Friday, July 30, 2004


COMICS: Reading the Bone one-volume collection is exhausting. It's 1300 pages long, and thick as a cinder block, and it weighs more than a Thanksgiving turkey stuffed with ball bearings. I've been getting quite a workout just from cracking it open. And the page size is slightly smaller than a regular-sized issue, which means I have to strain my eyes more than usual. This thing's gonna take forever to read. Let me put it in perspective for you: if I read one issue per year, it will take me FIFTY-FIVE YEARS to finish this book.

Yeah. You see what I mean now.

Also, even after the many years it's been since I read the original issues, I can still pick out some of the revisions Jeff Smith has made for this collection. And I'll tell you, I don't mind the odd reworked sentence or two... but all that hardcore porn he added is really jarring. I'm not sure I would've made the same choice, were I in his shoes. Well, to each his own.

Oh, no, wait, I was reading XXXenophile. My mistake.

MOVIES: Tough decision this weekend: The Village, or Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle? Possibly both, if I pull a theater-hopping double feature tomorrow. If I have to choose: White Castle wins. I love M. Night Shyamalan's films, but this one's been getting some bad reviews, and I'm just not as much in the mood for a moody, suspenseful period piece as I am for a stoner comedy.

But the one movie I can't miss this weekend is Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism. I'm not even sure how, because I thought Murdoch had gotten an injunction against this film, but it's playing at my local theater on Sunday, one show only. It's all about how Murdoch blatantly uses Fox News as a promotional tool for the Republican party, with stolen footage from Fox News illustrating exactly how they advance that right wing agenda (which is why there is/was an injunction against it). From what I hear, the documentary as a whole is fairly amateurish, but when it gets to the Fox News footage, it's stunning. I can't wait.

TV: Celebrity Poker Showdown next week features Amy Poehler. I love Amy Poehler. That is all.

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Bloggin' about bloggin'

I need to update my links list. But it's so damn tedious.

Firstly, I need to create a sub-category, as Mike has done, for the Associated Comics and Pop Culture Webloggers of Ventura County, CA and Outlying Environs (aka Dudes I Know in Real Life), which include Dorian, Corey, and Ian.

Speaking of Ian, his entries about his experiences at the SD Comic Con have been linked to by Mark Evanier's News from me and Heidi MacDonald's The Beat, which is pretty frickin' cool. I'm so jealous. Not only does he make the Con pilgrimage, but he's also getting linked all over the place for it. (Not as jealous of the links as Mike was [insert smiley face here], because I've actually had the distinction of being name-checked in Mark Evanier's blog, too, back before I had a blog to link to. If you click that link, I'm the only Tom mentioned on the page... and yes, that's my real last name. No jokes, damn your eyes!)

I also have to note which of my blog links are represented on the Comic Weblog Updates page, and which are not. I've been neglecting visiting those blogs which don't appear on the Update page, and that's just wrong.

Also also, I must take up Milo George's generous offer of amnesty from SquirrelNation (even though I think my position as Pope of the Holy Squirrel Empire may trump his secular rank of General), and add The Unofficial John Westmoreland Memorial Tribute Webring to my links, while I still can.

If only Blogger had an easier method of adding links than having to alter the template for my entire blog. Frankly, it's more trouble for me to change the links than it is for me to just bitch about it like this.

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Thursday, July 29, 2004

COMICS: Stupid, stupid lack of a better Bone themed quote!!

I forgot to mention: I got the phone book collection of the complete Bone series, because apparently I have poor impulse control.

I've heard people talking -- mostly negatively -- about Jeff Smith's penchant of returning to his comics and altering them for the trade collections, a la George "Greedo Shoots First" Lucas. Word is Smith may even have altered his previous alterations for this new phone book (like the upcoming Special Special Edition DVD of Star Wars). Might even alter them again for the future color Scholastic collections.

I don't really know how much has been altered; it's been a long time since I read the original first few issues (if I have the originals, why did I get the phone book? Because I only have the first 20 issues or so; after that point I decided I would wait for the series to end and collect the trades -- smart move!), so I have no way of knowing off the top of my head if he just fixed some misspelled words, or tidied up some glitches in the art, or actually made wholesale changes to the story. My impression, though, is that the changes aren't very drastic, and won't affect my reading. Normally, I'm a stickler for the original version of anything, but if Smith has made the book a little better in his eyes without ruining it for the reader (I'm looking at you again, Lucas), I'm just fine and dandy with that.

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COMICS: Wed. 7/28/04

Avengers: As a long-time non Avengers fan, I don't even know what to make of this. I'm totally buying it only because Bendis is writing it. Okay, before anything else, I have to say, TWO double-page spreads of the Avengers Mansion blowing up seems excessive. I barely know most of these characters, but Bendis does a decent job of giving them personalities before the shit starts to fly; the Hawkman/Madame Hydra bit is funny and believable, and got an extra kick from his turning it around on She-Hulk (even though I know from her own comic that she doesn't even live in Avengers Mansion anymore... details, details). So, Ant-Man's dead. Moment of silence, please (in which I try to remember who the hell Ant-Man is. I thought Hank Pym was Ant-Man. Who's this guy? Was he the guy dating Jessica a year ago in Alias?). And the Vision crashes into the Mansion, melts like the Wicked Witch of the West, and coughs up Ultron hairballs. Cool.

All that's interesting enough, but it's the personality changes in other characters that really intrigues me. What is making Tony Stark feel like he's drunk? What is driving She-Hulk berserk (and causing her to rip the Vision in half and pummel Captain America senseless -- which, as bad as the situation is, was still completely badass)? This issue has gotten me hooked. I'll stick around for more of this Disassembled nonsense, even though I hate crossovers and don't really care about the Avengers. By which I mean, I'll stick around for the books written by the good writers, like Bendis and Kirkman. (Assuming Kirkman's next issue of Captain America is better than his first.)

Powers: Am I supposed to remember who this new girl who's dressing up as Retro Girl is? Cause I don't. Is this a character that was introduced ages ago, or is she brand new, and I shouldn't feel bad about not recognizing her? Second issue of the reboot wasn't as excellent as the first; Oeming's art looks rushed in places, and Bendis draws out the interrogation scenes a little too long (Bendis padding a story? Shocking!). But it's still a good issue.

The Walking Dead: The new artist is starting to bug me. Tony Moore was so excellent at creating detailed, individual characters; with Charlie Adlard, I can hardly tell one character from another. Which bearded man is this? And Kirkman's foreshadowing was a little blunt: Carol is suddenly content, and accepting of things she had so recently condemned; I'm sure she's going to live a nice, long, happy life. As long as a zombie doesn't eat her face... oh, DAMN!! Didn't see that coming!!

Fantastic Four: This storyline had potential in the beginning, but I was disappointed with this finale. First of all, strange as it may be to say it, what with my constant criticism of the padding of Marvel arcs out to unnecessary lengths: this issue felt rushed and crowded; it might have been better with one more issue to wrap things up. Then again, that might only have added one more unenjoyable issue to the story. Waid seemed to lose his control of the villain characters; instead of the interesting individuals they started out as, they fell back into corny villain cliches at the end. I stopped caring about Cole and stopped believing in her mini-romance with Johnny. Glad there's a new story next issue.

Astonishing X-Men: Last week, it took me forever to remember one of the comics I had bought. Same thing this week, and this was the comic. Still not astonished by it. The art, yes; the art is gorgeous. But the writing... I want to like it, because it's Whedon, but I just don't. The conflict in this issue is especially contrived: I didn't for a second believe that Wolverine and Beast would attack each other full-out, claws bared, smashing through the walls of the school, because of that stupid serum. Not for a second. It was so blatantly, "we need a fight scene, who would it be cool to see fighting?" And would any student, anywhere, ever, actually ask a teacher, "Are you a fucking retard?" (And not get the shit kicked out of him.) I guess I'm sticking with this book because I want to believe it could be great, even though it isn't even close yet.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2004

A Pope outranks a General, right?

So I finally decided to find out my True Squirrel Name, like all the cool kids are doing (and by "all," I mostly mean this guy, aka General Smallnuts, as linked to by Mike, aka Nibbles Wobblebottom).

And my True Squirrel Name:

Pope Nuttykins.

Pope, people. I'm the Squirrel Pope.

Bow down before the leader of the Holy Squirrel Empire!! Convert, heathens, or face the sharpened point of my... acorn?


BOOKS: Monstrous Regiment, The Wee Free Men

Have you ever been reading a book, and enjoying it a great deal, but then, when you set it down one night, you feel absolutely no desire to pick it up again the next day?

That's happened to me with Lolita, which thankfully I eventually forced myself to pick up again and finish, and Infinite Jest, which maybe someday before I die I might get back into. But I never thought it would happen to me with Terry Pratchett's Discworld, the most entertaining series of books I've ever read. Especially not two books back-to-back.

The first was Monstrous Regiment, what you might call a proper entry in the series, about a woman who disguises herself as a man to join the army, and discovers that she's not the only one to do so. It was very funny, with even more than the usual complement of colorful characters (a troll, a vampire, a zombie, a werewolf, an Igor), and a bevy of satisfying confrontations and resolutions, and it featured Commander Vimes, perhaps my favorite recurring character in the Discworld universe. And yet, somehow, I set the book down and didn't pick it up again for months.

The second was The Wee Free Men, which I bought the week it came out, in April 2003, and just finished tonight. The delay in finishing is all the more embarrassing when you consider this is the second of Pratchett's Discworld books for children. It took me fifteen months to finish a children's book.

