Saturday, March 20, 2010

My 50 Favorite Disney Characters

Animated characters; no Pixar. For whatever reason.

50. Sonya
49. Figaro
48. Rabbit
47. Baloo
46. Ratty

45. Mufasa
44. Chief
43. Launchpad McQuack
42. Bagheera
41. Pluto

40. Abu
39. Winnie the Pooh
38. Dodger
37. Mr. Earthworm
36. Professor Ratigan

35. Panchito Pistoles
34. Pocahontas
33. Tigger
32. Archimedes
31. Beast

30. The Cheshire Cat
29. Copper
28. Hercules
27. Roger Rabbit
26. Kronk

25. Grumpy
24. Trusty
23. Old Green Grasshopper
22. Shere Khan
21. Br'er Rabbit

20. Huey, Dewey and Louie
19. Aracuan Bird
18. The Centipede
17. Mickey Mouse
16. Long John

15. Goofy
14. Horace Horsecollar
13. Gurgi
12. Tarzan
11. Tinker Bell

10. Eeyore
9. Jiminy Cricket
8. Chip 'n' Dale
7. Genie
6. Jose Carioca

5. Humphrey Bear
4. Stitch
3. Donald Duck
2. Ludwig Von Drake
1. Scrooge McDuck

My Mom Should Know Better By Now...

MOM: So, what are your plans for tonight?

ME: I don't know; Becca's at work, so I'll probably just watch something off the TiVo. What about you?

MOM: I'm having [friend] over for dinner, and we'll probably just watch a DVD. She and I finished The Tudors, so maybe we'll watch Sex and the City, I know she hasn't seen all of that yet.

ME: Meh.

MOM: I know, you don't like it.

ME: No, I've sat through some of it. I just found out Kat Dennings was on an episode, so I'd watch that one.

MOM: The tattoo lady?

ME: No, that's Kat Von D. Kat Dennings is the one from Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist.

MOM [disapprovingly]: Oh, I know, the one that gives you a hard-on! I read about it on your blog. Because that's just what you want to read on your son's blog!

ME: Mom, your son is 33 years old...

MOM: I know! Just... gah!

The First Day of Spring in DeKalb

A warm 70 degrees the last couple of days. Sunshine and a nice breeze. Windows open, wearing shorts. So of course when the first day of spring hits, it snows.

Grumble, grumble, grumble...

Well, it's not so bad. It was snowing much, much harder this morning. And since the ground warmed up over the last few weeks, the snow, though thick, isn't sticking to the streets. And it's only down to the thirties; it's not freezing or anything.

But still, you know, of all of the weird Illinois weather, this is what I hate the most: the last gasp of snowfall before we can all just move on into spring. Yuck.

Friday, March 19, 2010

New Who Trailer

Official trailer for the new series of Doctor Who. Intrigueresting... (Happy to see a Dalek prominently in there.)

A Typically Adult Conversation

ME: I don't want to be crude here, but Kat Dennings' lips give me an erection.

BECCA: Uh... yeah, because that's not crude at all.

ME: Hey, I said I didn't want to be crude, not that I wasn't going to be crude.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fess Parker 1924-2010

I had just recently come to love Parker so much as a Disney icon. I'm saddened to hear he's passed away today. Thank you, sir, for hours of enjoyment.

Win, Lose or Meme

I saw Cal and Jaq give this one a shot, so what the hey.

1. What were doing 10 years ago?

Working at Hollywood Video and at a self-storage place.

2. Five snacks that you enjoy in a perfect, non weight-gaining world?

Snackwise, I like chocolate chip cookies, Fritos, the occasional donut, Strawberry Newtons, and apple slices.

3. Five things you would do if you were a billionaire:

Pay off my student loans and any other debt I've acquired; go to Disneyland and Walt Disney World (I want to see them both); buy Becca a ton of video games; donate some real money to the local library; and get ready for the best Comicon spending spree ever.

4. Three of your habits:

Blogging here and on Tumblr; listening to music too loudly when no one's home in the building; watching TV.

5. Five jobs that you've had:

Retail clerk, video store clerk, delivery driver, construction clean-up, substitute teacher.

6. Five places that you've lived:

Des Moines, IA; Killeen, TX; Woodridge, IL; Villa Park, IL; DeKalb, IL.

7. Five things that you did yesterday:

Blogged, watched TV, listened to music, read The Muppet Show Comic Book: The Treasure of Peg Leg Wilson, and had nachos for dinner.

