Saturday, March 22, 2008

"A LOT OF PEOPLE DON'T REALIZE YOU CAN GO INTO BEST BUY AND ASK THEM FOR A LOWER PRICE": My father, among others, will be thrilled to learn that haggling is now common in America's big box stores.

Friday, March 21, 2008

QUANDO? QUANDO? QUANDO?: I was rewatching Fargo the other night and while I adore this film, I have never understood the whole Mike Yanagita subplot. Not that there are not very strange moments in life like that, but what was it doing in that movie? I do not have a theory of my own, but sure would appreciate your thoughts.
WELL, THAT'S YOUR NAME, ISN'T IT? CALVIN KLEIN? IT'S WRITTEN ALL OVER YOUR UNDERWEAR: For the second straight year at right around this time, I just read an intriguing analysis of Back to the Future, and I'm going to force you to read it share it now:
Back To The Future is both undeniably timeless (its place in pop culture is beyond question) and incredibly dated (it's very much a product of its time). Interestingly, it's a period piece made in 1985 that depicts 1985 as an era as distant-seeming as its version of 1955. Of course, when Back To The Future was first released, 1985 just looked like "now." It's entirely possible that director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale referenced Ronald Reagan and Eddie Van Halen and dressed Fox's Marty McFly up in a denim jacket and Calvin Klein underwear because they wanted Back To The Future to exist in the same universe as The Breakfast Club, Girls Just Want To Have Fun, and other teen films from 1985. But I'm going to give them way more credit than they probably deserve. I think Zemeckis and Gale knew all the timely accoutrements signifying "the present" in Back To The Future would inevitably look like 1985 within just a couple of years; in fact, they were banking on it. Zemeckis and Gale were trying to create an archetypical representation of 1985 just like they did for 1955, with its soda fountains, social repression, and subjugated black people. In this way, Back To The Future only gets better the further we get from the '80s. Everything that defines Marty McFly -- how he walks, talks, acts, and dresses -- acts as instantly recognizable shorthand for the year he comes from.
That said, the piece is mostly about how well "Power of Love" works as a song in the movie, and I will leave you with this excerpt, which I imagine may provoke a reaction from some here: "If you weren't alive at the time, it may be tough to imagine how a band called Huey Lewis And The News not only got on Top 40 radio, but helped define its era of pop-rock music. But by any standard of popular success, Huey Lewis was a defining rock 'n' roller of 1985. In 1983 and '84, he scored five Top 20 hits from the album Sports, which went platinum seven times. (This was back when people idiotically paid for their music.) In 1986, Huey and his band of News released Fore!, which spawned five Top 10 hits (including two No. 1s) and sold three million copies. A few years after that, the band was handed a one-way ticket to the county-fair-and-corporate-gig circuit, but in 1985, Huey was still safely ensconced in a protective shell at the center of American pop culture. Yes, I'm sure there were plenty of people who thought Huey Lewis was the epitome of soulless corporate rock in '85, and history might have proven those people right. But at the time, I didn't know any of those people. To me, Huey Lewis was the height of coolness and awesomeness. Of course, I was only 7, which means I was really, really dumb. But it wasn't just 7-year-olds who bought all those copies of Sports. There must have been at least a few grown-ups on the same page I was."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

KATE, YOU'RE NOT MY TYPE: On the "episodes that raise new questions" versus "episodes that provide answers" continuum, tonight's final pre-break Lost was decidedly towards the former camp, perhaps surprisingly given how much was devoted to flashback. Whole lot of "why?", and a whole lot of "how?" to mull over. So meet me in the comments -- we're the good guys, after all.

P.S. Michael Dawson's favorite former track-star-slash-football-player? Willie GAAAUUULT!
SOON, HE WILL BE INVINCI--WAIT FOR IT--BLE: Neil Patrick Harris as "a low-rent supervillain" named Dr. Horrible and Nathan Fillion as Captain Hammer, "the hero who keeps beating him up" in a 30 minute web video musical co-written and directed by Joss Whedon (and entitled Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog)? Yes, please.
OH NO, MRS. ROBINSON, I THINK, I THINK YOU'RE THE MOST ATTRACTIVE OF ALL MY PARENTS' FRIENDS: Just finished reading Mark Harris' book Pictures at a Revolution, his survey of the five films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture for 1967, and I strong recommend it for anyone who's a fan of similar works like Easy Riders, Raging Bulls or Rebels on the Backlot. It has been exceedingly well-reviewed, and with good reason -- Harris picked a moment at which Hollywood was pivoting from the studio system towards auteurs, from censorship and codes to freedom, and from having only one black leading man in Hollywood to ... okay, that took about another two decades or so.

