Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Prettiest Girls You've Ever Met: The Pipettes, "We Are the Pipettes"

The Pipettes are willing slaves to that wall of sound, and, really, so are we. We've just forgotten. On their debut LP, these cheeky femmes tackle the task of stabilizing the pop and marginalizing the faux retro to the point where it's damn near genuine. Polk-a-dots and double-flip scarves can only cut so deep until you get to the meatier, more cerebral nature of the group's droll methods and jubilant pop confections. Easy on the eyes, these three (Gwenno, Rose and Becki) are only about as vexing as they are impetuous, which is oddly fitting. The type of incredulous enjoyment that these only slightly tongue in cheek, but always-genuine tracks inspire would be utterly wasted if not for their dainty stylings and the concentrated bursts of energy laced throughout.

Militantly adhering to the Spector model, We Are the Pipettes is a marvel of sound and wide-open space. So easily can these instances be self-aggrandizing, but the LP is easily able to stay grounded in its own identity. Pimping that supposed superficiality, the album's more subversive qualities compliment The Pipettes' own dry wit. When placed on such a grand stage, no element seems larger than the next, and the achieved full sound is both earned and satisfying.

The Pipettes and their collective timbre is one of smooth design but sharply crafted corners. For the most part you get a uniform delivery: A block of consistent sonic prose that blends classic popist elements with a more modern, smarmy personality. Methodically, one Pipette after another is able to interject portions of herself into each track in different ways, adding to some of the album's more personable and relatable sensibilities. Probably about as hook-driven as an album can be without becoming vomit inducing, We Are the Pipettes takes a bold approach to a classic style without appearing at all sycophantic. This full and noisy pop masterpiece has the best legs of about any album I have heard this year, and The Pipettes' ornery disposition coupled with their genteel identity only make it that much more addictive.


Emmy drama acting candidates

Before we start, the final two drama series candidates are Six Feet Under and 24, according to a list leaked to

The same list had these acting candidates:

Drama Lead Actor:
Hank Azaria -- Huff (Showtime)
Michael Chiklis -- The Shield (FX)
Patrick Dempsey -- Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
Matthew Fox -- Lost (ABC)
James Gandolfini -- The Sopranos (HBO)
Michael C. Hall -- Six Feet Under (HBO)
Peter Krause -- Six Feet Under (HBO)
Anthony LaPaglia -- Without a Trace (CBS)
Hugh Laurie -- House (Fox)
Denis Leary -- Rescue Me (FX)
Bill Paxton -- Big Love (HBO)
Martin Sheen -- The West Wing (NBC)
James Spader -- Boston Legal (ABC)
Kiefer Sutherland -- 24 (Fox)
Treat Williams -- Everwood (The WB)

Drama Lead Actress:
Patricia Arquette -- Medium (NBC)
Kristen Bell -- Veronica Mars (UPN)
Frances Conroy -- Six Feet Under (HBO)
Geena Davis -- Commander-in-Chief (ABC)
Edie Falco -- The Sopranos (HBO)
Jennifer Garner -- Alias (ABC)
Gennifer Goodwin -- Big Love (HBO)
Mariska Hargitay -- Law & Order: SVU (NBC)
Allison Janney -- The West Wing (NBC)
Evangeline Lilly -- Lost (ABC)
Ellen Pompeo -- Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
Kyra Sedgwick -- The Closer (TNT)
Chloe Sevigny -- Big Love (HBO)
Jeanne Tripplehorn -- Big Love (HBO)
Polly Walker -- Rome (HBO)

This list is better than the comedy acting list, though it still leave something to be desired. The lack of Battlestar Galactica is annoying, but Kristen Bell's inclusion is heartening. And the Big Love love is. . .surprising!

Tomorrow, perfect episodes returns with an episode from a show I often talk about but rarely make the subject of a blog post.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Bird. Plane.

