Friday, June 11, 2010

Muppet Pipes

Splotchy hipped me to a Metafilter article about the pipes Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Don Sahlin and Jerry Juhl decorated while waiting to appear on The Jack Paar Program.

I'd read about the pipes in, I believe, Jim Henson: The Works several years ago. I'm touched to see that NBC has finally decided to preserve the pipes and make them a part of the 30 Rock tour. (The building, not the show.) And I have a little more respect for Jimmy Fallon, since he's apparently the one who urged NBC to preserve them.

There are some great video links on the Metafilter article. You should really click on them.

100 Years of Jacques Cousteau

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the great men of my lifetime. I used to watch a lot of Jacques Cousteau's programs when I was a kid; I really credit my mother with exposing me to people like Cousteau and Carl Sagan when I was young and impressionable, and developing my concept of a larger world outside of our suburb.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

I think the original is one of the great horror films. This one... well, it's a competent action thriller that's pretty well-made, but it doesn't have much to say beyond being an action thriller. Does that make it a bad movie? No, not at all. But I still don't think there's a reason to remake it if you don't have the same kind of points to make about society as the original did. This one just does what most thrillers do, and manipulates you into thinking that revenge-driven vigilante justice is a good thing. They couldn't even make the point that society's response to brutality is brutality? Either way, it's not a bad flick. *** stars.

Zac Efron stars as a high school student who wants to be an actor and, in 1937, gets himself cast in Orson Welles' production of Julius Caesar. I'm a real sucker for movies like this--reminds me a lot of myself in high school, with similar dreams (and a similar worship of Orson Welles) but less ambition and less opportunity. And I really enjoyed it, even though I knew most of the time where it was going. Welles (Christian McKay in one of the best portrayals of Welles I've seen) takes the boy under his wing and teaches him all about the theater, radio--and really all about bluffing your way into a reputation as a genius. Efron also has a romance with one of the girls at the theater, Claire Danes (whom I always like), and finds himself briefly a romantic rival of Orson Welles. I loved it. And congratulations, Zac, you're a real actor after all. **** stars.

CHLOE (2010)
Weird, complex drama about a married couple (Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore) who may be at a crossroads created by routine and familiarity. Moore thinks Neeson is cheating on her, and hires a prostitute, Chloe, to approach Neeson and see what he does. What follows is several layers of psychological. It's too bad it ends on somewhat of a predictable note, but as a drama based on our layers of identity--sexual, nuptial, familial--it's very interesting throughout. Not a total success, but certainly not dismissible, I think. As Chloe, Amanda Seyfried is excellent. She's capable of so much more than the soppy sentiment porn she loves to make. *** stars.

DEAR JOHN (2010)
Soppy sentiment porn starring Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum. It could have been 22 minutes and been the exact same terrible movie, but instead we get nearly two hours of predictable tragedy and overwrought romance novel. Thanks, but I know how to feel without the insultingly obvious manipulations. * star, probably because of Richard Jenkins, whom I always like.

Simon Pegg is wasted in another movie, this one about an irreverent British writer who comes to New York to work for a publisher (Jeff Bridges) he once worshiped. And there's a romance with Kirsten Dunst and Megan Fox as a vapid starlet and Danny Huston proving once again he's very good at playing pricks. It has its moments, but it's just such a pointless waste of a movie.. *1/2 stars.

Surprisingly sweet and somewhat emotionally genuine romantic comedy about an average-looking guy (Jay Baruchel, whom I always like, but I wish he'd make eye contact a little more; he's always doing some kind of James Dean thing) who starts dating a really beautiful girl. Predictable, right down to the run through the airport, but there's a quality about it that I really appreciated. The characters are a little more than the usual pawns of the romantic comedy plot. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it for that. Also, I love Krysten Ritter. *** stars.

Everything you've heard is true: it's silly, juvenile, dumb, childish, sophomoric, etc. But I also thought it was really funny. Too long, maybe, but very stupid and funny. **1/2 stars.

