Saturday, September 19, 2009

Titus 1974-2009

Titus, one of the world's most famous gorillas, died recently in Rwanda. He was named by Dian Fossey in 1974, the offspring of Uncle Bert, the silverback leader of the group she followed. Titus may be the most photographed and studied gorilla in history. He even appeared in the movie Gorillas in the Mist. He died after a short illness, and the world is a little emptier.

Read more about Titus at The Independent UK.

Yo, Joe! Episode 30

Spell of the Siren

G.I. Joe has discovered that Cobra is doing something out in the Adriatic Sea, so the episode opens up right off with Flint, Lady Jaye, Roadblock, and Torpedo preparing to head down in those awesome SHARC underwater gliders and find out what's what.

What's what is that Cobra is exploring a ruined temple on the ocean floor, and one of them is the Baroness. She finds some kind of object she's looking for. It's wrapped in an oil skin and sitting in a hole on the temple floor; she takes it and swims back to the inevitable underwater Cobra base.

Destro's arguing with Cobra Commander, whose presence has been very light for the last couple of episodes, and disappointingly so. The Commander's on a video screen telling Destro he's wasting a fortune on some "underwater scavenger hunt"--though as we've seen, Cobra seems to always have money for everything it needs.

The Baroness, however, has found what they're looking for. It's no seashell, but the Conch of the Sirens. Destro's about to explain what it does when the base is attacked by G.I. Joe, the dome is punctured, and everything starts flooding. That's a nice bit of scripting, I think--we'll find out what the shell does instead of wasting time on exposition.

Destro passes the shell to the Baroness and heads out to lead the fighting against G.I. Joe. She gets in a scuffle with Lady Jaye on her way out, but Lady Jaye only grabs the oilskin before a piece of the dome falls on her and, following Destro's orders, the Baroness escapes with the shell. Destro is actually captured by G.I. Joe for once.

Is Lady Jaye hurt? "Only my pride," she says, yet again, making me hate her even more. Like she's not reveling in this sympathy attention.

The Baroness flies to an Extensive Enterprises tower that is literally in the middle of nowhere.

Yeah, that's not going to stick out too much at all. Very inconspicuous. What is that, Switzerland? You really built a skyscraper with the name of your terrorist-operating corporation emblazoned down the front in a tiny Swiss canton with, like, four roads? And you had the nerve to accuse Destro of wasting money...

Well, the Commander's not too impressed with the Baroness' conch shell. And he's not going to go rescuing Destro, either--Destro's on his own. The Commander seems just as fed up with the Baroness as he is with Destro.

Back at Joe HQ, everyone's highly impressed with Flint for capturing Destro, and I have to give him this one. We've also got another female expert scientist hanging around, Dr. Blackstone, but for once the Joes meet a woman who is not the Baroness in disguise. She looks at the ancient writing on the oilskin Lady Jaye recovered, which talks about the Conch of the Sirens and what it does: apparently someone blows into it and every male who hears it has his hormonal system disrupted and his free will just evaporates.

Okay, I'm just... I'm seeing this. A conch shell. A conch shell that impairs male judgment and turns them into slaves... you have to blow it... wow, don't hurt yourself carrying all of that heavy symbolism around, guys.

More sage summary from Roadblock: "They played the tune that made men swoon." Christ, I love this guy.

Well, the Baroness has struck out on her own and is attempting to coerce or hire Major Bludd into helping her rescue Destro--which shouldn't be hard, we've seen how easy it is for Cobra to get into American airspace and all the way to the Joe HQ and start launching rockets before anyone even knows they're there--but G.I. Joe interrupts. Apparently Alaska has a better security network satellite than the rest of the nation.

G.I. Joe's doing well, too--Ace hasn't even been shot down--so in desperation, the Baroness blows the Conch. The soundwaves cause all of the men on both sides to just shut down, practically catatonic, leaving Cover Girl and Lady Jaye to get the men back to headquarters while the Baroness escapes.

Oh, and suddenly Cobra has an entire contingent of female soldiers just hanging around wondering why the men are acting so strange.

The Baroness heads straight to that Extensive Enterprises building and tells the Commander that they finally have a superweapon that will work. It's like she's taunting him with it before telling him that she's taking command of Cobra, that her family has been bred to rule for centuries. Blowing into her magical pussy Conch, she enslaves Tomax, Cobra Commander, and two Crimson Guards

"Not an act of treason, but of destiny!"

(I love that line; it hearkens back to the heyday of Lee and Kirby, which is fitting, since this episode is written by Gerry Conway and his wife Carla.)

But did you notice that Xamot wasn't enslaved? Yeah, more on that later.

The Baroness wants to rescue her beloved Destro, and the female Cobra troops must be a lot better than the males, because, under the cover of night, they actually create a perimeter and surround Joe HQ. And not just with ground troops, but with ASP artillery and HISS tanks. That's some operation!

Work that ASP, baby!

Dr. Blackstone has no idea what's wrong with Duke, although you'd think that after reading the whole "Conch of the Siren" thing it might still be fresh in her mind. I mean, G.I. Joe is a science fiction/technothriller type of show, but magic seems to work just as well as anything else here. But then the Baroness attacks and there's no time to talk. The unaffected male Joes attempt to counterattack, but the Baroness doesn't give them a chance, broadcasting the Conch soundwaves through a dish on the back of her Stinger jeep and hypnotizing all of the remaining Joe men. Then she orders them to attack the Joe women!

Oh, and apparently G.I. Joe also has women in its infantry. We just never saw them before now, I guess. And probably never will again, but still, you see this shot? This one shot stands in for all of the shots that don't have any women doing anything regular infantry at all. That's how it works! Or, at least how the 1980s would have us believe.

(Although there was that cool tech Alice who looked like Majel Barrett from "Lasers in the Night" a couple of weeks ago. In an era when far, far too many cartoons were just being completely sappy about sharing or having good feelings, at least G.I. Joe is trying to be progressive.)

