Saturday, March 07, 2009

Say You, Say Me

Say it for always. That's the way it should be.

TheMom gave me this Love Ya Award, which is for bloggers described thusly: "These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award." Apparently she has yet to notice my rampant egomania and the recognition I demand--demand, dammit!--and has honored me with the award.

I now have to pass this on to eight bloggers, and I'd like to go ahead and pass this along to eight of the bloggers who have been checking out Electronic Cerebrectomy the longest. Who have been interested in what I have to say or what I throw up out of boredom or who haven't been scared off by all the nudity and--gasp!--opinions. I've been doing this since January 2005, and most of the people I know in real life can't stand me for this long. You guys deserve this just for putting up with me being incredibly annoying.

Unless, of course, you just skim and look at the pictures. Which I could understand.

Mob from Dear Bastards, MC at Culture Kills...wait, I mean Cutlery, and Chance, The Sapient Sutler, who have been reading longer than anyone else. Thanks for all of your support over the years, guys!

Tom the Dog, from Tom the Dog's You Know What I Like?, a blog I think I've ripped off in every possible way. Well, he inspired me.

The inimitable JD, now found at Valley Dreamin', and Colin Giles from My Autobiography, who have kept me grounded at times.

And JA from My New Plaid Pants, who is my biggest boy crush after James Franco.

And, of course, Becca from No Smoking in the Skull Cave, who I am now married to, and who first said to me years ago: "No, seriously, you should blog, I bet you'd enjoy it."

Thanks, all of you.

Saturday Playlist

1. Cat Stevens: Trouble
2. Madonna & Mandy Patinkin: What Can You Lose
3. The Four Tops: Baby I Need Your Loving
4. Renaissance: Love the One
5. Badly Drawn Boy: Year of the Rat
6. Jeff Lynne: Blown Away
7. Eddie Roll & the Jets: Gee, Officer Krupke
8. Luis Enriquez Bacalov: The Grand Duel (Parte Prima)
9. Bryan Ferry: Don’t Ever Change
10. Sammy Davis Jr.: In the Ghetto

1. I had a lot of Cat Stevens in the house growing up, and I'm glad I had that influence. This is a great song. Very moving.
2. Speaking of moving, this is the saddest, loveliest little song. It's from the Dick Tracy soundtrack, which means it's a short, sad, lovely Stephen Sondheim song. Beautiful.
3. The first Top 10 hit from the Four Tops. Because of a life growing up hearing a lot of classic songs on commercials, it's easy to forget what a fantastic song this is. The Four Tops had passion.
4. Renaissance is a damn good prog band.
5. The video made me tear up every time. Idealistic, sure, but what's wrong with that? I love this song.
6. When I was about 13, I realized a great deal of the music I liked had something to do with Jeff Lynne, either as a producer or a band member or as ELO or whatever. This is from his solo album Armchair Theatre, which came out between the two Traveling Wilburys albums.
7. From the original cast recording of West Side Story. This was always one of my favorite songs in the musical, with the kids completely ripping apart all of the stereotypical reasons kids join gangs.
8. Quentin Tarantino finds a lot of great music to use in his films. This is off the Kill Bill: Vol. 1 soundtrack, a beautiful piece from the Spaghetti Western Storm Rider.
9. Apparently this is a cover of the Crickets (and a Goffin-King song). I've never heard any other version. This is a good track from Ferry's first solo album, These Foolish Things, which is all covers. And great.
10. Surprisingly sucky cover; Sammy tries to take Elvis's soaring (but kinda cheesy) ballad and turn it into something funky. I have this on Golden Throats 2, if that's any indication.

The Comedians

Vanity Fair did a photo piece on the group of comedians I actually like. Thank Christ it's not all Jim Carrey and Rob Schneider movies anymore... ever since The 40 Year-Old Virgin, it's the first time in my adult life when I've ever actually looked forward to seeing comedies.

Friday, March 06, 2009

No Throwdown This Week: Computer Frustration

Man, what a shitty couple of days. I feel a little of the old craziness coming on, and the sucky thing is, it's just out of frustration. For some reason, frustration can get out of control for me, and then I just want to hit things and yell and finally cry. I'm so annoyed.

Anyway, I've been having a very good couple of weeks. It's something like 62 degrees right now, and all traces of snow are long gone. My insurance troubles are getting worked out. I'm on new medication and it doesn't seem to have any adverse side effects. I'm still losing size, if not weight, and I've finally found an eating plan that appeals to me and doesn't make me want to have a lot of junk food. I've broken soda's hold on me. I'm going to see Watchmen tonight--in fact, I need to leave as soon as I post this--and I've gotten my tax refunds and am getting a decent amount of work. My car is long-fixed and drives like new. And I didn't really mention it, but I got married last week.

And then there's always one massive thing that just comes along and pisses me off.

So, how many of you out there are having these insane problems with Firefox? I love the Firefox browser--it's my browser of choice--but it seems like it's been getting more and more problematic since version 3 came out. Like I always say, "new and easier to use" is always, always code for "needlessly harder to use." Ugh. So, the problems finally came to a head this week. Not only was Mozilla crashing for reasons I couldn't even figure out, but on Wednesday it got worse. Mozilla would crash, then it would also crash any other programs I had running (usually Microsoft Word), and then Windows would crash. This happened, I'm not exaggerating out of anger, at least 12 times on Wednesday. On Thursday, I opened IE (I hate using IE) and tried to figure out what the problem was. Apparently there are some flaws in version 3 and there are a ton of people having these same problems. And this has been going on since June or so, and Mozilla hasn't done dick about it, which is unsurprising given my history with technology.

