Saturday, November 26, 2011

Why do we always come here? I guess we'll never know.

The Muppets have been so overexposed leading up to the release of the new movie that even I'm a little sick of them now! The last straw for me may have been the in-flight magazine cover story that included an "interview" with "Kermit." So I don't really want to add to the glut, but I have thoughts about The Muppets and - surprise! - they're a little contrary.

Obviously, I was looking forward to this movie. The trailer made me tear up. I like Jason Segel, and his approach to things seemed solid. The SNL appearance made me laugh (which is saying something for SNL). All the critics I follow really liked it. I was all excited and had every expectation that I would love this movie.

And it was…fine.

I had a perfectly lovely time. It was cute. I thought they were respectful of the characters and of Jim Henson's legacy and all that. The tone was right, the replacement voices were pretty good. Walter was adorable, and Segel (who I've also been getting pretty sick of lately thanks to the film's publicity push) and Adams were great. It was nice to see old friends back together again and I felt joy at that. But it didn't add up to much for me.

I hate when people accuse adult Muppet fans of only being into the hipster nostalgia of it. It's not just nostalgia. I love the Muppets more as an adult than I ever did as a kid, and have discovered wonderful things Jim Henson did before I was born. I've revisited plenty of things I loved as a child that don't hold up at all (including things by Jim Henson - I couldn't make it through a whole episode of Fraggle Rock). I've never been accused of loving Ghostbusters or Star Wars purely out of nostalgia.

So what left me cold about The Muppets was that it was all nostalgia. The movie relied entirely on our past relationships to these characters, and our fond memories of jokes and songs to bring meaning to the proceedings. You can watch any of the three original Muppet movies without ever having seen a Muppet before; they stand completely alone, ready to tell their own stories with actors who happen to be made of felt. This movie is entirely dependent on the audience knowing the characters going in, and in fact the plot is built around that fandom. That's not the same as including winking references (no matter how good, and some of the more meta ones especially were very good) in your reboot. The entire movie is a winking reference. In a way, it felt like one of those superhero origin movies where nothing really happens and you know it's all there just to set up a sequel.

It probably doesn't help that I just re-watched A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, a 2003 TV movie that's also clearly pitched to adults (its big showpieces are a nearly perfect Moulin Rouge parody, and an alternate Kermit-less universe in which Piggy is a crazy cat lady phone psychic and Scooter is a go-go dancer) but that also manages to have its own completely stand-alone story, even while being basically a direct sequel to The Muppet Movie. It also has basically the exact same beats of the bad guy exploiting a bad contract to take over the theater, and Kermit being a total sad-sack about it as The Muppets. I guess it's not a fan favorite but I happen to love Very Merry Muppet Christmas, in part for its archness and barely controlled anarchy (very true to the original spirit) and willingness to push the edge of the characters a little, so having it fresh in my mind didn't help The Muppets feel any fresher.

I want to be clear that I didn't hate the movie. I know a lot of my "meh" reaction to it is about poorly managed expectations, the squirming toddler sitting in front of me, and probably also this nasty head cold I'm getting over. I'll watch it again on DVD and maybe change my mind. It is good to have the Muppets back, and there were plenty of things I liked. There were lots of good jokes that felt very Muppety, which I won't spoil here for people who haven't seen it yet. I enjoyed seeing old favorite characters even if they didn't really belong there (talking to you, Marvin Suggs). The songs were cute and "Rainbow Connection" never fails to make me a little misty in any context.

What I liked most was the way the world of the movie treated the Muppets so nonchalantly. My favorite Muppet Show episodes are ones where the guest star behaves as if the Muppets are completely ordinary, where requesting a 6-foot-tall talking parrot to sing Gilbert and Sullivan with you is a normal and expected thing to do, at least at this theater. In The MuppetsGary can throw Walter over the fence. He'd presumably never try that with Mary, even if she asked. Fozzie can play in a lounge in Reno and Gonzo can run a company (complete with chicken secretary) and nobody bats an eye. The Muppets feel real because they are real, which is why I'm such a sucker for puppetry in general. If there was a modern special effect in this movie, I couldn't spot it, and being in that fully-created world gave the movie a lot of charm.

Just not enough charm. The whole thing felt too packaged to me, too carefully crafted to push those memory buttons. I don't fully believe that you can't have the Muppets without Jim Henson and Frank Oz, but so much of the joy of their work is the looseness of it, the way they play off of each other in this completely natural way, even as they crouch unnaturally under the furniture. One of my favorite things is this blooper reel from Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas, in which the puppets break character but the puppeteers (Oz and Jerry Nelson) never do. You'd think they'd want to lower their arms! But you get the sense that they could do this all day, and that the puppets really are an extension of them. I think that's why replacing that original cast, at least to play the old characters, never quite works. It's not just like seeing a new actor play James Bond. It's like if Daniel Craig somehow took over Sean Connery's body. But I digress…my point is that the original Muppet team, both in front of and behind the camera, had a chemistry that plenty of modern ensembles have, but that this movie lacked. It felt too by-the-numbers, too "Ready, 30-somethings? LAUGH!" for me to completely give in to it emotionally, even as I DID laugh. It was a bit like watching a Muppet tribute band, which, given a major plot point in the film, was kind of ironic.

It's worth noting that I saw The Muppets with two actual children - Boy's nieces, aged 11 and 6 - who liked the movie a lot, despite never having seen The Muppet Show. So maybe I'm totally off base. I wonder how much of it they got, but they have favorite Muppets now (Animal and Miss Piggy, respectively), and I can only take that as a good thing. I will happily sit them down for a classic Muppet marathon at any time…if I can get them to turn off iCarly and Spongebob for more than five seconds.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Netflix Queue Challenge: Documentary Edition

Things have been busy and I haven't been able to do much writing lately. I stopped right in the middle of the new TV season! I'll get back to that soon, I hope. But look! A new Netflix Queue Challenge post! I actually watched three movies in one week! All of them were documentaries, which is strange because I don't watch a lot of documentaries. One was a fluke, and there were external factors behind the other two.

Starwoids
I don't really know what made me put this in my queue at all, let alone move it to the top. I think it came up in a post somewhere about the Star Wars musical which if you, like me, happen to fit in that Venn diagram overlap of Star Wars nerds and musical theatre nerds, is very funny and charming. Starwoids is neither. It follows a group of nerds (no other way to say it, really; "fans" doesn't cut it) waiting in line first to buy tickets and then to get seats for the first showing of Episode I in Hollywood. While I can appreciate their fandom, I mostly just feel sad for these people. Don't they have anything better to do? I mean, I also saw Episode I on opening night, but I ordered my tickets over the phone and got there maybe an hour early for seats. Also, sitting on the sidewalk for weeks is pretty boring to watch. There are some fun diversions to conventions, and the aforementioned musical, but it's mostly a slog. What kept me watching was anticipating the payoff at the end, when the thing these guys had been waiting for for so long turned out to be a crushing disappointment. But that never happened! They loved the movie! They even check in with them a couple months later and these guys have no regrets. The schadenfreude was half the reason I watched the damn documentary! So very disappointing.


Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey
This isn't actually available on Netflix yet, but I'm counting it because it was in my saved queue. I wound up at a screening of this on Monday night. Obviously this is a movie I would be into. But even if you don't care at all about the Muppets, you should see this movie.

Elmo became the most popular thing in the world long after I stopped watching Sesame Street, and I've always found him incredibly annoying, with his falsetto voice and his referring to himself in the third person and his seeming maybe a little bit stupid and his supplanting Grover as everyone's favorite monster. But even my cold black heart couldn't watch this film cynically. Seeing Elmo with Make-A-Wish kids whose dying wish was to meet him? Watching children interact with Elmo as if he were real, even though there is a large man standing right there with a hand up his butt? It is impossible to stay cynical.

Near the beginning of the movie someone (Frank Oz, maybe?) says "In a good puppet you can see the soul of the puppeteer." So to watch Kevin Clash grow up with this incredible creativity and love of this strange hobby-turned-career, channeling his shyness through puppets, and ultimately creating this insanely popular character on a fluke, is really quite moving. "Elmo is love," someone says, and it's really kind of hard not to like him after that. Also helpful: The handful of outtakes where Elmo gets a little dark. Elmo is love, and also just a bit of Kevin Clash's id.

Without ever getting too explicit about it, this is kind of a movie about the power of arts education, supportive parenting, and mentoring. This kid had an obscure hobby that most people - especially poor people - would never even consider could become a career. He was surrounded by people who let him run with it and professionals who helped him along, and it made him a millionaire. I found that deeply inspiring, and easily applicable to just about any artistic endeavor.

