Saturday, September 01, 2012

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I finally started reading the new IDW Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, and it's fantastic. I went into it expecting it to suck, actually, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the book itself.

It's a full-on reboot of the series, and it actually manages to do a few things successfully. First, it splits the difference between the TV cartoon and the original Eastman & Laird comics. That's something a lot of TMNT series have tried to do, and they've never really been successful. Here they really manage to pull all of the different elements together and make them work in a way that's really satisfying.

Second, and more important, it got me emotionally involved in the characters and reminded me why I was a fan of the Turtles in the first place. It's one of the few comics coming out today that makes me want to keep reading, because it feels like the Turtles as I liked them are alive again. I don't know if this appeals more to fans of the original comics--the flavor is very much the same, with Eastman involved, but with a modern comic book spin to it. Somehow it manages to touch the hard cynicism of the modern superhero books without becoming as dull and empty.

I just really, really like this and I'm going to keep reading it.

Nice to have something to look forward to in mainstream comics.

Friday, August 31, 2012

This Was Perfect

After days of posing and belittling and repeated memes, the RNC pulled out its big finale last night: Clint Eastwood having an imaginary conversation with an empty chair.

It was perfect.

This is the perfect symbol of the Republican Party today. They should retire the elephant (too noble and strong for a party of weaselly, bigoted bullies) and just make Clint Eastwood the new GOP symbol. He's absolutely perfect for it: a rich, cranky, senile old man, on a second wife young enough to be his daughter, with delusions of being a cowboy just because he played them in movies, shilling hypocrisy from an assumed position of moral superiority, accusing others of partisanship by engaging in it, talking around issues and having a one-sided argument with an imaginary straw man.

Old white guy yells at chair. That's the GOP in a nutshell.

Clint Eastwood didn't embarrass the GOP last night: he exemplified it.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I Guess This Is How You Know I'm Not a Bondage Guy

Because instead of sex, all I can think of is Madballs. Those things were pretty cool.

Stop Saying You Built It

Everything I've been seeing from the RNC has made me want to vomit in disgust. I don't even find these assholes funny anymore and I just want them to stop talking. I have yet to hear one actual idea to help America get out of the dire shape we're in. Instead I'm seeing a bunch of assholes assert over and over again that they're somehow fearless pioneers and the sitting aristocracy at the same time. They're angry that a black man can lead the country and say that they owe their good fortune and wealth to the American system without getting a sound thrashing for it. They're angry and scared that a person that should be serving them drinks is stirring up the rabble with his silly-yet-infuriating notions that peasants should have access to such privileges as health care, education, employment, fair wages and, let's be totally honest, self-determination. So the only thing that comes out of the RNC is self-soothing moaning that they're self-made men because they had the incredible intelligence to be born rich and the grit and moral fortitude to inherit their money.

Don't you get it? They're better than you, and they're supposed to have more privileges than you, and they're really, really upset that you won't just accept that like a good little tenant farmer. For the GOP, this election is about saving America for them and their way of life. Not yours. Certainly not. And they're angry that you'd even think it. Look at Mitt Romney when he has to walk among us. He hates us. He hates that he has to suck up to us for votes, and when he gets in office, he'll punish us for having to shake our hands.

Hey, this is America. You have the right to say whatever you want, no matter how fucking stupid and selfish and devoid of ideas it is. But that's as far as it goes. I'm not under any obligation to listen or to take you seriously or to not question you. I just can't stop you from saying that fucking stupid thing you said about how taking over a company, turning it into a profit generator and putting hundreds of Americans out of work is the same thing as building something, or about how hiding your money in offshore accounts so you don't have to pay taxes is the same thing as patriotism.

