Saturday, August 14, 2010

ONLY WITHOUT THE STEEP DOWNWARD SPIRAL AT THE END: I've thought for a while that Emma Stone could well be the next big young comedy star (following in the recent footsteps of Kirsten Dunst, Lindsay Lohan, and Anne Hathaway), and the trailer for Easy A only solidifies that, especially given that she's surrounded by a pretty stellar cast (Dan Byrd, Cougar Town's secret weapon, as her gay BFF, Amanda Bynes as the bitchy queen bee, Thomas Haden Church and Lisa Kudrow as teachers, Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as her parents) and what appears from the trailer to be a quippy and funny script. I'm certainly interested. (See also our 2004 discussion of "who's the next Julia Roberts?")
AND MICHAEL CERA AS MICHAEL CERA: Based on yesterday's movie thread and the demographics of this blog's readership, seems we need a thread to discuss Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. There's a lot to admire in the movie--in particular the visual style and the well-tuned comic performances by folks like Chris Evans, Aubrey Plaza, Kieran Culkin, and Brandon Routh. However, I had a problem with the film's narrative--it's never entirely clear to what extent the highly stylized things we're seeing represent reality, how Scott views reality, or some alternate universe altogether. Also, at one point, a "rule" is introduced concerning how Scott must defeat the evil exes, but it seemed to me as though that rule had been broken in one of the previous fights.

However, my biggest problem is that for the film to work, you have to really buy that Ramona Flowers is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is gorgeous, but ultimately, I found her to be a pretty standard issue Manic Pixie Dream Girl (minus the mania) with a primary character definition of "bold rejection of social norms as evidenced by your dyed hair." Mary Elizabeth Winstead is gorgeous, but the script doesn't give her a lot of character beyond Scott telling us how wonderful he thinks she is. Contrast with Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza, who manage to create fully drawn (and very funny) characters in their much smaller parts (as Scott's gossipy older sister and a profanely apathetic woman who seems to work in every store Scott visits, respectively), in part because of the writing, and in part because of their sharp-tongued performances.

The audience ate the movie up, though, and was responsive not just during the movie, but during the pre-show, including scattered applause for the Old Spice commercial, and serious derision toward the Devil trailer. If you think you're going to enjoy this one, you probably will, but I'm not quite sure what the studio was thinking, spending as much as $90 million on a movie that, while it will become a cult classic, isn't going to be a crossover hit.

Friday, August 13, 2010

EWOK BONGO: Should Return of the Jedi have ended differently? No, not talking about the decades-later addition of Hayden Christensen's image in the Dead Homies Farewell. This:
Speaking before this weekend's Star Wars Celebration V conference in Florida, producer Gary Kurtz has revealed that if it wasn't for the wild popularity of Star Wars merchandise, Return Of The Jedi would have had a much bleaker ending. "The original idea was that they would recover Han Solo in the early part of the story and that he would then die in the middle part of the film in a raid on an Imperial base," Kurtz told the LA Times.

"George then decided he didn't want any of the principals killed. By that time there were really big toy sales and that was a reason." What's more, the film would have shown Princess Leia struggling to cope with her new-found responsibilities, and would have ended with Luke Skywalker walking off into the distance as an embittered, Clint Eastwood-style loner.
YOU'VE GOT CRITIC! ALOTT5MA Friend Mo Ryan has announced she's jumping from the Chicago Tribune to AOL TV, joining Alan Sepinwall in making the digital leap. Mo's interviews and pieces (archived at the Trib) are always great, and she's been especially good about highlighting shows that don't always get a critical spotlight (Spartacus and Supernatural are both faves of hers that I've never watched but that I know don't get a lot of mainstream critical attention). Congrats to her on the new gig, and congrats to AOL TV on landing someone that'll get me to start visiting there more regularly.
EAT PRAY EXPLODE: This weekend at movie theatres is fascinating, because I can't remember a weekend in recent memory when the two films squaring off for #1 are so blatantly gender-focused. There's little to no question in my mind that 80+% of the audience for Eat Pray Love will be women, while 80+% of the audience for The Expendables will be men. (Also interesting is that both seem to be heavily targeting the 30+ demographic rather than teenagers, though Eat Pray Love has been aggressively pushing Ryan Murphy's Glee connection of late.) Add to the calculation the weekend's other major release--Scott Pilgrim--which is pretty blatantly targeted toward under-35s, and you have an interesting combination. What're you seeing? (For me, Scott Pilgrim is top priority, given that Edgar Wright has yet to make a bad film, while Ryan Murphy has yet to make a good one, though Running With Scissors was interesting.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

