Thursday Trivia (on Friday!): “The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh”

The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh is a funky movie, in every sense of the world. Starring Julius Erving as Moses Guthrie, star player on the then-struggling, then-Pittsburgh Pythons, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh is an out-there basketball film with a few touches of astrology and a downright fantastic soundtrack back from the days of funk and disco. But one of the coolest scenes is in the final throes of the film, when the Pittsburgh Pisces, the team renamed after wild success for a lineup centered around Moses’s astrological sign, when the team enters the Pittsburgh Civic Arena through its retractable roof via hot air balloon.

The Civic Arena is no more – the Consol Energy Center has since replaced it – but it’s important to note why, exactly, the arena had a retractable dome. (No, it wasn’t to play arena football outside for the stupidest oxymoron ever.) The arena’s original tenant was the Civic Light Opera, who used the retractable roof to perform  under the stars in good weather (which they did from their inception in 1946 to 1958), and in an enclosed theater in bad. They performed at the arena from 1961 until 1969 (in spite of what would seem to be downright atrocious acoustics), afterwards leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins and Pipers ABA team as the building tenants.

Four more facts related to The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh after the jump! Continue reading


Music Monday: Indie Soundtracks

(Ed. Note: Tonight’s going to be a busy night work-wise, so I’m pushing back the retrospective to tomorrow.)

There’s been an interesting trend over the past few years – instead of having folks like John Williams or Hans Zimmer score major films, popular – or not so popular – recording artists are taking over. Take last year’s Academy Award-winning score for The Social Network, by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and Atticus Ross:

Nine Inch Nails is a fairly popular band, so let’s go even deeper, to Karen O’s soundtrack for the fantastic adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are (which I hold was a great film, but a terrible kids’ film):

Recently, Andrew Bird scored the soundtrack for the indie film Norman – which included “Night Sky,” a reworking of his song “The Sifters”:

The best of that soundtrack, though, may not be Bird’s – it’s probably Chad VanGaalen’s song “Rabid Bits of Time”:

Thursday Trivia: Winnie-the-Pooh

As I write this, I sit close to the original site where the dolls of Winnie-the-Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet, and the rest were displayed. A.A. Milne (who wrote the series for his son) donated the puppets to the publisher E.P. Dutton, who in turn donated them to the New York Public Library about 40 years later in 1988. They were first on display at the Donnell Library Center, then the largest circulating library in the NYPL system, across the street from MoMA on 53rd between 5th and 6th. Despite multiple requests from the British Parliament to return the dolls to the UK, they remained under bulletproof glass in the Donnell Building – until 2008, when they were moved 11 blocks south to the children’s room of the Library’s main branch.

Four more facts on Winnie-the-Pooh after the jump!
Continue reading

Thursday Trivia: “The Room”

The 2003 independent film The Room is, frankly, a sight to be seen. It may be the most unintentionally funny film ever. Tommy Wiseau – the film’s writer/director/producer/executive producer/bizarre evil genius who has been aptly described by the Nostalgia Critic as the bizarro Fabio- stars in the film as Johnny, a banker (or so they tell us – we never actually see him working) whose life falls more or less apart for no particular reason. Except instead of sympathizing with Johnny, we laugh at him – repeatedly, and with greater vigor than the rest of the characters – for Wiseau’s bizarre elocution and sheer lack of dramatic acting ability. Take this small bit for example (some questionable language here):

Anyway, I’m not in the market for criticizing The Room (actually, I kinda am), I’m here to bring some trivia to the situation. Here’s five facts about “the Citizen Kane of bad movies”:

  • According to an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Wiseau noted that he gained some of the $6 million importing leather jackets from Korea. (What he did with the jackets was a mystery. Most likely, though, he sold them.)
  • Kyle Vogt, who played Peter, Johnny’s psychologist friend, left midway through the taping – so instead of writing him out of the plot, the lines were given to Greg Ellery, whose character Steven is never introduced or explained. (Not shocking, considering the film has myriad subplots that go unexplained and unresolved.)
  • Juliette Danielle was 18 when she was cast as the part of Lisa, Johnny’s unfaithful wife – actually, according to The AV Club, the actress originally slated to play Lisa quit, with Danielle being handed the role (most likely by none other than Greg Sestero, who did casting, was later cast himself by Wiseau as Mark, Johnny’s best friend and Lisa’s eventual lover, and later appeared on Fashion House, the first of the magnificently-panned MyNetwork telenovelas)- making the multiple love scenes between her and Wiseau that much creepier than they appear on film.
  • Speaking of those love scenes, the slow jams featured in the film were sung by Clint Gamboa, who appeared last year on American Idol.
While you’re getting your Room fix, head on over and play the Flash game based on (read: entirely co-opting) the film, and possibly pre-order Greg Sestero’s memoir for when it comes out in 2013.

