Friday, April 24, 2009

Apple Pulls A Boner

Yesterday, Apple, which has previously been unable to do anything wrong in regards to technology, was forced to pull one of its iPhone applications due to public outcry. The application in question? A fun little game called "Baby Shaker," in which your phone cries like a baby and you must see how long you can endure the crying before being forced to shake it to "sleep." Sounds like a real hoot.

Remember, like, 12 years ago, when that nanny played this game for real and killed that baby? I know I had a great time just hearing about it, and I'm sure it was a blast to actually participate.

It's a good thing that Apple came out with an app that allows you to replicate shaking a baby to death, because I wouldn't want to be left out on those good times. I can only hope that they'll come out with funner apps like "McDonald's Shootout" or "Suicide Bomber," because I'm sure the home versions of those activities are just as entertaining as their real-life counterparts.

I hear that the next update of iTunes will have a feature where you can starve an African child. I can't wait to install that one!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I'm Mildly Surprised

Musical supergroups, bands made up from members of several other bands, are always a mixed bag. Some are good, like Audioslave, which combined a talented singer/songwriter best not left to his own devices with the rhythm section of Rage Against the Machine. Some are bad, like Mad Season, which combined the least talented members of their respective grunge bands. Supergroups have always been more of a "corporate rock" thing anyway, because, honestly, who but a record company executive was longing to hear a mashup of King Crimson, Yes, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer?

And today brings the release of an album by yet another supergroup that I'm sure was focus-grouped into existence. That band is Tinted Windows, and, since I'll listen to anything once, I gave their new self-titled record a listen. And, truthfully, it's not bad; it's something I'd listen to more than once.

It's pop-rock at its most saccharine. But of course it is: it's fronted by an all-growns-up Taylor Hansen, and all the songs were written by the guy who wrote "Stacy's Mom" and "That Thing You Do." It sound like an album that Cheap Trick never made, which isn't surprising, as the drummer is Bun E. Carlos, who's been behind the kit for Cheap Trick for almost 40 years.

The real wild card in the group is James Iha, in his first gig since not being invited back to the Smashing Pumpkins' reunion. This seems a little out of his musical realm, but, a job is a job, I guess. (His uninspired playing here makes me wonder if there isn't some validity to the rumor that Billy Corgan played all the guitar parts on the Smashing Pumpkins' albums by himself.)

If you're looking for some mindless diversion to listen to, you could do worse. You might even enjoy it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Not Enough Of A Good Thing

It's the beginning of the end for Prison Break, which begins airing the first of its last six episodes tonight. And it's a bittersweet ending, because, while no one likes to see a good show go off the air, Prison Break has been nearly unwatchable since its first two brilliant seasons.

Prison Break has been lucky, a great show that was allowed to run its course and continue on until it got really awful, much like Happy Days did in its last five seasons. And other not-so-great shows, like Survivor, currently airing its 18th season (!?!), continue on, even though they ran out of ideas years ago.

But others have not been so lucky, brilliant shows cut down in their prime before they managed to hit their strides. Television, after all, is not about creativity, but about ratings, and shows that aren't blockbuster hits, regardless of creativity or brilliance, are shown the door post-haste.

So, in deference to Prison Break, which should have been canceled two seasons ago, here's a list of some of my favorite shows that never got their own chances to wear out their welcomes:

Twin Peaks (1990-1991)
Oddly enough, a show that did wear out its welcome, but for different reasons. When the show first debuted, it was a ratings hit. Everyone wanted to know who killed Laura Palmer. But show creator David Lynch had no intention of telling us. Lynch was more interested in the characters of Twin Peaks, and Laura Palmer's murder was merely a clever plot device that allowed them to exist. (CBS is currently attempting something similar with Harper's Island, and doing very poorly with it, I might add.) ABC wasn't interested with this tactic and pushed Lynch to resolve the show's murder plot and move onto something else. He begrudgingly obliged and proceeded to lose interest, having very little to do with the show afterwards. Once the question of "Who Killed Laura Palmer" was answered, the rest of America lost interest in the show as well, and the show was canceled at the conclusion of its second season.

