Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Monopoly Boards Made Great Ramps

Dave's Long Box reminds me of one of my favorite childhood toys. That sucker moved!

Until Whenever
Tags? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Tags!

Byzantium's Shores did not tag me, and yet I'll blithely respond nonetheless to this movie-meme:

1. Total number of films I own on DVD/video:

I'm guessing a bit shy of a 100, in total.

2. The last film I bought:

I rent far more than I buy. The last film I bought was probably Angels in America. I've read the plays several times, but have never seen a production, and don't have HBO, so I was chomping at the bit to finally see at least some version of these brilliant, brilliant plays. Completely lived up to the hype.

3. The last film I watched:

Saw Spanglish just last night (rental). Most of the reviews were dismal, but I thought it was great. Tea Leoni was just amazing. It's so rare that a mainstream comedy allows its characters to be just completely real, as writer and director James L. Brooks did here. I didn't like Leoni's character, Deborah, particularly, but I understood her and believed in her, and that's so much more important. She wasn't your typical movie-land person, with all recognizable human attributes airbrushed out and replaced with cute and quirky screenwriting traits (see pretty much the female lead of any romantic comedy released in the past 20 years), but was instead a recognizable human being, flaws and all (and how). The rest of the cast was just as excellent, and real, especially Sarah Steele as Deborah's daughter, Bernice. Gawky yet witty, intensely self-conscious, and not immediately pretty, unlike 99% of all teens cast in TV and films, Steele created a wonderful character, one we immediately felt for and responded to. She underscored just how contrived so much of domestic characterization is in films and TV, even in otherwise well-done film and TV.

And the central conceit of the film (spoilers lie ahead) just blew me away, if only because you almost never see mainstream-Hollywood (especially mainstream-Hollywood in romantic comedy-mode) acknowledge it: that an adult can fall in real, passionate love and not act on it because there are children involved. Adam Sandler's and Paz Vega's characters (Deborah's husband and their Mexican housekeeper), by the film's end, were clearly in mad love, and yet both very consciously denied themselves that love for the sakes of their children. Amazing (and a bit sad that this very honest portrayal of the way life often works is so rare in this kind of film).

4. Five films that I watch a lot or that mean a lot to me:

The Star Wars Films

Counting down until Friday . . .

The Shawshank Redemption

This will become the late-20th Century's It's a Wonderful Life in the next 50 years, mark my words.

The Fisher King

Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges are just great in this film. Wildly underrated.

Beauty and the Beast

Some of the best music for a film in the past 50 years.

The Last Temptation of Christ

So sadly misunderstood and pilloried.

Until Whenever

The Other End of the Telescope

To complement my earlier post on Time magazine's 100 greatest films list, I respond here to this unsourced list of the 100 worst films ever, cribbed from Byzantium's Shores. Films I've seen are in blue.

Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995)
An Alan Smithee Film-Burn Hollywood Burn (1998)
Anaconda (1997)
The Apple (1980)
Armageddon (1998)

I was very amused by the badness on display here; the wife and I laughed hysterically through the entire thing.

Arthur 2: On The Rocks (1988)
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1980)
The Avengers (1998)
Baby Geniuses (1999)
The Bad News Bears Go To Japan (1978)
Barb Wire (1996)
Batman & Robin (1997)

Remarkable how badly Schumacker mishandled this frnachise. In the space of what? eight years? they went from boasting of how far they'd gone away from the camp aesthetic of the series to embracing it with inappropriate lust.

Battlefield Earth (2000)
Best Defense (1984)
Best of the Best (1989)
The Beverly Hillbillies (1993)
The Blair Witch Project (1999)

I thought this was good, if wildly overhyped. One of those great concepts that can only be done once.

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)
Boxing Helena (1993)

Not good by any means, but not that wretched.

Caddyshack II (1988)
Caligula (1980)
Can I Do It ...Til I Need Glasses? (1977)
Can't Stop The Music (1980)
Car 54, Where Are You? (1994)
The Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation (1986)
The Cheech and Chong Films of the 1980's
Clambake (1967)
Cobra (1986)
The Concorde - Airport '79 (1979)
Cool As Ice (1991)
Crow: City of Angels (1996)
Drop Dead Fred (1991)
Dungeons & Dragons (2000)

This was the in-flight film on a flight I took back from Jamaica a few years ago, but I ignored it. Take a look at this and the Lord of the Rings trilogy and see the gap in understanding of what's at heart very similar material.

The Exorcist Sequels (1977, 1990)
Far Out Man (1990)
The Forbidden Dance (1990)
The "Friday The 13th" Series (1980-1989)

Never seen a one.

The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (1987)
Glen or Glenda? (1953)
The Gods Must Be Crazy (1984US)
The Gods Must Be Crazy II (1989US)
Godzilla (1998)

I like big dopey popcorn films (I liked Independence Day) and thought this was horrid.

Grease 2 (1982)
Gymkata (1985)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Harlem Nights (1989)
Heartbeeps (1981)

I'm pretty sure I saw this in the theater as a young tyke, and remember liking it a lot. Haven't seen it since, though, so can't comment.

Heaven's Gate (1981)
The "Highlander" Sequels (1991, 1994)
Howard The Duck (1986)

As bad as it was, Howard himself looked pretty good, I always thought. And Lea Thompson in skimpy underwear is always welcome.

Hudson Hawk (1991)

Fun in a dopey way, I thought. Sandra Bernhard was great.

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1963)Independence Day (1996)

See above. It's not good, but it was fun.

Ishtar (1987)
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)
It's Pat: The Movie (1995)
Jaws 4: The Revenge (1987)
Judge Dredd (1995)
Lambada (1990)
Last Action Hero (1993)
Leonard Part 6 (1987)
The "Look Who's Talking" Sequels (1990, 1993)
Lost In Space (1998)
Manos - The Hands of Fate (1966)
Mars Attacks! (1996)
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)
Natural Born Killers (1994)

Another I liked. It had its flaws, some serious, but some great performances and a wonderfully unhinged, bold sensibility.

The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking (1988)
North (1994)
Nothing But Trouble (1991)
Penitentiary 2 (1982)
The Pirate Movie (1982)
Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
Pokémon: The First Movie (1999)
The "Police Academy" Series (1984- 1994)

The first wasn't bad.

Popeye (1980)

Am I the only person on the planet who loved this? Some great songs, perfect casting, and a spot-on rendition of that old Popeye sensibility. The ending was muddled, but really, howunforgivablee is that?

The Porky's Trilogy (1982, 1983, 1985)

Saw the third several times as a randy teen.

The Postman (1997)
Red Dawn (1984)

That opening invasion stuff was pretty chilling at the time, I thought.

Rhinestone (1984)
Rocky V (1990)

So bad. This may take over in my earlier estimation offranchisess that devolved the greatest. Rocky is brilliant, and wonderfully written to boot. Seems like Stallone had one great idea in him, and that since then he's been tapped.

Sextette (1978)
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)
Shanghai Surprise (1986)
Showgirls (1995)
Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997)
Spice World (1998)
Star Trek-The Motion Picture (1979) and the "odd numbered" original cast Star Drek sequels
Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (1999)

I'm one of those apologists blogger John Scalzi derides. The kid was remarkably awful, but as the first in a long series it did a good job of setting things up I thought.

Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot (1992)
Striptease (1996)
Superman IV (1987)

See here.

Tarzan, The Ape Man (1981)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its sequels (1974-1997)
Titanic (1997)

The increasing demonization of this film since its release is almost entirely a result of its ridiculous success, I think. If it had flopped, the majority of film critics would be singing its praises today.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1993)
Waterworld (1995)

Meh. (Not bad; just meh.)

Weekend at Bernie's and Weekend at Bernie's II (1989, 1993)

Saw the first; another meh.

