Thursday, March 31, 2005

TV: I need an intervention

Seriously, this is a little much even for me. I'm just overwhelmed with TV right now. Above and beyond my Tuesday night dilemma, there's just a ridiculous amount of new television I want to see. By the way, regarding that dilemma, my ultimate choice was to watch Scrubs, then switch over to the last 90 minutes of The Amazing Race. And MAN! What a great 90 minutes. From Gretchen splitting her freakin' head open, but still plowing ahead with the race (as opposed to that snotty, whiny Patrick who couldn't quit soon enough last week), to Brian and Greg rolling their vehicle and nearly killing their cameraman, to the final dash to the finish line, by car and by foot, in which the long-delayed-by-their-wreck Brian & Greg caught up to and passed Deana and her tremendous asshat of a partner, Ray, who were eliminated. Whoo! That's good TV. Also, the return of Veronica Mars was pretty kick-ass, too.

Above and beyond that, there's a bunch of new TV cramming my TiVo. Ian has gotten me hooked on Wonder Showzen on MTV2, a terrifically weird and disturbing comedy show disguised as a children's program. To give you only the slightest idea of what this show is like, here's the disclaimer it runs beforehand:

And here's something Ian may be interested in in return: tonight on HBO is the debut of Left of the Dial, a documentary about the rocky first months of liberal radio station Air America, which celebrates its first anniversary today.

Then there's USA's new Kojak, starring Ving Rhames. I have a feeling this is not going to make my must-see list, but I at least want to check out the two-hour premiere. There's Cartoon Network's Robot Chicken, which I keep missing, and need to get caught up on. Speaking of getting caught up on -- HBO is finally going to run a marathon of Carnivale Season 2 next week; I missed the first few episodes, so I've been holding off on watching any of the others, wanting to see them all in proper order. That's a 12-hour chunk of my time right there.

But wait! There's more! Coming soon on FX are two new dramas: Over There, about the war in Iraq, and Thief (which doesn't even have an IMDb page yet -- did I imagine it?), starring Andre Braugher. FX has a pretty good record with its original series, so these will probably get added to the regular rotation.

As if that weren't enough, Eyes debuted last night, and it looks pretty enjoyable. Plus, Lost and Desperate Housewives are back with new episodes, after both taking several-week long hiatuses.

DAMN! Even Chauncey Gardiner would tell me, "You watch too much TV."

Mitch Hedberg

Mitch Hedberg has died at the age of 37.

Right now, Yahoo only has a link posted which will take you to the full story at (Mitch was a native of St. Paul); if you look for the story directly at TwinCities, you'll have to register.

This is heartbreaking. I saw Mitch in concert last October. At the time, he was the only comedian I had ever seen in concert (along with his co-headliner, Stephen Lynch). The only other comedian I've ever seen in concert was George Carlin, a month later, which shows you how highly I regarded Mitch's comedy, the company I considered him a part of.

I spent a lot of time in my review of his show talking about how poorly the audience behaved, and not enough about how wonderful Mitch was despite that. He radiated goodwill and humor and positivity and charisma.

His death is also infuriating. If it's drug-related -- and really, a heart attack at 37, how could it not be? -- it's such a senseless waste of talent. Apparently, he was on the verge of making his first HBO Comedy Special, which means he was on the verge of becoming huge. I'm angry I'll never get to see that -- that he never got to see that. I'm heartbroken I'll never see him perform live again.

Rest in peace.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

COMICS: Wed. 3/30/05 (spoilery)

Concrete: I was lying on the couch reading my comics. When I got to the last page of Concrete, I sat bolt upright, knocking all my other comics to the floor. I may even have yelped. Holy cow, I was not expecting that. We knew there were changes happening to Concrete's body, and that they would most likely tie directly into the overpopulation theme of the series. But I assumed that Concrete was developing reproductive organs of his own, not that he was already baking a Concrete Jr. in his rocky oven! (Strangely, it made me think of my favorite line from Raising Arizona: "Her insides were a rocky place, where my seed could find no purchase.") The rest of the issue was as smart and well-told as always (although it was no surprise that Larry's one night stand got pregnant, though the revelation was presented with artistic creativity, if not narrative creativity. And that conspiracy nut character is fairly lazily assembled; who do you think he's going to kill, or try to kill: Maureen, Larry, or Mini-'crete?), but that ending is a real kick in the teeth.

JLA: Classified: I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League. I didn't even read Identity Crisis, and this comic still gives me the creeps. It's light and fun, and Guy Gardner is always a hoot, but still, all that Sue Dibny pregnancy humor: creepy.

Countdown to Infinite Crisis: Made even creepier by my reading this the same day (I didn't pick up JLA: Classified last week). Switching right from Booster Gold and Blue Beetle wacky hijinks into this thing... creepy. Way to make me care about Blue Beetle for the first time since... well, ever, only to kill him off on the last page (even though it's been fairly well bandied-about on the intar-web for the past few weeks that that was what was going to happen). I will give the writers credit: they actually did get me to care about Blue Beetle, if only a little, and only for a little while. But that feat is outweighed by the many things this comic does wrong. I don't think I can enumerate the blatant and subtle ways in which this comic doesn't work in nearly as great detail as Brian Cronin does, in oh-so-Socratic fashion, at Comics Should Be Good (which blog I have just added to my sidebar). Suffice to say: I don't buy the villain, I don't buy his scheme, I don't buy his need (nor the writers' need) to kill Blue Beetle, I don't buy his inability to kill Beetle before then if he actually wanted to, I don't buy the contemptuous fashion in which the other heroes treat Beetle (especially Batman, who may be a dick, but is -- or should be -- smart enough not to dismiss the suspicions of someone with Beetle's intelligence), and if this comic hadn't been one dollar, I wouldn't have bought the comic at all. Well done, DC, suckering me into sampling your big, dumb, clumsy mega-crossover. Bad job at giving me any reason to stick around for any of the rest of it, though.

Still to read: Fantastic Four and Grimjack. More tomorrow.

Some requests from you, and a request from me

I've gotten a couple of email requests which I'd like to take care of.

Nik Dirga asks me to let you know about his Jay's Days contest, being held at his blog, Spatula Forum. Three lucky winners will receive various comics by autobiographical cartoonist Jason Marcy, including his Jay's Days graphic novels, volumes 1 and 3. I've never read anything by Marcy, but Nik makes his work sound interesting enough that I plan on picking something of his up on my next trip to the comics shop. And all you have to do to get them for free is relate a story about your most embarrassing moment, in the grand tradition of autobiographical cartoonists everywhere. Deadline is April 15. Good luck!

Andrew Barlow sent the following message:

Came across your site. Thought this might interest you:"

You will be shocked -- shocked! -- to learn that Andrew Barlow is the author of a book being promoted at that site. I know I was. I'm assuming this is some kind of mass-spamming campaign. And yet, young Barlow (or the unpaid intern scouting bloggers to target and signing his name) is correct: I am interested. The book is called A Portrait of Yo Mama as a Young Man, and it looks very funny indeed. It's described by one blurb on the site as a "James Joyce autobiographical novel/snaps send-up." Some sample quotes:

"Yo mama's so ugly, when she drops something in public, heterosexual men assist her only out of altruism, or in the hope that another, more attractive woman is watching."

"Yo mama's so Abraham Lincoln, when someone comes up behind her and shoots her in the head, they say 'Sic semper tyrannis' afterwards."

That's weird. And funny. Plus, there's a blurb from David Cross on the site: "Be careful -- contents inside have been deemed... funny!" I find it hard to believe he wrote that with a straight face, but hey, a David Cross endorsement is sure to guarantee quality. (Unless he's talking about Run, Ronnie, Run.) It looks worth checking out. (I would call it a comedic masterpiece, but he only sent me an email instead of a free review copy.)

And now my request to you, the typical search engine user who has stumbled across my site. I find it admirable that you have come to my blog on a quest for "Mageina Tovah" or "Debra Wilson," as my referral logs indicate so very many of you have. Tovah is a fine young actress, and Wilson is a very funny performer. However, I would appreciate it if you would not end every single one of those searches with "+tits". Thank you.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

TV: Tuesday night dilemma

After a few weeks of reprieve due to reruns, my Tuesday TV dilemma returns tonight. I can only TiVo two shows at once, and tonight at 9:00 are not two, not three, but four excellent programs all at once.

I'm most faithful to Scrubs. I think it's the best sitcom on the air, along with Arrested Development. But then there's also Veronica Mars, which is one of the best new shows of the year. A lot of plot threads finally look to be coming together tonight, after leaving us on a cliffhanger a month ago. It's gonna be great!

Both shows have been airing repeats for the past few weeks, which has allowed me to catch up a little on House, which is great primarily for Hugh Laurie's performance in the lead role, and despite a certain uniformity of the medical cases. "This person is sick. It looks like it's this, but it's not. It might be this, or this, or this, but really, it's this." (Even this week's episode description at Yahoo seems to acknowledge the repetitiveness: "House and his team blame an adverse reaction on diet pills when an obese 10-year-old girl is admitted after having a heart attack, but ultimately they find another cause for her illness." "Ultimately they find another cause for her illness." NO! YOU DON'T SAY!! That's completely unlike every other episode!!)

And the repeats have also allowed me to get hooked on the beginning of the new season of The Amazing Race -- still the best reality show on TV. It's been a lot better this year than last, primarily due to the inclusion of Survivor alums Boston Rob and Amber, who make an wickedly devious and entertaining team.

Tonight, I need to drop two of these shows. Dammit!

