Monday, November 29, 2010

Last Call

Daniel Okrent’s interview promoting his book Last Call was one of the ones that made me say, “I’m so glad I have to read this book!” I find the 1920s a fascinating time period, and prohibition is an exciting topic. Plus, I’ve been enjoying watching HBO’s new series Boardwalk Empire, which centers on prohibition, and my turn with the library’s copy of Last Call arrived just a few episodes into the show. I was eager to begin reading and get some more background information, which would surely just add to my enjoyment of the show. However, maybe because I’d hyped up the book, Last Call fell a bit flat.

Don’t get me wrong, Okrent is a fine historian and decent writer, and Last Call is a thorough exploration of the Prohibition period. Beginning with the initial campaign for prohibition, Okrent follows with the ratification of the 18th Amendment, the period of prohibition, and ends with the amendment’s repeal.

Last Call is filled with details about the people and events surrounding prohibition. And though I found many of these details to be, well, kind of boring, the ones Okrent hid in footnotes were delightful. It seems as though every so often he came across a “fun fact” in the course of his research that had little to do with prohibition; however, the stories were just too good not to share, so he added them in a footnote. I loved that.

But, the thing is, I expected Last Call to be a little more exciting—the “sexier” part of prohibition, if you will. I wanted less politics and more parties, less Al Smith and more Al Capone. Still and all, Last Call was a decent read and I’m giving it a 3/5. If you’re just reading it for fun, though, I recommend skimming (or skipping) the first section. Or, you know, you could just watch Boardwalk Empire instead.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Daniel Okrent (It's quite interesting!)

Buy the book

Monday, November 22, 2010

Grown Ups

You’d think, as I’m a huge Saturday Night Live fan, that I would be thrilled to see the guys from the cast of the early 90s get together for a movie. But here’s the thing, out of those guys, I truly dislike two (Adam Sandler and David Spade) feel neutral-leaning-to-dislike towards one (Rob Schneider) and like one (Chris Rock). Throw in yet another guy I could care less about (Kevin James) and you get Grown Ups, a comedy with too many leads and not enough laughs.

The premise: all these fellas were on a middle school basketball team that won a championship. Though they’ve drifted apart in their adult lives, when this coach dies, they all reunite at his funeral. (Let me drift away from the synopsis for a just a second here to talk about the implausibility of this whole situation. We’re talking about a middle school basketball team here. Could you tell me the first name of your middle school basketball coach? Would you go to his funeral? Also, this coach seemed to have no other friends/family other than the kids who were on this team. He asks that Sandler give his eulogy, Schneider sings a song—what about his children and loved ones? Hell, what about the other basketball teams he coached? – he did get a new one each year. This bothered me for the entire movie…clearly).

So these guys each bring their entire family out to this funeral for this guy they once knew, and, Sandler, feeling nostalgic, rents this lakehouse for them all to stay at. And each of these guys, of course, has their own family issues. Sandler is crazy-rich and his children are spoiled brats; Spade is a womanizer who’s never settled down; Schneider has married an old hippy (and has been a terrible father to his three grown daughters); Rock’s wife is pregnant and he has a crazy mother-in-law who lives with him; James is low on cash (and his wife still breast-feeds his 6-year-old son). Basically comedy waiting to happen…or at least that’s what these guys thought.

But the comedy didn’t pull through for me; most of it was on the fart joke caliber and the funniest line (“I want to get chocolate wasted”) was featured in the film’s trailer. Plus, I just wasn’t able to feel for any of the main characters because there were just too many of them. I couldn’t tell you a single character’s name because each family was only given a minute or two of introduction. After that, the movie is old guys trying to relieve their glory days by doing stupid stuff. And yes, that last sentence refers both to the plot of the film and its creation.

As you might expect, I’m giving Grown Ups a 1/5. If you’re a big Sandler and crew fan, maybe you’d like it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Adam Sandler & Chris Rock

Buy the DVD

A Visit to the Daily Show

Ever wonder what it's like to attend a taping of the Daily Show? Well, today, all your questions will be answered. I turn, yet again, to a Daily Shill Correspondent. This time, it's Andrea Levine, our Senior Big City Correspondent. Take it away, Andrea!

