. DVR made it possible to watch only good TV (or at least only enjoyable TV) and made us all more efficient consumers of it.
  7. The ending of The Sopranos. A perfect meta commentary at the end of a season that stole moments of meta commentary. I continue to maintain that anybody who argues that Tony did or didn't die, or that the ending was unsatisfying or anything short of perfect, has missed the point. And because there was so much focus on the last moment, sometimes we forget how ridiculously, sublimely, expertly tense the preceding moments were. Truly virtuoso filmmaking.
  8. Moneyball and the rise of populist baseball statistical analysis. Aside from Medicare, I don't think there is anything for which the gap between my knowledge at the beginning of the decade and my knowledge at the end is greater than baseball. Moneyball, the book, didn't invent the objective analysis of baseball (really, all it did was identify a notion that independently was taking hold among baseball executives), but it brought it to an exponentially larger group of people, many of whom were extremely smart and willing to dedicate long hours to advancing a new understanding of an old-fashioned sport. The ideas underlying Moneyball the book are now so pervasive that the use of "Moneyball" to describe a way of thinking is obsolete. Only a few dinosaurs in baseball reject what Moneyball described, and that, more than "small-market," explains why the Kansas City Royals are (and the Seattle Mariners were) terrible.
  9. The Decemberists. Every decade, more or less, has a defining band or two that is popular enough that most everybody heard of them but just shy of the kind of popularity that would qualify them as superstars. In the 1980s it was the Clash and maybe U2. In the 1990s it was Wilco. In the Aughts, it was the Decemberists. By turns obtuse and magnificent, playful and dour, I can't think of a better band to carry the standard for music in the Aughts (without being at all representative, of course).
  10. The 2001 Seattle Mariners and the 2008-09 Mariners GM, Jack Zduriencik. The 2001 Mariners won 116 games after losing, in the three prior years, a Hall-of-Fame center fielder, pitcher, and shortstop in each's prime. They did not lose a three- or four-game series until late September, I believe. They had a RF who beat balls into the ground and ran to first before the end of the first hop, a 1.000+ OPS DH with a degenerative eye disease, a CF who was as fast, as quick off the bat, and as canny with routes as any in the game, a roided-up 2B who flipped his bat, a hundred-year-old junkballer, a hotheaded Venezuelan who bragged about his dancing, and a manager known for throwing bases into the outfield. It was too bad when they cancelled the playoffs that year. As for 2009, the Mariners have a manager that turned three middling prospects and most unproductive contract in Mariners history into Cliff Lee and Milton Bradley. There is no GM in sports as beloved right now as Zduriencik is in Seattle.

BOW WOW WOW YIPPEE YO YIPPEE YAY: Snoop Dogg's lawyers gonna blow you away (in a trademark fight before the USPTO, that is).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

FEED ME ALL NIGHT LONG: I do want to commend the local production of Little Shop of Horrors that we greatly enjoyed tonight -- among other merits, it maintained the integrity of the original ending, and the small, talented troupe was of uniformly high quality. Except for this one problem: Audrey II was voiced by a woman. Yes, the plant was a giant, singing vagina begging to be fed ... and it felt weird. Nightmarish, really, to have something that looked and sounded like that to be demanding its flesh, and it definitely changed the dynamics of the Audrey II/Audrey confrontation late in Act II ("Sominex/Suppertime II").

It's rare that I feel this confounded by a cultural work. Or maybe I've got issues. [Da-DOO.] The production remains at the Prince Theater through Sunday.
CAN YOU CALL IT TREASURE IF YOU PAID FOR IT? Once upon a time, the United States sank a bunch of concrete in the San Francisco Bay adjacent to Yerba Buena Island and built a naval base. Yesterday, the U.S. sold the island to San Francisco (for $105 million and a share of the development proceeds).

The island, while itself utilitarian and unsightly, sports stunning views of San Francisco, the Bay (and its island outcroppings), Berkeley, and Oakland. On the minus side of the ledger, it is reachable only by boat and a bridge subject to severe traffic delays, intermittent closures, poor public transportation, and likely future tolls.

To what development use should San Francisco put the island? Sift through the endless possibilities and suggest something.
GUILDS OTHER THAN THOSE IN WORLD OF WARCRAFT: The SAG nominations on the movie side aren't all that interesting, basically giving us the same group of usual suspects, with a few mild surprises (An Education gets the fifth "ensemble" slot, rather than Up In The Air, even though all three UITA primary performers are nominated, Diane Kruger sneaks into the supporting actress race for Basterds, and love for The Last Station). Also of interest is that the acting branch gave no love to Avatar.

