Friday, February 24, 2006

The Poltics of "Galactica"

Here's my NY Post feature on Battlestar Galactica, which focuses on the politics of the show and how it tweaks the expectations of both the left and the right. It's the best show on TV and tonight's episode is -- typically -- a doozy. (I've got the two-part season finale in hand and can't wait to watch it.)

Popsurfing Is Moving!

Well, I am. A million things to do -- like pack away tons of books and CDs, build shelving in my new apartment, clean the new one, clean the old one, buy a new bed, and move on Monday. So my computer needs to be dismantled too at some point. But this is also the weekend they screen the Oscar shorts. So look for a quiet Popsurfing weekend, with a breakdown of all the Oscar shorts, how good they were and who I think will win. Then on Tuesday, back to surfing.

James Frey Is Fried By Publisher

Finally, someone realizes that a fraud like James Frey is no one to do business with. While Frey's previous publisher continues to lie to the public by marketing his pack of lies as a "memoir," Frey's new publisher Riverhead just canceled his two-book deal. In contrast, JT Leroy -- the nom de plume of a couple -- continues to deliver work for the simple fact that Leroy publishes fiction. Yes, "Leroy" implied their life was a model for the work -- and if I was one of the celebs duped by this couple, I'd be pissed. But their fairly dull fiction is still fiction, so deceptive (or clever) marketing of it isn't the same thing.

Overnight TV Ratings -- Everybody Wins!

American Idol won the 8 p.m. hour, but the Olympics scored a slightly higher audience for the night overall and everybody had something to crow about. Idol -- which eliminated four people who deserved to go -- scored 23 million viewers. (I'll never understand why the results show is lower rated than the performance show; to me, it always seems more inherently dramatic.) But the Olympics, with Cohen doing about as well as she could have hoped (given her long program, even without a fall she would have been lucky to silver), hit 24 million viewers. That's about the first time it's done substantially better than the Winter Olympics eight years ago. ABC's Dancing With The Stars drew a bigger and bigger audience as the night went on (odd, since NBC saved the American ice skaters for 9-11 p.m.), averaging 17.6 million viewers. (A 10 p.m. Primetime Live about the Natalee Holloway case scored 12 million viewers. And CBS -- where heads should roll for running repeats during most of the Olympics -- saw Survivor wilt a bit under the pressure of Idol and Dancing and the Olympics, hitting a decent 14.8 million viewers. If you're a ratings geek like me, sign up for daily emails about the overnight ratings at Mediaweek.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Primetime Preview

Women's ice skating at the Olympics is usually a ratings blockbuster akin to the Oscars and other huge events. It should be even bigger since there are three compelling American skaters, including Sasha Cohen in the lead. But will it beat American Idol's one hour results show? Well, NBC will have most of the women competing after 9 p.m. so they won't go head to head. And since results shows are usually less popular than performance shows, the Olympics might just be the top-rated show of the night. But throw in new editions of Dancing With The Stars and Survivor and it's even crazily possible to imagine the Olympics in third. Or fourth. Late night, Jon Stewart has Roger Ebert.

Dramatic Juggling?

And set to the music of The Beatles' "Carry That Weight?" Now I've seen everything.

"Saw II" Tops DVD Charts

Great, now we get to see more sequels to Saw. The first movie grossed $50 million; the second grossed $87 million (and cost only $4 million to make). And now Saw II debuted at the top of the DVD sales chart. I love how they timed it to come out on Valentine's Day. Not exactly a box of chocolates, is it? At #2 is Grey's Anatomy Season One, at #3 is Bambi II and at #4 is the flop Zathura. Squeaking into the Top 10 on its debut is another misfire: Gwyneth Paltrow's Proof.

"Billy Elliot" Taking Over The World

Billy Elliot -- The Musical hopes to win its share of Olivier awards this Sunday (the UK equivalent of the Tonys). And director Stephen Daldry says plans are moving ahead to launch the very British piece in Japan, Germany, Canada, Australia and of course the US. (They've already begun seeding excitement here by releasing the cast album here with four songs performed by composer Elton John.) The big problem: casting Billy. The show is so demanding it takes three kids to tackle the role at any one time (they rotate their performances.) And so the show is in a constant state of auditions, with the UK casting people touring the country and seeing kids tap their hearts out every two weeks. They already found the perfect kid for the US -- Colin Bates of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, he's already 15 and would be too old by the time the show debuted on Broadway. So they sent him to London to start performing immediately.

Is This News?

Monkeyboy can't stop laughing over the motley collection of headlines at under the "More News" section to the right. (Of course, this changes all the time but these were the headlines as of 2:54 p.m.) We're occupying two countries, an entire major American city has been wiped off the map, riots are engulfing the Middle East, Israel's leader is in a coma and these are among the top stories?

1. 360 Degree Blog: Talking To A Girl Made To Eat Her Enemies
2. Autistic Hoopster Scores 20 Points In 4 Minutes
3. "Dope Candy" Leaves Sour Taste In Officials' Mouths
4. Vanity Fair Catching Flak For Naked Cover Shot

Maybe these really are the end times. Can anyone lend me their copy of Left Behind?

"Gold Digger" Vein Runs Dry

Finally, after 8 months on the charts, "Gold Digger" by Kanye West with Jamie Foxx slips out of the Top 20 on the Billboard charts. Sean Paul heats up with "Temperature," hitting #4 and looking poised to become the next #1 song, as soon as Beyonce tires with "Check On It."On the album side, Jaheim debuts at #1 with Ghetto Classics, pushing the Curious George soundtrack down to #2. And you might have expected the Barry Manilow album to fall quicker: it debuted at #1 thanks to a massive media push by Manilow on every TV show known to man. And the album certainly isn't powered

Looking Forward To "Superman Returns?" How About Its Sequel?

Sequels are already in the works for Superman Returns and Batman Begins, even though Superman hasn't even begun to fly yet. (It opens this summer.) Both will tentatively feature the same directors, Bryan Singer and Christopher Nolan. No surprise there -- they don't launch franchises without plans for at least two sequels. What does suprise me is the little tidbit that the Warner Bros. movies were made with Legendary Pictures -- the studio and the shingle split the budget (which was massive) and will split the profits. To me, the only reason to split the costs is when you can't get all the rights or the movie is wildly expensive and uncertain, so you'd rather limit your downside. But with movies as presold as Batman and Superman, if you don't feel confident enough to make it on your own, whatever the cost, you shouldn't make it at all. If you do feel confident, why give up half the profits?

Overnight TV Ratings

American Idol CRUSHED the Olympics again. More to the point, Idol is setting a torrid pace that is making this the most successful season yet for the show. The fact that it's continuing its record pace opposite the Olympics makes it all the more remarkable. Idol drew almost 32 million viewers, with the Olympics reaching just under 15 million. Yes, Idol had twice as many viewers and TRIPLE the number of desirable viewers aged 18-49. CBS did decently at 10 p.m. with a rerun of CSI: NY, which makes its decision to run away from the Olympics with reruns all the more disastrous. ABC layed low tonight as well, devoting most of its schedule to a rerun of the Lost pilot. Tonight the usually powerhouse women's ice skating will face original episodes of Dancing With The Stars, Survivor and the Idol results show. It'll be lucky not to place third or fourth. If you're a ratings geek like me, sign up for Mediaweek's daily email with the overnight ratings.

Howard Stern Launches Film Festival

Who knew there were that many lesbian movies bieng made each year?

Surfing Through "American Idol"

The boys sang last night and with the judges bickering, Ryan calling out Simon and of course the occasional singing, it was great fun. On a scale of 1 to 10

Patrick -- "Come To My Window" -- 4. Boring. His friend in the audience had the most horrifically Botoxed lips I have ever seen.
David -- "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" -- 4. This year's JPL, he couldn't have looked more dorky when he danced. I like how Paula said in the clips that "The package is great," but he looked blindsided when the judges gave him a thumbs down. Most embarrassing moment: when the female Idols mewed like kittens.
Bucky -- "Simple Man" -- 5. Growled and mumbled so much I could barely understand him. Looked dazed at the end. Shouldn't he be on Nashville Star instead?
Will -- "I Want You Back" -- 7. I was surprised they had him and David (the other Tiger Beat teen) perform so close together. Will has a sibilant "s" and dance moves clearly performed in front of a mirror, like, a thousand times when he was growing up. It was goofy fun and Paula was right to mention Bobby Brady. Worked the camera well. Has more in common than you might imagine with UK "Idol" winner Will Young.
Sway -- "Reasons" -- 3. I thought his falsetto performance was terrible and weak but you gotta love seeing his dad clapping desperately out of tune.
Chris -- "Wanted: Dead Or Alive" -- 9. This didn't seem like an "Idol" audition. It seemed like a performance. The flames in the background were dorky but he was poised and convincing. Very strong.
Kevin -- "One Last Cry" -- 2. Paula and Randy were overly kind. Like David, he is only here for his backstory and personality, not for his singing.
Gedeon -- "Shout" -- 7. Surprisingly smooth and convincing. A dark horse.
Elliot -- "If You Love Me" -- 6. He needs to stay on, just to mirror the plotline of the new movie American Dreamz. I thought Elliot was weak on the fast parts but found his groove very much so on the slow portions of this Stevie Wonder song. Not a complete performance, though.
Bobby -- "Copacabana" -- 3. Very Vegas and very not-good. At least he took the song seriously instead of making it jokey.
Ace -- "Father Figure" -- 9. Note for note like the George Michael version and extremely effective. Needs to avoid cheesy, lingering looks into the camera. That's what did in Constantine.
Taylor -- "Levon" -- 6/7. Insists the Elton John classic is a personal favorite because "the lyrics mean so much to me." That makes him the only guy in the world who has the slightest clue what "Levon" is about, since it features typically opaque lyrics by Bernie Taupin. ("Rocket Man?" Same problem.) Did okay, but if he keeps tilting his body to the side like a blind man (you are NOT Ray Charles) it's gonna drive me to drink. Can a white man shuck and jive? Taylor is doing his darndest.