After the screening there was a panel with the actors who play Gordon and Maria (still on the show!), Kevin Clash, and two other Muppeteers, including Fran Brill, who's been around since The Muppet Show. Fran brought Prairie Dawn with her, so we knew she was old school. A woman around my age asked a question about how the show had changed over the years, and she prefaced it with, "I didn't grow up with Elmo, but I remember Prairie Dawn," and without missing a beat Prairie Dawn said "I remember you too," and the whole room kind of melted. At another point in the Q&A, Murray (the other monster on the panel) said something that made Kevin Clash crack up, and while he was unable to speak Elmo turned and looked at him expectantly. Yes, I realize that Elmo doesn't "do" anything, but it was clearly an unconscious move on Clash's part and it really felt like he had a life of his own in that moment. They're all incredibly gifted improv actors too, and watching them work a crowd of adults with those characters was really lovely.

Anyway, the film is just opening in limited release now (Clash and Elmo are doing live appearances at some screenings), and I'm sure it will be on Netflix before long, and you should see it.


Southern Comfort
I'd known about this movie for a long time (it's ten years old) but never had much interest in watching it, until last week when I saw a musical based on it. That's a strange way to come to a documentary, but it worked for Grey Gardens too. Anyway, both the film and the play follow a makeshift family of transsexuals (mostly female-to-male) in the rural south, leading up to the Southern Comfort convention. The main "character" is dying of ovarian and cervical cancer, which would be so heavy handed in a work of fiction, but here is just treated sort of ruefully. Everyone knows that this will be his last SoCo, if he makes it at all. The film is pretty light on plot (it was interesting to see how the musical stayed insanely faithful to certain elements while taking huge liberties with - and completely inventing - others) which makes it a bit slow to watch but also gives it a real slice-of-life feeling. Given the subject and setting, that's almost radical. There's a solid 15 minutes or so at the beginning where if you didn't know what the movie was about, you'd have no idea. The men pass so well, and for a good bit after Robert's girlfriend Lola (who does not) arrives, there's still no explanation of who these people are. I'm not sure if not knowing going in would have made that confusing, or fun to discover, but I do like that it's really on the audience to catch up and figure it out. We're joining this story very much already in progress.

The film deals a lot with prejudice, not just against the transsexuals, but also the audience's prejudices against their community (perhaps I'm being prejudiced in simply making the assumption that the audience of this film is likely to be liberal). Robert and his friends deal with a lot of discrimination, but it's almost all off-screen. We're told about it, and it's heartbreaking, but we mostly only see a world of acceptance. Since my own prejudices had me prepared for nothing but small-mindedness, I was deeply touched to hear Robert's son (who doesn't exist at all in the play, which might be part of why I was surprised) say, "Had I gotten married I would have chosen Mom to be the best man at my wedding."

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Fall TV, Part 1

Hey, look, Cracked judged the new season the same way I did! Only much funnier!

Okay, but now we've all actually seen things, so here's a follow up post on my list of what I am was looking forward to this fall.

Ringer
I found the pilot delightfully silly, and was pleasantly surprised by how well Sarah Michelle Gellar pulled off her dual role (the styling didn't hurt — even if it at one point required her to have a completely unrealistic hairdo to indicate which twin she was). I didn't mind the painful greenscreen everyone was talking about; I was too distracted by the bizarre filter they had on the lens in the same scene. I'm much more bothered by someone getting into a cab in New York City and saying "I'm going to the airport" (hat-tip to Jenn for catching that one), or the plot hinging around an apartment being empty because they're firing the contractors — but wouldn't they have to come pick up their tools? Fantasy needs to have rules, and I'm completely fine with whatever crazy evil twin shenanigans they want to throw at us, as long as I believe in the underlying world. Obviously the show isn't meant to be realistic, but it still needs to be grounded.

Also, I just don't find it very compelling. Boy pointed out that the main character (Bridget, as Siobhan) has no real relationships with anyone, since she's pretending to have known every character on the show already, or pretending not to. It makes it hard to care about anyone.

I'm two episodes in, and I'll give it at least one more, because it clearly has potential to be trashy fun, but it needs to get more interesting and less clunky quickly.


Vampire Diaries
I've only watched the first episode of the season, but they're definitely playing to their strengths (naked Ian Somerhalder), and are staying true to form by unexpectedly killing off a character I quite liked, and generally remaining campy, over-the-top fun (a potential running theme for the season).


The Secret Circle
I've only watched the pilot so far, so I'm reserving judgment, but I'm not impressed. There's a lot of setup in the pilot, which is to be expected, but it's all pretty dull, which is avoidable. The cast so far has very little chemistry (which, again, can change over time) and aren't all that interesting individually either. I thought this show would hit my sweet spot (teen drama, supernatural, slightly silly) but so far it's pretty meh.


Archer
Soooo good! And already over! I know it will be back for more in a few months, but this three episode mini-season was such of a tease! I really want to believe that the whole cast records the show together every week, like a radio play. I know that's not how animated shows usually work, but it really has that feel to it. I've always loved how they treat the show as if it's live-action, with the opening credits with the cast and the tight continuity across episodes. But the fact that it's animated lets them get away with a lot (like everyone being awful). This arc has been great, and I hope it achieves what I assume is its goal of getting them new viewers from Sunny for the rest of the season.


How I Met Your Mother
I don't feel like I have anything insightful to say about this show, but I've quite liked the first few episodes of the season. The cast seems to be having fun, and they somehow make all the gimmickry work for me.


The Sing Off
I love this show. I can't really explain why. I know it's just another singing competition, and the fact that they're groups doesn't really change the format at all. I'm not even all that into a cappella. But I just love it. It's refreshing to have judges (two out of three anyway) who are actually giant music nerds, giving actual criticism. And Sara Bareilles is charming enough to make up for the fact that she never really says anything and I don't like her music. I love this show so much I gave up Gossip Girl for it. GG was on the cusp already, but I didn't really think I'd give it up for this. But The Sing Off started a week earlier and I'm not letting it go.


The Playboy Club
You guys, I really like The Playboy Club. I swear I'm not trying to be contrary to every critic and basically every viewer here. I'm not saying it's a good show. I recognize that it's terrible, but two episodes in I'm totally enjoying it. It's not without its problems. Chiefly that Maureen might be the dumbest person on television. They seem to be trying hard to make her a strong woman, even though she's in a Bunny costume (I assume because she's in a Bunny costume). We see her stand up to various men, and while she definitely needs help hiding the body and all that, I didn't get the sense that the man had to rescue her. But then she leaves her blood-covered costume lying around where anyone could find it, and stands in the bathroom with the door open playing with the key from the man she killed, which she supposedly has with her to get rid of. I hope the mob kills her and Laura Benanti becomes the singing, snarky lead of the show as she deserves to be.

But yeah, I'm totally enjoying this terrible show. It looks good, and there's enough going on that I'm always interested. I actually sort of like how seriously it takes itself — that makes the campy moments feel unforced. I'm sorry, everybody.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Buffy Rewatch: Season 3, Episodes 1-4

Anne
One of the fun things about this rewatch is discovering that episodes I remember unfondly are actually pretty good. I don't know if that's nostalgia, or comparing the show to what's on nowadays (which I guess is nostalgia of a kind too), or just having hindsight and the big picture. Or maybe it's being older and less fickle and judgmental. (HA! No.) In any case, I remembered this season starting slowly and wobbly...ly, but actually this disc is pretty decent, showing off how nicely the writers, directors and actors have settled into the show, even if the story isn't moving so swiftly.

I remember being hugely disappointed by "Anne" originally, and that feeling definitely holds when you watch it directly after "Becoming." From a storytelling perspective, I understand how it's important to show where the characters are now after the events of last season, before bringing them back together. But if this were, say, a movie, it would be a brief prologue before getting on with it, instead of an entire week's installment that we have to wait impatiently to move on from. Fortunately, now we don't have to wait! And now I can appreciate the good here too.

I love the handling of the exposition in the opening scene, with the Scoobies trying - badly - to pick up in Buffy's absence. I love the first day of school sequence, which includes not just our heroes but a bunch of supporting players, like Gay Larry (but no Jonathan?). It's the after-school-special-ness of the runaway teen stuff that bugs. And the excess of mopey Buffy scenes. I get it, and she's certainly earned her sadness, but it's just no fun to watch. See also season six, but at least then she wasn't separated from the rest of the cast. The fun chemistry everyone else has, even while they're wallowing, is delightful.

Holy 1998!: Giles references getting a meal on a flight. Xander and Cordelia haven't been in touch all summer, which she's spent in Mexico; no email, no Facebook - though her family's rich, you'd think she could spring for an international call.

Quoterific: "If we can focus, keep discipline, and not have quite as many mysterious deaths, Sunnydale is gonna rule!"


Dead Man's Party
This episode is also a lot better than I remember it. The MOTW is lame but it's not actually about that at all. I love Buffy best when the characters behave like real high school students, and so many of the interactions here have that quality. Alyson Hannigan continues her MVP streak from the end of last season, with her totally believable awkwardness around Buffy, and the big group confrontation at the end is great (though I'm not sure even teenagers would be so crass as to have that fight in front of all those random people).

That's So 1998: Joyce's book club read The Deep End of the Ocean. Willow calls Buffy's house when she's running late to meet her somewhere else entirely.

