December 20, 2008

Christmas Anagrams




The Top Ten Anagrams of "Christmas"



#10 CHARM SITS





#9 MATCH SIRS





#8 SCRAM SHIT





#7 SMITH CARS





#6 CHRIS'S TAM





#5 SCRIM HATS





#4 CHASM STIR





#3 ARCH MISTS





#2 ART SCHISM






#1 SCAM SHIRT

November 13, 2008

Simpsons Season 11



Recently the Simpsons Season 11 came out on DVD. Many haters claim no great Simpsons' episodes come after Season 7 or 8, but they are way wrong. Season 11 has at least 4 great episodes, 3 super-duper great, and 2 that arguably make the Top 10 or 15 of all time. Below I have the episodes ranked in order just within this season. If this ranking proves to be popular perhaps I will go back through the previous 10 Seasons and do the same. Enjoy!




The Simpsons - Season 11 (A Ranking)



#22 - Treehouse of Horror X {The Simpsons attempt to cover up their accidental murder of Ned Flanders in "I Know What You Did-Iddly-Did." Then, Bart and Lisa become superheroes and save Lucy Lawless from the evil Collector in "Desperately Xeeking Xena." Finally, Homer's incompetence causes a Y2K apocalypse in "Life's A Glitch, Then You Die."}[Not the greatest Halloween episode ever, as none of the three segments really stick out. The only thing I really remember is the third episode, where everyone has to leave Earth. As one of Humanity's great hopes, Lisa is given a coveted spot on the "good" spaceship, but can only take one parent. Before the difficult question is even asked Lisa picks Marge. What a hater. (Bart and Homer are forced to take the ship with people like Tom Arnold and Andy Dick, so that when they finally die it comes as a relief.)]



#21 - Take My Wife, Sleaze {Homer's attempt at creating a motorcycle gang attracts a real gang, who kidnap Marge.}[You had to love Homer's gang, the Hell's Satans. I enjoyed his battle for Marge at the end, using a motorcycle for a sword. ("We both knew it would come to this.") Also, Marge taking care of the gang? Classic.]




#20 - Days of Wine and D'oh'ses {Homer doesn't like it when Barney quits drinking; Bart and Lisa get into trouble when they enter a photo contest for the new phone book cover.} [There is some really poignant stuff with Barney realizing the disaster his life is on alcohol, although nothing will ever top his self-made movie. The best line is when Barney rescues Bart, Lisa and the female reporter, who offers Barney "pity sex" as a thank you. Barney replies, "Is there any other kind?"]





#19 - Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder {Homer becomes a minor celebrity around Springfield after bowling a perfect game.} ["Kids...I have some bad news about Lenny." "Not Lenny!"]





#18 - Kill the Alligator and Run {The Simpsons become wanted criminals after injuring a famous alligator during a Florida vacation.} [I wasn't wild about this episode the first time I saw it, but after seeing COOL HAND LUKE the references were funnier to me. Highlights include Homer partying even while tied to a bed, and when the whole family works at the diner and lives in a trailer. Maybe that's because I recently spent several months on the run in a trailer, so I can relate.]




#17 - The Mansion Family {When Mr. Burns has to go the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for a checkup, he chooses The Simpsons to take care of his mansion while he is gone. Homer and his friends take Mr. Burns yacht into international waters, where they end up being targeted by modern day pirates.} [I remember Homer wanting to throw a box social (well, who doesn't?), and the pirates make me smile, along with Furious George. But my biggest memory of this episode is all the little diseases (that look like little fuzzy things that had stickers on their feet we had in school) trying to get through the door at once. They were in perfect balance against one another, known as "Three Stooges Syndrome," or as Mr. Burns summed it up, "I'm indestructible."]






#16 - Grift of the Magi {A toy company purchases Springfield Elementary and uses the student body as a focus group for their new Christmas toy Funzo.} [Who else but The Simpsons would have a kung-fu wielding Gary Coleman as a Security Guard? Also, as the Funzo seems a direct reference to the Furby, did any of you ever have one of those things?]





