Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Send in your school lunch PSA's now

If anyone's interested, I'll be spinning some tunes on WFMU's Listener Hour this Saturday @ 9 am. It'll also be archived here forevah shortly thereafter. I was surprised when Brian Turner agreed to let me host a one-hour salute to Better Than Ezra, but there you have it!

UPDATE: Well, I think it went well, even though an angry legal missive from Better Than Ezra's manager (who curiously uses Hello Kitty stationary) forced me to nix the tribute idea a scant few hours before airtime. Here's the playlist I came up with on short notice:

Abbey Lincoln – Lonely House
Lull – Moments (excerpt)
John Cage & Kenneth Patchen – The City Wears a Slouch Hat (excerpt)
Stan Kenton – Thermopylae

Kathy McCarty – Hey Joe
David Darling & the Wulu Bunin – Ku-Isa Tama Laug
Hugh Masekela – A Long Ways From Home
The Triffids – Wide Open Road
The Flatmates – Shimmer

Compulsive Gamblers – Sour and Vicious Man
Chosen Gospel Singers – It’s Getting Late in the Evening
Cheater Slicks – Train of Dreams
The Caretaker – We Cannot Escape the Past
Weekend – Nostalgia (demo)

Roky Erickson & 27 Devils Joking – You Don’t Love Me Yet
Harley Hatcher – Satan (Theme)
Scientist – Blood on His Lips

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hey, whatever happened to that Lyman guy, anyway?

I just realized I completely forgot to celebrate the one-year anniversary of this blog a few weeks ago. If I had my druthers (and by the way, who doesn't love the word "druthers?" It sounds like an antiquated type of cowboy paraphernalia, but nope, it's just a word that denotes a personal preference), I would have marked the occasion not by looking back at all the laughs we've shared ("Uhhhm...") and the hundreds of comments I've received ("Errr... hmmmm...."), but by offering a sneak peak at some of the amazing, imaginary posts I have lined up for the next year; Including:

- A hilarious account of my ill-fated attempt to buy a used English Beat cd on half.com; a transaction that took me across several state lines and into the belly of North Dakota's vicious underground llama-fighting ring. Get ready for some intense jpegs.

- The highlights of my predictably controversial interview with female "shock comic" Dawn Mexico, conducted at the Old Pancake House during a tour stop here in Bethesda. According to the Cleveland Examiner, Dawn's pig-filthy, misogynistic, blatantly racist jokes about illegal immigrants, Cindy Sheehan and the Dalai Lama's twisted sex life "make Lisa Lampanelli look like Maya Angelou." During our talk, Dawn did a routine involving a well-known brand of syrup that was so upsetting I had to walk outside to gather my thoughts, whereupon another patron tried to jam their fork into her hefty thigh. Don't miss it!

- Also, get ready for a sampling of the dozens of unpublished letters I've written to Veranda magazine over the years, lambasting them for their paltry gazebo coverage and frequently digressing into lyrical accounts of my lifelong love of carrots. I call this series A Bustler in the Hedgerow: 2000.

And more! This year's gonna be big, folks. I think this will finally be the year the blog gets a google hit! Just think, someday you'll be able to say you "knew me when!"

Saturday, June 16, 2007

"I tell ya, sometimes I don't know whether I'm on foot or horseback."

I saw Knocked Up today. Apatow still has that smidgen of mushiness that won't let him keep Rogen and Heigel apart despite all plausibility, but otherwise his work keeps getting stronger and funnier. Harold Ramis' cameo here is fitting, since Apatow is pretty much the new king of smart slob comedy and also taking it into relatively uncharted territory. I wouldn't be surprised if Leslie Mann gets a supporting actress Oscar nomination. Also, hooray for so many Freaks & Geeks cast members popping up in this and for Rogen beoming a star, especially after the film's early casting problems. I should probably check out Undeclared already.