Life Imitating Art Dept.

Michael Winterbottom's explosive new film The Road To Guantanamo was a big favorite at the Berlin Film Festival and is sure to garner huge attention around the world. Obviously, the film does not put Bush or Blair in a kind light. In a remarkably inept move, authorities at a UK airport detained and questioned the actors who starred in the film (most of whom of course would raise bells if you were racially profiling). But this wasn't an ironic, unintentional incident. it was intimidation. One cop asked an actor if he planned to make any more "political" films. Lovely.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Kevin Nealon Writes About Being Wiretapped

And Nealon's Op-Ed about it is funnier than his last ten movies combined. I don't know whether to applaud him on or cry.

Primetime Preview

There's the Olympics and a new Project Runway. But the big show of the night is still American Idol as the 12 guys perform. USA Today got them to divulge their favorite singers, and even that tiny tidbit proved revealing. To wit:

Bobby -- his favorites are Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow. Hmmm.
Chris Daughtry -- like several others he savvily picked Kelly Clarkson, giving props to the show and identifying himself with other fans
Taylor -- the grey-haired soul man chose Cyndi Lauper and Billy Joel and Van Morrison and Bob Seger but NOT Joe Cocker?
David -- just 17 but he mentioned Ella and Sinatra, along with showing-his-age picks like Jamie Cullum and Michael Buble and the de rigeuer Kelly Clarkson.
Ace -- the pin-up surprised us by picking Janet Jackson and...Mel Torme!
Will -- this year's JPL, 16 year old Will picked Jessica Simpson and Michael Jackson. Where do I begin? But he's also the only guy to sport a cross, giving him the in on the Christian vote. Get those prayer chains going!

Broadway Loves President's Day

The four day weekend gave a big boost to lots of Broadway shows, including two that closed: Chita Rivera: A Dancer's Life and Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Woman In White. They couldn't overcome mixed reviews, but another show has: the musical The Color Purple looks like a crowd pleaser in it for the long term. Last week it grossed a terrific $977,805.

UK Box Office

Here's the Top Ten at the UK box office. Well out of the Top Ten is The Constant Gardener, which scored no Baftas and has been given the cold shoulder by UK audiences as well. (It's total takings are under 1 million pounds.) Odd, since it's such a well-done movie that has done admirably in the US and elsewhere.

1. Chicken Little
2. Big Momma's House 2
3. Final Destination 3
4. Walk The Line
5. Casanova
6. Aeon Flux
7. Zathura
8. Good Night and Good Luck
9. Munich
10. Brokeback Mountain

Actor Daniel Radcliffe Splurges At Charity Auction

The star of Harry Potter spent 30,000 pounds at a charity auction buying a handwritten family history of the character Sirius Black penned by JK Rowling. Radcliffe also scored pieces by Iain Banks and Tom Stoppard. His mum said, "This should put paid to anyone who says that Daniel doesn't like reading." Uh, that and the question of whether he was filthy rich or not.

Fox Does Indeed Launch New Network

Popsurfing told you about it yesterday. Today it's the headline on The Hollywood Reporter: Fox is using the stations abandoned after the merger of The WB and UPN to launch a new network that will be programmed in part by nightly soaps, the telenovelas pioneered in Latin America and suddenly all the rage for the major networks. The channel will be called, uninspiringly, My Network TV and launches in September. You read it here first and there second.
"Frankly it's an opportunity to make money for the television stations," said Fox Television Stations chairman Roger Ailes at a Wednesday news conference announcing the deal.
Uh, yes, that would be the general idea of any business, surely.

BBC To Invest 100 Million Pounds In UK Films

That's spread out over ten years, mind you. But even if they spent it all at once, translated into Hollywood terms that would be, roughly speaking, "one movie."

Emmys Revamps Voting...Again

All sorts of changes in all sorts of categories for Emmy voters. Directors and casting executives get to participate in more voting for acting performances. Best Comedy and Drama shortlists will be selected by panels rather than the voters at large and so on. A similar change a few years ago helped the Grammys get a little smarter in its selections. Hopefully, this will keep Emmys nominations from going to the same shows year after year and always being a year or two behind the public when it comes to recognizing new breakout shows and actors. Mind you, the Emmys were pretty quick to recognize Desperate Housewives and Lost. Hopefully this means they won't knee-jerk and nominate DH again, since everyone else knows it has had a weak second season. And if it means a sci-fi show like Battlestar Galactica can get recognized as the best show on TV, then it will be a real breakthrough. It's already got the most press and audience excitement and actors like Mary McDonnell and Tricia Helfer are doing exceptional work.

Start A Website; Make Headlines Around The World

Some slow-off-the-mark James Bond fans waited till filming began on the new Casino Royale before launching their boycott of the franchise because they love Pierce Brosnan and can't stand Daniel Craig. The website is called CraigNotBond. For all we know, this could be two people in their bedroom making this fuss, but that doesn't stop media outlets around the world from reporting on it. At least USA Today calls them on being absurdly slow in raising their complaint. I mean really, unless they got 10,000 people to sign a petition or something, how does two people (or perhaps even just ONE person) putting a webpage online count as news? How many emails have been sent complaining? (That's their main push.) How much traffic did the website get(BEFORE the news stories broke)? Why is this news?

I Hate Banks

When I deposit a check, it takes five business days before I can access all the funds. Typically, the first day they'll release 10% of the amount and then a little more each day until finally, grudgingly the total amount is made available. Never mind with banking that everything is instantaneous. But when I WRITE a check, they take out the money so fast it makes your head spin. I deposited a check last Wednesday and thanks to President's Day (computers take weekends off), it finally came through today. But I wrote a check yesterday and ALREADY the money is gone from my account. The bastards are making billions of dollars off the float and it drives me nuts.

Michael Jackson To The Rescue!

Hold on, Katrina victims. Michael Jackson is coming to the rescue with his charity single. I love the odd mix of celebs who agreed to participate: Snoop Dogg, R. Kelly (who knows something about underage sex scandals), Ciara, Keyisha Cole, James Ingram, Jackson's brother Jermaine, Shanice, the Rev. Shirley Caesar and the O'Jays. The song is called "I Have This Dream" (to heck with having "a" dream) and will come out in a week or two. Michael's buddy Prince Abdullah told the media "It's a song of total oneness." And O'Jays singer Eddie Levert had this unintentionally hilarious comment: "Michael produced it on the phone from Bahrain. He talked to Shirley Caesar, he talked to James Ingram. He talked to everyone except me." The Prince promised more music to come. "This is a raindrop before the thunderstorm," he said. "He's getting ready to come out with a lot of bells and whistles. He's so energized. It's explosive." God help me, I'd probably by it just to hear what it sounded like.

Will The Real Aquaman Please Stand Up?

First, reality show escapee Alan Ritchson played Aquaman in an episode of Smallville that scored hugely in the ratings and immediately sparked talk of a spin-off. But without Alan Ritchson. Soon Will Toale was announced as the lucky winner of the Aquaman sweepstakes. But then the WB and UPN merged, the new head took a look at Toale and said, "Next!" and now the very final, absolute, nobody else gonna wear his swim trunks Aquaman is...Justin Hartley of the TV soap Passions. His mentor will be Ving Rhames (which apparently echoes the Aquaman comic book, but also leads me to wonder what happened to Kojak on USA) and the show will reportedly be called Mercy Reef. And for those, like Ed, who need to see more, go here.

20 Favorite CDs

Damn those music buffs at NYCD. Their list invariably got me thinking about my list. Needless to say, these are NOT the 20 best albums of all time -- not in the least. They're not my 20 favorite or the 20 I play the most. They're not a lot of things. So what are they? Twenty CDs that a quick perusal of my shelves deemed essential, necessary and most of all meaningful -- 20 CDs that blew my mind or led me to other CDs or exemplify a particular passion. No jazz or gospel of blues or folk or classical or world music or soundtracks or cast albums -- so no Frank, no Ella, no Billie, no Coltrane, no Miles, no Philip Glass, no "Camelot" or "Blade Runner" or a million other categories because I could do 20 of all of them. Very little rap and hip hop because I was a bit older when they exploded, no Motown because they came at me via the radio and movies and TV and a million varied compilations rather than a certain album so no Supremes or Temptations or Aretha. No Elvis Costello because I came late to the game. No Stevie Wonder for the same reason. No Bowie because he "belonged" to my friend Jesse. And on and on. A million excuses for what's missing. But here they are: 20 CDs that mean a lot to me.