Quotetastic: "It's angry at the room, Mom. It wants the room to suffer."
…and one I still use now and then: "Chock full of hoot with just a leetle bit of nanny."


Faith, Hope and Trick
Has David Boreanaz been in the opening credits all season and I just didn't notice? He's been around in dream sequences, but that seems like a bit of a giveaway, especially given how this show liked to play with the credits later on.

Anyway, Faith's first appearance is a little meh, maybe because the episode is so stuffed, with the apparent introduction of the new Big Bad (I love that fake-out, and I also enjoy Mr. Trick so much more now that I know he's not going to be around for very long), Buffy's return to school, and a gigantic dose of Willow-Oz quirky adorableness. I love that Buffy spots a vampire by his outdated clothing and dance moves, a trick from the movie. And aw, Giles. "There is no spell." The development of his fatherly relationship with Buffy is so slow, all the way through the series, and it's awesome.

It's never occurred to me before but Faith kind of makes no sense. Buffy's supposed to be an anomaly, not found and trained as a small child, raised in isolation from other people. Faith seems to have lived a pretty full life as a juvenile delinquent, before being called to slayage a few months ago when Kendra died. It makes her a great character, but it makes Buffy a little less special. Though I guess so does all of season seven.

Quotalicious: "So I told him that I loved him, and I kissed him. And I killed him."


Beauty and the Beasts
This is the weakest episode of this batch, with a repeat of "drugs are bad" plus a whole bunch of "hey, maybe don't beat women mmkay?" And worse, it's muddled. Pete's a monster all on his own…except he's not, he made potions or whatever that fucked him up. I feel like the point is that there's a vampire and a werewolf out there but the real monster is this abusive guy, and making him even a little supernatural undermines that, in a way the show rarely did. Plus, as well-drawn as the world of the high school is, with its Larrys and Jonathans, it's a pretty safe bet that if a new character is introduced and he has more than five lines, something's up. Which makes the whole "is the killer Oz or Angel" thing here pretty suspense-free.

And how did Buffy get pants on Angel?

I do love that Giles' watcher books would be listed in the card catalog. And Giles' tranquilized pratfall is, well, "right bloody priceless."

Now That's What I Call 1998: I don't know if this is actually a 90s thing but what's with all the red pants? Like primary red. Netflix red. Willow had a pair in the last episode, and Xander has them in this one. I've noticed them before on the show. Nothing against them, it just seems like A Thing.

I got nothing for quotes on this one. Yawn.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Netflix Queue Challenge: Country Strong

I was so bored by this movie even the prospect of writing about it puts me to sleep. What a disappointment! I was expecting campy ridiculousness along the lines of Burlesque or Showgirls but it was all just such a downer. I guess it's a compliment that it wasn't laughably bad? But it wasn't actually good either, just self-serious and plodding. It's so badly paced and so awkwardly written, that when the big secret the movie's been hinting about for over an hour was finally revealed, I had to rewind because I missed it.

The performances are fine, I guess. It's hard to tell. I have nothing against Gwyneth and I thought she did a good job with both the acting and the singing. It was nice to see Leighton Meester doing a pretty big 180 from Gossip Girl (the only thing I've seen her in). The men were utterly bland and forgettable. I don't really care for country music, but as far as I could tell the music was well done. I especially liked how much Leighton Meester's songs sounded like Taylor Swift.

Oops, yeah, I've bored myself. It's so disappointing when a fun bad movie turns out to just be bad.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Netflix Queue Challenge: Die Hard

Until last weekend I had never seen Die Hard. I'm not really sure how I missed it. I was a little too young to see it in the theater (though really exactly the right age for it in general, no matter what the MPAA thought), and like so many movies I just never got around to it later. It's definitely not the sort of movie I'd want to watch edited for television, though I don't remember ever making a conscious choice not to watch it. And it's entered the culture so thoroughly that I both feel like I've sort of seen it already, and like there's no way I wouldn't be disappointed in it.

But I wasn't! I really liked it. And I was surprised how few of the details I actually knew, and how much those details really mattered. I also had no idea how 80s it was. I mean, obviously, I knew it was made in 1988, but I mean self-consciously so. John is a fine, upstanding, hardworking, blue-collar guy, and we'll prove it by showing you other characters with every cliched signifier of yuppie douchebaggery, with the conspicuous consumption and the cocaine and the - gasp! - independent career woman. The slimy coworker could have been from The Wedding Singer. That's not a criticism, it was just a surprise. I expect these things to be more natural when they're actually of the period, but of course it's not like people living in a time aren't aware of their own cliches. I guess nowadays it would all be recession references and everyone tweeting all the time.

It's interesting how in a film like this I can completely accept whatever huge ridiculous things they throw at me, but the little things drive me nuts. Especially if they're not related to the action. Maybe I spent too much time temping in the aughts, but would they really let Bruce Willis walk right into that building without calling the person he was visiting or even taking his name? And with a gun? Fighting terrorists barefoot, dropping C4 down an elevator shaft, totally fine. The security guard knowing that the 30th floor is having a party? Nope.

Anyway, hardly a revelation to say "Die Hard is good." It's been said by many others very well, including quite recently. The surprise, I guess, is that after 23 years of hype I still thought it was great.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

On Fall TV

I'm excited about the fall TV season in a way that I haven't been for a long time. I'm not really sure why. Maybe I'm just excited about fall, being completely over this hot summer. Also, for some reason this year my commute - on both ends and on the train itself - is practically wall-to-wall print ads for TV. So I've had this sense of "OMG the fall season is coming! I have to figure out what I'm watching!" Good job, advertisers! Also, I've been looking at these for weeks without much else to go on. For whatever reason, I haven't seen many commercials for the season, and the preview articles are only just coming out. I paid some attention to internet buzz during the upfronts and the TCA press tour, but mostly I was more interested in fake shows. So - and this is weird for me - there are a bunch of shows I'm going to try that I know next to nothing about. Good job again, advertisers! (This same tactic has also had the opposite effect: The print ads for the new NBC comedies are so off-putting that I can't imagine ever watching them even if they turn out to be great.)

Anyway, here's what I've got planned for the season.


Monday
Monday is a weirdly full night this fall! Weird because it's not usually, and because I'm making weird choices. I should say that I don't watch a lot on the computer, and I always forget about on-demand. For someone who used to work at night at have very complicated schemes for programming the VCR for nearly everything I watched, I've become completely lazy in the age of the DVR. I want my shows delivered to a list, with as little thought required as possible. This is even the first season in a while I've given this much thought to my new show schedule. So if I have more than two things in one block, I generally have to make a choice. If it's really worth it I'll download it or catch up later, but at this stage in the season it's hard to say what's worth it. So having four shows at once at 8:00 on Monday is presenting a problem!

How I Met Your Mother
I really like HIMYM, and even in these last couple of not-great seasons I find it reliably funny and the characters reliably likable. Yes, even Ted. So this one's a definite keeper.

Gossip Girl
I'm conflicted about Gossip Girl, and this might be the year I give it up. It's always been good trashy fun, full of stage actors slumming it or people I know (they shoot in NYC, so for a while it was the Law and Order for the Spring Awakening set), but I almost quit last year because it really went off the rails. The characters got less likable (or less fun to hate) and supporting players who I liked were around less. I stuck with it though and the second half of the season got some of the old magic back, but I'm not sure I need to pick it up again. I'm undecided.

The Sing-Off
I'm not at all ashamed by how much I've enjoyed The Sing-Off before, though an a cappella contest is obviously not essential viewing. I suspect I'll skip it. Plus, it's two hours long and loaded with filler, so I can always just watch the second hour, which has no conflicts.

Terra Nova
I'm curious about this one, but if I stick with Gossip Girl I'll skip it. If it's good, it's the kind of show I'd probably like, but the odds of it being any good seem sooooooo slim. I don't know much about it, except that it's been fraught with production problems, and that's never a good sign. And it's expensive, so likely to get canceled if it's not a quick hit. I want to support major network sci fi, but not if it's awful!

The Playboy Club
I don't expect to make it through a whole season of this, but I'm curious to see what it's like. Laura Benanti is in it and I love her, and I could use a new stylish prime time soap. Assuming it is actually stylish and not tacky, sexist, or worse, tedious.


Tuesday
Glee
Glee is frequently terrible but I almost always enjoy it anyway. Even when it's bad I always find it interesting. And I usually enjoy the music, and Brittany's one-liners and Quinn's reaction shots. I prefer the sadder episodes to the wackier ones, so Kurt's pretty reliable for me. I can't argue with anyone's criticisms of this show, but it just works for me. Plus I got hooked on The Glee Project this summer so I'm looking forward to seeing how they awkwardly shoehorn all those new "actors" into the show.

