Friday, December 28, 2007

He-Man Vs. Machete - Requiem

Ext: Forest near Eternos. Prince Adam walks beneath towering trees. Probably covered in purple leaves. Not sure. Will check Complete Masters of the Universe boxset for confirmation. Adam is accompanied by his faithful feline companion, Cringer, and the floaty pain in the ass Orko. On his back is a paper tag, on which is written (C) Filmation.

Orko: Prince Adam, might I remind you, if you do not hurry you shall be late for the anniversary party of your parents, the King and Queen of all Eternia. They would be most displeased!

Prince Adam: Oh Orko, why hurry? It's a glorious day and the forest has never looked as beautiful. Right, Cringer?

Cringer: I don't know about you, but I think even on a good day there could be something lying in wait. ::gulp::

Prince Adam: ::laughs a big bellowing laugh:: (Note to animators - use stock laughing footage) Oh Cringer, you're such a cowardly cat! Surely you remember the Battle of Tranmaxia, where I finally banished the dastardly Skeletor from the kingdom of Eternos once and for all, with the help of my faithful companions Man-At-Arms and Teela. It was a rout, Skeletor's evil band thrown to the four winds thanks to virtuous forces of might, courage, and the Power of Grayskull!

Cringer: If you say so, but that doesn't make me feel that much better. ::gulp::

Prince Adam: You know, for a large tiger-thing that can transform into a fearsome Battle Cat, you're a real loser.

Orko: Prince Adam, this conversation isn't getting us any closer to the castle. If we're late, the King will have my head on a platter, even though, as you can see from the dark, empty space under my hood, I don't even really have a head!

Prince Adam: Why is it so hard to just enjoy nature for a while? Huh? Guys? Seriously, it's a nice day, and all I get is the yapping. If it's not you, it's my faithful companions Man-At-Arms and Teela, both of whom, while lovely people and fine warriors, are pretty much the antithesis of fun. Can you both just get off my case for a bit? Dang!

Orko: But sire, perhaps you're underestimating the fury of your parents! They have told me that GLURK!

From nowhere a knife slices through the air, hitting Orko right in the center of the big O on his chest, flinging him back into a tree, pinning him there.

Cringer: Adam! What did you do that for?

Prince Adam: Why Cringer, I would never do such a thing! Perhaps this is an ambush by Skeletor's forces!

Cringer: I don't believe that for a second. I'm getting out of here! ::flees::

Prince Adam: Worthless cat jerk! That does it. ::raises sword above his head:: By the Power of Greyskull, bitches! (Note to animators, stock footage looking a little overused by now, but stick with it. Animating new character has depleted this week's budget.)

A burst of cosmic power infuses Adam with, as mentioned above, the Power of Greyskull, and he transforms into the mighty warrior He-Man, all muscles, hair and loincloth.

He-Man: Now, with my mighty sword, I shall wreak terrible vengeance on the head and face of my foe, even though I feel like buying him a drink. That floaty jerk was really beginning to chap my toned ass.

A thin whistle splits the air, as another throwing knife flies towards He-Man, connecting with his sword with sufficient force to knock it from his grasp. Stunned, he watches as it disappears into the thick Eternian undergrowth.

He-Man: Very impressive, my skilled enemy. Perhaps this is a new recruit in Skeletor's army of ne'er-do-well's. His skill with a knife is commendable. I shall call him Knifedor, in honour of his talent. This does not matter, though. Even without my mighty power sword I can still vanquish this evil-doer. I did once hang around with Superman, after all (Note to legal, see if DC are going to allow us to use that name. If not, just loop in Fisto or something.)

Fast as a darting hummingbird of death, a throwing knife shoots from a different bush, and He-Man dodges, the knife pinging off his chestplate.

He-Man: Hey! Watch the nipples, dastardly cur!

He-Man wrenches an enormous branch from a tree and prepares himself for battle. A shrub twitches, and He-Man leaps forward at astonishing speed, loincloth flapping heroically. Within the bush is He-Man's foe; Machete! The golden warrior's attack takes the knife-wielding assassin unawares, and he is sent flying. Upon coming to rest, he leaps up and assesses his prey.

Machete: Nothing personal, man, but I got a big bag of gold from some bone-faced dude to rub you out.

He-Man: Skeletor hired an assassin? That coward. Fine, if that's the way he wants it, come and get it!

Before He-Man can connect with his foe, Machete flips back into the undergrowth, and is lost. He-Man grits his perfect teeth and crashes forward into the bushes, and a piercing cry is heard, followed by a thud.

Machete: ::looking into a deep dark hole:: Like I said, blondie, nothing personal. I'll look after your cat and your sword for you, if you want. ::pulls the sword from the tree:: What? This shit is plastic. Crazy asshole.

Next week: Skeletor reneges on his deal, Prince Adam wakes up at the bottom of a large pit with a really bad headache but the same crappy page-boy haircut as usual, and Machete wreaks his bloody revenge with the help of his league of swordsmen!

(Not really, but at least now you know there's a happy ending.)

Yes, the fight poll has closed, and the result was five votes for Machete, and three for He-Man. Not a conclusive victory, so perhaps the musclebound do-gooder will be able to climb from the pit and aid Machete in his quest to separate Skeletor from his enormous Eternian wealth! (Writing heroic dialogue tends to stay with you, I guess.)

New poll! Who is your favourite Ghostbuster? Pete Venkman, Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler, Winston Zeddemore, or honorary Ghostbuster Louis Tully?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Large List of Music I Enjoyed This Year

Usually when someone makes a list of their favourite music of the year, they consider the large (or small) amount that they came into contact with, and will strip out all of the crap, then all of the not-so-crap, then the good, then the very good, and merely leave the outstanding, the life-changing, the most perfect albums and songs. I admire that, and think it is a great skill to have. I too try to do that, but this year, screw it. I'm just going to namecheck very nearly every album I've heard, and then contrive a bunch of nonsensical categories for them to fit into. To the one or two albums I heard this year that didn't get on here, I'm sorry.

Favourite Albums of the Year:

Person Pitch - Panda Bear
Strawberry Jam - Animal Collective
Neon Bible - Arcade Fire
Because Of The Times - Kings of Leon
In Rainbows - Radiohead
Cease To Begin - Band of Horses
And The Refinement Of The Decline - Stars of the Lid
Release The Stars - Rufus Wainwright
Icky Thump - The White Stripes
The Stage Names - Okkervil River

Honourable mentions:

All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone - Explosions in the Sky
Some Loud Thunder - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Armchair Apocrypha - Andrew Bird
Saltbreakers - Laura Viers
Mirrored - Battles

Best album that was released in the US in 2006 but in the UK in 2007 and I want to put on the main list but feel it would be wrong to do it:

Boys and Girls in America - The Hold Steady

Best album that was released in the UK in 2006 by a band I have seen live and I actually had a copy of but only got around to listening to as a result of their Mercury Music Prize nomination:

Fur and Gold - Bat for Lashes

Disappointments of the Year:

Drums and Guns - Low (It's obviously a brilliant and thought-provoking album, but I found it impenetrable and it left me cold. Basically, it was like being called an idiot by an album, and I'm taking revenge by sticking it down here.)
Hello Love - Be Good Tanyas (I hate putting this here as the first half of the album is wonderful, but the latter half washes over me totally. I've tried and tried and tried to warm to it, but it's not happening.)
Volta - Bjork (It's almost a return to form, but falls frustratingly short of the mark.)

