popular thinking

hopelessly devoted to deconstructing popular culture and conventional wisdom, one blog at a time

God bless us, everyone

Merry Christmas, everybody! Unless, of course, you don't celebrate this day in a religious or secular manner, in which case, happy pagan holiday to you. If you're Jewish, then not only am I late to wish you a happy Hanukkah, but I really should've said something to you on Yom Kippur. If Kwanzaa is your thing, then you'll have to share with the Boxing Day people, and I hope you're cool with that. It's not Ramadan, as far as I know, but I wish you all the best the next time you bow to Mecca. And if you're going door-to-door today to tell the good people you've witnessed Jehovah, man, you've really picked the wrong day to do that, so God bless you. Unless, of course, you don't believe in God, in which case all hail the higher power -- which qualifies for athiests in any kind of 12-step recovery process. And if you don't believe in a higher power, then happy Monday. Or whatever day it may be on your calendar/sun dial.


Rocky, Rambo and Poe, oh my: One-on-one with Sylvester Stallone

By Sean L. McCarthy
Sylvester Stallone has defied critics by stepping back into the boxing ring one more time as Rocky Balboa, which opens today as a fittingly corny tribute to his cinematic icon. Stallone hopes to defy conventional wisdom once more with a fourth Rambo movie. Then he’ll set his sights on Edgar Allan Poe.

No, really. For at least the past 25 years, Stallone has said he has wanted to make a Poe biopic, and when he met me earlier this month, he said Poe remains atop Stallone’s to-do list. Why Poe?

Stallone, 60, traced back his interest to a pre-Rocky visit to the New York Public Library, when a security guard showed the young Sly around the archives. “He brought out some writing from Poe, and the way it was constructed,” Stallone said. “Poe used to split his page in half and glue one end to the other, kind of like a roll of paper so you could get more words on it…it would go on for 20 feet. And I just got hooked on it. I went home and started reading about him, and that he was America’s most misunderstood artist, and I thought misunderstood youth, misunderstood. I like that. He had two personalities. He had his public one and his private one. Sounds like a few people I know.”

Sounds like Stallone is claiming he’s misunderstood, too.

“A little bit, a little bit,” he said. “But the more I read, the more I realized that (Poe) truly had an incredible genius. But I felt it represented not just me, it represented just about everybody. You know, people think they know you, because you have a public workplace face, and then you have the private face. And it’s two different things. He’s got an interesting take. I wanted, maybe I could write about that.”

In Rocky Balboa, Rocky describes how people eventually become part of their surroundings. So much of this movie sounds autobiographical, leading viewers to wonder when Stallone is speaking for himself and when he is speaking as Rocky.

“I think it’s safe to say they’re interchangeable throughout the entire series,” he said. “The only one (that wasn’t) was in Rocky V, where I really didn’t tap into what I was feeling at the time, and the character was not emoting anything that was pertinent to the audience, meaningful to the audience, and the film suffered for that. And for years and years I have felt this regret. That is why it was so important for me to have the character go out the way it should’ve gone out. See, Rocky, there should’ve been no V, this should’ve been V.”

How important is it as an artist and as a person to write your own farewell script? “That’s a good point,” he chuckled. “Yeah, I suppose, that’s rare. It has been of the utmost importance to me. It has been so important that I consider this to be the most important film I have ever done. Because it’s the one I put in what I’ve learned in life. When I did the first one, Rocky, I really didn’t know that much about life, and Rocky himself was naïve. This fella here is worldly. As you get older, you deal with loss, grief, profound subjects in your life, so this one was by far the most enjoyable for me.”

