Saturday, November 12, 2005
Friday, November 11, 2005
I am frightened by the imbalance, the constant striving to reach the largest possible audience for everything; by the absence of a sustained study of the state of the nation. Heywood Broun once said, "No body politic is healthy until it begins to itch." I would like television to produce some itching pills rather than this endless outpouring of tranquilizers. It can be done. Maybe it won't be, but it could. Let us not shoot the wrong piano player. Do not be deluded into believing that the titular heads of the networks control what appears on their networks. They all have better taste. All are responsible to stockholders, and in my experience all are honorable men. But they must schedule what they can sell in the public market. . . .
We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.
I do not advocate that we turn television into a 27-inch wailing wall, where longhairs constantly moan about the state of our culture and our defense. But I would just like to see it reflect occasionally the hard, unyielding realities of the world in which we live. . . . This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box.
Designed to express the playful qualities of five little children who form an intimate circle of friends, the Five Friendlies also embody the natural characteristics of four of China's most popular animals -- the Fish, the Panda, the Tibetan Antelope, the Swallow -- and the Olympic Flame.
In China's traditional culture and art, the fish and water designs are symbols of prosperity and harvest. And so Beibei carries the blessing of prosperity. A fish is also a symbol of surplus in Chinese culture, another measure of a good year and a good life. The ornamental lines of the water-wave designs are taken from well-known Chinese paintings of the past. Among the Five Friendlies, Beibei is known to be gentle and pure. Strong in water sports, she reflects the blue Olympic ring.
Each of the Friendlies has a rhyming two-syllable name--a traditional way of expressing affection for children in China. Beibei is the Fish, Jingjing is the Panda, Huanhuan is the Olympic Flame, Yingying is the Tibetan Antelope and Nini is the Swallow.
You can see the super-cuddly-and-not-at-all-indicative-of-any-looming-threat-towards-Taiwan Five Friendlies engaging in all the Olympic disciplines, including a Panthers cheerleader-quality judo match, via this link.
(Also, what are the odds I can get right now on Yao Ming being the final torchbearer?)
- Sandra Bullock, whose film output this year consisted of a tiny role in Crash and the exerable Miss Congeniality 2 as "Female movie star"
- The Rock as "Male action star"
- That 70s Show as "TV Comedy"
- Fear Factor over TAR in "Reality Show Competition"
- Jennifer Love Hewitt as "Female TV Star."
- Nary a nomination for Lost
I suspect there might be some "pop culture fans" around here that'd have something to say about this.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
"This one's for the moms and dads." In a simple line by way of introduction of "Long Time Comin,'" from his latest album, Devils & Dust, Bruce Springsteen summed up a long-brewing turn in his nearly 35 years of popular storytelling. His early songs often return to the theme of fathers and sons….but back then, Bruce was the son chafing under the stern father, singing about their divergent paths and wants, about the indignities his working-class pa had to endure, about getting out. Since he became a father himself, though, he has frequently examined the parent's desire to protect the child, to hope, to do better by the next generation -- how, to paraphrase "Long Time Comin'," not to eff it up this time.
Over the last two nights at the theater-configured Spectrum in Philadelphia -- always a venue where Bruce brings the magic -- he took the crowd down both paths, exploring the theme of family bonds - fathers, mothers, children, brothers (biological and in-arms), husbands and wives. And then he blew the doors off the place by dipping into his vast catalog for deep album cuts (like The River's sublime "Drive All Night," not played live in 24 years, and "Fade Away") and fan-favorite obscurities ("Thundercrack" and -- shaking off 32 years of dust -- "Santa Ana") that earned him long and loud standing ovations.
