Thursday, December 30, 2004


Well, maybe it's not a top ten list, so much as some of my favorite things about comics loosely grouped together.


You think I'm going to say Eightball #23, don't you? Everybody says Eightball #23. Well, as you know if you read my original review, I liked it just fine, I really liked it, in fact, but it didn't own my world. That distinction belongs to Street Angel #2. Possibly the single funniest comic I have ever read, bursting with insanely inventive characters and situations and rich and clever dialogue, with humor both subtle and slapstick, I simply loved every inch of this book. (Caveat: I'm not even 100% sure it was released during 2004; maybe it was late 2003. But 2004 is when I first read it. So there.)

Honorable Mentions: Yes, yes, Eightball #23. You happy? Also, New Frontier #5. That was the issue that finally got me into the series. After waiting four issues to click into what everyone else was raving about, issue #5 blew my socks off. It was the best mainstream, superhero-type single issue of the year (is that enough qualifiers?).


At the beginning of the year, I might've said Robert Kirkman or Brian Bendis. But some lackluster extracurricular projects (Kirkman's 2099 and Captain America and Bendis' Avengers Disassembled) kind of took the shine off both those apples. Now, I think there's no question it's Brian K. Vaughan, whose Y: The Last Man has long been my favorite continuing series, whose Runaways was entertaining if light, and whose new Ex Machina is tremendous, funny and controversial and creepy and original.

Honorable Mention: James Kochalka, whose American Elf is the best graphic novel of the year (or TPB, or whatever the hell you want to classify it as), and whose Peanut Butter and Jeremy collection was cute and touching and a pure joy (though I'm pretty sure it came out last year, but I read it this year. So there. Again).


I just said it, right above! Y: The Last Man, much like one of my favorite TV shows, Lost, has a fantastic overarching mystery, several smaller mysteries generated by the fantastic supporting cast, and the ability to create genuine suspense with each issue's cliffhanger.

Honorable Mentions: Street Angel, Fables, She-Hulk, Girl Genius, Invincible.


The Good: We3, my favorite limited series, is just lovely, some of the best visual storytelling I've ever seen (which is what makes Frank Quitely my favorite artist), with an animal cast that's all too human. Can't wait for the finish.

The Bad: The first issue of JLA: Classified did nothing but irritate me. I have no desire to get the second issue.

The What the Hell??: I did get the second issue of Seaguy, and I wished I hadn't. I was even more lost than after the first. I didn't bother with the third. As I've said before, I don't mind being challenged by a writer, but it bothers me when it seems the writer is mocking me with nonsense.


I just said it! We3! Pay attention!

Honorable Mentions: The New Frontier, Challengers of the Unknown, and of course, some other thing I'm probably forgetting.


Hard Time, just edging out Sleeper.


Getting the "fun" back into "funny books". You can take your Identity Crisis and go sulk and brood in your dark and gritty comics world. My favorite books of the year made me laugh. Street Angel, of course, led the pack (except for the boring PSA that was issue #4), as did another new B&W indie series, the terrifically funny Scurvy Dogs. Phil Foglio's Girl Genius continued in its always reliable comedic ways. And even the Big Two were able to stop scowling long enough to release Plastic Man (which was uneven, but more than worthwhile; the more recent issues have really been great, especially the one with President Lex Luthor channeling Dubya by way of Woozy Winks) and She-Hulk (my favorite Marvel title right now).


Everything old is new again. Grimjack, my favorite comic ever, is coming back! The news that Ostrander and Truman were reviving the long-dormant (due to legal issues) series was my single favorite moment in comics this year. Oh yeah. Also returning in '05: Mike Baron's Badger, Peter David's The Incredible Hulk, and Howard Chaykin's American Flagg! (the last in TPB form only, not new issues, sadly, but still, that's some good news).

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Lord, I was born a ramblin' man, or, I still hate Charles Taylor

I'll be leaving on another mini-vacation this afternoon, so I'll be out of computer range until at least Saturday night, more likely Sunday. Which means today is my last chance to post any top ten lists before the New Year! Oh me oh my!

And yet, I'll be using this post to complain about somebody else's top ten list. Two somebodies, actually. Charles Taylor and Stephanie Zacharek,'s movie critics.

I've written before about how much I hate Charles Taylor. He's insane. He's just out of his frickin' mind. And Zacharek isn't that much better. So why do I torture myself by reading anything they write? Sadly, I'm addicted to year-end top ten lists. I devour every one I come across. And together, they have listed their top ten films of 2004 (Salon Day Pass required to read article). How could I not read it? And how could I not then vent about it?

Zacharek goes first. Let's see, she's got Before Sunset at #1 -- haven't seen it, heard good things, that might be valid. House of Flying Daggers, Hotel Rwanda, uh-huh, uh-huh, something called Last Life in the Universe at #4 and I'll Sleep When I'm Dead at #5 -- never heard of 'em, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.

Then at #6: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Hmm. Kind of a silly, lightweight choice, but I guess everyone's allowed to have one whimsical pick in their top ten. But she follows it with The Incredibles -- which I agree is great -- in a tie for #7 with... The Spongebob Squarepants Movie. What?

Now, I like Spongebob (I really do, Fred, please don't hate me! Oh, by the way, I appreciate your recent link; very nice of you), but this is an allegedly serious film critic making the argument that of the 400+ movies released domestically this past year, only seven were equal to or better than The Spongebob Squarepants Movie. You have got to be kidding!

But there's more! At #8: Hellboy! What?? And at #10, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle! WHAT??? Oh my sweet lord!! She's insane! She is absolutely, certifiably insane. I can understand, if you've only seen ten movies, how Harold & Kumar might make it on your list. But this is (again, allegedly) a serious film critic. Saying that a dopey, raunchy, stoner comedy (which I enjoyed, yes, but come on, let's have some perspective) is the tenth best movie she's seen all year is just wrong. It's just wrong. Yes, I am saying that her personal subjective opinion is demonstrably wrong. I am saying that she can not be trusted to form her own opinions.

Yikes. Well, surely Charles Taylor came up with a better list!

And you know what? He did. House of Flying Daggers and Hero tied for #1. The Dreamers at #2. I haven't seen all the films on his list, but they all seem justifiably worthy of praise to me.

Until we hit #10. In Charles Taylor's eyes, the tenth best film of 2004 is: 13 Going on 30. Having trouble remembering that one? I don't blame you. Let me refresh your memory: it's Big, with a chick. Yeah, that one. Tenth best film of the past twelve months, according to Taylor.

Now, I haven't seen 13 Going on 30. So perhaps I am not qualified to judge. But that ain't gonna stop me: I judge thee, Charles Taylor!! I judge thee, and find you lacking!!

"Jennifer Garner," he says (in the same trademark lunatic overstatement which made him declare Shallow Hal was "one of the loveliest, most affecting, and most emotionally satisfying of American film comedies"), "gives the kind of performance that made earlier movie audiences fall in love with Carole Lombard, Margaret Sullavan and, before that, Marion Davies." In a movie where she does the Michael Jackson "Thriller" dance. Wow. Just... wow. I can't wait to see Taylor's review of Elektra!

What's more, in his Honorable Mentions section, he also names Harold & Kumar (why am I not surprised?), as well as Bernie Mac's Mr. 3000. Dude. What the hell does this guy have to do to get his critic's license revoked? Taylor needs to go lie down for a while. Mr. 3000? This is clearly a cry for help from a very sick mind.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2004


I lied again. Today's top ten list is movies, not comics.

Wow, I saw a lot more movies this year than I thought I had. According to this list, these are all the films I saw in 2004 whose first theatrical release in America was during this calendar year. The ones I saw first on DVD or TV are marked with an asterisk. (Links go to my original review of the film, where applicable.)

We'll start with my ten best first:

  1. Fahrenheit 9/11
    The most powerful, infuriating, chilling, and yes, important film of the year. I wish more of the people filling the seats for Passion of the Christ had seen this film instead, and had opened their hearts and their eyes to the real pain, the real horror, the real suffering happening to real people, right now.

  2. Hero
    Epic in scale and emotion, this martial arts masterpiece was ceaselessly thrilling to behold. I look forward to seeing the current release House of Flying Daggers by the same director, which is, by all accounts, even better.

  3. The Incredibles
    I can't believe an animated film better than Shrek 2 came along this year. That's a good year for animation. This is simply a great movie, not just a great cartoon.

  4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    Ceaselessly amazing in its visual inventiveness and its unflinching look at the power -- and the pain -- of love. Anyone who still denies Jim Carrey's acting prowess after seeing this film deserves a poke in the eye.

  5. Spider-Man 2
    Is it the best superhero movie ever made, as Roger Ebert claims? Could be, could be. Only the original two Supermans even come close. It was certainly a giant leap forward for the genre, investing as much attention in its characters as in its spectacular action sequences.

  6. Kill Bill Vol. 2
    The ultra-violence took a back seat to character development this time around, but that just meant more opportunities for the trademark Tarantino dialogue to flow. Super-cool, as are all things QT, but with an emotional resonance he's never before achieved.