Don Murray stars as an American medical student who gets drawn into the IRA by his professor (James Cagney). It's interesting because it doesn't dispute the IRA's cause (freedom from British rule) but is very critical of their methods, warning against the way war corrupts everyone it touches. Cagney is excellent as an ideologue who is so wrapped up in his hatred for the English that it blinds him to his basic humanity. Michael Anderson's direction is dynamic, and the cast also includes Dana Wynter, Glynis Johns, Michael Redgrave, Richard Harris, and in a small role, William Hartnell. A superb film. **** stars.

Bette Davis stars as a socialite about to marry radio personality Jack Carson against the wishes of her rich father (Eugene Pallette from The Adventures of Robin Hood). James Cagney, a pilot, makes a deal with the father to stop the wedding and deliver the bride (charged by weight, as freight) back home. And things go wrong, and they hate each other, and then... well, you know where this is going. It's a plot as old as the movies, but Cagney and Davis are just so much fun that I didn't care. I enjoyed it. The supporting cast also includes William Frawley and Harry Davenport. Good stuff. ***1/2 stars.

25 December 2011

The release date of the next Muppet movie.

Well, release dates should be the last things put in place, but it's nice to know that it's got one and that all parties intend on finally making the darn thing.

Waiting patiently...

Hell's Kitchen, Episode 2

It's just that no one so far seems like they're serious about food. And that's the one thing that always bugs me about this show: there are never enough people who are really serious about food, who really want this with every fiber of their being and are willing to fight for it.

Instead we get Andrew, who just walked right out because he couldn't handle the pace or the criticism. I hate when people get so offended. Jean-Philippe told Andrew that Gordon was just testing him, and he was right. And if Andrew really wanted it, really gave a damn about his performance as a chef, he'd have gone back to the kitchen and finished the service. Instead, he chose to take his bruised ego and walk off.

I also don't like Jason's attitude so far. Was he the worst of the night on the Blue Team? No--Gordon made the right choice by eliminating Mikey, whose inability to cook risotto to Hell's Kitchen standards slowed service by an hour or more--so I understand why Jason is pissed. But seriously, the best thing to do is just suck it up and try harder. Show that you have the talent and that you're a team player; don't get caught up in your hurt feelings and try to drag the others down, because that shows spite, and spite isn't leadership. This competition isn't about winning. It's about emerging.

Random Thoughts

Two more oil leaks in the Gulf of Mexico. BP says they aren't as bad as the other one, but that's like saying that getting stabbed a couple more times when you're already dying from a gut shot makes no difference. They've still destroyed the Gulf, and this problem will be with us for a long, long time. And the ecological and economic destruction it's causing will be with us for even longer.

Maybe it's long past time to get off the damn oil and find alternative fuels in this country, eh? Where's that initiative? Do you think that ever seriously crosses Obama's mind when he's standing on the beach and staring at one of the worst disasters in recorded history?

Besides, you want to create jobs? How about a jobs initiative to try and clean up some of the poison our ecosystem has just been infected with? Seriously, there are a lot of people out of work. Is it so hard to get a frigging works program together? Bad enough our endless oil wars have completely ravaged the economy and all of the money we have left is going to bail out rich people.

:: Also: OSHA says that cleanup workers at the oil disaster don't need breathing protection. OSHA is proving over and over again that they're another organization that's lazy about doing its job. Remember when they said that the workers at Ground Zero didn't need breathing protection? They've turned out to be disastrously wrong on that score, so there's really no need to listen to them on this one. Please, if you know anyone working on the cleanup, tell them to take precautions.

:: Helen Thomas is harried into retirement because she said something critical of Israel? Wow, I didn't know we had a responsibility to do that as a society. You know who else says things I don't like in public? Um, everyone, especially journalists and pundits. Can we get them all to retire? Oh, wait, we have free speech in this country. Except when it comes to Israel, the only nation that can raid a humanitarian ship and murder people on board and not be reprimanded by the US government for it.