EVERYBODY'S GOING TO BE RUNNING AROUND MAD CRAZY WITH PITCHFORKS, YO: Vulture brings us 19 can't-miss events at this weekend's 11th Annual Gathering of the Juggalos.
HEY, FRIENDLY'S? GAME ON: Not to be outdone by its Massachusetts-based rivals in the quest for extreme sandwiches, Denny's ("Now Serving Black People, Because The Courts Say We Have To") has introduced the "Fried Cheese Melt," a sandwich that combines four fried mozzarella sticks and melted American cheese, all grilled between two slices of sourdough bread.

No nutritional information is available yet. Added! CBS News: "The cost to your diet is 895 calories and 34 grams of fat."
BUT THEN MY HOMEWORK WAS NEVER QUITE LIKE THIS: The Chronicle of Higher Education investigates the crisis of college professors who are deemed too "hot" to teach. (HT: Freakonomics.)
AMAYA, ON THE OTHER HAND, STILL SITTING IN A ROOM LEADING HER ROOMMATES ON: Two awesome tidbits from celebrities on Twitter:
MI ALMA ES PUERTO RICO: Raise your hand if you were expecting a revival of Paul Simon's musical The Capeman.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

For reasons that are obvious yet difficult to describe, the NFL's policy of allowing its players to gradually destroy themselves would probably be less offensive were African Americans involved in ways other than just running, jumping and hitting. They aren't. As of today, there are still no black majority owners in the NFL, and only one who comes close (Reggie Fowler owns 40 percent of the Minnesota Vikings). Out of 32, only six of the league's head coaches are African American... Football fans are primarily white and relatively wealthy, earning $55,000 annually on average. 40 percent are over the age of 50. "Football has demographics that baseball would kill for," said one CNN analyst, who, were he more direct, would have said, "White guys with hefty disposable incomes watch football."

... Although the NFL recently started a fund that will give ex-players with dementia $50,000 a year for medical treatment, it's also installed a byzantine bureaucracy between the patients and that money.... Without the dementia bonus, the average NFL pension payments, which kick in at age 55, are hardly enough to cover a person's living expenses and specialty medical care. As of 2006, a 10-year veteran who retired in 1998 would receive about $51,000 annually.

... For a stark contrast, consider Major League Baseball, a sport that's about 60 percent white and eight percent black. Bolstered by a strong player's union, the MLB has a pension plan that dwarfs that of the NFL, despite the fact that most baseball players rarely hit the ball, let alone each other. Any player who gives just 43 days of service to the MLB is guaranteed $34,000 in pension benefits—just one day as a member of an active roster qualifies him for comprehensive medical coverage. Beyond that, a major-leaguer with at least 10 years under his belt is set to receive $100,000 per year at age 62.
Jefferson also mentions the poster which will be in every NFL locker room this season, which includes in unmistakable language: "Concussions and conditions resulting from repeated brain injury can change your life and your family's life forever." Let's see if it changes behavior in 2010, or whether coaches and announcers will continue to herald a player for quick recovery from having his "bell rung."

Our previous coverage: here and here and here.
WHERE WILL I PARK MY "S" CAR? The Inq's Michael Klein reports that "The Westin [Hotel] in Liberty Place is rebranding its restaurant [] and the new name will be Winthorpe & Valentine."

