Thursday, March 27, 2014


The At Large Blog is no more, but never fear: You can pick up the action over at Pete's Pop Culture, Parenting & Pets Blog. Meanwhile, we will keep the At Large Blog archives available here to be pored over by subsequent generations.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Column: For Roger Ebert, sometimes bad was bad

Reading about bad movies should not be this melancholy an experience.

After all, the whole point of reading Roger Ebert's collections of zero- to two-star reviews is to revel in the ineptitude (“The Last Airbender”), the excess (“Battle: Los Angeles”), the sheer, well, BADNESS (“Basic Instinct 2,” pretty much anything featuring Adam Sandler) of the cinematic misfires catalogued therein.
He's published three: "I Hated Hated Hated This Movie," the more succinctly titled  "Your Movie Sucks," and his latest -- the one I’m working through now -- "A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length.”

Of course, this latest volume has a sad distinction the other two didn’t, in that it's his last. As you probably know, Ebert passed away April 4 -- eerily enough, about a week after I ordered the book, and just a day before it arrived in my mailbox.

For a while, I’ll admit I avoided opening it. I’ve read most of Ebert’s books -- from his early collections to his “Great Movies” series to his fantastic memoir “Life Itself” -- and I couldn’t stand the idea of there not being another to add to my shelf after I finished this one. But I could resist for only so long, and less than halfway through it I’ve already found myself LOL-ing over lines like these:

All About Steve”: “How does [Sandra Bullock] choose her material? If she does it herself, she needs an agent. If it’s done by an agent, she needs to do it herself.”

Conan the Barbarian”: “The film ends with a very long battle involving Conan, Khalar Zym, Tamara, and Marique, a sentence I never thought I’d write.”

Footloose”: “The film’s message is this: A bad movie, if faithfully remade, will produce another bad movie.”

Hatchet II”: “Tickets are not cheap and time is fleeting. Why would you choose this one? That’s a good topic for a long, thoughtful talk with yourself in the mirror.”

Even as much as I’ve loved Ebert’s work, I had no intention of writing a tribute to him -- plenty of other, better writers (and a few worse ones) did that soon after he passed. But as I’ve been reading this last collection, it’s had me rethinking what’s drawn me to his writing over the years.

Like everybody else who wasn’t a reader of the Chicago Sun-Times, I first discovered Ebert on television -- I actually watched him on PBS as a kid, when he and Gene Siskel would sometimes discuss a single movie for 10 minutes, and there always seemed to be a very real risk (hope?) that they would finally come to blows. By the time they were following David Letterman around suburban neighborhoods on “Late Night,” “Siskel & Ebert” seemed more like TV characters than critics.

But like a lot of other Ebert fans, I eventually came around to his writing -- and could he ever write. His reviews weren’t Film Quarterly think pieces, typed a few lines at a time in between thoughtful stares out the window and sips of mineral water: They were tight epistles written on a daily deadline, which made their insight and wit all the more impressive.

And it’s true there were a lot of movies he didn’t like -- but his reviews of those films weren’t nasty, even if some people went about collecting “Ebert’s meanest reviews” after he died. Instead, his incredulous plot-skewerings and sardonic observations were more like a tribute to the good movies stuck inside those bad ones, struggling to get out. (Well, maybe not “Hatchet II,” but the other ones.)

What I’m realizing now more than ever is that Ebert knew that movies could be trenchant, transcendent, even life-changing -- like any number of the subjects of his “Great Movies” essays, from “Casablanca” to “Vertigo” to “Taxi Driver.” So movies that lazily squandered their opportunity to even try to reach those heights made him downright angry -- and made him feel like if the movie refused to entertain, he would at least make sure his review did.

In fact, given his pure love of the craft, it’s hard not to appreciate the sacrifice he went through: suffering through enough bad movies to fill three volumes, so we didn’t have to.

And for that, I felt a need to offer my belated thanks. I’ll probably never see most of the movies in "A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length,” but I’ll likely want to pull the book from my shelf through the years and read the reviews again, and again. Though he may be gone, Roger’s reviews of films both good and bad -- thanks to his uncanny ability to tap directly into the heart of how movies can move us, and how we feel on those occasions when they don’t -- will never get old.

Unfortunately, you can’t say the same about “Footloose.” (Either version.)

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

MUSIC: Frank Turner shows his scars on 'Tape Deck Heart'

It seems that Frank Turner is feeling a little run-down these days.

Not that you’d know from his music -- his explosion of folk-punk and salty balladry is as fresh and expressive as ever. But on his new album “Tape Deck Heart” (Interscope), his lyrics are rife with allusions to personal scars both emotional and literal, a cocktail of frustration, desperation and scorching defiance that makes for one of his most pungent collections to date.

The rough-and-tumble odes to love and country on Turner’s last disc, 2011’s “England Keep My Bones,” seemed almost regal in comparison to the loud but downtrodden laments on "Tape Deck Heart.” “I’ve been dipping in my darkness for serotonin boosters, cider and some kind of smelling salts,” shouts the emotionally ailing narrator of “Recovery,” and it’s the winding trip down the “long road out to recovery from here” that provides the album’s backbone.

