Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Bible Summarized by a Smartass, Part Four: Exodus 20-40

When we last left the Israelites, God was getting ready to make his laws. Settle in, this could take a while.

Chapter Twenty
Moses receives the new laws of the God of Israel:
1. Don’t worship anything over me, I’m a jealous egomaniac
2. No worshiping idols, because I’ll punish you for shit your parents did.
3. Use my name as a swear word and you’re damned, you ingrate.
4. Take Sundays off.
5. Honor your parents and keep their silly, outdated traditions no matter how the social order changes over time.
6. Don’t kill anyone, even though Moses has and I’ve done it thousands upon thousands of times over.
7. Don’t cheat on your husbands. Or wives, I guess.
8. Don’t steal.
9. Don’t lie.
10. Don’t lust for anything that belongs to anyone else.

Moses’s addendum: Don’t worry, God only wants to test you and make sure you’re pants-shittingly afraid of him. He just wants to say he only requires and altar, sacrifice, and undying allegiance. Just do whatever he says and he won’t kill us. I’m sure it’ll be smooth sailing from here on out.

Chapter Twenty-One
Oh, wait, here’s some more laws:
11. There’s a term limit on Hebrew slaves, unless they’re married. Then you own the family.
12. Don’t treat girl slaves like they’re as capable as boy slaves, and don’t sell them to foreigners.
13. Murderers will be executed; if it was manslaughter, banishment.
14. Hit your mother or father? EXECUTION!
15. Kidnapper? EXECUTION!
16. If you cripple someone, you have to pay them for lost time.
17. Slaves are property and all, but if you kill one, your ass is grass.
18. If you cause a woman to miscarry, there’s a steep fine. Oh, and life for life, tooth for tooth, Hammurabi, Hammurabi, Hammurabi, etc.
19. Slaves: don’t like slavery? Just get your master to accidentally knock out a tooth or an eye and, voila, instant freedom.
20-22. Lame laws concerning oxen that no one cares about (or at least has yet to interpret as another fucking way in which God condones people being cruel or cheating each other).

Chapter Twenty-Two
Pause for breath, and:
23. You have to pay for the animals you steal. If you can’t, it’s a-slavery you go.
24. You can beat intruders to death with no fault, but only at night.
25. Don’t let your livestock graze in someone else’s field.
26. If a fire gets out of control, it’s the responsibility of whoever started it.
27. If you’re holding on to someone’s stuff and it gets stolen, you’re liable.
28. God decides in cases of disputed ownership (try telling that to the People’s Court).
29. Something complicated about selling animals.
30. Something complicated about borrowing animals. Huh?
31. If a man deflowers a virgin, he has to marry her.
32. Kill all the witches. Chicks only.
33. No fucking animals. You fuck an animal? Oh, you’d better believe that’s EXECUTION!
34. I will personally destroy anyone who worships another God.
35. Be nice to foreigners. And to widows and orphans, because I favor them, and if they tell me something’s wrong for even a moment, you’re dead men.
36. Don’t charge interest on a loan to another Israelite. Or you know what? I’ll kill you. That is not an empty threat, so don’t test me.
37. Follow authority, especially mine. If insult me I’ll make you so sorry.
38. Don’t you dare forget my offering.
39. All the firstborn? Mine.
40. Don’t eat any animals killed by wolves or lions. You’re my peeps, make me look good.

Chapter Twenty-Three
41. Don’t lie. Try to show good judgment. Don’t go with the crowd just because it’s easier and you want to fit in, because someone innocent might die, and then it’s on the head of the crowd. Seriously.
42. If you find your enemy’s stuff, give it back.
43. If you see an animal being overworked, set it free.
44. Don’t pervert justice, make a false charge, execute someone you know is innocent, or take bribes.
45. You were foreigners in Egypt, so be compassionate and don’t subjugate other foreigners.
46. Something complicated about agricultural cycles.
47. Keep the Sabbath holy (Paranoid rawks!), and remember, no other gods or I will fucking smite you.
48. Keep the Passover celebration: no leavened bread at Passover.
49. Don’t you dare ever fucking come to me empty-handed.
50. Celebrate the harvest and give me my offerings.
51. I said no leavened bread!
52. Don’t skimp on the quality of offerings. I get the best stuff.
53. Don’t boil a goat that’s too young.
54. I’m going to send you an angel to lead you to the Land of Milk and Honey. Do what he says and I promise I will smite all of those foreigners I just told you to be nice to.
55. I am going to motherfucking murder every single person living in the land I told Abraham would be yours. If I miss anyone, kill them all or banish them, because there is the slight chance of you praying to Baal or something, and I can’t take that.

