Saturday, August 1, 2009

STILL BETTER THAN LITTLE NICKY: Even after spending the trip home thinking about it, I'm not entirely sure what to say about Funny People, particularly not without getting into spoiler territory. Yes, it's pretty ridiculously self-indulgent (not Lady In The Water self-indulgent, but having your child singing being an emotional key point in the film is pretty damn self-indulgent), and, yes, it's not the laugh riot that Knocked Up and 40 Year Old Virgin were. The biggest thing that strikes me is that there are probably two good 90-minute movies here--one centered on the relationship between Sandler and Rogen's characters, and the other centered on the relationship between Sandler and Mann's characters. Instead, we get a 150-minute movie that tries to serve both masters but winds up satisfying neither. I'll be very interested to see deleted scenes and the like, and wonder if there might be either a shorter or a longer movie in there that's better. However, a recurrent joke about Rogen's character's real name will make at least several of our readers laugh particularly hard, and a lot of the stand-up segments sprinkled throughout the film (allegedly partially written by the performers themselves) are quite funny, as are some of the cameos (James Taylor may actually get the biggest laugh in the film). A failure, perhaps, but assuredly an interesting one.
THE ONE PLUS? ANOTHER DIANA ENG SIGHTING: The New York Times reports that reality tv contestants don't get much sleep and are encouraged to get drunk in the hopes of making better television. In other news, water is wet.

Friday, July 31, 2009

AN EQUIPMENT MANAGER'S FESTIVAL: Baseball's non-waiver trading deadline has now passed. Has your team sufficiently improved itself? (I know mine did.)

Among the names moving today: Victor Martinez, Jake Peavy, Jarrod Washburn, Adam LaRoche (again), Casey Kotchman, Scott Rolen, Orlando Cabrera and Justin Masterson.
GEORGE? I WAS A STAND-UP TOMATO: A JUICY, SEXY, BEEFSTEAK TOMATO. NOBODY DOES VEGETABLES LIKE ME. I DID AN EVENING OF VEGETABLES OFF-BROADWAY. I DID THE BEST TOMATO, THE BEST CUCUMBER... I DID AN ENDIVE SALAD THAT KNOCKED THE CRITICS ON THEIR ASS: Following up on their women's list we covered earlier this year, PopMatters presents a quirky, provocative, self-consciously nerdy and comment-worthy list of the 100 Essential Male Film Performances.

One sample, from its entry on someone who I believe is going to be voted on for ALOTT5MA Fave Status later this year: "Rickman brings order to the chaotic settings, seemingly anticipating all of the angles and never seeming to be anything less than fully in control. The actor sets the tone for the movie, replacing what could have been brutish and gruff with something that strives for the sleek and smart. Rickman’s triumph is also in how skillfully he lets us slowly watch Hans’ cool slide off into the sadism that he had hoped to mask. ... [H]e’s a cold killer that had hoped to put that all behind him and win the day with his brains and plotting. When that fails, he wastes no time embracing his roots."
FUNNY OLD WORLD? DOG MY CATS! There are many things we can talk about now that Funny People has finally been released -- and as the weekend progresses, whoever among us sees it first will post the appropriate spoiler thread. But for starters, this question: Leslie Mann, Rebecca Pidgeon or Jennifer Schwalbach -- which director's wife do you really not need to see again in her husband's films?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I [HEART] STEROIDS: Here's why today's news that David Ortiz (and Manny Ramirez, but you knew that) tested positive for steroids in 2003 is great for baseball:
  1. The only people in the entire world whose opinions about baseball matter are in New York and Boston.
  2. New Yorkers already don't care about steroids because the Yankees were among the first teams in baseball to be revealed to have been eyeball-deep in steroids.
  3. In Boston, it is generally accepted that David Ortiz represents everything that is good and right with the world.
  4. David Ortiz did steroids.
  5. Steroids therefore are good and right.
  6. Since Boston and New York will now agree that nothing is wrong with steroids (and their "you cheated" arguments cancel each other out), we can all get over ourselves and stop caring about steroids.
No, seriously, I get a sharp pain behind my right ear every time I see a sanctimonious headline about steroids, like today's ESPN.com "shame list" link. How many years ago was it that anybody honestly believed that Ortiz never took steroids? This is news like "Adam Lambert is gay" is news.
I HEAW THAT TWAIN A-COMING: A lurker has asked me to view and comment on this video of a five-year-old kid playing Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." If it were my kid, I'd be so thrilled, and honestly, if you've seen the blog we do about my kid, you know that's an understatement. But it's not my kid. So my comments:
  • Get a haircut, Prince Valiant.
  • Is there a reason for the other five strings on your guitar?
  • A little pitchy, dawg.
Sorry, I mean -- I'm a bad person, yes.
DON'T EVER FEEL BAD ABOUT BEING GOOD AT YOUR JOB: We're a little more than two weeks away from the start of Season 3 of Mad Men, and it seems that the Sterling Cooper publicity machine is firing on all cylinders. There are the publicity stills, which are wonderful on so many levels. Let me commend the way the pictures are shot to look as if they were shot in the 1960s but viewed now -- they're slightly grainy, with the undersaturated colors of 1960s prints, they're yellowed like something you might find in a box in your parents' attic, and they're either semi-candid or stiffly posed, as if taken by co-workers or family members. Also, Betty Draper looks like she's grown up a bit. That's the kind of attention to detail we expect of the Mad Men art department.