Okay, I've got a few questions:
  • Will they be serving pork belly, which is used to make bacon, which you might find in a bacon and lettuce and tomato sandwich?
  • Will the price of a glass of orange juice change every minute?
  • Will there be a special Merry New Year party?
  • Will there be clocks on the wall which tell time simultaneously in Monte Carlo, Beverly Hills, London, Paris, Rome, and Gstaad?
AMERICA'S NEXT TOP NETWORK: With mid-August having arrived, it's time to start thinking about the new fall TV season. The CW historically takes advantage by launching its shows in early September, a few weeks before the major networks do, and also benefits from only typically launching one or two new shows each fall. This fall, it seems Hellcats is the beneficiary of that promotional push. Based on the posters saturating Manhattan, I can draw the following conclusions about the show:
  • It apparently stars some blonde chick's nicely toned stomach. She seems to want to be a less-clad Taylor Swift, but is wearing entirely too much mascara to do so. (A Wiki search reveals that this is Aly Michalka, formerly of tween pop duo Aly and AJ, and that she apparently plays a pre-law student "from the wrong side of the tracks" who joins cheerleading as a last-ditch way of preserving her scholarship.)
  • It co-stars some brunette girl's cleavage. (Same Wiki search reveals that this is, in fact, HSM's Ashley Tisdale with a dye job, who, from my one viewing of the first film, would seem to deserve better than co-starring as cleavage on a CW show, and suggests that she will initially be a bitch, but will learn to accept the unique talents and views brought by over-mascara'd Taylor Swift.)
  • There is an attractive cheerleader in the background, who will clearly be the show's designated bitch. But she's attractive, so it's OK!
  • Someone apparently really enjoyed playing with the light-adjustment settings on Photoshop in making the poster.
Also, clearly CBS's promotional energies are focused on Hawaii Five-2.0 (aka Alex O'Loughlin Is A TV Star! Why Won't You Believe Us? or NCIS: Hawaii), which seems to be being sold entirely on the strength of its theme song. (Mind you, this is not an entirely bad strategy because, for God's sake, it's the Hawaii Five-O theme song.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

WE RAISE OUR GLASS -- YOU BET YOUR ASS: Our own Maret was at the much-hyped Neil Patrick Harris-directed, Vanessa Hudgens/Nicole Scherzinger/Wayne Brady-and-more starring production of Rent at the Hollywood Bowl this weekend, and files this report:
* * *
Last Friday I went with a friend to go see a production of RENT at the Hollywood Bowl, directed by ALOTT5MA fave Neil Patrick Harris. For those who aren’t familiar with the Bowl’s Broadway productions, every season they pick one show, and that show is put on for three performances. Casts range from theater legends to Hollywood celebs (I missed last year’s production of Guys & Dolls starring Bryan Stokes Mitchell, Jessica Biel and Scott Bakula but heard good things) and they get two weeks of rehearsal time. Because of the size and scope of the venue, the productions are staged, but not fully so – you end up with basically a staged concert performance of the show.

With RENT, a show I’ve seen many times, including one tour with NPH as Mark, and last year’s tour with original cast members Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal, I was excited and a little concerned about the Bowl production, as I didn’t want the celebrity performers to diminish a show I love. But I had faith in NPH, and as it turns out, while the show wasn’t a complete success, my faith did not go unwarranted. As outlined below, the cast had its strengths and weaknesses, but the strengths were far more plentiful. NPH chose to add an extra 10 performers or so to the ensemble because the size of the Bowl (seating capacity of over 17,000 and it was FULL last Friday) can call for that extra vocal power, and it was a good addition for this production. NPH’s significant other David Burtka was one of the ensemble, and did a lovely job with his solo in “Life Support.” There were a few technical issues, but I found out after the fact that this was not just opening night for this production, but it was actually the first time they had run through the entire show. Ultimately, while not the best RENT I’ve ever seen, it was a great experience – seeing shows at the Hollywood Bowl always feels unique and special; it’s one of my favorite things to do in L.A. -- and I was surprised and extremely impressed by a couple of the performers that I had my strongest doubts about. A quick review of each performer’s job below:
SADLY, NO GRATUITOUS ELVIS COSTELLO REFERENCES: What if Bret Easton Ellis wrote The Baby-Sitters' Club?
EXTRY EXTRY, READ ALL ABOUT IT: From one line blurbs in archived newspapers straight to your iPhone: Tweets of Old.
IN DEFENSE OF POINTS-PER-RECEPTION LEAGUES: As we gear up for ALOTT5MA FFL 2010 (invitations soon; need to confirm who's returning from 2009 first), a guest essay from Dan Suitor:

As the heat of summer turns into the slightly lesser heat of early fall, our country is faced with a series of important choices. We're buffeted at all sides by the opposing parties, with ideological arguments and rhetoric flying this way and that like so many scattered leaves. Our decisions in these coming months will shape the path we take, perhaps not just this year but for many to come.

So, with your future at stake, the question is: who are you taking in the first round of your fantasy football draft?

