Sunday, August 31, 2008

The producers come into the room, people start cryin' and stuff . . .

It might be ironic and hip to make fun of Saved by the Bell, but I have no intention of doing that. Indeed, the show was really awful, but everyone knows that. So why dwell on it? Rather, I just want to point out the existence of E! True Hollywood Story: Saved by the Bell:

It's fascinating, to me, to watch those involved talk about the show years later. Creator Peter Engel and other crew members seem to think it was a clever and creative show. Haley Mills seems kind of embarrassed, although she shouldn't - her work as Miss Bliss was typically fine. Dustin Diamond, here, just seems kind of perplexed about the whole thing. And Dennis "Belding" Haskins reveals that, even though the part was written for someone "over fifty and black", he knew he had to have the part.

Anyway, there it is. It's pretty entertaining.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

I'm back!

Sorry for the lack of updates recently. I moved to Missouri for grad school a couple of weeks ago, and I didn't get back in the habit of posting. Well now I am getting back in habit. To mark my return, here's a link -

A website with the number one song for each date in history. Apparently the number one song on the day I was born was "Like a Virgin".

No, I don't have any jokes about that, thank you very much.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Animation is the king of quality

Rotten Tomatoes posted this list of the worst-reviewed movies of the last ten years the other day. It's kind of depressing to remember that someone paid money to make those movies. Also included, though, is the best reviewed movie of each year. Those, to me, are a lot more interesting. If you don't care to click on the link, here's what they are:

1998: The Truman Show
1999: Toy Story 2
2000: Chicken Run
2001: Monsters Inc.
2002: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
2003: Finding Nemo
2004: The Incredibles
2005: Murderball
2006: The Queen
2007: Ratatouille

Look at that list - according to the collected opinions of the nation's film critics, the best movie in six of the last ten years has been animated. And not even just animated, but a big-budget studio cartoon feature. It's not that other big-budget studio movies never get positive reviews - Lord of the Rings is represented on this list, and The Dark Knight might very well end up as the best-reviewed champion for 2008 - but they don't get them as consistently as animation.

Now, five of these six movies are Pixar, of course. Other studios simply don't put out the same kind of quality product that they do. But Chicken Run is an Aardman movie - their first feature of, thus far, three. I don't know what I'm trying to say with this post.

Animated movies are the best, I suppose. And Aardman should make more movies.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

My favorite Python reference ever

My father, as a general rule, does not make pop culture references. He doesn't think they're funny, and he often calls his sons "stupid" for "talking about that crap all the time".

Every once in a while, though, he'll make reference to a TV show or movie without warning. When he does, it always makes me laugh for three reasons. One, I don't expect it. Two, his delivery is, as always, stone-faced and straight-forward, like he's talking about algorithms or something. Three, his references never quite make sense, which makes the attempt even more amusing.

Today I was sitting at the table with two slices of buttered bread on my plate.

My dad sat down next to me and said, "Hey, Two Breads. Instead of Two Sheds. Two Breads."

He sat there like a statue. I went nuts. Then he smirked.

Well played, fatherly one. Well played.

(Here's the sketch he's referring to, by the way -)

Friday, August 8, 2008

12 Monkeys for just $14.95?! I can't turn that down!

This Onion AV Club feature about the Golden Age of DVD reminds me that I had been meaning to post some things about the decline of DVD anyway. It also made me think about the last ever post at DVD Journal, which is just about a year old.

Both articles make similar points – DVDs used to be new and exciting, but now they’re old hat. Film geeks could barely breathe when the format was new, waiting to see what wonder would come next. Now we have high-definition discs, digital downloads, and all kinds of things that make DVD seem as old and tired as 78 RPM records (Hey, it was the only comparison I hadn’t seen anyone else make yet.)

Both pieces say most of what I would have to say on the subject better than I could, but what amazes me while reading them is how nostalgic they make me feel. Excuse me for a while, then, while I ramble on about how much DVDs have meant to me over the years.

