Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Favourite Characters: His Heart is in His Head

Six parsecs past the Hydra-Centaurus Supercluster there's a purple sun shining on the rubble where a planet of highly evolved beings once lived. 25 years ago, in the month of Nathinganger, Melmac exploded, but the cosmos' loss was Earth's gain.

Former Orbit Guard Gordon Shumway entered our atmosphere at Mach 16 on September 22, 1986. Ten years and many hundreds of thousands of unusual meals, wild schemes, and uproarious wisecracks later, the U.S. government named him ambassador to Earth. Most just call him ALF.

Some aliens boast phenomenal powers, while ALF boasts.

Kal-El of Krypton may have laser eyes, but ALF has a voice that can stun anyone unconscious.

E.T. may have a healing touch, but ALF touches us all with the healing power of laughter.

Most people only remember ALF as that obnoxious puppet that ate cats. I remember how he hoarded lint and played bouillabaisseball. I remember how he was ashamed when he learned his parents were married BEFORE he was conceived. I remember how he spent hours on the phone urging Ronald Reagan to stop making nukes. I remember how he figured a tow truck was full of toes. I remember how he played Sancho Panza in dinner theatre on Melmac and encouraged others to be their best. If their best was making him a pie, then who was he to argue?

I love what ALF taught me about Certainty and The Truth. In episode 24, "Weird Science" ALF helps young Brian Tanner with a school report. Thanks to ALF, Brian is scoffed at for declaring the existence of two planets beyond Pluto. (This was 1987, Pluto WAS still a planet.) ALF, known to exaggerate the truth particularly when honesty isn't as funny, is blamed, but meant no harm: he's BEEN there. His Rand McNally Guide to the Stars shows 9 planets and a lot of little rocks including Dave, Alvin, and Alvin Heights.

I was raised with a lot of Certainty about the fundamental nature of life. I've found there may be more to The Truth than any one person can handle, and too much certitude can get in the way of new discoveries.

ALF is seen here with Paul Fusco, a human of little consequence.

Fusco claims ALF: The Movie is a likelihood, but where The Smurfs was undoubtedly awful, ALF will be undoubtedly awful and I will love it so.

Thanks, ALF, for being that terrible show that was MY terrible show.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review: The Lost City of Z

** (2 stars out of 5)

I'm in a book club full of delightful nerds that meets at a reasonably priced local eatery each month, and this one was no exception. We read and discussed David Grann's 'The Lost City of Z'.

Non-fiction is not my usual read, and I wouldn't ever have explored this one on my own, but it's well-researched so I can't give it one star, even though I dearly want to. For me, it is a tenuous "O.K.".

LCoZ relates the tale of Col. Percy Fawcett, an ultra-manly jerk-off who vanished in the Amazon in the nineteen-twenties. He took his kid and about a hundred other people who went looking for them over the years with him to their horrible graves. Nice job, ass! Also, it's about the lost city he didn't find.

Spoilers: it's a mystery story that
remains a mystery, and I really dislike that sort of thing. The only answers I got were: DON'T abandon your wife to hack your way through deadly bug-infested nothingness, DON'T enslave or genocide the locals, and El Dorado probably existed... but it was probably biodegradable.

I want to call this The Lost City of ZZZs- I fell asleep about a dozen times while reading it.

Since you are not me: why not? You're only going to lose your time, not your skin, sanity, or safety on a pointless quest for fortune and glory. If you're that interested, just watch Indiana Jones again... maybe the one with the aliens and nuclear explosion fridge and that Transformers kid.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

TV Review: ALF episode 7 'Help Me, Rhonda'

I am most grateful today for a PVR and Disney XD. They gave me something yesterday I hadn't seen since I was ten.

A little background. Next week marks the 25th Anniversary of a little NBC sitcom I like to call 'ALF'.

What do you mean, you don't remember it?

Well, nuts to you, because for me if was the best thing ever in the history of forever... until the ALF Animated Series came out.

Yes, I had friends! My love of this show just... drove them all away, that's all.

Neither here nor there. ALF was a very stupid sitcom about a sarcastic, narcissistic but well-intentioned glutton who is the last survivor of his exploded planet, rocketed to Earth where he... cannot leap tall buildings in a single bound and is mainly confined to the Tanner household in the L.A. suburbs. Sort of what would happen if Lucy Ricardo, E.T., and Superman were mushed together into an adorable furry couch potato full of wacky schemes. I say again, I LOVED it.

