Saturday, April 17, 2010

GONNA TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, GONNA TRAIN IT GOOD: When I sat down to type this post on How To Train Your Dragon, I had started off by musing that if you don't have kids it's not essential viewing. I didn't think it was particularly brilliant, moving or funny in a way that grownups would appreciate ahead of more age-appropriate fare. But then I saw the 98% rating from Rotten Tomatoes and it reminded me just how hard it is to be this strongly competent in telling a coming-of-age tale slash war-on-terror parable which was good enough in the 2D upon which Lucy insisted, and I can just imagine how awesome in 3D what with the dragons flying and all. No, I don't understand why Scotsmen Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson were cast to voice the lead Vikings, but if you're looking for a solid animated adventure see this movie. As Lucy said, some movies for kids are good because they're funny, and some because they're cool -- and this movie is cool.
QUENTIN TARANTINO'S COMIC BOOK FILM: It's rare that a movie provokes as divergent a critical response as Kick-Ass has. Despite a 77% percent overall "fresh" rating over on Rotten Tomatoes, the negative reviews aren't just negative, but completely scathing, led by Roger Ebert's condemnation of the film as "morally reprehensible." Having seen the movie, I can see where Ebert comes from--one of the characters in particular is troubling--a young girl who's an unstoppable foul-mouthed vigilante, but I have trouble reconciling Ebert's condemnation of the film with his high praise for Kill Bill, the film's clearest spiritual forebear, with its stylized ultra-violence and candy-colored palate. Kick-Ass isn't for everyone (for certain), and it's certainly not for young children, but I think it's an interesting deconstruction of the comic mythos, and scores points for showing the impact of violence--this isn't a movie where people shrug off injuries, but we viscerally see and feel the pain, which, to me, is far less offensive than the cartoonish violence of so many action movies. If you're interested in the concept, it's worth seeing and making up your own mind.

Friday, April 16, 2010

BOBBY ABREU RUNNING INTO AN OUTFIELD WALL TO MAKE A CATCH: Intriguing baseball question posed by a WSJ article today -- given that there have been 173,383 major league games played since 1903, have we run out of things that have never happened before in a game which realistically could happen?

Among those black swans listed in the article: five home runs or three grand slams by a single player in one game; having a pitcher twice in one game throwing nine-pitch, three-strikes-per-batter "immaculate innings;" having all nine starters for a team hit home runs in one game; and two players hitting for the cycle in the same game.
"BEN WOULD NOT DO ANYTHING TO RUIN HIS REPUTATION": On March 4, something happened between six-foot-five, 241-pound NFL quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a 20-year-old sorority girl in the back room of a bar in suburban Atlanta. She says he forced himself on her over her objections. He told the bar's owner (according to the bar owner) that he was "messing around" with the girl, but stopped when she "slipped." There were only two people in that room, and my opinion about whose is the more credible story about what happened there should make no difference to you.

I just wanted to point out what the witness statements suggest about what happened before Roethlisberger and the girl went into the back room. According to multiple statements by the girl's friends -- helpfully collected over at The Smoking Gun, Roethlisberger bought shots in a VIP room of the bar for a number of women, including several sorority girls who he knew were under 21. Everybody seems to agree that the girl in question was so drunk that she had trouble standing up (remember, Roethlisberger himself told the bar's owner that he stopped "messing around" with her when she "slipped"). One of Roethlisberger's bodyguards -- an off-duty Pennsylvania state trooper -- then summoned the girl to an empty back room, where Roethlisberger soon joined her. When the girl's friends, recognizing that no good can come of going into a back room with a stranger while blind drunk, tried to get into the room to collect their friend, another Roethlisberger bodyguard, also a Pennsylvania policeman, blocked the door (according to at least two witness statements). When they said their friend was too drunk to be in the room alone with Roethlisberger, the security guard said (according to the same statements) that he didn't know what they were talking about, and continued to block the door. The friends sought the bar owner's help; he refused to open the back room to them, telling them that Roethlisberger wasn't going to do anything to hurt his reputation. Ten minutes after entering the back room, Roethlisberger left the room, and the friends soon found the girl crying.

