The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Well, I've been wanting to see this movie since the trailer hit, and I wasn't disappointed. I thought it was excellent. But it's a movie I find hard to recommend to most people. Why? Roger Ebert has a quote: "No good movie is for everybody, only bad movies are for everybody" and that sums this up. It's a dark, and bleak film. Most audiences aren't into dark and bleak. And when I say dark and bleak, I mean that this makes "The Dark Knight" look like a Disney movie in comparison. This is easily the feel bad movie of the year, and it was excellent.

Nine times out of ten, I hate remakes. This is one of those one in tens. Now, I haven't seen the original Swedish movie, and I haven't read the book. My friend who accompanied me had seen the Swedish, and didn't like it. But he enjoyed this. I was willing to give this one a shot because David Fincher was the director, and that man is easily one of Hollywood's most brilliant talents. I like that he brought back Trent Reznor to do the music also.

Daniel Craig stars as Mikhael Blomkvist, a disgraced journalist hired by an elderly man played by Christopher Plummer to solve a forty year old murder. I've been a fan of Daniel Craig since long before he became James Bond, and I loved him in this movie. He is a flawed protagonist. Divorced for carrying on an affair with his co-editor, which continues even until the end of the movie, despite her being married herself.

Rooney Mara plays Lisbeth Salander, a researcher for Milton Security and competent hacker, and a ward of the state. Lisbeth is a ward of the state since she has been declared mentally incompetent, and when her legal guardian suffers a stroke, she is appointed a new one who seizes control of her finances and only cuts her checks to live after he abuses her. First in a scene where he forces her to perform oral sex on him, and then later on handcuffing her to the bed and anally raping her. This, of course, eventually culminates in the most cathartic scene of the film.

Like I said, this is not a feel good movie. Sexual abuse, rape, murder. My fourteen year old cousin wanted to see this, and while I've been showing her "South Park" since she was three, I am glad I did not bring her to this one.

Our two protagonists' stories don't intersect until well into the movie, and I remember wondering when it was all going to line up. But it does, and while not conventional, it allows us to get to know these two people before fate thrusts them together.

Everything about the movie was excellent. The pacing, the cinematography, the acting, the music. I have no negatives about this one. It just might be the best movie I've seen of 2011. But, again, it's hard for me to recommend as it's not for the faint of heart. It's dark, it's disturbing. The heavy material is given the attention and respect it deserves, and presented in a rather frightening manner. It's a thriller directed by David Fincher, if you know exactly what that means going in, you will be fine.

I expect this to get a Best Picture nod in the coming months. But I do not expect it to win. This movie goes places that Best Picture winners rarely go. But my personal grade is an A+

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Lord Is Darker Than Your Lord

For ten years now, the debate has raged on. Who is the better Dark Lord? Who is the better villain? Who is the better character? The Dark Lord, Sauron; or Lord Voldemort. Well, better at what exactly? Let's take a look at these two masters of darkness for a moment.

Sauron is a fallen Maiar. A spiritual being who predates the existence of the world, so think of him as a fallen angel. He followed his master, Melkor, into the world and served as his chief servant. Melkor being the Satan of Tolkien's world was defeated and cast into the void. Sauron arose to claim the mantle of Dark Lord and attempted, for thousands of years to conquer the world, and bring about his own semblance of order by corrupting others and seeking to dominate all life. Had Sauron had his way, he would have ruled us all as a God King and sapped us of our very free will. Sauron is a primeval force of darkness.

Voldemort was born from a loveless union and abandoned to an orphanage where he grew into a dangerous psychopath. He was a self loathing bigot with something to prove, and he wanted to destroy all non-pureblood wizards, and eventually conquer the world. In short, Voldemort wishes he could be like Sauron. But of course that doesn't make him an inferior literary creation in the slightest.

Both of them fill archetypal roles as the Dark Lord. But Sauron represents a primeval force, and through the One Ring, that darkness which exists inside all of us that we are sometimes tempted to release. Sauron, as a character, isn't so much a person, but an idea. And an idea can often times be more dangerous than any singular person.

Voldemort, on the other hand, tried very hard to become this. He was even close to succeeding when his very name was considered a forbidden word, but ultimately, he was a petty, sadistic old man who destroyed himself through his fear that one young man would kill him. Try as he might to deny it, try as he might to change it, try as he might to alter his physical appearance, Voldemort was very much a human being. Not that this makes him a lesser villain, after all, what's scarier than a human being?

Personally, I think such a debate is pointless. I know why it's brought up. Both are very domineering Dark Lords in the two biggest fantasy series (both book and film) of the last one hundred years. Both command legions of followers, and in the end both brought about their own destruction either directly or indirectly. But those similarities are superficial at best. And I don't even think they're close enough to be superficial, both fulfill different purposes to their narrative.

Voldemort is definitely Harry Potter's enemy. Because of his fear of a prophesy, he is determined to kill Harry. He killed Harry's parents, he is responsible for the death of Sirius Black (Bellatrix may have pulled the trigger, but Voldemort was the reason), and so many other deaths. If Voldemort wants you dead, he will personally come after you and make it happen. He is an on screen person, as opposed to Sauron's off screen force.

Sauron is the main villain of "The Lord of the Rings." In addition to being the reason everything is happening, he is also the title character. Is he Frodo Baggins' enemy? No. I don't think he even knew Frodo existed until it was too late. No, Frodo's enemy is Gollum. Nor is Sauron really the enemy of Gandalf. That would be Saruman. Gollum and Saruman both are fallen versions of their respective enemies. I suppose you could make a case that Sauron is Aragorn's enemy. That makes sense to me, and it was Sauron's hate and fear of Aragorn that allowed him to be distracted from watching his own lands long enough for Frodo to make it to Mount Doom. But even then, he is not an on screen character. He is represented by his effect on everyone and everything around him, and his minions represent him appropriately, especially the Nazgul. And being an off screen character, Sauron would have his minions deal with you, or have you brought before him in his tower.

Like I said, the debate is pointless. I think both accomplish what their respective authors wanted accomplished masterfully. And both translated well when adapted into other media exquisitely. Okay, so I wish Voldemort had red eyes in the movies, and I think the Eye on top of the tower looked a little cheesy, but they were still very effective. But, at the end of the day, this is like comparing Lucifer to the Joker. Pointless.

But they're both better than Darth Vader.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Looking Ahead

I don't make it to the theater as much as I would like, but here is a tentative list of what I refuse to miss.

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

I actually wanted to see this one yesterday, much more than I wanted to see "Sherlock Holmes." But my brother had to work the next day, Holmes was shorter and playing at an earlier hour. Needless to say, we regretted our choice.

But I love David Fincher, and I suspect there will be a trip to the theater soon to this one. I am sure it will easily wash me clean of the foulness that was Sherlock.

"The Avengers"

I'm a Marvel Zombie, always have been. I can't not see this one. And after five movies of build up, I am confident that if anyone can deliver, it's Joss Whedon. Six of Marvel's best heroes up against one of my favorite villains has me giddy to see this. Loki was the best villain of the Marvel Studios' films so far, and he is looking even more vicious this time.

"The Dark Knight Rises"

Do I really have to explain it?


I will admit, I have reservations here. Ridley Scott has not made a good movie in a long time, and his return to this well strikes me as a little desperate. But "Alien" was my favorite of the Alien Duology (they only made two movies), and I am interested in seeing what he does here.

"The Hobbit"

This is, for me, the big one. The movie I am looking forward to most in 2012. I've waited for so long for the rights to untangle and for this to be made, I almost can't believe it is happening. I loved the trailer, and have been following the production, and wishing I was down in New Zealand getting Sir Ian McKellan his coffee.

I think "The Hobbit" will be the biggest movie of the year, the only real contender to that being "The Dark Knight Rises." But since both are Warner Bros. productions, I am sure they're quite happy.


Directed by Stephen Spielberg, and when Spielberg makes movies for grown ups, they're always good.
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis. What more needs to be said?

"Abraham" Lincoln Vampire Hunter" is also coming out, and that could be fun. We'll see.

"Killing Bin Laden"

Another war movie directed by Kathryn Bigelow. And this time it will be a dramatization of the death of Osama bin Laden. If nothing else, it will be the most cathartic movie in recent history.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Game of Shadows

Fuck this movie.

I saw the first "Sherlock Holmes" movie two years ago, also on Christmas, in the theater. It was a very fun movie, that reminded me of the fun I had watching the first "Pirates of the Caribbean." It was a solid, entertaining popcorn flick and I had a great time. It wasn't an award winning movie by any means, but it was very entertaining.

"A Game of Shadows" wasn't entertaining. There were moments when it was on, but then it was followed up with something lame or bland. There was just no energy there. For example, there is a ten minute action sequence where they escape from Moriarty's munitions factory through a forest. If half the slo-mo had been cut, it would have been a two minute sequence. This was worse than a Zach Snyder flick.

I thought Professor Moriarty was horribly miscast. Jared Harris had no presence in the role, and it didn't help that his marksman sidekick has the same hair and beard color, and there were moments when I had to remind myself who was presently on screen. Mark Strong, in the first movie, had a lot more charisma, presence, and really seemed like an intellectual equal to Holmes, while this new movie just told us Moriarty was his intellectual equal over and over without showing us until the chess game at the end. And while that chess game was pretty cool, especially when they were just calling moves without even touching their pieces anymore, it was too little too late.

