Saturday, July 30, 2005

Movie Business

Part 1

We saw Must Love Dogs and Sky High Friday. On the whole, the latter was more enjoyable than the former, though it wasn't as funny as I thought it was going to be; the trailer shows a small scene between Dave Foley and his old "Kids in the Hall" associate, Kevin MacDonald, that is so off-handedly amusing that I'd hoped the entire movie would have that tone. On the whole, it really is nothing more than a Disney Channel movie.

However, both movies suffered from something that movies have for years and that is the "unresolved gun." I don't mean a real gun; I refer to a comment made by Chekov back when he wrote plays, before he signed up with Star Fleet. Chekov's statement goes something like this: "If a playwrite shows a gun in the first act, he has to use it by the third act."

Unlike modern film studios, editors, and directors, Chekov understood that a play, or movie, is not reality. It is a discrete whole wherein there must be a reason for every action and prop. For instance, in Sky High, Kurt Russel's character made repeated mention of his father, who had also been a super-hero. Yet, by the end of the film, grandfather never appeared (and if he had, who better for the role than Adam West). In Must Love Dogs, Christopher Plummer's character speaks of losing a woman he cared about, someone in the film, yet there is no on-screen resolution for that statement. Fantastic Four, as much as I like it, is full of such nagging problems.

The best example of a recent movie that had no unresolved guns, was The Sixth Sense. In fact, I submit that the movie only works because we film-goers are so used to unresolved moments that we resolve them internally, hence we don't question the fact that we never see Bruce Willis having a conversation with an adult. Because of the way the film is cut, we think that the conversations have been removed, so we replace them.

However, The Sixth Sense is the only movie for which that works. For every other movie maker, it is just sloppiness. Directors, restrain and think about what it means to cut or not shoot a scene. You have a continuity person on set to make sure the wrinkles in a shirt match from day to day. How about getting a continuity person into the editing room.

Part 2

A bunch of new trailers are out if you are interested:

Walk the Line. the Johnny Cash biography with Joaquin Phoenix as the singer and Reese Witherspoon as June Cash.

Doom moves from the computer to the movie screen.

The vidication of Firefly, Joss Whedon's directorial debut, and the reason we won't be seeing any "Buffy-verse" made-for-television movies (Whedon has closed his television production offices in favor of movies all come together in Serenity. Firefly was lost chance because of Fox's quick trigger finger and, for myself, annoyance that the quality of Angel and Buffy suffered while Joss was off gallivanting with his science fiction Western. (I'm not saying anything, but the season Firefly debuted, Spike was banging Buffy against a wall in an alley and Connor was around. Not that I'm saying anything, but I'm just saying.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


"Radio is so constipated and so corporate and homgenized that it has been limiting and the appearance of new voices , and podcasting will allow for this." Randy Komisar, "venture capitalist," discussing iTunes 4.9 and its addition of podcast listings. (Quote from Newsweek, July 11, 2005.)

I first heard about something called "podcasting" in the late fall of 2004. Because of the word, I, like I think a lot of people do/did at first, thought it had something to do with an iPod in particular. We didn't have one around then and, as I was deep into school at that time, and could only worry about one new technology at a time. My new toy at that time was the WizzRSS news reader for Firefox. RSS stands for "Real Simple Syndication" and I think it is one of the most amazing things about the Internet of late. Click on the "What is RSS?" button just to the left of this paragraph for more information about RSS and why it can actually save you time when checking out your favorite sites.

Anyway, in May of this year, I read a message in a television group I belong to mentioning in passing that the people that had been on-air on the old "The Screen Savers" show had started a podcast discussing computers and technology. Wanting to avoid actual studying for exams, I went over to the site not expecting to actually listen to anything since I didn't have an iPod. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could listen right on my computer, no iPod required.

Of course, that set me on a search to find out what else was out there, using my old stand-by search term "comic books." The first thing I noticed was that there were a bunch of sites that collected the various podcasts available such as; Podcast Alley (which appeared to be the most important because it allowed listeners to vote for their favorite podcasts); Podfeeder; and None of these sites appeared to have much proprietary content, though appears to be the only place Adam Curry's podcast may be found. (After listening to some podcasts, I get the feeling that Adam Curry is the father of podcasting; Curry himself presents a history of podcasting here.

WizzRSS allowed me to subscribe to podcasts, so I subscribed to as many as I thought would be interesting. The Screen Savers podcast was soon renamed "This Week in Tech" or "TWiT" at the "request" of Comcast, the corporation that bought TechTV. Others I listen to regularly are "Comic Geek Speak," which features a bunch of comic fans in Philadelphia, I believe, having the same discussions comic book fans have had since 1939; "Collected Comics Library," where the host discusses and describes paperback and hardcover comic book collections; Ron Moore's commentary, which he records at home with all the coughing and door closings intact, for each episode of the new Battlestar Galactica"; "Comicolgy," the first comics related podcast, I believe, and one that focuses a lot on the independents; I Read Comics," the only female voice podcasting about comics that I know about; "Look at His Butt" (which isn't the gay porn it sounds like, but two female Star Trek fans who, among other things, extol the virtures of Shatner)." Two others, The Dawn and Drew Show"; and "The PK and J Show" each feature two couples talking to each other, being smart asses, and pointing out where the problems are in life.

In my opinon, the fun in these shows is that they aren't studio professionals. Even the professionals, the guys on TWiT, have sound troubles, "technical" problems like someone having hit the mute button on his mike, and have a cell phone go off. I've heard people stop broadcasts to answer the phone and it isn't a Comic Geek Speak show unless a dog starts barking. I've heard the host of Collected Comics talk as much about family illnesses and golf tournaments as I have heard him discuss the latest DC Archive. I've heard many a host, working by himself, complain about the content quality of the show as he records it.

To me, this is what made podcasting enjoyable. It wasn't slick, it wasn't packaged with the content predetermined and okayed by the corporate heads. Not since the early developemental days of radio, I think, when ham operators drove innovation, has there been a similar influx of non-professionals creating product.

Then came iTunes 4.9 a month or so ago. We had an iPod by this time, so upgrading was going to be a necessity, that this version was going to include podcasts a benefit. Then I looked at the podcast directory. Guess what? I didn't see many pointers for the "Tattoo Podcast," "a weekly half-hour show devoted to the world of tattooing and tattoos" or "A Klingon Word from the Word," thoughts "about the Scriptures, through the lens of the Klingon Language." I did see a lot of ads pushing Disney owned content from ESPN, ABC News, and Ebert and Roeper. The Al Franken Show was there, which I like, but it is a radio show, not a podcast. I can listen to Al Franken live over the Internet; I can record Al Franken's show off of the Internet to listen to at my leisure.

These aren't podcasts as I've learned to understand it. Apart from the fact that so much of the content on the front page of the podcast directory is nothing more than larger conventional shows chopped into easily digested five minute bites, there is little there that isn't corporate content of the type that Komisar is railing against in the quote at the top of this post. "Science Friday" is interesting and all, but is Ira Flatow a new voice? Is an eight minute interview with "Constantine from American Idol excised from a New York FM station going to be something that won't have its own version on an FM station in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Santa Fe?