Top 5: Movie Musicals

James Franco at the Harvard Yard to receive hi...

James Franco has nothing to do with musicals...yet. He's just here because he's a cool dude. (Image via Wikipedia.)

As Greg Proops often says on The Smartest Man in the World, I’m a heterosexual male…though I make little case for it. I maintain a multitude of bromances (that towards Random Musings‘ favorite polymath, James Franco has been one noted here); have often contended that Rachel Maddow and Kate Moennig are attractive females (probably not the general thinking of the American male populace, but I don’t particularly care either way); and, though not at the level of the many Broadway fangirls I know, I greatly enjoy musicals. (Currently I have three different musical soundtracks on my iPod – Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, The Book of Mormon, and the downright adorable 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – I usually have 1776 and most of Les Miserables on there, too, but I haven’t fully reconstituted my iTunes library, so they remain absent.)

But we’re not talking about musicals here; we’re talking about movie musicals! While at times different from their stage counterparts (for the record, I have a big-tent point of view on movie musicals in the first place – you’ll see a Disney movie on the list here), movie musicals can bring a story all their own – and sometimes can be even better than performance on the stage. Let’s begin with the #5 position on the list…

5. The Sound of Music (1965)

To be honest, the Rodgers and Hammerstein movies were a little weak, considering their source material (though Carousel’s kind of an underrated film – or at least oft-overlooked – and The King and I is pretty good, though largely due to Yul Brynner). This one, though kind of absurdly long at almost three hours (it has a goddamn intermission, for goodness’ sake!) is quite enjoyable. Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer prove impeccable as Maria and the Baron Von Trapp, and it’s a lot of fun to see Maria influence the kids while the Baron is away. Plus, any film in which the Nazis lose (however indirectly and indecisively) seems to be fairly enjoyable.

4. Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog (2008)

The result of the 2007 writer’s strike, Dr. Horrible is less a movie musical and more of a musical webseries (it only clocks in at 42 minutes in three acts, though it really packs in the music, with 11 unique numbers – plus another 13 other songs for the DVD commentary alone), but it is brilliant. Combining a superhero-villain rivalry for the ages between Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) and Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), some downright hilarious comedic lines, and a spirit of hokeyness and a genuine “let’s put on a show!” morale, Dr. Horrible earned a Creative Arts Emmy (albeit, as director/co-writer Joss Whedon noted, for basically “Most Incomprehensible Category”), probably the first time that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded something to an Internet series.

Continue reading

Music Monday: Tiny Desks and Take-Aways

Ed. Note: In the time between writing up the Week in Preview post and the writing of this post, I decided to expand the scope of this post to include some of my other favorite performances on the internet in a different web series.

It’s always great when you get to hear a fantastic musical act perform live. It’s even better when they’re performing just a few feet away from you, in your office or on the street. That’s kind of why NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts series and French videographer Vincent Moon’s Take-Away Show are just so damn brilliant – they take top-shelf musicians, place them in by and large odd places, and have them just perform as they normally would – creating a spectacle that goes beyond the music itself.

The Tiny Desk Concerts began in March of 2010 as they do now (latest Tiny Desk Concert featured Wilco), literally at the desk of Bob Boilen, co-host of NPR Music’s flagship show, All Songs Considered, at the NPR headquarters in Washington. It’s basically a private concert for the workers in the NPR office (though, as you’ll hear in the concert below, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists “was always under the impression that these things were done while everybody was trying to work”), broadcast to the world.

One Tiny Desk Concert performer was actually quite the match for the setting: John Darnielle, heart and soul of the Mountain Goats, alone with his guitar.

The Take-Away Show, on the other hand, generally throws both Moon and the performer(s) into a different setting, just like this performance by REM, one of five songs Moon released on La Blogotheque, performed in Michael Stipe’s car in Athens, GA:

And finally, my personal favorite of those I’ve seen, Andrew Bird walking along Montmartre in Paris performing “Weather Systems,” which is just a remarkable show of Bird’s sheer talent.