Anyway, this gets the three major females on the team--Scarlett, Lady Jaye and Cover Girl--right into the thick of the action. I'm not sure we've ever had all of them in such prominent roles in the same episode before. Of course, we don't now, either, since Cover Girl gets pushed to the side and, really, it's mostly Lady Jaye in this one. They end up using stun gas to stop the Joes without hurting them.

While that's going on, Baroness rescues Destro, who is amused and delighted that she's now in charge of Cobra, telling her "I always said you'd go far, my dear Baroness." As they escape, all of the male Joes follow them.

The Baroness and Destro are in a really great position here; they've got Cobra under their complete control, Cobra Commander is a prisoner (much to Destro's delight), and all of the male Joes are enslaved to their will and training alongside Cobra agents. Destro's pretty confident, too; he leaves it to the Baroness, asking her what her plans are for the world. Her answer: "Piracy."

"The sirens would approve," Destro says.

These two are just awesome together. I totally want this to work out for them. But up in the rafters...

...Xamot is listening.

Are we going to talk about just why the hormonal change didn't actually work on Xamot? No? We're not going to mention this incredible subtext at all? Not even a nod? I mean, it makes the Crimson Twins even creepier than that finishing-each-others'-sentences thing they do, but it seems like... no? Well, maybe he was just standing out of range. Sure, that's the ticket.

Three Joes were off base when the Baroness blew the Conch, so Scarlett and the others do have Wild Bill, Ripcord, and Recondo looking around for Duke's homing signal. Wild Bill is always awesome, but I'd really hate to be in a situation where Recondo and Ripcord were my best chances at help.

Lady Jaye parachutes in and is immediately captured by Cobra soldiers; these ladies in the infantry just seem a lot better at their work. Plus, you get Lady Jaye--usually the most bondage-prone member of G.I. Joe--swarmed by a bunch of ladies. So there's something for almost everyone.

Xamot bursts in and rescues Lady Jaye, although for a second you almost think there's going to be some rape action going on. (That creepy, maniacal laugh...) She doesn't trust him at first, until he saves her from being shot by the Baroness.

Watch that hand there, pal.

Xamot and Lady Jaye escape in a Firebat and head for Joe HQ.

By the way, did you know the Crimson Twins were from Corsica? They have "Corsican Syndrome," which is apparently a real(ish) thing where twins are believed to be psychically bonded. Also, that makes them foreign nationals, and they're still allowed to do business in and with the United States after being involved with terrorists? Damn corporations.

Well, Dr. Blackstone has created a sonic pulsar that should create a counter-vibration that could free the men enslaved by the Baroness and her Conch. Destro and the Baroness are having a fight over the Conch, too, where for some reason Destro's pride moves him to say that the Conch is the real power, not the Baroness. She almost hypnotizes him with it, too, but he stops her and says only a fool like Cobra Commander would wish to rule alone. Destro's decidedly up to something here. but they're interrupted by Xamot and G.I. Joe attacking. And of course, the sonic pulsar works, the men are freed, Xamot frees Tomax and Cobra Commander, the Commander threatens to make Baroness pay for her treachery, and Lady Jaye recovers the Conch of the Sirens.

The whole thing does end kind of quickly and abruptly. Back at headquarters, Scarlett and Lady Jaye decide the Conch is too dangerous and destroy it, and Lady Jaye says "Someone has to make the world safe for you men," and everyone laughs, and its over.

Not a bad episode at all. Surprisingly, with all of the opportunity there, it doesn't become campy.


Hey, I'm the One Who Has to Worry About Swine Flu Now

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Playlist

1. Stu Philips: Theme from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
2. Van Halen: Push Comes to Shove
3. The Small Faces: Happiness Stan
4. Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson: Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys
5. The Beatles: Please Please Me
6. Benjamin Britten: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 34
7. Hank Ballard & the Midnighters: Sexy Ways
8. John Williams: Augie’s Great Municipal Band; End Credits [from The Phantom Menace]
9. The Kinks: Lola
10. Billy Joel: Motorcycle Song [demo]

1. I always thought this show had great theme music. This is the instrumental version from the episodes, not the song from the movie.
2. Great, dark number from Fair Warning which I haven't heard in a long time. Awesome stuff.
3. Nicely twee song from Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, a recent acquisition which I'm enjoying immensely.
4. I never get tired of this one. This is real country music.
5. Always a good couple of minutes from the first Beatles album. They were so raw, then.
6. I have this on a compilation, and I don't know which orchestra and conductor recorded this, which is too bad, because it's my favorite recording of this excellent piece. Why? Partially the energy, and partially because there's no narration, so you can just enjoy the flow of the music.
7. A nice blast of blues after the art music; very nice. I have this from the soundtrack of The Notorious Bettie Page.
8. Not my favorite Star Wars end credits score, but I like the Gungan music and I love how gentle and then dark it becomes, tentatively (but inexorably) moving towards Vader's theme.
9. A classic.
10. From the My Lives boxed set; it actually became "All About Soul," but I really like the stripped sound, the faster tempo, and the more cynical lyrics to this one. (Though I do like "All About Soul.")

Is This a Saying Somewhere?

Keep fucking that chicken, everybody!

TV Report: So the Summer Ends and Another Season Begins

:: The finale of True Blood was a lot better than last season's. I liked the pacing; the Maryann plot was resolved about halfway through (in the most amazingly awesome, over-the-top, gonzo thing I've ever seen on this show--and the genius of True Blood this season was that it finally embraced its gonzo trashiness), and then the show settled down for a while and let the pace of life in Bon Temps slowly return to normal. It was a nice breather before all of the cliffhangers ramped up at the end. And there's at least one character they killed off who I'm really glad has finally breathed his last angst-ridden breath. Good riddance.