Not that I spent fifteen months reading it. It took about a week, with a fifteen-month pause in the middle. I can't explain why, but again, I just set it down and couldn't pick it back up. It's a fun book, about a young girl, Tiffany, a witch-in-the-making whose brother is kidnapped by the Queen of the Fairies. She must rescue him with the help of the Wee Free Men -- the pixies, here called the "pictsies", tiny blue belligerent creatures who accept Tiffany as their leader. The pictsies are the most entertaining part of the book, with names like Rob Anybody and Daft Wullie and (my favorite) Not-as-big-as-Medium-Sized-Jock-but-bigger-than-Wee-Jock-Jock, and their thieving, drinking, fighting ways accented by their deep and sometimes unintelligible Scottish burr.

I love Terry Pratchett, and I love Discworld. I can't understand why I'm having such troubles finishing his books of late. Maybe it's because I've slowed down on all my reading; the internet's probably at least partly to blame for that. After spending an hour or two online (which I do most every day), I'm more inclined to want to rest my eyes than pick up a book. Also, I blame TiVo. Sweet, wonderful TiVo. You should see a list of the books I've started and not yet finished, or, worse, bought and never even opened.

There's a new Pratchett book out right now, A Hat Full of Sky, which is apparently the sequel to The Wee Free Men. I'll pick it up soon -- I have to; as slow a reader as I may be these days, and as many books as I have stockpiled, Pratchett is still a must-buy. I just hope I finish it sometime this year.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2004

TV: Too much of a good thing

I love TV Poker. I love that it's everywhere right now, so much so that it's pissing off non-Poker fans. I love that at almost any given time of day, I can find Poker on the dial, whether it be the World Series of Poker on ESPN or ESPN2, the World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel, Late Night Poker on Fox Sports Net, Celebrity Poker Showdown on Bravo, Dogs Playing Poker on the Animal Channel, Liquor in the Front, Poker in the Rear on the Food Network, Hitler's Deadliest Poker Games on the History Channel, For the Last Goddam Time, Anna Nicole, a Flush Beats a Pair of Fives on E!...

Okay, I'm making up some of those. But Poker is everywhere. And now, as if there weren't enough televised card games already, GSN (formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken) recently added the World Series of Blackjack. Hell, Blackjack is barely interesting when I'm playing it, and the way the tournament is set up, whatever fun might've been had is forcibly removed. There's a set number of hands played (30, I believe), and limits are set on the maximum bets allowed, so everyone plays this incredibly dull, conservative, chip-conscious game, where, unless you bet really foolishly and actually lose all your chips early on, nothing matters until about the last three hands. And yet, I still enjoy watching it.

I didn't think there was a card game you could put on TV that I wouldn't watch.

Until GSN came up with Celebrity Blackjack.

Sweet, merciful Zeus, is this a train wreck! And not the exciting, exploding, twisted steel, bodies flung from windows into orphanages kind of can't-look-away train wreck. This is a train wreck with Jamie Kennedy and Eddie Griffin trading alleged "wisecracks", Hal Sparks thinking of his hilarious appearance in Spider-Man 2 and pretending not to be humiliated, Dean Cain gamely tolerating MAD TV's Alex Borstein cracking Lois & Clark jokes old enough to join the AARP, Melissa Joan Hart appearing to be in actual physical pain from adding up her cards kind of train wreck, which means this is the kind of train wreck where you have to shield your eyes, plug your ears, stick your head in the sand, and pray the world is enveloped in nuclear fire before you have to watch one more second.

If that sounds bad, consider that "Hollywood" Dave Stann, the single most obnoxious card player in the world, and the reason why watching the regular World Series of Blackjack was often a chore, serves as the dealer in Celebrity Blackjack. Which means his inflated ego is in direct competition for screentime and quip quotient with celebrities who didn't make the cut for Celebrity Mole, and are therefore fighting for attention as though their very celebrity lives depended on it (which they do). It's a pissing match in which you are the receptacle. And if that sounds unpleasant, trust me: the reality is much, much worse.

People: "Stuttering John" is one of the "celebrities" on this series. Fortunately, I didn't have the displeasure of witnessing that episode -- I could barely watch the one episode I ran across, let alone the entire six (I think) episode tournament. But when "Stuttering John" is elevated to "celebrity" status, it's time to turn off the lights and lock the door behind you. This show is a travesty on the level of Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?, only, if we're all very, very lucky, no one will remember Celebrity Blackjack five years from now, not even the participants.

I didn't care for it, is what I'm saying.

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MOVIES: I don't think I made this entirely clear on my previous entry, but in addition to mocking the Showgirls special edition DVD, I also truly, sincerely covet it, and plan on buying it this weekend. Damn right!

COMICS: Because I'm now listed on the Comic Weblog Updates page (and proudly so, I might add), I kind of feel some pressure to post a little more frequently about, you know, comics. So, in the beating a dead horse department: Eightball #23.

When I posted about it a couple weeks ago, my entire review consisted of:

I liked it fine. It made me a little sad. Louie was kind of a dick.
And I wasn't kidding. (Well, not much.) I mean, it's a good comic. Very good. What little I've read of Clowes' stuff has had the rare ability to make me feel something when reading a comic (most often, melancholy and a squirming discomfort... which is probably why I haven't read more of his stuff -- those aren't pleasant feelings in large amounts). I think he's really quite an excellent comics creator.

That said, I don't get all the hoopla. The comics "blogosphere" (I'm still lacking a better, non-idiotic term) seems to have risen up as one and decreed Eightball #23 its new lord and master. As I said in that previous post, this comic is being as infinitely praised and minutely deconstructed as if it were a newly discovered James Joyce novel.

I don't see all that. It's very smart, very enjoyable, it makes you laugh, makes you cringe, it's an insightful look into a troubled mind. But it ain't Ulysses. Or even Watchmen. Is it better than most comics? Is it the best single issue of the year? Maybe, maybe. But even so, I can't see writing a thesis on it.

Maybe that's why I don't write about comics more often.

TV: Last night on Bravo I caught a repeat of Kathy Griffin's stand-up special, The D-List (which, by the way, isn't even listed amongst her credits on -- that's odd). Basically, from her vantage point as a minor, minor celebrity ("For a while I was hovering around the C-List, but once you do 'Celebrity Mole' it's straight to the D"), she talks shit about all the better-known and infinitely weirder celebrities she encounters in her professional life, from a weepy, John Lennon-quoting Sharon Stone, to a menacing, profusely sweating Whitney Houston, to a near-comatose Anna Nicole Smith. And I loved it. You know there are millions of sick and twisted stories about the Hollywood elite floating around, and Griffin is your direct access to those stories. The humor flows naturally from the bizarre people and situations; she barely even has to craft punchlines around them, they're so hysterical to begin with.

The caveat is, you have to be able to take Griffin herself in order to enjoy her storytelling. She's got a grating, raspy voice, an abrasive, aggressive, sometimes flighty delivery ("Oh I forgot to tell you this!!"), and a far-too-chummy attitude with the audience. I can see how some might be turned off right from the beginning, and never even give her act a chance. Personally, though, I enjoy the whole package, and I'd really like to see this turned into a series of specials. I'll bet she's got enough stories to produce a new hour at least monthly, maybe even a half-hour weekly.

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Monday, July 26, 2004

MOVIES: Hey, the dialogue is still better than Titanic

Classic cinema fans rejoice: Tuesday sees the eagerly-anticipated release of the special-edition DVD of:

The only thing that could make this better would be if the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 reunited for the commentary track. Although I find it hard to believe even they could make this movie any funnier.

Highlights from the story about the DVD release:

Among DVD extras are a tutorial on how to give a lap dance and audio commentary titled "The Greatest Movie Ever Made."
"It seems like this great lost Pinter scene where subtext is everything, until you realize that there absolutely is no subtext. They're just talking about eating dog food."
And my favorite line (italics mine):

Berkley took the worst of it for her garish masquerade as a stripper turned Vegas showgirl, but the movie also was a career low for co-stars Kyle MacLachlan and Gina Gershon. The actors declined interviews for this story.
No! They declined interviews about the most wretched, humiliating experience in their careers, and quite possibly their lives? Shocker.

Where the hell is Kyle MacLachlan, anyway? Gina Gershon survived relatively unscathed, and even Elizabeth Berkley still gets parts in high-profile films, bless her naughty little heart -- but man, poor Kyle. Before Showgirls, he absolutely was on the upswing of stardom, well on his way, I think, to becoming a genuine box office draw. Now, can you even remember the last film he was in that debuted on more than a dozen screens, if not directly on cable? Sad.

(And no, I'm not counting his role on Sex and the City because 1) it's not the movies, and 2) I hate that damn show.)

But at least Showgirls also destroyed Joe Eszterhas's career, which was a boon to mankind.

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MOVIES: Anchorman

I have very rarely laughed as hard at any film as I did at Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Hell, I saw it twice over the weekend, and laughed just as hard the second time. The film is uneven in spots; some bits go on for too long, and one or two bits just don't quite work at all. But when it works, it's hysterical.

The main reason, of course, is Will Ferrell. Let's face it, he's the new comedy kingpin. And it's about time. After far too long being the best thing about very lousy movies (the SNL sketch-based Superstar, The Ladies' Man, A Night at the Roxbury), he is now the best thing about very funny movies (Elf, Old School, even his brief appearance in Starsky & Hutch). And all is right in the world.

