Saturday, May 21, 2005

See, THIS is what womanhood really looks like. Jesus, who wouldn't want to be married to her? Isn't she lovely? It's so nice to see a picture of a famous woman who looks happy for once. Posted by Hello

Dirty Lindsay

From a former Lindsay Lohan fan, with apologies to John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Dirty Lindsay, what have you done?
You made a fool of everyone;
You are a fool to everyone,
Dirty Lindsay, ooh, where have you gone?

Dirty Lindsay, you broke our trust,
You partied out for all to see.
You shamed yourself for all to see,
Dirty Lindsay, ooh, you broke our hearts.

One sunny day, the world was waiting for a lover,
She came along and turned on everyone,
Dirty Lindsay, the lamest of them all.

Dirty Lindsay, you’ll get yours yet,
However big you think you are.
However fresh and young you once were,
Dirty Lindsay, ooh, just go to hell.

I gave her every cent that I made just to see all her movies,
Just a smile would lighten everything,
Dirty Lindsay, she was a talent,
Now she’s just a dying whore.

She made a waste of all our time,
Dirty Lindsay,
Ha, I know it only costs a dime,
Dirty Lindsay,
You’re the lamest of them all...

My Dearest Jessica,

Jessica, we need to talk. Fan to artist, alright? It sounds sick and stalker-y, but you make my life better through your music, your acting, your TV show, and even those variety specials. I am a total Jessica devotee. But I'm concerned that what seems like a sudden, endless rash of eating disorders and paranoia about being thin (most likely coupled with a lot of drugs) in the entertainment community. Jessica, you are a beautiful woman. You are thin enough. Please don't get any thinner. In fact, if you could gain back even, like, 20 pounds, that would be perfect. You're starting to get that thin, drawn look that Nicole Richie has. Do you look at Nicole and Lindsay Lohan and think they're pretty? Because they don't look pretty, Jessica, they look like they died weeks ago and the bodies haven't been buried yet. All the fluid seems to have drained out of your body. I can see veins and bones; Jess, those things are hidden beneath the skin for a reason. I'm concerned about you. This is a selfishly-motivated post, I admit: I want you to be healthy and happy so you can keep recording and acting, which makes me happy. Seriously, I spend money on everything you do. Just stay beautiful, stay sweet, and stay productive; if you get all hideous like other girls, I'm going to have to stop paying attention, and where will I go then? Posted by Hello

Friday, May 20, 2005

The Ultimate Riddle

Frank Gorshin 1933-2005 Posted by Hello

You know, maybe I should go see that new "Star Wars" movie... Posted by Hello

Jessica Simpson on the set of her new video. Look at that, not only is she mega hot, but she can pat her head and rub her stomach at the same time. I keep saying that girl is talented! Posted by Hello

UPN: Not a Real Network

UPN Fall Lineup

8pm: One on One: ???
8:30pm: All of Us: ???
9pm: Girlfriends: I know I’ve heard the name...
9:30pm: Half & Half: ???

8pm: America’s Next Top Model: I like models, but I’ve never watched this show. I already knew Tyra Banks was a bitch. Plus, dude, it’s UPN. Who cares?
9pm: Sex, Lies & Secrets: Described as "fresh" and "edgy" (typically code words for "lametastic" and "sucktacular"), this about a group of twenty-somethings who stay together as friends and etc etc etc. Denise Richards stars. I’m sorry, I thought that said "twenty-somethings." Must be a misprint...

8pm: America’s Next Top Model
9pm: Veronica Mars

8pm: Everybody Hates Chris: Chris Rock narrates this sitcom based on stories from his own childhood. This is a single-camera show, which gives it room to be interesting and experimental (and eschews the studio audience–I know when to laugh, thank you). It sounds hilarious. Guess I might actually have to watch UPN.
8:30pm: Eve: Eve has a show on UPN? She’s hot, dude.
9pm: Cuts: ???
9:30pm: Love, Inc.: Another sure-to-fail show about a matchmaker who, of course, can’t find love (probably because she expects too much and isn’t relaxed enough to be open). Shannen Doherty, Buddha bless her, will try her damndest to make this show likeable. UPN describes it as "quirky." Ouch, man.

8pm: WWE Smackdown!

I know, I know, it’s not a real network and I don’t know what almost any of these shows are. In fact, thinking about it, I don’t think I’ve ever watched a show on UPN, except for the first few episodes of Enterprise and the first episode of Kevin Hill. But I decided to throw it in. The Chris Rock show looks good. And it’s interesting that they’re building Thursday, providing an alternative from NBC’s Thursday crapfest, The O.C., and CSI. At least they cancelled Enterprise, that was a good decision–they were only perpetuating the need for money, not creating anything new and special (Trek stopped doing that a long time ago). Jolene Blalock, in a move typical of her outstandingly smug stupidity, said that this was the first time in 40 years that a Star Trek show wasn’t airing. Except, of course, for that brief, quick moment of time between 1970 and 1987, of course...

Anyway, I’m suddenly willing to give this "network" a chance.

Fox: 'Nuff Said

FOX Fall Lineup

Fox has two schedules, so here’s the September to December 2005 schedule first:

8pm: Arrested Development: Well, at least it’s back, and I don’t watch anything else at this time.
8:30pm: Kitchen Confidential: Some sitcom about a chef. Why the sudden fascination with chefs? I mean, isn’t the appeal of cooking shows the cooking, not the personalities?
9pm: Prison Break: It’s from Bret Ratner, so I don’t care what it is.

8pm: Bones: More forensics; don't give a shit. Are you telling me David Boreanz couldn't find anything else?
9pm: House

8pm: That ‘70s Show: Are people still really watching this shit?
8:30pm: Stacked: Are people actually watching that shit at all?
9pm: Head Cases: Wacky crap about two outpatients of a mental asylum who are forced to be friends. Chris O’Donnell (remember him?) is a high-strung attorney, and Adam Goldberg is an "unkempt, unpredictable sufferer of explosive disorder." I can feel the early cancellation already.

8pm: The O.C.: I hate this show and everyone who watches it and likes whatever the show tells them to.
9pm: Reunion: This show examines 20 years in the life of a group of high school friends. Beginning at the age of 18, each show will take place a year later leading up to the reunion. It’s actually an interesting concept; hope it doesn’t end up whiny and yuppified ("Oh, I had so many hopes and dreams when I was young, now I work at Frank’s Nursery and Crafts, wah wah!"). I have no time for that.

8pm: The Bernie Mac Show: Really? That’s a surprise, I thought they cancelled this show. It was good the first season, then it got really repetitive.
8:30pm: Malcolm in the Middle: I already watch the WB on Friday nights, but they’ve got a really crappy looking new show on at the same time. Well, this way I can watch Amanda, turn here, and then be back in time for Joanna Garcia on the WB! Everything works out. In the last couple of months, I’ve started to love this show, and I’d rather not stop watching it (though it was working out just fine on Sundays).
9pm: The Gate: Bizarre crimes blah blah blah supernatural implications blah blah blah hints of corruption blah blah set in San Francisco just like Charmed blah blah blah plays by his own rules blah blah changing channel now.

8pm: Cops
8:30pm: Cops
9pm: America’s Most Wanted
11pm: Mad TV: The unfunniest sketch show in the history of time. And yes, I’ve seen Friday Nights.

7:30pm: King of the Hill: I used to like it, but I almost never catch it anymore. Nice of them to put it on after the rerun of the lovely Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends on Cartoon Network. Maybe I’ll start watching again.
8pm: The Simpsons
8:30pm: The War At Home: Some lame sitcom about young parents that will be cancelled before the first month is out.
9pm: Family Guy
9:30pm: American Dad: The poor clone of Family Guy.

Now, in January, the schedule changes to accommodate American Idol.

8pm: House
9pm: 24

8pm: American Idol
9pm: Bones: I love how the assume that this show is still going to be on by this point.

8pm: That 70s Show
8:30pm: Stacked
9pm: American Idol (results show)
9:30pm: The Loop: Some lame crap about slackers. Because those shows are always good. Good on a stick. Quit wasting my Mimi Rogers!

8pm: The O.C.: Ooh, Seth likes Mercury Rev, better go buy it no matter how shitty it is!
9pm: Reunion

8pm: The Bernie Mac Show: Yeah, I’m so sure it’ll still be on.
8:30pm: Malcolm in the Middle
9pm: The Gate

7:30pm: King of the Hill
8pm: The Simpsons
8:30pm: The War At Home: Or some other replacement.
9pm: Family Guy
9:30pm: American Dad

Well, I was impressed with Fox for showing 24 straight episodes of 24. I don’t watch the show, but it was a bold programming strategy to show it all at once without any reruns to space the season out unnecessarily or show repeats that might allow viewers to lose the plot. All programs should be aired like this, because it rewards steady viewership and creates momentum so there’s less filler.

