Friday, November 19, 2004


On this week's "America's Next Top Model," Amanda can't even die correctly, Ya Ya disrespects a pickled plum, and Nicole's failure to concoct a wildly stereotypical reality show persona leads to her elimination.

This episode is chock-full of great quotes. Let's start off with Nicole, who declares, "Panel's not a place for me to go and act like a 'tard." Classy! Now that the editors can be bothered to show Nicole's interview footage, she reminds me a lot of Pink: tough, sassy, plain spoken, and perhaps a bit stinky.

The morning's "Tyra Mail" message states simply, "Prepare to die." This alarms some of the contestants. They're probably expecting they'll be led into a small, dark room, and then Janice Dickinson will drop from the ceiling and disembowel them. But no, it's just an acting class. Their acting partner will be Taye Diggs, who in a wild coincidence stars in the UPN program that airs right after this one. The aspiring models are given one chance to perform a deathbed scene. They get to read their lines -- for the first and only time -- off of cue cards. For maximum humor value, they have to pronounce a lot of medical terminology and just a smidgen of French. In most cases, the women's acting comes to a dead halt when they get to a word they can't pronounce, and they do everything but bolt upright in bed as they stare at the cue card and sound out the word in a flat, halting voice. Amanda forgets that dead people typically stop moving. Taye Diggs improvs, "You're alive!" The acting coach comments on every contestant except Nicole and then she starts to announce the winner. Oops! She's "forgotten" Nicole! And I put that in scare quotes because in retrospect this will end up looking extremely staged. The winner is... Ya Ya. (Yawn, yawn.) Her prize is "luxury class" seating on the contestants' flight to their next destination: Tokyo. Norelle interviews that she's apprehensive about visiting a foreign land, only she phrases it in a way that is much more xenophobic, and, of course, stupider. She giggles nervously, and then her face does that walleye thing that makes her look like a willowy, elfin Buddy Hackett.

Ya Ya has totally alienated herself from the other ladies but the rules state that she HAS to share her prize with one of the other women. She chooses Amanda, since Amanda is one of the few ladies left in the contest with whom Ya Ya hasn't shared one of her numerous other prizes. On the plane, Ya Ya and Amanda drink wine and play with their motorized seats. Fun fact: in "luxury class," all of the magazines have Tyra Banks on the cover! Even Guns & Ammo! Even Asphalt Contractor and Numismatic News!

At long last Tokyo. "A capsule hotel is a hotel of capsules," Amanda informs us. Wait a minute... that wasn't informative at all! Suffice it to say that the contestants will be living in what appears to be an automat for cannibals. The rooms are actually glass-fronted cases, about two-and-a-half feet high, stacked three deep. Each capsule has a blind the occupant can pull down for privacy. Except this is Japan, so the interiors of the capsules are loaded with high-tech "panty cams" which transmit continuous footage of the contestants' unmentionables to men's clubs across the city.

For their next challenge, the women must perform in a soup commercial, speaking mostly Japanese. While waiting for her turn, Ann practices her lines. Her quietly despairing delivery of "Konich-wa" cracks me up. The women are dressed and made-up in an avant-garde yet traditional Japanese fashion. Their blush spreads from their cheeks over their eyes and onto their foreheads. Special guest makeup artist: your grandma! The commercial's director is a Japanese man who doesn't speak English. I called bullshit on that right away because I remembered last season's trip to Milan where an Italian designer who "didn't speak English" turned up on the judging panel and revealed himself to be American. The women have a tough time getting through the filming. Eva is so worried by her lousy performance, she says she hopes Norelle does worse. One problem: Norelle is about five feet away when she says it. Norelle gazes at her with the bemused detachment of the highly intelligent and the very, very stupid, but says nothing. Ann decides to be offended for Norelle. Donating one's outrage is very trendy this year.

