Sunday, May 29, 2005

Judicial Activism Swings Both Ways

The Internet is ablaze with talk of the Indiana judge who issued a divorce decree barring the couple from teaching their son Wicca. I'd go so far as to say there's too much distressing going on, since the judge is so clearly wrong and has justly been criticized from all sides. It's a decision that can only last until it's heard on appeal.

But one interesting side-effect of the story is that the ones crying the loudest now are many of the same people who have loudly denounced the existence of judicial activism in the past. If Judge Roy Moore hadn't already provided the poster-boy case of the activist judge, Judge Cale Bradford has now.

Sure, some people tend to cry 'activism' at any opinion they disagree with. Others pretend that it can't be a bipartisan afflication. But just because some folks don't have their political science straight doesn't mean that judges can't be activist, putting their personal beliefs above established law and precedent. This story is a prime example of that.

I'd like the pundits on both sides to remember this in the future. To remember that, on one hand, judges can let their opinions unfairly influence their rulings, and on the other hand, that conservative judges as well as liberal judges are capable of doing so.

I'd like to think that, but I won't hold my breath.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

DC Cartoon Recap

The Batman: "Riddled" -

The Riddler is probably my favorite Batman villain. And this is not a series I've found myself generally fond of. Yet this episode was surprisingly good, arguably better than the first two BTAS Riddler episodes (although not approaching the Ty Templeton stories).

Now the Riddler himself...I hate the design. HATE IT. Robert Englund actually turns a rather good performance as the villain, and the character is written well. But whereas BTAS gave the Riddler perhaps his best outfit ever, this costume is perhaps his worst. Even worse than metrosexual Riddler. It's almost as if the show's creators said to themselves "We made Cluemaster obscenely fat; let's make Riddler anorexic. And goth."

The riddles themselves were unusually easy for a Riddler story, but maybe that was part of the plan. I'm still curious as to why he intentionally gave a bad riddle, though. It doesn't seem to serve his scheme at all. And I'm really tired of "The Batman" episodes using Bats' secret identity as a plot point. That got old halfway through last season.

Justice League Unlimited: "Task Force X"

I know that's the team's real name, but I guess the cartoon censors don't allow mention of a "Suicide Squad." I wonder if they nixed "Boomerbutt" too.

Biggest surprise here? The Squad wins. How often do you get a cartoon where the villains pull off a victory? I wish we'd gotten to see the bad guys in costume at least once, but the mission made disguises mandatory.

I'm not familiar with Plastique, but the others were handled well. Digger was sufficiently annoying, Floyd was full of himself, Flag was upright. I guess that Clock King isn't affected by the Bat-embargo. I liked seeing Waller again, but I didn't recognize the woman next to her.

I also appreciated that the object of the Squad's mission was something introduced in a previous episode, and not merely a brand-new maguffin. Giving JLU a sense of internal continuity was a good move.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

We're Off to See the Wizard

ABC premiered The Muppets Wonderful Wizard of Oz last night. It's the first full-scale Muppet production since NBC's Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie and the direct-to-video Kermit's Swamp Years, both of which came out in 2002. The new movie is certainly better than the latter, but differences in type make it hard to evaluate against the former. Their respective strengths and weaknesses more or less average them out.

The film's biggest weakness is its lead, Ashanti. She has a lovely voice, but she can't act her way out of a bucket (and I can usually ignore bad acting). Casting a singer would make sense if the film were music-heavy, but it's not. She sings a largely unnecessary song at the start, a completely unnecessary song at the end, and shares a decent group number in the middle. Unfortunately, where she's supposed to act in the interim, she founders.

Fortunately, the Muppets themselves were great. A lot of characters have had new actors take over the classic voices, and the novice ear probably wouldn't notice. Getting to see Scooter and Sam and Clifford in action again is a treat. I personally miss Rowlf, but I'm not sure where he would have fit in the script. Sure, Toto used to be a dog, but Pepe filled that role perfectly.