I also watched the second episode of John From Cincinnati OnDemand today. I'm leaning more toward the "whoo boy, that's terrible" camp. Usually I like to get an insightful narrative glimpse at a world like surfing that I never gave a second thought about. Unfortunately, in this case it entails putting up with a poor man's Chauncey Gardner in the title role; a bunch of ersatz supernaturalism; and a couple of terrible key performances, among other problems. On the plus side, I like Ed O'Neill a lot in this, plus Bruce Greenwood is nothing to sneeze at, so I'm not quite ready to pack it in yet as Milch might still surprise me. Oh by the way, diehard Bicameral Mind fans - like the one who writes the fan fiction where me and Daily Kos team up to fight Hamas dressed as Lucha Libre wrestlers - may remember my crack about this show's promos being so terrible that they're what's killing all the bees. Well, turns out the show's theme song by Joe Strummer features a refrain about "killing all the bees!" Gadzooks! Maybe I've got some sort of tv theme song sixth sense. I'm gonna try to keep the streak going and predict that King Uszniewicz does the next version of "Way Down in the Hole" in The Wire season five.

Ah but it wasn't all Surfin' Jesus and pregnancy jokes today. I forgot to get Beastie Boys NYC tickets right at noon and missed out by a good 20 minutes. There goes that vacation, since I don't feel like paying the scumbag scalping pros on eBay. Also, I was going to go to a documentary concert film about the Ex at the Silverdocs festival tonight but fell asleep on the couch for a good hour and a half instead. Two bush league errors for sure. Maybe it's time for me to start practicing that Robert Downey Jr. "get it together" scene from Two Girls and a Guy, which unfortunately for me, since I'm probably the only one who saw that movie (with good reason), doesn't appear to be on YouTube.

I'll leave you for now with trailers for two movies I'm anticipating more than any others in recent memory. The first is for the Coen Brothers' adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men, which won almost uniform raves at Cannes and certainly looks like a return to form for them, to put it mildly. The Coens had an excellent starting point as this was the only McCarthy book I've read that practically read like a movie script, although I'll be curious to see how they handle the elegiac ending.

Then there's Paul Thomas Anderson's suddenly very promising There Will Be Blood, based on Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil! and starring Daniel Day Lewis as a Texas oil tycoon. The cinematography looks stunning, almost like a Terrence Malick film.

Monday, June 11, 2007


(The following could've used an editor, but who can afford one? Tony Soprano hasn't paid me in months for all that landscaping work I've been doing.)

At 10:01 last night you could practically hear bars and parties deflating across America as millions watching The Sopranos were hit with one of the most abrupt, ambiguous TV endings ever. My initial reaction wasn't so much anger or disappointment as shock; that David Chase, a proponent of anticlimaxes if ever there was one, pretty much went in the direction that some fans probably joked about heading into the finale: just abruptly pulling the plug without tying up any loose ends. Then I scolded myself for being shocked, as the last two episodes pretty much followed the pattern of every season ending since the show's second, albeit on an exaggerated scale: A flurry of action in the penultimate episode, then a cooling down in the finale (this M.O. sometimes seems to be contagious among HBO dramas). And there was a sense of closure throughout the episode that was somewhat obscured by the final scene: Tony will certainly be indited at some point, with one of his crew testifying about God knows what (although the rat in question, Carlo, knows nothing about the show's most memorable murders: Chrissy, Adrianna, Big Pussy, Ralph Cifaretto, etc); Uncle Junior, Paulie and Janice all got appropriate send-offs; The war with New York fizzled out when lazy-eyed creep Butchie got scared that Phil was mad at him and cut a deal w/ Tony; There were callbacks to the first season, w/ Meadow's friend Hunter popping up and AJ reminding Tony during the final scene that he once told him to "remember the times that were good." Hear that, Television Without Pity posters?

