Saturday, May 5, 2012

PLEASE PHRASE ALL RESPONSES IN THE FORM OF A QUESTION:  Alex Trebek is now stating that he's considering retiring in 2014, after 30 years at the helm of Jeopardy!  I'm not sure whether that will hold or whether that'll provide them with a convenient excuse to end the show (the average age of a Jeopardy! viewer is apparently 65), but I assume we have suggestions for who should replace Trebek. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

THERE WAS THE LADY IN THE CATSUIT, BUT WHERE WAS THE DUDE IN A SUIT WITH A BOWLER HAT?  The Avengers is pretty much everything you could have hoped for--funny, action-packed, and, yes, even a little tear-inducing.  In particular, Whedon nails bringing backstory to characters who were previously underdeveloped (Black Widow and Hawkeye in particular, managing to make Johansson far more than just a sex bomb and Renner far more than just a blank slate) with economy and effectiveness, and defining the relationships between the characters (there is a great romantic comedy banter scene between Downey and Paltrow early in the film, which makes me want to see a Whedon straight romantic comedy).

The one problem I have with the film is the same problem all the Marvel films have had--the villain.  In order to be a threat to even one of these superheroes (much less an assemblage of them) the threat must be so ridiculous as to be silly.  Some of the precursor films (Captain America, in particular) have done a far better job of it, but others (both Iron Man films, Incredible Hulk) have failed on that note.  Vulture annotates who the ultimate villains are (revealed in a post-credits scene that's a blatant set up for Avengers Reassemble), but it's a tricky balancing act.  (The Batman movies have done a better job, in large part because Batman doesn't have superhuman powers.)
BORN AND BRED BROOKLYN, U.S.A.:  When it was noted that Adam Yauch was unable to attend the Beastie Boys' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month, I feared the worst.  And it's the worst, as salivary gland cancer has claimed him at age 48. Damn.
THE BEST THERE IS, THE BEST THERE WAS, AND THE BEST THERE EVER WILL BE: There aren't many people in the world of sports to whom you can apply that honorific and receive universal agreement -- Wayne Gretzky and Jerry Rice come to mind -- and there can be no argument that when it comes to retiring batters at the end of baseball games, we will never see one better than Mariano Rivera. Let's hope this isn't the end of an incredible career.
SO NO ONE TOLD YOU LIFE WAS GOING TO BE THIS WAY [CLAP X 4]:  An oral history of Friends in which David Schwimmer doesn't come off as being as big of a douchebag as he usually does.
WE'RE NOT UP AGAINST EACH OTHER, WE'RE UP AGAINST THE DICTIONARY: We're less than four weeks away from the start of the Scripps National Spelling Bee and our tenth liveblogging thereof, so let's check in with this year's two members of the Five-Timers Club: Nicholas Rushlow (favorite word: bhutatathata); and Rahul Malayappan, who blogs with his father about spelling here. Your full list of returning spellers, siblings and the like is here.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

WITH SWEET UNDERSTANDING:  Marc Platt (Wicked, Legally Blonde) to produce, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark rewrite, some Glee) to adapt, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to star in a planned film remake of Little Shop of Horrors.

Does JGL have the chops for it? Based on his "Make 'Em Laugh," absolutely. Cast your Audrey, and pick your preferred ending.
DEATH BY "MONEY BATH" DID NOT MAKE THE LIST: Roman Emperors, Up To AD 476 And Not Including Usurpers, In Order Of How Hardcore Their Deaths Were.
THE STAR-SPANGLED MAN WITH A PLAN! Between The Avengers opening tomorrow and Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark finally being Tony-eligible, it's time to recall that in 1985, promises were made that Captain America: The Musical was going to arrive on Broadway in late 1985--it didn't even make it to out of town.  Perhaps even more bizarrely, the actors considered to play Steve Rogers?  John Cullum, Ken Howard, Richard Kiley, and Hal Linden.  Fortunately, the musical number in last year's film more than makes up for it.

HT:  Quizmaster Noah Tarnow.
THEN AGAIN, HOW DO ARCHITECTS FEEL ABOUT TED MOSBY?  There is nothing new in Tucker Max's essay listing the six wrong reasons to go to law school, but I did want to isolate one assertion for discussion:
The actual job of being a lawyer is NOTHING AT ALL like what you see on TV. It is possibly less like the real thing than any other profession depicted on television.
Yes, this mistake has been made before.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

JUNIOR SEAU (1969-2012):  Chris Jones, Esquire:
Why do football players kill themselves? On the surface, at least, they do it for the same reason hockey players like Rick Rypien and Wade Belak do. And for the same reason taxi drivers and ballet dancers and poets and construction workers and janitors and teachers and doctors do: They do it because they are depressed, because they are in such a dark place that they choose death. It's a hard thing to think about, but if you do anything in the memory of Junior Seau today, please think about this for a moment: How bad would your life have to be for you to put a gun to your chest and put a bullet into your heart? How deep would be that despair?

Now, why are they depressed? That's where everything divides, and the equations become much more complicated. But one of the root problems among the many is that happy people have short memories and sad people have long ones. We forget or we ignore or we get busy doing something else, and all this time, someone is sitting at home with a gun in his hand and trying so hard not to remember, trying like hell to believe that the future will not be like the past.

In that moment, those who fail, those who can't get beyond their own mistakes or the sins that have been committed against them, they will join the ranks of the self-inflicted dead. Your guilt won't have saved them. Those who find something, anything, to hang on to, some cause for hope or optimism or even an outstretched hand, survive. Your love will save them.
Josh Levin, Slate:
Ignore the NFL Draft. Ignore offseason mini-camps. Ignore the latest free agent signings. There’s only one thing worth talking about in pro football right now, and Junior Seau just reminded us what that is.
IF THEY HAD ONLY GIVEN US NORDSTROM, DAYENU: According to a nationwide survey by Public Policy Polling, more Americans have a favorable view of Seattle than any other major U.S. city, followed by Portland, Boston, Atlanta, and Phoenix.  The only three netting negative views: Detroit, Oakland, and Los Angeles.
HE QUITS OR HE DROWNS. THAT'S THE ONLY TWO THINGS GETTING HIM OFF THE FUCKING BOAT, SO HELP ME GOD: Taken as a pair, the Wire season two episodes "Hard Cases" and "Undertow" get us as close as we've been to the world of the first season -- the police team is all back together under one roof, Bubbs is back, Avon and Stringer and especially Maury Levy remain one step ahead of the authorities ... and yet most of it felt unsatisfying to me.

Unlike the daring way in which the season started, with the police scattered to the four corners of the city, the reunions felt a bit indulgent, taking us away from the (what-we-believe-to-be) realism which otherwise marks the series. Two moments in particular felt off -- the parallel dinner montage of Griggs and Daniels explaining to their spouses why they're abandoning the law to be police again, and Stringer's return to economics class (as student, and then as teacher).  Both just felt like artificial crowd-pleasing devices in ways that I didn't think The Wire operated.

So what grabbed me these episodes?  The Sobotkas. Completely wrenching seeing all three of them stuck (and in Ziggy's case, stupid) in a 21st-Century Baltimore which no longer values what they can provide, and in which all the choices seem like bad ones.  It's a Springsteen album without the uplifting music to counterbalance the depressing lyrics, and when Frank Sobotka unleashes on Bunk and Beadie with regards to the grand jury, it didn't feel like histrionics at all:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

THE AWARD WITH THE LITTLE SPINNY THING: Unlike last year, there's not a big commercial and critical juggernaut to dominate the Tony Awards (aside from perhaps the Death of a Salesman revival, which is driven to sell-out status largely with stars and a very limited run), though Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, despite its (at best) mixed reviews, is slowly, but surely, making money back.  A few things worth noting in this morning's nominations:
  • Best Play is crazy-competitive this year (at least to get into the nominations), and somewhat surprisingly, The Columnist, The Lyons, and One Man, Two Guv'nors don't make the cut, though Peter and the Starcatcher and Venus in Fur do.
  • In an unusual decision, two of the four nominated scores are for songs in a play (Peter and the Starcatcher and One Man, Two Guv'nors), rather than musicals.  There's an abundance of ineligible scores in new musicals this year (Once, Nice Work If You Can Get It), and distaste for a number of others (Ghost, Spider-Man), so this was an opening.
  • Hardest producer call to make?  Leap of Faith (which I saw in final previews and is kind of a mess) is up for best musical, but no other nods.  Do they stay open in the longshot hope of winning, pitching themselves as the most "original" option (score is entirely new, and the book is significantly retooled from the film)?  (Other nominees in the category are Once, Newsies, and Nice Work.)
  • From the world of TV--Laura Osnes, who won Grease! You're The One That I Want!, is up for Best Actress in a Musical for the long-closed Bonnie and Clyde, and Christian Borle (on the short list of "reasons to still watch Smash) is up for Featured Actor in a Play.  Borle has a decent chance of winning, too.
  • Surprising miss?  Evita--while it's in for best revival, its leading players weren't nominated--its only acting nomination, for Michael Cerveris (aka The Observer from Fringe season 1) as Juan Peron.  Apparently, the Tonys will not be livin' la vida loca.
  • Clearly, the committee was no fan of Spider-Man, but it picks up few (seemingly well-deserved) design nominations.
WHAT DO YOU NEED THAT FOR, DUDE?  In honor of today's publication of Robert Caro's LBJ IV: A New Hope, I invite you to share your favorite Johnsons of fact and fiction.