On the TV side, it's a little wilder--while Glee and Modern Family both get ensemble nods for comedy, no individual performers are nominated (likely in part because there's no supporting acting category at the SAGs and because the performers aren't big names), True Blood pulls off the same feat in drama, and Jim Parsons is snubbed again for Big Bang.
DON'T THEY HAVE TO ESTABLISH A FOOTBALL PROGRAM FIRST? If the Big Ten is going to add a twelfth team, Will Leitch thinks it should be Syracuse University, and not Pitt, Nebraska, Missouri or others under consideration.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

THE QUIET WARRIOR: You may have seen by now the Associated Press vote naming Tiger Woods the Athlete of the Decade, followed by Lance Armstrong, Roger Federer and Michael Phelps, and it's hard to argue with those four being named in that order.

Note, however, that they're all athletes in individual sports. (Okay, cycling has team elements, but it's not the same.) If the question is narrowed to Best Team Sports Athlete of the Aughts, the AP poll is unrevealing -- Tom Brady was the only such athlete to receive multiple votes at all, with Peyton Manning, Shaquille O'Neal and Albert Pujols each mentioned once. Yet if we're really going to answer the question, isn't there a name glaringly missing from the conversation? I am speaking of Tim Duncan -- during this decade a two-time MVP, ten-time All Star and three-time NBA champion, an fierce competitor of consummate grace, someone who clearly understands The Secret. (And, I might add, drama-free.)

Whether the ultimate answer is Duncan or Brady, I'm not sure, but I think it's where the debate ultimately ends up. (For purposes of this particular honor, I'll take Brady's three rings over Manning's one, and leave Pujols v. ARod unsettled.) Your mileage, no doubt, may vary.
WHAT'S ALL THE HUBBUB, BUBS? Okay, so because Modern Family aired tonight our So You Think You Can Sing Without Instruments season pass didn't kick in automatically, and as such I missed the first forty-five minutes of the show. Y'all can fill me in.
I HAVE AN M.D. FROM HARVARD. I AM BOARD CERTIFIED IN CARDIOTHORACIC MEDICINE AND TRAUMA SURGERY. I HAVE BEEN AWARDED CITATIONS FROM SEVEN DIFFERENT MEDICAL BOARDS IN NEW ENGLAND; AND I AM NEVER, EVER SICK AT SEA: Alec Baldwin has donated $1M to endow a scholarship fund for drama students at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, focusing on those who demonstrate “work ethic, development of leadership skills, willingness to collaborate, the ability to tolerate risk, and the capacity to work with constructive criticism."
DO OR DO NOT DECORATE THE TREE--THERE IS NO TRY:In case you love Christmas and Star Wars an equal amount--the Yoda holiday tree topper, perfect for the tree strung with R2-D2 lights, under which, of course, sits your tauntaun sleeping bag.

ETA: The presents are, of course, delivered by Santa Yoda, who, if you've been a good boy, might bring you your own Six or Inara for the holidays.
TURN ME ON, DEAD MEN*: Is it just me, or is the iTunes Store interface in iTunes 9.x basically designed to prevent, or at least discourage, me from finding or buying anything unless I know exactly what I want?

*See, it's a pun on both "Apple" and the number 9.
BIPARTISAN AGREEMENT: How should Phillies fans view the Roy Halladay trade? Ordinarily I'd never skate this close to the No Politics Rule, but on May 13, 2008, former Texas Rangers co-owner and then-President George W. Bush did speak with
Q: Mr. President, you're a Major League Baseball team owner again. Everyone is a free agent. You have a Yankees-like wallet. Who is your first position player? Who's your pitcher?

