Friday, June 26, 2009

Fox Might Have Their Work Cut Out For Them

I recently had the chance to check out all of Fox's new fall shows. My thoughts:

I had already seen this one, and a second viewing didn't improve my opinion of it. A so-so show that sticks all of its great comedic talent (like Jane Lynch and Stephen Tobolowsky) in minor background roles, and gives all the comedic heavy lifting to a bunch of no-names. And it's about a glee club, which is a big negative.

A show with so many gimmicks, it should actually be called Gimmicks. The brother who's a retired pro football player is played by actual retired pro football player Michael Strahan. The other brother is in a wheelchair. They're black, so that puts a twist on the whole "brothers" thing. I was somewhat startled by the sight of Carl Weathers sans hair and mustache. CCH Pounder is a talented actress, but here she's reduced to being the setup (wo)man for all the "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis?" lines. I thought there was a limit to how many disability jokes you could squeeze into 22 minutes, but I was proven wrong. I'd say that once Fox cancels this, it could be picked up by CBS, which can't get enough shitty sitcoms, but the appearance of an all-black cast might alarm the network's key 60 years old and older demographic.

Past Life
A detective agency (?) investigates the past lives of its clients (hence the title). If you like Medium or Ghost Whisperer, you MIGHT like this show that isn't as good; otherwise, PASS. It's nice to see Richard Schiff on TV again, but that's no reason to watch this.

The Cleveland Show
I won't lie to you: I only watched approximately three minutes of this show. But that was all it took to deduce that this is yet another awful rehash of Family Guy. And, since Family Guy is one of the least funny shows on TV, it stands to reason that this is about a third as funny as that. Thanks, Fox, for continuing to perpetuate Seth MacFarlane's belief that he's hilarious.

Sons of Tuscon
This show can be summed up thusly: Scumbag adult hangs out with a bunch of youngsters and many shenanigans ensue. This will be lucky to air three episodes before being shown the door.

Human Target
Mark Valley plays a kind of fixer/private detective/bodyguard who protects his clients by insinuating himself into their dangerous circumstances. Despite the fact that this is derived from a relatively obscure DC Comics character AND that it has already been unsuccessfully adapted for TV once before, I actually like this show. It's by no means an original concept (The Equalizer is one previous example that comes to mind), but its outstanding production values and cast make up for its unoriginality. Chi McBride is totally wasted here (I'd much rather see him and Kristen Chenoweth in their own Pushing Daisies spinoff), but Jackie Earle Haley is a welcome addition to the cast (and the fact that Haley was completely out of the business five years ago should tell you how fucked up Hollywood's priorities are). There's even some quality guest appearances from Trish Helfer and Danny Glover. Of everything I watched, this is the only show I would watch again. That being said, it will get canceled after six episodes (because I like it, and that's what happens to shows I like).

Based upon what I've seen so far of Fox's lineup, I'd say they're going to need about 44 episodes of House and two full seasons of American Idol to make up for all of this dreck. Otherwise, I believe we might be looking at our new fourth-place finisher.

Things are looking up, NBC!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Oscars Get A Makeover

Yesterday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that they are going to expand the Best Picture Oscar category to 10 nominees, starting with the 2010 ceremony. This hearkens back to the olden days of the ceremony, which presented 10 or so nominees for 13 years, from '31 to '44.

Here's what Academy President Sid Ganis had to say about the change:

“Having 10 Best Picture nominees is going to allow Academy voters to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in the other Oscar categories, but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize.”
Ten nominees? Really?!?

Do we really feel that there are that many good movies out there that are getting the shaft that we need to expand the field to include more? Ya know, there's a reason there's just five nominees: it's to keep EVERY movie from getting nominated. Those Best Picture nominees should be the best movies that year. You expand it out, and crap that really doesn't need to be in there sneaks in (although, based on last year's nominees, sometimes the crap sneaks in with just five).

What if 10 people nominate Transformers 2 as a joke (because I'm sure there are probably some jackasses like myself in the Academy who would conceive of such a prank), and 10 votes just happens to be the tie-breaker for 10th place? So, now we have Transformers 2 as a Best Picture nominee? When you've just got five nominees, you have to carefully pick who you want to nominate, because you've only got five. But, once you get it out to 10, you kinda start picking movies out of a hat. I know I'm hard-pressed to name 10 great movies every year; I'm sure there are Academy voters who have similar challenges.

And you know what I blame for this expansion of the field? The success of The Dark Knight.

