Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas, All!

Well, now that I've driven away all my readers by never posting anything, I can get all self-indulgent for the holidays.

I'd just like to take a moment to thank everybody on Team EJ who made this year possible.

Thanks to my brother, who got me a swell autographed picture of Mikhail the Russian. Even better, Mikhail wrote the name "Benry". We're getting that on the air before the end, I tell you!

Thanks to Sister Jane, who shares my love of reality TV and manages to watch even more embarassing things than I do. Her brain's like a freaky rolodex of reality contestants -- it's pretty unbelievable.

I didn't see much of Dr. Brian this year, but he's been busy being a doctor. He is still awesome, and my oldest friend.

Big thanks to Lana for one million things. You know when you're driving in a snowstorm, and you can't see the road anymore, sometimes there's a car ahead of you that you can follow? And as long as you can see those tail lights, no matter how far off they are, you know you're going to be OK? Yeah. Lana is the tail lights.

Mad props to the whole bunch of Kennys -- Sam for encouraging my fledgling comedy career and forcing me to be funnier all the time, Sean for involving me in crazy projects and blessing me with his wisdom, and Becky for having a heart much too big for her tiny frame. And the mighty Colleen for bringing me celebrity sightings and sharing so many of my obsessions. Of course, thanks to Shmoopy who is sweet as all get out, even if she does make Sean get all cutesy and weird.

Thanks to Kelli for being good and arguing and for being all nice and stuff. Also, for her hilarious righteous indignation at the X-Files movie. Not to say it wasn't warranted, of course.

Thanks to Rachael for helping with my Halloween costume and being a fine hostess and a great Lost fan. Thanks to Bruce for letting me stay at his house and explaining guy stuff to me.

Applause to Brad and Becke for hosting Thursday TV night and for being much less normal than they seem at first glance.

Thanks to Melissa for being the first person outside of my immediate circle to care about things that I wrote, and to Amy for hanging out at Festival and being generally swell.

And of course, I have to thank the spunkycrew. Ben for founding the website and knowing a lot of stuff, Anne for editing me in those early days and introducing me to Frisky Dingo. Thanks to the other writers and the way they amuse me regularly, and special thanks to Nic, who made the trip to attend Spunky Night at the Movies and shared in some Backdoor Mansion Pizza. And then there's special giant thanks to Don, who singlehandedly laid waste to the Swear Jar, but made up for it with all of his encouragement and enthusiasm. We're getting on the Amazing Race one of these days! And finally, to my most frequent collaborator, Myndi. We did a lot of co-recapping this year, and it's been a real pleasure. She's thoroughly delightful, and much funnier than I am. Frankly, that's a little bit irritating to me, but I'll let it go.

Thanks for everything this year, you goofy SOB's. With your help, just maybe I'll make something of myself this year.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Batman, Warren Zevon, and Crow T. Robot

I'm pounding away on the 25 Days of Christmas Episodes over on spunkybean, but I felt like getting all bloggy. Let's do this one Mysterious Don-style for a change!

WATCHING: Well, along with all my regulars and all the Christmas episodes, I've been getting re-acquainted with Mystery Science Theater 3000. The 20th Anniversary DVD set came out last month, and I've been sort of hoovering up the older box sets. Man, what a great show. Episodes I've seen a dozen times before (Skydivers) still make me laugh to a disturbing degree, and now I can finally see some of the Sci-Fi channel episodes, as they're fairly well represented on DVD. Man, I love this show just as much as I ever did.

Also, I'm discovering Sealab 2021. From the creators of Frisky Dingo, it was one of Adult Swim's first series, and it mostly re-used old Hanna-Barbera animation. What it doesn't have is FD's continuity, but it's still pretty hysterical. I didn't really watch it in its original run, and now I feel like a dope. Fignuts, I tell ya!

READING: Just finished Jonathan Lethem's You Don't Love Me Yet, and I once again feel like a disgusting fraud for ever stringing words into sentences for people to read. It's not my favorite of his books, largely because novels about musicians inherently lack music, so a key dimension of the experience is missing. Despite that, it's absorbing and just beautifully written.

Also, Grant Morrison just wrapped up his "Batman, R.I.P." story, and I think we all know how I feel about Batman. This is the storyline that got some media attention, what with the killing Batman and all. Now, we know nobody's actually killing Bruce, but this arc ends with the guy getting blown up, and he's not appearing anywhere for the next several months. This was one of great mind-screw stories of all time, with Batman apparently losing his mind over a period of months. I enjoyed this story to a ridiculous extent, and should probably write something substantial about it later. (And no, Hurt's not the Devil. Batman straight out tells us he isn't. While there is some ambiguity, part of the point of this arc is that Batman is always right.)

Don totally checked out for that last paragraph, by the way.

LISTENING: Man, that re-mastered edition of Warren Zevon's self-titled album is pretty slick, isn't it? Sounds great, and I love the second disc of outtakes and demos. Granted, this means I now own about nine different recordings of "Mohammed's Radio", but I'm fascinated with his process. On the whole, I've always loved that album, but it's much better than I remember.

Actually, there's an interesting bit -- in one of the demos of "Carmelita" (as well as the time I saw him live in 1995 -- God, I'm old.), he changes a key line. The song's about a drug addict, and the line usually goes:

I pawned my Smith-Corona / And I went to meet my man - he's a writer, and he sells his typewriter to buy heroin. Pretty sad, right? Well, in the demo, he pawns his Smith and Wesson instead. He sells his handgun for drug money. If he had a handgun, why didn't he just rob somebody for money? See, in the demo, he's not a failed writer. He's a punk who pretends to belong to this world he can't handle. He's got a gun, but it's for show. This is him actually giving up the one pretense that he clings to - the guy convinces himself he's a badass, but he has nothing to back it up. Once he loses that self-image, does he have anything left at all?

HOPING: That you will use my Amazon link to buy your gifts this holiday season. All proceeds go toward buying John Swartzwelder books.

WRITING: This year's family Christmas story. In my book, it's sort of cheating to write it before December 20th, but I'm trying to come up with a premise. The only thing I know for sure is that I want to solve the mystery of what happened to J-Dogg in between Seasons One and Two of The Pick-Up Artist.

REALIZING: There is not a person in the world who's going to be able to get through this boring-ass post. Sorry about that!

Friday, November 28, 2008

How We Do Thanksgiving

What follows is a more or less complete list of television shows referenced during Thanksgiving dinner this year. Keep in mind, my uncle is a minister, so my sister and I didn't dare dwell on some of these references for too long.

-Dirty Jobs
-Frisky Dingo
-The Office
-Dancing with the Stars
-It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
-Top Chef
-Batman: The Animated Series
-Stunt Dogs (We made this show up. It's either dogs doing tricks or people in dog costumes doing tricks. Either way, we would totally watch it.)
-The Colbert Report

So, yeah. Thanksgiving with my family is almost entirely what you would expect.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I Would Have Been So Thankful for This...

Happy Thanksgiving!

On an unrelated note, I was watching Fringe this week, and it opened with a scene where a Massive Dynamic employee was attacked by butterflies. Sure, it was a good episode, but it would have been so much better if this guy:

had been a suspect.

"You are no longer butterflies. Today, you are Murderflies!!!"

Yes, I know it was actually Brock who said that line, but it felt appropriate.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Myndi Was Right!

-Yes, I have neglected the Swear Jar. Badly. I mean, I've been writing up a storm over on spunkybean and that's pretty well stretched me to my limits. Plus, Mysterious Don has co-opted all of my regular content anyway. Seriously, next year the Venture Bros. recaps will probably be over there. I'm thinking of maybe narrowing my focus here so I can really concentrate on something, or else just regularly posting short bits. We'll see. The point is, we're not dead yet.

-Speaking of all things Venture, my finale recap will get done very soon. As I said, spunky-writing is very time-consuming, and "The 25 Days of Christmas Episodes" may well break me. Anyway, I actually sat down to recap, and I realized how well-written those two episodes are, and I started paying more attention to structure than getting all the references. If you have the two-parter setting on your DVR, take a minute to notice how well they set up the characterization of all the leads in record time. There's also a big hunk of exposition that manages to be entertaining, juggling all sorts of characters, and an elegant solution to the clone problem. Good stuff. But don't worry, I'll be explaining the "Tralfaz" name drop soon enough.

-Hey, you know who's awesome? Walter Bishop from Fringe. Just putting it out there.

-OK, it turns out Myndi was right. She's been on me to watch The Big Bang Theory for a while now. Last year, I reviewed the pilot, and I hated it. Boring and sitcommy and anti-intellectual, and I pretty much closed the book on it. But usually Myndi is right about things, so I gave it another shot. You know what? This show got pretty good. It's not going to replace 30 Rock, but it's funny. So, yeah. Adding another show to the schedule and publicly proclaiming the correctness of Myndi.

"I can't watch the Clone Wars TV show until I see the Clone Wars movie. I'd prefer that George Lucas disappoint me in the order he intended." That? Is funny.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Wait, They Have TV in Ireland -- Right?

Not that you'll notice, what with my lousy productivity of late, but I'm about to go on vacation. To Ireland! Can you believe I'm leaving the country? This should be awesome beyond words, and I'll regale everybody with tales when I return.

And yes, I will finish my recaps of Venture Bros. -- I just realized that I forgot to wrap up the season, but it's coming when I get back. In the meantime, feel free to discuss -- Which Venture supporting character has the best name: Herr Trigger or Truckules?

Keep it clean, and I'll be back in a bit!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hey EJ, How Come You're Not Writing About "Heroes"?

For those of you who've come to expect a steaming dose of recap the day after a new episode of Heroes, well, you're in luck. My recaps have moved over to spunkybean. You should check it out and then tell me how hilarious I am.

For the record: Season Three Premiere = Awesome

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again


I was on kind of a media blackout this weekend, and I just now read that David Foster Wallace committed suicide on Friday.

