Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Random Oscar Thoughts

Nominations are out, and I have probably seen fewer nominated films than in any other year. So here are some brief, very random and uneducated thoughts:

Glad to see Crash nominated for best picture--the only of the five nominees I've seen.

Very glad to see Keira Knightley nominated for Best Actress for Pride & Prejudice. She was excellent, but is very young, too young, I would have guessed, for the voters.

Matt Dillon's nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Crash was, to me at least, a surprise. He was very good, though, although some of the lesser names in the film were probably even better--thinking of the shopowner here, particularly.

For the first time in, I think, a few years, the Best Picture and Best Director nominations line up perfectly. No complaining from various outlets about how silly it is for a movie to be nominated for Best Picture and not Best Director this time around. (I've always thought such complaints silly--as if the quality of a film rests that much on its director. An outgrowth of the whole "auteur" theory, methinks.

Only three animated films nominated, and two are stop-motion (Corpse Bride and Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit) . The non-Pixar crop of animated films (Madagascar, Chicken Little, et al) ain't getting much respect.

King Kong got shut out of the biggies, but it did get Art Direction, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Visual Effects nominations.

An out-of-nowhere Cinematography nomination for Batman Begins. Odd.

John Williams gets two Best Score nominations, for Munich and Memoirs of a Geisha. How many nominations does he have? A hundred? I haven't heard any of the scores, but am keen to get the two Williams scores, the Brokeback Mountain score, and possibly the Pride & Prejudice score. I'll have to defer judgment until I've heard some of these, but I suspect Williams' Star Wars score got unfairly dismissed out of hand as "just more Star Wars stuff." It's a fine, fine, score.

Star Wars only gets a makeup nomination. No Visual Effects? Really? I smell an anti-Lucas backlash. (The Visual Effects nominees are Narnia, King Kong, and War of the Worlds).

Until Whenever

Monday, January 30, 2006

And Again

I've finally started to watch the second-season DVDs of Once & Again, after a too-long break in between my re-watching of the first season last summer. My lengthy, perhaps too-lengthy--post on that first season is here. As I go through the second season, I thought I'd try and post about episodes as I see them, rather than go the full-season-in-one-long-post approach again. So let's begin.

Episode 1 - "Little Girl Lost"
The second-season premiere was not what I remembered. The first season left off with the full two families -- Rick, Lily and all four kids -- getting together for the first time, with the last shot of that last episode a shot of Lily and her kids opening the door for Rick and his kids. I could have sworn that the second season picked up right at that moment, but my memory is, it would seem, faulty. The episode actually picks up a few months later, with a new school year beginning. Eli is a senior, Grace a sophomore, and Jessie a freshman. It had been established in the first season that Jessie was in seventh grade, so it would seem that she had skipped a grade, a fact they allude to but never really address or confirm explicitly. My guess is that they wanted to have all three older kids in the same school, but didn't want to really get into any "the perils of skipping a grade" stories, so tried to have their cake an eat it too--and for the most part, they succeeded.

At first, I was a bit worried--the story seemed pretty dry and uneventful, lots of stuff about Jessie being scared at starting a new school, and some light comedy with Rick and Lily getting caught in the morning by her kids having fallen asleep on the couch. But soon enough I was reminded of how great this show truly was. The entire core storyline, which deals with Grace and Jessie's difficulties in being forced together at school and in their lives, was simple, basic stuff, but the emotions and complications they wrought out of it were superb. Once again, we see a real issue not being actually solved--at the end of the ep, Jessie's problems aren't anwhere near resolved. And once again we get an insightful, painfully honest look at divorce, as Rick tells Jessie at the end that his new life will impact hers, and not always in a positive way, and that he wishes he could make that not the case but that he can't. Campbell and Wood, as Rick and Jessie, completely shine in this episode, with Wood's acting during a spoiled Monopoly game between Jessie, Grace, and Zoey a particular highlight.

Episode 2. "Booklovers"
A Judy-centric episode, with Judy starting up a singles club at her bookstore to drum up business. The idea for the singles thing is inspired (were I single I'd easily go to something like this--a singles bar at a bookstore, basically, where everyone wears nametags listing their favorite book), but the real heat in the episode comes from the interactions between Lily and Judy. Lily's epiphany at the end, when she realizes that a very real, very substantial piece of her wants her sister to fail, is handled brilliantly, and is the kind of uncomfortable but very, very honest character trait that this show positively excels at highlighting.

Very much looking forward to the rest of this season.

Until Whenever

Friday, January 27, 2006

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "It's OK" - Tracy Chapman - Telling Stories
Tracy, love her as I do, can be a bit dry--this has the faintest aroma of funk wafting throughout it.

2. "A Punch Up at a Wedding (No No No No No No)" - Radiohead - Hail to the Thief
The iPod has shy nods to funk on the brain. This piece, in its strutting piano riff, winks at a little of the funk a well.

3. "As Time Goes By" - Betty Buckley - Betty Buckley: An Evening at Carnegie Hall
An understated, cabaret-feeling rendition of the classic tune.

4. "Nightmare (From Dead Presidents) - Danny Elfman - Music for a Darkened Theatre, Vol. 2, Film and Television Music
Elfman lets loose with some, I swear it, funky guitar and organ for this score snippet.

5. "Tears at the Birthday Party" - Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach - Painted from Memory
Old-school style and swagger.

6. "Briar Ridge" - Thomas Newman - The Green Mile (Score)
Tense string stabs and some rattling cans in an atmospheric cut.

7. "Come Spirit, Come Charm" - Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman - The Secret Garden (Original Broadway Cast)
From near the finale, a rousing number of triumph.

8. "I Fell In Love with You" - Bob Dylan - Time Out of Mind
Dylan settles into a smooth, bluesy groove and delivers a knock-out vocal.

9. "No Life" - Stephen Sondheim - Sunday in the Park with George
Sondheim mocks his detractors with this song featuring a high-society couple mocking a Georges Seurat work in much the same terms that many a critic has degraded Sondheim with: "It has no presence, no passion, no life."

10. "Redemption Song" - Wycleaf Jean - America: A Tribute to Heroes
A passionately felt and delivered rendition of the classic, from the just-days after 9/11 telethon/concert.

Until Whenever
Too-Long Lead Times

The new, slim, newspaper version of Life magazine has a cover story on Heather Graham this week, clearly intended to sync up with her new ABC sitcom Emily's Reasons Why Not--which premiered a week or so ago and was cancelled forthwith (indeed, after just that one airing). Which makes the cover story's timing funny, yes, but the story' title--"Heather Graham's Boogie Nights (and 27 other ways TV's new darling make her weekend great)" (Emphasis mine).


