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August 2011 Archives

August 31, 2011

Paul Dano as Karl Rove, conniving nerd

Karl Rove in college

Richard Linklater has chosen his star for the upcoming College Republicans, his movie about young Karl Rove when he was campaigning for Nixon and running for chairman of the national College Republicans. Rove's political talent emerged early: he worked on many local and national campaigns, and toured the country training campus conservatives in tactics he'd engaged in, like going through his opponent's garbage to look for dirt. At age 19 while campaigning for the Republican candidate for Treasurer of Illinois, he stole his Democratic opponent's letterhead and made fake rally flyers advertising "free beer, free food, girls and a good time for nothing." A corrupt little strategic genius.

He was also, in his own words, a complete nerd. In an interview with a youthful Dan Rather on CBS News in 1972, he already wore his full head of hair in a comb over [video]. You can see 21 year-old Karl Rove talking to Dan Rather starting at 4:00--it's so freaking creepy to hear that familiar voice coming out of such a skinny little kid.

Anyway, Paul Dano is going to play college-age Rove in the Linklater movie. I'm not the biggest Paul Dano fan, but he was convincingly earnest and self-righteous in There Will Be Blood and believably lily-livered in Meek's Cutoff, so he'll probably do OK. Plus, he often wears his hair in a 70's Rovian sweep. Add the sideburns and those hipster glasses, and he'll either look like young Karl Rove or a member of Animal Collective.

A couple things I just learned about Karl Rove: he was student council president his junior and senior years of high school, he never finished college, his mother committed suicide when he was 31, and his stepfather was gay.

I'm sure Linklater will do a good job with Rove and his Republican activist friends, but I wonder if he'll be able to resist filling up the supporting roles with dozens of bohemian stoner types who dominated campuses in the early 70's. And oh, please God, let Matthew McConaughey play an acidhead adjunct sociology professor and part-time bassist for Iron Butterfly.

August 29, 2011

Who'dat?™: Celebrity Frump edition

I had a lot of trouble identifying the celebrity in today's Who'dat?™, and even after I found out who it is, the next time I saw the same image, I looked at this person and said, "Wait, who is that again? Annette Bening with a terrible imitation of Chrissie Hynde's haircut?"

To play, look at the photo and try to guess who it is. Then click on it to see if you're right. It's not Annette Bening.


Once you've played, take a look at the original source material.

I guess you've gotta go all out on the frumpy styling in order to make a beautiful woman credible as an investigative journalist.

August 26, 2011

Be prepared!

Hurricane Irene path

As the east coast prepares to get pounded by Hurricane Irene, I bet a lot of us in the Northeast are finding ourselves in the strange position of wondering what exactly we're supposed to do to prepare. Sure, we know how to drive in snow and that the best way to cope with a 100+ degree day is to go the movies, but we're not used to hurricanes. What if we actually get hit by hurricane-level wind and rain and really bad things start to happen?

It wasn't until this morning that I thought about the possibility of an evacuation of some parts of the city and greater region. I stood in the shower, listening to Bloomberg talk about possible evacuations on the radio, and realized that everywhere I thought of as a safe place to go in case of a bad storm was actually just further along the storm's likely path. Hmm. Where exactly would I go? Scranton?

I had an unsettling mental image of myself innocently wandering into Port Authority with a backpack and some vague notion of hopping on a Greyhound bus headed anywhere west, and being swept up in a chaotic horde of thousands of pissed off New Yorkers who don't have cars and all decided at around 6:30 on Saturday that the Lower East Side and Red Hook aren't the greatest places to be in a city where the streets flood on regular rainy days, fighting over standing space in the aisle of a Coach USA bus to Binghamton that's filled with screaming children and has an overflowing toilet in the back.

It's probably not going to happen that way. My guess is, it'll rain like hell and be windy and wild, the subways will flood and shut down, and maybe, worst case scenario, we'll lose power for a day or two.

So I'm preparing by ensuring I have plenty of the following things: clean underwear and cash. And some beer in the fridge.