Weirdly, I just started reading one of his journalism collections on Friday, Consider the Lobster, and I found myself thinking about what an amazing genius he was. Even if you didn't like his style, you have do admit, he knew a lot of things. I wondered what it would be like to talk to him, if he went off on lengthy tangents when he was speaking. Would he constantly assail you with perfectly worded arguments? Did he actually pronounce "with regards to" as "w/r/t"?

His work was stunningly intelligent, consistently funny, and always interesting. Infinite Jest blew my mind with its sheer, massive weirdness, but I think I loved the short story collection Brief Interviews with Hideous Men most of all. (This is something John Krasinski and I have in common.)

It's being reported that he suffered from depression, which I didn't really see in his work. Sure, it was often bleak, but there seemed to be a warm heart and a love of experience that pervaded his writing. And now I'm looking at his books, which I had shelved right next to Hunter S. Thompson's, and it really makes me sad, seeing two freakishly talented people who took their own lives.

This isn't the sort of heavily footnoted work that Wallace deserves, I know that. Somebody far more clever than I will handle that. Frankly, for the first time in a long while, I really don't feel like writing.

Thanks, David. Infinite Jest helped get me through a really hard time in my life, and the literary world will be less interesting without you in it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

How I Learned to Quit Worrying and Hate Andy Kauffman

This is something I meant to write about a long time ago, but I sort of danced around its fringes. With my recent obsession with the way George Lucas actively craps on his fans, it feels pertinent again.

A couple of months ago, Saturday Night Live ran the first episode ever as a tribute to George Carlin. I wrote about it at the time because I thought most of the episode sucked. What I didn't really get into was Andy Kauffman. And I should have, because I hate Andy Kauffman. Granted, that appearance on SNL was really funny. He did some funny things. Loved Latka on Taxi, for example. But the guy pisses me off.

It's not that I'm averse to anti-comedy. What I don't like was the way Kauffman actively tried to alienate his audience. If people enjoyed something, he immediately ditched it and cast about for something that they wouldn't like. There's a scene in the biopic, Man on the Moon, where he's doing a show and he just reads from The Great Gatsby. The audience hates it, so he turns on the record player, only to have the record be him, reading from The Great Gatsby. And that was his entire show.

That was a stunt designed to alienate his audience. There is no way anybody in the audience enjoyed that. Maybe some pretentious d-bag pretended to find it hilarious in its audacity, but they were kidding themselves. They felt ripped off.

While I'm not saying that artists should pander or never try anything new, Kauffman spent his career alienating his fans. And then, miraculously, when people started to enjoy something that he'd done, he ditched it and moved onto something that was even more esoteric and further away from actual comedy.

I guess the reason it really clicked with me is that I watched than SNL repeat in a hotel room in Columbus after a Tom Waits concert. One ticket to see Tom Waits cost me $90. The hotel room was another $70, and then there's the gas for the five-hour trip (each way). Tom Waits did not ask me to spend that money, true. But me, along with another 2,000 or so people (I'm terrible at estimating crowds) spent that money so we could see somebody whose work we enjoy. This is a significant outlay of money for a lot of people. Imagine a married couple who bought two tickets and had to get a babysitter on top of that. That's money we spend of our own free will, because we want to see Tom Waits.

And Tom Waits, pushing 60 years old, came out and did a two-hour plus show. He did songs he'd never done on stage before, he involved the audience, he created the kind of energy that made us all glad to be there. This is why Tom Waits is awesome.

Fans are people. Fans are people who make a lot less money than the artist. Fans willingly spend that money to be entertained by the people whose work they enjoy. For a guy like Kauffman to then do a show that it is actually impossible for people to enjoy is simply malevolent. He screwed his fans. I'm not saying that he has to give them exactly what they're expecting, but the social contract is to at least try and entertain them. Call it "Performance Art" if you want, but most performance art is masturbatory desperation. If you willingly go to see that, you deserve what you get. But people paid money and set aside their time to see a comedy show, not Kauffman smugly proclaiming his brilliance by playing a record.

Everybody has an off day, but Kauffman had a history of performing this kind of stunt, and retroactively, people treat it as an example of what a fantastic comedian he was. No, it's evidence that he was a lousy comedian who realized it was less effort to alienate than to entertain.

Stan Lee was famous for saying "Never give the fans what they think they want", and that's a good dictum. But he still gave the fans something. And more often than not, it was what they didn't realize they wanted. Absolutely, an artist should try to grow, and not all the fans are going to go with them. There are people who bailed on Tom Waits when his style changed dramatically with Swordfishtrombones, but that's natural. If, at the concert, Tom Waits had played a copy of Mule Variations over the PA while reading the newspaper onstage, yeah, that would suck. You can't please everybody all the time, but if you're lucky enough to have fans, you are obligated to try and produce quality.

I write. I perform. I don't have fans, but sometimes, people read what I write. Sometimes after a show they take two seconds to tell me that they liked a joke. And when that happens, it feels really good. If you can do something creative and people will take time out of their day to read it or watch it or listen to it, that's a gift. When people squander that, it makes me sad.

Kauffman wanted the fans to support him but didn't want them to enjoy him. People like Tom Waits and Jackson Publick and Steve Carell and Matthew Weiner and Amy Sherman-Palladino bust their asses to do good work. They don't phone it in. And just because I didn't like The Return of Jezebel James doesn't mean that they didn't try. It's the people who treat their fans with respect and dignity who really impress me.

So, yeah. The revisionist history is that Andy Kauffman was a misunderstood genius. Me, I think he's just a guy who was spoiled and never learned how to treat people. Still, the Mighty Mouse bit is pretty funny.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

"Rolling Stone" is Incapable of Learning

OK, I don't like to get political here, for one reason. It's boring, and you shouldn't care who I plan to vote for. The last thing I want to read about is what some douche thinks about Obama v. McCain. I'm not saying that it's not worth thinking about or caring about. It's just wrong to think that anbody cares what you believe, politically. Unless you have an interesing take on things, your political opinions are much less interesting to everybody else than their own. Also, "righteous indignation" is not "an interesting take".

That said, I want to touch on the election just a bit, because of how much Rolling Stone's political coverage sucks. On a regular basis, the editors make the dangerous mistake of assuming that all of their readers share the same political leaning. Sure, I'm willing to bet a high percentage of their subscribers swing left, but their coverage is built around the deeply patronizing idea that you already agree with the magazine's editorial position, and they just have to remind you of that. At its worst, Rolling Stone shares President Bush's most irritating habit -- they deal with dissent with a know-it-all smirk and a smug air that suggests that you're the stupidest person alive for not getting it.

They spent primary season using Matt Taibbi as their main reporter, where he turned in the exact same profile of all the Republican candidates. "(Blank) seems nice, but his campaign is poorly run and he believes crazy things." Not only is this boring, but Taibbi's writing betrays a venomous hatred for middle America, and that's where the real problem is. Not only is the Rolling Stone philosophy that disagreeing with them automatically makes you wrong, but they try not to acknowledge the existence of those who disagree.

Feel like reading some articles reporting a Barack Obama win in November as if it's already happened? How about a t-shirt comemmorating his first day in office? It's all there!

The current issue has a cover feature on "How Bush Destroyed the Republican Party". And I assume they mean the Republican Party that currently holds a slight lead in the national polls. See, their political reporting comes from the angle that Republicans have been vanquished, and we're all just waiting it out until January. Exactly the same as the angle they took in 2000 and 2004. For pete's sake, they wrote the same laudatory articles about John Kerry they're writing about Obama. Kerry! Nobody was excited about Kerry, but he was written up as the second coming. So was Gore. Heck, they airbrushed a portrait of Gore to give him a giant unit.

Here's the thing, right or wrong, middle America shows up to vote. They really show up to vote when they feel threatened, like when major publications proclaim that they don't matter, and probably don't even exist anyway. Young people and potheads, key parts of Rolling Stone's readership don't vote, because they're lazy and often stupid. And they're especially not going to vote if they think the election is already won.

Rolling Stone caters to those buttholes who hang out and talk about how unfair the world is, and don't actually do anything about it because they're congratulating themselves on how deep they are. Instead of motivating them, the magazine strokes their egos and righteous indignation. And this is now the third consecutive election where they've done this. I would think by now they'd realize that creating the idea that "their" candidate has already won, rather than reminding people of the importance of actually voting, is probably not the best strategy. Obama's anything but a lock, and they're only hurting his campaign by pretending anything else.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Farewell, Sweet 24

No, I haven't forgotten. I'll be writing about the 2-part Venture Bros. season finale shortly. I'm still pretty shook up. That was right up there with the last shot of Lost Season Four. I screamed.

Anyway, if you enjoy when I write about Venture Bros., check out my post-mortem of Season Three over at spunkybean.

Hot dogs are ready. I go now.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Fan Entitlement

Did you guys see The Clone Wars? If not, don't. I beg of you.

I hated it. Now, it'll help if you read my review over on spunkybean. It's pretty funny, if I say so myself. But my point here is that the movie made me angry. I see crappy things all the time that don't make me angry, so that's not a reaction with which I'm totally comfortable.

A lot of the reviews, because America hates this movie, have a sense of entitlement about them. You know, like George Lucas owes us a decent movie. (Not like he's given us one in 25 years, but let's not get into that.) That kind of thinking pops up a lot in the Nerd Community. We've very protective of the licensed characters with whom we spend so much of out lives. That said, I don't usually get behind that. I don't want to be one of those "Bendis raped my childhood" guys. (PS: I totally heart Bendis.) A lot of people get all Drama Student about things, claiming that a bad issue of Green Lantern ruined their childhood memories, or that they have been actively wronged by a subpar season of 24.

One thing I've learned is that almost all creative people try to do something good that people will like. Even the worst movies have at least one person at the heart of it who thought it would be good. Whether the process itself ruins their intentions or whether they just have a skewed idea of what people will find enjoyable, people generally don't set out to make crap.

I said in the review that Clone Wars actually damaged the existing Star Wars movies, but it's not just because it's lousy. It's because it was made with such a complete lack of care. Nobody ever thought it was going to be good. It drips with contempt for the audience, and that's what offends me. George Lucas owes me absolutely nothing. But as a creative person, particularly an influential one, he should feel obligated not to squeeze out crap. The prequels sucked, but at least they felt passionate. The people who made them tried to make good movies that they cared about. That didn't happen here.

