Wednesday, January 31, 2007
A few weeks ago, I purchased Our Most Beloved, a CD/DVD combo with 25 tracks and 5 videos on a bonus DVD. I don't think I like it as much as Kissers, but it may yet grow on me. Here's a review, and in honor of (Inter)National Gorilla Suit Day, I'm gonna intersperse it with screenshots from the highlarious Monkey vs. Robot video! Rock on!Before getting to the music, you get a short Magic Boy comic strip that gives you an idea of how Kochalka writes his music. Anytime you see band member Jason X-12 drawn as an irritated dog, it's pure comedy gold. So I'Ve had my laugh, I pop the CD into the player...Twinkle Twinkle Ringo Star pays hommage to the Beatles, and I've never been a Beatles fan, so we're off to a rocky start, but it's only a minute and half (in fact, most tunes last between 1 and 2 minutes). Next up is Magic Finger, a peppy song that goes: "It's my dick, it's my dick, it's a magic finger pointing at all the pretty girls..." The kind of innocently bawdy fun that reminds me of his Fancy Froglin book. Damn it, now it's stuck in my head, I'm gonna be singing it under my breath all day.Track 3 is my favorite: Monkey vs. Robot! I really liked both graphic novels, never once pretentiously referring to them as the eternal struggle between nature and technology. It's just fun comics. Apes fighting robots. Don't muck it up with yer dang-blasted art history approach. I'm looking at you, Comics Journal! Anyway, the tune is great. Excerpts I love: "Monkey hate technology / Robot hate the Monkey / They will fight eternally!" "They both love their mother / Why must they hate each other?" "Why can't we just love each other? / Monkey and a Robot brother." I can listen to that shit all day!Pussy Gangster follows, just 30 seconds of hip-hop. Talk to the Wooky is less about Star Wars and more about a hairy, ugly girl. Show Respect to Michael Jackson may or may not be ironic... This is kind of the lull in the disc. Copenhagen China Box gets us back on track with a pretty ballad. It's not the genius of Monkey vs. Robot, of course, but they did make a video on location in Coppenhagen. Easy listening, Kochalka-style.Bad Astronaut sends us into space where our hero looks down on Earth to look at naked chicks. It's pretty good (as is the video). Breaking Stuff sounds like a nursery rhyme for ugly children, not unlikeable. Ozzy & I goes 80s electronic on our ass and pays high hommage to the rocker's better years. Kochalka then takes Ozzy's place as delirium sets in. It's the best kind of hero worship. It's like that time I thought I was John Byrne and wrote those awful issues of Wonder Woman. Oh wait, that wasn't me...Fifteen Teenage Girls ("crushed at my last concert, baby") is 23 seconds of the worst eulogy of all time. At the center of the album are a couple of live or faux-live songs lending good energy to the disc, including the screamarific I Am Rock and the hard ballad Ocean of Girls. Now it feels like the CD has really taken off. Track 14, President Kochalka, gets us back to the studio, one of Kochalka's better love songs. Very much has that Magic Boy & Girlfriend vibe.Hockey Monkey, immortalized as a cartoon video, all about kids playing hockey with a monkey while scientists, parents, teachers and the National Guard are out looking for them. We never do find out if the monkey gets shot or not. The song is a collaboration with the Zambonis, North America's favorite ALL-HOCKEY band. I'm not kidding.Corn on the Cob is cute, but abuses the drum machine. With Neigh-Neigh & Woo-Woo continues the descent into the CD's second lull, with admittedly stupid (the lyrics say so and I won't argue) horsie impressions. Keg Party has some rad organ sounds, but a near-absent melody. Much better is Put Down the Gun, sung to Kurt Cobain and accuses Courtney Love of having no soul. The hits keep coming with Frog on Top of the Skyscraper, a beautifully absurd story where the title frog tries to catch planes with its tongue. I don't even mind the farty electronic sounds."I fell in love with a high school girl and together we destroyed the world." So starts the last fifth of the album, with the hilariously inappropriate High School Honeys. Then comes Don't Trust Whitey (with a really creepy video), in which Kochalka reimagines himself as black... "I'm not Whitey, this is just a disguise." Not ready for the video again, but the tune is totally groovin'. The 1 minute Pee song isn't so good, but thankfully brief. Then comes the longest song on the album, Sleighride to Heck (with Jazzin' Hell providing back-up vocals). Let's just say it's a Christmas carol in which Satan is involved. Has a good New Year's Eve drinking song feel. The album winds down with one last piece, Even the Clouds Get High, which unfortunately recommends dope, and I can't get behind that.
Despite the finale having been written by Speedy, it's a fun album overall, with a lot of monkey fun. Which makes James Kochalka Superstar... GORILLA SUIT DAY APPROVED!
FORMULA: The Changeling + The Doomsday Device + Dagger of the Mind + a scene stolen from The Cage
WHY WE LIKE IT: A memorable performance by William Marshall as Dr. Daystrom, and the regulars aren't bad either.
WHY WE DON'T: Kirk destroys a computer using words alone... again?!?
REVIEW: Sure, we've seen Kirk at odds with all-powerful computers before, but there's the added layer of mechanisation costing jobs. Not that I believe for a second that a computer could eliminate the need for people to go into space (how was Daystrom proposing we handle landing parties exactly?), or that Starfleet would see this as a good idea. It does give the regular cast the chance to muse or agonize on the subject however, and they turn out some gems. Spock admires a computer's efficiency, but has no desire to serve under one. McCoy reminds Kirk that you never see anything wrong about machines taking another man's job, that's progress, but when it comes to yours, it's different. And Kirk questions his life-path as "Captain Dunsel". All well-played moments.
William Marshall is a good guest-star as well, teetering between megalomania and a persecution complex as the famous Dr. Daystrom. His conversations with the M-5 are powerful and edgy, and he probably does the best "neck pinch take" in the entire Original Series. The M-5 basically sits there and doesn't have much personality (certainly not as much as its creator), but its disintegration of a hapless ensign is rather shocking, and its final reasoning about murder is relentless.
