Pop Culture Gadabout
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
      ( 3/07/2006 02:51:00 PM ) Bill S.  

LEVITATING TOYS – Sometimes a well-edited promo can get you watching a teleseries you might otherwise ignore. I'd managed to avoid CBS's The Ghost Whisperer since its fall debut, but last week's ad – which promised the scariest ep yet – piqued my curiosity. From the previews, you might think that last Friday's entry was delving into Exorcist-style scares. But, aside from a dream sequence that promised more than the ep delivered, the ep proved pretty soggy: a few rote scenes with toy cars flying about and an unfortunate nanny getting nudged down the stairs. Though we're initially led to believe that the story's specter is a malicious spirit, in the end he turns out to be a young dead boy worried because his careerist mother isn't paying enough attention to his baby sister.

Placed in the time slot formerly occupied by Joan of Arcadia, Whisperer plainly aims to combine its supernatural premise – antiques dealer Melinda Gordon (blandly pretty Jennifer Love Hewitt) can hear and see dead people – with feel-good resolutions. So where the ads promised a story of dark ghostly deeds (not to mention, a possibly demonic infant!) the end results revolved around our workaholic mother (Lori Loughlin) learning to drop back on the overtime.

Watching the show, I couldn't help comparing it to the other psychic lady series, NBC's Medium, a comparison that does not do CBS's show any favors. One of the things that elevates Patricia Arquette's series are its well-placed family scenes: those moments when heroine Allison Dubois' stressed-but-patient husband Joe (Jake Weber) chafes against the demands both her job and psychic talent make on their family life. A techie, he can also be counted on to offer a rationalist explanation for his wife's seeming visions, which at times can lead to believable marital tension. In contrast, Hewitt's Melinda Gordon appears to have no such stressors. Both her hubby Jim (David Conrad) and shopkeeper business partner Andrea (Aisha Tyler) accept her ability to commune with the dead without once going, "Ignore 'em, maybe they'll go away!" or futilely attempting to introduce the light of Sweet Reason into the proceedings.

If this were a larger-than-life fantasy like Buffy we might accept such Scooby Gangisms in less than half a season. But Ghost Whisperer traffics in domestic hauntings, so the burden is on the writers and actors to concoct a believable mundane life for their heroine. In this, they fall down big-time . . .
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      ( 3/07/2006 10:44:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"WE'LL CLAW OUR WAY TO THE TOP!" - John Travolta as Edna Turnblad in the new movie version of Hairspray? I'm more than skeptical, but I do think Queen Latifah is a fine choice for Motormouth Mabel . . .

Of course, the real question re: this version of the Broadway adaptation remains, "Will they use an actual fat actress (as Ricki Lake was and Marissa Janet Winokur still is) in the lead role?" Or, to put it another way, is it possible to do the Madison in a fat suit?
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      ( 3/07/2006 07:33:00 AM ) Bill S.  

A QUICK PLUGOLA - Just received the February issue of The Comics Journal in the mail – a sign that I had something in it since the journal doesn't send copies out to its contributors otherwise (as an early writer, I used to have a "lifetime" free sub to TCJ, but that's something that disappeared many editorial regimes ago). My contribution is smallish: a "Bullets" length review of Rick Geary's The Murder of Abraham Lincoln. But I did want to point out the great selection of early Harvey Kurtzman comics work that's included in the issue: featuring samples of his first comics art and post-World War II work, you can see the man evolve from a somewhat gawky Simon-&-Kirby imitator into an assured cartoonist. I'd love to see Fantagraphics do an anthology devoted strictly to these obscure comics treasures, but I suspect that such a project would be financially prohibitive . . .
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Monday, March 06, 2006
      ( 3/06/2006 09:19:00 PM ) Bill S.  

EDGARRRRR! . . . – Hate to be 7 p.m. quarterbacking it on 24, but, c'mon, how shot-loose to you have to be to let a terrorist into your own building just 'coz he has a key card? Can anyone waltz into that place? And were you wondering, too, why the CTU team didn't bring that containment thingy into the hospital sub-basement instead of rushing with the nerve gas canister through a still-crowded corridor? I swear, these people deserve every catastrophe that's heaped upon 'em!

But to change the subject: was I the only one waiting for Jack Bauer to tell daughter Kim's new boyfriend, "Cram it, Ponyboy!" once the guy got too uppity?
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      ( 3/06/2006 10:02:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"I KID BECAUSE I ENVY!" – With plenty of smart bloggers doing the live (or "time-lag") blogging thing for the 78th Annual Oscars, yours truly basically recorded the whole she-bang and sped-viewed it this a.m. while I got ready for work. As a result, I was spared the whole feel-bad spectacle that was Lauren Bacall stumbling through her presentation speech (caught five seconds – already started to feel awful for her – then zipped through the noir montage), the excess montages (loved Jon Stewart's jokes about 'em, though) and most of the acceptance speeches (liked Clooney, who I thought handled his mildly political statement with wit, and made two Batman jokes besides). As a freshman Oscar host, Stewart acquitted himself admirably, though regular Daily Show viewers could see that Death to Smoochy reference comin' a mile away. (It's something he pulls out nearly every time he has to interview a for-real actor.) Some of the filmed sequences could've easily appeared on the Show – the Stephen Colbert narrated actress campaign "ads," in particular – and were fun for it. They were certainly more successful than, say, David Letterman's attempts at squeezing his style of teevee comedy into the proceedings.

