Tuesday, May 31, 2005

META: My new blog

I was checking out Sean's blog today, and I saw that, in addition to his own zombie fiction blog, The Outbreak, he had recently linked to other zombie blogs as well -- such as Slow Motion Apocalypse and Day by Day Armageddon.

All these humans facing off against an overwhelming tide of merciless, tireless, ravenous zombie hordes. All these poor humans... with blogs. And I suddenly wondered: where is the blog that shows the zombie side of things?

Right here, suckas!

Welcome to Zombie Eat Brains. My new blog, giving voice for the first time (as far as you know) to the zombie side of the struggle. Zombies have feelings too, dig? Just like everyone else. Zombies have wants and desires and aspirations, zombies have hopes and dreams. Mostly having to do with eating brains, sure, but that's no reason they shouldn't be allowed a voice!

Zombie Eat Brains, the blog that dares to give zombies a fair shake. Ask for it by name!

TV: Season Finales

Hey, I'm back! With some talk about the best and worst of the TV season finales over the past week. In no particular order:

24: A bit of an anti-climax to a very exciting season. Would L.A. get nuked? If that missile had been heading anywhere but L.A., I might've believed that they would actually go through with it. But of course, Kiefer & Co. needed to be in direct peril, and also of course, they weren't going to kill off Kiefer. Which gives you the answer to the second question: were they going to kill off Kiefer? Uh -- no. Despite all the rumors and conjecture out there -- "It's the only way they can really up the ante in this finale!" -- you had to know Jack Bauer would be back next season, torturing away in the interests of American freedom. Which didn't leave much suspense. After the nuclear (or, as Kiefer says, just like Dubya: "nuke-u-lar") missile was shot down in the first half of the episode, it was just a lot of time-killing nonsense from there. Kind of a lazy end to the best season since the first. In fact, maybe the best season, period: this time around, no Kim!

Lost: Arzt! NOOOOO!! Man, that was a hell of a shock. Too bad, I would've liked to have seen that character continue on next season. I like the actor who played him, Daniel Roebuck (and have ever since he played Jay Leno in The Late Shift), and I liked that his character was calling the main group on their nonsense (I'm paraphrasing here): "There are forty others of us, and we do a lot of important stuff, too!" "I'm a high school teacher, I know a clique when I see one!" And best of all, to Hurley: "Some of us have lost weight since we've been on the island! Where are you hiding the carbs?"

There were some good moments -- the highlight being the abduction of Walt from the raft -- but there should've been a bigger payoff for the cliffhanger ending. A really deep hole in the ground? That's what all the hatch business has been building up to all season? I know, there'll be some nifty stuff at the beginning of next year, but we should've gotten a taste of some of it at the end of this year. Also, the revelation that the giant monster they've been hearing all season is a puff of black smoke -- pretty underwhelming. I'm still completely onboard with the show; I love the characters, and the mystery, and I'm aware they can't give everything away all at once. But for the finale -- they should've given us one really big answer, at least.

Alias: A pretty good episode, with some great moments -- damn, Lena Olin just shot Sonia Braga in the head! -- but it was in the final minute that it became excellent, the best ending of any series this year. We're expecting a nice, quiet moment between the newly-engaged Sydney and Vaughn, driving to a Santa Barbara getaway, and instead it veers into a Lynch-ian disconnect from reality, with Vaughn breaking down all of Sydney's beliefs about him ("As long as you're not one of the bad guys," Sydney says at the start of his confession; Vaughn: ominous silence), culminating in the statement, "My name's not Michael Vaughn." Then: CRASH!! Their car is demolished by an oncoming vehicle, in spectacular fashion, seen from Sydney's point-of-view, so that it feels like we're in the car when the impact hits. I jumped out of my skin. Now that's the way to get me pumped up about the next season!

CSI: I almost never watch this show, even though when I do it's generally entertaining. But I checked out the two-hour finale because Quentin Tarantino was directing. And it was solidly entertaining, but again, I probably won't be coming back for another episode any time soon. It's just one of the shows that I can live without.

Unlike 24, I actually bought into the idea that a major character might be killed off; I knew George Eads had been through contract difficulties at the beginning of the season, and I thought maybe the producers had decided he was expendable. Genuine suspense -- what a concept. It's a good thing he survived, because he gives a really outstanding performance here, trapped underground in a glass coffin rigged with explosives.

And there are a few other good bits throughout; I liked seeing Tony Curtis and Frank Gorshin ham it up as the Las Vegas lounge lizards that they are (or were, in Gorshin's case), and I was genuinely surprised when Eads' kidnapper blew himself up after receiving the ransom payment. "You might want to take a step back," he says to William Petersen, the second before obliterating himself with a belt full of Semtex. Like Alias, that was a jolt that really worked, one I hadn't seen coming. I found myself sitting up and yelling, "Son of a bitch!" as a chunky spray of John Saxon painted the walls of the wooden shack. Wow.

There were some Tarantino moments throughout the show, like Eads' hallucination of his own grisly autopsy (played for laughs), or the Dukes of Hazzard board game, but overall it felt like just another episode; I never really felt like I was seeing the Tarantino stamp on the show (despite the fact that the buried alive thing is recycled from Kill Bill). Good, not great.

Desperate Housewives: Now that is a professional way to end a season: satisfactorily and unequivocally wrapping up one mystery (what did Mary Alice do to get blackmailed, which in turn drove her to suicide?), while opening up one or two more (is Mike really Zach's father? And what's up with Alfre Woodard?). And Rex's death was a big, season-ending surprise development -- they actually killed off a main character, instead of Lost, which invented a guy in one episode just to kill him off in the next (Arzt! NOOOOO!!) -- but of course, his death happened off-screen, which means he might still be alive. More mystery! This show is such great, cheesy, guilty entertainment. I hope the second season lives up to the first.

Deadwood: This was the year I signed up for HBO, and this was the show that made me do it. And I'll tell you what: it was so worth it. Easily -- and I mean easily, not even close -- this is the best show on television. And it had a terrific finale. Mrs. Garrett becomes Mrs. Ellsworth! Swearengen and Hearst match wits! Dority, Adams and Johnny help Wu kill off his rivals! Tolliver gets gutted! E.B. sells his hotel to Hearst! Wolcott hangs himself! And most shocking of all -- Jane wears a dress! This episode was tremendous, as were all the episodes before it. Best writing and acting on TV, bar none. If only they'll produce more than 12 episodes next season!

Smallville: Didn't see it. God damn it.

Enterprise: Didn't see it. But I caught the repeat! And... eh. I question the wisdom of muddying the finale by including Next Generation guest stars, and I especially question giving those guest stars so much irrelevant plot. They rehash the meat of an old ST:TNG ep, while the Enterprise cast is on the sidelines, saying, "Uh, what about us? It is our show, after all. Hello?" It was especially shabby treatment of the Enterprise cast to set them up as little more than playthings in Riker's holodeck program. (Speaking of which, I know there have to be some viewers who never watched ST:TNG, and were completely baffled by Riker, Troi, the holodeck, the Pegasus, and everything else thrown into this episode with insufficient explanation.) And to have Riker call an end to the program before Capt. Archer -- who, after all, is only the main character, the anchor of the show, the guy we've been following for four years -- has his moment and gives his speech: that's crap, plain and simple.

The more I think about, the worse this episode seems. Trip? You kill off Trip? The one character whose subsequent life might have been interesting and fulfilling? The one character who might've had a happy ending (with T'Pol) that gave the audience pleasure and closure? You kill Trip? Out of so many more deserving candidates? Why not Mayweather, for Christ's sake? Or Hoshi? What a big "screw you" to the audience. Even the wonderful melding of three generations into the final moments (with the "Space, the final frontier..." spiel intoned by Patrick Stewart, William Shatner, and Scott Bakula) couldn't quite get the bad taste out of my mouth. A poor ending for a show that, though uneven, still deserved better.

