Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Odds and Ends for Tuesday

Did any of you catch the season premiere of "Chuck" last night? What did you think? I really enjoyed it - it seemed like a tighter show with a faster pace and better direction. The gags were good and the actors really seem to be settling into their roles. One sad note, though: the green Buy More salesman outfit does nothing for our beloved Adam Baldwin. Can't they change it to a more flattering color? Is that too much to ask?

In other news:

  • And if you're looking for something to get you through the day, just remember you can pick up the "Iron Man" DVD tonight after work. The special two-disc Ultimate Edition has scads of extra goodies including a two-hour documentary and Robert Downey's screen test in which I'm assuming he just stood there looking sexy and was instantly given the job.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Spoilers are the devil's work!

Preface: Here’s the thing you should know before reading this – I have the kind of cold that has rendered my brain incapable of all but the simplest functions. I share this with you because below is a post on a subject I’m starting to think I may have written about once already but if I did I can’t seem to find any evidence of it. So this is my preemptory attempt to apologize for redundancy. Or you could just think of the earlier post – if it does indeed exist – as a spoiler for this one. In any case, my apologies in advance if I have in fact redundancied (new word alert!) myself…

Let’s face it, being as generally awesome as we are, nerdy women have very few vices. Our indulgences veer toward the literary – perhaps we have purchased too many books and can no longer sleep laying down in our apartments? Or toward that of a passionate collector except instead of a $300 pair of shoes, we just bought the Ultimate Superior Never to Be Improved Upon Until Next Year’s Holiday Season Box Set of “The West Wing.” Or maybe, just maybe, this is the year we realize we’ve purchased too much yarn. Whatever the specifics, our vices, in general, are fairly innocuous.

Except for one – a vice so hideous, so malevolent and self-destructive that it is only discussed with vertical ellipses and helpful black bars covering the text. Yes, I’m speaking of course about spoilers.

I am a recovering spoiler whore. I spent most of the late 1990s trolling the Buffy Cross and Stake message boards in search of spoiler nuggets, large or small. After discovering the AOL message boards in the early 1990s, I pretty much knew the content of every X-Files episode weeks before it aired. Same goes for “The West Wing.” As much as this advanced knowledge pretty much ruined every single surprise ever concocted for any of these series, I kept at it. Why? Because of summer and the soul-sucking abyss known as “no new episodes.” I was weak, and any news, or even fake news, helped tide me over, like finding a cactus in a four-month long desert named Hiatus.

There was one show for which I remained religiously anti-spoiler: “Lost.” I have never, ever peaked at a “Lost” spoiler because the strength of that show is based almost exclusively on its ability to shock the hell out of you. Plus, it’s a show that I like a lot but am not obsessively passionate about. So basically, it was like not eating an entire key lime pie when your favorite kind of pie is really pumpkin: gluttony is easily avoided in those instances.

But now it’s been six months since the last new episode of “Battlestar” aired and there’s still three more to go. I have tried very, very hard to remain spoiler-free. Last year, when it was revealed who four of the final five were, all I could think was, “Wow, I’m so glad I didn’t know that ahead of time.” And now, RIGHT NOW, there are new posts in the Television Without Pity spoiler folder for BSG and I am like a fox in a hen house filled with hens who are all like, “C’mon, it’s fine. Just eat us.” And I don’t even like chicken!

I got spoiled for the big revelation at the end of BSG’s last season by accident and it totally ruined it for me. And yet…would it really be so bad if I just picked up one little nugget of information about this year? Half my brain says, “YES, YOU COMPLETE AND UTTER IDIOT,” but the other half is pushing a calendar under my nose saying, “You’re getting nothing for 90 more days. You’re never going to make it. Just look now and maybe you’ll forget it by January.” And this is how I accidentally find out that Boxey is the fifth cylon. (Not a real spoiler.)

I’m holding on for right now. One day at a time, as my sponsor tells me. I try to avoid TWOP and it’s tempting, beautiful, information-filled spoiler folder. I don’t know if I’ll last but damn it, I’m going to put up a good fight.

Unless someone has news about Roslin. Then I’m as done as Daniel Baldwin in a roomful of boxed wine.

But enough about me. How do you feel about spoilers?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday odds and ends

  • And finally, I was going to be coy and say, "Oh, look, The Park Bench got nominated for best geek blog over at the Blogger's Choice Awards! What a complete surprise!" But I don't think I'd be fooling anyone. Yes, I went and nominated the old gal myself because I'm not the kind of woman who waits to be asked to the dance (okay, actually, I waited A LOT in high school.). Anyway, if you'd like to cast a vote for The Park Bench, I'd love it more than candy.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

David Blaine disappoints

Crowds in New York were apparently disappointed yesterday when David Blaine didn't fatally plummet headfirst into Manhattan soil and then instantly resurrect himself and get taken away to the Mother Ship:

Here are some other tricks David could try to disappoint people:

TAME A FROTHING, VICIOUS, RABID LION!!...with understanding and hugs.

