Sunday, December 9, 2012

not just another shaggy-dog story

SCREENWRITER: Here's the pitch: What if Turner and Hooch were the same person? What if Hooch could fire a gun?

HOLLYWOOD: You've got yourself a deal.

Chicago Sun-Times, September 18, 2009

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Predicting the future can be fun, but not as fun as reading about past predictions.

"Most of the current press about 'the zine explosion' has declared that zines are going to revolutionize print journalism and kill the big magazine. My zine is fun and is a good example of what a powerful punch the small press can deliver. But unlike other zine publishers, I don’t actually believe zines are the wave of the future. I just did mine for a kick and it took off. In fact, I believe the emerging pathways for information will be electronic. In the near future, I predict that we will get all of our news, information, and personal mail solely via fax machines."

—Jeff Fox, publisher of the zine Die Evan Dando, Die, writing for Vice magazine in 1994

Friday, August 10, 2012

See also: Stanley Kubrick; Terrence Malick

"Precisely how much of the joy one takes in reading J.D. Salinger’s work comes from the knowledge that he has chosen to withdraw from the public eye for the past five decades? The books would be no less beautiful—not a word would change—but if, for instance, Salinger had spent the past few years drawing a paycheck as a staff writer for Vanity Fair, mightn’t that dim the appeal of Franny and Zooey just a bit? Or what if he’d written four sequels to The Catcher in the Rye? What if he’d been, however briefly, the host of a late-night talk show? A guest on The Muppet Show? The center square on Hollywood Squares?"

—Tim Carvell, McSweeney's, April 2002

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Party over, oops, out of time ..."

Last July Chicago's 101.1 FM switched to an all-news format after 19 years as the alternative-rock-friendly Q101. The smooth-jazz station at the far left end of the dial, 87.7 FM, was replaced with Q101's old format, and now, a little less than a year later, 101.1 is experiencing a new identity crisis: as of this morning "adult hits" is its new niche. Kid Rock's "Cowboy" is on right now, and I just heard Lenny Kravitz's "American Woman," Christina Aguilera's "What a Girl Wants," and OMC's "How Bizarre." If you can remember hearing those songs on the radio in 1999, that apparently means you're an adult now.

Two Saturdays ago I helped some teenagers at the local library create a display of apocalypse-themed books, movies, and graphic novels. One girl, Sarah, was trying to come up with a playlist of end-of-the-world songs, so I suggested Prince's "1999."

No one in the room had heard of it. Following an awkward pause, Sarah said, "I was born in 1999."

When Prince sings, "Two thousand zero zero, party over, oops, out of time," I know exactly what he means even if he didn't when he wrote the song—he was still in his early 20s back then. But if you were born long before 1999, I think you know what I'm talking about.

In conclusion, gimme back my smooth-jazz station, dammit. Even if it mostly played urban adult contemporary, not smooth jazz, its version of "adult hits" was preferable to 101.1 FM's.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Henry Pollard: Vampire Hunter

In April 2009, halfway through the first season of Starz's short-lived but fondly remembered Party Down, an episode aired in which waiter and "retired" actor Henry Pollard (Adam Scott) runs into Michael (Breckin Meyer), an old friend from acting class who's now an up-and-coming movie star. Michael has been signed to play Edgar Allan Poe in a big-budget film that imagines the 19th-century author as a vampire hunter. And since there's plenty of bloodsucker butt to kick, Poe has a sidekick, young Abraham Lincoln, a part for which Michael thinks Henry would be perfect.

However, Henry can't even manage to land an audition with the film's foul-mouthed producer (J.K. Simmons, equally funny and terrifying), and in the second and final season of Party Down we discover that Channing Tatum ended up getting the part.

Seth Grahame-Smith's novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was published in March 2010, the month before Party Down imagined Tatum as a Nosferatu-killing Great Emancipator. I have no idea who first came up with the idea of our 16th president moonlighting as Van Helsing, or if it even matters, but in that 2009 episode of Party Down Breckin Meyer sounds like he's imitating Matthew McConaughey's laid-back Texan twang. Well, guess who's costarring with Channing Tatum in Steven Soderbergh's male-stripper comedy, Magic Mike, opening this Friday? Alright alright alright ...

Benjamin Walker, who previously played our nation's seventh president in the Broadway musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, takes on the lead role in Twentieth Century Fox's big-screen adaptation of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which opened last Friday to a mixed reception from both critics and audiences. I bet Henry Pollard wouldn't have landed an audition for that film either, but at least Adam Scott will get to wear a Lincoln-like beard in Fox's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, directed by and starring Ben Stiller and set for release in December 2013. (For what it's worth, John Cusack played a serial-killer-hunting Edgar Allan Poe earlier this year in The Raven.)

If the Lincoln movie left you cold* but you're still in the mood for a 3-D hunt of imaginary creatures, Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton star in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, hitting theaters next January. And if you're the kind of person who thinks President Obama is a socialist, please call off your witch hunt and hibernate until March 2014. That's when Disney will release Maleficent, a remake of Sleeping Beauty starring Angelina Jolie and produced by Joe Roth, who's already given us the Tim Burton-directed Alice in Wonderland remake and Snow White and the Huntsman, plus he has Sam Raimi's Oz: The Great and Powerful waiting in the wings for a March 2013 release.

Fairy-tale movies are the new superhero movies. Except Hollywood is still making superhero movies. Once upon a time Hollywood made other kinds of movies, but then an evil financial wizard conjured up a recession that helped kill the home video market, making millions of dollars in yearly revenue vanish into thin air and forcing Hollywood to concentrate its remaining production capital on 3-D gimmickry and "presold" stories and characters that audiences already know and love.

But, in all honesty, if an evil wizard were to take away the powers of speech and texting from moviegoers once they've paid for their tickets and taken their seats, I probably wouldn't care so much about what kinds of movies Hollywood makes. Where are you when we need you most, Voldemort?

* But if you're a vampire you were cold to begin with, right?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

'Allo, guv'ner! Wot you doin' 'ere?

"If you are seeking a movie about the end of the world, you have a lot of choices," writes the New York Times's A.O. Scott in his June 22 review of the comedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. "There are the sturdy, old, large-scale disaster epics, of course, but lately the trend has been toward more intimate studies of apocalypse, Lars von Trier's 'Melancholia' and Abel Ferrara's '4:44 Last Day on Earth' being two notable recent examples."

But what about the trend of English actresses, accents intact, providing romantic interest for American leading men? In Seeking a Friend for the End of the World Keira Knightley is paired up with Steve Carell, while in the recent box office disappointment The Five-Year Engagement Emily Blunt plays Jason Segel's fiancée. Likewise, in the 2011 romantic drama Like Crazy American twentysomething Anton Yelchin falls for British college student Felicity Jones, but the trend also made its way onto the small screen this season as Ashton Kutcher's lovelorn billionaire courted a Brit named Zoey (Sophie Winkleman) on the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men.

