Saturday, November 21, 2009

Kelly Brook as Indiana Jones

Yo, Joe! Episode 40

An Eye for an Eye

Here's all you need to know about this episode: this guy, right up there, is smarter than G.I. Joe and Cobra put together. It's kind of sad, really. But it's true.

See, he's got a house in the woods up on the side of a mountain, in the middle of nowhere, and when Cobra (led by the Commander himself) attacks a G.I. Joe convoy, the Commander fires a missile that destroys his surprisingly nice home. He's not home at the time, but his wife and kid are, and they end up in the hospital.

Here's how depressing American security is in this cartoon (besides, once again, Cobra simply sneaking into American airspace): this guy disguises himself as a high-ranking officer, walks into Joe HQ, and starts rifling through the files. When Lady Jaye discovers him, he's able to hold his own and forces her to take him to a Cobra base so he can get revenge. When Lady Jaye takes him to a base she thinks is deserted and gets shot down, she gets captured, but this dude manages to escape! And disguise himself as a Cobra soldier. And rescue Lady Jaye. And get the drop on Cobra Commander. And, even though the Commander tricks him out of his revenge, he still saves the day.

Dude, when some businessman is more powerful, more intelligent, and more capable than G.I. Joe and Cobra put together, your anti-terrorist task force has got a problem on its hands.

JoeToonArchive

The Nanny Diaries

I finally managed to watch The Nanny Diaries all the way through, and brother, is it a terrible film. Not only is it bad, but it's another one of those films--like The Devil Wears Prada--that secretly hates women and diminishes them in favor of yet another variation on the old saw that women can only be fulfilled through motherhood or pointless careerism.

If there's one thing I hate, it's antifeminist movies that hide behind a thin veneer of the most shallow aspects of feminism.

I also hate to compare a film (which should stand on its own as an entity) with the original source material as a criticism, but I want to highlight some of the differences here in order to talk about why this movie pissed me off so much.

The novel, which is actually pretty decent, follows a girl only referred to as Nanny (or Nan), a college student who becomes a nanny to a family only referred to as Mr. and Mrs. X and their son Grayer. She's working her way through college, and her parents are very supportive of her hard work.

In the film, "Annie" is a college graduate who just doesn't know what she wants to do with her life, and becomes a nanny to study the upper class as though she's presenting a paper on anthropological research. She has to hide the fact that she's doing such "menial" work from her widowed mother, who is one of those annoying movie versions of an ultra-feminist who thinks a woman answering a phone is a slap in the face of Gloria Steinem. When her mother does discover Annie is providing child care services in order to "find" herself, she flips out and gives Annie this whole speech about all of the work she had to do to put Annie through school for a "purpose" and a "career" and basically tells the entire audience that being a nanny is not being a human being. For reasons I don't understand, the movie is just as judgmental and shallow about nannies as it is about rich people (who are all the stereotypes you would imagine, anyway).

So, again for reasons I don't understand, the movie takes Annie's self-respect away from her instead of doing what the novel did, which is focusing on the ways she tries to keep her humanity in a dehumanizing position.

The other difference that really bugged the crap out of me is the way the movie ends, so I'm going to discuss that if you're really saving up for this experience.

Here's how the novel ends:

Nanny goes to the Hamptons or something with the X family, and their marriage is obviously falling apart. Mr. X has a mistress he's planning to rush back to see, so Mrs. X retaliates by inviting his mother along. At a party, Grayer is running around with friends when he falls and skins his knee. Mrs. X rushes over to him, but the boy pushes her away; he doesn't want his mommy, he wants Nanny, which he says loudly enough to horribly embarrass Mrs. X in front of her fellow rich mothers. So, the next morning, Mrs. X promptly (and very suddenly) fires Nanny and shuffles her out the door with a very small amount of money. In retaliation, Nanny goes back to the X apartment, finds the nanny-cam, and delivers a drunken, insulting speech about how terrible Mrs. X is and how she's missing her own motherhood. Then, thinking better of it, she erases the message and simply walks away.

Now, I like that ending. First, I thought Mrs. X being embarrassed and firing Grayer's mommy surrogate (and knowing she'll just hire another temp mom in the near future) was very realistic. I've known women like this in the past, and the character is obviously very true to life (the book is written by two former nannies). Second, I liked that, even after being treated so inhumanly and shortchanged by Mrs. X, Nanny decided to erase the message. She got it all out, knew it wouldn't do any good, and decided to walk away and be the bigger person. Like I said: she keeps her humanity.