The episode may not be on the level of the Dominion War effects shots, but for the first time, we get more than 2 ships onscreen together. It's fun to see more of the fleet, even if the bodycount gets a bit high as a result. Of course, all's well that ends well, and the regulars are back to yucking it up by episode's close. I don't much like the levity after hundreds of people have died, and besides, those scenes were mostly padding to explain how Kirk knew this or that, as if we couldn't understand it from just watching the show. Bleh.
LESSON: You can replace all the workers, but management will always have their jobs.
REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Except for the final scene and the Nth retread of the Kirk vs. Computer scenario, I'd watch it for the character development and creepy guest-stars (plural, not for Commodore Wesley, but for M-5!).
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
FORMULA: Miri + A Private Little War + The Doomsday Device + Return to Tomorrow + Patterns of Force
WHY WE LIKE IT: Starts out well, with a spooky mystery and some good action.
WHY WE DON'T: Parallel history story gone too far.
REVIEW: Well, The Omega Glory begins well enough, with an eerie visit to a ship where every one's been crystalized. It remains interesting when the crew finds the ship's captain the only survivor and he's convinced he's found the secret of immortality. But it all seems a bit familiar. Be that as it may, the episode moves at a good pace, with plenty of action and another engaging "mad" performance by Morgan Woodward, this time as Captain Tracey. Spock's hypnosis skills are also of note (and kind of creepy after he's been called the "evil one").
Unfortunately, it really falls apart when it's revealed that the planet's history is a close parallel to our own. We're supposed to believe that a world with very different continents still bred a United States of America, with the same flag, the same exact pledge of allegeance, the same consititution, written in the same script? Yankees and Communists? And that this all happened way before us, if it's true that some of the natives are over a 1000 years old. Really stretches the bounds of suspension of disbelief! They probably should have done it as a parallel universe or time travel story or something, but here it's ridiculous.
I also don't think it's a good idea to draw too much attention to the Prime Directive at this point, since Kirk is technically as guilty as Tracey in that department (though his changes might be considered "good"). How the Omegans will apply a document they read as jibberish is also an ill-answered question. And while I'm citing objections, how about the fact that this episode is so violent? Thousands of Omegans die offscreen, while onscreen, there's incessant fist-fighting. Some of it is pretty good by the series' standards, but after a while, it's a bit tiring. Tracey disintegrates a man he could have stunned, attacks Kirk with an axe, it goes on and on.
May I also point out the shoddy direction? There are way too many cheap video zooms that try to bring attention to certain scenes and events. Oh, they work all right, but they look terrible. Same goes for slowing down some footage, like Kirk's tied up wrists. What, did he break the ropes too quickly? When on the ship, the scenes of empty rooms aboard the Exeter include one of engineering where the crew is supposed to be! And I have to admit the final patriotic shot and cue do nothing for me, being a foreigner, but I don't want to start a political argument. Let's just say I like Star Trek better when it isn't blatantly americano-centric.
LESSON: I better start learning Chinese soon!
REWATCHABILITY - Low: Not boring, I'll give it that, but by the end, I've groaned so often, I couldn't possibly give it a good review. It just wasn't a good idea to start with.
Monday, January 29, 2007
And then, while I was rummaging through Airboy covers (based on the strength of his bulldozing a mammoth, I finally solved it*: Neither of them were first!!! In December 1942, Hillman Periodicals introduced the Heap! Now tell me he doesn't look familiar!
I mean, come on. That little root for a nose makes him a direct precursor to the Man-Thing, and I think that Eclipse Comics wasn't in the wrong in pointing it out in their revamped Airboy series as much as they possibly could. You'd swear this was the worst comics crossover of all time:
We all know who's really at the top of the Heap.*I am not the first to solve the mystery**, as any small amount of Googling will prove, but I'm definitely the first person to point it out to myself... umm... yeah.**In fact, Todd MacFarlane currently holds the license for the Heap, but he totally chickened out on making the Heap anything like Man-Thing.
FORMULA: Return to Tomorrow + Where No Man Has Gone Before + The Gamesters of Triskelion/Catspaw
WHY WE LIKE IT: Scotty drinks a Kelvan under the table and a lot of fun "stimulation" besides.
WHY WE DON'T: On closer inspection, there's a lot of padding and some wide plot holes.
REVIEW: Yes, there are some major plot holes in By Any Other Name, most central among which is that the Kelvans somehow think of Captain Kirk as "essential personnel". There's also the fact the the Great Barrier (which is physically ludicrous to start with) doesn't give anyone ESP powers this time, and that Hanar allows an enemy doctor to give him mystery shots. The timeline is also fuzzy, with the drinking binge taking as long as Hanar's "3 shots a day" regimen". More distressing to me is that while our heroes are on the ball and that their plans consistenly succeed, they quite often don't amount to anything. The dead ends do start to accumulate: Spock gets himself to sickbay to work on the power source problem, but it turns out it's impregnable; Scotty steals a belt zapper, but passes out before getting it to the others. Only a couple of examples, but they take up a sizeable piece of the episode. Sometimes it feels like padding, and sometimes like they're showing us just how powerful the Kelvans are.
Be that as it may, the episode creates a number of great moments and images that dispell any of my objections to it. Rojan and his people are more antagonists than villains, and certainly not cruel, even if they are tyrannical. Having gone from their Lovecraftian forms to human ones is their ultimate downfall, having taken on all our weaknesses. Each temptation offered by the crew creates some interesting scenes, from the classic Scotty drinking binge ("It's green."), to Kirk's seduction of Kelinda with his appologies, to Spock playing the voice of Rojan's jealousy. Everything really centers on that love triangle, which makes Rojan finally realize that he can't go home again. I love the exchange: "You would really welcome invaders?" "No, but we would welcome friends." I don't know if it's just the energy of the acting or some subtle make-up, but Rojan starts out a pasty white, and takes on full human colors by the end.
