Monday, December 31, 2007

The Movies, Books, Theater, Concerts, CDs I Saw In 2007

Okay, since my website is down till I can manage to build a new one that's compatible w Mac, I've had nowhere to list the movies, books, theater and live music I've seen so far this year. Here it is, every movie on TV, in the theater, at screenings, on DVD; every book; every theater and live performance in 2007. I don't include CDs because I don't think it's fair to listen to something I listened to once and dismissed and I'm always re-listening to them. The CD list comes once a year and includes only the best. Here we go:


(all stars out of 4)

Maisie ** (1939)
It’s A Wonderful World * ½ (1939)
Naughty But Nice * (1939)
Hobson’s Choice *** ½
Tanks A Million *
Hay Foot *
Fall In *
Here Comes Trouble * (last four all 1939)
Last King Of Scotland ** ½
Letters From Iwo Jima ***
Children Of Men ** ½
Charlie’s Big-Hearted Aunt ½ * (1939)
The Gay Falcon ***
The Hidden Blade ** ½ (current Japanese film)
The Good Shepherd ***
B13 ***
The Wire Season Four ************ (highest score)
Evil ** (current foreign film)
Idiocracy *
Duck Season *** (current foreign film)
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story ***
V For Vendetta **
Penelope *
Ace In The Hole (classic) ****
Hannibal Rising zero stars
Nancy Drew, Reporter, * ½ (1939)
Infamous * ½
Little Miss Sunshine ***
Bombshell (1933) *** ½
Inside Man ** ½
Old Joy (current movie) **
CSA: Confederate States Of America ***
Music and Lyrics *
Crossfire (1947) ** ½
Meet Boston Blackie ** ½
Way Down South (1939) *
Venus ** ½
The Namesake **
Captain Fury (1939) ** ½
Sylvia Scarlett **
The Oklahoma Kid (1939) ***
Year Of The Dog *
Zodiac *** ½
Love Affair (1939) *** ½
Lonely Hearts w Travolta * ½
300 **
Zodiac *** ½ (second time)
The US Against John Lennon **
The Beauty Queen Of Kabul *
Fracture **
Disturbia **
Hot Fuzz * ½
The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt (1939) ** ½
Into Great Silence (monk movie at FF) ***
Grindhouse: Terror Planet and Death Proof ***
Once ***
Rocket Science **
Perfume ***
Sadie Thompson (1928 w live accompaniment) *** ½
Come Early Morning ***
La Dolce Vita ****
Freddie Mercury: The Untold Story zero stars
Man Of Flowers ** ½
Stroyzek *** ½
Searching For the Wrong-Eyed Jesus ***
Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls ** ½
Spider Man 3 ** ½

At Cannes:

My Blueberry Nights *
Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days ***
Bee Movie footage **
Water Lillies ***
The Banishment *** ½ (most hated it though)
Les Chanson D’Amour ** ½
Savage Grace *
Sicko ***
Chacun Son Cinema ***
XXY *** ½
Import Export **
The Golden Compass footage/trailer ***
Ocean’s 13 ** ½
Paranoid Park **
You The Living ***
We Own The Night * ½
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly *** 1/2
Days Of Darkness ** ½
L’age Des Tenebres ** ½
Larry Charles/Bill Maher religion docu footage ****
Une Veille Miatresse **
The Mourning Forest ** ½
Promise Me This **
12 Angry Men *** ½

Knocked Up ** ½
Seraphim Falls ***
Sunshine ***
Joshua *
Goya’s Ghost * ½
Charlie Bartlett **
Let’s Get Lost (revival) ***
Tootsie ****
Pierrot Le Fou (Godard revival at BAM) ** ½
Babes In Arms (1939) **
The Hottest State *
Bridge To Terabithia ** ½
The Searchers (revival at MoMA) ****
Ratatouille ***
Transformers *
Live Free Or Die Hard ** ½
World of Sound **
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ***
Fierce People *
Sleuth (2007 remake) *
The Simpsons Movie ***
The Bourne Ultimatum ***
In The Shadow Of The Moon ***
Shoot Em Up *
Gone Baby Gone ***
3:10 To Yuma ** ½
Superbad ***
The Bubble ** ½
Jackass Two ** ½
Room With A View (at MoMA) ****
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford *** ½
Blade Runner (final cut) *** ½
Into The Wild ** ½
The Darjeeling Limited ***
Margot at the Wedding **
Elizabeth: The Golden Age **
I’m Not There ** ½
Persepolis ***
The Cranes Are Flying (at BAM) (1957) ****
Starting Out In The Evening **
The Petrified Forest (1936) ** ½
Holly (asian prostitution) **
Music Within (ADA Act guy) **
All Through The Night (1942) ** ½
Lust, Caution ** ½
Michael Clayton *** ½
Lions For Lambs **
Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead *
The Whistler (1944) * ½
This Christmas * ½
Love In The Time Of Cholera *
The Great Debaters * ½
Youth Without Youth no stars
In Between Days ***
They Won’t Forget (1937) **
Hairspray **
This Is England *** ½
Helvetica ***
They Made Me A Fugitive (1947) *** ½
Contaband (1940) ***
Alvin and the Chipmunks *
Juno ***
Control ***
Sweeney Todd * ½
The Other Side Of The Mirror: Dylan at Newport *** ½
Boys Life 6 ** (Bugcrush short ***)
Calling Dr. Kildare (1939) ** ½
The Secret of Dr. Kildare (1939) ** 1/2
Cassandra's Dream no stars
Fast and Loose (1939) * 1/2
Wild Boys of the World (1933) ***
The Kennel Murder Case (1933) * 1/2
The Golden Compass **
Iraq in Fragments ** 1/2
First Sunday *
La Vie En Rose ***
Man Push Cart **
On Her Majesty's Secret Service * 1/2

147 movies


Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry ** ½
The Dark Tower I by Stephen King **
The Dark Tower II: The Drawing Of The Three by Stephen King ***
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris ***
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris *** ½
The Road by Cormac McCarthy *** ½
Include Me Out by Farley Granger ***
The Hottest State by Ethan Hawke ** ½
The Wind On The Moon by Eric Linklater ***
Grief by Andrew Holleran ** ½
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri ***
Nicholas Again by Goscinny and Sempe ***
I Served The King Of England by Bohumil Hrabal *** ½
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid **
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne ****
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi *** each
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby *** ½
The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano ****
No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy *** ½
Kipling’s Choice by Geert Spillebeen **
A Mighty Heart by Mariane Pearl ***
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo ** ½
The Spirit Archives Vol. 1 by Will Eisner ** ½
Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre **
Chronicles Vol. 1 by Bob Dylan *** ½
Jack Plank Tells Tales by Natalie Babbitt ***
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris ****
Girl by Blake Nelson **
Supreme Conflict by Jan Crawford Greenburg **
The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum **
The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum – stopped, couldn’t keep reading
Miracle At Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen *** ½
Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris *** ½
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan ***
Achilles by Elizabeth Cook ***
The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault ***
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling ***
The Sea Witch by Alexander Laing *** ½
Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane ***
A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan ****
Gossip Girl by Cecily Von Ziegesar **
Journey Into Fear by Eric Ambler ***
Deadwood by Pete Dexter *** ½
By Night In Chile by Roberto Bolano ***
To Ruhleban and Back by Geoffrey Pyke ***
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas; translated by Richard Pevear ****
Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik ***
Starting Out In The Evening by Brian Morton ***
Dark Victory by Ed Sikov *** ½
Peanuts 1965-1966 by Charles Schulz *** ½
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, trans by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhnosky ****
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini * ½
The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz by L. Frank Baum ** ½
Fellow Travelers by Thomas Mallon ***
Grace After Midnight by Felicia Snoop Pearson ** 1/2
The Graduate by Charles Webb *** 1/2
Home School by Charles Webb ** 1/2
New Cardiff by Charles Webb ***
Love, Roger by Charles Webb **
Jumper by Steven Gould ***

60 books


Theater/Live Performances 2007

Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well And Living in Paris *** ½
M Ward at Town Hall ***
The Fever (one-man Wallace Shawn show) ***
Richie Havens at Metropolitan Museum of Art ***
King Lear w Kevin Kline at Public **
Adrift in Macao **
The Coast of Utopia in NYC *** ½
Journey’s End in NYC ***
Prelude to a Kiss revival w John Mahoney **
Curtains w David Hyde Pierce * ½
Talk Radio w Live Schrieber ** ½
Cool Jerks at Don Hills ***
The 39 Steps in London ***
Equus **
Madama Butterfly ** ½
Prometheus Bound *
Darren Hayes at Joe’s Pub ***
Exits and Entrances * ½
King Hedley II revival at Signature *** ½
Moon for the Misbegotten w Kevin Spacey and Eve Best ** ½
Frost/Nixon in NYC ***
Seven Brides For Seven Brothers at Paper Mill *** (flooding)
Jim White in Champaign/Urbana after screening of Wrong Eyed Jesus ***
Strawberry Alarm Clock in Champaign/Urbana after screening of Valley of Dolls ***
Back Door Slam *** ½
A Matter of Life and Death at National in London *
The Reporter at the National **
Vernon God Little at Young Vic **
Elling at Bush Theatre in London *** ½
The Rose Tattoo at Olivier **
In A Dark Place (new LaBute) **
Radio Golf (new August Wilson) *** ½
Albert Hammond Jr *** (saw all of ten minutes)
Spring Awakening on Bway *** ½
Company revival w Raul Esparza ***
Old Springs Pike at Joe’s Pub (raggedy but fun) ***
Xanadu *
Philip Glass at Rose Theater w Cohen show ***
James Hunter at Madison Square Park ***
Maria McKee at Joe’s Pub ***
Back Door Slam at Mercury Lounge *** ½
Ann Hampton Callaway at Blue Note ***
Opus ** ½
James Hand at Hill Country BBQ ***
Waverly 7 at Blue Note **
Nellie McKay at Joe’s Pub ***
Grease (2007 Bway revival) *
Jesse Harris at Housing Works *
Chuck Prophet at Housing Works ***
Ipheginia 2.0 at Signature ***
Faust at Bohemian Hall **
Pieta Brown at Bowery ** ½
Christina Courtin at Bowery ***
Teddy Thompson at Bowery *** ½
King Lear at BAM w Ian McKellen **
Patty Griffin, Allen Toussaint and CMA songwriters at Joe’s Pub in the Park *** ½
The Brain From Planet X * ½
Love Sucks ** ½
Bruce Springsteen at MSG ***
Young Frankenstein **
Over The Rhine at Highline ** ½
Back Door Slam at Mercury *** ½
Yank ***
Sufjan Stevens at BAM w BQE *** ½
Black Watch at St. Ann’s w discussion ***
Richard III ** (but Michael Cumpsty ***)
Newfound Road at Baggot Inn (bluegrass) ** ½
Cassandra Wilson at Blue Note *** ½
Speech & Debate ***
Queens Blvd (musical by Charles Mee) ***
The Seafarer by Conor McPherson ***
Empire City Men's Chorus (w Andy McLain) ***
Kiki & Herb at Carnegie Hall ***
Celia *** 1/2 (music) ** (show)
Aimee Mann Christmas Show w Josh Ritter, Nellie McKay, etc *** 1/2
Darlene Love at Lincoln Center (arrived late) **
Teddy Thompson Christmas Show w mom, sis, bro, Rufus, etc ** 1/2 (terrible sound)
Rock 'N' Roll by Tom Stoppard ***

