Saturday, March 26, 2011

SUCKERED? Even though Diary of A Wimpy Kid 2: Diary Harder looks likely to beat it at the box office this weekend, at least to our demographic, Sucker Punch is the movie that matters, and I wanted to open up a zone for discussion of it with a few (spoiler-free) thoughts of my own. One review I read described it as "Burlesque meets Inception," and that's actually not a bad description in a lot of ways. Like Burlesque, there's abundant and gratuitous cheesecake from our five female leads, but like Inception, the movie plays with "levels" of reality and consciousness.

Part of what made Inception work so well is that it was always crystal clear which "level" we were on--"the real world," the antigravity level, the snow fortress, the crumbling city--and how something on one level interacted with the other levels ("death in the dream means you wake up," the significance of a "kick"). The key problem with Sucker Punch is that two of the levels (the "real world," which we rarely visit, and the "brothel") are largely visually indistinguishable (the costumes on the ladies are skimpier in the brothel), and that we have no idea how the layers of reality interact. We know that when our heroine "dances" in the brothel level, she (and the others) are transported into the videogame-like action sequences that have predominated in the publicity, but (save for once) we don't see how the action sequences "translate" to the brothel level, much less the "real world." Seeing how the fantasy mirrors reality would have made the film much more effective.

Much of the criticism is valid--a lot of the time, the film feels like a fanboy fetish video--scantily clad chicks destroy Steampunk Nazi Cyborgs! Emily Browning in a Japanese schoolgirl outfit a la Sailor Moon v. giant samurai robots! Helicopter vs. dragons! But I think Snyder at least hoped to do something more with the film--it doesn't work as well as Inception (or another quasi-relative--Scott Pilgrim), but it's audacious, interesting, and, at times, visually stunning. (For those concerned/interested, Jon Hamm is in the movie for about 5 minutes, though it's an important 5 minutes.)
THE STATE OF OUR UNION IS BRAAAIINNNNSS! Foreign Policy addresses an important question--do we have continuity of government should a zombie outbreak strike the White House? (And you guys know to behave yourselves in the comments, right?)
WE TAKE REQUESTS: Via frequent commenter Meghan:
So, as some of you may know, I work with kids with learning disabilities. I have one 9-year-old boy right now who is struggling to be motivated to get any work done. The only currency we've found is gross stories. That is, he completes one task and someone on staff has to tell him a gross story, he goes back to work and is rewarded with another gross story, etc. I have a small staff and we've all pretty much exhausted the stories we can tell, as I'm obviously not going to tell him the gross stuff I saw or endured as a result of drinking too much or anything like that. We've told him stories of vomit, pants-wetting, run-ins with cockroaches, dead squirrels stuck in the chimney, and bloody mishaps involving sharp objects.  
Is there any way the thing-throwing community can contribute some similarly-themed stories that would be appropriate for a 9-year-old male non-relative? 

Friday, March 25, 2011

INDUCTION JUNCTION (WRASSLIN' EDITION): Looks like Blogger swallowed my previous post, so I'll try again. As I was saying, while some sports Halls of Fame err on the side of being exclusionary, so much so that they barely aknowledge entire postions (see Guy, Ray and Martinez, Edgar), the WWE hardly suffers from such a malady. In fact, rubbing shoulders in the WWE Hall with such legends of the squared circle as Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and Ric Flair are Dree Carey, Pete Rose, and William "The Fridge" Perry. UGO has compiled a list of The Least Deserving WWE Hall of Famers, including the aforementioned celebs as well as some legitimate talents such as Koko B. Ware, who very well may be the Catfish Hunter of the Hall.

Meanwhile, over at Bleacher Report, they've got a list of 10 active wrestlers who should be working on their induction speeches, including Kane, Edge, and Triple H.

