Thursday, April 30, 2009

Old News

A few weeks back, when Danny Gokey did "Stand By Me" on American Idol, I was surprised by how few people called him out on such a soulless rendition, one that did absolutely nothing to honor the song. In fact, his lifeless version called for a tonic.

And here it is.

I'm going to go out on a limb and assume you've already seen this, but it's eminently worth posting nonetheless. Such a simple, beautiful idea, and just seamlessly executed.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Movies I Will See in Six Months

In what has become a yearly tradition, here are the summer films I'm most looking forward to, along with a numerical pegging of my excitement (on a ten-point scale) and the percentage chance that I will actually see them in a theater.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Bad buzz aside, I love Hugh Jackman, I liked all three (yes, all three) X-Men films, and am intrigued by the very notion of Liev Schriber in a superhero film.
Excited Score: 8
Chance of seeing in the theater: 50%

Star Trek
I have only seen two Star Trek films, and no episodes of any series. That said, I like JJ Abrams quite a bit.
Excited Score: 6
Chance of seeing in the theater: 05%

Terminator: Salvation
I like Christian Bale, but am not the world's biggest Terminator fan. And nothing in the marketing so far has grabbed me much.
Excited Score: 5
Chance of seeing in the theater: 03%

A Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Haven't seen the first, but could see taking the kids in a pinch. Maybe. TV spots actually look fun, though.
Excited Score: 3
Chance of seeing in the theater: 10%

Pixar has not failed me yet, and this looks to be one I could actually take my five-year old twin girls to.
Excited Score: 10
Chance of seeing in the theater: 70%

Land of the Lost
Something about Will Ferrell in a big SFX movie amuses me. And the girl from Pushing Daisies is hella cute.
Excited Score: 6
Chance of seeing in the theater: 05%

Year One
Harodl Ramis is due, isn't he? And Michael Cera and Jack Black sounds like an inspired combo.
Excited Score: 7
Chance of seeing in the theater: 15%

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
The first movie did nothing at all for me.
Excited Score: 3
Chance of seeing in the theater: 01%

Public Enemies
I'm not a huge historical crime guy. Nothing about this intrigues me.
Excited Score: 2
Chance of seeing in the theater: 01%

I still haven's sen Borat.
Excited Score: 4
Chance of seeing in the theater: 04%

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
These films have gelled into a very satisfying whole, and I can't wait to see the next installment.
Excited Score: 9
Chance of seeing in the theater: 50%

Funny People
Given the way Apatow has built his little empire, it's easy to forget that he's only written and directed two movies. But when those two movies are The Forty-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, I'll follow him anywhere.
Excited Score: 9
Chance of seeing in the theater: 50%

G.I. Joe
Excited Score: 1
Chance of seeing in the theater: 01%

Inglorious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino has yet to make a boring movie.
Excited Score: 7
Chance of seeing in the theater: 10%

Until Whenever

Monday, April 27, 2009

Things That Are Great #470

Jimmy Stewart getting impassioned.

I just watched Mr. Smith Goes to Washington for the first time, and was reminded, quite forcibly, of what a joy it is to watch Jimmy Stewart get all impassioned about something. Watching the film also reminded me that I need to see more Frank Capra - I think that this and It's a Wonderful Life are all I've seen. It also spurred me to check out what other films Jean Arthur has been in - that tough-on-the-outside, gooey-on-the-inside persona combined with that nasal and perfectly pitched voice are a great combination, and I really feel bereft at not having seen her in (I think) anything else.

But mostly it's that long Jimmy Stewart fillibusterin' sequence that did it, and the way he can convey desperate passion that so impressed me. Sure, the movie kind of screeched to a halt, rather than ends properly, but still, this is prime stuff.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Well, No Pictures

Is there anything I don't love about the anual Best American Magazine Writing editions? The best magazine articles of the year, offered up in one wonderful package. It's simplicity at its best, really. This year's edition was as good as its predecessors. The highlights, for me:

China’s Instant Cities, Peter Hessler, National Geographic
An engaging, detail-laden, very in-the-moment look at the economic explosion in China, as seen through the test case of a man and his uncle opening up a factory to make bra straps.

