Archive for August, 2008

The Best Medicine: Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog

August 24, 2008

Since, y’know, I’m always right on the pulse of this whole Internet thingy, I actually DID hear about Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog, an Internet-only musical film, before the film went live, as it were. After all, it’s a creation of Joss Whedon, genius behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Of course, the date the first episode was released, I had something going on – don’t even remember what – and (shamed head-hanging here), I missed it.

I was prepared to take my lumps and wait for the eventual DVD release, since I don’t have a video iPod, when like angels singing from heaven, a friend told me I could watch the three episodes (or one 42-minute video) on hulu.com for FREE! I gotta say, this project made me happier than anything I’ve seen in a long time. The film is written by Joss Whedon and his brothers Zack and Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen, and features the same kind of quirky, enhanced-everyday speak that the residents of Buffy’s Sunnydale spoke so well.

This time, the protagonist is Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), who, true to the title, blogs about his trials and tribulations and breaks into song every once in a while. But while he is an evil genius, he has dreams just like the rest of us: to have his application accepted by the Evil League of Evil, and to work up the courage to talk to the girl of his dreams, Penny (Felicia Day). If only his nemesis – because there must always be a nemesis – Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) wouldn’t keep interfering.

Did I mention the dialogue? It’s a hoot (and the songwriting is top-notch as well):

Dr. Horrible: A lot of guys ignore the laugh, and that’s about standards. I mean, if you’re gonna get into the Evil League of Evil, you have to have a memorable laugh. What, do you think Bad Horse didn’t work on his whinny? His terrible death-whinny?

or

Captain Hammer: Stand back everyone, nothing here to see. Just imminent danger and in the middle of it me. Yes, Captain Hammer’s here, hair blowing in the breeze. The day needs my saving expertise. Man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. Seems destiny ends with me saving you. The only doom that’s looming is in loving me to death. I’ll give you a second to catch your breath.

Great writing, great acting, great songs. This one’s just what the doctor ordered.

The Perfect Road Trip Magazine: Mental Floss

August 22, 2008

Let’s discuss for a moment, if you will, the road trip. A trip taken by car that spans many hours, broken up only by meals and bathroom breaks. On the way to the destination, excitement over the trip can trump boredom and frequently little or no reading intervention is required. But the way home is another story. Scenery – already seen it once. Sorry. Conversation – I’ve lived with these people 24/7 for a week without interruption; there is nothing new to discuss. It is at this point that you need a magazine chock full of interesting trivia and short articles perfect for reading aloud to your traveling partner.

The magazine Mental Floss did just the trick. Having bought the July/Aug 2008 issue at the newsstand a couple days ago, it gave my driving hubby and me oodles of new topics to discuss over a good two-hour period on our trek home today. We learned how Babe Didrikson tore the cartilage in her right shoulder at the 1932 Olympics in the javelin throw and still set a new world record (“The 15 Greatest Moments in Olympic History,” by Ethan Trex). We marveled at how John Draper hacked phone lines across the world in 1972 using a whistle contained in Cap’n Crunch cereal (“Cereal Crime,” by Chris Higgins), which led to private musings about how Cap’n Crunch cereal always managed to tear up the roof of my mouth when I ate it, yet I still loved it.

Perhaps because of the nostalgic remembrances of childhood cereal, my favorite article in the magazine was Ian Lendler’s “Just Add Milk: How Cereal Transformed American Culture.” Walking the reader through the history of cereal, from its Christian fundamentalist beginnings in the mid-1800s as “granula” through the advertising that would bring cereal barons in the early 1900s to Battle Creek, Michigan, all the way to the sugary present, it was a fascinating overview of a subject about which we all share some expertise.

Now, sadly, I checked, and these articles do not seem to be available online from the website, more’s the pity. This particular issue was so entertaining that I think y’all should head to the library to see if you can check it out. My sense, however, is that every issue is equally entertaining. Thus, if you have a road trip in your future, you have the answer to all your conversation challenges at the ready. Road trip away!

Hip (and a little scary) Marketing: TorsoPants

August 13, 2008

You want a truly liberating feeling? When you find a company website that is so in touch with the tiny little insane person inside its corporate head that the company allows it free rein on its marketing. The amazing company TorsoPants is one (and perhaps the only) such company. The name itself lets you know that there are some loose, creative minds at work here. T-shirts? We don’t need no stinkin’ t-shirts. We’ll call them TorsoPants instead.

When you head to their website, you’re immediately assaulted with a barrage of images: pickles, retro alien spaceships, fish. You know immediately that you have entered a strange, new world here. Their t-shirts are edgy and hip to the point of occasional incomprehensibility – which is the whole point, I suppose. But seriously, who doesn’t love a chicken who moos? That has universal appeal.