English actors have also been popping up in supporting roles in otherwise this-side-of-the-Atlantic movies and TV shows, including Hugh Dancy as Sarah Paulson's husband in the 2011 indie film Martha Marcy May Marlene; Eve Best as Dr. Eleanor O'Hara, the title character's best friend, on Showtime's Nurse Jackie; and Richard Ayoade as a suburbanite who forms a neighborhood watch with Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill in the sci-fi comedy The Watch, which opens next month. I'd like to throw Lost's Henry Ian Cusick in with this crowd for his role on ABC's soapy Scandal, but he's apparently half Peruvian and half Scottish, not English. Nonetheless, he sounds British on the D.C.-set drama. (This ain't over, Cusick.)

Taiwanese singer-actor Jay Chou was reportedly cast as Kato in last year's Seth Rogen vehicle The Green Hornet to strengthen the film's global box office, especially in China, where cinema screens are being erected left and right: the LA Times noted in April that Titanic played on 180 screens there in 1998, whereas the recent 3-D rerelease opened on almost 2,500 screens. But England's movie theaters don't generate impressive box office tallies the way China and Russia's multitude of new multiplexes do, so it's hard to see actors like Knightley, Blunt, and Ayoade being cast in big American studio comedies for their transatlantic appeal.

Is latent American Revolution guilt to blame? Or have focus groups been consistently telling Hollywood development executives that they'd like to see more token Brits on-screen because (1) they sure do talk funny and (2) they sure do sound smart when they're not talkin' funny? I haven't seen Like Crazy, but at least its casting follows the logic of the story being told. In all the other examples, however, the token Brit just seems to be there as part of a foreign exchange program concocted by Tony Blair and George W. Bush right before the former left office in 2007. I don't mean to sound like a jerk, but plenty of Americans are still out of work—enough already with the outsourcing.

On a positive note, this alleged exchange program I just made up has accidentally given us Showtime's laugh-out-loud funny sitcom Episodes, which is set in Hollywood but filmed in the UK (where it airs on BBC Two), and stars Friends MVP Matt LeBlanc as "himself" alongside Englanders Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig, who play husband-and-wife comedy writers wooed by a major network to create an across-the-pond version of their hit sitcom, "Lyman's Boys." I bet the writers of Episodes could have a great time inserting a random Brit into its show-within-the-show, "Pucks!" (The second season debuts next Sunday on Showtime.)

6/25 update: After watching the first episode of HBO's new series The Newsroom, I can now add Emily Mortimer to this list.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

My face is still an open book.

Here's another two years' worth (May 2010-May 2012) of shameless filler gathered from you-know-where.

1. Rand Paul says President Obama's criticism of British Petroleum is "un-American." Yes, a guy from the Tea Party is defending the British.

2. It's a good thing Lost ended when it did, before that BP oil spill started messing with the islanders' ecosystem.

3. South Carolina blogger claims "inappropriate physical relationship" with gubernatorial candidate. Update: Blogger admits to identical relationship with himself, since it's a fact that most of us bloggers have our heads up our ...

4. If North and South Korea were characters on As the World Turns, North Korea would be "the evil twin."

5. Can't all the drunken Cubs fans who stumble around after games be rounded up and used to plug the BP oil well?

6. Before BP polluted it with millions of gallons of crude oil, the Gulf of Mexico was a majestic, unspoiled body of water, not to mention a convenient place to use the bathroom.

7. Each Transformers movie is two and a half hours long. Each Sex and the City movie is also two and a half hours long. The battle of the sexes has reached a cinematic stalemate.

8. ‎"Obama Memorial Day talk canceled by severe storm," reports the Associated Press. It's safe to assume that when the head of BP schedules a talk, God will send locusts.

9. Avatar director James Cameron held a meeting with other deep-sea experts on Tuesday to discuss the BP oil spill. It quickly became the most expensive meeting of all time, but Cameron's PowerPoint presentation was hailed as "pulse-pounding entertainment," "a riveting display of words and rectangles," and "really really really blue, unlike the Gulf of Mexico these days."

10. The FTC has admonished Kellogg's for claiming that Rice Krispies can bolster children's immunity. It's also unhappy about those General Mills ads that promise "immortality" to anyone who eats Count Chocula.

11. In 2008 Owen Wilson costarred with a dog in Marley & Me. This year he's providing the voice of the lead canine in Marmaduke. Next up for the actor: a literal remake of Lasse Hallström's My Life as a Dog, with digitally enhanced squirrel chases and 3-D crotch sniffing.

12. SOS! Jokes about BP oil spill running out much faster than the oil that's still spilling!

13. What veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas meant to say was "The Israelis—and everyone else—should get the hell out of Palestine so someone can clean the place. Some of that dirt's almost as old as me."

14. Two suspects reportedly stole Kanye West's Porsche in Honolulu last Saturday, then paid tribute to his appearance at last year's MTV Video Music Awards by crashing it into a wall.

15. On Wednesday actor and environmentalist Kevin Costner told Congress his strategy for cleaning up the BP oil spill, promising under oath that it doesn't involve him playing another washed-up former athlete.

16. The Annie comic strip is ending today after an 86-year run, according to the Associated Press. Tragically, the mystery of the little orphan's missing pupils remains unsolved.

17. "Good or Bad, Baby Names Have Long-Lasting Effects," say reporters Hugh Jass and Ivana Tinkle.

18. As the fighting continues in Kyrgyzstan, the Red Cross is asking the international community for sizable donations of blood and vowels.

19. "Sea creatures flee oil spill, gather near shore," reports the Associated Press. We all know what that means—CALL IN THE UNION BUSTERS!

20. BP CEO Tony Hayward to Congress: "I'm sorry." Congressman Joe Barton to Hayward: "No, I'm sorry!" America to Barton: "Either kiss him or SHUT UP."

21. ‎"Saaaaaaailing takes Tony Hayward awaaaaaaay from where everyone hates his guts ..."

22. Sorry,, but your article "Why Summer Begins Monday" doesn't explain why my Fourth of July hangover started last Tuesday. Wooooooo!

23. Getting back the six hours you wasted standing in line for a new iPhone 4—there's not an app for that.

24. Earlier today the U.S. Supreme Court extended the rights of gun owners, who celebrated by firing their weapons into the air, accidentally killing all nine Supreme Court justices once the bullets fell back to earth.

25. Happy belated birthday to Gary Busey, who turned 66 yesterday! (R.I.P. Gary Busey's brain, which would've turned 66 yesterday.)

26. Why does the U.S. Postal Service sell stamps that are "Forever"? Because with a potential $7 billion loss next year, it may not be.

27. What the government doesn't want you to know about the U.S.-Russia spy swap is that LeBron James was handed over to the other side in exchange for our agents. The LeBron James who signed with the Miami Heat is a robot. But it's a jive-talking robot, so it'll still be worth the billion dollars Miami's already spent.

28. A new Sarah Palin biography due in September will be aimed at 9- to 12-year-olds, according to the AP. This is a brilliant move on the publisher's part: since the former Alaska governor already appeals to adults who read at a grade-school level, the book can easily be repurposed at no extra cost.

29. LeBron's "decision" may have upset Cleveland, but it's still less of a downer than Sophie's "choice."

30. The AP reports that the decade-old Mel Gibson movie What Women Want is being remade in Chinese. So what do women want in 2010? If they're smart, not Mel Gibson.

31. ‎"Glenn Beck says he's been diagnosed with an eye disease that could eventually blind him," reports the AP. You have my deepest sympathy, Mr. Beck. By the way, how did your appointment with the mouth doctor go?