Gilmore Girls: But this is the winner of the "Screw you, audience" award for series finales, 2005. The final episode went over its allotted time by one minute -- which, sadly, is the norm for much of television these days -- but that's not why they screwed the audience. They screwed the audience because A) this show has never exceeded its timeslot before, and B) they didn't tell anybody they were doing it, not even my precious, precious TiVo. The bastards and/or bitches! So that means anybody recording it got the final minute cut off. And, as I have found on my journeys through the intar-web, something very important happens in that last minute. I already spoiled it for myself, but if any of you have not had it ruined for you yet, the WB is repeating the episode tonight. Better pad that recording with a good five minutes, just in case they try to achieve the rare and coveted "double screw you."

Thursday, May 26, 2005

MUSIC: Yet Still More Mixed Bag

The second round of Lefty Brown's Mixed Bag blogger CD exchange project has commenced, and I'm still trying to listen to all the discs I got in the first round. Jeez, I'm slow!

From Logan Polk's House of the Ded comes The Ded Mix. I used to listen to a lot of rap, but these days I tend to avoid it; that said, I found myself enjoying the tracks Logan put on this disc -- Jay-Z & Linkin Park's "Izzo/In the End," Bubba Sparxxx's "Deliverance" -- even Kanye West's "Jesus Walks." I mean -- rap? Jesus? Neither is high on my list of priorities, and yet, you've gotta love a song which includes the line, "The way Kathie Lee needed Regis/That's the way I need Jesus." There are some classic rockers in here, which I love -- "Sloop John B" by the Beach Boys, CCR's "Long As I Can See the Light," and "Desperado" by the Eagles -- along with a bunch of 90's bands, like Green Day, Alice in Chains, Counting Crows, Soul Asylum, and Beck. I've never liked Alice in Chains or Counting Crows, and Beck is hit-or-miss with me (this song, "Girl," with that video game soundtrack sound, is pretty fun), but I dug Soul Asylum's "I Did My Best," and I really appreciated the inclusion of Green Day's "Macy's Day Parade," which is from the one album of theirs I've never owned, Warning. I should get that. There were only a few tracks by performers I'm not familiar with. My favorite was "Valley of the Dolls" by Jon Oszajca;* I think I'm going to have to check out more by that guy. Fun yet plaintive song, with big Mariachi horns. I also liked Phantom Planet's "Lonely Day," a very upbeat track despite the title. Willie Nelson's "Last Stand in Open Country" is fantastic, even if guest vocalist Kid Rock (who I usually like, for the most part) doesn't quite mesh with Willie. The closing track is a surprise, "Stardust" by Nat King Cole -- it's a gorgeous tune, but just seems out of place after what's come before. This is a solid disc, mostly mellow, with a good range of musical styles, from country to hip-hop to grunge to classic rock, and a few real stand-outs. The only track I could really do without is Robert Downey Jr.'s "Smile." Stick to acting, chum...**

From Delenda Est Carthago,*** Greg Burgas sends a disc labeled, "As uncool as you though it would be!" Well, I guess I'm even more uncool, because I didn't open my disc with a song about Pussy. Pussy Control, that is, the... heroine? of Prince's "P Control." Prince is a dirty little bastard! But he makes a hell of a song. Greg was also cool enough to immediately follow this raunchy tune with the Indigo Girls, singing "Come on Home." I've always liked the Girls -- in fact, I have the album this song is from, but it never really grew on me. A second track from the same album is also here, "Tether," and it's also good stuff. Listening to the songs on this mix, I really enjoyed them, and now I need to replay that album, give it another chance. There are a couple of other repeated artists on Greg's disc: Steve Earle appears twice (once with Lucinda Williams), and Marillion appears thrice. I like Steve Earle. I don't like Marillion. So that's a bummer. Especially since the album ends with a 12-minute Marillion track, "Neverland," which itself ends with about a minute and a half of what sounds like wind chimes. Ugh. Of the bands totally new to me, I didn't care much for Magnetic Fields, but "Better or Worse" by Liquid Jesus overcomes a slow start to really grab you, and I loved Streetwalkin' Cheetahs' "White Collar Money." A pair of fine songs come toward the end of the disc: the Pogues rollick it up with "Streams of Whiskey" -- bless those drunken Irish bastards! -- and the Geto Boys confide, "Damn It Feels Good To Be a Gangsta," which you may remember from Office Space. (Or you may not.) But then a pair of not-my-cup-of-tea tunes follow: PJ Harvey's "Send His Love To Me," and ABBA with something that isn't "Dancing Queen," so I kind of tuned it out (I really only like that one song). The stuff that works for me on this mix really works, but the stuff that doesn't really doesn't.

Man, I've still got about a half dozen of these discs to talk about! And I have to start getting my track list together for my own contribution to the second round. My work is never done!

***Literally, "Let the buyer beware."

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

TV: Last of the Fall Season 2005 Previews, I promise

Let's see what crap-tastic fare awaits us on the WB and UPN!

WB's Just Legal has to be a temporary title. It has to be. Are they seriously thinking of airing a show whose title is strongly reminiscent of almost-underage porn? Oh, wait, it's the WB. Maybe they are. As for the show itself: sounds like Doogie Howser, Esq. I like Jay Baruchel (although I think he's beyond playing 18), but Don Johnson... eh, when he works, he works. He might work here.

Also on the WB, Supernatural follows Carlos Santana as he teams up with a different musical guest star each week to create a Latin-flavored pop song. Wait -- wrong Supernatural. This Supernatural was pitched as Route 66 meets The X-Files, I imagine. It stars Rory's doormat boyfriend from Gilmore Girls and Lana's tool boyfriend from Smallville. Let me show you exactly where this show lost me.

This fall, The WB will usher in a new generation of storytelling set in the dark world of the unexplained.
No, not yet, although that is obnoxiously cheesy.

Filmmakers McG and
There you go! Say no more! McG is involved? I'm out! Get thee behind me, McG!

UPN's Sex, Lies & Secrets stars 34-year-olds Denise Richards and Tamara Taylor in this "fresh, edgy new drama" about "twenty-somethings". I guess it is fresh and edgy for the "something" in "twenty-something" to mean "fourteen".*

UPN's Love, Inc., about a matchmaker who can't find herself a man, raises two questions: who looked at Miss Match and decided, "That show would've worked perfectly if only it had starred Shannen Doherty instead of Alicia Silverstone"? And: who in their right mind would hire Shannen Doherty?

Twins, sadly, is not the WB's adaptation of the Schwarzenegger/DeVito comedy. Instead, it's about two sisters, one of whom is pretty and one of whom is smart! Sara Gilbert must be so flattered she got cast as the smart one. Also, we get to see what has become of Mark Linn-Baker since Perfect Strangers went off the air. Judging from the cast photo: nothing good.

*Meow! What a bitch!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

MUSIC: Still More Mixed Bag

Continuing* my reviews of CDs received via Chris "Lefty" Brown's Mixed Bag CD exchange project:

Let's go with the man himself, Chris Brown of Lefty Brown's Corner, and wife Kelly Brown, of The Life of a Wife and Teacher, who sent their discs together in a His/Hers package.

I have to admit, I was surprised after scanning the track list, but I loved Lefty's CD. The Latin sounds of new-to-me Los Super Seven open and close the disc; I prefer the opening track, "Cupido," to the closer, "Ojitos Traidores," but they're both toe-tapping, finger-snapping goodness. Track two is Joe Jackson's "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" which is one of my all-time favorites. I recently found myself wondering who Toots and the Mayals were, and they were highly recommended to me (by Ian Brill, among others), specifically the song Lefty included, "Pressure Drop," and you know what? It's fantastic. I feel like I'm at a party when listening to it. Next is Green Day's "Letterbomb," which I've listened to a million times on the American Idiot album, but which is surprisingly strong on its own as well. "Bad 'n' Ruin" by the Faces I don't think I've ever heard before, but I liked it, also; Rod Stewart back when he was rasping out some rock, rather than Van Morrison covers or whatever the hell he's doing these days.