Here's how the movie ends:

They still go to the Hamptons or whatever. Mr. X is upset about not being able to rush back and see his mistress, so instead he makes a pass at Annie. Annie, shocked, pulls away, and Mrs. X walks in before Mr. X can do anything about it. Of course, Mrs. X knows about the mistress and won't stand up to her husband about it, so she takes it out on Annie. Seeing her as a threat to her sexuality and her marriage (instead of to her motherhood), Mrs. X fires Annie and shuffles her out with a very small amount of money. Annie goes back to the apartment, finds the nanny-cam, and gives her speech. And she leaves it. And Mrs. X sees it and, presto, she and her husband fix their marital problems and become good parents and a happy family. Annie has found herself, and everyone gets their happy ending.

Bullshit.

It's such mega-bullshit. It's a Hollywood ending.

First, it's insulting that a movie like this, which is supposed to be about how maternal feelings are expressed, went with such a lame twist. That Mrs. X would be sexually threatened by Annie instead of embarrassed about being replaced as a mother is Lifetime movie stuff. It's silly.

Second, the sudden, magical change that the family goes through because Annie yells at the nanny-cam is ridiculously unconvincing. Again, it's like a Lifetime movie. It's so manufactured. Especially with Annie moving on to be a career woman. Because, once again, having a career or having a family are the only ways a woman can be fulfilled. It's just vaguely insulting and dehumanizing.

I really hate this movie. And that it comes from the makers of American Splendor, which is so excellent and not at all like a Lifetime movie, just compounds the insult.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hayden Panettiere Pouring Champagne All Over Herself

Backwards.

I've watched this 17 times already today. So... there's that.

UPDATE 11/21: Video removed by user. But I found another one, so there.

EW's 20 Best Animated Movies Ever

Entertainment Weekly put out their list of the 20 Best Animated Movies Ever, and I'm just going to pointlessly comment on it.

20. Ghost in the Shell
I always felt it was overrated. Granted, I'm not much of an anime guy, but I thought this was as dull and ponderous as The Matrix. If you know me, comparisons to The Matrix are not good.

19. Waltz with Bashir
Still haven't seen this one, but I hope to see it very soon. I'm very curious.

18. Pinocchio
On my own list, it would be much higher. I think it's one of the great achievements of animation, although I know the story leaves many people cold. This is high art. (Bonus: EW's list wrongly lists 1939 as the year Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released. That's a movie that should be on this list, but isn't.)

17. Kiki's Delivery Service
Miyazaki should be on every list of great animation. That said, this has never been one of my favorites. I honestly think it was the first film of his a lot of Americans were exposed to, and that that's why it rates so highly on a lot of these. Not to say the movie is bad in any way--it isn't--I just think there are better movies (Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, Porco Rosso) that should be above it and don't appear here at all.

For that matter, there are other great films from other Studio Ghibli directors--like My Neighbors the Yamadas, Grave of the Fireflies and Only Yesterday--that aren't on here at all. Frankly, I'd be surprised if EW had ever heard of them.

16. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
Ah, back when Trey & Matt were really firing and South Park was wonderful satire. The brilliance of this film is that it managed to anticipate the shit-storm it would stir up with parents and became its own commentary and critique on the entire situation (as well as being a great critique on religion, nationalism, parents, television, and how children are empowered by swear words).

15. The Iron Giant
It's insane to me that this isn't in the top 5.

14. Akira
I still haven't seen this movie. This seems to be the go-to anime movie for lists like this. In fact, other than Miyazaki (who totally deserves it), it's pretty much a guarantee the only other Japanese movies you're going to see on a list of great animated films are Ghost in the Shell and Akira. (Especially for a magazine like EW, which only skims the surface of pop culture, anyway.) They're trying to sell this movie as the one that finally made adults in America realize that animation could be more than just Saturday morning cartoons. Bullshit. As if Heavy Traffic and Fritz the Cat ever happened. But, frankly, there's never going to be an overwhelming, prevailing sensibility in this country that animation is a medium that can accomplish anything. It'll always be seen as a niche.

13. Chicken Run
I would've chosen Cures of the Were-Rabbit over this one, but this is an incredibly funny movie. I love Nick Park.

