Saturday, January 28, 2012

"LAST WEEK, WE DID A SHOW ... THAT LAID ... WITHOUT A DOUBT ... THE BIGGEST BOMB IN HISTORY": It's one of my favorite Hollywood stories, and I'm glad to see it told well by Splitsider -- You're In The Picture, the Jackie Gleason celebrity game show which aired once on January 20, 1961 (um ... kind of a busy night?) and only once, a show so bad that Gleason spent the next week's half-hour slot apologizing for the show having aired.

Friday, January 27, 2012

WHAT'S THE HAPS ON THE CRAPS?  In the tradition of Which Cubs Game Did Ferris Bueller Attend? and my What St. John's Game Did Prince Akeem Enjoy?, someone has cross-referenced the Lakers' box scores, Los Angeles weather reports, MTV's programming schedule and the history of beeper technology to determine that January 20, 1992, was Ice Cube's Good Day.
SINISTER PHASE THREE:  Longtime ALOTT5MA fave Evan O'Dorney, the 2007 National Spelling Bee champion from the East Bay (who Shonda once called an "adorable pint-size spelling genius and I know in my heart that one day he’ll create some kind of amazing box-type object that will change the world somehow"), is now a freshman at Harvard, where The Crimson profiles him today.  Two highlights:
"He is one of the few freshmen ever to place out of Math 55the most advanced undergraduate math course offered—directly into graduate mathematics classes in his first semester."

"O’Dorney even offered to spell-check this article before it went to print."
UP YOUR NOSE WITH A RUBBER HOSE:  Piggybacking for a second straight day off something in the prior day's comments, I wanted to focus on something Eric J said in our discussion of the death of Welcome Back Kotter's Robert Hegyes:
Possibly the biggest gap between how much I loved it as a kid, and how unwatchable I'd find it now of any show.
A few years ago, I watched a few WBK reruns on Nick at Nite and found myself appreciating Gabe Kaplan more and the Sweathogs a little less. Bigger gaps for me are certainly for some of the animated stuff I devoured as a kid -- Super Friends and Scooby-Doo in particular, and among live-action stuff, I do not think Laverne & Shirley has aged well. It just seems so loud and clunky, and I don't quite get the appeal anymore.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

AS LONG AS THERE IS INJUSTICE, WHENEVER A TARGATHIAN BABY CRIES OUT, WHEREVER A DISTRESS SIGNAL SOUNDS AMONG THE STARS, WE'LL BE THERE: Splitsider points out that Harold Ramis was originally signed to direct Galaxy Quest, and the fascinating part is why he backed out:
Originally titled Captain Starshine when it was first written but then wisely changed to Galaxy Quest, this sci-fi comedy was a directing project that Harold Ramis signed onto in 1998. Ramis reportedly left the movie, though, when Disney insisted on casting Tim Allen in the lead role, and Dean Parisot took over. According to movie site Ain’t it Cool News, Kevin Kline was Ramis’s first choice but Kline turned the part down. Ramis then wanted Alec Baldwin to play the lead role but the studio nixed that idea and selected Tim Allen.
By Grabthar's hammer, Baldwin would have been awesome in the role. Damn.
DEAR MR. KOTTER, PLEASE EXCUSE JUAN EPSTEIN FROM CLASS TODAY BECAUSE HE'S DEAD.  SIGNED, EPSTEIN'S MOTHER:  R.I.P. Robert Hegyes, Isro role model (even though he wasn't Jewish -- just the character), passed away at the age 60.
OH, YOU ONLY FIGHT THE FIGHTS YOU CAN WIN? YOU FIGHT THE FIGHTS THAT NEED FIGHTING!  Following up on yesterday's discussion, which has links to various lists in the comments, let's try to figure out who is the best living actor or actress to have never been nominated for an Academy Award.

