Saturday, April 04, 2009

Contingency Planning

ME: I just really dig Jason Segel. I think he's great. I know my wife would leave me for him in a second, but I think he's awesome.

MOM: Oh, she wouldn't leave you.

ME: Oh, sure she would. She'd leave me for Jason Segel as quickly as I'd leave her for Kristen Bell.

MOM: So in case either of them knocks on the door, at least you've worked it out.

ME: Well, that's why you have these conversations in the first place, isn't it?

Saturday Playlist

1. Demi Lovato: Behind Enemy Lines
2. Wham!: Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
3. Jethro Tull: It’s Breaking Me Up
4. The Beatles: With a Little Help from My Friends
5. Brandywine Bridge: Congreve’s Rockets
6. Smith: Let’s Get Together
7. Van Morrison: And It Stoned Me
8. Scarlett Johansson: Summertime
9. Todd Rundgren: Breathless
10. Gene Clark: Tears of Rage

I kind of hoped this week's would be a little rockier, but what the iTunes shuffle picks, it picks for me.

1. I really like this girl. Say whatever you want, but she's got a voice.
2. Nothing makes me feel good like 80s music. I hadn't heard this in a while; it's better than I remember it. It's just a fun damn song.
3. Suddenly, prog-folk happens. It's pretty good, actually. Despite the snow in the forecast for tomorrow, it's very springy today. Why not some flute, electric guitar and reverb to go with it?
4. I'd say it's one of my favorite Beatles songs, but so are most Beatles songs.
5. Folk group from (I think) the 1960s. I can't find out much about them, but they've got one hell of a pretty album in the best English folk tradition.
6. Smith is an interesting group, too. From the 60s, fairly psychedelic. This Youngbloods cover takes its time; it sounds a lot like the version by the band H.P. Lovecraft.
7. Another very pretty song. This thing got all folky. Pretty cool.
8. I've heard her album, so I can confidently say this is the only good Scarlett Johansson recording to date. I wish her album had been close to this good. She should do a jazz standards album.
9. From the classic Something/Anything? One of my all-time favorite albums.
10. One of the many covers of Dylan's song, this one from a former Byrd. Gene Clark had the best solo albums of anyone who was in the Byrds. Even better than Gram Parsons, in my opinion.

Linkstopper

Take a look at some links.

Cobra Commander unmasked at last! (Adventures in Nerdliness)

* A superhero connection that makes sense. (Chris’s Invincible Super-Blog)

* More by the 10’s! Strange Adventures (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), Sensation Comics, Star-Spangled Comics, and Gold Key's original Turok, Son of Stone.

* One of the great comic book artists, Gray Morrow. (Bronze Age of Blogs)

* Jaquandor has a couple of neat posts up about his love for Bull Durham and To Kill a Mockingbird. (Byzantium’s Shores)

* An interesting blog I’ve been reading is Booksteve’s You’re Only as Good as Your Last Picture. He looks at the final films of Hollywood stars. A couple I enjoyed: Errol Flynn in Cuban Rebel Girls and John Wayne in The Shootist.

* How to Write a Romantic Movie (Ken Levine, spot on and hilarious.)

Some great posts for those interested in Disney history: 2719 Hyperion has animator caricatures from Ferdinand the Bull and some comment on the myth that Walt Disney was going to make The Lord of the Rings; Michael Barrier unearthed the first ever Disney Annual Report; Vintage Disney Collectibles talks about the life of Disney secretary Carolyn Kay Shafer; and Michael Sporn has more of the above excellent animated drawings of the Seven Dwarfs by Bill Tytla.

* JA has some very interesting thoughts on the Friday the 13th remake. Not having seen it (or any of the old ones save the first two and, for some reason, Jason X and Freddy vs. Jason), I’m not sure how I feel about the series as a whole, but his review of the new version confirms a lot of my suspicions. Those suspicions are based on the same director’s ugly, brutal, pointless, stupid, awful, shitty remake of the horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it still seems I was on the right track. (Boy, I've been holding on to this link for a long time, but it's a very interesting read.)

* Distributorcap has a neat post about TV censorship in the 60s.

* “Cocoa Krispies has had many spokes-characters over the years. I am not sure, but it may be have one of the highest mascot count changes in cereal history, with a total of 9 changes. I put together a list of these mascot with the years they were given the official job.” (The Retroist, with lots of neat pictures and commercials.)

* Becca's great drawings of Sally Jupiter. (No Smoking in the Skullcave)

* Beautiful nude paintings by Li Juang Ping here and here. (Your Life)

* Celebrities and Famous Historical Figures Re-Created in LEGO (Robot Nine) The pictures are pretty neat, but skip the post commentary.

* Excellent superhero Slurpee cups. (Random Acts of Geekery)

* No question about it: Joe Hisaishi is a god. Some of the best film music you'll ever hear. (Valley Dreamin')

* Saskatoon. Genius. (By Ken Levine)

I have to admit, I'm kinda sorry I missed Bo Derek trading cards. See the complete set at retroCRUSH.

