Friday, December 17, 2010

authors and other fools

Before his recording career took off in 1976 with The Art of Tea (one of my favorite albums), jazz-pop singer-songwriter Michael Franks composed scores for the films Cry for Me, Billy ('72), Zandy's Bride ('74), and the Roger Corman-produced cult classic Cockfighter ('74). It wasn't until 1982, however, that he lent his voice to a movie theme song: "Coming Home to You," from the Al Pacino vehicle Author! Author!

The song's music was written by Dave Grusin, with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, the husband-and-wife team who penned the lyrics for "The Way We Were" ('73) and "The Windmills of Your Mind" (from The Thomas Crown Affair, '68), both of which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. (Grusin and the Bergmans had previously collaborated on the theme songs for Maude and Good Times, among other TV series.) The Bergmans also wrote the lyrics for the following 1982 Best Original Song nominees: "It Might Be You" (music by Grusin once again), from Sydney Pollack's Tootsie; "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" (Michel Legrand, music), from Norman Jewison's Best Friends; and "If We Were in Love" (John Williams, music), from Yes, Giorgio, starring Luciano Pavarotti.

Three nominations for three different songs. They had good odds, but the Bergmans ended up losing to "Up Where We Belong"—music by Jack Nitzsche and Buffy Sainte-Marie, lyrics by Will Jennings—from the Richard Gere-Debra Winger drama An Officer and a Gentleman. (The fifth nominee was Rocky III's "Eye of the Tiger," written by Survivor's Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan III.)

"Coming Home to You" obviously wasn't on the Oscar short list that year. That's because it's not a good song. In fact it's often cringeworthy.



In 2007 a blogger at Cinefile Video wrote, "Upon listening to this song, you get the distinct impression that Mr. Franks had never uttered a note in his life before stepping in front of the mic to record it, for it is just a wretched, wretched performance."

It's certainly not his best, but he's a hired hand in this scenario working in a strictly pop vein, and having exclusively sung his own lyrics up to that point in his career, he may have felt off balance trying to breathe life into the Bergmans' words, which aren't their best either: "Whenever there are days / It feels as though the world / Is coming to an end / We close the door behind us / Where it's always milk and cookies / And a friend." But the biggest crime here is committed by Grusin, who unabashedly lifts the keyboard riff from the Doobie Brothers' "What a Fool Believes" ('78). (He also steals from his arrangement for "It Might Be You," or maybe it's the other way around—Author! Author! was released six months before Tootsie.)

Grusin wasn't the only one ripping off Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins's Grammy-winning composition in those days. In 1980 Robbie Dupree somehow avoided a lawsuit with "Steal Away"—is it because he secretly is Loggins?—while the keyboard riff was put to more subtle use in the Pointer Sisters' "He's So Shy" later that year (the same can't be said for Tom Monroe's 1981 cover of Petula Clark's "Downtown").

Dave Grusin and the Bergmans
Maybe Grusin was simply burned out after scoring both On Golden Pond and Absence of Malice as well as portions of Reds in 1981. In addition to scoring Tootsie and Author! Author! (he was brought in after the film's original composer, Johnny Mandel, was fired) in '82, Grusin composed the theme song for TV's St. Elsewhere and released a jazz album titled Out of the Shadows. You could say his plate was full at the start of the Reagan years, so he can be forgiven for stealing from the Michael McDonald playbook.

That's what this fool believes, anyway.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Movie titles are fair game.

Fair Game, the fact-based thriller that opened last month, is based on Valerie Plame's 2007 memoir Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House. Directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith), the film stars Naomi Watts as Plame and Sean Penn as her husband, diplomat Joseph Wilson.

This Fair Game is not to be confused with 1995's Fair Game, an action movie starring William Baldwin and Cindy Crawford that's based on the assumption that supermodels can act. Actually, Fair Game is adapted from the novel of the same name by Paula Gosling, but it was first adapted for the big screen nine years earlier as Cobra, starring Sylvester Stallone as supercop Marion "Cobra" Cobretti and his then-wife, Brigitte Nielsen, as a government witness he must protect from the bad guys. Say what you will about Nielsen as an actress, but in Cobra she does a great job pretending she isn't half a foot taller than her husband.

Nineteen eighty-six also saw the release of an Australian action film titled Fair Game, but its protagonist, according to Wikipedia, is "a young woman ... who runs a wildlife sanctuary in the Outback [and] is menaced by three kangaroo hunters who have entered the sanctuary looking for new game." (Remember, the late Steve Irwin was a crocodile hunter, so he wasn't a suspect in this case.) In the documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008), an entertaining, affectionate look at Australian B-movies of the '70s and '80s, movie buff Quentin Tarantino discusses a scene in which the heroine is stripped to her waist and forced to be a hood ornament on the hunters' truck. "If you like outrageous cinema," the director of Inglourious Basterds says, "you live and breathe to wait for those weird moments that happen every once in a while in genre cinema, where it's like you can't believe you're seeing what you're seeing."

The heroine of Fair Game is played by Cassandra Delaney, not Naomi Watts, whose family moved to Australia when she was 14, but since I need a good complete-circle ending for this blog entry, let's just say it was her. As Watts's latest film makes clear, the truth is fair game, right?

Friday, November 19, 2010

CBS has canceled Medium.

After having its seventh-season episode order cut from 22 episodes to 13 last month, Medium was officially canceled this week by CBS, with its final episode set to air in January. The supernatural drama, which stars Patricia Arquette as a psychic who helps the Phoenix DA's office solve crimes, spent its first five seasons on NBC before being rescued from cancellation by CBS. Now its luck has finally run out.

This is a golden opportunity, however, for Medium creator and executive producer Glenn Gordon Caron, who previously created the network series Now and Again (CBS, 1999-2000) and Moonlighting (ABC, 1985-1989), which was my favorite show when I was growing up. He was also the brains behind "When I Grow Up" (a.k.a. "Fling"), a series that never aired despite six episodes having been completed by the time Fox pulled the plug in 2001; a pseudo-update of Moonlighting, it featured Amy Sedaris, one of the funniest people on the planet, playing the Ms. DiPesto receptionist role, and was reportedly axed because Caron wouldn't take input from network brass. Now, with the cancellation of his latest—and longest running—network series, Caron finally has a chance to create a series for HBO. (C'mon, guys, schedule a meeting already!)

