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Thursday, January 31, 2008

New Music: Lucious Thespians Test Their Pipes This Year -- Zooey Deschanel and Scarlett Johansson in Hip Album Battle

Plenty of ink has been spilled already, including here, on older man candy Scarlett Johansson's upcoming Tom Waits cover song opus, which will also include one new song. Now indie pixie Zooey Deschanel is prepping to finally release her collab with M. Ward, Volume 1, under the band name She and Him.

Unlike Scarlett's record, Zooey's songs are mostly originals though she does slip a Beatles and a Smokey Robinson cover in. Ward, who has released several critically acclaimed albums of atmospheric indie roots-folk heard Deschanel's demos and offered to collaborate.

Here's She and Him live doing "Lonesome Town"...Deschanel has a very impressive voice:

Here's Scarlett warbling with the Jesus and Mary Chain last year, the voice is...not as impressive:

Design: Hand Friendly Mouse Takes The Bite Out Of Scrolling and Clicking

LiteOn Technology has won the RedDot award for this super cool moldable mouse. The mouse can be molded into any shape, which it then retains until you get sick of it or fidgety. Officially this is meant to allow users to ergonomicize their mouse but you know you need to knead it, mold it touch it baby. The scroll wheel and buttons are RFID enabled so they can be placed anywhere on the mouse and moved at will.

Music News: Stainless Furry Animals? Super Furrys Frontman Working on DeLorean Concept Album

Mr. Rhys, Mr. Bip, and a DeLorean

Super Furry Animals frontman and Welsh wunderkind Gruff Rhys is collaborating with Los Angeles producer Boom Bip under the name Neon Neon. Their album, due out next month, is called Stainless Style and is apparently inspired by the life of auto impressario and would-be coke dealer John DeLorean.

For those of you who only know DeLorean as the guy who invented the stainless steel-bodied gullwinged car from the Back to The Future movies, the man himself cut a wide swath through both the car world and the gossip columns in the 60s and 70s.

DeLorean was a young executive on the rise at General Motors in the 60s, helping to create Pontiac's image as a youthful exciting brand with the GTO and Firebird. He also favored sideburns and paisley ties, a "hip" look that was decidely on the outs for staid Detroit. So was his courting of fashion models and increasingly decadent lifestyle as the 70s dawned.

GM proved to confining for him and he vowed in the mid-70's to start his own company, with help from the goverment of Northern Ireland and Lotus' Colin Chapman. Eventually Delorean the company would find itself in such dire straits that DeLorean the man would attempt to raise money by pulling off a massive cocaine deal. Of course the other side of the table in that deal turned out to be government agents.
Here's a video from Rhys' last solo album Candylion:

Here's a short excerpt from a low budget 'abandoned' cable doc on DeLorean. Not only are the production values porn-esque, the voiceover has a certain Ron Jeremy-esque feel. Ew.

Politics: Unnamed at Any Speed

No not you, Mike Bloomberg. I know you're not running -- two snaps up!

A Certain Person said yesterday that they would jump into the Presidential race if they could raise $10 million. My initial reaction was to tap out a furious post about the raging egomania of this Certain Person which led him to seriously proclaim that there was no difference between Bush and Gore in 2000 and who duped enough voters into pulling the lever for him to throw a close election to the Supreme Court. Despite the fact that he was monstruosly wrong, he proceeded to run again, to diminishing returns.

Now, obeying his reflection in the mirror, he apparently feels its time to don the mantle once again. His excuse? Kucinich dropped out. What this Certain Person doesn't get is that Kucinich has had a fair shot, particularly in the early goings. Yes he eventually got asked to not show up to debates but that is because his numbers were abysmal (not an excuse I agree with). Be that as it may, the system worked -- voters aren't that interested.

I've decided not to give this Certain Person what it is that they so desperatly crave -- attention. I will not utter their name, nor with any luck will I have to make reference to them again. I do implore all of you out there in Blogsylvania -- do not name him, do not give him the publicity he seeks.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Politics: History is Made -- Edwards Drops Out -- Historic Party Nominee Inevitable

John Edwards is ending his quest for the Presidency, throwing a major monkey wrench into Clinton and Obama's Super Duper Tuesday strategies and ensuring that a major party nominee will for the first time in American history, be either a woman or a black man.