There's also the press tour, where Jon Hamm wanted to remind us that he doesn't see the world the way Don Draper does, and where the cast got to rub elbows with industry luminaries like Alan Sepinwall. And then there's AMC's site, where you can create a Mad Men cartoon avatar of yourself. What a cartoon computer icon has to do with Mad Men is beyond the point, I guess.

Incidentally, this is a good time to plug Sepinwall's and Fienberg's Twitter feeds of the TV press tour. As Alan points out, Twitter is perfect for the little moments of the press tour and largely replaces the tour blog that he used to write.
LEINIE'S RED! Really, Mr. President, you're drinking Bud Light -- a Belgian-owned crappy beer -- at today's Skipgate summit?

Surely there's an American beer you can offer that's not too obscure/elitist, but also doesn't suck. How about a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, or might we suggest an American pilsener for a hot summer day?

added: Heh. Dogfish Head wants in on the action. ("[W]e know what they should be drinking - fantastic beer from a great American craft brewery! There are thousands of great American craft breweries (more than 1400 of us at last count), and we'd love to see the President and his crew coming together over a craft beer. But whatver they end up drinking - one thing this whole brew-ha-ha has accomplished is getting the word out about American craft beer.") I still think the Chateau Jiahu is out.
THE BOSS WRITES DICK LIT: Via today's NYT we learn of this provocative PopMatters essay by Charles A. Hohman on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A., focusing on the album's take on gender and sexuality. His conclusion:
From the hypermasculine stance on the cover to Springsteen’s forcefully vigorous vocals throughout, Born in the U.S.A. is an album about masculinity, clearly operating from a man’s point of view. To Springsteen’s credit, his women are seldom sex objects, and when they are, such as on “Darlington County”, that objectification is punished. However, there is little subversion of assigned gender roles within Springsteen’s portraits. In fact, his women are largely powerless, kept firmly in the private sphere, functioning as trophies or even as entitlements for the male protagonists. Such blind traditionalism was especially notable in 1984, when everyone from Madonna to Cyndi Lauper to Chrissie Hynde and Tina Turner were subverting the standard rock masculinity. Hell, even Springsteen’s mega-selling male rivals, Michael Jackson and Prince, did more, in both appearance and sound, to challenge the common expectations of masculine performance. In being a rock and roll revivalist, Springsteen also revived the less savory aspects of rock and roll, namely the Eisenhower-era female submission that coursed through so much early rock.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

PAGING ME: Well. That was quite a solo. I don't think I've ever seen the single best bit of dancing on a SYTYCD performance show be someone's solo, but darned if Brandon didn't rewhip out the O Fortuna (um, among other things) at precisely the right time to vault himself into frontrunner status. (Then again, I said last week that Janette had soloed herself into a frontrunner slot, and look what happened there.) But really, neither Ade nor Evan did anything to ensure themselves a slot in the final four, so I don't think I'm going out on any kind of a limb here.