76 events.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Thank You, "Golden Compass"

If "The Golden Compass" had successully launched a new franchise, New Line would almost definitely NOT have felt the urge to make nice with Peter Jackson and get the "Hobbit" ball rolling again. Talks began in May, but really, the looming flop of "Compass" (which had terrible previews and press at Cannes) surely lit a fire under Bob Shaye. Doing what Jackson did with LOTR is extremely difficult. It's a shame everyone involvd can't wait three or four years to let Jackson direct it after Tintin. Maybe he's just not interested?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

But Where Will "The Hobbit" Part I Stop?

Wonderful news that Peter Jackson will oversee "The Hobbit." If it had dragged on, Ian McKellen might have become too old to reprise his role as Gandalf. Right now, Jackson is going to produce only, with a director to be named (why try and top yourself?). But with pre-production beginning right away, I wouldn't be terribly surprised if he just couldn't resist. Filming begins in 2009 and the two movies made out of the book will be released in 2010 and 2011.

So the question: where will they break them up? My guess is that it stops after they escape the Misty Mountains and are rescued by the Great Eagles (who consider the hobbit and the dwarves prisoners for a while). Gandalf then leaves them to make their way into Milkwood. (I imagine they'll drop the scene with Beorn, the shapeshifter.) So they make a grand escape from the goblins, hook up with Eagles and say goodbye to Gandalf while -- gulp -- preparing to plunge into Milkwood. Makes sense to me. My next question is tone, since The Hobbit is very much a children's book, quite a bit simpler and old-fashioned compared to the dark and violent Lord of the Rings.

My final question: will I head off to New Zealand to write the making-of book?

NOTE: I'm wrong. It's going to be The Hobbit as one film and then a "bridge" to LOTR based on all the material out there. I hate to question Jackson, but why craft an entirely new story to make a bridge? Is there something inherently thrilling in the intervening years or is he just delighted to get to muck about more in the LOTR world? I thought you could do plenty with "The Hobbit" on its own but of course I'll wait to hear what they have in mind.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

America Loves Cheaters

My latest Huffington post is about baseball and performance enhancing drugs.

Oh, Fuck

I was reading the New Yorker tonight and twice the magazine used the word "fuck" in casual settings. Once, in a front of the book story interviewing Rufus Sewell -- who stars on Broadway in "Rock and Roll" -- about his musical tastes. Sewell was a huge Bowie fan as a kid.

"My brother called me the Fat White Duke," says Sewell to the New Yorker. "I dyed my hair -- blond in the front, orangey on top. I was an early adopter of 'bad haircut.' I was really into 'David Live.' 1974. Bowie was absolutely drug-fucked. That's when he was living on peppers and milk."

That caught my eye, for the use of the word in print AND its clever compounded context of "drug-fucked."

Then a few pages later, David Sedaris in a comic piece about airline travel describes the dirty looks he gets when sitting in first class and the people headed for Coach glance his way.

"The looks they gave me as they passed were the looks I give when the door of a limousine opens. You always expect to see a movie star, or, at the very least, someone better dressed than you, but time and time again it’s just a sloppy nobody. Thus the look, which translates to 'Fuck you, Sloppy Nobody, for making me turn my head.'”

Twice in one issue and not even in the context of say, war reporting where you want to capture the salty vernacular of the soldiers. Just a casual use of the word and no blushing necessary. A fucking line's been crossed, is what I think.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Chirstmas Music, Singing Chipmunks and An Aging Tim Roth

A banner day of stories for me at the NY Daily News: check out my holiday music feature, with profiles of Darlene Love, Aimee Mann and Kiki and Herb, all of whom have Christmas shows coming up; a chat with Jason Lee of My Name is Earl and the family flick Alvin and the Chipmunks; and a profile of Tim Roth, who stars in Coppola's Youth Without Youth. A triple byline day, which is like a triple bypass day but less life-threatening. Thanks, Joe!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Somewhere in the darkness, the Gambler he broke even...

...and in his final words I found an ace that I could keep. Poker great David "Chip" Reese cashes in. Hat tip to monkeyboy for the link and the headline.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Javier-ing A Good Time

My latest profile for the NY Daily News is Javier Bardem for the unsuccessful adaptation of Love in the Time Of Cholera and the Oscar buzz surrounding No Country For Old Men.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Should "Ratatouille" Go For The Best Picture Oscar?

There's a lengthy article in the New York Times about Ratatouille. It's arguably the best-reviewed movie of the year and in a year of lengthy, darker movies, it's a pure delight. (And while being a huge blockbuster can be a problem for a nominee -- despite Titanic -- in this case, I don't think Hollywood would care at all that it made $200 mil here and a massive $400 mil overseas.) It has a shot at being the first animated movie since Beauty and the Beast to get nominated for Best Picture. The big debate? Should Ratatouille go for Best Picture and risk squandering its chance at Best Animated Film, especially in a year with very worthy competitors like Persepolis, The Simpsons Movie and Shrek The Third? Duh. The Best Animated Film Oscar is a ghettoized category that is literally meaningless at the box office and in prestige. Except for winning your office Oscar pool, it's a joke. Frankly, the category was created because animated films like Toy Story and The Incredibles were so clearly superior to their live action competitors that Hollywood was finding it increasingly difficult to explain away why cartoons didn't count when it came to Best Picture. If Ratatouille has a shot -- and it does -- Disney should go all in. Make absolutely clear they are pushing for a Best Picture nomination and don't even talk about the consolation prize of Best Animated Film. Disney has never won a Best Picture Oscar and this film has the accolades and the struggling artist tale that would make it catnip for voters. Why settle for a dull secondary category when you've got a shot at history? Even snagging a nomination would be historic and once that happens anything is possible.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

My latest DVD column for Huffington Post is out and it covers The Man From U.N.C.L.E. TV series boxed set, among other releases. The question of the day: what's your favorite Bond film rip-off? (I would like to thank the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement without whose assistance this blog post would not be possible.)

One of the Best Movies of the Year

That would be The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Check out my story on the film for the NY Daily News.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Lauren Ambrose, Mekhi Phifer and Hitchcock

Here are my newest stories: profiles of Lauren Ambrose (of Six feet Under) and Mekhi Phifer of ER and This Christmas for the NY Daily News and my latest DVD review column for Huffington Post -- this one covers The Lady Vanishes, I Am Cuba, Helvetica, Hairspray and more.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Defending "The Golden Compass" and Denouncing William Donohue

My latest Huffington Post talks about "The Golden Compass" and hopefully sheds light for people about the disreputable William Donohue and his partisan political group Catholic League.

Cassandra Wilson at the Blue Note

Here's my latest NY Daily News piece, a profile of jazz singer Cassandra Wilson. She was poorly named: Cassandra tells the truth but we definitely listen and believe. I just saw her show Thursday night and it was a very good set indeed. They played with "Caravan" until it disintegrated into shards of sound, she sang much of "The Very Thought Of You" with only the bass providing quiet support, "Wichita Lineman" was wonderfully focused, and some blues I didn't know called "Dust Broom" (she was NOT going to put up with a man who had a wandering eye for any downtown girl that crossed his path) was tremendous fun. Loose, engaging, Wilson sounds revitalized by her recent toying with non-jazz effects like drum loops on her last album nd her diving back into standard standards ("The Very Thought Of You," "Till There Was You," "Wouldn't It Be Loverly") on the new one coming out in February. Saw her for the first time and she met my expectations. The only way it could be better was if it were longer and the schmuck sitting behind me had stopped talking during the musical interludes connecting different songs.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Scandanavian Boy Singing About His Two Fathers

The end of the world -- or the beginning -- depending on your point of view. But catchy, you can't deny that.

It's Fiddy Cent, By The Way

My friend Sam in Florida was at the record store with his son. All the kid wanted was Soulja Boy, Soulja Boy. So Sam dutifully went with the kid (who's like 11 years old) to the S's at the music store and kept looking up "soldier" and couldn't find the damn CD and when he spoke to an employee he felt so OLD because he wasn't cool enough (or more specifically young enough) to simply know that it was spelled S-O-U-L-J-A-H.

I told this story to my friend Joe and he emailed back:

If only he would have dug up the single from “Billy Jack,” “One Tin Soldier (Rides Away).”