As I approached the surprisingly unassuming building that houses the Daily Show studio, one thought pulsed through me:

It smells like manure.

Once I solved that mystery (oddly located horse-drawn carriages in a not-so-scenic neighborhood), I readied my butt for a whole lotta pavement sitting. Despite a friend having secured tickets online, I was told that they overbook every show so as to ensure a full house. More than one person had recommended getting there super early to guarantee a seat, so there I was at 1:45...with about 6 people in front of me. I guess random Tuesdays in fall are not exactly peak season for eager tourists looking to be starstruck. Lucky for me I am a local who is ALWAYS looking to be starstruck, and my lone responsibility on Tuesdays is my early morning Hebrew grammar class (the only thing more riveting than a visit to The Daily Show). The line didn’t get much longer until around 3:30, at which point a bunch of young guys with very official-looking ear pieces made us stand single file against the wall as they set up stanchions. They came back a few times throughout the four-plus hour wait to explain policy, mainly concerning photos (big no-no, obviously) and the metal detector we would be going through, and that if we had to go to the bathroom we’d BETTER do it now, because if we go during the show we’re shit out of luck. (See what I did there? On an inconsequential side note, the reading material in the bathroom included "Richard Simmons’ Never Give Up: Inspirations, Reflections, Stories of Hope." I couldn’t tell if this was an intentionally tongue-in-cheek choice, but it was a great tone-setter for the evening regardless.)

I felt like the staff “bros” were a lot more intimidating than they needed to be, especially when it came to the metal detector. They warned us against holding up the line, adding that what cuts it at the airport metal detector is not necessarily going to cut it at The Daily Show. They also made a point of noting that we did not have to take off our shoes, reiterating, “this is NOT the airport.” The irony of this was that my boot buckles set off the detector, and the guy literally felt up my ankles. Not gonna lie, I felt a little like a prison least based on what I’ve seen on Oz, minus the rape and gang wars. But I digress.

I figured the studio would be small, but what really struck me was how tiny the desk was. For some reason I always thought of Jon as pretty tall, and could not imagine how his legs would fit under that thing. To the right of the desk is a very small stage which presumably was reserved for the correspondents, although our show was Jon-only. I couldn’t complain, especially seeing as how the guest was none other than Han Solo. If anything makes up for a Corddry-less episode, it’s my favorite scruffy-looking nerfherder. (Is Rob Corddry even still on the show? I have to admit, it’s been a while since I last watched. But I love me some Corddry.)

Once we were all seated we were entertained by a pumper-upper comedian named...I actually don’t remember his name. But he was surprisingly delightful, most notably in teasing the older members of the audience, of which there were actually quite a few. It was really refreshing to see the mix of people in the crowd, all successfully pumped by whatshisname.

And then...JON. Who, by the way, is not actually that tall. And IS actually that handsome. He thanked us for braving the cold, and reassured us that what with the horses being in such close proximity to the building, it is infinitely worse to wait outside in summer, stank-wise.

Jon starts every show with a brief Q&A with the audience, a great way to establish an easygoing vibe and to show us how much it means to him that we came. Questions included:

“Which hurts more, the Mets or the recent elections?”
“The Mets, for sure. That cuts to the SOUL.”


“Why don’t you use your notoriety to help affect real policy as opposed to just commentary?”
“That’s a great question...I’m better at this.”

Unfortunately, the first question came from a young girl begging for a job on his staff, resume and cover letter in hand. I thought it was pretty tacky, especially because even as Jon tried to play it off with a joke she kept pushing. He, of course, handled it perfectly, assuring her that a random stage hand would “file” the paperwork as he brushed her off. In his opening on-camera comments, he mentioned that a ticket to The Daily Show is not, in fact, a job interview. It was funny, but I was a little mad that she got the shout out, even if it was at her expense. (Alright I’ll be honest...I’m just hating on her because I’m jealous.) The fun, I-feel-like-such-an-insider part of this was realizing that the opening comments of every show are generally in reaction to this Q&A session.