The Black Sites, Jane Mayer, The New Yorker
A harrowing, anger-up-the-blood look at workers at a nuclear weapons facility who years later start coming down with cancer, and the government that denies any connection.

Specialist Town Takes His Case to Washington, Joshua Kors, The Nation
The tale of an Iraq War veteran (representing hundreds of others) denied benefits for post-traumatic stress-related conditions because the government claims they stem from a "pre-existing condition." More blood-angering.

City of Fear, William Langewiesche, Vanity Fair
Langewiesche is my favorite journalist, and he pops up in these things like clockwork. This year's piece, an in-depth look at the cultureof an omnipresent prison gang in Brazil is remarkable in how it both condemns and looks honeslty at the gang.

“You Have Thousands of Angels Around You,” Paige Williams, Atlanta
A heart-stirring and -breaking look at a young refugee from Africa taken in by a family in Georgia.

Babes in the Woods, Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic
A creepy look at how the on-line world has made stalking teens so very, very easy.

Underworld, Jeanne Marie Laskas, GQ
A close and personal look at the otherworldly world of coal mining.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How much does a typical newborn baby weigh? What is the smallest weight of bowling ball typically found in a bowling alley?

Seven Pounds may well be the worst movie I have ever seen.


I like Will Smith. But I'm not sure what he was thinking here. Apart from the sheer over-the-top drama of the premise there's the way the story is told. First, the premise:

A man, driving home with the fiance he has just proposed to, does a little texting-while-driving and crashes his car into a van, killing seven people, including his wife. To atone for his sin, he undertakes an elaborate scheme in which he gifts complete strangers he has discovered to be "good" people with life-changing gift, usually of the bodily organ variety. To make his machinations easier to pull off, he steals his brother's identity as an IRS agent. For his final act of charity, he kills himself so that he can give his heart to a woman with congenital failure who has the same rare blood part as he (even though he has by that point fallen in love with her).

This is ludicrous, purple stuff all on its lonesome.

But, and for me this was the real kicker, is that almost none of this is revealed until the last ten minutes of the film. We spend nearly the entire movie not knowing why Smith's character is doing any of this, what any of the scenes mean, what any of the context is. We spend it with no anchor, no reason to invest in the story apart from the curiosity to fill in those blanks. But the blanks are so many and so complete that we have no desire to fill them in. It's like a connect-the-dots with only three dots. There's no reason to try.

I usually like Will Smith. But I don't understand what he was getting at here.

Until Whenever

Friday, April 17, 2009

Is It Plagiarism If You Steal From Yourself?

From John Williams' score for Memoirs of a Geisha. (listen from 2:30 - 2:55)

From John Williams' score for Star Wars: Episode III - The Revenge of the Sith (from 1:40 - 2:48)

You make the call.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Failure of Nerve

I, after being prodded by many friends familiar with my musical theater affinity, finally watched the film Camp last week. Camp is a small indie film about a musical theater summer camp, a camp where the kids who are to some degree outcasts in their high schools can be themselves.

It's a sweet film, if a bit underbaked and kind of embarrassingly badly directed and acted and edited. But nonetheless with its heart in the right place. But what I most want to talk about isn't any of that; it's the music.

This is a film that takes as its central thematic conceit the notion that these kids (and adults) who are passionate about musical theater have nothing to be ashamed about. That musical theater is worthy of passion and worth embracing.

And yet while the music in the film does include a few showtunes, with one exception they are all more "pop" showtunes. The opening number, from "The Gospel at Colonus" is a big, belty gospel number, not a traditional musical theater song. The original songs are by the folks who did Fame, and sound much more R&B-influenced than Broadway influenced. The one big number we get to see from a production is "Turkey Lurkey Time" from Promises, Promises by Burt Bacharach, a composer from the pop world. And the non-diegetic music is by and large soft acoustic lite rock stuff, the same kind of music used in sensitive teen drams all the time.

