Monday, September 25, 2006

I Have to Care about the Internet...

On Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, one of the actors from the sketch show was reading a blog. The blogger said negative things about the show. Another actor asked why the first actor would even read that. He said that nobody cares what the blogger has to say. The first actor said that the next day the New York Times would quote the blogger to show that it is not an elitist paper. He then said, "I have to care about the internet because everybody else does."

Sorry I couldn't do a better job of describing that scene. I don't know the names of any of the characters. I like that scene for two reasons. One, it explains why I blog and why I try to read other blogs and online publications, even though I fought it for a long time. Two, I think the show does a good job of addressing the way media is changing. You probably couldn't tell in my description, but it was a pretty funny scene as well.

Studio 60 is a pretty astute show and a lot funnier than SNL, and I have to get back to it because commercials are over.

Friday, September 22, 2006

David Brent is still my favorite boss

I just read this interesting article about the difference between different versions of The Office. I didn't know that in addition to the British original and American version, there are also French and German incarnations. The author, Liesl Schillinger, addresses why the British version doesn't work in other countries.

The point that workplaces are different in each country and viewers find humor in what they recognize is a valid one. Why then do I love the British Office so much?

It's because it's hilarious-- David Brent saying how awful sexism is while degrading women, Brent helping a girl in a wheelchair down the stairs during a fire drill and then leaving her halfway down because he's too tired, Tim's tricks on Garrett. It's because of the human element-- the desire for something more out of life from Tim, the sadness of a man who only wants people to think he's funny, the unsatisfying relationship that Dawn is stuck in.

I refuse to watch the American version so I know it's not fair for me to criticize it, but whenever I hear people explain to me why the American version is different from the British, I don't get it. It sounds the same to me.

According to the article, the American boss, Michael Scott, tries to maintain the appearance of a serious workplace, but David Brent does not. The example of this is Scott's "misguided motivational lecture." Brent gives motivational lectures as well and while comedy is his main goal, he also thinks he is productive.

The relationship between Dawn and Tim seems to be mirrored by Pam and Jim (couldn't they think of a name that doesn't rhyme with Tim?).

Schillinger writes, "In the British version, nobody is working, nobody has a happy relationship, everyone looks terrible, and everybody is depressed." I disagree. Tim and Dawn do not look terrible. They're not beautiful, but they look like average people and are certainly not ugly. The show is depressing, but it's in large part because the characters don't know how unhappy they are. Also, the British are not living outside of the office. They may go out to the pubs after work, but they always go with people from the office.

I will admit that I am stubborn. I am strangely protective of the British Office. I actively promoted it when I came back from England. It was hard enough to get people to watch it without the American version. I appear to be fighting a losing battle. Maybe this is just proof that I'm a Brit at heart and I'll just leave it at that and quietly take comfort in my DVDs.

I hope I didn't offend any fans of the American Office. While I don't think I'll ever watch it, the article did open up my eyes (although it's hard to tell from my rant).

Monday Night Television

Thanks to CBS and NBC, Monday night might be the new Thursday. I didn't get to catch the premiere of "The Class" because I was in class, although I was curious if David Crane could produce another hit after "Friends." Here are the two shows I did get to watch:

"How I Met Your Mother":
Although the new season of "How I Met Your Mother" has some major plot changes, the show seems too similar to the first season, and not in a good way.

Ted keeps promising his children that he will tell him the story of how he met their mother, but she has yet to appear. The new season starts with Ted finally getting together with Robin, but he told us in the very first episode that she is not the woman he marries. It is hard to root for a couple that you know is not going to last. It is common in the show for Ted to tell us what is going to happen before it happens, so it makes watching the show pointless.

The only reason to keep coming back is that one day, the mother will be revealed. But it is doubtful whether this will be enough to keep viewers intrigued for more than another season, if that.

The show has its highlights. Neil Patrick Harris does his best to make Barney more than a one-dimensional stereotype. And for every 10 lame jokes (or maybe for every 20), there is at least one good one. In any case, there is still hope for "How I Met Your Mother," at least for now.

"Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip":
I didn't take any notes on this and my memory of television is not as good as my memory of film for some reason. I suppose I could look up information about the show, but I'll just make this a few of my initial reactions:

Saturday Night Live is no fun to watch anymore, so who would have thought that a show about the behind-the-scenes of a sketch comedy show could be so enjoyable. Aaron Sorkin (best known for "The West Wing"), apparently, and he was right.

The episode starts at a taping of the sketch comedy show, also called "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." The guests are Felicity Huffman and Three 6 Mafia (Oscar winners, as they don't fail to mention) in what one can only hope will be the first of many delightful cameos.

