Friday, October 29, 2004

TV: The case of the missing actress

As you may or may not know (well, you'd know if you'd read my article at, the original, unaired pilot episode of Joey had a different actress in the role of Joey's neighbor/landlady. The producers replaced her and reshot her scenes before the pilot debuted.

Last night, NBC repeated that pilot episode. And the new actress (Andrea Anders is her name) was MIA. The two scenes in which she had appeared (one toward the beginning, in which she first meets Joey, and one at the end, where she reveals to Joey that she's married) were cut completely out of the show.

Man, that does not bode well for her future with the show.

This mysterious retooling of an already aired show is right up there with Spin City. Do you remember in the first season, Michael J. Fox had a live-in girlfriend, played by Carla Gugino? Gugino was abruptly written out of the show (midway through that first season, if I'm not mistaken). ABC later reran one of the episodes she had been in -- only she wasn't in it anymore. Not only had her scenes been cut, the other cast members actually filmed additional, brand-new scenes to fill up the missing time. They made her an unperson.

I wonder if this new version of the Joey pilot is the first subtle step towards erasing Anders from existence, too.

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It's been a full week since I went to the theater and saw trailers before two different movies. Now I'm having a hard time remembering what they were. Here's a look at the ones I do recall.

Saw: I'm sure I'll regret it, judging by the bad reviews it's been getting, but I actually want to see this. Looks like it's a pretty clever premise: a serial killer who never actually kills his victims; he sets up elaborate traps which can be escaped, but usually result in the victim somehow killing himself.

Sideways: This is the next film coming up that I'm truly eager to see. Paul Giamatti is one of my favorite actors, and he got absolutely robbed of a Best Actor Oscar nomination last year for American Splendor. (Sean Penn even went so far as to mention him during his acceptance speech.) This new film is already generating new Oscar buzz, not just for him, but for co-star Thomas Haden Church as well (Lowell is getting Oscar buzz??). Written and directed by Alexander Payne, who did Election and About Schmidt, this one is going to be great.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: A slamdunk. Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Wes Anderson, together again. Do I even have to tell you more than that? Sold!

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events: Jim Carrey as Count Olaf. Sold! It looks spectacular, although I fear the special effects may overwhelm the biting humor of the books. It looks like more than one of the books has been used for the movie, which is interesting. Also starring Meryl Streep, and Jude Law as Lemony Snicket. Did I already say "Sold"?

White Noise: Not to be confused with 2005's White Noise, based on the Don DeLillo novel, which actually could be good. This White Noise features Michael Keaton in a horror story about ghosts communicating with the living via home audio equipment. No sale! The trailer claims this crap really happens all the time. No, really! For reals! Listen to this voice! It's a ghost! Scared yet? It's real!! Keaton needs a new agent.

Coach Carter Samuel L. Jackson plays a tough instructor at a tough urban school. I was going to say, "I liked it better the first time he made this movie, when it was called Lean On Me," but, uh... that was Morgan Freeman. My bad. This one does look like the same movie, though, only Jackson plays a basketball coach who breaks all the rules and inspires his charges into being better people via discipline and tough love, as opposed to a principal who breaks etc. etc. Yawn. (Strange sidenote: while searching IMDb for the phrase "Lean On Me", two of the possible matches suggested were for this extremely nasty-sounding film and this even nastier one. Both of them do have the words "on" and "me" in their titles, I admit, but aren't quite what I was looking for, IMDb.)

Hide and Seek: Empire Magazine just named Robert DeNiro the best actor over 50 in the world. And I started thinking, has DeNiro made a great movie since he turned 50 in 1993, let alone more than one or two movies that didn't totally and completely suck? I guess it depends on if you think Casino or Heat were truly great, because other than that, there's an awful lot of suck. The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle? The Fan? Showtime? Godsend? Analyze That?? Okay, there's some good stuff in there, I'll admit, like Ronin (well, I liked it, anyway), Sleepers, Wag the Dog, and yes, even Analyze This and Meet the Parents. But DeNiro more properly belongs at the top of the list of actors who have squandered their talent in garbage after turning 50. My point? Add Hide and Seek to the suck pile.

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Thursday, October 28, 2004

COMICS: Wed. 10/27/04

Amazing Spider-Man: Why did I even get this issue? Morbid curiosity, I guess. I wonder if the bit with the Spider-Man stalker/comic book guy on the news was in anticipation of the backlash Straczynski knew he'd be getting from the comics community after his last issue. There are things about this story I think I really could've enjoyed -- Norman Osborn raising his children to hate and kill Peter Parker, a battle on the site of Gwen Stacy's death -- if Straczynski hadn't found it necessary to retroactively befoul the character of Gwen Stacy. Even if it were some bullshit like the kids were cloned from Gwen's blood or something like that, it would be more palatable than the way it stands now.

Daredevil: I read this last night while I was kind of drunk, and I don't remember a goddam thing about it. Other than parts of it were in black & white. And I have no desire to read it again. I gotta force myself not to buy this out of reflex anymore.

We3: This is so fucking brilliant it hurts. To turn these ludicrous animal soldiers first into horrifyingly convincing death dealers, then into objects of unironic, heartbreaking pity -- it's absolutely wonderful writing. And the art -- wow. Quitely is a master. The most beautifully rendered carnage since Bissette and Totleben's Miracleman work. I'm gonna go ahead and say Morrison and Quitely together make for one of the most powerful teams in comics history. The fact that they can actually convey to the reader the way the animals' senses work on a different, higher level than the humans (through the multiple mini-panels, the timelapse photography-style fast motion, and especially the sequence of skewed panels on pages 12 & 13) is awesome. And the emotions that they elicited merely by having 1 lower his head and say, "BAD DOG" -- it's a powerhouse of a comic.

Green Lantern: Rebirth: I picked this one up because apparently I'm a sucker for hype. I've always liked the idea of Green Lantern, but I've never been thrilled enough with any of the comic's writers to make it a regular habit. I'm aware of most of GL's recent history, but still, there is a lot in this issue that makes me feel like I wasn't being allowed to join in the reindeer games. Like the dude in jail with the giant head, Hector Hammond -- what the hell? I kind of liked the story and the writing -- although, in contrast with Mike, I did not enjoy the confrontation between John Stewart and Batman; Batman is portrayed as alternately a raving lunatic, and a cowering weakling, clutching impotently at his cape, and Stewart's self-righteous anger plays as totally false, especially considering the fact that he's defending a man who murdered, like, a bajillion people. (Mike's right about the purty art, though.) But I don't like the idea that a comics fiend like myself still feels left in the dark by any number of references. Why oh why did I buy 20 copies of this issue??

The Authority: Revolution: Has some of the same problems as Green Lantern -- I don't know the Authority universe very well, don't know if the villains are old or new, don't know if this takeover of America commenced with this issue, or if this is continuing something previously established... and so on. But I like Ed Brubaker, and I think I'm going to like this story. The only other Authority comics I've read were the first TPB collection, which I thought was attempting to emulate Miracleman -- superheroes take over the world -- with none of the subtlety or thoughtfulness, just a bunch of idiots punching people's brains out. This first issue of Brubaker's puts some of that thought that was lacking into the story. I'm definitely going to want to read the whole 12 issues -- I just haven't decided if I'm going to continue with it monthly, or wait for the trade.

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Let me tell you every single good thing about The Grudge, which I saw last weekend.

1) It has a few decently creepy images, especially that bit with the jawbone.



Hmm, I guess that was it.

As for the bad things, well, I don't want to write a novel here. I can pretty much sum it up with the fact that this is the most poorly written movie I have ever seen, with characters that would need two additional dimensions just to become one dimensional. There is nothing to the characters. Nothing. NOTHING. They exist only to be scared or killed. I have seen a lot of horror movies, and even the very worst make some effort at token characterization. This guy's a football star, this guy's a nerd who wants to get laid, this gal's a goth with attitude. But in The Grudge: nothing.

It doesn't help that Sarah Michelle Gellar, who was often so good on Buffy, is little more than an ambulatory mannequin here. If there's something going on behind those big, moist, googly eyes of hers, she doesn't let the audience in on it. She's an accessory, like a battery the film had to plug in to get the plot moving. ("Plot"? HA!) She moved to Japan to be with her boyfriend, but we don't get a sense of how she feels about that move. Is she frightened? Excited? Feeling displaced? Lonely? What? She works for a service that sends caretakers out to people's homes -- but how does she like her job? How did she get into that line of work? Is she a good person who likes to help others, or is it just a paycheck to her? Nothing about her exists other than to serve the machinations of the plot. She moved to Japan because the movie is set in Japan. She's a social worker because she has to go to the haunted house. Her boyfriend exists for the sole purpose of getting killed. (Whoopsie! Spoiler! Gee, I hope I didn't make you not want to see the movie now! Actually, you know what? I'm gonna spoil the hell out of this movie, so stop reading if you give a damn.)

The movie jumps around in time a lot, for no good reason. For no reason, period. As Roger Ebert says in his review, it's "a nuisance, not a style." Sometimes a young American couple along with the man's mother live in the house; sometimes it's just the mother. Sometimes a Japanese girl is the mother's caretaker, sometimes it's Gellar. And sometimes Bill Pullman shows up, even though he kills himself in the first minute of the movie. (Told you I was gonna spoil it!)

Turns out Bill Pullman is kind of the cause of all the badness in the movie; he's a teacher, see, and apparently one of his old students is in love with him, even though she's married. Well, the husband finds out, kills her, kills their son, hangs himself. Voila! Haunted house. Why she loves him... that's a mystery, one that's never explored. He's as much a personality-less drone as anyone else in the film. We never even see her interacting with him, we just see a bunch of pictures. By the time Pullman even becomes aware of her obsession, she's already dead. Also, why does Pullman then kill himself? There's no ghostly activity that drove him to drop off his balcony. Guilt? Who knows? His death has no impact on the film whatsoever, other than to provide a shock right at the beginning.