I remember seeing Roger Ebert’s TV mention of the Fight Club 2-disc special edition in the summer of 2000 when I was 15 – it blew my mind. Commentary tracks? Documentaries galore? Deleted scenes? I had no idea DVDs had any of that stuff. Up to that point, I had assumed they were just like VHS, only with better quality and widescreen picture. I decided right then and there that I was going to get a DVD player as soon as possible.

I bought my first DVD player in December of that year – a big giant Toshiba that offered a friendly LCD “HELLO” when you turned it on and had a screen saver of a whale for some reason. I had to buy it for myself, because my dad said that DVDs were stupid and a waste of money. It cost me $140, but I didn’t care. In those days that was cheap for a DVD player, and anyway I would have paid a thousand if I’d had to.

I also bought the Toy Story Ultimate Toy Box three-disc set featuring both movies and a disc of special features. It was the perfect place to start. Two terrific pictures, looking clearer and more amazing than I’d ever seen them. And the crew from Pixar in their prime, completely geeking out over getting to share all these cool behind-the-scenes stories with people at home who didn’t get to work at Pixar every day. I ended up watching the commentary track for Toy Story 2 about four times. I had gone crazy for the fifteen-minute featurettes on Disney VHS tapes in the ‘90s. Here they were, amplified a thousand times. I was in heaven, and I loved every single second of it.

After seeing how great Toy Story could be, I started buying up my other favorites as quickly as possible – This is Spinal Tap, Young Frankenstein, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. They might not have been as stuffed with extras as the Pixar stuff, but they had plenty of good stuff. Spinal Tap, you may recall, had two completely separate special editions – the MGM one, where all the extras had the band in character, and the long out-of-print Criterion one, with features about the actual making of the movie. I bought the former as soon as I could, and my brother Christopher paid a ridiculous amount to buy the latter for me on eBay. I felt like he had given me a kidney.

It wasn’t just extras that had me hooked – DVD was my real introduction to the concept of seeing movies in their original aspect ratios. In particular, I remember watching Ghostbusters and being blown away by how many gags worked better when you could see everything as intended. Yes, Ghostbusters. I know it should probably be Star Wars or Lawrence of Arabia or something, but it wasn’t. It was Ghostbusters. So there. In any case, I was a complete widescreen zealot in high school – preaching the evils of pan-and-scan everywhere I went.

I quickly became known as “The DVD Guy” in my class. Just two weeks after I bought my DVD player, I got two copies of my all-time favorite movie - Duck Soup – for my sixteenth birthday. That same day, my friend Jason lured me away from the scene of my surprise party with the promise of watching the new Chicken Run DVD. I was late for the party because I insisted on staying through the end of the credits.

But I didn’t just stick with my favorites. In high school, I bought just about every movie I saw and even slightly enjoyed – I remember taking trips to Best Buy and leaving with six or seven movies. Most of these were completely superfluous. By the time I graduated, I had copies of Catch Me If You Can and All That Jazz and the Matthew Broderick movie The Freshman and many other things that I never watched once I owned them.

I did, however, watch the extras for those movies. I was a special features fiend. I tried to watch the extras for everything I owned. And by “the extras”, I mean everything. I didn’t skip over production notes or storyboards or trailers. I couldn’t risk missing even one piece of neat information about a movie. Of course, insisting on watching everything didn’t combine very well with buying DVDs at an unreasonably fast rate – I soon fell fifty or more titles behind in my extras-watching.

Even with all the DVDs I had, I (like all geeks in those days) still had a wish list of things I wanted to see released – Back to the Future, Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Godfather, a non-flipper version of Amadeus, special editions for Casablanca, Aliens and most of the classic Disney animated pictures. These were just the tip of the iceberg, of course. The list went on and on and on. Eventually I got most of them. Anyway, I remember screaming like a small child in October of 2001, when Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Godfather trilogy were released just two weeks apart.

It was shortly after that, in fact, that the animation boom hit. Disney released the first wave of their Disney Treasures collection that December. I excitedly bought the two collections of shorts – Mickey Mouse in Living Color and Silly Symphonies – and excitedly ignored the other two. I was even more excited two years later when the first volume of Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes Golden Collection came out. Here I was, sitting in my own house, watching entire discs full of short cartoons.

