Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The U2 Canon - The Joshua Tree

No look at Wide Awake in America. Sorry. I don't have it on disc and don't feel like digging out my old cassette to take a fresh listen. So on to what is for me, and many fans, critics, and others, the pinnacle of U2's output.

The Joshua Tree is the first U2 album I really fell in complete and utter love with. Ironically enough, my first exposure to the band at all (I was just a kid during the early-mid 80s and was pretty much completely oblivious to music in general, never mind U2) came with the "With or Without You" video's omnipresence on MTV. I had only just started to develop the primordial beginnings of musical taste, and was very keen on, ahem, Huey Lewis and the News, Phil Collins, and Bon Jovi. (I learned.) At first I had an intense dislike of the video and song, and would get visibly annoyed when it came on TV. After a while though, and I'm not sure when or how it happened, I began to develop an affection for it. When "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" was released I took immediate interest, and it was pretty much all over from there.

I can still remember riding my bike into the downtown main street drag of the next town over, to the only easily accessible record shop for my 13-year-old self. The shop was in the basement of the local bookstore, and was always filled with older kids in leather and jean jackets who, quite frankly, frightened me in their insolent attitudes and height and omnipresent cigarettes. I purchased the cassette, rode my bike home, stuck the album into my small boombox, and started listening. And I haven't stopped since.

As I've mentioned previously, to me The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby are easily the two all-time classics in U2's catalog. In my personal estimation, the former outguns the latter, if only by a hair, because of a few things. To me, the mood on The Joshua Tree is somewhat more coherent and sustained than on Achtung Baby; stylistically it's more of a whole, more of a seamless entity. And I like that The Joshua Tree is consumed with an outsider's look at America, unlike Achtung Baby's more inside look at European themes--my feeling is that others have looked at Europe musically through a vaguely similar lens, whereas The Joshua Tree is more unique in its perspective. And, of course, above all of this is the fact that The Joshua Tree was the first album I truly and deeply fell in love with. That that may be coloring my judgment isn't just something I suspect, but something I'd be surprised to find not to be true. In other words, much as I might like to pretend otherwise, I am not objective, nor can I be, when it comes to this album.

1. "Where the Streets Have No Name." - My favorite rock song, by anyone. I love every inch of it, from the marvelously solemn and hushed series of keyboard chords that ushers the song in; to the faint ringing guitar figure that drifts in slowly, gaining strength throughout the intro; to the way the drums kick in with power and an urgent drive partway through; to the impassioned and open-throated pure singing Bono indulges in throughout, to the perfect, symmetrical ending. And live, as anyone who has attended a U2 show could tell you, the song takes on added power and urgency--see the Rattle and Hum film for a stellar example.

2. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" - That simple guitar figure that defines the song is very sneaky in the way it expands beyond its basic structure to really give the song an urgency and a mood. And what a vocal on this one--those notes are high, and Bono handles them with seeming ease. The searching, hopeful religious themes that U2 highlight on pretty much every album take center stage here, but never get preachy or overbearing.

3. "With or Without You" - Only two U2 songs have ever reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in America--this one and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." "With or Without you" may have been somewhat overplayed, and as a result lost some of its power to the ear, but this is a marvelous song, a gorgeous, plaintive ballad that makes use of Edge's infinite guitar to give it an almost otherwordly underpinning. The discipline and control in Bono's vocal is inspiring.

4. "Bullet the Blue Sky" - One of Adam's most indelible bass lines, and a mean backbeat from Larry anchor this U2 classic. Defining guitar work from the Edge here as well, as he shifts from the ringing, repeated guitar figures to try on a distortion-heavy, power-chord dominated approach married to just a hint of funk. Bono's mid-song rap is infamous ("Outside is America!"), but really it works wonderfully in context. This is one of the band's most blatantly political songs, and its indictment of a warring America rings true today just as much as it did nearly 20 years ago.

5. "Running to Stand Still" - One of the slower songs U2 has ever recorded, this is a spare and stripped-down track, with quiet piano and scratchy slide guitar giving the music a clear blues feel, while not really straying into hard blues land. Bono unleashes a clear and strong falsetto here that matches the quiet of the song well. The build to the end is masterful, with the band coming together to affect a hushed, effective climax that leads out to a sad, harmonica-tinged coda.

6. "Red Hill Mining Town" - Rumor has it that the band abandoned support for this as the album's fourth single when Bono realized he wouldn't be able to hit the high notes night after night on tour. I love how this song marries the scratchy, fingers-on-fretboard blues guitar sound with the Edge's own signature ringing tones. And, while maybe impossible for him to do live for weeks on end, this is a wonderfully passionate vocal from Bono.

7. "In God's Country" - A great, blistering short pop song, faintly reminiscent of some of the Boy material.

8. "Trip through Your Wires" - An old-fashioned blues romp, harmonica. hootin' and hollerin' and all, U2-style. While it can be looked at as somewhat of a throwaway on the album, I think it does serve to really drive home the American musical inspirations that are littered elsewhere by very virtue of its status as a straightforward roots music homage.

9. "One Tree Hill" - One of my favorite tracks. A slow, patiently building song highlighted by some wonderful guitar work by the Edge and some remarkable singing, especially at the end, by Bono.

10. "Exit" - "Love Is Blindness" aside, perhaps U2's darkest song. A kind of hymnal innovation to God sung by Bono at the beginning gives way to a very, very quiet intro, with the bass and Bono's opening lyrics barely audible. The guitar kicks in after a verse in almost as quiet a fashion, picking out an ominous, foreboding melody. By the time the whole band is up to full volume, Adam, Larry, and the Edge are thrashing together almost (almost) like a heavy-metal band, with particularly fierce guitar work from the Edge.

11. "Mothers of the Disappeared" - An inspiringly solemn piece inspired by stories the band heard of South American women--the "mothers of the disappeared"--whose families were the victims of political violence, who danced as a silent means of protest (Sting's "They Dance Alone," off of . . . Nothing Like the Sun is a song about the same story). "In the trees, our sons stand naked/Through the walls our daughters cry/Hear their tears in the rainfall." Bono's heartbreakingly pure falsetto "tears" in the second verse chills my blood. A great way to end the album.

Grade: A+

Until Whenever

Monday, October 24, 2005

Surprise! No, No, No, All Wrong. Again. Surprise!

TV Barn points to this piece from a local Ohio paper in which the local reporter gives out some details on what being a Three Wishes town is really like. Interesting, if brief, reading. My favorite detail is that the spontaneous reactions to some of the surprises -- "we're giving you a new kidney!"-- are deemed unworthy by producers and new ones asked for. Hee.

Until Whenever
Dylan Speaks Truth

"Everybody's going to remember your songs; it's just that nobody's gonna be able to play them." - Bob Dylan, speaking to the Edge about U2's music and legacy.

Love that quote. Dylan, as might be expected regarding things musical, knows of what he speaks. U2's music is remarkably specific to U2. They aren't great songwriters in the traditional sense of the word; that is, they don't write solid, well-constructed, ingenious combinations of melody, harmony, and lyric, like, well, Dylan does. One can easily imagine a multitude of singers a hundred years hence making much hay out of the Dylan songbook--the material there is as strong as a Gershwin's or Porter's, and I don't have much doubt that much of Dylan's best will decades from now have been folded seamlessly into the body of work we tend to think of as the "Great American Songbook."

Not so U2's music. There are exceptions, but for the most part the quality, the greatness, in a U2 song is in how the band makes it so much more than the sum of its parts. The harmonic structures, the variety of chords and chord changes, and the variety in melodic lines in a U2 song are not particularly innovative or challenging or elegant. But the way the band has marshaled its distinct sensibilities into those songs is. "Where the Streets Have No Name," for example, isn't a brilliant song because of the inventiveness of the melody, or the wit or craft in the lyric. It is a brilliant song, though, because of the way the band takes a simple harmonic development and expands it into something greater; for the way the pulsing rhythm of the drums is charged with doing something more than just defining a beat; for the way the minimalist guitar figures at the beginning and end define the parameters of the song while also building a soundscape for Bono to inhabit with his vocal. All valid, wonderful things, but not, per se. "songwriting" things. U2's genius is on record and on stage, not on the page. That's not a bad thing, but it is a thing worth noting.