  7. Shaun of the Dead
    A great comedy and a great horror film, with surprisingly touching dramatic moments interspersed throughout the laughter and gore.

  8. The Dreamers*
    I've tried before to write my review of Bernardo Bertolucci's wonderful film, but words failed me. It's a chronicle of cultural revolution, cinematic revolution, and sexual revolution. It's beautiful, it's ethereal, it's provocative, it's compelling, it's smart and seductive and it's the most erotic thing to hit the screens this year -- every word of which applies as equally to the film as it does to its breathtaking leading lady, Eva Green, making her transcendent film debut. She's as luminous and electric as Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, as Grace Kelly in Rear Window, as Kim Novak in Vertigo. But with copious amounts of nudity.

  9. Shrek 2
    Funny, touching, exciting, beautiful, even better than the original, with a great vocal performance by Jennifer Saunders as the Fairy Godmother nearly stealing the movie from that big green ogre.

  10. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
    The funniest movie of the year. Will Ferrell is unquestionably the new king of comedy.


Dawn Of The Dead
Best straight-up horror movie of the year, with incredible special effects and action, and an ending true to the zombie genre.

Garden State
The first half deserves to make the top ten; the second half kept it out. Still a tremendous debut film from Zach Braff.

A truly smart and suspenseful thriller, from writer-director David Mamet, with Val Kilmer showing he still knows how to act.

Team America: World Police
Another contender for funniest movie of the year, just edged out by Anchorman.

The Terminal
Spielberg and Hanks, together again. Funny and sweet, but with a miscalculated romantic plot with Catherine Zeta-Jones gumming up the works.


Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Mean Girls*
The Punisher*


Broken Lizard's Club Dread
The Bourne Supremacy
Starsky & Hutch


50 First Dates*
Home On The Range*
The Lion King 1 1/2*
Man on Fire*
Napoleon Dynamite*

Taking Lives*


The Butterfly Effect*
The Grudge

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Tuesday, December 28, 2004


I've been going very slowly through the Essential Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 6 collection, because, despite the fact that I think these stories may represent the height of Spidey's comic book popularity, encompassing many landmark events (like Gwen Stacy's death and the introduction of the Punisher), and may well be the era during which most long-term comics fans were first introduced to the character (I know the first issues I ever read as a kid are contained in this book)... where was I going with this?

Oh, yeah, despite how popular and iconic these issues are, they are just horribly, horribly, horribly written. Gerry Conway has to be one of the very worst writers in the history of comics. And I say that even with the painful memories of Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man still poisoning some small corner of my mind.

But what's worse, the way Conway writes Spider-Man, Spidey comes off as a world class asshole. He's always snubbing his friends, insulting Mary Jane when she's trying to cheer him up, abandoning his best friend Harry, who's in heroin withdrawal and whose father has recently been killed. But what's more, rather than stopping crime, he exacerbates it, actively preventing super-villains from curing themselves of their powers.

In two comics released the very same month (cover dated June, 1974), Amazing Spider-Man #133 and Giant-Size Super-Heroes featuring Spider-Man #1, Conway's Spider-Man stops Molten Man and Morbius (respectively) from obtaining the potential cure for their conditions.

In the former, Spider-Man basically pieces together what the Molten Man has been trying to do (gather ingredients needed to recreate what originally made him the Molten Man in an effort to halt the radioactive decay of his body -- radiation which, by the way, is far more deadly than he ever was in his pre-decaying state), but still engages him in battle, endangering police and other innocent bystanders along the way. (In one scene, Spidey actually clobbers two policemen who confront him, sending them into unconsciousness with, "Pleasant dreams... creeps!") As the Molten Man's death approaches, he cries,

"I only needed time--! Time to reverse the deterioration-- but Spider-Man wouldn't stop hounding me! [...] Now you've attacked me, when I was so close to success! I had all the elements I needed to cure myself-- all but one, and that one I stole this evening--! If I'd escaped, I could have rediscovered the formula that created this accursed golden shell... I could have saved myself if it hadn't been for--"
And what is Spider-Man's thoughtful response? "Sure you could have, Raxton-- and my name's Santa Claus!" What a Spider-Dick. Oh, by the way, in the ensuing fight, Spidey throws the Molten Man's precious ingredients into the river, which the Molten Man dives after; upon hitting the freezing water, the Molten Man explodes. Nice. Real nice.

In Giant-Size Etc., Morbius, "the Living Vampire," is trying to reach Professor Ward, a hematologist who has "developed a process to completely replace a person's blood". Clearly, Morbius is seeking a cure for himself. When he enters the professor's lab, he says, "I've been in Hell, Professor Ward... and I've come to you to release me!" Enter Spider-Man, who jumps in, fists swinging, rather than letting the completely non-threatening, non-violent Morbius use the prof's knowledge to help himself. In the fight, the professor's lab equipment is destroyed, leading a stricken Morbius to lament,
"Ward said that without it, his experiment was useless-- [...] You've caused me to destroy what might be my last chance, Spider-Man..."
And Morbius flees. But it turns out the professor's equipment is not destroyed; Spidey switched out the real stuff with spare parts. He planned not only to prevent Morbius from obtaining a cure, but also to make him lose all hope that a cure might ever be found. And then he blithely allowed Morbius to escape. In fact, he must have expected Morbius to escape; if he thought he could capture him, the elaborate ruse wouldn't have been needed. Dude! What is the point? Rather than cure him, or catch him, you deprive him of hope and set him loose? That won't cause any trouble, I'm sure. Dumbass.

In the past couple days this site has been getting scads of hits from Johanna's Cognitive Dissonance. And I can't figure out why. I assumed she had linked to me (possibly to my year-end TV roundup, which seriously, that took a long time, do me a solid and at least skim it if you haven't already, and what, are you allergic to commenting?), but nope. No link, other than the sidebar. I guess she just gets a ton of traffic that also visits her sidebar links. Well, regardless of the reason: sweet. Hell, why don't you go check out her site when you're done here? Very nice comics reviews and links to be found there!

I'm a little hesitant to continue the top ten lists this week, because for one thing, other than TV, I'm not sure what other field I could really make a definitive list for. I could go through all the movies I've seen this year (like Monty just did), but 1) I haven't seen all that many, and 2) I didn't see anything out of the ordinary. I mostly saw mainstream, blockbuster-type fare. Even Fahrenheit 9/11 was a blockbuster of sorts.

Books? I doubt I've read many more than ten books total this year. (Exclude children's books, like the Lemony Snicket stuff, and I'm probably down to single digits.) I've been very lax about my non-comic reading. I still haven't read that last damn Dark Tower book! I've only been waiting for the conclusion to the series for twenty years; what the hell is keeping me from getting to it?

And speaking of comics, I guess I could cobble some kind of list together, but I think I don't read as wide a variety of comics as I should to make a very interesting list, and I don't really have the recall to single out specific issues or landmarks from longer than about a month ago. I could name Street Angel and Eightball and American Elf and She-Hulk and Ex Machina and Girl Genius and Fables and We3 and Scurvy Dogs (and indeed I will, should I crack down and get to that list), but I can barely remember what happened last month in Y: The Last Man, let alone recall comics highlights from January. I'm a poor excuse for a comics fan.

Hey, I think I may just have written my top ten comics list, right there. Counting Y... yep, that's ten. Welp, that was easier than I thought! What, I should maybe do more commentary on those titles? Okay, maybe I will have a list to post tomorrow, after all.

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Monday, December 27, 2004

TV: Top Ten

It's that time of year for top ten lists. I love 'em, you love 'em, hell, in December, everyone with access to a keyboard loves 'em. There are a variety of lists I could create -- best movies, best comics, etc. -- and certainly (well, hopefully) those other lists will be coming in the week ahead, but I'll start with what I know best: my top ten TV shows of the year.

  1. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
    Still the smartest, funniest show on the air. And at times, when they seem to be the only ones holding politicians accountable for their egregious lies, simply by letting them hang themselves with their own words, you wonder if it isn't the best news program as well. And for this show, and his shocking, thrilling, mesmerizing tirade on Crossfire last October, Jon Stewart is easily the greatest TV entertainer of the year.

  2. Lost
    I surprised myself with this one (just as Lost keeps surprising me). When I thought about it, I realized that while I think The Daily Show is better overall, there is no other show on TV whose next episode I anticipate as eagerly as Lost. Fantastic casting from top to bottom (particularly the stunning newcomer Evangeline Lilly as Kate), stellar writing, a totally captivating mystery (several mysteries, really)... it's just great. Finally, a cult show I don't have to worry about disappearing too soon; firmly in the top ten, ratings-wise, this show's cult seems to be everybody.

  3. The Shield
    This is why I'm surprised by Lost, because I'd previously held The Shield to be the best TV drama. (Best non-pay cable drama; I don't get HBO or Showtime, so I can't judge The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire, etc.) But Michael Chiklis' Vic Mackie remains the best written and acted character on television, and that's in a cast with nothing but brilliantly written and acted characters, including CCH Pounder as Det. Wyms, Jay Karnes as Dutch, and Walt Goggins as the loathsome Shane. This summer's season proved there's still a hell of a lot of kick left in this show; Tavon's horrifying car accident, and Dutch's murdering of a stray cat, remain the most affecting, chilling sequences on television this year.