THE BEACH BOYS -- Pet Sounds
BEASTIE BOYS -- Paul's Boutique
THE BEATLES -- Revolver
THE BLUE NILE -- A Walk Across The Rooftops
BOB DYLAN -- Highway 61 Revisited
MARVIN GAYE -- What's Going On/Let's Get It On two-fer CD
MADNESS -- Keep Moving
PRINCE -- Purple Rain
RADIOHEAD -- OK Computer
R.E.M. -- Murmur
PAUL SIMON -- Graceland
U2 -- The Joshua Tree
DIONNE WARWICK -- The Dionne Warwick Collection -- Her All-Time Greatest Hits

Click here to read more about these CDs and why they matter to me.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

NYCDs Top CDs Of All Time

Like any true geek, I'm a sucker for Best Of lists (whether it's the best of the year, best of the decade, best of all time, best since I started blogging or whatever). If you're like me, you'll enjoy the Top CDs of all time from the music-loving fellows at my favorite online CD store NYCD. As they put it, they got a case of High Fidelity-itis and couldn't stop. I'll simply point to the absence of Richard and Linda Thompson and their wimpy choice to merge the lists rather than stand by their own choices and say no more. (What's the point of a list if you can't argue?)

Primetime Preview

American Idol expands to two hours for live performances from the 12 female finalists. (Tomorrow night you see the men and Thursday gives the voting results.) That's the top event of the night, despite the Olympics featuring top American women competing in ice skating, usually the premiere event of the Winter Games. It's not even clear whether they'll beat Idol. But I think both shows will do well; there's plenty of room for two hit series on the same night. CBS continues to hide with reruns -- the biggest blunder of the Olympics, considering how well Fox and ABC have done. ABC counters with Tom Selleck geust-starring on Boston Legal as Candice Bergen's ex-husband. Late night, Letterman has the cast of Jersey Boys performing and Matthew Fox of Lost.

Neve Campbell On London Stage

I really like Neve Campbell. She's parlayed her stardom from Party of Five into a very interesting film career. And even though she hasn't made a lot of successful movies yet, her choices are so interesting and she's so often the best thing in them that I know she's going to be around for a long time. Among her movies: the Scream trilogy (which gave her bankability), Wild Things (which she probably isn't thrilled with but is B-movie fun), and The Company (a Robert Altman film about dance that she spent a good ten years creating and making happen). She was also really good in When Will I Be Loved (a James Toback movie I hated), and gave her brother Christian support by popping into Reefer Madness: The Musical. She's got movies in the works with Jessica Lange, Nicolas Roeg (typical for her, that one) and is making her stage debut in London with Arthur Miller's Resurrection Blues directed by Altman. The Independent UK has a profile.

FOX To Launch ANOTHER Primetime Network?

I'm not sure what's going on here -- it's buried in the middle of another story -- but apparently Fox is launching a 12 hour primetime network to compete with CW. CW of course is the merged network that combines the best shows of The WB and UPN to create the CW. As one station exec put it: “It’s a smart move to combine the networks, but it doesn’t mean that a combination of marginal shows will achieve high ratings.” So not everyone is jumping at the chance to be a part of CW and Fox is stepping in with its own 12 hour primetime package of a weblet. It's unclear what sort of original programming this network would have; perhaps it's just a mishmash of syndicated shows and reruns and theatrical movies. Perhaps it's an honest to goodness network. But one thing is clear: It puts the weblets right back where they started -- two tiny networks fighting over bragging rights for fourth place. Hey, Fox, how about launching it with Arrested Development?

Ricky Gervais' Final Podcast

If you're a fan of the UK TV show The Office -- one of the funniest sitcoms of all time -- then you should enjoy the free podcasts creator and star Ricky Gervais has been doing online. You don't ned an iPod, of course (you can just listen to them on your computer) and they're silly fun. Besides, you'll become a part of history: Gervais is making the Guinness Book Of World Records for most downloaded podcast of all time.

And they won't be free for long. Gervais jokes he was "a fool" for not charging money. In fact, he was smart, since it garnered the podcasts a huge initial audience. Now how many of them will follow Gervais to the very limited realm of paid podcasts? He'll have a batch of four new episodes starting Feb 28 available at iTunes and Audible.Is podcasting a viable business or just a promotional item and a hobby? I'm sure that ultimately it can be a moneymaker for the right people. Gervais is about to find out.

Video On Demand At Your Library

Overdrive, a company that already provides eBooks and downloadable audio books to libraries, is announcing a video-on-demand service for libraries as well that will go live later this year at the New York Public Library and elsewhere. Libraries are already a great free source of books, CDs, DVDs, audiobooks, etc -- with the digitization of libraries and resources like this, people won't have to go to a branch and check out items to make use of them anymore.

Why do you care? Combine this with AOL going live with some 14,000 TV shows, videos and movies from Warner Bros. -- all of which will be free to watch but include advertising -- and you can get a glimpse of the world we'll live in 20-50 years from now. People who produce creative content will still make money. But increasingly, the vast library of information -- books, music, movies, tv shows, magazines, newspaper articles and more -- will simply be...out there, available to anyone with an internet connection. The smart companies wil try and find ways to make money off all those eyeballs. The dumb ones will try and stuff the genie back into the bottle. (Hat tip to Alfredboy aka priv8pete for the link.)

CDs Out Today

If you're heading to the record stores, keep these CDs in mind - they're the ones I'll be picking up.

Ray Davies -- Other People's Lives (I've never paid enough attention to the Kinks. Apparently other people feel just as guilty -- Davies has been getting tons of press for his solo debut. Mind you, being shot and almost killed last year in New Orleans does make for a snappy lead.)

Arctic Monkeys -- Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not -- I don't understand why my friends at NYCD got annoyed by the massive hype and initially pooh-poohed this. They know as well as I that if the British press tout a band as bigger than Oasis and more important than the Beatles that it merely means the band's CD might not suck. And in this case, it doesn't suck at all. Most American reviews say, "Believe the hype." I say, "Well worth a listen."

Teddy Thompson -- Separate Ways -- I'm a crazy huge fan for the Thompsons, the Wainwrights, et al. I liked Teddy's debut but this a strong leap forward in quality. The UK press has been glowing. The American press is starting to wake up too, with Entertainment Weekly giving it an "A" and USA Today 3 1/2 stars.The NYT, in classic NYT fashion, managed to review the CD without actually telling us what they thought of it. Literate, engaging pop.

Marley's Ghost -- Spooked -- never heard of this cult band, but Van Dyke Parks produced their new CD and R. Crumb did the cover art. I'm in.

Reissues: As with the Kinks, I ignored Mott the Hoople, in this case for the very simple reason that they have one of the silliest, least dignified names in rock and roll. But apparently, they have two glam rock albums I am a fool for not knowing better. Also out, a clutch of Merle Haggard's best CDs from the 60s in two-fers.

New Dick Wolf Series Available For Free On iTunes

Are you a Law & Order fan? Dick Wolf, the creator of that show, is launching his new series Conviction. It's about the well-known phenomenon of young Assistant District Attorneys who are passionate about justice and extremely hot. In a first, Wolf is making the pilot available for free on iTunes! Good luck, I haven't been able to connect to the iTunes store for the past hour.

The Olympics Are A TV Hit...In The UK

The British aren't doing any better medal-wise than the Americans (relatively speaking). But the Olympics are proving a ratings hit for BBC2.

A Four Hour Puppet Show Version Of "Paradise Lost?"

Wallace Shawn and his brother Allen are promoting their opera The Music Teacher, a work they collaborated on more than 20 years ago and finally being mounted. Shawn is always funny, but the description of their childhood makes it sound like a New Yorker caricature come to life, a Salinger-esque world of little boys doing elaborate puppet shows that make Wes Anderson's movies seem tame in comparison. As kids, they did a four hour version of Paradise Lost for their father William Shawn (editor of The New Yorker of course) and his famous friends, with a break for dinner. And I couldn't stop laughing over this story:
When it came to their productions, the older brother would take charge. "Do we butt heads?" Allen asked rhetorically. "We both have, in a funny way, big egos. But we meet each other halfway." He does remember though, when he was 10 and Wallace was 15, that "we'd be doing a puppet show about Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, say, and we would often have very wonderful discussions about the story. At that point I'd be following Wall's lead."
A 10 year old and a 15 year old doing a puppet show about Lumumba? My God, if you put it in a movie, no one would believe it. The rest of the article is just as entertaining.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Who Will Rick Rubin Produce Next?