Chapter Twenty-Four
God decides that Moses can bring up Aaron, his sons, and 70 elders to worship at his feet. The elders notice that God walks on sapphires, throwing his bling around, because he’s just too fucking holy to touch the ground. Moses reads the laws to the Israelites, who promise to follow the law and are blessed with blood. Moses goes back up to the top of the mountain with God, and no one sees him for forty days.

Chapter Twenty-Five
God gives Moses very specific instructions for a sanctuary, altar, and ark.

Chapter Twenty-Six
Further incredibly fucking detailed instructions for the sanctuary. Make your own, kids!

Chapter Twenty-Seven
Even more instructions. The sanctuary is to have an oil lamp that burns always.

Chapter Twenty-Eight
God appoints Aaron the high priest of Israel. God describes the vestments he is to have in specific. Very specific. Make your own!

Chapter Twenty-Nine
God gives pedantically specific details about the consecration ritual for Aaron as priest. And make no mistake, this stuff is all like a list, not at all like the poetry of a Homer or an Ovid.

Chapter Thirty
God commands that Aaron shall burn incense in the sanctuary. Then he tells Moses to take a census of the Israelites (and charge them for the privilege), and gives him details as to the anointing process.

Chapter Thirty-One
God lectures on the importance of the Sabbath and that Ronnie James Dio was actually a pretty damn good frontman. Or something. God also gives Moses two stone tablets containing the law and written in his own hand.

Chapter Thirty-Two
Those ever-constant Israelites figure Moses must never be coming back, so Aaron builds them a golden calf and they start worshiping it (complete with sacrifices and a wild party). God gets super-pissed and starts talking about killing everyone again, but Moses talks him down. Taking the tablets down to his people, things look different up close. Moses gets so pissed he hurls the tablets at his people and screams at them. He chastises Aaron for not keeping control, and then commands the Levites to slaughter “about” 3000 Israelites as an object lesson. Properly sobered, the Israelites ask Moses to convey their apology to God. God says that everyone who worshiped the calf is dead to him. Literally. Struck out of God’s book. For good measure, God sends a plague.

Chapter Thirty-Three
God begins telling Moses about the nation, the descendents, etc, and tells the Israelites the land of Milk and Honey is theirs…as long as they’re willing to kill everyone who already lives there. God’s not going to do it personally because he’s still all pissy over the golden calf. Moses begs him to reconsider, so God agrees as long as no one looks at his face. He wants them to look at his ass instead. Or his “back parts,” same thing.

Chapter Thirty-Four
God gives Moses replacements for the tablets he broke when throwing them at his people in a rage. God offers up some more beautiful words: I’m going to help you kill everyone who gets in your way. We’re going to slaughter them or drive them from their homes. Don’t show them any mercy. Erase them and their gods from existence. That’ll teach them not to worship me. Then God boils the laws down to the Ten Commandments. These are the ones that the Bible actually refers to by the name “Ten Commandments.” And I think we can all agree that these need to be posted outside the courthouse:
1. I’m going to kill everyone who’s not an Israelite so that you can own the Holy Land.
2. Show them no mercy, because they’re different.
3. No more idols, or I’ll kill you and make the lives of your kids hell.
4. Keep Passover.
5. Sacrifice your firstborn to me (use a lamb if you’re squeamish).
6. Don’t you ever dare come to me empty-handed, you ingrates.
7. Keep the Sabbath a holy day.
8. No leavened bread at Passover.
9. The first part of the harvest is mine.
10. Don’t eat a goat that’s still a baby, that’s just gruesome.
Those are the Ten Commandments and the Ten Commandments are they. Moses starts to freak people out with his weird face, like Michael Jackson. Having spent so much time in the company of the Lord, his face is starting to glow. He begins to wear a veil, like Michael Jackson.

Chapter Thirty-Five
Moses tells the Israelites about Aaron’s priesthood and the sanctuary and the ark.

Chapter Thirty-Six
The sanctuary is built in detail…

Chapter Thirty-Seven
…and so is the Ark of the Covenant. In detail.

