Archive for October 2002

 
 

Happy Halloween

Or, as I refer to it, the Day Without God. This is His cruel joke on diabetics. Think it’s tough not having a date on Valentine’s Day? Try being diabetic on Halloween as a kid. Sheesh

Anyway, enjoy your cavities.

Bah humbug

24 Begins Anew (Spoilers)

(While my comic book column avoids spoilers nearly like the plague, I’m not going to do that here as much. I will, however set the spoiler flag flying in the title of entries where I plan on discussing specific story points.)

24 is back. It was the best drama on television last year, even with the sag after the middle. It’s dramatic, it’s inventive, it’s “off-format” for the rest of television. It’s just what TV needs. You don’t need swear words and nudity to make a television show as critically acclaimed as one of those cable dramas. (THE SHIELD is my favorite there.)

For the rest of the television season, 9 – 10 p.m. Tuesdays will be the hour where the phones are shut off, the doors are locked, and the outside world ceases to exist.

24 Season Two starts off with a bigger bang than last season, and sets the wheels in motion for plenty of adventure and drama for the next few episodes.

It’s been a year. Senator Palmer is now President Palmer. He’s now being a wuss about responding to potential foreign threats (and is opposed by the cliche loose-cannon military hawk TV character), and is already refusing to concentrate on saving the west coast so he can give a speech on clean air at 8 p.m. But, Mr. President — what kind of clean air policy is it to have a nuke go off in L.A.?!?

Jack is brought back into action after spending a year turning into a man from the mountains, but he falls right back in line pretty easily. His gunshot at CTU is the single greatest moment on television this season thus far. I know it’s probably wildly inappropriately, but I couldn’t stop laughing at it. Amongst the other questions left up in the air by this is what Jack needed the hacksaw for. He looked behind the guy’s ear before he asked for it, so maybe there’s an implant there? Or was he cutting a ring off the guy’ finger or what?

With the President in the Northwest and Jack in L.A., does this mean we won’t see them together in the same room this year? Drat.

Jack’s daughter, on the other hand, is involved in a Lifetime Halloween Movie Of The Week, complete with Women In Danger and Child In Danger. It’s a two-fer! It wouldn’t be so bad if the whole thing didn’t happen so fast and suddenly, and the abusive husband didn’t seem like such a cartoon character right away. Hasn’t she been the nanny there for longer than a day? Hasn’t he hit his wife before? The child has heard it, but has he really been so good about it lately? I don’t know. The coming attractions for next week move the storyline ahead pretty quickly, too, on this count, but it adds up right now to being the potential weak spot in the series. It’s early yet.

Meanwhile, a potential terrorist is getting ready for his wedding, soon to marry a women with shockingly blonde hair, whose sister is likewise equipped with fairly white straight blonde hair. This isn’t to be confused with the abused wife in the other subplot, who has bleach-bottle blonde hair, or her nanny (Jack’s daughter), whose hair is blonder and longer this year than it was in the last.

Maybe the abused wife is related to the bride to be somehow? Nah, she doesn’t seem to be getting ready for a wedding that day, at all, and the present was for some assistant at the husband’s job.

Sara Gilbert threw me off a little bit. For starters, her hair is curly and not blonde. ;-) One of the nice things about the series last year was that Kiefer Sutherland was the only actor whose name I knew for the first 2/3 of the season, before they brought in the special guest stars. It meant that you weren’t distracted by the actors or their previous roles. I’m afraid Gilbert distracted me a little that way, but at least her character has a personality, even if it is the over-eager assistant who freezes under pressure.

Despite some of my sarcastic remarks above, though, I really liked the episode. It’s getting off to a faster start than last year’s. Can’t wait to see more.

State of Animation today

Jon McClenahan directed some of the best TINY TOONS and ANIMANIACS cartoons around ten years ago. If you remember the original Baby Plucky short (“Water go down the hall!”), you know his style. It was distinctive in a good way, as opposed to one or two other directors at the time whose distinctive styles were a little less exciting. (There was animation house for TINY TOONS that had all the characters speaking out of the corners of their faces, and stretching and squashing as they walked. The name “Kennedy” comes to mind for some reason.)

