Thursday, July 31, 2008

Faux gangsters make me thirsty.

Before Mean Streets' Harvey Keitel pitched Gatorade ...

... before A Bronx Tale's Chazz Palminteri hawked Vanilla Coke ...

... and before Scarface's Robert Loggia shilled for Minute Maid ...

... there was a pre-Sopranos Tony Sirico using his powers of persuasion to make you buy Dunkin' Donuts coffee.

If all does not continue to go well in their movie careers, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and James Gandolfini's series of Sierra Mist commercials should begin airing sometime in the next decade.

Monday, July 28, 2008

"Black Baby Born into Southern Klan Family Inspires Love and Hatred in Tale of Homosexuality and Redemption"

Hmm ... racism, homosexuality, redemption, a southern settingyou've got my attention, press release for a self-published novel. Tell me more.

Elijah, the protagonist in the book by the same name, is a black baby born into a white southern Klan family. His father hates the child and plans to kill him and the mother. The seven-year-old brother challenges the father and saves the child, hiding Elijah in a dark basement.

Alright, so far so good.

There, Elijah is visited by the ghosts of great composers and is taught by them.

Well, that's a twist I didn't see coming, but sure, I'll go along with it. Continue.

He becomes a child prodigy, and he and his brother Joshua ultimately become lovers.

Wait, why does he become lovers with—

Elijah's future father also becomes Elijah's lover and is able to help guide Elijah to a happy and useful life.

Wait wait wait, slow down—he has sex with his brother and his adoptive father? Now, I am a southerner who'd get it on with a cousin just to keep a proud, offensive regional stereotype alive ("Always keep them yankees guessing" is my motto), but nuclear-family incest crosses the line, even in salacious self-published novels.

See, when I was visited by the ghost of To Kill a Mockingbird film composer Elmer Bernstein last year, he specifically told me, "Homosexuality's no big deal, but incest is bad bad bad. Avoid it at all costs. Even if your sister looked like Natalie Wood in her prime, it'd still be a dicey proposition." And what if you're a guy and your brother looks like a young Robert Redford? Or your adoptive dad looks like a late-'70s Warren Beatty? "That bastard still owes me money!"

Obviously a sore subject for Mr. Bernstein's ghost. I didn't bring it up again, and he hasn't visited since. And I'm still not a 32-year-old child prodigy of film-score composing, so thanks for nothin', Elmer. But, you know ... rest in peace and all.

I'd forgotten the real reason why Morgan Freeman has an agenda.

It's so obvious. It's because he's God.

In 2003's Bruce Almighty and 2007's Evan Almighty, Freeman plays God. Or, rather, he plays the role of God. Yes, it's another case of the Oscar winner being typecast as a wise old black man, but at least in these two movies he plays the wisest and oldest black man of them all. I haven't seen either one, but now I'm beginning to wonder if Freeman ad-libbed lines about Americans liking bad food and bad TV. Never stop pushing that agenda of yours, sir.

This summer Freeman's starring in The Dark Knight alongside Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Michael Caine, and in Wanted opposite Angelina Jolie. On July 18 everyone at work received an e-mail from the head of the IT department in Atlanta that read: "Don't open any e-mails that talk about nude photos of Angelina Jolie. They will appear to come from either yourself or someone you have e-mail'd previously."

Thanks, but as Morgan Freeman is my witness, I'm pretty sure I'd remember sending nude photos of Angelina Jolie to myself.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

spotted on a street corner under a tree at the end of my block

A shoe, an empty two-liter bottle of Fanta, a cassette case for the Phantom of the Opera original cast recording (cassette missing), and two empty condom wrappers. I didn't realize Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber was going to be in Chicago this weekend, but he's clearly on the prowl.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Batmania 1989 vs. Batmania 2008

Nineteen years ago the first Batman film made $100 million in ten days, setting a record. It also had the biggest opening weekend of all time: $42 million. But that was 1989. Now The Dark Knight, the sixth Batman film but only the second in director Christopher Nolan's "reboot" of the franchise, stands to make $300 million in ten days, after a record-breaking opening weekend of $158 million.

Nolan's first Batman film, 2005's Batman Begins, made $205 million in its theatrical run. The general rule used to be that a sequel was expected to earn 60 percent of its predecessor's box office take, with diminishing returns each time out. But that rule changed earlier this decade, as far as I can tell, when sequels like Rush Hour 2 (2001), The Mummy Returns (2001), X2 (2003), and Shrek 2 (2004) all topped the first installments in their franchises. Shrek 2 is the most striking example: 2001's Shrek made $267 million, which is nothing to be ashamed of, but Shrek 2 made $441 million three years later.

