Monday, June 30, 2008

nyt on wall e

The first 40 minutes or so of “Wall-E” — in which barely any dialogue is spoken, and almost no human figures appear on screen — is a cinematic poem of such wit and beauty that its darker implications may take a while to sink in. The scene is an intricately rendered city, bristling with skyscrapers but bereft of any inhabitants apart from a battered, industrious robot and his loyal cockroach sidekick. Hazy, dust-filtered sunlight illuminates a landscape of eerie, post-apocalyptic silence. This is a world without people, you might say without animation, though it teems with evidence of past life.

Directors like Steven Spielberg (“A.I.”), Francis Lawrence (“I Am Legend”), M. Night Shyamalan (“The Happening”) and Werner Herzog. In his recent documentary “Encounters at the End of the World” Mr. Herzog muses that “the human presence on this planet is not really sustainable,” a sentiment that is voiced, almost verbatim, in the second half of “Wall-E.” When the whimsical techies at Pixar and a moody German auteur are sending out the same message, it may be time to pay attention.

Not that “Wall-E” is all gloom and doom. It is, undoubtedly, an earnest (though far from simplistic) ecological parable, but it is also a disarmingly sweet and simple love story, Chaplinesque in its emotional purity. On another level entirely it’s a bit of a sci-fi geek-fest, alluding to everything from “2001” and the “Alien” pictures (via a Sigourney Weaver voice cameo) to “Wallace and Gromit: A Grand Day Out.” But the movie it refers to most insistently and overtly is, of all things, “Hello, Dolly!,” a worn videotape that serves as the title character’s instruction manual in matters of choreography and romance.

That old, half-forgotten musical, with its Jerry Herman lyrics crooned by, among others, Louis Armstrong, is also among Wall-E’s mementos of, well, us. He is a dented little workhorse who, having outlasted his planned obsolescence, spends his days in the Sisyphean, mechanical labor of gathering and compacting garbage. His name is an acronym for Waste Allocation Load Lifter- Earth Class. But not everything he finds is trash to Wall-E. In the rusty metal hulk where he and the cockroach take shelter from dust storms, he keeps a carefully sorted collection of treasures, including Zippo lighters, nuts and bolts, and a Rubik’s Cube.

Wall-E’s tender regard for the material artifacts of a lost civilization is understandable. After all, he too is a product of human ingenuity. And the genius of “Wall-E,” which was directed by the Pixar mainstay Andrew Stanton, who wrote the screenplay with Jim Reardon, lies in its notion that creativity and self-destruction are sides of the same coin. The human species was driven off its home planet — Wall-E eventually learns that we did not die out — by an economy consecrated to the manufacture and consumption of ever more stuff. But some of that stuff turned out to be useful, interesting, and precious. And some of it may even possess something like a soul.

Observing Wall-E’s surroundings, the audience gleans that, in some bygone time, a conglomerate called BnL (for “Buy N Large”) filled the earth with megastores and tons of garbage. Eventually the corporation loaded its valued customers onto a space station (captained by Jeff Garlin), where they have evolved into fat, lazy leisure addicts serviced by a new generation of specialized machines. One of these, a research probe named Eve (all of the robot names are acronyms as well as indicators of theoretical gender) drops to Earth and wins Wall-E’s heart.

Their courtship follows some familiar patterns. If “Wall-E” were a romantic comedy, it would be about a humble garbageman who falls for a supermodel who also happens to be a top scientist with a knack for marksmanship. (I’m pretty sure I reviewed that a while back, but the title escapes me.) Wall-E is a boxy machine of the old school, with creaks and clanks and visible rivets, his surface pocked with dents and patches of rust. He is steadfast, but not always clever or cool. Eve, shaped like an elongated egg, is as cool as the next iPhone and whisper quiet, unless she’s excited, in which case she has a tendency to blow things up. She and Wall-E communicate in chirps and beeps that occasionally coalesce into words. Somehow their expressions — of desire, irritation, indifference, devotion and anxiety, all arranged in delicate counterpoint — achieve an otherworldly eloquence.

That they are endowed with such rich humanity is as much a Pixar trademark as the painstakingly modeled surfaces or the classical virtual camerawork and editing. The technical resourcefulness that allows “Wall-E” to leap effortlessly from the derelict Earth to the pristine atmosphere of the space station is matched by the rigorous integrity the filmmakers bring to the characters and the themes.

Rather than turn a tale of environmental cataclysm into a scolding, self-satisfied lecture, Mr. Stanton shows his awareness of the contradictions inherent in using the medium of popular cinema to advance a critique of corporate consumer culture. The residents of the space station, accustomed to being tended by industrious robots, have grown to resemble giant babies, with soft faces, rounded torsos and stubby, weak limbs. Consumer capitalism, anticipating every possible need and swaddling its subjects in convenience, is an infantilizing force. But as they cruise around on reclining chairs, eyes fixed on video screens, taking in calories from straws sticking out of giant cups, these overgrown space babies also look like moviegoers at a multiplex.

They’re us, in other words. And like us, they’re not all bad. The paradox at the heart of “Wall-E” is that the drive to invent new things and improve the old ones — to buy and sell and make and collect — creates the potential for disaster and also the possible path away from it. Or, put another way, some of the same impulses that fill the world of “Wall-E” — our world — with junk can also fill it with art.


