I do comedy, comics, and write about pretty much most things entertainment related. So that's nice.
You can contact me at:
Cell Phone: (347) 742-8562
E-Mail: azalben (at) gmail (dot) com
Masters of Sex, “Race to Space” and “Standard Deviation”: There’s two big things that keep this show working for me:
1) It’s the least sexy show about sex ever, instead focusing squarely on the characters and their motivations, using sex as exposition even better than “Game of Thrones” does;
2) It’s funny. I’ve watched “The Wire” and “Mad Men,” and they’re undeniably great, but also dead serious, so I’ve had a hard time keeping up. “Breaking Bad” trumps those because it’s often extremely funny through the drama. “Masters of Sex” is the same way, and all the better for it.
I even found myself tearing up in the past two episodes, which is an insane amount of commitment to have for characters after only three hours.
Valiant Comics: Once a month, Valiant is nice enough to send me their line-up of books, and there isn’t a dud in the bunch. In particular, Archer & Armstrong and Harbinger stood out in the current bunch, but really, every bit of the line is great.
Parenthood, “Promises”: See above about drama leavened with comedy. This show is so good that Ray Romano, a recurring character got his own plot line at the expense of major other characters not appearing, and that was totally fine. And I’ve lived with the show long enough now that the Braverman family feels like friends.
I guess I’ll be doing these the morning after? I often read a bit before bed, so to then whip out the old laptop and start writing as my eyelids begin to droop seems counter-productive to sleep. Anyway, here’s what I liked
Superior Foes of Spider-Man #3-#7: The problem with catching up with a great series like SFoSM is that I now have to wait a full month until the next issue. Because this series is seriously great. I talked about it a little yesterday, but it’s very funny, extremely well plotted, and the art by Steve Lieber (and Rich Ellis for #7) is pitch perfect, emphasizing the story and nailing the jokes brilliantly.
Issue #5 in particular is a masterwork of misdirection, twisting and twisting again but never losing its sense of humor. It’s tough to write a really good crime series, and even tougher to write a good villain focused series without giving in to the “Thunderbolts” impulse to turn them into good guys. This series walks that line perfectly.
Loki: Agent of Asgard #1: In my spare time, I write AR (Augmented Reality) recaps for Marvel, so I often get to read scripts for issues far in advance. I won’t talk about specifics for “Loki: Agent of Asgard #1” other than to say it’s a great first issue that fits perfectly into the Nu-NuMarvel style pioneered by “Hawkeye,” “SFoSM,” and most importantly Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s “Young Avengers.”
Also, given the way writer Al Ewing lays out the script, I’m hoping Marvel publishes sections of it in a special edition or something. There’s a fight scene he lays out that would be a lot of fun for readers to see, and compare to the final product.
Community, “Repilot” and “Introduction to Teaching”: I recently read in a review of the first two episodes of the impossible fifth season of “Community” that it was not the best show the reviewer had ever seen, but it was their favorite show. I think that nails the appeal of “Community” to a T. It’s not always good, but it is always great. That was the major problem with Season 4, and why it didn’t click with fans: it didn’t take chances. It stuck with what worked in previous seasons, not understanding that what worked was the constant sense of experimentation and growth.
And the first two episodes of Season 5 aren’t necessarily good, but they are great. There’s a difference in tone, to the dialogue, the shooting style, and the plots that refocuses the show back to where it was over a year ago. I don’t think you have to look further than Danny Pudi’s Nicolas Cage arc in the second episode to see something that shouldn’t work - and wouldn’t have worked in Season 4 - that does here. It’s subtle, but Harmon’s influence and focus is there. I’m glad it’s back.
Slate’s Embarassing Middle-Earth Error: There’s almost nothing funnier than very specific, purposeful nerdery.
It’s kind of an inauspicious start to a project to skip the very first day, but yesterday two things happened:
1) I spent the entire day driving around visiting family members.
2) By the time I got home, I was shivering cold with some sort of weird fever and went to bed at 8:30pm.
So while I can definitely recommend visiting family, and Zipcar, there wasn’t a whole lot of media I consumed that would fall under the heading of “Things I Liked.”
Since I’m a day late, though, I thought I’d write down some of the things I checked out since I posted about my “list things I like every day in 2014” project:
Furious 6: I spent New Year’s Eve at home watching the 6th “Fast and Furious” movie, which was a lot of fun. I liked the fifth one more, there’s just a point when it doesn’t make sense for these guys to be running capers together any more; but its still a ridiculous, enjoyable action movie. Also, The Rock isn’t a human being, and his interrogation scene might be the best thing I’ve ever seen.
