Thursday, June 7, 2012

Read this: "Darth Vader and Son"

I recently had the opportunity to read the pseudo (?) children's book Darth Vader and Son, from Chronicle Books. I have the question mark after the "pseudo" there because this is the type of book that should appeal to folks of just about any age. Yes, a passing familiarity with Star Wars is kinda required, but who the hell doesn't have a passing familiarity with Star Wars? It's been freaking everywhere over the last few decades (to the tune of about $22 billion).

But I digress. Darth Vader and Son was written and illustrated by Jeffrey Brown, one of my favorite comics creators working today. You'll read this one quickly for a $14.95 book (although that's MSRP, which no one pays anymore), but return to it time and again.

A sample:
Cute, right? Brown incorporates all sorts of Vader one-liners -- removed completely from their original context -- into some pretty hilarious situations.

If you want more Jeffrey Brown, check out his website. I'll warn you, though: he does some pretty grown-up work, too, so don't order Be a Man expecting more cuteness. It's frankly pretty dirty.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Gina McKee's on TV again

Gina McKee is a favorite of mine, and she can apparently be seen currently on a Showtime program called The Borgias. Unfortunately I don't get Showtime, but if you do, check it out.

You know what I'd like? I'd like a sequel to Notting Hill that features everyone EXCEPT the High Grant and Julia Roberts characters. No slight to those actors (well, maybe a little to one of them), but the supporting cast in that film was outstanding. Sure, we're getting Rhys Ifans as the Lizard real soon here, but I don't think that's going to quite do it for me.

"There's something wrong with this yogurt."

Ray Bradbury passes away

Sad news.

This sentence from the story at HuffPost stood out to me:

He was most widely known for his novels “The Martian Chronicles,” Dandelion Wine," “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and his classic dystopian novel "Fahrenheit 451," which has been a contested staple of school reading lists since its publication in 1953.

"Since its publication in 1953." Over half-a-century ago (and still relevant today, BTW). That, ladies and gentlemen, is a full life of letters.

A tip of the hat to Mr. Bradbury. Farewell, sir.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Short(er) "Men"

Yes, I'm kind of late with this one, but still: Comic Book Men is coming back, though at 30 minutes rather than 60.

Shades of ... well, me. Yours truly, from an earlier post:

"Why in God's name is this show 60 minutes long? There may very well be an entertaining 22 minutes in each episode; wouldn't it be better to strive for 'good' rather than 'it fills the time slot'?"

Good news, everybody ...

"Upon which show's legacy shall I shat next?"
Catherine Tate, who plays Nellie in The Office, will apparently be sticking around for a bit longer. This is distressing news for those of us holding out hope that this program will see one final return to glory before ending its once-exemplary run.

Nellie had the opportunity to be a perfect foil for the show's eighth-season "Florida" storyline, but overstayed her welcome* in what turned into just an absolute car wreck of a storyline that featured one utterly implausible turn after another, even for a sitcom. Sad, considering that the show once presented some genuinely poignant slice-of-life moments.

I'll admit that I cannot speak as authoritatively as I'd like on the matter, because I stopped watching the show. Ten minutes of Nellie is just about my limit.

Of course, Tate isn't helped by truly dreadful writing. (We won't even get into Andy Bernard's "performance issues" episode.) To that end, please check out some The Office fan fiction, which I am fairly certain is better than much of the last quarter of last season. And, no, that isn't a joke. I genuinely believe there's better writing at that link than on this program.

Too bad. There's a lot of good TV out there, but it's still a bummer to watch a show spiral southward like this.

* Kinda like herpes.


This is simultaneously funny and alarming. What possesses a company to make a decision like this? Who is the genius that decided this would be a good idea?

(I decided to check if Kindle Fire for Dummies was available for the Nook; thankfully, it isn't. Can you imagine the "Find and Replace" nightmare that would present?)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Office" hours

"The Office" needs more of this, not less.

I've been thinking about this post at about the (probable/possible?) ninth season of The Office. For a post that isn't that long, it's plenty informative. Here's a snippet:

"The network and the talent are still working out deals, but it appears that both Ed Helms and John Krasinski will return for at least part of next season, which would likely be their last."