Albums that might have gotten into the list given more time and more listens:

Magic - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Sound of Silver - LCD Soundsystem
Boxer - The National
The Flying Club Cup - Beirut

Favourite Jazz Album of the Year:

Being There - Tord Gustavsen Trio [I think you mean the Turd Ferguson Trio. Embarrassing. -- Canyon]

Favourite Hippety Hop Album of the Year:

Liberation – Talib Kweli and Madlib

Favourite Protest Album of the Year:

We'll Never Turn Back - Mavis Staples

(Yes, they were pretty much the only jazz, hip-hop, and protest albums I heard this year, but if you don't tell anyone, I won't either.)

Favourite Instrumental Soundtrack of the Year:

The Fountain - Clint Mansell feat. Mogwai and The Kronos Quartet (Runner-up: Zodiac by David Shire)

Favourite Compilation Soundtrack of the Year:

Once (Runner-up: Black Snake Moan)

Album I would never buy as the band would probably use the money to fund their happy slapping empire:

Favourite Worst Nightmare - Arctic Monkeyfuckers

Favourite album that makes me seem like I'm down wiv ver kidz:

Men's Needs Women's Needs Whatever - The Cribs

Favourite Singles of the Year:

Atlas - Battles
Fireworks – Animal Collective
No Cars Go – Arcade Fire
Stuck Between Stations - The Hold Steady
Conquest - The White Stripes
Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band EP - Joanna Newsom
Get Lucky - New Young Pony Club
Men’s Needs – The Cribs
All My Friends - LCD Soundsystem
Wanderlust – Bjork (not a single yet, but it will be)

Favourite Album Tracks of the Year:

Unless It’s Kicks – Okkervil River
The Runner – Kings of Leon
Yankee Go Home - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
I'll Work For Your Love – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Islands on the Coast - Band of Horses
Ootischenia – Be Good Tanyas
Hiding on the Staircase - New Young Pony Club
99 and 1/2 – Mavis Staples
Reckoner – Radiohead
Between My Legs - Rufus Wainwright
Gold - Interference
Drink Deep – Laura Viers

Sweetest song about a drug overdose:

Chill Out - The Hold Steady

Best post-rock cover version of a Stephen Sondheim song:

Don’t Bother They’re Here – Stars of the Lid (covering Send In The Clowns)

Best old blues standard by an actor who has played a Jedi, an superhero, a supervillain, a junkie, a shark expert, and an Afro-wearing former hitman who now walks the earth like Kane from Kung-Fu:

Stack-O-Lee - Samuel L. Jackson (also the best scene in Black Snake Moan)

Most Pointless Album of the Year:

Proof of Youth – The Go Team (Even though Chuck D is on it, it sounds identical to the previous album. It has the same progression through the album, the same structure, practically the same samples. I gather the main chap in the band has defended it, stating that he's the only person making music like this so he should keep to the same furrow, but my God, man, there's honouring the rules of the new genre and then there's copying and pasting into a new folder.)

"Don’t Get It" Album of the Year:

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - Spoon (The critics fell over themselves with this, and obviously there is some ambition and a lot of variation, but it puzzled me, as did the praise. It's alright, but really rather bland.)

Overrated Album of the Year:

Myths of the Near Future - Klaxons (Amy Winehouse, or Bat for Lashes, wuz robbed.)

Annoyingly Ubiquitous Hero of the Hipster-o-cracy:

Mark Ronson (As I've said before in other circles, he's the Mike Flowers it's mandatory to like, except that Mike Flowers was awesome, and Ronson is a dreary, name-dropping, too-cool-for-school rash on the arse of pop, and he can go away now kthxbai.)

Worst Album of the Year:

Leaving The Nest – Benjy Ferree (I tried to give this a proper listen, but everything about it made me angry and nervous. It was on Domino so I thought I would like it, but it baffled and annoyed me. Like a medieval lute player got transported to Mars and came back to play arrangements of their folk music. Never again!)

Worst Song of the Year:

Young Folk - Peter, Bjorn and John (Shut up shut up shut up shut up!!!! You're nothing but a cute whistly bit and then three minutes of bland indie-pop and the love you engender is entirely unjustified. I HATE YOU!!!!)

Other Worst Song of the Year:

1234 - Feist (After hearing her first album, I wasn't sure if I liked her or not. When I realised she was part of Broken Social Scene, I figured I should give her a chance. One million unwanted but enforced listens of this song later, and I've up made my mind. Go away, Feist. You annoy me.)

::re-reads list:: I do go on, don't I.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

This Week in TV: Week 12

As the last few shows air their last written and filed episodes, each week gets emptier and emptier, leaving us free to do other things, such as watch movies (we're going through a lot lately), go back and see the stuff we missed the first time (Gossip Girl, Dexter and Mad Men are on our list), or play more Guitar Hero (which accounts for my knackered wrist). Plus, these posts should get smaller. After all, only four shows that we regularly watch got aired last week; Journeyman, CSI, 30 Rock and Pushing Daisies. However, I just came off a crappy shift at work and some scumbag on my street is sabotaging my bins (it sounds so silly on paper, whereas in real life it unleashes the rage), so I'm as mad as hell, and I probably will take it anymore, though I will not be a happy chappy while I do take it. I'll try to intersperse the rage with stuff I liked.

Most Annoying Cliffhanger of the Week:

If I was going to say, which was the most dramatic cliffhanger, it would be a toss-up between the revelation of Aunt Lily's real relation to Chuck (hint: not aunt) and Warrick's suspension from CSI, but the low-key shocker at the end of Journeyman was the one that caused me the most agita. At the start of the episode, Livia is in her own time in the 40s, and we see that she has a boyfriend. At the end of the episode, she has a fiancee.

Quite dramatic, but the thing that annoys me most is that, of course, NBC has canceled this excellent show just as it begins to attract the attention of the fanboybase and the blogosphere and Herc at AICN, and now we're seeing things that obviously were going to play out over the season but now will be dropped with a thud. How would this have played out? Would she tell Dan? How would that affect him? Is he still in love with Livia? Is Livia's fiancee (Henry) still alive in the present? If not, how would that affect her? Would she try to help him? Or does she already know his fate and is using that knowledge? Does she know her own fate? Is she still in love with Dan? Was she ever?

