Saturday, April 29, 2006

Sidebar Update, Part II

Man, can you believe it's been over a month since I've done one of these? It's been a bad month for me, peoples. But at long last I'm back to blogging full time, or what passes as full time around here, and back to my favorite regular feature at the ol' blog: the Threatdown! No, wait, that's Stephen Colbert. (#1: Bears.) I meant: the Sidebar Update!

This week's Object Of My Affection: Katharine McPhee. Some of you may have no idea who she is. Until this last Wednesday, neither did I. Then I went to a friend's house for dinner, and we had to watch American Idol. It was literally the first episode of American Idol that I have ever watched. Ever. I hate the very idea of that show, shoving a manufactured "idol" down America's throats: we'll tell you who to love, and you'll like it! The majority of America appears to have rolled over and obeyed. I have not. That said: this Katharine McPhee dame is smokin' hot. I will admit, her dress may have helped somewhat in this impression (warning: mildly naughty but non-naked images at link). I may even watch another episode just because of her. Though it's pretty frickin' unlikely.

I vow this is the last time I will ever have Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell as my Reading selection. I have almost exactly 200 pages left to go, and I will finish it by next weekend. I've been reading that damn book since the beginning of February. I might actually have started in January. That's three months for one book. I mean, it's a long book, sure, but that's a little embarrassing.

I haven't been Watching nearly as much TV or TV DVD box sets recently. Doesn't mean I've gotten away from the television; it just means I've been playing a lot more video games. Primarily, Hot Shots Golf 3, which I've recently gotten back into in a big way. So much fun! And it's almost as much exercise as real golf.

Under Listening we have Bad Religion's The Process of Belief, which I bought last week. It hasn't instantly knocked my socks off the way some of their other albums have (mainly The Gray Race, and Stranger Than Fiction, which is one of my ten favorite albums ever), but it's growing on me. I thought it was a brand new album, but it came out in 2002 (the most recent would be 2004's The Empire Strikes First). Shows how aware I am.

Hating the Dodge "silly little fairy" ad. Hating with a passion. I indirectly addressed this ad via Zombie Tom before, but I'll go ahead and say it flat-out here: this ad is a blatant expression of homophobia. It is not cute. It is repellent. It is Dodge saying, "We don't make cars for fags." And I'm really hating, judging by the way this ad blankets the airwaves, and the rabid defense of it that has risen on the internet, the fact that America is all right with this, that insulting and demeaning gays is back in vogue. Truly, truly awful.

Lyric of the Week is from Billy Joel. Yes, Billy Joel! Damn straight! And I will fight any man who dares speak out against him! Provided he is small and weak.

For a while, I've been featuring The Wit and Wisdom of Barney:

Suit Up!

But given the drastic decline in quality How I Met Your Mother has gone through in the second half of the season, I decided to shelve that feature for now. (Although Neil Patrick Harris' Barney continues to be -- wait for it! -- legendary.) Replacing it: The Wit and Wisdom of Dwight K. Schrute. With Arrested Development off the air, The Office is unquestionably the best sitcom on television, by a fairly large margin (and I say that despite my fierce devotion to Scrubs). And Rainn Wilson's Dwight is a huge part of its success. Schrute Up!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Sidebar Update

Hey, I updated the sidebar! Normally I do a post commenting on the update. I don't really have time for that right now, due to a pressing urgent matter, which is the fact that there is so much alcohol that is not inside my belly yet. But heck, at least that means I've got an easy post for tomorrow. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

COMICS: Wed. 4/26/06

I haven't written about my weekly comics purchases in quite a while. Probably because it's less than riveting. But I've got nothin' else for today. Hey, at least it was a light week, so it'll be a short post.

Runaways: Still one of my favorite series, with fantastic art by Alphona. But this issue felt a little flat to me for some reason. I'm not sure exactly why. I think I'm just getting the impression that Brian Vaughan is stretching himself a little too thin. What is he writing now, four monthly books? Five? It's not a Bendis load of comics, but that's still a lot to juggle. But like I said, still one of my favorites. I'm not even sure why I brought it up. Never mind.