8. Five people you would want to get to know more about:

My grandfather (he died in 1995), Richard Williams, Richard Hunt, Hayao Miyazaki, and you.

9. Abortion: for or against it?

That seems like a loaded question, doesn't it? I don't know anyone who is "pro-abortion," but I know a lot of people who, like myself, are pro-choice.

10. Do you think the world would fail with a female president?

I agree with Jaquandor: eventually the world's going to fail, anyway, but having a woman president doesn't increase those chances. I don't think a woman is incapable of being president because she's a woman.

11. Do you believe in the death penalty?

In theory, yes. But in practice, there have been far too many innocent people that wind up waiting to be executed (or just executed). I think it's been applied too liberally. Frankly, we need a sweeping reform of the prison system before I can support capital punishment.

12. Do you wish marijuana would be legalized already?

I still don't understand why it's not. Legalize it, regulate it, tax it, make the crime for driving high the same as driving drunk. BFD. "It's a gateway drug," blah blah blah. Yeah, someone might move from weed to something really harmful like Ambien, right?

13. Are you for or against premarital sex?

Who gives a shit when people are having sex?

14. Do you think same sex marriage should be legalized?

Absolutely. Anyone who wants to deny same sex marriage to other people is a person with personal problems. Anyone who thinks anyone's marriage, gay or straight, somehow endangers their own is severely deluded.

15. Do you think it's wrong that so many Hispanics are illegally moving to the USA?

No. And I'm sick of the scapegoating. It's only right that people anywhere in the world would want to do whatever they could to try and make a better life for their children. They fact that they have to become criminals to do it is pretty sad. But America's been pushing this "American Dream" unattainable myth for so long, they shouldn't be surprised that other people want to have access to it. What I think is wrong is that they come over here looking for work only to be underpaid by people who take advantage of their undocumented status, that the path to citizenship isn't less convoluted for them, and that they find a terrible economy that's only getting worse.

16. Should the alcohol age be lowered to eighteen?

Sure, why not? They get it anyway, if they really want it bad enough. I don't see any reason why 18 year-olds can die for their country or vote for their leaders but not have a beer.

17. Should the war in Iraq be called off?

Yes; we shouldn't have been there, anyway. It's nothing more than the violent extortion of the country's oil. Many of us knew at the time Iraq had nothing to do with terrorism, and we've been proven right over and over again. We should have dealt with the terrorists as criminals, not as a military endeavor.

18. Assisted suicide is illegal: do you agree?

No, I don't.

19. Do you believe in spanking children?

This is always a hard question for me. I was spanked as a child, and I don't have any lingering issues from that. But I do see where it could simply feed a child's defiance instead of correcting behavior. There are more effective methods of doing that. What I really think is that more parents and adults need to take discipline seriously and be consistent, especially given the amazing panoply of discipline problems I've seen as a teacher.

20. Do you worry that others will judge you from reading some of your answers?

I don't worry about being judged. Who has the time?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Jessica Simpson and the Price of Beauty

This is a picture of Jessica Simpson from last week. I don't want to judge anyone by their weight, but Jessica's weight is going to play a big part in what I want to say about her new VH1 series, The Price of Beauty. This is a show where the premise is that Jessica (and her best friends Ken and CaCee) go around the world examining standards of beauty and how women in other parts of the world pursue them. It's actually a great idea for a show, I think. But it's not the show for Jessica Simpson.

See, VH1 and Jessica have sold this series as a learning experience; that even as we see women pursue what their culture holds up as beautiful, we're supposed to be learning that true beauty comes from within. Jessica in particular has mentioned in a few interviews that doing the show taught her that she should be more comfortable with who she is and let what's inside be the beauty on the outside.

But here's the thing: she didn't. She didn't learn that. And here's what makes her show kind of hollow to me.

Okay, obviously what spurred this whole thing on was what she calls the "Mom Jeans Incident." And again, I'm not making fun of her weight, because I don't think it's cool to do that and, honestly, I think she looks sexy in her mom jeans. Jessica has had issues with her weight before, and she's talked about it many times. Sometimes she's overweight, sometimes she yields to the pressure to be really skinny and has overdone it a number of times in the past--when she played Daisy Duke, or when Casablanca Records pressured her into looking almost emaciated while promoting her second album, Irresistible. She's naturally a big, curvy girl, and she's obviously sensitive about it.