WALK ON WATER!!...in a very large bathtub with a little rubber safety mat under his feet and giant marshmallows surrounding him in case he falls.

GET SHOT INTO SPACE COMPLETELY NAKED!!...except for the NASA shuttle that's carrying him in a bubble of oxygen and love.

APPEAR TO MOVE WITHOUT WALKING!!!...while standing on one of those flat moving sidewalks at the airport, angering everyone who's late for a flight as they try to pass him and his bulky luggage.

CATCH A BULLET WITH HIS TEETH!!...and by bullet, we of course mean some sort of soft candy.

GET DRAWN AND QUARTERED!!...by having a caricaturist sketch him and then charge way too much...all in quarters!

FIND THE LOCH NESS MONSTER!!!...sadly, claims it's in his pants. Scottish children everywhere cry.

WRESTLE THE GHOST OF HARRY HOUDINI!!!...ghost of Harry Houdini texts to say he'd rather wrestle Blaine's grandmother and then adds "rowr, if you know what I mean," proving there are pervs even in the afterlife.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Odds and Ends

Who caught "Fringe" last night? I'm liking that show more and more. John Noble is a scene stealer and Joshua Jackson is still looking fine. Tuesdays are turning into good TV nights - even "House" is better this year!

In other slightly more relevant news...
  • Did you know that today is National Punctuation Day? Let's start inserting unnecessary semi-colons in everything we write today and completely gum; up the works!!! Yeah, three exclamation points worth of enthusiasm there! (Wait, four...)
  • And finally, this has nothing to do with nerdiness. I just like the title: "Pony-sized pig traps woman for 10 days." I love any and all headlines with the word "pony" in it. On my office wall, actually, I have an old Reuters story with the headline "Driver fined for Cramming Pony in Hatchback." Brilliant. The world would be a better place if we just used the word "pony" more often. For example: "Secretary Paulson and a small Shetland pony testified before Congress today; pony denounced neigh-sayers." And suddenly, we all feel a lot better, right?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Why “Heroes” doesn’t do it for me anymore

When it first premiered seemingly seven or eight decades ago, I eagerly tuned in to “Heroes” thinking the premise sounded astonishingly brilliant. And I watched it for the first full year, ending up with more of a luke-warm feel about the whole thing rather than that shiny enthusiasm I’d initially cultivated. Then the second year totally lost me and I bailed on it completely. Last night, I thought I’d give it another chance – and it was good – but it just couldn’t sustain my interest. Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out what soured me on a show that had me in its superhero-y grasp so tightly in those first few months. Here’s what I think:

Characters versus plot
When it comes to character-driven shows versus plot-driven shows, I am by far a bigger fan of character than plot. Original, three-dimensional characters are why shows like “Buffy,” “West Wing” and “Battlestar” earn my unmitigated devotion. Those are the shows I’ll watch again and again. Which is not to say that plot-driven shows like “24” are not without merit. Those shows are addictive and fun but in the end, they’re also disposable. Shows that achieve a careful balance of the two, like “Lost,” are few and far between. I think “Heroes” tried to achieve one of those balancing acts. The trouble is, as good as the characters looked on paper, they were never fleshed out enough to really take hold and in the end, they simply seemed to exist to service the plot. I didn’t care what happened to any of them, really, and when your plot hangs on who lives and who dies and who’s a bad guy and who’s a good guy, well, it helps to have your audience invested enough in those characters for those revelations to actually matter and hit home.

An exclusive club
Speaking of plots, “Heroes” has always been so densely structured that if I accidentally sneezed and missed a line of dialogue, I would get completely scared that I’d missed a major point that would be imperative for me to know six months down the line. There are certain shows that just lock you out if you miss an episode or two. Like with “BSG” or “Lost,” I would never tell someone, “Oh yeah, there’s this great show. You should tune in this week.” That person would be frustrated out of their mind and would turn the channel immediately. With some shows, you just can’t climb back on board in the middle of the ride and with “Heroes,” I got tired of trying.

Marketed to death
During the second season, it almost didn’t matter that I wasn’t watching the show because NBC flogged their “Heroes” marketing horse to death seemingly ever single night of the year. “Heroes” comic books and photo shoots and I’m assuming some sort of underpants tie-in – the show was everywhere and I was constantly being told how awesome it was and how it was “event television” and I would die a shameful death if I didn’t hang on every word written about this incredible show. Except it wasn’t incredible. It was average. Consequently, I had a really tough time jumping on a band wagon filled with mediocre. If acclaim isn’t earned, it’s just hype. And I’ve got enough of that in an election year.

Anyway, I feel bad about not liking “Heroes.” In a way, I feel like it lessens my nerdy street cred, but I have to be honest. I just don’t feel the “Heroes” love.