I also dug Evan Rachel Wood as vampire Queen Sophie. They have this ancient vampire living in this fabulous mansion in the South and I was worried they were going to go the route of Gothic overacting or having her play some kind of Scarlett O'Hara caricature, and I liked that Wood brought this sort of frivolous matter-of-factness to it. She's shallow and bored, and she plays it as shallow and bored and completely detached. I generally like Wood, but I haven't seen her in a performance I respected for a couple of years, so it was a treat.

And Alexander Skarsgard is really, really sexy.

:: I'd watch another season of Hung, but I'm still not sure I enjoy the show. I like that they haven't turned it into some silly sex comedy, but I'm not really wrapped up in the characters, either. They need more Rebecca Creskoff next season; she's delightful and hilarious. She's kind of trippy, too--she's gone full frontal on the show, but she also plays the band's mom on Jonas, which is incredibly funny to me because I'm obviously fourteen.

:: I'm not sure why I still watch The Secret Life of the American Teenager when nearly every character pisses me off so much. I guess I'm just caught up in the situation and it's just soapy and stupid enough to be entertaining. Plus, there's so little on in the summer. Either way, I'd love to see more of Rumer Willis (which we won't; she was only there to make a point to Amy about how selfish and stupid she's been acting all season), and I'm glad to see Adrian get some self-respect, finally.

:: It's good to have Thursdays back on NBC. The Office is as funny and sweet as ever, and Parks and Recreation had a much stronger episode last night than the entire first season (which, granted, was only six episodes). The plot wasn't entirely resolved, but they've got a much stronger grasp on the Leslie Knope character. I really don't want to see a love triangle develop between Ann, Mark and Leslie; maybe they avoided it. I don't want to see Mark and Chris Pratt getting in a fight over the bland-but-sweet Ann, either. Really, they should be getting Leslie and Ann together. Isn't it obvious?

:: The first episode of Community was funny, but I don't think I enjoyed it as much as the critics did. It shows a lot of promise, but I think it's walking a fine line between being character-driven and just being quirk-based. I'm going to keep watching it because it has a lot of potential to be funny, but I didn't feel as engaged by it as I was hoping. We'll see how it develops.

:: I was going to try and watch The Jay Leno Show at some point, but I ultimately didn't and I don't think I'm going to. I don't care much for late-night style programming, anyway, and from what I can tell, it's just a watered-down version of The Tonight Show. Plus, I just hate Jay Leno. I've never thought he was funny. NBC pitched this thing like it's the answer to the grand question of television--Comedy an hour earlier! OMFG!--but I just don't care. It makes NBC look less prestigious than ever, because they've just taken the cheap way out on this one. It'll make them a ton of money in advertising, but as a viewer, why do I care?

:: I liked the finale of King of the Hill an awful lot. That was a good, solid show, and an easy one to take for granted because, except for a patch when the show was too "Hank's always right about everything" for its own good, it was consistent. It was also one of the only shows on television with a real sense of place; too much animation in general is pretty generically American (does it matter, for example, if Ratatouille takes place in Paris or anywhere else?), and King of the Hill could only have been made by a Texan. Not only that, but the show managed to make Arlen seem like a real place and not a collection of character tics and in-jokes. The finale made me a little wistful, and while I'm not going to miss the show, exactly (13 years of "the boy ain't right" jokes got to be a bit much), I'm glad it was on.

Muppet Update (Mupdate?)

There was a lot of interesting information on upcoming Disney projects at the recent D23 Fan Expo, but the biggest deal for me was all of this great information coming out about upcoming Muppet projects. This is what I've been waiting for ever since Disney bought the characters: all of the preexisting licensing deals Disney was contractually obligated to wait out have now expired and they can begin moving on Muppet projects in earnest.

The biggest announcement was that Disney is definitely moving ahead on the new movie, which is now called The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made. This is the one Jason Segel has written. I assume it still has the same plot. The title going around earlier was The Greatest Muppet Movie Ever Made, and it was about the Muppets getting back together to save the Muppet Theatre from an evil oil tycoon who discovers that the theater is on top of some oil. The new title comes from an unproduced Jim Henson plot, in which Gonzo blows the entire film budget on the opening credits and the rest of the film is shot on the same clumsily redressed backlot.

It's exciting enough that there's a Muppet movie coming out, but that it's an original story and not an adaptation of a classic novel. Nothing against The Muppets Christmas Carol, a staple of my Christmas viewing, or Muppet Treasure Island, but I want to see a movie about the actual Muppets again, instead of movies where they just play characters inserted into classic literature.

I'm also excited that Jason Segel wrote it, not just because I'm a fan of his and I love Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which he also wrote, but because that opens the possibility of other modern comic actors getting into the movie, too. I don't look at the Muppets and think of them as classic entertainment for children and families; I look at the Muppets and think of them as classic comedy. They deserve to be on that level again, and I think a lot of comic actors today were very influenced by the Muppets. Look at the two Muppet sketches Seth Rogen's done on his Saturday Night Live appearances, or some of the great Muppet sketches on Robot Chicken. The Muppets are an influence on today's comedy landscape, and they should be a part of it. So I hope that Segel and others appear in the film instead of making an attempt to direct the movie solely at kids. And since the whole Apatow crowd seems to be pretty xazzed about the Muppets, I will hold out hope until I see it that Kristen Bell will be in there somewhere.

Anyway, there are a lot of other Muppet projects in the works. There's going to be a Halloween special next year. They're upping the profile of the Muppets at the theme parks. They're going to do some more books (I especially enjoyed Kermit's Before You Leap). They're doing apps for the iPhone and new CDs, new plush Muppets (haven't seen any of those in a long damn time) and action figures, and their deal with Marvel Comics apparently isn't going to affect their BOOM! Studios comics any time soon. And Kermit's going to sing again at the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.

