Saturday, May 02, 2009

Saturday Playlist

1. Brighter Side of Darkness: Love Jones
2. Bruce Stringbean and the S Street Band: Born to Add
3. Avenue Q: You Can Be Loud as the Hell You Want To
4. George Harrison: Hear Me Lord
5. Bryan Ferry: Funny How Time Slips Away
6. The Bob Crewe Generation: The Chamber of Dreams
7. Dave Brubeck Quartet: When You Wish Upon a Star
8. Harry Nilsson: As Time Goes By
9. Jane Russell: I Must Have That Man
10. Louis Armstrong: Twelfth Street Rag

1. Soul music is always the right music, especially at the top of a randomly-selected iTunes playlist.
2. A Sesame Street classic.
3. Funnily enough, followed by Avenue Q. Learnin' how to make love. More soul funk.
4. A nice, heartfelt, quieter song from the classic All Things Must Pass. I love George Harrison, but think All Things Must Pass outclasses everything afterwards. I really only need All Things Must Pass and a compilation of nearly equal length.
5. Bryan Ferry gets a little soulful, too.
6. From the lounge-y Barbarella score.
7. From the wonderful Dave Digs Disney album. I think they used to use this specific version on a Walt Disney World commercial.
8. Harry Nilsson does a classic standard the way it should be done.
9. Jane gets passionate on her Miss Jane Russell Sings album. Very nice voice.
10. I recently procured the Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings, and there's a lot of gems in there. Even if you don't know you've heard this tune, you've heard it.


I so can't wait for this movie.

An Argument I Had Four Times Yesterday

Thanks to this post.

CHRISTIAN: I hate gay people and their lifestyle and think that no one should be allowed to be gay. As a Christian, I can't stand for that.

ME: Hey, I don't like Christianity, but you don't see me seriously telling you that you shouldn't be allowed to practice that. I don't think anyone has the right to tell people that they can't be who they are.


Friday, May 01, 2009

Miley Says Jesus Loves Everyone; Christians Disagree

Donald Wildmon just won't go away. For a couple of decades now, he's led a crusade against American tolerance. He's a hatemonger wielding influence, but because he does it in the name of religion, it's somehow acceptable and even encouraged by a lot of tiny, frightened people. Mostly it's directed against the gay community, whom Wildmon has a crazed obsession with.

The latest target of the American Family Association is Miley Cyrus. After the whole idiotic Miss California flap, Miley said some things to Perez Hilton over Twitter:

* “Everyone deserves to love and be loved and most importantly smile.”

* “Jesus loves you and your partner and wants you to know how much he cares! That's like a daddy not loving his lil boy cuz he's gay and that is wrong and very sad!”

* “Like I said everyone deserves to be happy.”

* “God’s greatest commandment is to love. And judging is not loving.”

* “I am a Christian and I love you - gay or not - because you are no different than anyone else! We are all God's children.”

Well, naturally a group of fundamentalist Christians couldn't allow such an endorsement of love and God's commandments to slide by. The American Family Association, made up exclusively of intolerant homophobes, have decided that "she is not the positive role model she was once thought to be" and "clearly she does not understand the bible." (Why is Wildmon surprised? He's been going after Disney for years, mostly for letting gay people into their theme parks.)

(Update: These statements were reproduced by the AFA; they originate with One Million Moms, who also said that Miley's pro-love, pro-tolerance message "will send the wrong message to our children." Keep indoctrinating the hate there.)

So, for saying that Jesus loves everybody and that everyone’s deserving of love, she “clearly” doesn’t understand what being a Christian is? Wow, these people are fucking sick. Miley is the kind of Christian I almost don't believe exists anymore--the kind whose love for Jesus tells her to be tolerant, loving, and accepting of other human beings. Love thy neighbor, right? The greatest commandment is love, right?

Well, not to the American Family Association. They're mad at Miley for not being intolerant and spreading the unChristian message of hating everyone who doesn't live their life gripped in the fear that someone, somewhere, might be different.

These are the same people who don't consider Catholics to be Christians. And they hate, hate, hate gay people and anyone who comes into contact with them without stoning them to death. They are as bad as the people who want to impose sharia law in the Middle East. I've heard these people saying now that the horrific execution of Matthew Shepard never happened; that it was merely pro-gay propaganda. How do you confront someone who could believe that on anything approaching a rational level? The discourse in this country has sunk so low.

I think these people are completely unhinged. Here's another bit of fundamental idiocy: Miss California, white evangelical America's favorite sore loser, is in a new anti-tolerance campaign whose tagline is "No Offense." As in "No offense, I don't hate you at all, I just think your lifestyle is sick and wrong and you shouldn't be allowed to have the same civil rights as me because I'm disgusted by your perversions. No offense."

No offense? Seriously? I hear this shit all the time now. "Oh, no, I don't hate gay people, I just don't think they should be allowed to act gay." Or "I have nothing against gay people, they just can't be trusted around children and shouldn't be allowed to get married."

Well you know what? I have nothing against religious fundamentalists, I just think they can't be trusted around children and shouldn't be allowed to vote. No offense. Oh, no, wait: offense. It'll be a cold day in hell when I'm worried about offending the sensibilities of bigots.

You know, we've also found out today that white evangelical Christians are the people most likely to support torture. They also support the pathetic "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" compromise (the majority of Catholics don't) because public service and sacrifice are apparently less meaningful if you're gay. Well, you notice that they don't worship a symbol of love and peace like the dove or anything; it's the cross, an instrument of torture, that is the treasured icon of Christianity. Says a lot.

America is just way too comfortable with hating things that make them uncomfortable and don't really affect their lives that much.

