Saturday, March 17, 2007

Fuck St. Patrick

Most people don't know why St. Patrick's Day is celebrated. In this country, it became a celebration of Irish heritage. Then it quickly turned into an excuse for women with a condescentive love of fairy-and-cottage-culture and men who weren't manly enough to accept their need to binge drink to speak in shitty Irish accents and drink shitty American beer. If you're not Irish and not Catholic, don't come near me wearing green and calling yourself O'Grabowski or whatever your fucking last name is, and just be an adult and admit you like to drink. And if you're of British heritage, it's especially insulting, since your people oppress the Irish. Morons. I'm Welsh, I'm an atheist, I'm sitting this one out.

Just remember, the appropriate response to "Kiss me, I'm Irish" is "Fuck me up the ass, I'm gay."

The Bible Summarized by a Smartass, Part Twenty-Three: Four More Prophets

By this point, the Bible has not only gotten boring, but it's repeating itself. Following Isaiah, we get four more prophetic books, and I'm just going to blow through them as quickly as possible because, you know, life's pretty damn short and the Bible authors aren't adding anything new. And you know, just in terms of writing an interesting book, why are all of these books gathered in one place instead of put in chronologically? Thanks to the previous books, we already know what happened to Babylon and the other nations, and that the Jews returned to Israel, so what does it matter? The Bible should've left in both Maccabees, that would've provided a nice, triumphant ending to the ancient history of the Jews. But no, fucking Christians had to be all gay for Jesus. Anyway, here in (very) brief is what four more prophetic books have to say.

Jeremiah
Basically, it’s all the same high points as Isaiah: Israel is wicked and should repent, Babylon will fall, the Jews will be restored and the land will prosper, etc. Isaiah’s Greatest Hits all over again, in another stupendously boring 52 chapters.

Lamentations
Five poems lament the fall of Jerusalem and the anguish of the Jews. The poems would be kind of nice if the writer wasn’t so sold on the idea that Jerusalem deserved it because they’d turned away from God.

Ezekiel
More prophecy denouncing the Jews for their wickedness. Ezekiel at least urges the people to take personal responsibility for their actions and their lives. But he also prophecies the destruction of every nation. Then there’s that whole future utopia badly illustrated on the cover of every pamphlet a missionary ever gave you. Impending judgment, blah blah blah.

Daniel
At least this one gets away from Babylon and into the Seleucids. Daniel is encouraging the Jews to rebel, pointing towards the failures of the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and Macedonians to dominate Jerusalem forever. This is the time of the Maccabees, which is a great story from history, but which is also considered apocryphal and therefore doesn’t appear at all in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (there are two books detailing the story of the Maccabees, which would actually make the Old Testament end on a note of triumph, but that might take some of the focus off of Jesus, so the Christians leave it out). This is the first time in the Bible that anyone mentions the resurrection of the faithful.

Next week: All prophesied out now? Well, too bad, because next week I have to blow through the 12 minor prophets. Then the Old Testament will be over, and it'll be time for the most popular fictional character in literature, the man that later anti-Semitic writers would claim the whole of Jewish belief was foreshadowing: Jesus H. Christ.

The History of the Middle East

If you've been reading this series so far, thank you very much and I hope it hasn't been bad. If you haven't so far, please take the time to read this installment. As a key to the problems still going on that led to this war, this is the most important installement of this series.

Part 19 in a series.

Iraq

Germany and its allies were dealt with harshly after World War I. The Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires were disbanded. Great Britain was essentially in control of the Middle East; the Treaty of Sevres gave Britain direct control of Mesopotamia and Palestine, and France control of Syria. Greece and Italy had plans to carve up Asia Minor. Sultan Mehmed VI was willing to do anything he could to cooperate with the Allies if that meant saving some of his empire.

The British essentially planned to take over the former Ottoman provinces. General Kitchener appointed Sir Mark Sykes to plan the takeover. It was an intricate planning process and Sykes worked tirelessly with local sheiks, chieftains, and strongmen to identify local interests and draw territorial lines accordingly. Sykes planned to instate British rule over the region, but in a way that would maintain peace.

Several forces derailed this grand scheme.

The first was a wave of nationalism that swept the world. The powers of Europe had spent the last couple of centuries setting colonies on other continents. Some had been lost. Now, with World War I having been fought essentially over the right of self-determination, many people had caught the freedom bug. Many in the world were ready to accept that the natural state of humankind was not subjection, but freedom. Many European countries would be forced to give up their territorial holdings (though Great Britain was still firmly an Empire). The Balkans, now free from Hapsburg dominance, were ready to assert their own interests away from outside control (leading to the creation of Yugoslavia). The Arabs, free from centuries of Turkish rule, wanted self-determination of their own.

The second force was the Balfour Declaration. In 1917 former British Prime Minister Arthur James Balfour demanded the creation of a Jewish free state centered on Jerusalem, in the former Ottoman province of Palestine. Balfour stipulated that this Jewish nation must not come about in a way that affected the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish Palestinians. But that would be impossible; the non-Jewish Palestinians took great offense at the idea that the home they had known for hundreds of years should simply be given to a people they viewed as foreign and heretical. It served only to create a wellspring of anti-British sentiment in the Arab world.

The final impediment to Sykes’s work was his own death; he suddenly died in 1919, before his plan could be completed.

The Middle East was now anyone’s game unless Britain could get it under control. At this time, the potential of the oil reserves were unrealized; Great Britain might still be ruling the world of they had realized the oil might be the key to world power. But Britain did not have a man of foresight to deal with the region. They had Winston Churchill.

Churchill, the man whose short-sightedness had cost hundreds of lives at Gallipoli, was made colonial secretary in 1921. He inherited the question of the Middle East at a time when Arab nationalism and anti-British sentiment were high. He wanted to have done with the Middle East, put down the Arab revolts, demobilize the army, and keep Egypt (and the Suez Canal) under British control. The real problem was what to do with Mesopotamia. The land had been divided along ethnic lines by the Ottomans into three provinces—Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul—in an attempt to keep the warring Sunnites and Shiites apart. Besides the Muslims, Baghdad contained Nestorian Christians and Jews, with the Kurds in the north. All five of these groups dreamt of their own nations with their own rulers. Churchill was inclined to ignore their calls for freedom. The Kurds were the most violently opposed to British rule, and Churchill had no qualms about using poison gas to put down their revolts. (He also used poison gas on Afghanistan, which became completely independent when Britain failed to dominate it.)

In a 10-day conference at the Semiramis Hotel in Cairo in 1921, Churchill basically decided to abandon Arabia to whatever strongmen could control the populace and support British rule.

Central Arabia had been dominated for 150 years by the Wahabis, a Puritanical sect of Muslims. Their leader, Ibn Saud, was basically given as much of Arabia as he could take that wasn’t directly British or French. By 1925, Ibn Saud had gathered many pieces of the former Ottoman Empire, including Mecca and Medina, and strengthened his rule over Hejaz and Nejd.

Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra were drawn together under one national banner: Iraq (“well-rooted country,” now a bitter irony). The warring Sunna and Shia of Mesopotamia would be forced to live together in one nation, along with Nestorian Christians and increasingly-hated Jews. The Kurds, too, were persuaded to become a part of Iraq by false British promises of self-rule in order to keep them from joining the newly-formed, strong and very Westernized Turkish Republic. The land west of the Euphrates was taken from Ibn Saud and given to Iraq; as compensation, the British gave Ibn Saud control of the Kuwaiti kingdom, cutting off Iraq’s access to the Persian Gulf and starting a long-standing rivalry between the two nations. The creation of Iraq horrified American politicians, and many in the British foreign office protested that Iraq would be a disaster. But Churchill was occupied with India, Egypt, and the Suez Canal. He didn’t care about Arabs.