But, oh, that leading man: Harris' portrait of Sidney Poitier is a compelling and rich one, detailing the difficult course he had to navigate as wanting to be a good role model on screen but weary of playing the Magical Negro, wanting his films to better reflect the society in which he lived but recognizing such progress might only be made inch-by-inch. Poitier appeared in two of the five nominated films of that year -- Guess Who's Coming To Dinner and In the Heat of the Night, both of which inched the ball forward on racial issues on screen, and was briefly cast in a third, the old-school big-budget Doctor Doolittle, for which Harris' descriptions of the fiasco-ridden production are worth the price of the book alone. (There's an injury to a giraffe in particular worth noting, and Rex Harrison does not come off well at all.)

And then there's the other two films: The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde, both which utterly changed the way Hollywood viewed its audience as well as the kind of content that films could present -- thematically, visually and sonically. Warren Beatty's personal role in the revolution is something that I don't think my generation will ever quite fully comprehend (myself included) -- because to us, he's that now-married-ladies'-man who did Dick Tracy, Bugsy and Bulworth, and the idea of the notorious playboy traveling from town to town to make sure the projectionists have the right bulb and volume settings for a film he produced ... well, that's hard to square.

Here's an excerpt (from a longer excerpt):
When he had decided to make The Graduate three and a half years earlier, [Mike] Nichols thought he knew exactly what his satirical targets were. ''I said some fairly pretentious things about capitalism and material objects, about the boy drowning in material things and saving himself in the only possible way, which was through madness,'' he recalls. But the deeper he got into the shoot and the more intensely he pushed [Dustin] Hoffman past what the actor thought he could withstand, the more Nichols realized that something painful and personal was at stake, and always had been, in his attraction to the story. ''My unconscious was making this movie,'' he says. ''It took me years before I got what I had been doing all along — that I had been turning Benjamin into a Jew. I didn't get it until I saw this hilarious issue of MAD magazine after the movie came out, in which the caricature of Dustin says to the caricature of Elizabeth Wilson, 'Mom, how come I'm Jewish and you and Dad aren't?' And I asked myself the same question, and the answer was fairly embarrassing and fairly obvious.''

Nichols — the immigrant, the observer, the displaced boy — finally understood why it had taken him years to settle on an actor to play Benjamin. ''Without any knowledge of what I was doing,'' he said, ''I had found myself in this story.'' And in Hoffman, he had found an on-screen alter ego — someone he could admonish for his failings, challenge to dig deeper, punish for his weaknesses, praise to bolster his confidence, and exhort to prove every day that he was the right man for the role.
So, which of those five films have you seen, and which is your favorite? And, of course, tell us what you're reading these days.
IT ALL DEPENDS ON WHICH END OF THE DOG SHE IS FACING: Regular commenter Bill just saw Bob Mould on tour, and since I'm a big fan of the former-Husker, former-WCW-scriptwriter who recently visited the Sound Opinions show, he files this report:
Bob Mould Band
March 18, 2008
Variety Playhouse, Atlanta

The third of four shows I'm seeing this month at the Variety Playhouse. Previously, there's been Har Mar Superstar/Sia (average demographics being under 25 and female) and They Might Be Giants family show (subtract the parents and the average age was eight). Bob Mould brought in a male audience approaching 40; though I'm not sure how the preschooler wearing noise-canceling headphones skews the demographics (seriously, no joke). Halou opened and they put on a good show.

Isn't Bob Mould beginning to look like a beefier Pete Townshend? And would it be fair to compare them, musically?

I'm a fan of the solo Bob Mould and of Sugar, but wasn't sure what to expect for this show. I'd heard he'd gone completely into electronica, but what the hell, he's a legend. I'll go and see what happens. Loud, fast, unapologetically entertaining, Bob wasted no time with crowd interaction or announcing songs. Did I mention loud? He hardly paused to bask in the applause, instead focusing on careening from one song to the next. Bob plays with such force I kept expecting the guitar to explode in his hands. Unable to contain himself during solos, he bounded about the stage like a balloon flying across the room. There were a few bits of electronica thrown in, though these just added layers to the sonic assault and assured no molecules were left unscathed.