12. The Triplets of Belleville
Wonderful, beautiful movie, and one of the best films--of any kind--of the decade.

11. Dumbo
It's kind of high for Dumbo. That's just my opinion. But this is EW, and it's a crowd-pleasing movie for a crowd-pleasing publication. Not to deride Dumbo, which is perfect at being what it is, and has become something of an underrated movie among Disney scholars for not being as ambitious as Disney's other films from this period. I love it, but I would put other Disney films higher than this one.

10. Coraline
This is way too high for Coraline. I liked this movie--and I think I liked it a great deal better than a lot of people did--but in the top 10? That's overvaluing it. Even though it's easy to dismiss now for being so popular, The Nightmare Before Christmas should be here instead. It's iconic, and a much better picture.

9. Bambi
Personally, I think this is Disney's best film. I know a lot of people don't feel that way, but I think it's an incredible artistic experience. This would be in my top 5, possibly my number one. I think this is one of only a handful of times in his life when Walt Disney let go of his artistic pretensions and his over-reliance on gags just enough to make something truly expressive and emotional.

8. Toy Story 2
This might be in my top 20. I always forget just how much this movie and these characters resonate with me, and then I actually see it... I love it. It's easy to dismiss this entry as symptomatic of how much my generation is fascinated with its own childhood, but this movie does have a lot to say about it.

7. The Incredibles
Still my favorite Pixar movie. There's something about Mr. Incredible's struggle, his fears of not being strong enough, that I very much empathize with. It's also everything Fantastic Four should have been, god damn it. The best Marvel Comics movie ever, even if it's not based on a Marvel comic.

6. Beauty and the Beast
For a little while, Disney found it's stride once again and started making movies that proved they could still tell emotionally resonant, entertaining stories without trying too hard to make them "hip" or "relevant" (which is DreamWorks' problem--and thank you for not putting any DreamWorks movies on this list except for Chicken Run, which is an Aardman movie). I'll leave off the discussion of feminism and just say this is a truly great picture.

5. Persepolis
I'm not sure if this belongs in the top 5, but it is a great film. The abstract design is marvelous, and it pulls one right in to a stark (but full) commentary on human relations.

4. The Lion King
Sigh. It's always going to crop up on these lists, all the way up above every other Disney film. I really do like this movie, and I have to admit it left a huge mark on the pop culture terrain, but it's so very overrated. It's a likable movie pretending to be a great one, and people have since turned it into something Important.

3. Up
For the first 10 minutes alone, this deserves a place on this list. I'm not sure if this is number 3 or not (I need to experience it a second time), but it certainly was the most emotional experience I've had at the movies so far this year.

2. Spirited Away
I also think this is Miyazaki's best film. An absolute masterpiece.

1. WALL-E
It does do my heart good to see a science fiction flick at the top of any list of movies. And I have to admit, this would definitely be in my top 5. There's something about this movie that is as comforting and inviting as it is stark and scary, and it has theories about the future that I've been harboring for a very long time. When the most human and empathetic character in a movie is a robot, you know you're in the hands of special filmmakers.

TV Report: The Sarah Jane Adventures, Series 2

When I saw the first series of The Sarah Jane Adventures, I said it was everything a Doctor Who spin-off should be: light and fun, emotionally believable, accepting of its inherent silliness without trying too hard to be funny, and made for kids without being patronizing. I finally caught the second series on DVD, and the show is still all of those things but somehow even better.

I'm not sure where the changes occurred, but I think it has to do with a number of the episodes being much more character-driven than in the first series. At least, it felt that way to me. Part of the charm of the first series is that it had just as much to say about the nature of family and friendship as it did about the universe and about bravery and compassion. This series built on those themes and took them to a new level, especially in episodes where Clyde meets up with his estranged father or where Sarah Jane goes back in time to prevent the death of her parents or where Mrs. Wormwood comes back looking for Luke, the boy she created but who is nothing like the mother he needs, wants, or knows.

I have no idea why Maria Jackson is out this series; she appears in the first two-parter ("The Last Sontaran," which continues to make the Sontarans an actual credible threat), then promptly moves to America with her dad and only has a cameo appearance in a later episode. They've replaced her with a new girl.