Writing his own experiences into the film just felt right. “There’s no getting around it,” he said. “I was influenced when I was 12 years old – I went to Jack Dempsey’s restaurant. And I saw him standing, telling stories, sitting by the cash register, behind him was a mural of him fighting Jess Willard, which we duplicated in Rocky Balboa, with him fighting Apollo Creed and telling stories. That’s where an athlete lives. He lives in the past quite often. And Rocky wouldn’t have minded doing that for the rest of his life if Adrian was still alive, it’s just it takes on a sad tone now. But yeah, I think, see, Rocky is a unique experience to be a part of, because the character really strives to be autobiographical. That’s what makes it work. But there’s always been, since the beginning, you know, is Rocky the first one my story? Yeah, in a way it was. I’m trying to get recognized as an artist, they say, oh, that’s not such an interesting thing. Yeah, well, put him in the body of a fighter. And then you realize what made it work is everybody is an underdog. Everybody. Even billionaires think they’re an underdog. Everyone has this…There are very few overdogs in the world.”

Stallone even wrote the debate over his Rocky statue into the script. It has appeared at various times atop the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, moved over to the Spectrum, and recently found a new spot near the bottom of the museum steps. “I just thought that was a funny line,” Stallone said. “But Rocky’s response to it, when (Paulie) goes, ‘Oh, What are you mad because they took your statue away?’ He goes, ‘Noooo!’ Paulie doesn’t get it. Rocky is not that superficial. He doesn’t care about the statue. He’s dealing with these life and death issues and his brother-in-law’s thinking about really superficial ones.”

Stallone maintained he’s OK with the statue where it is now: “I never thought, never thought the statue should be at the top of the museum steps, ever. I collect art. And I think a museum and the art council should have a say-so in what goes there. Especially in that spot, which would I think distract from the architecture of the building. You know what I mean? They would’ve put something there if they wanted it. When they placed Rocky at the bottom of the steps, off to the side, which doesn’t impede on the, you wouldn’t even know it was there. It’s perfect. I was more than happy.”

As for the Rocky franchise, which opened 30 years ago with a Best Picture Oscar, Stallone said he got a bit lucky, coming along at the right place at the right time. “It all came together at a particular time in the 1970s, when there was an abundance of anti-heroes. And a lack of sentimentality,” he said. “When you think about the films that Rocky was up against (Taxi Driver, Network, All the President’s Men, Bound for Glory), of the group, that’s the one that really was more fantasy-driven, and incredibly idealistic. The other ones are fantastic, you know. Believe me, I couldn’t believe we won.”

Some would say they cannot believe a 60-year-old could or would box again, even in an exhibition match. But Stallone pointed to Larry Holmes, who fought into his 50s. George Foreman famously made a comeback in middle age. And then there are pro wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, still grappling to the point where they’re old enough to be their opponents’ fathers. Does Stallone feel any sympathy for the Hulkster, who he faced in Rocky III? “In his heart his body is trashed and savagely beaten up, and his shoulder’s demolished,” Stallone said of Hogan. “But there’s a part of him that’s just, he doesn’t need the money. He just wants to be part of the parade. And I get it. I love people like that because for him, to climb up those three steps, is hard. You know. He’s going to take a beating. People say wrestling is fake. But you can’t fake gravity. And I’ve been in there with him, and I know, when you hit the canvas, it hurts!”

Stallone is proud to know he not only created a movie character known around the world, but also an icon who has served as inspiration for a generation of boxers. “I like to say that I thought that was part of the grand scheme of things, but I feel incredibly blessed to have tapped into something, by accident, that they can relate to,” he said. “And it’s the same thing that everyone who watches the film relates to, is that Rocky is not gifted. He’s not exceptional. But he is brave. And he has heart. He’s fearful, but he still performs and I think that’s the way I am and that’s the way most people are. I’m scared, but I’m going to do it anyway.”
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I don't have fever for the flavor of My Games Fever

Richard Huff of the NYDN weighed in today on the new FOX-TV daytime game show, My Games Fever. I'm not sure Huff conveyed just how god-awful this two-hour program is. It's as if someone said, well, we got folks hooked on Sudoku, and people will watch home shopping channels, so why don't we just produce a live, 120-minute word-game show? Yeah, it's that bad. It airs weekdays from 1-3 p.m. in Boston on FOX25. The day I watched, the two hosts clearly didn't know what to do with the lengthy dead air, waiting for someone -- anyone -- to call in with an answer to the puzzle. And every viewer would guess incorrectly. And then the hosts would try desperately to fill the time with anything to make you think you were actually watching a shopping channel, when really, 'twas merely a word puzzle. No need to stay tuned for the final answer. It's not worth it.