I watched it again in syndication about 10 years ago on the Family Channel where all was well until my buddy Bookmonkey spotted a frame from a (horrors!) EXCISED SCENE!
Whether for time, content, or deliberate, malicious sadism, they hacked a section out of episode 7. This has stuck in my craw ever since. All the more since it isn't on my ALF Season 1 DVD, either! It was seemingly lost for all time. I am a petty, small man, and I wanted that scene. What had it been?

I finally saw what I was missing yesterday. It was a treat called 'Help Me, Rhonda' from writers Tom Patchett and Lloyd Garver.

In his laundry basket under a map of the cosmos with a little red 'x' where one point of light had been, a 228-year-old alien is mired in the half-hour comedy version of soul-crushing depression and loneliness. ALF (Paul Fusco) regrets that a date he made with Rhonda (the furry girl of his dreams) never happened... what with all the nuclear devastation and subsequent extinction of their kind.
In an attempt to raise ALF's spirits, Willy Tanner (Max Wright) ALF's surrogate father/warden/apologist sends a plea to the heavens, specifically any meter high, eight-stomached, cat-munching ex-denizens of planet Melmac: a faint and plaintive distress signal in the form of a hit single by the Beach Boys.

Lo and behold, when all seems lost, a radio response: Bob Fappiano as the in-your-face space trucker Skip, ALF's buddy from his days in the Orbit Guard.
Skip's got the hammer down and headed for Andromeda, and he's not alone: Lisa Buckley's breathy Rhonda (with her Markie Post 1985 hair) assures ALF:

"You're the only one for me!"

So here it is. A mere three months into his extended involuntary stay on that Earth we know and love, ALF packs his bags for a new home.
I remain moved by the good-byes. Willy's impassioned "You've enriched our lives", Brian's hug, Lynn's tears. Kate's admonition to go to the bathroom before a long trip.

And so, by the logic of a sitcom, against all narrative flow and his best interest, against the best interest of an endangered species, his sex drive, his heart, and his stomachs, ALF chooses to delay his gratification, perhaps for centuries, and remains with the Tanner family. For as long as they need him.

It's a total change of premise, a shark leaped. It serves the needs of a series while distorting all reason. ALF becomes simultaneously the most loyal, devoted friend OF ALL TIME, and the worst, most inconsiderate house-guest OF ALL TIME. And a legend is born.

I was pleased to learn (after 25 years without this missing sequence) that not only did ALF's buddy Skip and Rhonda survive the big ker-blooey of planet Melmac, but so did Stella and Rick Fusterman. It seems they married and now own a tanning parlour on Mercury (nice place for it). This matters to exactly nobody: unless you loved all five of these odd little fuzzballs from their cartoon.

I'm more than a little disturbed by how happy the "lives" of a pair of ratty guest star comedy puppets made me. It was comparable to the thrill I had in 1996 when I spotted a listing for the "Project: ALF" special in TV Guide. After 6 years, a weight was lifted when I learned Gordon Shumway (ALF's discarded given name) had survived his capture by the U.S. government in the final minutes of his series. He landed on his feet, of course. Or on a cat.

Then, as now, I am both gleeful and shamed to be so invested in patent nonsense.

Happy birthday, ALF, friend of my youth.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Favourite Characters: The Mastermind

Nathan Ford blames the death of his son on the rich. As a former insurance investigator, he knows a little something about big business sticking it to the little guy.

He's lost it all, his job, his family, and even his self-respect to alcohol.

Now he's taking it all back from the powerful and the corrupt, with a plucky team of ne'er-do-wells who'll help the downtrodden by giving them... Leverage.

It's the A-Team again, which was Robin Hood again, but it's a smart, fun show and a phenomenal cast of crazy characters. The Hitter, The Grifter, The Hacker, The Thief... but it's the Mastermind who manages them, kind of like herding cats.

Nate keeps all the schemes straight and all the plates spinning, he helps the weak and he helps himself and his sticky-fingered little helpers help you.