Moving mostly skillfully from guitar to piano to electric organ, and then entertainingly to ukelele ("I Wanna Marry You," "Growin' Up"), pump organ (the hypnotic cover of Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream" with which he now closes each show), and even autoharp ("The New Timer"), Bruce kept the crowd alternately at rapt, respectful attention and in foot-stompin', hand-clappin', rollicking good spirits. New arrangements of "The Ties That Bind" and "Adam Raised a Cain" stood out, and faithful renditions of other favorites from The River and Nebraska helped flesh out both shows. Pins could have been heard to drop during a fantastic version of "Highway Patrolman."
Both nights found Bruce in strong voice, with a range that has stretched over the years to include a falsetto that he uses to nice accompanying effect in some of the more contemplative songs. He was loose and ready to make with the funny too -- a factor noticeably absent for much of his first solo tour nearly a decade ago and even the first leg of this tour, when he was still heard to crankily admonish fans to shut up during the slow songs. Introducing a gorgeous piano version of "Incident on 57th Street," he spoke about the hidden subtext of all great pop songs -- they all ask the musical question "Will you pull down your pants?" as in "Tramps like us, baby we were born to run…and would you please pull down your pants." Both nights, he led into "Jesus Was an Only Son," off the latest album, by recalling his Catholic upbringing in Freehold, New Jersey, where virtually every member of his wacky extended family lived along an L-shaped street dominated by the local church, convent and rectory. But where on night 1 he used an extended thumb and forefinger to represent the street as he described the lay of the neighborhood from the piano bench, on night 2 he gleefully offered a demonstrative exhibit to the crowd -- a hand-drawn visual aid on posterboard, done in colorful magic marker by an eager fan, which tracked almost exactly his description from the night before. He moved confidently from the lighthearted introduction into the song and then, between verses, gave us the VH1 Storytellers treatment, talking about what he was thinking about while writing the lyrics.
(A side note: while I share Max Weinberg's faith and not Bruce's, "Jesus Was an Only Son" is a terrific, moving song about a mother's devotion to her son and coming to terms with loss. Just happens to involve Mary and Jesus as the main characters.)
Lest you think the hero worship here is getting a bit too thick (I swear I was not the fan who supplied that visual aid), I'll say that there are two very surmountable problems with the show as constructed. Each night, Springsteen converts one or two of his songs from the River-Nebraska-Born in the USA canon into a Delta blues wail, Robert Johnson style (lyric, bluesy wa-waaaa-wa-wa harmonica riff, lyric, etc.). I like the concept, and the songs adapt well in theory -- but in execution, it's just unintelligible. He sings these revamped versions into something called a "bullet mic," which gives an echoey, crackly distortion effect to the vocals and harmonica (as if you are hearing a long lost Edison cylinder recording), while he accompanies himself with foot stomps on a mic'ed up platform. Whether it's the sound mix, the Spectrum acoustics, the technology or a combination of those factors, you just can't hear the lyrics. At all. The first night, he opened with "Born in the USA" in this style, and it took me two verses to figure out what the hell the song was -- others were still scratching their heads at the end of the show wondering what he'd opened with. (Though his energetic foot stomping did provide an early opportunity to lighten things up -- his water glass fell from a nearby side table and shattered mid-song, and the Tiffany-style lamp on the table also broke, prompting Bruce to note, "That lamp was on loan….[my wife]'s gonna kiiiiiiiillllll me."). The bullet mic mix the second night, this time on "Reason to Believe," was a little better, but this is a kink that should have been worked out well before the middle of the third leg of the tour.
Issue the second: Both nights, the main sets closed with devastating first-person narratives ("The Hitter" on night 1, "The New Timer" on night 2, each followed by "Matamoras Banks"). The songs are lyrically rich and challenging and fit thematically with the relationship motif running through the show, but the tone is just too relentlessly downbeat, and the pace is deadeningly slow. Bruce loses folks here -- certainly some of the more casual fans -- by saving these songs until the end of the main set. That said, (a) he leaves 'em wanting more, and (b) he gets the crowd right back before playing the first note of the encore when he strides back out on stage with a ukelele and quips "I woke up one morning in the penthouse of the Disneyland Resort hotel with two Mouseketeers, Britney Spears, and this ukelele…."