Faisal, who has led the Arab revolt and cooperated with the British, was declared king of Syria in 1920, but the French dethroned him for being too pro-British. In 1921, Great Britain made him king of Iraq. His brother Abdullah was made king of Transjordan, which comprised the eastern section of Palestine, now it’s own nation. France also created a new nation, Lebanon, out of the coastal region of Syria to the north of Palestine. Lebanon was mostly, the French argued, a Christian area since the Crusades. The French used force to put down protests in Syria.

Persia was in a state of confusion. Great Britain wanted to take over the country to keep out the Russian Communists. But in 1921, Reza Khan carried out a coup d’etat in Tehran and established a new government with himself as Minister of War. He came to peaceful terms with Russia, who abandoned all interest in Persia and cancelled all of Persia’s debts. Reza Khan strengthened the army, improved his country’s finances, and consolidated power until he became Prime Minister in 1923. He had turned Persia’s fortunes around. Shah Ahmad, the last Safavid ruler, was reduced to a figurehead and, bristling, left Persia forever in 1925. Reza Khan was declared Shah and took the name Reza Shah Pahlavi. He set about attempting to Westernize Persia technologically.

Iraq became independent in 1927 and Transjordan in 1928, though both remained under British control. Ibn Saud ruled a formidable kingdom. The French dominated Syria. Amanullah tried to Westernize in Afghanistan, but the Afghans balked and forced him to abdicate in 1929, making Nadir Shah their king. The turmoil that remained for Great Britain was in Palestine, where the people were murdering the Jews. Churchill supported the Balfour Declaration, but was forced to suspend Jewish immigration into Palestine.

Oil and Zionism

In 1932, Hejaz and Nejd were officially renamed in honor of Ibn Saud: Saudi Arabia. Iraq was admitted into the League of Nations. The world had by then realized the importance of oil, and American and British interests sought to dominate Iraq and Persia without taking direct action. With self-determination in the air, uncertainties came; Great Britain—rulers of one-quarter of all the land on Earth—was especially reluctant to expand further. But the oil remained a necessity.

In 1933, King Faisal I died and was succeeded by his son Ghazi. He opened an oil pipeline that stretched across Iraq. Persia also had oilfields, which Reza tried to bring under Persian control to benefit his own country. In 1935, he officially did away with the Greek name of Persia and renamed his nation Iran, the name of its people.

Tension was increased in the Middle East by the British decisions to restrict Jewish immigration, and by the 1932 election of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany. A Jewish movement, Zionism, protested Great Britain’s decision and sought an independent Jewish state that would restore the land of Israel. The Muslim states were opposed. Great Britain was caught in a hard international position. Hitler’s Germany was becoming fanatically and institutionally anti-Semitic, and Britain did not want to appear the same. But supporting the Jews would set off Arab protests against British dominance, and Britain needed to maintain the oil supply. The Arabs already chafed under Western domination; if things grew too tense, Britain might lose its oil. Besides which, the anti-Zionist Muslims were very sympathetic to Hitler.

Britain’s answer was to partition Palestine between Arabs and Jews, which angered both sides. A civil war erupted between Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Arabs which the British could not control. Iraq supported the Arab cause and tried, unsuccessfully, to initiate a pan-Arab movement to establish Arab unity in the Middle East. It was mostly prevented by the rivalry between Iraq and Saudi Arabia over access to the Persian Gulf.

In 1939 Britain, worried about another outbreak of war, proposed a 10-year plan for an independent Palestine with Jews and Arabs participating in the government. Both sides denounced it.

To be continued.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Happy Birthday

Throwdown 3/16

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

1. Lindsay Lohan is out of rehab, and she’s already taken up drinking again, fucked Jude Law, and hit a dude with her car. Wow, what a great actress she is! Acting, that’s what she does, right? It’s hard to remember.

2. I don’t know or care what the hell this stupid movie is, but I think eight character posters is a little more than this movie needs. I don’t know if anyone’s noticed this, but the character poster trend is out of control. It really only works with event movies, and sometimes not even then. It’s become such a cliché now that it actually makes me want to see a movie less. Why don’t you spend your advertising budget on something more useful than showing me right off how much I’m going to despise every single character in a movie?

3. Hey, not only was the bambiraptor covered in feathers, it could fly and was the first dinosaur with opposable fingers. That’s just really cool. I love that we keep finding out all of these new facts about dinosaurs that only makes them richer and more diverse.

4. I’ve been thinking about this Britney situation and what I think would be best for her. And even though I’m still pulling for her to get better (she’s got so many problems right now she might as well be living in a Frances remake), I’m not really pulling for her to get her career in order. I don’t think she’s capable of it, and I’m not sure it’s even what she wants (as if I know what she wants, other than douchebags with goatees). So I think it might be best for her and for us (and for the example she’s setting for little girls across the country) if she got better, wrote a book, and then faded into a normal life. Wouldn’t that be a nice story? Good luck, Brit Brat.

5. Congratulations to my darling Katie Price, who was voted the Grattan Celebrity Mum of the Year. I don’t know why, but at least she never dropped her kid on the sidewalk or talked about how boring newborns are. Not that that’s directed at anyone…

6. M. Night Shyamalan’s next movie is going to be called The Happening. Something happening in one of his movies would be a nice change of pace.

7. Man, I am so fucking sick of hearing about softcore porn model, animal rights terrorist, and gold-digger Heather Mills McCartney and her leg possibly flying off on the new Dancing with the Stars. Does that really create suspense for anyone? Jesus, I thought The Surreal Life was scraping the bottom of the barrel for tenuous celebrities, but at least those people actually did something once. This bitch just marries a former Beatle and then takes him for all he’s worth, and that somehow makes her famous? Fuck her.

8. I’m a little annoyed by this Genesis reunion. It kind of bugs me that Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, and Tony Banks constitute a Genesis reunion nowadays. I mean, sure, these guys were the only members of the band from 1978 through 1996, but for me the classic era, the era of Genesis being one of my favorite bands of all time, included Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel. That’s when they released a string of three of the greatest prog albums of all time: Foxtrot, Selling England by the Pound, and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. As much as I like the album, it’s not exciting to me that the band that made Invisible Touch is reuniting to cash in on their memory.

9. Paris Hilton says she just got a really good push-up bra, and not implants. Yeah, I believe that. Totally. Maybe she was just stung by a bee in this picture…

10. Lots of websites lost their shit over Evangeline Lilly’s bikini bottom falling down this week. You know, if she actually had an ass that probably wouldn’t happen.

11. Say hello to the Malaysian clouded leopard, a new species of leopard just discovered in Borneo. Enjoy it before the inevitable destruction of the Borneo rainforest. I guess that’ll drive the orangutan to extinction, too. Not good news for that coming ape regime. Borneo is one of the largest centers of biodiversity on the planet, with scientists discovering 400 new species there in the last 12 years (plants, fish, and animals large and small), 52 of them in 2006 alone. Of course, everything there is endangered by deforestation.

12. So, the cultural ambassador of Iran has problems with 300. Because that’s something I care about: what a government functionary from a country best known for its horrifically misogynistic and barbaric treatment of women thinks of some movie. I mean, really, I can see why someone would have a huge problem with a cartoonishly mythologized version of a historical event. I mean, mutant rhinos, deformed swordsmen, a guy with blades for hands, wow, history comes alive. Like that scene where Xerxes cut off Leonidas’s head and crucified the body… oh, wait that was history, not the movie. Seriously, the movie’s not saying that modern Iranians are depraved savages. That movie has very little to do with reality. But, you know, Xerxes wasn’t exactly the most enlightened guy. His father and grandfather, maybe, but not Xerxes. But then again, I probably know something that the Iranian government doesn’t accurately know: the history of Iran. That and that the world has progressed 2500 years since the time depicted in 300.