Though Edwards is endorsing no-one for the time being, the timing of this move serves as a boost to Obama. To wit:

1) Hillary's last minute "victory" celebration in Florida last night, a state that was stripped of delegates and in which all of the candidates pledged to refrain from campaigning was meant to capture media time and shift some of the mo' back her way after Obama's rout in South Carolina.
Edwards last hurrah is sucking up that oxygen.

2) The ABC (anyone but Clinton) vote now has only one serious conduit, and the states where Edwards might have been strongest in on Tuesday are states that Obama runs well in.

Mussolini-esque Snowbird Republican Rudy Giuliani also has decided to cut short his sojourn in Florida, having bet everything there and lost spectacularly. Oh Rudy, us New Yorkers could have told you: The more time someone spends with you, whether it be the voters, your ex-wives, or police and firefighters, the more they come to realize you are a major league a-hole.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

TV: FCC Asses Assess Millions From ABC Over Bare Ass Embarrassment

And where do your filthy minds go when you see this vintage Coppertone ad, FCC? Hmmm?

The FCC, spurred on by bozo Brian Bozell's Parent's Television Council, is going ahead with their proposed fine of $1.4 million fine against 52 ABC stations over an episode of NYPD Blue from 2003. This is despite the parental warning at the beginning of every episode, 10 years of publicity about the show's boundary blurring, and V- Chip enabling. More to the point, would a child's head explode from seeing this scene -- at 10PM no less? Where's the harm. Apparently ninnies like Bozell and dirty minded FCC heads Michael (son of Iraq War salesman Colin) Powell and Kevin Martin believe that children are unaware that posteriors exist. By all means, lets keep it that way.

Or perhaps their is a more sinister thing going on here. The FCC successfully argued that ABC showed "sexual organs" on their broadcast. Sounds like the FCC like to enter an establishment through the back door, if you catch my drift. If you don't, check out the piece on the Washington Post Scrabble puzzle below.

Granted at first I thought the scene featured Facts of Life headmistress Charlotte Rae, in which cause the FCC may have been on solid ground with an emotional distress argument but Charlotte Ross? Perfectly harmless. Perhaps Martin would be willing to negotiate down to the administration of a light spanking to the actress involved by a certain FCC chief.

Here's the horribly offensive scene-- shield thine eyes! Judge for yourself...if you dare!

Design: History Channel Explores The Future With City of The Future

This years winning San Francisco entry from IwamotoScott Architecture

The History Channel is counter-intuitively taking a look into the future along with the AIA. The City of The Future is a contest focusing on three cities this year -- Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Atlanta and what they might look like in 2108.

According to The History Channel Website: "8 teams in each city will have just one week to envision what their city might look like in 100 years, before presenting their 3-D model to a panel of five esteemed judges. The winner in each city will win a $10,000 Grand Prize and go head-to-head in an online vote where you will have the opportunity to choose the National Champion! " had high praise for this proposal from Fougeron Architecture that dots 40 story tall "agricultural towers" throughout the city, giving the Bay Area a self-sufficient supply of food.

Books: Margaret Truman Daniels, Author, Singer and Presidential Daughter, Dead at 83

Margaret Truman, the only child of President Harry S Truman, died today. She was best known for her mystery novels set in Washington D.C. such as Murder in The White House. To an earlier generation it was her singing career that made her infamous and put her father in the headlines. From the New York Times obit by Lawrenece Van Gelder:

Paul Hume, the music critic of The Washington Post, while praising her personality, said that “she cannot sing very well,” added that “she is flat a good deal of the time” and concluded that she had no “professional finish.”
Incensed, President Truman dispatched a combative note to Mr. Hume, who released it to the press.. It said, in part, “I have just read your lousy review . . . I have never met you, but if I do, you’ll need a new nose.”
In the ensuing uproar, reporters pressed Mrs. Daniel for her reaction to her father’s letter. “I’m glad to see that chivalry is not dead,” she told them.
In “Harry S. Truman,” she wrote: “Dad discussed the letter with his aides and was annoyed to find that they all thought it was a mistake. They felt that it damaged his image as president and would only add to his political difficulties. ‘Wait till the mail comes in,’ Dad said. ‘I’ll make you a bet that 80 percent of it is on my side of the argument.’
“A week later, after a staff meeting, Dad ordered everybody to follow him, and they marched to the mail room. The clerks had stacked up thousands of ‘Hume’ letters received in piles and made up a chart showing the percentages for and against the President. Slightly over 80 percent favored Dad’s defense of me. Most of the letter writers were mothers who said they understood exactly how Dad felt and would have expected their husbands to defend their daughters the same way. ‘The trouble with you guys is,’ Dad said to the staff as he strode back to work, ‘you just don’t understand human nature.’ ”