:: Elton John played at anti-gay marriage Rush Limbaugh's fourth wedding? So, there goes my last lingering bit of respect for Elton John. I mean, I knew he was a whore, but holy shit, that's just selling himself out on a scale that's insulting.

:: One more thing on the oil disaster.

I just read a screed by someone else that we shouldn't be donating to Save Our Gulf or anyone else to help with the cleanup effort, because this whole mess is BP's fault and BP should be the ones to pay for it.

And you know what? I agree. Partially. This mess is BP's fault. And they should be paying for it. They should be driven into total bankruptcy paying for it.

But this is no longer just BP's mess to clean up. It's bigger than that. This is something that's going to take the concerted effort of many organizations and many people to make better. We don't have to argue about whose fault this is--we know whose fault this is--but to say that no one should be donating and no one should be helping is just the most selfish stupidity. It's a petty thing to say about a situation that calls for resolve. If anything, BP has proven that they can't clean it all up by themselves, and I feel like most of what they're doing is just superficial shadow puppetry to buy their stock prices more time.

This is not the time to be spiteful. This is our ocean. This is about people who have already died because of this and economies that will be ruined. This is about the ecosystem. This is a disaster. And time is of the essence here. Blaming BP for everything does nothing to mitigate the peril, so why be petty about it now. Donating five dollars to help save some animals--some species of which may face actual, irrevocable extinction from this disaster--is LITERALLY THE LEAST YOU CAN DO. It's idiotically small-minded to begrudge those animals and the people whose livelihoods have been ruined just because you're mad at corporations. It's too late for that.


Sudden Arbitrary Banner Change

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Happy 60th Birthday, Sonia Braga

A huge developmental step for me, discovering her when I was a teenager.

Monday, June 07, 2010

I Actually Know Where I Was 25 Years Ago Today

I was in the theater with my parents and my sister watching The Goonies.

Jeez, 25 years. The movie's aged better than I have. It's never stopped being one of the classics of my childhood.

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Song of the Week: "The Brazilian"

I love this song, I love this album, I love Genesis. We played this album forever, and this was always my favorite part of it. I was 10 when this came out, so this really could have been my introduction to something more progressive, something different in structure than the pop music or classic rock I had been growing up with.

Vincent and the Doctor

This definitely takes the prize as my favorite episode from this season of Doctor Who. I think that's in no small part because the script is by Richard Curtis, and Richard Curtis tends to be wonderful. Without giving too much away, there's a sweetness and sentimentality to this episode, especially its last 10 minutes, that seemed very Curtis to me but like something they've not yet done on Doctor Who, and it really swept me along with it.

I won't get into any spoilers from the last few episodes, but I wanted to say again how pleased I am with this season, with Matt Smith, with Karen Gillan, and with Steve Moffatt. I think Moff has done a great job extricating the show from Russell T. Davies' angst and from the overhead, as it were, of so many supporting characters and dangling plot threads. And I've noticed the female characters are generally better-treated than they were under Davies. Just an observation there, but it seems palpable to me.

Only three episodes left, darn it all.

EW's 100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years

Jaquandor did commentary on this list, and I am nothing if not a follower in matters of pop culture.

Jaq mentions a few times that he didn't look up Entertainment Weekly's criteria, but I went and took a look at it, because some of these choices were totally mystifying to me. I think EW wanted to make a list of 100 Pop Culture Touchstones of the Last 20 Years and didn't know how to word it. They've got a lot of characters on this list who are much older than 20 years, for example, but whose recent interpretations (such as Heath Ledger's Joker) seem to redefine the characters as we know them now. So, I get that, but I would still reject that reasoning for a list of 100 Greatest Characters.