Who's That Girl (1987)

An HBO staple years ago; I saw it several times but don't remember a thing. That can't be good.

Wicked Stepmother (1989)
Wild Orchids and Wild Orchids 2 (1990, 1992)
Wild Wild West (1999)
Xanadu (1980)

Until Whenever

Friday, May 27, 2005


Stolen from Bad Example:

1) Total Number of Books I've Owned.

Probably deep into the hundreds, but not sure if it would be into four figures.

2) Last Book I Bought.

The last book I bought was Neal Stephenson's Quicksliver, and I still haven't finished it.

3) Last Book I Read

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. II, Alan Moore. Good fun, although I found the sex scenes a bit odd.

4) Five Books that Mean a Lot to Me

It, by Stephen King - My favorite book, ever. I think I've read it (all 1,000 or so pages) six times.

The Known World, by Edward P. Jones--Easily the novel that's affected me the most recently. Just brilliant.

The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein--A brutal book, really, but undeniably powerful.

The Prydain Chronicles, by Lloyd Alexander--Simply wonderful children's fantasy series. Can't wait to introduce them to my kids.

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck--Equal to the hype.

Until Whenever
Doin' the Friday Shuffle

And away we go.

1.) "In Need of Love Today," Stevie Wonder, America: A Tribute to Heroes

The only Stevie I have, alas, from the fund-raising concert done on TV a few days after 9/11.

2.) "Keep the Customer Satisfied," Paul Simon, sung by Liz Larsen, The Paul Simon Album: Broadway Sings the Best of Paul Simon

When Simon did his Capeman musical on Broadway, Varese Saraband put out this CD of Broadway singers covering Simon classics in "Broadway" style. Most of it is not very good, including this track, which actually manages to be less energetic and brassy than the original.

3.) "I'm Free," Pete Townsend, The Who's Tommy (Original Broadway Cast)

This track is one of the one that suffers most from the translation to Broadway in the musical; that crunchy guitar riff is just lost.

4.) "Incidental Music," Stephen Sondheim, Unsung Sondheim

Background music written for the Arthur Laurents' play Invitation to a March.

5.) "Embassy Lament," Andersson-Ulvaeus, Chess (Original Concept Album)

Great piece of patterish lyric writing by Tim Rice, with two US embassy bureaucat grumbling about the paperwork caused by a Russian defecting.

6.) "Town Cryer," Elvis Costello, Imperial Bedroom

Pretty ballad, from the album most often referenced as Costello's most Tin Pan Alley-influenced.

7.) "Do You Love Me," Bock and Harnick, Fiddler on the Roof (Original Broadway Cast)

I will never be able to listen to this actually very touching song from Fiddler again without thinking of its highly comical rendition on a recent episode of Gilmore Girls.

8.) "Ain't a that Good News," a traditional spiritual, sung by the Rutgers Glee Club, Let Thy Good Spirit

I'm on this CD, actually--while I was a member, the Rutgers Glee Club cut a CD and this is one of the tracks, a rollicking spiritual.

9.) "A Rumblin' and a Rollin'," Jason Robert Brown, Parade (Original Broadway Cast)

Great musical from Brown about a Jew who was falsely accused of raping and murdering a little girl in Atlanta. This number is sung as the man is being railroaded into jail.

10.) "Highway 29," Bruce Springsteen, The Ghost of Tom Joad

Some of Tom Joad is a little too conversational, as if the song itself has been lost and Bruce is just doing spoken-word poetry over some guitar noodling. This is one of those songs.

Until Whenever

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Arzt Revoir

Good article on Slate about the untimely demise of Arzt on last night's Lost. In her piece, Stevens brings up the fact that we never really see any of the extras, the other 30+ castaways that aren't leads; what I wonder is if they've been consistent with them. That is, from episode to episode, are we seeing the same background faces, or are they cheating by tossing in random extras?. I'm not sure.

I will say that the argument that we should have seen more of these characters is a bit bogus. First, as Artz himself pointed out, this group is a bit cliquey. As it would be; this is realism as far as I'm concerned. Put any group of 48 people together and they will form subgroups. And I don't think we can expect the show to tell us all of the 48 characters' stories. Sure, I'd like for them to sprinkle in more and more of these faces, giving them names and backgrounds too, but I've no problem with the notion that there is plenty going on with these people and that we just aren't privy to it. After all, in the month or so they are supposed to have been on the island, we've only seen 25 hours, less commercials. Less than a day out of over a month. That's a lot of extra time in which all sorts of non-crucial stuff is presumably happening in this make-believe world, and lots of time for the extras to be having dramas we simply don't get to see. This ain't 24, folks.

Until Whenever
Is Lost Lost?

For Lost fans only:

Reaction to last night's season finale of Lost seems to be split among the fans, between those who loved it and those who feel it didn't answer nearly enough. Count me among the former--while it's undeniable that they really didn't offer any concrete answers to the season's most pressing questions (what the numbers really mean, what's in the hatch, who are the Others?) that seemed appropriate to me. After all, these are two of the most prominent mysteries they have--I wouldn't expect them to answer them so early in the show's run. And they did reveal important things.

We saw the Others, after all, and we did learn that it was Walt they'd been after all along, not Claire's baby. While the show's creators and writers do have a heck of a balancing act to maintain, I think they're being wise about erring on the side of revealing too little, as opposed to too much. While that tactic can easily crash and burn, killing a series when the fans get more and more frustrated, if deployed well, it can result in a long-running and dramatically interesting series.

The other piece of the puzzle to keep in mind is that the vast majority of those 20 or so million people watching every week don't track every twist and turn on the Internet. To that more casual fan--the typical fan, it should be remembered--the teasing out of details probably seems much less tortuous. Many of the smaller details these fans (and I include myself among their number) can obsess about the average viewer hardly thinks about. And it is this casual viewer they should be writing for, at least on some levels.

So I'm good. Not eager to have to wait four or so months before the show resumes, but very happy with the first season they've put together.

Until Whenever
Yay! Vessey!

Devoted fans of NBC's late and lamented Ed may have noticed that Ed's erstwhile love, Carol Vessey (or actress Julie Bowen, as she's known in "real life") popped up on ABC in both Lost and Jake in Progress this past season. The happy news is that she'll be joining the cast of ABC's Boston Legal next season. Yay!

In other hot TV actress news, Shannon Doherty, Laura San Giacamo and others have been bumped off of their series for the fall, according to the same piece. That's got to hurt.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

That's a Lot of Questions

Cribbed from Quirky Chick:

1. My uncle once: was wounded in Vietnam.

2. Never in my life: have I been drunk. (Recycling is fun!)

3. When I was five: I dressed as a member of KISS for Halloween, disturbing my father somewhat.

4. High School was: neither the best time of my life nor the intolerably hellish experience it's often made out to be.

5. I will never forget: what it felt like when the ultrasound tech told us we would be having twins.

6. I once met: Tommy Lasorda, although at the time (I was maybe nine) I had no idea who he was.

7. There's this girl I know: who defends tobacco companies.

8. Once, at a bar: ,when I was just a kid, I saw my father (the bar owner) throw out a belligerent drunk. It was scary.

9. By noon I'm usually: thinking about lunch.

10. Last night: I watched the penultimate Lost.

11. If I only had: financial freedom, I'd try and write full-time.

12. Next time I go to church: I will most likely have to retreat to the "back room," squirmy toddler in hand.

13. Terry Schiavo: probably wishes she had made her wishes clearer.

14. What worries me most: is that something bad will happen to my kids.

15. When I turn my head left, I see: a photo of my wife and I from our honeymoon in Disney. She has her lucky hat on.

16. When I turn my head right, I see: many baby photos of the twins.

17. You know I'm lying when: I sound overly confident.

18. What I miss most about the eighties: Saturday-morning cartoons.

19. If I was a character written by Shakespeare, I'd be: either Rosencrantz or Guidenstern--not the main character.

20. By this time next year: my kids will be two. Yikes.

21. A better name for me would be: I like my name just fine, thank you.

22. I have a hard time understanding: the mind-set of the ultra-right. I find the ultra-left just as ridiculous, but have a better handle on where their madness comes from.

