Monday, July 31, 2006

It's quiet... too quiet.

And likely to stay that way for a bit longer. Maybe something of substance this weekend. Maybe something before, but I wouldn't hold my breath. I will just say this: Deadwood is the best TV show ever. For any who would disagree, I have commissioned this man to glare at you until you dissolve into weeping and pants-soiling:

Farging corksuckers.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Movies Everybody's Seen... But Me

Yesterday at a friend's house I was watching The Poseidon Adventure -- not the horrible remake, but the horrible original. I've got a few notes on it, such as: boy, Gene Hackman was really a dick in it, wasn't he? Or: wait, Roddy McDowall fell ten feet off a ladder into some water, and died? What a puss! Also: did the director even bother talking to the actors? I suspect he just gave them their scripts and let the camera roll. Because man, there was some awful acting from some pretty great actors. Shelley Winters' death scene was so hammy and unintentionally hilarious, I wondered if it was the inspiration for Paul Reubens' riotously extended death scene in the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about. My point is, I told my friend that I had never seen The Poseidon Adventure before, and he was surprised. Then we saw a commercial for the movie coming on next, Jaws, and I told him I had never seen that movie all the way through, and he was stunned. How could I have never seen Jaws??? I don't know, I just haven't. I've probably seen all the high points at one time or another -- the opening skinny dip, the fingernails on the chalkboard, the homoerotic scar comparison/singalong, "We're gonna need a bigger boat," and so on, but I've never sat down and watched it from beginning to end.

Up until last week, I could say the same thing about Clerks. I finally watched the DVD, and it was pretty good. But it's clear that Kevin Smith has not developed as a writer or director one iota from that first film. Same raunchy sex talk, same stiff staging, same awkward line readings of overwritten, pseudo-philosophical bullshit and/or pop culture analysis. (And yet, I would say I'm a fan of his films. So there you go.)

Another film I've never seen from beginning to end -- and this one is sure to blow some of your minds: It's a Wonderful Life. What?? Come on!! How could you possibly never have seen that movie? You love Frank Capra! Jimmy Stewart is your favorite actor ever! It's on eighty-seven times a day every December!!! What is WRONG with you?!?

I don't know! Stop yelling at me! (I love how some people will actually get angry at you for not having seen their favorite movie. "How could you never have seen Goodfellas??" ...Wait, am I doing a Jim Gaffigan routine now?) I just somehow have never sat through it. I've probably seen most of it, and the parts I've seen I love; it seems like every time I stumble across it, it's right in the middle of the scene where Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed are coming home from the dance, they're singing "Buffalo Gals won't you come out tonight," they throw rocks through the windows of the old house, she loses her bathrobe and hides in the bush, he says, "You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it...." Yeah, that's a brilliant scene, so funny and beautiful and romantic. I've seen that bit about a hundred times. Never seen the whole movie once, though.

So, today's question: what are some of the movies that everybody in the entire history of the world has seen -- except for you? Could be a classic, like Casablanca or Citizen Kane, could be a more recent blockbuster, like E.T. or Titanic. What do your friends and family make you feel guilty or pop culturally ignorant for never having watched? Let me know. But if any of you say The Wizard of Oz, you are going to make me very upset. HOW COULD YOU NEVER HAVE SEEN THE WIZARD OF OZ???

Sunday, July 23, 2006

COMICS: Things I've Learned At Comic-Con So Far

--Tobey Maguire is really short. I mean, really short. Like 4'11", even in heels.

--Frank Miller has a pet iguana that he wears on his shoulders at all times. Its name is "Pickles."

--Quentin Tarantino seems an odd choice to direct the Fraggle Rock motion picture.

--Peter Parker is going to be killed off at the end of Civil War, and Aunt May will don the spider costume in his memory.

--Batwoman isn't really a lesbian. But her boyfriend really likes to watch, so...

--Scott Kurtz reeks of death. And Pop Tarts.

--Brad Pitt will be playing Sasquatch in the upcoming Alpha Flight movie.

--Tom Spurgeon killed a guy.

--Kevin Smith really, really loves everything about himself. Even when he jokes that he doesn't. Especially when he jokes that he doesn't.*

--Superman's new costume will have a rainbow flag in place of the S. I don't know, that seems a little too on the nose to me.

--No, wait, actually Superman's new costume will consist of a crown of thorns and stigmata.

--Rosario Dawson is in a movie directed by a comics nerd, and is actually writing her own comic. This means she wants to date you.

--DC is following 52 with 365, a daily one-page comic drawn in crayon by children on the back of Denny's placemats.

--Firefly is so close to being brought back to TV. Please continue obsessing.

--Wonderfalls too.

--"Peter David" is the pseudonym of a little old Asian woman.

--The average con-goer smells like lavender.

Pretty impressive discoveries, huh? Imagine how much I might have learned if I actually had attended!

*This one is true. And maybe the Spurgeon one.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Saturday Sidebar Update

This week's Object of My Affection is Hilary Swank, the most unlikely double Academy Award winner ever. I mean, she was The Next Karate Kid, for cry-yi. She was kind of a surprise contender for OoMA this week, frankly, but have you seen those Vanity Fair photos? Lookin' hawt. Also, she's single now. As always, that doesn't actually improve my chances with her significantly, or at all. But hey, it's nice to know the option is there.