THE PRESIDENT: That's a great question. I like Utley from the Philadelphia Phillies. He's a middle infielder, which is always -- you know, they say you have strength up the middle -- there's nothing better than having a good person up the middle that can hit. And Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays is a great pitcher. He's a steady guy, he burns up innings.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I SAID, "NO, NO, NO": A sure-to-be controversial decision tonight on So You Think You Can Sing Without Instruments, but not really when you think about it. Nothing happened tonight to change my opinion of the singing groups or of the show generally. Just one question: who's dressing the teams, and was there a sale on douchey scarves somewhere that I didn't know about?
AND I AM TELLING YOU I'M NOT GOING: I'm just not here very much at the moment. Not to get all personal-interest-bloggy, but you could write an HBS case study on me right now entitled "Why It's Insane to Think That One Can Hold a Full-Time Job, Volunteer to Run Things at Both of One's Kids' Schools, and Have Any Time Whatsoever Left Over to Consume Popular Culture, Much Less Blog About It." So, a big thanks to my co-bloggers for politely not alluding to my non-existence, and for the rest of you, some thoughts on stuff.
  • How is it possible that there is a SYTYCD performance finale on television right this very moment with six (6) dancers remaining? I haven't been watching much this season -- I haven't found it compelling enough to hold my attention -- but if the show was going to have one less week than usual, was the right answer really to do just as many audition shows as ever but to go from six to one over the course of one night? It's very strange. I hope they go back to summertime and nothing but summertime.
  • So if I'm not watching SYTYCD, then what am I watching? This has been a big season for chefs, both Top and The Next Iron. Iron Chef is my Law & Order -- I always keep a few stacked on the DVR for viewing emergencies. Never having watched the first Next Iron Chef (but thinking that Michael Symond is the bomb), I was curious to see how this would work. Talk about a show that is influenced by every nuance of Reality Television: obviously there's a big Top Chef thread running through TNIC. Then there's Alton Brown, who is more of an amped up Tim Gunn than anything else. And then we had the ANTM goes to a foreign country element, in which the chefs have to fend for themselves in strange surroundings. There's also a smidge of Survivor in the mix -- who's hoarding the scallops? Did Chef Mehta purposely leave the ice cream maker dirty so that Chef Mullen would have to waste valuable time cleaning the paddle while his arthritis was acting up? Could Chef Freitag have wrestled the whatever-protein-it-was away from Chef Appleman if she'd really put her weight into it? I enjoyed the show, and thought that they got the winner right, but really, didn't the finale at Kitchen Stadium seem terribly discordant as compared to the rest of the show's run?
  • As for Top Chef, I was disappointed. The outcome wasn't wrong, given the final meals cooked by the final three, but it was a bummer to see Kevin whiff like that.
  • Leaving the chefs and turning to the families. Every once in a while there's a fall TV season that totally changes my TV viewing habits. (See, e.g., 2004.) Other years, it's like there are no new shows at all, as far as I'm concerned. Modern Family and Glee have replaced pretty much everything else on my schedule this fall. Modern Family has fixed what I saw as its one big problem early on -- the complete implausibility of anyone actually being married to Phil -- by making Claire just as goofy in her own way. And now it is pretty darned close to perfect. And as for Glee, well, I am basically Row A, Seat 110 in Glee's target audience, so not much to discuss there.
  • Oh wait, there is something to discuss there. I didn't much like "Don't Rain on My Parade." Not only do I not care for the song, but I spent the whole time sitting there wondering how a show choir doesn't get DQ'ed for having one person alone on stage for pretty much an entire song. Not that I have the foggiest idea whether show choirs actually exist or what their rulebook contains.
  • The "Best Animated Feature Film" category in this year's Golden Globes is as abundantly rich as I can recall a category ever being. The fact that I have seen three of the nominated films is weird in and of itself, given how infrequently I go to the movies, but all three of them were wonderful in completely different ways. (I have not seen Up yet, although Cosmo Girl just got the DVD for Chanukah, so I expect to have that box checked in the next week or so, and I am unlikely to see Coraline at all unless it somehow bizarrely beats out the other four.) Fantastic Mr. Fox is an awesome George Clooney heist flick that happens to be about an animated fox; Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs was a lot of fun, and The Princess and the Frog was a 100% worthy addition to the princess pantheon. Fantastic Mr. Fox is probably the frontrunner in my mind, if only because it works equally well for grownups and children. Kind of à la Shrek, although it's a totally different movie.
  • But more on The Princess and the Frog. Cosmo Girl and I saw it at a special Disney Experience preview thingamawhatsit at the legendary Ziegfeld Theatre. In a theater that tends to draw quite a Caucasian crowd, the number of African-American mothers and daughters all decked out in their Tiana paraphernalia -- days before the movie had gone into wide release -- was striking and extremely sweet. I have been dubious about the racial angle of this film ever since I heard they were making it. I am no longer dubious: The Princess and the Frog is racially aware without dumbing it down too much and without excessively beating us over the head about it. And while I can't say that any individual song was terribly memorable, I had fun hearing all the different New Orleans styles reflected in the music. This was the first princess movie in eleven years (if you count Mulan --which I don't) and the first one I've seen in a movie theater since the advent of Cosmo Girl. Movies like Brother Bear didn't suck because traditional animation is dead -- they suck because they suck. The Princess and the Frog is decidedly unsucky.

