Monday, April 30, 2007

Baltimore Style!

So, thanks to my Magic DVR Box, I no longer get the West Michigan feed of the CW Network. They don’t have local news or anything, so it’s not a big deal. For whatever reason, I now get CW Baltimore.

On the West Michigan feed, I used to see PSA’s from the City of Kalamazoo about the importance of obeying traffic signals. Friendly policemen explained left turns, that sort of thing. Now, on the Baltimore feed, I get to see a PSA reminding people that if they’re on probation and they’re caught carrying a weapon, they go back to jail.

Seriously. They show a young man talking on the phone, making plans to meet somebody. He reaches to grab his keys and his handgun. Then the voiceover explains that if you’re on probation, possession of a weapon is an automatic trip back to jail. It turns out everything I’ve seen on The Wire is true, because Baltimore looks like one tough town.

Although I have to wonder how many of these repeat offenders who travel with handguns are watching Gilmore Girls anyway. That might not be the most effective use of airtime.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Another Ten Little Things I Love About TV

It's not as if anybody demanded it, but I like to end the week on a happy note. So here are another ten little things I love about TV.

1. (Gilmore Girls) Paul Anka the dog! He's the laziest dog on TV. I like the running joke about his various neuroses, because we never really see them in action. He just sits there, looking all fuzzy and adorable.

2. (30 Rock) "The Rural Juror". Jenna's awful and unpronounceable movie. There's never a time when it's not funny to see Liz try to say the name.

3. (The Shield) The unusable men's room. For four seasons, the whole squad had to share the ladies' room, until Captain Rawlings had the men's room fixed. Such a shame. Broken toilet, we hardly knew ye.

4. (Justice League Unlimited) The Question. Seriously, he's a paranoid superhero with a trenchcoat and no face who quotes Ayn Rand and battles evil by hitting it with his car. Has there ever been a greater character? No, no there hasn't.

5. (Oz) What the hell was that thing Rebadow always wore around his neck, anyway? We will never know, my friends.

6. (The Simpsons) The long-established, though infrequently invoked running joke where Homer is an expert on Supreme Court Justices. Comedy gold.

7. (The Office) Any scene with Michael and Darryl. Never before has there been such a perfect dramatization of the national dialogue on race.

8. (Reno 911!) Gary, the affable Klansman. He may have reached his peak this year when he took his (Black) girlfriend to the fair, clad in full Klan regalia.

9. (How I Met Your Mother) Barney and Marshall's ongoing Slap Bet. Barney's still got three slaps coming, he just doesn't know when. Hee.

10. (Arrested Development) Franklin! After his first appearance, I left my friend Lana a voicemail in Franklin's voice, wherein I called here a 'honky bitch'. Turns out, she didn't see that episode until after she heard my message. It was awkward.

LOST 3-18 "D.O.C."

OK, this is my second try. The IT guys came around and crashed my computer after I’d typed a page and a half. I will try to recreate my insights and jokes as best I can.

First off, potentially mad props to Kelli. She believes that we first saw last week’s hula girl in the Dharma van. My tapes are in disarray, but I’m inclined to believe her, as she knows things. She also says that Penny and Juliet have similar bone structure. Do with that what you will.

Hey, it’s a Sun episode. I guess I can take it easy this week, since her episodes are about looking for a lost wedding ring, or learning English, or gardening. Yes sir, I doubt I’ll have much to say…. Wait, what was that?

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. “They found the plane. There were no survivors.” That’s right, they’re going to the purgatory place again. However, given that we now know that communication with the outside world is possible, (Or was possible, thank you very much, Locke.) and the fact that we actually saw Juliet arrive at the island, that seems impossible. Benry’s good, but I doubt he can control where people go in the afterlife, you know? More likely, somebody with a lot of resources faked a crash site to make sure nobody went off looking for Flight 815. My guess is that it’s Mittelos. We don’t know the scope of their operations, but they know where the island is and they know the Lostaways are on it. And they don’t like strangers poking around the island, so they’d certainly go to a lot of trouble to deter search parties. We don’t have any reason to believe that the Hanso Foundation even knows that the Lostaways exist, so they probably aren’t going to fake a crash. And Penny knows only that Desmond is on the island – she wouldn’t know about the Lostaways either. Still, you know they’re getting the purgatory theorists all whooped up. Somebody you work with will say “See, I told you so…”. Everybody works with a purgatory theorist.

And hey, Mikhail’s alive! (Funny story: I was about 60 seconds behind real time, since I paused my magic DVR box to go get a drink. I get a phone call that opens with “He’s alive!?!” So I had one minute to wonder who was surprisingly alive. So I got to spend a few seconds thinking Mr. Eko was going to show up on the scene, none the worse for wear. It was, as you probably noticed, not Mr. Eko.) So how did he get non-dead? I mean, foam came out of his mouth and everything. And that was a lot of blood pouring out of his head-holes. I do believe we have an official Island Resurrection! (Sure, you can make a chase for Charlie coming back after being hung in Season One, but that’s not quite as definitive.) Now, last time I saw the Lostaway Cemetery, the graves were undisturbed. Clearly, nobody fought their way to the surface. And back in Season One, Jack and Kate dug up the body of Marshall Shrapnel to get his key, and that was definitely a corpse. It seems like nobody who’s been buried has come back. And we’ve seen corpses underwater and old corpses in the caves. Clearly, people do die on the island. Still, Island Magic is common enough that Mikhail actually works it in to his treatment of Mystery Woman. “You punctured a lung. Walk it off.” This is going to be interesting, I tell you what.

So that probably means Miss Klugh is still alive, too. So she wasn’t so much willing to die to protect a secret as she was willing to be mildly inconvenienced to protect a secret. Perhaps what she actually yelled in Russian was “Please remember to feed my dog until my heart grows back.” And do you think Island Resurrection applies also to freshly deceased bodies that end up on the island? Any chance Jack’s dad and Sayid’s friend are still walking around? (Man, my theory about Jack’s dad is getting less and less crazy every week. Could I be a visionary?)

By the way, I don’t speak Italian, but Mystery Woman was definitely not saying ‘Thank you’, as Mikhail would have us believe.

Seems a little unfair that men are super-fertile on the island, and pregnancy is a death sentence. I mean, you can basically get pregnant by holding hands with a man while standing in the rain. And Juliet said she would get a sample from Kate next. I’m getting the creepy feeling that Kate and Sawyer were a breeding pair. The Others are really gross.

And I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but we (OK, I) had assumed that ‘God will bless you as he blessed Jacob’ referred to fertility (Jacob’s 12 sons), but apparently that’s not the case. Now that Benry’s referenced an actual Jacob, that’s a moot point, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

I liked that Charlie could identify Mikhail, even though they’d never met. Finally, the Lostaways are starting to share information. It took them a while to figure that out, didn’t it?

I don’t know why I found it worth noting that this episode marked the 90th day on the island. Actually, that’s three months. It was the Lostaways’ first trimester! And since the crash was September 22, that means it’s December 20 as of this episode. Hey, Christmas on Lost Island! How mad are you going to be if the Season Finale involves Sawyer being visited by three spirits and learning the true meaning of Christmas? And if Sun’s baby was conceived 53 days ago, that means it was right before Jin set sail with Michael and Sawyer. I feel sort of dirty for having taken the time to figure that out.

I’m getting a little spoiled with the flashbacks. Between the recent Juliet, Desmond, and Locke flashbacks, we’ve learned a lot about the island. Jin and Sun flashbacks, while generally good, don’t really further the series plot all that much. Although it is interesting to note that Jin’s mother was a prostitute and the man who raised him may not be his biological father. Nice face-off between Sun and her father, too. It seems like if Sun’s dad, Locke’s dad, and Kate’s dad all worked together, they’d be an unstoppable force for evil. Heck, add Charlie’s dad, too. He’s mostly just a mean drunk, but ever villain team needs one of those.

Looks like next week, Locke’s back and badder than ever!

Ever yours,

Bloody Head-Hole

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

David Chase is a Magnificent Bastard

Maybe I’m just obsessive, but it seems to me that there’s been a subtle, yet distinct shift in the storytelling of The Sopranos.

David Chase is known for disregarding storytelling conventions, since real live doesn’t conform to literary formulae. That’s why he’s comfortable leaving an unresolved subplot like Furio’s disappearance or the Russian in Pine Barrens. If it were real life, Furio probably wouldn’t pop up again, so Chase doesn’t need to finish his arc. (Check out Season Five for David Chase’s ‘Fuck you’ to the people who get upset about this. In the first episode of the season, we see a grenade stashed away in a hidden compartment in Tony’s house. And then, midway through the season, we see it again. These are lengthy shots, centered on the grenade. Per Chekhov’s Pistol, the grenade should go off in the third act. But it doesn’t. It existed only as misdirection. I’d even buy a single appearance of the grenade as being an illustration of Tony’s preparedness. But two sightings, that’s David Chase screwing with you.)