Until Whenever

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Chris Penn has died, as reported here, at 43 years of age. Shocking. While he never became a big star, and was nowhere near as acclaimed as his more-famous brother, he was a fine actor that I always noticed whenever he popped up. While the piece I linked to mentions some of his more memorable role, I doubt any outlets will highlight the role that has always stood out in my head. In a first-season episode of Chicago Hope, perhaps the best episode of that show, Penn played the brother of a heart patient who had been passed over on the heart donor list. A desperate Penn, who is upset that his brother has been passed over several times, takes the operating room hostage, demanding that the doctors put the heart that has just become available into his brother, and not into the sicker man it is scheduled to be transplanted into. Playing a mix of grief, frustration, and boiled-over rage at the system, Penn was dead-perfect in the role, and I've always remembered him for it. A great performance.

Rest in peace.

Until Whenever
Music Morsels, Volume XVI - Passion

My love for Stephen Sondheim's music is no secret. And yet to date I have only seen two of his plays on Broadway (I've seen plenty others in college, regional, and community productions)--the revival of three or four years ago of Into the Woods and the original Broadway production of Passion. Actually, I saw Passion twice--it was that good. From its premiere, Passion has ignited much debate, both within the theater community at large and within the smaller community of Sondheim enthusiasts ("Sondheads") in particular.

The story (the musical is based on an Italian film and novel) is basically a reverse Beauty and the Beast. A handsome but quiet military officer named Georgio is stationed at a remote post in Italy, where a sickly and ugly woman named Fosca, cousin to his commanding officer, falls in tragic, hopeless love with him. As presented by Sondheim and book writer and director James Lapine, Fosca's love for Georgio was more a form of obsession--she stalks him to a train station, follows him incessantly, and manipulates him at every turn. What divides audiences is whether or not they believe the eventual love he returns for this demanding, selfish, sniveling creature. Many did and do not.

I do, and mainly, it must be said, because of Sondheim's ravishing score. He lets the music do a lot of the emotional heavy lifting here (indeed, the lyrics are notably simple and unadorned for Sondheim, allowing the music to, more than usual, be the focus), and the stuff he wrote is more than up to the cast. This is to me Sondheim's most ravishing, brilliant score, full of gorgeously melancholy, sweet-sad tunes and arrangements that bring the emotional core of the story to life in a way that the story, intentionally, I suspect, does not.

The score opens with, while surely not the only, perhaps the most effective musical scoring of an orgasm ever put to paper. The curtain opens on Georgio and his lover Clara (who serves as the yang to Fosca's yin in the love triangle centered in the play) in bed and, well, finishing (the Broadway production somewhat infamously featured nudity) and as the music indicates the passing of the moment, the duo begin to sing "Happiness" an ode to the love they have. We soon learn both that Clara is married and that Georgio is about to be transferred. From there, the story shifts to the remote Italian post, where Georgio meets Fosca. The song in which we meet Fosca is a sad, twisty piece entitled "I Read" in which her character is laid out for the audience very nicely. Donna Murphy's performance of this song is one of the great performances of a song in musical theater history--she's just remarkable in the role, and in the way she manages to marry very specific character voicings and phrasings with a still-gorgeous tone. Other highlights of the disc include Georgio's "I Wish That I Could Love You," a clever song in which he reads a letter to Fosca that she has written for him, and Fosca's beautiful, shining-in-its-simplicity "Loving You," in which she explains how her love for Georgio is its own thing, completely out of her control.

Grade: A+

Until Whenever

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Meeting Moms

HIMYM is settling into a very assured, well-oiled groove quite nicely. Last night's episode, in which we see what happened during the tail end of that wedding from the prior episode, moved the ball along in a significant way, setting up the inevitable, but well-done-so-welcome, love triangle between Ted, Robin, and, Victoria. The show continues to play with time, not just in the sense that it's narrated from the future, and is, in essence, one giant flashback, but in how they often will present an episode's story as also being a flashback.

For example, in last night's episode, we heard and saw the whole Ted/Victoria courtship thing as Ted was telling Marshall and Lily about it. Later in the episode, we also saw that same timeframe flashbacked to through Robin's point of view. While the device lets the writers confound traditional expectations and present us with information when they want to, as opposed to when the story's natural timeline might demand it, it also adds to the series' gentle fable-like quality. The constant reminder that everyone's lives are composed of stories gives the show a sweet quality that pares nicely with the often ribald humor.

But what most impressed me about last night's episode was in how well-played the romantic moments were--not only in Ted and Victoria's sweet courtship but in Robin's belated realization of her feelings for Ted. None of it felt forced, none of it felt gimmicky, but instead very sweet and kind-of real. This quality was helped immensely by Ashley Williams' turn as Victoria. She gave the character a goofy, quirky side that was subtly played, but more importantly, she gave her a real sense of being--an almost melancholy air that kept the character from seeming fake, or written. On top of that, Williams looks like a real woman, not like an LA starlet, as is so often the case with sitcom love interests. (The show deserves real credit here--all of the characters not only feel, but look real, as opposed to unrealistically model-like). As Alan Sepinwall notes on his blog, Williams has seemingly gained weight since her days on the dreadful Good Morning Miami, a physical change that has enhanced, not detracted from her beauty. She's not heavy, by any realistic measure, but she is normal-looking.

Where the story goes from here will prove interesting, I suspect--if they are building this show for the long haul (and it seems they are), then these arcs can only be maintained for so long. The triangle will have to dissipate relatively soon, especially since Williams is a guest star and not a regular. Unless they go ahead and make Williams a regular, and build the triangle to be an ongoing, see-sawing conflict within the series. Now there's a move I heartily endorse.

Until Whenever

Monday, January 23, 2006

Recent Reading

Let's take a quick peek at the stack on the nightstand, shall we?

Superman and Batman, Jeph Loeb and assorted artists
I've been getting these through my county's library lending system, and I have to say, I have been very disappointed. The Long Halloween is easily one of my favorite comics, (see my review here) and I've liked most of Loeb's other stuff very much--the Marvel "color" series, the Halloween sequel. But these have just been convoluted, boring, and just way-overwritten. Loeb indulges in his love of narration to much, methinks, letting both Superman and Batman narrate at the same time (unattributed word balloons abound, with Batman's in dark blue and Superman's in yellow--a nifty graphic solution that can't fix a bigger problem). This leads to many parallelisms that come off as very forced and repetitive. If/when there is a volume four (not sure if this series is still going on), I don't think I'll grab it.

Identity Crisis, Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales
This I liked. And I'm typically more of a Marvel than DC guy. I'm sure I missed a lot, not really being up on my DC history or characters, but the writing was sharp, the characterizations excellent, and the art a gorgeous and just-right blend of "realism" and super-heroey goodness. I understand from some brief skimming through some comic blogs that many disagreed, but I loved this.

