An award-winning journalist throws his professional integrity away by acting a fool and publishing long, ranting pieces on popular culture, post-modern life and the overall human condition without the help of a copy editor.

Monday, July 02, 2007

"The Big Chill" To Be Remade, And Here's Why That's Okay

(originally published at the now-defunct

I’ve had a few days to get used to the idea, let it roll around inside my brain to weigh the positives against the negatives. Word is out that Regina King (The Boondocks, Ray) will produce and star in an entirely African-American version of Lawrence Kasdan’s 1980s nostalgia-fest The Big Chill. Online bloggers and talkbackers are tripping over themselves to say how and why this is a terrible idea, pointing to the recent onslaught of bad remakes in recent years. I, however, am taking the opposite perspective: I think it’s a great idea.

Let’s put aside, for a moment, the notion that remakes are automatically terrible movies. Whether they be inspired by old movies or TV shows, I happen to think that there’s an equal number of great remakes and bad remakes. Let us not forget that only four months ago a remake of a Hong Kong cop thriller took home the Best Picture Oscar. Start from there and work your way down the list, and you’ll find gems such as SNL sketch-based Wayne’s World and Stuart Saves His Family, as well as Jonathan Demme’s marvelously creepy The Manchurian Candidate, which I consider to be even slightly better than the Frankenheimer original from the 1960s (less Cold War shenanigans, more topical themes).

Now, The Big Chill. Released in 1983, this was Kasdan’s follow-up to his schorching debut, the William Hurt-Kathleen Turner thriller Body Heat, and was a passion project from one of the more popular screenwriters at the time (those being the tiny films Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back). Based around a meeting of former college friends at the funeral of one of their closest acquaintances, it examined the lost dreams of the Baby Boom generation and how to put those pieces back together. A very talky affair, the film is not for everyone, but much like his 1991 race drama Grand Canyon it holds up wonderfully well to similarly themed films (2005 Oscar-winner Crash owes a lot to Canyon yet doesn’t even remotely come close to its glory). The Big Chill is one of my favorite movies, and the performances from Kevin Kline, Jeff Goldblum, Glenn Close, Meg Tilly et al are still probably the best of their careers.

To bring it around again into today’s social atmosphere, amidst political turmoil and a country at odds with itself, is a better idea than people thing. The news sources has said that the Kasdan script would only be a jumping-off point for a new screenplay, which would include a title change as well. It could really be an introspective, intimate slice-of-life amidst a sea of braindead blockbusters and dumb gross-out comedies, just like the original was.

I find it problematic, though, that I’ve noticed a trend about online film nerd readers and talkbackers--they simply just don’t like African-American movies. This is putting aside that there’s an equal percentage of good films in any ethnic group, no matter what the color of the characters’ skins. Recently, I just watched the lovely romance Something New with Sanaa Lathan, which went along with the race-changing remake Guess Who in treating interracial dating with respect and maturity.

I look at the star rating of the film adaptation of The Honeymooners show, this time starring Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps, Gabrielle Union and Regina Hall, and see that it is rated as the 40th worst movie of all time. I thought the movie was very sweet and likable without going into the histrionics that made the original show innovative but ultimately sometimes obnoxious, but that’s beside the point. I can name hundreds of other comedies that were worse than The Honeymooners from a critical perspective but still apparently liked more by viewers (White Chicks has a 4.9/10 in comparison to this movie’s 2.2/10). I cannot help but point to much of the country’s continue bigotry about what they don’t understand. It’s not racism entirely, but it shows a lack of understanding for other cultures. Why should this movie be rated lower simply because of the race of its actors?

I think people have a right to respond to the remake as a bad idea, but most of the comments come from the topic of the ethnic switcheroo, and I don’t like this. To remake The Big Chill isn’t the problem, and the ethnicity change isn’t one either. As long as it’s good, nobody should care. Look on the bright side.

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Name That Foreign Game Show: Human Tetris Edition

(originally published at the now-defunct

I am not necessarily a game show connoisseur, but I will still catch myself watching all too much of GSN (Game Show Network) and random cable channels in order to find some of the more bizarre antics the world at large can cook up. Over the weekend, TV Squad posted a video of this Japanese game show, which is basically like a very big game of Tetris, except it’s only one block every few minutes and your entire body is on the line. As each contestant tries to fit into each designed hole, the show gets more and more ridiculous, and a big part of me thinks that it could make a great addition to Spike TV.

Hell, I’m still waiting for American Gladiators to come back, all updated for the Ultimate Fighting Championship-watching teenagers of today.

The game show is not mentioned in the clip--well, it might be, but I don’t speak Japanese--but this is not a problem. I would rather it not be named. Why? So I can start a column about finding said foreign game shows and giving my own suggestions, as well as a few from my fiancee. You are welcome to, as well.

(Side note: The following exercise is not meant to mock any language or country and is not intended to be insensitive. I have no desire to poke fun at other cultures. I do, however, find language barriers endlessly fascinating and very amusing, and should be chalked up to the peculiar idioms made up by each of these cultures.)

Fiancee’s Title Suggestions:

Body Shaped Hole Fit
Fit Through Hole in Wall or Shame Your Family
Happy Contortionist Fun Show
We Love Foamcore

Marcus’s Title Suggestions:

Super Squeeze
Mountain Dew Tumble
Tetris for Winners!
Prison Break

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Don't You Forget About Me, Batman!

(originally published at the now-defunct

More comic book rumors abound. It's been brought to the attention of, well, pretty much every movie gossip site that Anthony Michael Hall may make a cameo in The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan's second part of the Batman relaunch, as the man who would become quizzical supervillain The Riddler. Whether you consider this good news or not, that's beside the point. What really matters is that there's more to this story, a further rumor nobody seems to be aware of.

Not only will Hall be the Riddler, the entire cast of 1985's John Hughes' high school brilliance The Breakfast Club are all set to make appearances in the new film as some of the baddies of Gotham City. Not having met as a single group since they were forced together to suffer through a weekend detention, it will be a reunion of epic proportions.

-Judd Nelson, who played bad-ass John Bender, will play Joe Chill, the man responsible for the death of Bruce Wayne's parents. The man who played him in Batman Begins could not return due to a nasty meth addiction.

-Molly Ringwald, the prissy Claire Standish, will follow in the footsteps of Uma Thurman, lay on the leaves, and play Poison Ivy. Great, easy casting.

-Ally Sheedy will play against type and be the new version of Mr. Freeze, far different than her anti-social Goth girl Allison Reynolds.

-Emilio Estevez, a.k.a. jock Andy Clark, will be the Penguin, but there's a twist to the character: Estevez himself has asked permission to follow-up his historical film Bobby with the underworld adventures of the recently murdered Robert F. Kennedy and has chosen Gotham City to act as said afterlife, so the Penguin has been altered to being an insane director whose plot has nothing to do with Batman or really anybody else in the cast. His producer, though, will be played by the ghost of Paul Gleason.

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"Kid Nation" or "Child Island"?