Though a huge fan of Cedar Rapids (how was that movie not a bigger hit?), I think Helms has been underutilized on The Office. His departure, while unfortunate, wouldn't be a show-stopper.

Krasinki's departure? That's just about the point when I say the whole thing needs to be shut down.

Jim and Dwight
Despite Steve Carell's brilliance as an actor -- and I mean that -- the Michael Scott character had serious limitations. Relying on him to supply a reliable A story each episode was like trying to make salt into an entree. Hey, man, I love salt ... but a little goes a long way. Jim and Dwight were what kept me coming back to The Office, not Michael Scott. (I can't even say "Jim and Pam," because "Jim and Karen" was fine with me.) The Office without Jim is like MASH without Hawkeye Pierce or Cheers without Sam Malone. Ain't buying it, guys.

Oh, and Dwight, played by the masterful Rainn Wilson? Yeah, he's probably gone, too. Again from Warming Glow:

"Paul Lieberstein — who is not only the showrunner, but he also plays Toby — is also leaving his post as showrunner to focus on Dwight’s spin-off. Assuming that goes through, Rainn Wilson would also be leaving the show."

I don't buy a Dwight spinoff, though I imagine the folks at NBC would view it as a sort of Parks and Recreation-lite (pretty meta, considering how P&R came about). Like Michael Scott, I don't think you build an entire show around Dwight Schrute as the character is currently constituted.

Still, if both of those characters -- Jim and Dwight -- leave, or even assume a reduced capacity on the show, what's the point? Seriously?

Mismanagement on a Dunder-Mifflin level
I think the producers bungled the post-Michael Scott era by not placing Dwight in the role of manager, toning down his lunacy a touch (which is going to happen if he gets his own show anyway) and pairing him on various adventures with Jim as often as possible. Did you see the Florida shows? They were some of the best in years (just the Florida parts, not the rest of the shows). How was that storyline produced without being recognized as pure sitcom gold? The "dead Jim" opening, Dwight saving Jim from the hussy, the fight between the two of them as Jim tried to save Dwight's job ... terrific stuff.

But not only is that NOT what we get, we get more of Catherine Tate, an extremely limited character whose return should have been limited to the Florida episodes and nothing further. I can't say anything about the actress herself -- this is the only work of hers with which I am familiar -- but good gravy: I will stop watching this show if she's on more than one or two more episodes.

And the hits keep on coming
Oh, and Mindy Kaling is reportedly ready to leave for her own show on Fox. If you back out Krasinski, Wilson, Helms, Kaling and Lieberstein, there's still a talented enough cast left, but certainly no star among them.

If The Office calls it a day after a ninth season that still features most of the current crop of players, I'll try to stick with it. But going beyond that with a reconstituted ensemble just seems cruel to the show's history. Even better: air a shorter ninth season -- say, eleven episodes -- and let the complete cast bow out with some dignity. If we stoop to love stories between Kevin and Meredith, I'm going to be really disappointed.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Can "The Walking Dead" cling to life years from now?

It's been years since I watched an hour-long drama for any length of time. I find the format to be a real challenge for a couple of reasons.

First, it's an hour. I can usually convince myself that I have 30 minutes for, say, Modern Family or Community, but an entire hour? That's frequently just too much to ask of me, especially when I have other pressing matters such as not doing yard work or losing at Words with Friends.

Second, it's not just too much to ask of me: it's too much to ask of the writers. Writing one good 45-page script is doable. Writing two of them is probably well within the range of possibility. What about five of them? Six of them?

How about writing 22 of them? And then doing that again after a short break?

My biggest problem with hour-long dramas has nothing to do with the writers and everything to do with the format. If a traditional television season is 22 episodes and each one-hour episode is about 45 script pages (I'm following the "15 minutes of commercials for each televised hour" principle here), one season of a show requires nearly 1,000 script pages. That would be a lot for William Shakespeare, let alone mere mortals.

As a consequence of churning out so many pages, all focused on the same characters (for the most part), these shows inevitably descend into dramatic caricatures of their earlier selves, with dramatic elements seemingly tossed in willy-nilly to generate enough tension to drive us through the current episode and prep us for the next. As a result, the line between prime-time drama and day-time soap opera can oftentimes be blurred.

