Saturday, July 31, 2004

Season premieres of Cartoon Network's Teen Titans and Justice League Unlimited tonight. (JLU is actually a new series premiere, but it's a sort-of continuation of the previous Justice League cartoon, so let's not split hairs.) While I enjoyed the new Justice League thing just fine, I couldn't shake the feeling that the new concept--instead of a solid cast of the biggest heroes, we get rotating teams made up of all sorts of DC superheroes, ranging from the popular to the obscure--is primarily aimed at the comics fan market, and won't necessarily serve the stories as well as the original concept did. For example, as a longtime fan, I got a certain thrill out of recognizing every single character in this episode, no matter how fleeting or how obscure (and we're talking characters like Vibe, the break-dancing hero from the 80s, and Nemesis, a super-spy character who only ever appeared in backup stories). But the main story, featuring Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Supergirl, and Captain Atom, could have been told just as easily with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. As it is, folks who aren't familiar with Captain Atom get some tantalizing hints about him, but since this may be his only appearance in the series, that's all they get. It feels like a gimmick, but it's still a well-done cartoon, so I'll be sticking with it.

And over on Teen Titans, they continue with their bastardized adaptation of the Terra/Judas Contract story from the original comics series from the '80s, but completely missing the point. The great thing about the original story was that it completely subverted expectations. It introduced a new team member, a cute girl, and then revealed her to be a traitor. Even better, she was a completely unrepentant sociopath, and never turned from the dark side.

In this new, sanitized for kiddies version, Terra is a reluctant betrayer, desperate to find her way back into the light... just the way the original comics readers assumed the original Terra would turn out to be, only to be proven horribly wrong. This version takes the well-worn path that you would expect it to take (she's not really evil, just misunderstood, if only she were given a chance, blah, blah, blah) and it's a story we've seen so many times before, it has zero impact. Again, I still plan on watching the show, but it's a shame to see that, in this case, they seem to have missed the point by a country mile.
Finished Mortal Engines this evening. It was a great action adventure story in a well-realized fantasy/science-fiction setting that I didn't get lost in, and it felt like it had something to say beyond just being entertaining. Weird, wonderful, dark, nasty, and thrilling. It would actually make a great movie, except they'd screw it up. And the story wraps up at the end, instead of just stopping and leaving you waiting for the next book. (But there is a next book, which is nice, because I do want to see what happens to the characters next.)
This also came in today's email, with the subject "Friends Don't Let Friends Vote Republican"

Things you have to believe to be a Republican today:

Saddam was a good guy when Reagan armed him, a bad guy when Bush's daddy made war on him, a good guy when Cheney did business with him and a bad guy when Bush needed a "we can't find Bin Laden" diversion.

Trade with Cuba is wrong because the country is communist, but trade with China and Vietnam is vital to a spirit of international harmony.

The United States should get out of the United Nations, and our highest national priority is enforcing U.N. resolutions against Iraq.

A woman can't be trusted with decisions about her own body, but multi-national corporations can make decisions affecting all mankind without regulation.

Jesus love you, and shares your hatred of homosexuals and Hilary Clinton.

The best way to improve military morale is to praise the troops in speeches while slashing veterans' benefits and combat pay.

If condoms are kept out of schools, adolescents won't have sex.

A good way to fight terrorism is to belittle our long-time allies, then demand their cooperation and money.

Providing health care to all Iraqis is sound policy. Providing health care to all Americans is socialism.

HMOs and insurance companies have the best interests of the public at heart.

Global warming and tobacco's link to cancer are junk science, but creationism should be taught in schools.

A president lying about an extramartial affair is an impeachable offense.

A president lying to enlist support for a war in which thousands die is a solid defense policy.

Government should limit itself to the powers named in the Constitution, which include banning gay marriages and censoring the Internet.

The public has a right to know about Hillary's cattle trades, but George Bush's driving record is none of our business.

Being a drug addict is a moral failing and a crime, unless you're a conservative radio host. Then it's an illness and you need our prayers for your recovery.

You support states' rights, which mean Attorney General John Ashcroft can tell states what local voter initiatives they have the right to adopt.

What Bill Clinton did in the 1960's is of vital national interest, but what Bush did in the '80's is irrelevant.