Here's exactly what I liked about Brandon's solo. Dancers on this show tend to do one of two kinds of solos: either they vogue in their "own styles" for 30 seconds with a few neat tricks interspersed throughout (Kupono) or they flail about madly trying to jam as much shit into that 30 seconds as they possibly can (Kayla most weeks). Brandon's solo tonight was absolutely jam-packed with actual meaty wow-invoking stuff, but it was also totally tight and controlled, with each move carefully distinct from the ones before and following. Bravo.

And that's kind of it for dancers who really excited me this week. Nigel keeps talking about how no one has shown any real personality yet, but I'm not sure that this gaggle has it in them. Did the judges sandbag during the auditions and Vegas, saving the Twitches, the Gev/Dominics, the Courtneys, and the Katee/Sabras for the inaugural fall SYTYCD season? So let's talk about a few things that I actually found interesting.

First: the interesting choices by the costume and lighting designers for Brandon and Kayla's contemporary dance. Kayla is so blonde and fair that she basically glows on set, so the choice to put her in bright red while stripping off Brandon's white shirt leaving him with dark skin and dark pants and nothing to reflect any light turned the whole thing into a sort of an intensely glorious Me and My Shadow.

And: I liked exactly one of the two Sonya dances. I was surprised by the degree to which Evan hung in there on the fun Willy Wonka dance (he was the one I watched, not Brandon or Ade). In fact, Evan was better doing Sonya than he was doing jazz hands Tyce, which makes precisely zero sense. As for the girls, I'm sure that the superbabe costumes pleased the couple of straight boys in the house, but beyond that it was just kinda dead. This show has never ever figured out how to do a partnered girls dance well. (I think a 3 is much closer to a 2 than it is to a 4 or a 5.) Remember the foxes? And the glorious-girls-with-umbrellas Broadway frippery?

Oh, and then: the eviction notice dance. How did I know it was an eviction notice dance? It's a testament to me and my keen intellect, you see, that I knew it was an eviction notice dance, given that all I had to work with was Tabitha and Napoleon saying it was an eviction notice dance followed by an actual piece of paper used in the eviction notice dance on which was typed in like 50-zillion point font that this was an EVICTION NOTICE dance. Napoleon and Tabitha are by far the the most literal choreographers this show has ever used, and I do hope that Nigel uses them much, much less next season.
SHUCKS! If there's one thing I love on Top Chef, it's the mise-en-place relay race -- and that they've added an oyster shuck-off and Hubert M.F. Keller (and stealth assassin Anita Lo) to the proceedings just makes it that much more awesome.

Anyone who's ever seen the show before could figure out what the elimination challenge was going to be once the interlude was suggested, but no matter: this was the kind of high-level cooking in a collegial environment which has made this season so much fun. The moment which scared me -- and likely you as well -- was when Rick Bayless pledged to not be Baylessy this round. No! Let Bayless Be Bayless!

[This week's spelling bee word: chawanmushi, a Japanese egg custard. I'll use it in a sentence: "I'd like to try Anita Lo's chawanmushi."]

Whatever complaints I've had lately about the show have dissipated -- this episode featured six great chefs put in a position to shine, without unfair or unrealistic constraints, and if there is no Top Chef Masters II I'll be really disappointed.