HELP ME CLEAN A LOT OF PLATES IN MEMPHIS: Look at me, my first post in 10 months or so and now I am asking for a favor. We're pointing the family truckster south next week for spring break, hitting up Springfield, Ill.; Memphis; and St. Louis. I'm looking for any tips, especially when it comes to the dizzing array of BBQ restaurants in Memphis. But really anything you think my family (boy 11 and girl 9, plus wife--were leaving behind the little one with my in-laws) might enjoy in those three cities or spots in between. I thank you with a list of 1,074 songs about The River City.

By the way, the trip was in part inspired by Hampton Sides fascinating look at the assasination of Martin Luther King and the subsequent manhunt for James Earl Ray, Hellhound on His Trail. It's a great read, really riveting, and well worth your time.

HOLY MOTHER OF CHRIST. I AM TALKING TO BILLY JOEL ON THE PHONE – FOR REAL:  Eric Teplitz, my classmate from grades 7-12, recounts with fondness a lengthy interview he conducted fifteen years ago today.
WITH THE TINFOIL HATS IN LA-LA LAND:  Many new words have been added to the Oxford English Dictionary, including muffin top, heteronormative, gremolata and ego-surfing.  Use as many as you can in a sentence, poem, rebus, etc.
AND THAT IS DALLAS: You'll forgive me if, for personal reasons, I'm going to recuse myself from any kind of objective evaluation of last night's Office episode, but I do think Alan kicks off a discussion well with this:
In a way, I almost wish that "Garage Sale" was Carell's actual last episode. I'm sure there's going to be some funny stuff with Will Ferrell coming up, but this episode was so much the culmination of everything Michael has been through, and wanted, for seven seasons, that it's hard to imagine the next 90 minutes being as emotionally (and comically) satisfying as the 30 minutes last night were.
ALOTT5MA FRIDAY GRAMMAR RODEO (AND STYLE GUIDE):  A site called Typography for Lawyers insists: "In a printed doc­u­ment, don’t under­line. Ever. It’s ugly and it makes text harder to read."  Because:
Under­lin­ing is another holdover from the type­writer age. Type­writ­ers had no bold or italic styling. So the only way to empha­size text was to back up the car­riage and type under­scores beneath the text. It was a workaround for short­com­ings in type­writer tech­nol­ogy.

Your word proces­sor does not suf­fer from these short­com­ings. If you feel the urge to under­line, use bold or italic instead.

Not con­vinced? I invite you to find a book, news­pa­per, or mag­a­zine that under­lines text. I notice it only in the tabloids. Is that the look you’re going for? No, I didn’t think so.
The Maroonbook agrees, but I'm not convinced. I still like using underlining for case names. There's something elegant to me about Marbury v Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803), which isn't as apparent when formatting it as Marbury. Moreover, I find many more problems with italics in terms of accidentally italicizing spaces and punctuation marks which are more easily thwarted with underlining. When you underline, you know exactly where the formatting ends.

Related question: if you underline case names, can you still italicize other things in the same document like See or de minimis?
HASA DIGA EEBOWAI: You might not expect the future of the American musical to hinge on the talents of Trey Parker and Matt Stone. But with The Book of Mormon -- the South Park guys' inaugural foray into Broadway theatre -- having opened tonight, it's time to change one's expectations. It's just that good. (Ben Brantley agrees!)

First, some caveats. If you don't like seeing people make fun of religion -- mostly, but not exclusively Mormons -- this is not the show for you. And for the love of all things holy, if you can't handle profanity, please do not see this show.

Everyone else, however? Buy tickets now.

For starters, it's fucking hilarious. (I meant it. If you don't like profanity, go away.) I don't really know what else to say without giving away all kinds of stuff that will make you spit diet coke out through your nose when you see it on stage. Come on, it's the South Park guys. It's just funny.

But here's the great part. The Book of Mormon is a big, splashy, gorgeous, hilarious, totally traditional musical comedy (which, as any self-respecting ThingThrower knows, are the two most glorious words in the English language). So on the one hand it's beyond offensive, but on the other hand it has tap dancing! Lots and lots of tap dancing! And like four 11 o'clock numbers! And a heart of solid gold, and torch songs, and production numbers, and maggots in the scrotum, and . . . oh wait, I guess that goes under the "offensive" heading.