Just more time-wasting nonsense that shows up in my email and makes me smile...
Almost forgot: read The Searcher and the Sword, the first new ElfQuest book by creator Wendy Pini in I'm not sure how long. When I was a kid, I was a huge ElfQuest fan, at least for the first couple of series that the Pinis (Wendy and her husband Richard) did. Once they began capitalizing on their success and publishing more and more stories by other creators, I began to lose interest. DC Comics has been reprinting the earlier material, so I've been getting reacquainted with that, and I've had the chance to read some of the stuff not done by the Pinis, that they've chosen to include in the DC collections. It's much better than I had expected, and I don't mind reading it in this new format, with them weeding out the stuff that I don't need to read to get the whole story.

Having said that, while the reprints are neat, this new book is something to get particularly excited about. In its way, it's a fairly low-key story, which will disappoint the "I've been waiting however many years for this!" crowd, but was fine for me. It's got all the qualities I remember liking in the series all those years ago, without feeling like a big, blow-out reunion-movie-type story. Her art has certainly evolved. She seems to be taking the same "less is more" approach so many other maturing artists take with their inking, taking out unnecessary fiddly detail and focusing on clarity of storytelling. I'm not sure how much of the actual drawing--as opposed to just the coloring--is done on the computer, but apparently this is a tool Mrs Pini has embraced, and regardless of her medium of choice, it mostly works. (There are one or two instances of CG-elements that don't integrate well, but otherwise, it looks fine.)

The story apparently picks up some time after the last comics left off, but I never read those. There's enough information to catch me up on what's going on, but I obviously can't judge how accessible it would be for a newcomer. I appreciated the way this story eased me back into the series by telling smaller, more personal tales of the characters. ElfQuest, to me, was always about the personalities first, and that's what made it special. It's nice to have it back, to see that it's grown with the passage of time, but it's still the series I remember.
Looking less likely that I'll go to the movies this weekend after all. I just feel like I have too much to do, and while I may not end up doing it, if I go out to the movies, I'll just be thinking about it. And that's part of what ruined Lord of the Rings: Return of the King for me. So better to wait until after the Utah thing, and when I feel like I have some more of the NLA monkey off my back, and can truly enjoy Thunderbirds. (Which, Steve tells me, is actually pretty good, so I want to be able to enjoy it.)
Just had a group of Mormons come to the door asking if I'd like to find a way to happiness through Jesus Christ or somesuch. I explained that I wasn't against happiness as such, but that I wasn't interested in that particular path. They asked if I had talked to someone about their church before, and I told them I had. (Actually, that's not entirely true; I've never sat down with one of them to hear the whole sales pitch, but I've known Mormons, so I have some idea of what it's all about.) And they asked if they could get a glass of water, which I did provide, so all is right with the world.

But I do so hate the idea of people peddling their religion door-to-door. I'm still smarting from the magazine subscription guy who ripped me off last spring, so my tolerance for being bothered at home is pretty low anyway. (Although, only recently, a guy did manage to sell me a discount coupon book thing, but it was discount coupons to the place I already take my car to be fixed, so not really a hard sell.) Guys trying to sell me on their particular organized religion on my doorstep? Not likely to happen.

Meanwhile, back on TV, the two new Stargate series continue to entertain. After their respective big two-hour premieres, both have fallen into the usual pattern of several smaller-scale shows, but neither one have felt particularly cheap or pointless. In the case of Atlantis, we get a chance to learn about the new characters and setting. With SG-1, there's a new dynamic, with Richard Dean Anderson's Jack O'Neal now in charge of the whole Stargate program instead of leading the team. The first two regular episodes showcase the sorts of stories that still keep him involved (while, handily, allowing the production team to primarily set everything in their standing sets). Perhaps not the same sort of required viewing as Rescue Me--let's face it; if you don't like sci-fi, you're probably not going to like a sci-fi show like Stargate--but considering the usual fate of shows based on movies... these two fly in the face of all conventional wisdom.
Schmo Blog

Written by Joe Schmo creator/producer Rhett Reese, the entry "Reality TV" pretty much sums up my current attitude towards the Reality TV genre: like anything, there are individual works (Amazing Race, Joe Schmo, Amish in the City, probably others) worthy of attention, and there are individual works (Isn't Plastic Surgery Neat?, for example) that possibly aren't. So no more dismissing of the entire genre for me.

Today, anyway.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Not sure what prompted me to watch Amish in the City, the new UPN documentary series, but I enjoyed it. My expectation was that the producers would take every opportunity to show the Amish cast bewildered and befuddled by the modern world's sophisticated, complicated way of life (note the sarcastic tone), but that turned out not to be the case at all. Instead, it seems to be about prejudice and intolerance. There's the easy division between Amish and city kids, but even the city kids have their own labels they have to overcome. There's the Gay Guy, the Party Girl, the Militant Vegan who believe cows originated in outer space... There's even a guy from Las Vegas who, right up front, brings up the stereotype that everyone from here lives and works in a casino, and everybody's mother is a stripper.