There's a lot of stuff that happens for no reason in this movie. Why is it set in Japan? No reason, other than the director is from Japan. The setting doesn't enhance the scariness, nor does the culture have any effect on the primarily American characters. A Japanese detective at one point says, "In Japan, it is believed..." blah blah curse, blah blah evil. But, even with that one attempt to justify it, really there's no reason for the location. What, we don't have ghost stories in America?

My favorite scene in the movie, by the way, doesn't have any ghosts, or anything scary at all. The female half of the young American houseowning couple is in the supermarket. She's confused by the foreign language items on the shelf. She picks up one foil-covered container, sneaks a peek around to see if anyone's watching, then pokes a hole in the top and sniffs to see what it is. OH MY GOD!!! That is just reams of information. That is fountains of character development. No, rivers. Oceans! By this film's standards, her character is now as fully fleshed-out as Hamlet. Don't blink or you'll miss it!

The movie's not big on dialogue, either. I'd say a good 80-85% of the film is people creeping slooooowly and silently down dark hallways. And a good 90% of what dialogue there actually is is along the lines of, "Yoko? Are you all right?" Followed by: "AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!"

No, Yoko is not all right. Which brings me to the one good thing about the movie, the handful of creepy images. Yoko is the first person we see killed by the ghost. All that is found of her is her jawbone. When she later shows up at the social agency where she worked, and her boss asks the above inane question, she turns around, and the lower part of her face is missing, with her tongue horribly lolling out of the crater. That's a good, creepy image. The ghosts of the wife and the little boy have disturbing faces, and make unsettling noises (spoiled somewhat by the teenage idiot and her idiot mother sitting in front of me at the theater, who both insisted on mimicking the cat-like wail of the boy, or the death-rattle croak of the wife. I hate people).

But those few scary components do not add up to a good movie. Hell, they barely add up to a movie. This was pure awful. I snuck into it after Team America, and I still felt ripped off.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2004


Every once in a while, I wonder whatever happened to the comic Rust and its writer, Fred Schiller.

Rust was actually created by Steve Miller (whom I assume is not the same Steve Miller who sings "Abracadabra"). It's about a cop who gets caught in an acid/chemical spill, to which metal adheres; he is hideously deformed, as his body becomes covered with scarred, rusted iron. (Hence: Rust.) But Miller only wrote the first issue or two or three of Rust's original run. (This entry is all from an admittedly faulty memory, so forgive me if I fudge some details.) The writing was then taken over by Schiller, and this is when Rust became something spectacular, if sadly short-lived.

The comic began as little more than a straightforward crime comic (though a fairly dark one), combined with the... superheroic? Supernatural? I'm not really sure how to describe the character of Rust* -- he doesn't have powers, really, he just has steel skin (and acid blood), which makes him somewhat stronger and less vulnerable to damage. But when Schiller took over, he wrapped up Miller's opening storyline, then took Rust away from the crime/superpower genres, and in markedly different and creative directions.

Rust became a bit of a road comic, with the main character, cut off from humanity by his new, disfigured appearance, searching for different ways to fit in. In one issue, he plays a monster in a horror movie, never allowing the other people on the film to know that his ingenious "mask" is really his own face. In later issues, he would battle other human misfits, called the Circle of Power -- more of a cult than a traditional rogues gallery, made up of others whose physical and mental abnormalities set them apart from humanity (kind of like "mutants", I guess, but without all the dopey costumes and melodrama inherent in the Marvel definition of that word). Later issues saw Rust swept up in the porn industry, as he tried to rescue a young girl (who had been introduced in the earliest issues) from the clutches of a loathsome adult film producer.

With Rust, nothing was set in stone. The series could go from comedy to punch-em-up action to dark and twisted extremes from one issue to the next. The storytelling was innovative, especially considering this was way back in 1987 (I believe); one striking issue had pages of talking heads narrating an epic battle in flashback, alternated with wordless, full page artwork rendering the battle. It was incredibly different for its time, and now, almost 20 years later, it's still original, eye-catching, compelling storytelling. And nobody was safe: villains died, and didn't come back. Good guys died just as easily. And in the final, staggering issue before this short-lived series was cancelled, everything was thrown out the window, as nuclear holocaust occurred, killing off all the characters (who hadn't already been killed off in previous issues) but Rust himself. I've always wondered if Schiller knew the end was coming, and planned that as the series finale, or if he really had somewhere to go from there.

The covers were also boldly unique. Here's one from the horror movie story:

The movie-poster-as-cover seems cliche now, but I don't think I'd ever seen anything like it before. (Maybe one of you can name 87 other earlier uses of this gimmick, but it was new to me, at least.)

Then there's the all-text cover:

It's a joke cover, which leaves you disarmed and unprepared for the surprisingly grim and violent issue within.

And then, from the porn storyline, we have this, which is one of the most visually striking covers I've ever seen:

Humorous, erotic, sad, and seedy in equal amounts, it's a reflection on the strange and complex world Rust explores within.

(Click on any of the covers to see a larger version at

13 issues and out, this original run was. It was revived by creator Steve Miller in subsequent years and subsequent volumes, but never made it past a handful of issues. The first volume is the only essential one, the groundbreaking one.

And what became of Fred Schiller? Is this his homepage? The resume on the page mentions comics, but neither Rust nor Now Comics, which was the original publisher. If it is the same Fred Schiller, what other comics did he write? (He mentions "The Legacy Universe," which I've never heard of.) Does anybody out there know?

If you can find it in the back issues bins (or order it from, why don't you?), I can't recommend Schiller's run on Rust highly enough. I don't know if I've done a good job describing it here or not, if you want to check it out or if it sounds stupid to you. All I can add is, in my mind it's one of the landmark series in comics.

*The character was never actually called "Rust" in the comic, as far as I recall; if my online research is accurate -- because again, this is from memory, without having my comics collection in front of me to go through -- the cop's name was Scott Baker, and that was the name he kept throughout the series.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

MOVIES: Team America: World Police

Team America: World Police wasn't nearly as funny as Trey Parker & Matt Stone's last film, South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut, and, in my eyes, nowhere near as offensive, but a lot more people seem to be taking offense to this one. I imagine it's because Team America targets liberals more explicitly than Parker & Stone usually do, making liberals think that the two of them are revealing themselves to be conservative Bush supporters. Which, #1, I doubt is true, and #2, even if it is, this movie can hardly be used to prove it. So they make Michael Moore, Alec Baldwin, and a host of other outspoken liberal actors out to be idiots, dupes, even traitors. Keep in mind that it's within a movie whose entire premise is an attack on the conservative cowboy mentality that has America invading countries on a whim and a lie. Parker & Stone and this film aren't too conservative -- they're even-handed in their satire, which apparently pisses a lot of folks off.

Roger Ebert, in his one-star review of the film, claims it is too even-handed, and cites his inability to pin down the film's political POV as a reason to dislike the film.

If I were asked to extract a political position from the movie, I'd be baffled. It is neither for nor against the war on terrorism, just dedicated to ridiculing those who wage it and those who oppose it.... I wasn't offended by the movie's content so much as by its nihilism. At a time when the world is in crisis and the country faces an important election, the response of Parker, Stone and company is to sneer at both sides -- indeed, at anyone who takes the current world situation seriously.
Now, I like Ebert, and I'm a liberal. But: what a load of liberal horseshit. He's mad the movie didn't make its politics more clear? Yeah, right. Do you think he would've liked it better if it had been more clearly pro-Bush? Not in a million years. No, he simply hates the movie because it doesn't only attack the conservatives, but offers equal criticism of the flaws on both sides.

And I'm all right with that, even if Ebert is not. Because, above and beyond the politics, this movie is funny. I said it wasn't as funny as South Park, but it certainly had a great number of huge laughs. From the ridiculous Arab "disguise" new Team America recruit Gary dons, to the hilarious songs (like "Pearl Harbor Sucked and I Miss You" or Kim Jong Il's "I'm So Ronery" or the Team's oft-repeated theme song, "America -- Fuck, Yeah!"), to the absurdly ultra-violent demises of Tim Robbins, Janeane Garofalo, Samuel L. Jackson and friends, to Gary's endless drunken vomiting, to, yes, the infamous puppet sex scene (prefaced by this great exchange between Lisa, whose fiancee was killed by terrorists, and Gary: "If you could promise me you'll never die, I would make love to you right now." "I promise I will never die"), I was laughing almost constantly.

Regarding that sex scene: the ratings board are morons. This scene had to be resubmitted, what, twelve times before they would lower the rating from NC-17? I can't imagine what was cut, but what's in the movie is no more graphic than bumping a naked Ken doll and Barbie doll together. It's hilarious to see the different crazy positions they take -- but NC-17 level offensive? Not even close. They don't even have any naughty bits. (Maybe that's what got cut.)

And of course, there's the end soliloquy by Gary, in which he puts the world into three categories: pussies, dicks, and assholes, with assholes being the terrorists, dicks being the Team America cowboys, and pussies being those who think we can all just talk our differences out. I think this is what has offended the most people, and I can see why. It's a foolish over-simplification, and it seems to suggest all diplomatic efforts are worthless, and all war is justified. Seems to suggest, I say, because, call me crazy, but I'm not willing to take a strictly literalist view of a marionette comedy (even if Parker & Stone have parroted the same over-simplification in interviews). And, again, even if Parker & Stone believe every syllable of it, it doesn't really faze me, because it's still funny in the way it's phrased, and the movie as a whole is still funny.

I didn't go to Team America: World Police to be told how to vote, to bolster my political views, or to change my way of thinking. I went to laugh, and I did. Mission accomplished!

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Monday, October 25, 2004


In case you were wondering if my blatant attempt at sucking up to Mark Evanier succeeded: it did not.

He did post the correction I had emailed him about, but he declined to provide in conjunction with the correction a link to this here fine and dandy blog, as I had hoped (okay, begged).

I tell you what, it would've been nice to be linked by a blog which probably gets so much traffic that, let's face it, if the tiniest fraction of it clicked through to me, it would've doubled my daily visitors within ten minutes. But I'm not bitter. (No more so than usual, anyway.) He still runs a hell of a blog, and it's still a kick just to get my name mentioned on it.