My Lil Reminder: Worst Lil Invention

The past few days, the TV keeps showing this horrible commercial for My Lil Reminder, and I feel like I need to say a few things about it.

"Where did I park my car? Oh! No!" I mean, really, now. If this lady cannot remember what kind of car she drives, and where she may have parked it, she has other issues that a digital voice recorder cannot quite solve. And the acting is atrocious.

I'm sure if you want an audio Post-It note, it might make some sort of sense, but when I see the high school student dictating her homework into the recorder, I have to wonder, why doesn't she just dictate the answers into Her Lil Reminder for quiz time?

You might be confused

If you read today's Herald, you might think I'm still working there. The newspaper published my happy fun feature today on the nightlife industry's bowling league at Kings. Read it and weep! OK, then. You read it. I'll weep.

Journalists are too lazy for rocket science

Journalists are supposed to be genuinely curious folk by nature, and yet they prove time and again how lazy they are by falling into dumb, simplistic writing habits. Case in point: Boston/NYC band, The Bon Savants. My friend, Bon Savants frontman Thom Moran (seen below standing taller than his bandmates through no genetic fault of his own), and I joked two weeks ago about this as his band celebrated its wonderful new CD release with back-to-back concert parties at Great Scott in Allston, Mass.

For info on the Bon Savants and the debut CD, Post Rock Defends the Nation, check out the band's MySpace page. Then go out and buy it. Good stuff.

I congratulated Moran for running the Boston media table in the week leading up to the CD release parties, with a story appearing each weekday in a different paper (Monday in the Metro, Tuesday in the Herald, Wednesday in the Dig, Thursday in the Phoenix and Friday in the Globe). He said having a publicist (who they found in NYC) certainly helped. So does an easy, hand-delivered pitch, like the fact that until earlier this year, Moran worked in rocket science in MIT. Care to guess how all the stories began? No need to. I'll give you a recap of lazy journalism at work, or not at work, as the case may be...

Nov. 9, Los Angeles Times: "Never tell a rocket scientist "it's not rocket science" — particularly a guy who issues a short treatise on how music defies the Second Law of Thermodynamics along with a copy of his album."

Nov. 20, IGN.com: "For those who say rock is not rocket science, meet Bon Savants. Lead by an honest-to-God rocket scientist (at MIT, no less), Bon Savants could not perform straightforward bland rock if they tried."

Nov. 28, Boston Herald: "Lord knows you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to play rock ’n’ roll. But you can be. “Science is more creative than most people give it credit for being,” said Thom Moran, vocalist for Bon Savants and an MIT-employed rocket scientist."

Nov. 29, The Dig: "Thom Moran is a genius. But he’s also a moron. I know, it’s confusing, but let me explain. When Moran isn’t rocking Boston and the rest of the nation with his noisy, tuneful Bon Savants, he is an, ahem, MIT rocket scientist. Seriously."

Dec. 1, Boston Globe: "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand or appreciate the Bon Savants. Good taste, and a predilection for Pulp and the Magnetic Fields, will do. Besides, the Boston band's already got one in singer-guitarist Thom Moran, who splits his time between writing songs and conducting engineering research at MIT."

C'mon, guys and gals. You can do better than that. Even playing off the band's name is less cliche than the rocket-science angle. But I suppose you'll talk about how Moran and Co. are good scholars when they make the rock 'n roll Honor Roll, right?

And for the record, if you journos were paying attention, you would've known that Moran took leave of his MIT gig earlier this year to concentrate on the band, a nationwide tour, and other projects. So many of you are not only lazy, but also incorrect. Then again, you have jobs. Argh. Posted by Picasa

The Clapper Plus?!

Have you seen the latest TV ads for the Clapper Plus? Yes, for those people for whom clapping is just toooooo much effort. Why put your two hands together when you can just press a button? Presenting: Clapper Plus.