I think House will be the easiest for me to cut. I've gotten addicted to it over the past few weeks, but I've missed enough of it already to know I can live without it. But that still leaves a very difficult decision. I think it might have to be Scrubs that goes, purely for the practical reason that it will most likely be repeated at some future date, whereas Amazing Race and Veronica Mars probably will not; Veronica might not even survive to next season, so if I'm going to catch it, it's got to be now.

Yep, it's a rough life I lead, isn't it? Pray for me.

Monday, March 28, 2005

FIELD TRIP: The Museum of Television and Radio

This Saturday, Ian and I took a trip down to Beverly (Hills, that is -- swimming pools, movie stars) to visit The Museum of Television and Radio. Now that, my friends, is my kinda museum.

I'm glad Ian suggested it, because not only had I never been to the museum before, I had never even been to Beverly Hills before. Which, considering I've lived less than two hours away most of my life, is kind of odd. Although, really, what reason would I have had for going to Beverly Hills? I'm not exactly a Versace/Louis Vuitton/Armani kind of guy. I'm a flannel and dirty jeans kind of guy. In fact, while we were walking around, I was afraid we were going to be arrested for violating the dress code. (By the police who are too good for normal police cars: all the ones we saw were either on bikes, or driving SUVs. Weird.)

I mean, look at this Google description for the Versace website: "Versace is a cutting-edge fashion designer of luxury goods, fragrances, accessories and lifestyle for men and women." You just have to say "luxury goods," and I'm already out. I fold. But designer of lifestyles? Criminy! How frickin' rich do you have to be to pay someone to design your lifestyle? Here's my lifestyle designer: my paycheck. It dictates how much I can spend on fun stuff while still maintaining the lifestyle to which I am accustomed, i.e.: poverty plus. Wouldn't it be nice to have enough money to tell someone: "It doesn't even occur to me to worry about surviving rent and food expenditures for the month. Foist upon me your most expensive rugs, your most bejeweled of watches, your solid gold Slinkys."

Anyhoo. We were walking around BH (as we cool-ass mofos like to refer to it) because the Museum was overbooked for the early afternoon, and we couldn't get into the library for a couple of hours. We looked around the building for a while, especially at the plethora of Al Hirschfeld prints adorning the walls. (Count the "Nina"s!) And then we walked the streets for a while to kill time. And I was endlessly amazed, what with all the super-duper-upscale boutiques, the fancy-shmancy sidewalk cafes, and the ridiculously trendy outfits of the average pedestrian. I mean, there was a frickin' 10-year-old girl with a be-tassled, rhinestone-covered, spaghetti-strapped top. That has to be an omen of the next Great Flood. I kept thinking, "So this is the L.A. you see in the movies all the time!" Because I've only ever seen the crappy L.A., the one you see on the way to the airport. (Although Ian suggested, "I don't think Beverly Hills thinks of itself as part of L.A.")

Then back to the Museum. There's a room full of computers, on which you select the programs you'd like to watch (out of the 120,000 available -- which, surprisingly, is scarcely a drop in the bucket of the history of television), and then you move to the viewing area, outfitted with headphones, at which you watch a videotape of your requested programs, controlled with VCR-style <<, >, and >> buttons.

We had to wait until 3:00 to get into the library, and the Museum closed at 5:00. So we could only select two hours of programming. And I sat there at the computer for minutes on end, wishing I had put even the slightest amount of thought into the trip. I had no idea what I wanted to see. Finally, I settled on WKRP In Cincinnati, because I wanted to see an episode with the original music intact. My search turned up a seminar held at the Museum in 1994 (which was right after the demise of The New WKRP in Cincinnati), with the entire cast plus various writers and producers in attendance, prefaced by two uncut episodes: "Clean Up Radio Everywhere," which is an extremely well-written and thoughtful episode about a religious group (the eponymous C.U.R.E.) that wants to censor WKRP's rock 'n roll playlist, yet is portrayed as earnest and genuine, rather than corrupt opportunists, with the station's employees also finding themselves on different sides of the dilemma; and "Turkeys Away," which has to be counted as one of the five funniest TV shows of all time -- "As God is my witness, I though turkeys could fly," is every bit as immortal a TV comedy line as "A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants," or, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

I was disappointed with the very poor quality of the host of the seminar. It seemed like they just pulled someone off the street, or grabbed a first day intern, to run the proceedings. When he started things off by introducing "Lori Anderson," I actually blurted, "Oh god" out loud in the library. (Fortunately, like me, everyone else was wearing headphones.) How in the FUCK do you host a panel on WKRP and not know Loni Anderson's name? Fortunately, most of the seminar consisted of fielding questions from the audience. The one question I was most interested in -- "What's up with the music rights?" -- was answered briefly and almost dismissively. In 1994, home videos of TV shows had barely begun to materialize, and DVDs were non-existent. When the shows were first made, one producer answered, music rights could be purchased for five years, or in perpetuity. They made the grave mistake of purchasing them for five years. When that time was up, the renewal rights had gone through the roof, so, for syndication, it was decided that most of the music could be replaced. Big mistake. So many episodes depended on the original music; without it, the episodes are hollow shells of what they should be. I tell you what: if I ever win the lottery, I'm going to donate a huge chunk of it to music rights for WKRP. Because, without a similar kind of intercesssion, that show will never be released on DVD. And that would suck ass.

The other show I watched at the Museum was a seminar on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The seminar was in 2000 (before the election, and the brilliant Indecision 2000 coverage), when Stewart had only been the host for 10 months. And still had brown hair. (Damn, he went grey fast!)

The host of this seminar was even more incompetent than the one for WKRP. He kept ignoring Stewart, and looking to producer Madeleine Smithberg for answers, to the point where Stewart was getting demonstrably pissed. Smithberg was at the end of the row of attendees (which also included Stephen Colbert, Vance DeGeneres, and Paul Mercurio), and Stewart was at the head, right next to the host. After being neglected for minutes on end, Stewart finally said to Smithberg, "Do you want to switch seats? I mean, I took a fucking taxi to be here." After which, the host still ignored him and favored Smithberg. The douchebag. It was a tremendously poor showing by a host who should've been able to just step back and let his interview subjects control the program. He wasn't able to do that, and it resulted in a seemingly endless, The Office-style unintentional awkwardness and humiliation.

Despite the bad hosts: I loved seeing those seminars. I'd love to see more, like those conducted earlier this year (which have not yet been submitted to the library) for Lost, Desperate Housewives, and, most coveted of all, Deadwood. Even better, I'd like to see one of those seminars in person. It appears the seminar series is done for 2005, and won't start again until 2006. Now that Ian has helped me discover this Museum, I plan on paying close attention to next year's schedule. And I plan on returning to the Museum's library very soon. I just need to think about what I want to see before I go.

Sunday, March 27, 2005


Passed to me from Ian, here is my excuse not to have to come up with an original idea today. I mean, my response to the current book meme.

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

If it weren't for Ian's response to this question, I would have no idea what this meant. It's been a very long time since I've read F451. So: which book would I like to memorize and recite to keep its memory alive? It would be too easy to copy Ian and say a Seuss book (which, if I did, by the way, it would be the brilliant The Lorax), so I'll say... The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I love Twain, and that book still provokes attempts at censorship and banning, so it seems fairly worthy of protection and preservation in real life, let alone in F451's dystopian world.

The Satanic Verses would be my second choice. And Nicholson Baker's Vox would be my third, just because I think it would be funny to have to constantly recite a novel that's basically one long phone sex conversation.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany's, but that might just be because you can't read that story and not think of Audrey Hepburn. I'm strangely proud of myself that that's the only one that immediately leaps to mind. Now, if you wanted my television crushes... that would take some time to tell, my friend.

The last book you bought is:

Jasper Fforde's Lost in a Good Book, the second in the Thursday Next series.

The last book you read:

Oh, man. I honestly can't remember the most recent book I actually finished. It's probably Lemony Snicket's The Grim Grotto, which is a fine, fun read... but that still makes me a little sad. Tom needs to graduate to grown-up books! Also, that must've been a good two months ago. Criminy, I used to read a book a week, easily. What's happened to me??

The book before that, I think, was The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction. Also a fine, fun book, but hardly a challenging read.

What are you currently reading?

I'm in the middle of so many books, it's ridiculous. I can't finish a damn book! I keep starting one book, putting it aside, starting a second book, going back to the first book, starting a third, going back to the second... it's lame. I have next to no time for reading these days (or next to no patience, possibly), so when I do read something that requires longer attention than a children's book or a humor book, I find myself unable to muster that attention, and move on to something else.

Here's a (probably incomplete) list of books I'm somewhere in the middle of:

Stephen King's The Dark Tower (I've waited 20 years for this series to wrap up, and now I can't get myself to finish reading it.)
Tim Dorsey's Florida Roadkill (Most likely to actually be finished by me sometime in the near future.)
Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver (It's great, but it's just so darn heavy! And there are two more books in the series!)
Jonathan Lethem's Amnesia Moon (It's been a long time since I even opened that book; I don't know if I can fairly call it "current" reading anymore.)
Mickey Spillane's Survival... Zero! (It's a tiny book, but I only read, like, five pages at a time, every other week or so. So it's taken me over a year, and I still haven't finished. This is my emergency back-up book; if I'm somewhere away from home and find I have nothing else to read, this book is in my car.)

Five books you would take to a deserted island.

I loved Ian's answer to this, but again, I don't want to copy. I think I'll name five books I'd like to read, but don't think I ever will unless I'm on a deserted island.

David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest
Thomas Pynchon's Vineland (Or maybe Gravity's Rainbow.)
James Joyce's Ulysses (The heavily annotated version.)

