Live From 5 Minutes Ago

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Saw Shattered Glass last night. I'd been fascinated by this movie for two reasons:

1. Glass and I (at least superficially) share a lot in common. We both went to public schools in relatively affluent suburbs of major cities (he in Chicago, and I in Dallas), we both share the same political bent, we have a number of the same personality traits, and there is at least something of a physical resemblence between us (at least as he is portrayed in the movie). As I was leaving the theatre last night, one woman seemed to do a double-take as she looked at me, stepping out of the theatre silently. Ultimately, both of us went to law school, and both of us currently live in the NYC area.

2. At the time of Glass's fraud, I was a subscriber to The New Republic, and a regular reader of Glass's pieces, both there and in the various other magazines he defrauded. I found them fascinating, and believed them for two reasons. First, they came with the impramatur of approval of TNR and other reputable media sources. Second, they were just so GOOD that you WANTED them to be true. Take, for instance, "Spring Breakdown," in which Glass claimed to chronicle the debauchery "behind the scenes" at a "Young Conservatives" conference. What good liberal doesn't want to believe that the people who opposed us were hypocritical and convinced that their own movement was doomed?

Heck, I've even read Glass's "novel" The Fabulist, which tells the "fictional" story of "Stephen Glass," a writer for a major Washington magazine who made up stories, and watched the interview with him on 60 Minutes shortly before his novel was released. Yet nothing that's come out thus far answers the most burning question of all--"Why?" I was hoping the movie would do so.

Unfortunately, it doesn't. That's not to knock the movie--as it's a fine, fine film, that I commend to all my readers. The film is more preocupied with WHAT happened than why it happened or giving us an inkling as to any larger implications of Glass' story. The biggest problem (but, simultaneously, challenge) is that the film can't make up its mind as to who the "hero" of the story is? Is it Glass (Hayden Christensen), the con man who pulled off what folks previously had thought was impossible--fooling a stodgy rag, as a sort of Frank Abagnale-esque anti-hero? Is it Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgard), the editor who finally confronts and fires Glass? Is it Adam Penenberg and Andie Fox (Steve Zahn and Rosario Dawson), the two Forbes online journalists who finally cracked Glass's web of deception? Is it Caitlin Avey (Chloe Sevigny), the young editor who (it's implied) helps remove the blinders from her co-workers' eyes regarding Glass' deception? Or is it the late Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria), who died covering the war in Iraq and to whom the film is dedicated, who the film depicts as being critical in making Glass crack? We don't know, and the situation is exacerbated by the sense that there's 30 minutes of film left on the cutting room floor.

For instance, at one point, the staff, led by Caitlin, doesn't want to believe that their friend, Steve, has done anything wrong. One scene later, miraculously, the entire staff (without prompting by Lane) has signed an apology letter to their readership. Rosario Dawson, who's highly billed, gorgeous, and talented, gets about 6 lines to say. Sevigny gets only a few more. It's like there's a second film missing--the story of how Steve's coworkers responded to (and ultimately accepted) his prevarications. The story we get is fascinating enough, but those stories could be even moreso, and (I expect) would help us understand the main story.

If by any chance Steve Glass is reading this, I'd appreciate you dropping me an e-mail. I promise I don't bite, and I'm interesting in learning more about "why." You're the only one who can answer that question, and I suspect (especially after this movie), I'm not the only one who's looking for an answer.

For all of you who've always wanted it, you can now buy your own "Talking Ann Coulter Action Figure" here.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Sorry to harp on "SNL" again, but their "Star Studded Troika of Shows For November" Sweeps, frankly, sucks. This weekend, we get the uber-annoying Kelly Ripa. Next weekend, we get the comic stylings of tennis star Andy Roddick. (Honestly--WTF?) We round out the month with Alec Baldwin (aka: "that guy we go to when we don't have someone else"). Fortunately, the musical guests (Outkast, Dave Matthews, and Missy Elliot) are a little better. C'mon--you mean to say, you couldn't get Will Ferrell, or Brendan Fraser, or Billy Bob Thornton (all of whom have movies in November)?

Two more TV-related comments from the past week.