23. If I ever go back to school I'll: take classes just for kicks. I've got the Masters and can't see ever going for a doctorate.

24. You know I like you if: I talk to you. I'm quite shy, generally speaking.

25. If I won an award, the first person I'd thank would be: my wife. If for nothing else than to avoid an ass-kicking.

26. Darwin, Mozart, Slim Pickens & Geraldine Ferraro: are all people?

27. Take my advice: A peanut butter and jelly sandwich on waffles (instead of bread) is divine.

28. My ideal breakfast is: soft-boiled eggs with English muffins and copious bacon.

29. A song I love, but do not have is: "Born to Run."

30. If you visit my hometown, I suggest: getting a sandwich from La Strada. They have great bread.

31. Tulips, character flaws, microchips & track stars: whosaidthewhatnow?

32. Why won't people: focus less on what others are doing and more on what they're doing.

33. If you spend the night at my house: you will be woken up early by a babbling toddler.

34. I'd stop my wedding for: fire. But I'd start it up again right away.

35. The world could do without: extremists, of all bents.

36. I'd rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: eat a raw tomato. The latter would gross me out more.

37. My favorite blonde is: Charlize Theron. Sigh.

38. Paper clips are: fun to magnetize.

39. If I do anything well, it's: write. (gulp).

40. And by the way: why haven't you called?

Until Whenever

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

But Not of the Movie

Very good Revenge of the Sith review here (the NY Times requires registration), of Williams' score. It's exceedingly rare for such a mainstream paper to devote any, never mind this many, words on a review of a film score, and I can only hope they'll do more. Tommasini makes special mention of Williams' score for A.I. in the review; it's an easily forgotten score that any Williams fans who haven't should seek out, post-haste.

Until Whenever
Your Life Isn't that Interesting

As a quick perusal of the posts that have accumulated here so far will attest, Tosy and Cosh is hardly a litblog, nor am I in any way a litblogger. And yet I am a somewhat enthusiastic reader, if less so than I used to be. The book I am reading right now, Augusten Burroughs' Magical Thinking, is an example of the memoir craze that's swept through the literary world in the past several years. I've read a few of these much-heralded "literary" memoirs, and some have been quite good, engaging reads (Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius chief among them) that truly illuminated a character, even if the character in these cases is the author him or herself.

Magical Thinking is Burroughs' third memoir. The first two were wonderful books. Running with Scissors told the story of Burroughs' childhood, a truly bizarre upbringing in which he spent a large portion of his formative years under the care of a possibly mentally ill psychologist and his mostly adopted brood. Dry, his second memoir, told the story of his battle with alcoholism, in bracing, funny, and bleak fashion. Both books told stories, engaging stories that propelled the books forward, as any good story does. This third work is, instead, just a collection of essays, many, if not all, seemingly lightly edited journal entries. There is no connective tissue, no story to speak of, and the result is very flat. I get the impression that the publishers wanted another book sooner than he was able to deliver one, and that he submitted this loose collection to appease them, and, and here I have no quarrel with him at all, make some more money. Nonetheless, the whole thing is pretty disapointing, none of the individual pieces all that notable on their own, and the whole being decidely less than the sum of its parts.

I understand that Burroughs' next book will be a memoir about his father. I imagine that that focus will allow him to produce a book of comparable stature to his first two; at least, I hope so.

Until Whenever
No - I Haven't Seen It

From the relatively high concentration of Star Wars-related posts on this blog, you might think I would have seen, and opined on, Episode III by now. But I haven't. Every day I die a little more, knowing that I've yet to see the new Star Wars film, and knowing that I've still got over a week to go. You see, I wanted to see it last Friday, the day after it opened, but my friends, my buddies, the two guys I will be seeing it with, insisted on waiting, not wanting to see it in a packed, mobbed theater. Sure, I technically could have gone to see it myself, but in truth I'm not quite hurting that badly. So we'll be going the Friday after Memorial Day.

In the interim I have been thinking quite a bit about what any good Star Wars-obsessed father is thinking about--in what order will I introduce the films to my kids? I have some time to ponder the question, given that my twin girls are 14 months old, and not quite ready for Star Wars goodness. Still, I'm leaning heavily already, even without having seen Revenge of the Sith, towards showing them in numerical order--Episodes I-VI.

A large part of this thinking is pure curiosity. I know what it's like to experience the story backwards; it's the experience all of us Star Wars fans have had. But I am very curious to see what kind of an impact the story has, what kind of a story it feels like, if watched in chronological order. Will it work? Or will it fall apart?

My strong suspicion is that it will work wonderfully. The most common argument I've heard for showing the films to a new generation in the original order is that it maintains that delicious shock of learning at the end of Empire that Vader is Luke's father. Fair enough. However I think there could be a new payoff, one that we original fans didn't get, that could be just as juicy. It seems to me that the finale of the series, with Vader being redeemed, pretty much at the last possible minute, would be that more powerful if you had seen the earlier series first--if you had seen him as Anakin and not just as Vader.

Why? Think about the impact of the first series if you don't know the whole story, think about the surprise, the real shock you would have felt, if, as a twelve-year old watching Episode III, you saw all the Jedi suddenly wiped out. I can imagine it being a truly amazing experience to see these first three films cold, all throughout the third expecting the Jedi to, at the last minute, triumph and defeat Sidious and the Sith, and save the galaxy. And then to see them fail, to be completely destroyed, and to see who you thought was going to be the hero, the Jedi whom you thought would finally embrace his destiny and save the galaxy, instead turn to destroying it.

Now imagine seeing him finally, after six films, calim the promise you learned about way back in the first film, by killing the Emperor and saving the galaxy. Vader killing the Emperor has always been for me one ofthe films' most powerful moments. But I have to think it would be more powerful if I had seen the films in story-order.

I really do think that this prequel trilogy, if divorced from the originals, has the potential to be much more powerful than I think it's typically given credit for. And I, for one, am fascinated to see how it will work on children who know absolutely nothing about Star Wars.

(Yes; this basically means that I only had children in order to use them as guinea pigs in experiments like this. Deal with it.)

Until Whenever

Monday, May 23, 2005

A Story Only They Could Tell

In a stunningly original move, Time magazine has put out a list of the 100 greatest films ever, or, the greatest films according to their two film critics, Richard Corliss and Richard Shickel. I mock but lightly; I love stupid lists like this, no matter how insubstantial they may be. Jamie notes with satisfaction that they haven't attempted to do anything as dumb as ranking them, opting instead for that 'ol reliable alphabetical order. In truth, this saddens me somewhat--half the fun of these lists lies in angrily reacting to the hierarchy itself. Jamie may be right that there is no real difference between the 91st and 92nd greatest films of all time, but it's still fun to pretend there is.

I'll respond to this list by noting those I've seen (in blue). Prepare to be appalled at the massive gaps in my cinema-watching experience.

Aguirre: the Wrath of God (1972)
The Apu Trilogy (1955, 1956, 1959)
The Awful Truth (1937)
Baby Face (1933)
Bande à part (1964)
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)
Blade Runner (1982)

This was, for me, one of those films that couldn't live up to the hype. I liked it, but wasn't as floored as all I had read would have led me to believe I would be.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Brazil (1985)
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Camille (1936)
Casablanca (1942)

See my earlier, pre-two-year hiatus, post.