One of the main reasons I loved Moonlighting when I was growing up was because it didn't follow the rules of other shows. The main characters, private detectives Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) and David Addison (Bruce Willis), occasionally talked to the camera and acknowledged they were characters on a TV show; overlapping dialogue was common; and comedy, drama, and romance were often combined in the same episode in equal measures. In its third season the episode "Big Man on Mulberry Street" showcased quietly dramatic moments for Shepherd and Willis that surrounded a stylish dance number choreographed by Singin' in the Rain codirector Stanley Donen; one week later "Atomic Shakespeare" featured iambic pentameter and a full-dress parody of The Taming of the Shrew.

For a while anything was possible on Moonlighting. It was wildly creative and had an energy no other show could match. No wonder it burned out so quickly.

Though Caron and company were supposed to complete 22 episodes of Moonlighting each season after the first, the most they ever delivered was 18 in the second season. Even the show's abbreviated first season ended up one episode short of ABC's six-episode order. Caron did complete 22 episodes of Now and Again for CBS more than a decade later, but rumor has it he went overbudget on the last few episodes of the show's one and only season in order to finish them on time. Since the show's ratings had steadily decreased throughout the season, the network pulled the plug; Now and Again ended on a cliffhanger that was never resolved.

I never read of any production delays on Medium, but I'm sure Caron would jump at the chance to produce just 13 or 10 or even 8 episodes per season, which is standard at HBO. Before he created The Sopranos for HBO, David Chase had written for network shows like The Rockford Files and Northern Exposure. Before The Wire and Treme, David Simon worked on NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street. And before Six Feet Under, Alan Ball spent time writing for the Cybill Shepherd sitcom Cybill; he once said that the former Moonlighting star's diva-like behavior frustrated him so much that he decided the best way to deal with it was to channel his anger into a script titled American Beauty, which eventually won him the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 2000.

It's my guess that Caron would similarly thrive at a cable network that prides itself on letting inventive writer-producers do what they do best.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The beginning of broadcasting?

On November 15, 1926, the National Broadcasting Company, otherwise known as NBC, began broadcasting as a radio network with a four-hour "extravaganza" featuring Will Rogers and the New York Symphony Orchestra. Conan O'Brien's grandfather was hired to host the event, but after 45 minutes NBC replaced him with Jay Leno's great-grandfather, setting up a vicious cycle for generations to come.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

"I'm not a violent convict, but I've played one on TV, and now I'd like to sell you various types of insurance."

This has already been noted on another blog, but I do find it interesting that two of the stars of HBO's tough-as-nails prison series Oz (1997-2003) are now hawking insurance on TV. Dean Winters and J.K. Simmons have appeared in other TV series and movies since Oz went off the air seven years ago, of course, and they've both excelled in comic roles—Winters as Dennis, Liz Lemon's walking disaster of an ex-boyfriend on 30 Rock, and Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson in the three Spider-Man movies—but it's hard to shake the image of them as violent criminals. Nevertheless, two major insurance companies separately decided, "Here's a face potential insurance buyers can trust."

Winters, who played Irish-American gang member Ryan O'Reilly on Oz, currently stars in commercials for Allstate auto insurance as "Mr. Mayhem":



And Simmons, who portrayed white supremacist Vernon Schillinger, headlines ads for Farmers Insurance as a professor named Nathaniel Burke.

This curious casting reminds me of commercials in which actors known for playing gangsters reprise their roles, albeit in a more cuddly fashion suitable for TV advertising. Winters and Simmons obviously aren't playing off their Oz personas in their Allstate and Farmers ads, but does this mean Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, a.k.a. Oz's Simon Adebisi, will soon be selling State Farm insurance with a wink and a smile (and a tiny hat, of course)?

Friday, September 24, 2010

My face is an open book.

Here's a little more than two years' worth (March 2008-April 2010) of shameless filler gathered from you-know-where. Be advised that prescription drugs and various types of vanity, some of which can be alleviated through the use of said drugs, are recurring themes/punchlines.

1. Robert Cass is bragging about himself silently.

2. Robert Cass is drinking wine out of a sippy cup. To life!

3. Robert Cass is eating his words. They're SCRUMDILLYUMPTIOUS.

4. Robert Cass is asking you how you're doing just so you'll ask him in return how he's doing just so he can tell you how great he's doing!

5. Robert Cass thinks Australia needs to make up its mind—country or continent? You can't have it both ways, Oz.

6. Robert Cass wishes he lived in Darfur so he could meet the stars of the Ocean's Eleven movies.

7. Robert Cass should probably finish cleaning up all that blood.

8. Robert Cass is thrilled to be expressing dull private thoughts in such an exciting public fashion!

9. Robert Cass has been stretching the "three-second rule" of food handling to seven seconds or more for quite some time now.

10. Robert Cass has started throwing his Twix wrappers in his coworker's trash can so the janitor won't think he's the one with all the cavities.

11. Robert Cass have a dream that one day nouns and verbs will no longer disagree with each other.

12. Robert Cass is overrated as an underdog.

13. Robert Cass has enough unearned confidence to power a small country.

14. Robert Cass is spinning in his grave!

15. Robert Cass thinks his girlfriend's suicide note would've benefited from a second draft, which he plans to tell her once she comes out of the coma.

16. Robert Cass is feelin' alright alright alright now that Matthew McConaughey Jr. has been born.

17. Robert Cass lights up your life.

18. Robert Cass has read the writing on the wall and wonders if 12 different variations on "penis" were really necessary.

19. Robert Cass is painfully aware that his best days as a drug mule are behind him.

20. Robert Cass is learning the hard way that not every woman he kidnaps will automatically fall in love with him.

21. Robert Cass can't believe you're wearing that but is too good a friend to tell you.

22. Robert Cass has banged a gong but has yet to get it on.

23. Robert Cass regrets sacrificing his one phone call at the county lock-up for this status update.

24. Robert Cass thinks "gunplay" is a funny little oxymoron.

25. Robert Cass enjoys the bingeing much more than the purging.

26. Robert Cass smells pretty.

27. Robert Cass knows he'd make a great deadbeat dad if some single mom with low self-esteem would just give him a chance.

28. Robert Cass wants Michael Phelps to thank him for not watching the Olympics and therefore not jinxing him. You too, Chicago Cubs.

29. Robert Cass was hoping Swing Vote would be more like CBS's Swingtown. Aside from Kevin Costner and Kelsey Grammer's steamy love scene, it was not.

30. Robert Cass had condor for dinner three days last week. It was his own special way of paying tribute to movie-star environmentalist Robert Redford.

31. Robert Cass is more Robert Carradine than Robert Redford. Life is an endless series of trade-offs.

32. Robert Cass loves black people, but he expresses it in ways that make every race uncomfortable.

33. Robert Cass doesn't need your pity. But he doesn't want to see it go to waste, either, so hand it over.

34. Robert Cass wishes he had the power to disable all cell phones just so he could watch everyone under 35 completely lose their shit.