I'm angry because I cared about Star Wars for a very long time, and George Lucas and company think I'm an asshole for doing so.

I don't know why I'm writing about this for the second time in a week. I guess I don't want to be one of those crazy people who gets angry about bad entertainment. I get angry about people who willfully do a crappy job. I get angry at people who are openly contemptuous of their audience.

You know what? It's hard to make a movie. Just getting something put together in halfway viewable condition takes a lot of work. When somebody with infinite manpower and resources does only the bare minimum to get a movie completed, it's an insult. No, George Lucas doesn't owe us anything at all. But there's a big difference between being a one-trick pony with a tin ear for dialogue (and who stole an absolutely horrifying amount of the cornerstones of his empire from Jack Kirby's work) and being a dick.

Stupid Lucas.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Danny McBride and Billy Quizboy -- Together at Last

--I would just like everybody to know that I am the #5 Google Result when you look up "Billy Quizboy". This is the kind of think that makes me very proud. Considering that two of the sites ranking higher than me are Billy's wikipedia entry and Billy's MySpace page, I think that's pretty awesome.

--I am officially inking Danny McBride's name into my list of People Who Are Awesome. I've been kind of fascinated with him since he appeared as Fred Simmons on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. In the last three weeks, I've seen him in The Foot Fist Way, Pineapple Express, and Tropic Thunder. He was awesome in all three. Foot Fist was painfully funny, and he absolutely stole Pineapple Express. His role in Tropic Thunder was small, but every single one of his lines was funny. "I almost blinded Jamie Lee Curtis on the set of Freaky Friday..." And he's got an HBO series on tap. Yeah, that's right. I am this close to not being able to talk about how much HBO sucks these days. Get Milch's new show on the schedule, and you'll have me back full-time. So get on it, Home Box Office!

Anyway, Danny McBride? Awesome. Seriously, if you're in a movie with Seth Rogen, Gary Cole, and Craig Robinson, and you can steal the movie, you're a force to be reckoned with. Check it out -- he's even getting his own tag!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Venture Bros. 3-11 -- ORB


There was lot to this episode. This season, they've expanded the Venture Universe into a bona-fide mythology. It's reaching Lost levels, with the introduction of the Orb and the early incarnation of the Guild. We're only starting to learn just how much we don't know about the structure of their world, and I love it.

This doesn't specifically relate to this episode, but I had thought recently. In the Venture universe, time travel is almost always portrayed as an invention of the past. Recently, Hank made a reference to "Time travel guys from the past showing up to yell at my dad". In Season Two, the cultists in "Escape to the House of Mummies, Part 2" had an ancient time machine, and Season One's "Are You There God? It's Me, Dean" featured Grover Cleveland's time machine. Other than Brainulo, we've never seen a time traveler from the future. That's weird, isn't it?

Now, to the episode:

--The opening scene from the Rusty Venture cartoon was fantastic. I loved the animation style they used, which perfectly evoked Hanna-Barbera animation, even considering it was a cartoon on a cartoon.

--Oh yeah, Billy Quizboy! Kind of cool that he uses a toilet paper roll to crack Jonas' code, considering that the injury that made him remember his past was caused by reaching for a toilet paper roll. Ah, symmetry.

--Did Jonas Venture invent the Internet? He hid a URL in a 70's cartoon, for Pete's sake.

--Brock's especially angry in this episode. Killing a henchman did not mellow him out, after all.

--Doc's Mocho-coolers sound like the worst drink ever, and I will have to serve them at a Venture Bros. party one day.

--Aw, Scamp. Between last week's reference to Speedy and now Scamp, we're getting a lot of early episode references lately.

--OK, we've got a flashback to the early days of the Guild. Now, it's pretty clear that this Guild evolved into the Guild of Calamitous Intent, but at this point, their intentions are seemingly more benevolent. Members include Colonel Venture (Presumably Rusty's grandfather, since he was also a super-scientist. His great-grandfather was a milliner.), Fantomas (A French villain from pre-WWI novels. Also apparently an ancestor of Phantom Limb), Eugen Sandow (Yes, Venture's bodyguard is a real person. He's the "father of modern bodybuilding.") Mark Twain, Aleister Crowley, Oscar Wilde, and a number of unidentifiable members.

Also, their enemy is Nikola Tesla. Hey, do you remember who played Tesla in The Prestige? None other than the modern day Guild's Sovereign, David Bowie!

--The promo for Rusty Venture cracks me up. Nothing more to say there. Oh, wait: "The Rusty Venture Show is brought to you by... smoking!"Ha!

--"Do they have a bedtime, or any dietary concerns? I've noticed Hank eats a lot of refined sugars." Pete White -- Babysitter Extraordinaire!

--Bizzy Bee is back! Everybody's favorite Walt Disney stand-in is all over those shots of Times Square. Doc and Billy in their costumes? Fantastic sight gag!

--Brock loves that car, you know. It should not be trying to murder him.

--Holy crap, Hunter Gathers is a stripper! With a fantastic body, too. And now we know why Brock was assigned to bodyguard Doc. It seems there's a schism between OSI proper and some of the old-school agents, and the OSI is willing to kill Brock to make sure that the Orb is used. So both the Guild and OSI have significantly strayed from their original mission statements. I wonder if we'll see how that happened.

--Kano can talk, and is apparently a Stern fan. Also, he's got something to atone for. (And both he and Brock watch Top Chef. Hee.)

--Yay, the Alchemeist! This is going to prove to be the first time he's ever been useful.

--The Orb is either a weapon or an engine, according to Colonel Venture. (Should I find it significant that he uses the word "alchemists" immediately after a scene featuring "the" Alchemist?) Sandow kills Venture, and draws the conclusion that Kano killed Jonas. Kano doesn't answer, but he doesn't deny it. And earlier he said he'd taken a great man from the world. Damn, I think we've got our answer as to how Jonas died. Anybody predict that one? Didn't think so.

--You know, they constructed a darn good riddle for this episode.

--I like seeing Doc actually feeling positive for once. "Rusty's back" indeed.

--I'm really stunned that Brock was ready to kill Doc. But I think he wouldn't even have considered it if OSI hadn't tried to kill him. If somebody wants to make sure the Orb is used that badly, Brock's going to make damn sure it isn't. But boy, did Brock look happy when Doc decided not to use it. He's got a heart.

--Finally, somebody called Jonas "a crappy father"! And isn't it weird to see Rusty making the right choice? Between this and rejecting Killinger's offer to turn to evil, Doc actually acted ethically a couple of times this season.

--Never thought Doc and Billy would do the "Go Team Venture", but I loved it.

--OK, not cool to end the episode with Brock in mortal danger -- OSI wants him dead, all right.

And now we just have the two-part season finale. I'm a little worried. Relationships are fraying all over the place, and with all the references to immortality, I can't help but think that somebody in the main cast is going to die before all is said and done. Frankly, that idea horrifies me. I just don't think the season finale is going to end on a happy note.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Something I Realized About Two-Face

OK, it's taken three viewings, but I just realized that Two-Face in The Dark Knight does not have multiple personality disorder. I think it's the first time I've seen the character in more than 15 years where he didn't. I don't remember if that portrayal began with the animated series, or if Matt Wagner did it first in Faces. Regardless, it stuck. Other than Batman Forever, where he was poorly thought-out and just used as a gimmick (Tommy Lee Jones kept flipping the coin until he got the answer he wanted), Harvey Dent has been consistently portrayed with MPD.

It worked beautifully in the animated series, but the MPD has been a crutch too often. He can do anything, he's crazy! And, you know, what luck that the guy with a second personality gets half his face scarred. The movie showed us a Harvey Dent with a dark side who, when pushed, can't hold it back the way he used to. Harvey doesn't have a separate personality talking to him -- he's an intense guy who lost everything and is willing to trust people's fate to the flip of a coin. (And, you know, Harvey had that gimmick decades before Anton Chigur game around.)

It's weird that I didn't think about that instantly, but I guess that's just a testament to how carefully written the characters were in The Dark Knight. It felt correct, instead of feeling like a divergence. So really, this is just me taking a minute to point out once again that Dark Knight is awesome.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Venture Bros. 3-10 -- "The Lepidopterists"

Another episode without the boys or Doc. On the other hand, they did prove I was right last week -- last week's episode did indeed take place in between the episode proper and the tag of "Tears of a Sea Cow". Yeah, me. I'm awesome!

I know I cite a lot of favorite characters, but everytime there's a Monarch episode, I'm a happy man. That said, let's see what entertanined me this week.

--Wow, a Voltron parody! I have thought about Voltron exactly zero times in the last twenty years, but that was hilarious. And of course, Ned has a clown head to fly around in. JJ is pretty good to him, really. Man, that's a good parody, though. Right down to the speed lines.

--OK, when I predicted the Monarch could take JJ, I didn't know there was a giant robot involved.

--Hee. "No-no word." Damn, that was funny. Is it wrong that Ned cracks me up so consistently.

--Henchman Number One? Well, he's dead. I love that 21 and 24 are "that rare blend of expendable and invulnerable". Although, this is the second time that's been referenced in a couple of weeks, so now I'm worried about my favorite henchmen.

--In the heat of battle, Monarch calls his wife "Dr. Girlfriend". Somebody's going to sleep on the couch tonight....

--Hey, here we see the tension between JJ and the Captain building. You may remember that as a key plot point last week.

--Mr. Doe and Mr. Cardholder are awesome. "If he had a reality show, I'd watch it." "I'd watch it twice. Even if Flava Flav was in it."

--21 and 24 are getting all meta on us. And that henchman named Speedy that they reference? He's the one Brock killed in the first episode!

--The OSI bring Brock in on a mission -- that's pretty unusual that they pull him off bodyguard duty. I'm kind of surprised Brock's so willing to kill the Monarch, as I thought they'd developed an uneasy peace. Well, the guy's a professional, I guess. I like Brock defending the system, by the way. He's the smartest guy on the show.