In a piece on NPR this morning about how the big box stores are stocking up on essential items, I heard that the rest of America has a similarly cavalier attitude to their post-storm preparations. What's the single item that most people rush to Walmart to buy for a major storm? Batteries? Drinking water? Generators? Nope. Strawberry Pop-Tarts. That's true American grit.

Nate Silver calculates that, even if a Category 1 storm hits land 50 miles from Manhattan, the damage will be in the multi-billions of dollars, and if it's a direct hit, tens of billions. A weak Category 2 storm hitting Manhattan would cause damage worth half of the city's annual budget.

Gothamist has a map of the city's evacuation zones (the link to the city's map is reeeally slow today.) Don't go to the beach, and stay safe, everyone.

August 22, 2011

Jerry Leiber wrote the hits

Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

Jerry Leiber (right), the lyricist of the famed songwriting duo Leiber and Stoller, died today at age 78. Leiber and Stoller wrote loads of the great R&B songs recorded in the 1950's and '60's, and you could argue that they were responsible for rhythm and blues crossing over from black performers and audiences to Elvis, white audiences, and everybody in the world.

I love lots of songs by Leiber and Stoller, but my favorite might be The Coasters' "Down in Mexico", which is featured in a great scene from Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof", the second half of the undervalued Grindhouse.

Here's the whole 7 minute scene, featuring a dazzlingly menacing Kurt Russell, which leads up to the greatest lap dance ever performed in flip-flops, by Vanessa Ferlito. "Down in Mexico" and the accompanying dance start at 4:25 if you want to skip ahead.

A few other Leiber and Stoller favorites: The Exciters' irrepressible "Tell Him", Big Mama Thornton's original 1952 version of "Hound Dog", Elvis's pep talk for nerdy girls everywhere "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care", and the Coasters' tremendously fun "Youngblood".

August 18, 2011

"The Hour" on BBC America

The Hour on BBC America

Broadcast News

The first episode of a new BBC series "The Hour" was on last night. It's pretty great! Watching something good on TV again was so gratifying that I didn't realize until now how long it's been since I got excited about a new show.

Every single review I've seen for this show has gone out of its way to stress how "The Hour" is nothing like "Mad Men", though both are set in the workplace in an era when people dressed sharply while behaving terribly, and drank whiskey and smoked, both have ambitious, compelling female characters who want more than their chosen industries are comfortable with giving them, and both are located in a mid-century period when the world is about to change forever.

But "The Hour" is about TV news. As far as I'm concerned, News > Ads, so there's pretty much no way I wouldn't be into this show.

But, OK. It's not really like "Mad Men". The mid-50's London setting is a lot darker and dingier than the bright, shiny offices of early-60's Sterling Cooper. The news rooms are small and cramped, and oppressive class distinctions are positioned front and center. Life in post-war London probably didn't feel sleek, modern, and hopeful, it probably felt stifling and hard. Rationing was in place until 1954, and the empire was disappearing.

I love this stuff, so I'm all over this show. The actors in "The Hour" are fantastic--Ben Wishaw as the scrappy, talented journalist with an investigative instinct, Romola Garai as the hot, brassy, but insecure producer (have you see this woman in other stuff? She's phenomenal) and Dominic West as the slick, charming news presenter who seems to get his way a little too easily, and is even better looking than Don Draper.

This triangle is literally exactly the same as the one in Broadcast News, the movie with Albert Brooks as the talented journalist who lacks social graces, Holly Hunter as the fiesty producer, and William Hurt as the style-over-substance ladies' man news presenter. Broadcast News is just about a perfect movie, so I have no problem with lifting the characters straight out of it and plopping them in the early days of BBC TV news.

Let's watch one of the great scenes from Broadcast News that will probably be more or less recreated in some dark, ugly bar or basement news room sometime in the next few weeks:

Even with the food rationing and all those cigarettes, everyone in "The Hour" is a whole lot handsomer than anyone was in Broadcast News. Really, how did we ever see William Hurt as a sex symbol?