And I emailed back:

That would have been under "c" for Coven, the demonic sounding band that had their one and only hit with "One Tin Soldier (The Legend Of Billy Jack" - not to be confused with "Invincible (Theme from The Legend of Billy Jean)" by Pat Benatar -- not to be confused with "Legend of Wooley Swamp" by the Charlie Daniels Band -- not to be confused with "The Legend of Jesse James," the multi-artist country concept album created and written by Paul Kennerly and championed by Emmylou Harris on her new boxed set -- not to be confused with "Legend of The Pianist" from "The Legend of 1900" by Ennio Morricne -- not to be confused with Legend, the Tom Cruise fairy movie with a score by Jerry Goldsmith that replaced a far superior score by Tangerine Dream that was used in the European release of the film but dumped in America.

Yes, I need a life.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sports On DVD

My latest DVD column for Huffington Post covers the explosion of sports available on DVD, as well as the usual releases like Shrek The Third, Ocean's Thirteen, La Vie En Rose, Killer Of Sheep, Berlin Alexanerplatz and so on. For the love of God, leave a comment on their website! Mock me, belittle me, but at least talk to me! Like this friendly comment left a few days ago on The Advocate's blog about my coverage of the Emir Kusturica film "Promise Me This" at Cannes back in May:
Mr. Guiltz, you are so clever and I am so admiring you brightness and cineastic capability! Have you ever seen any other Kusturicas movie? I think not. If you have seen "When Father Was Away on Business", "Do You Remember Dolly Bell?", "Arizona Dream" and other Kusturicas movies you would notice that there is no "endless gypsy music, lusty laughter, breast-y women, slapstick humor, chases, gunshots, animals" and other crap you have mentioned. Its a pity that you even have chance to write about movies and share yours sick observations and idiotic thoughts with normal people. Yours articles are totaly waste of time and your brain is waste of space. Have you been retarded all your life or it just happend lately? You shold apear in next Kusturicas movie (he is filming remake of "Planet of the Apes ").

Sincearly Yours,
Stupid hater

Now that's feedback! I replied:

Hey Stupid hater,

You're quite right: When Father Was Away On Business (1985) and to a lesser degree Do You Remember Dolly Bell? (1981) were both very good films and the reason Kusturica came to international attention in the first place. Like most people, I thought Arizona Dream was a flop. Then came the bursting with vitality, black-humored, overwhelming and sweeping energy of Underground, which was a worthy Palm D'Or winner. I love that he challenges the far right nationalists of Serbia. I've had a great time seeing his band the No Smoking Orchestra perform. His soundtracks are invariably exuberant. But since Underground he has made Black Cat, White Cat and Life is A Miracle and Promise Me This, ALL of which do indeed feature non-stop boisterous music, chase scenes, breast-y women and so on to numbing effect. Once with Underground it was exhilirating. Again and again and again in his next three movies? That's formula. The second Promise Me This began, I knew he hadn't strayed an iota from his last three movies and could predict the madcap adventures and broad brush strokes of the movie. If they worked, I wouldn't mind. I don't care if Ford kept making Westerns and Hitchcock thrillers. But it hasn't worked in these movies. They seem interchangeable. It's always good to acknowledge the fine work a director has done in the past and blogging doesn't always allow that. So if you pointed someone in the direction of When Father Was Away On Business, I'm glad. But dulling repetition for four movies in a row is indeed something to be dismayed over. And if he DID make a remake of Planet of the Apes, I'm certain it would be far better than Tim Burton's misbegotten film. At the very least, it would have great gypsy music.

Michael Giltz


Oh and no, I haven't been retarded all my life. It's only kicked in since I turned 40.|

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Rave For "Dark Victory"

My friend Ed Sikov gets a rave review in the New York Times for his Bette Davis biography, Dark Victory."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Pixar's Amazing Hitting Streak

My latest Huffington DVD column talks about Pixar's Ratatouille and the amazing streak of critical and commercial successes they are enjoying.

Monday, November 05, 2007

"Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem"

That's the title of the latest film in this cross-over franchise. My cranky friend's reaction:
What the hell is that, a goddamn Mozart reference? Do the Alien and Predator sit together at the Alien’s bed to write the Alien’s final symphony, with the Predator taking notes frantically and the Alien feverishly dictating the notes, what the instruments are, where the oboe comes gently in??? Does the Alien wear a powdered wig?? Does the Predator rage at God and anoint himself the patron saint of alien predator mediocrities? WILL THE AUDIENCE EVEN BE ABLE TO SPELL OR SAY “REQUIEM”?? I remember watching people over 40 trip on their tongues as they asked for a ticket to “Dangerous LIE-AY-SONS” in 1988.

Now that's funny.

The Brides Of "Young Frankenstein"

Here's my latest NY Daily News piece. This one profiles the three leading ladies in the new Mel Brooks musical Young Frankenstein: Megan Mullally, Sutton Foster and Andrea Martin.

"Black Watch" At St. Ann's Warehouse

With the clock falling back, a rave in the New York Times, sold out shows and the constant, almost hectoring reminders of St. Ann's that people arriving late for "Black Watch" simply would NOT get in, we made sure to arrive very early indeed for this Scottish play about the fabled military regiment -- think of it as their Marines, perhaps. The form, indeed the story itself, is very familiar. Vets back from a punishing war are wary of talking to a writer, who wins them over by offering to pay for their beer even if he does ask banally obvious questions and keeps insisting "I understand" when of course the whole point is that he doesn't understand and needs to ask questions so he can start. Then we flash back to their time in Iraq, with soldiers salivating over the various food they'll eat when back home, taking turns ordering their meals at a Chinese restaurant and then an Indian one while riding in the back of a transport vehicle. They fight, they curse, they look at porn, they show little interest in the politics back home, they duck when the shelling comes too close and sometimes they die.

So the content for me was familiar, as it would be to anyone who's done a modicum of reading about soldiers during war. But what was genuinely thrilling was the direction and choreography of "Black Watch." Director John Tiffany makes full use of the space, with actors roaring about from one end to the other. A constantly shifting perspective has actors up in the scaffolding at one moment followed by others across the room on the ground at the next. Scenes flow seamlessly into one another, costume changes sometimes take place in full view, and something as simple as three men leaning back in their chairs and slamming down onto the ground in unison can be quietly mesmerizing. Two especially vivid moments stick out. The first was the scene of soldiers reading letters from home (one after another reads mutely, lets their letter fall to the ground and then begins to perform in sign language what they're feeling or what they've read or what they want to say in response). Just beautiful. The other was an extended sequence in which our hero details the history of Scotland's Black Watch, all while being dressed and undressed in the uniforms of that fabled unit from the very beginning to the present. The speaker is lifted up and turned over and bent backwards by others and clothed and unclothed again and again in a delightful bit of stagecraft that is a master class in how to engage an audience while delivering reams of background info. It's a true ensemble that Tiffany molds well -- I can't wait to see what he does next.

The show was followed by a panel on veterans and the war. Typical of most panel discussions, the people in the audience didn't ask questions so much as hold forth, as if to say, okay the show had its chance and you guys have spoken, now it's MY turn. My friend Noam suggested politely that the endless talking of people called on to ask a question reflected the impotence and powerlessnss people feel when dealing with the war, but I can't be that kind. They're just bores.

Sufjan Stevens at BAM

Well, one definite goal was reached at the Sufjan Stevens concert at BAM: we learned how to pronounce his name. It's Suf-e-yan, apparently. I've wanted to see him in concert for years, certainly since his brilliant album centered on the state of Illinois. But this was more than a concert. Stevens debuted his orchestral piece inspired by The BQE, the Bronx Queens Expressway. There was a full orchestra, filled with the youngest, best-looking musicians you'll ever see in a pit. Since the music of Stevens is already very grand and orchestral, a symphony hardly seemed like a stretch and it certainly wasn't a surprise to see the performance included multi-media. It began with the orchestra behind a scrim, backlit to create a shadowy, lurking effect. Three giant video screens above it played stills and video shot along the BQE. Then the scrim lifted and there were the musicians, soon joined by five performers at the front of the stage who began to hula hoop. Why not? They left eventually (to delighted applause), the music continued and then they returned in darkness with glow in the dark neon hula hoops and danced some more. A rock band -- especially a full drum kit -- added a color I've rarely heard with an orchestra, there was a "Rhapsody in Blue" flourish on the keyboards towards the finale and it ended grandly. Accessible and enjoyable, the piece was most impressive for me during the quiet, almost sad lyrical passages at the beginning, perhaps because I didn't know if Stevens had that in him. The rest was filled with strong melodic sequences, often building to a dischordant epic climax before giving way to another strong melody. Very accessible and enjoyable (hence the Gershwin nod). I have no idea how the piece will stand up to repeated listening and whether it has the shape and cohesiveness of a symphony, whether it works as a whole. But I can't wait to hear it again. The multi-media portion was fine, something to watch while the music played, but it was far from necessary. This was not a multi-media work, it was a symphony with some images tossed in for good measure. That's a compliment.