There's a lot of other things to like, including a small bit of continuity when Kirk mentions Eminiar 7 to put Spock's mind probe into context. You don't see a lot of that in the Original Series. There's the shocking crushing of a dehydrated woman into powder, and Kirk coming up on a corridor full of those "containers". The Enterprise flying through the intergalactic void towards Andromeda is also a beautiful and memorable image.
LESSON: If you're trying to get somebody drunk, always try to keep yourself sober.
REWATCHABILITY - High: Strikes a good balance between suspense and humor, with some sympathetic opponents you can embrace at the end. Thoroughly likeable despite its flaws.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
No time for shopping these days, but Amazon has graced me with a couple more pre-Christmas purchases. In 1999, I had to give up comics because they were ruining me and when I got back on my feet years later, I only started buying stuff I could put on a shelf - graphic novels, trade paperbacks, that kind of thing. I almost immediately finished my collection of Grant Morrison's JLA, but I just (finally?) got Mark Waid's run in three volumes. Looks promising.
Managed to craft a dozen WhoCCG cards, running through 2½ seasons of Tom Baker's later years (one card per story).
Flipped the tape on a couple of TV series, including Quantum Leap Season 5, otherwise known as the Season that Leaped the Shark. UFOs, big foot, evil leapers, fathering children back in time, leaps to the 19th century, leaping into famous people, meeting God... They were throwing everything at the wall to see what stuck because evidently, they thought the original concept had played itself out. Still some really good moments, but the plots just aren't as well thought-out.
Clocking in at much fewer episodes (six!), I easily flipped the tape on Clerks Uncensored. Only two episodes were ever aired and the commentaries are hilarious, as we find out just what went wrong at the unnamed network (ABC). Kevin Smith and friends don't mince words either, one lawyer-type being referred to as an animal child rapist at some point. If you Googled here because of those three words, I don't think I wanna know you.
Also flipped some audio plays, finishing the Excelis Saga with Excelis Rising (a disappointing finale with Sir Anthony Head sounding all effete and bubbly) and Plague Herds of Excelis (my first Bernice Summerfield audio and really, a much better finale that also stars Iris "can-do-no-wrong" Wildthyme). Ah yes, and the audio-only version of Real Time too. It's on the BBC website as webcast with purty drawrings. I'll check it out some day, but I find audios more practical as actual audios. I do most of my listening in bed, doing the dishes or cooking. Real Time is a pretty cool Cyberman story with a neat time paradox starring the 6th Doctor and Evelyn "can-do-no-wrong" Smythe.
Remember last week when I told you I gave one of my improv players some ACME Novelty Library? Well, he did his homework and brough them back safe and sound. Better yet, we used the books as a template for creating a pathetically humorous stories and to create interesting transitions. I plan to use ACME again in the classroom to see how comic book transitions can be used in instantaneous theater. Hey, if you're gonna use Chris Ware stuff to do improv, you gotta be ready to be a little uppity about it, right?
And speaking of being uppity, the big news this week is that I've won a contest over at Mark Engblom's excellent Comic Coverage blog. On Blue Monday, he asked the internet community to name 16 superheroes with the word "Blue" in their names based on picture alone. One look and I probably only knew the three Blue Beetles, Blue Devil and Blue Power Ranger, so I didn't try out. When he put up a reminder 3 days later, I thought, what the hell. How I managed to be the only one that got all 16 correct, I don't know. I mean, I'm used to being the King of Geeks in my immediate viscinity, but I'm really a generalist. I was sure the blogosphere had the necessary specialists to beat me to the punch. So it seems I have now assured my title on a global scale. Of course, I can't take all the credit. My trusty Encyclopedia of Super-Heroes was an invaluable help. Not many pictures, but it at least had names, and Google Fu did the rest. All the Mini-Heroes sites with detailed costumes for all those Golden Age heroes that seem to LOOK EXACTLY THE SAME, thank you!
This is the last time I'm gonna gloat about this, so BOW BEFORE MY GEEKY MIGHT! Are you done? Ok, let's move on and never speak of it again (until I get my t-shirt, of course... Speaking of which, check out Mark's really cool merchandise.)
Wanna RPG over the net, but don't know how to roll dice? This Dungeons & Dragons Dice Roller should give you every dice permutation you might need. Used it this week to run a lottery between 100 people at work and had left my percentile dice at home, but that's only how *I* roll.
Movie-a-Minute is an amusing collection of condensed movies for people who don't have the time to watch them all. You know, all that repertoire junk that is supposed to be important, like The Bicycle Thief, which I slept through in film history class, but you'll also find popcorn movies which I wouldn't soil my eyes with, like Roland Emmerich's Godzilla or Interview with the Vampire.
I know some of you are just getting into Doctor Who now because of the new show, and you might be confused about what has gone before. Then I'm pretty sure you need the Dalek Spotters Guide. Now you can tell which of the many Dalek stories you're watching... at a glance! Oh, and the site has plenty of Doctor Who stuff besides.
Ok, you've got your homework. I'm off!
FORMULA: A Piece of the Action + ½ A Taste of Armageddon
WHY WE LIKE IT: Rolls at a good pace, with plenty of action.
WHY WE DON'T: Strains the limits of believability and taste.
REVIEW: The idea of interfering with a planet's culture using knowledge of our own equivalent period's history is an interesting one, but Patterns of Force strains credulity by making the historian John Gill much too successful at it. He recreates Nazi Germany on a warlike planet in order to civilize them and bring order to chaos, but with that structure, he recreates all the uniforms and regalia, the technology and look of things from that period, and since Kirk reads off a manifest that the phasers have been taken somewhere, human language as well (English, not German, it seems). Worst of all, he recreates - inadvertently, if we believe the show - the racist atmosphere that allows the Zeons to be victimized.
I don't care what Kirk says about John Gill, he's NOT a good man. I don't think you can recreate Nazism without the xenophobia. Nazism needs enemies, and needs to think of itself as superior to something. On top of that, just the idea that a Federation scientist would use a whole culture as a laboratory for social experimentation, that he would not only violate the Prime Directive, but also place himself in charge of an entire world... The man was as corrupt as he was foolish. I definitely question his choice of political systems to admire.