If you are at all interested in listening to some of the interesting things being podcast, I suggest searching through Goggle for one of the podcast sites I mentioned previously. You can search through iTunes, but I don't like their search engine very much and some podcasts that I listen to aren't on iTunes yet. Look around the Website of the podcaster to see if you think you'd find the shows interesting. If so, then subscribe. A lot of podcasters want you to subscribe through iTunes, but I still use WizzRSS; subscribe how you want to, if you want to, but give the homebrewed podcasts a chance first before settling for CNN newsbriefs.

By the way, right after iTunes 4.9 was released, podcasting was discussed on "TWiT" and one of the people made a statement that podcasting was one of the communication methods whose spread was not driven by pornography. I thought about that at that time and I think he was right. Some shows, like southeastern Wisconsin's "Dawn and Drew," had mature contact, but discussion of sexual acts seen on Real Sex wasn't the reason the show was in existance. I just looked at iTunes list of its top podcasts. iTunes own "New Music Tuesday," has the most people downloading it, followed by "TWiT." Then at number three is "Open Source Sex." While I've nothing against filmed sexual encounters between adults where no one is hurt, I just think it is interesting that when the corporate-driven iTunes comes on-line enough people find and subsbribe to a "podcast radio show that is half explicit erotica, and half explicit sex instruction." The show's been around awhile, but it took iTunes to bring it out into the open. When will the cry "What about the children?" fill our ears over sex-filled podcasts as they are right now over "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas"? At least, it is a homebrewed podcast, so that counts for something.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Odds and Ends

Christopher Reeve Foundation

A little while back I bought a pair of Superman tags from the Christopher Reeve Foundation. The "proceeds" (I assume some amount less than the cost) go to the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation. The set cost just ten dollars and, believe me, I've spent more money on less worthy things.

When Christopher Reeve died last year, I admit that I was shocked. I was never a Christopher Reeve fan, though I did like him as Superman, even if only two of the movies were passable (and I don't care about any comic book fans who were crying after seeing footage from Superman Begins, I think there are going to be more things wrong with that movie than right). However, you had to admire his strength after his paralysis and I never doubted that he was going to walk again; if anyone was going to, it was going to be him. That he died the way he did, of a systemic infection, is really ironic since compared to someone like Terri Schiavo, Christopher Reeve was tap dancing in five shows a day.

Anyway, if you've the money, buy yourself a set of Superman tags. If nothing else, they are very clangy. By the way, if you go to the Christopher Reeve Website you'll find a page of people wearing their Superman tag. If you've been wondering what's happened to Joe Piscopo, scroll on down the page and you'll see a picture of the man, taking a break from his maitre d' job, to model his.

Fantastic Four movie

I'm not wanting to push a point, but the critically lambasted Fantastic Four came in third this past weekend for a total of over $118 million so far. Not that it matters, but for some reason I am very satisifed that a movie that the critics so disliked has been embraced by the public.

V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta is the next comic book based movie coming out. Like all the movies based on his work, Alan Moore has disavowed any association with the film, but the trailer looks pretty good, though I am worried that nervous studio heads in America may want to change the release date because of the recent bombings in London. At least one London based fan has given his opinion on the matter and says the film should be released as it was scheduled.

Lego Star Wars

Finally finished it and, good news, it looks like a sequel is on the way. At least that's the implication of the "secret level" that's unlocked after the whole game is completed. Since I don't have my computer connected to my television, I can't take a screen capture of the characters running around with their Frito Bandito mustaches. I did take one of the the demo when I ran it on my computer. Here's the gang from Episode I in a homage to the Three Stooges.

And here, we see Obi-Wan (on the left) on the road to becoming a great warrior.
(All images © the respective owners)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I just wanted to announce that, unlike every other blogger, I haven't finished the latest Harry Potter novel. I haven't started it and probably never will. However, I am now into the pile of books I bought in 2001. Used biography of P.T. Barnum, here I come.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

More on The Magnificent Ambersons

I think the magic of the movie begins immediately; it is within those first few minutes of the film that you will know if this is the movie for you. It opens slowly, a black screen upon which white letters appear. "A Mercury Production Supervised by Orson Welles." A slow fade into "The Magnificent Ambersons From The Novel by Booth Tarkington." Orson Welles begins his narration, presenting an abridged version of Booth Tarkington's prose. A few beats after the narration begins, slowly as if someone has begun handcranking a Victrola, the music for the first scene begins and the film's first image fades in.

In fairness, I think to call the first minutes of Ambersons "illustrated radio" is not far from the truth. (Some of the same "staging" Welles used earlier in the Mercury Company's radio production of Ambersons a recording of which is found here.) As the narrator, Welles's voice is seductive; he uses it to draw you into the story. His narration puts you at ease and before you know it, you have become receptive to watch a story about a spoiled youth who gets his comeuppance (though I ask you if that's really who and what the movie is really about).

Welles's voice could be booming, but that wasn't all. I think few of us appreciate the power of his voice anymore; a sample of it should be included with every dictionary definition of "plummy." If anyone recognizes it today it is because they remember Welles when he was the spokesman for Paul Masson wines: "What Paul Masson himself said nearly a century ago is true today. 'We will sell no wine before its time.'" (However, in the Ambersons radio performance, I don't think Welles's vocal work comes off at its best. He sounds like he is doing a "Henry Aldrich" imitation.)

Just as interesting as the movie is what happened to the film after Welles completed his cut. After the publicity he had received after his War of the Worlds broadcasat, Welles had gone to R.K.O. as the boy genius. His first movie under the three-picture contact was Citizen Kane and that making that picture had proven to be an uphill battle. Ambersons may not have been R.K.O.'s first choice, the studio probably would have wanted a film of War of the Worlds before an adaptation of a 1919 novel, Pulitzer Prize or not. While Welles was in South America to take location shots for a documentary, he was swept up by the Brazilain Carnival and Ambersons fell out of his control.

While he was away, R.K.O. ran two previews that went terribly bad. Looking to make money on this film, as opposed to the return on Kane, the studio cut forty-four minutes and reshot/restaged the ending without Welles's input. Welles desperately tried to get in touch with the studio, but the regime that had recruited Welles had been replaced and his pleas were ignored. The result was a movie that was nominated for Best Picture (Welles was two for two: The first two movies he'd produced/wrote/directed were nominated in consecutive years) and broke Welles's heart. Never again would he have the opportunity his R.K.O. contract had presented, Ambersons lost money and Welles's contract was ended. He would spend the rest of his life trying to make movies the honestly represented the vision he had for them, but would continually be forced to accommodate the wishes of executives or make changes because of his lack of funds.

The most cutting to Ambersons took place after the first hour. This site presents the changes to the original film. Though the first hour didn't go untouched, that hour probably presents best what Welles was trying to do. Actually, it is the little things that I think make that hour: the overlapping dialog and sound effect; the use of shadows, especially in the Amberson Mansion; the use of silence; the incredible tracking shot (which itself was cut) that follows George and Lucy as they walk through the mansion; the frosted breaths of the actors during a winter scene, filmed in an icehouse.

Personally, one of my favorite parts of Ambersons and Citizen Kane are the closing credits. Welles's theatricality is particularily evident in them, presenting curtain calls for his key crew members and his cast, leaving himself until almost the very end. The only closing credit affectation that I enjoy more was Universal's use of "A Good Cast is Worth Repeating" on its films in the 1930s.