The Drowsy Chaperone, a decidedly mediocre musical, got a lot of press a few years ago for being a "love letter for those who love musical theatre." Chaperone is like a note on torn-out notebook paper asking if you wanna go make out under the bleachers compared to Mormon.

Seriously. Just order your tickets now. You won't be able to for much longer.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

AMERICA VOTED:  We're going to need to spoiler protect everything.  A fascinating results show.

I LOVED IT! The Abridged Melinda Doolittle Critiques American Idol, Motown Night edition, wherein I summarize for you the views of an AI vet from the AI heartland of adult-contemporary ballads and non-rock oldies radio: Casey - I loved it!; Thia - I loved it!; Jacob - I loved it!; Lauren - I loved it!; Stefano - I loved it!; Haley - I loved it!; Scotty - I am not familiar with this country music, so I pass!; Pia - I loved it!; Paul - [smiles pleasantly]; Naima - I loved it!; James - I love him!
EGOT WATCH: Robin Williams already has two Emmy Awards (Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program), five Grammy Awards (4 comedy, 1 children), and an Oscar (Good Will Hunting). This NYMag profile promoting his upcoming starring role in the Pulitzer Prize-finalist play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo makes implicit that he probably wouldn't mind the recognition for his serious side that a Tony would confer, which would make him the first to hit for the cycle in nearly a decade.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

TAKE A GOOD LOOK AT MY FACE:  (Adam:) So, Kim, it's "Songs Released By Motown Records" night on Idol -- as opposed to "Motown Night," because there's no way Stefano gets to butcher Lionel Richie's 1984 "Hello" on the latter. Anyway, I can quickly separate tonight's singers into three groups:
  • Competent Singers Who Performed Well: Scotty, Pia, Jacob, Lauren, and Naima ... but that dance at the end? Once she stopped, I was waiting for someone to sing "She's Your Queen To Be."
  • Competent Singers Who I Didn't Like As Much As Dan Did: Casey's whole pose was too angry for "Heard It Through The Grapevine." Paul was just kinda there, and James just didn't do it for me. (I think there's something about "Living for the City" that, for me, resists being covered by a white guy on a karaoke show.) But they're all sexually non-threatening white guys, so they're safe.
  • They're In Trouble: Thia was fine, I thought, but she's got no support anyway and is inherently at risk. As Dan rightly tweeted, Haley Reinhart is scarnatoing her way out of the competition, but I think Stefano's the one who actually goes home. Boys are safe this early in the competition unless they're at all "ethnic" -- and Stefano is likely to join Jorge Nunez, David Hernandez, Chikezie Eze and Andrew Garcia among those who fell early.
Turning the mic over to Kim (is there some more 21st century way to do that?) for response:
  • No! I Am Not Looking For You! I totally agree with Adam on the bottom three. Stefano was painful. Once David Cook performed whoever-it-was's version of Hello, any straight version of the song was going to feel anachronistic, and Stefano's bombast threw it back even further. Ick. He deserves to go home even without the "ethnic" slant. I continue to like Haley's voice, but it's not enough to keep her around. And even though Thia finally heeded a bit of advice and stepped out of the ballad box (unlike a certain other performer), her Heatwave didn't have enough heat to ignite any real interest.
  • Set Me Free, Why Doncha Babe? I'm not sure which was worse for me: Scotty's cheesy-assed aw shucks take on For Once in My Life or Pia's utter unwillingness to sing anything that isn't a ballad. I feel a little better about Pia since the judges let her have it for the nth consecutive performance in her Celineathon, but praising Scotty for once again sitting down firmly in his box is just annoying.
  • You're All I Need to Get By: Doing their thing and doing it well were Casey, Naima, and Lauren. (And kudos to Adam for the totally perfect Coming to America reference.)
  • You'll See My Smile Looks Out of Place: On the one hand, I was glad to see Paul pick up his guitar tonight -- it anchored him to the ground in a way that he so desperately needed this week. And I was so glad to hear someone on the show this season -- anyone -- express a desire to reinterpret a song. But Paul apparently could not resist the urge to flash his shiny teeth at America once again, grinning his way through such an emotional song. The judges danced around the issue, telling him that they liked the "tender" bit at the end instead of slapping him upside the head and saying "hey, idiot, Tracks of My Tears isn't a feel-good anthem!"
  • You Really Got a Hold on Me: Tonight convinced me of two things: there was a single best performance, and there might be a single best performer. I have been moaning about Jacob Lusk for weeks, and tonight he got the memo that maybe, just maybe, he might want to dial it back just the tiniest bit and see what happens. That You're All I Need was loaded with nuance and interesting little riffy things and I thought it was just fantastic. And then there's James Durbin. I know Adam thinks this isn't his show, and maybe it's not. But every week, I want to see what James is going to sing and how he's going to sing it -- which is more than I can say for anyone else on this box-like-a-prison season. I am no Stevie Wonder fan, as I have mentioned on this blog maybe a million times, but James was interesting. If he can pull something like a Mad World out of his pocket, he could become a player.
DAME:  The Queen of Hollywood back when Hollywood was Hollywood, Elizabeth Taylor has passed away at the age of 79.  Our friend Carrie Rickey puts it in context:
Dame Elizabeth Taylor, the Oscar-winning Hollywood actress whose personal life had tumult and drama to equal her 62 films, died today of congestive heart failure, her publicist told the Associated Press....