#15 - Saddlesore Galactica {The Simpsons get an abused horse and make him a contender in horse racing. Homer finds out a secret conspiracy about jockeys. Lisa tries to reach President Clinton when the results of a school band talent competition seem tainted.} [Something always bothered me about this episode, and I think it's the creepy jockeys-turned-Keebler-Elves. Who knew? The episode "borrows" from several other past Simpsons, including Lisa's horse and Marge's gambling problem, which Comic Book Guy is only too happy to point out. As Homer said when finding out Lisa is in the battle of the bands and he has to stay, "I stand by my disappointed groan."]



#14 - Faith Off {Bart is led to believe he has special healing powers after a tent revival.} [I like Bart as a Faith Healer. The highlight of the whole episode is that great musical number when Bart starts his ministry; Cherri and Terri make great groupies. My other great memory is the foreign kicker who will have nothing to fall back on because he majored in English. "I know...is a phony major!"]




#13 - Pygmoelian {Plastic surgery not only transforms Moe the Bartender from ugly to hunky, it helps gets him a job on a hit daytime drama.} [I've only seen ten minutes of MY FAIR LADY, and hated that, so I didn't get every reference, but I did enjoy the sight of Moe as a looker, and I loved the send-up of Daytime Soap cliches.]




#12 - Eight Misbehavin' {Apu struggles with fatherhood after Manjula gives birth to octuplets.} [How great was the Octuplets show at the zoo? (Octopia!) Normally I find babies ugly, but I guess not Indian babies, and not 8 of them!]





#11 - Last Tap Dance in Springfield {Lisa has difficulties learning to tap dance. Meanwhile Bart and Milhouse ditch summer camp to spend a week living in the mall.}[This episode combines two of my childhood fantasies: living at a mall, and a girl who can tap dance. (Well, I really wanted a ballerina, but whatever; as long as she has the calves.) I love how "Lisabella" gets pregnant in the movie just from dancing; Baptists would have a field day with that. And I go back to the mall: non-stop video games, candy, great beds, escalators. Except for the occasional Cougar, what's not to love? Tappa Tappa Tappa!]





#10 - Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner? {Homer's negative reviews as a food critic puts his life in danger. Fortunately he has Lisa fighting for him.}[Homer makes a great food critic, and the plot to kill him in the end (via poisoned eclair) fits right in. As Marge puts it, "Only your father could take a part-time job at a small town paper and wind up the target of international assassins." Even when Homer turns against all the restaurants, his lowest rating is 7 stars (out of 4). However, his prose does him proud: "So come to The Legless Frog if you want to get sick and die and leave a big garlicky corpse. PS, parking was ample."]





#9 - Little Big Mom {Lisa finds out how rough Marge has it when her mom is in traction and she becomes the woman of the house. Homer and Bart's antics get her so worked up she conspires to teach them a lesson.} [I love it when Lisa gets a little comeuppance, although I have to admit her leprosy idea (well, Lisa and Lucy's) was pretty keen. Bart and Homer looking at each other and going "Unclean! Unclean!" will go down in my memory, but perhaps not as much as Flanders in his ski suit. Stupid Sexy Flanders!]





#8 - E-I-E-I-(ANNOYED GRUNT) {Homer cowards out of a pistol-duel and hides out with the rest of the family on a country farm.} [This episode is memorable for one simple reason: ToMacco. Seriously: when has Homer come up with that great an idea before? My other great memory is Homer talking in "movie-poster," like when he tells Marge, "Sometimes you have to break the rules to free your heart" and "When there's nothing left to believe in, believe in hope." When questioned, Homer just as breathlessly announces he got his wisdom, "From the producers of....Waiting to Exhale."]





#7 - Beyond Blunderdome {When Mel Gibson becomes convinced that Homer is the only man with the guts to tell him the truth, he insists Homer accompany him to Hollywood to help fix his newest film project, a remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.}[A really solid episode all the way around. Mel Gibson was a good sport to agree to all of this. The Jimmy Stewart allusions (three, I think) are classic, and Homer/Mel have a great chemistry.]





