Archive for May 2004

 
 

Can Star Wars: Episode III be saved?

MSNBC – Can Star Wars: Episode III be saved?

Alfred Hitchcock’s dictum that ‘the more successful the villain, the more successful the picture’ is of primary importance to Episode III, since the rise of Darth Vader is the heart of the story. Lucas has already done more than enough work on another Hitchcock maxim, ‘Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.’

I think it’s too late and that the franchise is already fairly well screwed. (Lucas is still tinkering with the original trilogy.) But the article is a good snarky one. I always appreciate the extra helping of snark.

Group of 3 Results

A Fantasia/Diana finale is about as good as we could have hoped for at this point. But Diana will need to sing her two (or three) songs with reckless abandon and hit every note perfectly to stand a chance. The phone lines will be open for a couple of extra hours Tuesday night, so if you want to stay up until 1 a.m. voting, you can go at it.

Tonight is a repeat of two past AI episodes, including the Hawaiian tryouts which brought us the final nail in the AI Voting System’s coffin. I don’t know which episode is repeating at 8, though. Sunday is the “AI Phenomenon Special.” I haven’t checked FOX’s Monday schedule, but I think they managed to go a day without AI. And then, finally, we get to the two part finale next Tuesday and Wednesday from the Kodak Center.

Onto last night’s show:

Tamyra Gray might just be the most talented contestant ever to come out of the series. She can act, she can sing, she can dance, and she can write her own stuff. The first song she sang had too much screaming, though, and the second one she’s done already this season, so I could fast forward through it. I liked the video mantage on the first one. No William Hung, but Scooter Girl was there. Ah, the bevy of talented contestants that we lost this season even before the Top 12 is still a sore point. Of course, we don’t know how they really would have reacted under the lights on live television. It’s all a crap shoot.

The Australian Idol has an inherently annoying voice, so I fast forwarded through that.

And then Jasmine left. I think Jasmine was the happiest one about that in the building. Her father didn’t look too dismayed or upset, but I think Jasmine was just happy to go.

Diana is a little faker, isn’t she? She goes into Beauty Pageant Queen mode everytime the camera is on her. She starts blowing kisses as soon as she sees the little red light above the camera in front of her turn on. She has great peripheral vision. But as Fantasia’s fans have been saying all season, we don’t vote on personality, we vote on singing ability. They also said LaToya was voted out because we didn’t know her. Ah, shifting alliances leading to loose logic. I love AI.

DeBlieck OUT!

Network television officially gives up

FOXNews.com – Foxlife – CBS Adds Five New Series With Familiar Stars

CBS is offering Rob Low as a doctor, Jason Alexander as a sportswriter and John Goodman as a family patriarch in new series that will debut this fall.

All have been in one majorly successful show, followed by a collective string of bombs following it up. It reminds me of Major League Baseball. It’s the same 30 general managers, but they shuffle teams around every off-season. There’s not much new blood.

And they wonder why people don’t watch as much TV anymore. The third CSI series will go head to head against the original LAW AND ORDER series. Oh, sweet irony.

The only good news is that AMAZING RACE seems likely to continue, as a cheap Saturday night filler show. That’s OK by me. They can use any excuse they like to keep the show going.

Joining it on Saturday night will be a CSI rerun. Isn’t it interesting how networks have given up on creating new programming to schedule reruns of their top shows?

What a weird world. CSI: NYC looks to be the only new series I’m interested in next year, and that’s just because they have Gary Sinise.

Group of 3 Performances

And then there were three. The mother and the two children.

It’s just all so anti-climactic right now. It seems like the entire show is tilted in Fantasia’s favor, and everyone else is just going through the paces. Without LaToya there to seriously challenge Fantasia, there’s almost no excitement anymore. I know that America’s vote means almost anything can happen. If Fantasia gets kicked off the show on votes this week, I wouldn’t be shocked. The Hawaiian Vote Advantage could just be too great. It’s almost a cynical fait d’accompli.

I went through almost this entire show bored tonight, until the final two performances.