Turner’s always at his best when marrying punk sensibility with folk melodies, and these tracks are no exception. On “Four Simple Words,” the album’s nod to rock ’n’ roll salvation, music hall piano gives way to full-out punk frenzy as he dismisses fair-weather rock fans: “If the hipsters move on why should I give a f--?” he asks, and who can argue?

In fact, there seems to be a new resignation in the profanity of “Tape Deck Heart”: “Plain Sailing Weather” is another driving shouter in which Turner simultaneously brags and laments his ability to “f-- up anything,” and the F-bombs also fly in the folky lost-opportunity ballad “Good & Gone,” landing squarely on Hollywood (and, oddly, Motley Crue) for promoting false expectations among dreamers.

Turner’s ire and melancholy is mostly reserved, though, for the women, past and present, who’ve abandoned him, let him down or otherwise slipped out the back: the nameless girl of “The Way I Tend To Be” whose perfume he detects in a crowded space; Amy on “Tell Tale Signs,” who’s taken to task for the scars she’s left and for refusing to grow up; his fellow “sinking ship” on the wistful “Anymore,” whom he’s finally gotten the nerve to tell how he doesn’t feel.

All of this makes “Tape Deck Heart” sound like a downer, and it does have its tough moments. But something about Turner’s spirited delivery and anthemic arrangements pushes it, finally, into the realm of the hopeful.

To paraphrase one of his earlier songs, Turner still believes in the healing power of rock ’n’ roll, old friends and even true love, if you’re lucky enough to track it down. Being able to follow him on his rough and rambling search for it is a tonic in and of itself.

Monday, April 29, 2013

At Large Fake News Monday: 'Splash' Mishaps Jeopardize 'Celebrity Chainsaw Juggling'

HOLLYWOOD (CAP) - An injury suffered by Baywatch star Nicole Eggert on ABC's reality diving show Splash - the latest in a series of mishaps on the set - has producers rethinking plans to go forward with Celebrity Chainsaw Juggling, set for debut this fall.

"Up until now, we hadn't really thought beyond the fact that putting B-level celebrities in situations where they could be gravely injured or killed was ratings gold," noted Chainsaw producer Martin Shafer. "Well, okay, C-level celebrities."

However, "We never really thought about what would happen if they were actually gravely injured or killed," Shafer said, acknowledging that it would probably still boost ratings, but only temporarily.
Celebrity Chainsaw Juggling was set to feature actors Dustin Diamond, Tara Reid and Reginald VelJohnson, singer Courtney Love, Ukrainian pentathlete Boris Onishchenko, "Cathy" cartoonist Cathy Guisewite and former CBS anchor Dan Rather, whose 2006 reality show with O.J. Simpson was cancelled after three episodes.

In the show, world famous juggler Michael Moschen was to train the celebrities on dangerous juggling tricks, starting with maces and axes and working their way up to flaming chainsaws.

"It probably wouldn't be good if Dan Rather wound up on the business end of a flaming chainsaw on national TV," admitted Shafer, noting that if it were Sam Donaldson it would be a different story.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Friday, April 12, 2013

Column: Netflix remedies our sharing shortage

Yes, my life SEEMED complete -- I was already sharing every song I listened to on Spotify and every book I read on Goodreads, so that the full breadth of my cultural savvy could be consumed instantaneously by all my friends and acquaintances. No need to thank me -- your awed admiration for my good taste is all the appreciation I need.

But I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing, and as soon as I got the press release from Netflix,  I knew what it was: a “new Netflix/Facebook integration” that “lets Netflix members see what their friends have watched.” That sound you just heard was thousands of closet “Bridalplasty” watchers fainting from embarrassment. (You know, the show where brides-to-be compete for free plastic surgery. And no, that is not a typo.)

I’ll admit I was skeptical at first, given that most Netflix press releases involve them charging you more money for less service and expecting you to thank them for it. But this time they’ve hit it right on the head: What Netflix needed was a way to share its users’ every preference, rather than, say, movie choices that are better than these actual films featured on my Netflix Instant homepage:

“Bad Ass” (2012): “Loosely based on a true incident, this tale follows a lonely Vietnam vet who bravely takes on two menacing hoods on a bus.”

“Fire When Ready” (2011): “A firefighter becomes an avenging angel when he challenges New York’s underworld with his bare hands and a hose.”

“Iron Sky” (2012): “The Nazis retreated to the moon in 1945. Now, they're launching an invasion of Earth!”

OK, one of those was fake -- but probably not the one you think. Regardless, we’ll now have the opportunity to let our online friends know the minute we’ve watched one of these fine movies, or inadvertently clicked on one of them, an occurrence familiar to anyone who’s ever accidentally watched 45 minutes of “Extreme Couponing.” (Er, not me ... other people.)

