Saturday, July 21, 2012

"I HAVE TO TRAIN LIKE AN OLYMPIAN NOW": The new nation of South Sudan (anthem here) does not yet have a National Olympic Committee, but it does have an Olympian. Native son (and Florida-based Green Card holder) Guor Marial will be allowed to compete under the Olympic flag, along with three athletes from the former Netherlands Antilles, and they will march in the Opening Ceremonies on that basis.
WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW: A taxonomy of occupations for main characters, through the eyes of writers:
  • Writer: a main character; also a reader surrogate; also occasionally heroic
  • Magazine writer:  a quirky single writer
  • Newspaper writer: a disheveled writer
  • TV writer: a backstabbing, status-obsessed writer
  • Editor: the profession held by a character whose author's last book was about a writer
  • Professor: a kind of writer who has to spend 50 minutes with aspiring writers three times a week
  • Blogger: a writer who is 22
  • Teen: a person who keeps a journal
  • Lawyer: a failed writer who failed at writing before 2007
  • Bartender: a failed writer who failed at writing in or after 2007
  • Policeman: an investigative journalist who did not go to college
  • Musician: an inarticulate writer who is less responsible than other writers
  • Architect: a writer who writes pictures to tell stories that people live in

Thursday, July 19, 2012

HE CAN FIRE THEM ALL AT THE END OF EVERY WEEK--IT'S IN HIS CONTRACT: With the early renewal, writing is underway for the second season of The Newsroom, and Aaron Sorkin has apparently fired pretty much all of the writer's room.  Not sure how much this will help, since only episode 3 had a co-writing credit (former MTV News correspondent Gideon Yago), but it at least indicates that there are going to be some changes in season 2.
DRINKING ICY COLD, BOHEMIA-STYLE BEER: Yes, I am interested in a movie described as The Hangover + Old People starring Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas and Kevin Kline as four friends going to a bachelor party in Las Vegas. Script by Dan Fogelman, who did Tangled, Cars, Fred Claus, and Crazy, Stupid, Love, as well as the December 2012 release The Guilt Trip featuring Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen on a mother-son road trip. 

(Since this is a comedy, that means the return of the Kline-stache, right?)
LIGHTEN UP, YOU'RE TOO PRICE-SENSITIVE: If you're looking for Colbert or The Real World or SpongeBob or WWE:Raw or People Getting Maimed Plus Racism Point O or late-night Friends reruns, don't come looking at my house. DirecTV and Viacom can't decide on the price for Viacom's basic cable channels, so subscribers like me are back to getting our news from the news instead of from The Daily Show. Leading up to the blackout, the trenches of this war were in the crawl, where the content shriveled to maybe 70% of its size, and there were an insane three tiers of argumentative scroll: DirecTV's point at the top; Viacom's counterpoint in the middle; DirecTV's rebuttal at the bottom. And apparently getting the first and last word worked, because DirecTV is winning the P.R. battle.

In fights like this, there isn't a moral high ground.  It's just a business negotiation about how to divide up a customer dollar.  I don't blame either company for trying to make the best deal possible.  But I do hate being spun, and the point that DirecTV is pressing, apparently successfully, is this:  By bundling its popular channels with unpopular ones and charging high prices for the whole package, Viacom is increasing the consumer's satellite bill. 

Which leads this consumer to ask:  then is DirecTV going to reduce my satellite bill for the the duration of the blackout, when nobody is paying for or getting Viacom channels at all? 