32. In light of recent events, Arizona governor Jan Brewer has announced plans for an ironic weekend getaway to Cancun.

33. I keep seeing headlines about a Clinton wedding. Is Bill getting married again? And does Hillary know?

34. Newsweek has been sold to a 90-year-old billionaire. Boy, ever since Anna Nicole Smith passed away, these rich old guys have really struggled to figure out the best way to lose their fortunes.

35. Congratulations to all gays and lesbians in California, who, if I understand correctly, can now legally marry illegal immigrants in Arizona!

36. I just killed some time by clicking on "Older Posts" at the bottom of this page until I got to my first status update, which was "holding somebody's baby," from September 5, 2007. It's nice to see that even though the Great Recession hadn't yet begun, I was already cutting back on my verb usage.

37. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Star Wars creator George Lucas is "dedicating the majority of my wealth to improving education," presumably in the hopes that future generations will never write movie dialogue as bad as his.

38. Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich has been found guilty of only 1 out of 24 counts of criminal corruption. Wow, great hair really can beat the odds!

39. A new Pew Research Center poll says approximately one in five Americans think President Obama is a Muslim, while a new Cass Research Center poll indicates that nearly four out of five Americans believe turn signals are "optional."

40. ‎"Workplace fatalities decline to historic low," reports The Wall Street Journal. In order to make up the difference, employers are graciously allowing the unemployed to continue dying on the inside.

41. A rejected Canadian Idol contestant from 2008 has been arrested on suspicion of terrorism in Ottawa, according to The New York Times. 'Bout time our neighbor to the north took a stand against aural torture!

42. Glenn Beck says America has "wandered in darkness" too long. But when the alternative is turning on the lights and seeing Glenn Beck, I say: STAY THE COURSE, AMERICA.

43. On tonight's episode of "Is That an Unfortunate Headline in Your Pocket or Are You Just Glad to See Me?" our special guest is's "Gay Republicans Rising"!

44. Good news! "Craigslist removes adult services section," says the AP. Now I can buy my sex and drugs once again through paid classifieds in the Sunday paper, the way God intended.

45. ‎"A small US church says it will ... burn copies of the Koran on the 9/11 anniversary," reports the BBC. (Please don't let it be a church down south, please don't let it be a church down south ...) "The Dove World Outreach Center in Florida—" (D'oh!)

46.Resident Evil: Afterlife is number one at the box office. In related news, your loud next-door neighbor isn't evil, per se, but if zombies were to eat his brain you probably wouldn't lose any sleep. (In fact you'd sleep much better.)

47. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, British researchers have found that "a good deal on something so mundane as a loaf of bread" can elicit "an emotional response similar to seeing erotic images." Bottom line: in either case you're not getting screwed.

48. I started out bald and chubby and believe it's my duty to complete the circle.

49. The National Center of Health Statistics is reporting that life expectancy for Hispanics in the U.S. is greater than that of whites and blacks. This means that even after Lou Dobbs dies, he'll still be able to hire undocumented Mexican workers.

50. After being trapped underground for two months, previously anonymous Chilean miners are suddenly world famous. Using that same logic, can the cast of Jersey Shore go back to being nobodies if we bury them alive?

51. Mundane Mysteries of the Universe #1: No matter what time of day you go to the grocery store, an inventory cart will be blocking access to the yogurt.

52. Former president George W. Bush says in his new memoir that he thought about leaving Dick Cheney off the Republican ticket in 2004, but once he saw the vice-president choke a man to death using only his mind and pure evil, he quickly reconsidered.

53. On this day in 1884, the Washington Monument was completed after 36 years of erectile dysfunction.

54. On Monday morning I saw Chicago mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel jaywalk across State Street. Just think of the crimes and misdemeanors he could commit if he's elected! Mr. Emanuel, if you promise to uphold the local tradition of adding dead people to voter rolls in order to swing presidential elections, then you have my vote, sir.

55. Mundane Mysteries of the Universe #2: Sweatpants are usually appreciated the most by people who hate working up a sweat.

56. Yo, New York City! If you're so busy never sleeping, how come you couldn't find time for shoveling?

57. Senator Joe Lieberman announced today that he will retire at the end of his term in 2012. In other news, God announced that tomorrow is December 31, 2012.

58. ‎"Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has amended his financial-disclosure forms after a liberal group, Common Cause, said he was failing to report the employment of his wife, conservative activist Virginia Thomas," reports The Wall Street Journal. Then again, after her embarrassing phone call to Anita Hill last fall, maybe Thomas is trying to deny his wife's entire existence, not just her employment.

59. Congratulations to Black Swan, the closest the Academy got this year to nominating a black film!

60. On my way back from Oak Park this morning in the blizzard, walking through 18-inch snowdrifts on unshoveled sidewalks, I noticed a guy in winter jogging gear huffing and puffing his way down Halsted Street. This is the kind of thing that's missing from apocalyptic weather-disaster movies like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012: the guy who goes about his everyday routines while cars are being swallowed up by massive cracks in the earth, occasionally spitting out one-liners like "One more reason why I don't drive, people ..." (In conclusion, don't cancel your yoga class just because it's Judgment Day.)

61. President Obama met with Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Google's Eric Schmidt in California yesterday, reportedly to beg for "a cushy desk job" once they officially take over the world this summer.

62. Mel Gibson pledging his support for Charlie Sheen is a little like brain cancer defending the moral character of heart disease.

63. If you're the president of the United States, you're halfway through your first term, and spring is right around the corner, then it must be time to blow some shit up in the Middle East. (You make me blue, déja vu.)

64. The Wall Street Journal reports that Detroit's population plunged 25 percent in the past decade. The cause? Black flight, preceded by decades of white flight. The solution? Skyrockets in flight, which scientists predict will lead to afternoon delight and enough pregnancies to repopulate the Motor City by January.

65. "Flotsam from Japan's tsunami to hit US West Coast," reports the AP. Ugh! Flotsam never tours the midwest. Jetsam had better make an appearance at Lollapalooza or I'm going to be seriously upset, you guys.

66. The best part about a government shutdown? All the "classic" reruns on C-SPAN, of course. Be sure to catch the 1957 epic "Strom Thurmond's 24-Hour Segregationist Filibuster" starting at midnight, followed by the deepest sleep you've experienced in a long, long time starting at 12:05.

67. "Benicio Del Toro expecting child with Kim Stewart," reports the AP. Meanwhile, Reuters takes a judgmental tone: "Benicio Del Toro impregnates Rod Stewart's daughter." But that's nothing compared to the Arizona Tattler's headline: "Suspected illegal immigrant caught stealing movie roles and celebrity sex from hard-working Americans."

68. "Gwyneth Paltrow turns love of food into a book," says the AP, which is ironic since I've recently turned mild depression into a love of food!

69. Today is Record Store Day. Visit one of your 1.7 remaining local music retailers so the bearded, black-frame-eyeglasses-wearing cliché behind the counter can demonstrate his complete lack of people skills as he looks down on your taste in music, thereby causing you to exit the store without buying anything and defeating the purpose of the entire day. Enjoy!