Where is the real Broadway stuff? Why, in a film that celebrates musical theater fandom, is there so much hedging when it comes to the real thing? I really would have loved for the film to embrace its own ethos more, and used showtunes for scene transitions, underscoring, etc. To have used showtunes for the big emotional numbers, not showtunes-by-proxy. In the end, it really took the wind out of the film's sails for me.

Until Whenever

Friday, April 10, 2009

All I Ask Is That You Listen To Me

Has there ever been as big a gap between the front-runner and the rest in the history of American Idol? In any case, next week is Movie Songs, and I'd love to see Adam Lambert bust out some Jesus Christ Superstar.

Until Whenever
Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "Time of the Preacher" - Willie Nelson - Red-Headed Stranger
Every year I become more of a Willie fan. This is a lovely little country ditty.

2. "Walk of Life" - Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms
I remember this song as being omnipresent when I was in high school. I also remember vividly the sports bloopers video. What was all that about?

3. "Finale" - Kander & Ebb - Cabaret (Original Broadway Cast)
I've never actually seen Cabaret. I should really rectify that someday.

4. "Blue Skies" - Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Sings Berlin
Some killer scatting here.

5. "Pleasant Little Kingdom/Too Many Mornings" - Mandy Patinkin - Oscar & Steve
Gorgeously full-throated big Broadway singing. The first piece is a cut song from Follies, but it's the second that goes for the kill. This is one of Sondheim's biggest, purplest songs, and Mandy and guest star Judy Blazer do it justice.

6. "Transition 3" - Stephen Sondheim - Passion (Original Broadway Cast)
These short soldier-sung transition pieces were very effective on stage. Reminds me that I really need to watch Passion again.

7. "Jeru" - Miles Davis - Birth of the Cool
Early Miles, swinging much more than usual.

8. "Right Now" - Mark Knopfler - All the Roadrunning
A sly little slow jam between Knopfler and Emmylou Harris.

9 "The King of the Golden Hall" - Howard Shore - The Two Towers
Regal, majestic, bittersweet - a wonderful cut.

10. "Somewhere" - Audra McDonald - How Glory Goes
A beautifully understated rendition of one of my top-ten all-time favorite melodies.

Until Whenever

Thursday, April 09, 2009


For the curious, the sources for the letters in the new logo are:

T - Star Wars logo.
O - The one true ring from The Lord of the Rings films
S - Shawshank Redemption film poster
Y - Playbill masthead

And - From the Broadway Beauty and the Beast logo

C - Classic Captain America logo
O - The good Captain's shield
S - The original Sweeney Todd Broadway logo
H - The Simpsons

Until Whenever

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Where'd I Put That Cane?

A post over at A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago about the 10th anniversary of The Matrix made me realize that, hey, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace came out (almost) 10 years ago. I suddenly feel very, very old.

I still remember seeing this first trailer, on Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood. I remember taping it so that I could show some friends, since the insta-trailer world of the Internet wasn't real yet.

Damn. Now I'm going to have to watch this soon.

Until Whenever
The Power of Movies

I watched Monsters, Inc. with my twin five-year old daughters over the past few nights, and in the process was very strongly reminded once again of how powerful movies can be. For me, there are two moments at the end of Monsters, Inc. that tear at my guts – when Sully returns Boo to her bedroom, and has to say goodbye to her for the last time, and the very last moment in the film, when he is gifted with a way to see her again, and he eagerly and tentatively opens her door to see her.

As we watched these last moments, I had one of my daughters on my lap (the Wife had the other). And, as that first moment played out, I was keenly watching my daughters react to the moment, to see how they took it.

Of course, the moment has two levels superimposed on top of each other. The first is the happy ending moment – after many close calls, the child is being returned to her home (and unseen parents) after her big fantasy adventure. She’s like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. But the second—and it’s this moment that the scoring and direction and actors play up—is a very sad thing, with Sully and the little girl realizing that they will never see each other again. The Wizard of Oz has this level going on as well, with Dorothy’s farewell to her friends, but there it’s not nearly as heartbreaking as it is here. It’s all a matter of perspective. In Oz, we identify with Dorothy, she’s our protagonist. But here, it’s Sully, and so it’s his loss we feel.