It also didn't help that Moriarty's scheme was plucked directly from the horrible "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" movie. Yes, yes, it's a decent plot to give Moriarty, but you really don't want to make think of that movie. Moriarty was the villain in that movie too, someone should have told them.

There's a section in the movie where Moriarty has a sniper shoot someone through a window, and at the same time, to cover the assassination, he has a bomb go off which kills everyone in the room the target was in. This makes the sniper entirely pointless, except as a plot device to give Holmes a clue. Because this Moriarty is kind of dumb.

The editing was atrocious, there were more jump cuts than a Michael Bay movie in this, and I really think the editing was a big part of the problem this movie had. The whole movie was very incoherent, and all over the place. It never gave me a chance to to care about any of the characters or take in the atmosphere. The first movie was big too, but it at least let you have fun with the characters, and get to know them.

I did like the action sequence on the train, that was a lot of fun. Reminded me of the action sequences from the first movie.

The ending really pissed me off, because it defied all logic. I saw it coming, because I've read the books, but when Holmes and Moriarty went over the balcony and fell into the waterfall, I was thinking "that's it!" And Holmes' survival defied any and all logic! He smuggled in his brother's oxygen apparatus. Um.... no. The fall from that height would kill any human being. Hitting water at that speed, from that height, is like hitting concrete. And by some miracle, even if he had survived thanks to his oxygen, the hypothermia would kill him. But that was, what, a ten thousand foot drop?!

But the worst part was turning Watson into an idiot by not being able to see Holmes in a "camo suit" sitting there in his office. That's a trick that can fool a camera, but it cannot fool the human eye sitting less than ten feet away! Besides, why keep up the charade at all? What's the point of Holmes letting the world and his friend think he's dead? Moriarty's scheme was found out, Holmes was a hero at that point!

I could point out that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle intended to kill Holmes for real when he and Moriarty fell to their deaths, even though he was forced to bring Holmes back. But gods... Doyle didn't want to bring him back, that death in the book was final! So was the death here!

I love action movies. The first "Sherlock Holmes" movie was both an action movie and a mystery. This one was just an action movie, and that's okay... when it's not Sherlock Holmes.

Congratulations, Guy Ritchie, thanks to you Michael Bay doesn't have the honor of directing the worst movie of 2011 anymore. You should feel proud.

Now, after all that, I would like to promote a good movie. A good Sherlock Holmes themed movie. See "The Great Mouse Detective." Yes it's an animated Disney movie with mice in the roles of Sherlock Holmes, Watson, and Moriarty, but it is MUCH, MUCH better than this movie was. Remember when I said Moriarty had no presence in this new movie. "The Great Mouse Detective" gave us Professor Ratigan as portrayed by Vincent Price. You cannot go wrong there. And it was much, much closer to the spirit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Stupidest Thing Ever Said

Scroll to about 3:30 and you will see that hack, Stephenie Meyer compare herself to literary masters and declare her superiority to them. I'm talking about Jane Austen and William Shakespeare!

Please compare and contrast:

Stephanie Meyer from Chapter 23 of "New Moon":

Before you, Bella, my life was like a moonless night. Very dark, but there were stars - points of light and reason. And then you shot across my sky like a meteor. Suddenly everything was on fire; there was brilliancy, there was beauty. When you were gone, when the meteor had fallen over the horizon, everything went black. Nothing had changed, but my eyes were blinded by the light. I couldn’t see the stars anymore. And there was no more reason for anything.

William Shakespeare from Sonnet 43:

When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright are bright in dark directed.
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow's form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

That takes balls. And not the good kind of balls. This is just as moronic and offensive as Roland Emerich's "Anonymous." In four more centuries, those who read will still nod to the Bard of Avon in reverence and say, "Stephanie... who?"

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Demon Rises

I normally don't review the "Young Justice" comic book, but maybe that will change. What I really wanted to do is talk about this issue, and how much I loved it. At the same time, I'm going to discuss why I only like but don't love the "Young Justice" animated series.

Let me get this out of the way, on every technical level "Young Justice" is a very well produced show. The writing is great, the animation is gorgeous, the voice acting is top notch, and the direction is beautiful. It's a very solid production. It's produced by one of my favorite writers and producers and a close friend. And yet, with this show, for me anyway, there is a pretty big disconnect. It took me a very, very long time to figure out what that disconnect was, and why it hasn't sucked me in like "Gargoyles," "Spectacular Spider-Man," and even the second season of "W.I.T.C.H." did.

For me, the problem is that we really only get one point of view, and that's the point of view of The Team. Now, I know they're the stars, and there's nothing wrong with that, but it's still the only perspective we get. On "Gargoyles," "Spectacular Spider-Man," and "W.I.T.C.H." we got to see much more of the world the characters inhabited, and the perspectives of other characters and factions. And in the case of "Gargoyles" and "W.I.T.C.H." those were also ensemble shows.

On "Young Justice," we're eighteen episodes in and the villains are still a complete mystery to us. Sure we know who the members of The Light are, but what else do we know? The answer is not much. We knew much more about the Green Goblin in "Spectacular Spider-Man" in his first appearance alone than we do about The Light this far in the game. And the Goblin's identity wouldn't even be revealed to us for another seventeen episodes. We knew a ton about Demona and Xanatos at this point in "Gargoyles" even with her background still being a mystery. By this point in "W.I.T.C.H." we knew Nerissa pretty well too.

My favorite episodes of "Young Justice" are "Humanity" and "Secrets" because they did what I feel the rest of the series is missing. "Humanity" gave us things from the perspective of T.O. Morrow and Red Volcano. "Secrets" showed us things from Harm's perspective, granted we saw it through the prism of Artemis, Zatanna, and Secret, but it was there.

Now, I recognize and understand that the single perspective is a conscious creative choice, and by the time the season is over, I'll most likely understand and appreciate why that choice was made. That is my hope, and I trust this creative team to deliver in the end. But right now, it's a creative choice that's not working for me based on my own preferences.

On that note, I thought #11 of the "Young Justice" tie-in was great. It gave us not just Robin's perspective, but also Batman's, Alfred's, Ra's al Ghul's and Talia's! We knew who everyone was, and what they wanted to do, what motivated them. Had this been the first time I saw Ra's al Ghul, the issue would have told me everything I needed to know about him. Talia was interesting, with just a few lines of dialogue we saw the conflict between her love for Batman and her loyalty to her father. The scene in Ra's al Ghul's lair when he comes out of his Lazarus Pit was classic al Ghul material.

I also really enjoyed the cut to Kent Nelson's funeral, and we could see how his death affected everyone, particularly Wally, while setting up something with Artemis that looks interesting too. I am really anticipating the next issue, and I say this as a guy who has never read a DC comic book in my life.

In short, this issue summed up everything I like to see in Greg Weisman's work, and why I am a fan of his. I really wish this had been an animated episode of the show. Again, I don't mean to be so rough on the show, I do like it. But, it comes down to a stylistic preference, and this issue of the comic delivered on my preferences in way the show mostly hasn't.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Top Twenty "Gargoyles Universe" Villains

The holidays have rolled around and, well, I love "Gargoyles." I love that universe. And I love villains. I've thought about writing this list for a while, but could never seem to quite justify it. Well, the holidays are here, and I'm giving myself a present. Here are the Top Twenty "Gargoyles Universe" Villains!

For every hero, or group of heroes, there must be villains. The villains test the hero, the villains make the hero. In the realm of superhero lore, Batman and Spider-Man have been cited as having the greatest rogues' galleries in comics. And I do not disagree. Sadly, other heroes or teams seem to come up lacking. Sure they may have one or two great villains, but the rest seem to be meh. The FF have Dr. Doom and Galactus, sure. The X-Men have Magneto and the Sentinels, Green Lantern has Sinestro, but the rest of their rogues galleries have always seemed, at least to me, to be okay at best. I know some will contest this opinion, but it's my opinion and as far as this blog goes, that's the one you're stuck with.

Personally, I always thought the Third Great Rogues' Gallery belonged to "Gargoyles." So, let's honor them.

First of all, here’s who didn’t make the list and why: 

Wolf - Nothing against Wolf, he's fun. He's a big dumb thug, but he's fun. But, as of yet, I haven't found him to be very interesting on his own. And I always thought his teammates were more interesting and fun to watch.

Tony Dracon - I like him a lot more than a lot of other "Gargoyles" fans seem to. He's usually fun, but he didn't quite have enough to make this list.

Oberon - I never thought of him as a villain, and I still don't. Even when he was trying to kidnap Alex. Did I agree with him? Not at all, but I don't think he was in the "legal" wrong either.

Robyn Canmore, Dingo, Matrix, Yama, and Fang – If you don’t know why, shame on you. Buy the damn book!

Second of all, here’s who I hope to add to the list some time: 

Queen Mab -  Come on Disney, let Greg do it!

Morgana le Fay - Ditto.

With that out of the way, let's dive into list.