* “What's interesting is that even though there are approximately 1.5 billion Internet users in the world, 98 percent of their comments fall under one of the following 10 categories.” (Eric D. Snider)

Some Cracked Links:
* 6 Dream Jobs That Would Actually Suck
* 5 Ways People Are Trying to Save the World (That Don't Work)
* 5 Great Men Who Built Their Careers on Plagiarism
* 5 Ways Common Sense Lies to You Everyday
* A Series of Messages from Fred Savage to Danica McKellar

* 10 Lies Comics Make Us Believe (Part 1, Part 2) (Comics in Crisis)

* Charlie Brown Specials That Never Got Made (Monkey Muck)

* The Most Memorable Candy Commercials of the 1980s. Now I want a Watchamacallit. (The Retroist)

* Jimmy Olsen watches Batman & Robin (Chris's Invincible Super-Blog)

* JA looks into Paul Rudd and sees a cuddlier future for us all. (My New Plaid Pants)

"Now, you can still hate Jar Jar if you want to, but I think it’s pretty clear that he worked for specific purposes in the films, whether you liked it or not. And if you can’t at least admit to this stuff, your inability to like the prequels has far more to do with a personal problem than with the actual films themselves." (Den of Geek)

* Two links from Courtney Enlow's "Things Assholes Like" series.

First: "Yesterday, I had a long talk with my best friend, the organizational psych grad student, about pretension. And she pointed out a classic trait of all pretentious people: they hate everything. They hate everything, she said, because one is more vulnerable to judgment upon admitting that they like something.

And second: "When I said I judge judgers, I wasn’t kidding. I can’t stand people who decide something about a person before they get to know them. I also hate hypocrites. Thinking anymore about these things could cause my brain to implode and kill us all, but I’ll try. I believe that all judgmental people are driven by one thought: I am right. We of the judginess are staunch in these feelings. And some judgers are wrong and that makes it wrong. But I’m usually right and therefore that makes it okay. This is the way of the judger mind. I am justified in my negative feelings because they are true. The thing is, they usually are. I’m usually right." (HoboTrashcan)

* "Watching these cretins powereat is like watching frantic colonial insurgents cramming their muskets with powder and bullets at Lexington and Concord." Ned Bitters finds buffets overrated. (HoboTrashcan)

* "Of course they are not being taken seriously. Would you buy a used peace from Bono the Clown? In his orange shades? Would you agree in principle on any proposal peddled by somebody looking (and sounding, when he manages to extricate Dubya’s testicles from his big gob) like Bob Geldof? Let me put it closer to home: would you want your child to be taught by people like Bono or Geldof? Would you let your conscience be formed by a pair of obsolete classclowns? If not, why should The Man?" We all know Bono's a twat, but this is one of the best explications of this fact that I've ever seen. (Any Major Dude with Half a Heart)

* So, Why is Guy Fieri a douchebag? (Hell Bent for Taters)

Perhaps the greatest toy ever made. (Go-Go Godzilla!)

* Challenge accepted! This post reminds me that I'm only about halfway through my childhood goal of making my home look like the inside of a comic shop. (Geek Orthodox)

* And finally: Jaquandor puts forth the best idea I have ever heard in my life. (Byzantium’s Shores)

(Note: if the video doesn't appear--and I notice it doesn't on all browsers--click the link at the bottom to go see it. It's hilarious.)

Wizards

Friday, April 03, 2009

Throwdown Addendum: Binghamton Shooting

I didn't get a chance to say anything about this afternoon's shooting at a Binghamton, NY, immigration services center on today's Throwdown. It was occurring while I was updating the computer and I didn't have a chance.

It's hard to talk about stories like this. All I know for certain is that 12 or 13 people were killed, and that one of them might be the gunman, Jiverly Voong. When something like this happens, cable news is off to the races, cluttering their broadcasts with endless speculation and hand-wringing denouncements.

What I wanted to mention is that Vice President Biden came out and said we need a way to stop this kind of violence. And, once again, the idea of stricter gun controls is being trotted out. I know this is a shitty thing to say right after a tragedy, but I don't blame the mere fact of guns. If someone wants to find a way to hurt a lot of people, they're going to. If someone wants to get a gun, they're going to find it. Let's be honest. There's never going to come a time when guns disappear and no one will ever have access to them.

But I agree with Biden. We need a way to stop this kind of violence. But we need to figure out what's making people in this country unhappy, angry, desperate... so desperate that killing a lot of people is the only way they can deal with it. There's a real sickness in this society, and I don't believe it comes from an underlying sense of hostility. It comes from a combination of fear and desperation. People in this country feel trapped with no way out, and as the recession worsens and unemployment numbers go up (they went up again in March), a lot more people are going to be getting desperate. And our government still doesn't feel like it's doing much to address the concerns of non-banksters.

I think we're all in terrible danger. And this is only beginning.

Please let me be wrong.

Throwdown 4/3

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. Wow. Prom dresses are usually more subtle than that.

2. The Farrelly Brothers are making their long-cherished Three Stooges biopic, which will now star Sean Penn as Larry Fine, Benicio del Toro as Moe Howard, and Jim Carrey as Curly Howard. I can’t think of a movie I would want to see less than this. You know, there was a perfectly good movie about the Three Stooges that was made for TV and aired in 2000. See if you can find it; Michael Chiklis plays Curly, and it’s his best performance ever. As for this Farrelly Brothers movie… well, Becca doesn’t even like the Stooges, but she captured my feelings exactly when she asked, confused: “Why are they doing this? Just… why? Why?”

3. I see Madonna was in Malawi again. They always return to the scene of the crime. How many children does she need to kidnap before she feels satisfied? And the kid’s grandmother is trying to stop her… is it really that hard for Madonna to find an orphan to adopt who’s actually an orphan? At least they stopped her from running off with one this time. Seriously, I know it’s not “trendy” to adopt an American child these days, but there are lots of kids in America who could use a home. I’m so sick of celebrities trying to show us what world leaders they are, acting like adopting an African or Asian child somehow solves the poverty problem. If you want to adopt, adopt. It’s very noble. But don’t do it to increase your Q rating. Do it because you care about giving a child a home.