...and, hell, I gotta have some fun, right?

Stephen King's The Stand
Charles Schulz's The Complete Peanuts (Vol. 2 -- but only because Vol. 3 hasn't come out yet.)

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Man, I don't know. Let's say Dorian, because he probably secretly wants to do it, but won't unless someone specifically invites him; Bill Sherman, one of my absolute favorite bloggers -- his encyclopedic knowledge of all things pop culture, and ability to write so eloquently and entertainingly about it, constantly amazes me; and Beaucoup Kevin, who knows the Shat is the man, and who is currently in the middle of a music meme. Here's another meme, sucker! Haw-haw!

Friday, March 25, 2005

COMICS: Wed. 3/23/05

Kind of a light week for me at the comics shop.

Spider-Man/Human Torch: Some of the silliest things in the history of Marvel Comics meet in this issue -- the Spider-Mobile, Red Ghost and his Super Apes, the Hostess Fruit Pies ads, and the way every bad guy used to be a Commie spy -- and yet Peter Parker's eternal, overpowering guilt is still portrayed seriously and touchingly. Dan Slott is frickin' awesome. And Ty Templeton's art is pure retro delight. I feel like I'm repeating myself every time a new issue comes out, but I just love this book. This is one of the funniest, coolest, most entertaining comics Marvel has published since -- well, since Slott's She-Hulk. Or since...

Runaways: ...this book. This was another fine issue. The reboot is off to a great start. So, are the Runaways being played for saps? Or is "Excelsior," the former teen superhero support group? Or are they both? Is Victor really bad? And who is his father, supposedly the greatest evil in the universe? Good story (if a little too heavily steeped in Marvel continuity -- those are some damn obscure characters in Excelsior), and great art -- Alphona can crack me up with pretty much any facial expression he draws for Molly.

The Manhattan Guardian: Another Seven Soldiers tie-in, with only, oh, twenty-seven more to come. I guess I really am going to try to keep up with the individual issues, rather than waiting for the TPBs sometime down the road. This new issue was every bit as entertaining as the previous two in this massive crossover -- in fact, due to its being a little more straightforward and accessible, perhaps even more entertaining. I just worry that months from now, I won't remember what's come before, I won't be able to tell what's going on, and I won't care. It could go either way, with Grant Morrison.

New Avengers: Dorian was happy to see me get this; he said, "Oh good, I can make fun of at least one of your picks this week." And I can scarcely bring myself to disagree with him. I mean, look at this goddam cover (click for full size):

Image hosted by

Good lord. That is embarrassing. With emphasis on the "ass". As Dorian rightly wondered, how can her spine even bend like that in the first place? Especially with those sandbags on her chest weighing her down.

I don't know. For the humor and the banter, I still find myself liking this title. Despite its glaring flaws. Such as: Wolverine is a major member of this new team, and it's only now, in issue 4, in the last panel, that he's making an appearance. For Bendis, though, that's prompt. What's the rush? Why not pad it out another dozen issues first? Also, I am sick to death of the Xerox school of art. I like Finch's art; I do not like it when he uses five copies of the same talking head panel on the same page. I hope they don't pay him the full page rate when he does that.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

MOVIES: The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie

I'm a bit under the weather, hence no update yesterday. And a quick one today.

What's the best comfort movie to rent when you're feeling sick? Why, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, of course. It worked for me, anyway.

If you're predisposed to liking the goofy little yellow guy, you'll like the film. If you're not, you probably won't. (Unless the idea of a bizarre live-action cameo of David Hasselhoff showing up to save the day appeals to you. And why wouldn't it?) I am, and I did.

It's the little, almost throw-away lines and moments that make SpongeBob such an appealing cartoon character. For example, at the beginning of the movie, SpongeBob is excited about a promotion he thinks he's going to get. So he goes to talk about it with his neighbor and co-worker, Squidward -- who is in the shower at the time. "We can talk about this at work!" Squidward says, appalled. Perplexed, SpongeBob replies with cold, irrefutable logic: "But there's no shower at work."

There are a couple of neat guest stars. Jeffrey Tambor plays King Neptune. Scarlett Johansson is his daughter, Mindy. I was pleased to see Mageina Tovah in a minor role, as a movie usher in the live action parts of the film; you probably don't know her name, but you might recognize her as the mousy Glynis on Joan of Arcadia, or as the (of course) mousy daughter of Peter's slumlord in Spider-Man 2. Weirdest/coolest of all, Alec Baldwin plays Dennis, the bounty hunter out to squash SpongeBob and Patrick.

Also, did you know Clancy Brown was the voice of Mr. Krabs? He's probably best known these days as Brother Justin on Carnivale, but he's also done a great deal of voiceover work, most notably as Lex Luthor on the various WB cartoons. I never made the connection before; Krabs is very different from his normal voice, much higher. I just thought that was cool.

And yes, there's the Hasselhoff. A climactic battle in the film takes place on the back of Hasselhoff, complete with disturbing close-ups of his leathery skin and hairy legs. Even more disturbing is watching the Special Features on the DVD, and discovering they actually built a 13-foot tall replica of Hasselhoff to film those scenes. Shudder.

The plot is... oh, it doesn't really matter. If ever there were a film 100% pre-sold to its target audience, this is it. If I tell you, "Plankton finally gets the secret recipe for the Krabby Patty, and uses it to take over Bikini Bottom," and you have even the slightest idea what I'm talking about, you've almost certainly already seen this movie. I'd like to think those that aren't familiar with SpongeBob would still enjoy this movie... but I wouldn't bet on it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

TV: Sucker Free City

Sucker Free City could have been amazing. It could have been The Sopranos for Showtime. Instead, the execs at Showtime balked at turning the pilot into a full series, because they wanted the pilot's director, Spike Lee, to stick around and direct a majority of the episodes, and Lee, not surprisingly, had other things to do. (Like wasting his talent on shitty movies like She Hate Me.) It's business decisions like that that make Showtime a distant afterthought to HBO's overwhelming market dominance.

At least the pilot did get made, a full two-hour Spike Lee joint. It takes place in the most dangerous neighborhoods of my favorite city in the world, San Francisco. Sucker Free = S.F. Get it?

Sucker Free City follows three of the city's street gangs, one white, one black, one Chinese. Well, the white one isn't so much a gang as one person, Nick Wade, played by Ben Crowley. His family has been forced out of their home in the Mission District by the yuppie-fication of the neighborhood that followed the Internet boom, and the attendant skyrocketing real estate prices. Nick's family moves to Hunter's Point, a predominantly black, crime-ridden zone. Nick's dabbled in credit card theft and minor dope deals till then; after the move, he gets drawn into more serious and violent crime.

The V-Dubs are the gang that HQs across the street from Nick's new home. K-Luv is a soldier rising through the ranks, but still is enough his own man to counsel his 12-year-old sidekick that he could be much more if he just stayed out of crime. You get the impression K-Luv got the same advice as a kid, and ignored it. K-Luv reminds me of Deadwood's Al Swearengen, so much smarter than the people around him, so much better able to see the big picture, but still given to ruthless violence. It's a great performance by Anthony Mackie, all suppressed vulnerability and smoldering intelligence.

Ken Leung plays Lincoln, who collects protection money for the Chinese mafia in Chinatown, and who is recklessly getting in over his head. He's romancing the boss's daughter, who is already engaged to a boy the boss approves of; and he's skimming profits, which leads to a confrontation with the always great James Hong, who plays a local businessman who's wise to Lincoln's treacherous behavior, and threatens him with blackmail. Lincoln is headstrong and careless, but he's also tremendously proud of his heritage; a standout moment is when he tries to instill that pride in his younger brothers by reminding them that Yao Ming dunked on Shaq.

K-Luv shares that racial pride -- another fine scene is when he explains the colors of his headband to his sidekick: red for his blood, black for his skin, green for mother Africa. Nick, on the other hand, has no pride. He's a white boy with no culture but what he's stolen from his black neighbors, and he's ashamed of his family, led by hippie parents John Savage and Kathy Baker. Savage plays the kind of foolishly idealistic artist who sees the bars on the windows of his new house in Hunter's Point, and thinks of them as metaphorical barriers to be removed. Problem is, his new neighbors see them only as literal barriers, and once Savage takes them down, they rob his house.

The three main characters clash when the V-Dubs become aware of the rampant bootlegging in Chinatown of the rap album of one of their members, Killa Ski. K-Luv sees the upside of bootlegging -- low risk, low violence, high profit -- and enlists Nick in the scheme, because he can't figure out how to burn CDs on the laptop he stole from Nick. Nick gets the laptop back, and a new friend and ally. K-Luv then invades Lincoln's territory in Chinatown with his bootlegs; when Lincoln comes to confront him, K-Luv proposes that, in exchange for preventing the piracy of Killa Ski's album in Chinatown, he'll cut Lincoln in on his new operation. It's another great scene, with K-Luv proving unquestionably that he's the one dealing from a position of strength, but still allowing Lincoln to keep his pride.

There's so much going on in this pilot; it's an embarrassment of riches, from the acting, to the smart, tough, intricate writing, to Spike Lee's trademark visual flair. It's a heartbreaker the continuing series never developed. Sucker Free City is a great set-up, but it's almost all set-up; dozens of threads are left unresolved at the end of the two hours. I watched this during a free preview weekend of Showtime, and found myself wanting more; Showtime's failure to provide more is why Showtime is completely inessential.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Did I mention she was smokin' hot?