13. Halliburton is moving its headquarters to Dubai. Yeah, um…what does it say about Cheney’s faith in American ideals when his company is fleeing the country? I guess this is to soften the blow when Bush gives up the presidency and retires to Saudi Arabia…

14. President Duh sure looks tired these days, doesn’t he? Having just returned from his visit to Latin America (trailed by a heckling President Chavez), Bush has said that he’s going to push for tougher immigration laws. Here’s my problem with immigration laws: why does anyone think they’re going to work? If there are already thousands of illegal immigrants in the United States, doesn’t that prove that the laws have already failed? It’s not like we lived in a period of immigration anarchy, and when we turned around there were suddenly thousands of illegals running across the border like at the end of Born in East L.A. We already had immigration laws. The laws weren’t the problem. It’s a massive failure of an understaffed and underfunded law enforcement. Why not start a hiring binge at the INS and the Border Patrol to enforce the laws we already have?

15. This is a hard thing to have to say, because I want this Iraq War over with. But is the confession of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a meaningful confession? He’s been in Guantanamo Bay for, what, four years? Is it a genuine confession, or something we finally tortured and broke him into saying? All I can think of here is that a) this confession is coming at an awfully convenient time for the Bush administration, and b) a lot of people confessed to being witches just because they couldn’t take the torture anymore. I hate to be the skeptic about something that probably sounds like good news to a lot of people, but since President Bush is pretty much a liar, what am I supposed to think?

World's Finest Links

I found this image online and loved it. That movie always makes me cry. What does it have to do with this week's links? Nothing, I just thought it was a neat picture.

The American Idol top 12 has been chosen. I was especially disappointed by all three of the judges on Tuesday; seriously, they need to be replaced, they're too burned out to say anything remotely helpful. And what was with them slagging off anyone's attempt to be interesting? The whole message on Tuesday was "Be exactly like everyone else and have no personality of your own." What the fuck? Anyway, here's ModFab on the top 12's first showing and the first one to go bye-bye. And speaking of songs, Exquisitely Bored in Nacogdoches has a post about one of my favorites, and Johnny Yen has Iggy Pop. He wins.

TestoEsoRotica has a compilation of deleted scenes from The Office.

Lots of comic book stuff going on. It's Supergirl Week over at Project Rooftop: here are day one, day two, day three, and day four. Today's day five, so check back and see when they post it.
UPDATE: Here's day five and a conclusion.

Elsewhere, The Absorbascon talks about Richard Donner's run on Action Comics, and I Against Comics is affected (and rightly so) by something disgusting going on in the comic book industry.

No Smoking in the Skullcave has probably the absolute sexiest pictures of Aria Giovanni I've ever seen (as well as some gorgeous casual shots). And since you may have missed the awesome crossover event she did with Quit Your Day Job, Zaius Nation links the whole thing for you.

Geena Davis doesn't know shit about cartoons. Seriously, she proved it in this speech. Paul Dini elucidates it more clearly.

Of the vast well of legendary unmade movies we'll never get to see, Cinematical highlights seven of the best. More movies? As Little as Possible details the ten best movies of 2006, while Pop Sugar invites you to pick which actress is aging the most gracefully.

According to Magazine Death Pool, Cracked magazine is dead after just three issues. If you remember my own negative opinion, you know I'm not lamenting its departure; it dropped the ball and got what it deserved. Besides, isn't print dying, anyway? In that spirit, the Cracked website is sticking around, which is great because that's where the real humor was. Here are some examples: The 7 Best 80s Movie Girlfriends, 8 Important Lessons Learned from 80s Cartoons, The 20 Worst Cover Songs in Pop Music History, and a new installment of The Trailer Trash featuring the great Peter Lynn.

Good Tidings on a Bad Day has a post that just broke my heart.

In the world of political realities, Here Comes Johnny Yen Again with some thoughts on Alberto Gonzales, Beckerfilms has an essay on the path conservatism has taken, The Last Visible Blog has a post about more of the fallout from the Iraq War, and The Rude Pundit is also suspicious of the Khalid Mohammed confession. After all that, here's Zaius Nation with the natural order of things. Genius.

From Allen Lulu comes this poll with this explanation: "The government is planning on raising the royalty rates on internet radio. As a point of fact, Internet Radio already pays royalties. I think the rate is going to be something like .0011 cents per LISTENER. This could and might effectively wipe out Internet Radio. Goodbye Pandora and the like, instead, say hello to a new level of musical hell as Clear Channel and Mel Karmzin tighten their grip on what you should be listening to." More than enough reason to sign it, I think.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

TV Report: A Half-Season of Lost

We're more or less halfway through the third season of Lost, and I've made no secret of my disappointment with it. In point of fact, I've been feeling too much of a lull since about the middle of the second season, and it's frustrating the way they've settled into a routine of inaction and acceptance. According to last night's episode, the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 have been on the island for 80 days. And in 80 days, there has been a lot of complacency. These people are trapped on an island with a lot of crazy, weird shit going down, and they seem perfectly okay with that. As long as they can sit on the beach, read books, get food drops, and play ping pong, they seem perfectly content to never get back to their homes and lives. And that, more than anything, seems like the biggest problem with the show. Yes, the show never answers its mysteries or builds on them in a significant way. Yes, the show backtracks too much and takes too many sidetrips instead of getting to the point. But the biggest problem is that the characters just aren't very interesting anymore. We barely ever learn anything new about them, and they barely ever try to change their situation. It's frustrating as hell sometimes.

But, of course, I'm still watching the show. I'm invested in what's going on, because I've been a loyal viewer since I saw the first season on DVD.

Here are my thoughts (spoiler-filled, natch) as to what's been going on with this season so far.

1. "A Tale of Two Cities"
The season premiere really pulled a shocker out of the gate with one hell of an episode teaser. Opening in what seemed to be any American suburb, we recognize characters we've seen before (Ben, Ethan, Nathan) and then--bang--the teaser kicks into overdrive with the sudden appearance of the Oceanic plane going down, passing right over the town as it does. That's a nice revelation: seeing the Others and their home smack in the middle of the jungle. I guess that left me hoping for more, but then the episode just sort of laid there. The whole thing focused on Jack, Kate, and Sawyer, who are simply the three dullest characters on the show (especially Jack and his three facial expressions). To make matters worse, the flashback was yet another Jack-gets-angry-and-throws-shit episode. Yeah, Jack has anger issues, I knew that. His dad is a drunk? Yeah, I knew that too. And the stuff with the Others... Juliet was a potentially interesting character, and I do like Elizabeth Mitchell, but this was a hard episode to like. The Others are generally unlikable people who seem to take pleasure in fucking with people. There wasn't a lot that enhanced the overall mystery, except for a couple of things: first, I was interested in the way Ben seemed to know right off where to send people (and whom to send), almost like he was expecting the crash; second, that the Others obviously know a lot about the survivors; and third, that Sawyer was basically stuck in a giant Skinner box, which lends credence to the theory that this whole thing is one giant sociology experiment.

2. "The Glass Ballerina"
This episode seemed to be taking place more or less at the same time as "A Tale of Two Cities," and that just reminded me of what I hated about the second season opening: that the first three episodes showed actions taking place concurrently, taking three episodes to advance us pretty much to the point where season one ended. Why not just make the season premieres two hours long? You know what might be interesting? If someone went through and re-edited Lost so that the whole thing takes place in chronological order. Just a thought. Anyway, "The Glass Ballerina." Any focus on Sun is welcome; I'm interested in her story and the development of her personality, and they rarely focus on her. Still, the combined Sun and Jin flashbacks didn't tell us anything we didn't already know from the first season. Otherwise, nothing added, nothing interesting. Of all the episodes that have aired so far this season, this is the one I've most forgotten.