The Best American Magazine Writing 2004
Great. Highlights included "Foaling Season," a very touching short story by Aryn Kyle; "American Communion," a profile highlighting the relationship between Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin; "Home," an account of the return of two American astronauts post-Columbia by Chris Jones; and "Walking His Life Away," the heartbreaking story of a would-be Olympic speedwalking athlete.

Next on the stack is Alan Moore's V for Vendetta, Zadie Smith's On Beauty, The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2005, and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, most likely in that order.

Until Whenever

Friday, January 20, 2006

I Know It

Tosy and Cosh have been published a (very) little bit, mostly on-line. We have published an article, on Sondheim's use of theatrical realism, in The Sondheim Review (not on-line). We have published a short story in the on-line magazine New Works Review (no longer on-line, but readable here). We have published a number of comic book reviews at NinthArt. And we have published a poem, Thirteen Pianos, in the on-line magazine E2k. The poem can be found here.

Until Whenever
How I Met Whose Mother?

Over at the Newark Star-Ledger, TV critic Alan Sepinwall writes about the storytelling corner the How I Met Your Mother writers have painted themselves into. Simply put, the two leads, Ted and Robin, have great chemistry, but in the pilot the future narrator (the lead as an older man) tells us that Robin is not the titular Mother after all, but rather Aunt Robin. So Robin and Ted will not end up together--at least, not permanently.

Crazy notion, though. Have they ever firmly established that future narrator Ted is talking to his kids? Could he be not telling his niece and nephew the story of how he met their mother? Making Aunt Robin Ted's wife?

No, probably not. My guess is that they have clearly stated that future Ted is talking to his kids. But if not - there would be a neat twist.

Until Whenever
Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "Gloria - Jimi Hendrix - The Essential Jimi Hendrix
Jimi takes the sex inherent in the original and adds some swagger and funk.

2. "Cherry Bomb" - John Mellencamp - The Lonesome Jubilee
A plain-sung and cheery song about nostalgia that acknowledges the falseness in glorifying the past. Very sweet. Sidenote: For the longest time I though the line "That's when a sport was a sport" was "That's when a spook was a spook," and I would go through severe mental gyrations in trying to figure out a way to read the line that didn't make Mellencamp a racist.

3. "Tense" - Clint Mansell - Requiem from a Dream (Soundtrack)
37 second snippet of dissonant sound from the score.

4. "At the Beach (Mourning)" - Michael Giaccone - Lost (Score)
Ripped from the Season One DVD. The lack of a Lost score CD astounds me - with all of the marketing and ancillary books and magazines this show has spawned, why no CD? This track is my second-favorite musical moment in Season One; it's the music played as Claire returns to the beach with her baby and as Jack returns to the beach with news of Boone's death. The simplest of melodies, but so wonderfully developed and played.

5. "Scatterbrain (As Dead as He Leaves)" - Radiohead - Hail to the Thief
One of the album's more "traditional" songs, a pretty, mellow song with a cool drum line and lots of plaintive triplets.

6. "The Other Woman" - Nina Simone - The Best of Nina Simone
Gorgeous, and gorgeously sad. One of the true great singers.

7. "Afternoon on a Hill" - Ricky Ian Gordon - Bright Eyed Joy
Hopeful art song sung to just piano accompaniment.

8. "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" - Harry Connick, Jr. - When Harry Met Sally (Soundtrack)
Connick does a nice job with these songs, giving them a real playful, almost winking edge that never trips the line into camp.

9. "Electioneering" - Radiohead - OK Computer
Radiohead does (relatively) hard rock. Solid song.

10. "Illegal I Song" - Velvet Revolver - Contraband
Real hard rock. I got this hoping some of that Guns 'N Roses magic would have translated, but alas, was not to be. It's not bad, but nothing really special going on here.

Until Whenever

Thursday, January 19, 2006

USA Basketball

I'm staring to see things about the USA team and its potential roster in the media, what with the national championships coming up this summer in Japan. Given the USA's relatively dismal performance in the '04 Olympics there's a fair bit of pressure on to field a cohesive team that can play like a team, as opposed to a more or less random collection of All-Stars. To that end, the team they assemble here is intended to be the team that will play in Beijing in '08 as well--the thinking being that to be successful in the newly competitive world in international basketball the USA team must be, well, again, a real team.

So why not just field the Pistons? It sounds silly, but the Pistons are a premier team, no doubt about it, that plays defense well, that can score, and that isn't dominated by any one personality. Instead of some jury-rigged squad, why not field a squad that's been playing together--with great success--for several years? To top it off, the Pistons are pretty much the only elite NBA team that this would work with. Consider the top five teams right now, and how many of their most critical pieces are not Americans--and will presumably be playing for their countries teams, if at all:

1. (Detroit)
2. San Antonio - Ginobli and Parker
3. Dallas - Nowitzki
4. Phoenix - Steve Nash
5. Memphis - Pau Gasol

I don't guess this would (or maybe even could) ever happen, but still--don't you think Detroit could take it all?

Until Whenever

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Willful Ignorance

In an otherwise good interview with Michael Loceff, a key writer and producer on 24, on Slate, Loceff says the following:

"I recently saw David Lynch speak, and he said that years ago he could not turn certain ideas he had into reality because when he was pitching those ideas, the networks and the studios were not interested in them because they involved long arcs?stories that spanned more than a single episode. Today, that's absolutely not true. Almost every show that you can think of that's tremendously successful is episodic and has huge arcs, and I think 24 has been part of this revolution that's shown that people really are willing to follow stories that extend over many episodes; that they will watch serialized television; that they are willing to come back every week; and that they have an appetite for complex, demanding shows."

Hurrah. I concur with Loceff - the trend of television dramas that feature long, involved story arcs is a godsend. But when he says "Almost every show that you can think of that's tremendously successful is episodic and has huge arcs" I had to laugh. Surely he's seen a Law and Order? The glut of procedurals on TV stand as clear testimony that the statement is more than a bit of bullshit. Witness: Here are the most popular dramas on television this season (with their total ranking listed first). I've put the non-serialized shows in blue.

1. CSI
2. Desperate Housewives
3. Without a Trace
4. CSI: Miami
5. Grey's Anatomy
8. Cold Case
10. NCIS
12. Lost
13. Law & Order: SVU
13. Commander in Chief
15. CSI: NY
19. ER
20. Criminal Minds

Eight of the thirteen most-watched dramas on television are not "serialized," do not have "huge arcs." I appreciate the man's enthusiasm, but a little sobriety might be in order.

