Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Top 5 Simpsons Characters

I'm coming to you live from Casa de Pfeiffer, home of occasional T5E contributor Mike Pfeiffer, enjoying some classic Season 7 Simpsons. There are probably over a hundred recurring characters in The Simpsons, and I won't pretend to be able to name them all, but I can tell you that I'm probably more knowledgable than most. (Not more than reader Mike!) Here's my Top 5 personal favorite Simpsons characters.

5. Lionel Hutz (Phil Hartman) - Probably my favorite TV lawyer of all time. Incompetant, yes, but with such enthusiasm! "How about that! I looked something up! These books behind me don't just make the office look good, they're filled with useful legal tidbits just like that!"

4. Montgomery Burns & Waylon Smithers (Harry Shearer) - What's the key ingredient to a great comedic villain? A great foil. Smithers is the ultimate lacky. "Smithers is a foil, sidekick and love interest all in one," says Pfeiffer.

3. Professor Frink (Hank Azaria) - Professor John Frink was original designed as a caracature of Jerry Lewis's character in the original Nutty Professor. But he became so much more! Professor Frink became the show's gateway to Back to the Future jokes. Okay, and lots of other jokes about science and science fiction and being a nerd, too, but what's more important
than Back to the Future jokes?

2. Comic Book Guy (Hank Azaria) - Only three words are necessary: Best... catchprase... ever!

1. Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer) - One of the greatest comic villains in cartoon history. His flair for the dramatic, his angelic singing voice, that outragous hair... He's well known for trying to murder Bart Simpson, but there's nothing I love more than watching Sideshow Bob battle his true nemesis: rakes.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Top 5 Letdowns of 2008

Okay, let's get negative. Last night I sang the praises of 2008 and all the great things that came along with it. But I've decided it's better to leave the year on a dark note. After all "that's what life is, a series of dark notes." (Clerks) Here's a compilation of things that sucked about 2008, which I've entitled "Top 5 Letdowns of 2008."

5. Indy, X-Files: Failure to (re)Launch - The real pity is that the original script to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had a great potential, before George Lucas stepped in to add the kid, the cutesy animals and ridiculous vine-swinging scene, not to mention the end-ruining spoiler in the very first scene. I did enjoy the Indy relaunch when I first saw it, but after finding out more about what it could have been, it kind of ruined the whole ride for me. As for The X-Files: I Want to Believe, I left that movie feeling supremely gipped. Yes, it was a very good Mulder/Scully story, but it was an awful X-File. (I'll save you the spoiler, in case you want to see it, but really, the solution to the mystery is extremely dissapointing.)

4. Counting Crows, Ben Folds Dissapoint After Long Wait - In March, Counting Crows finally released Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, their first studio since 2002's Hard Candy. I'll admit being sick of the album after about three listenings. It just had no bite. Then there was the long-awaited Way to Normal, Ben Folds's new album, which fans had been waiting for for three years, and I daresay we're still waiting. The new record tried to address fans' complaints that the previous record, Songs for Silverman, was humorless and overly mature. Way to Normal so blatantly overcompensated that it delivered several borderline songs ("Free Coffee" "Bitch Went Nuts," "Brainwascht,") and one that's unquestionably terrible ("Errant Dog") ending Ben's streak of six LPs without a stinker. Honestly, if it weren't for "Kylie from Conneticuit," I'd almost wish this record hadn't happened at all.

3. Bruce Springsteen Sells Out - It happened only a few weeks ago. Bruce Springsteen, The Boss himself, champion of the common man, liberal political activist and voice of the struggling small town and family business, made a deal to sell his new Greatest Hits album exclusively through Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart, the very symbol of big business, outsourcing and the end of the American dream. With one single penstroke, Bruce Springsteen has fallen from American Hero to Corporate Tool. My father, a lifelong Bruce fanatic with over 200 live shows under his belt, put it best: "No more heroes any more."

2. The Event Age of Comics Hits the Wall - Comic book critics have been referring to the last few years' worth of mainstream comics as The Event Age, which I imagine is what they'll call the 80s, 90s and present once it's too late for us to call it The Modern Age anymore. Up until this year, though the constant world-shaking crossovers were sometimes a little frustrating, things were pretty great. For Marvel, there was House of M and Civil War, and DC had some of their best years ever with the marathon of Identity Crisis, Countown to Infinite Crisis, Infinite Crisis and 52. Suddenly, 2007 into 2008, we get hit with the train wreck of a weekly Countdown to Final Crisis, plus the fundamentally disappointing Batman: R.I.P. and Final Crisis, the slowest, most boring "Epic" yet. A lot of people enjoyed Secret Invasion, but I tried really hard to get into it and just found it inaccessible to the casual Marvel reader. Leaving for college in early 2007 made it hard enough for me to keep up with my comics. 2008 made it difficult for me to even care anymore.

1. TV Drought of 2008 - The Writers' Strike kind of kicked the legs out from under the table of quality television. Entertainment Weekly called 2008 "the year the Second Golden Age of Television ended." I don't think I can put it any better. 2008 was the year there was nothing to watch but reality shows and reruns for half the year. The year even good shows suffered from no rewrites. 2008 was the year Heroes crashed and burned. At least the disaster that was the 2008 season taught (or should have taught) viewers the value of the television writer. With any luck, America will never take Ron Moore or Jane Espenson or Tina Fey for granted again. (But they probably will. See? Dark note.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Top 5 Everything, 2008

At first, the plan was to make a spectacular video episode to commemorate this 50th list, which wasn't going to be a big year-ending whatsit, but a geektastic X-Men thing. This was a bad plan. I was going to try and recapture the "magic" of my failed attempt to videoblog, Ask Dylan: Coolest Geek Ever, which would let me sort of cross-promote, turn my old viewers into new readers. But then I remembered how annoying videoblogging is. First, writing and editing (which is the entirety of this job), then filming, then editing again, then post-production... what a hell. Plus, when I was half done with this video I realized that my hair was so bad it was distracting. I got to re-experience exactly why Ask Dylan failed, and I'm determined not to let something like that happen to T5E. (I'm in this for the long haul, loyal readers!) So, after a view days of noodling, I decided screw it, let's do the actually good idea, which is writing the big year-end whatsit everybody expected in the first place.

So, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the beginning of what I hope is the beginning of a new Top 5 Everything tradition, which I cleverly entitle "Top 5 Everything." At the end of a calendar year, I'll be coming up with a Top 5 list that encompasses everything for that year. Basically, it's a more catchy way of saying "Dylan's Five Favorite Things from This Year." Here goes it, people.

5. Tina Fey - Between 30 Rock and her now-legendary Sarah Palin impersonation on SNL, Tina Fey concreted herself as one of the funniest people on television, both as an actress and a writer. For a concrete example on how good she is, compare any given SNL skit with Tina Fey as Palin to any other sketch the show did all year. Notice the difference: hers are funny, the others aren't.

4. BRAAAWWWWWLL! - When Super Smash Bros. Brawl game came out (after months of delays) in March, my group of friends had already been obsessed for months, having been following the daily updates on the official site and playing Melee constantly. Once we actually had the game in our hands, we couldn't stop. I think I played 6 or 8 hours a day for a week. As in if I wasn't eating or sleeping or going to class or doing homework, I was playing this game, and so were nine of my friends. In order to unlock every character, you have to either complete the adventure mode (which takes a long time) or play 400 multiplayer Brawls. We did the later, and it took less than two weeks. And we're still playing. Brawl is without a doubt the single greatest party video game ever made, and the past two years have also seen Rock Band and Call of Duty 4.

3. Year of the Superhero Movie - Bloody, hell, was this a year for genre cinema. Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk were a terrific beginning to a new Marvel Movie Universe and managed to make two 2nd-string characters supremely cool again. Mr. 4th of July Will Smith pulled off a successful direct-to-screen superhero as the title character of Hancock and I guess some people liked Hellboy 2. Plus, (and though I haven't seen it yet) The Spirit appeals to the Frank Miller crowd. Oh, yeah, and there was that other movie by that Chris Nolan fellow that only became the second-highest-grossing movie of all time! The Dark Knight was not only a financial success but also a pop-culture sensation and a great critical success. TDK could very well be the first superhero movie to earn a Best Picture nomination. This is a big deal for geeks like me who have desperately sought validation that the superhero genre is as legitimate an art as any other.

