Friday, September 28, 2007

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "Ology" - Living Colour - Time's Up
A funky little instrumental done (drum loop aside) entirely on the bass. Nice.

2. "Dead Things" - Philip Glass - The Hours (Film Score)
A quiet, delicate, nicely melancholic piece. This may be my favorite Glass score.

3. "With a Shout" - U2 - October
Lesser U2.

4. "Hi Boss . . . " - Frank Loesser - The Most Happy Fella (2000 Studio Cast)
Introductory dialogue to "Standing on the Corner," a sweet woman-watching song.

5. "La Vie Boheme B" - Jonathan Larson - Rent (Original Broadway Cast)
The finale to "La Vie Boheme," the big Act One finale. A great, full-cast ending "Let thee among us without sin, be the first to condemn La Vie boheme."

6. "Over" - Jason Robert Brown - Wearing Someone Else's Clothes
A sad break-up song from Brown's pop album. Not as good as his theater stuff, but some nice tunes, with this one being a stand-out.

7. "Concrete and Barbed Wire" - Lucinda Williams - Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
When I finally got this album, I was shocked at how laid-back and countrified it was - I had expected something much more austere and spare. Good stuff.

8. "The Everlasting Gaze" - Smashing Pumpkins - MACHINA/The Machines of God
A little hard-edged for my tastes.

9. "What Is This Thing Called Love?" - Bill Evans - Portrait in Jazz
Confident and laid-back jazz trio performance; Evans is kind of the prototype jazz pianist.

10. "This Love of Mine" - Frank Sinatra - In the Wee Small Hours
Mood-drenched music, with sweeping, jazzy arrangements.

Until Whenever

Thursday, September 27, 2007


So far, I have seen a grand total of two new series - the pilots of The Big Bang Theory and Back to You. Is it a coincidence, you might ask, that the two I've seen are among those available for free download onto my iPod? No. No, it is not. I have, as of now, the premieres of Chuck, Reaper, and Bionic Woman sitting on my TiFaux. Not sure when I'll get to them - or to the season premieres of The Simpsons, Two and a Half Men, My Name Is Earl, or The Office, all of which are, or will be, sitting waiting to be watched as well.

So - what of the two sitcoms?

Big Bang Theory
I've read a lot of complaints about how the nerds aren't "real." Seriously? How many sitcom characters are "real?" They may be one-dimensional, but so were (at first) Sam Malone, Cliffy, Frasier, Carla, Diane - to name just one show populated by broad types who probably didn't really accurately reflect actual people. The pilot of Big Bang Theory is by no means deep or brilliant, but it is a solid enough set up. The show that emerges from that pilot could be good, decent, or bad, but it's not doomed from the start by the fact that the "nerds" (or the dumb blond, for that matter) are stereotypes. and even in the pilot, the two main nerds show a very potential-laded chemistry, with the Asperger-lite qualities of Sheldon (I think it was Sheldon) coming across as a nice touch. That actor (yes, I am too lazy to look up his name, why do you ask?), has some very nice deliveries and line readings here as well. I'm not in love with this show, but I see potential.

Back to You
See the above? Same thing, pretty much. Decent, solid pilot that could lead to a great sitcom or a very weak one. On the plus side here are the expert stylings of Grammar and Heaton and Willard, who can take OK material and make it pretty good. And as so many critics have mocked the trite "Heaton's 10-year old is Grammar's kid!" twist of the pilot, I feel behooved to point out that both Heaton and Grammar managed to imbue that stock moment of discovery, when Grammar comes face to face with the daughter he never knew he had, with real, subtle emotion (albeit still sitcom-styled). I'll say it again. I'm not in love with this show, but I see potential.
Until Whenever

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The T&C 100 - #s 5-7

7. Schindler's List (1993)
The historic "Spielberg grows up" film. Schindler's list is a movie that can't help but be manipulative, given the subject matter, and that yet does a remarkable job of muffling that easy pathos by giving us a very clear look at a very flawed "hero," a black-and-white look that removes us a level from what is going on, that gives the film a patina of unreality; and an unflinching view of what the world was really like for these characters. Seeing Ralph Fiennes unsentimentally shoot a defenseless Jew in the head, in quasi-documentary style, with none of the violence airbrushed or cut away from, is actually less heartstring-pulling - less emotional - than had the music soared and the camera "tastefully" looked away. Anchoring all of this is the central performance by Liam Neeson, whose refusal to pander or over-sell the big moments, again, keeps us grounded and able to view what is happening from a more-clinical take. All that said, what makes the film work is, of course, that all of those tricks together can't remove us completely from what is going on, can't keep our emotions at bay. And, since this is Spielberg, he does, in a few moments, acknowledge the pathos (the girl in the red coat, for example) - and because the rest of the film is so clinical, those moments hit thrice as hard.
Favorite moment. When Schindler realizes, relatively, how little he's done - and how much more he could have done.

6. The Godfather (1972)
It's been oft-mentioned that The Godfather represents a classic example of film taking a not-very deep story and elevating it to art. And as one examines the elements that make up the story, it's easy to see that dynamic in play - son of criminal family wants to walk straight path but gets pulled in. Not earth-shattering, not obviously deep, and yet the film takes that basic story and makes it into myth, epic historical saga, and Greek tragedy all rolled up into one. And that this was all accomplished under the auspices of a hostile studio with a pretty green director at the helm makes the accomplishment all the more stunning. The real key here, as far as I'm concerned, is the actors - Keaton, Brando, Pacino, Caan, and Duvall all turn in finely nuanced performances that completely sell the reality of the world and the stakes at hand. The Godfather represents one of those things that no one could have predicted, just a confluence of luck, fate, and smart choices that happened to result in what may endure as the great American movie.
Favorite moment. The great, much imitated Christening sequence.

5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
The quintessential action/adventure movie. One of the all-time great pairings of actor and character. An exacting tone that lets the goofier moments and the dramatic moments work. A supernatural ending that on the page sounds hoary and ridiculous, but on screen works perfectly. An early example of a leading lady who is the hero's equal, and not someone to be saved. An effortless-sounding theme that sounds as if it generated the character, and not the other way around. some of the most thrilling, expertly shot and assembled action sequences of all time. A canny pace of set-up/action that snowballs throughout the film into a final action/action/action sequence that has never been equaled. An 80s film that because of its period nature and old-fashioned serial tone, will never, never go out of style. Raiders, quite simply, has it all.
Favorite moment. Indy goes under the truck. One of those moments where they really got me - I remember thinking "he's trapped! he's dead!" And then - under the truck.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Gilmore Girls!!

From the NYTimes, (by way of Something Old), comes this list of the (as of 2006) best-selling DVDs of TV Shows of all time.

The list is somewhat skewed by the fact that HBO DVD sets are so expensive, but it's still striking to me how little corollary there is between what TV shows get huge numbers on TV and what TV shows get huge numbers on DVD. Friends, 24, and Seinfeld are high-rated shows but The Simpsons and Family Guy are not, really. The biggest surprise to me, though, is that on a list that skews so male- and geek-centric, Gilmore Girls, of all things, placed ninth. Kind of shocking.