35. Robert Cass has never been one of those "reluctant" sex symbols.

36. Robert Cass has been informed by the FAA that the bags under his eyes are now heavy enough to qualify as carry-ons.

37. Robert Cass likes when people celebrate his birthday early. It makes him feel even more like Jesus.

38. Robert Cass became a fan of himself the day he was born. Alright alright alright ...

39. Robert Cass is on a subliminable trip to nowhere!

40. Robert Cass wonders if the H in "Jesus H. Christ" is short for "Hussein." See you at the polls, evangelical swing voters!

41. Robert Cass has nothing to hide from media jackals and ill-informed bloggers like ... well, like himself.

42. Robert Cass is shaving with one hand and typing with the— OH MY GOD, MY BEAUTIFUL FACE!!!!

43. Robert Cass hopes you enjoy his impression of every single stockbroker photo from the past two weeks.

44. Robert Cass don't want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard.

45. Robert Cass tunes in to The Hills for the ennui, but he stays for the malaise.

46. Robert Cass just realized that describing himself as "the quiet loner type" in personal ads may be scaring off potential customers.

47. Robert Cass doesn't drown his sorrows, he waterboards them.

48. Robert Cass calls himself a "game changer" whenever he flips over a Scrabble board in disgust, while his opponents call him a 12-letter synonym for "incest participant."

49. Robert Cass is not the man who will fight for your honor.

50. Robert Cass thinks that if everyone votes for Obama and listens to TV on the Radio, racism will end. (Robert's recent lobotomy was a success.)

51. Robert Cass didn't realize why everyone was so excited this morning until he opened the newspaper and saw that it's Matthew McConaughey's birthday!

52. Robert Cass did it! He helped elect America's first black president. In his own small way, Robert is a hero. America loves Robert!

53. Robert Cass was so happy when ACORN registered his precious cat to vote, only to be disappointed when that vote was wasted on Bob Barr. No, Mr. Snickerbottoms! Bad kitty!

54. Robert Cass is alone with his thoughts. Quick, somebody call or text him so he can end this existential nightmare!

55. Robert Cass is Employee of the Millennium! The mug he stole from work says so.

56. Robert Cass is surprised how many black people are avoiding his spontaneous hugs on the street. It's almost as if November 4 never happened, and that's just sad.

57. Robert Cass enjoys long walks on the beach, especially if Jesus is there to do the heavy lifting.

58. Robert Cass thinks Eraserhead might not be the best choice for treasury secretary. America can't just erase its financial problems. What if there's a pencil shortage?

59. Robert Cass runs a think tank inside the 42nd Precinct drunk tank every Friday night.

60. Robert Cass is a bottomless refill of nonjudgmental love.

61. Robert Cass is celebrating his legal victory over corporate fat cats: the judge ruled that sex with a Coca-Cola vending machine is not vandalism!

62. Robert Cass loves Johnny Hates Jazz. But they've never acknowledged his love. Does that mean they hate him?

63. Robert Cass should've known better than to trust a governor with that much hair.

64. Robert Cass is ashamed of Rod Blagojevich, another in a long line of corrupt Republicans. So what if he's a Democrat? Robert is sticking to his talking points.

65. Robert Cass loves the fact that Facebook status updates are a voluntary invasion of privacy. You're always one step ahead, Department of Homeland Security.

66. Robert Cass is celebrating America's rich heritage this Christmas by becoming an Indian giver.

67. Robert Cass is the most critically acclaimed critic of himself.

68. Robert Cass is doing something incredibly mundane. Before Facebook there was no way to mass-distribute that kind of information. Thank you, technology.

69. Robert Cass loves telling fans of The Wire that T.J. Hooker covered the exact same ground 25 years ago.

70. Robert Cass is going to search far and wide for gainful employment. In particular, he's going to keep an open mind about Pacific Rim jobs.

71. Robert Cass was in a dark place the last few weeks, but now that his electric bill's been paid, he's feeling much better. He thanks you for your concern and your Paxil.

72. Robert Cass has cut himself shaving so many times in the past month that he's developed a reputation as a shark tease.

73. Robert Cass can't wait for Inauguration Day, when he gets another chance to pat himself on the back. You're still welcome, America!

74. Robert Cass wishes the reverse psychology he used in yesterday's impromptu hostage negotiation hadn't backfired so tragically, but as they say, live and learn.

75. Robert Cass was hoping the kids he's sponsored through Christian Children's Fund would be rich soccer stars by now. Ersatz absentee papa needs a loan.

76. Robert Cass is seeing Frost/Nixon today. He has $1,000 riding on Nixon winning at the buzzer. Robert hopes God and Ron Howard are listening right now.

77. Robert Cass is bold. And when he's angry, he's downright italicized.

78. Robert Cass is licking his wounds, despite his doctor's recommendation that he actually bandage them.

79. Robert Cass couldn't have picked a worse time to debut his new Death by Peanut Butter cookbook.

80. Robert Cass is a grown-ass man. But by identifying himself as such, he loses respect from all the grown-ass men who know that actions speak louder than status updates.

81. Robert Cass doesn't like private jokes. Except for that one Spencer told about you last week. That was hilarious, Spence! High five!

82. Robert Cass has been told he's the new Hemingway, "minus the talent and any trace of masculinity."


83. Robert Cass is more than just a gorgeous head of hair.

84. Robert Cass is a tall drink of water served in a Dixie cup.

85. Robert Cass has hit a snag. Now he's backing up over it. Now he's hitting it again. Now he's speeding away before anybody sees him.

86. Robert Cass pretends he's somewhere else when stuck in one-sided conversations with self-absorbed thespians. Acting really is all about make-believe.

87. Robert Cass has lost his looks! Oh, wait, there they are—it was hard to see them at first under all that back hair.

88. Robert Cass was crying on the inside until he noticed that crying on the outside gets a more immediate response.

89. Robert Cass believes that at the end of the day people will still be using that worn-out phrase.

90. Robert Cass has got to be somebody's baby, he's so fine.

91. Robert Cass thinks intelligence is sexy, especially when it has nice legs.

92. Robert Cass has the vapors!

93. Robert Cass makes sure his presence is always felt, like a pimple inside your nose.

94. Robert Cass was unable to convince the jury that he ran that international prostitution ring for charity.

95. Robert Cass is requesting that everyone limit their status updates to five words or less in accordance with the new global attitude toward reading.

96. Robert Cass is congratulating himself on yet another insignificant accomplishment!

97. Robert Cass wonders if Zoloft can be prescribed to an economy.

98. Robert Cass should probably be paying attention to his lawyer, who's giving some sort of speech to the people sitting in the box-shaped thing.