I also reject some of the choices on this list--such as Jane Lynch's character from Glee--due to the fact that EW states as part of their criteria that the character has to have had a lasting impact on pop culture as we know it. And sure, Glee is inexplicably popular right now, but it's been on for, what, a year, year and a half? That long, even? That seems more like a fad choice, which is pretty much what EW is usually about.

So, anyway, my own meager commentary.

1. Homer Simpson. The Tracey Ullman Show started in the 80s, so he's ineligible. Great character, deserves to be number one, but ineligible.

2. Harry Potter. Absolutely. I was just talking about this on Tumblr yesterday; that Harry Potter is a great character, and that those books will be popular for decades to come because they're about characters first and foremost.

3. Buffy Summers. Meh. I hate Buffy. Everything she did Xena did first, anyway. After Joss Whedon was called groundbreaking for doing a musical episode a year after Xena had done it, a friend of mine joked that one of the ways to get more viewers for Xena should've been to advertise it as "See everything Buffy's going to do next season here first!"

4. Tony Soprano. Don't care. Tried to watch it, but it seemed like a lot of retread to me.

5. The Joker (The Dark Knight). Great performance. Excellent performance. Of a character that first appeared in 1940, I believe. So I would say that's ineligible, no matter how great Heath Ledger's performance was.

6. Rachel Green (Friends). I fucking hate Friends. And if you were going to single out one character, why this one? She's a terrible character!

7. Edward Scissorhands. That's... awfully high. Is there still so much residual love for this performance? I mean, don't get me wrong, it's a great movie, but this seem high to say this is one of the greatest characters of the last two decades. EW just can't get Tim Burton's or Johnny Depp's dicks out of their collective mouth.

8. Hannibal Lecter. Technically, the books pre-date 1990. And I still feel Hopkins is hammy and overwrought as Lecter. Brian Cox did it better 24 years ago.

9. Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City). Not for me personally. Besides, I hate characters who are constantly bending over backwards to find new ways to be unfulfilled. Get a life, Carrie.

10. Spongebob Squarepants. Irritating.

11. Cosmo Kramer. I really don't like Seinfeld. But if you're going to choose a character from that show for this list, it should really be George Costanza and not Kramer.

12. Fox Mulder & Dana Scully (The X-Files). Meh. Not an X-Files fan.

13. Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean). Captain Jack Sparrow. And though I might quibble over the placement, there's an example of a great character of the last 20 years. As much as I despise these movies, I agree with this choice.

14. Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (The Big Lebowski). Yes, absolutely.

15. Shrek. Christ, no. First, there's the eligibility issue--I don't know what year William Steig's original book was published--but more importantly, it's just little more than Mike Myers' tired Scottish accent spouting off the same bad routines he always goes to and inane, quickly-dated pop culture references. They captured lightning in a bottle with the first, somewhat sincere, very satirical Shrek. They should've stopped there.

16. Bridget Jones. My question: does this count? Or is she simply a new incarnation of Elizabeth Bennett, since Bridget Jones' Diary is an updating of Pride and Prejudice?

17. Lara Croft. No. A virtual game piece is not a character.

18. Sue Sylvester (Glee). Again, this is far too recent a character to have had some lasting impact on pop culture. Also, what does Jane Lynch do on this show that she doesn't do in everything else she's in? I know lots of people think she's hilarious, but when I see she's in something I know exactly what I'm getting.

19. Morpheus (The Matrix). Meh. Overrated.

20. Ally McBeal. Inane.

21. Rosanne Conner (Roseanne). Doesn't count; this show started in 1988. Plus, Roseanne is exceptionally irritating. If any character deserves to be here from this show--and I'm not sure they do--it's Dan Conner. And really, Dan's biggest failure is not walking home one day with a loaded pistol...

22. Eric Cartman (South Park). Definitely.

23. Austin Powers. Maybe if they'd stopped at one movie. I get so endlessly tired of Mike Myers' repetition of the same tics and gags over and over. (This time, with a BRITISH accent!)

