Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Category: Entertainment (Page 4 of 4)

The 2012-13 TV season

Over at Variety’s On the Air blog, I’ve been offering sneak peeks at the 2012-13 TV shows being announced this week by the broadcast networks. NBC, Fox and ABC have already been covered, with a set of CBS clips coming later today and the CW Thursday.

It’s too early to make any informed judgments about the shows, but this will give you a taste.

Oh, this would probably be a good time to introduce a different blog I’m shepherding at Variety: The Vote. Its focus is the Oscars, Emmys and other entertainment industry awards. It’s part of a shift in my duties at Variety that has given me more emphasis in this area. Because I was already heavily focused in TV, the main change will be that I’ll be more involved in our Oscar and other film awards coverage than before.

TV one-season wonders

For Variety, I’ve written a couple of blog posts that I think are kind of fun: celebrating TV’s top series that only received one season on the air. The first post deals with the 2000s, the second with the 1990s. If I missed a show you liked, it might be because I didn’t see it, didn’t like it or that it actually ran for more than one season – but let me know what you think.

Here, diagonally

You’d be amazed how often I still hear that “Tiny Mighty Mos” song in my head. And I must have seen that “Stay Alive” commercial a thousand times. The line deliveries are worthy of Olivier.

Don’t even get me started on “Life” or “Connect Four.”

L.A.’s big free agent: LACMA’s Levitated Mass

While the import to Los Angeles of free agents such as Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano generated split opinions over their value, they were not alone, or even the most noteworthy in the county.

Landing strip for Levitated Mass, at rear of LACMA, as seen from Variety building.

Within 24 hours, the primary part of Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass, a 21-foot, 340-ton boulder (yes, bigger than Jonathan Broxton and Todd Coffey combined) that has been slowly working its way across Southern California, will arrive at its new home, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where it will hover above a 456-foot-long, 15-feet deep slot. (Information concerning its arrival can be found here; you can also follow on Twitter.) Levitated has interested me for several reasons: my ties to LACMA from having worked there from 2002-2006, my view of the museum and its landing-strip outdoor home for Leviated from the window of my current Variety office, and above all, the polarized reaction Levitated has generated.

In its initial stages, any appreciation for what Levitated might mean was drowned out by amazed if not angry cries: “LACMA is spending $10 million for a rock?” Indeed, the cost for bringing Levitated to LACMA did require eight digits worth of private fundraising, to account for the unique challenge of the oversize delivery that required removing and reinstalling traffic lights, wires and other obstacles. Surely that money could be better spent on something else.

There are two threads to that argument. The first is whether any arts spending is superfluous when your city faces hard times. From my experience at LACMA, all I can tell you is that study after study exists to show that arts spending has payoffs for the community that more than justify itself. (Not to be ignored is the question of whether funds diverted from the arts would go to an area that had even less value to society.) In addition, LACMA notes that Levitated offers Los Angeles both a near- and long-term economic benefit.

The second thread is, even if you support arts spending, whether Levitated qualifies as the right kind of arts spending. This is inherently subjective. Again, much initial reaction across the public seemed highly skeptical. However, the rapid groundswell of interest — as celebratory as an Olympic torch run — in Levitated indicates, at a minimum, that there’s a high curiosity factor. And something tells me that once it is in place at LACMA, it is going to be the kind of experience that more than fulfills its goals: to amaze and inspire.

The path through which visitors will be able to walk beneath Levitated Mass.

Rare is the piece of art, no matter how much its financial worth, that is meaningful to everyone. Everyone has seen a so-called masterpiece that leaves them cold. So it’s unreasonable to expect everyone to appreciate Levitated Mass, but despite the initial concern, this might be a free-agent gamble that pays off.

If so, this would be akin to a scouting department triumph for LACMA, though you can decide how Moneyball-like it is. Levitated might not have had the look of a top prospect or marquee free agent, but here we are, poised for its potential earthquake of a debut.