2. Rise of New Media - This March saw the launch of Hulu.com, the first truely practical high-resolution streaming video-on-demand service on the web, offering ad-supported movies, TV shows and more in DVD- to HD-quality. The loading times being leglidgable on your average broadband connection, Hulu kicked the ever-loving crap out of its closest predecessor, AOL's In2TV, whose resoltion, loading times and frustrating glitchiness made it nearly-impossible to enjoy programming. Plus, a constant flow of new content, including next-day TV shows. In a matter of weeks, Hulu became every college student's best friend.
Then there was Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, which proved that original content can actually recoop expenses or even make money on such a format. True, with his rabid fanbase (including yours truly) it's very difficult for anything Joss Whedon produces not to become an instant cult classic, but could it ever have happened at all without the New Media revolution?

1. The Obama Campaign - Oh, Gods, what a ride. 2008 was my very first election, having only turned 18 last year. Being a politically-interested guy whose national pride took several million hits during the Bush Administration and I wanted some serious change. I followed the primaries intently, and though Joe Biden was my original first choice for the Democratic nomination, I very quickly came around to the Obama camp, wowed like the rest of the country by his oratory and idealism. When I got back on campus in the fall, I joined up with the Susquehanna University College Democrats to help with the campaign, raising money, registering young people to vote and placing phone calls to residents in my overwhelmingly conservative town. When the news came in that Obama was the projected winner, it felt like a personal victory. I got him elected. Me. I did that. That's a feeling like I'd never experienced before, solidly concreting 2008 as an important year not just for America, but for me.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Top 5 Christmas Songs

Sorry about the erratic posting this last week. It's the holiday season and everything's a little crazy. On a related note, tonight I'd like to list my Top 5 Christmas Songs. I debated a bunch of different ways to do this, mostly whether to judge based on the songs themselves or particular renditions and finally chose the latter. The following are my Top 5 specific Christmas or winter holiday-related tracks.

5. "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" - Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. This probably would have been higher on my list if The Boss hadn't announced yesterday that he'd be releasing his new greatest hits compilation as a Wal-Mart exclusive, effectively betraying all his true fans, who have always believed him to be a patriot and a crusader for the little guy. Bruce, seriously, you better be good for goodness sake.

4. "All I Want for Christmas is You" - Mariah Carey. You heard me. C'mon, it's a great song that harkens back to the Phil Spector sound of the 60s. Ms. Carey has never been less irritating than in this number.

3. "White Christmas" - The Drifters. Not to diss the Bing Crosby standard, but isn't the doo-wop version just a thousand times more fun? What Christmas song is more fun to sing along to? Plus, since it features both a bass and a falsetto-alto, there's a part for everyone to join in. It's even dancible. Plus, it was in Home Alone. (That's probably more of a credit to the movie than the song.)

2. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" - Frank Sinatra. This one I only recently fell in love with. What makes this track great is its ability to somehow be simultaneously soothing and somber. The song seems to, to paraphrase High Fidelity's Rob Gordon "hint at a deep sea of melancholy buried just beneath the surface." And of course, there's the rich vocals of Sinatra himself.

1. "Last Christmas (In the style of 'Please Mr. Postman')" - Rubber Band. On their rare, out-of-print Christmas album Christmas! Beatmas, the Swedish Beatle soundalikes perform several classic Christmas tunes within the recognizable framework of a Beatles hit. For instance, their "Silent Night" has the psychodelic sound of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." My favorite track on the album (though it's pretty close) is the I-can't-believe-Wham!-has-a-lasting-Christmas-hit "Last Christmas," with the classic Motown sound of The Beatles' own cover of The Marvelettes song "Please Mr. Postman." I can safely say that this track exceeds any of the three it's based upon, with its great use of harmony and countermelody and, of course, a great John Lennon impression on lead vocal.

After Christmas: The 50th List is a VIDEO!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Top 5 Things I'd Do to Fix the DC Universe

I'm not saying that DC Comics is "broken." But of late, the comics universe I grew up with has become stale, convoluted and... I suppose boring. I'm a big fan of comic scribe Grant Morrison's work up to about a year ago, but putting him in complete control of the universe's direction has proven to be a very poor editorial position. Of course, Morrison is a qualified professional with years of brilliant writing under his belt, JLA and Seven Soldiers alone are enough to make him a legend, and farbeit for me to presume that I could do a better job, but...

Oh, you all know me better than that. Of course I think I could do a better job. I write a daily opinion column. I'm clearly convinced that I've got the right idea about everything. Anyway, here's my list of the Top 5 Things I'd Do to Fix the DC Universe.

5. More Delegation, Less Micromanaging - For the last decade or so, in what's being called the Event Age of Comics, crossovers and world-shaking event titles have seemed to choke the individual titles' individual creativity. Taking the Editor-In-Chief out of creative decisions and letting editors maintain continuity rather than dictate direction could be a boon to storytelling.

4. Complete Reboot - I know it's bad press for a company to acknowledge its competitor's superiority, but come on, Ultimate Marvel was an amazing idea and it's about time that DC outright admitted it and played ball. The DC All-Star line was a start, but it's time to create a new, comprehensive DCU that's accessible to new fans, comperable to what Marvel did nearly a decade ago to great success.

3. End the Sliding Timescale - Starting over could lead to many new opportunities. If DC were to create a seperate new line of comics from the ground up, I recommend first and foremost that this universe have a real sense of time. Characters could age, grow up, die and create new legacies. Take risks! DC seemed to have this intention when they killed Batman last month, but with no body to speak of, it's hard to believe that they're taking this change seriously, as they've left a clear back-door out of the whole thing should it backfire. Time to throw your hats over the wall, gentlemen.

2. Stop Looking Back for the Future - The last few years of DC Comics (and Marvel, too) have seen a lot of story recycling. Jason Todd, Hal Jordan and now Barry Allen are alive again. Green Lantern featured a five-issue storyline which was nearly identical to one published almost two decades ago. JSA became basically a book about the alternate Superman from 1996's Kingdom Come. It seems that comics are suffering from the same creative drought as the film industry, constantly looking for new old ideas to reboot. Give us something new. Batman: R.I.P. and Green Lantern's "Blackest Night Prelude" are steps in the right direction.

1. Genre Diversification - Of course the foundation of DC Comics is in superhero stories. And well it should be. But how about experimenting with telling stories with these characters with the intent to write in a new genre first, and then work it into the superhero framework? is, of course, based in detective work. Keep that up. But how about Green Lantern as a police drama? Wonder Woman as a sword-and-sorcery book? Flash as a family drama? Of course there are elements of these things in these titles, but why not make them the goal instead of the side-effect? In the end, you'll still end up with good superhero stories. And isn't that what we're after here?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Top 5 Ways I'll Miss Majel Barrett-Roddenberry

As you may be aware, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, the First Lady of Star Trek, passed away yesterday of Leukemia. Barrett was one of the original cast members of Star Trek, being one of only two actors from the first pilot, "The Cage," to return in the ongoing series, along with Leonard Nimoy. She played the recurring character Nurse Christine Chapel on Star Trek: The Original Series, along with the voice of the computer aboard all Federation vessels and starbases, featured in all six series, including several voices on The Animated Series. She also appears or performed as a voice in five movies, including the upcoming prequel/reboot.

But it was as Lwaxana Troi, mother of TNG regular Deanna, that she gained the most popularity, making six appearances on that series and three on Deep Space Nine. Lwaxana was famous for her extravogant wigs, ridiculous outfits and outlandish attempts to seduce both Captain Picard and Constable Odo. Majel was not, admittedly, a great actress, but her role was a comedic one, not dramatic, and I can't imagine anyone doing a better job. After all, the role was invented specifically for her.

And of course, she was married to Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, and after his death became a regular at conventions. She has kept the legacy of Star Trek alive and thriving for over a decade. All of Trek fandom will miss her, but here's my personal Top 5 things I'll miss the most.

5. The Cast Thins - Majel Barrett is the third member of the original Star Trek cast to be lost to age, after DeForrest Kelley (Dr. McCoy) and James Doohan (Scotty). Her death, like the Spock's painting of the expulsion from Paradise in Star Trek VI, it is a reminder that all things end.
4. Nurse Chapel - Most characters on The Original Series were fairly flat. Nurse Chapel's silent affection for Mr. Spock made Chapel a much more interesting character, even though she was only a recurring character.
3. Star Trek Royalty - With Majel's passing, the last immediate relative to Gene Roddenberry is their son, Eugene "Rod" Roddenberry, who has no real production ties to Trek. In a sense, the Star Trek line has ended.
2. Trek Silliness - A Trekkie friend of mine, though she takes Trek extremely seriously, believes that it's the tounge-in-cheek episodes that are the spice of the series. Majel Barrett-Roddenberry's Lwaxana is the most consistantly loopy Trek guest star without being annoying, like say, Neelix.
1. The Computer - Majel Barrett is the one and only computer voice. It's my hope that she's recorded enough dialog as the computer that her voice can continue to be used indefinitely. Just the other day, I was in the car with my dad talking about what needed fixing with its GPS Nav computer, and the voice just wasn't right. "We need Majel Barrett," I said. Ain't that the truth.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Top 5 Guilty Pleasures of the 90s

You asked for it, you got it. As requested, here's my Top 5 pop culture Guilty Pleasures of the 90s.