It's interesting to reflect on this incident in light of the criticism President Clinton is facing currently while stumping for his wife on the campaign trail.

News: Washington Post -- Worse Than Having Your T--ts in a Wringer?

Leave it to Gawker to discover more than the uh, "subtext" in this Scrabble Gram from the Washington Post:

Here's the original story.

Film Review: American Gangster Milks Nostalgia For Gentleman Thug

"Based on a True Story" says the opening credits of Ridley Scott's gangster opus American Gangster, and as is often the case the facts get mashed around to make a more compelling movie. This is par for the course, but the credits could also have said "Based on films by Sidney Lumet and William Friedkin, not to mention Mervin LeRoy's Little Caesar."

Serpico and The French Connection loom large over the policier aspects of American Gangster. Despite the title, more than half of the movie follows Russell Crowe's character Frank, Richie Roberts, one of a handful of good cops on the force. The Little Caesar part comes in with the story of Frank Lucas, played with graceful charm by Denzel Washington. Washington gives us the gangster as up and coming businessman, the black heroin dealing equivalent of Sam Walton.

Washington is so likable, even while setting a man on fire or blowing a rival's brains out, that like Cagney in Little Caeser the audience's empathy is with the putative bad guy. Crowe lets us see his character's flaws but also his innate goodness, his link with Lucas is his code of ethics. That leaves the rest of law enforcement -- embodied by Josh Brolin's mustache -- as the bad guys.

Brolin's mustache is very good as a very bad cop, and it must be said that the range his mustache has shown this year -- from cheesy early 80's exploitation in Grindhouse to neo-noir Western grit with a Texan twang in No Country For Old Men to his gruff New York bull on the take in Gangster.

But I digress. The anti-authoritarian conceit of the cops as heavies is so very 70s, as is the constancy of footage from Vietnam on the television screen in scene after scene. Though the 'Nam angle has a direct tie-in to the movie's plot the bigger tie-in is clear. We are in an era that, much like the 70s, is marked by deep distrust of public officials and institutions. Like the 70s, this is due in part to an unpopular unwinnable war and a less than forthright President.

So does all of this borrowed stuff add up to anything? It does, namely a sometimes engrossing film that breaks no new ground but is assured in the moves it tries. The two leads are, as always, superb and there are enough small details to flesh the characters out. The pacing is brisk, the action clear.

What keeps this from sticking in the mind longer is not just the familiarity of the themes. Television has done such a great job of exploring complex characters within this milieu -- from The Shield to The Wire to The Sopranos, that the dictates of fitting the sprawling story into a 157 minute running time sacrifices shading and nuance. Beats have to be hit harder, story arcs are compressed, and secondary characters are more cardboardy signifiers than real people.

This is particularly felt in the last act, which feels like a too-pat roll-up of everything that was meticulously set-up earlier in the film. Our two protags take a long time getting together and when they do it's all over before it really has a chance to register. Still, the very last scene is one of the simpler and subtler ones, taking us forward to the early 90s -- a different world with a Public Enemy soundtrack.

American Gangster gets three out of five Serpicos:

Here's the trailer:

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Interwebs: Unfortunate Headlines Department -- Presidential Face Squatting Wha??

Perhaps I'm seriously deranged but this Politico headline sent unbidden images right into my cerebral cortex. The article itself is innocuous -- shrill Cuban American Congresswoman Illeana Ros-Lehtinen staking out her spot early so as to be positioned for the cameras during the President's State of The Union perp walk.