Onto the show. The man is a consummate professional, and it was truly inspiring to watch him at work. It never once felt like he was reading a script...I’m honestly not even sure how much of it was scripted. His charm is genuine and effortless; he even makes cursing classy. The show is filmed in real time, and at each commercial break he chatted it up with his crew, sans any celebrity pretense or bravado. The breaks also gave me opportunities to have my requisite OHMYGAHDTHISISHAPPENING moments, which I appreciated.

Never have I had such a moment as when Harrison Ford walked in. The grandeur of said moment was interrupted, however, by the hilarity of the fact that Harrison’s pants were too short, and he was wearing pale yellow socks with loafers. His good looks may betray his age (and I assure you, they are GOOD), but the wardrobe was a gentle reminder of the fact that the man is pushing 70. I wouldn’t normally use the word “adorable” to describe rough and tough Indiana Jones, but the silly pants made it splendidly applicable.

Perhaps he was overcompensating for the hemline in his demeanor, because he seemed pretty annoyed the whole time. It was likely an image thing (he’s fucking Harrison Ford, he can do whatever he wants), but I was definitely hoping for a little more lightness; I mean come on, it’s Jon Stewart! Crack a smile! Or at least find a way to insinuate “GET OFF MY PLANE” into the conversation! (Too much? I told you, I get starstruck.) His best jibe was in response to Jon admitting that he had not seen Harrison’s new movie, Morning Glory. When asked what it was about, Harrison initially fumbled over his words, at which point Jon asked, “have YOU even seen this movie?” Ford’s deadpan reply after a beat of silence:

“It’s fucking brilliant.”

He couldn’t have been on for more than 5 minutes, which seemed like it must have been an eternity to him based on his gruffness. But it was definitely nice to have more one on one time with Jon. It really did feel like that, despite the 300 or so people in the audience. After the moment of zen (a Glenn Beck clip! Score!) Jon let us know that the show was about a minute and a half over time, and that we would be cutting a short segment and refilming its intro. Once that was finished, he gave us a sincere thank you and exited to thunderous, admiration-laden applause.

Four and a half hours of waiting, and then it was all over so fast. I’d love to be able to get back; I’m not even sure how my friend got the tickets. She joined a mailing list or something. I’ll have to look into it. Until then I’ll just borrow Highwater Harrison’s words to assure you that, horse stank and prison guard staff members notwithstanding, attending The Daily Show is everything you think it will be and more.

That is to say...It’s FUCKING BRILLIANT.

Hey all, it's Emily again! Don't you just love these essays (or should I say reports?) from correspondents? I sure do! And let me tell you, their timing is fortuitous, as grad school has been monopolizing my life. However, there is an 80% chance that another post will be made by the end of the day (and, this time, it'll be a review by me). So check back! Or become a fan on facebook (and check your news feed) and you'll get an update!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity

I was super disappointed when I couldn't make it to the rally a few weeks ago. Lucky for me, my friend Georgia Knapp made the trip from Georgia (yes, Georgia from Georgia) to DC and was willing to write about it. So, let me turn to floor over to our first piece by Daily Shill correspondent, Georgia Knapp.

I am not sure what I had expected, boarding the rally bus, but it was not the actual occupants who looked back at me as I gave the captain my reservation number. In a way, I had stumbled upon my own haven (or heaven): gay men, ex-hippies, and socially inept nerds (the kind that think interface jokes are really cool – and if you didn’t understand that then you actually are cool). One of the older women I had befriended while waiting to get on the bus hailed me towards the back and offered the window seat next to her. I had taken an instant liking to her when she first pulled up in an orange Honda Fit (I own a silver one) that was littered in COEXIST and OBAMA bumper stickers. We sat across the aisle from two older women who had most certainly put flowers in police rifles back in the 60’s and behind us were two guys bonding over Dungeons and Dragons references. Our bus captain informed us that he had never been in charge of a large group of people before, but would do his best not to lose anyone, and we were off.