--Of course the Monarch can make this all about Rusty. Man, he'll be arching Doc full-time before the end of the season.

--21 and 24 are right -- it is pretty freaky when Lara Croft drowns in the Tomb Raider games.

--I love that the Monarch is mildly surprised that the henchmen succeeded. He's been paying attention.

--Aww, Brock just wants to fire the death ray.

--The more 21 and 24 talk up their knack for survival, the more I worry about them. In the meantime, they're cracking me up.

--"It's like getting sucked off by an angel!" Wow.

--It's been a long time since Brock killed one of the Monarch's henchmen. I hope he enjoyed it. Frankly, he deserves a little fun.

--And that was actually a really good plan the Monarch had with the fake cocoon. Now he's free to arch Venture again.

And hey, that was an ad for next week's episode there. I don't know why Billy Quizboy is digging a hole, but I don't question the ways of Quizboy.

Monday, August 4, 2008

I Heart "Mad Men"

Here is a partial list of things that were awesome about Sunday's episode of Mad Men.

1. I'm not a guy who actually says "Oh, snap", but I said it like four times this episode. "I didn't realize you were in your thirties." Ha! "One thing I wouldn't call Paul is open-minded." Damn, that's cold.
2. Paul's girlfriend? That was a surprise.
3. Pete's reaction to his father's death was so off-kilter and yet totally believeable. I think he comes from a family of robots.
4. That Duck guy is no good. You've got to think Don regrets giving him the job -- it's like he created his own archenemy. Like he built a Golem.
5. Peggy's baby hates her. And Peggy goes from sympathetic to awful so quickly, it's really amazing.
6. Betty's got some spine this year, doesn't she? I worry about where she's headed, but it's good to see her standing up. I really want to know what happened between her and Don during the missing 15 months.
7. When Don gets upset, he tends to slip into his natural rural accent. It's a clever touch that Jon Hamm pulls off without making it too obvious.
8. Don actually follows his conscience, and still gets called out for being a dirty liar. It's sort of Karmic payback, I guess, but he really did fight for Mohawk Air.
9. Along those same lines, putting Pete on the American Airlines account is just about the most manipulative thing I can imagine. I can't decide if his willing participation makes it better or much, much worse.
10. How cool is Don Draper? So cool that he's taught his children to mix drinks! Truly, we are in the presence of greatness.

So, if you're not watching Mad Men, you have made some wrong choices in your life.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Venture Bros. 3-9: "Now Museum, Now You Don't"

Man, Jonas was a dick!

That's right, it's another installment of the least timely Venture Bros. commentary around. And this episode was just full of delicious continuity goodness, and enough recurring characters to choke a horse. (By the way, I've decided that this week's episode happens between last week's episode proper and last week's tag, since there are no references to the Monarch attacking J.J.)

Sadly, for the first time, Professor Impossible was not voiced by Stephen Colbert (though Jackson did a good job faking it), but we did get Toby Huss as Scaramantula, so that's not too bad. Huss has been on Newsradio, King of the Hill, and Reno 911!, so you know he's awesome.

Well, let's get to the commentary!

--So, Spider Skull Island belonged to Scaramantula! Answering a question I didn't even know I had, really. Also, note that the villains make up the "Fraternity of Torment", suggesting that this predates the Guild. Manotaur, we've seen him before in the present (future?), when Phantom Limb shows up to kill him. And Doc Venture trying to look Japanese by pulling back his eyes is hilarious. Wrong, but hilarious.

--Aw, poor Rusty. Is it just me, or does Jonas not seem particularly concerned about his son's deathtrap? It's great to see the entire original Team Venture, including Humongoloid. We first met him a couple weeks back as the tiny Dr. Entmann. Nice touches include the overenthusiastic Action Man, and Otto Aquarius' telepathy using the same sound effect as Aquaman's used to. And then we get a young Professor Impossible as a junior member.

--"The Jonas Venture Jr. Museum of Jonas Venture"? Ha!

--I know Jackson and Doc are Marvel guys, but Entmann riding everywhere on Brock's shoulder makes me think of how Hawkman always used to carry the Atom around. As long as I've nerded it up, modern-day Brainulo seems to be a parody of Green Lantern's enemy, Hector Hammond.

--J.J.'s jetpack produces tiny little circles just like George Jetson's.

--Hey, Richard Impossible's airship looks exactly like the Fantasticar! Funny how that worked out....

--Ook Ook, from the flashback, is frozen in the ice block that Hank licks. Is this episode the first appearance of Ook Ook? I think it is...

--The picture on the wall shows Jonas and the Boys Brigade. Looks like in their younger days Prof. Impossible, Phantom Limb, and the Alchemist were members. There's a big guy in a sweater and Tom Landry's hat that I can't identify. He might be Bud Manstrong, though.

--You know, J.J.'s kind of a dick, too.

--There is never a time when Billy Quizboy doesn't make me laugh. Pantsless Ned? Also funny.

--I love Scaramantula's explanation of his name. Also, I just noticed he has eight fingers on his right hand. Hee.

--Clearly, Doc blames Team Venture for his father's death. However, that's secondary to the fact that Colonel Gentleman is alive and well! Gentleman also confirms that he's not Dr. Quymn's real father and drops an awesome He-Man reference, all in two lines. Nice job!

--J.J. leaves Doc out of the photo recreation because he "wasn't in the original" (possibly because nobody ever untied him...), but J.J. wasn't either. Man, I'm starting to hate that guy.

--I love Brainulo mainpulating everybody's dark sides, only to find out Mr. White doesn't have one. His inner self is just as sleazy and pathetic as his outer self.

--Hey, that's Dick Cavett's second appearance this season! Now, in the film, Dick ask Jonas for his greatest achievement and greatest invention, and Jonas says Rusty is both. Holy crap! Is that confirmation that Rusty is a clone? Or rather, that J.J. is a clone and Rusty was the genetic byproduct? Wow!

Four episodes left this season! How much more can Jonas crap on his legacy? I'm betting a lot.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Quick Thoughts on Movies that Don't Involve Batman

Yeah, I saw some other movies over the last couple of weeks. They still involved superheroes, because, you know, I don't like to stray from my wheelhouse.

--Hellboy 2 was pretty awesome. I liked the first movie, despite the plot holes, mostly because I find the character so appealing. This time out, it displayed more of the sensibilities of both director Guillermo del Toro and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. And those aren't necessarily the same sensibilities, which makes for a movie that's packed full of stuff.

The plot's largely insane, but easy to follow. The character work is really good, especially giving Abe Sapien more room to develop. The visuals are fantastic -- I especially liked the opening scene, telling the story of the Golden Army using marionettes. And I was pleased to see Johann Krauss, one of my favorite Hellboy supporting characters, make it to the movie. (Though, you know, Seth McFarlane doing the voice? Not cool.) I like the way they played him, and he added a lot to the story. (Next movie, Roger the Homunculus? Please?)

What's really fun about the movie is the characterization of Hellboy himself. He's just a regular, blue collar guy. By the nature of what he is, he's thrown into insane situations, but he still reacts by either punching or shooting. He's very relatable, in this world of troll bazaars and Forest Elementals. He's a nice guy, who also happens to be the Apocalypse Beast. (If there's another movie, I'd like to see them really deal with this plot point. I'm of the belief that he has free will in the matter, but I'd like to see it wrapped up.)

Abe's love story is quite effective, and the scene with Hellboy and Abe getting drunk is pretty hilarious. All in all, I liked it a lot. Yay for Hellboy!

--And then there was Hancock. Actually, I really liked the first two-thirds of the movie. Will Smith is always likeable, Jason Bateman is hilarious, and Charlize Theron is both funny and hot. (Sidebar: It's possible that Hancock is the movie where she is the most hot. Further research is necessary, though.) The story is pretty good, and I liked Hancock's attempts to become better. And, yeah, "Call me an asshole one more time..." is a pretty good catchphrase.

But when it falls apart, it falls apart hard. Here's how you know when it happens: "Gods, angels, we've been called a lot of things..." The specifics of the plot don't make a lick of sense at this point, and it's all just sloppy. Don't even try to figure out why Hancock's powers come and go at the times they do. It'll just make your head hurt.

And the turning point didn't have to suck. There could have been some cool stuff to it, but they let it all slide. Like, if Hancock's been around for 80 years with powers and no memory, wouldn't he be a more entrenched part of society? The movie acts like he's a newcomer. In 80 years, people would have adapted to dealing with him. And if he's been around for 80 years, he predates the concept of a superhero. That term shouldn't even be in the movie. Would there be a Superman if Hancock were around? Maybe, but a whole genre wouldn't be named after him, not with a real guy doing that kind of thing.

I wish they would have dealt with the race issue, too. If there is exactly one super-being, and he's Black, that would freak some people out. But the fact that he goes so far back, well, wouldn't society have developed differently? That would be a story right there. Maybe the Civil Rights movement started 20 years earlier. This is stuff I would have liked to see. (I think I might actually be suggesting Hancock fan fiction. This is an alarming turn of events.) You can't just introduce an element like Hancock and have society at large be the exact same thing that we're familiar with.

And if I may nitpick, the Hancock Revenge Squad forms before he loses his powers. Three regular guys decide to take him down with guns? Not a great move when he's invulnerable, you know?

Still, it had its moments, and I liked the cast. Bateman is bound and determined to be consistently awesome, and I love him for it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Venture Bros. 3-8: "Tears of a Sea Cow"

Man, Jonas is a... Oh, wait. He wasn't in this episode.

I like the advertised title "Murder O'Clock" much better than the actual title, but it seems like a waste to use that title on an episode without Brock.

Wait a minute, could it be? A Monarch-themed episode? Truly, this is the greatest generation. Well, let's get to it, shall we?