Bear with me, I'm not quite done yet. Did Livia just get that "instinct" thing that Journeypersons get that tell them what their task is, and it said she should seduce Dan and then disappear, leaving him grieving and ready to begin a relationship with Katie? Or does Livia love Dan? How is she coping with the fact that she probably spent only a few months between seeing Dan for the "last time" before dying and then seeing him on his first time-trip, in which time he had moved on, got married, and had a child? The show throws up millions of character-based questions on top of the overall time-travelling mystery, and how many of them can be answered in the next two episodes? I am so pissed at the cancellation of this show that I cannot express it without using words and sentences that will warp the internet like a mega-dense object warps space/time. Let's just say that NBC are not on my Christmas card list, no matter how much I love 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights. Screw them and their much vaunted Clash of the Choirs. Thanks for ruining Christmas, jerk-asses. (ETA: Christmas isn't actually ruined by this news, but those heartless NBC arse-nodules sure tried anyway!)

Still Funnier Than "Pimp My Trike" Visual Gag of the Week:

30 Rock's The Girlie Show is obviously meant to be pretty dreadful stuff, but seriously, is this worse than Studio 60's dire Crazy Christians sketch?

Everyone loves farting. It's a scientifically proven fact.

Most Despicable Omission of the Week:

The Golden Globes nominations have been announced, and there's a lot there to like (two nominations for Big Love!) and a lot to be pissed about (no nominations for Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny or Ginnifer Goodwin??!?! WTF??!?!), but possibly the most egregious snub is for Pushing Daisies. It got three nominations (yay!), and two of them were for Lee Pace and Anna Friel. Excellent stuff. They started off well and have gotten better as they've grown into their characters. However, where in the name of unholy Cthulhu is Chi McBride's fully deserved nomination for supporting actor?

I get that the Best Actor/Actress nominations are more spread out, with more categories and more possibility to shine, but even though McBride was eligible in the overstuffed category of Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role In A Series, Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For Television, meaning he had more competition, it's still out of line that he didn't get a mention. Of course, Kristin Chenoweth got snubbed as well, and that makes me angry as well, but I'm taking up cudgels over McBride because as much as I love Chenoweth in Pushing Daisies, her break-up with Aaron Sorkin partially inspired the creation of Studio 60, so I'm still a little mad at her about that.

Leaving aside that bitterness, it baffles me as to how McBride could have been snubbed. Two nominations for Entourage? Jeremy Piven and Kevin Dillon might be great on that show, but by now Piven's only getting nominations because of his past wins. He's not suddenly turned all crap, so they can't not nominate him, but they feel they should nominate Kevin Dillon as well, so the supporting actors (Pfft. Like anyone considers Thingy Grenier the lead) gets two nominations right off the bat. Any other time I wouldn't care, but it means nothing for Chi, and that shit ain't right. Here's Emerson and Ned to facially describe my mood.

i.e. Not pretty.

Most Entertainingly Exasperated Person of the Week:

Last year, Sir Gerry Robinson tried to fix a poorly running hospital in the quizzically titled Can Gerry Robinson Fix The NHS? (Answer: apparently not, though not through lack of trying.) We managed to get through it despite the knee surgeries (they involved hammers) and eye surgeries (I won't describe those, because I might hwoark), mostly because Sir Ger was a hugely entertaining host. Usually TV presenters are required to be dispassionate (unless they're appearing on Who Do You Think You Are, You Son-Of-A-Bitch, in which case they must cry), which is why he was so mesmerising. With every obfuscation and vacillation, he got more and more frustrated, rubbing his hands over his reddening face, gasping in amazement like a dying fish, and talking directly to the camera with rising agony. His sentences were along the lines of, "I asked the manager if he was able to hire new nurses, and his response... his response was... well, it was... ::sigh:: it was just. Un. Believable!"

This week he went back to see what had happened one year later, and everything was going swimmingly, with metal knees banged into place and eyes fiddled with. ::retch:: At least, he had managed to inspire the staff of Rotherham Hospital to change their working habits and strive for efficiency, which was great. However, to Sir G's immense face-rubbing horror, the government's "See, we do care about the NHS by spending wads of cash on it" initiatives were making a mockery of their progress, accidentally punishing them by creating a new walk-in centre nearby that would leach off money and easy-to-treat patients. On paper more private trusts sounded great (which is all that matters to a short-sighted politician), but it served no purpose other than to doom the established and improving hospital.

Sir Gezza got to talk to some oily suit-wearing Mr. Smith style creep whose explanations of why the drop-in centre would work out were cyclical, incoherent, and unconvincing. This triggered yet more face-rubbing and sighing from Sir Gerry, but this time we were following his example. Please BBC, send a copy of this to Michael Moore. As much as Moore was right to go after privatised medicine, he needs to see this too. Centralised control isn't working either, much as I hate to say it. The show was a real eye-opener (much as the first was) and, thanks to the unusual and likeable onscreen presence of Serge Erry, accidentally entertaining too. If unutterably depressing and frustrating.

Bittersweet Show of the Week:

Much has been made of the cutesy tone of Pushing Daisies, with its Jim Dale voiceover, overdesigned sets, and twee murder plots (dandelion-powered cars, taffy drownings, mortal beatings with a baseball bat that has the word "kindness" etched into it, etc.), and there is something to that. However, while the production design is filled with details that will either annoy you or make you smile (such as Olive's pajamas and quilt covers matching her bedroom wallpaper), the showrunners have stealthily removed the most cloying detail, namely the sickmaking lovey-dovey relationship between Chuck and Ned, as well as making Chuck subtly smell of death. No one notices it except for olfactory genius Oscar Vibenius, played by Paul Reubens, but still, it's a peculiar and morbid touch.

Ned and Chuck are still together, of course, but over the past couple of episodes the miserable reality of their situation has stripped them of their giddy joy. Not only are they unable to touch each other but Ned's power killed Chuck's father and has forced Chuck into hiding from her family. Horrible for them, great for the show. Any worry that their chirpy romance would make the show hard to stomach has been allayed. Instead there's the bittersweet sense that the romance might actually be doomed despite the starcrossed nature of their love. The scene with Ned finding a heartbroken Chuck was unexpected and affecting, unlike any scene between them to this point.

Add to that Emerson's relentless pissiness, the increasingly dark humour (they really make the resurrection scenes as dark as possible) and the easily forgotten fact that the show is a weekly murder mystery (often with an alarmingly high body count), and it's hard to keep levelling the cutesiness criticism at it. This week saw some frozen-corpse jokes involving dogs pissing on snowmen used to hide dead bodies, ice-picks chipping ice away to expose decaying flesh, and a head block stuck to the back of one guy's head, in what was possibly my other favourite sight gag of the week.