I had no strong leanings toward any of the big nominations because I haven't seen any of 'em yet. While politically vested writers may decry the year's weak box office and attempt to connect it to the moral values that Hollywood is supposedly promoting, I have to wonder if the bigger answer doesn't lie in simple economics. In a year when gas and utility prices have gone up while income for middle-class families hasn't kept up with COLA, movie theatre-going is a luxury that's harder and harder for the financially strapped to afford. I'd still like to see Brokeback Mountain in a movie theater, though, since I suspect that it's the kind of fil-lum that benefits from a big-screen vista. But if I don't, there's always Video-on-Demand . . .
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Saturday, March 04, 2006
      ( 3/04/2006 08:46:00 AM ) Bill S.  

SURPRISING ROD – Primary ads are currently popping up all over the tube in Illinois, and current governor Rod Blagojevich has one running that pretty clearly delineates the problems our Dem gov is facing going for a second term. After discussing the economic problems he was handed, taking over the governorship from alleged federal racketeer George Ryan (R.), Rod states, "It might surprise you to learn the progress we made" in addressing said problems. That simple phrase, I suspect, tells us more than it's meant to . . .
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      ( 3/04/2006 06:50:00 AM ) Bill S.  

PLAY SOMETHING SWEET, PLAY SOMETHING MELANCHOLY – A Quick Note Because I Seem to Be Paying A Lotta Attention to Closed Captioning Lately: Since my wife was still in bed when I watched Elektra, I played the movie low with the captioning running. As in most current closed caps, the captioneers do more than just repeat the dialog. They also tell us when plot-specific sound effects are heard and when theme-specific music is played. One of the captions written this time, for instance, simply said, "Melancholy Theme Playing," and appeared whenever our heroine thought back to her tragic character-defining past. That caption was used a lot in the picture . . .
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      ( 3/04/2006 06:42:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"I DON'T HAVE A CODE, ABBY!" – Caught via Video-on-Demand the movie Elektra recently. Though advanced word had me expecting something godawful, the end results weren't that bad, I thought: certainly much less visually murky than Daredevil. Take away the fancy CGI, and you basically have a distaff Chuck Norris flick, circa 1980 (The Octagon, say). Jennifer Garner is more capable of delivering her lines than non-actor Norris, of course, but even she couldn't resurect some of the script's old groaners. ("You talk in riddles, old man!" she tells Terence Stamp's blind mentor at one point, and immediately you wished the writers could've gone all ZAZ on her ass.) At times, most specifically in the big showdown 'tween our sais-wielding good-girl assassin and her head nemesis, the CGI proved an unnecessary distraction. (Set in a mansion where all the furniture has been covered in sheets, the sheets inexplicably fly off the couches and divans and float around our dueling martial artists – yet I don't recall a single one getting torn.) The henchman whose animal tats come off of his body was decently realized, however. Watching it at home in the comfort of my living room, I didn't feel an ounce of regret over missing this 'un on the big screen, but I didn't mind killing some time with it. . .
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Friday, March 03, 2006
      ( 3/03/2006 09:54:00 AM ) Bill S.  

WEEKEND PET PIC – It's my sweetie's birthday, so don't expect to see much posting today. In the meantime, here's a shot of Kyan Puppy and Ziggy Stardust, taken just before the two began to indulge in some old-fashioned dominance-establishing rough housing . . .

Happy birthday, Becky!
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Thursday, March 02, 2006
      ( 3/02/2006 09:32:00 PM ) Bill S.  

FOR WHO'S PLEASURE? – Noted in the background music of promos for this week's ep of CBS's Close to Home: Roxy Music's sinister-sounding paean to an inflatable sex doll, "In Every Dream House A Heartache." Now that's truly creepy . . .
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      ( 3/02/2006 03:48:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"A HARD, UNFRIENDLY WORLD" – So I recently pulled out my DVD copy of the Hammer remake of One Million Years BC (1967), and the second thing I notice while scanning the packaging is the little box stating that the disc is closed captioned. "Captioning?" I think to myself. For a movie with dialog that's primarily confined to caveman grunts and gibberish? What's the point?

