A blog about all that is worthy in the Culture we call Pop. TV, Comics, Movies, TV, Music, Books, and a little TV as well. Updated every day, in a perfect world. The same world where Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson had not all won Best Director Oscars before Martin Scorsese, J.D. Salinger had been as prolific as Stephen King, and Whoopi Goldberg was locked away where she could never hurt anyone ever again.
Friday, August 31, 2007
Good thing Barry Bonds didn't go into wrestling
If you haven't yet, make sure to cast your vote for my blog over at BlogInterviewer.com. I'm still trying to reach first place. If I can get just 8 more votes... I'll be only 350 votes short of that goal. Dare to dream!
EDIT: Ah, son of a gun! They reset the voting with the new month. I'm back to zero! But hey, so is everybody else! If you hurry and vote for me, maybe I'll actually make it to the top ten! GO! VOTE! FLY!!!
So WWE's pro wrestling, which is a fake sport -- it even has the word "Entertainment" in its name, to signify the difference -- apparently has a tougher drug policy than Major League Baseball or the National Football League.
Item #1: It took a TV Guide article to make me realize that Torchwood is an anagram of Doctor Who. That did not make me feel smart.
Item #2: The new Carl's Jr. "I like flat buns" commercial leads me to believe our society has, against all odds, sunk to yet another nadir.
The ad wizards behind Carl's Jr.'s campaign for the past decade or so should be beaten to death with rakes. I have never hated a company so very, very much based solely on its advertising. Carl's Jr.'s commercials make me want to set the local franchise on fire.
Item #3: This week, I've been watching a lot of the Turner Classic Movies channel, or TCM as they call it on the street. God, I love that channel to pieces. There is literally not a better run channel in all of television. There's clearly so much care and love put into all the programming. There's not always a lot that draws me to watch the channel -- what can I say, I'm just not always in the mood for settling in to watch a full black and white movie or three in the middle of the day, especially during Dodgers baseball season -- but when there is something I want to check out, they present it better than any other channel can possibly approach. Even the pay channels like HBO and Showtime have started screwing up their movie presentations by running commercials during the end credits of movies, smooshing the credits over to the side or to the bottom like any other channel does these days. Hey, if you're going to advertise uncut, uncensored movies, then you can't screw with the credits. They're part of the movie, too.
But I digress.
Yesterday was Mary Astor day on TCM. I watched 1937's The Prisoner of Zenda, which I had never seen before. I loved the original Anthony Hope novel, when I read it a couple years ago, and I loved the movie, too. Ronald Colman stars in a dual role, and he's so damn charming and rakish, he just rivets you to the film instantly. And then Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., appears, and Colman seems like a faint shadow in his company. What a powerful presence that guy had! Also of note: a baby-faced David Niven.
Astor didn't have a huge part in that picture, but she did in the next one I watched, the brilliant The Maltese Falcon. As TCM host Robert Osborne noted before the film, Astor here may be the greatest "shady lady" in all of film noir. I haven't seen Falcon for a while, and it dazzled me all over again. Astor is amazing, layering lie upon lie upon lie, coolly inventing new lies as the old ones are exposed, all in a dizzying machine gun delivery. And Humphrey Bogart is pure genius, cruelly, cockily laughing as he pokes holes in every one of her stories, relentlessly digging his way to the truth.
Today was Buster Keaton day, and I was glued to the set for a large part of it. First up was Free and Easy, which I believe was Keaton's first talkie. There's a lot of funny stuff, but I was a little disappointed. The gags aren't nearly as funny and inspired as I was expecting from Keaton's reputation -- which is mostly how I know Keaton; I haven't seen much of his work.
Frankly, the advent of sound didn't serve Keaton well; his genius is definitely more in physical humor, not verbal. Nor did the MGM studio serve him well; as outlined in the TCM short documentary, So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM, MGM smothered the wild improvisational style Keaton had used to such great success in his independent films, and generally forced him away from all his strengths to fit into the MGM mold. As the doc notes, under MGM's thumb, Keaton went from one of the most marketable talents in show business to practically unemployable in five years.
Fortunately, TCM had several Keaton silent masterpieces lined up for later in the day. I caught The Cameraman, Steamboat Bill, Jr., and The General, which has been called the last great film of the silent era, as well as one of the greatest silent films, period. (It ranked #18 on AFI's "100 Years... 100 Movies" list, as I recentlynoted.)