This week was the Christmas episode, and only the ultra-cynical 30 Rock matched it for anti-Yuletide sentiment. How many Christmas specials can you remember that end with two lovers debating whether to temporarily resurrect a decaying loved one just so one of them can get one minute of hasty closure?

That's some brass cohones they've got on that show.

Easter Egg of the Week:

Didn't notice this when I first saw it, so thanks to those who alerted me to it. (Click on it to get the full detail)

Thanks also for spotting, "It's not a Lemon party without Old Dick."

Cheapest Shot of the Week:

I know Pushing Daisies is prohibitively expensive, and I get that they have to save money somehow, but come on guys, when looking for a snowy street to slot in as the view from a window, don't just steal a shot from a movie everyone's seen before.

A cookie for the first person to name the film it's stolen from.

Performance of the Week:

Until this point, Katie, played by Gretchen Egolf, has been somewhat overshadowed by gruff Journeyman Kevin McKidd and internet sensation Moon Bloodgood, having been stuck with the role of frustrated wife/mother. It could have been worse. If the show hadn't been so gratifyingly bold, she would have been kept in the dark about Dan's time-travelling leading to multiple iterations of wifely paranoia and threats of divorce. Though frustrated wife is still not the best role, it's been written well, and Egolf has done a great job with it.

This week, she got to push the envelope even further, as she deals with the shooting of Agent Richard Garrity in her kitchen (man, Mark "Ryan Chappelle from 24" Schultze, who played Garrity, really gets no luck), not to mention being terrorised by the loathsome Aeden Bennett. Instead of brushing the incident under the carpet, we see Katie organising a large Christmas event for the family, doing her best to keep herself busy. Just to make things awkward she becomes haunted by the apron she had been forced to wear by her tormenter.

Each time she comes across it her reaction is more extreme, leading to a mini-breakdown in front of her mother-in-law. Of course, in keeping with the tone of the show, her reactions are low-key and believable, as is her fractious relationship with Dan's mother. It's a terrific, subtle performance, and it made me sit up and take proper notice of her for the first time. I feel a bit bad for not giving her a chance earlier. According to her IMDb page she's not done too much work, but I have seen (and adored) Anthony Minghella's version of The Talented Mr. Ripley, though I don't remember her in it. Interesting fact, if it is indeed a fact: according to IMDb (which is authoritative, n'est-ce pas?) The Talented Mr. Ripley had two working titles; The Mysterious Yearning Secretive Sad Lonely Troubled Confused Loving Musical Gifted Intelligent Beautiful Tender Sensitive Haunted Passionate Talented Mr. Ripley, and The Strange Mr. Ripley. I mean, come on. The Strange Mr. Ripley? That's a really moronic title.

Back in the world of Journeyman, Dan's mother helps Katie deal with Dan's disappearances, having dealt with her own husband's absences, by telling her she doesn't need Dan, and can survive on her own. Oddly enough, that does the trick. Dang, at this rate, he's gonna end up divorced. How will the show cope with that incredible possibility? Oh, that's right. It won't. Because NBC canceled it. The corporate scumwads.

Casting Choice I'm Never Going To Be Able To Get My Head Around of the Week:

Though I was amazed to have lived long enough to see the downright peculiar sight of Michelle Ryan onscreen with Miguel Ferrer, nothing beats the discombobulation I get when I see Anna Friel acting alongside Paul Reubens.

That's daddy-murdering Beth Jordache talking to Pee-Wee Herman! Wow, the 21st century truly is an age of wonders.

Sneakiest Introduction of a Plot Thread of the Week:

While Journeyman has so far focussed on the romantic quadrangle of Dan, Livia, Katie and Jack, a fifth element was introduced a few weeks in; a love interest for Jack, Dr. Teresa Sanchez, played by Lisa Sheridan. Her introduction was kinda sketchy, with a meet-cute date getting disrupted by Dan, and it seemed like she was just there to give Jack someone to hang out with and make Katie jealous. As the weeks wore on, she continued to pop up, and we thought little of it. She didn't seem to trust Dan, but that's fair enough, neither did Jack. Then, as Jack comes into the time-travel fold, she is left out and her suspicions increase. Was she in league with poor dead Mark Schulze? Or Elliott Langley, the mysterious quantum physicist? Nope, she's a doctor, and thinks like a doctor. Dan is acting like a bi-polar depressive, and she recognises the signs.

Jack catches her snooping around looking for anti-depressants and is furious that she would sniff around his brother like that (amusing considering that's exactly what he had been doing just a little while ago), but Teresa drops a bombshell; depression is hereditary, and she's worried her new child, fathered by Jack, will end up the same way. There had been no inkling that news of the pregnancy was coming, and instantly Teresa becomes important and part of the tangled web of relationships on the show. What will happen to her child? Will she get rid of it, as was hinted strongly? Even if she keeps it, will she stay together with Jack? Or will Katie leave Dan and unintentionally tempt Jack away from Teresa? Oh, that's right. The show has been cancelled, so we'll never know. I almost forgot about NBC's cowardice and lack of foresight. Silly me. I should write it down on the back of my hand so I don't forget!

Not Quite, But Almost, Grin of the Week:

As there was no new Reaper this week we should retire the Grin of the Week award, but it's necessary to reward this near-miss from the recently un-nominated Chi McBride, who apparently recovers from carbon monoxide poisoning as if from a fruity dream.

Most Upsetting Show of the Week:

CSI is one of the grisliest shows ever made, not afraid to show autopsies and murders and crime scenes and all sorts of unpleasantness. This week, however, saw a different kind of nastiness; dogfighting. Tracy Jordan might have dabbled with the "sport" and wrung some laughs out of it earlier this year, but with our criminalist heroes stumbling across a dogfighting ring, the laughs dried up faster than a turkey slice in a pub Sunday roast. They even managed to show some of a fight, which made us both very unhappy.

It got worse than that screencap suggests. A couple of minutes later and a gunfight breaks out between the scummy dregs of humanity and the police, a rarity on the flagship CSI (but nothing special on the Miami variant). Some of the dogfighters get blasted to evil shreds, and I say HA! because yuk, youse guys is scum. Even worse than the NBC execs who cancelled Journeyman. Far far worse, in fact. That's some serious evil.

Still, it gave us some quality Nick Stokes time, which is always a good thing. George Eads is a big dog-lover in real life (at least according to Canyon, who is similarly a fan, of both dogs and George Eads), and it's the perfect episode. After Warrick's raging bullshit from the previous episode, it's good to see the opposite approach. Nick is obviously sickened by the dogfighting and eager to take down the bad guys, but he at least attempts to be dispassionate, opting instead for some quality gloating when he gets his man.

Classy guy.

Most Suspended Idiot of the Week:

Warrick, on the other hand, goes off at a suspect at the end of the episode and gets suspended by a horrified Gil. Way to go, douchenheimer. What did you think was going to happen?

