Saturday, June 26, 2010

PINCH HITTING FOR PEDRO BORBON, MANNY MOTA ... MOTA ... MOTA ... Perhaps no movie influenced my sense of humor, and the way I thought about what was funny growing up than did Airplane!, about which Matt Zoller Seitz has much to say in Sunday's NYT upon its 30th anniversary. This was the film that taught me just how far one could leap from point to point to make a joke, that nothing was off-limits, and as I grew up I realized just how much that film demonstrates in terms of the importance of tone in delivering a joke. A good deadpan can sell anything, and this is a rich film from which I'm still noticing new things with each fresh viewing.

One way to recognize just how good Airplane! was? Think about how many crappy movies were made in its wake along the same lines which didn't work nearly as well. Surely you can think of a few.

Friday, June 25, 2010

I LOVE VODKA. I'M NOT COOKING WITH IT! Top Chef DC -- as lousy as the word "bipartisandwich" was -- got immediately more awesome this week with the Healthy School Lunch challenge, combining smart limitations, stoopid decisionmaking (Sherry? Two pounds of sugar?), a Stefan-level domination and some of the first real strategery (however long-term misguided) we've ever seen on the show. I'll admit it: good cooking's not enough; I like a season which brings the drama too.
THE TWO KIDS AND THEIR FATHER -- THEY'RE DEAD, AND THEY'RE IN PURGATORY, AND HE'S TELLING THE STORY FOR ETERNITY: Head on over to GQ for a great interview with the likeable and bright Jason Segel, who really did write a puppet vampire musical.
WE ARE AMERICAN AND WE DO NOT APOLOGIZE FOR INACCURATE TITLES: Are you excited yet for tomorrow's Ghana match? Watch this and get back to me:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

WHO WILL STAND UP FOR SIMON SNYDER? In exchange for $3.4M over five years, SEPTA will rename the southernmost stop on the Philadelphia's Broad Street Line -- the exit for the football, baseball, and basketball/hockey venues at the corner of Broad Street and Pattison Avenue -- from Pattison Station to the [The Service Provider for the iPhone] Station.

Robert Emory Pattison served as Philadelphia's City Controller and two terms as Governor of Pennsylvania in the late 19th Century, driven to an early grave at the age of 53 from the debilitating effects of a third statewide campaign for the office in 1902. He ought not be replaced in this City's consciousness by a company no one likes. [Tastykake Station, however? Sure.]
"Grown Ups" is the least funny theatrical release that any of its stars have ever been a part of.

I just want to let that sink in, because Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider have combined to be in some truly unfunny movies.
But I did love this line:
Because I'm a fair and even-handed reviewer, I have to give a little credit where it's due: Tim Meadows pops up in the third act and his first line of dialogue led to the only time I laughed out loud in the entire movie. That may be the equivalent of bunting in the ninth inning to break up a perfect game or it may be an achievement. Either way, kudos Tim Meadows.
[He was great in "Mean Girls," great in "Walk Hard" -- why doesn't he work more often?]

The AV Club's Scott Tobias claims that the film "betray[s] the toxic arrogance of coasting comic superstars who realize they can exert the least possible effort and still come away with a hit." Its current Rotten Tomatoes score is 13%** -- in other words, it's as bad as "500 Days of Summer" and "Superbad" were deemed good on the Tomatometer. Wow.

**Since I drafted this, now down to 9% -- as bad as "Crazy Heart," "There Will Be Blood" and "Frost/Nixon" were deemed good. The NYT's Stephen Holden calls it "lazy, mean-spirited, incoherent, infantile and, above all, witless."
WHAT HATH T-PAIN WROUGHT: Apparently, Jeopardy! last night featured a category called "Alex Meets Auto-Tune." Let's go to the videotape, shall we?
8 WAYS JOSH WHEDON CAN HELP YOU SURVIVE A PLANE CRASH: A linkbait generator and afternoon timesponge.
WE'LL DANCE, BUT NO ONE WILL DANCE WITH US IN THIS ZANY TOWN: Last night we were treated to the worst-case scenario for the new So You Think You Can Dance format, with every single all-star out-dancing every single contestant. Actually, Lauren (who I don't like) may have out-danced or matched Dominic (who I also don't like). But I wasn't watching the contestants plodding through uninspired choreography last night. I was watching Pasha struggling to keep Cristina airborne, veteran Lauren gamely trying and failing to convince Alex that the way to sell Tyce's steps is to turn the hips just so, Comfort making Billy look like a picture of crump that has been photocopied into its eleventeenth generation of degradation, Ade leaping and spinning, Kathryn finding an undiscovered cache of smolder in a non-smoldering Bollywood routine, Courtney playing a cartoon gypsy seducing a cartoon hayseed. Even in the Lauren-Dominic piece where Lauren was just fine, the highlight was Dominic doing a stop-motion series of tricks suggesting he was thrown across the ground. It was all worth watching, but mostly for the veterans, not the contestants. That makes it hard to care.