Until Whenever

Friday, October 21, 2005

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

Act I, Scene I

1. "Danced with a Girl" - Michael John LaChiusa - Marie Christine (Original Broadway Cast)
Medea set in early-20th Century New Orleans. Here, the Medea character, Marie Christine, is seduced by her Jason, Dante.

2. "Rebel Prince" - Rufus Wainwright - Poses
Just got this after reading much praise for Wainwright and was heavily impressed. Melodic, quirky, interesting pop songwriting.

3. "Suzanne" - Leonard Cohen - The Songs of Leonard Cohen
I need to get a cover of this song--it's a great song, but Cohen's not much of a singer.

4. "Bad" - U2 - Rattle & Hum
My favorite rendition of this song, recorded during the Joshua Tree tour, with Bono in probably the best vocal shape he was ever in. A little less flabby than the album cut or the live version recorded on the EP Wide Awake in America.

5. "In the Arms of Sheep" - Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
I hear some Radiohead in this song, with the electronic tone over the strummed acoustic guitar.

6. "Secret of Night" - Stephen Sondheim - Follies in Concert
The only film score Sondheim ever composed was for a film called Stravisky. The score was included on the second disc of this 2-disc Follies recording to fill it out. Interesting historically, but not a favorite.

7. "The Death of Saul" - Alan Menken and Time Rice - King David (World Premiere Recording)
One of the better songs from this score (see the previous post), an anguished, shifting lament with choir, synthesizer, pounding drums, electric guitar and some dramatic singing.

8. "Rain on the Roof" - Stephen Sondheim - Follies in Concert
I get the novelty factor here, and how it makes sense in the context of the show, but ths song is not a favorite on CD. Still, it's very cool to hear the acclaimed writers Comden and Green have such obvious fun with it here.

9. "Sleigh Ride" - Johnny Mathis - A Time-Life Christmas

10. "Heaven" - Ricky Ian Gordon - Bright Eyed Joy: The Songs of Ricky Ian Gordon
Not really a musical but a song cycle by the composer. This is a very short, plucky, joyful song introducing the rest of the material.

Until Whenever

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Music Morsels Volume XI - King David

I'm an unabashed lover of the compositional work of Alan Menken. From his doo-woppy Litte Shop of Horrors score, to his Disney work, I'm, a big fan of his simple love for grand, emotional melody lines and his fierce lack of shame in being openly, well, sappy. King David was performed, to my knowledge, just once, a live recording that was captured on a now-out of print disc. The occasion was the gala opening of Disney's New Amsterdam Theater on 42nd Street in New York, the Broadway home of, since its opening, The Lion King. For the celebratory opening, Disney commissioned from Menken (who was their house composer at the time, having written the scores for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Hercules), an oratorio, basically, around the Biblical King David story.

The resulting piece is wonderful in the sheer amount of music it afforded. Menken's film scores for Disney tended to run at about only six songs each. His expansion of the Beauty and the Beast score for the Broadway show was satisfying, but here he had the chance to do the through-sung kind of pop opera composing that Andrew Lloyd Weber and the Les Miserables guys had had so much success with. I'd imagine that he had higher hopes for the work, that that original concert presentation would evolve into a full-fledged stage show. That never happened, and Menken's expansion of his Hunchback work into a full-length show, while enjoying a nice run in Berlin, never made it to Broadway either. With Beauty & the Beast pushing up against 12 years on Broadway, and its status as one of the longest-running shows ever pretty safe for a while, you'd think Menken would have had more stuff on the boards in the eight years since this concert, but alas it hasn't happened.

Still, this is a great score, full of stirring, juicy singing and melodies, and I am supremely grateful that it was made in the first place. Some of the material gets a little too poppy for my tastes, including some almost-embarrassing smooth jazz type stuff late in the disc, but overall this is very solid big Broadway music.

Grade: B

Until Whenever

UPDATE: A little surfing reveals that the original concert was a nine-performance deal, not one, and that the Lyric Stage in Dallas performed a scaled-down version last year, and that Landmark Christian School in Newman, Georgia will be doing the oratorio in full this November.

Sing, Sing a Song

From Jaquandor, I steal this. My favorite songs by these artists (I've left blanks for artists I know pretty much nothing of).

Favorite Beatles song: "Something"
Bob Dylan's site includes a bunch of streaming live stuff, including a cover of this song he did as a tribute when George Harrison died. How many songs were covered by Dylan and Sinatra?

Favorite solo song by a former Beatle: "Imagine"
I've plugged Jordis Unga's stellar cover from RockStar INXS before, but I'll do it again. Check it out.

Favorite Bob Dylan song: "Tangled Up in Blue"
Oddly enough, my least favorite Dylan song was Jaquandor's favorite.

Favorite Pixies song: ?

Favorite Prince song: "Purple Rain"
Pretty. Did Prince just write or also perform "Nothing Compares to U?" Either way, that's an amazing song.

Favorite Michael Jackson song: "Smooth Criminal"
Say what you want, but that is a killer groove.

Favorite Metallica song: "One"
Not that I know much Metallica, but this combines pretty and hard very effectively.

Favorite Public Enemy song: ?

Favorite Depeche Mode song: ?

Favorite Cure song: ?

Favorite song that most of your friends haven't heard: "Like an Angel Passing through my Room"
Originally by ABBA but as performed by Anne Sofie Van Oter.

Favorite Beastie Boys song: ?

Favorite Police song: "Synchronicity II"
One of my favorite lyrics ever. "Many miles away/There's a shadow on the door/Of acottagee on the shore/Of a dark/Scottish lake."

Favorite Sex Pistols song: ?

Favorite song from a movie: "Philadelphia"
Neil Young's so-superior-to-the-Springsteen-Oscar-winner contribution

Favorite Blondie song: ?

Favorite Genesis song: "The Lamb Dies Down on Broadway"
Never got into Genesis, but I always liked the swagger of this song.

Favorite Led Zeppelin song: "Kashmir"
I can take or leave Zeppelin normally, but for that string riff alone they deserve accolades.

Favorite INXS song: "Never Tear Us Apart" It's hard to pull off a sax solo that's not cheesy.

Favorite Weird Al song: ?

Favorite Pink Floyd song: "Comfortably Numb"

Favorite cover song: "Come Down in Time"
Sting's cover of the Elton John deep cut. Gorgeously melancholy.

Favorite dance song: ?

Favorite U2 song: "Where the Streets Have No Name"
Also my favorite song, period.

Favorite disco song: ?

Favorite The Who song: "Won't Get Fooled Again"
The greatest rock scream, intro, use of synthesizer, and fake ending in any song ever--that's a lot of best-evers for one song.

Favorite Elton John song: "Come Down in Time"
See "Favorite Cover" above.

Favorite Clash song: ?

Favorite David Bowie song: "All the Young Dudes"
For the longest time, I thought this was a Beatles song.

Favorite Nirvana song: "All Apologies"

Favorite Snoop Dogg song: ?

Favorite Ice Cube song: ?

Favorite Johnny Cash song: "The Long Black Veil"

Favorite R.E.M. song: "Nightswimming"

I love me some good piano pop.

Favorite Elvis song: "Can't Help Falling in Love with You"

It's not as good as the original, but Bono's cover off of the "Honeymoon in Vegas" soundtrack, in which he sings the song in three different octaves, is a great one.

Favorite cheesy-ass country song: ?

Favorite Billy Joel song: "And So It Goes"

Betty Buckley sings a tender and haunting cover of this song.