Once again, the silliest thing in my life is to assume that any technology will just work the way it's supposed to.

So I did what a lot of the people I saw online were doing: I dropped Mozilla completely. Uninstalled it and will not be installing it again. They took my favorite browser and turned it into something impossible to use. Awesome.

I was on IE last night, but I just hate how slow it is. I downloaded Safari this morning, a browser I've been happy with in the past. And hey, my computer hasn't crashed all day. So that's nice.

Still, the feelings of frustration linger. I have a hard time getting those out when they come. It's still residue from 2007 and 2008, which were just awful years of frustration and anger and loneliness for me. I thought that was all behind me, but sometimes extreme circumstances put me right back there. So, I'm going to go to the movie, get caught up in it (I hope), and forget about things that, frankly, are fixable and stupid to get so worked up about.

Anyway. I wasn't going to do a Throwdown because I was in too good a mood and nothing in the news got me worked up enough to comment on it. Now I'm not doing a Throwdown because I'm annoyed with anything to do with computers.

Have a nice night!

My 15 Favorite Transformers

For no particular reason, honestly. I was looking in the toy aisle at the store the other day and saw the Transformers toys and though, ah, there's a list I can make.

One thing you may notice is that most of my perception of Transformers comes from the 1986 animated movie. I basically forgot everything about Transformers except for that movie, the toys, and the Marvel comic book... which is to say, I have almost no memories of the TV show. The first TV show. I mean, I remember watching it, but I don't remember anything that really happened on it. I saw it again about 10 years ago, when it started coming out on video. My manager at Hollywood Video, who was a little bit older than me, had fond memories of the show and used to put the tapes on the overhead player. I was surprised at just how crappy, lame and unwatchable they really were. I was under 10 when I watched the show... I think it's the only way I could have watched it.

My relationship with Transformers is weirdly complicated. All of my, um, "friends" (the same ones who turned on me and beat the shit out of me in sixth grade, a story I've told before) dug the show, and so did I. But when I was 10, just before Transformers: The Movie came out in the theaters, there was a sudden shift and everyone suddenly had to go around being all grown up. It's that immature fear of being seen as childish that C.S. Lewis spoke about. In my mind, I was still a kid. I still liked all of the things they were giving up: G.I. Joe figures, Marvel Comics, cartoons, Star Wars. Transformers. I was pretty much alone in my geek world from then on. Back in the days before the internet, before you could meet anyone from another place who enjoyed the same things you did. Back when you had to choose either to join the herd and stifle your interests, or embraced your inner geek and became a social outcast. I embraced the geek and never let go. Fuck them, man. I was 10 and I wanted to be happy.

This is why I'm still so touchy and annoyed that something like Transformers, something which is pretty lame when you look at the original source materials, is now fodder for blockbusters. Because I got teased mercilessly when I was a kid for liking the kinds of things a kid likes. When the anime freaks came out and declared Transformers "okay" to love because it was animated in Japan and was a show about giant robots, I bristled.

These days, I just have some decent memories. I bought Transformers: The Movie on DVD. Twice. The first time it came out, and again when the restored, remastered version came out. I like that movie very much. But I don't like the TV series. I don't know if that's weird or not. But, deep down, I guess I feel like Transformers: The Movie is a small victory for me, because it helped keep me who I wanted to be instead of who my "friends" demanded I become.

Plus, it was just so freaking neat.

Anyway, enough psychobabbling, here's my list.

15. Blurr
Not for any real reason, actually. I just thought he was neat in the movie. He was voiced by John Moschitta, whose fast-talking shtick was a novelty at the time. I wonder what he does now. Do they even still make Micro Machines? Blurr was a hovercar; the movie was, after all, set in the ultra-futuristic year of 2005.

14. Blaster
Well, he was just so cool. Another sign I've seen Transformers: The Movie too many times: every time I see Blaster, I get the musical score from the Earth battle scene in my head and hear Blaster saying "Cover your receptors, Perceptor." Weird. But he was just kind of neat.

13. Hot Rod
Again, a movie character. Judd Nelson voiced him. Remember when Judd Nelson was popular? Anyway, Hot Rod was the fuck-up whose destiny just sort of found him and turned him into a hero. Which kind of makes him the Luke Skywalker of the Transformers world. I didn't dig Rodimus Prime as much; once they did that "Return of Optimus Prime" special on the show, I kind of tuned out.

12. Perceptor
Still today, whenever I read a Fantastic Four comic, I get Perceptor's fussy British accent in my head as the voice of Reed Richards. I'm not sure how I ever made that connection, but it refuses to go away. Perceptor was a pretty neat toy; you could sort of/kind of use the microscope. It turned everything into a blur, but it was pretty neat.

11. Shockwave
Well, look how cool he is. He has a laser for a hand, for chrissakes. If superficially badass qualities aren't enough reason to love a science fiction character, then I don't know what to tell you. He was like the Boba Fett of the Star Wars universe--looked cool, acted tough, was just rare enough to be awesome, but was ultimately kind of incompetent.

