Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New Kids Wednesday!

  • The Monologue:
    • Nigeria has suspended its national team for two years because of its poor showing in the World Cup. What a Christian Okoye for them!
    • After the GOP's trashing of Thurgood Marshall during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings, President Obama has asked Elena Kagan to tell them that she also once worked for Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, and Jesus.
    • Fine, the Marshall stuff was dumb, but let's be honest; it's not like the Republicans are going to get many African-American votes anyway. Even Michael Steele said the GOP was "very naughty and needed to be punished."
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • If I sit down to watch a show, read a series of books, or watch a series of movies, I have to start at the beginning and work my way through. It doesn't matter if each part stands on its own. I use that as preface for this: I should have just skipped the second season of Friday Night Lights and moved right to the third. If anyone wants to watch the show (and I highly recommend it), you should do that. The second season had its plot issues, but the worst thing is that it ended after fifteen episodes because of the writers' strike. Unfortunately, it was supposed to be twenty-two or so episodes and they never finished the story. The third season premiere pretends as if those last seven or so episodes happened, making the whole thing very surreal. Better to have just skipped those fifteen episodes and caught up the same way I had to anyway, through context and some flashbacks.
    • I am really sick of the NBA free agent stuff. It's unavoidable. The oil spill isn't leaking into as many dark corners of my consciousness as this crap.
    • DVD pick of the week: Hot Tub Time Machine. Rob Corddry freaking kills in that movie.
    • I call foul on yesterday's "Two for Tuesday" on local station 105.9. Yes, I call foul on the entire concept of "Two for Tuesday," but I'm getting more specific. They played, back-to-back, "Layla" and "Forever Man". Um, "Layla" is by Derek and the Dominoes and "Forever Man" is by Clapton solo? Would you do a "Two for Tuesday" with "Hey, Jude" and "Imagine"?
  • Random Music Video:
    • This song hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 twenty years ago today and stayed there for three weeks. Donnie is wearing a Public Enemy shirt? Right. So, enjoy!

Forwards To The Past

Out late tonight, having gone right from work downtown to the Shakespeare Theatre Company. It seems like every movie is in 3D nowadays. Before Toy Story 3, every preview except Secretariat was for something in 3D. The third Harold & Kumar movie is going to be in 3D. The 3D live action stuff in Avatar was incredible, but I realized tonight, sitting in the front row for a Shaw-penned comedy, that all of this 3D is trying to capture the experience of seeing actors live in front of you. Theater is the original 3D movie.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

In Which The Internet Fails Me

  • The Monologue:
    • Michael Phelps performed poorly at a swim meet in Paris. Marijuana makes you lazy.
    • Germany beat England 4-1 today. It got so bad that the people of London started hiding in Tube stations.
    • Germany will next play Argentina. The biggest suspense surrounding the game is in who all of the Nazi fugitives will root for.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • Entourage is garbage. It just is. I've stuck with it for six seasons, so I have to keep going, but there was even less intrigue than usual tonight (which is saying something). Vince sucks, as usual. Turtle is lame, as usual. Now, we add that Drama's story line isn't trying to be funny, Eric was in the show for maybe thirty seconds, and Ari wasn't mean to Lloyd. There's no entertainment value left.
    • And, I understand that Vince is special to Ari, but Ari gives a big speech about how he doesn't want to have to deal with Ryan Reynolds and then immediately takes Eric's call? What universe does this show take place in? They've gotten me so worked up that I've already ended two sentences in this post with prepositions.
    • Didn't watch Hung. Don't plan to. Don't know why it got renewed. We are in for a sorry bunch of new TV until Mad Men finally, blessedly, returns next month. In five weeks. But who's counting?
  • Random Video:
    • Random Video is on strike. There is no video online -- none -- of the old PSA that went: "Hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk? Hot enough to fry a dog's brain!" I am so disappointed in you, internet.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Fraulein Loves You

  • The Monologue:
    • BP bought machines from Kevin Costner to clean the water affected by the oil spill. This is actual footage of the machine at work as far back as 1995!
    • Speaking of 1995, three of the top ten trending topics on Yahoo right now are Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, and Mel Gibson. No joke! I saw it when I logged on to CompuServe.
    • Anyone catch Ghana knocking off the US today? That's the biggest upset in Africa since Israel took out Egypt 10-0 in the World Cup of 1500BC. The Israeli Hebrews versus the Egyptian First-Borns. Total slaughter.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • I saw a poll online that said that 85% of respondents have admitted to crying at the end of Toy Story 3. An article in this week's Entertainment Weekly specifically talks about men's stories about crying at the movie. The article itself almost made me tear up. I'm not kidding.
    • Got the first disc of Breaking Bad and devoured it quickly. I've heard a lot of people refer to it as the best show on TV (or tied with Mad Men). It's really, really good.
    • Also continuing to work through Friday Night Lights. The second season isn't as strong as the first, but I know it gets better. Regardless of the iffy plot, there are still no two actors with stronger on-screen chemistry than Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton.
    • Party Down ended a very shaky second season (that may be its last) with a very shaky season finale. There were a couple of pretty good episodes this season, though, and everyone should go to Netflix Watch Instantly and watch episode 5, "Steve Guttenberg's Birthday". You don't even have to have seen any other moment of the show.
    • Season premiere of Entourage tomorrow night. There's no show I watch religiously that I hate more. Hung also returns, but I'm way done with that.
  • Random Music Video:
    • 46 years ago tomorrow, The Beatles' "She Loves You" peaked at #97 on the German charts. I only found out recently that they actually recorded a foreign language version of a couple of songs, including this one, so the actual song in Germany was "Sie Liebt Dich". Not kidding -- here's the song:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Worst of the Worst: #35, Deal