4. Here’s some more about the Let the Right One In subtitles: now Magnolia thinks bloggers should stop complaining about the crappy subtitles on the DVD because somehow being “a more literal translation” is better than being a poetic, well-written translation. I’ve seen the side by side comparison, I’ve seen the film now, and the new subtitles are really just a total dumbing down of the dialogue. Magnolia also feels that no one would have noticed the change if Icons of Fright and bloggers hadn’t made an issue out of it. The DVDs aren’t defective; therefore there will be no recall or exchange. Magnolia is doing its best to marginalize and ridicule the biggest fans of the movie. Is it a good business model to alienate and piss off the largest pool of potential customers you have? (And, honestly, has telling bloggers to shut up ever worked? You just made things worse, idiots.) I say, if you bought the DVD already and are pissed off about it, take it back to the store where you bought it and tell them you want to exchange it for something else. Something not from Magnolia. And then just download the screener off BitTorrent. You’ll have to watch it on your computer, but you don’t have to put up with stupid corporate decisions.

5. WHDH, the Boston NBC affiliate (home of the seventh-largest TV market in the US) has decided that they’re not going to carry this 10pm Jay Leno show and just show two local news programs instead. They say: “We don't think the Leno show is going to be effective in primetime. It will be detrimental to our 11 o'clock. It will be very adverse to our finances. It fundamentally is a better financial plan for us. We are already suffering from weak lead-ins.” Ouch. Of course, NBC is already up in arms over this, but I wonder how many other stations will follow Boston’s lead and decide not to carry it. I think it was an idiotic idea to even give him the time slot in the first place. How sad is it that an entire generation has grown up thinking Jay Leno is one of the high water marks for late night television? You guys weren’t here for Johnny; if you were, you’d know that Jay Leno not being completely awful is not the same thing at all as Jay Leno being good. There’s a difference.

6. That Maserati that Lindsay Lohan crashed? Turns out it was owned by Dennis DeSantis, the porno movie producer. And when it’s fixed, he’s going to let her keep borrowing it. Man, I figured she must be good, but I didn’t know she was buy-her-a-Maserati good. Smart, though, holding onto the title. Really, if Lindsay Lohan can’t get parts in big movies, and thinks she’s too good to be a co-star in indies (as people who work with her have said recently), how long do you think it’ll be until she starts doing porn? I mean, she probably just should at this point. I mean, what does she even get paid for now? Does she just live off of Sam Ronson’s money? Seriously, maybe she and Octomom could just do porn together and make it a real circus.

7. In Australia, the Global Atheist Movement has officially united with the “church” of scientology and has a mass nude protest planned. So, in case you were wondering—yes, atheists can be just as big a bunch of morons as any other religious types. This kind of shit is why I don’t like to call myself an atheist.

8. Speaking of unexpected partnerships, Iran has offered to help the US rebuild Afghanistan. It’s probably in their best interests to do so: Iran is a Shiite government and the Taliban are led by radical Sunnis. I think America has done a really good job in the Middle East of giving Iran a much stronger position; they've got a toehold in Iraq, especially with us leaving and the tensions still running high, and now they're trying to get a toehold in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Benjamin Netanyahu is just making it worse by calling for America to strike Iran to stop it from gaining nuclear weapons, and implying that Israel will attack Iran with or without America’s help. And, since Iran and Russia have been teaming up a lot... Oh, goody, Cold War II just intensified. I hope that President Obama will handle this in a direct manner, but I’m not holding my breath. America rarely does anything but support—and fund—the Israeli government’s Peace by Murdering as Many Non-Jews as Possible stratagem. (This is, of course, the opposite of the Iranian government’s Peace by Murdering as Many Non-Muslims as Possible approach.) You know, no one says that Iran and Israel have to like each other. You know the secret of peace? Not killing each other just because you hate each other.

9. It looks like President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have decided not to address changes to the military’s asinine “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Look, we’re fighting two wars and the economy is in chaos; is this really the time to keep quibbling over the right to keep our military homophobic? How dare you, really? How dare you make it okay for an arm of the US government to tell someone that their desire to protect and even sacrifice themselves for their country is meaningless because they don’t have the same sexual orientation as everyone else? And how dare you tell those people that they can’t live the way they want to because they represent the military? I’m sorry, but the very clear message I’m getting from this bullshit is: the US Armed Forces do not condone equality for homosexual citizens. And that’s wrong. And for yet another Democratic administration to put off the issue of equal rights for another generation is unworthy of what our government is capable of. What is this "America isn't ready for change" bullshit. America's never ready for change. Do you think Lyndon Johnson thought America was ready for change when he signed the Civil Rights Act into law? You don't wait until America's ready, you just change things. Look for President Obama to never do anything on gay rights. He’s busy protecting his job. Or he just doesn’t like gay people. After all, civil unions are “enough,” remember? Way to take a stand on civil rights.

10. The lack of coverage on stories like this is why I’m giving up on the old media. Even our president has embraced the immediacy of the new media, something smarter news outlets did long ago. Newspapers are ridiculing Obama for getting Queen Elizabeth an iPod (she asked for one) and whining that he doesn’t take print seriously. Meanwhile, what are they doing for you, the reader in America? Are they looking out for your best interests anymore? I think you know the answer to that. At least if you’re looking to several different outlets online, you’re not just getting one corporate opinion. (Though sometimes you are getting several.) (Thanks to Darius Whiteplume for the cartoon.)

