Saturday, July 30, 2005

MOVIES: The Upside of Anger

I'd heard nothing but good about The Upside of Anger, but I was still reluctant to see it due to my irrational dislike of writer/director Mike Binder. Irrational because I didn't really know Binder; I was familiar with him mainly through the towering hatred harbored for him by Television Without Pity, him and his HBO sitcom, Mind of the Married Man. The recaps of that show (which I've never actually seen; I didn't have HBO when it was on) were wall-to-wall diatribes of hatred for the show, and for Binder as an actor, writer, and a human being. TWoP actually stopped recapping the show in the middle of the first season because they hated it so much.

That's how I knew Mike Binder. So I came into The Upside of Anger with a negative attitude. "This guy sucks," I thought. "I mean, I don't know that he does, personally, but some people I've never met who run a website whose sole purpose is to be negative about television say that he sucks." Well, I still don't know about Mind of the Married Man, but The Upside of Anger is frickin' great. So much for TWoP.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that Anger is headed by Joan Allen and Kevin Costner, who are both amazing. Especially Allen: she's the lead, and her performance is dazzling. She's angry and resentful, hurt and vulnerable, vindictive and vengeful, funny and loving; she really gets to stretch her acting legs and show off how truly brilliant she can be. It's a great role and a great performance. Costner also gives his best performance since... well, since Open Range, which wasn't all that long ago, I guess, but not counting that one, since, like, Tin Cup. How long ago was that one? Ah, whatever: he's very good here, in a role that's a little too perfectly tailored for Costner (a washed-up baseball player turned drunk); Costner uses the history of his previous baseball films (Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, For Love of the Game) to give this character that extra little kick of poignancy and believability. He's very funny as a man overwhelmed by this woman and her daughters, but gamely hanging in for the long run.

And Allen's daughters are played by a tremendously talented crew of young actresses -- Alicia Witt (who I've had on crush on since Cybill), Keri Russell (boy, she hasn't done much since Felicity, but she's great here), Erika Christensen (from Traffic), and Evan Rachel Wood (from Thirteen). They all get real characters here, and they all get their moments to shine. It's truly impressive that Binder managed to write not just one, but five great roles for women in this picture.

Binder also writes a meaty role for himself, as the sleazeball producer of Costner's radio show; he's contemptible, played mostly for comic relief, but he also shows brief moments of humanity, especially in his clashes with Allen, where you wonder if maybe he's not in the right after all.

The story begins with Allen finding out her husband has just left her. We learn that she used to be the sweetest person in the world, but her husband's betrayal has left her a bitter, hard-drinking shell of herself, only rousing herself enough to lash out at those around her. Costner is her neighbor, and her husband's former best friend, who is more than willing to support her by matching her drink for drink. Their relationship is fascinating, funny and volatile and fragile; it proceeds in ways that aren't immediately familiar from a hundred other movies. For example, when Allen calls up Costner at a low point, and tells him that she's coming over to offer him sex, he panics and runs and hides behind the shed in the backyard. It's so irrational and ridiculous, but at the same time so real and believable for these characters.

This film is a real gem, probably overlooked by far too many people. It's charming and winning and tough and original, and if Allen doesn't get an Oscar nomination, I'll eat my hat.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

MOVIES: A Dirty Shame

Here's my super-clever review of John Waters' A Dirty Shame that I'm sure no critic in the entire country thought of using:

A Dirty Shame... is a dirty shame!!!!!!

Yuk yuk yuk.

No, seriously: I did not care for it.

It's not that I was offended by it -- I mean, it's not like I rented an NC-17 rated John Waters film and didn't expect depravity. The problem, really, is that I wasn't offended by it. For all the sex talk and bizarre fetishes, the film was disappointingly tame. Waters seems to believe that simply saying words like "felching" or suggesting someone wants to hump a tree is inherently wild and crazy enough to offend all those gosh-darn prudes in the audience!! Well, #1, it's not like he's going to be tricking all those squares who think catching a matinee of "Hairspray: The Musical" is taking a walk on the wild side into seeing this film in the first place. And #2, that means that whoever is left in the audience is going to take a lot to be shocked. We've already seen Divine eating a piece of dog shit; dressing a grown man in a diaper isn't going to make any of us bat an eye.

I don't know -- is it just me? Maybe I'm too jaded. I mean, the film did get an NC-17, after all, which it probably wouldn't have gotten ten years ago, before all those prudes and squares took over the country. NC-17 for a film that's all talk -- there aren't any sex scenes, and there's almost no nudity, and what little of it there is is presented in non-sexual ways. Maybe it is shocking simply to show Selma Blair in a gigantic and blatantly fake pair of prosthetic breasts, or to suggest Tracey Ullman's character likes oral sex, or to name a character "Fat Fuck Frank".

But it's not shocking to me. And the film isn't nearly clever enough to justify its existence without the extra kick of shock value. The central battle between the "Neuters" and the... Perverts, I guess, doesn't quite achieve the status of witty social satire. It's just kind of silly and tired. After a while, I got the impression that every one of Chris Isaak's double-takes was explicitly scripted. ("Vaughn sees the three Bears moving into their house. Vaughn reacts with a double-take.") There are a couple of fun gimmicks peppering the film, like superimposing character traits ("W-H-O-R-E") over certain scenes, and I have to admire the dedication of the performers, who play their campy, raunchy roles without reservation. But the comedy never rises much above the level of the slapstick-style head-bonks that transform the Neuters into Perverts. It's like a Three Stooges film with sex talk.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

COMICS: Hero Squared

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I received an advance copy of Hero Squared this week. (Why? Because I'm awesome.) It came once again to my work address, with the alarming return address: BOOM! Which gave my boss pause, I can tell you. "Tom, why do you have a package labelled BOOM?" (Once I told him what was in it, we actually got to talking about comics, and the ones he had liked in his younger days, such as Green Lantern, Aquaman, and, surprisingly enough, Turok.)

The comic is of course produced by Boom Studios (not the Unabomber, as my boss guessed), and, as with the previous comic they sent me, Zombie Tales, I enjoyed it quite a bit. This is issue #1 in an ongoing series, following the Special which came out earlier this year. You don't have to have read the Special to enjoy this new issue -- the premise is simple, but clever. Milo is an aspiring documentarian/slacker from (let's say) our Earth. One dimension over, though, Milo has become a superhero called Captain Valor. When Captain Valor's Earth is destroyed, he comes to ours, encounters plain Milo, and tells him of the evils of the world-destroying Lord Caliginous. Who, it turns out, is Milo's girlfriend, Stephie -- in Captain Valor's dimension, Stephie went a little mental, on a supervillainous, evil genius scale. Hilarity ensues.

The story is written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, and it's every bit as entertaining as their recently concluded I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League, or their recently begun Defenders. I've learned a lot about this writing duo since I first wrote about the Hero Squared Special (in which I made a very mean comment about Giffen's cover art, but I stand by it), and I've liked almost everything I've seen. This comic features their traditional rapid-fire banter combined with slapstick, and a little cheesecake for good measure, and, as with the best of their stories, it can blend the fun and goofiness with genuinely dramatic moments flawlessly.

I will say the exact same thing about the art as I did when talking about the Special: enjoyable, but rough. I actually liked it a bit more, this time, though the semi-sketchy quality remains. It works very well with the story; Joe Abraham's facial expressions really capture the back and forth of Giffen & DeMatteis' verbal sparring. All in all, it's a very good comic, well worth adding to your shopping list.

Monday, July 25, 2005

TV: Wonderfalls

Sorry I disappeared for a while there. I've just had an unusually busy week since my last post on Wednesday (unusual for me, anyway, including a Thursday poker game that went till after midnight, a crazy Friday night that didn't wrap up until 6 AM Saturday, and another poker game on Saturday night that kept me up until 4:30 AM Sunday), and if you combine that with my natural inclination toward laziness, well, posting on the ol' blog just ain't gonna make the cut. But thanks for coming by and leaving comments. I should write about music more often.

But not today. Today I ask the musical question: "I wonder why the Wonderfalls?" Or: why did the show Wonderfalls fail so spectacularly to gain an audience?

I've finally gotten around to watching the DVD box set of the complete series (13 episodes), and it strikes me as every bit as wonderful as it did when it first aired. It's smart, funny, clever, edgy (though I hate using that word, almost as much as "extreme"), and different without being alienating. Or so I thought; I guess it alienated the hell out of the majority of the TV audience, since it got cancelled after only four episodes.

Think about that: thirteen episodes on the DVD, but only four ever aired. Thirteen is an unusually large number of episodes to produce for a new show before its debut; generally, it's more like six or eight. That indicates Fox had a huge amount of confidence in the show, and probably had the testing to back it up. But then Fox, as it is wont to do, withheld it from the Fall schedule for some reason, then, when they finally did air it in March, put it up against the other show focused on a young woman who reluctantly obeys mysterious voices which tell her to do odd things that result in helping people in unexpected ways, Joan of Arcadia. Joan was already a hit, and Wonderfalls got its ass kicked. Rather than switching time slots or showing any other kind of support, Fox let it wither and die.