Some of these "worst" movies are enjoyably bad and some of them are just plain bad. Some of them stand out in my memory and some of them are so forgettable that I'll have to refer back to the reviews to remember how I felt about them (case in point: #32, Deuces Wild, which I just looked at because I saw on the list that I watched it and couldn't remember anything about it except one actor and the setting). Unfortunately, Deal falls into the latter categories. I've pretty much already forgotten everything about this movie and I just finished it twenty minutes ago.

On the good side (sort of) for the movie, something this forgettable and boring doesn't seem to fit on the list. The movie is bad, no doubt. It cost around five million dollars to make and earned a whopping $57,000 at the box office, which is certainly more than it deserved. It's really bad, but it just doesn't seem that bad because it is so uneventfully dull. At one point, I threw a fit because I looked to see how much was left in the movie and it had only been on for half an hour. I thought I was at least an hour in.

That bad timing doesn't just come from boredom, it comes because this is one of the worst-paced movies I can remember. It clocks in at an epic 82 minutes before the credits and the measly story itself wraps up even more quickly, because the final half-hour is devoted only to the final table at the World Poker Tour championsips. Yep, it's a poker movie. And, like every poker movie in history besides Rounders, it's very obviously written by people who have never actually played poker. Every hand comes down to some monster like a full house or better. The tell is more important than any other factor in the game. All of the players say really witty things that don't make much sense and then make plays that make even less sense. The announcers and real poker players play themselves badly with awful dialogue. In this case, "the real poker players" refers mostly to just Phil Laak because the footage of Raymer, Nguyen, Negreanu, and company, looks like it was taken by someone who had hidden a camera and ran away as soon as they got a second of footage.

The camera work is maddening with its swooping motions and there is not one scene -- not one -- that doesn't include some sort of music or background noise that detracts from anything going on. It's okay, though, because the story is inconsequential. There is a young hotshot who is not yet as good as he thinks. A washed-up star who never won the big one takes the kid under his wing to teach him. He even ends up getting a prostitute to give the kid confidence, but the kid thinks the girl really likes him and then flips out when he finds the truth. Come to think of it, that's sort of the plot of Bull Durham, so I don't even have to say that this film sounds unoriginal because it actually is. Kid ends up playing teacher in the poker championship. They learn a lesson about what's important in life. They go home happy. I scream at the TV because none of the poker makes any f***ing sense.

The only "redeeming" quality here is that the washed-up star is played by Burt Reynolds. I don't think most people realize what a big freaking movie star Reynolds was back in the '70s and '80s. He's even had some decent roles as he's gotten older, such as in Mystery, Alaska and Boogie Nights. Granted, both of those movies came out over ten years ago. He was also pretty funny on My Name is Earl, though. He's kept the mustache and let his hair grow white as he's gotten older (hard to believe he turned 74 this year). Well, he let his hair grow white except for in this movie. I can't tell whether he dyed his hair or just dunked it in a vat of shoe polish, because it is eerily black. Like a doll's eyes. Like a strange blackness that can only be stopped if Atreyu succeeds in getting to the Ivory Tower in time. On top of the hair that actually sucked the light out of surrounding items, there is a little joy in one scene at the end that is so poorly acted that I squealed in delight and watched it twice. Awkward dialogue, weird close-ups, poorly-timed delivery.

If you needed any other reason to think that poker is just a game and not a real sport, look at the dearth of good poker movies. There are great baseball ones, football ones, basketball ones, even a great soccer one (Victory). There is one great poker movie. There is a good poker scene in The Sting, but only one scene and everyone's cheating anyway. If Hollywood is going to keep trying to use the drama of a tight card game, they need to find a way to write realistic poker. Otherwise, you'll just end up with this movie, which I can't quite remember the name of right now, but I'll eventually figure out when it comes on HBO at 2AM some night and I flip to it because it's about poker and then start screaming in agony because I'll remember I already saw it.