  4. Arrested Development
    This show has moved into my top sitcom slot this year; while I was hoping the new season could merely match its brilliant debut season, it's actually gotten better. This show trusts the audience to be smart enough to both pick up on subtle gags or throwaway jokes (like the Charlie Brown Christmas theme playing while George Michael sadly walks past a dog lying on top of a red doghouse in the background), and to actually use their memory and recall previous episodes (for example, Tobias' ongoing delusion that he's an understudy for the Blue Man Group isn't explicitly mentioned every episode -- but there's always a smear of blue paint on a wall or piece of furniture to give a laugh to those paying attention). This show's surprise win for Best Comedy at the 2004 Emmys doesn't seem to have helped it in the Nielsens; I wish everyone would watch this unbelievably hilarious show before it succumbs to poor ratings.

  5. Scrubs
    Just edged out by Arrested as the funniest sitcom, it's still a tremendous half-hour. Zach Braff, Donald Faison, John C. McGinley, and perhaps my favorite, Neil Flynn as the vengeful Janitor, they're all great, and the writing of course is top-notch, but I want to mention another ingredient to this show's success: the choreography. The physical comedy, the lightning quick verbal exchanges, even the subtle gestures of one actor playing off another, they're all so perfectly timed for maximum comedic effect. There's so much going on for the eyes, this show would almost be as much fun to watch with the sound off.

  6. Desperate Housewives
    After Lost, my second favorite new show this year. I wouldn't dare miss an episode; I love Felicity Huffman, I looooove Marcia Cross, and I can't wait to see what embarrassing and probably skin-revealing incident Teri Hatcher will get herself into each week. I'm aware it's just soapy, trashy fun on the level of Melrose Place. (Which I never watched, but judging how much I love Marcia Cross on Housewives, maybe I should've.) But that doesn't have to be a bad thing. It's pure enjoyment. It does feel weird including it on a list which should be celebrating greatness in TV -- Hill Street Blues, this isn't. But it's my list, and I can do whatever the hell I want with it.

  7. South Park
    I balked at including a show in which one episode, mirroring the presidential election, centered on a vote between a giant douche and a turd sandwich. But this year South Park proved it's still as brilliantly satirical and side-splittingly hilarious as it's always been. The destruction of Mel Gibson in "The Passion of the Jew," which aired in the first half of the season, back in March, and the last new episode of this year, "Woodland Critter Christmas," featuring Disney-like forest creatures trying to birth the spawn of Satan, are on par with the best this show has ever offered; sick, biting, hysterical stuff.

  8. Veronica Mars
    My third favorite new show of the year. There's an excellent overarching mystery involving the death of Veronica's best friend and her mother's subsequent disappearance, and Kristen Bell is fantastic as the lead character -- smart, cool, cute, vulnerable, funny. Enrico Colantoni lends excellent support as her father -- it's a great change seeing a TV father who's not only not clueless, but every bit as sharp and engaging as his offspring (unless it turns out he's not Veronica's biological father -- more mystery!) -- but the rest of the cast is uneven; I could especially do without "Weevil", the tiniest, most unrealistically threatening "hoodlum" since the Fonz.

  9. Alias
    Last season was down a bit from the previous two, but, much like creator J.J. Abrams' new show, Lost, it's still rock-solid entertainment, with thrilling action sequences, shocking, over-the-top plot twists, great acting all around, a real sense of humor about itself, and nail-biting cliffhangers every week. It's my most anticipated mid-season premiere (January 5!), and its pairing with Lost is TV scheduling heaven.

  10. Dinner for Five
    The best talk show on TV (The Daily Show, of course, is more than just a talk show), and the only uncensored one, as far as I know, Dinner for Five brings four celebrities together with host Jon Favreau at a different posh restaurant each week, plies them with food and liquor, and lets them go. Favreau occasionally tries to steer the conversation, but with guests like David Cross, Bob Odenkirk, Marilyn Manson, Andy Dick, Vince Vaughn, Kevin Smith, Sarah Silverman, Dom DeLuise, and Will Ferrell, sometimes he just winds them up and stands back. And it never fails to fascinate. The guests are given time to tell elaborate stories, and they often tell stories they wouldn't feel free to tell elsewhere (slamming people they've worked with, for example). They also are free to go off on extended comedic riffs, and to rip on each other as the whim strikes them. For anyone at all interested in show business, this is a can't-miss show. (Except, of course, it's on IFC, which means for most of you it's can't-catch.)
Let's take a look at a few other samples from my regular viewing:

Best Accidental Discovery
While flipping through channels one night, I ran across Cheap Seats on ESPN Classic (good luck for most of the country locating that channel). Hosted by Randy and Jason Sklar, identical twin comedians, this is kind of an MST3K for bad sports shows. The two of them watch old, weird, niche programming from ESPN's vast tape library, like Putt-Putt Tournaments, or Spelling Bees, or the Lumberjack Games, and intersperse it with jokes and skits (featuring such guests as Kerri Kenney, H. Jon Benjamin, or Ed Helms) mocking the action. Very funny, if you can find it.

Best Mini-Series
And indeed, the only mini-series I watched this year: Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars. A tremendous wrap-up to one of the best science fiction programs ever. I'm still hoping the ratings for this event will justify bringing John Crichton, Aeryn Sun, Scorpius, and the rest of the cast back for one more go-around, but I'm not holding my breath. (I'm not counting The 4400 as a mini-series, because, as USA insisted on telling me 17,000 times an hour: it was a "limited" series, not a mini-series. And unprecedented, did they mention unprecedented?? Also, I wound up not liking it all that much.)

Best Show I Never Watch
It's a tie! I really enjoyed the first episode of House, especially star Hugh Laurie's riveting turn as the cantankerous genius doctor (and of course there's Lisa Edelstein, whom I always love), but I've been unable to catch it ever since; it airs opposite Scrubs and Veronica Mars. TiVo can only do so much, Fox! Tonight, Fox is wisely airing two repeats to try to reach a wider audience -- hey, that's me! There's not nearly as much good TV on Mondays, so I'll be able to catch both episodes. I hope Fox will consider making this change permanent. The other show is That '70s Show, which I think is hilarious, but it's on versus Lost and Smallville. At least I can catch it in reruns.

Best Show I Just Kind Of Don't Feel Like Watching
Kevin Hill. I've enjoyed every episode I've watched, but for some reason I tend to let it sit unwatched on my TiVo until it's about to be deleted, and only then do I bother to check it out. And I always like it... but I always let the next episode sit unwatched again. I think I may actually have reached the previously-believed-to-be-boundless limits of my TV-watching capabilities with this show!

Biggest Disappointments
It's a three-way tie! Monk, The Amazing Race, and Joan of Arcadia. I've previously written about my problems with this year's seasons of Monk and TAR, so I'll concentrate on Joan. The problem there is the lack of joy, or fun, or silliness. Everything's gotten so dark and depressing. Joan's best friend dies, the Girardis are being sued by the family of the boy who crippled their son, Grace's mother is an alcoholic, and on and on and on. Didn't this show used to be fun last year? What happened? There are still some light moments, but they're much less frequent, and much clumsier, than last season (and they usually involve Constance Zimmer as ex-nun Lilly; she's a real kick). If I were Joan, I'd trade in her god for a new model. This one's a bummer.

Guiltiest Pleasure
Two and a Half Men. I watched one episode at a friend's house, and was surprised to find it wasn't as awful as I'd always assumed it would be. In fact, it's really very funny. I'm completely hooked on it. I know! What's wrong with me?? I think it's surpassed Everybody Loves Raymond as my 4th favorite sitcom (after the two in my top ten list, and Less Than Perfect, which probably should also be a guilty pleasure, but I can't find it in me to be ashamed of liking a show featuring Patrick Warburton).

Just Kind of There
Smallville has had its moments this year, including a surprisingly good episode in which Clark and Lionel Luthor switched bodies, but the new characters aren't working for me (the Lois Lane actress -- whom I've previously sworn never to name again -- grew on me a little, but she's still more irritating than charming, and Jason is just a warmed-over Whitney), and that whole deal with Lana's tattoo is really lame. Also: The Simpsons. This is really on cruise control. It's generally reliably funny, but the characters don't engage me the way they used to; they've drifted too far from any kind of grounding reality to be really affecting anymore. The show has become primarily sight gags and movie parodies and physical comedy, not the character-based humor that made the show so great. I've been surprised to find this season that if I miss an episode, I'm not that concerned.

Whatever Happened to Must See Thursday?
I'm still watching Joey, although as God is my witness, I couldn't tell you why. And Will & Grace still has its moments. But if I see it, that's fine, and if I don't, that's fine, too. The Apprentice I avoid like the plague, and I think ER was actually cancelled four years ago, but like the undead creature it is, it keeps shambling grotesquely forth.

