Saturday, July 10, 2010

TV Report: Louie

I just sat and watched the first three episodes of Louie.

I was actually one of apparently a very small number of people who dug Louis CK's HBO sitcom Life with Louie. I thought it was an ambitious experiment--a modernized version of the traditional sitcom format--that unfortunately didn't work for most of the audience. Louie is a different sort of format--stand-up in front of an audience offset by dramatized scenes that aren't always comic.

Like most of the best stand-up comics, Louis CK's work is rooted in pain and failure. A divorced father of two girls, we follow scenes where he attempts to start dating again, tries to accompany his kids on an ill-fated field trip, has a wistful conversation about marriage with a friend, etc. There's a great, touching, very serious moment at the beginning of the second episode where Louis, at a poker game with fellow comics, asks a gay friend if he's offended by the use of the word "faggot" in a comedy routine. Everyone is silent as it is explained that the pejorative use of the word dates back to the time of witch-burnings, when homosexuals were burned to death on piles of bundled sticks because they weren't even considered worth burning at the stake. "Use the word, get your laughs. But now you know what it means."

That's the strength of this show: comedy is rooted in awkwardness, and in showing that, the show can also peel back those layers and expose some of the truths and pains that we feel inside that makes comedy such an outlet and an escape. It's all filtered through Louis CK's personality, and it's a personality that's very candid, very likable, and very easy to relate to. He doesn't embrace this sort of loser/slacker persona that so many of the people ripping him off do, but instead just sort of is who he is and finds the universal humor in it.

I don't know, I'm rambling. But I really like this show, which is a huge surprise to me, since I despise everything I ever see that's made for FX. This is one they've got right.

UPDATE 4:44 PM: The scene I mentioned.

Happy 30th, Jessica!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Chicks 'n' Pokemon II

More badly-rendered silliness from summer vacation.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Behind the Scenes with the Muppets

This Flickr stream has some neat shots from behind-the-scenes of The Muppet Movie that have never been seen before. Go check it out if you have a chance.

Hell's Kitchen, Episodes 9 and 10

I always love it when they do the taste challenge. This time, however... wow, I don't think I've ever seen the teams do this badly. 4 out of 16 versus 3 out of 16? And you people really want to make food your career?

I just can't remember a series of Hell's Kitchen where it got to this late in the game and there were no contestants who really seemed serious about this. Sure, there are people here who want to win, but they're too caught up in how great they think they are to really take seriously. As is usually the case everywhere in life, those who brag the most produce the least and don't contribute as well as they think they do.

The challenge where both teams had to make their own menu really highlighted the shortcomings of both teams. On the Red Team, it's Benjamin. His extremely high opinion of himself is disgusting, especially since it seems to demand that he take it out on people he deems lesser, like Siobhan last week and Fran this week. I'm still not convinced that Fran deserved to be sent home; I would've really liked to have gotten Benjamin out of there to see if Fran, Nilka, and Holli could've done better without him there riding over them and taking control (badly at that).

The Blue Team's weakness is similar, except it's not just one of them, it's all of them. Jay, Ed, and Jason are all trying to outdo each other, but they can't still do that and work as a team. And when they do try to work as a team, they think small. The menu that night was the Blue Team offering the bare basics and the Red Team getting far too fancy. Benjamin may have been right that the other members of his team couldn't cook the kind of fine dining he wanted to make. I think the obvious question, then, is why did he try to make them? If he could see past his own ego, he could've seen that it would serve him better to craft a menu tailored to everyone's strengths as a cook instead.

It was really, really hard watching Nilka crash and burn like that. When Chef tells you to go, you're gone. Watching her beg like that was unfortunate. It was nice of Gordon to tell her goodbye personally... maybe she could come back? Seriously, when is Hell's Kitchen going to do some kind of all-star edition and bring back old contestants?

So now we're down to the final six, and I'm not really pulling for anyone except Holli. Yes, wag all you want about that--and yes, I think she's hot (and thanks, guys, for the shot of her eating a banana)--but she's the only one right now who doesn't seem to have a giant attitude problem or a massive ego, so she's about the only one I can root for.

And her desserts are apparently delicious.

Film Week

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

One of the better films I've seen about the so-called War on Terror. Matt Damon stars as an Army Warrant Officer in command of a unit tasked with finding hidden WMD locations. Of course, they're not finding anything, and he makes the mistake of calling out the intelligence for being faulty. As a result of his irritation and a chance encounter with a sympathetic Iraqi national, he finds himself being used by all sides--the CIA, the Pentagon, even the Baathists--because they all have differing agenda for the future of Iraq. It's well-paced and engrossing. Like many movies about this war, it has a deep sense of frustration about the moral ambiguity of this war. As Damon says in the film, the reasons we go to war always matter. But as history shows, when the reasons are corrupted and the goals aren't clearly stated, things become a morass. **** stars.