After strong applause, they took a short break and Stevens came out and performed an 80 minute set with his band and the full orchestra. I'd missed earlier concerts of his at Town Hall and I'd wondered how they went. I knew the songs were strong enough that he could come out with just a guitar and perform. But the music was so grand that I thought some synths might not quite fit the bill. I don't know if he's ever been able to perform with a full orchestra before but certainly it was a treat. Here too they tossed in video loops and other artworks to complement the songs -- I loved the grainy, shadowy footage during one song that showed crowds of people on a beach milling about and rushing towards a globe-like ball of light whenever it landed among them. And the songs were sensational. Stevens had a sense of humor but didn't try and undercut or downplay the pain or seriousness of many of his songs. After "John Wayne Gacy," a terribly beautiful and sad song inspired by the serial kiler, I wondered for a second if people would actually clap. It seemed almost inappropriate after the pain of the song, which ends with Stevens comparing himself to Gacy. But it's a great, great song and the audience whooped. Then Stevens said almost with embarrassment that sometimes writing and singing that song bothers him and that some of the lines creeped him out while he was singing. (I thought he said he skipped over some lines, but playing the original back again, it doesn't seem so.) He said he might just have to retire that number. Overall, there was a wry seriousness to him, funny but committed. A friend described the show as the greatest school project ever: he gave facts about the BQE, showed some slides, read a paper (this one a faux childlike story about he and his siblings selling "Toilet Paper Dolls, Collectors Edition" to make money) and performed some songs. I already knew Stevens was a special talent but seeing him spread his wings with an orchestral piece and finally perform live, enjoying his dry wit and the nervous tic he employs of clapping along whenever the audience applauds between songs, well, it just made me eager even more for his next CD, his next symphony, his first film score. I know I'll be listening to him for a long time to come and now I even know how to pronounce his name.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Yank! WW II Musical Is A Real Find

Going to any play or musical Off Broadway or Off Off Broadway is always a risk. Most of the time, when you're checking out a new work that doesn't have the stamp of approval of being acclaimed in London or major artists attached, you're in for a bumpy night. This is especially true if you're going to a gay-themed play. Since I write for The Advocate, I check out those works even more frequently than most and therefore I see a lot more bad gay plays than other types. So being inherently interested in the subject matter doesn't make you easier on them; it makes you a lot harder. (I assume the same is true for people who regularly attend plays by or about blacks, Latinos, Asians, etc. They've seen every cliche a million times before.)

So despite some friendly reviews from theater websites, my expectations were low when heading to Park Slope in Brooklyn to see a new musical, "Yank!" about gay soldiers in World War II by two brothers, Joseph and David Zellnick. The bare bones "set" -- no set to speak of -- didn't inspire confidence either. So what a delightful surprise to say that the show is entertaining as it is, could easily get better and deserves a future life Off Broadway.

The discovery of a journal in an antique store in San Francisco bookends the story of wide-eyed Stu (a very charming Bobby Steggert) joining the Army after Pearl Harbor and finding himself drawn to Mitch (Maxime de Toledo), another grunt who is so strapping his nickname is "Hollywood." (Stu's nickname becomes a play on "light in the loafers," though the guys in his squad don't really think that.) They go through the stress of basic training, Stu finds fellow travelers in the steno pool and gets recruited for "Yank!" magazine by a more defiantly open gay man who takes Stu under his wing. Misunderstandings, witch hunts, a supportive lesbian in the upper ranks and Iwo Jima all come into play during the two and a half hour show (including intermission).

The songs range from serviceable to memorable, all in the vein of music of the Forties, with big band ballad "Remembering You" as a touchstone. The title song "Yank" is a highlight, as is "Tap" where tap-dancing becomes a metaphor for realizing you're gay (or rather, celebrating it), and "Your Squad Is Your Squad" uses the full ensemble to terrific effect. The cast is solid, with everyone cast for their acting first and singing second. Steggert is a good foot shorter than Toledo, and they get a lot of mileage out of Mitch towering over and enveloping Stu to great old Hollywood effect. Nancy Anderson plays all the women in the show, including a clever first scene where the guys say goodbye to their gals before basic training and she switches from one soldier's sweetheart to the next. Her highlight is a Hollywood musical spoof on movie night. Jefrey Denman is v good in a supporting role as Artie, the Yank! writer who shows Stu the ropes and doubles as the choreographer for the show. The two leads are very able, with Steggert easily shouldering the central, dominating role of Stu. I'd seen him once before in "The Music Teacher," a poor play/opera by Wallace and Allen Shawn. If the show has any future life, Steggert should be a part of it.

As for improvements, there's a second act ballet a la "Carousel" that nudges the story forward a bit but is entirely unnecessary. Given the constraints, it's decently done, but it slows the show down dramatically. Eliminating that would also mean hopefully eliminating the scene of the three steno pool male secretaries dressed in 'Gone With The Wind" garb to introduce the dance and make all too clear that the dancer performing the piece is meant to be Stu; it's very out of tone with the rest of the show, even if amusing on its own. This isn't Charles Busch territory -- otherwise the show is quite realistic and any flights of fantasy are limited to the character's dreams.

Finally, I'm not a fan of intermissions -- I think most plays and musicals would benefit without having one. In this case, if it's not cut, I'd move the intermission up and have it take place right when Stu insists on heading out to Iwo Jima, perhaps w a further musical number there using the whole cast about heading off to battle. That would let the more "obvious" break that they used be part of the second act momentum and add to the tension, rather than having it dissipate during the break.

Yes, when you see a show at this early stage in its life, everyone's a show doctor. But it's a sign of the show's promise that you can't help thinking about how to make it even better. And as is, it's entertaining with a solid cast and well worth the $18 -- it's far better than any new musical I've seen since "Spring Awakening." Catch it before it ends Nov 11.

Back Door Slam Return To Mercury Lounge

Amazingly, despite the collapse of the record industry and the feeling that all the rules have been thrown out the window, rock and roll can still happen just the way it always did. I saw the UK power trio Back Door Slam a few months ago at the insistence of their publicist. Three young white guys -- 20 to 21 years old -- who play the blues a la Cream and Jimi Hendrix with a lead singer who looks 17 and sounds like a weathered bluesman (he has a terrific voice) and plays like a flashy guitar god. In other words, they were terrific. The space had maybe 25 people in it at the most, including a grey-haired lady who stood near the front who was either one of their moms or just a hardcore older fan.

When they returned, I invited a bunch of friends to the show, something I've never really done -- but with a $10 admission and convenient early showtime, it made sense. To my shock, eight people joined me and I suddenly felt the weight of responsibility. Would all these different people like the band? Mercury Lounge was much more crowded this night. I don't think any of the four other acts were the draw, but who knows? I'd like to think it was word of mouth. The first time I showed up in a party of two; this time I showed up with a party of eight. The room was filled about twice as much, the band exploded again and was sensational and everyone with me really liked it. Suddenly, I was going to be emailing them when the band returned in January. Maybe I'll bring a party of 16 that time? But the main storyline is as old as rock: you tour, wow the fans and keep returning to a town again and again and every time you play to bigger crowds and win more fans. It still works! By the way, their debut CD is okay but doesn't begin to capture the power of the band live. Check them out if you can.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Is There Something I Should Know?

Why, yes, there is. My latest NY Daily News features include one on Duran Duran and another on Office Space's Ron Livingston.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Another Sign Of The Apocalypse

This week Bruce Springsteen's "Magic" was the top-selling CD in the country...with total sales of 77,000. (Yes, that includes downloads.) That's an insanely low number and every reason you can think of for low sales applies...and more. This is the fall and big releases from Kanye West and Kid Rock have just come out but they're selling even less. It's as if it were Thanksgiving weekend (a huge week for movies) and the number one film grossed $6 million. In my LIFETIME, album sales have never been this low.

But before I could recover from that news, I turned on the "American Idol" spinoff "The Next Great American Band" and the theme this week is BOB DYLAN SONGS. They're all singing Bob Dylan songs. It is indeed the end of the world.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Godard a Hack Or Just Not Interested In Movies?

Here's my latest Huffington Post, including a review of Godard's Breathless, the biggest mistake of his otherwise resolutely boring and uninteresting film career.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Springsteen at the Garden

I had a great time at the Garden last night (Wednesday, October 17) with my friend Kitty (of "Kitty's Back" fame) and HER friends. How could I not have a great time? It was Bruce and the E Street Band, after all. Still, his last tour -- the Seeger Sessions tour with a mostly different bunch of musicians -- was such a blast, such a hoedown, such a triumph (as good as I've EVER seen him) I knew this wouldn't measure up. I was right.

The show was worth every penny. It always is with Bruce. But problem number one is his new album "Magic,"which Rolling Stone absurdly gave five stars, the "instant classic" rating reserved for masterpieces like "Pet Sounds" and "The Joshua Tree." (Not that those got five stars of course, for various reasons.) First, I really dislike the way producer Brendan O'Brien records Bruce's voice. That voice hasn't aged in the least, as his ferocious live vocals proved last night. But on the album, it all sounds glossed over, airbrushed...lazy, even. There's no urgency in them and I wasn't surprised to hear the vocals were recorded without the band and that people were brought in to overdub their parts. And of course it's not a great batch of songs. His last really good album was "Tunnel Of Love," when you're talking about original songs. His last great album was "Seeger Sessions" (covers) and before that really "Born In The USA." But he can still deliver a tune. "Radio Nowhere" grows on you and both "Long Walk Home" and "Girls In Their Summer Clothes" can enter the canon with heads held high.

But if any proof were needed that many of the other songs don't cut it, last night's show was the evidence. He included eight songs in the show and most every time they brought a quick halt to any momentum. Not "Long Walk Home" or "Girls" -- people shouted out the choruses as soon as they began. But the rest could't hold up.

The show began with "Radio Nowhere" of course and Bruce launched right into "The Ties That Bind," a great blast of fun and a tune I don't think I've ever heard live before. (I'd love to hear him do "The River" album from start to finish some day.) I called my friend Sam's cell phone because it's his favorite Bruce song and he would love to hear it live and since the tour isn't coming to Florida yet, this is as close as he can get right now.

Then came "Lonesome Day," one of the few songs from "The Rising" I really like. (That album was treated with too much post 9-11 reverence, I'm afraid. "The Seeger Sessions" -- especially the revamped version -- is much better.) The tone of the show was set from the start. Time and again, Springsteen would launch right from one song to the next. There was very little chit chat; just one song after another. If there hadn't been so many songs from "Magic" in that list, it would have been heart-stoppingly good. And the mood was musically celebratory but lyrically dark. To me, this felt like Springsteen's most overtly political set list, with a note of desperation always lurking just behind the beautiful noise.

Things ground to a halt right there, however, thanks to "Gypsy Biker" and "Magic," neither of which held up well, though the crowd was with him for both. Then came the highlight of the night: "Reason To Believe," "Adam Raised A Cain" and "She's The One" piling on top of each other. I think by now most hardcover Springsteen fans love "Nebraska" most of all, not just because of that album's low-fi nature or the fact that casual fans have barely heard of it. No, it's not snobbism, just the simple fact that "Nebraska" has ten great songs, not a weak one in the bunch. It's stark, but there's nothing better to pop in when you're driving cross country late at night. (And it's safer than trying to read "On The Road," believe me.)