It's probably the most enjoyable game in music. What talented but in-a-rut artist will producer Rick Rubin rejuvenate next? He's done wonders with launching the Beastie Boys, overseeing numerous metal acts and then becoming a legend for helping Johnny Cash pour out a ton of music in the last decade of his life. Now he's done the same for Neil Diamond. Billboard has the word: Metallica, bringing Rubin back to his metal days. Plus a dash of Justin Timberlake, followed by...Linkin Park? And my hope remains that he'll work with Bill Withers.

Weekend Box Office -- Paul Walker Is A STAR!

The wooden Paul Walker -- of The Fast and the Furious and Into The Blue -- has another hit movie to his credit. This time it's the family film Eight Below. The other big news: Brokeback Mountain fell out of the Top Ten just two weeks before the Oscars. It's at $72 million, so if it snares the top prize, $100 million should be within reach. Finally, the crazily silly Russian sci-fi fantasy flick Nightwatch -- a huge, huge blockbuster in Mother Russia and one of a trilogy -- opened big in limited release on three screens. People who miss The Matrix have found their new fix. The Top Ten:

1. Eight Below -- $25 million (four day weekend figures)
2. Date Movie -- $22.3 million
3. The Pink Panther -- $21 million ($46.7 mil total)
4. Curious George -- $15.3 million ($33.5 mil total)
5. Final Destination 3 -- $12.5 million ($33.2 mil total)
6. Firewall -- $10.3 million ($33.6 mil total)
7. Freedomland -- $7 million
8. When A Stranger Calls -- $5.8 million ($42.1 mil total)
9. Big Momma's House 2 -- $5.3 million ($62.2 mil total)
10. Nanny McPhee -- $5.1 million ($39.3 mil total)

Why Are The Olympics A Ratings Disappointment?

USA Today and many others have numerous explanations for why the Olympics are doing only modestly in the ratings. But here's my take. First, of course, the Olympics are boosting the ratings for every cable channel -- like USA and MSNBC -- that is carrying them. Plus, NBC's website is exploding with people checking out scores, downloading videos, etc. The Olympics is a huge source of material and the better NBC gets at exploiting that material in every possible platform, the more money they'll make. And yes, USA Today is right that the Games -- especially the Winter Games -- are bloated. The Olympics has desperately added a bunch of Gen X sports -- not because they want to reach kids particularly, but because they want to have as many days of TV as possible and the Winter Games traditionally had far fewer events than the summer games. But the single biggest reason isn't mentioned: the disastrous decision to alternate the Games every two years. That turned the Olympics from a once-every-four-years special event a la World Cup -- into the event that never seems to go away. American Idol wisely only does one show a year. The Olympics would be smart to suck it up and go back to the every four years format as soon as possible.

Your Congressman Is Getting The Porn Mag "Hustler!"

Alfredboy aka priv8pete tipped me off to this funny piece. Apparently, sleaze merchant (and First Amendment protector, of course) Larry Flynt has been sending issues of his porn magazine Hustler to every member of Congress for years now. Apparently, as public servants they can't refuse him the right to send it. A spokesperson for the far right group Focus On the Family put it accurately if rather crudely: "It seems like Flynt's trying to stick it to Congress." He said it; not me.

Paul Weller/Jam Dominate British Charts

Paul Weller, a British music icon for his work in The Jam, The Style Council and as a solo artist, is all over the British album charts this week. A repackaging of The Jam's greatest hits album Snap debuts at #10, his solo greatest hits (modestly called Modern Classics)debuts at #32 and his most recent album As Is Now comes back in at #39. Certainly everyone should own The Jam's Snap so jump on this remastered edition when it comes to the US. New phenoms Arctic Monkeys remain squarely at #1. On the singles chart, the first Pop Idol winner Will Young proves Kelly Clarkson isn't the only one to have a proper career: his latest single "All Time Love" jumps to #7.

Spike Lee's Next Movie A Biopic Of Boxer Joe Louis

Director Spike Lee told a university audience his next film would be a biopic of boxer Joe Louis and star actor Terrence Howard. Lee is currently editing a documentary on Hurrican Katrina and the aftermath.

Holocaust Denier David Irving Pleads Guilty

The once-respected historian David Irving insisted for many years that the Holocaust was a hoax and that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz. Oops. I don't like the idea of people being tried in court for their opinions -- however noxious or stupid or evil -- but it is enjoyable to hear Irving plead guilty in Vienna. His explanation?
"History is a constantly growing tree - the more you know, the more documents become available, the more you learn, and I have learned a lot since 1989."
Oh well, of course. All those "the Holocaust really happened" breakthroughs we've enjoyed since 1989.

Surfing Through "Grey's Anatomy"

The first rule of good TV drama is to not tease out the audience with the inevitable. If two characters are meant to be together, you can't keep us in suspense forever. Bad shows think if the characters get together, the show is over. Good shows bring them together and see what happens. Grey's Anatomy finally ended a season and a half of frustrated desire by letting everyman George finally declare his love to Meredith. So why did it seem so unsatisfying? Probably because Meredith is in love with Derek, his marriage seems about to collapse and it's clear to everyone he loves her more than his wife. So while the show began with George frustrated in his desire for Meredith, she is clearly meant to be with Derek. So having her and Charlie sleep together is just a random, unconvincing plot twist until Meredith and Derek finally unite. So how can we invest emotionally in Charlie's fulfillment when we know it's "wrong?" Besides, Meredith didn't seem nearly vulnerable enough to just sleep with Charlie. I expected her to gently turn him down and let him get on with his life; not pull off his shirt. The sooner they wrap up this dead-end, the better.

Bestseller Lists Clogged With Bestsellers

A few years ago, an hysterical book industry pressured the New York Times into eliminating childrens' books from the Bestseller Lists. Why? Because the once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon Harry Potter was taking up three slots on the hardcover list. (This was at the height of Potter-mania, with a movie coming out and three books released in rapid succession since we were catching up with the UK.) It was an idiotic, random decision -- imagine if the box office Top Ten didn't include animated films because they were too popular. The bestseller list should include the bestsellers, from whatever genre. A quick glance at the charts shows plenty of other books "clogging" up the lists. The Da Vinci Code is at #2 and will be on the charts for three years in just a few weeks. On the nonfiction list, Blink by Malcolm Gladwell has made itself at home for more than a year. The paperback list is even crazier: reader group favorite The Kite Runner has been on the list for a year and a half, Angels & Demons by Dan Brown more than two years, Gladwell's The Tipping Point for a year and a half, The Devil in the White City for almost two years, and Guns Germs and Steel and Tuesdays With Morrie for three years.

Weekend Box Office

It's a holiday weekend, so more figures will come out today and tomorrow. But for now, here are the results for the three day weekend. The big news: just two weeks before the Oscars, Brokeback Mountain is out of the Top Ten. I'd hoped it and Capote and Good Night and Good Luck were in a good position to capitalize on their nominations, but only BM came close. $100 million will be tough.

1. Eight Below -- $19.8 million
2. Date Movie -- $18.9 million
3. The Pink Panther -- $16.5 mil ($42.2 mil total)
4. Curious George -- $11.2 mil ($29.4 mil)
5. Final Destination 3 -- $10.1 mil ($35.8 mil)
6. Firewall -- $9 mil ($27.3 mil)
7. Freedomland -- $5.9 mil
8. When A Stranger Calls -- $4.9 mil ($41.2 mil)
9. Big Momma's House 2 -- $4.4 ($61.3 mil)
10. Nanny McPhee -- $3.7 mil ($37.3 mil)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

"Brokeback" Dominates British Oscars

Brokeback Mountain dominated the BAFTAS -- the UK equivalent to the Oscars, with awards that will likely mimic the Oscar winners in a few short weeks. Brokeback won four, including Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (for Jake Gyllenhaal) and Best Adapted Screenplay. In similar lockstep to the Oscars, Reese Witherspoon won Best Actress for Walk The Line and Crash won Best Original Screenplay. (My IRA Oscar experts say all those people will repeat at the Oscars, with the (possible) exception of Jake Gyllenhaal, whose category is the toughest to call. They also say Rachel Weisz is a lock for Best Supporting Actress for The Constant Gardener.) At the BAFTAs, Thandie Newton won Best Supporting Actress for Crash. So are the BAFTAS influencing the Oscars or just following in their expected footsteps?

Slow Day On Popsurfing

The IRAs take a lot out of a man. (Besides, the popsurfing waves are pretty tame today.) Also, I've got to move in a week so there are tons of errands to take care of, not to mention packing. Here's my New York Post Q&A with Jay Mohr, who was a lot of fun to talk to. And you can check out my DVD column, which covers North Country, Rent, Dick Cavett and Class of 1984. See you late tonight or first thing in the morning.