(Those of you just looking for a friggin' Superman review can see Stephanie Zacharek make many of the same points in a far less pseudo-analytical fashion here, see David Edelstein find the film an interesting failure here or see Dana Stevens load on the snark here. Those of you who don't care can watch Turk from Scrubs dance to "Poison" by Bel Biv Devoe here.)

(I warn you the following is unusually personal. If I talked about my various health problems, it might even feel like Ain't It Cool News. So this is your last chance to bail and click on one of the links above. There but for the grace of God go you, should you go to the next paragraph.)

That first teaser trailer -- the one with that silouhetted S curl and the blatant Christ parallels in the Brando voiceover -- made me more anticipatory for a film than I've been in a long, long while.

And I didn't know why.

My education in criticism has been one of gradually placing myself in a position where I could walk into anything just jaded enough to turn on something and just open enough to love it (with reservations of course). I hadn't anticipated a film since my freshman year of college. To look like you were looking forward to something, much less a superhero film about the most boring superhero of them all, well, that wasn't COOL, man.

But I wanted to see Superman Returns. More than almost anyone I knew.

So I thought back. I plumbed history I had essentially forgotten.

There was a cupboard in my grandparents' house that was too big to be a cupboard, too small to be a closet. The doors swung open and the thick smell of dust flew out at you. It was full of things my uncle had owned when he was a boy, much younger than his other three brothers. Board games and toys and a few books and photo albums.

And a small box of comic books.

I wasn't a kid who was in to comic books. When I was a child, there was a very real fear among many parents that comic books would promote ultra-violence, bad reading skills, sexualities other than the hetero variety and the New Age movement. Most comic books were out, in that case.

I didn't care anyway. I was way more interested in reading real books, plowing my way through pulpy boys book after pulpy boys book, seeking that perfect sans serif sugar high.

But that box of comic books at my grandparents' house was an exception. You had to pull yourself up into the cupboard, but there was just enough space for a kid to nestle, the box secure on his lap. Most of the comics in that box were pretty lame TV show ripoffs (The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Get Smart are the two I remember). There were a few of the classic Carl Barks' Donald Duck comics in there (I only learned how classic they were when a friend pointed it out to me in college), and those were fun for a while, as was a Bugs Bunny comic I can still remember some of the panels from in detail.

And, at the bottom, Superman.

I'm not going to pretend that I had some sort of awful childhood. I had a pretty idyllic one (lack of comic books notwithstanding). I grew up on a farm, surrounded by friendly dogs and kittens. I had a pretty good group of friends. My family was loving, and I fought less with my sister than most siblings fought with each other (I'm sure my mother would dispute this claim).

But there were bad things. I cried easily, something bullies everywhere could sniff out. All of the talents I possessed were of the variety that did not impress those in my small town (if only I could have been good at basketball). And I was adopted, something that was simultaneously cool and frightening (and an instant show and tell display in a pinch).

And so, in one of my least original moves as a young boy, I devoured that lone Superman comic book. He could totally smack around the bullies. He would be impressed by my piano playing. And he, too, was adopted.

This last one, I have been surprised to find, was not an unusual feeling. As I peruse the Internet, I find story after story of adoptees who latched on to Superman, impressed by his outsider nature, his need for an origin myth, an origin myth we all cried out for, even if we didn't know it. I was searching for my own Action Comics #1, the crudely drawn panels that kicked off my life. And they were too.

I read that book over and over. It was, somehow, just what I needed.

I didn't start reading Superman comic books, curiously, but I did seek out the Superman movies, forcing my other grandmother to sit through the one with Richard Pryor in it. The total sum of my boyhood cinematic experience could be best summed up by a film about Indiana Jones and Superman joyriding in a time traveling DeLorean (wasn't allowed to watch Star Wars -- thanks for thinking of me).

And for a boy who was often obsessive about what he was interested in, I never really went to extremes with Superman. I'm not sure the other people in my life even really KNEW about it. My parents watched the movies with me, but I think they just thought it was because the movies were on TV that night. And I never really learned anything about the guy beyond that one comic book and the movies. TO THIS DAY, I would have to Google Brainiac before I could tell you who, exactly, he was.