He played a few tracks from his new District Line CD -- excellent by the way and only $10 at the show -- and old Bob Mould is generously represented. He even dipped back into the Husker Du catalog. At the time, I was never into Husker Du. Believe me, I had more than ample exposure. Working at a pizza kitchen in South Minneapolis in the mid 80s, the manager would run through their entire collection during Saturday dinner rushes (he was also an excellent drag queen, though even for me this seems like a pointless digression). After Tuesday, I feel the need to reevaluate my position and will be acquiring a few Husker Du CDs.

I should also mention the bassist Jason Narducy who comfortably shared the stage with Mould. One of the best concerts I've seen and other than this short review, one I've been incapable of describing without using expletives. Bob Mould rules the stage, rules the guitar, and owns all the sound. Your speakers go to eleven? Don't bring that weak ass Playskool shit up in here.

Filmmaker Ben Byer has a lovely story about Jason Narducy that also includes some new Bob Mould Band concert footage.
I've seen Mould twice -- on the Black Sheets of Rain tour in 90/91 in a small venue in Northampton, MA, and with Sugar at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago in 94/95, one or two shows before the live concert captured on Besides. I've never attended louder shows, and my goodness that man can rawk.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

PERHAPS BEARS ARE NOT GODLESS KILLING MACHINES: A generally personality-light and cooking heavy Top Chef tonight, with a pair of clever challenges but little in the way of fireworks either on the personality side or in the kitchen--after last week's f-bomb fest, there was little or no bleeping. Indeed, you could see at least two of the bottom three dishes coming from miles away. Also, is it just me, or does Wylie Dufresne look a whole lot more like a mopey indie rocker than a badass chef?

A List Of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago

AMERICA VOTED, AND THEY DON'T WANT TO SEE YOU ON THE 'TOP TEN' TOUR: Yup, the tiers hold up for another week, and only one resident of the bottom three was even a surprise.

[In re The Tiers, I need to slide David Cook further into the competition, as his song choice and professionalism have been better than expected. He'll flip places with someone I'll mention in the Comments.]

In other news, Neil Diamond is a mentor this season! Which begs the question: for 1970s night, or can we really get an all-Diamond night of songs? Yes, I want to see David Cook on "Heartlight". You?

The Real Charlie: MascotMatcher(TM) 2008

ONCE YOU'VE BEATEN BLACK LUNG, SOME FERAL KITTIES ARE EASY PREY: Too many birds make Charlie grouchy, but that hasn't stopped him from performing his traditional NCAA first-round MascotMatcher analysis. ("Vanderbilt Commodores vs. Siena Saints: The ancient PCs will send these saints marchin’ out. Next year, how about upgrading to the Amigas? Commodores.")
NAIL$, INC: My mind remains boggled by the notion that Lenny Dykstra, who as a baseball player filled every square on the bingo card of vice, has become a remarkably successful day trader moving into the world of publishing.

A comprehensive summary of his trading while writing for in 2007 can be found here, and I imagine there are those among us who can explain What It All Means. Seriously, what's next -- Mickey Morandini, health care policy wonk? At least we've still got Darren Daulton to balance this out.
FROM THE DAY WE ARRIVE ON THE PLANET AND, BLINKING, STEP INTO THE SUN: I know how you all rely on me for breaking baby naming news, and today I shall not disappoint. Halle Berry has named her new daughter (born March 16) Nahla Ariela Aubry. Berry's publicist was careful to point out that Nahla is Arabic for "honeybee," rather than Disnese for "female lion cub."

In other baby-related news, Soleil Moon Frye has had a second child. Joining two-and-a-half-year-old Poet Siena Rose Goldberg on March 17 was a second daughter, Jagger Joseph Blue Goldberg. (Yes, I checked a few different stories, all of which seem to be in agreement that Miss Jagger Joseph Blue is indeed a girl-flavored baby.)

Oh, and as long as I'm on the subject of childhood TV stars: what the heck, here's one more, this one from a whole week ago. On March 12, Melissa Joan Hart of Sabrina the Teenage Witch fame (oh Salem, how I miss you!) had a second baby boy, Braydon "Brady" Hart Wilkerson.