Regardless of Chase’s approach to established conventions, he has been very consistent with the way the audience receives information. This isn’t a straight crime story, so we’re not presented with mysteries. For four seasons, we’ve known who the moles are, who’s getting whacked, and so on. They’ve been very upfront about anything the characters actually plan. All that time, we always saw the hits being set up or the informants being approached. (I believe there were a few episodes before it was made explicit that Pussy was wired, but it was still made pretty clear before that.) We knew Ray Curto was a mole, we saw the Feds approach Adriana. Junior and Livia’s early attempts against Tony, the massacre that ended Season One, we were in on all that. Rusty, Billy Leotardo, Jackie Jr., we saw all of those hits ordered.

It started to change in Season Five. There was an offhand comment by somebody in the FBI that they had a second mole in Tony’s crew, with no further information. And then at the end of Season Five, it turned out that New York’s Jimmy Petrille was an informant. Since the focus has been on Jersey, and Petrille would have needed a higher profile to be a tertiary character, that didn’t so much stand out as a storytelling change. In retrospect, the way we found out secondhand about Tony’s cocaine use should have stood out, but I didn’t catch it.

And then they began Season Six with the revelation that Gene Pontacervo was a mole. Gene had never been a major character, but he’d been around for most of the series. All of a sudden, Chase went and changed the rules. In the last two weeks, we’ve seen the public executions of Gerry the Hairdo and Doc Santoro. We didn’t know either of those was coming. In fact, we can’t say for certain who ordered those hits. It’s heavily implied that Doc ordered the former and Phil the latter, but ‘heavily implied’ is not how The Sopranos does things like this. Maybe it’s all tied in with Tony’s loss of control, but it is a change in storytelling, and it’s added more uncertainty to the final season.

Of course, for several years I’ve been obsessing over who started the stable fire. Tony assumed it was Ralph, but there was no direct proof one way or another. I still believe it was actually Paulie, who wanted to get back at Ralph. I’m hoping that figures into future episodes somehow. David Chase like his unresolved subplots, but last week’s episode points to an imminent explosion between Tony and Paulie.

Damn, I love my Sopranos.

Dancing with the Stars -- Week Six

This week, we saw a really fun swing group routine, and the spazziest damn jive anybody’s ever put together. At this point, we’ve got four people who could potentially win, and three who are just waiting for that awkward final dance. They know who they are.

JOEY FATONE – Or, thanks to Jimmy Kimmel, “Yoey Fatoni”. Dammit, I’ve decided that I like him. He’s actually been funny the last couple of weeks. I thought his dance this week was solid, but not spectacular. I mean, 27 out of 30 is nothing to sneeze at, but it didn’t have anything especially memorable. Based on his swing dancing, I really want to see him in the finals to see what could happen with a freestyle. The fact that Kym weighs 11 pounds has to help.

HEATHER MILLS – Last week showed us that she’s not getting the audience votes she needs. Her scores keep her at the high end of the low end, but she doesn’t have a chance of winning. I give her two weeks. Most of her dances consist of a couple of nice moves she can do, and then a bunch of awkward steps to get to those moves. And I can’t shake the feeling that she owns a t-shirt with the slogan ‘It’s all about ME’.

JOHN RATZENBERGER – I can’t believe how excited I was to see him at the recording session for “Ratatouille”. Man, I’m totally Pixar’s bitch. I like him. He’s not a contender by any means, but he’s noticeably better than Billy Ray, regardless of what the judges say. He’s fun to watch, but his limitations are obvious – particularly in the group number where his dancing could be more accurately described as ‘walking’. And Edyta’s got some serious balls to let him carry her around upside-down. Do you want Cliff Clavin being the person who essentially ensures whether or not you receive brain damage? And hey, there’s Norm in the audience. Norm!

LAILA ALI – I have to admit, she can be good. If she doesn’t practice enough, she looks ungainly and scary, but when she’s on, she’s on. This was a good dance, but she was pushing it with the ‘funk’. That wasn’t good. Also, I don’t really need to see her crotch. I don’t know if she’s trying to prove she doesn’t have a she-nis, but just cover it up, lady. I liked her joking around with the guys in practice, and in the actual Swing where she tossed Apolo. That was pretty awesome. Again, lay off on Maks! The ‘Maks is a girl’ jokes weren’t funny at first, now they’re unfunny and predictable. (By the way, every time they announce ‘Laila and Maks’, I think of the last song in ‘The Producers’. And in my mind, the movie version should have starred Larry David and David Schwimmer. And then I end up thinking about the potential comedic atom bomb of Larry David and Will Ferrell. By the time I come back to reality, the dance is almost over. My head is a snake pit.)

BILLY RAY CYRUS – Please tell me you saw that, too. There’s no way I made that up. As I said midway through the actual performance ‘Is there usually this much cock in the jive?’. Wow. There’s nothing else I can say, as my brain hurts when I try to think back on what I’ve seen.

APOLO OHNO – I hate to jump to conclusions, particularly about a sensitive situation. Still, they’re totally banging. Nice footwork as always, though I don’t approve of the chair. Too many Tucker Carlson memories. It actually creeps me out when the dances start that way, because it seems like it’s headed straight to a lap dance. And as soon as you start watching somebody else getting a lap dance, you’re Bob Crane and we’re headed into “AutoFocus” territory, and then Willem DaFoe’s hand is on your ass when you check the tape.

IAN ZIERING – Man, what does this guy have to do to get some love? It’s always constructive criticism, but they’re just not cutting this poor guy a break. I still like him, and his scored don’t reflect his improvement. Also, it’s hard to ‘have fun with it’ when every week you get skewered like he has. Still a contender, though. And seeing the Swing portion made me really want him to make the finals, just so Cheryl can put together another awesome freestyle.

This week? Let’s face it, the next three weeks John, Heather, and Billy Ray are going home. I’m actually betting on Heather. If I’m right, that’s one more week I’ll have to have Billy Ray thrust his junk directly at my TV.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Keeping the Streak Alive

Well, I honestly thought I could crank out a big post about The Sopranos while working, and it looks like that’s not going to get done today. And now that Rob is caught up on The Shield, I’m free to talk about it, but there’s no time for that, either.

Instead, just to keep my posting streak alive, congratulations to Stefani for winning The Apprentice! I picked here out as my Apprentice girlfriend back in Week 3, which is usually a harbinger of doom. Still, I do not approve of her finale makeover. I can live with the new hair, but not the contacts. I’m sorry, but the ‘glasses perched on the end of the nose’ look worked for her. On the other hand, she called out Trump for being rude in such a nice and subtle way that she deserved to win just for that.

Congratulations, Stefani! And thanks for allowing me an extra day to think about Paulie Walnuts.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Short Post About Happy Things

It’s been a long week, and with a Notable Sawyer performance scheduled for tomorrow, I’m about to kick into my performance anxiety mode where I develop alarming intestinal difficulties for a full day prior to being in front of people. Thus, I present some short bits of business to wrap up my blog-week.

-On 30 Rock last night, Tracy specifically named ‘Gordon from Sesame Street’ as one of the Black Crusaders. That might have been the single funniest line of the week. Actually, 30 Rock has gotten really good. I liked it from the beginning, but mostly as an exercise for Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan. Maybe six episodes in, the whole cast really started to gel, and the writing just took it to a whole new level. With last night’s Cleveland song, and the Black Crusaders, and hollow bones, it’s the closest anybody’s come to a live-action Simpsons.

-Speaking of The Simpsons, this season has been really good. Granted, I’m not one of those ‘Worst season ever’ fans who think everything since Season Eight has been pathetic. Still, I can tell a good episode from a bad episode. Sure, you’ll get some episodes that don’t really work, but even episodes I didn’t like at first are enjoyable when they show up in syndication. Maybe that’s because my expectations for new episodes are ridiculously high, because I’m always hoping for a classic. But this season, there have been a number of stand-out episodes. “Homerazzi”, “Revenge is a Dish Best Served Three Times” and “Springfield Up” are the ones that spring to mind immediately, and there are a couple of others I’d remember if I checked IMDB. I’m still patiently waiting for the Alan Moore episode, by the way.