This is the sort of thing that happens in CSI: Miami every couple of weeks. They're always getting framed or involved in murders (or shot by nailguns or caught buying drugs for their terminally ill sister etc. etc. etc). Guess Gil's more of a man than H, seeing as how he stands up to Warrick and gets him canned for a couple of weeks. H would swear to clear the presumed-guilty CSI with his most earnestest orange expression on his face. On a good week he'd get to shoot a perp and either kill or wound him badly, though leaving him conscious so he can threaten to kill him. I can't see Gil ever doing that.

Best Guest Stars of the Week:

Nothing can top the mighty 30 Rock for quality guest stars, happily following in the footsteps of Arrested Development by hiring excellent actors and giving them juicy parts to play. This week featured the first appearance of the Lemon clan, played by Anita Gillette, Andy Richter, and veteran funnyman Buck Henry.

Even better, the return of scheming mother Elaine Stritch, making Jack's life a living hell. Not only was she great, but she brought out the best in Alec Baldwin (yes, he managed to be even more incredible than usual). His hissing delivery of the line, “Really? Life is too short? Because your life seems endless,” just about finished me off.

It's fair to say he's got next year's Emmy in the bag as well. Perhaps the Golden Globe as well! That's if he got nominated, that is. For all I know the voters nominated Zach Braff over him this year, for his work in re-popularising the gurn as a valid comedic move.

That feels so much better. Next week, the final journey for the Journeyman, and pretty much nothing else. Unless I'm lazy and wait until after the Kylied-Up Doctor Who Christmas Special airs. Without Martha in it I might not be able to muster the energy, though. ::still bitter after all these years::

Friday, December 14, 2007

Darjeeling Has Limited Appeal to Haters

Yesterday I skived off work (if you can call leaving an hour early when you have flexitime hours skiving) to see Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, and enjoyed it immmensely, even though I have it on good authority by that changing tide of opinion I see on the internet that he is well past his prime five movies into his career. While I don't care about that, I will say that I understand the problem. The Onion summed it up with more pith and humour than I can right now; the guy just keeps telling the same story with the same visuals and the same fussy style.

To that list of tics, add the other recurring techniques and visuals: slow motion with plaintive 60s track in the background, either during a solemn moment or tracking shot (three times in Darjeeling Limited); formalist games (chapters in Royal Tenenbaums, a short film called Hotel Chevalier prior to The Darjeeling Limited); a jarring emotional mood switch about two-thirds of the way through the movie; zero smiling; verbose dialogue; garish set design and an obsession with certain props (the cutesy, numbered luggage that freaked me out by baring my initials). If these things affected you emotionally during Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums but irked you during The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited will probably tip you over into hating him and his preppy hair outright.

With every movie he makes, Anderson strips more casual film buffs from his fanbase, as the tics that annoy people are repeated and show no sign of being retired any time soon. I get that, and sympathise, but I can't join in, and the reasons are purely subjective. You know the word umami? (ETA: According to Canyon, Yahoo News has been talking about it today, a while after I started writing this, which is kinda freaky). It means "mouth feel" (at least the way I remember it), and is a tough-to-quantify element in taste that makes certain foods satisfying. MSG has it, which is the main reason it is added to meals. Ketchup is rife with umami, though I have difficulty believing that, as ketchup is repellent slime that has no business being anywhere near a plate.

Wes Anderson's movies make my eyes and brain feel like a tongue being pampered by umami fairies. The colours, the precise (some might say finicky) composition, the mannered performances and dialogue; I just lap them up. I'm sure most people have a creative artist who does that to them, someone whose work just fits in your head and makes you happy. In honour of my tortured metaphor, I shall hereby refer to such an artist as an umamist; someone whose work makes you joyful, even if they have quirks that should stop you from appreciating them as they have done to others. For example, I love his command of the frame, and other people find his compositions too fussy.

I have already gone on about these compositions while criticising Barry Sonnenfeld for doing similar shots. I'm not sure why I find Anderson's compositional tricks so gorgeous and Sonnenfeld's stuff ghastly. Perhaps it's because he won't have his actors look into the camera too often. Often they are face-on, but looking away to the side. Having characters look straight into the camera (and usually saying nothing, which really pisses me off) gets on my nerves. The only director who can get away with it is Jonathan Demme, and I think that's because he keeps the camera close and static (again, something that Anderson does). Sonnenfeld does that too, but will dolly in as well, which gets me down. He also can't direct actors as well as Demme and Anderson, but that's not where I want to go with this.

Anderson's use of the entire frame also makes me want to hug him. He's so eager to fill the widescreen frame, and even though it comes across as static and mannered, it's all so beautiful and painterly that it (oh man, am I really going to say this?) ravishes the eye (I did it! I can only ask you forgive me). Often his shots are almost symmetrical, but he keeps switching it up, like with this image here.

His conscious decision to have the camera horizontal at almost all times and not tilted pays off well too. Quick pointless comparison: Publicity shot from above...

...and how the shot looks in the film.

Yum to the latter one! Anderson very rarely tilts the camera up or down, keeping it on a dispassionate horizontal plane. Fine for short shots, but especially in The Darjeeling Limited he has long shots with much movement and action, and the only way he can capture this is to spin the camera around or crane it up or down, as if the camera is stuck to the head of Number Five from Short Circuit. Again, I can see why that formality annoys many viewers, but suck it, umami haters. Me likey.

Enough about the pretty. Who cares if the story doesn't work? Let's just say that if I were to recommend an American Empirical movie to someone who has not seen one before, I would almost certainly point out Rushmore, as it was my first too. If not that, there's a good chance I would skip his next two films (I love them but they have flaws) and nominate The Darjeeling Limited. It's not perfect, but it's written on a similarly small (and satisfying) canvas, avoiding the sprawling narrative template that made the middle two movies less neat but more detailed (manna to obsessive compulsives like myself, but offputting for people who want more focus and less post-modern flummery).

As with The Royal Tenenbaums, the film concerns a fractured family, but this time we follow three brothers (Jack, Francis and Peter Whitman. Like Walt Whitman, geddit?), as they journey through India in an attempt to find some spiritual closure following the death of their father. The narrower focus works beautifully, each line and look and event telling stories about their relationships with each other and the people around them. Of course, it's funny that Anderson tells this tighter tale in a country as glorious and panoramic as India. Most of the movie takes place in a cramped train, the countryside either obscured by curtains or viewed through a tiny window, with the camera focusing primarily on the faces of the characters.

Only when the Whitmans start to overcome their psychic obstacles do we see them in the midst of the beauty of India, one memorable shot zooming backwards, away from the brothers, further and further, reducing them to dots at the top of an enormous mountain. Aside: no matter how much Anderson might annoy many viewers, it's worth seeing The Darjeeling Limited for Robert Yeoman's dazzling photography. Some shots are so lovely that shrinking them down for this blog is never going to do them justice. The only film I've seen this year with such eyeboggling colours is Zhang Yimou's Curse of the Golden Flower.

