Monday, April 28, 2008

Fund Raising for Dave

I don't usually go into personal stuff here, but this is kind of important.

My friend (and boss way back in my register jockey days) was shot in a robbery last Friday. Right now, he's stable, but critical.

The important thing is, some really good people have set up a fund to help with his medical bills and keeping his store afloat. If you can spare anything, please check out their website and give what you can. Dave's a good guy, and anything you can do will be much appreciated.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Marshall Meets the Muppets

I'm on vacation this week! I'm in Phoenix, which is awesome. My best friend lives here, it's sunny, and my leg doesn't hurt in the morning. And no allergies, either. At this point, I'm looking for a good reason to come back ever.

Anyway, everybody's heard that Forgetting Sarah Marshall and How I Met Your Mother star Jason Segel pitched a concept for a new Muppets movie and got hired to write it. Damn him! I mean, the dude's awesome, but I've been saying for years that anybody who can't figure out how to make money off the Muppets should be pouring tar for a living. Sure, he has "industry contacts" and, what's it called, "talent", but lack of same shouldn't hold me back.

I'd be thrilled to see the Muppets make a comeback, actually. I love the Muppets, I love Segel. I'm assuming it's going to kick all kinds of ass. I just want to throw my hat in the ring for the property that I'd like to revitalize.

Looney Tunes -- Here's the problem: The Looney Tunes have fallen into the trap that so many crappy cartoons fall into; deliberately lobbing pop culture references over kid's heads so they can claim it's aimed at the whole family. Kids don't get them, and they're too lame for the adults. Bugs Bunny should not be treated like this. And the characters shouldn't be redesigned to make them more current. Something that's timely eventually gets out of date. The Looney Tunes will never be out of style, if handled correctly. I'd reintroduce them in a movie, since that seems to be the most effective way to introduce animation to a mixed audience.

But I wouldn't have an overriding plot, like the Looney revivals of the last decade. It would be a series of 6-8 minute self-contained shorts, just like the old cartoons. I would banish pop culture references, since that just turns into a mess. Pixar doesn't use pop culture references, and they just keep making gold. A Britney Spears reference isn't funny now, and it will be completely unfunny in just a short while. Each short will have a simple plot with funny jokes. Maybe one will bleed over into the others, perhaps a bear chases Yosemite Sam through multiple segments. The point is to emulate what worked before.

Long-form storytelling doesn't work with the Looney Tunes -- so many of the characters are devoted to the destruction of another character. You can't work Sylvester and Tweety into a story without acknowledging that they are mortal enemies, so just forget it. Have Sylvester try to eat Tweety for eight minutes and then move on. Give each of the classic characters their own segment, with Bugs and Daffy getting multiple segments each to use their various antagonists.

Kids today are probably never going to see a Woody Woodpecker cartoon, and all of the Hanna-Barbera characters who aren't mystery-solving Gread Danes will be forgotten soon enough. It would be a crime to watch Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny and all the rest fall into obscurity. This is a billion-dollar franchise with universal appeal, just as long as they remember what people liked about them in the first place.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Bruckman-Mania!

--I'll write more about the triumphant return of NBC's Thursday Night schedule later. I'm busy watching everything for the third time, and the MILF Island Tribal Council scene for the 1000th time. "We no longer want to hit that." It's glorious! On any other night, multiple uses of the phrase "Erection Cove" would make it a night to remember. But here, that was just part of the tapestry of brilliance.

And I love The Office more than I could ever love, like, a person. It's entirely possible that the dinner party was the single most horrifyingly uncomfortable episode ever. It was so dark and sad, and yet so hilarious. This might be my favorite episode ever, and for an episode with minimal Dwight and no Creed, that's a bold statement to make. I really feel like this is going to be one of those all-time classic episodes, like the death of Chuckes the Clown or the Soup Nazi. Only, this will also make you die inside a little.

--My main purpose in writing is this: There is a new X-Files movie on the way. While I am not the world's biggest fan of the show, I liked it a lot for most of its run, and I'm excited about the new movie. But now I'm upgrading to super-excited. Why, you ask? Well, FOX is releasing a DVD set that ties in to the movie. Eight episodes, specifically chosen for their relationship to the film.

One of those episodes is the fantastic black-and-white standalone "Post-Modern Prometheus". That is good news. Even better? Another of the episodes is "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose"! You know, the one where Peter Boyle can tell how people are going to die? This is one of the three greatest episodes of the series, with "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'", and the one where Bruce Campbell is a demon who wants a baby.