70. ‎"Schwarzenegger to star in proposed new 'Terminator,'" reports Reuters. In this fifth installment of the series, the Terminator travels back in time to 2012 and runs for president, but in spite of his thick Austrian accent, robotic walk, and ability to withstand assassination attempts by deflecting bullets with his face, no one ever questions where he was born. Not even once. Isn't science fiction crazy?!

71. "Coffee, Sex Increase Aneurysm Risk," according to U.S. News & World Report. When used in tandem they also increase the chance of third-degree burns on sensitive areas, so proceed with caution.

72. "Al-Qaida likely to elevate No. 2," says the AP, "or name no one." Or Brett Favre's agent will make a last-minute offer. Stay tuned ...

73. Fifty years ago today President Kennedy told Congress that he hoped to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. He also hoped to put Marilyn Monroe on his lower torso by the end of the week. Guess what? He accomplished both. God bless America.

74. First Mayor Daley stepped down. Then Oprah. Do you see where I'm headed with this, Chicago Cubs? The difference is, those two went out on top. To do the same you'd have to play your final game at the North Pole. But you're used to brutal Chicago winters, so I'm sure you'll dress accordingly.

75. Barack Obama? Mitt Romney? I'm suspicious of any presidential candidate whose name forces my tongue to use its brain. Say, that reminds me—whatever happened to John Edwards? Now, there's a name you could trust.

76. Earlier today Apple introduced iCloud. An hour later God sued Apple for trespassing and issued the following statement: "Heaven isn't as crowded as people think, but I'll be damned if Steve Jobs is going to make me responsible for housing ten billion pirated Lil Wayne MP3s."

77. ‎"Natalie Portman gives birth to baby boy," says Reuters, but my sources claim she used a pregnancy double for 75 percent of the labor.

78. On Saturday my youngest niece was upset because she didn't have as many pennies and nickels as her big sister. "I want more money," she quietly whimpered. I tried to console her by saying that even though we'd all like more money, we shouldn't concern ourselves with how much other people have. What I'm saying is, I lied to a four-year-old.

79. "Spelling mistakes 'cost millions' in lost online sales," says the BBC. So true. Last year I spent a small fortune trying to beat Noxzema at its own game, but in the end only a handful of genocidal dictators were interested in my new product, Bobby C's All-Natural Racial Cleanser.

80. I was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 2005 Delusional Academy Awards for my five-minute performance in Common Senses, but somehow I still lost to George Clooney in Syriana. Man, he's good!

81. In 1972 Robert De Niro sold his soul to the devil. In return he won two Oscars and was hailed as the best actor of his generation. But if the new trailer for New Year's Eve is any indication, when the clock strikes midnight this New Year's Eve the devil will be coming around to collect.

82. Sir Paul, it was a thrill to hear "Band on the Run" and "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da" echoing from Wrigley Field last night as I walked home from the grocery store down the street, but you were almost upstaged inside the store by two men belting "Let 'Em In." Good call, Paul—I wouldn't have let 'em in either, but if you're looking for a good deal on Chicago-style meth after tonight's show, I'm sure they can accommodate you.

83. "Costly Drone Is Poised to Replace U-2," says The New York Times, proving that even the nation's best newspaper can't resist taking a shot at Coldplay.

84. The Wall Street Journal says New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman is cracking down on bank fraud, so if he has any skeletons in his closet he'd better confess now, or else he could end up just like his predecessor, Elliot Spitzer—in other words, the host of a talk show on CNN. Oh, the humanity!

85. To set itself apart from other talent-competition shows, Fox's The X Factor will reportedly take a cue from the network's parent company and its innovative approach to fact gathering. For example, after a bad performance celebrity judge Simon Cowell is likely to remark, "Don't deny you're a dreadful singer. You said so yourself in a voice mail to your mum just the other day."

86. It's no wonder so many people are terrified of public speaking.

87. Whenever you find yourself saying, "Same shit, different day," be thankful you're not saying, "Different shit, same day," because there's only so much shit a person can take in one day.

88. "Ex-NJ Gov. McGreevey finds niche mentoring inmates," says the AP. So don't fret, ex-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich—help is on the way.

89. In his new book, Retromania, music critic Simon Reynolds argues that popular culture is recycling its past faster than ever. Does that mean the current stock-market roller coaster is merely a display of affectionate nostalgia for the fall of '08? (Everybody wang chung tonight, everybody foreclose tomorrow.)

90. On Sunday the news ticker outside ABC7's State Street studio in Chicago read: "In describing the affect of Hurricane Irene, Mayor Bloomberg says NYC 'dodged a bullet.'" What kind of affect did it have, exactly? An overconfident swagger? A fake British accent? A cigarette holder in one hand, a Pomeranian in the other? Tell me more, local news ...

91. Whenever you pass by a local restaurant advertising a "world-famous" menu item, it's important to remember that the world is a much smaller place than it used to be.

92. Did Pat Robertson name his TV show The 700 Club because only 700-year-olds are feeble-minded enough to believe whatever he says? (Current club members: Robertson, Mickey Rooney; Hall of Fame inductee: Methuselah; Hall of Shame nonbeliever: Yoda.)

93. Former teen idol and current Tea Party "birther" Pat Boone recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that President Obama is "spending millions of dollars so that we do not have his records." But where can average Americans sign up to pay millions to ensure that nobody has Boone's 1950s pop records? I've heard that paying the president's "Buffett tax" will protect our borders from Parrotheads, but will it also keep out Boone's vanilla covers of "Tutti Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally"?

94. Whenever people say, "I wasn't born yesterday," they're not lying, but if I had made that statement on September 26, 1975, I would've looked like a fool. Luckily, I was asleep most of that day. Also, I didn't know how to speak English yet. (In case you're wondering, I still use those excuses as an adult, but they rarely pan out.)

95. Apropos of nothing, I didn't care for the Sharon Stone movie Silver.

96. "Whoopi Goldberg says potato chips are her weakness," according to the AP. Robert Cass says this is not news.

97. "Formerly Imprisoned Politician Explains Prison Sex," reports The Atlantic Wire, and you can read all about it in his new book, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Prison Sex or Anything Else That Can Help Me Reduce These 500 Hours of Community Service (But Were Afraid to Ask).

98. Hank Williams Jr. has apologized for comparing President Obama to Adolf Hitler, stating on his website, "You obviously can't believe everything you read in Famous Vegetarians Monthly. I'm canceling my subscription today."

99. Yo' bank's fiscal arrogance so fat, when it occupy Wall Street it occupy Wall Street.

100. Sean Combs, a.k.a. Puff Daddy, Puffy, P. Diddy, and Diddy, is the latest victim of identity theft, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "I'm just glad I still have a half-dozen identities left," said the hip-hop producer, record executive, actor, fashion designer, perfume maker, and restaurant owner. "Besides, it's not like anyone was begging to hear me rap again."

101. The villain of the new Ben Stiller-Eddie Murphy movie Tower Heist is modeled after Bernie Madoff, while the sitcom 2 Broke Girls and the recently canceled update of Charlie's Angels feature lead characters whose convict dads are Madoff types. Conclusion: the notorious Ponzi schemer stole from the rich so that Hollywood could give us poor excuses for entertainment.

