Saturday, April 13, 2013

NO, IT'S NOT A HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY SEQUEL: 42 is an exceedingly well-crafted film--yes, you can see the blueprint, but it's such a darn effective one that it works.  Indeed, it's probably got our first Oscar contender of the year in Harrison Ford, who actually gets to act for the first time in a long time as Branch Rickey.  There are a bunch of other fine performances from H!ITG!'s as well, most notably Alan Tudyk being cast wildly against type as the racist manager of the Phillies, and John C. McGinley as the Dodgers' radio voice. 

The film's so old-fashioned that there's almost nothing objectionable in it with one glaring exception.  The n-word is dropped, regularly--indeed, there's a scene where Tudyk attempts to unnerve Robinson by chanting it from the dugout while he's at bat and one in which a child shouts it at Robinson.  The movie is rated PG-13 for "thematic elements, including language," but wow, that was harsh to watch.

Friday, April 12, 2013

MORE INFLUENTIAL THAN SUCCESSFUL:  That's how the last paragraph of the NYT's Jonathan Winters obit today begins, and that feels right to me. Until I read the Winters chapter in Gerald Nachman's Seriously Funny, I only understood Winters as someone I was supposed to appreciate as having been funny, but whom I hadn't really seen do anything funny. I think it was this quote from one-time costar Robert Morse -- yes, SCDP's Bert Cooper, which explained it to me best:
Jonny sees things fifty-nine-dimensionally. Give me a hairbrush and I see a hairbrush. Give Jonny a hairbrush and it will be a dozen different things. He could break you up with a paper clip.
His comedic heirs include Robin Williams, of course, but also anyone you'd characterize as improv- and character-based, and "zany" - Lily Tomlin, Andy Kaufman, and Jim Carrey are among those whose careers are clearly branches from Winters' comedic tree. Perhaps the best honor comes from a Dick van Dyke tweet: "The first time I saw Jonathan Winters perform, I thought I might as well quit the business. Because, I could never be as brilliant."
YOU CAN KEEP THE MEAT DRESS AND THE FIRECRACKER TITS—MERMAID'S MINE: Nice NYT profile of Bette Midler on the eve of her Broadway return, in which she expresses regret over two film roles she turned down:
"Producers kept offering me the ‘Sister Act’ movie, but I said, ‘My fans don’t want to see me in a wimple.’ I literally said, ‘My fans don’t want to see me in a wimple.’

“And ‘Misery’ — I turned that down because I didn’t want to saw off someone’s foot, even though the role won an Oscar,” Ms. Midler said of Kathy Bates’s turn in the adaptation of the Stephen King thriller. “It was stupid to say no to those pictures. And while I was unsure about doing this play, I felt it was time for me to say yes.”
(Yes, I've used that title quote before; am still waiting to employ it in a formal pleading. Indeed, the Divine Miss M has balls.)
BUT DOES IT CONTAIN WALTZING?  Raves for Matilda: The Musical have begun pouring in after last night's opening (setting up an interesting race between it and Kinky Boots in most of the top categories at the Tonys this year), but it seems the PR team might not have been so well prepared.  (The most interesting question in my mind is if the Tonys are going to bend the "opening night" rule, as they did for Billy Elliot, and allow all 4 girls who rotate in the title role to be considered as a unit for a Best Actress nomination.)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