Until Whenever

The Nerdiest Meme Ever

Courtesy of Jaq, a role-playing meme that plays as if written by a combo D&D-addict/fanficcer:

First, select ten fictional characters (from any medium) by whichever method you like best.
1. Captain America
2. Green Arrow
3. Anakin Skywalker
4. Locke
5. Indiana Jones
6. Willow
7. Hermione Granger
8. Starbuck
9. Gimli
10. Claire

Divide the list up by even and odd.
Team One
Captain America, Anakin Skywalker, Indiana Jones, Hermione Granger, Gimli

Team Two
Green Arrow, Locke, Willow, Starbuck, Claire

Which group of five would make a better Five Man Band (like a Power Rangers team)? Who would you slot in each position: Leader, Lancer (second-in-command), Big Guy, Smart Guy, The Chick?
Team One. Captain America is ALWAYS the Leader, leaving Anakin as the Lancer, a position he is used to but chafes at. Gimli is the big guy, ironically enough, with Hermione as the smart girl and Indiana Jones as the chick, which in some very strange way, works.

If you think the team would be improved by swapping one character between the even and odd groups, which ones would you switch?
I'd trade Dr. Jones for Claire. An indestructible team member? Always a good thing. And as much as I love Indiana Jones, he doesn't strike me as someone who'd play well as part of a team.

Gender-swap 2, 8 & 10. Which character would have the most change in their story arc? Which the least? Would any of these characters have to have a complete personality change to be believable as the opposite sex?
Green Arrow becomes a woman, Starbuck a man (hah!), and Claire a boy. Green Arrow's story kind of depends on the fact that he's a macho jerk, so as a woman, I could see a good deal changing. Starbuck's romantic entanglements would have played out much differently, but as a character I think she'd much the same. Claire, on the other hand, is defined as a classic female archetype ("the Cheerleader"), so her character would have to be rethought a bit. But a "complete character change?" No.

Compare the matchups of 1 & 8 and 5 & 9. (Ignore canon sexual preferences for the moment.) Which couple would be more compatible?
Captain America and Starbuck. Or Indiana Jones and Gimli. An easy one. While Starbuck's self-destructive tendencies and disrespect for authority might chafe, we've seen the good Captain attracted to similar women before (Diamondback, Sharon Carter).

Your team is 3, 4 & 9. The mission consists of a social challenge, a mental challenge and a physical challenge. Which team member do you assign to each challenge?
Anakin, Locke, and Gimli. Locke gets the mental challenge, easily. Anakin the physical. And we throw the social to Gimli because all of the three are distinctly socially handicapped.

7 becomes 1's boss for a week in some plausible fashion. How's their working relationship?
Hermione becomes Captain America's boss. Assuming it's the Hermione we see at the end of Book Seven, I think they'd have a great relationship, actually. Captain America has no problem answering to women (or men) he sees as smart and capable. The experience issue would rear it's head, but as I can't see Hermione ignoring Cap's expertise anyway, I think it would work itself out.

2 finds him/her/itself inserted into 6's continuity. As far as anyone other than 2 or 6 is concerned, they've always been there. What role would 2 be presumed to have had in 6's story, and could they fit in without going wonky?
Green Arrow is inserted into the Buffy-verse. Actually, as a street-level, none super-powered hero with an affection for snark, I think he'd fit in fine. I can easily see the Scoobies coming across a vigilante visiting Sunnydale and going through the usual distrust and fighting yields to teaming up dynamic. And he and Willow would spark off each other nicely, with his macho, bullying personality and her mellow, eager-to-please traits.

3 and 5 get three wishes. The catch is that they have to agree on all three wishes before they get the benefits of any of them. What three wishes would they make?
Anakin and Indiana Jones. Anakin is a knight pledged to abstain from worldy goods and Jones is a treasure hunter. But Jones' practicality and cynicism would let him forge a mutually beneficial deal with the Jedi. What three wishes? I'm sure Jones has a laundry-list of lost artifacts he's love to discover, and Anakin craves power. I could easily see a pretty compelling story spun out of Jones' compromising too much to get his hands on the biggest lost artifact of all, and then of having to stop a power-mad Anakin. Given the disparity in power, I see a bad ending for Dr. Jones.

1 and 2 are brainwashed by a one-time artifact that works even on people immune to mind control to attack and kill 4. They keep their normal personality, skills and competence level, except any Code vs. Killing has been turned off. Can 4 survive?
Captain America and Green Arrow are going to try and kill Locke? Locke has about ten seconds before a shield decapitates him, leaving Green Arrow to grumble that his arrow would have done the job just as well.

6, 7, 9 & 10 must help an orphanage full of small and depressed children have a merry Christmas. Who does what, knowing that at the very least the kids will be expecting a visit from Santa?
Willow, Hermione, Gimli, and Claire. Gimli would make a simply grand Santa Claus, Hermione and Willow could magic up some gifts and food and fun in a jiffy and Claire would, um, help out by blowing up balloons?

Until Whenever

Friday, September 21, 2007

The T&C 100 - #s 8-10

10. E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1983)
The best child performance ever. It's that simple; that's what makes this film endure so. Henry Thomas is completely unaffected as Elliott, allowing us to feel his love for, and pain over, E.T. in a very real way. And it is that empathy that makes the film work. It is that empathy that makes that ending so very painful to watch; we believe that this sweet, lost little boy is having his heart torn out as we watch, while at the same time we recognize the inevitability of it all. The story itself is really very simple, but the execution is so well-handled that we are drawn in completely and utterly. What is perhaps most amazing is how much we believe in E.T. himself, though, given how it's really just a big rubber puppet. All of the design and conceptual choices that went into the creation of the alien work in perfect harmony - from that ungainly neck, to the immense heart shining through his skin to the frog-like, ancient-young voice. As much as we believe in Elliott, we believe in E.T. All that being said, the film would not be the same without John Wiliams' iconic score, one of his best. What I love the most about it is how unafraid Williams is to let loose his inner Romantic and just unleash a huge wave of big, sweeping, overwrought music (replete with booming tympani at the end). In another film it would all be too much, but here it works perfectly. Especially in that remarkable final sequence, where Williams delivers something like twelve minutes of music with very little dialogue. In those moments E.T. gains an operatic, larger than life stature that it wears very well indeed.
Favorite moment:
Elliott: Stay.
E.T. Come.
T&C - a wreck.

9. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Disney's crowning achievement, and easily one of the best movie musicals ever. Disney's current domination of Broadway has made it difficult to remember how surprising it was in 1991 to get a Disney film musical with music better than the vast majority of contemporary Broadway musicals. And it is Alan Menken's core that really makes this film, with its complete self-assurance and perfect fit to the tone, characters, and story. One need only cue up to those opening ominous, fairy-tale steeped chords that underscore the opening narration to see how intrinsic Menken's music is to the film. Of course, this is also a gorgeous film, with a great design for the Beast that doesn't soften him up too much, the beautifully rendered castle, the just-enough quality of the caricaturing on Gaston, and, of course, that historic CGI-aided shot of the Beast and Belle dancing that spins down from the chandelier. This is easily my favorite animated film, and one that I am bursting at the seams to introduce to my three-year olds.
Favorite moment. The montage that "Something There" accompanies; something about that short scene of Beast and Belle playing in the snow moves me deeply.

8. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)
I was surprised myself that this wasn't higher, but that's how the chips fell. I guess there are seven films I love more. Still, this is for me, like it is for so many pop culture nerds of my generation, a real touchstone. I know it has become fashionable to discount it or a number of flaws, but I think those criticisms really miss the point. Is the dialogue bad? Of course it is. It's a throwback to cheesy serials of old, with a very deliberate sense of that Boy's Life high adventure tone. Were the dialogue deeper, more natural, it would throw the tone completely out of alignment. It would be like Lord of the Rings - and while I love those films to pieces, Star Wars was never aiming for that kind of solemn, historical, weighty tone. It was supposed to be light, very kid-friendly, and ever-so-vanishingly campy. And it is, gloriously so. At the same time, Lucas invested the very archetypical story with enough weight to grab us emotionally, so that moments like Solo's last-minute save feel triumphant. But perhaps most important, and the least easy to define, is the way the film created such a believeable universe (in the sense of having internal logic and a tightly wound sense of the rules and logic of this universe, not in the sense of being "real"). It is precisely this sense of a whole fantastical science fiction-inspired world that I bellieve made the film the phenomenon it was. In a sense the whole world of sequels, and novels, and comics and other extensions of this world are what captured audiences so, even before those things had been created.
Favorite moment. Ben sacrifices himself for Luke. Again, wholly archetypical, but perfect for the film.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

In Apology

I am sorry that I have been absent. to make up for my shortcomings, I present one of the funniest things in the history of ever.

What makes this bit great, for me, is how damn good Goldthwait is at selling the sadness, and the pain of the memory, which makes the reversal at the end all the more sweet.

Until Whenever

Monday, September 17, 2007

The T&C 100 - #s 11-19

19. Finding Nemo (2003)
Nemo is probably Pixar's most beautiful film, speaking purely in terms of the visuals. The shimmering water effects, the stylized, soft neon glow of the underwater plant life, the way that working with fish lets the animators employ remarkably elegant, balletic movement - all combine to produce a film that is just a sheer joy to look at. But this is Pixar, and so Nemo also scores as story. It's a simple story, to be sure (father loses son, father seeks son, father finds son), but within those classic parameters, the Pixar folks have managed to create a completely absorbing, emotionally tale. And the subtext, that to be a parent is to relinquish control of your offspring - even at the very real risk of tragic consequences - is handled deftly.
Favorite moment: Not the reunion between Nemo and Marlin itself, and not the moment when Marlin believes his just-found son to be dead, but the key moment in between - when Marlin realizes that he has to let his son try and help the fish caught in the net. And not for the fish, or but for Nemo.

18. The Incredibles (2004)
What a one-two punch! One year later, Pixar delivered one of the most joyous, clever, and thrilling superhero spectacles ever with The Incredibles. What I love most about this film is how it took the benefits CGI offers an animator - the real-feel of actual physics and three-dimensionality without the restrictions posed with real physics and logistics (the same benefits CGI artists for live action films take advantage of all the time) - and applied it to a superhero universe. So we get great superhero sequences, like Helen's escape from the trap, that echo what has been in the average superhero geek's imagination for years, and that would look goofy in live action, no matter how good the CGI. And, to repeat myself, all in the service of an ingenuously constructed, airtight, deeply felt story.

17. Children of Men (2006)
I think what grabbed me the most about this film is how well it achieves its goal of portraying what could have come across as a pretty standard grim 'n gritty dystopian future in a novel way. By producing the film almost in the first person - I believe (haven't rewatched yet, so I may be off) that pretty much every shot is seen from the Clive Owen character's point of view. not literally (the camera is not his eye), but in practice he is the focus of everything we see. And this gambit ties in perfectly into the movie's already-famous long, long tracking shots. Because everything is filtered through the Owens character's perceptions, it makes sense that there would be very little cutting. It's a dark film, and a sad one (it's only upon reflection that I realized how many of the main characters die), but an immensely powerful one.
Favorite moment. The long one-take scene of the main characters being ambushed by outlaws and then the police - a jaw dropping achievement.

16. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
This film never fails to me me, and deeply, even though I watch it every Christmas. If that's not the mark of a classic, what is? What I love about it is that the great, unfettered sentimentality at the end comes earned; not just by the what-could-have-been fantasy sequence, but by the sacrifices we see George willingly shoulder all his life.
Favorite moment. The way George says "I'm going to jail!" after he comes home at the end; the meaning Stewart gets into that line, the way he makes us know that George doesn't care what happens to him because he knows his family is whole again, just gets me every time.

15. A.I. (2001)
This film is remembered as a critical disappointment, and yet while it got a fair share of pretty harsh pans, many of the big film critics loved it, and it made quite a few estimable top ten lists at year's end. For me the movie rests on Haley Joel Osment's shoulders; had his performance been too cute, or too mannered (or not mannered enough) the whole edifice would have fallen. But he nails the difficult role of a robot that thinks it's real perfectly, and carries the movie with him. I also have tremendous fondness for John Williams' great score, which marries the Williams trademark brand of melodic inspiration and sweeping crescendo with the mechanical, minimalist style of Philip Glass - a perfect mix for this marriage of Spielberg's sentimentality and Kubrick's coldness.
Favorite moment. When Osment "transforms" into a "real" boy who loves his mother at the beginning; a moment that never fails to inspire awe. Just phenomenal acting.

14. Braveheart (1995)
It's fashionable to sneer at this film's status as a Best Picture winner, but I think that Gibson turned in a beautiful marriage of old-fashioned melodrama and a modern film vocabulary. And none of the many films that followed have equaled its battle scenes - in much the same way that Spielberg's Private Ryan redefined the way war battles are films, so did Braveheart for swords-and-shields battles.
Favorite moment. Wallace kills the man who killed his wife. I love how Gibson eschews histrionics (or macho stoicism) and underplays the moment, showing us how dead inside Wallace has become.

13. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
A beautiful, perfect opening chapter for the trilogy. I love how Jackson gives the story time to breathe, taking his time with introductions and exposition. And Ian McKellan is at his best here, playing the more mortal, human feeling version of Gandalf. Add the epic, completely realized effects and thrilling action and you have pretty much perfection - it's hard to think of this kind of film being done this well again.
Favorite moment. A repentant Boromir is hit by arrow after arrow as he buys the hobbits' safety.

12. Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Not spilling more digital ink over this one. Just click here.
Favorite moment. Obi-Wan defeats Anakin. A moment waited for for 28 years, executed perfectly.

11. Pulp Fiction (1994)
A since-unequaled mix of violence, humor, inspired storytelling, and just-stylized-enough acting. What's easy to forget, I think, is how much fun the film is visually as well - Tarantino can write, but he can direct as well, and this film is jammed full of great images and shots.
Favorite moment. Jackson's last speech before leaving the restaurant. Has he ever been this good since?

Until Whenever

Friday, September 14, 2007

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

Been a while.

1. "The Spark of Love" - Elvis Costello - Il Sogno
The best "classical" piece ever by a rock artist? I can't claim to have heard many others, and yet I'd imagine this has a strong shot at the top slot.

2. "Dance 2" - Philip Glass - Einstein on the Beach
I just got this, and all I can say so far is that this is some weird shit.