For starters, does anyone truly believe the girls played rock, paper, scissors to decide the singing order? I don’t. The producers like to finish the show strong. Hiding Jasmine first was purposeful. Finishing on Diana like that was purposeful.

Clive Davis was a great guest judge, with truly interesting things to say and not just supportive blatherings. Either his microphone was aimed in the wrong direction, or he’s having some throat ailments. Sounded like he was eating his words as he spoke them.

Let’s go in order, then:

Jasmine Trias, age 16, sang two songs tonight with “making love” in the lyrics. Singing “We’ll be making love the whole night through” just sounds empty coming from her. I know kids go at it at that age and all. Fantasia even has a baby. But don’t expect me to take her too seriously.

Jasmine stood Zero Chance singing “All By Myself.” That’s the song that focused everyone’s attention so early on at LaToya London. LaToya blew the roof off with that song. Jasmine was lost, “coloring” the song in the wrong ways. The Whitney song was pitchy. Her middle song was actually fairly good, but mostly because the background singers overpowered her through much of the middle of it. The upbeat tune was a better selection, though.

In her defense, though, it does sound like she’s starting to lose her voice. A couple of the longer notes started to grate on her throat early on. If she does go through to the finals, she’ll be in trouble keeping up, physically, with the other singer.

Fantasia Barrino is the Predetermined Winner. She looks comfortable on stage and obviously enjoys performing, but those first two songs tonight were complete losers. Wearing her best bondage outfit, she screamed, warbled, and shouted through two complete songs without any hint of musicality. It was obnoxious. She failed to pronounce half the words. She shouted. I couldn’t take anymore. Where’s Clay Aiken when we need him?

On the third song, though, I was ready to give her the tiara. “Greatest Love Of All” was the perfect song for her. She changed it up enough to “make it her own.” She obviously sang from the heart to her daughter (who looked asleep after the performance, anyway). It was flawless and beautiful. It was, for one brief shining moment, the song of the night and the clinching factor in the competition. I can’t take anything away from her on that one. It was, to use Randy’s terminology from the second song, “Mad Dope.”

For those keeping track: She managed to end 2 of 3 songs this week with her ubiquitous “yeah.” Couldn’t find a way to squeeze it into that middle boring song, though. I forgot to keep track, but she did start at least one song with a plea to the audience to stand up and make her look more entertaining. (Diana did the same, and I didn’t like it there, either.)

Diana DeGarmo did her best Hillary Duff impression with her hair, put on another poor choice of outfits, and went out on stage to scream her heart out. Sadly, as everyone pointed out, she was lost in all the lower parts. I’m surprised it took this long for someone to sing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in this competition. She was OK with it, but that’s a song that can make an Idol on this show, and she failed to live up to it. The Diane Warren song was a poor rendition. I couldn’t believe it when I heard her sing it, because it sounded like she still hadn’t decided what to do with it. She started off extra twangy, then backed down. She went more pop with it, and then retreated back to the twang.

The third song, however, was the show stopper. Never has a more perfect song been chosen for an Idol wannabe. Note perfect. Flawless. Powerful when it needed to be, but confident and assured in the lower parts. It was the show stopper, and well timed at that. She won my vote on that. (The phone lines were busy, of course, so I’ll be bribing a Hawaiian on-line to vote later tonight.)

Simon is obviously a literacy campaign volunteer, because he’s been suggesting all the singers write letters to various people this year. Diana does owe Clive a letter on this one, though, because she validated her role in this competition with that song, alone.

In the end, I’m giving tonight to Diana, then Fantasia, and then Jasmine. I’m hoping Jasmine goes tomorrow night, but I know better than to expect anything. Jasmine is Zero competition to Fantasia. At least Diana has a chance against Fantasia.

Did you see that there’s Yet Another AI Special on Sunday night? “The American Idol Phenomenon.” UGH

ABC still trying to kill ALIAS

the futon critic – the web’s best primetime television resource

I wish I could say I was wrong about ABC and ALIAS, but the network continues to do their damnedest to kill the show:

The big news however is that the network is expected to shelve the fourth season of “Alias” until midseason in order to give newcomer “Desperate Housewives” a higher profile launch on Sunday nights. “Alias” would then return in January for the an uninterrupted run.