New Girl
I was super-skeptical about this. I still am. But I like Zooey Deschanel, even if I don't quite buy the idea of her as someone who has trouble getting dates and generally hate forced "quirkiness." But the pilot is free on iTunes right now and I actually really enjoyed it! The cast has great chemistry, and it's a little...not dark, exactly, and not as mean as Cougar Town (which I got turned on to and totally hooked on this summer), but there's an edge to it that makes me believe these people could exist outside of a sitcom. I especially like the concept of the "douchebag jar." The writing actually makes Zooey convincingly nerdy and socially awkward (the flashback to her as a child is maybe my favorite moment of the pilot, mostly for the casting of the girl), and slightly crazy in a way that's fun to watch but could easily be off-putting on a date. I'm in. We'll see if the appearance of Justin Long later in the season changes that. The douchebag jar is gonna be full!

Ringer
Do I need to explain why this is awesome? Sarah Michelle Gellar as twins! One of whom is eeeeeeevil! If this isn't the most fun show of the season I will be very very disappointed.


Wednesday
The X-Factor
I probably won't actually watch this, but I'm curious enough to check it out. I miss having Paula Abdul on my TV, strange as that may seem.

Modern Family
Again, not much to say. I find MF consistently funny, if occasionally predictable. So there it is.

Happy Endings
ABC burned this off last season and it turned out to be really funny! Who knew? I caught up over the summer and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It shares a lot of DNA with Cougar Town and New Girl. Groups of friends who are amusingly mean to each other in a lovingly snarky way, wall to wall jokes, very little sentimentality. It's not a great show, but I enjoy the tone and find the cast very watchable.

Revenge
I know almost nothing about this show, which is actually sort of fun. I know that Connor Paolo, who played one of the only characters I still like on Gossip Girl, is on it, and that the girl from Everwood looks fabulous on the slightly batshit posters. Since I gather it's some sort of thriller, I'm sort of psyched to go in unspoiled. Hoping it delivers on the camp.

American Horror Story
Again with the batshit, this time the teaser commercials. I just saw a full commercial for this for the first time and it got me really excited. It looks genuinely twisted and very funny. Glee aside, I've never been a big Ryan Murphy fan. Nip/Tuck didn't do anything for me, and I've tried a few times to get into Popular to no avail. And my favorite Glee episodes are rarely the ones he writes. But I find him interesting, and this might be the show that makes me a fan. I'm looking forward to seeing what he does with the genre. And maybe he'll throw in a musical number or two?

Top Chef Just Desserts / Top Chef
I know JD has its haters among original Top Chef fans but I am emphatically not one of them. I love these high-strung weirdos, I love Gail Simmons, and I love dessert. I'm so excited for Craig's inevitable meltdown, which so far is promising to reach "the red hots are for my mommy" levels of awesomeness. And when that's done the new season of original flavor will start, and I enjoy even a weak season of TC, if only for the food porn.


Thursday
Community
I just don't know about Community. I never loved the first season, though there were some great high points. Season two had it's share of those too, but also such low lows that it wasn't worth it. I'm inclined to give it another chance, but I'm not sure it's worth the time. I can always wait for the internet to tell me what's paintball-worthy and watch those episodes later.

Parks and Recreation
A show I didn't think I'd like that I totally love. So glad I gave it another chance with the second season. Thanks, Extra Hot Great and Pop Culture Happy Hour!

Vampire Diaries
I just love this ridiculous show. I think there's enough good bad television this season that I won't really miss Gossip Girl.

Person of Interest
I like Michael Emerson a lot. I like shows that shoot in New York. A friend of mine is working on this and I want to support her. But I also have two other shows this hour and this one doesn't really look all that promising, so I may just skip it.

Grey's Anatomy
I've stayed loyal to Grey's all this time, and felt rewarded when last season was actually really good (whiny Meredith aside, but that's the price of admission for the show). So I'm not about to give it up now.

The Secret Circle
It's Dawson's Creek with witches!! Programmed with Vampire Diaries. Clearly The CW knows what it's doing. Feels a little like old-school WB and I'm super psyched. (Or it could be Eastwick. We'll see.)

Project Runway
I stopped paying much attention to PR but Boy kept watching it, so I saw most of the last couple of terrible seasons. This season it got good again! So I'm back in. In fact I'm watching this week's as I write this, and Bert and Eyebrows are having a giant flaming fight. Damn good stuff.

Archer
I've written about Archer before, so I'll just say that I'm soooo glad it's back this week!


Friday
A Gifted Man
The show on this list I know the least about. I like Patrick Wilson and he looks gorgeous on the poster. That's pretty much it. I only learned the other day that Jennifer Ehle is in it too, and I love her! There seems to be some good buzz, despite it being on CBS on Friday nights.

Grimm
Obviously this will be terrible, but I'm intrigued. Isn't there another fairy tale show slated for midseason? And I'm still sad these got picked up and Ron Moore's supernatural cops pilot.


Sunday
The Good Wife
I love love love this show. Great writing, great acting (especially the constant parade of NYC theater people). And this year Alicia has a new, much better wig!

Pan Am
Another one I'm intrigued by but not so optimistic about. I like Christina Ricci, I like stylish period dramas, I'm interested in the golden age of air travel or whatever. It could be fun! Or it could be deeply dull.


So that's my fall TV. Looking at it on a grid it doesn't look like too much (it's a lot, but I've always watched a lot of TV) but after writing all this out it feels like too much! I mean, not that there's ever too much TV. And there are enough new shows that fall into the curious-but-questionable category that I'm confident that by midseason I'll have plenty of time for Smash! and Good Christian Belles. Still, it doesn't bode well for the Buffy rewatch or the Netflix Queue Challenge. I'll report back in a few weeks!

Monday, September 05, 2011

Netflix Queue Challenge: Romy and Veronica Mars' Summer Camp Sci Fi Reunion

August kind of got in the way of my big plans to rewatch lots of old TV and tear through my Netflix queue. I blame Bravo and Logo, mostly. But I did watch some movies and then didn't get around to blogging about them. It turns out, not too surprisingly, that these are much less fun to write when I enjoy something without having a strong opinion about it than when I really love or hate something. Anyway, here are some short reviews.


Romy and Michele's High School Reunion
I was a little nervous to watch this, for fear that it would be too much for the same friends who were already mad at me for not liking Clueless if I didn't like it. But I really liked this one! I wanted to see it when it came out, but didn't, and it just never made its way to the top of my queue. In the meantime, I forgot what it was about, or maybe I never knew. I mean, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, obviously. But is there another movie where two women kill someone at their high school reunion, or did I make that up? Either way, that's not this! I knew it was a comedy but wasn't prepared for just how weird it is. Or for how great the supporting cast is. It's ridiculous, but if anyone can pull off ridiculous it's Lisa Kudrow, Alan Cumming and Jeanine Garofalo (Mira Sorvino less so but I enjoyed her too). And (spoiler alert!) this is the most amazing thing ever:



You Again
This is a formulaic, completely predictable comedy, of the sort I think we're seeing a lot of lately, but I thoroughly enjoyed it thanks to the cast. Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Victor Garber, and Sigourney Weaver could basically sell me any movie. Betty White and Kristin Chenoweth are doing schtick we've seen from them a million times, but they're used sparingly so it stays pretty funny. I can't say this is a good movie, but I found it delightful anyway.


Wet Hot American Summer
I really didn't think I was going to like this. I'm not much of a comedy nerd, and tend not to like a lot of the people in this who comedy nerds go crazy for (I like a lot of them too, which is the nice thing about a giant cast like this). And I figured ten years of hype would work against it. But it's totally fun! (Duh.) I've never seen most of the camp movies it's parodying, but I feel like they got camp itself really right (even though I went to a very different sort of camp), and I appreciated that affection and grounding in reality as things got completely ridiculous. It's hardly a revelation to say Wet Hot American Summer is funny. But it's maybe a little shocking that I liked it, given my usual reactions to...everything.


Doctor Who: The City of Death
Well, this is just terrible. When I started watching the Doctor Who reboot (which I love), I checked out an original serial just to get a sense of what it was. I accidentally chose wisely, with a story ("The Genesis of the Daleks") that was fairly enjoyable, and which I guess was Russell T. Davies' favorite too, since things from it came up over and over again in the new series, including one of the actors. I know not to expect too much from the original series, but every once in a while I read about an old story on io9 or AV Club and toss it in my queue. I might stop doing that. I wish I could remember what made me pick this one because there's absolutely nothing to recommend it, not even as camp. It's deathly dull. I know that there are better episodes than this, but with 25 years worth to choose from it seems that more are awful than not, and it's hard to believe the show, well, ran for 25 years! I'm glad it did, because it gave us the new version, and I know the original was for kids and all, but...it's just not any good. I try not to make blanket statements like that, since my taste is not yours and whatever, but trust me on this one.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Buffy Rewatch: Season 2, Episodes 21-22

Becoming, Parts 1 and 2

I wanted to watch "Becoming" when I knew I'd have time to watch both episodes at once, and then August happened and here we are. But it was worth the wait. I don't want to declare a favorite episode until I finish the series again, and I know there are some amazing ones in Season 3, but this has always been one of my top choices, especially for the pure emotional impact of the ending. But I'd forgotten how funny parts of it are, mostly thanks to Willow ("Are we experiencing a chair shortage?" "I haven't read about— oh.") and Spike ("It's a big rock. I can't wait to tell my friends. They don't have a rock this big."). I love Xander's anger, which has evolved nicely from jealousy to making some really valid points about Angel. It's great to see Darla again (that turned into a surprisingly long gig for Julie Benz).