3. "Red Light" - U2 - War
Is this my least-favorite U2 song? It may be. U2 and backup singers? Not a good mix.

4. "Cannonball" - Supertramp - The Best of Supertramp
Too much sax and synth for my tastes.

5. "Prelude" - Elvis Costello - Il Sogno

6. "Cry, Cry, Cry" - Elvis Costello - Almost Blue
A bonus track on the Rhino re-release. Elvis doing country here. Not much he can't do really.

7. "Spozalizio" - Frank Loesser - The Most Happy Fella (2000 Studio Cast Recording)
A big, rambunctious Italian Wedding song. Fun stuff.

8. "Loving You" - Stephen Sondheim (sung by Donna Murphy) - Passion (Original Broadway Cast)
One of the most delicately gorgeous songs in my collection. Just a remarkably tender and sweetly sad bit of songwriting, impeccably sung.

9. "Someday Sweetheart" - Thomas Newman - Road to Perdition (Score)
A period instrumental - not sure if it's a Newman pastiche or an actual old recording.

10. "Stolen Car" - Sting - Sacred Love
I love me my Sting, but this last pop release has failed to grab me in the years I've had it. Overproduced and a bit too smooth for me.

Until Whenever

Thursday, September 13, 2007

My Sweeney Story: My Personal History with the Greatest Musical of All Time

My sheer, unadulterated love for Stephen Sondheim's masterpiece Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is well-documented here. But, as I very, very impatiently await a trailer for the upcoming film (a trailer which I pessimistically suspect will hedge away from giving us any actual singing), I thought it might be fun to lay out my history with the musical - how I first encountered it, my thoughts on the various incarnations I've seen or heard, etc. So -

(for the Sweeney uninitiated, be warned - spoilers will flow, and Sweeney is not a show that should be spoiled)

My first memories of what would become a lifelong love affair with musical theater are of, as a toddler, being extremely taken with those "operetta" episodes (or maybe it was one episode repeated) they did of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. I remember being very excited by them, and by the very basic notion, intrinsic to all musical theater, of people singing to each other instead of talking. (Oddly enough, I also have dim memories of a field trip to see a touring production of Oklahoma, during which I fell asleep, so bored was I.)

Then, in the fourth grade, my family moved. The new school I was in went to the fourth grade at the time, and every year the fourth grade class did a shortened version of a musical, replete with sets, costumes, and the works. That year's show was Hello, Dolly. I was a shy, quiet, introspective kid, so I imagine it must have come as some surprise to my parents that I wanted to audition. That fascination with the form was still there, and the intensely cool idea of getting to be in a musical was more than enough to overcome my shyness. So, I auditioned, and was cast as Ambrose Kemper - no solos, but a real, speaking role, with singing. And I loved it.

Fifth grade was Best Foot Forward, sixth Lil' Abner (I was Abner, which was kind of funny given that as a sixth grader I was a skinny beanpole. I still remember the delicious irony in the scene where one character magically becomes muscled, having taken the potion Abner's grandma makes for Abner. The kid who played him was pretty built and solid for a sixth grader, and I was scrawny. The line "Look at him - he's as big as Abner!" always got a laugh).

My small town had the seventh and eight graders in the high school, and I was too cowed by all of the big kids in the seventh grade to try out for Pippin. But in the eight grade the musical director/band and chorus teacher convinced me to try out for You're a Good Man Charlie Brown, boys being typically in short supply in high school musical audition pools. I was in the chorus for that one and never looked back.

Then came tenth grade. (Ninth grade was Mame - I was the older Patrick.) The band teacher had left and the assistant who took over his role, who had never directed a musical in her life, chose Sweeney Todd for the musical that year. Why did she choose such a musically complex, long, and difficult show for her virgin outing? I do not know. And why did she decide to double-cast it, (one set of kids played the leads Friday and Sunday and another set Saturday) making the rehearsal process much more complex? I do not know. In any case, I was cast as Saturday's Pirelli, the rival barber who threatens to reveal Sweeney's true identity.

(Now is probably a good time for a quick Sweeney plot synopsis. Act 1 - Sweeney Todd arrives in England, having been banished to Australia many years ago on trumped-up charges by the corrupt Judge Turpin. The lecherous Turpin was in love with Todd's (whose real name is Benjamin Barker; Todd is the alias he takes in London to avoid being discovered) wife, Lucy, and sent Todd away so that he could get at her. When Todd returns to London (with Anthony, a young sailor who saved his life at sea), he is harassed by a crazy beggar woman begging for money. He soon finds out from Mrs. Lovett, whose pie shop on Fleet Street was where he had his barbershop (on the second floor) before being banished, that Lucy took pills and died after being molested by Turpin, and that Turpin took Todd's and Lucy's baby daughter, Johanna, as his ward. Todd swears revenge on Turpin, and sets up his barbershop again, in the hopes of luring the Judge in for a shave and slitting his throat. Todd announces the opening of his shop after defeating a traveling barber, Pirelli, in a shaving contest. Later, Pirelli arrives at the shop, revealing himself to be Todd's old boy apprentice, now all grown up. He threatens to expose Todd for who he really is and blackmails him. Todd slits Pirelli's throat instead and stuffs him in a trunk. Lovett takes on Pirelli's apprentice, a young, dim boy named Tobias, in the pie shop. Meanwhile, Anthony has met and fallen in love with Johanna, and arranges with Todd to steal her away from Turpin and hide her in the barbershop while Anthony arranges transportation for their escape. Later that day, the Judge arrives for a shave, but just as Todd is about to kill him Anthony bursts in, not only ruining Todd's moment for revenge but revealing the plan to the Judge. Todd explodes, his sanity cracking as he announces vengeance on the human race, and his plan to start murdering his customers. Practical Mrs' Lovett sets upon the idea to use Todd's victims as meat for her meat pie shop.

Act 2 - Lovett's business is booming. Anthony finds Johanna locked away in an asylum, where the Judge has placed her to "protect" her. Anthony comes to Todd for help. Todd devises a plan - Anthony will pose as a wigmaker (wigmakers get their hair from the lunatics in the asylum), demand hair the exact color of Johanna's, and when she is produced make their escape. Todd will arrange for their transportation. Todd sends a letter to the Judge revealing the plot, in order to lure the Judge to his barber chair again. Meanwhile, the Judge's crony, The Beadle, has been nosing around the pie shop, neighbors having complained to him about the smell. Todd, pressed for time, kills the Beadle. Tobias discovers the Beadle's body and freaks out. Anthony escapes with Johanna, disguises her as a sailor, and, not finding Todd at the shop (he's dealing with the Beadle) hides her in the trunk and leaves to find transportation. The beggar woman (who has been hanging around the shop, harassing Todd, sinc ethe beginning of the play), drawn by the smell, enters the shop. Todd arrives, discovers her, and worried about the arrival of the Judge, kills her. He then discovers Johanna, and, mistaking her for a sailor, and still panicked that the Judge will arrive any minute, kills her too. The judge arrives and Todd exacts his revenge, slitting his throat. Down in the basement, where the bodies are piled (Todd having installed a special barber chair that tilts back, dumping the bodies of his victims into a hidden chute and down into the basement to be turned into meat) Todd and Lovett start to toss the victims into the fire. Todd goes to grab the beggar woman and, for the first time, gets a good look at her face. The beggar woman is in fact his beloved Lucy - Lovett had lied to him; the pills hadn't killed her, and she'd become a raving, disturbed beggar. Todd, enraged, tosses Mrs. Lovett into the furnace. Shattered, he cradles his Lucy in his arms, singing to her. The driven-insane Tobias enters, sees Todd, picks up Todd's razor, and slits Todd's throat. The now-mad Toby returns to the meat grinder, and grinds away.)