You Had Me, And Then You Lost Me
Rescue Me and Jack & Bobby. These shows drew me in with their promising debuts, then repelled me with their despicable lead characters. Denis Leary's Tommy on Rescue Me is a lying, cheating, reprehensible thug, who possesses none of the charm of Leary's previous flawed public servant, cop Mike from The Job. And Christine Lahti, who plays the mother on Jack & Bobby is such a shrill, stupid, horrible woman, I couldn't stand watching her beyond the first three episodes. I would include Boston Legal in this category, but I knew before it aired that I would like it at first, then quickly lose interest, same as with any David E. Kelley show.

You Had Me, And Then You Lost Me, And Then You Had Me Again
Both Star Trek: Enterprise and Gilmore Girls have bounced back after their less than wonderful previous seasons. Enterprise's return to self-contained stories rather than last season's year-long Xindi hunt is most welcome; even the three-parter with Brent Spiner felt blessedly brief and to the point. And I have to admit, I'm kind of digging the whole Trip & T'Pol soap opera. But everyone else is such a drag. Maybe the other characters need to get laid, too, to develop some personalities. And Gilmore Girls has succeeded in bringing Luke and Lorelai together as a couple, while not skimping on stories for other characters; I especially enjoyed Jackson's run for, and election as, mayor (or town elder or whatever he's called) of Stars Hollow. The writers need to be careful with Rory, though; she's becoming as self-absorbed and callous as her mother has been prone to be in previous years. (Or, as I described her in an earlier draft: she's kind of becoming a dumb bitch. Am I wrong?)

And what about you? Did I leave off something you love? Do I love something you hate? Are you disappointed I didn't dump on Sex and the City one last time? Jump in on this one, TV fans.

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Sunday, December 26, 2004

Ho Ho Oops!

Hi everybody! I'm back from vacation. The last thing I planned on doing before I left was to put up my big year-end television top ten etc. wrap-up, and a message saying I'd be gone till Sunday. And that I most definitely did not do. Oopsie! Hope you enjoyed my weeklong complete lack of content with no explanation!

Anyhoo. I think I'll wait until tomorrow to publish the TV post (with movies, comics, and what-not to follow later in the week). I'm just going to go enjoy some of my Christmas loot for now (including DVDs of Shrek 2, Spider-Man 2, and The Return of the King. Sweet! Plus, here's a surprise gift which turned out to be one of my favorites:

Mattel Electronics: Football II. I loved this game as a kid. And it's still tons of fun now! Who needs Playstation?

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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

MUSIC: I'm crazy for this little lady

It's funny how my feelings about a song can change according to the song's context. For example, I've written before about songs I had previously enjoyed that came to be irrevocably associated with a certain movie or TV show in which they appeared, like, say, "Stuck in the Middle With You" in Reservoir Dogs.

But there's a current song that I feel differently about depending on which of two recent commercials I hear it in: "Lady" by Lenny Kravitz. You probably are familiar with it -- "Cause she makes me feel good/She's so fine!"

The first time I heard it was in a Gap commercial. As Kravitz plays, that awful Sarah Jessica Parker struts and preens in her Gap ensemble. And I immediately took a disliking to the song. Same old same old from Lenny, I thought. Fuzzy guitars, banal lyrics, with hooks seemingly crafted specifically for marketing purposes.

Then ABC began using the song in their promos for the upcoming season of Alias. And I loved it. Strobing pictures of Jennifer Garner in various disguises, alternately kicking one dude's ass or falling into bed with another, set to that hammering guitar lick... Suddenly the music was catchy, rather than off-puttingly contrived; the lyrics weren't vapid or silly, they were elegantly simple.

Parker vs. Garner. Annoying, hacky jingle for one, riveting theme song for the other. It's all in the context.

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Monday, December 20, 2004

TV: Who will be eliminated next? Uh, me.

I'm surprised to hear myself say this (or see myself write this, I guess would be more accurate), but I think I'm sick of The Amazing Race.

I've long championed TAR (as we cool people like to call it) as the best reality show on TV. And it still is, not that that's such a difficult thing to accomplish in a field that includes Wife Swap and the upcoming Who's Your Daddy? Even the good ones, like Survivor, pale in comparison. TAR has it all: gorgeous, exotic locations, challenging and exciting tasks, and an elimination process based on merit alone. No ganging up on the strong teams to vote them out, no "firing" a team on a whim. If you're last, you're eliminated. Simple and elegant.

But the casting directors have gone overboard in the last two seasons trying to find "dramatic" teams, teams they can sell on commercials -- meaning horrible, horrible people. Rather than the organic method of producing villains in earlier seasons -- let the pressure of the race bring out the worst -- the producers now appear to be specifically seeking awful, evil people during the audition process, people who are guaranteed to explode with fury and insanity for the cameras. Not only are they casting more villains (the ratio of teams to root for as opposed to teams to root against has been shifting in favor of the "against" faction since season one, to the point where, in this season and the previous one, there wasn't a single team I wanted to win), but also the main villains (there's always one team that deserves hatred far more than any other team) have gotten progressively more villainous. This latest season, the team to hate is Jonathan and Victoria. She's bad enough, a bitchy walking ad for the dangers of excessive Botox, but Jonathan... he is just the most vile human being ever to hit the airwaves. In last week's episode, he screamed and berated his struggling partner, who had shouldered both their backpacks after he dropped his, until she burst into agonized tears; then, at the finish line, he screamed at her some more, and actually shoved her while telling her how useless she was.

Actually, I didn't even see that. I read about it online. Because enough's enough. I don't want to spend time with any of these people. I've got two unwatched episodes already stored up on my TiVo, because I can't generate the interest to watch them, and last week, when I went to TiVo TAR, I discovered that there were already two programs scheduled for recording (TiVo can only record two shows at once). One program was a repeat of Gilmore Girls, the other was a repeat of Scrubs. And I just shrugged and said, Fine. I couldn't be bothered to change the recording setup away from one of two shows I'd already seen to record a brand new episode of TAR. I just couldn't be bothered.

It's a shame. I'm sure the race is taking the teams to all the same kinds of fantastic locations round the world, I'm sure the challenges are just as unique and fun, I'm sure the tension and excitement match the levels set in previous seasons. But I don't give a rat's ass about anyone participating. My feelings toward these people range from mild disinterest on the high end of the spectrum all the way down to world-devouring rage. I don't want to see any of these people rewarded. I think I'm going to delete the episodes I've got saved and write this season off as a loss. Maybe I'll check back next season, although by then, the producers will probably be recruiting the teams straight from Death Row.

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BOOKS: Recent reading

Billie Letts, The Honk and Holler Opening Soon: Total chick flick of a book. Which makes sense, since the author also wrote the book that the Ashley Judd/Natalie Portman chick flick Where the Heart Is was based on. The women are so dramatically, emotionally overwrought. My sister killed herself, I had an abortion, I just can't trust myself to be happy anymore!! The men are damaged, evil, or irrelevant. And everybody in this tiny Oklahoma town is so goddam quirky. I picked up this book (for free, by the way) because I thought the title was interesting. I should've stopped at the cover.

It's one of those books that, by the time you realize it's not very good, and it ain't getting better, you're already far enough into it that you might as well finish. I only got that far because it was the only book I had to read on Thanksgiving vacation. You can see by how long it took me to finish, it wasn't a high priority.

Mickey Spillane, Survival... Zero!: I've never read a Mike Hammer book before, never even seen the movie for I, the Jury (either version). All I knew of Mike Hammer was what I saw in the Stacy Keach TV show. And it's about what I expected. Sex, violence, macho bullshit. It's kind of funny to sample what was once considered so shocking and racy. Pretty mild, even for thirty years ago. (It was published in 1970, a late entry in the series; presumably the earlier books, from the '40s and '50s, were more ahead of their times.) The book's somewhat entertaining just for the hard-boiled dialogue and narration, but I get the feeling even for this brand of pulp fiction, this is a lesser entry.

Lemony Snicket, The Slippery Slope: I love these books. (Too bad the movie is getting mixed reviews.) A few fortunate things happen for our orphans in this book -- the long presumed dead third Quagmire triplet turns up, and Violet discovers romantic feelings for him; two of Count Olaf's henchwomen abandon him and his wicked ways; a few more clues to the VFD mystery are gathered -- but of course it all ends in despair. Good fun! I've got The Grim Grotto ready to go next.

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Friday, December 17, 2004

COMICS: Wed. 12/15/04 continued

Girl Genius: I love Phil Foglio, and have ever since the days of "What's New?" in Dragon magazine and his Myth Adventures illustrations. This comic continues his winning streak, with great humor, great adventure, and his seemingly endless parade of fantastically inventive creatures and machines. (This issue featured an excellently chilling demon horse, and some tremendously cool giant spiders.) The world in Girl Genius is huge and fascinating, and the overriding mystery of the Heterodyne family is engaging. But (there's always a but)... when the title switched over from B&W to color (about six issues ago), the artwork got a lot rougher, sketchier; it looks like the colors are being applied directly to the pencils, with no inking stage in between. Am I wrong here? And the backgrounds being used during this forest storyline are photographs, which tends to pull me out of the art. Not photographs traced with pencils or inks, as I've seen in many comics: just undoctored color photographs of forest scenes, with the characters laid over the top. It has the exact reverse desired effect on me -- it makes the art look less realistic; when the cartoony characters are contrasted with the photo backgrounds, it's jarring to the eye. But hey, if it's a time-saving device for Phil, and it means I can get a reliably on-time supply of Krosp, Emperor of the Cats, then I guess I'll take it and be glad!