11. Due to prosecutorial misconduct, Senator Ted Stevens is off the hook. The Justice Department has asked that his conviction be set aside and his indictment dismissed. So, once again, the Justice Department has continued to be ironically named. Can you imagine if Stevens was a Democrat? The right would be up in arms. But the left sure won’t be. You guys know that no one is looking out to make sure the system works, right? (Conversely, Alberto Gonzales would never have worked as tirelessly to get a Democrat off the hook as Holder has for Stevens.) And, predictably, the Alaska GOP (including Klondike Barbie) has asked Mark Begich to resign so that a new vote can be taken. Guys, Stevens lost the last vote for a reason. They say that a few thousand Alaskans only voted for Begich because they thought Stevens was a felon. Well, you know what? He’s still a felon, he’s just no longer a convicted one. Getting off on a technicality is not the same as being innocent. Tell me again why we need Alaska in the Union so damn bad? Can’t we cut them loose and give their spot to, like, Puerto Rico or something?

12. More tales of Republican incompetence: Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader, does not deserve to be taken seriously. Talking about how Obama is “turning America into France” (I wish!), he said: “What [Republicans are] not in favor of is going on this spending spree over the next five to 10 years and sending the bill to our grandchildren.” Well, not unless George W. Bush is president, right? And just to add something for the sake of piling on, why is no one calling “New Democrats” like Melissa Bean what they really are? Republican Enablers. Oh, and I also hear that Michael Steele is considering a presidential run. Oh, Christ, I hope he does. Let’s implode this party right now! Steele should pick Bachmann as his running mate. Man, why is it the Libertarians are the only Republicans making sense right now? Take a lesson, Rushtards.

13. Are we going to ever address the health care crisis in this country? Because I can only see things getting worse with the economy failing. Small businesses are dropping health coverage left and right because it’s so expensive, and more and more people are being denied. And, in many cases, paying into COBRA when you’re uninsured is pretty much the same cost as just going without insurance. People who most need health care in this country are the most likely to be denied it. Some communicable disease, some West Nile thing or that superbug that was going around, is getting a big opportunity to just wipe us out right now. And all because America insists that health care is about profit, not people, and certainly not the public health. (Click here to go to a Firedoglake post that contains a link to the AFL-CIO’s annual health care survey. Only you can silence your voice.)

14. The Bank of North Dakota is the only state-owned “socialist” bank in America. It earned record profits last year. A successful model to emulate/modify or an anomaly? More here.

15. President Obama fired GM CEO Rick Wagoner as part of the rescue plan for the auto industry. He’s apparently decided to get tough with them. He’s also forcing out the board and kicking the bondholders who have been dragging their feet in the ass and giving them 2 months to come up with a new plan (and no more bailout money)--basically, he’s forcing GM to break all of their contracts. Now, this is a very complex issue, but I have some really queasy feelings about this. First, the president can fire the CEO of a company for not doing what he wants? Is that even legal? I’m seriously asking, I don’t know. Second, this just feels like another meaningless gesture to placate anger (like the AIG bonus tax) that has nothing to do with fixing the economy. And third, if Obama is suddenly so hot on sacrifice, why isn’t he going after Wall Street this aggressively? He and Geithner have helped to create a new corporate welfare culture where Wall Street can now take greater risks because there’s no downside; if they lose taxpayer money, Congress will just give them more. Why isn’t that also being pushed onto bondholders and shareholders? I mean, what it looks like to me is that Obama is trying to get rid of retiree pensions, but doesn’t want any banker to have to sell one of their homes. Once again, the real sacrifice is going to have to be made by union workers, people who have, frankly, sacrificed enough. Obama said “I’m not willing to have taxpayer money chase after bad money.” Unless it’s Citibank, right? Or AIG? And Obama wants to bring the cost of wages in line with Japanese auto workers? They get free health care from their government! That’s not feasible, and furthermore, it’s fucking unfair. Yes, we have to make real sacrifices to save the economy, but why is it always the workers and the poor who have to do the real sacrificing? President Obama is sending the unfortunate message that the wealthy in this country are a protected class. And he's proving those of us who felt he was anti-union correct. He can laugh at Republican tax cuts all he wants, but at least they’re honest about wanting to protect the rich.

16. Just this morning, it’s been announced that the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously—unanimously—struck down a gay marriage ban as unconstitutional. So gay people can legally marry now in Iowa. I’m even prouder to have been born in Iowa today. Unlike most of the country, they live in the present, not the distant past. It's a very pragmatic Midwestern thing to just accept something like this and move on. Now if only Illinois would follow suit.

Happy Birthday, Mandypants

23 today.

Confusion

When I was a kid, I used to say Asterix instead of asterisk.

But I also used to say asterisk instead of Asterix.

I have no idea why or how they became transposed in my mind.


Besides that, I used to mispronounce "question mark" as "Tin Tin." Wocka wocka!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

If Michael Bay Directed a Cereal Commercial

My Dad Is the Latest Family Member Who Reads My Blog

DAD: So, I was looking at your blog yesterday.

ME: Oh, yeah?

DAD: I'm going to have to say something right now that's going to upset you. You won't like it.

ME: ... Um... okay...

DAD: Your list of porn stars?

ME: Uh huh.

DAD: Seka and Christy Canyon? I've met them both.

ME: What?! Seriously?! How?!

DAD: I guess it just pays to be me.