Reading: Lemony Snicket's The Penultimate Peril. Hey, didn't I start reading that almost two months ago? Yep, that's who I am. I'm the guy who takes two months to read a children's book. In all fairness to myself, I haven't picked it up since I put it aside to read some Wodehouse instead. But now that I've finally finished one of the other three books I was supposedly reading (I was right, I finished The Gun Seller first -- good stuff!), now it's back to those unfortunate Baudelaires.

Watching: I visited Amoeba in L.A. last weekend, and picked up a bunch of junk. That place is awesome! I finally got the Robocop Trilogy on DVD. Only $20 for all three movies! Or, as I like to look at it: thirty bucks for the first movie, and a five dollar rebate for each of the shitty sequels. I had to buy the set because the only individual version of the first Robocop on DVD is the edited version, with no extras. Oh, except for the Criterion version, which appears to have the exact same extras as the trilogy set, and the trilogy was cheaper, so... here we are.

Listening: Also picked up a couple of Monster Magnet albums at Amoeba. I was in a metal mood. Powertrip kicks all kinds of ass. Plus, as you can see from Lyric of the Week, it's got a reference to Marvel villain MODOK in the song "Baby Götterdämerung." How can you not love that? By the way, a big [sic] goes with that title, which is as it appears on the album; of course, we all know "Götterdämmerung" has a double M. Silly Monster Magnet!

Hating: I have so much hatred for our Monkey-in-Chief's decision to veto the stem cell research bill I can't even see straight. First veto of his presidency, and he uses it to ban scientific research that could potentially save millions from suffering and death. Of course he does. Because that's exactly the kind of backward-thinker he is. Executing prisoners at a record pace while governor of Texas, though, that's totally cool, because actual post-birth human life is meaningless to him. (I should say, I myself am actually in favor of the death penalty. In fact, I would make more crimes punishable by death. Like using a cell phone in a movie theater, say, or driving slow in the fast lane. I'm just illustrating Bush's hypocrisy here.) And sending thousands to die in his manufactured war, that's okay, too. That's super keen! It's what all the cool kids are doing! But using embryos already marked for destruction as medical waste in scientific research -- God forbid! Literally! (In his mind, anyway.) I need to stop, or I'm going to wind up shouting at the walls. What a bad, bad man he is. Is it 2008 yet?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

COMICS: Wed. 7/19/06

Here are some things wrong with the newest TPB collection of PS238:

1. It does not have a price listed on the cover. Or anywhere, for that matter.

1A. This does not mean it is free.

2. It claims to include "Issues #10 through #15." This is a lie. It in fact contains issues #11 - #15.

3. For some reason, there is no greytone in issue #15.

4. It is surprisingly convoluted for what is basically a kid's book.

Here are some things that are right with it:

1. It is tremendously entertaining.

2. It includes two pages of rules for playing four square.

3. Who knew Ms. Kyle had powers?? That was awesome.

Runaways: This issue brings the latest storyline to a close, which means, in accordance with my ongoing plan to destroy the comics industry by switching over to TPBs, it's the last individual issue I will be buying. This is the comic I'm most reluctant to make the conversion on; it is quite possibly my favorite ongoing series. I want my monthly fix! Maybe I can make an exception. As for the actual content: the cover promised, "One of these Runaways is about to die," and I guess it wasn't kidding. That just sucks. I hope the rules of arbitrary resurrection in the Marvel Universe apply to this book as well. Because this turn of events made me go like this:


And I don't type that emoticon lightly.

Gumby: Bob Burden and Rick Geary? Sold. A wonderfully funny and light-hearted story with large helpings of random weirdness. Fun for everyone!

Elephantmen: I had much the same reaction to this comic that Mike did. I've never heard of Hip Flask, the comic this is spun off from, and I had no idea comic font mogul Richard Starkings was writing comics. But I was completely sold on this book. Gorgeous art from a fella (or lady, I guess) who apparently only goes by the name Moritat, alternating between charming sweetness and disturbing darkness. The book is set in Mystery City (or Santa Monica, if the caption on page 1 of the main story is correct), in a time in the distant future where human-animal hybrids share an uneasy existence side-by-side with normal people. The main story is a very effective introduction to this world, alternating between a young girl's innocent fascination with an Elephantman and, prompted by her questions, his recollections of his violent past. There's some humor, but it's mostly played straight, and it works. I may have to seek out some back issues of Hip Flask now.

She-Hulk: I wish Bobillo were still doing the artwork. Oh well. I did enjoy seeing some art from Sal Buscema in the second half of the book (a hilarious story about an awkward dinner party involving She-Hulk and her very, very unhappy future father-in-law, J. Jonah Jameson; you know your dinner party is going badly when the Spider Slayers are unleashed). The first half of the book involves more obligatory Civil War tie-in stuff, but also includes some sinister suggestions about the nature of the manager of Jen's law firm, some more pining for Jen from poor old Pug, and a full page devoted to spit-takes. Good stuff, as always.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

TV: Lucky Louie

I've watched four episodes now of Lucky Louie, and I give up. It's just not funny. I like star/creator Louis C.K.'s stand-up, and I like some of the performers on the show, especially Laura Kightlinger, but it doesn't translate into a good sitcom.

I guess a lot of it depends on whether you think the idea of The Honeymooners with swearing and blowjob jokes is inherently funny. I don't. I'm all for raunchiness. "Yay, raunchiness" -- that is my motto. But there's no focus to it here, it's just heaped on top of standard lame sitcom gags. Having Louie say "Fuck that bitch" about his wife when he's sneaking donuts behind her back doesn't make it funny; it's still just recycling a gag from 20 years ago on The Cosby Show (and other shows before that), but with profanity.