I think the problem is I say "fuck" too much. I wouldn't link to a vulgarian like me if I were him, either.

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IN CONCERT: Mitch Hedberg & Stephen Lynch

Last Thursday, I went to see Mitch Hedberg and Stephen Lynch co-headlining a show at the Wiltern in L.A. And for the most part, it was incredibly entertaining.

Stephen Lynch is one of my two favorite comics (along with Brian Regan, with whom he shares almost nothing in common). Lynch is a musical comedian, and he takes you completely by ambush. He's got this sweet, angelic voice, and he begins most of his songs with touching sincerity, and then, with impeccable comic timing, takes a right turn into the most hilariously mean and angry and vulgar lyrics. To take an example from one of my favorites, "Grandfather" (which sadly he didn't perform):

When Grandfather dies, life will be strange
When Grandfather dies, my whole world will change
When Grandfather dies, I'll scream and I'll yell
Cause I'll be fuckin' rich as hell
He performed a few new songs, most notably one about how horribly ugly his (fictional) newborn baby was, and did some classics, like "Special Ed" ("Oh, Special Ed/Mama dropped him on his head/Now he thinks he's a piece of bread") and "Priest" (about some horrors perpetrated on an altar boy), and he brought out his frequent collaborator Mark Teich for a couple songs, best of all "D&D":

I got my 12-sided die and I'm ready to roll
With a wizard and my goblin crew
My friends are comin' over to my mom's basement
Bringin' Funyuns and the Mountain Dew
I got a big broadsword made out of cardboard
And the stereo's a-pumpin' Zeppelin
It's that time of the night we turn on the black light
Let the Dungeons and the Dragons begin
It's D&D!!
Fightin' with the legends of yore
It's D&D!!
Never kissed a lady before (nope!)
Lynch has a great stage persona, by turns charming and confrontational. But a good deal of his stage banter, though played as ad-libbing, came off as transparently well-rehearsed (such as a bit where he took the black foam covering off the microphone, put it on his beer bottle, and pretended it was an afro, or a bit in the middle of a song where he and Teich -- and another collaborator who I believe was his brother, Drew Lynch, but I'm not positive -- broke into a New Kids on the Block-style synchronized dance, singing "Whoa-oh! Oh oh, whoa-oh!"). Worst was during the song "Superhero", in which he asked the audience to suggest superhero names. Someone yelled out "Butt-Sex Man," which is the exact same name someone in the audience suggested on Lynch's live album (also called Superhero). And even though he admitted he'd heard it before, he went on to make the exact same jokes around the name that he did on his album.

That said, he's incredibly likeable, and his songs are wickedly clever and funny, and I had a blast.

Then Mitch Hedberg came out, and he was also a blast. He's got a much more rapid-fire style, throwing out one-liners and short jokes one after another after another, mostly surreally observational stuff in the tradition of Steven Wright ("I have an idea for sweat shops: air conditioning"). And his delivery is so strange and funny and unique. He has this way of over-articulating words (you can clearly hear both Ts when he says "little"), or emphasizing the wrong syllable ("syl-la-BULL," he might say), that makes every sentence a crack-up.

But this is where the audience began to ruin the show for me. Hedberg has a (well-earned) reputation for being a stoner. And the crowd was packed with the exact kind of idiots you'd be afraid would attend a stoner comedian's show. They talked to him while he was onstage. No, they yelled to him onstage. Non-stop. They were entirely unable to comprehend that he was doing a job, and they were fucking it up. Apparently, if you're stoned, you think everyone else who gets stoned is your buddy, and you can engage them in conversation no matter what the situation. They called for certain jokes, and then didn't laugh, or cheered with recognition rather than laughing. They demanded, "Smoke a bowl!" They told him to bring Lynch back out. They said his name over and over. They spouted unintelligible mush-mouthed nonsense. Loudly. Non-fucking-stop.

And Hedberg was partly to blame, because he responded to them. He engaged them, rather than shutting them down like the disruptive hecklers they were. When they shouted "Banana!" he asked, "Which one?" and then performed both of his banana jokes*. When they told him to smoke a bowl, he pulled a pipe out of his pocket and lit it up.

What person does that? Heckling, I mean. What person goes to a concert specifically to yell at and interrupt the performer onstage? Especially when they apparently like the performer. Who does that? Who says, "I'm going to the Mitch Hedberg show, which would be totally awesome, except for the fact that I'm going to shout like the idiot I am and spoil it for him and everyone else in the audience"? Answer: a lot of people, judging from this concert. In the double digits just in this one crowd, easily.

It was truly a shame. Hedberg was very funny (if underprepared; he constantly referred to a notebook, and even said at one point, "Next time I should memorize my jokes"); I laughed frequently, long and loud. And he has a wonderfully charismatic stage presence. Possibly too charismatic, judging from the number of people who thought they were his best friend. I'd like to see him again someday, under better circumstances.

And I would've bought his latest CD, if it hadn't been priced in the rip-off range. Some concerts, the artists sell their albums at reduced prices; some concerts, the artists jack up the price. This was the latter kind of concert. The CDs were $15 (which may sound reasonable to you, but only if you routinely enjoy getting shafted on music prices), and Lynch's DVD, which is going for $10.49 on Amazon, and which I picked up used at a local store for $9.99 yesterday, was being sold at the concert for $20.

*I'm paraphrasing these two jokes. Also, they sound much funnier in Mitch's voice. "Someone asked me if I wanted a frozen banana, and I said no. But I wanted a regular banana in a little while, so I said yes." "On traffic lights, green means go ahead, and yellow means slow down. But bananas are the opposite. A green banana means wait a while. And a yellow banana means, go ahead, eat it now. And a red banana means, where the fuck did you get that banana?"


Sunday, October 24, 2004

Ojai Film Festival

My lovely hometown of Ojai, CA has just concluded its annual film festival. Sadly, I didn't get a chance to see any movies this year, but I did get a chance to admire the wonderful art done for the Festival's poster and catalogue, by Ojai's own Sergio Aragones (click the picture for a larger view; you can see Sergio, sporting his trademark handlebar mustache, in the middle of the page, slightly below and to the right of Peter Pan).

(My posting of this art, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I just sent an email to Mark Evanier -- regarding a minor factual error in a recent Saturday Night Live-related post of his -- and am hoping that my posting art by a close friend and collaborator of his will make him view my blog with a favorable eye. Nothing whatsoever.)

I have a small anecdote about my experience volunteering for the Ojai Film Festival a couple years ago. Wanna hear it? Too bad:

I was manning the information hotline at Ojai's Tourist Board. Which was hardly a hotline; for the little work I had to do, it was a tepidline at best, probably even a frigidline. I wasn't getting a lot of calls, is what I'm saying. But then I got a call from Rich Thorne. (No, you're not supposed to know who he is. I'm about to explain it.)

"Yeah, I'm Rich Thorne," he said, after I answered with "Ojai Film Festival Information, how may I help you?" "I'm one of the filmmakers. Where do I pick up my filmmaker's pass?" This was a pass that would let him into all the private parties, screenings, etc.

Well, by remarkable coincidence, I already knew Rich Thorne was one of the filmmakers. The evening before, I had seen Mother Ghost, which he had directed, and which was written by and starred Mark Thompson, of L.A. (and nationally syndicated) radio's Mark and Brian. It was a surprisingly touching short film, about the main character's coming to grips with his mother's death, and was packed with stars I can only assume were doing Mark a favor out of personal friendship, from (the always sexxy) Dana Delaney, to Charles Durning, to Garry Marshall, to Kevin Pollak and beyond. I was a little thrilled that I had the director on the phone.

"Oh, I saw your movie last night!" I said with sincere enthusiasm. "Mother Ghost. I thought it was really great. And the audience really loved it, too. Good, good stuff."

And without a pause, without a single iota of acknowledgement of the compliment, as though I hadn't even spoken, with undisguised impatience and dismissiveness, Thorne said, "Yeah, look, where do I get the pass?"

So I told him. And I silently filed away the new knowledge that, for certain Hollywood types, the "thank" in "thank you" is only four letters long, and begins with "f".

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Friday, October 22, 2004

MUSIC: Slow on the uptake

I want to write about the excellent Mitch Hedberg/Stephen Lynch comedy show I saw in L.A. last night, but I don't feel like making a big post now, so that'll have to wait till tomorrow. For now, just a little something to let you know I'm still alive. Here are two songs which took me an inordinately long time to figure out what they were talking about.

Lemonheads, "C'mon Daddy", from the album Car Button Cloth:

I feel like Steven is my father and I don't know why
But I realized it when I looked in his eyes
I feel like Steven is my daddy and it ain't no lie
I wanna hold you till the end of time...
Didn't know I was your baby till the age of nine
Didn't know I was your babe for such a long long time...
Anyone quicker on the uptake than I am? Did you figure out what this song is about before I did?

It's a song about how Liv Tyler found out Steven Tyler of Aerosmith was her father, sung from her point of view. You've all heard the story, right -- how Liv thought her father was Todd Rundgren until she saw Aerosmith in concert? Yep, that's what this song is about. That's so goddam clever. Lemonheads are awesome.

Ben Folds Five, "Brick", from the album Whatever and Ever Amen:

I can't believe this became a top 40 hit, with almost nobody realizing what it was actually about. I actually got this one pretty quickly, but it floored me when I did.

They call her name at 7:30
I pace around the parking lot
Then I walk down to buy her flowers
And sell some gifts that I got
Can't you see
It's not me you're dying for
Now she's feeling more alone
Than she ever has before
How many of you figured it out from the carefully ambiguous lyrics: it's a song about him taking his girlfriend to an abortion clinic. And then feeling the emotional aftermath: "She's a brick and I'm drowning slowly." Adds a chilling depth to the song.

Wow, way to close on a downer, Tom!

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Thursday, October 21, 2004

COMICS: Wed. 10/20/04

Only bought three new comics this week, but they were all good.

Fantastic Four: Entertaining issue, and interesting solution to the problem at hand -- if a little too pat to be believable. Reed can switch powers from one person to another, but can't remove the powers? That's kinda dopey. But it resulted in fun comic goodness, so I forgive it. And hey: Galactus. What more can you ask of a Fantastic Four book?