Favorite Bruce Springsteen song: "Brilliant Disguise"

Just brilliant songwriting.

Favorite Big Audio Dynamite song: ?

Favorite New Order song: ?

Favorite Neil Diamond song: ?

Favorite Squeeze song: "Tempted"

Favorite Smiths song: ?

Favorite Tragically Hip Song: ?

I'm adding a few bands/artists as well, because, well, I want to:

Favorite Beach Boys song: "God Only Knows"

Favorite Dave Matthews Band song" "Everyday"

The album cut is OK, but the acoustic version Matthews did for the 9/11 telethon is the beaut.

Favorite Dire Straits song: "Romeo and Juliet"

Favorite Elvis Costello song: "What's So Funny? (About Peace, Love, and Understanding)"

It pains me to say it, since it's one of the few Costello songs he didn't actually write.

Favorite Guns 'N Roses song: "Sweet Child O' Mine"

That opening riff is just so perfect.

Favorite Jimi Hendrix song: "The Wind Cries Mary"

Favorite John Mellencamp song: "Check It Out"

Favorite Living Colour song: "Love Rears Up Its Ugly Head"
If only for the title alone.

Favorite Neil Young song: "Harvest Moon"

Favorite Paul Simon song: "Hearts and Bones"

Favorite Simon & Garfunkel song: "Kathy's Song"

Favorite Queen song: "Show Must Go On"

Freddie Mercury singing about his impending death.

Favorite Radiohead song: "True Love Waits"

Favorite Sting song: "When the Angels Fall"

Favorite Tracy Chapman song: "For You"

Just Tracy and her guitar.

Favorite Van Morrison song: "Moondance"

Favorite XTC song: "Peter Pumpkinhead"

Until Whenever

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Random Box Office Thoughts

Did you know that Shrek 2 is the third-highest grossing film ever (domestically, at least)? Behind only Titanic and the original Star Wars? See for yourself. Sure, that's before you take inflation into account, but still. That's a lot of tickets. Maybe I'm crazy, but I don't think it's going to be remembered the same way in 20 years. It's already become pretty forgettable, no? I mean, when Jurassic Park, or Titanic, or Star Wars Episode I hit as hard as they did originally, really reaching those upper stratosphere levels of box office, didn't it seem like they were still in the collective pop consciousness longer? Not even 18 months after Shrek 2 was released, it doesn't seem like people think or talk about it anymore.

All but one of the ten highest grossing films ever feature imaginary or fantastic creatures. All but two of the top twenty. All but four of the top thirty. (I'm counting that strange devil-like thing in Passion of the Christ as imaginary). And fully half of the top ten feature either Darth Vader or Spider-Man. Imagine the money that could be made by a film featuring Spider-Man and Darth Vader fighting hordes of imaginary creatures. It's box office gold!!!

Until Whenever
Previously, on Star Wars . . .

The news that two (two!) Star Wars TV shows are coming our way in the not-so-near future is hardly new. But the latest dribbles of info released by the gatekeepers at Lucas HQ (see the link) have raised a few questions for me:

1) According to Lucasfilm, each ep is expected to cost $1.8 million to produce, about normal for a new hour-long drama. Here's where I get confused. Episode III had a budget of around $115 million for two hours or so of movie. Even for only 40 minutes or so of an episode, shouldn't the budget be comparable? A third of $115 million is almost $40 million, not $2 million. Why is the TV show so much cheaper than the films--for that matter, why are TV shows in general so much cheaper to produce than films? Why could they make the Lost pilot, which for all intents and purposes was a movie, for so much less money than a Hollywood production would cost? It can't all be more expensive actors.

2) Where will the dramatic tension come from? Throughout the prequel trilogy, even though we knew that Anakin would become Darth Vader, all the Jedi would be killed, and the Emperor and Empire would rise, there was still dramatic tension to be had around just how and why those things would happen. In the live-action series, which will take place between Episodes III and IV, what dramatic tension will there be, given that we pretty much know what's going to happen within the next 20 years? I'm not suggesting that there won't be any, just that exactly what it is should be a key question they are trying to figure out, as it's not built in like it was for the prequels.

3) Will Lucas' relative non-involvement (he won't be writing or directing episodes) bring a new pulse to the franchise? I loved the prequels, as I've said, and yet I acknowledge that the acting and dialogue were less than they could have been. How different will Lucas let the tone/feel be--how much leeway will he give the creators of the episodes?

4) Will tradition continue and C3PO and R2D2 appear in the new live-action series? And will the writers and producers avoid the temptation to visit Yoda on Dagobah? Will McDermid sign on to do Emperor cameos, and if not will they use someone else or just avoid actually showing the Emperor at all? Will they stick to their guns and not make this the Darth Vader show, as I can easily imagine it becoming?

Until Whenever

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Why Hollywood Sucks

Because it took this beautiful young woman:

And convinced her that it was actually a good idea that she look like this:

Until Whenever

Undeclared - The Complete Series

Recently rented Undeclared and was, as expected, happy to have done so. I had seen probably a good majority of the episodes when they originally aired, but this DVD set still featured a fair number of episodes I had never seen.

Undeclared was a natural next step for the Freaks and Geeks braintrust--their critically lauded, little-seen series about high school had hit the dust, so, as series creator Judd Apatow indicates in a Museum of Television & Radio panel included in the DVD set, it just seemed to make sense to move on to a series about the next step after high school--college. The Freaks and Geeks imprint can be seen primarily in the painfully realistically awkward and geeky Stephen, played winningly by Jay Baruchel, who could with slight adjustments just be Freaks and Geeks' Sam three years later. But Apatow was smart to surround his new Sam character with not the equally nerdy friends Sam had but with a random grouping of new, different friends--a very real dynamic that's repeated in colleges around the country every September as normally unlikely friendships are forged between roommates. So geeky Steven gets as new friends the almost-pretty English exchange student Lloyd; the witty Ron; and the cheerily sloppy slacker Marshall. To that core cast, he added across-the-hall roommates Lizzy and Rachel, who would provide romantic conflicts for the boys.

So far, so good. The setup was simple but real-feeling, the casting was perfect, and the writing was as sharp as it had been on Freaks and Geeks (if a bit less deep), with episodes just completely nailing that strange feeling of freedom college freshman feel, the let down of actual classes, the dynamics of dorm politics, and others. This series certainly stands on its own as an often painfully funny, real look at college. I recommend it. But where I think Apatow may have erred somewhat (and this is probably not at all the reason for the show's demise, just a fault I found in going through all the episodes one by one), was in his unflagging loyalty to his old Freaks and Geeks mates.

F&G regular Seth Rogen played Ron and was a regular writer for the show. That seemed to work, especially as Ron was demonstrably different from Ken, his old F&G character. But already in the first episode we were introduced to Lizzie's boyfriend-from-home, Eric, played by old F&G hand Jason Segel. And Jason would return for no less than six episodes--out of only 16 or so total. This clubby, junior brat pack atmosphere would extend throughout the show's run--with almost the entire F&G cast, save feature film-starring Linda Cardellini and James Franco, appearing in at least one episode. The result was that the show at times could almost feel like a club we the audience weren't really a part of. Segel's appearances, especially, seemed less an organic outshoot of the stories the series wanted to tell us, but a result of Apatow and the gang just loving hanging out with Segel and letting him go nuts on his goofy stalking boyfriend character. As I watched the episodes, I kind of wished Apatow had kept more of a firewall between the two projects, and let Undeclared be more of its own beast. It might not have saved it, but it might have let it develop--even in its short existence--as its own classic series, equal to, and different from, the classic F&G.

Sure, it's relatively a minor quibble, and the series is still well, well, well worth checking out. But that faint smell of what might have been permeates these episodes, at least for me.

Until Whenever

The Infamous Meat Grinder Is, Thankfully, Not One

Mark Evanier notes the American Society of Magazine Editors' choices for the "40 greatest magazine covers of the last 40 years." Here is the press release. Here is, if it's working again, the site with the actual covers.

