« September 2009 | Main | November 2009 »

October 2009 Archives

October 28, 2009

Phillies/Yankees borderland

Phillies/Yankees fans map

The Yankees-Phillies World Series starts tonight, and the close geographical proximity of the two teams means emotions are running high along the northeast corridor. With Philly and NYC just a two hour drive apart, New Jersey has become the two teams' shared suburban tangle of fandom. Where do Phillies fans stop and Yankees fans begin?

The Times sort of looked at this question today by examining the volume of ticket sales and people looking for tickets for World Series games in New York and in Philly, with a map. Phillies fans seem to be less interested in finding tickets for New York games than Yankees fans are for tickets to Philly games, but there's obviously a huge population difference, and there are fewer Philadelphia game tickets because the stadium there is smaller. For whatever reason, tickets to Philly games are going to be harder to find: "The average ticket listed for Games 1 and 2 in New York is $650, compared to about $1,500 for the three games in Philadelphia."

But that doesn't answer the mystery of New Jersey and where the dividing line falls. A local Philly site has an actual map with Solid Phillies, Solid Yankees, and Leaning areas color-coded. A poll reports New Jersey residents favor the Yankees over the Phillies 44 to 20, but, the site claims, this is due to so many New Yorkers who have "spilled over the bridges with their football teams and packed themselves together in North Jersey like rats."

According to this map, it's Yankees country down almost the whole Jersey shore, while Phillies fans are holding on way up the Delaware River border with Pennsylvania, mostly because New York sports radio airwaves can't reach that far.

This kind of mapping of sports fans in border states reminds me of an exhaustive study the Times did back in 2006, in which they drew a line across Connecticut, showing how Yankees and Red Sox fans divided the state. Mets fans, to their credit, apparently aren't interested in living in Connecticut.

The tricky Yankees/Sox border seemed more important in 2006 than it is now, maybe, but I bet the Phillies/Yankees border will be getting more scrutiny and documentation if the Phillies keep getting into the playoffs all the time.

October 26, 2009

The Box, which is really "Button, Button"

The Box

You might have seen the ad for the new psychological thriller The Box, which is a retelling of the classic short story and Twilight Zone episode "Button, Button" [video] about a mysterious man who offers a desperate family a lot of money if they push a button that will kill someone they don't know*. The movie clearly goes way beyond the scope of the original story.

But did you know it's directed by Richard Kelly? Who did Donnie Darko and the craziest movie of 2007, Southland Tales?

It is! He's apparently decided to go somewhat mainstream again, which sounds like a good decision considering Southland Tales brought in a total of $275,000, which as far as his distributor is concerned might as well be $2.75. He sounds really energetic and a little loopy in the Times article, though actually not as nuts as you might think. Jake Gyllenhaal says he's like "the missing character in The Breakfast Club" and his producing partner friend tactfully comments that "Richard's greatest strength is his imagination, and sometimes it's his biggest hurdle," which sounds like code for "yeah, he's mental, but his movies are sick!"

The movie's website is surreal and anxiety-producing. Or you can skip through the Flash to the less interesting, non-crazy part. Here's the trailer.

Here's Richard Kelly Twitter page.

* I refrained from giving away the zinger at the end of "Button, Button", because yesterday I summarized the whole story, with the ending, to a friend who as it turned out did not happen to read that story in school. Whoops.

Frederick Wiseman is back, suckas

Frederick Wiseman

Also in the Times is a profile of Frederick Wiseman, the best documentarian a lot of people have never heard of (and MacArthur fellow!) His movies are all about institutions like schools, hospitals, welfare offices, mental institutions, police stations, the Army, and racetracks. Straight up edited unstaged video footage, with no voiceovers or talking heads or anything. He's the real deal.

I saw his 1968 movie High School my freshman year in college and remember having to reevaluate my own high school, which was Girl Scout camp by comparison. I sure felt lucky not to have had the stifling coke-bottle glasses guidance counselor and the lady gym teacher telling me how to have good posture. A lot of his movies were only aired on PBS and are still hard to find: there's nothing at Netflix yet, and you have to order DVDs direct from Zipporah Films, his distributor.

So if you get the chance, it's worth checking his stuff out. I've never seen his 1976 doc Meat, but you can pretty much imagine how that one goes.

He's about to turn 80, and is coming out with his second documentary about a ballet company, La Danse. MoMA is going to screen all his major movies next year, which is great.