What do you think of the show?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Nerd Man of the Month: Bruce Campbell

There are legendary men...and then there are the men who make the legendary men feel so inadequate they have to hold each other and cry. Bruce Campbell is one of those men, a cult icon like no other. He's done it all. He's played Elvis. He's sung a Duran Duran song and woofed on national television. He's played a guy with a chainsaw for a hand and yes, he's even played himself. Those are just a few of the reasons why Bruce Campbell -- the man, the myth -- is this month's Nerd Man of the Month.

For those of us who love underdogs, Bruce is totally the man. He's like the Humphrey Bogart of B movies, with an on-screen persona so laid back and goofy that he seemingly draws the spotlight without even trying. He probably could have gone the traditional handsome leading man route, but he stayed true to his oddball nature with the Evil Dead movies, carving up cheesy skeletons as Ash. He did TV series like "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr." and "Xena: Warrior Princess." And when he wasn't acting in films that completely screw with people's brains like "Bubba Ho-Tep" (in a perfect Elvis turn), he wrote the books, "If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor" and "Make Love The Bruce Campbell Way."

These days, he's sunning himself on the shores of Mainstream Land as the lovablely smarmy and dissolute sidekick Sam Axe in the USA series, "Burn Notice," managing to steal pretty much every scene he's in. And now he's touring the country promoting his upcoming indie film, "My Name Is Bruce," written by "Battlestar Galactica"'s own Mark Verheiden. Check out the preview:

Seriously, how many other dudes would star as a version of themselves who takes advantage of innocent townspeople and generally acts like a coward until manning up and (presumably) saving the day? Okay, probably like 12 guys but he's totally the coolest of the bunch. And, of course, Bruce rocks because he never, ever seems to take himself seriously. He's like the cool kid in class who's so cool he doesn't need to prove it to anyone, rendering him instantly sexy to pretty much anybody and everybody. Just check out this New York Times article for proof.

Plus, Bruce deserves this recognition because he's a hometown boy for us southeast Michiganders. Taller than Eminem, classier than Kid Rock, just as manly as Madonna and way more of a winner than our football team, Bruce is someone all of us here in the Economic Backwaters of the North can be proud of.

And because there can never be enough Bruce love in the world, here he is singing Hungry Like the Wolf:

And on that note, let's wave our chainsaw-hands high and tip our groovy hats to September's Nerd Man of the Month Bruce Campbell and all his transcendent greatness. Hail to the king, baby.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

In praise of Carrie Fisher

I've always admired unusual people and by unusual I mean truly, deeply bizarre, the kind of folks who talk without any sort of verbal inhibitor, rendering them deeply funny and truly honest in the process. That's why, to me, Carrie Fisher just keeps getting more and more superb with each passing year. She reminds me of a classier Mae West or a Dorothy Parker without the cruelty and so much spilled Vermouth.

Currently, she's touring the U.S. with a new one-woman stage show called "Wishful Drinking" in which she talks about her life, her career, "Star Wars," and the mental health challenges she's faced. As a result, she's doing a lot of press and with each interview I read, my girl crush grows. To wit, here's what she has to say about her interaction with the audience during "Wishful Drinking" (from a Q&A in The Washington Post):

The first row gets a lot of action from me. And someone comes up on the stage to help me with a life-size Princess Leia sex doll. I tell them that it's handy, because if someone in the audience tells me to go (expletive) myself, I can take it home and give it a whirl. But in case the doll is heterosexual, I ask for a male volunteer.

And in response to what she hopes to do next:

There's a book of the show, and I owe another book to my publisher, Simon and Shuster. I'm doing a horror film coming up [a remake of The House on Sorority Row], just because I've never been killed on screen before. I was nominated for an Emmy for 30 Rock, that's a first for me. I do a lot of things -- some more rewriting of screenplays, though that has evolved into a weird gig. I try to be a Renaissance chick as best I can. So I can afford the shopping.

She also did a recent interview with USA Today. Here's what she says about winning awards:

Q: To what do you owe this overdue recognition?
A: I have no idea, having not seen the other performances. I don't watch much TV except 30 Rock. It's incredibly well written, and those are the only kinds of parts to play.

Q: You have had trophy opportunities, including a BAFTA nomination for the Postcards From the Edge script
A: I don't really pay attention. I don't have a good memory anymore. I know I got a Los Angeles Pen Award for Postcards the novel, and I get a lot of awards for being mentally ill. It's a lovely combo.

As you can see, there's no real point to this post of mine today except to give you as much evidence as possible to back my unflagging belief that Carrie Fisher should be a hero to women everywhere. How can you not love a woman who runs an ad like this to promote her show? And yes, I totally forgive the cue card reading:

And finally, I leave you with her words from a Baltimore Sun review of her show:

"If my life weren't funny, it would just be true...and that would be unacceptable."