Until Whenever
Listing from All the Lists

Jaquandor has reacted to John Scalzi's list of the 100 canonical science fiction films (as compiled in Scalzi's just-released book, The Rough Guide to Science Fiction) by indicating which he's seen. So, of course, must I, in yet another attempt to bare to the blogosphere my shockingly limited cultural IQ. (Films I've seen are italicized).

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai
Across the 8th Dimension!
Like many, but certainly not all, I prefer the second to the first, being more of an action film fan than a horror fan.

Back to the Future
Blade Runner
I'll join Jaquandor in reacting to this as being somewhat overrated.

Bride of Frankenstein
Brother From Another Planet
A Clockwork Orange
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The Damned
Destination Moon
The Day The Earth Stood Still
I saw this once in a dorm room with a bunch of others in college and don't remember much--especially what made it science fiction. I do remember the brilliant percussive sex scene.

Escape From New York
ET: The Extraterrestrial
Rewatched this recently, and it holds up very well, not really reading as "dated" at all. Bodes well for its long-term life.

Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers (serial)
The Fly (1985 version)
Forbidden Planet
Ghost in the Shell
The Incredibles
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 version)
Jurassic Park
Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior
The Matrix
Sure, but have any sequels ever lived farther down to expectations?

On the Beach
Planet of the Apes (1968 version)
Solaris (1972 version)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
The Stepford Wives
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
The Thing From Another World
Things to Come
12 Monkeys
Saw this once, remember loving it, but can't recall hardly anything of the plot. On it goes to the re-watch list.

28 Days Later
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
2001: A Space Odyssey
Boring. Yeah, I said it. Want to fight about it?

La Voyage Dans la Lune
War of the Worlds (1953 version)

Until Whenever

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Blame Game


I've read much on-line grousing about the lameness of the promo to last week's Lost, which featured the heretofore Korean-only speaking Jin speaking English in an impeccable American accent. Turns out that it was naught but a dream sequence--Jin can't speak English after all(that we know of!). The grousing I've read centers around the lameness of the teaser, which I'm totally with. But the blame seems to be directed primarily at the Lost creators, which, if my rudimentary TV production knowledge is right, is unfair. I'm pretty sure that the network puts together the promos, not the show's producers. So it's ABC that ran with the misleading promo, not Lost. And, lame promo aside, the Jin-English moment was kind of cool and creepy, and very evocative of a dream. No dirty pool here. At least, not from Lost.

Until Whenever
The Power of Grayskull

I heartily recommend this very interesting post by Jamie at Something Old on the old (how apropos) He-Man cartoon, and the business of using cartoons to sell toys in the first place.

Until Whenever
Nothing Like a List to Make You Feel Poorly Read

Time magazine has released its list of the "100 greatest novels of all time." I've read 18%:

Animal Farm-George Orwell
Are You There God? (It's Me, Margaret)-Judy Blume
Atonement-Ian McEwan
The Blind Assassin-Margrate Atwood
The Catcher in the Rye-J.D. Salinger
The Corrections-Jonathan Franzen
Go Tell It on the Mountain-James Baldwin
The Grapes of Wrath-John Steinbeck
The Great Gatsby-F. Scott Fitzgerald
Invisible Man-Ralph Ellison
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe-C.S. Lewis
Lord of the Flies-William Golding
1984-George Orwell
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest-Ken Kesey
Ragtime-E.L. Doctorow
To Kill a Mockingbird-Harper Lee
Watchmen-Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
White Teeth-Zadie Smith

Until Whenever

Friday, October 14, 2005

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

On your marks . . .

1. "Samwise the Brave" - Howard Shore - The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (score)
One of the really remarkable achievements in film scoring. This moment is a nicely uplifting and tender orchestral swelling moment for Sam.

2. "The Ladies Who Lunch" - Stephen Sondheim (sung by Elaine Stritch) - Company (Original Broadway Cast)
One of the most acclaimed and iconic song performances in Broadway history. Elaine Stritch is an amazing singing actress, and this just may be the highlight of her recorded career. In her one-woman show of a few years back, she admits to assuming that "Mahler," in the the line "A matinee, a Pinter play, perhaps a piece of Mahler's" referred to a local bakery. Go see a play and after get a piece of cake at Mahler's. Brilliant. Her anguished, repeated cries of "everybody dies" at the end are a master class in how to weave acting and singing for all of those musical theater actors with less-than-operatic voices.

3. "Living Waters" - Burkhard Dallwitz - The Truman Show (score)
Tense, unsettling music from the score.

4. "Human Wheels" - John Mellencamp - Human Wheels
One of Mellencamp's most underrated songs, a disarmingly melancholic rock piece with a strong backbeat, plaintive mandolin, and a wonderfully dry and almost defeated vocal. "While I with human-hindered eyes." Love that line.

5. "Stored Memories and Monica's Theme" - John Williams - A.I. (score)
I've proclaimed my love for this score elsewhere. This cut has some eerie low male and high female vocal choral singing that's particularly effective.

6. "Phrygian Gates - Part 3" - John Adams - Road Movies
Rumbling, stuttering piano from my second-favorite contemporary composer. (Don't blush, Arvo Part).

7. "Baby" - Dave Matthews - Some Devil
Pretty ballad from Matthews' solo debut.

8. "American Without Tears" - Elvis Costello - King of America
Costello with a slight, shuffling country feel. Pretty song.

9. "You Have Loved Enough" - Leonard Cohen - Ten New Songs
A little too happy-shiny in the arrangement for me. And by this point, Cohen had pretty much abandoned singing and just speaks the songs, not that effectively.

10. "Marion Barfs" - Clint Mansell - Requiem for a Dream (score)
Sad, sad music. This whole score is basically just umpteen variations on the same theme, but somehow it works. I still have to get my hands on the full orchestral version (the film's score used a string quartet) of the main theme that Peter Jackson used in the trailer for The Two Towers. Hey! Symmetry!

Until Whenever

Thursday, October 13, 2005

What's the Monthly Mortgage Check Look Like

Amusing, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous-esque, piece up on MSN.com about the ten most expensive listed homes on the real estate market in the US. The #1 home, a 60-acre estate in the Hamptons, lists for $75 million. It has its own golf course.

Why did my three-bedroom converted Cape just feel a lot smaller?

Silly rich people.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Rare Sighting

I stopped reading comics regularly about two years ago. Not because I thought myself, on the precipice of 30, "above" them, but simply because for the first time since college I found myself without easy access to a comic book store. I tried the on-line route for a while, ordering from Midtown Comics, which I used to frequent when I worked in Times Square, but was not diligent enough to keep up with ongoing series, and after too many frustrating times of missing issues in the middle of storylines, I stopped, more or less cold turkey. I've kept up with Ultimate Spider-Man via the trades, and read a handful of other collections (I just got the first Ultimates 2 trade, which I loved, but I find, ironically, that shelling out the cash for trade after trade just seems too expensive (even if I intellectually know that I was spending far more when buying 4-6 titles a week).

All of this preamble is just to preface my statement that I haven't followed any of the Identity Crisis stuff going on at DC. So I was surprised to see that the comic (which came out today I guess), and the new direction it heralds for DC, got an article in The New York Times. It's a good piece too, explaining to this lapsed fan what DC was doing pretty clearly. Anyway, it's always nice to see the four-color men and women in tights get a prominent mention in the mainstream press.

Until Whenever
Buried Beauties Vol. IV - Patricia Heaton

Raymond was a lucky man. As you may have guessed from previous entries, I appreciate film and television actresses who are pretty in a real-world sort of way--that is, you could imagine them walking down your street. Heaton is not bombshelly, or glam, but very pretty in a classical kind of way.