SHUT. IT. DOWN.  A supercut of Scandal's Olivia Pope telling people to do things.
IF YOU CAN'T READ THE PIECE NOW, DVR IT AND READ IT LATER: Our friend Alan Sepinwall asks a question which would have seemed ludicrous to ask until very recently: is there just too much good tv currently airing to keep up with it all?  Is it a particular problem (a) for shows which take time to find their footing, and (b) for serialized shows, which are so much more prevalent than before?
FROM THE ALOTT5MA OCCASIONAL GENEROSITY DESK: A guest post from commenter Sue, with many interesting items below the fold.
* * *
Hello, fellow ALOTT5MAers!  As you may know, I work for an Off Broadway theater called Playwrights Horizons. Each year, to raise funds to support productions of new plays and musicals (such as the world premieres of Clybourne ParkGrey GardensI Am My Own Wife and many more), we hold an Online Auction.   Most of the items take place in NYC, but there are also set visits and tapings in L.A., theater packages in Chicago and D.C., and trips to Mexico, Palm Springs, Sun Valley, London and Africa!  
Best of all, there are dozens of items in the world of pop culture and sports that I think will interest the gang here, including:
HEY, KETTLE, THIS IS POT CALLING: American Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe complains that Game of Thrones is currently moving too slowly.  Maybe look at your own show's padding first, hmmm?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

FINGER PRINCE: So we've been through a lot of Animaniacs, Brady Bunch, even select seasons of Survivor (1, 2, 6) lately -- what stuff are you showing your kids on tv these days (either DVR-able or via Netflix streaming) which makes you feel like a better parent?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

IT'S LIKE EBERT STUCK TWO THUMBS UP YOUR ASS AND HAD A TUG-OF-WAR WITH HIMSELF:  Suppose you were the guy who wrote North. What would you say when you met Roger Ebert, and how might he respond?

Also, if you haven't read it lately, Ebert's Viewers Guide to Citizen Kane is always worth another look.
I HAVE AN M.D. FROM HARVARD. I AM BOARD CERTIFIED IN CARDIOTHORACIC MEDICINE AND TRAUMA SURGERY. I HAVE BEEN AWARDED CITATIONS FROM SEVEN DIFFERENT MEDICAL BOARDS IN NEW ENGLAND; AND I AM NEVER, EVER SICK AT SEA: Please, please NBC, please double-up the awesomeness of a Fallon/Roots Tonight Show with an Alec Baldwin-hosted Charlie Rose-style show thereafter. Please?
BEE SURPRISED:  They are adding two vocabulary quizzes to the National Spelling Bee, starting this year, among several major changes to the competition. As this flowchart (fixed, because for once in my life I got to ding the BeeKeepers) and the rules explain, it now goes like this:
  • spelling+vocab computer quiz Tuesday morning.
  • two live rounds on Wednesday, but if you're wrong on either, you're out, period -- acing the computer quiz cannot save you. (I forget if anyone has been so saved in recent year.)
  • Computer quiz + Wednesday live round results yields a cut down to 50.
  • Another spelling+vocab computer quiz Wednesday night.
  • Two, and only two, live rounds Thursday morning afternoon. Ding-and-out.
  • No matter what happens, even if you've gotten all four live rounds correct, you can still be cut before prime time.  They're trying to take no more than twelve, but at least nine spellers into prime time. Read carefully:  "Beginning at 72 on the chart, spellers at each consecutive scoring level are added until a sum of no more than 12 spellers has been attained. All remaining spellers are eliminated unless, in the course of applying the maximum of 12 standard, it appears that fewer than nine spellers will qualify for the Championship Finals: in this circumstance, spellers at the next consecutive scoring level (or levels) may be named as Championship Finalists if, in sole determination of Bee officials, there is sufficient time and word list content to accommodate additional spellers in the Championship Finals."
  • Championship finals appear to be the same, except it's on ESPN this year, not interfering with Shondaland. 
I like the idea of adding vocabulary to the Bee, though not at this late date for this year's competition. I expect that this was also motivated in part by ESPN's (or the Bee's) desire to have greater control over the timing of Thursday's competition, that they could make sure to hit their target number for primetime through means other that (what has seemed to be) artificially adjusting the difficulty of the word list between and within rounds.

Which leads to the fundamental question: are we okay with a Bee in which many kids will be eliminated not be spelling a word wrong on stage, but by performance in a private, computerized competition? Clear pros and cons -- it spares these young people that public moment of failure, which can be both scarring and motivating -- but it also deprives the audience of the full drama. I have long noted that the Bee is, in essence, a long process by which we see every kid (but one) misspell a word, which is ironic and more than a little sad, but putting myself back in my early adolescent hypercompetitive brain, I think that's what the kids want -- win or lose (and likely lose), to have it happen on the stage, in that moment of spotlight and pressure.