These solo shows are not for everyone, or even for every Bruce fan. If you want to dance around and sing along in full voice to Born to Run, Rosalita, Badlands, or the like, you'll not find those opportunities here. But you had your chance to see that show for the past two tours, in big arena and stadium settings. This is a more intimate deal, generally a more quiet and introspective take on his music mixing the old, the new, and the new versions of the old -- a return to Bruce as singer-songwriter-troubadour. My bottom line: I have seen Springsteen play live 16 times since 1988, with the E-Street Band, as a solo act, and with his 1992-era non-E-Street backing group, and these outstanding Spectrum gigs over the past two nights have zoomed right into my top 5 Bruce shows.
Very very very small silver lining alert: You can use this opportunity to brush up on your Prison Break reruns, which will be running in the AD/KC slot.
On the the Rory/Logan relationship: "Logan and Rory are going to hit a rough patch. Logan and Rory's relationship has never been based on deep talkin'. Their relationship has been based on 'Let's have fun! Let's avoid reality! Let's just go play and party!' And Rory doesn't want to avoid reality anymore. And that's going to alter her relationship with Logan. [That being said,] we have [Matt Czuchry] for the entire year, so kids need to remember that. He's getting paid for the whole year. You don't want to waste that when you're paying for it. But there are going to be a lot of ups and downs for Rory and Logan."
On why we haven't heard Lorelai and Luke whisper those three little words to each other: "To me, they say 'I love you' to each other every single day. Everything that they do, the way they care for each other, the way they take care of each other.… 'I love you,' for me, is a tricky phrase on television because I think it's way overused, as it is in life. I think they constantly button scenes with, 'I love you.' 'I love you, too.' 'I love you, Mom.' 'I love you, Butchy.' 'I love you, Johnny.' 'I love you, Fluffy.' There's just nothing but I love yous and so little goes behind it. And part of what I love about Luke and Lorelai is they don't do that. They just love each other. They just take care of each other. They just support each other. They do everything that you're supposed to do and they don't have to say 'I love you' 100,000 times. And when the words finally come out and when we feel like we actually need to write them down, it's probably going to come at a very odd time."
I think this is a woman who ought to be writing for TV, you know?
Wednesday, November 9, 2005
(For those interested in reading more about the Rubin-Cash sessions, Vanity Fair had a great article on the subject in its October 2004 issue. If you're motivated, the article on the farce of the presidential election in Florida in 2000, is worth reading too.)
All of this is a roundabout way of trying to ask you who you think would benefit from a Rubin Extreme Makeover. The ideal candidate will have been someone with a great deal of talent who at some point went astray. Paul McCartney seems an obvious choice, but he's too big a name. It also needs to be someone who you've almost forgotten was once a real talent. No one is ever going to forget what McCartney or the Stones or Stevie Wonder once were, no matter how many decades they are removed from their artistic salad days.
A music critic friend of mine suggested Rod Stewart, who I think is a great choice for Rubinizing. Who do you think?
But the big highlight of this episode was without a doubt the Emily / Rory smackdown in front of the balalaikas. Although it wasn't the most nuanced depiction of Emily we've ever witnessed, it's about time that someone realized that Lorelai is the fulcrum on which all of these relationships are balanced.
I will say this one last time: transgression is not inherently funny. There needs to be a point. She's just not worth this attention.