There's some bad: The accents, the flashback wigs, Willow's hospital scrub/pajama/what the hell is that? dress (seriously, when she actually is in hospital scrubs, it could totally be her clothes). Whistler bugs me like really a lot with his stupid hat and his stupider accent. Are we meant to believe that Angel has been a crazy homeless guy for 100 years? The awkward retconning of the Buffy movie, and the slightly creepy revelation that Angel was stalking her for over a year.

But I'm searching for quibbles, really, and all of that goes up in smoke like an immolation-o-gram ("And you fall for it every single time!") with how good this episode is. It's a perfect end to the season and all that the characters have been through, while laying the groundwork for amazing things to come. Joyce finds out that Buffy's the slayer ("I mean, have you tried not being a slayer?"). Willow does witchcraft (it's the first time, right?), Spike and Buffy form an uneasy alliance ("I like the world.... Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs."). Xander tells Willow he loves her (and she calls for Oz). Our second mention of the Mayor. Everything feels completely earned, if not inevitable. We've been building not just to the big finish but to all the little moments in these episodes all year. All series, really. One of the things I've always loved about this show is how the characters keep growing and changing, almost always in believable ways.

It's such a downer ending. It makes sense - everyone's done a lot of growing up this year, and the stakes seem much higher than they did with the Master. But it's a little funny knowing there are five more near apocalypses to come.

Serious props to Christophe Beck for the score in this episode too. The music on early Buffy can feel a little cheap, a little original Star Trek fight musicy. But to this day I can't hear "Close Your Eyes" on my iPod without welling up a little.

Speaking of "Close Your Eyes," I must have seen the end of these episodes way more than I've seen the beginning, because (I'm a little embarrassed to admit this) I never realized before that Darla says "Close your eyes" to Angel before she kills him, just as Buffy does before she...kills him again. Yay rewatch!

Grrr argh guy needs a hug!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Some random links and videos in stuff in lieu of a proper post

Oops, I haven't been doing so well with the blogging thing lately. It happens. I've actually been making decent headway on the Netflix Queue Challenge, but not posting about it.

And I'm not going to now. Just some quick links and things I felt like sharing….

First, of course, a bunch of Muppety things:

In case you missed it the other day, this video with OK Go and the Muppets is deeply weird and pretty great. I actually kind of hate the hipster arrangement of the song, but the video is fun, especially the very last scene. Rowlf and sheep are both pretty sure-fire winners.


I was surprised how much I like the rest of the album that's from, a collection of bands I've mostly never heard of covering songs the Muppets made famous. Doesn't it sound insufferable? But it mostly totally works for me! In the same way I find Jason Segal's Muppet love endearing, I like the idea that these musicians have been fantasizing about getting an opportunity to do this for their whole lives. Especially the guys who did "Movin' Right Along." You can, for now at least, listen to the whole thing at NPR.

Finally, Boy and I went to the Jim Henson exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image last week. I was a little disappointed that there weren't more puppets, props, etc., but the focus was less on the Muppets and more on Henson as an individual artist. There was lots of fabulous artwork and insight into his thought and design process. And yes, there were Muppets - some replicas made for the exhibit by the Muppet Workshop, but also a delightfully worn Bert and Ernie, and some beautiful props and costumes from The Dark Crystal.

My favorite part of the exhibit was a bunch of old commercials they made in the 60s. They're deeply, deeply weird and dark! I guess nowadays we have the Schick bush-trimmer ad and pretzel M&M's, but I still found these somehow shockingly strange.

This one was my favorite:


This was a close second:


These are pretty great too:


(You can really fall down a YouTube hole with these.)


Okay, done with Muppets! Some more odds and ends...

Funny Or Die feels the same way I do about the Netflix price hike:


Last year when I posted about Facebook, I said that one of the only privacy things I'd like to see changed is the fact that tagged photos of you go live without your prior approval. And they just changed that! I'm sure it had nothing to do with me! Still, it's a good thing.

Last but certainly not least, Michaela is continuing her Buffy rewatch and writing great stuff. She's quickly catching up to me, which isn't why I haven't watched "Becoming" yet, but it might work out nicely. I wanted to share this story:

I remember, way back in 1997, the teasers for this episode promised that we would meet Buffy's very first boyfriend (of course, we learn in the actual ep that she just had a crush on Ford in 5th grade). And at the time, discussing with Adam807 how awesome it would be if it were a guest spot by Luke Perry as Pike. I share this anecdote merely to illustrate that we've ALWAYS been this way.

It's true, we have.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Buffy Rewatch: Season 2, Episodes 17-20

I took a break from the Buffy rewatch for a few weeks (longer than it's been since my last post - I spaced the entries out a bit so as not to over-Buffy) and it's probably for the best, since after the four strong episodes of the last disc, this one is more uneven, with one of my all-time favorite episodes and one of my…not.

Passion
Oof, that is some bad Angel voiceover. And a truly tragic sweater on Willow. But this episode (by Ty King, a non-regular Buffy writer getting a pretty heavy mythology episode) gets better as it goes along, with a cute joke about how no one uses the library as a library, and a great scene between Giles and Jenny ("I know you feel betrayed." "Yes, well, that's one of the unpleasant side effects of betrayal."), then settling into some exposition-heavy setup for the end of the season. And hey, Willow's Jewish! And it's worth going over to Xander's to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas just to see him do the Snoopy dance! There's a great balance of lightness and darkness. The cast has really gelled and the writing and acting reflect where the gang is as friends, and how they're able to joke with each other, without ever forgetting the real danger they're in, and then showing us that danger in full force.

Jenny's death still shocks, even knowing now how much Joss Whedon likes to kill off his characters, especially right after they've reconciled with a loved one. Even after the lengthy chase sequence, the murder itself is so quick that it feels sudden, and it's violent in a way the show rarely gets (toward humans anyway). And I still remember how sad I was to see her go the first time around. Giles' discovery of her body, as orchestrated by Angel, is heartbreaking. Angel watching through the window as Buffy and Willow get the phone call about her death and Buffy's scene with Giles outside the warehouse, equally so. This episode is even better than I remember it - that opening voiceover really isn't fair to it.

I don't want to dwell on the clothes here - it's not my area and I wouldn't want anyone blogging about my high school wardrobe…or today's for that matter - but in one scene Xander is wearing a baggy flannel shirt and has boy band hair. In the next he has a color-blocked sweater that I can only describe as "Mark Cohen" (sorry, non-theater-people) and plaid…pajama bottoms? He is 1998.

And one nitpick I never noticed before: Why would a computer program that Jenny designed herself be called "Translator Pro" and have a ™ symbol next to it?


Killed By Death
Now this is just unfortunate. I don't even want to write about it (and hey, these posts are getting longer than I intended anyway). It manages to rip off both Freddy Krueger (even the score cribs from Elm Street) and the also terrible S1 "Nightmares" episode. After last week's great chemistry and raised stakes, here the cast is split up, and things move very slowly. Angel feels shoe-horned in. The one bright spot is this line from Cordelia: "Tact is just not saying true stuff. I'll pass."


I Only Have Eyes For You
Now this is how you do it! This is basically a monster-of-the-week episode, but perfectly integrated with the season arc. There's even a blink-and-you-miss-it setup of next season's arc, with our first mention of the Mayor! Marti Noxon gives new viewers a little catch-up with Buffy's perfectly in-character line, "Do you remember my ex-boyfriend the vampire? I slept with him, he lost his soul and the demon that wears his face is killing my friends. The next impulsive decision I make will involve my choice of dentures." which tells them everything they need to know to understand what it means when Angel shows up later, and we're off.

This is one of my top ten favorite Buffy episodes (it may be one of my top ten favorite anything episodes) and every time I watch it I forget that Christopher Gorham is in it and get to be delighted again when he shows up. (I've liked him and found him adorable since long before he got buff and started taking his shirt off on Covert Affairs.) The ghosts reliving the night they died bit seems sort of old-hat, but it gets a nice twist here when Buffy and Angel get possessed, with both the clever gender-switch and the fact that Angel can't die like he's "supposed" to. Giles' giddy excitement over the possibility of paranormal activity, like we saw in Phases, is adorable, and his later insistence that the ghost must be Jenny is as heartbreaking as the Buffy/Angel scenes.

I hate to do this to an episode I love so much, but I have to play Continuity Cop for a second: Jenny's lesson plans were on her computer? But her computer burned, destroying the soul-restoring spell, two episodes ago. To be fair, I've never noticed this before in all the times I've watched this. I guess that's a drawback of the rewatch on DVD.

Ghost possessions aside, how much must it suck to be the janitor at Sunnydale High?


