Saturday, March 31, 2012

HE IS ONE DAY OLDER THAN DULLES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT:  Jamie Moyer, 49, has made the Colorado Rockies' rotation and will start April 7 at Houston.  He is older than Bo Jackson, Lenny Dykstra, and Mike Greenwell; he is older than Sidney Crosby and Lionel Messi (or Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray) combined.

Friday, March 30, 2012

A REVIEW OF A MOVIE I HAVEN'T SEEN: MIDNIGHT RUN 2: Brett Ratner comes home drunk after a night of ostentatious debauchery, mistakes a near-perfect movie that transcended its milieu for a toilet, and then sexually harasses it. Starring two months of the mortgage on Robert DeNiro's Lake Como pied-à-terre.
A REVIEW OF A MOVIE I HAVEN'T SEEN: SPRING BREAKERS: In this movie, a bunch of bikinis run wild and try their best to murder Selena Gomez's career. Starring James Franco as Kevin Federline.
A GUY GAVE US THE RECORDER, MONEY, AND GREAT SEATS:  You'll be so excited, so excited, so ... scared? ... to see A Very Special Montage of Fifty Very Special Sitcom Episodes. Yes, in four-plus minutes it includes the Mr. Belvedere AIDS episode, Punky Brewster learning about refrigerator safety, and many, many characters learning about the dangers of drugs, alcohol abuse, and Gordon Jump.
THE WHALE HAS TWO VAGINAS: In something sure to make you question yet again whether Hollywood has, in fact, run out of ideas, Will Ferrell has agreed to make Anchorman 2.

Like Adam Sandler, Ferrell seems to alternate between attempts at crowd-pleasing (Step Brothers, Land of the Lost, Semi-Pro, Megamind, etc) and more challenging works like Stranger than Fiction, Casa de Mi Padre, and Everything Must Go. Sandler's crowd-pleasers are generally more commercially successful and much less critically lauded, but his more challenging films (Funny People, Reign Over Me, Punch-Drunk Love) are generally better, and certainly more-seen, than Ferrell's. And it surprised me to realize that this is the first sequel either of them has done -- not that anyone was expecting Eight Crazier Nights or An Even Longer Yard.

Look: it it's done well, I will be happy to see Ron Burgundy on my screen again, as well as Brick Tamland and especially the Public News Team ("No commercials. No mercy.") I just hope this gives Ferrell the latitude to keep trying more challenging works as well, and that this doesn't reflect a turn away from trying to create new great comic characters. But as Ben Affleck once reminded us, "You gotta do the safe picture. Then you can do the art picture. But then sometimes you gotta do the payback picture because your friend says you owe him. And sometimes, you have to go back to the well."
TO BE FOLLOWED BY QUADS, WITH BEN STILLER:  In something sure to make you question yet again whether Hollywood has, in fact, run out of ideas, a sequel to the 1988 comedy Twins is apparently on the fast track.  Schwarzenegger and DeVito would return as the mismatched twins, and the story would revolve around their discovery of a third member of their clan, to be played by Eddie Murphy.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

HAD WE BUT WORLD ENOUGH, AND TIME: It took me about a week's worth of train rides to read John Green's The Fault In Our Stars, and now I really want to recommend it. It's the story of Hazel, a sixteen-year-old girl with terminal cancer who falls in love with a cancer survivor who she meets at a support group. Green does a clever thing with the story. His narrator (Hazel) acknowledges that in the "cancer-kid genre," the struggle against cancer often becomes the cancer kid's only character trait. This never happens with Hazel, a keen observer with a sardonic wit who struggles not only with her own cancer but also with the suffering it imposes upon others. And the other kids from her support group, Augustus and Isaac, two cancer survivors who came away from the disease with varying degrees of loss (physical and emotional), are equally well realized. Green's trick, though, is reducing most of the remaining characters to single-trait tropes -- the supportive parent; the supportive friend; the supportive stranger -- and then measuring Hazel, Augustus, and Isaac's delight or shock or hurt when people break character for moments of insight, pique, or selfishness.