Whether you should read it is pretty much determined by whether you appreciate this paragraph on the Minnesota Vikings sex cruise:
But the sex boat situation still bothers me. And it bothers me because the Vikings are football players. When Minnesota beat the Green Bay Packers 23-20 that week on a 56-yard field goal, and the Fox cameras cut to a close-up of Daunte Culpepper kneeling on the ground in prayer, I found myself disgusted. This felt like a travesty. You see, Brett Favre would not have been on that sex boat. I know this. I know this because BRETT FAVRE JUST LIKES TO PLAY THE GAME. BRETT FAVRE JUST WANTS TO GO OUT THERE AND THROW THE OLD PIGSKIN AROUND THE OLD BACKYARD. AND YOU KNOW, SOMETIMES BRETT FAVRE HURTS YOU, BECAUSE BRETT FAVRE TAKES A LOT OF RISKS. HE'S A RIVERBOAT GAMBLER! BUT YOU CAN NEVER FAULT BRETT FAVRE, BECAUSE BRETT FAVRE LOVES TO PLAY THE GAME. BRETT FAVRE WOULD PLAY FOR FREE. IN FACT, IF THERE WERE NO OTHER OPTION, BRETT FAVRE WOULD TAKE OUT A SMALL BUSINESS LOAN FROM A LOCALLY OWNED BANKING INSTITUTION AND PAY THE NFL FOR THE OPPORTUNITY TO THROW THE FOOTBALL TO THE LIKES OF DONALD DRIVER, BECAUSE BRETT FAVRE EMBODIES A DYING MYTHOLOGY WHICH SUGGESTS THAT THE ICONS OF A SOCIETY CAN REPRESENT (AND AT TIMES TRANSCEND) THE HIGHEST VALUES OF THAT SOCIETY IN A WHOLLY ALTRUISTIC CONTEXT. DO YOU NOT REALIZE THAT BRETT FAVRE LOVES TO PLAY THE GAME? WELL, HE VERY MUCH DOES.
Sure, but what kind of latte does Chuck drink?
Tuesday, November 8, 2005
First, the bullet points.
- I just don't like Matthew Broderick. I know I've rehashed this topic repeatedly, but enough with the adenoids already. That being said, he has some cute moments as Felix, most of which don't involve the use of his voice. He does an obsessive-compulsive pas-de-deux with a vacuum cleaner that is quite entertaining, and a bit where he takes on the embittered-wife role with Oscar is a riot.
- Nathan Lane really shouldn't be playing Oscar Madison. He's just not so believable as a sloppy hard-drinking wanna-be womanizer. Lane really came into his own in the fourth act, when Oscar has had it up to here with Felix and pretty much loses his mind and transforms back into Nathan Lane. Lane plays seething hysterical frustration like no one else -- when his voice goes up several octaves and several decibels to shout that the pasta isn't spaghetti, it's linGUEEEEEEE-NEEEEEEEE, I couldn't breathe for the next two minutes for all the laughing and the crying that goes with all the laughing. But that was one act out of four.
- Brad Garrett would have no career whatsoever if he were a foot shorter and his voice were an octave higher. He's a lucky lucky member of the gene pool.
- But did I have a major HITG! moment of the highest order. I spent the first fifteen minutes of the show staring at Roy, Oscar's accountant and one of Oscar and Felix's poker buddies, thinking "I know who that is, I know who that is." But the actor's name, Peter Frechette, didn't ring any bells. When I got home, I checked to see if I was correct, and oh, what a happy day: Peter Frechette had the honor of portraying Louis DiMucci in the vastly underrated cinematic masterpiece that is Grease 2. (A/k/a the Let's Do It For Our Country guy.)
- All of this being said, The Odd Couple is a perfectly serviceable and entertaining night at the theatre. One thing that would make it better: Broderick and Lane doing a John C. Reilly / Philip Seymour Hoffman in True West role switcheroo.
As Mr. Cosmopolitan and I were walking home commenting on the perfectly serviceable and entertaining night we'd had at the theatre, we took a minute to reflect on another evening at the theatre that rose far beyond perfectly serviceable and entertaining.