24. Felicity Porter. Get JJ Abrams' dick out of your mouth, EW.

25. Woody (Toy Story). Yes, absolutely.

26. Kavalier & Clay (from Michael Chabon's novel). I still haven't read this book. I need to remedy that.

27. Frasier Crane. Umm... I guess you could argue that his spin-off really strengthened the character into something different, but he first started appearing on Cheers in, what, 1984?

28. Madea. Not for me, no.

29. Vincent Vega & Jules Winnfield (Pulp Fiction). Tarantino's written better characters, but they did make an impact on pop culture.

30. Stephen Colbert (in the persona he portrays on his show). Not my thing, but it is nice to see EW acknowledge that The Colbert Report is not a news show.

31. Forrest Gump. A book from the 80s. Also... I don't know, he's just a right wing mouthpiece with his rhetoric softened to make it more palatable. And even cute.

32. Beavis and Butt-Head. Sucks. Where's Daria? Daria's a way better character.

33. Sarah Connor (Terminator 2). First appeared in 1984. Doesn't count.

34. Cher (Clueless). Again, this is an update of Jane Austen's Emma, so... does that count? Great character, great performance, but does it count?

35. Dexter Morgan (Dexter). I've never had the urge to watch it, so I don't know.

36. Gollum (Lord of the Rings). From a novel from 1954-1956.

37. Kyser Söze (The Usual Suspects). He's just a plot device, not a character. And I agree with Jaquandor, it's a crap movie, anyway.

38. Elmo (Sesame Street). Elmo's been around too long. To anyone who worked retail in the 90s, he's been around too long. The only reason I don't despise Elmo anymore is because I despise Baby Bear and Abby Cadabby more.

39. GOB Bluth (Arrested Development). GOB is funny and distinctive, but Michael's a better character.

40. Ron Burgundy (Anchorman). Yes, I would agree with this for the same reasons I agree with Captain Jack Sparrow.

41. Harold and Kumar. Funny, but I wouldn't put them on this list.

42. Sydney Bristow (Alias). Abrams again. I've never seen this show, so I have no idea.

43. Cal Stephanides (the novel Middlesex). Another book I need to read. I thought The Virgin Suicides was an excellent novel, but I've yet to read Middlesex.

44. Jack Bauer – 24. I've never watched this show. I can stream it from Netflix and was thinking of checking it out.

45. Stewie Griffin (Family Guy). You mean Brain, from Pinky and the Brain? No, absolutely not; just a rip-off of far too many other cartoon characters (like everything Seth MacFarlane does).

46. Jerry Maguire. Maybe. Seems like a stretch to me, but maybe.

47. Corky St. Clair (Waiting for Guffman). I'm not generally a fan of Christopher Guest's parade of This Is Spinal Tap remakes.

48. Red (The Shawshank Redemption). From a 1982 story. Great performance, though I get sick of seeing Morgan Freeman repeat it over and over again.

49. Vivian Ward (Pretty Woman). Who cares? Julia Roberts has never played a great character.

50. Pearl the Landlord. Funny video, but it's just the one gag of a swearing toddler.

51. Omar Little (The Wire). Never seen The Wire.

52. Annie Wilkes (Misery). Ineligible; the novel is from 1987.

53. Edward Cullen. Edward Cullen is a terrible character. Just awful.

54. Juno (Juno). No.

55. Tracy Jordan (30 Rock). No. More a collection of tics than a character. Liz and Jack are better characters.

56. Barney Stinson (How I Met Your Mother). Yeah, okay.

57. Clayton Bigsby. Huh?

58. Thelma & Louise. No.

59. Master Chief (Halo). Again, it's a virtual game piece. You might as well say the shoe from Monopoly is a great character.

60. Mary Jones (Precious). Too recent; a great performance, sure, but too recent to call.

61. Vic Mackey (The Shield). Never saw it; I've never seen a show on FX that I've really liked.

62. Jimmy Corrigan (Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth). I agree, although it's hard not to read this as EW's token comics character from a comic that hasn't been made into a movie yet. I mean, Spider Jerusalem is a great character, but you're not going to see him on here, are you?