The Cameraman features some incredible setpieces, as is only to be expected. The one that really sticks with me is Keaton's mad dash across the city, from his telephone to that of the girl who is calling him (played by Marceline Day); before she even realizes he's not on the line anymore, he's standing right behind her. Keaton races like a track star through blocks and blocks of traffic; that man was a hell of an athlete! Another hilarious, jaw-dropping sequence comes when cameraman Keaton gets caught in the middle of a Tong War, and manages to film the action while barely avoiding death at every turn. Just spectacular. Also of note is the pre-code nature of the film. When Keaton and Day visit the public pool for a swim, once Day hits the water, her nipples are clearly visible through her bathing suit. And when Keaton loses his bathing suit, his bare behind can be seen more than once. Naughty!
Steamboat Bill, Jr. features one of the most amazing action sequences ever filmed, the raging windstorm which topples buildings left and right, narrowly missing Keaton with each deadly crash. This includes possibly the most iconic image of the entire silent film era (aside from, perhaps, Charlie Chaplin eating his boot in The Gold Rush): the facade of the two-story building collapsing directly onto Keaton, which he survives by passing through a narrow, perfectly-placed window.
It's still utterly breathtaking, nearly 80 years later (as are many of Keaton's stunts -- you gasp in anticipation of dire injury, as much as shock or humor). If that hadn't been staged to absolute perfection, it very likely would've meant Keaton's death. Now that's commitment!
In my posts about the AFI list, I lamented never having seen The General; I've seen it now, and I am all the richer for it. What an incredible work of art. I really can't do justice to the wonderful, uproarious comedy or the spectacular, heart-stopping stunts showcased throughout. I was in awe. This is a marvelous, brilliant film.
I have to admit, I was a little thrown by the fact that in this Civil War period piece, Keaton is on the side of the Confederacy -- this wasn't going to be another Birth of a Nation-style apologia for the South, was it? But, as noted on IMDb's trivia page, the film is inspired by a true story; the Union really did steal a Confederate train called the General, and the General's engineer really did run after it to try to get it back. Fair's fair, I guess; if you're going to use the story, you might as well be accurate.
Tomorrow is Sean Connery day on TCM, but instead of watching The Wind and the Lion or Murder on the Orient Express on TV, I'll be going out to the theater, to see what is sure to be a future staple of the channel: Rob Zombie's Halloween. I look forward to it on the inevitable Malcolm McDowell day!
Currently featured on the front page of BlogInterviewer.com: me! Check it out fast, before I get bumped by new interviews.
I recently submitted an interview to this blog cataloging site, the full text of which can be found here, if you feel like reading my half serious, half silly responses. And if you do take a look, please, feel free to click the "thumbs up" button and vote for me. If I get the most votes, I think I win a pony.
I have to assume you are cuckoo bananas. Look at it. LOOK AT IT!!! The Double Double combo: nature's perfect meal. There does not exist a better fast food burger in the world. Make sure to get it Animal Style for extra heart attack flavor! You folks are either going to a very poorly run In-N-Out, or, as noted, you are cuckoo bananas. But I still love you.
To the people in the same comments thread who say they are going to check out My Boys based solely on my recommendation: please keep in mind I also defended Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place in the same post. Do not get your hopes too high, is what I'm saying.
I recently bought all five seasons of Babylon 5 on DVD -- Best Buy had a sale I couldn't pass up! Just finished watching the first season, which is very up and down in quality, I have to say, but which I mainly enjoyed due to all the hints and details being laid out that would pay off two, three, even four years down the road. (I've seen most of the entire series before, so I mostly know what's coming.) It's just amazing, the long-term planning that went into this show.
But here's one odd thing I noticed: there is not one single episode, out of the 22 in the first season, in which the entire opening credits cast appears together. The three main players -- Sinclair, Ivanova, and Garibaldi -- are in every episode. But in most episodes, three or four or more of the other characters are MIA. There is one episode -- the last of the season -- in which ten of the eleven members of the cast are present (Andrea Thompson's Talia is the odd one out). But that's as close as it gets. I wonder if there's any other TV show of which that could be said -- that an entire season went by without all the main cast showing up in an episode together.