The executive producer, Wes, played by Judd Hirsch, is trying to get a sketch on the air, but the censors won't allow it as it makes fun of Christians. During the show's opening (the fake show, not the real one), Wes interrupts a Bush sketch to rant about the state of television and the world in general in a scene that openly pays tribute to "Network."

This occurs on Jordan McDeere's (Amanda Peet) first day as network president. To make a long story short, she hires Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) and Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford) to save the show, and there we have the premise for the season.

The show has a lot of things going for it-- sharp dialogue, an interesting plot, and a solid cost. Perry and Whitford are the clear stars. They can partake in the humorous buddy banter while still sweetly portraying the close relationship of these two men without it feeling too sappy.

The only mistake in the first episode was not to show the sketch that was cut. After talking about it so much, viewers would inevitably be curious. Maybe they'll open with it next week.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Mix

This is my article that appeared in The Mix, an insert in the Sunday Post-Standard. Everybody in my program wrote an article about something relating to arts and culture and Syracuse. This is mine. If you click on it, you can enlarge the image and read the article.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Another stab in the heart from Disney

Ashley Tisdale (High School Musical and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody) has a new music video of "Kiss the Girl" from The Little Mermaid which is now played regularly on the Disney Channel. I don't know who gave this girl the idea that she could sing, but Disney Channel should stop encouraging it. Her high-pitched, shrieky voice sounds unnatural. In the music video, it seems that she is trying to imitate Hilary Duff's style and facial expressions. Ashley Tisdale, you are not a sex goddess. You can't sing. And "Kiss the Girl" is a classic that should not be covered by anybody, especially you. I was so excited about the two-disc Little Mermaid DVD that comes out just in time for my birthday (the sound on my videotape is ruined from so many viewings), but I'm really hoping this music video isn't on it.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

This is the true story...

I don't have a burning desire to have my whole life taped or to live with six strangers (or is it seven?) and yet I auditioned for the Real World today. If you can call it an audition.

I was working at Starbucks all day and the fine people at MTV were hosting Real World auditions at a restaurant close by from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. I wasn't scheduled to get off work until 7:15, so I went on my ten minute break to check out the auditions. It was less crowded than I had anticipated, but there was still a couple dozen reality show hopefuls filling out application forms outside. They looked pretty young, I'd assume they were mostly undergraduate students, but I can't be sure of that. I told the casting people that I had to get back to work but I asked them if I would be able to audition during my half hour break. They said ok and gave me an application.

The walk to and from the restaurant and my talk with the casting people took up pretty much my whole 10 minutes so I had to fill out my application in between ringing people up and making frappuccinos. Here are some samples of the insipid questions:
"What was your most embarrassing moment?"
"What would your closest friends describe as your best/worst traits?"
"What is something unique about you?"
"Describe your relationship with your parents."

I went back to the auditions during my half hour break with my barely legible form. As promised, they let me audition right away, but it was not what I expected. I thought it would be a video-taped one-on-one interview, but instead one of the casting directors interviewed a group of us at once. There were too many of us so I couldn't hear what was going on half the time. We were at a long table and I was at one of the ends. If you ask me, it would have made more sense if we were in a circle, but they didn't. First we all had to go around and introduce ourselves and say something unique about ourselves. Then the casting director asked us questions about why people our age don't vote and what we think about the casting of the Real World. I left early on in the process because half-an-hour goes quickly when you're taking part in such intellectually stimulating conversation. Or something. I was surprised that people were not going out of there way to impress the casting director. Everyone seemed pretty boring.

When I left the casting director thanked me and said if I was chosen for a call-back, they would call me tonight. I knew I wouldn't get a call-back because I didn't say that much during the interview and there was nothing about my application that would really stand out considering I filled it out in about five minutes and I'm not anorexic or manic deppressive or anything else that might appeal to the fine people at MTV. I almost did want a call-back because that's when they do the one-on-one interviews that they videotape and that's the only reason I went to the audition in the first place. I thought it would be fun to create a new persona, but since we weren't being taped, it hardly seemed worth the effort. All in all, my Real World auditions were disapointing, even more so than the time I was on TRL.

In Starbucks related news, I listened to parts of the new Bob Dylan album, "Modern Times," at work today. It sounded awesome, but I'm not sure if I should buy it. Apparently, partners now get a 50% off discount for CDs until the 24th, which is a nice incentive. But the only Dylan CDs I have are "Highway 61 Revisited" and a greatest hits. I think I should get classic albums like "Blonde on Blonde" or "John Wesley Harding" before I get his newer stuff. There is this section in Nick Hornby's book "31 Songs" were he talks about Dylan and I wish I had the book with me because I don't want to misrepresent what he said. He was saying that he likes Dylan, but isn't a huge fan, but he listed everything he knew about Dylan, things that even the most casual fans know (he was born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota), and I think he made the comment that it was more than he knew about a lot of people. I too categorize myself as a casual fan, but I feel like there are certain Dylan albums I should own.