Chapter Thirty-Eight
More of the same, but poorly written. I begin to question the wisdom of this whole operation. Maybe the Bible isn’t meant to be read; maybe it’s just meant to be misinterpreted from half-remembered Sunday School lessons, like the neo-cons want us to believe.

Chapter Thirty-Nine
39th verse, same as the 37th. Plus Aaron is vested in ceremony.

Chapter Forty
God tells Moses what to do with all of this stuff, which is basically to use it as an elaborate barometer. When God’s in the sanctuary (in the form of a storm cloud), it’s time to move on and conquer somebody. If God’s not in there and it’s all sunny, just relax and go about your business. So, basically, if the sanctuary’s yellow, the Israelites can mellow; but if it’s brown, time to leave town. Hey, I just basically referred to the holy sanctuary as God’s toilet. Some fundamentalist is gonna kill me…

Next week: Leviticus! Just saying the name fills me with tingling...hopefully of a heart attack so I don't have to read any more of the Bible!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Throwdown 10/20

15 random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. Giorgio Armani is designing Katie Holmes’s wedding gown. What a waste. That’s like if Shakespeare had written it as a play and then had it performed with a cast of children. The picture is just so we can remember and mourn: Katie used to be quite lovely before Tom Cruise ruined her.

2. Guillermo del Toro directed Hellboy and the upcoming (and very cool-looking) Pan’s Labyrinth, is readying Hellboy 2, and is now talking about adapting H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. How do I get this man to adopt me? Hell, I look just like him.

3. New entry on the “Things Mankind Does Not Need” list: Naomi Watts starring in a Michael Bay-produced remake of The Birds.

4. Gina Lollobrigida, now 79 years old, is going to marry a Spanish man 34 years her junior. Apparently, they’ve been together for 22 years, but the time was never right to get married. Okay… Hell, La Lollo, if you wanted to marry a much younger man, you could have called. You know I always take your phone calls.

5. Lucy Clarkson has a message for Jodie Marsh and Jordan. Man, I can’t wait to see how Jordan responds.

6. I love that Matthew McConaughey laughs off rumors of his bro-mance with Lance Armstrong in Details, and then go on to talk about how great Lance is and how much fun he is and how Lance loves life and is “truly carefree.” Mac? Closets are for hangers, not hang-ups.

7. Wow, Kate Hudson sure has bounced back nicely from that eating disorder or whatever the hell it was. She has her mother’s beautiful ass again.

8. Tara Reid’s been out talking about her botched plastic surgery in the last couple of years. I have to say that nine times out of ten I think plastic surgery is a bad idea; not just because I don’t think it gives most women the self-confidence they’re trying to gain, but also because it’s so easy now to get a license that there’s not a whole lot of quality work being done (look at Ashlee Simpson—or, better yet, don’t). After enduring rather a lot of public ridicule over what’s happened to her body these days, I think it shows a lot of character and confidence of Tara to be able to say she made a mistake and to be willing to talk about it. I still love ya, Tara. Now, if you give me your breasts I’ll kiss them and make them all better.

9. Jessica Simpson is doing her own publicity work now, after parting with her publicist. My advice? Think critically about what your father tells you to do.

10. For the moment, I am totally in love with Diora Baird, especially in today’s “I’m afraid if I take my clothes off it doesn’t make me a real actress” environment (it never hurt Kate Winslet’s career, you bimbos). But I think it’s hilarious that the UK Esquire had her on their cover in May with the headline “Remember, you saw her here first.” That’s kind of hilarious, considering I first saw her in Playboy…in August 2005.

11. And women are competing to win this guy on a TV show? Wow. No offense, but, women must be incredibly stupid.

12. I wouldn’t have thought so, but am I the only one who thinks it’s damn cool that Scarlett Johansson’s going to record an album? What I’ve always liked about Scarlett Johansson is that she’s one of the best actresses working today, but doesn’t seem to be overly interested in being cool or popular or commercial (unlike a lot of actresses her age, which is why she gets interesting roles to play). She’s doing a cover album of Tom Waits songs, and everyone is all up in arms about it for reasons I don’t quite understand. It’s not like she’s one of the other girls who feels like it’s cool to do a pop album because she’s got nothing better to do. She can actually sing (here’s a site that links to a post of ScarJo’s version of Gershwin’s “Summertime” from the Unexpected Dreams album), and I don’t think she’s going to be doing shitty pop covers of Waits. Scarlett Sings Tom Waits. I am so there.