Look for reality shows to be bigger than ever on Fox, since American Idol did so fucking well (look for the new Simple Life with Paris and Kimberly Stewart to come on at some point). The best news is that Arrested Development will be coming back! Finally, Fox keeps a show I love on the air... A lot of new dramas didn’t make it, once again: North Shore, Point Pleasant, and Jonny Zero were all cancelled, and by this time next year, no one will remember what they even were. Looks like Fox is never going to change their long-standing policy of putting literally anything on the air.

The WB: Who Knows WHAT They're Thinking

The WB Fall Lineup

8pm: 7th Heaven: The show that just won’t end.
9pm: Just Legal: Apparently the WB feels the best way to follow its acclaimed, wholesome family drama is with a Bruckheimer-produced police procedural starring Don Johnson. Don’t worry, though, it apparently has humor...

8pm: Gilmore Girls: A show I love but I can only watch on ABC Family in morning reruns because my girlfriend hates it with a passion as fiery as the birth of a new star. So I have no idea what's happened this last year.
9pm: Supernatural: Dean from Gilmore Girls and some other guy driving the back roads in a ‘67 Chevy Impala in search of their father and fighting supernatural forces. Produced by McG. Sounds like shit. What about that show with Peter Facinelli that McG got cancelled by Fox?

8pm: One Tree Hill
9pm: Related: About four sisters who "are a bundle of contradictions." Ouch, I hate it already. Yet another Sisters clone. Awful director Mimi Leder is producing this show, which is going to completely waste Lizzy Caplan.

8pm: Smallville
9pm: Everwood: Yeah, they pair together so perfectly... why wouldn’t they put Supernatural after this one, move Related after Gilmore Girls, cancel Just Legal to put on Everwood after Seventh Heaven, and then put something else after One Tree Hill? Just seems to make sense if you actually wanted people to, you know, watch these shows...

8pm: What I Like About You: Even though it frustrates the shit out of me, I love Amanda Bynes and will never stop watching it (although I’m surprised it hasn’t been cancelled, it’s so bad this season).
8:30pm: Twins: Another new show from the producers of Will & Grace. It’s about fraternal twin girls (one played by Melissa Gilbert) who are, naturally, Very Different People, and must learn to get along so they can inherit, get this, their parents’ lingerie business. So, there’s the draw–hot girls in lingerie peopling the background. Jesus, how much more obvious can you get? Their parents are the unholy, unlikely pairing of Melanie Griffith and Mark-Linn Baker.
9pm: Reba: I adore the Jessica Simpson-like Joanna Garcia, and the dude that plays Van is becoming a comedy genius.
9:30pm: Living with Fran: It’s pretty lame, but I lust after Fran Drescher with a passion as fiery as the birth of a new star.

8pm: Charmed
9pm: Blue Collar TV: Both of these shows should be wiped from the face of the planet.

Last season, the WB lost most of its supernatural edge, dumping Angel and cancelling its plans to revive Lost in Space and Dark Shadows, and tried to pick up female viewers who weren’t being served by the networks by going with more female-oriented dramatic shows. Hey, if you can find a niche, why not go for it? Rather than building this approach and trying to make it successful, however, the WB proves they really are a network by just completely changing their approach instead of working with what they have. Don’t networks understand: it’s not groundbreaking excitement that draws viewers, it’s pure repetitive habit.

Anyway, they cancelled Grounded for Life, Jack & Bobby, Steve Harvey’s Big Time (thank you), Summerland, and Commando Nanny (although I’m not sure they actually even aired this last one). The weird thing about this season is that most nights they do improbable pairings that don’t even make sense in an odd attempt to catch more viewers. A wholesome family drama followed by a cop show? Trying too hard to ensnare viewers, I think.

And if you should truly despise any of these new shows, the WB has mid-season replacements up the ass. Rebecca Romijn stars as Pepper Dennis, which sounds like the series version of Life or Something Like It, the movie that punished Angelina Jolie for daring to want a career instead of a middle class American family.

Matthew Modine plays a "controversial and charismatic" (two things Matthew Modine has never been and will never be) professor teaching a Human Behavior and Sexuality class in The Bedford Diaries, which is going to take life very, very seriously. Mostly the WB is probably thrilled because they got Jess from Gilmore Girls on a show. Bet he plays a reticent tough guy with a bad attitude...

Misconceptions sounds like the unholy work of Satan and his TV programming minions. Jane Leeves stars as a woman who wants to track down the biological father of her daughter whom she only knows from the sperm bank profile. Turns out that daddy isn’t really an Ivy Leaguer, but an immature loser who lied about his identity and is played, perhaps inevitably, by French Stewart. I want to kill myself just typing that. God, I hope Twins is good, so that Misconceptions doesn’t come along and ruin my Fridays. Oh, who am I kidding, I’m fucked.

And finally, "I Can Do Anything" Bruckheimer has his first sitcom. Modern Men is about, of course, guys who can’t make relationships work because we’re all little children who can barely figure out how the oven works, much less a woman, right? George Wendt and Wendie Malick are going to be wasted in supporting roles. Still sounds better than Misconceptions.

NBC's Parade of Putrescence

NBC Fall Lineup

8pm: Fathom: The press release asks the question: "Ever wonder what life would be like if a new form of sea life began to appear in locales all over the earth?" Did you answer "no," too? I did, and I’m into science. Basically, it sounds like yet another ripoff of V, which is itself a ripoff of Arthur C. Clarke’s seminal novel Childhood’s End.
9pm: Las Vegas
10pm: Medium: I’ve heard this show is good, but people who tell me that say it in such a way that it makes them sound like they’re apologizing early if you don’t like it. Nice buildup...

8pm: The Biggest Loser: A title won by ever person who goes on this show.
9pm: My Name Is Earl: A wish-fulfillment show about a guy (Jason Priestly) who sets out to right all of the wrongs from his past. Did a woman create this show? I only ask because this is the kind of guy that women desperately need to believe exists (see Something’s Gotta Give if you can stomach it). And men will put it on the air because it makes them look sensitive. There’s a really bad movie called Dawg with Denis Leary that follows the same premise, and that’s not funny, either. Jamie Pressly co-stars, apparently to get guys to watch. Not going to do it.
9:30pm: The Office: Yes! Nothing could ever top the British series, but this one is almost as good. They’ve found a way to take the same themes and similar characters, and put an American spin on it so that it never seems like just a remake. It’s becoming its own show, and it’s incredibly funny. Steve Carrell, surprisingly, has created a character with a lot of depth and sympathy. It’s supposed to make you cringe. Thank you, NBC, for putting on something intelligent.
10pm: Law & Order: SVU: That stands for "Setting the VCR Unnecessary."

8pm: The Apprentice: Martha Stewart: Ah, so last season’s hit show that NBC is going to over-program is The Apprentice. This season we have, basically, The Apprentice with Martha Stewart. Look for Law & Order: The Apprentice to start in mid-season.
9pm: E-Ring: Some Bruckheimer-produced crap about the Pentagon. Aren’t we sick of shows about government functionaries under pressure yet? I’d rather read a Tom Clancy novel, which is frankly an insane thing to say or even contemplate.
10pm: Law & Order: For an unprecedented 35th season.

8pm: Joey
8:30pm: Will & Grace
9pm: The Apprentice: How does a casino lose money, Donald? How?!
10pm: ER: Look for this show to alienate everyone who ever watched it this season, followed by a sudden decision to end the show.

8pm: Three Wishes: A reality show in which Amy Grant and a "team of experts" (?) head around to small towns and grant wishes. It’s going to be one of those heartwarming, homespun, ain’t the average American redneck the true backbone of this country kind of propaganda shows that networks love to pay lip service to and will probably be a hit with the Jeff Foxworthy crowd. If you wish that you’d never have to be bothered by Amy Grant again, you’re out of luck.
9pm: Dateline NBC
10pm: Inconceivable: A show with an oh-so-clever title about the employees at a fertility clinic starring ER cast-off Ming-na. I think the amount of faith NBC has in this show doing well is evident in the fact that they’re burying it at 10 on Fridays.

8pm: NBC Saturday Night Movie: No points for originality. Because, you know, in the age of Netflix, DVD, and On Demand, I want to watch a movie edited for television on a Saturday night.

7pm: Dateline NBC
8pm: The West Wing: Sunday at 8? They must expect it to do real well this season...
9pm: Law & Order: Criminal Intent
10pm: Crossing Jordan: This is still on? Maybe they’ll replace it with Law & Order: Yokels Who Accidentally Catch Crimes on Their Camcorders.