10. Rumble, Ravage, and Laserbeak
A little tie for three of the Decepticon cassettes that were Soundwave's minions. They were very cool. Those were coveted toys, and even though Ravage's legs were so close together that you couldn't even stand the damn thing up, he was easily the equivalent of having the Snake Eyes figure that came with Timber the wolf. Laserbeak set points for coolness in the toy world. And is it my imagination (because this kind of stuff happened when you had a toy property that was a cartoon and a comic book), or was Rumble the red figure? In the toy world, wasn't Rumble red and Frenzy blue? How did Rumble the cartoon character end up purple?

9. Soundwave
Megatron's loyal henchman. That toy was kind of cumbersome, but looked cool when he was in robot form.

8. Jazz
Come on, man, he was voiced by Scatman Crothers! How cool is that?

7. Ironhide
Another character type I dug as a kid (and still do) is the sort of grizzled, tough-but-caring old veteran. He's always touchy, but deep down he really gives a shit and is totally capable. That's Ironhide. I loved that guy. And if I remember correctly, his toy sucked and looked nothing like the cartoon.

6. Bumblebee
Bumblebee continues to divide fans today. Why is it that so many fans feel an intense, unrealistic anger towards the stuff obviously intended for kid appeal? Seriously, I'm not sure why a character designed to be the entry point for children (because he was friends with Spike, the human kid) in a children's cartoon is so awful. I like the guy.

5. Starscream
Oh, Chris Latta. I spent a long time as a kid giving myself really bad coughs trying to imitate his Starscream and Cobra Commander (they're not the same, Cobra Commander lisps more because he's snake-like, Shane Waddell from fourth grade). Starscream was always scheming against the Decepticon leader Megatron to usurp his role; as a result, they always animated him with a smirk. I like that.

4. Megatron
Speaking of. He's just awesome. He's one of the greatest badass villains from my childhood. The movie (the fake one, the Michael Bay one) sucked all the more because they did such an awful, terrible job with Megatron. He looked like a pile of magnetized metal filings stuck together, like you still occasionally find on someone's desk. And they could get Peter Cullen to voice Prime, but they couldn't get Frank Welker to do Megatron. The whole thing was ridiculous.

3. Kup
Another character added for the movie (the real one) that I liked very much. They basically took Ironhide, gave him Lionel Stander's voice, and made him touchier and more grizzled. He's always got a war story and some angry advice. I guess I've always been drawn to characters who are older and experienced; I wanted to travel a lot and see things as a kid. That never happened, but I lived vicariously through books and animated robots, I guess.

2. Optimus Prime
Well, come on. He's got to be up there. He's iconic, to me, anyway.

1. Grimlock
My favorite Transformer is the leader of the Dinobots himself, Grimlock. He's a robot and he's a dinosaur. What's not to love? The origin of the Dinobots was pretty cool in the Marvel comic, but I liked the lumbering, clumsy, stupid Dinobots of the cartoon and movie better. Hey, I was a kid, and Grimlock, spending most of his time in dinosaur form, was like a pet combined with a child, and he was awesome.

Now, tell me again about the petro-rabbits...

Scott Pilgrim

As a longtime comics reader, I get jaded pretty easily. It's been decades now, and although I hope to be entertained, I never really expect to be surprised anymore. Scott Pilgrim surprised me. It kind of blew me away.

I guess you don't have to read this if you don't want it spoiled.

So, Scott Pilgrim is a 24 year-old Canadian slacker who meets and falls for an American girl named Ramona V. Flowers. The first volume, Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life pretty much develops as a relationship drama. Scott is dating a high school girl, Knives Chau, and has to disentangle himself from that relationship. He lives with a gay roommate, Wallace, who doesn't seem (to me anyway) to be joking around when he tells Scott things like "You're my bitch." He plays in a band that is playing the local clubs and trying to get ahead. And Ramona also has seven ex-boyfriends.

This is the part that surprised me.

So, Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life keeps developing along these lines, a quirky, comfortable relationship drama-comedy with a main character who never gets too whiny but has no sense of direction. Bryan Lee O'Malley's art is pretty good, kind of typical of Oni Press (I used to read everything they put out, way back when they started, and found a lot of great artists that way). Usually I don't care for the Western aping of Manga, but what the hell, I haven't liked a character-driven book this much since Love and Rockets.

And then it goes right off the rails.

Scott faces the first of Ramona's seven evil ex-boyfriends... in an anime/video game/music video/kung fu movie over-the-top gonzo-style fight to the death.

And it was... awesome.

I didn't expect it. But it rocks.

I'm up through the fourth volume, Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together, and I can't wait to get my hands on the fifth. I realize I don't have much deeper analysis than this, but some things you just can't put into words. But they're fun as hell.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Well, at Least They're Making That Runaways Movie

I was just reading that Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning have been cast to play Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, respectively, in the Runaways biopic (which they're now referring to as The Runaways--I liked the original title, Neon Angels, better, but I still think the obvious title is The Queens of Noise).

Can't say I'm buying it just yet. Or that I necessarily want to see Dakota Fanning running around the stage in that lingerie that Cherie used to wear. But I'm interested to see how they take it. The Runaways is one of my all time favorite bands, and really I'm more interested to see who they cast as Sandy West, anyway. Nothing against the other girls and their talent, but Sandy was the heart and soul of that band.

Because She Doesn't Say This Stuff on Her Own Blog

Becca: "You know, I think next time JoJo should try getting dressed, doing her hair, and putting on her makeup with the lights on."