Monday, August 9, 2010

FINALLY. A FLIGHT ATTENDANT WHO SPEAKS JIVE: You've probably already read about an incident at the end of a JetBlue flight today. Blogger Phil Catilenet was on the plane, and files this uncensored report. (HT: The 700 Level.)

Added: Video, below the fold, of Catilenet on the CBS Early Show today:
LOOK AT HER, A PRISONER OF THE GUTTER: Academy Award-winning screenwriter Emma Thompson has much to say about the My Fair Lady remake starring Carey Mulligan which she has penned, calling it a story about sexual slavery and "a very serious story about the usage of women at a particular time in our history. And it's still going on today." On the original film, which did win for Best Picture:

"I find it chocolate-boxy, clunky and deeply theatrical," she begins. "I don't think that it's a film. It's this theater piece put onto film. It was Cecil Beaton's designs and Rex Harrison that gave it its extraordinary quality. I don't do Audrey Hepburn. I think that she's a guy thing. I'm sure she was this charming lady, but I didn't think she was a very good actress. It's high time that the extraordinary role of Eliza was reinterpreted, because it's a very fantastic part for a woman."

... Can we expect more songs -- new songs -- in the revise?

"No, God almighty," Thompson snaps back. "It's so-o-o-o long. It's incredibly long. The audience can expect less songs!"

She also told The Hollywood Reporter, "Fans of the original won't want another one to be made -- and honestly, one has to just cope with that. The central relationship between Eliza and Higgins is a fascinating one: Do we have a man who is fantastically dysfunctional and hasn't been able to create a relationship with any woman except this one? Or is it, as I suspect, that she, actually, is the one who turns around and creates him, in the sense that she excavates in him an emotional center?"
I DO GIVE A DAMN 'BOUT MY REPUTATION: I missed Freaks and Geeks when it first aired (it was my One-L year, which should serve as adequate explanation in and of itself), and have been watching (well, DVRing and watching) the Friday night reruns on IFC. Yes, it's great, but huge parts of it are incredibly hard to watch--this week's including a scene that Alan couldn't bring himself to rewatch when he did a rewatch a few summers ago, as well as a geek plotline that struck awfully close to home for me in my junior high memories. If you (like I) missed out on it, it's well worth checking out, though it's fascinating that while some folks involved (Rogen, Apatow, Segel, Starr) have gone on to comic notoriety (if not stardom), several of the story editors are now running 90212.0, which, while it may have started as something semi-realistic, has now apparently gone full soap.
AT LEAST SONDHEIM FINALLY GOT HIS THEATER BEFORE THIS: The much-delayed Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark has always seemed more of a Vegas show than a Broadway one in a lot of ways (music by half of U2! Massive flying/swinging effects! Direction by Julie Taymor! Gutting, then regutting the theater on a level not seen since Dude!). That transition is now almost complete, with the gorgeous theater that's been dark since Young Frankenstein closed over a year and a half ago now being known as the Foxwoods Theatre. Perhaps because the house is so big, it's been kind of cursed since its reopening, with Ragtime closing prematurely, Young Frankenstein and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang being money-losing disappointments, and Hot Feet and Pirate Queen being massive bombs.
MADTOURAGE: How unsettling it is to wind down for two Sunday night shows -- one program to which one looks forward; one that one watches out of self-loathing -- only to discover that the two have become a single show. A successful man fails to see himself losing to an increasing drinking problem, turns to the comfort of a woman who is paid for her affections, and unwisely mixes his professional life with his seamy personal life. The jarring similarities left me so confused last night that I tried to apply Mad Men-style attention to a show that can't bear it. I spent way too long trying to figure out what Doug Ellin was trying to say with the unexpected reversal of Sasha Grey's and Turtle's girlfriend's personal grooming styles before realizing that what he was trying to say was "here is a concession to the censors."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

AND YOU CAN TRY TO STOP MY DANCING FEET BUT I JUST CANNOT STAND STILL: While I do not consider myself a Wii aficionado, I would nonetheless like to sing (and dance) the praises of a couple of deeply girly new games that entered the Cosmopolitan household earlier today: Just Dance and Dance on Broadway.

By way of background, as my husband can attest, I (a) am a lousy dancer and (b) have spent a goodly amount of time and money over the last couple years trying to find some Wii-enabled way to dance in my living room without anyone having to see me. (I am totally one of those people who spends half an hour watching the college-age Asian guys jamming away on the full-arcade-style Dance Dance Revolution.) Sadly, even the at-home versions of DDR are a little too complicated for me. So you can imagine my excitement when I saw Cosmo Girl and a friend bopping away to Just Dance last weekend.

