Don't Blame Me, I Voted For Kodos

I like books that have a fresh take on things, and just in case you're an aspiring writer, please know that vampires-live-among-us is no longer a fresh take. What is a fresh take is the idea that on the day of his successor's inauguration, William Howard Taft disappeared from the face of the Earth, only to reappear in late 2011 with no sense of having done more than take a quick snooze. I heard about Jason Heller's novel because he writes for the Onion's AV Club, which is my current website of choice, and I thought this book sounded like a fun read. And it is!

Of course, there's the whole issue of getting acclimated to modern-day technologies and attitudes, but once Taft gets beyond that, he finds himself pulled back into the political arena, half against his will. Republicans love his pro-business stance. Democrats love his progressive social ideas. A third party rapidly coalesces around him, desperate for him to take another run at the White House. In the early twentieth century, he was a dud, but filtered through the lens of our ever-churning media cycle, he's turned into a rock star.

Ridiculously biased cable news commentary and vicious internet sniping are ripe for satire, of course, but Heller can do that in his sleep. What's truly remarkable is that Taft 2012 achieves more than just poking fun at our often absurd media and political system. It gives us an elbow to the ribs as a reminder of what democracy is actually supposed to be about, and paints Taft as a historical figure worth learning about, rather than just writing him off as that fat, milquetoast one with the giant bathtub.

Taft 2012: B+

Super Cuts

Of all the things that cause me to miss out on potentially quality movies, one of the biggest is my aversion to gore. I don't mind violence at all, but once the skulls start getting split or the arms get chopped off, I'm out of there. I love a good scare, I just don't equate being scared with being grossed out.

Finding the line between acceptable violence and unacceptable gore is a delicate balancing act, and I don't always get it right. A friend and I watched Super over the weekend (at my insistence, even), and although I knew it was going to be brutally violent, I wasn't prepared for the extreme level of realistic gore. I wound up having to watch half of it through my fingers, and averted my eyes at several points, only to be forced to listen to the squishy noises of various people having their various body parts forcibly removed.

Still, for all I couldn't handle, it didn't wind up being nearly as terrible an experience as it could have. All in all, it was a pretty entertaining movie. Rainn Wilson plays a socially-maladjusted diner cook who turns to vigilante justice after his wife (Liv Tyler) leaves him for a sleazy drug dealer (Kevin Bacon). Ellen Page rounds out the cast as a comic book clerk who enthusiastically joins the cause as sidekick to "The Crimson Bolt", and the two of them get to fighting crime. It doesn't matter if you're a rapist or just a guy who cuts the line at the movies; you break the law, you get a pipe wrench to the head.

There have been a few normal-person-assumes-mantle-of-crime-fighter movies lately, so they each have to set themselves apart, and this one does it by being ultra-gross. Normally, that would make me judge it pretty harshly, but surprisingly, the clever writing and acting in this splatter flick does just as much to make it unique.

Super: B

The Key Ingredient

Key & Peele - Season 1, Episode 1

For all that I read and listen to about the entertainment world, plenty still escapes my notice. I'm all over those "25 New Shows For 2012!" kinds of lists, and plenty of podcasts I subscribe to generally give me a heads-up on shows to look out for, but I was going over some television write-ups the other day, and came across a glowing review for the first episode of a sketch comedy show on Comedy Central that I had never heard of. I was immediately intrigued, and when someone I follow on Twitter also started jabbering about how good the first episode of Key & Peele was, I knew I had to track it down.

I don't know much about the stars except their names are Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, they both used to be on MADtv, and they're both biracial. That's it. So I jumped into this episode with zero expectations, and wound up really enjoying it. Being biracial can lead to all sorts of awkward situations, and these guys really know how to mine it for laughs, from a skit about how black guys talk when other black guys are around to one about critics of President Obama complaining that he's not angry enough. Not that they just stick to racial issues; they knocked one out of the park with a skit about supposedly alpha males being terrified of their wives. The interstitial bits between skits when they're riffing in front of a studio audience are a little weak, but for the most part, everything worked well.

Just as I don't automatically declare a show a failure after a bad pilot, I can't deem this one an absolute success after a good one. Still, it gave me several belly laughs, which is all I can ask from a comedy, and I'll definitely be catching the next episode.

Episode 1: A-
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