Generic Music 2

1. Bill Haley & the Comets: (We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock
2. Eddie Cochran: Summertime Blues
3. Jerry Lee Lewis: Great Balls of Fire
4. Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers: Why Do Fools Fall in Love?
5. Del Shannon: Runaway
6. Bobby Darin: Splish Splash
7. The Coasters: Yakety Yak
8. Danny & the Juniors: At the Hop
9. Little Richard: Tutti Frutti
10. Carl Perkins: Blue Suede Shoes
11. Dion & the Belmonts: A Teenager in Love
12. The Penguins: Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine)
13. The Chordettes: Mr. Sandman
14. Mickey & Sylvia: Love Is Strange
15. Thurston Harris: Little Bitty Pretty One
16. Ritchie Valens: Donna
17. Bruce Channel: Hey Baby
18. The Dell-Vikings: Come Go with Me
19. Rick Nelson: Poor Little Fool
20. Bobby Darin: Dream Lover
21. Little Richard: Lucille
22. Joe Turner & His Blues Kings: Shake, Rattle & Roll
23. The Big Bopper: Chantilly Lace
24. Wilbert Harrison: Kansas City
25. The Champs: Tequila
26. Jimmy Soul: If You Want to Be Happy
27. The Marcels: Blue Moon
28. The Platters: The Great Pretender
29. Santo & Johnny: Sleepwalk
30. Ritchie Valens: La Bamba
31. Bobby Freeman: Do You Wanna Dance

Scarlett Johansson for Moet & Chandon

Yeah, I'd say that's pretty accurate.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Live Long and Pose

Film Week

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

NORA ROBERTS' NORTHERN LIGHTS (2009)
Aw, shucks, LeAnn Rimes. You're a beautiful woman with a powerful singing voice. You don't have to go trying to act in TV movies to make us like you more. No, really, you don't. Don't act again. Love you! ** stars.

PYGMALION (1938)
I know many of you will disagree with me, but here it is: it's like getting to watch My Fair Lady without having to hear the insipid songs or endure Audrey Hepburn's "acting." Where I really hated My Fair Lady, I loved Pygmalion. A great deal of that was due to Leslie Howard, giving possibly his best performance as Professor Henry Higgins, a phonologist who makes a bet with a colleague that he can take Eliza Doolittle out of the gutter and teach her to speak like a lady well enough to fool the aristocracy. Higgins is abrasive to the point of being unlikable, but also fascinating and driven. Wendy Hiller is wonderful in her film debut as Eliza, imbuing her with genuine dignity and taking her from guttersnipe to modern 20th Century woman. I think the ending is better than in the Shaw play; is it me, or did it seem like Shaw wanted to punish Eliza for completing her journey into modernity? (And there's probably a lot to say about confirmed bachelor Higgins, so devoted to his mother.) It ends on the right note of uncertainty, a meeting of two modern minds. And one should mention Wilfred Lawson as Eliza's father, who has two wonderful scenes. **** stars.

THINGS TO COME (1936)
H.G. Wells actually worked on this adaptation of his novel, which sees the same town through 100 years of future history. It begins in the 1930s with an outbreak of war; the war keeps going for years, a plague breaks out, and governments collapse. I like that Wells has the fortitude to tell people flat out that they're going to have to choose between advancing the human race into future prosperity (and space exploration) or continuing to focus on petty squabbles that continuously set back the advancement of humankind over stupidities. That doesn't make the film very watchable, though; it's dripping in bathos and the story is very sluggish. Raymond Massey, an actor I love, is hammy and uncertain in the lead. Great special effects, but it's not a very compelling film. **1/2 stars.

GEORGIA RULE (2007)
I'm starting to wonder if Lindsay Lohan was ever really that good an actress. Looking at her now, and seeing some of her recent performances (this, Chapter 27, I Know Who Killed Me, even those episodes of Ugly Betty), it feels more than ever like she just got lucky being in decent movies and then hit Mean Girls, a movie written by Tina Fey in which she, maybe, was playing herself to an extent. Certainly Georgia Rule doesn't do anything to make me miss her as much as I used to. (She looks hot as hell, though, playing off of the slutty jailbait thing.) The movie means well but, being directed by Garry Marshall, just isn't very interested in hitting home emotionally or connecting with anything anyone could feel. Which is sad, because this movie brings up some heavy, complex things that it's not prepared to deal with on an emotional dilemma. This may be the first movie I've ever seen where statutory rape is ultimately just a device in a grandmother-mother-daughter bonding movie. Jane Fonda (fortunately or unfortunately) is very, very good in this movie. She's still excellent, and I wish she were in better films than this and Monster-in-Law. *1/2 stars.

THE GOOD FAIRY (1935)
Delightful William Wyler movie about an orphan (Margaret Sullavan) who becomes a movie theater usherette and tries to do one good deed a day. She makes friends with a hotel waiter (Reginald Owen) who wants to let her experience high society for a night, but she's wooed heavily (and forcefully) by Frank Morgan as a meat importer who falls instantly head over heels for her. To spurn his advances without hurting his feelings, she claims to be married and picks a name out of the phone book to be her "husband": a lawyer (Herbert Marshall) who is down on his luck. From there on, it's a comedy of misunderstandings that's surprisingly sweet, punctuated by Sullavan's desire to do good for people and her complete guilelessness. (It's adorable to see her gush over a fur that's "pure foxine.") It's a true farce, complete with chase scene, but it doesn't descend into stupidity and everything's solved with a good explanation. **** stars.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008)
First let me say that I saw this with the correct subtitles. This is a very interesting movie; it's a coming-of-age drama, and a love story, and a vampire movie. It reminded me of Forbidden Games, but with a horror element that is treated with real gravity. It's about a boy, Oskar, whose parents are divorced and who is picked on awfully in school. He meets a new girl who lives in the apartment next door, Eli, and they start a friendship. Since it's so dark in Sweden, it doesn't seem strange that most of the film takes place in darkness; it's not a mysterious night hiding dangers, but a natural part of daily life which makes the vampire elements seem believable and matter-of-fact. The focus is, instead, on Oskar dealing with life and his friendship with Eli. As they get closer, he finds in her a source of personal strength and an inspiration to stick up for himself. I won't give it away, but the end of this movie is as perfect as I could have hoped for. **** stars. Not to be missed. Now I know why so many of my fellow bloggers were calling this the best movie of 2008: it was.