Opens on Friday nationwide.

Directed by Andrew Stanton; written by Mr. Stanton and Jim Reardon, based on a story by Mr. Stanton and Pete Docter; director of photography, camera, Jeremy Lasky; director of photography, lighting, Danielle Feinberg; edited by Stephen Schaffer; music by Thomas Newman; production designer, Ralph Eggleston; produced by Jim Morris; released by Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. This film is rated G.

WITH THE VOICES OF: Ben Burtt (Wall-E/M-O), Elissa Knight (Eve), Jeff Garlin (Captain), Fred Willard (Shelby Forthright/BnL C.E.O.), Macintalk (Auto), John Ratzenberger (John), Kathy Najimy (Mary) and Sigourney Weaver (Ship’s Computer).

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wall E is adorable and is a sweet story

Review: Charming Wall-E Sweeps Up Trash, Hearts
By Jenna Wortham Email
June 26, 2008 | 6:29:00 PM
Categories: Movies, Reviews, Sci-Fi

Behind Wall-E's puppy-dog binocular eyes lies a deep-rooted message: If we don't clean up our act, our Roombas are going to inherit the Earth.

Pixar Animation Studios' ninth animated feature film, Wall-E, rolls into theaters Friday, bringing with it a desolate vision of the future that is softened by sophisticated storytelling, memorable characters and a good sense of humor -- impressive, considering the film is largely lacking in dialogue. Humans have abandoned Earth for luxury liners in space following a catastrophic buying blitz that has left the surface of the planet covered in waste.

Despite its post-apocalyptic subplot, the film is a shining example of what Pixar does best: Create a visually stunning animated landscape and populate it with easy-to-love anthropomorphic characters. The sweeping aerial views of a desolate cityscape and the jaw-dropping space scenes alone are worth the price of admission. But embedded in Pixar's first science fiction film is a scathing glimpse at the ugly side of consumerism and what may be in store for humanity -- a message that the movie's director maintains is unintentional.

(Note: Spoilers below.)

Andrew Stanton, who wrote and directed Wall-E, denies that the film has any underlying environmental or social agenda. "It was all reverse engineering," said Stanton last week in a round-table interview at Pixar's studios in Emeryville, California. "I knew [Wall-E] had to be the last robot on Earth ... but it wasn't going to be a happy situation because everybody had to leave [the planet]."

And indeed, the first portion of the film follows Wall-E (for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) as the lonely automaton zips around the trash-strewn landscape, faithfully compacting sky-high piles of garbage left by humankind. Amid the wasteland, Wall-E's Charlie Chaplin-like pantomiming is the only bright spot of levity amid the bleak backdrop of the post-consumer crash.

Younger audiences may squirm as the first half hour or so goes boldly without much dialogue, but Wall-E's personality-infused whistles and squeals are executed seamlessly by veteran sound designer Ben Burtt, the maestro behind R2-D2's bleeps and E.T.'s throaty warble. These endearing early scenes of the weathered bot bumbling around Earth, collecting artifacts and wistfully watching Hello, Dolly!, a 1969 musical directed by Gene Kelly, boost Wall-E's charm and personality to enchant audiences.

But Wall-E's got the hearts (and maybe even the tear ducts) of audiences in the bag. Even though he has the company of a pet cockroach, his loneliness is heartbreakingly palpable -- especially when viewers catch sight of the bot's broken-down robobrethen, and it hits home that the tender droid has been by himself for a long, long time.

The film's pace picks up when an egg-shaped probe called Eve (voiced by Elissa Knight) arrives on Earth. She's a sleek, white, laser-equipped fembot sent by the megacorporation that fueled the current disaster. Although Eve has an infectious digigiggle, her itchy trigger finger and cool exterior don't radiate charisma quite as deeply as lovable Wall-E does.

Still, it's love at first pixel for Wall-E, who does his best to woo Eve with his treasure trove of salvaged goods before a simple sprout wins her heart and simultaneously shuts her down, summoning her mothership.

From then on, the film is a wild ride through space that lands Wall-E and Eve on Axiom, the spaceship that contains what's left of the human population. The first glimpse of humans nearly 1,000 years into the future -- they're "giant babies, completely devolved," as director Stanton put it -- is not a pretty sight.

After hundreds of years aboard Axiom, humanity has turned into a sea of lazy, machine-dependent consumers content to float on plus-size hovering recliners and slurp supersize sodas. People are immobile blobs of overindulgence, but the ugly reality is deftly delivered as comedy.

A great cameo by actor Fred Williard (Best in Show, A Mighty Wind) as the CEO of Buy 'n Large reveals that humans are never meant to return to Earth. His revelation results in a 2001: A Space Odyssey-inspired fight scene between the ship's captain (voiced by Jeff Garlin) and Axiom's autopilot that raises lingering questions about humanity's future and our relationship with technology.

A truly romantic film at heart, the film ends on a cheerful note -- for Eve and Wall-E. The fate of humankind is left rather vague, probably wisely, since their enlarged physiques, jellied bone structure and total lack of agricultural knowledge doesn't exactly spell promise for rebuilding Earth.

It's a message kids might miss, but a potent, topical theme that will surely ring with adults.
At least the robots will love, and live on.

Wired: Adorable characters, impressive visual design, masterful sound design.