I of course signed up for this new feature immediately so that my online friends would have the benefit of seeing my “Recently Watched” queue, which currently contains the following:

1) 10 old “Walking Dead” episodes

2) That’s it.

Unfortunately, though, my friends are apparently embarrassed about their viewing habits, or inexplicably opposed to broadcasting their every move, because almost none of them have gotten on board. As a result, my ability to “connect with friends over TV shows and movies” has been sadly limited to one guy, we’ll call him Jeff, who apparently likes pretty much all the same stuff I do. So ... Way to go, Jeff!

Meanwhile, while I wait for my other friends to sign up, I thought I could suggest some additional services that could be useful if we’re really going to reach our full sharing potential as a society. For instance, something that broadcasts our prescription medications as soon as they’re filled, so people can compare notes on their ailments and treatments. (“OMG, I’m on clindamycin phosphate too!” etc.)

Or maybe our supermarket purchases, so we know whether or not our friends are buying store-brand cereals (seriously, “Crispy Hexagons”?). Or something that posts all of our bodily functions in real time, because my 11-year-old son would find this hilarious. Or how about sharing every article we read the minute we read it? Wait, they already have that? (Note to self: Stop taking those online Cosmo quizzes.)

All of these would definitely come in handy, because let’s face it: At the end of the day, we’re JUST NOT SHARING ENOUGH. If people don’t get with the program, I’m going to have to do something crazy, like make my movie decisions based on my own personal tastes. Well, and Jeff’s.

Wonder what he would think of “Bad Ass”? Er ... I just clicked on it accidentally.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

At Large Fake News Thursday: Survey Says Catholics Upset Over Pope's Catholic Views

WASHINGTON (CAP) - American Catholics this week, while generally happy with the newly elected Pope Francis, expressed disappointment that the new head of the Catholic Church insisted on espousing such Catholic views.

A new study out of the Pew Research Center said that while 74 percent of American Catholics approve of Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio's appointment as pontiff, almost 60 percent wished he held different views on abortion, premarital sex, contraception and same-sex marriage.

"Most respondents questioned why the pope has to be so darn Catholic, to use a phrase that came up over and over again," said Pew spokesman Dr. Francis Spitznagel. In addition to those issues mentioned above, most Catholics weren't thrilled with the new pope's views on adultery, masturbation and "pretty much any of that sex stuff," said Spitznagel, again quoting the study.

"Just once I'd like to see a pope who didn't have a problem with premarital sex," said Carole Thomson, 29, who describes herself as a "devout Catholic" who nonetheless has never married and has had 19 sexual partners, some of them women.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Massachusetts State Rock Song: Why does no one ask us about these things?

It’s a controversy the likes of which we haven’t seen since the debate over the official Massachusetts donut (Boston Crème, duh): Legislators are grappling over what classic ditty should be crowed the state’s Official Rock Song. How we’ve lived without one this long I’m not sure.

The brouhaha began when state Rep. Marty Walsh, D-Dorchester proposed the state adopt “Roadrunner” by The Modern Lovers (fronted by Natick’s Jonathan Richman) as its official rock anthem.

On the plus side, the song includes a fair number of local references and declares, “I’m in love with Massachusetts.” On the other hand, the only people who actually know this song are that small subset of rock fans who were listening to WBCN in the summer of 1976 and weren’t so high that they’ve since forgotten everything they heard.

Apparently unsatisfied with Walsh’s pick, state Reps. James Cantwell, D-Marshfield, and Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, filed a bill Monday nominating Aerosmith’s “Dream On” for the honor. It’s obviously a slightly better known song, albeit lacking any Massachusetts-specific lyrics (or anything-specific lyrics … it’s basically just about singing, and dreaming, and more singing).

The reps cite how it was written by “Marshfield resident Steven Tyler,” but it’s worth noting that Tyler (nee Steven Tallerico) is actually … brace yourselves … a native New Yorker. (I know because my aunt went to high school with him in Yonkers. No, seriously.) Can we really have a state song written and sung by someone who grew up a Yankee fan? Also, when he sings “Dream on, dream on, dream on” at the end, windshields have been known to crack.

The other problem with these picks is they display a clear south- (and southwest-) of Boston bias. Where’s the North Shore love? It’s time one of our local legislators jumped into the fray, and I have the perfect song to do it with: “Rock and Roll Band” by Boston. I lay out the argument here:
  1. It’s sung by Brad Delp, an actual native of Peabody.
  2. It has a local reference, i.e. “just another band out of Boston.”
  3. They may have met a sad end, but the band’s name is Boston, for crying out loud.

So listen up, candidates in the April 2 special election for Peabody’s new state rep: Better make this your first order of business, before the state loses its ability to rock!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Column: Putting the 'do' back in doo-wop

Hear ye, hear ye! I come in praise of the sh-booms! The shu-wops! The bom-diddy-boms! The ring-a-dong-dings! (Well, not so much that last one, but all those others.) I’m talking about doo-wop, that marriage of R&B and early rock ’n’ roll that started on city street corners in the 1950s and had doo-wah-diddied its way into the oldies bins by the time the Beatles got here.