There are movies a person likes that can't be explained, for me The Magnificent Ambersons is one of those movies. It is in black and white and slow compared to modern films, but for eighty-eight minutes, all that is left Welles's original work, give it a try. You could thank me later.

Ordinarily, I like to embed links in the text as I write, but there is so much out there, that it wasn't natural this time. Below is a list of links relating to The Magnificent Ambersons or Orson Welles.

General information about Orson Welles can be found here, while Wikipedia has a nicely compact biography of the man.
This link leads to a site devoted to the film itself, including a discussion of what has been lost along with production stills from those scenes.
Here is some information about the Mercury Theatre Company's radio show along with links to listen or to download most of the show's productions, including the War of the Worlds show and the company's radio version of Ambersons. A dramatization of Mercury's run-in with the federal government over the latter's desire to stop a WPA production was shown in the 1999 film, Cradle Will Rock, while a similar working of Welles's fight to make Citizen Kane may be found in RKO 281 (1999), itself based on an earlier PBS documentary, The Battle Over Citizen Kane. Information, including a transcript of the show, is available here, while this link leads to a site that provides information about where RKO 281 deviates from history.
It is well known that Welles would take almost any job by the seventies to keep the wolf from the door. Here is a copy of a recording session where Welles struggled to read the copy for a frozen pea commercial.
The text of Tarkington's novel is available for download from the Gutenberg Project.
Further discussion of the film may be found here, here, and here.

Essential Movie Viewing

On TCM' s series, "The Essentials," the movie being featured this week is Orson Welles's adaptation of Booth Tarkington's novel, The Magnificent Ambersons. It may been seen at 7:00 PM (CST) Saturday with a repeat at 5:00 PM Sunday.

I cannot say enough good things about this movie, though I will admit that it may take a viewing or two to recognize what you have just seen with regard to story and cinematography. It is actually one of those movies that would be better served by viewing in a theatre. (Well, in my opinion, all movies are better viewed in a theatre.) To truly appreciate Ambersons, I think you have to allow yourself to be pulled into the story and for that there must be no distractions; this is not a modern movie made for an audience used to sound bites, quick cuts, and seven minute acts before commercial.

I have some things to say about this movie, but time is running short. Go watch it and I'll post more on it later.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Emmy Awards

The Emmy Awards were announced last week. I wanted to comment on them then, but kept getting interrupted. The complete list can be found here, but below are some of the traditional and my thoughts. I'll openly admit that I don't have HBO or Showtime, but I still think I can comment knowledgeably.

One of the things that I've found interesting has been comments like this one and this one, that Desperate Housewives shouldn't have been nominated in the "comedy" categories. While I will admit that Housewives is a black comedy, how is there is debate over its inclusion in the "comedy" categories, while the inclusion of Monk is never questioned. To me, Monk is another in a long line of "detective with an impairment" shows so popular in the seventies, like Longstreet (blind), Cannon (fat), Barnaby Jones (old), or Columbo (disheveled). Unless Monk's OCD brought on by the murder of his wife is inherently comic fodder, Monk is a drama, though not melodramatic. Hoever, except for maybe 24, no drama is strictly a straight drama any more; even the new Battlestar Galactica, unrelenting serious, allowed itself a slightly lighter episode last season; the comedic bits in Monk are just what an audience expects to see in a drama these days. If Monk which deals with murder and mental disability in every episode is a comedy, then I think there is no reason that the black comedy taking place at Wisteria Lane allows that show to be nominated in the comedy categories. Maybe the division into "comedy" and "drama" needs to be removed and the categories reordered into "Outstanding Series (Sixty Minutes or Longer)" and "Outstanding Series (Thirty Minutes or Less)."

Outstanding Directing For A Comedy Series
Desperate Housewives • Pilot • ABC
Directed by Charles McDougall

Entourage • Pilot • HBO
Directed by David Frankel

Everybody Loves Raymond • Finale • CBS
Directed by Gary Halvorson

Monk • Mr. Monk Takes His Medicine • USA

Directed by Randy Zisk

Will & Grace • It’s A Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad World • NBC

Directed by James Burrows

The first question should be "Where are any nominations for any director of Scrubs?" The next should be "If Desperate Housewives is a comedy, why isn't Gilmore Girls in the same category. Looking at the list. James Burrows is out as is David Frankel; Burrows has enough Emmys on his shelf for classic shows like Taxi and The Mary Tyer Moore Show and Entourage's buzz hasn't made it to the voters level yet, so that eliminates Frankel. Gary Halverson could win if this becomes a farewell to Raymond event, but for all the acclaim that sho has received, it never felt like an All in the Family or a M*A*S*H, that is the kind of show the Academy would thank for being on television in the first place. That leaves the two non-comedies and I think the Emmy may go to Randy Zisk just because of the controversy over the Housewives nomination placement.

Outstanding Directing For A Drama Series
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation • Grave Danger • CBS
Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Deadwood • Complications • HBO
Directed by Gregg Fienberg

Grey’s Anatomy • A Hard Days Night • ABC
Directed by Peter Horton

Huff • Crazy, Nuts And All Messed Up • Showtime
Directed by Scott Winant

Lost • Pilot (Part 1 & Part 2) • ABC
Directed by J.J. Abrams

Rescue Me • Pilot • FX
Directed by Peter Tolan

The West Wing • 2162 Votes • NBC
Directed by Alex Graves

And here I thought nominations are limited to five per category. The first question to ask is "Why wasn't Joss Whedon ever nominated in this category?" Anyway, any West Wing nominations are like voting for Nader, so forget him. People could vote for Peter Horton to see how much he changed since Thirtysomething, but not enough for a win. "Huff" may remind too many people of past indiscretions, so any nominations for that show are pointless. Tarantino is Tarantino, but that doesn't mean his name earns him an award unless he is nominated for a television show he created and produced. Peter Tolan is out, too. The pilot for Lost did a great job of setting up the series; if you think about it, those two episodes made the show what it is for if people weren't pulled in by the set up, they sure weren't going to return for the rest of the series. On the other hand, people love Deadwood, even if its language wouldn't play in an AMC theatre, let alone on network television. Give it to the director of Deadwood, since Lost is going to win the bigger prize for Outstanding Drama.

Outstanding Directing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Program
77th Annual Academy Awards • ABC
Directed by Louis J. Horvitz

Da Ali G Show • Rekognize • HBO
Directed by James Bobin

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart • #9010 • Comedy Central
Directed by Chuck O’Neil

The Games Of The XXVIII Olympiad - Opening Ceremony• NBC
Directed by Bucky Gunts

Late Show With David Letterman • #2269 • CBS
Directed by Jerry Foley

There really needs to be a reorganization of the Emmy catagories. I don't think that when they were drawn up, the drafters wanted the Olympics to be thought of as a variety show. Since this generation's Smothers Brothers or Carol Burnett don't have shows, give the Emmy to the Academy Awards.

Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series
Arrested Development • Sad Sack • FOX
Written by Barbie Adler

Arrested Development • Sword Of Destiny • FOX
Written by Brad Copeland

Arrested Development • The Righteous Brothers • FOX
Written by Mitchell Hurwitz, Jim Valley

Desperate Housewives • Pilot • ABC
Written by Marc Cherry

Everybody Loves Raymond • Finale • CBS
Written by Philip Rosenthal, et al.

Housewives does stick out compared to the other shows with a "truer" comedy-for-television format. Raymond's finale was nice, but not Emmy worthy, unless the Academy wants to give the writing staff a "thank you" award. I'd say Arrested Development wins, but I can't tell you which unless/until I get my screener DVD,

Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series
House • Three Stories • FOX
Written by David Shore

Lost • Pilot • ABC
Written by J.J. Abrams, et al.

Lost • Walkabout • ABC
Written by David Fury

Rescue Me • Pilot • FX
Written by Peter Tolan, Denis Leary

The Wire • Middle Ground • HBO
Written by George Pelecanos, et al.

The first question to ask is "Why wasn't David Fury, along with Joss Whedon, nominated for writing Buffy or Angel back in the day?" Let's say Fury gets his award for the episode of Lost where we first learn about John Locke and how he ended up on the ill-fated Oceanic Airlines flight 815.

Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Program
Da Ali G Show • HBO
Written by Sacha Baron Cohen, et al.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart • Comedy Central
Written by David Javerbaum, et al.

Late Night With Conan O’Brien • NBC
Written by Mike Sweeney, et al.

Late Show With David Letterman • CBS
Written by Eric Stangel,, et al.

Real Time With Bill Maher • HBO
Written by Billy Martin, et al.

The safe bet is The Daily Show, but in this non-election year don't write off Letterman and Late Night.

Outstanding Main Title Theme Music
Desperate Housewives • ABC
Main Title Theme by Danny Elfman

Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends • Cartoon Network
Main Title Theme & Music by James L. Venable

Huff • Showtime
Main Title Theme by W.G. “Snuffy” Walden

Justice League Unlimited • Cartoon Network
Main Title Theme by Michael McCuistion

Stargate Atlantis • SCI FI
Main Title Theme & Music by Joel Goldsmith

The really don't write themes like they used for many reasons. To run a theme with opening credits takes away from a show's original content, but before that someone at one of the networks felt that to have opening credits gave a signal to viewers to change the channel. That was the season when credits were started to run with the show opening. I like a good theme myself and there have been a lot from The Dick Van Dyke Show to Maverick to The Wild, Wild West to Room 222 to St. Elsewhere and Greatest American Hero. My heart would pick Justice League because it is the Justice League, but the Emmy will probably go to Danny Elfman for Housewives,

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Arrested Development • FOX
Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth

Everybody Loves Raymond • CBS
Ray Romano as Ray Barone

Monk • USA
Tony Shalhoub as Adrian Monk

Scrubs • NBC
Zach Braff as John “J.D.” Dorian

Will & Grace • NBC
Eric McCormack as Will Truman

Kelsey Grammar won this last year, probably as a "thank you" for his decades as Fraiser Crane; I don't think Ray Romano is in the same league. Eric McCormack is a place filler and Zach Braff is there because Grammar isn't. Braff could win, but it'll probably be Tony Shalhoub.

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series
Boston Legal • ABC
James Spader as Alan Shore

Deadwood • HBO
Ian McShane as Al Swearengen

House • FOX
Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House

Huff • Showtime
Hank Azaria as Dr. Craig “Huff” Huffstodt

24 • FOX
Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer

Freaking James Spader won this last year because he deserved it; the character he played was an amoral person with a decent heart and Spader nailed it. You just never knew which way his character was going to go. This year, however, Spader's Alan Shore was suffering from typical David Kelley and the character was becoming a caricature of a naughty fraternity boy. That, and ABC setting Legal aside for Grey's Anatomy, probably mean there'll be no Emmy for Spader this year. Kiefer Sutherland really only has one emotion as Jack Bauer, intensity, and Kiefer does it well, but that hasn't been enough in years past and it won't be this year, either. Hank Azaria has a better chance at winning an Emmy for his work as Moe. Hugh Laurie's role is the kind that does win awards, and with House becoming a huge hit, more people are seeing the his work. However, I think it is going to be Ian McShane. Deadwood be too profane and violent a Western for ordinary voters as a whole, but that doesn't mean that the work of an individual won't be recognized.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Desperate Housewives • ABC
Marcia Cross as Bree Van De Camp

Desperate Housewives • ABC
Teri Hatcher as Susan Mayer

Desperate Housewives • ABC
Felicity Huffman as Lynette Scavo

Everybody Loves Raymond • CBS
Patricia Heaton as Debra Barone

Malcolm In The Middle • FOX
Jane Kaczmarek as Lois

Jane Kaczmarek is probably kicking herself. Well, she would if her artifical hips would let her, but that's beside the point. At one time, she was on the funniest new show on television; now FOX has relegated it to the 6:00 P.M. (Central) Sunday death slot. Her chance for an Emmy has come and gone. Let's see if Terri Hatcher is still as humble as she was at the Golden Globes and pick her to win.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Dramatic Series
Alias • ABC
Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit • NBC
Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson

Medium • NBC
Patricia Arquette as Allison Dubois

The Shield • FX
Glenn Close as Capt. Monica Rawling

Six Feet Under • HBO
Frances Conroy as Ruth Fisher

Man, people hate Six Feet Under this year, so forget about Frances Conroy. Jennifer Garner is never going to win for Alias nor, I think, will Mariska Hargitay. Television loves slumming movie stars, but I think Patricia Arquette will be a surprise winner.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Arrested Development • FOX
Jeffrey Tambor as George Bluth Sr.

Entourage • HBO
Jeremy Piven as Ari Jacobs

Everybody Loves Raymond • CBS
Peter Boyle as Frank Barone

Everybody Loves Raymond • CBS
Brad Garrett as Robert Barone

Will & Grace • NBC
Sean Hayes as Jack McFarland

Just give the damn thing to Peter Boyle. He's the only one on the Raymond not to win an Emmy for the show and, besides, Frank Barone wears "stretchy" pants.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Boston Legal • ABC
William Shatner as Denny Crane

Huff • Showtime
Oliver Platt as Russell Tupper

Lost • ABC
Naveen Andrews as Sayid

Lost • ABC
Terry O’Quinn as John Locke

The West Wing • NBC
Alan Alda as Senator Arnold Vinick

Last year he won it for a lifetime of memorable parts, now it's time for Shatner to win it because he really can act when he wants to.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Arrested Development • FOX
Jessica Walter as Lucille Bluth

Everybody Loves Raymond • CBS
Doris Roberts as Marie Barone

Two And A Half Men • CBS
Holland Taylor as Evelyn Harper

Two And A Half Men • CBS
Conchata Ferrell as Berta

Will & Grace • NBC
Megan Mullally as Karen Walker

Jessica Walter, Doris Roberts, Holland Taylor, and Megan Mullally have their Emmys. In my world, I'd give it to Conchata Ferrell just for being in Hot l Baltimore all those years ago. However, it'll be Walter for going balls to the wall with a character far removed from her "Amy Prentiss" character that earned her her first Emmy thirty years ago.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Grey’s Anatomy • ABC
Sandra Oh as Cristina

Huff • Showtime
Blythe Danner as Izzy Huffstodt

Judging Amy • CBS
Tyne Daly as Maxine Gray

The Shield • FX
CCH Pounder as Det. Claudette Wyms

The West Wing • NBC
Stockard Channing as Abigail Bartlet

Man, a lot of people were nominated for Huff considering no one ever talks or writes about the show. This is actually a pretty tough category. Sandra Oh could win for being the new kid, but Stockard Channing has been ignored for years. Let her win be the last hurrah of the Bartlet Administration.

Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
Jon Stewart, Host

The Tonight Show With Jay Leno • NBC
Jay Leno, Host

58th Annual Tony Awards (2004) • CBS
Hugh Jackman, Host

Tracey Ullman Live & Exposed • HBO
Tracey Ullman, Performer

Whoopi Back To Broadway - The 20th Anniversary • HBO
Whoopi Goldberg, Performer

I have to admit, Leno can knock 'em dead with a song. In my opinon, to nominate him and Stewart in this category is contrary to its purpose. I'd give it to Hugh Jackman, who really did perform as well as host, but wouldn't be surprised it Tracey Ullman wan.

Outstanding Animated Program (for Programming Less Than One Hour)
Family Guy • North By North Quahog • FOX

Samurai Jack • Episode XLIX • Cartoon Network

The Simpsons • Future Drama • FOX

South Park • Best Friends Forever

SpongeBob SquarePants • Fear Of A Krabby Patty/Shell Of A Man • Nickelodeon

You know, this is like asking do you like snow on Christmas Eve night or Christmas morning. I'd choose Homer and friends because The Simpsons can't win enough Emmys, however, if Family Guy won it would truly vindicate its return despite FOX mishandling the show the first time and negative commentary by others. All that said, watch Spongebob walk away with it.

Outstanding Animated Program (for Programming One Hour or More)
Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real • Animal Planet

Star Wars Clone Wars Vol. 2 (Chapters 21-25) • Cartoon Network

Nothing grates me more than cable networks that don't program to their name. SCI FI, for instance, pushing horror shows or Animal Planet straying into fantasy and delivering a fantasy show about dragons. That Dragons wasn't on SCI FI just shows me how much network executives just don't understand thier brands. Anyway, the Emmy will go the Clone Wars. (I realize that Clone Wars shoulod in theory be on SCI FI, but because it was animated, I'll let it pass.)

Outstanding Comedy Series
Arrested Development • FOX

Desperate Housewives • ABC

Everybody Loves Raymond • CBS

Scrubs • NBC

Will & Grace • NBC

Arrested Development won last year over Curb Your Enthusiasm, but I don't think it can beat the Wives.

Outstanding Drama Series
Deadwood • HBO

Lost • ABC

Six Feet Under • HBO

24 • FOX

The West Wing • NBC

This really is a battle between Lost and Deadwood; 24 is a damn tense show, but the politics underlying it probably rubs the more liberal voters the wrong way. Wing is a pity nomination and Six Feet Under is an anamoly. At this point, you should ask yourself why Buffy was never nominated, yet those two shows were. Deadwood just doesn't appeal to a wide audience, no matter how good a show it is. ABC goes two for two with a win for Lost.

Outstanding Miniseries
Elvis • CBS

Empire Falls • HBO

The 4400

The Lost Prince (Masterpiece Theatre) • PBS

Elvis, despite good ratings, never seemed to catch fire nor did the next two. British class wins again.

Outstanding Made for Television Movie
Lackawanna Blues • HBO

The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers

The Office Special

Warm Springs • HBO

The Wool Cap • TNT

My knee jerk response was to declare Lackawanna the winner, then I thought about and win for The Office is a possiblity. The Academy has never had a chance to nominate the original series and to choose the special would be a way to give an award to Ricky Gervais for his work.

Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series
Da Ali G Show • HBO

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Comedy Central

Late Night With Conan O’Brien • NBC

Late Show With David Letterman • CBS

Real Time With Bill Maher • HBO

When in doubt, vote for Dave.

Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special
77th Annual Academy Awards • ABC

Dave Chappelle: For What It’s Worth • Showtime

Everybody Loves Raymond - The Last Laugh • CBS

The Games Of The XXVIII Olympiad - Opening Ceremony• NBC

58th Annual Tony Awards (2004) • CBS

When this award was created, people like Frank Sinatra, Carol Burnett & Julie Andrews, and Fred Astaire were giving television audiences honest "spectaculars." I just don't think Raymond clip show counts. However, though it kills me to do so, I say that the opening ceremony of the Olympics will win.

Outstanding Nonfiction Special
Beyond The Da Vinci Code • The History Channel

Cary Grant: A Class Apart • TCM

Inside The Actors Studio: 10th Anniversary Special •

Live From New York: The First Five Years Of Saturday Night Live • NBC

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise And Fall Of Jack Johnson • PBS

Remember what I said about clip shows? The same goes for non-fiction shows, too. I love historical documentaries and one of my favorite times for television is the winter when PBS runs The American Experience, a show that should have been nominated for best non-fiction series. Unforgivable Blackness ran as an episode of that series; why that makes the episode a "special," I don't understand, but it will win in this category.

Outstanding Nonfiction Series
Biography • A&E

Broadway: The American Musical • PBS

Cold Case Files • A&E

Dinner For Five • IFC

Inside The Actors Studio • Bravo

Let me get this straight: A single episode of an antholgy documentary series is a "special," but a mini-series on the American Musical is a series. O.k. Broadway will win and it should, as it presented an informative history of the musical and did not rely only on old Tony broadcasts. As Harlan Ellison wrote, there are only five wholly American art forms: the musical comedy, the detective novel, the banjo, jazz, and the comic book; as such, they can never be explored enough because you see the growth of the nation in the groth of the art form. (Well, maybe not the banjo, no matter what George Seigel and Steve Martin would have us believe.) However, if Dinner For Five won, that would be great. As someone wrote in Entertainment Weekly, Dinner For Five is the kind of dinner party you always wanted to give, but never had interesting enough friends. As a personal aside, I'd just like to state "Damn you, again, Time Warner of Milwaukee for moving IFC up a tier. I'm not made of money. Damn you!! I want to watch Dinner For Five again!"

Outstanding Reality Program
Antiques Roadshow • PBS

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition • ABC

Penn & Teller: Bullshit! • Showtime

Project Greenlight • Bravo

Queer Eye For The Straight Guy • Bravo

Crying, deserving families given new homes trumps everything else.

Outstanding Reality-Competition Program
The Amazing Race • CBS

American Idol • FOX

The Apprentice • NBC

Project Runway • Bravo

Survivor • CBS

I watch none of these, but I know The Amazing Race is the only show nominated that matters.

We'll see how I did come Sept. 18 on CBS.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Tim Burton is a freaking crap shoot for me. For every Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Edward Scissorhands, or Sleepy Hollow hr directs, we get a Planet of the Apes, Mars Attacks!, or Batman Returns. For me, Burton does his best work on his own projects, his stylized, Charles Addams/Edward Gorey view of the world isn’t always the best match to adapting a pre-existing work.

