Saturday, December 18, 2010

ONE-HALF WANDERING JEW:  I finally had a chance last night to watch Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking, her recent one-woman show currently in rotation on HBO, and I strongly recommend you find an hour and a half when you can to sit back and let Fisher tell you some stories.  It is a full, frank and funny as hell confessional, from mom and dad to George Lucas to ex-husband  Paul Simon (Fisher says that "Hearts and Bones," "Allergies," "Graceland," and "She Moves On" are each about her) to the gay Republican operative who wound up dead in her bed a few years ago.  She does not shy away from talking about her addiction and mental illness issues, either, and the overall impression you're left with is that indeed, tragedy plus time equals humor -- or, at least, when you've survived what Fisher has it's a damn good coping strategy.

Also, there's a Princess Leia sex toy involved.
TROUT MASK REQUIEM: Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart, has passed away at the not-quite-ripe old age of 69.

Probably I'm not the guy to try to say quite what he meant to music, or America, or the line between art and pop-culture in the back half of the 20th Century, or whatever all else one might deem relevant, but if you keep an eye out over the weekend I bet someone with a superior sense of music history will do something like justice to the legacy of this singular and -- let's face it, strange artistic genius.

For my part, I tend to think of him as one of the seminal comparatively ingenuous and straightforward innovators that every subsequent prog-rock project failed to improve upon. This may be entirely invalid, either on its face or as a symptom of the fact that I do not, generally speaking, like or "get" prog rock. If challenged, I'd probably have to concede that I don't know quite where it begins, or ends, or what it was arguably doing in between. So, please, if any of you know better, do say something. Indeed, say as much as possible. Even if not inaccurate, that view is certainly inadequate. The shadow he cast is much longer, and wider, and it has weirder things slithering about in it.

In the language of my own generation, Beefheart was "alternative" a quarter century before it occurred to anyone that that word might be used to sell music. Something about his legacy -- his inventiveness, his audacity -- I don't know, something about his music allows me to hope that the effort to sell music did not after all succeed in evacuating that word of meaning.

Rest in peace.

Friday, December 17, 2010

HOLD THE CHUNKS 2 TILL NEXT YEAR: Perhaps it's just because Tracy Jordan has recently reminded us of the risks, but it seems like there are a large number of potential Norbitings out there for big Oscar contenders this year. Ones I immediately see:
  • Natalie Portman, current frontrunner for best actress for Black Swan, has No Strings Attached, a romantic comedy opposite Ashton Kutcher in which she, a busy medical resident, pursues a "friends with benefits" relationship. I'm willing to bet complications ensue and they end up falling for each other. I actually have some hope for this, since it's directed by Ivan Reitman, but has definite Norbit potential.
  • Jeff Bridges, defending best actor and best actor contender for True Grit, has Tron: Legacy. Yes, it's a safe bet that Tron will get some technical nods (production design, effects, maybe score), but remember, Norbit was Oscar-nodded for makeup.
  • Justin Timberlake, potential supporting actor contender for Social Network, has Yogi Bear. Need I say more?
  • Ben Stiller, extreme dark horse actor contender for Greenberg, has Little Fockers.
  • Geoffrey Rush, supporting actor frontrunner for King's Speech, has The Warrior's Way.

Any I've missed?

LET'S ALL GO TO THE LOBBY:  Okay, moviegoers, what'll it be this weekend among the new releases -- Black Swan, How Do You Do? Know, Yogi Bear, The Fighter or Tron 2: Electronic Boogaloo?

If you're contemplating Black Swan please review the NSFW trailer below the fold, which suggests its ties to a favorite film of mine -- plus, below the fold, a new Yogi Bear trailer you'll appreciate:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

DANCING DON'T CAUSE PROBLEMS, IT SOLVES 'EM! Justin Timberlake says that if SNL were to offer him a 1-2 year contract, he would "absolutely" take it.

