Saturday, May 23, 2009

Saturday Playlist

1. Gorillaz: Dracula
2. Aretha Franklin: Try Matty’s
3. R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders: Kiwi Bump
4. Yes: Parallels
5. The Coconutz: Nothing Compares 2 U
6. Bob Dylan: You Ain’t Going Nowhere
7. Jonas Brothers: That’s Just the Way We Roll
8. Otis Redding: I’m Sick, Y’all
9. John Barrowman: Good Thing Going
10. The Smiths: William, It Was Really Nothing

1. Nice track by Gorillaz. A little melancholy, an odd start to an odd grouping of songs this week.
2. From Spirit in the Dark, a very good album. Nice, piano-heavy rollicking.
3. Ramshackle blues played fast. Great stuff.
4. Heavy prog from Going for the One. Yes can be hard to get through unless you're really in the mood for it.
5. From the Forgetting Sarah Marshall soundtrack. Pretty, sung in Hawaiian, but very slow.
6. This track from The Basement Tapes is not my favorite version. I think the Byrds did it better, but my favorite version is the one on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. 2.
7. Track with an orchestral opening from their concert movie soundtrack. The audience is so loud.
8. Nice bit from Dictionary of Soul. I love Otis. Any time is a good time for Otis.
9. From Reflections of Broadway. I love Barrowman's voice, but I wish he'd get some big production. This song is from the musical Merrily We Roll Along.
10. Good track to end on. I fucking love the Smiths.

Yo, Joe!

With the trailers for the Stephen Sommers movie being released, I've become nostalgic for G.I. Joe.

I used to love that show as a kid, and I collected and played with the action figures for years. Now, a lot of the stuff I thought was great as a kid turned out to be junk when I saw it again as an adult, which is the way it should be, I think--a child is less discerning than an adult, and I think too many adults who are forced to give things up as a kid look back a little too forgivingly on some of the things they liked. I especially felt that the original Transformers cartoon was pretty terrible when I took a second look at it about a decade ago. I thought it was so terrible that I never bothered to look at G.I. Joe again.

But those trailers, you know?

So I've decided to look back at G.I. Joe and share it with Becca, who never watched the cartoon when she was a kid. And, me being me, I figured I'd blog it.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero
I started right at the beginning, with the original 1983 miniseries based on the Hasbro toy line. This was the introduction of America's daring, highly-trained special missions force. I remember watching it on my local Chicago WGN. It was five parts, aired over five days, and then the whole thing was shown as a single movie on Saturday or Sunday (or both). I watched it because it was animated, but I wasn't actually into G.I. Joe yet when it aired. A lot of my friends were, but I wasn't playing with those toys yet, so even seeing it again now, it's very familiar but feels like a sort of antique version of a show I later loved.

For example, I'd completely forgotten that a number of the characters even existed. Duke, Scarlett, Snake-Eyes, Wild Bill, and Gung Ho are at the core of G.I. Joe for me, but I'd totally forgotten Clutch, Flash, Doc, Zap, and Steeler. Airborne, Breaker, Rock 'n' Roll, Tripwire, and Stalker I barely remembered, which is really something considering Stalker plays a pretty big role in this first miniseries. I think he was sort of supplanted later by Alpine (and Doc was supplanted later by Lifeline). I only barely remembered Short-Fuze's codename, but couldn't pick him out of a lineup.

Of course, part of the reason for that is that the early Joes were pretty generic when it came to their various uniforms. After this, there was a lot more focus on diverse costumes and character shticks, defining aspects that were exaggerated to create some personality. These guys mostly just had work uniforms and helmets. I remember too, oddly, how the original Joe figures had heads that could only swivel; after that first wave, they could angle.

The miniseries starts right off with Duke flirting with Scarlett; it's nice, but it's also unintentionally funny when you realize that the actors playing them were also the voices of the Wonder Twins on Superfriends. "Didn't you read my file card? 'Man of action.'"

(A brief aside--the voice work on G.I. Joe is terrific. It's a show that tends to be underwritten, and a lot of characterization is portrayed with just line readings, and even when the actors sound like they're stretching their limits, there's still a lot of personality.)

I also want to mention briefly my love for Scarlett. To me, she was unfairly supplanted by the lamer Lady Jaye in the second miniseries.

The Joe base is attacked by Major Bludd (Michael Bell, same actor who voices Duke, doing the worst, most cartoonish Australian accent I've ever heard--it's awesome) and a Cobra strike team, who destroy most of the Joe fleet of Skystriker planes. I think they're just F-14s with a "cool" name. This is the first of many instances when I think about what the American defense budget allocation for G.I. Joe is. It must be astronomical.

I dig Major Bludd as a villain, by the way. He's so over the top, with his helmet and eyepatch and mustache and cybernetic arm. It's a sort of old world throwback, the kind of character you'd expect to find in old pulp novels brandishing a riding crop at some lost heroes looking for Arabian trade routes.

Then we're introduced to the first of many hidden Cobra bases we'll see over the course of the series. They're always old castles or temples in the mountains, and they always look like Cobra spends way too much of its available cash on carving snakeheads into solid rock. Seriously, where do you suppose they're getting their money from? They must spend as much as developed countries just maintaining their armed forces and housing them all. But you do have to hand it to Cobra--for a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world, they've got style. They're no ragtag band of fanatics, but an army with various uniforms, military rank levels, and specially-designed and -built equipment. They don't just steal from other countries; they build their own Fang Copters, Stinger Jeeps, HISS Tanks, etc.

