Thursday, November 24, 2011

THE FINE PRINT OF THE STANDARD "RICH AND FAMOUS" CONTRACT:  Let me get the obvious out of the way first: The Muppets, and the Toy Story short which precedes it, is a joyful romp. It gleefully mocks one's efforts to impose the standards of realism upon it while landing joke after joke, and even if its "are we too earnest for this era?" questioning is a bit strawmanish ("strawmanly?") it nevertheless will hit you in a place that is warm and fuzzy.  Or Fozzie.

The note I want to add is that part of what the film does is absolutely confirm my Unified Muppet Theory -- that while The Muppet Movie tells the "true" story of how these performers came together and formed a troupe, each of the subsequent films (as well as "The Muppet Show") is a fictional work created within the narrative universe of that film -- namely, The Muppets Take Manhattan and the like are the films being created under the terms of the Standard "Rich and Famous" Contract.

Oh, those terms. Indeed, The Muppets returns to that original narrative. This is the movie about what happened to that troupe after decades in the limelight, after starring in those films and having all those famous people show up on "The Muppet Show."  It is premised upon the details of that Contract upon which Kermit failed to perform due diligence, highlighting the importance of hiring top-notch attorneys to protect one's intellectual property.  And in the end (and this can't possibly be a spoiler), it sets the terms in the fictional universe (as well as, hopefully, our actual one) by which these characters can now go back to making whatever future silly films they want.

Also, it has Mickey Rooney.  And fart shoes!
WITH FOUR-PART HARMONY AND FEELING:  Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.  Via Joseph Finn, the ultimate "Alice's Restaurant" guide.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

CONGRATULATIONS, ANDREW BYNUM:  PTI's annual review of the Turkeys of the Year in sports.
I DO RADIO COMMERCIALS FOR....PRODUCTS: It's a Thanksgiving tradition to watch Jed Bartlet on the Butterball Hotline and him considering whether he's "soft on turkeys." Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
MAYBE THEY NEED TO USE A GEORGE FOREMAN GRILL: The Union Square neighborhood in New York got Manhattan's first IHOP below 125th Street, and many are thrilled with 24 hour Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N' Fruity, the restaurant's immediate neighbors are angry with the incessant smell of bacon.
MR. AND MRS. MALLARD WERE LOOKING FOR A PLACE TO LIVE:  From Moby to Meany to Morrie, from a scarlet 'A' to one 'L,' the Boston Globe selects 100 favorite books about New England or by New Englanders.
ALL HE EVER DOES IS NOT GET INDUCTED:  Because Cris Carter's name appears on the list of 26 semifinalists for 2012 induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I'm pleased. Bill Parcells, Steve Atwater, Willie Roaf, and Jerome Bettis are the names that jump off the page for me, though you may have other ideas.

Also, I couldn't come up with a reason to do a separate post on the end-of-season baseball awards other than an itch to work in BRAUN OVER BRAINS? as a headline, but if you're exorcised over any of the selections this is as good a place as any to discuss.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

MAY SHE DANCE WITH DRAGONS: Anne McCaffrey passed away today. It's been years since I read one of her novels, but her most famous series (Dragonriders of Pern) is a fascinating fusion of fantasy (dragons! harpers! pre-industrial society!) and science fiction (the "dragons" are genetically engineered creatures that help colonists on a new planet). Her other series had similar fusions--her "Talent and Hive" novels were set in a far future of space travel, but space travel was guided by psychic/magical air traffic controllers. The fusion made her books unpredictable and interesting in genres all-too-often content to rest on the same tropes again and again, making her the first female to win Hugo and Nebula awards, and a member of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Her imagination will be missed.
WHY DON'T WE GET THINGS STARTED?  The Muppets currently stands at 100% on the Rotten Tomatometer, 28/28 including a rave in the NYT, and this reaction from Scott Weinberg:
Never did I expect that the Muppets would earn a comeback as warm and wonderful as this one. The seventh feature film from the immortal Jim Henson creations, The Muppets is, quite simply, everything a lifelong Muppet maniac would want in a new movie. It's sly and sweet, kooky and clever, warm and witty, silly for kids and subversive for grown-ups. It offers a refreshingly earnest "let's put on a show with some great old friends" attitude, it pokes fun at the Muppets' present state of pop culture limbo, and best of all: it knows why a man approaching 40 would be interested in a new Muppets movie -- and it delivers the old-school goods with a remarkable sense of craft and confidence. This is not a Muppets for a new generation; it's the Muppets as cool as they always have been; it's the younger generation that needs to catch up.
Scott Mendelson looks at the tracking numbers: "93% of kids under 12 are aware of The Muppets, only 39% of that group expressed 'definite interest' in seeing them return to the big screen. Translation - 54% of said demographic is comprised of spoiled, good-for-nothing little shits who don't know how good they have it. Fortunately, these kids are too young to make consensual decisions about movie-going, so use your parenting authority to drag their butts to a theater this weekend, under the threat of Safe Surrender if need be."
COULD IT BE ... SATAN?  Remember how just last week we got into a discussion of the role (and overuse) of recurring characters on SNL? NYMag has undertaken a comprehensive analysis of the topic, ranking all seasons based on the percentage of sketches relying on recurring characters** as well as slideshowing the twenty-five most repeated characters in show history -- and, guess what: Trebek and Connery do not make the cut.  (Well, Trebek should have.)

The one on that list I never really got?  Nora Dunn's Pat Stevens. What was the point?

** Excluding political impressions.

Added, Related: Splitsider's Five Rules for what makes a recurring sketch work.

Monday, November 21, 2011

OUTRAGEOUS!  It seems a bit beside the point to criticize the American Music Awards for crass commercialism. The show exists, of course, only because Dick Clark saw a marketing opportunity in 1973 and is, literally, a popularity contest.

Apparently, however, Jennifer Lopez may have hit a new low last night in brazen shilling, disappearing during her lipsynched musical performance reemerge next to the car she's currently promoting. The University of Pennsylvania's John Legend tweeted that "That had to be the most shameless thing I’ve ever seen in a performance. I was genuinely shocked," and Questlove concurred: "Yo. I know I didn’t just see that dumb Fiat. I KNOW I didn’t just see that friggin’ Fiat."  Here's the video.

[Also, party people were in the house last night, and they and David Hasselhoff had a good time.]
BEATS HAPPENING:  The NYT explains how Dr. Dre's headphone company became so popular.
"THINGS ARE STARTING TO HEAT UP DOWN ON E STREET": Bruce Springsteen has promised a new album and a world tour for himself and the band in 2012, the first without Clarence Clemons.
WHITMAN SAMPLER:  So I've been watching AMC's Sunday morning rebroadcast of Mad Men over the past few months (for those not following along, we just again shut the door and had a seat), and I couldn't help but wonder if this reaction is shared by others: the Don Draper flashbacks are, generally, a showy waste of time which don't illuminate all that much.

I recognize that when you have a character as deceptive and un-sharing as Don Draper, flashbacks may be the only way to unpeel that particular onion--certainly, I'll concede, it's better than hearing him voiceover a journal entry. And of course, I'll concede the scene at the train station when Dick/Don pulls out of town for the last time and his brother catches a glimpse of him.  On the whole, though, I'm a fan of show-don't-tell, and the storytelling in the flashbacks (especially when you see the episodes all stacked up like this) feels a bit lazy and indulgent compared to the remarkable things this show can do.