Invincible: Another of my favorites that feels like it's treading water. Talk about a lot to juggle, how many books does Kirkman write? Forty? Fifty? This comic often feels disjointed to me, like a jumble of puzzle pieces thrown randomly at the pages. It could use a smoother narrative flow from scene to scene and issue to issue. Still, nice art and good superhero fun.

X-Factor: Good issue, maybe my favorite so far. Even though I didn't care for the art -- too heavy a reliance on photo reference, leading to very stilted and non-dynamic character poses. Same problem I had with Maleev from Bendis' Daredevil run. But a good story, all about the mysterious newcomer Layla, who is a very intriguing character. Could've used more Strong Guy, but I feel that way about every issue.

The Thing: Also my favorite issue of the series so far. Also again, not my favorite artist. But I really liked the character moments between Ben, Spider-Man, and even the Sandman and the Trapster. I especially loved the Thing coming right out and calling Spidey's hideous new costume an eyesore, and paying him twenty bucks to change it back to the old one. If I paid someone at Marvel twenty bucks, could I get them to change it back permanently? Right now? This series started off a little shaky, but it's become nearly as good as Slott's other Marvel semi-humor book, She-Hulk. Good stuff.

And that was it for the week. Wasn't that exciting? Maybe that's why I haven't done this for so long.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

MOVIES: Hostel

I was wary about renting Hostel, because I've been burned by director Eli Roth before. I had been looking forward to his first film, Cabin Fever, after reading an interview with him in which he praised classic horror movies, ripped on contemporary, watered-down, PG13 horror films, and promised loads of unapologetic sex and gore. Then I actually watched the film, and it was so maddeningly, blindingly, astoundingly stupid I think it gave me brain cancer.

I'd heard some good things about Hostel, but once bitten, twice shy, right? I finally rented it last night, not expecting much, and I was pleasantly surprised. It was much better than Cabin Fever (it would pretty much have to be). This time, Roth made an actual movie, with a plot and believable characters and everything. In fact, it's a damn good horror flick. Bravo.

The story involves three backpackers (two typical ugly Americans and a hilarious Icelandic dude) blundering into a horrific trap. While partying in Amsterdam, they meet a young German who fills their heads with stories of a Slovakian hostel where anything goes -- drugs, beautiful women, wild orgies, anything they want. The three friends decide to check it out, and at first, it is indeed everything that was promised. Then one by one they're taken to "the Factory," where the term "anything goes" takes on a different, bloodier meaning.

The first film may have delivered on Roth's promise of sex and gore, but Hostel makes it look tame by comparison. The first half of the film is packed with a copious amount of sex and nudity, in Amsterdam and in Slovakia. Baiting the trap, basically. It's the old horror standby, sex = death. There's a price to be paid for all their carousing and debauchery -- but at least there's a lot of carousing and debauchery first. And then, once we enter the Factory, the blood and violence is truly cringe-inducing. The victims are horribly and sadistically tortured for no apparent reason, with everything from a power drill to a blowtorch to a chainsaw. There's a bit where one of the American kids begs to be freed, and his torturer does... something... which makes it very difficult for him to leave, then says, "You're free to go" -- that's still making me wince.

A quick word on the acting: passable. Okay, a few more words: the ugly Americans do their job of being ugly Americans, although they carry it to an obnoxious extreme that almost makes you happy when their playtime comes to an end. The women, well, they're hot, and not much more is required out of them (although Barbara Nedeljakova as Natalya really sells the fact that she gets a kick out of leading these poor bastards into hell; when one American calls her a bitch, she replies, "I get a lot of money for you, and that makes you my bitch"). Eythor Gudjonsson is tremendously entertaining in his film debut as Icelandic backpacker Oli, and Jan Vlasak is tremendously menacing as the primary torturer, who likes to whistle while he works. And keep your eye peeled for a cameo from executive producer Quentin Tarantino in heavy makeup, including a scar, in a bar scene just before the second American enters the Factory.

