Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Mr. Tony won't let me put down my iPod

[This was originally posted on my sports blog, but since I've written about The Tony Kornheiser Show here before, I figured maybe it belonged. I'll let you be the judge.]

I don't know how many people reading this were fans of Tony Kornheiser's old ESPN Radio show, but it holds a special place in my heart. To me, it was everything I could've wanted from a radio program. Not only did one of my favorite columnists and his cohorts talk sports, but they also discussed music, TV, and most importantly to me, movies (with one of my favorite film critics, Stephen Hunter).

As I'm sure many of you can relate to, I worked a few jobs in my twenties that ravaged my soul. Not that there's anything wrong with being a delivery driver, shipping/receiving clerk, or bakery manager. I worked for horrible people. But one thing that got me through many of those miserable days was that show. I could listen to it in the truck, shipping dock, or behind the counter.

I liked that Kornheiser discussed subjects besides sports (as he put it, the show was for sports fans who read the rest of the newspaper, too). And instead of athletes who generally say nothing but cliches, he talked to his colleagues, the writers who had some information and opinions to share. Best of all, it was funny. And without being stupid or resorting to juvenile "guy talk." He respected his listeners for being smart.

Actually, my love for Mr. Tony on the radio began even before those ESPN days, when I spent a week in Baltimore interviewing for an internship I eventually didn't take, and I listened to him on WTEM-AM while driving around. And when I went back to school at Iowa (which thankfully had a nearby affiliate), I actually tried to plan my class schedule around 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. That didn't work so well, and sounds absolutely crazy now.

But that was no longer a conflict for me when T.K. left ESPN Radio in 2004. (A month or so before that, however, I managed to get an e-mail read on the air, which was a small joy I was able to share with absolutely no one who cared.) And I think you could see that coming because there seemed to be quite a bit of friction (which made for entertaining radio) between Tony and his bosses over the content of the show (and his tendency to make fun of SportsCenter's talking heads). If you listen to his successor, Colin Cowherd, you can hear what the folks in Bristol likely preferred. It's polished, corporate, and slap-happy.

I don't want this to become a Tony Kornheiser Show retrospective, since you can get that at Wikipedia, but when he returned to WTEM nine months later, I was so excited I wrote about it then and just wanted to post a link to that. Gratuitous? Shameless? Whatevs.

Anyway, all of this is just a hugely long-winded way of saying that Mr. Tony is back behind the mic, doing his thing for Washington Post Radio, and it's pretty much the show he was always meant to do - some sports (largely from a D.C. perspective), with pop culture and current events. Unfortunately, his longtime loyal sidekick Andy Pollin (Andy Polley!) can't be with him this time, but he has a rotating set of cohorts to indulge his various neuroses. (TNT's David Aldridge joins him this week.)

But the best thing of all is that the new show has embraced the 21st century (which should amuse anyone familiar with Mr. Tony's curmudgeonry) and is available each day via podcast. (Even better, whoever's doing the recording and editing figured out that we don't need to hear D.C. weather and traffic.) Oh, if only I'd had this technology 10 years ago. But I am a happy man today. Of course, the show still stinks.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The 3rd Annual Fried Rice Thoughts Post-Oscar Post!

Roger Ebert said it was "elegant and somehow gentle." David Poland called it "the worst produced Oscar show in memory." I guess I'm somewhere between the two extremes, but leaning more toward Ebert's side. I don't know if it was a particularly memorable show, but is it ever? If so, it's usually for something horribly bad. (Actually, the pre-show was pretty awful. The Hot Button explains how that "Happy Feet" intro fell apart in the making, and thus was essentially demoted in the broadcast.)

At least there was plenty of live blog worthy material, which Susannah demonstrated at Pub of Knowledge. And she graciously mentioned that I was almost dead-on with my prediction of the show's running time, which I wasn't going to point out. (Okay, I totally was.)

What I most enjoyed was that Ellen DeGeneres stuck with the style that's always worked for her: somewhat awkward humor that doesn't generate big laughs, but sustains long giggles. I really liked the "normal person hosting the Oscars" tone she took on. Not too deferential, no arrogance at all. The bit with Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg was hilarious.

I also really liked the effort to tout the lesser known nominees. I know everyone tunes in to see the stars, but they get enough screen time. Let the other people deserve some spotlight, too. Errol Morris' film at the beginning of the ceremony was a nice touch.

One day late (which is becoming typical for me in 2007) are the awards I would've passed out (and the list of actual winners):

Please Tell Me He'll Never Work an Oscars Broadcast Again:
Andre Leon Talley. You, sir, may know fashion, but you do not know live television. How about learning how to hold a microphone while you're interviewing someone?

Shouldn't They Be Somehow Offended by That?
Guillermo Del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, and Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu being referred to as "The Three Amigos." Ha ha ha! Because they're Mexican! C'mon, we can't be more original than that?

