Monday, February 25, 2013

The Rat Pack Would Not Have You, Mr. Macfarlane

A lot of people have been scratching their heads and trying to figure out exactly what Seth Macfarlane was doing onstage at The Oscars (now the official name of the awards show, as Academy Awards is considered too old-timey or something) as the creator of Family Guy and Ted bombed joke after joke. Macfarlane bizarrely tried to mix off-color humor with old-school song and dance-man routines, throwing out sexist jokes then participating in numbers that would have felt contemporary before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. "What is going on here?", millions of people seemed to be thinking (and hundreds of people in my Twitter feed) asking all at once.

But close-Macfarlane watchers will know exactly what he was doing... he was making his latest appeal to join The Rat Pack. While Macfarlane playing around with his self-indulgent fantasies that he'd fit in next to Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. is fine on his own time, but forcing nearly a billion people globally (note... this number is, like the egos of many Hollywood stars, spectacularly inflated... considering the fact that the largest audience for the Oscars is the United States and 40 million people watched the decently-rated show last night, where do the rest of the 900 million plus people come in? I've read that the number is much closer to 300 million, which is admittedly a whole lot of people, but barely a quarter of the way to the big B word) is another story entirely.

In 2011, Macfarlane put out Music is Better Than Words, an album where he covered a bunch of old swing-era standards. Reviews were decidedly mixed as Macfarlane indulged in his Rat Pack era fantasies, but if you didn't want to hear him try to pretend he belonged in a Vegas showroom in the 60's, you could pretty easily avoid listening to the music, which didn't exactly set the world on fire. Look, bro, it's cool that you used your resources to make your ego-trip But letting MacFarlane loose onstage at The friggin' Oscars is another story entirely.

Look, I understand the motivation behind hiring the guy. I'm not a big fan of his work, but there are plenty of people who are, as the fact that Family Guy has been on since the 90's and Ted's half-billion global gross can attest to... the guy has a huge fan-base, and they're young. Ratings were up 19% over last year's Billy Crystal-hosted snooze-fest, so the producers got the boost they wanted, especially among young viewers. But reviews for MacFarlane have been blindingly harsh, as his (ultra-lame) meta opening bit featuring William Shatner as Captain Kirk traveling from the future to warn him that he would be described as the worst Oscar host in history proved to be prescient (and did not work to stave off such criticisms simply by BEING meta).

MacFarlane is an uber-successful TV show creator and now film writer/ director. While he voices many characters on Family Guy, American Dad!, and The Cleveland Show, and he played the title talking teddy bear (who sounded suspiciously like the main character in Family Guy) in Ted, MacFarlane has little experience performing as himself. While he did a decent job on Saturday Night Live a few months back, that doesn't suddenly make him Chris Rock, Billy Crystal, Bob Hope, or Johny Carson. MacFarlane seemed nervous throughout the night, shifting his weight back and forth and making the camera-men work overtime to follow him in medium closeup as joke after joke bombed, and while he looked like he enjoyed singing and dancing along with Channing Tatum, Charlize Theron, Joseph Gordon Levitt, and Daniel Radcliffe, Fred Astaire he is not.

Look, I don't want to pick on the guy too much. I'm not a fan, but he's got an audience who loves what he does. My main point is that MacFarlane was trying to pull of a Rat Pack swagger where he could be comically irreverent in one moment and earnestly worshipful to old showbiz style in the next. That mixture makes sense on paper, and a more modern Rat Pack style entertainer would be a great fit for the Oscars. But Macfarlane's jokes came off as mean-spirited, his dancing and singing was nothing to write home about, and he projected a smarmy attitude when he didn't seem outright nervous. This is not what we deserve from an Oscar host viewed by (maybe a quarter of a) billion people worldwide. Just because MacFarlane fantasizes about being part of The Rat Pack riffing onstage at The Sands or Riviera showrooms in the 60's doesn't mean Sinatra and co. would let him into their club.

That kind of swagger where you can be take jabs but remain likable, where you can make fun of people while also implying that you still like them, where you can project a frat-boy ease without coming off as a bro-ed out jerk is not easy to pull off, and choosing a guy with next to no hosting experience under his belt to try and bring that Vegas in the 60s persona back to life was not the right way to go, despite the ratings boost. The thing that's totally shocking to me is that ABC already has the perfect solution on their network and aired his show right after The Oscars ended... Jimmy Kimmel displays ALL of the qualities that the producers were looking for when they tapped MacFarlane... he's got that fratty, proto-Rat Pack swagger where he can take digs at mega-stars (and they can digs right back at him) while remaining totally likeable and confident. His Oscar-tied in and Hollywood-skewing video he aired during his special post-Oscars episode, "Movie: The Movie 2" is already a hit, after the original "Movie: The Movie" fake trailer racked up an impressive 30 million or so views since it came out a year ago.