I was reminded of my longtime romance with doo-wop by “Acapella,” the new album by Kenny Vance and the Planotones, which showed up in my inbox earlier this month. Vance, a founding member of Jay & The Americans, is clearly a man on a mission: He’s recorded some of these classics before, but never sans instruments, and his sheer love and appreciation for the songs is palpable — from the first bom-bom-bom of The Cadillacs’ “Zoom” to the last “wee-hee-eee” of the Flamingos’ gorgeous “I’ll Be Home.”

In between, Vance and his group go deep on oldies that most people probably haven’t heard unless they’re among the group that popped the originals onto their turntables 50-plus years ago.

“I felt like it was time to do a tribute to the days when we started,” Vance says, and on “Acapella” he nails numbers by such long-forgotten groups as The Charades, The Collegians and The Paragons (not to be confused with The Paradons, who are also represented here with a silky-smooth version of their one hit, “Diamonds and Pearls”).

Even though I’m not part of the demographic who heard these songs their first time around — KISS, Queen and Foreigner were on my school-bus soundtrack — I’ve had a soft spot for doo-wop as long as I can remember. And for that I have to credit my father, who was growing up in the Bronx when Dion DiMucci was just a guy from the neighborhood, not the frontman for The Belmonts.

To hear my dad tell it, pretty much any group of guys with the inclination could (and would) gather on the street corner and form a doo-wop group. He even recalls doing a doo-wop competition with his sister and two friends at Mt. Carmel Church Hall in the Bronx, a gig that he thought went well until the other groups got up — all of them made up of “black kids who sounded like they should have been on the radio,” my dad recalls, laughing. “We didn’t even stay for the rest of the contest.”
Even if his doo-wop career stalled by high school, though, he retained a love of the music that ensured a steady diet of oldies on our family stereo: WCBS-FM in New York was in its heyday, and Sunday nights featured “The Doo Wop Shop with Don K. Reed,” played every week in its entirety in our living room.

Even as a kid, there was something that struck me in songs like the Five Satins’ “In The Still of the Night” and Vito & the Salutations’ souped-up version of “Unchained Melody.” First and foremost were of course the tight-knit arrangements of nonsense syllables that made up the backbone of every track. Beyond that, though, was the way the songs captured the simple joy of a bunch of guys singing in a tiny studio (or possibly a bathroom) — the production was simple and the lyrics were almost always of the you-true-blue variety, but that was part of the charm.

“Acapella” is certainly slicker than any of those early records, but Vance — who at 69 somehow manages high notes and harmonies that would be impressive for someone a third that age — captures their heart and soul. True to the originals but not slavishly so, The Planotones imbue songs like the rollicking “Zoom Zoom Zoom” and the smoky “Mio Amore” with sparkling, vibrant personality.

Vance also somehow avoids the Lite-FM vibe of a Manhattan Transfer or the college a cappella group smarm that can neuter these songs’ street-corner grittiness. Don’t take my word for it, though — here’s what my father, the erstwhile doo-wopper, had to say after a few spins through “Acapella”:

“As someone who’s familiar with most of the original renditions of these songs, I tend to be disappointed when they’re covered by another group,” he admits. “With this album, I found I enjoyed some of the songs just as much as the originals.” When the doo-wop is this good, he points out, you don’t miss the instruments.

Dad’s favorite from “Acapella” is “You Cheated,” which he describes as “unbelievably true” to the 1958 original by The Shields. But the whole package, every track, is true to the doo-wop spirit that helped fuel early rock ’n’ roll: Close your eyes and you may even find yourself back shu-bopping on a Belmont Avenue street corner — whether or not you were there in the first place.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Column: Faking it on Facebook

You may have sometimes wondered why certain people spend so much time on Facebook. There are several possibilities, including:

1) To get as many pictures of your children onto the Internet as possible, so strangers know what they look like;

2) To let people know the awesome word you just played in online Scrabble;

3) To keep up with friends who you’d cross the street to avoid if you saw them coming;

4) To suffer acute feelings of misery and loneliness, not necessarily in that order.

If we’re to believe a new university study, that last one may be more likely than you’d think. According to Reuters, the study found “one in three people felt worse … and more dissatisfied with their lives” after viewing their friends’ profiles on Facebook. Those people are clearly doing it wrong.

After all, the only way your Facebook friends are going to have more appealing lives than you is if you fail to keep up with their level of meticulously crafted fraudulence. Because, as Mark Zuckerberg often says, Facebook isn’t about the life you have, it’s about the life you PRETEND to have. (OK, he doesn’t actually say that, but I’m sure he’s thinking it.)

Take this finding from the study: “Vacation photos were the biggest cause of resentment.” This jealousy is completely unwarranted, because no matter how awful your vacation is, you can usually get your family to look happy at least long enough to snap a few pictures — perhaps because you’ve bribed or threatened them, or because they just saw Grumpy fall off the Mickey’s Soundsational Parade float. (Which, admittedly, would be funny.)