And for you pop culture history buffs, here is the lowdown on the original Clapper, courtesy of Joseph Enterprises (it's also the 25th anniversary of their Ch-ch-ch-chia Pet, don't you know). For the online TV spot, the company updates most everything except for the classic 1984 bit with the old lady in bed, who simply falls asleep immediately after clapping off...THE CLAPPER. If you need a refresher of those old-tech days, watch this 1984 ad below.
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Golden Globe nods, first impressions

My initial thoughts on today's nominations for Golden Globe Awards by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association...winners announced Jan. 15, 2007, on NBC.

Best Picture, Drama: Babel (weighty gloom = awards recognition), Bobby (more because everyone loves RFK and seeing his real-life footage made anyone yearn for a different ending, and not because Emilio Estevez is a genius), The Departed (it's that good), Little Children (see Babel formula) and The Queen (jolly good, even though Lady Di still dies in the end, or the beginning -- hope I didn't spoil it for you).
Note that neither of Clint Eastwood's Iwo Jima movies made the final cut. Neither did the 9/11 movies World Trade Center or United 93. Those foreign press people just don't love America, do they...

Movie Actress, Drama: Penelope Cruz (muy caliente), Dame Judi Dench (muy not so much), Maggie Gyllenhaal (grittiness always is a plus in awards season), Helen Mirren (aging it up) and Kate Winslet (as always).

Movie Actor, Drama: Leonardo DiCaprio vs. himself (South African or South Boston accent, it's a toss-up), Peter O'Toole (a chance to reward the old man), Will Smith (given), Forest Whitaker (critic's choice).
Where's Matt Damon? Don't worry. Oscar may still give you a chance. Daniel Craig? Sorry, too, Mr. Bond. They loved you, just not that much.

Best Picture, Comedy/Musical: Borat, The Devil Wears Prada, Dreamgirls, Little Miss Sunshine and Thank You For Smoking.
That standing ovation at Cannes for Kevin Smith's Clerks II seems like a lifetime ago, especially for Mr. Smith. Memo to Beerfest: You were as outrageous as Borat, but more like the frat guys who got their hats handed to them by Sacha Baron Cohen. Jack Black will be angry at first, then enjoy how this just makes him more of a cult classic.

Movie Actress, Comedy/Musical: Annette Bening (despite her turn on SNL last weekend), Toni Collete (as a lead?), Beyonce (say her name, say her name), Meryl Streep (who'll likely win if Bening doesn't), and Renee Zellweger (um, OK). I'd rather add Anne Hathaway here somewhere.

Movie Actor, Comedy/Musical: Sacha Baron Cohen (he acted and sang, mind you), Johnny Depp (in a repeat performance), Aaron Eckhart (sorry, but you're up against Borat), Chiwetel Ejiofor (sorry, but you're up against Borat), Will Ferrell (sorry, but you were more dramatic than funny in this movie, and you're up against Borat).

Animated Movie: Cars, Happy Feet, Monster House (go with the one that's not about cars or penguins, please)

Foreign Language Movie: Apocalypto (that's Mel Gibson's Apocalypto), Letters from Iwo Jima (that's Clint Eastwood's, oh, you get the idea) The Lives of Others (Germans), Pan's Labyrinth (makes me dizzy), Volver (makes me dizzy, but in a good way)
Notice how two of these movies were made by Americans, who are foreign in the eyes of the foreign press, and not in English, so I guess that sort of counts...right?

Supporting Actress, Movies: Babel lady, Cate Blanchett in a non-Babel role, Emily Blunt (as the funny evil co-worker in Prada), your winner Jennifer Hudson and someone else from Babel.

Supporting Actor, Movies: Ben Affleck (as Superman, er, I mean, George Reeves, but hooray, he's back in good graces!), Eddie Murphy (who was pretending to be James Brown 25 years ago), Jack Nicholson being Jack Nicholson, Brad Pitt, and Mark Wahlberg in his best role ever (even including Boogie Nights).
Alec Baldwin also could've gotten a nod here, so let's hope we see his name later on this list.