-Tomorrow’s my second try at getting DirecTV. This sounds pathetic, but it could actually change my life. I’ll get to bed earlier if I don’t have to stay up for The Daily Show and Colbert Report. If I can pause Live TV, I won’t have to ignore phone calls. (Or else answer with “I’m watching The Office! Call me after 10.”) With a magic box that knows I want to record Gilmore Girls every Tuesday, I don’t have to worry about any schedule conflicts that may arise. No more running home to set the VCR for me! You know what this is? This is the summer of EJ!

Wow, other than “Planet Terror”, I’ve been pretty positive this week. Come on, pop culture! Try and piss me off!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

LOST 3-17 "Catch-22"

First off, let’s just get the most important thing out of the way. Hurley is totally right, and the Flash would beat Superman in a race. (“For charity.” Hee.) Actually, Hurley seems to be a Flash fan, as the Spanish comic book he brought to the island (which Walt was seen reading frequently in Season One) starred Flash and Green Lantern.

And here’s a mistake I’ve been making all season. The guy who recruited Juliet is named Richard Alpert. Not ‘Halprin’. Please mentally replace all my references to ‘Richard “Batmanuel” Halprin’ with ‘Richard “Batmanuel” Alpert’. This is an important difference, because as Sean pointed out, Richard Alpert was a Harvard professor who fell in with Timothy Leary and got heavily involved with the development of psychedelics, eventually they parted ways when Alpert pursued the Hindu faith and changed his name to Baba Ram Dass. He wrote the bestseller “Be Here Now”. Sean probably has more to say on the topic, and I thank him for pointing out my mistake.

The episode’s title obviously refers to Joseph Heller’s novel. First off, it’s one of the greatest books ever and should be read by all. It’s (essentially) about doomed fighter pilots in World War II. If I start making LOST comparisons now, we’ll just end up going down the rabbit hole. However, if I recall correctly, there is a character who suffered from prophetic dreams. More to the point, the title itself refers to a no-win situation, which doesn’t bode well for the Lostaways. And there’s a copy of the book in the mystery parachutist’s backpack. Actually, it’s called ‘Ardil-22’, which is the Portuguese title. And when did we last hear Portuguese? Why, at the end of Season Two when those people were monitoring transmissions. (A little bit of research shows that only the version of the book released in Brazil uses that title. The same translation has a different title in Portugal proper.)

Not much of not in the flashbacks. Which is not to say there was anything wrong with them, but they were more about who Desmond is than the meta-plot. Dude’s got a problem with commitment though, doesn’t he? I was all excited that I got the ‘Moriah Vineyards’ reference to Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac, but then they went and actually talked about it, so I seem less clever. Note that the vintage on the bottle was 1995. It’s rare that the flashbacks give us a specific year like that. Also, the Monk said they made 108 cases. That is, of course, the sum of Hurley’s numbers. (And the timer on the hatch computer.)

Kate and Sawyer’s ‘mix tape’ talk made me laugh. (I’m not naming names, but somebody here considers it a key part of the mating ritual.) Also, they mentioned Bernard, who we haven’t seen all season. I miss Rose and Bernard. I realize that episodes focused on the middle-aged married couple are not exactly Ratings Gold, but I’d like to see them show up again.

Now that was an interesting concept, with Desmond changing the future by saving Charlie. If he hadn’t saved Charlie, Penny would have been the one in the tree. Basically, the plot was based on Schroedinger’s Cat. You seal a cat in a box containing a radioactive isotope. The isotope might decay and release a poison gas and kill the cat, or it might not. Until you open the box, you don’t know the outcome. While the box is closed, the cat exists in two contradictory realities, and the act of opening the box forces one of those realities out of existence. (It’s essentially a way of explaining how the act of observing quantum events alters their outcome.) There’s a parachutist in the tree. If Charlie dies, she’s Penny. If he lives, she’s this other woman.

I’m guessing that the mystery woman has never met Desmond, and Penny gave her the picture of the two of them so that Desmond would trust her. I assume we’ll learn more about this in the next couple of weeks. Penny seems to know a lot about the island, given that they located Desmond by monitoring electromagnetic anomalies. She somehow knows that he’s on an island with a giant electromagnet. And yet, she clearly didn’t know where the island was until they located the anomaly. Interesting, eh?

You know how I feel about the Hurley/Jin team. When Hurley was actually freaked out by Jin’s Korean language ghost story, that was almost a love letter to me. I also loved Hurley’s story in the background where he referred to the Chubacabra as ‘A bear with spines, but Mexican.’

Kate is really starting to get on my nerves. Look, lady. You don’t have to be everybody’s favorite all the time. You can just tell that she never had any female friends. Ever. And I might be crazy, but I kind of think the ‘Shut up and don’t talk’ line is the same one Ana Lucia used before she and Sawyer did their dirty sinful business. (I know afterward she said “If you tell anybody about this, I’ll kill you.” Poor Sawyer, having to be everybody’s dirty little secret.)

And here’s something. Women die when they get pregnant on the island. It seems they also die after sex. Shannon and Ana Lucia were both shot in the stomach a short time after their interludes. Granted, the island didn’t kill them, like it does the pregnant women, but it’s worthy of note. (I do think that’s a deliberate thematic choice, rather than the writers subconsciously punishing women.) Watch out, Kate!

Kind of short this week, but there’s some food for thought. It was much more about Desmond himself than Island mysteries, so there’s just not as much to obsess over. Next week, it looks like there’s more information about the pregnancy plague.

Hey, did any of you recognize that hula girl statue they found? I feel like we’ve seen it someplace before. Was it in the Portuguese monitoring station at the end of Season Two? Either that, or maybe it showed up in somebody’s car? Any ideas there?

Ever yours,

Richard “Batmanuel” ALPERT

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ten Little Things I Love About TV

I installed a program to track Web Traffic yesterday, and it turns out I had zero visitors. Nothing really brings home the futility of this enterprise quite like cold, hard figures.

Anyway, I’ve been feeling down for a while, so I thought I’d focus on happiness. Herewith, I present Ten Little Things About TV That Make Me Happy. This is not a comprehensive list, but rather, part of an occasional series.

1. (The Daily Show) Jon Stewart’s impression of George Bush. It’s an impression that can best be described as ‘feeble’. And yet, it’s funny every single time.

2. (The Sopranos) Any appearance by Little Carmine. His constant malapropisms have gotten so bad that I can’t even tell what he thinks he’s saying anymore. Again, funny every time.

3. (Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law) The Bear. Every episode they work in that bear, usually just standing around with a dopey smile on his face. I love that bear!

4. (My Name is Earl) TV’s Tim Stack! Especially when he’s drunk. Even more especially when he’s appearing in an episode actually written by Tim Stack.

5. (King of the Hill) The fact that Joe Jack consistently calls Hank ‘Honey’. There’s never any reason given, and it doesn’t seem to faze Hank in the slightest. You just know there’s some back story there, and it’s really none of our business.

6. (Search for the Next Pussycat Doll) Whenever they cut to a Li’l Kim reaction shot. She only has one reaction, one of ‘mute incomprehension’. There is absolutely no point in that shot, but we see it at least once in every episode. I have to admire that commitment.

7. (Lost) The Jin/Hurley Comedy Team. Pair these two up, and it’s gold! I love the way they both pretend they understand each other, and even interpret the other’s responses.

8. (Heroes) The way Hiro and Ando’s subtitles appear near their mouths, instead of at the bottom of the screen. I’ve never seen that done with subtitles before, and it makes them look like they have word balloons.

9. (The Simpsons) The long-standing rivalry between Arnie Pye (In the Sky) and Kent Brockman. Arnie just has this venomous, naked hatred for Brockman, and I love it.

10. (The Office) Bobble-head Dwight! No further explanation should be necessary.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Weekend Movies Part 2: Aqua Teen Hunger Force

You know what I want to do? I want to see "Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters" again, only I want to see it with somebody completely unfamiliar with the series. Ideally, somebody who’s never heard the words “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” in that order. Somebody who will initially question why the lead characters are talking food products. It is my hypothesis that this person will, before the end of the movie, do the following in some order: Scream, weep, yell at me, and bleed out of their eye sockets.

It’s not for everybody, and it’s completely incomprehensible to the uninitiated. The plot, involving an exercise machine that will bring about the apocalypse, is just something for the jokes to stick to. The animation is no better than the already crude animation on Adult Swim. (I sincerely believe that they spent at least 50% of their budget licensing “In the Air Tonight”.) And yet, it’s sort of brilliant. The opening sequence is mind-numbingly funny, easily the best bit of the whole thing. Not all of the jokes land, but with the sheer density, they don’t need to.