It can't all be Joan's fault, though, can it? So why didn't it catch on? Probably a big part of the problem, I have to admit, was that the main character, Jaye Tyler, wasn't immediately, conventionally likeable, she wasn't syrupy sweet, full of light and goodness. She was a slacker, and proud of it, and a practicing misanthrope to boot, extremely resentful that she was being made to help people. (In one of the unaired episodes, she catches a baby, saving its life; when the people around her applaud, she snaps, "Shut up!") Pamie at Television Without Pity, for example, constantly expressed hatred for Jaye and her negative attitude in her recaps of the show (which is hilarious, since Jaye's attitude strikes me as remarkably similar to that of your typical recapper for Television Without Pity). It's not like Pamie doesn't give good reasons for her dislike of Jaye; I just happened to have the opposite reaction. I immediately and completely liked Jaye. Her sour, darkly humorous crankiness was refreshingly unusual for a lead character on TV, and her view of humanity often mirrored mine (in brief: people suck). And I think the actress who played her, Caroline Dhavernas, is great; she's beautiful, she has fantastic comic timing, she's got an extraordinarily expressive mouth that makes her line readings endlessly fascinating to me (which also goes back to point one: lovely as the day is long). She really sold me on the character, and on her strength, I could buy into the wacky concept of the show.

The supporting cast is an odd group, possibly also unlikeable to the typical television watcher, but I was taken with them as well. Her family (Darrin, Karen, Sharon, and Aaron -- is it any wonder non-rhyming Jaye feels like an outcast?) is especially good; my favorite is William Sadler as her father (I'm a lifelong fan, following from his performance as the Grim Reaper in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey). He's a staunch Republican, but he's portrayed neither as an unfeeling drone nor as a buffoon, as often happens on TV; he's a loving, understanding, supportive family man (although he can be obliviously inappropriate; in trying to get to the root of Jaye's fainting spell in the first episode, he asks her, "When was the last time you had an orgasm?"). Katie Finneran is also greatly appealing as Jaye's conservative, closeted lesbian sister Sharon; on the DVD commentary, the show's creators point out how she can make a simple line like "Nice to meet you" hilarious bitchy every time she says it. And Jaye's brother is an atheist theologian, which may have made certain viewers uncomfortable, but I don't think the "atheist" part was revealed in the episodes that aired.

Then, of course, there's that central conceit of the series: animals talk to Jaye. Not real animals -- fake ones, like lawn flamingoes, or wax lion sculptures. Why do they suddenly start talking to her? Who -- or what -- is behind it? Is Jaye just plain nuts? It seems that there must be some purpose to it, some order to the madness, since everything they tell Jaye to do results in the betterment of someone around her, though it often comes in roundabout ways that make Jaye look bad. (For example, in one of the episodes that did air, Jaye frees one of her high school classmates from a loveless marriage, but only by throwing a drink in her face at their class reunion with the deadpan statement, "I destroy you.") The animal voices are an admittedly goofy twist, which may unfortunately have turned people off to the show before they could connect with its real charms: romance, family warmth, and at its center, an outsider taking steps toward rejoining the rest of society -- all of which may have been filtered through offbeat, black humor, but all were definitely present.

Wonderfalls was a great, uniquely entertaining show, killed far too early. I don't know if it was the worst programming decision Fox has made, but it's certainly right up there with the premature cancellations of Action, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, and The Tick. Oh, and Firefly, for those of you who are so inclined. You know, I never cared for Firefly, but since Fox only seems to cancel the good stuff, maybe I should give it a second chance on DVD, too.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

MUSIC: Greatest Albums follow-up

Just because I know you were all dying with curiosity, here's 25 (or so) albums off the top of my head that I would've included on Spin's 100 Greatest Albums 1985-2005 list.

I know I have a fairly narrow frame of music, and I don't know that I would fight to the death to defend most of these, but I think they're pretty damn good. Here they are alphabetically:

Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes
Bad Religion, Stranger Than Fiction
Barenaked Ladies, Gordon
Ben Folds Five, Whatever and Ever Amen
Johnny Cash, American Recordings
The Cure, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
Faith No More, Angel Dust
Peter Gabriel, So
Indigo Girls, Rites of Passage
Lemonheads, It's a Shame About Ray
Metallica, the black album
Metallica, ...And Justice For All
Alanis Morrisette, Jagged Little Pill
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, She's the One soundtrack
Rage Against the Machine, the first album
The Refreshments, Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy
R.E.M., Green
R.E.M., Out of Time
Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger
Bruce Springsteen, The Rising
Sugar, Copper Blue
Therapy?, Troublegum
They Might Be Giants, John Henry
Weezer, the first album
Neil Young, Harvest Moon

And, as I see it, the three biggest omissions, which I would fight to the death to defend*:

Foo Fighters, The Colour and the Shape
Green Day, American Idiot
Tom Petty, Full Moon Fever

*Well, your death, maybe.

MUSIC: Spin's 100 Greatest Albums, 1985-2005

Shamelessly stolen from Delenda Est Carthago*, I'm taking a look at Spin Magazine's 100 Greatest Albums of the past 20 years (which is how long Spin has been in existence). Let's see which ones I own (or used to own), which ones I should own, and which ones Spin's got its head up its ass over (which is probably a lot, since, after all, it is Spin).

  1. Radiohead - OK Computer (1997). These guys were #1 on my list, too... of things I don't get. As in, I don't get why anybody would listen to them at all, let alone claim that they made the greatest album of the past 20 years. God, they're boring. Boring!
  2. Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988). From the era when I actually listened to rap music (via my college roommates). Through repeated, involuntary listenings, I eventually opened up and grew to appreciate a number of rap artists, with these guys right at the top. This is a brilliant album, but strangely, I've never owned it myself. The only P.E. I own right now is Apocalypse '91: The Enemy Strikes Black, which is also great, but not quite in the same groundbreaking league.
  3. Nirvana - Nevermind (1991). Of course I own it, and of course it's great. I don't quite worship them the way others of my approximate generation did (and still do), and I'm actually a little surprised that the Foo Fighters (whom I like much better than Nirvana) didn't make the list, but I can't deny this was a landmark record.
  4. Pavement - Slanted and Enchanted (1992). Never liked 'em. My buddy Matt loved these guys, and tried to convert me; didn't work. I'd rather listen to Quint scraping the blackboard with his fingernails in Jaws on an hour-long loop than to ever hear a song off this album again.
  5. The Smiths - The Queen is Dead (1986). What a whiny bastard Morrissey is.
  6. Pixies - Surfer Rosa (1988). The only album of theirs I've ever owned. I was never a big fan, but this one grew on me. Plus there's a topless gal on the cover. Tee hee!
  7. De La Soul - 3 Feet High and Rising (1989). This was one of the hip hop artists that did not win me over back in college. I always almost kind of maybe sort of a little bit liked them, but never quite became a fan.
  8. Prince - Sign O' the Times (1987). I had to look up this album on Amazon to see which songs I'd recognize from it, and the answer is: none. Huh.
  9. PJ Harvey - Rid of Me (1993). Don't care for her. No sir.
  10. N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton (1988). "Straight outta Compton! Crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube!" Yeah, this album is sweet.
  11. U2 - Achtung Baby (1991). I can take or leave U2. This album's okay, I guess, but I've never owned it, and likely never will.
  12. Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique (1989). Owned it, didn't love it as much as everyone else did, but I liked it all right.
  13. Hüsker Dü - New Day Rising (1985). Never got into this album. I liked Zen Arcade, which came out one year too early to qualify for this list.
  14. Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation (1988). Hate these guys. I just don't get their popularity: why would you want to listen to horrible vocals and distortion?
  15. Liz Phair - Exile in Guyville (1993). Lot of great stuff here, if a little uneven. And hey, how many other women singers put topless pictures of themselves in their liner notes? (No, seriously, how many?)
  16. Beck - Odelay (1996). Never owned a Beck album. I should really break down and get this one.
  17. Nas - Illmatic (1994). Nas? Nah!
  18. Guns N' Roses - Appetite for Destruction (1987). I played this album about 23,000 times in my Freshman year of college. I can still rock out to it every once in a while. They imploded in an ugly way, but they were great while they lasted.
  19. Hole - Live Through This (1994). I actually prefer the studio polish of Celebrity Skin -- especially the way it takes the raw, grating edge out of Courtney Love's vocals -- but this one's got some good stuff.
  20. Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993). I feel like I could like these guys if I listened to them more, but I don't feel like listening to more. So there.
  21. Public Enemy - Fear of a Black Planet (1990). Another great album. I think I might actually still own this on vinyl, somewhere.
  22. My Bloody Valentine - Loveless (1991). Who?
  23. Outkast - Stankonia (2000). I think I've heard exactly one song by Outkast (you can probably guess which one), and while I liked it, I suspect I wouldn't like much else by them.
  24. Sleater-Kinney - Dig Me Out (1997). I did own this album, but didn't listen to it much. I've tried to appreciate this group, but the lead vocals have such a piercing, wailing, yodeling quality to them... I can't get past that.
  25. Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral (1994). Not a fan. Does this album have "Closer"? I like that one song. That's it.
  26. Björk - Post (1995). I like a couple of her songs, but I can't imagine listening to a whole album.
  27. The Cure - The Head on the Door (1985). Interesting choice. I'd have expected Disintegration instead. Frankly, my favorite is Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.
  28. Oasis - Definitely Maybe (1994). Is this the one with "Wonderwall" and "Champagne Supernova"? No? Then I didn't like this album.
  29. Fugazi - 13 Songs (1989). I've never really given these guys a chance. I think I might like them. Maybe one day I'll find out.
  30. The Notorious B.I.G. - Ready to Die (1994). Never liked him, and liked him even less once Puff Daddy co-opted his death.
  31. Dinosaur Jr. - You're Living All Over Me (1987). Hate these guys. Put 'em up there with Sonic Youth and Pavement in the category, "Groups everyone but Tom liked in college."
  32. The Replacements - Tim (1985). MATS!! Actually, I don't care for them all that much. This is the one album of theirs I'd consider owning. "Bastards of Young" is genius, and "Waitress in the Sky" is a delightfully poisonous song.
  33. Ice Cube - AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted (1990). I liked this album at one time, but now I couldn't tell you one thing about it. I'm not very gangsta, yo.
  34. Elliot Smith - Either/Or (1997). How 'bout neither?
  35. Dr. Dre - The Chronic (1992). This is some good shit right here.
  36. Pixies - Doolittle (1989). It ain't Surfer Rosa, so I didn't like it much.
  37. Guided By Voices - Bee Thousand (1994). No clue who or what this is. I might recognize a song if you played it for me, but really, why bother?
  38. A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory (1991). Same as with De La Soul -- almost but not quite liked them.
  39. Lucinda Williams - Lucinda Williams (1988). I should get some Lucinda Williams. Right now!! (Okay, maybe later.)
  40. Run-D.M.C. - Raising Hell (1986). Rap I actually listened to before college! Whoa. Never owned it, but liked it a lot.
  41. Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream (1993). This was great stuff.
  42. Jane's Addiction - Nothing's Shocking (1988). The only Jane's album I ever liked. I don't own this anymore, but I should.
  43. Boogie Down Productions - Criminal Minded (1987). You got me floating on this one.
  44. Green Day - Dookie (1994). My favorite album on this list so far.
  45. Kanye West - College Dropout (2004). I've heard a couple songs, and he's good, but he's so overhyped (see #49 below), I just can't buy into him.
  46. The Fall - The Nation's Saving Grace (1985). If I looked this up, it might ring some bells, but I really can't be bothered.
  47. Eric B. & Rakim - Paid in Full (1987). Nope.
  48. Radiohead - Kid A (2000). See #1.
  49. Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998). Speaking of overhyped... Jesus, you'd think this album could cure cancer, the way people went on and on about it when it came out. I never thought it was any better than mediocre.
  50. New Order - Low-Life (1985). Not a big New Order fan. Too depressing even for me.