BIRD OF PARADISE (1932)
Pre-code movie with a lot of sexual innuendo and little else. Dolores del Rio plays a Polynesian woman who falls in love with a visiting sailor, but is picked to be sacrificed to a volcano. It's very pretty, and del Rio is lovely, but I didn't much care for the movie. It's very lusty and sexy (what else would you expect from King Vidor?), but I just couldn't get past its very condescending racist attitudes. I don't buy the excuse that it's 1930s Hollywood attitudes, either--W.S. Van Dyke's White Shadows in the South Seas predates this film by 4 years and takes a much more honest and hard-hitting view of white involvement in (and exploitation of) the Pacific Islands. It's just distracting here, and there's not much to the movie outside of it. *1/2 stars.

DON QUIXOTE (1933)
G.W. Pabst's film is not at all what I expected. It's not a straight or faithful adaptation of Cervantes, but it is an interesting interpretation of it. The Knight of the Mournful Countenance is played by Fyodor Chaliapin, a Russian basso who played Quixote in Jules Massenet's opera. Chaliapin sings in this film, too, and although he has a great voice this is not the Massenet opera; the songs are less... well, they're less. His performance as Quixote is affecting, but I'm not sure I completely liked the way the film presents Quixote as just a straight crazy person. I suppose it's a matter of subjectivity; I never thought of Quixote as sick but as a true believer in a world that no longer believes. But he's very compelling, and George Robey is wonderful as Sancho Panza. What's also interesting in this movie is the way Pabst is commenting on the (at the time new) Nazi regime. The ending is bleak, very sad, and quite moving, and shows the direction the world is heading in with the Nazis doing what all enemies of the imagination do. It's meant to scare and spur to action, but the film does forget to be emotionally involving. Still, it's a very artful film by a great director. ***1/2 stars.

REMEMBER THE TITANS (2000)
Excellent film based on a true story. Will Patton plays the coach of a highly successful high school football team; when zones are redistricted to give African-American students a shot at better schools, his job is given to Denzel Washington and he's busted down to assistant coach. Right away, tensions are high. Patton wants to quit, but stays because the white kids won't play otherwise and he doesn't want to jeopardize their futures in football. Washington, meanwhile, feels bad about taking Patton's position, but also has to prove that he's going to be an effective coach without playing favorites, black or white. A lot of expectations are piled on these two men, and Washington makes it his personal mission to force the integration of the team, partially by pushing the players to interact, partially by giving them a common goal, and partially by basing his decisions strictly on merit. Just about every point of view when it comes to race relations is given time to show itself as either progressive or backwards. None of the characters are really shortchanged; the conflicts feel very realistic and it all works. Some of the performances are excellent; where is Will Patton anymore? He's so good in this movie, as he is in a lot of movies. Among the players, Ryan Hurst and Wood Harris especially stand out. And I really enjoyed a very little Hayden Panettiere as Patton's daughter, her blood pressure rising with each game as she screams her heart out. Denzel Washington should have won his Oscar for this movie, not for Training Day. His performance is tremendous. This is easily the best sports movie I've ever seen; it transcends the genre. **** stars.

Superhero Theory 101

As a corollary to my post two months or so ago about how filmmakers keep missing the mark on Superman, I recently ran across a couple of interviews that seemed like opposite sides of the same coin.

The first is a quote from Joss Whedon that just kind of annoyed the living shit out of me. Interviewed in Maxim (which is Playboy for illiterates), he was asked why it seemed so hard to make movies based on DC characters work. I’d say the recent films Superman Returns and The Dark Knight make it pretty clear: when the symbolism becomes so heavy that your characters are turned into inhuman ciphers, they stop being interesting and start feeling looooong. But Whedon erred on the side of total bullshit:

“Because, with that one big exception (Batman), DC’s heroes are from a different era. They’re from the era when they were creating gods. And the thing that made Marvel Comics extraordinary was that they created people. Their characters didn't live in mythical cities, they lived in New York. They absolutely were a part of the world. Peter Parker's character (Spider-Man) was a tortured adolescent. DC’s characters, like Wonder Woman and Superman and Green Lantern, were all very much removed from humanity. Batman was the only character they had who was so rooted in pain, that had that same gift that the Marvel characters had, which was that gift of humanity that we can relate to.”

Now, besides my annoyance at yet another person telling me that Batman is incredibly realistic while Superman is not (that’s a whole other gripe), I think Whedon’s take on DC heroes is astonishingly, screamingly wrong. Superman isn’t rooted in pain? How did you feel when your parents told you that not only were you adopted, you weren’t even from this planet? And that the world you were born on was destroyed? Superman isn’t rooted in pain? Superman is so riddled with angst that one of his unsung super powers must be how amazingly well-adjusted he is.