Ex Machina: Love the art, love the story, love the characters. The sequence in the subway was truly disturbing (although, and I'm probably not alone on this, I could've done without the use of the term "gay-ass" -- there's such a plethora of other wonderfully vile and descriptive curse words to be used; why are there suddenly a plethora of authors resorting to using the word "gay" pejoratively?), and I loved the reaction to Hundred's zap-gun. I was a little let down with the ending of the previous storyline; this arc is shaping up to be much more intriguing.

Fantastic Four: It's a shame this is Waid's and Wieringo's final story on the FF. It's been a great run. And I never would've gotten in on it if it hadn't been for that 25 cent (whatever happened to the cent symbol on a keyboard?) issue that started it off. Excellent marketing job, Marvel! (Wow, it actually hurt me to say that.) I'm not a fan of Galactus; he's always seemed like a pretty dopey character to me. But these guys have a way of making previously unenjoyable characters extremely fun and interesting. Has there been word yet on who's taking over after they leave? (Meaning, can I safely drop this comic again?)

Madrox: I have to say, this has been a very disappointing series to me. What's happening with Jamie and his malfunctioning duplicates is interesting, and I like Rahne and Strong Guy, but the stories they're involved with are... I don't know how to say this any more nicely: lame. Totally lame. I don't give a rat's ass about the case Jamie's following, nor any of the characters he's met, and I don't give a crap about who killed who or why. As a mystery, it's completely failed to engage me, which is frankly perplexing to me, considering how much I usually enjoy Peter David's work. And the less said about the philandering astral projection Rahne has been following (who's turned out to be seeing another man!! Oh, I'm flabbergasted, I'm shaken to my very core!!! By which I mean, what a stupid, stupid twist, a twist which stopped being shocking, or even mildly surprising, about thirty years ago), the better.

Marvel Team-Up: I liked it. I was actually surprised by the reveal on the final page. I'm interested in seeing where this is headed. Which puts this comic light years ahead of the previous Marvel work Robert Kirkman has done, like Captain America or the 2099 books. (Okay, I like Jubilee, too, but don't tell anyone.)

Demo: This completely failed to interest me in any way. I shouldn't have given in and bought it. I really don't know what all the fuss was about this issue, other than the fact that it was the end of an otherwise interesting series. Two people walk around town to bad poetry. Whoop-de-doo. And the back-up story? Even worse. I've said before that I've liked, but not loved, the issues of this series that I've checked out; this final issue, I liked nothing about it, nothing at all. Bummer.

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Thursday, December 16, 2004

COMICS: Plastic Man

I enjoyed the new issue of Plastic Man, but there were a couple things about it that bothered me as well. Number one is the typeface. The lettering has been changed from the Kyle Baker trademark font (here's an example of it, from Mile High Comics), which has a cartoony feel while still being blatantly computer-produced (as opposed to most other comics, in which all the lettering is done by computer, but it still tries to look like it's hand-lettered), to a generic sans-serif word processor font, cold and boring and personality-free, that jars me out of the story, and actually detracts from my enjoyment of the book. If you think lettering doesn't make a difference to a comic, check out this issue.

And number two, the artwork, while often tremendously funny and creative, also often looks like it was scribbled out while Baker was on the phone, or thinking about something else. I love Kyle Baker's art, but too often on this series it looks rushed and sloppy. In all likelihood it is not rushed; I'm sure Baker dotes over each individual panel like it's his firstborn child. But it looks rushed and sloppy, maybe not everywhere, but in many places.

That said, this comic continues to make me laugh, which is why I continue getting it. So I guess I just felt like bitching.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2004

COMICS: Wed. 12/15/04

Just a quick rundown of my purchases; I haven't read anything yet.

Plastic Man
Fantastic Four
... I mean, MTU
Ex Machina
Girl Genius

and Demo #12. I broke down and got it. I haven't been as enamored with this series as many others have -- I've liked it, for the most part, but have never loved it -- and decided I'd stop buying it a couple issues ago. But I guess I just had to check out the conclusion, after all.

In other comics news: Orson Scott Card is a douchebag. He's signed up to -- you know what? I'm not even going to tell you why his name is making the comic book rounds today. If you know, you know. All I care to contribute is: he's a homophobic douchebag. God, I'm eloquent!

Tales from the comic shop: I asked Mike who the killer was in Identity Crisis, purely out of morbid curiosity, as I have had, and continue to have, absolutely no interest in the series. And Mike had to ask me about half a dozen times if I reeeeeaaaalllly wanted him to spoil it for me. After I insisted "Yes!" for the nth time, he looked at me curiously and said, "Wow, you really don't care." Then he told me, and it was so dopey, I cared even less.

I should've been checking out Websnark a long time ago. Some other blogger linked to the site a few days ago (can't remember who, sorry -- although I see Johanna linked to it today, as well as adding a certain other extremely worthy blog to her links), and when I checked it out, I discovered some fantastically detailed analyses of web and print comic strips. I love that kind of stuff! I'll be adding Websnark to my links as soon as I can be bothered to change my template again.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

MOVIES: Jimmy Stewart Movie Marathon

December is Jimmy Stewart month on Turner Classic Movies, as I discovered while flipping through the channels last night. Stewart is my favorite actor of all time; seemingly unlimited range, such brilliant comedic skills, such intense, hidden depths*. He is, of course, the Every Man. And to me, he is the movies. I was glued to TCM for the rest of the night -- as I may well be for the rest of the month.

I tuned in in time to catch the last half of The Shop Around the Corner, on which the thoroughly contemptible You've Got Mail was based. The original, which I'd never seen, has its charms -- obviously there's Stewart, along with Margaret Sullavan, whom I'd never seen in a movie before, and who was adorable, and Frank Morgan, the Wizard of Oz himself, as the shop-owner -- but, much like Tom Hanks in the remake, Stewart's concealing from Sullavan that he's discovered she is his secret pen-pal, and his subsequent lies and manipulations of her feelings, seem cruel and disturbing to me, rather than cute or romantic.

Up next was Bell Book and Candle, which I also had never seen. Jimmy Stewart and Jack Lemmon co-star**, along with Kim Novak, who plays Lemmon's sister. She's a witch who meddles in Stewart's love life (leading to the wonderful line from Janice Rule as the woman Stewart has jilted for Novak, when he tells her Novak is a witch: "Oh, Shep, you just never learned to spell"). Jack Lemmon is a tremendous amount of fun, Ernie Kovacs is surprisingly low-key as a drunken author (in a performance that makes you wonder if the drunkenness was acting or not), Stewart is charming as always in what would be (according to the trivia page at IMDb) his last role as a romantic lead, but Kim Novak -- wow. She's sexy, silky, slinky, smoldering, sinuous, seductive... she's a knockout. She dominates this film with her presence. It wasn't a wonderful movie -- not bad, just not wonderful -- but I'm glad I saw it if only for her memorable performance.

After that was one of my all-time favorites, The Philadelphia Story. Jimmy Stewart as Macaulay "Mike" Connor, Cary Grant as one of the best-named characters in moviedom, C.K. Dexter Haven, and the luminous Katharine Hepburn as ice goddess Tracy Lord. (Ruth Hussey is equally wonderful -- funny and smart and world-weary as Liz Imbrie, long-time torch-holder for Mike.) Not many movies that can match that cast.

It's one of the most fantastically written movies ever. Like Casablanca or Citizen Kane, every word is a gem. From throwaway screwball-type exchanges (Dexter: "Can you use a typewriter?" Liz: "Thanks, but I've already got one at home."), to the casually cruel barbs delivered in machine gun fashion ("To hardly know him is to know him well," or, "She's a girl who's generous to a fault -- except to other people's faults."), to the hilariously non-sensical ("Do you have any violin strings?" "I have an aspirin. Will that work?" or Mike, on the phone to another room in Tracy's family mansion: "This is the Voice of Doom calling! Your days are numbered to the seventh son of the seventh son!"), the words are so fast and so sharp it's a dizzying joy to experience. And of course, there's my favorite scene, the crazily romantic speech Mike makes to Tracy, so absurdly over-the-top, but somehow Stewart makes it work: "You're lit from within, Tracy. You've got fires banked down in you -- hearthfires and holocausts!" It's stunning.

The movie has one hell of a beginning, a real shock of a laugh -- Tracy is throwing then-husband Dexter out, smashing his belongings as he goes; Dexter goes to retaliate, drawing back a fist, but can't hit her; a smug expression registers on her face for just a second, and in response, he puts his hand over her face and pushes her to the ground. Domestic abuse -- funny! Okay, it shouldn't be funny... but it is. It's the suddenness and the full physical commitment to the moment that startles a laugh out of you -- Grant really hurls Hepburn, and she takes the fall like a stuntwoman.