People then post the pictures on Facebook with the caption, “Another great vacation day with the fam!” This is code for, “Here are the three minutes when we didn’t look miserable,” which you should remember before starting into your spiral of depression.

Here’s another one: “Women were more likely to envy physical attractiveness.” Next time you find yourself jealous of how good someone else looks on Facebook, please remember we live in the age of the digital photo. That means people can consider dozens, even hundreds, of pictures of themselves before finding that very special one that — thanks to a quirk of lighting, shadow and the fortuitous placement of a potted plant, and possibly Photoshop — makes them look like a vaguely blurry Gisele Bundchen.

That photo is immediately posted on Facebook, and the others are deleted with prejudice, having committed the crime of being, you know, accurate. (I’m told this problem has spilled over into online dating, because instead of posting pictures that show what they actually look like, many would-be daters are posting pictures of Gisele Bundchen. And that’s just the men.)

Then there’s envy over “How many ‘likes’ or comments were made on photos and postings.” This one is tougher, because while you can pick your friends you can’t make them like you, or your photos of your very special children, or that thing you found on the Internet with the angry cat on it. (Which, admittedly, is pretty funny.)

Your best bet here is to try to inspire the “guilt like” (and its corollary, the “guilt birthday greeting”) by liking as many of your friends’ posts as you can, thus making them feel obligated to like you back. Barring that, some people have been known to create fake Facebook profiles and use them to elevate their like counts. (Er … Not me. Other people.)

I suppose the other thing to keep in mind is that the respondents in the study were from Germany, where misery and loneliness are recreational activities, like whist. But no matter where you’re from, I would think a good remedy for Facebook depression might be to shut it down, go outside, and try to “like” a few things in the real world.

Or on Twitter. I hear Kim Kardashian’s on there.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Column: One man’s hit is another man’s ‘Les Mis’

If you’re a card-carrying male person, you know there are only three kinds of Hugh Jackman movies that are acceptable for you to see:

1) Movies in which he slashes evil mutants with his adamantium metal claws;

2) Movies in which he kills vampires with a giant crossbow;

3) See No. 1.

Not included on that list, you’ll notice, are movies in which he spends hours singing into the camera at such an immediate distance that it’s impossible not to notice his unkempt nostril hairs. (Or dapper graying curls, depending on whether at that moment he’s a starving parole breaker or an aging reclusive single father, or possibly the mayor. I lost track somewhere in there.)

I’m referring of course to the movie adaptation of “Les Miserables,” in which Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean is basically singing the entire time, whether he’s dragging ships to shore, running his factory or visiting Anne Hathaway in France’s dingiest hospital, where she’s dying in a teary-eyed, short-haired kind of way. Fortunately for Jean Valjean, everyone around him is also singing (even Russell Crowe!) so none of this seems out of the ordinary.

Now you might think I went to see this film because my lovely wife dragged me there, but I actually went because I just happen to be a fan of “Les Miserables” – I’ve seen the musical three times, and I dare say that I even find it, well, stirring. Yes, I know that may call into question my masculinity and my artistic preferences, not to mention indicating an unusually high tolerance for bombast.

I first saw “Les Miserables” in Boston when I was in college for the same reason that college students do everything – because I could get discount tickets. (No, not because I was drunk – if that were the case, I would have gone to “Cats.”) It didn’t take me long to realize that not only did Les Mis have a pretty compelling story, but it was just epic enough to truly lend itself to full-throated warbling. Plus, muskets!

Not that I’m a full Les Mis apologist. There are a few things I’ve found off-putting about the musical to this day, including:

1) Marius. He’s a drip, what with all his love-at-first-sight gushing when he should be figuring out how to load his musket. Of course, that makes him a perfect match for Cosette – together they make the drippiest couple in musical theater history, and that includes Emile and Nellie in “South Pacific.” (Er … I had discount tickets!)

2) I can’t figure out the math – every time I add it up Valjean comes out to be about 200 years old, and yet he can still carry grown men through sewers for days on end. (Although the next day he wakes up and can’t lift his valise, and 20 minutes later, spoiler alert, he’s dead, so there you go.)

3) Let’s face it, it’s a lot of fuss over bread.

Still, it’s pretty gripping for a musical, and I can’t really imagine a way the movie could have done a better job adapting it. Jackman has this uncanny ability to project an inner sincerity, even when he’s slashing mutants, so he’s an ideal Valjean. And Hathaway is certainly good at conveying “distraught” – she generates more close-up actual tears than all the other actors put together. Although it was admittedly pretty close.

As for Crowe, he’s not the greatest singer in the world, but he does a nice job projecting the sense that if you didn’t fully appreciate his performance he might reach through the screen and smolder you to death. It’s a lot better than Clint Eastwood’s singing in “Paint Your Wagon,” which, spoiler alert, is exactly how you’d imagine Clint Eastwood’s singing.