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

My Five Best: If I Can Judge Myself Accurately, That Is

I just found out about this little contest which ends tonight: Barking Mad has a contest going that involves bloggers offering what they consider their 5 to 10 best posts. Since Firefox keeps crashing my computer tonight, I'll just briefly put up my five favorites:

1. SamuraiFrog Is a Man of Many Hats
2. A Romantic Scene
3. Language Notes
4. Ewoks: A Hunter's Guide
5. The Many Moods of the Silver Surfer

So, here's hoping my stuff is better than I know it is.

Third Act

Film Week

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

This may be the best adaptation of DC Comics characters I've ever seen. They were already working from a fantastic miniseries (Darwyn Cooke's excellent The New Frontier), but what really surprises me is the modified Bruce Timm style and the depth with which the story is approached. The cynic in me expected all of the characters to be needlessly updated to fit into some kind of animation continuity (the animated DC series have been TV highlights for 15 years), but they translated the story as it was on the page (right down to its 1950s setting). It's serious without being dull, humorous without being silly, and the violence has a gravity without being over-the-top. The characterizations were perfect, and most of the voice work was great (I didn't care for Jeremy Sisto as Batman, but it was nice to finally get Lucy Lawless playing Wonder Woman). These are the DC heroes as the sort of science adventurers I've always loved them as the most. **** stars.

This one just got tossed away by the studio, didn't it? Too bad, considering how good it is. Bradley Cooper plays a struggling photographer who becomes obsessed with a man he sees on the subway. He becomes convinced the man--who works in a meat processing plant by day--is a murderer. And with Vinnie Jones in the role, you'd assume that, wouldn't you? It's not giving anything away to say he is, in fact, a killer who treats his victims like human meat. What lies at the end of the tunnel I won't reveal, but I will say this was a very strong horror movie that I really got into. Vinnie Jones is always awesome, but the rest of the cast (including Brooke Shields, of all people) does the hard work. The gore is creative and utterly gross. And there's a Ted Raimi cameo! ***1/2 stars.

Neat, kind of trashy documentary about the martial arts. Coming when it did, it should be no surprise that the serious demonstrations and the history of the martial arts are also tempered by scenes just showing you how cool karate is. Fun movie. ***1/2 stars.

Kevin Bacon stars as a Marine who offers to escort the body of a fallen soldier back home. They're from the same town, and Bacon feels it's his duty to do so. It's fairly short, simply following the journey from point A to point B and letting it sink in that every soldier has a story and a life, and that the lives lost in Iraq have not been anonymous or unmourned. And that's a lovely sentiment, although it doesn't make for compelling viewing. **1/2 stars.

I know, it's my own fault. I never expected it to be good (what kind of idiot would?), I just got distracted by cutie Jayma Mays and wanted to see Crispin Glover play Willy Wonka. And Crispin Glover never disappoints me. Otherwise, it's impossible to make it through the stupid movie. * stars. It doesn't even achieve the kind of unique badness to get no stars. It's not bad, it's just bland and stupid and doesn't try to do anything.

This is Alexandra Pelosi's short documentary about McCain supporters. It's interesting; it's also probably a good thing that it doesn't go on for more than 40 or so minutes, because it gets very, very frustrating. Pelosi is at pains to remind us that the people who speak to her do not represent all McCain supporters, but I do find that, wherever you go, the most ignorant and reactionary are also the most vocal. What really struck me about this movie was the amount of real, genuine anger out there directed at Barack Obama. Of course, the anger is really a fear that somehow, somewhere, your values are going to be taken away. Which is strange and sad, because no one can take your values away, can they? Obama is merely the latest stand-in for conservatives and the ignorant, often poor people they bamboozle into believing that conservatives have all of the answers. There was no sadder sight to me than legions of poor people lining up to vote Republican because, they've been led by others to believe, Republicans stand for family, religion, and smaller government. How anyone could believe the last of those after eight years of a spending orgy is beyond me, but I wouldn't accuse the people I saw in this movie of being informed. (Which is another sad thing: so many people who say they'll only watch Fox News because they buy the "fair and balanced" lie, when actually they just want to have their own "ideas" reinforced; seeing people who are so proud of their own desire to be ill-informed makes me understand that, no matter who the president is, America is still royally fucked.) Everyone in this movie was so concerned with matters of private morality that have nothing to do with governance. Just seeing the real anger, the genuine fear, the absolute sadness of these people who don't, for the life of them, want to give up their ignorance, or their racism, or their prejudices, or their poverty... America is so far off the right path it's not even funny. ***1/2 stars.

A BBC movie starring Robson Green as a working class prick who starts a war with his next door neighbor (also his brother-in-law and best friend) over the biggest Christmas display on the block when he's passed over for a promotion. I'll watch anything Robson Green does, but the story stays grounded in reality (for the most part) and the characters stay believable. It's probably good that it's not more than 75 or 80 minutes long, too. *** stars.

Lifetime movie with Harry Connick Jr. as a doctor trying to cure cancer. It's a true story, but that doesn't make it any more compelling than it actually is--heavy on big dramatic moments of triumph and loss, but light on being very interesting. Angie Harmon is pretty good, though, and Amanda Bynes is nice, but I'd use this as evidence that she should stop trying to go dramatic and stick to comedy, which she's very good at. **1/2 stars.

This series of Janette Oke adaptations is just going to continue on and on into eternity. I really liked Love Comes Softly, but with each new film (this is the sixth) it just gets more and more rote and formulaic. Why do I keep watching these? * star.