But here's what I'm getting at: she's still sensitive about it. She can talk all she wants about what she learned while filming The Price of Beauty and what's really beautiful about women, but when it comes right down to it, she's still the same weight-sensitive person. And, I mean, you don't change overnight, obviously, but she's been out promoting a show where the entire theme is that women pursue what their culture deems beautiful and sometimes go too far doing it--a show that purports to celebrate inner beauty rather than outer beauty--a show with a theme song called "Who We Are" which is all about inner strength and being comfortable with yourself and taking pride in who you are rather than how you look... and then she goes on Oprah Winfrey and lies about her weight.

And it just doesn't sit well with me. You can't promote a show about these themes and then lie about your size, because it makes you look like you're just selling something.

When Jessica was on Oprah Winfrey two weeks ago, she talked about the "Mom Jeans Incident" and told Oprah that, at her heaviest, she was a size 4. Come on, really? Size 4? Every size 4 who saw that knew you were lying. Not just being self-conscious, but lying to make yourself look better. Look at the pictures I posted up here: the top picture is from her Letterman appearance just a day later, and she isn't even a size 4 there. Becca tells me she's at least a size 10. So I don't know how big her mom jeans were, but they sure as hell weren't size 4.

Why lie about it? Especially when you're promoting a show that claims to be about finding the beauty in the individual? It makes you look cynical and hollow, even if you're just being self-conscious. As a viewer--and still a fan--I'm sitting here asking myself "Well, how much did she really learn about embracing the reality of who she is if she's still lying about her weight and assuming we're all stupid enough to believe it?"

(This does seem to be something that runs in her family, doesn't it? Her sister Ashlee gave an interview to Jane a couple of years ago about how girls shouldn't run off and get plastic surgery, but instead should be happy with what God gave them... and the issue was still on the stands when she got her nose job and the first of what appears to be several cosmetic surgeries on her face.)

So, this morning I watched the first episode of The Price of Beauty, and I was disappointed. I already had to take it with a grain of salt going in, since it's obvious that whatever "lessons" Jessica learns about herself aren't going to sink in. But I was also disappointed by the tone of the show itself. They can try to serious things up all they want--Jessica is obviously touched by a Thai woman who has irreparably damaged her skin in the pursuit of ideal paleness--but what it really amounts to is Jess and her friends getting free spa treatments around the world.

But what really disappointed me the most--and this is coming from a guy who has every season of Newlyweds on DVD--is that Jessica is now pushing 30 and still trying to trade on the dumb blond persona that drew in so many viewers half a decade ago. These days, it feels like half-reality and half-tired shtick. There's this wide-eyed innocence about Jessica Simpson that I've always loved, but on The Price of Beauty she's less of an innocent abroad than an Ugly American. Everything is weird and funny to her and her friends; cultural objectivity has gone out the window, even as the show pretends to be about examining other cultures objectively. It doesn't make her more "real" that she can't get through a Buddhist meditation without giggling; or that, on the way to visit tribal women to find out why they wear those elongating, heavy neck rings, Jessica jokes that the rings "look like a scrotum." Jessica, you're pushing 30, and that kind of ignorant attitude isn't cute, if it ever truly is--it's an unattractive reminder of how little you've matured in five years.

I thought it was too easy to dismiss The Price of Beauty as being a vanity project for a reality TV star with nothing else to do--no one wants to hire her to act, nor do they want to hire her to record another album--or as Jessica's way of working through the hurt feelings she had from all of the mom jeans jokes. But, on some level, the attitude with which she approaches the show--and the way she still talks about her weight in order to minimize the embarrassment she still feels--does come across as "Now that I'm fat, I suddenly want people to find the beauty inside." Which is a shame, because she's got nothing to be ashamed of in the weight department, and doesn't look remotely overweight on the show itself.

The premise of The Price of Beauty is potentially fascinating. The execution is dim and sometimes embarrassing. The promotion of the show is unfortunate.

How about next time we do Jessica Goes to College, instead?

Film Week

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

Unwatchable supernatural thriller with characters I didn't care about. That's all. * star.

FRANCES (1982)
Jessica Lange's performance in this biopic of troubled actress Frances Farmer has been justly praised. The film itself, however, is draggy where it should be hard-hitting, indulgent where it should be fascinating, and boring where it should really pull you in. It's a shame, as Farmer's story is worthy of a film. Just not this one. But Lange is excellent. ** stars.

Congratulations, Heather Graham. I've followed you from film to film, all these years, loving you no matter what, but you finally, after all this time, went and made a film too disgusting and stupid for me to make it through. Until next time, no stars.

This is a surprising, shocking film for 1948 (or, maybe, modern perceptions of 1948 in film). Olivia de Havilland stars in an amazing performance as a woman with mental problems who is put in a mental hospital. The film is very frank, sometimes even brutal in its depiction of shock therapy and the bleak hopelessness of mental institutions. The place isn't inhumane, but it doesn't feel like a place where people go to get better so much as to get moved around a bit. I was riveted to the film up to a certain point; there's a fantastic overhead shot of de Havilland lost in a sea of mental patients, and that felt like the real end of the movie to me. After that--where we explore de Havilland's mental issues and finally discover the root of her problem (which, disappointingly, dealt with her issues with men and her inability/desperate need to love) and a cure that seems to just magically happen, felt tacked on to me, as though the film suddenly lost its nerve and couldn't leave the audience without the fantasy that all mental problems are ultimately curable. Olivia de Havilland's performance is a tour de force, but it kind of feels like she's not really playing a mental patient so much as someone who needs some time off in order to recharge herself so she can just get back to being a wife, already. *** stars.

Fuck St. Patrick's Day

This morning, my local news weatherman is doing the usual St. Patrick's Day remote from a pub, getting drunk at 8 in the morning. He's wearing sunglasses, a long, sparkly green wig, and bright green pointed ears. That image pretty much sums up everything I despise about St. Patrick's Day, the one day a year when it's supposedly socially acceptable to participate in what America seems to think are traditional Irish values, like punching and vomiting. Oi, tee-toi, tee-toi.

God, I hate St. Patrick's Day. In fact, the only joy I'm deriving from it this year is that there won't be a parade in Chicago. People are upset about it because, you know, it's St. Patrick's Day, which is really important for some reason, especially--apparently--when you're not Irish and not Catholic...

Gee, I guess Chicagoans will have to get drunk all day and puke in the streets and destroy public and private property without the parade excuse. I know that makes it exactly like every other day of the year, but I think you guys will live.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Random Thoughts

I just wanted to mention what's going on in Texas right now. Why is Texas so hot on ignorance? What does Rick Perry want done over there that needs so many stupid people that the school board there is making so many drastic changes to their textbooks?

1. They've voted to remove Thomas Jefferson from the curriculum's world history standards on Enlightenment thinking, instead choosing to replace him with John Calvin. How surprising: replacing one of our Founding Fathers with an icon of religion. They think he's a better example of "America's exceptionalism," and have thus done away with one of our most exceptional Americans.

2. Texas teachers will now be required to cover the Christian influence of the Founding Fathers, but not discuss the reasons America has a separation of Church and State. One article about this quotes David Bradley, a real estate worker, who says "I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state. I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution."

First Amendment: give me my money, asshole.

Quick, anyone want to guess which President said in a letter that America was not a Christian nation? Thomas Jefferson.

The board of education also refused to require that students learn that the government is not allowed to promote one religion over another.

3. Apparently, the US is not a democracy anymore, as teachers in Texas are now required to refer to America as a constitutional republic.

4. The board wants teachers to assert in history classes that the Venona papers, transcripts of 3000 communications between the Soviet government and US spies, is a vindication of McCarthyism.

5. The board rejected the idea that hip-hop represents a significant cultural movement. Also, no need for texts to mention that there were Tejanos among the defenders of the Alamo.

6. The board wants students to learn about the "conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s." So Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the NRA will all be a part of the Texas curriculum. Will their liberal or minority rights counterparts? No.

7. The board voted to eliminate sociology classroom discussions of the differences between sex and gender, apparently solely because board member Barbara Cargill is worried that kids will learn about transvestism.

8. Because "capitalism" has a negative connotation right now, the word is being replaced with "free enterprise."

9. An edict from on high: no Ted Kennedy, no Sonia Sotomayor, but lots more Ronald Reagan.

Seriously... every time Texas goes on and on about seceding from the nation when it gets too rough for them to handle it, I wonder why we don't just let them go. Revoke the citizenship of everyone who remains behind, let them reapply for it if they want to move, and cut off their federal money, and then we'll see how defiant they get about educational standards, etc.

Or, you know, we could just sink the place and turn Austin into an island. I'd be fine with that, too. But for now, I just want to make sure anyone international who is reading this knows that Texas does not speak for the US. A lot of us are incredibly embarrassed by Texas. And this shit is precisely why.

:: I also wanted to mention ACTA, the incredibly convoluted Anti-Copyright Theft Agreement which is meant to protect intellectual property on an international level. The European Parliament overwhelmingly voted it down, and rightly so, because of a total lack of transparency. (Canada, always the smart kid in the North American classroom, proposed an oversight committee, something the US sadly has not bothered with.)

Anyway, I read today that President Obama unsurprisingly sided with the RIAA and MPAA against copyright reform. President Obama never met a corporate lobby he didn't side with, so it doesn't come as a shock. Pretty soon, I won't even be disappointed by the guy anymore and everything will just seem like par for the course.

:: Jerusalem announced that they were going ahead with construction of new settlements. Settlements that they had previously agreed not to build. Biden was furious, and the Secretary of State called it "insulting." So, naturally, the Anti-Defamation League released a statement attacking the Administration for defaming Israel.

And this kind of thing is a perfect example of why it's impossible to have a real discussion on American-Israeli relations in the US.

Apparently, My Sister Is Engaged

At least that's what my Dad told me last night. Congratulations, Jayne!

(I hear Ben's a great guy. Sorry I couldn't meet him when you guys came to visit because I was so damn sick.)


Monday, March 15, 2010

TV Notes

:: I don't want to get into the business of recapping American Idol--there are other bloggers who do that far better than I do--but I have a couple of comments. We have a top 12 now, which is usually the point where you realize just how sad this whole competition is every year. As usual, we've seen the judges comment on thousands of hopefuls to get to maybe 3 people who can really sing, a couple of others with marketable stories (and remember, this is not a singing competition, this is the search for a commercial package), and people who made it way too far on just not being outright terrible but instead being too mediocre to notice.

America has also made it's first terrible choice... well, okay, that's debatable, since Tim Urban continues to make it each week for reasons I can't figure out. But what I'm specifically referring to is Lily getting cut, especially over Lacey, Paige, Katie, or really any woman who isn't Crystal.

(And by the way, when is American Idol going to stop boxing itself in with this 6 women and 6 men format? Just pick 12 good singers. What if there are 9 good women and only 3 good men? Then they've got to just cut out 3 good female singers and pad it up for the boys with more Tim Urbans and Aaron Kellys.)

Anyway, I say they could just chuck it all right now and give it to Mike Lynche. Dude is amazing.

:: On NBC's Thursday nights, Parks & Recreation is the show I find the most consistently enjoyable, especially now that the low-key romance between Ann and Mark is over. (I like Rashida Jones, but I'm not sure why her character even needs to be there at this point.)

I think Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson are great characters, both played very well (and sometimes surprisingly) by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman, but my favorite part of the show right now is the developing relationship between Amy and Andy. It's sweet and subtle, and it's slow to build, but in a very organic way. They're not drawing it out to buy time. And I really like that they're pulling it off.

:: Last week's episode of The Office was better than it's been since Jim became co-manager. I'm glad that thing's over; I didn't like the changes in Jim. I understand that this is what happens in real life when someone gets promoted and the dynamic changes, but I think the show didn't know what to do with Jim when they got him there. He became petty and controlling, even though he had zero control over anyone in the office. It's a hard balance, because Jim was the heart of the show, and Co-Manager Jim continued to be the heart of the show, but the aloof, subversive Jim had to disappear and was replaced by the tense and desperate Jim.

I think the writers sensed that this was happening and weren't sure were to go. I think Michael Scott is a fantastic character, even though they try a little too hard to make him sympathetic at times, so I liked some of his recent stories, but Erin and Andy sure don't take the place of Jim and Pam--they're drawn too broadly, and even though I'm enjoying their story, I'm enjoying it as comedy and not as character. I think the economic situation gave them an out and let them sell off the office while keeping the staff and characters intact, and immediately booted Jim back to where he was because the co-manager thing just wasn't working. The writers are stuck between wanting to recapture the realism of the second season and wanting to work in the big emotions and sweetness of the fourth season and not really being able to find the balance.

So, I like to think the episode where Jim took the demotion to sales, cut off Dwight's tie, and looked at the camera is a signal that they've dialed the show back. And if it gets us out of Dwight and Ryan's cartoonish plotting against Jim, so much the better.

Oh, and I loved the moment last week where Michael, after trying way, way too hard to win Jo's friendship, earned her respect by standing up for his employees.

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Song of the Week: "In the Sun"

She & Him have a new album coming out on the 23rd! I've been waiting for another one, so I'll be getting this right away. Here's the first video. God, I love this pairing.

Some Nice Nature Shots from John