OK. Maybe not so short.

Anyway, the director, as per protocol, had submitted the script to the principal, who had approved it. But not, it would seem read it. Because when we were a few weeks into rehearsal, and only a few weeks away from opening night, he threatened to shut us down over some profanities in the script. After much drama a compromise was reached, and we were forced to muck about with Sondheim's genius lyrics, changing "There's a whole in the world like a great black pit, and it's filled with people who are filled with shit" to " . . . are full of it" and "this tastes like piss" to "this tastes like spit").

As for my reaction to the musical, I was initially unmoved by the dark, complex music, but as we rehearsed I started to fall in love with the score, and especially the story. Pirelli is written as a mock operatic tenor, and his one song is filled with high Italisn opera-esque notes, with a big high b-flat near the end. I was a tenor, but not that great a one, and my falsetto got quite a workout. Pirelli starts out with a bad Italian accent, and then when her reveals himself as Sweeney's old apprentice, his real Irish brogue comes out. So I also had to do two accents, which I did passably if certainly not well.

Our first-time director was in way over her head, and as we grew nearer to opening night we grew more and more nervous. We just weren't ready, and a lot of the staging was just bad and static. The director, who at least had the foresight to realize this, called in a pro to help out - James Brennan, a Broadway actor who lived in town and who had just finished a run as the lead in Me and My Girl on Broadway. Brennan did wonders to punch up the opening (he completely restaged it) and to help along other problem areas.

We opened and did well enough, if not great. But the seed had been planted, and I was officially in love with Sweeney Todd.

During rehearsals I became familiar with the original Broadway cast recording, which we all used to help us learn the complicated songs. And it, of course, remains my favorite recording of the score. Len Cariou makes for a raggedly dark, angry Todd, and he sounds glorious in the big arias (it is said that he ruined his voice doing Todd eight times a week, and indeed he never did another musical again). But the real career-defining performance is given by Angela Lansbury, who is revelatory as Mrs. Lovett - by turns ingratiating, batty, shrewd, and lovelorn. Her singing is glorious in a very character-based way, and her tour-de force in "The Worst Pies in London," an up-tempo, tongue-twisting, very choreographed character song, is the stuff of legend.

The original cast also features a young Victor Garber as Anthony, now known as Sydney's dad on Alias and as the ship's designer in Titanic. He has a strong tenor voice and soars nicely on Anthony's big love song, "Johanna." But what I fell in love with more than anything is Sondheim''s music and lyrics, from the dark and brooding love ballad (to his razors), "My Friends," to the comic Act I finale "A Little Priest," in which Lovett and Todd sing uproariously of their plans to turn his customers into pies,

to the greatest musical theater song ever, "Epiphany" - in which we hear Sweeney Todd lose his mind in song.

Around that time, I also became familiar with the video version - a taping of a live performance of the original touring cast, with George Hearn playing Sweeney and Angela Lansbury still playing Mrs. Lovett (that's what you see above). From this video certain aspects of Hal Prince's original, big production, became embedded in my mind with the piece - the big centerpiece two-story rotating pie shop, with barber shop on top; the use of scaffolding and bridges; the huge beehive drop that falls to start the show.

In 1992, the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey put the musical on, with Eugene Lee repeating (in slightly smalled fashion) his original Broadway sets. and with George Hearn returning to a role he would return to throughout his career. This was the first live Sweeney for me, and it was amazing to see the scenes, and songs, and characters I knew so well performed live.

For the next several years I listened to the score obsessively, hoping to have another chance to do the show in college (never happened), and enjoying the Sweeney parody on one of the Forbidden Broadway CDs. (The parody is entitled "Teeny Todd," a commentary on a small off-Broadway production of the show that had garnered much acclaim in the late 80s.)

In the late 90s a benefit concert version was announced for Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic, with operatic baritone Byrn Terfel slated to play Sweeney. I was hugely excited by this, always having wanted to hear a real opera singer sing those songs. Alas, Terfel had to drop out, and George Hearn filled in, unbalancing what was supposed to be a well-balanced cast of opera and musical theater singers, with Patti LuPone taking on the Mrs. Lovett role. The concert was recorded and is well-worth getting - while we don't get the operatic Sweeney we were promised, LuPone is very good as Mrs. Lovett, harder-edged than Lansbury, and we also get a real operatic bass as Turpin; the sublime Audra McDonald as the Beggar Woman; and Neil Patrick Harris of all people surprising the world with a spot-on portrayal of Tobias.

(The concert was repeated in San Francisco with much of the same cast; here is the opening of that version, which is available on DVD)

Another concert was done around that time in California with Kelsey Grammar as Sweeney--from all accounts Grammar was in over his head, and was horrible as Sweeney; off-key and unable to hit the big notes.

Soon after, Covent Garden in London did Sweeney as their first musical theater piece ever, with a cast of all opera singers. The debut performance was broadcast, and I was able to record it off of the radio. The show works very well as opera, and sounds great, although baritone Thomas Allen, as Sweeney, seems to be trying to sublimate his operatic sound a little and mimic a musical theater performer - which kind of negates the whole point of doing Sweeney as an opera, no? Terfel did eventually do Sweeney, in Chicago, but no recording was made.

A few years ago, a Broadway revival was mounted. The director, John Doyle, who had done the show in London, elected for a very stripped down version, distinguished by the novel approach of having the cast double as the orchestra. This gambit necessitated very reduced orchestrations, and the resulting piano-heavy version of the score, while in no way equaling Jonathan Tunick's original orchestrations, is extremely interesting, revealing new textures in the score that were buried before. I, alas, never got to see this production, but do have the cast recording.

Here is the Tony Awards performance by the revival cast, which included LuPone as Lovett again and Michael Cerveris as Sweeney.

And now we will get a film. As I said before, I'm excited and perhaps excessively optimistic about this. regardless of how the film turns out, though, Sweeney will remain my favorite musical, and one I hope to be in again, one day.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Last Third of the Year

As we ease into Fall and the last third of the pop cultural year, I thought it appropriate to list the pop culture things I am most looking forward to:

10. The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, Alex Ross
The little classical music I listen to tends to be 20th century music, and Ross is one of the best music writers around, so I'm very much looking forward to his book. According to early reviews, Ross does a good job of doing musical analyses for the layman, something that very few writers can do effectively. The Publishers Weekly review also highlights a close reading of my favorite opera, Peter Grimes for acclaim. Very eager to read this one.

9. Reaper (The CW)
This wasn't on my radar, but I've read enough buzz and good things to have me very interested. Conceit is that our main character must bring in escapees from hell, per a deal his parents made with the devil when he was born.

8. Magic, Bruce Springsteen
The first single, "Radio Nowhere," makes it sounds as if this will be a welcome followup to The Rising. While not a Bruce fanatic, I like the Boss just fine, and this sounds like it could be a very solid album of rock and roll.