The IRA Awards: Final Results

Are advancing years mellowing the IRAs? No fistfights, no bitter arguments, just a desperate plea to keep things moving along because some people have to get up in the morning. (For the record, voting lasted from 6:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.) Cruel things were said, of course. Dakota Fanning's talent was battered about like a pinata. A prayer was offered up that Ingmar Bergman would keep his word when he said Saraband was his final film. Sarah Silverman was praised and damned (even though Jews don't believe in damnation). And actors Alessandro Nivola of Junebug, Kevin Zegers of Transamerica and Ashton Holmes of A History of Violence were manhandled like sides of beef; lovingly, mind you, but sides of beef nonetheless. Actresses who garnered support of the most basic sort included Maria Bello of History of Violence, Alexis Dziena of Broken Flowers and Sibel Kekilli of Head-On. Perhaps the overall lack of venom was due to strong appreciation for a handful of films: in no special order My Summer of Love, Good Night and Good Luck, A History of Violence, 2046, Capote, and Tony Takitani had widespread support. But one film dominated them all. Here are the winners:

BEST PICTURE: Mysterious Skin
BEST DIRECTOR: Gregg Araki for Mysterious Skin
BEST ACTOR: Joseph Gordon-Levit for Mysterious Skin
BEST ACTRESS: Maria Bello for A History of Violence
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Paddy Considine for My Summer Of Love
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Catherine Keener for Capote, The 40 Year Old Virgin and The Ballad of Jack and Rose but not The Interpreter
BEST SCREENPLAY: Gregg Araki for Mysterious Skin
BEST CINEMATOGRPAHY: Robert Elswit for Good Night and Good Luck and Syriana
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: William Chang Suk Ping for 2046
BEST SCORE: Howard Shore for A History of Violence
BEST COSTUMES: William Chang for 2046

MECHANICAL ACTOR: Tom Cruise for War of the Worlds and The Oprah Winfrey Show
MECHANICAL ACTRESS: Dakota Fanning for War of the Worlds, Dreamer: Inspired By A True Story, Hide and Seek and Nine Lives.

For complete ballots, with vote totals, runner-ups and other behind-the-scenes info, go here.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Tonight: The IRAs!

Yes, it's time for the annual IRA awards. For those who don't know, every year since the early '90s, I've been voting for the IRAs. An unjustly obsucre honor, the IRAs are given out by a group of cranky film enthusiasts, the sort of people who wouldn't dream of missing a screening of a four hour documentary at Anthology Archives but disdain mainstream Hollywood cinema. We get together before the Oscars and have it out, spending hours arguing over all the usual categories (Actor, Screenplay, etc.) and some unusual ones (Mechanical Actor, the Sominex Award for the movie that put us to sleep, and so on). Most of the fun comes from mocking other people's choices, arguing vociferously and campaigning to make sure your favorite movie gets mentioned and that a movie you hate gets shut out. Look for a full report on the winners and losers late, late tonight or tomorrow.

Surfing Through "Bill Maher"

It's always good to have Bill Maher back. (He must have been chomping at the bit as the Cheney hunting accident blew up.) But a weak panel kept Maher off his game. Helen Thomas was uninpsired and kept shaking Eddie Griffin's hand, Griffin is no Chris Rock (I still can't for give him for those Deuce Bigalow movies) and token conservative Dan Senor was dull. Besides, I was disappointed to hear the fiarly libertarian Maher say we should ignore Bush's trampling of the Constitution because we've got to capture terrorists.

The British Press In A Nutshell

I love the over-the-top British press,which dissects every inch of every insta-celebrity that appears. Case in point: the sudden success of rock band The Ordinary Boys. They achieved their fame the old-fashioned way: by having their lead singer appear on Celebrity Big Brother and fool around on his girlfriend with another contestant to the delight of England. My favorite quote comes from a bandmate who hated the idea of Big Brother:
"One of [the tabloids] rang up and said they wanted to do a positive kiss-and-tell on Preston. They said, don't worry, we'll make it really complimentary to him, we'll say he's got an eight-inch cock and he can do it 20 times a night. When I said that I wasn't interested, they became a bit threatening and said they'd do a negative one instead." A note of concern enters his voice. "You haven't seen an article saying he's got a one-inch cock and he can't get it up, have you?"

"You Make The Sun Shine Brighter Than Doris Day"

That's one of my favorite lyrics (it comes from Wham's "Wake Me Up (Before You Go Go)." But of course no one makes the sun shine brighter than Doris Day. She's always been an exceptional singer overshadowed by her cheery image. But still, I've never paid much attention to her. So what possessed me to buy The Love Album -- her final studio album which remained unrealeased for about 40 years? But darned if it isn't pretty great, with Day delivering subtle, engaging covers of standards like "For All We Know" and "All Alone." Her disarming approach reminds me of Peggy Lee, another singer who doesn't seem to be striving to do much at all until she breaks your heart. I can't agree with noted jazz vocalist expert Will Friedwald, who claims in the liner notes that Day's version of the Joni Mitchell classic "Both Sides Now" is the greatest version of that song ever recorded. (It's good, but the arrangement dates it a bit.) But when he compares Day to Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney and Lee, it's hard to argue.

The Biggest Loser During The Olympics: CBS

Everyone thinks NBC is suffering because these Olympics are down a bit from the ratings in Nagano (the last overseas Olympics). But the network -- ranked fourth in the demos that matter -- is bringing eyeballs to their network, meeting the ratings they promised to advertisers and getting a platform to promote hit-lets like My Name Is Earl and The Office (a hit-let is a show that gets more press than ratings) and midseason launches. (NBC also rightly points out that it makes use of the Olympics in countless other ways, pumping up ratings for cable channels like USA, their websites and so on.) So they're fine. ABC and Fox are doing great, too. They decided to keep airing their most popular shows during the Games and it's paid off huge in the ratings for everything from House and American Idol to Desperate Housewives and Dancing With The Stars. (Launching a two-parter of Grey's Anatomy off the Super Bowl to gain record ratings opposite the Olympics was the smartest move of all.) So who's the loser? CBS. They decided to roll over and play dead in the middle of February sweeps and air mostly reruns. Even a repeat of CSI did well on Thursday. Imagine if they hadn't squandered this chance to compete. Their affiliates and corporate owners should be angry.

Rolling Stones Rock Rio Today

The Rolling Stones are performing a free concert on the beaches of Rio tonight. (The city is paying $750,000 for the gig, according to the BBC. But it's unlcear if that is a payment to the Stones or just the cost of placing 10,000 cops in the area to keep the peace.) About two million people are expected to jam the Copacabana Beach one week before Carnival is launched. That's not a record by the way: Rod Stewart played to 3.5 million people on that beach in 1994. Given the setting and the fact that Barry Manilow just topped the charts, can I make one suggestion for a cover? "Copacabana (At The Copa)." That would be silly fun, but of course the Stones set list is arthritic and incapable of change. They'll play "Brown Sugar" and "Start Me Up" and the same other 15 songs they always play. (This is the 35th anniversary of perhaps their greatest album: Exile On Main Street, which hit the charts in June of 1972. Wouldn't it be great if they did concerts and played the damn thing straight through? Jut a thought.) Shut Down By Olympics

In a move that threatens the free speech principles of the Internet, the website has shut down in response to a cease and desist letter from the Olympics. HotOlympians was a clever website that highlighted a different male and female athlete each day, touting their hotness (of course) and including links to the competitor's official web page (if they had one), profiles of them on ESPN, MSNBC, etc and -- most importantly to their readers -- sexy photos of the athletes from various sources, including shots from competition, posters, fan shots, anything at all that was sexy and revealing and available for viewing on the web.

"Olympians" is a trademarked word, so clearly the site needs to use a different name, such as or whatever. But the Olympic lawyers made further claims, insisting that athletes are forbidden to appear on commercial websites. The main complaint of the USOC was that HotOlympians was a commercial website and not a journalistic endeavor. According to an email from the USOC that posted on its site:
Rule 41 specifically forbids Olympic athletes to appear in any advertisement, even if it is just a mention of the athlete's name or image, during the 17-day period of the Olympic Games unless the athlete has obtained a written waiver of the rule.
Absurdly, the USOC lawyers suggest athletes like Bode Miller would lose their eligibilityy to participate in the Olympics because their images appeared on

As Aaron Bailey, the publisher of HotOlympians pointed out, the athletes are no more "endorsing" his website than they are endorsing, the New York Times website, or the thousands of fan websites that talk about their favorite players and post images of them online. Bailey says he doesn't have the time or money to fight the USOC legally. He plans to relaunch the site under another name without advertising. (NOTE: had just purchased an ad for two weeks on the site.)

The USOC has a right to enforce its trademark on the word "Olympians." But it should be fought over its absurd power grab: it is claiming that any website that accepts ads (even ones through AdSense) is breaking the law if they discuss Olympic athletes. If so, and every news media outlet, every fan website and about a million blogs are breaking the law. Fair use of photographs is a separate issue. But the USOC cannot be allowed to establish such a far-reaching and dangerous precedent.

Friday, February 17, 2006

I Forgot About This...

Matt Damon will return as amnesiac Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum, which begins filming this summer with Paul Greengrass back in the director's chair. Damon had insisted he thought a third movie would be hard to justify, but you can't keep a good (and wildly profitable) franchise down. Producer Frank Marshall said he envisioned FIVE Bourne movies in total. NOTE: scroll down article to see news item at bottom.

