Tuesday, November 30, 2004

TV: Desperate Housewives

Boy, I need to get back in the habit of regular updating. Here's a couple quick TV notes, so I don't feel like I'm shirking my duties.

I'm still loving the hell out of Desperate Housewives, but I'm not wild about the promotional tack ABC took with last Sunday's episode. They went right ahead and guaranteed in advance that one of the housewives on Wisteria Lane would get killed. Whatever ratings boost that promo might have garnered them (as though they needed a boost), it was more than offset by spoiling the surprise for regular viewers. I might have been shocked by Mrs. Huber's death if it had come out of nowhere. But after the promos, I had to figure: obviously, none of the four leads are going to be killed. (What, did you really think they'd kill off Teri Hatcher?) Which left Nicolette Sheridan and nosy ol' Mrs. Huber. I thought killing off Sheridan would've been much bolder, especially after that bullshit Monday Night Football controversy put her in the spotlight, but nope. And once Mrs. Huber's involvement in Mary Alice's suicide was revealed midway through the episode, it was only a matter of counting minutes until she met her maker. Like I said, what could've been a nifty shocker without the advance notice turned into a disappointing anti-climax.

Ken Jennings will be on David Letterman tonight. You may draw your own conclusions as to what that means regarding his Jeopardy! winning streak... but I wouldn't miss tonight's Jeopardy! if I were you. I know I won't.

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Monday, November 29, 2004

Nerd Heaven

Just back from my four-day weekend in Las Vegas*, my first visit there in my adult life, and let me tell you what: it is tremendous.

But let me skip for now the gambling, the drinking, the dinner at Wolfgang Puck's, the sighting of Wayne Newton (seriously!), the drinking, the George Carlin show, the half-naked ladies (one showgirl was wandering around the casino in a bikini bottom so small, you could see her birth control patch), and the drinking, and get straight to the highlight of the weekend, Nerd Heaven: The Star Trek Experience.

Conveniently located in the Hilton, where I was staying, TSTE is composed of two attractions, the Klingon Encounter and the Borg Invasion 4D. (And no, I don't know what the fourth D is. I only counted the usual three.) Both of them have live action performances in which actors lead the visitors to various areas for various scenes, finishing in a spacecraft-shaped auditorium with some incredible filmed sequences taking you into the action (much like Star Tours, if you've ever been to one of the Disney parks). The Borg one was better, I thought, mainly because it's more recent, and more technologically advanced; it's based around the Voyager series. The Klingon Encounter was still pretty damned entertaining; it's based around The Next Generation.

But neither show would've been as much fun if we hadn't visited Quark's Bar and Restaurant first. Did I say I was going to skip the drinking? Guess not. Oh my good lord was it fantastic. It's modeled after the bar from Deep Space Nine, of course, and the drinks, oh the drinks! Little ol' nerdy me had a James Tea Kirk (which was basically an Electric Tea, if you know what that is**); my two nerdy friends had Mind Melds, which were some kind of peach-flavored rum concoction. Then we had a round of Harry Mudds (a shot of kahlua, Buttershots Schnapps, cinnamon liqueur, and Bailey's, I think, which my friends claimed tasted like an Oatmeal Cookie, and I had no reason to doubt them), then two more Mind Melds and for me -- I can't recall the name (something nerdy), but it was Vanilla Vodka, Godiva Chocolate Liqueur, Buttershots, and cream; tasted like chocolate milk, with a hell of a kick. And then we got crazy. Two women from our group joined us, so we ordered the Warp Core Breach. This goddam thing is served in a fishbowl. A chunk of dry ice at the bottom of the bowl created a cloud of smoke pouring out of it. Kind of like this:

Bartender, I would like a BUCKET of alcohol, and don't skimp on the dry ice.

In fact, exactly like that, only purple. And don't let the scale of that photo fool you; that glass is big as a bowling ball. Then all five of us got straws about two feet long, and we got to business. What's in it? It was delicious, and had a blackberry taste to it; I couldn't really tell you more about it than that. It's in a goddam fishbowl. What more do you need to know?

We also got a visit from some of the in-character employees; two Ferengi had an argument next to us at the bar, and then a Borg came by, saying that he was on the station "for observation purposes only". We took some pictures with him, and he stayed totally in character; when one of the women commented on his lack of a smile, he said, "I am familiar with 'smile'." When we thanked him for the pictures, he said, "Acknowledged." Neeeerrrrrrrrd Heaven.

Then we three nerdy guys went back upstairs to go on the rides. Shows. Whatever you'd call them. The entryway was lined with an insanely detailed Trek timeline on one side, and a Trek museum (biggest in the world, they claim) on the other, filled with costumes, props, photos, etc. Normally the line would be so long, you'd have plenty of time to absorb it all; that day, there was hardly any line at all, and we were staggeringly drunk, not quite in the frame of mind to appreciate it all, so we zipped right through it (except for some reason my friend Scoot kept pointing out Guinan's costume).

The Borg Encounter was first. It started with a costumed crew member leading us into a room and showing us a video on the wall screen; it was the Doctor, from Voyager, telling us some malarkey about how we had all been summoned because something unique in our DNA was highly resistant to Borg probes. His spiel was mercifully interrupted by a Borg attack. Our crewmember escort summoned security, and we were ushered through various other areas, in which Borg appeared, and engaged in battle. We three drunken nerds were highly wrapped up in it all, laughing, screaming, telling them to shoot the Borg! Annoying? Possibly. But our thinking was, if they're going to go to the trouble of pretending there's a Borg attack, why not be courteous*** enough to pretend we believe it?