I recently mentioned the TBS comedy My Boys, which I enjoy very much. Now I'm mentioning it again, because it keeps getting better.
The latest episode saw a mini-reunion, of sorts, for the much-maligned-but-really-pretty-darn-funny-if-you-gave-it-a-chance Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place. Though they never shared a scene, both Ryan Reynolds (who played Berg on 2G1G&1PP -- you like how I abbreviated that?) and Jillian Bach (who played Berg's crazy girlfriend Irene) appeared in tonight's episode, which made me very happy.
What made me even happier was the capacity in which they appeared. The episode, titled "Douchebag in the City" (no, seriously), was spent viciously ripping on the shallow, superficial, and... well, douchebaggy types seen in Entourage (Reynolds' role) and Sex and the City (Bach's part).
Especially accurate and hilarious was the take-down of Sex and the City, and all its fake, obnoxious stereotypes posing as characters -- made even more delicious by the fact that My Boys' lead-out show? Reruns of Sex and the City. Oh, yes. Bite the hand that feeds you, baby!
My Boys is growing into one of my favorite sitcoms, cable or otherwise (not that there's a tremendous amount of competition these days, but still). It's getting sharper and funnier and just more affable in general, and the characters continue to grow on me, especially the adorable Jordana Spiro as P.J., and the equally adorable Jim Gaffigan as Andy (my favorite line tonight: "I like how you make verbs out of things. I think I'm going to sandwich after I sofa here for a bit"). Check it out.
If you're interested in catching up, you can watch every episode from this season here. (The latest episode gets posted either one or two weeks -- I'm not entirely sure -- after first airing.) Plus, bonus one or two minute webisodes set in Gaffigan's character's car can be found here: Andy's Car.
I recently mentioned the outstanding album Copper Blue from the band Sugar, fronted by Bob Mould. Here's a rarely-seen video from that album, for the song "If I Can't Change Your Mind."
Though the subject matter is kind of depressing if you think about it (a hopelessly loyal lover gets dumped due to false accusations of infidelity), the upbeat music makes this one of the very few songs in the world that will instantly make me happy every single time I hear it. And I've heard it hundreds of times. (The Lemonheads' "Into Your Arms" has the same effect on me; so does The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," or Boston's "More Than a Feeling.") Hope you like it, too.
I've been rewatching this week my DVDs of Space: Above and Beyond, the damn fine but short-lived sci-fi series created by X-Files vets Glen Morgan and James Wong. It aired one season, 1995-96, and was about space marines battling an alien foe.
I've mentioned before the influence I think it must have had on the new version of Battlestar Galactica. In that linked post, I outline the plot of an episode of BSG which had striking similarities to an episode of S:A&B produced a decade earlier. Watching the DVDs again, I'm discovering how many more similarities exist between the two shows.
Start with the premise: both are dark and gritty (though BSG certainly amped up the dark-and-grittiness to the nth degree) depictions of a war against a technologically superior and mysterious race. Both shows are centered on military fighter pilots based on a space battle station (the Saratoga in S:A&B, the Galactica in BSG).
In both, a terrible war was fought in the recent past, after which years of peace led to complacency. Both wars were against artificial beings created by humans -- the Silicates in S:A&B, the Cylons in BSG. After both wars, the artificial beings fled the human homeworld(s). And in both series, a new war is instigated by the unprovoked destruction of human colonies (in BSG, of course, it is all human colonies, and that certainly comes from the original BSG, not S:A&B).
In S:A&B, an enemy fighter ship is captured by the humans; it is discovered to be biological in nature. The humans learn how to pilot it, and use it in a tactical mission. In BSG, an enemy fighter ship is captured by the humans; it is discovered to be biological in nature. The humans learn how to pilot it, and use it in a tactical mission.
In S:A&B, the enemy are aliens who resemble chigger bugs, and are thus called Chigs by the humans. But they are aided by the Silicates, who are human in appearance, and who are renewing their war on mankind. In BSG, the enemy are the Cylons, who have evolved into human appearance during their absence, and who are renewing their war on mankind.
Both the Silicates and the Cylons have multiple copies of particular "models". Both the Silicates and the Cylons share memories between models.
Now, I'm not saying any of these similarities necessarily indicate BSG stole ideas from (or "paid homage to") S:A&B, nor that S:A&B necessarily originated these concepts in the first place. Still -- that's a lot of similarities, ain't it?