I can't believe anyone takes these assholes seriously. I can't believe I know so many people on Facebook who actually think they're one of these people, or would even want to be. If this petty thoughtlessness is what you aspire to, it's amazing watching you vote against having the opportunity. I'd ask you why you think it's going to help you get rich to vote so these people can pay less taxes, but then I'd have to talk to you.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Film Week

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

I finally was able to sit and watch this documentary. I want to call it charming, but for some reason that sounds reductive to me. But Kevin Clash is a charming guy and his story is great; a Muppet fan who went into puppetry, whose family supported him, and who eventually got to live his dream. And he now has the best job title in the history of the world ("Muppet Captain"). Kevin Clash is one of the major forces of the Muppets, and he got there by being really great at what he does. It's especially interesting to watch now, almost 20 years after the Tickle Me Elmo Extinction Level Event, with a much different perspective on Elmo than I had then. I watched this the same day Jerry Nelson died. There were tears that day. ****

A couple of high school students (Glynn Turman and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) grow up, have adventures, and experience life in 1964 Chicago. Turman and Hilton-Jacobs are both good (Glynn Turman is always so damn good), and I liked the observational approach the movie takes. It pulled me in and invested me in these characters' lives. Fantastic soundtrack of 60s Motown hits (and the new song "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday"), and Chicago looks beautiful. ****

Two smug, charmless yuppie wannabes spend 2+ hours meandering through a predictable, plotless, unfunny mess, nothing really happens, you decide that this exact movie is absolutely everything that's wrong with comedies and movies today, then it finally stops and your life is 2+ hours shorter. I saw a lot of people doing the usual "Well, it's not great, but it really has some good points" wishy-washy non-opinions, which itself tends to be a warning sign for these things. Guys, no. There's nothing redeeming here. It doesn't even inspire enough passion to be truly awful. It doesn't even rise to the level of mediocrity. It's just there, it flashes past, and then it goes away. True pointlessness, and a disappointment coming from the people who wrote and directed Forgetting Sarah Marshall, one of my favorite movies. This just doesn't even try, but it thinks it's awfully cute. Jason Segel is just tepid and Emily Blunt... what the fuck is it people like about her? She has zero personality, and I'm just not fucking rooting for her. I wanted these two to stay as far apart as possible. It's also one of those annoying movies that thinks no one can truly be fulfilled unless they get married, even if it's to the wrong person. Fuck you, movie. Go to hell. *

Well, at least my faith in Jason Segel is restored (though he didn't write this, so he's still not off the hook). I found myself surprisingly moved by this story. Segel plays Jeff, an unemployed 30 year-old who lives in his mother's basement and keeps waiting to see signs and cosmic connections that tell him where he's supposed to be (like the movie Signs, he explains). Ed Helms plays his brother, who is driven and selfish, and whose marriage is falling apart. And their mother, Susan Sarandon, is suddenly being wooed by a secret admirer in what she believes must be an elaborate prank. As the day goes on and their plots intersect, it all does come to a point, but I like the way the movie doesn't force the emotional payoffs or linger too much on them. It's really, at it's heart, just about what happens to Jeff to get him to take the first real step towards independent adulthood. And it hit a chord with me. ****

CARNAGE (2011)
After one kid hits another on the playground, their parents (Jodie Foster & John C. Reilly and Kate Winslet & Christoph Walz) meet together to decide how to proceed, who should apologize, and what this means for their children. It's not really about the plot so much; it's more of an excuse for four of the best actors in film today to get into a room and interact with one another, and if you find truly great acting as electrifying as I do, that's all that needs to happen. In just 79 minutes, all four actors experience just about every emotion possible, playing off of one another as opinions explode, lines are drawn, and alliances are made and unmade. If there's a point to the movie, it's that good manners and civilized reasoning can be stripped away as soon as it comes down to my kid vs. your kid. This movie pulled me in and made me pay attention, and it rewarded me much more than that lumbering mess The Five-Year Engagement did. ****

Flat and dull. Like All-Star Superman, this animated flick takes one of the great comic book stories and takes no chances with it, holds no surprises, and is unimaginatively straightforward. At times, David Mazzuechelli's art is replicated so exactly that you could be watching one of those insipid motion comics. It's a good story, but not told in a way that's innovative or even alive. Bryan Cranston is very good as the voice of Jim Gordon; Ben McKenzie is a terrible, boring Batman (and an even worse Bruce Wayne). At least it's only an hour long. **1/2


MasterChef Observations

It was pretty obvious that it was going to be souffle night. Three souffles? That's pretty diabolical. They all looked pretty good, too, but the one I wanted to eat the most was Josh's raspberry souffle. That just looked like a dream.

