Monday, October 31, 2005

Trick or treat

Zombie Tom has a brief and straight to the point message for you on this Halloween.

Whether this is a one day only reappearance from his long absence, or whether this signals a return to full time blogging for my undead friend, remains to be seen.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Sidebar Update

Updated the sidebar pictures. That's one whole week in a row that I've remembered to do so. I'm off to an excellent start with this new feature!

"Watching" and "Listening" should be no surprise to you if you read this entry. "Hating" is obvious if you saw this entry.

And "Reading" -- how could I resist Stephen King's first post-retirement book? (Like anyone believed he'd actually stop publishing.) It looked promising to me: a hard-boiled crime book, short enough that King's worst overwriting impulses shouldn't come into play. But then I saw a couple of very negative reviews in the blogging world, here and here. I guess I'll find out for myself. I'm only a couple chapters in, but I have to say -- things don't look good so far.

Friday, October 28, 2005

MUSIC: Time for a meme

Via Tosy and Cosh (who is really into music), here's a meme about favorite songs by various artists.

I'm deleting a lot of categories, because I don't have a favorite song by the artist listed, and I could not care less about that particular artist. Like, say, Squeeze. Or Big Audio Dynamite.

Favorite Beatles song: "Got To Get You Into My Life"
Dang, that's a toughie right off the bat. Too many to choose from. But that song always hits me just right, and fills me with joy. Great, high-spirited love song that, it turns out, is supposedly really about drugs. (But then, weren't they all?) "Revolution" would be second, I think.

Favorite solo song by a former Beatle: "Imagine"
That's a slamdunk. Haunting, simple, beautiful. One of my top five favorites of all-time.

Favorite Bob Dylan song: "Like a Rolling Stone"
Expect several of my picks to be this unimaginative.

Favorite Prince song: "1999"

Favorite Michael Jackson song: "Thriller"
Check out Dark, But Shining for a nice examination of the "Thriller" music video from a pure horror perspective.

Favorite Metallica song: "One"
Epic metal, dude.

Favorite Public Enemy song: "By the Time I Get To Arizona"

Favorite Cure song: "Just Like Heaven"

Favorite song that most of your friends haven't heard: "Banditos," by the Refreshments -- my favorite band that most of my friends haven't heard.

Favorite Beastie Boys song: "Sabotage"

Favorite Police song: "Synchronicity II"
"And every single meeting with his so-called superior is a humiliating kick in the crotch." There aren't nearly enough songs with "crotch" in the lyrics for my money.

Favorite Sex Pistols song: "God Save the Queen"
I guess. I only know, like, two Sex Pistols songs.

Favorite song from a movie: "As Time Goes By"
An immortal movie moment from Casablanca.

Favorite Blondie song: "Call Me"
"Rapture" is a close second.

Favorite Genesis song: "Squonk"
From the band's post-Peter Gabriel, but still really weird, era.

Favorite Led Zeppelin song: "Stairway to Heaven"
What did I say about unimaginative? Actually, this is one of the few Zeppelin songs I can stand at all anymore. I'm sick to death of them. The only other one that I won't change the radio station when I hear it is "Kashmir".

Favorite INXS song: "Devil Inside"
I guess. I don't really like any of their songs. I should've deleted them, but I think I just wanted a chance to say that I don't like INXS. So there.

Favorite Weird Al song: "One More Minute"
Classic doo-wop-style break-up song that turns into dark territory. "I'd rather spend eternity eating shards of broken glass than spend one more minute with you."

Favorite Pink Floyd song: "Comfortably Numb"
Another tough choice. "Wish You Were Here" and "Eclipse" are right up there.

Favorite cover song: "All Along the Watchtower"
Hendrix's version improves the Dylan original a hundredfold.

Favorite U2 song: "Sunday Bloody Sunday"
"Pride (In the Name of Love)" is #2.

Favorite disco song: "I Will Survive," Gloria Gaynor
The Cake cover version is also excellent. Runner-up: the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive."

Favorite The Who song: "Won't Get Fooled Again"
My favorite song of all-time. This song is rock & roll to me.

Favorite Elton John song: "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting"

Favorite Clash song: "Lost in the Supermarket"

Favorite David Bowie song: "Suffragette City"
Wham bam thank you ma'am!

Favorite Nirvana song: "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

Favorite Snoop Dogg song: "Gin and Juice"
That's the only one whose name I can think of right off the bat. There's a country cover of this song that I'd love to have, but I can't remember who performs it.

Favorite Ice Cube song: "It Was a Good Day"
I didn't even have to use my AK.

Favorite Johnny Cash song: "Ring of Fire"

Favorite R.E.M. song: "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)"
Mumble mumble mumble mumble LEONARD BERNSTEIN!

Favorite Elvis song: "Can't Help Falling in Love With You"

Favorite cheesy-ass country song: Hoyt Axton, "Boney Fingers"
Cheesy-ass? Guess we know where the author of this meme is coming from. Disco, dance, and Squeeze are presented with no snark, but country has to automatically be "cheesy-ass." Wise guy.

Favorite Billy Joel song: "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway"
This was a tough choice. I'm a big Billy Joel fan, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. The man's a tremendous songwriter, but he gets dismissed a lot as some kind of joke these days, which is unfair. "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" would be my second choice, I think.

Favorite Bruce Springsteen song: "Born to Run"
Hell yeah! One of the top three pure rock songs ever recorded. "Won't Get Fooled Again" is another. The last one depends on what day you ask me.

Favorite New Order song: "Bizarre Love Triangle"
Pretty much the only New Order song I know. And I prefer the Frente version. Yes I do!

Favorite Neil Diamond song: "Song Sung Blue"
I grew up listening to my mom playing a lot of Neil Diamond and Helen Reddy on 8-track. Hey, at least it wasn't Perry Como! (She had those on vinyl.)

Favorite Beach Boys song: "Wouldn't It Be Nice"
A beautiful, happy song, but it always reminds me of the sad way it was used in Michael Moore's Roger & Me.

Favorite Dire Straits song: "Romeo & Juliet"
Though I prefer the Indigo Girls cover.

Favorite Elvis Costello song: "Radio Radio"

Favorite Guns 'N Roses song: "Sweet Child O' Mine"

Favorite Jimi Hendrix song: "All Along the Watchtower"
I've gotten burned out on Jimi as much as I have Zeppelin. This song still moves me, though.

Favorite John Mellencamp song: "Small Town"
"Pink Houses" is second.

Favorite Living Colour song: "Solace of You"
This is one of the categories Tosy added. Going a little obscure there, aren't you? But I've got it covered. This is a beautiful but rarely heard love song.

Favorite Neil Young song: "Cinnamon Girl"
A plethora to choose from here. "Rockin' in the Free World" and "Needle and the Damage Done" are right up there.

Favorite Paul Simon song: "You Can Call Me Al"

Favorite Simon & Garfunkel song: "The Boxer"

Favorite Queen song: "Princes of the Universe"
Highlander! There can be only one!

Favorite Sting song: "Fortress Around Your Heart"

Favorite Tracy Chapman song: "Fast Car"

Favorite Van Morrison song: "Moondance"

Favorite XTC song: "Dear God"
Followed by "Your Dictionary".

Thursday, October 27, 2005

America is stupid.

Ashlee Simpson's new album debuts at #1.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

MOVIES: Me and You and Everyone We Know

I've rarely seen a movie as confounding as Me and You and Everyone We Know. One the one hand, I found it to be tremendously beautiful and sad and charming and wise and powerful and original. On the other, in parts it's unsettling, even disturbing, to the point where I would hesitate to recommend it to certain people.

The film mixes the stories of many people together, but primarily it's about Christine (writer/director Miranda July), a driver for "Elder Cab" and a would-be video performance artist, and Richard (John Hawkes, Sol from Deadwood), a shoe salesman recently separated from his wife, who's trying to make the best of joint custody of his two sons in his new, small apartment. The budding relationship between the two of them is bittersweet, hesitant, awkward, and very real and touching. There is a scene in which the two of them walk together one block's length, where they imagine that the length of their walk represents the length of their (as yet non-existent) relationship together. It's a masterpiece of a scene. If for nothing else, I'll remember this film a long, long time for this one flawlessly crafted moment.

But there are elements to the film that I know would make some people uncomfortable; they even made me uncomfortable, a bit. There are a number of underaged characters in the film who are involved in sexual activities to one degree or another -- nothing too explicit; it's not Kids -- but still, it's enough to throw the film into an area I'm not sure it needed to go. There are two teen girls who explore a potential sexual relationship with Richard's co-worker; there is Richard's teen son, on whom the girls practice their "technique"; and there is Richard's 8-year-old son, who unwittingly pursues a sexy chat relationship his older brother has initiated as a joke online. There are elements of humor and truth to all these stories, and they're handled in places with surprising gentleness resulting in unexpected outcomes, but they're definitely not for the overly sensitive.