Anyhoo. If you enjoy BSG, you'd probably enjoy Space: Above and Beyond, too. It's a decade behind on the special effects used in BSG, but it still holds up pretty well, and really hits its stride about halfway through the first (and only) season, and keeps getting better till the end. You might want to Netflix it and give it a try.
It's yet another Abecedarian List! First was Awesome Stuff of any variety, A to Z. Next was Awesome Albums, A to Z. And now -- inevitably, really -- we come to the Objects of My Affection, A to Z. Hoopla!
Degree of difficulty: moderate to high. I'm not reusing any of the former Objects of My Affection from my sidebar, which rules out an awful lot of the loveliest women in the world. Sorry, Angelina! And I'm not going to reuse anyone I've already named in one of my Abecedarian Lists. Which means no Zooey Deschanel for Z. Dagnabbit! And I gotta tell you, X was tough. I almost cheated and went with a fictional character -- which would be Xena, Warrior Princess, of course.
I expect you will consider this list either sexy and rewarding, or sexist and insulting. So: You're welcome, or: I'm sorry.
And now, enjoy these 26 lovely ladies! (If you are someone who does not enjoy lovely ladies, go look at those pictures of Zac Efron again, I guess.)
Specialty: nude scenes that kind of make you want to die (see Bully, Havoc).
Hottest multiple sci-fi franchise actress since Denise Crosby went from Next Generation to Lois & Clark. How's that for obscure?
One of the few broads tough enough to hang with the Rat Pack.
Four Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue covers, plus Sirens. Seriously, have you seenSirens? Sexiest movie in history.
Glasses and cleavage: best combo since peanut butter and chocolate.
As I've saidbefore: the most beautiful woman ever to have lived.
Beautiful enough to turn Truman Capote straight (if only the fictionalized version of him).
Her "unconventional beauty," with which she is sometimes attributed, would've made for a hell of a femme fatale in the noir classics of the '30s.
Specialty: meek girls with a wild streak waiting to be unleashed.
Recipient of the haircut that almost doomed the WB. Which doesn't actually exist anymore, come to think of it.
How is it that she looks so much like her father, yet he's so ugly and she's so gorgeous?
The ultimate sex goddess.
Brian De Palma muse; RoboCop's partner. That's right: I can work RoboCop into any discussion.
Kevin Arnold's hot hippie sister on The Wonder Years, and lead actress in one of my favorite movies, Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming.
Queen of Independent Film; she's always adorable, even when she's totally nuts.
Scream Queen legend, whose immortality is guaranteed as "Trash," the punk girl/naked cemetery dancer in Return of the Living Dead.
Super hot even when she's painted blue in X-Men; I prefer the natural look.
Won my heart as a sideline reporter for Monday Night Football; later became an MSNBC anchor. Current whereabouts: unknown.
One of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis; Matthew Sweet album cover girl; icon.
Her 1988 one-two punch in Dangerous Liaisons (in which John Malkovich promises to teach her "a few Latin phrases"), and as Venus in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, made a permanent impression on my teenage heart (and libido).
From her performance as porn star Montana Wildhack in Slaughterhouse-Five, to her taboo-shattering nude scenes on public television in Steambath, to her Oscar-nominated role as Lenny Bruce's stripper wife in Lenny, to, yes, Miss Teschmacher in Superman, she was one of the defining figures in 1970s film sexuality. I miss that decade.
Went from roles in David Lynch projects as a teen to Alexander Payne and John Waters as an adult. Not bad. Also: that red hair = smokin' hot.
Lingerie model and actress in the sci-fi series Lexx, which is one weird and sexy show.
Next to Julie Newmar's Catwoman, the main reason I watched Batman as a kid.
Sheri Moon Zombie
As Baby in The Devil's Rejects, she's the hottest film psycho since Kathy Bates. Wait... make that Norman Bates. Wait... oh, forget it.
This is still fun for me, but I think I have to take a bit of a break from the Abecedarian Lists. Don't want to burn out on them! Maybe another one in a couple of weeks.
In the local library's copy of Kurt Vonnegut's Mother Night, someone has made copious sloppy, chicken-scratch pencil notes throughout, as though prepping for an essay to be written later. This is what the last two pages of the book look like (I've blacked out the actual end of the story, in case you want to read it, which you really should, because it's tremendously good).
