Saturday, June 19, 2010

Doctor Who and Fairy Tales

This is going to be all kinds of spoilery and will talk about episodes still unaired in the US. If you read something you don't want to, you only have yourself to blame.

So, really, this whole season of Doctor Who has been about fairy tales, hasn't it?

One of the things I've been responding to the most this season has been the recurring theme of identities of good and evil: evil disguised as good (the Daleks pretending to be servants) and things being mistaken for evil (the intentions of the Silurian leaders, the Krayafis). Part of the brilliance of Doctor Who is that it's often about the ethics of in-between rather than the triumph of absolutes.

But what I think is also interesting has been this season's fairy tale themes and imagery:

:: In "The Eleventh Hour," Amelia Pond's name is "a bit fairytale," and she goes off in her nightie with her imaginary friend, just like Wendy in Peter Pan. There's also the apple.

:: In "The Beast Below," the Queen walks around the commoners in disguise, and the child-eating beast is revealed to be misunderstood.

:: In "Victory of the Daleks," a robot created by the Daleks turns into a real boy when his emotions become genuine, like in Pinocchio.

:: In "The Time of Angels"/"Flesh & Stone," Amy even wears a read hood(ie) as she's chased through a dark forest by monsters. The Doctor asserts that the Pandorica is a fairy tale.

:: "Vampires of Venice" has vampires, and more misunderstood monsters (although in this case the Saturnyne want to destroy humans, but are doing it to survive, not to conquer). And the haunted girls' school angle feels like a Hammer film (and I mean that as a compliment).

:: "Amy's Choice" might as well be called "Rory's Fairy Tale."

:: "The Hungry Earth"/"Cold Blood" deal with a city that has been asleep for 1000 years and a different world under our own.

:: "Vincent and the Doctor" gives us a Van Gogh who can see a beast that appears evil but is actually just lost. And Van Gogh's also misunderstood, isn't he?

:: In "The Lodger," love is brought together in a fight to overcome something malevolent. (And a kiss breaks the curse.)

So, now we're leading up to the Pandorica, which the Doctor assures us is a fairy tale, and which is apparently under Stonehenge. I can't wait to see where this is going (although it seems to involve Daleks, Cybermen, Silurians, Judoon, Sontarans, Sycorax, and a hell of a lot more).

About the only thing that isn't like a fairy tale is the Doctor's sonic screwdriver, and I'm pleased about that. David Tennant wielded it like a magic wand, so it's nice to see Matt Smith have to use other solutions.

I am way too excited to see what happens next.

UPDATE 7:47 PM: Holy shit!

The Facts of Meme

Via Jaquandor

1. You’re building your dream house. What’s the one thing that this house absolutely, positively MUST HAVE? (other than the obvious basics of course)

Lots of library space. And, if I can choose a second thing, hidden rooms. Basically, I want Harlan Ellison's house.

2. What is your dream car?

1968 Volkswagen Beetle. I've always wanted one, they're fun to drive, and it's something I can learn to keep up instead of having to deal with the computerized messes cars are becoming.

3. What is your favorite website that isn’t a blog?

If Tumblr counts, which it probably doesn't, Tumblr. Otherwise, Wikipedia.

4. iPhone 4 or Droid, which do you want?

I'm not convinced I need either (unless we're talking R2-D2, which is the Droid I really want). But if I had to buckle down, I'd pick Not Apple. I can censor myself, thanks.

5. When you’re feeling down or lonely or just generally out of sorts, what do you do to cheer yourself up?

Listen to music or watch Muppet clips on YouTube.

6. Tell me about something or someone that you love that most people seem to hate.

About half of the movies I love seem to be widely condemned by the internet.

7. What do you want to be when you grow up?

Some kind of space pirate.

8. Would you go on a reality show if given the chance?

What show is it? I'd go on The Biggest Loser, I think, because I could use the help and I think Jillian Michaels is fucking hot.

9. Who was your favorite teacher when you were growing up. (Grade school, Middle School, Jr. High or High School only.)

Mr. Crandus, my junior year English teacher.