Some of my co-workers were looking at CDs and contemplating buying some, but I don't think either of them did. Right now I'm leaning to the conclusion that most people don't actually buy CDs at Starbucks, they just think about it a lot.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Would you like a CD to go with your latte?

A follow up to my posting about Starbucks music. Last night I worked and somebody purchased a CD. It was a Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave) album with various guest artists including Jon Bon Jovi and Mariah Carey. He was buying it as a gift and when I tried to ask him about it, he didn't seem to know anything about the music.

We were playing the "contemporary grind" mix in the store, which is a random mix of songs, some of which we sell and some of which we don't. When Modest Mouse, "Gravity Rides Everything,"was playing, a girl commented that it was a great song. She was also very excited about the new John Mayer album, but she didn't buy it.

What grand conclusions can I draw from this? I think it's too soon to tell. It does seem that people buy albums at Starbucks without really knowing what they are. I don't think anybody goes to Starbucks with the intention of buying music, but I have noticed that people will often impulsively buy a CD. This still doesn't tell me if those who buy the CDs are likely to seek out other music from that artist's career.

I'll keep my eye out for more of these observations. It'll give me something to do at work besides make the best caramel macchiatos ever.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Bart Freundlich Trusts the Man(hattan)

I wrote this review for my critical writing class. I will probably revise it later after I get feedback from the class.

“Trust the Man” could easily be the film version of “Sex and the City,” except the principal quartet is comprised of two heterosexual couples rather than four single girls. Like the television show, the film has a great ensemble cast (close friends, Julianne Moore, David Duchovny, Billy Crudup, and Maggie Gyllenhaal), but where “Sex and the City” is a smart and innovative look at relationships in the big city, “Trust the Man” stops short. It could have been a great movie, but it ends up being a mediocre one.

Director Bart Freundlich wrote a film that is a love letter to Manhattan. The characters frequent the trendiest eateries—Serendipity, Pastis, Magnolia, and Sardi’s—and walk through the Gates at Central Park. These location shots are so piled on top of each other that they do not serve any purpose except to make the audience think that Freundlich is trying too hard. If he loves the city so much he should have attempted to make a movie that would do it justice.
In this self-indulgent film, three characters are writers and the fourth, Rebecca, is a successful actress, played by Freundlich’s wife Moore, naturally. In the film she is married to Tom (Duchovny), a stay-at-home dad with a sex addiction. Duchovny plays Tom with an understated sadness that makes him the most appealing character even after cheating on his wife.

Rebecca’s brother and Tom’s best friend, Tobey (Crudup, looking surprisingly unkempt), is in the seventh year of his relationship with Elaine (Gyllenhaal), but has no interest in getting married. Crudup manages to make his lazy bum of a character likeable simply because it’s impossible for Crudup not to be charming even when playing a guy who farts, makes inappropriate comments, and stalks his psychiatrist. Gyllenhaal is such a talented actress that usually makes risky film choices so it’s a wonder that she agreed to play such an annoyingly bland character incapable of thinking for herself (she submits a picture of herself in a bikini with her children’s book proposal because Tobey tells her to).

“Trust the Man” suffers from inconsistency. Anybody who saw the trailer would expect a sophisticated comedy about quirky New Yorkers. Such a movie should be witty and fresh and occasionally it is. At other times the film is riddled with bathroom humor and cheap tactics usually reserved for romantic comedies.

The movie loses all credibility at the end. The premiere of Rebecca’s play turns into a silly spectacle with over the top physical comedy inconsistent with the realistic tone the rest of the film appears to be going for. Then the film becomes overly sentimental as everything is neatly resolved. Freundlich should have taken is own advice and trusted himself to delve deeper into the relationships that are obviously semi-autobiographical.

“Trust the Man” is as flawed as its characters, and like its characters, it has some appealing traits, but these are not enough to save this picture from its confused self.

Friday, September 08, 2006

You're listening to hear music, the voice of music at Starbucks

Today when I was working at Starbucks, I was treated to songs including Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer" and George Harrison's "If Not For You" (Bob Dylan wrote it but it was George Harrison's version). Imagine my delight at listening to music I enjoy after waking up at a quarter to 7 in the morning and having to deal with people who haven't had their morning coffee. It put me in a good mood, but the thought of these artists having their music on Starbucks compilations bothers me.

I always defend Starbucks when it is referred to as "evil." The company treats their employees well and pays its coffee growers higher than average prices. But the thought of them packaging music this way really gets to me. I guess they had to get the rights to these songs somehow, but I don't know that much about that process. I would think that a lot of the anti-establishment rockers would not want their music for sale at Starbucks.