    As your reward for making it to the halfway point, here is your picture of Misty May's ass (which has once again been popping up in the most common search terms used to find my site).

    You're welcome.

  51. Nirvana - In Utero (1993). Own it. Uneven, but the highs are very, very good.
  52. Beastie Boys - Licensed to Ill (1986). I don't think I've ever heard this album straight through. This is another one I should get.
  53. Rage Against the Machine - The Battle of Los Angeles (1999). Was this better than their first album? That one was great; their second one made me not want to get this third one.
  54. The Breeders - Last Splash (1993). I loved "Cannonball," but didn't much care for the rest of this album. The whole Pixies-Breeders-Belly axis of music never really caught on with me.
  55. The Chemical Brothers - Dig Your Own Hole (1997). Techno? Tech hell no. (I predict that line will become as immortal as NewsRadio's "Internet? Internot.")
  56. PJ Harvey - To Bring You My Love (1995). Again with the PJ Harvey!
  57. The White Stripes - White Blood Cells (2001). I've enjoyed what I've heard of the White Stripes, but I've never gotten an album. I probably should. I just have an unnatural fear of a band which consists only of one guitar and a drum kit.
  58. Metallica - Master of Puppets (1986). I would've gone with ...And Justice For All, but this is also an excellent, head-banging selection.
  59. Modest Mouse - The Lonesome Crowded West (1997). They bore me almost as much as Radiohead.
  60. De La Soul - De La Soul is Dead (1991). Again with the De La Soul!
  61. Weezer - Pinkerton (1996). This is the album of theirs I'm least inclined to purchase. Perhaps I should reconsider. I like their other stuff well enough.
  62. Missy Elliott - Supa Dupa Fly (1997). I liked that one song she did. You know, that one song? Where she does the thing? And says that other thing? Yeah, that one. I have no idea what I'm talking about. I don't care for her.
  63. Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994). Again with the Pavement!
  64. Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP (2000). Never owned it, but I could see myself getting it.
  65. Basement Jaxx - Remedy (1999). No idea.
  66. Outkast - Aquemini (1998). Again with the "again with the" joke!
  67. Slayer - Reign in Blood (1986). Slayer??
  68. Tricky - Maxiquaye (1995). Nope.
  69. DJ Shadow - Entroducing DJ Shadow (1996). Uh-uh.
  70. Jay-Z - The Blueprint (2001). Negatory.
  71. The Jesus and Mary Chain - Psychocandy (1985). My best friend from college was a huge fan of JMC. Me, not so much.
  72. Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995). Who? Is that a person's name?
  73. Pulp - Different Class (1995). Don't think so.
  74. Portishead - Dummy (1994). Nein.
  75. Le Tigre - Le Tigre (1999). Nyet.
  76. Belle and Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister (1997). Pass.
  77. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002). Never owned an album, but I think I'd like them.
  78. The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses (1989). Don't see the appeal.
  79. Moby - Everything is Wrong (1995). I'd prefer not.
  80. D'Angelo - Voodoo (2000). Isn't this the guy who had that video where you could almost see his wing-wang? Whatever happened to this guy?
  81. Beck - Mellow Gold (1994). Ah, we finally get back to an artist I don't feel overwhelmingly negative or utterly indifferent to. That was a long cold stretch there. I don't have this album... but I could.
  82. Jeff Buckley - Grace (1994). Heard nothing but good things about this fella, and this album. Not interested.
  83. At the Drive-In - Relationship of Command (2000). My buddy Matt (again) loved this album, but it didn't do much for me. Really, probably 90% of the music Matt likes, I don't, and vice-versa. I don't know why I thought that was relevant.
  84. Soundgarden - Superunknown (1994). I love this album.
  85. R.E.M. - Automatic for the People (1992). I listened to this album a hundred times on my vacation in Spain, and I still have to say, it's one of my less favorite R.E.M. albums. I'd have put Green or Out of Time here instead.
  86. Meat Puppets - Up on the Sun (1985). I don't think I've ever heard anything by these guys. I'd say it's about 50/50 that I'd either really, really like them, or completely hate them.
  87. Blur - Parklife (1994). On the strength of the ass-kicking power of "Song 2" (you know: "Woohoo! Well I feel heavy metal!" Et cetera), I picked up a Blur album, and it was all whiny, weedy, wimpy crap. I guess they were being ironic when they pretended they knew how to make a good rock song.
  88. Stereolab - Emperor Tomato Ketchup (1996). Is this techno? I'm gonna guess this is techno. (God, could I be any more out of touch? Ah, screw you all! Get off my lawn!!) I'm looking at the album description on Amazon, and I still don't know what the hell it is. I just know it doesn't sound like anything I'd touch with a ten meter cattle prod.
  89. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Fever to Tell (2003). This is one of the top 100 albums? These guys had more of a "Flavor of the Month" feel to me, but whatever, it's not like I listened to the whole album. I could see myself giving it a try, though.
  90. Sonic Youth - Sister (1987). Again with the Sonic Youth!!
  91. XTC - Skylarking (1986). Great album.
  92. Big Black - Atomizer (1986). No clue.
  93. Pearl Jam - Ten (1991). Did not age well, except for "Jeremy," which still kicks ass.
  94. Slint - Spiderland (1991). Who?
  95. Elastica - Elastica (1995). Okay, I actually did own this album, and this is just crazy talk. This was nothing special whatsoever.
  96. The Pogues - Rum, Sodomy and the Lash (1985). My favorite Pogues album by a country mile. This is pure genius from beginning to end.
  97. Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998). Okay, now they're just making up names. Neutral Milk Hotel? I call bullshit on that one! That's not for real!!
  98. Cornershop - When I Was Born for the 7th Time (1997). Another one of those albums my buddy Matt thought was brilliant and I couldn't stomach. My buddy Matt is apparently 8,000 times hipper than I am.
  99. Afghan Whigs - Gentlemen (1993). Matt likes these guys, too. I don't.
  100. The Strokes - This is It (2001). Like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I kind of feel like they're more of a fad than a lasting work of genius, but I could probably get into this album if I gave it a try.

Wow, that kind of dragged out, didn't it? And I don't seem to like, or even be aware of, most of the stuff Spin thinks is the be-all and end-all. That's probably why I don't read Spin. Oh, and also because it sucks.

*Literally, "Seize the day."

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

META: Quick note

Well, hello, all you people visiting from Comic Book Resources! And thanks to Augie De Blieck the younger, for linking to this little ol' blog in his column once again! Gee, I wish I had a column at Comic Book Resources. Then again, I also wish I weren't such a lazy bastard. And until I correct the latter, I sure as heck ain't gonna be working on the former.

Anyhoo. I'm glad people are taking a look at the glowingly positive review I recently posted (which is what Augie linked to), since I've been kind of feeling like I was getting a little too negative here with these two recent posts. It's a nice reminder: oh, yeah, I do like some stuff!

So, thanks for visiting, and thanks for leaving all those comments. I guess I'd better write some more stuff about comics to keep all y'all coming back!

Edited to add my voice to the chorus of fond farewells to Jim Aparo, who passed away last night.