Kind of a busy week in celebrity-mama-babyland, no?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

THE "PREDICT 63 LOSERS" CONTEST: Quick reminder: our NCAA pool group welcomes your free entry on the site. Who ya got? (I haven't been following the college game much this year, so I have a very pedestrian UNC over UCLA final.)
ELEVEN SENTENCES ON ELEVEN SINGERS, A/K/A YES, YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER: Two weeks of the Beatles (who now are back to being the Beatles instead of that band that sang the songs from the Lennon/McCartney songbook, the George Harrison estate apparently having realized that resistance is futile) and no one sang Sgt. Pepper? Michael Johns could have avoided the whole pastiche ridiculousness of A Day in the Life, for one thing, or else Amanda Overmyer might have picked it instead of Back in the USSR and maybe located a melody sometime before the last verse; and maybe if Johns or Overmyer had switched songs, then something in the harmonic divergence of the planets might have shifted ever so slightly and some cherubic vector from somewhere around Neptune might have made it to Earth just in time to whisper in Brooke White's ear, don't do it, Brookie, for the love of God don't do it!

Jason Castro is, I think, lucky that he's got that dorky earnestness working in his favor, because there is just no way to make Michelle cool. David Archuleta went wee-wee-wee-wee all the way back to his wheelhouse and wisely chose a nice big long and winding floopy ballad to try to make us all forget the pain of the prior week. Carly Smithson actually kind of won me over for the first time with her Blackbird. (I have decided that what she needs to bring America to its knees is Desperado or similar -- one of those emotionally craggy songs that people like to sing in bars while making best friends with everyone around them.) I have no idea what that weird gizmo was that David Cook was squealing into, but Mr. Cosmo seemed very excited that Peter Frampton had made a guest appearance on AI. It is passing strange to me that the one effective country singer on the show is not Kristy Lee Cook, but rather the Nigerian guy. I liked Syesha's emotional resonance, which she desperately needed after the cheesy Chicago 16 rendition of whatever-it-was last week. Ramiele Malubay cannot pick a song to save her life -- I can almost guarantee that the song that David Cook was making her listen to on the headset in her clip was not, in fact, Should Have Known Better. (Does anyone other than me hear these Beatles titles and go what the hell song is that? only to realize that you in fact know all the words to the song and just never knew the title?)

The tier system dictates that we don't actually care who goes home at any given moment, but really, isn't it time to free KLC from the shackles of her perpetual bottom threeness and let her saddle up and ride home?
IT FELL OUT OF A TREE AND HIT ME ON THE HEAD: Having now become a two operating-system household with the acquisition of a lovely MacBook Pro (on which this post is being composed), some thoughts on the plusses and minuses of MacWorld:
  • There's a lot to admire about the elegance and simplicity of the Mac OS design--it's simple and generally pretty intuitive--runs quickly, boots fast, and is very clean.
  • One of the nicest things is that rather than having to go through an elaborate series of steps to take a photo from the Internet and drop it somewhere, it's literally drag and drop. Want to import a photo from Facebook into your address book? Drag and drop.
  • Mac clearly syncs better with other Apple products (iTunes, iPhone, Quicktime) than does Windows--everything is crisp and simple.
  • The CD and DVD both deliver high quality sound, even through the speakers, and the built-in camera in the computer isn't half bad.
  • Downsides? Moving files from the PC to the Mac is a pain (I moved my iTunes library by using my iPod as a hard drive, but that resulted in me losing many of my playlists), I miss having a right button on my main mouse (the touchpad has a single button), and there have been a few software problems (to get to work through Citrix, I had to set up Firefox rather than Safari).
I'm hanging on to the PC--have too much software there to lose, and sometimes, you want the desktop experience, but the MacBook Pro makes a pretty damn good argument for its system.
...WITHOUT ANY FUSS, THE STARS WERE GOING OUT: Sir Arthur C. Clarke has died, aged 90.
A POST FILLED WITH TRUTHINESS: The Colbert Report is going on the road for the first time next month, doing a week's worth of shows in Philly in connection with the upcoming primary. (Also, note the bottom clip here from Colbert's shred-off, which takes on new meaning.)
ALSO, RESPONSIBLE FOR THE FAME OF JUDE LAW: Anthony Minghella, whose films include Cold Mountain, The English Patient, and The Talented Mr. Ripley, has died. I wasn't the biggest fan of Minghella's filmmaking, which was often far more pretentious than it needed to be, but he unquestionably made lush films with tremendous attention to detail and craft--something that's all too often missing in a world where Scary Movie has generated approximately 14 sequels/spin-offs/rip-offs. His final project, the pilot for HBO's adaptation of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, will air later this year.