They're also going to do more of those great viral videos, which means another excuse for me to post Beaker's Ode to Joy:

Something else that I was glad to see is that not only is next year (finally) seeing the release of the fourth season of The Muppet Show on DVD, they're also going to release Studio DC: Almost Live! on DVD. Hopefully it will be both of them, and hopefully those viral videos will appear on DVD somewhere. The Studio DC specials were a lot of fun, not just because they were collaborations between the Disney Channel and the Muppets, but because they went a ways towards re-establishing the Muppets with kids again. The profile the Muppets have among kids is dishearteningly low, so anything to raise it is good news for me. I don't want the Muppets to just cater to guys like me in their thirties who grew up with them. I want there to always be new Muppets specials and movies and comic books and TV series that each successive generation can enjoy, so anything that tries to get new fans is good for me.

And those specials were funny. And it gives me an excuse to post Demi Lovato and Beaker singing "This Is Me" from Camp Rock. Beaker's got more energy than Joe Jonas did through that entire awful movie.

More Muppets, please.

Good Thing

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I Learned It By Watching You!

Thank you, Retroist, for bringing this classic and hilarious PSA back into my life. I swear that "You, alright? I learned it by watching you!" has never stopped being a punchline in my house. There's no comedy gold like unintended comedy gold.

If you're in the mood for more unintentionally hilarious PSAs, they're all over YouTube. Some of my favorites include Pee Wee Herman's insincere plea to never use crack, that one with the girl diving into an empty swimming pool that was supposed to be scary but is actually hilarious, the "when I grow up" PSA that achieves much the same goal, and the still-nonsensical (but faux-profound) fried egg PSA.

By trying to scare us instead of being honest with us (show us real people instead of easily-digestible platitudes), these commercials guarantee their own hilarity for years to come.

Random Thoughts

Ray Wise is joining the cast of Dollhouse. I actually haven't seen anyone say this yet, but I guess that means that Reaper is never going to come back. I'm a little disappointed, but mostly I'm just not surprised. Too bad. That was a really fun show (and I seem predisposed to hate a lot of supernatural series), and Wise in particular was awesome. Well, at least it didn't go on and on and become as terrible as something like Buffy. Yeah, still hate it.

:: What's wrong with Kanye West, the media asks, that makes him do these things. Is it alcohol? Ego? Grief over his mother’s death? Does he have a serious problem? I'll tell you what his problem is: he’s an asshole. Case closed.

:: Jay-Z, the guy who lets people call him by one of God's names as a sign of adoration, is upset with Beyonce for having the grace to invite Taylor Swift to finish her acceptance speech at the VMAs after Kanye West crashed hers with his dumbshittery. Jay-Z was so upset at Beyonce’s “disrespect” to his alcoholic disrespectful asshole friend that he apparently left the VMAs without her and went to several parties with Rihanna. Wow, imagine that: rappers who are total assholes who think too highly of themselves. I mean, they do kind of talk fast and nearly on beat, so they’re obviously very important.

:: After seeing the local news coverage of President Obama calling Kanye West a “jackass,” I have to say, we are really in bad shape as a society if “jackass” is considered an “expletive” and a “profanity” that isn’t fit to say on television. Give me a fucking break, jackasses.

:: Blockbuster Video is closing 960 stores, about 20% of its remaining locations, and it seems like kiosks are the real future of Blockbuster now. Doesn’t it seem like Blockbuster’s been going out of business for 15 years now? On the one hand, that’s a lot of jobs being lost, but on the other hand, I really want Blockbuster to die.

:: For someone who’s supposed to be shocking and extreme and arty, I find Lady GaGa especially boring. Christina did it better and with better music.

:: I really don’t see the point of Bradley Cooper.

:: I’m glad 20th Century Fox is rebooting their so-far awful Fantastic Four franchise. Now they can do what I’ve been doing for years: pretending those terrible movies never happened.

:: Hugh Hefner offered Kate Gosselin $400,000 to pose nude in Playboy. She was mortified and said she didn’t think it was appropriate “because of the children.” Why? Were the children also asked to pose nude?

What is with Hugh Hefner? He just can’t wait to get Kate Gosselin and Lindsay Lohan in his magazine. Why don’t we focus on people who aren’t completely horrible and icky instead?

And one more thing that irritates me about Hef, who is just in a long slide downward from the man who was once an important sexual revolutionary: suddenly deciding to throw dirt at his wife, Kimberly Conrad, in the press. They’ve been separated (but not divorced) for 11 years, and I don’t remember her ever saying anything about the way he was (and is) embarrassing himself with chippies who just want to be on TV and take his money. He’s pissed now because she’s suing him. You know why she's suing him? Because he sold the house she was living in without telling her he was going to. What a prince. I can see why he would be so upset.

It’s healthy to remember that your heroes are just as full of shit as everyone else.

:: The good news is that Nicolas Cage has had to drop out of Green Hornet. The bad news is Cameron Diaz is still in it.

:: I like Taylor Swift’s music, actually, but most of the reason I like her has to do with the fact that she always looks like she’s in need of a good defiling.

:: Christ, how much more plastic surgery does Megan Fox need?

:: Kids: pull up your pants and stop acting like assholes.

:: How many times a year is the Governor of Texas going to threaten to secede from the United States? Why doesn’t he just move? If you would rather give up your American citizenship than pay your taxes, just leave the country. You don’t get to take your job and your power with you.

:: Newt Gingrich praised President Obama’s school address and said “I would love to have every child in America read it, think about it, and learn that they should stay in school and they should study.” Surprised at who that came from, but it’s always nice to see reasonableness in a politician.

:: For as much as the Republicans make fun of the Democrats for having easily hurt feelings, the Republicans sure do like to cry in public about being mistreated.

:: Ben Bernanke says the recession is “very likely over.” I can’t think of a statement/person combination that fills me with less confidence. If the unemployment rate is going to keep rising, which he says it is, how is the recession over? I don’t understand why our measure of economic growth is the success of corporations and not the economic power of citizens. If corporations are turning a profit, right now it just means they’ve laid off enough people to protect their margins. That’s not economic growth.

:: Even Max Baucus, turncoat Democrat and shill for the insurance company, couldn’t get any Republicans to back his half-hearted compromise health finance reform bill. Do you Democrats get it yet?