Timothy Hutton is a great performer: I liked him in the movie 'Ordinary People', and I like him in this TV series a lot. By turns Nate is tragic, comic, menacing, harmless, funny romantic, and a little amazing.

Try some Leverage, you'll like it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Comic Review: Batgirl #1

DC Comics has launched 'THE NEW 52' which if you do not happen to be a comic geek means 52 new #1 comic book issues, some or all of which are brand new narratives. This means all y'all can jump right aboard and read a comic without knowing decades worth of classic super-hero back stories!

You know. If you have 52 times $2.99 to spend per month on comics. I'd do the math, but I'm lazy as well as broke.

My stupendous local comic store, Happy Harbor Comics, suckered me in with the cunning ploy that if I don't like them I get my money back. Well played, sirs.

I enjoyed Dan Jurgens' 'Justice League International #1', then I enjoyed 'Batgirl #1'. I already knew I liked Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, and company, but I was leery of the Bat title. I don't historically buy them... but, c'mon. It's Gail Simone!

Gail wrote Birds of Prey, The All-New Atom, Wonder Woman, the Wonder Woman cartoon movie, and 'The Mask of Matches Malone', a music-riffic episode of the 'Batman: The Brave & The Bold' cartoon. Yes, and mostly she won me over with her plentiful and gut-busting comic book-related tweets.

Ardian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes deliver very fine interior art to supplement Adam Hughes' lovely cover. We start off with a grotesque and shocking murder: an unseen black-clad character who calls itself The Mirror accosts an elderly man who was the sole survivor of a sinking ship... and drowns him with his own garden hose. Then checks him off a list that includes...

Our heroine Barbara Gordon, former librarian, formerly wheel-chair bound, now miraculously back on her own two feet and fighting crime with "upper arm strength like a mother". No mention yet of what restored her spine from the Joker's bullet 'three years ago'. No hint whether she retains the history Gail & others wrote for her as Oracle (the super-hacker information guru to the costumed crowd that many readers know best.) Keep reading!

Batgirl's just moved out of her dad's place, foiled a home-invasion gang, and had to get somebody else to push a hospital's elevator button to accommodate her cumbersome bat-bike.

Now face to (face?) with The Mirror, she stares down his gun... and she freezes. Reliving her trauma- just long enough for The Mirror to kill again and escape.

I'm of the 'tights and flights' school rather than the 'crime and grime', but I'm taking this ride.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I Have Seen The Future: TGAGAAPP

No, not a phonetic belch, but an abbreviation for Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place.

My love and I just saw a marathon from the 1998 sitcom staring the lovably amoral slacker Michael Bergen (hunky Ryan Reynolds) & his long-suffering pal Pete Dunville (likewise Richard Ruccolo).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn't identify with either of Two Guys. Not even with Immaculate Chemicals apologist-with-bucks Sharon Carter (Traylor "A Girl" Howard). Really LIKED them... but didn't identify with them.

No, I'm afraid at heart I'm most like delusional Mr. Bauer (David "Awesome" Ogden Stiers).

I'm convinced that even with the best psychological treatments the coming decades have to offer, I'm going to finally complete my metamorphosis into a rambling lunatic who's convinced film experiences are his own.

I'll live out my life regaling bored onlookers with tales of my youth driving into Toschi Station to pick up some power converters. Or how grateful mega-industrialist and weapons dealer Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg wept in gratitude when I saved his life with the Heimlich maneuver. Or how I epitomized "coolness" as the loudly-beshirted teen maestro of Santo Domingo High. (Go, Flamingos!)

I'm just saying.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My Favourite Characters: Worst Lantern Ever

Planet Korugar, located in space sector 1417 of the DC Comics multiverse, must once have been a lovely place. A trusting place. A place where reddish-magenta occasionally pointy-eared rarely big-headed people did ordinary Korugarian things... and nobody thought much of an archeologist joining the space police force of the Green Lanterns.

The devilish features, the vaguely Hitler-ish haircut, drawn in 1961 to resemble David Niven. Why would he turn on anybody? Who would ever suspect good old...

Then there's the name.

That's not a give-away, right?

O.K., so it turns out over the decades that he's had a lot going on. He wasn't just a control freak ruling his planet with an all-powerful green energy fist.

He's not just a giant yellow boot stamping forever on a human face.