"Everwood: Episode 20" (which, oddly enough, was actually the 21st episode to air), is 2/3 of an episode that could have made my "Top 10" list. The problem is not (as you might expect) that the episode falls apart into mindless pablum at the end, as shows on the WB have a tendency to do. In fact, the episode's final few scenes pull no punches, especially a final scene in a church confessional. The "A" storyline, involving a young girl seeking an abortion is phenomonal, and Treat Williams, as Dr. Brown, the doctor who believes (in principle) in a woman's right to choose but can't bring himself to perform the procedure, and Tom Amandes, as Dr. Abbott, the doctor who doesn't believe in abortion but will perform them, are both great. So what's the problem? The problem is the "B" and "C" stories. The "B" story deals with Dr. Brown's daughter, Delia, giving a copy of "Penthouse" magazine to a male friend for his 10th birthday. Obviously, this is intended to be comical and reinforce the theme of "it's important to talk about things that make us uncomfortable." Unfortunately, it just doesn't work. The "C" story involves Dr. Brown's son being ditched by his date at a school dance. Really, it has nothing to do with the main thrust of the episode, and seems tacked in just to make sure Gregory Smith (the designated "WB Hunk") from the series has something to do. Despite the problems, the "A" story is powerful and well-written enough that the episode is worth your attention. Perhaps because of the subject matter, the WB is not repeating it on Sunday (as they usually do with "Everwood"), but it's well worth seeking out when it does repeat.

And now, the indefinensible position:

"The West Wing: Isaac and Ishmael" is really not all that bad. As you may recall, in the outpouring of emotion and sorrow following the events of September 11, 2001, Aaron Sorkin decided he would write a "very special episode" of "West Wing" (introduced by the cast in a pre-credits sequence as "a play") in response to the attacks. After it aired, it was roundly condemned by fandom (over at TWOP it's still known as "The Episode That Must Not Be Named") and the media (the New York Post condemned the episode on its front page for being "soft on terror." However, rewatching it on Bravo makes you realize that really, it's not all that bad. Yes, it's speech-y and preach-y. Yes, the storyline with Leo and an accused White House staffer is cringe-worthy. But the acting from the regular cast is solid, the intentions are good, and the dialogue, while preachy, is still smart. Honestly, not that bad.

On an unrelated note--according to the CNN page title here, Mr. Softee is courting Google. Now THAT'S a blind date I'd like to see.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Footnote of the day!:

In a Seventh Circuit decision issued today concerning accomodations for prisoners' religious practices, we find the following.

"According to Muslim practices, Charles prays five times a day and undergoes ritual cleaning or purification, in part to eliminate offensive body odors prior to prayer."

The court drops a footnote here to explain: "Apart from its religious implications, this strikes us as a good thing for all involved in the prison setting--or indeed, anywhere else."

Glad to know the Seventh Circuit cares so deeply about personal hygiene as well as religious freedom (they rule for the prisoner).

Thanks to Howard Bashman over at How Appealing for the link. (The snark, however, is my own.)

I'm no big fan of the ouevre of mid-80s Patrick Swayze movies, but I'm sure at least some of my readers are. In any case, if you're tempted by the idea of Road House: The Stage Version of the Cinema Classic That Starred Patrick Swayze, Except This One Stars Taimak From the '80s Cult Classic 'The Last Dragon' Wearing a Blonde Mullet Wig, more information on that is available here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

You find this blog and want to shout at me more privately than the comments allow? You can now do that. Just give me a shout over at fiveminutesagoblog (at) yahoo (dot) com. Spammers will be terminated with extreme prejudice.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Again taking a hint from the comments at Throwing Things, another list. This isn't a "Top 10," but simply an exploration of great uses of songs in television. Here's a few excellent examples:

Dire Straits' "Brothers in Arms," "The West Wing: Two Cathedrals." This is what kicked it off. Sorkin has said that in writing the episode, he wanted to write a show that "felt like" this song. And it works brilliantly. The song stands alone as a great example of storytelling, but the careful editing and syncopation of the actions to the gorgeous Mark Knopfler guitar solo heightens both the song and the episode from the already high points they've reached.

Massive Attack's "Angel," "The West Wing: Commencement." Almost the entire last act of the episode is set to this trippy trance song. The song's chanting and surreal nature only heightens the already tense atmosphere, and the director, Chris Misiano, perfectly cross-cuts between multiple storylines, letting the song guide us, until we hear the stunning final words of the episode--"Bookbag's been taken!"