I don't know how the episodes actually tie in to the movie, but any connection at all to "Bruckman" jumped this movie up about six spots on my Summer Excitement List. That's right, I have a Summer Excitement List. Does that surprise you?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hen in a Pumpkin

--Hell’s Kitchen season is the happiest time of the year. Sure, if you have BBC America, every season is Gordon Ramsay season, but Hell’s Kitchen is a special delight. This is a show that delights in their cannon fodder – there are so many people on this show who don’t have a prayer of winning. Every reality show has its misfits, but they make up such a huge portion of the cast here. Remember Josh from last season? He never once had a chance, since he couldn’t actually cook, but he was there to fill out the cast. (By the way, it’s worth mentioning again: Anybody named ‘Josh’ on a reality show will turn out to be a douche.)

Funniest moment so far this season was Petrozza (or as I call him, Tiny Brian Posehn) and his signature dish. In case you missed it, it was a Cornish game hen served inside a pumpkin. Not only was that the most fantastically absurd dish ever, but when a horrified Ramsay asked him what it was called, he responded “Hen in a Pumpkin”. Well, of course that’s what it’s called.

So far, everybody’s kind of a disaster this season. But runner-up Bonnie spent most of last season as a failure. I am willing to bet that Black Gordon Ramsay will not be long for this world, though. That irritated Gordon so much, you just know he’s waiting for an excuse. And I’m done with sexist butthole Jason. Yeah, men are awesome, women suck. Find a new gimmick, schmuck. That was not an intentional rhyme, by the way.

It’s going to be a couple of weeks before I can recognize everybody by sight, but I’m completely giddy to see Chef Ramsay tearing down some people who have no business making food. Man, I love Gordon Ramsay.

And once again, if you’re going on Hell’s Kitchen, learn how to make risotto and Beef Wellington. They’re going to be on the menu. They always are. Perfect your freaking risotto! If you’re going to go on Survivor, learn how to start a fire. If you’re going on The Amazing Race, learn to drive a stick shift and read a map. For cry pete…

Sidenote: Mysterious Don and I have talked about going on Amazing Race. Our gimmick will be “Bloggers – Have Never Met”. That sounds awesome, but this is how I picture our first meeting at the starting line:

DON: So, do you know any other languages?
EJ: Nope.
DON: Can you drive a stick? Are you good with navigation?
EJ: Nope.
DON: Are you actually good at anything that might come up during the Race?
EJ: …No.
DON: Any irrational fears that might hamper your performance?
EJ: Oh, yeah.

--After a rough start, Beauty and the Geek is picking up. I really didn’t like the “Versus” format they used that at the beginning of the season. (Though the Flag Football game was pretty awesome.) But once they paired up, everything was happy again.

I can’t stand Cowboy Joe, with his collection of tics that substitute for a personality. I mean, I sort of get that. I know it’s easier to put on a costume and assume the ready-made traits that come with it rather than put yourself out there and run the risk of being rejected for who you are rather than for the image that you’re displaying. Still, not only does his fa├žade bug me, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that what’s beneath it is still irksome.

It seems weird to me that they keep telling us that the geeks are all “geniuses”. You can actually be a geek and not be terribly bright. As Milhouse pointed out, “I’m not a nerd. Nerds are smart.” Being socially retarded and being smart are not necessarily direct correlations. I mean, from what I can see, I’m smarter than some of those guys. I realize the “Beauty/Brains” premise doesn’t hold up if the people without beauty also only have average intelligence.

And I’ve been assured that this is a coincidence, but last night, right after the “Geek Makeover” episode, a friend of mine offered to take me shopping for clothes. She claimed the offer wasn’t inspired by the episode, and I really have no reason not to believe her. Still, the timing was pretty funny.

--Remember to head over and read yourselves some spunkybean. We’re awesome, dammit!

Monday, April 7, 2008

I liked Leatherheads! Screw you!

--Yeah, I liked George Clooney's Leatherheads a whole lot. I'm pretty easy, I'll admit. It's Clooney, John Krasinski, and it's written by Rick Reilly. (I don't know a damn thing about sports, but I follow his work pretty closely.) Plus, I'm a sucker for the 20's and 30's -- possibly because Sam and I enjoy talking fast-paced early 20th Century slang, but my reasons are my own. Anyway, I really dug it. Don't care much for Renee Zellweger, with her being all boring and squnity, but she gave it her best. You know who would have been good in that role? Lauren Graham. I think she'd rock in a period comedy. Granted, I tend to think that everything is made better by the presence of Lauren Graham, but I think that would be an ideal fit.