What I really love about this website is the tweaks to traditional marketing that TorsoPants employs. Its copy is perfectly in keeping with the whole tone of the website, which is “Let’s have some fun, folks.” No standard “Sign up for our newsletter” shtick; instead you’re given the opportunity to “Send me the free, monthly jovial newsletter too.” The footer at the bottom reads “All rights reserved – until you get a few drinks in them.” The site keeps a rolling scroll of borderline juvenile tag lines under its name: “TorsoPants rule – T Shirts Drool;” and my favorite, “Wear TorsoPants: It’s Not Like You Have the Best Body.”

Now I realize that most corporate websites don’t have the luxury of being fun. Your basic mortgage lender will lose credibility with a tag line like “Mortgages: For people too poor to buy a house outright.” But how refreshing to see marketing copy so perfectly meshed with the product it hopes to sell, as well as so perfectly synchronized with the visual appeal of the website.

Great “Bad” Writing: The 2008 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest Winners

August 7, 2008

Anyone who ever read a Peanuts comic strip knows that Snoopy frequently sat at his typewriter and plunked out “It was a dark and stormy night. . .” While the line may be famous, the writer and originator of the line is less so: Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a Victorian novelist apparently fond of long, rambling, odd sentences. The “dark and stormy” sentence reads, in its entirety:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

The English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest since 1982, seeking the very best in the worst of opening sentences in novels. And I am so pleased to see that the winners of the 2008 contest have been announced. This year’s grand prize winner, Garrison Spik, hails from Washington, D.C.:

Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped “Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J.”

I urge everyone to go the the winners’ website and read the offerings, for there are many, many offerings that will bring a smile, chuckle, or inappropriate snort to one’s being. Some of my favorites are the following:

For the Philip Marlowe meets Martha Stewart genre:

The hardened detective glanced at his rookie partner and mused that who ever had coined the term “white as a sheet” had never envisioned a bed accessorized with a set of Hazelnut, 500-count Egyptian cotton linens from Ralph Lauren complimented by matching shams and a duvet cover nor the dismembered body of its current occupant.

Russ Winter
Janesville, MN

In The Woman-Done-Wrong category:

Bill swore the affair had ended, but Louise knew he was lying, after discovering Tupperware containers under the seat of his car, which were not the off-brand containers that she bought to save money, but authentic, burpable, lidded Tupperware; and she knew he would see that woman again, because unlike the flimsy, fake containers that should always be recycled responsibly, real Tupperware must be returned to its rightful owner.

Jeanne Villa
Novato, CA

Worst Pun EVER:

Vowing revenge on his English teacher for making him memorize Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality,” Warren decided to pour sugar in her gas tank, but he inadvertently grabbed a sugar substitute so it was actually Splenda in the gas.

Becky Mushko
Penhook, VA

And my Favorite Homage to a Victorian Dark and Story Writer Author:

It was a dark and stormy night, except when the lightning flashed, because then it wasn’t dark; it sort of turned the windows into a giant disco ball for a moment, but eventually the thunder and lightning stopped and it settled down to a steady light rain, so then it really was dark, but it would probably be a stretch to call it stormy.

Laura Loomis
Pittsburg, CA

These writers totally just made my day.

Mad Men: Insanely Good TV

August 4, 2008

I got taken to task a little after my kvetches about the 2008 Emmy nominations by readers who astutely asked where my acknowledgments were of the 16 nominations garnered by Mad Men, the terrific AMC series. To be sure, the Emmy people did not screw up with the show as badly as they did with, say, The Wire. Yes, still bitter about that one.

But Mad Men, created by Matthew Weiner (who’s also written the overwhelming majority of its episodes) deserves every single one of its nominations. And the only reason I didn’t crow about it in my Emmy post is pure timing. I started my blog in October, after the first season of Mad Men had wrapped. Thus, my failure to write about it, since it was off my radar. I have only myself to blame that I can take no credit for all its Emmy nominations.

Still, we’re talking about a series on AMC. Which means that more people probably watched the Geico Cavemen series than any of MM‘s first season. And that’s a shame, for that first season set up the complexities of the hero (?) Don Draper (Jon Hamm), an advertising executive who keeps himself very tightly in control, but who is starting to unravel; his Hitchcockian blonde of a wife Betty (January Jones); and a large ensemble cast of characters who revolve around the Sterling Cooper ad agency. The setting of the series in the 60s means that we can shake our heads in self-righteous shock at all the things that today are no longer PC or otherwise acceptable: smoking in public, sexual harassment, even having one’s children prepare the evening Tom Collins.

The strength of the show, even more than the loyalty to be true to the times, lies in the depth of each character portrayed. These people are literally deciding how the public thinks, what it will buy, and yet these are deeply troubled individuals. The first episode of Season Two jumps right into the fray, showcasing the flawed diamond that is Betty Draper. Titillated by the idea that a former roommate is now a call girl, she tiptoes to the edge of the idea of sex as commerce, toying with a mechanic who comes to her aid when her car stalls.

If you already haven’t started watching Mad Men, set your DVRs now. It will take you to a place and time that seems as foreign now as futuristic sci-fi. Except with better clothes.