So, Frank this time. Well, it's too bad, but maybe he doesn't need the boost quite so much. Maybe Josh will snap out of his infantile rage now. That would be nice. The guy I used to like and couldn't wait to see cook has really become a little baby, nursing his sullen anger at Frank for making the exact same choice he would've made during elimination two episodes ago. Dude, he did it to save himself and try to win the competition, not to specifically screw over you. It's like on Hell's Kitchen when someone gets put up for elimination after a real, actual screw-up, and then they leer at the camera about how they're going to get revenge on everyone and they didn't come here to make friends and throwing people under buses and such. How does anything ever get done in our society when everyone's just being a gigantic baby? (Oh, right: nothing does.)

Oh, and can we dial Josh down a bit? "I feel like Gordon Ramsay is my mentor." Oh, jeez. In his mind, there's already this whole legacy where there's Gordon's mentor, then Gordon, and then himself, obviously the next Gordon Ramsay. Come on, man. Just a little humility is too much to ask for from reality TV contestants.

Anyway, I wouldn't mind seeing Josh go in the next round. Christine and Becky is probably a finale I could handle. I guess it comes down to how they're going to set up the next challenge; do they want to make it something Christine can do, or do they want to make it really tough for her? Is her narrative the one they most want to highlight, or will they ultimately do what they do every season and let the white chick win? Or will it really be Josh? All I know is, without Monti Carlo around, it's a whole lot less exciting to me.

One other observation: Graham Elliott must be stopped. For whatever reason, the lipstick is what finally broke me this week. He dresses like a sitcom writer's bizarre idea of a parody of a Japanese TV chef from the 90s, and his pretension was completely unchained last night. That look of thoughtful concentration as he tasted, just, good god. Remember when we liked him for being the one who wasn't so full of himself? Now he's having eight courses of himself and considering what mint sauce will go well with himself for dessert.

:: Hell's Kitchen: Um... jeez, I can't even remember what happened. Just give it to Christina and let's all go home.

:: Hotel Hell: This show could really use an extra hour. It's just everybody getting upset for forty minutes, five minutes of pep talk, everything that goes into rehabbing the business (mostly to do with the restaurant aspect) happens off-camera between scenes, Gordon takes off his clothes and bathes, a dinner service that goes well, and problem solved, buh-bye! It's so arbitrary that it barely happens. There aren't many more of these, right?

Kate Upton

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Shit on a Shingle, Melting Chickens and Douche Points, Oh My!

ME: [noticing the sign at the grocery store that says "Shingles Vaccine Available Here"] Oh, man, is shingles going around now?

BECCA: Yeah, it is.

ME: You know... I just realized that I still don't know what that actually is.

BECCA: It's like chicken pox for adults.

ME: But don't you know that when you have shingles you shit yourself to death?

BECCA: Do you?

ME: I have no idea. That's what I always thought when I was a kid. Like it was dysentery but more painful or something. I don't know where I got that idea.

BECCA: Maybe from shit on a shingle.

ME: Yeah.

BECCA: You know what that is, right?

ME: Sure.

BECCA: We used to have it when I was a kid.

ME: ... Like... for dinner?

BECCA: Yeah.

ME: [Grossed out beyond words, making a disgusted face.]

BECCA: What? I thought you knew what it was!

ME: I thought it was just some phrase! It's a real thing that people eat?

BECCA: Yeah! You just have something like chipped beef or creamy chicken on toast.

ME: ... What?

BECCA: I can't believe you didn't know that.

ME: Well, I only ever heard that phrase when someone accidentally hit their thumb with a hammer.

BECCA: It's good! We used to have it all the time.

ME: I have to say, I'm kind of grossed out right now.