Remember when I noted that odd piece of trivia on Bonnie Hunt's IMDB bio page: "Has never done a nude scene or posed nude in her career."

What an incredibly odd and irrelevant thing to observe, I thought. And then I saw this note on Jill Hennessy's IMDB page, which I think tops it by a mile:

"Bears a strong facial resemblance to Gloria Root, Playboy's December 1969 Playmate (as photographed in her gatefold appearance)."

Bears a strong facial resemblance??? Not even "is related to"? Just, "kinda looks like"? Dude. I'm always in favor of random Playboy references, but that is really reaching.

I get the sneaking suspicion that there's one IMDb contributor going to every single actress's bio page and making sure there's at least one allusion to nudity, no matter how jarringly unrelated to the actress or her career it might be.

"Audrey Hepburn: often took showers completely naked." "Grace Kelly: frequently nude beneath her clothing." "Doris Day: had two breasts (unconfirmed)."

Are you still here?

...Okay, I know what you're looking for. Yes, I found a picture of the Gloria Root centerfold. If I link to it, will you promise not to click on it at work? Deal?

Here you go.* I guess there's a little bit of a resemblance, if you squint.

You're welcome. Never let it be said I don't perform a public service at this blog.

*EDIT: How sad is it that I looked at that picture and found myself thinking, "I wonder how much that original pressing of Axis: Bold As Love on vinyl would be worth these days?"

TV: Crossing Jordan

I watched Crossing Jordan last night, for the first time in a long while. I used to watch every episode, back when it first premiered in 2001. I liked the cast, including the always-entertaining Miguel Ferrer; Ken Howard, the ol' White Shadow himself; and the smokin' hot Jill Hennessy, who played the lead role, kind of a Quincy in belly shirts. I liked the characters, but the show in general was a fairly generic medical/crime drama, like... well, Quincy. But with CSI-style cadaver-invading FX.

Last night's episode featured the return of Ken Howard -- apparently, he's been missing for a while. That's not why I watched it; it was just random chance I happened to check it out. But I'll tell you what, I'm sorry I did. The actors are trying their best, but that was some of the worst writing I have ever seen on TV. It was just horrible. Awful, awful, awful. Insanely stupid plot twists, laughably unbelievable revelations, holes you could drive a bus through, characters acting like complete idiots. I could give examples, but it makes my head hurt to think about it for too long. (Okay, here's one: while Jordan and her kind-of boyfriend, a cop played by Jerry O'Connell, are searching the apartment of a murder victim, the lights suddenly go out, and O'Connell gets locked in the bedroom. He calls out to Jordan, who doesn't answer. Now, keep in mind: he is a cop. Does he immediately realize Jordan is in trouble? Does he bust down the door, or shoot the lock with his gun? No, he rattles the knob weakly and says, "Come on, Jordan, open the door. Jordan?" And so on. Meanwhile, the bad guy is cracking Jordan's skull against the wall and kidnapping her. Cop: "Come on, open the door!" That is the worst cop ever. And that is supremely bad writing.) And it wasn't just a bad new writer; the episode was written by Tim Kring, who created the show. How the hell did this thing survive into its fourth season? (Oh, yeah: Jill Hennessy = smokin' hot.)

After letting Jordan slip off my schedule midway through the second season, I gave a couple episodes a chance last year, and was disappointed enough to give up watching again. They featured a new, incredibly obnoxious character, played by the incredibly obnoxious actress Jennifer Finnigan, who has since gone on to star in Committed, which I hate, hate, hate, and which proves that Finnigan either has tremendously bad luck in choosing projects, or tremendously good luck at finding her appropriate level in the TV spectrum.

I think I've been cured of any desire to ever watch this show again. If I need a dose of Miguel Ferrer, I'll watch RoboCop. Hell, I'll watch RoboCop anyway. You can never watch enough RoboCop! And if I need some smokin' hot Jill Hennessy, I'll watch Law & Order. I'm sure there must be some station somewhere that shows repeats of it.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

MOVIES: Kinsey

Just so I don't skip the entire weekend without a post, here's a quick rundown of Kinsey, which I saw Saturday.

I can imagine an awful lot of people still being shocked and upset by the content in this movie; in fact, I can imagine people being more shocked by it now than they would've been thirty years ago. Which makes the film all the more relevant and essential.

Liam Neeson is very good, but it's his co-stars who really stand out. Laura Linney, well, I just love her, so I'm biased. But that doesn't mean she isn't still excellent. Which she is. Peter Sarsgaard, who was in a similarly sexually intense and progressive film, The Center of the World, is really incredible -- it's a strong, brave performance, in many ways. Chris O'Donnell was a little distracting. He seemed really miscast, as he usually does in any role with a greater depth than Robin. But there are so many other interesting supporting characters brought to life by a variety of excellent actors, from Oliver Platt to Dylan Baker to a hilariously cast-against-type Tim Curry, whose sexual repressive is diametrically opposed to his most memorable role of Frank N. Furter, and John Lithgow as Kinsey's cruel zealot of a father, who begins the film with a speech against the various temptations of the world; you can't help but picture him banning that obscene rock and roll music, with its gospel of easy sexuality and relaxed morality.

Kinsey feels very current and vital; the sexual repression of Kinsey's age seems to have reawakened in the last couple of years, what with a one-second, long-distance, televised exposure of a woman's nipple during a sporting event destroying the moral fiber of our society and all. I don't doubt Kinsey would face similarly vocal and misguided opponents to his revolutionary studies were he to have begun them last week, as opposed to 60 years ago.

The film takes a fair look at Kinsey's life, I think. It portrays him as both a genius and an unhealthy obsessive; it shows the good he performed, as well as the harm he unwittingly or uncaringly did to those close to him. I thought the direction was a little uneven; some of the imagery was a little heavy-handed, and the film dragged a bit during the later parts, those concerned with Kinsey's downfall from favor and fame.

But I liked it a great deal. It's a good story, with unusual characters and a healthy sense of humor, about an incredibly interesting and influential figure in our country's social development. If it hadn't been for Kinsey, how much more messed up would we still be?

Friday, March 18, 2005

MUSIC: Live Albums

One humiliating musical confession first: I was listening to this song on the radio I'd never heard before, and I really liked it. I loved the woman's voice, and the song was a pretty solid rocker, but I kept thinking to myself, I know who this is. I was thinking it was some cool indie alterna whatever. Grrl. Whatever.

Then the DJ comes on and says, "That was Kelly Clarkson with 'Since U Been Gone'."


Unclean... so unclean... I keep scrubbing, and scrubbing, but the stain is on my soul.


Yesterday, I declared The Who's Live at Leeds to be the greatest live album ever. In the comments, Chris Brown let me know that I was quite the chump and doofus (but he said it more nicely) for believing so -- that indeed, The Allman Brothers At Fillmore East reigned supreme.

He's wrong, of course; he could not be more wrong. In fact, let us all laugh at him. HA HA HA!! Actually, I don't think I've ever heard that album. It's probably very good. It's just that I'm automatically predisposed to declare anything Who-related to be the best, and ain't nothing ever gonna change my mind about that. But then he named a couple other great live albums, like Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense (from the film directed by Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme) and the Band's The Last Waltz (from the film directed by non-Oscar-winner Martin Scorsese), and then Ian chimed in with Foghat, because he's just that crazy, and it got me to thinking about my own live album favorites.

I'd probably put Neil Young's Rust Never Sleeps right at the top. It's a brilliant album from beginning to end, half-acoustic, half hard-rocking with Crazy Horse -- "Pocahontas," "Powderfinger," the quirky "Welfare Mothers," and of course the bookends "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue" and "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" -- but what makes it truly remarkable is that the entire album is all-new material, recorded entirely in concert. How many other performers have ever done something like that?

Okay, I can think of one right off the bat: Jackson Browne, who did it with Running on Empty. Well, it wasn't recorded entirely onstage (though some of it was, especially the tremendous title track), but it was recorded entirely on the road, in such unusual places as the tour bus, or his hotel room. It's uneven, and it may be cheating to include it on a list of proper live albums -- but here we are.

I've got Joe Jackson's Live 1980/86 on vinyl (a double album), and I still listen to it all the time. It's great stuff. He really reinvents his music in concert. There are three versions of "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" recorded on separate tours, and each one is so creatively, inventively different. "Slow Song" is another standout; the studio version is fine, but in concert it's overwhelming.

And let's make it an even five (counting The Who) with Barenaked Ladies' Rock Spectacle. This one captures only a fraction of the band's crazy, hysterical, unique live shows. You can always count on something new happening onstage, whether it's off-the-cuff comedic banter or an ad-libbed original song; the first time I saw them live, they improvised a rap about Boba Fett ("Boba Fett, super bounty hunter/Boba Fett, he's a bad motherfucker") that eventually led to Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger," which then turned into Weird Al's "Theme from Rocky XIII" (aka "The Rye or the Kaiser"). Like I said, only a fraction of that manic energy makes it onto this album, but a fraction is enough to make it a vital and endlessly enjoyable listen.

What about you peoples? What are your live album favorites? (And if this degenerates into a wild, bloody, knock-down, drag-out battle between the Frampton Comes Alive and Cheap Trick Live at Budokan factions -- well, all the better, really.)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Media Overload

I went on a shopping spree yesterday. In addition to my usual stop at the comics shop, I also picked up the DVD of The Incredibles (which amazed me yet again -- damn that's a great movie!), as well as three CDs:

--The Donnas, Gold Medal: I love The Donnas. And it's about time I picked up this latest album of theirs. I think it might take a while to grow on me; it didn't blow me away immediately, like their previous disc, Spend the Night (with its tremendous "Take It Off" single). The CD includes the very cool video for "Fall Behind Me," in which the Donnas inhabit a world of cheesy, 70s-style wall posters, with unicorns and rainbows and astrology symbols and black panthers and fire:

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--The Who, Live at Leeds: The Who is my favorite band of all time, yet I don't think I've ever actually owned this disc, which, according to many experts (Feb. 11 and Feb. 20 entries), is the greatest live album ever. I am not disinclined to agree. By which I mean, I agree. It kicks ass.