Until Whenever
The U2 Canon - The Unforgettable Fire

U2 takes a left turn from the more poppy, concrete structures and sounds on War and emerge with a more amorphous, atmospheric sound that has been dubbed by some as "European" to War's "American" sound. Gone are the horns and piano and in their place are synthesized strings and background synthesized wash effects. The Unforgettable Fire shows U2 getting more self-consciously arty for the first time, an angle they would continue to develop and expand upon throughout the course of their career. Those minimalist, repetitive guitar figures from the Edge return as well, more developed and less straightforward than they were on the band's first two albums. This is the album that cracked the door to the two classics that would come afterwards--1997's The Joshua Tree and 1992's Achtung Baby--considered by many to be the two really and truly great--as in "Sgt. Pepper or Highway 61 or Pet Sounds" great albums of U2's career. The sounds the band plays around with here would really become the core of those two albums, albeit in very different ways.

1. "A Sort of Homecoming"--A great, pounding, relentless, almost tribal drumbeat from Larry anchors this kick-off track, with the Edge sailing over the song from above with ringing short stabs of guitar. This song has the earmarks of a classic but never really took off. The album's glaring flaw are some very amorphous and generic lyrics from Bono, but the lyrics here are particularly strong in the way they evoke an end-of-the-world apocolyptic vision: "The wind will crack in wintertime/This bomb-blast lightning waltz/No spoken words/Just a scream." Bono continues to develop as a vocalist as well, letting loose with some unabashedly emotive high bellowed notes near the end of the song.

2. "Pride (In the Name of Love)"--One of two lasting classics spawned off of this album. The riff in this song is probably the defining riff of the Edge's career, and rightly so. It's a great figure, in the way it builds tension and yet resolves so cleanly. Bono's high notes on the chorus are still thrilling in their lack of any distancing or ironic effect--he's just singing with great open emotion. The Martin Luther King-inspired lyrics do just enough without getting overly mushy or biographical to get the point of the song across, even with the infamous "mistake." (MLK wasn't killed in the morning).

3. "Wire"--A hard-driving bit of rock after the more mellow rock of the first two numbers. One of Adam's best-ever bass lines gives this song a great propulsiveness, and the stuttering, schizophrenic guitar adds real tension. The way the song plays with the mindset of a killer, the way it tries to get into that dark space, would be a recurring thematic motif for the band, with a "dark" song or two appearing on most of their subsequent albums. And I have to once again mention how strong Bono's vocals are getting here, deep and powerful tones with a great degree of control.

4. "The Unforgettable Fire"--A rare excursion into a heavy orchestral-synth dominated sound for the band actually works very well, with a wonderfully moody vibe coming out of the music. The bridge features one of the most purely gorgeous, rangy and operatic melodies the band ever came up with "And if the mountains should crumble/Or disappear into the sea/Not a tear, no not I." And the ending, pure synth orchestra bringing the music to a natural close, is just beautiful.

5. "Promenade"--Not a great song. An attempt at hazy mood-setting with barely developed musical lines and a wash of sound obscuring the whole thing. A bit of a letdown after the great opening songs.

6. "4th of July"--A real U2 rarity, an instrumental track. Another failed experiment, ambient, slow-moving stuff with an excessively simple bass line giving the thing only the semblance of a pulse. This and the previous track really slow down the album here.

7. "Bad"--The other timeless classic off of the album. "Bad" to me always fares better live than in this studio version, but even here, the hypnotic power of the song comes through. The Edge really shines here, not with anything at all showy, but with the way that he understands that the simpleness of the guitar figure, over the course of the song, can really add up to something beautiful. This is a much longer song than your typical U2 song (over six minutes) and they handle the epic feel and flow of the piece surprisingly well, using the length very effectively to really build up to something special. A top ten U2 track.

8. "Indian Summer Sky"--After a slew of slower songs the pace is picked up again with this solid track, which nicely combines some of the synthy moodiness that permeates the whole album with a more aggressive beat. Larry and Adam really make this one work.

9. "Elvis Presley and America"--Famously improvised by Bono over a backing track the band had lying around the studio, this track is, truth be told, a bit of a mess. The music is formless and undistinguished, the vocal is lazy and slurred, and the two combine to form the less than the sum of their parts. And the lyric is pretty much just nonsense that doesn't add up to anything.

10. "MLK"--A great capper to an uneven album, with Bono reverently singing an impassioned prayer to Martin Luther King over sustained organ chords. One of those songs that shouldn't work, that should just be irredeemably cheesy, but that's in actuality very effective and haunting.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

And Then No More Again

I see at TV on DVD that Once and Again: The Complete Third Season will be out on January 10. Huzzah!! Now, if Blockbuster would only get the damn Season Two discs in already--they've been in my queue for a month, were released on August 23rd, and yet are still listed as "Coming Soon." Hmph. For an excessively comprehensive look at the first season, see my post here.

Until Whenever
An Oldy But a Sort-of-Goody

This meme made the rounds a year or so back, before I was blogging. I was reminded of it recently and thought I'd add mine to the mix.

100 Things About Me.

1. I am five feet eleven inches tall, very close, I believe, to the national average.

2. I am overweight, probably by a good 30 pounds. In 2005 so far, I've lost about 25 pounds--with all but five of that coming basically in January and February. Getting down to 200 (and then to 190, my real target) is proving tres difficult.

3. I threw discus in high school and was mildly good at it.

4. My best-ever cross country time was 18:58 (that's for 5 km, or 3.1 miles). Today it would probably be well over a half-hour.

5. I have acted in dozens of high school, community, and college theater productions, but none in the last eight or nine years. I miss it deeply.

6. The performance I'm most proud of was in A.R. Gurney's The Problem, a short, two-character, one-act play. I subbed in for an actor who quit two days before the one-night-only performance and had to learn the whole thing in basically a day. It was the one and only time I truly felt what it was like to command an audience, to have them completely hanging on your every word abed gesture, completely in thrall with the performance. It was, I'd imagine, the kind of high that makes a user a junkie.

7. My total alcohol consumption in my entire life consists of a few sips of beer as a kid; two or three sips of wine as a kid; and one small shot of cherry brandy as a young man.

8. I do not sip the champagne during toasts at weddings--I just pretend.

9. I once sang as part of the Rutgers University Glee Club in a performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony--I am an atheist, but the feeling I got there was, I imagine, similar to the religious ecstasy the faithful feel when really communing with God. It was awe-inspiring.

10. I have read Stephen King's It six or seven times, and will certainly read it again at some point.

11. When Sully says goodbye to Boo at the end of Monsters, Inc. I cry, every time.

12. I have written a novella that I would like to expand into a full-fledged novel, but am afraid I will end up being too lazy to do so.

13. I have blue eyes and a dimple adorning what is otherwise a pretty plain face.

14. I used to be a die-hard Yankee fan, but George Steinbrenner's arrogance got to be too much for me and I now root against them, and will until he dies or sells the team.

15. If I could magically play any sport well, it'd be basketball--it's the sport I have the most fun playing, but I'm not very good.

16. I once took a hammer and banged it against the side of an above-ground pool to see what would happen. It broke the lining and all the water came rushing out.

17. I love my iPod because it looks cooler than my old Nomad Jukebox, and am ashamed to realize that I do.

18. I love New Jersey.

19. Pumpkin ice cream is like manna from heaven.

20. I can't abide raw tomatoes.

21. I get angry when burritos are either small or expensive, both of which form the antithesis if what a burrito should be.

22. I was born in Jersey City, NJ.

23. I work in Manhattan.

24. I met my wife when we were both 14 years old.

25. We are now 31.

26. I have five sisters and a brother, the result of my parents divorcing and remarrying others and having more kids with them. I also had a stepsister, but my father divorced again and she became no longer that.

27. I consider my stepfather as my father as much as my father--perhaps more.

28. I can not figure out why the film The Fisher King is not more beloved.

29. I did a play in college in which I played a homeless pornography dealer who lived in the sewers with his son. For the lay I did not shave for two months. I liked the way the beard looked. No one else did.