Incidentally, remember when the show spent several weeks prominently featuring Australian Nazi Barbie? Where did she disappear to?
"ROCK AND ROLL CAN CHANGE THE WORLD"? "THE CHICKS ARE GREAT"? I SOUND LIKE A DICK! The political impact of quotes unfortunately provided to Rolling Stone is of course beyond the purview of this blog, but that it happened in Rolling Stone is not.

Because there was a time for me that Rolling Stone did matter to define and reify That Which Is Hot, when its awarding of five stars to an album like Neil Young's Freedom was something which mattered (so much that I don't even have to google "five stars in Rolling Stone" to remember it), when its telling me that some album named Shoot Out The Lights by some duo I'd never heard of was one of the top ten albums of the 1980s (and, really, the "Rock The Casbah" band had something better than Purple Rain?) made me want to seek it out -- all before the whole thing felt like, as one critic called it, "unrepentant rockist fogeyism".

And there was the politics then too -- P.J. O'Rourke made me laugh, and Bill Greider said Important Things which seemed boring.

I guess I broke up with Rolling Stone once in college when I found and fell into alternative rock before the magazine itself did, and once it started playing catch-up to where I already was it no longer mattered. Spin did for a little bit, but by then I didn't even need then any more -- I had my friends and fellow disc jockeys in college, and that was all the cultural consensus I'd need.

Today, [blah blah blah "immediacy of the Internet," "atomization," "death of print media," etc. You know the drill.]

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

WHAT IN THE WIDE WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS IS GOING ON HERE? Between Landon Donovan and the three other World Cup matches and the Isner-Mahut zombie tennis match (HT: Watts), I'd say that the ESPN 60 for 60 doc "June 23, 2010" is shaping up quite nicely.

And we're not done: Strasburg (home) v. Kansas City tonight right now. Oh, and how about a Canadian earthquake, by which I do not mean late professional wrestler John Tenta.
NEXT WEEK, THE DALEKS VISIT SESAME STREET AND TEACH EVERYONE HOW TO SAY "EXTERMINATE:" Yes, someone has conclusively proven that Oscar the Grouch is a Time Lord. Relatedly, I've been quite enjoying this series of Doctor Who--yes, it's quite a bit more arc-driven than the Davies years were, but I'm enjoying Matt Smith as the Doctor, who's managing to keep a lot of the traits that I liked in David Tennant's portrayal while still making it his own, and especially Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, who's a companion that's neither whiny and annoying (I'm looking at you, Donna Noble) nor something of a stoic bore (Martha Jones). Yes, there's been some heavy-handed (and I suspect largely unintentional) political stuff in recent weeks, but still, good fun.

Via Hodgman, naturally.
SO RONERY, SO RONERY: If you're like me, you've been eagerly awaiting the Korean Central News Agency's coverage of the PRK soccer team's heroic efforts to implement the Juche Ideal and Songun Politics in the game of futbol, but somehow, they are silent. Important stories being covered today? (All quotes are verbatim.)
MID-SUMMER CLASSICS: Whether Stephen Strasburg should be named to the 2010 All-Star Game (um, yes -- the world will not note Mike Pelfrey's absence) is merely the first of a series of questions one could ask about this year's game. The more critical one is the one that's been my bugaboo for years -- whether the Commissioner should have the right "to name a player to each squad who may not necessarily deserve the honor for this year, but who ought to be honored by Baseball Nation as a whole in this marquee event during the twilight of his career."

There are three names which come to mind for this season -- the just-retired Ken Griffey Jr. for the American League, a player who certainly deserves a public send-off, and for the National League either Jamie Moyer (whose career admittedly may be at a midpoint, given that he and Roy Halladay share the same 8-6 record and did you see that eight inning two-hitter he threw last night?) or, sigh, sure-to-be-Hall-of-Famer Chipper Jones, whose imminent retirement deserves an appropriate farewell.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

WE ARE NOT TIME TRAVELERS: But suppose we could go back to 1977 and start a consumer electronics company, based on the technology of today and the graphic design of 1977...
'TIL DEATH, AND THEN SOME: It made me irrationally mad when 'Til Death premiered, because it just looked like (and, as it turned out, was) just another by-the-numbers sit-com about a squabbling family. It made me a little bit irrationally irritated that the show kept getting renewed, because I assumed that meant people were watching it.

As it turns out, I was wrong -- almost nobody was watching. And, to hear Todd VanDerWerff tell it in the greatest article I've read about television yet this year*, the show became almost a laboratory for what bizarre things you might do with nobody watching. So in a Brad Garrett vehicle openly attempting to recreate Everybody Loves Raymond, this happens:
Perhaps realizing that the role of Ally (Joy and Eddie's daughter) had been played by four actresses over the course of the series (including Krysten Ritter!) while the role of boyfriend/fiancee/husband Doug had been played by only [Tim] Sharp, the series embarked on an astoundingly bizarre story arc: It had Doug realize he was a character in a sitcom whose wife kept getting recast, then sent him to psychotherapy to make peace with this fact.