Park's Closed

Impromptu (and thus far financially unsuccessful) overnight trip to AC. Moose out front, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Worst of the Worst: #24, Texas Rangers

The story of the Texas Rangers is a long, sad tale that may be changing as we speak. Ever since they moved from Washington before the 1972 season, they've been mediocre at best, having only made the playoffs three times and only winning one total playoff game in franchise history. Tonight, however, they won their ninth straight game and they have some pitchers for maybe the first time ever. The greatest player in Rangers history is, of course, the overrated Nolan Ryan and the franchise is otherwise famous for giving A-Rod $252 million and being the hotbed of steroids during the Canseco/Juan Gonzalez/Rafael Palmeiro days. A story like this makes for a depressing movie, but nobody said this was the "Most Fun Movies Ever" list.

Wait, what?

Texas Rangers is actually a western starring James Van Der Beek, Ashton Kucher, and Usher? They fight against Alfred Molina, who looks like he'd rather be anywhere else but in the movie? They're led by Dylan McDermott, who doesn't use a Southern accent, but speaks as if he did ("I reckon I better do this.")? Nobody, except for Randy Travis and Robert Patrick, uses Southern accents? Why would you do a movie about former Confederate soldiers in Texas in 1875 and not have any of them use Southern accents? That doesn't make sense! And the dialogue is so bad that you can't tell which is worse between the acting (it's always the acting in Kucher's case) and the script? And the camera work is among the worst in movie history, with so many cuts and shots that last fewer than three seconds that you get a headache and can't follow the action? And the movie is only 81 minutes long besides the credits and includes a scene where someone juggles for no apparent reason?

No, I must have put that awful, awful movie out of my head. Bring on Chad Curtis and Rusty Greer.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Time Management

I think we're generally happy about the On Demand world in which we live. It's great to be able to watch anything I want whenever I want. It's great to be riding around Arlington Cemetery and being able to look up various names on wikipedia. All of this at my fingertips can be a bit much, though.

I can listen to podcasts whenever I want on my phone or my computer. There are some great ones like Nerdist or Adam Corrola that I just don't have time for, but what is one to do with must-listen ones? Today starts the return of Don Geronimo to major radio in Sacramento and the show is being released in podcast form (I'm listening to it right now). That brings the daily podcasts I want to hear to three: Tony Kornheiser, Mike O'Meara, and Geronimo. 5 and a half hours of podcast time a day. I'm going to try to find the time at work, in the car, at home. How long will it last before I give up? I give it like three days before I only listen to the parts of Geronimo that I can stream when I get the chance.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Stay-ca... Never Mind

So I'm technically on vacation, though stuck in the DC area, more or less. It's like a vacation where I stay put. If only some totally non-douchebag person could come up with a name for something like that.

Anyways, I enabled something on the blog where it e-mails me when someone makes a comment. It's nice in one way because I've caught a couple of nice comments on past entries. It's weird in another way because it means that I get an e-mail every time some spam gets posted as a comment. By far, the post that has gotten the most hits over time is
"Bush-stravaganza '09!" from June of last year. For whatever reason, one of the bush baby pictures I used must come up early when someone does a Google image search for bush babies. Thanks to those hits (and not because it was a really funny post), there are 33 spam comments on the post. I don't use any kind of validation word or login, because this just isn't that serious.

So that spam makes sense, but I can't explain the post
"Doesn't It Pop?" from November of last year. That post made fun of Sarah Palin a little, talked about Survivor: Samoa a little, and had a clip from Dogma. There are currently 185 spam comments on the post and I get more and more each day. And they're all in a foreign language! I just finally decided to use Babelfish to try and translate one, assuming that it would say that I was awesome. It looks like it may be Japanese and that it says something about wives and pleasure. The translator didn't quite work well, but I think the comments are from 185 different Japanese people, all saying that their wives take much pleasure in reading my posts. I'm big in Japan! Because of that, I will write the rest of this post in Japanese. My American friends can either translate or go on not commenting on anything I write.

私はあなたの国家の妻による私のブログの賞賛によって非常に名誉を与えられる。 それはGodzillaまたは多分原爆のような日本を魅了する私の物の夢いままで常にだった。 その最後の参照を許しなさい、しかし私がビルマレーかScarlett Johanssonを含んでいない日本のアメリカ介入について知っているすべてである。 私はショーンConneryおよびWesleyが狙撃するが、それがLAで起こったことを言う。 従って、任意雑音を楽しみ、あなたの女性にちょっと言い続けなさい。 さようなら。

Update: I fed what Babelfish gave me back in to translate it into English and it made me laugh out loud. It says this: "I can give reputation very by the praise of my [burogu] which is by the wife of your nation. That Godzilla or dream of my ones which fascinate Japan perhaps like the atomic bomb so far was always. Whether permit the last reference, but I the Burmese ray, it is everything which you have known concerning the Japanese American intervention which does not include Scarlett Johansson. I snipe Shaun Connery and Wesley, but it means that happens with LA. Therefore, enjoy optional noise, just a little continue to call to your woman. Way if." It was meant to say this: "I am very honored by the admiration of my blog by the wives of your nation. It has always been a dream of mine to take Japan by storm like Godzilla or perhaps an atomic bomb. Please excuse that last reference, but it is all I know about American involvement in Japan that does not include either Bill Murray or Scarlett Johansson. I would say Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes, but that took place in LA. So, please continue to enjoy Random Babbles and say hey to your ladies. Good bye."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pixar Perfection