The voluptuous goddess, one of the first celebrities to live her private life before the public eye, was one of two Elizabeths who ruled the 20th century. One was queen of England; the other, queen of screen and scandal who, in her third act, remade herself into the ultimate Samaritan.

Miss Taylor, whose long history of health problems accelerated as she aged, enjoyed a six-decade career in Hollywood. Over the years, the number of headlines devoted to her maladies - not to mention her men and her movies - made Miss Taylor perhaps the most celebrated of 20th-century celebrities.

Blessed with sable hair, alabaster skin, a ruby pout, and sapphire eyes that flashed violet, she was a human inventory of precious materials. The fabled collector of animals and minerals liked her dogs small, her men larger than life, and her diamonds at least 30 carats.
"Sadly," Carrie writes, "Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky was better known for her many marriages and medical miseries than for her acting or philanthropic gifts. Those under 40 who know Miss Taylor primarily as a peddler of perfume and tabloid gargoyle are too young to remember that she was a working actress and national icon from the time she was a preteen, one of the handful of child stars to make the graceful transition to adult roles. And even those old enough to know better are more likely to remember Miss Taylor for her bronchitis, bijoux, beauty and brio than for her 62 movies and telefilms, nine grandchildren, four children, two Oscars, and countless awards."

More from the LA Times: "Some actresses, such as Katharine Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman, won more awards and critical plaudits, but none matched Taylor's hold on the collective imagination. In the public's mind, she was the dark goddess for whom playing Cleopatra, as she did with such notoriety, required no great leap from reality." The LAT obit also has this bit from Richard Burton's diary as quoted in his biography:
She was, I decided, the most astonishingly self-contained, pulchritudinous, remote, removed, inaccessible woman I had ever seen ... beautiful beyond the dreams of pornography.
The Awl has a clip from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a devastating film which blew me away when I first saw it. And now the Inq also has Carrie's appreciation of Taylor's work, separate from the obit itself: "Elizabeth Taylor was so traffic-stopping gorgeous that even if she couldn't act, she almost certainly would have been a movie star. But though her dramatic career paled next to the melodrama of her life, Miss Taylor could act. She was one of the rare examples of a beauty who ripened into an actress. (Michelle Pfeiffer is another.)"
EVERYONE ELSE PITCHED BABY CARROTS AS AN ANTIDOTE TO JUNK FOOD. WE WANT TO BE JUNK FOOD:  A fantastic Fast Company article on the evolution of baby carrots in the marketplace.
"THE FLORRICK CHILDREN JUST LOVE BLACK PEOPLE":  Welcome back to The Good Wife, in an episode which demonstrates yet again why Eli Gold would not be running any future campaign of mine (though I'd want to hear from him a few times a week), why Mr. Noodle should not mediate your divorce, and why Blake was actually around all this time because that, my friends, is a hell of a setup for what the writers describe as the third act of the show, a twist they've been planning ever since the show was conceptualized. Also, can we please have David Lee every week?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