For all of our Alan Rickman sympathy, yesterday's discussion suggested four other names perhaps higher on that list: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mr. Steve Martin, Martin Sheen, and Jim Carrey -- and while I don't think of Carrey as being a great actor, between his performances in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Man on the Moon, and The Truman Show ... how has he not been nominated yet?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

BECAUSE PETER GARRETT ISN'T THE ONLY AUSTRALIAN CABINET MINISTER WE EVER DISCUSS:  Congratulations to Aussie transport minister Anthony Albanese for his totally original remarks today:
In Australia, we have serious challenges to solve and we need serious people to solve them. Unfortunately, Tony Abbott is not the least bit interested in fixing anything. He is only interested in two things: making Australians afraid of it and telling them who's to blame for it.
It is unclear whether he then proceeded to have sex with Annette Bening.
BECAUSE JOEY WORKED OUT SO WELL FOR EVERYONE: A few years ago, there were rumblings of an Office spinoff, and fortunately for all concerned, it morphed into Parks & Recreation instead. Now, preparations are hard at work for Schrute Farms, a spinoff focusing on Dwight and his life at Schrute Farms. As cartoonish as Dwight has become, this sounds like a pretty awful idea, even though there's been some great material revolving around the farm over the years. Of course, complicating matters is that basically no one is under contract to the mothership show for next season, which may force this on us. In addition to the awfulness of this idea, feel free to discuss spinoffs you wish you could have seen (I still wish there was a "Paris and Doyle Move To NYC" spinoff of Gilmore Girls) or backdoor pilots that didn't go (like the 80s set Gossip Girl spinoff/prequel with Brittany Snow as Lily Rhodes (later van der Woodsen Bass Humphrey) and Krysten Ritter as her sister).
(MUST BE) THE MONEY: Terrell Owens is the subject of this GQ profile of a football player with a usual set of problems: despite a relatively unflashy life, he's out of work and out of money. Now it's his fault -- bad personal decisions, bad family decisions. But I'm sympathetic to these guys -- even TO. They never learned to handle a dollar because they never had one in the first place. But this is, for many of them, all of the money they will ever make and given they'd never seen how fast a family can use up $60K or $100K, $3 or $4M a year must seem inexhaustible. $80M in lifetime earnings. And it's gone.
ACCIO TRIBUTE!  For being the world's highest-grossing film franchise in history (non-adjusted for inflation, in which case it would be the James Bond films, albeit with 3x the films), the Harry Potter series sure hasn't gotten any respect from the Academy.  In sum, the eight films have received twelve nominations in total, none for acting/writing/directing, and zero wins. Alan Rickman, still, has never received an Oscar nomination in his life.

(By way of comparison, the Lord of the Rings trilogy received thirty nominations overall and won seventeen Oscars -- 4/13 for Fellowship, 2/6 on Two Towers, 11/11 for Return of the King.)

The series deserves better. Steve Kloves, J.K. Rowling, the actors, and the producing team deserve credit for an overall faithful, entertaining, family-friendly adaptation of a deservedly legendary series of books. They picked great kids a decade ago who matured into the actors they needed; the UK's finest thespians were well-used in filling out this world. When you consider how many adaptations fail to capture their source material accurately, the Harry Potter films cleared a high bar indeed.

So, with only three nominations this year, all in technical categories, what is to be done?  I think an Honorary Oscar to commemorate the overall achievement would be appropriate, except those were already given out this year. (Make an exception!) Otherwise, at a minimum, they should at least do a three-minute tribute reel, then bring out the cast and behind-the-scene team for the long standing ovation they richly deserve. This is only common sense—not magic.
THIRTEEN YEARS AND FOUR MONTHS:  This week's Wire Wednesday episode, "Old Cases," is all about being Real Police. Unlike the first three episodes, it doesn't feel like there's an even split between police-side and street-side plots; there's much more focus on the police, and we finally get to see competence (even intelligence) all around.

The crescendo is what apparently's just referred to as the "fuck" scene (NSFW, but you know that by now, because it's used about 38 times), a symphony of language and Bunk & McNulty's intelligence perfectly set up by D'Angelo's prior narration of what happened—like an inner-city version of that opening computer graphics scene in Titanic which shows us exactly how the ship will sink. And we've also got Lester's figuring of D'Angelo's pager number, setting up the next stage of the investigation.