Until Whenever
Music Morsels Vol. XV - Oscar & Steve

I am an unabashed, near-worshipful fan of Mandy Patinkin. I have all of his studio albums, as well as the main Broadway Cast albums he's featured in. I've seen the man in concert twice, and his is a decidedly old-fashioned, all-embracing kind of showmanship--he patters, he jokes, he teases the audience, and he belts out big, bold Broadway songs, all in a kind of minimalist setting--no backdrop or set dressing, just a piano with long-time cohort Paul Ford behind it and some flowers that he brings on with him. Patinkin's voice is a kind of acquired taste, and many hate it and its melodramatic quirks, but I find it to be a bold, strong instrument, and one which he exhibits tremendous control over. He can croon in a sweet, pure falsetto or belt with the best, and his musical tastes are choice. He's, after U2's Bono, probably my favorite singer.

Oscar & Steve, his fourth studio album, is probably his best. It's tied together by the titular songwriters--all songs are the work of either Oscar Hammerstein or his worshipful prodigy, Stephen Sondheim. Patinkin has done a ton of Sondheim over the years, appearing in his Sunday in the Park with George and the Lincoln Center Follies concert, as well as, more recently, touring with an all-Sondheim program. What this album makes clear so nicely is the connection between Sondheim and Hammerstein, the musical and lyrical evidence of the oft-repeated fact that Hammerstein mentored a youthful Sondheim.

That Patinkin should, one day, essay Sondheim's finest creation--Sweeney Todd--is a given for me. And it is this album that showed me the way. Patinkin is a tenor true, but in the last ten years or so he his voice has deepened and darkened with age. The depth and quality of his baritone range came into full evidence here--listen to the beginning of "I Wish I Could forget You" and the low G he nails with strength and rumble on "I know I've been un-KIND." Throughout this disc, Patinkin shows off this newfound range, while also providing plenty of hair-raising belts in the tenor range. He sings tenderly ("I Have the Room Above Her"), rages ("You've Got to be Taught"), spins delicate poetry ("Poems"), and raises the roof ("Beat Out Dat Rhythm on a Drum"). And all throughout he honors the simultaneously conflicting/complementary spirits of Sondheim and Hammerstein through his innate understanding and well-developed delivery of their lyrics. A great musical theater collection.

Grade: A

Until Whenever

Spurring Sales?

I notice on iTunes that the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack is the #1 album. While the general marketing advantage of winning awards like the Globes and Oscars is well documented (I've no doubt that much of the album's jump, assuming it wasn't at #1 before Monday, was due to just the movie winning and getting so much resultant press), I do wonder how much of the increase for the album can be attributed more specifically to the fact that what I presume is the film's main theme got played several times during the telecast--every time the film won an award. I know I had pretty much zero interest in the score before the Globes. After hearing that very haunting and lovely snippet of music several times, though, the Brokeback Mountain score jumped up in my list of scores I'd like to get.

Other random Globes reactions:

Natalie Portman's hair looks weird. Time will fix it.

Rachel Weisz is super-hot, but looks oddly made up here. Actresses obscuring their natural beauty with "glamorous" make up is a big pet peeve of mine.

Drew Barrymore's revealing dress had the opposite of expected effect; it made her less sexy, not more.

Steve Carrell is a funny, funny man.

My desire to see The Constant Gardner has increased.

Does Ryan Phillipe, today, realize what an immense ass he came across as? Every shot of him just screamed egotistical, self-important drunken frat boy. I don't know him - maybe the impression is completely wrong. But it's there.

Can we get Mary Louise Parker and Felicity Huffman together in a series?

Emma Thompson is the very definition of poise and grace. She's always appropriate and funny at these things -- a hard feat to pull off. If that film of Sweeney Todd they keep talking about ever happens she simply must play Mrs. Lovett.

Harrison Ford is just so sad. He tries to do something different than "stoic, gruff hero" once, and it's a huge flop (Mosquito Coast--a good film, with a great performance by Ford), so he gives up on acting and elects instead to play the same role time and time again. Is money that important?

John Williams could accept awards in his sleep. So smooth.

All those clips of Anthony Hopkins and not one from The Road to Welleville? Blasphemy!!! Hopkins is brilliant in that film, and hysterically funny.

Ang Lee has directed a wonderful adaptation of a Jane Austen novel; a chilly look at divorce and infidelity in the suburbs, 70s-style; a beautiful and stylistically gorgeous martial arts epic; a very underrated big-budget superhero movie with possibly the best-ever pre-Gollum performance by a digital character interacting with real humans; and a big Western about love between cowboys. What can't he do?

Walk the Line is not a musical.

I love Felicity Huffman.

Until Whenever

Friday, January 13, 2006


A notice on a cast recordings list I partake in spurred the following trivia question: What is the longest-running Broadway musical to not have had an original Broadway cast recording recorded?

The answer is, as you may have guessed, The Phantom of the Opera, which just this week became the longest-running Broadway play ever. And, no, it doesn't have an Original Broadway Cast recording. Why? Because the show opened in London before coming to Broadway, and the Original London Cast recording featured many of the same cast members, and, most critically, the same two leads (Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman--two singers I do not care for at all, as it happens). So while you can certainly head to your nearest record store and get a Phantom CD in honor of its new status, you can't get the OBC.

Until Whenever
Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "When the Children Are Asleep" - Rodgers & Hammerstein - Carousel (1994 Broadway Revival Cast)
An early Rodgers & Hammerstein "song-scene," not as heralded as the landmark "Soliloquy" from the same show, but still a solid, dramatic scene comprising a seamless merge of dialogue and song.

2. "The Loved Ones" - Elvis Costello - Imperial Bedroom
A vaguely Buddy Holly-esque rock/pop song from one of Costello's best albums.

3. "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright" - Paul Simon (sung by Sal Viviano) - The Paul Simon Album - Broadway Sings the Best of Paul Simon
Yuck. A gorgeous, gorgeous song turned into a bad lounge song.

4. "Nostalgia de Mexico" - Dave Brubeck - Ballads
A gently swishing, Mexico-tinged piece.

5. "O Come, All Ye Faithful" - Ed Ames - A Time-Life Christmas
Big and traditional, with choral backup.

6. "Give Me One Reason" - Tracy Chapman - New Beginning
This song, a surprise second hit for the presumed forgotten Tracy Chapman, got subtly butchered by radio. The album cut starts with a solo guitar playing through the full melody of the song, then the guitar repeats the melody, but this time with Chapman singing. Only then does the full band kick in. In the radio cut, that whole first guitar part was mostly cut, completely destroying the sly, structural build she had built into the song.

7. "Crime of the Century" - Supertramp - Best of Supertramp
I like dramatic songs that sound as if they should be accompanying the climaxes of films. This is one.