Monday, March 17, 2008

LET'S SEE -- "YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND," "THE THEME FROM FRIENDS," "THAT'S WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR": For a Washington Post Magazine article, Anna Jane Grossman says goodbye to the mixtape, carbon paper, standing in line for tickets, stovetop popcorn poppers and about 200 more once-common things that are disappearing from America.
HOW MANYOFUT KNEW THAT THIS WAS EVEN A THING: Via Wikipedia: Nunavut became a territory of Canada in 1999, at the exact moment that the 24-hour darkness lifted for a moment and Canadians realized that there was a gigantic land mass where there had not been one a few moments before. Nunavut's population is approximately the same as the lunchtime population of the food court across the street from me, spread over about 780,000 square miles.

After an extended adolescent romp known as Rumspringa, Nunavutians usually elect to join a shadowy cabal of ascetic lyric-shunners, which is what accounts for Nunavut's lack of wistful folk content. Nunavutians have a unique system of communal and private ownership of land in which each person has sole, but effectively temporary, ownership of an exactly equal-sized octagonal plot of land (currently one person for approximately 24 square miles), with the interstitial squares belonging to the territorial government. The call "kamiak siskiyou'aleuk'[___] (literally, "hey, a little to the [left/right/north/south]," which signals the requirement that each person adjust the margins of his or her personal property, is passed orally from person to person upon the birth or death of each Nunavutian. This tradition leads to an intricate system of fierce competition in which people attempt to steer their plots of land, through years of multiple births and deaths, to encompass valuable shoreline, natural resources, and Banana Republic outlets.
RESTATEMENT (SECOND) STATES: As Spacewoman mentioned in the comments a few threads back, on orders from Spaceboy v1.0, I actually did have to go back and update the states playlist to include another Carolina, a Washington, and a Montana. I was also ordered to include the Canadian provinces and the states and territories of Australia and the UK, although I have a week-long reprieve on the latter two. I won’t list all of the songs here, though I will put in plugs for “Carolina” (Andrew Kenny & Ben Gibbard, the latter of Postal Service fame), “Washington” (a messy New-Orleans-style romp by the Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra, about the district, not the state), “Saskatchewan” (a pretty funny song by Lost and Found, which apparently is a Christian rock band), and “”Kidnapped in the Yukon” (90s-Sub Pop-ish indie pop by Eagle and Talon). I’d also recommend “New Brunswick, Gaspesie, Abitibi” if you’re in the market for what seems to be a rollicking Quebecois drinking song, but it could be an ode to white power for all the French I know.

The (ahem) research I did for this project gave me a good non-scientific sample of music about states, so please indulge me while I report my conclusions:
  • The most musically-significant state by far is California. It is usually one of three things: a land of mythic promise; the repository for the scummiest people in the world; or a place where people go to seek mythic promise and end up living among the scummiest people in the world.
  • The other most musically-significant states are Texas (where braggarts breed braggarts – songs about Texas are nearly unanimous in their pro-Texas sentiment), an undefined Carolina (a place where, apparently, everybody leaves but to which everybody wants to return; so real estate is probably pretty cheap but you had better beat the rush); and New York (but not the part of it that is not the city).
  • The least musically-significant state is Washington. Nobody, and I mean nobody, sings about Washington. I used M. Ward’s “Four Hours in Washington” because it’s a good song and not specific, but I don’t think it’s about the state. You can find 70s trifles about Seattle, 80s punk about Olympia, and 90s grunge about Sequim, but damned if you can find a good song about Washington. There are more songs about Prince Edward Island than about Washington, and that’s just embarrassing. Similarly, all songs about Alberta are actually about a woman that Leadbelly knew. And don’t get me started on Nunavut. iTunes has three songs with Nunavut in the title, and not one of them has words. This is because actual songwriters who choose to write songs about Nunavut know exactly as much about Nunavut as you do.
  • There are a million folk songs about states. Apparently man invented love at some time in the 1930s. Before that, people were only allowed to sing about three things: (1) their current or former locations, and the means or route for getting from one to the other; (2) drinking; and (3) the Erie Canal. And yet all venerable folk songs about states sound exactly alike, especially if they’re sung by married couples.