This is the list of feature films that Pixar had released before this year:
  • Toy Story (1995)
  • A Bug's Life (1998)
  • Toy Story 2 (1999)
  • Monsters, Inc. (2001)
  • Finding Nemo (2003)
  • The Incredibles (2004)
  • Cars (2006)
  • Ratatouille (2007)
  • WALL-E (2008)
  • Up (2009)

I've seen all but A Bug's Life. All of them range from good (Toy Story 2, Cars) to all-time great (WALL-E). The first 15 minutes of Up are simply tremendous, but the movie gets a little more childish after that. Finding Nemo and The Incredibles are both fantastic, but lack that art factor that keep them from being in that all-time category. So, WALL-E remains at the top and no other Pixar movie really belongs in the same breath.

Until this weekend.

When I first saw that they were making a third Toy Story movie, fifteen years after the first one, no less, I laughed. Hollywood has gotten so sequel crazy. Almost all of the big movies this year are sequels or remakes of some sort. Because of this lack of originality, box office numbers are awful. So Disney and Pixar are tacking on a third movie that had a pretty good, but not great, sequel. Can't be worthy. I should have had more faith.

Toy Story 3 uses the length of time between films to advance the time in its world. Andy, the boy who owns the toys, is getting ready to leave for college and has to clean his room. His mother makes him decide whether he wants to take the toys with him to college, put them in his attic, or throw them away. With this decision hanging over them, the toys have to come to grips once and for all with the fact that they are now useless to their owner, who will never play with them again. What follows brings on an onslaught of nostalgic soul-searching in the audience that leads to an ending that had every adult in the theater sobbing. I'm not really exaggerating -- my wife next to me was crying, I was crying, the guy in front of me was crying.

I'm not painting a fair picture of the movie because it's also really, really funny. As Pixar is often wont to do, they manage to mix physical humor that makes everyone laugh with sexual innuendo and other adult humor. There are a few parts that are seriously laugh-out-loud funny, including a sequence that deals with an evil cymbal-clashing monkey. There is even some adventure and a pretty exciting climax. Add in a few easy pop culture references and a few hidden ones (there's a great Return of the Jedi homage) and you end up with a movie that is very enjoyable to watch.

But the true greatness in a film is when it makes you feel something. WALL-E pulled the heartstrings with the space flight sequence and it made you think about our culture of consumerism. Toy Story 3 is great because it makes you examine how your life has changed since childhood and what that means to parents and children alike. One of the reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes that has contributed to the movie's 99% (!) rating (100% among the Top Critics) said that he was glad that there was the usual blooper reel during the credits because it meant he didn't have to immediately walk out into the lobby, wiping the tears out of his eyes. Toy Story 3 makes even critics feel something deeply. It's not art to the level of WALL-E, so it's not quite as great, but great it is.

It's been a rough year for movies. As far as I can remember, there are only three movies I've seen this year that I even really liked (I'm not counting Clash of the Titans which was purely through irony). My number three is Iron Man 2. Number two is Hot Tub Time Machine. Toy Story 3 is number one by miles upon light years. I don't think sequels, in general, are a pretty bad idea. Unless Pixar makes them, because Pixar just doesn't do bad.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Where Amazing Happens

Game 7 of the NBA Finals last night was 40-34 at the half and 57-53 after three quarters. And NBA fans knock the NCAA tournament for being lower-caliber basketball. Here is actual footage from Game 7:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Where Were You?

There are certain moments when things happen in the world around us that are so momentous that we remember exactly where we were. To revisit those moments, all we have to do is close our eyes and we are right back there. I say this because ESPN's outstanding 30 for 30 series premiered its new documentary tonight, "June 17, 1994". Using only news footage with no narration, director Brett Morgen puts you right in the thick of the events of that day: Arnold Palmer's last round at the U.S. Open, the parade for the New York Rangers, the opening ceremonies of the World Cup in Chicago, Ken Griffey, Jr., tying the record for most home runs by June 30 as the strike loomed, Game 5 of the NBA Finals at Madison Square Garden, and the low-speed chase with a white Ford Bronco down I-5 in Los Angeles. (Note: Morgen makes the very astute point in talking about the film that the O.J. situation was what led to the reality TV craze. I never thought about that, but it is so true.) I remember exactly where I was that night. I was in my basement, getting ready to go to college orientation in a couple of days, watching the Knicks and then riveted to the TV as NBC went split-screen with Tom Brokaw and the chase footage. I flipped back and forth between NBC and ABC because I preferred ABC News at the time. It's a great film that brings back a lot of easy memories.