Some of the bits from Louis' stand-up act translate well to the sitcom, such as the conversation with his daughter in the first episode, in which she keeps asking, "Why?" and he keeps trying to answer, getting weirder and darker and more abstract, until he winds up at, "Because God is dead and we're alone." That's still the funniest scene in the series. Other bits don't translate well, such as his wife catching him masturbating in the closet. The show is trying to push boundaries, but with seemingly no purpose or direction other than just the pushing of boundaries itself. And that's not funny to me.

A big deal has been made about this being the first HBO comedy shot in traditional three-camera, live-studio-audience style. The problem there is that it just makes the show look cheap. The sets, the direction, and the video quality are very poor.

So, I give up. It's not often an original HBO show comes along that can't hold my interest. Lucky Louie is one of those rare exceptions.

Monday, July 17, 2006


The French suspense film Caché opens with a motionless, long-distance shot of a non-descript home, and holds there for several long minutes, silently observing traffic on the street and, eventually, a woman and then a man exiting the house. At length it is revealed that we're watching a videotape that has been left on the doorstep of this couple's home. They're being watched. By whom, for what reason, they have no idea.

The videos keep coming, and the couple's fear and paranoia builds. They're being terrorized, but the motives of this fear campaign are unknown. The husband has suspicions, tied back to his guilt over a childhood incident, but his number one suspect seems unlikely to be behind it all. As the guilt and suspicion eat at him, it begins to drive a wedge between him and his wife, whom he can't bring himself to trust with his secret, and who in turn loses her trust in him. Meanwhile, the couple's son has his own suspicions about his mother. In English, Caché means hidden; in the film, everything is hidden -- the culprit behind the videotapes, secrets, motives, feelings, lies.

The direction of the film is highly unusual. The camera is almost always stationary -- when it moves, it's almost startling. It's often unclear whether the couple is being spied upon by their tormentor; often it seems that we, the audience, are meant to be implicated in the spying. The long, static shots are often mesmerizing, riveting in their intense, unwavering focus. They can also be slightly tedious, lulling the viewer into a feeling of complacency, even security -- until one sudden, completely unexpected, shockingly brutal act of violence jars you to the core.

I don't want to reveal very much about the couple, the videotapes, the childhood incident, the suspect. The mystery unfolds slowly, bit by bit, and not every piece of the puzzle is guaranteed to be reliable. The husband has a couple of dream flashbacks, but whether they recall truth, or the truth as he wants others to see it, or the truth as he's convinced himself to believe after all these years -- he can't be sure, and neither can we. There may be answers to be found in this film, but they're answers that we have to define for ourselves. Nothing is certain; nothing is resolved in a neat little package, which is partly what makes this film such a fascinating experience.

Even the final shot only deepens the mystery. Like the opening, it is a long-distance, motionless, minutes-long shot. A crowd of people mills about in front of the camera. If you don't know what to look for, you might think this is yet another comment on the act of watching others. But if you look very carefully, you'll see two people meet, people who should have no reason to meet, which casts even more of a cloud over what has come before.

Caché rewards patience, and close attention. It's engaging, if somewhat frustrating, yet somehow richer for the frustration it engenders. I've never seen a film quite like it.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

TV: Psych

Oh my god I am miserable. It's been over 100 degrees in Ojai for about a week now. And my apartment stores up heat like a camel stores water, so even at night I've been sweating and suffering. (Not that it's all that much cooler outside at night anyway.) My fans are running all day long, my window A/C unit is running all day long, but it's a piece of shit that only cools about four square feet in the kitchen. I'm about ready to set myself on fire so I can cool off a bit.

Plus I've got a nice little summer cold going. Whoopee! No Saturday Sidebar Update today, because it's too damn much effort. Thought I'd better put something up, though, to give you folks some new material to look at. I should say, by the way, I'm very pleased with the massive feedback I've received over my Top Ten Sitcoms list. Definitely makes me want to watch some more old Bob Newharts, Dick Van Dykes, and Andy Griffiths. Too bad stupid TV Land is running a Munsters marathon today; that show, I've seen enough of.

On to the new. I've caught the first couple of episodes of USA's new detective comedy, Psych. It's about Shawn Spencer (James Roday), a guy with photographic memory and acute attention to details, which helps him to solve cases the police can't. But in order for the police to accept his suspiciously well-informed tips, rather than locking him away on suspicion of being an inside man on the crimes, he has to pretend the clues come to him through psychic powers. He enlists best friend Gus (Dule Hill) to help him out, and the Psych Detective Agency is born.

I liked the show more than I thought I would. I hate psychics, who are, one and all, without exception, vile con artists and charlatans who prey on the simple-minded and bereaved. I was hoping this show would really take a shot at psychics, deflate the positive TV exposure they've been getting through psychic-endorsing shows like Medium and Ghost Whisperer, but it quickly became clear that wasn't the way Psych was going. It's more in the Monk mold -- really smart guy with a gimmick notices stuff the cops don't. Period. Nothing really positive or negative is said about real-life "psychics."