Below is the New York Times article from July 4, 1989, that talks about Batman's record-breaking gross 19 years ago. Remember when $100 million was the magic number for a movie to gross in theaters? Now franchise films routinely cost that much or more (The Dark Knight has a production price tag of $185 million), and grossing $100 million in just three days seems almost commonplace.

'Batman' Sets Sales Record: $100 Million in 10 Days
By Aljean Harmetz

Inexorably swooping down on movie audiences for the second weekend in a row, ''Batman'' continues to dominate the box office. The movie broke another record on Sunday. In just 10 days, the movie, from Warner Brothers, has sold $100.2 million worth of tickets, breaking the record of ''Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,'' which reached $100 million on its 19th day.

At Warner Brothers, normally the most phlegmatic of studios, executives boiled over with emotion—grinning, joking, and describing the weekend as ''Batweek No. 2.''

Barry Reardon, the president of distribution at the studio, is predicting that ''Batman'' will sell a minimum of $250 million worth of tickets. The studio says its research shows that 13- to 18-year-olds are already going back to see the movie three and four times. It is this repeat business that propels a movie into the Top 10. Although it is far too early to tell whether ''Batman'' will challenge ''E. T.'' and ''Star Wars,'' the two most successful movies ever made, Mr. Reardon said he thought it would pass ''Return of the Jedi'' for third place.

Predictions of Success

Mr. Reardon said that by Friday ''Batman'' will have earned $90 million in film rentals, that portion of the ticket sales that is returned to a movie's distributor. The most successful movies ever produced by Warner Brothers were ''The Exorcist,'' which had film rentals of $89 million and ''Superman'' with film rentals of $82.8 million.

The top movies at the box office last weekend were ''Batman'' with ticket sales of $30 million, Disney's ''Honey, I Shrunk the Kids'' ($13.1 million), Columbia's ''Karate Kid III'' ($10.4 million), Columbia's ''Ghostbusters II'' ($9 million), Paramount's ''Indiana Jones'' ($7 million) and Disney's ''Dead Poets Society'' ($6.7 million).

Of the three movies that opened last weekend, Orion's ''Great Balls of Fire'' is considered dead, having grossed a paltry $3.9 million in 1,417 theaters.

'Do the Right Thing' Does Well

By contrast, Universal's ''Do the Right Thing,'' Spike Lee's disturbing comedy about good intentions and racial violence, sold $3.5 million worth of tickets in just 353 theaters. Universal's research shows that ''Do the Right Thing,'' which has gotten glowing reviews, is playing equally well in black and white neighborhoods. The big question is whether the movie will continue to do well when it broadens to 1,000 theaters.

Although ''Karate Kid'' made more than $10 million at 1,560 theaters, its future does not look bright. The movie took in less money on Saturday than it did on Friday, something which happens only when a movie has bad word of mouth.

The major disappointments of the summer so far are Clint Eastwood's ''Pink Cadillac,'' which has grossed less than $12 million for Warner Brothers, and Paramount's ''Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,'' which continues to sink. ''Star Trek III,'' the weakest of the first four films in the series, brought Paramount $39 million in film rentals, or close to $80 million at the box office. (A studio usually ends up with 50 percent of the box-office receipts.) ''Star Trek V'' has reached $42.4 million in ticket sales.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Boy, 12, slices off friend's ear"

That's the subject heading of a spam e-mail I received today at work. Here's the body of the e-mail: "Oprah Winfrey announces wedding plans." Wow, whoever that boy was, he must've had a massive crush on the big O.

But he's not alone, of course. The entire nation seems to have a massive crush on the big O, though I doubt the majority of her fans are psychos who would slice a friend's ear off to get the billionaire entrepreneur's attention. Most of her talk-show audience isn't made up of preteen boys either. (Would they tune in to Tyra Banks's talk show instead? Nah, probably not—too much female discourse on fashion, weight, and relationships, and not enough of the former Victoria's Secret/Sports Illustrated supermodel's skin on display. But nowhere near as corrosive to your soul as a typical Jerry Springer episode.) Oprah's fan base consists primarily of women, and lots of 'em.

Last November Oprah came to my hometown—Macon, Georgia—to tape her show's annual installment of "Oprah's Favorite Things." I didn't know what an episode of her favorite things would entail—mountains of money? unlimited power over mankind? sitting around the house naked?—and the audience (4,500 requested tickets, but only 300 were chosen) didn't seem to know what she had in store for them, but once she said the three magic words, the Macon City Auditorium exploded. Middle-aged women lost their damn minds, y'all, and chaos ensued. No blood was shed, but it was touch and go for a few seconds. (A few men were in attendance too, but I assumed they were just there for aesthetic purposes. Or they're gay.) The tears! The high-pitched shrieking! The joyful, spontaneous embracing of thy studio-audience neighbor!