Profit (1996)
A show years ahead of its time, Profit was the story of a ruthless corporate VP who had his own twisted reasons for climbing the corporate ladder. TV was happy happy, joy joy in those days, and the story of a psychotic anti-hero who slept in a cardboard box just didn't sit well with anyone. Fox pulled the plug after four episodes.

Action! (1999)
Another groundbreaking show that was waaay too racy for network TV. It aired eight episodes before Fox canceled this biting Hollywood satire.

Clerks: The Animated Series (2000)
Clerks was a breakout hit for Miramax and Disney when it came out in 1994. I'm sure that when Kevin Smith pitched a TV version of the show that Miramax and Disney jumped at the chance to catch lightning in a bottle again. But this animated version, which featured a then-unheard of comedic turn by Alec Baldwin, was so wildly different from the live-action version that ABC canceled it after two episodes.

Robbery Homicide Division (2002)
Every since CSI became a hit for CBS, the network has become lousy with police procedural shows, most stretching the term "police procedural" to its breaking point. But this show, the brainchild of Michael Mann, was as gritty and realistic as they come, making the Crime Shows of today seem like fairy tales by comparison. One of the first shows shot in HD video, CBS canceled it after 10 episodes.

Arrested Development (2003-2006)
The patron saint of canceled shows, having been beatified by legions of loyal fans. But those legions weren't enough to keep it from being canceled after three ever-shortened seasons. Fans, rejoice, as a feature film is very likely on the way.

Invasion (2005)
A very well-produced and written show about long-dormant aliens being stirred up by a hurricane. And what happens to a town when a majority of their population is overtaken by alien replicas? We'll never know, as ABC canceled it after its single season.

Reunion (2005)
Six high school friends reunite at their 20-year reunion and one of them is murdered. As the police questioned the survivors, the show flashed back to what led them to this point, with each episode chronicling a year's worth of events. Whodunit? It's still a mystery, as the show never made it past 1994.

Justice (2006)
Of all the garbage shows that Jerry Bruckheimer has put on the airwaves, the only one I've enjoyed was the one that lasted the least amount of time, airing only its original order of episodes.

Thief (2006)
A great show in which Andre Braugher was the mastermind of a high-tech heist gone wrong. (Remember when Braugher left Homicide because he wanted to pursue a movie career? He's starred in four TV series since. Some movie career, huh.) FX canceled it after a season, which is odd, since they'll let a boring, meandering show like the Ri¢hes go on for years, but kill a good one like this when it's just getting interesting.

Shark (2006-2008)
James Woods' first foray into TV was a return of the old Jimmy Woods, the coked-up, manic psychopath that made him a star in the '90s, and we were all happy to see him back. But, alas, sagging ratings and a production shutdown due to the Writers Strike caused CBS to cancel it after it ran out of episodes in Season 2.

Journeyman (2007)
Kevin McKidd becomes unstuck in time, and is forced to help people whenever he ends up. What caused this middle-mannered reporter to become a time-traveler? We never found out, because NBC chose not to order anymore episodes after the Writers Strike.

My Own Worst Enemy (2008)
Christian Slater is a secret agent who leads a double life, unbeknownest to his "off-duty" alter ego. NBC let it run out its initial order with no re-up, but the exact same plot has been picked up by Fox's Dollhouse, which I hope lasts longer than the 13 episodes they've got in the can.

Pushing Daisies (2007-2009)
The best show to come on since the the cancellation of Arrested Development. Writing, production, casting: all perfect. But the show comes from the twisted mind of Bryan Fuller, whom the networks like in theory, but really hate once his shows hit the air. ABC canceled it before it finished its second season. But (again), fans, rejoice, as ABC has promised to air the remaining unaired episodes at the end of May.