Jim Aparo was one of the first comic book artists whose work I could recognize on sight, and which I knew always meant quality. When I think Batman, I always think of Aparo's version, which struck just the right balance between colorful superhero Batman and Dark Knight Detective Batman. He was one of the industry's greatest, and he will be missed.

Monday, July 18, 2005

MOVIES: Wedding Crashers

Wedding Crashers is a great showcase for both Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Wilson's laidback, fuzzy charms contrast perfectly with Vaughn's aggressive, hyper-fast, faux-hipster vibe. They make a perfect screen team, both as performers riffing off one another, and as the characters John (Wilson) and Jeremy (Vaughn), who have made an artform out of crashing weddings and seducing the bridesmaids, relatives, etc., who are already swept up in the romance of the day.

The movie is more than comfortable with being an R-rated sex comedy, and that's refreshing in and of itself. There's plenty of sex, and there are plenty of raunchy moments which makes this film more along the lines of Old School than, say, Dodgeball. For some reason, that didn't stop the people next to me from bringing their five-year-old to the theater, though. He spent most of the time bouncing up and down, or exploring the sounds his shoes could make on the sticky floor. So that was nice.

There aren't a great number of classic comedy lines that stuck with me after the movie was over; the comedy is primarily in the delivery from Vaughn and Wilson (and the wonderfully creepy demeanor of Christopher Walken, as the father of the girls who threaten to end Vaughn and Wilson's wedding crashing ways). You have to see the towering Vaughn telling his diminutive dancing partner, "I feel so tiny in your arms," to truly appreciate how hilariously, cheesily inane it is.

Rachel McAdams, as the object of Wilson's affections, does a decent enough job of not being overwhelmed by the performances of the leads, and being gorgeous enough that you'd understand why Wilson would want to give up his philandering ways for her, but it's Isla Fisher (apparently soon to be Mrs. Ali G), as McAdams' sister, who is the discovery here; as the "level five clinger" who obsesses over Vaughn, she's a riotous dynamo of craziness. What she does to Vaughn at a family dinner is one of the film's funniest, naughtiest moments. (By the way, in case you were wondering, in that sex scene with Vaughn? I hate to burst your bubble, but that's a body double. Hey, I'm a poet!)

There are only a few moments where the film drags, mostly in the scenes where Wilson moons over McAdams, or in which McAdams' boyfriend, played by Bradley Cooper (formerly of Alias) proves to be an even bigger asshole than Craig Kilborn was in Old School. Not the scenes where he interacts with Vaughn and Wilson, such as the brutal "touch" football game, but in the moments where he's on the phone alone, bragging about his cheating ways, or plotting to expose Vaughn and Wilson as the charlatans they are.

But these moments are few and far between. I laughed a lot in this film, and some of those laughs linger for quite a while. And they only get bigger with a surprise cameo near the end of the film, when a probably easy-to-guess comedy star shows up as Chaz, the king of the wedding crashers. The wrap-up to the film is fairly conventional, but the trip there is more than worth it. Oh, and a tip for those of you who like to wait for "Easter eggs" in the credits: don't bother, there aren't any, unfortunately.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

TV: Justice League Unlimited

Last night's season finale* of Justice League Unlimited was phenomenal. It's right up there with my all-time favorite episodes of this WB animation universe, primarily due to its handling of the Flash. I love it when they allow the Flash to go beyond his comic relief function, when he's allowed to demonstrate what a tremendously powerful hero he can be.

My favorite use of Flash in this series goes back to the classic "A Better World" episodes, in which the Justice League clashes with their dark counterparts, the Justice Lords. Flash outthinks and overpowers the alternate-version Batman, then fights the alternate Superman to a brief -- but incredibly impressive -- standstill. It gives me great satisfaction when Flash is allowed to be more than just kind of fast; in these episodes, he shows that even Superman is slow compared to him. I dig that!

And in last night's episode, "Divided We Fall" -- now that is fast. The entire team has been defeated by the Brainiac/Lex Luthor combination, all but Flash. "Are you going to fight me alone, boy?" Brainiac/Luthor taunts Flash -- and Flash turns tail and runs away. Brainiac/Luthor clearly expected no more from him, and he goes about rebuilding his HQ -- when Flash returns from the opposite direction at mind-numbing speed, and slams into him with titanic force, partially destroying his armor. Before Brainiac/Luthor can recover, here comes the Flash again -- WHAM!! -- delivering another devastating blow. Flash accelerates even more, tapping into the previously undiscovered Speed Force -- and suddenly he's circling the world in the blink of an eye, striking Brainiac/Luthor again and again. Imagine the force behind a running punch -- when the run leading up to it spans the entire Earth. And the visuals here are breathtaking. This is top-notch superhero animation, as exciting as anything done in The Incredibles.

And then when Brainiac/Luthor has been knocked to the ground, Flash is on him like lightning, and with both hands blurring, he disassembles Brainiac, quite possibly molecule by molecule. The smartest and mightiest creatures on the planet have been laid low by this villain, and Flash takes him apart with his bare hands. I don't mind telling you, I was cheering my fool head off. The Flash kicks ass, and don't you forget it!

I thought Flash's triumph, and the coda, in which the Justice League decides to return to Earth, was a fitting conclusion to the series, and to the WB/DC animation universe. I had heard a while ago that this was to be the end of it all, that the series was coming to an end with this episode, and that there were no plans for any other series beyond that. Well, Montykins has reported from the San Diego Comic Con, and others have since confirmed, that this was not the end after all. Monty attended a WB animation panel at the Con, and wrote: "[Saturday's] episode looks great (it's basically the season finale), and the preview of next season was amazing. Three words: Legion. Of. Doom. Yes, with a giant Manta-headed building rising out of a swamp. Oh boy!"

Oh boy, indeed! These cartoons, from the first Batman incarnation through last night's episode, collectively have been the best superhero animation ever shown on television. I'm glad to know the run isn't yet at an end!

*Jeff Wood points out in the comments that this wasn't the season finale; next week's is.

COMICS: All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder

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At the risk of certain people telling me I just don't "get" it: this was awful. This was a truly bad comic. First of all, apparently I misunderstood the intent of this comic -- I thought it was meant to reinvent the characters for a new, all-ages audience. Obviously I was wrong on the "all-ages" part, but this comic doesn't work for a new audience, period. This is just more fanboy fap material. I couldn't possibly show this to someone who doesn't already love comics -- not even a non-comics reader who loved Batman Begins -- and expect them to enjoy it. They might say, "Hey, who's the hot chick showing her ass?" but that's about it.

Second, what is with the hot chick showing her ass? It's the first issue of a Batman and Robin book, and we get four pages in which Batman appears (three of them only partial views of his cape or hand), no pages of Robin, and five pages of Victoria's Secret Vicki Vale. I get it: Jim Lee draws hot chicks really well. The problem is, I don't feel the urge to masturbate to comic book art, so those five pages were a stupid, pointless waste.

As far as the "no pages of Robin" goes, I think this book would've been much better served by skipping the introductions, and having Batman and Robin already an established crime-fighting team. Yet another retelling of Robin's origin -- who cares? Who gives a rat's ass? Tell a new story.

Then there are any number of additional stupidities already pointed out by many and varied webloggers. "Jocko-Boy Vanzetti" takes out Dick Grayson's parents with between-the-eyes accuracy -- with a handgun from long distance? Vicki Vale takes a nightstick to the face -- and shrugs it off? Dick Grayson pulls a previously-unseen grappling hook and line out of his skintight circus uniform? Or perhaps it just materialized out of his armpit? And, not to harp on it, but the whole Vicki Vale intro scene -- she's got no plans for the evening, yet she's wearing her $500 bra and panties and her high heels, while she's sipping a martini and dictating her column. The lingerie I can maybe almost forgive -- maybe she just got home from the office and changed out of her work clothes (which I assume we will discover next issue are supremely slutty) -- but high heels? And that column she's dictating... is it meant to indicate that she's an idiot? "I mean, come on." "I mean, how lame is that?" "I don't think so, Masked Manhunter." "--and looks? Excuse me. Do not get me started." Perhaps she dictates her column because she's illiterate. And the whole riff she does on her door buzzer, as though she's never heard it before -- why has Frank Miller reimagined Vicki Vale as retarded?

Then we have the final two pages: Batman waits for the cops to pile into their patrol car, then he tears it in half with the Batmobile, setting off explosions which would kill them all (which may just be Jim Lee's hyperactive artwork undermining Miller's writing -- or not, it's hard to tell at this point). Either Batman's a killer, or the Gotham City Police are fireproof. And that big, dramatic, last page reveal of Batman, dangling the terrified, newly-orphaned Dick Grayson by the neck, snarling at him, "You've just been drafted. Into a war." That's Frank Miller at his worst. Which is it: macho bullshit? Or a satire of macho bullshit? Doesn't matter; either way, it's crap.

It actually makes me angry that people are going to love this comic, regardless of its quality, or lack thereof, just because it's Frank Miller doing Batman*. Doesn't matter what the hell he does. He can do whatever he wants, and everyone's going to eat it up. Even the editors, apparently. I wish comic books still had editors who knew how to edit.

Even I feel the compulsion to buy the next issue, after all that I've just said. That's how strong the pull of this project is. (Kind of like how I went to the theater for Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, despite The Phantom Menace being one of the worst movies I've ever seen.) I guess we'll have to wait and see if I can resist it or not.