Kimmel, who ABC is aggressively pushing into the limelight as he steps in to compete with Dave and Jay in his new 11:30 PM slot, will probably end up hosting The Oscars in the near future, perhaps as soon as next year. My question is why they didn't tap him this year instead of tapping a guy with no hosting experience? Seth MacFarlane wants to be a member of The Rat Pack in  the 60's in the worst way. But watch Sinatra and pals take the stage in any video on YouTube from that era and you'll see why they would never have invited the guy into their club even if he could be beamed back in time, Captain Kirk style.

Oh well, better luck next year Oscar producers. I think we can at least all agree to love the awesomely gaffe-prone and genuine Jennifer Lawrence. Now there's a chick Frank Sinatra and the boys would want to hang out with.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Veleveteen Rabbit Set To Finally Become Real In March

The classic children's story The Velveteen Rabbit is about a stuffed bunny struggling against the odds to become real, empowered by the love of his owner. The story of The Velveteen Rabbit Bar in Downtown Las Vegas follows similar beats as the beloved children's tale, with two sisters who have struggled against the odds to take a magical dream and make it real through the sheer force of love... and it looks like a happy ending is finally around the corner.

I've already mentioned the bar in a previous post, but I also figured that the place would be open by now, but the place has been delayed a few times. While Pam and Christina Dylag had a tough road to sow in getting their dream business off the ground, The Facebook Page page for ambitious (and off Fremont) DTV entertainment district Downtown 3rd reports that the whimsical bar will start pouring real cocktails sometime in March.

This is a happy ending to a story that seemed like it might not have one. Just a few weeks ago, The Las Vegas Review Journal reported on the latest (but seemingly last) hurdles that the Dylag sisters faced in getting their bar set up for business. The place has been two years in the making, as the sisters chose to renovate an abandoned and fire damaged old furniture store in Downtown, knowing it would inject some character and history into their business. But renovations were more difficult than expected, as simple things like hooking up the building to sewer lines (which is a pretty big necessity, obviously) proved more difficult and expensive than originally anticipated. Thus far, the sisters have spent two years renovating their space and already sunk nearly $250,000 into a bar that is still not operational.

Another difficulty they faced setting up gaming in the bar. This is Vegas we're talking about, after all, and the sisters originally planned to install five slot machines at The Velveteen Rabbit. But in 2011 a new ordinance was passed mandating that a business must offer a certain amount of square footage for food service in order to install five or more slot machines, a law that makes absolutely no sense and is blatantly designed to favor large casinos over small bars.

But the sisters finally caught a break recently, as the city council unanimously approved them for a "quick-start" grant, in which they were awarded nearly $35,000 to offset the crazy costs of making sure the renovated building is in compliance with the city's constantly shifting codes.

So with that victory, it looks like the dream is actually, finally, becoming a reality. Located a few blocks away from the quickly growing Fremont East District on Main Street, right in the middle of The First Fridays Art Walk route, the sisters are hoping to contribute to the expansion of Downtown as it evolves into a truly walkable area for locals. You can take a look at the sister's official blog to catch a glimpse of the whimsical and imaginative vision that that these two crushable, bad-ass, Vegas-born, and Bohemian sisters with eclectic taste will bring to life at the bar.

They haven't given anyone a full glimpse into what the finished interior will look like yet, but we can expect a whimsical place complete with furniture and antiques purchased from local thrift stores, mismatched glassware, creative signature cocktails created with fresh ingredients and love, a smartly curated menu of craft brews, local art on the walls, performances by local bands and DJs , fire damage incorporated into the aesthetic, a colorful Victorian design, chandeliers made from recycled and re-purposed glass bottles, and four (but not five) slot machines. And next month, you'll finally be able to visit the place for real as it goes from much loved concept to actual working watering hole, from hotly anticipated bar to actual hangout for local creative types and "curious class" Vegas tourists alike.

Opening The Velveteen Rabbit has been a labor of love for the Dylag sisters that has taken years (and lots of money) to come to fruition, but that's only appropriate, considering the bar's namesake. To paraphrase the original story by Margery Williams, when someone "loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real. It doesn't happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time."

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Inevitble Downtown Backlash Has Begun

If there is one absolute truth on the internet, it's this: haters gonna hate. Thus, it's no surprise that the low rumble of backlash has already begun to surface in response to Tony Hsieh's ambitious plans for the future of Downtown Las Vegas.