I have no problem whatsoever with a celebrity employing security to keep overzealous fans, detractors, or curiosity-seekers at bay. I get that a person can attain a level of fame that makes it hard to have a meal, a drink, or an ordinary conversation without a paid buffer. When that security detail is used to prevent some sorority girls from looking after their falling-down-drunk friend -- giving Roethlisberger the benefit of the doubt, as a way of insulating a potential conquest from the reason of clearer heads, which a pampered athlete might disparage as cockblocking -- it crosses from protective to predatory. I want to be absolutely clear that I am not saying that Roethlisberger raped that girl -- I don't know what happened in the room, and I'm not up for a debate about consent and alcohol right now. I am saying that there is something morally wrong with using one's paid muscle to separate the weakest doe from the protection of the herd. Isn't this at least as bad as carrying a loaded gun in one's sweat pants?

And while we're on the topic, glad to hear that Sgt. Blash -- the policeman who called the accuser a "drunken bitch," complaining that "women can do this. It's bullshit but … we've got to do a report. This is b.s. She's making shit up" -- has resigned. I'm not sure if Blash made those statements before or after he and the other officers got their pictures taken with Roethlisberger's arms around them.
CNN SPOILS THE LOST FINALE: I'm frustratedly trying to get my wife and myself into Europe for a long-scheduled trip. Adam's bleak summation: "they let Smokey out of Iceland."
Stephen Beaulieu, 42, of Skowhegan, Maine - a disheveled drifter with champagne tastes - broke into Harvard University Professor of Physics Roy J. Glauber’s home overlooking Spy Pond in Arlington last month, slept in one of his beds, stubbed out a cigarette on a nightstand and stuffed his face with imitation lobster and smoked oysters bought with his food stamp card, investigators said.

... Beaulieu was arrested by state police Friday in Russell thanks to a $7.88 receipt from a Hannaford Supermarket in Saugus police found in Glauber’s house, which they say is from purchases made March 6 with Beaulieu’s Maine food stamp card.

Police, meanwhile, are trying to track down Glauber’s Nobel Prize for his work on the behavior of light, as well as a Nobel replica and a Spanish Academy of Sciences Gold Medal he has been unable to locate since the break-in.
"It’s unclear what a Nobel Prize would fetch on the street," the Boston Herald helpfully notes. I wonder if they tried asking these folks.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

WE'RE GOING TO MAKE SURVIVOR HISTORY WITH THIS ONE TODAY, GUYS: Um, yeah. Next week can't come soon enough.

Also, Sandra likes Australian-themed casual dining steak restaurants.
MR. PENNINGTON TO MR. LILLIBRIDGE TO MR. WHITESELL, RUTHLESSLY PRICKING OUR GONFALON BUBBLE: Lookout Landing announces this year's Major League Baseball All-Jane Austen team.
SUCK IT, MARCOTTE: New US News rankings for law schools are out.
THE FEY DECADE: Tonight at 9pm, NBC airs a two-hour documentary on Saturday Night Live in the Aughts, about which Tom Shales has much to say. It is a decade which will be remembered -- as are all SNL decades -- as less fresh, more hackneyed and more in need of euthanasia than the one which preceded it, one which as of yet has failed to produce a movie star. On the other hand, it never had as much political impact in its history as it did in 2007-08, and the Fey-Dratch-Rudolph-Poehler team from 2001-06 is the best group of women the show has ever had.

So, folks, soak your corks, put your [] in a box and try to be funny ... why not start now?
RAH, RAH, AH AH AH! Res ipsa loquitor:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