In any case, ToonZone.net has a fascinating interview with the man, in which he talks about learning animation in Australia, starting his own company in the early 90s, and watching it boom and bust with the animation industry over the course of the decade. I haven’t thought much about the animation industry in the past few years. It used to be a real passion of mine. It seems that I’m not the only one who feels left out of today’s market. The market for traditional animation in this country is in the crapper. It’s a sad sad thing to see and read about. McClenahan’s story is an excellent example of what’s happened, it would seem.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I would watch hours of animation a week. It was a Golden Age, and not just because I was the right age. In fact, I wasn’t. I was a few years past the prime age for Saturday morning animation. But like I said in an earlier entry today, look at the quality TV you had back then: BATMAN, TINY TOONS, ANIMANIACS, etc. Quality shows, even to this day. Too bad we’re not getting any of that any more.

Epileptic Seizures and Sat A.M. TV

Remember the story a couple years back about Pokemon giving Japanese children seizures? It led to one episode never airing in America, from what I understand.

The hosts

I watched OPERATION JUNKYARD on Saturday Morning NBC the other day. It’s the half-hour JUNKYARD WARDS for kids. Not a bad idea. Instead of a big junkyard, two buses filled with junk go to two houses, where two teams have 6 hours to build something. This weekend, they built mud-filled balloon launchers.

I almost had a seizure from watching this show. I had no problem watching ARMAGEDDON on the big screen, a movie often reviled for being “frame-f*&^%ed” in editing. No shot lasted more than a half second on the thing. But it didn’t bother me.

OP: JY, though, lost me. It’s hyperactive for no good reason.

The parent show was created as a way to educate adults on how various things work — like motors and trebuchets. (Gotta love those trebuchets.) It’s likely, then, that the kiddie version would be the same. The problem is, the science portion of it was overlooked in favor of an opening game and editing so jarring that I had to look away once or twice to get my bearings in the real world. The great thing about JUNKYWARD WARS is in following what the teams are thinking and how they adjust to the junk and, in the final competition, how they adjust to the realities of their machine.

The kiddie version ignores all of that. When the kids toss their 10 balloons, we hear nothing about any adjustments they might make or why. We just see the landings and watch the points tally up. The builds explain a couple of very general principles, but I lost them in the clutter of the visuals. I mean, you can’t even have a host talking to the camera without three cuts to get closer to the host each time.

It’s a shame and a wasted opportunity.

Saturday morning television isn’t what it was when I was growing up. For starters, it’s all live action. But oddly enough, it’s all cable television on the major networks. CBS has sold itself out to Nickelodeon, ABC to Disney, and NBC to The Discovery Channel conglomeration of networks. The WB shows Japanese imports, and doesn’t want to bother with creating its own great stuff, like it once did. (Ah, the glory days of ANIMANIACS and PINKY AND THE BRAIN and BATMAN and SUPERMAN…)

New Releases for Oct 29th

Thanks, as always, to the gang at DVD Journal for maintaining the full list of weekly releases.

I’m not actually buying anything that comes out tomorrow, but there are three interesting releases:

# Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse: The Complete Series (4-disc set) (1960)

Quite possibly one of the most insane release decisions EVER made by a DVD company. I’m tempted to say “Who cares?” but I know that everything has its fandom, and more power to them for this.

# Farscape: The Complete First Season (11-disc set) (1999)

Or, you know, you could go and start bidding on my discs over at eBay. ;-)

# Malcolm in the Middle: Season One (3-disc set)

Fun series, but I don’t think I need to own it on DVD.

Of course, the biggest release of the week is scheduled for Friday when SPIDER-MAN hits shelves in all its glory. Just be careful when you buy it — I believe there are separate widescreen and pan and scan releases.

Next week is the bank-breaker, particularly with the recent addition of a BNL disc…

Jim Steinman’s Dance of the Vampires

Jim Steinman fans take note: His latest work, a musical featuring Broadway star Michael Crawford, is in the preview stage in NYC right now. Entitled “Dance of the Vampires,” it would seem to be the kind of thing he’d be perfect for. The good news is that demos of the music can be found in MP3 form on the official site for the show. Yes, the site looks painfully amateurish. But when you click on the “music” link, there’s a ton of music to listen to. (Since this is Steinman we’re talking about, there is no such thing as a song less than 6 minutes. ;-)

Steinman has reworked “Total Eclipse of the Heart” into a vampire love ballad. It sounds wonderfully wacky.