20. Duval and Peredur fab Ragnal

At present, we’ve seen too little of these two to know much about them. But what we have seen has been enough to give us an intriguing mystery, especially if you’ve been following ASK GREG for the past fourteen years. They are the guiding hands of the Illuminati Society, which was created a century after the Fall of Camelot, by Sir Percival to “set things right.” Which of these two men is Sir Percival? Well, I have my theories on that. Peredur fab Ragnal is the Welsh name for Percival, and Duval sounds like a modern alias for Percival as well. In fact, for years Greg Weisman told us that Percival was Duval, and then when the comic comes out we get Peredur. Following that, he said nothing changed from his original plan? So, who is Sir Percival, and what’s the deal with the other guy? Again, I have my theories.

But I imagine that should new material ever come our way, one or both of these guys will shoot up on this list.

I also enjoy the idea of Duval being cybernetic, but I think he needs a bit of a re-design. Especially in what he wears.

19. The Banshee/Molly

The Banshee may have only been in one episode (with a cameo appearance in another), but damn did she leave an impression. Everything about this character was executed flawlessly. The character model, the animation, the voice, the effects! I loved how ghoulish she appeared, you could see the background through her.

It also helps that “The Hound of Ulster” is one of the best World Tour episodes. The script is tight, the animation is gorgeous, and a lot of the character actions are subtle and over the top when they need to be. Look at Molly’s brief, brief exchange with Rory’s father for the subtly, which contrasts the wonderful over the top performance as the Banshee.

18. Duncan

This guy was a jerk. I mean, really. A paranoid tyrant who thought the world was out to get him. Well, not the world so much as his cousin, Macbeth. I suppose I can understand seeing Macbeth as a threat to the throne, but he just seemed to go out of his way to make Macbeth miserable. He reveled in it. When he died, we were all happy to see him bite it.

17. Hakon

Batman has Joe Chill, and Spider-Man has the Burglar. Goliath has this Viking chieftain who massacred his clan. Well, Hakon may not have acted alone, but with the swing of his mace, the series really began.  Like his descendant, Wolf, he’s pretty one-note. But he plays that note masterfully.

But perhaps the better story isn’t even the one where he shattered the clan, but the one where his vengeful spirit attempted to drive Goliath insane. That episode was the perfect send off for Hakon, even more so than falling off a cliff to his death. His angry, vengeful spirit was trapped alone at the bottom of a cavern for all of eternity without anyone or anything to hate.  At least that’s where I think he should have stayed. Hakon might have ranked higher if he didn’t come back one last time in an episode that I thought was one of the show’s only misfires. But hey, sixty-five episodes, eighteen comics, and only one misfire. You’re still golden.

16. Coldsteel/Iago

Now this guy is fun. I love his design, both as a gargoyle and as a robot. I love his Doc Ock-esque tentacles, and I loved Xander Berkeley in the role.  Coldsteel is a manipulative jerk, and it’s fun to watch him work. His favorite victim is usually Coldstone, and his goal remains unchanging… possess Coldfire. In a nutshell, he’s a creepy stalker.

What’s also fun is that he’s had three voice actors, and not because Berkeley was unavailable.  When he controlled Coldstone’s body, he was played by Michael Dorn. When he possessed Brooklyn, he was voiced by Jeff Bennett. And they both did it without talking like their regular characters. Watch “Possession” again and listen to “Brooklyn” speak. It’s obvious who is in the driver’s seat.

I also enjoyed his appearance in the comics, working for Xanatos to distract our heroes from the theft of the Stone of Destiny. Where will he go from here? I’m not sure. I tend to think he works better when he’s teaming up with other villains than acting on his own. Well, he did see potential in the Coyote robot, so maybe that’s not over; one could see him working with Thailog too; perhaps even re-team with his rookery sister, Demona… they did get along quite well in “High Noon.”

15. Constantine III

What can I say about this guy? He follows a long tradition of Disney tyrants, and is just as fun to watch as any of them. Sometimes I think the tenth and eleventh century villains are even more vicious than the modern day villains, and Contantine sums that up.

When we first meet this guy, he uses Finella, the woman who loves him, to lure King Kenneth (who is in love with her) out just so he can murder him in cold blood and take his crown. Then he casts her aside so he can marry Princess Katharine and better secure his claim to the throne. And he tries to keep in control with barely veiled threats against her charges. Harsh.

But even better than that is his return in the “Gargoyles” comic book where he’s hunting down and murdering every gargoyle clan he can find, and trying to find Katharine and her friends. By now, he’s been in power for two years and rules with an iron fist… which leads to a civil war. This guy is such a jerk that he even kills the messenger that the army of the Three Brothers sends. You never kill the messenger.

And then there was his rather creepy relationship with his new protégé, Gillecomgain, which led to the two inspiring each other in a very twisted ways. Constantine is inspired by Gillecomgain’s scars to wear them as war paint in battle, and in turn, Constantine inspires Gillecomgain to become the Hunter. As if Gillecomgain needed any more inspiration. Which brings me to…

14. Gillecomgain

Let’s face it, even as a kid, Gillecomgain had issues. Obviously there was a lot of darkness instilled in him by his father, who himself had some very understandable issues also. What did these issues lead to? One rogue gargoyle was going through their barn, and Gillecomgain pointed a pitchfork into the shadows to scare a thief only to get slashed across the face. What did THAT lead to? Arguably the events of the entire series.

Gillecomgain’s life didn’t get better.  Constantine III took an interest in him which set him on the path of becoming a masked political assassin, not to mention his continued hunt for the demon that scarred him. Like dominos, this led to events that made Macbeth the man he is today, the Canmore clan what they became, and set the tone for centuries of hatred and pain. And all because of one scratch in a barn.

As a character himself, Gillecomgain stacks up well. There is a moment after his arranged marriage to Gruoch, who obviously doesn’t love him, where you almost wonder if you should feel bad for a man whose wife obviously despises him. Then he crushes her rose underfoot. What does this mean? Here’s a hint, Luach might not have been Macbeth’s son. Powerful stuff.

13. Falstaff/John Oldcastle

Okay, this guy is fun. Him and his gang of LARPers gone bad. They appeared only in the final two issues of “Gargoyles: Bad Guys” but they made an impression. I loved the buildup Falstaff received. We see him take a young Harry Monmouth (who would grow up to become Dingo) under his wing. Train him to be a thief, and take pity on the poor boy after his mother ran out on him. Only for that shocker of a final page where we see Oldcastle with his hands wrapped around the throat of her already dead body.

I really love his gang. At first glance, they seem super human, but are in fact incredibly skilled. And I love that Oldcastle, maybe the world’s greatest thief, named himself after Shakespeare’s king of thieves. He looked the part, and just seemed to take so much joy in everything he did, and that helped make it a joy to watch him do it.

I hope we get more at some point, because I want to know more about him. Why did he murder Dingo’s mom? And when did the Illuminati recruit him? Does he have any other responsibilities for the Society other than guarding their giant vault? Well, until next time, and I believe there will be a next time.

12. Shari

Of all the new characters introduced in the comic books, the most intriguing has to be Shari. Is she Thailog’s new executive assistant, or does she own him? So far it seems to be a little bit of both.  But I’m sure it’s far more one than the other.

I love the narrative device of her storytelling, and I wonder where her knowledge comes from. Sure, she’s a very high member of the Illuminati Society, but there are some things she just shouldn’t know. And yet, she does. Like I said, she’s intriguing. Now, I have my theories on who she really is, in fact I think it’s so obvious, I almost wonder what the point of not revealing it was, aside from the fact that I can’t see a place in the stories released to do it.

And as a final bit of trivia, Shari’s look and basic design was inspired by stage actress and long time “Gargoyles” fan, Zehra Fazal. I’ve seen her perform on stage, and she is brilliant. She definitely deserved to be immortalized in “Gargoyles” canon in such a way.

11. The Archmage

Who would have thunk it? A one-shot villain if “Gargoyles” ever had one. You watch “Long Way to Morning” again, and you’d never think this guy would have become so important in the grand scheme of the series. Well, let’s just say that David Warner kicks ass.

While I do write off his appearance in “Long Way to Morning” as ‘obvious one shot villain,’ he’s still fun, even there. But I think what everybody remembers most is his turn as the villain in the “Avalon” triptych. I loved “Avalon Part Two.” I thought the script was brilliant. I thought David Warner’s dialogue with himself was tremendous. The entire endeavor was just wonderful.

Do I agree with the decision to kill him off? Absolutely. I don’t think he would have had any staying power in the modern day material. The guy is a clichéd sorcerer, even if he’s a very fun one. However, that doesn’t mean I think the character is done entirely. There is plenty for him to do in a certain spin-off that takes place during the “Dark Ages.” Or maybe even something to do if one were to TimeDance and have an encounter with him.

10. Coyote

What can I say, I have a soft spot for this glorified toaster oven. At first glance he may seem like Ultron wearing half of Xanatos’s skin, but the influence from Xanatos is evident. This robot has a sense of humor, sometimes even a perverse one. Granted it’s not sentient or self-aware, but it almost seems close enough to fool you.

I love all the designs he goes through. They’re all different, while at the same time reminding you of who you’re looking at.  But my favorite will always be the first one. I loved the look, I loved his perception-warping weapon the most. I wish he’d used it more often.