Sinead O'Connor's "No Man's Woman," "Alias: Truth Be Told." Just watching Jennifer Garner walk down a hall becomes fascinating as set to Sinead O'Connor's fierce declaration of independence. The song tells us as much about the character as does the dialogue in the end of the episode.

Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole's "Over the Rainbow," "ER: On the Beach." Frankly, this episode wasn't necessary. I really rather would have had Dr. Green's story end with the poignant letter to the ER the previous week. But the use of the mandolin-twinged "Over The Rainbow" adds to the emotion of the episode.

Three Dog Night, "Eli's Coming," "Sports Night: Eli's Coming." As Dan Rydell (Josh Charles) and Casey McCall (Peter Krause) discuss a mishearing of the song, the song comes up, and gets louder as Dan and Casey receive terrible news. Great use of a classic, classic song.

Colin Hay, "Overkill," "Scrubs: My Overkill." Hay's sort of washed up now, better known for his work with Men At Work than his solo work. Here, exec producer and writer Bill Lawrence frames an entire episode around Hay's song, and Hay himself appears as a wandering minstrel.

John Cale, "Hallelujah," "Scrubs: My Old Lady." On "Scrubs," it's used for a memorable closing montage as the interns and medical personnel cope with death for the first time as professionals. The song manages to be both depressing and uplifting at the same time. Also memorably used in "The West Wing: Posse Comitatus," in a version performed by Jeff Buckley.

I'm sure I forgot some good stuff. Tell me in the comments.

Monday, October 27, 2003

E-mail of the week from work--apparently a package of "Girls Gone Wild" videos came in to the firm without a name attached, so an e-mail goes out to all "NY Personnel" asking if anyone wants to claim the materials. No word if anyone has or not yet.

Now for something that I hope you'll enjoy--the first in a series on good musical artists you probably missed due to the record industry's system that discards people if they don't have a radio hit immediately. The first featured artist is Dana Glover, whose album, Testimony, is available at better record stores everywhere (and for as low as $5.99 through Amazon Z-Shops).

Glover's sound is hard to pin down. It's sort of a Tori Amos on anti-depressants, backed by a Gospel choir. Her first single, "Thinking Over," is a gorgeous piano-based love song that, for once, isn't about having all the answers, but about not being sure (if it sounds familiar, it was the song featured in the overly ubiquitious trailer for "Tuck Everlasting" last year). The second single, "Rain," is a bitter, angry, almost-rocker about a girl looking for meaning in her life. The best, though, is the last cut and title track, "Testimony," a joyous song about finding love and celebrating it in spite of obstacles that makes particularly strong use of the gospel choir. And, oh yeah, she writes her own stuff

And, for you fellow males, yes, she's been featured in FHM. Hey, it's sold several million copies of Britney's records. Check it out (the album, not FHM!).

Dude! John Edwards may be about to get Punk'd! See the Drudge Report for more details.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Y'know what's kind of sad--the only person to come here other than through Throwing Things in the past few days has been someone looking fo rinformation on Paige Davis and Jeopardy. (And thanks, Adam, you've massively increased my hit count!)

Now, time for a rant. The late, great Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined the phrase "defining deviancy downward." I'd like to suggest a new system--"defining greatness downward." It started with music. You can buy The Best of Big Country and The Very Best of the Human League. And, yes, both of those have more than one track.

Now, it's hit another American institution--"Saturday Night Live." Last night, we were subjected to "The Best of Tracy Morgan." Just because Morgan had a relatively long stint on the show (and is getting a sitcom from Lorne Michaels) does not mean he warrants that treatment. What's next--"The Best of Tim Kazurinsky?" "The Best of Janeane Garofalo's Four Episodes?" "The Best of Anthony Michael Hall?" There are a vast many people who warrant this sort of treatment from SNL--most of the original cast, Eddie Murphy, Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, Will Ferrell, Phil Hartman. Heck, among the current cast, there are a number who may eventually be worthy of such a special.

How do we know that there wasn't enough material? Because we had not one, but two "Brian Fellow" sketches. When your character is defined by bellowing "I'm Brian Fellow!" over and over (and over and over) again, you need something more. Sure, there are some funny moments in the show, such as the "call and answer at 'The Pianist' sketch," and the sadly cut down "View" sketch with Claire Danes as Debbie Matenepolos, but one or two funny sketches does not a show make--a lesson that SNL in general needs to learn.

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