Tift Merritt's "Stray Paper" is next, and I could've sworn it was Sheryl Crow for a minute. I like Sheryl Crow, so that's a good thing. I'm not a big fan of Santana, but his "Samba Pa Ti" is an exception to the rule; I can just drift away in its melody. Track 8 is possibly my favorite of the disc (of the stuff I wasn't already familiar with): "Little Toy Brain" by Gov't Mule. Apparently, the group is an Allman Brothers spin-off, and it shows, with their strong, bluesy, southern rock sound. This is the first group I've heard on any of the discs that makes me immediately want to go buy the album (except for the Avenue Q cast recording, which Dorian kindly provided a copy of for me). Paul Pena is also unknown to me, but his "Gonna Move" is another finger-snapper; I fell right into its grooves. Susan Tedeschi's "I Fell In Love" didn't do much for me (reminded me of Bonnie Raitt, but I'd rather just stick with Bonnie Raitt), but it's followed up by a most unusual song (on this mix, anyway): Iron Maiden's "The Trooper." It's a heavy metal classic, and I love it. "You'll take my life, but I'll take yours too! You'll fire your musket but I'll run you through!" Awesome. Takes me right back to 7th grade.

I don't have much use for any ABBA song other than "Dancing Queen," but I really like "Dancing Queen" (anyone without a non-ironic appreciation of this song is dead inside. DEAD I tell you!), and here it is at track 12. We've got the Flaming Lips next, with "The Spark That Bled," and, much like Radiohead, I've never understood the appeal of Flaming Lips. They bug me. Skip ahead to Bruce Springsteen's new single, "Jesus Was an Only Son," which I didn't care much for on first hearing it, but which has grown on me (as nearly all Springsteen eventually does). A stripped-down recording of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is next, with just George Harrison performing, it sounds like, and it's nice, a version I've never heard, more heartfelt and mournful than the White Album version (I still prefer the album version, though). Never been a fan of the Grateful Dead or Jerry Garcia, and Jerry's "Sugaree" does nothing to change my mind. A live version of the Allman Brothers Band's "Blue Sky" is the last track before the Los Super Seven finale, and I don't care for it; at seven and a half minutes, it's way too long, and it's not a very good recording. So a couple of bad ones at toward the end, but overall, a tremendously enjoyable disc. Way to go, Lefty!

Kelly's disc opens with a Gov't Mule track, "Wandering Child," recorded live. Like the Allman Brothers live song on Lefty's disc, I thought it dragged on too long (7:45), and it lost my patience. Black Crowes I can take or leave, mostly leave, but "Soul Singing" I haven't heard in a long time, and it struck me just right. Phish is next, and like the Grateful Dead, or any noodle-heavy band, I'm not especially fond of them, but "Heavy Things" is decent enough. "Peaceful, Easy Feeling" by the Eagles is next, and there aren't many Eagles songs I can't get behind. Very nice. Gregg Allman's "Rendezvous with the Blues" follows, and it's more straight-up blues than I care for. Not big on the blues, no sir. Country blues, blues rock, bluegrass, blues + anything, I'm good with. Plain ol' blues puts me to sleep.

"I've Seen All Good People" by Yes is a classic, and brings back fond memories of college. Allison Krauss I know pretty much only from the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, but she's very good, and I liked "Every Time We Say Goodbye" a lot. Claire Lynch I'm not familiar with; she's got a very traditional country sound (what with the pickin' and a-grinnin' and all) that I can enjoy in small doses, so I liked "If Wishes Were Horses" just fine. Johnny Cash is next, with "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky," and if any of you have anything negative to say about Mr. Cash -- well, Johnny himself can finish that thought:

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

John Mellencamp's "Walk Tall" is one of those new songs they put on Greatest Hits albums, to get people who already own all the old songs to pay for them again, just to get the new one. Thanks to Kelly, I don't have to do that now. It's a good song, but not worth the album price. Next is "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" by the Beatles, and what more can be said about that piece of brilliance? (Other than: I suspect it might have something to do with drugs.) "Power of Love/Love Power," by Luther Vandross, I didn't like; not my cup of tea. Jack Johnson I have to approve of on a song-by-song basis -- he can delight me with one song and bore me to tears with the next. "Times Like These" is on the positive end of the scale.

I've heard of, but never heard, String Cheese Incident, and I don't think "Got What He Wanted" converted me to fandom, although I think it has potential to grow on me. Len's "Steal My Sunshine" is great, silly fun, and I would've eventually downloaded it if I hadn't received it on this disc. I love Billy Joel, and I always have, and those of you who have a problem with that may refer to Johnny's picture above; "Tell Her About It" it still a tremendously strong, enjoyable song. And we close with another Allman track -- not Gov't Mule, nor Gregg, but official Allman Brothers Band, with "Soulshine." Another 7+ minute live track that closes the disc on the same soporific note it opened with, which is unfortunate. There are some high points scattered throughout, and it's definitely more enjoyable than not, but overall Mrs. Lefty Brown's disc falls short of the Mister's.

Several more Mixed Bag reviews remain. Hopefully I can get them all out of the way by the weekend -- but I wouldn't bet on it. And I don't think I'll be going through every single track again; just overall impressions, highs and lows. This took a damn long time, and I've got a 90-minute episode of The Shield to watch!

*Part one, part two.

TV: Yet Even Still More Fall Season 2005 Previews

I've already looked at the worst ABC, NBC, and CBS have to offer. Now, on to Fox, the WB, and UPN, where I'm sure we will find nothing but top-notch quality entertainment. In fact, I'd bet my life on it!*

First up: Fox.

I love how Kitchen Confidential is "based on renowned chef Anthony Bourdain's best-selling autobiography," yet the main character's name has been changed to Jack Bourdain. What the? What is the point of that? TV is weird. And check out Nicholas Brendon in the cast picture. Now, I don't want to go making snap judgments on a show I haven't even seen yet,** but if his character isn't gay, I will give each one of you a shiny new nickel.***

Prison Break looks like an interesting (dopey, but interesting) premise for a mini-series: dude's brother is on death row, scheduled to be executed in a few months; dude gets himself arrested, and sent to the same prison, to help his brother escape. But how does that work in the long term, if the show actually survives the season, or many seasons? How does the brother not get executed in a few months, while also neither being released nor escaping? And how tedious will the show get by the end of the first year? Or the second? "Well, you've been here two years now, dude. How's that brilliant escape plan of yours going?" "Shut up!!"

I find it telling that in the show description for The Loop, we learn that main characters Sam's "roommate, PIPER, is a medical student, Sam’s college pal and – unbeknownst to her – his longtime crush." Yet, in the cast photo: no Piper. You know what that means? The actress who played Piper in the pilot episode: canned. Sacked. Shown the door. Escorted by security from the premises. Ouch. Also: surely Philip Baker Hall can do better than this.

The Gate, which will surely be the finest crime drama set in San Francisco since Nash Bridges, centers on Detective Graham Hale of "the San Francisco Police Department's Deviant Crime Unit." I'll see you a Special Victims Unit, Law & Order, and I'll raise you a Deviant Crime Unit! Coming in 2006: Minneapolis Blue: Fucked-Up Pervo Freakazoid Shitfit Unit****.

WB and UPN later today. In case you were wondering.

*Well, I'd bet your life on it. But I'd get good odds.
***Also a lie.
****Starring Crispin Glover and Anne Heche. Hey, I bet I could sell that! Hands off! It's my idea!

Monday, May 23, 2005

MOVIES: Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

Real life keeps interfering with my intent to update this crazy thing. For example, Saturday I went to the Dodgers-Angels game at Dodgers Stadium, which was my first trip ever to Chavez Ravine. I've seen the Dodgers in San Francisco (at both Candlestick and Pac Bell Parks) and at Oakland, but never at home, so that was a hell of a treat. Too bad they lost. Stupid Dodgers!

Then on Sunday, I went to see Revenge of the Sith. And imagine my surprise when I did not walk out of the theater seething with rage! Imagine my complete and utter shock that, while Lucas' failures as a writer and director (namely, the writing* and directing** parts) were still flagrant and plentiful, I would still call this a good movie! Not great; not the truly sublime climax to a 28-year-long movie saga we all deserved -- but a solid good. I guess that's what the lowered expectations of the two abominable pieces of crap that came before this one have led to: my satisfaction with merely decent, with simply all right. That's a little sad. But I'm willing to accentuate the positive: hey, I liked it! Knock me over with a feather!


Real life interferes again. I've been trying to finish this post since 8AM. Busy day. And I now realize, not only do I not feel like finishing it, it doesn't even really matter. You've all seen the film already. You know the same sucky things still suck just as bad, but the good parts are more plentiful and better, enough this time to actually outweigh the sucky parts. There, does that pretty much sum up every other review you've read of this damn thing?