So this is where we meet Destro, an arms dealer working with Cobra. When I was a kid, I was never sure whether he had a metal head or if he was wearing a mask. It's the animation; he looks like a bald guy with a silver complexion. Destro is a great character; he's got an honor code, he's highly intelligent, and he sounds like a big black dude who could rip your arms off. I love the way he pronounces "KOHbra KOH-MAHND-er" He also wears some kind of fur-lined jacket with a giant popped collar that's open down to his belt, a medallion, and tight black pants. So... yeah, there's that. (You know, is he wearing a shirt or not? It always looks like it either is or isn't.)

Destro is bringing Cobra Commander the elements he needs to power a superweapon called the MASS Device, which Cobra will use to teleport its forces all over the globe.

Cobra Commander is one of my favorite characters ever in anything. I don't know what it is about him that inspires such fondness in me, but it's there. Christopher Latta's voice especially sells it, the excited rasp with the hiss. His voice is deeper than I remembered, but that changes once it gets into the regular series and the Commander is more comical. Here he's very menacing and dark. He's iconic.

The Joes are next supposed to test the security of a military base, despite having just suffered a surprise attack that destroyed most of their air fleet. Seriously, G.I. Joe must just hemorrhage money. There's even a character following around Duke and General Flagg, Major Juanita Hoover, who keeps harping on about the budget. That job must be a headache.

There's a nice sequence where Snake-Eyes, Scarlett, and Stalker infiltrate the base at the same time and make it to the center of the base. It shows the effectiveness of their different approaches and lets us experience the characters without a lot of dialog. This is back before too many Joes were specialized; they're all pretty much elite rangers, even Snake-Eyes, who is wearing the original uniform the character came with, which has no gloves and a completely different visor. Snake-Eyes doesn't talk, of course, but he's not shrouded in all of the ninja mystery yet. I remember the ninja stuff constantly, but was all of that stuff actually from the TV series, or was it mostly in the comic book?

So, the base is housing a satellite designed to receive and relay high levels of energy anywhere in the world, and this is obviously what Cobra needs to utilize the MASS Device. Major Hoover, complaining all the while, plants a homing device on the satellite; Destro uses the MASS Device to teleport a Cobra unit (including HISS Tanks and led by Major Bludd) into the base, and Major Hoover reveals herself to be the Baroness.

I love the Baroness.

A gunfight ensues, and it's interesting to note that in this first miniseries we can hear the sound of gunfire. This is a very military show, but I know there were certain rules the producers (Sunbow and Marvel Entertainment--no surprise, as this show feels a lot like a Marvel comic, would often employ comic book writers, and carried the prestige of having Steve Gerber as the head of its script department) had to abide by. For example, no one is ever allowed to die. Even as a kid I always noticed that every time a jet exploded we'd see the pilot parachuting away safely. So the Cobra and Joe cannon fodder (the Joes always have regular infantry Greenshirts) is never injured in any way. Also, the guns on the show were very clearly lasers that would make laser noises. But on this first miniseries, there are some definite moments when it seems like tracer bullets are being used and we can hear the sound of machine gun fire instead of the iconic (to me, anyway) laser noises.

So, Major Bludd and the Baroness get away with the satellite, and Duke is brought along for the ride. Duke is a great leader for the Joes, but he does seem to get captured pretty easily. And this is where the Cobra citadel becomes the setting for a late seventies issue of Heavy Metal or one of those alternative Marvel magazines for grown-ups. Cobra actually has a vast reservoir of ragged slaves who are being mind-controlled with electronic headbands. It's pretty creepy. Creepier still is that Cobra Commander's first idea is to take Duke and put him in "the Arena of Sport." Brr!

Cobra and Destro launch the satellite into orbit and use it to make the Eiffel Tower disappear. According to Breaker, the Joe communication expert, the teleportation device is similar to work on matter transference done by one Dr. Vandermeer. The Joes arrive in time to save him from Cobra, but his research work is stolen. The Joes decide to build their own MASS Device to defeat Cobra's. Somehow.

So we cut back to the Cobra citadel for the Arena of Sport sequence. In a nod to home video games, both Duke and his opponent are fitted with the mind control headbands that are wired into handheld joysticks that will allow Destro and the Commander to control them. Duke's opponent, by the way, is an improbably huge hulk called Ramar that stepped straight out of the pages of Savage Sword of Conan. He's hilariously out of scale; sometimes he looks 15 feet tall, other times he just looks bigger than average. G.I. Joe is a cartoon notoriously riddled with animation errors--it was animated overseas on an incredibly tight schedule--and it starts early on. (Right in the beginning, a sign reads "militaly" instead of "military.")

I like the way the Arena of Sport scene highlights the differences between Cobra Commander and Destro. The Commander stacks the deck in his favor by controlling the giant, and gloats about his eventual victory. Destro calmly lets go of his joystick and lets Duke fight with his own creativity and quick thinking. Duke, however, tries to head for the Commander and Destro. At any rate, the game is interrupted before a winner is declared--which pretty much sets the tone for Cobra Commander and Destro's relationship.

Meanwhile, a slave girl named Selina gives Duke a strip of gold to put under his headband and block the mind control signal. The Cobra troopers are actually pretty sadistic when they can't find what Selina gave him; they're a lot more sinister than the inept idiots we'll see throughout the series.