Rani Chandra. And I have to say, this girl is gold. I liked Maria, but I love Rani. She's clever and quick-witted in any situation, which I really appreciated. I'm glad we're past the stereotype in good science fiction of having the girl standing around gawping at everything like a moron. She gets into a situation, figures it out, and it's right into the adventure. Nice. After the first series replaced the girl-whose-name-I-can't-remember with Clyde, and this series replaced Maria with Rani, I hope there are no more replacements coming. I think Luke, Clyde and Rani make the perfect trio for this show. I know the third series is just finishing up in the UK, and I've yet to see it, but I hope everyone's in place for a while.

And I'm glad there's a third series to look forward to. The Sarah Jane Adventures is just so good, so much fun. With the sparsity of Doctor Who this year and me just not liking Torchwood (and how terrible does this new K-9 series look?), this is such a treat to have.

I'm glad you're here, my Sarah Jane.

Happy 50th Birthday, Sean Young

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Extreme Dagobah!

Frigging awesome tourism video.

Meme Renewed

I always enjoy these silly iPod memes, and since the internet has been so damn quiet this week, I thought I'd just do this one.

RULES:
1. Put Your iTunes/iPod, Windows Media Player (etc…) on Shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button, and the title of that song is your answer.
3. YOU MUST WRITE THAT SONG NAME DOWN NO MATTER HOW SILLY IT SOUNDS
4. Put any comments in [brackets] after the song name

Are you male or female?
I Am What I Am

Describe yourself!
I Don't Miss You At All

What do people feel when they’re around you?
Play My Music

Describe your current relationship.
Be My Wife

Where would you like to be now?
Shelf

How do you feel about love?
This Is Me

What’s your life like?
Wuthering Heights

What would you wish for if you had only one wish?
Ten Million Slaves

Say something wise.
Sorry

If someone says “Is this okay?” You say,
Paranoid

How would you describe yourself?
Magic

What do you look for in a guy/girl?
Sound and Vision

How do you feel today?
Goodnight & Goodbye

What is your life’s purpose?
Tonight

What is your motto?
I Love to Sing-A

What do your friends think of you?
Solitary Man

What do you think of your parents?
Pushin' Me Away

What do you think about very often?
Good Girls Go Bad

What is 2 + 2?
Let's Take a Rocketship to Mars

What do you think of your best friend?
Chuckmates

What do you think of the person you like?
One in a Million

What is your life story?
That's How You Know

What do you want to be when you grow up?
I Wanna Know You

What do you think of when you see the person you like?
Still in Love with You

What will you dance to at your wedding?
Live to Party

What will they play at your funeral?
Box of Rain

What is your hobby/interest?
3

What is your biggest fear?
I Left My Heart in Scandinavia

What is your biggest secret?
You Snuck Your Way Right Into My Heart

What do you think of your friends?
Wake Up

Romance of the Muppets

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Therapy

I had my first therapy session today. I'm not going to go over everything we talked about, but I'm very glad that I went. We talked a lot about my anxiety, depression, and self-esteem issues, as well as my phobia of driving. I've been having some other problems for a while now, like problems with focus, concentration, and remembering things. A lot of this, it turns out, could be related to my sleep issues.

The doctor and I are still holding off on the CPAC for my sleep apnea, but now that everything's been explained to me, I can really feel where I need one. I was reluctant about it, but now I'm pretty convinced that I need one. Not only can I feel now where my heart and lungs are working too hard and I can't relax because of it, but I can also see now where a lot of my emotional and mental issues are related to not being able to really get enough deep sleep.

I feel a lot better just having approached this. Hopefully, as my therapy journey continues, I'll start to get a better handle on my life. I've overcome a lot of my misgivings, which mainly had to do with being embarrassed to even need someone's help. I've never looked down on anyone for going to therapy, but I did always feel like I had too much control over myself to need something like that. Pride, I guess. Or fear. But I'm over that now. Now I just want to do whatever I can to gain control over me.

Film Week

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

CHARLIE BARTLETT (2007)
Meh. It's pretty by-the-numbers stuff and is weirdly preoccupied with reminding the viewer as much as possible of Harold and Maude (right down to including the song "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out"). Weirdly self-conscious. Anton Yelchin is at least likable as the title character, a private school student who transfers to public school, has one of those upper class neurotic movie moms (Hope Davis is pretty good, but Susan Sarandon in Igby Goes Down was a better version of the same character), and runs afoul of a crusty principal (Robert Downey Jr, better than this) while being cool, slick, and trying to find his way in the blah blah blah. Kat Dennings is wonderful as always. The movie's not even terrible. It's just so, so familiar. ** stars.