Going to Charlie, I’ll admit that there was some trepidation waiting for Burton to drop his other shoe on the story. Would Veruca be a goth now, for instance? Maybe because the Dahl story is a tale of comeuppance in the first place, the movie Burton gave us is not very different from the Gene Wilder version. In turn, that must mean the ’71 version is not that different from Roald Dahl’s novel despite what detractors of 1971 version have stated; Burton has gone on record that this version hews closer to the novel.

Considering that Charlie had an actual budget compared to the first movie and had a director who didn’t make his name directing documentaries, there is very little new in Charlie. We do get to see Charlie’s father, killed off in the ’71 version, probably because the sub-text was that the Bucket family would only be so poor if there were no father to provide for them. We also get to see the final fate of the other children, shown in the book, but never discussed in the movie. Best of all, no one is trying to pass off England as the United States, something that always bothered me in the original.

Yet, the new version pales beside the original in a few areas. For instance, there is never the sense of pandemonium over the tickets in Charlie. I was ten when Willie Wonka was released, but even I saw that the media was driving the story in many ways. In the twenty-four hour world we live in, one would think that Burton and screenwriter John August would have seen the potential for satire in the ticket watch, but that is never touched upon. In fact, there is never even any building tension as the tickets are found.

Similarly, we never get the feeling that Charlie deserves his ultimate reward. Yes, he is a good kid and, yes, his life is bad, but there is nothing special about Charlie. In the original version, you felt sadder for Charlie and while making models out of malformed toothpaste tops is pitiful, I still didn’t get the feeling that Charlie deserves his reward. I think it says something that the movie that which actually has Charlie’s name in the title ends up being less about him than the one without his name.

In the end, everything about a Wille Wonka movie falls upon the shoulders of the person playing Wonka. It is with Wonka that the hand of Burton is most evident with an honestly illogical explanation for the candy maker is added to the story. Assuming that an explanation is even required, it is hard to believe that the actions of Wonka’s father could lead to the out of touch character Johnny Depp presents. In fact, the explanation leads to even more questions such as: How did the out-of-phase-with-reality Wonka ever have the wherewithal to create a candy empire, let alone meet a payroll or why does Wonka hang up on the word “parents” when we never saw any evidence of his mother inflecting psyche pain on him like his father?

The truth is, as I see it, the critics didn’t go ga-ga over Charlie because it is anything special, but because it starred Johnny Depp. Had this been a remake of Willie Wonka, songs included and starring Kevin Kline, I doubt we would have seen the same gushing for this movie; probably the complaints would have been that Hollywood has no new ideas. Depp’s Wonka is interesting, but it isn’t the character from the book; it is “a” Wonka rather than “the” Wonka.

Though I am loath to compare characterizations, with Gene Wilder’s version you always saw madness and cynicism and sadness in his eyes, the look of a genius. There was a sense of danger to Wilder’s Wonka, singing little songs to himself as his boat speeds out of control. When he sang “Pure Imagination,” you felt the love for the world he’d created after he closed himself off from the outside. When he described the plight of the Oompa-Loompas, you felt that he truly cared and wanted to protect them. When he told Charlie he wasn’t getting any younger you felt sad because the world was going to lose someone special.

Depp’s Wonka has none of those traits. He is more the boy let out of the plastic bubble than a possible danger. His speech about getting older is lessened because Wonka comes off as more self-centered than concerned about what would happen to the Oompa-Loompas or the magic of his world when he passes. In the end, Depp presents us with a bundle of affectations, but no real character. His Wonka might have been interesting had it actually resembled the personality of the character from the book or if it could actually be the result of the backstory we were shown. As it is, it is an entity unto itself and out of place. What needs to be done is for the art direction and the entire Bucket family of this new version to be digitally inserted into the original version, thereby retaining the best aspects of both films.

As an aside, though Charlie made a ton of money this weekend, it looks as though it will pull in less than FF did a week ago and Fantastic Four is estimated to have broken the hundred million dollar threshold this past weekend. I’m not saying anything, but when Charlie ended there were no applause. Sometimes, the audience does know best.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

VCR Alert

(I could have written "TiVo Alert." but if you are in the cult of TiVo, I have little time for you.)

This Friday morning, Turner Classic Movies is running a mini-marathon of the movies of director William Dieterle (all times Central):

5:00 A.M. A Midsummer's Night Dream (1935)
7:30 A.M. The Story Of Louis Pasteur (1935)
9:00 A.M. The Life Of Emile Zola (1936)
11:00 A.M. Juarez (1939)
1:15 P.M. Doctor Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940)
3:15 P.M. Kismet (1944)
5:30 P.M. Portrait of Jennie (1948)

Of this batch, I'd recommend catching Pasteur, Zola, and Doctor Ehrlich, but these are movies of a genre that I like, the underdog dismissed by the general population and only the protagonist's faith in his cause keeps him going. Pasteur's topic should be obvious and Paul Muni won the Best Actor Oscar that year for his portrayal. Zola deals with Emile Zola's charges against the French government (presented in his J'accuse) that it had falsely convicted Alfred Dreyfus, an officer in the French Army, of spying, sending Dreyfus to Devil's Island. Muni was nominated for Best Actor for this role, too, losing to Spencer Tracy for Captains Courageous. In Doctor Ehrlich, we are shown Ehrlich's struggle to find a cure for syphilis. It may not sound exciting, but it is never really slow. If nothing else, watch it for how the characters talk around the topic, especially its transmission.

A Midsummer's Night Dream is interesting for a few reasons. You get to see James Cagney performing Shakespeare, for instance, and Mickey Rooney, who would, in my opinion, evolve into a very annoying personality, uses that personality to create effect as "Puck," the reason and/or the tool for most of the problems. I think Dieterle's background as a German is best seen in this movie. Though the sets are full, there is still an Impressionistic look to the film. It isn't as stark as in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, as these pictures from Caligari show, but it is related to the same creative gene pool that gave us M.

Dieterle isn't a director that I think of as an important one, in fact, I originally thought that TCM was running a Paul Muni mini-marathon since the first films feature him. It was only when I looked at the schedule that I saw the focus must be on Dieterle. A quick Internet search shows that Dieterle's directorial career in Hollywood had an interesting start: He was hired to direct German versions of American films, but soon was allowed to direct original works.

The movies being shown, or at least the ones, I'm recommending are of the group, "The Kind They Don't Make Anymore." Mostly historical dramas, unlike those made today, they weren't made under the magnifying glass of countless self-appointed groups with historical accuracy in films their purpose. I think that this is where I differ from most people today, maybe most people always. Just because I'm told a movie is a biography, I don't necessarily accept it as such; as far as I'm concerned, it is a fictional story. However, if I find the topic interesting enough, I'll go find books on the subject to give me a more complete picture.

Why some people expect movies to present historically accurate accounts eludes me. Any time they are on, I could watch Yankee Doodle Dandy or Words and Music and enjoy them. Never in a million years would I expect either of these to present the full story and in both cases I read up on the protagonists, George M. Cohan in the first case, Rodgers and Hart in the second.