I think John Huston really owed Albert Finney a good movie after putting him through Annie (although apparently Huston's first choice was Richard Burton). Finney stars as Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic British consul living in Mexico in 1938 in utter obscurity. The film takes place on the Day of the Dead, when Geoffrey's ex-wife (Jacqueline Bisset) has come in the hopes of healing their marriage. Geoffrey, however, has shed all of his need for any connection outside of the bottle, and is basically waiting for the end of his life. He doesn't want to reconnect with anyone or anything, he's simply waiting for it to be over. What happens to him along the way makes it harder and harder for him to drop out and ignore what happens around him. It's a very heavy dose of reality with a shocking ending, but it's a profound film that's not to be missed. **** stars.

After a number of disappointments from Will Ferrell, I was very, very surprised to enjoy this movie. I enjoyed it a lot, actually--so much so that not only did I not mind Jon Heder but, for the first time ever, I thought he was funny. You saw the commercials; Ferrell and Heder play two figure skaters who get banned and pair together to get back in the game. Their rivals are a brother and sister pair played with over-the-top flair by Amy Poehler and Will Arnett. Jenna Fischer plays the sister who works for them like a slave. Basically, comedies come down to subjectivity. I thought it was hilarious, easily one of Will Ferrell's best comedies, and probably the only one of his sports parodies that's funny. ***1/2 stars.

HOT ROD (2007)
Andy Samberg's comedy vehicle doesn't quite come off, but it's got a lot of confidence. Samberg's style has always been to go for weirdness more than laughs, and sometimes it works. Here he and the director and screenwriter (Pam Brady, whom I expect more from) get the movie close to the edge, but it doesn't quite work. Danny McBride, however, is always funny. ** stars.

The 25 Greatest Active Directors

Entertainment Weekly recently posted their list of the 25 Greatest Active Film Directors. Once my head stopped hurting from all of the eye-rolling I was doing, I figured I'd tear the whole thing apart with my own opinions. Granted, my opinions are just as meaningless as theirs, but let's do it, anyway.

1. Steven Spielberg
Right away, right away. Why is Spielberg always making the top of these lists of greatest directors? Empire even went so far as to name him the greatest director of all time (which I bitched about prodigiously on the very blog). I'll admit there are a number of Spielberg movies I liked (including his most recent, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), but mostly... well, when I have a post about how childish I find all of his films, I can't really get enthused about spending more time ripping the guy apart. Greatest active director? Not if the last 15 years of his career are anything to go by.

2. Peter Jackson
Wait, Peter Jackson is an active director? When does this start? Nothing against the guy, and I really hate to be one of those fans bitching about when we get someone's new work, but is he actually making The Lovely Bones, or just talking about making it? It didn't take this long to make The Lord of the Rings. Okay, I should cut him a break, honestly. There have been a lot of legal proceedings involving LOTR profits and the rights to The Hobbit. And I love his work; I've got no issue with the quality. There's not a single film he's made that I don't like.

3. Martin Scorsese
Talk about polarizing; everyone used to be a Scorsese fan, now all they do is argue over the quality of his recent work. Frankly, I love Scorsese, but his work has always been wildly varying to me. I think Taxi Driver is overrated. I think almost every movie he made in the eighties is unwatchable. I think Kundun and The Aviator are misfires. I think The Age of Innocence is still underrated. So is Bringing Out the Dead. Scorsese is someone I rank among the greatest directors of all time, but it's unrealistic to think that you're going to like every film a director makes. (Which, I know, contradicts what I said about Peter Jackson, but he hasn't made one I didn't like... yet.)

4. Christopher Nolan
No. I know a lot of people loved The Dark Knight (I didn't), but what's the consistency of his other work? Memento is great. Insomnia is kind of dull. Batman Begins and The Prestige are scattershot; I liked both movies, but they both have massive narrative problems. And none of his films, in my opinion, are going to endure. Maybe Memento will be rediscovered one day, but Batman Begins is going to look as dated and silly 20 year in the future as Tim Burton's movie does now.

5. Steven Soderbergh
I wouldn't say so, but what do I know? Every time I think he's killed his career, he just keeps coming back. He's made a couple of movies I liked (Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Ocean's Eleven, and Solaris), but ultimately I don't think of him as a great director. I think of him as a director who's gotten a lot of lucky breaks and is somewhat competent.

6. Ridley Scott
Oh, him again. I think that Ridley Scott is a lucky, lucky man. Alien was a great movie. Blade Runner was a very good-looking movie with a lot of fatal flaws. In any other world, Ridley Scott would be directing expensive perfume commercial and music videos instead of feature films. None of his movies (except Alien) have any real staying power, and other than relying on Russell Crowe to keep his feeble career alive, he doesn't seem to have any real personality as a director. His films are generally terrible. The best he can hope for these days is something like Gladiator: an amiable mess.

7. Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino is a good writer with a stylistic voice he's borrowed from countless 70s movies and an interesting grasp of structure who also directs. He chooses his cinematographers wisely and well. I wouldn't claim Tarantino is a great director, but the fact is, I like all of his films. In fact, there are a couple I outright love. It's weird. I recognize all of the things his critics say about him, and I acknowledge that they're right, but his movies are just too much fun for me to really care. They're too effective. They work so well that, for me, they become criticism-proof. It's like a Godzilla movie. Yeah, I know Godzilla's a man in a suit; now tell me why I should care when Godzilla is so much fun.

8. Michael Mann
I would've said so before Miami Vice and Collateral. Now I don't expect Mann's movies to be good anymore. Thief and Manhunter are two of my favorite movies. And I love The Last of the Mohicans.