I'm proud of Miley, as I'm proud of any young person who actually gets it.

I'm Just Gonna Say It

We need lots more of Kevin Michael Richardson on How I Met Your Mother.

I've Been Awarded

John has awarded me with the Blogging Brings Us Closer Together Award.

I'm not sure what the rules are for this one, but John wrote something very nice about meeting me at WizardWorld Chicago last year, so I decided I'd pass this award on to five bloggers who have made the world a smaller, more comfortable, nicer place.

MC, who has awarded me four times for transmundanity, which is an excellent way to be appreciated.

Jaquandor, who has graciously sent me his copy of Twilight so that I may paint a target on myself for Twitards everywhere.

JA, who never calls me by my blog handle, but always by my name, which I find endearing.

Suzy, a prolific reader who once mailed me some homemade soap which was awesome.

And Dr. Monkey, who, among other things, mailed me this postcard which came this week:

And it's damn cool. Communicore, the hub of Future World. Has a 1983 copyright date from Walt Disney. This is unexpected, unlooked for awesomeness, which just makes a day.

Thanks again, John.

G.I. Joe Trailer

I can't decide if this looks ridiculous, awesome, awesomely ridiculous, or ridiculously awesome. Maybe it's all of those things. Not sure I dig the accelerator suits, but I see where they're going for a technothriller-meets-Iron Man kind of vibe here. What I do like is the tone of the trailer, which is oddly matter-of-fact and not overly "Look at how cool we are." I kind of miss the tone of the show, where regular people do amazing things, but then again, I also miss the Baroness' ridiculous Pottsylvanian accent. I'll get over it.

Still not sure if I need to see this or not.

Cynical Six

1. Does anyone remember the Summer of the Shark? Back in the summer of 2001, the media had nothing to report on, so it turned a couple of shark attacks into a major news story about how there was some kind of new, bizarre, unexplainable shark attack epidemic that was dooming us all. Nature had turned against us! Of course, it was really just embarrassing news hype; there were less shark attacks than usual that summer, and there had even been 47 previous attacks that year that got little to no coverage. But a bored media took something and blew it out of all reasonable proportion and made a lot of people look incredibly stupid in the months just before 9/11. That’s how I feel about all of this swine flu coverage. A few people have a new flu strain and some people (far fewer than the annual number of people under normal circumstances) have died, and it’s suddenly a plague? The world is in flames and the dead are rising from the grave? Welcome to the beginning of another early summer slow news cycle. Quit closing the schools until we know what we’re dealing with. Don't cause a panic until you know what you're panicking about. For now, get some blankets and some vitamin C, and drink plenty of water and wash your hands.

2. The Appellate Court rejected the Department of Justice’s invoking of state secrets on the Jeppson lawsuit. Five victims of the CIA’s rendition and torture program, which we now know to be instituted by the Bush White House, have brought a lawsuit against the US government, which the Bush administration argued could not be brought to trial under their greatly expanded “state secrets” doctrine. Bush argued that the entire subject matter could not be argued in court, even though the lawsuit alleged illegal behavior on his part. The District Court accepted this, and during the appeal, the Obama administration supported the Bush position and announced their intention to continue the policy. It was a major disappointment, and morally indefensible. Turns out it’s legally indefensible, too; the court ruled that state secrets do not entitle the government to demand dismissal of a law suit based on their flimsy “subject matter” assertion. They can only make claims to specific documents and other facts, not an entire subject matter. In other words, the way it’s always been used historically. Not only that, but the court has the right to determine whether or not secrecy is truly warranted on individual documents, rather than just taking the administration’s word for it. I guess Obama is going to have to learn that the president is not above the law.

From the ruling: “The sweeping characterization of the ‘very subject matter’ bar has no logical limit—it would apply equally to suits by U.S. citizens, not just foreign nationals; and to secret conduct committed on U.S. soil, not just abroad. According to the government’s theory, the Judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from demands and limits of the law.” In other words, Bush was placing himself above the law. Obama was trying to preserve that power. Chilling.

3. I really don’t believe for a second that we’re going to significantly withdraw from Iraq. They’re already inching away from this promise and finding exceptions, such as staying in Mosul because of the high insurgent activity. Some of the major bases aren’t closing at all. Secretary of State Clinton said “We are committed to seeing an Iraq that is sovereign, stable, and self-reliant, and fully integrated into the region.” That sounds like a longer occupation is in store. Especially since I still don’t believe that the current Iraqi government has plans to honor their commitments to the Sunnis; I think either they’re going to crack down on the Sunnis or the Sunnis are going to turn on the government. Either way, there’s going to be more fighting without US presence. There’s no way we can withdraw and still fulfill this stated commitment to a stable, unified Iraq. No way at all.

4. Check your federal withholdings, guys. New tax withholding tables issued by the IRS might be causing taxpayers to get hundreds of dollars more than they are entitled to under the “Making Work Pay” tax credit, which means you might end up owing next April instead of getting a refund. The IRS has acknowledged that there’s a problem with their tables but haven’t done anything to warn people about it. Like everything else the government does, it went out half-assed and unfinished, giving some people too much credit. For example, if you work two jobs and make $20,000 a year at each job, they’re giving you a $400 credit for each job, but you’re only supposed to get $400 total, so the government is going to want that extra $400 back next year. If you’re a married couple and you both work, they’re supposed to give you a total $800 credit, but they’re giving you $800 each and are going to want that extra 800 bucks back come tax season. Retirees are going to get screwed even harder, because the $250 payments that are supposed to go to people who don’t qualify for the tax credit are also going to retirees who have earned income (and the government will want that back) and retirees who have federal income taxes withheld from pension benefits (which are not earned income and don’t qualify, so the government will… you get the idea). So, another gold star for Timothy Geithner on this one. He admits he doesn't know how to deal with it, and that a lot of people in Treasury just want to ignore it. Nice.