The television series. That's what killed my fascination. Nick at Nite aired the George Reeves television series at that time, and even then, I knew it wasn't the best (my first true critical assessment?). And when I was a teenager, I saw a few minutes of the first movie on TV again and realized it was kind of cheesy. I also realized that Superman was kind of a lame-o.

And so I just. . .forgot that any of this was ever important to me.

But that's what we do. We forget.

I got older. I grew up. Puberty was not kind. I finally found out my own origin myth, and it was so prosaic that it made my head hurt, my mouth dry up. I wasn't the last son of Krypton. I was just the product of scared kids, doing what they thought was the right thing, sending their baby off into a world without superheroes.

Growing up, to a degree, is all about learning that there is no Superman. Being a child is about trusting the safety of narrative, of knowing that if there's a beginning, there will be a middle and an end that logically follow from that. Growing up is about disabusing yourself of that notion (it's why so many of us try to write screenplays the Syd Field way). If you plant the bomb in act one, Superman will not always be there to stop it. But the bomb will go off nevertheless.

I don't want to make it seem like I'm some sort of pessimist, but I think there's a truth to this. Childhood is about learning to dream. Adulthood is about learning to be disappointed, to keep yourself grounded, to cling more firmly to what you know is possible. A screenplay, a comic book, a novel -- the story goes up and up and up and then it reaches a point and then it falls down quickly. And, unless you're Schopenhauer, who once said that an examined life will appear like a novel, life doesn't always work that way.

We fall in and out of love. People we know die. Things explode. More things fall apart. And that's the way it is.

September 13, 2001. We just learned a few days ago that my grandfather, the one of the cupboard with the comic books in it, has brain cancer, possibly inoperable (in a few months, it will claim his life). I sit in a hospital waiting room. On the television, New York City is in tatters. But I'm 20 years old now. And the easy solutions of childhood remain just out of reach. Just across the waiting room, a boy reads a Superman comic book, and the whole impossible gulf of who I was and who I've become yawns open before me, laughing. The weight of a life crashes around my shoulders.

And so here we are again. Another Superman movie before us. While the other contributors to this site are encouraged to review it, I will not be, even though I will be seeing it. In this one case, I wish to be unobjective, to allow myself the room to love it or to be TREMENDOUSLY disappointed by it. To climb back in that cupboard for two-and-a-half hours and walk out into the nighttime air and let things settle back around me, slowly, like the feeling of water when you're sitting on the bottom of the pool.

I'll see you at the theater.


The Rescue Me roundup

I wrote about the issue of the rape on this show last week, but lots of minds other than mine have weighed in now. Here are the takes I've found the most interesting.

These will range roughly from most positive to least positive.

Matthew Gilbert of the Boston Globe thinks everyone involved deserves Emmys and finds much more ambiguity in the scene than most.

Denis McGrath, TV writer extraordinaire, says the scene was the product of good drama and the show's refusal to pronounce anything BAD keeps it from becoming a melodrama. (There's also lots of good talk about when, if ever, TV writers should contact their fans.)

Alan Sepinwall of the New Jersey Star-Ledger prints the complete transcript of an interview with the creators on the subject.

Rich Heldenfels of the Akron Beacon Journal argues persuasively that it WAS rape (and accidentally spoils this week's episode -- tread carefully).

Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune is sickened by the whole thing and then posts a roundup of her own.

And, finally, Ellen Grey of the Philadelphia Inquirer says this is just the latest in a long line of misogynistic things the show has done.

Happy reading!


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Emmy comedy acting lists

We discussed just a few short days ago the new process for the Emmys. Now, a source leaked to the identities of the lead actors and actresses that made the final cut in the comedy field.

If it's a hoax, it's a good one, which takes into consideration people's tendencies to just fill out their ballots with any old thing when they get down to the nitty gritty.

Forthwith. . .