Dr. Vandermeer is building a new MASS Device for G.I. Joe, but he'll need three essential elements to power it. Meanwhile, Cobra needs more of the same elements to continue using the one they already have (the world isn't surrendering to Cobra Commander the way he'd hoped). This sets off the plot device of each G.I. Joe miniseries (four in total, counting the season one and two premieres, which are also five parts): the treasure hunt. It always involves G.I. Joe and Cobra in a race for something they both need. It's actually a great device; it can't get too convoluted and it's a clear motivation for both sides. It doesn't do much to build character, but it does keep the plot moving. It's a little hard to buy that they go after the same elements at the same time, but who cares?

The first necessary element is a red, radioactive crystal that can only be found in the Sea of Ice in the Arctic. This means we get to meet Snow Job, a Joe I remember pretty well because he's a red-haired Olympic skier. I never had the action figure, but a friend of mine did. Becca thought the name "Snow Job" could only mean he was a coke fiend. And it's actually pretty funny if you watch it with that in mind. Weirdly, Snow Job always kind of reminded me of George Lucas. Maybe it was the beard and the snow setting (an Empire Strikes Back thing, you know?). Anyway, Snow Job, Scarlett, Snake-Eyes, Flash and Tripwire are the Arctic team, and Flash and Tripwire fail completely to make an impression. They're ambushed by Major Bludd and these SNAKE robots.

SNAKE robots are much, much less cool than they sound. Just these big tin cans with a tiny laser. I seem to remember that you could pull the toy apart. Just slightly before my time when it comes to G.I. Joe.

Cobra's supplies are still running low; every time Cobra Commander demonstrates the power of the device (this time he teleports out a battalion of Soviet troops, firmly establishing that Cobra as an organization has nothing to do with Communism), the elements are diminished. Cobra Commander and Destro argue, then go back to the Arena of Sport, but Duke escapes, promising to return to rescue Selina, giving her a ring.

Back to the Arctic: the Joes are trapped in a cave with the SNAKE robots (which are defeated easily). Snake-Eyes retrieves the crystals, but somehow disperses a cloud of radioactive gas. Rather than poison his teammates, he seals himself behind a blast shield and the Joes are forced to leave him behind. Scarlett cries; it's a nice moment when you see the real camaraderie and respect between the members of the team. Well, between Snake-Eyes and Scarlett, anyway. Flash still kind of sucks.

Cobra next abducts General Flagg, who seems to be the liaison between G.I. Joe and the US military, and a bunch of other officials who are turned into Cobra slaves. And this just as Duke manages to make his way back to HQ. Apparently he's been so traumatized and is so exhausted that he can't remember where the Cobra citadel is. Since it seems to be in some kind of Eastern European mountain range, I'm amazed he made it back alive.

There's dissent in the ranks at Cobra; the Commander is enjoying the power of the MASS Device, Destro is worried about the dwindling element supply, and the Baroness is caught somewhere in the middle. Major Bludd is in the Arctic getting the radioactive crystals; he and his men find Snake-Eyes, glowing with cartoonish radioactive poisoning, and let him go on his way, certain he won't make it very far on his own.

Doc finally comes into the story, and Doc is kind of a cool character. I just didn't remember him at all, but he's much more than the medic he appears to be. He's also their resident science expert, and it's a shame that they didn't use him in the regular series very often. He tries to get Duke to remember where the Cobra citadel is, but he just can't.

Then we meet Torpedo, the underwater specialist. The next element is a form of heavy water that the Joes are going to have to go deep into the ocean to retrieve, and everyone is way too happy to see Torpedo. Seriously, there's fanfare and a lot of yelling and whooping and cheering. It's too much; Torpedo is kind of a tool. I mean, he thinks he's hilarious, but he so isn't. Boo, Torpedo.

Meanwhile, Snake-Eyes is still trudging along in the snow, dying of radioactive poisoning and still clutching a cannister of the crystal element. He stops to free a wolf from a trap; the wolf then tries to save Snake-Eyes from an attacking polar bear. They're both saved by a blind man with an electric prod.

The Joes reach the heavy water at the same time as the Cobra forces, led this time by the Baroness. Both teams are attacked by these cool giant tubeworms, forcing a temporary truce as both sides work together to get out alive. They kill the tubeworms, so I guess the key to not suffering death on G.I. Joe is to not be an animal. Now Cobra has two elements, while G.I. Joe only have one.

The most unbelievable part of the miniseries follows. Somehow the blind hermit is able to use a dressing of leaves and herbs to cure Snake-Eyes' radiation poisoning. This is a guy who was glowing red not too long ago, and suddenly he's cured by a poultice? Okay... The hermit has also named Snake-Eyes' new wolf friend Timber, and the wolf accompanies Snake on his way back to civilization, cannister in tow.

Steeler and Short-Fuze come up with an idea to send up a second satellite to destroy Cobra's relay satellite. It doesn't work. This is why you don't see anyone going to Steeler and Short-Fuze for ideas.

Cover Girl shows up. In the first miniseries, Cover Girl has long blond hair; after this, she had short auburn hair. I always liked her; she was a makeup expert and a fashion model who became a tank driver and a mechanic in the Army. I don't know why her back story is the one I always remembered; maybe because it seemed like a tough antidote to Jem, which my sister could not get frigging enough of. Oh, God, I got so sick of Jem. Even Alvin and the Chipmunks rocked harder than Jem and the Holograms.