One of the more controversial new shows airing this fall is CBS’ reality show Kid Nation. This is a description of the program, one that a great deal of people find very exploitative and problematic. Me, I just think it could end up being really boring.

“The show, which recalls William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, will feature 40 children, aged 8-15, living in a ghost town named “Bonanza Town” that had been uninhabited since the 19th century. The children will be required to create a functioning society in the town, as well as set up a government system used to solve problems in the town. The children will be attempting to prove that they can create a functioning society.

At the end of each episode an elected council of kids award the “Gold Star”, worth $20,000, to a fellow participant.

The show stresses the pressure of creating a viable society. The official CBS promo depicts children arguing with one another, crying, and falling over with exhaustion in challenges.”

Sounds kind of creepy, doesn’t it? Who could have possibly thought of such a premise?

Apparently, comedian Jamie Kennedy already did years ago. In this clip from the WB hidden camera prank show The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, he plays a Hollywood producer pitching an idea for a new reality show to a focus group made up of children and their worried parents, the show he refers to as “the final chapter in reality television,” known as Child Island. (The slogan--"Who will win? Child or island?") Showing them what he describes as a kids version of Survivor, he manages to expose what really goes into network television promotion and pretty much tell the future.

The clip has been barred from embedding, so below is the link to the video file.

YouTube: Jamie Kennedy's Child Island

Seems that the star of Malibu’s Most Wanted and Kickin It Old Skool has a little bit of Nostradamus in him. Who knows if other bits of his show, which was canceled in 2003, may also come true in the future?

I vote for the prank in which a restaurant worries its patrons with the upsetting news that there may be a rodent infestation in the walls. At the climax of the sketch, a six-foot rat breaks through the walls and chases the staff.

It could happen.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

10 Great Dance Movies

(originally published at the now-defunct

I have been quoted as saying, in previous writings, that “there is nothing more exciting, energetic and erotic than a great dance sequence. They get you pumped and feeling alive. They get you to move to the rhythm of life, which is indeed a powerful beat. And if done right, they get you the girl, figuratively speaking (or literally, depending on your circumstances and skills).”

In the spirit of tonight’s first competition week of FOX’s “So You Think You Can Dance,” I give you an assortment of 10 great films (in chronological order) either about dance or heavily featuring the art form.

Film: 42nd Street (1933)

Director: Lloyd Bacon

The mother of all backstage musicals was the first film since the introduction of sound in American films four years earlier to truly show how a movie musical could improve upon one in a live theatre. With dance sequences staged by the master choreographer Busby Berkeley, it paved the way for glorious, overdone and uncompromisingly optimistic rags-to-riches stories for years to come. Look for a pre-Astaire Ginger Rogers as a feisty chorus girl.

Film: Shall We Dance (1937)
Director: Mark Sandrich
The seventh and greatest teaming of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers doesn’t have the cultural impact of “Top Hat,” but it is certainly the freshest movie e’er they shared. He, a famous ballet dancer, falls in love with she, a chanteuse, and while their romance builds slowly, the gossip-hungry world of the socialites fabricate a rumor that the couple are secretly married. Watch not only for Astaire’s “Slap That Bass” number, where he glides around a trans-Atlantic ship’s engine room egged on by the largely African-American crew, but for the show-stopping roller skate number set to “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”

Film: An American in Paris (1951)
Director: Vincente Minnelli

While technically only a musical and mostly unconcerned with dance as a plot point, this Oscar winner for Best Picture nevertheless boasts a climactic 17-minute dance sequence with star Gene Kelly and the grand ensemble, retelling the entire story up to that point in a feverish, frenzied fashion. The sequence cost over half a million (a pretty penny in 1951) and took an entire month to film. While the “Broadway Melody” section of Kelly’s follow-up film “Singin’ in the Rain” is equally as dazzling, it has little to do with the story itself, hence this inclusion of this film over one more beloved.

Film: Invitation to the Dance (1957)
Director: Gene Kelly

This oft-forgotten masterpiece, about three unrelated stories told entirely through dance and pantomime, was shelved for five years after poor test screening. It’s a pity, because it holds one of the greatest dance sequences in American film history, in which Kelly plays a lovelorn French clown unable to attain his true love. The third part, wherein Kelly interacts with Hanna/Barbera cartoons in a retelling of “Sinbad the Sailor,” is way too silly for its own good, but if you can be like me and find this rare gem on VHS (it is unavailable on DVD) grab a hold of it immediately.

Film: Fame (1980)
Director: Alan Parker

I am unfamiliar with the revered television show, but this Alan Parker film (one of the great modern musical directors who deserves a place among the pantheon of the likes of Stanley Donen, Bob Fosse and Minnelli himself) is an explosion of youthful energy. At a New York high school for the performing arts, angst-ridden teenagers bounce off each other both emotionally and literally, hitting a fever pitch in the title track from Irene Cara. If only all high schools were this expressive.

Film: Xanadu (1980)
Director: Robert Greenwald

Say what you want, but I’m including it. Okay, fine, admittedly it’s a pretty terrible movie on the surface, but the infectious spirit of Olivia Newton-John as a muse sent to Earth in order to inspire Michael Beck to open a roller disco, you could do a lot worse.

Film: Footloose (1984)
Director: Herbert Ross

No list of this sort would be complete without this satire of Middle American values about a town that has banned dancing. Kevin Bacon breaks out and becomes a star in one rollicking central number, and movie trivia games were never the same.

Film: A Chorus Line (1985)
Director: Richard Attenborough

Though widely panned for not being even remotely as good as the seminal stage version (what can be?), this is still in my opinion a heartbreaking ode to the trials and tribulations of being merely part of a Broadway chorus. The film elected to take away the mid-show montage in favor of the terrible (and Oscar-nominated) song “Surprise, Surprise,” but the dancing is still spectacular and Mark’s monologue still hurts me deep within.

Film: Strictly Ballroom (1992)
Director: Baz Luhrmann

Before he was giving epileptic audience members seizures in the madcap musical “Moulin Rouge!”, Luhrmann told a small, sweet story about a competitive ballroom champion and the ugly duckling who loved him. Without too much of the hyperactive camerawork and editing style brought to his later films, he captured the true spirit and energy of perfect dancing I mentioned in the introduction. This is the film where mainstream audiences learned about how the Paso Doble is considered one of the hardest dances to master, information helpful to those who watch “So You Think You Can Dance” religiously.

Film: Center Stage (2000)
Director: Nicholas Hynter

The guiltiest pleasure of them all, I can tell you without embarrassment that my sister has watched this film at least 25 times. Following a year in the life of New York’s American Ballet Academy” through relationship troubles and professional complications, it’s one of the more accurate portrayals of how difficult the world of professional dance can be. (Robert Altman’s 2003 film “The Company” is, of course, far more accurate, but is needlessly solemn and wooden much of the time.) The final sequence, choreographed by Susan Stroman, is something to behold, as the world of ballet gets flipped on its head and brings in Michael Jackson and Jamiroquai songs.