Special thanks to the gang over at Peter David’s blog for the heads up, the early review, and the links.

Now if only the next Meat Loaf album would come out sometime soon…

TV Can’t Spell

I’m about to get pedantic again. Deal with it.

Saw a commercial for some CBS drama or another last night. It was advertised as a special episode titled “JUDGEMENT DAY.”

That’s right — “Judgement” was misspelled with two “e”s. But that’s OK. It’s a “variant spelling” now.

Watched BIRDS OF PREY this morning off the friendly neighborhood TiVo. There’s a store sign contained therein with the word “Collectables.” Although it might sound that way, it isn’t how you spell it. It’s spelled with an “i” and not an “a.” “Collectibles” is correct.

A quick search on Dictionary.com reveals, however, that it is a “variant spelling.”

No, it’s not. It’s just plain wrong.

Why do we have a dictionary if we willfully won’t pay any attention to it? Why bother putting kids through school and giving them English classes?

Make a Face

OK, so this might just be webjunk, but it’s really cool.

I’d be awful if I ever had to give a police sketch artist any details on what someone looks like. I couldn’t even describe my mother’s face well enough for the sketch to look anything like here.

But if you think you could, here’s a great place to give it a try. You can build your own facial sketch, with the help of a whole series of selections in the realm of eyes, mouths, noses, facial hair, etc. It’s terribly customizable, and you can save your faces as you go. It’s an amazing piece of webjunk technology.

Farscape for Sale

Farscape, Volume 4

OK, this is about as close to a commercial as I’ll ever come on this web site:

I like Sci Fi’s FARSCAPE. It’s a fun little space opera. Fell in love with it when they aired the first “Chain Reaction” of episodes, but never found a way to catch up with the series. When the DVDs came out, I started picking them up. Of course, I’ve fallen way behind on watching those, as well. I’m almost at the end of the first season now, though.

By happenstance, I’m also trying to make some room around here, and one of the first victims of that will be the FARSCAPE DVDs. I’m putting them up for auction. So, if you want any of those first 8 discs’ worth of episodes, click here to see the eBay auctions I just put up this afternoon.

Proceeds from the auction will go to benefit — well, me. But odds are good that money will be used to buy more DVDs, which will probably be reviewed here eventually. So I suppose that if I really wanted to, I could make a case that all proceeds from these auctions will be channelled back to this web site. And in return, I won’t put up a PayPal or Amazon “Click To Donate Here” button. (OK, so I never planned on doing that, either. I’m horrible at this selling stuff thing…)

Misc. TV Thoughts

Doctor Cox

I think SCRUBS might just be my favorite sit-com out there right now. It’s a toned down live action Simpsons show without the satire. It’s just goofy, inventive, and fun. Most of all — it’s one of those rare sit-coms that make you pay attention to it and keep both eyes glued to the screen. There’s always more to the humor than the simple barbs back and forth. It’s the style that sells it.

Because we all know how little we need another doctor series on television.

And Doctor Cox is the best comedic character on TV and deserves the Emmy. I wish I could vote.

* * *

TLC is now showing the ninth British season of JUNKYARD WARS. (Or, if you prefer, “Scrapheap Challenge.”) Like the American edition, Cathy Rogers has stepped down and the new host of the show shares the same last name. Anyone know if they’re sisters? It’s only a little distracting that the new host (or, if you prefer, “presenter”) has a striking resemblance to Hillary Clinton.

The first episode involved building a mud racer. The outstanding thing about it was that both teams built inventive machines that required more work than they should have tried to do — and they both worked! There wasn’t a sudden breakdown at the start of the first heat. Both machines worked and made for an exciting finish. Too many recent episodes have ended with one team or the other completely unable to get their machine working.

* * *

Cathy Rogers, in the meantime, shows up in her new series, FULL METAL CHALLENGE, with co-host Henry Rollins. It’s a fun little show, but it needs a couple more episodes to work out its pacing issues and some of its presenting quirks. I’m not sure we need the camera doing constant 360 degree turns as the host presents the next competition, for example.