Regardless, though, I’d argue that even if “Les Miserables” is flawed, it’s impossible not to get caught up in the sweeping story of redemption and the soaring (if bombastic) music that goes along with it. I challenge even the most manly audience members, the ones who thought Liam Neeson was too wishy-washy in the “Taken” movies, to listen to Valjean and company sing “One Day More” and not feel at least a little bit stirred.
And don’t worry: If it makes you uncomfortable, you can just close your eyes and think about crossbows.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

IN AND OUT 2013: All the rest

We admit, the Overly Attached Girlfriend meme makes us nervous.
Of all the things that are in, we’d be hard pressed to find something more in than frozen yogurt. That’s the only explanation for the glut of frozen yogurt establishments bursting from the ground fully formed, like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. By process of elimination, that would probably mean ice cream is out … But just try getting between us and our Chunky Monkey.

Tablets, particularly iPads, are in – people carry them around now like your gym teacher used to carry around that stupid clipboard. But don’t worry, your smartphone is still in, at least until they figure out how to attach an iPad to the side of your head while you drive. And now that everyone has a tablet, laptops are on their way out, and all the desktop computers have now been dismantled and turned into yogurt shops.

As far as the types of phones that are in, Blackberries are now being used primarily to keep napkins from flying off picnic tables, and even the iPhone has lost some of its sheen since the iPhone 5 wound up requiring all sorts of new chargers and cables. (Chargers and cables are out.) The Samsung Galaxy is the new in hip phone: We know that because the commercials tell us they are. Commercials are in.

Online, creating memes and then distributing them via Instagram is in. Knowing what both of those things are is also in. Sorry, grandpa. Also, we’re seeing less and less class among students as more colleges move out of the classroom and onto the Web. In a related story, interacting with other humans is out, but you already knew that.

By now, tiny electric cars that fit approximately one and a half passengers were supposed to be in. That hasn’t seemed to work out, unless they’ve been crammed inside all the minivans and SUVs. Minivans and SUVs are in, and as a result, so are giant, Cristal Brut-filled swimming pools in Saudi Arabia.

Speaking of spirits, Pabst Blue Ribbon is out and exotic micro-beers are in; contrary to popular belief, they do not come in tiny little mugs. The HBO show “Game of Thrones” even has its own beer, which presumably comes with a lot of swearing and gratuitous nudity.

Among the kids, iCarly is finally off the air, and with it its entire cast of mean lunatics. Mean lunatics are out – sorry, Nickelodeon. Bridgit Mendler of Disney Channel’s “Good Luck Charlie” is in, but as a singer, since all Disney stars are required to sing, dance, act and sleep in a box in the studio until needed for another show or concert tour. And “Gangnam Style” is finally on its way out, now that it’s been permanently imprinted on our teenagers’ brains; it’s playing there right now on an eternal loop, which would explain a lot.

And finally, learning everything you missed all year from our in-and-out column is in. Who needs other news sources? Cue pending apocalypse, again.

Peter Chianca is editor in chief for GateHouse Media New England’s north-of-Boston newspapers and websites and author of “Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums.” Follow him on Twitter at

Monday, December 31, 2012

IN AND OUT 2013: Sports

In: Physical education

For sports fans, learning is in: In 2012 we learned about the dangers of concussions, what “blood doping" is, the difference between sanctions and the “death penalty” in college football, and how many owners and hockey players it takes to settle a contract (lots, apparently). And as a result of those things, helmet-to-helmet contact, cycling, bowl games and hockey are all out. Especially if you’re trying to do them all at once. Multi-tasking is out.

We’ve also learned everything there is to know about Fenway Park, which is in thanks to its 100th anniversary. Fenway stands as a testament to the park’s wonderful and storied history, and to the fact that nobody’s ever been willing to put up the dough to build a new one. As to what goes on INSIDE Fenway Park … More of that below under “Out.”

Football, though, is in: Sunday Night Football is the highest-rated show going, even higher than Monday Night Football, because let’s face it, by Monday night we’re already exhausted. Tom Brady remains the in quarterback, with his supermodel wife, perfect little kids and steely good looks. So what if Eli Manning beat him in the Super Bowl? Winning the Super Bowl is out.

In other Patriots news, tight end Rob Gronkowski is in even though he’s been out: Fortunately, even though he’s been off the field, we’ve had plenty of Dunkin’ Donuts commercials to keep us from going into withdrawal. Oh, Gronk, you’ve done it again! Dunkin’ Donuts is in.

We’ve also learned the ins and outs of fantasy football, which is even more in than real football, at least among people looking for yet another way to distract themselves from their families. You know who you are.

Fantasy basketball is out, but real basketball is in, especially as long as hockey is out – if it weren’t for basketball we’d have to watch professional wrestling. (Professional wrestling is out.) LeBron James is back in despite ticking off all of Cleveland because, let’s face it, nobody is really concerned about how Cleveland feels. Cleveland is out.

And finally, we learned the tearful, inspiring back-stories of hundreds of Olympic athletes, who all had one thing in common: We forgot about them as soon as the Olympics ended. The exception is Michael Phelps, thanks to his 19 medals, and those Subway commercials. Subway is in.