Weekend Movie Preview

A clutch of new movies, none of them very interesting. The best opener is here in Manhattan where the clever mock ducmentary The Confederate States of America finally gets a commercial screening after critical praise and timid bookers kept it in limbo. Box Office Prophets expects Date Movie to the big new hit at some $22 million over the four day weekend, with the Disney dog flick Eight Below well behind at $14 million (probably because it's competing for the same audience with Pink Panther and Curious George, both of which should follow close behind). Amd limping into fifth place is the poorly reviewed crime drama Freedomland. Brokeback Mountain, after expanding too wide to 2000 screens, slims back down to 1,600 and waits for the Oscars.

Overnight TV Ratings

The Hollywood Reporter has more definite numbers for Thursday night. Again, the Olympics got beat by both Dancing With The Stars and Survivor. (And don't fail to notice that the older skewing Dancing beat Survivor in total viewers for the second week in a row.) Dancing had 19.8 million viewers 8-9 p.m.and then peaked with 21.2 million from 9 to 9:30 p.m. Survivor had 17.1 million and the Olympics was third with 15.8 million. The Olympics only tied a REPEAT of CSI in the most coveted demo but scored 20 million viewers to CSI's 18.5 mil. At ten, the Olympics finally behaved like a champion as 21 million ice skating fans watched Johhny Weir fail to put it together in the long program easily won the hour.

One More Problem With The Record Industry

Consumers tell record labels time and time again that CD prices are too high. (No, argue the labels, if you adjust for inflation blah blah blah -- they're TOO HIGH.) I buy tons of CDs but when I go into Tower Records looking for a 30 year old album and find it's $18.99, I walk away. One other reason album sales are slipping? Record labels like to keep it a secret when the CDs are coming out. Sure you can go to some record stores and stare at a list of new releases that might cover 10 or 20 albums --if you're lucky. But just try and suss out what's in stores without simply going in and roaming the aisles. Check out Billboard's new releases section of its website. It should contain dozens if not hundreds of titles sorted by genre. Instead, they often list about 5 CDs total for each week. Serious fans have to buy ICE, a CD release date newsletter, just to get the info that labels should be providing for free. Crazy/

Apple Gets Poetic

Apple embedded a limerick of sorts deep in its operating software for OSX to discourage hackers not to steal their product. Typically nifty of them; can't wait to go Mac on my next computer. The poem:
"Your karma check for today: There once was a user that whined/his existing OS was so blind/he'd do better to pirate/an OS that ran great/but found his hardware declined./Please don't steal Mac OS!/Really, that's way uncool./(C) Apple Computer, Inc."
Hat tip to Alfredboy aka priv8pete (our upstate New York red-stater) for this link.

"Dancing With Stars" And "Survivor" Beat Olympics

Overnight ratings are still sketchy -- but a press release from CBS makes clear that Dancing With The Stars ranked Number One and Survivor ranked Number Two in both total viewers and the coveted 18-49 demos. That's right, the Olympics ranked THIRD in the 8 p.m. hour. At 9 p.m., rerun of CSI tied the Olympics and even increased its audience levels over "Survivor." NBC is doing so poorly this season, that even a third place ranking by the Olympics is useful, even on a Thursday night when NBC used to reign supreme. More specific ratings when they're available.

Simon Cowell: "Idol" Finalists Chosen For Their Personalities

Simon Cowell states the obvious to the New York Post: when choosing the 24 finalists, the judges weren't focused on the best singers; they were choosing people with the most colorful personalities. Yes, American Idol is a TV show first and a talent show second. That explains the presence of those high school crooners David and William. David in particular sounded flat every single time he sang -- but he and Will are Tiger Beat cute, so they got through. And Kevin Conais? Clearly chosen for his geek appeal and his remarkable resemblance to Chicken Little. And when America surprises the judges in the voting, it's usually because they vote for the people rather than the voices. So the judges have no one but themselves to blame.

"Les Miz" Back In Les Mix on Broadway

In an odd bit of news, Les Miserables returns to Broadway this fall for a six month engagement. Why odd? Because Broadway is filled with long-running musicals and new shows have to jockey and beg and plead for a house. Why put in a limited run when you could be turning away the next mega-musical? Two reasons, perhaps. Les Miz will be moving into a theater that's about to host the limited engagement of Alan Bennett's delightful play The History Boys. That charmer -- featuring the original UK cast -- would be leaving the Broadhurst dark in September and for various reasons (an upcoming film version of the show; cast obligations elsewhere; Bennett's weak US track record) almost certainly couldn't extend even if it wanted too. The other reason? It's no coincidence that Les Miz will become the longest running hit in history for either the West End or Broadway in London this October. Besides, the touring production is closing down this summer after 18 years on the road in the US. Mackintosh already has the sets and an able pool of talent to choose from so he probably figured, why not? (Indeed, the NYT reports it will only cost $4 million to mount, so the show is certain to be profitable.)

Bond Has A Babe: Eva Green

25 year old French actress Eva Green -- seen in Bertolucci's The Dreamers (and I do mean seen) -- is the latest Bond Girl. Jeffrey Wright has also been cast; he'll play CIA agent Felix Leiter. Obviously, even though Casino Royale has been filming since January 29, Green hardly has enough stature to hold the producers hostage for a lot of money as some suggested might happen. All in all, the casting has been resolutely low-key and smart -- hopefully the movie will follow the same pattern. Still, it's a cruel irony that Pierce Brosnan was urging the producers to move the franchise away from hi-tech gadgets and embrace a more realistic, edgy approach (which admittedly was attempted with Timothy Dalton). But he was dumped, only to see the producers apparently do exactly what he suggested...with Daniel Craig.

Surfing Through The Olympics

Men's ice skating was exciting last night, despite dull-as-dishwater Plushenko sealing the gold with his dull but technically excellent routine. The Americans were disappointing: Johnny Weir because he didn't skate well and Evan Lysacek because he skated so well. (If Lysacek hadn't collapsed in his short program, he could have medaled.) Weir at least was fun and Lysacek had a gripping story. A generally nice kid, Lysacek unfortunately had one talking point drilled into him: since he couldn't conceivably medal, his performace was about "courage." I hate it when commentators say an athlete or actor is "brave" or "courageous." There is never anything brave about playing a game. Save that word for soldiers and cops and firemen. But even more annoying than hearing someone else say it is hearing Lysacek himself say he was showing "courage" about four or five times in a two minute interview. Just obnoxious. The future looks bright for Canada and the 2010 Games in Vancouver: Jeffrey Buttle got the bronze and has lots of room for improvement and Shawn Sawyer was stunningly flexible and had moments of brilliance even though he's only 19.

"Barefoot In The Park" Opens (Briefly)

The reviews are in for the latest Neil Simon revival Barefoot in the Park. And the show, presumably, will soon be out. It's across-the-board pans for the show from the NY Daily News, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, a middling pan from the NY Post and a cruel one from the New York Times which calls the revival torturous and says when the show opens with the newlywed wallpapering her apartment, she should have been seen painting it. "Then at least the audience would have the diversion of watching it dry." Ouch.

Joe Roth On Pixar

Joe Roth speaks out about Disney buying Pixar and makes the same point Popsurfing did when the deal was announced: this is really about Pixar taking over Disney (at least Disney animation and maybe the theme parks). (Roth has been a studio honcho and film producer and director and sits on the board of Pixar.) He makes two odd assertions, however. First, Roth says he wouldn't be surprised if five years down the road Disney was releasing two animated movies a year -- one a Pixar original and the other a Pixar sequel. That's pretty dumb since it means Disney would abandon the Disney brand and never make any movies outside the Pixar aesthetic, like stop-motion or hand-drawn movies. Pixar's people are too smart to think there's only one "type" of animated movie to make. Pixar movies don't succeed because they're CGI; they work because they are creative and have solid stories. Second, Roth says we can expect sequels to The Incredibles, Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Little Nemo and so on. Hasn't Roth been listening? That was a dealbreaker for Pixar. They didn't want ANY sequel made unless it made sense and was justified creatively. The last thing they would do is churn out annual sequels to all their movies. And that's why they'll flourish creatively.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Liz Smith Wrong About James Frey

I really like Liz Smith. She's an old school columnist (I wouldn't even really call her a gossip columnist) who befriends celebrities she likes and offers up facts they want to share with their fans as scoops. Smith is a safe haven and far more likely to champion a movie/play/actor/writer she likes than to diss someone she doesn't. But Smith is wrong about James Frey. She blithely compares Frey's lies in his memoirs to reality TV and says, "If James Frey suffered because of creative license in writing of his own life, why should TV call something "real" when it is not?" She writes that reality TV shows have scripts and writers and edit events to tell a story -- but none of that is really a secret. Frey didn't use "creative license" to tell his story. He LIED about his story. The equivalent would be if people watching the MTV reality show Laguna Beach found out the kids really lived in Nebraska and were shipped in just for the taping. That's what Frey did: concoct a complete lie. Please, "memoir" is not a synonym for "I made it all up." And "reality TV" is not a synonym for hard-hitting documentary, but egregious lies would be wrong there too.