Atlanta was the only city in Georgia to send buses to the rally and, from what I was over hearing from fellow passengers, it was the closest stop for many out-of-staters as well. Coming from five hours south, I believed myself to have traveled the farthest, but soon found others from Alabama, Tennessee, and both of the Carolinas. People (myself included) often joke about the South’s lack of open-minded people, but the occupancy of Atlanta Bus #1 certainly did not help to prove otherwise. Within a five hundred mile radius Atlanta was only able to scrounge up enough people to fill up two buses factoring into a little over one hundred people. And friends wonder why I refrain from vocalizing my political beliefs within large crowds down here.

The bus was full of chatter and debate, as one would expect of travelers headed to a political rally. Besides the aged hippies and computer geeks, my corner of the bus also consisted of two young hipsters (one of whom carried a stuffed white owl for no reason), two Georgia Tech students studying for an exam, and a biker-chick-divorcee. One of the hippies, Charlene, joked that we should all watch Fox News just before pulling into the capitol just so we could get riled up. Conversational topics ranged from everything between taxes, Bush, Monica Lewinsky, Rand Paul, Hugh Grant, the stereotypes of smoking and smokers (most of which were negative, which made me feel bad because no one had noticed my fellow Honda Fit seat partner had brought a pack of Camels with her), and bald vs buzz-cut men.

Lights began to turn off around midnight and through my contact lens-less eyes I could make out a sign pointing towards Clemson University just before nodding off. I woke up a few more times during the night (if our bus hit a pebble it sounded as if the entire fa├žade might crumble) only to find the Tech boys still awake. The other bus-ers finally began to stir around seven a.m. as we sailed through North Carolina.

I’m not sure what happened next. One minute we were passing a sign for the Blue Ridge Parkway and then I was awoken by a blinding light, everyone around me had sunglasses on (and I mean literally everyone), and the Washington Monument could be seen out the left windows. Our bus was oddly calm and quiet as we pulled onto Massachusetts Avenue and made our way to Union Station. Already a thick line of people with picket signs and lawn chairs were filing straight from the station to the Mall. We circled Union twice before finding a parking spot and unloading. As we departed, our bus captain assured us that our bus would remain in this spot until we were to leave at eight p.m. “If for some reason it does have to move, however,” he said, making everyone freeze and pay attention, “we have a sign posted in the window that says Atlanta Bus Number One.” And with that we all dispersed, confident in the knowledge that if our bus were to leave all we would have to do is look for the 8x11 sheet of scrawled on computer paper in the front window. That should be enough to distinguish it from the other ninety-nine buses that had shuttled over five thousand ralliers from across two time zones.

Walking through Union was about as fascinating as the dichotomies of the people on Atlanta Bus #1. It was easy to see that the entire station had been over run with ralliers as the terminal was an ocean of red, blue, poster boards, and costumes. Cardboard cutouts of Barack and Michelle Obama had been placed near a storefront and I watched as everyone posed excitedly with the couple. This was foiled against the Sarah Palin cutout, which stood opposite, that people, for the most part, pretended to strangle.

I had planned to meet some of my friends and roommates from college at the rally so I sat on a giant stone structure outside of the station and waited for the Ann Arbor buses to arrive. I could not have picked a more perfect spot to perch as this was the exact corner that everyone snaked around when marching from Union Station to the Mall. Wizards, hippies, superheroes, Nixon masks, cat women, and an infinite number of Where’s Waldos filed past me. It became hard to tell who was dressed up for the rally and who was prematurely in their Halloween costume (it was October 30th after all). A television crew from a Catholic network (I assumed they were with a Catholic network because the anchorman was dressed as a priest, but maybe that was his Halloween outfit) stationed themselves on the stairs directly below me, asking passersby their reasons for journeying to Washington. Most answers consisted of, “The country’s gone insane,” “We need to restore sanity,” and “I love Jon Stewart and/or Stephen Colbert.” Two guys around my age sat near me to display their signs: “I’m moderate as HELL!” and “One of these things is not like the other” written above photos of President Obama, Hilary Clinton, and Hitler.

When the Ann Arbor bus arrived, our group of graduated college students consisted of a 6’3” guy dressed as Karl Marx, a kid in traditional army camouflage (including short shorts and a purple bandana), a cow, a sign that read “Did Jesus have health insurance?” on the front and “You tell me! I can’t even read!” on the back and someone with a box over his head that was painted to look like a TV and had a picture of Anderson Cooper. Those of us in the gaggle not dressed up paled in comparison, but between the cow, Jesus sign, and Marx’s shock of white hair, we were able to keep up with most of the group throughout the rally; a feat that I assure you was no where near simple.