Tired: Cautionary environmental message is a bit of a reality-checking buzz-kill.


Read Underwire's movie ratings guide.

Photos courtesy Pixar Animation Studios

is this just Oprah's way of going on Skinny Bitch

In her book Quantum Wellness, best-selling author and spiritual counselor Kathy Freston suggests trying a 21-day cleanse as a way to jump-start an inner makeover. Oprah has decided to give it a try! The plan is to eliminate caffeine, sugar, alcohol, gluten and animal products from your diet for up to 21 days. Read along as Oprah blogs for three weeks about the highs and lows of her experience.

Week One: Sunday
There was a passage in Kathy Freston's book that so related to me, I thought for a moment she was talking about me.

In the passage, Kathy talks about an overweight friend who would gain and lose. She didn't conquer the weight issue until she became a "conscious" eater.

Conscious eater. That struck a nerve. I had recently come to the conclusion that after spending weeks reading and rereading A New Earth and being on line with Eckhart Tolle that bringing a higher level of awareness to my eating was the solution I'd been avoiding. My idea of a conscious eater, however, was not quite the same as Kathy's.

I thought it meant not allowing yourself to eat emotionally and filling the void of anxiety with food, as I've struggled with for years. I thought it meant taking your time, making healthy choices and chewing slowly—being conscious of every bite and not scarfing down a meal and then thinking about the next one.

That is one level of consciousness. But what she talks about in her book is a higher level. She speaks of "spiritual integrity." How can you say you're trying to spiritually evolve, without even a thought about what happens to the animals whose lives are sacrificed in the name of gluttony?

So this 21-day cleanse gives me a chance to think about it differently and see what my attachments are to certain kinds of foods—and what I'm willing to do to change.

Don't know if I'm going to feel better or worse, but I'm willing to try to see if my body at least feels differently.

So this first day wasn't hard at all. For breakfast, I had steel-cut oatmeal with fresh blueberries, strawberries, chopped walnuts and a splash of soy milk and some agave nectar. For lunch, chunky mushroom soup with wild rice and pecans. As a snack, a handful of roasted almonds. And for dinner, a baked potato drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper with a salad of shredded lettuce, cranberries, pine nuts and tiny orange slices with a vinegar and oil dressing.

Very satisfying. Day 1 also started with the meditation mantra that Kathy suggests in her book. I'm ready!

— Oprah

Oprah's Blog
Week One: Monday
Well, I feel like I got baptized in Vegan Land today. Kathy Freston sent her chef, Tal Ronnen, to help me and three friends at Harpo who are doing the 21-day cleanse.

Wow, wow, wow! I never imagined meatless meals could be so satisfying. I had been focused on what I had to give up—sugar, gluten, alcohol, meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese. "What's left?" I thought. Apparently a lot. I can honestly say every meal was a surprise and a delight, beginning with breakfast—strawberry rhubarb wheat-free crepes. — Oprah

Saturday, June 28, 2008



New York is waterfall crazy and so arent I. .... I get to see two of them, the east river one and the one under the brooklyn bridge on my commute everyday. I see them at 730am and then whatever time i come home. New Yorkers who see them on the train are excited. I will see them change with lighting and with the elements. overcast days and sunny summer mornings. when i come home at 800 or 900 or later, i will see the lit up waterfall.

Four walls of water cascaded into the East River off Manhattan on Thursday in a public art spectacle that Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the "most unexpected" waterfalls between North America and Africa.

"New York is a place where big ideas are realized," the mayor said at a news conference on the terrace of the South Street Seaport for the official unveiling of "The New York City Waterfalls."

The freestanding waterfalls created by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson were more than two years in the making, and the $15.5 million project is expected to generate more than $55 million in economic activity.

"It's been quite a journey. It's been a great challenge to achieve this," Eliasson said, describing many middle-of-the-night tests to pump water over the metal scaffolding.

The four sites — off Governors Island in the harbor, at the Brooklyn base of the Brooklyn Bridge, at Pier 35 near the Manhattan Bridge and off the Brooklyn Promenade — are "the most unexpected and intriguing waterfall destination between Niagara Falls and Victoria Falls," Bloomberg said.

It's the city's biggest public art project since artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude erected "The Gates" in Central Park in 2005, adorning 23 miles of footpaths with 7,500 saffron panels. That project drew more than 5 million visitors and generated about $254 million in economic activity.

Hotels are advertising special packages and tourist agencies are offering bicycle and boat excursions to see the waterfalls, which Bloomberg called "a beautiful symbol of the energy returning to our waterfront."

The money to build the waterfalls was raised by the Public Art Fund, a private not-for-profit organization. Individuals, foundations and corporations — including Bloomberg's own media company, Bloomberg LP — donated $13.5 million, and a state agency picked up the rest of the tab.

The falls will be on every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. through Oct. 13, and illuminated after sunset.