Green's other trick isn't really a trick; it's just excellent writing. He manages to build leading characters who are loveable without being flawless, to mock teenage pretension gently while at the same time giving it the dignity of understanding its importance, and to let his characters find humor and happiness while never, not even for an instant, forgetting about impending mortality. This is, at times, a very funny book, and a happy one as well, but it also is an agonizingly sad book from beginning to end. Green shows, and his characters struggle to articulate, that you can have both at exactly the same moment, melody and counter-melody.

But did I mention that the main character has terminal cancer? If you don't like sad books, skip it. And if you cry when books are sad, this is not one to read in a public place. You have been warned.

Now I'm out of books until Hilary Mantel's next Thomas Cromwell comes out. Anything to recommend?
WHEN O'DONNELL KEPT PRESSING HIM TO LEAVE DALLAS, HE ASKED HIM, "WELL, WHAT ABOUT MRS. KENNEDY?"  If you haven't seen it yet -- and if not, why not? -- this week's New Yorker features a lengthy excerpt from Robert Caro's The Passage of Power (due May 1, 2012) on the events of November 22, 1963, from Lyndon Johnson's perspective. Online, it's for subscribers only, but the good folks at the magazine have been kind enough to unlock seven other Caro/LBJ pieces from the archives (“Presidents, he told the young aide, were known by their initials. ‘F.D.R.—L.B.J., F.D.R.—L.B.J. Do you get it? What I want is for people to start thinking of me in terms of initials.’”), as well as a collection of photos of Johnson from that day -- and part of what Caro helps us understand is just how much care Johnson put into getting that swearing-in photo just right.
BO DIDDLEY, BO DIDDLEY'S AT THE SEASIDE BAR:  I got a call from a friend at about 6:30p yesterday asking if I was interested in seeing Bruce Springsteen that night.  Um, sold!

My reservations about the shtick-ification of Springsteen from almost a decade ago haven't exactly gone away -- from our perch behind the stage, you could see Springsteen go to the sponge in front of Max's riser to grease his shins for the cross-stage slide ... but, still, damn if it isn't nice to see a 62-year-old man who can still do that, who crowd-surfed his way back to the stage from halfway out on the arena floor, who climbed into the audience during "Raise Your Hand" encore, grabbed a seat and asked for (and received, and chugged) a beer. [Added: phenomenal video.] If he wasn't having a blast, he sure faked it well enough for my purposes.

The other thing that made this show different was The Kid, and it's uncanny just how good Jake Clemons is at reproducing his uncle's notes, though he can never replace the dynamics. Can't imagine a more appropriate way to replace The Big Man, really, and the moments of acknowledgment of his and Federici's passing were well-done, and not overdone.

Setlist here. Highlights for me were the Seaside/82nd combo, and the Apollo medley ("The Way You Do The Things You Do"/"634-5789" followed by a song that Springsteen has played the last three nights because of its unfortunate newsworthiness, but we're not going to talk about that here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A YOUNG MAN'S FANCY TURNS TO LOVE AND ALSO DUSTIN ACKLEY AND ALSO WINTERFELL: We've had spring-forward day (yay), but spring isn't ever really here until baseball season starts. Guess what? Last night, or to be technical, this morning at 3:00 a.m. per the circadian rhythms of all participants, baseball season started (yay). Same joke every year alert: The Mariners beat the A's to take an insurmountable lead in the MLB standings. 63 more wins to go, accoring to Sports Illustrated. The game was played, of course, in Tokyo (Suzukis went 5-for-10) as part of the A's continuing plan to play as few home games in Oakland as possible from now until forever.