But it's an entertaining show, and often very funny. Roday and Hill play very well off each other (though I find it strange Hill accepted a second banana role like this after coming off such a long, high-profile gig like The West Wing). I don't think I've ever seen Roday in anything before, but I like him. He's a slick fast talker, a character-type which can be grating, but which he makes engaging and humorous. There's a whole bit with his semi-estranged father, played by Corbin Bernsen, that hasn't done much for the two episodes I've seen; I hope they don't go to that well too often. Hill is the reluctant dupe, who keeps getting talked into outrageous situations by his best friend; he also can be funny, but I hope they back off on his "I won't do it okay I will" shtick soon, and make him more proactive. Another casting note I find interesting: in the pilot episode, the young female police detective who was being set up as Roday's potential love interest, was played by Anne Dudek; by the next episode, she's been jettisoned (with one dubbed line explaining that she was "transferred") in favor of a new character filling the same role, played by Maggie Lawson. Stuff like that amuses me.

As for the mysteries -- again, it's just like Monk. They're incidental to the antics of the investigators. They're not especially interesting, or fair to the audience, in that they can't really be solved until some vital piece of information pops up in the last couple minutes before the arrest. It's the characters that have to hold your interest, and so far they do.

As far as summer detective series go, Psych hasn't quite captured my attention the way The Closer has, but it's worthwhile viewing, with potential to get even better.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

TV: Top Ten Sitcoms

Because everybody's wild about lists, here's my list of the top ten sitcoms ever. YOU WILL LOVE IT!!!

Some things didn't get considered for the list because I simply don't have enough (or any) exposure to them -- like most non-American shows, or some of the older, black & white classics like The Phil Silvers Show. They're in no true order, though they're probably pretty close to the order I'd rank them from one to ten if you twisted my arm. And no animated programs. Why? Because I said so.

  • M*A*S*H: Sure, it got preachy toward the end, by which I mean every season after about the first. Sure, it lasted about seventeen years longer than the actual Korean War. Sure, it asked you to suspend your disbelief enough to accept Loretta Swit as the hottest woman ever. But my god is it funny. You had your Marx Bros.-inspired anarchy, your clever wordplay, your smart dumb jokes, your sloppy drunk jokes, your physical comedy, all executed by great characters with terrific timing. And it had heart, and drama, and pathos; at times, it could get suprisingly dark. After all, this is a sitcom whose theme song is called "Suicide Is Painless." At times -- most of the time, really -- I will say this is the best sitcom ever.

  • Cheers: At other times, I will say this is the best sitcom ever. Another very smart show that excelled equally in intelligent banter and dumb jokes. For the first half of its run, a lot of it was about the Sam & Diane romance, which the writers managed to keep fresh and funny through five years of ups and downs, incidentally introducing along the way the longest-running prime time character in TV history, Frasier Crane. Then: the big shake-up, when Shelley Long departed, which might've doomed a weaker show. Instead, Kirstie Alley stepped in with hardly a hitch, and the show continued for six more years, never dropping in quality all the way to the end. If you don't wish you could've been part of that gang, shouting "Norm!" along with everybody else -- you're dead to me.

  • WKRP in Cincinnati: A classic right from the start, with hilarious and unique characters (including, of course, former Object of My Affection Jan Smithers as Bailey). "Turkeys Away," one of the funniest episodes of any show ever (featuring the immortal closing line, "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly"), was only the 7th episode of WKRP; this show had it going on from day one. It's a long-running pet peeve of mine that the exorbitant expense of renewing the music rights, which lapsed years ago, are holding up a DVD release of this great show. Tangent: it's kind of funny (in a sad way) to compare how the networks treated this show, and Cheers. According to IMDb trivia, in its debut week, Cheers was the 77th-rated program of the week -- dead last. But the network championed it, and it survived eleven seasons. On the other hand, WKRP's fourth-season finale was ranked #7 for the week -- and in a shocking decision, surely made by someone who didn't "get" the show, it was cancelled. Can you imagine a network cancelling a top ten show these days? How TV has changed.

  • Seinfeld: My memory of this show sometimes plays tricks on me. I'll think that somehow it doesn't hold up that well, or maybe that it actually wasn't all that great to begin with. Then I'll catch a repeat, and be floored at how brilliantly funny it is. Has any other show ever been as quotable as Seinfeld, or introduced as many phrases and ideas into popular culture? [EDITED to answer: yes, The Simpsons. But that's it!] And done it through characters who are all, essentially, bad people? You still love them, sure -- but you'd hate to have them as friends.

  • Taxi: For a show to be blessed with three incredible comedic performers all at the top of their game is a rarity. Here we had Danny DeVito as the meanest boss ever, Louie De Palma; Christopher Lloyd as the drug-damaged Reverend Jim Ignatowski; and of course Jeff Conaway as aspiring actor Bobby. WAIT! Check that. I mean Andy Kaufman as lovable mechanic Latka Gravas (and occasionally his alter ego, Vic Ferrari), who was later joined by the great Carol Kane as Simka, Latka's love interest. This is one of the only shows ever, by the way, to be cancelled by one network (ABC), and picked up by a rival (NBC).

  • Barney Miller: I think this sitcom sometimes gets overlooked in the roster of all-time greats, but believe me, it deserves a spot. It grew tremendously from its first season, which was more gag-heavy, and which split time between the precinct and Barney's home life; in later years, it became a more thoughtful, character-based show, where the people grew and developed, all while retaining the show's humor. Plus: dig that jazzy theme song!

  • Arrested Development: Ah, what might have been. I'm still feeling the loss of this, the best sitcom of the new millennium. Only three seasons and gone. What a tremendously talented cast, what incredibly smart writing. Every episode built on the one before it, and on ones from previous seasons, too, rewarding faithful viewers with layers upon layers of comedy.