Let’s take bets now. I’m saying a show named “Desperate Housewives” will be declared dead in the water by week three. ABC might keep it around to save face, but it’s a dead show in three weeks.

ABC is thus plotting to return ALIAS to the schedule at mid-season, where it can be interrupted every other week for The Oscars, The Golden Globes, The Superbowl, an EVERYONE LOVES RAYMOND Sunday Night Spectacular Farewell Birthday Bash, a new JESSICA/NICK VARIETY HOUR, a HARRY POTTER movie, etc.

The show doesn’t stand a chance. Pity.

New Releases, 18 May 2004

This week’s release list.

Augie’s picks and points of interest and general snarkiness:

Around the World in 80 Days: Special Edition (2-disc set) (1956)

See it now before that awful looking Jackie Chan movie shows up in your local theater and ruins any chance this movie ever had to be enjoyed by a new generation.

Cyrano De Bergerac (1950)

Would it be wrong of me to prefer the Steve Martin ROXANNE version of this story?

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Extended Version Collector’s Set (2-disc set) (1967) The Great Escape: Special Edition (2-disc set) (1963)

Both are very good movies which I’ve seen for the first time in the past two years. THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY is probably the only DVD I need to buy this week.

MacArthur Park (2001)

…is frightening in the dark. All the dinosaurs are running wild. Someone shut the fence off in the rain. I admit it’s kind of eerie. But this proves my chaos theory…

Sorry, that was my “Weird Al” moment for the day.

Be thankful I didn’t give you the Donna Summer moment.

Now, Richard Harris. He was cool.

Miracle (widescreen) (2004) Miracle (pan-and-scan) (2004)

I’m in Costco last week. A mother and her ten year old son are looking at SCARY MOVIE 3 DVDs on sale. The kid is complaining that they don’t have Full Frame, just widescreen. Mom miraculously finds one for her son.

I nearly screamed. You have to get these kids at an early age. I’m afraid this one might be lost already. Hopefully, he’ll grow up and rebel against his mother by wanting to rebuy the entire DVD library in the One True Format – Widescreen.

I’ll leave it to you to debate the merits of a young kid at that age seeing a movie like SCARY MOVIE 3.

In any case, MIRACLE is a very good movie. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it in the theaters, despite knowing how it ended. They did a good job with it.

Paycheck (widescreen) (2003)

It looked cool. And it’s John Woo. Ben Affleck does not scare me off. Anyone who can do CHANGING LANES is fine by me. OK, so it’s a rental.

Next week’s biggest hit will no doubt be “The Brady Bunch in the White House (2002).” Close second place goes to “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King: Special Edition.” I’m waiting for the four disc set on that one. There are also a couple of cult favorites and plenty more TV On DVD.

One other voting idea

Something I thought of on the drive into work this morning:

Keep the voting system that we have in place now. Use it to come up with the bottom 3. Then let the judges decide which of the bottom 3 (or bottom 2, in the last couple of weeks) should go. America still gets its vote, but the judges can act to even out any quirk in the system.

In the final week, the judges have no say and it’s all about the phone votes. At that point, the judges should have been able to act as a check and balance to ensure that two worthy competitors are in the final.

The voting whining continues…

Broadcasting & Cable: The Business of Television

American Idol, the wildly successful talent show based on the democratic premise that viewers cast ballots for a winner, has a serious voting problem. Interviews with telephone companies, data consultants, federal agencies, and fans expose a flawed system in which tens of millions of votes are potentially lost. Indeed, evidence shows that the only people choosing the next American Idol are the ones lucky enough to get through — or skilled enough to get around — tremendously overtaxed phone lines.

Read that last sentence again: Only those whose phone calls get through can have their votes count. Did anyone else scream “Duh” at their computer when they read that? Yeah, it was probably just me.