--The opening sequence, with the ill-fated Dr. Dugong, was fantastic. I loved the Murder Moppets in their new costumes as the Pupa Twins. I loved seeing how hard Dr. Mrs. The Monarch is trying to make the marriage work. Most of all, I loved the way the Monarch freaked out at the end. It was cool to see that the Monarch's hatred for Venture is back in full force. Ever since their uneasy peace, Monarch seems to hate him out of inertia, but this is sheer loathing right here. I'm guessing we'll get the origin of their feud soon, since it's been referenced a couple of times this season.

--Hank and Dermott have a band? Awesome. The vocals, bass, and "drums" didn't match up in the slightest, which was also awesome. And HELPER's drums were just about the most irritating sound effect ever.

--After getting a single reference two weeks ago, "The Venture Home News" is a major plot point! Hee! Dean takes it so seriously, too. And the fact that The Monarch is a subscriber, well, that made my whole week.

--And in Dean's "Affection Directions" column, we see that 21 is back to his "G. Viceroy" alias from the beginning of last season. I think this is the first we've heard of his crush on Dr. Mrs. The Monarch. And note that Dean's response is actually about his own crush on Triana ("It doesn't matter that her Dad is magic...") Am I alone in thinking that the repeated use of "weenis" is a Mr. Show reference?

--Have they mentioned the "Boom Broom" before? I'm kind of dying to know what it is.

--The Guild frowns on murder? Boy, sure seems like the Guild is mostly in place to keep villains tied up with red tape and pointless rules, doesn't it? Still convinced that Jonas founded the Guild...

--The henchmen play Guitar Hero? Sweet.

--Note Dermott's incompetence with tackling HELPER. No way he's Brock's kid.

--Dean kept the Speed Suit! "I wear it when I'm doing science."

--The boys really want to go to public school, huh? I'm thinking that this set of Brothers have survived longer than any of the previous clones -- they're developing their own interests and looking for more freedom. Awwww, Team Venture is growing up.

--"Brock would kill me. It's his only tape!" Hee. And Dermott's interest in borrower Brock's tape brings us back around to him actually being Brock's son. I can't decide where I stand with that kid.

--Hey, it's GUARDO! Remember when I said that Rusty using Viagra for his "alone time" was the creepiest thing ever? And then a week later the box of Kleenex on the control panel where Mr. White and Doc watch Brock and his lady friends was even creepier? Well, we have raised that bar this week, my friends. The Monarch furiously humping a robot with Doc's face? We went sailing past creepy with that one... And you know what? They did such a good job of building up Monarch's frustrated obsession that it sort of makes sense. Crazy creepy, but it's in character. And the way Monarch dealt with Dean was brilliant. That guy knows his enemies.

--The scene with 24 and Dermott was the biggest laugh of the episode. And just because Dermott claims to be Brock's son, I'm not convinced. I think he was going for intimidation there. Or else I'm just willfully disregarding Occam's Razor.

--When Dr. Mrs. The Monarch means business, she goes back to her old costume. Nothing strikes fear into underlings like a pillbox hat. The Murder Moppets are getting even more unsettling in their lust, by the way. "I saw Mum's clean panties..." Ew.

--I really like the Monarch marriage -- other than the parts that are insane, it actually feels like a real relationship. Monarch's having trouble being part of a couple, Dr. Mrs. The Monarch is really putting in a lot of effort to make this work, and really wants him to be happy. Is it possible that this is my favorite TV marriage right now?

--A lot of people had a problem with the scene between Hank and 21. They've seen each other a number of times since the "shooting in the face" incident, and it's never come up. Personally, I think it makes sense. They've been enemies until recently, and I think they kind of bonded back during "Home is Where the Hate Is", so now 21 feels obligated to tell him. However, I'm not sure how 21 saw Hank die twice. In the big death montage, he wasn't present for any of Hank's earlier deaths. But, you know, we only saw quick glimpses. There could be more to the story. It'll be interesting to see how Hank deals with this. Is he going to take stupid risks? (Well, stupider...) And what happens if one of the boys dies, but not the other? Does Brock take care of business so they can ready a new set of clones? This is going to be dark, folks.

--And the best tag ever. I'm ridiculously excited about the Monarch henching JJ. See, I think despite JJ's overall competence, the Monarch's going to tear him apart. He's got hatred on his side, after all. JJ can't deal with that. Besides, it's usually Brock who wins the battles, and JJ doesn't have Brock. I really hope they follow up on this plotline.

I'm still hoping we can get a big Brock-centric episode yet this season. Until then:

DERMOTT: I can't run because I have a lighter up my ass.
24: OK, now I believe you're Hank's friend.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Venture Bros. 3-7: What Goes Down Must Come Up

Man, Jonas Venture was a dick.

Seriously, and I know I mention this every week now, but for two seasons he was always sort of held up as this embodiment of perfection that Doc could never achieve. I don't remember ever seeing his dark side until this season, and now that's all we see. This episode might be a new low, what with neglecting to save all the kids exposed to poison gas so that he and his buddies can escape more quickly. There are some screenshots on Jackson Publick's blog that lead me to believe we're going to see how Jonas died before the season is over, and when that time comes, we're all going to say "Good!"

Now, I completely missed one of the big jokes of the episode, namely how the sewer people were all wearing costumes from 1980's music videos. I spotted Thriller Michael Jackson and Clown Bowie, but I couldn't place the others, so I didn't figure out the theme. My blog buddies Mysterious Don and Myndi are much better at this sort of thing than I am. Me, I spent the 80's obsessing over who was behind the Hobgoblin's mask, so I didn't see a lot of videos. Actually, I don't watch many videos now. It's entirely possible that I don't like music videos, actually.

I think the bullet point style I've done for the last couple of episodes works better, so I'll stick with it. It wasn't my favorite episode of the season, but I still liked it a lot. Not as consistently hilarious as last week, but The Order of The Triad absolutely made this episode. I always liked Jefferson Twilight, but this episode was his finest work yet. He was always funny, but was he always this funny?

--The scene with the big drill vehicle had two nice bits: Brock being creeped out, yet again, by Doc making a sex joke; and Rusty calling the drill "a monument to my father's repression". Dude, there are a lot of things you can say about Jonas, but "repressed" is not one of them. I think Doc has blocked out giant portions of his childhood.

--This episode gave us one of my favorite Hank lines ever: "There was even talk of french toast.. but there was none to be had." If I tell you how hard I laughed at that, you'll think I'm crazy.

--The fact that Orpheus makes action figures of his friends is really endearing. "I merely repainted an old Mego doll of the Falcon."

--I love how specific Jefferson's abilities are. "They haven't been taken by Blaculas, but I'm not prepared to rule out Caucasian vampires." How common is vampirism in the Venture world that a man can carve out a career as a Blacula slayer?

--I don't think the tiny guy's name was ever mentioned in the episode, but I liked Brock trying to come up with the Marvel superhero that guy reminds him of, and never quite getting to Ant-Man. Even better was tiny guy suggesting just about everybody else. And the fact that right outside the door were parodies of Dr. Strange and Blade, well, that was just a little joke bonus.

--By the way, not cool to have Orpheus' visit to the Master take place offscreen. Do not rob us of an H. Jon Benjamin appearance.

--In the second half of the episode, Jefferson is wearing the pants from Dean's Spider-Man pajamas. Hee.

--So, when Mr. White tells the boys about how he and Doc use the nightvision to spy on Brock and his lady friends, and then pushes aside a box of Kleenex... did anybody else get seriously creeped out?

--Well, now I'm obsessed with the question of who Rusty's mother is. The fact that Jonas built a supercomputer named MUTHER presents a lot of questions. He had issues with women, that's for sure. Tiny Guy even says that she and Jonas "had a falling out over parenting issues". It occurs to me that there aren't any regular characters on the show who have two parents. Everybody seems to have one mystery parent, and that's getting a lot of play this season.

--I rarely mention the Alchemist, but he's consistently funny, and I love Dana Snyder's voice work. Of course, I always picture Master Shake, but that's not a bad thing.

--This episode marks the first time this season the boys have done a proper "Go Team Venture!" Just thought you'd like to know.

--OK, the Sewer People using the missile as a toilet is just disgusting.

--According to the credits, Tiny Guy's name is "Dr. Paul Entmann". Ha!

Next week (well, tomorrow) we have "Murder O'Clock". Probably the third or fourth time this season I've claimed "Best episode title ever", but I really mean it this time.

Friday, July 18, 2008

This Just In: Dark Knight is Awesome!

My review is up at spunkybean and I'm punchy from lack of sleep, but I'll just say here that I loved The Dark Knight, and comfortably proclaim it to be the best superhero movie ever.

One thing I didn't mention there because it could be considered a spoiler. (Let's face it, if you're reading this, you know that Harvey Dent becomes Two-Face.) The Two-Face design is positively terrifying. The make-up is really disturbing, and it freaks me out. Sure, I've seen Two-Face drawn without lips on the scarred side of his face, but to see it in live action is horrifying. And the hole in his cheek and the exposed piece of his jaw... I've seen Two-Face about a hundred times, but this was the first time I ever gasped.

I'll get to Venture Bros. tomorrow. Promise.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Slight Interruption in Service

--All right, I don't have the weekly Venture Bros. entry ready just yet. It might be the weekend before I get to it, but it's happening. Let me just say that Jefferson Twilight freaking stole the episode. "This isn't the work of Blaculas. I can't rule out caucasian vampires." Awesome. All of his lines just killed.

Why am I too busy, you may ask? Why, Batman Week, of course. That's right, spunkybean is celebrating the release of The Dark Knight all week. As I write this, I have three huge articles up that you will like if you're EJ fans. And if you're reading this, you're an EJ fan. Or else you Googled "Hen in a pumpkin".

Seriously, "Hen in a pumpkin" is the new "I don't know Butchie instead". I'm not sure what to make of that. Regardless, we'll talk Venture Bros. this weekend, and like all Venture-related conversations since the beginning of the season, it will include the phrase "Boy, Jonas was really a dick, wasn't he?"

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Mysterious Birthday

-A belated "Happy Birthday" to Mysterious Don, who celebrated his transition into demographic undesireability yesterday. Without Don's intervention, there'd be no Swear Jar, so lift a glass to the man whenever you accidentally stumble on this site while Googling "Hen in a Pumpkin".