Three weeks after September 11, 2001, we stood in line to undergo several rounds of NYPD-sponsored security in order to see the Broadway revival of Noises Off. Noises Off -- in my view the funniest play ever written -- is laugh-your-ass-off hilarious even without great acting. But a spectacular cast, including Peter Gallagher, Patti LuPone, Faith Prince (just to mention the recognizable names), and especially the brilliant Katie Finneran, managed to transform a theatre full of shell-shocked New Yorkers aching for something to fill their collective emptiness into a community of joyously delirious lunatics, struggling to breathe in between shrieks of laughter. I remember looking over at my normally even-keeled husband and watching him quake in his seat, both hands over his mouth and tears pouring down his face, struggling to keep himself together as Katie Finneran ran up and down the stairs shouting "No bag! No bag! No bag!"
A more transcendent night of theatre I have never experienced. Take that, Matthew Broderick.
Set to film next spring, producers are looking at unknowns for Tracy Turnblad, and are talking to Aretha Franklin as Motormouth Maybelle.
Monday, November 7, 2005
I can tell you that MTV's Miss Seventeen, based on an initial watching, merits attention: think America's Next Top Model but with budding journalists. Cute urban fun. Also, I have a feeling that if I were ten years younger, I'd be all over Laguna Beach -- but at this point, not only have I never watched it, I don't even know if it's scripted or reality.
As a judge and Justice, Sam Alito must put personal emotion aside and weigh matters impassionately and neutrally. He must come to the bench without preconceived notions and let the facts of the individual case before him drive his decision.
Yet, how can someone who is a professed Phillies fan claim to have this capacity? No rational thinker should be a Phillies fan. There's just no argument one can make to support such an existence. Most losses in professional sports? Check. Heartbreaking, devastating, crushing exits from post-season races? Check. Management and ownership groups who rarely care one iota about winning? Check. Players who don't relate to the fanbase, openly criticizing it much of the time? Check.
Imagine the confirmation hearing quandry he'll be put in: "Judge Alito, can you please explain to this Committee and the American people your futile, irrational, downright absurd endeavor in committing yourself to the Phillies? How can we trust a Phillies fan to avoid making such irresponsible judgments in cases brought before the Supreme Court?" Simply, there's no answer to that question.
What we have in Phillies phans are people who are utterly disconnected from rational, unbiased thought and from reality itself. They are committed instead to emotion, personal whim, and perpetual fantasy. Sam Alito is a devotee to the Phillies and thus a devotee to these un-judgelike qualities. He is decidedly not Supreme Court Justice material, and we phans know it better than anyone else.
Up next: do Oakland A's or San Francisco Giants fans make better judges?
From what I can tell, the secret to becoming a bona fide supermodel these days is to be a 14 year old alien from the planet Waifling. I'm perfectly happy with my sweetly dysfunctional fat old American girls.
Sunday, November 6, 2005
But for the rest of America, and especially the 12-25 year olds who drive the box office these days, I wonder what it's going to take to see a movie with no bankable stars and no songs they know. The marketing seems to be They're Young! They're In Love! They're In New York! And They're Singing!
Which is true, I guess, but only to a point. Because there's also the fact that they're all (romanticized) poor and some are living with HIV and AIDS. Or the compelling personal story of Rent creator Jonathan Larson, and how huge of a Broadway phenomenon it has been. Or the La Boheme angle.
I just wonder if they might have been better off going with a star-driven cast, with Justin Timberlake as Roger, magical elf Clay Aiken as Mark Cohen, and then you can sneak in Idina Menzel and Wilson Heredia from the original cast (and of course, keep Taye Diggs -- because he's Taye Diggs).
So, how do you get America to see a movie where they don't know any of the stars and don't already know the story? Am curious about your thoughts -- or am I sensing a problem you don't think exists?
He's not a romantic lead; he's more of the Timid Everyman Who'd Like To Think He's Smart (which makes him perfect for Leo Bloom), and he plays Aggrieved By The World pretty well. Which got me to thinking: how good of a job would Broderick have done playing Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo? He might have even been better than William H. Macy, if that's possible.
Your thoughts on other Broderick Acting Triumphs in an alternative universe are welcome.