I think the good far outweighs the potentially uncomfortable in the film. For example, at the beginning of the film, as Richard and his wife are splitting up, Richard desperately searches for an act that will symbolize the end of the relationship, but also let his sons know that life will go on. He decides to perform a trick for them that he watched his uncle do: he douses his hand in lighter fluid and sets it on fire. Unfortunately, he forgot that his uncle used (safe) rubbing alcohol, not (dangerous) lighter fluid, and so winds up with a bandage on his hand for most of the film. This leads to the following exchange between Richard and Christine:

--How'd you do that?
--Oh, well... do you want the long version or the short version?
--The long one.
--I was trying to save my life and it didn't work.
--What's the short one?
--I burned it.
There's something to the frank simplicity, the purity of that dialogue that absolutely knocks me out. And the delivery of it by these two actors is captivating.

The progression between the two characters is unlike anything I've seen on film before. As are most of the characters in this film, and their respective relationships with one another. And I was enthralled with every single one of them. Me and You kept me entranced with discovery for most of its duration. If you don't automatically reject it for the reasons I mentioned above, I'm confident you'll enjoy discovering it as well.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

I'm a selfish shopper

Today I found a couple of excellent bargains at Salzer's, the one halfway-decent vendor of used CDs/DVDs/video games/etc. in Ventura County. First, I picked up the Deadwood season 1 DVD box set for only $49.99. Amazon currently lists it at $74.99, which is already a good twenty-five bucks down from retail. Half-off for Deadwood? Hell yeah!

Then in the recently arrived used CD stacks I found The Beatles' White Album. That's always been my favorite from the Fab Four, by far, but I haven't actually owned it for a good long while. Another bargain: $17.99. ($32.99 on Amazon!) That's only nine bucks apiece for two discs of musical brilliance! (Quick question for the more Beatles-devoted than I: why is it that my mp3 player lists the performers of "Revolution 1" as "Nicky Hopkins; The Beatles"? Who the hell is Nicky Hopkins? And even if he did play on the track, as I assume he must have, I wonder why there's no similar listing for Eric Clapton on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"?)

Yay me! But then...

On the way home from my spree, I give my sister a call. She tells me she's taking tomorrow off from work.

"Oh yeah? Why's that?" I ask.

"Um... you want to think about that?" she says.

It's her birthday.

I'm a bad brother. I was right there at the perfect gift store for her, and I completely forgot to get her anything!

But as soon as I got home, I ordered her Arrested Development season 1, so I'm not all bad. Certainly she deserves it -- if for nothing more than being the one who pointed out that spoilery discovery to me.

Honestly, back when she told me of her little insight about the show, I thought the DVD would make a perfect birthday gift for her. Too bad I'm too dopey to have ordered it in advance!

Monday, October 24, 2005

TV: Character blogs

The hip new accessory for a TV show this season appears to be a blog on the show's official website. And not just a behind-the-scenes production blog (such as that of Ronald Moore for Battlestar Galactica), or a commentary blog (such as those from ex-contestants of The Amazing Race and Survivor -- the latter of which proves to have a sense of humor about itself with its inclusion of Ralph from Lord of the Flies as one of the commentators), but an in-character blog, supposedly written by one of the fictional inhabitants of the TV show. They're all over the place this year. I would go so far as to say the in-character blog is the new black. Whatever that means.

One of the not-to-be-missed blogs is Schrute-Space, from The Office's Dwight Schrute. Speaking of Battlestar Galactica (like, last paragraph -- stay with me, people), here's Dwight's take on it:

I am just about the world's biggest fan of Battlestar Galactica. The new AND the old. Starbuck is my dream woman. The new Starbuck. The old one was a man and that's just not me. Starbuck can kick ass plus she can make sweet love. Plus she's good at futuristic poker! If we were going out, I would insist that she stop smoking those cigars, though. And grow her hair out a bit more. And not fly so many dangerous missions. I think Edward James Olmos makes a great captain. I wish I was the guy just below him. The assistant Captain. I would follow him to the ends of the universe. Too bad about his skin, though.
Two of my favorite shows from last year appear to have pioneered this trend. Veronica Mars has episode recaps written as though they come straight from Veronica's blog. And the castaways of Lost may not have access to the internet -- but they still have a diary, written by "Janelle Granger," who is presumably one of the random background space-fillers on the beach. It adds a nice extra dimension to the show -- yes, there are other people there besides the dozen or so who get to do the cool stuff.

A couple of the new spooky shows sport in-character blogs. Surface has Miles' Blog, written by the kid with the pet sea monster. Invasion has a blog written by Dave, possibly called Do You See What I See?, or possibly called nothing specific. Key quote:

According to Swedish researchers, mice fed moderate amounts of alcohol grew new nerve cells in their brain. The researcher said, and I quote, "it is possible that the extra cells might help with learning and memory." I guess the key word in there is "moderate," unfortunately, because after I have a twelve pack I usually can’t remember how I got home.
It looks like this blog may have been abandoned. Did the character get killed off?

Commander in Chief has Mackenzie Watch, which isn't written by a character on the show; it's a faux-political blog following the career of Geena Davis' fictitious presidency. Oddly enough, I couldn't find actual information about the show at ABC's website; all their links appear to go straight to this blog.

And perhaps my favorite of this new breed of promotional tool is Barney's Blog, written from the POV of the hilarious Neil Patrick Harris character on How I Met Your Mother (who has been heard to exclaim, "This is so going in my blog!"). My favorite entry: "Lick My Bells," which follows up on an early episode in which Barney and Ted lick (yes, lick) the Liberty Bell. The blog entry is a guide to licking various other National Monuments. Re: the Golden Gate Bridge (with irony quotes intact):

This "orange-vermillion masterpiece" "steeped in San Francisco history" is now covered in an "acrylic-emulsion topcoat" that despite tasting "like monkey dirt," renders the monument free to be "thoroughly licked" without "fear of lead poisoning." "Spectacular views" of the Bay and the "equally lickable Alcatraz" make the Golden Gate a fave among tongue-tourists.
I expect we'll be seeing a lot more of this kind of thing in the near future. These in-character blogs are an excellent way of providing bonus content to viewers who are beginning to consider these kinds of extras as obligatory. And they're so easy to write. Hell, any idiot can do it.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

MOVIES: High Tension

To really get into this movie, I'm going to have to spoil the hell out of it. Just so you know. So:

High Tension is France's attempt to prove their horror films can out-gore those of us Americans. And they do a pretty damn good job of it.

The story, what little of it there is, involves college students Marie and Alexia traveling to Alexia's family home in France to study for exams. After their arrival, there is just exactly enough time for Alexia, her mother and father, and her young brother to settle down for the night, with Marie up in the attic bedroom, before another visitor arrives at the farmhouse and the terror begins.

I have to give credit where it's due: when the badness begins, it is truly disturbing, and it is non-stop. The beefy, overall-wearing bad guy (known in the credits only as "Le tueur," or, "The killer") starts in with the stalking, mutilating and murdering right away, and the movie does not relent for the remainder of its hour and a half running time. The violence is genuinely awful and cringe-inducing, much more powerful than that of any American film I've seen in quite a while (even The Devil's Rejects, which is a much better film overall, can't match it for sheer depraved violence). I didn't automatically distance myself from the on-screen shenanigans, as is easy to do with most horror movies and their stupid teens hounded by one-liner spouting villains; I actually found myself getting anxious, and genuinely angry at this evil man.

The killer dispatches Alexia's parents, and eventually her young brother as well, while Marie hides terrified in the attic. While she tries to find some method of escape, the killer hears her, and comes upstairs to investigate, while Marie tries to hide, in a sequence that generates tremendous fear and suspense.

Eventually, Marie evades the killer long enough to find Alexia, who has been bound with chains, saved over for the killer to torment at his leisure. The killer loads Alexia into the back of his van, and Marie sneaks in after; the killer unintentionally locks her in with Alexia, and he drives them all back to his lair.

There are a couple more scenes of horrific violence, such as when the killer and Marie play cat-and-mouse at a gas station, resulting in the station attendant getting an axe to the chest, or Marie and the killer's climactic battle, in which she pummels him mercilessly with a barb wire-wrapped fence post. But as unnervingly well done as the movie is through the majority of its length, it's the big twist at the end that completely derails the film. Most films with twist endings cast what has come before in a different light, while still making logical sense within the parameters of the film; in High Tension, the twist ending completely invalidates everything that has preceded it. Which, to me, makes the film a failure.

Here comes the really really big SPOILER.

So, here it is: the twist ending is that the killer and Marie are actually the same person. The killer is Marie's alternate personality. Which is a really chillingly nifty twist. For about two seconds. After which, you realize how astoundingly retarded it is.

This isn't The Sixth Sense, or The Usual Suspects. Previous scenes do not have new but equally valid meanings following the surprise revelation. In High Tension, following the twist, previous scenes make no sense whatsoever. The twist ending makes everything up to that point completely wrong.