#6 - Missionary: Impossible {When Homer is wanted dead for reneging on a 10,000 dollar pledge to PBS, Reverend Lovejoy sets him up for missionary work in the South Pacific until the heat dies down.} [One of the classics. So much to love. The PBS angle was awesome. Betty White, Mr. Rogers, the Telletubbies and the Sesame Street chasing Homer. ("Elmo knows where you live!") And who can forget how quickly the casino ruined the natives? "How can Ace be worth 1 and 11? What kind of God would allow that?" However, this episode will forever be immortalized for the first time Homer ever uttered those prophetic words: "Save me,Jebus!"]






#5 - Brother's Little Helper {Bart is put on medication to control his behavior, but the pills cause him to become paranoid and insane.}[One of the greatest parody episodes of all time. How great was "Focusyn? And Bart turns all paranoid about MLB, which turns out to be true! (Mark McGwire saying "Yoink!" as he steals the list was classic. Sadly, the last time he would appear in public without assumed shame.) There's a great clown-car gag, and nerd-Bart gets me every time.]





#4 - It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Marge {Everybody loves the new Simpsons' house guest Becky. Except Marge, who thinks Becky wants to kill her.} [Oh my, is this classic. First Otto asks Becky to marry him in the drive-thru (cutting off her answer to wail alongside the radio during a guitar solo), then he rejects Becky when he finds out she doesn't like Heavy Metal. (Lost in this is the in-joke that Otto considers Poison Heavy Metal.) Then Marge starts to go crazy, thinking Becky is trying to take over. Becky leaves the skins in the mashed potatoes, which Homer loves, and she ties the socks differently so as to not wear out the elastic. (After watching this episode I have done this.) Patty and Selma are no help. Patty says, "Never let an attractive woman into your house. All they do is usurp your family and then kill you." Selma adds, "Like that documentary THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE." What's funny is that the men are all chuckling to themselves, while you women--EVEN THE MOST ARDENT AND EVOLVED FEMINISTS--secretly agree with this. At first Marge is dubious, but eventually she goes off the deep end, which ends up with her screaming at Becky, "Usurper! Usurper!" This is such a great episode. I cannot believe it's ranked this low. The rest must be orgasmic.]






#3 - Alone Again, Natura-Diddly {Ned deals with his grief after Maude's untimely death.}[The Simpsons don't kill people very often, but then they do, they go all out. Maude's death was treated with the solemnity it deserved--knocked off the back of the bleachers during a NASCAR race by a T-shirt fired by a T-shirt gun while carrying non-footlong hotdogs. I mean, how much more sacred can you get? This episode marks the beginning of Homer treating Ned less like the enemy and more like a friend....a friend he often can't stand. Homer's dating tape for Ned is hysterical, and overall this is just a class episode all the way. One other thing I have to mention. At the funeral Bart ends up playing Bible Blasters (a video game) with Rod and Todd, trying to convert the heathens. At one point Bart only "wings" the non-believer, making him a Unitarian. My dad dies laughing every time he sees that scene.]



#2 - Behind the Laughter {The Simpsons discuss their fame in a behind the scenes look at the show.} [It's shows like this that set The Simpsons apart from anything else out there. What an amazing idea, parodying not only VH1's Behind the Music, but the very Simpsons themselves. The episode treats The Simpsons as if it were a TV show, played by the Simpson family. Brilliant. The behind-the-scenes fighting. The crappy merchandising. The "growth" hormones the kids got to stay same size. Even the narration is a terrific send-up of over-the-topdocutainment specials. I love when The Simpsons show daring, even if they don't 100% pull it off, like the Spin-off Showcase. This episode is just perfect, and gets better every time. Plus, for one shining moment at least, we learn where the Simpsons live!]





#1 - Bart to the Future {Bart gets a glimpse of the future while the family is on vacation at an Indian casino.} [I honestly think if you take all the components of this episode together, it makes the Top Ten of all time, and it gets better every time I watch it. Amazingly, it might be even better than the first "future" episode, where Lisa is engaged to HughParkfield and the robots keep crying. In this episode Lisa is president (where you get two secret murders, and if you don't use 'em, you lose 'em). So many great moments, from Rod and Todd being gay, to "Smell you Later!" as the national phrase for Goodbye. The temporary refund adjustment. (I'm surprised no politician has tried this.) Homer and Marge searching for Lincoln's lost Treasure, and Homer's response when they find it. Then there is the immortalKrusty joke, made in a wheelchair, that's so hilariously inappropriate I cannot repeat it here. But it was Bart's vision of the future, so when Lisa asks about it, Bart eagerly tells about his band and his moped, but as to Lisa's future, Bart shrugs, "Eh....some government job."]