I've said this many times, but here it is again: Superman has an angst that ennobles him. After all, the real source of Superman’s power is his belief in truth and life and hope; his faith in the essential goodness of humanity. He models himself after the best in us and shows us what we might be. And there's a lot of angst in there when a talented writer shows us--without taking it too far--that Superman often wonders if he's doing enough, even knowing that doing too much is to infantilize the people who raised him.

Modern pop culture is blinded by antiheroes right now that writers don’t often bother to see the humanity inside Joss Whedon’s so-called gods. The real difference between DC and Marvel is that Marvel characters see their powers as a burden, while DC characters see theirs as a responsibility. Marvel characters hide their secret identities; DC characters create theirs. Clark Kent is a disguise that allows Superman to operate; Diana Prince and Wonder Woman are the same person; Bruce Wayne is a convenient identity Batman uses to benefit his real purpose, which is fighting crime. They fight for justice because of the belief that justice is worth fighting for. That’s a lot of idealism that doesn’t stem from being godlike; it stems from being human in an essential and fundamental way.

What's refreshing then is to see an interview excerpt on io9 with Grant Morrison, who wrote All-Star Superman, one of the best takes I've ever seen on Superman:

"The basic idea of the superhuman is a very malleable one – you can do ‘realistic' superhero stories like say Watchmen, which takes a hard-nosed look at how these creatures might alter the social and political landscape of our own world, or you can – as I prefer to do – position them as archetypes that allow us to talk about the world using the language of symbolism and allegory. There have been ‘realistic' superhero stories, ‘surreal' superhero stories, superhero westerns, superhero war stories, superhero detective stories, superhero horror stories, superhero romances etc.

"I'm not even sure if there is a superhero genre or if the idea of the superhero is a special chili pepper-like ingredient designed to energize other genres. The costumed superhero has survived since 1938, constantly shifting in tone from decade to decade to reflect the fears and the needs of the audience. The current mainstream popularity of the superhero has, I think, a lot to do with the fact that the Terror-stricken, environmentally-handicapped, overpopulated, pedophile-haunted world that's being peddled by our news media is crying out for utopian role models and for any hopeful images of humankind's future potential!"

This is so right on I can't even believe a current comic book writer said it. Honestly, this is the viewpoint to take if you want to make a great superhero movie. It can be done, it's just up to a great writer who finds creative ways to highlight the superhero as a person and not just as a symbol.

And, frankly, I’m not looking to Joss Whedon for that. I’m not as impressed with how clever Joss Whedon is as Joss Whedon is. So when he says there’s no “humanity that we can relate to” in DC Comics characters, what he’s really saying is that he’s not creative enough to see it.

TV Report: Cupid

I never watched the first go-round of Cupid. I just can't stand Jeremy Piven, with the exception of Entourage. Some actors just come across as hostile assholes no matter what they do (Tom Cruise, Ben Stiller, Cameron Diaz) and they're at their best when they're playing hostile assholes, so Piven getting Entourage was a godsend for him. Of course, I'm sick of that show and don't watch it anymore, but that's a different TV Report.

Anyway, Cupid. I never watched it. But I did watch Veronica Mars (um, eventually, on DVD), and since Rob Thomas is the creator of both shows, I figured I should settle in and check out last night's pilot of Cupid.

I didn't love it, but it's not like everything on TV exists for me to love or not. If I wasn't bowled over, I felt the show had a lot of potential, and the positives outweighed the negatives.

The positives:

* Bobby Cannavale as Trevor/Cupid. I didn't think I'd like him at all, but he won me over. He was sweet and had an almost childlike enthusiasm for the possibilities of love. And the character flaws are interesting; he has so much faith in the idea that love can just happen out of thin air that he almost completely misses the match he's creating trying to pursue his original goal.

* The basic episode formula (or, I assume it will be). It's sort of like some kind of romance procedural, but the pilot episode worked. Because you have two different characters representing heart and mind, the show makes a point about the two working in concert for matters of romance. I liked that more time was devoted to Dave and Madeline, the couple being matched together, than to Trevor and his psychiatrist, Claire, who is skeptical but in a way that works. You got to see what the ultimate goal of the stories is.

* The skepticism. The fact is, Trevor misses the mark and everything Claire says about Dave and his fantasy turns out to be true. I liked that, right out of the gate, we got to see Claire's more measured, pragmatic approach to love be the correct course. It wouldn't be good if she were always right--I'm sure she won't be--but it saved Claire from becoming too obvious. It would be too easy to show her up right away just because she's kind of sour.

* Rick Gomez. I just thought he was neat in Band of Brothers, so it's always cool to see him in something.

* It was light, but not so light as to be insubstantial. I think it's probably a show I'm going to end up enjoying more than really loving, but enjoyable is a lot more than I expect to get from television, especially ABC.

The negatives:

* Dave and Madeline. The ending was pretty obvious by the halfway mark--I expected them to get together, but I didn't expect how doggedly Trevor would pursue the wrong course--and the story itself lacked for substance. The hipster stereotypes--Irish folksinger (can we please get over Once?) and the cynical New York reporter--just felt forced and lame. It was sweet without pulling me in; it felt like something to get hipsters weeping softly into their PBRs, not anything with real emotion involved. It held back, and as a result, I didn't care as much as I could have.

* Sarah Paulson as Claire. I have never liked Sarah Paulson in anything. She's just so... blah. I didn't hate her as much as I truly despised her in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (if you're telling me this character is the funniest thing in comedy this side of Tina Fey, you'd damn well better cast an actress with real comic ability), but blah.