:: President Obama is continuing to embrace the USA PATRIOT Act. Where’s your outrage now, left? At least he's given up on the missile defense shield on European soil, but Christ, what is this guy still campaigning for?

:: Looks like Iraq is going to, for stability’s sake, return to being a police state. The only difference now is that there seems to be a lot less hostility towards Iran. So… mission accomplished? And how's bin Laden doing these days?

:: I see DC Comics has morphed into DC Entertainment, something along the lines of Marvel Entertainment, which is supposed to… what? Was DC really having that difficult a time managing its media ventures? Seemed like they weren’t doing too bad, especially given the quality of their animated division. I wonder what this means for comics professionals (like Paul Levitz, the man who made DC Comics work, who was unceremoniously phased out in favor of someone who may know movies, but doesn’t know comics). Where this is similar to the Disney/Marvel news is that it doesn’t have any bearing on comic books at all--this is about brands and spin-offs and merchandising and turning corporate properties into film franchises. Comics do not matter anymore in keeping these characters alive.

Put it this way: if DC Comics stopped publishing its regular Batman titles and just focused on TV and movies, with only the occasional miniseries and graphic novel featuring Batman, would it make a dent in the viability or popularity of the character? I think the answer is: absolutely no.

Happy 60th Birthday (Maybe), Elvira!

According to two different sources, Cassandra Peterson, who has had profound effects on my life as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, was born today in 1949. However, according to two other sources, she was born in 1951 and is turning 58 today. I didn't want to let the 60th pass uncommented on, so if it's 58, we'll do this again in 2011. Either way, it's Ms. Peterson's birthday today, so Happy Birthday!

Mary Travers 1936-2009

And another person who had an effect on my childhood passes away. Growing up in the house I did, Roger Whitaker, the Kingston Trio, and Peter, Paul and Mary were my introduction to the world of folk music. So that's Mary's voice on a lot of songs I've always loved, and I'm sorry she won't be singing anymore. Complications from chemotherapy is a sad way to die--to be reduced so badly by something that's supposed to help save your life, which is what happened to my sister, who was in so much pain that she decided to stop going through it and die rather than keep living in all of that agony. My mom always goes to see Peter, Paul and Mary whenever they're in town. It's shame. Good night and thank you, Mary.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Henry Gibson 1935-2009

Damn it, that's two comedy stalwarts within a week. I watched Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In as a kid when the reruns first came on Nick at Nite (back when Nick at Nite first came on). That was yet another show that had a lot of effect on my way of looking at life and comedy as a kid, and I'm sorry to hear he's passed on.

The 1951 Raiders of the Lost Ark That Never Was

The same YouTube genius who made that awesome 1954 Ghostbusters trailer has now brought us an equally brilliant 1951 Raiders of the Lost Ark trailer. These would make one hell of a double feature.

The Blessings of Raymond Stanz Be Upon You

From my Tumblr:

Film Week

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

I admit, I was resisting this movie a little bit. But I ended up catching it on cable last week, and I'm glad I saw it. Ryan Gosling, in an excellent, controlled performance, plays a painfully shy, socially awkward man who lives in his brother's garage and only goes out for work or church. His pregnant sister-in-law (Emily Mortimer) tries to dote on him, while his brother (Paul Schneider) just sort of accepts it. Then Lars suddenly orders a Real Doll off of the internet and treats it like it's a living, breathing human being whom he is having a relationship with. It's psychotic, sure, but it ends up becoming something wonderful when, after some trepidation, everyone starts to go along with it. The Real Doll becomes the agent of change for Lars; she's the gateway through which he finally enters the world on his own terms and figures out how to grow up and connect. It's a beautiful story about human connection and emotional maturation. **** stars.

Kind of an underwhelming story about a member of an anarchist group (Lon Chaney) who struggles with his conscience when assigned a murder. Chaney hams it up, even for Chaney. ** stars.

LA RONDE (1950)
Max Ophuls directed this excellent drama about the chain of human interaction, starting with a soldier and a prostitute and ending with that same prostitute and a count in a round. This series of vignettes could easily descend into just a collection of sex scenes, but there is a lot of reflection along the way as to just what consequences and meaning our daily interactions have. Anton Walbrook serves as a Chorus, taking us through the characters and observing, often amused, the sexual foibles of ordinary people. The cast are all very good, but I especially liked Simone Simon, at her sultriest as a naughty maid. **** stars.

Riveting, kind of sad film about Michele, a 9 year old boy who, playing in the ruins outside of a wheat field, discovers another boy chained up in a hole in the ground. Unsure who to tell about this discovery, Michele is certain something bad is going on but cannot imagine what. He befriends the boy, and there are some surprising and even terrifying revelations that come up. It's a very interesting film, told completely from Michele's point of view, and perfectly mimics a child's view of the world and a child's confusion at adult complexities. **** stars.

Powerful movie about two Russian soldiers behind enemy lines in World War II. After losing their unit during an evacuation, one of them severely wounded, they decide to hide out in a farm house, not realizing a family lives there. When the Nazis discover them, they arrest the soldiers and the family for sheltering them. Everything after that becomes a drama about loyalty, ethics, pride, and nationalism, without beating the patriotic drum too much. It's a layered work, a very rewarding film, as the two Russian soldiers are told that the family who sheltered them will share their punishment, unless they're willing to turn traitor. Stunning. **** stars.

Robert Montgomery plays a boxer who dies in a plane crash and gets taken to heaven before his time. Claude Raines, as the angel Mr. Jordan, says he can go back, but his body has been cremated and he needs another one. Instead, he's put in the body of a businessman who has just been drowned in his bath, and ends up discovering what's really important to him. This is the film that Hal Ashby remade in 1978 as Heaven Can Wait. Not a great film--everything works out a little too pat for me--but Raines is always good and it's a very nice movie. *** stars.