I think I've made it pretty clear that "reality TV," as a genre, isn't something that particularly interests me. Most of the silly competition type ones (Fear Factor, Who Would Want to Marry My Dad, any of the love ones, really) turn me off, because they just feel so superficial and overblown. I like The Amazing Race, because a race around the world is pretty spectacular. I like Joe Schmo, because it uses the tropes of typical reality TV to create an interesting comedic situation, mixing reality and artificiality. And I liked the first episode of Amish in the City, because it feels like it's about something more than just throwing people together and watching sparks fly.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

For those keeping score at home, I'm now about a third into Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines, the first book of the "Hungry City Chronicles." It's set way, way in the future, where most of Earth's major cities are now mobile, and crawl across the planet devouring smaller towns. There are kid adventurers, mysterious plots involving strange devices, thrilling escapes, and all sorts of derring-do, and it's absolutely nothing like Lord of the Rings. And, today, as I'm waiting for my lunch, I come across a line that just screams Doctor Who influence. How cool is that?
I kind of want to see a movie this weekend, before the Utah Trip, and I have a couple of choices. I can see Catwoman, which I have free tickets for, but by all accounts is every bit as bad as it looks. I can see I, Robot, the new Will Smith sci-fi action movie, which is supposed to be a smart thriller (perhaps not Minority Report starring Will Smith, but better than Men in Black II and Wild Wild Worst... I mean West). I can see the new M. Night Shyamalan movie, The Village, which will probably be a nice art-house horror movie. Or I can see Thunderbirds, the flashy live-action remake of the kids' puppet show. And, so help me, if making Thunderbirds my first choice is wrong, I don't want to be right.

And I [heart] my new DVR.
NewTek Europe - Community

I loved the Gerry Anderson Captain Scarlet puppet series as a kid, even more than Thunderbirds. While the new, live-action Thunderbirds movie has a certain sense of kinetic excitement about it, I'm not sure how I feel about a CGI Captain Scarlet series. Yes, it'll be pacier and flashier than the puppet show, but in CGI, it'll still have a certain stiffness and unrealism... so it's this neither fish nor fowl thing that may just be too reminiscent of the original without bringing anything new to the table.

Or, you know, maybe it'll be great.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Desperate to cling to any positive thought about the upcoming Utah experience, I came up with this: cute botany grad students. But even though I was hardly planning on going out and collecting exotic cuttings, so to speak, this notion immediately came to mind to sour the whole thing: I will probably be the only person there with his parents. (Well, okay, my brother, too, but we're talking about me here.)

And today, I picked up my brand-new High Definition Digital Video Recorder from Cox Communications. No more for me, the tyranny of the videocassette! No more watching fuzzy recorded shows on the crappy TV in the bedroom, because VHS looks horrible on the HDTV! No more only recording one show at a time! No! Free at last!

(And, unlike TiVo, which will actually pick out shows for me, the Cox DVR just records what I tell it to. Because that's all I really wanted: something that would record in high definition, without tapes, but not be all in-my-face about it.)
Outpost Gallifrey: New Series News Page - Photo Page

So here's a decent photo of the Chris Eccleston, by all accounts in costume as the Doctor, and the fan-run Doctor Who News Page is still hedging on whether or not this is what he's going to look like. Because it seems long-time fans just aren't prepared to accept a Doctor who doesn't look like he deliberately picks costumes that make him stand out, but instead chooses clothes the way normal people do, and could, in fact, physically fit in with a normal crowd of people. (Having been to a Doctor Who convention within the last year, I can see where having a Doctor who seems somewhat aware of his own appearance would remove a point of identification for many fans.)

And I'm not even going to look at the message boards to see the latest postings of outrage on the topic, but it the tone is the same as the last time I checked, I am sure I remain planted firmly at the foot of Nerd Mountain. In fact, judging from some reactions I've seen, it'd take a massive team of Sherpas just to get up to the halfway point...
As always, I strive to respect everyone's religious beliefs, but this is the sort of thing that gives Christians a bad name: there's a team on The Amazing Race that constantly describes themselves as Christian. Now, remember, degree in Popular Culture, classes in media studies, decades spent watching TV, I'm no fool. I understand that the show's producers are probably editing the thing in such a way that they look like they talk about their faith a great deal more than they actually do. However, the fact remains that we do see them talking about wanting to bring God's love and happiness into everybody's lives, and we do see them forming short-term alliances with other teams and then betraying them for their own advantage as soon as an opportunity presents itself. We've even seen them outright lying to other teams. Again, all fine; it's a race, and if they weren't playing to win, what would be the point?