Fantastic movie that works as both a horror flick and a comedy (and even a romantic comedy). Jesse Eisenberg (still the poor man's Michael Cera) stars as a college student trying to make his way east after the population is turned into zombies. He meets up with Woody Harrelson, a slightly unhinged tough guy who loves killing zombies, and the two run into Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, a pair of sisters who will do anything they have to in order to survive. That's pretty much the entire cast, except for one of the best cameos in the history of film. I think we're full up on zombie movies, to be honest, but this one more than makes its case in a clever, witty, emotionally genuine way. Loved it. **** stars.

It is absolutely insane to me that DC wants to pull the plug on its animated movies, when they actually keep getting better and better. This one even succeeds despite some truly head-scratching vocal casting (Billy Baldwin as Batman? Mark Harmon as Superman?) because of the great screenplay. It takes things seriously, making the crisis a dire one--Owlman attempting to destroy all of reality--but never forgets that at their core superheroes are human beings, and that's why they're so compelling. Extremely well-animated, especially the battle sequences, in which I was thrilled to see DC heroes using their powers in ways they almost never do in the cartoons. It's a tiny bit edgier than most of the cartoons, too, in language, violence, and sexuality--not to an insane degree, but it's like a PG-13 kind of thing. These things have been edging more and more towards being somewhat adult in mindset, and fuck DC for wanting to end these. That's an amazing legacy of animation over the past 20 years that they're throwing away. **** stars.

Monday, July 05, 2010


An interesting, short film from 1968 made by the great Disney stalwart Ward Kimball as a protest/commentary on LBJ's escalation of the Vietnam War. A surprising work that goes straight to the point.

Kristen Bell Mondays

Spam Comment Notice

Dear Spammers:

I consider it particularly shitty of you assholes to leave your spam in the comments section of a post in which I bid farewell to a blogging friend of mine who died over the weekend. I know you don't have any humanity in you--if you did, you wouldn't be spending your time spamming peoples' blogs--but that's low and indecent even for you scum.

I will never hesitate to report the fake blogs you set up for spamming. Yes, I know that you'll just get another fake blog with another fake identity, but I intend to always cause you the same amount of irritation and inconvenience that you cause me when deleting your comments. The fact that a good person like Marie has passed while you bastards continue to live is beyond unfair in this universe.

Kill yourselves.


Sunday, July 04, 2010

Rest Well, Marie

I am shocked and saddened to discover that Marie, aka TheMom, passed away last night. She made the internet a far brighter place on both her blog and Facebook, and in the occasional email she'd send when she saw my blog and knew I was feeling bad about myself. She was a terrific blogger, and I'm so sad to see that she's left us. I think it's tribute to her that her children continue to blog and to be thoughtful, interesting people. My heart goes out to them in their time of loss and grief. I'm a better person for having known her as little as I did. Thank you, Marie, for the times you picked me up.

Rest well, Marie. You've earned it.

Happy Fourth

Song of the Week: "The Egg"

One of my all time favorite movies is 1776, the musical about the Declaration of Independence. So, since this Song of the Week falls on the actual Fourth, here's one of the songs from the film. (The original cast recording is also excellent, but the movie has Henry da Silva, who was ill and couldn't make the recording. He's excellent as Benjamin Franklin, as are his co-stars William Daniels as Adams and Ken Howard as Jefferson. This movie's on Turner Classic Movies this afternoon, so if you think about it, you should catch it.)


I've been watching Sam Raimi's Spider-Man this morning on HBO. It really is one of those movies, like the first Superman or The Godfather or The Wizard of Oz, that I always immediately get caught up in and just have to watch to the end. I really think this movie is one of the very few times that Hollywood ever got a comic book movie right, and it all comes down to the genuine heart at the center of the movie. Sam Raimi didn't waste an entire movie in anticipation of a franchise, meandering around while trying to find his characters. He knew exactly who his characters were, and the spring fully-formed into the narrative. That's why these movies were so popular. Yes, Raimi delivers on the action and on the fanboy front, but without strong characters that we care about, there's nothing there. This is one of the few times a comic book movie doesn't feel like it was made just to sell action figures.

This is why it's so disheartening to me that Marvel is doing one of those franchise reboots with Spider-Man. I understand that Marvel's a business and that they're in business to make money, but quite frankly I don't think they've ever had movies as good as Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, so it's depressing to see Marvel willing to shuffle the whole thing to the side just because Sam Raimi wants to use the Vulture in Spider-Man 4. Frankly, the idea of attempting a do-over on a movie series whose last film came out just 3 years ago seems insanely fickle to me.

I wish Marvel would get their shit together and actually care about the stories they're telling. They're already rebooting the X-Men series with this X-Men: First Class, even though their last movie in that series came out just last year. There's talk of rebooting The Fantastic Four. And it really seems to me that Captain America, Thor, and any other Iron Man movies are being thought of less as stories than as some kind of continuity orgy that only exists to justify an Avengers movie.

I'm not into this Spider-Man reboot, and I won't be going out of my way to see it. For me, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man is MY Spider-Man. It's the characters the way I've always seen them, and I'm glad to have had movies that were that good in the first place. I don't really expect much else from Marvel, so maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised in the future. But for now, I'm just not interested in a different Spider-Man that only really exists to ingratiate itself with the audience's money.