5. So, the New York Times whines for a month about not getting to ask President Obama a question at his last press conference. Then they get another chance and Jeff Zeleny asks: “What has surprised you the most about this office, enchanted you the most about serving in this office, humbled you the most, and troubled you the most?” What is this, Miss America? No wonder print media is on life support.

6. You can’t go nude in a lot of Swiss cantons anymore. Several of them were named in German nudist magazines as the best place for naked hiking, so nudists or naturists or whatever started showing up and hiking in nothing but those giant backpacks. So it’s now illegal in Swiss towns to hike in the nude. Which is kind of depressing. I thought those people were supposed to be laid back. If you can’t get naked in Switzerland, where can you?

Brides of Oscar

You know, it does kind of cheapen the value of the award when you consider that both stars of this very, very stupid movie are Oscar-nominated actresses.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Little April Showers

Lots and lots of rain and showers and thunder here in the Midwest the last couple of weeks, and it's going to continue. With April on its way out, and a very rainy day it is, it put me in mind of one of my favorite sequences in Bambi.

The Summer Movies of '09

Even though it's hard to buy with the rainy Midwestern spring still working its never-a-reliable-temperature-area magic on us, according to movie studios, summer starts tomorrow. For the last 10 years, Hollywood has been pushing the summer opening further and further back, still frontloading the more fun-looking blockbusters right in the beginning and turning August into a dumping ground of nonsense. But what the hell, that's how it goes, so here I am handicapping my summer in advance.

I saw a preview two weeks ago for this Battle for Terra. While I appreciate that someone's still willing to make movies about the ethical ramifications of first contact, it just looked like old hat to me. I've read this in a thousand short stories, and 90% of computer animation looks charmless and dull.

As for Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, the sad thing is I'll see it on DVD. Why? I don't know, probably because Emma Stone's in it, and I'm very forgiving of Jennifer Garner. It looks hellaciously stupid, though. Mark Waters directed. I loved Mean Girls, hated Just Like Heaven, and loved The Spiderwick Chronicles. Going by that pattern, I can't wait to see what Mark Waters has coming up after this garbage.

And that's a pass on X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Meh. Is Hugh Jackman ever going to make a movie I want to see? Love him, hate his films.

I see Jim Jarmusch has a movie coming out, The Limits of Control, that looks interesting. It reminds me that I've only ever seen one Jim Jarmusch movie, Broken Flowers, and should see more of them.

Well, of course I'm going to see Star Trek. And I've given my reasons why.

Next Day Air... blurgh. I see the pictures for Rudo y Cursi and I realize I just don't much care for Diego Luna. It would never stop me from seeing a movie, I just don't think he's very good. Actually, I might see this on video. It'll never play out near me.

I hated The Da Vinci Code far too much to see Angels and Demons. Not my kind of thing at all.

I'm mostly interested in The Brothers Bloom because director Rian Johnson also made Brick, which I really liked. And Rachel Weisz is always delightful. I'm sure I won't see it until it's on DVD, but I plan to see it.

I don't know what Management is, but it's got Jennifer Aniston, so it must be skippable.

I couldn't be less interested in Terminator: Salvation. I mean that, too. I see the previews and I don't feel anything about them. They just kind of come and go and I sit there passively not caring either way. Which was kind of the experience watching Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines; it just sort of went by without being interesting and was suddenly over and now I don't remember dick about it. Meh. Two great movies was enough. They should stop pushing it.

I am, however, going to go see Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. I think the trailers are kinda charming. I saw the original at a second run theater because my mom wanted to go, and I ended up liking it more than I expected I would. Since then, it's become something I can watch on cable over and over and keep enjoying. I like the first movie, so I hope I'll like this one, too. And Becca loves the first one, so she's pretty excited for this. A little bonus is seeing Clint Howard in the trailer, once again playing NASA ground control.

Dance Flick looks like you would expect a parody that puts that much creativity into the title to look. Pass. Forever.

I tend to not like director Stephan Elliott, although I just realized I've never seen The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I have seen his most recent film, 1999's Eye of the Beholder, which I did not like. And I've seen Welcome to Woop Woop, which is deadly awful. But he's got Noel Coward going for him here, and I'll always give a movie with Colin Firth a chance. And Jessica Biel helps. I mean, she doesn't help the quality of a movie, but she does help the chances of my watching it.

As for The Girlfriend Experience, I'll probably see it. I see every Soderbergh movie. I don't always like them, but I always see them for one reason or another.

I always try to see Pixar movies in the theater (except for Cars), so I'll be heading out to see Up for certain. In 2D, because 3D sucks. I love the trailers for this.

Be honest: does it give anyone else second thoughts that Sam Raimi's awesome-looking Drag Me to Hell is rated PG-13? Because it makes me think I can wait to see this one. I'll always see a Raimi movie sooner or later, and I'm very excited to see his first non-Spider-Man-related movie of the 21st century, but maybe there'll be an unrated DVD or something...

I think Land of the Lost looks awesome. I know not everyone thinks that, but I think it looks funny.

Away We Go... I don't care for Sam Mendes very much as a filmmaker, and I just do not like Maya Rudolph at all. My Life in Ruins has Nia Varadlos, so that's a gigantic no for me. As for The Hangover, it looks like DVD fodder that might or might not be okay, but... another frigging Vegas comedy? We get it, people get drunk and do shit.