These women were excited, and I can see why—they walked out of the city auditorium that day with a bunch of expensive crap, compliments of their benevolent hero. Plus they were treated to a special holiday-themed performance by singer Josh Groban, accompanied on piano by big-time record producer David Foster, the antihero of everyone's favorite soft-rock-loving Norwegian, Terje Fjelde. But what exactly made Oprah decide to descend from above, i.e. Chicago, to bestow her gifts of space-age refrigerators and stylish watches on her believers in middle Georgia? Well, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's AccessAtlanta Web site:

may have only 235,000 TV households, but Oprah's rationale stems from loyalty. "Macon has the highest ratings for 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' ever since we went national in 1986," Winfrey said in a statement.

That means 45 percent of TVs that are on in Macon any given weekday at 4 p.m. is set to Oprah, compared to a still solid 15 percent in Atlanta on WSB-TV.

In your "solid" face, Atlanta! Most of your residents are too busy sitting in traffic and creating smog at 4:00 to be at home watching TV. That's why you need TVs in your cars. And if you start watching The Oprah Winfrey Show on a regular basis and boosting those Nielsen ratings in your city, maybe she'll buy all of you new cars with dashboard monitors that are automatically programmed to turn on Oprah at 4:00 and drown out whatever music, cell-phone call, or repetitive child you're listening to at the time. But you also have to vote for Obama in November. Twice. Don't argue!

Oprah was the subject of a recent Chicago Reader cover story. Actually, her omnipotent influence was the subject. Is Oprah bigger than Jesus? Yes, but it's better for everyone if I say it rather than her. Otherwise she might end up marrying Yoko Ono, and that's a wedding none of her fans want to hear about via spam e-mail, especially the ones who are prone to slicing their friends' ears off.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

spring cleaning in the summertime

I finally finished a draft from last month and one from as far back as December in addition to two from March, just in time to brighten my 2.3 readers' lives with the glare of their computer monitors instead of skin-cancer-causing sunshine.

12/7: why my favorite TV show died
3/21: Morgan Freeman has an agenda.
3/25: The Lord and David Caruso
6/6: The martial arts are funniest when performed by chubby white guys.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

the certainty of sucking

I recently got around to reading an article I clipped from LA Weekly last year called "Sucking in the '70s," by Kate Sullivan, who writes about listening to a rerun of American Top 40 from March of '78 on XM Satellite Radio and being amazed at how many of the songs are still in our collective consciousness and how many have stood the test of time as examples of excellence in pop craftsmanship. All this despite 1978 supposedly being a bad year for the quality of pop music, with disco invading every corner of the mainstream, and punk rock giving it the finger over in the margins.

All this music was the most commercialized crap the record industry could crank out. And most of it gets played on radios, stereos, iPods and jukeboxes every day, bringing pleasure to millions. But 1978 is even more impressive when you add to the equation what was happening off the Top 40 chart—in punk, new wave, metal, electronica, folk, reggae, rap. Pretty amazing, right? It's difficult to imagine almost anything from the Top 40 of the past few years enduring for decades to come; sadly, the same goes for the indie scene.

I often feel like a curmudgeon when it comes to things like people cursing in public more and more often, as if the F word is so commonplace now I should just get used to it, or riding their bikes on the sidewalk long past the age of 12, but I try not to be a curmudgeon about music. I love the music of the '70s more than that of any other decade, but my heart belongs to plenty of songs from the '80s too (which is when I started becoming aware of what was on the radio), especially ones I've heard for the first time in the last few years thanks to blogs like Lost in the '80s. The '90s produced a ton of classics as well, and though radio has gone through a lot of changes since the early '90s, when I was in high school and stopped listening on a regular basis, I'm still happy when a sunny pop song like Sara Bareilles's "Love Song" can break through on radio and reach lots of people.

Music has absolutely gotten worse. Except it hasn't. And if you think the music of today is the best ever, you're absolutely right. Except you're wrong. This argument will never be settled, and most of it has to do with one's age. I love the music of the '70s, but in the early part of that decade, when my parents were the age I am now, they might've thought the product being pushed on AM radio didn't come close to matching what Motown, Stax, and bands like the Beatles were creating in the '60s. And they're right. Except they're wrong.

Music will never die. And neither will our valid opinions about its quality. But in the end they are just opinions. So the next time you're riding your bike on the sidewalk and you don't hear me yelling at you because your iPod ear buds are blasting the latest, greatest hip-hop single that's making you happier than any song in recent memory, embrace that feeling and don't let anyone tell you music was better when they were your age. But first and foremost, please get the fuck off the sidewalk.