The film is very creative in its brutality. Roth has been strongly influenced by the works of Japanese horror director Takashi Miike (or Miike Takashi, if you like -- he makes a cameo in Hostel, and is credited both ways), and if you've seen his film Audition, you might have an idea of what you're in for with Hostel. True to his word, Roth did not make a PG13 light horror romp with a bunch of WB starlets who scream prettily. This is intense stuff, for serious horror fans only. I am exactly that kind of horror fan, and I enjoyed this movie, not simply because it's gory, but because it's well-crafted gore; as for the rest of you, well, you probably already know if this is for you or not.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

MOVIES: Thank You For Smoking

Thank You For Smoking is easily the best movie I've seen in the theaters this year. It's also almost the only movie I've seen in the theaters this year, but that's just a coincidence, I'm sure.

Aaron Eckhart gives a stellar performance as Nick Naylor, lobbyist for big tobacco, who lives by the philosophy, "If you argue right, you are right." He's not concerned with the morality of defending a product that kills 400,000 people a year (as he tells his son, his job requires a certain "moral flexibility"); he just likes to win arguments. Eckhart is supremely charismatic and confident, and also very funny. I've been a fan of his since In the Company of Men, but this is by far his best work. He absolutely nails it.

Eckhart is pursuing a scheme to make smoking in movies cool again, facilitated by Hollywood superagent Rob Lowe, who -- along with his assistant, played by Adam Brody -- delivers some of the biggest laughs in the movie. Meanwhile, he's preparing for a Senate hearing on tougher warning labels on cigarettes, the pet cause of Vermont Senator William H. Macy. He's also the subject of an in-depth interview from reporter Katie Holmes, who appears almost completely not crazy here. And he's trying to keep his company's owner, Robert Duvall, happy while avoiding the treachery of his immediate superior, played with snarling glee by J.K. Simmons, who, with this and his role as J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man movies, might be cornering the movie market on hilariously sadistic bosses. All this in between meeting with his fellow M.O.D. (Merchants Of Death) Squad members, Maria Bello (alcohol) and David Koechner (firearms). It's a busy movie (and that's leaving out three or four other plotlines).

And it's a fantastic cast, top to bottom, and they all get their fair share of laugh lines. As when Bello and Koechner get bent out of shape and pouty because their products don't kill nearly as many people as Eckhart's does. Or when Simmons says the word "environmentalist" as though it gives him pain (accompanied by the subtitled translation of that word: "pussy"). Or when Brody explains the decor in Rob Lowe's office: "As you can see, Jeff just loves Asian shit."

It's almost too much of a good thing, too many people and too many stories, but it all holds together from beginning to end in a way very few films of this nature do. It's kind of an Altman-esque achievement, or maybe Altman lite; it's not as wild or brilliant or free-flowing as The Player or Nashville, but it covers a great deal of ground in a somewhat similar satirical fashion, and is a great success (though on a level below Altman's genius). It's director Jason (son of Ivan) Reitman's first feature, and it suggests big things to come, in the same way another debut by a second generation director, Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides, did. Check it out.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Quick One While He's Away

Another brief post to let you know I'm still here. Posting is still going to be sporadic, or non-existent, for the next few days, but I hope to be back to regular updates by Monday. If anyone's still checking in by then.

Meanwhile, check out the new blog from the San Francisco Chronicle's Tim Goodman, called The Bastard Machine. Lots of entries devoted to commenting on The Sopranos and ESPN's Bonds on Bonds. Goodman's always been one of my favorite TV critics, and his blog is filled with televisual goodness aplenty.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

BEating a dead horse...'s brains.

I don't know if anybody is still even a little bit interested in my sporadically updated character blog, Zombie Eat Brains, but I've Zombie Tom has recently posted a number of new entries. I especially enjoyed his account of his snowboarding weekend, and his birthday wishes for Katee Sackhoff, TV's Starbuck-who's-a-chick. I would watch his sitcom. And he has an interesting take on the "Stupid Little Fairy" commercial.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Hello again.