I also have a problem with compilations in general because the songs are usually arranged so randomly. To me, the album is an art form and these albums cheapen it.

David Hajdu wrote a brilliant review of Starbucks CDs for The New Republic and I wish I could link it here, but you need to be a member to access it. But he brought something up that I didn't consciously realize at first as part of my problem. He writes, "The Opus Collection takes important artists from jazz and popular music--Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye, Billie Holiday, Etta James, Elvis Presley, Sly Stone, Jackie Wilson, and others--and makes them brands."

He goes on to say that the CDs expose listeners to a musicians' early work. "The music is fine," he writes, "The CDs vexing for the way in which they package every artist as an overly simplified cliché: Elvis the wild country boy, Etta the oversexed blues babe, Miles the sensual mysterioso. Youth comes across as an exalted state." This isn't always the case. The 35th Anniversary CD includes John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," as opposed to "Imagine," which is more recognizable and the way John Lennon is normally packaged. I do see his point, but I don't think it's a bad thing to expose people to one side of an artist's career, assuming they will seek out other recordings. But Hajdu makes the claim that most listeners will not make that effort because they don't really want to, they just want to have something to talk about. I think I'll test out this theory next time I'm at Starbucks by talking to some of our customers about music.

I've written a lot more than I intended to, but I may revisit this subject later. Stay tuned...

High Fidelity... the musical?

Broadway is going the route of Hollywood-- nothing is original. Most new musicals are based on movies, or in the case of High Fidelity, based on movies based on books.

Not all musicals based on movies are bad, of course. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was even better than the movie (sadly, the musical closed earlier this month). But High Fidelity? The story is all about music, so maybe it seems logical to turn it into a musical, but Nick Hornby's dark sense of humor and the uplifting spirit of the American musical don't really mesh in my mind. I did have hope that the musical could work until I saw this preview. It looks campy, which may or may not be intentional, but my main problem is the music. Nick Hornby and his characters have high standards when it comes to music, and I don't think these cheesy pseudo-rock opera style songs would make the cut.

This is why I never had a TV as an undergrad...

Last week my roommate was watching Project Runway and it was the night of a new episode so they were naturally showing all the previous episodes. I make it a habit to avoid reality shows, but I happened to be eating dinner and I could not avoid watching from where I was sitting. I quickly discovered why the show is such a hit and I now have a new addiction.

It's hard to pinpoint what makes Project Runway a good reality show. I think it's because unlike most reality shows, it doesn't center around ridiculous challenges or seemingly staged drama. Yes, there are challenges, but they involve making a couture gown in two days, not eating spiders. And yes, there is drama (such as when Jeffrey clashed with Angela's mom), but it is secondary to the clothes. Most of the designers are there to win, which is where the drama comes in, but they are actually talented, therefore it is worth it to watch them.

Predictions: I hope Jeffrey wins and I think he has a good shot because he really proved himself with the last two competitions. He sometimes comes off as a jerk, but I don't think he is. He's honest and tells it like it is and that's what I like about him.

Michael also has a good chance of winning. In fact, I think he'll probably take it. In the episodes I've seen, and I think I've seen most of them, he hasn't had a bad design. Not that I'm a fashion expert, but the judges seem to like him too.

Monday, September 04, 2006

(Taking Back) Sunday at the Fair

Yesterday I spent the day at the New York state fair (my first fair). I don't want to spend this precious time that I should be using to do homework to talk about the animals, the fried food, or even Hip Hop Harry,* but instead to focus on the two concerts, Foreigner and Taking Back Sunday with Honorary Title and Circa Survive.

These seemingly very different shows, one a rock band from the late '70s and early '80s appealing to a larger crowd and the other emo bands appealing to high school girls, have more in common than you might think. The musicians knew their target audience .and played to them, performing the songs that people wanted to hear.

Foreigner gave a free concert and the audience varied from families with young children to collge students to grandparents. This meant that not everybody was a hard core Foreigner fan, but the band put on a show that would appeal to everyone. Even the most casual rock fans in the audience probably recognized at least one of their standards--"Cold as Ice," "Hot Blooded," or "Double Vision," they played them all.

To me, all the songs that Taking Back Sunday performed sounded exactly the same, but most of the high schoolers in the audience could easily distinguish between songs, cheering and squeling when their favorites were played. I don't personally understand why anybody listens to this type of music, but it was a good concert for what it was.

This leads me to a broader point which I've been thinking about since these two shows. If a good concert is putting on an entertaining show that people enjoy, both these concerts accomplished that. So when you review a concert, should you be reviewing the show or the music itself? I guess you should do both, but how do you remove yourself from the equation and do you have to? I may not think Taking Back Sunday is good music, but other people do. These are just some questions I've been thinking about and I don't have all the answers yet, but hopefully that's what I'll be learning this year.