Some other times that pop into my mind:
  • January 28, 1986: I was sitting in my fourth-grade classroom having just gotten back from lunch. We took our seats but no adult was there. After a couple of minutes, our teacher walked in, pale as a sheet. "Something went wrong with the shuttle launch..."
  • October 17, 1989: I was in the car and pissed that I was going to miss the start of Game 3 of the World Series. Got home, ran into the house, and couldn't understand why Ted Koppel was on the screen instead of baseball. Can't forget Al Michaels and Jim Palmer staying in the stadium to report, even as it was feared to be unsafe.
  • September 11, 2001: I had just gotten to work and had stepped outside with my chain-smoking co-worker. Someone in the next office over ran out and said that a plane had run into the World Trade Center. We went in and told our co-workers and all thought that was unfortunate, but weird. Went back out again in a few minutes and the people ran out to tell us a second plane had hit. We ran inside as a co-worker pulled out a portable TV to get the news and all hell started to break loose inside the office.
  • And, so it's not all bad, November 4, 2008: I had been telling my mother all day that there was nothing to worry about. When Chris Matthews called Ohio for Obama, I called her and she was crying with the realization of what was happening. I teared up then for a second, but not again for the rest of the night. When the clock struck 11, MSNBC went into their projection music and I'm now going to see if I can remember it by heart without looking it up: David Gregory: "And now Keith has some history to tell you about." Keith Olberman: "We project that Barack Obama will be the forty-fourth President of the United States." (Dammit, actual: Gregory: "11 o'clock on the east coast. Keith, we can report history." Olberman: "Barack Obama is projected to be the next President of the United States of America.")

Anyone else have memories of those things or anything else?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Tonight, I watched [redacted]. It was especially amazing when [redacted]. We all laughed when the woman said something about [redacted]. I'm glad I saw it because now I'll know what I'm missing when [redacted]. I believe the name of the film was: "How I Came Up With The Idea For Kuato, By Paul Verhoeven".

Monday, June 14, 2010

Worst of the Worst: #12, Killing Me Softly

Now, that's what I'm talking about! Killing Me Softly, the twelfth-worst movie of the last decade according to Rotten Tomatoes, is not only really bad, but it is really funny. Really, really funny. It's the kind of movie that begs for the MST3K treatment. It shouldn't be funny, though. Killing Me Softly was made by a legit director, Chen Kaige (Farewell my Concubine) in his English language debut, and has a couple of really beautiful shots. Chen maybe should have stuck to Chinese though, as he seems to be a bit lacking in the direction of English-speaking actors.

The prime suspect here is Heather Graham. She isn't a bad actress, but she is so robotic in this one that she makes it seem like Ingrid Bergman played the Jetsons' maid. The script does her no favors. I presume that it's hard to be but so good when there is a scene where you are walking around a house and saying, out loud, "I wonder where I can find a shirt." It's hard to take an actress' performance seriously when she gets a threatening note and reads it aloud, even though she's by herself. Graham is joined by the severely overacting Joseph Fiennes. Some of the great mockable moments occur as he swings his arms widely to show disbelief and anger, often knocking harmless knick-knacks around in the process. There is little time to enjoy the show, however, as Fiennes and Graham have various forms of sex for perhaps 98 of the movie's 99 minutes. The movie is worthy of Cinemax, but only barely.

The film is based on a novel, but it must be a pretty bad novel. The plot deals with an American woman in London who is in a boring relationship and then sees a mysterious man on the street. She follows him into a bookstore and, boom, sex. Now her sex with the guy she's living with is even more boring, so she leaves him for the mysterious guy in a scene in which she wears a skirt that goes down to just slightly past her navel even though it's snowing outside. Mysterious guy finds her outside his place and, bam, sex. After beating up a mugger in somewhat of a non-sequitir, he decides they should get married and, pow, sex. This time in a cemetery. He has a locked door in his house and, upon finding the key, she discovers he has letters from an ex who disappeared at one point after falling off of a mountain (the guy's a mountain climber, but whatever). Somehow -- and perhaps I may have missed something -- this leads her to believe that he's a serial killer. Menacing music starts playing while she runs away and hides from him in various places. I was never that concerned, though, because I never understood why I should be afraid of him. I suppose that somehow the erotic asphyxiation scene was supposed to be a hint that he could strangle people, but he didn't even use his hands (it was some sort of silk thing)! She runs from him and into the arms of his sister and it's at that point that I realized that the sister was, in fact, the serial killer. There was no hint of this, but it just seemed realistic. Of course, I should have also foreseen (since sex hadn't been discussed in thirty seconds or so) that she killed his girlfriends because they used to have an incestual relationship. It's my second incest-themed movie in the last three, and that doesn't even include any assumptions about Witless Protection!

Sorry I gave away the plot, but you would have guessed it anyway. This movie isn't worth seeing for the twists and turns. It's not worth seeing because Heather Graham's breasts practically make more appearances than her face. It's not worth seeing because the end involves someone inexplicably being shot with a flare gun. Frankly, it's just not worth seeing. But, if you must(!), see Killing Me Softly for the comedy, unintentional as it may be.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

When Did You Become So Perfect?