Paul Muni plays a gangster who gets murdered and goes to hell. In a reverse of Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Claude Rains plays the Devil. Wanting to get back at a fair-minded judge who looks exactly like Muni, the Devil makes a deal with Muni (pretending to simply be a guard in hell) to help him escape and take over the judge's body in order to get revenge. And, of course, Muni ends up discovering what's really important. I really enjoyed this movie. It's nice to remember there was a time when Hollywood could make a movie about religion without getting preachy about scripture, instead emphasizing goodness, fairness, and ethical behavior over greed, selfishness, and evil. Rains is a real treat here as the devil, too. And I will say, the ending genuinely surprised me. I thought they were going the "have it all" route, and they kind of didn't. ***1/2 stars.

Melodrama about an orchestra conductor's mistress (Bette Davis) and her love for a cellist (Paul Henreid). Pretty turgid soap opera, but I enjoyed Claude Rains as the egotistical conductor. Great score, too--it uses a lot of Classical music, while Erich Wolfgang Korngold composed the original compositions featuring incredible cello solos. ** stars.

Carl Laemmle's lavish production of Stowe's novel. It's very much of its time (white actors play Eliza, George, and Emmeline--Topsy is also white actress Mona Ray in the most horrifying and disgusting blackface and "pickaninny mincing" I've ever seen in my entire life), but surprisingly harrowing and brutal in spots. (And apparently a lot of the more brutal scenes were cut for fear of angering white audiences.) Black actor James B. Lowe is very good as Uncle Tom, however, and imbues the role with a lot of dignity and humanity. It balances out George Seigmann as a very sleazy, over-the-top, brutal Simon Legree, reveling (a little too much, maybe) in his inhumanity. Virgina Grey, meanwhile, makes her debut at the age of 10 as Little Eva. Parts of this film are excellent--especially an escape over ice floes that is truly riveting--and parts are a little too sugary or silly. It's always interesting, though, and the parts that need to hit the audience hard still do. ***1/2 stars.

While we're on the subject, can I just say that I don't get using "Uncle Tom" as a derisive term? Have you ever actually read Uncle Tom's Cabin. How is Uncle Tom an "Uncle Tom"? Because he doesn't drop everything and abandon his family to escape? Because he dies at the hands of the overseers rather than tell Simon Legree where Emmeline and Cassy escaped to? Because he refuses to whip another slave when he's ordered to? I just don't get how that came about.

Another Max Ophuls film, this one about a love triangle and a pair of earrings that keeps getting passed around. The earrings stand in for emotions and connections that are not said but deeply felt. These are the first two Ophuls films I've seen; I think I need to see more. Excellent cinematography. **** stars.

Haylie Duff and her newly-enhanced breasts star as a nanny with a criminal brother who may or may not have robbed the family she works for. While I did appreciate the film showing the reality that when you work for people who say you're like family, as soon as there's a crisis you'll find out you're really not, it's a pretty terrible movie and the identity of the thief is obvious even before the robbery. Not a waste of time for me, as I adore Haylie as much as I adore her little sister, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. * star.

Edward G. Robinson as a reformed bootlegger who finds a dead body in his new house. It's based on a Damon Runyon story, and I don't care for Runyon and didn't care for this very, very earnest movie. Love Robinson, though. **1/2 stars.

Very well-directed (by William Wyler) musical biopic of Fanny Brice famously starring Barbra Streisand. Oddly, I felt almost all of the songs (except for the actual scenes of Fanny on stage) were completely superfluous to the story. I liked the dramatic scenes, though, and enjoyed the troubled love story between Streisand and Omar Sharif as gambler Nicky Arnstein. Barbra Streisand is incredibly good in this movie, and despite what we're constantly told (that she's too ugly to get a man), I've always found her during this period to be sexy as hell. Though the whole movie sort of bows to being a star vehicle for Barbra, she deserves it here; it's her movie and her performance, even if she's never quite as good or believable as the real Fanny Brice (but what the hell, Barbra is playing Barbra, anyway, and she excels at that). A beautiful-looking film, too, but it is William Wyler. **** stars.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Stormtroopers Never Forget

Color Me Unimpressed

This is what happens when self-righteous, intellectually dishonest, Bush apologist assholes who don't know what they're talking about are self-righteous, intellectually dishonest, Bush apologist assholes who don't know what they're talking about.

Blame the victim for having to live in a system designed to screw them over? Check.

Create the false impression that people who actually have insurance are okay and rarely denied while ignoring the fact that two-thirds of medical bankruptcies in this country happen to people who already have insurance when they get sick? Check.

Spew the right wing talking point that 47 million people in America are uninsured because they'd just rather not pay for it? Check.

Look at the unemployment rate and stupidly decide that means 90.3% of Americans must be working because you don't know anything about numbers? Check.

Refer to America's health care system as "the best in the world" when it is in fact one of the worst in the developed world? Check.

Congratulations! You don't know what you're talking about!

I hate to engage someone's blog (and worse, link to it) when I will always delete their own comments here because, well, I appreciate someone contributing constructively instead of just telling me repeatedly that the solution to all of America's ills is to just kill more Arabs.

But then I read something like "if 77% of Americans wanted a public option, then there would be a public option," which is one of the biggest piles of horseshit I've ever seen shoveled. It's almost charming in its innocent naivete that we're actually living in a Democracy. Sorry to burst your self-important bubble, but Survey USA shows that 77% of Americans want a public option. Not only that, but now we see 63% of doctors in this country favor giving Americans an option between public and private insurers (and another 10% favor universal health care and killing private insurance). Probably to free them from the monumental overhead that makes private insurance so damn expensive in the first place. If insurance went public, it would eliminate $350 billion in paperwork alone, which would pay for the whole goddamn thing. As we are now, a third of all health care costs go to paperwork. If doctors were able to deal with a single payer, that's a lot of wasted time and effort that gets redirected elsewhere.

