Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, March 11, 2006
      ( 3/11/2006 11:10:00 PM ) Bill S.  

OH, AND GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD, TOO! – So we're half-watching a John Larroquette mystery movie on the Hallmark Channel tonight (McBride: Fallen Idol), and as the opening credits roll, I see the name of old pro scriptwriter Brian Clemens, responsible for Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter as well as beaucoup top-notch episodes of The Avengers (including "The House That Jack Built"). Good to see the guy still working, even if it is in the service of a fairly weak Perry Mason retread.
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      ( 3/11/2006 11:45:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"I DO SO MUCH ENJOY DOLING OUT THE CHALLA-BALLOO" – Ah, the long-standing allure of hero monkeys in comic books: it goes back at least as far as 1952, when John Broome & Carmine Infantino (king of the gorilla cover!) gave us "Detective Chimp" as a back-up feature, and continues today. Over at AiT/Planet Lar, they've gone to the Big Monkey Barrel twice – first with Mantooth, than with Sky Ape. You can see why fannish comics writers would wanna play in this material: if, as one comedy theory has it, Monkeys in Suits are always funny, their goofy place in comic book history adds an extra layer of campiness to the proceedings. Big Monkeys are the New Monkeys!

The hero of Sky Ape isn’t (unlike Mantooth) fully decked out in a suit, of course; like Magilla Gorilla, a simple pair of pants will suffice, though in place of a Hanna-Barbera-ish hat and bow tie, we get a jet-pack and goggles. Sky Ape: King of Girls is the fourth self-contained book featuring our talking ape detective, but it's the first one in the series I've read. Gotta admit, when I first received it, I went into the book with some trepidation. I was not that enamored with Mantooth, after all, so there was a chance I could come out of this review being forever typed as the Blogger Who Doesn't Like Gorilla Comics. Which in comics fandom is practically akin to hating puppies.

I wound up succumbing to Sky Ape, though the sweaty energy with which the book’s three writers (Phil Amara, Tim McCarney & Mike Russo) work to generate The Funny often muffles the jokes. The wire-thin plot's a trifle: self-titled King of Girls Derrick Williamson takes a string of geeky guys and turns 'em into a pack of Love And Leave 'Em Lotharios. Sky Ape enlists the unnecessary aid of a super-group called Victory's 13 to stop Williamson, but the primary reason that they even show up in the book is to afford the writers pages to parody outdated superhero tropes – like a too-long scene where the supergroup "sounds off" before going into battle. Befitting this type of funnybook, there's an obligatory number of pop culture references, some of which read a few years out-of-date. (Is there even a point to making Alanis Morrisette jokes after Dogma?) But I dug most of the broader boyish humor in the King of Girls sequences – which makes the obvious point that most losers, if given the opportunity, would be just as dick-headed as the winners they currently envy. ("I'm writing a break-up poem for my girl," one of Williamson's spawn states. "What rhymes with 'I'm fucking your sister'?") Richard Jenkins' cartoony b-&-w art is a treat, too.

It's no Bobo, the Detective Chimp, of course, but then what is?
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Friday, March 10, 2006
      ( 3/10/2006 04:27:00 PM ) Bill S.  

WHAT, ME STRESSED? – Woke up this a.m. after a bad night's sleep with – not one – but two Charlie Horses attacking my calves. My right leg was the first to get hit as I was still half-asleep, and when I finished rapidly massaging it to alleviate the pain, I stretched the left leg and was immediately struck by a piercing cramp in my calf there. (Think I've been sleeping kinda tense lately?) Didn't need much coffee to wake me up the rest of the way, at least . . .
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      ( 3/10/2006 06:52:00 AM ) Bill S.  

WEEKEND PET PIC – The cats may be jealous of all the photo ops Kyan Puppy has been receiving lately, but we're getting a kick of catching the little spud as he grows. I swear, when he lies on his back and stretches, you can actually see his legs all grow another inch. Here he is stalking Dusty Dawg, repped in this photo by a patch of fur off to the right . . .

NOTE: For more dog blogging, check out the weekly "Carnival of the Dogs" at Mickey's Musings. And for a broader array of companion animals, why not stroll through Modulator's "Friday Ark?
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Thursday, March 09, 2006
      ( 3/09/2006 09:41:00 PM ) Bill S.  

YOU TELL 'EM, GIL! – Seen in tonight's C.S.I.: Gil Grissom and crew have to deal with the presence of an intrusive teevee documentary crew as they work to capture a serial rapist. Early in the episode, one of the filmmakers asks Gil from off-camera, "Seen our show? It's got plenty of good forensics!"