  • Back:
    • So after the bit from L.A., I took a break due to some minor jet lag and a lack of anything to say. What's the opposite of prolific? Whatever that is is what I've been lately.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • I've been on a non-fiction kick lately, reading-wise, and I've been very slow with anything I pick up. I can't remember the last book that I really flew through. So, having left my Revolutionary War history at home last week, I found myself at the airport with nothing to read. Thanks to the joint wonders of iPhone and Facebook, I put out a call as to what book I should pick up. I ended up with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. A lot of hype over the series (and the movie, for that matter). The verdict? The hype is deserved. It's freaking amazing. I couldn't put it down on the plane and, while my schedule in California and since coming back here has kept me from finishing it, I look forward to reading it every day.
    • I think I listed Mad Men as the only current TV show that is nearly perfect, but that probably isn't fair to The United States of Tara. I struggle with the show because it seems on its face like such a vanity project for Toni Collette, but that probably isn't fair to the writing and the other fine actors. The end of this season came together beautifully and the combined artistic efforts in the last five minutes or so of the show were magnificent.
    • Contrast that with Nurse Jackie, which ended its season with a weird avalanche of awful stuff happening to its title character. It was all of her own doing, to be sure, but it left the story arc unfinished, so it will stay as slightly annoying until whenever the next season begins.
    • When I'm back in California later this week and next week (I'll save the LL Cool J jokes for a few days), we're planning to hit L.A. again for a day. I had one hell of a fun time there. Thursday of next week is the World Premiere of The Twlight Saga: Eclipse. Is there any reason why I shouldn't go to the red carpet just to watch the crowd?
  • Revisiting The Classics: The Graduate
    • I have friends that knock me for only watching bad movies, which isn't true. So, while tomorrow will bring a new addition to my Worst of the Worst reviews, I thought I'd go with quick reviews when I watch (or, in this case, rewatch) a great movie. I first saw The Graduate, #7 on AFI's original Top 100 list and #17 on the updated one, around ten years ago, when I was in my early twenties. I don't think I got it then. Watching it today, it was considerably funnier than I remembered. Considerably. A lot of the laughs come from mature jokes, some from physical comedy. When you think of "adult comedies" nowadays, you think of The Hangover, but The Graduate is the epitome of an adult comedy. Beyond the ability to understand the subtleties, one needs patience because of how artistic the film can seem. Director Mike Nichols used unusual camera angles to play foreground/background with actors and scenery. It allowed him to show an actor say something and then change focus to show another respond non-verbally. He used tracking shots and then doubled back on those shots for beautiful parallels from scene to scene. All of these techniques come together in the famous last sequence at the church as Ben goes to stop Elaine's wedding. It's amazing to think that Anne Bancroft is only six years older than Dustin Hoffman, but the makeup people did a fine job and she really does seem twice his age. I have a list of potential places to see in California next week and one of them is Santa Barbara. I wonder if that First Presbyterian Church is actually there.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Funny

Here's why Twitter is so great:

I wasn't feeling the group dinner tonight, so I thought I'd go by myself to the Dodgers game. As I was dropping my crap at the hotel, I checked Twitter and saw Dan Harmon (the creator of Community) tweet about a comedy show tonight in LA with some of the stars of the show. I looked up the location, saw it was right in Hollywood, and decided I'd check it out. Ended up seeing Danny Pudi (Abed), Yvette Brown (Shirley), Jim Rash (the Dean), the guy who plays Starburns (update: it was actually a guy who played campus security on a few episodes), and (the very cute in person) Alison Brie (Annie and also Trudy Campbell in Mad Men) do improv with a bunch of other people I recognized (I'll find the list and put it up later). Freaking hilarious. Stayed for a second show that included a set by the Lampshades, a very funny fake lounge act that includes one of the actresses (Kate Flannery?) from The Office.
After the show, I walked outside and the actors were standing there talking to Andy Dick. What a night. I could never live in LA, but it's pretty fun.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Thanks to a long travel day and misinformation from a put-upon concierge, I decided to eschew Dodger Stadium last night for dinner in Hollywood. Touristy enough that I assumed I'd only see tourists.

At dinner, we noticed people setting up cameras everywhere, but nobody would say for what. After, we decided to stick around and see what they were filming. At one point, I was standing around and turned to see Ron Perlman (Hellboy) standing right next to me and talking on his phone. He was too close to take a picture without being really obnoxious.

Apparently his presence was unrelated to the filming, because we eventually found out (after a crowd had gathered and nobody knew why) they were taping America's Next Top Model. Tyra was not there, but a couple of other judges greeted the crowd and took reaction shots. The actual fashion show involved models on a catwalk three stories above ground level. So, now I'm going to have watch an episode of America's Next Top Model next season. Yay.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Brown Skies, Smiling At Me

Using some new software, so we'll see... I've only been to LA proper twice, and only for like a day each time. I'm struck by how smoggy it is. The car was taking us down the highway and I could see outlines of buildings in the distance, but not actual buildings because of the brown pea-soup-thick haze that sits on downtown. I guess it's trapped by the mountains, unlike NY, but it's still nasty.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Saw two movies today: a good independent British one and a great independent British one.