NBC is the station most in need of a turnaround. Funnily enough, the much-touted (but highly stupid) Scrubs and Fear Factor appear nowhere on the schedule (though they’re supposed to be back mid-season). Which makes it obvious why the Peacock is generally sticking to what it already has, keeping on the, um, "hits," and adding a bunch of new shows the way they usually do. From what I can tell, NBC is still aiming for that audience that wants to watch something, and doesn’t really care if it’s remotely interesting as long as it fills an hour or so.

CBS's Gala of Garbage

CBS Fall Lineup

8pm: The King of Queens: I catch a rerun on a local channel every now and then, but a little goes a long, long way.
8:30pm: How I Met Your Mother: Boy, if TV is to be believed, no man can talk to a woman and get himself together long enough to get married (which, apparently, all men just have to do). This one has something to do with Bob Saget, I don’t know. I couldn’t make it through the entire description.
9pm: Two and a Half Men: I’ve never once even thought about watching this show.
9:30pm: Out of Practice: Something about a family counselor who can’t keep his family together. Paula Marshall’s on it, so it’s not going to last long, anyway.
10pm: CSI: Miami

8pm: NCIs
9pm: The Amazing Race
10pm: Close to Home: Yet another show about a lawyer, this time about a woman who returns to work after her first child and intentionally takes harder cases to prove herself and protect her community. Scintillating, no? No...

8pm: Still Standing: Whatever that is.
8:30pm: Yes, Dear: Why? Why the hell would anyone watch this? And for as many years as they have? You know, you can lower your standards in other ways. Like internet porn.
9pm: Criminal Minds: Some garbage about FBI profilers with Greg from Dharma & Greg.
10pm: CSI: NY

8pm: Survivor: Guatemala: Look, no one’s really watching Survivor anymore. The novelty has worn off, it’s being outdone by The Real Gilligan’s Island on TBS, and it got beaten in the ratings by Desperate Housewives. Cancel it and put on yet another CSI.
9pm: CSI: I tried to watch the first episode when it originally aired and got bored before the opening credits. I just don’t find forensics fascinating.
10pm: Without a Trace

8pm: Ghost Whisperer: Jennifer Love Huge-Tits in a show that sounds exactly like that crappy Fox show Tru Calling. Actually, I shouldn’t make fun of her, I kind of feel sorry for the way her career’s gone.
9pm: Threshold: This show sounds a lot like NBC’s Fathom: a UFO is discovered to have landed in the ocean and a government contingency analyst comes up with a worst-case scenario that might be put into action. It’s a little thin of a premise, but this one’s produced by David Heyman (of the Harry Potter movies) and David Goyer, and stars the always-good Carla Gugino. Still, it’s on Fridays, and at this time I already have a preexisting relationship with Joanna Garcia. I’ll catch it on Sci Fi when it gets cancelled after five weeks.
10pm: Numb3rs: I’ve never seen this show, but when they do something "cute" like put a number in the title, I’m pretty sure it sucks.

7pm: 60 Minutes
8pm: Cold Case
9pm: CBS Sunday Movie

Apparently the Eye wants to shed its image of being for old people, but most of this stuff sounds like tired rehashing. And Jenna Elfman has a mid-season replacement if stuff doesn’t work out. Hooray... This schedule doesn’t muster any more disgust than it does excitement, so we can just leave it at that.

ABC's Cavalcade of Crap

ABC's Fall Lineup

Monday (through January)
8pm: Wife Swap
9pm: Monday Night Football: When is the NFL going to get their shit together and just start an NFL channel? They make billions of dollars in endorsements, they might as well just take the plunge and reap the ad money.

Monday (mid-season on)
8pm: The Bachelor: After seeing clips from the Charlie O’Connell version, I’m surprised anyone’s still watching. What, they didn’t think women would tune in anymore, so they made it some kind of Maxim reject? It’s suddenly become the series for men who are upset that The Man Show got cancelled. I suggest a new title: Slut Search ‘06.
9pm: Emily’s Reasons Why Not: This is another one of those mid-life crisis shows for women that, apparently, makes them feel better about having great careers but no husband. Does any woman you know have a great career? Just asking, because most of the people I know (of either sex) hate their jobs, or are at least incredibly frustrated by them. Emily works in publishing (of course–a sitcom standby for the career woman), and has governed her life by a set of guidelines she calls "the Reasons." Seriously? 2006 and we’re going to ripoff The Rules? Didn’t they do a whole Sex and the City episode making fun of The Rules? Gee, sounds great. Ever think that maybe the "Reasons" are why you don’t have a man yet? Oh, and of course her former assistant has stabbed her in the back, and she’s dating the wrong guy, and she needs to get back on top (hey, why not send a man with a blue collar job like a messenger to distract her with falling in love, so she can decide to give up her career–you know, as long as we’re still punishing career women with unhappiness in our pop culture). I’ll catch it at least once before the inevitable sweeps week "hiatus" because it stars my dear Heather Graham, whom I love, but I expect it to be a waste of everyone’s time.
9:30pm: Jake in Progress: A fitting follow-up for Emily; a male mid-life crisis apology show. It’s returning despite the terrible reviews because it’s the kind of show that TV execs really wish their life was like–cute guy, no attachments, rather upscale, and how can you stay mad at a guy for acting like an overgrown teenager when he’s so charmingly insouciant?
10pm: What About Brian: Haven’t had enough of people who can’t get their shit together and figure out their priorities on a single night? Then ABC has one last round of punishment for you single people with the new one-hour drama What About Brian (no question mark, even though it’s a question). This show (from the producers of Lost and Alias, no less) is about a guy who has committed the unforgivable sin of being 34 and still unmarried. And all of his friends are married, too, and want to pressure him into getting married, because if there’s one thing people can’t stand, it’s when a friend of theirs is different in any way, shape or form. Think I’ll skip this one...

8pm: According to Jim
8:30pm: Rodney: I swear I don’t even know what this is.
9pm: Commander-in-Chief: This one’s getting a lot of good buzz. It stars Geena Davis as Mackenzie Allen (who comes up with these names?), the Vice President of the United States who, naturally, becomes president when the sitting prez dies of something or other. The problem is, her children, her ambitious husband, the president, and her entire party don’t want her to be president. Hmm, a show about an embattled woman president? This kinda sounds like that movie that no one saw, The Contender, where Joan Allen played an embattled woman running for president... Well, whadda ya know, this show is created by the guy who wrote and directed The Contender. No outside interests, I guess... Anyway, Geena Davis is on it, which makes it worth watching once, but probably only once. They’ll overplay the sexism as well as the strident feminism and make her somehow clumsier or dumber than she needs to be to make their point. But at least it might stop people from making one of those typographical mistakes that is such a pet peeve of mine–writing it out as "Commander and Chief." God, that bugs me.
10pm: Boston Legal

8pm: George Lopez: Not a single person I know watches this show; I even missed the episode with Hilary Duff on it, which is very unlike me.
8:30pm: Freddie: If that title makes you excited that Freddie Prinze Jr. is getting his own sitcom, well, my friend, you really need to reassess your terrible taste. Sadly, it also means that Freddie Prinze Jr. is getting his own sitcom. He’s another one of those improbable TV characters who has a great apartment and owns his own restaurant and revels in affluence but is–SIN OF ALL SINS–still single. And now that his brother’s dead, he apparently feels the need to invite his sister, sister-in-law, niece, and grandmother to come live with him. So, it’s like Full House, except it’s about the selfish bachelor... Catch it before fame goes to Freddie Prinze Jr.’s head, followed closely by a bullet.
9pm: Lost
10pm: Invasion: Someone must have finally clued into the fact that Lost is a science fiction series, because ABC has added another SF series to the schedule to follow it. This one, called Invasion, has a premise that could be interesting but sounds surprisingly dull. A hurricane masks the arrival in Florida of strange phenomena (obviously aliens) and a lot of X-Files style mystery. The usually reliable William Fichtner stars; I have no idea who the creators are. Doesn’t raise any excitement in me so far, and I’m sure the commercials won’t either, because they’ll be too muddled trying to create interest by not showing you anything..