7. U2: PopMart Live from Mexico City
The epic, overproduced PopMart tour comes to DVD at last. I must have it.

6. Chrome Dreams II, Neil Young
A new Neil Young album! Haven't heard anything about it, but I like much of is recent output, and am curious to hear this.

5. The Golden Compass
The His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman is one of the best kid fantasy (but not really) series I've ever read; this film of the first book looks (so far) like they nailed the tone and look perfectly. I'm optimistic that they got the story right too.

4. Pushing Daisies (ABC)
The show, about a guy who can bring the dead back to life with a touch, and send them back to death with a second touch, looks just great. Creator Bryan Fuller's Dead Like Me grew on me with its off-kilter blend of black humor, pathos, and fantasy, and this looks similar in tone, if a little more stylized. And with Kristin Chenowith is a supporting role? Sold.

3. Returning TV
How I Met Your Mother, The Office, Scrubs, and 30 Rock most particularly.

2. Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello
Costello is opening for Dylan on his tour. I am simply not intelligent enough to comprehend the sheer awesomeness of this. Will I actually get there? Maybe. Maybe.

1. Sweeney Todd
I still haven't heard any of the cast member sing, but remain stubbornly, willfully optimistic that this will be the first Sondheim film adaptation to get it right.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Best TV

Time magazine, to complement its lists of the greatest novels and movies released in recent years, has just released its list of the greatest TV shows ever. James Poniewozik, the Time TV critic who compiled the list, is doing a fair amount of blogging over at his excellent TV blog Tuned In about the list, his reasoning for various decisions, and so on.

As is my wont, I'll take a pass through the list to see what I think. A red show is one I have never or hardly ever seen, a black one is one I've seen a decent amount of, and a blue one is one I have seen all or most of.

I tried once, but couldn't get into it after the fact. (Have never watched in real time. Maybe one day.)

60 Minutes
I don't watch hardly any newsmagazines.

The Abbott and Costello Show
I'm in my mid-30s.

ABC's Wide World of Sports

Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Ditto again.

All in the Family
A great, great show, with one of television's all-time greatest characterizations at its center. O'Carroll, as far as I'm concerned, can never get enough credit as an actor - watch his Archie and then watch him play the soft-spoken sheriff in an episode of In the Heat of the Night; it's hard to believe it's the same guy. His range was outstanding. And while the politics sometimes got heavy-handed, they were more balanced than you might remember, with Meathead hardly being right all of the time either. As I've said before, the genius episode where Mike and Gloria move to California, with its closing moment between Mike and Archie ("I know you think I hated you, Arch, but the truth is, well, I love you." - cue hug and an Archie desperately trying not to cry) shatters me whenever I watch it.

An American Family
I was more into cartoons at the time.

American Idol
Captivating - I watch it even though the singing (and of the "good" finalists," not just the opening weeks' train wrecks) is so often awful. Hard to argue with its status as a true phenomenon.

Arrested Development
Saw the first season on DVD, loved it, but haven't gotten to the second or third yet. I've a hunch history will not be as kind to this as fans and critics may assume, though.

Battlestar Galactica
Surprised to see something this recent get on the list, but I'll argue with no one who suggests that we are living in a golden era for television.

The Beavis and Butt-Head Show
I love that Poniewozik thought to include this. A very influential, much cleverer than it seemed show that did a whole lot with its extreme simpleness.

The Bob Newhart Show
Before my time.

Brideshead Revisited
Buffalo Bill

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Saw only the finale in real-time, and then the entire run on DVD. Easily as good as advertised, with the revelation for me how good Gellar got as Buffy. The episode where Buffy's mom dies is a true tour-de force for her, and on top of that easily one of the five best episodes of TV I've ever seen.

The Carol Burnett Show
I know I saw a bit of this as a wee lad, but I was too young to appreciate it.

The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite

A Charlie Brown Christmas
I dislike that Poniewozik wasn't more stringent with his rules, but, hey, it is his list. And this is great TV, with one of the greatest soundtracks ever recorded for television, and a pure, open simplicity that has allowed it to last despite its clunky and dated animation and editing.

One of the great solid sitcoms - no epiphanies, no groundbreaking, no depth, but just very funny characters in a definable sitcom universe.

The Cosby Show
Funnier in the early seasons than you may remember.

The Daily Show
I never got into this. I like my 11:30 sitcom fix too much.

The Day After
Before my time.

I'm about halfway through the second season, and the quiet, vulgar poetry of this show continues to surprise and delight. And Al Swearengen may just have muscled his way onto the top-ten TV character list.

The Dick Van Dyke Show
The Ed Sullivan Show
The Ernie Kovacs Show

All pre-me.

A DVD potential.

Freaks and Geeks
I know some think that the short life of this show was a blessing in disguise. I think they're nuts. I still mourn not getting to see these characters grow and change and graduate. Easily a top three show for me, and the biggest hole in my DVD colllection. If you didn't read Alan Sepinwall's summer rewind, where he blogged, in depth, about each episode, you missed out on some great, great TV blogging. Go read it now.

The French Chef
I've seen the Dan Akroyd parody.

Like Cheers before it, a supremely well-constructed and well-written sitcom, that consistently brought the funny.

General Hospital
The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show

Gilmore Girls
Very pleasantly surprised to see this series get on the list - Lauren Graham's lack of an Emmy has been bemoaned enough, but this show did a great job of building a slightly unreal TV world and having fun with it, without shying away, as many have suggested, from the ickier aspects of its central conceit (that a young Mom and her teenaged daughter could be more friends than parent-child). Sure, for the most time it idealized the relationship, but every now and then the problem with that dynamic reared its head.

Hill Street Blues
Homicide: Life on the Street
The Honeymooners
I, Claudius
I Love Lucy

King of the Hill
I like King of the Hill and yet never, ever watch it (seriously, I think I've seen maybe five episodes). Not sure why that is.

The Larry Sanders Show

Late Night with David Letterman (NBC)

I've never been a religious Letterman watcher, but I've always been a fan, and have lost my fair share of sleep to his antics. I'll always hold a special fondness in my heart for those times Tony Randall and Mandy Patinkin would come in and commandeer the studio for a song.

Leave It to Beaver


Probably my favorite series ever. It just pushes all my buttons - surprise-filled writing, twisty characterization, stellar production values, and a great score. That I have to wait until February (February!) for new episodes is painful.

Married... With Children
A show I never really enjoyed - too cartoony and broad for me. That Ed O'Neill could actually act, though, was a revelation when I saw him in later roles.

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman
The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Another show that seemed to be constantly on in reruns when I was a kid and not old enough to appreciate it. And yet when I catch a glimpse nowadays, it's as if I've been poisoned by those childhood memories of nothing being on but that boring war show.

The Monkees
Monty Python's Flying Circus

MTV 1981-1992
I liked me some videos as a teen, and Beavis and Butthead, but that's about it.

My So-Called Life
Mystery Science Theater 3000

The Odd Couple
Klugman and Randall were like peanut butter and jelly.

The Office [American]
The Office [British]
I know, I know - I'm a bad Office fan. I do plan to get to the BBC series eventually.