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"Entourage" Returns...Again

(originally published on 6/15 at the now-defunct

It’s sunny out in the world of television, so that can only mean one thing: the return of HBO’s hit show Entourage. Loosely based on the early career of producer Mark Wahlberg, the beloved comedy follows the roller-coaster Hollywood trajectory of up-and-coming hot actor Vinnie Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his tight circle of friends, manager Eric (Kevin Connolly), driver Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and washed-up C-list TV actor/brother Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon). This year, viewers were given a special treat as 2006’s third season had its regular 12 episodes extended by another eight which were shown over the last couple months, having its finale two weeks ago. Since this has always had been a mainstay program during the summer months, there is no need to wait for season four--it premieres this Sunday after the second episode of the new David Milch series “John From Cincinnati.”

In the words of Wayne’s World: “All right! Bonus!”

This serendipitous little bit of cable scheduling does wonders for the show. While nearly all HBO shows tend to keep their show’s runs an average of 12 episodes a season, Entourage always felt like it could extend its story and go really deep into the negative but very honest satire of Tinseltown. It might be because of its half-hour running time and comedic nature, but each season has always felt too short. HBO has always been a little strange with their comedies, but also know when to take a cable run and turn it into something a little more in tune with regular network programming. Most Sex & The City seasons ran 20 episodes straight, and earlier in the 90s the raunchy sex comedy Dream On would equal that amount, as well as even stretch toward 22 episodes during its final season.

Really, though, viewers just don’t want to be left waiting to go head-first into the focus of Entourage‘s return. After struggling to recover from his firing off of Aquaman 2 when he demanded too much money (and was subsequently replaced by Jake Gyllenhaal in a nod to the negotiations over Spider-Man 2) and losing a great role in a Ramones biopic, produced in the show by Martin Landau’s takeoff of producer Robert Evans (The Godfather) due to his agent Ari (Emmy winner Jeremy Piven) and his backstabbing ways, he struggled this season to both find new representation as well as take on passion project Medellin, a Paul Haggis written/directed biopic of drug lord Pablo Escobar. By the end of last season (you know, two weeks ago) Vinnie and Eric had decided to take a gamble and buy the script for several million dollars (thus having to sell their mansion) and produce it themselves. With financial backing from “Trust Fund Baby” Adam Goldberg and them tapping trigger-finger director Billy Walsh (Rhys Cioro) to helm the project, everything finally seems to be going according to plan. Even Drama buying a condo millions of dollars out of his price range compared to his comparatively minuscule salary for starring in what might be a hit show, nothing could go wrong.

Ah, but that’s what this upcoming season is about. For those not in the know, much of Medellin‘s financial squabbling, the stop-and-go nature of its development hell being bounced from studio to studio, is based on the real-life biopic of Che Guevara that never seems to be able to get made. Many directors have circled many different versions of the project, but the one to make it closest to actually happening was Steven Soderbergh’s version with the man he directed to an Oscar, Benicio Del Toro. Unfortunately, that’s been put on hold again. Since a year ago during my short stint as a bookstore employee in Los Angeles when I actually got to converse with Mr. Del Toro himself (who was strangely buying about 20 Rudyard Kipling books, despite the fact that no film based on the author’s work existed either then or now), and he said it was “taking a break,” there has still been no word.

As some of us saw in the previews, this development hell troubles will only be worse on the set, tipped off by the sly little joke at the end of “last season” when Walsh, finally accepting the job offer to direct, springs the news on the entourage that he’s considering filming the entire film in Spanish, sure to hurt the film’s glory at both the Oscars and at the box office.

What’s great about Entourage is that it really does get a lot of its jabs completely correct. I worked in Los Angeles in the film business in some capacity or another for a good five years, leaving due to financial struggles and an overall contempt for the city, and while some of the sexual escapades of the entourage can sometimes seem forced, nearly everything about everyone else in the business is spot-on. The show can also be seen to Hollywood “outsiders” as a sort of fantasy of life out there, but it’s really not the case. For every party attended and every million-dollar deal being signed, there is an underlying hatred for the business on this show, as if everyone in the industry is a shark just waiting for their meal. It’s a great draw for the show to hit both sides of the critical reception with such precision, and it’s very bold, very fun and very smart.

On a side now, I also feel especially happy about a small bit of foresight regarding cast member Rex Lee, who plays Ari’s loyal (and very flamboyant) assistant. On September 8, 2004, when I was still writing arts journalism, he was a recurring actor at the local small MET Theatre, having impressed me over a year earlier with a fun role in a play called “The Question.” This time, it was for the awful post-modern cowboy comedy “Western Big Sky.” While I took the play to task for being offensive, stupid and dull, I still wrote the following (ignore some weird verb conjugations and you’ll be fine):

“As unfunny and poorly-plotted as “Western Big Sky” is, one factor barely saves it, and that is the performance of Rex Lee as the intelligent and monotone-dialogued Native American Shemp. His brief and mysterious interjections of philosophy, pop culture and overall deadpan wit provides a momentary respite to those in the audience who prefer their humor a little less alcohol-induced. When his cathartic monologue peeks up from the wreckage of the script, it’s a welcome distraction from all the pointless violence and gay jokes.”

One review, of course, does not make a career, but I do like to think I had a little bit of say in Lee getting his delicious role as fan-favorite Lloyd on Entourage the following year. It’s good to find new talent in Hollywood.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

The Truth About Michael Moore's "Sicko"

(originally published at the now-defunct

Michael Moore is a publicity whore. Usually. When he won the Oscar for Bowling for Columbine, he took his time onstage to shame the president’s involvement in Iraq, exclaiming, “How dare you, Mr. Bush.” For his follow-up film Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004, he tried desperately to arrange a screening of the film at the White House, to little avail. Point is, he got his name out there in as many ways as possible, and his films star pretty much him and only him, with the facts supporting characters. This is not meant to be a criticism of Mr. Moore, because that’s beside the point.

What is the point is that his newest film Sicko, an expose on the corruption and greed of the American health care industry, is a cry for the U.S. to be more like Canada, Denmark, Cuba. Yes, Cuba. Word has it is that Mr. Moore is rarely seen in this film, finally letting his subjects speak for themselves. It’s a work that even Fox News has described as important and mature.

But let’s look at that poster again. Notice the letters. The font. Now check this out.

Notice anything similar? Even down to the lowercase “i,” that is almost exactly the same font. Coincidence? Absolutely not.

Very little has really been said about the content of Sicko other than the general ideas. If anything, it was only really controversial before it was even made. When American HMOs got wind of the subject of the film, they sent out memos threatening termination to any employee who talked to him. More recently, Moore was put in some hot water when the government found he had transported people to Cuba for the film, and transport from the U.S. to Cuba is strictly forbidden. That’s pretty much all we know.

Here’s what they’re not telling you, and it lies in the devious little poster “coincidence.”

Michael Moore is actually a robot.

Let’s look as the Three Laws of Robotics, created by Isaac Asimov who wrote the original story of I, Robot.