TWENTY-ONE [DING] SALUTE:  Frank Neuhauser, winner of the first-ever national spelling bee eighty-five years ago, has passed away at the age of 97.  He won the 1925 competition with "gladiolus," for which he earned $500 in gold, a bicycle, and a trip to the White House to meet President Coolidge.
HIGHER, FASTER, STUPIDER: Do you enjoy skiing but tire of paying for lift tickets? Do you think that the one thing missing from the sport is two-way slope traffic? Why not get a jetpack?
IT HAD THE VIRTUE OF HAVING NEVER BEEN TRIED: On the occasion of William Shatner's 80th Birthday, 80 Reasons Why William Shatner Is Awesome.
ANOTHER HUNDRED PEOPLE JUST BOUGHT A TICKET: Because I waited so long, I had to shell out more than I probably should have for my NPH in Company tickets, but yes, I'm going to see it from the back of the orchestra--the final casting, which added Christina Hendricks as airhead flight attendant April, Katie Finneran as neurotic bride Amy, Craig Bierko, and Jon Cryer, cinched it. Full review will come afterwards.
THE NINE O'CLOCK FAMILY HOUR:  Are we okay if Will Arnett ends up becoming the new regional manager of the Scranton branch of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company?
THE WRITERS FLIPPED, WE HAVE NO SCRIPT, WHY BOTHER TO REHEARSE?  Inspired by the recent Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast on "everything a little kid could need to grow up strong, smart, and addicted to lots and lots of elements of pop culture," I grabbed the Animaniacs Vol. 1 DVDs for Lucy recently and, holy cow do they still rock.

I started watching the show during college when it first aired, and like so many went crazy for it's high-low mix of pop culture references, wordplay and what can only be described as "cartoon humor" in its purest form.  The first cartoon from the pilot, "De-Zanitized." does a brilliant job of setting up the universe of the show, and from there on it's full steam ahead -- Yakko, Wakko and Dot meeting Einstein, Michaelangelo and Picasso, the songs, the secondary characters like Pinky and the Brain and Slappy Squirrel (whom I appreciate more now than then).  Lucy was absolutely in heaven, even if the whole point of the Goodfeathers went over her head, because everything works on a gag level even if the references don't connect.  (Though for real, when she does finally see Goodfellas in a decade or so, there's going to be questions.)

Apropos of all that, we are due for some list-building of our own: what, recently, have you turned to in ensuring your kids grow up strong, smart, and addicted to lots and lots of elements of pop culture?
GIL GRISSOM'S VACATION: Perhaps the Cape Cod Times doesn't need to publish every day during the offseason if "Scat analysis reveals a coyote, not bobcat" is the kind of hard-hitting news article they're running.

Monday, March 21, 2011

UM, LYNN BELVEDERE? During the GLAAD Media Awards on Saturday, Bravo's Andy Cohen queried Tina Fey on stage on, among other things, the state of her gaydar:
Cohen: All right. Which TV couple, Tina Fey, do you imagine must have gotten to first base at some point: (a) Kate & Allie; (b) Jane Hathaway and Granny Clampett; (c) Peppermint Patty and Marcie.

Fey: I would put my money — I would suspect that maybe Jane Hathaway and Granny made a poultice one night, drank some moonshine out by the cement pond, both kind of picturing Ellie Mae. Eyes closed, picturing Ellie Mae, and making it work.