Can I get an amen?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I read "Cosmo"...so you don't have to

The most important things I learned from this month’s issue of “Cosmopolitan” magazine:
  • "To give my pad an elegant autumn vibe, I can place a few white pumpkins in the center of a table. They’re a sophisticated alternative to the usual holiday stuff.” Like, ahh, what do you call those things? They're kind of round. Charlie Brown likes them. Orange pumpkins?
  • My eyes have the ability to hypnotize a man.
  • Kate Hudson’s weirdest phobia is the smell of buttermilk.
  • “Hair is more than a woman’s best accessory. It’s her greatest weapon.”
  • Um, I’m looking at something called “Hollywood’s Make-Out Map” that apparently tracks whose made out with whom, starting with Jennifer Aniston and John Mayer. Justin Timberlake is seven steps away from having made out with Tom Green. I do not think Justin should tell people this.
  • Sixty-eight percent of women do not want to see Mario Lopez’s man cleavage.
  • Usher’s perfume sample smells better than Britney’s. Also, he is less of a whore.
  • Oh my god, there is an article called “This Is What It Means…When Guys Cry.” Two points for referencing Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” Minus three points, though, for the entire article not simply being comprised of the words, “He's saaad.”
  • Awesome. There is a picture of two raccoons hanging from a tree branch with a caption reading, “She can totally hang.” Somewhere a dentist is clipping this for his office wall.
  • Shawni, age 20, says, “I had the hots for a guy at college. I knew he was into me…yet he never told me so. We had history class together and one dude always tried to flirt with me. Usually, I ignored him but one day, I flirted back, hoping to make my crush jealous. It worked – he confessed his feelings that night!” Shawni went on to win a Nobel Prize in the field of Duh and Duh Again, You Complete Fucking Moron.
  • Hahahahaaa…Question: How can I get Cosmo cleavage? Answer: Our cover girls often use chicken cutlets in their bras – they give amazing lift! Also, nine out of ten Cosmo girls get mauled to death by hungry dogs. We have no idea why.
  • Adrianne Palicki, star of “Friday Night Lights” uses Dove soap. Now we can sleep at night.
  • Is anyone else disturbed that the makers of Vitamin Water also make shampoo? Should I just not worry about this?
  • Has your relationship become boring and stale? Go kayaking! Also drink a lot! And go shopping at a second hand store! Problem solved. People who get divorced are pussies.
  • Page 174…The point at which I gave up reading. Don’t worry, though, I can pretty easily sum up the rest: threesomes, sex in public places, hair care, Neutrogena ad, why your boyfriend is cheating on you, what you did wrong to make your boyfriend cheat on you, a blurb about how cute Drew Barrymore is and 17 Estee Lauder ads.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Not happy with the presidential candidates? May we suggest a few alternatives?

Tired of talking about McCain and Obama? Palin and Biden? Happily, there are some promising alternatives out there. Let's take a look at them, shall we?

EXPERIENCE: Made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. Saved the Rebel Alliance. Survived an ugly experience in a trash compactor. Bagged a princess.
PROS: Shoots first, doesn't ask any questions later. Looks good in vests. Hangs with smooth dudes like Lando Calrissian.
CONS: Never once killed an Ewok. Running mate Chewbacca will shed on EVERYTHING.

EXPERIENCE: Battlestar executive officer. Resistence fighter. Running mate "familiar" with presidential duties.
PROS: Hearty, pirate-esque grimace is great motivator. Big fan of Jimi Hendrix.
CONS: Cylon baby daddy. Also, Cylon. Also, cyclops.

EXPERIENCE: Battlestar admiral. Savior of humanity. Taught math to inner city youth.
PROS: Scowls like nobody's business. Can totally cheat off girlfriend on the president exam. Already has celebrity endorsements:

CONS: Crushes model ships....which is why we can't have nice things in outer space.

Cthulhu '08

EXPERIENCE: Has his own cult. Ruled the world in ages past.
PROS: Tentacles enable extraordinary multi-tasking. Evil.
CONS: Name guarantees he'll turn around every time someone sneezes. Also, evil.

General Zod

EXPERIENCE: Kryptonian political prisoner. Took over world 15 minutes after getting here. Made Superman look like the little girl the other little girls make fun of.
PROS: Self-confident. Can fly. Can levitate buses. Fits into very small places.
CONS: Wee bit of a cross-dressing issue.

Macgyver 2008

EXPERIENCE: Has gotten out of more than 10 million scrapes. Leather jacket has lived through five presidential administrations. Knows what the hell a Stargate is.
PROS: Will create effective cabinet using string, bubble gum and the condemned soul of Robert McNamara.
CONS: Mullet once killed a guy.

Stephen Colbert (suspended race)

EXPERIENCE: Portrait hung over prominent National Portrait Gallery water fountain.
PROS: Two very impressive thumbs. Can summon bald eagle with his mind. Only candidate with DNA in outer space. Wrists are very strong.
CONS: His flawless face on Mount Rushmore will make existing dead presidents feel insecure.

So which of these candidates would have your vote?

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Morning Report

Friday, September 12, 2008

Children's books can scar you for life...