9. James Cameron
Excuse me? Really? James Cameron? Why? Because this is Entertainment Weekly and Cameron has a movie coming out this year? Okay, I don't think there's a James Cameron movie I've ever not enjoyed. I like them all. Some of them are classics. But they're also basically rip-offs of other, better science fiction novels or Outer Limits episodes or old German films he thinks no one's seen. He's surprisingly uncreative and unthoughtful for a science fiction guy. And he's overrated. Still, having guys like Michael Bay around only makes Cameron look like a grand master and elder statesman, so there is that.

10. The Coen Brothers
Okay. This I agree with. They constantly surprise me and their films are nearly always good.

11. Guillermo del Toro
He is indeed a great director, especially since Mimic has been (justly) forgotten.

12. David Fincher
Not with Benjamin Button still stinking up the place. At best, Fincher's a good director who still hasn't found a cohesive narrative. And hiding the lack of cohesion as some sort of mystery or enigma or magic realism or psychological device doesn't really work for me. It's like people who say you don't get irony just because they half-assed an unfunny joke.

13. Tim Burton
Fuck him. He hasn't made anything truly watchable in a decade.

14. Judd Apatow
Apatow is a great writer and producer who has directed a couple of movies. Nothing against him, because I love his movies and he's basically the center of my comedy universe now (this is an era of comedy that I can finally enjoy), but I think directing is the least of his talents. Still, I'm grateful for his work and all of the other work he's making possible.

15. Sam Raimi
I don't bite on this one, either. I love most of his movies, but it kind of sucks that after making (in my opinion) the best movie of his career (A Simple Plan) he made the worst movie of his career (For Love of the Game), an underrated movie no one remembers (The Gift), and then nothing but Spider-Man movies. I hear his new horror movie is great, and I have high hopes for it, but I just don't quite enjoy Raimi's work the way I used to. The stream of reports from old friends talking about what a dick he's become don't help, either. And giving money to the Bush/Cheney campaign just turns me off. I don't judge the work by that, of course, but it makes me wonder about a fella's taste.

16. Zack Snyder
Dawn of the Dead was an okay-but-pointless remake. 300 was a trashy art film that I enjoyed the hell out of. Watchmen is already getting mixed reviews; can't EW at least wait until the film comes out before getting down and sucking Snyder's dick? He's got an interesting visual sense, but mostly it's been copied from real comic book visionaries. I'm as excited about Watchmen as anyone (two more days!), but I'm not willing to praise him or his film until I've actually seen the damn thing. EW is jumping the gun once again and pushing the hype.

17. Darren Aronofsky
I hate his work, so far. Haven't seen The Fountain yet, and I loved The Wrestler, but the guy who made Requiem for a Dream and Pi is not going to ever belong on a list of greatest directors.

18. Danny Boyle
I like some of his movies, but I'd never call him a great director. Not even accidentally.

19. Clint Eastwood
Eastwood just suddenly slipped into that elder statesmen role, seemingly overnight. He's been directing movies since 1971, but sometime between Unforgiven (1992) and Mystic River (2003) he just sort of became one of the most respected figures in directing. I've always been a fan of the guy. And I just liked Changeling and Gran Torino more than I liked a number of his recent films. But there's part of me that resists his name being on here and just wants people to cut through all of the "Ooh, Clint Eastwood is amazing!" garbage and just talk about whether his films work or not. Mostly, I think his movies are too long and ineffective.

20. Ron Howard
Ron Howard has directed a couple of movies I've really liked. But there's no way he deserves to be on this list.

21. Ang Lee
I wouldn't go that far with Ang Lee, although Brokeback Mountain is one of my favorite movies.

22. Paul Thomas Anderson
No way. For Magnolia alone, no way. Just because he thinks he's the modern Kubrick, that doesn't mean I have to. That said, I love Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood. But saying he's one of the greatest active directors is such a stretch.

23. Paul Greengrass
He's proven himself to be a kinetic genre director and not much else, so far. He's solid, sure, but great? It just reminds me of how, back in 1990, everyone was saying John McTiernan was one of the great directors working because he made Predator, Die Hard, and The Hunt for Red October. Would you still call John McTiernan one of the greatest directors working? Me neither. And Paul Greengrass will probably go the same way.

24. Pedro Almodovar
Hit or miss for me. Volver was the first of his movies I'd truly loved since Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, which is something like 16 years. I don't know why, I just find his movies often problematic.

25. Jon Favreau
Yeah, I liked Iron Man, too, but give me a break. You've praised it enough, EW.

The first thing I noticed, of course, was the lack of any animation directors. What about Hayao Miyazaki? His films are consistently great. Some consideration for Brad Bird would've been nice, too.

Why not Woody Allen? Sofia Coppola? Michel Gondry? Werner Herzog? Those are just off the top of my head.

It's just a bad list. It's good fodder for discussion, but the list sucks.

Is this kind of shit why I see Entertainment Weekly on less and less newsstands these days?


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

R2-D2 Lost in Translation

I could live without the gay jokes, but I thought these "translated" R2 scenes were pretty funny.

The Health Report, Year 3: Week 12

Well, I don't really have much to say this week. I still feel good. I feel like I'm on the right track and I haven't had the desire to go off the wagon yet. Oh, and I finally had some soda the other day. I was out at lunch and ordered a Pepsi without even thinking about it. When I don't have soda for a long time (and this was at least six weeks), it always tastes hard and heavy to me. It got the job done, but it wouldn't be my first choice anymore. I didn't feel the need to drink any more of it. So that's another in a long line of small triumphs. I finally, finally broke the soda monkey on my back. Thank Crom for SoBe and Dasani, that's all I can say.