To say the Mall was packed would be an understatement. To say that it was like being one of those red crabs during migratory season on Christmas Island in South Asia (where, from a distance, it looks as though the ground is actually red instead of just being papered in crabs) is a bit more accurate. My former housemate, Jeanette, and her boyfriend, Zack, and I joined hands as we squeezed through people, keeping our eyes peeled on the Jesus sign so that we wouldn’t lose our group. There were Pro-Choice advocates, anti-Tea Party posters, people inside giant marijuana leaves, Gay Rights banners, a trio of Banana People (and that is exactly what it sounds like), and a slew of signs that were just about being signs: “Sign!,” “My sign’s too damn big!,” “I wanted to carry a sign, but couldn’t think of anything to write,” “My sign is sad,” etc.

I will say this: the crowd was the most courteous and polite mob I had ever been a part of. There was no real shoving or cutting off and if people saw that you were holding hands with someone so as not to get separated then they kindly waited until you both passed. Those who did push past people apologized saying, “Excuse me,” and as we finally found our way to the entrance of the Mall (the National Park Service had blocked off the actual Mall property with fences and port-a-potties) everyone took their turn flooding inside (like a controlled dam, if you will).

The scene inside the fences and port-a-potties was even more jam-packed, if that was possible. Some viewers were lucky enough to make it up into the trees, although how they got up the trunks whose branches didn’t even start for the first seven or eight feet is beyond me. Others stood on top of the port-a-potties, leaving the durability of the plastic houses in question. While following our Jesus sign, Jeanette, Zack, and I somehow managed to loop in front of our group. At that point we decided to stay where we were, which was about twenty to thirty yards away from the stage, in between the National Gallery of Art and the First Aid tent (incase there was a sudden stampede), and with a clear view to one of the giant projection screens that would show us what was happening onstage. The rally itself was to a level of phenomenal that I can’t even begin to describe. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert put on such a show that the liberals and conservatives within the crowd couldn’t resist but feel united for once and even in our sardine-like state everyone was cheery throughout the entire three-hour stand-athon.

Since we couldn’t actually see the stage, I took pleasure in watching everyone around me. It struck me that the age range of the crowd seemed to be sixteen to mid-twenties and then leapt to fifty through well...old. Where were all the middle-aged people? The demographic was also alarmingly pale and Jeanette and I were surprised when, as Father Guido Sarducci asked for shout-outs for different religions, the faith that got the loudest cheers was Roman Catholic. Baptists and Methodists received a medium amount, Islam got an expected supportive cry, and the religion that I shouted for, Buddhism, had so few yells that Father Sarducci thought there were none in the mass.

What most endeared me at the rally, however, were all the single parents who had brought their children. My back corner of Atlanta Bus #1 had consisted of a mother who had brought her young teenage son along and in front of my group (and sometimes surrounded by my group depending on the crowd shift) was a father who had obviously dragged his daughter to the event. The dad was full of so much glee and pride that I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Every now and then he would stop looking at the screens and turn in full circle to get a panoramic view of the historic event. Each time his rotation was ended with a comment along the lines of, “This is such a great nation that we live in.” His angst-filled daughter, on the other hand, was less than amused. Her clenched mouth, hunched shoulders and folded arms made it apparent that she (probably no more than fifteen) was not a fan of crowds and would rather seek solace in a book in her room. However, with each glance at her father, who simply beamed out over the sea of ralliers, her tension eased just a little. By the time Stewart and Colbert were having a musical war of sanity (Cat Stevens) versus fear (Ozzy Osbourne), the girl’s shoulders were completely relaxed and she was laughing right along with nearly 215,000 of her new friends.

No one was a stranger at the Rally to Restore Sanity. Everyone commented on everyone’s conversation and half the time, a question to Jeanette or Zack was answered by someone behind us. We laughed together; we cheered together; we even all shook our heads shamefacedly when a point was made that neither political side was wholly in the right: democrats, liberals, conservatives, and republicans attack each other with as much gusto and prejudice as the opposing side.

