Saturday, October 17, 2009

FOR US, PERHAPS, THIS IS IT: For everything we've said about the weirdness, sadness and likely criminal behavior of Michael Jackson, I've never seen an anecdote which made him seem normal (while still embedded within a dollop of weird) like the story AEG Live President Randy Phillips tells in this week's Entertainment Weekly cover story about an additional special effect Jackson wanted added to the London concerts:
We went and met with Michael, and [director Kenny Ortega] said, "Michael, you've got to stop. We've got an incredible show, we don't need any more vignettes." Michael said, "But Kenny, God channels this through me at night. I can't sleep because I'm so super-charged." Kenny said, "But Michael, we have to finish. Can't God take a vacation?" Without missing a beat, Michael said, "You don't understand -- if I'm not there to receive these ideas, God might give them to Prince."
WHOEVER WANTS TO KNOW THE HEART AND MIND OF AMERICA HAD BETTER LEARN POKER: James McManus, author of the much-loved Positively Fifth Street, has something to say about poker in academia and American history. It's an excerpt from his next book, Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker, due at month's end.

YouTube - Kareem Embarrassed On Jeopardy

JOEY'S DAD WAS RIGHT. YOU CALL THIS TRYING? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Celebrity Jeopardy! contestant, lays a brick.

Friday, October 16, 2009

YES, THEY HAD BALLPOINT PENS IN 1960: Not as boozy as the Slate piece on ladies who drink their lunch, but here's a great interview with the Mad Men prop master. Interesting stuff.

(hat tip to tvtattle)
THE POST-LUNCH STUPOR: Slate's Double X does an experiment--what if the women who make up the Double X staff drank, during the day, as much as characters from Mad Men do? There's video, including a debate as to whether vomiting or wetting your pants is more inappropriate. Suffice it to say that this did not turn Hanna Rosin and Emily Bazelon into Joan Holloways.
THERE'S ALSO A CLAIM FOR VIOLATION OF THE DOUCHEBAG CONTROL ACT: Apparently, TLC is suing Jon Gosselin for having breached his exclusive contract with them. Please suggest other reality show participants who need to be sued.
YET ANOTHER INSTALLMENT OF MY OCCASIONAL, INFERIOR ATTEMPTS TO RESURRECT NEWSQUIZ: Last time, commuter Anne Marciano had said "I've never been a fan of numbers, but I'll give it a try," and while your suggestions included "Consecrating Levites for Temple Service" and "explaining credit default swaps," the actual "it" (and, oops, I forgot to say this back then) was that puzzlemaster Will Shortz was on her Septa train handing out Sudoku challenges to promote the impending national championships.

Okay, let's try again. Testifying in court on Wednesday, 67-year-old Atlantic City councilman and Baptist minister Eugene Robinson explained:
At first I kept saying, No, no, no. But then I thought, If you send a tourist away angry, they'll tell people not to come to Atlantic City. I don't think she would have been able to convince me if I wasn't so tired.
Convince him to do what, gang? As always, your funniest and least accurate responses are welcome.

updated: And the actual answer is, well, Robinson was the intended victim of a blackmail plot in which he reenacted the first verse of Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel No. 2".

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I THINK WE CAN ALL AGREE THAT SPIKE JONZE IS PREFERABLE TO JOE FRANCIS: The reviews are coming in for Jonze and Dave Eggers' Where the Wild Things Are adaptation and while some (LA Times, Slate, The New Yorker) are meh, others (EW, The Chicago Trib, WSJ, AV Club) are, well, wild about the adaptation of the beloved children classic. So, parents, you taking the young ones to what is being described as an art house kiddie flick? How about you non-breeders? Is the Jonze-Eggers pedigree enough to make you brave the stroller and sippy cup crowd?

OKAY, BUT WHERE'S CHRIS GAINES? Former San Diego Padres spring training invitee Garth Brooks -- okay, also the biggest-selling solo musical artist in American history, having displaced Elvis Presley -- is coming out of retirement to set up residence at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas. Brooks last released an album in 2001.