Plastic Man: Funniest issue yet. I laughed out loud several times, especially at the self-referential stuff. Like when President Lex Luthor says he's waiting for the paperback of Identity Crisis to come out. Or when Woozy Winks, on seeing the vice-president, says, "Hey, it's that guy from Smallville!" (Woozy must be watching the repeats on ABC Family.) And excellent use of real Dubya quotes for the final punchline. I think this book is actually getting better each issue.

Madrox: I'm not wild about the art. But the story is interesting, as is the idea that each Madrox duplicate has a different personality, and might not be so willing to go along with the original's plans anymore. But, as regards the opening scene -- I think if I were Madrox, I'd create a duplicate before getting punched in the face.

Also, the 2nd TPB of Batman: Hush came out, and, true to my word, I refused to buy it. As should you all. Screw those greedy bastards and their double-charging ways! Collect your storylines in one book, DC, or you can stuff 'em! (I'm looking at you, too, Marvel.)

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Wednesday, October 20, 2004

MOVIES FROM HELL: Halloween: Resurrection

A short while ago, I said that as a special Halloween feature, I was going to rewatch some of the worst horror movies I've ever seen. I'm starting off with Halloween: Resurrection, which, technically, I've never seen before. So how did I know, before even watching it, that a seventh generation sequel starring Busta Rhymes would be awful? Lucky guess.

Yes, Resurrection is indeed the eighth entry in the Halloween series, which, unlike the Friday the 13th series, I'm sadly unable to list from memory. I need IMDb's help for that:

First came the landmark John Carpenter original, Halloween, in nineteen-seventy-damn-eight. I was eight when that came out. Wow. Then came the fairly worthy successor, Halloween II in 1981, in which Loomis (Donald Pleasance) was killed. Then came the "what the fuck?" non-sequel Halloween III: Season of the Witch in 1982, which had literally nothing to do with the first two movies. I know! What the fuck? Then, much like a farmer must let his field lay fallow to replenish the soil's nutrients, so was the Halloween franchise allowed to lay dormant for six years. Unfortunately, Farmer Brown planted turds, and up sprouted Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), in which Loomis got better, but Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) was dead, and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989), in which various lame stuff happened. 1995 brought Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, in which Loomis got dead again, as did Donald Pleasance (sad). And then of course came Halloween Water: 20 Years Later (1998), in which all the stuff from the previous three films was ignored, and Laurie got better (but Jamie Lee Curtis' film career died). Wait, what's that? Yeah, Halloween H20. That's what I said.

And then came Resurrection (2002). Oh boy.

Jamie Lee Curtis makes a contractually-obligated appearance right at the top of the movie, which rewrites the ending of the last movie. Laurie's in an insane asylum now. Turns out the guy whose head she chopped off at the end of the last movie wasn't Michael after all. It was just some dude in a mask. Oopsie! "Father of three," one of Laurie's nurses gravely informs her co-worker. Which is what makes it a shame. Father of two, that's fine. Father of three, that's a real bummer.

We now meet Willie, a tubby security guard. Hey, I bet Willie's gonna be around for the next sequel! We follow Willie as he inspects a couple of vending machines packed with various blatant product placements in a scene totally relevant to the plot. Meanwhile, Michael decides his partner's head looks a little damp, so he puts it in the dryer. Willie discovers the noggin on tumble dry low, but before he can add a fabric softener sheet to prevent static cling, Michael ventilates his trachea. WILLIIIIIIIIIEE!!! I totally and completely did not see that coming.

Then Michael chases Laurie onto the roof -- have I mentioned the slow motion yet? This director loves throwing in a few seconds of slow motion in almost every scene. Very annoying. Anyway, on the roof, the stupidest thing ever happens. Laurie has somehow -- and keep in mind, she's an inmate at an insane asylum -- she has somehow rigged up an elaborate, electronically-operated winch system (I assume she rigged it up; why else would there be an electric winch on the roof of an insane asylum?). She's tied a small noose at the end of its rope, about the exact size of a man's foot. And Michael somehow steps directly into it. Because stupid plans require stupid victims! Laurie hoists Michael over the edge of the roof, and plans on cutting the rope and letting him drop to the ground below. Which, I mean -- has she even watched the last seven movies? Michael's fallen off lots of roofs. He's been shot about 8,000 times. He's been blown the fuck up. But Laurie thinks this roof is the clincher! Yeah, smart plan, babe. She deservedly gets stabbed and dropped off the roof for her troubles. Next time, try a bazooka.

Michael then gives his knife to one of the inmates. Because he's always careful to cover his tracks and frame innocent bystanders. Oh, wait, no he's not. He just kills the innocent bystanders, because he's Michael Myers, not a James Bond villain. This movie doesn't make a lick of sense, and we haven't even gotten to the title yet. The inmate, by the way, is a serial killer buff, and as Michael walks away, the inmate reels off Michael's life story from memory. Only he doesn't remember Halloweens 3 through 6. That's okay, buddy. Nobody does.

Cut to Haddonfield University, where a professor can lay down some Jungian bullshit that's supposed to reveal something about Michael's psyche, but is really just there to make everyone involved feel better about being in a dopey slasher flick. We meet Sara, who is broody and smart, so she's going to live; Jen, who is cute and ebullient, so she's dead; and Rudy, who is black and not Busta Rhymes, so you guess what's gonna happen to him. (Yes, I'm calling it right now: Busta will survive.)

And we get into the story of this film, which makes me grit my teeth and feel a white-hot ball of pain and anger behind my eyeballs: they're going to be on a reality show. A REALITY SHOW! Jesus Hieronymus Christ, a reality show. Can you get more played out than that? Answer: no.

Ironic foreshadowing dialogue:

SARA: Every time I let you two talk me into something, I live to regret it.
RUDY: Listen, without me, you would die of boredom.
JEN: Us! Without us, you would die of boredom.
Get it?? It's ironic, because they're talking about Sara dying, when really they are going to die! GET IT??? Eh, whatever.

Then there's some more stupid stuff, then they get to Busta. I want to hate him -- he's a damn rapper, not an actor, not even a horror movie-level actor -- but he's the best part of the film so far. He's in charge of "Dangertainment", the reality show in question... which will be airing on the internet. Because so many people watch internet programming. Man, is it dumb in here, or is it just this movie?

Did I mention Tyra Banks is Busta's assistant? No? Good. I used to like her, but ever since America's Next Top Model began, I just want to smack her.

The reality show will take place inside Michael's childhood home. The participants, all with mini-cameras mounted to their heads, are going to be exploring the mystery of Michael Myers, whatever that means. If Michael Myers weren't actually going to show up, this would be the most boring program ever. "Hey, did you find any of Michael Myers' mystery in the fridge?" "No. Did you find any of Michael Myers' mystery in the broom closet?" "Ummm... no. I found a broom." Who the hell does Busta think would watch this shit? Or, wait: does Busta have a hidden agenda? Hmmmm.... Wait, even if he does, it's an idiotic idea.

So they go into the house, Sara, Rudy, Jen, and three other meat sacks whose names I can't be bothered to learn. One of them is a cute redhead gal, one of them is Kevin from American Pie, and one of them is a jackass. I'm guessing they will be killed in the reverse order I listed them.

Meanwhile, some nerd who's been having an email relationship with Sara is watching the show at a Halloween party -- and all the other non-nerds stop drinking, dancing, and screwing and also start watching the computer monitor. Which is possibly the most unrealistic moment in the entire movie. Hmm, have drunken sex with a cheerleader, or look over a nerd's shoulder at shaky, grainy footage on a computer screen? Computer wins nine times out of ten, of course.

Kevin flirts with Jen, then gets her to flash her bra for the camera. I think that's it for sex in this movie. Stupid damn modern horror movies, with no sex or nudity! I blame Kevin Williamson.

Ooh, Kevin gets killed first! The camera on his head catches it all (and then his head catches a butcher knife), but Busta and Tyra, watching from the control room, fail to see it, as do all the tens of people worldwide who are watching the show on their computers (including nerd-boy).

Ope! Here's a little sex. "Say something smart," says jackass. Cute redhead says, "Existence precedes essence," and takes off her bra. Bless her heart. Then a bunch of skeletons burst through a wall and fall on them. Cock-blocking from beyond the grave!

Turns out Busta and Tyra (that's the new millennium's "Uma and Oprah") have set up a bunch of phony crap around the house to make their show scarier and more interesting. So that's a failure on both counts.

Now comes probably the only cool shot of the film: Michael Myers creeps slowly through the house -- while behind him, Michael Myers creeps slowly after. It's a decently creepy thrill. The first Michael Myers is actually Busta in a mask. He thinks the other Michael is his cameraman -- but we saw the real Michael kill him earlier. The creepy coolness is ruined by idiocy: Busta, thinking it's the cameraman, yells at Michael, telling him to get his ass out of there and go get in position -- and Michael meekly turns and leaves. 8,000 bullets won't stop him, but harsh language will? Criminy.

Hot redhead (yes, I've upgraded her from cute) gets impaled on a spike by Michael. Nerd-boy believes it's real. Other non-nerd non-partiers laugh at him. This is the lamest subplot ever.

Jen and Rudy take bong hits. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Getting high in a horror movie. Seriously, how badly do they want to be killed? Can they be killed twice?

Sara, Rudy, and jackass discover Busta in his Michael mask. He explains he's faking everything, and asks them to play along. Gee, I wonder if the real Michael will show up in a moment, and they won't believe that it's him?

Jen finds Kevin's dead body, and, as her moron friends refuse to help her while she screams, Michael chops her head off with a butcher knife. Right the fuck off! Wow, jackass outlived her. Not for long: Michael crushes his head like a grape, then nails Rudy to the kitchen door. So we're down to Sara, Busta, and Tyra. Plus nerd-boy, who's calling 911. Yeah, that oughta help.