"Still at the end of every hard earned day, people find some reason to believe," he sings from that "Nebraska" closer. A thumping, boogie beat propelled the song but the real kicker was Bruce singing the final verse into one of those distortion microphones that made him sound like Tom Waits wailing from beyond the grave. It was so out there, so radical, so carnival barker-ish, you just had to laugh. Then it dissolved into a sledgehammer rendition of "Adam Raised A Cain" (can there be any other way of playing that pounding number from "Darkness on the Edge of Town"?). Obviously drawing on a father and son conflict, nowadays the song sounds more general and apocalyptic. THAT dissolved into "She's The One," the epic number from the epic album "Born To Run" and boy would I love to hear Springsteen perform THAT album in order, in its entirety. Come on Bruce, it's all the rage; jump on board. I was in heaven right here.

We came right back to earth with "Living In The Future," which Bruce preceded with his speech about Orwellian times. I wish the song met his lofty goals, but other than a sing-along chorus, it doesn't stick. "The Promised Land" came next and it did a much better job of addressing the anger and anguish over having our country's ideals betrayed time and again by the Bush administration:

"There's a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I'm heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain't got the faith to stand its ground
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted"

Then came "Brilliant Disguise," an unexpected treat from "Tunnel Of Love," but still, an odd song to duet with Patti on since it's about marital breakup. "Backstreets" howled through the Garden next, followed by "Darlington County," a rave-up from his biggest seller, "Born in the USA." We had seats just far enough behind the stage so that we weren't getting a profile of the band, but seeing their backsides. It was a fun view, actually, since we got to see everyone telegraphing to each other their next move, watch Bruce toss off one guitar and grab the next, mop his face with a towel soaked in ice water and again and again he would gesture to the people to the side of him (us) and the folks behind, and with every seat full we raised a roar every time. At the end of "Darlington County," he was slumped over a railing facing us, in despair over the fate of his buddy in the song (poor Wayne!) and we got the full effect of his acting.

"Devil's Arcade" brought the temperature back down again, followed by "The Rising," which along with "My City in Ruins" (not played) is the other keeper from that album. "Last To Die" is just rote; strong musically in a way, but too blunt and straightforward to be more than a polemic. That was followed by another song from the new album. But it's my favorite, "Long Walk Home," and the crowd knew every word and sang along lustily, unlike with most of the other new numbers. It captured everything he wanted to say about our current political situation, but in a timeless manner:

My father said "Son, we're lucky in this town,
It's a beautiful place to be born.
It just wraps its arms around you,
Nobody crowds you and nobody goes it alone"

"Your flag flyin' over the courthouse
Means certain things are set in stone.
Who we are, what we'll do and what we won't"

It's gonna be a long walk home.

It doesn't get more patriotic, or pointed, than that.

The finale was "Badlands," which for me has become sort of the iconic Bruce song in concert. Unlike say "Born To Run," it's not known perhaps by casual fans. But the entire crowd pumps its fists and sings along with every word. "I believe in the faith that COULD save me...." Bruce was mature beyond his years then and lyrics like those will endure the way something like "Who'll be the last to die for a mistake" never will.

Then came the encore with the other gem from "Magic," the widely heralded "Girls in Their Summer Clothes." The crowd sang the first chorus without prompting, proving it's their favorite too, and the vocals live are much better than the breezy, too happy ones on the album. (Please don't use O'Brien again.) It's a great Brian Wilson melody and a great chorus, but I have trouble completely embracing a song with the lazy line "She cut me like a knife." Still, it's a highlight. Then came "Thundercrack," an early years concert closer that was the precursor to "Rosalita" as a barnstorming finale. It was a lot of fun to hear, but it's no "Rosalita" and is much weaker melodically and lyrically. Fine for the faithful, but for me it didn't build momentum. Then came "Born To Run" and I called my sister Libet's cell phone because the line "Tramps like us" always reminds me of her.

That segued into the synthesizer riff from "Dancing In The Dark," the biggest hit of his career (#2 for four weeks, though I see his cover of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" hit #1 in '85.) That simple riff is the most important melody of his career, since Springsteen added this song at the last minute when he knew "Born In The USA" was missing a pop smash. Everything else in his career followed that very intentional smash hit. Personally, I've been singing a good acoustic, twangy version of the song in the shower lately. The riff is a little cheesey sounding now, so it's good to remind yourself of the dark lyrics. Listening to the tens of thousands of people in the Garden shout out "I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face!" is kind of amazing. The song certainly doesn't pander, does it? It all ended with an extended raveup of "American Land" from the Seeger Sessions. Good fun, but frankly the folky band on the last tour played the hell out of it. The E Street Band made it less quirky, less authentic, less interesting -- to a degree, of course. The interaction of Bruce with Little Steven and the Big Man Clarence and Patti and the rest is still a joy to watch.

No show with gems like "Badlands" and "Darlington County" and "The Ties That Bind" can help being anything but a blast. The new tunes may not all hold up, but Bruce and the band and his back catalog always will. The final disappointment was that he called it a night after just two hours and twenty minutes. It was 10:40 and he almost NEVER stops before the "curfew" of 11 p.m. and usually goes 15 or 20 minutes longer. Maybe the babysitter needed to get home? Thanks Kitty for a fun night. Can't wait to see him again.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Casey Affleck Interview

Here's my latest NY Daily News feature, a profile of Casey Affleck, who is sensational in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and good in Gone, Baby, Gone.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fred Claus

Joe and I have a thing for bad movie taglines -- the descriptive phrase at the bottom of a movie poster. Classic ones include "Alien" ("In space, no one can hear you scream") and "Jaws II" ("Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water,").

We were tickled by the abysmal tagline for the Keanu Reeves football scrubs movie "The Replacements" -- "Pros on strike. Regular guys get to play." Joe insists this wasn't the tagline, just somebody's attempt to describe the film that somehow got put in as the tagline by mistake. It couldn't be more banal and straightforward.

Today I saw a doozy of a tagline for "Fred Claus." It was so bad -- and long -- that I burst out laughing and stopped so I could call Joe and read it to him. The next three people walking by stared at the poster, wondering what I found so funny. It shows Vince Vaughn on a Big Wheel, looking dorky with Paul Giamatti dressed as Santa in the background, rolling his eyes. The tagline?

"Christmas comes every year
But this holiday season
Santa's brother is coming along for the ride."

Could it be any more tiresome or dull? No. And I thought of a better one in two seconds:

"Santa's brother? Oh, brother!"

Maybe I should be in marketing.

Friday, October 05, 2007

How To Save The Book Industry

My latest Huffington Post is about how the book industry needs to start giving away free audio and downloadable versions of any book someone buys in hardcover. They also need to bring back the inexpensive, mass market paperback.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Friday Night Frights

As you (and by "you" I mean "me"), I love "Friday Night Lights." The first season was terrific, filled with great acting by a great ensemble and enough tweaks to the expected plot twists to keep me off balance. It almost didn't come back for a second season, despite holding on to every single person that sampled the show -- despite being aired on five different nights (counting reruns on Saturdays and Sundays), the six million people that watched the second episode never wavered. That's a great sign of a devoted fan base.

But the only thing worse than having a favorite show cancelled when it still has so much to offer creatively is having a favorite show renewed but then ruined by a network that recognizes its critical acclaim but decides they have to juice it up or simplify the show in order to reach a new audience, thus ruining what made the show unique and special in the first place. Recent examples include "Boomtown,""American Dreams" (in that case they just ruined the last few episodes but rushing storylines as the cancellation clock ticked away) and "Veronica Mars."

Now all the early reviews of the first episode of the new seasin (airing Friday) make me fear NBC has done it with this one. First, the network insisted there would be less football. That makes sense -- take out the football, which is the only thing that matters to most of the students and stars of the show, the job of the lead character and the passion of the entire small town the show is set in. That's like cutting down the operating scenes in MASH or the newsroom scenes on "Mary Tyler Moore."

Worse, everyone hints at some absurd, melodramatic plot twist that dominates the first episode that strains credulity and threatens to throw the entire series out of whack. Since we've already had an attempted rape, I can only assume/fear it's some sort of murder/retribution or other ridiculous development. I've gone from eagerly awaiting Friday night to fearing it. Have they ruined my favorite current show?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

DVD Hidden Treasures

Here's my latest Huffington Post on DVDs, this one focusing on the remarkable range of odds and ends that make it onto DVD. Comment away!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Most Cliched Line In History

I just finished reading a new translation of Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers. Richard Pevear did the honors (he and his wife(?) have done a number of Russian translations over the years) and it's tremendous fun. If I read the book as a kid (and I might have) it was long forgotten. This time I enjoyed it tremendously. The 70s film version is easily the most enjoyable spin on the tale but the novel shouldn't be missed. I only hope he takes the time to tackle the other Musketeer books, including 20 Years On and The Vicomte de Bragalonne (usually printed in three volumes with that title, Louise de la Valliere and The Man In The Iron Mask). Now I feel myself getting on a Dumas kick and I'm eager to tackle one of his serialized tales that was just published in English for the first time: The Last Cavalier.

And I say all of this just to applaud a cheeky moment by Pevear in his new translation. It's page 650 of the paperback edition, chapter 65: The Judgment. Pevear's translation begins: "It was a dark and stormy night." He must have giggled when including that. I wondered if that was the origin of the cliche and went to the bookstore to look up two other translations of the book. They used words like tempestuous, though only a French person could tell me if they were avoiding the cliched phrase or whether Pevear just decided it was an apt one to use. Did Dumas coin that deathless line? And did he get a writing credit for the movie "Throw Momma From The Train"? I wonder.