Film: Aronofsky's "The Fountain" Gushes With Life (and Death)

I have to admire an effects laden film that has no other purpose than to explore the nature of existence itself. How in the world did Darren Aronofsky get funding for his stunningly original film The Fountain (out on DVD)? One way was by cutting back on CGI and using clever organic effects instead but the film still cost Warner Bros. upwards of $35 million, not including an estimated $20 million spent on an earlier bigger-budgeted version with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. A flop on its release in 2006, The Fountain has been accumulating a cult of admirers -- and deservedly so.

The first fifteen minutes are challenging, almost akin to the last quarter of Stanley Kubrick's 2001 -- full of dense imagery and intense sequences that the brain struggles to understand. Unlike 2001 however, the film spends the rest of its time piecing this together and eventually bringing some clarity -- often by repeating certain sequences and images in differing contexts.
A cynic would say that the film amounts to little more than a pretentious inflation of Camille (or Dying Young for the youngsters) and yes, there is that. But what an inflation!

The cast is headed by a wonderfully wounded Hugh Jackman and so Aronofsky's wife, Rachel Weisz, who is heartbreakingly beautiful and sad in a way that recalls Ingrid Bergman. We can see Jackman's love for her in Aronofsky's awestruck lensing of her eyes, her ears, her very pores.

The Fountain initially posits itself as a story about the fountain of youth, and jumps around in time and space primarily to Jackman as a conquistador to Weisz's Spanish Queen and present (or is it near-future) Dr. Jackman and his ill wife Weisz. In between we visit Jackman inside a bubble that's tucked away in a distant galaxy, bald and chewing bark from the tree of life. No, really we do. Literalists will probably have already left the theatre and its no duh why the marketing geniuses at Warners didn't know what to do with the film.

If you go with it though, The Fountain is quite a beautiful and moving film, with fine performances (Ellen Burstyn is particularly good) and a mystical life and death affirming air. In some ways its a companion to the Cohen Brother's No Country For Old Men but coming at some of the themes from a completely different angle. Where No Country posits a random universe where death is inevitable as well as unpredictable, The Fountain asks why?

The Fountain gets 4 out of 5 eternally youthful Joan Rivers'

Here's the trailer:

Politics: Obama and Clinton Down to Delegate by Delegate Grappling

Obama gets the coveted endorsement of Springfield's Mayor uh, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy today.

The Clinton camp knew South Carolina was likely to go Obama's way. What they didn't count on was his huge margin of victory -- 53%. He drew almost as many white males to the table as Hillary while getting the bulk of the black vote.

February 5th now looms in importance and the Kennedy family endorsements that are coming Obama's way today should serve as a big red warning signal to camp Clinton:

1) The rough campaigning is taking its toll. Black voters are an important base group and if they are turned off in a tight election its bad news for a Democrat. Combine that with the Clinton's penchant for getting Republicans out to the polls and some party elders are taking a second look at the electability factor.

2) There is a sizable wing of the Democratic party that does not want the circus back in town. While the Clinton years were ones of prosperity, they were also ones of great political division that ultimately saw the return of Republican power in the house and an unprecedented impeachment trial. Let's not forget the very personal stake the Kennedy family has had as the first family of Democratic politics -- do they want to cede that status to the Clintons?

3) This is looking like a "change" election -- much like 1992. Hillary's message of experienced leadership is a hard sell in this environment. Sending Bill out on the trail only reinforces the "back to the future" -ness of her campaign.

4) Hillary is tamping down her own strengths by having Bill be so visible. In all likelihood she will be a better and more disciplined chief executive than he was. But his very presence as an advocate muddies the water. She ought to be able to draw distinctions between herself and Obama, Republicans, and her husband. She's been very effective when she has done so.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Politics: Colbert Unpacks South Carolina Slap Fest With The Help of The Scooby Gang

I support the striking writers and all but isn't Stephen Colbert funnier without them (unlike Bill Maher)? Check out this clip from last night's show -- one of his best yet. He really seems to feed off the improv with the guests as well but this bit of Bob Smigel like repurposing had me rolling. Those meddling kids...