Consider Yourself Permanently Invited Even If You're Not Nominated Because You Always Look Amazing:
Cate Blanchett. Has she ever not looked stunning at the Oscars? It's like she was sent from another planet to save us.

Stop! Please, You've Already Done Too Much:
Nicole Kidman and her face. Did she permanently disable her face from expression so when Keith Urban asks what she thinks of his latest country dreck, she can't frown? She was already so beautiful. What the hell is she doing?

He Should Be the Oscars Host Next Year:
Will Smith's kid, Jaden (and his half-dozen middle names). "Our next presenters are two more people taller than me. When the hell is this thing ending? Can we go home, Dad?" But don't pair him with another kid again. That's just condescending.

Look, I Get Enough Presidential Campaigning From the News, Okay?
Al Gore. I thought the bit with him being played off stage by the orchestra was kind of funny. And Tipper probably got jealous over how Leonardo DiCaprio was looking at her husband so adoringly. Maybe it's not his fault, but enough already. Give his platform the attention it deserves, but the dude's not running for President.

Suavest Mofo on the Planet:
Ken Watanabe. Not only does he just look regal and dapper, but did you see how he waited and then held his arm out to escort Catherine Deneuve to the podium for their presentation? Smooth as pudding, baby. What a gentleman. I totally want to be that guy. At least when I have to dress up.

Yes, Okay - I Promise I Will Finally See It:
Pan's Labyrinth
. Did it only win three awards? It felt like a dozen. I stomped up and down for weeks that we weren't getting to see this movie here in the Midwest. And now that it's been here for a few weeks, I still haven't seen it. I hoped I'd be able to shoehorn a screening in on Sunday afternoon, but that fell through. I'm taking care of that this week, man.

Eat a Sandwich Because I'm Starting to Worry About You:
Reese Witherspoon. Don't lose much more weight, kiddo. You don't need to. And when your cheeks disappear, it makes your face kind of look like the female Joker.

Still Not Sure If I Hated It or Thought It Was Cool:
Pilobolus, and their weird, contortionist shadow puppetry. I'd love to have them at a party, constantly making new shapes behind the largest wall in the room, but it just seemed to disrupt what (little) rhythm the show had. Forming a gun for The Departed was pretty cool, though.

Just Have Them Walk Down a Runway:
Bringing the Best Costume Design nominees to life by outfitting dancers and actors on stage probably seemed like a good idea, but it looked something from an amusement park ride. I hope Eddie Murphy got to beat up that dope who was imitating his character from Dreamgirls backstage after the show.

Best Cleavage:
I was looking forward to giving this award to Salma Hayek for the third consecutive year, but she apparently didn't attend the ceremony. It looked like all Latino actresses were invited. How could J-Lo be there and not Salma Hayek? Sadly, everyone seemed to cover the goods up this year, which means there will be no winner. (But you came close, Rachel Weisz. And maybe Jennifer Hudson too, but in more of an accidental manner.)

And, for the third year in a row, because my Mom wants to know, here's how I did on my Oscar picks. This really wasn't a year to be daring, was it?

My pick: Alan Arkin
Actual winner: Alan Arkin

You know me; I don't like to brag. But I'm pretty proud of calling this one. (Suz got it, too!) I was happy to see Arkin win. Meanwhile, I'm sure Eddie Murphy missed some post-Oscar party (all the) time because he was on the phone with Dreamworks, bitching at 'em for releasing Norbit while people were deciding their Oscar votes.

My pick: Abigail Breslin
Actual winner: Jennifer Hudson

Okay, that was probably a dumb pick. Dreamgirls had to get an award for something, right? Hudson's just a great out-of-nowhere story, and she was so surprisingly impressive in her role. And it was nice to see someone with that "Oh my God, please let me win this" look on her face before the winner was announced.

My pick: Helen Mirren
Actual winner: Helen Mirren

The lock of the night. Even Will Ferrell and Jack Black (with John C. Reilly) knew that. Seeing how gorgeous she looked only reaffirmed how amazing her performance as Queen Elizabeth really was.

My pick: Forest Whitaker
Actual winner: Forest Whitaker

This was pretty much a lock, too. It was great to see Whitaker get a spotlight type of role like this, after what's been a relatively quirky career. Let's just hope he doesn't start doing a bunch of $#!+ty action movies like Nicolas Cage now.

My pick: Martin Scorsese
Actual winner: Martin Scorsese

Another lock, right? Where was the suspense? As happy as I was for Scorsese, I also felt a little sad because it shouldn't have taken this long for him to win an Oscar. But I love how his face was all eyebrows, glasses and smile. And note to future winners: If Martin Scorsese can keep his acceptance speech short, you have no excuse to ramble on.