POSTSCRIPT: You gotta love the internet. I looked up Richard Pevear, who is teaching at a university in Paris and sent him an email:

Dear Mr. Pevear,

I just finished your delightful translation of "The Three Musketeers," which must have been an enjoyable diversion after the Russians. Is it too much to hope you will tackle the other Musketeer novels, ie. Twenty Years After (surely "Later" would be more felicitious), and the multi-volume Vicomte de Bragelonne?

But I especially wanted to share my amusement over your one decision: in the paperback American edition, page 650, the first line of Chapter 65 "The Judgment," you begin "It was a dark and stormy night." After I stopped laughing (and after I finished the book), I checked out two earlier translations -- they used words like "tempestuous." I wonder if they were trying to avoid the cliched phrase (is it possible Dumas used it first?) or whether you chose it because it was apt and direct and, let's face it, funny.

Looking forward to "War and Peace."


Michael Giltz

He responded within hours:

Dear Mr Giltz,

Thanks very much for your note. At the moment I have no plans to translate the others. In some ways Twenty Years After (Après, not Plus Tard) is a better book than the Three Musketeers. But it's also much longer, and we have other commitments for the moment. Maybe some day. I'm glad you were amused by the opening line of Ch 65. Dumas actually has "C'était une nuit orageuse et sombre," literally "It was a stormy and dark night." But I decided that simply wouldn't do in English, and besides it amused me to pick up the old phrase. I'm glad it amused you, too. I think Dumas would be pleased.

Richard Pevear

Thursday, September 27, 2007

I Ain't Gonna Play Abu Dhabi!

Okay, not as catchy as "I ain't gonna play Sun City." But here's my latest Huffington Post, this one on Abu Dhabi trying to shroud its cruel government with celebrities and movies and big corporate deals.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I'm Speechless

My brother Chris sent me this link: CNN footage of Phillipine prisoners in orange jumpsuits doing a choreographed dance to the obscure pop song "Electric Dreams." I kept imagining it was some sort of put-on but apparently it isn't. Hard to describe, hard to look away once it's started. I'm still shaking my head in disbelief.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Yankee Baseball

No big articles this weekend in the NY Daily News. Don't forget about my Yankee blog that I share with some friends at Five O'Clock Lightning.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Why You Must Watch "Friday Night Lights"

My latest Huffington Post on DVDs covers the delightful NBC series "Friday Night Lights," along with some other releases.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

New Music Peek

Two quick peeks at acts playing NYC: rock band Fire Flies and jazz pianist Eldar, both written for the NY Daily News.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Despair Overwhelms World Of Pop Culture

At least, that's the driving idea behind my latest Huffington Post DVD column, which rounds up films by Michael Haneke, David Mamet's House of Games, Dexter Season One and other offerings.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Hottest State Is Being An Artist

My latest NY Daily News article is an interview with Ethan Hawke pegged to the release of his second directorial effort, The Hottest State.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Omigosh, My Very Own HSM2 Post On Huffington

If you don't know that HSM2 stands for High School Musical 2, clearly you don't have any tweens in your life. I've got a Huffington Post on how this TV movie encapsulates an amazing number of trends in pop culture and society right now. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

My New DVD Posting At Huffington

In my new Huffington DVD roundup, I cover The Lookout and Fracture and the first films of Samuel Fuller and The Dark Crystal and a handful of others, all while sparking dialogue about who the next Brando will be, Ryan Gosling or Joseph Gordon-Levitt or someone else.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

This Week's DVDs

My latest Huffington post covers DVDs like an Elvis boxed set, Brigitte Bardot, the TV show Rome, The Simpsons Season Ten, NASCAR, Flash Gordon and The Muppets. Enjoy and for god's sake leave comments -- the snarkier the better.

Yet Another Blog

Because I'm not busy enough, I've started contributing to a new blog about baseball (well, the Yankees, really) that some friends who I sit with in the bleachers have started. It's Five O'Clock Lightning, which refers to how the Yankees played afternoon games near a factory and they'd be hitting the late innings when the whistle would blow. If the team was down, that was an unspoken signal it was getting time to turn it on and pull out a win -- hence the five o'clock lightning.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Marooned on a Desert Island!

My latest Huffington Post is about the book Marooned, an update on the "what album would you take to a desert island?" question. I talk about the book and then list my pick which is.... Well, you'll have to hit the link to find out.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Spartans! Tonight We Blog in Hell!"

My latest Huffington Post covers DVDs, including 300, some Popeye cartoons and "Hawaii Five-O," all linked by the topic of racism.

First Bergman, Then Antonioni

Somewhere in Europe, Jean-Luc Godard is hiding in a cellar and trying to keep very, very quiet....

Monday, July 30, 2007

Friday, July 27, 2007

Prince Is Right: Stuff Gotta Be Free

Here's my latest Huffington Post, this one sparked by an offer from Entertainment Weekly to subscribe to their magazine -- one year, 57 issues, for -- get this -- $10. Ten bucks? Why not just give it away? In fact, I think that'll happen soon enough.

Two Concerts; Two Revelations

I went to two shows last night. The first was an electric blues band called Back Door Slam performing at the Mercury Lounge. Their publicist urged me to check them out. Usually, I let publicists play the "you've got to see this" card once or twice a year. Some try to use it with every single project and you learn to ignore them. Others know they'll earn your trust if they play that card only when they really mean it. This publicist had probably never really pushed me to see an act before, so I gave it a shot.

My friend Noam and I arrived and went back to the concert area...which was virtually empty. We sat on the couch along the wall as a few people wandered in for their 8 p.m. set. I said, "Wouldn't it be fun if they blew us away?" And darned if they didn't. The three kids I thought were techies were in fact the band. All of them about 21, with the lead singer Davy looking like he was still in high school. While they were still goofing around before the show, the bassist tickled the lead singer from behind, who jumped five feet in the air and then they laughed and he offered a hug which the bassist mock accepted but then walked away before delivering. Then they wandered onstage and the sweet looking Davy (who looks like he should be starring on a show on Nickelodeon) started singing and out of his mouth leaped the voice of a 60 year old blues singer, confident, raspy, commanding and electric. His guitar playing was equally assured. They performed some originals, a cover of Cream and Jimi Hendrix, a 30s blues number I didn't catch and all of it was just a blast. Davy indulges in some flashy pyrotechnics, but if you can't do that when you're 21, when the heck can you? But they were very, very disciplined and like all promising blues acts, you can only assume they'll deepen and get even better over the years. The next coming of Stevie Ray Vaughan? An absolutely earned comparison after seeing them live. The bassist had some seriously long fingers and was delightfully unperturbed throughout the show -- a real rock, just like the drummer. This is a really good power trio I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone looking to have sweaty, rowdy fun right now. (Wear ear plugs; they do!) And their potential is sky high. Here's hoping these three guys stay and play together for a long time to come.

I followed Back Door Slam (which sounds like gay slang for giving your boyfriend the cold shoulder when he's done something wrong) with Ann Hampton Callaway at the Blue Note. I expected her to be terrific and she was. This time I was joined by my friend TJ, who was a bit under the weather but soldiered on anyway. The Blue Note was filled with its usual complement of Japanese tourists, some Latin lady in the back who kept shouting out comments and jazz purists. I can't really love the Blue Note -- you'll drop $50 for a 40 minute set and then get shoved out the door, but it's a great little space. Callaway had a sleepy summer audience but delivered like a pro. A delightful set capped by her party trick of writing a song on the spot using phrases shouted out by the audience. But what sticks with me is her masterful rendition of "Lush Life," probably the mos difficult standard to sing. Period. She made it look easy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

My Latest DVD Column

Head on over to Huffington Post. I review "Zodiac," "Pillow Talk," "The Host" and more. And leave lots of comments!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Javier Bardem and Some Talented Gals

Here are my latest features in the NY Daily News: a profile of Javier Bardem, who is really great in this fall's upcoming Coen brothers movie "No Country For Old Men, and four musical acts playing in the city soon -- Maria McKee, Ann Hampton Callaway, Kelly Willis and Liz McComb.

Friday, July 20, 2007

"Harry Potter" Banned From NYTimes Bestseller List

Read my latest Huffington Post on why "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" will be the bestselling book of the year but will never make it onto the New York Times bestseller list.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

DVDing for Huffington Post

Head over to Huffington Post to read my very first weekly DVD review column for them. Include your snarky comments and send your friends and I can pretend I have a fan base! Thanks.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Oh God, Bill Maher

Here's my latest Daiy News feature, a profile of Bill Maher who has a stand-up special on Saturday, the return of his terrific HBO show Real Time in late August, and a documentary about religion coming out next spring. One error: Maher is quoted seeing the religion film but he actually only saw six minutes of footage. The movie isn't done yet.

Now, back to my endless interviews. Since Friday, I've spoken to country singer Kelly Willis, gospel singer Liz McComb, Americana rocker Maria McKee of Lone Justice (lots of fun) and today jazz singer Ann Hampton Callaway (also a hoot and a half -- she answered her phone, "The Michael Giltz Fan Club, may I help you?")

Tomorrow, I should have Alison Kraus, maybe Nicole Atkins, and the leads from Xanadu, not to mention trying to talk my way into the Teddy Thompson concert on Tuesday at Mo Pitkins. I'm exhausted already.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Today, I file two stories, start scheduling seven interviews over the next five days, plan to see "Xanadu" tonight, a short break from listening to the CDs of the artists I'll be speaking with soon. Whew. Much better than yesterday.