Charade (1963)
Children of Paradise (1945)
Chinatown (1974)
Chungking Express (1994)
Citizen Kane (1941)
City Lights (1931)
City of God (2002)
Closely Watched Trains (1966)
The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936)
The Crowd (1928)
D - FDay for Night (1973)
The Decalogue (1989)
Detour (1945)
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
Dodsworth (1936)
Double Indemnity (1944)
Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Drunken Master II (1994)

Great fun, but odd to find on this list.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

One of my favorites. That ending is just so amazingly schmaltzy, so amazingly obvious and overblown, what with the crying and the little girl and the score (one of Williams' most remarkable bits of composing, to my ears) and the rainbow, but damn it all to hell--it works! Big time.

8 1/2 (1963)
The 400 Blows (1959)
Farewell My Concubine (1993)
Finding Nemo (2003)

Them Pixar folks really know what they're doing. They tread the balance between successful kids entertainment, and true-deeply felt art, as well as an Andersen or Milne or, well, the best of Disney. Just amazing films, and this is quite possibly their best.

The Fly (1986)
100 greatest ever? Corliss tries to defend his position, here, but I'm sure I don't see it.

The Godfather, Parts I and II (1972, 1974)

These lists really shouldn't cheat by combining these two. I mean, it's not as if they tell one seamless story, a la the Lord of the Rings trilogy; these are two very distinct movies telling two separate stories, albeit ones that tie together much better and for much greater effect than the stories in most film series' individual films.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)
Goodfellas (1990)

This is one of those movies I've been meaning to re-watch. I saw it once, ages ago, and remember liking it, but have a hunch I'd appreciate it more now.

A Hard Day's Night (1964)
His Girl Friday (1940)
Ikiru (1952)
In A Lonely Place (1950)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
It's A Gift (1934)
It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

The wife and I watch this every Christmas, like clockwork, and it holds up every damn time.

Kandahar (2001)
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
King Kong (1933)

I must have technically seen King Kong years ago, when the local stations used to show it every Thanksgiving, but can't remember much about it so I'm not counting it.

The Lady Eve (1941)
The Last Command (1928)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Léolo (1992)
The Lord of the Rings (2001-03)

Good call here. These are really just one movie. And what a remarkable achievement they were.
The Man With a Camera (1929)
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Metropolis (1927)
Miller's Crossing (1990)
Mon oncle d'Amérique (1980)
Mouchette (1967)
Nayakan (1987)
Ninotchka (1939)
Notorious (1946)
Olympia, Parts 1 and 2 (1938)
On the Waterfront (1954)
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Out of the Past (1947)
Persona (1966)
Pinocchio (1940)

I have a hard time with the notion that upon the invention of the full-length animated feature, it was the second movie that got it the most right, and that since then none have measured up, save for Finding Nemo.

Psycho (1960)
Pulp Fiction (1994)

No argument here. I love every bit of this movie, and can't fault it for all of the half-assed imitators it spawned.

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Pyaasa (1957)
Raging Bull (1980)

Saw this a few years back and honestly did not get the fuss. Good film, but the best of the 80s, as it has been oft-called? Not sure what I missed, but miss it I did.

Schindler's List (1993)

Good call. I've seen many a film buff and critic dismiss it, for being, but of course, too serious. The hard fact is that many will always hate Spielberg, simply for being popular. The notion that the masses are always wrong is just as wrong-headed as the notion that they are always right. Popular acclaim doesn't necessarily translate into quality or a lack of it. To believe in either pole is naive.

The Searchers (1956)
Sherlock, Jr. (1924)
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Now this one, when I finally saw it a few years back, I got. Great film, with infectious use of music and some of the more sublime dance I've ever seen. I'm no dance fan, but this I liked.

The Singing Detective (1986)
Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Star Wars (1977)

Of course.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Sunrise (1927)
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Swing Time (1936)
Talk to Her (2002)
Taxi Driver (1976)
Tokyo Story (1953)
A Touch of Zen (1971)
Ugetsu (1953)
Ulysses' Gaze (1995)
Umberto D (1952)
Unforgiven (1992)

Another film I need to revisit. Remember loving it, and being very moved by it, but don't remember much in the way of details.

White Heat (1949)
Wings of Desire (1987)
Yojimbo (1961)

Until Whenever

Stolen Heavily from Byzantium's Shores Is, Clearly, Not One

Continuing the pilfering, I respond to this meme at Byzantium's shores. Ten things I've never done.

1.) Gotten drunk.

2.) Attended the symphony.

3.) Caught a fish.

4.) Skinny-dipped.

5.) Traveled, remotely extensively, on my own.

6.) Been to the Statue of Liberty.

7.) Seen Gone with the Wind, any of it apart from what you get in clip reels.

8.) Had a one-night stand.

9.) Broken a bone.

10.) Been sailing.

Until Whenever
Reasons I'm Not as Well-Read as I Pretend to Be

Pilfered from Byzantium's Shores, here are five books I probably should have read and yet have not:

1) The Bible. I was baptized Catholic, but never received any kind of religious upbringing. While I've read from loads of sources that it's really a good book, and to be sure to be even mildly literate, or to understand any of the thousands of Biblical allusions much of literature is fairly teeming with, I should read it, but every bit I've ever heard just bores me to tears.

2) War and Peace. It's the go-to example of "big, long, sophisticated novel" but I've never read it, or any Tolstoy.

3) Ulysses. Being forced to read The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man in high school scared me off, alas quite possibly for good.

4) Don Quixote. Man of La Mancha is easily one of my favorite musicals; I've directed it and honestly feel that it's just woefully misunderstood. That being said, I've (very ashamedly) never read the source. I've read such good things about this translation that I think I'll give her a go.

5) Catch-22. I really do want to read this one, but am a little afraid it won't live up to the hype.

Until Whenever

Friday, May 20, 2005

What My Fat Ass Will be Plopped in Front of Next Year: Finale

Rather than continue network by network, I thought I'd take a last look at the fall schedule, with some brief thoughts on what I'll be trying to catch:

8 p.m.

Fathom (NBC)
The King of Queens (CBS)
Wife Swap (ABC)
Arrested Development (Fox)
7th Heaven (The WB)
One on One (UPN)

I'd watch Arrested Development, but the wife hates it. King of Queens is usually good for some laughs. And maybe that Fathom series, about a new race of sea life, will actually look promising. I doubt it, though.

8:30 p.m.
How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
Kitchen Confidential (Fox)
All of Us (UPN)

Tough call. Mother has Doogie and Willow. But Kitchen Confidential was a great book, about the real goings on in high-pressure restaurant kitchens, and may actually translate well, especially if they don't shy away from some of the more sqeamish truths about said kitchens and what goes on in them. And it's got Xander! Xander and Willow on against each other. How sad.

9 p.m.
Las Vegas (NBC)

Two and a Half Men (CBS)
Monday Night Football (ABC)
Prison Break (Fox)
Just Legal (The WB)
Girlfriends (UPN)

Prison Break actually sounds interesting, some kind of 24-like thing about, well, a prison break, but I do like Two and a Half Men.

9:30 p.m.
Out of Practice (CBS)
Half & Half (UPN)

I'll probably give Out of Practice a try, given the cast (Henry Winkler, Stockard Channing, and Paula Marshall).

10 p.m.
Medium (NBC)
CSI: Miami (CBS)

Nothing of interest on at 10.

8 p.m.
The Biggest Loser (NBC)
According To Jim (ABC)
Bones (Fox)
Gilmore Girls (The WB)
America?s Next Top Model repeat (UPN)

Love me my Gilmore Girls. Bones sounds pretty dismal, something about a forensic anthropologist, starring Angel. It's the Ex-Buffy players fall season!