VIRGIN TERRITORY (2007)
Cute enough movie based on The Decameron, with Hayden Christensen, Mischa Barton, and a bunch of other young people fleeing to the Florentine countryside to escape the plague and a thug played by Tim Roth. Tries too hard to be "relevant" to the contemporary teenager, despite its adult sensibilities (and generous nudity). It's hard to be mean to a movie that tries this hard not to be remotely serious. It's fun and likable, and Hayden Christensen is enjoyable (he gets it sometimes; a lot of the poor guy's bad rep comes from George Lucas' directorial choices), and even though it's a trifle, it's a good looking one. **1/2 stars.

THE FIREMEN'S BALL (1967)
Charming, subtle, and sharply intelligent movie about a team of firemen trying to honor their 86 year-old chief with a party and a gift. Things go terribly wrong, however, even as the firemen try to make sure everything comes off perfectly. There's some social satire going on here, too, with director Milos Foreman squarely blaming the Communist regime for the decadence of Eastern Europe, and a climax that sharply contrasts prewar values with postwar living. **** stars.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Planet Where Cars Evolved from Men?

I was watching The Love Bug on Turner Classic Movies last week (much more boring than I remember), and I was particularly struck by a moment in the film where Buddy Hackett argues for the coming sentience of cars by saying "We take machines and we stuff 'em with information until they're smarter than we are. Take a car. Most guys spread more love and time and money on their car in a week than they do on their wife and kids in a year. Pretty soon, you know what? The machine starts to think it is somebody." He goes on to argue that mankind is going to be replaced with another civilization one day and hey, since it's going to happen, why not cars?

It reminded me of my main problem with Cars, which I still think of as Pixar's second-weakest movie. Anthropomorphic cars are a cute idea, but eventually you start to question a lot of things when the entire world is made up of cars. Sometimes it's little things, like how lettering gets done on signs. I mean, they're cars. How can they do anything that takes fine hand skills when they have no hands? When I see a little baby car, I wonder how it was reproduced. Are the cars a mix of biologics and machinery, or what? All kinds of questions I shouldn't have while watching Cars are being constantly raised.

So now I get at least part of what happened: cars evolved into sentient beings, eventually evolved into biological creatures, and killed off the human race, buried their memory, and became the dominant species on Earth. And it all starts with Herbie. He's like Caesar in the Planet of the Apes movies. So at least part of Cars now makes sense to me.

So, where's my No-Prize?

Meme of Solace

Sent to me via Tumblr.

List 10 musical artists (or bands) you like, in no specific order (do this before reading the questions below). Really, don’t read the questions below until you pick your ten artists!!!

1. David Bowie
2. The Beach Boys
3. Queen
4. The Beatles
5. T. Rex
6. Bob Dylan
7. Madness
8. The Rolling Stones
9. Genesis
10. Billy Joel

What was the first song you ever heard by 6?
Technically, it was something with the Traveling Wilburys. I had actually never heard any Bob Dylan music until then. I think I was... 12. Wow.

What is your favorite song of 8?
"Street Fighting Man."

What kind of impact has 1 left on your life?
Tremendous. I learned a lot about expressing myself and finding different ways to look at things from David Bowie.

What is your favorite lyric of 5?
"Baby, your mouth is like a ghost." From "Raw Ramp."

How many times have you seen 4 live?
None; I was born in 1976. I'm not really a live music guy. I've only been to one concert in my life. (Siouxsie and the Banshees)

What is your favorite song by 7?
"Our House." Of course.

Is there any song by 3 that makes you sad?
"Who Wants to Live Forever." And a number of songs that Freddie Mercury wrote when he knew he was dying, like "The Show Must Go On."

What is your favorite song by 9?
"The Carpet Crawlers."

When did you first get into 2?
When I was a little kid. My dad had a compilation 8-track he'd made when he was a teenager, and my sister and I loved it. We would play it in the living room and dance around on Saturday mornings while my dad made pancakes. Those were the best times.

How did you get into 3?
I heard "We Are the Champions" at some point in my elementary years and fell in love with Queen.