*Let me be more specific here: it's not that I begrudge anyone their enjoyment of this comic on whatever level it is that they enjoy it, it's just that in comparison, by not agreeing, I'm setting myself to be portrayed as a crank and a jerk who's missing the "irony", and that bugs me.

Friday, July 15, 2005

COMICS: Zombie King

I keep getting all these zombie comics, out of some weird sense of obligation due to my other site, and none of them (except Kirkman's Walking Dead, which is excellent, and Zombie Tales, which was both good and free) have been especially enjoyable.

This latest one, though -- hoo boy. This is just awful. Plain awful.

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A zombie comic really shouldn't be that difficult to do passably well. Zombies + victims = entertainment! But just about everything this zombie comic can do wrong, it does. Frank Cho sure can draw women with big boobies real good, but he's pure crap as a writer.

First of all, it over-explains the zombies. There's a whole, big, interminable scene (it's four pages of talking heads, but it feels like forty) where two suits at a pharmaceutical company talk about some drug they were making that went wrong when they tested it on humans and blah-de-goddam-blah. You don't explain zombies! You just wind 'em up and let 'em go! Sheesh! And it's the clunkiest exposition I've ever had the misfortune of reading. "Tell me everything from the start," says one character. "As you know," begins the second. As you know. Could there be a more blatant signal that this is the laziest, clumsiest means of conveying information to the reader? Having one character explain to another character things he already knows? "Needless to say," the second character later says. If it's needless to say, don't say it!!

Second, the human characters are stupid and completely uninteresting. If you're gonna have humans face off against zombies, you've gotta have humans who inspire at least a modicum of interest or identifiability (if that's a word); the viewer/reader needs a reason to care if the humans die or not. Instead, we get 17 pages with two moronic hicks. Two unfunny moronic hicks -- they totally fail to work even as comic relief. Then there's the two talking heads. And some dude with a scar who makes a brief appearance. That's it for the humans. Who cares?

Third, the main zombie in this comic -- and I can not overstate the sheer, horrible pointlessness of this -- the main zombie is caught by the two hicks fucking a cow. That's the big twist: the zombies not only want to eat, they also want to reproduce. So he fucks a cow. Fucks a cow! For seven pages. Flipping through the book at the comic shop, I winced at this, but I also -- and here's the generosity I applied to this book, out of my sense of duty to buy all zombie comics -- I also thought, "Maybe this is so twisted and wrong it'll actually be good. Maybe this bizarre opening scene will lead to increasingly, ridiculously over-the-top scenarios, maybe this will lead to some great black comedy." No, it leads to the hicks shooting the zombie a bunch of times, and then the two talking heads at the end. It's not so bad it's good. It's so bad it's bad.

While at the shop, Dorian and/or Mike observed that there was no parental warning of any kind on the comic. I felt a warning tag like this might be appropriate:

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That's me: always looking out for the kids.

Anyhoo. Guess I'm off the zombie comics kick for now! Thanks for breaking my habit, Frank Cho!

TV: Sci-Fi Friday

It's Sci-Fi Friday, as the Sci-Fi Channel likes to call it, which means it's time for the best TV you're going to see this summer. I'm talking about the season two premiere of Battlestar Galactica tonight. This is just a tremendous show (it's solidly in my top five), full of great acting, inventive special effects, and actual ideas, about faith, destiny, and what it is to be human, which you don't get a lot of in most sci-fi these days. I can't wait to pick up from last season's ass-kicker of a cliffhanger ending, with half the cast scattered throughout the galaxy, Adama critically wounded from an assassin's attack, and President Roslin in jail following a military coup. I made Ian watch that episode when it was on NBC last week, and I think I got him hooked on the show (though he won't be watching tonight, since he's in San Diego for some reason or another). Now I just need to hook all the rest of you!

Also, I've got a wicked crush on Katee Sackhoff. Can you blame me?

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Also premiering tonight is season nine (!!) of Stargate SG-1. I've never watched the show before, but I'm thinking of tuning in tonight because Ben Browder is joining the cast, which will make it as close to Farscape as I'm going to get anytime soon. (Ooh! I see Claudia Black is guest-starring in at least the first five episodes. It's a Farscape reunion!) What makes me reluctant to check it out is the vast back story from the past eight seasons that I'm not going to have a clue about. For example, here's an excerpt from's recap of the last episode from the previous season (a two-parter):

Satellite sweeps of the Giza plateau show no traces of the ZPM's energy signature. Whether Ra took it with him when he left Earth is unknown. The SG-1 team might not know where the ZPM is, but they know where it was: Giza, in the year 3000 B.C.E. Against Carter's better judgment, she, O'Neill, Daniel and Teal'c take the Puddle Jumper equipped with the Ancient time-travel device back to 3000 B.C.E., with O'Neill — the only one who possesses the Ancient gene required to fly the craft — at the controls.
My head is spinning! Here's another quote:

Kawalski and his team, along with O'Neill, Daniel and Carter, fly to Chulak through the stargate. There they are met by Jaffa soldiers loyal to the Goa'uld system lord Apophis, taken prisoner and locked in a cell. Apophis' First Prime, Teal'c, questions them. O'Neill tells Teal'c that that they know he secretly hides his resentment of the Goa'uld and his belief that Apophis is a false god, and that in an alternate future he frees the Jaffa. Teal'c, hiding his true feelings, calls this blasphemy and takes Daniel to see Apophis.
Who the? What the? Man! I need to go lie down for a while!

I'm hoping tonight's premiere will be a good jumping on point for new viewers, but I ain't countin' on it.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

TV: Emmy Nominations 2005

The Emmy nominations are out, and it's a mixed bag. There's some great recognition for both new shows and old shows that have never been nominated in major categories before, and there's a lot of the same old crap that gets nominated year after year out of pure reflex.

The best news is Scrubs has finally, finally gotten a nomination for Best Comedy Series, and Zach Braff is up for Best Lead Actor in a Comedy. (Still grossly overlooked: John C. McGinley as Dr. Cox.) Also, both Glenn Close and the wonderful CCH Pounder have been nominated for The Shield, Close for Best Actress, Pounder for Best Supporting Actress.

The bad news: those were the only nominations for The Shield. Where's the Chiklis? Where's the Chiklis?? It didn't even make Best Drama, pushed to the side by the traditionally over-nominated 24 and The West Wing. The West Wing and Will & Grace nods are the prime examples of how far behind reality the Emmy voters are; both of those shows passed any worthiness of Emmy recognition a good three years ago. Will & Grace got fifteen nominations? Bitch, please.

And I see Desperate Housewives has taken the Ally McBeal position as the hour-long dramedy that steals all the comedy slots. Three Lead Actress nominations? (Sucks to be Eva Longoria.) And people are already saying Housewives got snubbed because Longoria and Nicolette Sheridan didn't make the cut. Dude, how greedy can you get?

Here's a list of the categories I care about, with a few more notes along the way.

Comedy Series

Arrested Development
Desperate Housewives
Everybody Loves Raymond
Will and Grace

The Will & Grace nom is a joke. Look outside your tiny little world, Emmys! Why not Reno 911!? Why not Entourage? I love seeing my two favorite comedies up there, Scrubs and Arrested Development, but I don't think Arrested has a shot in hell of repeating last year's win. Housewives will dominate, mark my words.

Drama Series

Six Feet Under
The West Wing

All predictable, even freshman Lost -- except for Deadwood. As great as it is, and it is crazy great, I wouldn't have bet money that it would get nominated. It didn't last year, after all. Now that it is, though, I think it's a lock to win. I mean, come on! Look at those other nominees. Only Lost should have enough buzz to be a challenge. The Emmy voters are clueless, but even they aren't clueless enough to give West Wing its fifth win. Are they? And you fans of The Wire, who made such dire predictions about what you call the best show on TV not getting any Emmy love -- well, good call there.

Lead Actor, Comedy Series

Jason Bateman - Arrested Development
Zach Braff - Scrubs
Eric McCormack - Will & Grace
Ray Romano - Everybody Loves Raymond
Tony Shalhoub - Monk

First two: good. Last three: bad. I always liked Everybody Loves Raymond, but that's an Emmy hog I'll be glad not to see at the Emmys next year. And Monk had an awful season, so bad it made Tony Shalhoub look bad. That's bad.

Lead Actor, Drama Series

Hank Azaria - Huff
James Spader - The Practice
Hugh Laurie - House
Kiefer Sutherland - 24
Ian McShane - Deadwood

Huff is a drama? I thought it was a comedy. Well, whatever. It's nice to see a category with mostly new and deserving faces. Hugh Laurie is fantastic in House, and his appearance here is the biggest surprise. I can't believe Ian McShane wasn't even nominated last year (and even worse, the Deadwood cast that did get nominated in 2004, Brad Dourif and Robin Weigert, didn't make it in 2005 -- that's crap!), but now that he's here, he should win, if there's any justice. He's the best actor in the best role on television.

Lead Actress, Comedy Series

Marcia Cross - Desperate Housewives
Teri Hatcher - Desperate Housewives
Patricia Heaton - Everybody Loves Raymond
Felicity Huffman - Desperate Housewives
Jane Kaczmarek - Malcolm In The Middle

These nominations are so predictable, it just makes me feel tired. Hatcher wins.