What’s next for this character? Well, Greg has kept extremely tight-lipped. We know more upgrades are on the horizon, but come “Gargoyles 2198” … well, let’s just say I think I know what the Xanatos of “Future Tense” was actually foreshadowing.

9. Jackal and Hyena

The “Gargoyles Universe” is well known for their complex, complicated villains. But sometimes, it’s nice to just cut loose. Enter the sociopathic Jackal; and his twin sister, the psychotic Hyena and we’re in for a good time whenever they show up. These two will crack you up one moment and then make you sick the next.

The first time they appeared, they didn’t seem THAT bad. Then, come their second appearance, you have Hyena nearly slicing a fan’s face up, and smiling when she gets arrested. Following that, we have Hyena falling in love with a robot. And then, after that, the two volunteer to trade in their body parts for cybernetic implants. Frankly, it’s rather sick.

Jackal almost seems normal when you compare him to Hyena. “Normal” being very relative, until we get to “Grief” where he becomes the avatar of Anubis, giving him power over life and death, and what does he do? He decides he wants to end all life on Earth. Yeah….

I’m glad these two are close siblings, because they deserve each other. Still, whatever else they are, they’re very fun bad guys. Hell, even a friend of mine named his gold colored Aztek after Hyena.

8. Anton Sevarius

Dr. Anton Sevarius earns points for being the creepiest villain we have encountered so far. He’s even creepier than Jackal and Hyena! Sure, he’s pretty much a hired gun, but the guy enjoys it. He revels in it. I can sum up Sevarius with one quote. After he was asked why he was doing this:

“For science, which as my associate Fang indicated, must ever move forward. Plus there’s the money… and I do love the drama!”

This guy is only slightly more ethical than Dr. Mengele! And I also need to give a ton of credit to Tim Curry for really bringing this guy to life. Apparently, Brent Spiner was the first choice to voice Sevarius, but Curry got the role, and Spiner was cast as Puck. Thank god for those decisions.

Another moment that really stands out was when he was all over Angela in “Monsters.” Does he have a sexual interest in her? I don’t know, probably not. I think he just took pleasure in making her as uncomfortable as possible.

I think my other favorite Sevarius moment comes from “Double Jeopardy” where he thinks he’s taking part in a Machiavellian scheme of Xanatos’s and decides to act the part… very badly, I might add. So much fun, even when he makes you scream.

7. The Weird Sisters

Okay, let’s get this out of the way. Silver haired Luna is the Sister of Fate; Raven haired Selene is the Sister of Vengeance; and Golden haired Phoebe is the Sister of Grace.

The Weird Sisters are, for the most part, a complete mystery. They have plans within plans that stretch through the centuries, after all what is time to them? They could even give Xanatos a run for his money. What is their agenda? Only they know. We’ve seen two thirds of the story, with Luna ascendant during “City of Stone” and Selene ascendant during “Avalon.” But there is a missing piece, where does grace fall in their plans for Demona and Macbeth? Hopefully time will tell.

These three are great fun to watch. I love how they can be both nowhere and everywhere. And I love how they can and will take on different forms depending on who is looking at them at any given moment. Where do their loyalties lie? Well, it seems to be with Oberon, but I’ve long suspected there is something bigger at play with these three.

It would be easy to say they were plucked straight out of the Scottish Play, but in several folklores and mythologies, the Weird Sisters are present in some form. There is just something elemental and primeval about them. And that’s part of what makes them a great element of the series.

6. Fox

Any woman who David Xanatos would marry would have to be cut from the same cloth he is, because anyone else would be beneath him. Fox is that woman. Hell, sometimes she gets the better of him, whether they’re sparring in the dojo, or playing chess. And he doesn’t resent this; it’s just further proof that he’s found the love of his life.

It’s weird to watch her in “The Thrill of the Hunt” at times, because Wolf, Jackal, Hyena, and Dingo just seem so far beneath her, she almost seems out of place there. And yet, at the same time, the more we learn about her, the more it makes sense. When we meet Halcyon Renard, a huge piece of the puzzle is put into place. She was never a daddy’s girl, in fact, quite the opposite. She was clearly motivated, for years, by just annoying her father. Maybe her mother too.

And I think it was just as much of a shock to her that she loved David. But I wonder what their relationship was like before her prison sentence? Obviously Xanatos made her a television star, but what else was going on there? 
She was his lover and employee. And a trained mercenary, let’s not forget that.

Like her husband, she grew and developed as the series progressed, and is every bit as interesting a character as he is.  In fact, in an alternate universe, I wonder how the series would have played if Fox was in Xanatos’s role from the get go. Honestly? Similar but different. At least that’s what I think.

5. Thailog

Ah, the prodigal son… and he’s a bastard. Literally.

I love this guy, he’s just a hoot. Thailog is as powerful as Goliath, as brilliant and amoral as Xanatos, and as hammy and immoral as Sevarius. All at once. And it shows. In every single appearance, it shows. The guy is a walking Oedipus complex, what with his desire to prove his superiority to his fathers. I suppose one might say that he’s already gotten the better of Sevarius, since he has the good doctor on his payroll. And while he outsmarted Xanatos once, I don’t think he’s done. Turning Nightstone Unlimited into a powerhouse to rival Xanatos Enterprises is obviously a means to this end. But what next?

I think my favorite thing about Thailog is that while he is a clone of Goliath, that’s the last thing that comes to mind when I think about him. He’s a fully developed character in his own right, and not simply Goliath’s evil twin. On that note, I’m happy his coloring is different, because the last thing this show needs is an entire episode where the gargoyles try to figure out which one is the real Goliath.

And how can anyone not find that maniacal laugh of his to be anything but endearing?

4. John Castaway

No, I am not talking about the rabid maniac from “The Goliath Chronicles.” Nor will I ever talk about that rabid maniac from “The Goliath Chronicles!” I don’t know who that guy was, but the only list of mine he’d ever make is a list of poorly conceived characters.

John Castaway is a fascinating character, hell to crack the top five, he has to be. Castaway is a weak man, and at the heart of everything, a frightened child. Too weak to stand up to his brother and say “this is wrong” and too weak to admit he was wrong when he pulls the trigger and everything goes to Hell. I think the only thing that has changed is his support system.

Now that the gargoyles have been revealed to the world, Castaway represents a political movement who are moving against them. And it’s rather frightening. Not for being a group of hooded thugs, they are not, but for being like a cross between the neighborhood watch, and a support group. Oh, there is a violent wing of the Quarrymen, we know that. But with Castaway’s shrewdness, and the Illuminati’s backing, I don’t think he would do something stupid like fire anti-aircraft cannons in Manhattan, or hijack a train. No… because that would make Castaway much less difficult to defeat than he is. And even then, who says that happens? The Quarrymen are destined to be a problem for at least the next two hundred years, and like the Hunters before them, his descendents will lead the organization.

Keep in mind, we can all trace this back to a scratch in a barn in the tenth century.

3. Macbeth

Well, where do I start? Well, I suppose I will start by saying that I almost feel bad for putting him on this list at all. He has a strong sense of honor, if skewed. He’s worked against our protagonists and with them. But, in the end I think the only side he’s on is his own. While he is more of an ally now, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been part of the problem before and won’t be part of the problem again.

His story is terrific. Rather than follow the Scottish Play, the story we got was a loose adaptation of the true history of Macbeth and his reign over Scotland. Yes, we had Demona and gargoyles, and the Weird Sisters and sorcery, but we also had a history lesson unfolding, even if we didn’t know it at the time. And it’s terrific. To this day, it’s my favorite tale in the entire mythos.

When we first meet him, the centuries have certainly taken their toll. He is not above attacking the gargoyles, taking hostages, and committing grand theft. And yet, we never once think of him as evil, despite doing some pretty unethical and amoral things. That changes with “City of Stone” when we learn his story and feel sorry for him. But at the same time, I think the perception among many fans has swung around too far. Yes, we understand him more now. But that wasn’t his redemption. Far from it.

I think the tail end of “Sanctuary” and “Pendragon” is where the change begins, and I stress this, begins. In the former, he learned that he is still capable of love. In the latter, while some didn’t quite get why he competed so violently against King Arthur for Excalibur, well, it always made sense to me. This is a man who has suffered so much, who viewed his existence as sad and endless, that he was looking for something to give it meaning and maybe justify every terrible thing that has ever happened to him. Being the new Once and Future King would serve that purpose, wouldn’t it? Well, it doesn’t quite work out for him, but over the course of the series we have seen this man go from suicidal renegade to a man who doesn’t think life is completely worth living, and now seeks purpose in his existence. Did he look like a fool clutching that broken sword? Well, he was a broken man. And once you hit rock bottom, the healing can begin.

2. David Xanatos

He was designed to be a heroic character, and he was cast as the villain of the piece. That, right there, is what makes this character so brilliant. He has so many positive qualities, so many admirable traits. He’s smart, he’s cool, he’s suave, he’s practical, he knows his priorities, he doesn’t sweat the small stuff, he doesn’t hold a grudge; the titled heroes have more personality flaws than he does! But he is also incredibly ruthless, and while he’s not evil, he is incredibly amoral. He seems to be the walking personification of Frederick Nietzsche’s ubermensch when one stops to think about it. And he is awesome.