8. "Bevenuta" - Frank Loesser - The Most Happy Fella (2000 Studio Cast)
A men's quartet vocalizing through an old-Italy pastiche.

9. "Shhh/Peaceful" - Miles Davis - In a Silent Way
Cool, Daddy-O.

10. "Opportunity" - Stephen Sondheim - Bounce (Original Cast)
The main characters' father urges them to seek their fortunes in the gold rush.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Buried Beauties - Ashley Williams

In honor of Ashley Williams' presumed upcoming stint on my favorite new sitcom in quite a while, How I Met Your Mother, I afford her Buried Beauty status and all the rights and privileges associated thereof. (None, really, but hey).

(If you didn't see it - this week's episode had Ted, after much drama, pulling off a wedding date for Robin and he, only to have Robin get pulled away to work at the last minute. At the very end, a newly-resolved-to-singlehood-Ted spies Ms. Williams sitting at a table and they share a smile. Presumably the next few eps - if not more - will feature a triangle between Ted, Robin, and the new Williams character.)

Until Whenever
Five Things About Me

Because it would be rude to not respond to a tag:

1. I like to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Eggo waffles instead of bread. Yes, I am a tad overweight--why do you ask?

2. You know that part in Beauty and the Beast when Belle and the Beast start to bond, over that sprightly tune that the teapot and the candleholder and the clock sing, and they have a snowball fight? That scene makes me cry. No idea why.

3. I directed a youth theater production of Man of La Mancha of which I am inordinately proud; in particular, proud of the way I staged "The Impossible Dream."

4. If I had unlimited money, one of the things I would do would be to bankroll a production of Sweeney Todd solely so I could cast Mandy Patinkin as Sweeney--I sincerely have as one of the things I desperately hope to have happen before I die hearing Patinkin let loose on "Epiphany."

5. One of the most fun activities I've ever engaged in consisted of playing a game with friends in the woods that involved, basically, a game of tag atop a acre or two-sized span of the wood in which all the trees had been knocked down and were all tangled together. Stepping foot on the actual forest floor meant you were out, so there was lots of running on tree trunks five or ten feet above ground, jumping across spans, etc. Giddy fun.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Take That, Jamie!

Jamie, over at Something Old, would disagree heartily with this look at the cult-hit animated sitcom Family Guy. I liked the article for itself, but I liked it more for the way it's a very positive look at the show, which gets sneered at often in the blogosphere, coming from the lofty, nose-in-the-air The New Yorker (which I love).

Until Whenever
Bad Idea or Brilliant Idea?

Years ago, when the possibility of an Aliens vs. Predator movie was first floated, I had a discussion with a friend of mine about what such a movie should be. His take was, I thought, very interesting, and the more I thought about it the more I came to feel that he was completely right. His opinion was that a movie that had as its central conflict war between Aliens and Predators would only be muddied up by the presence of humans. Why have them in there at all? His pitch was for a human being- and dialogue-free film in which the story of a group of Predators finding a nest of Aliens and the ensuing war between the two groups would be told entirely through action. The film would be almost experimental, an attempt to see if a compelling, exciting action story could be told through the action only--kind of like a very violent, gory, and CGI-riddled ballet.

I was reminded of this after seeing King Kong. A few sequences in the film work like this really - especially the Kong vs. the dinosaurs scene, which develops the plot in a very concrete way, tells a mini-story in its own right, and does through with zero dialogue and purely through an epic fight scene. And it got me to thinking. Hollywood is notorious for greenlighting sequels to anything successful (although their restraint in not foisting upon us Titanic Two is to be commended). Now, King Kong is not proving to be quite as successful as hoped, but we'll still be talking, when all is said and done, easily north of half a billion dollars in worldwide box office. Nothing to sneeze at.

So - King Kong 2? Well, sure the ape is dead at the end of the film, but a prequel story about how Kong came to be the only giant gorilla left on Skull Island, a story with no humans at all, but an all-star cast of dinosaurs, insects, giant apes, and other assorted and sundry beasts, well, that's a story I think could work. And I think Jackson is just the director to try such a bold experiment - to create almost a pure action film, with no dialogue, no humans, but with a compelling story and characters all delivered through the kind of action he nailed so well in Kong.

Brilliant or bad?

Until Whenever

Monday, January 09, 2006

King Kong

OK, so I'm coming to the party late. Suffice it to say that all the things you've read are true - this is glorious, epic, overstuffed eye candy filmmaking at its absolute best. My take on some common reactions?

- Is the opening hour too much? Yes and no. Sure, it's a slow wind, but my reaction was similar to the reaction I had to the similarly criticized slow wind-down of The Return of the King. This is a long, epic film, and the long beginning makes sense considering the length to come. It balances. On top of that I found the characters and performances, and, most of all, the fleeting looks at how films were made in the 30s to be completely entertaining on their own.

- Too much non-stop action in the Skull Island scene? Not at all. For one, the cutting between Kong and Ann and the rescuers (I was just about to dub them the "would-be rescuers," but they do succeed, now don't they?) keeps the pace from getting numbing. But more importantly, there are moments of quiet - Ann charming Kong with some dancin' and Ann and Kong appreciating the beauty of a Skull Island sunset, most critically, to balance the all-out action. The insect scene was great fun if admittedly a little directionless (and the last-minute rescue, I'll admit, did seem forced), but the big centerpiece fight scene between Kong and the three T-Rex's was one of the best action set pieces ever put to film--a real turning point plot and character-wise, this was a crazy-ass fight scene that was also essential to the story. And it was remarkably well-done--edge-of-your-seat exciting and very specific.

- Are the Skull Island natives bordering on racist caricature? Maybe. To Jackson's credit, it's not as if another way of handling the material would have worked. And his treatment of the natives as just completely mad worked, in essence, for me.

- Is Kong himself as good as advertised? Oh yes. The acting is completely and utterly convincing--Kong registers as a character, with moods, prejudices, a history, and a wide range of emotions, and not just as a big monkey. The scenes with him and Ann are remarkable for the amount of emotional weight they carry. To remind oneself that Kong is a bunch of computer programs is entirely unnecessary--he's a character, wonderfully realized.

In the end, for all of the falling beasts, and big toothy worms, and epic fights, and beautifully, expertly just-shy-of "real" old New York, what's wonderful about the film is how emotional it is. The climax with Kong and Ann atop the Empire State Building is just wonderfully tragic, and by that point in the film, the emotional relationship between woman and beast is completely real. Kong falling off the since of that building is one of the saddest film moments I can remember seeing. And, to me, THAT is Jackson's real achievement here.