You can get Season 11 of the Simpsons at Amazon for $25, or get the first 19 Seasons (the last 9 aren't even abailable in America yet) for only $170 here.

November 6, 2008

Michael Crichton Novels





In an effort to stay unaware as long as possible of certain world events, I have avoided almost all media, which inadvertently caused me to miss the passing of Michael Crichton.

Most of you probably know Crichton from TV and movie adaptations. Some of his work got mangled transferring to film, but some of it became quite iconic. Some of it you might not have even known was his. (Remember WEST WORLD? Guess who wrote TWISTER? You knew he was an M.D. and created E.R, right?)

For me, Crichton was always an author. He wrote Adventure Techno-thrillers with strong Sci-Fi sensibilities. (Or maybe the other way around.) When I say Sci-Fi, I mean it in the classic sense. Crichton would imagine technology a few years down the line. What would it be used for? What might go wrong? Most of his novels end up being cautionary tales.

Crichton was never really big on characters; that's not why you read his books. They were about ideas. They were about logic in the face of adversity. They were about dealing with the consequences of technology beyond our abilities. They were about, in the famous words of Crichton character, "Scientists so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

Crichton wrote about immensely complicated things, yet made them accessible to laypeople. For all that, he never wrote "down" to his audience. Sure, there were plenty of "speeches" from characters that you just knew were Crichton himself, but he always assumed his audience was intelligent.

Crichton clearly loved science, as most of his books deal with it in some way. But he wasn't a sycophant. In fact, Crichton often took on the Scientific community without fear. He was strongly vocal of the dangers of "consensus science," ridiculing how so much of Science hypothesis is treated as "fact" when it is unfalsifiable. (If you don't know what that last sentence means, you may NEVER read another science article in the newspaper or watch the Discovery Channel on TV until you do.)

Crichton was also against the rampant speculation of the Media, they way they invented scenarios that had not happened or were not true and then analyzed in ridiculous them as if it were real. Do you begin to see why I was drawn to him? These last two things pretty much describe my feelings as well.

I discovered Crichton when I was 14, and I read every book he'd written. I haven't read the last few, but that's my own failing, not his. No one would call Crichton one of the world's greatest authors, but he was almost unparalleled at melding Science, Philosophy and Story, and making it so interesting. Because of his books and the ideas in them I went on to read literally hundreds of other non-fiction books on subjects he brought up. No textbook has ever managed that.

I am sad to see Crichton go, but his legacy, his REAL legacy of ideas, lives on in his novels. Below I have listed my ten favorite Crichton books, along with brief notes on any movie adaptations. Obviously a couple of his adaptations are simply legendary, and I am not advocating skipping them. However, if you want the true measure of how a brilliant man was able to think about things, read the damn books.



MY FAVORITE MICHAEL CRICHTON NOVELS





#10 A Case of Need - The story involves abortion, which is interesting when considering it was published several years before Roe v. Wade. Worth reading for that context alone. [No adaptation]




#9 Eaters of the Dead - Fascinating novel written as if non-fiction. Imagine Beowulf minus the mythology. [Pretty good adaptation as THE 13TH WARRIOR, although the adventure is stressed over the idea of an historical document.]




#8 Airframe - I worked for an airline at the time I read this, but I think anyone would be interested. [No adaptation]




#7 The Andromeda Strain - A frightening idea, and worth noting Crichton wrote it BEFORE APOLLO 11!! One cannot help but wonder how much thought NASA and Russia put into this. [Haven't seen any of the adaptations, but they probably tried to "update" the idea. Read the book with knowledge of when this was written, and you'll be more impressed.]