Go Fish
I almost didn't watch this one. And you know what? It's not so bad! It's hampered by two major things: Bad rubber monster costumes, and its bizarre placement at the end of the season. After the emotional bombshell of "Eyes," and with just two more episodes left in the season (arguably the two best episodes of the whole series), it's just weird to have a mediocre MOTW episode at this point.

But it's kind of okay! I mean, I'm all for swim teams after all. It's clunky both in concept and execution. For instance, they dress Xander in the baggiest clothes possible throughout the episode, presumably to highlight his Speedoed hotness, but it's not like we haven't seen his body before. Speaking of which, why is Cordelia so surprised that Xander has a good body? I mean, sure they haven't been naked together, but it's not like she doesn't grope him all the time. And speaking of groping, where has Oz been this whole disc?

And what a complete waste of the amazing Conchata Ferrell as a school nurse with maybe ten lines who becomes fish food. She could have been a really fun recurring character. She has great chemistry with Principal Snyder for the 30 seconds they're onscreen together.

And of course there's the overall clunk, with the whole "Steroids turn people into monsters!" thing. It's even worse than the "The internet is a demon!" thing. But compared to "Killed By Death" it's kind of genius.


"Becoming" is up next, and I'm going to save that for the weekend...or the next time I need a good cry.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Netflix Queue Challenge: Follow My Voice (With the Music of Hedwig)

I was a huge fan of Hedwig and the Angry Inch during its original off Broadway run, and it remains one of my favorite musicals with some of my favorite songs. A couple of weeks ago I saw a production of it on a work trip - my first time seeing it onstage in over ten years - so when I was browsing my instant queue, Follow My Voice, with its picture of John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig on the cover, jumped out at me. It's another one I'd forgotten existed.

Follow My Voice is a very confused documentary, about a handful of kids at the Hetrick-Martin Institute's Harvey Milk School, an NYC public high school primarily for gay and lesbian kids, about the school itself, and about the making of an album of the songs from Hedwig benefiting the Institute.

As lovely as all those things are, at least two of them don't really make the same movie. And the two movies they do make...both kinda boring. The kids are super-sweet, but most of them are not terribly interesting. Don't get me wrong: All of them come off as nice and smart, and they have genuinely heartbreaking backstories, but watching their lives at Harvey Milk just isn't very compelling. I think I'm a reasonably interesting person but I wouldn't want to watch a movie about me either. In some ways I think the movie suffers from its lack of budget. Much of it is made up of video diary entries by the kids, and it looks like other sections were also shot by them and their friends on those same cameras. Their families are much discussed but (not surprisingly) not present in the film at all. In one scene we see the school talent show, and are told that one of the subjects, an MTF transexual, is going to sing Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful," but then we don't get to hear her do it, I assume because they couldn't afford the rights. I get it, but it's weird to set up what probably would have been a very emotional moment and then not actually show that moment.

That said, the parallel story about putting together the Wig in a Box album pales in comparison to the legitimately hard lives the kids have had, and the attempts to match up the music with their stories come off as forced. There's some nice performance footage. Watching The Polyphonic Spree record "Wig in a Box" was fun, and setting a montage of the kids getting ready for prom was maybe obvious but totally delightful to watch. Other song choices were less inspired. I really liked the segment about the unconventionally beautiful girl with the burgeoning modeling career, but scoring it with "Origin of Love" was a stretch at best, a bizarre disconnect at worst. But I'm not made of stone. Setting graduation to Cyndi Lauper's rendition of "Midnight Radio,"* and the protests on the first day of the Harvey Milk School as a fully accredited high school to "Tear Me Down" are both geniusly manipulative, weep-inducing choices.

So, not a bad movie, but one that seems like maybe it didn't need to be made. I'd have been much more interested in a deeper look at the school and the Institute, and the struggles of its students. Instead of watching this film, go buy the album to hear some great songs and support a great cause.


*I was lucky enough to see Cyndi Lauper live a couple of years ago during one of her big gay "True Colors" tours, and during the encore she did "Midnight Radio" with surprise guest John Cameron Mitchell. I nearly wet myself. I was compelled to look it up on YouTube during that segment of the movie, so now you can wet yourself too!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Dog Days of Summer Movies: Camp

My second - and last :( - "Dog Days of Summer Movies" post is up at Tomato Nation, this one on Camp. This one wasn't on Sarah's list; I'd seen it and loved it when it came out, and it seemed to fit well with the theme, and be an interesting companion to Summer Stock - one classic "Let's put on a show!" movie, one modern.

It turns out Camp has nothing in common with Summer Stock (both have songs and ill-advised romances, I guess) and also was a much worse movie than I remember it being, but it was still fun to watch again and write about.

Read it here!

Netflix Queue Challenge: Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure

I honestly don't remember putting Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure in my Netflix queue. But it keeps coming up in my suggestions of things Netflix thinks I'd like, and there was a trailer on the Tangled DVD. I finally gave in and it was already there. This explains a lot about my queue. There are things in it that I not only don't remember putting there, I don't remember they exist.

But I do love High School Musical. I am not ashamed. I DVRed the original one day at the height of its popularity because I figured I should see what all the fuss was about. I mean, I love and work in musical theater, and this thing was allegedly getting kids interested in musical theater, so I should take a look. And honestly, they had me at the basketball number. I watched the second one completely excuse-free, and saw the third one in the theater. I went to the ice show. (Okay, small excuse there: I was just deeply curious to know how the hell that was going to work, especially the aforementioned basketball number.) And I had a blast. For a while HSM was the only thing I could have a conversation about with Boy's niece. And then one day even she was like, "Wait, why do you know so much about High School Musical?"

I just like them. They know exactly what they are, and they're fun, and they're pretty well made. The songs are perfectly crafted, hopelessly catchy pop songs - not exactly Sondheim but they do what they need to do and make me happy when they shuffle up on my iPod. These are not great movies, or great musicals, but they're perfectly enjoyable fluff.

I also like Ashley Tisdale. She's very funny hamming it up as the "villain" of the HSM movies, and while I didn't stick with the show, I really liked her on Hellcats, taking a character who could've been a hateful cliche and making her both real and charming. So yesterday, as I enjoyed a very lazy solo Couch Saturday, I figured I'd give it a shot.

Turns out, a little Sharpay goes a long way. As you know, I watch a lot of crap. So it says a lot that I couldn't finish this, even as background to reading. It's not just bad, it's boring. This is not a character that needed to be revisited (none of them do, really — who wants to find out that Troy wound up mowing lawns at the golf course while Gabriella got fat having 5 kids? Oh come on, you know that's what happens!) and the new characters are even more bland than the original HSM crew. And look, I don't need something like this to be realistic (no one goes angry-dancing through golf courses either), but what is with people on TV befriending stage doormen and getting let into empty, perfectly lit theaters, completely unsupervised? This does not happen. I mean, I get it, it's a stupid showbiz fantasy movie, but all fantasy needs rules that make sense to be believable. And while I'm at it, Toronto does not look even remotely like New York, you can't rent furnished apartments in luxury co-ops (can you? I mean, there are luxury rentals, but a "plot" point here hinged on the co-op board), and casting directors don't cast dogs, animal trainers do. And all that was just in the 30 minutes I actually watched!

On the bright side, Sharpay's mom is Nan Flanagan from True Blood! And the Wikipedia entry for this movie (come on, I had to find out how it ended!) is one of most hilariously badly written things I've read in a while. Read that instead of watching this movie!

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Netflix Queue Challenge: Clueless

I saw Clueless on video with friends in college not long after it came out, and I remember some of those friends being really into it and quoting it, and the entire soundtrack winding up on mixtapes, but I basically don't remember the movie itself at all. I remember enjoying it, but that's pretty much it. It's been on my list to rewatch for a long time, and was recently moved to the top after friends shamed me into it in that How can you not know Clueless ?? kind of way.

…And I sort of hated it. I know! I'm sorry!! This isn't me being contrary. I really wanted to like it! I assumed I would! I mean, I thought I already had once. Maybe you have to be a certain age when you see it? Maybe I actually didn't like it the first time and that's why I don't remember it?

Cher is sort of hateful. I kept waiting for her to get less so, assuming the point was that she started out awful and changed over the course of the movie, but no, she stayed pretty awful. The voiceover does not help this. She has good qualities: she's a good friend, she gives good makeover, she's not as dumb as she seems. But she remains such a brat throughout the movie, I really couldn't stand spending two hours with her. And I like Paul Rudd too much to want him to end up with her.

Mostly I was just bored. None of the famous quotes landed because I'd heard them a million times. Sometimes that results in an "Oh, that's where that's from!" or just a simple recognition of context, but here it made every other line feel totally artificial. (The one exception to this was "He's a disco dancing, Oscar Wilde reading, Streisand ticket holding friend of Dorothy" which I'd totally conflated in my head with this moment from Will & Grace.)

