MSU is playing whom?

So now there's one big question around Michigan: Who, exactly, is Robert Morris?

That's whom Michigan State University will play Friday, to start its run in the NCAA basketball tournament. That still leaves people wondering who Bob Morris is.

Well, he starred in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," on Broadway and in the movie. Roundish and bright-eyed, he was instantly likable. Now, in his 70s, he plays quirky roles, including Truman Capote on Broadway and the boss on "Mad Men" and ...

Oh wait, that's Robert Morse; I guess I don't know who this Robert Morris is. He'll probably have trouble playing MSU by himself. Maybe he can form a five-person team by combining with other colleges. It could be Robert Morris and George Mason and Oral Roberts and ... well, William and Mary.

Sorry Jasmine, it's not enough

How much has "American Idol" advanced in the past five years?

Consider this: Jasmine Murray and Diana DeGarmo were essentially the same person on "Idol." Each was a cute teen-ager with a big voice, belting out high-volume finishes.

Back in 2004, that was enough to take DeGarmo all the way to the top two. This time, Murray didn't reach the top 11.

There were plenty of reasons Murray and Jorge Nunez were eliminated tonight, but one is the steep improvement in the competition.

The third season, in 2004, had three strong talents -- Fantasia (the winner), LaToya London (fourth) and Jennifer Hudson (seventh). The rest? Well, remember Jon Peter Lewis and John Stevens and ...

There are no such weak spots this time. The only problem Tuesday involved people whose songs left little potential to display their talent.

Anoop Desai did a solidly forgettable job on "Beat It," but scraped past Nunez, whose ballad was only adequate.

Megan Joy Corkrey did a so-so "Rockin' Robin," but at least she's distinctive and memorable. Murray sang "I'll Be There" as if we were enmeshed in a beauty pageant; it seemed cold and calculated, it had precision without passion. She can win any Miss Teen Sings Nice competition; she just can't win the 2009 version of "American Idol." 

A weird night of "Idol"

This was a strange night of "American Idol," throwing away all the usual patterns.

Usually, the show is all about balance -- boy-girl, loud-soft, good-bad. Not this time. It started and ended with women -- fresh, fierce work by Lil Rounds and Alexis Grace; that left the middle with eight men and only three women. It started with seven songs the judges loved -- then three they didn't -- then three more good ones.

It was all odd, but interesting. Here are a few of my comments and then my should-go, will-go. Please add yours:

1) The three people who drew scorn made identical mistakes, picking songs that give little room to do anything extra. What could Megan Joy Corkrey do with "Rockin' Robin," or Anoop Desai do with "Beat It" or Jorge Nunez do with whatever that was he sang?

2) Scott MacIntyre also picked poorly, but got away with it. He chooses songs by the lyrics, not by the music potential. This one had a good thought, but little musicality. He'll get through, of course, due to nice-guyness, sympathy and piano talent.

3) Danny Gokey, the Milwaukee widower, no longer needs sympathy. He's just a fine performer, sort of a less-mobile Taylor Hicks.

4) Let's add a fashion note here: Gokey added an extra level tonight: His glasses coordinated with his shirt.

5) This was the first week of the "glam squad," when contestants have more money and more help from fashion consultants. Some don't need it -- Adam Lambert is already the consummate showman -- but some got interesting touches. There was Allison Iraheta as the world's smallest biker babe. And Lil Rounds looking great in white (with a tad too much poof on one shoulder). And Alexis Grace as the naughty French maid's tween daughter.

6) In the midst of this fashion show, someone decided to give Kris Allen ... well, a plaid shirt. It was kind of basic.

7) Allen is the deceptive one -- a downhome Arkansas church guy with a hot new wife and an encyclopedic knowledge of Michael Jackson tunes. He's interesting.

8) Iraheta is a strong rocker, someone who knows how to work the mike and work the crowd -- at age 16. And Lambert, more than a decade older, is a complete pro. Usually, "too Broadway" is an insult on this show; Lambert sort of morphs the best Broadway touches of "Rocky Horror" and "Grease" and anything Elvis-like.

9) The instruments were OK tonight. Matt Giraud and Scott MacIntyre got a few good piano licks; Allen's guitar, however, didn't particularly seem linked to a speaker anywhere.

10) Amid all the Michael-style rocking, the few ballads were pretty well-done. Jasmine Murray showed off all her pageant polish; Michael Sarver showed none of his oil-rig work.

11) My favorite comments: From Ryan Seacrest, "and speaking of self-consumption -- Simon Cowell." And Cowell, who was on the money all night, spoke up after "Idol" showed -- yet again -- Sarver at the oil rigs, then had him sing his ballad. It was a fine song, Cowell dead-panned, "but I just wish we knew what you do for a living."

12) There are supposed to be two people going home Wednesday, in a show that includes Kelly Clarkson and Kanye West. For the should-go -- based only on tonight -- I'd say Megan Joy Corkrey and Anoop Desai. For will-go, I'd say the same. Still, Desai could survive and the departing person could be Giraud (the show picked a bland section of his song for the final montage) or Sarver or Nunez. Tell me what you think.

Homemade movies are (sometimes) fun

A few years ago, the notion seemed impossible: Real people -- just like you and me, only with more gumption and patience -- can make real movies, the kind shown in a real theater.

Now it's possible. The latest proof is "The End of Art," which will be shown four times over a seven-day span, at the Lansing Mall Cinema.

(For those reading this elsewhere, this blog is mainly about Lansing, Mich.; please skip down to the other blogs, which talk obsessively about "American  Idol.")

Before going to the movie, you must appreciate that:

1) Everything was filmed around Lansing, Williamston and such.

2) The budget was under $1,000. You could make the movie 150,000 times, for less than it cost to make "Titanic."

3) Unlike "Titanic," this film didn't have the money to make and sink a ship.  It couldn't even afford to shoot holes in a wall; that had to be done by special effect -- freezing a frame and pasting up a pseudo-hole. "The End of Art" does, however, give us a fun version of a flaming car.

4) Flaws and all, this has a good cast and some scattered, fun moments.

One of the flaws involves who is where. Bruce Bennett -- who co-wrote and co-directed the film with Jack Schaberg -- has always been wonderful at quick bursts of comic relief. Here, he's in the lead, playing hapless Art the artist; that becomes too much of a good thing. By comparison, Mark Boyd -- a master of deadpan, understated comedy -- is confined to a supporting role.

The plot is reasonably clever. Someone is hired to get rid of something -- but is he supposed to destroy art or Art? More confusion follows, when Art's wife seems to be endorsing a hit job.

 There are enough good ideas here for a short film. The trick is to spread it out to anything close to a feature-length 90 minutes.

Schaberg and Bennett try admirably. They make good use of drawings from Bennett (an artist in real life), excellent background music and even a fun song, which Jennifer Joan Joy (a fine singer) performs in a dream scene.

Many films have dream scenes, but this may be the only one that fully incorporates a man in a beaver disguise. Moments like that -- plus all the use of local actors and settings -- allow us to semi-forgive all flaws.

The movie is $5. It shows at Lansing Mall Cinema at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (March 11), 9 p.m. Thursday (March 12), 7 p.m. Monday (March 16) and 9:30 p.m. Tuesday (March 17). Don't accidentally go to "Watchmen"; insist on the show with the the guy in a beaver disguise.

Let's meet the "Idol" 13


What are the "American Idol" finalists like? We may be able to get a glimpse from their phone interviews, the day after each was added to the final 13.

Please take a look at the two blogs that follow this one. They interview the four people who made the list Thursday, then the three who made it Wednesday.

Further down, you'll find interviews with the first and second batches of three. Let me know what you think of them so far.