Saturday, February 12, 2011

SO WHAT SORT OF THING DO COMPUTERS FIND HARD? IBM's Watson takes on other game shows:

ROONEY!  If they'd like to woo more Americans into supporting the Premier League, more shots like this can help.  Breathtaking.

added If that link remains dead, try this or this.

Friday, February 11, 2011

YOU'RE THINKING OF SHAVING IT OFF?  ABE, DON'T YOU SEE THAT'S PART OF THE IMAGE? Fifty years ago, the Grammy for Best Album went to Bob Newhart for The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, besting recordings by Frank Sinatra, Harry Belafonte and Nat King Cole.  Via Splitsider, here's an excerpt from Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue.

We will be here in some form or other Sunday night, whether Covering-It-Live or just in the comments.  In the meantime, are there any nominees for whom you're rooting? Do you care at all?

added:  Bill Wyman on the secret committee that gets to monkey with the nominations, and category bloat.
ALOTT5MA FRIDAY GRAMMAR RODEO:  As Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski explained, "This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous."

Or was it "a lotta in's, lotta out's, lotta what-have-you's"?  According to the first plausible hit on Google when I searched today's question:
We use an apostrophe to create plural forms in two limited situations: for pluralized letters of the alphabet and when we are trying to create the plural form of a word that refers to the word itself. Here we also should italicize this "word as word," but not the 's ending that belongs to it. Do not use the apostrophe+s to create the plural of acronyms (pronounceable abbreviations such as laser and IRA and URL) and other abbreviations. (A possible exception to this last rule is an acronym that ends in "S": "We filed four NOS's in that folder.")
  • Jeffrey got four A's on his last report card.
  • Towanda learned very quickly to mind her p's and q's.
  • You have fifteen and's in that last paragraph.
Some abbreviations have embedded plural forms, and there are often inconsistencies in creating the plurals of these words. The speed of an internal combustion engine is measured in "revolutions per minute" or rpm (lower case) and the efficiency of an automobile is reported in "miles per gallon" or mpg (no "-s" endings). On the other hand, baseball players love to accumulate "runs batted in," a statistic that is usually reported as RBIs (although it would not be terribly unusual to hear that someone got 100 RBI last year — and some baseball commentators will talk about "ribbies," too). Also, the U.S. military provides "meals ready to eat" and those rations are usually described as MREs (not MRE). When an abbreviation can be used to refer to a singular thing — a run batted in, a meal ready-to-eat, a prisoner of war — it's surely a good idea to form the plural by adding "s" to the abbreviation: RBIs, MREs, POWs.
Adds the Chicago Manual of Style as to the pluralization of RFP ("Request for Proposals"), "If you can stop thinking of the spelled-out meaning of the acronym and just treat the acronym itself as a word with its own meaning, you should be able to add that little s without fretting;" and (per another page) "Chicago style uses an apostrophe for the plural of lowercase single letters (x’s and o’s), but for little else . . . Of course, if you come across a plural that would be misunderstood without an apostrophe, you should use one: for instance, in A’s and B’s, the first term would be mistaken for “As” without an apostrophe, and the second term uses the apostrophe because it would look inconsistent to style them in different ways." Okay, that makes sense.

So is this sentence correct: "In the 1980s, I visited many BBSes"? And should I stop being pedantic about referring to Ryan Howard's 108 RBI in 2010 and just call them RBIs?

Poll Results:  The plural of RBI is: RBIs (65%), RBI (32%), RBI's (3%).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

SELL/BUY/PROCESS:  Following up on its essay on Broadcast News, Slate is polling 15 suggestions to determine "What's the Smartest Rom-Com of the Past 25 Years?"