The scrappy Albert Brooks-like investigative journalist basically serves as the Don Draper of the show, and watching him speak passionately about news in one great scene where he predicts the next day's headlines (accurately, we later see) is as good as Don Draper's best sentimental pitch.

In later episodes, we'll learn more about the ghoulish Peter Lorre-like figure who keeps murdering prominent people for some shadowy political reason, and watch Dominic West dashingly seduce everything in a skirt.

August 15, 2011

Why I don't go to the Bryant Park film series anymore

Bryant Park, Monday night film series

Back in the summer of 2001, I used to go to the Monday night Bryant Park film series every single week. I'd go by myself most weeks, rushing home from work to wolf down a quick dinner and run over to the park. Even though a lot of other people had arrived much, much earlier to stake out their spots (there were a lot of unemployed people in 2001) as long as I got there by about 6:20, I could get a decent, smallish space for myself, and relax for a while before the movie started. At that time, it was one of the few good free outdoor film series, and I saw some really great classic movies: Viva Las Vegas, The Wild One, You Can't Take it With You, The Philadelphia Story, Stalag 17.

As tough as it was in 2001 to snag a good spot if you had an office job, it got worse every year. More people started showing up each week, everyone started having cell phones and talking on them during the movie, and, like everyone who's lived in a city for a long time and found themselves inevitably sliding toward the crinkly end of the demographic spectrum, I got more and more irritated at all the 22 year-olds who loudly dominated on Monday nights in the park. I went less and less often, and now it's been a few years since I even thought about going.

Which I've just learned is a good thing. A recent Times article about this summer's series begins with a regular Bryant Park attendee who shows up each week at 5:00 PM with an entire suitcase that allegedly contains two dozen sheets, which he uses to countermand an absurdly gigantic swath of real estate for himself and his friends. "We make sure all of the sheets overlap so that no one can seize a patch of grass," he says.

Sure, he gets there early and has to wait in the park for hours before the movie starts, but this kind of land grab at a free public event sounds suspiciously like the behavior of a greedy asshole to me. Or, OK, I should give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he and his many friends just really love classic movies under the stars.

Then at the end of the article, the writer notes that not everyone at the park appears to be there to watch the movie: "Some checked their phones nonstop. Others fell asleep. A few ducked out early." Then there's a quote from the Bryant Park Conquistador himself: " 'It's not about the movie. It's about having a picnic in the park.' "

What?! Dude. If it's really about having a picnic in the park, couldn't you maybe pick any other park in New York City for your picnic? Or come to Bryant Park for your ridiculously expansive picnic on a Wednesday night? It's because of people like this guy that I'll be missing Dirty Harry next week.

Uh oh. I think I sounded like Glenn Beck for a second, there.

August 12, 2011

Jani Lane and Cherry Pie

Jani Lane from Warrant

The lead singer of 80's hair metal band Warrant, Jani Lane, was found dead in a Comfort Inn room in the Valley yesterday. 47 years old. Cause of death hasn't been determined yet, but he had problems with alcohol and was in jail last year for DUI.

Like a lot of people my age, I watched the video for "Cherry Pie" several thousand times in the early 90's on MTV. Like a lot of songs from the glam metal era, it is not good, but it's indelibly catchy and uncomfortably memorable, the kind of song that will probably seep into your consciousness for no reason on a regular basis for the rest of your life. Band members say it was written in 15 minutes on a pizza box as an afterthought, when the label said they needed a hit for the album.

The level of blatant sexual innuendo in the lyrics is still a tiny bit shocking to me, even now. Maybe because I was an easily embarrassed 15 year-old when it came out? The song is 100% consistent in its themes and structure and is about only one thing: the singer doing it with his hot, probably underage girlfriend.

The album cover is a perfectly literal visual translation of the idiom suggested by the title, and still makes me laugh, gasp, and roll my eyes all at the same time.