8pm: Alias
9pm: The Night Stalker: A revival of the old series which unnecessarily stars the awful Stuart Townsend as crime reporter Carl Kolchak. Gabrielle Union also stars. Look for this show, like any attempts at overt science fiction on a network, to be cancelled quickly. Primetime Live ends the night, of course.
10pm: Primetime Live

8pm: Supernanny: Moved to Friday, I guess because if you’re home watching ABC on a Friday night, you must have children. I enjoy Supernanny occasionally (though I like Fox’s more exploitative Nanny 911 a little better), and I think the idea of the television having to take the reins and teach the parents who have been plunking down the kids in front of it to raise those kids is wonderfully hilarious.
9pm: Hope & Faith: I don’t know anyone who has ever even seen this show.
9:30pm: Hot Properties: A truly wretched-sounding sitcom which follows the travails of four women real estate agents and their wacky office neighbors. One of these women, in her forties, is married to a 25 year-old guy but desperately wants to start a family. Why? Generally, older women who get involved with younger guys have either already had their families and are having fun, or never wanted a family. This is the kind of unrealistic sentiment that is always created on TV shows to attempt to reinforce the status quo and punish women through these characters for going with younger men. How much you wanna bet she’s ditched her husband for a guy her own age by the end of the season? This show wastes Gail O’Grady, Nicole Sullivan, Evan Handler, and the luminous Sofia Vergara.
10pm: 20/20

8pm: ABC Movie of the Week: I can only assume The Wonderful World of Disney is on before this?

7pm: America’s Funniest Home Videos: For the 80th straight season.
8pm: Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
9pm: Desperate Housewives
10pm: Grey’s Anatomy: Or as it should be called, ER: Season Four.

Well, no surprise that 8 Simple Rules got cancelled. And Blind Justice had "early removal" written all over it. The biggest surprise here is that ABC has moved almost every show they had to a different time and/or different night. After having two mega-hits last season with Desperate Housewives and Lost, it seems like an act of desperation to shuffle the entire schedule. It seems as though ABC has as little confidence in the 2005/2006 season as it has in every season since Disney bought the place.

I think I’m betting on The Night Stalker to get cancelled first (and very fast), followed by Invasion, and probably Hot Properties by mid-season. Otherwise, ABC is spending another season catering to upscale families. You know, there are other sources of humor besides family dynamics. None of these shows sound interesting, I don’t watch any of them already, and I’m only going to check out two of them because I like the stars. Way to go, ABC.

Throwdown 5/20

Normally, this spot is devoted to 15 random thoughts, questions, and observations about the week. Frankly, this week has been so uninteresting that I don't really give a shit about what's going on. Everyone's so hyped up on Star Wars that the world has ground to a halt to make way for yet another billionaire getting yet more money. Huzzah. So, I only have a couple of things that interested me.

1. Woody Allen, the most New York of New York filmmakers, says that it's easier to make films in England than in America. Here, the financiers want too much to do with the movie, and Allen doesn't want to give them that type of control. Woody Allen, folks. A guy who makes his movies for about $100 or something. Dude, if Woody Allen, a signature American artist, is threatening to make his movies in a foreign country, something is wrong with the movie industry.

2. Poor Kylie Minogue has been diagnosed with breast cancer. When she announced the cancellation of her Australian tour, hundreds of Australian fans donated their refunds to breast cancer charities. That kind of generous outpouring really warms the heart of this cynical American, but should be no surprise coming from our Antipodean cousins. Good on ya, Australian fans. Teach us the real meaning of loyalty.

3. Catherine Deneuve has said that she wishes filmmakers would stop using nudity, because it's so distracting: "My career has gone on so long, I think, because I have never given anything away." Is this the actress Catherine Deneuve? Because I've seen her naked many times. Why do the old become so nakedly hypocritical?
4. Jean-Luc Godard doesn't think Quentin Tarantino's use of the name A Band Apart (an homage to Godard's film Band A Parte) for his production company is so cute. "He would have done better to give me some money," says the old hack. So, at what age does it stop being about art and really start being about cash, you old windbag? I fucking hate the French New Wave, anyway.

5. Ewan McGregor worries that he’ll be criticized for selling out and doing The Island, an American action blockbuster. What, the world slept through his multi-picture stint as Obi-Wan Kenobi? Hey, the guy can’t be all bad, he’s mystified and scared by Star Wars fans, too. Those people are freaks.

6. Disney, you had better not fuck up the Muppets this time around. Apparently, they were forced to compromise on tonight's The Muppets' Wonderful Wizard of Oz because fucking Ted Turner owns the 1939 "original" (based on the 1901 novel, but never mind) and they didn't want to piss him off with too many references. Rich asshole. Next time go with Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland or something. Why not make Into the Woods with the Muppets? Either way, I was pissed when Hilary Duff couldn't be in the movie because of money issues, and I'm pissed that you've supposedly compromised the quality because of more money issues. FUCK THE MONEY AND ENTERTAIN ME, ASSHOLES! THAT'S ALL I WANT FROM YOU HOLLYWOOD MOTHERFUCKERS!

7. Have you seen Lindsay Lohan lately? Oh my God, guys and dolls, she's like a skeleton with a baby-fine flesh coating. Seriously, she looks like she's rotting. Her publicist, Satan (or whatever her name is), still insists that she's only lost about 20 pounds or so. Bullshit, it's easily 50, and probably more like 60. She must weigh about 80 pounds by now, and I'm basing this on the fact that she's about as skinny as Nicole Richie is, and Nicole is rumored to weigh about 84. It's painful to watch this--this is pretty much eating disorder territory. Girls, please stop dropping weight. Stop it now. Stop bleaching your skin, stop getting Botox to paralyze your face to a Stepford pretty haze, stop toning up to compete with men, stop losing weight to make your asses smaller, and stop getting ridiculous breast implants because you suddenly figured out that taking all of the fat and fluid out of your body causes your tits to go bye-bye. Stop it now. Women should look like women, goddammit, and not like little stick figures. Don't listen to Maxim magazine and think that's how men want you to look--trust me, men are assholes who will take anything with boobs on it. Don't worry about them. You must be healthy. STOP LOSING THE FUCKING WEIGHT!

8. Here it is, the twist in Episode III: Obi-Wan and Yoda have brainwashed Anakin to become the Emperor’s lap dog, so that he can spy on the Empire and destroy it from within while they wait for Luke to grow up and become powerful enough to overthrow Palpatine. So Vader actually protects Leia from the mind probe, and lets Luke blow up the Death Star, then ruins their resources with his obsessive quest to find Luke and put him in the right place to kill the Emperor. No, I’m sure that isn’t really the twist. But wouldn’t that be something?

Well, I'm off to Australia, where I plan on becoming a gay writer of children's books who listens to nothing but Classical records and never turns on a television or sets foot in a movie theater. Hope you're happy, Hollywood. Now, where did I put my Bernstein version of Le Sacre du Printemps?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Evaluating Disney: 1932

After recovering from the loss of Ub Iwerks the year before, the new team of Disney animators were now taking off in a direction that, if familiar, was experimental. Disney made the stride into color this year after being shown a test of the three-strip color process from Technicolor. Ub had beaten Walt to color in 1931 with the first Flip the Frog cartoon, but had used the old two-strip process that was limited to the reds and greens of the spectrum. Walt had never liked this method, and so bided his time until someone improved the process. After the technology caught up with him, his artists created a whole pallette of special colors that launched Disney cartoons ahead of all the other animation of the time. However, the expense of the process limited Walt to its use--Mickey Mouse, for example, would not appear in color for several years. But for now, making the leap was groundbreaking enough.

1/16: The Bird Store
This Silly Symphony is surprisingly sparse. It merely depicts varieties of birds singing in a shop, and then fighting off a cat. The second half is infinitely better than the first, but seeing the imaginitive exotic birds is pretty neat. Wilfred Jackson directed.

1/28: The Duck Hunt
Bert Gillett peppers this short with a lot more jokes about Pluto's fleas, but these are some of the funniest sight gags; at one point, Mickey and Pluto start marching, and the fleas all follow like an infantry brigade. The ducks, like all of Mickey's animal nemeses, are total bastards. This recalls one of my favorite Mickey cartoons, Fishin' Around, but is very much its own short.

2/11: The Grocery Boy
Boy, wouldn't it be great if cooking were as easy as it always looks in cartoons? Wilfred Jackson's direction always flows better than anyone else's of the time, and the chase scene is a beaut. Great gag where a statue of Napoleon falls on Mickey's head.

3/32: The Mad Dog
Pluto swallows some soap, and the resulting foam makes everyone think he's rabid. There's a gag in here with a duck playing a stereotypical Chinaman walking out of a laundry and running in terror from Pluto--yes, it's racist and thoughtless, but it's also very funny. It just was, it was so over the top. Pegleg Pete plays the dog catcher who nearly shoots Pluto. I am a little tired of Bert Gillett's humor around Pluto's fleas, though--I mean, I know Mickey and Pluto are poor, but find some new gags. It's starting to make me think of Pluto as somehow diseased and unclean. This is also the first time that Pluto appears in a design more like the modern version of Pluto; he's become much more of a casual, rambunctious dog, and not like the deliberate troublemaker he was originally in cartoons like The Moose Hunt.