Perhaps more distressing in all this is that the Zeons are given Jewish-sounding names (Zeon/Zion, Abrom/Abraham, Isak/Isaac), which is totally unnecessary and a bit too close to home. The episode is extremely violent as well, all of which makes the attempts at humor more jarring, and at worst, tasteless. Sure, some moments work as set pieces, like Spock on top of Kirk's back (though Spock is especially distracted and unprofessional in this episode), but most don't. There's way too much levity peppered throughout (not just at the end, which has become a bit usual), and Spock telling Kirk he'd make an excellent Nazi, or Melakon saying Spock is from an inferior race make me cringe more than smile.
If you're particularly sensitive to these issues, you may well be offended by Patterns of Force. After all, it turns Hitler's final solution into a light entertainment. I'm only really offended by bad storytelling, to tell you the truth, and I have to admit that despite the many plot holes in this show's premise, it hums along at a good click, has plenty of action, and some good twists and turns.
LESSON: Just because you have a lot of Nazi uniforms in the costume warehouse, doesn't mean you should plug them into your science-fiction show.
REWATCHABILITY - Low/Medium: I want to say Low because of the inappropriate level of violence and tasteless way the subject matter has been approached, but it's a Medium if you take the show for what it is and enjoy its action-adventure aspects.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
FORMULA: Who Mourns for Adonais? + What Are Little Girls Made of? + Metamorphosis
WHY WE LIKE IT: A strong romance with plenty of twists and turns.
WHY WE DON'T: What does that title mean?!?
REVIEW: The forgetably-titled Return to Tomorrow is one of the stronger possession stories Trek has told, in great part thanks to the acting of all involved. I caught myself thinking of Kirk as Sargon, or Spock as Henoch, so different were the performances. Not broadly different, mind you. They were just right. We didn't really know Dr. Ann Mulhall before she became Thalassa, but Diana Muldaur has the artistocratic bearing to pull off the latter character. I'd say Dr. Mulhall was fairly uninteresting by herself, but her embarassment after the last kiss was really well acted.
It's a grand love story spanning thousands of years, beautiful and tragic. The antagonists are a spurned lover (subtly played) and the temptations of the flesh. Sargon hints that their race might be responsible for our story of Adam and Eve, and that comment, while considered untrue by the characters, rings through the episode, as Eve/Thalassa is corrupted by Satan/Henoch (as is Nurse Chapel). But Sargon is smarter than all of them, and the final twists and turns the story takes create a lot of tension. You don't realize what's really going on until it's all over. It keeps you guessing and doesn't disappoint.
If I had to quibble, it would have to be with the lighting effects used to show the possession of various characters. While simple and usually effective, in the final scene, what with all the body-switching going on, you can practically see one light source turn off and the other on. But that's a very minor quibble, as otherwise, the show is strongly written, directed and acted. Who can forget Kirk's "Risk is our business" speech?
LESSON: Dr. Pulaski's ancestor was an astrobiologist... whatever that is.
REWATCHABILITY - High: Having the main actors BE the guest-stars works to the script's advantage, and the mythic themes are supported by an unpredictable plot. I'd forgotten how good this one was.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Tag line: They're Not Just Sidekicks Any More... (sic)
Makers: Mayfair Games for DCHeroes
What is it?
A sourcebook stating every Titan up to 1990, their friends and enemies, equipment and headquarters, for the DCHeroes role-playing game.
-An exclusive George Perez cover.
-Written by a guy called John J. Terra. Now tell me he wasn't born to write this book?
-Includes four versions of the team: the original Teen Titans (as seen frequently on this very blog), the 70s Teen Titans (when Robin goes from Boy to Teen Wonder), Titans West (for people who are very interested , and Marv Wolfman's New Titans, as well as an extensive timeline with comics references.
-Gives extremely detailed floorplans of Titans Tower, but does not neglect the Titans' Lair, nor the new and improved 70s HQ with a practical danse floor for easy frugging!
-It does Who's Who one better by including the Mad Mod (no gadget stats though) and Mr. Twister in the villains' chapter.
-Does NOT include Team Titans or the Atom's Titans, which I do believe is a good thing.
-A "Classic Bits" section explores various Titans cliches and how to integrate them into games and subplots. Stupid nicknames, Titans in love, angst, they're all here.
-The problem with all sourcebooks for licensed superhero games is that while they can be very interesting to comic book fans, they would only be of real use in games if players actually took the roles of well-established heroes. They rarely do. Since half the fun of superhero games is designing Your Own Hero(TM), sourcebooks full of hero stats are hardly ever more than inspiration. The villains can be used, of course, and it's possible to create a new Titans campaign with Your Own Teen Heroes(TM) using the HQ and tips, obviously (the aforementioned Team Titans and Atom's Titans series pretty might as well have started life as a role-playing campaign - the vampire character is a testament to that).
-Wonder Girl's bracelets don't do anything cool like in the original series. They should have Radio Communications and Attraction/Repulsion. And her lasso should have Artist (Dancing). I guess DCHeroes wasn't ready for a Haney Genre.
"Imaginative Gamemasters are encouraged to dream up their own "hip" villains - as long as the foes have a youth-oriented theme, you can't miss."
How I've used it
I once ran a Play-by-Email game that included a version of the Titans (Nightwing, Flamebird, the Tangent Flash, and some original creations), and while it didn't use DCHeroes, we definitely used and adapted the Titans Tower blueprints. My current campaign has gone "Unlimited", so there are some characters here who hang aorund our HQ and could conceivably be used by players as a change of pace. Why anyone would want to play Azrael (the winged alien, not "Azbats") is beyond me though. I do use Red Star a bit more frequently, but he's stated elsewhere.
A fun little book in a handy format, the fact that a lot of DCHeroes scenarios are for Titans-level characters makes this better than most as inspiration, and since an inordinate amount of those scenarios are specifically for the Titans, an unambitious GM might prefer that the Titans indeed be used. Note that seeing three versions of Robin, Wondy, et al. gives a good example as to how characters could grow and evolve through a long-running campaign. That, in itself, is interesting.