13. Bindi Irwin, Steve Irwin’s eight-year-old daughter, is going ahead with her plans to finish her own TV show, Bindi the Jungle Girl. Her father died while filming scenes for the series. I think it’s pretty amazing that Bindi really wants to go on and follow in her father’s footsteps of teaching people about how to live in concert with nature. She comported herself so well during Steve’s death and funeral, and now she’s acting more professional than most girls who…aw, screw it, I’m talking about Lindsay Lohan. How does that feel, Linz? Eight year old girl and she’s already the professional you’ll never be.

14. You know what this is? A cloaking device. Seriously, read up.

15. CBGB’s is no more. The legendary rock club closed on Sunday following a performance by Patti Smith (on Saturday Debbie Harry and Chris Stein performed). Yet another place that’s important to me spiritually that I’ll never see. It’s going to re-open in Vegas in 2008, but come on, it’s not going to be the same. It’s going to be in Vegas. Still, I’m really sad to see the place close down. I’ve never been to New York City, but I feel like it’s lost most of the character it’s famous for. An era of rock and roll is now truly dead.

SO LONG, MARIANNE by Leonard Cohen

Come over to the window, my little darling,
I'd like to try to read your palm.
I used to think I was some kind of
Gypsy boy before I let you take me home.

Now so long, Marianne, it's time that we began
To laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.

Well you know that I love to live with you,
But you make me forget so very much.
I forget to pray for the angels and then
The angels forget to pray for us.

Now so long, Marianne,it's time that we began
To laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.

We met when we were almost young
Deep in the green lilac park.
You held on to me like I was a crucifix,
As we went kneeling through the dark.

Oh so long, Marianne, it's time that we began
To laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.

Your letters, they all say that you're beside me now.
Then why do I feel alone?
I'm standing on a ledge and your fine spider web
Is fastening my ankle to a stone.

Now so long, Marianne, it's time that we began
To laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.

...For now I need your hidden love.
I'm cold as a new razor blade.
You left when I told you I was curious,
I never said that I was brave.

Oh so long, Marianne, it's time that we began
To laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.

Oh, you are really such a pretty one.
I see you've gone and changed your name again;
And just when I climbed this whole mountainside,
To wash my eyelids in the rain!

Oh so long, Marianne, it's time that we began
To laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

God, That's...Not Good

Tim Burton is in preproduction on the film version of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. I love Sondheim, but I have to admit that it's hard to work up any enthusiasm over this project. Tim Burton's work has been slipping ever since his awful Planet of the Apes remake, and I'm not sure I'm looking forward to seeing Todd handled with the same overly-slick approach he brought to Big Fish or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And while on the one hand it's pretty cool that Johnny Depp is starring in the film, on the other hand I'm not sure he can actually sing the role. I hate, hate, hate it when actors are dubbed in musicals; what's the point of casting them if they aren't going to sing? Even if they sing as terribly as Ewan McGregor. Hell, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison couldn't sing, that never stopped them. Their rough, unmusical voices had personality behind them.

The news that really broke me on Sweeney Todd was the casting of Mrs. Lovett. Though it's hard to imagine anyone other than Angela Lansbury in the role (at least for me), I actually allowed myself to get excited about the news that they were considering Cyndi Lauper for the role. Just think, for a moment, how brilliantly Cyndi Lauper would shine in that role. Did you know she's got a four-octave vocal range? Sweeney Todd would be stunningly perfect for her. A great musical, a great role, sung by a great singer. Cyndi Lauper, so unfairly outshined by the much more bland Madonna through the years, would be an absolute triumph in that role.

And then it was announced the role would be given to Tim Burton's bitch. Excuse me, I mean to Helena Bonham Carter, the woman who ruined Kenneth Branagh's marriage. Alright, alright, I'll stop. I just think it's a little pointless to announce that you've considered a lot of fantastic actresses (including Annette Bening and Emma Thompson), and then just give it to the director's girl. And especially to Helena Bonham Carter, who used to be so good and then just...well, stopped being good. I think the last movie I liked her in was The Wings of the Dove, but for the most part it's been slow going ever since Frankenstein. And I guess I liked her in Merlin, too, but still, she's totally wrong to play Mrs. Lovett.