As funny as Ferrell is, though -- as much as he is the star of the film, like his Ron Burgundy is the star of 1970s San Diego TV news -- to his credit, he's surrounded himself with some amazing talent. Paul Rudd as Brian Fantana ("I know what you're thinking: 'Does he have a nickname for his penis?' And the answer is yes. I call it the Octagon.") is note-perfect; Rudd, like Ferrell, has often been the best thing about very lousy movies, and deserves to be a much bigger star than he is. David Koechner as the slightly-too-fond-of-Ron Champ Kind is also a riot. And Steve Carell as the incredibly dense Brick Tamland steals every scene, as usual. (When Brick doesn't understand why everyone is yelling, but still desperately wants to join in, he resorts to screaming, "LOUD NOISES!!!") Fred Willard, Chris Parnell, Fred Armisen, and so many others I can't name without spoiling the great surprise of seeing them pop up... it's a surplus of comedic firepower. Oh, and Christina Applegate as Veronica Corningstone is okay, too, I guess.

(I actually felt a little bad for Applegate, whom I think must have experienced the same pressure on the set of the film as her character does within the film: she's entered a very close-knit men's club, and she has to fight for every laugh she gets, and those laughs usually only come by playing off the men.)

The story, about an all-male TV news team invaded by its first female reporter, is silly to begin with, and a great deal of humor is mined from these ridiculously set-in-their-ways chauvinists dealing with a woman (Brick: "I heard their periods attract bears!"), but the film often goes way, way over the top, as in the cameo-studded full-scale newscaster battle scene, complete with medieval weaponry, Planet of the Apes-style horseback net attacks, and severed limbs (cameo newscaster, on having his arm chopped off: "I did not see that coming!").

Sometimes the craziness goes on a little too long, as in that battle scene, or a cartoon trip to "Pleasure Town," but in at least three scenes, the film nails the exact level of craziness necessary for maximum hilarity, and had me laughing so hard my sides were hurting, and I could hardly see the screen from the tears in my eyes.

The first scene is when Brian Fantana mistakenly believes his "Sex Panther" cologne will allow him to seduce Corningstone. The horrible odor has the exact opposite effect; she wonders aloud at the rancid stench: "It smells like a dirty diaper filled with Indian food!" (From around the newsroom: "It smells like a turd covered in burnt hair!" "It smells like Bigfoot's dick!") The second comes when Burgundy, heartbroken over a tragic event, calls Fantana from a phone booth, and dissolves into incoherent shrieking -- no words can capture Ferrell's side-splitting hysteria in this scene. I haven't laughed so hard in a theater since the "franks and beans" scene of There's Something About Mary. I'm still laughing now, just thinking about it. And the third scene is played entirely in subtitles, and I don't even want to say anything more than that about it, other than to note that it demonstrates that the film, though heavily reliant on Ferrell, is actually very funny independent of him as well.

But, yes, Ferrell is the main reason to see this film. He's never hit so many notes so well. From the wild emotional breakdown I mentioned above, to the subtler laughs garnered with just a brief sentence or a gesture, he's non-stop funny. Some of his funniest bits are derived from his plain-spoken, obvious reactions to circumstances. When Fantana douses himself in "Sex Panther" and proudly says, "60% of the time, it works every time," Burgundy's immediate deadpan response: "That doesn't make sense." Of course it doesn't, but somehow only Burgundy is aware of it. Or when Burgundy is stumbling around the streets, broken and disheveled, drinking from a carton of milk: "It's so hot. Milk was a bad choice." Or when he leaps into a bear pit at the zoo: "I immediately regret this decision."

Anchorman would've been very funny if everyone had adhered strictly to character, and the events had played out in some approximation of the real world. But the fact that the film allows itself to take these absurd detours into the utterly illogical is what pushes it over the top into a new comedy classic. I can't imagine a funnier film being released this year.

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Sunday, July 25, 2004


Saw Anchorman this weekend. I'll post a full entry about it tomorrow, but for now, a couple short notes on the previews that accompanied it.

Christmas with the Kranks: Based on the book Skipping Christmas by John Grisham, starring Tim Allen and Dan Aykroyd, and directed by Joe Roth, the auteur behind Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise. This film won't be released until Thanksgiving, but I appreciate the studio showing a preview for it in July. This way, I can fit in four entire months of hating it in advance!

Catwoman: You know your movie's prospects are dim when they have to show previews for it after it's already been released. The FX look terrible, the fight scenes are from the "if we use a lot of cuts, the audience will think something exciting is happening" school of filmmaking, and when you can say the best thing about a movie looks to be Sharon Stone, and you're not talking about Basic Instinct, you are talking about a very bad movie indeed.

Collateral: If I never hear Tom Cruise's grating, braying, "I'm-totally-on-the-edge-dammit!" laughter again, it'll be too soon. And what the hell is up with that hair? That said, Michael Mann has directed some excellent movies, I'm not entirely against the idea of Tom Cruise as a villain, and I will even admit the possibility that Jamie Foxx won't totally suck. If it's a slow week, I'll check it out.

Without a Paddle: I think Seth Green is very funny. I think Matthew Lillard is very funny. I think Burt Reynolds appearing in a film about three friends getting lost on a river-rafting trip is a very funny riff on Deliverance. However, I think this movie will suck at least seven different kinds of ass.

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle: If, after having seen Dude, Where's My Car?, you'd told me that I would be eagerly anticipating that director's next film, I would've busted you right in the chops. Right square in the chops, sir! And yet, here we are. This looks hilarious. A very stupid kind of hilarious (the kind Dude promised but couldn't deliver), but hey, sometimes that's exactly what you're looking for in a comedy. Even my mom laughed at the trailer, and she hardly ever gets stoned anymore. And Ebert & Roeper just gave it two thumbs up, with Roeper calling it one of the funniest films of the year. Two thumbs up for a teen stoner comedy? That may be a sign of the apocalypse. Count me in!

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MUSIC: Yes, even better than Frampton Comes Alive

Who's Next is the greatest rock album of all time, and I will box any one of you who says different. Provided you are small and weak.

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Saturday, July 24, 2004

COMMERCIALS: At least they didn't drag the Pope into it

You know what I hate? That series of Charmin commercials in which a cartoon bear takes a crap.

Have you seen these? Apparently inspired by the phrase, "Does a bear shit in the woods?" the Charmin people have gone one step further: "Does a bear wipe its ass after taking a shit in the woods?" The answer, according to the series of ads dubbed (I'm not joking here) "Call of Nature": yes. Yes it does. (And it doesn't use a rabbit.)

Now, if you just had the cartoon bear cuddling and squeezing the Charmin, as human shills for toilet paper do, that would be fine. But Charmin apparently thinks that anything a cartoon does is cute. So, in the first of these commercials I ever had the displeasure to witness, we see a bouncy, pastel-colored, happy cartoon bear stepping up to a tree, ensuring the Charmin is near to hand (paw), hunkering down in a squat behind the tree oh my good lord is that bear doing what I think it's doing??

Next we get a close-up of the bear's face, which is creased with the concentration of one passing a truly heroic load out the back door. And then: bliss. The bear's face lights up in ecstasy. At long last, after all those years of having to drag its ass across the gravel, the bear finally has t.p. for its bunghole! And clearly the feeling is heavenly. Oh, what delight the bear is experiencing, smearing Charmin brand toilet tissue across its filthy, stinging, dung-encrusted sphincter!

This is one of those commercials that, intentionally or not, disgusts and alienates its target audience. Much like those Carl's Jr. ads, in which a cast of mannerless idiots revel in making a revolting mess out of their gooey, dripping, nauseating meals, with the tagline, "If it doesn't get all over the place, it doesn't belong in your face." Those commercials, rather than making me hungry for Carl's Jr., filled me with great vengeance and furious anger. Not only did I never ever ever want to go to Carl's Jr. ever again, I actually wished I never had to eat anything for the rest of my life. These Charmin commercials have the same effect: not only will I never buy Charmin, but I think I now actually hate my body and its natural functions a little bit.

Thanks, Charmin! Thank you and your defecating cartoon bear!


Friday, July 23, 2004

TV: Rescue Me

I caught the commercial-free premiere of the Denis Leary comedy/drama Rescue Me on FX on Wednesday, and... I may have built it up a little too much in my head. It was very good, don't get me wrong, but I think I was expecting to be blown away on the level of The Shield's premiere, which is a near impossible standard to meet.

It opened with a great establishing scene, Denis Leary's Full Metal Jacket/Patton-esque speech to a group of NYFD cadets, with Leary setting the overall mood for the episode: a lot of tough talk masking a lot of pain just beneath the surface. We witness the pain almost immediately after Leary leaves the cadets: he gets a visit from his cousin, a firefighter who died at Ground Zero. "You know what they found of him?" he's just gotten through telling the cadets. "A finger. That's all. A finger." His cousin's appearance only externalizes Leary's haunted soul -- and it's well-played. It could've come off as very cheesy, but Leary's cousin -- and other "visitors" -- keep things interesting with the same rough humor and tough-talking bravado of the living firefighters. (In a later appearance, the cousin tries to pop open a beer can. "Dammit," he says, struggling with the task, "it had to be my beer-opening finger.")

Of the tough talk, we get a plethora throughout the show; the cursing pushes FX's already liberal standards, with plenty of racial epithets (wop, jewbag) and homophobic slurs thrown in to boot. The show doesn't shy away from portraying these firefighters in a less than flattering light; they don't take kindly to outsiders, or any variation from their narrow definition of acceptable behavior or appearance. A telling exchange comes late in the episode between Leary and a therapist sent to the fire station to offer counseling to those still reeling from Sept. 11. When she questions him on the lack of female firefighters in the station, he says he'd be fine with one on his team as long as she could do the job. But then he adds:

"You got a Martian, or a cyborg, or a Chinaman that can do the job, bring them on, too."
"Are there any Chinese firefighters?"
"Yeah, probably. Somewhere in... China."
That he would equate a "Chinaman" with inhuman creatures is no slip of the tongue. It's obvious anyone deviating from the norm is going to find some very rough going in this club. It's a bold and probably all-too-truthful way to present the NYFD. I'm assuming this is establishing a baseline mindset which will evolve as the series progresses -- but by small increments at best.