The Usual Suspects is the more apt comparison, because both films rely on an unreliable narrator to make the twist plausible. I know this about High Tension because the film's director tells us in the Special Features that this is what he intended. The problem is -- he cut it out of the movie. He tells us flat out that this is what he's done, as though he doesn't realize or care that it's ruined his film. See, the deal is supposed to be, we open with a badly-wounded Marie telling the story of the film to a doctor. At the end of her story, the doctor makes her watch a videotape from the gas station, showing her killing the attendant, and proving that there was no other person, that she was the one who did it all. And while that would've been irritating and a bit unfair, it still would've allowed the film to retain its integrity.

But the director cut that part out. Marie isn't telling the story. We're simply being shown the story in a straightforward fashion, which, as it stands, culminates in an impossible, film-ruining twist.

If Marie were shown telling the story, then it wouldn't matter how inconsistent the majority of the film has been. For example: the gas station attendant clearly speaks and reacts to two different people, in two different places, not one person with multiple personalities. Or there's the car chase: when the killer leaves the gas station, Marie follows him in a separate car, and is eventually run off the road by the killer in his van. Those discrepancies wouldn't matter if we could eventually see that Marie had made up those parts of the story. But since she doesn't, everything falls apart.

And even if she were telling the story, she includes too many details that she couldn't possibly have known. Before the killer arrives at Alexia's family's farmhouse, we see him sitting in his van on a dirt road, using a decapitated head to, well, give himself head. (Yeah: yikes.) Why would this detail be in Marie's story? She couldn't possibly have known it. Or why would the policemen investigating the killer's crimes be in Marie's story? There is no possible reason. No matter how you look at the film, it falls to pieces.

Having said all that, having completely spoiled it for any potential viewers, I'd still give this film a mild recommendation to horror aficionados, based on its well-crafted atmosphere of terror and suspense (for most of its running length), and its unrelenting carnage. The director succeeded in many ways in bringing his horrific vision to life. Too bad he got a little too clever for his own good, and torpedoed his own film with a truly idiotic twist.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

META: Changing it up again

A note about the blog's appearance. (I can't be bothered to make regular posts, but apparently I've got the time and ambition to monkey with the site's template. Nice.) I've removed the photos from the title bar above, because I didn't really feel like they were working. And I've added some junk to the sidebar, some of it hopefully doing a better job of accomplishing what I was trying to do with the title bar photos.

The Object of My Affection item should be fairly self-explanatory. I've recently become aware of the initial occupant of that space, Jessi Klein, via her appearances on VH1's Best Week Ever and Comedy Central's The Showbiz Show with David Spade. I promise that she's much better than either of those credits would suggest. Here, check out her 2004 Presidential Debate blog for CNN. Start from the bottom. Just like I'd like to do with her. Hey! Who wrote that? Let's keep it clean, people. Still, gotta love a gal who liveblogs TV events. I wonder if she'd watch the Oscars with me?

Then we've got a list of my current pop culture obsessions. The inaugural culprits are:

--Showcase Presents Superman, which is endlessly awesome. I get such a kick out of its boundless illogic, and the fact that Superman is portrayed as a cruel idiot, alternating between driving Lois Lane slowly insane with his twisted pranks, and crafting the most moronic and ridiculously elaborate schemes imaginable to capture petty criminals.

--The Lost DVD box set, which my buddy Lew just sent me via Amazon as a belated birthday gift (or early Christmas gift). Just don't tell him I already bought my own copy at Best Buy, and so have to exchange it. He'll never be the wiser! Unless he reads this post. Which he almost certainly will.

--Foo Fighters: In Your Honor, which is mainly there because it's the last CD I bought. It hasn't grown on me completely just yet, but I don't doubt that it will; the Foos have never let me down before. Heck, it took me a few listens to really get into American Idiot, which I now believe to be unquestionably the best album of the new millennium thus far.

--Vaughniston. First of all, I don't give a rat's ass which celebrity bones which. Have at it! Knock yourselves out! More power to you! Etc.! Just don't force me to be aware of it. And second, enough with the cutesy contractions for celebrity couples. "Bennifer." "TomKat." "Brangelina." Eat shit and die, celebrity couple contraction coiners. Damn, I'm alliterative!

And then there's the lyric of the week, which I feel I really shouldn't have to explain any further than that.

The plan is to keep these new sidebar items updated on a semi-regular basis. And, as always, we'll have to wait and see how that works out. I don't exactly have the best track record for this kind of thing. But I have a good heart. And I'm handsome as the day is long. So there.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

COMICS: I got the crossover blues

I've recently found myself becoming inordinately angry at the big crossover events going on at Marvel and DC. I'm just sick to death of them. They make me shake my tiny little fist and go, "Grr."

The Marvel crossovers have been -- among other irritations -- screwing with a couple series written by Peter David, one of my favorite comics writers. First, during David's dozen-or-so issue return to The Incredible Hulk, five whole issues were wasted dealing with this House of M malarkey. It was David's epic run on the Hulk that got me back into comics when I was 18, which is over [mumble] years ago. I was really looking forward to his return to the character, and his inscription into the House of M crossover extinguished most of that enthusiasm.

And now, with his return to Spider-Man (in the new Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man series), the very first issue kicks off a 12-part crossover story, "The Other." Dammit! I just want to read Peter David writing his own Hulk or Spider-Man stories. I don't want to have to read his half-hearted attempt at joining a storyline crafted by Brian Bendis and the Marvel editorial staff, and I don't want to have to read 87 other books written by different writers that I don't especially care for just so I can keep up with what's going on in the one book I want to read.

Meanwhile, over at DC, they've got their current Infinite Crisis event going on, which is kind of the end product of last year's Identity Crisis, which itself was followed by a plethora of "Countdown to Infinite Crisis"-themed mini-series, not to mention a ton of crossovers that have been occupying most of the big-name books and characters. The only bit of business in all this hoo-hah that has interested me even in the slightest has been the return of Hal Jordan as the Green Lantern in his own book, and the accompanying spin-off title, Green Lantern Corps, featuring past-and-present GLs such as Kyle Rayner and Guy Gardner.

I've always liked Green Lantern... theoretically; in practice, I've never really been a regular reader, but I like the character well enough when I encounter him in group books, like JLA. So I thought I would try the first issue of Hal Jordan's new series, and the first issue of the Corps series. Mistake, both times. These books -- and to a certain extent, all the big-name DC titles -- are encumbered by an insurmountably arcane history of continuity and such a vast legion of obscure supporting characters that they're completely inscrutable even to someone like me, who's been reading comics pretty much weekly for almost two decades. Throw in the crossover events on top of it all, and almost the entire superhero lineup of DC is nigh unreadable to a less-than-hopelessly devoted fan.

For example, if I wanted to read and properly understand and enjoy the first issue of Infinite Crisis (which I don't), I first would have to be familiar with its preceding mini-series Villains United, Omac Project, Rann/Thanagar War, Day of Vengeance, and even Adam Strange, as well as the one-shot Countdown to Infinite Crisis, plus the regular JLA, Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman comics (at the very least -- possibly also Green Lantern, Flash, JSA, and others), and be more than passingly familiar with Crisis on Infinite Earths, a mega-crossover event from 20 years ago, which tied into the continuity of basically the entire history of DC superhero comics.

Sure, I could do that. Or -- here's a thought -- maybe DC Comics can kiss my ass instead.

I know these big crossover events aren't going away any time soon -- according to Mike, Infinite Crisis has been selling like gangbusters. (Or hotcakes. Gangcakes!) But still, it annoys the hell out of me that such a large segment of the superhero comic library is seemingly eternally dedicated to these crossovers, both A) continually interrupting the internal story integrity of so many regular series, and B) adding unnecessary complexity to stories and characters which are already mind-bogglingly inscrutable.

So there. If you want those kind of events, you can have 'em. I'm gonna be over here, reading my Showcase Presents: Superman collection instead. These '50s comics don't make a lot of sense, either, but at least they do it in such a hilarious, fascinating, endlessly entertaining way!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

TV: Fall 2005 TV Season: The Final Wrap-Up

Wow, was that a chore. I don't see how real TV critics can do it -- review (almost) every single new show on the broadcast networks for the Fall season. Oh, wait -- they all get advance copies of the shows over the summer, so they can write their reviews in a timely fashion. And they don't have other jobs taking up valuable TV-watching time -- watching TV is their job. Those bastards have it easy. I'm so jealous I could spit.

Me, I'm burned out. And I'm relieved that I don't have to watch any more new shows. I still will watch some of them; there were a few keepers in the bunch. But overall, the quality of the Fall shows was alarmingly low. It's probably this bad every year; it just feels more so to me this year because I willingly exposed myself to dreck I normally would have had the sense to stay far, far away from. Like, say, Freddie.

So, what have I learned from my ordeal?

Lesson #1, of course, is never, never do this again. Not without a paycheck for it.

Lesson #2 is, no matter how stupid you may think network executives are, you're still giving them way too much credit. Anyone who would give Sex, Love & Secrets the green light should be panhandling on the freeway offramp.