There are two basic differences between DDR and Just Dance: first, no dance pad. You hold the regular Wii controller in your hand and mimic the moves on screen, and the system figures out if you're doing what you're supposed to be doing based on the controller's movements. Second, no getting booed off the stage if you screw up. So Cosmo Boy can happily hop around following the occasional move and still thinking he won ("I WON THE DANCING!!!!"), rather than me standing behind him stomping on enough of the right circles to keep him in the game. The music is fun (Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Heart of Glass, Who Let the Dogs Out, Kids in America, U Can't Touch This, Cotton Eye Joe, et al) and the dancing is wiggly and giggly. Good stuff.

Once Cosmo Girl and Boy went to bed, however, it was time to cue up Dance on Broadway. Same concept, but listen to this song list: All That Jazz, Lullaby of Broadway, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Dreamgirls, Age of Aquarius, Cabaret, Luck be a Lady, (a bunch of others, all well known) . . . and, of course, You Can't Stop the Beat. Best parts: scrolling song lyrics, for the 3% of people who buy this game who don't know them all by heart already, and thematically appropriate (while not difficult) choreography. So having Fosse'd, charleston'd, jazz hands'd, and fail'd to stop the beat, I am happily ready to sit down for Mad Men. (Which does not as yet have an accompanying Wii Dance option, but give them time.)
BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS: The advent of Pop-Tarts World (replacing the ESPN Zone in Times Square on Tuesday) leads to many questions. Do any of the Pop-Tart related dishes being served there sound appetizing (including the utterly inexplicable "Pop-Tarts Sushi")? What sort of Pop-Tart would you make with the "make your own" capacity they will offer? Do you have a preferred Pop-Tart variety in the standard flavors (and how was I unaware of the seasonal pumpkin and gingerbread Pop-Tarts?)?
THE FIRST 76-YEAR-OLD GRANDPA TO WIN THE AL SEASON RBI TITLE: Do read the story of Orioles slugger Jim Gentile and a 49-year old error made right.
BETWEEN "A HISTORY OF PREMORSE" AND THE KELTNERIZATION OF THE ROCK HALL, THAT'S A TWO-BOOK DEAL: I want to highlight today's NYT Styles "another thin concept that vaguely sounds like a trend so let's write about it" article for one reason:
This being the aughties, what started as a joke with a colleague at Self blossomed into a Web site,, in 2008. Within two posts on her blog, which now attracts 30,000 visitors a month, Ms. Dolgoff said, five agents got in touch, and a book idea was born.
This blog, on the other hand, has published 11,719 posts (including this one) since 2002. We average between 37,000-51,000 visitors per month. We have never been approached by a literary agent, and have no book deal. Not that anyone here is bitter about it.
HEAT OF THE MOMENT: A Russian man died in the finals of the international sauna contest, after sustaining severe burns in a 230-degree sauna. I would note that while I like a good sauna and like a competition that tests the tolerances of human static endurance -- unlike with competitive eating -- a human being cannot vomit up heat. According to contest organizers, the 12-year old event will not be held again.
ON THE OTHER HAND, IT WAS GREAT SEEING MICHAEL KEATON WORKING AGAIN: But beyond that, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg's The Other Guys didn't do a lot for me. Like Kevin Smith's Cop Out, Adam McKay's film is so tethered to the action movie tropes which it's riffing on as to not quite be anarchic and silly enough as the film approaches its conclusion.

Some elements worked -- Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne "I No Longer Have A Nickname" Johnson as the more aggressive officers, the existence of Steve Coogan**, everything involving the gator. But I think about Will Ferrell at his best in film -- Ron Burgundy, Mugatu, Bob Woodward, Frank the Tank and Buddy the Elf -- and there's nothing in The Other Guys which quite rises to those inspired levels of considered silliness. It's not a "don't see," but just "don't get your hopes up."

**It's been a long time since I've mentioned this, but, seriously? Rent 24 Hour Party People. Brilliant filmmaking, great story, tremendous performance by Coogan.
"SMOKING AND DRINKING, THERE WAS A LOT OF THAT": The Philadelphia Inquirer talks to Philadelphia's ad agency men of the early 1960s.