The Interwebs: Charting The Heath Ledger Story

What with the Bush Lies-o-graph earlier this week and the chart below, POS(AS) is beginning to resemble USA Today. Gawker came up with this handy dandy chart that summarizes the Google News headline hits on the Heath Ledger death story -- a sort of Ledger ledger. I've given it the appropriate USA Today style title. Is it wrong to point out the tiny slice of the pie consumed by Mary-Kate? Behold:

What are We Reading About Heath Ledger's Death?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

New Music: Cat Power's Jukebox Stocked With Curious Covers

Cat Power gets creamy

Cat Power has done this before. In 2000 Chan Marshall (for Cat Power is she for all intents and purposes) released The Covers Record, a set of radically re-interpreted songs both classic and obscure that dramatically raised her profile in the music world. Jukebox is a similar undertaking but Cat Power is in a different musical place than she was on the earlier album.

In 2000, she was still tentative as a performer, not so much freak folk as freaked-out folk. She was known for stage shows that devolved into abject terror and whispered vocals. The arrangements -- spare, exploratory, searching -- reflect this and add to the revelatory feel of her interpretations.

Today Cat Power has become something of a classicist, her last album The Greatest having embraced classic country soul moves with the help of a group of well-versed sessioners. She has also developed a more confident stage presence and quit drinking. As a result some have found Jukebox to be disappointingly straightforward -- her confident arrangements leading to more standardized interpretations.

This is a more conventional record than The Covers Record for Cat Power but she has reconfigured these songs for the most part, many radically, to fit her bold new style. Hank William's "Travellin' Man" becomes "Travelin' (Wo)Man", and the gender shift is more than just titular. The melancholy she found in her earlier stripped down alt folk rock is still here but it's fully limbed -- fixed to her distinctive voice which is deployed with much more precision.

There are two originals here -- a reworking of her "Metal Heart" and a tribute to Bob Dylan called "Song to Bobby" that plays out as a fans mash note. My favorite track though is her opening-- a cover of the Sinatra standard "New York, New York" that shows off her newly minted swagger.

Jukebox gets 4 out 5 Fonzies:

Here's Cat Power in the studio doing "Dark End of The Street" which, despite my earlier post previewing the album, didn't make the cut. Too bad!

Politics: Bush Snared in the Series of Tubes Known as The Interwebs

Our good friends at The Warpublican Review highlight a New York Times story that suggests that Bush is to lies as Jeff Foxworthy is to redneck jokes. In other words, you know you're a liar when there now exists an entire searchable Internet database to document your lies. You can thank the folks at The Center For Public Integrity for carrying on the work of pioneering journalists like I. F. Stone by bringing hard hitting investigative journalism into the information age. The kicker is these are only Iraq war related -- and there are almost 1,000 provably false statements. Imagine a comprehensive examination of the administration's truthfulness across the board. Below is a chart they compiled of falsity by month...

Enlarge this image

Music: Jesus and Mary Chain -- They have Risen! So Sayeth Magnetic Fields

Magnetic Fields ride a freight elevator together

Magnetic Fields' mastermind Stephen Merritt is a man constantly in search of a gimmick to hang his new albums on. 69 Love Songs, the band's brilliant box set that contained exactly what the title promised, is still the most successful of these, but their last album i (all songs started with the letter "i") and their new one Distortion all strive to take their titles literally.

Hmmm Distortion, what's that gonna sound like? It sounds like The Magnetic Fields, only distorted. Duh. What that means are clever knowing pop songs which stay (mostly) on the right side of twee. The joke here is that Merritt has acknowledged The Jesus and Mary Chain's debut classic Psychocandy as a model, but rather than repeat their formula of Phil Spector pop dipped in an acid bath he substitutes himself for Spector. This leads to some funny moments of distorted accordions and such, though it's a jest meant for the music geek.

Distortion also marks the degree that the Reid brothers of JAMC fame have become a major indie-rock touchstone, influencing some of last year's best records by The Liars, Ponys, and by the brothers themselves backing up and producing their younger sister Linda on her delightful Sister Vanilla album. Sister Vanilla has proven to be a dry run for this year's Major Reunion, the JAMC themselves.

Back to Magnetic Fields though -- is Distortion any good? Some fans will undoubtedly rebel at the conceit of Merritt's songs slathered in distortion and feedback (though it rarely reaches JAMC style squalling). the underlying songs are solid though, noticeably more consistent than the ones on i. "Too Drunk to Dream" is a typically wry highlight, starting as it does like a demented sea shanty"Sober, life is a prison, Shitfaced, it is a blessing". "Drive On, Driver", "California Girls", and the wonderfully misanthropic "Mr. Mistletoe" all make for a most enjoyable set. Also, though the production apes the Reids, Merritt's songwriting is distinctly his own, his deep baritone is as baritone-y as ever, and the lovely lead vocals of Shirley Simms on several tracks keep this away from bald-faced imitation.