Then into the seating area. It was an impressively large set, with a giant front viewscreen, two smaller screens to either side, and a "hatch" on the ceiling. With our 3D glasses on, we were treated to a spectacular movie sequence, involving the section we were seated in being carved out of the space station by the Borg, and being brought aboard the Borg ship. The Borg then injected us with their nanoprobes, simulated by blasts of air on our faces and pokey-crawlies in our seat backs and seat bottoms (which made me giggle like the Pillsbury Doughboy). We were confronted by the Borg Queen (whom I suspected was played by Alice Krige, the actress who originated the role in First Contact; when I looked up her name on IMDb, I found that not only was it indeed her, but also that the Borg Invasion actually has its own entry, as does the Klingon Encounter).

Captain Janeway and the Starship Voyager eventually came to our rescue, after five or six minutes of the most realistic 3D effects I've ever seen. A final debriefing by the Doctor, and we were released back into the real world. Which we immediately abandoned for the Klingon Encounter.

This was more of the same; the story hinged on the Klingons abducting our group of tourists because one of us was supposedly Jean-Luc Picard's ancestor. We were rescued by the Enterprise, and taken aboard the ship's main bridge, which was so beautifully reproduced it made me as happy as a little girl. On the viewscreen, a filmed bit with Riker and Geordi appeared, to fill us in on the blah-blah-blah, and then we were taken into the turbolift and sent to a shuttle pod. When the door closed on the shuttle pod, Scoot began poking all the fake buttons on the wall next to him, prompting one of the employees spying on us to announce over the intercom that we shouldn't bother touching the console controls, because they were DNA-encoded to respond only to Enterprise crewmembers. We loved that. Neeerrrrrrd Heaven.

Then began the filmed sequence (non-3D this time), in which our pod alternately tried to escape from, and engaged in battle, various Klingon vessels, with the Enterprise by our side. We then got zapped back to Las Vegas, and the battle continued over the Strip, zooming over and around various Vegas landmarks. So cool. At the end, as we exited the shuttle pod, an employee directed us onto an elevator that would take us to the exit. All three of us drunken nerds cheerily engaged him in conversation, right up to the second the elevator doors closed, at which point one of the other tourists asked us, "Do they pay you to be here?" which cracked up the rest of the group. It seems our unbridled enthusiasm actually helped the other people to have a good time; everyone was laughing and smiling at the end. Which was nice. Ah, sweet, sweet alcohol: makes everything better.

Coming soon in Tom's Vegas Review: the George Carlin concert.

*I started writing this post on the 22nd. So now I'm just back, plus a week.
**Even if you don't know what that is; frankly, your mixological knowledge has no effect on the drink, one way or the other.
***I.e., "drunk".

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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Miss me?

I got back last night from a four-day weekend in Las Vegas, and I'm heading out to Thanksgiving vacation in Lake Havasu tonight. Before I left tonight, I wanted to post a couple of entries about Vegas, especially about the George Carlin show, and the Star Trek Experience, but those'll have to wait for when I get back home again on Sunday. So, sorry about the dearth of new content. But thanks to those of you who continue stopping by! Feel free to browse through my archives while you're here. And for those of you visiting via search engine, here is your picture of Misty May's ass:

Misty May's Ass

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Thursday, November 18, 2004

COMICS: Wed. 11/17/04

Only read half the comics I got yesterday.

Marvel Team-Up: The art had an unusual style; it looked good in some places, not so good in others. I like the idea of this comic, but the first issue doesn't hit its potential; it's not awful, but neither is it tremendously promising. Kirkman falls back on the dopey cliche of having superheroes attack each other rather than spend ten seconds explaining the situation. But he gets off a few good lines (such as Wolverine's comment that he can track Spider-Man by following the trail of bad jokes), gives Peter Parker a fun soap opera situation at school, and puts Wolverine into a clever bind. I'll stick around for another issue, at the very least.

The Pulse: Hated the artwork. And... well, Dorian puts it so much better himself:

The Secret War tie-in issue of The Pulse basically consists of Jessica Jones standing around for twenty-two pages looking confused while incomprehensible things happen. So, it's an accurate representation of what it's like for readers trying to figure out what the hell is supposed to be happening in Secret War.
Is this artist change permanent? And is this really gonna be a five-issue arc of nothing happening? I'm going to have to seriously consider dropping this title.

Madrox: I hate David Lloyd's (it's still David Lloyd, right?) cover art -- ugly and muddy -- and the inside art, while growing on me slightly, still doesn't thrill me. I like Strong Guy's scene, and I like that Jamie's facing an apparently bad version of one of his duplicates. But that thing with the card through the guy's throat -- please. Seriously, that's such utter bullshit I still can't believe I actually read it. What, is Madrox Bullseye all of a sudden? I don't care if you shoot a playing card out of a cannon, it's not going to slice a guy's throat (unless those goons were playing with cards made out of razor blades). That scene is so frickin' stupid, it drained away a great deal of my enthusiasm for this series.

Fantastic Four: Still a great big bundle of fun. I loved seeing Johnny and Sue trying to master each other's powers (even though I still think the fact that Reed was able to switch their powers in the first place is kinda dopey), I loved the flashback scenes to Johnny's childhood and to Ben's first date with Alicia, I loved that Reed actually displayed a sense of humor -- this book is relatively lightweight, but the writing and art are tremendously, consistently enjoyable.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

COMICS: Addendum

The answer to the brain teaser in my previous post: I did only get eight comics; Captain America is the one I didn't get.

Did I forget to buy it, or did I deliberately put it back on the shelf? If the latter -- well, maybe I'm not as much a sucker as I thought I was. Good for me!

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COMICS: A personal test

I bought eight comics today. I'm going to try to list them all. (The bag's sitting out in the car.) And if I can't remember one of them, I'm going to drop the title. If it's a bad one, I shouldn't have been getting it in the first place. If it's a good one, serves me right.