added: Did you know that Rick Bayless and Jay Rayner are among those blogging this season? Rayner, on Art Smith and the Scottish egg:
Here’s what you need to know about the true Scotch egg: it is a British traditional food, which has no noble antecedents. Or to put it another way, it may once have been a glorious thing, but nobody of my generation in Britain is aware of such a thing. It is a nightmarish food item, the stuff of cheap family weddings, where the irascible scary uncle gets drunk and tries to score with the bridesmaids. The buffet at that sort of wedding would always include a platter of Scotch eggs, which would leave as nasty a taste in the mouth as the party. Think dry, cold, coagulated, cheap quality sausage meat – minced pig eyelids, ground down ears and knee caps; the cheapest of the cheap – with a crust of bright orange breadcrumbs on the outside, and inside an egg boiled to such a degree that if lobbed in a crowded public space it would be regarded as a dangerous weapon. Put said item in deep fat fryer and leave to DIE. Scotch eggs are what you eat at three o’clock in the morning when you pull into a service station off the motorway and are too hungry to make a proper judgment. They are what you eat in British pubs – not the nice oldie worldy, prettified ones; the nasty, sticky floored ones, where the curtains small of nicotine and the air is heavy with the taint of regret and disappointment – when you have drunk ten pints of lager the colour and flavour of something that came out the wrong end of a cat.
PAGING WILLIAM SAFIRE AS WELL AS CURTIS ARMSTRONG'S CHARACTER IN RISKY BUSINESS: Via Adam C., language nerds attempt to diagram and resolve syntactic difficulties in Van Morrison's beseeching an audience to "f**king shut the f**k up."
PAGING PAUL ROBERT COHEN: Following up on KCosmo's earlier effort to justify the uncaging of an entire sex's supply of bunions -- I have a t-shirt reading "CRUCIFICTORIOUS" (Landry's Christian death-metal band on Friday Night Lights) and another with a cartoon pirate bear displaying a treasure chest, with the caption "booty." Is it inappropriate for me to wear these to my kids' play dates? School picnics? Is the former shirt going to offend Christians, Jews, both, or neither?
PAGING CARRIE BRADSHAW: Following up on TPE's earlier effort to validate his vast repository of Aloha shirts -- is it ever inappropriate for women to wear open-toed shoes in an office setting in the summertime?
PAGING DON HO: Following up on Matt's earlier query of the appropriateness of a short-sleeved dress shirt -- and noting the riff by XWL, among others, in comments -- other than while than while visiting the islands, or playing a drug dealer in a cop show, is it ever appropriate to wear Hawaiian Shirts?
PAGING TIM GUNN: Following up on Isaac's earlier query about the necessity of a blazer--is there ever an appropriate time for a grown man to wear a short-sleeved dress shirt?
JUST GIVE US YOUR FIRST AND MOST IMMEDIATE REACTION: Some believe that the diagnostic credibility of the Rorschach test has been compromised now that Rorschach's original inkblot images have been posted on Wiki.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

LIKE YOU'RE GOING AGAINST FIFTEEN GUYS OUT THERE ON DEFENSE: Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has succumbed in his battle with cancer. He was 68.


Whatever problems Eagles fans have had during the Reid-Lurie years, no one has ever questioned how tremendous Jim Johnson's defense was. "Exotic blitz" barely scratches the surface of how confounding his strategies became. Any player, any play, any angle was vulnerable. And the results speak for themselves -- seven playoff appearances and five conference championship games in ten years with the Eagles, winning every first round playoff game he coached and only once (against Arizona last season) giving up 30+ points in a playoff game. A 2001 season (and overall 34 game streak) in which his defense never yielded more than 21 points or 300 yards passing. Twenty-six defensive Pro Bowl appearances for his Eagles players. As SalPal noted:
Under Johnson, the Eagles have ranked near the top in almost every important defensive category in the last decade. Since 2000, the Eagles have been second in sacks (390), tied for second in tackles for a loss (457), second in forced fumbles (159), second in red zone efficiency (43.9 percent), and second in third down efficiency (34 percent). During the Johnson era, the Eagles have finished fourth in the NFL in points allowed -- just 17.7 per game.

I'm trying to think of another coach in Philadelphia during my lifetime who was as respected as Johnson, who was never criticized by the fans even when losing. Billy Cunningham, maybe. But that's it. Johnson will be dearly missed.

added: One way to appreciate Johnson is to just look at the play-by-play of the Super Bowl champion Steelers offense when they visited Philadelphia last September. Nine sacks, three turnovers, a safety, 2/13 on third down, just 180 net yards allowed.

JUST SIT RIGHT BACK AND YOU'LL HEAR A TALE: Please provide the most ridiculous TV theme song you can find. I offer "Homeboys In Outer Space." (Sadly, "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer" does not appear to have a theme song, but yes, there's an episode on YouTube.)
THE FABULOUS FURRY FREAK BROTHER: Lighten my mood. Please suggest a scenario where Tim Lincecum is still a San Francisco Giant in 2010.
YES, BUT WILL HE JOIN THE SPARC PROGRAM? Returning to a terrain first explored by legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman in 1968, the A&E Network has apparently persuaded Tony Danza to have himself be filmed while guest-teaching at Philadelphia's Northeast High -- which alert readers may recall as the site of last year's 85 loose chickens prank, and for which the locals are just waiting for my reflexive references to how far downhill the neighboring and once-beloved Country Club Diner has gone.
WHO LET THE DOGS OUT? I imagine that Michael Vick's reinstatement will make the job of stadia music directors just a little easier. I assume he will find comfort in the tender embrace of Al Davis.