Make this happen, Lorne.  Easiest decision since Will Ferrell showed up for an audition.
SO, WHO'S PLAYING SORKIN? With Law & Order Original Recipe no more, someone has to take up the "ripped from the headlines" mantle, and The Good Wife is going to make an effort with an episode that's in no way based on the idea of Mark Zuckerberg suing the folks behind The Social Network.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

SCALLIBUT:  I don't have much to say about tonight's Top Chef All-Stars that you haven't seen from me in previous seasons -- I love me some technique competitions.  I appreciated the "go to a restaurant, now do their food" challenge, and found myself missing the extra 15 minutes (that I normally regard as padding) where I felt like we could have learned more about the chefs' cooking processes.  The eliminations ... one was unsurprising, the other disappointing but justified.

I am nowhere close to predicting a final four yet.  Richard Blais, almost for sure.  Marcel, probably.  The others?  Not. A. Clue.

added: Bourdain.  Colicchio: "Stephen has a solid knowledge of food. But cooking is something you have to practice. Repetition is key. You don’t forget how to do it, just as you don’t forget how to ride a bicycle, but you have to ride that bike a lot to win the race. Stephen might have all the knowledge in the world, but he didn’t have the chops to pull off his dish."
EENY MEENY MINEY MO, CAN'T LET JERRY LAWSON GO: We welcome Marsha back for Night 4 of NBC's The Sing-Off:
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Before I get to the music and the results, I have to say my now-annual bit about the costumes. I suppose I can appreciate the desire for something telegenic but non-identical within each group, but the colors are so ridiculously loud (the Backbeats’ outfits during “White Christmas” actually hurt my eyes), the almost-but-not-quite-matching thing is distracting and painful, and worst of all, tonight the female Backbeats looked like the greatest hits of the Judy Jetson Streetwalker Collection. When their lead singer is in a shiny dress so short I hope her mother isn’t watching, and she’s singing “I need somebody to love” to a man three times her age, I don’t know how NBC is getting away with airing this in the family hour.

TONIGHT, ON DOCTORS WITH PROBLEMS HAVE SEX: In large part because I've been watching them on significant DVR delay, I haven't written about our friend Shonda Rhimes' two Thursday night shows, which have both been having pretty darn solid seasons, though through two very different paths. Grey's Anatomy has reaped big dividends from committing to making the dramatic events of last season's finale have consequences for the characters. After two seasons where external events have required cast changes, we have a stable cast, and we're following them as they cope with trauma in unexpected ways. In particular, we've seen very good work from Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson, and the Callie/Arizona plot has been an interesting one. Sure, not everything is working--Sarah Drew's character often comes off as more annoying than endearing, and Kim Raver's character isn't fitting in entirely--but this is easily the best season in several years.

Private Practice, on the other hand, has reaped benefits from fairly quickly getting past the "Maya gets married/has a baby and Del dies" ending of last season and instead going in a different direction, with Audra McDonald disappearing for most of the first half of this season. In part because she was added after the backdoor pilot and was originally written as an outside antagonist, KaDee Strickland always seemed a little outside the scope of the show--she's slowly moved into the spotlight with her relationship with Cooper and joining the titular practice. However, with the current plotline, she's finally gotten some really meaty material to work with, and is knocking out of the park pretty consistently. Again, not everything is working (the Sam/Addison relationship is kind of boring, "Sheldon is a sex god" played childishly, and the Pete's mother plotline was silly), but this one storyline has been so well executed that it's elevated the entire show.
YOU THINK YOU CAN CATCH KEYSER SOZE? YOU THINK A GUY LIKE THAT COMES THIS CLOSE TO GETTING CAUGHT, AND STICKS HIS HEAD OUT? Kevin Spacey kinda sorta talks to The Daily Beast about his private life -- to a point.  It's quite interesting to see Spacey both tacitly acknowledge the sort of truth one assumes about someone when he brings his mother as his Oscars date, yet pointedly insist on a line between public and private: "I don't live a lie. You have to understand that people who choose not to discuss their personal lives are not living a lie. That is a presumption that people jump to.... I am different than some people would like me to be. I just don't buy into that the personal can be political. I just think that's horseshit. No one's personal life is in the public interest. It's gossip, bottom line. End of story."
SO GOOD YOU WON'T EVER KNOW, THEY NEVER EVEN PLAYED A SHOW, CAN'T HEAR THEM ON THE RADIO: Commentophile Heather K. proposed that Dr. Teeth be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and many of you volunteered to carry that standard. Dr. Teeth's merits aside, it does appear that the official, Wennerian RRHOF applies an unwritten rule of "existence" for inductees, and I ask, is that fair?