Comedy Lead Actor:
Jason Bateman -- Arrested Development (Fox)
Zach Braff -- Scrubs (NBC)
Steve Carell -- The Office (NBC)
Kevin Connelly -- Entourage (HBO)
Larry David -- Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Ricky Gervais -- Extras (HBO)
Omar Gooding -- Barbershop (Showtime)
Fred Goss -- Sons & Daughters (ABC)
Adrian Grenier -- Entourage (HBO)
Kevin James -- King of Queens (CBS)
Jason Lee -- My Name Is Earl (NBC)
Bernie Mac -- The Bernie Mac Show (Fox)
Eric McCormack -- Will & Grace (NBC)
Tony Shalhoub -- Monk (USA)
Charlie Sheen -- Two-and-a-Half Men (CBS)

Comedy Lead Actress:
Tichina Arnold -- Everybody Hates Chris (UPN)
Stockard Channing -- Out of Practice (CBS)
Marcia Cross -- Desperate Housewives (ABC)
Jenna Elfman -- Courting Alex (CBS)
Lauren Graham -- Gilmore Girls (The WB)
Teri Hatcher -- Desperate Housewives (ABC)
Felicity Huffman -- Desperate Housewives (ABC)
Jane Kaczmarek -- Malcolm in the Middle (Fox)
Lisa Kudrow -- The Comeback (HBO)
Eva Longoria -- Desperate Housewives (ABC)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus -- The New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS)
Reba McEntire -- Reba (The WB)
Debra Messing -- Will & Grace (NBC)
Mary-Louise Parker -- Weeds (Showtime)
Leah Remini -- King of Queens (CBS)

Two things become immediately apparent.

1.) There REALLY aren't a lot of lead roles for women in comedies on TV (though I think dramas may be even worse).

2.) This new Emmy system just lays bare how little people in television actually WATCH television and/or networks other than the big four plus HBO. Aside from the Omar Gooding mention. That one's out of NOWHERE.


Closing Time...

After eleven years as a band, Sleater-Kinney have decided to go on
indefinite hiatus. The upcoming summer shows will be our last. As of now, there
are no plans for future tours or recordings.

We feel lucky to have had the support of many wonderful people over the
years. We want to thank everyone who has worked with us, written kind words
about us, performed with us, and inspired us. But mostly we want to extend
our gratitude to our amazing fans. You have been a part of our story from the
beginning. We could not have made our music without your enthusiasm, passion,
and loyalty. It is you who have made the entire journey worthwhile.

With love and thanks,


R.I.P. :(


Monday, June 26, 2006

It's time. . .for SUPERMAN!

Going out to see the Man o' Steel make his return to the big screen after 19 years away AND over $300 million in expenses (thank God we're not spending it on famine victims or anything!)?

Well, no matter how good it is, remember, it could be a lot worse.


Gore, Brother Gore, Brother Gore's traveling salvation show: An Inconvenient Truth

An Inconvenient Truth is a concert film of a slide show. If you can get that idea into your head, you might find it mildly entertaining even if you DON'T think global warming is a big deal (I would tend to disagree with you). It's not the greatest documentary ever, and it strives too hard to wrap some sort of narrative arc around the film (mostly through retelling the life story of Al Gore and showing moments in his life that deeply affected him). Plus, it indulges in that old liberal bugaboo of blowing up a problem to seem hugely, hugely immense, then saying at the end that it's easily solved without providing a terribly long list of ways in which to solve it (indeed, several solutions are sprinkled throughout the credits, as if the director and producers couldn't figure out a way to fit it in the main feature).

But Gore's slide show is probably the best case FOR global warming that's out there. It's actually fairly entertaining (I know!), interspersed as it is with pretty pictures, clips from Futurama and fun little animations of gruesome death. If you're on the fence about the whole issue and want to see a film that lays out the basis behind the argument that global warming is real and really happening, this is the film to see. It's decidedly apolitical featuring only the mildest sorts of jabs you might hear between good friends who are Democrats and Republicans (though there is a montage of the 2000 election that stops just short of saying the world would have been better off with Gore than it has been with Bush -- something the filmmakers surely believe -- before deciding to frame the issue in more personal terms as Gore declares it a "hard blow").