When Harry Met Sally is currently leading, followed by Groundhog Day and Love Actually. We must unite as a community to ensure Meg Ryan doesn't win this.
MORE BANANAS FOSTER: I'll admit that I tried but couldn't get into Treme when it premiered last year--despite family ties to New Orleans, I felt less like I was being entertained and more like I was being beaten over the head while David Simon yelled "THIS IS A TRAGEDY!" at me. (I had a similar reaction to parts of The Wire as well.) Add to it that I found many of the characters completely unsympathetic (most notably Steve Zahn's), and I let it drop. However, news that Anthony Bourdain is writing parts of Season 2 that are set in/involve restaurants makes me think that I might give it another chance.
A DUAL TUNER IS NOT ENOUGH:  For the first time ever, every single game in the NCAA Tournament will be broadcast live, in its entirety, with staggered start times across four networks: CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV.
"HE'S NOT THE UNDERDOG":  The Winklevii speak about the ongoing litigation.
DON'T FORGET THE LYRICS!  Performers at Sunday night's Grammy Awards now look to include Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger (doing a Solomon Burke tribute for the Necrology), Barbra Streisand, Justin Bieber, Drake, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Eminem, Arcade Fire, Miranda Lambert, and a several-star tribute to Aretha Franklin featuring Yolanda Adams, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride and Florence Welch (sans Machine).

This may well justify a third annual livecast here. We'll let you know.
SOME PEOPLE EXPECT THAT THEY GO TO A MOVIE, THEY'RE GOING TO SEE A MOVIE ENDING:  The Criterion release of Broadcast News on DVD has yielded a wealth of good writing about one of my favorite films.  Dan Kois calls it the smartest romantic comedy of the past 25 years; Scott Tobias properly notes that while it's clear where James L. Brooks's sympathies lie, he doesn't vilify the William Hurt character; and our good friend Carrie Rickey calls it "a comedy that takes values seriously".

It's that second point I want to elaborate on for a second. It would be very easy to bias the movie's triangle and making Tom more knowingly devious, as opposed to a generally well-meaning guy who knows he's slightly out of his depth.  And Aaron could have remained more noble and sympathetic, yet instead he gets that awful, bitter dig at Jane at the end (the "it's not nice to point at single fat women" speech). Instead, they're both flawed, both recognizably human. I love this film.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

LOOK AT THIS STUFF -- ISN'T IT NEAT?  Hipster Little Mermaid.
ARE WE HAVING FUN YET? I don't read Details, well, ever, but courtesy of Alan, a damn fine oral history of the late, lamented Party Down revealing how HBO turned it down, Jane Lynch noting that "my brand is being mean and in control and insulting and inappropriately sexual," and just how much footage there is of Ken Marino pretending to throw up. Well worth your time, and if you haven't watched Party Down yet, what are you waiting for?

10 IF ("musical" + "cast" + ("she" or "her")) THEN GO TO 40
20 IF ("musical" + "cast" + ("he" or "him")) THEN GO TO 60
30 GO TO 80
40 PRINT "Anne Hathaway"
50 GO TO 20
70 GO TO 80
80 END

This may save you all some time.
THE LONGEST YARD: Fans of politicians, cops, doctors, planewrecked purgatorians, slayers, and teen detectives may each champion their own shows as the best network TV drama in (recent or unlimited) history, but none, in cobbling together a longer list, would exclude the brilliant Friday Night Lights. For those who have DirecTV, FNL ends tonight. (For those who don't have DirecTV, it may end in several months, or it may have ended, as a TV show rather than a DVD, already.) It is strange that a show about ordinary people doing exceptional things all the time (to crib from OK Go) gets away with so little concern for continuity or plot credibility (not just That Thing Of Which We Will Not Speak, but also little things like Tami's roller-coaster career arc or the Brigadoonish life of East Dillon High or the end of every football game), but it does it with keen observation of its characters' unstable orbits around each other and with generally superlative acting. Sepinwall has a list of his favorite moments. It's a good nostalgia-inducing list (despite the omission of my own favorite scene), even though FNL for me is more about the accretion of small moments than the delivery of big ones.

Also, I can't believe he shot Smash! Right?