Cohen: Tina Fey, do you actually believe that any of these TV butlers are straight, and please try to support your answer: (a) Benson; (b) Rosie the Robot on the Jetsons; (c) Jeffrey on The Fresh Prince; (d) Niles from The Nanny. Any of them, do you think could be straight?

Fey: I mean, I would maybe say Alfred, only because it continues to be a fine line between British and gay. It’s hard to tell.
JOSH CHARLES IS OTHERWISE BOOKED: So, how do we feel about Jeff Daniels playing the Keith Olbermann-inspired lead role in Aaron Sorkin's HBO pilot? Daniels strikes me as exactly the kind of person who should be looking for a good TV project, but I'm wondering how his oft-laconic style fits with Sorkinese.
"I PROMISE IT ISN'T DRUGS:" The prolific (and wildly scattershot) David E. Kelley sits down with Vulture to talk about casting (the network objected to leads on Doogie Howser and Picket Fences), alternating between being a critical darling and a critical whipping boy, and yes, Wonder Woman. No, the costume isn't discussed.
"MY FATHER DIDN'T PRAISE TOO MANY PEOPLE, BUT HE ALWAYS TOLD ME, "IF YOU WANT TO BE AN OFFICER IN THE ARMY, BE ONE LIKE DICK WINTERS. HE TOOK CARE OF HIS MEN AND LED BY EXAMPLE":  Two humble soldiers were honored in memorial services this past week -- Maj. Richard "Dick" Winters of Easy Company, with Tom Hanks among those in attendance in Hershey, and Frank Buckles, laid to rest at Arlington as the last surviving American veteran of World War I, age 110. If you have a few minutes, do read his 2001 interview for the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress.

Finally, as long as I'm on the topic of men who risked their lives for their country, I need to link to the recent heartbreaking NPR story, via Ann Althouse, of cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov's death during a 1967 mission he knew was doomed, but from which he didn't want to back out because otherwise his friend Yuri Gagarin would have met the same fate.  Warning: there's a graphic picture near the start, but bonus: you also get to see the speech William Safire drafted for President Nixon in case Apollo 11 had failed.
"I JUST WANT TO MAKE SURE I ANSWER YOUR QUESTION CORRECTLY":  Via the WSJ Law Blog (and HT: @jonhyman), how the deposition question of   "During your tenure in the computer department at the Recorder’s office, has the Recorder’s office had photocopying machines?" leads to an epic conversation about the parlance of our times.

Do make sure to click through to the fuller transcript, because anytime a deposition gets to "If you feel stupid, it's not because I'm making you feel that way," you know you're somewhere special.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

I AM A PALEONTOLOGIST -- THAT'S WHO I AM, THAT'S WHO I AM, THAT'S WHO I AM:  Not so amazing, Race.  I did not like that bunch, nor the impact of a Double U-Turn so late in a leg. I appreciated the complexity of that final task, mind you, but it didn't exactly feel like "this is something that locals do all the time."

Next week: another Luke meltdown. Oh, joy.
YOU HAVE BEEN CANCELED FROM THE RACE: Following up on prior discussions of fictional character teams who'd be awesome on TAR, our friends Alan and Dan provide suggestions for fictional characters they'd love to partner with on TAR. It's a solid list with some clever choices (look, basically any of the spy characters from Chuck or Burn Notice would be a good choice) and a few inexplicable ones, which I suspect we can add to. My suggestions:
  • Spec. Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, NCIS--Well traveled, no problem vexes him, has a rule for everything.
  • Neal Caffrey, White Collar--Master of airport fu, would have no trouble finding local guides and bending the rules as much as possible.
  • Nate Ford, Leverage--Would always have a Plan B, C, and D when the original plans fail.
  • Blair Waldorf, Gossip Girl--Most effective plotter/schemer on TAR since Boston Rob, endless supply of bitchy one liners. Downside--would have difficulty packing light and wearing practical shoes.