I am actually struggling here, what more can be said about David Xanatos that hasn’t already been said? He’s designed many tropes all by himself. There  was never a villain like him in animation before, and even after he’s left, there still has never been anyone quite like him. He doesn’t surround himself with dimwitted henchmen and beat them up and scream when they fail. No, quite the opposite, he is always surrounded by incredibly competent people. His assistant and majordomo, Owen Burnett comes to mind. And he so rarely loses. In sixty-five episodes, and eighteen comics, I can count the number of actual losses on one hand. Aside from that, he always comes out on top. Always. But when he doesn’t, he doesn’t throw a fit and scream, he shrugs it off and moves on to the next plan. There are always contingencies. This guy is the coolest guy in the series.

His character arc throughout the series is brilliant. I love his rivalry with Goliath, and I love how he doesn’t hate or even dislike Goliath. He likes Goliath a lot, admires him, and regards him with what I can best call a mix of interest and benign amusement. That’s far more interesting than Megatron’s hatred for Optimus Prime. And I really love how Goliath would often use the word “evil” to describe Xanatos. Sure, Xanatos has done some evil things, but Goliath’s view of him for the longest time was very two-dimensional. It almost represents how most audiences, especially in animation, were trained to view the villain. No, Xanatos wasn’t a Dark Lord, or a diabolical evil. He was simply a trickster. A human trickster.

While Xanatos and Goliath seem to have made some form of peace, that still didn’t make Xanatos one of the good guys! I love that! In a way, he’s still the enemy, and now the gargoyles are living with him, and they know it! He still has plans and schemes, and while he likes the gargoyles and helps them out, that doesn’t stop him from manipulating them to his own ends, or even working against them. And best of all, as far as Xanatos is concerned: it’s nothing personal.

I also have to give a ton of credit to the performance of Jonathan Frakes. He made Xanatos sound so sophisticated, fun, and erudite.

David Xanatos, he should run a seminar on villainy. Often imitated, never duplicated.

1. Demona

The access code is... alone.

Demona is the clear number one on this list, for reasons both grounded and very esoteric at the same time. At the most minimal of glances, she seems very typical. We’ve seen genocidal human haters before. But scratch the surface, even a little, and we get the deepest creation of not only the series, but one of the deepest creations in the realm of fiction. I’m going to say this now, and roll your eyes all you want, but Demona would not be the slightest bit out of place in Russian literature. Or William Shakespeare’s for that matter. I love this character.

Let’s start with the surface elements first. She’s got a terrific character design, and was so very well animated. Marina Sirtis deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the work she did bringing her to life. She embodied that character so completely that I never want to hear anyone else ever voice Demona on any animated project. No one can do it. Period. Hearing Marina Sirtis voice Demona was just as much of a revelation as hearing Mark Hamill’s Joker. And I will stand by that statement even under threat of torture. She is also just such a badass! An intimidating warrior, an immortal, a sorceress, and she transforms into a human during the day! Hell, in both forms, she's pretty hot.

Now, for the esoteric. She has a guilt complex that makes Peter Parker’s look tame by comparison, but she spreads it around to everyone else rather than internalize it. And considering how much she has to feel guilty over, this makes her arguably the most dangerous character in the series. She cannot accept her own culpability for the terrible things that happened to her, and for all intents and purposes, murdering her clan. She may not have swung the mace, but her ambition, her bigotry, and her cowardice put them in front of it.

Her favorite scapegoats are humanity as a whole, who make an easy and convenient target for her to project her guilt and self-loathing on. Now, does she have a point? Yes. Let’s face it, humans can be bastards. We’ve done terrible things as a species. But, just as you cannot blame every Muslim for the attacks on September 11th, or every German for the Holocaust, Demona is wrong to blame every human for the terrible actions of a few. And at the end of the day, she was either directly or indirectly responsible for those actions. She betrayed her clan, and caused the massacre; she created the Hunter, and betrayed Macbeth. Demona created her own pain, and she intends to wipe out every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth just to justify every damned stupid choice she ever made.

Despite all of that, she is an eternally conflicted character. She is not a one-dimensional cut-out. Deep inside, she knows she’s wrong, she knows what she did. But she cannot and will not acknowledge that. And that’s what makes her hatred for Elisa Maza so interesting. The one human she hates most is the one that has been a true friend to the gargoyles, because Elisa is living proof of just how wrong Demona really is. And the fact that Elisa and Goliath are now in love doesn’t help considering Demona’s lingering feelings of jealousy.

Of course, there is Demona’s biological daughter, Angela. She is probably the one person Demona cares about in the world. My single biggest regret about the cancelation of the comic book is that we didn’t get to see the two of them interact again. I am beyond curious to see where this goes. But one thing I am confident of, it’s not heading towards a hysterically easy redemption. Nope, if we take the plan for the “Gargoyles 2198” spin-off seriously, and I most certainly do, Demona is still plotting against humanity long after Angela has died. Is it sad? Yes. Is it tragic? Yes. Is it Demona? Absolutely.

I also love how she is a walking mess of contradictions. Her belief system is based so much on lies she tells herself, that she will rationalize anything she can to fit her world view. Why? Because the alternative is admitting she is wrong, and right now, she will not do that. Cannot do that. Sadly for both her and Angela, I see tragedy in their future.

Demona’s through line is one of the main reasons I am so desperate for “Gargoyles 2198” to be produced. I want to see how her story ends, and if it’s going to end anywhere, it’s in that spinoff. This is a story I am dying to see, and if Disney never produces it, well… one way or another I intend to find out what happens to her. What her ultimate fate is going to be. We know she’ll have an epiphany of some kind. How does it happen? Why does it happen? What’s the fallout? How does her story end?

Demona is an endlessly fascinating character. We’ve never seen anything like her in the realm of western animation before her debut, and I don’t think she’s been replicated since. Why? I don’t know. But lightning has been caught in a bottle, and I am rather happy that no one has attempted to imitate this unique and perfectly conceived character but tragically flawed person.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

This is the Way the World Ends

The Father, the Son, and the Serial Killer

I have a feeling many reviews, articles and blogs will be using the above line. But, it's shockingly appropriate when discussing this episode. Another season of "Dexter" has come and gone, and I would be lying if I said this was the best season. But it was a large step up from season five, and I think I enjoyed it even more than season three. "Dexter" is always good TV, and like all good TV shows that have run for more than three seasons, they start getting compared to themselves. Will "Dexter" ever be as great as its fourth season again? Who knows, but that's the highest bar, and I don't think a TV show should ever be under pressure to top itself. Now, with all of that out of the way, let's discuss this episode.

I love "Dexter" season finales, they are always fast paced, blood pumping and suspenseful. The villains on this show are easy to hate, and Travis Marshall has had a long overdue appointment with Dexter's table. And that final scene was glorious! Just watching Dexter peel Travis' delusional excuses back layer by layer before plunging his knife into Travis' heart was so... satisfying. Of course, I doubt that's what everybody is going to be talking about, but I'm getting there. Don't worry.

Quinn, as I have said before, I've never liked. I'm with Angel on this one, he needs to get transferred out of homicide, stat. Yes, he saved Angel's life, but had he been there when he was supposed to, Angel wouldn't have been in that situation to begin with and Travis would have been caught much sooner. Live are on the line, and this is a job that Quinn is not qualified for. But I suppose the Miami Police Department could use an extra hand writing parking tickets.

I really enjoyed Debra's development this season, mostly (I'll get to it), and I don't care what LaGuerta says, I think Debra is already a good lieutenant. She still has a lot to learn, but that department needs someone who actually cares, and doesn't just play politics. I thought the advice that LaGuerta gave Debra at the end was rather horrible. I still hate the development that Debra is in love with Dexter, but I said my peace on that last week. Which brings me to...


As Dexter delivers the killing blow to Travis, in the church, Debra walks in. She knows. Now, I saw this development coming all season, and it was all but confirmed for me the moment Debra asked Dexter to go back to the church to do some more work. But that didn't make the scene any less satisfying. And it won't make the wait for season seven any more torturous. What a moment to leave us on. Perfectly calculated to leave us talking about it, speculating and waiting. Just like the sixth season finale of "Weeds" when Nancy Botwin turned herself in to the authorities.

I will maintain that I do not think Debra being in love with Dexter was a necessary element to up the tragedy. They were and are brother and sister, and it was a very well done brother and sister relationship. This new element doesn't add to the drama, it distracts from it. They're going to have to work very hard in season seven to make this works.

Until then, the episode accomplished what it needed to accomplish. It finished off Travis in a satisfying manner, and will keep the show on our minds until the next season rolls around. Me? If anyone has a Delorean, or a Phoenix Gate, so I can go and see it sooner than the rest of you, please let me know.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Talk To the Hand

For the love of the same god that Travis worships, they cannot be serious!