The Seven Words You Can Never Say On Tv

'The Seven Words You Can Never Say On Tv
by George Carlin

I love words. I thank you for hearing my words.
I want to tell you something about words that I think is important.
They're my work, they're my play, they're my passion.
Words are all we have, really. We have thoughts but thoughts are fluid.
then we assign a word to a thought and we're stuck with that word for
that thought, so be careful with words. I like to think that the same
words that hurt can heal, it is a matter of how you pick them.
There are some people that are not into all the words.
There are some that would have you not use certain words.
There are 400,000 words in the English language and there are 7
of them you can't say on television. What a ratio that is.
399,993 to 7. They must really be bad. They'd have to be outrageous
to be seperated from a group that large. All of you over here,you 7,
Bad Words. That's what they told us they were, remember?
"That's a bad word!" No bad words, bad thoughts, bad intentions,
and words. You know the 7, don't you, that you can't say on television?
"Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, CockSucker, MotherFucker, and Tits"
Those are the heavy seven. Those are the ones that'll infect your soul,
curve your spine, and keep the country from winning the war.
"Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, CockSucker, MotherFucker, and Tits"
Wow! ...and Tits doesn't even belong on the list. That is such a friendly
sounding word. It sounds like a nickname, right? "Hey, Tits, come here,
man. Hey Tits, meet Toots. Toots, Tits. Tits, Toots." It sounds like a
snack, doesn't it? Yes, I know, it is a snack. I don't mean your sexist
snack. I mean New Nabisco Tits!, and new Cheese Tits, Corn Tits,
Pizza Tits, Sesame Tits, Onion Tits, Tater Tits. "Betcha Can't Eat Just
One." That's true. I usually switch off. But I mean, that word does
not belong on the list. Actually none of the words belong on the list,
but you can understand why some of them are there. I'm not
completely insensetive to people's feelings. I can understand why
some of those words got on the list, like CockSucker and
MotherFucker. Those are heavyweight words. There is a lot going on
there. Besides the literal translation and the emotional feeling.
I mean, they're just busy words. There's a lot of syllables to contend
with. And those Ks, those are agressive sounds. They just jump out at
you like "coCKsuCKer, motherfuCKer. coCKsuCKer, motherfuCKer."
It's like an assualt on you. We mentioned Shit earlier, and 2 of the
other 4-letter Anglo-Saxon words are Piss and Cunt, which go
together of course. A little accedental humor there. The reason that
Piss and Cunt are on the list is because a long time ago, there were
certain ladies that said "Those are the 2 I am not going to say. I
don't mind Fuck and Shit but 'P' and 'C' are out.", which led to such
stupid sentences as "Okay you fuckers, I'm going to tinckle now."
And, of course, the word Fuck. I don't really, well that's more
accedental humor, I don't wanna get into that now because I think
it takes to long. But I do mean that. I think the word Fuck is a very
imprortant word. It is the beginning of life, yet it is a word we use to
hurt one another quite often. People much wiser than I am said,
"I'd rather have my son watch a film with 2 people making love
than 2 people trying to kill one another. I, of course, can agree. It is
a great sentence. I wish I knew who said it first. I agree with that but
I like to take it a step further. I'd like to substitute the word Fuck for
the word Kill in all of those movie cliches we grew up with. "Okay,
Sherrif, we're gonna Fuck you now, but we're gonna Fuck you slow."
So maybe next year I'll have a whole fuckin' ramp on the N word.
I hope so. Those are the 7 you can never say on television, under any
circumstanses. You just cannot say them ever ever ever. Not even
clinically. You cannot weave them in on the panel with Doc, and Ed,
and Johnny. I mean, it is just impossible. Forget tHose 7. They're out.
But there are some 2-way words, those double-meaning words.
Remember the ones you giggled at in sixth grade? "...And the cock
CROWED 3 times" "Hey, tha cock CROWED 3 times. ha ha ha ha. Hey, it's in
the bible. ha ha ha ha. There are some 2-way words, like it is okay for
Kirk Youdi to say "Roberto Clametti has 2 balls on him.", but he can't
say "I think he hurt his balls on that play, Tony. Don't you? He's holding
them. He must've hurt them, by God." and the other 2-way word that
goes with that one is Prik. It's okay if it happens to your finger. You
can prik your finger but don't finger your prik. No,no.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dying Is Hard. Comedy Is Harder

Op-Ed Contributor
Dying Is Hard. Comedy Is Harder.

Published: June 24, 2008

THE honest truth is, for a comedian, even death is just a premise to make jokes about. I know this because I was on the phone with George Carlin nine days ago and we were making some death jokes. We were talking about Tim Russert and Bo Diddley and George said: “I feel safe for a while. There will probably be a break before they come after the next one. I always like to fly on an airline right after they’ve had a crash. It improves your odds.”

I called him to compliment him on his most recent special on HBO. Seventy years old and he cranks out another hour of great new stuff. He was in a hotel room in Las Vegas getting ready for his show. He was a monster.

You could certainly say that George downright invented modern American stand-up comedy in many ways. Every comedian does a little George. I couldn’t even count the number of times I’ve been standing around with some comedians and someone talks about some idea for a joke and another comedian would say, “Carlin does it.” I’ve heard it my whole career: “Carlin does it,” “Carlin already did it,” “Carlin did it eight years ago.”

And he didn’t just “do” it. He worked over an idea like a diamond cutter with facets and angles and refractions of light. He made you sorry you ever thought you wanted to be a comedian. He was like a train hobo with a chicken bone. When he was done there was nothing left for anybody.

But his brilliance fathered dozens of great comedians. I personally never cared about “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” or “FM & AM.” To me, everything he did just had this gleaming wonderful precision and originality.