The Sopranos faltered toward the end of its run, I believe, because the storytelling value of its characters' lives had been exhausted (even though I don't believe any season of that show featured 22 episodes). The X-Files similarly wore down (on a more traditional network schedule), as did ER, The West Wing, Hill Street Blues ... well, the list goes on. I think it's happened to just about every hour-long drama that's lasted more than three seasons.

(I think police/crime/mystery procedurals are largely exempt from this, as they don't rely on serial storytelling. If Monk was still on the air, I'd still be watching it. Every freakin' week.)  

Right now, The Walking Dead is the only hour-long program I watch. And I'm absolutely hooked. I'm hoping we are many, many seasons away from the storytelling fatigue other programs encounter, because this is a non-traditional schedule -- season one was, I believe, six episodes and the just-completed season two was 13 episodes. That's two seasons with a lighter episode load than a network drama would be required to produce in a single season.

The fantasy underpinning of the show would seem to serve it well, too, not unlike Star Trek: The Next Generation's ability to mine its own fantasy underpinnings for season after season of quality writing. 

Despite the loss of season one showrunner Frank Darabont -- a loss that had some writing off the show -- this second season ratcheted up the human drama without overreaching while providing genre fans some great frights.* Now if Lori could only keep on eye on Carl every now and again, we'd all be good.

I don't know ... maybe I should be lamenting. Nineteen hour-long episodes of any television program represents 19 hours of my life I could have spent napping or trying to start my old lawnmower. Still, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that The Walking Dead continues to bring life to my television viewing time for many years to come.

* Yeah, I'm a fan. Check out the proof.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Poster for Wes Anderson's new film, "Moonrise Kingdom"

Voila: the poster for Wes Anderson's new movie, Moonrise Kingdom.

I am going to see this movie. Don't try to stop me; I will chew through your arms.

Johnny Depp debuts Tonto headwear

Despite my uncertainty as to whether or not the world needs a new Lone Ranger movie (remember this one?), Johnny Depp is single-handedly enough to make me give a shit. So he can go right on being as "crow head" as he wants to be; I'm in. (Thanks, WWTDD.)

BTW: Ed Wood remains one of my all-time favorite movies. This is almost completely unrelated to this post, but I just wanted to mention it.

Monday, March 5, 2012

And the winner is ...

The nominees for Best Animated Short Film for 2011 were:

  • Dimanche/Sunday
  • The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
  • La Luna
  • A Morning Stroll
  • Wild Life

Spoiler alert: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore won.

If you have OnDemand, you can watch most of these right now for about seven or eight bucks, plus some other animated shorts that received special commendation (or something of the sort). Well, you can watch them all except for La Luna, a Pixar short that will be available widely once the new film Brave is released.

La Luna or no, I'd recommend checking them out. The "special commendation" ones that close the show aren't that great, but I doubt you'll come away dissatisfied with the overall experience. 

My favorite? Dimanche/Sunday, a charming slice-of-life about a young boy, his family, some train tracks that run through his town, and a bear who ... well, I won't spoil that for you.

When it comes to animation, I tend to be more of the retro sort, and the style for Dimanche/Sunday (check out the images above this post) fits the bill perfectly. 

Not that you'll have a bad time with Fantastic -- you may even, gasp, prefer it -- but check them all out while there's still time. Me? I'm heading over to iTunes where I can pick up Dimanche/Sunday for about three bucks (HD; the SD version is, naturally, cheaper) and always have it at the ready when I need to see a gigantic train barrel through a small town.

"Midnight Masquerader," by Billy Joel

For the last two days, an old Billy Joel tune has been bouncing around my head -- "Streetlife Serenader." But here's the thing: I inadvertently replaced the words "streetlife serenader" with "midnight masquerader." I even sorta imagined the album featuring that title. Now, the phrase "midnight masquerader" is indeed in this song ... but in my head I replaced all the "streetlife serenaders" with it.

I've heard the song, literally, a few hundred times. How does something like this happen?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

More like "Comic Book Meh"

See what I did there? Anyway ...