Today actually should be easier than usual. I'm pretty excited about the whole bundle.

We've got Ennis and Bendis, of course: Punisher and The Pulse. Punisher more than The Pulse I'm looking forward to; I still haven't quite broken the Bendis knee-jerk purchasing habit, but I think I have finally forced myself to dump Daredevil. Not that I mean to suggest I haven't been enjoying The Pulse; I have. It's just, how many Bendis comics do I need?

Then there's Kirkman: Marvel Team-Up (which I skipped last week because my eyes just brushed past the "MTU" on the cover. Muhtoo? I didn't want a comic called Muhtoo...), and The Walking Dead, which is pretty damn quick, the last issue was out just last week.

Peter David is represented: Madrox. It feels good to be buying a David title again. I dropped Fallen Angel fairly early on; something about it just didn't quite win me over. Can't wait for his return to The Incredible Hulk.

Then there's Ed Brubaker, with Captain America. I just suffered through Kirkman's lousy run on the title; why am I doing it again? I don't give a rat's ass about Captain America. But I'll give the Brubaker version a try, I guess. I'm a sucker.

Brian K. Vaughan's in there, with Ex Machina. I'm glad this series seems to be catching on. It's like the TV show Lost (which is big in the ratings) -- I'm relieved that for once the rest of the public seems to agree with me on a quality product.

And then there are the two "fun" books of the week, She-Hulk and Fantastic Four. And that should be the whole list!

Wait, that's nine. Did I miscount the comics in my bag? Or did I forget to buy something? (I know that I almost bought Matt Howarth's Bugtown, but didn't; it just didn't look as interesting as the old Post Bros. comics used to. But that's not what's messing up my count.) Usually I forget one of the comics I bought; this time I seem to be remembering one too many. Weird. Well, if it's nine, then more comic goodness for me! If it turns out I've got only eight: DAMMIT!

And on top of however many comics that is, I also got the final Peter Milligan X-Force TPB. Damn, I went crazy today. Good thing I won at poker this weekend!

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BOOKS: The Complete Peanuts 1953-1954

The Complete Peanuts 1953-1954 is the greatest book I've read since The Complete Peanuts 1950-1952.

There are some flaws with the book. The reproduction on some of the strips is unavoidably of very poor quality; pristine strips from this era, most of which were never reprinted in book form, are difficult to find. In fact, as a note in the back of the book indicates, it was completely impossible to find the top tier of one Sunday strip. Book designer Seth had to create it from scratch. When I read that, I thought it meant he had to redraw it from a copy of the strip that was so bad they couldn't print it, but no -- those original panels really no longer exist, and Seth pieced together elements from other Schulz originals to make a passable fake. (It's a golfing strip, and if you're paying close attention, you can find the pieces he cobbled together on the page in other golfing strips throughout the book, such as the golf ball rolling in the hole with a "PLUNK!")

In these early strips, Peanuts had yet to fall into the artistic routine of later years. The art is much more experimental; scenes are shown from multiple interesting angles, rather than the straight-ahead or 90-degree profile that became the trademark of the strip. And Schulz often meshed different artistic styles in the same strip; in a series of strips involving Lucy entering a golf tournament, the adults in the crowd (grown-ups in a Peanuts strip!!) were drawn with much more realism and detail than the cartoonish children. Same with Snoopy and birds; the dog is very cartoonish (though much less so than he would become), and the birds are very realistic -- no Woodstock-type birds in these early years.

The characters and their brand of humor is still developing here. Charlie Brown is mischievous and egotistical as frequently as he is insecure; he's not the lovable loser in all things (he even scores a run in baseball), but he's getting there. Linus is still crawling, but he gets his security blanket in this volume (which Charlie Brown calls a "security and happiness blanket"). Pig-Pen first appears, as does the loud-talking Charlotte Braun, whom I had never heard of before reading this book -- I guess she didn't stick around long. And Lucy has taken center stage, with her fuss-budget personality blooming, pushing Violet, Patty, and especially Shermy to the sidelines. And you can see the designs of the characters becoming finalized toward the end of the book. Most noticeably, Charlie Brown's expression becomes much less wide-eyed and cherubic.

As for the humor -- it still needs some work. There are an awful lot of running gags, most of which fall flat. Charlie Brown is a budding comic strip artist, who just can't get Schroeder to appreciate his humor. Snoopy is baffled by some object for four wordless panels. Lucy counts stars, or raindrops. But even she couldn't count the number of strips in which she complains about something Charlie Brown is bringing her, only to wind up with that something on her head. The mud pie gags are still there, but they begin fading out toward the end of the book, to be replaced by house-of-cards gags. Writing on fences pops up a great deal, as do building blocks. And when frustrated by something, Charlie Brown is more likely to say, "That's the way it goes," rather than "Rats!" (I don't think "Good grief!" has even entered his vocabulary yet.)

But in the final couple months collected here, you can see the beginning of the classic age of Peanuts. In the next couple years, the strip would solidify its format, and take off in popularity, and Schulz would commence a good twenty, twenty-five years of pure comic brilliance. Mid-50s to late-70s, that was the peak of Peanuts, which in my mind means the peak of all comic strips. I can't wait for the next volume (scheduled for April 2005).

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Tuesday, November 16, 2004


I already mentioned this elsewhere, but I might as well mention it here too: did anyone else notice the little censorship moment on this week's season premiere of The Simpsons? Toward the end, Homer says, "You're still the best cook in this family," and Marge says, "Oh, B.F.D." Only you couldn't hear the "F".

I replayed the line about a dozen times. It wasn't a TiVo glitch, and it didn't sound like a recording error on the part of the network. Fox deliberately muted that one letter. Has the fear of reprisal from the draconian FCC become so rampant that even the initial of a dirty word has to be censored?