The high point of the film is the romantic moment between Mike and Tracy I mentioned above, but there are so many wonderful scenes. Like when Tracy and her younger sister Dinah, pretending not to know that Mike and Liz have been sent from a magazine to get the scoop on Tracy's wedding, dazzle Mike and Liz with an aggressively accommodating welcome; ballet, piano recitals, greetings in French, capped off with Tracy's seemingly innocent questions which absolutely rake Mike and Liz over the coals. There's the scene at the library, in which Tracy reads Mike's book of short stories and realizes there's something more to him that she'd assumed, as he learns the same thing about her. Then there's the pool house scene, in which Dexter and Tracy tear into each other with increasingly vicious accusations while Mike looks on in comic horror. And there's Mike's drunken confrontation of Dexter, after Mike has begun to fall for Tracy; Stewart's hiccuping drunk act is hysterical, and Grant matches him word for word, gesture for gesture.

I've got a couple of gripes about the film. I've never been wild about the ending, which is a little too sudden, a little too neat: Tracy has broken her engagement on her wedding day, but there's a hall full of guests waiting for the ceremony. Suddenly Mike proposes, apparently just in an attempt to help her save face. Tracy gently sends him over to Liz, who nonchalantly takes his hand, as though she hadn't just seen him propose to another woman. And then Dexter proposes to Tracy, which is of course the expected ending, but it's so abrupt, the turn-about from their earlier tooth-and-nail verbal warfare (warfare concealing their continued affection for one another, but warfare nonetheless) so complete, that even for a romantic comedy it's a little hard to swallow.

And then there's Tracy's father, who, in a truly hateful moment, rationalizes his philandering ways to Tracy and her mother (who has taken him back). He has the gall to blame Tracy for his affair -- if he had had a loving daughter, he explains, he wouldn't have had to go looking for love elsewhere. (Which is tinged with a little incestuous creepiness, now that I think about it.) He accuses Tracy of driving him away by being cold, emotionless, heartless -- and what's worse, she buys it, this strong, smart woman buys into this load of garbage from her adulterous father. This scene always makes me wince.

But those are small detractions from an otherwise dazzling film. I could watch this one every week. I hope TCM's got some equally great Stewart films on tonight.

*I could say -- and have said -- the exact same things about Jack Lemmon. They're both favorite.
**What a remarkable coincidence!

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Monday, December 13, 2004

MOVIES: The Cannonball Run

I've always had fond memories of The Cannonball Run, so when I saw the DVD in one of those budget two-packs (with Caddyshack) at Best Buy, I decided to pick it up. And oh my lord, that is one of the stupidest damn movies ever made. Why did I used to like this?

First of all, there's no character development, there's no story, other than the big race. Nor should there be, really; it's a light road comedy, you want to get to the action as quickly as possible. But still, how hard is it to go, "Here's Burt Reynolds' character, J.J. McClure; here is what makes him human; here is why you should give two shits about him." But that doesn't happen, so unless you're still living in 1981, and are so fully invested in and charmed by Burt Reynolds as a person that you love him no matter what character he's playing, you just don't care about him or his antics at all. And he's the most fully fleshed-out character.

Other participants in this train wreck of a movie:

  • Roger Moore, playing Seymour Goldfarb, Jr., a man who thinks he's... Roger Moore. A Roger Moore who has all of James Bond's gadgets and women. But James Bond is never explicitly mentioned. In fact, in one scene, you can see by lip-reading that Moore is talking about the film The Spy Who Loved Me, but what you hear is The Fly Who Bugged Me. Think they were threatened with a lawsuit? (Another strange dubbing moment on this DVD: one character very clearly forms the words, "Slicker than shit through a goose," but the vocal track says, "Slicker than shot through a gun." The cursing remains intact throughout the rest of the film; why that one overdub?)

  • Farrah Fawcett, whose character allows Burt Reynolds to call her "Beauty" rather than her real name, gives the impression that this is because she feels a man's name for her is clearly superior to her actual name. Her character is an environmentalist, sweet and demure except for the fact that she keeps telling (or trying to tell) complete strangers that she loves trees "because you can lie under them at night, and look at the stars, and listen to the wind in the leaves, and ball your brains out!" ("Ball"?) Also, she's kidnapped by Burt Reynolds early in the film, literally kidnapped and driven cross country, but she succumbs to the most rapid and complete case of Stockholm Syndrome ever seen.

  • Jackie Chan, who is Chinese, plays a Japanese driver named... Jackie Chan. This was his first American film. And he was never heard from again.

  • Terry Bradshaw is in this thing. Terry frickin' Bradshaw.

  • Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. disguise themselves as priests, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed priests. Ah, the good old days, when drunk driving was funny. (See also Arthur.) The one bit in this movie I remember liking as a kid that I still liked was when Sammy says, "Why'd he call me shorty?" and Dean says, "Because you're small. Small. S-M-All." That's funny. Well, it is!

  • Bert Convy is in this thing, too. Game show host Bert Convy. Wow. He drives a motorcycle, and makes his male teammate wear a bridal gown, on the theory that cops won't pull over newlyweds. But his teammate is so fat, Convy can't make the motorcycle stop popping a wheelie. Ha.

  • Adrienne Barbeau appears in this movie for the sole purpose of sexily unzipping her skintight racing gear. Bless her heart.

  • God, I can't list all these sons of bitches. There's also Jamie Farr, Jimmy the Greek, Valerie Perrine, Jack Elam, Mel Tillis, and Peter Fonda, none of whom, now that I think about it, deserved anything better than this film.

And, lest you think I forget, the #1 reason I enjoyed this film as a kid: Dom DeLuise. I thought he was the funniest thing ever. Captain Chaos! Dun-dun-DUNNN! Watching the movie this time, I just felt sad for him. Burt Reynolds is always yelling at him and slapping him. And you just know that's a carry-over from real life. Some guys, however handsome and popular they are, still want to have someone demonstrably less handsome and popular by their side, someone they can belittle and abuse to make themselves feel even bigger, someone who will willingly take that abuse for the privilege of joining the popular club.

The same kind of thing happens with Dean and Sammy. Dean's constantly slapping Sammy in this movie. And those are real slaps. I'm sure that's only the smallest sample of what Sammy had to endure to be the only black guy admitted to the Rat Pack. I laughed at the time, but now it just makes me cringe.

Horrified by the awful, humorless writing and acting, I thought, well, at least there'll be some cool driving action. Uh, nope. We see cars driving a lot, but very little interesting driving. Jackie Chan launches his car off a sand dune. Terry Bradshaw drives his car into a swimming pool. Some guy named Mad Dog drives his truck into a hotel lobby. Roger Moore has smoke screens and oil slicks, of course. But there's really very little racing action for a movie all about a cross country race.

And the race ends in a very stupid way (you will be shocked to hear). The way the race works is, you punch a time card in at the beginning of the race, then punch it in again at the end of the race. Best time wins. At the end, a whole group of drivers are running to the finish line. Burt Reynolds slows them down, and Adrienne Barbeau winds up punching her card first. And everyone else just stands there and groans with disappointment. Hey, shitheads! Some of you left the starting line after Adrienne Barbeau did! If you'd just punch your card, your time might still be the best. But nobody does. They all concede the victory. Jesus, why race 3,000 miles if you're going to give up in the last ten feet? Idiots.

Now I want to watch Smokey & the Bandit again, to see if it also fails to measure up to my recollection of it. But I'm scared to. I don't want to ruin all my childhood memories. Not all at once, anyway.

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Saturday, December 11, 2004

Links update

Added a few new links to the sidebar:

Infinity Weblog joins the Mighty ACAPCWOVCCAOE!

Dorian pointed me toward Beaucoup Kevin and Fortress of Blogitude, which will either be wonderful additions, or I will hate Dorian forever. I'm a patient and tolerant person.

Pete of I Shoot With My Mind (great Gunslinger reference! Which reminds me, I need to finish that damned final book) and Lyle of Crocodile Caucus (who could not be more wrong about Sex and the City [insert smiley face here]) have recently left interesting comments. As probably many others have, yet I'm too lazy and dopey to single them out. If you're deserving and I've overlooked you, I'll find you eventually. I'm slow but steady, like continental drift. You could always remind me, by leaving a comment again!

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Friday, December 10, 2004

COMICS: Wed. 12/8/04

I bought four comics. Two days later, I've still only read three of them. I'm slow.

She-Hulk: I love this comic. I prefer when Bobillo draws it -- something about that baby-faced She-Hulk, and his other non-traditional depictions of Marvel characters, really gives me a kick. But the writing is consistently entertaining no matter who's doing the art. I like the effort that goes into the minor characters. For example, I have to imagine no one has ever given as much thought to Titania as Dan Slott does this issue.

Powers: Nothing really happened this issue, did it? A lot of treading water. A lot of talk talk talk about whether it's right for heroes to challenge the law and use their powers openly. Then some nobody in a costume died, probably killed by a cop. Which might've been interesting, if they had actually dealt with it in this issue, instead of cliffhanging it. Pretty boring overall.