What I like about Clooney is that all three movies he's directed have been completely different genres. I still love Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and I admire the way that he very deliberately made it very hard to direct. He pulls all these tricks that are really just there so he can show off, and it adds to the addled story. Good Night, and Good Luck is a textbook example of how to make white guys talking to each other at length stay interesting and visually involving. He almost seems like a classic director who started out in the 70's where he hops genres and just doesn't get pigeonholed. People just don't do that anymore. Everybody's so concerned with developing an identifiable style, and Clooney really doesn't do that. He's much more interested in storytelling than in having some tic that clues you in that it's a George Clooney project.

Man, that guy's awesome!

--I didn't really want to spend two consecutive posts on superhero movies. Let's face it, I really only have about three things I can talk about with any authority, and I want to try and rotate them so it's not so obvious. Still, the teaser posters for The Spirit are really making me die inside.

See, Will Eisner's Spirit is one of the greatest characters ever. And I'd put Eisner in as one of the top three most important American cartoonists. (With Jack Kirby and Charles Schulz, on the off chance that you care.) I desperately want a Spirit movie to be good. But Frank Miller is the producer and creative force, and that's not good. I know Miller's a big name in Hollywood, and we could debate the merits of Sin City and 300 all day, but whether you like his work or not, his style is completely antithetical to Eisner's.

The teasers already make it clear that Miller is playing up the noir aspects. First off, it's a mistake to reduce the Spirit to that genre. For me, the stories that stand out the most are the globetrotting adventures and the lighthearted exercises in creative storytelling. Even when he went noir, it was always with a wink. And then, Miller fundamentally misunderstands the genre. He thinks it's all about darkness and violence, but classically, noir is about a basically good man pushed to brutal actions. Miller's characters are mean bastards for whom brutality is a first choice, not a last resort. That's not the Spirt. Denny Colt could deal out a beating, but it's certainly not what he's known for. And those posters: "The city screams. She is my lover. And I am her Spirit." Wow. That's like the crappiest Batman dialogue ever written. (Well, second. Miller still has the crown there with "What are you, retarded? I'm the goddamn Batman.") Anyway, that's awful Batman dialogue. The Spirit is a fundamentally different creation, and it sounds incredibly out of character.

This movie will either be a hit, and create a mainstream image of the Spirit that's completely out of sorts with everything that's good about the character, or it will flop and everybody's going to think that the Spirit sucks. I don't want to see either one. Sure, Miller might get over himself and actually get it right. That's what I'm going to hope for. But if he gets it wrong, it's absolutely going to break my heart.

All right. Next time I'll talk about something that is not superhero-related. Promise.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Office 2: Electric Boogaloo

--NBC managed to rock my world with their renewals of 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights (I'm watching the first season DVD's, and I love them.), but my brain exploded with the announcement of a spinoff of The Office. Now, I know full well that most spinoffs kind of suck. Still, The Simpsons is a spinoff. The Colbert Report is a spinoff. And Greg Daniels will be involved. You know who doesn't make bad television? Greg Daniels doesn't. My only fear is that they'll pull a character out of the Scranton branch to headline the new show.

Dwight, obviously, could lead his own series. I would absolutely watch a series where he and Cousin Mose run an inn on their beet farm. But I'd hate to see him leave the mothership. The chemistry is so perfect that losing a character would destroy the balance. I have a lot of faith in the writers, and based on the Season Three DVD commentaries, where they seem pretty unhappy with having Jim over at the Stamford branch for the first part of the season, I think they know full well what the total loss of one of the characters would do.

I think a show focusing on Darryl and the warehouse staff would really be good, as well as providing an environment that was different enough from the main show. But then we'd be limited to seeing Michael and Darryl interactions for sweeps month crossovers, and that would be no fun at all. A show starring Karen, set at the Utica branch, has potential, but I don't see the purpose for a second workplace comedy set at a paper comedy. Sure, the energy would be different, but it would be too hard to distinguish from the main show. If they lost the documentary style for the spinoff, it could open up possibilities. I think a show about Karen rebuilding her personal and professional life would work. Plus, I desperately want Rashida Jones on my TV every week, and the both of us can do better than Unhitched.

Right now, if NBC put a gun to my head and made me come up with a concept, I think I'd pitch a show about Roy. David Denmore is really funny, and Roy is an interesting character. A show about a blue collar workplace would be different from the main series, and yet allow for a similar style of humor. Or, if Jan ends up leaving Michael, Melora Hardin could certainly lead a new series. There's a lot of room for greatness, and they've certainly earned our trust by now.