Speaking of censorship, go read Sars' take on the bullshit uproar over ABC's airing of Saving Private Ryan at Tomato Nation. She has crystallized my thoughts eloquently. Or at least, with far fewer curse words than I would've used. The wrong Powell has been forced out of the Bush administration; it's Colin's son Michael, the FCC Chairman, that really needs to go.

In case you missed the Championship Game of Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown, and were wondering if Dennis Rodman was still a humongous douchebag: rest assured that he most definitely is.

Early in the game, Rodman threw away a losing hand, cards face-down and in the muck. Tournament director Robert Thompson immediately declared Mekhi Phifer winner of the hand. Rodman then got upset, saying his cards should be shown first. Whether Rodman was even aware that his hand was by far the worse hand or not was hard to tell, but when Thompson correctly told him that by throwing his cards away he had forfeited the hand, Rodman tore off his microphone, said, "I'm not even gonna play," and stormed out of the room.

After the commercial break, he came back and sat down again with the other now visibly uncomfortable celebrities, but when he was later eliminated, he made a point of shaking everyone's hand but Thompson's.

What a little bitch. (As much as a nine-foot-tall man can be a "little" bitch.) If he had owned the deck of cards, he would've taken it and gone home. (And if it was all some crazy ploy to rattle the other competitors -- which I highly doubt, but you never know -- it sure backfired; Rodman was eliminated first.)

My prediction for the game couldn't have been much more wrong. I picked Phifer to lose first, as he was by far the worst player (with the possible exception of Rodman), but his crazy luck from the first game held, and he took the grand prize. He just would not fold! How do you win when you play with crappy cards every hand and never ever fold?

Of interest tonight: the debut of House, the new medical drama on Fox starring Hugh Laurie. Laurie is absolutely wonderful in everything he's ever been in (from Blackadder to Jeeves & Wooster to -- okay, maybe not Stuart Little), but I fear he might be the only thing worth watching in this show. Even if he is, that's still a darn good reason to watch.

Also tonight, the season premiere of The Amazing Race 6. Last season let me down a bit; after the first couple weeks, there wasn't a single team left I could root for. It's fun to have villains to root against; it's not fun when there are only villains. Hopefully the casting is a little more balanced this time. Either way, it remains the best reality show on the air, bar none. (Take that, Littlest Groom!)

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Saturday, November 13, 2004

TV: Just Shoot Me!

Yesterday's post was boring. I'm boring.

So boring, I started thinking about one of my favorite lines ever on TV, from the sitcom Just Shoot Me! -- Nina is telling Finch a story, and Finch suddenly breaks in with, "I just remembered: you're boring, and my legs work," and quickly walks away.

Which then reminded me of one of the funniest guest appearances on a TV show ever, when David Cross appeared on Just Shoot Me! as Elliot's "special" brother, Donnie (who, it turns out, was just faking it to get his family to take care of him). That character seemed to sink into the national consciousness; everybody remembers that appearance. Even people who never watched the show can somehow still remember David Cross sing-songing "Chicken pot chicken pot chicken pot pie!!"

And then I got to thinking about how Just Shoot Me! was on the air forever (well, seven seasons), but it didn't go out the way most long-lived shows do, with big promotions and a special finale episode. It just kind of disappeared. I think it didn't even finish out its last season. Most shows that go that long get a certain amount of respect and fanfare on their exits; Just Shoot Me! simply vanished, as though it had gone into the Witness Protection Program.

On further research, I see it actually went out the same way as The Drew Carey Show (which I've previously written about); its final episodes were held until the regular season had finished, then burned off over the summer. It was by no means a landmark sitcom, but still, that's a pretty crappy farewell from NBC: "Thanks for all the money; don't let the door hit you in the ass."

I'm gonna quit now, before I bore myself again.

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Friday, November 12, 2004

COMICS: More Wed. 11/10/04

Finishing where I left off yesterday:

Fables: There doesn't seem to be an overriding story to the most recent couple of issues. I mean, there's a story -- the administration of Fabletown is changing, Snow has her babies, Snow and Bigby go their separate ways -- but there's no menace or villain to combat. (There's something suggested by Piggy on the last page, but that's all.) And that's fine with me. The writing is so fun, and the art such a joy, that I'm relishing these relatively uneventful issues just for the time we get to spend with the characters. Although I hope we finally get to meet the Adversary some time soon.

The Walking Dead: My main complaint about this series continues to be the new artist, Charlie Adlard, who replaced the excellent Tony Moore; half the time I can't tell one generic-looking light-haired bearded man he draws from another. Very abrupt ending to the time on the farm. Kirkman explains in the letter column that he had originally planned on the farm story ending five issues earlier; I guess the extension of the story allowed him to shake things up a bit with the characters, but the ending was so sudden and anti-climactic, and the pacing's change from leisurely to sprinting forward in time was so jarring, he either should've ended it earlier, make the whole thing go by quickly, or he should've taken a little more time to make the ending more satisfying. I mean, that's how we're going to leave Farmer John (I forget the character's real name, and don't have the comic in front of me to reference, but you know who I mean) -- shell-shocked, muttering, "I think I've lost my mind" -- now we're going to leave that character? And leave David behind with him? Maybe that's the point -- it's a horror story, there aren't really supposed to be satisfying ends -- but it just didn't work for me. Still enjoying the comic overall, though. Oh, also: fan letter from Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) this issue. Cool. I wish I got fan letters from the creators of cult-classic British sitcoms.

