Saturday, January 07, 2006

Electric dreams

Ereck knows I am a computer-history geek, and yesterday he was excited to show me something in an episode he had Tivoed of "Paper Dolls," the 1980s evening soap about the fashion industry. What he wanted me to see was a computer being used by the Dack Rambo character, and it is measure of just how geeky I am that I was able in a twinkling to identify the machine as a Kaypro 4.

My loving boyfriend may have gotten more than he bargained for when I then delivered a treatise on the Kaypro computers and their chief competitors, the doomed Osbornes.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Up with gay, dope-smoking Episcopalians

I'm fascinated by this article in today's Wisconsin State Journal. The story is about "The Book of Daniel," NBC's controversial new series in which Aidan Quinn stars as a Vicodin-addicted Episcopal priest with a gay son and a pot-smoking daughter. Even though at this hour it has never aired, "The Book of Daniel" has predictably incited furor in some quarters, and affiliates in Terra Haute, Ind. and elsewhere have yanked the show.

But Madison's WMTV-Ch.15 will broadcast the series tonight at 8 pm, and here's what station manager Rob Crain had to say about the hoopla: "We're not in the business of censorship or deciding what people should watch. It's Madison."

A striking phrase: "It's Madison." To me the phrase is particularly striking because the week before last I used it verbatim in an article I wrote for Isthmus newspaper about my search for a church home (a search that brought me to Episcopalianism): "I had this notion that although the broader denomination was divided, as a gay man I would be welcomed with open arms at any Presbyterian congregation in Madison. You know, it's Madison."

I love how our little burg's ethos is so palpable that a prominent media figure like Crain can simply invoke the name of the city -- it's Madison -- to make a pretty powerful argument about the values that prevail here: we're open-minded, and we don't truck with bluenoses.

Of course, those sentiments are not universally true in Madison, which is sort of what my article was about. But I'm relieved to live in a place where tedious, reactionary moralizing is more the exception than the rule.

We're all set to Tivo "The Book of Daniel," though I'm not getting my hopes up for it. It has been panned by television critics I admire, including Tom Shales of The Washington Post and Isthmus' own Dean Robbins. But to me, any show that has an Episcopal priest and -- to quote the State Journal article -- "depictions of homosexuality, drug and alcohol use and sex," can't be all bad.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

More larfs

A few weeks ago I mentioned that Isthmus had replaced "Life In Hell," the cartoon by Matt Groening of "Simpsons" fame, with a new comic called "Lulu Eightball." Recently I did a phone interview with "Lulu Eightball" creator Emily Flake, and the article I wrote about her is here.

I'm still delighted with "Lulu Eightball."
Good word

Just Married, Just Married, you have no complaint
You are what you are, and you ain't what you ain't
So listen up, Buster, and listen up good
Stop wishin' for bad luck and knockin' on wood
Signed, Dear Abby

-- John Prine, "Dear Abby"

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Rotten tomatoes

Halfway through 2005 my career as an Isthmus blurber of grade Z movies ended. (At least for the time being; I can still dare to dream.) But here are the worst of the stinkers I did review last year:

4. The Ring Two: A frightened, curiously unprincipled journalist (Naomi Watts) and her enigmatic young son are still pursued by a little girl's tenacious ghost. Other than a couple of really eerie moments, the film's not very scary, and its attempts at psychological depth are laughable.

3. Cursed: A Los Angeles woman (Christina Ricci) and her brother (Jesse Eisenberg) fight off the werewolves who, nowadays, seem largely to inhabit the lower rungs of the entertainment business. The film has potentially interesting things to say about the duality of man and the sleaziness of Hollywood, but even with the Scream team of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson at the helm, it's a bore.

2. Dare to Dream: The Alan Kulwicki Story: Impaired biopic of Kulwicki (Brad Weber), the Wisconsinite who won NASCAR's Winston Cup in 1992 but died in a plane crash the following year. Clearly made with great affection for its subject, but that doesn't make up for weird pacing and wooden acting.

1. Hostage: A seasoned hostage negotiator (Bruce Willis) is unwillingly pulled out of retirement when inept thugs seize the family of a crooked accountant (Kevin Pollak). Watching Willis bark orders and run through burning ruins has a certain nostalgic appeal, but that can't save this overlong, chaotic mess.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Ladies' man

Among the fruits of my unceasing Tivo tinkering is the ability to grab video to my computer's hard drive. So I was excited to save this clip from a profile of Tina Turner that ran on a recent broadcast of "60 Minutes."

The segment actually recapitulated parts of two Turner pieces that ran in the last ten years, and the clip I present you is from the earlier profile. In that piece there was this weird sexual tension between Turner and Mike Wallace, age 473, and when friends and I watched the segment in 1996, we were amused no end by the exclamation with which Wallace began the report: "She looks 19!" So I was happy to see that part on TV again -- and to Tivo it, no less.

Back in the day, my officemate Dave even used clipart from a computer drawing program to recreate the scene. An incurable packrat, I filed the results away.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Let's do the time warp

I always liked New Year's Day. It's my favorite of all the holidays we call The Holidays, a season that now seems to stretch from Halloween to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. New Year's Day does not have much baggage -- no bitter sectarian rancor, no mandatory poultry dishes.

I suppose the New Year's Eve revel carries some freight for those who care about such things. Where will I party, and with whom? But for the rest of us, New Year's is simply the time that the Gregorian calendar rolls majestically over.

Last night was the first New Year's Eve in many years that I actually stayed up till midnight, and even that was not by design. Ereck is out of town, and I was reading in the kitchen when I looked at the clock and realized it was half past eleven. And so I wandered into the living room, turned on the television and pushed a button I rarely push on the Tivo remote control, the one marked "live TV." (How's that for a time warp?)

On one channel was Dick Clark's traditional New Year's special, and the appearance of Clark, who had a stroke in 2004, was a somber reminder of time's passing. Until the stroke, he was the perennial butt of jokes about his seemingly perpetual youth, but he has aged. Last night, seated and slurring, he looked unwell.

I flipped to another channel just in time to watch Regis Philbin counting down to midnight and then hopping ecstatically. "Fireworks!" he screamed, as giant sparklers spewed embers into the chilly Times Square sky. "Fireworks!"

Over the last couple of days I have overheard people weighing in on the year just passed. "2005 can kiss my ass," I heard one man say. "It was a great year," I heard someone else say. I talked to a man on New Year's Eve whose son that day had gone to prison for seven years. Happy new year.

As for me? It indeed was a great year. I marked the fifth anniversary of my wonderful relationship with Ereck, I got a terrific new job, I paid off some debts, I sang a lot and I welcomed my brother's new wife into the family. On the down side, my grandmother died and an old college friend committed suicide. But my young niece and nephew smile and grow, and my sister has another baby on the way.

Happy 2006 to all of you, my loyal friends.