I saw a musical version of Emma earlier this year that was completely charming. Emma is actually intended to be unlikeable (I looked the book up on Wikipedia), but at least in this version she grows a bit and by the end you root for her. In Clueless, I was rooting for a car accident. And I don't really want t criticize the adaptation, because I don't care about Jane Austen, combining Knightly and Churchill into one character makes no sense. [UPDATE: Read the comments to see me get thoroughly schooled on this point.] The whole movie felt to me like someone got stoned and said "Hey, let's update Emma!" but then didn't really bother to do it. It feels cobbled together from so many different high school movies and other bits and pieces, none of which really fit together to make much sense or tell a compelling story or - most egregious - to be very funny.

I'll stop now. I know I'm upsetting some of you. Trust me, I'm as disappointed in me as you are.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Dog Days of Summer Movies: Summer Stock

I was delighted and flattered to be asked to participate in Tomato Nation's Dog Days of Summer Movies Festival with a bunch of really fabulous bloggers. We're assessing summery movies, not like summer blockbusters (so, more Dirty Dancing than Transformers), and having seen the line-up I'm super-excited to read everyone else's posts.

My first post is up today, on the Judy Garland/Gene Kelly not-quite-classic Summer Stock. It's not technically part of the Netflix Queue Challenge because I picked it off of Sarah's list and it wasn't actually in my Netflix queue, but I sort of feel like any classic movie I "should" have seen but haven't should count, even if it's not bringing my queue numbers down. And somehow I've lived 36 years, most of them openly gay, and had never seen a Judy Garland film except for The Wizard of Oz until now. That's not right. This probably wasn't the best place to start, but it does have this classic fabulousness, which, as part of the never-explained show within the show, is just as context-free in the movie as it is here:


Anyway, head over there for the full post, and keep following along all month for what promises to be a lot of fun.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Odds and Ends

I spent some time this weekend catching up on my reading, and discovered this post about Google+ in Slate by Farhad Manjoo. I frequently find Manjoo insufferable (let's not fight over the content of that link, it's the tone I can't stand), so I was surprised to see we'd written almost the exact same post. But hey, nice to be backed up by a major tech columnist.


This made the rounds a few weeks ago, and I resisted posting it because this blog was coming dangerously close to becoming Muppet Call. But as Jenn said, it seems to have been made for me, given my other interests as well:



Related: If you missed the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "inspired by" Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, find it and watch it (that link is to iTunes, but I assume it will be rerun at some point). It's not actually a good Law & Order episode, but as a send-up it's unbelievably brilliant. Cynthia Nixon somehow manages to do an impression of Julie Taymor's face, despite looking nothing like her, and not trying in any way to do her voice. And the costume designer deserves all the awards.


The full trailer for The Muppets came out around the same time, and I held back from posting for the same reason and then forgot about it.

I have mixed feelings. I loved seeing them all there, and it looks like it might be good, but Kermit's voice alone might be enough to make more than a minute of it unbearable. I have larger thoughts on that that I'll reserve until I've seen the whole movie. But also just as I was having that thought, there's that moment with Jim Henson's voice on the car radio, which is a very weird combination of incredibly sweet and incredibly cheap. Which, actually, might define the Muppets at their best. So we'll see.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Buffy Rewatch: Season 2, Episodes 13-16

Surprise
"You think he's too old 'cause he's a senior? Please. My boyfriend had a bicentennial." A much stronger showing for Marti Noxon (it's her 4th episode in a row), who especially nails the Willow/Oz cuteness. (Alyson Hannigan's innate cuteness plays a huge role in this, of course.) And bonus points for "Hey did everybody see that guy just turn to dust?"

But as a setup for the supposed great, tragic love story that is Buffy and Angel, I have to say there's something creepy about a 20-something-year-old guy (or 200-something) telling his 16-year-old girlfriend "You don't have to go to school."

Oh, yeah, and Angel turns evil.


Innocence
Angel bites a woman who is smoking a cigarette and then exhales smoke! That moment is so cool I'll let it slide that the show established in S1 that vampires don't breathe (Angel can't give Buffy CPR).

The "I gave it up to my boyfriend and he turned evil" thing is a wee bit heavy-handed. Much more powerful in the high school drama realm is the look on Willow's face when she sees Xander and Cordelia kissing. "It just means that you'd rather be with someone you hate than be with me." This episode is remembered for the former, of course, which makes it easy to forget how good Alyson Hannigan is in it (this is a strong disc for her, overall). Her small, quiet, "Giles, shut up" when she's realized what's happened between Buffy and Angel is just perfect. And Oz gets one short scene in which to be the most adorable ever.


Phases
I remember being sort of annoyed by this episode when it first aired, since the last two dropped such a huge bomb and except for two short scenes we don't see Angel at all this week (and Buffy seems pretty unbothered). Also, terrible werewolf costume and deeply cliche werewolf hunter. But knowing how much I'd grow to love Oz casts it in a new light. "Is Geordie a werewolf? …Uh-huh. …And how long has that been going on? …Oh, no reason. Love to Uncle Ken."

There are some nice little moments here too, like the reference to Amy's mom in the cheerleading trophy and "They might not look it but bunnies can really take care of themselves." I especially enjoyed Giles' uncontainable delight at werewolves, "one of the classics."

And did anyone realize that Karofsky on Glee is totally Larry?


Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
We're back with the Big Bads and a Marti Noxon script, but all I can focus on is how deeply unflattering Cordelia's pants are in her first scene. It's the most "Oh, 1997" thing all season. Nice to see Amy back. I can't imagine anyone thought she'd keep popping up all the way through the Season 8 comic books. And the writers are playing with witchcraft and relationship vengeance in ways they'd return to. And the scene with Drusilla and Xander is just plain fun.

Michaela's been finding Xander's crush on Buffy annoying in S1 but it pays off really nicely here (not that it ever really goes away, all the way into S8). Xander's been kind of a dick lately, with the I-told-you-so-ing over Angel and the Cordelia, so it's nice to see him being a total good guy with love-spell-struck Buffy, and having a genuinely sweet moment with Cordy at the end.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Get Off My Lawn, Google Plus!

I keep grumping about Google+ on Google+, so I thought I'd join the fray and compile my thoughts here, especially since it relates to my earlier post about Facebook.

The short version is: I don't get Google+. I mean, I get it; it's Facebook. And I already have Facebook. This isn't like saying "I already have Friendster." Right from the start Facebook offered something different. Google+ looks and functions exactly like Facebook. I'm all for competition, and would never say "Why do we need Apple if we already have Microsoft?" but like it or not, a social network isn't just an individual choice like picking a PC or a cola. It's only as good as the people on it, and if no one is on G+ then it's basically useless. I can't see a lot of people wanting to maintain both, or abandoning Facebook entirely, which would be required for G+ to reach a usefulness tipping point.

A lot of people are making the "it's a fresh start" argument. Well, a) A fresh start from what? If you're a Facebook Hoarder it's nobody's fault but your own. And b) If you're a Facebook Hoarder, won't you also be a G+ Hoarder? I've never understood this idea that Facebook is work. It shouldn't be. If it is, maybe you shouldn't be on Facebook. I've always only accepted friend requests from people I actually know. It's not that hard. I don't feel bad at all saying no! Even so, because I used to freelance, I picked up new coworker "friends" at a pretty alarming rate, so I have a pretty big Facebook network. But you know what? If something shows up in my feed from someone I barely know, or I get invited to someone's show I'm never going to see for the millionth time, or something offends me, I block or unfriend that person in the moment. It's not a project, it's not hard. I'm already getting Google+ notifications on my work email that I've been "added" by people I barely know who have obviously just dumped their entire Gmail contact lists in there. A fresh start it ain't.

As for what I share, if someone is my Facebook "friend," it means I have already decided that I'm okay sharing with him. So if a slight acquaintance seems something personal I've put online, well, I chose to put it online. In my current job, I started getting friend requests from work colleagues outside of my actual office, and because of how I use Facebook in a personal way, this was a line I didn't want to cross. But under the circumstances it also seemed rude to say no. So I made a list called "Professional" and set some privacy controls on it, and now whenever I get one of those requests it goes right into that list. It's two clicks.

And speaking of lists, you know that's all "Circles" are, right? Granted, the drag-and-drop interface is sexy, and I get how if you have 500 Facebook friends you're not going to start putting them in lists now, so the newness is appealing there, but, you know, this is something you can do on Facebook too.

I keep getting notifications that new people are "following" me (see above re: the random work contacts I've met once). These are not friend requests. I can't say yes or no to them. So it looks like Facebook, but it's really Twitter? One thing I really like about Facebook is how you get to decide who goes in your network. (One thing I really like about Twitter is how it's open, but they're not the same thing and don't serve the same purpose, and I don't think I want a hybrid.) So I don't have to put these people who follow me into Circles, and I suppose I have the choice to never share anything with them. But the default setting for posting on G+ is Public, and do you really think all those people who wind up on Failbook are suddenly going to understand how to change that? (Can you even change the default, or is it only on a per-post basis? I've looked and can't find a setting.) I do like that it shows up as a big bright button under the post, but hey, click on the padlock icon on Facebook - it's the same thing. Given how few of my very smart friends seem to know that all this stuff exists on FB, I have to question how, once it fills up (if it does), Google+ will be any different, since most people aren't that smart.