By the time I went to college, I had a collection that was the envy of all my geek friends. I was constantly loaning movies and TV shows out to people. In fact, I used my obligatory college dry-erase board to keep track of who was borrowing DVDs from me. I was the DVD king of my neighborhood, and nothing in the world could have made me prouder. I genuinely felt like I was accomplishing something by being DVD Guy.

So why has that feeling faded in the years since? I mean, I still love DVDs. I buy them sometimes, I enjoy watching extras whenever I get the chance. But it just isn't the same. And I'm not quite sure why.

A big part of is exactly what those articles talk about – DVDs aren’t exciting anymore. The thrill of seeing The Indiana Jones Trilogy on the shelf in 2003 has been replaced by the skepticism that is the only possible reaction to the Repackaged to Tie In with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull edition of 2008. There’s nothing new happening anymore. I have most of the movies I want, and if I don’t, I could probably go buy them.

Also, I eventually realized that I simply had too many. All those unnecessary discs I bought in high school that never got watched? They became an easy way to make a little money back once I graduated college and had rent to pay. Sure, I only got rid of the ones that I probably shouldn’t have bothered buying in the first place, but I was still reducing rather than enlarging my collection. In high school that thought would have been unconscionable. That’s reality for you, I guess. It’s always spoiling my fun.

Maybe getting in to comic books as a college freshman made my enthusiasm for DVDs lessen. Here was a new, exciting thing; just as DVDs were starting to seem less than revolutionary. I might have owned Who Framed Roger Rabbit? for a couple years, but Watchmen and Kingdom Come were staring me in the face, and they were brand new.

I suppose it was none of those things. I suppose the time has just passed. I suppose everyone has those things they did in high school that they get nostalgic for when they can’t recapture the same sense of excitement. In my case, it happens to be DVD collecting. I guess I’m just a lot nerdier than most.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

You are who you choose to be

Today I re-watched the greatest Superman movie ever made. I hadn’t seen it in a few years, and I had forgotten just how well it captures the essence of Superman as a character – he’s an inspiration, a shining example to be looked up to. More recent takes (not just Superman Returns, but also the animated Superman: Doomsday) have tried to humanize Superman, to the point of making him fallible and even normal.

For whatever reason, the makers of those films wanted us to look at Superman and say “This fellow is just like me.” Today, though, I remembered once again that Superman isn’t just like me, and I would do well to try to be more like Superman. He would never think of himself before others, this movie makes a point of telling the audience. Superman will do whatever it takes to save the day, no matter how dire the situation for him.

What movie am I talking about? Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant from 1999.


No, Superman doesn’t appear in the movie. But the ideal of Superman plays a key role, and his presence is felt all over. Early on, young Hogarth shows his metal friend several comic books. One is about an evil robot named Atomo. Another is an issue of Action Comics. When Hogarth explains that Superman always helps other people, the Giant decides that he wants to be like Superman.

Another plot thread concerns the Giant discovering death. After seeing two hunters shoot a deer, he decides that he hates guns and killing.

Later on, Hogarth wants the Giant to be Atomo when they play, but the Giant has other ideas:

His defense mechanisms triggered, the Giant realizes that he, too, is a type of gun – the one thing he never wanted to be. As the picture reaches its climax, the military fires an atomic missile at the Giant. Rather than allow everyone in the town of Rockwell, Maine, to die, the Giant heroically flies to meet it in midair. As he soars up to his death, he remembers that he has a choice to make. He can be a gun, or he can be something more. He can be Superman.

More than any of the actual Superman movies, that scene sums up for me exactly what makes the Last Son of Krypton a great character – just by existing, he inspires people to give everything they can for the good of others. By focusing on the man, other movies lost the ideal. By showing how the ideal affects a big giant robot, The Iron Giant reminds us of the man.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Dr. Looney's Remedy

Every time I see a TV ad for or read anything about Pineapple Express, I hope anew that James Franco and Seth Rogen are going to sing this in it:

That would probably be amazing.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Horcruxes are fun

So I've watched the trailer for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince several times the past few days. A few notes:

1) I think it does a terrific job of establishing the mood of the story, which is tremendously dark (if you've read the book, you know it doesn't have a happy ending). But what strikes me about the trailer is that, heading into the sixth movie, whoever edited it assumes that the audience knows who Dumbledore is talking about when he says "the most dangerous dark wizard of all time". Sure, we see a flash of Voldemort, but we're never told that he and Tom Riddle are the same person.