There is no perfect voting system. There will always be flaws, and there will always be ways to exploit them. But the rules are set at the beginning of the game and are the same for everyone. There are people who want to change the rules after the votes have been cast, but that’s not a solution. (Hmmm, sounds like Al Gore’s camp, c. December 2000…)

There’s one thing that can be done TODAY to help ensure the quality of the vote tally. I mentioned it last year, but I’ll repeat it now: Use more than 3 lines for three contestants. We know they had 12 lines set up at the beginning of the season when the show began. Why not use all 12 now, when bandwidth is so tight on the phone lines? The producers will be able to count four times as many votes, theoretically. Give Fantasia 1-4, Jasmine 5-8, and Diana 9-16. For the grand finale next week, the two finalists can do even/odds or 1-6 and 7-12. The only problem with this system is the potential to confuse stupid people. But, then, those people also got taken for tens of thousands of dollars last year when that other company set up the 1-800 lines similar to AI’s.

It could be that I misunderstand the way the phone system is set up. Perhaps spreading out the votes across multiple lines like that won’t really help. It’s the overall call volume that’s choking the lines, and not just specific phone numbers.

Here’s my bright idea for revamping the voting structure: Have the votes carry over from week to week. Don’t point out a bottom 3. And use the traditional voting structure — wipe the slate completely clean and start fresh — for the final week. This way, someone who has one bad week isn’t penalized with a departure. Someone who comes on strong near the end of the competition won’t be so harshly penalized for early nerves. And a person — like LaToya — who starts off strong and never falters can be rewarded. The first week or two will always be a crap shoot, given the sheer number of contestants and vote splitting that goes on, so there’s nothing you can do there.

The problem with that system is that it rewards people who limp to the finish line, and it makes it harder to eliminate someone on a bad week with a strong voting bloc.

Ultimately, the best way to judge the series is to let the judges be the ones to cast the votes each week. You’ll lose a lot of audience that way, though, and you’d get a new round of inquiries over the personal relationships between the contestants and the judges. Plus, sponsors would pull out, although I imagine they wouldn’t have a tough time finding new ones.

Two other stopgap measure that could be implemented: Keep the text voting, but get rid of the toll free lines. Make them toll calls. Sure, this will inevitably lead to stories of die-hard AI fanatics going broke who couldn’t help themselves, but the heck with those people. Charging for each call would put a natural limit on how many times people would vote, allow a greater variety of people to get through, and still bring in the money to the phone company sponsor.

It would also start the race card and class warfare all over again. People would complain that contestants from “richer” areas of the country would have a greater advantage over those from “poorer” areas.

The other idea would be to allow voting for longer than two hours. Creating a two hour window of panic jams the phone lines. Allowing 12 hours of voting, or even 24 hours, would allow for a slightly more leisurely pace to voting. Or, worst case, you’d get a big blast up front, but the die-hard fans could still have their votes counted later in the Voting Period. It would also push the results show to Thursday, where there is no longer a Must See TV Show. FOX could make some real in-roads on that schedule. The only problematic part to it is the scheduling nightmares it might produce behind the scenes for the following week’s show.

In the end, the producers likely can’t win. I don’t blame them for keeping their heads down and pushing through. They’re victims of their own success at this point.

Hy-Wire Driving Is a Gas

Wired News: Hy-Wire Driving Is a Gas

Powered by 200 fuel cells inside an 11-inch-thick chassis fixed like a giant skateboard under the car, the Hy-wire’s most exciting element is its environmental footprint. It has none, according to General Motors — the car takes in only air and leaves behind nothing but water. Simple as fifth-grade science: O2 + H = H20. And this driver didn’t detect even the H20.

How long before HyWire cars start hydroplaning on each others’ wastes?

Given all the hybrid car talk around here lately, I thought I’d link to another alternative. This one has the added bonus of no steering wheel and not foot pedals. It controls like a motorcycle, basically. I wish they had interior pictures with the story, though.