--The Presidents of the United States of America, The Presidents of the United States of America: I used to own this album. Then I didn't. Now I do again. I am happy.

As far as the comics go, I've only read three so far: Plastic Man, which takes some hilarious pokes at both teen conformity and big comic book crossover events; Hopeless Savages, which is always fun, and which I need to get more back issues of; and Young Avengers, which wasn't great, but still improved on the first issue, which was half really good, half eh.

More on the rest of my comics tomorrow. For tonight, I drink! Happy St. Patrick's Day to those who are Irish, and those who only wish they were (which is everyone else). And remember: an Irishman is never drunk so long as he can hold on to one blade of grass and not fall off the face of the Earth.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

TV: The Shield Season 4 Premiere (spoilers)

It's good to have it back! The Shield's fourth-season debut showed that this program still has as much kick as ever. As the show begins, everything's in disarray: the Strike Team's broken up, with only Vic and Ronnie remaining at the Barn -- Lemonhead's with the Youth Authority, and Shane's in Vice, as is only appropriate; Dutch and Claudette are in the doghouse with the D.A.'s office; Capt. Aceveda is halfway out the door to the City Council; and Glenn Close as Capt. Rawling is on her way in. (And what's going on with Danny's Detective training? Did she give up on that last season? I can't remember -- it's been a while.)

I've gotten so used to the intensity of Chiklis as Vic Mackey that it doesn't even register anymore how everyone else in the cast plays up to that same level... until Glenn Close puts them all into sharp contrast with her cool, soft-spoken performance. A little too cool, maybe; I expect we'll be seeing her kick it up a notch in weeks to come. But even with her quiet presence in this first episode, you can still tell she's going to be a match for Vic.

I loved the confrontation between Vic and Aceveda. Aceveda torpedoed Vic's hopes at a promotion to leading a city-wide task force, and he did it with pleasure. "Did you really think I wouldn't have the last word?" he says. It's not the last word yet; he might have put a knife in Vic's back, but as long as Vic's still alive, I don't think anyone but him gets the last word.

Anthony Anderson was also good in what appears will be a recurring role, as gang leader turned motivational speaker (and secretly still a gang leader) Antwon. It's a little hard to take seriously someone who's played second fiddle to a marsupial, but Anderson was strong and believable in his scenes. When he's got a hall full of current and ex-gangbangers chanting, "RESPECT! RESPECT!" -- man, that was a powerful moment.

Great beginning to the episode -- I loved Vic's defense of the rookie cop's shooting of the vicious dog: "He was reaching!" Complete with gun planted by the dog's paw. Dark humor, but if you're watching this show, then it probably cracked you up as much as it did me.

And great ending, too. Right at the end of the episode, I found myself suddenly realizing, hey, we haven't seen Shane yet! And who should Vic find ransacking the home of his freshly-murdered informant but good ol' Shane himself. Who shot the informant? Vic wants to know. "You want to sniff my gun?" Shane replies. Turns out Shane's looking for the dead man's PDA -- because it had Shane's name on it. Did Shane kill him? Is he working for Antwon? Man, who would've thought Vic had been a good influence on Shane all this time? Shane's turning more criminal than Vic ever was. I like it!

Not that Vic's going soft. His takedown of the child-beater was just as brutal as we've come to expect from him. Even more brutal are the murders that Dutch and Claudette investigate -- drowning a whole family in the bathtub, one by one, while the others watch, knowing they're next. There've been some bad deaths on this show, but that scenario really got to me. Just the thought of it is chilling.

I can't wait to see if Dutch turns on Claudette for sinking both their careers with her stand against the D.A., I can't wait to see what Shane's been up to, and I'd really like to see more of Danny -- her scenes training to make Detective with Dutch last year were great. All in all -- a fine start to the new season.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

TV: Potpourri

I've been unhappy with Joan of Arcadia this year, and I've apparently said so often enough for Bill Sherman to take note of it. Well, I finally watched the episode he talks about in that post, and I agree: it was great; the best episode of the year, as far as I'm concerned. Any episode with Constance Zimmer as ex-nun Lilly has got something going for it right off the bat -- she's swell -- and the episode as a whole was a belated but welcome return to the lightness and humor of the first season, with the uplifting but non-sappy message that sometimes you can change the lives of those around you for the better, without even being aware of it. One of the reasons I enjoyed the show so much its first year, despite my being an atheist, was that it was a smart, entertaining, feel-good show. (I have room in my dark little heart for about one of those.) But this year, until now, has been all about feeling bad. (And you can't make me feel much worse than by making me watch one of the Duff sisters try to act.) Hopefully we've turned that corner.

Tonight marks the fourth-season debut of The Shield, TV's finest drama. (What about The Sopranos, you ask? Or Deadwood? Remember, HBO isn't TV. Well, that's what their ads say!) Glenn Close debuts as the squad's new Captain (now that Capt. Aceveda has left the police -- but not the show, it appears -- for the city council), and I can't wait to see her tackle what's sure to be a meaty role. Michael Chiklis' Vic Mackey is one of the best, most complex TV characters ever created, and Chiklis is endlessly compelling in the role, but I may be an even bigger fan of Jay Karnes as the peerlessly brilliant but equally socially awkward Detective "Dutch" Wagenbach. Round that out with CCH Pounder's morally outraged Claudette Wyms and Walt Goggins as the oafish Shane Vendrell, and it boggles my mind why this show doesn't receive a boatload of Emmy nominations every year. It's brilliant, just brilliant. Watch it.

I love having my VH1 Classic back. Yesterday, I saw Night Ranger's "Sister Christian," and it renewed my belief in humanity.

I usually tape the Tuesday morning repeat of the Monday night Daily Show. The guest was Professor Harry G. Frankfurt, who has written a book (more of an essay, really) called On Bullshit. Jon Stewart went on and on about how if we were watching the 11PM or 1AM broadcast of the show, the word "bullshit" would not be censored. For those of us watching the 9AM rebroadcast, all we would hear was "bullbleep." True. However, when Frankfurt came out (he was actually already sitting at the couch when they came back from commercial, which was odd; I assume he has trouble walking), they showed an onscreen graphic of the book, whose title clearly read, large and unblurred, "Bullshit." Weird. So: written, okay; spoken, bad. That's a new one on me. Perhaps they assumed anyone who would actually object to the spoken, would be unable to comprehend the written?

TV: Best Brains vs. Cheap Seats

Well, I watched that Cheap Seats episode featuring the guys from Mystery Science Theater 3000 that I talked about yesterday. It could've been better.

The way Mike Nelson and the bots were inserted into the show was clumsy and abrupt. There was no advance notice -- just, all of a sudden, a snippet of the MST3K commercial segue music played, and those familiar silhouettes popped up at the bottom of the screen. No live, in-studio appearance, sadly. What's more, the silhouette footage itself was blatantly recycled; if you were paying attention, you could see the comments didn't synch up with the silhouettes -- in fact, the footage was looped, and simply repeated itself after a minute or so. And hosts Randy & Jason Sklar never even commented on the MST3K cameo. Disappointing.

The reason why they didn't comment, sadly, is that Mike, Tom, and Crow were making comments on Randy & Jason's comedy skits, rather than the sports footage. For a non-regular viewer of the show, it should be noted that the skits were much longer, and much lamer, than is typical of the show, obviously for the express purpose of generating more MST3K mockery. But that's really not how the whole MST3K thing works. They need something sincerely bad to mock; mockery of mock badness kind of defeats the purpose. If they had been allowed to comment on the sports footage for a segment (or two, or the whole show), I think that would've been much funnier, and much more suited to their comedic talents.

Some of you may be saying, "They were commenting on something sincerely bad -- the whole show is sincerely bad." Don't think I can't hear you. Wise asses. Anyway, I disagree. Last night's episode may not have been the best, but Randy & Jason still got off some pretty decent zingers. And I happen to find the Sklars inherently funny; their split-second timing and natural-born comedic chemistry (they are twins, after all) makes me laugh. And, hey, even when they're not at their peak, Mike, Tom, and Crow are still pretty damn funny. Definitely worth seeing for the MST3K completist.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Public Service Announcement

I've mentioned before ESPN Classic's Cheap Seats -- hosts Randy and Jason Sklar poke fun at old sports clips, in the tradition of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Well, thanks to Laurel's TV Picks, I see that tonight they're really doing it up in MST3K fashion: Mike Nelson, Crow T. Robot, and Tom Servo will be on the show.

I don't know if they're guest-hosting, or appearing in one brief segment, or what -- but come on!! How can you miss this? Answer: you can not! (Uh... unless you don't get ESPN Classic. Which is probably, like, 75% of you. Sorry.)

The show airs at 9PM, midnight, and 3AM Eastern time, which means... who knows what the hell time in the rest of the country. Check your local listings!

EDIT: Laurel tells me those are Central times, not Eastern. My TiVo lists the times as 7PM, 10PM, and 1AM -- that's Pacific. But I have DirecTV; it might be different on regular cable. I'm so confused!!