Leary's character is a heavy drinker and is getting divorced -- which isn't a far cry from his character in his previous series, The Job (which was cancelled way too soon), in which he played a pill-popping, philandering cop. The role isn't a stretch for him, and Leary doesn't have the acting skills to stretch much beyond the niche he's built for himself (he co-created both series), but that's fine, because it's an admirable niche. He takes public servants, for which he clearly has a great deal of respect (as evidenced by his charitable contributions), and humanizes them, shows them not only as heroes (a label they wouldn't want to apply to themselves, anyway), but as real and flawed human beings. And he does it with a great deal of dark, even mean, humor. (In Rescue Me, Leary terrifies his fellow firefighters by throwing a child-sized doll from a burning window.)

Where the show didn't hold up for me was in the actual firefighting. It's tough to stage a realistic fire on film, and I think they err on the side of caution here; the one fire the station responds to doesn't convey any of the excitement or danger we've been led to expect. It looks like what it is, a few small flames staged around the actors.

And the rest of the cast, with the exception of Leary's wife (played by Andrea Roth, whom I remember from last year's excellent comedy series Lucky -- which I'm still mad at FX for cancelling), are fairly indistinguishable so far, ranging from the gruff ladykiller to the gruff chief to the gruff... other guy who's gruff.

But these are small complaints. I enjoyed the first episode a lot, and I only expect the series to get better. It's a great addition to the FX library, which is rivalling HBO in great original series on a non-broadcast network. The big networks better watch their asses; by playing it too safe, they're giving viewers like me less and less reason to visit the single-digit channels at all.

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COMICS: Wed. 7/21/04

Slow week for me at the comic shop. Other than the Hush TPB I wrote about yesterday, I only got three comics, which is probably a change for the better; I've been spending way too much on comics recently. Yeah, like I'm really gonna cut back.

Plastic Man: Glad Kyle Baker is back. I think I'm going to enjoy this story more than his first arc. It's lighter, goofier, funnier, more enjoyable over all. No hint of that jarring darkness Baker introduced in the early issues: who wants to read a Plastic Man story involving the gut-wrenching death of his best friend Woozy Winks? (Sure, Woozy got better, but still -- it was Plastic Man with an edge, which is so wrong in every definition of the word.) Seeing Abraham Lincoln slap Wonder Woman's ass in this new issue was definitely worth the cover price.

Ex Machina: Good, smart stuff. And, hey, here's Abraham Lincoln again! Slightly different context, though. Now that was a bit shocking, wasn't it? I enjoyed that central debate -- is it right to censor something that has the potential to provoke actual violence? -- but it felt like an extended tangent, irrelevant to the story. Are they going anywhere with this? I also enjoy that the superhero costume only appears in flashback: I'd rather see how a superpowered mayor deals in politics, than see just another costumed hero. Brian K. Vaughan is now officially one of my favorite writers, with this and Y: The Last Man. I may even have to check out what he's done with Ultimate X-Men when the TPB comes out.

It took me forever to remember the third comic I got was Daredevil. That probably doesn't say much about its entertainment value. I don't like that Ben Urich's uninformed diagnosis that Matt Murdock had a nervous breakdown has been so readily accepted as fact -- especially when, if you buy that theory, it took years for the breakdown to manifest, it lasted for more than a year, and upon Urich's diagnosis, Murdock apparently instantly cured himself by driving away his wife. And I've tolerated it for so long, but I finally reached the breaking point this issue: Alex Maleev's artwork is ugly. It's an eyesore. It makes the book a chore to read. I unequivocally hate it. If I drop this book -- and I'm getting fairly close to doing so -- it'll be 10% because of Bendis' story, which is, as always, padded to the breaking point, as well as patently ridiculous (Daredevil declares himself Kingpin and crime in Hell's Kitchen disappears -- because I guess now he's really beating up criminals, as opposed to all those other years he only kind of beat up criminals), 90% that hideous art.

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Thursday, July 22, 2004

COMICS: Batman: Hush

So, I finally picked up Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee's Batman: Hush -- or, at least, the first five chapters in trade paperback form. And, after that whole yearlong frenzy over the way they had revitalized Batman, and what a ripping good story, and blah de blah, I gotta say: this is what all the fuss was about?



I know, I can't judge fairly, having only read five of the twelve issues that make up the story -- but here I go anyway.

First of all, let me complain about the story being published in separate volumes in the first place. What a blatant money-grubbing scam. DC couldn't fit a measly 12 issues in one TPB? If they don't release the remaining seven issues in one book, if they actually plan on splitting this into three volumes, I think I'll decide, to hell with DC, and to hell with this story.

I'm almost at "to hell with this story" as is. And people complain about Bendis padding his stories! I mean, lots of characters do lots of things, but the actual amount of story that was advanced in this collection could've been easily condensed to one, maybe two issues. But Jeph Loeb loves showboating, he loves building issues around a particular character on the cover, so that his anemic plots can be stretched out over a year. Been doing it since The Long Halloween. His ongoing series, Superman/Batman, is less gimmicky in that fashion, but even there, he loves his guest stars, and he loves taking his sweet time.

I think Loeb is vastly overrated as an author. He's better at generating attention with "events" than at the actual writing part of the job. His dialogue and his stories are often corny, awkward, heavy-handed, ridiculously flamboyant, repetitive, and humorless.

No, but tell us what you really think, Tom?

He does sucker me in with the events, though, I have to admit. Over in Batman/Superman (which one is supposed to be billed first? Do they take turns every other issue?), I loved the return of Lex Luthor's green and purple power suit. I loved the return of Supergirl (at the beginning, before it started dragging). And, though I didn't buy the single issues, I couldn't wait for Hush to be collected in a book (a softcover book, screw that hardback nonsense) so I could see what all the buzz was about.

And this is it? The mysterious villain the whole story has been built around, Batman's bandage-faced nemesis, has so far committed the diabolical acts of... cutting Batman's bat-rope, and shooting out one of his bat-tires. Ooooh, what a chilling menace he is!

Meanwhile, there's a bunch of nonsense about Killer Croc and Poison Ivy either knowingly or unknowingly working for "Hush" (that is what they wind up calling the villain, isn't it? Because, in the five issues I've read, he still hasn't been named), and flashbacks built around Bruce Wayne's childhood friend Tommy Elliot that scream "red herring" so obviously that I'm jarred out of the story each time ("Just try and kill me," says young Bruce to young Tommy; "I can always think like you," says young Tommy to young Bruce; "Lay it on a little thicker, why don't you," says I to Loeb). Plus, Batman punches Superman and makes out with Catwoman, which, frankly, is fan fiction-level wish fulfillment. "Dude, wouldn't it be sweet if Batman used kryptonite to fight Superman?? Again??? And, like, he should totally bone Catwoman, too!!! I am so gonna post that on the forums tonight!!!"

Plus I hate the sound effects. Yes, that's right, I'm nitpicking at the sound effects. A writer writes all the sound effects in a comic, doesn't he? Look at some of the ones Loeb uses: DUSCHK, HAMD, BAX, SWAG ("SWAG"?), BDOK, BERKSCH, DUSSHK (maybe that's just a misspelling of "DUSCHK"), DTUSH. Those aren't sound effects, those are bad draws in Scrabble. I mean, "HAMD"? That's the sound of brass knuckles to Huntress' skull? "HAMD"?

And everything has a sound effect. Batman's batarang has to go "ZIP" not once, not twice, but three times around Croc's mouth. A knife cutting a newspaper has to go "SLIKT" (twice). A doctor opening the door to the O.R.: "BOOM". Me reading the 8,000th sound effect in three pages: "ARRGHH!!"

Other than that, though, it was okay.

Because there's the art. The art. I'm not enough of a cynic about that whole Image crowd to deny that Jim Lee does some damn excellent artwork. (Almost, though -- my disdain for Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld runs pretty deep, tainting many of those around them as well.) That's a lot of lovely detail, and some great, inventive, visceral action scenes. And he sure do love drawing women's asses, don't he? Jim Lee is why I'll get the next volume of Hush.

Let me remind you, by the way, that I don't know how this storyline ends. I've intentionally avoided as much internet chat about it as possible, and despite the fact that I already found out there's some Jason Todd stuff coming up (that was nice and subtle, by the way, having bandage-face stand next to the first five letters of the sign on the "Robinson's" building in issue 3), and despite how much I've complained about the writing -- try to avoid spoilers if you comment. Thanks.

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BOOKS: The Pleasure of My Company

Better late than never, yesterday's promised book review:

If pirates are the new monkeys, then mentally-challenged savants are the new pirates. Released on the heels of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, about an autistic math genius turned sleuth, Steve Martin's (yes, that Steve Martin) novella The Pleasure of My Company chronicles the life of Daniel Pecan Cambridge, pathological liar, OCD sufferer, math genius (he creates giant magic squares to help calm his nerves), and loner.

Daniel is a prisoner of his compulsions. He can scarcely leave his apartment for fear of having to cross a curb (curbs are highly illogical to him, and thus highly forbidding), and his relationships with people are nearly non-existent (he even ruins his chance at a sexual encounter with his upstairs neighbor by leaving her stranded in the bedroom while he makes sure the wattage of all the lit light bulbs in his apartment adds up to 1125). And the relationships he does have are riddled with fabrications and fantasies. He convinces himself he is in love with Zandy, the woman who fills his prescriptions at Rite-Aid; Elizabeth, the realtor handling the apartment building across the street; and Clarissa, the student therapist who visits him weekly.