I truly believe that this ongoing desire for complete stories in movies is a remnant of the distrust foster during Watergate. Finding errors and half-truths in movies has moved from the realm of the geek to that of the self-important. Did pointing out that Ray wasn't a complete match for the life Ray Charles lived detract from what he did or the power of the movie? Does hinting that there are aspects less than perfect to Jim Braddock in Cinderella Man mean that the movie shouldn't be enjoyed for itself and judged on its own merits as a movie? I get the feeling that that is the implication.

Monday, July 11, 2005

My Fantastic Four thoughts

So, the Fantastic Four. This is where having been around comic books for literally every moment that I can remember becomes an anchor: It is very difficult to talk about the film and not think of the comic book. However, I came of age when the Super Friends and Captain Marvel (or as you probably better know the character, Shazam!) were being first run on Saturday morning; unlike what appears to be most of my comic-reading brethren, see, e.g., the comments at Ain’t It Cool News, I am more than willing to accept variations from the comic.

Even though many comic fans think comic books are nothing more than ready-made storyboards, the truth is that they are different and that there has to be some changes for the story to translate better for the screen. Do I want there to be changes? Given a choice, I’d say, “No,” mainly because the changes aren’t made in a valid attempt to explain some an otherwise illogical convention of a series (such as Spider-Man’s web-shooters being a part of him rather than an invention of Peter Parker), but rather made because someone is embarrassed by some aspect (such as Bryan Singer refusing to have the X-Men dress in their traditional, more “super heroey” costumes in favor of the black leather Matrix look). My hope is always that the changes are minimal and those things inherently important to the comic book do move to the screen, allowing a broader audience to see why a comic book is deserving of a movie. Very few comic book movies succeed in doing that. Until Sin City, where Robert Rodreiquez literally made live-action recreations of scenes from the movie (if you check out the previous link, click on “behind the scenes” and you’ll see what I mean), only The Rocketeer, in my opinion, was the only comic book truly transformed into a movie and even that film took liberties from the original source, thought that had to have been because of licensing issues over the use of Doc Savage.

The only honest way to look at Fantastic Four is to divorce myself from all that I know of the comic. Difficult, but possible, I think.

The honest-to-God truth is that this isn’t a bad movie. It is an average movie made on a moderate budget with a B-list cast. I knew that this was not going to be the movie to open on the Fourth of July weekend, as it was originally scheduled, because the turnaround was too fast: An effects heavy movie, to generate summer excitement, I think needs a year of post-production to do the effects justice. FF wrapped principle filming just before Christmas 2004 and reshoots ended in April. With that schedule, I think it is safe to say that FF could never be this year’s Spider-Man.

(As an aside, I am also very forgiving of effects work, especially after growing up watching Star Trek (the original). Unlike, I think, 99.98 % of the human population, when I read a book or watch a movie, I am always aware that I am doing those things; I never am swept into the world I am reading or watching. For me, effects are only crude approximations of the fantastic and suspension of disbelief is required. No one is more fat and passive than I am when it comes to entertainment, but using your imagination to fill in the shaky bits is not necessarily a bad thing. It is evocative of the laziness and cynicism of the modern audience that any little defect makes the whole movie unpalatable. If a story and dialogue are good enough, I am willing to ignore a green-screen superimposition line around an actor.)

Within the parameters of what the people making the movie were given with regard to money and material, this is a fun movie. No new ground was broken; as presented in the movie Dr. Doom is derivative of Norman Osborn in Spider-Man; but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy myself. There are continuity holes, but, in my opinion in recent memory, only The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense don’t overtly suffer that problem; most movies do. In the end, though, at its core, FF is just an old-fashioned adventure movie and on that level, it succeeds.

Too much has been made of its director, Tim Story, having a background of directing only comedy films, but I think he handled the dramatic and comedic aspects fine. Probably because he has worked in ensemble comedy films, like Barbershop, Story showed an ability to bring out the long-standing connections between the four main characters whereas a director known for action films might not have been as been capable. Like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four may have super powers, but they still are human and the movie should be credited for allowing the bickering and care between them that has always been present in the comic book to be present on the screen.

The cast is fine. Ioan Gruffudd has been knocked around in the fan press for being too young, but I don’t agree; at thirty-one he feels just about the right age for the character. To slip into comic book fan mode for a moment, Reed Richards is the smartest human alive in the Marvel Universe. He whipped through graduate school at an early age and by thirty-one he would have had time to amass the fortune that funds the FF, the fortune that the cinematic Reed has lost in the beginning of the movie. Jessica Alba has also been kicked around for what comes down to being too good looking to be a geneticist. In concept, I could understand that complaint if Alba’s Susan Storm were given Next Generation techno-babble to spout, but she wasn’t required to explain gene splicing, all she had to do was “hit her mark and tell the truth.” I think she did that.

I was leery of Michael Chiklis as the Thing not that he couldn’t play the part, but the fact that he played it in a suit. Well, screw the pictures and my perceptions there from. If everything worked properly, you can see that the movie Thing does resemble Jack Kirby's orignal version of the character.

It worked so much better than I thought it possible and Chiklis deserves credit for staying in the suit. In my opinion, the suit resembles the earliest look of the character. The breakout star from FF is going to be Chris Evans as Johnny Storm, the X-Games Generation’s super hero and every twelve-year-old boy's idol for coolness. The effect of the Human Torch was interesting, Johnny shown to be more of a man on fire rather than a man of fire. The pictures below show you what I mean. From the top down, the first is the first presentation of the Human Torch in 1939, the second is of the Torch from the movie, and the final shows a typical presentation of the character today, along with a more modern rendering of the Thing.

Most important of all, however, the audience enjoyed itself, breaking into applause when the movie ended. The last time I remember that happening was when I saw Saving Private Ryan; not that FF is that caliber of a movie, of course, but that the paying audience enjoyed themselves more than the paid critics really should carry more weight. A quick check of Box Office Mojo shows that the FF has made fifty-six million dollars so far. Assuming that the drop off next weekend is less than fifty percent, there is absolutely no reason that there shouldn’t be a sequel.

In fact, if I were to just consider the opinions of the critics, FF committed the unforgivable sin of coming out after The Incredibles, thus making FF appear inferiorly unoriginal. Personally, I think it is improper to make such comparisons because each movie should be reviewed as an individual work when it is released while comparisons should be left for genre reviews, such as the best super-hero movies ever. In that case, a FF to Incredibles discussion is appropriate, but I digress.

Now that that is taken care of, let the comic book fan in me step up. My biggest complaint is not giving the film audience a truer version of Dr. Doom. There is absolutely no reason to tie Doom’s antagonistic character into the event that creates the FF. There is also no reason to change Doom so to give him super powers. He could have stayed a brilliant man, Salieri to Reed’s Mozart. He could have continued to be the ruler of Latveria. Hell, he could have at least had an eastern European accent. However, all of that would have be forgotten if the movie had ended with a report of a monster bursting out of a Manhattan street and the final image of the movie would have been a recreation of the cover that began this post.

How would I have done a Fantastic Four movie? I would have kept the same cast and director, upped the budget, and increased the pre- and post-production time. I would have changed the story though into almost three discrete acts. In the first, I would have taken the FF’s adventure straight out of their first comic book. Just like in that comic, the audience would have had a mystery: Who were these four and how did they get these powers. The second act would have presented the team’s origin beginning with Reed and Ben meeting in college where they cross paths with Victor Von Doom and his story would be presented. Finally, the team would battle Dr. Doom.