99. Robert Cass thought your kid would be cuter.

100. Robert Cass is overrated as an underdog. (In honor of Earth Day, Robert is recycling an old status update.)

101. Robert Cass is confronted with the limits of his intelligence every time he tries to put the toaster "trap door" back on its hinges.

102. Robert Cass was surprised when he found out his date for 17 Again isn't 17. If that movie was rated R, he would've been her "adult guardian," and Robert just isn't ready for that kind of commitment yet.

103. Robert Cass insists that recipients of his mixes listen to them from start to finish, not in "a la carte" fashion on a "shuffle" setting. Robert is apparently unaware that it's no longer 1996.

104. Robert Cass is afraid his 22-month-old niece's attention span is longer than his own.

105. Robert Cass wants you to give him cash for ABBA Gold. (Thanks to a typing error while using Amazon.com, Robert now owns 1,111 copies of this album.)

106. Robert Cass is a man of mystery meat.

107. Robert Cass wishes he had a job, because then he'd have plenty of time to take important Facebook quizzes just like all of his working friends.

108. Robert Cass is turning a phrase (into a verbal catastrophe).

109. Robert Cass is a tastemaker. A badtastemaker, but everybody has to start somewhere.

110. Robert Cass is taking the rest of the decade off.

111. Robert Cass just found a missing tortilla chip in his chest hair. Robert is having a great day!

112. Robert Cass forgives you for not forgiving him, but the odds of him blowing up your pool again are, like, ten to one, so ease up already.

113. Robert Cass is going to crash a bunch of gay and interracial weddings this summer just to prove how sensitive he is.

114. Robert Cass isn't crazy about his close resemblance to a spider monkey after he gets out of the shower.

115. Robert Cass is tired of not being treated like a sex object.

116. Robert Cass wants to pinpoint the moment when "How are you?" became "I'm just saying hello. Please do not answer as if you were asked a question."

117. Robert Cass feels much more "mama say mama-sah muh-mah-koo-sah" than "de do do do, de da da da" right now, but that could change.

118. Robert Cass is taking an ego trip from the safety of his own home.

119. Robert Cass needs a laugh track that can produce at least five seconds of thunderous applause whenever he enters a room. Maybe Norman Lear has one he can borrow.

120. Robert Cass would love to be a private investigator as long as he could solve every crime in 60 minutes and only be shot in the shoulder once per season.

121. Robert Cass was unsure about President Obama's birthplace until he hired a Hawaiian P.I. to investigate. But now he has a nagging suspicion that the P.I. himself wasn't born in Hawaii. Anti-birthers, a new conspiracy is afoot ...

122. Robert Cass wonders how many anti-birthers are also pro-lifers.

123. Robert Cass probably wouldn't mind living next to a serial killer since they're generally known to be quiet tenants.

124. Robert Cass is an old-fashioned guy who prefers face-to-face narcissism over all other kinds.

125. Robert Cass is not a better man for having stolen the identity and wardrobe of a woman, but it's too late to return all these great pantsuits now.

126. Robert Cass is watching 1995's Last of the Dogmen on AMC, a modern-day Western starring Tom Berenger and narrated by Wilford Brimley. Robert's testosterone levels are dangerously high, and his mustache is growing at a freakishly rapid rate. Someone call for help!

127. Robert Cass is going out of his way to get out of his way.

128. Robert Cass thinks no one should die if they don't feel like it, and no one should go broke as long as Scientologists are willing to pay top dollar to harvest their eggs inside our brains. If you agree, send Robert a blank check.

129. Robert Cass defends Rep. Joe Wilson's right to express simple noun-verb agreement in response to complex issues.

130. Robert Cass is just a man with a tear-duct infection and a fetish for greasepaint.

131. Robert Cass wishes Kanye West would devote more time to noteworthy causes, like interrupting the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony next month. ("Mahatma Gandhi made some of the best peace of all time!")

132. Robert Cass is turning a blind eye to blind guys who say his hygiene makes them wish their sense of smell wasn't so heightened.

133. Robert Cass listed his birthday on Facebook as September 25, but it's actually September 35. He apologizes for the error and hopes you'll return with brand-new birthday wishes in ten days.

134. Robert Cass woke up on the wrong side of the bed on the wrong side of the tracks. But he was in the right time zone for once, so things are lookin' up!

135. Robert Cass is so excited that Chicago's been selected to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games! (Robert is from the future. Did he fail to mention that?)

136. Robert Cass is confused. If Chicago wasn't selected to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, does that mean he's a time traveler from ... an alternate reality?! Or does it mean he should cut back on the Ambien? (Robert would prefer the former, not the latter.)

137. Robert Cass wonders if David Letterman presented a "Top Ten Employees I've Slept With" list at Thursday's grand-jury hearing.

138. Robert Cass is high on you! So if he eats all your Doritos or passes out in your bathtub or steals one of your credit cards, please take it as a compliment.

139. Robert Cass congratulates President Obama on winning Rookie of the Year in both the National and American leagues. That must've been one heck of a first pitch at the All-Star Game!

140. Robert Cass has trouble taking compliments from himself. (They always sound so insincere.)

141. Robert Cass is I was not a English major.

142. Robert Cass has miles to go before he sleeps. Robert is pretentious in a high school poetry kind of way.

143. Robert Cass has turned a corner in his life, wiping out seven innocent bystanders in the process.

144. Robert Cass is America's (self-proclaimed) sweetheart!

145. Robert Cass is fuhgeddinaboutit.

146. Robert Cass misses certain things from his childhood, including summer vacation, trips to his grandparents' house, and drivers using their turn signals.

147. Robert Cass dreamed he had a ménage à trois with Bruce Springsteen and The Wire: The Complete Series box set. He wasn't impressed, but he knows plenty of white male liberals who would be.

148. Robert Cass feels bad for all those gorillas that are exploited year in and year out as car-wash mascots.

149. Robert Cass is happy that Rush Limbaugh received such good treatment from those secretly Kenyan doctors in Hawaii.

150. Robert Cass just wants to be stalked with the same amount of enthusiasm, showmanship, and (of course) ALL-ENCOMPASSING OBSESSION that he selflessly puts forth EVERY SECOND OF EVERY DAY when he's stalking you. Is that too much to ask? You get what you give, people.

151. Robert Cass saw Avatar and learned that we should take care of the environment ... on other planets. But Robert lives on this planet, and it's not his fault the ground isn't a "designated" trash receptacle.

152. Robert Cass comes with cleaning instructions identical to those of his sneakers: "Just brush dirt off and treat surface with leather impregnation spray."