That's it. Now I return to my cave.

Analysis: Did the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame get it right this year? -

IT'S ALWAYS THE SAME; IT'S JUST A SHAME, THAT'S ALL: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees for 2010 will be Abba, Genesis, the Hollies, the Stooges and Jimmy Cliff; among those missing the cut were Kiss, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Donna Summer and LL Cool J. Yes, we've got some belated Keltners coming, and wow did the Chilly Willies get screwed.
WHAT IS HASHEM TRYING TO TELL ME, MAKING ME PAY FOR SY ABLEMAN'S FUNERAL? Golden Globe nominations out today -- good for the Gleeks, for Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep, and, yeah, the prospect of exes James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow going up against each other in Best Director does make for a nice little story.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I'D LOVE TO MIX IN CIRCLES, CLIQUES AND SOCIAL COTERIES (THAT'S ME!): Sing ON, ALOTT5MA, and even if you might have ended up looking like Courtney Love if you took a drink every time Nick Lachey reminded us that There Are No Instruments Here, that was some innocent, fun tv. What impressed me most about the show is that they let the judges judge, and Ben Folds had some pretty insightful commentary while still making sure not to let the more devout teams know that his most popular song was a narrative sung in the first person about taking his girlfriend to obtain an abortion. (HT: Wife.)

In terms of fan favorites, I'm going to represent for my NESCAC brethren, who delivered a quintessential self-consciously wacky performance evoking just what I think about when I think about college a capella. They're #1, and BYU Fauxhawk Lady is number two. Back tomorrow with more (y'all already started), and if you're all nice enough by the end of this I'll dig up the YouTube of my a capella debut from 1994.
KIDNEY NOW! The actor who plays Grizz on 30 Rock apparently needs a kidney transplant. Now, everybody sing along.
THERE IS STILL AT LEAST ONE MAN IN HOLLYWOOD WHO KNOWS HOW TO SPEND $250 MILLION, OR WAS IT $300 MILLION, WISELY: Ebert [heart] Avatar: "Avatar is not simply a sensational entertainment, although it is that. It's a technical breakthrough. It has a flat-out Green and anti-war message. It is predestined to launch a cult. It contains such visual detailing that it would reward repeating viewings. It invents a new language, Na'vi, as Lord of the Rings did, although mercifully I doubt this one can be spoken by humans, even teenage humans. It creates new movie stars. It is an Event, one of those films you feel you must see to keep up with the conversation.... It takes a hell of a lot of nerve for a man to stand up at the Oscarcast and proclaim himself King of the World. James Cameron just got re-elected."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

WON'T YOU COME ON OVER, STOP MAKIN' A FOOL OUT OF ME: Since I complained about a remake once today, let's take a look at a remake that I think improves on the original. The Zutons' original version of "Valerie" is a slowish song that wouldn't be entirely out place on a Dashboard Confessional album. Hand it to producer Mark Ronson, let him speed it up, emphasize the drums and strings while toning to down the guitar, and let Amy Winehouse sing it--that works.
YOU CAN BLOW IT OFF AND SAY "THERE'S GOOD IN NEARLY EVERYONE -- JUST GIVE THEM ALL A CHANCE." NOW, LET'S GIVE THEM ALL A CHANCE: In case there was any ambiguity about where this blog's sweet spot lay, A Capella Singing Competition + Ben Folds And A Boy II Man Judging + NESCAC Entrants is there. See you tomorrow night, and let's hope NBC's involvement in a reality show doesn't mean it sucks.

added: Via RealityBlurred, here's your all hands on deck opening number to whet the appetite.
CREATIVITY IS DEAD: You know that funny (but little-seen) movie Death At A Funeral, featuring a particularly spectacular performance from Alan Tudyk as a straight-laced guy who accidentally ingests a powerful hallucinogen? It tanked pretty badly in general release, so what's the solution? A remake, but this time, instead of Brits, it's African-Americans. Seriously, aside from a few added "urban" jokes, almost every joke and incident in the trailer is literally word for word and shot for shot from the original, even with Peter Dinklage playing the exact same role he did in the original. To be fair, it looks like they've assembled a fine cast (Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, Danny Glover, Luke Wilson, and, in Tudyk's role, James Marsden), and somehow gotten Neil LaBute to direct, but really? We needed this?
AYN RAND'S A SELFISH CHRISTMAS: John Scalzi's always awesome "Top Ten Least Successful Holiday Specials."