5. Ace of Base - I don't own their CD or anything. But it just brightens my day whenever I hear "I Saw the Sign" on the radio at mall or anything. Fond memories... Anyway, I can safely say that they're my all-time favorite Swedish pop group.
4. Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition - While I now condemn the first breaths of George Lucas's Abomination Machine, I'll confess that as a young lad I was totally grabbed by the flashy new effects and merchandise, leading right up to the disaster that was The Phantom Menace. But of course, I was eight when the Special Edition hit theaters, and was as such the target audience for it and everything else that Lucas has released since, so I can't feel too bad about being roped in. And it is how I got my first lightsaber.
3. Good Burger - This summer I revisited this movie with my girlfriend and it was just as funny, and just as stupid, as it was when I first saw it in theaters back in '97. "Hey! I'm Grape Nose Boy! Bloobiddy bloobiddy bloobiddy..." (Note: Director Brian Robbins went on to helm Norbit. Dear... God...)
2. Pokémon - The animé, mind you. I'm not even a little guilty about enjoying the video games. I happen to be the proud owner of Pokémon Pearl for the Nintendo DS and a healthy Lv. 61 Lucario named Brawl. But the cartoon, I'll happily admit, is a pinnacle of stupid. But hey, it was on during the hour between The Batman/Superman Adventures and Batman Beyond, and I had to watch something, dammit! You can't blame me for getting hooked when the theme song was so frakking catchy!
1. Power Rangers - At a recent fraternity meeting, I responded to my name in roll call by exclaiming "It's Morphin' Time!" I may not in fact be guilty about this. But I probably should. I can't imagine I have to say much more about Power Rangers, having devoted an entire list to them back in October. I will add that I had a Red Ranger costume in my closet for years and had a habit of putting it on even when it wasn't Halloween.

Alright, this time you've all gotta spill your guts. I want to see some comments!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Top 5 Revisions I'd Like to Make to Previous Lists

Even I, glorious master of all things that may be organized in lists of five, make mistakes. Here are 5 changes I'd like to make to lists I've published over the last two months, in order of priority.

5. Top 5 Reasons Nathan Fillion Should Play Captain America - The countdown stands as it is, but I'm now not entirely sure that Nathan Fillion is the right man for the job. Or, rather, that he would make a great Captain America for all the reasons I listed, but that be maybe shouldn't, both because that would disqualify him from playing Green Lantern Hal Jordan in the future, a role for which he is even more perfect, and because I just can't see Nathan Fillion with blond hair. I don't think that works. So, good luck to him, but should Marvel pass, he's got Hal Jordan in the bag.

4. Top 5 Outdated Phrases I Still Love to Use - I'm going to replace #5, "Nifty," with "Hunky Dory," on the grounds that it's the name of a David Bowie album. The new countdown stands as:
5. "Hunky Dory"
4. "Fella"
3. "All is Groovy"
2. "Nifty"
1. "Boy, Howdy"

3. Top 5 Coolest Superhero Costumes - Sorry, Spidey, but I've decided to knock you off the list in favor of Invincible, of the Image comic Invincible. Case and point:

The revised list is:
5. Invincible
4. Blue Beetle III
3. Ultimate Captain Marvel
2. Kyle Rayner - Green Lantern, V2.0
1. Iron Man - Movie Suit, Mark III

2. Top 5 People Who Should Have Their Own Talk Shows - After watching a video of him moderate the Q&A panel with the cast and crew of Battlestar Galactica at ComicCon, I'm convinced that the first person I'd like to have host a talk show is Kevin Smith. Ideally, it should be on HBO, and be on entertainment and geek interest items. That being said, Patton Oswalt is now a little redundant on my list. Now, the revised list:
5. Tina Fey
4. Ron Paul
3. Mike Pfeiffer
2. Jon Oliver
1. Kevin Smith

1. Top 5 Movies of the 90s - Yes, just yesterday I committed a horrible, horrible mistake. I was convinced, in my mind of minds, that The Big Lebowski was released in this decade, rather than in the 90s. However, as my girlfriend reminded me today, The Big Lebowski came out in 1997. As such, I'd like to place it rightly at #2 on my Top 5 Movies of the 90s, sliding all the other submissions down. The new list should read:
5. The Shawshank Redemption
4. Good Will Hunting
3. The Usual Suspects
2. The Big Lebowski
1. Pulp Fiction

Monday, December 15, 2008

Top 5 Movies of the 90s

Continuing my series on my favorite retro decade, the 90s, I'd like to talk a little about movies. The 90s saw the popularization of indie cinema, spearheaded by the Weinsteins' Miramax Films. At the same time, computer-driven special effects were starting to really leave their mark on blockbuster studio films. Much like the music industry did in the 90s, smart, witty filmmaking and flashy visuals started to meet in the middle around the beginning of this decade. For the most part, indie films dominate this Top 5.

5. The Lion King - It's true that Beauty and the Beast and the rest of the Disney Renaissance raised the bar for animated features, but what gives The Lion King that extra push over the cliff is the risks it took. For one think, it's basically Hamlet, but aimed at kids. Would five-year-olds be able to handle Scar assassinating his brother for the throne? Would the movie be to violent or cerebral for children? At the same time, would adults be able to connect to these characters when they're in the the form of cartoon lions? Everything took shape magically, and the final product ended up a brilliant balance between drama and comedy that families would still enjoy today if it wasn't for Disney's hair-brained policy of only releasing its classic films on DVD for a month at a time and then intentionally letting them fall out of print. Everyone I know loves this film; one person I know owns it on DVD. C'mon, guys. Give us our favorite Hamlet back.

4. The Shawshank Redemption - Yes, we all know Stephen King knows how to scare the ever-loving crap out of pretty much everybody. But The Shawshank Redemption proves that he also has the ability to craft one of the most uplifting films ever made. True, unlike many King adaptations, the screenplay for this one was not written by the author himself, but director Frank Darabont, who deserves most of the credit for this masterwork. Of course, where would The Shawshank Redemption be without the untouchable performance of Morgan Freeman?

3. Good Will Hunting - The film that brought Matt Damon (yay!) and Ben Affleck (huh?) into our lives forever. A now-classic screenplay and an Oscar-winning performance by Robin Williams made this indie film a mainstream success. On a personal level, this movie inspires me: a screenplay written by a 25-year-old kid is now, only a decade later, being taught in classes at my university. If he can do it, perhaps, can I?

2. The Usual Suspects - A film buff friend of mine called this a "gimmick movie," claiming that it hinges too much on its twist ending. He placed the same label on Memento, which very nearly made this list as well. I disagree, on both counts. The Usual Suspects has memorable characters, intriguing dialog and is superbly acted. It earned the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and a Best Supporting Actor award for Kevin Spacey. It's possible that I have a bias - the film was written and directed by two guys out of my high school. In any case, it's a personal favorite of mine, second only to our number one...

1. Pulp Fiction - What can one say that hasn't already been said a hundred-thousand times? Pulp Fiction is the pinnacle of smart, funny and ironically literary independent film. Robbed of a Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump (which I'll admit it may have deserved, plus it was also up against The Shawshank Redemption) Pulp Fiction has more staying power perhaps than any other movie of the decade. Its appeal is nearly-universal due to its revolutionary realistic dialogue, its fearlessness and the single greatest use of Christopher Walken in any movie. Plus, it taught us all what they call a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese in Europe and made us actually care about it. That says something.

CODA: This list was revised in Top 5 Revisions I'd Like to Make to Previous Lists.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Top 5 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Episodes



I did promise to continue my Star Trek series of Top 5s, and it's been a while since the last installment. DS9 is my favorite Trek series half of the time. The Next Generation may best embody Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future, but Deep Space Nine is a better television show. It's more relatable and more exciting. Here's 5 examples of greatness from DS9 you shouldn't miss.