Let me talk about the elephant in the room before I move on. Debra's psychiatrist thinks that Debra is in love with Dexter. And now, Debra is beginning to think so too. Dexter Morgan and Debra Morgan are brother and sister. Yes, Dexter was adopted, but they've been raised as brother and sister since he was three or four years old, and she is younger. I don't care if they are not biologically related, this is messed up. They are brother and sister! I'm not opposed to incestuous relationships in fiction, depending upon how they are presented, but this?

I was thinking and hoping that Debra would have a big realization about Dexter this season, but I did not want this to be that realization. Why? Do they think it will add to the tragedy when Debra actually does discover what Dexter actually is? If so, it is unnecessary! They were already very close as brother and sister. It doesn't need an element where Debra wants to fuck him!

The rest of the episode was very enjoyable. I thought the first half hour was very intense, and when Dexter shoved Doomsday Beth into that airtight room, killing her? Great stuff, very suspenseful. Granted by the time Dexter and Deb made it back to the station, I knew she wouldn't succeed, but I did wonder earlier than that if she would kill a lot of police officers.

Travis needs to learn how to tie knots. Both Angel and Dexter were able to escape from knots he tied, the latter was a scene more over the top than usual for this show, but the Lake of Fire imagery was very cool.

So, Travis thinks Dexter is the Devil? Appropriate.

Louis is going to be the villain of season seven, calling it now. Aside from that, not too much else to say about him. But he seems to be the best investigator at Miami Metro.

Finally, yes finally, I can't feel bad for Matthews. Yes, LaGuerta blackmailed him earlier in the season to get her promotion, but he should have gone to Deb directly to get her to close the book on that case, instead he tried to get LaGuerta to do it, whom he knows hates him and wants his job. What did he think would happen?

I know it won't happen, but if the writers need to manipulate a situation that doesn't feel organic, manipulate one where LaGuerta ends up on Dexter's table, not one where Debra wants to fuck Dexter.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ricochet Rabbit

I am beyond late with this review, and it's going to be brief, sorry.

Now with the truth about Gellar revealed, Travis steps up as the sadistic bastard I've suspected he was from the get go. And man, what a transformation. He's almost as creepy as Edward James Olmos was. And his new disciples.... you see, this is what unemployment can lead to. Fix the economy, Congress!

So the master plan is to unleash a chemical attack on Miami. Chilling. But considering all the plagues in the Bible, not too surprising. But not as chilling as tracking down the one he got away and cutting her up on the yacht.

Batista revives his tradition of getting into deep trouble as a finale is up and coming. First, being stabbed by Brian Moser, then being accused of sexual assault by Lila West, and now this. Poor guy.

Debra is going to find out who her brother really is, I am convinced of this now. And it's long past time. When she was reading off Travis' psych profile, it was a dead ringer for Dexter. I love the parallelism.

And as for Dexter himself, it's about time he started arguing with "Harry." But it's also about time he tipped off the police. This is bigger than him and his Dark Passenger now.

I'm pumped up for tonight's episode. Five hours away.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The New Christmas Icon!

Santa Claus is an overplayed corporate shill. Anyone who has ever worked retail for Christmas knows what I'm talking about when I say that the holidays are broken. I don't know how fixable they are, but I say we start with a new icon. A new face.

I nominate the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Oh, don't give me that look. He's perfect! He's exactly what we need! And, as a proud American citizen and somebody who is always right, let me explain why in two easy reasons.

1. The modern Santa Claus was invented by Coca Cola. I think this holiday would be better represented by a creation of Charles Dickens.

Now, I have nothing against Coca Cola. As a caffeine junkie, I thank Coca Cola for sustaining me all my life. But they're not my go to company for Christmas.

2. What does Santa Claus represent? Let me sum it up: Buy! Buy! Buy! If you love their kids, you will buy them everything in FAO Schwartz! Or else you're worthless! And you retail slaves, you will work late on Christmas Eve and you will like it! Oh, don't like it? Well, enjoy Christmas at the homeless shelter!

What does the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come represent? Don't be a dick, and treat your fellow human beings with care, respect and dignity or I'll show you a future where everyone is glad you're dead and chuck you into your own grave.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come! The proper choice for decent minded people.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An Old Joke

A junior film executive struts into his supervisor's office at a Hollywood studio. "Good news, boss!" he says. "We got the MPAA to change the rating of the movie from NC-17 to R!"

"How'd you manage that?" asks his boss.

"Well, y'know the ending, where the hero has the passionate sex scene with the love interest?" asks the younger man.

"Sure," replies the executive. "As I recall, that was the part with which they had the biggest problem."

"Yeah, which is why we re-shot it," answers his protegé. "Now, instead of making love to her, he kills her."

MPAA "logic" - Caress a breast? NC-17. Cut it off? R. In the minds of the ratings board, violence is better than sex every time.

Why do I bring this up?

Will Shame change the game for the NC-17 rating? - No, it won't.

Let's not pretend this is an MPAA problem. This is an America problem. Even on most forums, places where people often tear each other apart and make pedophile jokes are not exempt.

It's fine if I post this picture on just about any forum:

But this one would get me banned (NSFW).

Or, to put this into even further perspective, "The Human Centipede" got an R-rating. Think about that.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Get Gellar

I've spent the last hour mulling over this one. I wasn't quite sure how I felt about it. On the one hand, I called the twist with Gellar being dead way back in the first episode of the season. On the other hand, the season has been so thrilling that I do not mind too much. In fact, I might also compare it to the Green Goblin mystery in "The Spectacular Spider-Man." I pretty much called it and how it was done very early on, but that didn't make the story any less thrilling.

I'll also be honest, I don't think Gellar being dead is even going to be the big twist of the season. I think the creative team wanted us to pay attention to this to distract us from something else they're building up to. What could it possibly be? Who knows, but I suspect it's going to involve Debra. Hell, I am sure that this is the season Debra finds out the truth about Dexter. There has been a theme of brothers and sisters all season. Travis and Lisa Marshall, Angel and Jamie Batista, Dexter and Debra Morgan.

I don't think any of us were surprised that Matthews was the one who ordered the cover up of the dead hooker. While he didn't kill her, his career is on the line. Now the question is, will LaGuerta carry out his wishes or allow his career to end so she can take his position. Knowing LaGuerta, she will act in her own self interest, just as she always does.

And then there's the Louis subplot. Turns out he bought the Mannequin Arm piece from the Ice Truck Killer case for his "collection." Where this subplot is going, I am not sure about just yet.

Great episode, three more to do.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Top Twenty Favorite TV Shows of All Time

First of all, here’s what didn’t make the list and why.

Pinky and the Brain: This series was very close to making the list. It was a hair away from making it. But it was just slightly edged out by another show. So, consider this #21 on the list.

Any Star Trek Series: Don’t get me wrong, “Star Trek,” particularly the original series, has a lot of brilliant episodes. But over time, it became less about telling great stories and more about franchising outward. I’ve always considered it to be the Burger King of science fiction, while “Star Wars” is the McDonalds… they are less about telling stories and more pop cultural institutions.

Battlestar Galactica: I’ve never seen an episode, and I’m told I’m missing out.

Berserk: I considered it, but ultimately, I prefer the manga and decided to give the spot to something else.

Buffy & Angel: I love both of these shows, but when they were weak, they were very weak. When they were great, they were genius. Sadly the weaker seasons bumped both shows off the list.

Mad Men: Like “BSG” I’m told I’m missing out. I have seen the first three episodes though, and I do like it.

Avatar the Last Airbender: I like this series. I like it very much. But I don't love it. I don't mind the occasional fling, but I won't go steady with it. I don't think it broke any new ground, but I do think it did what other shows did extremely well.

Any Dr. Who: Never seen any of it, sorry.

20. Titus

Christopher Titus’ semi-autobiographical series was truly one of the great, underrated sitcom comedies. The relationship between Titus and his father, played by Stacy Keach, was my relationship with my father. Right down to my brother’s ability to walk away from conflicts with him while I would stand up to him, and often make mistakes on when to pick and choose my battles.

The series was a black comedy, and it went places that many sitcoms didn’t go. If other shows did go there, it would usually be with “a very special episode.” Not this show. This show adapted the true story of Titus’ mother killing one of her husbands and later committing suicide herself and it made it funny. Let me repeat this, Christopher Titus took his own mother’s suicide and played it for laughs. The fact that it worked is a testament to how brilliant this show was.

19. Black Adder

I love British comedy, I love the works of William Shakespeare, and I love history. This series was the perfect combination of all three. This series was a hard sell for me, because I was not a fan of Rowan Atkinson prior to this. I did not like “Mr. Bean” and I still don’t. But I rented the first season, and it opened with a satire of Richard III. I was sold.

The series is brilliant, especially if you’re well read. There are a lot of jokes in here that the layman is not going to understand. I suppose that makes the series, or at least my write-up of it sound a tad elitist. But it is what it is, especially in later seasons. But I think there is a lot in there to enjoy even if you are not well versed in Shakespeare and British history. The jokes are great, and the timing is perfect.

18. Weeds

You’ve heard me talk about this series. A lot. I’ve reviewed the entire seventh season episode by episode. So, I’ll keep this brief.

If I were to have created a TV series, this would have been it. In fact, when I was in film school, we were pitching ideas for movies or TV, and I suggested a series about an expose on suburbia starring a drug dealing single mother. Then I was asked if I’ve seen “Weeds.” Well, I did later, and I was jealous because Jenji Kohan got to it first and she did it far better than I could.