So I Had A Bad Day

Yesterday? Oy. I woke up to my cable box tapping out a furious message, like Morse code from a sinking ship. I tried rebooting only to get "FAIL" scrolling on the box. After an hour on the phone, I had to schedule a repairman for today. Then my lovely new Mac laptop wouldn't cooperate with Firefox (again). Not for the first time my screen froze (with the symbol that appears a lovely pinwheel of color I'm beginning to despise). Rebooting, phone calls, attempts to find fixes online, calls to the very expensive Apple Care which refuses to deal with anything un-Apple related. Finally I did what you always have to do: strip out the program and start all over again. In the midst of all this failure (I woke up late, too) my editor calls saying he needs a story in thirty minutes. Tops. Uh..... Later, I run to the local store for some Arm & Hammer baking soda (I couldn't deal with all my problems so I tackled something I could: the mess in my apartment). They didn't have any so I took a long walk to the only local grocery store to get it and some laundry detergeant. It rained on me all the way home. I get home, change clothes and receive a phone call from a good friend whose Mom just died unexpectedly at 65. My TV is still dead. (The next day the repair guy would say there was a system update that affected TVs in the neighborhood. But he told this AFTER replacing my box -- which had nothing wrong with it -- and giving me another one that was different but no better, losing all my programs and DVR'd stuff and favorites). So I go out to grab a bite and throw out half my food because it's too hot to eat. Good night.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Glass Rocks -- My Latest Stories

Go here to read my NY Daily News profile of John Gallagher, Tony winner for Spring Awakening and member of Americana rock band Old Springs Pike. (I'm checking them out tonight with my friend Claire.) And go here to read my NY Daily News chat with Philip Glass, who has a new piece combining his music with the poetry of Leonard Cohen. I'll be seeing that show Saturday night, right before I head out to a karaoke party for NYCD music store stalwart Tony, where I'm certain to rock the house with my compelling version of Neil Diamond's "Love On The Rocks."

Friday, July 06, 2007

In Bed With Huffington

The blog whore that I am, I've just posted my first item at Huffington Post. I'm delighted to be a contributor, though they seem to have invited so MANY people to post at Huffington that the bloggers will soon outnumber the bloggees. Here's my item on the NYTimes' coverage of the iPhone.

Send all your friends there and post comments so I look important! Thanks.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Oliver Stone's Fourth Of July Message

Oliver Stone made a request to interview the president of Iran for a documentary. Iran finally turned him down, saying that even though Stone was considered part of the opposition, he was still a part of the Great Satan. Stone's response, per MSNBC, is worthy of The Daily Show:

“I have been called a lot of things, but never a great Satan,” Stone said in the statement [released Monday]. “I wish the Iranian people well, and only hope their experience with an inept, rigid ideologue president goes better than ours.”

"Transformers" Stuck In First Ge---- uh, Transformed Into, Transforms The Summer Into Fun!! (A Tribute To Joel Siegel)

As I explained to my dad, the amiable Joel Siegel was not an important critic, just a very visible one perhaps best known for unashamedly coming up with catchy reviews that couldn't have been more flattering if they were written by the movie studio's ad department. For years, he was probably the most quoted film critic in the country. Still, a harmless fellow and my sympathies to his family. I'll miss him on the Oscar nomination days (the only time I ever got up early enough to watch the morning news shows).

On to "Transformers." First, a box office prediction: I was shocked at the complete indifference of Yankee fans to this movie. I didn't expect mania but I certainly didn't expect such blase, who cares attitudes towards it either. I never played with the toys or I never watched the show were the usual comments. I'm sure the movie will open big. But Monday's performance of $8.8 mil was barely ahead of Monday's performance for "Ratatouille," which had already been out for a weekend. ("Ratatouille" also had a full day of shows while "Transformers" had just 8 p.m. and on.) It'll open big, but having seen the film I think it will fall hard and fast, after the initial five day tally. It doesn't play very well for any age group, even though the opening night aud applauded a bit at the end.

And the movie itself? Far, far worse than I imagined. I don't know why I had any expectations at all, since director Michael Bay is batting .000 as far as I'm concerned. But the reviews were pretty darn nice, the trailers were very effective and I started to hope that maybe it wouldn't suck. But it did. Shia LaBeouf is fine, but his high school love interest -- Megan Fox -- looks about 25 years old (she's 21) and like a super model. She's so far from a typical, approachable high school teenager (and a girl with a rap sheet, no less) that it's laughable. Spielberg should be held responsible for letting such a major casting choice be so weak. Shia is very realistic and real but his gf is absurdly hot. This trend continues in crowd scene after crowd scene where we keep getting distracted during moments of pandemonium by hot chicks. How about some normal people? Even more idiotic is the moment where the various robots (or whatever) are battling it out and tearing up a city and people are fleeing everywhere when Shia accidentally falls onto a car. The chick driving it complains that he dented it and suddently her wheel comes alive and eats her. Why was she worried about a dent anyway? Entire buildings are exploding around her and people are screaming in sheer terror. Would she really care about a dent?

A minor detail but indicative of a film that is completely idiotic. We waste a huge amount of time with a subplot about a team of young analysts (including a super hot Aussie chick) who are brought in to analyze a signal. She steals info to take it to her comic relief black friend who is even smarter than them all and gets arrested and becomes the Secretary of War's adviser...and never, ever makes one real breakthrough or provides any help at all until finally at the end when she rigs up an SOS system to get out a message, apparently to giver her at least ONE heroic moment and a reason for being in the film.

The action scenes are typically chaotic and dull, since Michael Bay is incapable of shooting an action scene where you can actually follow the action. Even worse are the comic scenes geared towards eight year olds (like the scene where the autobots (or whatever) are hiding in the yard from Shia's parents.

Josh Duhamel starts shouting out orders at one point. Shia is given the precious Cube that could save or destroy mankind with Autobots protecting him...instead of the Autobots simply taking the Cube themselves, since they are quite a big faster and stronger than him. It's completely illogical, stupid, laughably cliched and ham-fisted. We're told numerous times that humans are a young race but the Autobots see some potential for good in us. Not if we keep turning out summer movies like this one.

Saturday, June 30, 2007


The record store is dead. A recent business story said the top four music stores were Wal-Mart, Best Buy, iTunes and Not a music chain in sight among them. And of course Tower Records has shut down, leaving a hole in my heart. New York City holds some eight million people. If I want to go to a record store and browse, I have literally TWO choices: Virgin MegaStore in the midst of all the tourists in Times Square or the slighly preferable Virgin MegaStore in Union Square. That's it. You can find a few used CD stores in the East Village, while most of the specialty stores like Footlights, have disappeared.

My favorite record store NYCD shut down its physical location a while ago. And now the guys have closed shop at their office location, where they tried to go all-Internet (piggybacking on Amazon, mostly) and finally just gave up the ghost. They had almost no competition on the Upper West Side by either major chains or indie stores or used CD stores, with the closest real competitor being Tower Records at 65th St. (They were in the high 70s.) But rising rents forced them out of a tiny location on Amsterdam and sent them up a block or two and around the corner to a basement location. It might as well have been the moon, as so many customers failed to follow them. They had every advantage in some ways: New York magazine highlighted them in its Best of New York edition, their weekly email newsletter about new releases was also singled out for praise in the media and went out to thousands of customers. Their switch from a physical store to an online presence was written about in the LA Times. They gave interviews, wrote liner notes, sponsored shows, played in bands, posted on Huffington and of course even had their own blog.

And yesterday it came to an end. Rob -- who has the twin loss of no new Grateful Dead records to ever look forward to -- is I think moving in with his Mom. Sal -- who has the twin loss of his second home New Orleans to incompetence and indifference -- is I think selling blood. And Tony's wife has offered to put him on allowance in exchange for daily chores.

And me? Me, I'm stuck with my smart-ass comments about ringtones and digital sales and the unnatural bulge in CD sales in the early 90s that could never last and how everything would be okay. Everything will be okay in one sense -- people still spend billions of dollars on music, just about as much as they have throughout the 80s and 90s (except for that crazy five year period when everyone bought every album they owned all over again on CD and then bought it again when it was remastered and then bought it again when they added a bonus track). But the touring industry hit a tipping point of unpleasantness for me with the Police shows, which featured early sales IF you spent $100 to join their fan club, plus early sales for American Express customers PLUS early sales via Wal-Mart or some other store and still people who jumped through all those hoops had to pay hundreds of dollars and got horrible seats. But I'm going to see Old Springs Pike -- an Americana band featuring John Gallagher, the Tony winning actor from Spring Awakening -- at Joe's Pub on July 9. And next week the new Magic Numbers CD comes out in America and the week after that it's Nick Drake and Spoon and Common and the week after that it's Raul Malo and the terrific new Suzanne Vega CD and in August there's the new Linda Thompson and in September....

Home Alone (For A Moment)

First I was in London and Cannes for a month. As soon as I returned, my nephew arrived for a two week internship. The day before he left my sister arrived for ten days. For various reasons (such as the fact that I stay up till two or three in the morning), I put my guests into the bedroom, where my computer is. And come Monday, I'll be alone for the first time in two months and actually have regular easy access to my computer. Hurrah!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Angelina Jolie Restrictions

Angelina Jolie is in the news for all the wrong reasons. While promoting her film "A Mighty Heart," the story of a journalist who is murdered by extremists, Jolie foolishly tried to force journalists to sign one of the most restrictive release forms I've ever seen. The irony of doing this for a film about journalists is of course obvious. Last night on the Daily Show, Jolie fobbed it off as something she had nothing to do with -- it was just something that people who work for her did without her knowledge. Uh, they represent you so anything they do is in your name and you're responsible. She should simply apologize and promise never to do it again or she should defend it. Acting as if it had nothing to with her is silly. Roger Friedman of points out the irony of all this. I took part in an "intimate press conference" with Jolie at Cannes that included about 12 other journalists from around the world. We were not asked to sign any release form, but a representative of the film did say that we were invited because we were all adults and they expected us not to ask any "personal" questions. We simply ignored them, as insulting and stupid as it was. Jolie herself brought up her partner Brad Pitt before the first question was even asked. I have empathy for celebs stalked by photographers and bottom-feeders. But Brad Pitt was a producer on the film and attached to the project long before Jolie. Not mentioning him would have been idiotic. Besides, if you're Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, expecting people not to mention your partner in any situation is unrealistic. I found Jolie really interesting and smart during the press conference. This might come across more if she didn't shut herself off from major media outlets that behave professionally. (Among the groups she tried to force to sign this pledge -- which was absurdly broad -- were the Associated Press and other major outlets. Are they really the problem? I typically refuse to sign any release forms and they simply don't pop up more than once a year, if that. I have a feature on Jolie and "A Mighty Heart" running in the NY Daily News this Sunday. The film is well worth seeing.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Hey, I've Got A Blog!