5. Rocks and Shoals - The entire 7-episode arc that bridges seasons 5 and 6 is brilliant, but Rocks and Shoals is definitely the stand-out. Both stranded on a deserted planet, the crew and a regimen of Jem'Hadar soldiers await rescue, which may never come. The injured Vorta commander realizes that the drug that keeps his Jem'Hadar soldiers in check is running out, and that they will soon turn into mindless, bloodthirsty monsters and kill him as well as the Starfleet crew. In the tradition of Balance of Terror (TOS), this episode presents a balanced, human look at both the "good guys" and "bad guys" in wartime, and has some great dialouge and character, as well, courtesy of writer Ronald D. Moore.
4. Duet - The first jewel to present itself in DS9, this first-season episode sees Major Kira interrogating a Cardassian war criminal, a man she's hated her whole life, and getting interrogated right back, questioning her motives, her integrity and her very soul. Meet Gul Darhe'el, Star Trek's very own genocidal Hannibal Lecter. An episode that will cut into you and even make you re-examine your own judgements and prejudices, which has always been a great goal of Trek.
3. His Way - It's important not to overlook the light-hearted, silly episodes. This 6th-season episode is about the stoic Odo learning to show his feelings for Kira Nerys with the help of fictional (in the show, too) Rat Pack member Vic Fontaine in a holodeck program. A little song, a little dance, and the kiss fans waited almost six years for.
2. The Visitor - Much like TNG's The Inner Light, this tear-jerker follows a character through a life he may have had, but instead of being the life he always wanted, this imaginary existance is a nightmare. The episode begins with an aging Jake Sisko, who we know as a teenager, telling the story of his life to a young admirer of his writing. Jake weaves a haunting tale of his father's untimely death and his own inability to let go and enjoy life, wasting his years away in an attempt to somehow rescue him. A brilliant character tale, The Visitor is a father-son story like no other.
1. In the Pale Moonlight - Star Trek, of course, is about hope. It's about a better future, a better humanity. But as Ben Sisko learns in this episode, sometimes humanity has to commit horrible sins to keep that dream alive. In one of the darkest Treks ever, Sisko must try to con the Romulans into joining the Federation's desperate fight against the conquering Dominion forces. If he fails, the Federation will likely cease to exist. But if he succeeds, it may very well cost him his soul. If you watch one DS9 episode, this is the one.

Top 5 Reasons True Blood isn't "Trashy"

This morning I started watching the HBO naturalist vampire series True Blood. It's been five hours and I can't stop. I mentioned it to my sister and she said "Huh? Why are you watching that? It's trash!" I'm certain that by that she was referring to the often-gratuitous sexual content in the first few episodes and not to the fact that it's genre fiction, otherwise we're going to have to have a whole other argument. But after marathon-viewing almost half the first season, I think I have a fairly good argument as to why "Trashy" is a poor description for the series. And here I go:

5. When measuring trashiness, it's important to remember audience. True Blood is aimed at adults, not teens like Buffy (whose sexual content has been criticized) or pre-teens like Twilight (which may steer away from graphic content but whose eerie sub-sexual obsessive romanticism is just creepy).

4. True Blood is a character-driven, well-written show. A series is not "trashy" just for having sex scenes. By that definition, you'd have to call The Sopranos, Dexter or Six Feet Under trashy, too, to say nothing hundred of Oscar-winning films.

3. Sexual content is only gratuitous if it doesn't add anything to the story. In the case of True Blood, it has a lot to do with the point they're trying to make with the series, which is an allegorical case study about racism and homophobia.

2. As the show goes on, the amount of nudity absolutely decreases. The producers (or the network) probably demanded more sex and nudity for the first few episodes to grab attention, and scaled it back once they realized that the story and the acting stood for themselves. The last two episodes I've watched actually included no nudity. Coincidentally (or perhaps not) viewership rose steadily throughout the season.

1. Vampire stories always had a lot to do with sex. The difference is that they've generally been about veiling "dark" sexual urges in the supernatural, or in personified, demonic characters. Why do you think the genre came into popularity during the repressive Victorian age? The difference is that the part of the point of True Blood is the lifting of the superstitious veil behind this fictional subculture, so naturally the sex would be somewhat less veiled. Or, since it's on HBO, a lot less veiled.

(I missed yesterday, so there will be another list before the end of the day. I have to get used to how T5E will fit into my schedule when I'm at home as opposed to school.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Top 5 Most Underrated Superhero Movies

Sure, everyone talks about Spider-Man 2 and Batman Begins when talking about the best superhero movies, but there are a ton of great genre films that are forgotten. Here's 5 you shouldn't overlook.

5. Spider-Man 3 - Why does anyone hate this movie? Do people not understand that the dance numbers are supposed to be campy and funny? If it wasn't for the totally-unneccessary Sandman plot, this could maybe be the best intallment in the series.

4. Superman Returns - Seriously, this movie gets a bad rep. Viewers panned Bryan Singer's tribute to the Richard Donner Superman films for not being action-packed enough, but it's no less exciting than the classics it's based on. Yes, it's not at all true to the source material, what with that little kid, but it's just as good as Superman II.

3. The Rocketeer - Disney's first and only attempt at adapting a superhero comic for film, The Rocketeer is a period piece taking place in the 1930s and has action, intrigue and the always-sultry Jennifer Connelly. If you like pilots in Steampunk jetpacks and Art Deco helmets, see this immediately.

2. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm - Until Batman Begins, this was the best Batman movie ever. The only reason it gets overlooked is because it's animated. Originally planned for direct-to-video release, the first movie from Bruce Timm and Paul Dini's DC Animated Universe was so good that Warner Bros. decided to put it in theaters... a month before its release. Lack of advertising and difficulty finding an audience made it a financial failure, but it's become a cult classic.

1. Unbreakable - By far the best M. Night Shyamalan film, Unbreakable was originally going to be a trilogy about what it would be like if someone discovered that he had superpowers in a very dark, very real world. Unfortunately, the movie was poorly received at the box office, and he decided to make Signs instead. Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson give excellent performances as an invulnerable middle-aged security guard and his fragile mentor. The most realistic superhero flick ever.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Top 5 Geeky Gift Ideas

If you're reading this blog, it means there's at least one geek in your life, and you might be wondering what to get him (or her, yes some of us are girls) for Christmas or Hanukkah or whatever you celebrate. Luckily, your good ol' Uncle Dylan is back with five ideas to get you started.

5. Firefly on DVD - Because every year is the right year to gift Firefly on DVD. Seriously, don't be surprised if this is on my list next year, too. I never leave home without mine. If you've got an extra 20 bucks, throw in the collector's edition of Serenity, too.

4. Gears of War 2, Call of Duty: World at War or Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe for XBox 360 or PS3 - It's been a slow season for video games, but these games have recieved excellent reviews and are much-anticipated geek-pleasers. (I recommend MK vs. DCU myself.)

3. The Dark Knight, Iron Man or The Incredible Hulk on Blu-Ray or DVD - It's been a year of great superhero films. Find out your friend's favorite and give the gift of film awesomeness.

2. Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog DVD - Own the internet event of the year on a DVD-R Joss Whedon probably burned one-at-a-time in his basement. Includes the much-anticipated Commentary!: The Musical, featuring Joss, Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion and others not speaking but SINGING over the movie about their experience in making the film. (I haven't gotten to see this yet, but wow, what a concept. Couldn't be anything but awesome.)

1. Watchmen - We're only three months away from the much-anticipated film adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's graphic novel classic, and if you or your favorite geek hasn't read it yet, now's the time. You can pick up a copy of the paperback at any bookstore for about $20. If he/she has read it and enjoys it, there are a number of ways you can still take advantage of the Watchmen hype. For the comic afficionado, there's Watchmen: The Absolute Edition, a special-edition hardcover edition that comes with 48 pages of bonus features, which is down to about $60 on Amazon. Also, I recommend the iTunes exclusive Watchmen Motion Comic for anyone who's already read the book and has always wanted to see it animated. The motion comic is a series of 30-minute episodes that animate the comic panel-by-panel, minimally-abridged. It's basically the adaptation I've wanted to see since I first read the book. If your geek loves Watchmen, gift the Season Pass on iTunes.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Top 5 Things I Hate Most About Having a Cold

As you probably guessed based on the title of this list, I'm a little under the weather right now. I'm not terribly ill or anything, just a mild cold. The Common Cold, though rarely a serious ailment, is always annoying. Here's my Top 5 Things I Hate Most About Having a Cold.

5. Fatigue - I pride myself on being outgoing and energetic. Being tired really cramped my style.

4. Dry, itchy, red nose - Tissues take their toll on my nose. It burrrrrns. Yes, I could use tissues with lotion, but they make my hands feel greasy and gross.

3. Contagion Guilt - I had my girlfriend and three of my friends over today, with plans that were set in advance and that I didn't want to cancel, so instead I spent a lot of the time worrying about getting them all sick. I did a lot of hand washing and even brushed my teeth a couple of times so that I would stop feeling sick. It didn't help. I'm certain that between today and the three hours in the car back to school tomorrow that I'll have gotten either or both my girlfriend and one of my friends together.

