Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sam Donaldson = Neil Diamond?

Watching Idol last night it occurred to me: Has anyone ever seen these two in a room at the same time?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Quake on the iPhone?

This can't possibly be for reals, can it? Quake that you control by tilting the iPhone?

Advantage: Blogosphere?

The Jeffrey Goldberg has been thrust into the role of blogger. This strikes me as a not very good idea, since blogging has a habit of occasionally ruining fine journalists. (Don't make me name names. You already know.) But the idea of Goldberg blogging reminds me of an old George Will joke about the addition of a wild card to the baseball playoffs: On the one hand, all change is bad. On the other hand, more baseball is always good.

Ultimately, I think the wild card has worked out pretty well. So while blogging is bad, more Goldberg is good and I'm open to the idea that this could work out okay. Certainly his first post is encouraging:

Friends tell me that I will take naturally to blogging because I am in possession of many poorly considered opinions about issues I understand only marginally. I am dubious, however. My day job is to produce overlong narrative stories for the magazine that sponsors and funds his website. These stories are meant to be exhaustively researched, carefully constructed and closely edited. Whether they justify the effort is for the reader to decide. In my opinion, they occasionally do, but I don’t like most writing, including my own. For what it’s worth, I’ve been writing now for about twenty years. I joined the Atlantic last year, from the New Yorker. Before writing for the New Yorker, I wrote for the New York Times Magazine, and before that, for New York Magazine. I have nearly run out of magazines. I will undoubtedly be ending my career at Cat Fancy.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Idol Watch

I came late to American Idol as I do to almost everything in the culture these days and in truth, I'm not even really into it as a piece of entertainment. But I am pretty interested in it as a concept. I don't know that I'd go so far as Jeff Zucker and call it the most important show in the history of television, but it's certainly in the top 10. (Would you put Survivor and Real World in that list too? I might.)

In any case, I watch Idol non-religiously more to see how the format works and what sort of decisions the audience makes. And I've come up with only two iron laws that the show seems to hold to:

(1) Simon must always be honest and sincere. It isn't meanness that makes him such a great character, it's the unpredictability of someone who will say what he thinks even though he's on television. We're so used to TV sanding down everyone's rough edges, that it makes Simon kind of dangerous. People like that. I've argued before that Idol places Simon in insincere positions (like with "Idol Gives Back") at its own peril.

(2) But the second law actually abridges the first. It's that: The judges must never disagree with the great tribune of the American people. Maybe there have been cases when a contestant is voted off the island and the judges have stood up on their behalf and disagreed in the audience, but I haven't seen them in the last few seasons. Even when the judges clearly believe a deserving contestant is given the boot while a lesser contestant is spared, they never tell the home audience that they've chosen poorly. If anything, all three judges--even Simon--go to some contortions to explain the decision and legitimize it.

I'm sure there are other format rules working in the background that I haven't picked up on. Feel free to point them out. Also, if you know of anyone who's written more seriously about Idol as a format, I'd be grateful for a link.

Batman vs. Jedi

Words fail.

Courtesy V.D'O.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

McCoy the White

Overall, the revamped Law & Order is kind of terrible. They've restructured the opening to be more like Criminal Intent and less like the original formula where some bystander doing a great bit of business would happen upon the aftermath of a crime. And last night's farewell to Jesse Martin was terrible because it was so leading-character-driven. What is this, CSI? Part of the genius of Law & Order is that it's never actually about our protagonists. When Curtis or Briscoe left, it wasn't because they had become part of the story! (This didn't hold true for the ADA's, of course.)

All of that said, there was a small and very wonderful moment last night when we are told that Lenny didn't just leave, but that he later died. It's one of the only times I can ever remember an off-screen, real-life intrusion feeling perfectly natural and earned in a work of fiction.

And let's praise the amazing work of Sam Waterston as the new DA. In the service of reinvigorating the Jack McCoy role, Waterston has played him as almost an entirely different character. McCoy has shed his old manners and habits because he realizes that his office requires him to be more than himself. Waterston's job here calls to mind Ian McKellan's choices in transforming from Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White, where he chose to play them as almost two different characters.
Top Chef fans: Was anyone else surprised that Jennifer was eliminated last night, considering Antonia and Lisa didn't even follow the rules, not wanting to cook a kielbasa and substituting a chorizo instead? Lisa in particular showed utter disdain for Polish sausage. And I did find Jennifer and Stephanie's phallic concept humorous, though the execution of it led some to think less of the asparagus, goat cheese, and salad as a menage a trois and more like an orgy.