There's some broad comedy, often about filial aggression or the presence of Americans abroad (they are treated like the mythical gallumphing Yankee abroad, and while they're not that bad, they do cause a lot of trouble), but most of the laughs come from the tensions between them, the distrust and cliques they have built through the years leading to various passive disagreements and annoyances. To a hater these jokey moments and the silly things they get upset about (Wilson's domineering streak, the numbered luggage, a belt that is stolen and gifted and retracted and regifted throughout) would be a distraction, but it's a conceit used more sparingly than in previous movies, which featured jaguar sharks and polka-dot mice, among other things. When the details pay off, it's satisfying enough to justify the preciousness. Case in point, Wilson's annoying personality quirk is explained late in the movie and got a big laugh from the dozen or so skiving cineastes sitting behind me.

Another nice touch is the return of many of Anderson's troupe of actors, including Kumar Pallana (The Gupta Himself!), Anjelica Huston, Wally Wolodarsky (The Simpsons writer/producer who has hovered at the edges of the WesAndersoniverse since Rushmore), Waris Ahluwalia, and a very anxious Bill Murray, whose early appearance made the travel-deadline-phobic me go into a fit of stress that hung around for a few scenes. The picture you see here is from an early screening of the film, and I honestly have no idea what he's doing. Is he an emissary of the umami fairies?

Of course, it also signals the return of Jason Schwartzman (here co-writing, along with Anderson and Roman Coppola), who is immoral and yet strangely endearing, possibly because he is dwarfed by his brothers and seems to bring out their protective instincts. Owen Wilson is, of course, present and correct as ever, though I would say I'd like his to start writing with Anderson again. As much as I have liked the last couple of movies, I think it would be good for him if he concentrated on that side of his creative personality for a while (man, I sound like a hen-pecking mother). The new element is Adrien Brody, seen here with Wes Anderson in his usual super-prep mode.

Until now I've never understood the appeal of Brody, who I gather is ugly-sexy, or fugly-sexy-cool, or some modern phrase denoting hott yet somehow nott. Part of my mystification is because I've not seen The Pianist, but he had great difficulty elbowing everyone out of the way so he could shine on King Kong. Naomi Watts managed it with ease, but he just sank into the CGI background. Here, though, he's relaxed and funny and heartbreaking. The biggest emotional beats, oddly, come from him, whether he's crying at one of Schwartzman's short stories or holding a baby while grieving. The big third-act tone-change happens to him, and his transformation from affectless hipster kleptomaniac to affectless shell-shocked hero is brilliant. With invisible effort he expresses the inner change superbly.

This event also brings in another formal trick, one Anderson has not used before. Until that point many of the details of the movie make no sense. The luggage, the perfume, the objects stolen by Brody; they're all unexplained, until Anderson flashes back to the year before, and in that scene all of the mysteries of the movie are resolved as meaning comes crashing in. It's a wonderful device, cascading backwards through the film (and Hotel Chevalier as well), making what seemed like flat moments come alive with emotion.

Perhaps this is one of the main reasons I like Anderson so much. You can either find new stories or new ways of telling old stories. He certainly seemed eager to tell the same story over and over again. The three movies prior to this one have an identical protagonist arc: disgraced genius tries to win redemption, appears to fail, and at his lowest moment does the right thing for unselfish reasons and forgiven by the people he loves. This movie changes that up by having three characters looking for redemption, and chasing another character (their mother), hoping she will try as well. The brothers do well, but while they are willing to race around India getting into fights and nearly getting killed in their search for some meaning and emotional calm, she is not interested, having found her own path. To a cynic, that would seem like not much difference from the previous films, but to a fan it's a fascinating incremental deviation from the norm.

Okay, I've gone on for aaaaages now trying to justify my admiration for this director and this movie, and it might not make any difference to those damnable hataz, but think on this. Woody Allen once made movies of incredibly stuffy formalism, often beautifully filmed, and usually about the same themes with similar plots, with only tonal differences to distinguish them. He was (rightly) praised, Anderson is (wrongly) damned. Fair enough, he's not made Manhattan or Annie Hall or Husbands and Wives, but still. I'm sure that argument is airtight! Oh yeah.

::And with that, the stench of desperation becomes too much for the blogosphere. Somewhere, a server barfs::

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

This Week in TV: Week 11 (Part 2)

It's with a saddened heart I continue my piercing, pissy, puisant comments about That Week in TV, as it has turned out that NBC has decided against renewing the episode order for Journeyman, choosing instead to keep Chuck going even though it's limping along, narratively, like a two legged woolly mammoth in the middle of a heatwave. As usual it's a case of one show getting young viewers (and being aired at a reasonable hour), and another show appealing to adults who have less disposable income but being aired at 10pm. Idiotic. While at first the new season appeared to be weak, the improvements in Pushing Daisies, Reaper and Journeyman have been very welcome (and we're hearing good things about Gossip Girl, which appears to be the good Josh Schwartz show of the season, and will be watched by us as soon as the strike begins to really bite). That still only means three (maybe four) shows were worth our continued attention, and none of them have done very well. Reaper has low ratings, but is on CW where that's par for the course. Pushing Daisies has a bigger following than Journeyman, but it's still not the breakout hit ABC were hoping for. And this is all before we get into the strike situation, and how that's affecting things. Kevin Falls, Journeyman creator, has said that the strike could end up saving Journeyman, but he's a classy guy and hopes that's not the case.
Although NBC isn't ordering a full-season of Journeyman, it hasn’t officially canceled the show either. In fact, there's a remote chance it could get a second season pickup if the strike continues through the spring, when the town is usually developing pilots for the next TV season. "If there is scorched earth and there are no pilots, then that’s a whole different thing," admits Falls. "There is probably a better than average chance that we would come back. But nobody wants that. I would throw my show on the sword if this strike would end beforehand. Too many people suffer from a long strike.”

No matter what happens, not getting to see the full season plan come to fruition (it's in the article, but beware, it contains spoilers) is regrettable. NBC may run three of my favourite shows (Friday Night Lights, The Office, and 30 Rock), but right now we're not on speaking terms. ::does obscene Italian hand gesture in general direction of NBC HQ::

Ah well, it was pretty obvious this would happen, so I shouldn't act surprised. I shall continue, through the tears. ::sniff:: I wonder how internet and lad's mag superstar Moon Bloodgood is taking it?

Oh, she's got a husky to keep her company. That's alright then.