2. Itchy Eyes - Few things are more annoying to me than an itch I'm not allowed to scratch. Combine that with the tired feeling you get from having heavy, itchy eyes, plus the likelihood that I am actually tired on top of that leads to double-extra annoyance.

1. Runny Nose - Mountains of used tissues! Constant hand washing! Oh, yeah, don't forget feeling like snot for days, even weeks! A runny nose completely throws off your rhythm. It can keep you busy for minutes at a time, which makes working, playing or, say, typing, extremely difficult to enjoy or complete in a timely manner. Grr, argh.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Top 5 Greatest Inventions of the 20th Century

Requested by Dad

Sitting in my living room with my parents, my sister and my sister's boyfriend, the topic eventually somehow came to T5E and what tonight's topic should be. My father suggested that I do "Top 5 Greatest Inventions of the 20th Century." So, first, what makes an invention great? I would grade an invention based on its overall effect on global society, influence on later technology and longevity of use. That being said, here's my list.

5. Cellular Phone - Today, everyone and their kid has a cell phone. Anyone can reach anyone personally nearly anywhere on Earth. (Literally everywhere if you could SatPhones.) Remember before cell phones? (Not all of us are old enough to.) Remember having to find someone in a crowd without a cell phone? Remember calling someone's house and having to ask if Johnny was home? For that matter, remember picking up the phone and not knowing who was on the other end? Remember payphones? The fast pace of today's world could not sustain itself without the ability to communicate on-the-go.

4. Airplane - Speaking of the fast pace of the world, what about travel? The invention of the airplane, and to a greater extent after the popularization of jet engines, placed the continents closer together and made travel relatively quick and inexpensive. Business became streamlined. The nature of military strategy completely shifted. Not to mention the role of airplanes and airports in popular culture.

3. Television - National network radio established the foundations for a single American pop culture by giving people across the nation something in common - their entertainment. But radio, time has proven, lacks the absolutely hypnotic effect of television. TV changed the way America, and later the world, spent their spare time, fought their boredom, got their news and educated their kids. Yes, TV is blamed for melting the brains of kids, but think of all the edutaining videos you watched in school, or the Discovery Channel special you watched last week. TV didn't just change the way we relax, it also changed the way we learn and the way we think.

2. Refrigeration - I can't take credit for thinking of this one - this was #1 on my dad's list, and I'll tell you why: Refrigeration changed agriculture by making perishable foods longer-lasting. It changed medicine with its ability to preserve specimens. It changed economics and real estate, because now, through the power of Air Conditioning, people could settle in places no one would have dreamed of living years earlier. What if you had no fridge and no A/C? Think about how much your life would change!

1. TIE: Computer & The Internet - Yes, it's T5E's very first TIE! When we were debating our own Top 5s, we were unable to come to a consensus about which was more important - the PC or the Internet. The Internet revolutionized pretty much everything about everything, but there'd be no Internet without the computer. The computer contributed millions of important breakthroughs in science, medicine and entertainment before the internet became widely used, but the internet is such a huge part of all of our lives and the lives of everyone in the forseeable future, that it's hard not to place it ahead the PC. Today, the two are so completely intertwined that you don't even consider a computer not being connected to the internet. Honestly, if you were to be offered a free computer today and it had no internet capability, you wouldn't think about accepting it, no matter how fast or otherwise state-of-the-art it is.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Top 5 Movies That Rock

Yes, I just borrowed a term invented by VH1. A "Movie That Rocks" is a movie that either centers around musicians or music fans or uses music as a lens to examine life. I'm a big fan of this genre, being a musician and music appreciator myself, as well as a cinemaphile. I've seen a lot of "Movies That Rock", and here's my Top 5.

5. Ray - Definitely the best of the music biopic subgenre, Ray is the most honest-seeming biopic of a living celebrity I've ever seen. It is both sympathetic and merciless. Every punch that Ray takes in his life (with the exception of those that are racially-motivated) it seems he deserves. He is portrayed as an unfaithful husband, a drug abuser and a selfish, selfish man. His blindness is not played for sympathy, it is his personal faults that both make us root for him and prevent us from seeing Ray as a vanity piece for an aging music legend. Jamie Foxx's portrayal is incredible - he completely disappears into the role. And the music is, of course, great.
4. This is Spinal Tap - Rob Reiner and what would eventually become the Christopher Guest Gang brings you the single greatest improvised comedy ever. Quotable, innovative and gut-bustingly funny, Spinal Tap reinvented the mockumentary genre. The music is parody, yet quality. Not to mention that, even after the entire viewing public public realized that this was not a real documentary (yes, they did fool some people) people still flocked to record stores looking for "Smell The Glove", and Spinal Tap actually inspired a new generation of over-the-top hair bands. That's a pretty damn big impact.
3. That Thing You Do! - Okay, I know I'm going to take some crap for putting this ahead of Spinal Tap, but That Thing You Do! has a lot of sentimental value to me. I've seen it over twenty times, I've got the damn thing memorized. A playful look at the rise and fall of a band in 1964, TTYD! is a quirky comedy written, directing and co-starring Tom Hanks, with great, era-appropriate songs (the title number written by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne) and a score by the now-legendary Howard Shore. This movie walks the fine line between smart and cute with the grace and agility of Juno or Garden State.
2. Almost Famous - A semi-autobiographical film from writer-director Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire) about a very young rock journalist touring with a "mid-level band struggling to come to grips with success". A great music film and my favorite coming-of-age tale. Almost Famous is about rock music, but it's also about what it's like to love rock and roll, or at least what it was to be a fan in the late 70s. Witty and emotionally stirring, Almost Famous's status as a cult movie instead of a legendary film is astonishingly unfair.
1. High Fidelity - Shamefully, I left this off my Top 5 Romantic Comedies. John Cusack's portrayal of Rob Gordon, indie-record-store-owner who is clueless over why his relationships always fail. Rob analyzes his life through music. It is the one thing he actually understands, and if you don't then he'll leave you behind. (He's a snob - I can relate.) High Fidelity is very much a romantic comedy, but this movie fits under the "life through the lens of music" category. This is a film for neurotic record collectors. (And most record collectors are neurotic. I should know, I work at an indie record store.) Plus, Jack Black as an obnoxious record geek who's in a band called Sonic Death Monkey.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Top 5 Cartoon Cliches We'd Like to do in Real Life (Guest Starring Mike Pfeiffer)

Today's Top 5 is something a little different. As I mentioned in the afterword for yesterday's list, I'm hope for the weekend, which means I have access to certain resources I am otherwise forced to work without. Tonight, Special Guest Star Mike Pfeiffer(!) helps me compile this list. (NOTE: We just watched The Mask, so that's where the idea comes from.)

5. "Don't Look Down" Syndrome - It's interesting to note that in cartoon cliché, the idea is that whatever the funniest thing that can happen in a given situation is the one that will happen, even if, nay, especially if it defies the laws of physics. "Don't Look Down" Syndrome is our name for the ability to shatter reality by ignoring it. Whether that means surviving a dynamite blast by making a witty comeback (even if it's out of the back or side of your head) or refusing to fall off a cliff simply by looking straight ahead, in the cartoon world, ignorance is bliss.

4. Rubber Band Body - The human body's capacity for bouncing off the walls is, unfortunately, very limited. Neither you, nor, in most cases, the walls, have that much elasticity, so you don't get great results, and persisting in bouncing off walls will likely lead to being relocated to a place where the walls are padded. (However, as Kel Mitchell's Ed in Goodburger discovered, this is actually a step in the right direction for the avid wall-bouncer.) With the ability not only to bounce off of surfaces like a rubber ball Daffy Duck-style, the cartoon classic Rubber Band Body also allows one to dodge bullets or let your tounge fall to the ground watching a pretty lady get out of a taxi and lead it to being caught in the door and pulled away, leaving you dazed and oblivious until the suspense has reached its optimum funny output and you get snapped back.
Mike Pfeiffer's theorum of Cartoon Funny: Comedy = (Amt. Bodily Harm Caused) x (Time Spent Anticipating Bodily Harm Caused) + (Attractiveness of LAAADeeeee inadvertantly responsible and/or oblivious to Bodily Harm) / (Wryness of Comeback Afterwards). The goal is for the equation to equal 1.

3. Automatic Soundtrack - I don't know know if it's a problem for you, but it's really hard to maintain a conversation while singing your own soundtrack. How long have you waited for a private sensual moment to be accentuated by a muted trumpet? How many of your trumpet-playing friends are tired of being petitioned to hiding in your closets during a rendez-vous? How many of your trumpet-playing friends have started to creep you out for acquiescing to this request too often, or even asking you not-so-subtly when next his services will be required? I know this is a problem for me. (Pfeiffer still calls me often to coda his disappointing moments on trombone with a descending "bwaah bwaah bwaaah".) What if, by some freak of non-science (read: nonsense) you could summon an invisible, intangible omnicient 40-piece orchestra to react to and anticipate your every comedic whim? This solves everything.