My pick: Letters From Iwo Jima
Actual winner: The Departed

This was definitely my dumbest prediction. I just thought the Academy would somehow manage to screw Scorsese over again while giving Eastwood more love (for what was an outstanding movie). But this was absolutely Scorsese's year. Wouldn't it have been an all-time letdown had The Departed not won after he received his long overdue coronation? As subdued as the overall show was, I think a riot or explosion might have resulted. At the very least, Jack Nicholson's head would've immediately sprouted hair.

Ladies and gentleman, that's our post-Oscar post! Thank you and good night!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Ladies and Gentleman, the 3rd annual Oscar predictions post!

I don't know what's been wrong with me when it comes to posting about movies this year. I still have a half-written "Best Movies I Saw in 2006" post sitting in the "draft" box. By the time I get around to finishing it, it'll be halfway through 2007. Should I even bother at this point? If the best movie I saw last year happens to be the same as this year's Best Picture winner, I'll just look like a coat-tailing schmuck. But since my favorite movie wasn't even nominated, I might just still do it. (What a tease.)

And I couldn't post my Oscar picks on Friday, when most people would have a chance to read them before the ceremony? What the hell? So here I am on an early Sunday morning, typing them up, just so the record (and time stamp) can show that if I did make a brilliantly counter-intuitive prediction, it was before the actual awards were handed out. Why do I even care? Because I've done this the previous two years, and I'm trying to maintain a sense of tradition here at Fried Rice Thoughts. Plus, now that football season's over, I'm kind of bored on Sundays.

So approximately 12 hours before the presentation begins (the red carpet stuff should start any minute now on E!), here's how I think it'll go. Another FRT Oscar tradition is my next-day awards, which I clearly just make up as I go along, and slapping myself for the stupid predictions I made.

Okay, this is going on almost as long as Joan and Melissa on the red carpet. Let's do this thing:

Abigail Breslin - Little Miss Sunshine

Everyone's saying Jennifer Hudson will win this, which makes me want to swim against the current. Yes, Hudson was very good in Dreamgirls - which was rather overrated, and just bound to disappoint after all the hype it received - but to me, her performance is really about one thing: "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." And I am telling you that shouldn't be enough to win Best Supporting Actress. I'll take the scene in Little Miss Sunshine when little Olive Hoover cries to her grandfather because she doesn't want her father to think she's a loser. You know what? If Abigail Breslin doesn't nail that role, there's not much of a movie.

Alan Arkin - Little Miss Sunshine

Again, the nominee from Dreamgirls is the popular pick, and Eddie Murphy is the best part of that movie. It'd be nice to see him win because it would kind of bring his career full-circle. He became famous for imitating James Brown on Saturday Night Live, and wins an Oscar for expanding that into an actual role. But I'm going with the Little Miss Sunshine nominee again. Alan Arkin's character might be crazy, but could also be the most sane guy in this totally dysfunctional family. And he's hilarious. Plus, if you like seeing a guy be rewarded for a career, this could do it.

Helen Mirren - The Queen

Okay, even I can't fight against the prevailing opinion on this one. It'd be cool if Penelope Cruz won, but that's just not going to happen. Not when Helen Mirren completely becomes another person. She could play Queen Elizabeth without the make-up and clothes.
And considering what a devious, saucy little minx she seems like in real life, it looks even more impressive. There are many scenes in which Mirren doesn't even say a word, yet conveys exactly what she needs to. She softens as the story progresses, but never loses that sense of regality. Even if she has to bend on her beliefs, she's not going to change who she is.

Forest Whitaker - The Last King of Scotland

I am terrified that Peter O'Toole could win this, and if he does, it will be for the worst of reasons. First of all, it'll be a sympathy vote, and he already got his Honorary Award in 2003. I'm slso worried that some people might vote for O'Toole because they think he'll give a more entertaining speech than Forest Whitaker. Plus, O'Toole basically plays himself in Venus - though I hope he's not quite as leering and creepy as his character. But Whitaker, as Helen Mirren did, becomes another person. His Idi Amin is a dominating force. He's intimidating, cruel, erratic, and evil. Yet he's also very charismatic and charming, so you can see how he came to power.

Martin Scorsese - The Departed

Even if Martin Scorsese didn't make a great movie, I think Jon Stewart basically shamed the Academy Awards into finally giving him his due with that "
For those of you who are keeping score at home, I just want to make something very clear: Martin Scorsese, zero Oscars; Three 6 Mafia, one" crack. But he did make a great movie this time, and it was the kind of film he's known for - not a stretch like Gangs of New York or The Aviator (though I really liked that one). He deserves to finally be honored for that. Plus, it might be the longest Oscar acceptance speech made in the shortest length of time. The dude talks fast is what I'm saying.

