Monday, February 14, 2005


Still working on my 100 things I like about comics post. It won't be up today (like Mike's is), but it will be coming soon.

Also: Dorian filled out the music meme after I passed the buck to him. Yes, blame Tom, indeed.

Last week's Veronica Mars got kind of meta in a cool way. In the opening sequence, Veronica's pal Wallace asks her about her relationship with a classmate who's been kidnapped. "We used to be friends. A long time ago," Veronica says. Cut immediately to the opening theme song by the Dandy Warhols: "A long time ago/We used to be friends." I dig that kind of thing, when done well.

Finally! The Flash is back! After an entire season of pretending he didn't exist, the Flash returns to Justice League Unlimited, with some fair complaints. "I was one of the original seven," he laments to the Elongated Man (yay, Jeremy Piven!), who also is seemingly relegated to near-joke status in the new League.

Unfortunately, Flash's big return involves Jack Kirby's Fourth World. Look, I like Jack Kirby as much as the next guy (well, assuming the next guy hasn't built him up to demigod status), but the whole Fourth World thing is... well, it's kind of stupid. Darkseid is a pretty cool villain, but Mister Miracle? Big Barda? Granny Goodness? Vermin goddam Vundabar? Forgive me for jettisoning all my sensitivity protocols here, but -- those are some seriously fucking retarded characters. (Hmm, maybe I don't like Jack Kirby as much as the next guy!) I know that any comics fanboy is legally required to love every single thing Jack Kirby ever looked at, but... I can't. They're horrible, just horrible, and if anybody other than Kirby had created them, they would no longer exist. But they are Kirby's babies, so we have to endure a "villain" so laughable that Arte Johnson can provide his voice -- the same voice Arte used for his German soldier from his Laugh-In days, complete with catchphrase: "Verrrry innnnteresting!"

Loved, loved seeing the Flash back, and hope it's not a one-time thing. But those other characters could disappear forever, and I'd be just fine with that.

I finally saw Sideways yesterday, and, while I felt it's been overpraised just a little, I did thoroughly enjoy it. Paul Giamatti is especially great in an Oscar-worthy role; too bad the Academy has unconscionably snubbed him for the second year in a row (following last year's brilliant performance in American Splendor). I used to say he was my favorite actor that nobody had ever heard of; now I think it's safe to say he's my favorite actor, period.

I at long last roused myself to see it because it was playing at the theater only two blocks from my house. And I wish I had made myself go see it at a nicer theater in Ventura instead. This little Ojai theater gets the worst prints. It was spliced together poorly in several spots (ruining a really funny moment, when wine-snob Giamatti declares, "I am not drinking any fucking Merlot!!"), and the entire film was scratched all to hell. This is one instance where waiting for the DVD probably would've been a preferable first-time viewing experience.

I noticed a funny thing while watching the movie, prompted by the DVD commentary for Deadwood. In that commentary, Kevin Carradine remarks several times about the sparing use of music on the show, and how well it's used, when it is used. By contrast, Sideways had a seemingly never-ending soundtrack. Basically just a piano, alternating between jaunty and somber; fairly unobtrusive under other circumstances, but with Carradine's words still fresh in my head, I couldn't help being distracted by it. It's especially noticeable when it stops during Virginia Madsen's wonderful soliloquy on how wine ages (how could you possibly not fall in love with her in that scene?). It's playing all while Giamatti delivers his ode to the pinot grape first, but then when Madsen begins to speak, the music cuts out, so we can hear her words uncluttered by background noise. And just as I was thinking, "That's great, they should've done that more often" -- it starts up again, before she's even finished speaking. Probably not one other person noticed the music in that moment, but it really bugged me.

I don't want to nitpick too much, because I did really enjoy the film -- but one more thing: a lot of critics have called out writer/director Alexander Payne for his supposedly contemptuous view of middle America and the lower class. And I've mostly disagreed with that charge on his earlier films, thought they were judging him unfairly. In this film, though, it was really noticeable to me. Payne uses a bowling alley at one point, and a tow truck in another, to make a broad comment on the people associated with those things. He clearly thinks anybody who would enjoy bowling has to be a dumb, classless hick. Or that anyone who would drive a tow truck for a living is pure trash; he even makes sure the truck driver's house is filled with trash, to emphasize the point. Those things struck me as glaringly cheap and ignorant shots in an otherwise smart, perceptive movie.

P.S. Happy Greeting Card Industry Day, everyone!

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