Lead Actress, Drama Series

Jennifer Garner - Alias
Patricia Arquette - Medium
Mariska Hargitay - Law and Order Special Victim's Unit
Glenn Close - The Shield
Frances Conroy - Six Feet Under

Glenn Close is a pleasant surprise; Patricia Arquette is an unpleasant one. And seriously, if you can't find someone better to nominate than Mariska Hargitay, you just ain't looking hard enough. May I suggest Deadwood's Molly Parker?

Supporting Actor, Comedy Series

Jeffrey Tambor - Arrested Development
Brad Garrett - Everybody Loves Raymond
Peter Boyle - Everybody Loves Raymond
Jeremy Piven - Entourage
Sean Hayes - Will and Grace

Hopefully with Raymond gone next year, a few more Arrested Development actors can take their places. Take your pick: David Cross, Tony Hale, or best of all, Will Arnett as GOB. He's freakin' hilarious. Also, bump Hayes, get John C. McGinley in there. The Piven nomination is awesome. He's the funniest part in a very funny show.

Supporting Actor, Drama Series

William Shatner - Boston Legal
Terry O'Quinn - Lost
Naveen Andrews - Lost
Oliver Platt - Huff
Alan Alda - The West Wing

Okay, I believe you, Huff is a drama. Some good picks from Lost; I hope O'Quinn takes it. (But I bet Shatner will.) And I hate the way West Wing gets guest actors nominated as though they were regular castmembers. Not that Alda is undeserving (I have no opinion either way, since I stopped watching the show a couple years ago), it's just that he belongs in the Guest Actor category. Robbed: everyone on Deadwood. Seriously, everyone. But especially William Sanderson as E.B. Farnum, Brad Dourif as Doc Cochran, and Dayton Callie as Charlie Utter. Oh, and W. Earl Brown as Dan Dority. And Jim Beaver as Ellsworth. And John Hawkes as Sol. Like I said: everyone.

Supporting Actress, Comedy Series

Doris Roberts - Everybody Loves Raymond
Jessica Walter - Arrested Development
Holland Taylor - Two and a Half Men
Conchata Ferrell - Two and a Half Men
Megan Mullally - Will & Grace

Look, I like Two and a Half Men, as unoriginal and formulaic as it is. But those two Supporting Actress nominations are the biggest "What the fuck?" entries on this list. Seriously: what the fuck? Where did that come from? You ignore Sarah Chalke and Judy Reyes on Scrubs and Portia de Rossi and Alia Shawkat (who is the funniest young actress on TV) on Arrested Development, and you pick those two?? Sure, they're both pretty good, but that's just so damn random. Especially when the show isn't nominated for anything else.

Supporting Actress, Drama Series

Sandra Oh - Grey's Anatomy
Tyne Daly - Judging Amy
Blythe Danner - Huff
CCH Pounder - The Shield
Stockard Channing - The West Wing

Who did Showtime blow to get all these Huff nominations? And what did I just say about West Wing and guest stars? Stockard Channing only appears every once in a while; she's a Guest Actress, and shouldn't be taking up space in this category, space which should go to Kim Dickens, Paula Malcomson, or especially Robin Weigert for Deadwood. At least CCH Pounder is in there.

The countdown to the Emmy broadcast on Sept. 18 begins! I bet I'll have a thing or two more to say at that time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

MOVIES: Zombies, zombies, zombies!

Here's how lazy I've become in posting: I'm now going to copy almost verbatim a post I recently made in my goofy fictional zombie blog. Those of you who have already seen it, I thank you for patronizing my other blog. Those of you who haven't: what, would it kill you to click on the link??

Anyhoo, seeing what a freak I am for zombies, here's a post about my ten favorite zombie movies:

I'm excluding Land of the Dead from consideration. It's too recent, and I've only seen it once; it has yet to become fixed in its proper historical context. But as for the others:

10. Return of the Living Dead 3: A tender love story between a boy and his zombie girlfriend, Julie. Hey, any movie featuring Adam-12's Kent McCord has got it going on right from the start. Includes the immortal line: "Julie, are you eating him?" Yes. Yes, she is.

9. 28 Days Later: For a zombie movie that wants to pretend it's not a zombie movie, it's a pretty darn good zombie movie. Brendan Gleeson is brilliant. Darn that monkey virus!

8. Zombie: I have not seen nearly enough of Italian director Lucio Fulci's work, but I intend to correct that; of what I have seen, this is the best. A zombie fights a shark in this movie. A ZOMBIE FIGHTS A SHARK IN THIS MOVIE!!!

7. Cemetery Man: Another Italian film, and Rupert Everett's finest role. By turns darkly humorous and intensely, emotionally cruel, this is a most bizarre and affecting zombie movie.

6. Shaun of the Dead: The best of the recent crop of zombie flicks (again, with Land of the Dead taken out of consideration), it succeeds as both comedy and horror. I just wish it had led to Spaced getting an American DVD release. Damn it!

5. The Return of the Living Dead: The original fast zombie movie! (I'm pretty sure.) Also, the original zombie comedy! (I think.) In the middle of the vast '80s glut of horror movies, this stood out as one of the rare films to possess some real character and inventiveness. Plus Linnea Quigley's graveyard dance (totally not safe for work) is super hot.

4. Night of the Living Dead: The godfather of the modern zombie genre; the benchmark against which all followers must be compared. A devastating snapshot of a nation's psyche; a terrifying exercise in claustrophobic dread and horror. "They're coming to get you, Barbara!"

3. Day of the Dead: George A. Romero created a masterpiece, then outdid himself twice. This second sequel took on the gung-ho military mindset so prevalent in the '80s, and also introduced the world to Bub, the best zombie ever.

2. Dead Alive: The goriest film ever made. Also a tremendously funny one. And, as in 28 Days Later, it all starts with a monkey. Pesky zombie monkeys! Peter Jackson is wasting his talents on giant chimps and talking trees. He needs to make more movies with evil zombie babies and ninja priests who say, "I kick arse for the Lord!"

1. Dawn of the Dead: I've already attested to the fact that this is the greatest movie of all time (well, Zombie Tom has, anyway, and he's a bit more enthusiastic about this kind of thing than I am), so it should be no surprise to find it at #1 on this list. Great zombie effects, even by today's standards, and even accounting for the very fake, bright red paint-like blood, which is oddly charming. The intensely paranoid atmosphere outstrips the first, making this the scariest of Romero's Dead canon. This was a quantum leap forward for zombies, and horror films in general.

Honorable mentions: the remakes of Night of the Living Dead (by horror FX legend Tom Savini) and Dawn of the Dead, especially the latter; it almost made the list.

Missing from this list: Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series. Those movies seem to be more about demon possession than straight-up zombies. But if I were to count them, Evil Dead II ("Groovy!") would go right behind Dead Alive, with Army of Darkness ("Come get some!") following immediately after.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

COMICS: The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck

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I'm calling it in July: the best comic work I have read, or will read, this year, is the recently reprinted collection of Don Rosa's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.

I'm about a decade behind the curve on this one (the first of the collection's 12 chapters was published in America in 1994, a few years earlier in Europe), so forgive me if I act like I'm the first person ever to discover Don Rosa's work. But I can't help gushing. This is an amazingly entertaining book, and it kills me that this has been out there all this time -- that people have spoken so very highly of Rosa and his Disney work, and I've paid absolutely no heed until now.

Life and Times is a brilliant piece of storytelling, building on the Scrooge McDuck character and stories created by Carl Barks, who is generally considered to be the greatest Disney comic artist ever. Certainly there would be no Don Rosa without Carl Barks; in the copious notes provided in the collection, Rosa makes it abundantly clear that he's Barks' number one fan, and that his (Rosa's) stories exist primarily due to the inspiration of, and as a tribute to, Carl Barks. I've greatly enjoyed the few Barks stories I've read in various collections and reprints, but I have to say I instantly liked Rosa's work better. In part it's probably the more contemporary feel (though Life and Times is set decades in the past, it was created decades after the Barks originals they expand upon), but I also think they're just plain funnier, and Rosa's artwork is even more gorgeous and detailed and absorbing than Barks' already extremely high standards.

I mean, take a look at this panel (click to enlarge):

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You could spend a good five minutes, easy, admiring that one half-page piece of art. I know I did! The guy in the bathtub being flung out the window, rubber ducky at his knees, with the water popping out of the tub in one solid piece like jello out of a mold. The moose cowering in terror on the roof. The sign with its gold rush-inflated prices: "BACON (DON'T ASK!)" The guy with his finger stuck in the barrel of his gun. The sled dog lying on his back, drunk and grinning, cradling a bottle of hooch. The man sunk in the mud, counting "two" on his fingers like a drowning Daffy Duck in an old Warners Bros. cartoon. The guy sleeping through all the chaos in the upstairs window. The random creep in the foreground sticking his tongue out at the reader. And in the middle of it all, clearly the most dangerous figure in the scene, a swearing and furious Scrooge McDuck. This panel is so chock full of comic goodness, I get delirious with joy. This is the stuff of great comics!

And every panel is like this! This is one of the very most jam-packed examples, but every bit of Rosa's art is exquisitely detailed and packed with hilarious sight gags. And the expressiveness of Scrooge McDuck is incredible -- how can a duck convey so many emotions?