63. John Locke (Lost). I would've put him higher.

64. Maximus (Gladiator). No.

65. Lorelai & Rory Gilmore (Gilmore Girls). If the show had only had four seasons, than I'd agree.

66. Allie & Noah (The Notebook). I haven't seen or read The Notebook.

67. Borat. I'd say yes, although Borat seems like a comedy device more than an actual character. Is a shtick persona a character?

68. Effie White (Dreamgirls). Jennifer Hudson was excellent in the movie. However, it's based on a musical from 1982, so it doesn't count.

69. Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada). Yes.

70. Mary Katherine Gallagher (SNL). Fucking no.

71. Det. Alonzo Harris (Training Day). Terrible; it's not even worth an Oscar, let alone a place on this list.

72. Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Battlestar Galactica). I've never seen the remake, but I have seen the original, so I would say that since Starbuck is a character from 1978, she's ineligible.

73. Catherine Tramell (Basic Instinct). No.

74. Don Draper (Mad Men). What I've seen of the show has bored me greatly.

75. David Brent (The Office - original from the UK). Definitely.

76. Tyler Durden (Fight Club). Terrible movie, excellent novel. If we're talking novel, then I'd say absolutely.

77. Mimi Marquez (Rent). Rent blows. And it's just La Boheme.

78. Patty Hewes (Damages). Again, the FX thing. I tend to avoid shows on FX.

79. Elphaba (Wicked). But she's a reinterpretation of a character from a book published in 1901. Plus, I fucking hate Wicked.

80. Gorillaz, the world’s greatest virtual band. They're more of a gimmick than characters.

81. Amanda Woodward (Melrose Place). Please.

82. Tracy Flick (Election). Good performance, but this seems like a stretch.

83. Jen Yu (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Doesn't count; fantastic, but based on a novel from 1938-1942.

84. House (House). I've never seen what's so special about House.

85. Daniel Plainview (There Will Be Blood). Excellent performance, though I'm not sure how closely (if at all) the film hews to the 1927 novel it's loosely based on.

86. Karen Walker & Jack McFarland (Will & Grace). Will & Grace is the worst show in the history of television, and these two shrill assholes a big part of the reason why.

87. Tony Stark (Iron Man). Iron Man first appeared in 1963; I don't care how popular the movie was, it doesn't count. Plus, it's been two years, where's the long-lasting impact on pop culture as we know it? I mean, Spider-Man had arguably more of an impact, but he's ineligible for the same reason.

88. Napoleon Dynamite. No. A collection of annoying tics, but not a character.

89. Wilkus van de Merwe (District 9). I don't know... maybe.

90. Marge Gunderson (Fargo). Yes.

91. Hancock (Hancock). Have I mentioned yet that Entertainment Weekly is owned by Time Warner, a division of Warner Bros? Just felt like mentioning it somehow. And I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who feels like Hancock made a big impact on pop culture, which EW listed as their main criterion.

92. Christopher Boone (The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time). Haven't read it, but I am getting sick of hearing about it.

93. “Game Boys”: Nathan Drake – Uncharted, Kratos – God of War, Niko Bellic – Grand Theft Auto IV. Also, the queen's knight in chess. Please.

94. Truman (The Truman Show). Excellent movie, but no.

95. Wilhelmina Slater (Ugly Betty). Okay, yes.

96. Bernie Mac (The Bernie Mac Show). No.

97. Violet Weston (August: Osage County). I don't know what this means.

98. Lisbeth Salander (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). This seems like another fad choice to me.

99. The Bride (Kill Bill). Yes, I would agree here. One of Tarantino's best characters, especially as the second movie fills out the revenge drama of the first.

100. Tim Riggins (Friday Night Lights). I have no interest in it.

And there you are.