102. "Various '7 billionth' babies celebrated worldwide," says the AP. In other news, Arnold Schwarzenegger has put his recently rebooted acting career on hold, citing a desire to spend more time with his families.

103. I bet Herman Cain's best pickup line in the '90s was "The only topping you need is me, baby."

104. If you're obsessive-compulsive and you live in Saluda, North Carolina, remember to vote for Lynn Cass for city council, and don't stop voting until you're confident you made the right choice multiple times. (By the way, are you sure you locked the front door this morning?)

105. "Studio executives concede it's growing harder to lure fans into [movie] theaters given all the portable games, devices and other electronics people have to fill up their entertainment time," says the Associated Press. So how come those people always end up sitting behind or beside me in the theater?

106. "Herman Cain Tells Supporters 'It Ain't Over Till It's Over, and It Ain't Over,'" reports ABC News. Meanwhile, in Florence, Italy, the Fat Lady has accused Herman Cain of sexual harassment.

107. All these unwatched episodes of A&E's Hoarders, TLC's Hoarding: Buried Alive, and OWN's Extreme Clutter seemed to pile up on my DVR so quickly ...

108. Dear Expanding Waistline: Why do you insist on pushing me out of the spotlight? Concerned, Fading Youth

109. TONY CURTIS: "You probably remember me from 'Some Like It Hot.'"

MADONNA (distracted): "Uh-huh. Yeah, I love that song. The Power Station's great."

MICK JAGGER (under his breath): "Bloody Yanks ..."

110. In the movie Limitless Bradley Cooper's character becomes the smartest man in the world through the magic of pharmaceuticals; he's able to speak many languages fluently, including French, and by the end of the film it's clear that he will run for president someday soon. In real life Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has criticized fellow candidate Mitt Romney for being able to speak a little bit of French. The lesson? Only in the movies can intelligence and an interest in foreign cultures be considered assets in a presidential campaign. (U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!)

111. Jon Huntsman has dropped out of the presidential race, leading millions of Americans to ask, "Which one was he again?"

112. "Do one thing every day that scares you" isn't an Eleanor Roosevelt quote I want to see on a billboard as I'm barreling down the highway with dozens of other drivers in their own two-ton death machines. How about "We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all" instead? That way, when another driver carelessly cuts me off I won't care too much when I flip him off.

113. In February 2002 I sat next to a young novelist named Jonathan on a four-hour flight from Atlanta to L.A. Three years later he published Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Well, excuuuuse me for being friendly!

114. Mundane Mysteries of the Universe #3: Tonight CBS airs the 200th episode of NCIS, the highest-rated scripted show on network television for three years running—and a profitable hit in syndication to boot—yet its star, Mark Harmon, still can't afford a decent haircut.

115. The Chicago Tribune reports that the FBI ran a background check on Steve Jobs in 1991. Interview subjects told the agency that Apple's cofounder had a "tendency to distort reality in order to achieve his goals" but that they would still recommend him for a potential advisory role in the Bush administration. Republicans, this is the "can't lose" presidential candidate you've been waiting for! And before you say, "Didn't Jobs die four months ago?" don't forget how far the Democrats got in 1988 with Michael Dukakis.

116. Pet Airways is running out of money, says The New York Times, so if its planes are forced to dump their cargo midflight, it will literally be raining cats and dogs. (Thank you, thank you. I'm here all week. Enjoy the buffet.)

117. "Grammy embrace of Chris Brown draws criticism," reports the AP. Why? Was it a rough embrace? Hey, what goes around comes around ..."

118. Governor Chris Christie has defended his controversial veto of New Jersey's gay marriage bill, telling reporters, "Just look at some of the 'traditional' marriages our state has produced: Kardashian and Humphries. Tony and Carmela. Toxic waste and groundwater. And now you want me to make that drug legal in the gay community? Get the f**k outta heeere ..."

119. Due to a heated argument between songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David, one of their most famous songs originally had a much darker opening: "Why do birds suddenly appear / Every time you are near / Just like me they long to be / Swooping down from on high, sinking their long talons into your doughy flesh, and disposing of you like the vermin you truly are ..."

120. A Little League coach in Chicago's Oak Lawn suburb has been suspended for calling Whitney Houston the N-word on Facebook, but claims he doesn't remember adding the slur to his online post criticizing the singer's posthumous status as a role model. "I do stand behind everything I said except the 'n'-word," he told the Chicago Sun-Times. "I regret using that adjective." Most people already know that racism is stupid, but now we know for a fact that it's stuck at a third-grade reading level.

121. To celebrate the era of silent film depicted in Best Picture nominees The Artist and Hugo, please watch the Oscar telecast on "mute" tonight. And in accordance with the average life expectancy of that era and the current moral philosophy of Rick Santorum, please die already if you're older than 54.

122. Actor Michael Douglas is featured in a new public service announcement for the FBI, while active-duty Navy SEALs are starring in the number one movie in the country. On that topsy-turvy note I'd like to announce that I'm People magazine's new Sexiest Man Alive. Sure, some will say "Who?" and others will scream "How?!" but aren't both of those words just one letter away from "HOT!" I rest my case.

123. After debuting his namesake car at the Daytona 500 on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum told NASCAR fans, "If the highlight of your week involves waiting for something to crash and burn, you ain't seen nothin' yet!"

124. "After losses, Santorum reaches out to women," says ABC News, and if you know the man's politics, ladies, then you know how he feels about your choice in the matter.

125. Do not feed the birds. Do not feed them doorknobs, or Fisher-Price Little People, or chubby chess pawns. Just don't.

126. "Julie Taymor claims there was a 'Spider-Man' plot," says the AP. Unfortunately, no one who saw the Broadway musical during previews last winter could find it.

127. "Limbaugh says his apology to student was sincere," according to the AP. "The problem," the popular talk-radio host explained, "is that the apology came out of my mouth, which is completely full of shit."

L.A. gas station, May 11, 1979
128. The AP is reporting that President Obama has declared oil a "fuel of the past." Yesss! I love nostalgia! Time to party like it's 1979, people, by which I mean there'll be an incredibly long line to get into my retro-themed Petrolapalooza bash, so be sure to RSVP ASAP. Say, who's up for an old-fashioned gasoline fight?

129. As presidential candidate Rick Santorum explains on his official website, "Pornography is toxic to marriages and relationships." He added, "Not to mention the long-term job prospects of Republican congressmen who otherwise could've campaigned for me this year, doggone it. That's why, in a rare display of bipartisan cooperation, former Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner has agreed to confiscate the hard-core porn collections of all current GOP senators and representatives. It's a shining example of what my old friend Mark Foley used to call reaching around the aisle. Thank you for your continued support, and from now on, whenever you start to think about sex, think about me instead. That should do the trick."

130. Now that Dick Cheney's had a heart transplant, it'd be great to see him adopt the tenets of a 12-step program and go door to door making amends to all the families whose sons and daughters died in the Iraq war ("I'm so sorry about last decade. I was drunk with power practically every second of the day"). Then again, how do we know Cheney didn't receive Kim Jong-il's heart?

131. "Ashton Kutcher to Play Steve Jobs in Indie Film," according to TV Guide. That's why, in an attempt to restore balance to the universe, I'm going to write a Lifetime movie in which Kutcher will be played by Stephen Hawking.