Didn't think so.  Thanks, liars. 
APPARENTLY, THEY ARE NOT AS BIG A FAN OF MUSICALS AS WE'D THOUGHT:  A few thoughts about this morning's Emmy nominations:
  • For the first time ever, no network show is nominated for Best Drama Series (Good Wife did not make the cut), though PBS gets in with Downton Abbey.  (Other nominees are Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, and Homeland.)
  • Likewise, HBO has 3 of 6 nominees for Best Comedy--Girls, Veep, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, with Modern Family, 30 Rock, and Big Bang Theory filling out the category (no nomination for Parks and Rec? ).  Modern Family goes 6 for 6, with every adult in the cast getting an acting nomination.
  • Notable snubs--Glee (Dot-Marie Jones is the only major nominee), Smash (Uma Thurman is the only major nominee, though it gets choreography, score, and an original song nod for "Let Me Be Your Star"), Parks and Rec (no love for any of the cast beyond Poehler).
  • Notable surprises--Don Cheadle, lead actor in a comedy for House of Lies, Mayim Bialik, Merritt Wever,  Community getting nominated for writing for "Remedial Chaos Theory," Downton Abbey getting 6 acting nominations and not merely Maggie Smith, much love for Breaking Bad beyond Cranston/Paul. Jason Ritter being the first and only person from Parenthood to get a nomination.
I'm sure there's more, but that's just a quick read.  Share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

IKE AND MINDY? Worse for the legacy of Dwight David Eisenhower--the ongoing argument over what his memorial in DC should look like or the news that Robin Williams will be playing him in an upcoming movie?
IN SOVIET RUSSIA, KINDLE READS YOU!  Actually, here too, as the WSJ's Alexandra Alter explained to NPR's On The Media last weekend just what publishers may do with the data that Amazon is compiling:
For them to be able to see most readers are skipping the introduction of this book, most readers are heavily underlining the third chapter of this book, that’s a pretty good indication of what is of interest to large groups of readers. They can use that to tailor books to people’s taste more.

Of course, not every book will be put through a focus group. I mean, you’re not gonna have Jonathan Franzen’s next novel cut in half because 30% of people didn’t finish Freedom, 25% of people didn’t finish The Corrections.

But I have talked to publishers who said, you know, they would like to have this kind of information. They wish Amazon would share it. Barnes & Noble intends to share some of it with publishers. So they’re looking forward to having a better sense of what readers like.
More, in her precursor piece for the WSJ:
FISH ARE FRIENDS, NOT FOOD:  A Finding Nemo sequel? Really?  I mean, it could be Toy Story 2 (or 3), but it could also be Cars 2. I'd rather see them try something new with mixed results like Brave than go back to this ... ocean.
AIN'T NOBODY GOT NOTHIN' TO SAY ABOUT A FORTY DEGREE DAY:  I'm not quite sure how to summarize two episodes of The Wire like "Dead Soldiers" and "Hamsterdam," which do such an amazing job of explaining how difficult it is to try to reform the systems you're in. Bunny Colvin can't seem to get the police or the public on board with his idea for Amsterdam-by-the-Bay, Stringer can't get his crew to not be knuckleheads while he's going legit, and Cutty, poor Cutty, well, we can guess where that may be going.

And then there's Tommy Carcetti, ambitious and narcissistic enough to be grinning at himself at the mirror during a one-night stand, yet caring enough about policy to show up at a West Baltimore community meeting attended by maybe ten people, none of whom are actually his constituents, and only one of whom is a beloved deceased member of the E Street Band. He wants to run for Mayor ... why?  Both reasons? Yeah, that might be true to politics.

Meanwhile, Marlo Stanfield is our new Big Bad of the season, even if the police have no idea that he's not part of the Barksdale Organization (which Avon is about to rejoin); McNulty and Cool Lester Smooth are butting heads; and no one in the unit is George Washington Carver.  Oh, well, here's The Pogues, "The Body of an American."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

AN HONORABLE FINALE:  Roger Ebert likes, but doesn't love, The Dark Knight Rises. (Review appears to be spoiler-free.)
GOTYE RAE JEPSEN: Yes, an enterprising soul has mashed up "Somebody That I Used To Know" and "Call Me Maybe."  Has he created an abomination that must be destroyed or an all-powerful fusion of Songs of the Summer?  Discuss.
PAGING DALEY THOMPSON:  With the Games of the XXX Olympiad set to open next Friday night, I am interested as always in promoting the best guest commentary out there (Our Beijing coverage is mostly here and here.) If there's an athletic discipline in for which you have particular insight and feel like contributing, let me know.