30. The one role I desperately want to play one day is Sweeney Todd.

31. I wish I could play the guitar.

32. The first season of Chicago Hope is probably my favorite season of ant TV show ever.

33. I have seen Mandy Patinkin live in concert twice; both time excellent.

34. I have devoted far too much time over the last six years or so trying to track down a version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Waters of March" that approximates the version Mandy Patinkin did in concert.

35. I will not see U2 live on their current tour--the first tour I'll miss since I started following them.

36. I am becoming a bigger Bob Dylan fan as the years go by exponentially.

37. In college I played every year in the annual Glee Club vs. marching band game (we lost every time).

38. While in the Glee Club I sang Russian liturgical music with the group in a centuries-old church in Poland and felt a presence.

39. I have been in too many car accidents, none serious (thankfully).

40. New Hampshire is my favorite state.

41. Swimming in Echo Lake at the foot of Mount Cannon was one of the most peaceful and serene moments of my life.

42. I entered college as a Chemical Engineering and Theater Arts double major and graduated with a major in Theater Arts and a minor in Chemistry.

43. I am socially awkward.

44. I am especially socially awkward around the wimmin', or was when I was single.

45. A pretty fellow freshman I fancied once bit me on the back during a spirited game of musical chairs during rehearsals for a play.

46. I have a torn ACL in my right knee I got playing basketball in college.

47. Whenever I tell people this I feel compelled to note that it was just a pick-up game in the gym; that I didn't play on the college's team.

48. I played for two years on an intramural "not-too-tall" league in college--all players under six feet tall.

49. We never played a game.

50. I've directed two plays: A brilliant production of Man of La Mancha that I am inordinately proud of and a wretched production of Pippin that I am deeply ashamed of.

51. I find being stuck without reading material in places where there is noting else to do--on long lines, in waiting rooms, while eating in a cafeteria alone--actually painful.

52. I believe Edward P. Jones' The Known World is maybe the greatest novel I've ever read.

53. Whenever I refer to Captain America I call him The Good Captain.

54. I have evangelicized about the brilliance of Preacher to several people, and gottehm a few hooked.

55. I once wrote airline menus for a living.

56. It did not pay well.

57. I currently write business proposals for a living.

58. It does.

59. June is my favorite month.

60. January is my least-favorite.

61. I would like to go to Ireland one day.

62. I found Raging Bull boring.

63. I found The Great Gatsby good but not brilliant.

64. I found The Grapes of Wrath brilliant.

65. I am normally very mellow but get very violent when angry--not too other people, but to myself.

66. This is perhaps not a good thing.

67. I am not as good a singer as I'd like to believe.

68. I am a better actor than singer, but again not as good as I might imagine.

69. I have had only four real girlfriends, and been gone on dates with a grand total of eight women.

70. I have never lived outside of New Jersey.

71. I have only visited ten states (not counting pass-throughs).

72. I have only been as far West as New Orleans.

73. I saw what had to be a ninety-plus-year-old man, as part of a jazz band that featured as its youngest player a man maybe in his sixties, do some scat singing at Preservation Hall in New Orleans; he kicked ass.

74. I have visited six countries outide the US: Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, Norway, and Jamaica.

75. I grind my own coffee and look down on those who don't.

76. I think those who roast their own beans are snobs.

77. Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream is my purest food pleasure.

78. My favorite rock album is U2's The Joshua Tree.

79. My favorite jazz album is Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (how daring of me).

80. My favorite musical theater album is the original Broadway cast version of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd.

81. My favorite film score is James Horner's Braveheart.

82. My favorite Star Wars score may well be the Revenge of the Sith score.

83. I wish I could convince myself that I could afford the life-size replica of Captain America's shield Factory X sells.

84. I wish I could afford a big flatscreen TV.

85. I hate my Sony VAIO desktop and may switch to a Mac when it dies completely.

86. I once wrote a string quartet that got lost when my father's computer died.

87. I have written a full-length play and have sent it to several theaters. One expressed mild interest but passed.

88. I have published a poem and a short story on the web.

89. I have been published by The Sondheim Review.

90. I love the ocean.

91. I am convinced that my twin daughters are the smartest babies ever.

92. I know they're not really.

93. But they are.

94. I can't wait to read the books I loved as a child to them.

95. I am afraid they won't like them.

96. I used to judge high school plays for Paper Mill Playhouse's Rising Stars program (think the Tonys for the state of New Jersey's high school theater departments).

97. I am clumsy and have poor coordination but can juggle three balls.

98. I do not think I will ever tire of seeing The Shawshank Redemption.

99. I have distressingly low willpower when it comes to food.

100. I do not like my job.

Until Whenever

Monday, October 10, 2005

Music Morsels Volume III - Jesus Christ Superstar

Jesus Christ Superstar was one of the first cast albums that I really got into (ironic that it wasn't really a cast album, no?). I saw a production of the play at Jersey City State University on a high school field trip and loved it. I soon learned that my father had the original concept album on vinyl, and so I made a copy of the album on tape so that I could listen to it on my Walkman. I must have listened to that tape hundreds of times--to the point that there's still, to this day, a place in the score where I expect to hear the record skip (my taping had caught an inadvertent skip).

It may be no more than nostalgia doing the driving here, but no version I've since heard has come close to this original rendition of the score. Ian Gillian, of Deep Purple fame, was an inspired choice as Jesus, and he married better than any singer I've heard the rock vocalist/Broadway vocalist hybrid the score demands. Far too many singers mix into their pot too much from the Broadway side of the pantry, neglecting the real rock sound the role demands. This is my favorite Lloyd Weber score, just edging out Evita. The mix of styles always feels organic and unforced, and the way the music is able to move from real rock ("Heaven on Their Minds") to 70s-style balladeering ("I Don't Know How to Love Him") to music hall ditties ("King Herod's Song") to soaring Broadway anthems ("Gethsemane") to classical ("John Nineteen Forty-One) is inspiring. "Gethsemane," in particular, stands out as simply one of my favorite musical theater songs, especially in Gillian's passionate, throat-shredding rendition.

Grade: A

Until Whenever
"I Just Want to Play"

James Tata links to a story in the LA Times about Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, a homeless, mentally ill musician afforded the chance to see the Los Angeles Philharmonic rehearse. It's well, well worth the read.

Until Whenever

Friday, October 07, 2005

Doin' the Friday Shuffle


1. "Mankind" - Tan Dun - Symphony 1997 (Heaver Earth Mankind)
Classical piece from the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon composer.

2. "The Dream" - Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick - Fiddler on the Roof (Original Broadway Cast)
Zero Mostel in all his glory. Wonderful little scene from the play, with Tevye making up a prophetic dream to get his wife to agree to allow their daughter to marry the man she's chosen.

3. "The Invisibility Cloak and the Library Scene" - John Williams - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Moody scene-setting.

4. "Eye to Eye" - John Williams - Jurassic Park
With the Bronto in the tree. Delicate dinosaur music.

5. "Glass Concerto for Violin and Orchestra III" - Philip Glass - Glass Violin Concerto
Energetic minimalism from the master.

6. "Do You Fell Loved" - U2 - Pop
Such an underrated album. Dig the syncopated guitar figure in the intro and the way it meshed with the killer bass line.

7. "Part II - 15 Sehr Langsam" - Gustav Mahler - Symphony #8
A pastoral interlude.

8. "Buzzard Song" - Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong - Porgy & Bess
Ella and Louis do Gershwin's opera. This number translates less successfully than some of the other stuff.

9. "Long Road" - Eddie Vedder - America: A Tribute to Heroes
Solemn rock from the 9/11 telethon.

10. "Where or When" - Mandy Patinkin - Experiment
Mandy works his way around the standard with a beautifully understated delicacy.

