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.