3. "Further Instructions"
Oh, right, the hatch imploded. Remember that? And Charlie was acting all weird after it happened? This was the first episode of the season I actively enjoyed. It was like having the original, cool, capable, badass John Locke back, instead of the tired, navel-gazing, incapable John Locke of season two. A polar bear hunt? Excellent. Rescuing Mr. Eko? Awesome. Locke has been my favorite character almost the whole time (until he got boring last season and I transferred my interest to Ana Lucia), and having him back was a breath of fresh air. I didn't even mind his flashback, even though it only served to show us what we already knew about Locke from both flashback and experience: he's too trusting and it often bites him in the ass. Seriously, though, what's with Charlie? He went from intriguing to sympathetic to unfortunate to kind of a douche. The best part of this episode was Locke's vision, which symbolically explained the situation while adding the tiniest flashes of insight to everyone's purpose.

4. "Every Man for Himself"
Is Peter Greenaway directing Lost now? I utterly hated this episode for so many reasons, but chief among them was the cruelty shown by Ben towards Jack, Kate, and Sawyer. The Others haven't exactly been models of cooperation and understanding so far (am I the only one who wanted to punch Miss Klugh right in her smug face?), but the cruelty on display just got overwhelming for me. What is the point of it? To get Jack to cut out Ben's tumor? They couldn't have just asked? And how the hell does Jack diagnose the shape and location of Ben's tumor after glancing at an x-ray for three seconds? Jesus, what a letdown this episode was coming after "Further Instructions," which really felt like a comeback. And what was all that stuff on the beach with Desmond apparently seeing the future? Are they going to be able to make that interesting, or not? I'd be lying if I said that didn't seem intriguing to me, but this whole thing with the Others seriously just started pissing me off here. And the flashback was just dumb: really, Sawyer is a con man with a heart of gold, I had no idea.

5. "The Cost of Living"
This whole episode was a mess, and a lot of people were ready to call "Jump the Shark" on this one. I disagree; I don't think this show has jumped the shark, and I don't know that they can. The premise is weird enough, and so is the tone; if Kate could find a horse in the jungle and that wasn't jumping the shark, Mr. Eko getting killed didn't do it, either. Anything is going to seem normal. And Mr. Eko dying...it just seems weird to have made such a big deal about the survivors in the tail section and then kill them all off (except for Bernard, and he and Rose apparently just disappeared into thin air). Everything else seemed to be all over the place, but I'm glad they investigated the hatch and saw the Eyepatch Guy on camera in another location. But what's with Locke? Why can't he function anymore? Nikki had to show him where the monitors were, WTF?

6. "I Do"
Another pointless flashback: huh, Kate can't make a relationship work? No way! As cliffhangers go, it wasn't a bad one, Jack deliberately botching Ben's surgery. At least Jack was finally taking control of his situation (or attempting to), and that scored some major points with me. And Kate and Sawyer finally did it; I wish they'd just accept each other and give it a go. That whole will-they-or-won't-they thing is about the least compelling thing on the show (except for Jack, he just sucks). Still, this episode did leave me wondering if I was even going to bother with it when it came back in February. But of course, I did.

7. "Not in Portland"
Giving Juliet a flashback was a nice little change-up. Does this mean that her character is going to be more important to the future? Where they giving us a glimpse of the DHARMA Initiative? Did this even involve the DHARMA Initiative? What is the mysterious organization Juliet was recruited by? Of course, we get none of the answers, but it was refreshing to have another viewpoint on this series instead of learning more about how Jack gets pissed off at the world everytime someone drops a hat. And that dude that was trying to kill Sawyer? So glad he's dead; that's the kind of angry animal that just needs to be put down. I hope this means that some of the show's rampant cruelty is going to take a break, what with Bluto finally at rest. And I wish they'd just get going on this thing with Alex and what the Others need children for. (Side note: I thought Tania Raymonde, who played Alex, was incredibly cute on Malcolm in the Middle, and seeing her as a lovely young woman now is doing wonders for my soul). We all now, for a long time now, that Alex is Danielle Rousseau's daughter, so can we go somewhere with that already? That whole creepy Clockwork Orange brainwashing room thing was almost interesting, but I quickly forgot about it because, like everything with the Others, it's probably never going to be explained, anyway. This show really needs to start providing some answers and filling in some puzzle pieces. It has a serious issue with storytelling; creative writers would fill in a piece here and there to let you see some of the larger picture, instead of just expanding the borders further and further until the smaller threads get lost. (Another side note: I want to see what Mr. Friendly's back story is. He's just so interesting to me. He's always trying to be friendly with Jack, and seems genuinely hurt when Jack doesn't return it. Why? What's his interest in Jack?)

8. "Flashes Before Your Eyes"
This was the episode everyone loved: Desmond finally explained his weird behavior via a flashback/flash-forward that seemed to imply he had the ability to travel through time. Actually, his entire life had flashed before his eyes, including his future. But here's my problem with that explanation: if he saw Charlie get hit by lightning, how could he also see Charlie drown? Is he still seeing the future happen? I mean, the future keeps changing as a result of actions taken in the present, so how does Desmond keep seeing it? It still brings up a lot of questions. Points, though, for putting Charlie in Desmond's flashback. The show seems like it's back to establishing weird connections between the characters, which was one of the more interesting aspects of the show. My mom wonders if Penny's father isn't one of the guys in charge of DHARMA or Hanso or whichever organization we're supposed to be worried about anymore. There's some evidence to bolster the hypothesis: first, Desmond joined the race around the world to prove to Penny's father that he could do something, which might imply that Penny's father knew where to send Desmond to get rid of him; and second, as we saw on the second season finale, Penny has men in Antarctica looking for something, and they saw the island when it was momentarily visible during the electromagnetic event. How does she know where to look? This episode got me thinking about the show's overall mystery again, which makes it one of the better episodes for me.

9. "Stranger in a Strange Land"
So far, this is the absolute worst episode of Lost. Jack gets angry (big shock), Jack gets a tattoo (so what?), and the show provides us with an inaccurate translation of said tattoo. Wow, thanks for that, I was going nuts trying to figure out why Jack has ink. Gee, aren't there other characters on this show who can benefit from some character development? I can't take much more Jack, the guy bores the living shit out of me and his flashbacks are absolutely pointless. Why can't they just kill him off? Even with an appearance by my beloved Bai Ling, I could barely pay attention to this episode. Nothing happened. Oh, except that we saw that the people carried off into the jungle by the Others in season one are still with the Others. Incidentally, this was the episode that made some people I know wonder if ABC is trying to kill the show with its false advertising; the promos (which are not made by people who produce the show, but by ABC's marketing idiots) promised the answers to three mysteries. Well, what were they? How can you not be disappointed after a set-up like that? That whole glimpse of the Others's judicial system...meh.

10. "Tricia Tanaka Is Dead"
The highlight of this episode for me was seeing former Playboy model Sung Hi Lee in a cameo. Boy, was I in love with her. Otherwise, I had mixed feelings. I'm glad to have a break from the Others, and I was thrilled that they finally gave Hurley a fucking episode this season, but the flashback was, once again, pointless. Hurley has bad luck. Yes, and..?? I knew from the teaser that this was going to be a lame one. The second that Cheech started telling a young Hugo that having hope things will work out isn't ridiculous, I wanted to vomit: dude, just by a new part for the engine, hope is going to make your ignition work about as much as love is going to make it run. What a stupid, stupid lesson to teach a kid. I guess the real mystery solved on this episode is why Hurley eats so much (huh, he's insecure, I had no such inkling). But on the other hand, it was nice to see Hurley, Sawyer, whiny puss Charlie, and Jin acting like guys and just hanging out over a project. I liked that; finding the van and getting it to run again as a side project just to have something to do. That felt very realistic and nice to me. The idea that hope made the hippie van run again is seriously ridiculous, though.