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Thursday, November 11, 2004

COMICS: Wed. 11/10/04

Some quick notes on the comics I've read so far:

Challengers of the Unknown: Decent enough wrap-up. Although making Jan Boulton a man is kind of out of left field, and not really necessary -- that's your final commentary on Ann Coulter? She's mannish? Weak. And did I miss it: how did the moon base blow up? And did it kill the Hegemony or not? Well, obviously it didn't kill them, but were we supposed to think it killed them? Either I missed something (very likely) or that was very poorly presented. Also, the similar-sounding stilted dialogue of every character began wearing on me. Hmm, maybe it wasn't a decent enough wrap-up. Were there another series, I think I'd wait for the trades before deciding to get it or not.

Plastic Man: Dammit, I've gotta start looking more closely at the covers before buying these things. Scott Morse is no Kyle Baker. This was a really awful issue, filled with incessant obnoxious punning reminiscent of the Batman & Robin movie. Stupid fill-in issues!

Avengers: Finale: I liked the very ending, with the crowd at the memorial; extremely sappy, but effective. But the whole "best memories" section was lame. Every other character picked a "memory" he or she wasn't present for. Is it because they enjoyed so much hearing the stories from the Avengers who were there, as one character claimed? Or do you think it was because Bendis wanted to mention the landmark storylines in Avengers history, but he didn't have enough current members who were in those storylines to share their recollections, so he had to cheat and put those recollections in the mouths of other characters? I wonder. And that was a quick turn-around for Captain Britain: "I'll never forgive Wanda! Here's a toast to Wanda!"

Iron Man: This was a beautiful book. The artwork is really just amazingly gorgeous. I liked the confrontation between Tony Stark and the documentarian; a lot of great back-and-forth in that scene, with Tony sneaking in the final dig, pointing out the sheer futility of the filmmaker's career. I like that Tony is being forced to confront the destruction he's created with his inventions. Some nice character moments, too, especially the page with Tony looking at himself in the mirror. And I've never seen the wonder of flight expressed so well on a comics page. The wordless image of Iron Man arcing above the clouds was perfect. The villain looks interesting, too, but that may only be because of the artwork. As is the Marvel tradition, though, nothing of consequence really happens; the first issue is always warm-up, padding out the page count for the trade. But that's a minor fault. I gave this book a try just for the hell of it, and it's definitely hooked me.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

This Week in IMDb Chatboard Idiots

I forgot to mention, when I wrote about The Incredibles, the Pixar short that played right before it, the Oscar-nominated Boundin'. Did that show in every theater?

It's a cute little story, narrated in half-spoken/half-sung rhyme, about a sheep who loves to dance, until his wool gets sheared and the other animals make fun of his new look. Along comes a jackalope, who teaches the sheep not to be ashamed, and to bound with uninhibited joy. The end. It's a slight tale, but fun, and the character designs, especially on the jackalope and the poor naked sheep, are a real kick.

But it would seem not everyone feels that way. In fact, a surprising* number of IMDb reviewers and message board posters have worked themselves into hate-filled, venom-spewing balls of rage over this cute little cartoon. Let's go to the idiots!

tedg starts us off with his semi-coherent conspiracy theory review:

In other words, 'Incredibles' is great because it subtly sticks its finger in the eye of old fashioned parenting. But at the same time, it depends on getting those old fashioned parents to enthusiastically bring their kids to the screen time and time again. How to protect the investment?

Why simply tack on a short that has a moral and doesn't pull the rug out from under it. Make it cheerful and clear. Don't spend much money on the animation, in fact, the more like an old Disney project the better. After all, this is an election year where at least half the US has been artificially sensitized to 'moral values.'

This by itself is dreadful, simplistic, dangerous moralizing, of the Hallmark feelgood variety, very much in the mainstream of protestant teaching of all persuasions: accept injustice and be happy because God probably intended it that way.

But seen as a preemptive strike, it masterful provides cover for the more subversive rattling of 'Incredibles.' A little arsenic makes the sugar go down.
A cartoon about a sheep learning not to be bummed out for being different: "dreadful, simplistic, dangerous moralizing". Pixar has allied itself with George W. Bush and organized religion to brainwash America's children -- am I wrong, or is that not the gist of this review? Pretty impressive for a five-minute cartoon. You frickin' loony.

clodelrath continues on the message boards, in the simply-titled thread "BAD!":

This short was so terrible I almost walked out of the theater, thats right i would have missed whatching the Incredibles just to stop the pain. I almost burst into tears with how bad it was hurting my brain. A tip to anyone going to see the Incredibles use this 5 min to go get yourself popcorn.
When one poster sensibly enough suggests chilling the fuck out, the most likely aptly-named StalkerMan steps up to the plate:

Are you serious? how do you think this was cute OR set the tone for the Incredibles? the Incredibles was an incredible movie for all ages whereas boundin' was a 5 minute long mental rape. if it wasnt for watching the Incredibles afterwards i would now have some form degernative brain disease from this. i mean if you thought this was good you should really get a kick out of Barney or Seseme Street.
That's right, a cartoon about a cute little sheep = a 5 minute long mental rape. I think Barney and Sesame Street might still be a little too advanced for StalkerMan. Maybe he has a "degernative" brain disease.

Once again, we see that nothing is too innocuous or genial to drive someone insane with hatred. Thanks, IMDb Chatboard Idiots!

*When I say "surprising," I mean "surprising for anywhere other than the idiot-infested message boards of IMDb."

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The final table of the current Celebrity Poker Showdown series will air this Sunday, with players Matthew Perry, Dennis Rodman, Kevin Nealon, Neil Patrick Harris, and Mekhi Phifer. (The Bravo website conveniently, and possibly unintentionally, but probably not, ranks them in order of celebrity importance, from Ace to Ten.) My prediction: I think Phifer and Nealon got to the finals on pure luck, and will be eliminated first (in that order). Rodman will stick around for a while because of his intimidating persona (and in spite of his erratic play), but in the end, Harris will edge out Perry for the win. Doogie's got skills!