10. You get one pass to do something illegal or immoral. What are you gonna do?

Rob a bank. I'm petty and materialistic. Plus, I like it when my power's on.

11. What were you doing 10 years ago?

Let's see, in 2000 I was working at Hollywood Video and still living at home. It sucked.

12. By this time next year, I ...

hope to be at least 100 pounds less than I am now.

13. Do you think the United States will elect a female President in your lifetime? Do you think this would be a good thing?

Yes, I think so, and it depends on the person. If it's Sarah Palin, we're all totally fucked.

14. Which fictional TV show character you would shag anytime?

Lily from How I Met Your Mother is exactly the kind of woman I love.

15. What is your greatest pet peeve?


16. Tell me about your most recent trip of more than 100 miles?

To my grandma's funeral about 10 years ago.

17. Which do you use more often, the dictionary or the thesaurus?

I use both of them quite a bit.

18. Do you have a nickname? What is it?

"You asshole."

19. What are you dreading at the moment?

Not much. I'm having a good day. Really looking forward to Becca coming home so we can watch Doctor Who and have dinner.

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

I don't really care about it.

21. In two words, explain what ended your last relationship.

Emotional abuse. (And not on my part, I have to add.)

22. What were you doing this morning at 8am?

I was still asleep! I don't usually like to sleep that late, but there I was, snoring away.

23. Do you have any famous relatives?

I'm related to Thomas Jefferson by marriage (through his father-in-law, which means I'm related to both Martha Jefferson and Sally Hemings, because they had the same father). That's on my mother's side. On my father's side, there's been talk over the years of being related to Jefferson Davis, but I don't know if that's true. Either way, I have the name of my son, if I ever have one: Thomas Jefferson Davis.

24. How many different beverages have you drank today?

Two: water and Coca-Cola.

25. What is something you are excited about?

Watching Doctor Who tonight. Part one of the season finale!

26. When was the last time you spoke in front of a large group?

Several of my college classes from 2001 to 2006.

27. When you looked at yourself in the mirror today, what was the first thing you thought?

I need a haircut soon.

28. What were you doing at midnight last night?

I think we went to bed around midnight. In fact, I remember it was 12:15 exactly, because that's when the loud music came up from downstairs. Of course. So at midnight I was watching an episode of King of the Hill on a local station.

29. What’s a word that you say a lot?

"Fuck." (Are you surprised?)

30. Who is your worst enemy?

Whoever worships evil's might. Also, my downstairs neighbors, apparently regardless of who they are.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Film Week

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

An interesting film; it's like Nanook of the North in that it's not really a documentary but an attempt to document indigenous culture before material Western involvement through a narrative. In this case, it's the Ojibwe of Canada. It's fairly dynamic to look at, particularly the animal sequences, but I wish--as I do with Nanook of the North, as much as I love that movie (or, for that matter, movies like Chang or Grass)--that the filmmakers had trusted that their subject was fascinating enough without the overcooked story. Still, there's a lot here to recommend. *** stars.

SPEAK (2004)
Kristen Stewart is a high school student who, after being raped, becomes withdrawn in the next school year. What really got to me is how obviously she needed help and how no one--not even her parents--offered any. There are some interesting moments, especially in the idea of art as an outlet for the passions we try to repress. I saw it on Lifetime, but it wasn't as cheesy as the movies that air there tend to be. Stewart elevates it somewhat by kind of demanding your attention. I just felt so sorry for her that I had to stick it out. **1/2 stars.

Worse than I imagined going in. It's interesting how popular the X-Men movies are considering that nearly all of the characterizations of beloved comic book characters are just so bad. I always like Hugh Jackman in everything, but I'd love to see him in a really, truly great movie for a change. This is just beyond lame, even for a movie based on a comic book. It's impossible to have a stake in it. You have a character who is made indestructible, and then the people who made him indestructible spend the rest of the movie trying to destroy him? Then he's up against an indestructible villain, so who really cares? Plus, since this is a prequel to X-Men, we know Wolverine lives anyway, and since we've seen X2 we know that Stryker lives, so where's the drama? This is really just continuity porn for the chronologists, of which there are depressingly many in fandom. *1/2 stars.