William "Willem" Dafoe

Willem Dafoe

The Times had lots of good stuff in the Movies section this weekend.

A profile of Willem Dafoe. You could argue he makes more inexplicable choices in the movies he does makes than just about anyone. He contacted Lars von Trier to ask if he could work with him, which resulted in the genital-obliterating high-concept emotional/physical/audience-torture movie Antichrist. He also says Spider-Man, in which he played the Green Goblin, was "a very personal film," and does a lot of theater including a new play at the Public called Idiot Savant by the Ontological-Hysteric Theater.

In a non-explanation of his process for choosing work, he says, "Nobody has to know what I think about what I do. In fact it’s very important, I think, for an actor to keep their mouth shut on some level."

October 23, 2009

Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me! at Carnegie Hall

Wait Wait's Peter Sagal and Carl Kassell

Public radio nerds descended on Carnegie Hall last night for this week's taping of Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me!, the NPR news quiz show. It's one of the most popular shows on NPR, which makes sense: it's weirder than The Daily Show, and sometimes I think it's funnier in a loose, improvy sort of way.

I was lucky enough to go, and thought I'd share a few highlights. The live show ran for two and a half hours, and will get cut down to 45 minutes for Saturday's broadcast, so some of the really funny stuff is going to have to get cut:

  • For those of you wondering what the outgoing message that Carl Kasell records for your voicemail if you win, they played a sample. The winners get to script the message, and this one ended with Carl singing "What's New, Pussycat?" like a sonorous baritone Tom Jones.
  • The special guest for the "Not My Job" segment was Brian Williams, who's been on the show a few times. That guy is a riot. There was some immediate adversarial jabbing between host Peter Sagal and Williams over the mainstream media's Balloon Boy coverage: Williams said he was (conveniently) on vacation for the whole thing, and made some lame excuse for all the media attention like "people were concerned and really cared about that kid in the homemade UFO" or something, but Sagal went for integrity points by ripping TV news outlets. Well, NPR covered it, too, but at least they covered the media reaction, not the actual balloon.
  • Peter Sagal brought up the fight between the Obama administration and Fox News, which Williams thought was a bad fight to pick. Everyone has to work together in politics and news, he said. Making distinctions between network news and cable news is meaningless: he said the evening news is "like The Munsters." Heh. It was the weirdest comment of the night.
  • Then Brian Williams shared an anecdote from the 90's when he was a White House correspondent, about an unflattering piece he did on Bill Clinton. One night while Brian Williams was making dinner at home with his wife, he was in the process of pouring the pasta into the colander when Clinton called him, mad as hell, and started berating him mid-pasta pour. His point was that Presidents have always gone after individual reporters; his pissed-off Clinton impersonation was perfect.
  • Music Brian Williams is into lately: Deer Tick and The Republic Tigers and other stuff listed on his embarrassingly titled BriTunes page on MSNBC.
  • Williams was so funny and quick, I think everyone had to remind themselves that he has a day job as a news anchor. After he left the stage Paula Poundstone said, "What a waste of talent!"
  • Peter Sagal wrote a screenplay that ended up becoming Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights.

    Mind-blowing trivia: both Roger Sterling and Betty Draper from Mad Men were in Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights!

Tune in Saturday for the show.

October 21, 2009

New Catholic membership campaign

Pope Benedict

You like being an Anglican, but you're not so thrilled about gender equality and gay people messing up your church.

Now's the time to let Catholicism wrap you up in the warm embrace of sexism and homophobia! No forward-thinking here -- just centuries of bigotry and denial.

Here with the Catholics, conservative Anglicans can still enjoy priests whose sexuality, gay or straight, has been kept hidden until it turns into something sick and illegal. And women who want to participate in the church can do so through only the following roles:

-choir leader
-secret lover of priests who gets to raise their child in secret with tightfisted financial support.

We're waiting for you!

October 18, 2009

Putin: Everybody Dance Now

Putin rocks it

Ever eager to show the world that Russia is an equal to the West, Putin has suggested that Russia host a new international song competition. It will be just like the long-running televised Eurovision song contest, except it will be called "Intervision", and the only participating countries will be Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. These are all the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which according to member countries is "not a NATO clone". OK.

Kazakh Eurovision sounds almost too good to be true. [Cue video of Borat singing "Everybody Dance Now".]

I'd love to see what kind of elaborately staged pop songs are put forward by quasi-authoritarian states as part of their effort to show the world that Central Asians can do flamboyantly choreographed dance numbers in glittery makeup and spandex dirndls while sing synth-pop, too, just like the Swedes and Germans.