TV: Clone Wars

According to my TiVo, new episodes of Cartoon Network's Clone Wars will be airing next week, although the official site (linked above) says only "Season 3 Coming Soon," and this site seems convinced they'll begin airing May 21st, not March 21st. So maybe TiVo is wrong. Or I'm crazy. (It can be both.)

Whenever the new episodes are -- I can't wait. I can honestly say I am more excited about these five new three-minute long cartoons than I am for the actual Revenge of the Sith movie. The quality of the previous 20 Clone Wars episodes (directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, creator of Dexter's Laboratory and Samurai Jack) has been so vastly superior to the previous two feature films, it's not even funny. Chapter XIII of the cartoons, in which a weaponless Mace Windu battles an entire army of droids, using only the Force, was more exciting, action-packed, visually inventive, and just plain fun than anything in the films since the Speeder bike chase in Jedi.

In fact, I will go so far as to say, without reservation, Clone Wars is the best Star Wars product of any kind since Return of the Jedi. It's better than the novels (although there have been some excellent ones), it's better than the comics, it's better than the supposed improvements made to the original trilogy (HAN SHOOTS FIRST, GOD DAMN IT!!), it sure as hell is better than the two miserable prequels Lucas inflicted upon us all.

Will I still see Episode III? Of course. The pull of Star Wars is too strong to resist. And will I be as disappointed with it as I was with the last two? Almost certainly. Clone Wars is just more proof that Star Wars is in better hands with almost anyone but George Lucas.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

TV: Ebert & Roeper

This week on Ebert & Roeper, something happened which I think may be completely unprecedented in the more than 25 years Roger Ebert has been doing movie reviews on TV: he changed his mind.

In his review for Samuel L. Jackson's upcoming South African drama In My Country (inexplicably listed as Country of My Skull on IMDb), Ebert indicated that he was conflicted, that his thumb was sideways, but he eventually concluded that he was giving the film a marginal thumbs up (complete with onscreen thumbs up graphic). Richard Roeper then gave a much more negative review of the film. Ebert found himself in complete agreement with every one of Roeper's criticisms. And the scales fell from Ebert's eyes, and he said, and I quote, "Whoa!" And he changed his vote (complete with another onscreen graphic, this time thumbs down).

Dogs and cats living together! This has shaken me to my veriest soul. Ebert changed his opinion? Because of Roeper?? Whoa, indeed. Maybe he's mellowing with age. Or maybe he feels he can let his guard down in front of Roeper, who can't touch Ebert's knowledge and experience. You think Ebert ever would've admitted to being wrong in front of Gene Siskel? Not bloody likely. We're living in a new age, my friends.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

COMICS: Dorothy

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I love The Wizard of Oz mythology, even though I've never read any of the Baum books, because I'm an ass. But the Judy Garland movie, Geoff Ryman's Was, Salman Rushdie's "At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers" (found in his essay about the 1939 film), Gregory Maguire's Wicked, even the Oz Squad comics from about a decade ago, in which Dorothy and company were a gun-toting, crime-solving team -- anyone else remember that one?

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And now comes Dorothy, a fumetti (if that is the word I'm looking for, and I don't really care if it is) style comic book that reimagines young Dorothy Gale's first trip from Kansas to Oz.

I was so pre-sold on this comic it's not even funny. What a pleasant surprise that it should turn out to be so well done.

The first two issues are often beautiful, with photographs of live actors (primarily Catie Fisher as Dorothy) mixed with computer effects to create the cold, gray world of Kansas and the strange, colorful, alien world of Oz. The page layouts are strikingly creative, and the non-human characters are wonderful to behold.

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Dude. Flying monkeys. FLYING MONKEYS!!!

The photography and artwork is handled by Greg Mannino, and the script is by Mark Masterson, whose LiveJournal I had been reading for months before the comic ever came to my local shop. It's fine writing, especially good at creating the sense of detachment and alienation Dorothy feels from both Kansas and Oz, but I wish a little more of his hilariously weird sense of humor had made its way from his LJ to the comic.

Now to quibble, because I'm a dick.

The covers of the two comics are printed on flimsier paper than the interior pages. I don't like that. So there. At five bucks each, the price is steep, although considering the high production quality, and the greater-than-average page count (31 story pages in the first issue, counting the inside front cover, 33 in the second, and both with no advertising whatsoever), I can live with it. And something has to be done to make the photos a little more... active, I guess is the way to put it. In too many panels, Dorothy is all-too-obviously posed, which detracts from the reality of the comic. For example, in one panel, with her in a walking position, you can see both her feet planted flat on the ground. That ain't walking. That's standing still. In another, in which she is supposedly in mid-dive, mid-air, it's easy to see she's simply standing on her toes and spreading her arms wide. I don't know how that can be fixed -- more computerized blurring FX to simulate motion? I don't know. I just know it looks off.

My main complaint is an odd one, for me: Dorothy is aimed at mature readers. Dorothy, the character, is foul-mouthed and does drugs (well, she talks about past drug experiences; she's not, like, smoking a bong on-page). Now, I'm 100% pro-artistic freedom, 100% anti-censorship. I don't find the content morally objectionable or offensive or obscene. Watch: fuck. See? But... I don't see any reason for it. I think Dorothy could very easily have been an equally successful all-ages book -- more successful, in fact, in that it would have a much wider potential audience. I don't think it would have been difficult to make Dorothy just as believably disaffected a youth without cusswords; I don't think making her all hard-core and shit adds anything to the experience. "All-ages" doesn't have to mean childish, or simple, or bland; it doesn't mean Dorothy has to be squeaky clean, and doesn't have to limit her exclamations to "Golly gee!" I'm just sayin': I don't see the point. Maybe this was an intentional, market-savvy choice on the part of the comic's creators: perhaps research indicated no adult would be interested in a Wizard of Oz photo-comic that didn't have the word "motherfucker" in it somewhere. Perhaps this is just me. But there you have it.

I think the highest compliment I can pay this book is that it makes me feel like a chump for not having read the L. Frank Baum books -- an oversight I plan to correct soon. But, while it's faithful in many ways to the original creation, it succeeds at being its own thing; you don't need to know Oz to like Dorothy. This is an imaginative and entertaining comic. I'm eagerly anticipating issue three -- the Scarecrow!

Friday, March 11, 2005

TV: TiVo No Mo?

A compelling argument that TiVo's only hope for survival is a buyout by Apple. (Requires Salon Free Day Pass to read.)

Much as I don't want to hear it, TiVo, the company, is on its last legs. It's the creator, the innovator, but it's getting its legs cut out from under it by competing digital recorders. The underwhelming response to its new TiVoToGo system isn't helping. It's on the verge of creating what is referred to in the article as "the Perfect Machine" -- a media center that would connect your personal computers and your TVs and allow the easy, remote-controlled transfer of television shows, movies, music, and photos from one unit to another -- but it's also on the verge of bankruptcy. The author explains why he thinks the creation of the Perfect Machine will be a phenomenon, and why TiVo will need Apple's money, and Apple, TiVo's experience, to make it a reality.

I personally don't give a rat's ass about this Perfect Machine. I just don't want my TiVo to go away, and if Apple is what it takes, then bring 'em on!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

TV: 24, South Park

24 has continued to hold my interest this year. I got frustrated with it in the second season, and gave up on it in the third, due to its increasingly implausible (and yet, still predictable) plot twists, its lack of focus during the midway point, and, yes, primarily because of Kim, the dumbest character in the history of television. In this fourth season, Kim's gone, though the ridiculous twists remain -- how likely is it that Paul Raines would go from Kiefer's torture victim to his crime-solving partner in one hour? And all that crap with Erin Driscoll's daughter was ridiculous. Good riddance to the both of them, I say. (Though I suspect we'll be seeing more of Erin; there seem to be strong suggestions that her daughter's death was not a suicide.)

But it still does action better than any show on the major networks. As crazy and over-the-top as it gets, it still has me on the edge of my seat.

I do have one major complaint: the changes in volume. I have to crank up the volume for most of the show to catch all the whispered exchanges at CTU, then as we go to commercial, the booming bass sound effects for the ticking clock nearly blow the windows out of my house. Criminy! Turn it down a notch, would ya?

South Park's season premiere was last night, and I'll tell you what: I did not need to see that. We got to see Mr. Garrison getting a sex change operation, and intercut with the cartoon were actual, close-up, live-action film sequences of a sex change operation being performed. I can not believe Comedy Central allowed that to be aired. I'm always glad when boundaries are pushed and censorship is defied -- but dude, that was frickin' gross. Keep the surgical footage out of my cartoons, please. What's next, Patrick Star gets liposuction? (Film provided courtesy of Carnie Wilson.) Kim Possible gets breast implants? (Courtesy of Pam Anderson.) Barney Gumble gets a liver transplant? (Courtesy of Larry Hagman.) No, no, no!

It took an hour and a half to publish this update (assuming it ever does get published), which has become an increasingly common problem. Blogger sucks.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


Why isn't The Chris Isaak Show out on DVD? I remember watching it once or twice when I had Showtime a few years ago, and I caught an old episode during the Showtime free preview on DirecTV this weekend -- and it's a pretty decent show. It's not great, but Isaak has a very cool and likeable persona, there's an enjoyable romantic tension between him and Kristin Dattilo, who plays his agent (manager? I'm not sure) Yola, and Jed Rees as keyboardist Anson is a very funny comedic sidekick. And I just enjoy seeing the San Francisco locations -- on the show, Isaak is the house band for Bimbo's 365, which is a great little club. I'm guessing the problem with releasing it on DVD is probably the same problem with getting WKRP on DVD -- music rights. Presumably, all of Isaak's music rights would be easy to secure -- but he had a lot of musical guests on the show. Like, every episode. That could cause some difficulties, rights-wise.