Twin A took the moment on that first level. She had expressed real fear several times throughout the film that the little girl would never find her way home. So seeing that happy ending was exactly what she had been anxiously awaiting.

But Twin B saw through to the other level, the level on which the scene has always hit me hard. And because she was in my lap I could see her react up close, and it was, well, astonishing. As the import of the scene hit her – Sully would never see Boo again – her eyes welled up and her breath started to hitch and constrict. But she wasn’t upset. She didn’t turn away. She stared, completely enraptured by the turn the story had taken. In a small, choked voice, she said “he loves the little girl.” She had been emotionally moved by the film, yes, but not in a scared way, or a disturbing way. She had been moved, and emotionally ensnared, in exactly the way the filmmakers intended.

So, when that last shot came, when it was revealed that Sully would get to see Boo again, the payoff was there. She gazed at the screen with a look of complete and open joy. She was as happy as he was. She had been surprised and delighted and taken quite out of the world of our Sugar Maple Split and into another place entirely.

And that's the power of movies.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

As It Turns Out, Not That Big a One

Following in Jaq's and the Samurai Frog's footsteps, I will now respond to this meme, designed to test the level of your geekiness:

() You spent a day watching all of the Lord of the Rings/Star Wars/Star Trek movies.
I'm pretty sure in high school I and some friends watched the first three Star Wars films, but even that I'm not sure we got through all of them. I;d like to do this one day, but logistically I'm just not sure I see it happening for a while. That's one big time investment.

( ) You spent next two days after watching commentary, outtakes, and behind the scenes footage.
(X) And you bought the soundtrack.
As has been documented here well, I like me my film scores.

() You went to a midnight release of a movie.

( ) You camped in front of the theater for more than 12 hours to get tickets.
( ) Camping did not prevent you from being in costume.

() You can have an entire conversation with friends consisting of quotes from your favorite movies.
Not quite. I'll quote TV and films on occasion, but not to that extent.

( ) You own at least three game systems.
One - a PlayStation that I haven't played in years.

( ) You have lost weight because you forgot to eat while trying to reach the next level in your game.
( ) You own more than four game controllers (of any kind).
( ) You have existed on 3 hours of sleep per night so that your "Sims" get 8 hours and are refreshed for work.
( ) You upgraded your computer because you wanted to buy a new video game/expansion pack.( ) You have dressed as your game avatar, or as a NPC in that game.
( ) You achieved level 60 on World of Warcraft.
Not a big video game guy.

(X) You have played "Dungeons and Dragons" or any other RPG.
Off on on in high school and college. Great fun, but time-consuming.

(X) You know what "RPG" stands for.
( ) You dressed as your RPG character would dress.
( ) You own dice with more than six sides.
( ) You have been accused of having a "gamer" scent.
( ) You can identify a Black Lotus.
I don't even know what that is.

() You can identify a Charizard.

( ) You have bought any of the "Harry Potter" books after standing in line until midnight.
I have them all, but no midnight runs.

( ) You waited to get your "Harry Potter" book in costume, quoting favorite lines.
(X) You have attended any function with "con" in the name.
One NY Comic Con, in maybe 1993.

( ) You stood in line at said "con" for more than 4 hours to have an item signed.
( ) You spent more than $50 on a costume to wear to "con" because you wanted it to be authentic.

(X) You own more than 50 comics.
Probably 300 or so.

(X) You collect your comics in longboxes.
Finally! I had them just stored in boxes for a long while, but finally organized them in longboxes last year. It makes the mild OCD'er in me very happy.

(X) You know what a "longbox" is.
( ) You've met and had your comics signed by the creator(s)
( ) You know how many "Robins" there are.
Not positive.

(X) You know that the portrayal of Rogue in the movie "X-Men" is completely wrong.
Well; not like the comic character, no. But I love what they did, and think it worked better than an attempt at the comic character's actual backstory/character would have.

(X) You have chatted online more than in person.
Oh yeah.

( ) You chatted online enough to learn the time zones.
( ) You think that when the Mythbusters say "Don't try this at home," they really don't mean YOU.
( ) Have participated in a movie/TV marathon that involved a drinking game.
( ) Can sing along with the Buffy Musical Episode.
Well, a little.