I finally finished going through all the Farscape episodes I taped during the Sci-Fi Channel's recent marathon. That is one excellent show. But I gotta say, I understand now why the fans were so ticked off about how the series ended when it got cancelled. What a pisser of a cliffhanger! Man, you end it one minute earlier, and it's happily ever after. Well, now I've got the Peacekeeper Wars mini-series queued up and ready to go on my TiVo. It better not end on a cliffhanger!

I haven't gotten the blockbuster Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas that all the kids are talking about yet, because I'm still trying to finish GTA: Vice City. Partly that's because I'm much less of a gamer than I used to be; last week, when I got back into Vice City again, I was surprised to see my previous saved game was from May. And partly it's because Vice City is so damn big. I finished the main storyline, defeating the Mafia goons trying to take over my territory, and becoming the unchallenged kingpin of Vice City. The end credits rolled and everything. Then I checked the statistics: I had only completed 42% of the game. In one sense, I had finished it, but in another sense, I wasn't even halfway done, what with all the missions, hidden packages, insane stunt jumps, properties, etc. I had yet to discover/explore/complete. Now that is getting your money's worth. And I hear San Andreas is even bigger. I think I may wait for Sony to release the inevitable "Greatest Hits" version for $19.99 before I buy it; no matter how much gameplay is in it, I still think fifty bucks is too damn much to lay down for a video game.

Found via Pop Culture Junk Mail: there is a blog solely dedicated to the deconstruction of the comic strip "For Better or For Worse". It's For Better or For Worse Strikes Back, and it's a crack-up. Actually, as I examine it more closely, I see the maintainer has recently abandoned the blog, leaving it open to anyone who wants to post about that day's happenings with the Patterson clan. How fun! Much like Hulk's Diary, this is something I wish I had thought of first. Maybe I'll start my own blog about "Rose is Rose". Or "Drabble"!

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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

BOOKS: Lowered Expectations

I think the missing ingredient in better enjoying the two books I read this week is lowered expectations.

For example, the first book was called Heroics for Beginners, by John Moore. It's a comic fantasy; not quite Terry Pratchett, more like Robert Asprin, or Craig Shaw Gardner. Light comic fantasy. How high could my expectations have been?

Well, back in college, I read a book by John Moore called Slay and Rescue, and it was very funny indeed. I decided this author was going to be one to keep an eye on for frequent entertainment. I figured he'd be cranking out two or three books a year, like the above-mentioned Asprin or Gardner. Or Pratchett, even. Instead, he didn't publish another book until Heroics, twelve years later. After twelve years, I thought, this had better be one hell of a book.

It was all right. It's about a prince who has to infiltrate an Evil Overlord's fortress with only the Handbook of Practical Heroics (kind of a Heroes for Dummies) to guide him. It's often hilarious in its deconstruction of the villain's obligations to tradition (he has to learn a menacing laugh, and shake his fists in the air in the pose called "milking the giant cow"), and the roles his lead minion and sexy assistant play (the minion is supposed to be tricked and the assistant seduced by the hero; things go wrong when one hero tricks the assistant and seduces the minion). It's a quick, funny, enjoyable satire of heroic conventions. But I might've liked it more if I hadn't been waiting twelve years for it. Hopefully Moore's next book will be out before 2016.

The other book is Bill Bryson's I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away. I picked it up at the used bookstore after reading an online review raving about how hilarious Bryson was; further, at the store, the owner (I think) told me Bryson was far better than David Sedaris. (Then again, he also told me, in Comic Book Guy-like earnestness, that Bryson was for smart people and Sedaris was not, even after he had asked me if I liked Sedaris and I had told him yes. That's the new ownership of Ojai's Bart's Books, folks: douchebaggery on parade!)

Bryson is no Sedaris. Bryson is not even Dave Barry. He's neither as incisively brilliant nor as gut-bustingly hilarious as had been suggested to me. But he is smart, and he is funny. He's a comedic travel memoirist, is perhaps the best way to describe him; he's written about the Appalachian Trail, and small-town America, and of course England, where he spent those "20 Years Away". I'm a Stranger Here Myself collects the columns he wrote on his return to the U.S., and is filled with many sharp and funny observations about American life we natives have grown to take for granted, like the surprising (to him) benevolence of Post Office workers toward their customers, or the general over-emphasis on signs and rules. In one passage, he ignores a "Please Wait to Be Seated" sign:

After a couple of minutes, the hostess... came up to me and said in a level tone, "I see you've seated yourself."

"Yup," I replied proudly. "Dressed myself too."

...She sighed. "Well, the server in this section is very busy, so you may have to wait a while for her to get to you."

There was no other customer within fifty feet, but that wasn't the point. The point was that I had disregarded a posted notice and would have to serve a small sentence in purgatory in consequence.
I'm enjoying this book a lot, and will most likely seek out other books by Bryson, but I think I'd have an even higher impression of him if I hadn't had my expectations raised.

Lowered expectations, by the way, are also key to the enjoyment of this blog.

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Monday, November 08, 2004

Being confused by Germans since 2004

Recently I've been getting a lot of hits from Welt am Draht, the very fine* German comics blog that I've written about before. But when I checked out the referring page, I didn't see a single link to my blog. For the life of me I couldn't figure it out. How was that traffic getting here? Until I finally realized the link was hidden behind this button:

Click it (here or at the other site) and you'll be sent to my entry about the first time Welt am Draht linked to me, and how baffled I was trying to translate the German into English by way of Babel Fish.

Congratulations, Björn, Frauke, und Freunde! You've confused me again!

How do I know it's very fine, if it's in German? I just know, all right?