Monday, July 27, 2009

YOU: And I Both. And Me. And Me Of The 10,000 Wars. Are Not Alone. Are The Sunshine Of My Life. Belong With Me. Can Call Me Al. Can Leave Your Hat On. Can't Always Get What You Want. Can't Hurry Love. Can't Stop The Beat. Don't Know How It Feels. Get Me. Get What You Give. Give Love A Bad Name. Gotta Be. Had Me. Know I'm No Good. Learn. Left It Up To Me. Make My Dreams (Come True). May Be Right. Oughta Know. Still Touch Me. Want To Wear That Ring. Were Meant For Me. Wreck Me.
FOR FUTURE REFERENCE, BIG ARISTOTLE, YOUR NEW CONGRESSWOMAN IS MARCIA FUDGE: ALOTT5MA Fave Shaquille O'Neal bet one of his handlers that he could just show up at the front gate of the White House today and gain admission to visit the President. Loser had to do 1,000 push-ups. Was he rejected like what Jamario Moon did to him? Our Friend Dan Steinberg tells the tale, and has Shaq's thoughts on Skipgate.
POOKIEWATCH: Please take out your scorecards for these changes in the WaPo Style lineup: Tom Shales moves from chief tv critic (for 30+ years) to omnibus cultural critic (w/blog, regular chats); Hank Steuver to Shales' old job; Lisa de Moraes stays put, but will start blogging regularly.

update: In other media news, frequent ALOTT5MA PiƱata Richard Rushfield is leaving the LA Times to become West Coast editor for Gawker.
BREAKING ROCKS IN THE HOT SUN: In the case of McKenzie v. Mason, a 12-person jury convened by the American Bar Association has ruled in favor of McKenzie, picking L.A. Law as the top legal TV show of all time with Perry Mason, The Defenders, Law and Order: Original Recipe and The Practice. The list is a follow-up to the ABA's roster of the top 25 legal movies, and I think the most remarkable thing is how shallow the pool is for great TV law shows in comparisson to their cinematic cousins. Compare the ABA's film list of honorable mentions (JFK, Legally Blonde, Michael Clayton, the entire John Grishman oeuvre) to some of the shows that made the cut on the TV list (Eli Stone? Shark? Abe Simpson fave Matlock?). Kudos though, for the jury's good sense in choosing Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law as the 16th best legal show.

I can't wait until next summer's list of the 25 greatest law-related rock songs..."I Fought the Law," "Lawyers in Love," "I Can't Drive 55," "Maxwell's Silver Hammer"...OK, maybe just a top 10.
ALWAYS BE VICTORIOUS, ALL RISING: Alexis Cohen was a paradigmatic American Idol reject -- despite her obvious instability, producers twice made her the butt of their bad-audition shenanigans (full disclosure: I watch and enjoy those shenanigans). The first time around, she cursed them like a sailor would; the second, she showed some new-found serenity. She may not exactly have had the last laugh, but both the surprisingly positive attitude she adopted toward her second rejection and her good humor when her earlier rejection speech was turned into glorious musical Internet gold (which I blogged before, but I can't find it since the Blogger search button seems to be broken) at least earned her some of the respect that people like William Hung and SYTYCD's Sex don't merit.