Sure, there's dumb law enforcement too -- Bodie's escape from Boys Village and all the insurance/pension scam stuff does not reflect well on Baltimore's Finest, nor does the titular shunting of real police like Lester into more than a decade of index card work. But for once, I feel like the police may actually have a chance to crack the Barksdale operation.

About that operation: they've got a problem other than the police, and his name is Omar. I have no idea how shocking his being gay came off at the time—this is one of those facts I absorbed from the culture about the show, so I expected it—but it's certainly unique, and unlike Vito Spatafore on The Sopranos not at all played for laughs. I would not want to be Avon Barksdale's top priority, and am intrigued to see what happens next.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

ENJOY EVERY SANDWICH:  Warren Zevon would have turned 65 today; he's now been gone from us for over eight years. Here's "Roland, the Headless Thompson Gunner," and, oh, his appearance on a particularly cursed episode of The Larry Sanders Show.
COOPER, YOU'RE AN AMAZING DANCER, AND YOU'RE A GREAT CHOREOGRAPHER, BUT AS A BOYFRIEND ... YOU KINDA SUCK: A certain segment of our readership will care that Ethan Stiefel has announced his impending retirement as a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater, and will give his final performance as Ali, the Slave, in ABT’s production of Le Corsaire on Saturday evening, July 7, 2012. [HT: Linda Holmes.]
WHAT PART OF "LIFETIME APPOINTMENT" DON'T YOU GET, SIR? ... NEVERMIND, HE GOT IT: The Hon. Wesley Brown joined the federal bench in 1958, appointed as a bankruptcy judge by President Dwight Eisenhower, and was promoted to the United States District Court for the District of Kansas by President John F. Kennedy in 1962. He had grown up next door to freed slaves; when he attended college, Calvin Coolidge was President.

"You know, he could have retired years ago at full salary," explained one of his colleagues on the bench when Brown turned 93. "But I think one of the reasons he stays is because he doesn't believe in doing something for nothing. He couldn't take the taxpayers' money for not working."

Judge Brown continued to hear a full docket of cases well past the age of 100, and did not reduce his caseload until last year. Judge Brown passed away last night at the age of 104.
AM I BUGGIN' YA? In response to our recent discussion, a helpful reader notes that in today's NYT crossword puzzle, the clue for 42-Down is "U2 Guitarist," and there are seven letters, not four.  (No, "Clayton" doesn't work.)
ATTACK OF THE SHORT GOLD MEN: Looks like we've got a few surprises in the Oscar nods:
  • No nomination for Tilda Swinton for best actress despite a slew of critics prizes for her in We Need To Talk About Kevin, though Rooney Mara and Glenn Close got in.
  • A couple of surprises in Best Actor--Gary Oldman gets into the mix for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (which is also in the running for adapted screenplay), and Demian Bichir gets in for the little-seen A Better Life.
  • Despite the "tighter" Best Pic eligibility rules, 9 nominees, including a couple of surprises--Tree of Life and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, both of which likely benefited from the ranked voting system in which a #1 vote counts for a lot in nominations, as they are highly, highly polarizing, with their fans being insistent on their high value.
  • In the category of "People who are going to lose to Christopher Plummer," Nick Nolte's performance in Warrior (which I found extremely hammy) is on the short list, as are Jonah Hill's work in Moneyball and Max Von Sydow's wordless work in Extremely Loud. Interestingly, 3 of the 20 acting nominations are for non-speaking roles.
  • They bent over backwards to snub Pixar, Tintin, and Rio in Animated Feature, with two obscure films to fill out the category but not slow the inevitable win of Rango.
  • Apparently only two original song competitors, with an easy call for "Man or Muppet" to win.
  • Other movies that can add "Academy Award Nominee" to their ads? Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Real Steel, Anonymous, and Madonna's film W.E.