Being a continuity-obsessive, I was happy to see that the movie tied together the various characters from the ATHF bumper segments into a single storyline. I’m never going to complain about the Mooninites, that’s for damn sure. I don’t really have a lot to say, because it’s the sort of thing you just absorb. If you like the show, you’ll like the movie. If not, there’s nothing I can do for you.

Along with virtually every recurring character from the series, the movie features guest appearances by Space Ghost, Bruce Campbell, Fred Armisen (as Time Lincoln), Tina Fey (as a burrito), Jon Benjamin, and Rush drummer Neil Peart (as himself, only he’s tiny, enslaved by a sentient watermelon, and can resurrect the dead). Personally, I think it’s a beautiful piece of surrealism and nutrition. Your mileage may vary.

Dancing with the Stars -- Week Five

Wow. Did you ever think you’d see a couple get perfect 10’s dancing to a song originally performed by a cartoon lemur voiced by Borat? If you did, you’re either crazy or a filthy liar. Either way, seek help.

Here’s this weeks dancer round-up:

IAN ZIERING – Solid as ever. He’s been sort of stuck at the 24-out-of-30 place for a long time, and now that more people are cracking that score, he has to step it up. I do think that the possibility of not winning is starting to freak Cheryl out. It still seems like the judges are pulling for him, with the non-cryptic constructive criticism.

CLYDE DREXLER – Oh. Oh oh oh. That wasn’t good. I mean, it was actually worse than his unfairly-drubbed performance from last week. I still think the judges are inappropriately mean to him. It’s not like he’s Master P or anything. Regardless, Clyde’s not going to get any better, so he’s not going to make the judges eat their words. It seems like the kind thing to do is to let him go home. It can’t be fun to keep doing something he’s not good at on live TV and then get mocked for it.

HEATHER MILLS – OK, so they’re not talking about the leg, but they are showing it. Subtle. And Jonathan, you’re no Steve Carell. Just saying. I think she’s peaked. If she can’t incorporate a handspring into the choreography, she’s just not bringing anything to it. Also, since when can you actually fall on your ass and still get straight 7’s?

JOEY FATONE – You know, he did well, but I can’t remember the dance at all. I do remember that Kym is showing more and more boob every week, so if they make it to the finals, we could be in for actual nudity. I’d also like to think that they cut to a shot of Lance Bass when the judges said his dancing was ‘too feminine’ because Bass was laughing at his friend, and not because he’s gay. I am officially cutting slack.

JOHN RATZENBERGER – Props. Dammit, he went for the props. I thought we had a deal, Clavin! It appears as if he’s going for the Jerry Springer “Funny old guy” vibe. This is sort of the point where it’s clear that certain people don’t have a chance which has to be frustrating for them. I still like him, but it’s sort of a matter of whether he goes home this week or next week.

LAILA ALI – Don’t judge, but I actually thought the stuff with her fiancĂ©e was funny. Maksim’s a damn good sport to be putting up with this on a weekly basis. She was less scary this week, but I’m not getting the same pants-tent over her that the judges are. Plus, I’m never going to like anyone who bemoans her performance with “I’m always first at everything, and now I’m not.” Oh, poor you. You have stumbled upon one thing at which you might not actually win. That must be hell. As soon as I win something, I’ll try to identify.

APOLO OHNO – Beyond the aforementioned lemur song, this was a really good dance. I was pretty apathetic toward him at the beginning, but now I’m genuinely enthused to see him perform. I still have the feeling that he’s sort of a prick, but I can’t verify that. I’m not even sure why I think that. Anyway, getting perfect scores this early in the competition is pretty amazing.

BILLY RAY CYRUS – OK, that was really funny. Dude, you got outdanced by Ratzenberger. His body is doing weird things all the time – I’ve probably said before that he’s fighting his natural instinct to line-dance, but I never expected it to manifest quite this openly. It’s sort of like tiny aliens controlling Richard Nixon’s body. (Which is a reference to an aborted Web cartoon for which I wrote 12 episodes before the animator flaked out. It’s almost like I’m a me-geek.) And we’re back to the Hannah Montana references, which merely make me feel old.

I think Clyde’s going out this week. Come on, people, it’s cruel to keep him on. Clyde wants to go home! We can set our sights on Billy Ray next week. He’s still going to suck then.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Weekend Movies Part 1: Grindhouse

I used to be more of a film nerd. I still watch a lot of movies, but it’s different. I’m not going to sit and watch a poorly-written and -acted movie simply because it has great cinematography. You know what has really great cinematography? The outside world. I’m not going to pretend I like a movie because some other film nerd has determined that it’s ‘important’. Just because it’s on the AFI list of the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, that doesn’t mean that it’s not actually wrist-slittingly boring. Do you know what the chances are that I will ever watch “Lawrence of Arabia”? The chances are zero. It’s so much easier to just like what I like without having to think about whether I’m supposed to like it.

I went on a serious Tarantino-bender after “Reservoir Dogs” came out. I followed his work and media coverage with an unseemly fervor. That went on for years until the first “Kill Bill” came out and I realized that some of his stuff sucks. (For the record, I loved “Kill Bill 2”. The first one, however, physically hurt me.) He’s not really that prolific, so it’s hard to build up an extensive overview, but sometimes he’s just not that good. His original script for “Natural Born Killers”? Kind of bad. “Jackie Brown”? Actually pretty good, but the best stuff was where he was faithful to the Elmore Leonard novel. The divergences were not so good. Still, the Tarantino name will at least get me into the theater. When he’s on, he’s really on.

Robert Rodriguez? Well, I was way into him for a while, too. He was a rebel, man! And then “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” came out. That’s when I realized I hadn’t liked a movie he’d written since “Desperado”, and I hadn’t liked one he’d directed since “From Dusk Till Dawn”. Sure, “Sin City” had its moments, but that had more to do with Frank Miller than Rodriguez. And Rodriguez failed to realize that Miller swings from genius to hack to misanthrope with poor judgment rapidly and without warning. As a director, I think maybe you’re supposed to catch something like that.

All in all, my enthusiasm for “Grindhouse” was minimal. I’m not really into horror, and I have little interest in exploitation flicks. (Excepting anything shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000.) Still, it seemed like it could be some goofy fun. Plus, explosions. I do love my explosions.

Rodriguez’ “Planet Terror” was halfway enjoyable. The last half (everything after the ‘missing reel’) was pure chaos, which is fun to see. Big, stupid fun. And Rose McGowan rocked hard. She had a machine-gun leg, for God’s sake! Naveen Andrews (Sayid!) and Freddy Rodriguez were enjoyable, too. I especially liked the idea that Freddy Rodriguez is some sort of legendary badass. Yeah, he’s four feet, nine inches of pure action.

The first half, however, starts out at ‘humorously bad’ and makes its way over to ‘regular bad’. Bad acting, stilted dialogue, boring exposition. I realize that’s a tradition of B-movies, but that doesn’t make it enjoyable to watch. I mean, those movies have boring exposition because they have no budgets. Unappealing performers standing in a room and talking are the only tool they have. I almost didn’t make it through “Planet Terror” – there was that horrifying moment when I was fighting sleep only 30 minutes into a 3 hour movie. Sure, the big battle is fun, but there’s almost no reason for the first half of the movie to exist.

Quentin’s “Death Proof” on the other hand, was fun from start to finish. Sure, the opening is slow and talky, but they’re actually saying things that are interesting or at least funny. (He does need to let go of the foot fetish, though.) Get this: Quentin Tarantino wrote lengthy scenes about women! Talking to each other! Can you name me one instance in Tarantino’s body of work where women spoke to each other as anything other than a precursor to a fight to the death? And he wrote Black women, who are not entirely summed up by the fact that they are Black! That’s a milestone for him. (In the event that Quentin Tarantino is actually one of my eleven readers, please put Tracie Thoms in as many movies as you can. She nailed it. She should be your Uma.)

Kurt Russell as ‘Stuntman Mike’ is appropriately unsettling, and the car scenes are beautiful. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a non-CGI car chase, and it really is a whole different experience. With CG sequences, the reality of the layout often isn’t well-established, and it tends to ruin the scene for me. My only complaint is that I just didn’t get the ending. It doesn’t make a lot of dramatic sense to end with the victory of the people who’ve had the upper hand for the last ten minutes. Maybe that’s one of the tropes of the grindhouse movies Quentin is emulating. I really don’t know, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Basically, Rodriguez made a bad movie using the budget of a good one, and Tarantino made a good movie set against the backdrop of a bad one. It’s noteworthy that they both pull the ‘missing reel’ gag. Tarantino uses it to skip over a lap dance (which was kind of funny), and Rodriguez uses it to skip over plot and character development. That’s just frustrating, to have a filmmaker actually acknowledge that the plot isn’t important. If he doesn’t think so, then why the hell am I bothering?