Until Whenever
Never Let Me Go

What a wonderful novel. And what a lost opportunity, to read it going in without knowing the key plot point that the whole novel is built around. From many a review, I knew the big plot point that Ishiguro dances around for easily the first third of the book, and having read the book now knowing that bit of info I can say I very much wish I hadn't--it's pretty clear that the book's remarkable effect would have been much more effective. So read the book, and if you don't know the plot, for heaven's sake, don't read further. And don't read any reviews. And don't let anyone talk to you about it. Just get it and read it.

Leave now if you don't know the basic plot of the book already, OK?


Never Let Me Go is an account of a woman's childhood and early adulthood, written as a kind of memoir. Our narrator, Kathy H. is remembering the days she spent at a boarding school in England (Halisham) as a child and the friend she made there and the experiences she and they shared. The hook is that Halisham is a boarding school for clones that have been created expressly to provide organs to "regular" people later in life. This fact isn't revealed until fairly late in the book. And what Ishiguro makes clear much, much later, pretty much at the end of the book, is that Halisham and a few other schools like it are anomalies, failed experiments. We learn that these clones typically are brought up in very poor conditions, and that Halisham and its ilk were a liberal experiment to try and treat the clones better, to treat them as people. This is all very chilling stuff, and could make (and surely has--the notion of raising human clones for their organs is hardly new) a very good sci-fi novel. But this isn't it. The sci-fi stuff is barely discussed, and we get pretty much everything from a fairly detached, very personal viewpoint. And this is what makes the novel such a remarkable reading experience, the slow spooling out of this quasi-mystery of what Kathy H. and her friends are doing at the school, and what their later lives are like. The soft double-speak of "donations," and "carers," and "completing" do a superb job of both masking and enhancing the creepiness. And yet Ishiguro's skill in creating his characters, especially the three central characters - Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth - is the book's greatest strength. At its heart, this novel is about people, and we come to identify with Kathy completely through the first-person narration. Make no mistake - this is a heartbreaking novel, but one of the most rewarding reads I've enjoyed in quite some time.

Until Whenever

Saturday, January 07, 2006

180 Seconds

A long while back, John Scalzi wrote a post in which he invited readers to look at their iTunes libraries and list out the songs that came in at exactly three minutes - the idea being to take a tongue in cheek at the oft-repeated claim that three minutes is the perfect length for a pop song. Now at the time, I didn't have my music library all digitized, but now I do and I was curious to see which pop songs in my collection were at that ideal length.

Is That All? - U2
Not a classic pop song, really, more of a dirge-y type of thing.

I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm - Ella Fitzgerald
The very definition of perfection, methinks.

Spirits in the Material World - The Police
Pretty good, tight pop song.

Gimme' Some Loving - The Loving Spoonful
Another pretty perfect pop song. This might work!

Sloop John B - Beach Boys
Another tough one to argue.

Rumbleseat - John Mellencamp
This is awesome? Another great, punchy, burst of a song.

The Great Unknown - Elvis Costello
Still good.

Sleigh Ride - Johnny Mathis

Let's Begin - Ella Fitzgerald

Dance Naked - John Mellencamp

Halloween (Live) - Dave Matthews Band
Not perfect, no.

So Sad About Us - The Who
A great Who pop song.

Watch Your Step - Elvis Costello

Pinball Wizard - The Who
Come on!

John Wesley Harding - Bob Dylan
Dream - Ella Fitzgerald
This Year's Kiss - Nina Simone
Ring Then Bells - Bob Dylan
O Tannenbaum - Nat King Cole

Can't Help Falling In Love
Sheer perfection.

St. Louis Blues - Louis Armstrong
Orange Blossom Special - Johnny Cash

That was kind of a fun experiment.

Friday, January 06, 2006

He Gets It

Newark/Star-Ledger television critic Matt Zoller Seitz has a blog that I've just discovered, and in a recent post he revisits Revenge of the Sith and lays out what the mass of critics, including in some way himself in his original review, got wrong about the movie. A great piece.

Until Whenever
Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "Goodbye Until Tomorrow" - Lauren Kennedy (song by Jason Robert Brown) - Songs of Jason Robert Brown
Big, emotional, energetic musical theater song with a real pop feel.

2. "Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out) - John Mellencamp - Big Daddy
I remember this as a hidden track on my original cassette. Very fun romp of a song.

3. "Flowers" - Danny Elfman - Batman (Score)
Sweet, romantic, melancholy music from Elfman's score, still one of his best to me.

4. "Fresno Beauties (Part Two) - Frank Loesser - The Most Happy Fella (2000 Studio Cast)
Short snippet of a song with a real old-world celebratory Italian feel.

5. "Shot With His Own Gun" - Elvis Costello - Trust
Odd song, with a kind of old-west, saloon piano player, melodramatic feel, just Elvis singing and Steve Nieve on piano.

6. "I Didn't Understand" - Elliot Smith - XO
A capella piece with Smith, I'm assuming, dubbing himself into a kind of white Boyz II Men vocal group.

7. "The Sermon" - Rodgers & Hammerstein - Carousel (1994 Broadway Revival Cast)
Short dialogue snippet.

8. "Et exinde quaerebat Pilatus . . . " - Arvo Part - Johannes-Passion
Stark, solo choir stuff with a kind of medieval feel.

9. "Lea's News/Light of the Force" - John Williams - Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (Score)
Tender bit of writing from the end of the last Star Wars film, with bits of Han Solo and Lea's theme, the force theme, and others I'm sure I'm not recognizing.

10. "Beetlejuice" - Danny Elfman - Music for a Darkened Theater - Vol. I
One of Elfman's best-ever isolated themes, and one that's been stolen God-knows how many times. Simply brilliant.

Until Whenever

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Music Morsels Vol. XIV - North

The wide range of musical styles and genres Elvis Costello has dabbled in, in addition to his core recordings of rock/pop, has been well-noted. These side projects, which have included a cycle of art songs with a string quartet, a pop album by an opera singer, and a ballet score, have received mixed reviews--some glowing some scoffing--and North, Costello's 2003 album of "original standards" was no exception. I think many of the negative reviews may have been the result of false expectations. This was an album of songs clearly written to play as old-fashioned, classic. "standards"-style pop songs, true, but Costello's intent wasn't to write an album of unforgettable, classic-style melodies. What he was after was a more personal, confessional style that in some ways combined the more tempered, unobstrusive melodies of the art song with the soft jazz style of a Gershwin or Ellington. So critics expecting an album of "new classic" melodies were disappointed.

But for what he was aiming to do, the album was a success. North was written in the wake of Costello's whirlwind romance with jazz singer Diana Krall, and the echoes of new love, and the tribute to Krall's own understated slow jazz style are unmistakable. So, while none of these songs are destined for posterity, together they form a powerful album, and one that stands as one of our better examples of the power of love to inspire an artist.