Actual content to come, sometime in the (hopefully) near future.

*As Harrison Ford has said, and as I always delight in quoting: "George, you can type this shit, but you can't say it."
**Carrie Fisher: "When George was directing, he'd only say two things: 'faster' or 'more intense.'"

Thursday, May 19, 2005

TV: More Fall Season 2005 Previews

First impressions on a few of the new CBS shows:

I love Paula Marshall. I think she's beautiful and funny and wonderful in every show she's ever been in. Unfortunately, she has killed every show she's ever been in stone cold dead. Her last show, Cooking Lessons, didn't even make it to the air. Like Ted McGinley, she's a serial show-killer. The upshot of which is: don't get hooked on Out of Practice (even if it does also feature Stockard Channing and Henry Winkler). Hey, this will be her first kill on CBS! Way to go, Paula!

Check out the photo for How I Met Your Mother. Okay, that's Alyson Hannigan and Neil Patrick Harris, that's very nice, but that's not what caught my eye. Look at the gal on the left (who, by using the process of elimination on the cast list, must be the improbably named Cobie Smulders). What the hell is she looking at? Is she not aware that they're taking the cast picture? Everyone else is looking right into the camera, big, fake, shit-eating grins plastered across their faces, hiding the fact that they all know this show is doomed (or am I projecting?). But not Cobie. Cobie finds something off to the side to be of much greater interest. Is there a tasty spread on the craft services table? Or perhaps she's just cross-eyed. Or doesn't follow instructions well. Maybe she just finds Doogie too repellent to even keep in her peripheral vision.

I believe I have now given more thought and time to this one picture than I ever will to the actual show.

This is the kind of show that makes me want to smack someone. First of all, that title: Ghost Whisperer. Are they serious with that shit? Horse Whisperer was a lame enough name; good job on giving it that extra little twist to make it even lamer. Second, it claims to be "inspired by the cases of famed psychic James Van Praagh." Which infuriates me. For the last time*: psychics are bullshit. They are con artists, nothing more. Basing a TV show on the chicanery of such a charlatan is tantamount to endorsement of his "powers"; it aids and abets the deception and exploitation of the gullible and bereft. I felt the same anger about Medium. Which of course brings us to number three: this could not be a more blatant rip-off of Medium. Hot babe with psychic powers solves crimes. Come on! Can't you at least pretend you're trying to be original? And finally, we have the star: Jennifer Love Hewitt. Really? In a drama? I'm out! You folks know I will watch practically anything. I'll tell you what: I will never watch this.

Still waiting for any new show to grab my interest, create some anticipation. Nothing yet.

*Not a guarantee that this is actually the last time.

COMICS: Wed. 5/18/05

I've been less than a stickler for regular updating recently. I don't want to go two days without a post, so just a quick note about what I bought yesterday:

Young Avengers: Didn't I quit buying this? I guess not.
Batman: Dark Detective
Ex Machina
JLA: Classified: The only one of the bunch that I've read so far. Very enjoyable; the facial expressions in the art are fantastic, and the writing hits both the comedic highs and the emotional lows equally well.
Plastic Man: It seems like a loooong time since the last issue came out. Is that just me?
Seven Soldiers: Guardian
Spider-Man/Human Torch

And I'm sorry to whoever is behind the Friday the 13th comic: I didn't get it because it's a well-made horror comic, I got it because it is hilarious. I was in hysterics in the store, flipping through this thing. Almost every page depicts a ridiculously over-the-top scene of violence, so tremendously beyond the extremes of ultra-violence that it becomes a joke. Jason punches a guy's head off on page three. Punches his head off! (Which I believe the movie Jason once did, too, in Jason Takes Manhattan.) How can you not laugh at that?

Or is that just me?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

MUSIC: Mixed Bag 2: The Revenge

Anyone interested in joining in the Mixed Bag blogger CD exchange project I've recently been writing about, Chris "Lefty" Brown is currently organizing the second round. Just visit his website, read the rules, and email him if you want to join in. C'mon, it's fun!

I plan on talking about a couple more of the mixes I received in the first round later this evening, if I can find the time.

TV: Fall Season 2005 Previews

Scrubs season one comes out on DVD today! Best Buy is packaging the box set with an exclusive bonus disc, apparently. Unfortunately, I already ordered it through Amazon. I'm going to have to return it and pick up the Best Buy set instead. But at least then I'll have Amazon store credit to buy the NewsRadio box set when it comes out next week.

Okay, the networks are announcing their Fall schedules this week. I've been getting all my info from Laurel's TV Picks; the link leads to her schedule grid, which lists all the prime-time programs for all six broadcast networks (updated as each network announces its line-up). It's a fantastic resource. Check it out.

Best and biggest news: Fox has made the early announcement that Arrested Development will be back! Incredible. Just incredible. The funniest sitcom on TV lives to see another season. I'm so relieved.

A couple notes on some new shows debuting this fall:

On its homepage, NBC's Fathom asks the provocative* question, "Ever wonder what life would be like if a new form of sea life began to appear in locales all over the earth?" If you don't mind, I'm going to answer for each and every one of you: NO. No, we have not. Don't be an idiot. You know what other question we never asked? "Can we see that one hot chick from Boston Legal in a dopey, aquatic-based sci-fi show that will fold after six episodes? No, the other hot chick. No, the other one."

ABC's Commander-in-Chief gives us Geena Davis as the first female U.S. President. First of all: shyeah, that'll be a hit. "It's like Patty Duke in Hail to the Chief, only all serious and stuff." Second of all, counting The West Wing, Jack & Bobby, and 24, this will be the fourth network series prominently featuring a fictional president. I wonder if there's some reason why right now everyone wants to make up their own president. Hmm, I wonder.

ABC has made the bold move of immediately following Jake in Progress, a half-hour show about a ladies' man whose friends have all settled down and who now finds himself ready for commitment for the first time in his life, with What About Brian, a show about a ladies' man whose friends have all settled down and who now finds himself ready for commitment for the first time in his life. But -- here's the kicker -- it's an hour! Don't tell me ABC doesn't have fresh ideas!!

I can tell NBC's E-Ring is doomed just because of its stupid title. Sounds like an internet phone service. Would you ever guess it's really about the Pentagon -- and it stars Dennis Hopper? Dennis Hopper -- in the frickin' Pentagon? That's it! World's over.

*By which I mean "stupid."

Monday, May 16, 2005

MOVIES: National Treasure

I expected National Treasure to be kind of dopey, and so I was able to enjoy it on those terms. I mean, the Freemasons have hidden the biggest treasure in the world and written clues to finding it on the back of the Declaration of Independence? Either you know going in that you're going to have to play along with some ridiculous scenarios, or you just don't bother renting the movie in the first place.

Nicolas Cage is his usual action hero, with his strengths more in his intelligence and self-confidence than his combat abilities -- I don't think he's involved in a single fight scene in this film, although he is in a number of chase scenes. He's a little more of a brazen wisecracker than the brooding man-on-the-edge he generally seems to play in these kinds of films, perhaps because it's more of a kid's adventure movie than anything else. Sean Bean looks like he's having fun in another bad guy role, and Jon Voight, as Cage's father, is also entertaining. Diane Kruger is a pretty blonde, and that's about it. She falls in love with Cage because the script suddenly decides that she should; the romance is laughable in its abrupt materialization. Harvey Keitel surprisingly appears as well, pretty much just to collect a paycheck.

The Freemason/Knights Templar thing was timed to cash in on the hoopla over The Da Vinci Code, and it's just as ludicrous here as it is in that book, and every other incarnation of the myth, but it doesn't come across as obnoxious here because instead of going with the hard-sell -- no, really, this is all true!! -- it's simply used as a springboard for a light action romp, if you will forgive me for using the word romp. And the action works; the set pieces, such as the theft of the Declaration of Independence, or the journey down the bottomless (well, for all intents and purposes) pit leading to the treasure vault, are well-constructed, competently directed (you can actually see what's happening, which is more and more a rarity in action films), and entertaining.