The movie also includes four fake trailers, which are hilarious. Rodriguez’ trailer for “Machete” is actually more fun than “Planet Terror”. “They fucked with the wrong Mexican.” “Thanksgiving” is a dead-on parody, even if I’m not entirely sure that Eli Roth is joking. And Rob Zombie’s “Werewolf Women of the SS” is a masterpiece of exploitation weirdness. That trailer actually contains the best joke in the whole movie, which I’m not going to spoil.

That’s the first of my two movies this weekend. Check back later for Movie Number Two!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Dad, about my name...

I got curious as to whether there were any people in America with the surname 'Hitler'. On the one hand, it's not like he didn't have relatives. On the other hand, it's not like you wouldn't change it.

Since I'm not Veronica Mars, I had to to a state-by-state lookup. Since I'm easily bored, I only did states which I have visited. It turns out, there are two Peter Hitlers in Wisconsin.

Do they not watch the news?

Scattershot Movie Previews

First off, I’m getting a TiFaux of my very own this weekend! I’ve been jealous of those possessing the Magic DVR Box for over a year now, and it’s finally within my grasp. As of about 4:00 Saturday, you can expect my transformation into Gollum to be complete. (That was my one Tolkien reference for the year, I hope you enjoyed it. It’s possible that I may make future jokes about the overwhelming gayness of the Hobbits, but I think Kevin Smith ruined that fertile vein.)

I guess today will be my Summer Movie Preview. Please note that I’m defining ‘Summer’ as ‘Anything I will see after the moment I publish this post’. Further, this is limited only to movies that I can think of off the top of my head, and with a couple of exceptions, it’s only movies that I intend to see. So this is not a comprehensive list or anything. Plus, I’ll probably see a dozen movies that I’m not listing, but if I haven’t seen the preview, I have no reason to believe it exists.

Grindhouse – I know for certain that I will be disappointed, and yet I’m eager to see it. Even when Tarantino gets bogged down in references to things that I don’t care about, at least he’s interesting. He’ll throw something new out there that gets emulated for the next several years. I admire Robert Rodriguez’ work ethic and commitment, but I don’t really like his movies. And still there’s some part of me that’s saying “Yeah! Grindhouse!” Stupid part.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters – You have to love that title. I’m not as big an Aqua Teen fan as some of my friends, but I find them consistently entertaining. And considering the movie not only guest-stars Bruce Campbell as the heretofore unseen member of the Force, but also boasts an appearance by Space Ghost, I’m as giddy as some sort of schoolgirl.

Hot Fuzz – It’s the guys from “Shaun of the Dead” doing a cop film! How can this not be the greatest thing ever? Oh, it will be.

Spider-Man 3 – I actually already have my ticket. I can not even being to express my excitement. And I don’t even like Venom! Considering there are basically three different ad campaigns, each focusing on a different villain, it’s pretty clear that this movie is going to be seriously busy. Excellent cast, Sam Raimi’s still at the helm, and it’s Spidey! My only worry is that all of the awesome will make my head melt.

Pirates of the Caribbean 3 – I didn’t see the first two, so it’s unlikely that I’m jumping on for the end. I like pirates, I just didn’t like the idea of a movie based on a theme park ride. Also, none of the stars appeal to me at all, so I just never got sucked in. I’m sure you’re going to see it, so I hope you have fun.

Shrek 3 – I assume that I’ll enjoy it quite a bit, but only upon reflection will I be irritated by the pop culture references. Unless Tom Waits reprises his role as Captain Hook, in which case I promise not to be irritated by anything. Actually, I see that Puss in Boots is back, and he pretty much made the second movie. My enthusiasm is officially increased.

Bourne 3 – Whatever the hell it’s called. The third Matt Damon “Bourne” movie. The other two were solidly entertaining, with some memorable sequences, so I’m committed to the third one. Although it’s going to be hard to top Matt Damon whacking an assailant with a magazine. I love that bit.

Ocean’s 13 – You know what? I liked “Ocean’s 12”. Shut up. I’m willing to bet I’ll like this one too. I like the cast, I’m excited to see the characters again. Even if it sucks, I know I’ll end up liking it.

Fantastic Four 2 – I’ve mentioned this before. I sort of know it will be bad, but I’ll see it anyway. Michael Chiklis is their greatest asset, so hopefully they can spin another Ben-heavy storyline. Weirdly, the thing I’m most enthused about is the fact that Brian Posehn is the minister at Reed and Sue’s wedding. That’s the most inexplicable casting I’ve ever seen.

Ratatouille – You all know I’m Pixar’s bitch. And since Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”) is writing and directing and Patton Oswalt is the lead, they’ve got me right where they want me.

The Simpsons Movie – Every other time I’ve referred to something as the best thing ever? I was wrong. The animation and color in the current trailer is gorgeous, and it’s an all-star team of Simpsons writers. And according to IMDB, Sideshow Bob, Fat Tony, and an unspecified Albert Brooks character will be appearing. Go on, ask me whether I’d rather see this movie or boobs. Because I’d rather see this movie.

Knocked Up – It’s writer/director Judd Apatow’s follow-up to “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”, starring “Virgin” alumni Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd. This looks really good, and I will probably see it three times. Also starring that girl from Grey’s Anatomy who doesn’t think she gets paid enough. My own personal jury is still out on her.

Evan Almighty – Steve Carell! Lauren Graham! Morgan Freeman! If those names don’t ensure your participation in this motion picture experience, we are probably not friends. And with a supporting cast that includes Ed Helms, John Michael Higgins, Rachael Harris, and John Goodman, it’s safe to say that if you don’t see this, it is my mission to destroy you. You’ve made a powerful enemy, theoretical moviegoer.

Transfomers: The Move – We’ve been over this before. And adding Bernie Mac to the cast was a dirty trick, but still no sale, Bay!

Doesn’t it seem like there should be another Coen Brothers movie soon? It’s been a while. I’m not even sure if their last film was a talkie.

Anyway, that’s my opinion on all the movies I can think of, because I’m delusional enough to think you’re interested.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Breakfast of Champions

Kurt Vonnegut died.
Much will be written about him in the next few weeks, and all of it better than anything I could manage. So all I’m going to say is that he was a favorite of mine. I was absolutely obsessed with his work in college, and I’d like to think that sometimes a glimpse of his style sneaks through into mine.

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies – ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’”
--God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

I might as well mention Johnny Hart as well. Johnny Hart was the cartoonist behind B.C.. His reputation was dulled by the later years of the strip, which consisted mostly of stock situations, and occasional evangelizing. Personally, I’m impressed that he put it all out there in a mass medium, but a caveman quoting Scripture is a little hard to take. And there was that strip a couple of years back where he implied that Christianity was a replacement for Judaism. But in all fairness, he was in his 70’s when he did that strip. See if you don’t miss some shadings of meaning when you’re that age.

Still, B.C. was sharp for decades, and he deserves more credit than people realize. Plus, there was the Commodore 64 game “B.C.’s Quest for Tires”, which, as my siblings will verify, played a major role in our lives for several years.
“Clams got legs!”

LOST 3-16 "One of Us"

You guys, that was a really good episode.

First off, props to Sam who spent some time at the beginning of the season Zaprudering the footage and comparison shopping, all to determine that the Others were reading ‘Carrie’. We were way ahead of the curve on that one.

Sort of a parade of dead Others this week, with Ethan, Goodwin, and Mikhail. I may be off, but I think Ethan has appeared in more Season Three episodes than in Season One. And he was alive in Season One!

The song playing on the radio when Juliet and Rachel (aka Deadwood’s Calamity Jane) arrive at Mittelos is ‘Downtown’, which is clearly Juliet’s theme song. When Juliet drinks the orange juice, they’re in the lobby of ‘Herarat Aviation’. I spent some time on the anagram, and for a while I settled on ‘Rare hat’, thinking perhaps Jin has a bejeweled fedora that will become a major plot point. However, just before the reveal at the end, I discovered that simply adding punctuation to ‘Herarat’ gives you ‘Her? A rat!’, which made me suspicious of her. And right up until then I trusted Juliet, because she is pretty. Remember what I said about Sayid being smarter than I am? He proved it again.

OK, so apparently women can’t give birth on the Island. Juliet thinks it happens at conception, which would mean that a woman impregnated on the island can’t give birth anywhere. The way Juliet explained it, that the body turns on the fetus, sort of ties in with the island’s healing powers in a pseudo-scientific way. Body doesn’t know the difference between a baby and a tumor, so the body gets rid of it. (I’m totally House right now…) That also explains their interest in the children. Children are our future, after all. If they can’t make their own, they have to steal them away under cover of darkness.