In general, though, the Olympics are also in, because otherwise how could we justify them pre-empting all those episodes of “America’s Got Talent”? Talent is out.

OUT: Cheating and skipping class

Claiming that they weren’t really doing it and besides, everybody else was doing it is no longer the in excuse for dopers, steroid users and people who’ve been injected in their buttock regions by friends, co-workers and acquaintances. You know who you are.

Most out of all of these is Lance Armstrong, who has single-handedly dragged cycling squarely into the out column, much like Tiger Woods did to golf a few years back. By the way, golf: Still out.

They didn’t cheat, but when it comes to baseball teams, you can’t get much more out than the Boston Red Sox, who decided about three-quarters of the way through the season that the best way to deal with their problems was to trade away the entire team and put uniforms on the guys sweeping up peanut shells from the grandstands. So far, so good! By the way, manager Bobby Valentine is WAY out, but peanuts are in.

As for the class-skippers, those would include hockey players – although in their defense, they were actually “locked out,” so couldn’t show up if they wanted to. (Being locked out is in.) And technically they really are working, just in Sweden and Finland. Sweden and Finland: also in, but hockey remains out.

For a while, also AWOL were the NFL referees, until their replacements, in a few short weeks, almost managed to turn the entire institution of professional football into a smoking crater. Maybe now we’ll learn to appreciate the real referees! Naaaaaah.

Tomorrow: All the rest

Friday, December 28, 2012

IN AND OUT 2013: Entertainment

Admit it, you want to live with these people.
IN: History
Maybe it’s that we tend to cling to the familiar during tough times, or that nobody’s had an original idea since sometime last century. (Original ideas are out.) But there’s very little in the current world of entertainment that doesn’t seem at least vaguely reminiscent of something that came before, in most cases because it’s EXACTLY THE SAME.

Case in point: Of the top 10 movies of 2012, eight were either sequels, based on books and/or comic books, or, in the case of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” a remake of another movie that came out 20 minutes ago. (Ah, 20 minutes ago … those were the days.)

Of the other two, one, “Brave,” is by Pixar – where the last remaining original thinkers have apparently sealed themselves off from the rest of society, like the final survivors of a zombie invasion – and the other, “Ted,” features a foul-mouthed, sex-crazed teddy bear. Sex-crazed teddy bears are in, God help us.

But don’t worry: The most highly anticipated movie event of the coming years is the production of another three “Star Wars” movies by new owners Disney, which are sure to find new and original ways to ruin your most coveted childhood memories. Ruining things is in. (This means you, Disney and George Lucas, not necessarily in that order.)

Judging by the rockers who got trotted out for the high-profile 12/12/12 Hurricane Sandy relief concert, no one born after 1960 has ever blurted out even a note of rock ’n’ roll: Bruce Springsteen, 63, looked like the model of youth in this bunch, which featured The Rolling Stones, The Who and Paul McCartney (combined age: one meeeeeellion). So getting down to music first recorded four to five decades ago is in; hoping you die before you get old is apparently out.

Of the younger artists, a lot of them tend to sound exactly alike – quick, tell us the difference between Katy Perry and Carly Rae Jepson! See? But there are some glimmers of hope, such as Mumford & Sons and Phillip Phillips, who sound like each other but not like Katy Perry and Carly Rae Jepson, which is a step in the right direction.

Even better, fun., they of the lower-case “f” and unnecessary period, are almost startlingly original, as if they must have escaped from the Pixar compound. Their exact opposite would be One Direction, whom Simon Cowell molded out of clay and animated like an ancient Golem. (Ancient Golems are in.) And Taylor Swift will never, ever, ever find an ex-boyfriend she couldn’t write a hit song about. (Ex-boyfriends are in.)

OUT: Literature

A lot of bookstores (remember them? Bookstores are out) used to separate “Literature” into its own section, primarily to make sure you knew they were the books you had no interest in actually reading. Sorry Nathaniel Hawthorne, but you’re out.

When it comes to books people do read, there are exactly two that are in, neither of which are what you’d call classic literature: “The Hunger Games” and “50 Shades of Grey.” Someday someone will come up with an idea that combines both of those concepts and it will be a huge hit, and also the final sign of the pending apocalypse. Pending apocalypses are in.

A lot of other in entertainment fare isn’t exactly literate either: On TV, the clever and informative shows – such as “30 Rock” and “Rock Center with Brian Williams,” along with any number of other shows with “rock” in the title – tend to be out. Shows featuring “real” people who may or may not have the ability to read, such as the casts of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” “Dance Moms” and “Moonshiners,” are in. Cue pending apocalypse.

But there are some signs that not all entertainment is aiming at the lowest common denominator. Shows like “Modern Family,” “Downton Abbey” and “Homeland” cater to people with brains, while “The Walking Dead” caters to people with brains who like to watch zombies eating brains, but in an intellectual way. And in theaters, the in release of the season is “Les Miserables,” which is almost exactly like classic literature, except with singing. Singing is in.