I think people think G+ will be the answer to their privacy concerns with Facebook, but Google hardly has a good track record with that, after the Buzz fiasco. Plus, they already have your search history and, for a lot of you, your email, calendar and reading habits. Add a social network and they basically know everything there is to know about you, and if you don't think they're going to find creepy ways to monetize that, you're insane. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm all for making money (off of services we don't pay for directly!) and I'm on record saying that you can't expect anything you post online to be truly private. I'm just saying Google isn't in this for philanthropy. On the iPhone app (which I will grant is very sexy, way better than Facebook's useless app), if I click on "Nearby," I can see a whole list of people I have never heard of before, with their locations. Wanna bet they didn't know they were sharing that with the world? Like I said, if you're concerned about privacy, don't share things online. I'm not blaming Google for that info being there. You shouldn't be posting your location without understanding how the service works. My point is just that your privacy isn't Google's concern any more than it's Facebook's or Twitter's or Foursquare's.

I was on Facebook pretty early, too, when it was still only available to schools. I had an alumni email address from my college and a bunch of interns who insisted I join. I didn't use it for a year, when the next summer's batch of interns found me there. By then it had developed a bit and I got pretty hooked. So I'm fully willing to eat these words a year from now (or less) if enough people do make the switch and the network becomes more useful. I'm not saying it's a bad product (and it's in beta, so anything could happen), just that it replaces something that I don't think needs replacing, without offering any compelling reason to switch. I also expect Facebook to copy G+'s best features, because that's how these things work, and there really won't be any reason to change.

I guess, also, I don't want to start over. The whole point of a social network is its network. I like mine! I like the random assortment of high school friends (and high school enemies) and family and colleagues and real people who I see every day. I like finding random unexpected connections between those people. I like when people from disparate parts of my life get into a conversation in the comments of something I've posted. Starting over makes all that go away until I build it up again. And then G+ will be exactly the same as Facebook in every way, not just the cosmetic ones.


UPDATED: I caught up on some reading this weekend and it turns out Farhad Manjoo said almost the exact same things I said about Google+ in Slate. Nice to know I'm not alone in this! And from what I can gather from his columns, he's an early adopter extraordinaire, and a big fan of Google.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Challenge to the Netflix Challenge

Last week, Netflix raised their prices and Twitter exploded. People are PISSED. And I'm just sort of…not. I tweeted as much and got shot down from a few sides, so I thought I'd explore it here with a few more characters. Sure, I'm a little annoyed by having to pay more, but it's still a pretty damn good deal. Watch as many movies as I want, many of them instantly, for $16 a month? That's amazing! A movie ticket in NYC is up to $13. An iTunes movie rental is $4.99. I have no idea what Blockbuster costs these days (um, does it even still exist?) but back in the day I recall it being around $5 for one movie. So let's put it in perspective.

As one Twitter friend pointed out, it's really amazing that they've kept the price so low for as long as they have. I suspect that people like me who let DVDs sit for months were subsidizing the power users, but with the shift to streaming that model doesn't work anymore. I grant that the percentage of the price increase is distressingly large, and I wonder why they didn't just do a small raise every year. My gym does that, $1 or $2 at a time, and I barely notice. I mean, most things do that. Which I guess is why I can't get too worked up about Netflix.

I wonder if the streaming thing - which is really added value over DVDs, what with the instantness - is what's causing the PR problem here. There's a sense that anything on the Internet is free. Strangely, instant gratification doesn't look like it costs money. We don't see paper and printing and postage and the elves that scan the DVD barcodes when it's zapped to the Wii. But bandwidth is expensive, and so are storage space and licensing fees and Netflix uses a hell of a lot of all three.

This general sense in our society lately that nobody wants to pay for anything - be it music or taxes - has been really bugging me for several years now. That's a whole separate post that I may or may not ever write, but I think it's why all the reactionary complaining struck a nerve. And I am a champion complainer! I get that the economy is bad. I get that I'm very lucky to have a job that I love and that pays me reasonably well and I can afford luxuries like unlimited DVDs. But that's just it - it's a luxury. And it's one that I value. We all make value judgments all the time. I appreciate not just the selection and the service but the ease of use. Look at how much money Apple and Amazon have made by basically hiding the transaction for iTunes and Kindle. It's dangerous and a little scary, but it's also supremely simple in a way that I consider worth paying for. That single click to have something in 30 seconds is well worth 99¢ over the time I'd have to spend searching for something on bit torrent and hoping the file's not corrupted when it gets to me.

I'm not saying I've never downloaded anything illegally (I'm not saying I have either, FCC and RIAA!), just that our expectations of what we "should" be able to get instantly and cheaply are a little out of hand. I think $16 for my insanely long Netflix queue is still a pretty amazing deal, and it's one I can afford. So why get all crazy about it? I'd much rather save that energy for idiots on the subway or the lack of seating or air conditioning in Penn Station.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Buffy Rewatch: Season 2, Episodes 9-12

Hey, are you reading MCM's awesome rewatch recaps too? Because they're awesome! And she started at the beginning, so we're not even covering the same ground yet. Go here for them!

What's My Line, parts 1 and 2
I know a lot of fans turned on Marti Noxon, but I always really liked her writing. Still do. But I find it interesting that she not only got an important two-parter as her first credited episode, but then wrote four out of five in a row. This one strikes me now as very over-written. It has lots of lines I remember even though I haven't seen it in years (including one of my favorite Buffy/Angel exchanges ever: "How do you know [about that]?" "I lurk."), but it's also aggressively quirky in a Diablo Cody sort of way that I guess I liked when I was 23 but find deeply annoying now.

But one of those moments stuck: Xander says to Cordelia, "Come on, if you want to be a member of the Scooby Gang, you've gotta be willing to be inconvenienced now and then." Is this the first use of "Scooby Gang" on the show? In this context it makes perfect sense - Xander is actually using it ironically as a joke. I always found it weird later on when they referred to themselves like that, as if a fan thing had crossed over into the writers' room, but here it makes sense that it's an in-joke with the group.

This is a big episode for the…Scoobies. Willow and Oz finally meet for real, and Xander and Cordelia hook up (which seems as sudden now as it did then; I was actually thinking "Oh, look at how they're laying the groundwork for that" as I watched, expecting it to happen in a few episodes, but then it happened in 5 minutes). This is also our introduction to Kendra, a divisive character who I always liked. But boy is her accent worse than I remember. (And if she's all unsocialized and all slay all the time, why would she dress like that?)

Ted
Not much to say about this one except, "Aw, John Ritter." Also: "So creepy, John Ritter!"

Bad Eggs
Bad episode! Actually, it's not nearly as bad as I remember. But wow, the cowboy vampires. There's some nice stuff with Joyce here, and a conversation about how Buffy and Angel can't have a "normal" future that I'm pretty sure The Vampire Diaries lifted word for word last season.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Buffy Rewatch: Season 2, Episodes 5-8

Reptile Boy
When I picked up the DVDs to resume this rewatch, I groaned about having to start with this episode. Partly, it turns out, because I had it confused with "Go Fish." So I'll groan about that one when I get there. "Reptile Boy" isn't so bad! It's a little heavy-handed (frat boys are eeeeeeevil) but it's actually pretty fun, and Xander gets shirtless. I think I remember it unfondly because I was always a mythology guy, and I wanted to get back to the "real" story.


Halloween
This is one that I remember better than I liked it this time around, but it's still fun. Slutty ghost Willow ("the ghost of what?") is great, and it's a nice turnaround for Xander to get to be soldier boy for a while. SMG's attempt at an accent is painful, and a harbinger of old-timey flashbacks to come. Spike and Dru make an appearance, and the general chaos is fun. But it's oddly paced, and a little clunky.


Lie To Me
I feel pretty well-versed in Season 2 but I guess it's really just the second half, because I haven't seen this one in years either. It's much better than I remember. The vampire wannabes are a bit over-the-top and on-the-nose, but that's kind of the point. Jason Behr's performance is quite good. Most importantly, is this the first time Giles gets to be funny on purpose? His scene with Buffy at the end is funny and incredibly sweet, and really kicks their father-daughter relationship up a notch.


The Dark Age
Weird to have four basically standalone episodes in a row (a whole disc!) in a season that I remember so much for the strength of its mythology. There's some Angel, Spike and Drusilla stuff sprinkled throughout (knowing what I now know about how TV gets written, I feel like they were inserted into this and "Halloween" late in the game), but this episode is all about Giles' backstory, and some adorable awkwardness with Jenny. I didn't remember the actual plot of this one AT ALL. Another one I don't think I've seen in 10 years or more. I never cared for Ethan, and the monster in this one is weirdly ill-defined, but the episode sets up some nice stuff. Jenny just can't have a good day, can she? Also, the kids' talking about their image of Giles, in tweed diapers, and "There should be more math. This could be mathier" is great.