In fact, Tom Riddle is never referred to by his full name at all. He's simply "Tom". Yet the trailer's sense of foreboding doesn't really work at all unless you know who "Tom" is and why he's important. That's remarkable, to me.

2) As much as I would have liked to have seen Richard Harris get to play out Dumbledore's story arc, the trailer makes me realize that he would have looked ridiculous in the flashback stuff in HBP, a very Dumbledore-centric movie. Michael Gambon probably looks older than the character should here, but he doesn't look feeble, which Harris invariably did in his last few years as an actor. Say what you will about Michael Gambon's Dumbledore, but he should capture the young man better than any of the other casting choices who were bandied about after Harris's death (Peter O'Toole or whoever).

3) Has there ever been a movie series that made it to six installments with this much of its cast intact? People seem to like On Her Majesty's Secret Service, but it's still the first Bond movie without Sean Connery. Revenge of the Sith had a few cast members from A New Hope, I suppose, but not this many.

Other than that, how many movie series have even made it to six? Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th. That's about it, isn't it?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Is it my fault? Do I have this effect on things I like?

So I wrote this article for Tough Pigs today, and while I was doing so, I started thinking -

The Muppets used to be a popular entertainment choice among the young people of America, and now they aren't.

The fan base is aging and shrinking, and no one new is coming in to pick up the slack.

Pretty much everyone knows what Muppets are, but many people think they no longer produce new Muppet stuff.

In recent times, the Muppets have gotten farther and farther away from what made them popular in the first place in an attempt to seem "hip" and "edgy" (Muppets' Wizard of Oz, of example, was full of pop culture references and mildly dirty jokes).

Weighing all of this evidence, I can only come to one conclusion -

Muppets and Superhero Comics are the same.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Free Market Destroys the Universe

I'm sure I'm far from the first person to notice this, but I finally went to see Hellboy II today, but in it, this happens (SPOILERS): Apparently, thousands of years ago, magical creatures made a pact with humans to leave each other alone. Now, a prince of Elves has decided he should attack humanity and reclaim the world. What made him decide that? Humans have spent too long tearing down nature to make room for "parking lots and shopping malls".

Two weeks earlier, Wall-E featured a world in which, essentially, Wal-Mart had brought about the end of the world by expanding over everything. Two movies in the same summer about the evils of consumerism. That's kind of neat.

Also, they both have toys for sale. I've seen them.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

TARDIS = Operating Room

So today, my friend Lara and I somehow ended up comparing various Doctors from Doctor Who to characters from M*A*S*H. Here's what we came up with -

First Doctor (William Hartnell) = Colonel Potter (Harry Morgan). They're both curmudgeonly and old.
Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) = Radar (Gary Burghoff). They're both much wiser than they look.
Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) = ? (We couldn't think of anyone for this. Any suggestions?)
Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) = Corporal Klinger (Jamie Farr). They're both funny and awfully strange.
Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) = BJ Hunnicut (Mike Farrell). They're both straight-forward, genial fellows.
Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) = Charles Emerson Winchester (David Ogden Stiers). They're both kind of pompous and arrogant
Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) = Lt. Colonel Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson). They're both, initially at least, kind of befuddled and quick-tempered.
Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) = Margaret Houlihan (Loretta Swit). They are both women.
Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) = Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda). They both mask indignation and angst under wisecracking exteriors.
Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) = Trapper John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers). They both just love to crack wise.