Mary Louise Parker plays the character of Nancy Botwin to a tee. And the rest of the cast is terrific. It’s a great ensemble piece featuring a lot of funny characters played by great actors. While some people didn’t appreciate the series re-inventing itself every few seasons, I rather like it. It helps the series stay fresh and exciting. The first season dealt with suburbia, seasons four and five dealt with the Mexican border and their drug cartels, season six was the Botwins seeing America, and season seven took place in Manhattan. All the while, Nancy sinks deeper and deeper into the world of crime.

17. Daria

If you went to High School in the 1990’s, then you can relate to this show. This show really caught the culture, and was, honestly, way too smart for MTV. Daria Morgendorffer spun off from “Beavis & Butt-head,” a show that, quite frankly, she was way too good for. While “Beavis & Butt-head” seemed to glorify and revel in crass stupidity, Daria was smart, witty, intelligent, and to this day I’m surprised MTV ever produced it. Smart, witty and intelligent are not in MTV’s vocabulary. But what should we expect from the network that imposed “Jersey Shore,” “Teen Mom,” and “My Super Sweet 16” on the culture.

Daria was a likeable protagonist who approached the idiotic world with the perfect weapon, witty sarcasm. I related to her in High School, and I still relate to her now. Although I like to think I’m more social than she is. Her supporting cast was terrific, and everyone was funny. It was great, character based humor and I don’t suspect we’ll ever see anything quite like it on TV again.

16. Seinfeld

I honestly have no idea what happened here. Jerry Seinfeld is generally not funny. His stand up is weak, and except for this show, I have never enjoyed one of his projects. But, throw him into a writing partnership with the brilliant Larry David, and team him up with three characters to play off of, and that not only saved him, but created the “Citizen Kane” of television sitcoms. Let me clear this up, Jerry is the least interesting character on this show. He’s the comedian and yet he plays the straight man. I can only conclude that he knew this to be the case. George Costanza, Elaine Benes, and Cosmo Kramer made this show what it was. Jerry was simply the glue that held them together.

The series is fairly timeless, I can still watch it and except for a few movie references here and there, and the lack of cellular phones, it plays today as well as it did during the 90’s where it both reflected the culture and influenced it. And it influenced every single sitcom that ever followed it. Seriously, watch a sitcom now, you can trace something in its DNA back to “Seinfeld.”

15. Firefly

I’ve been a fan of Joss Whedon’s work since “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” premiered. It was consistently a brilliant show, but it hit a few bumps in the road in its seven year run, same with “Angel” in its five year run. But along the way was a short lived series whose fans will never let the world forget it, the space western, “Firefly.”

Before he was Richard Castle, Nathan Fillion was Malcolm Reynolds, a once idealistic man who lost his faith in the universe around him. Knowing he was out of place in this world, he decided to gather together a rogue band of misfits and build a life with them, traveling the solar system and doing odd jobs here and there. If the jobs were illegal, well, it was his way of giving the oppressive government the finger.

Space really is the final frontier, and nowhere is that concept truer than in “Firefly.”

14. Cheers

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came. Cheers was the archetypal hangout. If we didn’t have a place like this in our lives, we all wish we did. This series also had the perfect ensemble. Everyone was an archetype as well as a fully realized character in their own right. And they all grew and changed as the series progressed, with one exception.

The first five seasons, especially, are brilliant TV. We watched our two leads, Sam Malone and Diane Chambers’, relationship grow from hate to love back to hate, and go through every emotion in the book. It was hilarious and it never felt forced or dishonest. And everyone was growing around them, especially a relative latecomer to the series, Dr. Frasier Crane. If there was one flaw, it was after Diane left the series; Sam Malone began to regress as a character while everyone continued to grow around him.

Still, it was smart, every episode was funny, and the show knew when it was time to finally bow out. “Cheers” was a huge part of the pop culture, and it did not overstay its welcome, nor did it leave to early. It knew when it was time to go, and it left us feeling nostalgic to this day.

13. South Park

“South Park” is terrific. As “The Simpsons” before it, it changed the face of primetime animation. Unlike “The Simpsons,” the show never declined, in fact with their formula of producing an episode in six days, it has always managed to reflect where we are as a culture and a society and holds a mirror up to us to show us how stupid we’re behaving. Every time something big happens in the news, or in pop culture, I always wonder what “South Park” is going to say about it. It even had me questioning at one point what was worse “Jersey Shore” or al Qaeda.

No one is safe on “South Park,” there are no sacred cows. And honestly, this is a good thing. There shouldn’t be any sacred cows. And anytime a sacred cow is propped up, I think the best thing one can do is to tear it down. And through four foul mouthed fourth graders, “South Park” does this week after week.

12. Married With Children

Once upon a time, this was the most crass and irreverent series on television. And it’s still up there. Meet Al Bundy, a former High School football star who became a poor shoe salesman. Adding to his misery is his lazy, unemployed wife, Peggy, his vapid, bimbo daughter, Kelly, and his scheming, perverted son, Bud. Not to mention his feminist neighbor who hates his guts.

The original title for this show was going to be “Not the Cosbys” and it shows. Where the Cosbys were wholesome, loving, supportive, and so sweet they made you want to puke, the Bundys were the exact opposite. I think every family is dysfunctional, some are just more dysfunctional than others. And it was funny; it was laugh out loud funny.

I prefer the earlier seasons with David Garrison as Steve Rhodes to Ted McGinley’s Jefferson D’Arcy. Steve was the exact opposite of Al, a successful banker, kind of a geek, and utterly whipped by his wife. So it was fun to watch Al slowly, over time, destroy this guy. I didn’t care for Jefferson’s lame “I’m a CIA agent” past. That was around the time the show became a live action cartoon. It was still funny, but it wasn’t the same.

11. The Venture Bros.

In the past, I’ve pitched this show to people by describing it as Greg Weisman getting together with Matt Stone and Trey Parker to make an adult cartoon. “The Venture Bros” is brilliant. Brilliant in its satirical humor, brilliant in its references to comic books, old Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and 60’s 70’s and 80’s music and pop culture. And it’s definitely genius in its overarching story arcs and actual character development.

The theme of the series is failure, and “Venture Bros” presents it in a way that is just sublime. Our protagonist is Dr. Thaddeus “Rusty” Venture, a bitter, self-centered, dick who didn’t live up to the expectations the world had for him. He is far more concerned with getting rich and getting laid than he is with raising his sons, Hank and Dean, or worrying about his arch-enemy, The Monarch, who is probably the only person on the planet just as pathetic as he is.

The show always makes me laugh, and it’s also the sort of show I get together with friends to discuss what happened, and what could possibly be coming up. Like I said, the story arcs are brilliant, and if they’re not pre-planned, they certainly feel like it. A little seemingly throwaway line of dialogue in season one becomes an important plot element by the third or fourth season. It’s just genius, and I would love to work on this show in some capacity.

10. Batman the Animated Series

Before anyone crucifies me for daring to put other animated series ahead of this one, I love this series. I love it. I can and often do pop my DVD in and tune into a random episode when I am in the mood. I thought the seasons that ran on Fox Kids were brilliant. I didn’t care much for it after the move to Kids WB, but before the move, this series was the most groundbreaking thing to happen to television animation since “The Simpsons.”

Before this series came out, action cartoons were terribly animated. Take a look at shows like “Transformers” and “GI Joe” and take a look at Batman’s contemporaries like “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” and look at how cruddy the animation was. There were so many details in the character models that those characters could barely move. I feel for the animators in Korea who had to draw Wolverine’s body hairs over and over. Bruce Timm was a genius; he came in and simplified the designs to allow for fluid movement. And the style of the series was dark and moody. It was the most atmospheric cartoon to ever air on American TV.

The writing was brilliant too. While I greatly prefer overarching storylines and character development, when it came to done in ones, Batman was the best at it. Each episode was packed and told a complete story, with some great character writing. Without this show, American animation wouldn’t be what it is today.

Yes, it did spin off an entire universe of shows, “Superman,” “The New Batman Adventures,” “Batman Beyond,” “Justice League,” Justice League Unlimited” and while I like some of those shows better than others, none of them matched "Batman the Animated Series." They caught lightning in a bottle with “Batman the Animated Series” and created a timeless classic for the ages.

9. The Colbert Report

Every time I tune in, I ask myself just what the hell Stephen is going to do next. This man is dangerous, and dangerous in the good way. Stephen Colbert plays himself, sort of (but not really) as a faux conservative commentator very much in the vein of Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. Like a small child who thinks he’s the center of the universe, and he finds a way to make every story about him.

Whether he’s calling President Obama a “scary black man” or warning us about the danger we are in because of the Bear Agenda, Stephen Colbert is fighting for us. Who doesn’t love that he has his own Super Pac? And I do want to know how many people in Iowa voted for Rick Parry. There are so many segments I can point at and say “look at this, he’s brilliant!” But my all time favorites will always be the “Better Know a District” segments where he sits down with these congressmen and makes them look like the fools that they are, except for Eleanor Holmes Norton who had his number. Of course, he doesn’t do this segment much anymore, I think most of Congress is afraid of him and rightly so.