There's already a rumor that Will Arnett will be involved with the spinoff, by the way. And that, my friends, is the best news ever.

--In other news, FOX renewed King of the Hill for a 13th season. Sweet! Sure, they only ordered 13 episodes, but they haven't had a full-length season since Season Eight. I was worried that this would be the final season, and the Writer's Strike would prevent any kind of finale.

I'll admit, King has been showing its age, but it's still capable of greatness. A few of this season's episodes have suffered from unclear resolutions and rushed storytelling, but this season has seen a few great episodes, and even the mediocre episodes include some really funny jokes and well-observed character bits. Hank and the rest have plenty of life in them yet.

By the way, while I have never been the harshest critic of The Simpsons, I think last week's episode was really good. I didn't recognize the writer, which is usually a bad sign, but Lisa's ballet class and the temptation of smoking really worked. It was a good, relatable plot that hadn't been done a hundred times before, and it had some fantastic one-liners and good physical comedy. You can still count on the new episodes to provide some good laughs, but midway thought last week, Sam and I were already talking about how good the episode was. Good job, guys! Thanks for the reminder that I've been backing the winning horse for nineteen years now.

--I'll have to write more about the new season of Hell's Kitchen later, but I think we can all agree that it is awesome. Also, I think Gordon Ramsay's disguise made him look like the love child of Bono and Neil from The Young Ones. Just putting that out there.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Big and Huge Don't Begin to Cover It

--Today is the day! The big day! The one we marked on our calendars! John from Cincinnati is out on DVD today! All ten episodes to absorb and pore over. And of course, I'll get mad at HBO all over again, but I've learned to accept that this is the tone my life will take.

I just picked up my set, and it is a thing of beauty. I like that HBO's finally switching over to the individual slimcases in the box. They did that with Season 4 of The Wire, too. I find that packaging to be more convenient. Although I really do love the packaging of the Deadwood sets, which are packaged in a really sturdy box. Those things will stop a bullet!

Interestingly, the packaging doesn't call it either "The Complete First Season" or "The Complete Series". I've decided that since it's not actually billed as "The Complete Series", that leaves the door open for a miracle. I'm also excited about David Milch's commentary tracks on the first and last episodes. I can't imagine he'll give anything away, but at the very least I want to find out what parts of the series he finds the most significant for understanding it. There's also a feature on the making of Episode Six's dream sequence, which was one of the most insane and fascinating things I've seen in a long time.

I think I'll probably turn the set into a marathon viewing over the weekend. Just try and stop me from saying "I don't know Butchie instead" at every opportunity.

--Is it just me, or is Warner Bros. kind of stingy with that Dark Knight trailer? I haven't seen it in theaters more than a couple of times, and I go to a lot of movies. Sure, I've watched it online a dozen times, but you know how that goes. Did they pull back because of Heath Ledger? Or am I just not seeing the right movies?

I will say that the Iron Man trailer has me completely geeked. Iron Man is one of those characters I always like better in theory than in practice, but the trailer certainly looks like it encompasses everything I like about the character. I try to stay spoiler-free, so I didn't even realize who the villain was going to be until the most recent round of ads. See, the problem is that there are no good Iron Man villains. He's got a collection of lames, many of whom are so rooted in the Cold War that they have no shelf life whatsoever. Hell, his major enemy is the Mandarin, who's pretty racist, when you get down to it. Any character who was ever associated with the phrase "Yellow Peril" needs to be rethought.

Anyway, it looks like John Malkovich is playing Obadiah Stane, who's an interesting choice. Sure, he's not a major part of Iron Man mythology, since he's been dead for 20+ years now. I like the angle of going with a corporate villain, though. All in all, I'm pretty excited for this one.

I also saw the trailer for Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in Baby Mama, which sounds like the title of one of Tracy Jordan's movies, but it looks really funny. Of course, I'll watch Tina Fey in anything, but I think this'll be good. And you could not pay me to see Sex and the City. Just the trailer makes me hurt in a way that I can't fully express. Hey, you know which HBO series would make for a better movie that Sex and the City? ALL OF THEM. Maybe not Arlis$, but everything else.

--Hell's Kitchen starts tonight! I don't know why it's on Tuesday nights in the spring, when it's usually a Monday show in the summer, but having seen every episode of all of his various British series, I need some more Gordon Ramsay.

I wish I could thematically tie all of these short bits together for a conclusion, but I've got nothing. I'm a hack.