And the other spring-is-here event is Sunday's Game of Thrones premiere. Spoiler alert: everything works out for the best and everybody is completely happy and totally nice all the time and it's showers and clean laundry and presentable haircuts for everybody.
COMES A DAY YOU'RE GONNA HAVE TO DECIDE WHETHER IT'S ABOUT YOU OR ABOUT THE WORK: Everyone receives their sentences this week on The Wire (Sepinwall, Ariano), and nearly everyone's asking the same question: was it worth this? 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

HI, DEREK! MY NAME'S LITTLE CLETUS AND I'M HERE TO TELL YOU A FEW THINGS ABOUT CHILD LABOR LAWS, OK?  Other tournaments this month have included Moviefone's Will Ferrell Bracketology, which has pitted his 16 most memorable film characters (except they forgot his Bob Woodward.)  They're voting on the final pair right now, and the likely winner, as you'd expect, is someone who's not quite sure what the derivation of "San Diego" is.
NO ONE WANTS TO STAND UP AND LOUDLY PROCLAIM, "I CHANGED THE WORLD WITH MY INFERIOR PRODUCTS":  Matthew Yglesias on the legacy of Murray Lender, and how his mediocre frozen bagels became the gateway drug that proved that fresh bagels could be a nationwide hit.
LITTLE IN COMMON BESIDES FRANK LANGUAGE AND VIOLENCE; A FASCINATION WITH CRIME; A CONSISTENTLY HIGH LEVEL OF ACTING; AND AN HBO PEDIGREE:  Matt Zoller Seitz concludes Vulture's 16-show tournament by resolving whether The Sopranos or The Wire was the greatest tv drama of the last 25 years.

Reminder: tomorrow on Wire Wednesday, we conclude season one with "Sentencing."

Monday, March 26, 2012

WE WANTED THIS DRAGON TO HAVE A LONG, LONG TAIL: Showrunners Robert and Michelle King talk to the Daily Beast about The Good Wife, going into detail about what's worked, what didn't this season, and what's left for this season:
[W]hat we realized is that the show needs a structural dilemma, not just a personal dilemma. The personal dilemma was how do you handle an affair, especially with a boss. What there really needs to be is some dilemma by design that threatens the law firm or the characters. It’s a lesson that goes back probably to Aristotle, which is: what are you fighting against? We’re going to figure out a better way to do that this year.
I'm guessing there's still no chance for a Michael J. Fox/Mamie Gummer/Carrie Preston spinoff, but a boy can dream, right?
TEAM KATNISS: Despite its record-breaking ticket sales this weekend, we didn't put up a thread to discuss The Hunger Games, in part because I didn't get to see it until yesterday afternoon. Generally, I thought it was a damn solid piece of filmmaking. Yes, some things kind of fall by the wayside from the books (Haymitch and Snow are very underdeveloped characters, and the "Effie as frustrated social climber" point gets lost), but I thought the additions (some material between Seneca and Snow, and the "control room" scenes) gave some context, and meant that Jennifer Lawrence (who is particularly effective) didn't have to appear in every single scene. Obviously, the massive success guarantees a green light for at least Catching Fire, if not Mockingjay as well, and I'm interested to see where they go as the stories get progressively darker. As a note on spoilers--both the first book and the first movie are fair game, but let's stay away from spoilers from the subsequent books.
IT'S NO SNORTING BULL:  The Miami Marlins' new home run celebration feature is alive.
WELL, WELL, WELL. THERE'S MY BABY:  It's May 1966, and Harry's still a douchebag, Pete's still ambitious and insecure (and taking it out on Roger in the most juvenile ways he can), Peggy's still underappreciated, no one at SCDP can answer an phone properly, and Don Draper is ... happy? Mostly happy? Yeah, it's disconcerting, but in the end he's still a bit Dick Whitman after all, and seemingly oblivious to what Megan's going through at work, the urgency of SCDP's financial situation, or anything other than his own immediate happiness -- though, perhaps, a better and more attentive father than before.

I still need some time to process the episode, so grab your historically accurate Goldwater '68 signs and let's zou bisou bisou to the comments.  One prediction: if you see a hunky plumber in episode one, by season's end he's going to find a drain to unclog.

Sunday, March 25, 2012