8:30 p.m.
Rodney (ABC)

9 p.m.
My Name Is Earl (NBC)
The Amazing Race (CBS)
Commander-in-Chief (ABC)
House (Fox)
Supernatural (The WB)
Sex, Lies & Secrets (UPN)

House is pretty good, and with the luminous and ageless Sela Ward joining the cast for at least a few eps, I'll probably check it out, unless Commander-in-Chief, the "Genna Davis as the President of the USA" series looks particularly intriguing.

9:30 p.m.
The Office (NBC)

10 p.m.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC)
Close To Home (CBS)
Boston Legal (ABC)

8 p.m.
The Apprentice: Martha Stewart (NBC)
Still Standing (CBS)
George Lopez (ABC)
That '70s Show (Fox)
One Tree Hill (The WB)
America's Next Top Model (UPN)

Don't care about a one.

8:30 p.m.
Yes, Dear (CBS)
Freddie (ABC)
Stacked (Fox)

9 p.m.
E-Ring (NBC)
Criminal Minds (CBS)
Lost (ABC)
Head Cases (Fox)
Related (The WB)
Veronica Mars (UPN)

I was very interested in seeing the new Mandy Patinkin show, Criminal Minds, given how much I like him as an actor, but Lost will easily win.

10 p.m.
Law & Order (NBC)
CSI: New York (CBS)
Invasion (ABC)

Hope Invasion is good; the other two bore me.

8 p.m.
Joey (NBC)
Survivor (CBS)
Alias (ABC)
The OC (Fox)
Smallville (The WB)
Everybody Hates Chris (UPN)

What a slugfest. Everybody brought out the big guns to finish the job started on NBC's fabled Thursday night last year, it seems. ABC seems to hope that Alias can kill it and UPN is putting probably their most promising new show up. Everybody Hates Chris sounds interesting actually, a sitcom about Chris Rock as a kid, narrated by the real thing. We'll see how it all shakes out.

8:30 p.m.
Will & Grace (NBC)
Eve (UPN)

I still like Will & Grace. Sue me.

9 p.m.
The Apprentice (NBC)
The Night Stalker (ABC)
Reunion (Fox)
Everwood (The WB)
Cuts (UPN)

Very curious about Reunion. Each show is set in a different year, following a group of friends from high school graduation to 20 years later.

9:30 p.m.
Love, Inc. (UPN)

10 p.m.
Without A Trace (CBS)
Primetime Live (ABC)

8 p.m.
Three Wishes (NBC)
Ghost Whisperer (CBS)
Supernanny (ABC)
Bernie Mac (Fox)
What I Like About You (The WB)
WWE Smackdown! (UPN)

8:30 p.m.
Malcolm in the Middle (Fox)
Twins (The WB)

Mac and Malcolm ain't bad, but no appointment viewing here.

9 p.m.
Dateline NBC (NBC)
Threshold (CBS)
Hope and Faith (ABC)
The Gate (Fox)
Reba (The WB)

Threshold is aliens and The Gate is crime in San Francisco. Yawn.

9:30 p.m.
Hot Properties (ABC)
Living With Fran (The WB)

10 p.m.
Inconceivable (NBC)
Numb3rs (CBS)
20/20 (ABC)

8 p.m. Movie (NBC)
Repeats (CBS)
Movie (ABC)
Cops (Fox)

9 p.m.
America's Most Wanted (Fox)

10 p.m.
48 Hours (CBS)

7 p.m.
Dateline NBC (NBC)
60 Minutes (CBS)
America?s Funniest Home Videos (ABC)
Reruns (Fox)
Reba reruns (The WB)

7:30 p.m.
King of the Hill (Fox)

8 p.m.
The West Wing (NBC)
Cold Case (CBS)
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (ABC)
The Simpsons (Fox)
Charmed (The WB)

8:30 p.m.
The War at Home (Fox)

9 p.m.
Law & Order: Criminal Intent (NBC)
Movie (CBS)
Desperate Housewives (ABC)
Family Guy (Fox)
Blue Collar TV (The WB)

9:30 p.m. American Dad (Fox)

Will probably stick with the Fox animation block.

10 p.m.
Crossing Jordan (NBC)
Grey's Anatomy (ABC)

Until Whenever

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

Post haste!

1.) "In Your Own Sweet Way," Dave Brubeck, Dave Brubeck Ballads

I got into Dave Brubeck through the compilation disc issued along with the Ken Burns' Jazz PBS series a few years back. Never watched the series, but that Brubeck disc sold me on his stuff. This is just a beautifully melodic and wistful little jazz ballad for piano. One of my favorites of his.

2.) "Everything's All Right (reprise)," Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rise, Jesus Christ Superstar (original concept album)

Mary Magdalene sings a quick reprise of "Everything's All Right" before launching into her more well-known number, "I Don't Know How to Love Him." I love Superstar; it's on my short list of "musicals I really want to direct one day."

3.) "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine," Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde

Infectious little rocker from Dylan.

4.) "Sweet Was the Song," Benjamin Britten, A Ceremony of Carols

Boy's choir. I got this because I love the "This Little Babe" piece, and have heard it done by many a female choir. Haven't gotten too into the other stuff though.

5.) "Subterranean Homesick Blues," Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home

"Momma's in the basement, mixing up the medicine." Just got this album, and am loving it. I knew most of the songs already through various live versions. This is a great bit of rapidly delivered Dylan, including the classic line "The pump don't work, 'cause the vandals stole the handle."

6.) "Call me Lightning," The Who, Thirty Years of Maximum R&B

Early Who, before they quite figured out what they did best. Still, this bit of Beatles-esque pop-rock ain't half-bad.

7.) "Karma Police," Radiohead, OK Computer

Unlike apparently most of the British rock magazine-reading population, I don't think this is the greatest album ever. It is quite good though. This one of my favorite songs, with some nicely melodic piano work.

8.) "You're the Top (alternate take)," Ella Fitzgerald (song by Cole Porter), Ella Sings the Cole Porter Songbook

Ella is my favorite jazz singer, her singing is just so effortless. This version is wonderfully understated, with just piano, bass, drums, and Ella. Great nightclub music.

9.) "If You Can Find Me, I'm Here," Mandy Patinkin (song by Stephen Sondheim), Sings Sondheim

A two-disc set of Mandy Patinkin in concert singing naught but Sondheim, accompanied by naught but piano. A great album, full of dramatic and intense interpretations of Sondheim songs. This number, from the TV musical Evening Primrose is a great dramatic piece, about a poet who has deliberately shut himself away from the world gleefully celebrating his seclusion.

10.) "Fiddle About," Pete Townsend, The Who's Tommy (Original Broadway Cast)

Perhaps the first-ever song about pedophilia sung in a big shiny Broadway musical.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

What My Fat Ass Will Be Plopped in Front of Next Year: Part II

A quick look at CBS's fall schedule. Again, new series are in red.


8 p.m. The King of Queens
8:30 p.m. How I Met Your Mother
9 p.m. Two and a Half Men
9:30 p.m. Out of Practice
10 p.m. CSI: Miami

Shrewd move, says I, pulling King of Queens in to help anchor the previous Raymond night. Out of Practice is a sitcom about a family of doctors with a promising cast (Paula Marshall, Henry Winkler, Stockard Channing). How I Met Your Mother seems to be a romantic comedy type of thing with Willow (of Buffy) and Doogie (of . . . Doogie) in the leads. Intriguing.

8 p.m. NCIS
9 p.m. The Amazing Race
10 p.m. Close To Home

Nothing of interest to me. Close to Home is some kind of "suburban crime" show.