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Now, in the Will Smith/Alex Proyas film version of I, Robot, a robot technician and philosopher is murdered and said death is investigated by Detective Spooner (Smith). He has a grudge against robots as a result of a terrible accident earlier in his life when an autobot saved the life of Spooner and not that of a young girl, assessing that Spooner had a higher percentage chance of living. Needless to say, he is out to prove that a robot killed the technician, but is met with opposition from the government, the robot company and the police force who direct his attention to the Three Laws. Of course a robot wouldn’t harm its master.

Ah, but there’s another Law Asimov created after the initial stories, known as the Zeroth Law.

“A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.”

By the end of the film, it turns out that robots were in fact the culprit of many deaths and throughout the film responsible for the multiple attacks on Spooner’s life. It is revealed that their murders actually do follow the Laws, most importantly the Zeroth Law. They have been attempting to control mankind by weeding out the bad people and enslaving the rest, protecting humanity from itself. Man’s worst enemy is man, and for the robots to follow their Laws, to disallow humanity to come to harm, they would be following their programming 100%.

Now back to Moore. He is a political documentarian in the biggest way. His movies are loud, brash and controversial, and yet are very important and should be seen by pretty much everybody. He angered many people with his films, especially the last two, but he did so with a reason. Everyone talked about him, with love, with hatred, but never indifference. People know he has something to say and listen.

With Sicko, though, he doesn’t need the publicity. He doesn’t need to be featured in every frame of the film. It’s not necessary. Instead, he has riled us up, much like how the robots enslaved the humans of future Chicago, until we’re ready to pay attention. Roger & Me, The Awful Truth, Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, they were all just bait. Now he finally has something to say that everyone can get behind at this stage in American political and social thought: that our healthcare system needs reformation and needs it now. He has programmed us into watching a film that could very well help humanity as a whole (at least in the United States). He is following the 3 Laws of Robotics, and the Zeroth one as well, and is not allowing us to come to harm.

You see those skeletons surrounding Moore in the poster? They were the necessary casualties in order to get the movie made. Like the robot technician/philosopher. It’s exactly the same.

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"Rescue Me" A Fourth Time

(originally published on 6/13 at the now-defunct

Tonight, FX’s best show, one that along with The Shield has opened up new possibilities in non-premium cable television, returns for its fourth season. Rescue Me, created/written by and starring comedian Denis Leary, is one of the best shows on television, and its power is in how it rages against a post-9/11 world. In the cynical New York City inhabited by the firefighters that make up the cast, their lot in life has been thrust upon them--to bear the burden of their fallen comrades, and hope silently that they mean more than nothing. There is a sadness to this show in which Tommy Gavin (Leary) and his coworkers struggle though each day and its damning effect on their very souls, the bigoted, misogynist and racist anti-heroes at war with nobody but themselves. This is a New York of broken dreams, of failed marriages, of rampant alcoholism and family issues, and it’s not an easy show to watch.

The bright side of this (outside of seeing a stellar show and appreciating it) is the extremely bawdy humor of the program, one that makes it 10 times funnier than 90% of the sitcoms on television. In its own rough, ribald way, it’s the most laugh-out-loud show in a very long time. This works primarily because like the show’s themes, the humor comes from a very naturalistic place, one of ribbing your friends, of extreme sarcasm, of scathing nastiness. The show is not for everyone, that is true, and the TV-MA rating should not be taken lightly.

Rescue Me is a controversial show, most likely because of how certain viewers infer the show’s portrayal of women. Each hour of the series, we are given the female gender at their most cruel and uncaring, troubled and indecipherable, and even rather whorish. I feel this way sometimes while watching the show, but then I remind myself that the men are shown to be far worse beasts in the world of the show. Leary’s comedy (his 1992 Showtime special No Cure For Cancer especially) has always relied on self-deprecation and an unflinching look within, so why not bring that into the dramatic realm?

As of last season, Tommy has found that his estranged wife has been hooking up with his brother and may in fact be pregnant with his baby, but still demands rough sex from her husband which resulted in one of the most horrifying sequences of 2006. Tommy is, in karmic fashion for his cruel ways, drugged and raped by his deceased cousin’s widow (the victim happens to be one of many ghosts/hallucinations that haunt Tommy on a regular basis) without his remembering. By the end of the season, his cop brother is dead, he is still reeling over the vehicular manslaughter of his son at the end of season 2, and falling off of his Alcoholic’s Anonymous wagon, and he is forced into starting a new life with said widow. This is neglecting to mention any of the stories of his co-firefighters, who are going through issues of Alzheimer’s-ridden wives, stolen children, a money-grubbing liar of an escort and gay sons.

Oh, and Tommy finishes off the season drugged, once again by the widow, and left for dead in the burning waterfront house she bought for the both of them. How’s that for a cliffhanger?

Tonight it finally returns, the red-faced heavy-hitter of cable television. Don’t miss it.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Wait, They're Not Dead Yet?: JR Edition

Jane Russell.
Turned 86 years old three days ago.
Her breasts changed America.
Not dead yet.


Tune into this site for more celebrities who you think might be dead, but are in fact not.

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One of the Worst Movies of the 90s Getting a Sequel?

(originally published at the now-defunct

During a weekend in October of 1996, I had one of the worst theatrical experiences of my life. It was the beginning of the end for bigshot Hollywood director Renny Harlin, who had at this point helmed two of the better action movies in recent memory, those being Die Hard 2: Die Harder and Cliffhanger. He had just lost a great load of credibility the summer before with Cutthroat Island, starring his then-wife Geena Davis, but audiences at the time were more forgiving of random vanity projects. Then came The Long Kiss Goodnight, the sorriest excuse for an espionage thriller e’er to cross my eyes.

The film told the story of an amnesiac Geena Davis who slowly discovers, through the help of Samuel L. Jackson, that in her previous “life” she was a world-class assassin. Halfway through the film, her daughter is kidnapped, thus stopping the amnesia story in its tracks to focus on random violence and family issues. It was a disaster, especially odd considering it was written by the screenwriter auteur Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and the underrated Last Action Hero), who despite his action pedigree is one of the savviest writers in town.

(It’s not entirely fair to him, since he has openly complained about the edits and cuts made to his script that ended up with that final, awful draft, leading him to direct his own scripts from then on, resulting in the hilarious and complex noir Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.)

Now, it seems, Jackson is in talks to create a sequel with Harlin (who has been slumming with such duds as Driven, The Exorcist prequel and The Covenant), and I can’t think of anything worse. First, they are focusing on his character and dropping Davis altogether (Harlin’s divorce from her might have something to do with that), a cipher of an enigma of a bad character. He was the B-story, secondary to the already problematic main plot of the first film. Now he wants a spin-off for himself of a movie not many people liked or even saw?

I like Jackson. I really do. Even when his films stink, his jubilation about being a movie star is completely infectious, and he gives many new/upcoming directors chances to really shine by offering his talents for said projects. Snakes on a Plane was not a great movie by any means, but his presence turned it from a bad monster movie into something fun and cult-driven. He’s better than this film.