FORMULA: Friday's Child + The Apple + Operation: Annihilate
WHY WE LIKE IT: A pretty complex story with no "right" solutions. Oh, and that Nona is positively smokin'!
WHY WE DON'T: Planet of the fright wigs!
REVIEW: The episode has always been touted as "relevant" because it was a comment on the then-ongoing Vietnam War. That war has long been over, and though it has not been forgotten, we've sort of forgetten how this episode relates to that conflict. Without that layer of meaning, does it still work? The answer is yes, since it gives a story that's not black and white, where Kirk makes a decision many may not agree with. The Original Series more rarely navigates this gray area, and you really feel it when Kirk realizes his friend Tyree can now kill.
More than Friday's Child, we often forget this episode features the Klingons, but they're here. Their presence cements their relationship to the USSR in the "Star Trek allegory". It's too bad there's no real sense of exactly why they're interfering with this culture. Another weak point is the design aspect of the episode. The entire planet seems populated by actors in really bad wigs (Chekov's rejects, looks like), and there's nothing too distinctive about their clothes or homes. The Mugato is certainly memorable, but a pretty silly monster nonetheless.
The exception here is Nona. Not only is she one of the sexiest women in all of Trek, she pops right off the screen. The male characters in the story are all subservient to her will, including Kirk and McCoy (who doesn't have her medical knowledge). She alone carries the hill people's culture, which is otherwise presented as peaceful and more than a little dull. Her healing ritual freaked me out as a child, and her willfull nature seduced me as an adult. Anytime she's onscreen, her charisma draws you in.
Another good moment is Spock getting slapped around in sickbay. Though it has little to do with the story except to create suspense and show that Spock is more and more invincible, his self-healing is a fun moment. I also like Dr. M'Benga catching Nurse Chapel holding Spock's hand. This guy needs more airtime.
LESSON: Don't sniff a plant you don't know.
REWATCHABILITY - High: In many ways a template for the resolution of my favorite Deep Space 9 episodes. But I'm getting ahead of myself here...
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Or is that guy in the middle totally on some other Earth, and Earth between 1 and 2. Earth 1.5, as it were. I wasn't alive when Flash #123 came out, but I imagine myself going "Waaaaa??" at the corner market and immediately needing to sell my blood for the requiste 10¢. TWO Flashes? That's outrageous! The one I don't know fought crime in the 1940s? Amazing!
For once, the cover hype isn't just hype. "A spectacular story that is sure to become a classic!" And it has! From that simple meeting between DC's Golden and Silver Age properties would come annual meetings between the JLA and the JSA, a proliferation of new Earths, DC adding the Fawcett and Quality heroes via their own Earths, and next thing you knew, worlds would live and worlds woud die, and the DC Universe would never be the same.
Except that it's kind of back to the way it kinda was with the recent return of the Multiverse.
Which I heartily applaud, by the way. As if it was ever really gone. Pff. Morrison's JLA Earth 2? Amalgam? Flex Mentallo? Animal Man's Crisis 2? That marketing-inspired crossober between DC's Milestone imprint and the Superman titles? The multiverse never left us. But since it's come out of the closet, so to speak, let us celebrate with Thursdays of Two Worlds. Every Thursday, I mean to blow another hole in the multiverse with another hommage cover, starting with a natural, the OTHER Flash #123.
Yes, from Wally West's series, I'm real glad they thought to pay hommage to Flash of Two Worlds. And while I know both sides of the cover occur on Earth-1 (at this point, there ain't nothin' but), I'm always gonna make like I don't care. Let's see...
On Earth-1, Flash lives in Keystone City in the American midwest. On Earth-6, he lives in Malibu, on the west coast. Note Earth-1.5 Guy's varying dress sense this time around. How would the Flash's adventures be different on the beaches of California? How indeed? Thanks to the return of the Multiverse, we'll get a chance to find out. Would Heat Wave lord it over Captain Cold instead of vice-versa? Does the Golden Glider ride a surfboard? Is this Wally a lot more like his cartoon self from the Justice League cartoon?
Next week: We open the gates between 2 more of the 52 worlds!
FORMULA: The Doomsday Machine + Obsession
WHY WE LIKE IT: Great interplay between the three stars, and Kirk has to make a Sophie's choice.
WHY WE DON'T: Plays fast and lose with physics, with no explanation of the giant cell forthcoming.
REVIEW: I have a lot of reservations about this episode because it flies in the face of science. This is a lot closer to science fantasy, which is a lot less believable. A dark area where physics work in reverse outside the ship, but fairly normally inside it; a giant amoeba that literally comes out of nowhere; and an anti-matter solution that is touted as logical, but is actually a leap of faith. If at least there were some kind of explanation offered for the creature, but there isn't. I prefer to believe that it came from another dimension, with the dark area being a rift in our space, but that's just speculation.
The real reason to watch The Immunity Syndrome is the performance and dialogue of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. In fact, the episode really just plods along until it's time to send a shuttle into the belly of the beast. Kirk has to choose between two friends as to which will be sent to his death. A well-executed moment. McCoy and Spock's rivalry is well-used throughout, not only in their initial competition for the assignment, but later as well. During the rescue attempt for example (the sarcastic "CAPTAIN McCoy") or when McCoy tells Spock he botched some experiment or other at the end. The tight friendship between these three will increasingly become the focus of the show (and the films to follow). Uhura gets something professional to do here, but you know that new focus will sadly mean less to do for the other regulars.
LESSON: It's not a good idea to have crews composed of only one species. The all-Vulcan Intrepid bites it in this episode. The Constellation was probably all-human.
REWATCHABILITY - Medium: A bit slow, and with an outlandish, unbelievable menace, but a good turn for the characters we watch the show for.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
For example, the Atlantis entry has this bust shot of Superman's mermaid girlfriend Lori Lemaris sporting the biggest, most awful bowtie in the entire history of the DC Universe. As big a faux-pas as Jimmy Olsen wearing one over the course of the 70s, 80s, 90s and noughts? Quite possibly.
Do non-humans get off with just a warning? I don't think they should. Here's Alley-Kat-Abra from Captain Carrot's Zoo Crew. I don't think she looks too bad, but that's part of the problem. That rubber catsuit is molded a LITTLE tightly to her body, isn't it? I mean, I shouldn't be getting that... that special feeling, from an anthropomorphic animal, should I? Maybe I should just be glad she wasn't drawn with an anatomically correct number of teats.
None too sure about that starched hood either.
When you look at Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, she looks quite fetching. In fact, Ernie Colon's girls are usually pretty baberrific. But when you look at her accessories... Earrings that look like bunches of grapes? A monkey's head for a belt buckle? Clearly, Gemworld only requires you to wear the appropriate power color and doesn't care about the rest.
Leaving the girls alone for a second, but staying with purple (the color I hate most), the worst-dressed MALES in this issue are the Demons Three. I just can't bring myself to feel in any way spooked by pink demons in booties and loose diapers.
BONUS: WELL-DRESSED MAN
Best dressed goes to Ambush Bug. What??? Well, I've always liked his mask and antennae, and the loose-fitting jim-jams are entirely appropriate for a character who knows he's living in a comic. His costume is how you'd imagine such attire would actually fit on a person. And look! A green character with no purple!
BONUS: I DON'T NEED NO STINKIN' CLOTHES!
Auron is golden. He's too beautiful to wear anything. He seems to have forgotten that even the Silver Surfer wears shorts. I don't mind him flying through space in the buff. I don't live anywhere near that place. But he really needs a haircut. Unless it's now cool for men to let their locks flow down to the back of their knees.
FORMULA: The Return of the Archons + A Taste of Armageddon + The Trouble with Tribbles
WHY WE LIKE IT: It's pretty darn funny.
WHY WE DON'T: Dumb away team tactics, and the gangster accents start to grate on your nerves after a while.
REVIEW: I admit to a certain fondness for this one. Yes, it's quite silly, but actually no sillier than "parallel development". At least there's a reason for this culture being pulled from old Earth: contamination and a race of mimics. And the situation is played for comedy, with Kirk throwing himself into it, and consequently having a lot of fun with the setting. His annoyance in the comedy of The Trouble with Tribbles annoyed *me*, but here, he's shows he's got a sense of humor, and I like him better for it.
This is a good episode for Kirk. He gets to drive a car (badly), call his first officer "Spocko", invent a new card game, and show the Enterprise's power. His solution at the end is one of the greatest examples of his ignoring the Prime Directive (despite his justifications), but it's an elegant solution given what he had to work with. I think Mr. Shatner laid the accent and lingo on a bit thick by the end, and I freely admit that it gets kinda grating after a while. Spock's dialogue is all over the map as well.
Despite the fun, it's not a perfect episode by any means, and I can see why a lot of people hate it. Though essentially a comedy, there's no excuse for the characters taking the situation so lightly. How else to explain the dumb way with which they get the "bag put on them" repeatedly, leave their phasers up for grabs (and possibly a communicator at the end), not use even one security guard, etc. It's a good thing the bad guys are stupid too. It all weakens the story. Bonus points, however, for presenting what is possibly the only well-played child in TOS, in the street urchin that helps Kirk and Spock.
LESSON: How to play fizzbin.
REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Amusing setting and events, but it goes a little too far, as if any kind of tension would have ruined its comedic aspects.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
There are those cheapie DVDs, however, which are a crime against humanity (warning: I have a tendency to blow things out of proportion). Here then is my personal Top 5 movies that deserve the Special Edition treatment, ASAP!
5. City Slickers
I'm not asking for much, maybe just a commentary track or a "Whatever happened to Norman?" feature, and I think the movie's enough of a comedy classic to warrant it. If I have a lot of affection for City Slickers, it's because of a single scene: The one where they discuss their best/worst days. I'm not generally big on comedies. The stupider they are, the more I hate them. But give them an emotional core, make it about something, and don't be afraid to make it dramatic without resorting to Family Matters-style sentimentality (...and the music swells highlighting the lesson to be learned), and you've got me. I'm a real sap. City Slickers makes me cry and I don't care who knows it (apparently).
I don't go to the movies a lot. Theaters just get my pet peeve meter from 0-100 in no time at all. But I also have the unerring ability to just know what's good and what's not (read: what I'll like and not) and will buy films sight unseen. So while I loved Being John Malkovitch and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I'll be damned if I'll buy a Superbit DVD! I'm not sure who the clarity freaks are that simply NEED all the extra space on a DVD to be used for even better picture and sound. My god, isn't the DVD format good enough for you? Can your TV screen even keep up? You got some gold cables, didja? Anyway, I have yet to see Kaufman's Adaptation because it only exists as a bare-bones Superbit edition. When I think about it, Malkovich doesn't have anything truly great on it (unless you count Spike Jonz throwing up by the side of the road), so I shouldn't expect Adaptation to get any special treatment.
3. Kill Bill
It took YEARS for Tarantino's other films to get Special Editions, and then they all came out in a matter of weeks. And what great packages! Imaginative documentaries, fancy boxes, and plenty of fun features. So should I expect Kill Bill to come out in a combined edition repleat with bells and whistles? The more time it takes, the more I expect great things from it. An actual full-length commentary? A Sonny Cheba retrospective? A gift eyepatch? I don't know, but I won't be suckered into buying the 2-fer cheapies. Which means I also can't get my groove-on watching Kill Bill. Good thing my roommate got it for Christmas...
2. Kenneth Branagh's Shakespeare movies
Yes, that's more than one film, but my blog, my rules. The tragedy here is that only Love's Labour's Lost has any extras, and it's the very least of Branagh's efforts. Only cheapie versions of Oscar winners Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet does not even exist as a DVD!! (Sorry, Mel Gibson's version just doesn't cut it - maybe if he'd done it in Olde Danish...) So what's taking so long?!? I'd love to retire my VHS copies before their tapes snap. I can't help but think that these could be a major Shakespeare resource for teachers and students alike, discussing language and stageing, showing excisions and changes, etc. And might as well throw in Branagh's charming A Midwinter's Dream (which he directs, but does not act in), and Othello (in which he only acted - best Iago EVER). Those DVDs better be 400 years in the making.