11. "Enter 77"
Let's get this out of the way right now: the ping pong game was stupid. Just like the golf game in season one, it felt like a pointless distraction from the actual story: Locke, Sayid, Kate, and Rousseau finding the Flame Station. My real problem with this episode wasn't the ping pong game so much as Locke's continuing stupidity. Why is he no longer a capable spiritual warrior type? Why is he such a fuck-up? The only explanation for his complete moronity in this episode is that he's in league with the Others now (a theory my mom believes is true, but which I hope isn't). Still, I was intrigued by the episode, including the Eyepatch Guy and the talk of "hostiles." Are these Hostiles in fact the Others? And does that mean that the Others really have nothing to do with DHARMA and the Hanso Foundation? It seems like it, doesn't it? I'm glad to see this show raising questions that are actually interesting again. At this point, I became really involved again. Even the flashback, though teaching us nothing new (Sayid regrets having to torture people) didn't seem too big a distraction.

12. "Par Avion"
Let me get one thing out of the way first: last night was the first time in the history of this show where Claire looked straight up HOT. She never gets to look hot or, really, do anything. At this point, she almost seems like dead weight, but she did something no one ever does on Lost anymore: took an interest in her own survival. That was a good plan, to put a note on a bird. Of course, I might've mentioned the Others and the polar bears and the smoke monster and all the weirdness, but maybe she figured no one would buy it. Still, not one mention of being in danger? Are they really so comfortable now? This is like the season of Gilligan's Island where they got power and built a car; aren't their lives supposed to be about surviving? And what happened with Claire's baby? Wasn't there supposed to be something weird about it? Some psychic chick didn't want it to be born? Anyway, here's the thing about Locke: I'm glad he threw Eyepatch Guy into the electrical field. Hey, they wanted to find out if it worked, right? What better way? He wasn't going to offer any more information about the list being so close to home, and we've seen the willingness of the Others to kill their own in order to protect themselves (like Miss Klugh in the previous episode); they weren't going to trade Jack for a button-pusher. Locke still gets it right sometimes, is all I'm saying (just like he was right last week when he told Sayid to just shoot Eyepatch Guy because he wasn't going to fire first). The two biggest things going on: Claire and Jack have the same father (which explains why Jack's father went to Australia after losing his job at the hospital), and Jack was playing football with Mr. Friendly. What's going on?

Well, indulge me while I theorize a couple of things.

First, what if this whole operation with the Others is some sort of counter-experiment directed at destroying or disproving the DHARMA Initiative? They're obviously funded by someone somewhere, because they were out recruiting people like Juliet. What if one of the people in charge of finding subjects is Penny's father? He found Desmond and sent him to the island on a permanent vacation.

Second, these Others have some sort of a plan, because they apparently have a list of people. Nathan said something to Ana Lucia about their being a list; Miss Klugh gave Michael a list of people to bring back after freeing Ben; Eyepatch Guy talked about the list, and even seemed to know that Lock had been paralyzed. Seriously, when Eyepatch Guy started implying he knew their stories, I almost wanted to look at the DVDs (which I don't own) and see if he appeared in any of the previous flashbacks. Someone should check that out. So the Others have a list, which implies that these people were picked for a reason and somehow all directed onto the same flight. Is it possible? Anything seems possible with this show.

Third, what if one of the people involved with the Others is Jack's dad? What if he faked his own death in order to get his son to Australia and get him on the flight? Was Jack seeing his dad's ghost in season one, or was it really his dad? Jack's dad has connections now with Ana Lucia, Sawyer, and Claire--that's a lot to be a coincidence, especially on a show like this, where everything seems to happen for a reason. Jack's dad must have some larger involvement to keep coming back.

Fourth, and this may be a long shot, but what if Mr. Friendly is Jack's uncle? Have you noticed that he and Jack's dad have the same hair? Maybe that's why Mr. Friendly was so hurt when he tried to be nice to Jack and Jack gave him the brush-off. It's out there, but why the hell not?

So, I guess the moral of this rambling is this: Lost finally has me, for the first time all season, really thinking about the possibilities of what's going on. It's been a long while, and I'm glad to have it back.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

My Catwoman

The Dark Knight, the sequel to Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, is taking shape as far as the cast goes. Correcting the one horrible mistake made in the original, Katie Holmes is being replaced. She's being replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal, a Drew Barrymore-alike I don't really care for, but she's still better than Katie Holmes. Aaron Eckhart is playing Harvey Dent, which is an excellent choice and fits in with the style of the first film. Heath Ledger is playing the Joker, which could potentially be very interesting. Nothing in has past screams "Joker" at me, but he's a good actor and I have faith in Nolan. Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine are returning from the first movie, and I hear some other rumors every now and then (one of which involved Michelle Rodriguez possibly playing Renee Montoya?), so we'll see what else happens.

Over at No Smoking in the Skullcave, Becca looks ahead to the possible casting of Catwoman in a future movie. I like her take on an older, slightly more cynical version of Catwoman. I think Nolan's take on Catwoman, should he get to that point, would be very interesting. At least, I hope so. I'm so sick of the ingenues who can't act playing comic book characters (Becca's example of Jessica Alba in Fantastic Four is spot-on); I want to see an interesting woman character in one of these movies. So, since Becca highlighted what she'd like to see in Catwoman, here's what I think.

I'm incredibly sick of seeing feminist heroines in these movies. I like to think that women have grown in society, at least past the sort of dull feminist or overplayed sassy or completely unfeminine varieties we get in movies most often. Jesus, even Disney has tried to move past feminism into post-feminism in its female leads (Meg in Hercules). When it comes to Catwoman, I'm tired of the psychotic victim getting revenge on a world ruled by men. It's played out, it's been done. Michelle Pfeiffer's take in Batman Returns was probably the definitive version, so why repeat it?

My Catwoman would be a thief, one who believes in certain moral causes, but one who will steal just to get something she wants. None of that "thief with a heart of gold" garbage; just a realist who steals stuff. Why? Because she loves stuff. Let Batman wrap his head around that. Instead of setting him up in a mental duel with one of his usual intellectual psychos who like to play mind games, force him to figure out a person who steals just for the fun and challenge of stealing. Nothing grand, but something just the opposite. That would definitely be something I've never seen in a Batman movie before; someone with more mundane, realistic, logic-defying motivations.

The actress I would cast? Rachel Weisz.She doesn't get to play fun roles very often, and I think she'd be sophisticated and witty in the role. She should do a sort of William Powell or Cary Grant thing, very charming and fun, totally at ease with herself and very capable, but also dangerous when she has to be and completely dishonest. I'd love to see something like that over another monotonous comic book villain who is histrionic but thuddingly dull. Rachel Weisz as Catwoman, played as amoral but charming. Love it.

Does anyone else have any suggestions for Catwoman?

Film Week

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

THE LADY EVE (1941)
A sort of poor man’s less fun version of Bringing Up Baby. This is the third time I’ve tried Preston Sturges, and I guess I just don’t care for his work. Barbara Stanwyck sure was good, though. **1/2 stars.

THE PRINCESS AND THE PIRATE (1944)
I was enjoying the hell out of this Bob Hope comedy, but I hated the in-joke ending. It was cute, but it just completely marred what had been a hilarious movie up until then. Virginia Mayo is luminous. *** stars.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN (1930)
Frankly, D.W. Griffith’s account of Lincoln’s life is pretty boring. Though it’s much more sympathetic than I expected, and Walter Huston’s performance is excellent. ** stars.

RENT (2005)
This took me right back to everything I despised about the early nineties; it caught the whininess of the times perfectly. I guess everyone in the movie except for Rosario Dawson is from the original cast, which explains why everyone in the movie except for Rosario Dawson looks ten years too old to be in the movie. I’d never heard the musical before, and I really only liked one song. One song and Rosario, and that’s it. *1/2 stars. I should have watched Angels in America again instead.