Hey, speaking of DVDs, did you know NewsRadio Seasons One & Two are coming out on disc in May? (Just one week after Scrubs Season One is released. May will be an expensive month for me.) Depending on how I feel on a given day, I'll usually count NewsRadio as one of the five best sitcoms ever (along with such oldies but goodies as M*A*S*H, Cheers, Taxi, WKRP, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Seinfeld, and... well, see, I'm already over five. That's why it varies). The witty, rapid-fire verbal interplay between Dave Foley and Maura Tierney, the tremendous physical comedy of Andy Dick -- and of course, Phil Hartman. The genius of Phil Hartman. Dammit, I'm still mad about his death! It was a wonderful show. This DVD set is great news. Can't wait.

It's already all over the place, but I might as well mention it here, too: rumor has it -- and I'm sure it's an extremely tenuous rumor at best, but still -- rumor has it that Quentin Tarantino is in talks to direct the next Friday the 13th film. Tarantino does Jason? If that actually happened, the fanboy overload would make my head explode.

Speaking of fanboy overload, a brief word about this:

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If you squealed out loud the first time you saw this, or even if you just typed a post that included the word "*SQUEALS*", or some variation of such, and you are older than 13, you need to calm the fuck down. It's a very enjoyable children's fantasy series, but let's not go overboard. I mean, it's not a new Friday the 13th, for crying out loud!!!!!!11 *SQUEALS*

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

MOVIES: The Aviator

I finally got around to seeing The Aviator last night, and I'm glad I did. It's about as good as I expected, even with all the Oscar hype, yet still just a little shy of Scorsese's true greats, like Raging Bull or Goodfellas. But just a little.

I still have problems with accepting Leonardo DiCaprio as a leading man in an epic like this. An "epic" like Titanic, he fits right in. But a film with this grand a scope and vision, with such a powerful, compelling, troubled, and complex main character -- DiCaprio would not be my first choice. It took a while, but he did win me over, eventually; after the first half hour or so, I was only seeing Howard Hughes, not DiCaprio playing dress-up as Hughes. Still, I wish Scorsese had adopted, say, Johnny Depp as his golden child instead.

Cate Blanchett, on the other hand, is fantastic as the brassy Kate Hepburn, from the very first second. The film is most alive when she's onscreen, just as Hughes is most alive in Hepburn's company (when he's not flying, that is). The rest of the supporting cast is uniformly great, from Alan Alda to Alec Baldwin to Kate Beckinsale to John C. Reilly to Ian Holm, even to one-scene appearances from Willem Dafoe, Brent Spiner, or Jude Law as Errol Flynn.

I was surprised to see how early in the film Hughes' mental problems began manifesting, and I was also surprised to learn that his first grand mental breakdown happened long before he had become a recluse in Las Vegas. I thought the uncut-fingernails-and-toenails, mountains-of-Kleenex, saving-his-urine-in-bottles portion of his life didn't come until Vegas. I have to admit, DiCaprio nailed the breakdown scenes; the look in his eyes, for example, when he realizes he can't stop repeating a phrase, is frightening and heartbreaking.

This is a different kind of epic for Scorsese, but there are still some great Scorsese flourishes throughout the film. Such as, when Hughes first enters the Cocoanut Grove, the nightclub is shown in darkness; as Hughes shifts his attention from one area of the club to another, each area lights up in succession, as if brought to life by the power of his gaze. Or when Hughes is locked away in his screening room, trying to convince himself that it's safe to drink some milk, Hughes and the gleaming white bottles of milk are lit from above, picked out in spotlights, as though they are the only things in the world (and to Hughes, I'm sure they were).

But it's a little funny to look at some of those CGI aviation scenes and think, "Well, the only possible way they could've filmed them was by using those computer effects" -- and then to realize that Hughes filmed it all in real life, 75 years ago! I've seen Hell's Angels, the filming of which Scorsese reproduces at the beginning of The Aviator, and let me tell you, the flight sequences in Angels are a hundred times more impressive, even considering the spectacular feats that can be created with CGI. It's one of the most amazing things I've ever seen in the movies. That said, the plane crash in the latter half of Aviator is jaw-droppingly thrilling, and the aftermath is horrifying. I don't think Scorsese has ever worked with special effects on this scale before, and he really knows how to make them pay off.

I didn't change my mind about Million Dollar Baby being more deserving of the Best Picture Oscar, but I definitely would've given the Directing Oscar to Scorsese. It may not be his best, but it's still a triumph, and it does so many more things than Baby does (although Baby has a far greater and longer lasting emotional impact). I'm glad I didn't wait for the DVD. The Aviator is a big screen picture.

Monday, March 07, 2005

TV: Deadwood Season 2 premiere (spoilers)

"Welcome to fuckin' Deadwood!"

So says Al Swearengen, maniacally wild-eyed, covered in mud and gore, bloody froth dribbling between his lips, to the wife and adopted child of Seth Bullock, the man whose throat he was preparing to slit just seconds before noticing their arrival. And so says Deadwood creator David Milch to the viewers tuning in to last night's Season 2 debut. Fine welcome, indeed.

It's Spring of 1877, about half a year since we last checked in on Deadwood. Bullock has settled in as sheriff, with Charlie Utter as his deputy. Alma Garret's claim is producing vast amounts of gold. She and Bullock are in the throes of a fiery, and ill-concealed, affair. Alma's ward Sofia has a new tutor, Miss Isringhausen (Sarah Paulson, who played Merlyn on American Gothic). Swearengen has just learned the hill country in which Deadwood is located has been divided into counties and appointed commissioners without his knowledge or input. Joanie Stubbs has purchased her new brothel, funded with money stolen from Cy Tolliver by Eddie Sawyer (who has fled town -- which means no more Ricky Jay, sadly). Joanie's whores arrive on the same stagecoach as Bullock's family; they are led by Maddie, played with beautiful iciness by Alice Krige (perhaps best known as the Borg Queen). And Calamity Jane is on her way back to camp, drunk as ever (her only line this episode, calling after a stagecoach that has awakened her from her stupor: "Cocksuckers!").

This episode has absolutely everything that makes this show so fantastic. The huge cast increases once again, with perfectly conceived and executed characters. The broad political storyline is advanced -- Swearengen wants to control Deadwood's destiny, while outside forces conspire to take it out of his hands -- while the interpersonal relationships inside town become more complex as well. Swearengen needs Bullock on his side, and is willing to publicly provoke him with insults to jar Bullock out of his love-induced daze. But when the resulting fight escalates into a savage battle in the middle of the street, Swearengen proves willing to sacrifice his potential ally for the sake of bloodlust. Meanwhile, Bullock's family's arrival throws Alma into turmoil. She brings a welcome basket to them as an excuse to observe for herself the extent of Bullock's injuries, but her clumsy efforts make her affections for Bullock all too obvious. Later, when Bullock shows his family to their new house, but refuses to enter it with them, he makes it clear that he will live up to his responsibility to provide for them -- his brother's widow and son -- but feels no love for them. And the profanity, oh, that poetic profanity is as thick as ever. (The increasingly vitriolic Tolliver says to Maddie, "Suck some pricks if you like, and keep whatever they give you. My way of saying welcome." Maddie replies, "Any blind ones out there?")

It's dizzying to watch, to see how many objects are kept in the air by master juggler Milch, and how none are ever in danger of being dropped. The characters are so finely tuned, the story so meticulously plotted, there's never any doubt that the show knows exactly where it's going, and that it will be a tremendous journey to get there. It's only eight days till the season premiere of The Shield, my favorite drama on TV. It's going to have to have one hell of a season to retain that spot, now that I've discovered Deadwood.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

I hate Charles Taylor. And at long last, so does Salon.

I hate Charles Taylor. I've got a long history of hating Charles Taylor. And at long last, at long, sweet last, Salon has come to agree with me.

He's out! Charles Taylor is out at Salon! Ding, dong, the bitch is dead!

I was alerted to this joyous news by Roger Ebert's Answer Man column this week (the column addresses new Salon editor Joan Walsh's introductory letter to the readership last month, which I had not seen). Ebert is as disgruntled by the news as I am over the moon. He notes that he and Taylor are both members of the National Society of Film Critics, "which has sent e-mails racing around its membership expressing concern about the loss of Taylor and the trend toward de-emphasizing criticism in favor of inane pop 'news.'" If I were Ebert, I wouldn't be so quick to throw stones; it is very difficult to grant credibility to someone complaining about "idiotic celebrity coverage, gossip, hype" in the film world, when that someone was doing red carpet interviews at the Oscars exactly one week ago.

Walsh says the decision to let Charles Taylor go under her new editorialship (if that's a word) was due to the fact that she could not justify employing three film critics. I would suggest that Taylor never counted as a film critic, but I'd be afraid of changing her mind. (I would also suggest that describing Stephanie Zacharek and Andrew O'Hehir as film critics is similarly exceedingly generous.)

This is a thrilling victory! I will celebrate the anniversary of this day with the unbridled frenzy of St. Patrick's Day or Mardi Gras. But it also leaves me a little empty. Who shall I hate now? Upon whom shall I direct my great vengeance and furious anger, with the goal that they never be heard from again? How shall I ever muster up such personal antipathy again?

Oh, who am I kidding? I've got a list a mile long. First place is split between Whoopi Goldberg and Dr. Phil. Pray with me that my crusade succeeds, people. Pray with me.