8 p.m. Still Standing
8:30 p.m. Yes, Dear
9 p.m. Criminal Minds
10 p.m. CSI: New York

I'd watch Still Standing occasionally when it was on Mondays, but I don't think it's strong enough to move. Criminal Minds is an FBI profiler drama starring Mandy Patinkin, one of my all-time favorite actors, so I'll check this out. Oh, wait - Wed. at 9PM is also "Lost." Damn.

8 p.m. Survivor
9 p.m. CSI
10 p.m. Without A Trace

Status quo, no surprise there.

8 p.m. Ghost Whisperer
9 p.m. Threshold
10 p.m. Numb3rs

Ghost Whisperer has Jenifer Love Hewitt seeing dead people. Yawn. Threshold could be interesting--something about the government responding to aliens on earth. We'll see.

Nothing new on Saturdays or Sundays to report.

Until Whenever

Must Have Been Some Nasty Love

I haven't watched this year's American Idol as much as previous seasons', having gone over the deep end for Gilmore Girls. Still, I caught just a little of last night's performances (during GG commercial breaks) and was struck by something during Vonzell's performance of "I Know I'll Never Love this Way Again."

Throughout the entire song, she was smiling. Big, happy smile. The main lyric, the one that gets pounded out over and over, is the same as the title: "I know I'll never love this way again." The song is about the sadness one feels when realizing that that one love, that one love that got away, will never, ever be equaled. And yet she sang it as if she was happy about it. Astounding. The biggest problem I've always had with the AI singers is the disconnect from the lyrics, how they so often barely seem to have even a notion of what the song is about. this was just one particularly glaring example of it.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Well, I Do Anyway

Everybody Loves Raymond signed off last night, with considerably less hoopla than some of its recently departed brethren. No hour-long episode, no life-changing events, just a fairly typical episode that still managed to acknowledge that it was, in fact, the series finale.

The plot revolved around Ray's having to have his adenoids removed, and the family's (save Marie's) initially underwhelmed reaction to the operation. When Marie steps out of the waiting room at the hospital, though, a nurse informs the family that they are having trouble rousing Ray from anesthesia, and for 30 long seconds panic rules as the other family members start assuming the worst. Quickly, though, and before Marie returns, the doctor informs them that Ray has been roused, and the family agrees not to tell Ray or his mother.

From that simple plot comes a very satisfying episode that, logically enough, revolves around the notion that everyone in the family truly does love Ray. Of course, both Ray and Marie do find out about his "near-death" experience, and their reactions to the news drive the end of the episode. With neat economy, they managed to address pretty much all of the key conflicts and tropes of the series--the conflict between Marie and Debra; between Robert and Ray; the very limited use of the kids; the hyperbolic Freudian relationship between Ray and his mother--without it feeling forced. And they also managed to elicit some of the series' most emotional moments, again, without any real heavy-handedness.

The first is when Debra is told of Ray's problem in coming out of anesthesia by the nurse; Patricia Heaton's very emotional reaction was superbly done, real without being histrionic. And later, when Ray, in a characteristic moment of self-pity, imagines that very reaction as being less than what it was, Frank steps in with a forceful defense of Debra, in what was, for me, one of the series' best-ever moments of true emotion.

For this series, which has endured criticism of the harshness of Ray and Debra's relationship over the years, to end with such a pointed, sentimental reminder of how much they really do love each other, was for me pretty much just perfect. An admirable finale, and maybe the best of the past year's bunch.

Until Whenever
What My Fat Ass Will Be Plopped in Front of Next Year: Part 1

Thought I'd briefly opine on the new Fall TV schedules as they're announced. To paint a brief picture of where I stand currently, TV-wise, that is, here's a quick look at what I currently watch:

Not much. I was a big, unabashed, Everybody Loves Raymond fan, but that's gone now. The Charlie Sheen/Jon Cryer sitcom that follows it, Two and a Half Men, is much better than reputed, with a kind of gleeful lack of sentimentality, which is hard to do when you center a sitcom around a kid. And I love that they've decided to portray the kid as a real kid--he's not witty, or precocious, or even all that cute. He's an overweight, fairly dull, very lazy, and from all available evidence not-very-bright kid, much like many, many real kids. Not a great sitcom, by any means, but funny enough.

I've only just this year jumped on the Gilmore Girls bandwagon. I've caught up with the first two seasons on DVD, and will soon dive into the third, and have loved this fifth season, which ends tonight. I'll watch American Idol if GG is a rerun, but haven't seem most of this season.

Lost, Lost, Lost, Lost. My newest TV addiction, and the series I most look forward to each week.

Joey is very much on the same wavelength as Two and a Half Men--better than reported but not great. Still, I watch it, and have hopes for the next season. I would expect to see some Friends guest stars next year too, now that the show has a full, Friends-less season under it's belt. And I'm ashamed to admit that I will usually watch The Apprentice, much against my better judgment. It's not that I like it, it's just that, you know, it's on. And I still like ER a whole lot. The medical stuff continues to hold interest for me, and I think they've done a very good job over the years of juggling old and new characters to keep the show fresh.

Friday. Saturday.

I'm an unreconstructed Simpsons fan, which means that I still think it's funny, unlike legions of hard-core fans out on the 'net.

So that's the TV I try to watch, at least fairly regularly.

OK, so now NBC, which was first out of the gate, yesterday. Their schedule for the Fall,with new shows in red. (Taken from Aint it Cool News's report)

8 p.m. Fathom
9 p.m. Las Vegas
10 p.m. Medium

Fathom is a new drama about some kind of mysterious and creepy sea creature that suddenly appears in the world's oceans . From the blah-marketing description it sounds uninteresting, but who knows.

8 p.m. The Biggest Loser
9 p.m. My Name Is Earl
9:30 p.m. The Office
10 p.m. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

The one or two eps of The Office I caught were pretty good; I've never seen the BBC original. The new show is a sitcom about a loser who wins the lottery. Kevin Smith regular Jason Lee (who I never quite understood as an actor; he seems just really, really bad to me) stars. Can't tell anything from the description. Special Victims Unit was pretty good last year, at least the handful of eps I caught. Less boilerplate Law and Order stuff, and more interesting cases. The (albeit small) entry they've allowed into the main character's lives and heads have also done a lot.

8 p.m. The Apprentice: Martha Stewart
9 p.m. E-Ring
10 p.m. Law & Order

None of these hold any real interest. The Martha Stewart Apprentice spin-off sounds even worse than its inspiration, and E-Ring, a Pentagon-based military drama just isn't in my wheelhouse.

8 p.m. Joey
8:30 p.m. Will & Grace
9 p.m. The Apprentice
10 p.m. ER

Status quo.

8 p.m. Three Wishes
9 p.m. Dateline NBC
10 p.m. Inconceivable

Three Wishes is a very treacly-sounding reality show in which Amy Grant travels the country bringing medical miracles to sick people. All of the schmaltz of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition with none of the cool, if silly, redesigns. Inconceivable is a drama set at an infertility clinic. Sounds pretty limiting story-wise--how many infertility stories are there? Of course, it may be more Desperate Housewives than ER, for that very reason.

8 p.m. Movie

The networks have called uncle on Saturday, huh?

7 p.m. Dateline NBC
8 p.m. The West Wing
9 p.m. Law & Order: Criminal Intent
10 p.m. Crossing Jordan

I love The West Wing but could never catch it reliably enough early on, so I'm a DVD watcher here. Criminal Intent can be good, but it's nothing I'm really compelled to watch.

So overall, nothing really impressive-looking here--not sure they've done enough to start climbing up out of the basement they crashed into this year.