The Oprah Winfrey Show

Pee Wee's Playhouse
Loved this as a kid. Bizarre enough to be cool, but not so bizarre as to turn off kids. Perfect.

Playhouse 90

The Price Is Right
Come on down!

Prime Suspect
The Prisoner
The Real World
Rocky and His Friends

The biggest fall, from greatness to crap, seen by any TV show. And yet it still deserves its slot, so god were those first five seasons or so.

Sanford and Son

Saturday Night Live
Every generation loves the SNL that aired when that generation was between the ages of fifteen and twenty-three and despairs the current iteration. And this shall it ever be.

Second City Television
See It Now

One of the ages. I'm loving how, as the episodes start to date, the period touches never take away from the rock-solid construction of the characters or the (for a show about nothing) involved, well-constructed plots.

Sesame Street
Is it an overstatement to say that the world would be a different place had Sesame Street never been created? Probably. But not by much.

Sex and the City
The Shield

The Simpsons
The greatest television program ever. Bar none.

The Singing Detective
Six Feet Under

The Sopranos
A great, great television achievement, and one of a small handful of series I really want a complete DVD set of.

South Park
SpongeBob SquarePants
Star Trek
St. Elsewhere

The Super Bowl (and the Ads)
An odd choice, Poniezowic.


Has any sitcom ever delivered a more durable stable of actors - Hirsch, Danza, DeVito, Lloyd? All went on to very filled careers.

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

The Twilight Zone
I've seen a few, but when I think about it, not that many. Maybe partly because as a kid I got out of the library and read, a few times, a book that summarized every episode.

Twin Peaks

The West Wing
Another of the want-a-complete-DVD-set shows. Having watched the show not in real-time, but by renting season after season, I can report that the latter seasons were not nearly as lesser than the early seasons as has been reported.

What's My Line?
WKRP in Cincinnati
The Wire
The X-Files
Your Show of Shows

Until Whenever

Friday, September 07, 2007


The Sweeney Todd site is finally up, albeit with no real content save some wallpaper. Still, the excitement continues to build.

Until Whenever
The Glory That Is the Library

A simple enough meme taken from About Last Night - what's out on your library card right now?

The Coast of Utopia, Tom Stoppard
All three plays. Read an Act of the first and lost interest. I suspect it plays better than it reads.

Darwin's Gift to Science and Religion, Francisco Jose Ayala
Read two chapters of this spirited defense of evolution, which posits evolution as being in complete harmony with religion and not in opposition to it. It's good stuff, but a bit dry and mannered. May not continue.

The Little Ships: The Heroic Rescue at Dunkirk in World War II, Louise Borden
My three-year old got this because it had a boat on the cover. I didn't realize what it was about until we got it home.

The Book of Boys (for Girls) and the Book of Girls (for Boys), David Greenberg
A pleasant enough humorous verse look at the rivalry and differences between boys and girls. I think my other three-year old picked this one because of the pink on the cover. Kid is obsessed with pink.

Neon Bible, Arcade Fire
As I've discussed before, my new obsession - listening to it right now, actually!

Reasons Why, Nickel Creek
Terry Teachout raved about this modern bluegrass group on his blog, so I figured I'd give 'em a try. Haven't really listened to this yet.

Einstein on the Beach, Philip Glass
Inspired by an article on the best of minimalism in the Times. Haven't listened much yet, but so far it makes Glass' later work sound positively traditional!

The Wiggles Live! Hot Potatoes
A CD for the kids.

Live at Massey Hall, 1971, Neil Young
Gorgeous, solo Neil on guitar and piano.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The T&C 100 - #s 20-29

29. A Christmas Story (1983)
Just the perfect Christmas movie, with the exactly, precisely perfect blend of sentiment and cynicism. The contrast of the treacly, knowing voiceover with the deadpan realism of the way the kid and his family are portrayed really lifts the film to heights it otherwise wouldn't approach. And it gets so many things just completely right. Every time I see it I am stunned by the real, complex emotions it nails--for example, in the bog fight scene, when the set-upon Ralphie just loses it and attacks the older bully, breaking down in tears when he is pulled off by his mother and he realizes what he's done. Just great.
Favorite moment: Just described it.

28. The Fisher King (1991)
I haven't seen this movie in far too long. Probably Robin Williams' best role, as a mentally unbalanced homeless man who falls in love with a mousy clerk, with a great quixotic story line about the Williams character's belief that he is a knight of old. Heartbreaking, funny, and superbly acted. Jeff Bridges is sublime as the faded disc jockey who begrudgingly takes the Williams character as his project.
Favorite moment: The heartbreaking scene right after the date, when the Williams character is filled with joy over his lovely date with his beloved, only to be reminded of how his wife was killed by a gunman, which lets the madness take over and drive the happiness away again.

The late, lamented Michael Jeter puts in a tragicomic turn here in a small part as a cross-dressing homeless friend of Williams characters. Here, he sets up Williams character's beloved for a date, showing off remarkable vocal chops in the process.

27. The Godfather Part II (1974)
I prefer the first for two reasons. The intertwining of Don Corleone's origin story and Michael's story always feels a little forced. Secondly, I find the Cuba material a little needlessly complex; I tend to lose the thread of the plot in that middle section. That said, the fall to corruption of what was once a decent man has maybe never been told better.
Favorite moment. "It should have been you Fredo."

26. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The great superhero movie, with a fine turn by Alfred Molina. I love how intelligently they took from the comics - in retrospect it seems obvious that the big story for a second Spider-Man film would be the classic "Peter quits" story, but they could have gone any number of lesser ways.
Favorite moment: That killer train fight.

25. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
A great buddy film anchored in a completely believable, fleshed out world of monsters. Visually an astonishing achievement, the film really hits so hard because of the emotions it elicits.
Favorite moment. The end, when Sully is reunited with the little girl he had come to love and had thought was lost to him forever completely destroys me every time.

24. The Princess Bride (1987)
What the hell happened to Rob Reiner? This, Misery, Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men, The American President - and noting since? That said, this may well be his best, a movie that succeeds purely on the basis of how precisely they get the tone right. It's also perhaps the most quotable film of my generation. If you have the DVD, do watch the present-day interviews--Robin Wright tells a beautiful story about how Andre the Giant would hold his monstrous hand over her head, draping it completely, to keep her warm in the chilly outdoors of England.
Favorite moment. When the kid's grandfather asks if he wants him to stop reading. In that little moment so much is said about the way life is not like stories, and how bad stuff happens.

23. Forrest Gump (1994)
The backlash against this film honestly puzzles me. The charges that it's some kind of conservative fantasy just confuse me, and the charges that it's too pat and easy, or that it's too fanciful seem to miss the way the film is structured as a fable. I think it's also far too easy to forget how easily this could have bombed, and how risky and strange it was at first. Hanks performance is likely undervalued today, as if all he is doing is a funny voice. Hardly. Watch the special features on the DVD for a look at his screen test to see "just a funny voice." He made that character real, and yet not real, in a way that few could.
Favorite moment. Forrest meets his son. Hanks won his Oscar in this scene.