Then again, Harlin gave him one of the best death scenes of all time in Deep Blue Sea (the only good movie Harlin has made since Cliffhanger), so what do I know?

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"On The Lot: Competition Week 3

(originally published on 6/12 at the now-defunct

A lot of movie nerds have already turned on the Spielberg-Burnett collaboration On The Lot, a reality television competition for budding directors all vying for one big prize: $1,000,000 and a movie deal at Dreamworks. I, however, am sticking by it through all its format changes, its egotistical directors an its extremely lousy host. Many have complained of the wishy-washiness of the judges, including Carrie Fisher and Gary Marshall, but that ignores a solid principle of reality television: nobody really cares what the judges have to say. If anything, it’s just an amusing distraction while you remember the phone number of the contestant you already know you’re voting for.

Last night brought in the third week of competition, and the second week where one-third of the contestants get to show three-minute version of their submission films and get judged on their own merits and not the limits given by the show during the show’s first week (i.e. original one-minute comedies). It continued to separate the boys/girls from the men/women, and if the show got better ratings could account for some good water cooler talk (e.g. “They got rid of Trever? WTF?!").

Being the critic and film school graduate I am, I have every right to pick apart each of the five films from last night.

Contestant: Andrew Hunt
Film: Polished

Critique: The best film of the night, it had a tone to it that while attracting a bit of a primetime commercial feel (as pointed out by guest judge David Frankel) still contained a playful spirit lacking in some of the overthought and overwrought other films in the competition. The tale of an ignored office janitor who gets his revenge on those who took him for granted. Unlike other contestants, Andrew knows to bring a different sense of filmmaking to each genre he approaches, and instead of the wacky flourishes of, say, Marty Martin, he knows when to tone it down. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors on the show for his ability to adapt and tell great stories.

Contestant: David May
Film: Love At First Shot

Critique: I liked the film far more than the bewildered judges, having gotten the night’s biggest laugh from yours truly, but I will admit to it adding up to very little at the end. I didn’t appreciate David’s reliance on cliches (the poorly matched date between a nerd and a bombshell didn’t add anything new), but the other half of the story, where a clumsy Cupid tries to fire his arrow into the date, was quirky and Monty Python-esque in its absurdity. I know from the show (and from a friend, who knew David when they were both students at Chapman) that he intended to be an actor before pursuing directing, and his style lacks confidence and a lot of tact (the scene was overexposed to high holy heaven). Still, not bad.

Contestant: Shira-Lee Shalit
Film: Beeline

Critique: A very odd film helped along by a perfect sense of style, capturing the Woody Allen atmosphere of Manhattan. An urbanite mother, worried that her young son will get the wrong impression from her recent sexual trysts, goes around town convincing her former beaus (and one belle) to pretend they don’t know each other. This film received half my phone votes (the other being, of course, “Polished") based on the confidence of the style/content combination, even if the latter wasn’t enough to make me truly love it. Still, I think Shira-Lee has a chance to tell some really intimate dramedies in the future after this competition, so I want to see her stay.

Contestant: Marty Martin
Film: Dance With The Devil

Critique: An absolute mess of a film posing as a Tony Scott tour de force along the lines of “Man on Fire” and “Domino,” this is all flash and no story. A quick vignette about a man being unable to pay back mob loans, ending up with his death, portrays exactly what’s wrong with some of the big flash-bang blockbusters polluting theatres. All color filters and subtitles (even though the characters spoke English), unnecessary jump cuts and flash-forwards, this man has no idea how to tell a story. The fact that he rudely insulted Carrie Fisher for her critique speaks volumes about his unchecked ego, and while I’m sure he’ll last in the competition, he represents a terrible film school niche that never gave a crap during their screenwriting courses. He doesn’t realize that the directors he’s ripping off started their careers in much quieter, story-driven films that gave them the right to bring forth their unique styles in later films. He has not one original bone in his body.

Contestant: Kenny Luby
Film: Edge of the End

Critique: Still one of the most obnoxious filmmakers of the group, this skateboard film-inspired guy has no clue what a plot is made of: a beginning, a middle and an end. Sure, one is allowed to mix it up, but he does it to the point that his stories are a blur of hyperactive and headache-inducing camera tricks. He’s all about pretty colors and jolting visuals, but a director must must must must must first connect to his audience before anything else. He wreaks of film theory ignorance and stands out as a mistake for those who let him join the competition in the first place. This film, about the troubles of alcoholism, is absolutely useless.

Summary: David will probably go home, since this show seems to follow more of a popularity contest mold (more American Idol than Project Runway) and puts some elements of talent and storytelling second. I do, however, look forward to the remaining films next week, and hope for the show to finally catch on with viewers bored by reruns on E!

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Look How I Overestimated a Movie! In Real Time!

(originally published at the now-defunct, hence the delayed wrongness)

Two summers ago, one special movie took the country by storm, bringing delight to small children across the United States and ending up with at $150 million+ gross at the box office.

Unfortunately, that film was Fantastic Four, a film eviscerated by critics and comic book fans alike, decrying it for its juvenile wit and lackluster special effects. Those who were amazed by the great stories told in such Marvel Comics properties as the sequels to Spider-Man and X-Men, as well as the vastly misunderstood Ang Lee version of The Hulk, were left with a silly and incredibly dumb adventure film not suitable for anyone above the age of 12.

I don’t consider the film to be as awful as everybody else: I thought Michael Chiklis (from FX’s The Shield) gave a pretty riveting performance as The Thing considering being buried in about a foot of make-up, and as far as origin stories go, I’ve seen far worse. I didn’t think it merited all the money it raked in, though, so I was mildly dreading the sequel.

All things considered, the sequel Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer will come out this Friday and overtake its competition at the weekend box office quite easily, and taking into account how well superhero sequels do, it could probably bring in $80 million easily, surpassing the $56 million opening weekend of the original. Little elementary school boys will buy up the Mr. Fantastic action figures from Toys ‘R’ Us and make their own Stan Lee stories, as they have every right to do.

But will the film be any good? The previews give an impression to those who were not fans of the original that the creators were, in fact, listening to the comic book nerds, and the portrayal given of fan-favorite the Silver Surfer is a marvel of character design that could sustain a good amount of interest for at least half of the running time. Another complaint of the first film was that nothing much happened, which is also true. However, this film is about nothing less than the destruction of Earth itself, brought forth by Galactus and perhaps the Surfer himself. That may even bring in those who hated the first film.

This weekend, we’ll know collectively whether or not we’ve been duped a second time. The poor pedigree of the first film keeps my anticipation of the sequel quite low, but something tells me I’ll be in the theatre, once again, chanting the movie geek mantra, “Please don’t suck. Please don’t suck. Please don’t suck.”

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DVDs This Week: "The Bridge" (really, LAST week)

(originally posted at the now-defunct

After years of toiling as the runt brother of big budget blockbusters, theatrical documentaries are finally big business in the world of mainstream film. Give it up to Michael Moore and Al Gore (even if you despise them), the feel-good nature of audience-friendly fare such as Mad Hot Ballroom and March of the Penguins and the high-quality stuff coming from cable networks like The History Channel and Discovery for this bright new world.