132. Last night on Late Show With David Letterman recently fired Current TV anchor Keith Olbermann compared himself to "a $10 million chandelier," supposedly because only a fool would spend that much money on something that's always in danger of crashing to the ground.

133. "Apple's 'iPad' is the only tablet people know," reports the AP. When reached for comment, God replied, "I sold the one that says 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me' on eBay a couple months ago for $500. Guess what I bought with that money? So, yeah, I give up."

134. Fox has announced that it will air fewer episodes of Cops next season, so if you're still jonesing for your 15 minutes of fame, aspiring criminals, you'd better start thinking of innovative ways to stand out. May I suggest underwater drunk driving or a domestic dispute with a nonhuman spouse? Make me proud!

135. "Now, there's an example of 'social media' that can actually turn a profit," says my girlfriend.

136. According to Cynopsis, a TV-industry e-mail bulletin I've received for the past ten years, the next season of E!'s Keeping Up With the Kardashians "will catch viewers up on what each Kardashian family member is doing, including the revelation that patriarch Bruce [Jenner] feels he is taken for granted." My heart goes out to the former Olympic athlete, but has he ever stopped to think how his plastic surgeon feels?

137. The best thing about being a librarian in training is that I can now walk into any library in the world and completely ignore those signs that say "Please Do Not Reshelve Books. This Means You, Robert Cass."

138. "Tornadoes, severe storms threaten country's midsection," says Yahoo! News. Meanwhile, dark beer and an irrational fear of sit-ups continue to jeopardize mine.

139. Psst! Secret Service! The next time you want to get "serviced" at taxpayers' expense, you need to make sure the service in question remains a secret.

140. One of my sneakers has a hole in its sole, so whenever I take a step it squeaks. Yesterday as I walked down the street I could've sworn the birds in the trees were more vocal than usual. I felt bad for teasing them with a fake mating call, but on the other hand, WHO DO THEY THINK THEY ARE OBJECTIFYING MY SHOE LIKE THAT?

141. The toilet on the right is so advanced it'd be insulted if you kept it in a boring old bathroom. It's like, "Is your name Dorothy? 'Cause mine ain't Toto." (That's right—this toilet is so advanced it knows sarcasm!) And it's all, "Once your lady friends see me parked in the living room, partially obscuring your smoggy view of Laurel Canyon, they'll know you're one fella who isn't afraid of intimacy. Or nosy neighbors, obviously." Order yours today.

142. "Newt Gingrich hints he may quit [presidential] race," reports Yahoo! News. The former Speaker of the House has also revealed that he just woke up from a three-month nap.

143. A former aide to John Edwards says the ex-senator "doubted he fathered mistress' baby," according to the AP. Until the baby's first words turned out to be "Vidal Sassoon," that is ...

144. A live recording of one of Louis Armstrong's last performances is "now a CD," says the AP, ensuring that future generations of music lovers will never hear it.

145. According to, a new study hypothesizes that left-handed people have made up only 10 percent of the world's population for the past 5,000 years because evolution favors cooperation over competition, an area in which lefties have an advantage, especially in sports. But what about those lefties who've never been good at sports? Hi, I'm Robert Cass, here to tell all my fellow throws-like-a-girl southpaws how they can contribute to mankind's progress. It's simple: BE UNCOOPERATIVE. Remember, nobody likes a wet blanket until they find themselves on fire, so just say no—to everything and everybody. Sooner or later, history will prove us right. I mean, left. You get the idea ...

146. "Invisible man casts shadow over US-China talks," says the Associated Press. In related news, after receiving complaints from invisible men around the world who claim they've never once cast a shadow, citing photographic evidence obtained in women's locker rooms and tanning salons, the AP promptly fired its science fiction fact checker.

147. If the movies Major Payne and Max Payne had a sequel baby they hoped would be successful yet more even-tempered than either of them, would they name it "General Payne"? If they decided to adopt an infant girl from China instead, would she be christened "Min Payne"?

148. "Two charged with trying to extort Stevie Wonder," says the AP. Reportedly unaware of the musical legend's personal history, the duo bragged to friends, "We're going to rob him blind," immediately dooming their plan to failure.

149. The Masterpiece, Bobby Brown's first new album since 1997, comes out June 5, but starting today at his official website fans can stream the lead single, "I Pray (It's Not Too Late to Change That Title)," and an exclusive bonus track, "Never Gonna Live This Down."

150. Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson resigned on Sunday after being accused of falsifying his academic credentials, the inconsistencies in his resumé having been discovered by shareholders during a Google search. For those keeping score, that's a vote of no confidence for the company's chief executive and a vote of total confidence for its competition.

151. Chen Guangcheng, the human rights activist who escaped from house arrest in China last month, arrived in the U.S. on Saturday, reportedly to study at New York University. But since Chen is a blind lawyer, and since the comic book superhero Daredevil is a blind lawyer by day, and since Marvel Studios is looking to reboot its Daredevil movie franchise nearly a decade after Ben Affleck played the character, and since China is now the second-largest market for movies, right behind the U.S., and since Hollywood is increasingly dependent on the Asian superpower for box office revenue and production capital—Marvel will shoot part of "Iron Man 3" in China this summer and cofinance the film with a Beijing company—can't our government just admit that Chen is in New York for a costume fitting? His country's Communist leaders should have no problem with Daredevil's all-red outfit, though for diplomacy's sake Marvel might want to reconsider those horns.

152. This morning I received an e-mail from the Chicago Tribune inviting me to "Celebrate Reading & Writing ... at the Midwests Largest Literary Festival." But since I prefer to celebrate those things in the company of apostrophes, I probably won't go.

153. "Court orders woman to stay away from Jeff Goldblum," says the AP, and if you've ever seen his performance in a 1996 movie called Mad Dog Time, you're likely to agree with that verdict. (Jeff, I kid. Love ya, babe. Brunch? Call me.)

154. In his continuing efforts to make Hell less of a one-size-fits-all destination, the Devil is asking current sinners-slash-future residents to fill out a brief questionnaire. It turns out my "personalized" eternal damnation will involve the constant aggravation of walking into cobwebs.

Friday, May 25, 2012


From my towering pile of ever-yellowing newspaper articles:

"'There is good data showing that noise potentiates anger, aggression if the person has already been provoked and/or witnessed' aggressive behavior, reported psychology professor Gary Evans of Cornell University. 'There is evidence that noise by itself suppresses altruism.'

"In non-scientific terms, that means that if Guy A is not the most stable fellow around, he might behave very poorly with a garden hoe if Guy B next door shoots one more exploding bottle rocket at Guy A's house." —Ross Werland, Chicago Tribune, June 8, 2003

Last year on Netflix my girlfriend and I watched Noise, a movie I'd been curious about ever since I saw an ad for it in another Chicago newspaper, the Reader, in '08. The film, written and directed by Henry Bean, has its moments, but didn't provide the catharsis I was hoping for, probably because there are no scenes featuring Noise's protagonist, played by Tim Robbins, confronting ignorant neighbors or obnoxious moviegoers. However, if you live in New York City and wish you could strangle every car alarm in town with your bare hands, Noise just might be the escapist fantasy you've been waiting for.*

* Sorry, The Avengers, but all you did was create more noise, and besides, you've made enough money already. By the way, I like that The Avengers is supposed to be an ensemble film, yet in the credits at the bottom of its poster Robert Downey Jr.'s name is the only one that appears above the title. One for all and all for one, but in this case it's obvious which one has the most powerful agent.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Norse god/rock god

In the parallel dimension where Kurt Cobain is still writing and recording music, his drastic shift away from the classic grunge look on Nirvana's most recent tour has baffled fans.