-Speaking of things that are awesome, next week is "Batman Week" on spunkybean. Granted, for me, every week is Batman Week, but this is very cool. Check it out for fine Batman writing from both normal people and obsessives.

-That's all I've got today. This is a very short blog entry. What more do you want from me?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Venture Bros. 3-6 -- "Dr. Quymn, Medicine Woman"

OK, I have to say it:
"Go, Team..... Boobies! Gosh!"

I was not a huge fan of the episode on the first viewing, but the second time through, I was absolutely howling. I daresay this is the funniest Dean has ever been, even if he's steadily more unhinged. "The both of youse got jungle fever. The both of youse!" "Henry Alan so-called Venture!" Very little is funnier than Dean pushed to the limit.

I hope Mysterious Don was happy, as this episode featured actual venturing. And just for Myndi, they had that key party scene. (Because she recaps Swingtown, not because... oh, never mind.)

I am more sure than I have ever been about anything that Jonas Venture is Dr. Quymn's father. In the flashbacks, she and Rusty look almost exactly the same. Jonas was having an affair with Quymn's mother, and there's no way Colonel Gentleman is her father, what with being totally gay and all. So, yeah, that means Doc and his half-sister almost....

Actually, this whole season has been about mysterious parentage and Doc's sex life, and this episode delivered on both fronts. Besides the possible (probably) sister, we have the mystery of the girls' father, and an indication that Hank and Dean might not be twins. Is it possible they started as clones? I don't know anymore. And of course, the revelation that Rusty hasn't had sex in "19 years, four months, and two days". Presumably, that was when the boys were conceived. (Which also mean that, thanks to all the cloning, they're about 3 1/2 years younger than they should be.)

Just some things to point out, aside from the fact that Dean is still cracking me up and I'm not even watching it right now.
--"Like somebody shook up a six-foot can of... blood soda..." For those of you keeping score at home, this is awesome.
--Hank was really funny this week, too. Especially his attempts to write a song for the girls. Hank is so blissfully oblivious, isn't he?
--Another great tender moment for Brock at the end. "How you holdin' up there, Broken Arrow?" I really liked Brock's reactions to Ginny's flirting (which inevitably turned into lesbianism), too. Sort of confused, but just watching the show.
--Doc Sr. is really an asshat, isn't he? I always thought Rusty's problems came from not being able to measure up, but Jonas is a dick.
--Does the presence of David "The Sovereign" Bowie link Jonas to the Guild of Calamitous Intent? We already know that the Guild is required to observe "Rusty's Law", and now I'm wondering if Jonas actually helped found the Guild.
--Man, it doesn't take much to put Doc off a woman, does it? He was profoundly offended by epilepsy this week. No wonder it's been 19 years...
--Teaching a baboon to box? Brilliant!
--OK, if Doc Venture is taking Viagra, and it's been 19 years... Wow. He's taking erectile dysfunction drugs for his alone time. You are right to shudder.
--And my favorite moment of the week: Dr. Quymn has a seizure and Dean responds by beating her with a chair. Repeatedly. And then: "The power of Christ compels you!" You guys, I lost my mind over this scene. I want it in a small window on my TV screen whenever I'm watching something boring.

Hey, Cartoon Network! Thanks for not giving us promos! Now I've got no way to end these things...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What Has Two Thumbs And Loved WALL-E? This Guy!

There is nothing in the entertainment industry that guarantees quality like the Pixar logo. Once you see that little lamp hop across the screen, you know you're in for a good time.

I loved WALL-E so much. I realize, I'm not exactly objective when it comes to Pixar, as I've loved their entire output. But, you know, they've all been awesome. Most impressive is how individual all of their movies have been. Nine movies, and none of them feel like repetitions of one another.

(Sidebar: I've said for years that the first six or seven Pixar movies actually chronicle the life cycle of an American male. Toy Story is about children, and the resentment you feel when Mom and Dad bring home the new baby. A Bug's Life is about an adolescent or college student, with Flik leaving home to chase his dreams. In Toy Story 2, Woody and Buzz are older, they've seen some stuff, and they're ready to see their family as people, and not just as the ones you're stuck with. Plus, the whole movie is about giving up on the trappings of childhood.

Monsters, Inc. is about two guys who aren't ready to be fathers. And then you have Finding Nemo, which is about an actual father. Marlin is Pixar's first adult protagonist, with adult responsibilities. It was at this point, years ago, when I explained my theory to Swear Jar Buddy Lana, and I further said that their next movie would be about a middle-aged man who's past his glory days. And then we saw the preview for The Incredibles, which is about just that. Based solely on this prediction, Swear Jar Buddy Lana still believes that I am smart, despite my many attempts to prove otherwise.

Cars necessarily fit in to the pattern, with Lightning McQueen being more of an adolescent. However, you can make the case that the story is actually about Hudson Hornet reconciling his long-ago exploits, and embracing the totality of his experience. At the very least, it's a strong B-plot, and close enough to keep the theme. With Ratatouille, they broke from that running idea, which is just as well, since they reached the end of the cycle with Cars.)

As usual, the design and animation is gorgeous. And as with every one of their movies since Finding Nemo, there's at least one scene that I can not distinguish from live-action. (Those Earth backgrounds... How did they do that?) The designs are so intricate, and the Earth scenes at the beginning are so detailed and grimy. It's beautiful.

I loved the silent-movie quality, with WALL-E limited to beeps and clicks, that other than his name and EVE's, don't sound anything like words. He's such an expressive character, and the design is spectacular. WALL-E as a character is immediately likeable.

I like EVE's faux-Mac design -- just try and tell me she shouldn't have an "i" in front of her name. The introduction of EVE turns the movie into something Pixar has never done before -- a love story. Sure, they've had some relationships in the past, but that's always secondary. In WALL-E, love is the point. My favorite scene in the movie, and one that made me cry a little, was when WALL-E brings EVE to his little trailer and shows off his treasures. It's such a perfect, funny scene, but it absolutely nails that feeling you get when you meet somebody special. You want to let them in and share the things you care about, but there's always a chance that they're just going to wreck your stuff. In fact, the scene reminded me of a very specific time in my life, and it just hit home with me. It's fantastic storytelling.

I also liked the Chuck Jones-style interactions between the robots, especially once WALL-E boards the Arcadia. There are chase scenes that could be updated Roadrunner cartoons. And the scene with WALL-E and EVE flying through space around the ship is absolutely beautiful. It's this moment of pure, real emotion that you rarely even see in live action.

And here's a cool thing: Fred Willard appears in the movie. Live Action Fred Willard! He shows up in file footage and old videos as the CEO of "Buy N Large", the monolithic corporation that rendered Earth uninhabitable. Between his appearance and the clips from Hello, Dolly! that WALL-E watches, it creates the idea that the bloated, semi-boneless lumps that comprise humanity in the future are devolved versions of modern humanity. It used to be a world of real people and over time they devolved into simplified, almost featureless caricatures. It's a storytelling choice that worked really well, having the visual comparison of the real Fred Willard and the round, inactive Captain (voiced by Jeff Garlin).

Man, I loved WALL-E. I might as well give Pixar my power of attorney, because they are incapable of not being awesome. Just imagine how much I could do if they took over my life!

Friday, July 4, 2008

SNL Has ALWAYS Kind of Sucked

Last week, in honor of George Carlin, Saturday Night Live re-ran the very first episode, hosted by Carlin. Now, I'd seen hunks of that episode before. Nick at Night and E! re-ran the early episodes in half-hour installments, but that still leave a good bit of the 90 minutes that I hadn't seen. (Weirdly, some sources insist that Paul Simon hosted the very first episode. This seems like a rather binary equation here. Either one or the other ran first. Since IMDB and Myndi both call this the first episode, I'm inclined to agree.)

Anyway, here's the thing. The episode sucked. Hard. Carlin's bits were classic, and maybe a couple of the sketches got a laugh, but there was just about enough to fill 22 minutes of airtime with half-decent material. Holy crap, it was brutal. Fake ads that are parodies of specific commercials are not funny 33 years later, and damn, were there ever a lot of them. One ad in particular was for an iron pill called "Jamitol" (Ow! My sides!), and the ad was Chevy Chase and another man, who Chevy kept referring to as "my wife". I can not find the joke in this sketch. I have discussed this sketch with other peopler who write and perform comedy, and they do not get it.

Valari Bromfield (who in later years, per the aforementioned Myndi, produced The Kids in the Hall) "performed" "comedy". She came out and told the audience "I'm not a comedienne, I'm a school teacher", and then talked to them like a teacher. That was the joke. Seriously. Future Kids aside, when people ask me why there aren't more women ins stand-up comedy, my answer will be "Because Valari Bromfield."

And the bee suits. When I was a kid, watching the Nick at Nite reruns with the volume turned way down so my parents wouldn't know I was still up, I thought the bees were hilarious. Because, you know, it was so ludicrous it was funny. Right? Like, there's not an actual joke, and that's what makes it a joke. Irony, bro. It turns out, 14-year-old EJ was a frigging moron. In his defense, The Simpsons hadn't started yet. You know what? The bees aren't funny! Jokes make things funny! The lack of a joke doesn't make something funny! I want to go back 20 years and kick my younger self's ass.

It's interesting that Carlin doesn't interact with the cast at all. I don't remember if that was common or if he just didn't want to get the suckiness of the sketches all over his sportcoat.

There was a Jim Henson sketch which was mildly entertaining, mostly because I love Muppets, and it was weird to hear proto-Fozzie and Rowlf voices coming out of space aliens. Other than that, it was not a great scene. Once again, it was based around a joke that I just didn't get ("releasing her darts"?) and it was just kind of rambling. I mean, I love me some Jim Henson, but this really did not presage greatness.