But that ending: in terms of disappointment it has nothing on the complete obliviousness to impending cancellation that Twin Peaks displayed, nor the bitterness surrounding the Deadwood debacle that just keeps growing. Actually, the more I thought about the Sopranos ending, the more I liked it (looks like I'm not the only one). Most of the predicitons that have been flying around for years revolved around the sort of Mafia films that Tony's crew regard with deep reverence: Would Tony go out in a hail of bullets; Would he flip to the FBI and "get to live the rest of (his) life like a schnook," a la Henry Hill in Goodfellas (but who would Tony have informed on anyway? He's the boss of the family); Would they go the horrendous Godfather III route and have something happen to his real family; Would Phil finally admit that he did more than just jerk off on a tissue in prison and convince Tony to get an apartment with him? Some astute viewers predicted a "life goes on" ending that would be keeping with the series' overall tone, but ultimately Chase seemed to pick "none of the above" and crafted something new: a tense scene fraught with almost abstract peril that leaves Tony and the audience forever suspended in dread. That memorable choice will surely become an integral and mostly respected component of the series' legacy. In a way it recalled 2001: A Space Odyssey, with Tony freezing upon entering the restaraunt and appearing to look at a version of himself, similar to Dave the astronaut when he finds himself stranded in that mysterious room. We'll never know what Meadow's parking and entering, the doorbell ring and then the blackout represent (and do Member's Only jackets = death, just like in real life?), but in a way the fact that these questions will linger is a testament to the scene's taut execution. If, say, Entourage were to end with a a freezframe of Turtle about to bite into a chicken sandwich, it probably wouldn't have quite the same effect -- although truth be told, I would probably get a little choked up. Personally, as far as endings go, I always wanted the maddeningly deluded Carmella to finally face up to at least one of Tony's horrific, secret misdeeds, as well as the monstrous nature of their staid suburban lifestyle that the psychiatrist tried to impress upon her in season three. I say that not only because I find Carmella uniquely despicable, but because I relished the thought of Edie Falco tearing into that kind of material. Again though, any hope of redemption or insight the characters might have initially displayed has calcified over eight years into increased bitterness, self-absorption, materialism and paranoia. So assuming he wasn't killed, we end with Tony wallowing not only in the mob life but in a form of banal, domestic evil: His shallow, humorless wife; his possibly even more deluded daughter, who envisions herself crusading for the rights of downtrodden Italian-Americans in her future career as a mob lawyer; and his astoundingly useless, comically pathetic son, who has inherited all of Tony's most negative traits but has been spoiled right out of even the mob life. All of them a parasitic blight on the world, all of them helping to rob modern life of any sense of meaning, but still rockin' out wistfully to "Don't Stop Believin." The characters' pursuit of laziness was exemplified perfectly in the funny scene where AJ's parents talk him out of joining the army and potentially (but not likely) making something of himself to go work on a Daniel Baldwin movie instead. Chase must have been thinking of the series' themes when he named the episode "Made in America," although he might also have been referring to Christopher's apparent reincarnation as a cat that freaks Paulie out right here in the good ol' US of A. Or maybe it was the reincarnation of Adrianna's dog. I guess we'll never know for sure.

So there was a lot to like about the show's finale, Chasehaterz, but my beef is: Why couldn't they have saved us A LOT of filler and just ended it abruptly three or four years ago? Starting with season 4, the show sometimes found itself spinning its wheels over several episodes with repetitive plotlines and psychological character studies that weren't always so dramatically interesting. Product placement, HBO cash cow status, and "labored malapropisms" (as one of my fellow FOTs put it), also seemed to unduly intrude upon this fictional world now and again, and Nancy Marchand's death no doubt irrevocably changed the direction of the show. But the deliberate pacing, everyday rhythms, big statements about America, dark comedy and occasionally thrilling suspense were not only worth savoring but unique to any medium, not just television. So if it meant putting up with episodes devoted to peripheral characters like Vito and Artie Bucco in order to experience scenes like this, so be it:

Friday, June 08, 2007

"You don't need a gynecologist to know which way the wind blows."

My only Sopranos prediction: Since Tony fell asleep at the end, this week opens with a dream sequence. I hope he gets slapped by a monk again.

I had some more I was going to post about the show, but I'm just too preoccupied this week. As usual though, there's analysis of even the most minute symbolism all over the web ("Does AJ watching Metalocalypse in the psych ward foreshadow a classic rock apocalypse for Tony?"), with the best coming from The House Next Door and Alan Sepinwall (and a belated thanks to the latter for linking to my "Russian theory" a couple of months ago). It's also worth reading the TV Club at Slate just to discover that Brian Williams from NBC News is an obsessive Sopranos fan who even singled out the stuntwoman who fell down the steps last week by name. Unfortunately though, he's also extremely fond of Meadow. If that's not reason enough to switch to Katie Couric I don't know what is.

Oh, and by far my favorite use of music in the series' run: The Stones' Voodoo Lounge-era "Thru and Thru," w/ Keef singing, during the season 2 closing montage. "Evidently Chickentown" by John Cooper Clarke was a late contender this year, and hearing "When the Music's Over" at the Bing last week prompted me to drag that song out for the first time since high school.