2. Fourth Wall Breakage - It's about time we start acknowledging the secret audience of each of our lives. Why should that little pissant Frankie Muniz get to do this and not me? That way, I can at least pretend that someone interested is listening when I talk to myself. (Not to say that I'm not interested in what I have to say. I do publish a daily blog of my opinions and actually expect people to read it. T5E may in fact be the closest I'll ever get to 4th wall acknowledgement.)

1. "Hammer Space" - The lesser-known half of the Hammer-Time/Hammer-Space Continuum. Hammer Space, like Hammer Time, is potentially infinite and went of style in the late 80s. Imagine, if you will, a pocket so deep that it contains every possible funny object that could be used in any scenario, yet still appears, from the outside, to be flush with your pant leg. (Or fur, if you're an anthropomorchic rabbit.) Named for the funniest of all objects that can be retrieved from Hammer Space (called Mallet-Space in some circles), it allows for the existence of spontaneous prop gags that even the Who's Line? gang could antipate. Playing cards? Go fish! History quiz? Pocket Lincoln! Lost your pencil? Too bad, that's not funny. Pfeiffer was quick to point out that these pockets may also provide an endless supply of lingerié that would distract authority figures (hunters, hungry cats) and make even J. Edgar Hoover blush.

Catch you guys tomorrow, when I more-than-likely count down top "Top 5 Foods I Ate Too Much of This Afternoon". (Pfeiffer suggests "Top 5 Holiday Cop-Outs") Also, we'd like to thank the two people who got the J. Edgar Hoover joke.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Top 5 Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes



As promised, here's my list of the Top 5 ST:TNG episodes.

5. Starship Mine - This pick I'm sure will baffle some Trekkies. I've never seen this episode make any other top 5s around the net, but it's an all-around winner. Starship Mine feels more like one of the movies than a TNG episode. It's funny, action-packed, but still true to character. It's one of the first times we ever get to see Picard kick ass, as he's stranded aboard a deserted Enterprise fighting to keep dangerous trilithium resin out of the hands of terrorists. A subplot involving Data's new "small-talk subroutine" brings the biggest laughs the series ever gets. How this episode slipped under the Best of Trek radar is beyond me.
4. Lower Decks - This Seventh-Season episode focuses on a small group of friends, junior officers, the expendable guys, the guys who don't get to make the calls, just follow them. I mention that it's in the seventh season because we've had seven years to get used to how the show works: the crew is confronted with a problem, they struggle, but their confidence and experience helps them prevail and at the end of the day everything goes back to normal. This week, everything is different. Our heroes are only vaguely aware of the problem, because it's classified. They struggle with smaller, more personal struggles, and their youth and insecurities make overcoming them difficult, and when the story ends their lives are changed forever. Refreshing.
3. The Inner Light - Though The Next Generation was always more plot-driven than character-driven, there were character subplots that ran through the whole series: Data's quest to be human, Riker's stagnant career, and the most powerful one, Picard's lonliness. Captain Jean-Luc Picard, it is slowly revealed throughout the series, has always regretted not starting a family. In The Inner Light, Picard experiences, in the space of 25 minutes, an entire other life where he has a wife, kids, and grandkids. And then he wakes up and to everyone else, nothing's changed. But for Jean-Luc, nothing will ever be the same.
2. Darmok - The epitome of what Star Trek is supposed to teach: understanding through adversity, the brotherhood of diverse cultures, and trust and respect to all people. If you are to show someone any one Star Trek episode, it should be this one.
1. All Good Things - A perfect ending to the series, providing closure to the character arcs. Guest appearances abound, an epic story and the highest stakes the show's ever put on the table. All Good Things is one of the best series finales in TV history, paying respect to the entire series and leaving the viewer with a tear-jerker. I can't tell you how many times I've watched this episode, and every time that last scene chokes me up.

(My apologies about the lateness of this list - I came home from college today for Thanksgiving break and my time was kind of limited. I'm considering coming back to this one in the morning and touching it up, but I didn't want to keep you guys waiting.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Top 5 Albums of the 90s

Whereas most of my generation seems to have some kind of 80s obsession, (see T5E reader David L's blog article on the subject) I'm a much bigger fan of the 1990s. The 90s undoubtedly had better music, better TV and better movies, not to mention that we actually experienced the 90s. (I'm tired of people in my graduating class saying "Remember [80s sensation]?" No, I don't remember that, and neither were you. You weren't born yet.) Today I begin a recurring series of lists on the 90s, starting with my Top 5 Albums.

The state of music in the 1990s was unique - the popular stations were equally shared by mindless cookie-cutter pop and deep, introspective alternative rock. This balance, I think, improved both genres. Pop's simplicity had limits, and could remain fun to listen to, and rock had to have catchy melodies and memorable lyrics. Today, I fear that both genres have suffered from the loss of this balance.

My list today is, though, all alternative records. This is, like any of my other lists, based on my own personal tastes.

5. Yourself or Someone Like You - Matchbox 20
Six hit singles don't lie. "Real World", "3AM", "Back2Good" (stupid 90s title, I grant you) "Long Day", "Push" and "Girl Like That", plus "Kody", which wasn't a single but got a fair amount of MTV play (this is before MTV plunged off the deep end). The epitome of fine 90s Post-Grunge, Youself or Someone Like You was angry, aggressive, but still open and accessible.

4. Weezer (The Blue Album) - Weezer
This one's a no-brainer. "My Name is Jonas", "Buddy Holly", "Say it Ain't So" and "Surf Wax America" are still recognizable rock anthems. Weezer's self-titled debut influenced dozens of bands to follow. The Blue Album set the standard for rock albums for the remainder of the decade.

3. Bringing Down the Horse - The Wallflowers
Considering that every Wallflowers album prior to or following this one is mediocre at best, you have to give the bulk of the credit for this album's near-perfection to producer T-Bone Burnett, who only two years earlier had crafted the first Counting Crows record into a work of sheer genius. In this album (and this album alone) Jacob Dylan is able to cast off his legendary father's shadow and establish himself as a songwriting force to be reckoned with; Bringing Down the Horse is miles above anything Bob Dylan put out during the 90s. From beginning to end, Burnett and The Wallflowers create a full, enveloping sound, offering lyrical brilliance and a long series of great hooks.

2. Whatever and Ever Amen - Ben Folds Five
"Brick" is only the tip of the iceberg. Yes, the haunting abortion elegy is a memorable, lasting 90s hit, but to ignore the other 12 masterworks would be criminal. Every track on this album is approaches perfection. "One Angry Dwarf & 200 Solemn Faces" is an introduction to Ben Fold's own variety of "fun anger". "Fair" demonstrates the band's ability to take a story of misery and pain and make it boppy and peppy. "Selfless, Cold and Composed" is the best, most emotionally real break-up song of all time. (In contrast to the previous track, "Song for the Dumped", which is the most fun break-up song of all time.) "Evaporated" is one of the most finely-crafted ballads ever written, emotionally gripping and melodically hypnotic. (Though those of us who like to cover Ben Folds songs on piano find the use of two pianos on the studio track extremely frustrating.) As a whole, Whatever and Ever Amen uses the entire emotional spectrum, and like a fine meal, leaves the listener exhausted, but satisfied.

1. August and Everything After - Counting Crows
"Stepped out the front door like a ghost into a fog, where no one notices the contrast of white on white"
An introduction to the mind of Adam Duritz, tormented poet laureate of the invented genre of English Major Rock. Duritz has a psychological condition called a "dissociated disorder," which in essence makes life feel like a prolonged, absurd dream. August and Everything After is filled with dreamlike images, perfect poetry of a man only half of our world. "'Round Here", "Anna Begins" and "Sullivan Street" are perfect songs. They are perfect. They represent the finest poetry in alternative rock, melodies that stay with you for decades, and again, the fine production talents of Mr. T-Bone Burnett. There is no single sound on this album that feels unnecessary, and nowhere does it seem as if something is missing. Most of the Counting Crows archive is excellent, but August is a masterwork from beginning to end.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Top 5 Things that Need to Change about American Society

I don't think I've done a serious political list in a few weeks, so I thought I might take a broad look at American society and judge it arbitrarily. Of course, if you read this, you agree that mine is the only opinion in the universe that matters, and will gladly help me enact broad social change in this great(?) nation of ours. (You'll note that this "serious" list is already biting with goofy sarcasm, but trust that the points I make, regardless of how much I ham up the problem, are my real opinions.) Here's today's Top 5 Things that Need to Change about American Society.