Just to come again: Bring on your ‘Wrecking Ball’

No album from my all-time favorite rock ‘n’ roll performer is ever anything close to a failure, but Bruce Springsteen’s most recent release of new material before this year, 2009’s Working on a Dream, was as sloppy as he’s ever had. Two of the songs, “Outlaw Pete” and “Queen of the Supermarket,” forever come across as virtual Springsteen parodies, each telling a story that resembled a vintage Springsteen tale except for the way they were stretched into utter preposterousness. The rest of the album was a mixed bag – certainly adequate, especially considering the high standards Springsteen has set for himself, and with a couple true gems such as the Danny Frederici tribute “The Last Carnival” – but overall as a collection of songs, it was a work in search of coherence, lyrically and musically.

Between then and now, Springsteen put out the double-sided The Promise, a compilation of numerous songs composed following Born to Run but either left off Darkness on the Edge of Town and other subsequent albums, or significantly reworked. The Promise simultaneously illustrated the ability of Springsteen at the top of his game and the extent of his wide-ranging interests, again both in music and subject matter. As if we didn’t know already, there’s a reason Springsteen has kept putting out material into his 60s: he’s a well that won’t dry up.

His brand-new album, Wrecking Ball, isn’t as satisfying or enlightening as The Promise, but it does represent the beginning of a journey back from the erratic qualities of Dream. The Boss is still a bit too infatuated with stylistic variety for his own good – some will certainly argue that it keeps things fresh, but it starts to take on a everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach that becomes a distraction.

Parts of Wrecking Ball are simply overproduced. More than once when a stray gospel chant, Irish accent, rap solo or other element comes into earshot, I found myself saying, “Just play the song.” From a younger artist it might come across as insecurity, but from a Hall of Famer like Springsteen it feels more like the indulgence of someone who is just having too much fun – even in the angry songs – to help himself.

But this much can be said: Never on Wrecking Ball does Springsteen go so far as to venture into the kind of implosions that “Outlaw Pete” and “Queen of the Supermarket” represent, and often, especially after repeat listening, the pieces of flair win you over.

And when things work, they really do work. “Land of Hope and Dreams,” which has been a Springsteen tour staple for some time now, is just rousing – if you haven’t heard the live version, you’ll certainly get a taste of what it must be like. (It also includes what would seem to be the final notes played by Clarence Clemons on a Springsteen album, and your heart will break each time you hear them.)

And the pitch-perfect “Wrecking Ball,” one that he began playing on tour a couple years back (with little hint at least at the outset that it would become his next album’s title track), proves to be the best of them all.

In some ways, it’s a rough and tough sequel to the now 27-year-old “Glory Days.” Its main character is Giants Stadium, just before being demolished, and it opens …

I was raised out of steel here in the swamps of Jersey
Some misty years ago
Through the mud and the beer, and the blood and the cheers
I’ve seen champions come and go

So if you got the guts mister
Yeah, if you’ve got the balls
If you think it’s your time
Then step to the line
And bring on your wrecking ball

Bring on your wrecking ball
Bring on your wrecking ball
Come on and take your best shot
Let me see what you’ve got
Bring on your wrecking ball …

The lyrics don’t need my explanation. It’s a song that stares straight into the face of mortality. “Wrecking Ball” reminds us that everyone has their battles, and we fight them, fight them to win, even if we know, in the end, we all lose the war.

… Now when all this steel and these stories
They drift away to rust
And all our youth and beauty
It’s been given to the dust

And your game has been decided
And you’re burning the down the clock
And all our little victories and glories
Have turned into parking lots

When your best hopes and desires
Are scattered to the wind
And hard times come
And hard times go
And hard times come
And hard times go
And hard times come
And hard times go
And hard times come
And hard times go
And hard times come
And hard times go
Just to come again!
Bring on your wrecking ball …

The song then brings the entire E Street Band in a singing primal call to the wild, one that couldn’t sound more right. It’s moments like these that Springsteen delivers like no one else.

A night at the Neds

Second photo courtesy of BHSportsGuy

Nope, your eyes didn’t deceive you. That was Dodger general manager Ned Colletti at tonight’s Oscars.