In response to Putin's idea, Eurovision says "it would be delighted to license Mr Putin the Eurovision Song Contest format," but they can't do Intervision without paying up.

Russia actually won Eurovision last year, so they were this year's host country. This year Norway won. Since Putin seems to be a man who doesn't enjoy losing, the upside of Intervision would be that Russia would probably get to win every year, with maybe an occasional courtesy victory for China.

As a side note, Sacha Baron Cohen is reportedly on board to play a new, non-Borat character who enters the Eurovision contest in a movie with the self-explanatory title Eurovision: The Movie. It's being written by Dan Mazer, one of the writers for the Ali G/Borat/Bruno empire, so I think it's going to be great. A Eurovision parody is such a logical next step for these guys, though the biggest challenge might be creating parody acts that are funnier and weirder than the real ones.

Here are a few Eurovision videos to give you an idea of how bizarre a spectacle it can be, both intentionally and unintentionally funny. Norway's winning song from this year, an emo violin folkpop tune; Apocalyptica, a Finnish hard rock cello band from 2007, with stage dancers wearing some sort of pelt tutus; and Ukrainian comedian/insane disco robot Verka Serduchka from 2007.

October 16, 2009

Return of the Linky

Robots Robots Robots

For the last few months we've had some trouble with Ning, the host of our links management site, but after some retooling, Robot Linky is back in operation.

We're still trying to get the feed to work correctly so that links show up on the right side of the screen, but in the meantime, you can read, post, and share all your funny, tasteless, and salacious links through the new Linky.

October 15, 2009

Crazy celebrity books

Richard Belzer and Tracy Morgan

Yesterday's Daily News reported on two new celebrity memoirs that are probably better-than-average reads: I Am Not a Psychic! by Richard Belzer, and I Am the New Black by Tracy Morgan.

Belzer's character Detective John Munch has appeared on Homicide: Life On the Streets, The X-Files, Law & Order, SVU, The Wire, and Sesame Street. Before he played Munch, Belzer was a stand-up comedian and a talk show host. The book is fiction, but stars Richard Belzer as Richard Belzer. He says, "For years I've been playing a cop, and when you are on television a lot, you get mixed up. Reality and celebrity kind of convert sometimes. I was going to write a novel, but then I decided to use my own name because my life is so interesting. So I figured I could just fold a fictional crime into my real life and take off from there." Pretty meta, Belzer--and sort of like Chuck Barris's Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

Belzer has a colorful collection of books, including one called UFOs, JFK, and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don't Have to Be Crazy to Believe. He tells the Daily News that his latest conspiracy theory is that banks run our country and are responsible for every bad thing that's happened in the last 100 years, which sounds pretty reasonable, actually.

Tracy Morgan's I Am the New Black comes out next week, and sounds like a series of wacky anecdotes from the old unmediated Tracy, with some bragging/ranting about his notoriety: "I had my finger on the pulse of urban comedy, but when I brought my act to SNL, those motherfuckers just felt bad for me. None of the cast I came up with saw this future for me. No, sir. All I have to say about that is, where's Chris Kattan now? Where's Cheri Oteri now? That bitch can't even get arrested."

Shouldn't this book have come out a year or so ago when Tracy coined "Black is the new President, bitch" on SNL, and before he stopped drinking and started doing serious interviews?

Anyway, 30 Rock starts tonight.

October 9, 2009

Today's news

Obama waves

Some of today's happenings:

  • The Nobel Committee, in a spasm of ecstatic relief that George W. Bush is no longer President of the United States, awards the Peace Prize to Obama. "He's only been President for 9 months!," everyone is saying, "He hasn't done anything yet!" Obama himself seems genuinely surprised.

    It does seem like this choice is as much a condemnation on the direction the world has taken as a result of our last administration as it is an approval of Obama. For the sake of comparison, let's look at what George W. Bush accomplished in his first 9 months in office: He cut taxes, especially for the very rich, rejected the Kyoto Protocol, and allowed our country to be attacked by terrorists. Maybe Obama should get a few Olympic medals and a VMA on top of the Nobel Prize.