Until Whenever

Monday, May 16, 2005

Vastly Diminishing Returns

Imagine a number line. Now, imagine that the zero point on the line represents a completely average film, and that the farther to the right you go the better the film (so, say, The Godfather, would be way off to the right), and that the farther to the left you go the worse the film (so, say, Leonard Part 6, would be way off to the left.

Now, what series of films, what franchise, would you say has traveled the farthest along that continuum? What series has devolved (or, if there is one, evolved) the most throughout its history? I'm not sure what the answer is, but my answer is the Superman franchise. It's hard to believe the sheer distance in quality between the first and last of that series. It's even harder when you realize that it's not really as if there was some kind of major tonal shift that could account for it. Sure, in the last two installments the comedy became too prevalent, but that comedy was very much in evidence from the first film (witness Gene Hackman's less-than imposing Lex Luthor)--it wasn't a new development. And yet the first film is so very far ahead of the fourth and last. Why? What happened to cause this severe jump? It's a mystery (to me).

I'd be pleased as the proverbial punch to hear any others' thoughts on potential nominees for biggest quality jump ever. And I'd be very interested to hear if anyone can think of a series that has increased very dramatically in quality as it's progressed. The Harry Potter films come to mind, but, to me, while the third is clearly the best so far, the first has much to recommend it. They have gotten better, but the jump hasn't been remarkable.

Until Whenever

Friday, May 13, 2005

We're Going to Need a Bigger Rhyming Dictionary

Augie, at Various and Sundry, notes that some group is attempting to write a limerick for every word in the English language. I decided to do my part, picking a word out of the dictionary at random (well, digitally--I blindly typed into m-w.com) and writing a limerick for it. The results:


If they can't just repair that old sequencer
We'll just have to speak out--yes, the sequence, Sir.
It's a countdown from ten
We repeat it, and then
Continue for, well, say a week hence, Sir.

Until Whenever
Doin' the Friday Shuffle

And away we go

1.) "The Beatitudes" - Arvo Part, composer, Theater of Voices, Paul Hilliard, conductor - De Profundis

Part writes wonderfully moody choral pieces, this is a hushed, church-ish piece that very slowly builds throughout its eight minutes.

2.) "In Marge We Trust" - Klang And Koto/'Mr. Sparkle' Theme & Logo - Dan Castellaneta/Nancy Cartwright/Yeardley Smith/Sab Shimono - Alf Klausen, composer

"The Simpsons" folks have produced a few CDs featuring music from the series; this is the audio around the "Mr. Sparkle" promotional video from one episode. In the episode (In Marge We Trust), Homer is dismayed to find his likeness on a box of Japanese laundry detergent (Mr. Sparkle). He writes to the company, and they send him a promotional video, the audio of which can be heard here. Brilliant parody of Japanese culture and its difficulty in translating into English.

3.) "Rudy" - Supertramp - The Best of Supertramp

My father's CD; I only really know their stuff from this best-of, but I like it. Love the piano intro on this track.

4.) "How Glory Goes" - Adam Guettel, composer/lyricist - Floyd Collins (original cast)
This is one of my all-time favorite theater songs. Floyd Collins is the true story of a Kentucky man who was caught in a cave. There was a media frenzy around the site at the time, kind of an early pre-figuring of the media's current "jump on a story" bandwagon style of delivering news (for the most recent example see the Runaway Bride). This song is sung at the end of the show; Floyd is about to die and he questions God about what is coming next.

5.) "Darkness" - The Police - Ghost in the Machine
Synthy mid-tempo number from The Police; haven't heard this in ages.

6.) "Why?" - Tracy Chapman - Tracy Chapman
Effective, if a bit heavy-handed ("Why do the babies starve/When there's enough food to feed the world") song off of Chapman's debut album. Nice guitar work here, and the earnestness in her voice kind of compensates for the baldness of the lyrics.

7.) "End of Scene Four" - Schmidt & Jones - 110 in the Shade
Dialogue and underscoring from this complete recording of the play.

8.) "O Little Town of Bethlehem" - Nat King Cole - The Christmas Album
One of the great voices.

9.) "First Letter" - Stephen Sondheim - Passion (Original Broadway Cast)
In the original production, the Playbill did not have song titles listed, the intent being to create a seamless story told through songs and words, without obvious "song" breaks. This gambit is reflected in the CD; this is just the first of several letters, a short bit of sung dialogue transitioning between scenes.

10.) "Head Over Heels" - Tears for Fears - Tears Roll Down (Greatest Hits)
I always liked the melodic sense of this duo, and this song is no exception. I love the big interval jump in "Head over HEE-ee-eels."

Until Whenever

Thursday, May 12, 2005

I Want One, Now (Literally)

This is the coolest idea since Netflix. A latte in a can that heats itself.

Can jetpacks be far behind?

Until Whenever
Like Mary Poppins

In this post, View from the Foothills lists five perfect songs, meaning not instances of perfect songwriting, but rather instances where performer, recording, and song come together in a combination that will never be equaled. In other words, no cover version will ever be able to surpass the original.

Five I believe qualify:

"Bohemian Rhapsody," Queen - This song is defined by its production, as a dismal attempt a live rendition on American Idol a few weeks ago demonstrated ably.

"Unchained Melody," The Everly Brothers - many have tried, including my beloved U2, and none have come close.

"Sinnerman," Nina Simone - Nina Simone makes every song she sings sound like a definitive version.

"Born to Run," Bruce Springsteen - While a solid piece of songwriting, the piece only transcends in the original arrangement and vocal.

"Every Breath You Take," The Police - That synthy-bass line in the original is critical. P-Diddy proved that the original recording is hard to improve upon.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Spice of Life

Tonight's pen-penultimate episode of Lost reminds me to sing the praises of up-and-coming composer Michael Giacchino, who composes the score for that most-excellent series, as well as for its sister show Alias. I hadn't heard of Giacchino before getting hooked on Lost, but his music for the show grabbed me from the beginning. A lot of what he does is "effect" work--low, ominous harp notes; screechy dissonances; and flaring trumpets evoking various moods of foreboding. But he has also been able to feature some tremulously delicate and beautiful melodic work, most notably the pieces underscoring John Locke's big secret reveal moment in an early episode and a funereal moment from a recent episode.

I have been hoping for a Lost soundtrack, but in the interim I picked up his score for The Incredibles, expecting (and hoping for) more of this style, not having seen the film prior to listening to the score. I was surprised, and impressed, by how different his work here was from his Lost music. The The Incredibles score is jazzy, fun, retro-60s stuff, full of swinging themes and very James Bonds-y action cues. Completely different. And now I see that he has written the songs for the upcoming Muppets Wizard of Oz ABC television movie. Given the presence of Ashanti as Dorothy, much of the music, or so I've read, will be in an R&B style. Excellent! I eagerly await it, as well as whatever style he decides to jump into next.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

He's So Fine

When Michael Jordan attempted a comeback with the Washington Wizards a few years back, a healthy portion of the commentary around his return centered around the notion that he would have been much better off had he not, that leaving at the top of his game had been the better choice, and that by playing for the Wizards at less than his peak powers he would be sullying his legacy.

I never, never understood that notion. As a Wizard, Jordan, while of course not the player he was, was still an excellent basketball player. Had he come in as a 35+-year old unknown, any team would have been happy to pick him up. Not to be the team's star, not to build around, but as an excellent building block to a successful team. Jordan, clearly, loves the game. But the consensus seemed to be that he shouldn't have bothered playing it unless he was going to be the best. Why? Why shouldn't a Michael Jordan play, assuming he still has the appropriate skills, which he did, if he can contribute to a team and if he gets enjoyment from playing?

Enter Ricky Henderson.