Related: anyone who is saying Gal Gadot isn’t right for Wonder Woman is cray. She’s gorgeous, has the right look, and kicks butt in fight scenes in this movie. I’m sorry her boobs aren’t as big as you would like, but I don’t know how that will effect her character (read: it won’t).
Masters of Sex, “Pilot”: Time Warner was kind enough to give us three months of free Showtime, so I checked out the first episode of “Masters of Sex.” Which was great. Very funny, not actually that smutty, and a fascinating bit of subject matter.
Only qualm is, with a show that’s supposed to be about how these sexuality studies were redefining medicine, there’s not a ton of reasoning behind what, exactly, the main characters will accomplish on the medical side. Other characters keep implying all they probably want to do is watch people bone, and so far that’s sort of what’s going on. Hopefully in further episodes we get to see how their sexuality study actually helps people, because Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen are pretty great otherwise.
Superior Foes of Spider-Man #1-#2: I had read the first issue of this very funny series by Nick Spencer a while ago, but had completely forgotten to pick up the rest. I re-read the first issue, and was happy to discover the second is just as ridiculous and fun. It’s always nice when you get a mainstream comic that isn’t just about heroes pummeling each other, and this fits that niche nicely.
It’s almost New Year’s, and that means its time for resolutions. Normally I haven’t bothered a whole lot with ‘em, because I know I (like most of the world) will break them in a few weeks time. So I try to stay manageable.
For example, the past two years, I resolved not to use my cell phone for a full day. Totally crushed it both years.
This year though, I’m going to try something a little more massive, and to do it properly I’m going to do it publicly… Because otherwise lack of pressure will probably make it fade away.
My New Year’s Resolution is to post things that I liked every single day, for an entire year.
There are two specific goals here:
Goal #1: The Internet, as well as myself, are generally pretty negative… To put it lightly. It’s way easier to focus on things that are bad, than things that are good. So in an effort to get myself thinking more positively, I’m going to post anything positive I encountered during a given day as a list at the end of the day. My hope is that rather than snarking instantly at everything, I’ll eventually be driven to search out things that I like in an effort to fill out the daily blog post.
Goal #2: It’s really hard to make year end lists and remember what happened back in January. For the past few years, I’ve actually kept a monthly list of comic books I liked, so I could do a monthly round-up – something I’ll be starting again on MTV News in a few days time. But I don’t just write about comics, I also write about movies, TV, and pop culture stuff. So in a year’s time, when I have to look back fondly on 2014, I won’t just remember what happened post-Halloween, I’ll be able to say, “Oh yeah! That was a great book,” or recipe, or picture, or whatever.
So there you go. This is a project I’m doing for myself, which could be potentially annoying to others since I’ll be sharing it on Tumblr (which means also on Twitter [which means also on Facebook]). But hopefully it’ll end up being a way I can share things I like with other people who are looking to like things in 2014, and maybe they’ll share some things back my way? Who knows?
In any case, I’ll be starting this on January 1st… And if we’re being honest, this post itself isn’t so much an announcement, as a way of forcing myself to actually start the project. Stay tuned.
Side-note: I really don’t like ‘The Sound of Music’ at all. Thought I’d get that out of the way while I still can.
Moviegoers have laid down the gauntlet with the results of this weekend’s box office, and the message is clear: female led films just don’t work, but films with thirteen dwarves in them definitely do.
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" isn’t just the fourth highest opening for a December released movie ever, it’s the second highest opening for a movie featuring thirteen dwarves of all time.
Compare that to the animated musical “Frozen,” which fell to an embarrassing second place after four weeks of release, or “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” which has only grossed a pitiful $735 million dollars worldwide since it hit theaters a month ago. Both have female leads, and both are, by any standard, tanking.
On the other hand, movies with thirteen dwarves in them look like a sure bet.
When “The Hunger Games” sequel opened a month ago, Hollywood insiders cautiously analyzed the box office opening of $158 million, which is just a fraction of the worldwide lifetime cume of “Marvel’s The Avengers” - a movie that featured a MALE archer.
Then “Frozen” opened a few days later at number two with $67.4 million, which is just sad given there were two female leads. Maybe that explains being in second place LOL?
Cut to several weeks later, and finally we have our answer on what the next big trend is in movies. It’s not female led movies: they can only break records and dominate the box office for a solid month, and that’s all. No, it’s movies with thirteen dwarves in them.
Hollywood would be smart to greenlight as many films with thirteen dwarves as possible, and soon, because that audience is hungry for more!
Not more female led movies though, that’s clearly a losing proposition.
I cried in the movie theater watching “Doctor Who” today.
And it wasn’t just because of the quality of “Day of the Doctor,” which, as television shows go, was quite the quality piece of work. And yes, it was at the emotional climax of the piece, but that’s not the reason I cried. Spoilers, by the way.
John Hurt’s Doctor has to make a choice: let the universe continue to burn in the Time War between the Daleks and the Time Lords, or destroy the two and let the universe continue. We know, because we’ve been watching “Doctor Who” since the reboot that of course he makes the choice to destroy them. And there’s even an emotional resolution to this point: Matt Smith, and David Tennant join him. They know he’s hurting, and have made the choice easier by supporting him, rather than rejecting him. Except.
There’s Clara in the back, crying, and she calls them out. She says yes, the only two choices are destruction or mutual destruction. “There is no other choice,” they all say… Except, and here’s the part that made me cry: there’s always another choice.
The past few months, approximately since June 12 when I saw “Man of Steel,” I’ve been struggling with a feeling that I was losing a battle. In that movie, Superman is also faced with a choice: he can let Zod continue his destruction and killing in Metropolis, or he can kill him. So Superman snaps Zod’s neck. I even wrote a long piece about it on MTV Geek, and how I felt it was part of a larger, longer trend of superheroes killing in movies that I hoped would reverse.
I don’t think it did, and it was underlined this past week on “Arrow.” I couldn’t watch “Arrow” last season, because he straight up executed people, and it sickened me. This year I started watching again, and it’s become kind of great. Oliver Queen realized killing wasn’t the only way, and to inspire people he had to be something better. Then on this week’s episode his friend Felicity got in trouble, and to save her he killed a villain.
Queen looked troubled, and I thought the arc would be that he’s put in a tight spot, reverts to old habits, and learns they’re wrong, again. Except it wasn’t. The arc was actually about Felicity realizing it’s okay to kill people sometimes, like when she gets in trouble.
This is about when I started to lose hope.
See, I’m a Dad, and when I think of kids, particularly my kid growing up in a world with superheroes who see no other option but to murder, I start to think that maybe I’m missing something. Maybe society has moved on from superheroes saving people, and I haven’t. The old chestnut is, “Why doesn’t Batman kill The Joker?” But if Batman was invented today, would he have murdered The Joker after his first appearance? Almost assuredly.
And then today, watching “The Day of The Doctor,” it felt like a dam broke. Seeing The Doctors realize that they didn’t have to kill everyone, that between three of them if they just thought, just for a moment, they could come up with another solution made me weep, not with sadness, but with joy.
Here, right here, in one of the biggest cultural milestones of the year, was a reiteration of everything I love about watching and reading hero stories. Here were heroes being heroes. Knowing there’s no hope, no chance, and taking one anyway.
Do Daleks die? Yes. Did some Time Lords die. Surely. And is there a chance, after they lock Gallifrey away in a moment, everything can go wrong? Given Matt Smith is heading there next episode, and that’s his last, well, duh.
But they TRY, and this is the crucial point. The Doctor makes an attempt to think beyond the two choices, the impossible conundrum put before him, and he figures it out. And you know who that was up to? The writer. That was Moffat, looking at the situation, saying, “How do I solve this?” and then coming up with a way, in the script, he could make it work.
That’s the inspiration we need. That’s what heroes need to be, and once were. And if a fifty-year-old program can show us it’s possible, that’s the way they can be again.
We need that. We need to know there’s another choice other than killing, so that we can become the screenwriters of our own lives, and our children can do the same for their lives. We can take control, and realize that beyond killing, or mutual destruction, there’s always a third choice.
That’s what heroes are, and can be again. If we want them to be. And then maybe I can stop crying in movie theaters.
You guys!!! Dan Starkey - Strax on Doctor Who - will be LIVE on Comic Book Club, Tuesday June 18th in NYC!
Will he sing Rudolph?
Or perhaps he’ll run into some problems getting to the show:
Whatever happens, we have a good idea of what he’ll want to do when he gets there:
…Or maybe we’ll just talk about comics and geeky stuff. Who knows? IT’S FREE!!!
Tuesday, June 18th – 7pm
Tickets: FREE! (21+)
105 Eldridge St.
[Btwn. Grand and Broome St.]
See you there, potato heads?