4/15: Barnyard Olympics
I didn't think it was possible, but I'm glad to be back in the barnyard; it gives Wilfred Jackson a chance to pull out some of the fun barnyard character designs--the old goat, the fat pig, the silly weiner dog. Horace Horsecollar is sadly missing, though. Mickey competes at track and field along with a cheating Pete (minus pegleg and usual fatness). Lots of great visual gags, and some beautiful animation flourishes. One of the best of the Mickey Mouse cartoons.

5/25: Mickey's Revue
Another one of those cartoons with Mickey conducting an orchestra and putting on a show. I can only assume that at the time it was a reliable standby, but it's really worn thin by this time (despite Wilfred Jackson's direction). Still, it's nice to see Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar back in the show. Also, this cartoon marks the introduction of a new character named Dippy Dawg, an old hound dog with an obnoxious laugh provided by the great Pinto Colvig. This character would almost immediately be redesigned to become Goofy, one of Disney's most beloved characters. But otherwise, it's not really very special. And also, the soft-shoeing basset hounds are dead-eyed and creepy.

7/9: The Musical Farmer
Wilfred Jackson puts some nice flourishes into what begins as a remake of The Plowboy and becomes a weird thing with a chicken laying a giant egg. It's alright, but doesn't hold the attention for too long.

7/9: The Bears and Bees
A Silly Symphony about two bears looking for food. The bears look basically like Mickey Mouse, only without pants. Nice animation, again directed by Jackson.

7/18: Mickey in Arabia
Why are the Arabs all drawn like black cannibals out of a Bray cartoon? Otherwise, though, this is a fun effort, one of those wear Pete (here a sultan) kidnaps Minnie and has to be rescued by Mickey. It's a cute cartoon, with a neat, hilarious camel who gets drunk and a lot of background detail. Quick observation: if cartoons of the 1930s are to be believed, everything in Arabia has a cutthroat with a sword waiting inside of it...

7/30: Just Dogs
This Silly Symphony stars Pluto as one of many dogs at the pound. When a small little puppy (very cute, very well animated) escapes and frees the other dogs, he and Pluto run around together (even though Pluto hates the puppy), and the two end up finding a bone together that the other dogs fight with them for. A lot of this sequence was repeated in Lady and the Tramp in 1955. The ending is very sweet. Take a look at a model sheet for that cute puppy.

7/30: Flowers and Trees
The first Disney cartoon--a Silly Symphony--to feature color animation. Disney signed a two-year contract with Technicolor for the exclusive rights to their new three-strip process so that no other animator would get ahold of it, and then went about devising a new kind of ink that would stick better without chipping or peeling. The shooting process was laborious, not quick, and besides that Flowers and Trees had already been produced (though not released) in black and white, and would now need to be redrawn in color. Bert Gillett directed the cartoon with some assistance from one of the great animators of all time, Dave Hand. Though other cartoons had featured color, Disney's colors were much more vibrant, and used much more creatively. The short tells the story of trees and flowers who are attacked by a hollowed-out old tree, who sets the forest on fire. The reds and oranges used in the fire flicker and move of their own accord, mesmerizing to watch. Disney had, typically, not just made the technical advance, but justified its use creatively, rather than just using it use it. And the cartoon itself tells a fun story with great music use (especially the bits from Erlkonig) that would have been enjoyable without the color.

From this point on, the Silly Symphonies made the shift to color. It was an expense that could not be paid indiscriminantly, and the Mickey Mouse cartoons were so popular that they didn't need the extra draw.

8/13: Mickey's Nightmare
Mickey dreams that Minnie proposes to him, and then the stork delivers what can only be described as an armada of baby mice who proceed to tear up the house. There's some good gags and nice animation (great shading, especially in the first scene), but it's a little bit of a retread of Mickey's Orphans. There's an hilarious moment when the stork delivers the first baby and shakes hands with Mickey; after the entire horde descends on the house, Pluto offers to shake Mickey's hand, and he slaps it away in disgust.

8/20: Trader Mickey
This parody of Trader Horn has probably the strongest use of racial stereotyping in any Disney cartoon. Mickey and Pluto are captured by African cannibals who plan to cook them, but when they go through his goods, they find--no points for guessing--musical instruments. A wild jam session ensues, set to "The Darktown Strutters' Ball." It almost overdoes it on the stereotyping; the cannibal king has a laugh that must be Pinto Colvig's Goofy laugh. He also finds a girdle and wears it as though it were a crown. Some good sight gags, great animation--this is the first Disney cartoon directed by Dave Hand. Yes, the caricatures are pretty strong, but it's undeniably toe-tapping and one of the best cartoons of all time.

9/10: King Neptune
A bizarre Silly Symphony directed by Bert Gillett. Bare-breasted (really) mermaids frolic around with King Neptune (who comes off a little like a pervy uncle), and then one of them gets caught by pirates who basically spend the rest of the cartoon trying to rape her. As I said, bizarre. Interesting animation, especially in the scenes with the mermaids doing their water dance, but otherwise...

9/17: The Whoopee Party
More fluid gags from Wilfred Jackson. Mickey, Minnie, Clarabelle, Horace, and for the first time as himself, Goofy, throw a wild party where even the furniture joins in the dancing and the house itself rocks on its foundations (even the cops who come to raid the place can't resist those hot beats). It veers close to routine a couple of times, but it's all so fast and weird that there's not time to get bored with it. It kind of plays like one of those alcohol parties from the prohibition days, though.

10/1: Bugs in Love
This is the last Silly Symphony made in black and white; it tells the story of a bunch of froliocking bugs who are interrupted by the arrival of a hobo crow. It's basically a remake of The Spider and the Fly, but its still cute, and the "battle scene" has some neat animation.

10/15: Touchdown Mickey
Easily the equal of Barnyard Olympics for pacing, excitement, and hilarity. Mickey and his barnyard friends (including that great silly weiner dog) are Mickey's Manglers, a football team fighting out the last quarter of the game against the Alley Cats, a team of, naturally, big Pete-like cats. Goofy plays the announcer--I swear that guy is always high on glue fumes or something. One of the best, directed by Wilfred Jackson.

11/12: The Wayward Canary
Mickey buys Minnie a cage full of canaries, and they trash the house. I'm tired of this routine by now. Oddly, Mickey has a lighter with a backwards-swastika design on it. This is from the period when United Artists were distributing Disney cartoons; there's a scene where the canaries accidentally trash autographed pictures of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.

11/12: The Klondike Kid
Basically, it's the same thing as The Gallopin' Gaucho, only in Alaska instead of Mexico. But this old routine is so well executed here that new life is breathed into it. There's some great gags--especially the Oswald-like bunny that Pluto chases around, and the destruction of a log cabin. There's also some good lighting tricks here, like the flashing when Pegleg Pete bursts into a lodge, grabs Minnie, douses the lights, and starts blasting away with his six-guns. Art Babbit, a great animator, worked on this Bert Gillett-directed cartoon that stands as one of the most fun of Mickey's adventures.

11/18: Parade of the Award Nominees
This was a special cartoon produced for the 1932 Academy Awards showing Mickey leading the acting nominees (the animation of the backgrounds is that same tracking shot from Mother Goose Melodies). It's cute, with a lot of celebrity caricatures. Even though it was not released to the public, this is the first time Mickey Mouse appears in color. Notably, he is wearing green shorts and not red, as would become his trademark.

11/19: Babes in the Woods
This vibrantly colorful Silly Symphony mixes the fairy tales Babes in the Woods with Hansel and Gretel, as two children befriend elves and are kidnapped by a witch with a candy house who wants to turn them into creatures. She has been changing children into spiders, lizards, bats, and cats, etc. The transformation of the little boy into a spider is especially hard and scary, almost vomit-inducing in its sheer horror. And the witch is defeated by being cruelly turned into a rock. It starts off twee and silly, but it gets dark fast and stays that way, even when the elves and children dance in a ring around the murdered witch in gleeful celebration. Strong, excellent stuff.

12/10: Santa's Workshop
A classic Silly Symphonies cartoon with Santa and his elves making toys. Not much to it, but it's cheerful and has its heartwarming moments.

12/17: Mickey's Good Deed
Mickey sells Pluto to a spoiled rich pig (who proceeds to torture him cruelly) to make money to give some kittens a merry Christmas. It's a very sweet short--even though Mickey's cello (which he has been using to panhandle) is destroyed, he and Pluto make Christmas happy for some kids and still get something to eat in the end. Remembering that this cartoon was made during the Great Depression, and it has a hopeful tinge to it that is brave rather than pandering.

Disney ended 1932 on top once again, and even if some of the gags were getting tired, the shorts were getting more and more inventive. The Silly Symphonies would become more epic, more of a training ground for working out animation problems, and Mickey Mouse was doing just fine--he was much more of a sweet, honest guy just looking to have fun, romance his gal, and do something nice for folks, rather than the malicious little brat of a few years earlier. Features lay ahead; for now, the Walt Disney Studios were content to look for opportunities to innovate within their chosen form.