On the other hand, Jennifer can now rejoin her partner Zoi, who was eliminated in an earlier episode. They no longer have to cook to impress and strive to be ├╝ber-creative. Instead they can just cook out of love and make something simple.

Perhaps a muffuletta?

(Q: Were you really wondering about the judges' decision or was that all just a run-up for an extremely crass pun? A: I was truly concerned. And who doesn't love a muffuletta? Q: True, but if that's the case, why did you use italics? A: It's an exotic term. It wouldn't have been the case if, say, I said "hot tuna casserole.")

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

CNN as Match Game

Matus's most brilliant post ever. Go read it right now.

Fight, Quakers, Fight!

That was what we chanted at football games while I was at Moorestown High in the early '90s. Because we were oh so clever. (Our mascot was the Quaker.) Also because the football team sucked. Moorestown was an idyllic little burg back then, full of peach orchards and dreams. This was back before Blair Hornstein and a silly magazine article calling it the best town in America.

But as circumspect as we were about our cops, we never imagined they were this bad:

More charges have been filed against a Burlington County police officer who was recently charged with sexually assaulting three girls.

Authorities announced Moorestown Officer Robert Melia Jr., 38, has been charged with four counts of animal cruelty after allegedly engaging in sex acts with cows between June and December of 2006.

Melia and his former girlfriend, Heather Lewis were previously charged with three counts of aggravated sexual assault and one count of criminal sexual contact with three girls in his Pemberton home from 2003 until 2006.

I sure wouldn't want to be at the next kegger Moorestown's Finest breaks up.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Industry, Insurance, and Iron Man

Sonny Bunch has a nice item up about Robert Downey Jr.'s chemical and political reformation. But it got me wondering about this:

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to remember some reports about Downey during his nadir that he was becoming unemployable not because he couldn't handle the work, but because the insurance costs of having him as part of a production were too steep. Maybe I'm misremembering this, but I feel like it was some time around his Ally McBeal stint.

Even if I'm misremembering, though, and the insurance costs weren't prohibitive for using Downey, surely they must have been, at least during his bad period, quite a bit higher than they would be for an equivalent actor (like, say, Colin Firth).

All of which leads me to wonder: How in the world was Favreau able to use Downey as the lead in a giant, super-budget, Summer action movie? Did the studio just eat the extra insurance costs because Favreau dug in and insisted on Downey, or have the adjusters down-graded Downey's status so that he's now judged an normal risk? Whatever the case, this seems like a really interesting little business story that I wish someone would report.

Will Eisner's Preventive Maintenance

Galley Friend B.W. sends us this link to a wonderful collection of work that Will Eisner did for the Army. Not to be missed.

Politics, Wrestling, etc.

McCain, Clinton, and Obama were on Raw last night; I wrote something small about it for the Goldfarb Blog. Look how clever I am. I'm not just a mark, I'm a smark!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Friday, April 18, 2008

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe

I know what you're thinking: That Marvel vs. Capcom game is awesome! I've been playing it since 1998 and I can't get enough! I need more!

Well have I got news for you! Only a decade after Marvel teamed with Capcom to bring their popular comic book characters to arcade fighting games, DC Comics is teaming with Midway to bring us Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe.

In 1999, this would have been the greatest videogame ever.

Jolly Jack Kirby

Here's Mark Steyn on Jack Kirby. Go get it.

Really, is there anything Steyn can't do?

Terror at the Washington Post

Sad, tragic news: The Post has fired KSK's Christmas Ape (aka Michael Tunison). The Ape is the best of the best, KSK's Iceman (to Big Daddy Drew's Maverick). This is a tragedy for all concerned.

Seems to me that if I ran the Post's sports section--where Tony "I'm Famous!" Kornheiser is stealing money year after year--and I found out the Christmas Ape was working for me, I'd make him quit KSK and give him a column.

The official reason for Tunison's firing is that, by appearing drunk in a photo (taken while he was off-duty), he brought "discredit to the paper." Huh? My guess is that Wilbon somebody at the paper who doesn't like sports bloggers insisted he be shown the door.