It's a diversion. There's no compelling reason to seek out National Treasure, but if you're at the video store and you're out of ideas, this will do the job. You could do much, much worse.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

MUSIC: More Mixed Bag

Continuing* my reviews of the CDs received via Chris "Lefty" Brown's Mixed Bag CD exchange project:

Ken Lowery's Ringwood Ragemix is up next. This is more my speed: loud and angry. "Will You Smile Again?", by ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, begins the disc with a minute and a half of driving power, but then the song goes on for five more minutes which can't live up to the opening guitar assault. Perhaps a seven-minute song was not the best opener for the mix. But then we go into Queens of the Stone Age (which I need to get some more of), Garbage, and Monster Magnet, who kick ass. Even the more mellow or humorous songs in the lineup I found enjoyable, such as the laidback "I Wanna Make It Wit Chu" by Desert Sessions, the Reverend Horton Heat's "Baby I'm Drunk," or the scathingly vitriolic comedy of Bill Hicks (taking on Rush Limbaugh). There were a couple I didn't care for (Tomahawks' "Harelip," "Brecon Beacons" by Supergrass), but overall, this is probably my favorite of the Mixed Bag discs I've listened to so far. Just edging out...

Larry Young's CousCous Express Soundtrack. Lots of similarly loud and angry music, as on the Ragemix, but with a greater emphasis on straight-up punk than alterna-metal, with some ska and reggae to take the edge off. The first track, "How To Start a Fight" by Murphy's Law, is a great tone-setter. I've never heard of the next band, Sick of It All, but they seem to be very upset about something. Next is Judge Dread's "Bring Back the Skins," and I have to admit here I've never particularly cared for reggae. But I love ska (such as the next band, Mighty Mighty Bosstones), which is a direct offshoot of reggae, so... there you go. There are a couple of songs which don't really grab me (like the two by Desmond Dekker, or the tediously repetitive instrumental "Full Clip" by Gang Starr), but there are many more high points, such as The Offspring, Circle Jerks, Dropkick Murphys (one of whose songs I put on my own mix), and the punk cover of "Still the One" (by an unnamed band), which is a nifty finish to the CD. Good stuff.

More music reviews later, if I get around to it.

*Part One.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

MUSIC: Mixed Bag

I've finally gotten around to fixing my computer's staticy sound system (by which I mean deleting the player that came packaged with my Dell computer -- which suspiciously started sounding staticy as soon as the 90 day free trial of the pricey deluxe version expired -- and switched over to Windows Media Player instead), so I've finally uploaded all of the CDs I've received so far via Chris "Lefty" Brown's Mixed Bag blogger CD exchange program. Now I can get around to telling you what I thought about them.

First up are the first two CDs I got, hand-delivered by the two people who work at my local comics shop, fellow members of ACAPCWOVCCAOE*: Mike, with The Progressive Ruin Mix CD of Love, and Dorian, with his (postmodernbarney.com) mix. They both struck me very similarly: a few nifty tracks amidst a great deal of songs I couldn't wait to be over. Sorry.

Mike's starts out promisingly enough, with a hilarious recording of John Belushi's rousing "Pearl Harbor" speech from Animal House, followed by a couple of lively tracks -- "You Make Me Feel Cheap" by Channel 33, and "Johnny Q" by Crazy 88s (who sound like they predate the Crazy 88s in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, but I couldn't say for sure) -- but then takes a turn into the odd and obscure, and not, as far as I'm concerned, in a good way. Stereo Total's "Bad News from the Stars" is by far the most irritating. A number of tracks play The Onion AV Club's game of "Which one is the song/album and which one is the artist?" Quick, pick the artist from the following pairs of names/phrases: Kiss or Age of Chance? Disintegrated Einstein or Nevermind the Mollusk? Victor Banana or Shiver Me Timbers?** Most of the band names read like entries in the "Most Unnecessarily, Self-Consciously Bizarre" contest: Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives; Celtic Elvis; The Deadly Nightshade Family Singers. When I start enjoying the very ironic inclusion of Joe Esposito's "You're the Best" from The Karate Kid soundtrack in an unironic way ("Say, this is pretty all right!"), then I have been alienated a little too far by the weirdness of the surrounding tunes. There were a few other high points: I dug the punk covers of old hits ("99 Red Balloons" and "Don't Bring Me Down"); the instrumental version of "Stairway To Heaven" by Dixie Power Trio was very nice; and the Curtis Mayfield/Fishbone track, "He's a Flyguy," is cooler than anything I've ever heard in my life by at least half. A couple of the remaining songs I thought were fairly clever, and might've been enjoyable if they weren't so aggressively abnormal, and if there weren't so many of them packed all together; I fully expect a number of them will grow on me on future listening, outside the context of this disc as a whole. I should add, the final "secret" track, from some Marvel Comics fan club record from a million years ago, featuring the voices of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and the entire Marvel Bullpen, was hair-raisingly awesome. So that's what Artie Simek sounds like!

For much of Dorian's CD, I felt like I needed to be about ten times gayer to more fully appreciate it. I loved the hilarious "If You Were Gay" from the Avenue Q Broadway soundtrack ("If it were me/I would feel free/To say that I was gay/But! I'm! Not! Gay!") (and upon telling Dorian so, he produced a copy of the entire album for me the next week, which was super keen). Shirley Bassey's "Hey Big Spender" was a fine opener for the disc. And you would have to be made of stone not to appreciate Dolly Parton's "Jolene." But Harvey Fierstein? Scissor Sisters? "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend" by Magnetic Fields? And "Soccer Practice" (by Johnny McGovern) may not sound gay, but trust me: very, very gay. I wonder if my listening to this disc is how Dorian feels listening to most of the rest of the songs in the world, with their very hetero love themes. But above and beyond the subject matter, textual and subtextual (which is not typical of my music, but also does not automatically disqualify it from being so***): I just don't really care for most of the songs. Eartha Kitt, Nina Simone, Robbie Williams, Franz Ferdinand: nope, not for me (although I feel I could grow to appreciate Franz Ferdinand). I've never listened to Phil Ochs before, and I think after "Pretty Smart on My Part" I need to listen to more, and Jeffrey Altergott's "Runt" was tremendously enjoyable -- but those were by far the exception to the rule.

Sorry again! Perhaps it's my fault, perhaps I tend a little too much to the mainstream than I should, musically speaking (probably both of you didn't care for my disc). Or perhaps these are just two really weird CDs.

More music reviews tomorrow, if the internet can handle it.

*Associated Comics And Pop Culture Webloggers Of Ventura County, California, And Outlying Environs, of course.

**Age of Chance, Disintegrated Einstein, and Victor Banana are the artists. Maybe.

***Ah, yes, the "not that there's anything wrong with that" defense. How weasely.

TV: Star Trek: Enterprise

Welp. I wasn't around to set the recorder for last night's two-hour finale of Enterprise. So I missed it. But I wasn't worried -- UPN always repeats the episode on Sunday.

But UPN isn't replaying it on Sunday. According to TiVo, they're not replaying it at all. They're running Phantom Fucking Menace instead.

Thanks a pantsload, UPN. That's one final "fuck you right in the eye" to the Star Trek fans. "We could rerun the finale of the latest TV incarnation of the biggest moneymaker in our history, or we could show you the shittiest installment of that other science fiction series instead. What's the difference? P.S.: Fuck you. Right in your goddam eye."

On a totally unrelated note, does anyone have the finale of Enterprise still recorded?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

MUSIC: "Smoke on the Water"

There's a version of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" I've been hearing on the radio lately that really irritates me. I'm not entirely sure who performs it; it may actually be a remake, or a live performance, by Deep Purple themselves (itself?).

It's the chorus that bugs me. Here's how it goes: "Smoke on the water."

Sure, if you read it, you'd think, well, that's how it's supposed to go. But say that line out loud to yourself. Go ahead. You can do it. Just say it out loud, like you were simply saying the name of the song to the guy in the cubicle next to you. That's how it sounds on this new version on the radio. But here's how it's supposed to go:


A fire in the sky.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

BOOKS: In the queue

I've got about a dozen books I need to read and write about here, but the temptation of TiVo has kept me from doing much reading recently. Yet, I keep buying books. At Barnes & Noble yesterday, I picked up Dead Until Dark and The Unhandsome Prince, both of which look to be right up my alley, attention-span wise -- quick, fun, light reading. And I've still got Larry Young's most generous gift of Couscous Express I need to get to. I'm really looking forward to reading that with the accompanying soundtrack.