A lot of people thought that The Dark Knight got the shaft when it didn't get nominated for Best Picture last year. It was the highest grossing movie of the year (2nd of all time) and was resoundingly loved by everyone (though hated by me). Maybe The Dark Knight was in everyone's top 10, but not top five. But, when you expand the field to 10, maybe The Dark Knight makes the cut. And seeing as a lot of Academy members haven't actually seen all the nominated movies, it's no surprise that the Best Picture winner tends to be a blockbuster or has a lot of buzz. The Dark Knight had both, so, maybe, in this "what if" scenario, it wins Best Picture. And I'm more pissed off than when Slumdog Millionaire won. So, let's bump that number up and get even more undeserving shit in there. Hell, if blockbuster piece of garbage like Titanic can win, why NOT The Dark Knight?

But maybe it's not such a bad thing. Using last year as an example again, if you had 10 nominees, we probably wouldn't have ended up with the same batch of losers. Maybe The Wrestler (which really did get shafted) makes it in. Maybe even Gran Turismo. Revolutionary Road, Doubt, and Synecdoche, New York, all great films that missed the cut. Maybe if you put enough good films in there, it keeps Academy members from voting for something that doesn't deserve it because, well, what else were they going to vote for? I guess we'll have to see how it pans out in January.

That is, if they actually release any movies worth nominating by then. Half-way through the year, and I haven't seen one I'd vote for.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Not So Cool Now, Are Ya

This morning, I was listening to Bob and Brian on the internet. Their online player has a feature that shows little blurbs of recent news stories. I don't usually look at them, but one popped up in Entertainment that happened to catch my eye. There was a picture of Tom Brady accompanied by the caption, "Gisele's Husband in Water Rescue." After reading the story, I can confirm that this may be the most misleading headline in history.

Being involved in a water rescue would make you think that maybe Tom had saved someone from drowning, much as Harrison Ford, Christian Slater, and George Clooney have been cited for in the past. But no. Tom Brady was the one being rescued. He and Gisele were out kayaking and Tom fell out of the boat. He couldn't get back in and needed to be rescued by a passerby.

A three-time Super Bowl champ, and this guy can't get back in a boat; what's that do to a guy's masculinity?

Then he gets referred to as "Gisele's Husband," rather than by "NFL MVP Tom Brady." Brady's got a resume that will one day be engraved on a plaque in Canton. Gisele has just the one line on hers: 2000-2007: Victoria's Secret, Underwear Model. Yet Brady gets to play bitch to his supermodel wife.

But, this story was in the "Entertainment" section, and the yokels who get all of their news from People, Us, TMZ and Perez Hilton probably couldn't pick "Tom Brady" out of a lineup, but could mos def identify "Gisele's husband."

Let's hope Brady is able to come back from his knee injury and return to his MVP form. Otherwise, he may just become that guy that's married to Gisele who fell out of that boat that one time.

As for the circulating rumor that Gisele is pregnant with Tom's baby, I think that's just a lot of hype. I doubt Brady is all that anxious to jump back in the fatherhood boat (as evidenced by his inability to jump back into an actual boat). He's already got one bastard child he's paying millions in support for, and I can't see him wanting another. Because, years from now, Tom Brady will still be Tom Brady and Gisele won't be as young and pretty, and Tom might want to trade up on that. Hell, Leonardo DiCaprio traded Gisele in in her prime; why would Brady want to "financially obligate" himself to her after she goes to pasture in 15 year?

However, men tend to get really stupid around women, and when Brady's really hot wife says she wants to have a baby, he probably jumped all in with both feet.

So, congrats on your second unwanted child, Tom. Hopefully you've got as many more Super Bowl wins in ya.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sammy Got Some 'Splainin' To Do.

To the astonishment of no one, the pesky leak that keeps trickling out the names of the 104 MLB players that tested positive for steroids in 2003 has revealed that Sammy Sosa was a steroid user. Sosa has always denied this, even going so far as to forgetting how to speak English when directly asked about it before Congress. He even managed to not perjure himself, because the "illegal steroids" he claimed to never have used aren't illegal in the República Dominicana where Sosa hails from. However, they are banned in the league in which he plays baseball, so there's that.

Now begins the discussion on whether or not Sosa is Hall-worthy. On paper, his numbers speak for themselves. His ridiculous string for 60+ homer seasons alone makes him eligible. But now that this steroid thing is out there, his chances are greatly decreased. The sports writers have already shown what they think about 'roiders, taking a resounding pass on Mark McGwire, who has never been confirmed as a user, but has always been suspected. (Mind you, even if McGwire could provide a clean test for every day he played, I still wouldn't induct him. And I actually LIKE McGwire.) And now Sosa has that same taint on him.