BECCA: Why? Because of the word shit in the name of a food?

ME: Because if there are two words that I hate hearing together--

BECCA: "Chipped" and "beef"?

ME: "Creamy" and "chicken."

BECCA: What? Why?

ME: Chicken shouldn't be creamy!

BECCA: It's not creamy on it's own! It's a sauce you put on it or a stew you make from it! You like cream of chicken and rice soup!

ME: The cream is obviously from the rice.

BECCA: What?


BECCA: [sighing heavily]

ME: Creamy chicken always sounds like some chicken that has a bad skin disease and is, like, sweating mucus or something.


ME: I know! It's gross!

BECCA: "Well, Ma, get the tongs, the chickens've got the mucus again."

ME: And its eye is melting out or something.


ME: It's like a Garbage Pail Kid, basically. You cooked and ate Garbage Pail Kids for dinner.

BECCA: Yes, that's what we did, idiot.

ME: Ick. Eating actual shit on a roofing shingle sounds more appetizing to me.

BECCA: I think it was a wartime thing, because you could make it for so little money.

ME: Well, I was eating toast points and caviar during the war, so I have no idea what you're talking about.

BECCA: And yet you don't know what a Bellini is. So uncultured. So pretentious.

ME: You mean the cocktail?

BECCA: No, it's like a thin little pancake.

ME: No, I have no idea what you're talking about and I dispute that it's actually a thing.

BECCA: B-L-I-N-I. Bellini.

ME [checking Wikipedia] Blini? It's just a blintz. Just call it a blintz, you pretentious foodie! Anyway, it looks like it should be pronounced "bleenie."

BECCA: Well, on all the cooking shows they pronounce it "bellini."

ME: You're going to look at an ass like Guy Fieri and tell me he knows anything he's talking about? The guy has douche points in his hair 20 years too late. He looks like an early 90s pornstar on a coke bender. Listen to that guy talk.

BECCA: Well, the places he goes are cool.

ME: They are, but the show would actually function better without him. He's just some schmuck who mistakenly thinks that having douche points and wearing his sunglasses on the back of his head give him a personality. His show kind of scares me for two reasons.

BECCA: Okay.

ME: First, I completely and utterly despise watching him shove the food into his mouth. It's gross. It's just fucking gross to watch. I get it, you're enthusiastic about food. You know what people who love food do? Chew it, motherfucker. When you have passed the point of chewing and tasting and savoring your food, and the object of the game is simply to shove it down your gullet and swallow it like a duck, you've just completely lost the point of having a show about food in the first place.

BECCA: I admit, I can't actually watch him eat. I can't look at it.

ME: The second reason his show scares me is that he always has trouble breathing. He talks like a guy with his body under massive strain. Like, you know those guys like Billy Mays who are always screaming and barely breathing because they're all coked up to the gills? Guy Fieri's like that. It's like he's about to go crazy and just start fucking the food while he screams about conspiracy theories and his vision goes blurry. He's like an animal. It's like at any second he's just going to go nuts or have a massive, massive heart attack. I mean, I know that, logically, they wouldn't show it on TV, so it's not like this is going to be the episode of Diners, Dickheads and Douche Points where he suddenly goes into a frenzy before collapsing, but I still can't relax while watching him.

BECCA: I... yeah, that's all pretty accurate. You know what else I hate about him?

ME: The fat guy bowling shirts?

BECCA: He keeps saying "money," like it's still Swingers times. Like it's still cool to be into the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and pretend you're Vince Vaughan.

ME: Oh god... and people are still embarrassed by pastels.

BECCA: Well, they should be.

Monday, August 27, 2012

80s Revisited: Quick Change

Quick Change (1990)
Directed by Howard Franklin & Bill Murray; screenplay by Howard Franklin; produced by Bill Murray & Robert Greenhut

I saw this movie, like so many others, when it was on cable constantly in the very early 1990s. I remember my Dad liked it, so we watched it a couple of times. Then I mostly forgot it and decided it was time for a re-evaluation. Watching it last night, I began to realize why I had forgotten so much of it, but I have a hard time putting a name to exactly what the problem is.