The contestants face the judging panel. The commercial director is there! He still doesn't speak English! Crap. I hate it when I'm wrong about these things. For the final test of the night, the ladies must act in another ad -- this time for a Japanese food item that is later described as "a pickled plum." The plum apparently tastes nasty. (And why is this show morphing into Fear Factor? First the tarantula and now this. Grrrr...!) Eva does a great job! Evidently she's had a lot of practice in swallowing things that taste unpleasant. The editors dispense with even the possibility of suspense when Ya Ya's turn comes, because they crank up the scary music and they slo-mo parts of it. The only thing missing is a smash-cut to Tyra running from a fireball and screaming "NOOOOOO!!!" At any rate, Ya Ya is very perky and engaging and she delivers her lines perfectly, and everything is going splendidly until she skips the part where she has to eat the plum. She finishes her lines and she still doesn't eat it. The judges start chanting "Eat it, eat it," like they're at a frat party. A haute couture frat party! Ya Ya puts the plum in her mouth and pretends to enjoy it way too much. She writhes and makes little doggy whining noises, and then she starts in with the orgasmic moaning. The plum is so big, SO BIG! Using her extensive dance training, she contorts her body into a question mark and then, when her face is below the level of the table, she spits out the plum. The Japanese judge looks offended, but who really knows since he doesn't speak English? Still, this is clearly an international incident. Quick, call the U.N.! They'll solve this problem in about, let's see, judging from their history with international disputes, hmm, carry the two, okay, so that would be never, basically. Janice baits Ya Ya by asking her how the plum tastes. "Like nothing I've ever tasted before," Ya Ya replies with a plum-eating grin. That's a solid, diplomatic answer. She's learning!

The judges gather all the contestants together. They rate their performances and "forget" Nicole again. See what I mean? In private, Tyra thinks Nicole is "blah." "Beyond blah," echoes Janice, who looks and sounds "beyond wasted." And also, how very "Carolyn from 'The Apprentice'" of her. In a stunning upset, the judges choose Ann as the best contestant this time around. Eva is second and she would have gotten first except the judges have suddenly decided they don't like her voice. Nicole and Ya Ya are in a dead heat for last place. But ultimately Nicole is booted for being boring. Sure, her pictures have been consistently wonderful, but this isn't a modeling contest. It's a soap opera with really cheap production values -- a community dinner theater version of "Paper Dolls," if you will. A chorus of bipolar castrati sings and Sylvia Plath noodles about on a keyboard as Nicole says her goodbyes. Everybody is crying, except for Janice, 'cause, y'know. Botox.

Next week: Ann breaks up with Eva! And I thought those two kids had something special.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Comic Review Roundup

Last Tuesday I bought...

B.P.R.D.: The Dead #1 by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Guy Davis.
After that one B.P.R.D. miniseries with the gnomes or whatever, by Christopher Golden and that one guy who couldn't draw very well, what'shisface, I felt royally ripped off. So I skipped "Plague of Frogs," even though it was by a different creative team. This was evidently a big mistake. I picked up "The Dead" because it was a slow week and I love Guy Davis' artwork. The story this time around is terrific, with some interesting internal shakeups at the B.P.R.D. and a fascinating glimpse into Abe Sapien's previous life -- something that was hinted at in "Plague of Frogs" I've been told. (Note to self: go buy "Plague of Frogs.") There's also a cool new character: Captain Benjamin Daimo, a disfigured gent who cut his way out of a body bag after being dead for three days. And I'm not sure he's a good guy, either. With a story like this, and the artwork of Guy Davis (who, I'm sorry, draws Mignola characters with more warmth and range of expression than Mignola does) I'm looking forward to the next issue.

Last Thursday I bought...

The Flash #215 by Geoff Johns, Howard Porter, and Livesay.
I got sick of what Johns was doing on this title a few years ago, which is when I stopped buying it on a regular basis. I bought last issue and this issue because they tie into "Identity Crisis." Last issue, Wally received a letter from his deceased mentor, Barry Allen. That's pretty much all that happened. Wally got a letter. This issue, he reads the letter! Yes, it's all-out epistolary action in the mighty Geoff Johns manner! It turns out that Barry wants Wally to restore the sanity of the Top, even though it will make the Top evil again -- because this is a Geoff Johns story, and things have to be depressing and horrible all the time. I can't say I care for the plot, but the flashback scenes did make me interested in the Top, of all characters, and that's a pretty impressive feat all by itself. In other news, Howard Porter still hasn't figured out how to draw Green Arrow's hat. For the love of God, man, use some photo reference now and then! It won't kill you, I promise! I got a good laugh out of Howard's version of the "practically the entire JLA dogpiles on Doctor Light" scene from "Identity Crisis." Howard tries to cram everyone into a vertical panel, so instead of the full-contact "You grab an arm, I'll grab a leg" version that Rags Morales created, we get Hawkman choking Doctor Light, Black Canary grabbing onto his cape, three other characters just kind of standing there and Green Lantern floating aimlessly in the background. It looks less like a life-or-death struggle and more like a costume fitting gone horribly awry.