Interesting how Benry emphasizes that nobody on the island has cancer. That’s sort of like me using the fact that nobody in my bowling league has cancer as proof that I can cure it. Unless some of them were sick on the mainland. (The Others, not my bowling league.) Maybe some of them moved to the island for the purpose of being healed? And where does science stand on the issue of magnets fighting disease? My dad was really into that for about a year, to the extent that he thought having magnets in his mattress would cure everything and possibly bestow super-powers. Even if magnets are only a little bit effective, I’m guessing the World’s Biggest Electro-Magnet is probably quite a boon to the sick. And here’s a question. Did we ever confirm that Benry’s tumor was malignant? It threatened his life because of its location, but Juliet actually corrects him in this episode when he calls it ‘cancer’.

Anyway, Benry’s claiming he can cure cancer, even in Rachel. Rachel is not on the island, and she does seem healed when Juliet sees her on camera. (How did Mikhail get that footage? There must be Others everywhere!) And then Benry even claims ‘Jacob will take care of it himself’. ‘Jacob’ as in ‘God will bless you as he blessed Jacob’ (from the brainwashing mix tape)? I assumed that was a biblical reference, but maybe Jacob is a real guy. And why are they calling Jack’s dad ‘Jacob’? (You just wait until I turn out to be proven a genius…)

Now we know what’s up with Ethan. Sort of puts his Season One actions in a whole different light, eh? Sure, he murdered Scott and tried to kill Charlie, but the universe wants Charlie dead anyway. The point is, he wasn’t just pointlessly abducting pregnant women. We also have a context for the opening scene of this season. Pretty cold, Juliet. Notice that Benry knew the book she selected for the book club, but she didn’t tell him when the club was meeting. She froze him out! He mentioned the book the day before the meeting, for Pete’s sake! (Internal book club politics can be a cruel mistress.)

The plane crashed on Juliet’s three-year anniversary on the island, and Benry’s tumor was discovered one day before. Also, Juliet was hooking up with Goodwin, so if she’d ever met Ana-Lucia, she would have hated her for killing him. Add her to the Ana-Lucia Hate List which previously included Sayid, EJ, ABC Executives, and all decent and right-thinking people everywhere except for Jack.

After seeing the plane, Benry contacts “Richard in Acadia Park”. Presumably, that’s Richard “Batmanuel” Halprin, who recruited Juliet. The only reference I can find for ‘Acadia Park’ is a National park in Maine. Maybe Richard was on vacation?

The fact that Juliet knows Sawyer killed the guy in Australia shows once again that The Others have access to information that they really shouldn’t. I mean, clearly the police didn’t know about the murder. Those guys have a crack research staff!

So Juliet is a dirty liar after all. Not cool. I’m a little worried that Benry gave her a gas mask. This does not look good for the Lostaways… I honestly thought either Juliet or Benry would be evil. They seem to work in opposition to each other, so I thought we could eventually trust at least one of them. That Benry’s an evil genius – you can’t deny, his plans are pretty much perfect.

I’m in kind of a time crunch today, so I might have to add more later. I actually think that this episode answered more questions than it asked. (Please note that, per their advertising, ABC considers ‘How did Jack get his tattoos?’ to be a major revelation. The last two weeks of island background, not so much.) I’m predicting that the season finale will have Benry flashbacks, which will be so awesome as to split the world in two and leave us hanging on for dear life.

With any luck, I’ll have more later.

Ever yours,

Richard “Batmanuel” Halprin

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

He's Real, I Tell You!

I didn't really watch House religiously for the first couple of years. And for some reason, I had seen an episode that led me to believe that Wilson was a hallucination. I don't know why I thought that. I guess it's not uncommon to see an episode where he only interacts directly with House, but that's really a leap. I just decided he was like Janitor in the first season of Scrubs.

Anyway, I believed that for several months. And then I saw an episode where Wilson and Cuddy had a scene together, and it blew my mind. I actually said to people "Can you believe Wilson turned out to be real?" And they all thought I was a moron.

I've watched the first two seasons on DVD since then, and there isn't a single episode that even sort of indicates that Wilson is a hallucination. Clearly, I made that up out of whole cloth. It turns out, I'm not very bright.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Dancing with the Stars -- Week Four

Damn, those were some cranky judges. When Len starts out by admonishing the whole group, you are not off to a feel-good start. I'm surprised that there's so much difference in the practice times between last season and this season. However, the math nerd in me wants some answers. Is the 19 hours a week for last season an average of the entire season or simply the Week Four average? Because if it's the whole season, it only stands to reason that practice time increases as the competition advances. But if that was actually a Week Four average, this season is sort of pathetic. (Though last season had the hypercompetitive Lopez and Lawrence. Plus, they might have counted all the time Mario was banging Karina as 'practice'. Wow, that was crude. I'm sorry.)

Since I have no power and actually know next to nothing about dancing, here's my weekly round-up of thoughts:

LAILA ALI -- She fell apart quick, didn't she? I was never a fan, but she's steadily gotten worse since the first week. There was a bit where she seemed positively Frankenstinian, actually. And it may be just me, but she seems to have lost all interest. I do believe she's got other things to do.

APOLO OHNO -- That was a nice job! Something about it looked sort of like high school kids at the prom, but I think I'm just cranky because he and his partner make me feel so damn old. A waltz is sort of hard to make interesting when you've got the paso doble in the same show, but it was very pretty.

LEEZA GIBBONS -- Hee. That was not a pretty thing to see. Plus, you know, the Bon Jovi song. She was way stiff, and Tony did his best to distract the judges with a lot of nice footwork on his part, but Leeza sort of stood there and threw in some clumsy arm movements. Interestingly, at the first elimination, she was in last place, but the audience saved her. Last week, she was tied for first and made bottom two. She lost a huge number of votes, and I'm thinking she didn't do anything to get them back this week. Bye, Leeza.

IAN ZIERING -- He's consistently solid. This was a very pleasant waltz, and despite some crankiness on the part of one judge (I can't remember which one now.), it was pleasing to watch. He's going to have to turn it up, because 'consistently solid' is not going to get Cheryl her three-peat. Also, if Cheryl is reading this, and I know she is, hair extensions are not your friend. Why do that to yourself?

JOHN RATZENBERGER -- Wow, that was awkward. I can't believe they made the poor bastard to the paso doble. That's not a dance for the old guys. Much as I like him, the judge's comments were certainly earned. It was sort of weird and bouncy, with very little footwork on his part. I'm rooting for him, but I think he might have hit the wall.

CLYDE DREXLER -- Mean, mean, mean. The judges were just nasty, and I thought it was a perfectly serviceable waltz. Why beat on a friendly, likeable guy like that. The man's old and he's a giant -- there is a limit to what he'll learn. And for God's sake, stop comparing him to Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith! Just because they're athletes doesn't mean they have the exact same skill set -- Hell, Clyde played a different sport entirely! I don't think he'll make it much longer, but they were so mean that he's going to pick up sympathy votes.

BILLY RAY CYRUS -- Speaking of every dance looking the same... He remains all weird and stompy from week to week. I'm actually getting tired of talking about him. He brings the same twitchy weirdness to each dance, and I'm running out of ways to say that he's trying to line dance. Well, he is.

HEATHER MILLS -- Am I mistaken, or did we have a week that was almost free of leg talk? Sure, it was mentioned in passing, but we didn't see her tie her leg on or go to the doctor or anything! And then she did her worst dance yet, which indicates to me that she's actually powered by pity. She's not bad, by any means, but if you take away her handspring move, she's not bringing a lot to the table.

JOEY FATONE -- So in between the toolishness, he somehow managed to get really good. No gimmicks or anything, not even his name on his back! Good job, Mr. Fatone. You went and won me over. He got way more likeable too, now that he's not trying so hard to be 'zany'. That was just plain slick.

I'm guessing Leeza is gone this week, but with only two results shows done, I don't really have enough data as to how America is voting. And if there's one thing I hate, it's a lack of data.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Box Set Riot: Battlestar Galactica Season One

I've posted about this previously, but now that I'm through with the set, it's officially a Box Set Riot. The short version of my previous post -- Don't like science fiction. Didn't like the mini-series, really liked the series proper. Again, I have problems with the way they've replaced rectangles and circles with octagons and hexagons, largely because it's kind of stupid. Also, Starbuck irritates me, but not because she's a bad actress or the character is poorly written. She's just sort of a dick. I'm totally with Tigh on that one.