Three episodes in, AMC's Comic Book Men is starting to come into better focus for me:
  1. This is a 30-minute show masquerading as a 60-minute show.
  2. If everyone dislikes Ming so much, fire the fucking guy already and put him out of his misery.
  3. That Bryan guy? Still kind of a tool, but down from his episode one peak.
I may be done with this one, despite the fact that -- true to my suspicions -- this episode was an improvement upon the second one, which itself was an improvement upon the first. There's no way this gets a second season, right? Despite what must be absolutely paltry production costs, AMC must have something else in the hopper for post-Walking Dead, right?


Listen to the band

I always knew The Monkees.

The furthest reaches of my memory already included them, as if I was born humming "Last Train to Clarksville." Blame daily UHF channel reruns; blame Boyce & Hart. At school, we used to run around pretending to be The Monkees* and at home I would play The Monkees Greatest Hits as often as possible.

As I got older, liking The Monkees became increasingly less cool: they were fakes** who paled in comparison to The Beatles and never produced anything as musically substantial as, say, Pink Floyd's The Wall or The Who's Quadrophenia. Never mind that they did actually have musical talent. Never mind that everyone pales in comparison to The Beatles, including the individual members of that group post-breakup. Yeah, they don't have a Wall on their discography, but two out of three ain't bad and their greatest hits collection on iTunes -- The Best of The Monkees -- is remarkably deep.

It's likelier that history isn't as kind to The Monkees as it could be because their music was, for the most part, fun. Not soul searing (Dylan, King, Springsteen), not gut wrenching (Tommy, "Sunday Bloody Sunday") not ear-popping (Black Sabbath, AC/DC). Fun. And "fun" often has an expiration date in the shelf life of the, ahem, discriminating music lover.

But I'm OK with fun; I think there's room for it in everyone's life. As a result, I've always had room for The Monkees in select playlists.

So it was with great dismay that I learned of singer Davy Jones' death from a heart attack. From what I've heard, he'd been living a pretty clean life and had recently received a clean bill of health. Sometimes, though, you just can't do enough. 

Vocally, The Monkees belonged to Mickey Dolenz, but "Daydream Believer" is just perfectly delivered by Jones. He also does terrific work on "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)." And you never saw Marcia Brady swoon for Dolenz so that evens the gentlemen out a bit.

Make yourself some time today to pick up a song or two from iTunes or Amazon and give a listen. It's okay. You'll sacrifice neither your "hard rock god" status nor your indie cred. Sometimes, it's okay for music to simply be fun.

* I remember one friend becoming upset because he had to play the guy who always wore the hat. I explained that, no, he was playing Peter Tork, I was the guy with the hat, Michael Nesmith. This reassured him immensely.

** Pre-Internet, sometimes you just had to take other kids' words for it, especially if they were older. And the shot against The Monkees from the local teenage boy Greek chorus was always that they couldn't actually perform any instruments and were hardcore imposters. Not true.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Can "Comic Book Men" save itself?

Okay, so I waited until the second episode of AMC's new show Comic Book Men before saying anything. I'm glad I did: while the first episode was largely odorous, the second episode was ... less so.

That's less "damning with faint praise" than you might think. Sometimes it takes a show a little while to get going, and every bit of patience can help. If episode #3 is as improved over #2 as #2 was over #1, we might be headed somewhere.

But I have my doubts. There were just enough recurring problems evident in #2 that I'm afraid we're watching the only season of Men (which at least makes the "Complete Series" DVD affordable).

And those problems are:

Bryan Johnson's desperate pleas for attention
First episode impression: "What an a-hole!" Post-first episode impression, formed after reading his reply to an unfavorable review on "Yep, still pretty much an a-hole." But in the second episode we see just a hint of some humanizing self-deprecating humor as the aging, heavyset man comes face-to-face with his mortal limits during the travesty of a street hockey game that formed the centerpiece of the episode. This guy needs to stop trying so hard to be "Mr. Witty Curmudgeon" and recognize that he's far closer to being "Passenger #4 on Kevin Smith's Coattails" and simply appreciate the ride.