Regular posting continues to elude me, and that's unlikely to change for at least another week. For the sake of having something new on the site, here are a few things I have been enjoying recently.

Truth, Justin, and the American Way: A comic written by PvP's Scott Kurtz, Aaron Williams of Nodwick and PS238, and with fantastically entertaining art by newcomer Giuseppe Ferrario. Here's a seven-page preview. It's a humor book about an average joe who accidentally comes into possession of a super-powered costume. Very much like The Greatest American Hero. In fact, the whole comic is a tribute to the great and cheesy world of '70s and '80s TV, packed with references and sight gags that send me into a joyous pop culture delirium. This comic couldn't be more perfectly suited for me. I mean, I actually own the DVDs of Greatest American Hero, for crying out loud! And the main character's girlfriend is named Bailey Smithers -- which of course is a tribute to current Object Of My Affection Jan Smithers, WKRP's Bailey (note to self: I should really get around to updating that sidebar again). Come on!! That's genius. I loved the first issue of this book. I only wish I had thought of it first.

Deal or No Deal: It's SO STUPID. I don't TiVo it. I don't intentionally seek it out in any way. And yet, if it's on, I'm riveted. Why? Why do I care? I don't get it. It's just a bunch of way too enthusiastic idiots picking numbers between 1 and 26. But there I am, shouting "No deal" at my TV. I'm an imbecile. At least I haven't started memorizing the names of the models who hold the briefcases yet. That would be sad.

Wonder Showzen: The second season started a couple weeks ago, and it's every bit as vile, brain-damaging, and completely wonderful as the first. This is a show that dresses up a kid as "Li'l Dead Pope" and makes him ask and say awful things to people in front of a Catholic church ("The Pope should go to Hell for promoting a corrupt system. High five!"). This is a show in which a puppet offers his "lunch," which is a baby (played by an actual baby), to evil demons in exchange for becoming cool. This show is very, very wrong. And also hilarious.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: I actually fell asleep in the first hour, before Jesus lion showed up, but I enjoyed what I saw. Are the remaining eight hours any good?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

COMICS: Moon Knight

WARNING: Extremely specific comic nerd reference ahead.

How bad did I think the writing in the new Moon Knight #1 was?

"Rise above it all" bad.

And as for the art: do people really think this Finch guy is a good artist? He must be a good artist in the way Todd McFarlane (after he became TODD MCFARLANE!!) was a good artist. "If I make Spawn's cape 60 feet long, that means I'm ten times better than an artist who only makes it 6 feet long!" "If I put 8,000 wrinkles in the peak of Moon Knight's cowl, maybe people will think his grotesquely hyper-muscled and over-rendered-to-the-point-of-looking-like-he's-covered-with-crags-and-crevices body is normal." Adding a jillion unnecessary lines of detail doesn't make for good art.

Yeah, I did not like this comic.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Another mini-post in lieu of actual content.

Did you know Cracked magazine still exists?

Did you know that it has a website?

And can you believe their website has some content that's actually funnier than The Onion has been in quite a while?


--A post from Lost's Matthew Fox titled I Think It's Time We Consider Eating Each Other's Flesh.

--The 159 Things Bacon Makes Better. ("91. Ethan Hawke's hygiene. 115. Nathaniel Hawthorne's minor works. 125. Finding out you're adopted.")

--The inevitable Snakes on a Plane article: Snakes on a Plane FAQ.

PLEASE NOTE: I don't know about the actual magazine (which may not even have made it to the newsstands yet), but the website is not restricted to the kids-friendly content I recall from my childhood. It's closer to National Lampoon. For example, the Snakes on a Plane entry includes the line, "Now, who do I have to blow around here to get some coke injected into the tip of my cock?" My goodness! Would Sylvester P. Smythe approve?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

TV: Teevee

It used to be a consistently updated, informative and entertaining internet destination for television fans, but for the past couple of years, TeeVee has had very little reason to exist outside its annual April Fool's Day stunts.

And sadly, that's no joke.

EDIT: That said, I still want to kiss whoever wrote this entry. Even if it's you, Monty.

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