I could go on, but there's not much point in slamming something that aired 33 years ago. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I am now starting to wonder if Saturday Night Live has always kind of sucked. I think maybe it has. The early years look better now, because we've been seeing them edited down to half-hour episodes. Any 90-minute episode has to be at least 1/3 passable, right? And heck, for those real clunkers, they plug the musical acts in to pad it.

I've long believed that SNL should be a one-hour show, and now I'm thinking that sometimes it could go down to 30 minutes. Here's my plan: Every week they try to write 90 minutes of material. When they get to the runthrough, they cut everything that sucks. Whatever's left, that's how long the show is. NBC has 50 years of material in their vaults, they can fill the extra time. Let Programming know Saturday morning how long the show's going to run, and then they'll fill the rest of the airtime with classic sketches or a couple episodes of The Office, or something. Survival of the fittest, baby! Nothing gets spared to make the 90-minute mark. If it sucks, it's gone!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Venture Bros. 3-5: "The Buddy System"

"Everybody who's got a father, raise their hands. How come you're not raising your hand? You don't look like Jesus, boy!"

You know, this is the third episode in a row to have a different title than the programming guide indicates. It's very upsetting when my DVR clearly believes this episode is called "Enter the Bad Seed".

Man, what's with the Jonny Quest characters this season? We've seen Hadji and Race Bannon this season, and now Jonny himself gets an appearance, along with Dr. Zinn. Kind of weird that they call him "Action Johnny" now, but I've heard somebody's interested in making a Jonny Quest movie, so they might have to steer clear of the name. Nice vocal performance from Brendon Small, by the way.

Other than 21 and 24, all of the regulars got some screentime this week, which was nice. And no flashbacks at all! The Order of the Triad always makes me laugh, and never more so than when they're imparting safety lessons. "When did we lose them?"

This season is very much about Doc's failures, isn't it? I mean, to an extent, that's what the series is about, but this season's really hit that theme. I do like the idea that the Rusty Venture cartoon is still popular. I'd like to see an episode where some executives pitch an update of the premise to Doc, and now Rusty has a snowboard and an iPod, or something.

And Hank having a friend is hilarious. I love that it's such a foreign concept to the boys. They really don't see people their own age, except for Triana. Also great was Dean freaking out and whaling on Dermott. Between this and his little psychotic break at the end of last season, I'm a little worried for Dean's mental health. Still, Brock was so damn proud!

Speaking of Brock, I know they want us to think that Brock is Dermott's father. There's a slight resemblance, and we know that Brock gets around. Plus "My dad is in BlackOps". But, you know, would Brock tell a one-night stand about his job? Would Dermott cast aspersions on his father's sexuality? No, I think it's not that simple.

Rusty? Possible but not likely. Doc's conquests are so few and far between, he wouldn't have an unknown son out there. Plus, Dermott is about the same age as the boys (or would be if they didn't keep getting cloned), and there's no way that Doc was sleeping with two women at the same time. Plus, if Myra is the boys' mother, she would have killed anybody else who caught his eye.

Now, Dermott does tell his mother that he "met" his father. He didn't directly interact with most of the adults, so Orpheus and the rest are out. You know who I think it is? Master Billy Quizboy! Billy was on the "people mover" with Dermott, and he even took time to shoot poor Billy in the ass. Is Dermott's mother a quiz groupie? Sure, Billy only lasted in BlackOps for a couple of days, but I can certainly imagine him and Mr. White using that line on drunk girls. True, Billy has said that he's a virgin, but we learned this season that most of his memories have been wiped.

Or else it's really Brock and I just went all Lost on a simple plot-point. We'll see who's a genius and who isn't!

Other swell bits that filled my heart with love:

-Doc totally half-assed that day camp, didn't he? You'd think he'd maybe check out E-DEN first before bringing a bunch of kids there. Well, you'd think anybody else would.

-Brock going to Orpheus for advice -- I like that angle. He thinks of Orpheus as clergy. That's always a fun interaction to see.

-Great Brock lines this week, with some hilarious delivery. I especially liked him talking to Monarch through the hidden camera, and his frustration with Dermott at the judo exhibition. "They don't even do that!" Oh, and his attempts to toughen up Dean. Really, any and every Brock scene was awesome.

-Holy crap, the gorilla scene just about killed me. Between Doc's attempts to communicate, and Billy acting like a kitten, it delivered some of the best laughs of the night. And then it went horribly wrong. Poor, poor Billy. Oh, and that kid who got killed. But, you know, clones. (Do we know if Doc invented the cloning technology or if that's another one of Jonas' creations?)

-Somebody's got to say it: Dr. Mrs. The Monarch looks disturbingly hot in her new costume.

Once again, I am thoroughly tickled.

By the way, this is my 350th post! Who's awesome? I'm awesome!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Under the Weather, But Totally Worth it!

--Have to wait until tomorrow for the weekly Venture Brothers chat. I'm feeling a little bit crappy. It was a big weekend. Friday, spunkybean hosted a showing of Army of Darkness, which was really fun. I got to open the event with some stand-up, and a couple of my spunky brethren came down to participate, including Myndi who is one of my blogging BFF's. (By the way, the two of us will be recapping the new season of Big Brother. It should be awesome!) This turned into a long night of getting lost in the city where I live, beer, and loud discussions about pop culture.

Saturday, I drove to Columbus for a Tom Waits concert. Tom Waits is my favorite musician ever, and this is the second time I've been able to see him. It was awesome. Of course, that's five hours either way, and a sleepless night in a Days Inn. Plus, screaming excitedly. So I'm having allergy problems and I absolutely blew out my voice. I'm hurting over here. Totally worth it, but I feel like ass right now. Thank goodness for the four-day week, I guess.

Damn, did I just blog about blogging? I promise I'll talk about cartoons tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Home is Where the Hate Is

First off, I finally got my Guild of Calamitous Intent shirt in the mail. The Venture Brothers Shirt Club was a birthday present to myself, and I squealed with delight at the first shirt. Next up is the Dr. Killinger logo, which I may wear every day for the rest of my life.

Hey, the lead characters actually appeared in this week's episode. And in our parade of minor characters, we've got Sgt. Hatred! (By the way, I just realized that we saw a young Sgt. Hatred in last week's episode.) America's favorite foot-fetishist is back! I never would have picked him as Doc's new archenemy, but I'm thrilled. I love the episodes where these fantastic characters lead these ordinary lives. Sgt. Hatred and Brock Samson talking about the lawn? I love it. Now, I don't find the characterization of Hatred as a pedophile particularly amusing. (Well, except for: "I should have mentioned it back at the compound. I'm actually required by law...".) It's a little too Family Guy for me, and that's never a good thing. However, they pretty clearly established last season that his attraction to Dean was based on his small, womanly feet. But since that wasn't referenced, and wife Princess Tiny Feet wasn't in the episode, that didn't actually come through.

This episode wasn't dripping with continuity, other than the payoff to the long-running joke about stealing from Sgt. Hatred, and the announcement that Dr. Girlfriend is officially "Dr. Mrs. The Monarch". This makes me especially happy, because it means that Jackson and Doc share my love of making names much longer than they need to be. Why just type "Don" or "Richard", when you can type "Mysterious Don" or "Richard 'Batmanuel' Alpert"? Of course, there's always a chance that some offhand line is going to turn into a major plot point down the line (Sgt. Hatred's cat?), but I can't see the future. Still, plenty of funny bits.

--How hilarious was it that they played the same celebrity party game on Venture Brothers and Swingtown this week? I'm pretty sure that the crossover on that particular Venn Diagram is minimal. And you have to love that Sgt. Hatred made tags for Harry Dean Stanton and Mark Knopfler.

--Loved Brock's interest in the PBS documentary about giant crossbows. That's exactly what you would picture Brock watching now, isn't it? I just hope he got to see them fire it.

--So, he's got "HATRED" printed all down his body? Just pray we never see the "D"...

--Was that effete guy chatting up Brock at the party somebody we've seen before? He got a lot of screen time, but I couldn't place him. Nice touch that Sgt. Hatred and the Monarch clearly have different friends, as none of the Monarch's usual guests were there. And was that White Noise in the background?

--The Murder Moppets are starting to grow on me. I like the henchmen so much that I don't want them living in fear, but once Tim-Tom and Kevin dragged in that cat bed, I fell in love.

Can't wait for next week, and I can't wait to see what Mysterious Don calls the various characters. Not so hot with the names, that guy...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

My Continuity Sucks

Here's something I've been thinking a lot about lately. I don't know why, and I don't usually care to discuss anything really personal here (Basically, if you're reading this, you're a friend of mine and you already know, or you don't know me from Adam and have no reason to care.), but his sort of ties in to my usual themes.

My continuity sucks. It's not cool. My backstory is vague and ill-defined, my motivations not fleshed out. You can understand how this upsets me.) I haven't seen my father in nine years, I have a sister I haven't seen in maybe 14 years. In both cases, they left. In my father's case, it was a long time coming, but with my sister, it came out of nowhere. And in both cases, certain things have turned up about those times, but mostly it just creates new questions.

Since they're both gone, these questions can't be answered. All sorts of things went on behind the scenes, and I'm sure it makes for a fascinating story. But nobody can really spell out the specifics, other than my father and sister. Without them, it's just an incomplete story.

Now, it's not really possible to re-establish contact with either of them, nor do I particularly want to. (And of course, I'm not going into specifics here. I already feel like I'm walking the line of being unforgiveably douchey with this level of personal detail.) That just means, there's no way to get my questions answered and establish the timeline. Key events in my past have no motivating factors or context, and that's crappy continuity.

John Locke, Don Draper, Doc Venture -- their backstories are fleshed out gradually, making them more and more real with every pass. I don't have that. And yes, all three of them have father issues. We can learn more about those issues, and how past events inform the choices they make today. That's good characterization. Me, I couldn't even get a decent flashback on Lost, because the interesting bits happened without my knowledge. And yes, to an extent this is true of everybody. Go to your dad and ask him about something that happened fifteen years ago. As we've learned from Desmond and Henry Miller, narrators are unreliable. The past is colored by individual recollections. I get that. But I don't even have access to those accounts that I can try to synthesize into a possible version of the truth.