And now let’s put a big fat cloud over that bright new world.

The Bridge is an emotional documentary, released a few months ago in theatres, that garnered a lot of attention for its bizarre and borderline-offensive but still fascinating central topic: film producer Eric Steel set up cameras on the Golden Gate Bridge for the entirety of 2004 and ended up capturing nearly two dozen suicide attempts from the famous landmark, some succeeding, some prevented by the film crew. Exploring the families of the victims as well as the fact that these suicides are almost never reported in the mainstream media becomes Steel’s central conceit of the film. The bridge itself has, according to sources, seen over 1,250 suicides since its completion in 1937 (they stopped counting a long time ago) with only 26 surviving falls (all feet first). Despite the great impact these deaths could have on a community, they are largely ignored by the population of San Francisco of 3/4 of a million and the surrounding areas.

Why is this the case? Why is the bridge the #1 destination for suicidal people? (This statistic is alleged, as others believe that the most popular spot for such a thing would be England’s Beachy Head in East Sussex.) What drives people to these lengths? And why choose such a public place in which to end your life instead of other, more private means?

The film made an impact when it was released in theatres, including a resurgence of city government talk of perhaps building a barrier. Good documentaries make the most amount of change in the lives of those who saw it, and this one should be no exception. There is controversy over Steel himself, who according to Wikipedia was not forthcoming with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area committee, neither was he with the families, who did not know he had footage of their loved one’s death until far later in the process. Nevertheless, for those like myself who look out their window and see that glorious testament to the city, to the San Francisco Bay and to the sea, there is a story very little of us know.

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A "Hostel" Insurgence

(originally published at the now-defunct

In the most recent movie weekend, described by nearly every studio as tepid in comparison to most summer releases, the big news wasn’t that Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 13 made less than either of its predecessors--in all honesty, its $36.1 million intake wasn’t too far below the first of the trilogy ($38.1 million) or the second ($39.1 million) and is far from a disaster in this overstuffed season--or the strong legs of raunchy Judd Apatow comedy Knocked Up.Instead, it was the $8.2 million earned by Eli Roth’s gorefest Hostel Part II, less than $10 million from what part one made in the winter of 2006. The blogosphere has already pounced on writer/director Eli Roth and the entire recent surge of horror films dubbed by New York Magazine’s David Edelstein as “torture porn"--this would include such releases from the past few years as Wolf Creek, the Aja remake of The Hills Have Eyes and the blockbuster Saw trilogy--and have exclaimed that this widely denounced sub-genre has finally worn out its welcome. Like the slasher films of the 1970s and 1980s or the jokey Kevin Williamson Scream-type movies from the 1990s, it’s time for them to bite the dust.

I do not follow this line of thinking. Far from it. It is true that the horror genre, much like any niche-driven type of film ranging from action movies to musicals to westerns, follows a cyclical cycle of popularity, and it seems to a great deal of people that this could be the beginning of the end. However, one film does not equal a trend. To put things into perspective, no, Hostel Part II performed way under expectations. The film did, though, cost only $10 million. By this coming Thursday I can assure you it will have made back its production cost, and the rest of its run will cover the advertising budget (which to this writer seemed to be lacking in generally anyway). Take into account overseas distribution sales, the sure-fire DVD rental surge and cable television, and production company Lion’s Gate has a bonafide hit on their hands. There are no two ways about it. Horror films can be made on the cheap and still look absolutely passable to anyone’s eyes, and is a worthy investment for any producer.

The movie itself was watchable, lacking in tension but a vast improvement over the onslaught of horror-free PG-13 “horror” films that are released about 20 times per year. Since its plot shared a very close similarity to the first film, the freshness of the this-could-happen-in-real-life story couldn’t shock a second time. A fair amount of gore made it to the finished product, but a surprising amount happened off-screen. I would chalk up the “failure” of the film to the aforementioned crowded weekend (hell, Pirates 3 is still in second place three weeks later), poor advertising that relied too heavily on the Internet and not enough in theatres, and a word-of-mouth that just didn’t happen.

So before you let your irrational hatred of Mr. Roth figuratively execute a still-lucrative genre (the last Saw film, for your information, grossed over $80 million, and the third sequel comes out this Halloween), keep in mind that despite the flayed skin and dismemberment of these films, these forays into realistic human suffering are a valid art form that should not be compared in any sense to pornography. Mr. Roth may be an egotistical bastard (no argument here) but he is just trying to do what he does best--scare the crap out of you.

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Why "America's Got Talent" is Part of the Problem

(original published at the now-defunct

Just to set things absolutely straight before we go on, I am a very big fan of reality television. Despite the fact that since last March Entertainment Weekly has declared the absolutely true notion that we are currently living in a “Golden Age of Television” in this country, there is still a very large percentage of poorly written, formulaic garbage on network TV we as an audience have to sift through in order to get to the good stuff. (This also would be due to the fact that a good portion of this Golden Age programming happens to not be on the Big Four.) This is where reality TV comes in: for those of us sick and tired of the same police procedurals and sloppy characterization, shows such as Survivor, Big Brother, The Amazing Race, American Idol, America’s Next Top Model and Hell’s Kitchen sort of circumvent that process and give us what we as viewers truly demand: unabashed entertainment. You can gripe all you want about its blight on the television landscape, but it has opened up the industry to nearly twice as many news jobs (consider all the editors and writers needed for each show) and have the ability to be far more interesting and unpredictable (it’s the nature of the best of the shows) than another family drama.

Just like any genre, though, reality TV has its share of groaners. Other than a few random series watched more for the novelty than for the entertainment (Average Joe, For Love Or Money, Joe Millionaire, Mr. Personality), I have avoided nearly all dating shows. Same goes with wife-swapping shows and programs that have “nanny” in the title. These are stinkers. But one that truly gets my goat is NBC’s smash summer hit America’s Got Talent.

Nothing against David Hasselhoff, but this is a pretty awful show that tries to ride the line between Chuck Barris Gong Show ridiculousness and American Idol competition and tends to fail time and time again. It preys on our interest as an audience that we want to see train wrecks happen onstage, but this rubbernecking is something that has led to ineffective nightly news and the muckraking of such pundits as Bill O’Reilly. It’s stupid without being funny, and cruel without being constructive. It’s a freakshow and nothing more.

In the best reality competitions, the contestants have to possess skills in order to move ahead, hence the combined popularity and good critical reception of such programs as Top Chef, Project Runway, Project Greenlight and early seasons of The Apprentice. The participants cannot get by on silly tricks but instead must step forward and pretty much rock the show’s foundation. Not so with America’s Got Talent. In this talent show mess, people from across the country show acts that they believe can earn them $1,000,000. Problem is, no magic show or small animal act is worth even a fraction of that, nor are circus/sideshow tricks designed for birthday parties. These people either expose their delusions, which is pathetic even on megahit American Idol, or simply want their 15 minutes of fame, something the best reality shows refuse to dole out. It’s a formula for obnoxious, unwatchable television.