No, sir! Sinestro had a love (Arin Sur) and a daughter (Dr. Soranik Natu), and even a first name (Thaal, by the by).

Voiced by a dozen guys so far, with Mark Strong portraying him in the live-action 2011 film, I have a personal favourite whose voice I hear when I read Sinestro through the brightly coloured Lantern Wars and now that he's been forced back into the Green Corps once more.

Though all the performers I've heard have been their own brand of evil, there's none quite like John de Lancie in the Duck Dodgers spoof 'The Green Loontern'. Nuance-shmuance! The guy's a rat!
De Lancie's Sinestro is definitive. Cackling, moustache-twirling, cop-kidnapping, over-the-toppest fruitiest of the nutcakes. And I wouldn't want it any other way.

Catch the further adventures of that kooky Korugarian in a comic shop or download near you, as Geoff Johns explains what the do-dah-@#&% a fear-mongering genocidal jerkus is doing back in Green.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Star Wars is Brilliant so Shut Your Noise Holes

Ewoks? Love 'em.
Jar Jar Binks? Love him.
Jabba the Hutt digitally inserted into 'A New Hope'? Love.
Jedi Rocks? I agree. If loving fuzzy Yuzzem singer Joh Yowsa's basso wails is wrong, I don't EVER want to be right.

I get it, Internet. The prequels stink of bantha poodoo, the originals (maybe only Empire, even) are golden manna showers from heaven, Lucas USED to be a genius, now he's a troll, how dare he...

Suffice it to say, I don't think you're drinking enough rageohol.

Now I read that the upcoming Star Wars Blu-Ray release is going to have MORE of this. More Biggs. More Sandstorm. More missing scenes. More aliens. More womp-rats. More changes!!!

And I gotta ask: what kind of Star Wars fans hate MORE Star Wars?

Making Wicket blink? Adorable. CG Yoda in 'Menace' instead of the so-so puppet? Palpable improvement. FORTY DAMN HOURS of special features? Including spoofs? What is not to like about this, folks?

Likening the tiny tweaks George makes in EVERY re-release to disasters, rapes, and tragedies galore with accompanying wailing and tooth gnashing seems a bizarre, overwrought reaction.

He's not taking a dump on his "masterpiece". He's adding fun to his awesome space flicks for kids- to make more money. If you don't like it, JUST DON'T BUY IT THIS TIME.

My favourite image in all this is from tweeter Phil Smith which said: "A few years ago George Lucas made and ate a sandwich. To this day he's still throwing pepper and mayonnaise down his throat to 'improve' it."

Granted. But I sincerely ADMIRE these little touches. Or touch-ups. The films (his films, by-the-by, not yours) are among the first to become like living organisms, manifesting something surprising every time they appear. If they come to the big screen again, I'd go. In a heartbeat. Or a Blargg's belch, if you prefer. And you don't.

Instead of wailing 'Nooooo!' just stick with the dusty old version that was your favourite, then pull your Boba Fett helmet over your head and bang on the sides until the new stuff goes away.

Or embrace change for a change.

Speaking of change, have you got any?
I might want a blu-ray player eventually...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Toon Review: Interstella 5555

This is a hidden gem I found on youtube when I was searching for information about Daft Punk. They are awesome, by the by. Their album 'Discovery' is the heart of this film.

Interstella 5555 is a wild SF... narrative, I guess, or maybe more a music video with 105 minute running time. It is anything but a silent movie, but it's the epitome of 2003 animated coolness.

Gassed and kidnapped from a concert appearance on another world, a group of blue humanoid aliens are repurposed as human rock stars. Re-branded as "The Crescendolls" they are drummer Baryl, bassist Stella, keyboardist Octave, and guitarist Arpegius. They reach #1 hit status with 'One More Time' and reach new depths of misery in their earthly enslavement.

The Earl of Darkwood, himself an ancient alien, seeks conquest of the universe by harnessing the musically gifted to an infernal device... as you do.

Will music prevail? Find out.

I call this a beautiful little curiosity. I sometimes think I'm going to run out of sci-fantasy to really like, or that the crustier I become, the less I'll enjoy what remains. Well, that hasn't happened yet, friends.

My robot heart is breaking and my LED display eyes are moist with feeeelings.