So what we have now is a great musical that, with Tim Burton, Helena Bonham Carter, and Johnny Depp behind it, is starting to feel more and more pedestrian. And if that weren't enough, it's being made by DreamWorks, the most consistently bad studio in Hollywood. John Logan, writer of The Time Machine, one of the worst films I've ever seen, is writing the script. Hey, wasn't The Time Machine also DreamWorks?

Yeah, I'm not feeling this one. Sadly, this is going to be as bad as Joel Schumacher's Phantom of the Opera.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Film Week

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

I can’t believe I’ve gone this long without seeing Ralph Bakshi’s American Pop, because it’s his masterpiece. I’ve never heard much about this film (and Bakshi’s been unfairly maligned and unjustly forgotten in the past), but oh, man, is it something. It tells the story of an American family through four generations; every son tries not to make the mistakes of his father in his quest for musical greatness, but every son falls into the same trap, getting a little closer each time. It’s more than that, though; it’s also the story of American music. Bakshi makes an interesting decision in using actual songs for his fictional songwriters, using them to paint a portrait of the development of twentieth century America. From the film’s beginning of immigrants and the music of prayer to its final, glorious outpouring of New Wave rock in an arena, Bakshi uses music as not only the expression of a new and wonderfully mixed culture, but also as the very lifeblood and driving force of the nation itself. It’s a beautiful dream and a beautiful film. **** stars. If music ain't what drives our souls, I don't wanna live here.

Crap I watched on Lifetime because it had Hayden Panetierre in it. Joely Richardson pretends she’s Laura Dern for two hours. * star. I know I say this so much it’s lost all meaning, but even for a Lifetime movie it’s bad.

FOXES (1980)
Adrian Lyne directed this so-so movie about a teenaged Jodie Foster and her friends trying to grow up in the Hollywood suburbs. It’s alright for a while, and Cherie Currie (from the Runaways) plays a big role in the movie, but it all descends into an over-the-top Afterschool Special in the end. *1/2 stars.

I saw this because Mark Waters directed Mean Girls and Freaky Friday, and those were pretty good. But the fact is, I hate Reese Witherspoon, I hate John Heder so much I want to beat him to death with his own arm, and this movie just plain sucks. The ending is just far too predictable, and the covers of classic songs by Iggy Pop and the Cure are just weak and ridiculous, like this movie. *1/2 stars, I guess.

Seven Wonders of the World

For people who love ranking everything in life, there’s a vote going on to pick the “new” Seven Wonders of the World. Apparently UNESCO decided that we need a new list, because of the original Seven Wonders, only one still exists: the Great Pyramid of Giza. The others were the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Olympian Zeus, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria. As happens in history, time and tide have erased the other six from existence. UNESCO seems to think that the Seven Wonders of the World should be at least visible wonders. The works of artists and engineers of ancient Babylon, Greece, and Rome aren’t good enough to be wonders anymore if they can’t even last a lousy 4000 years. Time to destroy yet another living record of history for ethnocentrism, I guess.

UNESCO has put forth a new list of candidates (candidates?) to be listed as wonders. Rather stupidly, they’ve decided that the only criterion is that the wonder in question must have been built before 2000 (which means that the CNN Tower could easily qualify as one of the Wonders of the World). They’ve got it narrowed down to 21 possibilities. Here are the ones I have no problem with:

The Acropolis of Athens, which is at least ancient and wonderful.
The Alhambra of Granada, the beautiful mosque/castle of Moorish Spain
Angkor Wat Temple of Cambodia, the largest temple in the world
Chichen Itza, the Aztec site
The Colosseum
The Easter Island statues
The Great Wall of China
The Hagia Sophia, history’s most beautiful church
Kyomizu Temple in Japan
Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, with its beautiful onion domes
Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas
Petra, the ancient city in modern Jordan
The Taj Mahal
Timbuktu City

Now, certainly these places are all wonderful, historic, and important. I will go as far, though, as saying that the list looks a little purposely multicultural, with just the right amount of Asian sites to offset the Greek and Roman structures. Some of UNESCO’s announcements seem to apologize for the “whiteness” of the original list, even though the earliest known list comes from Antipater of Sidon in the 2nd Century BC, before the center of recorded history had ever heard of the rest of the world, and before many of them existed. And, of course, the voting all seems to be a big appeal to nationalist pride, which is frankly stupid.