300 (2007)
As I already said, I loved this movie. Yes, it’s self-indulgent and silly, almost hubristic, but it’s visceral, beautiful, and fun as hell. I see some people reading into it, looking for points about democracy vs. tyranny, but the director isn’t invested in those aspects. But when the battles come, it’s an incredible movie. The surprise audience for this one seems to be women. There was a lot of talk about whether or not women would go see this movie or not, but I notice a lot of them loving the movie. Maybe it’s because they get to see so few real men in their own lives, and movies usually have some wimp like John Cusack crying in the rain about how they can’t grow up. This is a rare opportunity for them to see men for whom honor and duty mean even more than personal relationships. But everything psychological to the side, the movie succeeds for me on the strength of the visuals, the tone, and the simple Spartan ideal that being who you are isn’t good enough: be better. We teach our kids all the wrong things. Someone earlier this week compared it to Star Wars, and it’s a good comparison: underwritten, very dumb, overgeneralized, but brother, it’s fun as hell. **** stars.

KISS KISS BANG BANG (2005)
I can’t believe the number of critics who gave this movie a free pass just because it’s written and directed by Shane Black. Yes, he practically invented the eighties action blockbuster, but that doesn’t mean he gets to direct one twenty years too late and have it be as bad as this movie is. I don’t even know where to start. There’s the hilarity of 29-year-old Michelle Monaghan and 40-year-old (only 40?) Robert Downey Jr. pretending to be old schoolmates. There’s the usual number of magical coincidences in these movies. The superhuman way in which people act. I don’t know, it’s a mess, it’s all over. There are some funny bits, and Val Kilmer is so good in this movie that I wish he was still Val Kilmer, but as I keep saying about Joss Whedon and Bryan Singer, just because you point out the irony and clichés doesn’t make your story any less clichéd when you indulge in them anyway. **1/2 stars.

TIDELAND (2006)
I’m at a loss as to how to describe this film. It’s bizarre, even for Terry Gilliam. The simple plot—a girl who has lost her parents to drugs lives in a fantasy world with a lobotomized epileptic boy and his witch-like older sister—barely even hints at the weirdness on display here. It’s dark and grim, but also strangely innocent and very imaginative, beautiful to look at and—when it’s not flat-out disturbing—oddly liberating to watch. It is, as Gilliam has said, an innocent film. This is all weighted by Gilliam’s vision and the performance of Jodelle Ferland as Jeliza-Rose, which is the best performance by a child that I’ve seen in some time. This movie would have been much harder to take if she had ever felt like a victim of fate, but the way she takes everything that happens and processes it into a part of her rich imagination is surprisingly warming. What’s triumphant here is the resilience of Jeliza-Rose; I keep hearing this film compared to Spirit of the Beehive, and it’s an apropos comparison. That film, too, was a quiet and thoughtful film about the ability of children to rise above their fears with their imaginations; Tideland is about the same thing. Terry Gilliam has made some excellent films that have been sadly underrated. He considers this his masterpiece. I consider it one of his many. **** stars.

FOXY BROWN (1974)
I love Pam Grier. This film isn’t as good as Coffy or Black Mama, White Mama, but it’s still blaxploitation fun. And Sid Haig is in it, which is always awesome. *** stars.

THE WILD ANGELS (1966)
This Roger Corman film has a great cast for its time: Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra (when she was still sexy), Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, Michael J. Pollard. They play Hell’s Angels. Sounds great, but the movie is boring as hell. Too bad, there could be a really good movie about the Angels. In fact, Josh Becker wrote one called Cycles that’s never been made (but should be). As for this, ** stars.

CURIOUS GEORGE (2006)
I’d heard a lot of bad things here, but I thought it was a pleasant, well-animated little movie. Nothing spectacular, but in a world of increasingly faux-hip and self-referential computer animated cartoons trying to out-cool each other, this was a sweet change of pace. *** stars.

WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968)
More good old-fashioned exploitation fun, with this Hammer-esque tale of Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins (a subdued but excellent Vincent Price). Ian Ogilvy plays one of Cromwell’s men who, after discovering that his fiancée traded sexual favors with Hopkins in an attempt to make him show mercy on her uncle, tracks down Hopkins in order to take his revenge. There’s probably a point in there to be made about how the young man’s thirst for revenge is as fanatical as Hopkins’s for God’s justice, but it’s lost in all of the violence and nudity. Good stuff from the director of Castle of the Living Dead. *** stars. Called The Conqueror Worm in America, but Witchfinder General is the actual title.

TOKYO DRIFTER (1966)
One hell of a cool movie about a Japanese gangster who wants out of the game. A tale of violence, well told with some amazing cinematography and gorgeous set design. See it if you liked Kill Bill, Tarantino riffed heavily from this movie. I can’t recommend it enough. **** stars.

TV Report: More Shows Getting Cancelled?

A lot of the shows I like are in a rerun break, but some of them might not be coming back. This is an iffy time for any shows on the bubble, since we're about to hit May sweeps and the upfronts, and a lot of the critical hits are being ignored by audiences. Most important to me, I like some of those shows. Here's a brief rundown of where the networks are at in terms of cancellations.

NBC
I'll say it: I'm worried about the chances that 30 Rock is going to come back. It got to a rocky start, but I've come to enjoy the hell out of that show. There are so few sitcoms I ever think are any good, and this season seemed to have more than most. Now they've taken 30 Rock off the air in order to give Andy Richter his third chance to fail with a sitcom, which just doesn't seem smart to me. I know a number of people who think Andy Richter is some kind of misunderstood comedy genius just waiting for his chance to shine, but come on...there's no coming back from doing an Olsen Twins movie. The good news here is that executives at NBC seem to love 30 Rock (no surprise, considering how awesome Alec Baldwin makes them look--you know they're all practicing their impressions now), so it's probably going to come back in the fall. The same thing happened to The Office, another of my favorite shows, so maybe I'll get lucky next year.

NBC is also probably going to renew Friday Night Lights, a show I don't watch but which I keep hearing is one of the best of the new shows. Like 30 Rock, the ratings are solid but not spectacular. Thankfully, it seems Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip also seems to be going away. As one of the flyover state bloggers that Aaron Sorkin loves to crap all over, let me just say, fuck you very much, you drug-addled hack.

Other shows of indeterminate status: Crossing Jordan (that's still on?), Medium (I'm surprised, I thought that was doing well), Scrubs (which may move to ABC, but will still suck), Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, 20 Good Years (most likely cancelled), and I keep hearing praying for Kidnapped to return might be futile. I didn't even see that one.

Is anyone planning on watching the premiere of this show Raines? I'm not sure what to make of it, but the show itself seems to think it's very clever. Anything that gets ER off the schedule for a little while can only be good.

For the summer, NBC had lined up another spate of crappy reality shows, including a new season of The Biggest Loser (the viewer, obviously), something incredibly timely called The Real Wedding Crashers, another round of the ironically-titled America's Got Talent, and a competition called Thank God You're Here, which is improve comedy, which is always hilarious and never thuddingly obvious or genuinely irritating at all.

I'm still a little bit disappointed in the second season of My Name Is Earl for a number of reasons. Mostly it was the decision to create a storyline, rather than adhering to the episodic premise. I thought it was a mistake to create an entire subplot for Joy (her court case), because it broke up the major premise (Earl's list) by forcing every episode to go back to Joy's recurring storyline. Now they appear to be dropping it in an attempt to go back to self-contained episodes, and that's just lazy. They made the format change, now they have to stick with it. They've also relied too heavily on guest stars, committed the sin of bringing back that guy in the hat from the abomination Satan named Yes, Dear (for a second time!), and added a second subplot (Randy and the useless, unfunny Catalina getting married) and appear to have dropped that one, too. You know, the show was perfectly fine before...

Still loving The Office, still loving Heroes (my second favorite show on TV after Ugly Betty), still not watching any other shows on NBC.

ABC
Well, I fell in love with Knights of Prosperity, so of course it's been pulled off the air in favor of reruns of another of Satan's projects, According to Jim. What is this, like, the seventh season of Jim? Who are you undiscerning roundheads who love this show? And could you read that sentence at all? It looks like ABC is having a sitcom problem this year, because they're talking about getting rid of Jim, George Lopez, In Case of Emergency, Help Me Help You, and the horrific Big Day. Apparently Knights is popular with the network, so I think they're talking about bringing it back and letting it find its audience.