I became obsessed with him in the ’60s. As a kid it seemed like the whole world was funny because of George Carlin. His performing voice, even laced with profanity, always sounded as if he were trying to amuse a child. It was like the naughtiest, most fun grown-up you ever met was reading you a bedtime story.

I know George didn’t believe in heaven or hell. Like death, they were just more comedy premises. And it just makes me even sadder to think that when I reach my own end, whatever tumbling cataclysmic vortex of existence I’m spinning through, in that moment I will still have to think, “Carlin already did it.”

Jerry Seinfeld is a writer and a comedian.



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Wednesday, June 25, 2008




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Just Say ‘Mariska Hargitay’ and Snicker

Published: June 20, 2008

It’s likely that the younger generation of moviegoers knows Mike Myers primarily as the voice of Shrek. It has been five years since “The Cat in the Hat,” his last live-action movie, and six since the third “Austin Powers” picture, so a bit of reintroduction may be in order. Kids who wonder just who this guy is — and grownups with a merely casual rather than morbidly obsessive interest in pop-culture ephemera — will need some remedial instruction.

Back in the ’90s, they should be told, Mr. Myers was without peer in a challenging and intensely competitive pursuit: the manufacture of comical catchphrases that, while not especially funny in themselves, would call forth peals of knowing laughter when repeated out of context.

Party on, Garth! Touch my monkey! Groovy, baby, groovy! I’ve got shpilkes in my geneckteckessoink! He had a million of them, or at least a half dozen. But to judge from “The Love Guru,” a new feature film directed by Marco Schnabel, Mr. Myers, a writer and producer as well as the star, seems to have lost his touch. The movie’s takeaway catchphrase is “Mariska Hargitay,” which is used by the title character as a fake-Hindi spiritual greeting. This is almost hilarious the first 11 or so times he does it, but by the time Guru Pitka (Mr. Myers) says “Mariska Hargitay” to Ms. Hargitay herself, it’s somehow less amusing than it should be.

Which might sum up “The Love Guru” in its entirety but only at the risk of grievously understating the movie’s awfulness. A whole new vocabulary seems to be required. To say that the movie is not funny is merely to affirm the obvious. The word “unfunny” surely applies to Mr. Myers’s obnoxious attempts to find mirth in physical and cultural differences but does not quite capture the strenuous unpleasantness of his performance. No, “The Love Guru” is downright antifunny, an experience that makes you wonder if you will ever laugh again.

And this is, come to think of it, something of an achievement. What is the opposite of a belly laugh? An interesting question, in a way, and to hear lines like “I think I just made a happy wee-wee” or “I’m making diarrhea noises in my cup” or to watch apprentice gurus attack one another with urine-soaked mops is to grasp the answer. Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not opposed to infantile, regressive, scatological humor. Indeed, I consider myself something of a connoisseur. Or maybe a glutton. So it’s not that I object to the idea of, say, witnessing elephants copulate on the ice in the middle of a Stanley Cup hockey match, or seeing a dwarf sent flying over the same ice by the shock of defibrillator paddles. But it will never be enough simply to do such things. They must be done well.

Instead Mr. Myers floats through “The Love Guru” with the serene confidence that everything he does will have us rolling in the aisles. He follows nearly every joke with his trademark facial tic, baring his teeth, pushing his head forward and widening his eyes, as if to grant uncertain viewers permission to giggle. Sometimes he does this to indicate the character’s attempt at levity — Guru Pitka making a joke at someone else’s expense rather than Mr. Myers making a joke at Guru Pitka’s — but the distinction hardly matters. The delusional narcissism of the Guru, who dreams of a spot on “Oprah,” is of a piece with Mr. Myers’s own.

The rule seems to be that no one may upstage him and all must adore him. The “Austin Powers” franchise fulfilled the first mandate by casting the star in several roles. He is supported by a cast that includes Justin Timberlake (as a well-endowed Québécois goalie), Romany Malco (as a hockey star with love trouble) and Jessica Alba, as the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. A further list — Stephen Colbert! John Oliver of “The Daily Show”! Ben Kingsley! — would only create the misleading impression that there is something worth seeing here. If there is — Did I miss it? Darn! — I’m sure it will show up on YouTube before long. In the meantime talk amongst yourselves.

“The Love Guru” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It has crude sexual humor and naughty words.

Capricorn Horoscope for week of June 26, 2008

Capricorn Horoscope for week of June 26, 2008

Verticle Oracle card Capricorn (December 22-January 19)
Welcome to Part Two of your outlook for the second half of 2008, Capricorn. How have you been progressing with the challenges you were given near the end of last year? I trust that you've been hungry for new ideas, fresh approaches, and novel adventures. And I hope that this has resulted in you receiving more invitations, dares, and temptations than you've ever had. If what I just said describes your current state of affairs, I extend my hearty congratulations and remind you that you're only half way through this awakening process. If what I said doesn't fit your experience, get busy!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

rem msg

Published: June 21, 2008

Michael Stipe, lead singer of R.E.M., spent a great deal of time explicating on Thursday night, good-naturedly turning Madison Square Garden into a lecture hall. “This,” he said of “Disturbance at the Heron House,” from 1987, “is my rewriting of the novel ‘Animal Farm.’ ” “Ignoreland,” from 1992, was his “barely adult reaction to the Iran-Contra scandal.” And “Man-Sized Wreath,” from this year’s album “Accelerate”(Warner Brothers), was inspired, he said, by the day in 2004 when, met by several hundred protesters, President Bush visited — or, in Mr. Stipe’s description, “desecrated” — the grave of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
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Times Topics: R.E.M.
Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Michael Stipe with R.E.M. on Thursday. The band played old hits as well as material from its recent album, “Accelerate.”