The good one was Following, Christopher Nolan's first feature film. It deals with a bored wannabe-writer who starts shadowing random people to see where they go on a daily basis. When one of his marks, a thief, discovers him, the young man is pulled into a more exciting world that is not quite what it seems. Shot in black and white and clocking in at a brisk 70 minutes, you can find it on Netflix Watch Instantly. Very low budget, but nice camera work and great twists. Now I've seen every feature that Nolan has done and I can say for sure that he's never made a bad movie.

The great one, and I mean great, was In The Loop, nominated last year for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film deals with the run up to a war in the Middle East as a minor British politician says something on the radio with no thought that leads to a flurry of spin from the British and American governments. There is some good acting, such as from James Gandolfini as a political American general, but the star of this one is the script. For me to use words to describe the brilliance of the script would be like someone describing Van Gogh by sketching one of his paintings. It is laugh-out-loud funny and very original, with tons of memorable lines. The cursing alone is so original that even David Mamet should take notes. Precious won the Oscar, but it probably wasn't as well written as this one or fellow nominees An Education or Up In The Air. In The Loop seriously has the best-written dialogue I have heard in years, if not since Pulp Fiction. See it now on Showtime On Demand (which is shocking, because their offerings generally stink).

Off to Los Angeles tomorrow morning for my first of two California trips over the next two weeks. I may actually blog a little from out there because I've never really spent much time out there and I'm sure it's quite the different atmosphere. Also, I'm hoping I run into Katy Perry or Lizzy Caplan, but just 'cause. I'll let y'all know.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Worst of the Worst: #10, Witless Protection

Larry the Cable Guy's Witless Protection scored a full Blutarski on Rotten Tomatoes, 0%. 0%? Could no critic find anything redeeming about this wacky slapstick comedy? What's not to like about it? To wit:
  • the movie celebrates stupidity, talking about how liberals are too wordy and having the main characters give their friend a funny look when he uses a word with three syllables;
  • there are more fart jokes than any other kind of joke in the movie, until Larry the Cable Guy decides to just unleash one-liner after one-liner towards the end (example: "This is like Michael Jackson opening a day care center. It ain't right!");
  • Yaphet Kotto co-stars and made me very sad that he would be in this kind of movie;
  • Eric Roberts co-stars and has a Southern accent;
  • Jenny McCarthy is in it;
  • there are almost as many poop and vomit jokes as fart jokes;
  • worst of all, the movie is explicitly racist.

Explicitly? Explicitly. Yaphet Kotto's character walks into a diner and asks for coffee, Jenny McCarthy gives him a look and replies, "Black?" Larry the Cable Guy makes a joke at one point implying that all Hispanics look like illegal immigrants. A scene involves Larry yelling at a Muslim motel owner, calling him "Omar" and "Muhammad," telling him he should go back to his training camp, accusing him of hating America, and using a wetnap to simulate wiping the counter for explosive residue. Add to that a superfluous scene where the good guys are watching a parade of troops and smiling about supporting them -- the only serious scene in the movie, mind you -- and you have this East Coast liberal elitist lumping everyone from Mississippi together as bigots.

Granted, I understand that Larry the Cable Guy doesn't in any way represent the majority of Southerners. Calling himself a redneck is probably as distasteful to many as his outward bigotry. His imbecility is probably as demeaning to the South as saying that homosexuals will never get their way as long as they are so exhibitionist in their pride parades or that African-Americans will always be looked down upon as long as gangsta rap exists. I understand that, but we all have some bias in us and mine gets perked up when I see ignorance being celebrated.

I have two more Larry the Cable Guy movies to go. Presumably, this is the worst of the three, based on rankings and reviews that I've read. I know Larry the Cable Guy is just an act. Dan Whitney grew up going to private school in Nebraska and only moved south (West Palm Beach, not like it was to Alabama) when he was 16. He tried doing regular comedy and then became famous when his "Larry" character got popular on various radio shows. In some ways, that exacerbates the problem. It makes this movie, with its racism that to me reflects more poorly on Larry and his culture than on the targets of the bigotry, into a sort of redneck minstrel show. Trying to avoid any mention of Sarah Palin or Rand Paul on a daily basis, I'm already fighting my bias against the red states. Witless Protection doesn't help.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Check It Out

On his radio show yesterday, Tony Kornheiser raved about The Wire. He had never seen it and a fellow writer, Jason Whitlock, gave him a copy to watch. It got me thinking about something that I posed as a question on the best blog in all the land, Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog at The Atlantic. What is the one book/TV show/movie/album that you love and it bugs you that your friends either won't read/watch/listen to it, or the one that would bug you the most if they wouldn't. I got a lot of answers about various things that I took as suggestions.