Tomorrow would have been the 92nd birthday of author Roald Dahl, creator of such memorable tomes as "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "James and the Giant Peach" and "Matilda." He was also the author of a collection of short stories called "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More" which absolutely, positively scared the living, breathing daylights out of me as a child and scarred me for months thereafter. The particular culprit in this instance was a story called "The Swan," in which two boys bully another young boy, kill a swan and then make the boy wear the dead swan's wings as he (presumably) jumps to his death from a tall tree. I remember my mother accidentally gave me this book when I was maybe 9 or 10 and home sick from school. By the end of the story, I was sucking down Nyquil and smoking sugar cigarettes just to blot out thoughts of bloody, de-winged swans.

It's funny looking back at as adult at the types of things that scared you as a child, like a preview of all your future neuroses. That "Swan" story scared me not only because of its gruesome nature but because of the bullying (no fun for a kid who used to get crammed in the occasional locker or two herself) and the fall from great heights. (Hate heights.) I remember also reading "Dracula" as a kid...and getting so scared that I hid it under the couch, thinking that if Dracula somehow leaped out from inside the book, the hefty davenport, as my grandmother used to call it, would crush him before he was able to do any exsanguination. This was a manifestation of my future ability to be an idiot and also my aversion to men in slightly gay capes. (See "Batman.")

"Bambi," "Charlotte's Web" and "The Cricket in Times Square" also left me a quivering mess, what with the matricide, the barnyard traumas and the separation of friends and family -- all with cute illustrations!

Other media also did the trick. I remember being terrified of The Abominable Snowman in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and also this gremlin dude from "The Twilight Zone" episode, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," starring a semi pre-hammy William Shatner:

Today, I look at that gremlin and see a guy in a cheesy rubber mask but when I was seven, the sight terrified me to such a degree that I was literally frozen in place. I remember trying to scream for my parents to come and turn off the TV for me and not a single squeek emerged. And yes, every time I get on a plane, I think about that damn gremlin. I shake my fist at you, Mr. Serling, and your unsettling tales of the manifestation of 20th century anxieties! (I'm pretty sure that's what I wrote in my Hello, Kitty diary once I'd calmed down...)

I can't be the only one with these kinds of childhood traumas, though, right? What books, movies or TV scared you as a kid?

The Morning Report

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mythological animals aren’t trying hard enough

If you saw Yahoo News this morning, you likely noticed a headline announcing that a rare four-legged creature with a little stumpy horn was photographed for the first time ever in the wilds of Africa. The article went on to say that the creature was so elusive that many thought it was a unicorn. Which led me to raise the pitch of my voice to unnatural heights and say, “Really? WTF?” The sad thing is that I actually said the letters “WTF” and air-quoted a sad emoticon.

In recent months, we’ve had purported video of a chupacabra running down the side of the road, the discovery of a sad, pathetic faux sasquatch and now this lame-ass unicorn. I, for one, would just like to say that these “creatures” are really blowing my faith in magical animals.

First of all, how could anyone call the stumpy horn dude a unicorn? For one thing, he’s tan and brown and EVERYONE knows that unicorns are white with rainbows painted on them. Also, the horn is very, very small, like the thing sneezed and blew a cheese doodle into its forehead. Unicorn horns are huge -- so huge that you can’t even believe they can hold their heads up, like Charlie Brown or Christina Ricci. In fact, I’m convinced that real unicorns walk around like pageant contestants all day, trying not to topple over while muttering, “Oh shit, oh shit, my neck is totally going to break off, why does my horn have to be so magically huge? Why???” They spend the rest of the day avoiding ad reps from Cialis.

And then we had the chupacabra, which looked nothing like the chupacabra portrayed on “The X-Files,” which, as you know, is where I get all my science. Mulder told me a chupacabra was a Mexican goat sucker, which makes you envision is pretty messed up animal with some fearsome heft and a bad-ass persona. What did we get in the video? A Rottweiler with a horrible overbite. So basically, the cop shooting the video was just mocking a dog with bad teeth for mile after mile while the poor animal just kept looking over its shoulder begging the guy to stop until he could find his retainer. That’s not magical. That’s just cruel.

And finally, the sasquatch. Sigh. Doesn’t anyone even try with their hoaxes anymore? You’re going to use a giant ape costume and smear it with possum guts and expect me to be even mildly impressed? At least those decades-old fake videos of the sasquatch running had a little artistry to them, the way the guy paused and looked back, using super-model moves to tease you with possibility. Or those re-touched photos of Nessie? Someone put some effort into those. Nowadays, though, people are just too lazy to even pull off a good stunt and in the process, they’re ruining my magical creature mojo and I hate them for it.

P.T. Barnum knew what it was all about. People like to be fooled. We like to believe that there are wonders we haven’t seen. That’s why, when Barnum sewed fish tails onto monkeys and proclaimed them “mermaids,” people were willing to believe him. He created the illusion and when you put a little effort into it, people will go whole hog* in suspending their disbelief. How else do you explain 50 years of Sea Monkeys?

The next time Yahoo News wants to impress me, it better be with something worth my time: the Loch Ness monster wrestling Godzilla. A production of “Unicorns on Ice.” Live sasquatches forming a human pyramid. Christina Ricci wearing a tiny hat. Why? Because we all could use a little magic in our lives these days.