Monday, January 23, 2012

SKIPPYJON JONES, FOILED AGAIN:  After a year's absence, Christy in NYC is back for the fifth time to sum up the American Library Association's annual awards for the best in children's publishing. Without further hesitation, here goes:
* * *

My friends! Remember last year, when the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced, and Adam wrote to me reminding me to write my annual guest post, but I was so feverish that I had just that morning tried to use a cell phone to call someone in the next room but couldn't because I had it upside down? So there was no way I could write something coherent, let alone publishable? I sort of remember that, vaguely. But this year I am strong as a horse! And ready to show you the list of books that won this morning, the biggest morning in children's publishing, the announcement of the 2012 ALA Youth Media Awards! Here are the biggies:

John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos. Honors went to Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Li (which had already taken gold in the National Book Award Young People's Literature category this past fall) and Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin.

Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children: A Ball for Daisy, illustrated and written by Chris Raschka. There were three honors for the Caldecott: Blackout by John Rocco, Grandpa Green by Lane Smith, and Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell.

Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. This also took the top prize for the Morris Award for a debut YA novel.

Coretta Scott King Award for authors went to Kadir Nelson for Heart and Soul, which also got an honor in the illustrator category. But the winner for illustrator went to Shane W. Evans for Underground.

There are many, many more winners and honors on the list, and depending on the needs of the young readers in your life (or just your own literary tastes), there are plenty of wonderful books to discover, sorted into neat little categories. Also of interest might be the Alex Award Winners, for adult books that could have special appeal to young adults.

If I were to sum up (and here I go), I would say that this year's list of winners and honors is a surprise, not so much for what's on the list, but for what's not. While there are very few books here that didn't get award buzz, the ones that were arguably getting the most buzz do not show up, or show up in unexpected places.

A few examples: I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen was among the most buzzed Caldecott candidates, along with Me...Jane and Grandpa Green, but it ended up appearing on the Theodor Seuss Geisel honor list for beginning readers. Many would have said the Newbery was for Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt (who has won several Newbery honors but never gold) to lose. The only place it appears is on the Odyssey honor list for best audio books. Amelia Lost and A Monster Calls, two very common picks of the higher-profile mock Newbery committees this year are nowhere to be found. And there are certainly many YA books I thought might show up on the Printz list that didn't, but I'm not sure which I would have expected to not be there instead.

So, friends? What were your favorite books for young readers in 2011? What are your kids loving? And do you see those books on this list?
WELL, START BY BRINGIN' BACK THE AWESOME 70s-80s JERSEYS: The Houston Astros were the baseball team of my youth--indeed, my first ever ballgame was one of the Ryan no-hitters in the Astrodome--so I feel compelled to note that new ownership, as part of its "we love the fans" plans (which include cutting prices for tickets and beer) won't rule out changing the team's name. Admittedly, with the team no longer playing in the Dome (the disposal of which is a hot issue in Houston) and the space shuttle program at an end, the justification for the name is minimal, but I suspect they'll stick with it--it's not like the name has a history of failure and ignominy, and there aren't many other options out there. Anyone have suggestions?
SWEEP THE LEG. DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THAT? Anyone want to defend this as good sportsmanship?
After the game, reporters crowded around the locker of Jacquian Williams, who'd forced the second fumble, hoping for an angle: Had the Giants noticed something about Kyle Williams's technique, some weakness in the 49ers punt-return scheme? "Nah," Williams said. "The thing is, we knew he had four concussions, so that was our biggest thing, was to take him outta the game."

Devin Thomas, the reserve wide receiver who recovered both of Kyle Williams's fumbles, was even more explicit. “He’s had a lot of concussions," Thomas told the Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi. "We were just like, ‘We gotta put a hit on that guy.’ ... [Giants reserve safety Tyler] Sash did a great job hitting him early and he looked kind of dazed when he got up. I feel like that made a difference and he coughed it up.”