It is but one of several acidic songs on “Accelerate,” which is musically and lyrically vigorous in a way no R.E.M. album has approached since “New Adventures In Hi-Fi,” from 1996. Less a return to form than a renewal of purpose, the album was a welcome relief, all but obliterating the memories of the meanderings of the last decade.

But even though the group — Mr. Stipe, the guitarist Peter Buck and the bassist Mike Mills — clearly wanted to make “Accelerate” a priority, performing 8 of its 11 songs, the new material, though loud and direct on record, was sometimes shapeless. “Until the Day Is Done” felt lethargic, and “I’m Gonna DJ” seemed hollow, like an unpleasant stunt. “Houston” — “about the Bush administration’s pathetic response to Katrina,” Mr. Stipe declared — was a bit too refined for its undeniable anger.

The band was most invigorating on its older, more slippery numbers, which were less about aggression than about despondence. The crowd applauded mightily when Mr. Stipe ceded the center microphone to Mr. Mills for an affecting rendition of “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville.” Mr. Mills, who had slipped on a cowboy hat over his frizzy blond hair, preserved the song’s underlying twang without overplaying it. The result was a hypnotically soft country tune; Emmylou Harris should cover it.

After Mr. Mills returned to his spot at stage right, R.E.M. stuck with the mood: an excellent version of the country-rock “Driver 8,” followed by “Harborcoat,” which was delivered with far more density, velocity and boogie than the original had. Who knew songs this small, and all more than 20 years old, would sound so good in a room this big?

Years of fine-tuning have helped, and have also honed Mr. Stipe’s onstage presence: an ironist who does not thumb his nose at his more pedestrian obligations. (He ended “The One I Love” on bended knee.) Though he rarely tested himself vocally, Mr. Stipe still occasionally thrilled, moving spastically, his limbs bending in unexpected ways, and Mr. Mills and Mr. Buck were steady as ever.

When all three jelled, as on the warm, blissful reverie “Drive,” it was an event. Over the course of the song the band steadily worked the audience into a respectful hush.

This was a show that rewarded loyalists: of the more than two dozen songs the band played, maybe six or seven were hits, and it skipped several of its most famous songs (“Everybody Hurts,” “Stand”) altogether. Wisely, R.E.M. barely touched the three albums that preceded “Accelerate,” preferring instead a more coherent and streamlined version of its history.

During the encore Mr. Stipe returned to 2004, also the last time the band played Madison Square Garden, a couple of nights after Election Day. He was wearing a white silk suit, he recalled, “ready for a victory moment” that hadn’t arrived. By this point in the encore, the band had already delivered a trim, strong version of “Losing My Religion,” a churning “Begin the Begin” and a desperate “Fall on Me.”

But before the final song, Mr. Stipe couldn’t quite help but offer one last mini-sermon. “George W. Bush is a pathetic idiot,” he said, then looked forward: “I feel very, very hopeful with 2008.” How that optimism, not historically R.E.M.’s strong suit, will translate into song remains to be seen.

R.E.M. will perform on Saturday night at the Lakewood Amphitheater in Atlanta, (404) 443-5000, before beginning a European tour on July 2 in Amsterdam.

Friday, June 20, 2008

REM -MOdest Mouse and The National at MSG

R.E.M. Setlist: (via)

Living Well is the Best Revenge
These Days
What's the Frequency, Kenneth?
Bad Day
Hollow Man
Man-Sized Wreath
Leaving New York
Disturbance at the Heron House
(Don't Go Back To) Rockville
Driver 8
One I Love
Until The Day is Done
Let Me In
Horse To Water
Pretty Persuasion
Orange Crush
I'm Gonna DJ
Supernatural Superserious
Losing My Religion
Begin The Begin
Fall On Me
Man on the Moon

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Suzanne Vega post to NY TIMES

can i just say i am loving this measure to measure blog on the NY TIMES website NY TIMES MEASURE TO MEASURE

June 18, 2008, 9:10 pm
Surviving the Hits

By Suzanne Vega

A couple of weekends ago I began what I call my “bread-and-butter” touring season. I had two shows, one in Long Island and one in Saratoga, N.Y. I had a raging head cold, but made it through and came home to check on a few days worth of e-mails.

At first I couldn’t tell what was going on. As I went to access my account, I kept seeing my own face flashing at me on my computer, in between photos of a fire at the Universal Studios and some other news item. But not a current version of my face — one from before 1990.

I wondered if my AOL shoebox of photos had burst open and was somehow leaking online in a public way. Then I read the text, which said something like, “Her first hit, ‘Luka,’ brought the subject of child abuse to the Top 40. But what was her other one? Hint: It’s catchy!”

I looked at the screen for a few minutes as it changed from my face to the fire at Universal to the other photo every few seconds. My husband, Paul, came up behind me.