* Not a reference to Sarah Palin.

The Morning Report

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How 'bout that "Fringe?"

Just finished watching the debut of "Fringe," the latest series by J.J. Abrams that makes air travel look like the worst idea ever. And...it was pretty good. It doesn't blow you away like the pilots for "Lost" and "Alias" did, but it has promise. In case you missed it, the premise of "Fringe" revolves around an FBI agent, Olivia Desmond, who has to solve the origins of a mysterious disease with the help of a formerly institutionalized scientist and his son. In other words, the show is pretty much a revamped "X-Files" with better title cards.

So what does "Fringe" do right? Well, half the cast is really, really good. Joshua Jackson has a Sawyer-esque quality as the scientist's son and has a surprisingly sexy quality that I would not have associated with the dude who played Pacey on "Dawson's Creek." He's totally going to be a new sci-fi hottie. And John Noble as crazy scientist Walter Bishop is truly endearing and brings some much needed levity to the proceedings. Anna Torv, who plays Agent Dunham, looks distractingly like Cate Blanchett and is solid although not stellar. I think she'll grow into the role, though, and she's got a nice bad-ass quality brewing.

"Fringe" also does a nice job of maintaining a certain sense of realism in the midst of the craziness, which makes it eerier than it might otherwise be. And judging by the previews for upcoming episodes, it looks like that creepy factor is going to be ratcheted up in the near future and that can only be a good thing.

The other awesome thing? Bishop's got a cow named Gena and she likes to watch "Sponge Bob." TV would be so much better if every show had a cow named Gena.

Despite the awesome cow, "Fringe" does have room for improvement. The pacing of the first episode was erratic and failed to build to as strong a climax as it could have. Some of the plot was fairly predictable as well without giving us any of the "holy shit" shocks that we're used to on "Lost." Again, though, I have a feeling these things will change over time and evolve into a stronger, richer show.

Until then, I'm confident Joshua Jackson and Gina the cow will sustain me.

The Morning Report

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Morning Report

  • 50 Greatest Arts Videos on YouTube [The Guardian via Pop Candy] - Some really interesting stuff from a pre-fame Nirvana garage band video to Billie Holliday singing a heartbreaking version of "Strange Fruit."

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Morning Report

  • "24" shuts down for Season 7 script revisions. [Ain't It Cool] - The best part of the story? Says showrunner Howard Gordon, "Our feeling was this: We're so happy with what we've done so far, and to the extent that we had that luxury [of time], we said, 'Why not make it as good as we could?'" I wish they'd thought of that for, say, seasons 4, 5 and 6.

  • Green polar bears? [Treehugger] - Polar bears go crazy for St. Patrick's Day. Sadly, the drunken bastards have no concept of time and are ALWAYS partying early. Lushes.

Friday, September 05, 2008

12 Fictional Females Who Don't Take Crap From Anybody! Day 3

Rita, "Educating Rita"

WHY SHE RULES: I'm delving deep into obscurity with this pick but for the book nerd in me, Rita's always been a fictional hero. Based on a play by Willy Russell, "Educating Rita" earned an Oscar nomination for its star Julie Walters (Mrs. Weasley to the Harry Potter fans) who portrayed a young hairdresser weighed down by her job, her home life and a husband who either wants her to have a baby or pack her bags and leave. Rita's goal, though, is to get an education. She goes to night classes taught by an embittered drunken literature professor, and over the course of the film, not only saves him but learns to find her own voice. Rita's not a flashy character -- she doesn't shoot any guns or fly any space ships -- but her struggle to achieve individuality is intensely moving. She sacrifices everything -- her husband, her family, her friends and for a while, her identity -- just to learn. She fights for a chance to understand literature and in turn, understand herself. For women who are too often told that being pretty is more important than being smart, a character like Rita is all too rare.

Sarah Connor, "The Terminator" series

WHY SHE RULES: No list of no-nonsense women would be complete without Sarah Connor who not only ruled the roost in an entire feature film series but also has new life now on the FOX's show, "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles." I remember seeing "Terminator 2" when I was a kid and thinking, "Holy shit, I'm glad she's not my mom. She'd gun me down for Oreo crumbs on the comforter." Sarah Connor is pretty much the epitome of gun-totin', ass-kickin' chickness. She defeated Arnold Schwarzenegger, fought a liquid metal Robert Patrick and overcame the most horrifying enemy of all: 80s hair. Oh, and she saved the future of humanity. But mostly, she defeated the hair, the kind of feathery mess that would've made a lesser women cry and drown herself in gel. Sarah's no quitter though, not even when the naked Schwarzennegger robots come knocking. Yikes.