Saddest Hair Loss of the Week:

The Pasdar, a hairstyle that could have swept the nation if it had more screentime over the past few weeks, TIM KRING!, was sadly laid to rest this week with the shocking (and downright show-crippling) shooting of Nathan Petrelli, former senator and flying ace, gunned down by a mysterious assassin just as he was about to finish the sentence, "I have the ability to fly" to a gathering of journalists. Nicely timed, mysterious assassin who has probably yet to be cast. Pasdar has been Heroes' MVP this season, bringing some snarky attitude to what has otherwise been ponderous and grumpy in place of the effortlessly low-key atmosphere of the first season. Rumour has it that of the two characters "killed" this week, only one is actually dead. While I may not have been the biggest hater of Niki (I was curious to see how her power was going to play out), I'd very much appreciate Kring's sudden interest in the opinion of the fanbase play out with him listening to the cries of "Pasdar death but noooooo!" and let Ali Larter go. Look, even her superpowered family is upset about Pasdar's death.

Seriously, they are not reacting to Niki's flaming demise at all, even though it looks that way. If you saw the show and it looked like they were mourning Niki, you saw the work of an editing hacker. For serious. No comebacks!

Best Directed Scene of the Week:

Friday Night Lights is often a masterclass of directing, as well as writing, acting, lighting, catering, and many other things. It could cure the sick and change the rotation of any celestial body it felt like as well, I'm sure. That said, even with a quality level and artistic ambition far above pretty much everything else on TV right now (or ever), this week featured a breathtaking set piece, as Dillon Panthers newbie Santiago plays his first ever game. Even for a new character he has been pretty sidelined so far, interacting with most of the main characters for a couple of minutes each episode, being used as a device to show new aspects of their personalities (Tyra's snobbery, Buddy's generosity, Coach's... well, his pissiness, which is not entirely new). This week he got a sequence to himself, first being driven to the game by Buddy and expressing his fear by having a big hissyfit, screaming insults at Buddy and disparaging the game (which was probably more hurtful to his benefactor than anything he could say about him personally). Somehow, Buddy's response (threats and fury) inspired Santiago, who grumpily snarls, "I hate you!" but goes to the game anyway.

The game is a disaster, with the first half going conclusively to the opposing team. What was so superb about that is that Buddy must have realised at that point that Santiago was so scared he would probably choke on the field, but if he didn't play he would never trust Buddy, and would begin to reoffend again. Buddy never does anything he thinks will harm Dillon's game, but finally he sees he has no choice but to do what's right for a single person, even if it screws up the Panthers defence. Gambling on the possibility that Santiago would surprise everyone, Buddy begs Coach to let him play, and in the third quarter, he relents. And it goes badly.

Bewildered, scared and frustrated, Santiago chokes horribly, and thanks to the visual template created by Peter Berg in the movie and the show pilot, the camera is right next to him as he tumbles and screws up. Coach reacts in his usual manner.

With everything looking bleak, and third down reached, Santiago scans the manic crowd, and the sound of their cheering drowns out everything, until we hear a low growl coming from him and his fellow Panthers. The look in his eyes at this point is, frankly, terrifying.

It might be a cliche that the scared character comes through in the end, but it's used a lot because it's effective and can be moving when done right. Knowing what the stakes are, thanks to weeks of slow character development, it doesn't matter that you know he will be alright. The moment he sacks the quarterback and changes the momentum of the game still works because by now his success is important, not just for him but for Coach and Buddy and, by God, the whole damn town!!!

During this five minute sequence there is barely any dialogue, just sound collages and incoherent shouts, with the cameras placed as close to the action as possible. It's the sort of scene you expect in a movie, but to see it on TV, where tight schedules make it hard to create effective visual set-pieces, shows that technology and skill and training and understanding of the medium has grown to such a point that this kind of superb, moving, nerve-wracking storytelling is possible on a regular basis, if extra effort is expended.

And yes, Buddy apologising for shouting and then telling Santiago he won the game with a single play made me cry. A lot. Stop judging me!

Most Welcome Guest Director of the Week:

Shades of Caruso loves William Friedkin. Loves! Do we love every movie he has made? Oh hell no. Jade? Love the Mighty Caruso though we do, that is a piece of shit movie, and Joe Eszterhas is a hack who has had a couple of lucky strikes to his name (three if you count the colossally entertaining Showgirls). That's not his worst film. Rules of Engagement, with Sam Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones, is possibly the most despicable movie I own, ideologically repulsive and galactically overwrought. Peter Bradshaw sums it up way better than I could in his Guardian review. Speaking of which, Friedkin also directed The Guardian, in which a family is terrorised by an evil tree. Not a triffid, a tree. Turns out Friedkin took his name off the film, replacing it with Alan Von Smithee. That's right. Allan Smithee was not a good enough pseudonym. It had to have a Von in there. You'd think he was being funny, but having seen him in interviews, he has no sense of humour about himself at all.

Other crimes include terrorising and injuring his cast members on The Exorcist, wearing cravats and high pants and aviator shades (see above and below for examples), and praising Joe Carnahan's absurd Narc just because he thought it was a homage to his filmography. So why were we thrilled to hear he was directing an episode of our favourite crime procedural?

Because he is so very entertaining. And unable to see how ridiculous he often is (his commentary for the aforementioned Rules of Engagement is my favourite ever, so unguarded are his comments). And because he has made some of my favourite movies, obviously. The Exorcist and The French Connection, predictably, but I also remember loving Sorceror when I was younger (importantly, that was before I saw Clouzot's The Wages of Fear, so who knows if I'll still like it if I saw it now). Recently he did a great job directing Ron "Awesome" Shelton's Blue Chips, starring Nick "Also Awesome" Nolte, as well as directing one of the best (and certainly most underrated) action movies of the last ten years, The Hunted.

In a way it was the proto-Bourne Ultimatum, stripped down to the essentials and almost entirely devoid of the absurdity that can often mar his films. Tommy Lee Jones has about 15 lines of dialogue, Benicio Del Toro is like a machine (or an animal, or a machinimal), and the final 40 minutes is a long chase scene. It's all so spare, with barely any event getting in the way of telling the story of two stone killers trying to kill each other, sometimes with stones. It sounds boring, but it's riveting, and brutal, and thrilling.

Of course, he also directed To Live and Die in L.A., featuring a young and never-sexier William Petersen, running around at the speed of light and getting his Little Billy out for the camera. It's not that great a movie, and when we watched it recently we just laughed at it from the first frame to the last (sexxy John Pankow? Erm...) but it's so...

...large, I guess is the right word, so unafraid to do whatever it takes to get a response from the audience, that I can't help but love it a little, from the vibrant Robby Muller photography to the super-dated Wang Chung soundtrack to the relentlessly erotic mise en scene (apologies for putting a first year Film Studies phrase in there, but seriously, most of the film has a neon pallette, with strip clubs and their neon-ness playing a large part in the plot). Plus, of course, the awesome car chase, which has become a recurring Friedkin motif, whether he likes it or not.