In a recent column in Vegas Seven Magazine, writer Heidi Kyser criticized Hsieh's efforts to revamp the entire Downtown area using only private money. Kyser was responding to reports of a proposed dog park in Downtown that would be exclusively available to fee paying members. Now, I'm not going to argue the idea of a private dog park designed by a person whose job it is to design dog parks from San Francisco in which you must pay membership dues isn't a little silly, or even a lot silly to the point of absurd satire, but I also wouldn't be so quick to single it out as the reason why Hsieh's plans are doomed to only benefit the super elite rich cool yuppie hipster class. While the fees seem a bit silly, the fact is there is no dog park in Downtown yet even though residents of the neighborhood are hungry for one, and the fees will help pay for the building and maintenance of said park. If the place proves to be popular enough, I don't think that will detract city government from building a public dog park, I think it will only encourage it. Hsieh's vision is to turn a formerly uninhabitable swath of abandoned lots and crumbling buildings into a truly vibrant and livable neighborhood with a young and creative community. Perhaps a private dog park with a membership fee is not ideal, but it's better than no dog park.

Beyond Kyser's mild and not entirely unjustified criticism, I've noticed a bit more hatorade being poured on the Downtown Project in comment threads than I used to. Certainly, comment boards are the most vile corner of the interwebs, where the cockroaches skitter under the floorboards and make racist, sexist, and homophobic comments anonymously and without repercussion. But it's still disheartening to see people write things like the below comment, posted in response to Kyser's piece:

All hail King Tony and his downtown hipster land.   Stay tuned for the Fixies only bike shop, the super tight jeans store,  the pub that only serves PBR, the eye glass shop with the super thick black frames, a store that sells retro stereo equipment like Boom boxes and cassette players.  Stay tuned for the enormous cloud of irony and cynasism that will form as this new Downtown hipster land takes shape.  If you don't think your cool enough to be a part of it you probably aren't.   Cop an attitude and find it all a bit passe and you'll fit right in.  While we are at it lets import some trustafarians.

I don't even know where to start in responding to this post, between the fact that they haven't updated their list of hipster cliches since Bush left office (a "supertight jeans store," really?) or the fact that he doesn't know the difference between "your" and "you're" (and thus would never get a date on OKCupid), but it's still an attitude that depresses me. A dude is investing a large chunk of his personal fortune into turning a dead area into a cool neighborhood with a personality different from the tourist mecca of The Strip just down the street and this guy is accusing the imagined future citizens of Downtown of cynicism?

Or how about this gem from the comment section under The Las Vegas Review Journal story announcing plans for the dog park, in which the very idea that the designer came from San Francisco is proof positive that it's a bad idea:

A transplant fron San Francisco. Need I say more? She and those like her ruined California and now are planning to destroy Nevada. This why Obama and Reid are elected. A dog park, with security? Can't your dogs run in the yard? You don't have a yard, take the stupid thing to the park. I don't want to pay for it with my tax money. She is after all from San Francisco and they are very good at spending other people's money.

The funniest part of this comment is that it's a fundamental opposite of the Vegas Seven article criticizing the fact that the Dog Park is publicly funded... this person is angry that a liberal Obama and Pelosi lovin' San Franciscan tax and spend welfare baby vegan type will spend all their hard-earned tax money on a park for dogs, while failing to take in the part that the project is privately funded, but he can still enjoy his anger at the idea that he'd have to pay for it with his tax money (while a privately funded dog park would probably end up costing him a few dollars at most in taxes, but that's neither her nor there)... why be informed on the internet when you can be OUTAGED?

I'll say that there is one common complaint I've seen amongst the comment boarders discussing Downtown that I totally agree with... the lack of a grocery store currently in the vicinity. If they really want people to move there, open up a Trader Joe's in the middle of the action, stat. That way there is high quality food available in walking distance from where people live, which means less driving and pollution and more reasons for San Francisco-hating commentators to become angry for no good reason.

Listen, I know I'm cherry picking a few choice comments and one editorial here, but this is the first time I've started to see any volume of criticism for the Downtown Project's epically ambitious neighborhood revitalization and rejuvenation plans. While criticism is good and will keep Hsieh and his merry band of Downtown dreamers honest and on the right path to truth and freedom, some of these complaints are pretty ludicrous to me. I agree that the idea of member-driven dog park with security guards and background checks for the pets sounds a bit like a Portlandia sketch, but it's at least a well-intentioned service being brought to a part of town devoid of said service up until now. And that's the point... for all of the hatin' them haters be hatin' on the Downtown Project, thus far everything they are getting steamed about has all been well intentioned, if not completely perfect in execution. The Downtown Project people are trying something experimental and ambitious and exciting, and they're sure to stumble more than a few times along the way. Who would ever get outraged at people like that?

Oh right, comment board lurkers posting under the cover of anonymity. They call 'em Trolls for a reason.