So, overall: lots of potential, easy to enjoy. I haven't read any reviews of this show yet today that didn't just compare this show to the original version. But since I'm coming in fresh, I really don't care how it measures up as a remake. It just has to be good on its own, and right now, it seems like it has a chance to be. At least the pilot made me want to keep watching.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Shameless Plug

My new column is up at HoboTrashcan. It's about the SCIF Channel's recent, hilarious decision to rebrand themselves as a typo ("SyFy," for Lord's sake). Check out Becca's new installment of Geek Carnival, in which she does the same thing in comic strip form.

Incidentally, I'll be taking over the Tuesday slot on HoboTrashcan, so Positive Cynicism will run weekly instead of bi-weekly. Not that anyone's interested, but still...

The Health Report, Year 3: Week 16

I had a subbing job lined up for this week; then they called me on Sunday night and said it was canceled. (So much for getting paid this week.) I applied for a job as a teacher's assistant for next year, and they contacted my references; now the job isn't listed on the website, so I assume someone else has been given the job. (Gotta love today's impersonal hiring process; don't call us, we may or may not call you, but twist in the wind the whole time.) Becca (and a lot of financial reporters) thinks her company is about to go out of business, and my mom got laid off yesterday for the second time in six months. I'm starting to think I'll never find a more permanent job, and frankly, with sub jobs coming up less and less, I barely have a part-time job. I'm despairing a lot right now. I think we're one pay period away from having major financial problems. Well, scratch that; we already have major financial problems, we're just one bad pay period away from living on the street.

Depressing days recently.

The med issue has not been worked out, but I do officially have insurance right now. My appointment with the doctor is for Monday morning. I hope everything goes alright. I'm really sick of feeling this way.

Nothing else to report.

The $80 Peekaru Vest

Good Christ, there's no outfit too stupid for white people, is there?

My 20 Favorite Porn Stars

I'm sure this isn't safe for work.

And I'm not sure why I thought of doing it, but hey, what else have I got to do?

Let's see, I turned 18 in 1994, so that means I've been watching porn (or "adult movies" for the more genteel) since about 1987. Some of my list (but, surprisingly, not as much as I'd have thought) leans towards the early eighties and late seventies. I wish adult movies were still as much fun. Back then they seemed somehow sophisticated and naughty at the same time. It didn't matter that they were cheap; they had good-looking people and the sex was hot. And they had stories, dammit. I'm not one of those guys who likes to just watch a scene; I want context and character. I want something really made as ADULT entertainment and not just cynical videos of graphic slamming and tiresome bobbing. Where did the stories go?

Anyway, yet another favorites list from SamuraiFrog:

20. Teri Weigel
As a younger man, her, um... sensitivity really inspired me.

19. Ginger Lynn
Of course.

18. Hyapatia Lee
She wrote a very interesting book on her history in adult films.

17. Carol Connors
Thora Birch's mom.

16. Nina Hartley
The Grand Dame of Porn? I still see her in stuff all the time, and I'm never sorry to.

15. Ona Zee
Ona and her husband did a lot of interesting videos for couples that were part-educational, part-sex film. I like her best, though, in movies like Sleeping Beauty.

14. Evan Stone
I'll just say this: his dick is huge. Also, the man is funny. He's in almost all of the softcore movies I've seen on HBO Zone that Jim Wynorski makes, and whether he's playing a government agent, a cyborg bounty hunter, a rockabilly-singing butler, or a pirate ghost, he is always hilarious. On purpose!

13. Alexandra Silk
She's just so, so cute. Yeah, I used to watch Sex Court.

12. Rebecca Love
One of my current favorites. She's in a lot of those Wynorski movies, too, but the hard stuff is amazing.

11. Christy Canyon
For the classic Holly Does Hollywood alone.

10. Marilyn Chambers
Again, of course. I always thought Insatiable was her best movie. And I was impressed that she did a sequel, Still Insatiable, 20 years later. It wasn't a very good movie, but I always like her in porn.

9. Savannah
So, so cute, and so, so tragic that she killed herself. I fell in love with her in Sinderella. A lot of people did.

8. Gloria Leonard
Old school Misty Beethoven. And the publisher of High Society (in name, at least) and creator of the phone-sex line. And she almost got Norman Mailer to write an adult film once!

7. Seka
The first movie I saw her in was Downstairs, Upstairs. I used to listen to Seka's talk show out of Chicago; sadly, she's in Kansas City now and no longer on the radio. I think she personifies a lot of what the industry was about in the 1970s. This is hardly an original opinion, but still.

6. Stacy Valentine
I really miss her in porn. She was like a modern pin-up girl with a dirty sense of herself. I love you, Stacy.

5. Juli Ashton
I used to watch Night Calls every night. Juli made a big impression on me, and even though she had sex with Scotty Schwartz in the infamous Scotty's X-Rated Adventure, I can't hear a bad word about her.

4. Stormy Daniels
My absolute favorite current porn star. I dearly hope she runs against David Vitter in 2010, as she's supposedly considering. She has a real sense of abandon in her work that I love the hell out of.

3. Kay Parker
Taboo is a classic; Parker was an amazing performer. She also wrote a book, which I haven't read yet.

2. Colleen Brennan
She starred in the first two porno movies I ever saw--Trinity Brown and Tower of Power. She's basically what I measure all other adult performers against. And yet, oddly, I didn't know she also went by the name Sharon Kelly until last week.

1. Asia Carrera
The best ever, in my opinion. Autographed pictures of her hang on my wall. (My kitchen wall, oddly enough, but my apartment looks like a cluttered comic book store, anyway.) Autographed DVDs adorn my library. I adore her.