Director, Movies: Clint Eastwood vs. Clint Eastwood (you want that in English or Japanese?), Stephen Frears (in the Queen's English), the Babel guy, or the man, the myth, the legend, Martin Scorsese, who should get a slew of awards this time around, finally.

Screenplay, Movies: More Babeling, Little Children, Notes on a Scandal, The Departed or The Queen. Again, I'd say The Departed, but you never know.

Movie Score and Song, I'm skipping you for now. Sorry.

TV Show, Drama: 24 (yay!), Big Love (OK), Grey's Anatomy (eh), Heroes (yay!) and Lost (yay, but clearly the press has more patience than us fans do at this point).
Friday Night Lights, which I just got into, is a great little drama. Everyone I know who watches The Wire (not me) says it's the best. I like Dexter, too, but maybe that's because I'm weird. House is good, too. There's a lot to like, though, so some folks just get stuck.

TV Actress, Drama: Patricia Arquette sees dead people and criminals, Edie Falco hopes she's not going to end up dead, Evangeline Lilly is pretty Lost, Ellen Pompeo talks in voiceovers way too much, and Kyra Sedgwick has a great role as The Closer, so she should close this one out.

TV Actor, Drama: Patrick Dempsey is McDreaming if he thinks he'll win, Michael C. Hall as Dexter (that's some consolation), Hugh Laurie as Dr. House (crankypants), Bill Paxton in Mormon Country, or Keifer Sutherland saving the world, again.
Pretty solid, though Denis Leary gets passed over this time, as do his F/X counterparts from The Shield.

TV Show, Comedy/Musical: Desperate Housewives (which I've stopped watching, so there), Entourage (overrated, but not as much as the previous show here), The Office (hooray!), Ugly Betty (yes, funny, too), and Weeds (eh).
What does this say about the state of TV comedy? Bad things. Wasn't Extras on HBO this calendar year? Or they could've put South Park in there.

TV Actress, Comedy/Musical: Marcia Cross, America Ferrera, Felicity Huffman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mary-Louise Parker. Ugly Betty wins?

TV Actor, Comedy/Musical: Alec Baldwin in 30 Rock proves he has a real knack for this comedy thing, in case you hadn't noticed, Zach Braff, Steve Carell will give Baldwin his main competition, Jason Lee (isn't really all that, at least in this role), and Tony Shalhoub needs to share trophies more often.

TV Supporting Actress: Didn't see her, didn't see her, Katherine Heigl as the hot doc Izzy, Sarah Paulson pretending to be funny but not really, or Elizabeth Perkins. I give up.

TV Supporting Actor: Thomas Haden Church is no longer wingin' it, Jeremy Irons is good, Justin Kirk is unknown to me, Masi Oka is a superhero in my book, and Jeremy Piven is great and all, but he's no superhero.

Fire at the Sahara

A commotion in my South End neighborhood, yesterday at about 3 p.m., centered on the old Sahara restaurant at 296 Shawmut St. The building had been vacant for years. Recently, though, contractors have cleared the back of the building, and they were back at work inside the building late yesterday morning. Somehow they managed to start fires both on the roof and in the dumpster out back. Well, that's one way to speed up the gutting...

Do you think these firefighters are having any fun? I think the guy hanging off the end of the dumpster is, mostly because he doesn't have to trudge around in there.

Everything is OK now. I think. Posted by Picasa

Anatomy of a layoff

If I'm moving out of the denial phase to recognition and acceptance, you might think I'd use the blog to get a lot off my chest, rant and whatnot. But that's not as productive as you might think. It wasn't my fault. I had a good run at the Boston Herald. Actually, a very good run. Made a lot of friends. Interviewed a lot of famous people (more about that later). But the paper as a whole has struggled financially, despite its talented writers and workers, in trying to compete with the changing times. Bostonians can get their news for free in print and online. I know many people who read my Herald stuff online rather than paying the 50 cents for the paper. And if you (and I) couldn't see the writing on the wall, then you (and I) weren't paying attention. Just take a look at these reports leading up to the layoffs...