But the thing that must be remembered is that steroids don't make you a better player; they only make you a bigger player. Taking steroids is not suddenly going to turn you into a premiere homerun hitter. The talent has to be there. The steroids only improve the physical aspect, not the skill. Take Jason Grimsley: heavy, HEAVY steroid user, absolute shit player. Any performance bump needs to be backed with natural ability. Take me, for example. I'm 5'10", a buck 70. If I were on steroids, I'd get bigger all right, right in my fucking gut, maybe even grow some nice b-cup breasts. With some physical effort, I could probably get to be pretty strong. But I still couldn't put a bat to a fastball, much less knock it over the fence 600 times.

So, yes, there are a lot of All-Star-caliber players who have been revealed as steroid users. But how much did steroids improve their performance? How would they have done on talent alone? Would they have been complete garbage without, or just slightly diminished versions? If Sosa had hit a "mere" 30 homers a season, he'd still have 500+, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Maybe we need a "steroid curve," something on which we can judge juiced players' actual performance against their "what if" performance. Subtract 300 off every one of Barry Bonds' stats, and he's still one of the greatest players ever. And there are others who would pass a similar test.

The problem with that starts to show when you go back in the history books and compare the stats of today's supremely fit players against Hall of Famers that weren't as fit. Hank Aaron, an unremarkable guy my size, put up the greatest stat line in history. Babe Ruth, whose bulk was mostly gained from eating, drinking, and smoking constantly, put up numbers that took 80 years of trying to surpass. Mickey Mantle, who drank himself through two livers, hit a third of his 536 homers off of a destroyed knee. Sandy Koufax pitched four of the greatest seasons ever with an arthritic arm that was in constant pain. Add some sort of "doping factor" to the stats of these less-than-stellar physical specimens, and they dwarf those of today's enhanced superstars.

But, there is no curve for determining Hall-worthiness. You have to go by the numbers as they are: Do Sosa's stats put him in the Hall? Mos def. You then have to weigh that against an opinion of whether or not someone who "skewed" their stats should be in the Hall: Does the fact that Sosa used steroids to enhance his performance put him in the Hall? Not so much.

It will be interesting to see how it all pans out in 2013, when Sosa, Clemens, Bonds, and Piazza, all Hall of Fame-level players and all alleged steroid users, become eligible for Hall induction. It will be the first true test of the Steroid Era for Hall induction, and whether or not any of them make it in will shape the future of the Hall.

Ya know, back in the day, potential Hall of Famers used to retire with honor and dignity in public, tearful ceremonies at the ballpark. Nowadays, potential Hall of Famers retire after no one wants them anymore via press release and couldn't get into a ballpark on Free Admission Day.

I think that says a lot.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Kobe Bryant Proven To Be Not Totally Useless

Kobe Bryant's ability as a team leader who can win championships has finally been validated, as the L.A. Kobes won their first post-Shaq championship. Phil Jackson has also finally been vindicated in his decision to keep Kobe over Shaq.

It's been a hard road for Kobe. The year Shaq left, the Heat went to the Eastern Conference finals, losing to the defending champs, while the Kobes didn't even make the playoffs. The next year, the Heat won the championship; the Kobes were out in the first round the next two years.

Kobe wanted to prove he wasn't just a second banana to Shaq. He oh so wanted you to believe that he alone could drag the Kobes to a championship. His string of 50 points games the year after Shaq won one without him proved fruitless; hell, I think he would have scored all the Kobes' points if Phil Jackson would've let him.

But Kobe just proved the point that one man alone can't win a championship. I myself even commented that Kobe couldn't do it, regardless of how many points he scored.

It finally took the addition of Spanish Shaq-replacement Pau Gasol to turn the tide for the Kobes, who immediately became a better team, going 27-9 with Gasol versus 30-16 before. They ended up going all the way to the finals before losing to the Celtics. And now, a full season from Gasol has garnered them a championship.

Congratulations, Kobe. I just hope you enjoy it and keep it up until the Cavs finally figure out how to put some good players around LeBron.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"That's SIR Christopher Lee, Mister!"

Venerable character actor and long-time vampire Christopher Lee has received the highest honor attainable to a Brit, receiving an honorable knighthood from QE 2. It caps a career that has spanned 60 years and over 260 movies (nearly 100 in the '60s and '70s alone).

Not bad for a guy who has played Dracula more times than Robert Pattinson has been in a movie.