153. Robert Cass disappoints himself so you don't have to!

154. Robert Cass is tradin' in his Chevy for a Cadillac-ac-ac-ac-ac-ac.

155. Robert Cass can't stop asking "Who dat?" Specifically, "Who dat revivin' dat minstrel-show slang for the sake of a sports chant?" By the way, Robert has finally made some headway on his dissertation, which is now titled "Jar Jar Binks, Intergalactic Civil Rights Pioneer."

156. Robert Cass is like a greeting card covered in glitter: charming on the surface, but ultimately a huge mess.

157. Robert Cass has finally completed his exhaustive photo retrospective, "Bobby and His Middle Finger: Same Pose, Different Party, 1995-2009." Look for it soon at the Art Institute of Chicago. (Did you know that in some languages "at" means "on the sidewalk in front of"? It's a fact!)

158. Robert Cass takes comfort in knowing that he's still half a foot taller than Chuck Norris.

159. Robert Cass asks that you keep him in your thoughts and prayers, not the trunk of your car.

160. Robert Cass thinks those hatemongers in D.C. last weekend should be thrilled—insurance companies can no longer deny coverage because of the pre-existing condition known as "asshole."

161. Robert Cass is annoyed by loud, public cell-phone arguments, particularly the ones that aren't in English and therefore make it impossible for him to eavesdrop.

162. Robert Cass believes the size of a store is inversely proportional to the amount of guilt one feels for wasting hours inside said store without ever buying anything.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Jerry Lewis on the fleeting nature of funny

The Chicago Tribune published an article today about Jerry Lewis, the 84-year-old comedian-filmmaker-humanitarian who's been hosting the Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon every Labor Day weekend since 1966.

Alternating between trash-talking and tenderness, sweetness and snark, conversation about Lewis' future endeavors compelled the star to consider what had brought him here—and the fleeting nature of comedy.

"Funny is fragile. It's elusive," Lewis said. "It's elusive to everyone because you're never going to get a handle on what's funny. And people don't stay funny. As we get older, we lose a spark.

"But I can make somebody laugh when I open my eyes. It's still there when I shut them," he continued.

Yes to funny being fragile, no to Lewis still being able to make people laugh whether he's awake or comatose. (Double no to any comedian who claims he's still funny in his mid-80s right after he says funny is fragile.)

Personally, I've never found his shtick funny. I do admire him for his fund-raising efforts on behalf of those with muscular dystrophy, but just like reporter Chris Lee, I'm curious about something ...


How did Lewis become interested in the disease in the first place?

"That's never been answered by me and never will be!" Lewis snapped, suddenly bristling with indignation. "The important thing is not why, but that I do."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

playing with infinity

I've now been home from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for a week. I was there July 21-31 for a "boot camp" semester in which an entire course in the school's Library and Information Science master's program was covered in ten days. Students were told well in advance to have all of the assigned readings completed before arriving on campus. Did the majority of us listen? Of course not.

But it was a great ten days, especially since we got to meet our fellow "distance learning" students before returning to our home cities, where we'll take classes online this fall.

Ten of us went on a tour of the UIUC library's Oak Street facility, where books are stacked 40 feet high and stored at temperatures of 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The first title I saw in those stacks was Playing With Infinity, a book about mathematical concepts by Rozsa Peter.

photo by Mallory Caise

Monday, August 2, 2010

Before Columbine, there was RoboCop 2.

In the summer of 1990 RoboCop 2, directed by late-career sequel specialist Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back, Never Say Never Again), failed to improve upon either the box-office fortunes or critical success of its Paul Verhoeven-helmed predecessor.

But it still managed to be extremely violent.


One of its villains is a machine-gun-wielding, cop-strangling, curse-word-spewing preteen named Hob, who's pictured on this Topps trading card I found in a drawer at work a few years ago.


As you can see, the kid meets a bad end, but after a rash of school shootings in the mid- to late '90s—and especially after the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999—I can't imagine any summer action film, even if it's rated R and squarely in the realm of futuristic sci-fi, including a character like Hob. That's somewhat unfortunate from a creative standpoint, but as far as self-censoring goes (did Topps really need to put a dead kid on a piece of cardboard that's meant to sell bubble gum?), it's not a huge loss.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Lisa Simpson's (imaginary) wedding day

"Lisa's Wedding," a sixth-season episode of The Simpsons, aired March 19, 1995. Li'l Lisa was told her fortune at a Renaissance fair and saw a vision of herself getting married at a future date. Thanks to the magic of animation—and the fact that The Simpsons is apparently immune to cancellation—Lisa remains eight years old. Nevertheless, the future is now.

Friday, July 16, 2010

libraries

"It was my habit to go very slowly up the low, broad steps to the palace entrance, pleasing my eyes with the majestic lines of the building, and lingering to read again the carved inscriptions: Public Library—Built by the People—Free to All. Did I not say it was my palace? Mine, because I was a citizen; mine, though I was born an alien ... My palace—mine! ... All these eager children, all these fine browed women, all these scholars going home to write learned books—I and they had this glorious thing in common, this noble treasure house of learning. It was wonderful to say, This is mine; it was thrilling to say, This is ours."

—Mary Antin, from her autobiography The Promised Land (1913), describing her visits to the Boston Public Library as a child, after her family emigrated from Russia

Monday, July 12, 2010

belated World Cup fever courtesy of the Commodores

Lionel Richie has been more popular abroad than in the United States for years now. He's got a huge Iraqi fan base, and my first hint of his fame in other countries came in 1996, after some friends returned from a summer trip to Europe and reported that they'd heard his 1983 hit "All Night Long" wherever they went.

Soccer's also more popular abroad than it is in the U.S., so how come this 1981 video for "Lady (You Bring Me Up)" by the Commodores, Richie's old band, wasn't resuscitated during all that endless World Cup coverage? It's my favorite of all the Commodores' songs—in fact it's one of the Songs That Will Still Blow Me Away Years From Now™—and it ended up being Richie's next-to-last hit with the group before he embarked on his smash solo career. But as Popblerd's Mike Heyliger said earlier today in an e-mail about the music video, "I bet the surviving Commodores wish they could burn it."

Monday, June 21, 2010

More televised vapidity?

"Can't get no music on my MTV / Can't tell my emotions from reality ..." —The Silver Seas, "The Best Things in Life," 2010

People my age have long complained that MTV doesn't show music videos like it used to, concentrating on reality programming like The Real World and Jersey Shore instead. I used to complain right back at them that it does, just not during prime-time hours or anytime when they happened to be watching. But at some point I stopped paying attention, and this year the network finally dropped "Music Television" from its logo, which implies that they really have given up on videos.