Rosa's writing is equal to his artistic skill. The story is built on every "Barksian fact" about Scrooge McDuck's life; if Barks threw out a line like, "I jounced to the African Rand in a bullock cart," then by gar, there Scrooge is jouncing in that cart in Chapter Six of Rosa's epic. But Rosa isn't just retelling old Barks tales; the basic facts come from Barks, but Rosa enlarges and (where necessary) fixes the details to make a comprehensive and wholly original history. (It kind of reminds me of Tom Stoppard expanding two minor characters from Hamlet into Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.) We follow Scrooge McDuck from his poverty-stricken beginnings, to the earning of his Number One Dime, to his early failed efforts to strike it rich, to his eventual astronomical success (accumulating "five multiplujillion, nine impossibidillion, seven fantasticatrillion dollars and sixteen cents"), all the while being "tougher than the toughies, and smarter than the smarties!" But Scrooge's adventures, his rough life and his many enemies, sour him into a bitter, greedy, lonely old man. Scrooge's development from a naive, trusting, kindly youth into a cynical, mistrustful, stingy adult is a fascinating narrative, clever, touching, funny, and at times surprisingly dark for a Disney comic.

I imagine there are a number of Americans right now who are thinking, "Disney? Scrooge McDuck? You have got to be kidding." While the rest of the world is thinking, "It's about time you discovered Rosa!" For some reason, Disney comics are huge outside of America, primarily in Europe. I mean, staggeringly huge. Like, a popularity equivalent to Star Wars. Did you click on that Wikipedia link to Scrooge's Number One Dime above? (This was my approximate reaction on finding that entry: "!") Or take a look at the entry for Scrooge himself. Or Don Rosa. You think those insanely detailed entries were written by Americans? Not bloody likely.

Well, they're all right and we're all wrong. They're wrong about Jerry Lewis, and they're wrong about David Hasselhoff, but they're dead right about Rosa and Scrooge McDuck. Find a copy of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, I beg of you. It's the most wonderful comic I've read in years, and it will be for you, too.

Friday, July 08, 2005

COMICS: Thurs. 7/7/05

It's time to play, can Tom remember the comics he bought this week without looking?

Daredevil vs. Punisher: David Lapham's work, especially Stray Bullets, is always one of those things I think I should like, and actually have liked in small samplings, but which ultimately doesn't hold much appeal for me. This is the first work of his I've bought in probably five years, and it's okay, but again, it didn't convert me into a fanboy. I mean, first of all, the Daredevil vs. Punisher thing has been done to death, and it's been done much better. Punisher won't shoot Daredevil because he's a good guy; Daredevil won't let Punisher shoot any bad guys, even though they're really, really bad. Okay, got it. But there are some nice bits. I like the idea that the Punisher is going to confront the Jackal (or whatever he's called now), who is the guy who was pulling his strings way way back in those early Amazing Spider-Man comics which first introduced the Punisher. I liked the scene in the diner, with the waitress who reminded Frank of his dead wife. But then there's Hammerhead. Frickin' Hammerhead?? He has got to be the lamest villain of all time (yes, even lamer than Turner D. Century). His frickin' head is made of frickin' steel. That's his superpower. A steel head. LAME!!

The Incredible Hulk: A House of M tie-in. God damn it! We finally get Peter David back on the Hulk, and he's almost instantly saddled with having to play into this stupid-ass crossover. Still, it's a decent enough issue. The Hulk as an aboriginal champion? I like it.

Battle Pope: Dorian helpfully warned me that this was a reprint, but since I'd never read the original, I got it anyway. It's Robert Kirkman with Tony Moore's artwork, and I dig that team. I think this was the first comic work ever for both of them, and you can see Moore's art is fairly rough, but the comic holds up pretty well. Good blasphemous fun.

Marvel Team-Up: I keep buying this comic! What is up with that? I don't know, it's not horrible, but I'm sure I could find something better to spend my three bucks on. I did enjoy the final page appearance of Sleepwalker, arriving too late to be of any assistance whatsoever. I've been warned that I would not care for any other Sleepwalker comics, but Kirkman's portrayal of him in this storyline cracked me up. All in all, this was a truly pointless arc, with a few bits of humor to redeem it. In fact, the point was probably to be pointless -- just to be a fairly brief, funny, goofy interlude. It wasn't funny enough to be worth multiple issues, but it had its moments.

Batman: Dark Detective: I'm enjoying this series less as it goes along. I like the retro feel, I like the Joker's portrayal, I liked Batman's flipping Two-Face's coin over to the good side (has no writer ever thought of that before?). But there's a lot of modern-day bloat to this retro series -- six issues is pushing it, and the feet-dragging really shows in this fifth issue. And while it's nice to see a more humanized Batman, he doesn't seem very impressive, either as a superhero or as a detective, does he?

Y: The Last Man: Haven't read it yet.

I think that's it. If I've forgotten anything -- well, too bad, I guess.

MOVIES: Zombies vs. Vampires

In his review of Land of the Dead, Sean T. Collins writes,

Somebody (I feel like it was Ken Lowery, but damned if I can remember when) semi-recently argued that zombies should, by now, have as definite and defined a set of conventions (undead resurrected cannibals, contagion-laden bites, kill the brain and you kill the ghoul, etc.) as do vampires (wooden stakes, sunlight, no reflection, etc.).
That got some gears turning in the ol' noggin. It's true that there's plenty of variety in zombie movies. Sometimes zombies are slow, sometimes they're fast. Sometimes zombies are created by chemicals, sometimes by monkey virus, sometimes by voodoo (that's right, I'm counting Weekend at Bernie's 2 as a zombie movie), sometimes by a mysterious comet. Sometimes new zombies are created by zombie bites, sometimes it only takes a single drop of blood. Sometimes the transformation into a zombie is slow, and occurs only after death, sometimes the change is near-instantaneous (that's the third use of 28 Days Later as an example; it tries so hard to be a zombie movie that's not a zombie movie!). Sometimes zombies are completely mindless, sometimes they demonstrate intelligence. Sometimes they can only moan, sometimes they can speak. Sometimes they'll eat any part of a human, sometimes they specifically want brains.

But! This implies that vampires are presented in a uniform fashion, which is hardly the case. Some vampires fear religious symbols. Some don't. For some, religious symbols only work when the wielder has faith. Some vampires can turn into bats, some into wolves, some into mist, and some can look like any person they want to. Some vampires are burned by the sun, some are not. Some fear garlic, others don't. Some vampires are killed with a stake to the heart, some must be decapitated, some are killed by silver (which is just plain stupid -- are they so lazy they can't even keep werewolf and vampire mythology separated?). Some vampires must sleep in a coffin, some in the earth, some sleep upside-down like bats, some sleep wherever the hell they feel like. Some vampires turn humans into new vampires with a bite, some take a specific number of bites, some have to feed their own blood to the human. Sometimes vampires will become human again if the head vampire is killed. Some vampires rapidly age when killed, some burst into dust, some explode, some just plain die. Some vampires have hypnotic powers, some don't. Some have reflections, some don't. Some have irresistible sex appeal, some are unbearably hideous. And don't forget the space vampires!

I'm worn out looking for links; you can probably supply your own for those I skipped. And I'm sure you can think of several other variations that didn't occur to me. My point is, vampires are hardly presented in a uniform fashion. They change to some degree in almost every film, according to the whims of the filmmakers. Sometimes they're not even consistent within the same "universe" (such as the Blade series, which had different kinds of vampires in each installment, or the Buffy movie and TV versions, or even only within the Buffy TV show -- remember the Dracula episode?). Zombies are as similar as peas in a pod compared to vampires!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

MOVIES: House of Flying Daggers

I enjoyed House of Flying Daggers, but I couldn't help but feel it was a let-down from director Zhang Yimou's previous film, Hero (which I thought was the 2nd best movie of 2004). Partially, I'm sure, this is because I saw it on DVD, rather than the big screen. The visuals in House of Flying Daggers are still breathtakingly stunning on TV, but it's only on a movie screen (as I found with Hero) that the images have the power to totally absorb you, to surround you and transport you completely into their world of awesome beauty.

But, aside from my particular viewing experience, the movie simply doesn't measure up to its predecessor. It lacks the epic scope of Hero; it often feels small, in story (basically, a journey to and from the HQ of the House of Flying Daggers, a group opposing the corrupt government -- with martial arts battles and a love triangle along the way), elapsed time (almost the entire last half of the film takes place within just a few hours, which, in this kind of film, is a very brief span), and in population (there are only four characters of any significance in the film, and that's being generous to the fourth character). Well, it's not meant to be an epic, you say. I disagree: for us to grant the necessary emotional weight to the love triangle at the center of the film, for the operatic triumphs and tragedies of love to resonate, it has to be an epic, a romantic epic, giant in scale in all aspects. And it didn't feel that way to me. The story is still touching, but in more of a high school romance (with bamboo spears) kind of way, rather than a Shakespearean kind of way.

The battle scenes also suffer in comparison to Hero (after all, it is one of the greatest martial arts showcases of all time), but only slightly. They're still magnificent to behold, graceful and balletic and wonderfully impossible, poetic almost in their inventiveness and beauty. Two scenes are true stand-outs, among the best of their kind ever filmed: the "echo" game, in which a delicate dance turns into an assassination attempt, and the bamboo forest, in which soldiers scurry through treetops hurling makeshift bamboo spears at their targets.

My biggest complaint about the film, though, would have to be the missing ending. The plot, what little of it there is, involves government forces looking to find and destroy the House of Flying Daggers rebels. At the end of the film, the soldiers have located the House, and are preparing to attack. But the members of the House are aware that the soldiers have found them, and plan an ambush attack of their own. And this results in: nothing. Nothing! Literally absolutely nothing. The last we see of this is the soldiers stealthily approaching the hideout, swords held high. And we never go back there again. The rest of the film involves the violent resolution of the love triangle, but there is no resolution to the fate of the House of Flying Daggers. Sure, why should we care what happens with them? It's not like the freaking movie is named House of Flying Daggers or anything.