Incidentally, transference won't be 100% efficient here, but I remind you that on any other day, the return of Justified should be the most-anticipated television event of the evening. Raylan Givens wants you to know that Han shot first (if you watched the SuperBowl, you already know whether he wonders if you feel lucky).
TRUTHINESS IN MUSICALS: I'll admit I haven't yet bought my tickets for Company, even if NPH as Bobby and Patti Lupone doing "Ladies Who Lunch" almost gets me there, but the announcement that Stephen Colbert will play Harry (singing parts of "Sorry-Grateful" and "Have I Got A Girl For You") and Anika Noni Rose (Wendy Scott-Carr!) will play Marta and get a crack at "Another Hundred People" almost gets me there. The big role not yet cast is Amy, who gets "Not Getting Married Today" (maybe the hardest song to sing in the score because of the rapid patter)--any suggestions for who they should go after?
WE CAN ONLY DO THE RIGHT AS WE SEE THE RIGHT:  Let me be clear at the start -- The King's Speech is a very good movie. It is professional in every way, well-acted from the top to the bottom, and is suitably moving.  On this blog's Chock Full of Firthy Goodness meter, it gets a 10 out of 10, and if they were to award an Oscar for Most Verisimilitudinous Movie it should win.

But Best Picture? Really? It is, as Linda Holmes has noted, a film which shares many of the same rhythms as The Karate Kid and every other sports-underdog film, which is funny because what I was expecting was essentially the British remake of Good Will Hunting ... only you never get the italicized It's Not Your Fault! scene. There is nothing terribly ambitious about the filmmaking or screenplay -- it just does what it does exceedingly well.

Among those things are the sur-supporting performances, and here I'm not talking about Helena Bonham Carter (nominated, really? for doing what? Granted, she's owed a win from her Wings of the Dove performance losing to Helen Hunt, but still) but rather the roles you see for less than ten minutes -- Guy Pearce as Prince Edward, Michael Gambon as King George VI, and especially Timothy Spall (Wormtail!) as Winston Churchill -- all of whom thoroughly and realistically (okay, maybe not) inhabit their roles.

Colin Firth is solid in the movie; Geoffrey Rush, of whom I'm not always a fan, is even better.  But Best Picture?
IT'S TIME FOR IZZY'S COMEBACK:  The organizing committee for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics has unveiled  the eleven mascot finalists, including a fast-talking dolphin, nesting mascots, Santa Claus and an Angry Bird.  There's also a lengthy introductory video, featuring animated versions of the finalists and a Russian hipster dude trapped in The Net, and given that my facility with the Russian language is limited to the words for 'trust' and 'verify' it's probably funnier for me than it is for the target audience.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

IN BRIGHTEST DAY, IN BLACKEST NIGHT:Y'know that massively budgeted Green Lantern we're getting this summer with Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, and Mark Strong? Wouldn't you be much more excited if we were getting one with Nathan Fillion, Elisabeth Moss, and Jason Isaacs? Well, good news! We are (but it's animated/direct to DVD),
THINK TWICE; THAT'S MY ONLY ADVICE: Did you know that Gnarls Barkley's hit "Crazy" had two killer guitar solos? It does when Cee-Lo Green shows up at Prince's last MSG concert to perform it. Very long setlist is here.  (Same adept cameraman also filmed his cover of The Time's "Cool" with ?uestlove; there is decent footage of "Little Red Corvette," "Kiss," and "Purple Rain" available as well.)
STILL WAITING FOR MANATYPUS:  After discussing the upcoming film Untitled 3D Shark Project (actually, that's the title for now), producer Roger Corman revealed that filming begin next month for his next made-for-SyFy movie .... Piranhaconda.
HEY, BATTER BATTER BATTER, SUH-WING BATTER:  An intrepid writer for Baseball Prospectus out together all the available visual and sonic evidence to determine exactly what Chicago Cubs game Ferris Bueller attended while truant, including who hit the foul ball in his direction (which he caught almost four months later, actually), adding:
More interesting than that is the timeline that this presents for Ferris. It's said in the movie that the reservation he stole was for noon, but we can't say with certainty if that's what time they ate. Seeing as how they finished the lunch with no hassles, it's safe to assume either Abe never showed up or he showed up well after their lunch was finished. Either way, with a start time of 1:25pm that afternoon, there is plenty of time for Ferris and company to make it to Wrigley in time for the game.