"Monkey" Is Back

A bizarre Chinese drama called Monkey -- badly dubbed into English and a cult classic in the UK -- has been remade. No, I'd never heard of it either. Here's a description of the original:
The opening scene of each old Monkey episode retold the legend of his birth from a stone egg on a mountain-top. “The nature of Monkey,” shrieked the excitable narrator in the British dubbing, “was irrepressible!” That scene will not appear in the remake, nor will the incident in which Monkey achieves immortality by gorging himself on 9,000-year-old peaches.

The old Nippon television version, made in 1979 and starring the heart-throb of the day, Masaaki Sakai, had everything: lavish magic effects, jokes that worked on two levels, farce, fighting and an appallingly catchy theme tune — "Monkey Magic."
I love it already.

Mexico Admits Re-Staging A Kidnap Rescue For TV

And then the government blames it on the TV networks that wanted footage of the daring raid. Hilarious.

Primetime Preview

A new Everybody Hates Chris, with Chris becoming champ at an arcade game reminds me of my grade school days when I was obsessed with Asteroids. Dancing With The Stars is down to four pairs and the Geeks get asked out on a date by the Beauties. But I'll be focused on the Olympics where men's ice skating comes to a grand finale. Will Johnny Weir medal? Will Plushenko coast to a gold? Will Brian Joubert wave at me? Late night, look for Kiefer Sutherland to tout the new band on his record label -- Rocco DeLuca -- on Craig Ferguson. And Jon Stewart has been on a roll with Dick Cheney's shooting.

Amazon Hoping To Challenge iTunes Later This Year

Talk about slow off the mark. Shouldn't they have launched this two years ago?

Michelle Kwan Strikes Gold...With Disney

Kwan signs deal to be the Disney's spokesperson -- doing ads, making personal appearances, etc. It's hardly worth noting an Asian American will be the face of the apple pie-ish Disney, but once upon a time that would have been a remarkable breakthrough. Now the amazing thing is that Kwan as a Disney spokesperson, Tiger Woods (son of mixed race parents) reps American Express and no one thinks twice. Wanna bet Kwan's deal was all set to go after the Olympics and that's one reason she declined NBC's offer to be an on-air commentator?

Watching Movies On the Sony PlayStation Portable? Not Such A Good Idea

When Sony and some other studios announced a new format of discs that could play movies on the Sony handheld video game device the PSP, it made no sense to me. OK, I understand people watching something on the fly on their iPod, especially TV shows. But why would people want to watch Spiderman 2 on a tiny screen? And what parent who already bought Spidey on DVD is gonna fork over MORE money to buy it again on a PSP disc (the UMD) just so little Johnny can look at it on the school bus rather than doing his homework? (Not to mention, stores having to carry yet another format.) But they kept announcing a flood of title on the format and press stories implied it was a hit. So I figured I was wrong. Nope. Turns out I was right and now they're finally admitting sales suck for most films on PSP except teen comedies like Napolean Dynamite. In an idiotic move to save the PSPs, Sony is now announcing an adaptor that let's you hook it up to your TV so you can watch the discs there. Right. As if people with a DVD player already hooked up to their TV are gonna buy a movie on UMD instead and then grab the machine from Johnny and hook it up to the set when they want to watch it and then disconnect it so the kid can take the game to their bedroom. Give it up.

Overnight TV Ratings -- Wednesday

With Mediaweek on hiatus, my source for free overnight ratings has dried up this week. Hollywood Reporter finally dished up the news: American Idol CRUSHED the Olympics, scoring twice as many viewers and almost three times as many in the coveted 18-49 demographic. Idol drew 28.3 million viewers to the results show where they pared down to the final 24. The Olympics drew 14.3 million. At 9 p.m. Lost didn't miss a beat -- scoring 18 million viewers, almost identical to its ratings a week earlier. The Olympics edged it out, drawing 19.2 million viewers at its peak between 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. As for fans of Bones, the crime show with some sexy chemistry between the two leads, the news is good and bad. It's holding steady with viewers, averaging 12.2 million opposite Lost and the Olympics. But that's still a drop of about 60%. Will that be good enough for Fox or will they want to try and find something else to capitalize on Idol more?

Rolling Stones The Biggest (and Oldest) Act In The World

Just as the Stones get ready to play a free concert for some two million people in Rio, Forbes dubs them the most profitable act of 2005, thanks to a lot of concerts that weren't free, obviously. The Top 5 in concert, CDs, merchandise sales, etc.:

1. The Rolling Stones -- $168 million
2. U2 -- $150 million
3. Kenny Chesney -- $110 million
4. Green Day -- $99 million
5. The Eagles -- $84 million

More Examples Of Media Bottom-Feeding

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have spent days denying their engagement and marriage isn't a farce and that they are not planning to break up after their baby is born in the spring. The rumor made headlines around the world, followed by their angry denial. The initial source for this shocker about one of the biggest stars in the world? Surely it was some publication with a track record in gossip and presumably they had something solid to go on. Uh no. The initial source was Life & Style magazine, which had as sources two unnamed friends of Cruise. And who is Life & Style? A mag somewhere south of Star and the National Enquirer. Every media outlet that jumped on repeating the "scoop" from Life & Style when they should have known better deserves to be sued by Cruise. It's just lazy and irresponsible to give creedence to an outlet like that.

Surfing Through "American Idol"

They narrow it down to the final 24 and we finally get some guys to root for. (The women have been seriously beating up on the men talent-wise in the auditions.) We already know the top gals (Hey Paris), so who are the standouts in the men? There's Ace, this year's Constantine; the crooners David and Will (who both seem to have gotten through for their pinup appeal instead of their singing); Kevin aka Chicken Little; and Joe Cocker wannabe Taylor Hicks (who I liked until he went overboard on that Ray Charles swaying bit and his aw-shucks harmonica playing. And for some reason, I think Chris Daughtry will go a long way. In any case, another well-done show, with lots of built-in tension that made for good tv. It's always a shame to have the last two men and women paired -- the person who gets through never gets to celebrate the way they should.

Philip Seymour Hoffman -- I Was A Drunk

On 60 Minutes this Sunday, Hoffman says giving up drugs and alcohol was the turning point in his life. Good time to confess to weakness -- the Oscar voting doesn't end til February 28th.

Top 10 DVDs

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Bambi II debuts at Number One in DVD sales this week. I'm a big critic of Disney chruning out direct-to-DVD movies that cheapen their franchise. But there's no question they've been making money hand over fist. And Bambi II, while certainly not a patch on the original, is a cut above their usual fare and has a nice, painterly glow to it. No wonder they released it in some theaters overseas.

1. Bambi II
2. Doom
3. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
4. Just Like Heaven
5. Waiting...
6. Elizabethtown
7. Tim Burton's Corpse Bride
8. The Notebook
9. The Legend of Zorro
10. The Wedding Crashers

An Example of the Media's Bottom-feeding

Here's exactly what Elton John was fighting about -- real media feeding off and repeating the rumours of tabloids and worse. is now saying Jamie Foxx WASN'T blasting director Michael Mann for conditions on the set of Miami Vice. The original source of the story that spread around the web like wildfire? The obscure website Gee, and to think they got it wrong. Anyone who repeated that without asking themselves why would Foxx give an interview to an obscure website to attack his director should be ashamed of themselves.

Ricky Gervais Of "The Office" Sets World Record

Ricky Gervais -- the co-creator of the brilliant UK sitcom The Office -- has been delivering a free weekly podcast for almost three months now. I find him hilarious and the show, a casual chat between Gervais and friends, is great fun. And now it's set to make the Guinness Book Of World Records, thanks to averaging 261,000 downloads every week in its first month. Gervais said he was delighted.
"I used to read it every year as a kid. It's easy to get in if you are prepared to run 100 metres with a milk bottle on your head."

Grammy Performances Boost CD Sales

USA Today does a perfectly reasonable story about the boost in CD sales that acts got from performing live at the Grammys. John Legend made the most dramatic jump, leaping from #187 to #18. Mariah Carey sold the most albums, moving 90,000 copies of The Education of Mimi and jumping from #14 to #7. But here's what annoys me: USA Today repeatedly pulls out the meaningless stat about the percentage jump in sales. For example, John Legend increased 779%! Wonderful, since it actually indicates a serious leap in sales and a huge jump in the charts back to the Top 20. But USA Today also breathlessly informs us that Alison Krauss increased a dramatic 245%. The problem? Her album limped back up to #199, meaning it really went from selling virtually no copies to just a few. (The same holds for Springsteen who increased a whooping 201% but barely made the charts as well.) Media outlets do this with book sales, too, hyping a 400% increase in sales after an author goes on Jon Stewart, but failing to point out they went from selling 1 copy to 400 copies. Didn't anyone there ever take Statistics in college?

Bond Finds A Baddie; Still No Babe

Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen will play the Bond villain in Casino Royale. (The news first leaked out because his cabbie father was telling fares the good news.) Still no word on a Bond babe, even though filming began more than two weeks ago. Anyone interested in Mikkelsen should check out the sweet, witty black comedy Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself, one of my favorites from 2002.