What was most interesting to me as a self-professed documentary junkie was the way the rhythm of the shots often fell into that old concert film grammar (if slowed down). A close-up of the artist (Gore). A close-up of his instrument (his computer). A wide-shot of the performance arena. A close-up of the Jumbo-tron. A mid-shot of the audience. Rinse. Repeat. The whole system gives something essentially narrative-less the illusion of narrative so its surprisingly brief running time bobs along effortlessly (if the segments where Gore talks about his personal life were excised, the film would probably be under 70 minutes). You'll even get to see people in the audience bob their heads along in time to the "music," in this case, vigorously agreeing with Gore's points.

The film even rises to a sort of emotional climax, making Gore seem more impassioned than he. . .well. . .ever has when he talks about how America is a country that likes to take on big challenges and how it's just the country to lead the way in the fight against global warming.

If I didn't think that Gore wasn't running again in 2008, I would say this was the canniest campaign video ever constructed. It gets the candidate away from his weaknesses and allows him to talk about something he's truly passionate about. It humanizes him. It even makes him look funny, as he's constantly willing to drop in a (surprisingly well-timed) joke here or there.

If there's one thing that makes An Inconvenient Truth such a success, it's that the bar has been set so low for Al Gore. Michael Moore's bar is set pretty high because his films, truthful or not, are entertaining as all get out. He knows a lot about filmmaking, propaganda and how to appear gregarious on camera, so you're left being entertained by his films even if the points they make deeply, deeply anger you (I feel a similar reaction when listening to Rush Limbaugh).

Al Gore, on the other hand, has never been entertaining. His name has always been synonymous with wonky policy speeches that cause you to snooze. So when this speech is quietly impassioned, laced with good jokes and full of solid science, you sit up and pay attention. The best thing about his argument here is that it confronts the biggest arguments those who DON'T believe in global warming have one by one and dismisses them. To fight back against it, you have to frame the argument in new contexts, which is a point scored for Gore.

In the end, the movie doesn't leave you feeling URGENCY exactly, but it does leave you feeling that something should probably be done before long. When you go home, you might turn out the lights when you leave a room. And that's a start.


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Emmy shortlists

The Emmys have switched to a new system this year, designed to get in shows from networks other than the big four and HBO. The top ten shows and top 15 lead performances from the general voting round are submitted to panels, who watch one episode of each, then vote on them. The top five are calculated from this.

The panels convened this weekend, and from compiling information I've found on various message boards, I've managed to figure out 18 of the 20 series that were in the top tens. I'll say this: If the goal was to more accurately represent the broad variety of series on TV, the Emmys failed.

But here they are.

Drama Series:
Big Love (HBO)
Boston Legal (ABC)
Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
House (Fox)
Lost (ABC)
Rescue Me (FX)
The Sopranos (HBO)
The West Wing (NBC)

Only these eight are known. I would GUESS that the final two series are 24 and Six Feet Under, but there are a number of shows competing for those final slots.

Comedy Series:
Arrested Development (Fox)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Desperate Housewives (ABC)
Entourage (HBO)
My Name Is Earl (NBC)
The Office (NBC)
Scrubs (NBC)
Two-and-a-Half Men (CBS)
Weeds (Showtime)
Will & Grace (NBC)


Wow! You really did your job, Emmys!