KING'S THINGS: If I sign up for JDate, am I only going to be allowed to date women named Jennifer, Jackie or Josie? ... Does anyone have the phone number for one of the Gabor sisters? ... I'll now have one divorce to remember on each of the days of Sukkot ... If you're looking for a sleeper this baseball season, I'm expecting big things from Evan Longoria ... Whatever brought my marriage to an end, it's not the fault of Welch's Grape Juice ... This newsreel footage HBO is bring us from our current war in the Pacific is fascinating, though I'm surprised how potty-mouthed our boys are ... I don't know who this Melba is, but I sure like her toast ...
FOLLOW THE DAY, AND REACH FOR THE SUN: Idol results, and a callback to the initial tiers, after the fold.
OF COURSE: When Jay Leno started his show, Branford Marsalis, a charismatic, well-respected jazz musician, was his bandleader. When Branford Marsalis retired, he was replaced by Kevin Eubanks, a bland personality whose musical repute I don't know. Now that Eubanks is escaping his gilded cage, American Idol's Rickey Minor is taking over the Leno band and the straight-man chit-chat stool. I think this is just about the most perfect pairing Hollywood has ever made. Rickey Minor has never met a musical piece that he didn't want to neuter and dress up with tinkly keyboards. Rickey Minor makes jazz music for people who hate sex -- in other words, Jay Leno's audience. He will inoffensively play Jay on and out, and he will laugh easily, not without a hint of confusion, at Jay's non-joke declamations. For a show whose chief goal is not to challenge anybody, there can be no better choice, short of Kenny G., than Rickey Minor. Meanwhile, over at Fox's crown jewel, this is an opportunity to put together a band comprised of musicians who listen in their off time to popular music of the last quarter-century.
DOLPHINS ARE JUST GAY SHARKS: Even though we briefly got the return of Ben Linus and John Locke as high school teachers, we also need to talk about the return of Glee. Sure, there was a lot of solid stuff--Sue's plot with Brittany and Santana (and their inability to execute the plot), pretty much every moment Idina Menzel and/or Jonathan Groff were on-screen, and about half of the musical numbers ("Hello," "Gives You Hell," "Highway To Hell")--but I was left a little flat. Yet another Finn-Rachel plotline repeating pretty much every variation we've seen before, and relegating the rest of the cast to the background? Over-reliance on Cory Monteith's blatantly auto-tuned vocals? ("Hello, I Love You" was not the best choice for the first musical number in the episode, right?) Confirmation that Teri isn't gone, but without any narrative progression for her? Let's get a narrative train rolling, OK?
SPANISH JOHNNY'S HAS HOMEMADE TORTILLA CHIPS: This island has a thing for the star-crossed love of flawed men and resolute blondes, doesn't it?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

HERO TO MOST? I have preciously little to say about Elvis Night on Idol, which rapidly tumbled downhill after Crystal Bowersox's opening number. The only other performer who impressed me was Big Mike Lynche, with his fine acoustic reading of "In The Ghetto." Siobhan was scattered; Lee, Casey and Katie forgettable; Andrew and Aaron actively bad. But there's a special circle of Idol Hell for Tim Urban -- or, as Seacrest called him, "Turban," for taking a perfectly lovely song like "Can't Help Falling In Love" and half-assing his way through what's supposed to be a gorgeous falsetto like the guy below the fold:
GREAT AND NOT-SO-GREAT MOMENTS IN INTERNET HISTORY: Thirty years ago today, the first rotisserie baseball league drafted.

On a less happy note, sixteen years ago yesterday commercial spam was born when Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel advertised their immigration law services on 6,000 Usenet discussion boards at the same time. It did not go over well.
NO, THEY WILL NOT BE FIGHTING BAD HORSE: Deadline Hollywood Daily is reporting that Joss Whedon will direct (but not write) The Avengers. An interesting choice to be sure--Whedon knows how to balance an ensemble cast in a film, and Serenity sure looked like it cost more than the $39M it apparently did. That said, even his most successful ventures haven't been broadly popular, and while he's worked with emerging stars before, he's never worked with the level of star power he'll be working with here--Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Downey, Jr. are both expected to return.
HERE I REST WHERE DISAPPOINTMENT AND REGRET COLLIDE (BECAUSE OAKLAND WON): One of the weirdest pairs of cover songs you'll see: Death Cab doing straightforward versions of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and "Centerfield" at the Seattle Mariners' home opener, wearing customized #10 jerseys. Why not kick off the pair with six minutes of a bass-and-drum groove? Why not wear Felix, Cliff Lee, Ichiro!, and Death to Flying Things jerseys? Such a lost opportunity.
TAKE YOUR STINKING PAWS OFF ME, YOU DAMNED DIRTY APE: We haven't written about HIMYM for a while, and I don't know that there's much to say. I suspect that, love it, like it, or hate it, you know how you feel about it. I just wanted to say that the Stones' "Monkey Man," which bookended last night's episode, is underrated soundtrack music. It's from the most fecund period of one of the greatest pop acts of all time, it has a nice quiet-suspenseful intro that worked quite well in the HIMYM open, and by the end it has a great head of steam going that worked both musically and in an on-the-nose way for the climax of a silly plot. I only wish HIMYM would mix the music (both score and songs) louder -- I can't think of another show that seems as sheepish about its bumpers. Remember when Friends used to split scenes with the staccato hiccups of "Rattled by the Rush" at top volume?
THE BALL! THE BALL! THE BALL! There wasn't a new Chuck last night, but there's still plenty to discuss from last night's TV, including two weddings on the CW (with extra Dorota!), the return of Evil Will Wheaton on Big Bang (though I thought the Penny/Leonard plot thread fell a little flat), Castle taking on late night TV, and a strong Hugh Laurie-directed House (Thirteen + Wilson was a surprisingly effective pairing, and the Foreman + Taub thread was interesting as well). Discuss as appropriate.
THIS TIME, THE ALIENS SING! Courtesy of Fox's inability to have 9 people sing in an hour timeslot, make sure to check your DVR this morning, because it's a pileup tonight, with Glee, Lost, Parenthood, Morena Baccarin Had Better Eat A F*****g Guinea Pig Soon, A'ight?, and The Good Wife (which is a repeat this week) all running at least a minute or two into the 10 PM hour. FWIW, I've opted for Glee/Lost/V, though if Good Wife were new, I might go in a different direction.