Starbuck, "Battlestar Galactica"

WHY SHE RULES: Okay, putting two BSG characters in the same list might seem like cheating, but it's not my fault this show does hard-nosed ladies so well. Starbuck is an awesome character because she never gives in on anything. Ever. As scary Admiral Cain once asked her, "Do you always get what you want?" The response? Pretty much, yeah. If not, she'll shout and scream and point a gun at Adama's special lady friend. In the end, though, she gets people to listen to her and respect her despite her flaws. And wow, does she have flaws - the drinking, the insubordination, the carrying on with the married gentlemen who aren't her husband - but she's a passionate character who almost always puts the well-being of others before herself and ends up saving everyone's ass at least once or twice in the course of a day. In short, this female Starbuck wins out over the sad, sad male version in the original series, hands-down. Sorry, Dirk Benedict, but it's true: Starbuck version 2.0 makes your original flyboy look as butch as a Malibu Barbie...riding a unicorn...covered in sparkles.

Ellen Ripley, "Alien" series

WHY SHE RULES: Well, one, because she told Bill Paxton to shut up in "Aliens." Two, because she told Paul Reiser to shut up and three, because she puts on giant robot suits and blasts acid-dripping, people-eating monster alien mothers into space. You have to admit, it'd almost be worth an alien invasion just to try that once. Ripley is pretty much the perfect female sci-fi character: she's tough, she's smart, she's reluctant, she's been resurrected once or twice, she's misanthropic and yet, she's still got her feminine/maternal side: remember when she saved that whiny child in "Aliens?" Plus, she loved her cat. As far as I can tell, Ripley has only one flaw: a penchant for removing her clothes at the drop of a hat for absolutely no reason what so ever. Which is fine, except I'd think it would be a real time-sucker when it comes to planning a day of going to the salon and shooting aliens and whatnot. Beyond that though, from the moment Ellen Ripley made her debut in 1979, she's been a sci-fi legend, breaking and setting the mold for many, many more competent, tough and entertainingly trigger-happy women to come. Plus, seriously, she told Bill Paxton to shut up.

Honorable mentions: Any girl in a Miyazaki film, Lucy from "Peanuts," Buffy from "BTVS," and Zoe and River from "Firefly." Who would you add?

The Morning Report

Thursday, September 04, 2008

12 Fictional Females Who Don't Take Crap From Anybody! Day 2

Emma Peel, "The Avengers"

WHY SHE RULES: Arguably, there's never been another woman on TV as unmistakeably cool as Emma Peel. For two years in the mid-1960s, Mrs. Peel served up feminine modernity with an elegance, charm and humor that made everyone sit up and take notice. She was a scientist, a woman of independent means, who joined with British spy John Steed to solve crimes and protect the world from evil-doers, whether they be deranged kitties, comic book artists or cyborgs -- and she did it will wearing the most awesome clothes ever. She could defeat bad guys with her intellect or her karate moves, both worked just fine. And she always, always had witty things to say and time for champagne when the hard work was done. As Steed said at the beginning of each episode, "Mrs. Peel, we're needed." And as suave and awesome as he was in his own right, this dynamic duo would not have been the same without Mrs. Peel. And 1960s England would not have been half as cool.

Hermione Granger, "Harry Potter"

WHY SHE RULES: Honestly, what would Harry and Ron do without Hermione? For one thing, they'd have flunked out of Hogwarts ten minutes after they got there, all covered in chocolate frogs and such. Hermione was the brains of that trio, a bad-ass witch who helped her friends work together to reach their potential and save the world from evil time and time again. She was the one who kept her head, kept the boys calm and cool and used her noggin to solve problems and make plans. She was not only a wickedly good witch, she was also the world's best study buddy. And she still had time to woo Ron, keeping him entranced and scared while still possessing the awesome ability to turn him into a squirrel at any moment. What woman hasn't dreamed of that kind of power? Exactly.

Maude, "Harold and Maude"

WHY SHE RULES: If you've never seen "Harold and Maude," you're missing out on one of the most wonderfully original female characters ever created. For those who don't know, "Harold and Maude" is a film about Harold, a young man obsessed with death and Maude, a Holocaust survivor who loves life, and the brief romance they share in the days before her 80th birthday. From the moment Maude picks up Harold at a funeral and she dupes him into helping her steal a car, you know that this is a woman who marches to the beat not only of her own drummer but an entire percussion section. She lives in a train car, loves sculpture, collects the air from memorable places and packs all the joy of life into every second that she breathes. The audience falls in love with her just as quickly as Harold and it's because of her strength. This is a character who faces death not with guns or quick retorts but with sheer, unadulterated bravery. She's tough in all the ways that matter.

Liz Lemon, "30 Rock"

WHY SHE RULES: Liz Lemon let America know what you and I have known all along: nerdy women are awesome. She showed that knowing the difference between "Star Wars" and "Star Trek," wearing bi-curious shoes and being really, really smart doesn't make you less of a woman, it makes you more of an individual. Like her fictional predecessor Mary Richards, Liz Lemon is the quiet at the center of the storm, the rudder that keeps the Crazy Ship on course. Sure, she occasionally walks off with other people's babies, dates Beeper Kings and wears her dresses backwards, but who among us hasn't done that? Liz is a tough gal with a wicked sense of humor who's not ashamed to make a guy do "The Worm" when he gives her flack. She is her own person and doesn't care AT ALL what anyone else thinks of her -- okay, well, she cares for about five seconds but then she just gets mad. Liz Lemon is an American hero, goddamit, and in nerd country, she's our queen.