There are some candidates for this list that I do have a problem with, however:

Christ the Redeemer (Brazil)
The Eiffel Tower (France)
Neuschwanstein Castle (Germany)
Statue of Liberty (New York)
Sidney Opera House (Australia)

Now, I’m not disputing the beauty or importance of these structures in the least. My problem is that they’re all so recent. Only the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower and Neuschwanstein Castle go back to the nineteenth century. And I think their inclusion on this list gets to the heart of why I think this is all so stupid. Who’s to say that one piece of historical magnificence is more relevant or more important than another? Why do these things need to be ranked in order of greatness? We already rank them, and that’s according to the chronology we’ve given the movement of the world. They’re important historically, and they are wonderful. That should be enough. We should treasure these things, and remember the things that have been lost, things that were once important and are more important now because they tell us about life in the ancient, unremembered, barely recorded past.

Seven is an arbitrary number; we’re talking about history here.

Oh, and I didn’t mention the twenty-first item, the Great Pyramid, which apparently needs to compete to hold its place in history. As if being a grand structure that still survives after nearly 4500 or so years isn’t enough.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Halloween Meme

Something I found floating around out there.

What was the scariest movie you have ever seen?
There are two movies that scared the living shit out of me when I was six years old in 1982. The first was E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Hey, I was six, and there was all of that yelling in the beginning. I was afraid of aliens for years. The other movie was Poltergeist, which I saw on video but was no less scared by. That movie got the fears of a suburban kid exactly right; the old tree outside my bedroom window, clown dolls, the flickering of the television when the broadcast day was over (yes, I barely remember those days).

What was your favorite Hallowe’en costume as a child?I went as Mer-Man from Masters of the Universe one year, and I thought that was pretty cool.
Okay, he’s lame, but if you were under ten in the early eighties, he was awesome. I was excited because that was the first year I wore a real rubber mask over my entire head and not one of those paper masks with an elastic band. I sweated like crazy inside of it, but it was totally worth it. I got creative and wore my green raincoat so that I looked completely green. Very cool.

Given enough money what would be your fantasy Hallowe’en costume?
My darling Katie Price.
Because if you’re going to go hypothetical, you aim for the impossible.

When was the last time you went trick or treating?Probably when I was about 13.

What is your favorite Hallowe’en candy?
Kraft caramels, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Kit Kats. I just couldn’t get enough Kit Kats as a kid. And it shows.

Tell us about a scary nightmare you once had.I tend not to remember them or dwell on them. Instead, here’s a weird thing that happened in my life. When I was in high school, specifically in a study hall around one or so, I suddenly felt a wave of tingling, discomfiting warmth in my nose, as though someone had hit me. It wasn’t painful, just weird. This wave of warmth spread up into my brain, over the entire right side of my face (affecting my vision briefly), and then subsided. I felt like someone had died. When I got home, I announced to my mother: “Someone died. I felt it.” My mom (who has no rational problem believing that the human race was seeded by aliens) told me I was being silly. But that night, my grandmother called and said that her sister, my great aunt, a woman I had never met, had died around one that afternoon. She had fallen and hit her face and died of a brain hemorrhage. Weird but true.

What is your supernatural fear?None. I don’t believe in ghosts.

What is your ‘creepy-crawlie’ fear?Just your average “ants crawling on my brain” fear every mental patient has.

Would you stay overnight in a real Haunted House?Yes. I don’t believe in ghosts.

Are you a traditionalist or a creative carver of you Jack-o-Lantern?I have to get creative, because I suck at everything traditional. I enjoy carving pumpkins, but I like to make them look weird and tortured.

How much do you decorate the house at Hallowe’en?
Well, Becca does the decorating, but I love Halloween decorations. If I could afford to, I’d go all out.

What do you want on your Tombstone?Extra cheese. Just like my sense of humor.

I want to be cremated, but if I were to have a tombstone, I’d want it to bear a quote from Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land: “I will grok and I will grok until the day grokking comes to fullness. Or something like that.”

So, anyway, here’s a picture of me on a Halloween long ago (you can tell by the Dukes of Hazzard tee shirt). This is part of the reason I love Halloween: it reminds me of being a kid.
That kid sure loved Halloween.

