Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hell: In or Out?

The bat first came out of Hell in 1977. Then in 1993 it went back into Hell. Now, not only is the bat back out of Hell, but it is apparently loose and some are calling it a monster. Lost somewhere amid the hype and hoopla surrounding Jay-Z's return and Yusuf Islam's (Cat Stevens') first album in a few decades, Marvin Aday's latest effort is worth checking out. Most of you might know Marvin by his stage name. Others might know him better as the guy with breasts in Fight Club, but at 59, Meat Loaf is still going strong. Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose marks the second follow up to his first Bat Out of Hell album which sold 14 million copies. Critics are quick to note Meat Loaf's talent: "Even with grandiosity back in fashion—The Killers, My Chemical Romance—you can bet that this Texas-bred, Broadway-on-steroids rock Pavarotti's voice and sensibility will still be too ginormous for the cool part of the room" (Chris Willman, Entertainment Weekly). But they also have reservations with grouping this album with the other two. Whatever. Just as long as it has witty lyrics like "You took the words right out of my mouth. It must have been while you were kissing me." Even if you are not a fan of Meat Loaf, you should check out the video to his remake of Celine Dion's "It's All Coming Back to Me Now." It's over 5 minutes long, so if you don't have time for that, below it is the Dr. Pepper ad that finally answers the question of what "that" is that Meat Loaf won't do for love.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ah, The Liberal Media

As Martin, my politically conservative brother-in-law, once said about the movie Shrek, "I used to like that movie until I found out who was in it: a bunch of liberals." My response to him was "Name another movie." It's no secret that if Hollywood were a state it would be about as blue as they come. Of course there are a few notable exceptions: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood and Tom Selleck to name a few. This is an Entertainment News web log, so without trying to turn it into a political forum, I will say this, my main problem with the left is the hypocrisy that seems to underlie the liberal agenda. To sum it up, if they're so tolerant, why aren't they more tolerant of conservatives? The answer is the agenda is the driving force. I could give plenty of examples, but I will focus on two events that I find inconsistent. We're all familiar with Mel Gibson's drunken tirade berating Jews and basically digging himself into a fairly deep hole career wise. He doesn't seem to have a friend in Hollywood, and I'm not saying he should. The contrasting example concerns Michael Richards, aka Kramer from Seinfeld. He is in the news this week for losing his temper during a stand up comic routine and letting go a barrage of disparaging remarks concerning African Americans. He even used "The N Word." He is now trying to pick up the pieces of his career and appeared on Letterman last night via satellite to apologize. He's hoping this will all blow over, and it probably will. What it boils down to is both Gibson and Richards said some things they wish they could take back. They are trying to convince people that their comments don't represent their true opinions. Yet while Gibson has been blacklisted, Richards already has friends coming to his rescue (Jerry Seinfeld for one). On the Huffington Post, a web log noted for its liberal stance, Earl Ofari Hutchinson shifts some blame from Richards by saying "The obsessive use of and the tortured defense of the word by so many blacks gave Richards the license to use the word without any thought that there'd be any blow back for doing it." In other words, he's been around it and heard it so often, why should we be shocked when he uses it? Interesting. Yet somehow TV stations complain to the FCC when they get fined for letting profanity slip past censors. "The F-word should be allowed as long as it's not used in a sexual connotation." So you're telling me that an adult like Michael Richards is influenced by the vocabulary around him, but a kid who's watching TV at 8:00 pm and hears profanity isn't? See what I mean about the hypocrisy? I'm not trying to defend Gibson and condemn Richards, but Hollywood is the last group I want telling me what is right and wrong.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Reinventing Blond & Green

Casino Royale opens today and as you might have been able to tell from the trailers, it takes James Bond back to his roots, and no I'm not referring to his new blond hair color. This whole idea of reinventing the movie franchise is an emerging trend these days. It used to be that Hollywood couldn't come up with original ideas and decided that the safest investment was to make sequels to popular movies. The cheep sequel has been around for decades. Long before Disney decided to churn out straight-to-video sequels of its theatrical hits, studios took advantage of their actors' long-term contracts and basically told them what their next movie would be. Take Mickey Rooney for example. In 1937 he appeared in a low budget hit called A Family Affair which eventually spawned 15 sequels, all starring Rooney as the lovable Andy Hardy. Six of those sequels came out over a two-year span. Eventually Hollywood got a little more creative in its marketing efforts as George Lucas popularized the prequel. Today, the sequel and prequel movie conventions have been combined into the reinvented franchise and Casino Royale is just the latest example. Like Batman Begins, which is probably the best example, it takes place in the present day, which would suggest it follows the previous films, but it takes the character's story back to the beginning like a prequel. It's a way of hitting the reset button.