Sunday, November 07, 2004

TV: Standing tall on the wings of my dreams

Tonight's Simpsons Treehouse of Horror was an instant classic if only for the fact that it featured the theme song from Perfect Strangers. Ah, Balki Bartokomous, where are you now? Whither Cousin Larry?

On another note, can you believe that was the fifteenth Treehouse of Horror? Man, even The Simpsons are making me feel old now.

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Saturday, November 06, 2004

MOVIES: The Incredibles

Everything good you've heard about The Incredibles is dead right, and then some. It's simultaneously one of the best superhero movies I've ever seen, and one of the best James Bond films I've ever seen; it's one of the funniest comedies of the year, as well as one of the most exciting action movies.

Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter are Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl, a superpowered couple that is forced into retirement and a life of suburban boredom after a public backlash against costumed heroes. Their children, sullen teen Violet and hyperactive grade-schooler Dash, also have powers, but have been forced to hide them all their lives. Samuel L. Jackson plays Mr. Incredible's best friend, an ice-powered hero named Frozone (who disappointed me by not having a giant 'fro). And Jason Lee voices the Syndrome (who must have the same barber as the Heat Miser):

He's Mister Heat BlisterHe's Mister Hundred and One

(There's even an excellent for-the-grown-ups Kevin Smith shout-out when Mr. Incredible tries to remember Jason Lee's character's real name: "Brophy? Brodie?") As characters, they are all more real than the characters in just about any action movie you can name from the past ten years, totally believable as people, not just cartoons.

The Syndrome's Bond villain-like volcanic island lair is endlessly dazzling to behold, with weapons, vehicles, and architecture so inventive it dizzies the senses. And the superheroic battles are genuinely exciting, with highlights being Elastigirl and kids under attack in a jet on their way to save dad, and a thrilling chase through the jungle (as amazing to watch as Return of the Jedi's speeder bike scene was, once upon a time), with the Syndrome's henchmen piloting what look like giant buzzsaw Frisbees in pursuit of Dash and Violet, who begin to realize the full potential of their powers. And the robots, oh! the robots -- it's almost to much to bear, they're so wickedly wonderful.

It's very rare I watch a film and immediately want to watch it again. Almost as rare as it is to watch a two-hour film and have it fly by like it was ten minutes. This film meets both of those challenges. The Incredibles may not hit quite the same emotional, heartstring-tugging highs as Finding Nemo, and possibly is not quite as hilarious, but in overall quality I'd say it more than matches up. It's a solid contender for best film of the year.

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Friday, November 05, 2004

COMICS: Comic Relief

It's been mentioned many other places, such as Newsarama, but I thought I should mention here as well that Comic Relief, a Berkeley institution, and likely the finest comics shop in the free world, is being evicted from its University Avenue location of 17 years. Due to nothing more than landlord crankiness, apparently.

The store was opened in 1987, just in time for my Freshman year at UC Berkeley in 1988. It was at Cal that I got hooked on comics again, and once I was, Comic Relief was a weekly ritual. Trekking from the dorms on the South side of campus to the store on the West side is one of my more pleasant college memories, enjoying the beautiful stroll through campus and thinking of all the goodies I was about to get my grubby little hands on. I went to my first signing at Comic Relief; it was Dave McKean, and I've still got the Black Orchid, Sandman, and Cages issues he signed. Even when I graduated and moved to different cities in the Bay Area, I always tried to get by Comic Relief at least once a month, even though I lived nearer to other comic shops. The selection was simply unbeatable.

The shop isn't going out of business, it's just moving; the search for a new location is ongoing. And when they find a place and get settled in, I may have to make an excuse to visit a friend in the area just to see the new space.

But moving's gonna cost a pretty penny. So help them out by visiting the University Ave. store while it's still open, or ordering from them online at this site. (Even if you don't order, check out the site, with nifty artwork from Berkeley comics creators Dan Clowes, Richard Sala, and Adrian Tomine.)

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COMICS: More Wed. 11/3/04

Avengers: Okay, for a reader as unfamiliar with the Avengers' history as I am, this issue was whole lot of "Who the what the??" The Scarlet Witch gave herself babies by magic, then that old woman made them disappear and made the Witch forget about them? All righty then. It worked for me that Wanda was the baddie, because sure, she used to be bad before, but what didn't work for me was Dr. Strange's assertion that due to her gaining her magic by being a mutant, rather than training, she was always on the brink of insanity. Nice effort at justifying her actions, but I just don't buy it. Oh, and good thing there were 8,000 superheroes to do all that nothing for most of the book.

JLA: Classified: We3 is the kind of story that makes me think Grant Morrison is a super genius. JLA: Classified is the kind of story that makes me think Grant Morrison is a pretentious blithering jackass.

Jubilee: I really get a kick out of this book. I liked the handling of the gang leader here, forcing his young crew member out of the gang because he had the potential to make something of himself. The change of heart probably came a little quickly, but on the other hand, at least it wasn't dragged out over six issues.

The Punisher: Now that's what I want to see! After that endless boring previous storyline, the new story starts off brilliantly, with a face-to-face between Nick Fury and Frank. I loved every word of that entire scene. Garth Ennis writes Nick Fury the way he ought to be, the way you'd expect a hardened, weary career soldier to speak and act. I realize Ennis has more latitude with the character in a Mature Readers book, but even without the plethora of profanity, he'd have Fury down pat. The ending was a little odd to me: the American military are sponsoring terrorists specifically to get Fury/Castle to do a job for them? Am I reading that right? More clarity next issue, I hope.