The Doug story arc was one of the more unexpected things on TV last year, including ... Doug slowly coming to realize he could neither swear nor have actual sex, and a whole episode where Ally was recast yet again and Doug had to come to terms with it before realizing the actress playing his new wife was much friskier in the bedroom (even as he realized that the camera would cut away before anything would happen).

But wait! There's more! Doug went to therapy with a therapist played by Mayim Bialik, who was gradually revealed to be the actress Mayim Bialik, who was filming a reality show based on her practice, all the better to further disorient Doug. ...
I can't decide if I'm more astounded that this happened or that apparently nobody knew that it happened until VanDerWerff happened to watch a Hulu highlight reel. This just makes me incredibly happy.

Via Sepinwall

*With the possible exception of the news that Leno's Tonight Show is underperforming Conan's on a week-to-week basis.
BIEBERAMA: In a misguided effort to further break something which already damaged the quality of the show, American Idol has lowered its minimum age for contestants from 16 to 15. The show has never been good at identifying under-18 male talent (Young David Archuleta and his Dead, Dead Eyes?), though it's done better luck with the ladies -- Jordin Sparks (17), Allison Iraheta (16) and Paris Bennett (17) -- and I can't imagine this pandering to tween girls will improve the quality of the show from an adult viewer's perspective.

Here's a list (in order of debut) of all the 16-year-old finalists in Idol history: John Stevens, Diana DeGarmo, Kevin Covais, Lisa Tucker, Jasmine Murray, Allison Iraheta, Aaron Kelly. And they want to go younger?
DIAMOND VISIONS: A visual history of the baseball scoreboard. Oh, the Astrodome...

Monday, June 21, 2010

TWO KRUSTY SHAKES, A DONUT BURGER WITH CHEESE, AND A PARTY-SIZED BUCKET OF FLAN: KFC's Double Down, you got served: Friendly's is now selling a burger which uses grilled-cheese sandwiches as buns.

The Grilled Cheese BurgerMelt contains 1500 calories (870 fat calories), 79g total fat, 38g saturated fat, 180g cholesterol, 2090mg sodium, 101g carbohydratess, 9g dietary fiber, 4g sugar and 54g protein.
PEACHED ALE NEVER FAILS: This is what local newspapers can still do -- take the decision of Yes/Peter Frampton to recreate an apparently legendary 1976 bicentennial concert at JFK Stadium to not only revisit the event itself (and seriously: read the comments on that link) but also the history of rock at the long-since-imploded stadium (my two shows: the Jacksons' Victory Tour and Amnesty's Human Rights Now show; so pissed I missed U2's Joshua Tree stop with Springsteen popping in) and the importance of Philadelphia in 1970s rock culture:
Truth is, Yes' grand and glorious, classically influenced brew of pomp-rock was considered a much bigger deal here than almost anywhere else in the country, thanks to the Anglo-rock-loving tastes of local FM DJs like Ed Sciaky.

But after that huge Philly endorsement, other populaces took the band more seriously, "just as they would for other acts that got started in Philly, like [David] Bowie, [Bruce] Springsteen, Billy Joel, Rod Stewart and Genesis," noted veteran concert promoter Larry Magid.
So much of that paragraph describes a world which no longer exists: the idea that regions matter in music success, that radio matters, that individual DJs could still break a band ... oh, well. Use this as a jumping-off point for sharing your summer concert memories on this, the first day of the hottest time of year.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

HE COULD MAKE US ALL LAUGH. IN THIS PARTICULAR HOME, THAT GAVE HIM AGENCY: Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Gene Weingarten doesn't write** terribly often, so when he does it's usually a must read. Today's Father's Day piece on starting a comic strip with his son Dan is no exception. [A link to the strip: Barney and Clyde.]

** Clarified: doesn't write long pieces very often. There's still the humor column.
HARLEMM LEE'S LAMENT: As slender reeds go, today's four year anniversary of TPE's review of the debut of "Treasure Hunters" on NBC ($3M! Wild Hanlons! a host we've never seen again!) is just sturdy enough to remind me that I've yet to link to Andy Denhart's Daily Beast survey of the reality of twenty reality tv prizes. He focuses on the shows which are still on the air -- though we've been more interested in the shows which failed -- but it isn't about time that Survivor and TAR stepped it up from the initial $1M bounty?
BEING ALIVE: I'll leave talk about the narrative accomplishments of Toy Story 3 for elsewhere, but wanted to talk about how Pixar's technological enhancements are essential to making the film work. When the original Toy Story came out, I remember tons of reviews praising the animation work for the toy characters, but noting that human characters looked doughy and not terribly credible. Over time, Pixar dramatically improved how it's able to render humans, not by going for photorealism, but by going for a combination of real and stylized, first really displayed in Ratatouille, and subsequently in Up. Without those technological enhancements, TS3 doesn't work, because two of the most emotional sequences (both near the end of the film) don't involve the toys being "alive," and one doesn't involve the toys at all. If Pixar hadn't advanced so significantly in this area (which it really didn't need to, as many of its films don't feature human characters at all), I can't imagine the movie being as effective as it was.