Does this mean the network will stop airing its ultrahyped Video Music Awards telecast each year? Of course not! As long as videos are still shown between 3 and 9 AM each day, MTV can justify throwing a party to honor the best of the year.

It will, however, begin producing more scripted programs, according to the June 14 Wall Street Journal, in an attempt to move away from its recent glut of disposable reality shows. (It'd be fun to compile a list of how many MTV has churned out in the past decade—I'd guess most didn't make it past ten episodes.) Naturally, it's taking baby steps to begin with: the Wall Street Journal reports that "in 'Warren the Ape,' the title character is a poorly behaved celebrity who hopes an MTV reality show will revive his career."

Like AMC, formerly known as American Movie Classics, and TLC, which was once the Learning Channel, MTV is now just an acronym that means nothing. Some would say that makes it FUBAR, but any channel that can survive for almost 30 years in a rapidly expanding cable universe deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

stirring the pot

In January of last year I read that DVD sales of Monty Python's Flying Circus spiked 23,000 percent (!) once Python-approved clips of the show started appearing legally on YouTube. DVDs of the influential 1976-'84 sketch-comedy series SCTV, which are packaged and distributed by Shout! Factory, have reportedly never sold well, but if potential buyers could see sample sketches on YouTube, especially clips from 1981 to '83, when SCTV was firing on all cylinders as part of NBC's late-night lineup, I bet they'd consider spending $50 on a five-disc set.

I e-mailed Second City executive vice president Kelly Leonard, who spoke with CEO Andrew Alexander, one of SCTV's original executive producers, but his reply seemed to indicate that several different companies have rights to the show's footage, thereby creating a lot of red tape to sift through. However, a few months later I noticed that SCTV clips were appearing on YouTube that weren't immediately being taken down through cease-and-desist orders.



The clips that are up on YouTube aren't coming from Second City or Shout! Factory, but it's possible the companies decided to relax their policy on the unauthorized posting of their copyrighted material.

Am I to thank for that? Yes. Yes, I am. But there was a price to pay.

One of the few SCTV-related clips I could find on YouTube in January of '09 was made by a 13-year-old boy doing impressions of his favorite characters from the show, including station owner Guy Caballero (played by Joe Flaherty) and station manager Edith Prickley (Andrea Martin), in costume. I first saw SCTV when I was around that age, so I loved watching this middle schooler's take on the characters. It reminded me how much I adored the show when it aired on Nick at Nite in the summer of '89. And if this teenager gets the humor, which didn't rely that much on topical references aside from popular TV shows and celebrities of the late '70s and early '80s, it seems obvious to me that others would, too.

Sadly, when I went back to YouTube this morning to watch his video again, I found the following message instead: "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by The Second City." Well, what about all those clips from SCTV that are now available on YouTube (remember—all because of me, and you're welcome)? There isn't any copyright claim on those? The 13-year-old fan got screwed because his video wasn't helping to sell DVDs?

In that case, I'm sorry I got involved. You can still thank me, of course, and send me money through PayPal as a sign of gratitude, but my mission was never to hurt the little guy. I feel like a morally indignant Bill Needle right now, but what I see in the mirror is a greedy Johnny LaRue.

Monday, June 14, 2010

I read books!

Correction: I own lots of books, but I'm a slow reader. My books sit on my shelves and silently mock me for being a word turtle. If they don't cut it out, I'll have to read Fahrenheit 451 to them—slowly, of course, but my point will have been made.

I am, however, going to be starting classes next month in the University of Illinois's Graduate School of Library and Information Science as part of its "distance learning" program, meaning I'll be taking all but one of the classes online from Chicago. Graduate school requires a lot of reading, yes? It might be time to retrain my brain.

Meanwhile, here are some recently completed posts with lots of pictures and little text (whew!):

2/28: Coming up with awesome book titles takes practice.
4/18: tiny weirdness on Facebook
5/4: celebrity smiles

Friday, June 11, 2010

Help us, Roger Ebert. You're our only hope.

On June 9 a reader who identifies himself as "kLO" left the following comment on the Hollywood Reporter's website under Kirk Honeycutt's negative review of The A-Team:

Dear Kirk Honeybutt. Why do film critics, ahem… sorry, I mean hacks, such as yourself always piss and moan about movies like these? I'm really convinced that the bulk of your Ebert aping colleagues (who are largely failed screenwriters themselves) time and time again, overlook or purposely gloss over what a film this is MEANT to be: Entertainment. They're not trying to say 'something' or change the world. It’s not meant to be deep and meaningful. It's meant to entertain people. It's a **** action movie for crying out loud. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Maybe you need to go back to film school and learn film. If you don't get the A-Team (because clearly you don't) then why someone is paying you to have an opinion when it's clear to me, you have no **** clue about what an action movie is designed to do, is really astounding. Don’t quit your day job, Kirk. Actually, scrap that – yes, do quit your day job, because you’re no good at it. You’re no more a film critic than my left nut sack.

I thought the male human anatomy came with just one sack, but maybe mine is special. Regardless, what does Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, the one critic kLO seems to respect, have to say about Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper's newest film?

"The A-Team” is an incomprehensible mess with the 1980s TV show embedded inside. The characters have the same names, they play the same types, they have the same traits, and they're easily as shallow. That was OK for a TV sitcom, which is what the show really was, but at over two hours of Queasy-Cam anarchy, it's punishment.

Well, ain't that a kick in the sacks.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

It's not the stars that are falling, it's the skies that hold them in place.

Maybe I'll be proven wrong, but after seeing another TV ad for Jonah Hex last night, I feel like it faces an uphill battle:

1. It's a western. It's also an action movie with big guns and explosions, and it's got supernatural horror-movie elements, but mostly it's a western, and that genre hasn't produced many successful films in the past 40 years (or, if you'd like a less sweeping generalization, since Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven in 1992).

2. It stars Josh Brolin, who's a handsome guy, but as Jonah Hex the right side of his face is disfigured after he's cattle-branded by bad guy John Malkovich, who probably took this role to pay for some renovations on his Tuscan villa.

3. It's based on a comic book. Normally that'd be a good thing, at least as far as Hollywood bean counters are concerned, but Jonah Hex is a DC title that already seemed old and unhip when I was reading comic books in the '80s.

Jonah Hex opens June 18, the same day as Toy Story 3. That sequel should do very well with family audiences, but it's also being targeted at college students who were toddlers when the first Toy Story opened in 1995. Disney and Pixar even screened the first two-thirds of the film for college kids earlier this year, whetting their appetites for the final third in theaters this summer. 