ABC's biggest success story this year was Ugly Betty, which seemed iffy at first and then exploded, becoming one of the most popular shows on TV. It was the first new show of the 2006/2007 season to get a full season order and get renewed for a second. It deserves it; it's a wonderful show. I've heard a lot of criticism from it, but I think everything it does is just right. It's a fun show. It's funny and the characters are easy to become involved with. It's emotions are genuine, and it doesn't shy away from them. There are no types; every character, sooner or later, has become a fully-rounded person you can sympathize with, even when they're acting out of pure self-interest. Every time a twist is introduced, sometimes just for the fun of fucking with the audience, it manages to organically become a part of what's going on instead of just seeming gimmicky and crass. It's a rare show that can manage all of that and still be breezy fun.

Probably the dumbest criticism I've heard of Ugly Betty is that the show isn't a realistic depiction of a Hispanic family in America. Duh, moron, that's the fun of the tone. It's like a storybook version of America. I'm sure it isn't a realistic depiction of working at a magazine, either, but I think probably it should've been obvious from the first show on. It's just a wonderful show and I never miss it.

Other shows hovering around cancellation: Six Degrees, Men in Trees (do people really miss Northern Exposure that much?), What About Brian, Extreme Makeover, The Nine,

Definitely cancelled: Day Break and something called Show Me the Money.

ABC's got more of that old standby, reality shows and competitions, including more Dancing with the Stars (I seriously don't get the appeal), The Bachelor, something with the hideous title The Great American Dream Vote, Just for Laughs (featuring "hilarious" practical jokes), Greg Behrendt's Wake Up Call (has that man never seen a mirror?), Next Best Thing: Who Is the Best Celebrity Impersonator?, Set for Life, and American Inventor.

Intriguingly, they've also got a show on deck called Masters of Science Fiction, an anthology series based on works of SF literature. I don't know if it's going to work, but I know there's an episode out there based on Harlan Ellison's story "The Discarded," co-written by Ellison himself and directed by Jonathan Frakes. It stars Brian Dennehy and John Hurt, and I have to see it. Will it be as good as Masters of Horror? I sure hope so.

And Lost... well, that's another discussion for another time. What does anyone think of the theory that ABC itself is trying to kill the show through false advertising?

CBS
The Eye apparently has more shows on the bubble than the other two. They've ordered a ton of pilots for development season, and a lot of their shows are leaning either way: Jericho, The Class, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Rules of Engagement, and Close to Home are apparently all on tap to be cut if the ratings don't pick up.

Hmm... I don't watch a single show on CBS. I was with Shark for a while, but I got tired of it.

FOX
Their upcoming Drive, which looks like a serious version of The Cannonball Run, just about says everything about FOX's commitment to quality. Everything on FOX looks ridiculous, and except for American Idol, I'm not watching anything but syndicated Malcolm in the Middle reruns on my local affiliate.

I guess FOX is still holding out hope for 'Til Death, but The War at Home doesn't seem to have a shot. From what I've heard, The Winner is the most ironically-titled sitcom in recent history. And what's with this show The Wedding Bells. The title just bugs me. It seemed like a huge misspelling to me--wouldn't The Wedding Belles be more appropriate to what the producers wanted--until I found out the sisters were supposed to be named "Bell." It still kind of bugs me, though. What else bugs me is thinking about the kind of woman that would even watch that show. Darren Starr thinks women are silly, I get it, he can stop now.

I hear FOX is giving Standoff one more chance to prove itself. What the hell is Standoff?

From what I can tell, the network's problem is that, more than any other, FOX clearly has no problem pissing off their viewers by arbitrarily moving programs to wherever and whenever they feel like it because Idol is going to run long or they just felt like showing something new. That's probably a huge part of the reason a so-so show like Bones (which might do better on The CW) has such a hard time maintaining an audience.

The CW
Once again, there seems to be no future for 7th Heaven. Also on the bubble are Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls. I used to love Gilmore Girls, but I stopped watching it about the third time it got too irritating for me, and I haven't seen it since (or missed it once). As for Veronica Mars, I've never seen the show myself, but I know a lot of people who'll be pissed off and disappointed if it goes. I tried to watch Veronica Mars on DVD, but thanks to the usual assholery of idiots who rent these things, disc one for season one was unplayable. Seriously, I got it, like, three times from Netflix, and I could never make it more than 12 minutes into the first episode. On the first try, the menu screen wouldn't even play because of the scratches all over the thing. Thanks, assholes. So I suppose I'll never see it, because I'm not sure I know anyone I can borrow it from, and every time someone has it to watch online it gets removed. Oh, well.

Cicadas in Illinois

This June, the cicadas will be coming out of hiding. It happens every 17 years, and I don't mind telling you this makes me feel old. The last time they came out was in 1990, and I was just on the edge of turning fourteen; this time, I'll be on the edge of turning thirty-one. Jesus, I was just 14, how the hell did I get to be 31 all of a sudden? I remember the cicadas like it was yesterday. But it wasn't. It was 17 years ago. That's 6,205 yesterdays.

Here in Chicago, the Notebaert Nature Museum is planning a special exhibit that I think I need to go to. The curator of biology, Doug Taron, says: "They're really cool to watch. They have these bright red eyes. And you can eat them."

Now that's a dude who loves bugs. He completely deserves to be the curator of biology at a nature museum.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Health Report: Week 13

I don't know what I ate, but I feel like I ate one of these.

Seriously, I've been in the bathroom a lot today. Do I not know something about lettuce that everyone else knows? Because I've had some lettuce today, and it's like everything just suddenly started going through me like a bullet train. Which I guess will help me lose weight faster, but great Caesar's ghost, this is insane. I'm almost afraid to move too much.

Despite that whole gross business above, I'm actually feeling so much better than I have in a long time. All of my other issues are still there, but in terms of health, I feel pretty damn good. All of that sickness is finally gone; I'm not waking myself up choking and coughing anymore, and I feel thinner. I'm still fat, just less fat than I was. That space between my gut and the steering wheel is still there. I'm back up to the third notch on my belt. That rash thing I had going is finally gone (I may have mentioned that last week), which feels much nicer. My mom took me out to eat on Saturday, and I slid right into the booth; my stomach wasn't even close to touching it. It's things like that that make me feel really, really good.

So, it's more of the same for me. So that I don't look like this naked anymore:Of course, after seeing 300 twice over the weekend and hearing women talking about Gerard Butler, what I'd really like is to magically look like this:That'll probably never happen but hey, I can dream.

Really, as long as I'm not so damn heavy anymore, that'll be nice. I'm much more worried about that than about ever being attractive. It's not like I was a good-looking guy to start with and that got messed up somehow by being fat. I just want to feel better than I do now (and right now, I feel pretty damn good).

Everyone who has suggested exercises, thanks for all of your help. I take each and every one into consideration. I'm looking into a program that might give me some exercise equipment access for free(!). Of course, if I get this job I'm going out for, I might have that access anyway, which would be nice. Fingers crossed. I'm so sick of not having any money.

A friend in Australia suggested reverse sit-ups. I tried them yesterday and they are much harder for me than I expected they would be. They've worked for him, and he's a pretty in-shape guy. I really don't know how to exercise, because I never have, and all the stuff I remember from gym class is apparently bad for you these days. I read a number of things about how sit-ups are bad for your lower back, and how push-ups are bad for your shoulders. I'm not sure what to think (although I'm not really at the being-able-to-do-push-ups phase just yet, anyway). I'm doing the lighter stuff, but I need to get burning a little faster. I've almost got the energy, so why not use it?

I mean, it's not like I don't have a goal in mind...Of course, she's only one of several, but she doesn't need to know that.