"I laughed so hard, I broke in half": Casey Dienel's "Wind-Up Canary"

So, the whole twee and indie folk-pop movement will eventually get more tiresome as things carry on. Already old news for lots of us. However, we must try not to think of music in such a manner! Fads are for hipsters, says I. Besides, if you've already moved onto the nex indie sensation genre, whatever that may be(jazz/country by way of Kazoo?) you run the risk of missing something. Namely, Casey Dienel. Her new album Wind-Up Canary, is about as infectious as a pop record can get without being an unimaginable fuck-up in the long run. It's one of those albums that, for lack of a better phrase, doesn't blow its load too early. Adorably apprehensive with its appeal, the LP lends itself to a marvellous sustain that carries throughout. Casey's candor and general confusion is a charming concoction of confidence, frankness, and vulnerablity. Her pseudo jazz/lounge-act arrangements, big band throwbacks, folk inspired ballads, and American songbook stylings are impressive feats, seeing as an album as diverse as this has no business feeling so solid. You COULD say Wind-Up Canary is a bit too polished. Perhaps it could use a little rough around the edges here and there, but I'm not sure how the album could have gone any other way. Not everyone is Nellie McKay. For her personal place and time, Casey Dienel has just made her perfect LP.

Here's hoping I'm selling her short.


"It's all for you, South Dakota Dark! It's all for you!": The Omen

The remake of 1976's The Omen (which, if memory for the original serves, is nearly a scene-for-scene remake) is the latest bit of stylishly directed crap in the career of John Moore.

Moore directed both Behind Enemy Lines and the remake of Flight of the Phoenix. Both are gorgeous movies, filled with perfectly comprehensible action sequences (a rarity in modern action direction) but dragged down by poor scripts and Moore's general inability to know what to do with his actresses. The guy can direct a pretty solid clench-jawed hero, but look out when he tries to get something out of his leading ladies.

Critic Armond White, well-known for being one of the biggest contrarians in modern film criticism (as well as one of the best WRITERS in modern film criticism), has talked fondly of Moore's films before (I'm most familiar with his argument in favor of Flight of the Phoenix in's 2004 movie club, which caused me to seek the film out on HBO). And I see what White means. Moore is a fine genre director (of sorts), one with a pure vision that is rarely unsullied. The man knows how to string together a series of potent images to tell a story. It's a pity that story is so rarely worth telling.

The Omen contains no surprises if you've seen the original. It's a film constructed to meet a release date (6/6/06), and most of it feels perfunctory, from the overly foreboding score to the on-the-nose dialogue to the geysers of blood that erupt when characters are killed. Julia Stiles performance is one of the weakest I've seen from her, but Mia Farrow's evil nanny actually crosses the line of camp far enough to be entertaining. The cast is filled out with recognizable character actors from Liev Schreiber in the lead to Michael Gambon, David Thewlis and Pete Postlethwaite in important supporting roles, and all of these actors serve the story well.

Where the film shines, though, is in Moore's work. He constructs gorgeous screen pictures to serve a pretty silly story, whether he's creating a sense of dread at a sudden freak storm in London (complete with an eerie, red-caped figure running quickly across the background) or a snow-covered cemetery that manages to be both tranquil and chilling. The last third of the film (roughly everything after the cemetery) is not as well-directed, but this may be worth seeing for free on TV someday just for its gorgeous mise en scene.

Moore is not so good at capitalizing on the dread he builds. The scares in this movie are almost all of the cheap variety. A character closes a medicine cabinet door and sees a menacing figure in it. A dog suddenly leaps in to frame. And so on. The dread is punctured so quickly that the real scares feel almost laughable.

And this story is still pretty laughable. The idea is a good one, as it plays on a common parental fear (is my child really the devil?). And I like the story's Biblical parallels (particularly how it calls to mind the story of Abraham being forced to sacrifice Isaac), but everything about the storyline is just silly (especially if you were a devout student of Biblical prophecy at any point in your life). Why would it take so much to kill the young Antichrist, especially since Christ himself was killed through a fairly "normal" method? Why can no one else in the world notice the blatantly obvious things like a cemetery full of upside-down crosses? How does a jackal give birth to a human baby anyway?

In the end, The Omen is an incredibly interesting failure. I hope that someday Moore finds a script worthy of his talents. But this, assuredly, is not that.