Lesson #3 is that the home viewing audience isn't much better. Kitchen Confidential may not be the best comedy on TV, but it's certainly more deserving than its poor ratings indicate -- it's Fox's lowest rated new show. And its lead-in, Arrested Development -- which is the best comedy on TV -- is doing just as poorly. Meanwhile, Ghost Whisperer is a solid hit for CBS. Ugh.

And lesson #4: Lyle at Crocodile Caucus has done everything I've done here, only better, with actual research and, like, nifty charts and lists to back it up. Put it this way: even I look at his blog and say, "Damn, maybe that guy likes TV a little too much." It's great stuff, and it's made me happy to see I'm not the only one helplessly obsessed by the idiot box.

So! Here's a final rundown of my grades for the season's new entries. I already gave a halftime report card for the season. Here are my final grades for all the shows I reviewed, with commentary, and, for some of these shows, hopefully the last thing I will ever have to say about them for the rest of my natural life.

1: Why do you hate me, TV?
2-3: Won't ever watch this again
4-5: Borderline; might give it a second chance
6-7: I'll watch as long as it's not up against something better
8-9: Permanently on my viewing schedule
10: Battlestar Galactica, The Daily Show, Lost, Deadwood


Commander in Chief: 7
One of the three new dramas I'll be sticking with... for a while, at least. Good acting, good writing; it rises above what could've been a flimsy premise.
Emily's Reasons Why Not
Not on the schedule; presumably being held back as a mid-season replacement, but not yet confirmed as such.
Freddie: 1
The worst new shitcom I had to endure, and very nearly the worst show, period.
Hot Properties: 2
I tried watching a second episode, and my body rebelled against me and forced me to change the channel after five minutes. Such a sad waste of Nicole Sullivan and Evan Handler.
My least favorite of the alien shows. And apparently the most favorite of the home viewing audience. Whatever.
Night Stalker: 3
The only thing scary here is the writing.
What About Brian
Scheduled for a January debut.


Close to Home: 6
According to my grading breakdown above, a 6 means I should keep watching this show. I lied. It's of comparable quality to a 6, but as I said in my review, it's not for me.
Criminal Minds: ?
It's apparently another crime procedural hit for CBS, but I haven't seen it. The one show I gave myself a free pass on. (Aside from the ones I said I wouldn't be reviewing right from the start.)
Ghost Whisperer: Hatred
Eliminated before the season began due to moral objections. No, really.
How I Met Your Mother: 8
Kicked up a notch from the 7 I gave it on my midway report. In a tie for my favorite new series. I just wish it would lose the bookends with the kids in the future. The Bob Saget voiceover can stay, but the kids should go.
Out of Practice: 3
Apparently getting good ratings, so what the hell do I know?
Threshold: 5
A waste of a great cast.


Bones: 6
Another of the three dramas that will remain on my schedule for the foreseeable future. Love the two leads, especially Emily Deschanel (who makes me go like this: grrRR-R-R-RROWWwwl), but not wild about the actual crime-solving stuff.
Head Cases: 4
Already cancelled. And almost already forgotten.
Killer Instinct: 1
The worst new show of the year. Painfully, insultingly bad. Probably will run three seasons on Fox.
Kitchen Confidential: 7
One of my favorite new sitcoms -- seeing John Larroquette guest star was a real treat. Probably not long for this world.
The Loop
Scheduled for a January debut.
Prison Break: 7
Also kicked up a notch from my previous grade, from a 6. As outrageously illogical and absurd as it all is, I keep wanting more.
Reunion (Part 2): 2
High concept, low execution.
The War at Home: 3
It makes me sad this is doing better than Arrested Development did in the same timeslot.


The Apprentice: Martha Stewart
Eliminated before the season began. No reality shows!
E-Ring: 5
This might've had a slim chance of winning me over, but I haven't watched it since its first episode. And that's probably for the best.
Inconceivable: 4
Already cancelled.
My Name Is Earl: 8
Tied for my favorite new show. It hasn't slipped at all from its great debut.
Surface: 5
My favorite of the alien shows, by a slim margin, but still not good enough for me to go back for seconds.
Three Wishes
Another reality show eliminated before the season began.


Everybody Hates Chris: 7
Haven't been able to watch a second episode. Is UPN really going to try to duke it out on Thursday night? What is wrong with them?
Love, Inc.: 6
Another show I'd watch if only UPN gave me the opportunity. Stupid UPN!
Sex, Love & Secrets: 2
I give it one extra point for being unintentionally funny in its sheer awfulness. Production has halted, but UPN is still burning off episodes already filmed. That's sad.


Just Legal: 5
Already cancelled.
Related: 6
Like Close to Home, it's strong enough for a man, but made for a woman. No, wait, that's Secret anti-perspirant. I don't know what this is. It's good, but not for me.
Supernatural: 5
I'm not surprised this is a hit, especially on the WB.
Twins: 2
Narrowly saved from being the worst new sitcom by Freddie.

Worst slate of new progamming:

ABC. After last year's hits with Lost and Desperate Housewives, they only came up with one watchable program this year. Their sitcom development is unparalleled in its awfulness.

Best slate of new programming:

Fox. They've got three new shows I want to follow. But it is Fox, which has a reputation for creating quality shows, then killing them. Prison Break will be around for a while, as will Bones, most likely, but Kitchen Confidential is almost surely destined for early cancellation.

Worst self-sabotage:

UPN. They create two sitcoms I'd like to watch, which no other network was able to do, and they put them on during the most competitive hour of programming in the week. Sure, Chris is beating Joey (or it did in its debut, at least), but that's nothing to be proud of.

Final numbers:

31 new broadcast shows.
27 shows reviewed.
7 shows I probably would've checked out even if I hadn't forced myself to.
2 shows I probably wouldn't have checked out, but am glad I did (Commander in Chief, How I Met Your Mother).
4 shows already cancelled.
10 shows rated 3 or lower.
10 shows rated 6 or higher. (Hmm, maybe there was more of a balance between good and bad than I thought.)
6 shows I will actually continue to watch.
2 shows I'm truly, unreservedly enthusiastic about.
1 dude who needs to get a life.

TV: Related, Take Two

Man, and I thought Inconceivable and Close to Home were gyno-centric. Related actually made me lactate.

Related is a well put-together production about four sisters making their way in the big city. From oldest to youngest, there's Ginnie (Jennifer Esposito), a hard-driving business woman (in the field of...? something unspecified) who discovers she's unexpectedly pregnant; Ann (Kiele Sanchez), who's a therapist of some kind, and who has just been dumped by her boyfriend of six years; Marjee -- is that the hip spelling of "Margie"? (Lizzy Caplan), who's just been evicted from her apartment, and who makes a living...? it's hard to tell exactly what her job is -- organizing parties for famous people, I guess; and Rose (Laura Breckenridge), who has just switched majors from pre-med to "experimental theater" and dyed her hair blue.

Like Hot Properties, this is another blatant grab for the ex-Sex and the City audience; this one is even created by Liz Tuccillo, an ex-SatC writer -- the same one who co-wrote He's Just Not That Into You, which Hot Properties could not shut the hell UP about. Related is more about family relationships than banging every guy in the city limits (and parts of Jersey), but the comparisons still exist. Four hot women in the ci-tay! They're just like Samantha and Miranda and... uh... Beverly, and... Gladys? -- whatever the hell their names were, you know who I mean.

The show gets by on the charms of the sisters (well, three of them, especially Lizzy Caplan; I found the youngest pretty annoying). The actresses work well as an ensemble, and keep things light and entertaining. It's when they get a little too manipulatively emotional -- as in the weepy bathroom scene near the end -- that things go off track a bit. Also, I liked seeing Callum Blue, formerly of Dead like Me, as Ginnie's husband -- funny guy. Dan Futterman, as the guy who dumps Ann -- not so much. You just wonder A) how can he get away with dumping her, and B) why was she even with him in the first place?

One unintentionally funny bit of casting had me in stitches for half the show -- Marjee's big-name client is Jillian Barberie, playing herself. I find it hysterical that a major piece of the story hangs on the thespianic abilities and awesome starpower of the chick who does the weather for the NFL pregame show on Fox.

Another interesting casting note: Ann was originally played by Laura San Giacomo. I like her, but I can see why they recast her; she's at least a decade older than the next oldest actress. Hey, it might not be fair, but that's show biz, and youth sells.

I didn't hate this show. In fact, there's a lot in it to like. The writing can be a little off at times, but when it hits, it can be really clever and amusing. The visual style of the show is slick and inventive (in a non-eye-damaging way). And the cast is (mostly) very appealing. But once again, as with Close to Home, this is just not a show for me. I don't automatically exclude from my schedule every show primarily intended for a female audience. I mean, I still watch Gilmore Girls. But I can't watch this. There's only so much estrogen a guy can handle.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

TV: Related, Take One

I promised I would review the last of the new shows I had yet to get to before Monday, so here is my look at Related:

I didn't much care for it.