Distortion gets 4 out of 5 Psychcandys:

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Design: Space Tourists -- Your Coach is Almost Ready

Lovable hirsute billionaire rogue Sir Ricahrd Branson's Virgin Galactic company today unveiled the craft they intend to use to take paying tourist to the edge of space -- the creatively monikered SpaceShipTwo. This fancy flight-of-fancy flight design is only missing the Moonraker style space station/lovepad to suit Branson's lifestyle -- he's already got his spaceplane tricked out with heart shaped windows a-la 1970's Chevy make-out vans. If the spacecrafts a' rockin' don't ya come a' knockin' etc.

SpaceShipTwo would be launched in air by the custom designed aircraft WhiteKnightTwo (WhiteKnightOne is below):

The in-air de-coupling of the first flight is unlikely before 2009. Here's a clip from Moonraker to tide you over:

Music: Times New Viking Are Hiding Something

Times New Viking

Times New Viking got a lot of buzz for their ultra low-fi album Paisley Reich last year, some of which emanated from the speakers that played the album. Meet the new typeface of low-fi...ultra low- quality recordings that challenge the ear to pick out the melodies and music trapped within the sonic sludge.

Signing to storied indie label Matador hasn't changed the band's M.O. , the band's relationship to fidelity is Hugh Hefner-esque on their new one Rip It Off -- though songforms and hooks are marginally easier to pick out. It helps that there appears to be a stronger set of songs here but who can tell?

In a way, ultra-low fidelity (no fidelity?) is very now, what with the debate over the prevalence of MP3's and their relatively crappy sound in comparison to the good old compact disc. If we are devolving in our sonic expectations, why not fast-forward into the barely comprehensible.

The reality is that this is more of a sonic pose than anything else -- copped from old Guided By Voices albums (which in themselves played up their sonic imperfections.) R. Stevie Moore made home recordings in 1975 that sound better than what GBV was up to in the very early 90's and wayyy better than what Times New Viking are doing now. In other words, especially in the computer age we are living in now, making music sound polished (if not good) is easy and cheap.

So why hide their light under a bushel? I think partly their is the sheer mystery of having to concentrate to pick out just what the hell's going on under all that distortion and bad mixing. But then there's also the fact that without the lo-fi they are just another band with a strong set of hooky poppy songs. Guided By Voices cleaned it up enough on Alien Lanes and Under the Bushes Under the Stars to reveal some really great songwriting while not losing a distinct sound and presence. Perhaps Times New Viking worry that if the sludge were stripped they'd just sound like Guided By Voices.

Based on the strength of songs like "Faces on Fire", "Come Together" and "The Wait" they should buck it up and go nekkid -- let's hear those hooks boys and girls. Don't be shy.

Rip It Off gets three out of five Tascam portable 4 track recorders:

Here they are live last year:

Film: Heath Ledger, R.I.P.

Actor Heath Ledger was found dead in his Manhattan apartment yesterday, possibly the victim of an accidental overdose of sleeping pills, though it's too soon to tell. He was 28.

Ledger along with his former fiancee Michelle Williams, were especially beloved among New York's hipsterati. They saw in the couple a reflection of themselves -- artists living in Brooklyn, raising their young daughter (only 2 years old now), fighting the Atlantic Yards development. When the couple split last year some of that luster faded, but Ledger continued to take interesting and challenging roles and to live in New York, albeit in Manhattan. New Yorkers knew him as a down-to-earth neighbor who shunned the paparazzi and the clubs.

Ledger first came to stardom with a role in the teen comedy adaptation of The Taming of The Shrew, 10 Things I Hate About You. Not content to settle for a Freddie Prinze Jr. heartthrob trajectory, Ledger tried his hand at Hollywood blockbuster drama in The Patriot as Mel Gibson's son, tongue-in-cheek historical fare with A Knight's Tale and Terry Gilliam's The Brother's Grimm and an outback western of sorts with Ned Kelly.