Nerd-boy begins text-messaging her on her Palm Pilot (or whatever the hell it is) as to Michael's location. He's not very good at it, because soon Michael's got her cornered, along with Busta. Busta pulls some Wu Tang kung fu, though, and after Sara wraps a camera cord around his neck, Busta kicks Michael out a window, where he hangs by the neck until dead. Or until two minutes from now, when everyone who's never seen a horror movie before will be shocked -- shocked! -- to find that he's come back to life.

Wait, nerd-boy even spoils that surprise, with the message: "HE'S STILL ALIVE!" I thought it was odd that he added "H3 i$ g01n9 +o HaX0r j00r @$$!!!11 ROTFLMAO ;)))" Nerd-boy's got leet skillz, bitch.

Michael stabs Busta, but I'd bet anything it's non-fatal. He chases Sara for a while, and she winds up in the control room, where she finds Tyra has been exsanguinated (look it up). Michael appears, and she attacks him with a chainsaw. Which could've been cool, if done well, but, in case I haven't made it abundantly clear, little or nothing in this flick is done well.

Then Busta breaks down the door to save the day. Hooray. He's alive. He does some more tae-bo, and Michael knocks his sorry ass across the room. Michael approaches in slow motion... slowly he raises the knife... sloooowly... sloooooooooowly.... This is where I started yelling, "Just kill him, for Christ's sake!" (In this scene, Busta says both "Trick or treat, muthafucka!" and "Hey Mikey! Happy fuckin' Halloween!" Admit it: you want him to get killed, too.)

But Busta has other ideas. He grabs a live wire, and jabs it into Michael's crotch. Yes, crotch. Because this movie is all about taking the high road. Michael gets tangled in other wires, and lights up like a Christmas tree. A bloody, homicidal, William Shatner mask-wearing Christmas tree covered in sparklers and kerosene. I bet he's really really dead, this time for sure!

Cops and news crews show up now, and Busta spouts this mealy-mouthed bullshit to the cameras about how "Michael Myers is not a sound bite," as though the film had been indicting the world of reality TV and ubiquitous web cameras, rather than exploiting it. Nice try at having it both ways, chumps. And Michael? He retires to a villa on the French Riviera, having invested wisely in tech stocks in 1999.

Coming in 2005: Halloween 9! No, really. You know, it might be time to let this franchise take a few years off again.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2004


I really have no idea what to write today, but since my traffic is up recently, and it only takes one day off to be totally forgotten and drop back down to double digits in hits (yes, I actually worry about that kind of thing, I'm a mess), I'll just write whatever the hell comes to mind.

--I got the first season DVD box sets for both The Simpsons and Futurama yesterday. I hadn't gotten them before because A) I don't think the first season of The Simpsons holds up very well at all, and B) I've seen the first season of Futurama plenty enough in reruns on the Cartoon Network. But that Amazon sale ($15.99 each!) was too much to resist.

--Next up from Amazon: The Complete Peanuts 1953-1954 and Random Zits. I loves my comic strips! Too bad the new Doonesbury isn't out for another couple weeks, or I'd have added that to my order, too.

--Comic strips that don't get collected in books anymore, but should: One Big Happy. Drabble. The Fusco Bros.

--You know what comic strips I don't love?
  • Fox Trot. Hate it. Same structure every damn strip: a line in panel one gets repeated in panel four, either by a different character or in a different context. So uninventive and predictable.
  • Get Fuzzy. Having the dog actually say "Ha! Ha! Ha!" doesn't make the punchlines any funnier. In fact, they're not funny at all.
  • Non Sequitur. Seriously, does anybody like that crap?
--If I had a regular newspaper subscription, I would revive the Baltimore City Paper's "Funny Paper" column on this blog every Friday. For those of you who have never run across it online, it was a weekly critique of the Baltimore Sun's daily comic strips -- a very harsh and hilariously meticulous critique. Sample from the last time the column ran (last February):

MOMMA: Wednesday, Momma mistakes a door-to-door scythe, cassock, and sandals salesman for the Grim Reaper. Sandals? The Grim Reaper isn't a fuckin' hippie!
There are tons of columns in the archives, go check 'em out. And maybe I'll start getting my local paper, just to have a guaranteed post once a week. As opposed to this rambling mess today.

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Monday, October 18, 2004


I'm falling back on the old standby that I've actually never used before. Here's a few other blogs that I enjoy.

Associated Comics and Pop Culture Webloggers of Ventura County, California, and Outlying Environs: the four people I know in real life, under the umbrella title invented by Mike, and listed at the top of my link section to the right. Recently, Ian has been deconstructing Chaykin, when he's not posting covers of bizarre and obscure motorcycle-themed comics; Corey continues to astound me with how many more bad movies he's seen than I have, including the Pat Morita crapfest Timemaster; Dorian has been making friends and raising the ire of the squares and the clueless with posts that dare to deflate both comics creators and comics fanboys; and Mike has been continuing his slow but inevitable domination of the blogging community, and soon, the world.

I dig Ken Lowery Presents: Ringwood, because Ken is so angry, he makes me look well-adjusted. Re: Hal Jordan's return: "Holy fucking god, has there ever been such a non-issue in the history of the world? It's pathetic, it's sad, we all know it, WE'RE MOVING ON NOW."

H & Mag's The Comic Treadmill has good, in-depth reviews of comics, and also is currently featuring a poll ("Who is the Identity Crisis killer?") in which one of the choices is "ACAPCWOVCCAOE". (We're losing to "Yoko Ono".)

Scott at Polite Dissent often investigates medical scenarios in comics for their real-life veracity, and also posts kooky nostalgia-related items on Mad Mod, or Wormy (remember Wormy, from Dragon magazine? You do? NEERRRRRRD!!! Oh, wait, so do I).

David Welsh at Precocious Curmudgeon doesn't watch as much TV as I do, but he tries. He also feels an appropriate level of horrified disbelief towards the John Byrne forum. And he will not be, as he recently suggested, the last comics-type blogger in the world to read Scott Pilgrim. I will.

Woody at The Sock Drawer often seems to be the only other comics fan aside from myself who also watches football. He's got a plethora of reviews of fan films around the web, and he ends each post with an unattributed quotation, so trivia buffs, try to be the first to comment with who said it and where.

I'm linking Ken C's Revoltin' Developments because he asked me to in his last post. Okay, that, and his current "Battle of..." between Tomb of Dracula #1 from 1972 and Tomb of Dracula #1 from 2004 is truly inspired.

Bill Sherman of Pop Culture Gadabout was the first person that I didn't personally know to link to this blog, so he's aces right from the get-go. His excellent reviews of various pop culture items were a partial inspiration for me to finally start a pop culture blog of my own. His recent anecdote about the behavior of Republican women at one Border's bookstore will make you grit your teeth, assuming you're not Republican yourself.

...Like Augie De Blieck, Jr. is. He has at times made his conservative leanings (which I strongly disagree with) known on his blog, Various and Sundry, and yet I still visit regularly. Why? Because it's a good blog, with insightful TV and DVD reviews and interesting links, and his politics don't change that one way or the other. He rarely mentions his politics (and has in fact recently established a separate blog to contain all political entries), but when he does bring them up, he retains his good nature and humor (as opposed to a certain other insanely hateful diatribe of a blog which I won't name here -- but its initials are Apologies Demanded).

There are many other blogs I read regularly (just look to the right), but that's plenty for now, I think. And please be reassured, even if you don't see my site's name on your referrer list, it's only because I'm visiting you via Comic Weblog Updates.

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Sunday, October 17, 2004

TV: New season update

Very brief updates on how the new shows this season have been holding up:

Jack & Bobby: I thought this would be one of the best new shows. I was way, way wrong. I've dropped the show completely, and it's 100% due to the shrill, idiotic, contemptible figure Jack & Bobby's mother (played by Christine Lahti) has become. She takes some inane, self-righteous, and hateful stand each week, and then is shown to be utterly wrong and made to eat her words. I think, from the way they seem to delight in humiliating and exposing her as a fool and a shrew, that the writers must hate her. I know I do.

Lost: The last episode, delving into some of the mystery of Mr. Locke (Terry O'Quinn), was excellent, especially the surprise ending, which I didn't see coming at all. And some new mysteries of the island were introduced -- who is the man in the suit? (Mr. Roarke? I thought it looked like Fantasy Island!) I think the secrets of the island may well turn out to be half technological in nature, half magical. This show has so many possibilities, and no sign yet that it will squander them. Remains the best new show of the year.

Desperate Housewives: Felicity Huffman's character came off a little better than she did last week, Teri Hatcher continues to beguile (yes, I said beguile), and Marcia Cross is just fascinating. I love this show.

Boston Legal: William Shatner is great. They're letting Mark Valley be more than the tight-ass punchline I thought they were setting him up to be, which is good. But with the introduction of Spader's malevolently insane ex-girlfriend, this show may be primed to jump the shark about a full season before David Kelley's shows usually do. That character is an early sign of Kelley resorting to his worst melodramatic and over-the-top impulses. I instantly hate her. Hope she doesn't become a regular. Rest of the show is stellar; even the three personality-less office beauties are gaining some dimension.

Kevin Hill and Veronica Mars: They're still on UPN, so I'm still waiting for them to go horribly wrong, or get cancelled, or both. But I've enjoyed each episode so far. Fingers crossed!

And a Farscape update: I'm about halfway through season 3 in my catching up on the marathon the Sci-Fi Channel ran last week. Which means I won't be caught up in time for the first installment of The Peacekeeper Wars mini-series tonight. I'm not even going to TiVo it until it repeats next weekend (to save space on my hard drive); hopefully I'll be ready for it then. I have to say, the third season looks substantially different from the previous two; it's lit and shot more like a series of short films, rather than a normal TV show. Which makes each episode feel more important, somehow -- weightier, more significant. I like the look, and I love the show.

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Saturday, October 16, 2004

TV: Jon Stewart on Crossfire

On Friday, Jon Stewart was the guest on CNN's alleged news debate program, Crossfire, hosted by Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala. And Stewart went apeshit on them.