Punisher: I was a couple pages in, and one panel with Frank's face made me think, that looks like Bill Reinhold art. Which is unusual for me; I'm hardly an expert on artistic styles. But I was right, he's the inker. I had a little late '80s flashback, to when Reinhold was doing the art for Mike Baron's Punisher. As well as Baron's Badger. Those were the days. I wish Mike Baron were still writing comics. I mean, mainstream comics that have a future, not the ultra-obscure titles for mini-mini publishers that he seems to release once a year, which then disappear after the first issue (Faro Korbit, anyone?). In fact, he appears to have released a new book last month, The Detonator, which I've never even heard of. (It was scheduled for November, anyway; maybe it's not actually out yet.) And he's talking about a Badger revival for mid-2005. New issues of Grimjack and Badger scheduled for next year? Heaven!!

What was I talking about? Oh, yeah, Punisher. Pretty good issue.

Fables: Haven't read it.

Also picked up (but haven't read) the first TPB of Ed Brubaker's Catwoman. I'd been resisting this, because I bought the first couple-three issues when they first came out, then decided to drop the title. But Ian's enthusiasm for Brubaker's Sleeper recently got me to pick up the first trade of that series, and I really enjoyed it, so now I'm on a mini-Brubaker kick, I guess. Next up: Gotham Central.

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Thursday, December 09, 2004

He's just not that into you!

So I was watching Oprah last night, 'cause that's what you do when you come home drunk at 1 AM. And her guest was Greg Behrendt, who is a hilarious stand-up comedian -- or used to be, I guess. Then he started writing for Sex and the City, and now he's written a self-help book based around a line from that show: He's Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys.

Okay, first of all, I thought it was odd that Greg was the only one onstage with Oprah, since the book was co-written with a woman named Liz Tuccillo. Liz was actually in the audience, and Oprah briefly spoke to her, but primarily she was dealing with Greg. I guess she wanted to have just the guy by her side, so he could be the one dealing out the tough love. After all, she worships tough-love men. Remember, she's the one responsible for inflicting Dr. Phil on America. That son of a bitch Dr. Phil! Oh how I hate him.

But I digress.

Oh, and second: why are we not done with Sex and the City now?? The goddam show is cancelled already! There's a book based on a line from it, Oprah's talking about the book and showing clips from the show, and there's that horrible harpy Sarah Jessica Parker in all those freaking Gap ads. That show's another one to file under my list of things I don't get. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: with Sex and the City, HBO was somehow able to create a show so bad that no amount of gratuitous nudity could make me watch. That's pretty damn bad.


The Oprah show primarily consisted of various audience members telling their stories of woe: my boyfriend is great but. I like this guy but. And then Oprah would smugly crow, "He's just not that into you!!"

Here's what I was waiting for -- and this would've been so ingenious, I can't believe Greg or one of the audience members didn't say this, it would've been so frickin' great -- and I didn't catch the last 15 minutes, so maybe it did happen, but I seriously doubt it -- I wanted someone to say:

So, Oprah, has Stedman married you yet? No? Well, guess what, honey!


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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

I don't get it

Here's a few things I don't get, popularity-wise:


Radiohead: God, they're boring! Boring, boring, boring!! I listen to all these people saying, "They're geniuses!" and I just wonder, What the hell are you listening to? Because I fell asleep halfway through the song. Which song? Any of them. But especially "Karma Police." That's more sleep-inducing than two bottles of Nyquil. See also: Modest Mouse.


American Idol: Why does everyone in America watch this travesty? "I just watch it to make fun of it." LIAR!! I know you love it. I just don't know why. "We are unsatisfied with your personal preferences in musical stardom. We will tell you who to worship." "Yes, masters. Clay Aiken is a delightful pixie, and not at all a disturbing, charmless little freak."

ER and West Wing: They're done, people. Let them die.

The Simple Life: And Paris Hilton, in general. In fact, this whole "rich girl" trend. Why we should elevate, as David Cross so memorably calls them, "these rich, giggling, country western singers" (only he didn't say "ry western singer") to icon status just boggles my mind. They deserve nothing but scorn and loathing, and yet our culture celebrates and rewards them. There is very little in pop culture that makes me think, maybe we'd be better off without pop culture in its entirety (this is a pop culture blog, after all), but Paris Hilton and her ilk are right up there.


The Da Vinci Code: Now, I haven't read the book, so this is somewhat uninformed. But if I can't make uninformed snap judgments, why should I even have a blog? So I've paged through this thing at the store a couple times, and it looks like a decent enough mystery/thriller, but this is ridiculous. You know what I think? I think this is a book that makes people think they're smart for reading it -- the kind of smart that doesn't hurt your head, or require much actual thinking at all. And I think it's a book people feel required to read specifically because of its massive popularity, not because of any desire they have to crack a good book. It's got just enough historical and religious mumbo-jumbo in it to make people praise it far beyond its basic mystery/thriller worth. I don't fault the people who say, "Yeah, it was a fun read." But anyone who says, "This is the best book I've ever read," probably hasn't read a book since The Bridges of Madison County.


My Big Fat Boring Stupid Unfunny Greek Wedding: Well, the title pretty much sums it up. I've bitched about this movie before, but I'll say it again: literally the only time I laughed during the entire film is at the wedding, when the mother of the groom asks, "What are they saying?" and the father of the groom says, "I don't know -- it's all Greek to me!" That lame, corny old joke sparkled like a gem in the midst of the other sub-sitcom level "humor". I didn't find any of her family to be wacky or impish or adorable -- I found them boring at best, irritating as hell at worst. Nia Vardalos is not cute or charming. She's a bug-eyed ham, with absolutely no charisma. I hate this movie.

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Monday, December 06, 2004

IN CONCERT: George Carlin

I saw George Carlin at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas last month. And it's taken me a while to get around to writing about it. The basic story is: I enjoyed it a great deal, I laughed a lot, I was thrilled to see my favorite comedian in concert. But he didn't really do an awful lot to merit my positive reaction.

George Carlin is one of my personal heroes. He's been using his comedy to tear apart hypocrisy in religion, politics, race, class, and language itself since before I was born. I've always admired his humor, his honesty, his integrity*, his insight, and even his anger. I admired the way he used his anger to craft scathing indictments** of those in power, the way he focused his rage into productively destructive comedy routines about the ignorant, the greedy, the insincere.

But in the past few years, the anger has seemed to swallow him. His comedy routines have become more and more centered around relishing the pain and suffering of others. His enjoyment of other people's misery and death seems to have become a staple of his act. And it's outrageous, what he says, it's shocking, and it still makes you laugh, startled laughter borne of sheer jaw-dropping amazement at his gall to make punchlines out of, say, terminal diseases, or various methods of suicide.

And I did laugh. Hell, I might've laughed more than anyone else in the theater; there were a number of long, awkward stretches with only scattered nervous chuckles. He was relentless, both in his choice of material and his delivery style -- machine-gunning his words at the audience, a rapid-fire barrage of speech that was magnificent to behold. Whatever quibbles I may express about him, whatever anyone may say about him, there is no question that he is a master craftsman, who has honed the tools of his comedy to razor sharpness, and he is a brilliant artist with the English language, constructing and deconstructing it in a dizzying fashion, using it as a teaching instrument and a weapon. For that alone, I am truly grateful to have seen him live. (He was clearly still developing this particular act, though -- he even told us he was working out routines for his next HBO special; at several points, he referred to written notes, though he never broke stride in his delivery.)

But, as I was saying about his material -- I began to wonder if he even wanted to make us laugh, or if he thought it would be even funnier to make us uncomfortable. I have an angry streak and a pretty sick sense of humor, so I was with him pretty much the whole way. But there were a number of people around me who were clearly discomfited by his dwelling on the death tolls of serial killers or natural disasters, people who probably were expecting him still to be talking about the "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television". Saying "piss" doesn't shock anyone anymore. Saying you sincerely hope the planet is struck by a meteor does.

But as crazy and outrageous and shocking as he wanted to be -- and he was all those things, to me, and to everyone else in the audience, judging from their reactions -- he also often seemed to be going through the motions. Like he just decided, "This death obsession thing is working, I'm gonna run with it." His bit about the methods of suicide, for example, just seemed to go on forever. I could feel some of the audience slipping away: "Uh-huh, uh-huh, ropes are better than guns... that's kind of funny, in a sick way, but isn't he going to talk about how you can't say 'shit' on TV?" I mean, death isn't all he talked about; he hit on a lot of topics. But at the end, it's the death stuff that sticks with you.

I laughed, but after the show, I wondered if he had really earned those laughs, if I hadn't heard all this same anger before. Because his anger has developed through the years, cycling through targets, growing in scale, and his comedy has developed with it. Until he finally seemed to reach this critical mass of anger a few years ago, when he started hating the human race as a whole, and not just particular people in it. He just seemed to decide no group or groups of people were the problem, humanity was the problem. And he started wishing death to everyone. And where does his anger -- and his comedy -- go from there?