And the number 1 crime against humanity?
1. Blade Runner
This is the one that makes the least sense to me. Blade Runner! One of the greatest SF movies ever made, a cult classic and a huge influence on the medium. It's got Harrison Ford. It was made by Ridley Scott. I think the commercial viability and historical importance are there. Possible DVD extras? I know I've said that Ridley was a bore on Gladiator (not the reason I don't own it, mind you), but he's perfectly acceptable on Thelma & Louise (yes, I own that one, leave me alone, it's COOL). In any case, this is a film with more than one version. There's the definitive Director's Cut, the terrible voice-over/happy-ending version that you might still see on late night tv, and there's a European version that features some gory eye-popping action! So the material is definitely there. I'm aware of the (out-of-print) boxed set, but it's just the same cheap DVD with a bunch of promo posters. NOT THE SAME! I am politiely sending vibrations over the blogosphere to get whoever is holding up production on Blade Runner Special Edition. Philip K. Dick estate? Warner Home Video? Mr. Ford sir? I know you hated making it, but they can't all be Regarding Henry. Blade Runner for president.
So that's my personal wishlist. How about you? Which movies deserve the Special Edition treatment?
FORMULA: Arena + Amok Time + The Apple
WHY WE LIKE IT: It manages to achieve some kind of kitsch grandeur.
WHY WE DON'T: It's so very hokey, from the plot, to the costumes, to the principal villains.
REVIEW: The show has always had trouble choreographing fights, so basing an entire episode on hand-to-hand fighting really wasn't a good idea. The arena looks kinda cool, but the fights are only slightly better than the norm, and all the action tends to be repetitive. It's hard to understand why the Providers would praise Uhura and Chekov, for example, when they do really poorly. Kirk may do better, but maybe it's the thralls that aren't all that great to begin with. The final fight is particularly badly choreographed, with the rules about the blue and yellow sections being ignored throughout. Just as repetitive as the action are all the scenes aboard the Enterprise, which have Spock following a trail of technobabble as the other officers - guess what? - don't respect his authority.
Taken seriously, the episode would really fail, but somewhere along the line, everyone started playing it for camp value. Kirk seduces a thrall who's never known love, Chekov's drill thrall is a mannish alien woman in a pink slip, the Preservers are silly glowing colored brains with a nonsense purpose behind their society, Galt seems pulled out of this season's Halloween special, the shameless training harnesses, Kirk is played way over the top, even strident... even in the usually well-handled direction, check how the camera zooms in briefly when there's talk of mutiny. Now tell me they weren't going for high camp.
There are redeeming values, such as the return of Amok Time's battle music, and Kirk being, once again, a master psychologist (insofar as these characters have psychologies). His final gamble pays off, but it all falls on a silly, extended battle. Andorian fans should know one appears here, but shouldn't run to their DVD players... it's not pretty.
LESSON: Slavery by any other name would smell as bad.
REWATCHABILITY - Low: Almost made it to Medium, but then I asked myself if I was ready for another viewing. I'm really not. One for the drinking games, but not to show non-Trekkies to get them hooked.
Monday, January 22, 2007
FORMULA: Errand of Mercy + I, Mudd + 1,771,561 tribbles
WHY WE LIKE IT: It's still pretty funny today.
WHY WE DON'T: Sorry, but Koloth is unconvincing, and I don't buy Shatner's comedy performance.
REVIEW: Let me start out by saying that I've always found The Trouble with Tribbles highly overrated, in large part because William Shatner is playing Kirk as constantly annoyed. He's annoyed at Baris, annoyed at the tribbles, annoyed as his own crew... And that's from where humor is supposed to be derived. To me, it just makes Kirk seem out-of-focus. He can't control his men, he doesn't understand the importance of Sherman's Planet and the quadrotriticale...
Not that Koloth makes a very good impression as the Klingon captain either. He's much too thin to play a Klingon, and his postures are those of a dandy. Korax is more believable, thankfully, but the scenes with the Klingons lack any kind of tension because of the miscasting and consistent light-hearted atmosphere. I mean, the Klingons don't just dislike tribbles, they are afraid of them! That's not good characterization.
Otherwise, the episode works however! The one-liners are fun without being over the top ("He simply couldn't believe his ears," for example, or "It's you I take lightly"); the tribbles are quite memorable; Cyrano Jones and the bartender have good scenes together; etc. It all hums along at a nice pace, with the actors probably having more fun than their characters much of the time. Not a lot of effects on the whole, but the station is interesting, and seeing the Enterprise orbiting out the window is nice too.
The DS9 episode Trials and Tribble-ations revisits this episode, giving us more incentive to rewatch it than ever, but there's a lot of fun matierial that couldn't be used in the DS9 visit (obviously), and it deserves its own rewatching. Everything surrounding the bar brawl is particularly good, as Scotty acts as the voice of reason until his beloved Enterprise is insulted. The final solution to the infestation is a fun, if a bit forced, moment as well (though Spock is uncharacteristically emotional in it).
LESSON: There's no money to be made in easily bred animals.
REWATCHABILITY - High: Even without the DS9 incentive, this remains a classic for good reason. I may not agree with the characterization of the two main characters, but I nonetheless enjoy this light-hearted adventure from start to finish.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Nothing. I did try to get a copy of the World of Warcraft expansion Burning Crusade, but I was less disappointed than my, uhm, "guild" that I couldn't lay my hands on it. Since I haven't played Warcrap since October, and am losing the next 4 weekends to improv activities, it's not like I was really going to play anytime soon. A post on this subject later, I promise
I'm trying to get through as many Doctor Who audios as I can, even during work hours (instead of listening to music during "drone work", I can easily get through at least one disc). This week, I finished Gallifrey vol. 1: Weapon of Choice (who can resist a series starring both Romana and Leela?), Phantasmagoria (the 5th Doctor plays cards with the devil), and Whispers of Terror (the 6th Doc vs. a sentient sound wave, Big Finish's first classic).