I'm going to bed now. More on Related tomorrow, if I feel like it. Plus a final wrap-up entry, detailing what I've learned from reviewing every new fall TV show. (Hint: lesson #1 is "Never, never again.")

TV: Surface

I watched the first ten or so minutes of the pilot episode of Surface almost a month ago, and I haven't felt like watching the rest of it until today, which tells you how much those first ten minutes grabbed me. But I surprised myself by mostly enjoying the rest of the show. Maybe not so much that I would've become a devoted follower, but enough that I wish I had at least given myself the chance to watch the second episode.

This is the third of this season's aquatic-originating alien life form trilogy (following Threshold and Invasion), and it may actually be my favorite of the three. Invasion never had me at all, and Threshold squandered its wonderful cast. Surface had its rough spots, but it also had some promise. And it had a larger scale than the others were able to achieve.

In the first episode, we see a new sea-based lifeform popping up all over the planet (well, mostly near the U.S.). The separate stories irritated me at first -- it felt like the show was all over the place, with no coherence. But toward the end of the episode, there was an indication that the varying storylines were heading toward convergence, and by that time I was invested just enough to want to see the various characters meet one another.

Story #1 involves scientist Lake Bell (fresh from Boston Legal), her ex-husband, and their precocious whiner son. While in her deep-sea submergible craft Bell catches sight of an enormous creature rising from the depths. Story #2 involves the "evolutionary biologist" who comes to shut down her program and confiscate her research. He's already seen signs of this kind of creature in the Antarctic, where one put a gigantic bite mark into a nuclear sub. Story #3 involves some good ol' boys in Louisiana who go spear fishing off the coast. One of them spears a sea monster and gets dragged to the bottom of the ocean for his trouble. And story #4 involves the kid who finds a mess of strange eggs, and brings one home to hatch in his aquarium. Hatch it does, and now he's got his own pet sea monster.

See, it's all over the place! But the larger scope grants a feeling of epic proportions to the show that the other two sci-fi entries can't match. Both Threshold and Invasion are centralized on a small group of characters gathered in one place. Surface gives the impression that anything can happen anywhere.

The cast isn't as solid as that of Threshold, but they're effective enough to carry the material. And the action is well done, with some really excellent underwater sequences -- the spear fishing scene is especially thrilling and unsettling.

But here I am, four episodes into the season, and I've only watched the first. Do I want to jump back in with the fifth episode, airing tomorrow night? No, I don't think so. But would I have stuck with the show to the fifth episode anyway, if I had made a point of watching the second and third shows? My guess is: still no. There are some good elements to Surface, but not enough for it to make its way onto my permanent viewing schedule.

Of all the new shows this year, this may be the one I'm most curious to hear feedback on. Has anyone else stuck with the show? Did I make a mistake by not sticking with it, too?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

TV: Freddie

You will be shocked to your very core, I'm sure, to hear that I didn't care for Freddie one little bit.

It never had a chance. I simply can't stand Freddie Prinze, Jr. Can't stand him. God DAMN, he is awful. Seriously, he is fucking horrible. I just don't get it. I mean, there are a lot of famous people that I just don't get -- I can't imagine why other people would willingly expose themselves to such talentless wretches -- but Freddie is one of the very most un-gettable. Who looks at him and says, "Yeah, I need some more of that"?

Speaking of talentless wretches, his co-star is Brian Austin Green, of 90210 infamy. I can't help but compare him to Neil Patrick Harris of How I Met Your Mother. First of all, there's that "three names" thing. (At least Green has dropped the "Austin." Time to give up the "Patrick," Harris!) What's more, they're both alumni of big TV successes, making their comebacks in sitcoms playing the lecherous best friend of the lead. But where Harris makes you forget his former role, and brings real life and humor and charm to what could've been just another sitcom cliche character, Green makes you wonder why he ever had success to begin with. He makes Prinze look like a comedic genius, and trust me, it ain't easy to be that bad. Every line reading is so rote and uninspired, he's so completely devoid of talent that... well, he pretty much deserves this role.

The show's conceit is that Freddie (playing "Freddie") is a rich, swinging bachelor and restaurant-owner in Chicago, whose grandmother, sister, niece, and recently widowed sister-in-law all live with him. A single guy living with four women!! Comedy ensues!! Theoretically. In a really creepy bit of casting, the sister is played by an actress who looks and sounds strikingly similar to Prinze's real-life bride, Sarah Michelle Gellar (another three-namer!). I think he's gonna be making out with her before season's end.

The debut episode (which is not the pilot; the network ran the second episode first because they thought the pilot didn't start things off well enough... wait, you mean this was supposed to be an improvement?) centers on Prinze and Green's efforts to get laid. I fear a lot of the shows will be like this. But it turns into really unseemly territory when Green decides they need to pick up poor girls, instead of going after the usual rich, entitled shits (you know, girls just like themselves). It portrays one of the poor women as ignorant and unambitious, and the other as really ignorant, as well as a thief and a whore. Gee, that's appealing: watching rich assholes in real life play pretend rich assholes on TV, while the non-rich are condescended to and demeaned.

I'll admit it: there's no way I ever would've liked a show starring Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Brian Austin Green. But it's not like my preconceptions are blinding me to a work of comedic genius. This show is horrible. And even if you didn't watch it yourself (and why the hell would you?), you know I'm right.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

TV: Whatever happened to Criminal Minds?

Freddie premiered last night, the last official new show of the Fall season. There are a couple others originally lined up for a Fall debut that have been pushed back to January (The Loop and What About Brian) and one that has yet to be scheduled anywhere (Heather Graham's Emily's Reasons Why Not), which could mean it's being held back as a mid-season replacement, or which could mean that it will never see the light of day. I'm hoping the latter, but then, I'm mean.

So that leaves three shows on my TiVo I have yet to review: Freddie, Related, and Surface, which I keep putting off because I watched the first fifteen minutes of it about a week ago, and I was not impressed, and I have yet to feel like watching the rest of it.

And I must confess, there's a fourth show I promised to review which is not on my TiVo, and which I'm not going to bother with at all. That would be Criminal Minds, yet another police procedural on CBS, this one starring Mandy Patinkin. I missed it when it debuted because it was up against Lost and Veronica Mars (which is enough of a scheduling SNAFU already). UPN is rerunning Veronica on the weekends, so I knew I could skip it on Wednesday and catch Criminal Minds in its place. But here is what I said to that idea: "I don't wanna."

Yes, I made the conscious choice to blow off Criminal Minds and record Veronica Mars on its proper night instead. So sue me! Even though I generally like Mandy Patinkin (and really liked him on his excellent previous show, Dead Like Me, which Showtime cancelled, because they're idiots), I just could not handle one more generic crime show. I knew I would watch it once and never again, due both to what it was, and to its lousy placement on the schedule, and I decided to give myself a pass.

So out of thirty new shows I expected to be reviewing when this whole thing started, it's only going to be twenty-six instead. I still say that's pretty damn good.

It's my poker night tonight, so I don't know if I'll get to one of those three reviews I still owe or not. But they'll all be done before Monday, I guarantee. And then I can finally get back to my life! And, uh, watch a bunch of other TV.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

TV: Close to Home

Close to Home isn't for me. It's not that it's bad; in fact, it's very well done. So was Judging Amy, which is about the closest analogue to this show I can think of off the top of my head, and it just wasn't for me, either. Hey, I can't watch everything!

I can reduce it to "it's a chick show," but then I wouldn't get to blather on for a while. So let's break it down. (Hammer time!)

The acting is solid, led by Jennifer Finnigan as tough gal prosecutor/new mommy Annabeth Chase. I was surprised by how much I liked her, considering how very, very much I hated her on her previous show, Committed. (Sample line from my review: "This show is bitterest poison. It should be banned by the protocols established by the Geneva Convention. I hate it. I hate everyone associated with it, I hate myself for watching it, and I hate you for reading about it.") And her show before that, Crossing Jordan. It helps that here she's playing a character who's not an idiot or a heinous bitch.

Other players are Kimberly Elise as Maureen, a former equal who has been promoted to Annabeth's superior during her maternity leave; Annabeth's superior's superior Steve, played by John Carroll Lynch, whom I generally like, but whose hair has been dyed a very distractingly unnatural color for this role, for no apparent reason; her husband Christian Kane, whom I liked as the one-handed villain Lindsey on Angel, but he's got both hands here, so there's no need for him to be quite so brooding and flat; and Bruce Davison as the cartoonishly evil defense attorney, who makes Donald Sutherland's character on Commander in Chief look subtle and reasonable by comparison. (It works for him, though.)

The show has an interesting visual flair that doesn't overwhelm the story. Photographs will come to life, or live action will morph into a photograph (just like that one commercial you see all the freakin' time). And the opening sequence is fantastic, simple shots of carefree suburban life which nonetheless fill the viewer with rising dread, culminating in a house engulfed in flames, with a family trapped in the basement.

And I was drawn into the story. At first it appears the mother set the fire to kill herself and her two children. Eventually we discover that the family has been locked inside the house for two years by the normal-seeming but insanely abusive father, and they set the fire in the hopes of rescue by the fire department. Very creepy and original, and well-told.