Been gone for a month and still switching over bookmarks and info from my PC to my Mac. (And yes, I'm very happy with the Mac so far and think it will just get better.) Gotta rebuild my home page and this blog while trying to get back into work swing. Plus, I've got my nephew visiting for two weeks followed by my London sister Leslie visiting for ten days plus oral surgery to remove that chipped tooth. In other words, back to normal. More soon.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cannes Film Festival Coverage

I'll be blogging daily for The Advocate at (can't figure out how to do links for French blogger) and I'll post any links to stories that I write for the NY Daily News and others.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Next American Idol Will Be...Jordin

Is there any doubt? If she isn't, it'll be the first time looks beat out talent. I think Blake's talented too and he seems to know what he wants to do, so I would't be surprised if his album outsold Jordin's and if not the first one another one down the road.

Blake's first song ("Bon Jovi") was fun, but Jordin's pipes were in great shape. His Maroon 5 ballad was a fatal mistake.Knowing he had to sing that lame ballad, Blake should have sung another upbeat song. neither tune was in his comfort zone, which is upbeat and foreceful, not quiet and high and melodious. Jordin's take on the Martina McBride was classic Idol vocalizing -- big flourish at the end to wow the home viewers. After her second song, wrote down, "Jordin can taste it and she's out for blood." And then she delivered the death blow by even making that ballad (and hey, it's nice to know the folks at home can write a crappy ballad just like the pros) showcase for her emotions. Jordin ran out of breath and it could have been disastrous on the final lines, but then she turned it into an emotional moment by oh so gently being overwhelmed by it all. Jordin is the next American Idol. No question.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"American Idol -- Melinda Goes Home"

Yep, that's the story: not the name of the two finalists but the fact that the most consistently good singer is going home. It made Blake's elevation to the final almost seem like an afterthought, actually. Melinda probably suffered from being the front runner right up to the final three, along with the burden of being a "pro."

I initially speculated that Blake could supplant Melinda. But it seemed too crazy a proposition. Hey, that's why you should never change your first guess on the SATs. You don't get any points for the right answer you erased.

So it's Jordin and Blake in the final. They're both spotty with som genuine highs. It's clearly the most nail-biting, wide-open final since Ruben and Clay. I thought Clay had sealed the deal with his "Bridge Over Troubled Water," but Ruben's consistency all season long made the difference. Neither finalist can claim that mantle this season, so it might very well come down to who has the best night. Tuesday, it was clearly Blake; he's firing on all cylindars. But one dynamic finale from Jordin can erase all other memories and Blake simply can't pull out those vocal fireworks. it's foolish even to predict until we see their performances next week. But it's gonna be a doozy. (Damn, why didn't I stick with my Blake knocks out Melinda stab? I'd be te toast of the town right now.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"American Idol -- Top 3"

UPDATE: I just read Entertainment Weekly's rundown of the show (some of which I missed. Hey, I'm in Cannes so it ain't easy staying up till 3 am. and then getting up at 8.) They describe Jordin dissing Simon's first choice of song for her. It WAS a bad choice, but that is not the right attitude to take. Coupling that with her retort to Simon when he said "I (Who Have Nothing)" was old-fashioned (she said, Wasn't Rose Royce -- the singers of Wishing On A Star" -- from the Seventies?) is very bad for her image. Battling with Simon is tricky, but in this case it sounds petty rather than witty or earned. In some ways, she started it when remaining polite is ALWAYS the way to go on Idol, even when you stand up for yourself, ie give Simon a little bit of attitude. I really do think it's a squeaker and that the producers (and judges) loaded everything in Blake's favor, from song choice to presentation to their comments. If Wishing On A Star was as weak as "She Works Hard For The Money," I'd say two weak performances and a mildly bad attitude mean Blake will be facing off with Melinda.

You know what? It's a horse race Like most everyone, I've assumed it would be Melinda and Jordin in the final. But Blake has come on very strong and while sex appeal hasn't been a huge factor on the show (people really focus on the personalities and yes the singing or it would always be cute, less talented people in the top and it never, ever is), it could help Blake here. No combination of these three would surprise me.

JORDIN -- Missed her Simon picked song. "Wishing On A Star," I think. Had trouble with the slingbox.

COMMERCIAL BREAK -- Did Blake do a goofy, "I'm shorter, I'm taller" sort of thing?

BLAKE -- Paula picked the Police's "Roxanne" and first we saw Blake with his hometown mayor and a raucous crowd. He had the preppy look and the vest. Everyone pegged Chris Richardson for the Justin Timberlake ripoff but Blake aped JT's style just as much. Looked wholesomely sexy throughout, perfect for moms and their daughters. He was just singing and though it was a xerox of the Police he had fun and moved well and was v confident and dropping to his knees at the end was v Idol-friendly. Definitely has his game face on.

MELINDA -- It's almost cruel. Blake got to be seen w a huge, cheering crowd. Melinda is stuck in some anonymou meeting room with a stiff governor talking. No favors for her here. Randy chose Whitney Houston's 'I Believe In You and Me." (He even mentioned in the telegram that he has worked with Whitney, which is so funny I have to pray he meant it to be. But he didn't.) She did it well, but I couldn't really watch it because Slingbox as it's set up by Pete and Joe only lets me watch live and my friend Stephen was fascinated by Slngbox and asked all sorts of questions while she was singing and I was too embarrassed to say, Dude, wait a minute. I'm watching my Idol.

COMMERCIAL BREAK -- Blake and Jordin did a funny mock kiss and then surprised stare that the camera caught them. This is the defining quirk of the season -- Blake's little commercial break ideas -- and we're gonna get awfully sick of them in years to come but full credit to him for thinking of them and keeping the camera on him in a fun way.

JORDIN -- Her favorite song is "Mmmbop!" Don't apologize: it's a great pop tune. Nice extra camera time, though I think they all got a question to answer. Thanks, producers! Then the producers had her sing Donna Summers' "She Works Hard For The Money. " Thanks a lot, producers. The song is filled with low notes on the chorus (her weak spot) and doesn't give her a chance to shine. Jordin rearranged the finale to give herself some higher notes and flourishes at the end and pulls it off nicely. But still, a boring song to cover. Nonetheless, she does it well and laughs like a pro when the judges get silly and lose focus. It could have been annoying - hey, it's my life on the line here -- but she made it seem like it was all fun. Randy jokes that Simon is drunk: "Can we get some black coffee here?"

BLAKE -- He says Jim Carrey should play him in a movie. Uh, maybe he could play Blake's DAD. The producers pick Maroon 5's "This Love," a much better fit than Jordin's. Could they possibly want Blake in the final instead of two women? In either case, it'll be youth versus experience. Blake does a nice dance move spin into his first vocal line and the range here isn't great. But since he doens't have a big voice, this is perfect for him. He's wholesomely sexy still and has finally learned that the beatboxing should just be a little spice thrown in, not the main meal. Simon says it wasn't a copycat vocal -- even though it was, wasn't it? (Except for the beatboxing.)

MELINDA -- Melinda gets a street named after her, then the producers give her an entire town: Tina Turner's "Nutbush City Limits." Turner is a good model for showing off Melinda's modestly funky side, but why a relatively lesser known song instead of one of her big hits? What if Melinda wailed on "River Deep, Mountain High" with a full orchestra? But she has fun w it and seems young and ready to go. Doesn't miss a step.

JORDIN -- She gets a star at the mall she used to work at. The operative word being "used" since she ain't ever gonna work in a mall anymore -- not even a mall tour. Her favorite song (from the season, I assume) is "I Who Have Nothing," which was absolutely sensational the first time she did it, though the judges didn't rave nearly as much as I expected. She does it really well again and the finale when she goes into that upper register with such controlled conviction and passion is sensational. Thrilling. The judges are positive again but should be raving. Simon says the song is"old-fashioned." It's a classic, actually and yes, it's an old-fashioned one in its arrangement but she delivers it with such belief that it works completely. Her best performance.

BLAKE -- His favorite song is the Robin Thicke number "When I Get You Alone." Big mistake to show him in the video intro performing with Sir Mix-aLot who was singing about big butts. That strikes a terrible note in the heartland. If Blake doesn't make the finale, he can always blame that. He really has grown as a performer and looks really confident on stage. Whatever happens, I bet his first album sells better than their first albums, though that doesn't mean he'll have a longer or more fruitful career -- it's just that he's easier to market out of the box and seems smart enough to make sure he is contemporary. Both Melinda and Jordin will get drenched with sappy anonymous ballads and covers and will probaby shine on later albums when they have more control. Blake seems to know exactly what he wants. Really fun vocals that showcase his singing as good as it can be live and the beatboxing at the end is cool and just the right flourish. He did his best, no matter what. Simon -- who seems to have been subtly pushing for Blake over Jordin-- gives a thumbs up.

MELINDA -- Her fave song is "I'm A Woman," another funky number. The order of her tunes really bothers me. I wish it had been funky number then a ballad then another funky number. As is, the two funky tunes blended together too much. Again, it didn't offer a great vocal range for her, but she performed with flare. The kids all end w a group hug. Why not? They're all going to be recording solo albums soon.

THE WINNERS -- Like everyone, I assume Melinda and Jordin. But darned if I can't stop thinking that Blake would, not Jordin, but MELINDA. Is that possible? I doubt it. It sure would help if we ever knew the vote totals or at least percentages. It would more likely ruin the fun if we could see say Melinda with a bigger fan base week to week. Simon gives her his stamp of approval as most consistent and she deserves it. And Blake really could supplant Jordin. But I'll stick with the safe bet. Blake had the best night but it'll be the two women in the finals.