Our hero's response: "There's too many forensic shows on teevee . . ."
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      ( 3/09/2006 01:54:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"I WANT A PERFECT SOUL" – Some time back, a group of comics blogospherians indulged in a public act of mix-tape swapping, reviewing each other's CD-Roms of favorite tunes. It was an activity I enjoyed reading – noting both the contents of each blogger's mix-disc and the response other bloggers had to each selection – even if it wasn't something I could join into since my ancient Gateway doesn't have CD burner capability. More recently, however, new New Zealander Nik Dirga sent me a mix-disc that he challengingly entitled "Nik's Perfect Songs, Volume 1." After playing it several times, how could I resist putting down a few thoughts?
  • "Wildflowers," Tom Petty – I'm of two minds when it comes to Tom Petty: at his best ("You're Gonna Get It," say), he's a power-popper par excellence, but his catalog is variable, to say the least. When he goes for mournful, he can be a yawn, though this track is an exception: sweet and airy despite – or perhaps because of – its broken-heartedness. A good start . . .

  • "Ocean," Sebadoh – Dunno much about Sebadoh, but this sing-songy lyrically opaque guitar pop track makes me think about exploring 'em further. Wish vocalist Lou Barlow was a trace less distant, though . . .

  • "Downtown Train," Tom Waits – Most pop junkies have a least one deaf spot when it comes to critical faves: for me, it's Waits, who I've always enjoyed more as an actor than as a singer. Consider "Downtown Train," the Waits song Rod Stewart made into a radio staple. Ol' Gravel Voice's rendition is perhaps his most accessible track, but I still can't make the leap into "Love It!" Call it a personal failing . . .

  • "You Ain't Going Nowhere," Bob Dylan – Just a joyous little song, though, truthbetold, I prefer the Byrds version from their sublime Sweetheart of the Rodeo . . .

  • "Station to Station," David Bowie – Won't argue with Nik's selection of this cut, though when it first came out I remember initially balking at its extended instrumental opening. Once the Thin White Duke started shouting about it being "too late to be late again" though, my doubts vanished. Just a great dance-rock track . . .

  • "Positive Bleeding," Urge Overkill – If UO had released a whole album filled with solid college raydo pop tracks like this (love the giggly white boy soul flourishes) . . . why then they'd probably be Material Issue . . .

  • "Down Under," Men at Work – When I first saw that Nik had included this amiable 80's trifle on his list, I snorted ("Howls of derisive laughter, Bruce!") Hearing it on the disc, though, I gave the song its due. Just a goofy pop tune, perhaps, but as a long-time Beach Boys fan, I've got no grounds for complaints on that score . . .

  • "Without me," Eminem – Empty without you, Marshall? Not really. I've got plenty of assholes to deal with in my own life . . .

  • "My Sexual Life," Everclear – Art Alexakis in a familiar pose – the simmering guy on the verse of saying something really unforgivable in the midst of that Big Break-up – but, damn, he makes you feel his immerging anger. One of the great Everclear songs, thanx to a neatly inserted sliver of guitar jangle in the first verses . . .

  • "Sweet Jane," Velvet Underground – A bit of a ringer here since the version Nik included on his disk isn't the VU cut from Loaded but Lou Reed's live performance off his first solo concert disc. I love both versions, but the concert, with its pomp-filled instrumental opener is perhaps the greater crowd pleaser. Seventies rock guitar worship personified, and, while most of the time I can take it or leave it, with this cut I succumb . . .

  • "Tomorrow Never Knows," The Beatles – Not the most immediately accessible Beatles, though time has, I think, made its sea-gull sounds much more poppy than they were in the weeks following Revolver's debut . . .

  • "In Your Eyes," Peter Gabriel – I'll admit it: I'm biased against Cameron Crowe and his too-safe insertion of AOR sounds into his movie soundtracks. He has a knack for flattening the music by putting it to too-predictable use. I've also long felt that "In Your Eyes" was a great chorus in search of a song. Neither fact keeps this track from flicking on those yearning feelings, though. Sometimes imperfect is perfect.

  • "My Impression Now," Guided by Voices – GbV is one of those bands who really could benefit from having a good nay-sayer in the room: they're so prolific that the graet songs have difficulty rising above the so-so ones. This, however, is one of the great tracks, the kind of pop rescue work that mix-tapes exist for . . .

  • "I Feel So Good," Richard Thompson – I love Richard Thompson in full folk-rock mode: when he's cooking, he overturns every weak stereotype about folk artists in the Rock Snob Handbook. I wouldn't put "Feel So Good" in my personal Thompson Top Ten ("Wall of Death" or "Tear-Stained Letter" are more my speed), but it's close: Thompson's narrator pumping himself up as he knows he's heading out to a night-time of regret . . .

  • "Sister Jack," Spoon – another slice of slightly twisted power-pop with two guitar solos that give you just enough psychedelic and noise-rock to make you sit up straight before slipping back into naggingly infectious pop strum. Another band I'd like to hear more of . . .

  • "Creep," Richard Cheese (bonus track) – Wherein a Tony Clifton wannabe attempts a finger-snappin' cover of Radiohead's classic paean to self-loathing. In essence, not much different from the sound of Weird Al layering polka arrangements over rap hits, but it's suitably silly. Love the way Cheese creamily sings the song's foul-mouth passages. A cool way to end this set . . .
So wot's on Volume 2, Nik?
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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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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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