Friday, April 6, 2012


Musician Evan Dando and actor Viggo Mortensen apparently shop at the same clothing stores once frequented by Pablo Picasso. Viggo also seemed to be co-opting Evan's early-'90s look on the cover of The New York Times Style Magazine last fall. Or was it Mike Nesmith's late-'60s look?

Here we see Tahiti 80 bassist Pedro Resende paying tribute to the late Peter Falk, but I must've missed the episode of Columbo in which Falk sported a hot pink biker cap.

Best Supporting Actor nominee Jonah Hill (Moneyball) used to look like Seinfeld and Jurassic Park supporting actor Wayne Knight ...

... but then he slimmed down. (So did Knight.) Now he looks more like Josh Lucas—who looks like Matthew McConaughey, Lucas's costar in The Lincoln Lawyer, if you ask me. My girlfriend doesn't see the resemblance between those two hunk-tors, though, so she probably won't see the resemblance between Hill and Lucas, which is admittedly more of a stretch, but I stand by my eyesight.

Finally, before Ben Folds was a famous rock star, and before Ed Helms was a star on screens both big (The Hangover) and small (The Office), they were rocking the same haircut.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Even beasts need a daily dose of vitamin "C."

It's March, which means it's time to celebrate mental illness brought about by college athletics. But it's also time for another update from my friend and fellow improviser Michael on the state of the English language in signs and packaging created by people who probably didn't grow up speaking English. (In case you're wondering, there's no political subtext here—I won't be moving to Arizona anytime soon.)

Last December Michael moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, where a bag of "dehydrated crush hot chili" was all set to transform into the Antichrist on December 16, 2010, but it looks like nothing happened. Maybe the manufacturer (who's maybe Mayan) meant to write "12/21/2012" instead? Stay tuned.

As for the following product's power to fight off scurvy, Michael said, "I guess the use of quotation marks permits advertising a negligible amount." Indeed!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Are they black enough for you?

"In pushing past the accepted borders of soul music, it is possible that [Thom] Bell, [Isaac] Hayes, Gamble and Huff, and all the others were moved at least in part by their own upward mobility. It could also be that their fascination with sophisticated symphonic soul reflected what longtime R&B record producer Ahmet Ertegun characterized as African Americans' musical orientation towards the future—'what's next.' For these musicians, 'what's next' may have meant exploring the freedom to move beyond stultifying racial categorizations that consigned them to a particular kind of R&B—raw, straightforward, and unadorned. Stevie Wonder certainly made music that spoke to the dreams and disappointments of African Americans, and yet he categorically rejected the label 'black musician.' 'That's putting me in a particular box,' he insisted, 'and saying ... stay ... right ... where ... you ... are!' Over the years, Philly producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff have positioned themselves differently when questioned about the 'blackness' of their music. In early 1973, Gamble argued that black artists no longer had to go through a 'whitening process' because the black market was now large enough to sustain them. (Certainly [Philadelphia International Records, Gamble and Huff's label] produced any number of socially relevant songs geared to black listeners.) He also said that he and his partner 'never thought along the lines of a black music thing,' and on yet other occasions that they thought 'green.' But the critical disparagement of PIR's sweet soul (mostly at the hands of white critics of rock music) infuriated the two producers. Huff went so far as to complain that these critics 'cannot really hear black music' and find it difficult 'respecting black cats without patronizing us.'"

—Alice Echols, Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture, 2010 (pg. 25-26)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Rock Bio #14: Genesis

The last in a series of brief artist biographies I wrote for in the spring of 2010 ...

When Peter Gabriel left for a solo career in 1975, Genesis was presumed to be on its last legs. But, true to its name, the prog-rock band was reborn, becoming an adult-contemporary pop juggernaut after promoting Phil Collins from drummer to lead singer.

Peter Gabriel (vocals), Mike Rutherford (bass), Tony Banks (keyboards), Anthony Phillips (guitar), and Chris Stewart (drums) met at boarding school in Surrey, England, and formed Genesis as teenagers in 1967. After a few psychedelic, Bee Gees-style pop singles, the group recorded their first album, 1969's From Genesis to Revelation, replacing Stewart with John Silver and then John Mayhew before reconvening for 1970's Trespass.

Genesis's sophomore album provided a glimpse of their future as progressive-rock stylists, including experiments with song structure and length ("The Knife" is nine minutes long) and complex instrumentation. Mayhew and Phillips then departed, making way for former child actor Phil Collins on drums and, shortly thereafter, Steve Hackett on guitar.

Their lineup now solidified, Genesis started gaining recognition as a popular live act. Gabriel wore makeup and various costumes onstage as the group's concerts evolved into elaborate theatrical affairs, quietly ushering in the era of music videos. In 1972 came Foxtrot, which closed with the 23-minute epic "Supper's Ready," and by the time Selling England by the Pound hit record stores in '73, Genesis was achieving momentum on FM radio in the United States.

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) was the band's most ambitious offering yet, a double-LP concept album about a Puerto Rican boy in New York City; the accompanying tour, in which the entire album was re-created each night, featured laser-light effects and spoken narration by Gabriel. Lamb was a sizable hit, but Gabriel's dominance over the project created a rift between him and the rest of the band. In May of '75 he announced he was leaving Genesis.

Collins took over as lead vocalist, but it wasn't until after Hackett left in '77 that Genesis shifted from progressive rock to a more mainstream pop sound, scoring their first U.S. Top 40 hit in 1978 with the gently melodic "Follow You Follow Me," from And Then There Were Three.

The '80s found the remaining trio of Collins, Rutherford, and Banks churning out one hit after another as Genesis—1980's "Misunderstanding," 1983's "That's All," and five top-five smashes from 1986's Invisible Touch (the title track and "Land of Confusion," among others)—with additional hits coming from Rutherford's side project, Mike & the Mechanics ("All I Need Is a Miracle," "The Living Years"), and Collins's solo albums and movie-soundtrack contributions—he scored seven number-one singles that decade, including "One More Night," "Against All Odds," and "Two Hearts," making him one of the biggest pop stars of the Reagan era.

Collins recorded one more album with Genesis—1991's We Can't Dance, which generated five more Top 40 singles—before leaving amicably in '96 to pursue other opportunities. Rutherford and Banks continued with a new vocalist, Ray Wilson, for 1997's Calling All Stations, but it's the last studio album to date from the group.

The 1971-'75 lineup of Collins, Rutherford, Banks, Gabriel, and Hackett reunited in 1999 to record a new version of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway's "The Carpet Crawlers" for a greatest-hits compilation, and in 2007 the Invisible Touch-era trio embarked on a 40th-anniversary tour. Genesis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, a fitting honor for a band that took the word "progressive" to heart and never stopped moving forward.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Dwayne Johnson's solid sequel choices

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, starring Dwayne Johnson, opens in theaters today. In case you're wondering why you don't remember a previous Johnson movie called Journey, this one's a sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008), which starred Brendan Fraser, not Johnson (both films are loosely based on Jules Verne novels). And it's not the first time this athletic actor has grabbed the baton after the initial lap.