Amazonian Leelee Sobieski

Oh, man. No one told me there was going to be topless Leelee Sobieski on Monday night's presentation of Hercules on NBC. If I'd known that, I would have watched it. Man, the only thing that could make this better is if she pulled out a weapon and started acting all tough...
Oh, man, wait a minute! She DID take out a weapon and start acting all tough! Dammit!
Oh, Jesus, now I'm going to have that running through my head all day! How the hell could I miss this show? Sorry, me Leelee lust is embarrassingly uncontrollable... *sigh*

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

A Laugh at the Expense of X-Men Fans

I don't really get X-Men anymore. I haven't read the comic in something like a decade, and even before then it got to ridiculous to follow. Do there need to be so many characters? Do they need to all be in the 15 or so X-Men comics that come out every month? Why can't they wrap up some of the story? See, this is the problem with reading mainstream comics: they go on forever, perpetuating themselves because companies don't want to lose the money coming in from habitual readers.

When the X-Men movie came out in 2000, I really didn't want to see it. It looked like cheap, sub-Matrix garbage. But my girlfriend wanted to go, and after about 20 minutes, I was surprised by how much I was enjoying it (even though Bryan Singer seems pathologically incapable of directing a movie well). Some of the actors--Hugh Jackman, Anna Paquin, Patrick Stewart--were quite good. I admit I thought Ian McKellen would be terrible, but he turned out to be most impressive (I will never doubt him again).

But Singer's movie had problems: it vacillated between a kind of "gee whiz this is neat!" cool comic bookiness and a smug, intellectually superior certainty that an "important" movie about civil rights was being made. It was also very small--Bryan Singer is a director with a very small sense of scope, and since this was supposed to be epic and not a drawing room piece with characters playing chess, the scale was a little disappointing.

Either way, it was a nice movie, even though the audience naturally split. Longtime readers (and I read Uncanny X-Men, for example, from summer 1985 to spring 1996) felt that Hollywood had miraculously made a movie that non-readers could easily follow and enjoy, while non-readers felt that they were missing some of the dynamics and found it harder to follow. Still, it was a mixed success.

X2: X-Men United added a few new characters, really to no purpose. I mean, was there a point to Pyro or Nightcrawler? And that's hard to say, because Nightcrawler has always been my favorite character in the comics. This film was a lot more like the comic book series--too long, with too many stories to follow, and about a dozen endings. And the sacrifice of Jean Grey seemed so arbitrary--it was only there to set up the next film following the Dark Phoenix story. Otherwise, there was no dramatic point to it.

Well, now we've got this situation where Bryan Singer has fucked his fans in their ear by scampering off to make Superman instead of completing his trilogy. And it remains unclear whether half of the characters are going to be back. Surprisingly, even though I (mostly) liked the first two movies, I don't really care what happens to this one. I mean, the only characters who ever have anything to do are Magneto, Wolverine, Rogue, and Professor X. Cyclops is just the professor's office boy, Jean Grey is so boring she doesn't register, and Storm might as well not even be there. There are a lot more interesting villains they could be using--Bolivar Trask and the Sentinels, the Hellfire Club--but they've focused on Juggernaut (also a cool villain, but come on).

The funny thing is, in typical fannish style, the fanboys are desperately begging for even more characters to be added to the films. More? They can't even find character development and arcs for the myriad characters they already have! And why is it always the lamest characters they want in the damn movies?

I blame the X-Men cartoon from the mid-nineties. For me, who came in halfway through the Chris Claremont years, the X-Men team should be: Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, and maybe Rogue. Maybe. That's the classic team, and they lasted a long time. But after Chris Claremont left, the editors foolishly decided to bring back every single character and split the dynamics of it. The cartoon was based on this lame-ass, self-referential, Claremont-light dynamic. And a whole bunch of high schoolers loved it, and now that bullshit is X-Men.

Why do the fans love the Beast? He's just Garfield, making witty observations while doing nothing interesting. Ooh, but he's blue and furry! So was Nightcrawler, who cares? And Archangel? They love him because he's so grim, I suppose. And what is the fucking point of Gambit? A guy from New Orleans who throws cards. And he's all sexy and dangerous, I'm told. This is superhero stuff, not Anne Rice, alright? It just annoys the fuck out of me.

Anyway, this is all a round about way of complaining and getting my laugh at the expense of X-Men fans. They just cast the Beast. And who will be playing this bundle of literate, witty action hero? Kelsey Grammar. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha haha haha hahahahahahahahhahahahhhahahahahahahahahahhahahhah ahahahah ha hahahh ahahah h ahahahahahahahahhahahahahhahahahahahaha!!!!!!

Suck it, comic book nerds! SUCK IT! SUCK IT GOOD!! SUUUUUUUUUUCK IT!!!!!!!

Oh, that felt better than it should have.

I succumb to the power of cute animals. Sorry. I really want to see this movie. Posted by Hello

The Best Thing in Star Wars

May the Force Be With You Posted by Hello

Star Wars Ruminations: Please Be Over

Well, I was going to watch Episode II last night just to make today's post sound thought-out, but the movie is so stuffed with filler and boredom that I can't even bear the thought of watching it again. It's no big secret that it's the worst of the saga, so I'm not even going to bother. I do have a couple of observations to mention, though they're hardly original.

1. Have you ever noticed that you could easily take Episode I and Episode II and consolidate them into one fairly good two-and-a-half-hour movie?

2. If George Lucas wanted to examine Anakin Skywalker's youth, why didn't he do it in a way that the audience could sympathize with? I don't care about him as a kid, and as a whiny teenager he's totally unlikeable. The audience grows impatient because Anakin is held at such an emotional distance for two films that they don't know why it's such a tragedy that he becomes evil. The kid was always a rotten little puke. No wonder Obi-Wan doesn't like him.

3. Okay, why is Lucas interested in telling the history of the Axis powers? The fall of a weak republic led by an ineffectual chancellor who is removed in favor of an ambitious man who is given special powers to make war and controls his subjects with stormtroopers is Nazi Germany in a nutshell, and the idea of the empire establishing itself and killing all the Jedi is basically the end of feudalism in Japan and the reestablishment of empire that led to the slaughter of the samurai.

4. What's interesting to me is that George Lucas seems to be firmly on the side of fascist dictatorship rather than democracy or self-expression. The original trilogy struck a chord with people because it championed youthful rebellion against the established order. This new trilogy, made later, shows a thematic element of warning--don't speak out, because you cannot win. And I know that, chronologically, they take place earlier. But realistically, they're being made now, but a guy who has become the very establishment he used to hate, and now seems to hate the idea that he could be toppled from his position.

5. Just because you can put something in every corner of the frame doesn't really mean that you should. The most distracting element of the prequels turned out to be the special effects of Coruscant. I could never pay attention to anything that was going on because of all the movement going on outside of the windows--it just naturally attracts the eye. As Terry Gilliam said, it's the first movie that takes place completely in the background.

6. Yoda was much better as a puppet. I like that the actors had to look at Yoda, to relate to this puppet as a person, a character, not something they had to make up in their heads. The digital form is as cold as his emotional reasoning has become in the prequels. Also, you don't need to do Artoo Detoo in CG, either. The reason The Lord of the Rings created such a believable world is because Peter Jackson combined real locations, models, puppets, and computers. Too much in Star Wars does not physically exist, and it feels more like a cartoon. Coupled with the lack of emotional depth, it makes for a very boring viewing experience.

7. I still like Jar Jar Binks. Sorry Star Wars geeks, it can't be serious all the time.

8. After two movies of filler, can this please be the last Star Wars for another 16 years?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

I think we're kind of fortunate right now to be living in an age of decent comedy. There's a sort of crowd that's come up off of great television like Mr. Show, NewsRadio, and The Kids in the Hall, and that sensibility has glommed onto funnier people coming off of SNL like Tina Fey and Will Ferrell. Mix that with a little Ben Stiller (a little goes a very long way), some of The Daily Show, and guys like Vince Vaughn, the Wilson brothers, and some of that teen gross-out stuff (and throw in Jack Black anywhere you can). It's surprising how much I like this new breed of comedy, way more than that gross-out comedy thing that was inexplicably popular in the nineties. I really enjoy it. Anyway, Starsky & Hutch was funny, but not as genius as Anchorman or as all-out hilarious as Euro Trip. I've never actually seen the original show, so except for a couple I didn't really get any in-jokes (if there were more than a couple). Snoop Dogg made the whole movie for me. A fun way to spend an evening. *** stars.