This Friday sees the debut of The Karate Kid, a remake of the hit film from the '80s, and The A-Team, an adaptation of the hit TV show from the '80s. Neither one looks promising to me, though I'd guess the former will fare better than the latter because it'll appeal to family audiences before they jump ship for Toy Story 3 the following weekend.

Richard Corliss has a good article on Time magazine's website about the fact that most of Hollywood's big films so far this summer haven't been as big as predicted. He chalks it up partly to the predictors raising box office expectations too high, but he also points out that ticket prices have increased once again. I paid for my girlfriend and I to see Splice on her birthday last Sunday afternoon—not our first choice, but it'd gotten good reviews (which I now disagree with)—and it cost $19. What happened to matinee prices?

One of the most interesting points of Corliss's article is about the number of movie tickets that are actually sold these days:

The five years from 2005 to 2009 showed remarkably consistent ticket sales, all in the range of 1.39 billion to 1.42 billion, according to movie-stats blog the Numbers. Indeed, in 2009 moviegoers bought no more tickets (1.42 billion) than they did in 1997; the 62% increase in box office revenue, from $6.51 billion to $10.65 billion, was entirely due to the gradual hike in prices. But the bust could be real: if current trends hold, the number of admissions this year will be 1.27 billion, the lowest since 1996. Historical note: None of the recent years comes anywhere near the 4 billion tickets sold in 1946, back before TV gave Americans a free, at-home option for watching entertainment. That's three times the tickets, when the U.S. population was half what it is today.

Seeing those figures reminded me of an Associated Press clipping I'd saved from the fall of 2007, when the Farrelly brothers' remake of Elaine May's The Heartbreak Kid was released. Reporter David Germain wrote:

“The Heartbreak Kid” [opened in] 3,229 theaters, about 1,000 more than “There’s Something About Mary,” which still managed to pack in far more viewers [in 1998]. Based on today’s higher ticket prices, “There’s Something About Mary” pulled in nearly 3 million people over opening weekend, compared to just over 2 million for “The Heartbreak Kid.”

Two million ticket buyers translated to $14 million over the weekend of October 5, 2007. By comparison, the number-one show on TV, American Idol, averaged 24.7 million viewers per episode this season.

Just as movie attendance ain't what it used to be before TV came along, network TV ratings have taken a hit over the past quarter-century thanks to cable TV, VCRs, home video-game systems, DVD players, the Internet, and DVRs. Dallas averaged 34.5 million viewers in its 1980-'81 season, which began with the episode that answered the question "Who shot J.R.?"; that alone attracted 83 million viewers, the highest rating for any non-finale episode in history.

Eighteen years later, the top-rated show was ER, with 17.8 million viewers on average. As many media watchers have reported (over and over and over) this year, American Idol's ratings have dropped every year since 2006, but 24.7 million viewers a week is still better than 17.8 million a decade ago.

When ER finished its 1998-'99 season with that number, George Clooney had recently departed the show after five seasons. He'd honored the contract he signed in 1994, but he was also interested in pursuing movie roles, and today he's one of the most popular and respected movie stars around (the Ocean's Eleven franchise, Michael Clayton, Up in the Air).


It can easily be argued that when Clooney was on ER he was much more visible and popular than he'll ever be on a movie screen, yet movie stars are still held in higher esteem than TV stars, and whenever a TV star generates a lot of buzz, like Katherine Heigl on Grey's Anatomy or Steve Carell on The Office five years ago, the question becomes "When are they going to make the leap to movies?," as if big-screen work legitimizes small-screen actors.

Screen size does have something to do with it, of course. I believe it was Clooney who once said in an interview that when he was on ER people would casually approach him on the street and say hello, but once he'd left the show and was doing movies, fans would keep their distance. His reasoning was that when you're a TV star you're invited into viewers' homes each week, and because TV is "the small screen," you're thought of as a regular person. But when a star is on "the big screen," he or she stands 20 feet tall and is gazed upon by an entire room of people, much like congregants in a church.

TV stars are friends, but movie stars are gods. (Speaking of which, Friends's Matthew "Chandler" Perry is one of many TV stars who will forever be known by the name of the character they played on the hit series that made them famous.) And that's how the stars will continue to be aligned, no matter how few people are buying movie tickets or turning on their televisions.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

As the Blagojevich corruption trial begins ...

When Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested and charged with corruption on December 9, 2008, clearing the way for his impeachment and removal from office the following month, I still had the November 28 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times in a stack of newspapers at home. Inside was the headline "Let Ryan Go, Gov Says." The story starts with these two paragraphs:

Gov. Blagojevich, who for years has blasted corruption under his predecessor, George Ryan, said Thursday "it would be a good decision" for President Bush to let the 74-year-old Ryan out of prison early.

"I always err on the side of compassion," Blagojevich said during a Thanksgiving visit to the Chicago Christian Industrial League on the West Side.

The soon-to-be former governor added, "I think people make mistakes," and reporter Maudlyne Ihejirika noted that "Blagojevich was elected governor in 2002, promising to end the corruption that happened under Ryan." Were his comments a signal that he hoped the court would go easy on him?

The story printed next to that one, also by Ihejirika, speculated about who Blagojevich would choose to take president-elect Barack Obama's empty seat in the U.S. senate. (Blagojevich's alleged plans to auction the seat to the highest bidder are what got him arrested on December 9, after all.) At the Christian Industrial League event, the governor said of U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), who was believed to be in the running for the seat, "I know that he is a good, decent man, and you don't find a lot of that in politics." Because people make mistakes, of course.

Then, on December 9, shortly before the governor was arrested, the Sun-Times published a short article with the headline "Blagojevich: 'It smells like Nixon.'" The governor, responding to a Chicago Tribune report that he was being secretly recorded by the federal government, said, "It kind of smells like Nixon and Watergate. But I don't care whether you tape me privately or publicly, I can tell you that whatever I saw is always lawful."

He continued, "The good news is, if they're going to those lengths and extents—if in fact that's true—that would suggest that all the past has been pretty good." At the very least, the past would turn out to be much better than the governor's immediate future.

Speaking of Richard Nixon, David Greenberg wrote in his 2003 book Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image that Watergate "validated fears of secret government activity. A cycle took hold: popular distrust of authority spawned inquiries into government misdeeds; and the wave of exposés, in turn, amplified the distrust."

The author then mentions a column that former Nixon speechwriter—and future actor and game-show host—Ben Stein wrote in 1984 (sorry, I don't have the source) that argued Watergate wasn't "such a big deal" in hindsight—all politicians and presidents lie—and that the outrage over it made the American public numb to future political scandals. "But the column's logical conclusion," wrote Greenberg, "was the reverse: that while the press might be running wild over third-rate Watergates, the public—inured by Nixonism and subsequent scandals—no longer expected consistency or even integrity from its leaders." Except when it comes to making mistakes.