Top 5: Favorites from “100 Years…100 Movies”

Actor Charlton Heston, president, American Fil...

Charlton Heston, classic actor/late-in-life crazy person. (Image via Wikipedia.)

If you’ve read this blog for more than thirty seconds, you would know I enjoy watching movies. Since I’ve only come into my own as a young person, though, there are still quite a few films on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Movies” list that I haven’t seen. (As of the 2007 list – which is what I’m going by for this Top 5 – I’ve seen 25% of them…or 25 films. MATH!) To cull the list  down to 5 favorites, I had to pare off a few really good films – from Dr. Strangelove (ranked number 39) to Raiders of the Lost Ark (#66) to The Graduate (#17) to Toy Story (yes, Toy Story – #99 on the list, and a new addition in 2007). In any case, here are my five favorites among the AFI’s best:

5. A Night at The Opera (#85 – 1935, dir. Sam Wood)

While I’m actually a bit more attached to The Marx Brothers’ A Day at the Races (source of the famous “tutsi-frutsi” scene), that’s not on the list – so I have to settle for A Night at the Opera. I certainly don’t mind settling, for the record – it’s a downright absurd film, as the Marx Brothers were wont to make, with Groucho Marx playing the wisecracking Otis B. Driftwood, a smarmy socialite, and Chico and Harpo each playing stowaways to New York, where the film takes place.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird (#25 – 1962, dir. Robert Mulligan)

Along with The Wizard of Oz, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the few films to do its adapted work justice – in its case, the novel by Harper Lee, written two years prior. While the film can boast fantastic source material, a great screenplay by Horton Foote and probably the greatest dad in the history of film, Atticus Finch (played by Gregory Peck), it’s the portrayal of Scout and Jem Finch (by Mary Badham and Philip Alford, respectively) that is its true crowning glory. By casting real kids as real kids, they elevated a classic work of literature that much higher. Continue reading

Stuff I Dislike: “Shippers”

I know the whole concept of wanting two fictional characters to start messin’ around with each other has been around for a while (probably since the days of when soap operas were on radio), but it’s really only been since I’ve become a member of communities of those who enjoy certain works of fiction (Harry Potter, Star Trek, &c.) that it’s really come to annoy me.

The main crux of my issue with it is this: those who are “shippers” completely miss the point of the canon and the characterization. They forego enjoyment of the emotional, yet not romantic, bonds (or, in some cases, forego acknowledgment of a lack of emotional bonds entirely) between the characters in order to fulfill some infantile urge to see them go and date and stuff. For example, all of the Harry/Hermione shippers (hell, those in the Ron/Hermione camp as well before Rowling made that part of canon) pretty much gave up looking at our three heroes from Gryffindor House as having an incredibly strong friendship, constantly growing in the face of greater and greater danger, so that instead a couple of them could make kissy-faces at each other. (Also, yes I said kissy-faces and I stand by its use!) The only thing that’s worse in the HP world are “Dramione” shippers (tangentially related – can we just stop making portmanteaus for couples? That’s really gotten on my nerves), who seem to be Team Edward/Team Jacob rejects with an IQ slightly higher than some Twilight readers (honestly, people? How can you possibly come to the conclusion that calling Hermione anti-Muggle slurs is some sign that he secretly pines for her? Like, what the hell?).

This post has gotten far too nerdy, even for this blog, so I suggest you head over to Tumblr for this type of stuff. I’ll see you all tomorrow for the Top 5. In the meantime, enjoy my cover of M. Ward:

Thursday Trivia (on Friday!): James Earl Jones

James Earl Jones at the Governor's Ball after ...

James Earl Jones is awestruck at his own awesomeness and downright shocked to be covered on Thursday Trivia. (Image via Wikipedia.)

While James Earl Jones has been in the theater for over 50 years (he’s won two Tonys and earned the Kennedy Center Honors for his work), what may be his most memorable role in the public eye went uncredited for 20 years. When he did the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars: A New Hope and the Empire Strikes Back – a move deemed necessary due to David Prowse’s accent – he requested that he be uncredited; when Return of the Jedi came around, basically everyone knew that Jones was responsible for the voice, and was credited for that film. By the 1997 re-release of the first two films, Jones was credited for the voice of Vader, too.

Four more facts about James Earl Jones after the jump!

Continue reading