Coincidentally, just last week the AV Club's Nathan Rabin penned an appreciation: "In a genre filled with towering, larger-than-life hellcats like George Jones, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams, Brooks was (and is) defiantly life-sized. He’s the superstar next door, the first country icon to look and act like a middle manager at a sporting-goods company..."
IT WAS EITHER THIS OR YADDO: Given NBC Universal's rather odd announcement that Bon Jovi will be serving as its inaugural Artists In Residence over the next few months, appearing exclusively on NBC, Bravo, USA and related news and entertainment programs (SquawkBox?) to promote their new album, we'd like to confirm that ALOTT5MA is seeking nominations for its own Artist in Residence program -- the only requirements that you (a) be an artist and (b) not presently reside with one of us. (Sorry, dear.)
AND THEY'RE SPECTACULAR: Salon investigates a pressing question for all American males (particularly those named Donald Draper)--how did January Jones get that cleavage in her GQ photo shoot?
IMMA LET YOU FINISH, BUT TIMBERLAKE WAS ONE OF THE BEST HOSTS EVER: The list of folks who've pulled double duty on SNL, both hosting and musical guesting isn't terribly long (Britney, J.Lo., JT, Janet Jackson, Ludacris, and Queen Latifah are the only ones in the past 10 years), but it's getting a new addition on November 7, when Taylor Swift will both host and musical guest to kick off sweeps, after musical guesting and appearing in one sketch last year opposite NPH. Yes, the Kanye sketch pretty well writes itself, and you can assume they'll use her in a Lawrence Welk Show sketch, but any additional material to suggest?
I CAN'T BELIEVE I GAVE MY PANTIES TO A GEEK: There was much to enjoy on Glee last night--the abundance of musical numbers (5 songs, with 4 of them being full production numbers), the prominent use of Sue, the development of Quinn and Rachel as characters (made more fun because the actresses are BFFs off-set), and the Sixteen Candles references. I'm a little annoyed we had so much Teri/sister material (bitchy, and not in the fun Sue Sylvester way) and that we lacked any Emma/Ken material, but still, an enjoyable hour of television.

Glee did finish second again to Modern Family, though this time in a different category--best song, for the entirely inappropriately catchy "In The Moonlight (Do Me)." Also, the show's found a way to be a little less sentimental, which I appreciated.
HIS BEST WEEK EVER? WE'LL KNOW WHEN THE BOX OFFICE NUMBERS ARE IN: Congratulations to the 2009 National Book Award nominees, none of whom we know that much about so we're deferring to you for the background. Kudos as well to Dave Eggers, being awarded their annual Literarian award for "an individual for outstanding service to the American literary community, whose life and work exemplify the goals of the National Book Foundation to expand the audience for literature and to enhance the cultural value of literature in America. " For the 826 project alone yes, absolutely, and there's even more.
All comedies can experience slumps. The longer a comedy is on the air, the more used to its rhythms the audience becomes, which either results in episodes that are boring and predictable, or a creative staff that goes out of its way to keep from falling into a slump, only to succumb to other pitfalls. Recent examples would include how The Office went astray by making all its characters into big, goofy caricatures in the late episodes of its third season and early episodes of its fourth season, or how Curb Your Enthusiasm could never find solid footing in its often-muddled sixth season. But worse is when a promising or even terrific comedy chases itself into oblivion, like Entourage did after its second season, or Roseanne did in its last three years. The question, then, is whether 30 Rock is just in a slump, or whether it’s plunging off a cliff into oblivion. And while I remain hopeful it's just a slump, there are troubling signs that the cliff could be just ahead....
Be sure to scroll down to the smart comment by "sad tortoise," who notes: "They don't really know what to do with Liz []. At the end of the second season, she was suddenly going to adopt a kid, and man, was that forgotten about quickly. She spent most of the third season bouncing off other people's plotlines, which is a weird thing to end up doing when you're nominally the main character of the show. Tracy's character has devolved over time. In season one, many of the show's best episodes - including possibly the all-time best 'Tracy Does Conan' - involve Liz's struggle to control her wildly out-of-control celebrity wild card. For season or so, however, Tracy has been reduced to a kind of affably eccentric man-child; there's no real sense that he's about to turn Liz's world on its head the way he did in the season one, and without that much of the conflict is gone."
LIGHTS OUT TONIGHT -- TROUBLE IN THE HEARTLAND: Yes, that was something special last night -- seeing BRUUUUUUCE! and the E Street Band perform all of Darkness on the Edge of Town in sequence, plus a three-accordion version of "Sherry Darling," plus early rarity "Thundercrack" and the underrated "Human Touch" (with Bruce and Patti) and, yes, minus the let's-all-go-to-the-lobby anti-classic "Outlaw Pete," apparently for the first time this tour.