It certainly sounds like the Giants' special teams players were told about Williams's history of concussions, and that they went after him because of it. (That this has so far drawn no attention from beat reporters suggests that such planning is commonplace). It's impossible to know whether Thomas is right — if Williams in fact was concussed or woozy during the game — but he didn't look himself yesterday: There was the third-quarter punt that skimmed off his knee after he seemed to dawdle, unsure whether to pick it up or let it roll, and at least two punts that he fair-caught though he had plenty of room to run. Sports Illustrated's Ann Killion also noticed "a fumble on a reverse that he fell on, a strange sideways diving catch on another punt that could have been disaster." Williams played virtually the whole game at wide receiver and didn't register a single catch.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: The This Had Oscar Buzz tumblr collects movie posters from, yeah, those movies. Amelia, anyone?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

AIN'T GONNA BE NO REMATCH GREAT. IT'S A REMATCH:  It's good to see fanbases as unfulfilled and unrewarded as Boston's and New York's finally have a chance at the glory and excitement of a sports championship.  Let the two weeks of hype begin.

added: Stefan Fatsis explains how a few extra seconds without panic might have improved Billy Cundiff's field goal attempt.
PRIMACY AND RECENCY:  That's what we're all taught as lawyers; your first impression matters a lot, and then folks will remember how you ended. What's in between doesn't stick quite as much.

Joe Paterno's passing this morning reminds us of the distorting effect of these mental biases.  Yes, every obituary must of necessity contain a "but" or, in the NYT's case, an "only to be..."  Children were raped and he did not do enough to stop it, or as KR quoted in a comment:
Downey: What did we do wrong? We did nothing wrong.
Dawson: Yeah, we did. We were supposed to fight for the people who couldn't fight for themselves. We were supposed to fight for Willie.
And that may be what was so shocking here. Had this happened at The U or any number of always-under-investigation football factories, this scandal would have been appalling but not unexpected. But Penn State? Joe Pa? He was the coach, and this was the school, which was supposed to be better.

It is the greatness of what Paterno achieved over the fifty years which preceded 2011 which made these revelations such a gut punch.  But let us remember the successes as well as the failure, and be open to the possibility that this was a moral failing and not an affirmative act of evil, or as Isaac wrote in an essay you must re-read today:
I think that Paterno, Curley, Schmidt, and Spanier have given Penn State no choice but to fire them, because the university cannot be seen as supporting or condoning their inaction in any way. But I would be lying to you, and to myself, if I said that I don't understand the impulse not to say anything or do anything. If there is any way to rationalize the behavior, to call the evidence inconclusive, or, failing that, to make it somebody else's responsibility, there is a powerful human instinct to do that. I like to think that if I saw someone raping a child, I would intervene and then go to the police, without regard to any possible consequences to me. But it's easy to say that. Until it happens – never, I hope – I won't know, and neither will you....

They failed as human beings in a way that had agonizing consequences for others. And I know that my initial reaction was that they are all criminals. But now, having thought a lot about it, I think that failing as a human being is not the same thing as being a bad human being. There is enough room for Paterno to have been wrong for not doing anything in 2002 (or maybe 1998) and also to have been honest when he said, in hindsight, that that is the greatest regret in his long and eventful life.
I'll let Joe Posnanski (from November) have the last word:
Paterno has paid a price here. His job is gone. His life’s work has been soiled. His reputation is in tatters. Maybe that should be the price. Maybe there should be more of a price. You don’t have to type: “Well, his price is nothing like the price of those victims…” I already know that.

But I think the way Joe Paterno has lived his life has earned him something more than instant fury, more than immediate assumptions of the worst, more than the happy cheers of critics who have always believed that there was something phony about the man and his ideals. He deserves what I would hope we all deserve — for the truth to come out, or, anyway, the closest thing to truth we can find.

I don’t think Joe Paterno has gotten that. And I think that’s sad.
The family has requested that in lieu of flowers and gifts, donations go to Special Olympics Pennsylvania and THON, the PSU student-run philanthropy battling pediatric cancer.