Oct. 30: New circulation figures are out, covering the six months ending Sept. 30. Herald's daily circulation down, from 230,000 to 203,000.
Nov. 10: Editor & Publisher, in a story on Globe union voting, notes layoffs at the Herald "could be expected."
Nov. 22: Boston Business Journal and the Weekly Dig report on alleged layoffs in my department. Two of the people sit right in front of me.
Nov. 27: Again, from E&P, reporting that Ken Chandler, the editorial director, is leaving the Herald at year's end. This is the quote from incoming EIC Kevin Convey: "On the one hand, I aim to try to keep the paper vital in print by focusing on enterprise, attitude and pop culture as well as by maintaining its traditional strengths in news, sports and business," Convey said in a statement. "On the other hand, finding ways to translate the paper's particular appeal to the web is a key part of the job as well. And all of that has to be done in one of the most challenging business environments this industry has ever experienced." That first part sounded promising for me. That second part? Promising, too. I'm online right now. That last part, about the "most challenging business environments" for newspapers? I have a sneaky feeling I'm going to hear those words again quite soon.
Dec. 5: E&P reports that Herald publisher Pat Purcell promotes his daughter Kerry Purcell to the newly created position of director of content development for Herald Interactive. Kerry sat two desks away from me. It's getting awfully lonely over here.
Dec. 6: The Weekly Dig digs into the Purcell matter, as they are wont to do over there. But the end of the paragraph reports thusly: "If our tipsters were right, at least part of the next round of layoffs will be focused on A&E staffers with the least seniority." Wait a second. I'd celebrate two years at the Herald next month. You don't think they could possibly mean, oh, geez, if their tipster is right, then they definitely mean...
Dec. 8: E&P reports on the Herald's latest layoffs.
Dec. 8: The Weekly Dig finds out about me. So does Boston media critic Dan Kennedy, who thought my "cheeky sensibility is the sort of thing I thought they wanted at One Herald Square." Cheeky sensibility? I'll take that.

And I'm sensible enough to know it's time to move on.

Talk about "cheeky sensibility"

Longtime Boston media critic Dan Kennedy says I have a "cheeky sensibility," and this blog post sure won't change his opinion any. Over the weekend, I found myself staring at a lot of things inexplicably. The staring, I could explain. But not staring at a package of Charmin brand bathroom tissue. Apparently, that's what they call their toilet paper. At any rate. Back to the Charmin package. Everything is described in both English and Spanish, which I suppose is a nice, helpful thing, although probably more than necessary, considering it's, well, bathroom tissue. Then again, on the back, the package lists a phone number (1-800-777-1410) and a Web site, www.charmin.com, in case you have any questions about your Charmin.

Obvious No. 1 question: Is it safe to now squeeze the Charmin?

But I had other questions...Why do you have four different sizes: Regular Roll (Rollo Regular), Big Roll (Rollow Grande), Giant Roll (Rollow Gigante) and Mega Roll (What, no Spanish translation?)? Actually, that's not quite as baffling as the notion that Charmin also offers, yes, four different kinds of bathroom tissue.

"Choose the right Charmin for you." OK. Let's make a decision, based on these descriptions...

Ultra Soft: Our Softest Touch & Most Absorbent
Charmin: Squeezably Soft & Strong
Basic: Softness, Strength & Value Rolled into One
freshmates: For a Cleaner Clean than dry tissue alone

Hmmm...decisions, decisions. OK. I'm clearly in denial. No, not about my bathroom tissue needs. Though clearly, methinks the people at Proctor & Gamble are putting much too much thought into bathroom tissue. And clearly, I'm putting much too much thought into this blog post, when I could have something else to talk about. So let's move past denial.

At least now I have time to resume this blog

Always look on the bright side of life, eh?

Now I really don't have an excuse for why this blog is not getting regular updates. Developing. Why are you looking at me like that? Still developing. OK. That's enough development for today. Much more to come in the near future.

In the meantime, if you're looking for me, e-mail me at seanlmccarthy@yahoo.com


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