Stephen Colbert, if there is a god, you are doing that god’s work.

8. Frasier

Spin-offs seldom work, and it’s even rarer that they exceed the series they’ve spun off from. “Frasier” was better than “Cheers.” I loved the ensemble; I loved the premise, and the setting. After Dr. Frasier Crane divorces his wife, Lilith, he leaves Boston and moves back to Seattle where he becomes a radio psychiatrist while trying to re-connect with his father, who he has always had a distant relationship with.

The writing was funny but mature at the same time. This was definitely a sitcom for grownups. Not that you need to be well read to appreciate it, but it helps. I probably knew more about what Frasier and Niles were talking about than what Martin was talking about when he went on about sports. Niles was my favorite character in the series, and I thought he had the best lines in the series, maybe even on television. His wit and sarcasm still slays me even to this day.

When “Frasier” ended, I don’t think the void has ever been filled. Most sitcoms since then seem to be voids of vapidness. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some gems since then, like “Arrested Development.” But nothing quite like “Frasier.” I hope this is rectified.

7. Dexter

I was a latecomer to this series. I didn’t have Showtime. I knew about it, I knew the basic premise, but I had not seen it. Hell, I didn’t even know what Michael C. Hall looked like. I’ve had friends rave about it for years. After one particular friend of mine went several weeks talking about nothing else but “Dexter” I finally checked it out.

This show is brilliant. I love it when ethical questions are raised, and this show raises them and makes our rational sides confront our own inner savages. Dexter is a serial killer who kills other killers, child molesters, the worst dregs of society. We root for him as he does this, but then we ask ourselves is this right? Is he a monster and are we monsters for applauding this behavior?

The closest real life comparison I can think of right now is the death of Osama bin Laden. Was it the right thing to do? I say yes. Was it legal? Well, we did invade a sovereign country. It wasn’t the legal thing to do. But the trash needed to take out, and this was a long time coming.

When my brother and I watch this show, the thing we seem to discuss the most is Dexter’s foster father, Harry. Did he do the right thing or should he have gotten this kid extensive therapy? Would therapy have even helped? Ultimately, Harry was a man; a good man, but a flawed one. I think he loved Dexter as much as he hated the system which let many murderers walk.

Also, one thing about the show is how Dexter is the outsider trying to blend in, I think on some level we can all relate to that one. We all have our own inner demons, and I think each one of us has our own dark passenger. Most of us aren’t killers, but we all have impulses.

6. The Spectacular Spider-Man

I’ve talked about this show a lot, so I will keep it brief. Not only is this the perfect adaptation of Spider-Man and his mythos, this is also the single perfect superhero show. Peter Parker has always been the everyman, and his life has always been just as interesting as Spider-Man’s crime fighting career; maybe more so. This series balanced the two aspects of his life perfectly and every character felt real and alive, as opposed to previous adaptations of Spider-Man where everyone was a walking plot device.

“The Spectacular Spider-Man” did for Spidey what “Batman the Animated Series” did for Batman. As Bruce Timm did before them, Vic Cook and Sean Galloway simplified the designs to allow for fast and fluid movements. And did it ever pay off. I’ve never seen action scenes in an animated series as lively and dynamic as the ones here. It was breathtaking.

This series also, for me, represents a time in my life where the possibilities were endless. I was living in Los Angeles, going to film school, while the series was in production and being aired. I was down at the studio so often I may as well have been working on the series. I didn’t, beyond helping to get a few character references when Marvel was slow in providing them.

Most of all, the series had heart. Everyone involved had a great deal of love, affection, and respect for the series, the character, and the mythos and it shined on screen. Most other adaptations of the wall-crawler lacked that, and were mostly put together by people who didn’t care for much except their paycheck. I’m looking at you Toby Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and John Semper Jr.! “The Spectacular Spider-Man” shows that a creative team can’t just be competent, they have to love what they do, because the results do pay off.

5. The Sopranos

If “Seinfeld” changed the face of sitcoms, “The Sopranos” changed television dramas, and really put premium cable on the map. For the eight years this show was on, it was the one show everybody talked about. Even presidential candidates made references to Tony Soprano in speeches, debates, and commercials. It was everywhere.

In a lot of ways, it was modern day Shakespeare. Family tragedies in modern America, but instead of royalty, it used a mafia family. When you think about it, aren’t Mafia families the closest thing we have to medieval royal families in this day and age? Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola understood that.

The series benefited from powerful writing, understated acting, and characters we could relate to. These characters felt real, and most of the time it seemed like someone was actually documenting the lives of a real family.

I think what we could all relate to was the feeling Tony had that he was born in the wrong decade. The heyday of the Mafia is long over, and as I look at this terrible economy we’re living in, I wonder if the same could be said about America. Are we over as a country? Is the American dream dead? “The Sopranos” asks this question.

4. Cowboy Bebop

“Where has this been all my life?” That was the first thing I said after I watched this series for the first time. I’m not a fan of anime, but I loved “Cowboy Bebop.” After I was done with “Bebop” I went on an anime/manga spree, and aside from “Berserk” I didn’t find much else that appealed to me. But “Cowboy Bebop” remains one of the best pieces of art I’ve ever exposed myself to.

The music is brilliant, the characters are lively. I love Spike Spiegel, one of the all time great heroes of any medium. The guy running away from his past, but no matter how far he runs, he can never escape it. I adore Faye Valentine, the woman without a past so desperately trying to find it.

It’s funny, it’s tragic, it’s dramatic, it’s sad, and it’s joyous. Except for one mediocre episode, all twenty-six are pure gold. It’s like listening to a classic vinyl album again and again. I always come back to this show. Words cannot describe how in love with it I’ve always been.

3. Babylon 5

I’ve dedicated an entire entry to this show, so again, I’ll be brief. “Babylon 5” is everything good science fiction should be. It asks questions, it speculates, but it doesn’t answer those questions. That’s our job. As series creator, J. Michael Straczynski, said “a good story should provoke discussion, debate, argument… and the occasional bar fight.” And this series is good at that. Great at that.

It also sadly seems to have been forgotten in the annals of television history, and that is a great pity. If anything, it’s done more for television science fiction than any other series. It was the first to stand up to the big bully that is Paramount and prove you could have a successful space faring science fiction series without “Star Trek” stamped to it. And Paramount tried hard to kill it. They stole from the series bible and pitch when J. Michael Straczynski pitched the show to them, announced “Deep Space Nine” shortly after B5 was accounced in the trades, rushed their pilot out to beat it to the airwaves, and tried to pressure sponsors and weaker networks into not supporting it. But “Babylon 5” persevered and told its story. The door was opened for others.

Love the new “Battlestar Galactica?” Thank “Babylon 5.” Adore “Firefly?” Thank “Babylon 5.” Enjoy “Stargate” and “Farscape?” You get the idea. “Babylon 5” picked a fight with the school yard bully and paved the way for you all to come in. It may not have had the best sets or the best special effects, but unlike post original series “Star Trek,” B5 had writing and vision. It was the first five year novel, and it impacted the way I think.

Remember how I said that “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” were the McDonalds and Burger King of television science fiction? Well, “Babylon 5” is that amazing, four star restaurant where the steaks are perfect.

2. Gargoyles

Okay, you’ve all heard me talk about this show before, so instead of discussing the show specifically, I’ll just say what it did for me. “Gargoyles” is what inspired me. It inspired me to become a writer; it was the first time I ever asked myself questions like “who wrote this?” “Who acted in this?” “Where did this come from?” While I’m sure that would have happened anyway, “Gargoyles” was the catalyst.

It also started a life journey. I started reading a lot of Shakespeare, became something of a fanatic, I started reading the classics, really self educating myself, and eventually I went to film school and started writing my own works. I can safely say the path I am on would not have happened if not for “Gargoyles.” And I can watch this series any time and never get tired of it.

"Gargoyles" followed in the path of "Batman the Animated Series" with simplified designs that animated beautifully, but unlike "Batman," it brought long term story arcs and character development to the world of television animation, and a lot of other shows have since followed in its footsteps.

Now, before I move on to #1. I just want to say that this was tough. I didn’t know what was going to be #1. So I flipped a coin and decided that I hated being predictable.

1. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

If “Gargoyles” inspired me on my path in life, “The Daily Show” is what keeps me going and makes me want to kill myself less. I look at the state of the world, the news media, our government, our economy, and frankly our culture and the people in it, and I am disgusted. Then Jon Stewart manages to make me look at it, and laugh at the same time. All the while making sure I never give up hope that this world is worth living in. Make no mistake, I’m not suicidal, it’s all just a figure of speech. But Jon has saved me from complete depression more than once.

Jon Stewart might possibly be both the smartest and funniest man on television. Sure he is just a comedian, but he understands the issues and what’s going on better than many supposed experts and our elected representatives. His shining moments being his first broadcast after the attacks on September 11th, when he brought down “Crossfire,” and when he shamed Congress into passing a bill to take care of 9/11 first responders. The man is an American icon and an American hero.

Jon Stewart is the Mark Twain of our era, and I think he will be remembered as such after he is gone.