Letters From Iwo Jima

Call it a hunch. The Departed absolutely should win this award. It had great performances, a timeless story, and it just crackled with energy. However, if another film wins, it'll probably be Little Miss Sunshine (which I'd actually be okay with) or Babel (which won last year, under the title Crash). But I can't shake this feeling that Letters From Iwo Jima will somehow win. We know the Oscars love Clint Eastwood, and he made a poignant film about war that also applies to current events. (Ken Watanabe, by the way, wuz robbed of a Best Actor nomination.) I hope I'm wrong, but that's my longshot pick.

And I always have to mention the screenplay awards, because no one cares about writers at the Oscars, and someone has to stick up for them. William Monahan will probably win BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY award for The Departed, but since it's virtually a note-for-note retelling of Infernal Affairs, I'm picking Todd Field and Tom Perrotta for Little Children because they did exactly what the award says.

For BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY, I'd like to see Peter Morgan be rewarded for writing two great movies this year - The Queen and The Last King of Scotland - but what was more original than Pan's Labyrinth? A story about a little girl who escapes into fairy tales and fables during the Spanish Civil War? No one else is writing films like this. Having said all that, Michael Arndt will win for Little Miss Sunshine. I should've just said that to begin with, right?

Oh, and my final prediction: The Oscars broadcast will end at 12:15 AM, Eastern Standard Time. Yep, it'll be another long one. (That's what she said.)

Friday, February 23, 2007

The One Boston Celtic I Could Never Hate

I'm planning to post some Oscar predictions by the end of the day, but for now, I wanted to link to a post I wrote for my sports blog about Dennis Johnson, a former NBA player who passed away yesterday at the age of 52.

I hated the Boston Celtics as a kid. Their rivalry with the Detroit Pistons in the late 80's and early 90's formed my identity as a sports fan. But no matter how much I despised Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Danny Ainge, I couldn't quite work up the same level of disdain for D.J. Actually, I kind of admired the guy.

He finished one of the most infamous plays in NBA playoff history to beat the Pistons in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, and that was typical of his career. He wasn't flashy or boastful. He was just a really good player who did what was necessary to help Boston win a game.

In so many ways, he reminds me of one of my favorite players, Joe Dumars. He could hit the big shot. He could defend the other team's best player. And he did it with a quiet grace. All while making damn sure he beat you.

Hearing the news of D.J.'s death yesterday was shocking to me. And truly saddening. 52 years old is far too young an age to die.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Can I live this fantasy life?

No, I didn't decide to give up blogging for Lent. But thanks for asking. I am still looking for something to give up, however. Not due to any religious beliefs, but more out of a sense of tribute to my father. And I like the idea of depriving myself of something for 40 days to test my feeble mental will. You know, kind of like Josh Hartnett in that one movie.

I'm beginning to think, however, that I should give up something before I've even had a chance to start. I can already see that fantasy sports could potentially lead to my downfall this spring and summer. Yesterday, I received an invite from Hoyt to join his fantasy baseball league for the second year in a row, and I had so much fun with it last year that I signed up almost immediately. (The only thing keeping me from forming a team even faster was trying to think up a good name. Would "Chris Hansen's Predators" be kind of tasteless?)

I'm not sure I can restrict myself to just one league, however. For one thing, I need a team to practice with before I take on Hoyt and the rest of The Justice League. (Great name, eh? Nice work, Hoyt.) Plus, ESPN and CBS Sportsline have free fantasy baseball this season, and I'm so very curious as to how playing in those leagues might differ from Yahoo! And while hanging out with Brian on Monday night, he told me that "you haven't played fantasy baseball until you participate in a live auction draft." I don't know if I'll be able to accept such a challenge - especially when these online drafts make things so easy - but my ego was certainly intrigued. (Oh, and I should play in a keeper league at some point, too. That is, if I want to be a man.)

But fantasy leagues aren't just about sports, either. Last week, Dave posted something about a fantasy movie league, and after reading it, I knew I wanted to get into it. Thankfully, Dave showed some initiative and put together a small league ("Follywood"), so now I can see if this could possibly be as fun as football and baseball. Even better, the "season" only lasts until the end of April, so if we all really like this, we can take on the summer movie season next.

So yesterday, Follywood had its draft. Just as "teams" try to select the players who can get the most touchdowns or home runs, "studios" pick a roster of movies that will accumulate the biggest box office take. Luck of the draw determines who gets first crack at the top prospects. And with the fourth selection (out of six) in the draft order, here are the films that my studio - Projection Booth Pervs - is looking to for big (pretend) money and glory:

I know what you're thinking. Wild Hogs? John Travolta? Martin Lawrence? Why would you pick a piece of $#!+ like that? Remember, these aren't necessarily films that I want to see; they're the ones that I think will pull in the most cash at the box office. Besides, that was my second-to-last selection. The pickings weren't great at that point. And c'mon - didn't I earn some street cred by nabbing Grindhouse and Zodiac? (I have an angry e-mail from Dave that says I did.)

Generally, I like my roster. We've got horror, we've got comedy, and some family fare, as well. My one mistake - choosing what I want to see instead of what might make more money - may have been Hot Fuzz. Just because all my friends saw (and liked) Shaun of the Dead doesn't mean it pulled in big box office. (It didn't.)

So what do you think? Will the Projection Booth Pervs be the last fantasy studio standing?

Monday, February 19, 2007

That's What She Said! (Episode #17)

This week, Matt and I play the role of visiting lecturers as the That's What She Said podcast follows The Office to campus for an episode titled "Business School." In our classroom, we actually encourage you to diddle around on the internet - otherwise, you'd have kind of a problem listening to our show.

Can Michael Scott defend the honor of a dying industry to a bunch of grad students? Is business always personal? Can drawings of tape dispensers and office buildings actually inspire people? How hot is garlic bread to a burgeoning vampire? And can two former Buffy the Vampire Slayer nerds be expected to maintain objectivity toward an episode directed by his royal majesty, Joss Whedon?

Episode #17 is available for your downloading and listening pleasure, either from the That's What She Said home page or via iTunes.

If you enjoy what you hear (or hate it, for that matter), please send over an e-mail or leave a comment at our blog page, where the community continues to grow. Or leave a review at our iTunes page, as well. Thank you for downloading and listening!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Keep it sweet with separate suites

I meant to post this yesterday (shoveling snow, doing taxes, and recording a podcast interview kept me away, not a broken, cynical heart), but I suppose the day after Valentine's Day will do. Actually, I've been sitting on this for a while, but eventually thought it would be funny to save for the "holiday." (Belated sweetheart candies to all of you, of course, my babies. Doesn't that go without saying?)

For the past few years, I've shared the following theory with a few close friends: More marriages would be successful if couples had separate bedrooms.

I usually follow that up with my contention that this is something I'd push for if I ever get married. As you might imagine, the theory is usually greeted with looks of scorn and disbelief. And no one has agreed with me on this (though I think I've gotten a second or two of contemplation from my married friends.)

And now, I have documented evidence that some people out there actually agree with me. This could be the new thing. I could've been a trend-setter, and I didn't even know it. (Of course, finding someone to marry me might have helped with that.)

Hear me out on this. I'm not saying husband and wife should always sleep in separate beds. I'm not advocating we live like TV couples from the 1950s. I mean, there has to be some fringe benefit to getting married (or being in a long-term relationship), right? Having your spouse right there beside you when you go to sleep would seem to be one of them.

But there have to be times when having your own sleeping space (being relegated to the couch doesn't count) is in everyone's best interest. Maybe one of you snores incredibly loudly. Maybe you're sick. Maybe one of you has to get up early for work and you'd prefer not to be woken. For that matter, what if you get home late? Maybe it's really hot and the last thing you want is someone draped all over you. Maybe you're preoccupied with something and find it difficult to sleep, so you're tossing and turning. Couldn't having that other bedroom help in such situations?

Consider the potential spice such an arrangement could add to a relationship, as well. After a night of passionate coupling (there's a sexy word for you), what is hotter than telling the other person that he or she needs to go so you can sleep? Or maybe skulking out of the room while pulling up your pants is what does it for you. This way, you could get all that - and still be married to that person.

What better way to begin a lifetime together than to have a home with adjoining bedrooms? Or if you don't have such an arrangement, what could be a better Valentine's Day gift. This would be soooo much better than candy or flowers. (You might still want to throw in dinner, though. It's just classy that way.)

Separate bedrooms, my babies. Think about it, and chime back in when you want to tell me how brilliant a visionary I am.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

That's What She Said! (Episode #16)

Everyone loves a wedding, right? Fun and frivolity for all! Well, not quite - especially when those starved for attention have to upstage the bride and groom. I suppose Matt and I could be included in that category, with another edition of the That's What She Said podcast. As usual, we take a look at the latest episode of NBC's The Office, titled "Phyllis' Wedding."

Do most guests at a wedding assume the boss of the bride paid for everything? (For that matter, can The Office have too much Michael Scott?) Is anything cooler than a Police cover band? Is it a breach of sisterhood etiquette to steal wedding plans to use for your own big day? And how do you weed out those pesky wedding crashers?

Episode #16 is available for your downloading and listening pleasure, either from the That's What She Said home page or via iTunes.

If you enjoy what you hear (or hate it, too), please send over an e-mail or leave a comment at our blog page, where the community continues to grow. Or leave a review at our iTunes page, as well. Thank you for downloading and listening!

Today's Fortune Cookie Wisdom

"Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions."

You know what looks like a frickin' awesome coming attraction? The Transformers.

Monday, February 12, 2007

"Ladies and gentleman, we're The Police, and we are back!"

Since I expressed my excitement over The Police's reunion at the Grammy Awards (and used the occasion to indulge some nostalgia), I suppose it's only natural to follow up on that with a reaction to last night's performance.

On some level, of course, I was going to be happy with it, no matter what. A band I loved as a kid reunited on stage, and I loved seeing them playing together again.

But Adult Ian tries to brush aside whimsy and look at things more objectively. First and foremost, they weren't going to sound at their best playing "Roxanne" because it's not their best song. I'm not even sure it's the most familiar one, but "Every Breath You Take" wasn't going to rock the house.

I also winced when they started to go soft and jazzy after the first verse and was afraid we'd get a quick medley of The Police's greatest hits. (I hate medleys; they just reek of Vegas lounge act to me.) Once it became clear that they were still doing "Roxanne," however, any thought I may have had of overdrafting my checking account for triple-digit ticket prices were probably killed for good. Because if that's what they're going to do, I'm not interested. (Even if I understand that they need to keep a song they've played thousands of times interesting to themselves.) I'll never get to see The Police in 1983, and should probably just accept that.

I would've liked them to rock out a little bit more. If they had come out and just pounded through something like "So Lonely," I would've been thrilled. And I'd probably be pestering Ticketmaster for tour dates right now.

I also wish Sting had seemed less pompous on stage, of course. I'm not talking about the tai-chi looking vest that took the ladies to the gun show. No, I mean that "You think I'm #@$%ing great, so here I am - with the bloody bass guitar I never thought I'd pick up ever again" aura he gives off.

But after they left the stage, I found myself wanting much more, even yearning for the medley I'd dreaded just minutes earlier. It wasn't enough. So if that means Sting has stuck his dreaded tantric fangs into me, then so be it. I'm okay with that. All things considered, I thought they sounded pretty damn good. And that's really all I wanted.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Enviously on He Sails: Fueling the Writer's Aspirations

I don't believe I've been to an author reading since moving back to Michigan. While living and studying (and procrastinating) in Iowa, writer appearances often provided my only non-school social interaction. Actually, they were one of the reasons I started this blog, because I was seeing all of these fantastic writers and wanted to share that with those I knew would care. (Unfortunately, after looking through the archives, I believe Fried Rice Thoughts was born after I attended many of those readings.)

But for whatever reason, whether it's because I just don't keep track of such things like I used to, I find some excuse not to head downtown (which is surely a sign of onsetting old age), or nothing has raised my literary antennae recently, I haven't seen a writer I admire read from his or her work, and answer questions from students and followers.

That changed last night when Calvin Trillin was in town, touring to promote his tribute to his late wife, titled About Alice. I've been a fan of his writing ever since reading a New Yorker essay about his quest for the perfect New York City bagel (which was intended to lure his daughter back home from California). As soon as I read it, I knew that was the kind of stuff I'd like to create. I like food, I like looking for it, and I like writing. Sign me up.

But it was only in recent years, when I had the chance to devour a bunch of his work while studying nonfiction writing, that I really developed a love for his style, especially the way he'd cast the people in his life as characters for each of his essays and stories. It's something the best humor writers do, and I noticed that the better pieces I wrote while at Iowa were those in which I similarly cast my friends and family. To a much lesser extent, I often try to present the people in my life as the voices of conscience in opposition to my dopier impulses here in this blog when appropriate.

I usually think it's best to leave the Literary Adventures to Susannah's Pub of Knowledge, but About Alice has a particular resonance with me. My mother read a review for it on a flight back home from South Carolina, and very much wanted to read about how someone else was coping with the loss of a spouse. It's a wisp of a book, so I managed to read the whole thing before giving it to her a few Saturday afternoons ago. But the substance of the writing more than makes up for any lack of volume. It's a love letter to his wife, which I imagine surprises no one who's read any of Trillin's previous work.

"I showed Alice everything I wrote in rough draft - partly because I valued her opinion but partly because I hoped to impress her. If the piece was meant to be funny, the sound of laughter from the next room was a great reward...

"When Alice died, I was going over the galleys of a novel about parking in New York - a subject so silly that I think I would have hesitated to submit the book to a publisher if she hadn't, somewhat to her surprise, liked it. When the novel was published, the dedication said, 'I wrote this for Alice. Actually, I wrote everything for Alice.'"

You know, I'm not quite sure who I envy more in that dynamic: the woman whose husband so adored her that he was constantly motivated to impress her with his craft, or the man who found the muse that always fueled his creatitvity. Either way, I think you'd be doing okay. (I suppose as a writer, I'd opt for the muse. But who's to say you wouldn't be inspired either way?)

I think I was spoiled by some of those readings in Iowa, because I'd become accustomed to walking up to the author afterwards, handing over a book to sign, and getting to pick their brains regarding whatever secrets to writing ingenuity occurred to me at the time. Unfortunately, the event at Borders was rather tightly controlled. So you want me to write down the personalization on a Post-It for him? I'm handing you the book to hand to him? Do I get to talk to him?

I suppose it's just as well, because I don't know what I would've said to Trillin, anyway. Actually, I often don't have much to say, other than to blurt out awkward admiration. Sometimes, however, the author surprises you. I'll never forget James Ellroy asking me "What's up, Sayid?" when I handed him my copy of The Big Nowhere. I have no idea why. But I think he was calling everyone that. The smirk on his face said so, at least.

But in this case, what would I have said? The book pretty much says it all. And maybe that's the point, even if I would've loved a good ol' handshake. Besides, the book kind of felt like the same thing when I carried it in my hand as I walked back to my car.

▪▪ Here's the New York Times' review of About Alice.

▪▪ Check out what the Boston Globe thought, as well.

▪▪ And why not see what the Los Angeles Times has to say on the book, too?

▪▪ Finally, the New Yorker has a podcast interview with Trillin available for download.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)

After I wrote about my disappointment with Prince's halftime show at the Super Bowl, Rob commented that he was "waiting for him to slip and fall." Some people (not Susannah) had a problem with Prince's talent for shadow puppetry (which has me ready to tear my hair out in chunks and scream at our culture's sudden collective lack of humor [quickie rant]).

Me, I was worried that the dude was going to be electrocuted on stage.

Instead of covering "All Along the Watchtower," Prince probably should've included "Danger! High Voltage" in his medley. Of course, I really didn't want to see that (possible electrocution, I mean - not an Electric Six tribute), yet that fear was enough to keep my from changing the channel.

How did that not happen? Was the lunch lady bandana around Prince's head made of rubber? Slate's Torie Bosch doesn't confirm or dispute that theory, but provides a much more valid answer in the "Explainer" column: Prince went wireless.

Battery-powered wireless microphones, guitars, and other gear keep performers isolated from potentially dangerous electrical current. To get a shock, you have to become part of an electrical circuit between a high-voltage source —like a power line— and the ground (or a grounded object, like a ladder). Without coming into contact with both, you can't be electrocuted, which is why birds on power lines don't get fried. It's also one of the reasons why wireless equipment keeps performers safe in the rain—if you're not physically connected to the current, you can't get shocked.

Well, that certainly makes sense. But a rubber headband just sounds more sexy. And I think we all know which way Prince would lean on that one.

Trying to sweeten the sour

This wouldn't sting if it didn't feel so damn true after Pfizer's announcement that it was closing its Ann Arbor (and Kalamazoo) facilities (the ripples of which could cost the state of Michigan 6,000 jobs).

From The Onion:

Thousands Lose Jobs As Michigan Unemployment Offices Close

Ha ha ha! Oh, $#!+.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Today's Fortune Cookie Wisdom

"You cannot be anything if you want to be everything."

That totally applies to Chinese buffets, too. You can't enjoy anything if you want to eat everything.

And the Ad... Was Gone

Since I wrote about this yesterday, I figured I might as well follow up on the outrage over the Snickers "kissing mechanics" ad.

If you haven't heard already, the whole thing is gone. Vanished. Yanked off stage like a bad act at the Apollo. Tossed out like a Snickers bar left on your dashboard during a hot summer day. Gone like it never happened - except we know it did.

I guess I didn't realize just how far Snickers took the joke (or attempt at one) at its website, never bothering to look at the various alternate endings that were offered.

▪▪ AMERICAblog has a bunch of suggestions for expressing outrage to Mars, Inc., Snickers' parent company. (Though now that the campaign's been pulled, I imagine the protest has been somewhat dampened.)

▪▪ Here's Deadspin's take on the matter, where I found all this stuff to begin with.

That's What She Said! (Episode #15)

These two-week breaks aren't conducive to staying sharp on podcasts. I'm sure NBC will take that under consideration next year as they plan out their television seasons. Anyway, Matt and I are back at it this week, as That's What She Said takes an in-depth and spoiler filled look at the latest episode of The Office, titled "Ben Franklin."

How hot is a Founding Father? What talents or knowledge might such a historical figure be able to drop on a bridal shower? Surely, the women of Dunder-Mifflin had it much better than the men, who had to contend with man meat, unintelligible card games, and strippers for their Guys Afternoon In (or "GAI").

Has this Pam-Jim thing been taken as far as it can really go? Are fans of the show beginning to get over this "will they or won't they" shell game? And really, just how many of us guys have really seen a stripper in live action?

Episode #15 is available for your downloading and listening pleasure, either from the That's What She Said home page or via iTunes.

We love it when listeners chime in, so please send along an e-mail or leave a comment on the show's growing, thriving blog page community where all the cool kids are having fun. And join the many and proud who have left positive reviews at our iTunes page, as well. As always, thank you for downloading and listening!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Not that there's anything wrong with not liking Snickers ads...

[This was posted over at my sports blog, Sweaty Men Endeavors, but I thought it'd be a nice fit here, as well. The "Happy Hour" entries are usually posted toward the end of the day.]

Last night, I thought the Snickers ad with the two mechanics "accidentally" kissing was the best Super Bowl commercial. (On second thought, however, I think CBS' Letterman/Oprah ad might have been the funniest.) Of course, it's all subjective, but I figured that would've been the most popular, hands-down. Could I have been in the minority?

Kevin posted in the comments that he "HATED" that ad. Over at my personal blog, Fried Rice Thoughts, Susannah said the commercial made her "want to eat a Snickers LESS." USA Today's annual Super Bowl Ad Meter ranked it ninth. (The Budweiser crab ad was #1? Seriously?) Various Bears or Colts winced. And's King Kaufman said it was downright homophobic.

Sad that with all the attention being lavished on Tony Dungy of Indianapolis and Lovie Smith of Chicago as the first black head coaches in Super Bowl history, the broadcast of Super Bowl XLI ended up being so homophobic. Progress for one minority at a time, evidently.

Snickers kicked it off in the first quarter with an ad in which two guys are working on a car engine, one busts out a Snickers bar and the other, evidently turned on by the long, hard, caramel-filled ramrod of chocolate flavor, bites on the other end of it. The men work their way toward each other and end up touching lips.

Apparently, the Human Rights Campaign agrees.

I really don't think I'm in any position to judge whether or not the commercial is offensive. If anyone saw it, and either felt offended or somehow persecuted, he or she is obviously entitled to such opinions.

But I thought it was funny, and wasn't so much making fun of or criticizing gay people. It was ridiculing those who might think accidentally kissing might signal latent or repressed tendencies. Or those who would get so freaked out by accidental touching that they suddenly need to prove their manliness. I know quite a few people like that.

Or maybe I'm a bit more sensitive about this, given the occasional reeling reaction I've seen from someone when they see the name of this blog.

Anyway, relax. Have a Coke and a smile. Oh wait, that's a different commercial entirely.

The football-free Super Bowl post-mortem

[If you want stuff about the game, Sweaty Men Endeavors is the place for you.]

I love Prince. If I was stuck on a desert island and Purple Rain was the only CD I could listen to, I think I could carve out a decent existence for myself. "Let's Go Crazy" is one of my all-time favorite songs. And I don't think he's ever received enough credit for his blistering guitar shredding on that tune, as well as "When Doves Cry."

But that half-time show was a serious disappointment. And not just because Prince rushed through the thing like an orchestra was about to play him off the stage. There just wasn't enough of his music. "Proud Mary"? "All Along the Watchtower"? "Best of You"? I like the Foo Fighters, but should Prince be singing one of their songs? Shouldn't it be the other way around? And what was that "We Will Rock You" intro?

How about some more Prince? I wasn't expecting "Little Red Corvette" or "Controversy" from a man who's found religion in recent years. But was "1999" or "Kiss" too much to ask for?

And when the hell was it decided that unleashing a group of hundreds onto the field to surround the stage was a key component of Super Bowl half-time performances? What exactly does that add to the show? On TV, you (usually) want to see the performer. And in person, it's just one amorphous mass of people. Never mind that it was dark, and no one could see them, anyway.

But the marching band was a nice touch.

▪▪ It wasn't even close, right? The Snickers ad with the two guys "accidentally" kissing was the best, most "laugh out loud" Super Bowl commercial.

I also liked the Sprint "connectile dysfunction" and Coke "What else haven't I done?" ads. But maybe those both spoke to personal issues I'm currently dealing with.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Somewhere, Orson Welles is laughing his ass off

I don't really keep up on the news like I should. I admit that. It's a little bit embarrassing. After all, look at what I'm missing.

So this really happened yesterday? "Bomb scare" and "cartoon show" are actually being used in the same sentence throughout the news cycle?

Magnetic lights of a cartoon brat giving a middle finger shut down freeways and has city officials stating that the resources used in responding to this scare could cost $500,000?

Okay, that might a little bit embarrassing.

I really want to sit here with some indignance and say that this isn't funny. I know what happened is enough to make the Adult Swim front page get all serious. But nothing's funnier than cartoon characters flipping a middle finger. Nothing. And when you read news articles trying to explain Aqua Teen Hunger Force with sentences like, "The surreal series is about a talking milkshake, a box of fries and a meatball," you have to laugh, right?

Even the dudes who planted these things all over Boston were laughing in court today. (And the judge doesn't think there's much of a case.)

I've never even watched Aqua Teen Hunger Force, though I was frequently tempted to buy a discounted DVD set to get me through many of the boring weekends I spent in Iowa. (I also loved when Todd Field did interviews to promote Little Children, and had to answer questions about being the voice of Ol' Drippy.) But I'm pretty sure I'll now be looking for the movie when it comes out.

What have we become? And where the hell did our collective sense of humor go? This means the terrorists are winning, doesn't it?

Today's Fortune Cookie Wisdom

"Love in its essence is spiritual fire."

Is that a STD reference?