I've never seen the original The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, but I'm sure it's better than any movie starring Denzel and Travolta. Think I'll stay home and watch the original instead. I don't know enough about Moon to have an opinion, though I'm always hopeful for science fiction. Imagine That looks like Bedtime Stories Redux--yet another in a long line of movies aimed at children that are really movies about men in a midlife crisis no kid could care about. That said, it looks less irritating than Bedtime Stories and I like Eddie Murphy, even in crappy kids movies. I'll probably watch it if it's on HBO and I'm bored.

Dead Snow looks awesome. I'm pretty sick of the whole zombie fad, but Nazi zombies in the mountains... yeah, I'm gonna see that.

I can't wait to see Year One. Harold Ramis has a spotty track record as a director, but I love this new group of comedies and the scenes I've seen from this are pretty funny.

I also want to see Woody Allen's Whatever Works, but I always end up missing his movies in the theater for one reason or another. Like all of his movies, I really hope this is good. And if it isn't, well, it isn't. But Larry David in a Woody Allen movie sounds inspired to me.

The Proposal looks horrible, but I've never gotten the supposed charm of Sandra Bullock. I'm not sure about Food, Inc.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen can suck it. So can the first movie.

I'm torn on My Sister's Keeper. It looks like it could be the lamest Lifetime movie shit, but having lost a sister to cancer at a young age, I'd like to a story dealing with that. So maybe I'll see it.

I want to see Cheri. Michelle Pfeiffer, Stephen Frears, Christopher Hampton reuniting... and I actually didn't like Dangerous Liaisons.

I still haven't seen the trailer for Public Enemies. Tim Burton and Walt Disney have worked in concert to strip me of any love I once had for Johnny Depp. But the cast is pretty great. I need to see the trailer. I used to like Michael Mann. In the eighties and nineties. I also think Melvin Purvis is an interesting historical figure.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs? No. Surgically remove my brain instead.

Another Nia Vardalos movie? I'm not going to see I Hate Valentine's Day. Nia, that's enough. You're done. No more.

I am totally going to see Bruno. My favorite part of Borat was how much of the humor was rooted in America's total selfishness and desperate fear of ever being inconvenienced, made to feel uncomfortable, or have to come into any contact with a human being, ever. If he's going to do the same thing for homophobia, I'm right there.

I Love You, Beth Cooper: I love you, Hayden Panettiere. Yep, I'm going to see this. Don't expect much from Chris Columbus, generally, but it's got my Hayden.

The Hurt Locker might be good for DVD because Kathryn Bigelow movies are sometimes good.

Fine, don't put Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince out on my birthday anymore. Put it out two days earlier, see if I care! It's not like I'm not going to go, honestly.

(500) Days of Summer sounds pretty good to me. Well, actually, the premise sounds like it could easily be more romantic comedy claptrap, but the buzz has been so good and talked it up so well that it sounds like a movie I want to see.

Boy, how long have they had All the Boys Love Mandy Lane in the queue? I feel like I've been hearing about this movie for years. Still not interested, though.

G-Force looks like the Hell of a Thousand Paper Cuts with Lemon Poured on Them. Secret agent guinea pigs? Jesus Fuck, no.

I don't know what All Good Things is, but I still find Ryan Gosling hard to take seriously. I don't know what Orphan is, either, but I know it's from the director of the so-so-mostly-crap House of Wax remake. I need to see a preview, I guess. As for The Ugly Truth, I'm beyond done with Katherine Heigl.

Of course I'm going to see Funny People as soon as it comes out. I love Judd Apatow. I know it's very hip now to say he's not funny, but I love his work. The guy can even get me to see a movie with Adam Sandler in it, and so far no one has been able to force me into the theater for that.

I'm torn on They Came from Upstairs; I like a good kids' movie, and this one has Ashley Tisdale. One of the writers co-wrote Fanboys and The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, the other co-wrote Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. It looks very, very kids' movie, though.

I have no idea what Adam is. I don't dig Hugh Dancy, though. He seems like a low-tier Orlando Bloom, which is not saying anything.

I want to be excited about G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, but looking at that horrible action figure of Cobra Commander was such a disappointment. It has inspired me to take a look at the old show again, and it's been surprisingly nice, but after Van Helsing do I really want to trust Stephen Sommers again?

And even though Julie & Julia is a Nora Ephron movie, I actually really want to see it. Meryl Streep and Amy Adams are wonderful, and the plot sounds so interesting... damn, I want to see it more than I want to see G.I. Joe. Growing up... Maybe...

I will see anything Robert Rodriguez does, but I'm not sure I can go and see Shorts in the theater. It looks a little too much like his two worst movies, Spy Kids 3D and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl. But it does have Kat Dennings...

I want to see A Perfect Getaway. I like David Twohy as a director and Milla Jovovich is in it. The plot about psychopaths murdering tourists in Hawaii sounds a little lame, but I'll see it on DVD.

I'm going to pass on Final Destination: Death Trip. I've only seen the first one, although I did love the first movie. District 9 sounds like intriguing science fiction. Bandslam looks like Raise Your Voice Again, but with Aly Michalka and Vanessa Hudgens in it, I'll see it on DVD. I nearly always like Ang Lee movies, so I'm in for Taking Woodstock. I'm undecided on The Time Traveler's Wife, but how cool is it that Eric Bana has three movies coming out that don't look awful? The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard is a pass. I'm sick of Piven.

I love Michael Cera, so I want to see Paper Heart, but I don't like his girlfriend Charlyne Yi at all. She annoyed me so much in Knocked Up; she was the one thing in that movie that I really, really wish wasn't there. It sounds like a cool movie with an experimental narrative, though, so I hope it's at least interesting.

The film I'm most excited for is Miyazaki's Ponyo. I can not wait for this.