The ending slides a bit into cloying heartstring-tugging, with everything in slow motion, and Annabeth spinning around dramatically in her chair with her big triumphant grin to give the mother a great big hug. But mostly the show avoids that kind of forced sentimentality. Finnigan balances her fierce prosecutorial impulses and her new mother emotions well; when she briefly breaks down in tears in the bathroom, it feels real for that character, and it's a touching moment.

And yet! It's doubtful I'll ever tune in again. For one thing, I'm not wild about legal shows in general. I don't think there's a single one I watch on a regular basis. And for another... okay, I'll say it: it's a chick show. I can admire what the show does, but I still don't want to watch it. Neither the legal aspect nor the new mother aspect appeals to me. I wouldn't be surprised if Close to Home becomes a hit (especially with powerhouse Jerry Bruckheimer behind it), but it'll do so without me.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


My buddy Matt has a new short story published at, called "Paper Girl." I don't know if he will appreciate my describing it as McSweeney's-esque, but nonetheless that's what I'm doing, and that should give you kind of an idea of what to expect.

Go read it and be a better person for it.* And then find more of his stories at (I recommend "Columbus Day," in honor of the grand festivities we all held yesterday. I had three pieces of Columbus Day cake!)

*Not a guarantee.

Monday, October 10, 2005

TV: Night Stalker and Hot Properties

Another two-fer review to catch up. Now, on first glance, it might seem that Night Stalker and Hot Properties are two completely unrelated shows which don't belong in the same post. One is an hour-long drama about the supernatural set in L.A., the other is a half hour sitcom about four sexy women set in New York. But they do have one overriding, irrefutable connection: they're both really bad.

Night Stalker is an update of the old Kolchak series, which I've never watched, but which I have to imagine comes off the victor in any kind of comparison between the two shows. The main characters are Carl Kolchak, played by Stuart Townsend, and Perri Reed, played by Gabrielle Union, and they both come off as tremendously stupid. Reed always seems two steps behind not just Kolchak but the audience as well, and flounders so helplessly as an investigative journalist -- missing obvious clues, lacking sources, failing to perceive motives or anticipate police procedure -- that you have to wonder how she ever got her job in the first place. And Kolchak's mystery (his wife was murdered under bizarre circumstances) doesn't intrigue, it just makes him look weak and ineffective for making no real progress in solving her murder, and for being a pawn of the lawman who wants to pin the rap on him.

The show is apparently shot on digital video in an attempt to mimic the L.A. of Collateral, but it only makes the picture look cheap and grainy when the camera moves too suddenly, and it makes the already-lame special effects look even lamer. The writing is rotten, switching between faux-profundity, and dull and obvious. This is yet another new supernatural series I can cross off my list. (Which makes the grand total of keepers from that category so far this season... zero.)

Hot Properties is marginally better, due to the presence of likeable personalities such as Nicole Sullivan, Evan Handler, and Sofia Vergara (who mostly makes jokes about her gigantic boobs and her malfunctioning "gaydar," but still manages to be appealing while doing it). The biggest liability to the show is the immobile block of wood they've cast in the lead role... oh, wait, that's Gail O'Grady. And she is unbelievably awful. The show's writers seem to know it, and give most of the (allegedly) funny lines to Sullivan. But they can't give her all the lines, so every once in a while O'Grady gives the unfunniest possible delivery of already unfunny material, causing my fists to clench and my teeth to grind. This is miscasting on an epic level, nearly as bad as that goddam kid who played Anakin in The Phantom Menace. (No, that's not fair. Nobody is that bad.)

I really dig Sullivan, and she makes the best of her flimsy material, often managing to wring humor out of stupendously lame Oprah- and He's Just Not That Into You-based gags. The constant references to He's Just Not Etc., by the way, are obvious attempts to tap into the former Sex and the City audience -- the book was written by writers from that show. It's like they're making a pagan sacrifice to the Sex and the City gods: "Look, we've got a sitcom featuring four hot women in New York -- just like you did!!! If we mention your book 87 times, will you grant us some of your devoted fanbase and critical praise? How about if we slaughter an ox?"

And hey, there's Evan Handler, who was a frequent guest star on... Sex and the City! What a coincidence. He peps things up considerably in his brief appearances on Hot Properties. I quickly found myself wishing the show was just about Sullivan and Handler's characters. Only they were completely different characters. Funny ones. Written by funny writers. Well, maybe when this show gets cancelled, someone will get on that.

MOVIES: Serenity

I don't know what else they could've done for Serenity. They promoted the hell out of it. They previewed the hell out of it, to an unprecedented extent. It was scheduled well, up against nothing that should've given a sci-fi action adventure any competition. It had a slew of good-to-great reviews (81% on the "Tomatometer," as opposed to 36% for Flightplan), many of which make a point of touting its superiority to the recent Star Wars films. It had the support of seemingly every blogger in the world. And best of all, it was actually good. In fact, it was great.

And yet, its performance at the box office can be described as nothing other than a failure. It came in second to Flightplan on its opening weekend; on this, its second weekend, it came in 9th, while Flightplan held at #2 in its third week. Seriously, what is the deal with Flightplan? I haven't seen it, so I don't want to make any uninformed negative judgments about it, but I will say this: it's stupid and I hate it. I mean, come on! You know it's gonna be dumb! Why are you all going to see it? Just so you can say, "Yep, it sure was dumb, all right"?

Anyhoo. I can imagine a couple reasons why it might not have caught on with the general public -- not least of which is its lack of any name actors. But they're outweighed by so many positive factors, I still can't believe it's not a blockbuster. I saw it this Saturday, and I loved it. It's absolutely one of my favorites of the year.

No spoilers ahead, not that it matters. If you're going to see it, I'm sure you have by now.

The cast may be a bunch of no-names, but they work together well, and they fill the screen with winning charisma. Nathan Fillion, as Capt. Mal Reynolds, takes most of the big moments, and Adam Baldwin's Jayne gets some big laughs, but most every member of the large crew gets some memorable screentime.

And the action is creative and thrilling, both in space and on the ground. Summer Glau (who plays River) puts her ballet training to use in one incredible bar fight, and the climactic battle with the Reavers is tremendous and terrifying. One good thing about the fighting here is that it actually feels like something is at risk. It feels as though the crew is genuinely in danger; there's no sense, as there generally is in action movies, that this is an inconsequential hurdle to be overcome in rote fashion.

I like that the final goal of the crew isn't just to blow something big to pieces, as it usually is in sci-fi (like, I don't know, a Death Star, maybe?). They're putting their lives on the line not to destroy a super-weapon, but to distribute information that will have a similar devastating effect.

The writing is sharp, filled with Joss Whedon's usual humor and a lot of nice character moments, and the direction by Whedon is also superb, peppered with a certain amount of visual flair, but anchored in allowing the viewer to follow what's happening at any given moment, whether it's an epic space battle or the complicated backstory of River, which is certainly easier to follow for fans of Firefly, but accessible to newbies as well.

It's a fantastic ride, with twists that haven't been done to death in other genre films, and it goes to surprisingly dark places for a film filled with so much humor. The box office doesn't bode well for a sequel, but hey, the TV show's cancellation didn't bode well for a movie continuation, either. Maybe some big DVD sales will once again save the day.

Friday, October 07, 2005

META: Why I haven't posted at Blogcritics for a while

For a time there, I was crossposting a lot of my entries here over at Blogcritics. I'm not so enthusiastic about doing so anymore.

Sample comment from my review of Prison Break, posted by someone who has chosen to call himself "TomHater":

who the hell is Tom the Dog? Im sorry its no queer eye for the straight guy. maybe they will stop by and remodel the cells for them. what the hell! this tom guy just pisses me off. What else would you rather be watching, this is one of the better shows on tv right now. Freakin homo! jeeez i love how these people who have nothing better to do make a whole story about how a tv show sucks! after one episode! move out of your moms basement! get a job like the rest of us and tell us what tv shows are really good. "silly" who says silly?
Who says "homo," you freak? And FYI, it's not her basement, it's her garage.

Oh, I've said too much.

Blogcritics posts often come up near the top of Google searches for any particular show. Which means they're seen by a much higher percentage of idiots, whiners, and losers whose identities are so wrapped up in their worship of said shows that they must attack anyone whose opinion varies even one iota from their own. I mean, on the one hand, it's fairly laughable. But on the other hand, it's not something I feel like intentionally seeking out.

I'll probably post at Blogcritics again, but it doesn't seem nearly as fun or appealing as it used to.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

TV: Commander in Chief

I didn't really think I'd like Commander in Chief*. I knew there would be things about it that I'd like, primarily actors like Geena Davis, Donald Sutherland, and Ever Carradine (whom I love a ridiculous amount). But I felt like this could very easily slip into clumsy, heavy-handed, "message" television, with an overdose of sappy family melodrama. I've got nothing against the woman-as-President story (hell, I already accept Laura Roslin, one of the best female characters on any TV show anywhere, as President of the entire human race); I just didn't think ABC would handle it very well.