Elton John Wins Libel Damages From The Times of London

Good. The Times of London repeated an utterly false lie first printed in the tabloid the Daily Mail claiming that John behaved like a jerk at a charity ball he organized and insisted no one speak to him unless spoken to first. John is also suing the Mail. The main thing here is to hold serious media outlets to a certain level of responsibility. For the Times of London to print a rumor like that just because it was in the Daily Mail is absurd. That gives the Mail an importance and credibility it doesn't deserve. The same thing happens here. has gossip items on its home page. Sometimes they sound shocking, but then you click on the link and annoyingly find out IMDB is repeating a trashy story printed in the National Enquirer or some obscure web site. IMDB, the Times of London and other reputedly respectable outlets shouldn't feed off the lies of the tabloids.

Demand Networks Stop Running Their Shows Long

Fox and ABC both screwed over their viewers last night. Fox ran American Idol to 9:03 and ABC pulled similar trick with Lost. Those overruns used to be a cute innovation (pioneered by NBC) to create "flow" from one show to another and keep people from switching the dial. But now, with Digital Video Recorders, Tivo, or even VCRs in virutally every home, all these tricks do is frustrate and annoy viewers. People with VCRs can miss the last seconds of their show. People with DVRs find themselves cheated out of a chance to record a second program because the box recognizes Idol as running from 8 to 10 p.m. for taping purposes. Call ABC at 212-456-7777 and let them know you're mad. Call Fox at 310-369-1000 and tell them to stop jerking us around. Go on the message board of Lost and American Idol (you have to register) and politely let them know how annoying this is. If you don't complain, they'll never stop.

"Avenue Q" Disappoints Vegas

The Tony-winning (and very funny) Avenue Q closes early in Vegas. The show created a stir in the theater world by keeping secret its plans to forego a tour in exchange for a sit-down in Las Vegas with its own theater and specifications that seemed perfect for the relatively intimate musical. (It simply doesn't belong in some of the massive barns on tour where Les Miz works just fine.) But tepid ticket sales caused Vegas to pull the plug (and move in Spamalot). My favorite detail: the producers tried to placate the theater owners around the country by sending a Valentine's Day card telling them to enjoy this moment of schadenfreude and then consider the show for a booking. NOTE: Here's one of the stories I wrote about the show for The Advocate.

Overnight TV Ratings

The Olympics are doing fine for NBC, but there's no question it's remarkable to see them beat by regular episodes of shows like Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy. The trend continued Tuesday night with American Idol drawing 26.3 million viewers and House garnering 20.1 million. The Olympics averaged 18.5 million for the night, though it did manage to barely squeeze by House from 9 to 10 p.m. Barely.

Look At That Little Monkey Go!

The Curious George soundtrack debuts at Number One on the Billboard charts, a huge triumph for Jack Johnson (and kiddie music in general, frankly). It must be that yellow album cover. Other debuts: the rappers Dem Franchise Boyz at Number 8, standup comic Ron White hits Number 14, Remy Ma at Number 33 and KT Tunstall (who just won a Brit award for Best British Female Artist)at Number 47. On the singles chart, Eminem is knocking on the Top 5 with "Shake That" at #6, Sean Paul heats up #8 with "Temperature," Dem Franchise Boyz are having the week of their life with "Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It" jumping from #23 to #12, Pink debuts at #24 with "Stupid Girls" and Grammy winner Kelly Clarkson (I'm sure she prefers that to American Idol winner) is back in the top 40 with "Walk Away" at #33.

Surfing Through "Lost"

I don't know about you, but after being attacked by The Others, a series of abductions (especially little kids), bizarre phenomenon like a sentient black cloud, a Doomsday device and other horrors, my natural feelings of openness and trust would be running a little...low. So why does Jack just assume some guy who pops up out of the woods and claims to be a wealthy balloonist who just happened to crash land on their mysterious island is in fact, telling the truth? I'm not saying Jack should be gung-ho about torture, but surely he'd be a little, I don't know, SUSPICIOUS. And why does everyone act so obtuse? The French woman finds Sayid and says, "Follow me," and it's pulling teeth to get her to say what's up. "How much farther?" asks Sayid. "Not far," she says enigmatically. Sayid does the same thing with Locke, waking him up out of a deep sleep and barking, "Follow me." Doesn't anyone ever consider just explaining themselves? And Jack, try to remember what your parents said: don't talk to strangers.

Kaiser Chiefs Top British Grammys

The Kaiser Chiefs -- who had some of the best singles of last year -- won three top awards at the Brit Awards, the British equivalent to the Grammys. The Lads from Leeds won Best Rock Act, Best Group, and Best Live Act. Arctic Monkeys won Best Breakthrough Act, an especially timely win (their album came out about two minutes ago) that puts the stodgy Grammys to shame. Because the Grammys ignores the calendar year and honors album released from Sept. of 2004 to Sept of 2005 (for example), the awards in February of 2006 were absurdly out of step, honoring albums from U2 and songs from Green Day that came out ages ago. The Grammys has GOT to switch to honoring songs released in the calendar year so they don't ignore the biggest albums put out in the holidays from Sept. to Dec. (Imagine if the Oscars waited a year before nominating the big movies that came out at Christmas.) Of course, the Brits can be dull too: they gave single and album of the year to Coldplay.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

iTunes: Top Downloaded TV Shows

Here's the top ten downloads at the iTunes TV store. The big news: Showtime series Weeds -- which is syndicated in more than 130 countries -- breaks into the Top Ten the first week that shows are available.

1. Lost -- "The Long Con"
2. The Office -- "Boys and Girls"
3. Comedy Central Standup -- "Dane Cook"
4. Lost -- "Fire + Water"
5. Weeds -- "You Can't Miss The Bear"
6. Battlestar: Galactica -- "Scar"
7. Surface -- "Season Finale"
8. Lost -- "The Hunting Party"
9. Comedy Central Standup -- "Mitch Hedberg"
10. The Office -- "The Carpet"

"Jerry Springer -- The Opera"

That's the deliriously funny title for a terrific UK musical. (The first act is sheer genius, the second one merely very funny.) The show is exactly as you might imagine: a silly spin on Jerry Springer, with the talk show host greeting the usual guests; but with everyone singing in mock operatic voices and cursing up a storm, it's breath-takingly funny. It played to massive acclaim at the National, but its commercial transfer failed to live up to expectations. Then the show was shown on TV, to some angry dissent by folks who thought it was anti-Christian. (The BBC's refreshing response: if you might be offended, don't watch.) Now the show has been on tour, dogged by a handful of protestors. Since a Broadway production has come to naught and the show is probably too big to make sense Off Broadway (where it could run and run, frankly), this diary from the director on the road with the show is as close as we'll likely get to it right now. My favorite quote:
"For the record, there aren't 8,000 swear words. There are 174. And Jesus isn't in a nappy. OK?"

Surfing Through "American Idol"

No wonder this show is so popular. In the early seasons, the group auditions were the least interesting. But they've done a better job the last two years of catching backstage drama when kids in each group don't get along, some won't rehearse, others party and take it easy, etc. The result? Lots of drama including the twin Darrel bizarrely quitting the show (we later found out he'd gotten the mistaken idea his brother had been cut) and then begging to be reinstated, the crying cowboy proving why he wasn't dubbed the singing cowboy (the kid should never have been put through), a girl who left one team for another and then wisely defected back again right before their performance and on and on. It was great fun and compelling TV. I still see a weak crowd of men, however. (And those kids who butchered a standard while doing their worst Rat Pack imitations might be cute as Paula said, but they sure can't sing.)

Primetime Preview

The Olympics skating heats up, a new Lost and they cut the contestants down to the final 24 on Idol. (I don't know why the kids got so excited -- they only got a reprieve for one more day.) Late night, Letterman has the terrifiic Catherine Keener, Jon Stewart has Julianne Moore and Kimmel has Yellowcard. The best part of the Olympics? No Leno.

Newsflash: Movie Theaters To Charge Different Prices At Off-Peak!

In a bizarrely out of touch column in the New York Times, they say that just around the corner is the possibility of variable pricing at movie theaters. That would be exciting, breaking news...if movie theaters hadn't already been doing it for decades. Tuesday nights are often heavily discounted to encourage moviegoers on weekdays -- something that has literally been around since at least the Seventies. And unlike New York City, almost every other town in the country offers matinee prices where people who go to a movie before, say, 5:30 p.m. pay less. Where the hell has the NYT been all these years to think variable pricing is a radical innovation? In fact, the change studios are making isn't to discount off-peak hours but to charge MORE for prime time tickets and choice seats. (A few theaters in Manhattan annoyingly rope off some seats for reserved tickets that cost $5 extra.) Squeezing out a few extra bucks when most people want to go (as opposed to discounts to bring them in on off hours) is in fact a very stupid, shortsighted idea. Ticket sales are in a slump and their response is to charge more for Friday nights? Brilliant.