The Hawaiian Conspiracy

WPVI.com: “American Idol” and the Hawaiian Conspiracy Theory

Verizon reports of the 29 states in its local territory, the most calls after the show were logged from New York, California — then Hawaii. Hawaii is also six hours behind the East Coast, so it’s possible Hawaiians can get through during a less-crowded calling period.

It’s not so much a conspiracy as it is a set of helpful guidelines for Hawaiian competitors. I hadn’t thought of the time zone thing, for example. It does bode not-so-terribly-well for Diana and Fantasia in these last two weeks.

I’ll be back with more on the voting topic tomorrow morning. I’ll even include my proposed “solutions” to the “problem.”

(Completely off-topic: That’s a horrible bit of writing in that first quoted paragraph. I had to read through it three times before I caught the complete meaning.)

What size paper?

Slashdot | The Logic Behind Metric Paper Sizes

For those who enjoy a bit of math, did you know that in the Metric paper system, the height-to-width ratio of all pages is the square root of 2? This means that you can place two sheets of A4 side-by-side and they will equal an A3 sheet exactly, and two sheets of A3 will equal an A2.

There’s a link in there to the full story explaining the paper sizes used outside of America, for those who are curious. It’s a lot more than you need to know, but it’s interesting reading for the first few paragraphs until your eyes glaze over.

Linux in the darnedest place

This past week’s MONSTER HOUSE remade someone’s house into an amusement park. Like most MONSTER HOUSEs, it’s a cute looking thing that loses its novelty value in a day or two and will be an eyesore and an annoyance in a house with two growing children in it. But that’s just me, I’m sure. During the big reveal, the mother didn’t seem too enthused with some parts of it, so I’m sure they’ll be ripping parts of it down in short order…

In any case, the thing that jumped out of me was Lewis, the metal sculptor type person. On the first day, he wore an O’Reilly Linux t-shirt. You could read it across his chest clear as day. Pretty damned cool.

Elton John’s next album, touring schedule

Elton John Strolls Down ‘Peachtree Road’

Elton John is eyeing a November release for his next studio album, “Peachtree Road.” According to the artist’s official Web site, the set features the tracks “Freaks in Love” and “Turn the Lights Out When You Leave.” The album’s title is a reference to the famed thoroughfare in John’s adopted home base of Atlanta. […] Beginning June 28, he will play five shows in the United Kingdom backed by an orchestra and choir, dovetailing into a similar five-night stint in mid-July at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. His ongoing engagement at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas will resume July 23.

He’s also working on a new album due out in the fall. The Radio City Music Hall concerts sound really cool. Thankfully, they’re recording them for a Bravo TV special. That makes a DVD release possible…

Big Brother Update

Remember Tonya, the big-breasted Las Vegas mother of BIG BROTHER 3? She showed up again on television this week on the World Poker Tour, of all places. She’s dating one of the poker players that made the final table. Check out the Aruba tournament if you want to see what she looks like today. Slightly shorter hair, but that’s about it.

She had only been dating the guy for a month at the time of the tournament’s filming, but he vowed to marry her if he finished in the top 3. He didn’t finish quite that high, but they got married anyway.

People turn up in the funniest places…

More CD Sales Shennanigans

Ars Technica: Nielsen Rating System points to possible deceit in RIAA sales figures

The gist of it is pretty simple: the RIAA has their own tracking system based on units shipped, while Nielsen Ratings bases their Soundscan tracking system on actual barcode-scanned purchases.

Why is this important? It’s an old trick I learned in retail pharmacy: Keep your overhead low. Don’t stock more than you need. After all, you get shipments once a week. Why bother stocking more than a week or two’s worth of items for sale? That’s money sitting on the shelf, and not profit coming through the register. (It also explains why your local CVS or WalMart or Eckerds so often give you a few pills to hold you over until they can restock.)

In the case of the music industry, the massive record store chains are just starting to catch onto this — or are just becoming such a huge share of the industry now that their purchasing patterns dominate the stats. So shipments to the stores are down, but here’s the funny thing: CD sales are actually up.

The RIAA uses these numbers to claim poverty where none exists. It’s just a new business methodology, but they can use it to whine about piracy and file-sharing.