In the meantime, I plan to cover my normal topics -- the joys of pageantry, my problems with the International Olympic Committee and [insert local tyrannical regime here], the Israeli women's rhythmic gymnastics squad, speculation over the final torch bearer, the biennial article about Olympic Village hookups, and, of course, whether Michael Phelps should extend his celebrity with his post-Olympics film debut in Swimkata.

Monday, July 16, 2012

HE SAW THAT HEAVENLY LIGHT:  I need Warren Zevon fans and others to settle a dispute between me and Alan Sepinwall: does Buddy die at the end of "Hit Somebody," or is he merely concussed?  (Listen to the song here.)
FIXED YOU: May I take a moment to suggest the following revisions to your viewing of Newsroom, which might (might) make it easier to watch?
  1. Every time that the show (usually Will McAvoy) says that Will McAvoy is a Republican, pretend that it didn't say that. Instead, pretend that the show acknowledges what we all know is true: Will McAvoy is an openly partisan cable newscaster delivering a Democratic-slanted program. What's the matter with acknowledging that? I don't get how that would hurt the narrative.
  2. Don't look at Will McAvoy as the hero of the show. See him as a Tony Soprano/Walter White/Marlo Stanfield anti-hero, except with bloviating and condescension as his MO instead of crime. And his sidekicks, like Jim Harper, are the equivalent of rising gang lieutenants like Christopher Moltisanti or Jesse Pinkman, learning to sublimate their more human impulses and to emulate their boss's mannerisms, like meting out a professional (or, rather, unprofessional) punishment for a personal fight with the woman a man with power wants but can't have. And Leona is the FBI/Hank/Daniels who is going to put him where he belongs.
See, one modest factual revision and one change in perspective, and suddenly there's a show worth getting invested in. Go get him, Hanoi Jane!
THE FIRST BATTLE OF BULL RUN: Donald J. Sobol, author of the Encyclopedia Brown series of mysteries for kids, has passed away.  Bugs Meany could not be reached for comment.
WORLD WAR CLOWN: Yes, this year's Gathering of the Juggalos infomercial is zombie apocalypse-themed (questionably SFW, due to language).  Among the more inexplicable special guests this year--George Clinton, Biz Markie, Cheech & Chong, Bobcat Goldthwait, Jamie Kennedy, and for some reason, Ric Flair (WOOO!).

Sunday, July 15, 2012

BENEDICT ARNOLD, YOUR NAME WILL GO DOWN IN THE ANALS OF HISTORY!  That, verbatim, is what my father yelled at the general at Colonial Williamsburg on Friday, as Arnold on horseback was lecturing a crowd as to why the revolution was failing and why we all ought to join him in supporting the Loyalists.

I hadn't been in Williamsburg in at least 25 years, and I'm glad I took my daughters there as part of our trip this past week. The colonial craft skills were much as I remember them -- the smiths, the coopers, the milliners and the others all demonstrated their talents well, answered questions from the kids and were patient with the grownups who tried to take them off-character.  What I appreciate more now, however, is how hard they work to paint a nuanced picture of Revolutionary Era.  The street theater reenactments alternate each day -- Su/Tu/Th/Sa are set in the years before 1776, the others in 1779-80 -- allowing for varying views on how things were going, and there was much more discussion of slavery and religion than I recall from growing up. Really well done.

Bullet points from the Midatlantic Adventure, below the fold.

IT'S COMPLETELY BAKED:  Fantastic trivia question via Edward Copeland: with the recent passing of Ernest Borgnine (Marty, 1961 1955) and now Celeste Holm (Gentleman's Agreement, 1947) today, who is now the longest-ago Oscar winner in each of the five major categories who's still living?