Oh, Hilary Duff... I still love you, but I've watched enough bad movies just to see you at this point in my life. It's not happening anymore. * star.

This was much better than the commercials indicated. I really love Tina Fey and Steve Carell, so I'm glad I enjoyed the movie. It's silly and outlandish--a bored couple from the suburbs are mistaken for blackmailers and find themselves in an action movie where they're on the run from shady cops and the Mafia--but the two actors never make the mistake of playing it straight. The characters are comedy characters pulled into an action/crime plot, and they never suddenly become stock action characters. Even when they're doing something as over-the-top as a car chase, they still remain true to the characters, and that goes a long way with me. I really, really enjoyed it. ***1/2 stars.

I just... didn't care. Stylishly made, seems like it should be more fun than it is, but ultimately it comes down to bad characterization and bad plot. I didn't know what was happening or to who and why I should give a shit. * star.

LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars

Oh my, yes. I was put out to discover that the awesome-looking Scott Pilgrim vs. the World video game was going to be a Playstation thing, but then I saw this preview for LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars and forgot all about it...

Between this and LEGO Harry Potter and Legend of Zelda: The Skyward Sword and Epic Mickey and Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Metroid: Other M and the return of Donkey Kong Country... Gladys, clear my schedule for the rest of the year. And the next.

By the way, has anyone out there played Monster Hunter: Tri or Red Steel 2? I'm curious about those.

Hell's Kitchen, Episodes 3 and 4

Yes, Salvatore, exactly: fight back. It's okay to melt a little, it's okay to take a moment and collect yourself, but it's imperative that we fight back when our dreams are on the line.

I have to admit, I didn't have high hopes for Sal, but he can obviously cook, and if he lets himself stop being so intimidated by Gordon he can pull it together. I hope he goes far in this competition. I thought he was a frivolous person at first, but at least, unlike Andrew, he fought back. I respect that.

I also respect Fran fighting through her pain. It may not have been smart in the long run to not immediately get it checked out, but she has real passion, too. And it's nice to see Nilka emerge, because I had a feeling she was capable of more.

Oh, and I was happy to see Jason get over his hurt feelings and figure it out: watch your back, but be a team player. That's an important distinction. If you're out for yourself, you're just going to cut yourself out. Gordon is looking for someone who can work with a team, not in spite of one.

I'm still not sure what Autumn's deal is. She sure has a high opinion of her abilities, but she's not into being a teammate. Is it just that she's such a know-it-all that rubs everyone the wrong way, or is she really not good as a chef? I don't know why I can't tell; I keep waiting for her to either fail spectacularly or succeed spectacularly. Whatever she does, it probably won't be small scale. She loves herself too much for that.

(Sexist comment: damn, she looks good in a bikini, though.)

And Scott... what's his deal? The know-it-all on the men's team. He seems competent, for the most part, but his getting in everyone's way and trying to direct them comes across less like the leadership he thinks it signifies and more like a total lack of trust in the other members of his team. It's making me sick to watch, to be honest, and I'm betting the women will get sick of it quickly, too.

Also, how hot is Holli? Damn...

I'm still looking for leaders and I'm not sure I see any. Nilka, I think, has the edge on the women's team. Maria obviously wants to be the leader, but she's too self-conscious for that. She internalizes the criticism too much, and it effects her performance in negative ways. Also, they really need to get rid of Siobhan. She crumbles under pressure and is too easily intimidated. She's not fighting back.

As for the men, Benjamin seems to be their best asset right now. He hasn't jumped in front of everyone to take the reins, but he knows what he's doing and does it in an assured manner. Maybe he should assert himself a little more.

Also, how hot is Debi Mazar? Damn...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Is This Just What Life Is Now?

Here's a picture of an oil wave that was headed for Alabama. Is this just what life on Planet Earth is now? Oil and garbage in the oceans and that's that? And all because Washington, DC, is too afraid to put strict regulations on oil drilling?

We're talking about oil leaks, plural, that have been seeping crude oil into the ocean for over 50 days now.

Did you see Riki Ott on Olbermann talking about BP's massive cover-up, including trolling beaches to make dead, oil-covered animals disappear? She also said that residents in four states were reporting typical symptoms of crude oil exposure, even as BP insists that no one is being exposed to dangerous toxins and OSHA continues to claim that cleanup workers don't need to wear masks.

President Obama is going to address the nation tonight about what's being done in the Gulf. I'm interested to hear what he has to say, because so far it seems like nothing's being done at all. So far, Washington's big answer has been to let BP be in charge of the cleanup. And while they should go bankrupt paying for it, they shouldn't be in charge of the effort, because they obviously don't care about what's happening other than its effect on their profits and on their stock prices.

Frankly, someone should be up on negligent homicide charges for the 11 rig workers who died in this incident. Tony Hayward shouldn't be leading the cleanup effort, he should be watching it from prison while awaiting trial. You want to send a message to corporations that ignore safety violations? Lead Hayward away in handcuffs in front of a news crew.

But Washington has to do their part for safety and to prevent these disasters from happening and actually enforce stricter regulations. You can't fuck around with safety. And the only way that's going to happen is when the government stops letting the corporations run things, and I don't see that happening any time soon. Jeez, I wanted to puke when Sarah Palin said that Obama should have gone to Hayward and talked about what was happening. She thinks the CEO of BP should be placed on the level of a world leader. And she's not the only one. Not even close.

It's unconscionable to see the government kowtowing to BP here and letting them get away with whatever they want. The government refuses to accept their part of the responsibility here, so we've another in what is quickly becoming--from Clinton to Bush to Obama--an unbroken line of presidents who aren't interested in accountability. Not when it comes to the actions of their administration.

So I'm curious as to whether or not tonight will see the White House trying to further distance itself from everything.

Delays, delays, always delays.

UPDATE 7:20 PM: The President's good with rhetoric. I wish he sounded more like a leader and less like someone trying to convince America he's the man for the job. He's still campaigning. But he speaks well: the idealistic tone of his address could almost distract you from the way he was deflecting all responsibility from the government.

Make no mistake: the only reason there's a shuffle going on right now in the regulating offices is because the White House needs to look like it's doing something. You can bet your ass Obama and others knew exactly how deep the corruption runs. If they weren't under the public scrutiny, if they didn't need a way to atone for their history of collaboration with corporations--especially the oil industry--for overlooking safety regulations, things wouldn't be changing at all.

Obama knows rhetoric. He knows what to say to make you feel better: it's cool, we're going to do this and we're going to do that. But who knows when and how far in the future. To me, that's passing the buck. He's doing what Clinton and Bush did and passing it on to future generations. Hey, maybe I'm wrong and Obama will have a serious energy plan in his first term. After all, just like the corruption, he's been caught and now he's got to show that he's sorry and that he's serious. But honestly, I'd rather stop hearing about what we should do and start hearing about what we're going to do.

Legend of Zelda: The Skyward Sword

I know where the rest of my year is going...

Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers

I just finished reading this wonderful four-part miniseries. The story involves Lockjaw gathering animals of the Marvel Universe--Throg the Thor Frog, Zabu, Redwing, Speedball's cat Hairball, Lockheed, and even Aunt May's dog--so they can reclaim the jewels of the Infinity Gauntlet before Thanos does.

The more important aspect, though, is how warm and funny it is. Written by Chris Eliopoulos (whose writing I've been a fan of since he was doing back-up strips in Savage Dragon), it's one of a growing number of excellent comics that take place sort of on the fringes of the Marvel Universe. I find that, since Marvel has run its universe into the ground for me, these books are more enjoyable than anything having to do with Civil War or what have you. This is the kind of book that makes me glad I still read comics.

And there's an appearance by Devil Dinosaur, which is pretty awesome.

Seriously, if you're into reading comics that are just fun and even silly and don't have time for the soap opera aspect of superhero books, you must check this out.

Showgirls Is on Blu-Ray Today

Showgirls: continuing to blur the line between “So bad it’s good” and “Wow, that’s just really fucking bad” for each technology upgrade.


Dennis Hopper gives a beautiful recitation of Kipling's poem on The Johnny Cash Show.

Thanks, Phillip, for sending this over! I'd never seen this one before, and I dug it. I prefer to remember Hopper for things like this and not Super Mario Bros...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Al Williamson 1931-2010

One of comics' great artists has passed on. Thanks for all you did, Al.

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Song of the Week: "Common People"

Since I'm in a Trek mood, here's William Shatner, arranged by Ben Folds, joined by Joe Jackson, covering Pulp. And exceeding Pulp. Pulp kind of sucks. I love this song.

Star Trek

Becca and I have been re-familiarizing ourselves with Star Trek over the last couple of weeks, getting the DVDs from Netflix and having little marathon sessions on her days off of work. I realized, I still haven't seen each and every episode of the original series, so it was kind of a treat to see some episodes for the first time--and to see some that I hadn't seen since I was a kid.

So, what they hey, since I've nothing to do today, some comments on the first season, which we finished watching this week.

1. Where No Man Has Gone Before (my rating: 3/5)
I've always been surprised that this one got the show a series, since I've always found "The Cage" to be a good deal more interesting--though both are pretty ponderous. Of course, Kirk is much better than Pike, so that helps a lot. Still, this isn't one of my favorites.

2. The Corbomite Maneuver (4/5)
I love these episodes that feel like submarine battles. Being such a fan of the movies, I'd forgotten just how commanding and authoritative Kirk can be, especially in a battle of strategic bluffing.

3. Mudd's Women (3/5)
This falls in the middle for me as far as quality. On the one hand, the story is kinda lousy and surprisingly patronizing, but on the other hand, Roger C. Carmel's Harcourt Fenton Mudd is one of the great Star Trek supporting characters. He just appears, fully drawn, full of life, as though he's always been there.

4. The Enemy Within (3/5)
It's just so silly, isn't it? Shatner's hammy overacting as Evil Kirk, and the overwrought situation and dialogue. It's unintentionally hilarious today, but often in a good way. It's not in on the joke like a Batman episode, but it's still kind of fun because it's so ridiculous.

5. The Man Trap (2/5)
I can't believe this is the first one aired. Some decent moments--I particularly like Sulu in this one, and DeForest Kelley's acting is first rate--but it's pretty tedious.

6. The Naked Time (4/5)
What I like about this one is that we find out more about the characters themselves--particularly Spock, my favorite character--by putting them in a situation where they act completely out of character. Neat trick, and they pull it off. Also, the Lt. Riley stuff is hilarious, and Uhura has one of the best lines ever, when a swashbuckling Sulu pulls her away and says "I'll protect you fair maiden," to which she replies "Sorry, neither." Love it.

Like you don't know it already, but this show could've used a lot more Uhura.

7. Charlie X (2/5)
This is raised to a 2 to me only because Uhura sings and flirts with Spock in this one, and that's wonderful. Otherwise, it's basically a rip-off of Stranger in a Strange Land with a truly annoying guest actor.

8. Balance of Terror (5/5)
One of my favorites; a tense submarine battle, with two worthy commanders, a great performance by Mark Lenard as the Romulan leader, and a great examination of the racism that can spill forth in dire circumstances.

9. What Are Little Girls Made Of? (2/5)
I just found it kind of boring and stagey, although I really liked Ted Cassidy as Ruk. And it was nice to see Christine Chapel in a more prominent role; did that ever really happen again?

10. Dagger of the Mind (2/5)
This was one I hadn't seen before. I don't know why I only thought it was okay; it just didn't hold my interest a whole heck of a lot.

11. Miri (1/5)
"No blah blah blah!" The whole episode is blah blah blah, Captain. Also, I found Kirk's burgeoning romance with an underage girl really, really creepy. I've never liked this episode at all.

12. The Conscience of the King (5/5)
I like the episodes that are especially about the dramatic tension between one's duty and one's inner humanity. And I like the episodes where we find out more about Kirk's past, humanizing the Captain. This is also really good social science fiction, touching on the ethics of social engineering.

13. The Galileo Seven (3/5)
Not as tense as it might've been, but it is amazing to see how, in a future where Gene Roddenberry insisted racism had been eradicated, we see once again how willing everyone is to turn on Spock for not being so emotional as they are.

14. Court Martial (4/5)
I've always enjoyed this one, especially how old-fashioned Kirk's lawyer is (and I did Elisha Cook Jr in the role, although I've read he had a hard time with his lines). It's also another great example of duty vs. humanity, with one of Kirk's old, um, "friends" being the one to prosecute him during the court martial.

15. and 16. The Menagerie, Parts I and II (3/5)
It's brilliant to recycle the unaired pilot in this way, and I love that it makes both Spock and the Enterprise feel like they've got a larger history than just what we see on the show, but it does get a little tedious going on as it does for two parts. The best stuff, I think, is the stuff from "The Cage," and not the wraparound device. Leonard Nimoy is very good in this episode, though.

17. Shore Leave (4/5)
Enjoyable silliness. And Dr. McCoy shows what a player he can be.

18. The Squire of Gothos (4/5)
Created about a thousand Star Trek tropes, but it's fun.

19. Arena (5/5)
It's easy to forget how good this episode really is, actually--it's been parodied so much that it sometimes makes this episode seem silly. But I really like the physical contest here. I have to say, though, can you imagine being on the Enterprise and just getting messed with over and over again by higher intelligences? Must get pretty tiresome.

20. The Alternative Factor (2/5)
This episode drags an awful lot. Not one of my favorites.

21. Tomorrow Is Yesterday (3/5)
Pretty neat, but they did the same thing better in Star Trek IV. Shatner's in top form here, though.

22. The Return of the Archons (1/5)
What a boring episode. I'd never seen this one, either, and I just didn't care about what happened.

23. A Taste of Armageddon (3/5)
Barbara Babcock is just beautiful in this episode. And it makes a much more interesting point, I think, about blind faith than the previous episode did.

24. Space Seed (5/5)
Well, come on. This is just one hell of an episode, with Ricardo Montalban playing one hell of a scary villain.

25. This Side of Paradise (4/5)
My Mom really hates this episode, but I think it's so interesting what they do with Spock in it, having him give free reign to his human emotions, which cuts him off from his rationality. At its best, Star Trek argues that this tension between our emotions and our reason exists inside all of us, and that life is a struggle to maintain a balance. It's just writ large in Spock.

26. The Devil in the Dark (4/5)
I was especially blown away by this episode as a kid, because to a kid, the Horta is a terrifying monster and it's a surprise that it can be reasoned with and not be malevolent. We've seen this in a lot of science fiction, but it was a new idea to me as a kid. Of course, now you have to overlook the fact that the Horta looks like a giant shepherd's pie and stop expecting Mr. and Mrs. Brainsample from Monty Python to run out and eat it...

27. Errand of Mercy (5/5)
I had never seen this one before, either, and I'm not sure if I'm sorry it took me this long, because it's a great episode, or if I'm glad I had such a surprise in store as a Trek fan for 20+ years. I never thought much of the Klingons, but Commander Kor is such a great match for Captain Kirk that I'm sorry they couldn't bring him back again and again. He would have been a great arch-nemesis. This such a fantastic episode.

28. The City on the Edge of Forever (5/5)
My personal favorite episode of Star Trek. I especially love that Kirk falls in love with Edith not just because she's beautiful Joan Collins, but because of her ideas and her optimism.

29. Operation: Annihilate! (3/5)
Pretty good episode, although it's a shame that the first time we see Kirk's brother he's already dead. Another of a surprising number of times when Kirk is motivated by personal revenge and nearly overlooks his duty. If only the creatures didn't look like plastic vomit... And I wonder what happened to Kirk's nephew. Not that it matters, just idly wondering.

Happy Birthday, Kat Dennings!

Muppet Toy Commercial from 1966

I've never seen this one before, but here's Rowlf the Dog pitching you, the viewer, a line of Muppet dolls from Ideal Toys in 1966. As always, Jim Henson is the master of humor in advertising.