Or about the whole bathroom thing from the beginning of this post...

That Would Be a Horrible Thing to Say If It Weren't True...

BECCA (sarcastic): Boy, being a man must be so difficult.

ME: No, it's relatively easy. You know why? Because we know that you women are always so dazzled by shoes or so busy competing for the affections of some loser that you'll never band together and run this place. You're so unsupportive of one another and so willing to screw each other over for reasons as retarded as some guy you both want, you're always going to be the second class of the citizenry. We've got you all cowed into an abusive relationship to the point where you're so desperate for male approval and that pat on the head when you do something good that every woman would drag a hoe through her sister's back in order to get it. That's not difficult for men; we're just sitting back and enjoying the show while we continue to run America into the ground. It's not like you're stopping us, is it?

New Disney Princesses

Last week, Walt Disney Pictures announced that it is making a much-welcome return to traditional hand-drawn animation. John Lasseter corrected the previous regime's mistake and re-hired John Musker & Ron Clements (directors of The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, and the underrated Treasure Planet) and set them to work on the picture they were pitching when they got fired: The Frog Princess.

The movie's a jazz musical set in the French Quarter of New Orleans in the 1920s, but the bigest news about the film is that it's main character, Maddy, is going to be (finally) the first African-American Disney princess. Alicia Keys is apparently campaigning hard for the role, though I would much rather hear Jennifer Hudson (who is supposedly also being considered, as is Anika Noni Rose).

The story is by Musker & Clements themselves; the music will be by Randy Newman. Personally, I think this is a questionable choice. I know he's Pixar's go-to guy, so it seems obvious that he'd end up doing Disney movies, but the music he writes these days is... well, competent would be a good word. It's not special, he's never going to write another "Sail Away" again. It's the kind of music you immediately imagine when you think of a white guy in his sixties. Isn't there someone who writes actual jazz music who can do the music for this movie? Still, this is a nice step forward for Disney. It's weird to think that traditional hand-drawn animation is a step forward, but these days, it is. Another inch forward toward being the studio they should have always been.

Disney's big movie this fall is going to be Enchanted, a project with a long and troubled history. There have been numerous attempts to film this movie, most of which stalled at an early stage. The project is still being criticized harshly for its story by a number of animation blogs, but I'm waiting to see the final product. It's being directed by Kevin Lima, who not only directed my favorite animated Disney movie since their Renaissance began in 1988 (Tarzan), but also directed the wonderful Eloise at the Plaza and Eloise at Christmastime for TV. And it stars Amy Adams, someone I'm really expecting good things from.

My only real complaint is the way bloggers keep referring to the movie as a live-action/animation hybrid and talking about Who Framed Roger Rabbit. But it seems like it really just starts out in animation, and might have a few intermittent scenes. I don't think there's any interaction of media. Still, the movie sounds alright. It's about a princess, Giselle, who is sent into the real world and becomes a flesh-and-blood person. So we start the movie like this:And we go to this:Like everything Disney does in animation, I'm just cautiously hoping it's good.

I continue to root for Disney, and I think putting John Lasseter and Ed Catmull in charge was an excellent idea. But those of us who pay attention to these things are hearing about a lot of problems. That we'll be lucky if Glen Keane's directorial debut Rapunzel Unbraided makes it to theaters in 2010--or, in fact, if the movie itself is ever made. That Chris Sanders's quirky take on American Dog has been flattened and streamlined (and that Disney let Sanders, a great animation talent who directed Lilo & Stitch, walk out the door). That everything's fine at Pixar, but that Disney has been scaled back (there were layoffs) and its production schedule lengthened.

Now, does all of that mean Disney itself is in trouble? Stephen J. Anderson, director of Meet the Robinsons, says that Catmull and Lasseter have allowed the directors more control of their films, and that's a good thing. But then why let Sanders walk and threaten Keane with having his project taken away?

Monday, March 12, 2007

One Year

My sister (and goddaughter) Ellen died from bone cancer a year ago today. She was 13 years old. These were the songs played at her funeral. I'm just going to take the day off and remember her.

LeAnn Rimes: "How Do I Live"


Kelly Clarkson: "Breakaway"


Aly & AJ: "Rush"


Jessica Simpson: "Angels"

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Song of the Week: "Cosmic Castaway"

This is another one of those fan-made music videos, but I love the song and wanted to post here and, as far as I can tell, there isn't an actual video for it. It's by a band called Electrasy and appeared on the Titan A.E. soundtrack. I've always found this song to be comforting when I'm not at my best, and I love the lyrics. There were a lot of fan videos to this song, but I chose this one, to Farscape clips, because Farscape is still my favorite TV show and the other videos were all to crappy shows like Star Trek: Enterprise or DragonBall Z. Great song, enjoy.

Sunday Hottie 110

CHRISTIAN BALE

Mistress for Quizness

Your Mind is NC-17 Rated

You're mind is so filthy... you should should be washing every part of you out with soap.
If your thoughts can go dirty, they do. Almost everything is NC-17 to you!


You Are Cookie Monster

Misunderstood as a primal monster, you're a true hedonist with a huge sweet tooth.

You are usually feeling: Hungry. Cookies are preferred, but you'll eat anything if cookies aren't around.

You are famous for: Your slightly crazy eyes and usual way of speaking

How you life your life: In the moment. "Me want COOKIE!"


You Will Be a Cool Parent

You seem to naturally know a lot about parenting, and you know what kids need.
You can tell when it's time to let kids off the hook, and when it's time to lay down the law.
While your parenting is modern and hip, it's not over the top.
You know that there's nothing cool about a parent who acts like a teenager... or a drill sergeant!


You Passed 8th Grade US History

Congratulations, you got 6/8 correct!


You Are From the Moon

You can vibe with the steady rhythms of the Moon.
You're in touch with your emotions and intuition.
You possess a great, unmatched imagination - and an infinite memory.
Ultra-sensitive, you feel at home anywhere (or with anyone).
A total healer, you light the way in the dark for many.


You Are Wolverine

Small but fierce, you're a great fighter.
Watch out! You are often you're own greatest enemy.

Powers: Adamantium claws, keen senses, the ability to heal quickly

A Meme on Reading for a Lazy Sunday

Look at the list of books below. (Bold) the ones you’ve read. Italicize the ones you want to read. Leave unchanged the ones that you aren’t interested in. If you are reading this, tag, you’re it!

1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austin)
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
One of my favorite books, absolutely.

4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
I remember one of my friends in high school, Alice, freaking out about there being a lot of spanking in it.

10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
I've never even heard of this one.

11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
It has to be better than that chore of a movie, right?

16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)
The title changed to "Sorcerer's Stone" in America, lest children think it about thinking or something equally horrible.

17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
Never heard of this one, either.

18. The Stand (Stephen King)
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
After numerous movie incarnations, I always felt like I should read it.

24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
Heavily quote from it, like all annoying fans.

27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
34. 1984 (Orwell)
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
I've started it, too, and not finished it.

36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
Another one I've not heard of.

40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
One of my favorites, and only read it recently (though it's always been one of my mom's favorites). I love it so much, I want to name my daughter Ayla.

42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. Bible
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
My pick for the Great American Novel. If you remember, I wrote a kick-ass paper about its religious implications that my teacher thought I plagiarized.

50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
Another one me no know.

66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According To Garp (John Irving)
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
It was the first novel I ever read; my first grade teacher didn't believe I was already reading at that level, until I proved it. Why don't people ever believe me?

81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
Never heard of it.

82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
I've read this five times and bawled my eyes out each time.

83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
86. Watership Down (Richard Adams)
Another one I've read multiple times in my life.

87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
I tend to hate this book.

93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)

That list does not make me look well-read at all. Funnily enough, I've been thinking of attempting a list of the books I've read... And almost no genre representation at all? Well, there's a lot of fantasy, but not much science fiction...