5. Absenteeism - Yes, there's an argument that Americans are lazy, there's also a lot of fine examples of people who live their whole lives at work. Today's American businessperson is expected to be on-call 24 hours a day. That means when he's at home with his kids, when she's sitting down to family dinner, when they're on a date or at the movies, their eyes are fixated on their Blackberries. This is extremely destructive to our already-struggling American family.
4. Apathy - The election woke us up, but our generation, the generation in college and high school now, needs to stay awake and informed. Yes, The Daily Show is great, but it can't be our only source of news. Yes, Facebook is a great social networking tool, but behind each of those status updates is a real person who needs real human interaction. Yes, the cafeteria buffet means eat all you can eat, but there are still people on the other side of the world or just the other side of town who are dying of starvation. The Obama Campaign reminded us that we matter and that we can change things. Let's try to keep it that way.
3. Credit - Why do you think our economy is in crisis? It might have something to do with the fact that each of us is in debt up to our eyeballs. The lesson here is the same one we were supposed to have learned from the Great Depression: don't spend money you don't have. That goes for you, too, Federal Government.
2. Jingoism - The last eight years have involved a lot of unwarranted flag-waving. If we're going to call ourselves "The Greatest Nation on Earth" every five seconds, let's make sure we deserve it. And even then, let's still not say it. Our complacancy is what makes other nations resent us. We need to acknowledge that there are always things we can be doing better.
1. Homophobia - After November 4th, many of us were quick to say that America is now a "post-racial" country. That very same day three states voted to define in their constitutions that marriage is between a man and a woman. The civil rights challenge of today is in gay rights and sexual tolerance. America must remember that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" (MLK) and that by extention, injustice to anyone is an injustice to everyone.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Top 5 Newspaper Comics

Requested by rrrrrreooow!

Huzzah! A request! Keep 'em coming, folks. For this list, I've decided to confine myself to comics that are currently in publication. Included as evidence for each entry is a strip from the past month. (Due to some embedding issues, you're going to have to click on each one to get the whole picture. I'll get to work on fixing this problem when I have more time.)

5. Get Fuzzy - Darby Conley
Get Fuzzy

4. Monty - Jim Meddick
Monty

3. Doonesbury - Gary Trudeau (CONTEXT NOTE: This strip is from two days after Obama's election.)

2. Zits - Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman

1. Dilbert - Scott Adams
Dilbert.com

Friday, November 21, 2008

Top 5 Games to Look Forward To

Requested by Dan Montrose

This year's holiday season, in my opinion, has not been the most exciting for video games. Sure, a lot of people are psyched for Gears of War 2 (I'm not) but besides that, there's not a lot much to look forward to until next year. Here's the Top 5 upcoming video games I'm looking forward to.

5. Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009) - Hey, a Batman game actually based on the comics instead of an adaptation! Developer Rocksteady Studios says the gameplay will focus on combat and forensics, the two core skills of Batman. Story by Paul Dini, plus the return of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and Joker.
4. Star Wars: The Old Republic (TBA) - Just announced, the follow-up both to the popular Knights of the Old Republic series and to the lackluster MMORPG Star Wars Galaxies. Now, play as a Jedi, as a Sith, as a Mandalorian, you name it. It's early in its development, but BioWare promises in-depth story and PvP action.
3. Halo 3: Recon (Q3 2009) - A lot of people were disappointed with Halo 3's online multiplayer, or upset that the series of sci-fi first-person-shooters was over. But the first (of many?) expansion pack to the game promises not only a totally-new single-player campaign, in which you play as one of those NPC troops you see throughout the franchise, plus lots of new multiplayer possibilities.
2. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2: Fusion (2009) - I've played the hell out of Ultimate Alliance. I'm still playing it, and it's been out for almost three years now. If they just gave me more stages to this same game, I'd be thrilled. But Activision promises new characters, new game mechanics and a super-cool storyline that might include plot elements from Civil War!
1. Star Trek Online (Q4 2009) - My entire life, I've wanted to be a Starfleet officer. This is the closest I'm ever going to get, and I've been waiting since 2005 for them to finally finish the damn thing. Everything I've seen so far of this game, from its species-creation system, the promise of your very own starship and a universe that will literally expand, giving you new things to explore for years, means I'll pay whatever monthly fee they want. I'm ready to energize.

(I've noticed you guys have stopped making requests. Is it something I said? Is there an odor? Please, don't be shy.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Top 5 Bond Themes

Since Quantum of Solace hit theaters, I've been musing over Bond themes. Most of them are just awful, but there are a few gems hidden between lines of bad lyrics and tired smooth jazz. Here's my personal favorites, plus a YouTube link to the sequence they each appeared in...

5. "A View to a Kill" - Duran Duran, A View to a Kill

4. "Live and Let Die" - Paul McCartney & Wings, Live and Let Die

3. "Goldfinger" - Shirley Bassey, Goldfinger

2. "Tomorrow Never Dies" - Sheryl Crow, Tomorrow Never Dies

1. "You Know My Name" - Chris Cornell, Casino Royale

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Top 5 Worries about the New Star Trek Film


I am, as I've mentioned before, a huge Trekkie, and have been all my life. I'm also a fan of J.J. Abrams, mostly through Lost, so I was excited when I first heard he was taking the helm of the franchise. And so far, I've been very happy with all the casting decisions, preview footage and with most of what's been revealed about the story. Unlike so many whiny babies on the internet, I was pleased with the Enterprise redesign, finding it to be a fair mix between the original TOS model and the refit from the first six films. However, I do have a few reservations about the film, which are, as always, listed below from 5 to 1.

5. Believability - The trailer has a 12-year-old Kirk driving a Corvette off a cliff and jumping out at the last second. There is no way nobody's going to laugh when this happens. And it's probably in the first half-hour of the movie. Walk-outs? A very real possibility.

4. Accessibility - Rumor has it, this movie is going to start on Post-Nemesis Romulus, with Next-Gen-era Spock (Leonard Nimoy) picking up the pieces from the Reman rebellion and following up on the events of "Unification" (TNG) before traveling through the Guardian of Forever (from "City on the Edge of Forever (TOS)) to the past. So, it's a spiritual sequel to a movie nobody saw and two TV episodes, one that aired 15 years ago and the other that aired 40 years ago. Are people who've never seen Trek before going to have any idea what's going on?

3. Reception - Speaking of accessibility, it's no secret that my generation has no respect and no interest in Star Trek. How many high school and college kids, the people who make blockbuster hits blockbuster hits, will actually show up to see this movie? How many of them are willing to give Star Trek a chance? This is going to be the most expensive Trek yet, by a lot. My fear is that this movie will lose so much money that it will bury the franchise forever. These fears already existed when the movie was scheduled to come out at Christmas. Now that it's a summer movie, that means that Paramount will be spending a lot more on promotion. I would love to see this movie be a hit, but I'm calling it right now - it's not going to happen.

2. Continuity - I wish they'd just call it a "re-boot". They keeps saying that it'll stay true to the established canon, but it can't possibly. All they're doing by calling it a "prequel" instead of a "re-boot" is opening themselves up to getting attacked by purists for "raping continuity".

1. Star Wars Influence - J.J. has repeatedly said that he wants to "inject more of a Star Wars feel into the new Trek. It's always been my position that Star Trek should be entirely separate from Star Wars, and remain the smart storytelling it's based in instead of feeling like it has to be effects-driven or action-oriented. Sure, I like when there's action and special effects, but I certainly have never felt that Trek has anything to learn from Star Wars, particularly based on the last 10 years of Star Wars. The fact that J.J. says he "was never a Star Trek fan", but that he loves Star Wars, makes me worry that he's going to try and make my favorite franchise more like his favorite franchise. The last thing we need is another Star Wars movie.

P.S. - If you read this blog, please respond to the poll on the right sidebar. I'm trying to do a little census-taking. (Please don't eat my liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Top 5 People Who Should Have Their Own Talk Shows

There's talk of giving Sarah Palin a talk show when her term runs out in Alaska. Though this is definitely favorable over her ever running for President ever, ever again, this still makes my flesh crawl. If there's a spot open on a network's daytime or late-night line-up, I've got 5 potential hosts that should definitely get the call before the GOP's favorite Hockey Mom.