I'm completely on board for Inglourious Basterds. I've learned to stop quibbling about what's going to be in an upcoming Tarantino movie, because I always think they look stupid, and I always end up completely loving them. So I'm there.

I wish The Post Grad Survival Guide starred someone more interesting than Alexis Bledel. Blurgh. Even on Gilmore Girls she was blah.

I still wish they had the guts to put H2 out around Halloween instead of in freaking August. I love Rob Zombie as a director, though, and I actually thought his remake of Halloween was great. The trailer for the sequel is... odd. The angel is weird, but if it means more Sheri Moon, I'm down for that. But I've yet to not like a Rob Zombie movie. I didn't go see the first one in the theater because of the crappy reviews, but I might go see this one.

I will for sure see The Boat That Rocked. I've been hoping Richard Curtis would direct another movie, and I think that'll be a nice way to bring summer to a close.

Star Wars Weekends

I love these posters from to promote Star Wars Weekends at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

You Shall Not Pass!

TV Report: Sylar and Another Underwhelming Heroes Finale

Seriously, Sylar, what do you want?

I've been enjoying most of this season of Heroes, but Monday's season finale was another finale that was underwhelming and quick considering all of the time and set-up it took to get there.

It also did nothing really interesting to resolve Sylar, and this is one of the ways the show just bugs the hell out of me. Every time I think Sylar is going to have an interesting arc, the writers just can't pull it off. In the first season, he was a serial killer who went around offing others like him and stealing their powers, and the tension is whether or not he's going to get to Claire to take her power, which would make him unstoppable. In the second season, he sucked. There was hardly any point to him, other than to show what an evil bastard he was without his powers. We get it; Sylar wants to kill every other super-person in the world so he can be the only one and he can be all special.

This third season did some kind of interesting things with Sylar. Interesting enough that it's frustrating to see the writers keep backtracking and adding motivations that don't make any sense. It's so murky I just don't get it.

It was bad enough that this season started with, essentially, Sylar raping Claire and stealing her power. (You all know my Claire associations and why it bothers me when she's put in danger just to fuck with the audience.) But I actually liked the whole trying-to-be-a-good-guy thing. It's pretty clear that while Sylar wants to be special, he also wants something from someone; he just hasn't figured out from whom. This season he was searching for all manner of father figures and mother figures and girlfriend figures and son figures. It's like he wants to be loved or admired or approved of or appreciated as a person, while simultaneously wanting to be better than everyone else. Trouble is, this guy just turns on a dime, and once you aren't giving him what he wants in the way he wants it, you're toast.

(And yes, I'm still disappointed that Kristen Bell's Elle was a waste of screen time, just another outpouring of the Sylar Pity Party instead of a character with her own arc. If she had one, it didn't make any sense.)

I really do think some of the best episodes this season were part of the Sylar-wants-to-be-good plotline, especially the episodes with his relationship with Elle. There was some depth added to the character, and we saw him as a calm, loving father in the future and as a decent, loving boyfriend in the past. It's obvious that he can control and overcome his compulsion to murder people if he wants to. It's just disappointing that he doesn't want to for very long.

Sylar was so interesting in Volume 3 that it was incredibly disappointing to see him turn back into the soulless, aimless serial killer in Volume 4. They immediately made him less interesting and piled on the mommy and daddy issues past the point of cliche. Ooh, Sylar had an unhappy childhood and now he kills people. Didn't everyone on this show have an unhappy childhood? Sorry, you're going to need to give me a better motivation than that.

So, okay, I get why Sylar would want to work with Danko to kill as many powers as he can, but why try to become the President of the United States? There was no real motivation for it other than this childish quest to be special and important. It didn't feel remotely organic to me at all. And he didn't even have a plan for what to do with the presidency. He was just going to, you know, be prez.

And now Sylar thinks he and Claire are going to be lovers one day? Fucking creepy. Yes, the kid you symbolically raped will fall in love with you. Given this show's weird fetish for torturing, murdering, and defiling blonds, I won't be surprised if it happens. Which is maybe too much of a mindfuck for me, given my attachment to the Claire character and my queasy panic whenever something bad happens to her.

Heroes is a show that has been able to create some truly scary villains. Season One Sylar was terrifying. Adam Monroe was a scary villain, because he couldn't die (and I still think they killed him too soon; I don't know why he was so damn unpopular, except that so many people hated the second season). Maury Parkman was scary. Doyle is scary. Arthur Petrelli was kind of terrifying. I'd like to see more scary villains on this show, rather than people who are just ambiguous (like Linderman, that was a let down), nonsensical (Elle's motivations were... what?), or morally gray (Danko, who was efficient at everything except being scary). If you're going to motivate Sylar, at least do something interesting and believable.

The other big problem I had with the finale: the ending is completely ridiculous. So, Nathan is killed by Sylar, Sylar's still alive but unconscious (despite his invulnerability--Claire doesn't get drunk, but Sylar gets knocked out from tranquilizers?), and Danko's been arrested. Nathan's plan to round up and store all of the powers has been a complete and utter failure and will be exposed. So, apparently the obvious thing to do is to have Parkman use his mind powers to convince Sylar he's actually Nathan, so that it looks to the world like Sylar is dead and Nathan's still alive.


See, this goes back to my biggest problem with the show, is that the writers just choose to ignore the characters' powers when it's convenient to the plot. Like the whole thing with the formula in Volume 3; the writers just ignored that Hiro could go back in time and stop himself from ever opening the safe and then decide he was never going to time travel again. (Time travel has absolutely been this show's worst element.)