Johnson, a former WWE wrestler who went by the name of "the Rock"—and who's taken the John Cougar Mellencamp route on the big screen, beginning his film career with his wrestling moniker, transitioning to Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, and now using just his first and last name—once costarred in a movie with Fraser, though they didn't share any screen time. But Johnson's supporting role in The Mummy Returns (2001) was so well received, at least by the studio heads that took calls from his agent, that he was given his own spin-off, The Scorpion King, in 2002.

Since then Johnson has made a smart habit of taking supporting parts in sequels or already successful franchises, including Be Cool (2005), the film adaptation of Elmore Leonard's follow-up to Get Shorty, and Fast Five (2011), the fifth iteration of The Fast and the Furious. (Inexplicably, 2010's Faster wasn't a sequel to anything.) He also showed up at the end of Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too? (2010), and this summer he'll play a live-action action figure in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, a retooling of the series that began three years ago with G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

Because Johnson himself was already an established brand when he began making movies a decade ago—with a nickname like "the Rock," how could he not inspire confidence in studio executives eager to extend the life of their "tentpole" action franchises?—it makes sense that he would want to hitch his fortunes to movies with built-in name recognition. Johnson also appeared in the remakes of Walking Tall and Escape to Witch Mountain, which was renamed Race to Witch Mountain; the 2005 adaptation of the popular video game Doom; and the Steve Carell-Anne Hathaway update of the TV series Get Smart (2008). A cameo in Reno 911! Miami continued the trend.

In The Rundown (2003), one Johnson movie that isn't a sequel or a remake, Arnold Schwarzenegger makes an uncredited appearance walking past the muscular star in a crowded club. It's a symbolic passing of the torch from one action hero to another ("Have fun," the Terminator says). Johnson still hasn't reached the same box office heights as Schwarzenegger in his prime, but by signing up for ensemble parts in Fast and/or Furious and G.I. Joe sequels and picking up where Brendan Fraser left off on his Journey, Johnson is showing Hollywood that he does have the same business acumen as Schwarzenegger.

Besides, if this acting thing doesn't work out, he can always run for office.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Walter Stovall

My uncle's name has shown up a few times recently in the list of search terms that have brought people to this blog. Until now, though, his name had only appeared in a 2008 post about my grandparents; that's because my grandfather's full name was George Walter Stovall.

Walter wrote two novels in the late '70s after spending nine years as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press alongside colleagues like Nicholas Pileggi (Wiseguy) and Thomas Harris (The Silence of the Lambs). (I also discovered last year that Walter has a decades-old connection to American Splendor writer Harvey Pekar.) Both novels are out of print, but with any luck the rapid rise of e-book technology will make them available once again.

Walter's debut, Presidential Emergency—it was originally called "A Grasshopper's Tale," I believe, but the publisher, Dutton, wanted a more commercial title—came out in 1978 and was hailed as "a riveting thriller" by The New York Times Book Review. In the following excerpt Thack Forbes, an adviser to U.S. president Joseph Hamilton, has been handed a letter by the vice president, Lawrence Melville, in which the commander in chief appears to confess his future plans to a judge.

It took Forbes several minutes to read the letter. Many of the words were nearly illegible, so cramped was the handwriting. He was amazed that so much could be crowded onto a single page.

Forbes stared at it. He noticed that it hadn't been folded. He was appalled at the self-pity, the grandiose delusions, the bizarre conceptions of history. He felt hurt, as if he had read a letter to another man from a woman he was secretly in love with.

He read the letter again quickly. A fist behind his navel squeezed shut.

For the first time in many years Forbes was surprised.

"What should we do, Thack?" Melville's voice was subdued. He looked earnestly at Forbes.

Forbes walked to the desk and took another cigarette. He lit it with his gold presidential lighter. He realized he was smoking more than usual.

"The obvious thing is to get to Roundtree," said Forbes. "Have a talk with him. It's clear Hamilton respects him. I didn't know they were so close, but it seems they are." He described his earlier conversation with Roundtree, adding the details of his unusual introduction to Vest. Melville and Hibbitt listened tolerantly; their expressions conveyed that they found the story interesting but not really consequential. Hibbitt cut him short by saying that Vest had a reputation for eccentric behavior.

"Roundtree has tried to talk to him," Melville put in quickly. "I was told this by a good source, a very good source. My source said Roundtree didn't think it did any good." He was on his feet; he picked up a glass swan and examined it; the swans were his favorites. "According to my source, Roundtree said Hamilton thinks only of the treaty and doesn't seem to comprehend the gravity of ... the other contingency."

"Maybe there's nothing to it," said Forbes. "Maybe he was just rambling on. Maybe it's just carelessness. He's capable of talking very carelessly, believe me."

"Good God, man!" Melville exploded. "Can't you see what we're faced with? We're talking about the possibility of the president of the United States defecting to Red China!"

In 1980 Wyndham published Walter's second novel, The Minus Pool, a tale of high-stakes gambling on a global scale. Kirkus Reviews called it "lively nonsense" but, more importantly, "a lot of fun."

Katz scowled. Then he put his hands together and touched his chin. "Let's get down to business, Mr. Leitstein, if you don't mind," he said somewhat irascibly. "We wasted quite a bit of time with your colleague McManus. We don't intend to waste any more. You have something we need. We have something you want."

The waitress brought his brandy. He tilted the balloon and sniffed it and took a sip. He had first tasted Armagnac in Havana before the war. There had been a bar where they knew he was an ex-fighter; he stopped in whenever it was raining and the track was sloppy at Oriental Park. One of the regulars, whose name he never caught, was a big, loud American with a mustache and a sunburn; the guy got a load on every afternoon and talked about boxing and whores—Kansas City whores, not Havana whores. Everybody seemed engrossed by the guy's monologues; everybody except Nathan Leitstein, who disregarded noisy drunks; and the fact that even one customer wasn't paying attention to him drove the guy to talk at the top of his lungs. One day the guy cornered him at the bar and mumbled in his face that it would be a noble and glorious thing if they stepped outside and found out who had the best left hook. Without looking up, he placed his thick-knuckled left hand on the bar, palm down so the guy could see, and said quietly, "Thanks, pal, but amateurs don't always get up healthy from left hooks." The guy looked as if he were about to say, this isn't the way it was supposed to happen; then his face constricted in pain like a sudden toothache and he walked unsteadily out. The bartender, who had been watching, poured him a drink from a round, flat bottle. "Algo especial, Señor Leitstein," he said with a modest smile of relief, "Armagnac. Salud," and added, shaking his head, "Ernesto es un buche y pluma." He never saw the guy again.

He took another sip and considered Katz's gambit. He guessed that Katz and the others had heard that their $115 million would not be welcome at the Commercial and Claims Bank. He thought of his return call to Jerusalem; the retired general had been called out of the country, he was told, and could not be reached; he had left the message with the woman who answered.

"Okay, pal. Let's start with what I got that you need."