So let's right this wrong and break ground on the Fake Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Eligibility is extended, and restricted, to anybody who (a) makes or has made music professionally; (b) is fictional; and (c) is worthy of induction in a Fake Hall of Fame. In other words, no Hannah Montana, but unlike the RRHOF, we'll accept country, rap, disco, whatever.

Before we can vote on inductions, though, we need a comprehensive list of nominees. I'll start with a few possibilities; you add others that you believe warrant consideration. Once we get a list going, we may ask people to state their cases. To start us off:
  • Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem
  • Eddie and the Cruisers
  • The Late Greats
  • Stillwater
  • Emmett Otter's Jug Band
  • Don Music
  • Music Producer Bruce Dickinson
"LAUGHABLE WHERE IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE SERIOUS AND DEPRESSING WHERE IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE COMEDIC":  The AV Club ranks the fifteen worst films of 2010.  They do not care for  formulaic romcoms, and I am grateful to have not seen any of its honorees so far.
I BELIEVE I DESERVE SOME RECOGNITION FROM THIS BOARD:  "For connecting more than half a billion people and mapping the social relations among them; for creating a new system of exchanging information; and for changing how we all live our lives," Time Magazine has named Mark Elliot Zuckerberg its Person of the Year, besting the Chilean Miners, Julian Assange, The Tea Party and Hamid Karzai.

He is the second-youngest winner in PotY history; Charles Lindbergh was only 25 when he won in 1927, and Zuckerberg bests 1952 winner Queen Elizabeth II by two weeks.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

HOLY EX PARTE, BATMAN!   There were a lot of nifty twists to this week's The Good Wife -- adding Barry Scheck to the show's odd collection of real-life cameos, the New Yorker story on Cameron Todd Willingham's execution, Lord John Marbury, excited utterances, single-candidate debates (seriously, where's Smokey and Lorrell?), Zach meets Kalinda -- and yet ...

THERE'S MORE TO LIFE THAN A LITTLE BIT OF MONEY, YA KNOW.  DON'CHA KNOW THAT?  Just Born, Inc., maker of Mike & Ikes, Marshmallow Peeps and other candies, made an ultimatum at its 2009 sales meeting: make your 2010 sales goals and enjoy the 2010 convention in Hawaii; don’t make the goals and we’ll gather in Fargo instead.

This week, two dozen Just Born employees gathered in Fargo for their annual convention, and the town is rolling out the red carpet, with an itinerary including a screening of the film, "a visit to the woodchip Marge statue in the fabulous Fargo Theatre, a trip to the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead for an author reading of the recently released book, How Fargo of You, and a sleigh ride and dinner at Divot’s Golf Course."

Next year's threat: Rapid City, South Dakota.
TURN ON YOUR HEARTLIGHT, LET IT SHINE WHEREVER YOU GO:  The 2011 inductees into the Rock and Roll (and Whatever Other Non-Country Music The Kids Have Listened To Since The 1950s) Hall of Fame are Neil Diamond, Alice Cooper, Tom Waits, Dr. John and Darlene Love.

When we voted in September, the Beastie Boys were the overwhelming favorite on the ballot, followed by Waits, Diamond and a significant gap before Bon Jovi, LL Cool J and Mr. Cooper.
THE COMPUTER WILL BE PRODUCED BY A COMPANY CALLED CYBERDYNE SYSTEMS: In February, Jeopardy! goes to a new place--Men (Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings) vs. Machine (IBM's Watson)--for $1 million.
GLAMOUR GETS YOU A NOMINATION: As usual, the Golden Globe nominations are a mixture of the obvious--The Fighter, Black Swan, and Social Network racking up big nods on the movie side, Glee, Mad Men, and Temple Grandin on the TV side--and the surprising, some pleasant (Walking Dead for Best TV Drama, Elisabeth Moss for lead (not supporting!) actress in a TV Drama, Emma Stone for Best Actress (Comedy)), and others completely inexplicable (Burlesque and Red for Best Picture (Comedy/Musical), The Tourist with 3 major nods, Piper Perabo for Best Actress (TV Drama), Jennifer Love Hewitt for Best Actress (TV Movie), Scott Caan for Best Supporting Actor (TV)). Doesn't look like it changes the picture that much from an Oscar perspective--no surprises on the drama side, though Blue Valentine may have picked up a little heat from this--and the bizarre comedy/musical nominations aren't likely to give us any change (Kids Are All Right has cinched a nod for Best Picture, and the others are non-factors).
STOP ME IF YOU'VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE:  Multiple sources are reporting that Cliff Lee will sign with the Philadelphia Phillies -- I'm hearing 5y/$100M.

Yes: a rotation of Halladay-Lee-Oswalt-Hamels-Blanton.  Wow.

Monday, December 13, 2010

STILL AIN'T GOT NO BAND: Guest Sing-Off analysis from our good friend and frequent commenter Marsha:
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First off, thanks to the ALOTT5MA crew for letting me do this. Given that we have a professional a cappella staffer (and lots of educated acappellaheads) among our commenters, I’m nervous to do this, but happy nonetheless.

Getting a few important bits out of the way:
1. Thank goodness for improved sound quality this year. It really shows in the big group numbers, where everyone is mic’d correctly and you can hear the soloists AND the blend.
2. Thank goodness for the end of brackets. Though it didn’t really change the outcomes I would have chosen this year, it has the potential to do so, and I find that annoying.
3. Shut up, Nicole.
NAH, THEY WASN'T SETUPS. THEY WAS GOOD FIGHTERS, BUT THEY WASN'T KILLERS LIKE THIS GUY: Much-beloved Philly Quizzo host Johnny Goodtimes argues that given all the early career losses and the the superiority of his contemporaries, Rocky Balboa doesn't deserve induction into the Boxing Hall of Fame.
HE MADE A BOO BOO:   The Yogi Bear ending they didn't want you to see.   The WSJ has the story of the 25-year-old RISD grad who spent months putting it together.

Me? I'm pulling for the Se7en ending -- or, as Fienberg put it, What's in the pic-a-nic basket? What's in the baaaaaaasket? What's in the basket?  Of course, if Yogi knew the secret of The Prestige it would explain his resilience...
MY DAUGHTERS DO NOT LIKE FOOTBALL:  Indeed, to ask them to surrender two minutes on a Sunday afternoon so that Dad can catch an update via NFL Red Zone constitutes one of the bigger asks I can make of them.  "Do we have to?  This is boring," is Lucy's typical response.  But offer them a glimpse of football in the snow, and you'd have thought I had unearthed some special Yo Gabba Gabba! with Luke Skywalker as the Dancey Dance guest.  (Lucy's not old enough yet to realize Han > Luke.)

But kids get the Playing In The Snow Is Awesome.  Look: it sucks for the fans at the stadium -- winning or losing.  On tv, however?  I am a bit more geeked out for Super Bowl: Meadowlands after yesterday's Patriots-Bears game.

P.S.  So why are the Patriots so good in the snow, year after year?
P.P.S.  DeSean didn't deserve that penalty.  He hadn't scored yet.
P.P.P.S.  No, I can't stop watching the Metrodome roof collapse video.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

TO DREAM THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM: So maybe I'm overrating the value of a classical education, but was the puzzle clue on tonight's finale of The Amazing Race that hard?