This time around, the writers ignore that Peter now has the same powers as Sylar and could just use them to fix the situation: just shape shift into Nathan and resign from the Senate. Sylar's there, you either kill him and burn the body or Parkman wipes his mind and renders him unable to access his powers and lets the guy start over again as just another person. Then Nathan "dies" in some kind of accident, and it's over. On to Volume 5.

Hell, Sylar's obviously going to come back, anyway. But starting him off as normal would've been a hell of a lot more interesting way to develop it.

Instead, we get some claptrap about how Angela can't lose Nathan, so why not do something completely ridiculous instead?

And, of course, we've also been getting the runaround from the whole Claire/Noah Bennett plotline, where Claire can never bring herself to trust Noah because he isn't more honest and forthcoming with her. It's the kind of manufactured conflict that can be resolved with a single conversation, and it's boring and contrived. Prepare for more of that in Volume 5 when she discovers that her daddy lied to her about her rapist being dead.

More of the same, coming in September. And I know I'll be there, because as much as this show confounds me, I keep watching it. At least the next volume looks like it'll finally have something interesting for Ali Larter to do.

And maybe we can get Hayden Panettiere out of the dowdy old lady sweaters next time?


"Eeeek! OMG, what?!"

Oh, nothing.

TV Report: Some L&O Thoughts

I caught last night's Caylee Anthony-inspired episode of Law & Order: SVU simply because my Duffster was on it and I just wanted to watch her grunge down and do something a little grittier, even if I knew going it was only going to be as gritty as a dopey show like SVU, which makes Lifetime movies look like Hitchcock thrillers, was willing to get.

Duffster played a selfish young mother who claims her kid is kidnapped and, of course, the kid turns up dead. I kept wondering whether SVU would have the guts to have her turn out to be--despite the fact that she was an incredibly shitty mother who was incapable of taking care of a child--innocent of killing the child. To my surprise, they did; Duffster didn't kill the baby, she died of measles and Duffster buried the baby in a moment of panic and selfishness because she was worried she accidentally did kill her. That came through at about the halfway mark.

What really surprised me is that the show then went on to try to examine the ever-more-vocal anti-MMR crowd. You know, these people who think that not getting your children vaccinated is somehow good parenting? The problem is, within the confines of a show like SVU, which I've only seen a few episodes of but which is always terrible and shallow and sensationalist, there wasn't much room to seriously examine the conflict they set up, which is parental wishes vs. societal concerns. Or, as I prefer to see it, crackpot anti-establishment theory vs. being a responsible member of society who doesn't create situations where children die of curable diseases. But that's just me.

I don't know, I appreciated a TV show bringing up an issue that's just gaining too much noise from one side, but the show simply brought up the issue and then left it there. Instead, they went the route I've always seen SVU go, which is to bring up serious issues, sensationalize them, try to morally equate one thing with another, and then trivialize it all by ending with an attempt to shock the audience (and, disturbingly, sell the message that the police can't protect you at all).

But it is something I'd like to see more debate on, if only to stem the rising tide of ignorant nonsense and parental irresponsibility.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tuesday = Plug

I'd be remiss in my self-promotional duties if I forgot to mention that my latest installment of Positive Cynicism is up today. I talk about why I'm going into the new Star Trek movie with hopeful feelings.

The Health Report, Year 3: Week 20

So very tired.

I simplified my diet again and I stopped feeling so heavy and tired. I haven't touched anything with near as much sugar as that Blizzard last week, and I don't plan to do that ever again. I've also started losing weight again, and the incredible back pain that sometimes comes with... well, came with it. When my weight redistributes, it can be murder on my back. I feel better now, but Sunday night and Monday morning were particularly awful. I could barely walk for a little while, or even lay down comfortably.

Since then, things have been okay. My TV got fixed, which is a plus, but I'm used to having it off all day long, so I don't watch it as much as I used to. It's nice having quiet during the day.

Today, I have aches in my body and head. I blame the weather; the pressure is changing constantly (it hurts my always-sensitive ears) with the storm fronts waving through, and it just makes me kind of grumpy and achy and lame. Blurgh.

634-5789 (If You Need a Little Lovin')

Cynical Six

1. Alright, so... swine flu. Not only that, a pandemic swine flu, just to get all big and scary on us. And it's officially a public health emergency. I'm of two minds on this, so let me just delineate this.

One the one hand: America is completely vulnerable to this kind of a pandemic. Our health care system sucks. There's an economic crisis. These do work hand in hand to make this situation worse. In the last month on this blog, I said that there was every possibility that an illness of some kind could really hurt the population because of the twin crises of health care and the economy.

How many people do you know that are working two jobs because they can't keep up with their payments? Is one of the payments they can't keep up with health insurance? Are they more reluctant to go to the doctor for something as seemingly minor as flu symptoms, especially in flu season and with the insurance situation being what it is? I mean, they have to go to work, right? And do any of them have second jobs that are, say, in the service industry, like deliveries or waiting tables or retail, or do they work at schools? You know, jobs where they come into contact with a lot of people? Welcome to the pandemic, America! How are we supposed to stay home if we don't feel well when our bosses won't let us take a day off? You see where I'm going with this?

But, here's where the rest of my mind is on this: remember that episode of South Park where everyone in town gets SARS, so they have to go to the trouble of eating saltines and drinking 7-Up? Every year we're told about some outbreak that's going to kill all of us--West Nile, avian flu, SARS--and every year, we survive it. Now, I don't want to minimize this overmuch, because people have died and will continue to die, as people die of illnesses (including the flu) every year. There's reason to be concerned. But this is what viruses do; they mutate, they find ways to beat our immune systems and our medicines, and then we (hopefully) find a way to beat them back.