Anyway, Cover Girl comes in hauling Snake-Eyes and Timber and the cannister; which, no one noticed until now, has the Cobra insignia on the bottom of it. It immediately spits out a sleeping gas and knocks everyone unconscious except for Cover Girl. With Timber's help, she manages to get the cannister out of the base before it blows up. Either way, now G.I. Joe has the first two elements.

The third comes from meteor rocks in the Ring of Fire in South America, which is just a bunch of volcanoes. To buy some time, Stalker sends a transmission to Cobra that America has agreed to surrender to Cobra. Cobra Commander is thrilled, but he doesn't know it's all an act with miniatures to distract Cobra. Destro decides to lead the mission for the third element himself while the Commander sets up Ramar to fight a giant robot for his amusement (which is an odd and slightly creepy spectacle).

Destro and G.I. Joe (led by Scarlett and the always cool Wild Bill) fight for possession of the meteor in South America, and Destro is a much more capable leader and strategist than Major Bludd or the Baroness. He's smart enough to blow a hole in the volcano which causes it to erupt and blow the meteor into the sky. It works, too, and a Cobra heli-carrier captures the meteor.

I love Gung Ho, by the way. Becca loves him, too, but thinks he's the "most obviously gay" of the Joes. She described him as "a butch Tom of Finland character." I wonder if homosexuals are allowed to serve in G.I. Joe.

Cobra Commander, frustrated by Stalker's deception, tries to destroy New York City with the MASS Device, but Selina douses the circuitry with water and saves the city. The Commander has her taken away. He can't use the MASS Device now, and he's worried people will think his threats are empty.

(Aside: I love Stalker, but isn't he taking his life into his own hands by wearing that jetpack all the time? You'd think there's a chance of volatility there.)

So, back at the Ring of Fire, it looks like G.I. Joe is going to lose. A Skystriker squadron shows up led by Ace, and I think Ace is kind of worthless as a pilot. All the dude ever does is crash his damn planes. A team of Joes breaks for the heli-carrier and Destro tries to retreat with some element from the meteor (the Joes capture the rest). Scarlett follows him, but he captures her and sticks her in his plane as a hostage. She uses her feet to aim her crossbow and fires, hitting the controls and sending the plane spinning out of control. Destro's able to right it, though, so it doesn't really do anything other than provide a cheap cliffhanger. Destro still takes his hostage back to the Cobra citadel.

Destro is more pissed off about Cobra Commander's latest use of the MASS Device and the way the failure has made Cobra's threats look hollow. Destro basically takes control of the operation, even crushing Cobra Commander's scepter. No one seems to mind. This is only the first of many such disagreements between Destro and the Commander over Cobra's power structure.

(I should have mentioned, Cobra Commander has at some point rather boastfully donned a cape and scepter in anticipation of his new role as Earth's ruler. It's glorious.)

Scarlett is put in the same cell as Selina, identified by Duke's ring, while Destro forces a bunch of military leaders to make pronouncements of fealty (to Destro, not to Cobra Commander). While Scarlett and Selina sow a slave revolt, Destro is frustrated because the world isn't surrendering fast enough (which amuses Cobra Commander, as it should). Destro falls into the same trap of frustration as Cobra Commander did earlier and tries to use the MASS Device to eliminate New York. This time the Joes intercept the signal and counter the Cobra beam with a beam from their own fully operational MASS Device. Destro decides to start executing military leaders instead, and plans to start with General Flagg.

Cue the slave revolt, which is easily put down by Cobra soldiers. Meanwhile, Doc is still trying to get Duke to remember where the Cobra base is and puts him in a sensory deprivation chamber. In true science fiction fashion, his memories are then fed into a TV screen which allows Doc to see Duke giving Selina his ring--a ring which is really a homing device. G.I. Joe mobilizes and attacks the Cobra citadel and, for the first time but certainly not the last, Cobra Commander frustratedly can't believe what's happening.

The scene of the Joe forces attacking the citadel is nice and long, and I enjoyed all of the different technological devices being used, like the spider platforms. Cobra Commander sends out some more robots, but they're useless. Gung Ho saves General Flagg. Scarlett and Selina are rescued by Duke, and the slaves resume their uprising.

In a last bid to destroy G.I. Joe, Destro aims the MASS Device at the ground, which will displace the Earth's core and probably destroy the planet. Cobra Commander thinks this is just about the craziest shit he's ever heard, but Destro runs off. When the Joes arrive, the Commander tells them what Destro's done; Gung Ho simply shoots the controls and power supply and the machine stops running. Simple as simple can be, kids.

The Cobras are taken into custody--even the Baroness and Major Bludd, and Cobra Commander, who foolishly tries to escape disguised as a peasant. Ah, Commander. Will you never learn? Destro, however, escapes to fight another day.

To end on a, er, light note, Breaker uses the MASS Device to put everything back where it was, but accidentally puts the Eiffel Tower in London instead of Paris. We're spared the probable property damage and the Joes tow the Tower to Paris.

Breaker: "Nobody's perfect!"

Duke: "We do okay."

I noticed at the end of that battle that both Scarlett and Selina were hanging on Duke. I think he does okay, indeed.

Didn't you read his file card? Man of action.