“Click on it!” he said. I did, and read what followed: “This New Yorker’s poignant tale of an abused child brought a dose of social awareness to the upper reaches of the pop charts. Vega made her second and final chart visit thanks to an initially unauthorized remix of a three-year-old song about her favorite Manhattan greasy-spoon eatery, a place soon to be even better known from being featured in ‘Seinfeld’ episodes.”

“They shouldn’t say things like that about you,” said Paul.

“What?” I said. “I thought it was kind of nice.” I had missed the headline, which read: “Two-Hit Wonders!”

Oh, that.

It’s a list I have shown up on fairly often recently, so I had almost gotten used to it. Of course, he’s right, and it’s demeaning — it makes me look as though somehow I managed to squeak out those two songs and then shuffle back to being a receptionist, which isn’t true.

The way I prefer to see it is that I have had a 20-plus-year career, with a big back catalog of songs that a lot of people know, and want to hear, and yes, two of those songs were big Top 40 hits. What’s to complain about? They are like the cherries on top of the sundae. Why would I not want that? They have been my passport out of a life in an office, to a life on the road where I can go to Korea and the guy who stamps the passport says, “Are you Vega, Suzanne? Everybody knows you here.” And his eyes change with emotion when he reads my name.

So I refuse to be embarrassed by those hits. It doesn’t take away from the rest of the songs. But I have often wondered, “Why those two? Why not the others?” There were other songs just as sparkly and and shiny and major key and radio friendly like “Book of Dreams” or “No Cheap Thrill” or “Frank & Ava” and so forth. But nothing has had the longevity of those two. So far, anyway.

Why is that? I have heard both songs described as “flukes,” but I really don’t think that is the case. A lot of hard work went into their production, especially in the arrangements. Let’s look at “Luka,” for example. I had been listening to Lou Reed’s “Berlin” album — on that record he plays acoustic guitar, and a fair amount of the album is about abuse of all kinds including domestic abuse.

“Luka” was not a popular song when I would perform it back then. I would watch people from the stage. You could see their faces change as they thought about the lyrics; a frown would appear, then a general look of unhappiness, followed by a scowl directed at the floor and, at the conclusion, a smattering of reluctant applause. Then a request for something else, usually “Gypsy” or something in a major key with a chorus.

It was my manager at the time, Ron Fierstein, who plucked ”Luka” out. “Is that song about what I think it’s about?” he asked one day in the back of Folk City. My memory of that conversation goes something like this:

“I don’t know,” I said. “What do you think it’s about?”

“Unless I am mistaken it seems to be from the point of view of a child who is abused.”

“That’s right. A 9-year-old boy named Luka.”

“Where did you get the name from?”

“A 9-year-old boy who lives in my building. Who is not abused, by the way. I like the name Luka, it’s universal. It could be a girl or boy and it could be any nationality.”

“Well, I think that song could be a hit.” he said. Here I hooted at him.

“What are you talking about? Nobody wants to hear about child abuse. Nobody asks for that song. They want ‘Gypsy’ or ‘The Queen and the Soldier.’”

“It’s a song about a social issue. Songs about social issues are important. We don’t have enough of them now. This generation needs to have more.” This was in 1985.

“I didn’t write it to be be about a social issue — I wrote it as a little portrait. I hate songs about social issues. Everybody knows they don’t work.”

“Well, it is still a song about a social issue. It’s the issue of child abuse, you said it yourself. And how can you say they don’t work? We stopped the Vietnam War with the music we made in the 70’s!” he began to shout, his cheeks flushing pink.

We had a half-hour argument after that about whether songs with a social message worked or not — me taking the more cynical view that if they really worked then Bob Dylan and Joan Baez would have been able to end all wars. Was there a better anti-war song than “Masters of War”? And yet we had been at war since. Ron shouted that music was part of the dialogue of American culture, along with the marches and the protests that helped to shape the decisions of a nation.

To say I was skeptical is to completely understate it, but I agreed to start on the pre-production for “Luka.” We even decided not to put it on the first album, which I was working on at the time, but to delay it for the second one.

One of the things that happened right away is that the producer Steve Addabbo ran into a keyboard player named Peter Wood in the street. Steve played him the song and he had some ideas immediately about how it should be arranged.

My ideas are usually simple, melodically. What Mr. Wood did was to create a space for the guitar solo and changed the melody line of the fourth verse. This, I have come to realize after years of singing the song, is the emotional climax of the song, because it goes up there — “You don’t ask WHY!” — and is at the top of my range and the top of the melody.

Verse 1

My name is Luka
I live on the second floor
I live upstairs from you
Yes I think you’ve seen me before

If you hear something late at night
Some kind of trouble, some kind of fight
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was

Verse 2

I think it’s because I’m clumsy
I try not to talk too loud
Maybe it’s because I’m crazy
I try not to act too proud

They only hit until you cry
And after that you don’t ask why
You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore

Guitar solo

Verse 3

Yes I think I’m okay
I walked into the door again
Well, if you ask that’s what I’ll say
And it’s not your business anyway
I guess I’d like to be alone
With nothing broken, nothing thrown

Just don’t ask me how I am [X3]

Verse 1 repeated

My name is Luka
I live on the second floor
I live upstairs from you
Yes I think you’ve seen me before

If you hear something late at night
Some kind of trouble some kind of fight
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was

Verse 4

They only hit until you cry
And after that you don’t ask why
You just don’t argue any more
You just don’t argue any more
You just don’t argue any more.