JSA #67 by Geoff Johns, Dave Gibbons, and James Hodgkins.
Guest artist Gibbons' pencils aren't exactly spectacular, but they are anatomically competent and pleasant to look at. Which makes them about a jillion times better than regular artist Don Kramer's amateurish, ugly crap. And here's a bonus: Gibbons is the first artist in a long time to draw Power Girl without cartoonishly oversized bazooms. It's bad enough that Power Girl's costume has a "cleavage porthole" where most other superheroes would have a letter or symbol. Of course, for most fanboys, gargantuan teats are as much a symbol of Power Girl as bats are a symbol of Batman. The bulk of this issue focuses on Doctor Mid-Nite and Mister Terrific. They perform an autopsy on Sue Dibny in costume because really, why take those things off even for a moment? Doctor Mid-Nite declares that he knows who killed Sue. Not that he's going to say who that is. That has to wait for...

Identity Crisis #6 by Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales, and Michael Bair.
And even then he doesn't give a name. Mid-Nite and Batman independently conclude that Sue Dibny's murderer has the ability to shrink to microscopic size, which of course means she was killed by their fellow superhero, the Atom, because-- huh? Never mind that the Atom's internal monologue from a few issues back contradicts this idea. So it's either a case of mind control or another frigging red herring, or this whole series has been a brilliant scheme to resurrect the Silver Age Wonder Woman villain, Mouse Man. (That would ROCK!) Also, in a scene with disturbing undertones and overtones, Robin undresses as he rushes to his father's freshly murdered corpse. I just hope all of this is leading somewhere. I swear, if DC is jerking me around again like they did with "Millennium" and "Genesis" and "Invasion" and "Underworld Unleashed" and... huh. What was I talking about? Oh yeah. If the next issue sucks, I'm never buying another DC "event" series ever, ever again. And this time I really mean it.

Plastic Man #12 by Scott Morse.
HUGE disappointment. I skipped the last Scott Morse fill-in but I thought I'd give this one a try. Well, it sucks. The entire issue is one interminable fight scene that manages to be both frantic and boring, and the dialogue is pun-filled but not funny. Topped off by Morse's signature muddy coloring, the whole package gives me a migraine.

Firestorm #7 by Dan Jolley, Liam Sharp, and Andy Lanning.
I'm no more interested in this version of Firestorm than I was in the original, but I do like this issue's guest star, Bloodhound. So, what makes the new Firestorm different from the old one, besides the refreshing absence of puffy sleeves? For starters, his dad's an abusive bastard! Yeah, not interested in reading more about that, thank you very much. This issue, Firestorm makes the mistake of absorbing a badass criminal who'd just given him a concussion, so the criminal takes over Firestorm's body. The criminal (who sports a wraparound head tattoo, which is perfectly inane) goes after his old enemy, Bloodhound. This continues in...

Bloodhound #5 by Dan Jolley, Leonard Kirk, and Robin Riggs.
Now, this is more like it. I know I should hate this book but I can't help it. It's the comic book version of one of those straight-to-video Deathwish/Diehard ripoffs that star Joe Don Baker or some martial arts nobody, and I hate that kind of thing. Jolley elevates it somehow and turns all this blood-soaked mayhem into an art. What I love about Bloodhound, the character, is that in a fight he'll use anything he can get his hands on, up to and including the kitchen sink. This issue, he gets the best of three armed men, using only a two-by-four. Needless to say, Mister Head-tattoo doesn't stand a chance.