#6 Rising Sun - Interesting Look at the Japanese ideals in business. Very sharply written. [The movie takes substantial liberties, but is very entertaining, and has a very erotic sex scene]




#5 Timeline - A great introduction to the concept of the "Multiverse." One of the best forwards I have ever read. [Refused to see the movie]




#4 Disclosure - Fascinating look at the world of sexual power in relationships. Interesting Virtually Reality ideas too. [Fairly decent movie adaptation. Did not distort the idea too much.]




#3 Jurassic Park/The Lost World - An amazing examination of evolutionary ethos, pathos and mythos, and one helluva idea. [Iconic movie adaptations, although the second film deviates substantially from the book]




#2 Congo - Amazing to think that he came up with the computer ideas in the 1970s. Fascinating portrayal. [Abominable movie adaptation. Worst animatronic ever.]




#1 Sphere - One of the most interesting ideas I have ever read. Imagines everything from Aliens to black holes to level 5 cyclones to mind-control to time travel, all with impressive logic and never dull. I have read this six times. [One of the worst movie adaptations ever. Read the book. You won't be sorry.]

November 3, 2008

Fictional Presidents (GOOD!)

THE GOOD GUYS (FINALLY!)




#10 Tom Beck - Morgan Freeman (DEEP IMPACT) - I haven't even seen this, but I have total faith in Morgan.



#9 Lindberg - Tom Lister Jr. (THE FIFTH ELEMENT) - For no other reason than he played "Zeus" in NO HOLDS BARRED.





#8 Fake William Mitchell - Kevin Kline (DAVE) The real Mitchell blamed Gandhi for his problems, which was wrong, but this one caught a fish THIS BIG and got a boner when Sigourney Weaver saw him naked. What's not to love?




#7 Hyperion - Some day, my Tribe. Some day.




#6 Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Camacho - Terry Crews (IDIOCRACY) - Dude, the name says it all, and if it doesn't: machine gun! (Read my review )




#5 Laura Roslin - Mary McDonnell (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) - Wise beyond her years. Tough beyond her fears and sexy beyond her leers.



#4 Andrew Shepherd - Michael Douglas (THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT) - Most of the ACLU/gun speech at the end is hogwash, but I still get fired up every time I see it!




#3 James Marshall - Harrison Ford (AIR FORCE ONE) - I can't believe Harrison ranked third. I attribute this ONLY to the fact that the top two guys were on TV, where you get to know them longer. Still, what we saw of President James Marshall was fairly awesome. We all want our president to kick ass, and FOR THE RIGHT REASONS. Only down point: why would you pick Glen Close as VP? Have you seen FATAL ATTRACTION?



#2 Josiah Bartlett - Martin Sheen (THE WEST WING) - What can you say about Jed Bartlett? Originally The West Wing was supposed to be mainly about the staff, but Martin Sheen had such a presence at the end of the first episode that he immediately became a central player. And what a portrait. Politics aside, I loved seeing how a president wrestles with his good and bad angels. In that way, perhaps realistic. We had our ups and downs, Bartlett and I, but he was a liberal worth loving, and that's hard to come by.


And the number one fictional president of all time is......



#1 David Palmer - Dennis Haysbert (24) - After his run on 24 was over, my sister suggested that Dennis Haysbert be officially renamed President Palmer. I had to agree. Rarely has someone shot to stardom so quickly based on the strength of a small role. President Palmer wasn't perfect; in fact, in times of crisis he treated Posse Comitatus like so much wet Kleenex. He was just doing what he had to do, and you know what: he willingly paid the price for it, by not running for reelection. He did what he had to do to save the country, but he felt that made him unworthy to hold the office. Sniff sniff. One other thing. I mean no disrespect to the hard work and charisma of Senator Obama, but I believe in a very real way, Obama's candidacy (and possible victory) owes more than a small debt to President Palmer. It sounds ridiculous even writing these words, but I think seeing Palmer as a tough effective leader--without any regards to race--might have helped a lot of people past some invisible hurdle in their minds. Does this mean Dennis Haysbert should be given whatever campaign money Obama has left over? Yes. Yes it does. Should Haysbert share with me for ranking him #1? What do you think?



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