Here's a transcript (thanks to Ian for the link). Oh, I wish all of you would read it, whether you be left, right, or totally apathetic in your politics. Because Stewart takes them to task. Stewart isn't mounting a partisan attack. He is genuinely outraged at Crossfire (and by extension, other non-hard-hitting news shows) that act as tools of the politicians of either side, parroting their party lines and press releases, rather than engaging in genuine, honest debate.

"It's hurting America," he tells them, and he's not wrong.

If you've seen the video (and there are plenty of places to download it already), it's just amazing how worked up Stewart gets. Because the Crossfire guys do exactly what he's accusing them of: they refuse to engage him in the debate. They refuse to step out of the "theater" Stewart says they're performing (STEWART: Now, this is theater. It's obvious. How old are you? CARLSON: Thirty-five. STEWART: And you wear a bow tie.... So this is theater.), and answer him in an honest fashion. They want him to play nice, and make jokes, and he's having none of it: "I'm not going to be your monkey."

Some more sample quotes:

STEWART: It's not honest. What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery....
CARLSON: You had John Kerry on your show and you sniff his throne and you're accusing us of partisan hackery?
STEWART: You're on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls. What is wrong with you?
STEWART: You know, the interesting thing I have is, you have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.
CARLSON: You need to get a job at a journalism school, I think.
STEWART: You need to go to one.
And, when it's become clear Stewart is deadly sincere in his anger and outrage, and Carlson is on the defense:

CARLSON: What's it like to have dinner with you? It must be excruciating. Do you like lecture people like this or do you come over to their house and sit and lecture them; they're not doing the right thing, that they're missing their opportunities, evading their responsibilities?
STEWART: If I think they are.
CARLSON: I wouldn't want to eat with you, man. That's horrible.
STEWART: I know. And you won't.
Carlson's idea of turning the tables on Stewart is to point out how soft Stewart's interview with John Kerry was. Which, #1, is jealousy, plain and simple; Kerry won't come on Crossfire. And #2, is pure bullshit. As Stewart says:

You know, it's interesting to hear you talk about my responsibility... and maybe this explains quite a bit... is that the news organizations look to Comedy Central for their cues on integrity.... But my point is this. If your idea of confronting me is that I don't ask hard-hitting enough news questions, we're in bad shape, fellas.
It's amazing to watch as Stewart becomes the most uncomfortable one on the show, as he comes to realize that he just can't get them to honestly address his questions, much like they can't get politicians to honestly answer their questions. (But, unlike him, they never even try, is his point.) He goes from humorous but aggressive, to genuinely angry, to a rueful resignation. He keeps trying, but he knows he won't get anything out of them: "Why can't we just talk -- please, I beg of you guys, please." And he finally just snaps at Carlson as they're going to commercial, "You know what's interesting, though? You're as big a dick on your show as you are on any show." No, seriously, he actually says that. Yikes.

It's pure unstaged drama. It's one of the most contentious interviews I've ever witnessed. It's a fascinating, depressingly revealing, television moment. Jon Stewart: the fake anchor as the voice of reason.

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Friday, October 15, 2004

TV: Ed

I got a kick out of seeing two alumni from Ed appearing on other shows this week. Josh Randall (Dr. Mike Burton on Ed) played Gina's lazy, dim-witted boyfriend on Joey last night. And Tom Cavanagh, Ed himself, reprised his role as J.D.'s brother on Tuesday's Scrubs, in an episode dealing with the death of their father (who had been played by John Ritter).

I liked Ed a lot, but strangely wasn't too sad to see it go. It appeared to have run its course, story-wise, and -- after being threatened with early cancellation once or twice -- at least it got to go out having brought the relationship between the two leads to a satisfactory conclusion (wedding in the final show). I sometimes wish it had been just that much more popular, so that a DVD set might someday be released, and I could finally see the original pilot, featuring Janeane Garofalo as Ed's cheating wife, and Donal Logue in the role of Phil, which Michael Ian Black would play in the rest of the series.

The main reason to enjoy the show, I think, was never the wacky romantic hijinks between Ed and Carol, but the excellent casting in almost every role. Tom Cavanagh was hilarious and dynamic in the lead role, but Josh Randall was equally valuable in his supporting role, with his dead-pan humor and bizarre tangents, and his relationship with his on-screen wife (Jana Marie Hupp -- lovely and funny, I'd like to see her in something again soon) was charming and believable. When Ed (the character and the show) got bogged down in the romance, Randall was often the one who kept me entertained. And of course, there was Michael Ian Black -- who it appears will be taking over for Craig Kilborn on The Late Late Show, which means I might actually watch The Late Late Show now.

It's odd that Ed doesn't appear to be in repeats anywhere, and sad that it'll probably never hit DVD, but at least most of its cast seems to be keeping busy.

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Thursday, October 14, 2004

COMICS: Wed. 10/13/04

After I complained yesterday about buying so many comics, I was very pleased that so many of them were so good.

The Hard Time TPB is excellent, as Dorian, Ken, and others have been saying all along. And it's such a great value -- ten bucks for six issues. It's a unique take on the superpower genre: a 15-year-old's powers manifest just before he's locked in prison, likely for the rest of his life. I had some quibbles -- why was he convicted in the first place, if even the cops (as his lawyer says) admit he never fired his gun, or at least why was he not convicted of a lesser charge, rather than the full murder counts; and, however much I appreciate his sarcastic humor, it's in no way believable that a kid could be so flip to the other convicts and not get killed 87 times before sundown on his first day, powers or not. But the rough situation, which I don't think has ever been portrayed so extensively, or so well, in mainstream comics before, and the sharply defined and interesting characters make this a fantastic read.

The Authority: More Kev: Good, funny stuff, especially the Midnighter's confrontations with idiot Kev. I'd be upset if someone threw a nuclear bomb in my face, too.

Demo: Eh. There was an interesting twist toward the end, but I wasn't invested enough in the characters to be shocked or say, "Whoa!" Instead, I think I said, "Huh." Let me go back: yeah, that was the extent of my reaction. "Huh." I doubt I'll get the next issue; might get the final issue the month after.

Fables: Very funny issue. The expression of Snow's face as she says, "A litter? I'm having a litter?" is just priceless. I'm glad Buckingham is back and the story is moving forward again.

Captain America: Limp ending to a lame arc. So it was a SHIELD-designed robot replica of Diamondback? Dude, whatever. One order of machina, extra deus on top. And what's with that ending: "Maybe we should just get a room." When did Steve Rogers turn into the Mack? Kirkman really disappointed me on this book.

She-Hulk: This continues to be one of my favorites. I love the non-traditional, but clean and appealing art. I love the humor. I love the characters. I love that after Jen finds Drax the Destroyer, the Silver Surfer, et al. have all been defeated already, she says, "We're gonna need a bigger boat." I love that the Silver Surfer's board has a splint on it. A splint! You know you've been in a fight when your surfboard needs a splint. This book is a big bundle of fun. Pick it up; don't let it get cancelled.

Challengers of the Unknown: Maybe I should've waited for the TPB. Chaykin's stories are packed with so much plot and characters, they just read better when you can go through them all at once. I think this was the best issue since the first, with plans and motivations revealed; I'm curious to see if Chaykin can wrap it all up satisfactorily in the one remaining issue. And what was with the Ann Coulter surrogate, Jan Boulton, quitting her job at the Fox News-type network? Was that explained in this issue, or was it set-up for the next?

Secret War: Three issues in and we still don't know what the hell is going on. I guess Bendis is planning on keeping the war a secret from the readers as well. The art is gorgeous; it's a shame it doesn't have a story worthy of it. What little story there is: I couldn't believe that four pages after the staples, the middle of the book, the story abruptly ended. The staples mean you've got half the book left, not four goddam pages. What a rip-off. And I really wasn't pleased that a phone transcript between Captain America and SHIELD, a conversation which was wisely left out of the main story because it was boring and pointless, took up seven goddam pages of the book. You're working my last fucking nerve, Bendis.

Powers: And yet I still enjoyed this book. Walker follows one sick and twisted false lead, and Pilgrim -- wow. That was one surprise ending. Well, it surprised the hell out of me, anyway. I think I need to cut my monthly Bendis intake back to this and... well, just this. (I already only get the TPBs of Ultimate Spider-Man.)

Ex Machina: Like She-Hulk, another book everyone should get. Smart, surprising, funny, cool, controversial. It's great stuff. The snowplow-driver serial killer storyline came to an unexpectedly sudden, and not entirely satisfactory end, but the bits with Kremlin, and the flashbacks, continue to fascinate me, as do the political maneuverings. This Brian Vaughan kid, he might have a career in comics.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

COMICS: Holy Crap

I just topped the $70 mark at the comic store. Mother of pearl! That needs to not happen again any time soon. Over half of that is two TPBs; James Kochalka's American Elf, collecting the daily strips from his website for the last, like, 87 years -- seriously, it's a fat book, and priced to match ($29.95) -- and Hard Time, which many people have been recommending to me for a while now (and it's quite a bargain -- six issues for $9.95).

But then I got nine other comic books. Criminy! A year ago, I didn't buy nine titles total. Nine in one week is pretty damn excessive. For me, anyway. I bet I couldn't even name them all without looking. Let's try:

(because I didn't pick it up last week)
Captain America
Challengers of the Unknown
Ex Machina
Secret Wars

Um... I'm stalling out. That's eight, one left. Damn. I can tell you I didn't get Punisher; I'm still waiting for that awful, never-ending current story arc to wrap up (I think this was its last issue).

JESUS! This is just disgraceful. I'm spending money on titles I can't even remember two minutes after looking at 'em. I need to cut back on my comics purchases, and cut back hard. Okay, I can't stand the suspense, I'm gonna go look.

It was The Authority: More Kev. Well, at least that's the last of the four issue series. That's one off my list. And I was going to drop Captain America after this one, if I still didn't like Robert Kirkman's writing, but then Dorian told me that this is Kirkman's last issue anyway. "Oh good, I can drop it!" I said. "Ed Brubaker's writing it next," he said. "Crap," I said. Guess I'm not dropping it yet.