Also, yesterday I received a review copy of Foul Play by Grant Geissman, which was tremendously cool. I haven't read the whole thing yet, so a full write-up will have to wait, but I did just want to note what a gorgeous book it is. It's all about the art and artists of the E.C. horror comics of the 50s, with a plethora of full-page reproductions -- including four (I think) full stories. I love those comics, even though I know much less about them than I'd like to; I wish someone were packaging complete, deluxe reprints of them, like the DC Archives, but until that happens, this is the next best thing. I may even have sold a couple of copies -- while skimming through it at the Ojai Brew Pub, a number of people kept looking over my shoulder to check out the brilliantly, beautifully grisly artwork. "What is that? That's awesome! Can you get that in a bookstore?" (Yes, someone actually said that.) I want a commission!

LINKS: The Velvet Marauder

For the past couple days I've been absorbed in the adventures of the Velvet Marauder, a real-life, super-powered, "urban vigilante" who keeps a blog of his exploits, and who is completely made up by David Campbell.

It's a very funny, well-written site, chronicling both the crimefighting heroics of the Velvet Marauder, and the mundane office politics (with occasional supervillainry) of his alter ego, Connor Mackenzie. There's unrequited romantic longings for co-workers, there's team-ups with (and jealousy of) other superheroes, and there's plenty of action (usually around the holidays). Some of the action-packed entries are of an absurd nature (including a legendary battle against "Yiff," a super-powered lunatic in a bear costume who humped the Marauder's leg), but others are filled with genuine drama and excitement (such as a battle with zombies on Halloween). And of course, there is VM's persistent consternation at the prevalent assumption that he's gay, which he doesn't help by frequently confessing to gay-leaning activities (regarding the music playing in his headset as he enters a skirmish: "Currently 'Shiny Disco Balls' by Who Da Funk is playing really, really loud. It’s a disco song, good for the cardiovascular workouts. Again, not gay").

The updates have tapered off in the last month or so -- most likely because Dave is spending most of his blogtime on the fairly new and totally hilarious Dave's Long Box (which you may have read about in Newsweek -- !!!). In fact, there hasn't been a new entry since April 28. It would be a shame if he let the Marauder's updates fall completely by the wayside. There are too many unresolved plot threads. It's like reading half of a good book. Frustrating!

I've seen a number of "in-character" blogs, and they range from dreadful (fine, you're Draco Malfoy, shut up now) to highly entertaining -- the "autobiographical horror" (meaning "zombie-fightin'") blog The Outbreak, from Attentiondeficitdisorderly Too Flat's Sean Collins (no relation*), and one of my all-time favorites, Hulk's Diary, from Beaucoup Kevin. The Velvet Marauder is definitely one of the best. Even if this isn't your kind of thing (and it's not mine, really, for the most part), at least give it a try. You might want to start at the beginning.

*That makes sense if you know my last name is Collins, and not "the Dog".

Monday, May 09, 2005

BOOKS: REAL Ultimate Power: The Official Ninja Book

Ninjas are cool; and by cool, I mean totally sweet.

This is only the beginning of the profound wisdom to be discovered in REAL Ultimate Power: The Official Ninja Book, by Robert Hamburger. This is possibly the funniest book I've ever read. While reading it in public, I found myself laughing so hysterically that I had to set the book down and recover, while everyone looked at me like I was a lunatic.

From the back cover:

Dear Stupid Idiots,

A lot of you have been saying that I don’t know anything about REAL ninjas. But that’s a bunch of bull crap! You dummies don’t know anything. And maybe YOU should get a life. I bet a lot of you have never even seen a girl naked! You idiots believe that ninjas had some "code of honor." Yeah right! If by "code of honor," you mean "code to flip out and go nuts for absolutely no reason at all even if it means that people might think you are totally insane or sweet," then you are right. But if you mean a "code to be nice and speak nicely while sharing and not cutting off heads," then you’re the biggest idiot ever!!!!!! So if you have any brains, you will shut up and get a life. So go shut up, you stupid idiot.

No thank you,

Robert Hamburger
The book samples liberally from the website, which itself is tremendously funny. The whole thing is written from the point of view of a very ill-informed pre-teen with a wild imagination.

Some ninja factoids:

These guys are sooooo sweet. And do you know why? They flip out and kill people for no reason at all. That's awesome! Do you know of anybody else who can do that? Probably not. Your dad couldn't even kill people just because he wanted to. He would go to jail in a second. But ninjas... yeah, right!
I heard that there was this ninja who was eating at a diner. And when some dude dropped a spoon, the ninja killed the whole town.
If Napoleon Dynamite wrote a book, this would be it. And yet, unlike that character (who remains nothing more than a maladjusted jerk from beginning to end), REAL Ultimate Power reveals hidden depths about its fictional author. As you read you come to realize that this isn't just a silly parody, it's a document from a very sad and neglected adolescent, who has escaped from a world of cruel parents and no friends into this bizarre, elaborate ninja fantasy.

The author's history paper, written while on Ritalin:

Benjamin Franklin is good. He helped make the Declaration of Independence AND invented electricity.
And off Ritalin:

Benjamin Franklin killed somebody once. And he porked a turtle, too -- a big one.
At times completely, hilariously ridiculous, and at times surprisingly moving, this is a great little book, very smart about being very stupid. It's a one-of-a-kind.

I'll leave you with the author's script for a ninja movie:

There is this super rich, stupid idiot who lives in a humongous house. At his house, this guy has babes lying all over the place. The next scene is hot. The guy takes this super hot babe back to his room to make-out. The audience will think that the hot babe is a normal babe, but, yeah right, she's a ninja. The ninja woman smashes the guy's head like a hairy melon. Then all these dogs come out of nowhere and the ninja woman has to beat the dogs' asses. First she kicks this one dog right in the nuts. The dog screams and jumps out the window. Then she jumps in the air and kicks two dogs in the nuts at once! Both dogs evaporate. Every time the ninja woman kicks nuts, a guitar squeals hard. Then the ninja woman has to battle the boss dog. The boss dog is huge. Before the boss dog can attack, she uppercuts the boss dog's nuts so hard that he explodes. Then the guitar squeals REALLY hard and explodes.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

MOVIES: Tom's two word review

The Interpreter:

Routine thriller.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

COMICS: Ultra: Seven Days

Don't forget it's Free Comic Book Day! Get to your local comics shop while you still can!

I finished the Luna Brothers' Ultra: Seven Days, and I have to say, Dorian was right. It was nothing special.

It has a well-defined world, and some fairly well fleshed-out characters, with some nice moments between them. There is some cleverness to the overriding premise, but only some: reimagining superheroes as the equivalent of movie stars and supermodels is hardly original. And the most obvious influence for the story is Sex and the City, but it falls way, way short. And I don't even like Sex and the City.

It comes across as far too smug and amused with itself over how daring and clever it is (as Dorian also observed), with very little justification. It's not sly or subtle enough to be sexy, and it's too tame to be erotic. There's just the exact amount of sexual content and innuendo to hit juvenile square on the nose. I mean, they can't say "shit" or "fuck", but they can throw out oodles of lines like, "I'm no stranger to things exploding on my face," or, "Beaver Girl, I love your lips!"

And it wallows it the sex vs. violence hypocrisy: the comic can't show a nipple, but it can show graphically bloody scenes of policemen being torn in half and decapitated. Ridiculous.

The art is decent, but nothing spectacular or unique, peppered with many, many xeroxed panels, which I guess is just accepted as the norm these days. That kind of laziness still bugs the hell out of me, though. Ooh, you changed nothing but the direction Ultra's eyes were looking in these three consecutive panels. You must be exhausted.

The main story is weak -- Ultra just wants to find a nice guy! -- with only a few moments of humor or well-portrayed awkwardness to redeem it. And it just seems to peter out into anti-climactic non-resolution, as do the side stories (such as the capture of the villain, the Arsonist, or Cowgirl's crush on Ultra).

I see some potential from the Luna Brothers in this comic, but the tremendous amount of praise I've seen for them already is premature and overblown. Ultra: Seven Days was a mildly entertaining diversion at best.