At 46, Henderson is going to play for a new minor league in California, as a member of the San Diego Surf Dawgs. Henderson doesn't need to play. Henderson wants to. And, at 46, he is apparently still skilled enough to contribute. According to the article, he still harbors hopes of playing again in the majors. At age 46. Can Henderson still do what he did as a younger man? No. But if he can contribute, whether in this new independent minor league, or in the majors once again, why shouldn't he? Henderson very clearly loves the game. Many would mock him for not knowing when to hang up the cleats. I applaud him for refusing to until it's absolutely necessary.

Until Whenever

Monday, May 09, 2005

Quizzically, He Asked

Nat, of Nat Pike's Wired for Sound, says: "Here's a "thirty music questions" thing that is making the blog rounds. I didn't make up the questions (except one), so steal them if you wish."

I shall. Thanks, Nat!

1. Of all the bands/artists in your CD/record collection, which one do you own the most albums by?

Given that a fair portion of my collection is given over to musical theater recordings, I'm counting composers as "artists." So, I'm not surprised that Stephen Sondheim CDs represent the biggest number of CDs in my collection.

2. What was the last song you listened to?

Again, I'm interpreting "song" liberally. "Anakin vs. Obi-Wan," from the Revenge of the Sith score.

3. What's in your CD player right now?

See above--Star Wars Episode III--Revenge of the Sith

4. What song would you say sums you up?

I don't think one does.

5. What's your favorite local band?

Don't have one/know any.

6. What was the last show you attended?

April 19 - Bob Dylan. Too short a set (14 songs only) but amazing to see the master live (first time, for me).

7. What artist do you consider to be very underrated?

John Mellencamp doesn't get nearly the respect a songwriter that he deserves.

8. What's the shittiest band you've ever seen in concert?

None, really. Some high school bands at dances and such.

9. What band do you love musically but hate the members of?

I don't really hate any band members, per se. Sure if I knew some I would.

10. What is the most musically involved you have ever been?

Four years of singing in the Glee Club in college, including a tour of Eastern Europe.

11. What show are you looking forward to?

I would be looking forward to the U2 tour when it comes to town, but, alas, I didn't get tickets. First tour I'll miss since I started seeing concerts in high school with scalped tickets to the Zoo TV tour.

12. What is your favorite band shirt?

The U2 Popmart tour T-shirt, with the four band members' faces done in pixelated style.

13. What musician would you like to hang out with for a day?

I don't drink, so I suspect a day with Bono might be a wasted opportunity. I'd love to shadow Stephen Sondheim for a day.

15. Sabbath or solo Ozzy?

If forced to listen to either at gunpoint, I'd choose Sabbath.

16. Commodores or solo Lionel Ritchie?

Don't know much of either, but would opt for Commodores, as the Ritchie I do know I'm nonplussed by.

17. Blackjack or solo Michael Bolton?

Blackjack. Can't be as bad as solo Bolton. Can it?

18. The Eagles or solo Don Henley?


19. The Police or solo Sting?

Sting. I like the police, but Sting's songwriting got a lot more adventurous when he left.

20. Doesn't emo suck?

No idea of what emo is.

21. Name 4 flawless albums.

The Joshua Tree, U2; The Lonesome Jubilee, John Mellencamp; Passion (Original Broadway Cast, written by Stephen Sondheim), and Painted from Memory, Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach. None are technically flawless, but I can't imagine that any album truly is.

22. Did you know that filling out this survey makes you a music geek?

I doubt that. I think it makes me more of a bored blogger.

23. What was the greatest decade for music?

Rock music? 1960s
Musical theater? 1970s

24. How many music-related videos/DVDs do you own?

Not many. U2 live from Boston; U2 at Red Rocks; Sting Soul Cages tour; Sting Unplugged; Sondheim's Passion, Into the Woods, and Sunday in the Park with George; a few others.

25. Do you like Journey?

Not particularly.

26. What is your favorite movie soundtrack?

Braveheart by James Horner, as much as I love John Williams.

27. What was your last musical "phase" before you wised up?

Hm. As a naive teen I loved Bon Jovi. Does that count?

28. What's the crappiest CD/record/etc you've ever bought?

Some string quartet doing U2. Blech.

29. Do you prefer vinyl or Cd's?

CDs. Vinyl was already fading when I got into music.

30. What is your guilty pleasure CD, that being the CD you love but would be ashamed to admit you have in your collection?

I have a CD of a symphony doing Sting music that I must reluctantly admit to liking.

Until Whenever
. . . And the Star Wars Geekery Shows No Sign of Abating

Been listening to John Williams' score to Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, in anticipation of the film, and thought I'd share my reactions. To provide some context, I'm a huge fan of Williams and his Star Wars work, and think the full-blown themes he's provided for the first two prequel films (the Duel of the Fates theme, Anakin's theme, and the Across the Stars theme--the doomed love theme for Anakin and Padme) are some of his best work. My only criticism of his composing on the new films is that they seem less varied than his original trilogy work, with fewer new themes being played with per film than before. To be fair, though, this may have more to do with the fact that after so many Star Wars films he has a vast amount of thematic material to work with than any laziness or lack of inspiration on Williams' part.

After this new disc opens with the now-de rigueur traditional Star Wars fanfare, it segues into an extended action cut, prominently featuring snares, more military in style than previous Star Wars action cuts. The next track is entitled Anakin's Dream, and it starts with an almost Schindler's List-esque melancholy theme on the violin. Throughout the score's quieter moments I hear echoes of Williams' work on that film, which ranks easily amongst his best. From there, the piece segues into some ominous-sounding tense pieces, before moving into a quote from the Across the Stars theme and ending with quotes from the Force theme. Williams clearly seems to be playing with the more violent and tragic aspects of this installment's story here at the outset of the disc.

The centerpiece of the disc, this score's version of EpisodeI's Duel of the Fates and Episode II's Across the Stars, is entitled Battle of the Heroes, and it's a keeper. The main melody is more understated than most traditional Star Wars melodies, less sweeping and grandiloquent, and is sounded at the onset over some hurried violins by a sole horn, before being taken up by a full chorus. The simple melody itself, which if you listen closely is a kind-of minor-key version of the Force theme (it may not actually be in a minor key; my musical theory savvy is too limited to be able to definitively tell these things), has a sense of the tragic about it, the inevitable. About halfway through the piece Williams very ominously quotes the Force theme directly, with a kind of mocking sarcasm that's quite effective. It's a fitting sound for this last episode.

Another stand-out track is the very ominous, almost avant-garde Palpatine's Teachings, which opens with almost a minute of minimalist droning over a very low sustained tone, which sounds, to these ears at least, like Tuvan throat singing. Here again, Williams makes ironic use of the Force theme, marrying it with the Imperial March to comment on Anakin's fall. These quick quotes of original trilogy themes are in much more use than in the first two prequel films; they effectively serve to bridge this last installment from the first original trilogy film. He also continues to introduce new sounds into the Star Wars universe; with the last film it was the electric guitar, and here it's an almost Middle-Eastern-sounding mournful solo voice.

It will be interesting to see, given that this is the last film, how much of the wealth of thematic material he's stockpiled Williams will avail himself of in the film itself. The Emperor's theme, the aforementioned Duel of the Fates--none of these are featured in this disc. Nonetheless, the score is a worthy addition to the Star Wars canon. The next step I'd vote for, were I given a vote (last I checked, I'm not), would be for Williams to really take some time and boil down all of this material into one cohesive, musical piece--"Star Wars" symphony, much along the lines of what Howard Shore as done with The Lord of the Rings. As much as I love these scores, it's not often I'm going to listen to them in their entirety, whereas a one-CD symphony, clocking in at around an hour, that was more than simply a suite of the themes loosely strung together, but rather a rigorously cohesive new work built out of them, would, I'm guessing, get a lot of play in my jukebox.

Until Whenever