What is your favorite song by 4?
"I'm Looking Through You."

How many times have you seen 9 live?
Again, none.

What is a good memory concerning 2?
The first time I ever listened to Pet Sounds, back in high school. I ended up listening to it straight through four times because it was so great. It just carried me right off into space.

Is there a song by 8 that makes you sad?
"No Expectations" used to bum me out.

What is your favorite song of 1?
"Starman."

How did you become a fan of 10?
"The Longest Time" was all over the radio when I was 8. It went from there.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Edward Woodward 1930-2009

Edward Woodward was an actor I always enjoyed, but I'll remember him most for two of my favorite pictures, The Wicker Man and Breaker Morant. I was sorry to hear that he died today, but apparently he had been ill for some time.

The Waters of Mars

Obviously, I'm discussing an episode that has yet to air in the United States, so stop reading now if you don't want it "spoiled" instead of crying to me later.

Well, that was... surprising.

I have to say, I wasn't exactly swept up into this episode. Russell T. Davies as executive producer has gone to this well--the Doctor lands in some kind of space station and one or more of the crew are possessed by some kind of alien intelligence which kills them off one by one--far too often for it to be as compelling as he thinks it is. (In fact, it resulted in three of my least favorite episodes ever, the "Impossible Planet" and "Satan Pit" two-parter, and the terrible "42.")

But then, about halfway through, came one of those quiet conversations Davies is so good at writing and David Tennant is especially good at playing, with the Doctor and Captain Boone (Lindsay Duncan, very good) talking about the stars and Daleks and the future of a spacefaring mankind, and it really pulled me in.

But what a surprisingly bleak episode after that. I'm not saying I didn't like it, just that it was... well, bleak. With just two episodes left after this one, Davies went for pathos and an exploration of the Doctor's darker side, finally ratcheting it up to the point where the Doctor is terribly, scarily aware of the messianic symbolism Davies has been imbuing him with for years.

First, we get the Doctor simply walking away from a fixed point in history, looking like the specter of death itself, listening as everyone dies and unable to stop it. Then, when he resolves to do something about it, he crosses a serious line that ends in suicide and in his own realization that his time is very short.

I see what Davies is doing. This Doctor is not just marking time until the end, having bouncy adventures until someone else takes over. This Doctor is going to destroy himself. That's another of the themes under Davies' tenure, after all: that being the Doctor carries with it a crushing responsibility that leaves death and destruction in its wake. He hammered home his point here that even when the Doctor tries to help and change things for the better, he often has an unwitting hand in the negative consequences. Seeing him screaming about winning and talking grimly about his power over time, the Doctor became terrifying. Now all that remains is to see if he can redeem himself. And, intriguingly, whether he's going to have to take the step of destroying himself in order to save everyone around him.

So while I didn't think it was the strongest episode--and, as the David Tennant fangirls who make up way too much of Doctor Who fandom keep pointing out all over the internet today, certainly not the most fun of episodes--I do think the second half was compelling and this new step in the Doctor's character is a very organic one. This isn't rushing towards a contrived or sudden conclusion. This is going somewhere.

Can't wait to see where. Not much longer now.

Kristen Bell Mondays


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Song of the Week: "Thursday's Child"

This beautiful song is the highlight of David Bowie's underrated 1999 album hours... and something I'm very much in the mood for today. It's a sweet, soft, occasionally bitter, wistful song that I've always looked at as a sort of acceptance of life as it has happened instead of being hung up on life as we wanted it to be. The video is kind of fascinating, too, with the sounds of life carrying over and the unspoken desires and feelings it brings up.

TV Report: Saturday Night Live

I know bitching about Saturday Night Live on the internet has become so de rigueur that it's now boorish, but I wanted to say something about the last couple of episodes.

Now, I'm a fan of SNL. Even when it's really bad, there are usually one or two sketches I like or a digital short or something. But this season is off to a terrible spot, and the writing is really, really awful.

Last week's episode, with Taylor Swift, was a breath of fresh air. It wasn't a tremendous success, but it was better than it's been this year. Granted, she's not much of a live singer, but her monologue and her willingness to just be part of the proceedings instead of just dining out on her media persona made up for a lot. I thought she handled her monologue really well, picking apart her media persona, commenting on it, and dismissing it. They didn't do "interrupting Kanye" jokes all night like I feared they would. She was competent, even fun, and was really up to the task without a lot of ego. I found that pretty refreshing. The writing was somehow better than usual, and while it wasn't a flawless episode, it was the best of the season so far. (Though I thought Gerard Butler had his moments, especially his 300 sketch.)