Until Whenever
Movies I Saw in 2005

I REALLY don't see a lot of movies anymore:

February 2005 Releases
Harmless little rom-com. Amusing that it's OK for Will Smith to be the romantic lead opposite a Latino, but not a white woman. I seem to remember said Latino costar, Eva Mendes, talking about it in some interview around the film's release. Kevin James was funny, but I don't know if I see any real breakout for him on the horizon.

April 2005 Releases
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
As I posted here, very underwhelmed.

May 2005 Releases
Brilliant. See here.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
Ditto. See here.

June 2005 Releases
Batman Begins
Very good. See here.

July 2005 Releases
Fantastic Four
Worth a rental. As others have mentioned, they screwed up Dr. Doom pretty badly, and handled the main four with varying degrees of OK competence. For some strange reason, I have a feeling that the planned sequel will actually be much better.

November 2005 Releases
Pride & Prejudice
Excellent. I haven't read the book, so I wasn't put off, as some were (the wife) by Keira Knightley's inappropriate beauty, or by the slightly increased romantic heat and focus from that found in the book. Knightley was wonderful, and that young teen from the Julia Roberts-Susan Sarandon tearjerker Stepmom has become a very good actress, and one who can pull off a flawless British accent to boot.

Pathetic, no?

Until Whenever

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The U2 Canon - Achtung Baby

I still remember the first time I heard this album. It had been a few years since I fell head over heels in love with the band, and I was no a senior in high school. My mania for The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum had rubbed off on my sister and we both were eagerly anticipating the new U2 album. The day it was released I rushed off to buy a copy at a local record store and returned home with the tape. My sister and I sat on my bed, removed the cellophane, and put the cassette into the small boom box.

What was that? Not actually saying the words, this was what we were asking each other after playing the tape through. What was that? This didn't sound like the U2 we had come to know and love. This sounded weird, harsh. Messy. We didn't like it. At all.

Flash forward a few weeks. This being U2, I hadn't tossed the tape, but kept listening, and, of course, I began to hear the U2 I knew, not buried so much as lightly masked by the new sounds they had discovered. After a while I realized how good this music was, how gripping and powerful and album this really was. (And, yes, I was able to convince my sister of the same.)

Today, Achtung Baby stands as my second-favorite U2 album, just ever-so slightly edged out by The Joshua Tree. Many critics (not all) seem to place the album as the best of U2's career, but I do think there's a certain snobbishness at work there. I've seen Achtung Baby praised (and The Joshua Tree criticized in comparison) for being experimental, and for the way it showed how much the band could shine in the way they discovered new sounds and made them their own. Fair enough. But what often gets ignored is that The Joshua Tree was just as experimental--only it was American blues and R&B sounds that were being transformed into U2 music, not European industrial sounds.

Be that as it may, this is one remarkable album, and a career highlight to be sure.

1. "Zoo Station" - The opening track starts off with what sounds for all the world like someone clinking a glass with the edge of a fork to get a room's attention. And then the Edge crunches in, with a simple riff (note, down an octave and a step and up the step to the lower octave) made powerful by the heavy distortion laid on top of his guitar. This riff is repeated, then answered by a pounding, static- and distortion-heavy backbeat. Boom-boom-boom. This pattern repeats and slowly an insistent guitar figure is introduced into the mix, the drums pick up a beat, and eventually the whole collage collides into a heavy, driving beat with Bono crooning over it.

My sister and I were floored.

Bono's voice is distorted here, with heavy effects over top, but eventually it smoothes out to a more recognizable timbre. This is a great U2 song, and a superb way to open the album, to announce, in effect, that a new U2 is in town.

2. "Even Better than the Real Thing" - Not one of my favorites, it's nonetheless a high-energy way to keep the album moving, and a nice complement to the more heavy opener. I love that cymbal-y sound in the percussion--don't know what it is, but it works.

3. "One" - It's becoming increasingly clear that 50 years from know, a 100 years from now, this will be the song that U2 is remembered for this will be their standard, their contribution to the annals of popular song. It's a simple song really, with a basic four chord structure, but the way the Edge picks out two different complementary melodies over top of the strumming acoustic gives the song real shape and form. And Bono delivers, for him, an understated vocal, full of real feeling and emotion. What I often forget about this song is the real soul it possesses--listen to the way the full band gels more and kind of takes over in the second verse. It's got a great build too, with that addition and then, in the third verse, the more prominent synths adding to a more robust soundscape. And this may be Bono's ultimate bit of malleable lyric writing. This heartfelt song about love and loss has received (fairly gotten to) political readings, romantic readings, and personal readings. I have a hunch artists will be reinterpreting this song for decades to come.

4. "Until the End of the World" - A great end-of-the-world song with a great intro--a distorted wail of a vocal and then ominous bongo-sounding drums before the riff proper kicks in. The lyric, famously, is sung from Judas' point of view as he addresses Jesus, presumably right after the betrayal. "In the garden, I was playing the tart/I kissed your lips and broke your heart." Bono's vocal is inspired here, in the way he adopts a lower, less operatic tone for this Judas character.

5. "Who's Gonna Ride Your wild Horses" - My favorite break up song of all time. Listen to the way the intro combines the ragged pain of a breakup with the more tender memory of love through the sweet strings in the right channel and the distortion-heavy guitar in the left. Some of Bono's best lyric writing ever - "You're dangerous, 'cause you're honest." "You're an accident waiting to happen." It's also a vocal triumph, one of his best ever--listen to the bridge, and the way he just completely nails, without falsetto, in full open voice, an emotionally naked high C. Brilliant.

6. "So Cruel" - That rare piano-dominated U2 track, this song is pretty underrated, even by the band (it was one of only two from the album that weren't played on tour). A slow, sad, shuffling ballad with a tender vocal.

7. "The Fly" - The album's first single, and the real announcement to the world that a new U2 was in town. I love the way the song opens as if a mistake has been made--that Fly riff is started, abandoned, and then brought back--almost as a tease (this isn't really the new U2 sound--yes it is). The tribal beat, low and primal adds a lot to the atmosphere, but that insinuating riff really defines the song. This song also features the debut of Bono's "fat lady" falsetto, here married nicely with his lower vocals on the verses.

8. "Mysterious Ways" - I think this may have been the album's biggest single. It's a great U2 song, with a funk and propulsive Edge riff driving away over a belly-dancing fat Adam Clayton bass line. It's funny, "You Light Up My Life" gets mocked for being a love song that's really about God, but it sometimes seems like half of U2's canon could be classified the same way, and this song is a prime example. Who moves in mysterious ways?

9. "Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World" - A tender respite from the high energy that's come before. A late-night, tired sigh of a song that played wonderfully late in concerts on tour.