I had a lot of fun watching this miniseries; G.I. Joe actually holds up better than I remember, and it's a worthy cartoon version of what I think is the greatest action figure line of all time. To my delight, Becca enjoyed it, too. It's nice to be able to show her something which was a big deal for me as a kid without having to feel like I should apologize for it. She was raring to go on to the next miniseries, but I'll save that for another time, since this post went on way longer than I planned.

For the record, Becca's favorite character so far is Destro. She doesn't have a favorite Joe character based off of this. And honestly, neither do I. My favorite character has yet to show up.

Next time...

Nearly all of these screen grabs come from JoeToonArchive. No disrespect meant.

I Went to See Night at the Museum 2 Yestereve

Talk about how you're too smart for this movie all you want; I got to look at Amy Adams' cute butt in aviatrix pants for 90 minutes, so I'm pretty darn happy.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Devil Speaks the Truth Sometimes

"Did you know, beginning in the late nineteenth century, corporations were granted all the rights of the individual... but none of the annoying responsibilities? They lack, almost by design, any kind of moral compass, conscience or compassion. Basically, corporations are a way to enact sociopathic behavior on a grand scale."

Man, I'm going to miss Reaper.

The Kind of Quote That Pisses Me Off

Senator John Ensign, referring to the welfare of the detainees political prisoners at Gitmo: "They get better health care than the average American citizen does."

Too bad there's not some sort of elected governing body charged with making such things better for the American people, huh?

The 2009-2010 TV Season

Well, the networks had their presentations, so here's my worthless thoughts on what I'll be watching on the next TV season.

FOX
I don't watch anything on Fox other than Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares, so I'll see those whenever they come on. Otherwise, I really don't care.

ABC
So, Ugly Betty is going to move to Fridays. I'm guessing this is probably going to be its last season, then. I don't know why they can't just let the show go out on Thursdays, then, and just let it end however the producers are going to end it. It's not like Thursday is the prime ABC slot, what with the stiff competition from NBC. I don't think Friday's exactly a death knell these days, but sandwiching Ugly Betty between Supernanny and 20/20 says a lot about how well they expect Betty to do this year.

And ABC sure is pushing a lot of new shows this year. I can't believe how bad they've been at establishing an anchor on their schedule the past couple of seasons; they've really just got Dancing with the Stars and, for a few weeks in the spring, Lost. They're taking a huge gamble putting up eight new shows--especially considering how cutthroat the ratings game is these days, where shows are shuffled out the door almost immediately for not performing--but what else have they got? Still, five new shows on Wednesday... well, good luck to them.

It's just that the new shows mostly seem terrible. Cougar Town, with Courteney Cox "exploring the honest truths about dating and aging in our beauty and youth obsessed culture"... snore. The Deep End should just be titled Yet Another Fucking Show About Lawyers. Clancy Brown's on it and I still don't care. Eastwick is only happening because John Updike is dead (and no Daryl Van Horne?). Flash Forward is yet another one of those lameass science fiction shows about a disparate group of people pretending to be all philosophical while frustrating audiences. Why can't networks do science fiction well? The Forgotten might as well be titled Yet Another Fucking Jerry Bruckheimer-Produced Show About Investigators.

It all just seems like more of the same stuff that audiences have already hated on other networks. Another Kelsey Grammer sitcom (Hank) AND another Patricia Heaton sitcom (The Middle). That's two sitcoms spun from a terrible one no one wanted to watch. Another serialized murder mystery (Happy Town). Another reality show about business fucks (Shark Tank); after what's happened to the economy, everyone's going to root for every MBA to get killed. Another remake of an old show (V). Meh. Just meh the hell meh.

The only new show I can see myself giving a chance to is this sitcom called Modern Family, which sounds like it's ripping off the style of The Office. And I'm going to give it a chance because it's a sitcom with Ed O'Neill, and I definitely have room in my life for another one of those.

Anyway, the best new from ABC is that Castle got renewed! I'm thrilled about that. Yes it's silly and yes it's kind of lame, but I just enjoy it so damn much. And it's coming back for a full season, which is awesome.

So: Castle on Mondays, maybe Modern Family on Wednesdays, and Ugly Betty on Fridays.

(And by the way, do they really think their silly sci-fi series is going to make a better lead-in to their "chick" shows--Grey's Anatomy and Private Tranny--on Thursdays?)

Lost and Desperate Housewives I'll get to on DVD.

NBC
The most obviously ridiculous thing NBC did this season was to devote five hours of primetime programming a week to Jay Leno. Now, I know Leno has his fans, but I've hated him ever since he took over for Johnny Carson, who was actually funny. Putting Leno on in primetime is a like a big fuck you not just to Conan O'Brien, but also to The Tonight Show itself, which is an institution that's bigger than Leno. And it also destroys their Thursday night line-up, which is also an institution (here's something I wrote about that in 2006). I seriously think Leno's going to sink in primetime.

As for their new shows, it's pretty dismal. 100 Questions is a great example of the kind of show I'd like to never see again, with a woman looking for love who goes to a dating counselor who requires her to take a compatibility test. (No points for guessing how many questions it contains.) Every answer is an opportunity for another pointless flashback episode while we doubtless discover that love isn't a scientific process after all. Blurgh. Frankly, I think the title of the show is a little optimistic about their chances. It should probably be called 10 Questions If We're Lucky (and 3 More to Burn Off in the Summer).