  • NewsRadio: One of only two sitcoms for which I've religiously purchased the DVD sets (the other is Arrested Development). Phil Hartman was my comedy hero. And the rest of the actors weren't too shabby, neither; every character was perfectly cast, and capable of generating huge laughs.

  • Mama's Family: Psych! I don't think so. Not only is this the worst sitcom ever, this is the worst thing ever to have existed. It is a blight on the human race. It burns, it burns. Let's move on.

  • The Larry Sanders Show: Brilliant material at exactly the right time, riding the wave of Johnny Carson's retirement and the Late Night wars. Fantastic cast, featuring at one time or another Janeane Garofalo, Scott Thompson, Jeremy Piven, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and of course the big three: Garry Shandling, Rip Torn, and the awesome Jeffrey Tambor as "Hey Now!" Hank Kingsley. Any actor would kill to be in one classic sitcom; Tambor got two (the other being Arrested Development, of course. Or The Ropers, depending on your taste).

  • Newhart: Speaking of actors who starred in two classic sitcoms.... I pick this show over The Bob Newhart Show because it was of my time; I grew up with Newhart in the '80s, but managed to mostly miss The Bob Newhart Show in the '70s. Plus, Newhart still stands as the sitcom with the greatest final episode ever -- in which, you may recall, Newhart woke up from his dream of running a Vermont inn to find himself in bed with Suzanne Pleshette, back in The Bob Newhart Show. Genius.

Here's ten others that didn't quite make the cut (although if you asked me on another day I might move one or more of them up the ranks).

  • Fawlty Towers: From his subtlest quips to his most outrageous outbursts, Cleese's Basil Fawlty is easily one of the funniest characters ever to be seen on TV.

  • It's Garry Shandling's Show: Best theme song ever!

  • Ellen: Some couldn't stand her for her rambling digressions; I loved 'em. Plus, Jeremy Piven was great, and I was so in love with Joely Fisher it's not even funny.

  • Night Court: On recent re-viewings of this show, I have to admit it doesn't hold up as well as others. But John Larroquette remains amazingly funny, and Markie Post eternally hot.

  • The Drew Carey Show: Frequently groundbreaking, even more frequently side-splittingly hilarious. Should've ended a few seasons earlier, though. Gets my vote for best supporting comedic duo in Ryan Stiles and Diedrich Bader as Lewis and Oswald.

  • Frasier: More smart, sly humor from the Cheers team.

  • I Love Lucy: Lucy was the Queen, no question. More than 50 (!) years later, these shows stand the test of time. Even 150 years from now, the "Vitameatavegamin" episode will be remembered as a high point in television comedy.

  • Roseanne: Brought a touch of lower middle class realism to the sitcom genre. John Goodman is incredible, and yes, there was a time when Roseanne was a true comedic force.

  • Soap: One of my earliest memories of TV is the exorcism episode of this crazy satire of soap operas. Richard Mulligan could always crack me up with one goofy look.

  • Happy Days: Yes, yes, it jumped the shark. But when it was good -- and it was good for many years -- it was very very good.

And here are five more for which I have a great deal of fondness and admiration, but I just haven't sampled enough episodes for them to become personal favorites (though if I were to judge just from the handful of episodes I've seen of each, all of them could very well make the top ten at a future time):

All in the Family
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
The Bob Newhart Show
The Dick Van Dyke Show
The Andy Griffith Show

I've only seen episodes numbering in the single digits for each of these shows (yet I've seen every Gilligan's Island twice). BLASPHEMY!

I can see you're dying to tell me what I got right, and what I got wrong. Share some of your personal favorites, or rip on some of mine. Point out the ones I've forgotten, or should have forgotten. Leave a comment!

Monday, July 10, 2006


I'd like to give you my review of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. I'd like to, but it wouldn't be entirely fair, since I fell asleep sometime during the middle 87 hours of it. I mean literally, out cold asleep. Partly this is because I smuggled a six-pack of beer into the theater -- in my belly. (Thank you for that line, Patton Oswalt.) And partly this is because Dead Man's Chest does the same thing the original film did -- it bloats what should've been a tight 90-minute action comedy with an extra hour of redundant CGI. Yes, I can see you spent a lot of money on the fish people. Get over it. It's so filled with computer-generated spectacle that nothing at all seems special. Also, seriously, why not just have Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley switch roles and be done with it?

I'm not ruling out the possibility that I would have enjoyed this movie if I were fully conscious. I'm just not betting on it.

How did none of you let me know about the tryouts for VH1's World Series of Pop Culture? I would have kicked ass on this show. I watched the first episode tonight, and it's an entertaining game. Nice presentation, good questions, a decent mix of easy (some of which still stumped a few players) and obscure (maybe some of you would know what song Kate Capshaw sings in Chinese at the beginning of Temple of Doom, but I did not). I'm hooked. And I'm definitely going to get on the next season of this show -- assuming there is one.

Speaking of VH1, why in the hell is there going to be a second season of Flavor of Love? Are you telling me Flavor Flav didn't find true love in season one???

How come before today I had never heard of Corinne Bailey Rae, and now all of a sudden I can't stop hearing about her? What's with the media blitz? I've never heard one of her songs and already I'm sick of her. Apparently she's the next Norah Jones. Which reminds me: whatever happened to Norah Jones?

The song was "Anything Goes."

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Saturday Sidebar Update. Once again back on Saturday!