And speaking of Doctor Who, about 15 new additions to my WhoCCG.
Other than that I finished Halo 2 (ends like Pirates of the Carribean 2, i.e. totally unresolved), so i restarted it at Heroic (of course).
Today, we managed to squeeze in a role-playing session for our DCHeroes Crusaders campaign. I used the Huntress adventure in the Hot Pursuit anthology, "Enter the Dragon". They made short work of the villains, of course, but it was good for developing subplots with our favorite NPC.
Oh and I don't know if this counts, but at the improv practice, I handed off a couple of volumes of Chris Ware's ACME Novelty Library to one of my players and asked him to read up and bring ideas based on Ware's style for some improv games. The hand-off came with one simple word: "Irreplaceable". On Wednesday, we'll see if that worked or if I'm gonna receive a couple of soggy tea-stained rags in return.
That's right! 24 started this week, and to celebrate, how about this site: Jack Bauer's Killcount. It's a lovely database of each of Jack's kills, with pictures and video clips. Up to date for each season including this week's "vampire bite"!
One site I frequently redirect people to is The Gay League's list of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or just confused comics characters. Why people ask me about this subject is beyond me.
And speaking of gay superheroes, if you've never seen Superdickery.com, you really ought to check it out. This gallery of compromising panels will blow your mind. Superman, a dick? Noooo. Batman and Robin, gay duo? Surely not! Well, make up your own mind.
Back with more "accomplishments" next Sunday!
FORMULA: Obsession + Who Mourns for Adonais? + Court-Martial
WHY WE LIKE IT: Genuinely creepy!
WHY WE DON'T: It tends to be sexist.
REVIEW: This is what Catspaw should have been like! This Robert Bloch script is at once better written, and better interpreted. It comes off as a very adult story, with the boys starting out looking at exotic dancers, and the ghost of Jack the Ripper starting a killing spree using Scotty's body (or perhaps just clouding Scotty's mind, it's never cleared up). This time, the creators get the atmosphere right, with the supernatural elements given science-fiction reasoning without taking away from their creepiness (the seance, the timeless evil, etc.).
The story does a good job of hiding the true culprit, though if you know who did it from having seen it again, that character's reactions are interesting to watch as well. Once aboard the ship, the questioning is pretty routine, but it gets more interesting when Redjac is revealed. His possession of different bodies (sometimes dead bodies) is creepy and well staged, possibly having influenced the Denzel Washington film "Fallen" (that's what came to mind anyway). Creepy, but not as creepy as Redjac's processed voice after taking over the Enterprise computers.
If the episode has a flaw, it's its sexist attitudes. It's hard to tell a story about an immortal killer of women without that coming through, of course, and it's quite realistic (if unevolved) for sailors to come ashore looking for the sort of entertainment shown here. Comments such as "women are more easily terrified" are less forgiveable, however. Even so, Wolf in the Fold exudes genuine atmosphere, and even the secondary characters are satisfactorily drawn (give or take a couple of victims).
LESSON: So it was wasn't Prince Eddy or Sir William Gull after all!
REWATCHABILITY - High: Robert Bloch's story has given Star Trek its first true horror story. Few have been as convincing over the years (if any).
Saturday, January 20, 2007
The series I'm starting now (in parallel with all others, of course) means to look at various encyclopedia-type comics and comment on various characters' fashion sense. The comics world is repleat with bad costume designs and nothing is more shocking than female characters without an ounce of fashion sense. I picked Who's Who #10 to start because it's got so many horrendous fashion ideas.
Case in point: Gypsy. Part of the underwhelming Justice League Detroit, it's hard to believe this would be a practical choice for crime-fighting. When you're battling Despero, you shouldn't have to worry about hot pavement, losing jewelry, or upskirts. But the worst design here is actually the belt. It just doesn't look like you can bend down without stabbing yourself with the buckle.
Sometimes, a costume can be quite practical, but might just look bad. I think the Absorbascon has done an excellent job of showing why Halo is one of the worst character designs ever, but it bears rereading. As for the multi-colored unitard (which doesn't even feature each of Halo's "colors"), it wasn't that bad when she had the long hair. This haircut, however, is just awful.
There's also a matter of context. What would be fine on one hero might not look good on another. Check out Harpis of the Omega Men:
They've got an ugly gargoyle woman, and they choose to "sexy her up" with a cleavaged bathing suit! I think I'm gonna be sick.
Another alien chick that wears a one-piece bathing suit is Hawkman villain Hyathis. In her case, I don't think I can comment on the haircut, but the slippers? Yeah, that doesn't make me take you seriously no matter how many times you trounce the Justice League... unless you're into some mean kung fu. Then it's ok.
Worst female costume goes to Harlequin though. The male pattern baldness, the birthday hat, the rimless glasses, the frou-frou collar, the tutu, the Trickster's pants and the elven shoes combine in such a way as to make my eyes bleed.
And then there's the men... For example, why would Hop Harrigan smile like that when strapped up in the groin area?
And how would an 18th-century, half-Indian frontiersman take his cue from Elvis?
As you can see, not all comics characters have access to a fashion consultant, but some don't even have a proper seamstress!
And this issue of Who's Who has not just one, but 3 guys in their jammies.
I'd show you Hector Hammond too, but the poor guy can't dress himself, so I'm gonna let him off the hook here.
BONUS: PRETTY WOMAN
The best costume in the book is, in my opinion, Hawkwoman's. She's got elegance and a charming tom-boyishness to her, with a great headdress that still lets out that red hair (in comics, girls with red hair are the hottest, that's just the way it is). Just a sensible tank top, with the Hawkman logo more discretely placed on the belt. You might say those shorts look a bit loose, but it's like when your girlfriend wears your boxers. She's sexy as hell. She's a frickin' Valkyrie!
BONUS: I DON'T NEED NO STINKIN' CLOTHES!
What's amazing here is not that an animal-like character should be naked, but that the Hyena is a girl. Which makes her nekkid.
Not that I get off on that kind of thing, you understand.
These things write themselves. More to come!