Last night's episode, starring the incredibly boring January Jones, was the exact opposite. One of the worst episodes in years, and a clear indicator of the problems they're having this season with the show.

In no particular order.

1. Kristen Wiig. I just don't think she's funny, and the show is leaning far too heavily on her. She's amusing at best, and every character she creates is just a tired variation on the same theme of a woman being socially awkward. Her characters are all repetitive, and they're all pretty much the same--and the worst part is, they aren't funny. I can see where she's sometimes amusing, but she needs to have something written to do. It's like they tell her to just ramble to fill time, and it's awkward and often cringe-inducing. (Or, since I TiVo it, fast forward-inducing.)

2. The hosts. It's like SNL is having the same problems as Playboy with wanting to be relevant, so it seems like they keep going after people who are on a popular show or pushing a PG-13 movie instead of just getting someone who seems like they'd be a fun host. January Jones? Even people who love Mad Men don't like January Jones, as near as I can see. She's not funny, she's not a very good actress, and her prettiness was offset by the fact that she couldn't remember her marks, her lines, or how to read cue cards. It was just embarrassing to watch. You can tell an episode is going to suck when the cast has to carry the entire monologue. But that doesn't excuse...

3. The writers. Seriously, almost the entire room just needs to be culled out and replaced with new blood. It's not like there's a shortage of funny writers in the world. Sure, January Jones is terrible, but her awfulness was only enhanced by extremely poor writing. There was a time, very long ago (we're talking decades here) when a terrible host could be propped up by a talented cast and great comedy writing. Now, it's like they're not even trying. Unless January Jones pissed off a LOT of people and the whole episode was really designed just to humiliate her (and that farting Grace Kelley sketch, one of the worst in the show's history, was humiliating indeed... not just for her. I kind of felt insulted on behalf of the late Grace Kelley), there's no excuse for last night's episode. Six episodes into the new season and they're already this bad?

Although, really, the premiere was pure awfulness as well...

Anyway, like I said, it's pointless to criticize SNL at this point. Has been for many years. But, well, stating a tired opinion everyone else already has is part of the point of blogs. Or something.

Twilight Summarized by a Smartass, Chapter 19

The best thing about this book right now is that it almost feels like we're stampeding towards a climax. This is a long, pointless book, and it's made even longer by the fact that I'm reading it at the pace of a chapter a week instead of in the two or so hours it might take on a slow afternoon. This whole thing is drivel.

All that happens in this chapter is that the Cullens rally together to protect Bella from James, who is definitely hunting Bella and set on killing her, even if it means killing her protectors. Bella also enacts her "genius" plan of alienating her father even further and pretending she's moving back to Arizona so that she can hide.

Only a couple of things jumped out at me here.

First, that Charlie mentions that Bella's mother and stepfather moved to Florida. So now we know why Bella moved. And, like I predicted, it's something ridiculous and mundane. Sure, she's 18 and could have stayed in Arizona by herself, but instead she moved to Forks in, she never lets us forget, this amazing act of self-sacrifice, even though her mom didn't even try to get rid of the house. It's still there. It's still in the family. But Bella, of course, has to sacrifice everything she loves to go and live in the middle of nowhere with a father she's alienated by in order to whine about it for hundreds of pages... why?

Seriously, your mom and stepdad moved to Florida because he had a shot with a minor league baseball team. It's not like you were getting abused and needed to escape. What the fuck?

The second thing that jumped out at me was Edward, sensitive and gallant as always, telling Bella of their current predicament (being chased by a vampire tracker who wants to kill and eat her): "It is partially your fault. If you didn't smell so appallingly luscious, he might not have bothered."

Seriously?

Just... seriously?

You know, all I hear there is an older guy telling a high school girl "It's your own fault. If you weren't so sexy and didn't have such big breasts and didn't wear short skirts and tight tops, I wouldn't have had to rape you."

God, I hate this fucking book.

Thanks for turning out a generation of teenagers with a sexual obsession matched only by their crippling sexual dysfunctions.

Sunday Hottie 250

LEIGHTON MEESTER