The eleven-inning game took 3:09 to complete, which means that the foul ball Ferris catches had to have been sometime after 4:00pm. That leaves, at the most, one hour and forty-five minutes for their trips to the museum, Sears Tower, the lake, and Sloane's house, while squeezing in two musical numbers during the parade before racing home at 5:55pm. Seems a bit tough to squeeze all of that in for most normal people. But, seeing as Ferris has the magical ability to sound exactly like both a young Wayne Newton and a young John Lennon, I'm willing to believe he could make the schedule work.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN...DEAD: Apparently, if you stitch together various clips of McBain from the Simpsons, there's a whole movie to be had.

Monday, February 7, 2011

THE SHEER INEPTITUDE OF THIS SHOW LOSES ITS SHOCK VALUE EARLY:  The NYT's Ben Brantley reviews the yet-to-open musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. "So grievously broken in every respect that it is beyond repair" is among the Moose Murders-level turns of phrase employed.

NYMag's Scott Brown likes it a little more, calling it "by turns hyperstimulated, vivid, lurid, overeducated, underbaked, terrifying, confusing, distracted, ridiculously slick, shockingly clumsy, unmistakably monomaniacal and clinically bipolar."

WaPo: "To be sure, Taymor has found a way to send her superhero soaring above the audience. And yet, the creature that most often spreads its wings in the Foxwoods is a turkey."
EVERY MORNING AT NINE:  I'm glad to welcome to the blogosphere a friend to many here, Ajit Pai, whose new blog highlights the obituaries of the day.  I mention this now because I look forward to his take on an obit now running in the Times, as "Had Ear Cut Off By Captors" is not a phrase I'd want in the headlines about my death.  (Nor would I want to have my ear cut off. Do read the story of J. Paul Getty III; it's quite Bunny Lebowski-esque.)
THE GREAT DIVIDE: As of today, the average domestic gross of the 10 Best Picture Oscar nominees is just over $126M, and at least 5 (possibly 6) of the nominees seem likely to cross the $100M barrier by the end of their domestic runs, and Toy Story 3 is both the top-grossing and one of the best-reviewed films of last year. However, over on the television side, there's a massive divergence between critical and commercial favorites--look at last week's overall ratings, with a top 10 made up of Idol x2, a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, the Pro Bowl, NCIS, Criminal Minds, Blue Bloods, Bones, Two and A Half Men, and House. Nary a one of those is even remotely a critical favorite (though House used to be), and Two and A Half Men may be the biggest critical punching bag on TV. Heck, in the Top 25 shows, the closest to a critical favorite is Big Bang Theory (#19, but it was a repeat). Admittedly, the key demo Top 25 looks more critically friendly--Parks and Rec at #10, a Modern Family repeat at #13, 30 Rock at #16, and Community at #25. Add to that that audiences have staunchly rejected a number of critical faves (both on broadcast and cable) over the past few years--Lone Star, Terriers, Pushing Daisies--and I wonder, has television ever been so divided, not just between critics and audiences, but between younger and older, with some shows apparently exclusively watched by the young (Parks and Rec, Community) and some shows exclusively watched by the old (Harry's Law and Blue Bloods)?
PET IT! You know how sometimes there is an author that is so on your wavelength that you are constantly going, "I wish I had thought of that," or maybe thinking that you really ought to be email buddies? Apropos of that, I give you Jeff Sullivan's Baseball Players as Complete Sentences and Baseball Player Surnames as Commands.
#FIRSTWORLDPROBLEMS: The Inquirer's Craig LaBan reports today that my favorite restaurant in the city, Vetri, is moving to all tasting menus, all the time, starting in March. Previously, it was only on the weekends that tasting menus were required, with a la carte available during the week, but:
"When people walk in and just order an appetizer and entree and then leave, they're not getting what we really set out to offer. They're not getting the whole experience," says [Marc] Vetri....