It's a fitting achievement for Lee. He's one of the last true "character" actors, not in the sense that they are able to play any role, but that if you need a certain kind of character, you call on that actor. If you needed a crusty prospector type, you got Walter Brennan. If you needed a stuffy, upper-class authority figure, you got John Houseman. If you need Christopher Lee, you get Christopher Lee.

I realize that nowadays this is called typecasting, but Lee managed to turn it into an artform and a career. He was such a powerful presence in all of his roles that he didn't even need to be the lead character to have an impact. John Wayne, another prolific actor, was in nearly every frame of every movie he was in. Lee could come in, put in two days of work, and still get his name above the title. In the six Dracula movies in made for Hammer Films, he's got maybe two hours screentime tops. Yet I think he's more associated with Dracula than even Bela Legosi. I've seen movies that he's in for 10 minutes and has top billing. That's an actor.

And now a Knight as well. I'd wish Lee much continued prosperity, but, hey, the guy's 87 years old; everyone retires eventually. Even Dracula.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

3-D, Old School

A couple of months ago, I saw my first full-fledged 3-D movie. Four years ago, I saw a terrible remake of House of Wax. Just this weekend, I combined the two experiences, and saw the original House of Wax in its original 3-D theatrical format.

I had seen House of Wax a couple of times on video, but this was the first time I had seen it in the theatre in 3-D. Honestly, it doesn't add much to the movie. As this was one of the first 3-D movies, first shown in 1953, they really hadn't figured out how to exploit the technology to full effect.

The print appeared to be an original, shown a with dual-sync projector. The print was probably a mashup of several prints, as evidenced by the variance in quality between reels, even between splices within the reels. (At one point, the film reverted to its original red/blue color scheme for about 50 feet.) It looked good, despite the fact that the print was scratchy as hell. It also didn't help that the screen wasn't framed right, leaving the left quarter over in the curtains somewhere.

But was it better than My Bloody Valentine 3-D? As a 3-D experience, the technology of the '50s can't even compete with that of the new millennium. But as a movie, well, House of Wax is a classic.

If you have the opportunity to see it on the big screen in 3-D, most definitely check it out. If not, it's still good on home video.

Add This To The "I Can't Believe I Watched That" File

For no reason other than a copy was made available to me, I watched Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Having seen it and wanting to be your friend, doing friendly things for you, I will tell you that there is absolutely no reason for you to see this movie. None whatsoever. In fact, if you PAY to see it, you should have yourself committed, because you've lost your fucking mind.

I know what you're thinking: "Oh, even really bad movies have some funny parts." And you're right: this does have some funny parts. And, still being your friend, I'll save you the trouble of seeing the movie and just tell you the funny parts (of which there are two): Jonah Hill's way-too-funny-for-this-movie cameo and Hank Azaria's mildly amusing Boris Karloff accent, which is only humorous for the first 18 seconds. (I just this week saw an A.1. steak sauce commercial featuring Boris Karloff that was more amusing than this movie.)

This movie, at its best, is one of the worst I've ever seen. At its worst, it's a paycheck movie, where actors only star in it because they can make a ton of money. I'm guessing the amount of money needed to pay the salaries of all the talented people who were lured into appearing in this dreck would be enough to cover the national debt with change left over.

This movie proves to me that people who pay to see an incredibly stupid movie will also pay to see an incredibly stupider sequel. (You would think I would have figured that out after National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets, but I'm a little dim sometimes.) Don't be one of those people, and avoid this movie as though your life depended on it.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Will Ferrell Gets Lost With Bear Grylls

Actors find all kinds of ways to do publicity when they've got a movie coming out. Most publicity involves making the talkshow circuit. Some celebrities choose to take another route and go for the all-out publicity stunt. Like when Demi Moore went on Late Night in a bikini to promote Striptease. Or when Tom Cruise had a very public meltdown in the weeks before the release of War of the Worlds. Just this week, Sasha Barton Cohen put his balls in Eminem's face to promote (?) his upcoming Brüno. Will Ferrell has a movie coming out on Friday, and decided that hanging out in Northern Sweden with survivalist madman Bear Grylls was a great way to promote Land of the Lost.

There are less extreme publicity stunts than risking life and limb over 48 hours in the Arctic Circle. In fact, there are more extreme. Ferrell could have gone on Les Stroud's Survivorman and really made a go of roughing it.

But while Stroud's brand of survivalism is more authentic, Grylls' more controlled and scripted settings allow Grylls to do more outrageous things, like bite the head off a live snake or eat berries out of bear shit. And, of course, play second banana to Will Ferrell.

I guess having an hour-long publicity stunt in primetime, filled with commercials for your upcoming movie, is never a bad thing. Even if you have to freeze your ass off to do it.