Almost everything else is, once again, more of the same. More medical dramas (Mercy, Trauma), more ridiculous reality shows (Breakthrough with Tony Robbins, The Marriage Ref, Who Do You Think You Are?), more bleak serialized skiffy (Day One).

The show that mystifies me the most is Parenthood, which is based on the Ron Howard movie from 20 years ago (and Howard and his baby-eating evil incarnate partner Brian Grazer are producing). It's the second attempt at a Parenthood series, by the way--anyone remember the one from 1990, the thirtysomething rip-off dramedy-soap style series with Ken Ober? No? It's just as well. Anyway, the show's got fuck all to do with the movie, which is what mystifies me. It's about a woman (Maura Tierny) returning home with her kids to live with her parents (Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia) and reconnect with her siblings (Dax Shepard, Erika Christensen, Peter Krause). Just like the movie Parenthood, only with a completely different premise and characters. So, you know, what's the point of calling it Parenthood? I mean, the movie's 20 years old, and even if it is one of Howard's best movies (take that as you will), what's the name recognition value on this? Are people supposed to look at this and go "Oh, Parenthood, I loved that movie! Let's watch this!"? Weird.

The only new show I'll definitely give a chance is Community, a sitcom about a community college study group that stars Joel McHale (who is sort of funny) and, inexplicably, Chevy Chase. How long before he pisses everyone off and gets written off the show? I'm really just giving it a chance because it's going to be on Thursdays now that NBC has finally canceled My Name Is Earl, a show which has sucked since its second season and been unwatchable since Earl left prison in the middle of season three. And since I'm on NBC for the rest of Thursday night, I'll just let it slip in unless it's really awful.

The prestige show, the one in the Hill Street Blues/LA Law/ER time slot, was supposed to be Southland, a new series which I've been enjoying. Unfortunately, this prestige position is now given to Jay Leno reading other peoples' typos and making fun of them on the street, so I'll be tuning out an hour earlier and catching Southland on Fridays (where I'll have to TiVo it, because it's on opposite Ugly Betty).

As for the returns, I hope Heroes pulls off a good season this time around. I know that's asking a lot, but I still want to see this show do better than it's done. Of course, I'd also like to go back and be able to see the whole thing rewritten, but let's not ask for the impossible. I'm just glad it's coming back at all, honestly. Sort of like everyone's thrilled about Chuck, only with a show I don't think is incredibly stupid. Well... as incredibly stupid as Chuck, anyway.

CBS
Here's what the rat bastards at CBS did to me this season: they moved How I Met Your Mother to 7:00 (I'm in Central time, me) and The Big Bang Theory to 8:30 (what, too adult?) and stuck some new abomination with Jenna Elfman as an older woman pregnant with another man's baby (Accidentally on Purpose, which I was disappointed to discover has nothing to do with Michael York) and that runny abortion the gods named Two and a Half Men between them. Fuck you, CBS. This is why TiVo was invented. I'm thinking I hit Mother at 7:00, go to Heroes, which I'll be TiVo-ing on NBC, go back half an hour, watch the whole show, then finish in time for Big Bang at 8:30 and then it's time for Castle on ABC at 9. Well, there are some order shifts, but it's still the same four shows I was watching on Monday, and no Charlie Sheen. Works for me.

Otherwise, I don't care what CBS is doing. You know, more lawyers, cops, doctors, and ill-conceived reality shows (including Undercover Boss, because going to work doesn't suck enough without the threat of your boss in disguise eavesdropping on you; is this why the economy sucks so bad? get to work!).

Oh, it's also nice to see Ghost Whisperer got renewed. Now I still have the Friday night pleasure of J. Love's boobs while waiting for Ugly Betty to start. Provided Clone Wars isn't on, anyway.

THE CW
They canceled Reaper. That alone pisses me off. It might come back in syndication, since the affiliates have Sundays back (the CW is doing so well it had to dump an entire night of programming), but it still annoys me. They couldn't have paired it with a show more along the same style, like Smallville, which they moved to Fridays? Sorry, CW, I don't need to hang around if Reaper's gone. I'm not a teenage girl.

Yeah, what is it with the CW's new lineup? All teenage girls, all the time? Teenage girls are the most notoriously fickle demographic, but the CW is out of ideas so all it can do is chase them around. But do teenage girls really like One Tree Hill? How the fuck does that keep getting renewed over and over and over again?

Anyway, nothing but shows for teenage girls all week, including America's Next Top Model, the show that will not die, something that unsurprisingly has Mischa Barton racing back to television, the return of Melrose Place, and blah blah blah. What pisses me off is the decision to put America's Next Top Model RERUNS on Fridays after Smallville. Which seems like a perfect Reaper time slot to me, but what do I know? I'm just the audience. An audience who is no longer watching CW.

Disney Theme Parks Have a Novel Way of Making Rollercoasters Exciting

In short: boobs.

Like most theme parks, Disney takes pictures of people on the steepest drops of the rollercoasters to sell to you as a memento of your good time. And, like most theme parks, there are girls flashing the camera. There are employees responsible for scanning the pictures in search of boobs (I would be really good at that) and filtering them out before they reach the public. And thanks to the economy and some layoffs, those employees have been relocated.

I say: Get out there and flaunt it, ladies! Give those kids an education they'll never forget!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tumble, Tumble, Tumble All Day Long

Not sure if anyone will really be interested or not, but I am on Tumblr now. I'm just posting images that strike my fancy, as I was doing here, but instead of cluttering up Electronic Cerebrectomy with a lot of pictures, I'll be doing it there.