I'd forgotten, of course, that the film opens with two minutes of thoroughly disposable voiceover narration, which I guess gave the captioneers something to do, though I hope they weren't being paid by the word. The rest of the flick was all made-up nonsense syllables, with an occasional name inserted just so we could tell Raquel Welch from the rest of the cast. (She's Loana of the Shell People, but really all you need to know is she's the movie's Big Blond Babe – where Martine Beswick plays the Not-So-Big Brunette.) There are also lots of dinosaur yells and shrieks on the soundtrack, but that goes without saying . . .

For those unfamiliar with the posterific BC – or the Victor Mature-starring original made in the 40's – the movie tells the easily parsed tale of two tribes of cavefolk, the Rock and Shell tribes, as they struggle to survive prehistoric times on one of the Canary Islands. The Rockers, repped by darkly bearded Tumak (John Richardson) are filthy brutish cliff dwellers who rely on hunting wild boar and body-checking each other for amusement, while the Shell-folk live by the sea and fish in between scurrying away from carnivore attacks. After Tumak is pushed off a cliff by his thuggish brother, (Percy Herbert, looking like a scruffier Bluto), he makes his way to the sea, where he meets and falls in caveman love with Raquel's Loana. His Rock-y ways don't endear him to the Shell tribers, though, and soon both he and Loana are sent packin'. Our love struck duo trudges across the barren landscape, dodging battling dinos, 'til a big volcano eruption ultimately brings everybody together.

Simple? Sure. But you don't go to a movie like this for nuanced plotting: you come for the half-clothed, improbably groomed actors and the dinosaurs. That second element, overseen by the legendary Ray Harryhausen, is plenty fun in its own right, though it should be noted that budgetary constraints forced the stop-motion master to fill in with magnified real-life creatures. Viewers coming to the flick for the first time, expecting to see some of Harryhausen's engagingly handmade animation, invariably feel a let-down since the first monster they see is a big blown-up iguana similar to the fakey beasts skittering across dozens of low-budget Lost Worlds. It isn't until later that the stop-motion goodness enters the picture, most notably with an Allosaurus threatening a little Shell girl in a tree. In those moments, One Million Years BC becomes more than an excuse for horny adolescents to ogle the future Kansas City Bomber's bod. For the record, though, I should note that I first saw BC at the drive-in when I was seventeen. While I was immediately taken with her, the role that really turned me on to Miz Welch was her turn the same year as "Lilian Lust, the Babe with the Bust" in Stanley Donen's Bedazzled. (Pause at keyboard to momentarily recall the image . . . ) Still, the sight of Loana emerging from the ocean after being dropped by a Pteranadon remains a pretty potent one.

The volcano eruption is a bit of a disappointment, though. Where the 1940 original was all rumbling quakes and great streaming rivers of lava swarming over people and lizards, the remake basically sticks to shots of cavefolk running up against shifting earth. It may be more realistic, but why bring up realism in a film that gives us cave ladies with plucked eyebrows?

Reading up on it today, I see that there's more than one DVD version of BC, of varying lengths. The American Fox Video version, which I originally found for five bucks at Wal-Mart, is apparently nine minutes shorter than the original British release; some of this missing footage is Harryhausen stop-motion creature work. Give us unnecessary captioning, but don't give us the entire movie. You know, if I'd paid more than five dollars for this baby, I'd be really pissed . . .
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Wednesday, March 01, 2006
      ( 3/01/2006 12:44:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"YOU BROUGHT ME DRAFT BEER IN A PLASTIC CUP!" – Another bloggish birthday: seems like only yesterday that we were first taking the Gadabout for a test drive – now we've been ridin' it for four years. Practically two lifetimes in Internet years, though if we were a dog, we'd be only – what? – a still-youngish twenty-eight. This past year hasn't been the sunniest in this small corner of the blogosphere: if blog years were Buffy seasons, this last would've been the one where the Buffster wound up working in a burger joint – but I have hopes that Year Five will be better. More varied comics reviews are in order: as fun as the AiT/Boom! Books have been to receive and read, I definitely feel the need to be looking a rounder selection of comics material (though I can't say I feel bad about missing out on House of M . . .) But strapped year or not, I've continued to get a kick out of writing this blog – and reading the words of my fave blogospherians, too. (Happy sixth to the redoubtable neilalien!) So I don't see myself stopping this vehicle any time soon.
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      ( 3/01/2006 12:40:00 PM ) Bill S.  

STRANGE ADVENTURES IN CLOSED CAPTIONING – Watched this week's Simpsons early this a.m. A parody of My Fair lady with Groundskeeper Willie in the Liza Doolittle role, it wasn't the equal of the show's great Mary Poppins take-off, but it still had plenty of funny moments. Watching the ep with closed captioning, though, I could help wondering about the captions that accompanied each tune. Though clearly meant to recall the songs in Lerner & Loewe's well-known musical, the songs nonetheless were different enough to not be the actual tunes. Yet the captioning clearly gave the impression that Frederick Loewe's music was being used – instead of Alf Clausen's clever pastiches. Base deceptions being perpetrated on the Hearing Impaired, I calls it!
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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