Hopefully, they'll keep some of the shows I like on the air. I wouldn't count on it, though; nothing I seem to like sticks around for long.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Last Five Movies - Unemployment Edition

Seeing as I'm currently unemployed, needless to say, I've got a lot of free time to consume a lot of movies. Here's what I've seen recently:

I Love You, Man (2009)
Paul Rudd has managed to go from Phoebe's boyfriend on Friends to absolutely owning an entire genre of movies. Not as funny as Role Models, but at least twice as funny as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the last movie to star both Rudd and Jason Segel.

Knowing (2009)
And speaking of guys owning a genre, Nic Cage is the go-to guy for any Shitty Action Movie you may have. Remember when he won an Oscar? Neither do I.

Duplicity (2009)
A year after he wrote and directed a movie that was nominated for seven Oscars, I was expecting something a little better from Tony Gilroy than this confusing and marginally entertaining mess, which he also wrote and directed. But, he also wrote The Cutting Edge, so I should have suspected that not everything he writes is going to be Oscar-worthy.

Ratatouille (2007)
Until Dreamworks decides to really up their animation game and stop worrying about making money, they will never produce anything as well as Pixar. I don't care how much money all the Shreks and whatever else they've produced made, their entire filmography isn't as good as this one movie. Twenty-two Oscars for Pixar to two for Dreamworks; 'nuff said.

Yes Man (2009)
Have you seen Liar, Liar? No need to see this then.

The Last House on the Left (2009)
In the '70s, there were a number of horror movies made, like The Hills Have Eyes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Last House on the Left, that shocked people with their portrayal of violence. They were cheaply made, were unrepentantly grim, and portrayed violence in a gritty and realistic way that gave them an almost documentary feel. They were terrifying when they first came out, but have developed cult followings over the years. And filmmakers have exploited these exploitation films by remaking them, but with the exact opposite qualities that made the originals so shocking. Wes Craven's Last House on the Left was so reviled that it was banned in many countries, most notably the U.K., where it was on the banned "video nasties" list for 30 years; it's tagline was "To avoid fainting, keep telling yourself, 'it's only a movie...'" This new version is a Disney movie by comparison. They even have the indecency to have a somewhat happy ending (and that thing with the microwave is impossible, by the way). I'm waiting with bated breath for a remake of I Spit on Your Grave.

Choke (2008)
A faithful adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's second-worst novel. I think you can do the math on that one.

Spaced: The Complete Series (1999)
Those who wonder where Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright get the inspiration for their movies need look no further than this show that Pegg wrote and Wright directed for the BBC. The zombies and action movie cliches are all here, and all brilliantly done, I might add.

The International (2009)
I'm sure this movie would have played better about 10 years ago, during the "swinging dick" years of international banking, but, during an age when the exact kind of debt financing portrayed in this movie has essentially destroyed the world economy, it comes off as kinda fanciful. It is a real hoot seeing the Guggenheim Museum get shot all to shit, though.

Frost/Nixon (2008)
Yet another movie about Richard Nixon by a filmmaker who hates Nixon. Good movie, but let the dead rest, will ya?

Donkey Punch (2008)
Yeah, I watched a movie called Donkey Punch that is actually about donkey punching. It's pretty much I Know What You Did Last Summer, but with more donkey punching and less Gorton's Fisherman.

And, after all that crap, the winner is:

Missing (1982)
Anyone considering traveling anywhere south of the Equator (or to the Middle East, for that matter) should probably watch this, because, despite what you might think, this shit actually does happen. It's based on a true story that was so controversal, the movie and the book on which it's based were pulled off the market for a number of years for legal reasons, and was banned in Chile, where the movie takes place. Nominated for four Oscars (with one win for Best Screenplay), it's one of the best movies to come out of the early '80s.

Check it out.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I Spoke Too Soon

I might have spoken too soon when I made mention of Brian Austin Green getting killed off of Terminator, because I'll be damned if he wasn't right back on the show in last night's season finale.

And how do you bring back a character who's been killed off in the present? Why, you go back to the future, where he's still alive. Of course, this brings up the whole time-travel paradox thing, like how can a character that's been killed off in the past be alive in the future. And they hit us with both barrels with this one, because Kyle Reese is alive in the future, even though he died in the first Terminator movie, as well as Cameron, who died in that same episode. And yet, John Connor, who leads the humans in the war against the Terminators, is NOT in the future.