My thoughts on this are not firm, and obviously I'd love to hear from our broader Bee community on this one.

added: As Bee veteran Joseph White of the AP now reports, this is, in part, a response to the the 2010 debacle when a Thursday afternoon round was cut short because too many kids were being eliminated, leading kids in the back-of-the-alphabet states a shortcut to primetime.

added 4.10.03: One writer wonders whether this might have a disproportionate impact against Indian-American spellers, who may be more likely to go the memorization route.

Monday, April 8, 2013

  1. Number of players from the British Office who have wielded chipped steel on Game of Thrones: 2
  2. Number of children from Hugh Grant vehicles appearing on last night's episode of Game of Thrones: 2
  3. Number of Hollywood royalty playing fake royalty on Game of Thrones: 1
  4. Eras most associated with Don Draper's current and former paramours appearing last night, based upon other credits: 1960s (X-Men: First Class); early 1980s (Freaks & Geeks); pan-1980s (Hot Tub Time Machine)
  5. Most irritatingly unrealistic presence: friction on fake snow
  6. Most irritatingly unnecessary presence: Theon Greyjoy
  7. Sore thumb: James Wolk
  8. Number of women brandishing weapons on Game of Thrones even though Daenerys was absent: (Brienne, Arya, Osha, Meera, Ygritte, Margaery)
  9. Rickon vs. Bobby: Bobby
  10. Cersei vs. Catelyn vs. Betty vs. Roger's mom:  (1) Roger's mom; (2) Betty; (3) Cersei; (4) Catelyn
  11. Roose Bolton vs. Ken Cosgrove:  Cosgrove
  12. Dowager Lady Olenna Tyrell vs. Dowager Lady Pauline Francis: Lady Pauline (upset!)
  13. Tyrion vs. Roger (quips): Roger
  14. Joffrey vs. Sally (parental abuse): Sally
  15. Sansa vs. Violin Girl (poor choices): Sansa
  16. Margaery vs. Meghan (Q rating): Meghan
  17. Riverrun vs. River Water: Tie
  18. Cakes and cheese vs. finger sandwiches: Cakes and cheese
  19. Jewel-encrusted lever-action crossbow vs. dream-catcher vs. violin case vs. military lighter vs. shoeshine box: shoeshine box
  20. Indistinguishable: Night's Watch and St. Mark's Place Hippies
  21. Indistinguishable except for coed composition: Brotherhood Without Banners and Writers' Room
  22. Marching orders, Night's Watch: Trudge straight that way for a season, then turn around and go straight back
  23. Marching orders, Army Beyond the Wall: Trudge straight that other way
  24. Marching orders, Army of the Northmen: Go that way, then loop around the other way, and then if you get a chance go back around for a funeral or something
  25. Marching orders, copy writers: write better, don't say anything about love or severed ears
FROM THE ALOTT5MA TRAVEL DESK, WEEP NO MORE DIVISION: Commenter Bill couldn't help but wonder, on a day when the target city is much in the news:
I'm meeting some friends for the Kentucky Derby and was hoping someone had any ideas for things to do. I'll be in Louisville from Thursday through Sunday.

And a second question for those who have no answer for the first. I'm looking for audiobook suggestions for my 12 hour roundtrip drive. I'm not much of an audiobook person, as I only have two. The one I recommend to everyone is "True Grit" as brilliantly read by Donna Tartt (here's a 10 minute sample). The other is "Snow Crash," which I enjoy, but then I'm a Neal Stephenson groupie.
SCHNEEBLY!  Andrew Lloyd Webber has optioned the rights to produce School of Rock: The Musical. Other than the fact that that's an awful lot of young performers to be carrying an eight-times-a-week production, at least as many as Annie, sounds to me like an idea which could work, and not just for the "Edge of Seventeen" number.