Monday, October 16, 2006

TV Report: 30 Rock, Twenty Good Years, Lost

It’s been a couple of weeks since I wrote about my TV viewing. Since then, I’ve dumped the poorly-written and pretentious Heroes and the slick-but-ineffectual Smith. I’ve also decided, after four weeks, that there’s no more room for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip in my life. It’s just too enamored of itself and the points it thinks it’s making to be remotely entertaining. Last week far too much time was given over to the Sam-and-Diane bickering of former lovers Matt (Matthew Perry) and Harriet (Sarah Paulson), especially considering that neither one has yet to become a character. Matt is simply a caricature of creator Aaron Sorkin, and Harriet is Sorkin condescendingly standing up for those oh-so-important small town values (and his weak attempt to deflect criticism that he denigrates religion without an opposing viewpoint, as if everyone has to be fair, especially when talking about mythology). It’s boring watching two actors yell at each other without giving them characters to play.

But what really cinched the decision for me is the completely inept way in which the sketch-show-within-the-show is treated. Besides the lame tension they throw in every episode, as if these guys were preparing for a shuttle launch and not a 90 minute weekly comedy program, the actual sketches we see are just staggeringly unfunny. I’m not fond of Sarah Paulson as an actor anyway, but as a comedienne she just doesn’t cut it. Holly Hunter impressions? Yeah, if this were 1987 I could see how that might be funny. And last week’s segment, with Paulson hosting Meet the Press as Juliette Lewis, was just idiotic. How is that funny? I supposed it might have been mildly amusing 15 years ago when Cape Fear came out, since Paulson was aping all of Lewis’s mannerisms (down to pulling out her retainer) from that movie. But today? Who gives a shit?

The other worst part of Studio 60 is the reverence and awe with which some people were treating it just before it came on. Some of them still are. Everyone I talk to online or in person who has seen the show says, without saying the actual words, this: “Well, it’s Aaron Sorkin, and the critics say Aaron Sorkin is a genius, so I think I’m supposed to like this show, and I think we all owe it to Sorkin to give his baby a chance to grow. If it doesn’t get better in another 21 weeks, I’ll stop watching it. Probably.”

The man who wrote A Few Good Men is a genius? Too bad nobody told the play it was written by a genius, it might have vastly improved things. And while I’m quite fond of The American President, I didn’t necessarily want to see it as a series; and frankly, the few times I watched The West Wing I found it pretty preachy and arrogant, especially on its pointless and self-important 9/11 episode.

So, no more Studio 60 for me.

Now, I like comedy and I’m always fascinated by how it’s put together. I read the book Live from New York with rabid interest, for example. So I decided to give a chance to NBC’s other “behind-the-scenes-of-an-SNL-analogue” series, 30 Rock. The premiere last week was…interesting. It’s created by (and stars) Tina Fey, and it has it’s good points and bad points, so let’s go to those.

The good: As much as I hated her Jimmy Fallon-is-a-comedy-god tenure as co-head writer on SNL, I like Tina Fey. She’s funny and hot, which is a combination I go insane over. (And speaking of hot, Jane Krakowski is always a welcome sight for these eyes.) I’ve always found Tracy Morgan funny, and Alec Baldwin is a great straight man. The supporting cast is very good. The use of NBC in the show makes it feel a little more realistic than Studio 60 (which always seems to self-consciously apologizing for the comparisons it makes). There is a serious lack of funny feminine comedy on TV, and this might be shooting for that. And so far, no Jimmy Fallon (though I worry, because Tina Fey is the only human on Earth who thinks he’s hilarious).

The bad: Tina Fey was an awkward, uncertain performer on SNL who constantly tripped over her half-hearted punchlines; she seems to have carried that over to 30 Rock. Her comedy tends to be more amusing than sharp. Tracy Morgan did what he always does, which is be brash and obnoxious. The references to GM felt forced, corporate-mandated; what was all that shit about the oven with three kinds of heat? It felt like a long oven commercial (this despite the fact that there were two GM oven commercials during the commercial breaks). Man, God forbid someone isn’t trying to sell me something for ten goddamn minutes. And the format feels forced, too; it doesn’t have the “awkwardness as humor” thing down as well as The Office does.