Superman/Batman: Eh. A little too deus ex machina with the teleporter, a little -- no, a lot too corny with Supergirl's introduction to everyone at the end. "THANKS, EVERYONE!" And I don't care how super Superman is -- there is still no oxygen in space. He can not have a conversation in outer space; sound does not travel in a vacuum. Not even the mighty words of Superman. And why the hell did they have to pretend Supergirl was dead if they were just going to imprison Darkseid on the far edge of the universe anyway? Why not just imprison him without all the rigmarole? Were they worried he'd escape and come back to get Supergirl if he knew she were still alive? Well, it's not much of a secret that she's alive anymore, is it? Or am I overthinking all this? Whatever. I think I'm done with this series.

Y: The Last Man: Kind of lame the way 355 allowed herself to get outmaneuvered in the exchange for Yorick's ring. But man, I love this series. And I love the San Francisco setting; I lived in the Bay Area for about ten years. They're getting all the details right about the City. For example, Candlestick is indeed on the corner of Fuck You and Go To Hell.

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Thursday, November 04, 2004

COMICS: Wed. 11/3/04

My list this week:

Astonishing X-Men
JLA: Classified
The Punisher
Y: The Last Man

I've only read Astonishing so far. Just when this series was starting to grow on me, we end the storyline with this supremely boring anti-climax of an issue. The art is fantastic, and Whedon has some clever, funny lines, but the story as a whole has more padding than the last five Daredevil arcs combined. I stuck it out through the first story, and I'm done with it now. This officially gets dropped.

Also (and I don't know if this was supposed to be secret or not, so if it was, sorry guys), at the comic shop yesterday, Dorian and Mike showed me the ashcan edition of the upcoming Grimjack mini-series, Killer Instinct. (Thanks!) And it looks gorgeous.

Sweet, cynical Cynosure

(The picture's from Newsarama, not the ashcan.) I didn't want to read the whole thing and spoil it for myself, but it's got Cadre, and the Dancer, and it's set immediately following the Trade Wars, which was perhaps my favorite storyline in my favorite comic ever. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, do yourself a favor and check out the TPB of the old series and the first issue of the new series when they come out in January. Because this is going to kick about seven different kinds of ass.

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Tuesday, November 02, 2004

TV: Northern Exposure

At one time, Northern Exposure was my favorite TV show, and I thought Janine Turner was about the most beautiful woman in the world. I submit Exhibit A:

Fly me to the moon


Now, though, she's on a low-rent medicine commercial on late-night basic cable telling me, ever so earnestly, with a crinkle of her nose, "I know plenty about chronic dry-eye." That's so goddam sad I think I might cry.

But... I just can't summon the tears! Janine to the rescue: "One drop, twice a day, every day, helps me make more of my own tears. My tears: gotta love it. Thanks, Restasis."

Yeah, thanks. For ruining my memories of Janine Turner and Northern Exposure, you prescription-only bastard!

She's still super-hot, by the way.

Oh, also, remember when Rob Morrow left the show because he was going to be a big movie star? That went well, didn't it? Looking at his IMDb page, the only film he's done since leaving Northern Exposure that even made a blip on the national radar was Quiz Show, and that was in 1994. Way to parlay that flavor of the month popularity and petulant, troublesome reputation into a long and fruitful career, dude.

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Don't Blame Me, I Voted For...

Bill & Opus

Don't forget to watch the most important source for election results tonight: The Daily Show's live coverage, a one-hour special starting at 7PM Pacific. Although, despite how funny the show was after the 2000 election, I sincerely hope this election doesn't turn into the same kind of joke. Heard it!

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Monday, November 01, 2004


The other day I mentioned Heat as an example of one of Robert DeNiro's more recent great or near-great films. But I only mentioned it because it has that kind of a reputation. The truth is, I don't think it's all that good.

It's certainly long enough to be a good film, in the way any three hour movie is often automatically assumed to be epic and important. But sometimes, three hours just means bloated and boring.

It had an awfully great supporting cast, including Val Kilmer, Ashley Judd, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Mykelti Williamson, Ted Levine, Dennis Haysbert, Natalie Portman, and many more fine performers. Basically any role with more than two lines was filled by a "name" actor. But they were all there in service of a fairly mediocre crime story. It had some good bits, some real style, a couple compelling action scenes. But mostly, I felt it was pretty obvious, and tedious in its efforts not to be obvious. The bad guy has a good streak? The good guy has problems at home? Wow, groundbreaking.

And of course there was the pairing of Pacino and DeNiro, who had once been in the same movie, but had never acted together in the same scene before. So what does writer-director Michael Mann do once he gets these two powerhouses, arguably the greatest two actors of their generation -- possibly ever -- what does he do when he gets them in the same three-hour film? He gives them one scene together. (Two, if you count their final, near-silent confrontation, but only one where they really act together.) One scene, out of three freakin' hours.

And what a dopey scene it was. They're sitting quietly in a diner, so they don't get the chance to chew the scenery as both of them do so well. And all they do is make lame, empty, dick-measuring threats to one another.

PACINO: And now that we've been face to face, if I'm there and I gotta put you away, I won't like it. But I tell you, if it's between you and some poor bastard whose wife you're gonna turn into a widow, brother, you are going down.
DENIRO: What if you do got me boxed in and I gotta put you down? Cause no matter what, you will not get in my way. We've been face to face, yeah. But I will not hesitate. Not for a second.
"Brother, you are going down." "What if I gotta put you down?" Jesus, why not just say, "I will take you down to Chinatown"? It's on the same comically-inept blowhard level as the rest of their dialogue. Thirty years, audiences have been waiting for a scene between those two. And that was all he came up with? That's pathetic.

Michael Mann is a very good, even excellent filmmaker. I loved Manhunter. I thought The Insider was brilliant. And there are a lot of good elements in Heat. But overall, I think he fell short. I think this movie earned its rep purely by coattailing on the Pacino/DeNiro factor. As a whole, it's a grandly-intentioned, well-meaning failure.

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