* * *

I wish some station would start airing CONNECTIONS again. What a great show that was…

* * *

I finally saw the first two episodes of BIRDS OF PREY this week and found myself liking them more than I thought I was going to. A full explanation of that will come in Pipeline next week. I think it’ll be Friday’s column. (That’s November 1, already. Wow)

* * *

This week’s DREW CAREY SHOW was amongst it best. The twist of fate that Drew’s latest date throws him had me in tears. I can only imagine how many puns they came up with for the episode but couldn’t use because of network censors. (C’mon, someone had to have a “bury your nuts for the winter” line ready…)

* * *

BOSTON PUBLIC came out of the gates running again this season. We’ll have to wait to see how far they go this year and how unbelievable it gets before they pull back. They did a good job of it last season with a sterling episode of all the teachers at a party just talking for the hour. Brilliant stuff.

NaNoWriMo

It’s back this year. November is National Novel Writer’s Month. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel in just the 30 days November has to offer. It’s an insane proposition, but it’ll test the mettle of any wannabe writer out there. The idea isn’t to produce the great American novel. Heck, you’ll probably write something that stinks. That’s OK. The idea is to apply butt to chair and get it done.

If I weren’t already writing 5,000 words a week between this site and Pipeline, I would give it a shot. (This entire blog would turn into “Today, I wrote 1382 words”-type entries. I’d bore you all to death before this site got off the ground.)

All the information can be found on the Official NaNoWriMo web site. Good luck!

Late night talk shows

What makes for a great late night television host? I don’t rightly know. I was too young to appreciate Carson while he was still around. I prefer Letterman these days to Leno because he’s funnier and less ‘polite.’ Leno always seems to be workig too hard to be thought of as the nicest guy in show biz. Or maybe it’s just that I’m from the NYC media market, and L.A. shows grate on my nerves a lot.

I caught Katie Holmes on a THE CONAN O’BRIEN SHOW (or whatever the exact title is) repeat on E! the other night. She was there to promote ABANDON, her new movie with Benjamin Bratt that I have zero interest in. Conan steered her into telling stories about airports and planes. She does a lot of flying back and forth work between the movies and the TV show, so you’d figure there’d be something there. She stumbled her way breathlessly through three clunkers of stories. I felt badly for her. She looked all out of sorts. But you know what makes Conan such a great host? Instead of laughing at her or making fun of her, he found a way to make the story seem funny with a single comeback. His funniness made you almost forget Holmes’ lack of anything interesting to say. And he did it all without belittling a guest who probably deserved belittling that night.

Good job, Conan.

On Hating Dawson’s Creek

If you hate the show or if you, like me, are horribly disappointed with the first four episodes of this season, might I suggest running over to Television Without Pity for their hilarious no-holds barred recaps of every Dawson’s Creek episode. While I don’t share their loathing for every episode of the first 5 seasons, I do find them entertaining and sharply written. Their dismissal of the first four episodes so far this season are fairly spot on.

Dawson’s Creek, sadly, has run its course. In just 18 more episodes, it’ll be over and I can save an hour a week on my TiVo.

On disconnecting

I had a fun time on the phone yesterday. With my cable modem now a fixture, I finally did away with the secondary phone line I used just for it. That’s $22 less a month I have to pay.

While I was at it, I called AOL to disconnect that service. I started on it last summer for comic convention season so I had internet access from wherever I went. I also needed a backup to my local ISP’s (at the time) flakey phone lines. But while I was clearing up the credit card and saving money, I decided to do the twofer.

AOL is an interesting company. They’re flapping their arms really hard right now to stay afloat. For a long time, they were the introduction and safety net to the internet and people flocked to them who had no idea what they were doing. These days, there are less and less of those people. And AOL is bleeding. So they’re desperate to keep people.

I called AOL knowing all this. Bad timing on my part, perhaps, but I had to do what I had to do. I navigated my way through their menus. I think they have the moviefone guy doing them, which would make sense since they bought him out a year or three ago. Their hold music is brought to you by TLC who keep introducing themselves over what sounds like a recording over a bad cell phone connection. I could barely make out what they were saying, particularly with their new single playing in the background. It seems that they are AOL’s Artist of the Month. Whatever.