Ming Chen's vagina
Seriously, dude. Grow a pair. I know, I know: producers behind this Pawn Stars ripoff feel that it needs a Chumlee. It doesn't. In the second episode much was made of how Chen paid for guest-star Jason Mewes' merchandise, as if Chen was so taken with Mewes' D-list celebrity that he would do anything for the Big Star. What a laff riot! But wait: am I the only one who heard Chen's boss order him to pay for the items? Guys, we all know 90 percent of this show is staged, but can you at least provide script supervision off camera? Chen seems perfectly likable, but I suspect America's tolerance for watching a bunch of white guys picking on a wimpy Asian dude is lower than some reality show producers might think.

Sixty -- count 'em -- sixty minutes of this
Why in God's name is this show 60 minutes long? There may very well be an entertaining 22 minutes in each episode; wouldn't it be better to strive for "good" rather than "it fills the time slot"?

Kevin Smith
Smith is a natural raconteur. An absolute natural. The problem is, he's so head-and-shoulders above everyone else onscreen that a noticeable pallor settles over the show when he's away ... unless a Batmobile is involved. How long would he have to stay in Jersey to film a full season of 22-minute episodes? They could shoot them like they do game shows: five or six in a day (okay, that might be an exaggeration, but I'm just sayin').

Antiques No-Show
I think there might be a real problem with the premise of Men: shows like Pawn Stars and Antiques Roadshow work because there are so many potential stories about the various items being discussed. They're not limited to any specialized fields, so that in any one episode you can hear something about a Civil War flag, vintage 1920s art print, or antique chair (believe me, that all seems mighty compelling under the right circumstances). But Men's relatively limited focus on comic books, films and toys may end up hampering it; hence, my "more Kevin Smith" suggestion and the complaints about how some of these folks are being portrayed. The stuff walking through the door won't save this show: the people will.

As for now, Comic Book Men will remain on my radar, but consistent improvements -- even if they're more gradual than grand -- are definitely needed to help keep it there.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Kate Micucci

Hey, remember this girl? Kate Micucci? I didn't realize it was the same woman from Raising Hope and Bored to Death (although I believe my post predated either of those appearances). Turns out I like her a lot, in that Kristen Schaal/Amy Sedaris way.

Why can't more movies feature ladies such as these in lead roles? Don't we have enough films starring blond mannequins? (In some cases, literally.)

Fleeing the interview

Why is it that whenever I read about an inept criminal, I picture this guy?

Let's go to the lyrics: Van Halen's "Tattoo"

I don't know if it's because I haven't heard new Van Halen in a while -- and, no, Gary Cherone doesn't count -- but Tattoo has actually grown on me over the last couple of days ... despite the fact that I was pretty dismissive of it after my initial listen.

Thing is, I'm still not sure if the song is mocking people who get tattoos or saluting them. I think it might be the latter. Let's go to the lyrics:

Tattoo, tattoo

I'm not sure this counts as an official part of the lyrics or just some highly-processed bit from lead singer David Lee Roth that they just added during the mixing stage. It sounds pretty 80s, but I think that's A) why it was added and B) why I like it.

I got Elvis on my elbow
When I flex, Elvis talks
I got hula girls on the back of my leg
and she hulas when I walk

Okay, I like this. Probably my favorite verse in the entire song. In terms of talking about tattoos, it's pretty standard stuff: the tattoo that seemingly "comes to life" when the body is moved in a certain way. Still, I'm good with this.

Smoking cherry red
Screaming 'lectric green
Purple mountain's majesty
Talk to me! 

Talk to me!

A seeming recitation of colors in the ink artist's palette. I couldn't find "screaming 'lectric green" on a PMS color chart, but that's okay; I'm assuming "smoking cherry red" is PMS 186.

Swap-Meet Sally
Tramp stamp cat
Mousewife to momshell
in the time it took to get that new tattoo
Tattoo tattoo 

Okay, here's "swap meet Sally," at least as far as Google is concerned, and "tramp stamp cat" seems pretty self-explanatory. But this is the verse that gets me wondering: are we mocking or saluting? Because, I'm sorry, but getting a tattoo does not take a "mousewife" to "momshell" ("housewife to bombshell"?) in the time it takes to get a new tattoo. I know: I've seen housewives get tattoos. Yikes. So is the all-out rock and roll hoopla that Dave's putting into this song a full-throttle "hell, yeah," or a derisive, "Hey, nice tattoo ... schmuck" kind of thing?