TOMORROW: The Final Four

The Morning Report

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Twelve Fictional Females Who Don't Take Crap From Anybody

Hillary Clinton and her pantsuits got me thinking about tough women. Here are 12 fictional females - four a day, in no particular order - who never, ever let anyone push 'em around. Or at the very least have the guts to wreak spectacular havoc if they do.

Laura Roslin, "Battlestar Galactica"

WHY SHE RULES: On a show with genocidal robots, hardened military men, reformed terrorists and a desperate humanity doing anything it takes to survive, it might seem a bit odd that the former secretary of education turned president of the 12 colonies is the scariest bad-ass of all. Then again, this is "Battlestar Galactica," where optimists go to cry big, wet tears of existentialist despair. So it makes sense that the seemingly nice quiet terminally-ill lady is the one who tries to steal elections, airlocks prisoners, kidnaps babies, advocates the mass extermination of the Cylon race, believes herself to be a religious prophet and nearly lets a man bleed to death before her eyes. The thing is, she's pretty much right in doing all those things -- certainly not right in a moral sense, but right in a "these things have to be done and since I'm dying anyway, I may as well be the one to lose my soul by doing them."

Roslin is a character you root for despite her flaws, a woman made all the more three-dimensional by the fact that she does these things because she has to -- and she does them at the expense of her own soul. With every action she takes to protect humanity, she becomes less human and more like the machines she is trying to defeat. Lately, though, it seems like she might be on the road to redemption. Will it stick? Who knows? Wondering what that crazy Laura Roslin is going to do next is half the fun.

Mary Richards, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"

"The Mary Tyler Moore Show," aside from being pretty damn funny, earns kudos for introducing one of the first female characters who truly functioned as an independent entity. Mary Richards wasn't anyone's wife or girlfriend or mother -- she was just a woman in her 30s trying to have a career and build a life for herself amid a never-ending stream of wacky neighbors, crazy potential boyfriends and hilariously bizarre co-workers. More often than not, Mary was the straight man, so to speak, the foil off which all the weirdness bounced but that also made her the rock. When everything else went phloo-ey, she was the one everyone held on to...even when clowns died and made people laugh so hard they nearly vomited. Truly groundbreaking, the character of Mary Richards paved the way for a lot of the fictional ladies we love today, including a certain neurotic resident of "30 Rock." Way to go, Mary Richards. No wonder she's got her own statue.

Dr. Jennifer Melfi, "The Sopranos"

First, let me just say that as much as I love "The Sopranos," I pretty much hate every single character on that show except for Silvio's hair and Dr. Jennifer Melfi, Tony Soprano's therapist, who time after time turns out to be way tougher than her whiny mobster patient. First poor Jennifer has to go on the lam because of Tony's shenanigans, then she gets raped and proves she's a much better person than I'd ever be by not letting Tony exact revenge on her assailant, then she has to spend time with her dumb-ass ex-husband who has the weirdest Italian fetish ever and then she's got to spend time with Peter Bogdonavitch - which, hello, how much torture can the woman endure? Worst of all, she has to endure the advances of Tony, who claimed he loved her and probably did in his own sick way, but what woman could handle all his wheezing and loud suits? (Although the loudness of the suits would probably drown out the wheezing...) No matter how many times Tony raged at her or tried to woo her, though, she stood up to him -- no small feat given that a) she kind of liked him and b) he's fucking scary! Melfi is a no-frills tough lady, one who holds her own against anyone and anything but without flash and flair. You gotta respect that.

Princess Leia, "Star Wars"

Because she never killed herself over that hairstyle. Seriously, that's strength. And she wore a metal bikini, which is INSANE! Talk about chafing. No, the real reason Princess Leia rocks is because she was the brains of the organization. You got your Ben Kenobis and your Luke Skywalkers and your yummy Han Solos but without her, they're all just lightsabers and muscle. Leia was a kick-ass soldier in her own right, never caving to Darth Vader's weird floating dental school torture devices and never giving up her comrades, even when the baddies blew up Alderaan and her father Jimmy Smits. And she killed Jabba the Hut in pretty much the most time consuming demise of a giant rubber slug ever. How cool is that? The only negative: she kind of made out with her brother, just like Angelina Jolie. Ew. Still though, she was a role model -- how many of us wanted to be Princess Leia when we were little? Yes, that's right, ALL OF US. Sure, mostly it was because we wanted to make out with Han Solo but a lot of it was because she kicked ass and knew how to take numbers. By Force. Get it? Force. Ha. Yeah....

Read Part II here.

The Morning Report

Tuesday, September 02, 2008