  • Charlotte Gainsbourg has a new song called "IRM", which is French for MRI, inspired by the many MRIs she went through after she had a brain hemorrhage a couple of years ago, which I didn't know happened. You can download it. Beck co-wrote and produced this song, and all the songs on her new album, also called IRM.
  • Do you realize Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black" album came out THREE YEARS AGO? Wow. She has a new one coming out next year, "hopefully". This reminds me of sporadic reports of a new Elastica album that floated around music magazines throughout the late 90's. That one took 5 years, and wasn't worth the wait.
  • YouTube is at over a billion video views a day, and is "getting closer to being profitable."
  • Marge Simpson on the cover of Playboy.
  • And finally, two people killed by a sweat lodge.

October 7, 2009

All-girl Voltron. You know you want to see it.


Since the launch of the Transformers juggernaut, with hugely successful movies, merchandise, toys, Optimus Prime lounge chairs, and a 7-Eleven marketing campaign (though the Transformer's Bumblebee Blast Slurpee wasn't anywhere near as cool as the Apocalyptic Ice Terminator tie-in Slurpee) more 80's anime-warrior TV show adaptations are inevitable.

We're going to be getting a lot of Voltron before long, including an animated series for TV, video game, toys, and a movie. The show ran in the US from 1984-85, and the main story structure of five people who pilot robot lions that join together to form one giant robot warrior, is probably easier to adapt into a narrative screenplay about humans than something like Transformers.

I only really watched Voltron when my friends' little brothers were watching it after school, but I agree that it could be a good live-action movie. How about this: it could be the first all-girl machine-warrior movie, with a group of five tough girls fighting the forces of evil in their lion flying robots. Sort of like Charlie's Angels meets Angelina Jolie's posse of spy-assassins from Mr. and Mrs. Smith in a future world of tech-fighter robots.

Then get some combination of the best cast members of The Runaways and Sucker Punch, and a soundtrack including The Plastiscines, The Gossip and The Donnas.

I would see this movie!

Another Japanese anime adaption is in the works: Tobey Maguire is producing a Robotech movie, but it's been in the works for two years already with lots of writers departing the project, so we'll see what happens.

October 5, 2009

Ulrich sues Axl

Axl Rose and Ulrich Schnauss

The Chinese Democracy curse lives: Axl Rose and Geffen are getting sued by the record company that puts out Ulrich Schnauss's albums. They say that two of Schnauss's songs are used in Chinese Democracy's "Riad N' the Bedouins."

As the Daily News reports, "The suit is the latest chapter in the troubled history of the album, which took nearly two decades and millions of dollars to complete."

Here's a Rock Band video of some guys doing the Gn'R song and kicking ass.

Here are the Ulrich Schnauss songs, "Wherever You Are" and "A Strangely Isolated Place", with its videogame VisionQuest video.

The logical progression of vampire movies


I went to see The Informant! over the weekend (pretty good, though it got really repetitive by the end, but I liked the hyper-unreliable narrator and his inner monologue voiceovers about polar bears and the German word for "pen") and one of the trailers was for Daybreakers, an Australian vampire movie that's coming out in January.

Yeah, another vampire movie. It looks cool, and like it owes a lot to the Blade movies. First: the title. If you've seen Blade, you probably remember that Blade is a "daywalker" because he's half vampire/half human, and can walk around in the sunlight without igniting or exploding. This new movie also seems to use a similar retro-tech weapons style, where the vampire hunters use crossbows and swords. Also, remember in Blade II how there were evil vampires that introduced a new strain of super-bloodlusty vampirism that was going to wipe out the good vampires and humans alike?

Daybreakers is also about good vampires and bad vampires. They've run into the problem that we all knew would eventually come when the vampires start taking over the world: they're running out of humans. You go around turning everybody into vampires, pretty soon there's no one left to provide for your daily blood-sucking needs. It's sort of like a climate change/pollution of natural resources/foreign oil allegory for the undead. When vampires are deprived of blood, you can bet what happens is really scary and gross.

Anyway, there's Ethan Hawke playing a researcher (a vampire researcher, of course, because everybody's a vampire) trying to find a synthetic alternative to human blood (like in True Blood) to save humans from extinction. Since humans are already being used as blood-producing animals, we get a Matrix-like shots of hundreds of humans in suspended animation hooked up to a network of blood-harvesting machines. Ethan Hawke seems to advocate for humans in a way that reminds me of his character in Gattaca--a guy in a highly regulated and sort of creepily exploitative corporation of the future who quietly subverts it from the inside. He's also a thoughtful, ethical vampire who only drinks pig's blood, like the guy in Twilight.