I asked Colletti via text message what brought him to the Oscars.

“Once in a lifetime,” he replied. “Tom Sherak (president of the Academy) is a good friend of mine, and I came as his guest.”

As far as the results, I had few complaints. The Artist was my favorite of the nominated films, and Christopher Plummer’s supporting actor victory filled as best as possible my desire for Ewan MacGregor and Beginners to be recognized. I was a bit surprised that Meryl Streep edged Viola Davis in lead actress, but perhaps voters felt Streep’s 2-14 record in Oscar noms entering the evening was getting a little too Anthony Young-like.

The show itself was predictably ragged, incorporating numerous elements that almost seemed designed to turn off both film and television audiences, but the “In Memoriam” approach was the best in recent memory, and the Best Picture montage incorporated one of my favorite soundtrack elements of the year, from Moneyball.

My favorite part of the evening, though, was my 9-year-old’s sudden interest in watching the show and seeing her reactions as she took all this in – for better or worse – for the first time. Of the nominated movies, she had only seen Hugo – but that meant she still got to be excited about multiple awards. And she was happy, as was I, that “Man or Muppet” won for best song (out of the ridiculously low two nominees).

Oscar chat 2012

If anyone around wants to talk Oscars today and tonight, let this be the place.  The ceremony’s official start time on ABC is 5:30 p.m. You can also follow all my colleagues at Variety here.

From January: My favorite films of 2011.

C is for California

My kids have a new book, C is for California, from WestWinds Press. Twenty-six pages, starting with “A is for Alcatraz,” “B is for Beach” and “C is for Cinco de Mayo.” How many of the remaining pages can you name?

Warning: “V is for Central Valley.”

The Internet reaches its pinnacle: Howard Cosell and Jan Smithers

Does the World Wide Web get any better than this? Howard Cosell analyzes Jan Smithers while she sits in a dunk tank at the mercy of Dick Van Patten in 1979 on Battle of the Network Stars.

“This is a very serious girl, in point of fact,” Cosell concludes.

Magic Johnson documentary ‘The Announcement’ headed to ESPN

Airdate: March 11

‘Smash’ upends ‘The National Pastime’

[Flash 10 is required to watch video]

At Variety On the Air, I offered a largely positive take on new NBC musical drama Smash, but with a few scattered misgivings about some aspects of the show, including a couple of the musical set pieces in early episodes. Above is one of those numbers, the baseball (cough)-infused “The National Pastime.” Apologies for the spoiler for my West Coast readers.

Smash depicts the making of a Broadway show based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, and her relationship with Joe DiMaggio is apparently one key part of the fictional fiction. That explains the genesis of the above number, which despite the enthusiastic performances (and barely bridled sexuality) of Megan Hilty and friends, is kind of a nightmare. Corny doesn’t begin to describe it.

When I watched it a second time Sunday, months after seeing the screener last summer, to see if I had been too harsh in my initial assessment, I decided that I was – that it only ranked about an 8 on the nightmare scale, as opposed to a 10. But what still bothered me the most was how beside herself with joy Debra Messing’s character, the songwriter, was at the number. Her revelry at seeing “The National Pastime” wrapped in this kind of glory made me fear for the musical she was co-creating in the show.

I mean, in the world of this musical, you’ve got about two hours to tell the story of Marilyn in a meaningful way, and you’re going to spend three precious minutes with this? Surely there’s a better way that doesn’t involve making me wish baseball had never been born.

Some will enjoy “The National Pastime” just fine, and in any case, the rest of Smash is much better than this. But I can’t help it: “The National Pastime” is a big fat swing, leg-kick and a miss.

 

‘A Very Carson Christmas’

Never too early to shop for the holidays, especially for you Downton Abbey fans out there.

‘Diner’ turns 30


This one was a real labor of love for me — my Variety story on Diner looking back at the movie on its 30th anniversary and looking ahead to its reincarnation on Broadway this fall.