Another trend in Hollywood is the recent gluttony of movies featuring CGI (computer generated images), especially those with talking animals (by the way, if you're looking for good CGI movie, I recommend Monster House). It seems like every week a new CGI animal movie featuring the voice talents of today's A and B-list actors is coming out. First it was zoo animals, then barnyard animals. It appears the next wave of films will feature rodents. None of them really seem to stand out and as a result, the studios are cannibalizing each other's business.

That leads us to the topic of this post. Some genius has come up with the idea of using talking CGI animals to reinvent a movie franchise. March 2007 marks the release of the all new, feature-length movie The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and this time they're digitally enhanced. That's right, the movie franchise that brought us The Secret of the Ooze will see its fifth installment as the one that hits the reset button. I'd give you the premise of the movie, but something tells me the story isn't the most important element of this merchandising vehicle. In fact, a new futuristic TV show is on its way as are new toys and other commercial tie-ins. I will say this about the CGI turtles compared with the original ones that looked like Barney: they can move a lot better (see the advanced theatrical trailer below, 1:46). It's as if they were cartoons, which raises some concerns.

As a kid, I grew up a fan of the live-action Incredible Hulk television series. I also liked The Incredible Hulk cartoon (in fact, my aunt was one of the show's animators). However, when The Hulk movie came out in 2003 it was essentially a combination of the two with a CGI Hulk instead of a hand-drawn one. And let me tell you, it didn't really work that well (and don't even get me started on the Scooby-Doo movies). We could be seeing the same thing happen with the Ninja Turtles and since I was neither a fan of their Saturday morning cartoon nor their other four movies (I believe I saw the first one and part of the one where they go back in time), it's a pretty safe bet I won't be lined up to see TMNT on opening day. But, should they ever use talking CGI animals to reinvent the Air Bud franchise, I'm there.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Future John was Right

It looks like I was spot on in my prediction for The Office. In case you forgot, a month and a half ago I stated on my web log "The Stamford Branch will close and many of its employees including Jim and Karen, who will have hooked up by then, will be transferred to the Scranton Branch. Watch out for some awkward moments as hilarity will no doubt ensue. The only question remaining is will Andy (Ed Helms) go too. Can you imagine him and Dwight in the same office?" Although I must confess, as Doug figured out, I actually received a fax from Future John informing me of the planned story lines. Anyway, it looks like Andy and Dwight did end up in the same office and hilarity most definitely did ensue. Check out this video I strung together of the best Andy Bernard moments from the first eight episodes of Season 3.

Also, how about that product placement from Staples in last night's episode? That was actually kind of funny because it wasn't trying to be subtle at all. We see Kevin shredding stuff (including his own credit card) and then it cuts to a Staples commercial about the shredder. Every time I think of Staples I think about one time when I was there buying office supplies and I asked an employee where the masking tape was. He repeated the words "masking tape" to himself pensively and then took two steps in the opposite direction before stopping and asking me "Wait, what is masking tape?" Anyway, I'm just glad The Office featured Staples and not Office Max, which is third on my enemies list behind only Daewoo and Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A DVR Full of Teen Angst

Owning a ReplayTV (a Digital Video Recorder, you know, like a TiVo) has allowed me to follow more shows than I probably should. The whole concept of time shifting, that is, recording shows and watching them at my convenience (and without commercials), is a greater thing than sliced bread. After all, the person who came up with sliced bread neither invented bread nor the technique of cutting things; he just put them together. No, the DVR is really in a class above that. In fact, since the dawn of time, there really are three inventions/discoveries in that top class: fire, the wheel, and the Digital Video Recorder. Those of you that have one know what I'm talking about and the rest of you should go read the Allegory of the Cave.

Anyway, back to the original point about "my shows." At the beginning of each television season I pick a few new shows that I will try out and, if they are good, watch faithfully. The reason I have to pick "a few shows" is the bane of my existence. For some reason, the shows I like always get canceled due to poor ratings. I don't know if it's because I can't pick good shows or if America is growing increasingly more stupid. The success of Deal or No Deal and Dancing with the Stars makes me think it is the latter. So far this season, several of my shows have been canceled or will be soon. I was really into Smith starring Ray Liotta, but it got the axe after only three episodes. Vanished is a little hokey, but I've gotten into it. It has been relocated to Fridays where it will probably die a slow death.