Now, part of my problem with sci-fi is that you have an automatic deus ex machina in any given story. Just tweak the rules of how technology in your universe works, and you can explain away anything. If your climax involves the words 'warp drive', you have officially cheated. BSG falls into this trap occasionally, but it's rare enough.

The only other problem worth commenting on is that it almost seems like they're deliberately leaving holes in the story for licensed novels or comic books to fill. Zarek's mining operation took place offscreen? Seriously? That seemed kind of important, you know?

Beyond those minor gripes, I liked BSG much more than I had anticipated. I liked the way the series just plunges into pure futility from the outset. Right up until the two-part season finale, it really seemed like everything they did was just a stopgap until the Cylons exterminated humanity. And I liked seeing how the few surviving humans clung to whatever vestige of civilization they could find. I mean, fewer than 50,000 people and there's still a Presidential Press Corps? Genius!

The characters became much more compelling than in the mini-series, and Baltar has become one of my favorite characters on TV. (Favorite moment of the season was when Number Six physically visited Galactica. "You see her too?")

I can't tell if I'm dim or if this is an actual plot point, but I don't know if Baltar's conversations with Number Six are completely imagined or if she's somehow communicating with him. Toward the end of the season, it seemed like she was conveying information that he wouldn't have had otherwise, but I spent most of the season thinking he was just hallucinating? Help me out, Rob! Is this addressed in Season Two, or am I just dumb?

This has nothing to do with the quality of the show, but it's worth noting. See, I'd always believed that the Sci-Fi Channel's notorious prudishness about sex had been exaggerated. Nope. I realize this isn't HBO, but they show less skin than network television. It's sort of amusing to watch how they cover an army of naked Boomers with a shadow that blacks out everything from neck to knee. What the hell was casting that shadow on every single Boomer, regardless of where they were standing? And considering one of the lead characters is basically (as Sam called her) a porno-bot, their skittishness really stands out.

The Sci-Fi Channel: Protecting you from boobs since 1997.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Not Much to Say on Friday

I actually have a lot of work to do today, so my posting time is at a minimum.

That said, I'm simply going to confess that last night's episode of Scrubs made me cry like a prison bitch.

If I had time to do a Box Set Riot or I Heart Supporting Characters today, I could have kept that to myself, but that's all I've got.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

My 300 Question

You know how there's that politician in 300 who betrays the King? (Which is a weird plotline to spend time on, by the way. Why focus on the political machinations that could make life uncomfortable for somebody who's on a suicide mission?) In the climactic Senate scene, he spills out his bag of gold coins, stampes with the face of Sparta's enemy, Xerxes.

First off, wouldn't you leave your Traitor Bucks at home? And along those lines, where the hell did he think he was going to spend that money? "That'll be twenty dollars....wait a minute!"

LOST 3-15 "Left Behind"

As always, we have some direct quotes from my notes: “Jack hearts Juliet” and “Claire is influential. Hee.”

You know, ever since they came back from the break, they’ve done a much better job of splitting the story between Lost Beach and Other Town. We always get to see a little bit of the group of Lostaways, just to stay caught up.

We haven’t seen a Kate flashback in quite a while. Back in Season One it seemed like we were seeing her every other week, but it had been a while this time around. It was nice to tie her in with Cassidy, who I will probably continue to call ‘Joanie’, since that was her name on Deadwood. I wonder if we’re ever going to get a flashback where we actually get to see the SawyerSpawn. And Kate uses the name “Lucy”, after the Saint. St. Lucy (or Lucia) is the patron saint of blindness and those with eye problems (like Sawyer? Or One-Eyed Mikhail, for that matter.)

And back in the camp, well, “He’s not as wrinkly as he was a couple of weeks ago” might be Sawyer’s best line ever. The whole story there was another example of Hurley taking a leadership role. Think about it: He’s able to identify potential problems and take steps to deal with them proactively. He built the golf course, the census was his idea, he even handled food distribution. If it weren’t for his bouts of self-loathing, he’d be a great leader of the Lostaways. Also, this episode contained one of my favorite background jokes ever. Did you notice that the bottle of Dharma Steak Sauce also had the A-1 logo? It’s like Alvar Hanso couldn’t come up with a comparable steak sauce, so he just slapped the Dharma name on the market leader. I’m not sure why that cracks me up so much, but it really does.

Seeing the boar in the hunting scene made me think of something one of the writers said on a Season One commentary track. He said they didn’t like to show the boars onscreen for any length of time because: “By the time you train a boar enough that it’s not going to hurt the actors, it’s really just a pig.”

Boy, Kate has a hard time not being somebody’s favorite, doesn’t she?

I can’t wait to find out what happened with Locke in between the end of “The Man from Tallahassee” and the beginning of this episode. Whatever it was, he seems to have been absorbed into Other society quite nicely. I like that he tried to convince them to take Kate as well. Locke’s a weird dude, but he’s genuinely nice. How do they know all about Kate, though? Most of their intelligence thus far has been things they could potentially have learned from another source – Ethan, Locke’s dad, etc. Nobody on the island would have any knowledge of Kate’s past, though. Well, maybe the late Marshall Shrapnel, but he’s got nothing to say, what with being dead and all. (I blank on this guy’s name every time. I know he’s a US Marshall and he was torn up by jagged metal, so we’re going with it for now.)

So where are they going? I assume that the destruction of the submarine prompted the move. If that’s the case, Benry planned well. Taking out the possibility of return convinced the stragglers to move forward. Well played, Benry. It seems like cults always have somewhere to go, but where are these cultists headed? The smaller island? The beach with the four-toed statue? The title of the episode, ‘Left Behind’, is a reference to a popular series of Rapture-based novels. Are The Others going out for their own rapture? Are they going to drink the Kool-Aid?

I wasn’t sure if the Sonic Death Fence was there to keep intruders out or to keep The Others in – now we know it’s there to keep the Monster out. The Monster is vulnerable to sound-based attacks – is it Venom? (Trust me, that will be funnier in a month after Spider-Man 3 opens.) I had long assumed that the Monster was controlled by, or in some way related to the Others. Both seem rather interested in judging people by mysterious standards, and since Locke made the list of ‘Good People’ and was spared by the Monster, it made since to connect the two. Can we believe what Juliet said, though? Do we trust her? I realize that she has pretty eyes and a soothing speaking voice, but LOST has a tradition of unreliable narrators. (You didn’t think I was going to hold onto that Henry James reference for a year and a half, did you? Well, who’s laughing now???) The only things we can trust are the flashbacks. If we saw something in a flashback, it happened. (Except for some things in the Desmond episode – Desmond meeting Charlie in England and White Oracle’s speech. The jury’s still out on those incidents.) Now, I tend to believe Juliet, but Sayid clearly doesn’t, and he’s a lot smarter than I am. If Juliet’s telling the truth, what does that mean about The Monster? Is it really the way that the island protects itself? That would explain why it spared Locke, who respects the island. At the very least, the Monster’s standards must be tougher than The Others, if they need to be protected from it.

It seems like I do my best thinking after I send out the e-mail, so I’m going to keep musing about that which we’ve heard and seen. And I’ll watch the Monster scenes on frame advance for any hidden images. Because I’m intense like that.

Ever yours,

Wrinkly Aaron

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

They Still Publish a Swimsuit Issue?

Have you noticed that, two months after its publication, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is still in stores everywhere? I went to a grocery store that still had a standalone display for the issue. That seems weird to me. In fact, it seems weird that the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue still exists in any form.

The first Swimsuit Issue was published in 1964, when America was still sad about the Kennedy assassination. Back in 1964, America didn’t have the same access to breasts that we do now. The Swimsuit Issue was pretty much their one chance to look at pictures of pretty ladies, short of buying Playboy or hitting an adult theater. And those options weren’t going to fly in a lot of parts of the country back then. (Or today for that matter.) Let’s face it, for suburbanites, it was the closest they were ever going to get to lewd material. And for teenagers, well, it was a godsend.

I was in junior high in the 80’s, and even then, unless you had pay cable or parents who were permissive with video rentals, a twelve-year-old boy had exactly one chance to see something moderately sexy, and that was the Swimsuit Issue. Hell, Victoria’s Secret didn’t even send out catalogs. The Swimsuit Issue was our one chance to see butt-crack or a sliver of areola. And yes, every year they had the three big money shots. There was the girl laying face-down in a thong (or whatever they had pre-thong) with sand in her ass crack. There was the girl who was topless and covering up with her crossed arms. And there was the girl in something white and wet, so you could see blurry nipples. They repeated those shots ever year throughout my adolescence. And God bless ‘em for that.