Man, looking at the first eight -- if I had to force myself to cut half of them, it'd be a tough choice. Okay, Cap would be pretty easy. Probably Challengers would be next (I'm guessing it'd read better as a TPB, anyway), then Demo (which I like, but don't absolutely love the way some bloggers seem to), and probably Secret Wars would be the last, because one Bendis title should be enough for any one week.

I've got a lot of comic reading to do tonight. Plus about 20 hours of Farscape on tape. Not to mention the TiVo backlog. And I still haven't finished the new Stephen King, or even America (The Book). I'm poor and friendless, I guess is my point. Bummer.

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MUSIC: Somebody better put you back into your place

A couple musical afterthoughts, both about Queen.


In "Killer Queen," the way Freddie Mercury pronounces "Marie Antoinette" so it sounds like he's saying "Murray Antoinette." Yeah, I know Murray, beefy guy who works down at the bakery, right? "Let them eat cake," he's always sayin'.


That no radio station ever in the entire world has played "We Will Rock You" without then playing "We Are the Champions." Maybe I don't hate "We Are the Champions," but honestly, I'm a little sick of it. I'd like to just hear Brian May close out "We Will Rock You" with that rockin' guitar over the stomp stomp clap, stomp stomp clap --- and nothing after. Is that so much to ask?

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Tuesday, October 12, 2004

MUSIC: I Get A Kick Out Of...

...the original, acoustic version of "Revolution" on the White Album, when John Lennon sings, "But when you talk about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out... in." That one last word, not in the single version, suggesting (ironically? Hard to say) that he was of two minds.

...when, on "Won't Get Fooled Again", a few seconds after the line, "For I know that the hypnotized never lie," almost drowned out by Pete Townshend's roaring guitar, Roger Daltrey faintly adds, "Do ya?" Meaning: you, the audience, the listener at home, the general public -- you're the hypnotized, suckers. Wake up!

...the new version of "Break On Through" that I've been hearing recently on the classic rock stations, exactly the same as the old version but for Jim Morrison now completing a previously censored line. "She gets... she gets... she gets..." he used to sing. Now it goes, "She gets high, she gets high, she gets high..." That version isn't on the album -- not the album I've got, anyway. When did that word get added back in? Morrison uncensored, only 30 years after his death.

...Neil Young's version of "Imagine" on the 9/11 charity album America: A Tribute to Heroes; when he gets to, "Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can," he changes it to, "I wonder if I can." Tougher question. I'll bet even John wondered if he could.

..."Is She Really Going Out With Him?", when Joe Jackson says, "Look over there!", how you can't help but answer along with the song: "Where?"

...when radio stations play the very, very end of "Start Me Up," where Mick Jagger switches from "You make a grown man cry" to "You make a dead man come." Naughty!

...that driving guitar in the chorus of Boston's "More Than a Feeling," especially towards the end, when it kicks in hard a couple bars before the lyrics.

...The Daily Show theme song, "Dog on Fire," written by Bob Mould, with the current version performed by They Might Be Giants.

..."Gimme Shelter," when it goes from that woman's soaring, hair-raising vocals on "Rape and murder, it's just a shot away," to Mick's silky "I said love, sister, it's just a kiss away."


--All the radio stations that are afraid to play the uncut versions of songs they've been playing for 20, 25, 30 years or more, because of the insane fines the newly reactionary FCC is raining down left and right. So in Steve Miller's "Jet Airliner," we have to hear the watered-down "funky kicks goin' down in the city" rather than "funky shit," and Roger Daltrey asking "Who the fuck are you?" on the uncut version of "Who Are You" is right out.

--The revised version of the Clash's "Rock the Casbah," where the "jive" in "that crazy Casbah jive" is electronically stretched and echoed for an extra five seconds. Why just that one word? Why change any of it to begin with?

--Same with AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap." If you know the album version, you can tell where a couple of bars of guitar have been added in at a couple of pieces right near the end. It seems like this version is the only one that gets played on the radio anymore. Who did this? And when?

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Monday, October 11, 2004

TV: Sci-Fi

The season premiere of Star Trek: Enterprise aired this week, continuing my disappointment with this series. This episode highlighted my major problem with the show: good ideas, poor execution.

Okay, there's a temporal war being waged. One side is trying to preserve history, the other side (sides?) is trying to alter history to create a favorable (for them) future. And Enterprise and her crew, caught up in the middle of it, have been sent back in time to 1944 to prevent aliens from helping the Nazis win World War II.

That sounds interesting and dynamic on paper. So how did it become so lame and boring on the screen?

The action was poorly staged. The acting was mediocre to horrible, especially from the Noo Yawk mobster cliches. Character, as it always has been on this show, was secondary to whatever outlandish plot machinations the writers could throw out.

I mean, this is, what, the fourth season of the show? And I still don't give a shit about Hoshi or Mayweather. They're total ciphers. Give 'em red shirts and kill 'em off already. As for the others -- Reed: he's hot-headed, but he cares. Tucker: he's hot-headed, but he cares. Archer: he's hot-headed, but he cares. And he likes water polo. T'Pol: she arches her back a lot, plus she's all hot-headed and horny, despite the fact that she isn't supposed to have any emotions. Also: she cares.

The alien Nazis came off as absurd, rather than menacing. The visit from Daniels, the time-traveling good guy, would've been interesting if not for the actor's hammy death throes. "I have something important to say... CHOKE!!! GAKKK!!! GLARGLE BARG!!!" And this is all on top of the fact that after last year's season-long Xindi hunt, the crew (and the audience) weren't allowed any closure before being thrown into another long (hopefully not quite as long) diversion -- they never even got back home before getting zapped back in time. It's a poor reward for an agonizingly long investment of time.

And yet, I still watch.

On the other end of the spectrum is a show I never watched the first time around, but have been catching up with in repeats: Farscape. The Sci Fi Channel has been airing a marathon (8 episodes every weekday) of all 88 episodes of the show's four seasons, and I spent a great deal of last week catching up on the series. I've seen the 1st and 2nd seasons via DVD rentals, and for the first time this Sunday I watched some of the 3rd season. And man, that is some entertaining sci-fi right there.

The most amazing and immediate way you can tell this isn't just another Star Trek is the vast and impressive array of creatures. This was a Henson production, so there's a lot of elaborate puppet work, which may make you think "Pigs in Space" from The Muppet Show. Not at all. These aren't little furry blue Grover and Cookie Monster muppets, these are huge and unique and fascinating creations, real and believable characters. Take Rygel, for example: he's greedy, he's cowardly, he's pompous, he's vicious, he's charming, he's duplicitous, he's funny, he's supremely self-interested and yet can be helpful when it suits him. He's a far more complex character than anyone on Enterprise, let alone the personality-less drones Hoshi and Mayweather. And he's a fucking rubber slug.

When you see a new alien on this show, you stop and marvel. You don't just go, "There's another damn alien with a different bump on its nose."

The storylines are more far-reaching, and have more impact on the characters, than in Trek, or most other sci-fi TV I've seen. Enterprise spent a season fighting the Xindi. Farscape took John Crichton, its lead character, and spent a season driving him slowly out of his mind. Now that's a character arc. (Which, truth be told, also led to a great deal of scenery-chewing from actor Ben Browder; he's funny and charismatic, and he can be riveting, but he can ham it up with the worst of them.) Plot details introduced in season one continue to be developed in season three (and presumably beyond). And the show's not afraid to throw out the status quo and turn everything on its ear.

The characters aren't all on the same moral scale, and they won't always do the right thing. D'Argo spent two seasons looking for his son, Jothee; when he finally found him, Jothee immediately began sleeping with D'Argo's fiancee. Happy father's day! Yes, there's sex, and infidelity, and love; relationships, grudges, and all kinds of conflict -- not the toothless Trek kind of conflict ("I disagree, but darn it, I respect you!"), but more along the lines of "I'll do what I want, and I will pummel you bloody if you don't like it." In short, the good guys -- while they can be, and usually are, heroic, brave, self-sacrificing, noble, clever, etc. -- still aren't all good.

The villains are compelling, too, especially Scorpius, the hideous madman with the silky smooth and charming voice. The bad guys get their own stories, and are allowed to develop and change, and sometimes even do good things, much as the good guys are allowed to do bad things.

The only sci-fi series that's anywhere comparable in complexity and scope, in my eyes, is Babylon 5. And much like Babylon, Farscape was planned as a five-season story. Unfortunately, it got cancelled after the fourth season, and ended on a huge cliffhanger (so I've heard -- again, haven't watched that far). But the Sci-Fi channel will be airing a new mini-series, starting this Sunday, which should resolve the cliffhanger and move the story forward, closer to where they hoped to go with the final season. I don't know if I'll be all the way caught up by then or not (there are 40 more hours of old episodes I'll be taping this week, all of which are new to me), but I'll be TiVoing it for sure. It's good, good stuff.

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Friday, October 08, 2004

COMICS: Colonia

The only comics I got on Wednesday were Jubilee, which I talked about yesterday; Superman/Batman/Batman/Superman (whoever gets top billing), which wasn't really worth the wait, and which made me wonder if Darkseid had Supergirl stretched on the rack before Superman showed up (or at least just her abdomen); and Y: The Last Man, which ended with a hell of a cliffhanger. Was the ring what was protecting Yorick all this time? (My guess: no. But it's a nifty coincidence.)

And I also got the TPB of Colonia (freshly restocked thanks to Mike). It's a collection of the first five issues of the ongoing series (which is apparently ongoing at a very slow rate, but what are you gonna do?), and it was a bundle of weird, cool, creative fun. I mean, look at the cover:

Yikes! I'm still not sure if that's a single creature with five heads, or a group of creatures with a single mind/animating force/what-have-you, but isn't it excellently creepy as hell?

I knew of creator Jeff Nicholson from his comedy series Father & Son (he also did Ultra Klutz, which I never got into). There's a lot of humor here, but it's primarily an adventure tale, set in an alternate world in which pirates still roam the seas in 1999, America is still the "New World", and it's not even called America -- it's Colonia, named after Cristobal Colon (or Christopher Columbus as most of us know him). Three people from our version of Massachusetts (a boy named Jack and his two uncles) slip-slide into this alternate world, and encounter a mess of pirates, as well as mermaids, headless ghosts, that walking fish thing in human clothes, and a talking duck named Lucy, who lays golden eggs.