Friday, May 06, 2005

MUSIC: Mixed Bag

I participated in Chris "Lefty" Brown's Mixed Bag CD exchange project (along with these other fine bloggers). Yesterday, I finally mailed off my mixes to the remaining bloggers (I gave Dorian and Mike theirs in person at the comic shop).

I'm a little worried about the quality of the CDs. When I listened to one, it sounded a little fuzzy and static-y in places. I don't know if they all sound like that, or if it's a problem somewhere in my computer's sound system, or what. I just hope it doesn't render the music unlistenable for the recipients.

Anyhoo. Here's my track listing. I went a little less obscure than others, partly by choice -- I guess I'm just a mainstream rock kind of guy -- and partly by necessity -- I don't have that many CDs to choose music from, ever since the day I had to sell back my gigantic CD collection in order to, you know, eat (I call that day Black Tuesday*), and my gigantic MP3 collection disappeared when my old computer bit the big one.

You'll Play It and You'll Like It, Vol. 1

1. The Presidents of the United States of America, "Kick Out the Jams"
A nice rousing number to start things off. I kind of wish I had been able to use "Ladies and Gentlemen" from PUSA's second album ("Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, are you prepared to rock?/ And hello, ladies and gentlemen: let's rock!"), but alas and alack, I don't own the second album anymore. But "Kick Out the Jams" is good enough: "Well, I've been elected to rock your asses till midnight!"

2. The Donnas, "I Don't Want to Know (If You Don't Want Me)"
Ah, the Donnas. How I love them. I kind of wanted to put my favorite song by them on here, "Take It Off," but I had already used that song on a mix CD I had previously sent to Fred Hembeck, and didn't want to repeat myself. It literally did not occur to me until after I had burned the CDs that I could've used whatever songs I wanted for everyone else, and just changed some songs on Fred's disc. I am smart like a doorknob.

3. They Might Be Giants, "Number Three"
What better song for this slot? If only I had Blur's "Song 2" for the previous track. Or Three Dog Night's "One" (or, for that matter, Metallica's "One") for the first. (And maybe something from Huey Lewis and the News' Fore! album for the next.)

4. Bruce Springsteen, "Further On (Up the Road)"
Gotta have the Boss! A non-single from his excellent The Rising album; it's kind of a creepy and menacing tune. I love it.

5. Marvin Gaye, "Let's Get It On"
Get what on, Marvin? Not a personal invitation to any of the recipients, by the way. I just dig the groove.

6. Lit, "Miserable"
Not much to say here, other than these guys can really put together a good, catchy, rockin' tune.

7. Ben Folds Five, "The Battle of Who Could Care Less"
So can Ben Folds. I could've used about five different songs from this album, but I liked the anti-slacker, anti-mopey tone of this one. "I know it's not your thing to care, I know it's cool to be so bored."

8. Green Day, "Uptight"
One of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands. 'Nuff said.

9. Harry Nilsson, "Coconut"
This was on a CD given out as a souvenir at my best friend's wedding, at which I was the best man (ain't I always?). That was a good day. I guess you'd call this a "novelty" song. At least I only used one.

10. Gary Numan, "Cars"
Hey, do you remember the '80s?

11. Joe Jackson, "I'm the Man"
I've always liked Jackson's "punk with a piano" style. (Even though there's no piano on this song, I don't think.) A nice observation on the marketing of fads. "And you think you're immune, but I can sell you anything."

12. Dean Martin, "That's Amore"
Gotta have the Rat Pack represented! I would've gone a little more obscure than, you know, one of Dino's biggest hits ever, but this is the only song of his I have anymore. Frowny face!

13. The Refreshments, "Heaven or the Highway Out of Town"
Finally we get to something slightly less mainstream. This is my favorite band that nobody's ever heard of (although everybody's heard them -- they do the opening theme for King of the Hill). Southwest rock with clever lyrics.

14. Kim Wilde, "Kids in America"
I love the line, "New York to East California, there's a new wave coming I warn ya." East California? Yeah, because nothing's happening on the West Coast. Forget L.A., San Diego, San Francisco. The youth movement's all about Barstow! (Or maybe Needles.)

15. AC/DC, "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock & Roll)"
Bagpipe solo, bitch!

16. The Lemonheads, "Style"
Remember when everyone knew who Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield were? For, like, a minute? That was a weird time. This song is great. "Wanna knock things down/I'm not gonna knock things down/But I don't wanna not get stoned/So I'm not gonna not knock things down."

17. Therapy?, "Screamager"
Another group on the less well known side of things. Ass-kickers from Belfast. "With a face like this I won't break any hearts/And thinking like that I won't make any friends."

18. Dropkick Murphys, "The Legend of Finn MacCumhail"
I would've said these guys were the absolutely most obscure band on this disc, but I already got Larry Young's CD, and it had a track from the very same album. At least it wasn't the same song! (Larry also sent everyone a copy of Couscous Express, for which his CD serves as a soundtrack. Very nice! Thanks, Larry! I will be posting a review soon. And no thanks to my lousy mailman, who rolled up the package and crammed it into my mailslot, damaging the hell out of the book -- but not the CD, fortunately. Stupid fuckhead.) That name is pronounced "MacCool," by the way.

19. The Who, "Who Are You"
One of the three best songs from the greatest rock band of all time ("Behind Blue Eyes" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" being the other two). And it's the alternate verse version, even! See if you can decipher what the hell it says. Apparently, nobody can quite figure it out.

20. Patsy Cline, "Crazy"
I finally got an album by Patsy. 'Bout time. God, she's awesome. But this song sounded the fuzziest of them all when I played this disc. Dang it.

21. Barenaked Ladies, "Shoe Box"
One of my all-time favorite bands. I've seen 'em in concert four times, which is the most I've ever seen anyone in concert (I've also seen Neil Young four times). I actually bought the Friends soundtrack because this song was on it, and it was released months before the BNL album containing this song was. Yikes.

22. Tori Amos, "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
Great cover, totally altering the mood of the song. I always wished Tori would do a cover of "Cop Killer."

23. Foo Fighters, "Times Like These"
From a Nirvana cover to a Nirvana spin-off. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I like the Foo Fighters better than I ever liked Nirvana. Blasphemy!!

24. The Beatles, "Her Majesty"
A perfect little ditty for when you've got just a little bit of space left to fill.

And there you have it! Thank you, Chris, for organizing this crazy thing. I hope it becomes an annual (or more frequent, even) tradition!

*Might've been a Wednesday.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

COMICS: Potpourri

From today's "Dilbert": an ultra-rare (this may be only the second time ever) and somehow disturbing view of our hero's piehole.

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The animated program added the mouth as a standard feature of Dilbert's anatomy, but in the comic strip, I believe Dilbert was never illustrated with a mouth until sometime after the cartoon had debuted (in fact, after it had been cancelled, I think). Another instance of the tail wagging the dog (like Spider-Man's organic web-spinners being taken from the movie for use in the comic)?

I'm interested in the new Jon Sable TPB (with the unwieldy title The Complete Mike Grell's Jon Sable, Freelance: Volume 1), but publisher IDW is making it mighty hard for me to give it a try. Mighty hard, to the tune of $24.99 for only six issues. Granted, one of those issues is apparently 54 pages long, but still, that's damn pricey. The two Grimjack volumes from IDW have been fairly expensive -- both are $19.99, with the first volume being only 125 pages, and the second 160, compared to Jon Sable's 176 -- but price was never a consideration for me on Grimjack. I would've bought 'em if they were forty dollars. (Even if nobody else would've.) But five dollars more for only 16 extra pages of Jon Sable? A comic I've never read, and only kinda feel like I should check out? I don't think I can do it.

Not at retail prices. Which then makes it hard on my local comic shop, too. Because at $19.99, I would buy it through them. At $24.99 -- no. If I were to get it, I would turn to Amazon, where it's only $16.49. I'm sorry, but eight and a half bucks is too significant a discount for me to ignore. So, with one price, IDW is putting both the customer and the friendly neighborhood retailer in a bind. That's bad.

My comics haul for yesterday:

Concrete: Human Dilemma
Shining Knight
Y: The Last Man

So far I've only read GLA (which I enjoyed, but am not loving, like I do Dan Slott's other titles, She-Hulk and Spider-Man/Human Torch), and half of Shining Knight (because I fell asleep in the middle of it, which is review enough).