Still, that was back in the 80’s. It’s 20 years later now, and the Swimsuit Issue is a weird, quaint reminder of things past. Young boys no longer need to hijack Dad’s copy – they’ve got the Internet with its inexhaustible porn supply. Heck, in the last six months I’ve seen the girl crotches of Paris, Britney, and Lindsay, and those were all by accident. (I sort of think they’re all gross, and if I had been given any warning that Ms. Lohan’s unshielded mess awaited me, I would have quickly clicked over to the Penguin Cam.) And if you’re only looking for semi-naked women, why, the Maxim family of magazines has them every month. Nobody’s waiting all year to see the SI Swimsuit Issue any more. This year, Beyonce is on the cover. I realize that’s supposed to be a draw, but Beyonce in a bathing suit is the most-clothed Beyonce I’ve ever seen. She wears less than that when she buys groceries.

The kids don’t need the Swimsuit Issue. Their fathers don’t need the Swimsuit Issue. Unless it’s actually intended to help people shop for a bathing suit, there’s not much use for it. I say it’s time to move on. You were there for me when I needed you, and it’s time for both of us to move on. You deserve better than to be seen as ‘retro’ or worse, simply outdated.

Hey, Other People Have Blogs!

I've got a couple of supporters in the blogosphere who happen to have lovely blogs of their own, and it's high time I linked them.

The Mysterious Don, as I like to call him, has a swell blog where he does great American Idol write-ups, along with a lot of other stuff. We appear to have a similar fixation on Donald Trump, which is both disturbing and kind of touching. He also curses less than I do.

My sister Jane's Unbought Stuffed Dogs is much funnier than the Swear Jar, so I'm reluctant to link it. However, she doesn't update often, so I feel like I can beat her on that score at least.

My brother also has a blog, which at last count had two posts, one of which exists largely to mock me. I don't know that I can support that sort of ratio.

Show them some love!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Dancing with the Stars -- Week Three

First off, America, you really pissed me off voting off Paulina Porizkova like that. What the hell is wrong with you people?

That being said, here’s this week’s Dancing with the Stars rundown. The judges sure loved those ‘8’ paddles this week, didn’t they?

SHANDI FINNESSEY – She was noticeably better this week. More like actual dancing and less like pageant posing. Still not as quick as she needs to be, but better than last week’s slo-mo. Her partner is a weird little man, isn’t he? He’s sort of built like a bobblehead. I just can’t see people liking her enough to vote for her – and last week’s Bottom 2 finish indicates that they aren’t. All in all, this was much better than we’ve come to expect from her.

JOHN RATZENBERGER – Three weeks in and still no props! I really like watching him. He just doesn’t seem like he should be good, but he really is surprisingly nimble. His part in the dance was not complicated, but it was some nice choreography. The judges aren’t cutting him the same break that they’ve done for the older contestants in past seasons. He’s actually even making me like Edyta, who never did much for me in the past. She seems kind of like a human this season.

CLYDE DREXLER – You know, I thought he showed significant improvement this week, and the judges were so damn mean. He was doing more complicated steps and moving much more quickly than previous weeks. Last week he was just sort of shuffling, this week he was kicking around and moving those feet. It’s just going to take some time for a guy who’s 6’8” to make full use of his height. Mean judges. Stupid mean judges. By the way, I kind of thing Carrie Ann was drunk last night. And I think Samantha Harris is drunk every week. Girl can’t phrase a simple question, and there are times when her diction is shockingly bad.

LAILA ALI – That was not an impressive performance. I’m not a Laila fan, but she really seemed kind of above it all this week. This attitude could sour the judges, who already backed off from their usual tongue bath. I do think the theme from ‘Goldfinger’ was a cool musical selection, and it’s too bad the dance wasn’t actually interesting. Also, what the hell are ‘pancake hands’?

APOLO OHNO – Yeah, I like him now. It’s clear that he’s much more comfortable putting his hands behind his back, because he doesn’t know what to do with them during the actual dance. His footwork is really nice, though. He’s winning me over. The ‘Pulp Fiction’ thing was a little dorky, so it’s lucky he was followed by…

JOEY FATONE – Seriously? A “Star Wars”-themed tango? Who does that? It was actually a good dance, and without all the Len-angering theatrical bits would have stood just fine on its own. Though the recreation of the poster at the end was kind of cool. And no name on his back this time! I can like him if he’s a dork, but not if he’s a tool. This week, he was clearly on the ‘dork’ side of the scale.

IAN ZIERING – Another nice performance. Much more energetic than he’s been. I suspect he went through a rough week, because Cheryl does not cotton to being in the middle of the pack. I like when the judges give constructive criticism, and they do that a lot with Ian. Deep down, he’s kind of my favorite, which alarms me to no end.

LEEZA GIBBONS – Oh Lord. I thought that was really boring. I mean, the choreography was basically Schwarzenegger’s tango in “True Lies”. Tony pretty much did all the work. I’m really not sure why the judges freaked out like they did, but the praise was totally out of proportion to the actual product. Although the best line of the night was Carrie Ann’s “I saw Leeza Gibbons’ booby!”

HEATHER MILLS – Hey, did you know she only has one leg? Funny, you’d think they would mention that. She really is doing a nice job, but they need to let go of the obvious. Do they think I’m going to vote for her because I watched the Prosthetologist tighten her lug nuts? Just let her dance without the pressure of having to be an inspiration, and I’ll probably be way more impressed. As it is, it seems that she has the power to heal crippled children with her dancing. Ugliest outfit of the night, too. That was freaky.

BILLY RAY CYRUS – That was a weird, stompy piece of dancing. I love that the judges are always excited when he achieves normality. I don’t really know what to say about him, since it’s sort of the same dance every week with him. He seems nice, but there’s just nothing going on there.

I don’t have a prediction this week, because I just can’t get a handle on those goofy-ass voters. Freaks. I’m worried about Clyde, though.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Box Set Riot: 24 Season Two

I'm starting a new occasional feature, where I'm going to review every DVD box set that I watch. I do love my box sets. Generally, these are going to be positive reviews, as I'm not going to buy a season of a show I hate. We're starting the series with 24 Season Two.

I came late to 24, as I've previously mentioned. And then I proceeded to devour the first two seasons like some kind of crack fiend. That is some addictive television right there. There's always stuff happening. And Jack Bauer became an icon almost instantly for good reason. There's not much to his character, but he's on the move.

This is the season where the show's much-discussed torture scenes began to appear. However, the really brutal torture was directed at Jack this season. The good guys were fairly mild in their interrogation techniques. Actually, it's interesting to try and parse the politics of 24. Co-creator and writer Joel Surnow is far right. Like, gave money to Rick Santorum-far right. Surnow-penned episodes tend to be a little more unquestioning in their 'extreme action in the service of national security' stance. Other writers tend to dwell more on the ethical dilemmas such actions pose. Still, I don't get the sense that any of them are actively pushing a political agenda. After all, the most morally centered character is President David Palmer, a Democrat. And it's worth noting that Surnow wrote the episode that featured violent racial-profiling assholes as villains, who then received a serious Bauer beatdown. It doesn't seem like anybody's hijacking 24 as their soapbox. And Jack himself remains amazingly apolitical. Actually, when you consider that this season aired in 2002-2003, it's laudable that they presented a mix of Middle-Eastern characters, with the heroes outnumbering the villains. Hell, the real masterminds turned out to be rich white guys with oil interests.

The storyline isn't as elegant as Season One, but I think part of the problem was that, now that we've got established characters they need something to do. Kim is irritating enough when she's important to the plot. When it's just a side story, she's unbearable. Also, it was just a bigger story this season. (That's right, I'm calling a season devoted to the attempted murder of a presidential candidate an intimate character piece.) They sort of lost control near the end, but all in all, it was well-executed.

Strong acting all around, as well. Particularly impressive are Dennis Haysbert and Penny Johnson Jerald as the Palmers. The two of them just dominate every scene they're in. Also excellent was Xander Berkeley as George Mason. Turning him from an officious prick into a hero was a real feat, and I would have traded all of Kim's screen time for more George. And Tony and Michelle were so adorable I just want to hug them. Which means they probably die in Season Three.

And it was sort of a parade of my TV favorites. From Lost we had Jin, Christian Shepherd, and Charles Widmore. Homicide's Julianna Cox had a strong arc (I need more closure on her story!), Nip/Tuck's Jude and Entourage's Johnny Drama popped up as well. Made me happy to see them all in one place.

The extras were much better on this set than on Season One, which is to say that extras existed. Four or five commentaries of varying energy levels, plenty of deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes stuff -- it was a nice package.

My one question is this: How many times does Jack have to save the world before CTU starts trusting his instincts? I would have thought he earned some good will last season, at least.