22. Cast Away (2000)
Such a pure and simple movie. Man is stranded on island. And yet after God-knows-how-many iterations, Zemeckis gives us a beautiful, poetic version anchored by what may be Hanks best performance. The skill on display here is staggering - listen to the way Hanks calls out for his lost volleyball Wilson out on the water. If he's too histrionic we don't buy it, but if he's not emotionally involved enough we don't care. He nails the balance perfectly. And he did it in the studio, in post-production - not out there on the raft. Genius.
Favorite moment. When Hanks leaves the island and we hear music for the first time in 45 minutes or so. Catches my breath, every time.

21. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Just a magical, beautiful, inspiring film, with what's got to be the best film-original song stack ever.
Favorite moment. Garland sings "Over the Rainbow."

20. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
As the middle film, it lacks the closure the third offers, as well as the introductory pleasures offered by the first, but it more than holds its own, telling its epic story in a grand and never hurried way.
Favorite moment. Gandalf returns to save the day. Old-fashioned thrills, done right.

Until Whenever

The Flood Is Almost Upon Us

Ask Ausiello has provided a handy-dandy list of the scheduled season premieres. Here's what Tosy and Cosh are clearing space on the TiFaux for:

Sept. 19 (FOX) Back to You series premiere
Kelsey Grammar and Patricia Heaton as news anchors in a traditional sitcom. I have much affection for Grammar and Heaton and can imagine them working very well together. Also? Fred Willard.

Sept. 23 (FOX) Simpsons premiere
I only end up watching a half-dozen or so Simpsons episodes each season, but it's well worth grabbing.

Sept. 24 (NBC) Chuck series premiere
This show, a goofy-looking kind of spy spoof thing looks worth a least a pilot viewing.

Sept. 24 (NBC) Heroes season premiere
I still haven't watched the last five episodes or so of last year's season. But the addition of Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars herself, to the cast, makes this worth checking out.

Sept. 24 (CBS) How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men, Rules of Engagement and CSI: Miami season premieres and The Big Bang series premiere
We usually end up watching the whole CBS block, even though I don't care much for the CSI. Looking very forward to the Mother premiere, even though my TiFaux failed me last year and did not grab the season finale. Hoping they'll re-air in the next few weeks.

Sept. 25 (CW) Reaper series premiere
Something about a man whose parents sold his soul to the devil when he was a kid who must now collect souls. Very good buzz; being compared to Buffy. I'm in.

Sept. 25 (FOX) House season premiere
Not lupus.

Sept. 26 (ABC) Private Practice series premiere
Never having watched an episode of Grey's Anatomy, I'm curious solely for the Audra McDonald factor.

Sept. 26 (NBC) Bionic Woman series premiere
Looks suitably geeky, plus Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica is pretty much awesome.

Sept. 27 (NBC) My Name Is Earl, The Office and ER season premieres
YAY! Dying to see The Office and Earl, and always like ER, even if the last three episodes of last season are still sitting in the TiFaux.

Oct. 1 (CW) Aliens in America series premiere
Muslim kid is foreign exchange student. Sounds bad as a premise, but good buzz has me intrigued.

Oct. 3 (ABC) Pushing Daisies series premiere
The new series I'm most looking forward to. Quirky, intriguing premise (man can bring the dead back to life by touching them; a second touch kills 'em for good. He uses his gift to solve crimes (by asking the dead what happened). He also brings back to life the love of his life - but can't (of course) touch her); great look from promos; and presence of genius that is Kristen Chenowith in supporting role. Awesome.

Oct. 4 (NBC) 30 Rock season premiere
Absurdism done right.

Oct. 18 (CBS) Viva Laughlin series premiere
This series, which features actors singing along with pop songs, has the musical theater lover in me curious (and frightened).

Oct. 25 (NBC) Scrubs season premiere
The final season. Can't wait. (My prediction is that the whole Elliott-JD thing from the finale was a big feint and that we'll see he and she happy with their partners and not together.)

Until Whenever

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


So Tosy and Cosh are back and (more or less) rested. And what better way to return than, as tradition demands, with a pilfered meme? Stolen from the Samurai Frog himself:

Recommend 3 books you believe everyone needs to read and say why people should read them.
I truly and honestly don't think there are three books, or two, or one, that everyone should read. People and their tastes and literary sophistication vary just too much.

Name three books you’ve never been able to finish and explain why.
As has been documented here several times, Neil Stephenson's Quicksliver bedeviled me twice - the last time with only thirty pages left, if you can believe it. Just, in the end, too dense and labyrinthian for my tastes. I've also tried, but never got more than fifty pages into, Don Quixote a few times. I even tried the much-lauded new translation released a year or two ago, but couldn't get into it. The sense of language is just too foreign for me. And finally? As much as I like it and want to finish it, after three years I'm only a 100 pages or so into Helter Skelter. Again, the level of detail is more than I can keep up with.

Name three books you want to read, but haven’t yet.
So many, so many. Of recent vintage, lets go with Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach, Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and Stephen King's Blaze (all on my birthday list). For classics, let's go with The Brothers Karamazov, War and Peace, and something by Graham Greene.

Are there any books that you’ve loved, but been disappointed by the film/TV adaptation?
As a major King acolyte, I've been disappointed many a time. It, even at miniseries length, failed to get the epic quality of the book (and network standards defanged the violence and critical sexuality something awful) and The Shining famously did away with the book's focus on Jack as a sick man and made the hotel evil. For a non-King choice, I'll go with The Neverending Story, which ended the film halfway through the book.

What are you reading right now?
John Irving's Until I Find You, which I'm enjoying but not loving. A little too much patented Irving sexual oddness and barely disguised research fetishization (and again with the wrestling!?), but enough good stuff to keep me going. Also rereading Watchman after many years.

Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that?
May give Jonathan Strange and Mr, Norrell by Susanna Clark a try; just got it on discount. I'm a little afeared it will be another Quicksilver though.

What magazines do you have in your bathroom right now?
None. I carry my Entertainment Weeklys, Newsweeks, and Atlantics with me on the train, although I will read them in the bathroom as well.

What’s the worst thing you were ever forced to read?
I took a Gay and Lesbian literature course as part of my MA coursework, and read some great stuff. But there was also some very, very modern stuff that was just hell to get through, stylistically.

Admit it, the librarians at your library know you on a first name basis, don’t they?
If they do, they haven't shown it. I did just move though.

Is there a book you absolutely love, but for some reason, people never think it sounds interesting, or maybe they read it and don’t like it at all?
I don't think I've been able to sell anyone yet on my beloved The Known World. It sounds dry, and reads dry, but has magical powers and works its way into your heart somehow.

Do you read books while you eat?
If I'm eating alone, yes, it's an imperative.

While you bathe?
No. I only take showers, so . . .

While you watch movies or TV?
Not usually.

While you listen to music?
Often, but it must be instrumental music.

While you’re on the computer?
No - I'm usually reading what's on the computer screen, or typing.

While you’re having sex?

While you’re driving?
Yes. At red lights. A bad habit, I admit.

When you were little, did other children tease you about your reading habits?
A bit. (I did invite it some, though - I owned, and wore to threads, a shirt that labeled me as a "bookworm.")

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down?
Harry Potter Seven. Just had to finish it.

Until Whenever

PS - I realized, partway through, that I had already done an early version of this, here. So I skipped the repeated questions and went straight to the new ones.