This film is one of my early inspirations: so funny and so poignant. Here’s how the story begins …

“Diner,” written and directed by Barry Levinson, is a wonderful movie.

That simple sentence began a lengthy, thoughtful review by Pauline Kael in the April 5, 1982, New Yorker, a review that saved a cinematic gem from quick extinction — and, as it turned out, helped pave the way for a Broadway musical decades later.

This spring will mark the 30th anniversary of “Diner,” Levinson’s inaugural effort as a helmer, which simultaneously celebrated and deconstructed the late-1950s Baltimore of his youth. Come the fall, Levinson’s “Diner” tuner adaptation, with music and lyrics by Sheryl Crow, and with Kathleen Marshall directing, will bow on the Rialto.

Set design has begun, with final casting to take place in the spring in advance of what will be an out-of-town test run in the summer.

The rebirth of “Diner” has stirred excitement about the musical (mixed with guarded curiosity) from those who remember the film for both its comedy, centered on the exploits of six Baltimore buddies, and its insightful commentary on communication bumps and bruises between the sexes.

In an age of four-quadrant blockbuster mindsets, the blossoming of what was such a personal project into a franchise is noteworthy. Though movies of such intimate scale often disappear, a few can pay off for decades.

Still, if the legit adaptation has any naysayers, that would only make sense. Ultimately nominated for an original screenplay Oscar, a Writers Guild award and a Golden Globe, “Diner” would have been relegated to an MGM dustbin if not for the power of Kael’s pen, say Levinson and his colleagues.

I watched this movie on a regular basis in my teens and 20s, but when I checked it out again last month in preparation for this story, it was heartening to how fresh and vibrant it was. It holds up remarkably well, something I would attribute to Levinson’s absolute precision with the material and the great work by the cast, which made a moment in time so timeless.

In a sense, this was Seinfeld before Seinfeld: light on plot but heavy on conversation and just trying to make it through the simple and the ridiculous parts of life. But it has a yearning that Seinfeld dropped pretty much by its second season. These guys (and Beth) want something better for themselves, but they don’t really know how to get it — in fact, most of them can’t even admit they want it.

Seinfeld would have the equivalent of the football quiz, the Carol Heathrow bet at the movie theater, “Are you gonna eat that?” But it wouldn’t have had Shrieve’s at once hilarious and harrowing verbal beatdown of Beth over his records. It didn’t, and wouldn’t, have had the ending that Diner had.

Not that I intended this to be a Diner vs. Seinfeld discussion. Both are classics.  But while I loved Seinfeld, writing my own Diner would be my dream. There’s hardly a moment in the film that isn’t kinda quietly brilliant.

They made it look so easy, Levinson and his gang. They’re just stories, right? Just people talking. And yet it’s so rich. Most of the stuff I’ve ever written on my own has aspired to be like some combination of “Diner” and a few other movies like “The Misfits” mixed in. Someday …

So, I hope you enjoy the story. For me, it’s a smile.

‘Here Come the Geese’

This song, “Here Come the Geese,” is on a Barenaked Ladies album for kids, but I really dig it for some reason.

It’s from the album Snacktime, which I would include on any recommendations for kids’ music.

One of these days I might post a desert-island discs list for parents. For starters, They Might Be Giants would be on there as well.

* * *

Just a reminder, because it’s been a while since I’ve said this in a post: Any Dodger Thoughts thread is an open chat thread. You can talk about old topics, new topics or out-of-the-blue topics …

Dodger Thoughts: Where no one thinks about the Dodgers

Passing by a billboard for the upcoming movie “Safe House” Monday on Westwood Boulevard, my wife and I were having some fun with the slogan, which is just a little too obvious in its twistiness. We kept on thinking of different examples as we drove along …

THERE ARE NO VITAMINS
Vitamin Shoppe

NO UNDERGROUND TRAINS HERE
Subway

THESE CHICKENS DON’T COME HOME TO ROOST
California Chicken Cafe

It’s as if Linda Richman had taken over the studio marketing campaign. Discuss

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