Cherry Pie

My favorite verse:

Swingin' in the livin' room, swingin' in the kitchen
Most folks don't 'cause they're too busy bitchin'
Swingin' in there 'cause she wanted me to feed her
So I mixed up the batter and she licked the beater


The other notable thing is Jani Lane's remark about "Cherry Pie" on a VH1 show about metal: "I could shoot myself in the fucking head for writing that song."

Jani did get to marry the girl in the video, Bobbie Brown (which might be the name that best captures the feeling of the late 80's/early 90's, along with Tawny Kitaen.) The video, which is both tame and terrible, was banned by Canada's Much Music for being too sexist (cue Nigel: what's wrong with being sexy?)

Pitchfork has more details on Lane's life in and out of the band, his recent appearance on "Celebrity Fit Club", and tour with the beleaguered Great White. But the sad thing is, when everyone hears about his death today, the first thing they'll think about is "Cherry Pie". RIP, Jani.

August 8, 2011

Another bum TUSH year

Katy Perry and Adele

It's that time again. I've been on the road for weeks, traveling the country on a mission of cultural exploration, listening to passing car stereos and piped music in convenience stores across the land, trying to identify the Totally Ubiquitous Summer Hit of 2011!

This hasn't been much of a fun conversation for the last couple of years. In 2010, I lamely tried to deny the undeniable "California Gurls" juggernaut, because I can't stand Katy Perry and it's a terrible song without even a glimmer of anything real or funky or good. It's light and catchy, but not particularly fun.

Instead, I claimed that last year's TUSH was Cee-Lo's wonderful "Fuck You", which came out in late August and had every single quality that makes a TUSH a TUSH, except the part about being ubiquitous. But! That came later. By last fall, "Fuck You" was unavoidably overplayed, thanks to "Glee" and Gwyneth. I called it! (Three months early.)

The year before, the TUSH was the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling". I'm pretty sure I was right about that one, because I still hear this song all the time. I'm not happy about this.

This year, we've got a couple of non-compelling options: Katy Perry (again) with "Last Friday Night" from that same damn album of hers that came out an entire f'ing year ago (and is probably going to break Michael Jackson's record of generating five #1 singles. Barf.)

It's a song about partying, so at least it's in the TUSH ballpark, but, like last year's hit, it's irritating as hell. I hear it far too often. Shouldn't we be at least a little bit happy every time we hear the current TUSH? She's releasing a remix with Missy Elliott, which lends "Last Friday Night" some TUSH cred, since Missy's own "Get Ur Freak On" was the 2001 TUSH.

The other big contender is Adele's gigantic hit "Rolling in the Deep". This one has the ubiquity part cold. I heard it at a gas station in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming, I heard it at a family picnic when my teenage cousins' cover band started their backyard set with it. It's everywhere. Friends tell me just about everyone they know likes it, no matter what their usual preferences are.

So maybe it's just me, because I'm not wild about it. It's a downer, which makes it a clumsy fit for a TUSH. It also came out in November of last year, though didn't hit #1 on the charts until late May, where it stayed for 7 weeks.

A few things about Adele that bug me: she owes a lot of her success to Amy Winehouse, who tragically failed to overcome her addictions, but was a far superior artist. Adele may not like the comparison, and it's possible that she wasn't directly influenced by Amy Winehouse, but her career probably wouldn't exist if "Back to Black" hadn't sold millions of copies.

And did you hear her rich-person rant about having to pay taxes earlier this summer? Awful.

There's also this song, "Party Rock Anthem", by uncle-nephew duo LMFAO which is currently at #1 in sales and radio play. Have you heard it? It's like six months old and intended to be a joke, I'm pretty sure. At this point, I don't care, it's ridiculous and fun, so if I start hearing it at Duane Reade or the Korean noodle lunch place on 48th St, it'll be a perfectly serviceable TUSH.

We've certainly got some ubiquitous songs this summer, but there's a certain laziness in identifying the season with songs that have been kicking around since last year. If I'm missing some great, sunshiny tune out there, please let me know!

About August 2011

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in August 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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