At least the writers have six months to dig themselves out of this hole. I can't wait.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Really? People Paid To See This Again??

Because I've come to accept that fact that people are generally stupid and utterly predictable in their behavior, it comes as no surprise that Fast & Furious, the third sequel in the Fast and Furious tetralogy, was the big winner at this weekend's box office, raking in a ridiculous $72 million.

It's not surprising that a movie that is basically the same movie as THE Fast and THE Furious (see what they did there, taking out the "the"s?), with the same stars and the same plot, is on pace to make over $100 million in a week. I mean, people paid a $1 billion to see the same Shrek movie three times. And even more to see the same Pirates of the Caribbean movie as many times. (The only Pirates movie I've seen a substantial part of is number 3, and it was as though the director had taken a class from Michael Bay on how to make an incoherent movie, and took that lesson and multiplied everything by 100.) They're not even attempting to be creative.

But filmmaking is not about artistic integrity; it's about making money. The first movie made money. Vin Diesel, who pretends to have some artistic sensibility, bailed out after that. Paul Walker made it through 2 Fast 2 Furious (see what they did there, replacing the "the"s with "2"s? Because it's the second one? Get it?) before he bailed, leaving the kid from Sling Blade all alone for the third one, which barely managed to make any money.

So, how do you revitalize a dying franchise? Bring back all the stars from the first one and make that again, of course. It just goes more towards proving my theory that if you made a movie of George Clooney and Brad Pitt taking a shit, people would pay to see it.

Oh, wait, they already did that; it was called Ocean's Thirteen.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Back To The Unemployment Line For This Playboy!

A week that's already had one historic cancellation now gets another one: Brian Austin Green was rather ungraciously shown the door on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, with his character getting fatally shot in the head before the credits even rolled.

No touching farewell, no dying "Keep up the good fight," no hero's goodbye. Just BANG, there he's dead, off the show.

Not that this is anything new for Green. Since 90210 (the first one) went off the air, he's pretty much been a non-entity. So having a featured recurring role in a big-budget show for Fox is kinda a big deal for a guy like that. But, now he's off that show, too. I guess he'll just have to go back to literally and figuratively living off the tit of Megan Fox.

Which, all things considered, is really not a bad way to live.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Oldest TV Show In History Gets Canceled

Television's oldest show, soap opera Guiding Light, which has existed since before the invention of television, has been canceled by CBS. It ends its 72-year run in September.

This is the latest casualty in an increasingly shaky soap opera field. Last year, Passions ended its nine-year run after a brief run as a DirecTV-only show. Days of Our Lives faced extinction after 43 years before receiving an 11th hour reprieve. Now a soap opera that got its start in radio has been shown the door. And I don't think it will be the last one.

I don't understand what people want from a soap opera. Producers give them the things they've come to expect from soap operas (adultery, villainy, children growing to adulthood in three years) and fans aren't happy. They give them unexpected things (demonic possessions, transsexual serial killers, witchcraft) and fans still aren't happy. Dark Shadows, the first soap to break the mold in soap opera strangeness, was wildly popular when it first debuted, even spawning two successful theatrical movies. But it only lasted for five years. And even more "normal" soaps have been shown the door over the years.

So, what is that that people want? Is it that, as the WW2 generation that is the prime fan base for soaps dies off, they're not being replaced by the Gen X demographic? Or is it that soaps are just so fucking boring? The only soap I've ever watched with any regularity is Days of Our Lives, and I can miss a year's worth of shows and still pick up the plot in one episode. The fact that you don't have to watch every episode is a death sentence for an episodic show.

And Guiding Light is no different. Watch it once a month, and you get the gist of what's going on. And apparently so many people do this that there's no reason for it to be on the air on a daily basis.

I guess Grandma will just have to find something else to watch. Or, based upon this cancellation, she already has.