It's a bit difficult to talk about Darkness as an album without touching on the borders of the blog; so much of it is about class and desperation in the working, the working, the working life, the only escapes from which being the car and, perhaps, love. It's written entirely in the first person and in a world without male friends to help you through the day -- no "me and Terry" or "me and Wayne on the Fourth of July" -- and even the songs which are most triumphant musically ("Badlands" and the title track) there's no sense of victory at the end, just defiant gestures and hopes unfulfilled.

So, yeah, it was awesome, and it was pulled off without too much ornamentation, save a moving extended solo by the Professor at the end of "Racing in the Street." Seeing "Candy's Room" live is especially revelatory -- it requires a lot out of Max Weinberg to pull it off. As for the rest, most of the rest of the album finds its way into concerts pretty often, but pulled together it reminds you what a ballsy, non-commercial move the whole Darkness album was as the successor to Born to Run.

As for the rest of the show, it was more Bruce Springsteen with the E Street Band rather than Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band -- unlike the 99/00 Blood Brothers tour, especially, there wasn't a ton of interaction with the rest of the band, and especially during the Darkness set there was darn little for Clarence (in his Hogwarts robes, as Jen noted) to do. This was Bruce as lead showman, as shaman crowd-surfing during "Hungry Heart," picking up request signs from the crowd and remaining at the center of it all. (Also, it's hard to top an encore that starts with "Ramrod" and the Detroit medley and ends with "Rosalita".)

Two Spectrum shows remain -- one more Born to Run, then Born in the U.S.A. for his final concert at the 40+ year old venue.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

HI, PHIL! REMEMBER ME, PHIL? Miss Alli returns to TAR recapping for charity! "As the first couple of teams collect their next clues, it turns out that they’re given in the form of mocked-up newspaper sections. Because that’s what a foreign correspondent’s assignment editor does — hand out copies of the paper. I fear that this metaphor here has gone horribly awry, and/or everyone who came up with this particular clue got all of the relevant ideas about journalism from that episode of The Brady Bunch where Peter calls himself 'Scoop.'"

She'll do it again if the Internet (i.e.: we) can contribute $445 for art supplies for a class for disabled students in Indiana in the next five days. Let's knock this out ourselves, gang. (HT: Maret.)
O CAPTAIN! MY CAPTAIN! Beloved irascible former wrestling manager Lou Albano, a key link in the Rock & Wrestling Connection which boosted the WWF from regional concern to cultural phenomenon, has passed away at age 76.