But you know what brings discredit to a newspaper? Allowing big money columnists to strut around town, blathering on TV every chance they get, and then, when they have an extra five minutes, phone in their columns. Or "columnettes."

It's a total travesty. God speed, Christmas Ape.

Golden Age Comics

I have a short piece in today's WSJ on the return of Golden Age heroes to modern comics. You might find it interesting. If you're a geek. Like me.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI explains to the press how and why certain movies can only be viewed going from Europe to North America and vice versa.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tim Noah: Genius

Galley Friend S.B. is on the verge of converting to the Church of High Definition, and in the course of his research, came upon this amazing Tim Noah column. Noah finds the short-cut phone number to getting a live human being from Amazon: 1-800-201-7575, ext. 7.

But even better, Noah unearths a hidden Amazon policy: a 30-day price guarantee. In other words, if Amazon lowers its price on something you've bought from them within 30 days, they'll refund you the difference--so long as you call them and ask them to.

This is service journalism at its finest. Noah deserves a Pulitzer.

Holy Crap!

Ghetto Man and the Superfriends. Sample line: "I don't think Green Lantern counts as colored." Holy God.

This is all from a short-lived '70s show called Legends of the Superheroes. You can see some more clips here and here. And yes, that's Adam West and Burt Ward (and Ed McMahon). It's unbelievable.

(Courtesy of Galley Friend D.M.)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Insert Joke Here

The Inquirer has a neat little piece up on the rising price of sex in the non-professional divisions of the sport. You know, you pay for it either way, yadda-yadda-yadda. Money (nut?) graphs:

In a paper published in this month's issue of the journal Evolutionary Psychology, Kruger interviewed 475 college students and found that 27 percent of the men and 14 percent of the women reported trying to trade something to get sex. "Sometimes it was money, sometimes it was funding voice lessons, and sometimes it was giving tickets to the Ohio State versus Michigan game," he said. "There's a black market for those tickets - they're quite sought after."

Conversely, about 5 percent of men and 9 percent of women reported offering sex in the hope of getting some kind of freebie.

Comic Books and Inflation

In researching a slightly more serious piece I stumbled across this highly interesting examination of the price of comic books over the years. This isn't about the investment price of older comics, but the cover price of new comics and how, since the early '60s, that price has shot up some 2,400 percent. It's a very nice little disquisition that uses The Amazing Spider-Man to examine a bit of market failure (or maybe I should say, counter-intuitive market behavior):

Except for the boom years in the early 1990s, the title's popularity has actually waned. That this hasn't caused a drop in prices seems to defy economic logic. Even the dramatic plummet in demand for Spider-Man from 1994 to present day has been accompanied by more than a doubling in monthly prices from $1.25 to $2.99. What gives?

The answer the writer gives has to do with the the Federal Reserve and I may very well be wrong, but I get the sense that there's a gold-standard subtext in there somewhere. Whatever the case, it's a fun read.

In other comic book news, I did a little piece on the Jerry Siegel Superman decision last week that some of you might be interested in. It's a really fascinating bit of IP jurisprudence.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

JVL is not the type to post such announcements so allow me to take this opportunity to let you all know that my esteemed colleague and his lovely wife had a beautiful baby boy yesterday. Cody John Paul Last came into the world at 8 pounds and 20.5 inches. Mother and son are doing just fine, he tells me.

And when you change his diaper, JVL, don't forget to tuck it down.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Omnibus NCAA Post

I'll be on hiatus (mostly) for the next couple weeks, so before I check out an assortment of random thoughts from the 2008 installment of March/April Madness:

* I'm sure Billy Packer is a wonderful human being, but he needs to be taken off the air. Now. He's threatening to eclipse Vitale as the worst color-commentator in college basketball. He's so bad that I find myself rooting against whichever team he's not-so-secretly rooting for. Why does this man have a job?

* D. Rose is a pretty nifty player. He could even be a star at the next level. But I sure wouldn't want to use a top-three pick on him.

* Ditto Kevin Love, who's the most skilled big-man I've seen since Andrew Bogut. I don't know that there's even Luke Walton or Scott Pollard NBA prospects for him, but he really is a pure joy to watch at the college level because he clearly knows so much more about the game than everyone else on the floor.