(X) You know Seth Green from more than just the "Austin Powers" movies.
(X) You can name all 8 Kevin Smith-directed movies without referring to IMdb.
I didn't think I could, but, nope, I got 'em!

(X) You have participated in a "Clerks"-esque discussion about Star Wars (or any other movie).
My friend and I would discuss the plot of Star Wars ad nauseum, breaking down plot holes and questions.

( ) You have participated in a Kirk vs Picard discussion.
I have seen two Star Trek films. The one where they meet God and the one with the whales. This is the full extent of my Star Trek knowledge.

( ) You have participated in a Star Wars vs Star Trek discussion.
( ) You have participated in a Babylon 5 vs. Star Trek:DS9 discussion
(X) You know who JMS is.
From comics, yes.

( ) You have ever corrected anyone who called you a Trekkie.
( ) You have worn a Star Fleet Uniform.
( ) You own a Star Fleet Uniform.

( ) You think "Twilight" is lame because everyone knows that vampires burst into flame in the sunlight.
Haven't read it. Don't plan to.

( ) You have written fanfic.
(X) You have watched Bizzare Foods and thought "I'd try that."
I love bizarre foods!

( ) You can pinpoint the moment at which "Lost" jumped the shark.
Lost has very decidedly not jumped the shark.

(X) You know who Stan Lee is.
(X) You know who Jack Kirby is.
(X) You know who Geoff Johns is.

( ) You have built a website.
(X) You have started a blog.
(X) You maintained a blog for over a year.

( ) You know what the Genie SFRT is.
No idea.

( ) You have a Twitter account.
( ) You have over 500 followers on Twitter.
( ) You purchased a smartphone just so you could check Twitter on the road.
(X) You forget your family members' birthdays because they aren't your friends on Facebook.
I know most of my my sibling's birthdays and my wife's and kids', and a few parent ones.

( ) You have given virtual gifts on Facebook.
( ) You have Superpoked your boss on Facebook.
( ) You have gotten a date through Facebook (and we're not talking dinner and movie with your buddies).
( ) You have broken up with someone/been broken up with through Facebook.

( ) You've reached level 30 or higher in Mafia Wars.
( ) You know what Mafia Wars is.
( ) You participated in more than three social networks.

(X) You've spent more than 200 hours playing the same video game.
Probably as a kid trying to beat Zelda.

(X) You've seen any movie in the theater more than three times.
Not many though. All three original Star Wars (considering the re-releases) and the Phantom Menace.

( ) You can name the episode of MST3K where Joel was replaced by Mike.
( ) You've argued why the comic is way superior to the show/movie when discussing "The Tick," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," "X-Men," "Fantastic Four," "Spider-Man,"

( ) You have the soundtrack for "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" on your MP3 player.
But I want it!

(X) You are willing to defend the Star Wars prequels.
And have, right here.

( ) You openly disparage the Star Wars prequels because they don't live up to "Empire."
( ) You're openly concerned about the time line ramifications that J.J. Abram's "Star Trek" movie presents to the canon.

(X) You own anything written by Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore or H.P. Lovecraft.
A few Alan Moore graphic novels, that's it.

( ) You have a flying spaghetti monster on your car.
( ) You've seen a midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show with live actors in front of the screen.

(X) You know the REAL reason Spider-Man had a black costume.
Yes, but the film's reason (which is actually very close to the comic's) is better, frankly.

( ) You know the NCC numbers of at least two starships other than the Enterprise.
( ) You know what "NCC" stands for.
( ) You own an original Star Trek Concordance, Technical Manual, and Blueprints.

( ) You own at least two medieval weapons.
( ) You have participated in battles with foam-covered swords.

( ) You know who "Major Matt Mason" is.
(X) You have seen bootleg copies of the original Fantastic Four and Justice League movies.
FF only.

( ) After having had children you realize there's now more people to costume and relish it.
( ) You've managed to turn four days at Euroquest* into nearly eight because, who needs sleep?( ) You've spent more than $1000 on your "spot-on" costume. (and it's still not quite right...)
( ) You've made a fan film.
( ) Your fan film has been seen by more than your immediate family.