So why not come and visit TumblFrog?

Cynical Six

1. The GOP fell nine points in the Midwest they supposedly represent? Nice. As a married white guy in the Midwest, it pleases me to see the Republican Party is losing support from married white guys in the Midwest. They led us to a national nightmare, and people are finally getting that. Now, before the inevitable complaint comments that the Left is also culpable: yes, they are. They typically didn’t fight hard enough, and now that they’re in charge they’re acting just like the Republicans. So Obama invokes secrecy, decides not to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” continues Bush’s practice of raping the environment, and has now frozen universal health care advocates in the debates over health insurance. I knew a lot of this would happen; this is the reason why I couldn’t support Obama until Sarah Palin came along and scared the living shit out of me. I said that one of the reasons I didn’t like Obama is that he a naïve faith that the insurance companies would be able to sort out the health care reform. And we’ve seen that he had the same naïve faith that the same executives who destroyed the economy would be able to fix it. It doesn’t help now that the Republicans in Congress are refusing to support the energy bill or the climate change bill unless the Democrats drop their push for insurance reform. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. Nothing’s ever going to get fixed because everyone on the Right and the Left is a sore loser and prize their hurt feelings more than they do the welfare of Americans. And I don’t think President Obama really cares, either. Oh, I think he knows the problems we’re all facing. I just don’t think he cares about them. If he did, he wouldn’t have made a lot of these terrible decisions. Things are just going to get worse and then finally America won’t be the superpower anymore and some other nation or collective of nations can handle it. America’s looking more and more like a do-over to me.


2. Dick Cheney wanted to have an Iraqi prisoner tortured in order to gain a confession that Saddam Hussein was working with al-Qaeda. So the US is a nation that tortures for false confessions, too. And this is what Barack Obama wants to protect? I’d prefer to live in an America where human beings are seen as human beings.

3. President Obama has been taking one measure after another to conceal the evidence of Bush’s torture crimes—crimes which we all know now took place—but that hasn’t stopped other nations from releasing the photos. The Australian media has been releasing a lot of them, and it’s chilling stuff that, in my opinion, Obama is making all of us complicit in by hiding the evidence.

4. This Nancy Pelosi thing just seems like more and more distraction from me. When was she supposed to be briefed? Back when she was the fairly powerless House minority leader? Newt Gingrich wants Pelosi to resign because she claimed the CIA is lying? What about when he was Speaker and he was accusing the FBI of doing the same thing? Yes, I’m very unhappy with Nancy Pelosi, but it’s not because of this, it’s because of her apparent refusal to launch a torture investigation and the fact that she took impeachment off the table, which was basically a Congressional endorsement of the last two years of Bush crimes. The Right has once again dumped their memory files and decided that these years of torture are not the fault of any of the torturers, the leaders who authorized it, the medical staffers who enabled it, the lawyers who justified it, or even the Fox News cheerleaders who kept citing 24 as a realistic example of torture working. No, it’s all the fault of Nancy Pelosi. Give me a fucking break. This country is going to deserve everything it gets.

5. Do you also find it very discouraging that the only person out there cutting through all the bullshit on the Right and Left is Jesse Ventura? Check him out on talk shows here, here, and here. My God, it’s magnificent. He just steamrolls over the bullies (which is all Hannity is, a professional bully who screams at you if you don’t agree with him). And this is coming from a man who was waterboarded as part of his training. There need to be more people on TV like him, just getting to the meat of these issues that the talking heads just chew and argue over to distract us from reality. I may not love his politics, but I do like straight talk, so once again I find myself pushing for Ventura.

6. And then there’s Ida, the missing link (maybe). There have been a lot of superlatives put forth in the past couple of days. Is this animal the missing link? I think that remains to be seen, but certainly this amazing fossil discovery is going to teach us a lot about an early—possibly earliest—stage of primate, which on its own is pretty special and momentous. It’s an exciting discovery about our origins at a time when humanity seems to have no idea where it wants to go and what it wants to accomplish. At least it’s got the Creationists in a snit, which is always hilarious.

The 15 Best Sequels of All Time

Last week, I commented on James Gunn's poll of the worst sequels of all time. Today, I'm commenting on his follow-up poll, the best sequels of all time. Converse to the last one, the parameter here is that he's asking which sequel most improved on the previous film.

1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
I have to agree. Although I've always liked Star Trek: The Motion Picture, slow and old-fashioned as it is, Star Trek II is a much, much better film. Maybe it's that I appreciate TMP more than I actually really "like" it. I could see where Gene Roddenberry was really trying to do something with a sort of cerebral science fiction that the TV show only ever just touched on. Too bad they couldn't pull it off.

2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
I love this movie, but is it really a huge leap in quality over the first one? The first one is pretty fucking great. They're both really great movies. What I'm saying is, putting the sequel on this list makes the first one seem deficient in some way, when it's a pretty fantastic movie.

3. Evil Dead 2
Same question, really. In the world of handmade, low budget horror, The Evil Dead is one of the best. I'd put it on the same list as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on the Left as one of the great horror films. And I actually think it's tighter than Evil Dead 2, although I love all three of these movies. I also love that they're all pretty different in tone.