10. "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" - The bag of riffs the Edge keeps pulling from was well-stocked. Yet another quintissentially U2 riff dominates this urgent song, a song that quite nicely starts to set up, in a very subtle way, the dark turn the album takes at its end. For those who think Bono's opera obsession (as demonstrated on the new album's "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own") is new, don't miss the "When I was all messed up/And I heard opera in my head" line.

11. "Acrobat" - One of U2's best. Larry's almost jazzy tapping on the cymbals opens the song before the Edge and Adam pound in with their relentless, hammering riffs. The song just keeps pounding away, as the Edge lays ringing, desperate tones on top of that driving figure, and Bono sings with as much passion and hurt as he ever has. I can never get over how underrated this song is.

12. "Love Is Blindness" - And what a closer. It's a song about suicide. It's that simple, and complex. The song opens with a funereal organ line intro before the dark, beating bass line and skittering drums kick in. Once the vocals start, so does the lovely, sad piano line. Bono sounds so tired, so sad--it's a remarkably effective vocal. And the Edge pulls off what he's been promising since "I Will Follow" - a guitar solo of one note. Beautiful.

Until Whenever
Take That, Billy "Coasting" Joel

I loves, loves, loves me my Stephen King.

I loves me my John Mellencamp - The Lonesome Jubilee is one of the most underappreciated albums to come out of the 80s, says me.

So this news - which was originally announced a few years back, but which now seems more solid, is most welcome, although I wish there was more to report on actual timing.

Good for Mellencamp to try to create an actual theater score, and not to just lend his songs out so that someone can fashion a lame jukebox musical out of them. And good for King, as he ages to seemingly take on an attitude of wanting to try pretty much anything new, rather that just turn out novel after novel. A baseball book? Why not? A comic book? Sure. A musical? Bring it on.

Color me very excited.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Undiscovered Sketch

There's been much buzz on the 'ol Internets about the last December episode of Saturday Night Live, the one with Jack Black as host, and the very funny "The Chronic (What?) -Les of Narnia" video featured within. But that episode (one of the best SNLs I can remember in a long while) also featured other good stuff, as Nat notes, including a Jack Black King Kong song and a great Darlene Love-sung Christmas song and cartoon ("Christmastime for the Jews").

But the funniest sketch of the evening was, for me, the final one (and how often does THAT happen), with Will Forte playing a nervous young spelling bee contestant. After some humorous back and forth mocking the predilection of bee contestants to ask for every bit of info they are allowed to ask for (origin, use in a sentence, definition, etc.), the Forte character attempts to spell the word given ("business"). Here's the transcript of that moment (taken from this indispensable-to-the-SNL-fan site):

" 'Business,' b-r-d-t-f-k-l-m-g-h-r-k-w-t-f-n-y-l-k-p-q-w-q-r-t-d-f-p-l-m-k-q-k-w-q-q-q-q-q-q-q-q-q-q-q-q-s-t-f-j-r-q-m-t-s-d-t-q-m-p-r-f-t-d-p-d-p-m-h-r-k-t-b-t-f, "business."

Not funny on paper, but in performance it killed. SNL rarely does this kind of absurdist sketch humor, but sometimes it hits perfectly. This was one of those times.

Until Whenever
Things to Which I Am Looking Forward to Engorging Upon

As always, Christmas brings for this blogger a veritable smorgasbord of pop culture miscellany that leaves me in January feeling a little overwhelmed--so much goodness, so little time--and where to start?

Here is a (partial) list of the generous gifts my wonderful family has bestowed upon me. Aren't I a lucky little blogger?

Philips HDRW720 DVD Recorder with 120 GB Hard Drive
I'm far too cheap to spring for TiVo, no matter how tempting it is--one more monthly fee is one more too many. But when I saw this baby on heavy discount at a local electronics chain in the week before Thanksgiving, I begged the wife for an early Christmas present (had to strike while the sale iron was hot) and we grabbed it. I love my wife. TV Guide supplies the subscription info for free (they post a small ad on the listing screen for the privilege--a price I'll gladly pay in lieu of that monthly fee), and it seems to work just fine. Pause TV, rewind, one-touch recording, dump my camcorder contents onto the hard drive--it does everything I wanted it to. Technology is grand.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
Of course.

In a Silent Way - Miles Davis
I've been surprised at how much I like this. This album was apparently the beginning of Davis' fusion phase, of which I know little, but the electronic keyboards and guitars here work very well with that muted trumpet sound.

The Best American Magazine Writing 2005
I get the yearly edition of this every year and it's always a favorite. So far I've read absolutely wonderful pieces on the return of the two American astronauts who got stuck on the International Space Station when the shuttle exploded ("Home," by Chris Jones in Esquire), on a man falsely imprisoned for child rape for two decades-plus ("The Wronged Man" by Andrew Corsello in GQ--that one was a stunner, had me teary at the end), and a man who gave away his kidney to a stranger ("The Gift" by Ian Parker, in The New Yorker).

The Best American Science & Nature Writing 2005
Haven't dug in yet.

On Beauty - Zadie Smith
Eager to read.

Cinderella Man (score) - Thomas Newman
Yet to listen.

Prairie Wind - Neil Young
So far, no Harvest Moon, but still very good.

The Simpsons - Season Six
Ah, the merriment that awaits.

A bottle of sparkling blueberry juice

A wireless router
Surfing the net from anywhere in the house is just as cool as reported.

Until Whenever
More U2

But brief and satirical, not wordy and over-praisy.

Do read this article from The Onion in its entirety, but the headline is pretty funny on its own:

Rest Of U2 Perfectly Fine With Africans Starving

Until Whenever

To Host Or Not to Host

We're back!

I know some folks are applauding Dick Clark's appearance on his Rockin' New Year's Eve show Saturday night, but I guess I have a contrary take on the whole thing. As others have said, it seems that he appeared because he wanted to - that he certainly didn't need to, for financial or other reasons, and that it doesn't seem likely that ABC insisted upon it. And, to me, it was just a bad decision, and it read on New Year's Eve not as a brave, defiant, inspiring choice, one that spoke of resilience in the face of tragedy, but of a much more simple hubris - as if Dick Clark was convinced that we needed him back, and that "New Year's Eve wouldn't be the same without him." I saw an ego convinced of its own importance, and wish he would have just passed the baton on.

I'm all for doing things as long as you can do them well - that Ricky Henderson, for example, continues to play baseball because he loves it and is good at it, even if he's no longer great by pro standards, is inspiring to me. But to do something you can't do well anymore, just to show off in a way (and Clark's job as host is, basically, to talk--which he obviously can not do well), is to me, well, kind of sad.

Until Whenever