Tattoo, tattoo
Show me your dragon magic
Tattoo, tattoo
So autobiographic

More potential derision, with the school-yard taunt "tattoo, tattoo" added to the comically over-the-top "Show me your dragon magic" and potentially dismissive "so autobiographic."

Best believe that needle will hurt you
Best to see these true colors
that follow one of your false virtues

Are the true colors the "truth" put forth in the tattoo, and, if so, to what "truth" does a walking Elvis speak? Or is the getting of the tattoo in the first place the "false virtue"? This latter point will come up again in the next verse and again in a few verses' time.

Little secret to make you think
Why is the crazy stuff we never say
always written in ink?

Smokin' dego red
Explodo pink
Purple mountain's majesty
Show me you, I'll show you me

"Why is the crazy stuff we never say always written in ink?" Because it's easier to get a tattoo than to try to live up to the ideals some folks taut with tattoo? Check out three verses down for me to conclude this point.

Swap-Meet Sally
Trampstamp cat
Mousewife to momshell
in the time it took to get that new tattoo
Tattoo, tattoo 

Tattoo, tattoo
Sexy dragon magic
Tattoo, tattoo
So very autobiographic
Tattoo, tattoo
Got a hold on me
Tattoo, tattoo
He put a spell on me

[Dave vocal solo goes into Eddie guitar solo]

Okay, pay attention to this next bit:

Uncle Denny
had a gold tattoo
He fought for the union
Some of us still do 

On my shoulder
is the number of the chapter he was in
That number is forever,
like the struggle here to win

And here we get to the part where I can't help but think we're being told that, "No, no, tattoos ARE cool! Really!" Because there's no way in hell Van Halen releases a song that mocks union members and/or the respect they have for one another or, as the case is here, family members committed to the union struggle. I cannot imagine a scenario where that would happen. Which leads me to believe that the song is not at all derisive or mocking, and is genuinely saluting all of those "momshells." I suppose the Van Halen demographic includes a lot of "mousewives" who have hoped to move into the "momshell" category, so it's not a bad move on their part.

There is also one more potential reading here -- and this reading ties into the bread crumbs I've been leaving in my notes along the way -- and that's that the speaker of the lyrics (I don't mean Roth, by the way) IS mocking folks with tramp stamp cats and swap meet sallys (sallies?), when they could have found so many more legitimate ways to decorate their bodies. But this reading is a long-shot; in the end, I think this is Van Halen being the same old hyper-literal Van Halen. Which is exactly what their fans have been waiting for for nearly 30 years. Can't say I blame them.

For completion's sake, let's wrap up most of the remaining lyrics:


Swap-Meet Sally
Trampstamp cat
Mousewife to momshell
in the time it took to get that new tattoo
Tattoo, tattoo

Tattoo, tattoo
Sexy dragon magic
Tattoo, tattoo
So very autobiographic
Tattoo, tattoo
Got a hold on me
Tattoo, tattoo

He put a spell on me 


Friday, January 13, 2012

Tom Conti FTW

Wait a minute ... Reuben, Reuben is not available on DVD? How is that possible?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Groomzilla and the Russian tanker

Reading about this fellow they call Groomzilla -- because time isn't precious enough, apparently -- and my peripheral vision picked up the terms "Love + Sex" and then "Russian Tanker" ...

 ... and I immediately wondered how this new entry into the sexual lexicon would be defined. But I was mistaken: it's merely a story that is "trending," not something your neighbors are "doing."

Awesome skill, man

Eric Skillman is a designer with The Criterion Collection who also finds time to write comics and provide design services for non-Criterion work. He is crazy good. See this?

It's one of his.

This too:

Thing is, Eric did both of those -- and many more -- in 2011 alone. Have a few minutes and want to check out some sweet art? Visit his site today.

Captain Underpants prepares to soil the digital realm

Turns out Captain Underpants author Dav Pilkey is making the bold move toward digital publishing. You know how I know this? Because it's one of the top news stories this hour.

I'll admit I'm a bit befuddled. Everyone is either making the bold move toward digital publishing or (as is more likely the case) has already made the bold move to digital publishing. Kindle, anyone?

Slow news day. Where's a Lindsey Lohan story when you need one? Oh, never mind.