Am I suggesting there would be no paperwork with government health care? No. Only that there would be less, and that it would make a significant difference. I'm not claiming that government bureaucracies don't often err on the side of inefficiency. I'm saying what we have now isn't working already and needs to changed. We need to do something instead of just accepting the broken system we already have.

"If 77% of Americans wanted a public option, then there would be a public option" assumes that the government is actually able or even wants to fix this problem. I personally don't trust politicians that much; I don't think they want or even care about what's best for the people. And that's not conspiracy theory bullshit, that's Max Baucus putting himself in charge of health finance reform even though he's received $2.8 million in bribes campaign contributions from the health care industry. Hell, President Bush had an historic approval rating after 9/11--did he use it to pursue and capture the people responsible for the attacks on American soil? No, he didn't. He used it to do what he wanted to do, which was go to Iraq and turn America into a Third World nation. President Obama throwing Americans to the wind on health care is as disgusting to me as Osama bin Laden still walking around free.

So there are two examples of presidents wasting the political capital they have because they just didn't care to do what the American people wanted them to do.

I've made no secret of the fact that I'm heavily disappointed in President Obama and the Democrats in Congress for handling this issue stupidly. They had a moment in time when they could've pushed through all manner of reforms, but they didn't, and they missed out, and it is over for them. President Bush's stimulus package didn't work, why do another one? Why bail out the auto industry when people can't afford to buy a new car? Why bail out the credit industry when people can't afford to pay their bills? This "reform" is simply bailing out the insurance industry when people can't afford to get sick--ironically, the insurance industry's profits, made from a generation of denying preventive care, are now being destroyed by people using their insurance only for cripplingly expensive illnesses. Illnesses which might have been prevented.

This whole thing has turned into a referendum on whether or not America still has a working government. I'd have to say no, not for a long time. Our government can no longer handle a crisis situation, either because it is incapable, or because it just doesn't care. When the guy in charge--and spare me the platitudes about patience and Obama playing a long game and how his giving up the single-payer option on day one isn't really the spineless cave-in that it was--thinks he can trust the people who created the problems to fix the problems, something isn't working right--especially not when those problems are profitable for their creators. (Another way that Obama is like Reagan: Reagan claimed that companies would act fairly without government regulations, and he was wrong, too.)

I see a lot of people claim that we're seeing the death throes of the insane far right; that they're nearly dead, so all they can do is scare people into action with lies and bullshit rhetoric. "If 77% of Americans wanted a public option, then there would be a public option" is very angry with me for not taking the rednecks and their badly-misspelled, ideologically false signage seriously. And while it's hard to take anyone seriously who thinks bringing a gun to a meeting is just political rhetoric and not an implied threat of violence, I will give those idiots this: at least they're making their voices heard. Where are the Democrats on this issue? Where are the people who think Obama needs to be reminded of just why he was elected in the first place? Sure, the teabaggers and the birthers are acting mainly out of racism, ignorance, and fear, but at least they're scared. Where are the people on the left who are scared? The Republicans have a much better propaganda machine and they use it constantly; Democrats don't even try to have the information available anymore.

Is there a health care debate? No, not in any meaningful or useful way. The progressives say "Everyone needs affordable health care" and the teabaggers say "No, we don't want it because you're all Nazis!" and instead of trying to engage in an exchange of information, the progressives say "You people are idiots, anyway!" and nothing gets done.

So while a million-man teabagger march yielding less than 50,000 people is a good sign that the rednecks are getting bored, the cataclysmic failure of the left to deal with any economic issue effectively is a decent sign that progressivism is dying, too.

Where do we go from here? I have no idea. But if 77% of Americans want a public option and 63% of doctors are endorsing it and President Obama still can't get health finance reform passed effectively, it's because he and the people in charge of the reform are ineffective. That's just the way this goes. They have done a shitty job of communicating their goals, they've done an even worse job of engaging in any kind of meaningful debate, and they've already thrown out the most important reforms. They did it almost immediately. So what is the point of these people--especially Obama, Reid, and Pelosi--if they can't do what they were elected to do? Yeah, I think the Republicans have been ridiculous on this whole thing, and they're doing what they can to stand in the way of anything. But what's really stopping the Democrats from passing sweeping reform is the Democrats themselves, whether they're just foolish or purposely trying to stop it (and there are both involved here).

Here's an example of just how bad the Democrats are at politics: Rep. Joe Wilson and his "You lie!" outburst last week. Wilson is a lying, hypocritical pig. This is a guy whose whole family is on government health care because his sons are in the military--and remember, this is a government health care that all Americans already pay for with their taxes--and tries to sell Obamacare as fascism (or socialism or communism--these people don't understand what any of those terms actually mean and think they're interchangeable, which says a lot about their grasp of politics). His sons are in the military, yet he's repeatedly voted to slash military benefits, which just makes him an asshole (anyone who wants to slash benefits for people in the military, especially when we have them fighting the uphill battles we have right now, is an asshole).

This guy, who admired ancient racist Strom Thurmond and pushed the White House's lie about a link between Saddam Hussein and terrorism, who fought to keep the Confederate flag--a symbol of rebellion against this country's government--flying over government buildings in South Carolina, has been pushing the right's canards about illegal immigrants. After his "emotional outburst" (and you can't convince me it wasn't planned), the right has rallied to this guy. Did you see the "Wilson for President 2012" signs people were carrying around at their 9/12 teabagger gathering? I sure did. Granted, these are people who think Sarah Palin is intelligent, but still, the guy's got support, and now the left is stupidly letting him frame the debate.

Congratulations, Democrats: you were handed a golden opportunity to call the right on their lie-ridden illegal immigration wedge issue and you completely wasted it. You know why? Because you're dumb and you're not good at politics.

Will somebody please restore government classes to the curriculum?