I was therefore a little suprised to feel a faint quiver in the black hole where my heart should be when I read that Cohen was killed in a hit-and-run accident this weekend. It would be nice if Idol, which had a lot of fun at her expense, could find a quiet (read: not self-promotional) way to repay the debt.
YOU WON'T HAVE BEN SILVERMAN TO KICK AROUND ANY MORE: Ben Silverman, who was recently and very publicly not fired as head of NBC, has now been fired as head of NBC. Or maybe not fired, if you believe that he voluntarily left his job as head of a network to run a new-media (isn't that just Internet) production company for Barry Diller. Silverman got a lot of grief because he basically seemed like the kind of guy who would (and actually did) appear on Entourage -- indulged, insubstantial, fratty. As I've said before though, he came through for the things I cared about. He created and nurtured The Office, he supported 30 Rock, and he bent over backward to find creative ways to save Friday Night Lights and Chuck. If those last three shows suffered a little from what seemed to be corporate-driven imperatives (stunt casting; tonal changes and short seasons; rampant product placement), it just showed that Silverman was not using executive beneficence to save them, but instead was trying to figure out ways to make them self-sustaining, so that they didn't need his help. He was teaching them how to fish, as it were. I may not want to hang out with Ben Silverman, but I liked having him running a network.

Now a new guy will inherit those shows. It's Jeff Gaspin, head of NBC's cable entertainment group. I don't know what to make of Gaspin. On the one hand, I take it (though I'm lazy and haven't researched to confirm) he's the guy who greenlit the Bravo brand that Phil criticized below -- the Real Housewives franchise, NYC Prep, etc. -- and pioneered the change of "SciFi" to "Syfy." To be fair, though, under the same assumption he also would have been responsible for a number of shows that I've never watched but that I understand others love, including Battlestar Galactica and all of the USA Network fare. So: nervous but not hopeless? Is that the right stance to take?
DON'T TELL COLBERT: As one of our readers noted via Twitter, bears are getting smarter, and learning how to defeat "bear-proof" food storage canisters.
TO BE MY SUNSHINE AFTER THE RAIN: The Lost Necrology, from Comic-Con 2009.

[Also, Hugo Reyes with Mr. Clucks' new menu item, Oceanic Airlines touts its safety record, Nestor Carbonell prepares for the stage, and Michael Emerson auditions for a role on the show.]
THE MOLE: It's difficult to imagine a film cast with more potential inductees to ALOTT5MA Fave status than G-Force -- Zach Galifianakis, "Uncle" Bill Nighy and Will Arnett in the flesh, and featuring the vocal talents of Tracy Morgan, Sam Rockwell, Jon "not the speechwriter" Favreau, Steve Buscemi and Nicolas Cage doing the nasal Peggy Sue Got Married voice. Indeed, seeing it yesterday with Lucy, it is the greatest farting guinea pig film I've ever seen -- full of plot holes, sure, but certainly endearing and funny enough.

But eclipsing HP6 in weekend box office? Really? [Orphan placed fourth.]

Sunday, July 26, 2009

COULD NOT BEAR TO WATCH WHAT HAPPENS: Is this really necessary: Unfortunate Revelations of the Supposed Junior Aristocracy? Or this: The Dreadful Douchebags of Dade County? I like Top Chef, but not enough to risk seeing the ads for these soul-stainingly awful show concepts ever, ever again. It's like Real Housewives' success was a tipping point that drove the Bravo Network brand (irrevocably?) into the sewer.

Please, Bravo. Stop. You're hurting America.
ALMOST AS HIGH, ALMOST AS FAST, ALMOST AS STRONG: FINA, the unelected or possibly elected or maybe appointed or randomly selected by divine annunciation body that governs competitive swimming, has decided that it doesn't like fast swimming and therefore has banned the full-body suits that we've seen in the last two or three Olympics. So either there will be no effect, because the suits don't really help as much as everybody says they do, or we've just set swimming back a decade and nobody's going to break another record for years and years and years.

This, of course, isn't a competitive issue, since the suits are available to anybody who wants to buy them. And it isn't exactly a pure stance against the swimsuit technology, since it is still allowing the suits from waist to knee for men and from shoulder to knee for women. And it isn't quite fair that the women get a half-body's worth more use of the supposedly unfair technology than the men. It's just the work of a governing body that doesn't like the way modern technology has helped its athletes. What would happen if every other sport -- NASCAR, IAAF, whoever controls cycling -- just said "we're rolling all car/shoe/bike/apparel technology back to what was available 30 years ago"? Slower times: yay.
YOU MAKE THE ROCKIN' WORLD GO 'ROUND: Do you want to watch Jeffster! perform "Fat Bottomed Girls" live? Of course you do.