Verdict: I’m going to give 30 Rock another chance to make me laugh and not try to sell me an oven. Stop shilling me and make me laugh, for fuck’s sake. I haven’t decided if it’s good, or if, like the GM oven, this show was cooking a turkey in 22 minutes.

Afterwards, the premiere of Twenty Good Years aired, and I didn’t make it very far into the show. Hey, I only needed five minutes to tell The Class was a piece of shit, at least Twenty Good Years doubled that, so it’s not a total loss, I guess (assuming NBC cares about the opinion of some unemployed man in rural Illinois, which I couldn't imagine they do). I like John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor very much, but this show doesn’t know how to use them. But it wasn’t the tired jokes that did me in. As the canned laughter began, I realized that I don’t watch a single new show with a laugh track. And it’s been nice. I’m sick of the laugh track (especially for taped segments that clearly cannot have a studio audience). I don’t need to be told when to laugh, especially not in the age of smart shows like The Office and Arrested Development which don’t (or didn’t) have to resort to that kind of hackery. So, done with that one. Besides, Twenty Good Years furthers the untrue stereotype that Jane Leeves is or has ever been funny.

I’m almost at the end of my rope with My Name Is Earl. This whole continuing plot thread of Joy’s court case is unfunny and uninteresting. I’m glad they gave more room to Jaime Pressly, but they’re not doing it in a way that works. Besides that, it’s ruining the episodic nature of the concept; Earl’s list provides a great excuse for the show to be episodic but still funny and creative. And now some idiot has decided to take the show further away from the things that made it work: the sweetness and the odd morality of it, the way it said that people could not have it all but still be happy (only in a non-condescending way, unlike a lot of TV). Now the sweetness has just gone overboard; every single episode has to end in an outpouring of flowery sap and an almost pornographic level of sentimentality, preferably set to a really great song from the seventies. It’s so fucking forced that it is literally no longer funny. And this week’s episode with Amy Sedaris…am I the only one who thinks she’s about as funny as Adam Sandler and Carrot Top performing my bypass surgery?

Right, so, Lost started up again.

The premiere was incredible. Then tension, the sudden surprise, the pull-back reveal, the amazing implications of the mystery. Then the first five minutes were over and it went right back to being sucky. I know I can’t be the only person who’s beyond bored with this Jack-Kate-Sawyer nonsense. I would be quite happy if they just killed off all three of them, honestly. Especially Kate. But especially Jack. And I’m pretty sure I can’t be the only person who is fed up with the Others to the point of frustration. Okay, I get it, they’re mysterious, but anymore of their nonsensical bullying and I’m going to puke in rage. Are we going somewhere with this? Anywhere? Even if it’s just down to the corner for some Pringles and a grape Nehi? Maybe the new issue of Mad?

Anyway, two episodes in and Lost has fallen right back into its groove of being maddeningly vague and stunningly stupid, and yet somehow interesting enough for me to keep tuning into the goddamn thing. The show still feels like it’s going absolutely nowhere and the writers are just making it up as it goes along, just like those stories everyone would tell at sleepovers where everybody added the next part of the story. And just like those stories, it’s childish, meandering, and pointless.

Lost also feels shorter than ever. What are they running now, 26 minutes of content? There’s a commercial break (a long one) every 4 to 7 minutes. Can’t we please go back to the days when a corporation sponsored a show and there was a break for one commercial every 18 minutes?

At least last week’s episode featured a lot of Yunjin Kim, who (if possible) looks even more luminous and beautiful and totally fucking sexy than last year. You can keep your Howdy Doody lookalike Emangeline Lilly; Yunjin Kim is what a woman looks like.

So, other than all this, I’m enjoying the new season of South Park (as always). The Simpsons continues to be staggeringly unfunny and The Venture Bros. just wrapped up its brilliant season finale. And I’m still enjoying the hell out of The Office, Ugly Betty, and, surprisingly, Shark (though, let’s face it, it’s pretty dumb). Which gives me two nights of TV and five free ones. Which seems like the way it ought to be. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Song of the Week: "One Way Ticket"

Since it looks like the band is breaking up, and since I'm really in the mood for some modern rock with actual balls behind it, I'm posting the Darkness. I honestly don't get how this band can be so constantly maligned for trying to bring back actual rock music, and critics are fighting to suck the pretentious cock of Chris "New Bono" Martin and the dullness of Coldplay. Fuck, doesn't anyone want to rock anymore?