As the movie begins, we follow Bill Murray, dressed as a clown, as he robs a bank and creates a hostage situation. His plan is brilliant: his accomplices (girlfriend Geena Davis and childhood friend Randy Quaid) are already inside, and no one can identify him because of the makeup. He thwarts the police (led by Jason Robards, who is really good in this, as he nearly always was) at every turn, then pretends to be a released hostage so he and his accomplices can get away with the money. The cops are supposed to think the clown's still inside.

I remembered that part of the movie really well; it's tight, it's funny, it's slick and well-acted. After the escape (which happens about 20 minutes into what is a refreshingly lean, focused, short movie, here in the days of 3 hour epic meditations on the meaning of Batman), I had forgotten the entirety of the plot. What happens after is an exercise in frustration as the three get lost, lose their car, get lost some more, and Bill Murray talks his way out of several situations while Robards combs the city looking for him before he can get to the airport and fly to Fiji (or Martinique, depending on which reservation they make).

After that great opening, the film sort of becomes a simmer. I remember Roger Ebert describing the film as funny but not inspired, and I think that's a great way to put it. Though it remains a comedy throughout, and a relatively well-paced one, the one thing it doesn't really do well is generate laughs. It amuses, and Murray's skill as a comic actor is evident throughout, but somehow almost none of it connects. It should be a lot more fun than this watching Bill Murray talk Mafia functionaries out of $6000, but it just never catches fire. It just sort of happens and we watch it happen but it never hits the target.

There is one major exception where the film does pull me back in, and that's a terrific, tense sequence where Murray needs to go into a corner grocer to get exact change for a bus that goes near the airport. To do so, he's got to wade through a seeming ocean of cops and bystanders without getting recognized, and avoid a mob enforcer who wants his money back, and wait for a customer at the front of the line who has seemingly an endless amount of groceries. All before the hardass bus driver drives off in accordance with his rigid, timed-to-the-second schedule. Oh, and there's a foreign cab driver with the cops just looking to ID him. The sequence is just amazingly suspenseful, and it's the only time I found myself really involved in these three and their attempts to flee New York City.

Otherwise, I never really got involved in the characters at all. I got involved in the actors, because they're all good. Murray is a consummate pro, and Geena Davis is always great. Jason Robards is somehow driven and laid back at the same time, and Randy Quaid's crazy is reined-in and almost sweet. But I just never became invested in their story, their desires, or their disgust with the big city.

At least the pay-off is nicely handled at the end. But the journey isn't anything more than kind of entertaining, a little tedious, and curiously removed. Too bad.

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Song of the Week: "Take It Easy"

For my wife, who likes the Eagles, somehow.

Just Some Random Things

All day yesterday I felt like I'd been poisoned and my guts were rotting out. We also had a sudden problem with gnats in the apartment. Trying to find the source, Becca discovered that there were gnats in the kitchen. Inside a package of bread. Inside. I had a couple of sandwiches the other day. So now I think I know what made me sick. For fuck's sake. Well, there's one supermarket I probably won't be shopping at again... (Not my favorite in town, fortunately.)

:: I would absolutely read One-Eyes. Provided it was still 1978. Today... Let's be honest, I just don't think anyone in comics today could do it and get the tone right.

:: If you're going to take what is clearly quite a lot of time out of your life to draw nude celebrities and post the pictures on the internet, could you please figure out how anatomy works first?

:: The Many Faces of Monti Carlo. (I need MasterChef to end, like, today, because my interest is bottoming out without Monti.)

That look of disgust. That's me when my downstairs neighbors are having a party and then everyone starts singing along to some Beatles song at a quarter to midnight. The quiet summer days are over...

:: I have a new office chair. I bought a chair that was zebra print because it was the best-reviewed chair where I ordered it from and it only came in zebra print. It's pretty comfortable, but having a zebra print chair makes me feel like I hunted David Lee Roth and skinned his pants and made a chair with them.