By complete lack of popular demand, nobody's favorite feature at this blog returns to Saturdays. It's time for the Saturday Sidebar Update!

Sorry, Lisa Edelstein, you only got four days as Object of My Affection. But that's just the way things go in the cutthroat competitive world of Sidebar Updating. Taking your place: Jenna Fischer, aka Pam from The Office. She's a little cutie, and I don't care who knows I said so. (Unless her husband wants to punch me in the nose for it, in which case Ian said it.) The show, and especially Pam and her relationship with Jim, have really grown on me this past year, becoming essential ingredients to my TV enjoyment. And now that I've found Jenna's MySpace page, and her blog, which is chock full of info about the show, her career, and is tremendously charming and open and sweet, I've grown just that much more fond of her. I mean, come on, under "Who I'd like to meet," she lists "Cartoonist Joe Matt." How do you not love that? (She also says "Taylor Hicks," which is somewhat less endearing.)

Reading: In recent weeks, I've listed Thomas Pynchon's Vineland, Lemony Snicket's The Penultimate Peril, and Hugh Laurie's The Gun Seller. I have yet to finish a single one of those books. So why not list yet another book it's taking me forever to finish? That would be the gigantic graphic novel Blankets, by Craig Thompson. It's supposed to be really, really good. I don't know. I keep reading a few pages, setting it aside, and feeling no great urge to pick it up again. My goal this week: to finish at least one of these frickin' books. (If I had to bet on it, I'd pick The Gun Seller.)

Watching: The season one DVD of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. It's only got six episodes, but right from the very first minute the easy-going charm and humor of this show that made it a favorite of mine for so long shines through. The interplay between Jonathan Katz and H. Jon Benjamin as Dr. Katz and son Ben is always the best part of any episode, but there are some great moments from guests Ray Romano, Dom Irrera, Dave Attell, and others as well. And the commentaries are almost as entertaining as the actual shows. Great fun.

Listening: I've had it a long time, but Tenacious D's eponymous album is getting a lot of play round these parts lately. When's the second album coming out? Heck, when's the movie, Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, coming out?? (Oh, wait, I can look that up myself. November 17.)

Hating: MySpace. It's irrational hatred. For some reason, I resent its enormous popularity and cultural touchstone status. It bugs me. What bugs me even more: I had to sign up to MySpace so I could view Jenna Fischer's photo collection -- one of which I used on the Sidebar, so I guess it was worth it. But still! It bugs me. Also, I understand you can totally stalk underage kids on it. That ain't right.

Speaking of stalkers, Lyric of the Week is from "I Don't Want To Know (If You Don't Want Me)," by The Donnas, which is a song about a way-too-obsessed girl stalking her ex. But in a funny way.

And there you go! Enjoy the weekend. And the World Cup finals tomorrow. Go [coin flip] Italy!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

TV: 2006 Emmy nominations

The 2006 Emmy nominations were announced this morning. Here are some early thoughts:

--To Lost and Desperate Housewives: BURN!! Critical and popular powerhouses in their first season, and nominees for Best Drama and Best Comedy last year (Lost even won its category), they weren't even nominated this year. Total burn. And Housewives took up three of the Best Actress slots last year, with a win for Felicity Huffman; this year, nothing but a Supporting Actress nomination for new castmember Alfre Woodard. I'm kind of glad on the Housewives front, because A) as I keep saying, it's not a comedy, and B) it really did suck this year, at least for the half-season I watched that made me never want to watch it again. Lost I think is more of a true snub; it didn't have the buzz of its first year, and some weaknesses in the casting and writing were more apparent, but overall it was still a damn fine program.

--Another burn: last year's winner for Best Actress in a Drama, Patricia Arquette, also wasn't nominated, but three women from cancelled shows were. That's gotta hoit. (Same goes for James Spader: last year's winner, this year's benchwarmer.) And yet, Mariska Hargitay still got a nod. Any year where she gets a nomination is a year where the Emmy committee isn't looking hard enough.

--Even more bizarre: four of the nominees for Best Actress in a Comedy are from cancelled shows. Really? There's only one actress in a show still on the air who's worthy of recognition? That's pathetic.

--The Shield got zero nominations. Not even in minor or technical categories. I'm not 100% sure how eligibility works, but I believe its last season did fall within the nomination dates for this year's awards, in which case: what a crime. CCH Pounder, Michael Chiklis, and especially Forest Whitaker: ROBBED. Whitaker was brilliant. How you can possibly overlook that performance is beyond my comprehension.

--Strangest trend: Two and a Half Men's continuing march toward critical darling. Last year it got two surprise nods for Best Supporting Actress; this year, its two leads got nominations (although it's odd that Charlie Sheen wound up in the Best Actor category, while Jon Cryer had to settle for Best Supporting Actor), and it also got its first Best Comedy nomination. I've admitted before that this show is a guilty pleasure -- in fact, I wouldn't even say "guilty" anymore. It's a funny show. It is. (Maybe not Emmy funny....) But it's just weird to me how some shows can be excellent for so long and get no attention (like, say, Scrubs, which got a Best Comedy nod this year, but literally nothing else), and some shows the awards committees just suddenly glom onto, despite the presence of other, better shows and actors. I'm not outraged by Men's nominations, but it would've been nice to see, say, My Name Is Earl or especially Entourage in there instead.

--I understand Gregory Itzin, who played the President on 24, was very unhappy with his character being turned into a bad guy this year. Now, with he and Jean Smart, who played the crazy First Lady, getting that show's first ever acting nominations aside from Kiefer Sutherland, I'll bet he's somewhat mollified. Just a little. You think?