The alternate history is intriguing and well thought out, and Jack's handling of this bizarre experience is smart and plausible, while his uncles bluster their way around with comedic results. And that talking duck seems to think there's something special about Jack, that he doesn't even realize himself. There's a load of story ideas here that could take this series in any imaginable direction.

The downside is, Nicholson isn't moving too quickly on this project; since 1999, only 11 issues have come out (the 11th just came out). It doesn't look like there are plans for another collection any time soon, so I think I'll be picking up some back issues next week. Too bad it'll probably be such a long wait till #12.

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Thursday, October 07, 2004

COMICS: Shameful confession

My shameful confession:

I really like Jubilee.

The comic, not the character. Or, not the character specifically, just what Robert Kirkman is doing with her on the new book. I don't really know anything about what I'm sure is the rich and fascinating backstory of Jubilee (she's basically a ripoff of Robin, right?), but Kirkman's using her well here.

This is more like Invincible than any of Kirkman's other books, and since Invincible is my favorite Kirkman book -- one of my favorite comics now being published, period -- that's just fine with me.

It's a very simple, character-driven high school story, with the whole mutant powers thing being very secondary (so far) to the daily interactions between Jubilee and the other people at school -- the popular, the unpopular, the faculty. There's a bit of intrigue with Jubilee's aunt, which seems to be coming to a head, and that's interesting, but it's not really what's got me hooked on the book; it's well-written and funny, with good characters, and that's what's got me hooked. It's far better than any of Kirkman's recent 2099 books, and it beats the hell out of his Captain America (one more issue of that and I'm done, this time for sure, I swear).

And no, I'm not kidding about any of this.

Or, as Dorian suggested at the comic shop yesterday, maybe I just like reading about teenage girls.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2004

COMICS: Half a rant

I wrote a big old rant earlier today, inspired by an unnamed comic shop employee telling me today that the new hardback collection of Neil Gaiman's 1602 only contains the first four issues of the eight issue series. I was outraged! But when I went to the Marvel site to link to the book... it turns out, not so much. It actually contains all eight issues. Oops! But I'd already written this rant. And most of what I said in it is still relevant, and still pisses me off. So I present it to you now, dear reader, with all the stuff about 1602 carefully excised and/or reworded.

We join Tom's rant, already in progress:

...I'm sick to death of the collections of mini-series or story arcs being split into two volumes, like Batman: Hush (hardback and paperback), or the upcoming New Frontier (it was six issues, but they were double-sized, so same diff). We all know they have the ability to collect 12 issues in one TPB. Crisis on Infinite Earths or Secret Wars or Watchmen are only the first I can name off the top of my head. And that's just for a decent quality reproduction; how many issues are in an Essential collection? Thirty? Same goes for hardback: I've got the Ultimate Marvel Team-Up collection, which is 16 issues plus the double-size Special, and I know there are other hardbacks collecting equal numbers of issues. So there's no possible way to defend splitting twelve issues into two collections.

Other than the very simple explanation: Marvel wants to screw you over. DC wants to screw you over. They've discovered that people are willing to pay collection prices not once, but twice, and they're gonna keep doing it as long as suckers keep paying. Instead of just expanding the page count, collecting a whole mini-series at once, and adding four or five bucks to the standard 6-issue collection price, they're gonna keep the page count down, issue multiple volumes, and effectively double the price every time. Because they can. Because we keep paying for it.

I say: to hell with them. You know, I actually bought the first Batman: Hush TPB. And all this time after the series was first published, I still don't know how it ends, because I've been avoiding everything written about it, in order to have an unspoiled experience reading the entire series all at once, after it was collected. Well, that wasn't good enough for DC. They wanted to screw me over by making me pay for the story twice (and then they didn't even give me the opportunity to pay twice -- it's been over two months since the first volume came out, and the second volume has yet to be released).

Screw me, DC? Screw YOU. I'm not buying the second volume. And I invite all of you reading this: spoil away! Leave a comment and tell me every stupid detail about this stupid story. Who is Hush? What's the deal with Jason Todd? (Despite my best efforts, I still saw some spoilers.) Ruin everything for me, so I'm not tempted even in the least to get the second volume, whenever those greedy bastards release it! I WANT SPOILERS AND I WANT 'EM NOW!!

Same goes for any other collections you plan on splitting in two. The Loeb/Lee Superman arc? Forget it. Waid's Superman: Birthright? I've been really looking forward to getting that collection. But if it's two volumes: FORGET IT.

Go to hell, DC. And you too, Marvel. I'm not going to take this shit anymore. You don't want to give me your comic collections in a fair and reasonable fashion, at a fair and reasonable price? You can keep 'em, wad 'em up in a tiny little ball, and cram 'em.

EDIT: Ian notes in my comments that Azzarello is writing the Jim Lee Superman story, not Loeb. Shows just how interested I am in that storyline. Thanks, Ian! And Mike would like me to point out that he wasn't wrong about 1602 for very long at all, and actually did a great deal of research when I called the store to ask him if he was sure the book had 4 issues or not. (He couldn't just open the book and look, because it's wrapped in plastic.) Thanks, Mike!

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Tuesday, October 05, 2004

TV: Lois and the Shat

Two new shows on ABC Sunday have definitely got my attention after their debuts this week: Desperate Housewives and Boston Legal.

The better is Housewives, which is about the women of Wisteria Lane, all leading lives of quiet desperation. The dark underbelly of suburbia is something we've all seen before (American Beauty, etc.), but, as Roger Ebert often likes to say, a movie (or TV show) is not what it is about, but how it is about it. And the "how" of Housewives is all kinds of juicy goodness.

Teri Hatcher is the nominal star of the ensemble, I guess; her character is the least screwed up, and thus the most easy to connect with. She's a divorced mother of a teen girl, and she's never looked lovelier; I'm glad she's lost that orange tan she had in all those Howie Long Radio Shack commercials. She's sweet and sad and funny and vulnerable, she's got a believable, supportive relationship with her daughter (thank GOD there's one teen girl who's not a completely hateable bitch this TV season), and she's got the hots for the new plumber on the block (lucky bastard).

The rest of the four leads are progressively more screwed up. Felicity Huffman (who shares top billing with Hatcher) is the breeder, with three shitty little brats and a baby to take care of. I loved her on SportsNight, but her frantic, resentful role here is a little too frantic and resentful. She's still great in it, though. Marcia Cross is the Stepford wife, resented for her rigidity by her husband and kids. I can't decide if she's beautiful or frightening. And Eva Longoria is the trophy wife who's screwing the teenage gardener; to make sure her husband doesn't fire the boy, she secretly mows the lawn for him in the middle of the night -- in an evening gown, no less. Oh, and Nicollette Sheridan is the local sexpot. Now, The Sure Thing was a long time ago, I know, but didn't she used to be hot? She looks rough, here. A little too much plastic surgery.

The whole thing is held together with narration from Brenda Strong. I love Brenda Strong, from SportsNight, from 3rd Rock from the Sun, from Seinfeld... from everything. Too bad she blows her brains out in the first minute. But she still narrates the show from beyond the grave (hello again, American Beauty!). And she's got a dirty little secret, as the other housewives discover while cleaning away her possessions. As does her husband, who's digging up the swimming pool by night. And that new plumber isn't quite what he seems, either...

It's a soap that's trying to be more than just another soap, and based on the first episode, I'd say it's succeeding. The four lead actresses are all great, the mysteries and intrigue drew me in, the over-the-top antics and melodrama are good, dirty fun. And with the huge ratings it got in its debut, there should be plenty more to come. (The big ratings for this and Lost are making me breathe a sigh of relief for the upcoming TV season.)

Boston Legal, the spin-off or sequel or whatever you want to call it from The Practice, doesn't waste any time in jumping into the typical David E. Kelley ludicrous excesses. Much like Housewives, Legal gets rid of one of my favorite performers in the first scene. The hilarious Larry Miller doesn't kill himself like Brenda Strong; rather, he shows up to a board meeting wearing no pants, and is carted off to the loony bin. I have now seen Larry Miller's ass, and I can't say I'm happy about that. David E. Kelley, you are one sick son of a bitch.

Kelley's shows are generally brilliant in their first season, then soon go to hell when Kelley starts throwing in whatever insane plot twist or character development he can dream up. But with Legal, the starting line is insane. Denny Crane (William Shatner, or as Ian likes to call him: the Shat!) and Alan Shore (James Spader, so magnificently creepy with the smallest of smiles) are "eccentric" to the point of mania. Spader thinks nothing of lying, cheating, and blackmailing to win his cases, and the Shat goes even farther than that, causing a scene in a courtroom by sending in Al Sharpton. Yes, Al Sharpton really makes a cameo. That's how insane this show is from day one.

Also, the Shat refuses to hire a private detective to tail the wife of his firm's biggest client, because he's the one having an affair with her. Typical Kelley.

Mark Valley, who was so great as Keen Eddie, is stuck in what looks to be the typical tightass, punching bag role, which is a shame, but it's good to see him on TV again. Rene Auberjonois is in full Clayton*-mode, and it's a pleasure to witness. And Rhona Mitra, Lake Bell, and Monica Potter are three hot chicks. I'm trying to think, did they do much of anything other than just be hot... nope, they were just hot. And I have no problem with that.

I liked the insanity, because it's pulled off with such flair by Spader and the Shat. The problem is, how long before all the crazy antics, which were so entertaining in this first show, become tiresome and irritating, as in every other Kelley show? Judging from The Practice or Picket Fences, three years, tops. Judging from Ally McBeal or Boston Public, one year. Hell, I was irritated by the "Annie" storyline in this premiere episode. I'll stick with it for as long as Kelley and the almost unanimously stellar cast can walk that tightwire.

*If you don't know who Clayton Endicott III was, I may hate you a little bit, either for being ignorant of your TV history, or for being too young to care.

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