So, it's all very interesting to us as both Friedkin fans and CSI fans, and so cool to see Petersen reunited with the man who convinced him to shamelessly display his genitals. But CSI is not like the films mentioned above. There's not much sex (and it's rarely lascivious), no garishness (just well-balanced colours), no overt tackiness. It has a glossy sheen and treats the underbelly of Las Vegas with tact and a non-judgemental manner. Surely CSI: Miami, with its clumsy handling of moral issues, melodramatic plotlines, and sleazy sensationalism (which are factors in our affection for both show and director), would be a better fit. So how would Friedkin modify his directorial impulses to fit the CSI: Classic template?

By framing a drug-addled, hallucinating, shag-happy Warrick for the bloody murder of a stripper/hooker and setting almost the entire episode in a neon-soaked strip club, of course. It even opened with a car chase. So I guess the writers wrote the episode specifically for him? I guess? ::sigh::

That's not to say it was bad. Warrick's screw-ups are a standard plot device since season one, and this season has hinted that the break-up of his marriage has affected him far worse than it might have seemed when he makes offhand comments about it. Having his woes come centre-stage does another wonderful thing that CSI does on occasion; create episodes based on the troubles of the actors. Gary Dourdan has recently been in trouble for beating up a TMZ photographer, so that wild streak of his seems to have been parodied in this episode. It's reminiscent of Marg Helgenberger's episode about cosmetic surgery, which was cheekily filmed while her Botoxed forehead didn't move an inch for an entire season. Not even a twitch. We couldn't believe the brass balls of the producers for doing that. This episode was a bit like that, and the extra frisson worked well.

Also good was a wonderfully creepy scene where Warrick investigated a weird barbecue pit behind the strip club. Nothing much happened, but the atmosphere was deeply troubling. It was such a pleasure to watch, knowing the guy still had it. Of course, he still had to go and screw it up by going off the deep end, ending the episode with a lengthy hallucination/sex scene, which included topless Dourdan for the ladies...

...and a semi-naked imaginary-knife-wielding hottie who ends up dead a bit later, at which point Warrick unleashes a "Nooooooooo!" that would make Darth Vader's Revenge of the Sith "Noooooooo!" cower in fear.

Overall, it was another triumph for our hero Friedkin, but as usual, a triumph tainted with the stench of failure. There may be directors I love because they never get it wrong (or at least, very rarely), and some directors I hate because they never get it right, but Friedkin belongs in that unique subset: a director I love and hate and love to hate, because he gets things wonderfully right and horribly wrong, sometimes in the same movie. Or scene, even. I really need to see Bug ASAP.

Goofiest Facial Expression of the Week:

Question: Why was Milo Ventimiglia cast as Sylvester Stallone's son in Rocky V? Here's a hint:

That's some serious currybum face going on there. Perhaps he absorbed the powers of someone who could propel bowling balls through his ass. Useful if going up against the animated bowling-pin army of a particularly inventive mad scientist, but otherwise not good for much.

ETA: a concerned citizen has pointed out that Milo Ventimiglia was actually in Rocky Balboa: The Balboening, and not Rocky V: This Time It's Personal And The Other Four Times Didn't Quite Count. I apologise profusely, and will eat a bowling ball as punishment.

Bizarre and Miraculously Non-Gratuitous Nudity of the Week:

Friedkin's CSI episode featured a lot of gyrating ladies in their shiny knickers, which Friedkin would probably have explained away as his attempt to show the dark heart of Vegas, and not lots of miscellaneous flesh. He can win as many awards as he likes, like this one presented to him by a couple of film professors and Mark Kermode in his best zoot suit, but at his heart, he's a salacious son of a bitch, bless him.

However, Reaper managed to get hott lady skin on TV and make it a plot point. Sock and Ben realise that Cady, if the daughter of Ray Wise, will have 666 on her body somewhere. Contriving to erect a hot tub in his front yard, Sock and Ben get Cady alone and convince her to strip by saying it's the only way they'll ever trust her with their friend Sam. And she does.

Actually, that bit is a bit crazy, even though she convinces both Sock and Ben to strip too. Maybe Cady is a wild child and we don't know it yet. Or maybe kids these days do that sort of thing all the time. Back in my day the sight of an ankle would turn men into sexual werewolves, but then our local vicars were prowling the streets with silver-bullet shooting crucifixes in order to stop the sexx. (These are all metaphors, by the way. I come from the West Midlands. No one in the West Midlands has ever come up with something as cool as a gun shaped like a crucifix, especially one built to kill lycanthropes.)

"What in the Wide Wide World of Sports is a-going on here?!?!" Sight of the Week:

Christopher Gorham is adorable as Henry in Ugly Betty. We've been rooting for him and Betty, and panicked during the gloomy Charlie-months, even though Charlie was played by the equally adorable Jayma Mays. Canyon has commented on his cuteness in the past, and I can see that. He's a good looking guy. But OMG seriously, what. The hell? Is this?!??!!??!?!?

That's not a trick of the eye. He works out. I get that. But is he having his intestines removed? Are they hidden in a tesseract located in his abdomen? And what's going on with his upper body? It's enormous! His arms are big too. Not Benjamin McKenzie girder-style guns, but still, plenty big for a guy who gets hired to play bookish nerds. I'm a bookish nerd, and I once worked out, but if I ever ended up looking like that I'd sprint to the nearest Wendy's and gluttonise myself on their wonderful Jalapeno Double Melts (limited edition! Buy five today!), just to get that belly back.

For God's sake, he looks like an man-sized ant in a wifebeater. The second episode of Ugly Betty was, as I said before, much better than the previous one, by an order of magnitude, but the sight of this torso, and him dancing badly, was deeply troubling.

Face/Off of the Week:

Hiro Nakamura vs. Adam Munroe? Useless Mohinder Suresh vs. Sylar? Niki Thingummybob vs. the elemental force known as fire? Nuh-uh. Julie Taylor vs. Tami Taylor!

It burnt up the screen. The tension building up between mother and daughter all season has boiled over once before, but just to make that metaphor redundant, it boiled over again this week, with an incoherent and frankly scary screaming match. It was, as is often the case with Friday Night Lights, utterly believable.

In the final touching scenes, it seemed that they had put their troubles to one side for baby Gracie's baptism, but it didn't feel like anything had really been resolved. With typically astute writing, Julie the brat was not so bratty as to misunderstand her responsibility on the important day, but not so mature that her frustration with her mother was resolved. Hopefully there will be many more rucks, as this was a great scene (and Canyon's favourite moment of the episode).

Next week, no digressions about werewolves, no Grin of the Week (no Reaper!), and more Journeyman, prior to being shoved into a corner and forgotten by network execs with a lump of coal where their hearts should be, and probably not much else. My typing finger will be most grateful for the break.