Friday, May 18, 2012

Ernie Chan 1940-2012

Comics stalwart Ernie Chan has passed away at the age of 71. He belongs to my favorite era of comics, the 1970s; I've been reading a lot of old Conan comics lately, and his work as inker on Conan the Barbarian and artist on The Savage Sword of Conan have been bringing me a lot of joy lately, as well as his classic Batman art. Sorry to hear this news.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

TV Report: Looking Ahead to Next Season

All the fall schedules are out now, and I can see some big changes that, nevertheless, somehow look like more of the same... So here's where I navel gaze and think about what I'll be watching come October on CBS, ABC, NBC, possibly Fox, and... who are we kidding, I'm not watching anything on the CW.

I'll still be watching How I Met Your Mother, which didn't have the best season finale this week, ending as it did on the same cliffhanger it began with nine months ago, but adding a twist everyone had guessed roughly nine months ago, aided by the announcement last week that Becki Newton was in a pilot that got picked up, so it's not like Quinn and Barney were ever going to get married. I loved the first half, though, and I still love these characters enough that I teared up a tiny bit when Marshall announced that he named his son after his late father (last year's episode "Last Words," featuring Marvin's funeral, was a real tearjerker for me). Also loved Ted's "That guy's a dad" reaction.

I'll also still be watching The Amazing Adventures of Kat Dennings' Sublime Breasts, but I see now I'll be waiting a half hour between shows as CBS tries out another new TV comedy that tries to convince us that knowing a gay person is JUST WACKY!! as if we're just finding out about them for the first time. Except, of course, I won't be waiting because I just DVR this shit. Moving the show to 8 (9 for all you Eastern types) makes me realize how much of a breakout 2 Broke Girls is... I can't decide if moving Two and a Half Men to Thursdays makes me excited that someone is going after NBC's perceived Thursday night crown or if I'm just happy that it signals the impending end of Two and a Half Men. What do you think, two more seasons, tops? Eh, whatever, I don't really care except in an academic sense because I don't actually watch it.

I am particularly not watching NBC's Revolution, though I see the internet is already in love with it. Admit it, internet, the mere futility of hoping a science fiction series on a network could be both good and successful just gets you off in some sick way, doesn't it?

And Castle is coming back, a prospect which I find I'm almost totally unenthusiastic about. After I've been away for a couple of months, maybe I'll be excited again. I'm invested in the characters now, but I sure wish I was getting the same kind of return on my investment that I used to get. The finale was just the kind of murky, convoluted, joyless, humorless hour I expected it would be. And, of course, the Conspiracy Theory Plot Contrivance Generator was turned up to 11. Kind of hard to hear the episode over the sound of that un-oiled machinery grinding its gears. (And apropos of nothing, Stana really looked better with short hair.)

Oh, and in midseason Fox has something coming on called The Following which sounds bizarrely compelling to me. James Purefoy (whom I love, even though he was the most bizarre, random, and sudden pointless development on Revenge this season) plays a serial killer on a spree being tracked down by the FBI genius who originally put him away (Kevin Bacon). I don't know why it just sounds like something I want to watch. It's like NBC's Hannibal, but like the version of it that sounds more watchable even though it doesn't have the licensed pedigree (although most of you are pretty aware that I'm not a fan of the film series' Universal Monster Movie version of Hannibal Lecter, anyway).

(And about NBC's Hannibal, two observations. First, the promotional copy shouldn't describe Will Graham as "a gifted criminal profiler" with a "unique way of thinking" that "gives him the astonishing ability to empathize with anyone, even psychopaths" and then have the character not know that the psychiatrist he's allied himself with is a serial killer. I know you want to make it look like Hannibal is just that much of a genius, but it kind of makes Graham look stupid and is way overselling it. Second... Hugh Dancy as Will Graham? I imagine the conversation going like this: "We got Hugh Dancy!" "Why Hugh Dancy?" "Had to get someone.")


Tuesday is NBC's night for the "knowing a gay person is JUST WACKY!!" sitcom, and for some reason the title, The New Normal, just sounds condescending to me. This is apparently the year the networks decided we all need to be talked down to about these colorful homer-sexuals that have been in the news so much lately. However, it offends my sensibilities less than NBC giving Matthew Perry a new sitcom. What is it about Matthew Perry that networks just can't get enough of? It's obviously not ratings. Because, you know, if there's one thing that box office grosses and the ratings for Studio 60 and Mr. Sunshine failed to show, it's that Matthew Perry was the reason anyone liked Friends... Seriously, didn't that overrated piece of bile end a hundred years ago? When does Matthew Perry's goodwill run out and he stops getting more and more chances to fail? Yeah, good luck getting traction from the Friends audience, because the Friends audience is in love with New Girl.

(Aside: what is this shit with Zooey Deschanel on the Siri commercial? "Siri, is it raining?" Look out the window, bitch, it's only three feet over your shoulder! Guys, just because a girl wears nerd glasses and dances awkwardly to old rockabilly 45s doesn't mean it's not still pandering. Christ, I really can't stand her anymore.)

Anyway, Tuesdays are actually giving me something to watch for the first time in many year because ABC is moving Happy Endings and Don't Trust the B-- in Apartment 23 there, where they'll probably get crushed and canceled, but I'll enjoy them while they're on. (It seems weird of ABC to think that the younger-skewing sitcoms are going to be helped by the lead-in of the older-skewing, not-well-rated Dancing with the Stars results show.) I also want to check out this new sitcom Mindy Kaling has for Fox, even though I don't expect it to be very good, because it's on Fox. (Although I love Mindy Kaling, have been hoping for years for a vehicle for her, and the preview was hilarious.) Also might try Vegas because of Dennis Quaid.


I'll stick with Suburgatory and Modern Family, and I know I'll watch Nashville on ABC because it has Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere, at least until it starts to get as annoying as every other music show in history (looks like Country Strong: The Series, so hopefully they avoid the same crap that movie did, but Connie Britton is about a thousand times more talented than Gwyneth Paltrow, so... and Hayden is going to be delicious as the bitch-villain every primetime soap needs; the preview looks awesomely trashy). That's pretty much it. I don't care about ABC's new sitcom about aliens.

Oh, but have you seen the promo art for NBC's terribly-titled Animal Practice?

I don't know who is looking at this picture and thinking that they have to see this (ethnic stereotype! comedy animal! Tyler Labine! character shorthands like poker and bow ties!), but I am not among you. Maybe I just don't get it. I don't get a lot of things. Like why Law and Order: SVU has been on for 13 years.

Also, what's up, Dick Wolf? Call a show Chicago Fire and it's not even about the soccer team?

You know what else?

NBC's got the same stuff on, and as with this past season, I'm only watching Parks and Recreation. The Office became obnoxious and unbearable even before Steve Carell left, and I just gave up on 30 Rock, which was surprisingly easy. I never missed that show for years, and the second I stopped watching it, it was like it never existed. Allen Lulu predicted that one day we'd look back and wonder why we ever found it funny, and I have to say, even thinking about it now, it doesn't really even hold up in my mind. I think the real problem was that Liz Lemon stopped being the quirky center who used to have to hold everything in place. When they started taking her quirks and making them the same broad-stroked crazy as everyone else, it just became too much of a cartoon. Where's the grounding anymore?

Also The Big Bang Theory on CBS, which I love. Great season finale, really defining the relationships among the characters without forcing them to have any big revelations or dramatic speeches (except for Howard and Bernadette getting married, of course, which was still pretty understated, even for this show). I'm glad Howard's growing up. I can't wait to see the other characters take strides of their own. Even the quiet moment of an overwhelmed Sheldon--even his being overwhelmed is huge--just taking Amy's hand is a step on the journey, and a welcome one.

Elementary looks horrible. Guys, just come out and say you're doing modern day Sherlock Holmes because Sherlock is so popular. American TV always thinks it's innovative to arbitrarily make a male character a woman; lots of people are upset, and I think rightly so, by Watson's gender switch, because it's such an obvious and uncreative attempt to remove any possible suggestion of homoeroticism--which says to me that no one involved in the show looks at Tumblr, because most days it seems Tumblr is about nothing more than shipping male couples in popular entertainment. (The most popular right now are Sherlock and Watson, Sherlock and the Doctor, Thor and Loki, and Tony Stark and Bruce Banner.) I would also add that another reason people should be upset is that they cast Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as characters who are supposed to be smart. Also, it feels like what they really want to do is Sherlock Holmes-if-it-were-Castle.

A better idea?

Friday and Saturday
Nothing, don't care. I guess except for Saturday Night Live. Boy, what a disappointment last week. Lots of energy, great sketches, Will Ferrell hosting, Will Forte making some guest appearances, even the Digital Short skated by on goodwill despite being a self-congratulatory send-off. And then it just suddenly died and laid there dead for the last half-hour. Never recovered. Ugh. (And you can spare me the comments about how you're too refined to like Will Ferrell, because I don't care and it's a snore to read.) I wonder if this week is going to be just a lot of farewell sketches from departing cast members Amdy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis and Kristen Wiig. I still really wish Fred Armisen would just walk out the door, too. And take that new girl, Kate McKinnon, with you. As much as I thought Kristen Wiig was overindulgent and repetitive, I never thought she didn't have an intrinsic understanding of how comedy worked. Kristen Wiig just annoyed me and I hated a lot of the one-note socially awkward characters she played endlessly. Kate McKinnon I can't even look at. She's got the crazy eyes. And she's not funny, but seriously: crazy eyes.

Oh, Reba McEntire has a new sitcom on Fridays. Might watch that. I just like her. And it's got Lily Tomlin, so who knows? (Loved Lily this season on Eastbound & Down.) Looks like pretty trad ABC fare (almost like TGIF is coming back), but there's room for all kinds of things on my schedule. Except sports. And medical dramas. Weird that ABC has two country singer series coming on this year, one a sitcom and one a primetime soap. Reba's show is called Malibu Country but it looks like Hannah Montana: The Later Years.

The big change on Sunday is that ABC decided to move Revenge. I was surprised by the move. I mean, it shows a lot of confidence in Revenge to move it to the center of a competitive night. On the other hand, I love Revenge and don't want to see it get crushed by whatever's on HBO or something. I guess this means ABC is looking at Revenge as their heir to Desperate Housewives. (And that reminds me, I need to catch up on, like, the last two seasons of Desperate Housewives.)

Other Stuff
:: NBC picked up a show called Crossbones from the creator of Luther (still in my queue and I need to just watch it already) about Blackbeard and the golden age of piracy. The show intends to be a project of dark moral complexity that will make the audience question who the real villains are: pirates or the British crown. It sounds like the kind of show I would absolutely love... if it were on HBO. NBC doing a show about pirates with the constraints of a network budget and network standards? Still, I have to check this out, assuming it actually gets made and actually airs. So in that regard, I realize I'm making the same mistake with Crossbones that the internet is making with Revolution...

:: In midseason, NBC's got something coming on called Next Caller that visits two of the most tiresome things 21st century pop culture has given us: the idea of the modern, Maxim-reading, overgrown frat boy as some kind of reaction to feminism and not just an emotionally immature boor who defines himself by outdated "traditions," and Dane Cook. And even more egregiously, the promo copy for the show calls Dane Cook--not the character he's playing, a stereotypical talk radio DJ who gets partnered with a plucky, homegrown feminist (another stereotype that was never interesting), but Cook himself--"outrageously charming." If you find Dane Cook "outrageously charming," I can't help you. Just, you know, buy a Louis CK record so you can understand how Cook's bits were all done well before he stole them and made them "outrageously charming."

"Outrageously charming." God help you. And God help you, too, Jeffrey Tambor. Stop wasting your time. No, no, Welcome to the Captain was a really good idea... I hope he's getting paid a lot.

:: I'm kind of weirded out that NBC also picked up some show with Anne Heche about a woman who has a near death experience and becomes a prophet. Interesting idea for a show... if it were on HBO. HBO could do this. NBC... don't see it happening. I just don't see them pulling it off in a way that's going to be very considered or insightful. Love the copy, though: "Let’s just say, if God had a desperate housewife as His mouthpiece, Beth would be it!  She is the absolute last person on Earth who would be chosen. Then again, they say He works in mysterious ways. And this one is a real mystery!" I really need to get a job writing these things; I can desperately try to oversell something, I'm sure! How hard can it be? Let's just say this isn't the scariest curve on the highway!

Whoa, I think my brain literally stopped working for a second.

Anyway, this show is called Save Me, and it has early cancellation written all over it. It's going to be another Book of Daniel where the right people get pissy about religious icons being used on a network show in a disrespectful way, and then after two or three episodes it disappears.

:: Sarah Chalke has a midseason sitcom coming on, too. You know who else has the crazy eyes? Sarah Chalke.

:: And that just... peters out. Nothing else to say here. So, in conclusion:


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Still Do

Jim Henson left this world 22 years ago today.

I've been working on a list of favorite Muppet music for the blog... damn, wish I'd had it done for today.

Film Week

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

Fascinating and whimsical cut-out animation made the great filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk. Not a story so much as a crazy impression of space flight, featuring planets that are people and capturing the breathless dream of flight. ***1/2

There's nothing wrong with this movie that a page 1 rewrite and recasting the lead actress couldn't fix... The problem is, there's no real focus. The film can't decide what it's about. Is it about its ostensible main character, a popular country singer recovering from tragedy and addiction and terrified that the audience has abandoned her? If so, Gwyneth Paltrow's just not up to the task. Look, I've seen her in a lot of films in the past 20 years, and I've even liked her in some of them, but she's just not ever going to be naturally likable or appealing. She's not. Sorry. She can't fake human warmth and she's never been the kind of actress that just inspires sympathy. And here, we're supposed to regard her, on some levels, as a person that we want to see succeed. She's a wounded bird we're supposed to want to care for, that we're supposed to really feel for and hope she finds her humanity and rises above what's holding her back. But I didn't. Not once. I understood her, to some extent, because I know what it's like to throw up emotional obstacles in my own way, and I know what it's like to weather a tragedy. But she just didn't make me care. Country may be strong, but Gwyneth Paltrow's acting isn't. It's a fatal miscast that sinks the entire movie; it's like a black hole at the center that just pulls everything into it. Is the film instead about her husband and manager, Tim McGraw, who is meant to be the villain of the piece? As much time as the movie spends with him, he's too one-dimensional (though the screenplay clearly thinks he's complex, and it is very wrong). Is it about Garrett Hedlund, a man who gets out-acted by a one-dimensional Tim McGraw? Hedlund's character, who is not only attempting to sleep with both Paltrow and her competition/admirer, Leighton Meester, is basically a hole in the screen; boring character played boringly by a boring actor. What the film should have been about is Leighton Meester's character, a former beauty pageant winner who wants to be a country star and desperately admires Gwyneth Paltrow. She's thrilled to be opening for her, even as Paltrow fears that this girl is going to end up replacing her and is threatened by her youth and freshness. Meester is the only one in the film who plays more than one emotion. Unlike Paltrow, Meester is appealing, sympathetic, and instantly likable. She's emotionally genuine, and her story is, by far, the only interesting one in the film. (And she can sing, which... come on, it's a movie about singers.) I know this thing got critically ignored, but I honestly didn't expect it to be this much of a waste (and an overlong one at that). Poorly executed, poorly acted, with one exception. ** I hope that with Gossip Girl ending, Leighton Meester gets the opportunity to do some good films and not Country Strong or The Roommate.

GONE (2012)
Proof that I'll still watch Amanda Seyfried in anything. Actually, it's not a terrible picture; it's almost pretty solid, with some decent characterization, but it also raises potential misdirections that it doesn't really know how to do anything with (or isn't interested in, maybe). This is about a girl who was kidnapped and escaped, and one year later, the killer comes back for her. There's a lot of question about whether it was a hoax or whether she's crazy, but the film is so determined that neither of those things is true that characters insisting on them become either annoying or manipulative attempts at making the lead character sympathetic; the cops don't believe her, so they must be bad people! There's no one on her side! There's so much more that could have been done playing with the psychology of it--especially since it seems to raise the possibility of the killer's identity in a way that goes nowhere and is frustrating--but instead it's a straightforward thriller. Not necessarily a bad one, but not a really enjoyable one, either. It's a better Amanda Seyfried vehicle than Red Riding Hood, which was unwatchable, but it's not what it could be. And how shitty is that it's 20-fucking-12 and I have to be impressed that a young woman in a movie is very smart and capable? **1/2

HICK (2011)
Here's where all of these movies about young girls on road trips make their big mistake: they want to be cautionary tales about how dangerous this world can be for young girls, but they do it by spending an hour and a half sexualizing them for us, only to decide in the last 10 minutes that we should be sympathetic and see them as children. It's an uncomfortable movie about a girl getting herself further and further into danger because of things she doesn't understand, and if it weren't for Chloe Moretz being as talented as she is, it would just be a nightmare to get through. It's well-written--Chloe Moretz's Luli is an interesting, three-dimensional character, but she's playing with fire and she knows she's doing it. And then when the movie gets where it's inevitably going and then turns left, it's truly frightening to watch. The movie creates real characters and genuine suspense. But at the same time... maybe it's the age I'm at and remembering when my sisters were 13 and just wanting to be able to shake them out of making stupid decisions. But it's a mark of the talent involved both behind the camera and in front of it that the film hit me on that level. Blake Lively, by the way, is much better in this than in The Town or the idiotic Green Lantern, but I still don't think I'm ever going to warm to the creepy intensity of Eddie Redmayne. ***1/2

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I Wish the Whole Movie Were Nothing But This

The news that you can unlock Stan Lee as a playable character in the video game of The Amazing Spider-Man just makes me wish the whole movie were about Stan Lee becoming Spidey. Seriously, that's the only thing that would interest me in that flick at this point. This image is just pure joy to me.

Medieval Catholic Sexism in the 21st Century

Two particularly annoying stories I came across.

First, the school baseball team that forfeited the championship game because the opposing team had a... a... a g-g-g-GIRL! In a statement, the Arizona Catholic school (Our Lady of Sorrows, which sounds like a fun place for kids, and it's one of those Society of Pius X places, because Vatican II was just WAY too permissive) said that it teaches boys to respect girls by not putting them in competition where "proper boundaries can only be respected with difficulty." Because... baseballs's a full contact sport, or something? Still, I guess I don't really expect an organization who finds the, um, modernism of the Second Vatican Council too free and loose to really have 21st century ideas about gender boundaries. But, seriously, you can't respect proper boundaries? What does that even mean? Because I want to be sure if I'm supposed to be hearing "Girls are too dainty for sports" or "Girls belong in a kitchen" or "You know boys, you can't keep them from groping the females."

Good for Mesa Prep Academy for not making the girl (Paige Sultzbach) sit the game out. You know, I think we've got it backwards. I grew up hearing that we had to respect other peoples' religious beliefs, but really what we need to respect is the right of the individual to hold whatever religious beliefs they want. When those religious beliefs say that a girl has to sit on the bench after she's worked hard to get to the championship game--or, for that matter, that a team of boys can't play the game they've worked hard to get to because there's a girl on the field--then it becomes a matter of imposing your religious will on others. And yes, I get that those boys go to that school and that's some kind of fucked-up school policy that seems to be hellbent on keeping young males away from the unclean, but you know what? I'm just going to say it: it's fucking stupid. It's not the 15th century anymore, no one with a working brain and a capacity for reason should care about whether the genders can mix on a sports field.

Second story: the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is conducting an official investigation into the Girl Scouts. Let's not mince stupidities and rationalizations and poor excuses: this is about abortion. This is about the Catholic Church--which acts as a sponsor of the Girl Scouts in some communities--deciding that they have an in to take more control of the Girl Scouts and steer them towards a more medieval viewpoint, starting with attacking the Girl Scouts on their affiliation with Planned Parenthood. The US Bishops don't care about tolerance, progress, inclusiveness, education, knowledge, or autonomy: they want to come in just before the Girl Scouts have their big centennial celebration and rain their righteous piss all over the proceedings.

Now, again, freedom of religion in this country. You want to be Catholic, go ahead. I don't care. I have no issue with religion of any kind until it begins imposing its will on people who don't choose to follow these beliefs. And once again, here is the Catholic hierarchy, determined to go after an obvious target that is in no way beholden to conform to its misogynistic power grabs. Is there no more charity for the Catholic Church to perform? No more starving children? No more war zones? No more children sexually assaulted by an organization that refuses to address their concerns and in fact covers up and arguably rewards its transgressors by moving them into a fresh victim pool, pardoned by a president who sought to tie church and state closer together and even foolish enough to honor the architect of its child molester protection program with the highest temporal office religion has to offer?

Oh, yes, right.

The Catholic hierarchy has no business telling anyone what to do with their bodies while they keep refusing to address what they themselves have done to the bodies of others. Until then, all of this shit sounds like "Please, stop talking about all of the kids we've touched! Um... touched for God's greater glory!"

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Song of the Week: "Dear Mama"

Maybe not a song my own Mom would like on Mother's Day, but hey, 2Pac loved his mama.

Long Distance Call