--Other inexplicable (to me, at least) omissions: Rome, in every major category, most significantly Ciarán Hinds as Julius Caesar and Polly Walker as Atia; Neil Patrick Harris for How I Met Your Mother; and Rainn Wilson for The Office.

No predictions for the time being. I'll save that for the week before the awards ceremony, which will be on August 17 (hosted by Conan O'Brien! Sweet!). I will say this: I already have a feeling the winners will make me very unhappy this year.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

MOVIES: Superman Returns

Spoilers ahead.

So, it's well past time I talked about Superman Returns. I saw it on Friday with Dorian, Ian, and Kid Chris, who have all already posted their fine thoughts on the film.

I liked it. I did. There were parts that were incredible eye-candy -- everybody's already talked to death about how great the airplane rescue is, but seriously, it is frickin' amazing. One of the best action scenes I've ever seen. Several subsequent action moments were also impressive, but none could match that high point. And there was plenty of good acting. I thought Brandon Routh was great as Clark/Superman; he really captured the spirit of Christopher Reeve's iconic performance, down to the voice, he was goofy and innocent in some ways and full of steely determination in others, and of course he just plain looked like Superman. (I'm not wild about the costume; I guess someone thought it would be a neat touch for every inch of the suit to be covered in miniature Superman S's, but I just kept thinking, damn, did he make poor old Ma Kent sew that for him? And come on, just let the red bits be red, not maroon or whatever the hell you want to call that color.) Kevin Spacey was sporadically great as Lex Luthor; even though he was in a lot of the film, I still felt like he was underused, especially in that he didn't have enough classic lines. I love Parker Posey without reservation, so there you go on her. Sam Huntington brought a lot of life to the film as Jimmy Olsen. And as for Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane -- okay, her, I wasn't wild about. She wasn't awful, but she lacked a spark and charisma that, yes, Margot Kidder had; she lacked fire and spunk as Lois, and came off instead as moody and petulant and kind of dumb.

And the music. Oh, man. I know Mike had some reservations about the use of the John Williams score from the 1978 original, but I loved it. From the age of 8, I have equated that music with superheroics, and every time they struck up his music I was practically bouncing out of my seat with glee. Sing along: "Dah-da-da-da-daaah, daaah-daaah-daaah, dah-da-da-da-daaah, Superman!!"

There was a lot to like. But I also had a lot of problems with it. I say I like the film as is -- and I do -- but if they had thrown out everything but the plane rescue and done a page one rewrite, I think they would've been much better off.

The tone of the movie, for most of the running time, is wrong. There's so much moping about. Everybody's so hurt and jealous and sad and confused over their love lives, and it got tired pretty quickly. I can watch Gilmore Girls for that. I like the attempt; I like that the writers wanted to add emotion and dimension to these comic book characters. But I feel like they laid it on a little thick, went a little too far into soap opera territory. And the actors, especially Bosworth and James Marsden as her completely uninteresting love interest, Richard White, don't have the weight to convey that emotional baggage without sounding flat and whiny. And Bosworth (not to pick on her -- much) -- again, I just don't see that charisma in her Lois Lane that would explain why Superman is in love with her anyway. It's no fair to make the audience do the lifting here, to make us remember Reeve and Kidder and say, oh, yeah, that's why Routh cares about Bosworth.

Also, the story is just a big misstep. So, Superman's been gone for five years? He just bailed out without saying goodbye to anyone? We're supposed to buy that he's that colossal of a heel? (A superheel, if you will.) Then, he returns on the same day as Clark, and no one makes the connection? And Lois has a kid? Who thinks Richard White is his father? Does Richard think he's the father? If so, he was making time with Lois PDQ after Supes took off, because of course Superman is the real baby daddy. And if the conception of the baby is meant to have been shown in Superman II, when Superman gave away his powers to be with Lois -- didn't he later erase Lois' memory of their time together?

Some of that is nitpicking, I guess, but just that one thing alone: Lois and Superman have a baby? All wrong. I know, Singer wanted the kid to represent a draw for Superman back into humanity, blah blah blah. But it just throws the whole dynamic of the Lois/Superman relationship out the window. Again, I appreciate the attempt, but it didn't work for me. And now, you're stuck with the damn kid for the sequels! What are you gonna do, have Superbaby flying around in Superman Returns Even More?

Another big story flaw: Lex Luthor's big evil plot is really kind of dumb. The land baron thing worked in Superman and Superman II, because Hackman's Luthor was more of a comic foil than Spacey's darker, meaner Luthor, but to have him still obsessed with land the way he is in the new film seems petty and shortsighted. He's gonna kill a bajillion people to create his new, ugly, spiky, basically uninhabitable continent, and he thinks, what, people will really want to build mansions on it, that he will be allowed to sell this property, instead of the American government dropping a few dozen missiles down his throat? The earthquake in Superman, he could've gotten away with (presuming he could've been bothered to watch Superman die, instead of leaving him with his untrustworthy female sidekick); as over-the-top as it was, it was still, basically, a viable plan (in a supervillainous kind of way). But building a new continent in the middle of the Atlantic, and then selling property on it? How in the world does he think he's gonna escape suspicion on that one? "Gee, I wonder how this landmass got here. Ah, never mind, let's just pay Lex Luthor a million bucks for a corner lot."

Again, probably it's nitpicking, looking too closely at a supervillain's evil scheme. But come on. It's just dumb.