What I guess I'm getting at is this: there's a gigantic difference between a new strain of the flu that we don't know how to treat yet and a plague. And the media, predictably, is treating this like the end of days. Health professionals have been upcoming--it could be like 1918, or it could be a blip. So let's all calm down, keep ourselves as healthy as we can, and not let the media hype this into a scare.

2. I think it's also worth noting that the Republican Party was recently crowing about how they "saved" us from spending $780 or $900 million (sources I've read vary) on pandemic flu preparedness by getting it out of the recovery bill. Man, first they ridicule spending to monitor volcanoes, and then there's a volcano... now they stop us from spending for pandemic flu preparedness, and we've got a pandemic flu. I don't believe in God, but there's something in the universe that really wants to prove that certain people need to shut the fuck up. And the Republicans are blocking Kathleen Sibelius, Obama's nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services, because she doesn't believe in abortion bans, so we're understaffed there, too.

I've heard a lot of people warn that we shouldn't politicize this pandemic, but why not? The right's trying to do it; they've been bitching that this is "proof" that we need tighter border security, as if that's the key to stopping viral infection. I live near Chicago, which has one of the biggest and busiest international airports in the world. What do you think is going to happen? And the right has also been claiming that this pandemic is some kind of tactic to push Sibelius' nomination through. So, you know, if the right is going to politicize the pandemic to play to the ignorant they rely on to help them get elected, why shouldn't everyone else use it to make the right look as stupid as they are?

3. It is interesting that President Obama announced last week that he's going to push through major health care reform using reconciliation, though. The Republicans merely whined in response that his attempt to bypass more filibustering somehow means they've won a victory by making him "sensitive."

4. It isn't surprising that Arlen Specter has switched parties and become a Democrat; he's always been a moderate. At least, that's how the Republicans have been playing it, and the Republicans have just gotten crazier and louder, the way they always do when they run out of ideas. They're all bluffing now and acting like it's no big deal, which is as funny to watch as it is predictable. With the Senate edging closer and closer to filibuster-proof Democratic control, they'd better be worried. They need an image rehabilitation badly, and Michael Steele is not the man to do it.

Oh, and when you find out that the Democrats who convinced him to switch parties did so by promising to back him in a primary against another Democrat, you get a sense of where the left's principles are these days.

5. It turns out that Tomas Norstrom, the judge in the Pirate Bay trial, is a member of the Swedish Copyright Association. He's even on the board of the Swedish Association for the Protection of Industrial Property. Wow, what a fair trial those Pirate Bay founders were given. Is it any wonder that so many people in the world are just flagrantly ignoring laws now? It's because the people in power give off the appearance that they write the laws in order to keep themselves in power over us. I mean, if I tortured a guy, it would be a crime, right?

6. Here's the anti-domestic violence PSA that Keira Knightley's in. It's very effective. Domestic violence is a real problem that not enough people are willing to talk about, and as we saw in this country recently (the whole Rihanna-Chris Brown thing), it's especially prevalent among the young in America. Too many teenagers said that domestic violence is understandable, excusable, and to be expected. No: it's wrong. It is always wrong. I think it's pathetic that UK television programmers have declined to air this. That's tantamount to being okay with it, I have to say.

Monday, April 27, 2009

My 30 Favorite Fantasy Movies

It is surprisingly hard to make a list of favorite fantasy movies. You have to sort of come up with your own definition of what you think fantasy is and stick to it. Also, I think my first pass at this list came up with about 84 titles. I decided to narrow it down to 30. This list is incredibly esoteric and probably meaningless.

30. The Chronicles of Narnia. I'll be the first to admit that these movies aren't perfect. But then, I was never a big fan of the books, either. But there's something about the movies that I really appreciate on the level of seeing a lot of fantasy creatures and fights between good and evil and a very intoxicating appearance by Tilda Swinton that makes me incredibly horny. I'm not sure what it is. They're not great movies, but they're really neat.

29. Willow. I used to have this poster hanging in my room. I was a big fan of this movie, Ron Howard's high fantasy version of Star Wars. The novelization is actually better than the movie, but eff it, the movie's fun.

28. Clash of the Titans. This was one of my very early moviegoing experiences, and it really captured my imagination. All of my interest in Greek myths begins here, as does my interest in Ray Harryhausen and special effects (I really wanted to be a special effects artist as a kid). But what I mostly wanted when I was five was to ride a flying horse and have a robot owl buddy.

27. Fire and Ice. I find it fascinating how many people online today talk about how much they don't like Ralph Bakshi. It seems an odd thing to have a really strong opinion about. I actually love his movies; as a little kid, what I saw of his always struck me for being so different in quality and movement (I later found out it was rotoscoping, but Bakshi's 'scopes are better than most). I mean, what else was there in the eighties besides Bakshi, Bluth, and a limping Disney? I saw this movie in an art class and was blown away; I was already a huge Frazetta fan, and seeing his paintings come to life was something else. I also tend to love movies that look like Heavy Metal or Savage Sword of Conan or other staples of seventies fantasy.

26. Howl's Moving Castle. I get caught up in almost every one of Miyazaki's movies, which is yet another reminder to me that quiet is so much more effective in films than noise. Quiet demands attention; noise mostly overloads or shocks the system. Anyone can do noise. Miyazaki's films invite you to contemplate. This is one of my favorites.

25. The Thief of Baghdad (1924). Arabian stories always capture my imagination. They're so different from the European tradition I grew up with, which somehow makes them more exciting to me.

24. Labyrinth. What a great combination of people to work on a movie: Jim Henson, Terry Jones, George Lucas, David Bowie, Brian Froud, Maurice Sendak... wow. I really like the sort of ramshackle combination of influences in fantasy, and this just does them perfectly.

23. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. I would love to see a good Sinbad movie made today, but it would never have the handmade quality of Ray Harryhausen. That handmade quality is what gives the special effects the illusion of life, the touch of existence. I wish we could get back to something a little more physical.

22. The Harry Potter Saga. They're really one story, so I'm combining them. Yes, they're not as good as the books, but them's the breaks, really. I love these movies, mostly because the cast is so charming and the filmmakers take the magic seriously. I'd love for the next movie to slow down to breathe a little more than the last one, but I really dig the hell out of these.

21. Highlander. I want nothing to do with the Highlander franchise outside of this one awesome movie.

20. The Hobbit. Oh, did this one stay with me forever. The songs, the dwarves, the dragon, the ring, the scary goblins, and Gollum... oh, man, Brother Theodore's voice used to give me the shivers. I saw this when I was incredibly young, and it made a huge impression on both me and my dad.

19. The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. A lot of people cited Raiders of the Lost Ark as the obvious influence for these movies, but they reminded me a lot of Harryhausen's Sinbad movies. Wildly over-the-top, old-fashioned and tongue-in-cheek, pulpy and larger than life... I don't know, those are all compliments to me. These two movies do all of those things in just the right way.

18. The NeverEnding Story. Another movie that captured my imagination as a kid. In fact, I just bought this on DVD the other day (I couldn't believe I didn't already have it). What really strikes me is this dire sense of nihilism and death all around it. I guess that sounds weird. I read the book as a kid after I saw this movie, and this movie is only, like, a third of it or half of it. But it was always my favorite part.

17. My Neighbor Totoro. Terrific and beautiful. Miyazaki's movies have gravity.

16. The Princess Bride. The beauty of this movie is how well it succeeds as both a fantasy and a parody of expectations. I've never really felt that it just flat-out parodies the genre--it's too respectful of the genre to do something so lazy--as much as it just injects a certain modernism into it. I love it for that. The fantasy conventions are never seen as stupid, they're just approached differently. That's why this movie has it so far above something like Shrek. Plus, whenever adults want to make a movie about the whimsy of childhood and the importance of imagination, 99% of the time it's Hook or The Cat in the Hat or The Polar Express--hollow experiences that seem made for no one. Rob Reiner, by the way, could never make this today.

15. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Tops The 7th Voyage of Sinbad for me as an adventure, despite the lack of a sword-wielding skeleton. But the film's most special effect, as far as I'm concerned, is Caroline Munro.

14. The Thief of Baghdad (1940). Colorful, adventurous, and wonderful. And it has Sabu, whom I always like. I'd never seen a movie before where a genie is so dangerous and, frankly, kind of a dick.

13. Return to Oz. This film happened at a time when I was just starting to read L. Frank Baum's original Oz novels; when this came out, I was incredibly excited to see it. A combining of The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz (along with, I guess, some unavoidable touches of the Judy Garland movie), this was an Oz I found much more recognizable than any I'd ever seen. And the puppets! Screw CGI, we need more puppets! I love Brian Henson's Jack Pumpkinhead so much. Sure, it's dark, but the books had their darker aspects, too. I wonder why, with this decade's boom in fantasy films, no one has come along and made a really spectacular version of Oz.

12. Beauty and the Beast (1946). The most beautiful, magical version of this story I've ever seen. It's so great when filmmakers really embrace the fairy tale aspects of fairy tale films instead of trying so hard to make them "relevant." They're always relevant! Why else have they survived?

11. Princess Mononoke. As serious a contemplation of ethics and morality as I've ever seen in films. It's a complex work that has serious things to say about the world, and the wisdom to shy away from easy movie conclusions to real problems.

10. Jason and the Argonauts. My favorite story in mythology, told with a great deal of adventurous spirit here.

9. The Adventures of Prince Achmed. The silhouette animation takes a fanciful, unreal story and makes it into a living storybook. Beautiful.

8. The Last Unicorn. You can see the seams, yes, and maybe the movie didn't need narrative songs (though I've always liked them), but it just gets so much right: the scariness of the Red Bull, the dynamics of loneliness, the way broken dreams can be so easily lived with, and Christopher Lee in one of his best performances as the broken King Haggard.

7. The Star Wars Saga. As in all six films. The experience of watching all six films in a row is one I'm glad I've had; you can see just how well the story works and what the whole thing is really about. There are criticisms, sure--for all six movies--but it's such a singular experience that it rises above a lot of those criticisms. I love the whole thing.

6. The Dark Crystal. The most alien movie I've ever seen; no human presence at all, and so enveloping in its commitment to creating a place without it. It approaches the uncanny valley of realism for me, but it's so damned good.

5. The Lord of the Rings. Perfect.

4. Spirited Away. Still Miyazaki's best achievement, in which the greatest power is the ability to know oneself.

3. Conan the Barbarian. I know it came out in 1982, but this is just the perfect film expression of 1970s fantasy. (It took the film world a few years to catch up to comics, magazines, fiction, and fantasy art.)

2. The Thief and the Cobbler: The Recobbled Cut. Richard Williams's sublime achievement had always existed in our minds, sort of in spite of what Philistines like Fred Calvert did to it and the myriad ways Disney has ripped it off. I've been meaning to write something, dammit, about this movie for a long time, but it's overwhelming all of the things you can say about this movie, its making, its ruination, and one fan's tireless efforts (read about it here) to come up with an edit closer to Williams than we've ever had. Many of us had always imagined that the completed film was the greatest achievement in the history of animation. Now we can prove it.

1. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. If there's one film I can point to and say "This is me," it's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. It somehow reflects so many of my sensibilities about the fantastic, about getting older, and about the imagination. And I still think this is Terry Gilliam's best film. So far.