After constructing an elaborate relationship with Elizabeth in his head, Daniel finally arranges to meet her, but as his mental tics manifest, Elizabeth becomes disgusted. Daniel assures himself (only half-jokingly) that he can't be held responsible for his failure:

...Elizabeth was at fault here. She had destroyed whatever was between us by making a profound gaffe: She met me.
But that illusion won't hold; he later admits to himself, apropos of the distance his mental disorders force him to create: "There are few takers for the quiet heart."

The book, and his relationship with Clarissa, both take a surprising turn when she unexpectedly shows up at his apartment:

..."Could I ask you a favor?" The request held such exasperation that I worried she had used up all the reserve exasperation she might need on some other occasion.
Clarissa is having troubles with her abusive ex-husband, and needs to leave her baby son, Teddy, with Daniel while she deals with things. She instinctively knows what the reader has come to learn, that despite the lies he can't control, Daniel is a trustworthy person. And so Daniel, whose world is ruled by logic, is suddenly in charge of a highly illogical being. The neuroses which have kept him locked up are challenged by Teddy, and this first step leads him on a greater journey outside of himself.

Martin is no Hollywood opportunist, publishing a book just because his name recognition allows him the luxury to do so. He's a gifted writer, as those who have read his previous novella, Shopgirl, already know. His dialogue is humorous, sad, sweet, and real, and his descriptive prose brightens even the mundanity of Rite-Aid:

The merchandise inside broke the light like a million prisms. Candy bars, laid out like organ keys, glistened in their foil wrappers. Tiers of detergent boxes bore concentric circles of vibrating color. The tiny selection of pots and pans reflected elongated sideshow images. Green rubber gloves dangled from metal racks like a Duchamp, and behind it all was Zandy's yellow hair, which moved like a sun, rising and setting over the horizon of ointments and salves.
The Pleasure of My Company is a wonderful book, smart, subtle, funny and wise, deeply observant of human nature, its triumphs and failures.

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COMICS: Alan Moore

"Well, the one thing with writing stories about the rise of fascism is that if you wait long enough, you'll almost certainly be proved right."

Great, extensive interview with Alan Moore at Salon, in which the interviewer says Moore is not just one of comic's finest writers, but one of the world's finest writers, period. Salon is always great about giving due respect to the comics world, as opposed to the "Biff! Zowie!" comics articles you usually see in mainstream press.

Those of you without subscriptions to Salon will have to get a Free Day Pass to read the interview, but it's worth the 30 seconds or so you'll have to spend watching an ad.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2004


TV: What The Amazing Race is lacking in teams to root for this year, it's more than making up for in teams to hate, which is just as fun. Charla and Mirna are on the top of my list: little person Charla for constantly insisting how strong and independent she is, then manipulating others into feeling sorry for her and helping her, and complaining when they don't, and Mirna for being such a bloody victim, such a martyr. Everything that goes wrong happens because other people are out to get her, because something is being done to her, as opposed to simply resulting from her own weakness and incompetence. "Now we're lost, because we trusted somebody," she said in last night's episode. No, you're lost because you were driving the lead car and you were stupid enough to miss the turn. How is that the fault of the car following you, whose driver did make the right turn? Answer: it's NOT! Ya freak.

Also, I'm sick to death of Mirna yelling at her cousin, "Come on Charla, this is a race, Charla, hurry up, Charla!" She is hurrying! Her legs are half the length of yours, you dumbass!

Then there's Chip and Kim. Chip started out seeming like such a sweetheart, but turned into a snake in the second episode. He sabotaged Kami and Karli by jumping into their cab and refusing to get out until another cab arrived for his team. And now he's got the nerve to trash talk about them, as though they were at fault. What a jackass.

And the pizza brothers, Marshall and Lance: at first look, I hoped they would be like the first season's Kevin and Drew, wise-cracking fun-lovers. Instead, they make offensive remarks about women drivers and the native people: "Useless foreigners!" Check your passport, chump: you're the foreigner, and your inability to communicate with the locals doesn't make them useless.

I just hate so many of these people. Which means the Amazing Race's casting directors have done their job again! Way to go!

COMICS: All the foofaraw over Identity Crisis has almost made me want to pick it up. Almost. Because just when I think it sounds interesting or controversial enough for me to check out, I remember, Oh yeah, I couldn't care less about the Elongated Man. Killing off his wife is like killing off Dr. Marvin Monroe on The Simpsons: nobody cared about him, nobody missed him, and after enough time had passed, he came back from the dead anyway. (Or as was said of Monty Burns: "His condition was upgraded to 'alive'.")

BOOKS: I actually will have a proper Books post to make later tonight, but it might be fairly late, since tonight is trivia night at the local sports bar. And I can't miss that. One minute before midnight is still keeping to the schedule!

TV AGAIN: Don't forget to tune into Denis Leary's firefighter comedy/drama Rescue Me on FX tonight. Even if you're not otherwise inclined to watch a Denis Leary show, just think of FX's record with original programming so far: The Shield, Nip/Tuck, and, in my opinion, the best new show of 2003 (though sadly prematurely cancelled), Lucky. I think that puts the chances for Rescue Me being a keeper pretty high, don't you?

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Tuesday, July 20, 2004

TV: What about Grape Ape?

The three-month free preview of certain premium package channels on DirecTV just expired, which means I must once again survive without VH1 Classic. And I don't think I can.

Oh, sweet, sweet VH1 Classic. Get this: it's a music video channel -- that plays music videos! No, I'm serious! (Music videos, for those of you who are under 25, and therefore may never have seen one, are short films built around a particular song, often featuring the song's artists pretending to sing, and, as often as not, buxom women in various stages of undress. And, if you've only seen music videos on TRL, here's the kicker -- actual music videos last the ENTIRE LENGTH of a song, and are NOT OBSCURED by fawning text messages from sub-literate dipshits with computer access in their detention facilities, and are ENTIRELY FREE of screaming idiots in Times Square superimposed over the screen! Hard to believe, isn't it?)

MTV was lost to fans of music videos a long, long time ago. If you want "reality" programming showcasing the most repugnant alleged human beings on the planet, if you want pranks performed by a B-list celebrity on C-list dupes, if you want "news" "documentaries" about breast implants and other real-life issues, as long as they involve tits, if you want millionaires rubbing your nose in your non-millionaire life by showing you their personal bowling alleys and movie theaters and 87 pimped-out Rolls Royces, if you want awards shows that can't even get the major winners to show up to the ceremony, hosted by anyone who once appeared on In Living Color who isn't Jim Carrey, if you want Gideon and Suchin Pak, for Christ's sake... then you want your MTV! If you want music videos, however -- or, even more specifically, non hip-hop music videos -- try checking in at about 3 AM, and maybe they'll throw a Creed bone your way.

The original VH1 is even worse. They rode a minor popularity wave for a while in the '90s, with non-video programming like Behind the Music and Pop-Up Video, but that eventually petered out, and rather than going back to showing the Video Hits that the VH in their name stands for, they went all-nostalgia, all the time. I Love the '80s! I Love the '70s! I Love the '80s Strikes Back! I Love the '90s! Even Best Week Ever, which attempts to manufacture nostalgia for last Thursday. And if it's not nostalgia, then it's crappy, crappy, crappy movies, like Grease 2 or -- and I still can't believe this one -- a heavily censored version of Showgirls. Which, truth be told, is almost as unintentionally hilarious as the original -- the fact that someone actually digitally added bras to all the topless women cracks me up.

MTV2, for the longest time, I thought was the answer to my music video quest. They're all about the music, right? Well, for all I know, they might very well have been -- up until the point that I actually started getting it. Then it turned into a rerun-dumping ground for MTV, broken up by four-hour blocks of hip-hop. Okay, I get it already: the kids love the hip-hop. But I'm pretty sure other music is still being made, check me if I'm wrong. Would it kill you to play a video of one of those songs?

But then there's VH1 Classic. Sweet, sweet VH1 Classic. I would gladly trade the dozens of channels which are devoted to people decorating other people's homes (by force, if necessary) for VH1 Classic. I would give up all 28 variations on the Discovery Channel, I would sacrifice at least 10 of the 12 sports stations, I'd even give them back UPN, if they would only give me my one music video channel that only plays music videos.

And when I tell you they play only music videos, I'm not screwing around: they don't even have commercials. At most, they break for a minute-long promo of something on VH1, or for a VJ to talk about Styx's current album, as though anyone gives a rat's ass about any Styx album more recent than 20 years ago. And then they get right back to playing a music video, all of it, all the way through, no announcer speaking over the beginning or end or anything. And then after that, they play another one. And another. Until you just want to weep for the beauty of it all.

The catch, of course, is that they're all older videos, at least five years old, I'd say, and usually more. The bonus is: no Creed! No Nelly! No Fred Durst! No Britney Spears! No Matchbox 20!

And again: I now have to learn to live without it. The free preview was wonderful, wonderful enough that I'd gladly pay for it -- if I only had to pay for that one channel. Instead, I would have to pay for a whole buttload of channels that I don't give a damn about, because DirecTV loves to screw you like that. "Why can't I pay a fraction of that price and get just the one channel?" I ask DirecTV. "Because sit down and shut up," they respond.

(This is why I don't get HBO. I can't just get the one HBO that has The Sopranos. I have to also pay for HBO2, and HBO West, and HBO East, and HBO Reykjavik, Iceland, and HBO Family, and HBO Sports, and HBO Comedy, and HBO All Fraggle Rock All the Time, and HBO Dance For Us, Clown, DANCE!!!)

So, in summary: crap.

Also, I don't get Boomerang anymore, either, which is okay, because I didn't watch it nearly as much as I thought I would, anyway. I guess my craving for Huckleberry Hound and Top Cat and Wally Gator and Magilla Gorilla wasn't as strong as I thought it was. Oh well.

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COMICS: Jack Green? Black Lantern?

I think the idea of a Green Lantern movie starring Jack Black is great. So there.

I mean, come on. Some things are going to work well on the screen, and some things, no matter how hard you try, are going to look a little goofy. That's why I have no great faith in the upcoming Fantastic Four film -- no matter how expensive the special effects are, a man stretching his body like rubber is just going to look plain silly. Same with Green Lantern: he's got a magic ring that makes giant green boxing gloves. Sure, sure, they made GL pretty darn cool on the Justice League cartoon -- but still, it's a cartoon. I just can't picture a serious live action Green Lantern looking anything but a little ridiculous. If it's going to be made, then go with the ridiculous, embrace it, cast Jack Black. And -- as has already been suggested by Mike's co-worker Chris: Ben Stiller as Sinestro. Or Vince Vaughn!

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Monday, July 19, 2004

MOVIES: Fahrenheit 9/11

I've never had a movie-going experience like Fahrenheit 9/11.

I can't write an objective and analytical review of this film. I'm not hyper-informed enough to pick out the alleged inaccuracies of the film, nor to counter the inaccuracies of those who listed Michael Moore's inaccuracies in the first place. I don't doubt that some of the film has been exaggerated, taken out of context, skewed to support Moore's beliefs. And those beliefs mirror mine, that Bush and his administration are deeply corrupt, deceitful, and dangerous, so I'm more inclined to take Moore's side in any case.

All I can tell you is how I felt, and what I'm still feeling, 24 hours later.

It was an incredibly emotional two hours. I cycled through any number of powerful feelings -- I was furious, I was appalled, I was horrified, I was laughing out loud, I was ashamed, I was sickened, I was guilt-ridden, I was deeply mournful. I was devastated. I literally had tears running down my cheeks at one point: when, in the film's centerpiece, Moore talks to a woman from his hometown of Flint, Michigan, a conservative military booster who lost a son in Iraq -- her world has been destroyed, and she doesn't even know why -- it's overwhelming, just overwhelming. Thinking about it even now, I feel my throat tightening and my eyes watering. You can't watch that segment and be unmoved. You simply can't. Unless you're a robot. In which case you totally deserve to have your ass kicked by Will Smith.

She reads her son's last letter home, and he asks her what he's doing there, why Bush has sent him and so many others to Iraq, and she doesn't have any more idea than he did. But Moore has an idea or two, most of them involving the vast amounts of money the Saudis invest in America. Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, the Bin Laden family are Saudis, but Bush can't afford to alienate a country with that much money -- especially when they're spending it on companies closely related to him and his family. So instead he picks a scapegoat, trumps up some WMD charges, and off to war we go.

That's what Moore believes to be true, and that's what he sets out to prove. Whether he succeeds or not is up to the individual filmgoer.

But there are things in this film that can not be countered or spun. The human cost, on both sides of this war, is immeasurable. Try to hate the Iraqis, when you see a pickup truck full of dead Iraqi children. Try blaming the U.S. soldiers, when you see a double amputee describe the crushing pain he still feels in his missing hands, or a mother's grief at losing her firstborn son.

I certainly wasn't alone in the audience. When I got emotional, I could hear others around me in the same state: gasping, sniffling, snorting at Bush's clownish pandering to the rich while the poor on both sides were dying. There were even some who, like me, sat through the end credits to hear all of Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World," which was a decompression period, a cathartic release, at the end of such a roller coaster of emotions. There was little else I could think of for hours after I left the theater. This is a film that stays with you.

I couldn't recommend this film more highly. Everyone needs to see it. Even those who hate Michael Moore, who support the president without question (as Britney Spears is shown professing in one hilarious interview segment) -- if only to come out of it saying, "I still support the war, but now I'm fully aware of the human cost involved."

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MOVIES: Logan's Run?

According to this story on Yahoo, Bryan Singer has now been signed to direct the upcoming Superman film.

If this holds to be true, it throws a bit of a monkey wrench in Singer's plans to direct a remake of Logan's Run (really?), followed by the third X-Men movie. I can live with that, though, knowing someone is in charge of Superman that knows how to direct an action scene without splitting it into 87,000 micro-cuts, knows how to direct actors and get actual, you know performances out of them, and, hell, just plain knows how to direct a good film.

I mean, an action director that's also a good director. What a concept. How many of those are around these days? Let's see: Singer, Ang Lee... uh... hmm. Let me get back to you.

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Sunday, July 18, 2004

MUSIC: There's one more kid that'll never go to school, never get to fall in love, never get to be cool

Occasionally, a piece of familiar music takes on entirely new significance due to the way it is used in a film or TV show. Quentin Tarantino is a master of this kind of recontextualizing (if I may use a $10 word) of music, the prime example probably being the innocuous lite FM hit "Stuck in the Middle with You" playing during the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs. Here are a couple of other examples in my life:

An obvious and corny one is Foo Fighters' "Next Year," which was used as the theme song on the TV show Ed. It was more a coincidence of timing than anything else which changed my perception of that song -- just as the title character returns to his hometown after a long absence, so did I return to my hometown around the time of the show's debut. I didn't buy a bowling alley or anything, but still, it was hard to listen to the line, "I'll be coming home next year," and not feel that the song was speaking to me in a new and personal way.

Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home" (which I've mentioned before) was always a sweet and enjoyable tune to me. Steve Winwood's soulful voice over Eric Clapton's haunting acoustic guitar... good stuff. In college, it became a personal favorite, especially after one inebriated evening when a friend and I decided to do some exploration of the Berkeley Hills and literally couldn't find our way home. I kept wondering how long it would take the search crews to recover our rotting corpses, and thinking of that line from the chorus, "I'm wasted and I can't find my way home."

Then I watched the movie Fandango, and the song took on a new meaning for me. The film ends with the loss and heartbreak that come with growing up: A close knit group of college friends, at the conclusion of their last adventure together after graduation, have all gone their separate ways, probably never to see each other again. And Kevin Costner, still pining for the love of his life, has just swallowed his emotions and served as the best man in her wedding to his best friend. After everyone has gone, and he stands alone in the dark on a desert hill, the credits roll, and "Can't Find My Way Home" plays. And now, I can't hear that song without experiencing similar feelings of isolation and heartache. All because of a movie.

A song which became much more enjoyable to me after its onscreen use is Kid Rock's "Bawitaba." No, I'm not kidding. And if you've ever seen the first episode of The Shield, you know what I'm talking about. (If you haven't, go rent the DVD. Now.) I liked the song just fine to begin with, but it becomes a brutal, powerful anthem when coupled with The Shield's compelling anti-hero, Vic Mackey. In the pilot episode, we've seen that Mackey and his cadre of corrupt cops have drawn the suspicions of precinct Captain Aceveda, who arranges for a new cop, an informant, to join Mackey's crew. The crew's big assignment is to take down a major drug dealer. In the final four minutes of the episode, Mackey's crew carries out their raid on the dealer's house in near silence -- with "Bawitaba" blaring on the soundtrack. Mackey guns down the drug dealer, and then -- in the very last seconds of the song, and of the episode, Mackey pulls the gun from the drug dealer's dead hand and shoots the informant cop right between the eyes. Said up jump the boogie.

God damn if that wasn't the most shocking, powerful moment in all of television that year. And ever since watching it, I can't help but invest "Bawitaba" with equal power.

And earlier today, I finally watched Fahrenheit 9/11, which closes with Neil Young's soaring, scathing indictment of the first Bush's presidency, "Rockin' in the Free World." Didn't take much to repurpose it for Bush, the sequel:

There's a warning sign on the road ahead
There's a lot of people saying we'd be better off dead
Don't feel like Satan but I am to them
So I try to forget it any way I can
Keep on rockin' in the free world

I instantly knew I would never hear that song the same way again. Nor, I think, will anyone who sees that film.

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Saturday, July 17, 2004

COMICS: Eightball #23

Everyone in the comics "blogosphere," for lack of a non-idiotic term, is chiming in with their incredibly detailed deconstructions of Dan Clowes' new issue of Eightball, as though it were a newly discovered James Joyce novel. So, never one to shy away from a challenge, here is my own meticulous examination:

I liked it fine. It made me a little sad. Louie was kind of a dick.

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TV: Emmy Nominations

A few of my takes on the 2004 Emmy nominations:

--Biggest oversight is Michael Chiklis for The Shield. I think it's the best show on television, and he's the best thing about it. I mean, how unfair is it that he gets dropped from last year's list, but Kiefer Sutherland remains? This is just an example of how, when something finally breaks into the awareness of the Emmy voters, it takes a miracle to dislodge it -- apparently, none of them realized 24 became a parody of itself this year (as if it weren't already one last year), just as none of them are willing to admit The West Wing's best days are way behind it now. But The Shield, despite Chiklis's surprising Emmy win in its first season, has never fully penetrated the Emmy voters' groupthink, probably because it's on a non-broadcast network that isn't HBO.

--Also, I'm grateful to see Arrested Development got the attention it deserved, but disappointed that Scrubs continues to be slighted (despite best editing and best writing noms this year). No John C. McGinley as supporting actor? That's just wrong.

--Sex and the City's popularity continues to baffle me, but at least this is the last year it can hog all those nominations. And good riddance to it. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: HBO actually managed to create a show so bad that no amount of gratuitous nudity could make me watch it. And don't tell me it's because it's meant for women, and I just don't understand it. I understand a piece of crap when I see it. All those women read Bridges of Madison County, too -- doesn't mean it wasn't still a big steaming pile of horse crap.

--Matt LeBlanc: enjoy your acting nomination. It'll be your last.

--Joan of Arcadia's entry in the best drama category is a bit of a surprise, but maybe it shouldn't be. Emmy voters love that God fella! And Amber Tamblyn's nomination for best actress is amazing (but well-deserved), considering her -- and the show's -- youth.

--On the other hand -- Mariska Hargitay, for Law & Order: One of Those Damn Spin-Offs? Really? Are there that few deserving actresses working in TV these days?

--I wish I still had HBO. Sounds like I'm missing a lot of good stuff. I hope Deadwood comes out on DVD soon.

--Emmy voters, you've given an award to all four Will & Grace actors. You can stop nominating them now. Actually, you should've stopped before Debra Messing won. What was that all about??

--Even sadder than a nomination coming after a show's cancellation -- as with Bonnie Hunt (whom I love), or Futurama -- is a nomination coming after an actor's cancellation. Which is my morbid way of saying, I loved John Ritter and all, but giving him an Emmy nomination he didn't deserve isn't going to make anyone feel any better.

--I find a bitter kind of satisfaction in the fact that after all the hoopla over their respective finales, neither Friends nor Frasier were nominated as best comedy. If only I could say the same about that damn Sex and the City.

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Friday, July 16, 2004

COMICS: More on Wed. 7/14/04

Okay, let's try this again.

Superman/Batman: As I said before, this story needs to end. Batman and Superman's dueling captions have been saying the exact same thing for, what four issues now?

BATMAN: I don't trust anyone because mommy didn't hold me enough. Superman's a chump and a doofus.
SUPERMAN: Batman's got a stick up his ass. I'm totally right to put all my trust in someone I've known for three days.
(I may be paraphrasing a little.) And I'm getting a little tired of Michael Turner's art. It's gorgeous in places, but everyone is starting to look like a Kate Moss-type, heroin-chic cover model.

She-Hulk: Don't care for the new artist. I don't know if this is a permanent art change, but I hope not. I mean, She-Hulk is actually wearing that purple and white skintight uniform on the cover inside the comic now. That's not an improvement. The last artist made some weird alterations to fairly well-established character designs, like the Thing and Spider-Man, but they were pleasantly eye-catching changes. The new art is more standard action fare. I hope this title doesn't start playing down to generic superhero expectations, rather than remaining the unique genre-busting book I became a fan of. (Although I have to admit, I got a kick out of seeing Nova knocked across town.)

Captain America: I'm a fan of Robert Kirkman's Invincible and The Walking Dead, but his writing debut here did not impress me at all. The characters speak in awkward phrases and corny cliches; Captain America is portrayed as a lunkhead on cruise control. The best part was the peek at Hydra's break room, but that was it for originality. Disappointing.

Fables Also disappointing. After eight issues of the Wooden Soldiers, all the conflicts are resolved off-page. Bigby wipes out the Wooden Soldiers, but we only get to see the Gingerbread House Witch's description of it. And the Witch vs. Red Riding Hood/Baba Yaga battle is only shown in one panel, reflected in King Cole's eye. Lame. After eight issues of build-up, we deserve to witness those resolutions. Also, Snow White's running and embracing Bigby was way out of character. First issue of Fables that let me down. At least there's a new story next issue.

Punisher: Which is more than I can say for this title. I've already complained about this tedious storyline before. All I'll add now is, I wish every goddam story in every goddam Marvel Comic weren't Constitutionally required to be six goddam issues.

Scurvy Dogs: Hilarious as always. Everyone should get this book. This issue, Blackbeard's crew gets swept up in a media frenzy orchestrated by Buck Rogers in the 25th Century's Dr. Theopolis -- remember him? He was the talking disc Twiki carried around his neck. Twiki dumped him, and now a gasoline-drinking Rod Stewart carries him instead. This book is sheer comic genius.

Street Angel: As is this one. I picked up the second issue because of a mention of it in John Jakala's Grotesque Anatomy (oddly enough, in a post with a negative review of the upcoming third issue). I really want to go into this issue in more detail, because its insane comedic brilliance deserves proper attention, but I will mention it involves a Mexican wresting mask-wearing Incan sun god, Spanish Conquistador Cortez, who strangely enough has a pegleg and talks like a movie pirate, a bunch of ninjas who ride fire engines into battle (so much for that vaunted ninja stealth!), Cosmick, the world's first Irish astronaut (Cosmick, get it?), and Jesse, a teenage girl, master of the martial arts, and the world's greatest homeless skateboarder, who fights against "ninjas, drugs, nepotism, and pre-algebra as Street Angel." I loved this book.

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New comments

I just added the HaloScan comment system to the blog, because I hated Blogger's comment system. Hopefully, I did it right.

My apologies to everyone who commented under the old system. Probably there is a way to have kept those comments from disappearing, but I'm neither computer savvy enough nor patient enough to figure it out. Maybe I'll cut and paste them from gmail, where all the comment updates have been saved.

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Thursday, July 15, 2004

COMICS: Wed. 7/14/04

I just spent over an hour on a comics post that just got obliterated because Blogger's "improvements" to their post creation form are buggy as hell and suck copious amounts of ass. I even right-clicked and saved the text as a precaution: the crash still erased it all. Blogger is a severely shitty site.


I'm so furious I can't even attempt to recreate the post now. I'm done. Here, here's my frickin' update: Street Angel is awesome, The Punisher and Superman/Batman need to finish their tedious current storylines right now, the finish of the Wooden Soldiers story in Fables was surprisingly disappointing, Chaykin's Bite Club is just okay, while his Challengers of the Unknown is excellent, visually exciting with a compelling story, though the characters are all underdeveloped so far, and The Pulse was typical Bendis, meaning the story is padded beyond belief, but I still liked it, the dialogue, and the characters.

And I haven't yet read She-Hulk, Robert Kirkman's debut on Captain America, Scurvy Dogs, and Eightball.

God damn lousy Blogger.

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MOVIES: Mid-Afternoon (About Threeish, Let's Say)... of the DEAD

A month old, but new to me, found via Distorting the Medium:

George A. Romero has suddenly gotten financing in order for not one, but TWO horror movies. One is Diamond Dead, some rock 'n' roll horror comedy type thing that, eh. Big whoop.

But the other is the long, long, LONG overdue fourth entry in Romero's legendary zombie series, which is now being called Land of the Dead! (Previously known as Dead Reckoning, and before that, Dusk of the Dead, which is my favorite title of the three, but what are you gonna do.) It could actually be in production as early as October. For real this time! (I hope.)

I guess the recent hit remake of Part 2 of Romero's Dead trilogy (soon to be tetralogy -- yes, that's the proper word), Dawn of the Dead, got some geniuses to thinking -- hey, what if we gave some money to the guy who did the original? What a concept.

Oh, man oh man, do I love me some zombies. I dig all kinds of horror movies in general, especially the Friday the 13th series (Jason kicks ASS), but I still think Day of the Dead may be the best I've ever seen. Talk about gruesome! And zombies are the perfect villain. They don't have a backstory, or any hammy dramatic speeches. They don't justify their actions, and they don't waste time explaining their plans to the hero. There's no reasoning or bargaining with them. They're not even evil, really. They don't care about taking over the world. All they want is to eat your brains. Eat 'em right the fuck up! I admire that kind of straightforwardness in a monster.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2004

BOOKS: I got nothing.

I think I'm going to have to rejigger my posting schedule, because I just don't read fast enough anymore to have a new book to write about every week.

This week, I could write about Captains Outrageous, which I'm almost finished with, but since I already wrote about it, that would be a tad redundant. And repetitive. And it would say the same thing over again. And it would be redundant, too.

Or I could write about the Steve Martin book I picked up at the library this week, The Pleasure of My Company, but I haven't read it yet, despite the fact it's only, like, 12 pages long. Seriously, it's short. But I can barely read six comic books in one day anymore, let alone a whole novel (like I used to).

So I can talk a little about Martin's last novel, Shopgirl, which I have read, and then I'll talk about the changes I'm thinking of making to this site.

Mostly what I remember about Shopgirl was how funny it wasn't. There were more than a few humorous lines and scenes, but the overall feeling I got from it was one of melancholy. Love didn't seem to work for any of its characters, and frankly, I felt a little concerned for Steve Martin. After all, Anne Heche dumped him for Ellen Degeneres. That's enough to destroy any man's hopes for true love.

(Tangent: I wonder if he and Ellen have ever talked about Anne. I mean, he drove her to the other team, and she drove her right back. There can't be an awful lot of people in the world who have shared an experience like that. Maybe they have meetings with Lou Diamond Phillips, whom Julie Cypher left to be with Melissa Etheridge.)

Also, I was shocked at the sexual explicitness of Shopgirl. I've grown to think of Steve Martin as an almost asexual character, like Gilligan. As disturbing as it would be to picture Gilligan having a three-way with Ginger and Mary Ann, so was it disturbing to read sex scenes written by Steve Martin. As disturbing as it was to watch him participate in a sex scene with Helena Bonham-Carter in Novocaine.

Even more disturbing: my mother wanted to borrow the book when I was done. She was thinking, "Oh, Steve Martin, he's a silly fella." Meanwhile, he had written an unexpectedly dark and sexually frank book. I don't know about your relationship with your mother, but I was not going to be responsible for giving her that book. She kept asking if I had finished it, and I kept saying, "Nope, not yet!" even though I had finished it in a day and a half. I stalled long enough that I had to return the book to the library. "Sorry, I guess you'll have to check it out yourself!" I don't know if she ever did. I kind of hope not.

So, what to do with my blog if Wednesdays are no longer book days? It's a little early in my blog's existence to have an identity crisis, yet here we are. I think I may either open the "books" entry to comic book trade paperbacks as well, of which I have far too many for my own good. Or turn it into a grab bag kind of day -- books one week, music or art or whatever the next. Already I post a variety of different items on different days, but I wanted this blog to have an agenda of at least one lengthy post on one particular predetermined aspect of pop culture every weekday. I think I'm going to have to concede defeat on the book posts for the immediate future.