COMICS: Daisy Kutter: The Last Train

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On Mike's recommendation, I picked up the trade paperback collection of the four-issue series Daisy Kutter: The Last Train, by Kazu Kibuishi. It's a Western/sci-fi hybrid, set in an Old West-type frontier town in which robots and gunslingers walk side by side. Daisy Kutter is a legendary bandit who has reluctantly gone straight; she now owns the general store in the same town where her former partner in crime (and lover), Tom, has become sheriff.

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It's wonderfully illustrated in a slightly cartoonish style that's highly pleasing, with beautifully painted grey tones. Take this full-page panel:

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I love the pattern the raindrops make on the ground, the light overhead, the shadows on the buildings. It's a lovely picture.

The art sometimes looks roughly pencilled in rather than fully inked; to my mind, it was somewhat reminiscent of Bill Plympton's early animation.

As an artist, Kibuishi is a gifted storyteller. The Last Train is most alive when the art does all the heavy lifting. As a writer, though.... I didn't care for most of the dialogue. It's tremendously clunky, and poorly suits the visual style. Through the art, the character of Daisy comes across as brash, strong, smart, whimsical, reckless... she leaps off the page. But the dialogue makes her seem like nothing more than a cranky, ill-spoken teen.

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Ooh, she's fightin' The Man, yo!

The action scenes are also hindered by the poor writing. Take the climax of the first issue, a poker showdown between Daisy and the man who wants to hire her to return to a life of crime. Daisy is allegedly an excellent poker player, but the scene is written by someone who's only seen poker on TV, and didn't quite understand the dynamics of the game. There's no excitement to the game, and there's no way anyone would mistake Daisy for a good player. She's pouty, careless, and transparent, and when her opponent tells her, after she loses to him, "You played a very good hand," I had to laugh.

The man, J.C. Winters, hires Daisy to rob his own train; his intent is to demonstrate the superiority of his security system. There's some nice art --

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-- I love that panel -- and some well-drawn action during the robbery, but the overall impression we get of Daisy is not one of a master criminal executing an ingenious heist, but of the most amateurish sucker walking into the most blatant of traps. She's so blind to obvious clues that all is not as it seems, and to obvious threats waiting in store, that it's impossible to believe she wasn't killed a hundred times before this. And the security system is a tremendously lame menace; it's a robot that doesn't have the sense to shoot when it's got the drop on someone, or to take cover when someone shoots back.

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I'm interested in seeing what Kibuishi does next -- I would even consider buying the next Daisy Kutter story, should there be one -- but The Last Train as a whole doesn't quite work for me. It shows great promise, and it's often gorgeous, but it's simply not a success.

Friday, March 04, 2005

BOOKS: Let's pick on Stephen King, Part II: The Bloodening

Let's continue picking on Stephen King by ripping on his books! Well, more like 50% praising, 50% ripping on. I am a big fan, after all, or why would I have read all these damn books? I only say the hurtful things I do out of love. And because I like being a jerk.

I'm listing fiction only, and only in book form; I'll list his short story collections, but not his individual stories. Okay, here we go!

My All-Time Favorite

The Stand: This book is 178,000 pages long, and weighs more than the starting offensive line for the Minnesota Vikings. And yet I've read it four times. The original version once, the other times the revised, expanded edition (which is so huge it actually comes with its own forklift). Love this book.

The Dark Tower

Might as well get this out of the way. The Dark Tower series, as a whole, is my second favorite of King's creations. Pretty much everything he's ever written has been tied back into the Dark Tower somehow. So I'll list the whole series here, from most to least favorite.

The Dark Tower IV: Wizard & Glass: The most romantic, and most tragic, of all of King's novels, I think.
The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger: "The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed." I've read the original three or four times, and the revised edition once; I wasn't thrilled with the revision the way I was with The Stand's revision.
The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three: The central cast is assembled.
The Dark Tower V: Wolves of The Calla: The return of 'Salem's Lot's Father Callahan! A very slow moving story, but I liked spending the time with these characters.
The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands: I'm still disgruntled he left the cliffhanger ending unresolved for six years.
The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah: I think I need to reread this. I honestly remember almost nothing about it, even though I read it less than a year ago.

...and The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower: STILL haven't read it! I don't know what's wrong with me. Maybe I just don't want it to be over.

The Greats

The Dead Zone: My first King. I was maybe 11 or 12 when I read it, and clearly it broke my mind.
Carrie: A short one, and very different from later works, but it holds up very well.
It: To me, this is the end of his era of greatness. He achieved excellence (outside of The Dark Tower) very rarely after this. Quite possibly this impression is due to how young I was when I read all the books before this; I can see now, for example, that Firestarter and Cujo don't really hold up as well as I once thought they did. But almost all his books up to this one do hold up well.
Pet Sematary: Probably his most chilling ending. It still haunts me.
'Salem's Lot: This was more an exciting adventure (with vampires) than a horror story to me. I've been meaning to reread it, but haven't gotten around to it yet. Dark Tower VII first!
Night Shift: Back when King knew how to write short stories that were short. (Or back when editors had the balls to actually edit him.) He could scare the shit out of you in ten pages. Now, most of his "short" stories take 80 pages to make you go, "Eh."
The Shining: I remember reading most of this in a public library, and being absolutely terrified.
The Talisman: His first with Peter Straub. I don't care for Straub, but I loved this book. Much more a straight-up fantasy than anything King had written before.
The Green Mile: King forced himself to rein in his worst overwriting impulses with this serial novel, and produced his best (non-Tower) work since It.

The Very Good

Skeleton Crew: A few lemons, and King's diarrhea of the keyboard was starting to manifest itself, but mostly very good stories in here.
Black House: The sequel to The Talisman. I might've enjoyed it more if I had reread Talisman immediately beforehand, or if I had ever read Dickens' Bleak House, which apparently was an influence. It tied into The Dark Tower at the end, which put it over the top for me.
Christine: It seems silly to think about it now: an evil car? But man, was it scary. And well-told.
Misery: "I'm your biggest fan!"
Different Seasons: Three great novellas, one lame one.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon: Very different for King; it benefited from its relative shortness.
Hearts in Atlantis: Some very good stories, all connected in one way or another, and all tying back once again into The Dark Tower.

The Mediocre

Cujo: The second King book I ever read. I loved how it featured similar settings (Castle Rock!) and characters from The Dead Zone, while very clearly not being a direct sequel. I got a real kick out of the interconnectedness of King's storytelling world. Still do. That said, not a very good book.
Everything's Eventual: About half-and-half, good stories and bad ones.
Cycle of the Werewolf: Illustrated by Berni Wrightson, if I recall correctly. I think I liked the pictures better than the story.
Firestarter: The thing I remember most clearly about the book is that it ends with the main characters going to the most reliable and respected news source around to tell their story: Rolling Stone. Say what? Lame. That ending made the whole book feel like a joke to me. The movie wisely changed the news source to the New York Times.
Needful Things: I don't remember much about this one, except that it was the end of Castle Rock.
Nightmares & Dreamscapes: Mostly a bunch of pointless, toothless, endless "short" stories.
Most of the Bachman books:
The Running Man

The Overrated

Bag of Bones: A lot of people seemed to love this book, and heralded it as King's return to the top of his form. I thought it was boring and predictable.
Insomnia: Another fan favorite that I didn't really get. Thoroughly forgettable.

The Bad

The Eyes of the Dragon: King's attempt at pure fantasy. Even an appearance by The Stand's evil Randall Flagg couldn't make this any less of a failure.
The Long Walk: My least favorite of the early Bachman books.
Desperation: Part one of King's bizarre experiment; released at the same time as The Regulators, the two books shared the same characters, but put them in different situations and gave them different personalities. Didn't work. At all.

The Flat-Out Awful

Tommyknockers: I once thought this would be the worst King book I would ever read. I only wish it had been.
The Dark Half: I didn't care for the book, but I think the horrible movie stained my memories of it even more.
The Regulators: The companion to Desperation, this was by far the worst novel under King's Bachman pseudonym.
Gerald's Game: A chick handcuffed to her bed. That's the whole book. This novel exemplifies King's late career compulsion to turn what might work in short story form into a shamelessly bloated full novel.
Riding the Bullet: Even though this was eventually collected in Everything's Eventual, this originally appeared as King's first e-book, so I'm listing it separately. It was rotten.
The Plant: So was this later story, serialized through King's website. I only read the first few chapters; I got sick of King bitching about how not enough people were choosing to make donations for the privilege of reading it. If it hadn't sucked so much, maybe I would've chipped in. (No, I wouldn't have.)

Haven't Read Yet, and Probably Never Will

Rose Madder: I honestly can't remember a thing about this book. I know it was loosely connected to Gerald's Game and Dolores Claiborne, but I don't think I ever even considered reading it. I wonder why not. Hell, maybe I did read it and forgot about it.
Six Stories: Never even heard of it. Apparently it was a limited edition.

Half-Read and Abandoned

Four Past Midnight: I think I only read the first of the four novellas in this book, and felt no need to go on. Now that I've seen Secret Window, which comes from one of those three unread stories, I kind of want to finish it. But I probably won't.
Dolores Claiborne: I might finish it one day. It dragged a little, but it wasn't bad.
From a Buick 8: This one was bad. It came out right on the heels of Dreamcatcher, and I just decided, I am not going to waste my time on this compulsion to read every word of King's anymore. As the great poet Huey Lewis put it, sometimes bad is bad.

The Worst Thing Ever

Dreamcatcher: If Hitler and Caligula had a baby that fucked your mother and killed your father, this book would still be worse.

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