Still, it's too late for some people who don't grok that health insurance is an issue of public safety, just as having a fire department, a police department, and a military are all issues of public safety. "If you are part of the 50% of this country that actually pays income taxes, you will be subsidizing everyone else." Duh. That's what taxes do. Taxes subsidize American standards. I don't mind that my taxes go to pay for someone's neighborhood not burning down, for criminals being arrested and prosecuted, for my nation's defense, for my roads being maintained, and for my mail getting delivered. Hell, some of those don't even immediately affect me--my apartment complex hasn't caught fire, and my last experience with the cops was not exactly terrific. But I would never suggest we simply privatize these things and let everyone fend for themselves, because that's counterproductive to America. I wouldn't begrudge someone access to tax-supported services because I hope that those services, should I ever need them, will be available to me, too. Hell, I don't have children, but I don't mind that my taxes go to pay for schools because America desperately needs education. This is what taxes are for, and America can't claim to have an interest in making itself a great nation when there are still people saying "Every man for himself" is the best way, especially when they purposely blind themselves to the odds many people have against them. Keeping people well isn't a privilege, it's as much a public safety concern as making sure the fire in your house doesn't burn down everyone else's.

I don't claim to know what the answer is, but I'm realistic (I'm not liberal, as a great many have made the mistake of stupidly assuming). I don't have any political idealism here--I don't look at things as they are and ask why or why not... I look at things that need to be changed and ask how they can be done. The fact is, our health care system is not okay, and to act like nothing's wrong is a sign of willful ignorance. I don't think the answer is allowing health insurance to be interstate commerce--that just adds more to the overhead and a bigger hassle for doctors. And I know the answer isn't making it illegal in America to be uninsured--at least, not if you've read the Constitution, where you can see that plan is in conflict with at least the Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and possibly Thirteenth and Tenth Amendments.

There are no easy answers, and it's clear that our government is ill-equipped to deal with a problem so immediate and so far-reaching. But I never claimed I was equipped for it, either, and you'll certainly never hear me claim that glib, right-wing, paranoid fools who take me and my opinions as some kind of leftist gospel--amusing though I find them--are equipped for it, either.

Whatever Do You Mean, Stella Malone?

Happy 21st Birthday to Chelsea Staub, one of the brightest stars Disney has going for it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Too Bad His Fans Won't Get to See It

The great news that Roger Corman is receiving a well-deserved Honorary Oscar (the man has been extremely influential and has this kind of recognition coming) is tempered for me by this year's announcement that one of the desperate and ill-advised "reforms" to the Academy Awards ceremony is that the Honorary Oscar recipients will not be part of the telecast. All of the non-competitive categories--and the Honorary Oscar and Lifetime Achievement Awards have yielded some of the best moments in Oscar history, especially when you consider just how awful Hollywood is about paying tribute to its past--have been shunted off to a separate dinner that will be much less well-attended than the Oscars.

So while I'm glad Corman is getting his due respect, I'm sorry it won't be in front of Hollywood and the television audience as it should be.

Lizzie McGuire Is Back on Disney Channel Where It Belongs

Lizzie McGuire is the show that began my modern infatuation with the Disney Channel. I don't know exactly when anymore that I started watching the show. One day, it wasn't there, and on another day, it was something I'd been watching forever. Then, a few years ago, the Disney Channel took it off the air because of a deal with some satellite channel or another, and there were no more reruns.

I'd forgotten how much I missed it until this past weekend, when Lizzie McGuire made a quiet, unheralded return to the Disney Channel, rerunning the first five episodes. And brother, was I happy.

Watching the show now, which ran from 2001 to 2003, it seems like it takes place in a different world. Disney Channel has changed a lot since then, and as much as I've loved a number of their series, none of them comes close to Lizzie McGuire for me. The kids feel so much more realistic, their situations so much more universal and easy to relate to. As much as I love the current crop of programs (with the gaping exception of The Suite Life on Deck), they're very gimmick-oriented, something which they've only just begun to master (it's paying off very well on Sonny with a Chance and, surprisingly, Jonas). The kids on Lizzie McGuire... well, they're not glammed up (kids on Disney Channel now wear way too much makeup) and layered and fashionable and toting cell phones... they're not comedy stars regurgitating a hundred Catskills comedians and a bunch of Borscht Belt material that hasn't been fresh in 50 years... they're kids.

I think Lizzie McGuire, made for a younger audience though it is, is as universal as Freaks and Geeks. I went through a lot of the things Lizzie goes through in middle school--not buying a bra, obviously, but wanting to not look like a dork on picture day and being embarrassed by my mistakes and being afraid to stand up for myself. Watching Lizzie deal with the same things is familiar and comforting.

I'm glad this show is back on Disney where it belongs. I've really, really missed it. And even though it's the same shows I've already seen, I haven't seen them in years, and it's nice to see them again.

Thanks, Disney--it almost makes up for releasing only the first season on DVD.

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Song of the Week: "Can't Seem to Make You Mine"

I've been meaning to put this up for weeks. I love these videos people have been making of Bettie Page, replacing the music. In this case, it's the Seeds from 1965, with another of those great California bands that just comes at you out of the dark. Anything that sounds like it belongs on Nuggets (and this one actually was) is perfect for me. I probably should've had this up a month ago when lead singer Sky Saxon died.

Oh, Like You Don't Know

Twilight Summarized by a Smartass, Chapter 11

Well, now that Edward and Bella are officially together, their relationship has become somehow even more irritating. She's always talking about how there's this electricity between them (four times in this chapter alone) and how drawn she is to him. They get to know each other (neither of them is particularly interesting) and for some reason she feels like she absolutely has to keep him away from her father (once again, she's given us no reason to understand why she sees her dad as such an inconvenience that she'd move in with him voluntarily).

That's about it, really. Just bad writing that goes on and on.

The moment that frustrated me was, of course, yet another intimation of how dangerous he is to be around. (She wants to go hunting with him, but it's too dangerous for her because he loses control.) It's just more emo whining--"Uh, uh, I'm so dangerous to be around, but I need your sympathy--but not your intellect--so bad that it makes my balls hurt, uh."

This whole thing makes me want to vomit.