His greatest role however has been his Oscar nominated turn as closeted gay cowboy Ennis Del Mar in Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, a heartbreaking performance that used every facet of the actor's craft to meld performer with character seamlessly. It's a testament to strength and sensitivity of his work that Ennis Del Mar has become an iconic touchstone for the Gay community. GLAAD issued a statement on the actor's death: "Heath Ledger will forever be remembered for his groundbreaking role as Ennis del Mar in Brokeback Mountain. His powerful portrayal changed hearts and minds in immeasurable ways. He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”

Ledger's last roles continue his artistic questing. He is currently in the Bob Dylan fantasy I'm Not There and completed photography on next summers Batman flick, The Dark Knight in which he reinvents the role of The Joker. He was currently working on a new film with Director Terry Gilliam.

Here's a great scene from Brokeback Mountain:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Politics: Dems Bones -- What Does Edwards Want?

"Eeny-meenie mine-e moe..."

Last night's Presidential debate among the Democrats (minus a very peeved Dennis Kucinich) was the nastiest yet -- the gloves are off. Amidst all the wrestling holds, rope-a-dopes, and tag-team action, what was really going on?

Obama knows he is up in South Carolina, he'll probably win there. He is trying to defend his record which is under withering assault from both Hillary and Bill Clinton. He did a pretty good job defending himself to someone who is versed in politics but as we'll see in the clip, the more he has to explain the more it seems like there is something that needs to be explained. When he gets into a somewhat convoluted explanation of why he voted "present" so many times as an Illinois state legislator, it lowers him down from the perch of being a "different" kind of candidate and exposes him as a politician, not that there is anything wrong with that. The Clintons know this and are happy to lead him into this sort of defense of his record. Obama wants to use the momentum of a win in South Carolina to pick up some states on February 5th and hold Clinton's margins down in the states he can't win. Last night didn't hurt him but I don't know that seeing him on the attack and defending his own record so often helped him either.

Clinton knows South Carolina is gone at this point, though if she could get within 5 points or so of Obama she'll call it a victory. She's laying the landmines for February 5th. This was an Obama-friendly audience but her job was to spread doubt about Obama's record and his ability to defend it. Her sharpness cuts both ways -- though the crowd seemed to feel for Obama when he was getting hit by that Clinton uppercut ("slumlord", "not present", "Ronald Reagen") Democrats are eager to see that kind of verbal ju-jitsu employed on a Republican in the general election -- Hillary is counting on it. I think the performance helped in that she didn't come of as detached or icy -- far from it. She was fiery and ready to rumble -- the subtext being that this is what Dems should want in the fall.

Edwards has the most interesting role here. His own aides have suggest that he won't win a single primary at this point. Yet far from cruising, he had one of his best nights last night, pivoting away from his earlier habit of ganging up against Clinton to tag team with her against Obama. Why? May I suggest that Edwards is in this for delegates. He wants to hold down whoever the front runner is in the remaining primaries and collect enough delegates to be a king (-or queen) maker. Math is far from my forte but it may be possible for the top two candidates to come out of February's primaries close enough together in number of delegates for Edward's delegates to put the number two candidate over the top. This leads to the important question -- what does Edwards want? I think we can rule out the VP slot. He may want to see his anti-poverty agenda take center stage. Or there may be something else. Let me know if you think of ideas!

In the meantime here's a clip that illustrates the new dynamic. Hillary just gave Obama a good shot in the kidneys by pointing out a specific bill he voted "present" on -- and got boo-ed for her trouble. Obama's explaining, calmly and reasonably, the minutia of state legislative action which plays right into her game plan. Then Edwards jumps in and magnifies Hillary's message.

Monday, January 21, 2008

TV: The Wire -- Life Imitates Art

How weird was it to watch the scene on HBO's The Wire in which the fictional editor of the Baltimore Sun announces newsroom cuts, starting with the foreign bureaus but encompassing jobs in the main newsroom as well? Sunday, James O'Shea, Los Angeles Times editor, was forced out for resisting newsroom cuts that would have started with the foreign bureaus but also encompassed local jobs as well. The Los Angeles Times is owned by The Tribune Company, or "Chicago" as they are simply known on The Wire, the same company that owns the real-life Baltimore Sun.