One of those great Richard Schickel documentaries about filmmakers. After last year's excellent Woody Allen: A Life in Film, this one was a little disappointing. Scorsese is probably the only person left from his generation--possible exception: Sidney Lumet--who I'm not tired of hearing talk about his work (yeah, the shark never worked on Jaws, you're a genius, Spielberg, now shut the fuck up). Scorsese is always fascinating, always sincere, not so caught up in the auteur bullshit. But the disappointment here came from the fact that to fit a shorter amount of time, they skipped another his films. They stuck with the big, key movies--Who's That Knocking At My Door?, Mean Streets, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, The Last Temptation of Christ, GoodFellas, Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, Kundun, Gangs of New York, and The Aviator. They also threw in some stuff about Italianamerican. And this was all well and good and perfectly fine, but they skipped Boxcar Bertha, New York New York, The Last Waltz, After Hours, The Color of Money, Casino, and Bringing Out the Dead. I think it would have been at least as interesting, if not more, to hear about his "lesser" films, about why he feels they may have failed, and what drew him to those projects in the first place. You can learn a lot about an artist from why they were motivated to do projects that are less well-respected. Otherwise, it was nice. Shickel's documentaries are never less than interesting. ***1/2 stars.

School's over, summer's here, and it's time to get on the boat, take of for uncharted waters, and just relax with some rum, pot, and Chuck Berry records while we fish, sleep, and relax. Man, do I wish... Posted by Hello

Star Wars Ruminations: Episode I

After a 16-year wait, during which time many of my fellow skeptics were happy to give up on the idea of a prequel trilogy and enjoy what we had, there came the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. This new film was much maligned, but for reasons that were often unclear to me. The popular line now seems to be to hate anything that’s new and especially if its something children will enjoy, and most people I talked to were never really able to explain clearly to me why they hated the movie. I, for one, quite enjoyed it. And more importantly, it made sense to me.

Two storylines occupy us this time around: the first involves the wise Jedi knight Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi, finding the boy Anakin Skywalker, who will go on to become Darth Vader. The other storyline, less obvious at first, involves Palpatine, a senator from the planet Naboo, secretly taking control of the Senate to support his rise to power as the Emperor. This is a darker trilogy, one that chronicles the rise of two of the galaxy’s greatest evils; and one that is much more fun to watch if you already know the outcome of the story by having seen episodes IV-VI. Somehow, this installment actually makes more sense than the more fun, though less thoughtful, films that preceded it.

I. Interplanetary Commerce
Episode I opens with a word crawl informing us that the planet Naboo is involved with a Trade Federation of the Galactic Republic in a dispute over the taxation of trade routes. But this will not be the main part of the story; this is the device that sets the action in motion. Perfectly okay with me; after all, the Trojan War began the same way, and beautiful Helen was only the excuse the Achaeans used to take Troy and its position of sea power. I’m also satisfied to see that the Republic runs on some sort of commerce. Not only that, but the Trade Federation, run by a race called the Nemoidians, is within its legal rights to blockade a planet until the dispute is dissolved.

Naboo itself is ruled by a 14 year-old queen named Amidala, whom we know will become the mother of Luke and Leia. Though ruled by royalty, Naboo is a part of the Republic, represented by Palpatine in the Senate. The exact details with the Trade Federation are dim at best, but this world is only important because it is the world where not only Amidala (and Artoo Detoo) come from, but also where Palpatine comes from, and the one he can use to reach his goal.

II. Conspiracy and Corruption
The Trade Federation is at the center of a conspiracy orchestrated by Palpatine himself. He will, of course, one day make himself Emperor, but as we meet him here he is trying to assert control over the Senate. Rather than overtly seize power, Palpatine uses the Trade Federation, in the guise of Darth Sidious, to blockade Naboo. By doing so, he creates a groundswell of support for Naboo in the Senate, one that will force the ineffective Chancellor Vallorum to be removed from office, preferably to be replaced with Palpatine. He hides his ambitions well, and tries to have Queen Amidala killed; she will be of good use as a martyr.

Though Amidala thwarts him and makes her way to Naboo with the help of the Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, even evading his servant Darth Maul on Tattooine, he quickly uses it to his advantage by complaining to the queen about the bureaucrats who bend the ear of the chancellor. By overplaying Vallorum’s lack of decisiveness, he maneuvers her into calling for a vote of no confidence in the chancellor and having him removed from office; Palpatine is voted his replacement.

This is the real focus of Episode I, and the rest is about putting Anakin Skywalker in the right place at the right time. Palpatine shows himself to be a very cunning and effective politician, and shows how easily he can cut through the correct avenues to put himself in power. To date this is the most political thinking Lucas has shown in Star Wars.

But the use of Darth Maul troubles me a little; though he provides distraction for Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan in the hopes of martyring Amidala, why expose the motives or existence of the Sith so early? Sure, Palpatine will gain the sympathy of the Jedi if they die in the defense of Naboo, but it seems risky to me.

One other interesting aspect is the idea that Sith Lords do not use their own names. As Anakin Skywalker was Darth Vader, here Palpatine is Darth Sidious. Of course, Palpatine couldn’t reveal his true identity for fear of being found out, but it at least goes towards proving that "Darth" is a title, not a name. The name Sidious is a rather uncreative play on the word "insidious." Lucas loves to use adjectives as names...

III. The Jedi and Their Messiah
George Lucas seems to have read Dune again recently. On this sand world, a future messiah is also born, only to become a podracing slave. But this birth is parthenogenesis; Anakin has no father. Speaking to the boy’s mother, Shmi, Qui-Gon asks the identity of Annakin’s father, only to be answered with, "There was no father. I carried him, I gave birth to him, I raised him; I can’t explain how."

Well, the explanation is a rather convoluted and distasteful one. It seems that not just anyone can hear the Force; only people with a high midichlorian count in their blood. Midichlorians, apparently, are a symbiotic, possibly sentient gene in the bloodstream, and the higher the count, the easier it is to use hear the Force and act with it. Anakin, we are told, has the highest count of any Jedi who ever lived. Higher than Yoda, even. So high that Qui-Gon suspects that the midichlorians themselves conceived the boy. The master Jedi describes Anakin as a vergence, something in the process of becoming something else.

Yoda, head of the Jedi Council, and Mace Windu, who acts as some sort of second (an archbishop to the Jedi pope, I guess), are informed that Qui-Gon believes the boy to be foretold by a prophecy (frustratingly unmentioned to us in the film). Anakin may be the one to bring balance to the Force. A messiah, I guess. And not just any, but one of incredibly pure blood--thanks to Lucas’s midichlorians, the Jedi have become less like highly trained samurai, and more like a master race. Born with a natural genetic enhancement, the pure Jedi are even held above the Republic itself. A chilling testament, or a colossal lapse of taste? Apparently, it's a lot less zen than we thought--not just anyone can use the Force (which was a hopeful, optimistic idea), but only those with a genetic predisposition. Thanks for nothing.

The Jedi Council shows a very warped sense of judgment when they refuse to entertain the idea that the boy is the Chosen One. First off, Anakin is too old to train (at 9--as if Luke is a better candidate at 20). The Council seems to resent the fact that Anakin was born a poor slave on an outer rim planet, and that they couldn’t pick him up through their own Force sensitivity.

Secondly, the boy is afraid, and that makes him dangerous. This makes no sense at all to me. Any nine-year-old, away from his mother for the first time and just becoming aware of how vast the galaxy is, would understandably be afraid. According to Yoda, the perfectly natural fear of a child will lead to anger, and then to hate, and then to suffering. Besides the fact that this only makes sense on a basic level of immature reasoning, Yoda’s argument is flawed. What’s the alternative? To send Anakin out into the world with incredible powers (potentially the most powerful Jedi ever) that he does not understand and cannot control? Won’t this lead to confusion, frustration, anger, etc? Possibly to become a creature of the Dark Side out of a natural, lingering resentment. Why is the Jedi Council so high-handed and hard-assed with everything.

Yoda and Mace Windu also show their arrogance and unreason when Qui-Gon informs them of his earlier encounter with Darth Maul on Tattooine. Qui-Gon is sure that he was a Sith Lord, and that the Council should investigate the return, after a millennia, of this ancient and evil order. Their response? They do not believe that the Sith could have returned without having detected it. Well, look at the empirical evidence: what other Force-using, lightsaber-wielding, Jedi-killing beings do you know?

Not only do the Jedi not practice compassion and tolerance, they show bad judgment, arrogance, and an unwillingness to accept ideas that they do not originate. Yoda seems offended that anyone would question him, and Mace Windu acts as though it is an inconvenience to even see the boy. The entire system is flawed with unreason, but who has the power to argue with the master race?