I've watched the first two episodes of Commander in Chief now, and I'm happy to find that so far, my doubts were misplaced. Sure, there are a couple of irritating family moments (generated specifically by Davis' oldest daughter, who is tremendously annoying), and there are some clunky, groaner lines (primarily spouted by Sutherland, who is playing his character as way too cartoonishly evil), but on the whole, I think the show does a fine job of balancing the political and the personal, of dramatizing the general demands of the White House and the specific hurdles for a woman President.

The acting is top-notch. Davis is very good; she certainly looks the part -- if you're going to cast a woman as President, you might as well get one eight feet tall. Although there's something a little off about her face, like Bruce Campbell's character in Escape from L.A. performed her plastic surgery. She does a good job conveying her strengths as well as her doubts, both in her job and with her family. I've always liked her, and I've always liked Sutherland, though here, as I said, he often drifts into Snidely Whiplash territory. Davis needs an opponent, and Sutherland could fill that role perfectly, but his character needs to be more humanized to be effective. And Ever Carradine I will always be fond of for her part in one of my favorite cancelled-too-soon shows ever, Lucky. Here, she's the President's new Press Secretary, inexperienced but sharp and loyal. I like her, but that's hardly a surprise.

There have been some great guest appearances in these first two episodes. I got a kick out of seeing Bruce Boxleitner as Sutherland's choice for Vice President, and Peter Coyote is excellent as Davis' VP pick. And Natasha Henstridge, who appeared in the second episode as an especially devious member of Sutherland's staff, was a pleasant surprise; there's no way to get around this: she is smokin' hot. She almost made me forget about Ever Carradine for a second or two. I hope hers is a recurring character.

I like that Davis instantly asserts her power as she steps into the role of President, although her focusing that power to rescue one woman in Nigeria seems a little far-fetched. Is she going to send the Marines after every single woman in the world she thinks has been wronged? And I like what her husband (played by Kyle Secor) is going through. He was her Chief of Staff while she was VP, but she replaces him when she takes over for the dead President. Now he's relegated to dealing with his new duties as "First Gentleman," complete with a bossy Chief of Staff of his own (who keeps referring to him as "First Lady" in the debut episode). The character walks a fine line between supportive of his wife, and hurt and offended by his reduced duties, and Secor plays it with just the right amount of humor and integrity.

I got burned out on West Wing a long time ago. I suspect I'll get burned out on Commander in Chief as well, probably sooner rather than later. But for now, it's one of my favorite new dramas of the season.

*I believe the proper way to write this is "Commander-in-Chief," but there aren't any hyphens used in the show's opening credits, so I'll skip them here as well.

MUSIC: Twenty years has gone so fast

Confidential to Billie Joe Armstrong:

Wake up!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

TV: Arrested Development spoiler

Well, I just told you about missing a big revelation on Lost, and now I find out I've missed something huge on Arrested Development. (Or as Gob would say, "I've made a huge mistake.") This time, it was my sister who pointed it out to me. I had to go back and rewatch this week's episode when she told me, and my jaw dropped. It's by no means 100% confirmed... but I believe she's completely right about this.

But, since I didn't pick up on it, and neither did her husband, I'm classifying this as a spoiler. A pretty big one. Because I don't think we're the only ones who haven't noticed. All the clues are there, but I don't think the audience is meant to have caught on just yet. So I'll use good old fashioned spoiler text to tell you about it. If you're reading this on a feed, say at LiveJournal, where the background doesn't match the color of the spoiler text, just be aware you should skip the next bit if you don't want to know.


Michael's new girlfriend, Rita, played by Charlize Theron, doesn't teach at that private preschool. She attends preschool. She's mentally retarded.

Rewatch the episode, if you still have it recorded. Notice her animal backpacks. Look at the way she stands in front of the preschool, holding hands with the kids -- not as a teacher, but as their equal. Listen to her simple sentences; listen to Dave Thomas asking how Michael would feel if he messed with "some stupid person in your family." He isn't Rita's spymaster; he's Rita's protective father.

This is why she picked that goofy American restaurant -- she just likes eating donuts. She just likes riding the space shuttle. She's not concealing microphones in her crazy hats -- she wears crazy hats because she has a child's sense of style.

And another thing I noticed, which I'll bet even my sister missed: when the Bluth family dumps her on the bench, the bench has a big ad on it for "Wee Britain." When Michael finds her, she's sitting so that she conceals part of the sign -- it now reads, "Wee Brain."

OH MY GOD!! I can't believe how insanely clever this show is. I guarantee, I guarantee that this is right. The writers have pulled one over on us. They've absolutely blown my mind.

My sister is a genius. And if you already figured this out, so are you.

TV: Lost

I loved the season premiere of Lost two weeks ago (and was a little disappointed with the second episode, which was 50% retread of the previous show, although the other 50% contained a shark getting shot in the head, which was frickin' sweet), but apparently I missed a fairly major revelation.

I picked up on it while browsing through the boards at Harlan Ellison's site (which I was doing because of the whole "Gabe & Tycho vs. Harlan" thing). Turns out Harlan is a huge fan of Lost, going so far as to say: 57 years of watching, studying, reviewing, commenting on, and abominating television, I have seldom (if ever, even counting my faves) encountered Art at such a level. LOST is to television as MOBY DICK and HUCKLEBERRY FINN and GRAVITY'S RAINBOW are to the rest of American letters. LOST is to wildly inventive and utterly mesmerizing narrative as CITIZEN KANE, THE MAGNIFICENT 7 and THRONE OF BLOOD are to cinema since Edison's "The Kiss." LOST is to artistic creativity and damn skippy inventiveness as Smithson's "Spiral Jetty," Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights" and Richard Dadd's "Fairy-Feller's Master Stroke" are to painting.
Jesus! I mean, I like it, too, but... Harlan doesn't skimp on the praise, does he?

Anyway, it wasn't he that pointed out the dramatic reveal that I missed, but some guy named Adam-Troy Castro. He says that in the season premiere, in Jack's flashback, the man who dies in the ER while Jack is saving his future fiance's life is Shannon and Boone's father.

The interconnectedness of the Lost world strikes again, and I completely miss it! Did everyone else get it? Was it really obvious? Or was this a subtle thing only for super-attentive fans (like Adam-Troy, and not, apparently, me)? And if you did notice, why didn't you tell me, dude? Because that is awesome.

Maybe not "better than Huck Finn" awesome... but still pretty awesome.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

TV: Sex, Love & Secrets

For about the first fifteen minutes of Sex, Love & Secrets, I hated it with a passion. It made me angry, genuinely angry that something so mind-blowingly, punishingly, insultingly awful could be allowed on television.

But as it went on, I found myself strangely mellowing toward it. I still hated it, I still recognized its unparalleled rancidness, but I began to derive some small amusement from it, rather than anger. Not a "so-bad-it's-good" amusement, like, say, Showgirls -- I still didn't enjoy it, and it didn't for a second come anywhere close to making me actually laugh, or even smile. But still, there was a certain perverse pleasure I got out of being witness to a show so brainless, so determinedly false-footed, so completely, utterly wrong in its every move and instinct.

The badness begins with an omniscient narrator whose rap is so blatantly stolen from Desperate Housewives that Brenda Strong should sue for identity theft. The narrator's patter is an idiotic mishmash of clunky exposition and dimestore philosophy, centered on the theme of "secrets." Her script -- the entire script, actually -- sounds as though it was written by a committee of frat boys who failed out of their Philosophy 101 classes due to chronic absenteeism caused by alcohol poisoning.

The characters are unanimously reprehensible and repellent, from the hairdressing Warren Beatty-wannabe whom every woman in Los Angeles County wants to sleep with, despite his resemblance to a homeless junkie, to the jittery, bug-eyed, virginal wallflower who secretly loves him, to the skanky blonde who picks him up for sex while her doormat musician boyfriend is playing onstage no more than ten feet away, to the almost-engaged couple, who are the blandest blahs ever to blandly blah across the TV screen, to the randomly bitchy Denise Richards, whose character is completely superfluous.

The show is all style, and the style is shit. It's all machine gun cuts and whip-pans and unnecessary morphing. The director obviously spent all his time thinking of obnoxious camera trickery and none of it coaxing performances out of the actors. Not that Scorsese could have helped this group bring their roles to life.

There are times when the awfulness seems intentional, as though those involved were attempting an ironic statement on badness, instead of simply being bad. I could almost sense a wink at the audience once or twice -- such as when the female Bland McBlanderson prepares to throw her (allegedly) dead ex-boyfriend's (alleged) ashes into the ocean... from a rocky cliff a football field away... with a strong headwind in her face. For a second, I thought, "Have these people actually seen The Big Lebowski? Is that where we're going with this?" But no, instead, when the wind dies, she tosses handfuls of ash off the cliff, where it drifts to ground a hundred feet from the water. No winking; merely (and sincerely) stupid.