Finally, a rather nice gent picked up the phone to talk to me. And he didn’t want to lose me. At any cost. He offered me an additional three free months of service if I wanted to give it a try. If I wanted broadband connection, I could just pay a lesser rate, use my regular ISP for that, and still have access to AOL’s (yawn) exclusive features. After turning down what seemed like a half dozen sure thing offers, my new friend (we were on a first name basis at that point and swapping brownie recipes) let me off the hook and cancelled my account. Whew

Total time: About 15 minutes.

Then I called Verizon to disconnect the phone line. This I didn’t feel badly about at all, in part because my company was actually reimbursing me for the costs, and partly because the phone line hadn’t worked in a month or three. Heck, it barely ever worked. It was on the fritz constantly, but when I would call the phone company to tell them this, it would magically clear up.

Here’s the great thing about Verizon: Their menu system actually had a “Press # to disconnect your line” option. AOL had no such thing. It got to the point in the menus where I gave up and just asked to speak to a representative, who then seemed clueless and awestruck that I’d want to leave the AOL plantation and give up the free Kool Aid, if I may mix my metaphors.

The nice Verizon lady asked me for about four points of information, I gave them to her, she gave me a confirmation number, and my phone line was disconnected.

Total time: About 4 minutes, and that included extra time that her computer’s network was on the blink.

I never thought the local phone company would prove to be so easy. But I knew AOL would be a sonuvabitch.

Now, I wonder what I can disconnect myself from next? =)

Movin’ Out soundtrack

Movin' Out soundtrack

MOVIN’ OUT is the new Broadway play based on the music of Billy Joel. Noted choreographer Twyla Tharp has taken a couple dozen of Joel’s songs, arranged them to form some sort of storyline, and then choreographed dance numbers to them. Normally, this would not be my thing. Far from it. I’ve never been to a Broadway play. “Modern dance” bores me to tears, what little I’ve seen of it. The whole thing just sounds incredibly hokey. Yet, I betcha I’ll get over the river to see it before the run is over. I’m too big a Billy Joel fan not to.

All of the songs (save the three instrumental pieces) are played above stage by a band led by Michael Cavanaugh, a gifted singer and pianist. The MOVIN’ OUT soundtrack is now out, featuring 26 tracks recorded in performance of Cavanaugh and the band playing Joel’s music.

Cavanaugh can play the piano really well, and his singing voice isn’t bad. His range isn’t as high or wide as Joel’s was at his peak, but it serves the songs well. He isn’t doing a slavish imitation of Joel’s voice, but he does sound an awful lot like him on a couple of songs, most notable I’VE LOVED THESE DAYS and SHE’S GOT A WAY. Those are both from earlier in Joel’s career, so maybe it’s the age thing. Cavanaugh is probably about the same age now as Joel was when he recorded those songs — or rerecorded them more popularly for the SONGS IN THE ATTIC album.

There are some interesting little remixes along the way, too, although a vast majority of the songs are played straight up in the classic Billy Joel style. The biggest change comes to We Didn’t Start the Fire, which (trivia time) was the last #1 song of he 1980s. There’s a heavy rolling drumbeat to the song, and I didn’t even recognize it until the words started. The chorus is simplified, and only two verses are sung, but it’s a fun change.

The whole disc makes me wish for some sort of Joel tribute album. C’mon, there’s a WEEZER tribute album out there, and they only have four release. Joel has more than three times that. Wouldn’t you love to hear, say, Huey Lewis and the News singing anything off the INNOCENT MAN album? Or, to keep it more modern, Vanessa Carlton or Michelle Branch could sing anything with a decent piano part. I’m sure SmashMouth could do something. Carlos Santana would play guitar on the Hendrix-inspired “Shameless,” but you’d have to find someone from the world of R&B to sing it. (I’d get lost trying to choose someone there.)

In any case, MOVIN’ OUT is a nice sampler of Joel’s greatest hits, with some nice selections of his “other stuff,” that’s just as good, if not better. (My favorite song of all time, “Angry Young Man,” is on here, albeit with a much shortened “Prelude.”) It’s a must have for my fellow Billy Joel fans, and could work nicely as an introduction to his work for someone who hasn’t gotten into it yet.