Idolator has compiled some memorable YouTubage of the 1996 WWE Hall of Fame inductee, and let's all (per Alex's suggestion) wear our beard rubberbands at half-mast today in his memory.
ALMOST AS EFFECTIVE AS A NOOGIE: So what are we humilated about this week? Well, honestly, we're humilated that we couldn't think of a good topic for Humiliation this week. So, we turn to you, dear readers--please provide us with some suggested topics for future installments. Remember that the goal is something you haven't done/experienced that you believe the vast majority of other readers have. We'll take the best (or the worst, depending on how you look at it) and use them in the future.
#31 -- RYAN HOWARD FACING NORTHPAWS: Joe Posnanski ranks the top 30 hitters of all time. Isaac will be thrilled by the inclusion of #22.
FROM THE ALOTT5MA BRAIN INJURIES IN FOOTBALL DESK: Well, you know it's a real story now that Malcolm Gladwell has weighed in with an essay paralleling football with dogfighting, and I'll just give you this one paragraph as a teaser:
[Kyle] Turley says he was once in the training room after a game with a young linebacker who had suffered a vicious hit on a kickoff return. “We were in the cold tub, which is, like, forty-five degrees, and he starts passing out. In the cold tub. I don’t know anyone who has ever passed out in the cold tub. That’s supposed to wake you up. And I’m, like, slapping his face. ‘Richie! Wake up!’ He said, ‘What, what? I’m cool.’ I said, ‘You’ve got a concussion. You have to go to the hospital.’ He said, ‘You know, man, I’m fine.’ ” He wasn’t fine, though. That moment in the cold tub represented a betrayal of trust. He had taken the hit on behalf of his team. He was then left to pass out in the cold tub, and to deal—ten and twenty years down the road—with the consequences. No amount of money or assurances about risk freely assumed can change the fact that, in this moment, an essential bond had been broken. What football must confront, in the end, is not just the problem of injuries or scientific findings. It is the fact that there is something profoundly awry in the relationship between the players and the game.
Gladwell's conclusion, this time, is not one of those aha! insights that could make the world better.
JOHNNY FONTANE NEVER GETS THAT MOVIE. THAT PART IS PERFECT FOR HIM. IT'LL MAKE HIM A BIG STAR. I'M GONNA RUN HIM OUT OF THE MOVIES. AND LET ME TELL YOU WHY: Philadelphia native crooner Al Martino, who played Johnny Fontane in the Godfather films, has passed away. Here's Martino singing a discofied "Volare" in the Alps.
WEDNESDAY MORNING, 3 A.M. (WHAT HE SAID EDITION): Maybe you all still trip over to Big Media Vandalism every once in awhile. Maybe not. Now would be a good time to do so, if you were up, and you were up for a screed on the lost art of "the shot" in mainstream moviemaking.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

‘Boneless’ Wings, the Cheaper Bite -

I BELIEVE THIS WOULD BE #12 ON THE BOURDAIN-CHANG LIST: Attention America -- boneless chicken "wings" are not wings at all. Interesting economic story.
AND WHILE YOU'RE AT IT, GET OFF MY LAWN: Interesting data over at The Hollywood Reporter about the average age of viewers of this season's new shows, as well as a few other shows. The Cleveland Show, which I'm guessing is written by porpoises, since Seth McFarlane is apparently out of manatees, skews the youngest, and it seems the Twi-Hards are helping Vampire Diaries, which skews young as well. I do feel bad that I do regularly watch the oldest skewing show on TV--no, not Andy Rooney, but Law and Order: Original Recipe, and am quite enjoying The Good Wife, the oldest-skewing new show, even though I feel like I shouldn't, given that it's clearly not aimed at my demographic.
STILL LOOKING FOR MY BILLY AND THE BOINGERS SQUARE SINGLE: With Volume One of The Complete Bloom County Collection in stores next week, Berkeley Breathed is asked about the death of the comic strip:
You announced your retirement in 1989, and within the next few years, both Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) and Gary Larson (The Far Side) were gone, as well.
You get a license to print money if you get in, which is why syndicates couldn’t believe I was doing that. But Bloom County was definitely a creature of the eighties. The humor was very specific, and it was going to get jaded and, I think, musty very quickly. There were too many raw edges to it, and you just can’t keep raw forever. The fact that other guys followed afterward was a wake-up call to the industry that something is amiss, and change is afoot, and maybe the glory days are never going to return.

And they never really did. With the exception of Dilbert and The Boondocks, there hasn’t been a culture-conquering newspaper strip in years.
When the three of us quit, it coincided with bad things happening in newspapers in general, and then the culture was suddenly awash in competitive humor. It siphoned a lot of the talent away. The future great cartoonists aren't sending their stuff anymore. They rightfully are working in graphic novels, or doing something else. It’s funny, you never hear anybody talking about it. People loved the comics over the last 100 years. They were hugely influential in popular culture, and they’re dying. They’re going fast. And nobody talks about it — it’s like they’re not even noticing. Along with newspapers, it’s this huge creative institution just disappearing into the ether behind us.
#11 -- THAT CHICK-FIL-A IS CLOSED ON SUNDAYS: Ten things that Anthony Bourdain and David Chang hate about the contemporary food scene.

In (barely) related news (via same source), Rick Bayless is worried about serving "crap" at his new Mexican street food restaurant.

[P.S. So, okay, how good is the Momofuku empire? Have. Not. Been.]