But you know me: I like to complain. Those quibbles aside, I thought this was an excellent movie. Certainly I have no cause to complain about the performances. Zhang Ziyi, who was the fourth lead in Hero, is the central character in HoFD, and that's right where she should be, center stage at all times. She's just ridiculously gorgeous, with grace and poise far beyond her years. She plays Mei, a blind dancer secretly working for the House of Flying Daggers. Takeshi Kaneshiro plays Jin, a member of the police force, who goes undercover to break Mei out of prison in order to get her to lead him back to the Flying Daggers headquarters, and who falls in love with her on the way. And Andy Lau is Leo, Jin's partner and contact along the journey, who warns Jin not to lose sight of his mission. All of them carry secrets which will lead to pain.

All the actors are fine in their roles (Zhang Ziyi especially so), but the film is less about them and their story and more about their battles, and the colorful and creative backdrops against which they play out. In a climactic sword fight, for example, the scenery turns from a fiery orange and yellow autumn to an all-white, snow-covered winter in a single minute. The use of color throughout the film is fascinating and unique, from the autumn reds and winter whites mentioned above to the overwhelming green, green, green of the House of Flying Daggers.

And, as I've already said, the fight scenes are amazing, lightning-fast choreography mixed with gravity-defying wire-work (which frankly is growing less impressive the more it's used, even though it still does its job here) and some CGI imagery (used with certain projectiles, like the bamboo spears, Jin's arrows, and a great many daggers which, true to the title, perform some unlikely feats of flying). Some of the more memorable sequences involve a sword wielded by a piece of cloth, four arrows striking their targets simultaneously to devastating effect, and Leo's slow-motion tackle of Mei into a pool of water. The fights are thrilling action spectacles, but they're also works of art.

I wish I had seen this in the theaters, but I was happy enough to see it on DVD. It's one of the best films I've seen this year.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

MOVIES: Land of the Dead

I finally got out to see Land of the Dead today, and I was pretty well pleased with it. It wasn't quite as epic, as landmark, as pointedly, wickedly satirical a film as I had hoped (although it hit a few good targets, targets which Dennis Hopper's "We do not negotiate with terrorists" line makes fairly obvious), but it was great fun, with truly copious amounts of gore.

Simon Baker was decent as the lead, but he's pretty bland; about the best I can say of his performance is that he's inoffensive. Asia Argento was inspired casting, a tribute to George Romero's fellow zombie film creator, Asia's father Dario Argento; she's convincingly tough, and effortlessly sexy. John Leguizamo was dynamic as a soldier trying to work his way into the upper ranks, and discovering that even though the world has been split into two basic groups, the living and the dead, there are still those among the living who see him as less than themselves -- as less than human, perhaps. And Dennis Hopper (as the high man on the pole) -- come on! He's Dennis fucking Hopper. He's deliciously evil: more soulless than the undead, concerned with nothing more than accumulating and maintaining his power, sneeringly lording it over those he considers his inferior, which is pretty much everyone. (His personal attendant, a black man dressed up and made to perform in a blatantly, stereotypically subservient fashion, straight out of the Stepin Fetchit era, is especially discomfiting to watch and damning of Hopper's character.) His repeated use of the line, "You have no right!" clearly illustrates his belief that only he has any rights. But I tell you what, to hear Hopper utter the line, "Zombies, man! They creep me out!" -- that was heavenly. That was transcendent. That helped me find my bliss, brothers and sisters.

But the movie is pretty well stolen by Eugene Clark as Big Daddy (that's the name on his gas station attendant uniform, anyway), the leader of the zombies. His lines consist of snarls and howls, but he's still the most compelling performer on the screen. Big Daddy is learning and adapting, organizing his people, teaching them skills, and finally leading them in an assault against the people who have oppressed and hunted and slaughtered them. The parallels to the Iraq war are often blunt, but the players are hard to define. Are the zombies the equivalent of the Iraqi guerrillas versus the U.S. troops? Or are they rising up against their own personal Saddam? There's no mistaking that Big Daddy, despite being a vicious undead killing machine, is often the most sympathetic character in the film. Perhaps my favorite scene is Big Daddy's discovery that the living soldiers have captured and strung up dozens of zombies by the feet, and wrapped them in paper targets for shooting practice. Who is more inhuman?

But forget all that social commentary crap. What about the gore? It's good and plentiful, my friends. It's hard to do something new with zombies these days, what with the recent glut of zombie pictures, but Romero pulls out some neat tricks. The headless zombie -- I won't say more, but you'll know which one I mean -- that was tremendous, clever and surprising and scary.

And the eating, oh, the eating! I can not believe how much they got away with here. Guts torn from still living humans and devoured, hands and arms torn in two like wishbones, heads torn from bodies, more severed limbs than you can shake a... a severed limb at! Strangely, though, the gore is often less disturbing than in Romero's earlier films, when the effects were less advanced, and the blood looked like red paint. There's a big-money sheen on the picture that somehow eliminates some of the visceral power of the earlier, cheaper, down and dirty films. And the scares are also overshadowed by the gore; there's less a sense of fear and dread, and much more emphasis on the gory aftermath.

But I appreciated how much of the special effects were man-made as opposed to digitally created. Sometimes the CGI stuff works, truly amazes and enhances the film experience (like in the first Matrix), but 99 times out of 100, I'd rather see hand-crafted, physically solid makeup effects than computer trickery. You can do a lot more with computers than you can with latex appliances and Karo syrup -- but it's a hundred times more satisfying knowing you're looking at something real.

The performances of Clark, Hopper, and Leguizamo help elevate the film above many of the more recent zombie features, as does the politically-aware (though frequently subtle as a bludgeon) story. (With the caveat that the actual dialogue rarely supersedes merely utilitarian, plot-advancing verbiage; only Hopper and Leguizamo bring any real life to the words -- it helps that they get the best words to say.) It's not the best of Romero's zombie oeuvre; in fact, it may be the fourth best out of four. But it's still better than about 99% of the horror films released in the two decades (!) since Day of the Dead. It may not be an instant classic, but it's a worthy addition to the horror genre, and a great return for Romero.

Friday, July 01, 2005

TV: Stella

I've watched the first episode of Stella on Comedy Central four times now, and it keeps cracking me up. It's from the comedic minds behind Wet Hot American Summer and The State (and where the hell is my State DVD box set?), so how can you go wrong? Answer: you can not, my friend, you can not.

Stella falls into the "absurd" comedy category (as recently extolled by Ian). Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain play characters named Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain, who all live in an apartment together and don't really seem to do anything but hang out and be goofy. It's not a sketch show, but it's not quite a traditional sitcom, either. There's a plot, kind of, but the plot is secondary to the random silliness.

This first episode begins with an argument over which type of music the boys will listen to before bedtime: Michael wants funk, David wants funk rock, and Michael Ian suggests a compromise of funk rock. So Michael Ian makes his selection from the three-shelf CD rack, which holds exactly three CDs, generically labelled "Funk", "Funk Rock", and "Funk Rock".

Soon, the landlord comes to pay a visit. The boys pose to greet him (Michael holding a book, David with an umbrella jauntily resting on his shoulder, and Michael Ian holding what appears to be a mandolin). The landlord finds the door locked, and demands that they let him in. "We can't," Michael shouts through the closed door, "we're in a tableau."

The landlord evicts them, and the absurdity continues as they search for a new home. Their real estate broker falls for David, and he whispers sweet nothings to her: "ShhhhhhhhHUT UP!!" (Later, at her apartment, she introduces David to her random cameo spouse: "You know my husband, Edward Norton?" David replies, "Not personally, but I'm a fan.") Pleading their case to the members of the co-op board, they all decide to wear skunk tails. Why are you dressed as skunks? is the natural question. They're not dressed as skunks, Michael Ian fussily corrects them: "We're dressed as skunk people." The boys then perform a Flashdance-style routine to win the board members over; the fact that the dance moves are performed by stunt doubles is made abundantly obvious.

Crazy impossibilities occur throughout the show: when told by the boys that the key to their apartment is under the welcome mat, and the mat is at the dry cleaners, the landlord must go downtown and pick up the mat. When he returns, he puts the mat on the floor outside the door, then lifts the corner -- and the key is suddenly there. Or, in one of my favorite bits, David points and shouts "Look!" He then leads the two Michaels around the corner to read a flyer posted on a wall that he could not possibly have seen from where he started. And there are several moments in which the fourth wall is broken, from the stunt doubles, to the boys' downstairs neighbors being aware of a flashback, to the boys (especially Michael Ian) simply looking directly into the camera and grinning or waving.

And the show opens and closes with car crashes, because... well, why not? "If you two don't shut up about boogie boarding," threatens Michael Ian, "I'm gonna drive this truck off a cliff." "DO IT!" "I will!" "DO IT!!!" "I will!" And he does.

I'm sure this sounds perfectly dreadful from my point-by-point breakdown, but trust me, this is incredibly funny stuff. If you've got any taste for original, non-formulaic comedy, Stella is the summer show for you.

In other news, keep an eye on Brill Building for a giant, comics weblogosphere-shattering development today!

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