His comedy has gone through two quantum leaps in his career; once, around '69 or '70, from the Ed Sullivan-appearing, tie-wearing straight to the long-haired, foul-mouthed hippie, and once, early-to-mid-'90s, I'd say, from worn-out hippie to revitalized elder statesman, re-energized and refilled with vim and vigor, piss and vinegar. (Possibly that had something to do with getting the IRS off his back -- refer to the link in my first footnote below.) If he's going to remain a viable voice, I think his comedy needs to grow yet again, beyond this rut of death and destruction he's in.

There is no greater comedian in the world than George Carlin. I could not believe that more firmly. In fact, in my eyes, there has never been a greater comedian. Some will argue and suggest Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks, Lenny Bruce, Andy Kaufman, Bob Saget***, and obviously they're all super-geniuses, giants in comedy and in the world at large. But for me, for my personality, for my sense of humor, for my love of the language, and yes, for my anger, there's only George Carlin. And I believe he can continue to stay on top for years to come. But not if he continues in the same vein as his current act.

*Let's just pretend he never made those 10-10-220 commercials. And if you can't pretend, here's his reasoning on why he did those commercials, in an interview conducted with a financial website, of all things.
**Is there any other kind of indictment?
*** That's a typo. I meant Dave Coulier.

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Friday, December 03, 2004

COMICS: Fifteen minutes

Fifteen minutes.

Give or take, that's about how long it takes me to read the average comic. Less than a minute a page. Fifteen minutes of entertainment, for three bucks. Assuming it is entertaining; some comics I've gotten recently, I might as well try to see how far I can throw two dimes off a pier every minute for a quarter hour -- same investment of time and money, probably more fun.

That's an expensive habit. You have to really love comics to invest that kind of money in such a brief period of enjoyment*. And I do really love comics. But when I don't get that fifteen minutes, I can't help but feel a little ripped off.

And so we come to this week's Street Angel. The official site has a pretty accurate description: "Not much happens this issue. Street Angel looks for something to eat." Too true, too true. It's a change in pace from previous issues. More downbeat, more realistic.

But I was done in less than five minutes. I sat there for a moment, looking at the last page, and thought, "That's it? Really? What a gyp!"

Is it fair to judge a comic by how quickly you're done reading it? I say yes. Because while the overall mood of the comic, its art and storytelling style, were successful, and I enjoyed the comic while I was reading it, it wasn't a full comic to me. Everything in this issue could have been conveyed equally as effectively in four or six pages, without the self-indulgent pacing (or lack thereof), with plenty of room left over for an actual story. Being homeless sucks: I get it. You don't need a full issue to convey that to me. In fact, you don't need a single page. I'm a sharp guy. I was already aware going in that homeless people do not have wonderful lives, that they do not in fact routinely have wacky adventures involving mad scientists and ninjas and pirates. But I am not interested in reading realistic depictions of homeless people. I am interested in wacky adventures involving mad scientists and ninjas and pirates.

Previous issues have contained subtle touches among the crazy hijinks to remind us of Street Angel's poor living conditions, which helped add dimension to the comedy. This new issue, though relatively light-handed, still felt like a bludgeon of social consciousness: Look how awful she has it! She's digging for food in the trash! This is a terrible way to live! There's nothing funny about it!

No, there isn't. Which is not what I'm looking for in a humor book. I don't need a comic to school me in the plight of the homeless. I see actual homeless people every day; one look has far more impact on me than any comic ever could. I don't want a true-to-life Street Angel. I want a Street Angel who has action-packed team-ups with Jesus.

Maybe it's intended more as a showcase for the art; the lack of anything happening really requires the art to carry the book. And it's good art, reminiscent of Paul Pope, with some lovely detail. Check out the two-page spread at the bottom of this preview. The background is just beautifully rendered. But I'm not a comics reader who gets overly absorbed in the artwork. I enjoy the art, or I wouldn't be reading comics. But it's the stories, the words that really draw me in. In the best comics (and I would rank previous Street Angel issues as among the best comics I've read this year; I'd say issue #2 is one of the funniest comics ever published), the art and the writing complement one another. In this issue, there's nothing to back up the art. There's no story to make me want to spend time with the art, which is why I just breezed right through it.

Overall, I'm conflicted on this issue. Like I said, I enjoyed it while I was reading it. But the overall experience was unsatisfying, a real let-down after previous issues. Somehow, it manages to be a good comic that's not worth buying.

*Initial enjoyment. Obviously, there are many comics that I've read dozens of times, extending their entertainment value. But there are many others that I've read once, and never looked at again.

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COMICS: The Black Canary would come to know that gizmo very well in later years

Ah, how innocent comics once were. Or... were they?

Swiped (but not hotlinked; hotlinking is wrong) from Scott Tipton's Comics 101 column:

Really? You don't want to think about that some more?

"I guess... stickum-shaft... is as good as any!" Yeah, for a porno movie prop, not a crimefighting weapon. You sick freak.

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Thursday, December 02, 2004

MUSIC: Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs

Last week, Rolling Stone put out its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Now, lists like these are always going to be more questionable, even laughable, than any true indication of reality, subjective or objective. (I mean, "of all time"? That's ludicrous right off the bat. They're counting Gregorian chants, Carthaginian battle hymns, Babylonian lullabies? Why not just admit: "Greatest Rock Songs Ever, with Some Blues, Soul, Hip-Hop, and Country Randomly Thrown In to Make Us Look Inclusive"?) That said, it's still fun to pick these lists apart.

Certain predictable flaws always pop up in these kinds of musical lists, and this one is no exception:

--Some songs are ranked according to cultural impact rather than true worth; "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is pretty rockin', but the 9th greatest song ever? Lists like this are nothing if not arbitrary, but can they really not think of more than eight better songs in all of modern music? It's ten years after his death, we can be honest now: Kurt Cobain was a terrible singer; he had a great yell, but an all-but-ruined voice and limited range. Lyrically, musically, the song is inventive, captivating, driving, but still. Will this song keep making every list ever just because it made all the depressed teenagers in America want to wear flannel?

--Some songs made the list in a transparent stab at historical relevance; I realize Chuck Berry practically invented rock 'n roll, but #18 for "Maybelline" is a little much. On the other hand, I can't find it in me to argue with "Johnny B. Goode" at #7.

--Some songs are here because of current fads; would Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" be #10 if Ray weren't currently in theaters? Answer: no. (And if you've got to have Charles in the top ten, I think "Georgia on My Mind" would've been the better choice.)

--Some band's songs are ranked in seemingly backward fashion; the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset" is #42, but "Lola" is way the hell down at #422? That ain't right.

--And the Beatles, as ever, occupy seemingly every other spot. Together and apart, 26 of their songs are on this list, 8 in the top 30. I mean, they were good, but Jesus, give someone else a chance. Surely "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Help!" don't need to be ranked nearly so high.

Those are what I'd (possibly delusionally) call "objective" problems with the list. On the subjective side: how the hell can The Who not make the top ten? "My Generation" at #11 is close, but not good enough. And their next entry on the list isn't until #133, which is ridiculous: it's "Won't Get Fooled Again," which deserves a top ten slot even more than "My Generation." "Behind Blue Eyes" doesn't even make the list, nor does "Who Are You." But Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back in Town" does? "Pressure Drop" by Toots and the Maytals does? Six Sly & the Family Stone songs do?? (Also: what the hell is "Pressure Drop," and who the hell are Toots and the Maytals?)

Then there's Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run," which doesn't even make the top twenty, ranking at #21. No. Oh, no no no no no. Uh-uh. That's top three, easy. #21? That's just crazy talk. Crazy talk!

"Stairway to Heaven" doesn't make the top thirty (#31). I'm hardly the biggest Led Zeppelin fan; in fact, I think they're one of the most overrated groups ever. But come on. It's "Stairway," dude! You can't fit "Stairway" into the top ten?

On the other hand, it's hard to create a strong argument against most of the songs that are in the top thirty. I don't think I'd have thought of Bob Dylan for the top spot, but I don't have any strong reservations about "Like a Rolling Stone." Seeing "Satisfaction" at #2 makes me wish the two songs were reversed, but it doesn't kill me to see Dylan at #1. Same with "Imagine;" I'd rank it above Dylan as well, but I wouldn't get into a fight over it.

I'm surprised again by Marvin Gaye's high ranking; his album What's Going On made the top five (I think) of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums a while back, and the title song is #4 on this list. I guess I never really thought of Gaye as such an historically, culturally important voice, but when I see his name on these lists, it doesn't feel wrong.

The rest of the top ten is Aretha Franklin's "Respect," "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys (which I love), the above-mentioned "Johnny B. Goode," the Beatles with "Hey Jude," and "Teen Spirit" and "What'd I Say." And despite my objections above, I really can't argue all that strongly against any of them. (Other than the fact that they clearly robbed The Who of a top ten spot. I really like The Who, can you tell?) Obviously Nirvana means a lot more to a lot of people than they do to me (and I do like them, I just don't worship them), so enjoy your #9 spot.

Anybody else seen this list? Anybody else give a rat's ass?

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