The bad acts don’t entertain, the good acts belong on other shows, and against the conceit of the show that the program is intended for a variety of great acts, a singer will without question win if left up to the vote of the American people...which it is. I’d love to see a show where contestants bring forth advances in sociological or technological or political advances and allowing the show to fund their dreams and help them reach the people who can really make a difference in the world. It might not work as a show, but I won’t feel like I’ll need a shower after watching it, either. Reality television can one day change the world, and while I am very delighted with most of the good entertainment reality television brings forth, I also support it for what it can do.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

"Smallville" Adds to the Cast...Or Do They?

(originally published at the now-defunct
I’m a strange fellow. Perhaps it’s my nostalgia-driven love for the 1980s or my borderline-creepy affinity for really good family films. Either way, when it comes to the superhero movies of the 80s, I vastly prefer 1984’s Supergirl over any of the four Superman films. Yes, two of the Superman films are pretty bad on their own, but what possible explanation could I make to justify my preference of a very silly movie with Helen Slater as the titular character, and Hollywood royalty Faye Dunaway and Peter O’Toole sleepwalking through their roles? I really don’t have one.

Which is why I’m excited that in the world of CW’s fun primetime superhero soap Smallville they are making room in their mythology for one Kara Zor-El, a.k.a. Supergirl. I am half a season behind on this show currently, as I prefer to watch the show about Superman’s younger years in large groups (as I did the first four seasons. Thank you, Netflix!), so I don’t know if anything was set up to make me even more excited than I really am, but just let it be known that she would make an excellent addition.

1. Some of the lesser episodes of Smallville bring in outside comic book characters from the DC world, but they are usually awkwardly jammed in with a crowbar and rarely last more than a stand-alone episode, one that is usually apart from the central Clark Kent mythology of the show. The few exceptions include the recent Justice League episode where Cyborg, Flash and Aquaman make semi-triumphant returns, as well as the Green Arrow who had half of this most recent season partially dedicated to his romance with Lois Lane and battle against the still-not-completely-evil Lex Luthor. By introducing a character that has the potential to be a regular during the show’s final years, it bodes well for the upcoming story.

2. Which brings me to the fact that every news outlet (and, well, the comic books) lets us know that Supergirl, Superman’s cousin, has all of his powers plus a few more, including the power of flight. Smallville creators Miles Millar and Alfred Gough have always let viewers know that they were going to stick close to their guns when it came to setting this show in a kind of pseudo-reality, coining their slogan “No tights. No flights.” Smallville is entering its seventh season this fall, which will probably be its last. Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor) has said publicly he will not continue the series after this season, and the story seems to be heading toward an exit for Clark to end up in Metropolis very soon. The only way the creators would break their slogan would be to end their show, and what better way than for Clark to finally take to the skies?

(Yes, technically he already flew once, but that’s when he was possessed by the spirit of his Krypton self Kal-El to retrieve a jewel in season four, so that doesn’t count.)

3. Kara will act as a dramatic foil to the budding Chloe-Jimmy Olsen love story, as she will catch the eye of said “Daily Planet” photographer from a character who is unfortunately never mentioned in the comics. Chloe needs a story of her own, and not just following Clark around and keeping his secrets, and this will do the trick.

Some viewers will mention (and already have mentioned) that Supergirl already appeared on Smallville during the third season finale during all that weird hoopla about the cave and the Indian cave-drawings and piece of Jor-El’s ship in Clark’s possession. Wasn’t her name Kara, didn’t she have Clark’s powers, and didn’t he refer to her as his cousin?

Let’s clear things up: I know the show doesn’t follow the comic books as closely as it should (seriously, how will Lois react when she sees the real Superman out of the Clark Kent glasses of the movies, considering she lives in Smallville on the show and knows Clark without his glasses?), but there are easy explanations. In the comics, there was a fake Kara in the canon before the real one. Now, they never say that the Kara on Smallville was a fake, but unlike the real Supergirl who escaped from Krypton before it exploded, the one on the show was from Earth and had been missing for a decade and was thusly possessed by Jor-El to show Clark his true destiny.

I obviously cannot tell you if the show will deal with this fact for more than a fleeting mention, or at all, but I thought that it would appease the show’s fans and give them hope that this Supergirl will be equally as cool as the one from 1984. Even if they hate that movie. Which I don’t.

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"Hell's Kitchen: How to De-Bone a Fish

(reposted from the now-defunct

Last night’s second episode of FOX’s glorious guilty pleasure cooking competition Hell’s Kitchen finally put the show back on track with its former seasons. Gone were the whimpering shenanigans of last week’s show, where the 12 new contestants, all vying for Chef Gordon Ramsay’s affection and the ownership of a high-class restaurant in Las Vegas, pretty much told us what we already know: Chef Ramsay yells a lot, makes you feel inadequate and is all-around terrifying as a boss.

Now that those people who weren’t already fans of the show are caught up with what the show entails--I often sense fans of Bravo’s Top Chef tuning in, getting very frightened of what they’re watching, and turn the channel back to reruns of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy--last night’s episode finally gets down to the nitty-gritty of the restaurant trade.

The teams, split up once again to men-versus-women (which will last at least half the season if the show follows it previous formula), found themselves thrust into another tough night of service, struggling with the menus pushed at them by Chef Ramsay. This week, each group finally learned to work together as a team (for the most part), and it was mostly a welcome relief. Last week, both kitchens were an absolute disaster as the dichotomy familiar to the show came forth. This dichotomy, of course, is between the contestants who know their way around a reality television ensemble and do their best to stand out, either by being horribly antagonistic to their teammates or acting as pathetic but memorable failures (respectively Vinnie the night club chef and Aaron the retirement home chef this season), and those who have the potential to be great cooks but have little personality (about one-third of the contestants).

Once Ramsay puts said people in line--you can’t get by on this show without knowing, say, how to cook Beef Wellington to perfection--the results are a great deal more interesting. Despite a great improvement between the two weeks, though, there always has to be some conflict in Hell’s Kitchen, and that boiled down to kidney disease-sufferer Eddie being pushed around the men’s kitchen by nearly everybody, costing him his chance to continue on with the show.

Most viewers, of course, want Aaron to go, not only for his constant tearful breakdowns (he even fainted for a moment last night) but for his inability to de-bone a cooked fish for the restaurant patrons in any time less than 15 minutes. This is FOX, however, and such an odd character won’t go away that easily. We need our entertainment, and a large Asian 48-year-old man who can’t stop crying is at the same level as some of the “talent acts” on NBC’s America’s Got Talent.

If Hell’s Kitchen continues to improve week-after-week at this quick rate, we’re looking at the best finale so far for a reality show that doesn’t get the great ratings it deserves.

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"The Sopranos" Goes Out Singing

(reposted from the now-defunct
[Note: Spoilers about the final Sopranos episode, as well as ones on the endings of the films Limbo, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Scarface. (But really, who doesn't know the ending of Scarface?)]

Everybody’s talking about it. You’re talking about it. Your mother is talking about it.