So, when you hear the song, it’s not just one melodic idea presented the same way three times — that fourth verse tells a story, makes an arc the same way a good narrative does, and when the song concludes you feel as though you have been somewhere emotionally. This is the purpose of an arranger — to take what’s there musically and arrange the music like a puzzle — to tease out the emotions of the song and present it to the public in a way that they are “hit” emotionally. More on that later.

We did a lot of other work as well. We kept it in a major key. I had written it that way deliberately, because the stereotype of a sad little boy on a doorstep suffering in a minor key made me furious. It seemed to me that most children who are abused regularly are sad and scared in the beginning but also eventually accept it as a fact of life, as something you might even expect. There is a matter-of-factness that develops. So I chose a major key, which we kept.

Weirdly, when the song was done, that casual major-key quality sounded cheerful, upbeat and even triumphant, which wasn’t my intention. Some of it was Jon Gordon’s ringing guitar solo, somewhat influenced by U2’s the Edge. We were huge U2 fans at the time and they came to our show in Dublin in 1986. Some of it was the pop synth sound and part that Anton Sanko played me at his audition to be in the band. Those first four notes ascending sounded almost architectural in how he approached the song, and I was deeply impressed.

It took at least a year before the song was arranged, produced and burnished to the sheen that it came out with. I redid my vocal over and over again with Steve Addabbo at the controls. “Why do I have to do it again? I need to go finish my other lyrics. I don’t want to do it again.” (At that point, Lenny Kaye was helping me to finish some lyrics, especially to “Ironbound,” which I was really having trouble with.)

I was thinking of asking Lucy Kaplansky to do the background vocals — I liked staying in touch with the folk scene I had been steeped in during the early ‘80s — but I had already asked her to sing on “Left of Center” the year before. So I asked Shawn Colvin, who sounded great. My management liked her so much they ended up signing her and handled her career for years.

I was hugely distracted by trying to finish the other songs by the deadline to feel any nervousness about “Luka.” I felt that I was hanging from a cliff by my nails — a feeling I have had many times in my career. How funny that journalists sometimes write about my “relaxed recording schedule”! If your idea of relaxing is hanging by your nails from a cliff, I guess that’s correct.

I sat in on the mixes with Shelley Yackus, a top-notch engineer of that era — it was a big deal that we got him and he contributed a lot to the overall sound of the record. I encouraged him to bring out the sound of the drums. Everyone always tiptoed around the acoustic guitars and wanted the drums to sound (seem) accidental so they didn’t overshadow the guitar, but this time the guitar sound was nice and fat, so there was no reason to be so polite.

We had barely finished the album when it was scheduled for release six or seven weeks later, as I remember it. We were on the road when it came out and things changed overnight. Literally. One night we were playing the usual half-filled theaters and clubs. The next day, and every day after that, each venue was full. This continued for the rest of the year and included two shows at Carnegie Hall and one at Radio City. “Luka” had been delivered to radio and accepted almost immediately.

Why? Why the huge response? Some of it was the topic — so many people wrote me of their experiences. This has continued right up until this past weekend, when a teenaged girl told me she had been a victim of child abuse and that she really identified with the character. This was astonishing to me — that so many people from so many cultures from all over the world, including here in America, identified with the character. I had believed it was about a small personal issue, but Ron had been correct: it was about a huge social one.

A lot of it was the sound of the song, the chemistry of it, since many people had no idea what the song was about. It sounded good on the radio, sounded good before and after certain songs, all the different qualities of the production gelled in a certain way that people remembered and wanted to hear again. There was a magic about certain things — I have been told that “Luka” means “wounded” in Indonesian, for example, which I certainly didn’t know when I wrote the song.

Along with acclaim, success and hard work also came criticisms, parodies and complaints. “I don’t want to hear about child abuse when I am drinking coffee in the morning,” one guy wrote in. The worst letters were from child abuse agencies. “How dare you suggest that the child is responsible for his own abuse!” began a typical one. I threw those letters away, eventually, along with a bag of parodies, which tended to start, “My name is Loofah, I live on the bathroom floor…” Ha ha. Very funny. Next, please.

“Hit” is a good name for it — a feeling of intense communication with a huge amount of people at the same time. As with a baseball and a bat, a cracking, quick connection. As with drugs, a sudden alteration of reality. You could get used to it.

That particular intensity lasted about eight months, I’d say until Tracy Chapman appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone. “Tom’s Diner” was a hit too, after that, but proved to be a very different experience than “Luka.” It has gone on to have its own weird history of which I am very proud. More on that later. As for being a two-hit wonder — well, I think it’s better than being a one-hit wonder, thank you very much.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Capricorn Horoscope for week of June 19, 2008

Capricorn Horoscope for week of June 19, 2008

Verticle Oracle card Capricorn (December 22-January 19)
How well are you capitalizing on this year's unique opportunities, Capricorn? Now that we're halfway through 2008, let's take an inventory. Your self-image is in the midst of an exhilarating expansion, right? Your excitement about being alive is growing steadily, right? Your devotion to cultivating an inner sense of freedom is getting more intense every day, right? You have an ever-increasing clarity about what life experiences you need in order to feel powerful, right? If you're falling short in any of these projects, start making up for lost time immedia