Monday, October 12, 2009

BEAT L.A.: Enough with loyalty over common sense, Cholly. (But we'll take the win.) Still, the only more questionable decision than bringing in Lidge (over, say, Pedro) was, as Joe Sheehan noted, "I don't care how many saves the guy has: letting Huston Street, or any right-handed pitcher alive, face Ryan Howard with the season on the line is a mistake. Jim Tracy is making a huge mistake, and if it works, great, but it's a huge, massive mistake.... How can you possibly believe in the closer myth to the tune of the difference between a backup catcher and Albert Pujols, which is basically the difference between Howard vs LHP and vs. RHP? The decision to let Street pitch there might be the single worst tactical decision you can make. I can't think of a bunt, a lineup call, a pitching change worth that much RE."

Phew. Howard delivered. Werth delivered. Bring on the Dodgers.
SADLY, NO GOOD JOG BRAS IN 1963: So no one, really, had a good day on last night's Mad Men. As always, our friend Alan Sepinwall presents the blow-by-blow (or, in this case, the blow-by-retrospectively-ill-advised-non-blow). But just in case you had spent any time over the last 2 1/2 seasons thinking that you should have been born somewhere around NYC in the early '30s (if male) or the early-mid '40s (if female), then let last's night's episode serve as an assurance to you that life can pretty much suck no matter who or when you are. (Unless you're Ken Cosgrove, who thus far seems to lead a charmed life.)

I just did a quick wiki search of Conrad Hilton to see whether the common zeitgeist has yet determined how accurate of a portrayal Mad Men's Connie actually is. The only noteworthy tidbit as yet revealed there is that by the time Connie meets Don, he's already been married to and divorced from Zsa Zsa Gabor. I have no opinion as to whether or not this contributed to his desire to have a hotel on the moon.

As for the big plot points: Was anyone expecting that to be Don's reaction to Lee Garner Jr.'s ultimatum? Have we seen the last of Henry Francis? Can Hilton's feathers be smoothed, and by whom? And when will Miss Farrell show up with a boiling bunny?

And one smaller note: Sal's fabulous film auteur outfit was absolute perfection.
WILL IT: Float? or Blend? Justify your answer and show all work.
HE, TOO, AIMS TO MISBEHAVE: At least a certain portion of our readership will be delighted to see that Richard Castle has chosen a Halloween costume. Any resemblance to prior Fillion characters is, I am certain, entirely coincidental.
SHE'S CLEARLY ONE OF THE CAMBODIAN PEOPLE: I'm with our friend Dan Fienberg about last night's episode of TAR. Disappointing as the outcome of the leg itself was, the leg's structure was equally disappointing--big airport bunch, navigation that was almost entirely dependent on the luck of the draw of how knowledgeable your taxi driver was, a boring (and not terribly telegenic) detour choice that seemed unbalanced, especially given that all but one team opted for "wrap," and yet another Roadblock that seemed to be unclearly judged as to whether teams met the "requirements." And then there's the heartbreaking ending, about which I think there's an opening for discussion--more disappointing--the team eliminated due to their screwup or the team saved from elimination by virtue of the screwup?
THE LAST BASTION OF AFFORDABLE SPORTS SEATING: Jon Pareles on the last BRUUUUUCE! show at Giants Stadium, with a setlist featuring Born in the U.S.A. in its entirety. Jen and I will be going Wednesday for one of the final four Spectrum shows, which is scheduled to feature all of Darkness on the Edge of Town, about which I am very, very excited. One of my favorite bootlegs (and widely available online) is from an August 1978 show in Charleston, WV, at the start of the Darkness tour, and it's just a revelation listening to a band that's still selling every song -- raw, passionate and a bit desperate -- just listen to that night's version of the title track. We will go out Wednesday night, and find out what he's got.
(YOU ARE NOT MAKING HER FEEL LIKE) A NATURAL WOMAN: Dear Dave McKenna of the Washington Post -- if you want to attack Kelly Clarkson for not being at the weight at which you'd like to see her, just say it directly and skip all the innuendo and loaded words you used instead. Thanks.
THE GROOM WAS JUST MAD ABOUT SAFFRON: Harrumph. Somehow, Christina Hendricks got married yesterday at a restaurant a mere few blocks from my home, and I was not invited?