However, last night, there was a "detour challenge" where teams had to choose between blocking five hockey shots from pro hockey players and drinking one shot of vodka before moving on to the next part of the race. And Pretty Boy Christian Model made the decision for him and his girlfriend to take the more physically punishing hockey shots, because he wasn't going to betray his own faith by drinking alcohol. And I've got to question the priorities here; it's okay to lie and betray others for monetary gain, but drinking a shot of vodka is the line he won't cross?

Just got off the phone with Cox Communications; HD DVR (their version of TiVo) is now available. So, that's it. No more taping shows for me!

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

I should probably take back what I said last weekend, making fun of the construction workers talking about their relationships. Because it has occured to me that what I hate the most about this forthcoming trip to Utah (bearing in mind that I don't particularly like leaving the house, I really don't like airports, I can't get comfortable on planes, I don't much like Utah, I don't expect there will be much of interest to me at this botanical conference, and I have a major presentation to do at NLA the following week, which will be occupying my thoughts), what really bothers me is that I have to leave Penelope for three days. How sad is that?

(Of course, I'm still going to make fun of the Construction-Workers-As-Sex-And-The-City cast thing, because it makes a good joke, and because I still don't want to be listening to the personal problems of complete strangers over breakfast.)

And I'm thinking pretty seriously of buying a new car. I've done minimal research, but I'm already leaning towards a Honda Accord hybrid, I think. Anyone have any thoughts? Post them here, or email me.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Speaking of childhood favorite science fiction TV shows (and, for a change, not Doctor Who), Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is coming to DVD, in a set subtitled "The Complete Epic Series." Now, there are shows I watched as a kid which don't hold up at all (*cough* original Battlestar Galactica *cough) and some that do (Wonder Woman--expect a "Just how perfect is Lynda Carter" essay to show up once I get further through the DVDs--and All Creatures Great & Small, to name two; oh, and Doctor Who obviously). Buck Rogers holds up. Unlike its contemporary, Galactica, Buck Rogers (the first season) is pure space opera hokum, fun and unpretentious, and that joie de vivre is what keeps the show entertaining for me.

However, they're calling this set the "Complete Epic Series," which means it has the crap second season on it as well, and this is the dilemma: if I buy it, I know I'll only really love the first half, and really not like the second half very much. (The second season is when they took the show into space, searching for lost colonies of Earth, ripping off Galactica, Star Trek, and whatever else, and not doing it well.) I think the ultimate determination for me will be who has the best price, and what sorts of extra features are on the set. Rumor has it there will not be cast interviews or commentaries, so no participation from early adolsecent crush Erin Gray. (Bastards!)

And Catwoman just stunk up the joint in last weekend's box office. It was so bad, I told a coworker this morning, "I know you and your husband didn't see Catwoman this weekend, because if you had, the box office figures would have doubled." It probably had something to do with a marketing campaign that made the movie look like an empty, soulless glossy steal of all the surface details of contemporary superhero movies, with nothing of substance underneath. That's what would keep me away, anyway. (Of course, I've got two free tickets to see it, so I probably will... But not until Thursday, when there's nothing on TV.)

Of course, since star Halle Berry is an Oscar-winning actress, she is now exempt from making poor choices. I expect to hear justifications for the low box office along the lines of "Audiences just aren't ready for a movie about a strong, independent heroine." Well, no, I suppose we're not. Not if it looks like crap, anyway.
Not to talk about politics, but why do people--specifically co-workers, but people who know me in general--who know how completely anti-Bush and anti-Bush administration I am insist on engaging me in some kind of political discussion, and behave as if they expect me to be agreeing with them?  Okay, I'm pretty free with my own opinions on this blog, but this is my page, and I'm not pushing it into anyone's face and putting them in the position of having to agree with me--or not--on the spot.  Whatever happened to the old adage that you don't bring up politics and religion in conversation? A young comic with animal magnetism

Thanks to Steve for sending me this one; Get Fuzzy is one of my current favorite daily comic strips.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

I've got a developing headache, and I'm listening to a bunch of kids screaming and trying to figure out what developing problems will require my imminent intercession, and a patron tells me to smile.  And I look at her, and I say, "I smiled earlier.  I don't like repeating myself."