Also, maybe the single most gasp-worthy play of the tournament was an inbounds pass Love made after a made Xavier basket in the round of eight. From behind the baseline, he threw the ball three-quarters of the way down the court to a streaking Bruin, putting it right in his hands on the way to a lay-up. But here's the crazy thing: It was a chest pass. Unbelievable.

* Last night, somewhere, Jana Novotna cried.

* Worst ad of the tourney: The Volkswagen ad with the beeping car alarm. Annoyed the crap out of me (Beep! . . . Beep! . . . Beep!) and made VW owners look like d-bags ("No, this works just fine."). Way to dent the brand.

* But the two ads which struck me most were the ATT Wireless spots with the cell-phone alter-egos talking to the camera. There were three of these ads, but two of them--the black guy playing Super-Shot in a bar and the biker shooting pool--really stuck out because of a single word.

In the biker ad, the guy's phone calls the biker a "dill-weed." The word sticks out like a sore thumb in the spot--it's so strange and out of the ordinary that it must have been very consciously chosen. Why "dill-weed" and not "jerk" or "loser" or some such?

In the Super-Shot ad, toward the end, the cell phone laments that his owner will be "shooting tiny hoops with the townies". Here, "townies" makes no sense whatsoever. The ad's main character is a generic twenty to thirty year-old in a bar with others his own age. "Townie" is a disparaging term used to describe the full-time residents mainly in college towns and vacation destinations. The ad gives us no context to think that this bar is in either of those settings. "Townie" sticks out even worse that "dill-weed" because it's a word we never hear in ads, but also because it makes absolutely no sense.

So what's going on? Who knows. One guess might be that the original ads were written a lot more radically, with words like "d-bag" or "jack-ass" or something totally, like, edgy, man. Maybe someone was initially thrilled with the idea of pushing the envelope, but then was overruled and forced to find more anodyne replacement words. Hence the jarring, imperfect fit.

Or maybe it's just poorly-written ad copy and it's as simple as that.

Friday, April 04, 2008

BSG Countdown

Joe Carter makes the case that BSG is the best sci-fi TV show ever (an easy call) and one of the best shows ever on TV. If you're a skeptic, his spoiler-free piece is worth reading.

If you want more, spoiler-filled stuff, AICN has some details on the Caprica BSG prequel, which hint at the origins of the Cylon religion. I'm not going to lie--it's pretty hot.

More G.I. Joe News

It keeps getting worse: Brendan Fraser is Gung Ho and The Rock is Shipwreck.


Jenny gets all misty about when Saturday Night Live used to be funny. It's a common lament but she's got a great Chris Farley story. Check it out.


Galley Friend R.S. sends us this Deadspin post on the NBA's Least Valuable Player. Marbury is strong, obviously. But I'm partial to Chris Webber, remembering his amazing LVP years as a Sixer.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Dawn Eden: Still a Petite Powerhouse

I had kind of lost track of my friend Dawn Eden, a great writer and exceptionally cool gal. Then I came upon this post reinforcing her coolness: She's doing a piece for on the "New Feminism" which will quote Pope John Paul II, G.K. Chesterton, and Inigo Montoya.

So awesome.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dita Von Teese Sex Tape

Two observations about this breaking news:

(1) Is it a surprise when a professional stripper has a sex tape? Doesn't that kind of come with the territory? We'd be more shocked if she didn't have a sex tape, no?

(2) So Dita's given name is "Heather Sweet." You tell me which one sounds more like a stripper stage name . . .

Harmonic Convergence

David Grann, one of my three favorite working writers, has expanded his "Lost City of Z" New Yorker opus into a book and Paramount looks interested in producing it. This would be good news all around--for Grann, the studio, and viewers looking for really smart, really interesting subjects.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

It's Casablance meets Swept Away

Only, it's just called Casablanca. WimB carries a link suggesting that Madonna is interested in remaking Casablanca. Only it's set in Iraq. And has Madonna as Ingrid Bergman.

Apocalypse to commence in 5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . .

It's Clobberin' Time

O.S. Valerie D'Orazio points us to this really great piece of trompe l’oeil:

Now, to get a sense of how it was done, check out this very neat side photo: