Friday, April 29, 2005

Project Greenlight

The third installment of this "hey kids, let's make a movie!" reality TV series...executive produced by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Chris Moore, and, in this edition, Wes Craven...makes a good case to add movies to the list of laws and sausages...that we might be better off not seeing being made.

But, that said, it does make for grand television (if often in a decidedly "watching a train wreck" kinda way :-)

, the movie they're making this time (after losing money on the first two movies to come out of this series, the producers wanted to make something that might actually turn a profit so they've chosen to make a horror movie), is nothing that I personally buy a ticket for (not a big fan of the genre) but watching the tumultuous making of the film is fascinating stuff.

Hollywood cliches abound...profane bullying producer, exasperated crew members who believe that nobody on the set knows what they're doing (except for them, of course), disgruntled actors waiting around impatiently for their closeups, would-be starlet affecting the diva attitude without having paid her dues, novice screenwriters already "taking meetings" on bigger projects despite the fact that this movie is their big break (having won the Project Greenlight internet contest)...and it's all a hoot.

And at the center of it all is John Gulager, the director (also a winner of the contest), a passive-aggressive fellow with low self-esteem, delusions of grandeur, paranoid tendencies, and serious issues when it comes to having personal interactions with people (which, of course, are all great traits for a would-be movie director to have :-). I have no idea if Gulager...who at one point wanted to cast his friends and family as the lead actors in the movie so that he would be able to deal with people he was already comfortable with...will ever be a good movie director (it seems unlikely to me but then I don't really know how Hollywood works so I could be wrong) but he makes one hell of a reality TV character.

With Survivor and American Idol limping through mediocre seasons, it's good to see that our pals at Bravo have stepped up to the plate with goofy reality TV fun like Project Greenlight (and the wondrously weird Showdog Moms and Dads :-)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Devils and Dust

In the name of full disclosure I have to admit that I’ve been in the bag for Bruce Springsteen since 1978. Since Darkness on the Edge of Town got under my skin and stayed there (all of the incessant “future of rock and roll” hype for Born to Run three years earlier irked the skeptical soul in me and I, foolishly, passed on that one at first.) And so the chances that I was not going to like this disc were slim at best (which is not to say that Bruce hasn’t misfired now and again…The Ghost of Tom Joad was earnest but kinda boring, 18 Tracks was a well-intentioned rip-off, Live in New York City was okay but not really necessary, and Human Touch was a bit too slick for its own good.)

Early word about Devils and Dust led one to believe it was a stripped down, starkly acoustic affair like the wondrous Nebraska…but that isn’t really the case at all. Granted, the rousing joyful thunder of the E Street Band that informed The Rising gives way to a sound centered around Springsteen’s acoustic guitar but the sound here is fuller than on Nebraska or Tom's filled with keyboards (mostly by Bruce himself), drums, violins, and horns on various cuts. This record rocks unabashedly on a number of cuts...but in a gentler way that would have been bludgeoned by the full-bodied muscle of the E Street Band (only three members of which make appearances here: Patti Scialfa on background vocals, Soozie Tyrell on violins and background vocals, and, on one cut, Dan Federici on keyboards.)

Devils and Dust is filled with atmospheric, insightful stories…about lost sons (one dealing with his mother's death in “Silver Palomino”, another living a hardscrabble life as a boxer in “The Hitter”, yet another finding his way from the shelter of his mother's smile to life on his own in "Black Cowboys") and prostitutes (“Reno”, a somewhat graphic song that earned this disc Bruce’s first parental warning label), soldiers (the Iraqi War inspired title song) and saviors (“Jesus Was an Only Son”) and lovers (the sweetly randy “Maria’s Bed” and “All I’m Thinkin’ About”, a gently driving love song sung in an effective falsetto) and other souls with poignant tales to tell…mostly told in a burnished, heartfelt twang that suits these fine songs to a tee.

It’s a lovely record indeed (and I’m not just saying that because I’ve been in the bag for Bruce since ’77…really I’m not ... :-)

(This disc is one of the “dual discs” that are starting to be pushed. It has the CD on one side and a DVD…in this case featuring solo acoustic performances of 5 songs from the album…on the other. I’m not a big fan of music DVDs…MTV notwithstanding, music was meant to be heard rather than seen…but I guess it’s cool for those who dig the music DVD thing.)

Superman Returns

This here is Brandon Routh, the new Man of Steel, whom you will believe can fly come June of 2006 when Superman Returns hits the big screen.

Not bad (the new belt buckle is a nice touch.)

The movie...which also features Kevin Spacey (as Lex Luthor), Kate Bosworth (Lois Lane), Frank Langella (Perry White), and Eva Marie Saint (Martha "Ma" Kent)...looks to rekindle the flames of the once-sizzling Superman movie franchise. I, of course, wish them well (and yeah, I'll be there next year, Junior Mints in hand and inner child unabashedly unfettered :-)

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Greatest American

What do George Washington, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Ellen Degeneres, Rush Limbaugh, Susan B. Anthony, Arnold Schwazenegger, Malcolm X, Jonas Salk, Tiger Woods, Joseph Smith, Cesar Chavez, Michael Moore, Alexander Graham Bell, Madonna, 2 Clintons (Bill and Hillary), 3 Roosevelts (Teddy, Franklin, Eleanor), 3 Kennedys (JFK, RFK, and Jackie), 4 Bushes (George H.W., Barbara, George W., and Laura...what, we can't get some love for Jeb up in here??), Oprah Winfrey, Benjamin Franklin, Walt Disney, Muhammad Ali, Lucille Ball, Nikola Tesla, Dr. Phil, Frederick Douglass, Bill Gates, Babe Ruth, Elvis, Condoleezza Rice, and 15 Presidents (besides those already named above there's also Carter, Eisenhower, Jefferson, LBJ, Lincoln, Nixon, Reagan, and Truman) have in common?

Well, my friends, they're all on the list of the top 100 finalists in a poll looking to name the "Greatest Americans". The Discovery Channel (which should know better) and AOL (which doesn't know better) teamed up to conduct the poll and after tallying 500,000 votes (I'm guessing that there was some massive American Idol-style ballot stuffing going on...I mean, come on, Dr. Phil?!? :-) they came up with a list that is..oh, let's be generous and say "eclectic".

On June 5, Discovery will begin a series, hosted by Matt Lauer, entitled Greatest American that will be counting down the list and, this being the great democracy that it is, also allowing "we the people" to vote for our choice of THE greatest American (that should prove interesting...)

A list like this isn't meant to be taken that seriously (at least I sure hope not...after all, Michael Jackson, Martha Stewart, Senators Barack Obama and John Edwards, Brett Favre, Tom Cruise, Donald Trump, Lance Armstrong, and Marilyn Monroe are on the list...while, for example, Thurgood Marshall, Robert E. Lee, Duke Ellington, Chief Joseph, Walt Whitman, Bob Dylan, Sacagawea, Will Rogers, Louis Armstrong, and Lewis & Clark are not) but rather as a starting point for discussion and debate (and as evidence that a lot of the voters had a sense of history that went back no further than their own childhoods at best.)

I'll be (somewhat) interested to see how the 100 folks end up being ranked (a complete alphabetical listing of the 100 is available at the Discovery Channel on the link two paragraphs above.)

Monday, April 18, 2005

Heard it on the X

Growing up in Southern California and, then as now, always open to being exposed to cool music I had never heard before, I quite naturally was drawn to border radio stations…all with call signs that began with the wonderfully-appropriate letter X…that boomed an engagingly eclectic mix of music unlike anything else on the radio dial. Blues, rock’n’roll, Mexican folk songs and Chicano soul music, sweaty American rhythm and blues, Texas swing, all touched with sweet Latin flavor…side by side just like they belonged together (which, of course, they did) and mashed together into something new...something different…something thrilling and irresistible.

Border radio, freed from the namby-pamby 50,000-watt restrictions of the FTC, thundered through the night delivering 500,000 or more watts of unfettered musical joy far and wide (on most nights I’m told, folks could easily hear, for example, Wolfman Jack from coast to coast and to far flung points way beyond the borders of the US.)

Heard it on the X, the very tasty third album by the loose collective known as Los Super Seven, celebrates Border Radio in all of its glory, invoking the living spirits of Doug Sahm (represented here with two cuts), Buddy Holly, and all of other great musicians who ever had their joyful noises beamed unabashedly from Baja California to the wide, welcoming world. Anchored by a crack band of players (and despite the name of the group, there are indeed more than 7 musicians involved), an array of lead singers take their turns at the mike.

The title song, originally done by border radio fans ZZ Top, is a thick slab of pure chugging music that sums up the eclectic concept…it’s a bluesy, Latin-flavored, gut-bucket rock and roll joint with a groove that just won’t quit…with a great vocal by Los Super Seven veteran Ruben Ramos.

Sahm is given affectionate nods with the jumping “I’m Not that Kat (Anymore)”, powered by co-producer Charlie Sexton’s ringing guitar and John Hiatt’s passionate vocal, and the lovely “The Song of Everything”, sung by the incomparable Ralo Malo (who also opens the disc with “The Burro Song”, an engaging folk song powered along by Mariachi guitars and horns.)

Freddy Fender and Rick Trevino, offer up wonderful Spanish language cuts…”Cupido” and “Ojitos Triadores”…while Delbert McClinton slides smoothly into the Memphis R&B of “Talk to Me” and Lyle Lovett takes the lead on the fine Texas swing of “My Window Faces the South”. (McClinton shows up again fronting the throbbing electric blues of Willie Dixon’s “I Love the Life I Live”.)

Joe Ely resurrects Bobby Fuller’s classic “Let Her Dance” to nice effect and Rodney Crowell is featured on a sublime cover of Buddy Holly’s “Learning the Game”.

Bluesman Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown closes the disc on a spare, graceful note with a reading of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave is Kept Clean” (a song made all the more poignant by the fact that Brown has inoperable lung cancer and yet continues to perform…and wonderfully so…just the same.)

Clocking in at just under 40 compact minutes, Heard it on the X leaves you both satisfied and yet still wanting more. You can’t say that about a lot of CDs these days.

Friday, April 15, 2005


Maybe it could have used more violins. Not that there weren’t plenty on the soundtrack…there were and they swelled majestically during every portentous scene of the first episode of this little passion play/action-adventure/suspense mini-series. And since it is loosely (very loosely) based on the Biblical book of the same name there are portentous scenes abounding in the first episode of Revelations.

You got your signs and, yes, your portents: a large shadow image of Jesus on a mountainside that moves its head to look at the gathering crowd...a young girl struck by lightning and then, though brain dead, drawing maps and reciting scripture in Latin...a baby found miraculously unharmed as the only survivor of a shipwreck...a bug-eyed Satanist (Michael Massee, gleefully hamming it up as EVIL incarnate) not bleeding after cutting off his finger (and maybe…just maybe…being able to calm the weather with a snap of his fingers)... an intrepid (and well-funded) scholar/nun (an appropriately serene and slightly enigmatic Natascha McElhone) doggedly crisscrossing the globe chasing down the evidence that they are all in the “End of Days”.

And at the center of it all is a college professor (Bill Pullman, who spends the hour looking either very intense or very constipated…I couldn’t really decide which) whose daughter was murdered by the Satanist in a ritual sacrifice and who doesn’t really buy into the whole “End of Days” thing despite the nun’s perky persistence (something tells me he’ll have a change of heart before it’s all over.)

As recently as a year or two ago, NBC wouldn’t have touched this series with a ten-foot pole…much less positioned it to be a heavily-hyped part of their upcoming May “sweeps” campaign…but the boffo box office take of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and the ever-escalating sales of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code have allowed them to say that, in the words of the Doobie Brothers, Jesus is just all right with them. I don’t have a problem with that…I just wish that Revelations wasn’t off to such a stilted (a lot of the cast seemed like they were reading their lines off cue cards), predictable, and over-cooked (along with those portentous scenes there is plenty of melodrama abounding as well) start.

Maybe they needed more violins. Maybe it’ll get better as it goes along. Maybe I’ll be there to watch it as it does so. Maybe…or maybe not...

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

21st Century Rock

In the May 2005 issue of Esquire, Chuck Klosterman "celebrates twenty-one high-quality albums from the past three years" in an article, entitled "21st Century Rock", that imagines that it is clever, archly tongue-in-cheek, too-cool-for-the-room (but, in actuality, is often just smug, snarky, and condescending.)

Klosterman showcases what the cover declares are "21 great albums of the 21st Century" and they are ("in no particular order"):

Almost Killed Me -The Hold Steady
Guitar Romantic -The Exploding Hearts
It Still Moves -My Morning Jacket
Peanut Butter and Jelly Live at the Ginger Minge -Coachwhips
The Big Come Up -The Black Keys
Suffrajett -Suffrajett
Now Here is Nowhere -Secret Machines
Fire -Electric Six
Cream of the Crap! Volume 2 -The Hellacopters
So Much for the City -The Thrills
America's Sweetheart -Courtney Love
Southern Rock Opera -The Drive-By Truckers
Gallowsbird's Bark -The Fiery Furnaces
Gonga -Gonga
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot -Wilco
Maladroit -Weezer
From a Basement on the Hill -Elliott Smith
Dear Catastrophe Waitress -Belle and Sebastian
Electric Version -The New Pornographers
Baby I'm Bored -Evan Dando
Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes -TV on the Radio

Man, we're just a few years into the new century and, if this list is accurate, already I'm way behind the curve when it comes to keeping up with the cool rock and roll...I've never heard of some of these bands and I only own four of these records (Wilco, New Pornographers, TV on the Radio, Drive-By Truckers.)

Rats. I guess this means I'm officially even more un-cool than I already thought I was :-)

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Cry Baby/Piece of my Heart

One of the highlights of this year's Grammy show was the searing tribute to Janis Joplin by Melissa Etheridge and Joss Stone.

Stone was soulful and fine (her voice is more smoky, resonant, and powerful than her tender years would lead you to expect) but Etheridge, bald as a result of chemotherapy, was downright incendiary. It was a thrilling rock and roll performance.

iTunes has the live track available for download...with the proceeds going to cancer research at the City of Hope and the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation...and, even though I only download music only every now and again, I went for it right away. It was too cool to pass up...and supporting a good cause was all good as well.

Friday, April 08, 2005

"Reality" TV updates

The photogenic folks above are, of course, the cast who set out on the current edition of The Amazing Race. The Emmy-winning Race is the “reality” TV competition that works best. Maybe it’s the exotic locales…maybe it’s the relatively diverse cast of characters (“relatively” because “type A’s”, whiny drama queens, and masters of the snarky comment dominate the racers…easygoing, well-adjusted folks apparently do not make for interesting reality TV)…maybe it’s the way the natives react (usually with a mixture of puzzlement and bemusement) to the activities of the hyperactive Americans…whatever it is, it just works.

And, of course, it works especially when the combination of bad behavior (a large percentage of the racers will, at one point or another, exhibit “ugly American” reactions to some of the countries they visit with special irritation often reserved for the fact that the natives have to temerity not to speak English) and good editing creates “villains” for viewers to root against.

This edition of the Race upped the ante a bit by including two-time “Survivors” Rob and Amber…who seem to have decided to make “reality” TV their new careers (I fully expect them to show up on Fear Factor or whatever other show will help them in their “15 minute”-extending attempt to hang on to their semi-celebrity)…which has irked a fair number of their fellow contestants.


Speaking of Survivor, the current edition has not featured even one really interesting personality. But that is somewhat offset by the fact that it does (or rather did) feature the most inept “tribe” in the history of the show (and given some of the dim bulbs who have been paraded through tribal councils over the seasons, that’s saying something.) The total meltdown of the Ulong “tribe” has been a somewhat interesting (in a morbid, eye-rolling way) process to watch and now that they’ve been completely routed (down to one member as of this writing) one would hope that the boring Koror tribe will become more engaging now that they will have to start actively competing against one another.


Meanwhile, American Idol steamrolls along in the ratings while giving the viewers both more and less.

The regulars are supplying “more”: Ryan Seacrest is giving more humor-free and charisma-free hosting than ever while Randy Jackson is more inane than ever, Simon Cowell is more bored than ever, and Paula Abdul, after a promisingly tougher stance during the preliminaries, is more of a “I love everything and everybody” cheerleader than ever (which may be good for the egos of the young singers but not very helpful in helping them to develop as artists and performers.)

The contestants, to keep things balanced, are dutifully supplying “less”: again after promising preliminaries for a lot of them, the would-be Idols have almost consistently offered up just fair to middling performances thus far…there have been a scant few highlights and a number of lowlights but mostly it’s been blandly average (and certainly nothing that would move me to buy CDs or concert tickets)…with nary a star standing out (in previous seasons, folks with star potential had started to break away from the pack by this point in the competition…not so this time.)

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Sports Night

Thank the powers-that-be for the DVD format's insatiable hunger for more material to present to eager consumers. TV shows that would have slipped into fond memory (or, if they're lucky, relegated to the vagaries of TVLand or some other nostalgia-hawking cable network) now get a new life in nifty DVD sets aimed at the hearts...and wallets...of those fans who enjoyed them.

Not to mention new shows which are making the leap to the format in record time (I stopped trying to keep up with the broadcasts of 24, for example, I just wait for the collection and enjoy it at my leisure; I quickly got off-track with Lost but didn't sweat it because I figure they will collect it sooner before later.)

This set...6 discs which include both seasons plus the pilot an excellent case in point when it comes to giving under-appreciated shows one more chance to delight old fans and, hopefully, maybe even gather new ones. Before he created The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin gave us Sports Night, a delightful series that never found the audience it deserved. The show's success was hampered by bad time slots, poor promotion, perhaps by its title (some people may have thought it actually was a sports show like ESPN's Sports Center), and perhaps by the fact that it didn't neatly fit into a category.

It was a fast-paced, smart, engagingly bittersweet (more sweet than bitter but still tart enough to never be cloying), and extremely well-written show about the behind-the-scenes interactions of people working on a network sports newscast...but sometimes it was a sparkling comedy and other times it was a moving drama (most often it was both almost at the same time) and there was even a touch of the soap opera to it (especially in regards to the series-long flirtation between the producer and one of her lead anchormen) and so it was hard to sum up in a few words (and evidenced by this paragraph :-)

The cast was uniformly excellent. It featured Peter Krause (who went on to star in HBO's marvelous Six Feet Under) and Josh Charles as the anchormen Casey and Dan with Felicity Huffman, currently of Desperate Housewives, as their producer Dana. (Casey and Dana's sometimes-coy, sometimes-earnest on-again, off-again relationship providing a lot of the aforementioned soap opera elements.)

Robert Guillaume (whose real-life stroke was deftly woven into the narrative of the show) as executive producer Isaac along with Sabrina Lloyd (late of the cult SF favorite Sliders) and Josh Malina (who followed Sorkin to The West Wing), as production assistants, rounded out the core cast. They were all joined by a fine array of supporting and guest actors (including Huffman's husband, the incomparable William H. Macy, who appeared in a number of episodes as a troubleshooter sent in to help right the show following the stroke of Guillaume's character.)

It was a lovely little TV show and I'm glad I have it to enjoy again and again thanks to the "magic" of DVD. (But hey, I'm still waiting for them to sort out the roadblocks and get around to collecting Hill Street Blues...)

Sunday, April 03, 2005

So What the Fuss

Ah yeah, now that's what I'm talkin' 'bout. "So What the Fuss", the lead single from Stevie Wonder's upcoming A Time to Love disc (due out the first week of next month), is a funky R&B jam that is both old school and contemporary-sounding at the same time. It's a bit preachy, a bit funny, very insightful and knowing, and it has a groove so smokin' that it just won't let other words, it's vintage Stevie.

The single, which features Prince on guitar and En Vogue on backing vocals, is a tonic to my old ears. It's been nearly a decade since Stevie dropped a new collection ("dropped"...I'm so hep I scare myself sometimes :-) and I'm looking forward to the new CD even more than I (a lifelong fan of the man) was already.

Bring it on, Mr. Morris, bring it on.