Relatedly and sadly, the Glee cover story from Rolling Stone isn't available online, but was certainly the subject of much discussion on Twitter, and is an interesting read if just to discover how dirty-minded the interviewer was (one of his questions to Lea Michele--"Do you ever pee in the shower?") and little tidbits like Dianna Agron's original inability to find acting roles and that she sold a screenplay instead--if you want to discuss, this is the place.

Monday, April 12, 2010

TEAM LOCO: If we're going to forfeit all recency points I might as well try to make it up with provocation on the news that Conan O'Brien will host an 11pm talk show on TBS. In joining the former home of Captain Planet and the Planeteers and Georgia Championship Wrestling, O'Brien may be choosing the option with the largest guaranteed national clearance ... and it's likely to fail.

Because the truth is that while we all generally like Conan O'Brien, we weren't watching Conan O'Brien until his tenure on The Tonight Show was threatened. He's a likable guy doing a genre of show that feels stodgy. And going head to head with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who already dominate the young (male) audience, I just don't see how O'Brien sustains an audience -- especially on a channel as buzz-free as TBS. I wish him well, but I fear this is the wrong setting for his talents -- and I don't actually know where he ultimately belongs in the entertainment world.
FAILURES OF MEMORY, NOT OF LOVE: Congratulations to the Washington Post's Gene Weingarten on his second Pulitzer Prize win of the past three years -- this time, for his wrenching, compassionate take on the question of what kind of person forgets a baby? which we discussed last March. Among the other winners discussed here: the NYT's Don't Text and Drive series.

The winners are all here, and while the particulars of some may be beyond this blog's normal scope, good journalism is always going to be worth heralding and supporting. (Of note: two of the three nonfiction book winners went to books pertaining to finance -- Liaquat Ahamed's Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World and T.J. Stiles' bio of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The other winner, for general nonfiction, was David Hoffman's The Dead Hand on the Cold War arms race.)
#@!#@!(ING MAGNETS! HOW DO THEY WORK? It was far from surprising when They Might Be Giants recorded an album paying tribute to science. The Insane Clown Posse, on the other hand? That's a bit more unusual. (Video linked on the page is arguably NSFW--language.)
THEY KILLED TO EARN THEIR LIVING, AND TO HELP OUT THE CONGOLESE: AVClub inventory of 18 Warren Zevon protagonists. Vintage Letterman performance of one of them, after the fold:

Sunday, April 11, 2010

NECROLOGY: Were there a dictionary page combining the alliterative "sassy, strong-willed and Southern," no doubt Dixie Carter's picture would appear there, so it is with much fondness and sadness that we note her passing yesterday morning at the age of 70. I will remember her mostly for two roles -- as the strong feminist center of Designing Women (and I swear I came up with the s-s-s before seeing theirs) of course, but also as the only woman to sweep Philip Drummond off his feet.

In other passings, Meinhardt Raabe, 94, who played the Munchkin Coroner in The Wizard of Oz, is most sincerely dead.
BROWNIE HUSBAND REPRESENTS 500 SERVINGS: Well, hot damn -- a Saturday Night Live episode which easily was the funniest of the season and doesn't need to be graded on that curve to be appreciated. It wasn't just Tina Fey's return, though her return as Sarah Palin, Weekend Update ranter, lonely teacher and especially as an unrestrained advertising pitchwoman were the highlights of the show. We had things I didn't expect we could see -- an actually funny Obama cold open, someone other than Jon Lovitz playing The Devil and being rather pointed with it, and a Tiger Woods sketch which didn't suck. Add to that Bieber being winning and game, and Kristen Wiig not being on the show very much, and it added up to a a show worth keeping on the TiVo for at least a few days.
WHAT HAPPENS TO A HAPPY MEAL DEFERRED? DOES IT DRY UP, LIKE A RAISIN IN THE SUN? Or, a year after sitting on one's shelf, does practically nothing happen to it at all?