However, it appears my luck might be changing as today it was announced that Friday Night Lights, the fictional TV series based on the semi-fictional movie which is based on a nonfiction book written about a real high school football team in Texas, has been given the go ahead for a full season of episodes. The show has better teen angst than The O.C. or anything on the WB or WC or whatever they're calling that channel now. The football is realistic enough, and the characters are very well written. It's an engrossing show that will leave you wanting more. Now, I'm not one of those of those people who makes saving TV shows my personal mission, so I'm not going to tell you have to watch this show or it won't get picked up for a second season. Rather, I have devoted a posting on my web log to it (or half of a post as I wasted quite a bit of effort getting to the point). So next time you're watching TV on a Tuesday night and your flipping through the channels (something DVR owners don't have to do) and you come across Friday Night Lights, just say to yourself, "Oh yeah, I heard this was a good show. Maybe I'll try it out."

And in case you were wondering, other shows I watch are Heroes, House, Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, The Nine, The Office, Without a Trace, and, of course, an occasional episode of Dog the Bounty Hunter. After typing that out, I realize I watch too much TV. Thus we see that the DVR, like fire, also has a downside.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Tribute to Bad 80's Sitcoms

In paying tribute to television of the 1980's, it's too easy to look at the obviously nostalgic: MacGyver, The A-Team, The Dukes of Hazard. No, in order to examine the 1980's, we must look at what passed for comedy. Today, the situation comedy, or sitcom, is all but dead, but in the 80's, it thrived. Shows with the most bizarre of premises popped up out of nowhere, or better, were spun off of existing shows. Who remembers that both Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy were spin offs of Happy Days? Or that that Nurses was a spin off of Empty Nest which was a spin off of Golden Girls? The best is when studios utilized the one-off spin off, which is where a character is introduced into a popular sitcom for a single episode in hopes of generating a loyal fan base when that character is given his own show. The best example of that is Just the Ten of Us about a football coach (originally introduced on Growing Pains) that moved his family cross country.

Another driving force behind the 80's sitcom was something we call syndication which is where a show's old episodes are sold to local markets for daily airings. Sometimes shows only existed in syndication, as was the case of Charles in Charge.

As history remembers the 1980's, silly dramas like Simon & Simon or The Great American Hero will fade away, but "classic" sitcoms like Punky Brewster, Small Wonder and Alf will standout as the shows that defined a decade.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Mr. Bauer

As 24 gears up for its sixth season (the first four hours will air January 14 & 15) the show's creators have announced that James Cromwell has been cast as Jack Bauer's estranged father. I have no problem with Cromwell. I think he is a fine actor (most of you might know him as the farmer in Babe). However, this move raises the obvious question of why not Donald Sutherland, especially since the TV show he was in, Commander in Chief, was canceled. Donald and Kiefer Sutherland have never been cast as father and son before, although they have appeared in two movies together (Max Dugan Returns in 1983 and A Time to Kill in 1996). I'm sure there was a good reason why Donald wasn't cast, but at some point I would like to see him on 24, maybe as the head of the evil syndicate that has been in the background pulling the strings, including those of President Logan.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Something to Consider

Christopher Guest is coming out with a new movie this month called For Your Consideration. In it, three actors learn their respective performances in the film Home for Purim, a drama set in the mid-1940s American South, are generating award-season buzz. Though not quite a mocumentary like Guest's previous films (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind), it does have the whole gang with one notable addition: Ricky Gervais from the British version of The Office. And while some of Guest's regulars are pretty annoying, others are hilarious (ie Fred Willard, Parker Posey, Harry Shearer).

Guest is one of the few directors whose work I look forward to. In fact, the best characters in his films are often played by Guest himself. He really is a versatile actor (those of you unfamiliar with him, might know him better as the evil Count Tyrone Rugen, a.k.a. the six-fingered man, from The Princess Bride). He has also shown he has musical skills as he often writes the songs for his movies. Speaking of which, something I have always found funny is that the three members of Spinal Tap (Guest, Shearer, Michael McKean), a band created for Rob Riener's 1984 "rockumentary" This is Spinal Tap (Tag line: "Does for rock and roll what The Sound of Music did for hills") are the same three members of the folk music group The Folksmen from 2003's A Mighty Wind. What's more is that both groups sort of became real, doing concerts and musical appearances. Spinal Tap even went on tour and released an album (besides the movie soundtrack) called Break Like the Wind.