In the closing remarks, Jon Stewart made an analogy to something I found extremely appropriate to the crowdedness of the rally. On the giant screens appeared an image of the entrance to New York City’s Holland Tunnel as cars merged from multiple lanes into one single flow of traffic. He said that the way in which the cars let each other go one at a time was a display of the decency that we, as Americans, needed to show one another. It didn’t matter the make and model of the car or what bumper stickers it displayed, each vehicle yielded and shared the space. Every now and then some jerk will pull up along the shoulder and cut everyone, but there are people like that all over the world. The trick is to not become one of them.

“We know, instinctively, as a people, that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light, we have to work together. And the truth is, there will always be darkness. And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the Promised Land. Sometimes, it’s just New Jersey.”
– Jon Stewart

It's Emily again! Thanks so much for that, Georgia! When I asked Georgia to give the rally a rating from 1-5 (because why not?) she said, "I would definitely give the rally a 5. It was handled beautifully, the performances were fantastic, and all the speeches were amazing."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Due Date

I was cautiously optimistic when I went to the theater on Saturday to see Due Date. With the combination Robert Downey Jr's bad-ass sexiness and Zach Galifianakis' consistent humor, Due Date's cast appealed to me. But the story also seemed a whole lot like 1987's Planes, Trains and Automobiles-- a movie that I certainly enjoy, but do not need to see remade.

The initial concept seemed all too familiar. In their attempts to fly from Georgia to LA, Peter Highman (Downey Jr) and Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis) get placed on a no-fly list thanks to Highman's angry reaction to Tremblay's idiotic antics. Highman needs to make it home to LA in three days for the birth of his son, but is unable to rent a car because his wallet is with his luggage on the plane. Enter Tremblay, a wannabe actor headed to "Hollywood," ready to save the day with his rental car (and complicate it with the coffee can filled with his dad's ashes). Despite Tremblay's clear deficiencies as a travel companion, he is Highman's only option, so the two embark on a cross-country roadtrip. Hijinks ensue.

For the first half hour of the movie, I was thinking, "Yeah, yeah, this is funny, but nothing new." And then, with a surprise sucker-punch, the movie starts to go a little nuts. Highman gets a little crazier than initially presented, Tremblay continues to become wackier, and the problems their trip poses stop being typical travel mishaps. It was just what the movie needed to become its own.

One of the things that impressed me the most about Due Date was how it dealt with the more tender scenes that most comedies stumble over. Due Date sneaks into them: what starts as a joke morphs into a moment where you really feel for one of the characters. Then, just as you start to get in a little too deep, Galifianakis says something ridiculous and you're laughing again.

Due Date is doomed to be compared to The Hangover, as they're both directed by Todd Phillips. Though I did like The Hangover better, Due Date is certainly worthy of being packaged with it in the nostalgic comedy box-set that will be released in another 15 years.

Due Date is a dumb movie, but a good kind of dumb. (However, be warned, if you're like my sister and don't like Galifianakis, this is not the movie for you). I give it a 4/5.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Where am I? When will I return?

“Hey, Emily!” you may be shouting, “Whatever happened to the Daily Shill? Why did you do all that publicity like creating a facebook page and e-mailing your relatives if you weren’t going to post for weeks?”

I tell you, it wasn’t intentional. I’m in my first semester of grad school, and the workload over the past few weeks has really gotten to me.

“So what?” you may respond, “Are you ever coming back?”

The answer, my friends, is yes. I have less than 100 pages of Daniel Okrent’s prohibition left to complete, and I hope to see Due Date this weekend. So come back in a week or so (or check the Daily Shill facebook page) and I bet you’ll find a new review or two.

“But Emily,” you may whine, “I still want to read some reviews.”

Very well. Here are links to some of my older reviews.

A book I liked: A Captain's Duty

A book I didn't like: Staying True

A movie I liked: The Kids are All Right

A movie I didn't like: Cop Out

A TV Show I liked: Louie

A TV Show I didn't like: The Ricky Gervais Show

You could also browse the list, and click on the crossed-out titles to read their reviews.