If humorous meta-commentary on the soap genre is what the show was going for, it fails miserably. If it was intended as straight drama, its failure is hundredfold.

But all this would appear to be moot. According to this article (found via Teevee), UPN has already halted production on the show. So why spend all this virtual ink on a show already dead in the water? Well, #1, I promised I'd review all these damn shows, and I meant it. And #2, I can't let something this uniquely horrendous die a quiet death. Sex, Love & Secrets deserves a good, steel-toed kicking while it's down. Followed by a quick, merciful bullet to the back of its diseased, misshapen head.

TV: Is this the end of Arrested Development?

"For British eyes only!" That line has been sing-songing through my head all morning, and if you don't know why, you haven't been watching Arrested Development. And not watching Arrested Development makes baby Jesus cry.

Last night's episode was once again hysterical. Casting Scott Baio as the new Bluth family lawyer, Bob Loblaw (say it out loud, as in Michael's line, "We don't want to talk nonsense to Bob Loblaw") was inspired. He takes the place of Henry Winkler's Barry Zuckercorn. "It's not the first time I've replaced Barry Zuckercorn," Baio says, "plus I skew younger." Wonderful reference to Happy Days, former TV home of Baio's Chachi, the younger-skewing version of Winkler's Fonzie. (Not to mention narrator Ron "Richie Cunningham" Howard.)

The meta-tastic references don't stop there. At one point, Tobias counsels Buster, and Buster has a breakthrough. "If this were a Lifetime movie of the week," Tobias says (and forgive me for paraphrasing from memory), "this would be the perfect moment for an act break." Cue the "going to commercial" music! Then the music stops, and the characters stand in awkward silence for a moment. "But this isn't a Lifetime movie," narrator Howard says, and the episode continues. Later, Buster has a bigger breakthrough. "Now there's your act break," Tobias says triumphantly. Cut to commercial!

Still later, Michael tells guest star Charlize Theron that Americans are emotionally immature, living in a state of arrested development. "Hey, that's the name of the show!" interrupts the narrator.

We also learn this episode that Tobias was the world's first combination analyst and therapist, and he has the business cards to prove it: "Tobias Fünke: ANALRAPIST." "It's pronounced 'uh-NAL-ruh-PIST,'" he explains to Buster. "It wasn't the pronunciation that worried me," Buster replies.

And the ongoing storyline, about the British spying on the Bluth family (which is where the "For British eyes only" theme song comes in) is perfectly ridiculous, with spymaster Dave Thomas making Theron wear a series of goofy hats with obvious microphones in them. I fear we'll never see the end of this storyline, though. It looks like the baseball playoffs will be pre-empting the show for the next month, and with the miserable ratings so far this year, I doubt we'll see the show return after baseball is over. I hate to say it, but I think this is the end of the funniest show on TV.

Damn you, Nielsen viewers!! DAMN YOU!! Why didn't you watch this show? Was it because it was too smart? Was it because it asked you to use your memory, and recall things from previous episodes? Was it because it didn't have a laugh track, so you didn't know if they were being funny or not? Was it because Fox sucked ass at promoting it? (Especially this season, when Fox moved the show from Sunday to Monday and didn't really bother to tell anyone they'd done it.) Did it hurt your head to remember more than five characters? Did you feel the show was talking down to you, as I am right now? Why, damn you, why??

It's a miracle it made it to the third season, I guess, but it's a crime it might not be making it any farther.

Monday, October 03, 2005

BOOKS: If Chins Could Kill

Hey, I read a book! Good for me. It's not an especially profound or challenging book, but still, I'm just glad to learn that I retain the ability.

The book is Bruce Campbell's autobiography, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor. It's told in a breezy, conversational style that makes reading it just fly by (or it would have, if I spent more than ten minutes a day reading anymore) (not counting comic books).

I've always liked Campbell, and his writing style matches his public persona. The book is funny, even smart-alecky (as you might expect from someone who's had to deal with hardcore genre fans as he has), and Campbell is well-versed in the acting business but none-too-serious about it -- though sometimes he lays on the self-deprecation a little thick.

There's very little material about his personal life; the opening chapters deal with his childhood and teen years, especially the lifelong show business friendships he would make of people like Sam Raimi, but his parents' divorce, for example, is skimmed over surprisingly quickly. As is his own divorce: he almost never mentions his first wife between the time he marries her and the time she asks him to leave. His second (and current) wife, Ida, is also given short shrift, and his two children get even less page time. This is a show business memoir almost entirely, not a true autobiography; at the end, I felt like I didn't know Campbell the man any better than before I'd cracked the book.

But Campbell the actor -- that's another story, and a gripping one. The longest segment of the book details the making of Campbell & Raimi's first real movie, the horror classic The Evil Dead. The lengths they and their friends had to go through in the making of this movie are awe-inspiring, from cold-calling local merchants to drum up financing, to the brutal, no-frills living conditions during filming, to the financial disappointment following the film's initial release. Success was neither great nor instantaneous; Campbell was making ends meet as a security guard even after starring in the second, more successful film in the series.

The rest of the book relates anecdotes and learning experiences throughout Campbell's career, from The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. to Congo to Hercules and Xena and beyond. Mixed in with the funny stories about meeting crazed fans or playing practical jokes on cast and crew is a boatload of simple, practical advice for would-be actors and filmmakers, whether it's making the sound man aware if you're going to be extra-loud, knowing how to block a scene, or coming up with ways to fill screentime when the script is lacking (if Campbell hadn't made such an effort during McHale's Navy, for example, he would've been screwed -- or even more screwed than someone co-starring in a Tom Arnold movie already is).

The paperback version of the book includes an additional section on the "Chins Across America" tour -- his booksigning promotional tour for the hardback edition. It also includes brief notes on the films Campbell made between the hardback and the paperback, including Spider-Man and Bubba Ho-Tep.

If Chins Could Kill is a lot of fun, even if you're not especially a fan of Campbell's work; it's very rarely you get a glimpse of how things work for the non-superstar actors. And it's packed with informative material -- just very little of it having to do with Campbell's non-professional life.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

TV: Inconceivable and E-Ring

A couple quick takes on what are probably the most feminine and masculine new shows of the season: Inconceivable and E-Ring.

Inconceivable takes place in a fertility clinic run by partners Ming-Na and Jonathan Cake. Ming-Na is the administrator, I guess, and Cake is the doctor with a god complex who helped her conceive her child years ago. She's meant to be the emotional, sensitive one as opposed to Cake's rakish, unfeeling character, but she comes across as borderline incompetent, pushing buttons and stirring up trouble where she shouldn't.

There's some cute stuff in the pilot; most of the supporting cast are decent and likeable, including Angie Harmon, who shows up for about two minutes near the end of the episode. But there are about 18 stories too many -- there's the white couple whose surrogate mother bears a black baby, there's the clinic employee who wants to adopt that baby, there's the Marine who's getting the frozen eggs of his combat-killed wife implanted in her sister, there's the member of the gay couple who stalks their child's surrogate mother to make sure she's eating right, there's Ming-Na's boy who wants to meet his sperm donor father, there's the minister and his wife who have failed to conceive, there's Cake and the nurse he dumps, who seeks revenge by switching Cake's seed for the minister's, there's Cage and Angie Harmon's past romantic history... it felt like watching an entire season crammed into one hour.

It's light and well-acted, but the writing gets a little awkward and clumsy, and there are way, way too many characters and stories to make for a satisfying viewing experience. It's decent, but I won't be tuning in again.

E-Ring felt refreshingly straightforward following Inconceivable. There's just one main story driving the action: Benjamin Bratt, a brash young Major assigned to the "E-Ring" section of the Pentagon, fights to get a U.S. Intelligence operative rescued from China. Dennis Hopper plays Bratt's boss, a Colonel who listens to Blue Oyster Cult and Lynyrd Skynyrd in his downtime, and hides his gambler's sheet of NFL point spreads in a Top Secret folder. Hopper's a veteran of how the system works and how the bureaucracy must be played, but Bratt's fresh from the field and not about to let red tape stop him, even if he has to use his CIA girlfriend's insider knowledge to cut some corners.

I liked both Bratt and Hopper, who keep the tone light but compelling. And I liked that the action is split between no-nonsense military field operations and the frustrating political machinations of the Pentagon. There's probably a little too much of the bureaucratic, political hurdling; the show does its best to keep the drama character-oriented, but when the high dramatic point of the episode is a montage of signatures on a standardized mission request form, presented as momentously as the signing of the Declaration of Independence, you have to smile and shake your head. This is military drama in the new millennium?

I might check out another episode or two of this (depending on what it's up against). The characters are simple but not shallow or stupid, the motivations are understandable and direct, the action (primarily centering in this first episode around the covert operative's escape from Shanghai) is exciting and believable, and there are no soap opera or conspiracy theory elements muddying the waters. It's just a straight-up action drama. Those generally succeed or fail on the strength of its stars, and I think Bratt and Hopper might be enough to make it work.

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by