It's no secret that Rod Blagojevich has idolized Elvis Presley from a young age. So did John Lennon. In the April 11, 2004, edition of the New York Observer, Anna Jane Grossman wrote about Leon Wildes, the immigration lawyer who defended Lennon in the 1970s after President Nixon, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, and Senator Strom Thurmond spearheaded an effort to deport him for a drug conviction—possession of cannabis resin, or hashish, to be exact—from his years in England.

"In 1972, President Nixon was a little paranoid," Grossman wrote. "It was the first year that 18-year-olds could vote, and because it seemed that American 18-year-olds liked rocker/activist John Lennon, and Lennon's politics were left of Nixon's, 18-year-olds might therefore not vote for Nixon. Thus, to prevent such a crisis, Lennon should be kindly removed from America, thank you very much."

The tipping point, according to film critic J.R. Jones in his 2006 Chicago Reader review of the documentary The U.S. Vs. John Lennon, was when "Lennon and radical activists Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin began planning a concert to coincide with the Republican convention in Miami ... the prospect of a concert to mobilize the youth vote was apparently more than Nixon could tolerate."

In his various interviews since his arrest, Blagojevich has come across as a guy whose grip on reality might not be as firm as his lawyers would like. Perhaps Rod thinks he's being persecuted because he's a rock and roller like Presley and Lennon.

Or because he's black. In January of this year Esquire published an interview in which the former governor, chatting about his former profession, said, "It’s such a cynical business, and most of the people in the business are full of shit and phonies, but I was real, man—and am real."

As for President Obama, he complained, "This guy, he was catapulted in on hope and change, what we hope the guy is. What the fuck? Everything he’s saying’s on the teleprompter. I’m blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes. I grew up in a five-room apartment. My father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived. I saw it all growing up.”

Is that why, when the Illinois House of Representatives voted whether or not to impeach Blagojevich on January 9, 2009, state representative Milton Patterson—who's black—was the only member of the House to say no? "I went by my own gut feeling, simple as that," he told the Sun-Times, explaining that his vote didn't mean he supported Blagojevich.

However, as Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell, who's also black, wrote in the paper two days later, "African Americans are a fiercely loyal group when it comes to supporting those in political leadership. I know that is a sweeping generalization ... but it is rare for the black community to turn its back on a politician who is viewed as 'inclusive.'" She added, "Too many black families have been nearly bankrupted trying to defend loved ones against false charges."

In other words, Blagojevich is innocent until proven guilty, even if he has made lots and lots and lots of mistakes.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Please keep your opinion of the Baldwin brothers semi-private when you're in public.

Yesterday I passed a man on the street who was standing in a doorway and talking on his phone. He was facing the door, as if waiting to be let in, as he complained that actor/born-again Christian/conservative talk-radio host Stephen Baldwin is an idiot, "but that whole family is a bunch of idiots."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

my a-ha moment

Two weeks ago, as part of a freelance assignment I thoroughly enjoyed, I wrote a short biography of the Norwegian band a-ha (the 1985 hit "Take On Me") for Rhino Records' website. Yesterday I was alerted by my contact at the label that the bio had received praise from a completely unbiased source

I'm lying, of course, but it's nice to see that my purple prose has an a-ha fan's approval. Give me a mountain metaphor and I shall climb it.

However, the band's success outside of the United States in the past 25 years, much like fellow European acts Simply Red and Jamiroquai, is impressive. For one thing, a-ha played to 198,000 paying customers in Rio de Janeiro in 1991, and no, you can't just dismiss that huge number by saying Brazilians have lots of free time and money to burn.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

celebrity smiles

USA Weekend, the Sunday-supplement rival of Parade, has a thing for toothy celebrity grins. But in the process of showing them off, the publication's printer often manages to make the owners of those smiles look cartoonish due to heavy color saturation and a few other factors I can't quite put my finger on.

Here are four from last year. First up, Dennis Quaid (click on each picture for a closer look), who's apparently made of rubber and plastic, which probably came in handy when he filmed the 2009 G.I. Joe movie.


Leslie Mann is one of the stars of Funny People. And she is a funny person, but here she just looks funny.


Samuel L. Jackson has appeared in approximately 5,861 movies in the past two decades. That kind of schedule would stress out anyone, which is probably why Jackson looks like he's about to eat the football he's holding in the photo below. Take a half-decade vacation, Shaft 2000—you've earned it.


Hilary Swank is known for her big grin, a la Julia Roberts, but on the cover of USA Weekend hers looks smaller than the other three celebrities'. She doesn't deserve another Oscar for this particular feat, but it's impressive nonetheless.


Finally, this picture of action director Michael Bay (ArmageddonPearl Harbor, and the two Transformers movies, with a third on the way) wasn't taken for USA Weekend—it merely appeared inside the June 19-21, 2009, issue as part of an ad for M&M's. It doesn't require Bay to show a big, toothy grin either, but since it actually does portray him as a cartoon, it's worth mentioning, especially since his cinematic crimes against humanity make me fantasize about seeing him crushed under a shoe on the floor of a movie theater.

Friday, April 23, 2010

big-screen superhero scorecard

Ryan Reynolds's new movie, Paper Man, in which he plays Jeff Daniels's imaginary friend, a superhero named Captain Excellent, opens today. Last year Reynolds played the comic-book superhero Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and in 2011 he'll star as Green Lantern in a big-budget adaptation of the comic book of the same name. (Six years ago he costarred with Wesley Snipes and Jessica Biel in Blade: Trinity, his first foray into movies adapted from comic books.) Reynolds may also reprise his role as Deadpool in a spin-off of Wolverine, which itself is a spin-off of the first three X-Men movies.

Chris Evans's new movie,
The Losers, also opens today. It's based on a comic book, albeit one in which the good guys don't possess superpowers, but Evans did play
 a man with telekinetic powers in last year's Push, which, at first glance, looked like another X-Men spin-off. He also starred as the Human Torch in Fantastic Four (2005) and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), and now he's set to play Captain America in a big-budget adaptation of the comic book of the same name. He'll also be playing Captain America in a big-budget adaptation of the "supergroup" comic book The Avengers.

Ryan Reynolds is married to Scarlett Johansson. She plays Black Widow, who's something of a superhero, in 
Iron Man 2, opening May 7, and she'll be in The Avengers with Evans and Robert Downey Jr., a.k.a. Iron Man.


With great power comes great responsibility, or so the Spider-Man movies reminded us again and again. And with great paychecks come great anxiety, I presume, about being a talented actor faced with the prospect of playing comic-book superheroes again and again for the rest of your career.