We also decided that Dr. Sidney Freeman (Allan Arbus) is The Face of Boe, because they both specialize in advice. And Colonel Flagg (Edward Winters) is The Master, because they're both crazy and evil.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The 6 Best Comic Book Super-Husbands

A couple of days ago, released their list of The 6 Worst Comic Book Super-Husbands. As you can see, they’re all Marvel characters. That’s because Marvel loves to inject drama into their comic books by having their “heroes” be abusive or crazy or deal-with-the-devil-makers. DC, as a general rule, does not do that. Their heroes act like heroes. Here, then, are my humble picks for the 6 *Best* Comic Book Super-Husbands.

Honorable mentions, by the way, to Buddy “Animal Man” Baker and Adam Strange.

6. Clark Kent (Superman)

For a long time, Superman was hesitant to return the advances of reporter Lois Lane, but they finally got married in 1996. Since that time, he’s been as devoted to Lois as he always was to the citizens of the Earth. While crime fighting, he sometimes thinks up new romantic gestures for her, and he takes for an anniversary flight every year. Lois, as much as his parents or his upbringing in Smallville, keeps Clark human and down-to-Earth, and he knows how lucky he is.

5. Jay Garrick (The Flash I)

When Jay first got powers in 1940, he used them to win a football game and impress Joan Williams. It worked, and she’s been Mrs. Joan Garrick for over fifty years. They’ve had their ups and downs – she thought he was dead for six years, he brought home the hyperactive Bart Allen for several more – but well into their 80s, they’re still so in love that Jay can barely bring himself to stop talking about Joan, even at JSA meetings. They exchange glances that mean more than a thousand words between most comic book characters. Most of all, though, they depend on each other. It's possible to imagine one without the other.

The best picture I could find was John Watson’s terrific painting of Joan mending Jay’s boots, which is pretty much “Why the Garricks are great in a nutshell” and can be found here.

4. Jack Knight (Starman)

SPOILER Yes, for all of James Robinson’s 1990s Starman series, the title character is actually unmarried. But, at the end of the series, when his fiancĂ© Sadie issues an ultimatum – super heroics or her – he chooses a happy life with Sadie in a heartbeat. He didn’t abandon his duty – he talked to other heroes to make sure his hometown of Opal City would be in good hands, and then he rode off to live an average, unexciting married life. He doesn’t whine about having responsibility. He gets his affairs in order and gives it up, all to marry the love for his life.

3. Wally West (The Flash III)

Much like Spider-Man, Wally West once made a deal with the devil. In his case, however, it was to save his wife Linda, not his elderly aunt who will probably die before too long anyway. And he outsmarted the devil and saved his marriage. That story was just one of the many times that writers have used Wally’s love for Linda as his driving force. He’s a man madly in love with his wife and, now, with his two children. Even more striking is the fact that he started his solo series (in 1987) as a care-free playboy. He started to mature after he met Linda, and developed into the upstanding icon we know today.

I gotta say, though, that I still think “Linda Park-West” sounds like an upscale neighborhood.

2. Scott Free (Mister Miracle)

Scott and his wife Big Barda are both fighters by nature – they both fought their way off of the Hell planet Apokolips, in fact – and they’ve been known to engage enemies together. He often expresses excitement and/or arousal at seeing his wife swing into battle. To me, though, Scott’s devotion to Barda was summed up perfectly in the late 1980s, when she decided she wanted to live a normal suburban life. They were clearly not suited for it, but Scott invested in the dream wholeheartedly, because making his wife happy was more important to him than anything else in the universe.

1. Ralph Dibny (The Elongated Man)

The world’s stretchiest detective didn’t work alone – he was always part of a team with his wife Sue – they investigated cases together, traveled the world together, even joined the Justice League together (they were credited as “Ralph ‘n Sue” on the covers for a little while in the early 80s). They bickered constantly, in the way only two people who know everything about each other can. Every year on his birthday, Sue would set up a mystery for Ralph to solve. More than any other guy on this list, Ralph’s wife was his entire world, and he was hers. When writer Brad Meltzer foolishly killed Sue in 2004’s Identity Crisis, the writers of 52 had no choice but to follow suit and kill Ralph off. They’re currently together again, working as ghost detectives somewhere in the afterlife. Not even death could tear their love apart.