In the end, perhaps out of respect for Qui-Gon’s dying wish, Obi-Wan agrees to train Anakin. Yoda, bestowing the rank of Jedi Knight on Obi-Wan, begrudgingly agrees, warning: "Grave danger I fear in his training." So, why not help Obi-Wan by taking an active role in the boy’s training, rather than just fobbing it off on some kid who just graduated from Jedi school?

One other note; Obi-Wan kills Darth Maul in a way that can easily be described as hateful and angry, and purely out of revenge for his murdered master. Does he then become evil? No. Sometimes, vengeance is okay.

IV. Other Points of Science
Much has been made of the force field used by the Gungans during the battle of Naboo. Why can the battle droids pass through the field physically, while it blocks their blaster fire? It’s an energy shield. It appears designed to keep out energy of certain frequencies, not physical objects. The battle droids might as well use rocks.

This is the same time of principle a cell phone works on, or any kind of bandwidth or radio device. You can block out other frequencies, but you can also walk through it, or take it behind a building or indoors. The domes of Gunga City, which an object can pass through but not water, are less prone to explanation, but these are fantasy movies, right?

Another energy field called into question occurs in the bowels of the palace, as Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul are separated by sudden bursts of energy that seem to connect power transformers together for short periods of time. This appears to be the power source of the palace, if not the entire city. This is actually a rare moment of science: it’s basically an alternating current. Whatever kind of battery, or nuclear fission, or power coil is providing energy to the palace, it only seems to require short bursts of energy rather than a direct flow of power. This is most likely a way of keeping the system from shorting out or overheating, or possibly distributing power to separate areas. In this one, some of the science makes sense. The funny part is that this seems to be a segment of fanboy contention: "What is all that pink stuff?" They should be asking completely different questions.

Still, the old climatic questions linger. How can these planets support worldwide climate conditions? Yes, I know we only see one part of a large planet, but we are informed, for example, that Tattooine (a landscape I’m becoming quite bored with) is one large desert. Each planet has one characteristic, and on Naboo, it’s swamp and forest. With the advance of digital effects, George Lucas is able to give the planet a much more realistic biota than we have ever seen before in Star Wars, including the Gungans themselves, a semi-intelligent race of amphibious bipeds that look like a cross between frogs and hadrosaurs.

Another question about Naboo: how can Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan travel through the core of the plant and come out on the other side? This negates everything we know about the construction of planets, which contain ultra-hot, gaseous cores. And, actually, I have another one: what are the ruins of giant statues we see on the battlefield plains? They give this world a realistic, ancient feel, and are an interesting placement; they resemble some of the early Hindu and Vedic temples in the Indus Valley and Sri Lanka. More about this, please.

I still don’t buy Tattooine as a plausible environment. As Qui-Gon walks through a city, he describes it as being inhabited by aliens, moisture farmers, and a few indigenous tribes (I assume he means Sand People). My questions are the same. Why did people go there in the first place? Why did people choose to settle a world where moisture has to be farmed out of the ground? How can life be indigenous to a world where nothing grows? Without plants, how can a breathable atmosphere even exist?

Coruscant is a world where the entire planet is made up of one city, presumably very ancient. It is the one place where any form of news dissemination seems to exist, as evidenced by floating camera devices in the Senate chamber. I would love to know what kind of power everything runs on; combustible fossil fuel engines would create a layer of pollution so thick, as practiced on this level, that would choke all life on the planet.

As for the battle droids, it makes economical sense to mass produce them and program them all from one remote central processing unit, but they are so flimsy and stupid that one wonders why Lucas even bothered with them.

V. A Quick Bit on Aliens and Racism
The Gungan character Jar Jar Binks drew quite a firestorm, both from depressed fanboys who always seem to hate humor of any kind (the movies are made for kids, people), and people who thought he was a racial stereotype of blacks. Honestly, I don’t see it, and I think a society that constantly cries racism is oversensitive and, frankly, sick. I don’t see racism inherent in any of George Lucas’s work. Jar Jar Binks, like all of Star Wars, is simply an amalgam of many things the filmmaker has seen.

Though some were reminded of Stepin Fetchit, others an exaggerated Jamaican, and some even of the silly Southern hillbillies rampant in American 70s movies (making a huge comeback these days), the most obvious influence is Walt Disney’s Goofy. Like Goofy, he wears overalls and a vest, has a large snout, and long, floppy ears. He’s clumsy, he’s none too bright, and he’s a disruption on the narrative. As a special effect, he’s a glorious achievement, but he didn’t need to be in the background of every scene knocking something over.

Jar Jar’s voice was also a point of contention. What sounds like Roger Rabbit to me sounds like stereotypical Uncle Remus speech to others. Lucas needs to decide whether the accent is a linguistic form of the galaxy’s common speech, or just the inability to speak it. If so, what does the Gungan language sound like?

That name--Gungan--should also tell you something about the origins of the character. Lucas, a professed George Stevens fan, has put in something of Gunga Din, the character from the 1939 film adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling poem Gunga Din. Din was a foolish, clumsy, but patriotic native of Colonial India, who helped save three members of the British army who had stumbled onto a nest of Thuggees. And, simply, if you remove the letters "d" and "i," you're left with "Gunga--n." Yeah, it's not exactly an art here, folks.

The last influence is the greatest of silent film comedians, Buster Keaton. Some of the things Jar Jar does in the battle against the Federation droids are shot-for-shot out of the classic stunt comedies College (1928) and The General (1926).

Ahmed Best, a black performer with the group Stomp, played Jar Jar Binks, and he also denies any charges of racism. This has been used as a shield by some, saying that Jar Jar cannot be considered racist because a black actor played the character (as if Stepin Fetchit weren’t himself black). I think the argument is moot, and says a lot more about the people who need to see this kind of thing to have something to get indignant about.

The Nemoidians (Leonard Nimoy fathered an alien race?) can also be seen as Orientals. Lucas has been obviously influenced by Oriental culture, or at least Oriental movies, in the Star Wars saga. The Jedi (if not a Japanese word, then it sounds like one) are samurai, even teaching in the same manner. Names such as Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Yoda, are Japanese. The Nemoidians are tall, green creatures who remind me of Fu Manchu, and have thick accents. Are they racist depictions? I don’t think so; more like a lack of creativity than a conscious statement about another culture (though Kevin Smith pointed out that they could easily represent fears about our current trade relations with the Chinese), and one that has influenced him so much – elements of Kurosawa’s 1958 film The Hidden Fortress are rampant throughout all five movies, and Qui-Gon Jinn shares a lot of characteristics with Musashi Miyamoto. Lucas even wanted Toshiro Mifune to play Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1977.

The last "racist" alien is Watto, the owner of Anakin and a Toydarian (ouch, that's not too obvious--what's next, a "Tellyourfolkstobuymedian"?). A short, winged creature with a thick beard, he speaks in a thick accent in what some consider a Middle Eastern or Jewish accent (though no one seems to be able to pick an exact region). This last one may be reaching too far; Watto seems more like a parody of a junkyard owner or a used car dealer.

Damned if you do, damned it you don’t. Aliens speaking with thick accents in a language not their own is very realistic. But Lucas seems to have been plagued by a lack of imagination here, and paid the price in negative publicity. Of course, if everyone had spoken like a white guy, they’d be upset that Lucas wasn’t portraying linguistic diversity.

VI. Other Nagging Questions
Where do human beings begin in this galaxy? My theory is that human life began on Coruscant, and eventually spread out. The interrelation of technology seems to show a common ancestry on the part of human beings. Coruscant, as a planet-wide city, would suggest that humans built their world completely, then ventured into the stars while continuing to make improvements on their home planet. Notice the Naboo fighter ships; like the Rebellion’s X-Wing and Y-Wing fighters, they use an astromech droid (like Artoo Detoo) as an essential component. I think the Republic only evolved like the United Federation of Planets in Star Trek--a result of interplanetary travel, rather than a cause of it.

And finally, as I keep asking the walls, why does Darth Vader overlook Tattooine in Episode IV? Why would he not remember it, or not care? How is it a good place to hide his son? And why, in Episode V, does he not recognize See Threepio as the droid he built as a child? For the most powerful Jedi who ever lived, you would expect a lot more (like the ability to recognize his own daughter).

To sum it up, Episode I satisfies a lot of small questions I had about the film’s universe. It doesn’t take a huge explanation; sometimes a simple throwaway shot will do. For example, in the background on Tattooine there is a man in a space suit with a closed helmet on. This says to me that, indeed, not everyone breathes the same air. Good enough.

Unfortunately, the film is marred by the horrible idea of a messiah and a master race (and worse, these are intertwined). I can only hope that Episode III will start to unravel the mysterious prophecy, and do away with the arrogant cowardice of the Jedi.