If you look closely, you can see that someone else who borrowed the book after the note-taker had a note of their own to make:
"If you must deface books, at least have the decency to do it legibly." Awesome. It's almost worth all the scribbling just for that.
And then, in Vonnegut's Bluebeard, I found a few more pencil marks -- some underlines and check marks, though no actual notes as in Mother Night. The weird thing, though, is that there is literally one single sentence in the entire book which has been marked with a yellow highlighter, on pp. 201-202:
What if I named for you a few incredibly gifted actors, and some of the wonderful artistic and critical successes they have had in their careers? These actors, specifically:
--Paul Giamatti (Man on the Moon, American Splendor, Sideways, Oscar nominated for Cinderella Man) --Kevin Spacey (L.A. Confidential, Glengarry Glen Ross, Seven, Oscar wins for American Beauty and The Usual Suspects) --Miranda Richardson (The Crying Game, Oscar nominations for Damage and Tom & Viv) --Kathy Bates (Fried Green Tomatoes, Oscar nominations for Primary Colors and About Schmidt, Oscar win for Misery) --Rachel Weisz (Stealing Beauty, About a Boy, Oscar win for The Constant Gardener)
What if I asked you if you would like to see a movie with all of those actors in it? Wouldn't that be an exciting prospect? Wouldn't the convergence of all that talent promise some brilliant filmmaking?
What if I threw in Vince Vaughn, too? He doesn't necessarily always make highbrow masterpieces, but he's generally very entertaining, from Swingers to Old School to Anchorman to Wedding Crashers, right? That would still be pretty damn cool, wouldn't it?
What if I told you they all had already made that movie together? You wouldn't be able to wait to see it, would you?
But then, what if I told you that this movie would make you want to kill everyone involved with its making, and never see a movie again for the rest of your life? You'd think I was lying, wouldn't you? No movie with that cast could possibly be that bad. Could it?
I enjoyed doing my Abecedarian List so much, I wanted to do some more, under more specific categories of pop culture. We'll start with this list -- my favorite albums, A to Z.
I tried mostly to pick albums I haven't really mentioned before -- or at least, not very much -- on this blog. So no, you don't have to hear again how Who's Next is the greatest anything ever. (Except you just did!) I didn't repeat any artists on the list. And I tried to pick albums I genuinely love, and have listened to over and over again, all the way through. For example, I was thinking of putting the Cure's Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me under K. But when I thought about it, I realized that while I think it's brilliant, I don't really listen to it that much, and when I do, I mostly hit the highlights, and skip a lot of songs. So -- it's out!
I had trouble on a couple of letters, neither of which were Q or Z. In fact, Q and Z were surprisingly easy. No, where I got stuck was X, as you might expect, and Y, which you might not. I know I didn't. I'd have thought there'd be a bunch of albums I could pick and choose from under Y, starting with "You" or "Your" or "You're" or "Young" or "Youth" or whatnot. Turns out, not so much. Not among albums I'd honestly consider favorites. Even Yellow Submarine, or Yo! Bum Rush the Show -- I couldn't list them, because I just don't like the whole albums that much.
I had to bend the rules a little. For Y, I went with an album I own on vinyl, by an artist I worship, but truthfully, though it's a very good record, I really don't play it much, or know it very well. And for X, I flat-out cheated. Sorry. (But at least I cheated with a frickin' awesome album.)
Also, I'm never sure if people are aware of this or not, but on almost all the pictures on this blog, there's some alt text you can read if you hover your cursor over the picture. Each album picture below features one of my favorite lyrics from the album in question (except the jazz albums -- I suppose I could've said "toot-tweedly-boo-bop," or something).
Posting will be spotty over the next few days; my friend Forrest from Austin is coming to town today, and I've also got relatives visiting on Sunday. But don't let that stop you from carrying on Positive Thinking Week for me! Why not try an A to Z list yourself, as Tosy and Cosh and Byzantium Shores have done?
"I have as much authority as the Pope, I just don't have as many people who believe it."
"I'm completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death."
"Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that."
"The only good thing ever to come out of religion was the music."
"I don't have pet peeves, I have major psychotic fucking hatreds!"
"I think it's the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately." --George Carlin