Until Whenever

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Lefty Larceny

Stole this from Lefty--answer the following questions using only song titled from one band:

Artist/Band: U2
Are you male or female: Drowning Man
Describe yourself: Numb
How do some people feel about you: Running to Stand Still
How do you feel about yourself: I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
Describe what you want to be: One Step Closer
Describe how you live: All Because of You
Describe how you love: Some Days Are Better than Others
Share a few words of wisdom: Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own

Until Whenever
Or "Welcome Home, Johnny"

I know this has already been linked to all over the place, but it's one of the funniest thing I've seen in quite a while, so I feel I must link to it as well. As you probably already know, it's a mock trailer built from footage of The Shining designed to make the film look like a heartwarming family dramedy. What makes it so funny, for me, is how accurate it is. Apart from the somewhat jarring juxtaposition of 70s film stock and style and modern trailer tropes the marriage is just perfect--this could easily be a real trailer. Brilliant.

Until Whenever
Leading a TiVO-Less Life

Well, we're a good three weeks or so into the new season and my television habits are pretty much set for now. Seemingly alone amongst my fellow pop culture bloggers, I am TiVO-less, and very lazy/inconsistent with the VCR, so, more or less, I either watch a show when it's aired or not at all. I feel so antiquated. Looking at the schedule, and having sampled the new shows I care to, this is what I expect to watch on a more or less regular basis week in and out:

8-10: King of Queens, How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men, Out of Practice
Queens is good solid old-fashioned sitcom goodness; Mother, in three episodes has shown promise; Men continues to grow on me, especially as the get less mushy and more cynical; and Practice doesn't suck. Nothing at ten entices me.

8-9: Gilmore Girls
9-10: House
10-11: Law & Order: SVU
Gilmore Girls is one of ny favorite shows, so well-written and acted. House is a little formulaic, but has potential, and Laurie is great. And SVU is the least-formulaic of the L&Os--this past Tuesday's episode was actually entirely gripping.

9-10: Lost
Ironic that I'd love to follow Veronica Mars and Criminal Minds (which features my beloved Mandy Patinkin--such a remarkable actor) and yet both are on opposite my easily favorite show, Lost, while nothing else on that night appeals to me at all. Stupid scheduling. Stupid lack of TiVO.

8-8:30: Joey or Everybody Hates Chris
8:30-9: Will & Grace
9-11: Apprentice, ER
Loved the Chris premiere but missed the second ep. Still like Joey enough, and am curious enough to see if they can save the show, to be on the fence here. I'm one of the few who will admit to thinking Will & Grace is still laugh-out-loud funny. I hate that I watch The Apprentice, but I do, and my ER-love is documented elsewhere.

Not a thing.


8-8:30: The Simpsons
I try to catch The Simpsons but Sunday nights seem to be tough for some reason. If I can I'll watch Family Guy too, but, again, I don't seem to generally be able to sit in front of the TV on Sundays.

Not too overloaded, at that.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Tosy and Cosh's Mostly Uninformed, Very-Unlikely-to-be-Right, Preseason NBA Predictions

I follow the NBA, and the Nets in particular, but am not a hard-core, fantasy-type guy who can spout statistics until the cows come home. I have a very basic idea of who made what moves over the off-season and how teams did last year. That windy caveat aside, here are my sure-to-look-silly-in-three-months predictions for each conference:

The East
1. Indiana Pacers--Artest is back, and they tend to be more consistent during the regular season than the Pistons.

2. Miami Heat--I don't think Miami will take the conference either. The off-season pick-ups, including Antoine Walker, Jason Williams, and Gary Payton, seem to willy-nilly to work together, too many people who just want the damn ball already.

3. Detroit Pistons--Their inconsistency during the season will keep them from finishing higher, but they'll go far in the playoffs.

4. New Jersey Nets--A healthy Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson all playing together? If center Nenad Kristic develops as nicely as I suspect he will from his surprising rookie season last year, that much-vaunted weakness on the line may be less than feared.

5. Chicago Bulls--A solid team with chemistry already developed.

6. Cleveland Cavaliers--The additions of Larry Hughes and Donyell Marshall should help, but remember--this team didn't make the playoffs at all last season.

7. Boston Celtics--They'll pull off the wins somehow; they do still have Pierce.

8. Milwaukee Bucks--Solid additions should get them to the playoffs.

9. Philadelphia 76'ers--Could Iverson miss the playoffs?

10. New York Knicks--Still too much of a mish-mash, and Brown and Marbury together is bad news.

11. Toronto Raptors--Still underwhelming.

12. Orlando Magic--Francis and Grant will keep them competitive at least.

13. Washington Wizards--Still a mess, as far as I can see.

14. Atlanta Hawks--Just sad.

15. Charlotte Bobcats--Building takes time.

The West

1. San Antonio Spurs--Come on. No real losses, and adding Michael Finley and Nick Van Excel?

2. Houston Rockets--Yao and McGrady get even more in sync.

3. Denver Nuggets--All season with Karl, who they played like champs under for just part of a season last year.

4. Phoenix Suns--Why do I feel last year was something of a fluke?

5. Sacramento Kings--Perennials.

6. Utah Jazz--Mavericks will stumble, letting others shift up.

7. Seattle Supersonics--Another last-season anomaly.

8. Dallas Mavericks--They still have Nowitski, thank the Gods.

9. Minnesota Timberwolves--They're no longer contenders, and will probably miss the playoffs again.

10. Golden State Warriors--A healthy Baron Davis makes a difference.

11. Los Angeles Lakers--Insert Nelson Muntz riff here.

12. Memphis Grizzlies--Memphis has a team? (I kid).

13. Los Angeles Clippers--It would be beautiful to see the Clippers overtake the Lakers. Not this year though.

14. Portland Trailblazers--Rebuilding.

15. New Orleans Hornets--Not a good year for them.

East Final: Nets-Pacers
West Final: Spurs-Rockets
NBA Finals: Nets-Spurs
NBA Champs: Nets

(No, I really don't think the Nets will take it all, but if they do I want to be able to link back here in June and crow about my prescience).

Be sure to check back in late-November to laugh at me!

Until Whenever
The U2 Canon - Under a Blood Red Sky

This is probably the disc that first got me into U2. It's not the disc that I fell in love with, the disc that made me a lifetime fan (that one's coming soon), but it was my first real exposure to U2. A guy who worked out in my high school gym used to play it all the time, and while I didn't love it at first, it definitely nonetheless wormed its way into my consciousness. At the time I wasn't into music at all, really, except for some now-embarrassing fondness Bon Jovi and Phil Collins and Genesis. I didn't really go back to this album and start listening to it closely and often until after the epiphany that was The Joshua Tree, and since then it's become a lesser-played U2 album for me. It still stands, though, as an excellent record of live U2 around the War era, and all of these performances are great, full of energy and passion. If you listen closely, this is also the first album where we really start to hear Bono come into his own as a vocalist, his tone deepening and strengthening and that kind of too-bare naivete you can hear in the phrasing starting to wear off. There's some great singing on this disc.

1. "Gloria" - Better than the album version, with a bit of a harder beat and a grittier vocal from Bono.

2. "11 O'Clock Tick Tock" - A B-side from Boy, I believe. It's gone on to be something of a regular live staple. Bono's vocal on the closing "Call out your name"s is great.

3. "I Will Follow" - A great live song, with that machine gun guitar and spat-out bass line really revving up the crowd.

4. "Party Girl" - Another B-side, a funky little slower number with a classic Edge screwup saved for all time in the guitar solo towards the end.

5. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" - Complete with the now-famous intro: "There's been a lot of talk about this next song, maybe too much talk. This song is not a rebel song, this song is "Sunday Bloody Sunday."" The fake ending at the end is something they'd repeat live for years, and it works great. The song really finds new life here, and Bono's vocal is much more passionate and heartfelt than on the album.