Also, I picked up The Essential Defenders Volume 1 (how can you go wrong with Namor, Dr. Strange, and the freakin' Hulk?), and, on a whim, the TPB for Ultra: Seven Days. I'd seen and heard about this series, but wasn't sure about it, so I asked Chris and Dorian at the shop if they had ever checked it out. Dorian was iffy on it, but Chris was enthusiastic: "It's superheroes with sex!"

"Sold!" I said.

"Well, actually," Dorian said, "it's more of an excuse for lesbian--"


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

TV: Potpourri

On last week's Ebert & Roeper, Ebert gave Thumbs Down to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (which I already knew he would, having read his review). I admit, though, I was a little surprised to see Roeper give it a Thumbs Down, too. For some reason, my instincts told me he'd like it. Well, he didn't. In fact, he hated it: "Some fans have been waiting a lifetime for this movie. I waited six minutes at the theater, and it wasn't worth it." Not an exact quote, but you get the gist. If Ebert's review was two stars, Roeper's was maybe half a star; I would say it was zero stars, but he reserved that for XXX: State of the Union, which he hated far, far more.

The thing is, he was such a dick about it that it pissed me off. I don't usually have a personal reaction to their reviews, or anyone's reviews. I often disagree with them -- not everyone can like all the same things. But it's rare that I think -- that I know that they're just plain wrong, wrong to the point of doing a real disservice to the film, and to the public. I loved this film (as you can plainly see), and I think many more people would agree with me than with Ebert & Roeper. Why? Because I'm awesome, that's why.

I've briefly mentioned before how well the music is used on Deadwood, specifically how sparingly it's used. Which means, when you hear music, it's for a reason. For example, this last episode, when you see Bullock's boy frolicking in the streets, and you see a wild horse bucking madly at its restraints as it's about to be gelded, and then the music starts... you know happy things are not about to happen.

Have I mentioned recently how much I love this show? Well, I do. It's far and away the best thing on TV right now. HBO rules.

Speaking of HBO (master of segues!)... I caught a repeat of the first two episodes of Entourage this weekend, and I enjoyed them a lot. Hollywood is already far enough up its own ass without yet another film or TV show glorifying/exposing it, but Entourage is done so well, I can forgive that. It's about a rising young star, played by Adrian Grenier, and the struggle between keeping him grounded -- by his best friend and manager, played by Kevin Connolly, who is the real star of the show, and who is far better than I would have expected from his history on Unhappily Ever After* -- and exploiting him for every dime he's worth -- by his agent, played brilliantly by Jeremy Piven, who is manic, supportive, aggressive, insanely enthusiastic, filled with rage, supremely full of shit, overly-friendly, and treacherous (often all at once). He's a whirlwind, and he's hilarious. His method for smoothing over a point of contention between him and Connolly: "Let's hug it out, bitch!"

The star cameos are numerous, and they range from the annoying (I will never understand the appeal of Jessica Alba) to the sublime: when I realized the star of the show was the kid from Unhappily, I joked to Ian (a big supporter of the show), "What, they couldn't get Bud Bundy?" Lo and behold, who should appear in the second episode but David Faustino himself, shouting across a crowded room, "I knew you would fuck me, you prick!"

*Then again, the same could be said of Geoff Pierson (who was the President on 24 this year), Nikki Cox (who is still better than the show she's currently on, Las Vegas), and Justin Berfield (who has been having an especially good year on Malcolm in the Middle).

Monday, May 02, 2005

MOVIES: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Spoilers ahead, I would imagine.

I expected The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy would be a mild diversion, a middling action comedy just worthwhile enough to spend two hours in front of. I was more than pleasantly surprised to find that it was absolutely wonderful from beginning to end.

What's really surprising is that it's not just the comedy that succeeds; the visuals and the special effects also work perfectly, enhancing the comedy while maintaining story integrity. They work as visual gags but they also work as captivating space fantasy. The Heart of Gold's Infinite Improbability Drive, for example, is a totally ridiculous concept brought to life with such confident, audacious cleverness, you can't help but accept it on its own terms. As the ship cycles through various realities, you don't question it (and you would have to be a real sci-fi hardass to begin with to question the technology in a comedy), you merely revel in delight at the fact that, okay, now all the passengers have turned into furniture, or yarn puppets.

Or: when the Vogon fleet appears over Earth, the camera pulls back with a musical sting to reveal the enormity of the space craft (BUM! BUM! BUM!!)... and then pulls back more, because the ship is that big (BUM BUM!!)... and it pulls back more... (BUM! BUM BUM BUM!!)... and more... and more... and just when it's done, it pulls back some more (BUM!!!).... The same gag was used to reveal Dark Helmet's ship in Spaceballs, but it's done so well here, it's still funny. But it's not just funny; for newbies to the Hitchhiker world, it also lets you know: they're not kidding, these guys really are going to destroy the Earth.

Or then there's my favorite scene in the movie, when Slartibartfast takes Arthur on a tour of the planetary warehouse. The two of them are in a rickety metal bucket in a tiny little corridor, and suddenly they (and we the audience) burst forth into a chamber vast beyond imagining, inside of which an uncountable number of entire planets are being constructed. It's funny to see scaffolding covering a half-built world, but it's also breathtaking. The epic scale absolutely amazed me; I had shivers. I was overcome with the terrifying thrill of encountering something unknowably, impossibly enormous, in a way very few sci-fi films have ever successfully conveyed; it brought to mind Dave Bowman's encounter with the space monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, or, to a lesser degree, Spock's exploration of the interior of V'ger in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The effectiveness of the Hitchhiker scene is enhanced by the unexpectedness of such imagery in a comedy. And Martin Freeman, as Arthur Dent, does a wonderful job of conveying the marvel of such an experience.

Freeman is very good overall, from his oh-so-British, deadpan, disbelieving reactions to the amazing universe of oddities he's confronted with, to his hysteria when his reserve breaks, to his sense of loss over both the potential love of his life and his entire homeworld. Mos Def (as Ford Prefect) always surprises me; he's much more vulnerable, much slier, much funnier, and has a much greater range than any rapper-turned-actor has any right to be. Some will say Trillian should've been played by a British actress, and that's true, except for the fact that it's wrong because Zooey Deschanel is fantastic. She's funny and warm and captivating, and you can look into her huge, mesmerizing grey eyes and see why, of all the women on planet Earth, Arthur Dent might feel blessed that she's the one to have survived.

The voice acting is also stellar; Helen Mirren is the mega-computer Deep Thought, Stephen Fry is the voice of the Guide (the animated entries in which are another visual treat), and you can't get more perfect casting than Alan Rickman as the voice of Marvin, the infinitely depressed robot. I wasn't thrilled with the look of Marvin -- a little too big, a little too simple-looking -- but Rickman's line readings were dead-on, and the movie wisely didn't overuse the character.

And then there's Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox. Oh, my. He absolutely owns this movie. Every word out of his mouth is comedy gold. He plays Zaphod as a hyper-egomaniac with effortless charisma and boundless energy, relentlessly driven toward money and power but not nearly bright enough to achieve it on his own. Rockwell is obviously channeling George W. Bush -- but it's Bush before he quit cocaine (as Ian was kind enough to point out), which is the crucial detail that sends the character into the realm of mad brilliance.

The movie is not going to please every fan of the book, because the movie couldn't possibly have been made if it had been a slave to the print version. There's the Vogon poetry scene, for example; in the movie, we get only a smidgen of the full version from the book. But that's a smart and necessary choice; print comedy is a different animal from performed comedy, and had the scene been much longer, it would've killed the momentum of the film dead. That said, there was one extended sequence, completely irrelevant to the main characters or plot, that I wouldn't have expected to make the translation, but which worked perfectly, and that was the materialization of the sperm whale and the bowl of petunias miles above the surface of the planet Magrathea. It was every bit as funny, sad, and strangely beautiful as it was in the book; it was a scene for the fans, which I also believe would be just as affecting for a newcomer to Douglas Adams.

True to the spirit of the book, yet able to exist independently of it (I honestly am baffled as to why Roger Ebert found it so inaccessible), The Hitchhiker's Guide was great entertainment.

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