"This isn't the place you brought your in-laws to 12 years ago for rib-eye and broccoli rabe and spinach gnocchi," Vetri says. "You can still get that" on the tasting menu dedicated to Vetri classics. "But it's something more than that now. We're allowing evolution to happen."

Aside from the classics-menu option and the more inventive "degustazione," there will also be a pasta tasting and a vegetarian menu to choose from. And with the entire dining room tuned to the rhythm of the multicourse meals, the service, Benjamin says, should flow.
As you'll see from the current menu, Vetri is a high-end, rustic Italian restaurant that's not afraid to go game-y, and features unique, exceptional pasta dishes. I've had fantastic meals there for a decade, including, yes, one whirl at the tasting menu that traveled through an array of pastas and other specialties before winding up with roast goat which was, indeed, out of this world succulent. (Some of their tasting menus are collected here; you can also get some sense of his style from his Iron Chef appearance.)

Tasting menus are about trust -- both trust in the restaurant to please you, and trust in your own palate to appreciate whatever's offered. It is weird to spend that much money for a meal yet surrender control over it. A few years ago, we went with the Cosmopolitans to Masa for my birthday, and it was, literally, a once in a lifetime experience. Extraordinary and oddly solemn, yes, but I don't appreciate the intricacies of sushi enough to make that worth it again.

Vetri, I trust. I don't mind being surprised or challenged when I'm in the restaurant's hands; I welcome it. Yes, I'm going to miss having control, but it's not going to stop me from returning.
THE IRISH JIG GUY?  We respond to reader requests even when they're informal.  Marsha writes:
A few weeks ago someone was looking to see the Chanandeler Bong episode of Friends, but in the comments, they're listed as Guest, so I can't tell them. If you know who it is, please tell them that my TiVo indicates that it's scheduled for 2/15, 11:30 on WGN in Chicago, and that if the times don't match up in their market, it can be searched for as "The One with the Embryos."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

GREEN AND GOLD:  Congratulations to Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Mike McCarthy, the 112,158 owners and millions of fans of the Green Bay Packers.  All thoughts on the game and the between-the-game stuff  are welcome.

The three ads that I enjoyed most: Eminem/Chrysler; Budweiser/"Wild West" and, of course, Volkswagen.  Worst?  The other Eminem ad, among others.

added: AdMeter results -- the Bud Light and Doritos dog ads tie for first with Little Lord Vader just behind, and the masses neither like Adrien Brody nor Hyundai.
IT WASN'T THE BEST EFFORT NECESSARILY AS A SHOW, BUT IN TERMS OF BEING ABLE TO GENERATE INTEREST AND BUZZ, IT SUCCEEDED IN DROVES: So Dana Carvey hosted SNL last night, and while it was sure nice seeing the Church Lady and his Regis again, as well as the Jon Lovitz cameo, Carvey was already too old to play Garth when he was actually playing Garth, let alone 20+ years later. (And since when did Wayne Campbell speak with a pronounced Canadian accent?)

It's a shame we'll never know what could have happened with Carvey's post-SNL career.  The ABC sketch show was too edgy, too soon, and then Carvey's 1997 botched open-heart surgery sidelined him for far too long.  (Oh, Brokaw on the death of Gerald Ford.)

All SNL episodes are imperfect, so why not 2-3 nostalgic episodes like this each year?  Lovitz can come back whenever he wants, and if that Eddie Murphy fellow were ever interested in a return ...
IT WASN'T THE BEST EFFORT NECESSARILY AS A SHOW, BUT IN TERMS OF BEING ABLE TO GENERATE INTEREST AND BUZZ, IT SUCCEEDED IN DROVES: The true story of 1989's Super Bowl halftime show, a 3-D extravaganza starring "Elvis Presto" and a heaping helping of lameness. (Speaking of which: who thought having Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill skating in 1992 was a good idea?)

The best halftime performance, of course: Prince. I have no idea what #2 is (U2?), but it won't be challenged today.