( ) People know you by your online name instead of your mundane name.
Only you online people know me as Tosy and Cosh

( ) You know what Pennsic is.
( ) You've camped at Pennsic.
( ) You have/had personalized plates on your car proudly proclaiming your fandom.
( ) Your spouse and/or friends do as well.

( ) You yell at your kids when they try to open a toy/book/comic/figure etc. that you're collecting.
Emphatically no. I WANT them to like this stuff, and that means handling the accoutrements and playing with them. I have no real collectible stuff.

( ) Your kids have broken your Hallmark collectible Star Trek/Star Wars, etc. ornament.
No, but I have.

( ) You've traveled more than 500 miles to attend a con.
( ) You have a tattoo related to your fandom of choice.
( ) You met your spouse at a fan-related event or con.
( ) You got engaged (to be married!) at a sci-fi convention.

(X) You are publicly willing to defend Dollhouse, because Joss Whedon must be trusted.
They got me there. It's getting better!

Until Whenever

Monday, April 06, 2009

Three by Three
Three things I liked about Monsters v. Aliens.
  • The action sequences, which were clear and easily followable while at the same time taking full advantage of the advantages of animation. Animation can show comic book action better than any other medium, but only if time and money is spent. I really hope one day we get Pixar-type renditions of classic superheroes, if only so that this advantage can be fully realized.
  • The human characters, who were funnier than expected and mainly managed to avoid one-note cliches.
  • The story - the clear arc of a woman becoming a monster and learning to embrace it was nice in the way it gave a big boys movie like this a female protagonist.

Three things I did not like about Monsters v. Aliens

  • The execution of that story. While it worked as a whole, and certainly had some clever bits (the President-attempting-communication-by-music), the beat-by-beat story was not as consistently delightful as Pixar has led us to believe is possible.
  • The glossing over of the whole "monsters have been prisoners for 50 years thing." That got forgiven/forgot by the characters real quick.
  • Reese Witherspoon, who didn't really give Susan enough character through her voice work.

Until Whenever

Friday, April 03, 2009

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "A Well Fed Man" - The Kinks - Juno
One of those songs I know without knowing I know. Didn't recognize the title at all.

2. "Wiggly Wiggly Christmas" - The Wiggles - Wiggly Wiggly Christmas
An original Christmas tune from those Australian geniuses.

3. "Kiss Me Kate - Corrective Casting (Jerry and Liza)" Cole Porter and Gerard Allessandri - Fordibben Broadway Strikes Back
In an older FB edition they did a parody song spurred by rumors of a revival starring Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters. Here they up the ante.

4. "All Because of You" - U2 - Live from Under the Brooklyn Bridge
A great early promo rendition of one of the most overt rockers in the U2 canon.

5. "Sehr begalich - Soprano Solo - Mahler
A bit of Mahler lieber. This stuff comes on the symphony CDs but in all honesty I never listen to it.

6. "Castle on the Hill" - Danny Elfman - Edward Scissorhands
Classic Elfman. I never remember to listen to this score - I should more often.

7. "You Angel You" - Bob Dylan - Planet Waves
Just got this and haven't absorbed it yet.

8. "Nobody's Got the Gun" - Mark Knopfler - Golden Heart
A sweet and shuffling Knopfler tune.

9. "Morning Sun" - Echo and the Bunnymen
Got this on a mix, and it wasn't a song that made it through the culling process. I probably only listened to it once or twice.

10. "Tombstone Blues" - Ritchie Havens - I'm Not Here
A very nice acoustic cover by the old folkie of the classic Dylan tune.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Great Covers

I sometimes forget how useful YouTube can be for uncovering (hah!) covers you might not normally hear. Exhibit A - Elvis Costello doing U2's "Please." Tosy and Cosh nirvana.

Until Whenever
Stuck on the Road Again with the Small Town Blues

According to Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, and Willie Nelson will be touring together this summer, laying minor-league ballparks. I absolutely love this mix of artists - such a canny mix of laid-back, American rock and country vibes. I never would have thought to mix them, but it totally works.

Until Whenever