And not all lowbrow entertainment is in: Adam Sandler is out after a few recent outings tanked, including “That’s My Boy,” which was so bad it may have dragged Andy Samberg out with it. (Although Sandler will always be in on Boston’s North Shore, where he just filmed “Grown Ups 2,” a movie not expected to break his out streak.) And while Tom Cruise is in when he’s driving fast cars and breaking heads, he’s out when he’s singing, at evidenced by “Rock of Ages.” Singing is out.

Speaking of which, Justin Bieber got (temporarily) dumped by his girlfriend, the inexplicably in Selena Gomez, and flopped in the Grammy nomination department – could this mean he’s on his way out? Ha ha! Just kidding, True Beliebers! Remember, coming after people who make Justin Bieber jokes with tiny little pitchforks is out.

Monday: Sports

Thursday, December 27, 2012

IN AND OUT 2013: News & Politics

Another year has come and gone. But what have we really learned about what’s in and what’s out in news, politics, entertainment, sports and life in general? Sit back over the next few days and let us school you on what’s hot and what’s not as we enter 2013. And yes, getting schooled is in.


In: Arithmetic

Former President Bill Clinton – who is, incidentally, perennially in – cited the importance of arithmetic in his remarks at the Democratic National Convention, and it turns out he was right: Sometimes, numbers do add up! Adding up is in.

The primary example of this is President Barack Obama, who will be back in the White House for four more years. The poll numbers said he would win, and then he got a higher number of votes than Mitt Romney – and amazingly, that resulted him being reelected president. At least it was amazing to Mitt Romney and the GOP, who seemed to be basing their entire campaign on imaginary numbers that only they could see. Imaginary numbers are out.

Elsewhere in Washington, crunching numbers to avoid going over the “fiscal cliff” is in. By the time you read this, I’m sure our elected officials will have come up with an effective compromise that benefits everyone. Yes, being delusional is in.

Numbers are also playing a role in the weather: As the temperature continues to tick up degree by degree, like somebody lit a Sterno can under it, the weather continues to go progressively insane. As a result, superstorms are in. Plain, old regular storms are out. Going to bed with a reasonable certainty that your house won’t wash away in the night: also out.

Tweets have been multiplying exponentially, meaning Twitter is the in source of information, both from mainstream media sources and Kim Kardashian. Although being able to tell the difference between the two of those is out.

Unfortunately, waiting a second or two before Tweeting whatever pops into your head is out – just ask indiscriminate Tweeters like rich guy/birther Donald Trump and R&B singer/girlfriend abuser Chris Brown. Being rich, being a birther, being a girlfriend abuser: all out. R&B singers are still in, except for Chris Brown.

The number of people supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage and marijuana keeps going up and up, meaning those are both very much in – especially in Washington state, where they’re now BOTH legal. We know that somewhere, state namesake George “Cheech” Washington and his secret lover James Madison are smiling.

OUT: Communications and Language Arts

Actual communication using reasonable language seems to be out, particularly in Congress, where “reaching across the aisle” has come to refer to elected officials attempting to throttle each other. Elected officials are out, but not enough of them.

Mitt Romney failed to speak to people as people, preferring instead to address them like large, pliable focus groups or, in the case of 47 percent of the population, not at all. As a result, Mitt is out and the 47 percent are in. (And still waiting for our “gifts” from President Obama, thank you very much. Gifts are in!)

And many male Republican candidates also eschewed actual, sensible language in attempting to communicate with women, instead apparently opting to rely on an anatomy textbook written in the 1950s by 12-year-olds. They are, mercifully, now out. Women, however, are in: There are 20 of them in the U.S. Senate, and Hillary Clinton is the most popular person, well, anywhere, ever. Hillary may remain in right through 2016.

No matter who’s in Washington, though, talking about the aforementioned climate and weather changes seems to be out – and by the time it comes back in, Washington may be underwater. Water is in a lot of places where it used to be out, whether we want it there or not.

Hostess executives opted to pull the plug on the operation (while taking big, cream-filled bonuses) rather than talking with the unions, so Twinkies are – inconceivably – out. Little Debbie is in, though, and she’ll bring back the white straw cowboy hat with stampede string as a fashion accessory if it’s the last thing she does.

Apparently talking to your wife is out but talking (and doing other things) to your biographer and/or “unpaid social liaison” is in, at least if you’re a decorated general. (Liaisoning is in, and turning nouns into verbs – a.k.a. “verbing” – is also in.) For the non-decorated, un-biographied types, communicating with your spouse is still in. Especially via text message. Texting is still in. ;)

Finally, the one place where it’s still in to communicate your innermost feelings, as well as your every move and those of your children and pets, is on Facebook. But actually paying for a little piece of Facebook is out: Its stock tanked this year, turning Mark Zuckerberg into a multi-billionaire instead of a multi-multi-billionaire. Quantifying your billions is out.

Tomorrow: In and Out in Entertainment