My list, of course, begins with Gabby Johnson, to whom we are all indebted for clearly stating what needed to be said in authentic frontier gibberish, expressing a courage little seen in this day and age.

Monday, April 30, 2012

LGA SUX:  Travel & Leisure Magazine's reader survey on twenty-two major American airports places all three NYC airports (plus PHL and LAX) in the bottom five, with MSP, CLT, DTW, MCO, and SFO (what, did they not poll US Airways customers?) topping the list. Airports were rated in seven categories: flight delays; design; amenities; food and drink; check-in and security; prominence of Rosetta Stone kiosk; service; and transportation and location.**

(Isaac, don't bother clicking on the link. Slideshow.)

** I may have added one.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: Right about now, in the thick middle part of this season of Game of Thrones, is where all of the rocks the people kicked in the early part of the season start rolling downhill real fast. Renly wants to treat with Robb Stark, but, despite Catelyn's best efforts, won't make peace with his own brother (and, despite that stubbornness, you get the feeling that Loras is right -- Renly would make a good king). Theon hatches a cockeyed plan to go with his cockeyed face. Magaery, who I think is loosely based on Elizabeth Woodville, shows once again that adaptation is an excellent skill. But nobody else learns any lessons -- Winterfell hasn't learned to trust Bran's dreams; Dany hasn't learned to distrust rich weirdos; the Night's Watch hasn't learned to wear earmuffs when camping on an Arctic cliff. The only one learning anything is that dragon, who can now flambe on command.

Of note: the show is doing a great job of making it clear how utterly nuts Brienne is. Also, and this confused me in the books, too, is wildfire supposed to be magic, or is it just green napalm?

MIA: Robb, Jaime, Joffrey, Sansa.
BRINGING BACK EVERY CAST MEMBER EXCEPT THE SMOKE MONSTER STATE'S ATTORNEY AND THE TALKING LION PHONE:  It's amazing, really, that the creators of The Good Wife were confident enough in everything else they've been doing that for the past ten-plus episodes they've completely avoided the question of Alicia's love life. Having dumped Will, she was focused on parenting and work, and that was that. And yet here we are again, with the emotional pull of what once was (with an increasingly admirable Peter) bringing her literally back to the doorstep, and more choices to be made.

Everyone's past came back this week: Kalinda's husband, Michael J. Fox and Martha Plimpton's acting history, Will's basketball games, the Facebook dude, elevators, the Evil Daddy PI ... but the frustrating thing is that a show that has so many threads to bring back might never bring back the ones you want soon enough. Where's Alicia's brother? Eli's daughter? The viral dancing girl?  David Lee?  Eli's crisis management business?  F. Murray Abraham?

Still, think about how far we've come in three seasons, from a show built off a one-line premise into a rich universe of lawyers and politicians, of extended families and so, so many grey areas. There are no artificial "cliffhangers" heading into season four, just a continuing series of human, difficult decisions for the characters to make, and the consequences which inevitably follow.
MOTHER AND CHILD REUNION:  This post is brought to you by Dow Corning. They make fancy plates and glassware ... and napalm.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

SATAN'S MURDERING MACHINES:  Fascinating historical piece by Sarah Goodyear on how the concept of "jaywalking" was invented by America's auto industry to prevent heavy government regulation of urban driving in the 1920s and to overcome the common-law rule that in the case of a collision, the larger, heavier vehicle was deemed to be at fault.

More here, including etymology: a "‘jay’ was a hayseed, out of place in the city; a jaywalker was someone who did not know how to walk in a city."