There's Willem Dafoe as a mysterious renegade ex-vampire named, for some reason, Elvis, who has cured himself of his need for blood, but he's still gleefully vampy, like a warrior reincarnation of his Max Schreck in Shadow of the Vampire. And because it's an Australian movie, we've got to have Sam Neill (love him!) as the head of the blood-harvesting corporation that wants to squeeze as much money as possible out of their scarce product while they can.

Could be some good stuff in this one: an all-vampire society, dwindling resources, the rich getting the best of everything while the poor scramble to subsist on cheap substitutes, greedy vampires, and the breakdown of social order. One review from a screening at Toronto says it's "fast, loud, atmospheric, funny, and at times very scary. The gore is plentiful, as are the explosions."

Here's the trailer, which uses the Placebo cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill".

October 1, 2009

Coen Brothers make fun of their movies, their fans, Judaism...

A Serious Man

The funniest and most aggravating interview subjects working in movies today have got to be the Coen Brothers. Getting them to talk in a revealing, insightful way about their movies seems to be just about impossible. The experience of interviewing the Coens about what their movies mean is probably not far off from asking a marginally observant Jew to explain exactly what's so important about circumcision.

They're doing press for A Serious Man, which comes out tomorrow, but the interviews shed more light on how much fun it would be to hang out with these guys in regular life, and not so much on the writing/directing movies part.

In an interview in Time Out, they reveal that they wrote this screenplay at the same time they were doing Burn After Reading and No Country For Old Men, which is pretty funny if you think back to how many critics slammed Burn for being inconsequential and fluffy compared to the weighty metaphysics of No Country. Both were funny, dark movies about ordinary people trying to get something more than what life has offered them, and failing completely. The main characters either end up right back where they started, or burned from their failure, or dead. You could say that about most of their movies. Yeah, I liked No Country better, but both movies were perfect examples of what the Coens are good at.

But after that big reveal, and the statement that "There’s a big difference between 'prairie' Jews and coastal Jews," (a big difference they don't define), they go on to jab the Big Lebowski fans who participate in Lebowskifests in bowling alleys across the country:

"Maybe [A Serious Man] will become a cult film…" Ethan says, and Joel finishes the thought: "…and then they’ll start holding conventions."

"'Gopnikfest' has a nice ring to it, I think," his brother muses.

"They could have them in Vegas, Los Angeles and Tel Aviv…" Joel continues.

"…and you’d drink Manischewitz every time a character says 'Meshbesher,'" Ethan adds, referring to the film's oft-mentioned unseen lawyer.

Other useful information: Joel calls his wife Frances McDormand "Frannie" (??!!).

A reporter for the Canadian press asked them if they considered themselves serious men, and Ethan replied, "I don't think either of us would. I don't know. It's just, you know, the weakness for fart jokes and the like."

A Serious Man has zero big stars in it, which after the superstar megacast of Burn After Reading should make for a less distracting, undiluted Coen experience. Sort of like Blood Simple.

The Times has done two features about A Serious Man lately, neither of them reviews. One from a week or so ago is structured like an interview with the filmmakers, though since they offer so little in the way of insightful comments, ends up being a musing about the Jewishness of this movie and other Coen Brothers movies. The brothers do report that their professor father ate bacon in his Welsh rarebit at the campus restaurant, and that they used to sneak ham at their neighbor's house. They seem to acknowledge that this movie is in part about what it means to be Jewish (it includes a disclaimer: "No Jews were hurt in the making of this motion picture") but they brush off speculation that other movies like Miller's Crossing make any kind of Jewish statement, or as is sometimes speculated, anti-Jewish statement.

The Coens obviously aren't anti-Jewish, but they clearly take pleasure in the suffering and misery of their lead characters. "For us," Ethan said, "the fun was inventing new ways to torment Larry."

Then today A.O. Scott came out with a feature on Jewishness in recent movies, which is really great. He looks at Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen in Funny People and everybody in A Serious Man, and notices the two movies could have traded titles. And he has to bring up Inglourious Basterds: "now even the Holocaust has become a safe subject for pure entertainment."

Both Times features begin with Jewish jokes, but A.O. Scott's is better, and it sounds like it could be the opening quote of the movie: "'Why does a Jew answer a question with a question?' my grandfather — an atheist, a socialist and a righteous man in the best Biblical sense — used to ask. 'Why not?'"

UPDATE: A.O. Scott wrote one of the best reviews he's ever written for A Serious Man, and also has really smart things to say about the Coens' movies in general. Good stuff.

About October 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in October 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

September 2009 is the previous archive.

November 2009 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.35