The Sopranos finale. The most hotly debated finale in years. Despite the show being on a premium cable channel, discussions surrounding the controversial ending rival that of the “it’s all a Patrick Duffy” dream from Dallas or Seinfeld’s final whimper. Everybody has an opinion about it, and this writer is no exception. Spoilers from Sunday’s finale as well as the final sequences of movies from the last decade follow.

For those not in the know, The Sopranos ended its eight-year six-season Shakespearean opus with a low-key episode that traded not in death and violence, but in quiet moments, family bonding and an artistic final choice that has nearly everybody up in arms. Phil Leotardo, who spent most of the recent half-season killing off nearly all of Tony’s Jersey crew, finally gets his comeuppance in a sudden a sickening end. During the final moments, Tony meets with his family at a local diner, each of them arriving separately. As he awaits them, he is fully aware of the strangers coming in and occupying the restaurant, keeping his eyes open for any assassination attempts. The head guy of the New York family may have been eliminated scenes earlier, but we know as viewers that Tony will never be safe. When Meadow finally comes through the door, Tony looks up. The show cuts to black for around six seconds, and credits roll. Was Tony shot? Was his family massacred? Did he go on living? Who knows?

I would consider this an ending befitting of the tragic tale of a mob boss who must live with the horrific decisions he must make day-in and day-out. Many others, however, consider it a cop-out akin to show creator David Chase giving them the middle finger, and boy are they pissed. They wanted closure. They wanted storylines wrapped up. And they’ve been coming up with theories--reading clues as if to say that the “cut to black” indicated “lights out” for Tony, hence a death--that will never be confirmed by Chase, who is currently avoided all the hoopla by relaxing with his wife in Paris.

These people, though, who wanted this big bloodbath at the end, were watching the wrong damn show.

For starters, I think there’s absolutely no way of knowing what happened at the end, and that’s the absolute point. He will have to live in constant fear for the rest of his life, or he was killed, but Chase is sly enough not to give us any kind of tangible answer. He first led us to believe that Tony would be his old school self and choose Tony Bennett on the jukebox at the diner (the last song we see him look at before he puts in his quarter and hits the combination of buttons), giving this old school gangster his final song. But instead he picks Journey. “Don’t Stop Believing.” And as the show ends, we’re left with the chorus “Don’t Stop...” and don’t even get the full line. That’s a moment of great writing lost on many of the viewers.

As for the black-out, it reminded me of this John Sayles film called Limbo. David Strathairn and his family get stranded in the Alaskan wilderness, trying to survive, and also pursued by people who want to kill them. During the film’s final moments, they see and hear a plane in the distance. Is it rescue, or is it the villain, finally coming to murder the family?

We don’t know. The screen goes black before we know for sure. End credits.

That’s the same thing here. Limbo. Tony is in a kind of limbo, much like the end of Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, where Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) gets away with every murder in the entire film, and to ensure this must murder his lover. As the film closes, Tom is in tears at the monster he has become. He’s free, but his soul is not. Minghella has called the film an examination of living your life in purgatory.

I can’t accept the “light’s out” argument, simply because there is no evidence to support this any more than Tony living.

Secondly, I also think that if you really wanted an ending with our hero--note that, our HERO--to simply go down in a hail of gunfire a la Scarface after finally finding some semblance of sanity with his family and himself, then you need to take a good, long and very hard look at what you thought this show was for six seasons. Never has it been Scarface. The show makes some very difficult decisions, much like its brilliant HBO companion The Wire, and giving him some kind of glory death would betray the themes viewers have all known since 1999.

I feel as if the people calling for some kind of finite ending, with just the simple explanation of a bloody showdown, are watching for the wrong reasons. Or, at least, what I consider the wrong reasons. They watch for the violence, for the deaths, for the inner mob workings. But that’s not The Sopranos. It’s only peripherally about the mob and the guns and the sex. The Sopranos is first and foremost about a troubled man balancing the two families in his life, trying to squeeze by doing the only thing he knows how to do. Why viewers would want to see this character, who rivals some of the great troubled heroes in literature, simply die.

The ending was tense, haunting, maybe terrifying and maybe hopeful. What it’s not is one instance of violence that could potentially negate everything we’ve seen on the show. Tony’s life is his burden, and to relieve him of this burden is a cop-out. Not this ending. This was no cop-out. This was perfect.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Well, that was fun...

I guess I spoke too soon. Just as I dropped this website to join the upstart blogging community the sole writer for both and company goes belly up less than two weeks after it launched. I got a total of 34 posts in during the last eight days, and was finally getting a hang on having to write so damn much to be paid only in ad revenue.

Here's the e-mail my "boss" sent to all the contributors. I believe in Stevi's vocabulary, this situation would be referred to as a "sack of buttholes."


Yesterday we noticed some isolated database abnormalities. This morning at around 11AM Pacific Time the problem spread and affected the entire server causing it to be down till around 2:30PM Pacific Time. When the server came back online we noticed that there were still some major underlying database issues.

The bottom line is that the entire network has been compromised. The site may look fine on the outside but it is no longer operating as intended. We no longer have the ability to syndicate feeds or posts stories live. The software has simply corrupted itself.

We have exhausted all options and at this juncture we are going to have to take the site offline indefinitely. We are aware that there is a sought after software update that is soon to be released that may alleviate our current issues. Unfortunately we have no workaround at this time.

Furthermore, the network is causing the server to become unstable at regular intervals. The database/software corruption has also caused numerous posts to be be lost permanenty (or) seem to be lost, but only be temporarily disabled.

I can't tell you how sorry we are. We have invested a lot in this venture... and you all have done your best to invest in us in such little time.

We will be mailing out payments on the Agreed payment schedule for the services provided this month. Because this issue has come about so early on, we have decided to surrender all posts from the network, and we agree not to redistribute them in any future ventures. We will provide you with a backup copy of all of your posts by request. Please note that it will take a significant amount of time to receive a backup copy because we are concerned that there may be malicious code embedded within the backup. We will need time to evaluate the backup and clean it of all unnecessary & privileged/private information.

*This email shall serve as written notice of termination of our Agreement.*

Once again we sincerely apologize.



Well, looks like Media Whore will once again walk the streets, turning tricks and telling the world all about it.

For the next few days, I will post all the articles that were on the two sites before they were shut down. It'll be 31 of them, since two were part of the "'Tis Lousy to Have Loved and Lost" series on canceled TV shows I already posted here, and one was a draft about Bringing Up Baby that was never finished. Some of them were to be read during the day in which it was posted--references to upcoming shows that have now aired, for instance--but I still think they should be here.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Where I'm Going

It seems that a few of my plans for this site has changed since I started really getting into the writing last summer. While this blog will (hopefully) not be permanently neglected, I have shifted my focus to two other blogs which will generate more traffic and hopefully a richer community.

For now, I am the sole writer for these two sites:

I am contributing at least three articles per site per day, so the free time I have will most likely go more toward these two than Media Whore here. What remaining time I will time (weekends) can shift toward here. No promises, though.