5. Tina Fey - Should be the next host of the Tonight Show (after Conan) or the Late Show (after Letterman, so it might finally be watchable).
4. Ron Paul - Ron Paul's common-sense politics may not have gotten him anywhere in the race for the Republican nomination, but I'd love to see him make a thirty-minute firesat chat five nights a week, addressing the day's issues.
3. Patton Oswalt - My favorite stand-up comic and script doctor should have a show on G4 or something about geek interests. Listen to his album "Werewolves and Lollipops" and you'll understand why. (If you've only got time/money for one track, my point is best illustrated by "At Midnight I Will Kill George Lucas.)
2. Mike Pfeiffer - Okay, nobody knows who he is, yet. And he's just my pal from High School. But I swear he's the funniest guy in the universe. His show would, however, be best suited for cable or light-night, because his sense of humor has gotten filthier and filthier since I've known him, and I imagine this trend can only continue into the future. Speaking of the future, keep your eyes and ears open, because he might sneak up onto the big-time comedy scene. (If he ever gets around to actually getting on the comedy scene. C'mon, buddy. Get on that.)
1. John Oliver - The Daily Show's British corespondent is quickly becoming the new Steven Colbert. John Oliver's contributions are a highlight, if not the highlight of the show these days. His wry wit, plus is fresh, one might say "foreign" perspective, would make him an ideal candidate for another spin-off. Of course, there's really no need or demand for another half-hour of political satire on Comedy Central, but should either Stewart or Colbert ever wish to retire, go on sabbatical or pursue other projects (as if either of them would throw away their careers with such a move) Oliver could absolutely fill in. (Ironically, as I was writing this, tonights' John Oliver segment began, and it was kind of disappointing. Well, you can't win them all.)

CODA: This list was revised in Top 5 Revisions I'd Like to Make to Previous Lists.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Top 5 Ways DC Comics Failed Me This Year

I'd like to say up front that I've always been more of a DC guy than a Marvel guy. Though I've had my spurts of buying Ultimate Spider-Man, I spent years buying three or four books a month from DC and thoroughly enjoying it. My fondest comic book memories are from the summer and fall of '05, when my friends and I used to buy all the different threads in Countdown to Infinite Crisis and share them every Thursday over lunch, then spend the rest of the week trading theories and cracking jokes about B'wana Beast.

When I left for college, I thought I would be devastated over the lack of a comic shop anywhere near campus. I was sure I would need my mother to ship me my monthly comics or that I would go into severe withdrawl pains. But this entire calendar year, I've struggled to even care what's going on in the DC Universe. Below I list the reasons I think I've lost interest, linked to major failures by the DC editorial staff in 2008.

5. Green Lantern: Secret Origins - Green Lantern is my favorite book DC makes, by far. I'm a big fan of Kyle Rayner, but I like Hal, John and Guy, too, and Hal's GL book, written for the last four years by Geoff Johns, is probably the best run in the franchise's history. After being a little disappointed with last year's Sinestro Corps War, I'm still hopeful about the upcoming Blackest Night storyline, which should be absolutely epic, assuming this years-long buildup doesn't burn all the fuel up. But here's what drove me nuts about GL this year: Johns and his team spent 5 issues, nearly half the year, on a storyline called Secret Origins, which is a flashback storyline that basically rehashes the popular 1991 storyline by Gerard Jones. Like, it's basically the same story, with some cryptic foreshadowing for Blackest Night added in. It was remarkably pointless, and the series lost all momentum. I've never seen a book stall for time more obviously. Just give us the story we want, already. This is ridiculous.

4. The Return of Barry Allen - Thank you, DC Comics, for making meaningless. Just like you made Crisis on Infinite Earths meaningless. Just how you made A Death in the Family meaningless. Thank you so much for bringing back the last character left in comics whose death had any weight. I'm so tired of DC (and Marvel) resurrecting long-dead characters for shock value. It's long-since stopped being shocking, besides being shockingly stupid. Jason Todd's death was a vital moment in this history of Batman, and you had to bring him back for no reason at the same time Marvel brought back Cap's long-lost sidekick. Are they officially out of ideas?

3. Countdown to Final Crisis - I think enough has been said about what a disappointment Countdown was. A weekly comic for the sake of a weekly comic, Countdown had no cohesion and was horribly confusing. It was such a failure that Grant Morrison severed all ties to it when making his Final Crisis book.

2. Batman: R.I.P. - This is supposed to be "The Last Batman Story". Batman could very well die at the end of this storyline. Batman, arguably the greatest comic book character of all time. But could this book seem any less epic? Grant Morrison, though he has proven his creative genius in countless comics since the eighties, truely dropped the ball here. Morrison has Batman performing his final act hopped up on acid in a suit made from a tablecloth, making random references to stories from the Silver and Bronze ages and providing nearly no shocks or intriguing twists. Plus, precious little action. Then he reveals that Batman: R.I.P. is actually NOT the end of Batman, as it had been advertised all year, but that the real ending will be in Final Crisis, and that this is just the build-up. Which brings us to #1...

1. Final Crisis - 1986's Crisis on Infinite Earths was a 12-issue crossover that completely changed the status quo for DC Comics forever. The long-awaited sequel came in 2005 with Infinite Crisis, which was epic, character-driven and action-packed. Just over a year later, it was revealed that there would be a third and final act in the Crisis line, Final Crisis, that would again change everything and would be penned by none other than the great Grant Morrison. Comic fandom cheered, hoping for the best. So far Final Crisis has been as slow, confusing, and un-shocking as Batman: R.I.P.. So far, everything major that has happened in the story was spoiled months earlier by solicitations and promotional material anyway. (If you're going to bring Barry Allen back in the last panel of your book as your shocker cliff-hanger ending, try not to put him on the cover of the book. It kind of spoils the surprise.) Despite the epic potential of the book and how much I wanted to like it, I've already stopped caring. I'm not even reading it anymore. And if it's supposed to set up the status quo for DC in the future, I can't overstate my disappointment.

(Sorry this post is a couple hours late. I've back-dated it to 11:59 so that it gets filed in the proper day.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Top 5 Romantic Comedies

This is it: the long-awaited Top 5 Romantic Comedies of ALL TIME list. I've been weighing the possibilities for a while now, making sure to watch movies that others recommended to make sure I didn't leave a worthy entry off the list. Now confident that my list is definitive, I present to you today's Top 5...

5. Moonstruck - I can't believe I could become addicted to a movie starring Cher. But it happened. Moonstruck treads the line between the romantic and the cynical so well that it's one of the most human comedies ever. The comically-tortured Nicolas Cage is... I want to say "believably unbelievable." He's the perfect picture of someone who thrives on his own pain because it gets him attention. I've been that guy. With a ton of quotables and memorable scenes, plus actually really good acting from I-can't-believe-I'm-saying-this-about Cher make this a terrific romantic comedy.
4. Love Actually - What makes Love Actually such a great romantic comedy is that it's actually eight romantic comedies. 1) A couple's new marriage causes problems for the groom's best friend. 2) A recently-widowed father helps his eight-year-old son win the heart of his pre-pubescent love. 3) A woman tries to balance a relationship with the man of her dreams and caring for her institutionalized brother. 4) A couple meets while being stand-ins for a porno. 5) The new British Prime Minister falls for a member of his house staff. 6) A twentysomething, having failed to attract a fellow Brit, travels to the states in the hope of cashing in on his accent to get laid. 7) A man can't resist the extremely forward advances of his employee. 8) A writer and his assistant are both thinking the same thing - but don't speak the same language. Any one of these could be a good romantic comedy on its own, but together they make one great one.
3. Garden State - Although the main reason this movie is so good is the script, what probably makes this romantic comedy so brilliant is Natalie Portman. Her character, Sam, is so perfectly cute, so insanely and convincingly lovable, that you cannot possibly not want the protagonists to get together. It's just impossible.
2. Ten Things I Hate About You - Certainly the best "teen movie" ever made, Ten Things is a modernization of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, which somehow manages to walk the tightrope of originality and fidelity to its source material with grace and hilarity. Never before or since has Shakespeare been so perfectly modernized. Unlike so many other high school melodramas, this film makes no attempt to dumb itself down. The dialouge is snappy and the acting (including Heath Ledger in his US breakout role) is superb. (The soundtrack is also excellent.) The best part, I think, of this movie is that every character grows in a very unique, very believable way. Oh, yeah - it's also insanely funny and re-watchable.
1. When Harry Met Sally - The pinnacle of neurotic couples that simply must be, Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) are complete and utter opposites who take their own sweet time - all of fifteen years - to finally get together, a process as hilarious as any other film other made. Billy Crystal gives the performance of his life as the cynical, low-maintenance Harry, while Meg Ryan made her bones in this film as the lighthearted Sally, particularly in the famous "fake orgasm" scene. What really makes this film the best of its kind is the simply brilliant script, which dove deeply into both the male and female psyches in a way few film had ever done before. Every cliche is combatted with original thought and every line of dialogue, EVERY line is quotable. It's the veritable Big Lebowski of romantic comedies. And of course, the ending is perfectly heartwarming, a must for any romance.