6. "The Electric Co."--This has the famous "Send in the Clowns" bit that Bono improvised while on a scaffold. The band got sued for using the copyrighted material, and the version on the CD I have is subtly cut to omit most of the "Clowns" bit.

7. "New Year's Day" - The Edge goes from guitar to piano and back and forth again seamlessly to play both parts live. Nowadays they'd just have some woman hidden under the stage playing the piano. Sigh.

8. "40"--Great concert closer, with a cleverly manipulative ending designed to have the crowd singing long after the band has left the stage. I didn't realize it until years later, but the Edge and Adam swap instruments whenever they do this song live, and did here.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

"Alex Ross" "Doctor Atomic"--You're Expecting a Painted Superhero, Aren't You?

My admiration for composer John Adams was hinted at here, and I was very curious to hear the score to his new opera, Doctor Atomic, already. But after reading Alex Ross' wonderful article on the opera's genesis in The New Yorker (not, alas, available on-line--but do read Ross' blog entry about the article, here), I am positively chomping at the bit to hear it. Let's hope that Nonesuch doesn't tarry.

Until Whenever
Less Poetic, Perhaps, but More Visceral

Quick quiz. What were the first words ever uttered on the moon by a human being? Kidding. Everyone knows that they were "That's one small step for man, one giant step for mankind." But what were the last words ever uttered on the moon? According to Thomas Mallon's not particularly favorable review of a new biography of Neil Armstrong in The New Yorker, they were said by Apollo 17's Eugene Cernan:

"Let's get this mutha outta here."

I love that.

Until Whenever
Buried Beauties Vol. III - Paula Cale

I never actually watched Providence, a family drama that ran on NBC for several years in the late 90s/early 00's. But whenever I caught bits of an episode, or promos, I was always struck by the beauty of, not series lead Melina Kanakaredes (currently starring on CBS' CSI: New York), but by her cute younger sister, Joanie, played by Paula Cale. I've never seen Cale in anything else, and don't know how her career is going, but thought she had a very specific cuteness that rarely gets TV exposure. The pics below don't do her justice; she's one of those faces that looks better in video than in stills (Sarah Jessica Parker is another).

Until Whenever

Monday, October 03, 2005

Wilson Dead

I'm not sure what most "pop culture" fans would make of that title, which "Wilson" they would assume had died. Owen? Luke? The Wilson in question is neither, of course, but instead the playwright August Wilson. Wilson died yesterday, and only disclosed the liver cancer that was the cause of death in August. At only 60, Wilson's death is indeed a shock--one imagines that he had a lot of writing left in him.

Many would argue that Wilson will, if he hasn't already, join the very short list of true world-class American playwrights whose work will endure for generations: Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, and, I'd argue, Stephen Sondheim. That Wilson belongs in such rarefied company can be argued, I suppose, but I suspect that that ultimate arbiter, time, will put him right there on that theatrical American Mount Rushmore.

Wilson's enduring legacy will be what he spent most of his career working on: a 10-play cycle chronicling the African-American legacy in America in the 20th century, one play per decade. The final play, Radio Golf, only premiered this year. I've seen productions, excellent productions put on by Rutgers University's Mason Gross School of the Arts, of only two Wilson plays, The Piano Lesson and Joe Turner's Come and Gone and they were wonderful in their judicious use of poetry, story-telling, myth-making, music, and theatricality to tell larger-than-life stories about working-class and poor blacks in Pittsburgh. That I haven't seen others is one of those deficiencies in the total sum of the art I've taken in that I really need to rectify. I have read a few of the other plays, and am eagerly awaiting the inevitable single volume collecting all 10 plays in one book. That will be a reading experience worth cherishing.

Until Whenever

Sunday, October 02, 2005


The "received" wisdom concerning that warhorse of television medical dramas, ER, seems to be that the show has far outlived its usefulness and should really be ended (or should have been ended several years ago). For just one example of this stance, see Jaquandor's recent post, or ny number of critics who echo many of his points and join him in calling for a mercy killing to their once-beloved show. The common complaints are that the storylines are tired, the characters uninteresting, and the series overall pretty much just plain worn out. So ende it now, go the complainers, end it now while we can still remember the show we loved with fondness. To this, I say feh.

Yes; I will out myself with rainbow-blazing pride: I still like ER--and not just like, but consider to be an excellent, if not earth-shatteringly brilliant, television drama. As for the common complaints, well:

1) Sure, an argument could be made that the show has, in its 10+ years, dealt with pretty much every kind of illness and injury in pretty much every permutation possible. Any mathematician worth his or her salt, though, will tell you that that's simply not true. The possibilities are near-enough to endless to be just that, considering the sheer range of diseases and injuries there are and how many different ways there are to combine them with each other and with different kinds of patients. They will, literally, never run out of permutations. That's just math.

But more importantly, each case still feels like its own, like its own organic set of problems and resolutions. A difficult pregnancy storyline may echo other, more fondly-remembered storylines, but each brings its own wrinkles. Many, Jaquandor included, took in last week's episode, which centered around a pregnancy in crisis, and immediately compared it, unfavorably, to the infamous "Dr. Greene loses a pregnant mother episode" from an early season. I'm always suspicious when you hear the refrain "it was better then." Memory has a way of coloring our experiences heavily; how many people insist that their favorite band's best work was done--how coincidentally--when they first got into them? But the fact is that this pregnancy storyline was very different, in the ethical dilemmas it subtly broached, in the nature of the medical crisis itself, in the way it ended, and, most importantly, in the characters, both on the doctors' side and the patients', themselves.

I still find, to varying degrees, of course, that each "medical" storyline the show brings up can stand on its own. All that being said, let me also put in a word for the nicely handled realism inherent in seeing certain types of cases crop up often. Working in a hospital, or at least I would imagine, can be repetitive like that, with the same problems and the same illnesses cropping up all the time. That the show after so many seasons is able to capture some of that is, to me, a strength, not a weakness.

2) I like the characters and find them and their stories interesting. There. It's really that simple. I like Pratt's combination of arrogance and heart, and how he's not simply a Eric La Salle rehash, even if that's how the rough outline may sound. I like that they've elevated Morris to be the new ass of the hospital and yet avoided just recreating Paul Crane's character. Sure, they're both roughly the villains, but alongside Romano's being an asshole was the notion that he was an excellent doctor. An ass, but a brilliant one. Morris is an ass who's not, at all, a good doctor. Sure, he's the new "jerk" but he's very different from the old one. I like the story of Luka and Sam; that the commitment-phobe Luka finally felt the burning desire to commit, only to have it be to a woman who wants very different things is, to me, interesting. I like that Sam is presented as not the angelic single-mother doing her best, but as a woman who loves her son with every fiber of her being and is still, in some ways, not a good mother. I like Neela's insecurity married with brilliance; the combination brings shadings to her character and allows for intriguing plotlines. I've loved Abby's transition from nurse to doctor, and how the show didn't play it up as such an obvious move--the value in being a nurse over a doctor was acknowledged and examined. I like Ray's cockiness and how it clashes with his hesitancy to commit to being a doctor first and foremost. Bottom line? I find these characters well-drawn, intriguingly flawed, and consistently written.

I also like that they keep coming and going. To me, ER, has the makings of a very long-term show (well, even longer-term than it has been already). That the drama could continue for, say, 20-25 years and end up being the long, epic, cast-of-thousands, story of one county hospital is to me very satisfying. To me, the constant call you hear for it to be cancelled has more to do with nostalgia than a clearheaded reaction to the show as it stands now. If ER had premiered a few weeks ago as a new show, with basically the same cast and stories as it has now, I doubt anyone would be complaining--my suspicion is that the praise would be high indeed. So, yes, I say let ER continue on, for how ever many years the audience will have it. For those who miss the old cast and their stories, the DVDs are waiting for you. Pop them in and enjoy. But for the rest of us, these new characters and stories carry their own very real pleasures.

Until Whenever