Go see Fantastic Four. Trust me: If you see it at a matinee you won't be disappointed and may even find yourself wishing for more.

All images ™ and © the respective owners.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

I'll be seeing the Fantastic Four movie today

I'll let you know what I thought later on.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Just some quick thoughts

1. I just want to publicly welcome back Bottle Caps candy to broad availability. A hard candy, the shape and consistency of a SweetTarts, but formed to resemble a bottle cap. The come in the flavors of, in order of increasing palatability: cherry, grape, orange, cola, and root beer. I remember there being a lemon-lime flavor when I was kid.

I was big into Bottle Caps during my junior high school years, but sometime between tenth grade and last summer, they fell off of my radar. You'd find them occasionally in a big Halloween assortment bag, but never on a rack somewhere.

Sometime last year, I found them a dollar store; I figured Nestle was going to make them a down-scale brand. Then, this year, they appeared at Target and ShopKo for around eighty-nine cents. Another of my addictions renewed. All I could ask for now would be a box of just root beer flavored, just like in the old days.

2. I'll admit that I am not a fan of Japanese comic books. I normally find the art unappealing and that makes me not want to read the words. However, I'd been hearing nothing but good reviews about one titled "Iron Wok Jan," so I decided to try the first volume.

I'll be damned if it isn't a great comic book. In concept, it shouldn't work as a comic book: The story is about apprentice chefs, primarily the talented, egocentric Jan Akiyama, but it does. Jan is not a sympathetic character, yet I pull for him to win the many cooking contests he enters. This is a Japanese comic book that, except for translation into English, retains those aspects, right down to reading the pages from right to left, yet, I've learned a lot about Japanese cooking and culture.

It is not a cheap comic, each volume is about ten dollars, but worth the cost. There have been thirteen volumes in the U.S., so far, with more to come. You can get a taste of a typical story here. Be warned, it is in pdf format.

3. Not to beat a dead horse, but let me state again how much I love LEGO Star Wars.
  • How can you not like a game that lets you put mustaches on all the characters? If you don't think seeing Chewbacca or a clone trooper with a big, black mustache isn't funny, then we've nothing to talk about.
  • Yoda is a freaking dervish with a light saber. Hard to control, but a "mighty warrior."
  • More importantly, however, is how the game maintains the Jedi creed by requiring you to collect as many coins as possible, allowing you to buy other characters. Mercenary work and slavery, those are the ways of the Jedi.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

If nothing else, law school was worthwhile because the big two legal search companies allowed me to earn points each time I used their products that I could apply to free stuff. One of the items I chose was the LEGO Star Wars video game. This game is fantastic, true to the spirit and story of episodes I, II, and III while still allowing itself to be playful. Would that Star Wars fans themselves, the ones who expect the series to mature with them, the ones who don't seem to appreciate that children today should be allowed to enjoy Star Wars on their level as the fans did when they were children, could allow themselves and the films this same attitude.

In the game you are literally playing Lego characters. The designers of the game took the little Lego people you see with the toys and animated them in a Lego Star Wars universe. The ships are Lego, the plants are Lego, and when a character dies, it breaks apart into its individual block. Mace Windu, the character Samuel L. Jackson plays, is bald and his Lego character has the little round Lego connector smack in the middle of his head. This is Lego brought to life and incredibly fun, if not overly challenging. This is a kid's game that adults can enjoy. Hopefully, there will be a sequel that gives episodes IV, V, and VI the same treatment and maintains the same attitude of fun. If you have a high speed connection, the trailer can be downloaded from here. If you like that, a demo of the first level can be downloaded from here.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

This is the kind of stuff I mean when I say people are idiots. If you are like me (and if you aren't, why not), you can't help but hear the weekend movie numbers come Monday. In fact, I get to hear them around midnight when the host on WGN radio goes over the latest movie releases. For some reason, these numbers have become important to the American dialogue. I'm old enough to remember when how long a movie ran was what people discussed; when Star Wars was released in 1977, like a book on the New York Times bestsellers list, what was news was that it was in the first-run theatres for over a year.

Anyway, that was a poor introduction to something else that attracted my attention: Cinderella Man was not even listed in the top ten this week. That attracted my attention, so I went to Box Office Mojo and checked what all the movies in release last weekend made. What the hell! Cinderella Man came in eleventh?

What is wrong with you? Why haven't you gone to see this movie? I won't even get into the "What is wrong with the movies that the box office is down for the umpteenth week in a row" discussion, that isn't what this is about (though I think it is unfair to expect this summer's movies to make as much money overall as last summer's). This is about more people still paying to see The Longest Yard; this is about so many people seeing Mr. & Mrs. Smith that it finished in third this week. You all realize, I hope, that none of you have any chance of sleeping with Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, right?

On the Fourth of July weekend, instead of seeing a movie that shows the hardship this country's endured and survived (and thrived), that shows the American Dream used to be an achievable possibility, rather than a perceived entitlement. Has the representation of patriotism become just pretty people trying to kill each other? Has Bush's view of America so warped us that we can only have happy movies. Not that Cinderella Man is freaking Sophie's Choice, but it is a happy movie by the end, showing what a man will do to keep his family together and maintain his self-respect.

I don't want hear you complain in an English-major-dressed-in-black manner "that the big studios just keep bringing out the same kind of movie" and you are "bored with typical Hollywood movies." When a studio does bring out something that doesn't fit into the stereotype of a summer release, you all avoid it. I know I see more movies than the average person, and across all genres (when was the last time anyone of you watched Gabriel Over the White House?), but even I have to make choices and I know when faced with the choice, Cinderella Man was what I chose to see. All I know is that there is a something wrong somewhere when in Cinderella Man's second week of release, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D did better.

I enjoy a nice 'splosion movie with the best of them. I saw War of the Worlds last weekend, Batman Begins the weekend before, and I'll be at Fantastic 4 (would it kill them to spell the word out) this weekend, but once in a while, you need to have some fiber in your diet. Just go see Cinderella Man while you still have the chance.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

I guess the title of this come's off as argumentative and maybe it is -- What are you going to do about it?

Here's the meaning: I feel like a complete idiot all the time. In general, learning new things or doing just about anything is incredibly difficult for me and always has been. I basically peaked academically when I left the third grade and my report card showed that I'd also completed the sixth grade reading level. It has been downhill ever since.

Of late, things have improved thanks to television PSAs, testing, and medication, however, that does not remove the fact that for the bulk of my life I have felt like a complete idiot. During that same timespan, I always felt that since I'm an idiot, the little bit I know and understand can't be difficult, so why doesn't anyone else. As such, I, in general, have always been disappointed with people because most of them come off at least as idiotic as I am.

Now, if I know you and you are offended by that statement, get over it: If I have a personal relationship with you, I obviously think you aren't any more idiotic than I am. I don't need a person to know everything (that is the unreasonable expectations of voters during presidential candiates; I don't need a president with every answer at his fingertips, I just need a president who knows where to go for the answer), just know some things and be able to be logical about the rest. Or don't be a jerk. That makes up for a lot of sins.

There you go, the title explained. It isn't as bad as you thought, is it?