4. The Empire Strikes Back
I remember when I was in high school showing these movies to a friend of mine (back when there were just three of these movies). We watched one each afternoon for three days. She was a Czech exchange student and had never seen the Star Wars trilogy before. She really liked Star Wars, but after seeing Empire she was really blown away. She loved Empire so much that the first one was sort of diminished for her. "I hope the last one is as good as this one, or at least better than the first one." Cracked me up.

I've always felt Star Wars was a little slow. George Lucas was still finding his universe (and has never stopped, apparently, but hey, it's his). The Empire Strikes Back is still my favorite of the six movies.

(By the way, I also think Revenge of the Sith should be on this list. It was a vast improvement over Attack of the Clones, which is the one Star Wars film I really think is pretty bad.)

5. Aliens
Great film, but so is the original. I put them on the same level of quality, so, again...

6. The Godfather, Part II
The first film has it all over the sequel in every way. I hate being put in this position with The Godfather, Part II. I don't think it's a bad film at all. I just think it's a weaker movie that's been overpraised.

7. The Dark Knight
No. Batman Begins was so much better. I was disappointed by The Dark Knight.

8. X2: X-Men United
Sure, but quality is a relative idea when it comes to any of these movies. The biggest problem with this movie is an unmanageable number of characters, so none of the 37 endings is particularly satisfying (especially that unbelievable bullshit with Jean Grey; she might as well have said "No, Scott, I need to step outside for a contrived death so the fanboys can have Dark Phoenix in the next movie!"). Great set-up, though, and a number of good scenes and characterizations.

9. The Road Warrior
Agreed, though I do like Mad Max.

10. Spider-Man 2
Better than the first, although I also loved the first.

11. Superman II
No. I love the first one best. I just hate a lot of the silly humor of the sequel. The Richard Donner version is so much better, even though it repeats the ending of the first movie. I want to just combine them both into one four hour movie.

12. TIE: Dawn of the Dead; The Devil's Rejects; and Back to the Future, Part II
Dawn of the Dead is excellent, but Night of the Living Dead is also excellent, just on a smaller scale. Maybe that's what a lot of people are doing here; taking the grander scale of some sequels as a quality leap.

The Devil's Rejects is a quality leap, though. I like House of 1000 Corpses, but The Devil's Rejects is a much better movie.

Back to the Future, Part II? That's nuts. They're all good movies, but the first one is so much better than the second and third.

13. Gremlins 2: The New Batch
That's the first time I've ever heard that. I think they're both great, the second one is just bigger. Two of my faves, though.

14. Toy Story 2
I agree. Part of the problem with the first movie is that they hadn't quite found the characters yet, but had an excellent situation they worked from. At times in the first movie, Woody just comes across as hostile. I watched every Pixar movie recently and Toy Story holds up really well, but Toy Story 2 is the better movie.

15. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
Again, I love both movies equally. Hellboy 2 expanded the world of Hellboy, but they're both great.

Some of James Gunn's personal choices that didn't make the poll:
* Before Sunset -- I've never seen either of these. Should I?
* Drunken Master 2 -- I've never seen either of these, either. These I know I need to see.
* Shrek 2 -- A better time than the first one, but they're both pretty good. Still, the second one walks a tightrope between being too referency and lame and pandering, and actually being character-driven. The awful third movie diminishes them both. DreamWorks has become a lazy, shorthand persona factory, which makes their few actual good movies (most recently Kung Fu Panda) easy to miss.
* For a Few Dollars More -- I would've picked The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The first two Dollars films are good, but they have a lot of slow patches that are trying at times.
* The Bourne Ultimatum -- Christ, no. They're all good, but I felt Ultimatum was the weakest. I think it suffers from the filmmakers not being able to decide until two-thirds of the way through if this was the last Bourne movie or not. (And if it wasn't, I want another one, right now.)
* Batman Returns -- Absolutely. Much better than the first movie. The first movie has dated terribly, actually.

I'm surprised there were no Bond flicks in there. Maybe no one considers them sequels, but instead episodes in a series about the same character. Which they are, I just think it's interesting. If you considered them sequels, there are a lot in there which are better than their predecessors. Especially Casino Royale.

Happy 35th Birthday, Fairuza Balk!

...wherever you are.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wayne Allwine 1947-2009

Sadly, Wayne Allwine passed away this week at the age of 62 from diabetes complications. He'd been the voice of Mickey Mouse since 1977, when he took over from Jimmy MacDonald to do inserts for The New Mickey Mouse Club. His first theatrical appearance was in the classic Mickey's Christmas Carol in 1983, and he's been Mickey's soul ever since. He's survived by his wife, voice actress Russi Taylor, who is, poetically enough, the voice of Minnie Mouse.

Cartoon Brew has posted the video of an interview with Allwine and Taylor. Mark Evanier also has a very nice post filling in the history of Mickey's voice a little more clearly than some.

Very sad.

A Fantasia of Kim Kardashian

I am totally in love with Kim Kardashian. I am so in love with Kim K that I could just fill up the rest of this post with pictures of her.

So... I guess I did.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

DuckTales Gone Horribly Wrong

The Health Report, Year 3: Week 23

Just trying to take things nice and easy these days. So much has gone wrong at once that I'm not even upset anymore. Panicking won't make it better. Hoping won't make it not get worse. So, you know, just trying to feel at peace and keep the moments of panic at bay.

Thinking I might go back to school and get my certification.