Here are mine. Feel free to add your own.
  • The Wire -- People preach about its greatness so much that it probably seems overhyped. Words can't do it justice.
  • Freaks and Geeks -- One quick season of comic/poignant genius. The ultimate "brilliant but cancelled" show.
  • Undeclared -- More straight comedy than Freaks and Geeks. The Jason Segel/Kyle Gass/David Krumholtz trio was only in three episodes, but it stole the show.
  • Y Tu Mama Tambien -- My favorite foreign film and maybe the artsiest film I like, but it's not art in an unwatchable way.
  • High Fidelity -- The book, not the movie. It's perfect. All of the male psyche laid bare.
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay -- Simply, the greatest book I've ever read (or maybe tied with Huckleberry Finn). I can understand if someone couldn't get through, say, Everything Is Illuminated because it is written in such difficult prose. Chabon writes Kavalier and Clay as straight-forward as he can and blows everything else away.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I've hit a major creative lull. Not much going on. So, as I ponder Jim Joyce's poor timing, why I know people who still haven't watched The Wire, and whether Lizzy Caplan is a sarcastic, Jewy (and, therefore, better) Zooey Deschanel, I'm also pondering adding a new project. The "Worst of the Worst" list is great, but I can only watch one or two a week. I need another big one like the states or movies lists. So, we'll see. Favorite songs? Favorite books? More to come.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A "Your List Sucks!" Special: State Of TV

We're in a pop culture dead zone with a bunch of crappy movies and the next TV show to premiere that I love, Mad Men, doesn't return until July 25. Add on that I didn't get home until very late tonight and you have a brief post on my favorite current shows.

Top 5 Funniest Comedies:

  • 5. How I Met Your Mother: It's cheesy, but the show built its characters well enough that you can wade through the cheese to get to the funny stuff. I just wish they had not spent so much time early in the show's run on the frame story that is now feeling more and more like a blockage to the good stuff as we wonder when the Ted story will go anywhere.

  • 4. 30 Rock: A year ago, I'd put this at a strong #2, but it had a very rough season. The "real America" jokes at the beginning of the year went on too long with the same punchlines and it never quite found its rhythm until the fantastic season finale. I can't tell which was my favorite line: Matt Damon's "Sure, I'm a doorman... to the sky!"; Matt Damon's description of "Sky Law;" or the "' There's only one Wesley Snipes!' 'You know there isn't!'" exchange. Probably Sky Law.

  • 3. Community: A freshman show that hit the right notes for me and my love of pop culture. Tons of random references and good character interplay that set up the great last scene. Of course, the fact that it essentially had dual season finales didn't quite work, but the third to last episode with the paintball battle was classic.

  • 2. Party Down: What if I told you there was a show brought to you by a collaboration of the groups that did The State, Freaks and Geeks, and the Christopher Guest movies? Is that something you might be interested in? I'm on this way late, having finished the first season last night (it's on the second season now), but it is really freaking funny. This gets #2 on the strength of the theory that uncensored is inherently funnier than censored and Party Down being on cable (you can watch any episode if you have Netflix, though) lets them play with curse words and drug/sexual situations. I'm thinking about watching Parks and Recreation since this show's star, Adam Scott, is joining that cast. I've also heard that Parks and Recreation is really good to begin with, so we'll see.

  • 1. Curb Your Enthusiasm: The undisputed champion. Someone asked TV critic Alan Sepinwall how, with a new season on the way, Larry David could top the Seinfeld reunion. Sepinwall's response: "How could he top Larry and the Blacks?" Larry will find a way.

Top 5 Most Compelling Dramas:

  • 5. 90210: Yep, #5 because Human Target isn't exceptionally compelling (it's just good) and I'm not confident that Grey's Anatomy can live up to it's great finale. The 90210 finale was devestating, with revelations of manslaughter and robbery, drunk driving, and a student being raped by a teacher in the final scene. And it's developed by the same guy who co-developed Party Down? Weird.

  • 4. House: Great season finale, continues to be a great show with one of the three most intriguing characters on TV (the other two being in shows #3 and #1).

  • 3. Dexter: Last year's season finale was just about the biggest shocker ever and it has a lot of room to grow from there. Some of the side actors have come into their own, but it's all about the centerpiece of the show.

  • 2. Treme: Already at #2. Yes, David Simon is that good. It's not The Wire -- nothing is -- but it's tragic and funny and beautiful, and the music is sick.

  • 1. Mad Men: The season premiere is July 25. Shouldn't be a surprise that my top three shows are on cable, considering the leeway they have in terms of building theme and a slower, more artistic structure. No other show does it better than this one.

Top 5 Favorite Current Shows:

  • 5. Dexter

  • 4. Treme

  • 3. Mad Men

  • 2. Curb Your Enthusiasm

  • 1. Survivor: I've written about the other ones and I don't think I need to write much about this one. It premiered on TV ten years ago yesterday. How much has TV changed in that decade? I'd trace most of those changes to two shows: The Sopranos and Survivor.