If I were a character on a TV series, I think people would find me poorly-constructed. My Lostaway flashbacks would frequently contain the phrase "And then, for some reason, this other thing happened..." I'm one of those guys on Oz who got killed or sent to solitary in their very first episode. We all want to be the heroes of our own life, but my backstory is ill-developed. I'll never be Dr. House, Al Swearengen, Jack Shepherd, ot Hank Hill. No, I'm a supporting character at best. I'm Ronald Poklewaldt. Fat Dom. Catclops.

Oh, crap.

You guys, I'm Arzt.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Have You Reserved Your Copy?

--That's right, Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs comes out on Tuesday. This is news of the highest magnitude. Don't believe me? Freaking David Cross is voicing the titular beast! Yeah, I thought that would get you going. Seriously, wait in line until Tuesday and freak out the people at Best Buy. Bring a pillow.

--My reports from the Waterfront Film Festival are up on spunkybean! Nine movies in two days, many of them awesome. You should read my reports. They will fascinate you and make you proud that you know me.

--I have a deep and abiding love for Daily Show correspondents. Sure, there've been a few who have passed through without making much of an impact, but I love just about everybody who stuck around for any length of time. I think the current crew is outstanding, and I am thrilled with new additions Kristen Schaal and Wyatt Cenac. Kristen is, of course, Mel from Flight of the Conchords, so she starts out with about a million points. I love her distinctively awkward style, and I like that John Stewart seems a little afraid of her. But the real find is newbie Wyatt Cenac. It usually takes the audience a while to warm up to new correspondents, but this guy came out of the gate strong. I mean, his first report was about why Lost is better than the Democratic primaries. So clearly, I will heart him forever. There is such a perfection to "Hillary Widmore" that it will haunt me. Go, Wyatt!

--Yeah, I didn't have much to say today. I'm trying to blog more consistently and I just didn't have the energy to finish an entry about why my life has crappy continuity. Seriously, as a character, I am less fleshed out than John Locke. I'll get to that this weekend. Yeah, that's right, I'm running teasers now.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Billy Quizboy and the Invisible Hand of Fate

Sweet, delicious continuity porn! That what The Venture Brothers brought us this week. Sure, that's the second time this season Hank and Dean have gotten shorted, but that's a small price to pay for the glorious backstory of Mr. White and Billy Quizboy.

And with the return of Hunter Gathers right after a Dr. Killinger episode, it's a veritable parade of my favorite minor characters. Can this mean that Colonel Gentleman will also be making another appearance? I mean, he's dead, but so's Hunter. Is it possible this season is just a love letter to me, what with all the continuity and the supporting characters? I am going to assume that it is, even though that's really not a possibility.

Two of the three episodes this season have been flashback-heavy, and I really never imagined that Billy and Mr. White had a backstory, especially one that ties so many of the characters together. I love that the origins of Billy and the Phantom Limb actually are connected. There was that episode last season (can't remember which one) where everybody had a different theory about Phantom Limb, and all of them involved Billy in some way. I'll have to go back and check to see if anybody was actually right. And wasn't Limb just creepy in his early days? His arms were just gross.

Is this the first time we've seen that OSI cares about the Guild one way or another? The espionage stuff is usually kept pretty separate from the superhero parodies. I mean, it makes sense, but I don't think it's ever been referenced specifiically. By the way, the Village People / GI Joe parody was the funniest thing in the episode. Well, except for... the nozzle. Oh, and Brock's inability to say "dramatization".

Why does the OSI assign Dr. Venture a bodyguard anyway? It's not like he's particularly valuable to national security. Unless he is. What if Rusty is actually a super-science genius? His mental blocks keep him ineffectual, but if he ever gets over his massive insecurities he has the potential to be incredibly dangerous. That's why the OSI sends him bodyguards who will keep him crippled. Myra's a sexual predator who makes Doc the woman in the relationship, and Brock is the ultimate Alpha Male, to whom Doc will always feel inferior. So Killinger's makeover was actually a worst-case scenario for OSI.

Let's see, we got the earliest chronological appearance of Dr. Girlfriend and the Venture Brothers themselves. We saw them as infants while Myra was still Rusty's bodyguard and I don't know if that makes it more or less likely that she's their mother. I also liked seeing Dr. Impossible's name on the door at the University, even if it was being removed. Phantom Limb and Dr. Impossible on the science staff at the same time? If only they could get Colbert back to do the voice -- that could be the best flashback ever.

Really unexpected to get that level of emotion from Billy and Mr. White -- the scene near the end where Brock brings Billy over to the trailer is White's only moment of sincerity in the entire series to date. And since there are no throwaways on this show, I have to believe that Billy regaining his memory is going to mean something important before the season is up.

Man, do I love this show. Next week: "My Dinner with Hatred".

Sunday, June 15, 2008

25 Movies that are Funnier than "Annie Hall"

Is it just me, or does the AFI piss anybody else off? I'm so tired of their "100 Greatest Movies" list being trotted out every year or so, and the real problem is it's a list of movies that people are supposed to like. Get beyond what's "important" and look at what's actually good. Anyway, their new desperate stab at relevance is airing on Tuesday, the top 10 films in each of 10 genres. I'll be interested to see what genres they come up with, since they will probably be carefully subdivided to encompass the same movies they manage to list every year.

It's already been noted that they've chosen Annie Hall as the best comedy. Now, I like Annie Hall quite a lot. But is it the best comedy in film history? No. It's not even the best Woody Allen movie, quite frankly. Calling it the best comedy, to me, indicates they're claiming that it's the funniest movie ever. That is, unless their standard for judging comedy focuses on something other than how funny the movie is. Which, knowing the AFI, it probably does. Anyway, I'd like to present a list of 25 movies that are funnier than Annie Hall. This is by no means a comprehensive list, just the ones I could think of off the top of my head.

1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail

2. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

3. Take the Money and Run

4. Raising Arizona

5. Monsters, Inc.

6. The Simpsons Movie

7. Superbad

8. Sleeper

9. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

10. Napoleon Dynamite

11. South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut

12. The 40-Year-Old Virgin

13. Office Space

14. Quick Change

15. Defending Your Life

16. Bubba Ho-Tep

17. This is Spinal Tap

18. Zelig

19. Waiting for Guffman

20. Juno

21. Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Move Film for Theaters

22. Pulp Fiction

23. O Brother, Where Art Thou?

24. Shaun of the Dead

25. Toy Story 2

I'm not claiming that any of these are the funniest movie of all time, but I am claiming that they are all funnier than Annie Hall. Again, I like the movie, but let's be realistic. If you think Woody Allen sneezing over the cocaine is one-hundredth as funny as the Newsteam Rumble, there is something wrong with you.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why I Should Write For Your Show: 24

Here's a new feature. It's clear to me that I should be writing for television. I've lost interest in honest employment, so it's time to move forward. Now, some people will extol the virtues of writing spec scripts and building contacts. Unfortunately, I feel like my attempts to ingratiate myself to professional writers will seem as desperate and creepy as my attempts to meet women. So on occasion, I'm just going to put my ideas here and hope to slowly build up influence and power. I'll begin with 24.

OK, we've spend 144 hours with Jack Bauer, and we don't know anything about him. I realize that 24 is not really the ideal vehicle for introspection and character development. Spending a whole season on a single day cuts down on any real chance for growth. That's all well and good. Still, after six seasons we should know more about him than how he prevents things from exploding.

In a sense, there's not supposed to be more to Jack than the mission. I get that. And that works, to an extent. But we've seen just enough to get the feeling that we're missing something. He is capable of having relationships, even after losing his wife. We don't see much of them, but it's pretty clear that his relationship with Audrey was reasonably healthy. And there was the woman he lived with between Seasons Four and Five -- they seemed happy together. I think it would be interesting to see just a bit of who he is when he's not "on".

And then, it's worth looking at what actually motivates Jack. He had a personal stake in the first season, and since then it's been a job. But why? CTU has kicked him to the curb on more than one occasion, and his own government has betrayed him. To me, the assassination of David Palmer in Season Five should have broken him. They were actually friends -- Jack respected and trusted Palmer, and that loss shattered him. Why does Jack keep risking his life? Is he that fierce a patriot? I'm not sold on that idea. You need a real human presence to connect to an ideal. It's hard to fight for America if you're not motivated by particular Americans.

What does Jack do in between his annual battles with terrorism? I'm not saying they should set a season on his day off or anything, but I'd like to see some of his life bleeding over into his work. He must have friends - maybe he's driven them away, but at some point he must have interacted in a pleasant way with people.

There's a great scene in Season Six, where he's in the medical suite at CTU, and you can see that he's just scarred all over. His right hand is badly burned, his chest is covered with bullet wounds, cuts, burns, and all manner of injury. And in this scene he looks absolutely haunted. His eyes look like his body in that scene. How does he live with himself? Does he gravitate toward crisis just so he doesn't have to deal with what's inside?

There's a great scene in The Punisher movie. Yes, I said it. Actually, they stole it wholesale from Garth Ennis, which explains the greatness:

JOAN: Why do you kill bad people?
FRANK: Because I hate them.
JOAN: Oh. I thought it was to help others.

Is that where Jack's coming from? Does he have to hurt people? Is it not about protecting America anymore, but rather about having somebody to fight? This is what I want to find out.

I'd like to see the season's crisis spring up around Jack, and I'd like to see him have to protect somebody who's important to him. (Just not Kim, for cry pete.) I want to see Jack in a position where he actually has the ability to say "The hell with it" and walk away. I want a situation where somebody else can handle the crisis. Obviously, in order for the show to work, he'll have to not walk away, but once that happens, we can find out why.

Action and character development don't have to be mutually exclusive. We know what motivates Batman or John Locke or Sidney Bristow or Brock Samson. We don't know what motivates Jack Bauer, and once you get to that, it opens up a whole new world.

So, you know, you should hire me to work for 24. Plus, I will be more than happy to write scenes where Jack throws people through windows. The word "defenestration" is not used as liberally as it should be, and I aim to change that.