Cinder 1994-2009

Cinder, the 14 year-old hairless chimp at the St. Louis Zoo, unexpectedly died two weeks ago. The cause of death is as yet undetermined. It's sad when zoo animals suddenly die, especially one so unique and so loved by patrons. Sorry to see it happen.

Ladies, a Request Please

When having sexual affairs with aliens, always make sure to use condoms. I know it's fun to join the Hundred Miles High Club, and I have no problem with that. But if you forget to make your extraterrestrial hook-up wear a johnnie, it leads to things that just shouldn't be.

For example:
This has been a public service announcement from Electronic Cerebrectomy.

Strangely Awesome New Fetish Website

You owe it to yourself to check out Dinosaurs Fucking Robots.

Feline Nihilism

"But what worth does the beauty of a flower hold in a world of transient splendor being ever-destroyed by the dark clouds of death, greed, and hate?"

Oh, That's Too Bad

Monday, March 02, 2009

TV Report: Various Complaints and Such

Time for my occasional self-indulgent rundown of what I've been watching and what on TV is vaguely unsatisfying.

First, though: Saxondale. I've finally been getting this BBC series from Netflix, and I absolutely love it. Steve Coogan is a fantastic character comic, and Tommy Saxondale is my favorite of the characters I've seen him play. A former roadie for some of the greatest British bands in the history of rock, he's now a suburban pest control worker in anger management who lives with his younger girlfriend (Ruth Jones, who played Miffanwy on Little Britain), attends Mustang shows, and generally just tries to get by. What I like about Tommy is that even though he's pathetic and washed-up, and even though he's prone to angry displays, he basically tries to be an upbeat cat. He's a pompous ass, but he tries. I'd put it just under A Cock and Bull Story as the best thing Coogan's ever done.

On to my other shows:

* The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother -- how many weeks of reruns are there going to be? What the heck? How about showing me the How I Met Your Mother episode that got preempted by the president instead of weeks of episodes I've already seen? (That said, I'll still sit and watch How I Met Your Mother repeats. I love the show. I watch the reruns on Mondays on Lifetime, too. The Big Bang Theory I won't generally watch the reruns; it's a cute show, pretty solid, but not as special to me as HIMYM.)

* Heroes -- I thought last week's episode was the best episode that's been on in a long time. So, of course, everyone said it was the worst episode ever and I get another week of watching a show I enjoy the hell out of disappearing into cancellation. This is why I don't root for any of your shows to make it, either. Like every SF show I like, it'll disappear soon.

* Eastbound & Down -- I loved The Foot Fist Way, and this is basically The Foot Fist Way: The Series. It's another character piece for Danny McBride, playing what he specializes in: realistic assholes who think they're the best person in the world and everyone loves him. What the show essentially deals with is how those illusions are shattered by circumstance and how, when it comes down to it, you're never going to be the best at anything just because you believe in yourself and do your best. McBride plays a former baseball star who is now teaching gym at his old high school and trying to get back with his high school sweetheart, all while living with his brother's family and continuing to act like a gigantic piece of shit. I love it. McBride is hilarious, and he's so good at playing characters you just do not want to root for. I hope that, like The Foot Fist Way, he'll turn a corner and become more sympathetic. But if he doesn't, I like the way McBride plays realistic asshole losers.

You know, the way I saw most people review the show was a little disheartening. It's the same complaint about Heroes (but, again, something that is apparently fundamentally wondrous about Lost). Both Heroes and Eastbound & Down have basically been reviewed lately as not being forthcoming enough or getting to their point quickly enough. Must every episode of every show be self-contained? What happened to patience and suspense? One reviewer seemed to get fed up immediately with Eastbound & Down simply because McBride stayed so unsympathetic through the entire first episode. Dude, there are more episodes coming. It's a story arc. How about letting them build the character before you complain that he doesn't change enough in the first chapter? How do such people handle reading books? Do they read? Are they able to?

* Ugly Betty -- I'm not sure what's going on here. I love this show; at the same time, it has a history of being very frustrating to me. It repeats itself a lot, and every time it seems like the show is finding its middle ground between Betty's life and her work, they do something else to basically shit all over this character. They keep taking all of her triumphs away. About the only really interesting thing they've done this season is to give Wilhelmina a love story, and if you saw last week's episode, they took that away from her in a way I totally didn't buy. And I didn't buy the way Daniel's love story ended, either. The week before, they did the best episode they've done all season. Last week, they hit the ground face first. It wouldn't seem so dire if it weren't for the fact that there are only three episodes left before Ugly Betty gets put on "indefinite hiatus," so I expect it to just be cancelled over the summer, honestly. They're replacing it with some shrill, screechy looking show starring Cynthia Hines and Megan Mullally's breasts and some chick I've never heard of; and it's yet another show about how unique and hilarious raising children is. Oh joy. Becca adequately described the show as "Sex and the City for mothers who think that if they didn't have children their lives would be Sex and the City." I'm not going to stick around for it. You lost me when you ditched Betty, ABC.

* The Office -- seriously, are they going to do, like, anything with Jim and Pam now, or is that story over now that they're together? Now that neither Dwight nor Andy are with Angela, they need to focus a little harder on Michael (finally) wanting Holly back, because they just sort of dropped Jim and Pam like a rock. And why is BJ Novak even in the opening credits anymore?

* 30 Rock -- I don't have a problem with Salma Hayek being on, and I'm not sure why anyone does, really. This is a show that really gets beat up by bloggers, and I'm not sure what they want the show to be and what they think it used to be and isn't anymore. I still think it's hilarious.

* Hell's Kitchen -- I know reality shows are over the top, but forcing the girls' team to eat all of the organs from the side of beef they had to prepare was extremely over the top. What is this, Fear Factor? Survivor? Let's not have to go through that again, that was just stupid and unneccesary.

* Batman: The Brave and the Bold -- man, Owlman was on this week! With every old DC character brought into the fore, this show just wins me over even more.

* Star Wars: The Clone Wars -- very glad to see this get renewed for another season. I'm surprised by how strong it is, though not surprised by the constant whining of people who still can't stand that Star Wars isn't The Matrix, or whatever their problem is. I do have one small complaint, though, about last Friday's episode. So, Ahsoka Tano is leading a squadron of fighters; when they get flanked, Ahsoka and others remark that they're caught between fighters at their rear and Trade Federation ships in front of them. Um... this is space. Up and down, back and front, side to side... these don't really mean very much. Why not just dive "down" and spin around under them and attack them from there? I know Star Wars is really fantasy and not much on basic astrophysics, but still, come on.

* Saturday Night Live -- how hard is it to do a few shows in a row? Seriously, the schedule they've been on lately is something like one week on, two to three weeks off. Jesus, what do you guys do, 15 shows a year now? Half the show is taped these days, anyway. Get out your DVDs of the first three seasons. You guys just look lazy.

* The Simpsons -- I've got something to say about this show even though I watch it only sporadically now. Basically, it's about the new HD opening. (Did they keep that opening, by the way, or was that a one time special?) The new opening basically gets down to everything that's annoying to me about the show: there's too much going on. Springfield is now populated by 175,000 characters (or so it feels like), each with their own catchphrase and signature mannerism that, apparently, is supposed to be incredibly funny in and of itself. I think this show really hit its decline around 2001 and has just been in freefall from there. The only thing they've done recently that I really loved was the movie (and the Ricky Gervais episode). The Homer-was-a-grunge-rocker-in-college episode was the final nail in the coffin for me. So I think it's fitting that this very-crowded, overloaded show now has a very-crowded, overloaded opening credits sequence.

* Sonny with a Chance -- the only other alternative, really, is Fox's Animation Obligation, or whatever they're calling it, so this is actually the funniest show on TV on Sunday nights. Yeah, I said it. I'll take Demi Lovato over Seth McFuckinguntalentedjackass any day. Especially Sunday. She's a treasure over on Disney.

* The Wizards of Waverly Place -- finally funny instead of merely cute. I like Selena Gomez, too. She and Demi have a future in entertainment if Disney doesn't ruin them the way they did so many others.

* Hannah Montana -- getting pretty stale, but still decent as trad sitcoms go.

* United States of Tara -- I really enjoy this show, and Toni Collette's performance as Tara is just a constant pleasure to watch. I think this show hit its stride last week, so I'm really looking forward to where the rest of the season is going.

* Secret Diary of a Call Girl -- this second series has jumped the shark for me. Once Billie Piper runs around the garden of the mansion where a sex party is being held whilst wearing a Rapunzel costume and being chased by a man with a shotgun, you've said goodbye to your credibility. It bothers me so, so much that such a strong character as Hannah is now bending over backwards to apologize for who she is and what her job is just to get some guy to like her. They've done what a lot of formerly good shows do--turned it into a rather boring, rather predictable love triangle that only cheapens what was once a strong, believable character. First series Hannah would've told her doctor boyfriend to either handle what she does or get lost. Second series Hannah is groveling to find a way to keep this man who doesn't respect her in her life. It's fucking painful to watch. There's a real point here to be made about how, even though she's an escort, she at least owns herself and keeps who she is. When she cheapens herself and tries to give herself away to this boyfriend and tries to be someone she's not just to win him back, that's when she's really degrading herself. If the show doesn't make that point... well, that's that, then. Dead in the second series.

* Big Love -- I'd given up expecting anything decent from this show, and then the episode from last week, the episode with the family pilgrimage, is the best episode they've ever done. Honestly, I'm always interested in the family drama and dynamic, but the Juniper Creek/Mafia show wannabe garbage is always so uninteresting and silly to me. (How many times are they going to almost kill Bruce Dern, only for Grace Zabriskie lose her nerve again? It's as predictable as the seasons.) Last week's episode I felt was the first time we really got a look at Bill as a man, and not as the head of a polygamist family or as a devout fundamentalist Mormon or as a wannabe wheeling-dealing businessman. It's a glimpse inside the mind of the show's lead that was long, long overdue. And more than that, we basically watched the entire family fall apart and knit back together in different ways, but without the usual assurance that everyone will shoulder through it in the name of their beliefs. It won me back with that one. I see this week we're back to the Mafia wannabe stuff. We'll see...

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Song of the Week: "MacArthur Park"

Distributorcap put this one in my head the other day. He despises it ("Gitmo for the ears" is just a terrific phrase, though), but I love it. I have this album, A Tramp Shining by Richard Harris (on CD and on vinyl). And I love it, too. It's pretty much impossible for me to hate anything written by Jimmy Webb.