I'll sleep on it tonight. More contemplation tomorrow.

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COMICS: Maybe everyone else got shorter

Wolverine's short, right? I mean, that's his deal. He's small but ferocious, like the animal.

So how come in the future he's taller than everybody else?

Forgive me if I'm a year behind the curve here, but I just read the TPB, and I have to wonder why Silvestri draws Wolverine so damn tall. He's Clint Eastwood when he should be Tom Cruise. Maybe he's still growing. But then he'd outgrow his adamantium skeleton, wouldn't he?

Is it just me on this?

[EDIT: Not only is it not just me, but it's not just Silvestri. Today at the comic shop Dorian let me know it's been Marvel's policy for a while now to depict Wolvie as tall and sleek, as opposed to short and stocky. I guess I don't read comics with Wolverine in them much. Except when Garth Ennis is having the Punisher blow his face off.]

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COMICS: Puny humans read!

Found via gutterninja, who found it elsewhere:

Hulk's Diary.

It almost causes me physical pain that I didn't think of this first.


Hulk saw movie about bug-man and it was good but needed more smashing.


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Tuesday, July 13, 2004

TV: My UNPRECEDENTED look at The 4400

First of all, USA network, get over yourself. The 4400 is hardly UNPRECEDENTED, as you keep insisting (about 8,000 times during Sunday's two-hour premiere, by my count). In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." It's a mini-series. We've seen those before. Airing one episode a week and calling it a "limited series" doesn't change what it is -- nor is that little semantics game UNPRECEDENTED. ABC, for one, did the same thing with Kingdom Hospital. A mini-series, by any other name...

Despite USA's best efforts to irritate the crap out of me, I still enjoyed this first episode. It's a great premise -- all those people who have been abducted by aliens being returned to Earth at the same time. The execution, though, is a bit uneven. There are a ton of characters (not 4400, fortunately, but still a lot), and not all of them are written or acted equally well. Michael Moriarty as returnee Orson Bailey is certainly a stand-out, from both the writing and acting perspectives. (But Moriarty himself worries me a little -- is he really that feeble, or is it just uncanny acting? I kept fearing he would fall over and shatter.) Also interesting is Mahershalalhashbaz (-expialidocious) Ali as Korean Conflict soldier Richard Tyler, who runs into Lily, the granddaughter of the love of his life, among the 4400. And falls in love with her. (Well, not yet, but I'm assuming.) Lily also has a good storyline: she's only been gone 11 years, but her husband has written her completely out of her then-infant, now 12-year-old, daughter's life; her daughter doesn't even realize her stepmother isn't her real mother. And daddy is doing everything to keep it that way. Plus, Lily's pregnant. Man, when it rains it pours.

The returnees aren't all great characters, and their reintegration into the modern world is rife with contrived conflict and melodrama (especially the high school student, who gets picked on by bullies, and wants to steal his brother's hot girlfriend), but that's nothing compared to the two Homeland Security agents heading the case. Do they butt heads at first, but quickly develop a grudging admiration for one another? You bet your ass they do! And that's about the least lazily-written and cliche-ridden element to these two. Joel Gretsch as Agent Tom Baldwin has a certain factory-produced, generic charm, but Jacqueline McKenzie as Agent Dana Scu... I mean, Diana Skouris, doesn't even have a comatose son or divorce proceedings to contend with, as Baldwin does, so she's a cipher. Pretty, but there's zip to make her interesting, other than arguing with and sometimes saving her partner.

And yet I'll still stick with this series. Why? Well, I'm already a third of the way through its six hours -- but that's not it. Despite myself, I've become interested in the story. Where did these people go? Why were they returned? What are these powers some of them have begun to exhibit? Will the aliens come back for them? This first episode had me hooked with the story, and overlooking most of its flaws.

It's not brilliant sci-fi, but it's above average. I'm actually looking forward to the next episode, and finding out what happens to that creepy little girl who can now see the future, or even that high school student, who brought a dead bird back to life. And for a summer series that's... why, it's almost UNPRECEDENTED.

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Monday, July 12, 2004

MOVIES: The Bourne Supremacy

I caught a sneak preview of The Bourne Supremacy last Tuesday night. Since it's not due to be released until July 23, I'll consider this entire review a spoiler, and hide it accordingly.

(Actually, I wasn't even going to post this review, since it kind of rambles, and honestly, my heart's not really in it, but, hell, it's Movies day, and I gots nothin else.)

Overall, I was disappointed. The acting was fine, the story was interesting, and the characters generally did smart, logical things. Where it failed totally was during what should be the highlights of a spy thriller -- the action scenes.

I'm assuming that the director previously worked in videos and commercials -- and that probably tells you all you need to know about his style of directing. The camera just would not sit still for one damn second. Always zipping and whirling and jittering and jumping, 8,000 cuts per second, spinning and whooshing right past what you wanted to look at. It got to the point where I wanted to yell at the screen, "Sit still and show me what the hell is going on!!" The fight scenes may or may not have been well choreographed, the chases may or may not have been cleverly staged -- I don't know, because I couldn't see a god damn thing that was happening. The camera would only show a millisecond of a fist moving, or an extreme close-up of a head jerking back, or some damn thing or another blurring past my field of vision. (During the car chase, for example, I could never tell which car was where, but I remember about a dozen good shots of the gas pedal, because that's important.) I actually got angry at the direction, and a little bit queasy. I'm not an idiot, who can be distracted by shiny, flashy objects. I just want an action scene presented in a straightforward, easily comprehensible, and entertaining manner. Is that too much to ask for? These days, probably yes.

It's a shame, because so much of the rest of the film is well done. Brian Cox -- and I'll warn you again, these are all spoilers -- Brian Cox returns from the first film, reprising his role as the man who created the Treadstone program responsible for Bourne's training; he is revealed here as the traitor everyone is looking for -- which, really, is obvious fairly early on. I mean, he's the only major character in the government who is insisting that Bourne be killed; he runs interference on every move Joan Allen, as head of the search for Bourne, puts forward. But Cox is a great actor, and he plays the villain well. Joan Allen is also a great performer, but she doesn't have an awful lot to do here; it's like Judi Dench's role in the Bond movies, overkill for an underwritten role. But she's a solid presence, anchoring the team hunting down Bourne. Franka Potente also returns from the first film; she's sweet during her limited screentime, but sadly, she doesn't last very long. Julia Stiles also returns, and again, it's overkill for her small role. She's excellent in her few scenes, especially the one in which Bourne interrogates her, but she could be starring in her own films, rather than taking small parts in the Bourne series. Makes you wonder why she's even here. Chris Cooper, who was killed in the first film, even has a cameo in a flashback, which was a nice touch.

And Matt Damon as Jason Bourne is fine as well. His character doesn't get much development here; apparently, he's sworn not to kill again, at the request of his now dead love, Franka, but his decision to leave certain of his enemies still breathing after he's gone to such lengths to hunt them down is a little mystifying (especially the man who put the bullet in Franka's head -- and especially considering there's at least one other person he does kill). A lot of his backstory is left out of the film; when Joan Allen reveals Bourne's real name at the end of the film, I realized that this film doesn't even explain that Bourne doesn't know his real name. And when Julia Stiles lists the side effects some of the Treadstone agents have suffered, Allen asks, "Amnesia?" And Stiles replies, "Before Bourne? No." If the viewer hasn't seen the first film, he might assume the project caused Jason's amnesia, rather than a blow to the head.

But Bourne for the most part plays it smart -- the film and the character both. Bourne gets captured in an airport -- but only because he wants to be caught, to identify the people who are chasing him. To buy some time after a fight, he pulls a gas hose out of the wall, then stuffs a magazine in a toaster and pushes the lever -- a unique time bomb. He arranges a meeting with Julia Stiles in the middle of a protest march, so he can grab her and get lost in the crowd. And a scene at the end, where he confronts the daughter of a couple he killed in his pre-amnesia career, and breaks the news to her that it was not a murder-suicide, as he had staged it to look, that her mother did not pull the trigger -- it's a tough, compelling, dark, smart scene, well-played by Damon. You almost hope the daughter will kill him in revenge. I think it's bold to have a scene like that so near the end of the film; he's attempting to redeem himself with this confession, but he only makes himself look more horrible to the audience. It trusts the audience to stay with the character, and it works. Somehow, though, I get the suspicion that scene will be changed after these test screenings; might be I'm the only one in favor of such a dark scene.

Would I recommend The Bourne Supremacy? There are things I enjoyed, but in the end, in its present form: no, I would not. Maybe on DVD, or on HBO, but definitely not for full price in the theaters. I just think the action scenes, which are vital to a film like this, are thoroughly inept in their execution, and completely unenjoyable, and I don't think there's any way they can be fixed without re-editing them from scratch. Which won't happen.

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MOVIES: Smallville is in the Outback?

Good news and bad news about the upcoming Superman movie.

Good news first: according to this item on IMDb, talentless hack extraordinaire McG, who inflicted the two Charlie's Angels films on an unsuspecting public, has backed out of (been fired from?) the project, citing the production's move to Australia (Australia??) as a reason.

Bad news: IMDb now lists ADHD poster child and reigning King of the Hacks Michael Bay as the director. This is the man responsible for Bad Boys II, people. He is pure evil. Michael Bay is, in fact, the devil, and anyone who suggests otherwise is in all likelihood a minion of hell, and should be dealt with accordingly.

Also, why does everyone keep calling this a sequel? It's starting over from scratch, not picking up where this damn thing left off.

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