Much has been made about the pros and cons of the newspaper subplot in this season of the show, especially in how it relates to creator and head writer David Simon's own soured experience at the Sun. Last night's episode may not have been perfect but it sure was timely.

What is the role of the modern newspaper? Is the death of the newspaper as we have known it part of the overall decline of cities like Baltimore, or a natural withering of a grapevine that has been supplanted by the heartier stock of the Internet?

Design: Poop Scoop For Upcoming Olympics

Yes, it's real. And yes, that's a souvenir trinket depicting two ping-pong playing pandas. Finally, yes, it is made of poop. Panda poop.

When not putting lead in children's toys China's product designer's are coming up with novel ways to connect the back end of one process to the front end of the manufacturing process. In other words -- they are making souvenirs for the 2008 Beijing Olympics out of panda crap. Thanks to the Waiting for 6PM Friday blog for digging up this hot story, by the way.

Now before you make a stink about panda feces being molded into tourist trinkets, know that they are odor-free according to Chinese sources. An official at the aptly named Chendu facility where said trinkets are to be made claims that the dung will be "...carefully selected, smashed, dried and sterilized at 300 degrees Celsius (572 degrees Fahrenheit)." Not surprisingly the interviewee preferred to remain nameless according to MSNBC.

Now come on fellow Westerners, don't get all culturally judgy. After all, some people deep fry Oreo cookies:

Design: DJ in a Pocket -- Must...Have Pacemaker!

Dear Pacemaker,

I want you, I need you, I MUST have you. I know this may sound needy but I just can't stand it anymore.

Unveiled at the CES show in Vegas, The Pacemaker isn't one of those things that regulates Dick Cheney's heartbeat despite fervent wishes to the contrary. It does make my heart beat faster to know that all of the tricks of the DJ trade reside in this slick pocket sized package. The features include " Bend • Pitch control • DJ pause • Cue and cue point search • Equalizer for adjusting treble, mid, and bass per channel • Master equalizer-profiles • Gain adjustment per channel • Loop in- and out-points per track • Reverse playback per track • Audio effects and filters: Hi-cut/Lo-cut, Roll, Delay, Reverb • Independent master and headphone volume"

The rub? It's 520 Euros which with the dollar falling at the rate it is means that it will be about 50 gajillion bucks by the time my birthday rolls around.

The Interwebs: Raging Bullstone-- Fred and Barney Have it Out

I was catching up with's great commentary on this season of The Wire. In post 12 Jeffrey Goldberg snuck in a link to a Flintstone's/ Raging Bull parody that I hadn't seen before. Total milk shooting out of the nose moment -- check it out:

TV: Suzanne Pleshette and Sam The Butcher Die

In a tough weekend for TV fans, two icons of the tube passed away between Friday and today.
Suzanne Pleshette was best known for playing Emily Hartley, Bob Newhart's smartly sardonic wife on The Bob Newhart Show from 1972-1977. That show elevated the craft of TV sitcoms as surely as All in The Family and Pleshette's intelligence and timing were an integral part of what made the show work.

She had roles on TV, broadway and in films both before and after her years as Emily, but it was The Bob Newhart Show that is her lasting legacy. She starred on Broadway in the 1950s with a young actor named Tom Poston. The two had a brief fling and went about their careers with Poston becoming best-known for Newhart's second sitcom in the 80s, Newhart. In 2000 Pleshette and Poston were married. Poston died late last year.

In what was one of the great surreal TV finales ever, Newhart ended the last episode of his second sitcom by waking up in bed -- next to Emily, his wife from the original show, and recounting the wild dream he'd had. Here is a clip of Pleshette and Newhart riffing on that classic scene:

The other big weekend TV death was character actor Allan Melvin. The name "Sam The Butcher" sounds like something you might call a Nazi war criminal but for those of a certain age it conjures up Melvin's jowly face as The Brady Bunch's favorite purveyor of chops and cold cuts. The Beastie Boys name checked him in their 1989 song "Hey Ladies" -- "I'm like Sam the Butcher bringing Alice the meat..." Indeed Sam's relationship with the Brady's maid Alice was always tantalizingly vague. Melvin was also well-known as Archie Bunker's friend Barney on All in the Family. Here's Melvin from a vintage Liquid Plumb -R ad: