Saturday, January 04, 2014

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 9

And we're back... but before we begin Chapter 9, I decided to look up that Bach piano piece from the previous chapter that Christian was longingly playing in the middle of the night, the one Ana described as "very sad" with a "melancholy melody." Others have written about it, but here's a link to it on YouTube (a Glenn Gould recording). It's a transcription of an oboe concerto by Alessandro Marcello, and it's in a minor key, which... I don't know. I know that's a shorthand for melancholy for a lot of people--I know people who love a minor key piece regardless of anything else about it--but it sounds more contemplative to me than sad. I know it's yet another way EL James is trying to show us Christian Grey as this lost little boy, but it just comes across as clumsy to me. I kind of hate it when writers try to tell us the soundtrack to their novels in clumsy prose, especially when they have such a hard time even describing music.

Incidentally, here's the piece as it was written. That doesn't sound melancholy to me at all. Indeed, it's beautiful, even triumphal. I grew up in the Lutheran church, this kind of music (particularly JS Bach) is imprinted in my DNA. It's worth noting, too, that Bach's transcription was for harpsichord and not piano, and nothing sounds melancholy on a harpsichord. Everyone's just trying too hard. EL James apparently wants this to be, as I said last week, a whole Beauty and the Beast thing. Christian's the little boy lost inside the monster, and Ana is the one who's special enough to reclaim the human from his prison. Is this why some women stay in abusive relationships?

This chapter begins with Ana, sore from last night, waking up in bed with Christian "I don't sleep with people" Grey. She keeps comparing him to a little boy. "His lovely face looks younger..." "How could anyone look this good and still be legal?" (That's a sentence that's both awkward and creepy.) " a small child, he's so lovely when he's asleep."

What makes this kiddie stuff even more gross is that she admits to us that one of the reasons she likes him asleep and boyish is that "I don't have to worry about what I'm saying, what he's saying, what plans he has, especially his plans for me." In other words: he's so pretty I want to cry, but I'm terrified of him when he's awake. This is not the foundation for a relationship. The contract makes it pretty clear that Christian doesn't want a relationship. But she seriously thinks this is the start of one, even though she admits she's afraid of him and doesn't understand why he's into what he's into. So this is a real dilemma, I guess?

Except no. It's not a dilemma at all. Let's assess.

They've known each other less than two weeks. He sent her books. They had tea together once. He made her feel like an asshole for getting drunk. He made out with her in an elevator and they ate breakfast--yesterday. They had dinner last night. She lost her virginity to him. She saw him playing the piano in the middle of the night. And they had a helicopter ride. That's basically the sum total of this "relationship" so far. Oh, and he made her sign an NDA and told her he wants her to sign a contract that would give him total control over her body and will.

Why does Ana not understand that the important part to him is not the relationship part, but the contract? I know, I know, there's just "something about her" and all that, but seriously, apart from that, what's the appeal? Yeah, he's pretty and he's rich, but he also treats you like he thinks you're too stupid to take care of yourself, tells you when to eat, and has no respect for your consent. And as Ana spends the morning realizing she forgot to text Kate or condescendingly wondering why a man needs so much space or so many clothes and literally dancing around the kitchen and cooking Christian breakfast, this is the biggest tonal issue I'm having with this repulsive novel: she thinks she's in a romantic comedy. She keeps thinking--but, by her own admission, not too deeply--about what shallow pop psychology labels she can affix to all of this, referring to Christian as "Bluebeard" (who, by the way, was a murderer, so that's not cute) and telling us what a misfit she's always been and how Christian is a misfit and I guess that means they fit together somehow. But the whole time, it's like she's desperately trying to act like she's in a rom-com romp and she's terribly upset that Christian's come along and gotten all of his emotional issues and his personal kink wrapped up in them like some sort of obstacle she can't figure out how to get around.

But it's not an obstacle! It's the entirety of what he wants: to be an abusive asshole and not be questioned about it. You're not in a relationship. And you're not in a dilemma. You don't owe anyone anything, and you could actually just leave right now if you wanted to so bad.


Another thing that EL James really needs to quit doing is personifying every one of Ana's feelings. We're always hearing about how her subconscious is always telling her these nasty things about her, or how her inner goddess is always dancing at compliments, and it's starting to get... dialogue-y. Yes, we all have second thoughts and we all have fears and concerns, but do you have to be so literal? Honestly, you can get them across in your narrative, and by the way, you can't consciously hear your subconscious, Ana. Seriously, how many people do you have in there with you, Smeagol? Is one of them reason, because you really need to have a conversation with that one. Fuck your meringue-dancing inner goddess, alright? She's leading you down a path you're not remotely mentally prepared for just because you've got self-esteem issues so pronounced they can be seen from outer space.

Anyway, I'm skipping swaths of narrative, because much of it is an overly-detailed description of Ana making breakfast in Christian's "sleek," "modern," "state-of-the-art" kitchen. Christian likes his eggs "beaten" because he can't take his mind off of it for a second, and he and Ana both think he's so charming and funny and cute.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the stupidest thing she does. Because her hair's so unruly and blah blah blah, she puts her hair up in pigtails, literally thinking "The more girly I look perhaps the safer I'll be from Bluebeard," which made me laugh and laugh and laugh. Jeez, Ana, did you really think that someone who wants to totally control you would not like it if you looked more like a child? Someone needs to take away your self-awarded degree in pop psychology bullshit. When he sees them, he loves them, but assures her "They won't protect you." Look, there's a certain amount of sexually/romantically immature bullshit radiating from both of these assholes, but unfortunately that's 100% because of the emotional immaturity of the author. Can we stop explicitly talking about how they're apparently mainly attracted to each other because each reminds the other of a child?

This is all so boring and dull and flat. He refers to the sex they had last night as her "basic training" and he wants to continue it by focusing on her "oral skills" because she's so sore from last night's fuckening. She continues to react to the suggestions of sex like a cartoon caricature of a person: "I stare at him dumbfounded as I stop breathing and everything inside me clenches tight. Ooh... that's so nice. I suppress my groan." She also thinks "more... more sex... yes, please." It's like finally having sex has made her even dumber.

Another thing we need to stop with: yes, Anastasia bites her bottom lip like Kristen Stewart does. She does it all the time, apparently, because Christian is always telling her to stop doing it because it just turns him on so much and it's so distracting, always so distracting. The thing is, it is constant. He tells her something like five or six times in this short chapter alone. I'm starting to get the image of her chewing her lip, even literally just eating it like some kind of zombie, with all of these scabs and sores on her bottom lip. We get it, already. Fucking stop it.

It bothers me that every time Christian is a smug, condescending prick, she thinks he's just being wry. Why doesn't it bother her? Why isn't it a red flag for her when he gets short with her about when she needs to go home? Abusive asshole doesn't want to hear about his property's personal needs. Why isn't it a warning sign when he orders her to eat, yet again, because of his weird food issues? Why isn't it a panic button when he says he'll clear because she cooked, even though democratic is "not my usual style"?

And if none of that did it, even she should be able to realize that it's a big problem when she calls Kate and then realizes she can't tell her about the sex because she's signed her NDA. She actually asks Christian about whether she can ask mechanical questions about sex, and he turns into a bully. (Gee, Ana, imagine what you'd know about the boundaries of the agreement if you'd read it before you actually signed it.) She can't talk to Kate about any of it, but Christian tells her that she can ask him. Because this is what abusive assholes do: they cut you off from people you love and trust, isolating you in their world so that you don't have a chance to question when something seems wrong. And Ana even says to herself that she doesn't want to ask Christian about sex, because she doesn't want his kink-filtered point of view, she wants impartial answers. But that's not what being controlling is all about, and you really should have thought this through, and this really should be the moment when you decide not to sign his contract.

He pretty much demands to know what she wants to ask about, but she says nothing, and admits to us "I cannot lie to this man."

And then it's off to the "very designer" bathroom for bathing and more sex.

Even before that starts, he orders her again not to bite her lip because "Your chewing it makes me want to fuck you, and you're sore, okay?" Then he adds to that "Get the picture?" Isn't that weird? Like, first he can't even control himself, and then he's basically mad about how her unconscious tics are problems for him, so he makes her self-conscious about them. We're just going to catalog all the abusive behaviors, aren't we?

"I had no idea I could affect him so." How could you have no idea? He only hasn't shut up about it for the last day. It's been one day, Ana.

Then it's a lot of scary shit about oh fuck I'm naked oh fuck he's naked and "feel it, baby" and feelings "there" and everything's so scary and shocking but it feels good o-m-jeez. And then he's showing her his cock and oh, my.

She says "oh, my" repeatedly in this chapter, over and over, because EL James can't describe a single sensation compellingly. Oh, my, oh, my, oh, my and... well, you know what I'm thinking of, right?

Anyway, his dick. Excuse me, his erection. His erection that makes her feel something there.

"I want you to become well acquainted, on first name terms if you will, with my favorite and most cherished part of my body. I'm very attached to this."

And then she asphyxiates herself with laughter. Oh, wait, that's me. She's all stunned by it.

These two are very boring, aren't they? They're both obsessed with sex, but they're also afraid of it and haven't made much of an effort to understand it. Jesus, they can't even say the words "penis" or "vagina" comfortably. If EL James is really this parochial when it comes to sex, maybe she's the wrong person to write about kink. Grow up.

So, she's all transfixed by his magical penis, and fascinated by how it could have been inside of her when it's so big, and when she starts touching it he says "That's right, baby," which is even funnier if you hear it in a Homer Simpson voice. Look, when you're with a consenting partner and you're calling each other baby, that's one thing. But reading it... it's very hard to take seriously. And he's telling her this all the time during the sex. "That's right, baby." "Suck me, baby." "I want you sore, baby." It's so stupid. It sounds so idiotic. "Oh, baby, that feels good." Maybe just don't say anything instead.

"Hmm… he’s soft and hard at once, like steel encased in velvet, and surprisingly tasty – salty and smooth."

Like steel encased in velvet? This is the funniest chapter yet.

So then she takes it in her mouth.

And it's totally amazing to him because she can take it really deep and she seems to not even have a gag reflex, because she's just so magical and perfect and instantly good at everything except staying upright when she walks, and it's totally amazing to her because "I had no idea giving pleasure could be such a turn-on" because it's not like she ever thinks about how other people are people, anyway.

Anyway, then he comes in her mouth.

And she can take it all no problem the first time out of the gate even though she basically has no idea what's going on. Oh, and he is practically moved when he finds out she's never done it before, but she's just so naturally perfect at it, that he decides he owes her an orgasm. You know what her thought is? "Orgasm! Another one!" Like a fucking puppy getting a reward. It's really weird and sad. I mean, yeah, orgasms are great, but you can do that yourself. You're not dependent on another person for that. Oh, wait, she is, because remember, she somehow doesn't even know how to masturbate or that people do it, so that's one other thing she's not allowed to be in control of.

"Quickly, he clambers out of the bath, giving me my first full glimpse of the Adonis, divinely formed, that is Christian Grey." This awkward sentence on loan from Twilight.

Another quick mention, out loud, by Christian about how young Ana's pigtails make her look, because every guy wants to fuck Cindy Brady, apparently, and then he's tying up her hands and orders her not to lower her hands from above her head. "His eyes burn into mine, and I'm breathless from their intensity. This is not a man I want to cross...ever." She hasn't even signed the contract, but she's already a victim. Sex is great, but she's so quick to adopt the mentality of an abuse victim with a guy she barely even knows, and what's scary is that she acts like this is an exciting part of being in love. I mean, he's so pretty, you guys!

So he goes to work on her feet, and oh my, and it's too erotic, and holy crap, and he goes down on her "there" and EL James brings herself to use the word "clitoris" for once and "Aargh!" and then she has an orgasm and "Oh, baby, I love that you're so wet for me" which, just, no, please. And then more thrusting and "Come for me, baby," and he is absolutely begging her to sign the contract because she's just that good and she's actually thinking "I know in that moment I would do anything for this man," which, why? You would do anything for him, but he bristled at the idea of taking you home a few hours early. I mean, what's the trade-off? An orgasm when you've pleased him? By yourself a vibrator and move on with your life.

And this his mom shows up.

Will Christian stop fucking Ana long enough to say hi to his mother? Will mother like Ana? Will Ana sign the contract? Will Kate discover Ana's contract? Will Benson discover Ana's contract? Will Benson care? These questions--and many others--will be answered in the next episode of... 50 Shades of Smartass.

Friday, January 03, 2014

The Veronica Mars Trailer Is Here

It says select theaters March 14, and one of those had better be nearby...

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Goodbye, 2013, Goodbye

This is the meme Jaquandor does every year (here are his answers for this year). Last year, I did it for the first time. So here are my answers for this year. I meant to have this up a few days ago, but, well, I'm sick and depressed and it's not like I'm on a real deadline.

Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I never made New Years' resolutions ever, and then I did last year, and I basically blew them all, so no more resolutions for me. I don't have the personality for it. I understand my schema and how my anxiety flows out of it a lot more this year, and having to look at a list like that and feel like I failed at everything is just not good for me. It's hard to figure out, honestly; sometimes I feel like there's some thing, some block, some obstacle that I just can't can't around, but I also don't know how to recognize it. I have this weird feeling of always losing in a race I don't actually know how to run. I want to just do things every day to make myself healthier and calmer, but I get discouraged so easily and always end up back at the starting line, and I can't really stand it anymore. I don't have the energy to stand it today. Or this week, but especially today.

Did anyone close to you give birth?

My sister. My first niece was born in Australia two weeks ago.

Did anyone close to you die?

No. Thankfully. First year in a while. I did experience a major rejection this year that might as well have been the same thing.

What countries did you visit?

Just the past, all too frequently.

What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?

My answer from last year was: "Money, security, a more stable job, insurance, self-confidence, more consistency in my depression cycle, less anxiety, better health, and a full night of sleep. Oh, and the Star Wars movies on Blu-Ray."

This year, I do at least have the insurance problem solved, since I qualified for care under the ACA's Medicaid expansion. So I'll be able to go to the doctor more regularly, which means one anxiety has been eliminated. And I also got the Star Wars movies on Blu-Ray as a Christmas gift from my Dad.

What I'd really like to have is just more patience with myself.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Acting as best man at my best friend Carl's wedding. I was terrified of doing it, but overcoming that fear and nervousness and seriously fighting my schema of worthlessness was quite a big achievement for me. That was amazing.

Also getting mental help. Therapy treatment has made a lot of difference in my life. It's still not consistent. I can't always overcome things or get past them. With this illness and my usual Christmas guilt has come a new round of depression. It's actually been some time since I felt depressed, but the depression crossed with the anxiety crossed with the restlessness from illness crossed with other stuff happening here (my wife is sick, my bunny is sick and I have to force-feed her, which is nerve-wracking) makes me want to just take a nap and never wake up. Every time I shut my eyes to sleep lately I hope I won't have to wake up again. That's dark, I know, but it's honestly where I'm at right now. I'm so tired of myself. Everything here is broken, especially me, and it's like I can't do anything about it.

Depression's... depression's not fun. I don't even have the energy to put a good face on it and act like I feel better than I do.

On a smaller note, I made cupcakes for the first time this year. Baking has gone from a source of anxiety to something fascinating that I'm getting confident about. I used to fret over it so much you'd think I was defusing a bomb. Now I just love doing it. I have to set myself a limit on how much I bake so I don't always have cake, cookies, pies, etc. in the house.

What was your biggest failure?

I don't have the best attitude about myself.

What was the best thing you bought?

New pants. I figured out this summer that part of the reason I was so uncomfortable all the time is that I was wearing the wrong size pants. I had it buried deep inside of me that buying bigger pants was giving myself "permission" to be fat, especially after all the weight I gained on Lexapro. Honestly, people, the size I was wearing was about 12 sizes too small. I'm not making that up. This year I at least finally stopped fooling myself that I was a temporarily embarrassed thin person. Fuck it: I'm fat. In fact, I've been so down and depressed and not in control lately that I'm back up to 448. (My all time high was 450, so there you go.) That brings whole new self-esteem issues, but I guess accepting it is probably the first step to dealing with it honestly and effectively. So, the new pants literally changed my life. I am, in all honestly, almost never comfortable or relaxed, so just that little bit of comfort helps.

Whose behavior merited celebration?

My wife, certainly. If this is hard for you to read, just imagine how hard it is for her to have to live with it. I know there are days when she leaves for work that she doesn't know if she's going to come home to find me alive. Can you imagine the stress of that? Just the fact that she even comes home is amazing to me. After all these years, it's still very, very hard for me to wrap my head around, because the schema I operate from tells me constantly that I'm worthless, that no one can ever like or love me, and that I don't deserve any rest, happiness or comfort. (Which, actually, is another reason why it's so hard for me to lose weight--my subconscious reacts poorly when I do healthy things for myself, because I "know" deep down inside that I don't deserve to be healthy.) (That's also what made me so afraid of being Carl's best man, besides my agoraphobia--because I react with fear when something actually challenges my schema of worthlessness.)

I think the fact that my wife stays with me is kind of miraculous. It's hard to process that she does it because she loves me, because it's so easy for my subconscious to tell me that she's just stuck with me now or something like that.

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?


Where did most of your money go?

Nowhere; you have to have money in order for it to go somewhere. My wife makes money. I can't work.

What did you get really excited about?

Having Medicaid. Getting into my state therapy center on a hardship program so I didn't have to pay for it, because otherwise I couldn't afford it financially. Reading the new Jim Henson biography. FF. Hannibal. Having my favorite pizza for Thanksgiving and not vomiting it up, like I did last year (which was my schema, again, telling me I didn't deserve to have something). Seeing Thor and Star Trek and Iron Man. Still excited about seeing The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug after I'm not sick anymore. Reading old Marvel comics. The Breaking Bad finale.

What song will always remind you of 2013?

"Get Lucky" by Daft Punk. My wife plays it all the time!

Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

It varies. Today, I'm very, very depressed and just want to go to sleep and regenerate into a dog or something happier. When I get control of myself, I think I'm happier than last year. The thing is, at this time of year, I'm always caught up in a dark depression cycle, and being sick is making me too tired to fight it.

Thinner or fatter?

Fatter. I'm thinking about taking a look at the YMCA and seeing what kind of programs they have for low income people, because I really need a place I can go and walk or swim all year, because I can't stand swimming here anymore because of the college kid crowd and I can't always bring myself to take control of my energy and work out like I need to.

Richer or poorer?

We're in a steady state of being poor for the last few years.

What do you wish you'd done more of?

All the same as last year: exercising, cooking, meditating. Been more fair with myself.

What do you wish you'd done less of?

Ignored more things that don't matter in the long run. Been less open to negative energy. I wish I hadn't gotten derailed so badly by trying anti-anxiety drugs that just made my blood pressure worse. I also wish I didn't take things so personally. And I wish I didn't spend so much time on Tumblr.

How did you spend Christmas?

Feeling guilty for hours, then anxious, then sick, and then depressed. And then that, for a week.

Did you fall in love in 2013?

I've been in love for years.

How many one-night stands?

I had a one-night stand in a stress dream a few months ago, and it went terribly. I'm good without them.

What was your favorite TV program?

Oh, I said that a few days ago on my pop culture list. Hey, Dance Moms came back last night, so that was pretty great. I already miss Asia! Holy shit, she was talented!

Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

I just hate myself, but I hate myself every year.

What was the best book you read?

Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones. Super Boys by Brad Ricca. Pretty much everything I read that's not 50 Shades of Grey.

What was your greatest musical discovery?

Janelle Monae.

What did you want and get?

Therapy. Star Wars on Blu-Ray.

What did you want and not get?

Inner peace. Yet.

What were your favorite films of this year?

As usual, I already did that list. Gravity was amazing.

What did you do on your birthday?

I remember I had therapy that day, which surprised my therapist. We went out for breakfast, which is one of my favorite things in the world. Watched some Francois Truffaut movies.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?

Meh, this question. I've been a jeans and tee shirts guy my whole life.

What kept you sane?

After looking at my answers so far, I honestly don't know. My wife. My bunny. Therapy. Meditating. Reading. Really good cups of coffee. Cutting down on sugar.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Amy Adams, obvs. And Kristen Bell, always!

What political issue stirred you the most?

The government shutdown. You don't take your ball and go home when you don't get your way. I'm sick of how this country pretends to govern itself. Kindergartners are more rational and respectful, and far easier to deal with. Stop trying to tell me I don't deserve access to health care simply because I wasn't born wealthy. You don't know what my problems are. Stop pretending you care to.

Who did you miss?

Thumper. Ellen. As ever.

Who was the best new person you met?

Carl's wonderful wife Kate.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013:

Don't pretend to be an authority on the lives of others; you don't know what they've been through.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

"Don't let the past remind us of what we are not now." Crosby, Stills & Nash. What's that saying? Only a fool trips on what's behind them. Start looking ahead. You're depressed today, but you know it goes away.

Onward, 2014.

The Ninth Annual Hot 50 List

Alright, you know how this works. Subjectivity, etc. Last year's number (if there was one) in parentheses. This is the 9th year I've done this here--the 9th year of my blog--but the 13th year I've done this overall. I'm a man of patterns.

1. Amy Adams
2. Taylor Swift (21)
3. Idris Elba (3)
4. Kat Dennings (1)
5. Natalie Dormer
6. Scarlett Johansson (8)
7. Kristen Bell (5)
8. James Franco (31)
9. Casey Wilson (22)
10. Clare Bowen (49)
11. Melissa Rauch (7)
12. Miley Cyrus
13. Nicki Minaj (16)
14. June Diane Raphael
15. Vanessa Hudgens (9)
16. Kristen Stewart (6)
17. Joy Bryant
18. Emily Ratajkowski
19. Lizzy Caplan
20. Christina Hendricks (4)
21. Chris Hemsworth (18)
22. Lady Gaga
23. Dakota Fanning (15)
24. Mads Mikkelsen
25. Natalie Portman
26. John Barrowman
27. Elsa Pataky
28. Jade Jolie
29. Cherie Currie (40)
30. Bailey Jay (24)
31. Juno Temple (44)
32. Gwyneth Paltrow
33. Ashley Benson
34. Henry Cavill
35. Kate Upton (12)
36. Dita Von Teese (27)
37. Kerry Washington
38. Helen Flanagan
39. Julie Delpy (41)
40. Chloe Bennett
41. Malin Akerman
42. Anna Kendrick
43. Nia Long
44. Liv Tyler (36)
45. Carmen Carrera (25)
46. Lena Heady
47. Ryan Hansen (10)
48. Amanda Seyfried
49. Allison Janney
50. Manu Bennett (50)

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy New Year

Obviously, I'm taking my time with my end-of-year stuff. I hate being sick. Everyone's sick. Ugh.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My 50 Favorite Pop Culture Artifacts of 2013

My annual list of the pop culture stuff I dug the most over the last calendar.

50. Grumpy Cat!
It seems like a tradition now that I have a celebrity cat up every year. I wasn't sure I would have one this year, and then, well, Tarder Sauce hung out on Sesame Street.

49. "ISS Transit Over the Moon"
Maximilian Teodorescu captured an amazing photograph this year that made us all feel like we were living in a bit more science fiction-y future. This is just a detail of the International Space Station crossing the moon; here's the whole thing if you missed it.

48. The year in James Franco.
One of my favorite actors, but, damn, my wife just freaking loves this guy. And he was everywhere, in every movie, on every TV show, writing actually insightful movie reviews, filming lots of YouTube videos (every day, for a while, making my wife laugh each morning), and, of course, that video. Hell, Newsweek even has a write-up of 2013 in Franco.

The thing about this entry is, well, my wife has real problems letting go of all her stresses and just enjoying things and being in the moment, and every time Franco had a new movie out or a new video up, that was an amount of time, however small, that my wife could enjoy something without guilt or stress getting to her. So thanks for it all, Franco. [gif via]

47. The Post-Punk/New Wave Super Friends
This year I celebrated a lot of fan art, then got kind of tired of the whole endeavor. Not that there isn't a place for it, and not like it can't be good, but I am a bit tired of the "Here are characters from X thing re-designed as characters from Y thing and also here is Doctor Who somehow" aesthetic. Now, of course, I'm about to contradict myself, because I totally love this series of art based around DC superheroes and post-punk/new wave singer by Butcher Billy. Here's the page for them.

46. Defiance
I'm not in love with it yet, but this new series from Farscape's Rockne S. O'Bannon is one of the few times I've genuinely been wrapped up in a science fiction since that series went off the air a decade ago.

45. The finale of The Office
I finally sat and watched the final two seasons of the show this year, and though they varied in quality (better suited to a binge-watch than the time investment of an entire season), I ultimately really enjoyed last May's final episode. The finale reminded me why I had once loved the show as much as I did, gave me a nod to all of the show's long-running storylines, and wrapped everything up nicely. I still think it went on years too long, but that was a nice ending.

44. This picture. I just like to think it means that, somewhere out there, Bea Arthur's been reincarnated.

43. "Follow Me"
Photographer Murad Osman took a wonderful series of photographs with his girlfriend Nataly Zakharova and posted them to Instagram. Each photo keeps this theme; her leading him through the world. It's a special travel diary that I still can't forget, months after seeing it. You can check it out here.

42. Star Trek Into Darkness
What sucks about this entry is that I don't even want to talk about why I enjoyed this space adventure, because no one really cares. The internet decided they were really mad at this movie that wasn't exactly the same enough but also somehow wasn't different enough to the point where the criticisms all blended together into one rush of wind. I don't know, I'm really sick today, my wife is sick, my rabbit is sick, and literally every thing I own is broken. I'm so fucking beside myself with anger and annoyance and my inability to sleep or relax that not liking a movie is way, way far down on the list of things that are worth getting upset over.

41. Pacific Rim
I like movies that know how inherently silly they are. I seem to be ever-more-increasingly alone in that view, but I don't like the grim seriousness and near-nihilism of, say, The Dark Knight. I like movies that know they have a premise that's hard to take seriously, and that they can only go so far with it. The characters need to take it seriously--if the characters don't find it believable, why do I care?--but I prefer it when movies have an idea of when to break tension and blow off steam. Pacific Rim knows all of that, and it's a shame that the promotional materials for the film made it look gritty and dull and self-important. This one almost got away from me, which would have been a shame, because it's just so damn fun.

40. Blurred Sanford
This mash-up is the best thing that come out of 2013's rape anthem.

39. The Ex-Men
I haven't watched The Pete Holmes Show--I don't watch much late night television--but I do love the recurring sketches where Holmes, as Professor X, fires individual X-Men for being so lame. It's especially refreshing to me because the X-Men were my favorites as a kid, and Marvel proceeded to get rid of Chris Claremont and make their mutant books confusing. And yes, I know how that sounds, because that 20-year soap opera had its moments of being overwrought, but without Claremont, things just went off the rails. You can see the sketches here.

38. A couple of DC family books
It's nice that, even with all of the crap DC is putting out now, they still had a couple of uncomplicated, beautifully done all-ages books that I could really enjoy: Dustin Nguyen's Batman: Li'l Gotham and Art Baltazar & Franco's Superman Family Adventures. They were a real treat every month. Of course, DC canceled them both... but hey, Scooby Doo Team-Up looks like it might be fun.

37. Patrick Stewart on Instagram
Always funny and cute, but particularly now that he and Ian McKellen are working together in New York. I'm never going to stop dreaming of Patrick Stewart being the Doctor. Not ever. It'll never happen, but I've been imagining it since 1996, and I'm not about to stop.

36. 47 Ronin
This year, Mike Richardson finally got to realize his dream of telling the story of the 47 Ronin in comic book form at Dark Horse. With art by Stan Sakai (who is unfortunately not having a good holiday season), this was one of the most beautiful and unfaltering comic book stories this year.

35. Lots of animals loved having their bellies rubbed this year.
Whether it was micro pigs, wombats, or even a platypus, animals just dug getting some cuddles this year. Every once in a while you just need some cute animal videos to brighten your day, and those three were some of my go-to's this year.

34. Elle Fanning
Not that you're surprised, because every year with her. What I'm trying to decide now is whether my Elle Fanning ballet film with Henson creatures should use Genesis music or Jim Steinman songs...

33. Batman '66
As far as I know right now, this web original is the only comic DC is publishing that's worth a damn. It's in the style of the classic TV series, which is seeing quite the revival right now; there are also the great action figures that have been coming out, which include a surfing Batman figure (though sadly not a surfing Joker) from my single favorite episode of the show, "Surf's Up! Joker's Down!" This comic is just impeccably good, and makes such good use of the web comic format that I kind of feel like this should be the future of graphic storytelling.

32. The Art Deco Emerald City
I love the Art Deco style, and even though The Wonderful Wizard of Oz pre-dates the style, I've always felt this is what the Emerald City should look like. So it was pretty amazing to see it on a big screen in 3D in Sam Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful. I don't usually get to see my "fan-favorite" choices make it into the movies, so to see the Emerald City depicted pretty much as I'd always imagined it was pretty amazing.

31. The final issue of Roger Langridge's Popeye
A lot of stuff I loved ended this year, and IDW's great Roger Langridge-written Popeye ended its run with a fantastic final issue, which featured Barney Google and Wimpy in a race with Castor Oyl and Popeye. It was a fantastic note to go out on, even as it made me wish for more.

30. Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld on DC Nation
I haven't been keeping up with a lot of the DC Nation shorts, but this series was my favorite this year. This is the kind of thing I look at and think is wonderful and then Warner Bros. natters on about how it's just so impossible to make a good Wonder Woman movie, you guys, when what they really mean is that it's hard to make a Wonder Woman movie for boys. This series was pretty incredible.

29. Man of Steel
Another sci-fi adventure I liked this year that got excoriated for not being all things to all people. I wonder if the fan reaction to this is the kind of thing that makes it obvious that Superman has become so much of a symbol that it's impossible to make him a character anymore. Worth thinking about. Anyway, I loved it.

28. TV, TV, TV
I said last year that 2012 was the year I felt out of love with the movies and felt much more rewarded by television. This year continued that trend, with great programs like Masters of Sex, Vikings, Top of the Lake, American Horror Story, The Borgias (and Sean Harris' amazing performance in its final season), Luther, Game of Thrones, Orange Is the New Black, Mad Men (which I just started watching this year), Homeland, House of Lies, VeepBoardwalk Empire, The Americans, and even network fare like Parks and Recreation, Parenthood, and Bob's Burgers.

27. Miley Cyrus' new sound
I like Miley Cyrus, but her new album, Bangerz, is the first thing she's done musically that I've really, really liked since her "Party in the USA" single in 2009. And I love this video with Jimmy Fallon and the Roots. I think 2013 is the year that--thanks to videos like this and his continued appearances with the Muppets and that great SNL episode (with the Barry Gibb cameo that made me very, very happy)--I finally cast off any lingering irritation with Fallon, to the point where I might actually check out his Tonight Show. We'll see.

26. The finale of Star Wars: The Clone Wars
It's yet another thing I love that ended this year, but the finale of The Clone Wars--which saw Ahsoka Tano accused of a terrorist bombing and helped cement Anakin's disillusion with the Jedi Order--was an excellent story to go out on. The Clone Wars has become my favorite ancillary to the Star Wars universe, and Ahsoka became one of my favorite of all Star Wars characters. I'm happy I got to experience this series for as long as I did, and if it had to end, it sure did go out with a fantastic finale.

25. Behind the Candelabra
Remember how everyone thought this was going to be some kind of goof? Movies that are made for HBO tend to be forgettable to me--even the enjoyable ones, with very few exceptions--but not only have I been unable to forget this one, I think it's one of the best movies of the year. Too bad Michael Douglas won't get an Oscar nomination for it, because his performance as Liberace is surprising. If Steven Soderbergh is really retiring--and I never believe a filmmaker who says they are--this was a great culmination of an interesting career.

24. "Pair of Wings"
This hidden track on Justin Timberlake's new album brings the grand total of Justin Timberlake songs I really love up to three. It's just so pretty, and a lovely live performance on SNL just cemented it for me.

23. Jinkx Monsoon
This year's cycle of RuPaul's Drag Race introduced me to Jinkx Monsoon, my favorite contestant in the show's history. A special drag performer and a very funny one, whose Little Edie Beale impression was one of the best things I've ever seen on that show.

22. Spring Breakers
One of my favorite little media furors of 2013 was the reaction to Spring Breakers, a movie that was very confrontational and uncomfortable about your expectations of a sexploitation movie. I thought that alone made it one of the best movies of the year, but the film itself is such an interesting, hallucinogenic social commentary about what you could almost call the New Entitlement--the listless-yet-desperate belief of the young that if they aren't constantly having fun, they're being oppressed.

21. Broadchurch
One of the most engaging and riveting TV series I saw this year.

20. The year of Taylor Swift
She's another of my favorites; this year I got to enjoy a lot of videos and gifs of her performing, and damn, I just like her so much. I don't even want to go into it. But she's great. She's kind of my religion right now. I know I sound like a fangirl. When it comes to her, I kind of am. [gif via]

19. Marvel NOW!
A sort-of relaunch of a large portion of the Marvel Universe, and probably a better answer to the need to streamline a fictional universe than just restarting the whole thing, New 52-style. I didn't stick with a LOT of the books I started reading as part of this whole deal, but there are a few I really dug: Thor: God of Thunder, Nova, The Guardians of the Galaxy, the much-maligned Thanos Rising, Fantastic Four, Frank Cho's all-too-brief five-issue run on Savage Wolverine, Deadpool, The Superior Spider-Man, Matt Fraction's Hawkeye, Captain Marvel, Young Avengers, and Journey Into Mystery. I'm probably never going to quite love the Marvel Universe the way I love the older stuff--you know I prefer change and growth to repetition--but I'm happy to see the line acknowledging that when practically every one of your thousands of characters are an Avenger or X-Man (or both), it's okay to have fun and stop making every threat so dire.

18. "Gypsy"
I haven't really liked a Lady Gaga song in some time, either ("Paparazzi" in 2009), but I really dig everything I've heard off this new album so far. I also enjoyed her rather self-aware, surprisingly deconstructive appearance on SNL. I don't know if I'll ever be that big a fan, but this year I dig some of what she had going on.

17. Super Boys
One of my favorite books from this year, which I expounded more on here. Not only the definitive story of the creation of Superman as both character and corporate property, the book is also a great examination of why Superman remains so relevant today.

16. The Next Day
David Bowie's first new album in a decade is an observational, innovative, dark and bold album from an elder statesman. The mood of this album is apparent from its subversive cover; the music, too, takes something familiar and subverts it, even obscures it, by being surprisingly jarring.

15. DoctorWho50
I always thought the real brilliance of Doctor Who is that you can kind of take out of it whatever you like and ignore what you don't. Rather than making every piece fit together, there's so much there that you can choose to make your own canon out of. So even if I didn't like "The Day of the Doctor"--or, for that matter, "The Time of the Doctor" or pretty much all of the Steven Moffat run thus far, except for a few episodes--I still had plenty to enjoy during this 50th anniversary celebration of Who. The airing of classic episodes on BBC America, the wonderful An Adventure in Space and Time TV movie, some fantastic fan videos (particularly this excellent animation by Richard Swarbrick), and especially Peter Davison's The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot were all joyous occasions for me. Those were my 50th anniversary, and that's why I'm not wasting my time carping on the current run, which it's no secret I don't care for: I had a lot to enjoy.

14. Hannibal
This one took me by surprise. I think this raised the bar for a lot of network TV for me. It was also an interesting example of what niche viewing has done to the networks. I spent the first eight weeks waiting for this gory, violent show to get canceled; I still remember a time when something like Family Guy would never have aired before 8:30 Central time, much less in late afternoon reruns. So I wonder if networks are taking more chances on content--and, hopefully, on original programming--because so many other viewing options are available. I was riveted to this show week after week, with its great performances and the psychological twists it took. It was one of the more engaging and active shows in a year filled with them.

13. The end of Marvel's Oz comics
Well, it had to end sometime; this winter, Marvel put out the final issue of The Emerald City of Oz, the last of Eric Shanower and Skottie Young's Baum adaptations that Marvel is going to publish. It's been a fantastic ride, with some unforgettable comics. I remember desperately hoping that they might adapt the second Oz novel; I never expected to get the first six.

12. Dance Moms
Last year at the time, I was sick with bronchitis, fading in and out of consciousness, and woke up to find my wife caught up in a Dance Moms marathon on Lifetime. It was premiering on New Year's Day then, too, and we ended up watching this show throughout the year. Even though I don't like the concept, I guess this is the kind of thing you'd think of as a guilty pleasure. I get caught up in the parts about being a teacher the most, I think, but the dancing is genuinely great. I don't see a lot of great dancing on TV. So here I am, one year later, sick with at the very least a bad flu, fading in and out of consciousness, and planning to watch tomorrow's Dance Moms marathon on Lifetime (and tomorrow night's season premiere).

11. Random Access Memories
I'm never sure what I'm going to like in modern music anymore, but after loving their score to Tron: Legacy, I thought I'd take a listen to Daft Punk's new album back when it came out in May. Now it's the last day of the year and the entire album has yet to come off my iPod. The album's perfect. It's basically an electronic disco album, but it's funky and jazzy, and it has Paul Williams on one track, which is just astoundingly wonderful.

10. "Perfume"
I'd pretty much written off Britney Spears. I had no idea that my favorite single of the year would be a Britney song, much less one that's basically a snythpop version of an 80s power ballad, but... well, here we are.

9. The Marvel Cinematic Universe
I just can't believe not only how well they're pulling this off, but how much fun this thing is. This year, we had Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, the great Agent Carter short, and the Agents of SHIELD TV series, and I've been enjoying the hell out of all of it. Not only has the MCU given me a series of films to look forward to endlessly, it's also put me back in touch with my love of Marvel Comics, something I'd never really expected to connect with again (and which led to my ongoing Marvels series on this blog).

8. Mickey Mouse
This year saw a new series of Mickey Mouse cartoons with an anarchic spirit that were a heck of a good time to watch.

7. Breaking Bad
The final season was a masterful ending to one of the finest modern televisions dramas. This is one of the series that made me feel like an active viewer, and it rewarded that attention all the way through to its final episode.

6. The Electric Lady
My favorite album this year is Janelle Monae's newest installment of her ongoing concept series. It's a psychedelic soul experiment about a messianic android. I don't know much about afrofuturism, but it's interesting here to see Monae explore themes of race and identity through a science fiction prism; it feels like one of the few genuinely new things to come out of science fiction in a long time. It's an exciting album; Monae fuses a lot of different styles together and creates something powerful that, honestly, I feel like I've been waiting to hear for a long, long time. This is the kind of album I've been dreaming about hearing for the last 20 years, right down to the guest appearance by Prince.

5. Chris Hadfield
One of my greatest heroes this year was Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who spent a couple of months all over social media documenting life aboard the International Space Station, ending it all with his own rendition of "Space Oddity." It was an amazing personal journey to just 250 miles over our heads, something that humanized life in outer space for a lot of people this year. I know it's not technically a pop culture achievement, but the way Hadfield and Expedition 35 utilized Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and YouTube is a great example of how we filter our collective consciousness today. Thank you, sir, for daring to look up and share the wonder.

4. Gravity
Boy, it really was a great year for outer space and science fiction; better, in fact, than a lot of recent years. Easily the best film of 2013 was this epic space disaster film; it was a harrowing, rewarding experience that grabbed me right from its first moment and didn't let me go for 90 minutes. So few films capture the balance of how wonderful and terrible outer space can be, but this one does, tempering both with a drama of humanity and spiritual (but not specifically religious) significance.

3. The Veronica Mars Kickstarter (and the year of Kristen Bell)
I could only kick in a buck, but I was pleased to be able to give to the Kickstarter to make a Veronica Mars movie--a movie that will be released in just a few months. It was a controversial effort--why should we pay to produce a movie that a multimedia conglomerate will reap the benefits of?--but it was also proof that people are willing to pay for the entertainment they want, and I WANT a Veronica Mars movie. Really, between this movie happening and her continued appearances on Ellen and her pregnancy and her starring role in Disney's Frozen and her excellent performance in The Lifeguard, this seemed like the year that the internet finally fell in love with Kristen Bell. And that's just dandy, because she's magic.

2. Another year in the life of a Muppet fan
Previews for a new movie. The Monster at the End of This Twitter. The Hub's Fraggle Rock-a-Thon. Ricky Gervais' videos with Pepe. Cookie Monster's "Me Want It (But Me Wait)." New Blu-Rays. Big Bird's appearance on The Colbert Report. Jimmy Fallon and the Roots with the cast of Sesame Street at the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. Food Fight! with Gordon Ramsey. Even that bizarre Lady Gaga special, which gave me one of the best sights of the year, Kristen Bell dancing with Bobo the Bear. There were so, so many years that with hardly any new Muppets stuff at all, and now... now they're everywhere and everything feels right with the world. And then there was Brian Jay Jones' essential Jim Henson: The Biography, which I'm making my way through right now, and which is the biography we all wanted to read. This is the best time to be a Muppets fan in a long time.

1. FF
Of all the comics Marvel had coming out this year, FF is the best. It's probably the best Marvel comic I've read since I was a child. It just feels like it has real consequences and stake that come out of its rich characters; it's honestly the first Fantastic Four-related comic in a long time that really justifies the idea that the FF--here extended out into Reed Richards' Future Foundation--is supposed to be a family. Matt Fraction and Mike Allred have created something really special and innovative, and it's all working up to a finale that's about to come out, but there have been some touching, wonderful moments along the way; such as the reveal of Adolf Impossible as a fearful, anxious boy, and the casual--but beautiful--revelation of a transgender Moloid. This really feels like the next-generation successor to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four, and I'm so glad I got to read it.

And that's 2013. I meant to have this up yesterday, but I was much more sick than I am today. And it still took me hours, in and out, lots of breaks. I hope this doesn't happen every freaking year. But at least there was a lot of great stuff to enjoy this year. I'd much rather talk about enjoying stuff than go nuts over things I didn't like.

I hope you all enjoyed stuff, too. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Song of the Week: "For Crying Out Loud"

My wife is sick, the weather is miserable, my anxiety is out of control, and it's just generally kind of crappy day. Turns out I need some operatic rock. This dramatic number is the closing track from my other favorite album of all time, Meat Loaf's 1977 masterpiece Bat Out of Hell. Seems like a nice, big, emotional, overwrought-in-the-way-I-like way to close out Song of the Week for 2013. Why not go out big this year?

My 10 Favorite Movies of 2013 (So Far)

As usual, I haven't seen anywhere near the amount of movies I want to see this year, so here is my annual non-prestigious, completely subjective, yet unapologetic list of the 10 movies I liked the most this year (that I actually managed to see in the calendar year 2013):

1. Gravity
2. Fruitvale Station
3. The Kings of Summer
4. Spring Breakers
5. Behind the Candelabra
6. Thor: The Dark World
7. An Adventure in Space and Time
8. This Is the End
9. The World's End
10. Pacific Rim

And, since I finally did see most of what I wanted to see from last year, here is my similarly subjective list of my 25 favorite movies of 2012. (And looking at the list of movies I have seen from 2012--over 100 of them--last year wasn't really a fantastic year for movies.)

1. Life of Pi
2. The Avengers
3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
4. Amour
5. Cloud Atlas
6. 56 Up
7. The Master
8. The Impossible
9. Ginger & Rosa
10. The Pirates! Band of Misfits
11. Prometheus
12. Seven Psychopaths
13. War Witch
14. Kauwboy
15. Argo
16. John Carter
17. Safety Not Guaranteed
18. Skyfall
19. Django Unchained
20. Kon-Tiki
21. Lincoln
22. To the Wonder
23. Frances Ha
24. Magic Mike
25. A Royal Affair