I agree with Dorian on another point: I don't care for it when a superhero is responsible for a bad guy's death. That's unheroic. In this film, Superman's destruction of Luthor's new continent topples a giant pillar that squishes most of Luthor's gang flat. Unintentional, yes. Unforeseeable? Maybe. Unheroic? Definitely. Also, Superbaby flat out kills a dude by smushing him with a piano. He was saving mommy, but still: a five-year-old KILLS A MAN in this film. Messily. That's not cool.

And my final complaint about the film is one I honestly didn't realize until Kid Chris pointed it out afterward. He said it jokingly, but I think it's a valid drawback to the film: Superman doesn't punch anybody. That's putting it as simplistically as possible, but seriously now: what do you want from a superhero movie? You want awesome fight scenes. Superman Returns has great action scenes, but absolutely zero fight scenes. Unless you count a bullet hitting his eyeball as an eye/bullet smackdown.

And unless, of course, you count Luthor and his gang kicking the holy snot out of Superman on Kryptonite Island. I didn't find that sequence too dark, as I believe Mike did; I think that for a superhero to really show what heights he can reach, having him hit a truly low point first is necessary. That Luthor brings him so low, literally driving him face-first into the mud, that shows you just how bad Luthor is, and just how far Superman has to rise for his eventual triumph. That he kills some of Luthor's henchmen in the process, that he somehow finds an immunity to all that Kryptonite sticking out of the rock for long enough to fling the landmass into outer space, that he uses his brute strength rather than outthinking Luthor -- in those ways, I found his triumph lacking. But it still looked pretty sweet.

But I was talking about fight scenes. Superman never engages anyone in combat in this movie. Sure, there's a reason for that -- when he's fully powered, he'd kill a guy by blinking too hard at him. But when he's saturated with Kryptonite, he still can't throw a punch to defend himself. (In that way, I agree with Mike about that scene.) Superman needs an opponent he can just freakin' punch. Like in Superman II, with General Zod and his gang. That's one reason why the Spider-Man movies have been so great -- villains with roughly equivalent strength to the hero, which result in tremendous fight scenes. I get that, in having Luthor as the bad guy, you've got the classic brains vs. brawn scenario. The thing is, Superman can outthink Luthor (although you wouldn't know it from this film, the way he just drops right down onto a giant Kryptonite-filled island to confront Luthor), so there's really no ultimate threat there. What's more, to quote Kid Chris: "If you're battling the same villain for five whole movies, you are not a good hero."

I said I had a lot of problems with it! I swear, I did like the film. But it was still so flawed. Maybe my expectations were too high; I expected perfection, I really did, and I thought Singer and crew could deliver it. I'll probably wind up seeing it again, possibly in the theaters with other friends, definitely on DVD. I'll be curious to see how my impressions change on a second viewing.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Sidebar Update

Once again, in what seems to have become a tradition round these parts, after a week or so of building up interest in this hyar blog, as measured in links and comments, I disappeared without explanation for several days. Well, I'm back! Hope some of you newbies are still visiting. (Cricket, cricket.)

It's time for my Weekly Saturday Sidebar Update! Which this time out is neither weekly (it's been a full two weeks) nor on Saturday. Or, as Nelson might say, "I can think of at least two things wrong with that title." Well, it's here now. So suck it.

This week's Object of My Affection is the lovely Lisa Edelstein, best known these days for her role on House. But I've been a fan since the days of Relativity, a great, cancelled-too-soon series on which she played a lesbian. Gee, Tom was attracted to a hot woman who liked kissing other hot women. What are the odds?? (Answer: 1 to 1.) Then she played a transsexual on Ally McBeal, which, I'll be honest with you: not quite as much of a turn-on. She also was in two excellent episodes of another cancelled-too-soon Hall of Famer, SportsNight, plus she was the voice of Mercy in the Superman animated series. What's not to love?

Reading: Speaking of House... who knew Hugh Laurie could write? Following in the footsteps of his oft-time acting partner Stephen Fry, Laurie wrote hisself a novel about ten years back: The Gun Seller. And it's pretty darn good. It's a thriller, with a good deal of comedy. I've been calling it Wodehouse meets Elmore Leonard. It actually gets fairly dark. There's a lot of stuff about terrorism, which now seems in parts tremendously naive, and in parts chillingly prescient.

Watching: I should keep the House theme going, but no -- actually I've rented several discs of the first season of HBO's The Wire. I've never seen it, but now that my local video store has finally gotten it in stock, I plan on getting caught up. I know it's supposed to be a great show; I know some people who say it's better than The Sopranos or Deadwood. Well, we'll see about that, I guess.

Listening: Amy Ray's Prom. Ray, better known as one half of the Indigo Girls, apparently likes to rock out when she's not all folksy and acoustic. And on this album, rock out she does. This is a great album, much better than the last two or three Indigo Girls releases.

Hating gets the week off. In honor of the anniversary of my nation's independence, today I am giving bonus love to America. I know it's got a lot going wrong with it right now -- a LOT -- but I still believe it's strong enough to recover from the giant backward strides it's made over the past six years. And it still beats the pants off anywhere else. That's right! I said it!!

Lyric of the Week is from my man Hoyt Axton, and the song "When the Morning Comes." I had a couple days like that this weekend. On Sunday morning, in particular, I wondered how I was going to find my feet, let alone my shoes. Ouch. Don't drink, kids! It's too late for me, but save yourselves!

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