Jeffrey Tambor did a fine job as the Wizard, and I didn't mind his use of CGI. It's a natural evolution of the Wizard's showmanship. I do wish the script had made him something more than a bus driver, though. Would the modern version of a magician be an FX whiz?

Like VMMCM, the script relied on pop-culture references a bit too often. Manolos, J-Lo, cell phones, etc. Muppet humor should be a little more timeless. At least they weren't as blatant and drawn-out as VMMCM's in-script-promos for NBC shows Scrubs, Fear Factor, and Carson Daly's talk show.

I haven't seen this mentioned in any other review, but the change in Dorothy's motivation bothered me a little. When she finally returns home to Kansas, her immediate reaction is to leave home and pursue a career in Hollywood. Giving Dorothy the dream of fame and fortune is a bit of a change from the original story. It also irked me that when she got home, it was made abundantly clear that her home *had* flown off in the tornado, leaving no questions of whether Dorothy's experience was real or not. I miss that element of doubt.

Overall, it had its share of problems, but for its strengths I give it a B.

The Verdict Is In

I've wrapped up my reviews of Manhunter's trial of the Shadow Thief over at Suspension of Disbelief. Nothing new from the latest issue to cover, but rather a look back at the finished arc.

I wonder what the next trial story in the series will be? Maxwell Lord? Jean Loring? Something spinning out of Infinite Crisis? Or maybe Kate will get to prosecute the Manhunter killer.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Worst...Guest Star...Ever

Leading up to Sunday's episode of The Simpsons, the commercials proclaimed "Guest-starring American Idol's Fantasia Barrino!" The promo blurb said the same: "Lisa...panics when another contestant (Fantasia Barrino) outperforms her." They promoted this guest appearance almost as much as Ray Romano's the week before, and that was the 350th episode.

So what did Fantasia do? Her character appeared onscreen, sang a song, disappeared for several minutes, and then cried. She didn't have a single word of spoken dialogue, she didn't do anything funny, and she wasn't necessary to the story. Her appearance was the animated equivalent of Lifehouse playing Smallville High's prom a few weeks back, justified only because of promotional value.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

"Rich Man" vs. "Rich Girl"

Perhaps I just like a good beat, but Gwen Stefani's "Rich Girl" is catchy. But I hate, HATE, the song. As remakes and remixes go, this one must rank pretty high on the list of covers that miss the point of the original.

"If I Were a Rich Man" is perhaps the best-known song from Fiddler on the Roof. It is a poor man's dream of wealth, full of desires of leisure, with a little silly extravagance thrown in (particularly the staircase to nowhere). He imagines how money could help him become a respected and educated member of the community.

"Rich Girl" takes the tune and half a refrain, and remakes the rest of the song into a glorification of greed and consumerism (with a few torch song elements thrown in for good measure). Instead of more simple pleasures, Stefani sings the praises of high fashion and shopping. It's not a poor man's thoughts of money, but a rich person's thoughts of more money. Stefani isn't concerned with respect or culture or even leisure, but merely the accumulation of more stuff.

She even botches the grammer where the original got it right. "If I WERE a rich man" is correct. "If I WAS a rich girl" is not.

Sure, the secondary chorus is about how love is greater than wealth, but that doesn't have anything to do with the original song either. If Gwen wanted to sing a song about avarice and affection, there was no need to sully a classic to do so.

Monday, May 09, 2005

A Panther and his Pistols

I've been rereading Priest's "Black Panther" series recently, and when I reached the last year of the title (when the main character became NYC cop Kasper Cole instead of T'Challa), I noticed something about the covers. Something that made "Ultimate Spider-Man"s covers look innovative by comparison:

Eleven issues, and every single one is a pin-up featuring the Black Panther posing with handguns (actually, #54 has him posing with a long-barrelled gun). No hint towards content, no characters other than BP himself, and even the backgrounds don't mean anything. Marvel insisted on altering the Panther's title, and then never OKed a cover that gave much of a hint toward that new direction.

A consumer might notice that the Panther didn't previously wear a trenchcoat and carry guns, but the covers wouldn't tell him that there was a new character under the cowl. It's little wonder that the new direction only lasted a year.