Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"You want the truth, you can't handle the truth!"

I was watching the Dixie Chicks documentary "Shut Up and Sing" and first of all, very good documentary that stirred some passions in me. I think it stirred some passions in me about the way that people can interfere with each other's right to free speech and I strongly feel that we need to allow our creative minds to be able to voice their opinions without fear of repercussions. While I admire the Dixie Chicks' resolve to not let things get to them, they still got to me. There's arguments on both sides of the story. One side of the argument is that just as people have a right to voice their opinions, other people have a right to chose whether or not to buy their records. What I don't think is right, however, is to interfere with other people's choice as to whether or not to buy the records or to actively mobilize opinions and to try to influence contingents of people to boycott a record. Especially through questionable means: The right wing plays on rudimentary mislogic to try to influence large droves of God-fearing people. They present the logic: Bush=A representative of a party that traditionally associates itself with God=The wishes of God, therefore The Dixie Chicks who oppose Bush=The Devil, therefore buying=The Dixie Chicks album. They spewed this stuff out to congregations and just influenced a lot of people, it's a disgusting hijacking of religion and yes, people can chose whether to listen to the Right Wingers, but there's a lot of grey area here, and the first ammendment is capable of underestimating the power of people to be manipulated by groups who proclaim they're doing things in the name of God. I would just like to live in a country where the right wingers who supposedly have a higher moral sense than anyone else, would stop pretending their politics are in the name of God and stop preying on innocent church going people. So good for the Dixie Chicks for winning the album of the year at the Grammys.

But anyway, one scene got me thinking. Where the head of a record company straight-up lied to the camera and to congress that he wasn't ordering people to stop playing stations. He just admitted it and he got caught up in his own logic. And you know what? People can't afford to admit that they're wrong when there are millions of dollars at stake.

That was one of the themes of a recent film I saw, Michael Clayton, which features two characters on parallel descents to madness. One character, played by Tom Wilkinson slowly descends into a breach of legal ethics as he realizes that a class action law suit he has been working on for 6 years, is ethically wrong and that he is helping a corporation do something that is morally reprehensible. At the same time, Tilda Swenson's character is slowly descending into a breach of ethics (as in killing people, lying to people, swindling innocent people out of their money) as she tries to preserve the legal ethics of her job.

My dad saw the film with me and commented that Tom Wilkinson wasn't aloud to do that. And I said "how"? He said, it's a violation of legal ethics to aid the other side and disclose information. Well, in my option, our existing legal system is one that was never ethical to begin with. The idea of two opposing people spinning the same situation into two different versions of the truth that they're supposed to belive in and defend to the best of their ability, is fundamentally wrong to me.

I know this is a sweeping statement but a lot of wrongs result from the fact that in our society, it's in people's job descriptions not to tell the truth. Companies cannot admit truths like "we messed up" when billions of dollars are at stake, politicians can't admit the truth and admit mistakes because too many constituents are at stake, and lawyers can't admit the truth because it's unethical.

by the way, I have no respect for Toby Keith anymore

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Michael Clayton as a piece of movie mismarketing

First of all, I saw Michael Clayton and it was a great film.

The poster for the film shows a picture of George Clooney and the film is named after his character. I personally don't believe this is a film centered around one person. Clooney might be the person with the most lines and screentime, but I saw it more as a film about a relationship between Clooney and Wilkinson. There relationship reminded me a little bit of Rain Man in that respect: a sane guy having to deal with a brilliant insane guy. Tilda Swenson and Sydney Pollack also play significant roles.

Lions for Lambs, for example, markets itself as "Cruise, Streep, Redford" and supposedly Tom Cruise is an egomaniac. Why couldn't this film have been "Clooney, Wilkinson, Pollack"?

I think the answer is that Clooney is just a humongous star right now (I personally have no problem with George Clike him, I think his star is just shining a bit too bright, in my opinion) and the best way to sell the film is to market it as a George Clooney vehicle.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I liked Daredevil, goddamnit!

I was just reading an article from a magazine about Ben Affleck's recent resurgence and it said something like "after failed films like Gigli, Daredevil, and Jersey Girl, Affleck's career is finally getting on track." I'd cite the magazine, but what's the use? Pretty much every publication has written an article about Ben Affleck and attempts to summarize his career in terms of hits and misses

The writer of the article is not making a comprehensive attempt to define the success of the three films in question but that's understandable because that's not his goal. The goal of discussing Daredevil is to succinctly provide backdrop to put the relative success of his Oscar buzz performance in Hollywoodland and directing debut and do it in half a sentence (9 words to be exact). The goal of the article for the reporter was to have access to Ben Affleck and in that respect, the reporter had to appease him. The only point of Ben Affleck to be there is to promote his new project, so an introspective look at past films gets relegated to a 9 word summary and although, I might have even been guilty of doing this myself, that's the lesson here: The inevitability that as time passes, all the years of work, crative energy and man hours that went into the film will come down to just one of two words: flop or success.

So were Jersey Girl, Daredevil, and Gigli "failures" and how do we define failure? Obviously, films are forms of art and it's incredibly hard to get a room full of film critics or even casual viewers of film to agree on anything. Generally a film director or whomever it is that was the primary mover behind getting the project green lighted and completed is usually happy to see their idea converted into a feature-length nationally distributed movie, no matter what.

However, criteria as to whether the film was successful usually ranges from critical respect, cultural impact (A film like Borat or Inconvenient Truth, for example, might have done more to impact culture, generate water cooler buzz of get people talking, than they might have had to do with anything else), whether audiences in general liked it (something like cinemascore might measure that), domestic box office grosses, international box office gross, potential for TV circulation, or maybe generation of a certain group of fans (for example, Kevin Smith usually has a fan-following that's loyal to him and gives him encouragement, even if he doesn't meet the above criteria).

On these levels, it's pretty hard to make an argument against Gigli being a failure in terms of critical respect. Only two out of over four-hundred critics gave the film a positive review (Byron Allen and Susan Grainger, if you want to google them and see how well-respected they are among other film critics at this point), and the film did get a lot of water cooler talk going but only in very negative ways. As to whether audiences liked the movie or not, most of them didn't get a chance to see the film since it was only playing for a single week.

For pretty much everything other than Gigli, it's somewhat of a gray line. So when looking at Daredevil, I personally liked it. It wasn't my favorite film of the year or anything, but I felt the characters fit the tone of the film pretty well and the casting was well-placed, I liked that the angle of a blind superhero was actually relevant to the real world (in that we do actually have blind people) as opposed to spiders, and I felt it lent itself to special effects, and lastly, I liked the interplay between Favreau and Affleck.

I could give you a percentage of critics, who liked Daredevil from rotten tomatoes, but that's not really saying much since it doesn't take into account the degree to which they liked or disliked it nor the time when they submitted the review (i.e. they could change their mind 2 years later). Besides, it's just a number and it's too often treated as the definitive number. Perhaps, though, we should settle on the fact that the film isn't a flop by the actual definition of the word. The film made over twice its money back before the end of its run in theaters, and that's not counting DVD sales, so at the very least, it's fair to say that even if it's for an introduction to the main clause of a sentence, calling Daredevil a flop is irresponsible, iffy, and offends fans of the film like myself.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Why we can't leave Brittney alone

That person YouTube who got some publicity a couple weeks ago for proclaiming that we should leave Brittney alone actually had a valid point despite the fact that he appeared overemotional about the subject.

Few people realize how inherently wrong it is to pick on celebrities, but the vast majority of celebrities the general American public does have the decency to leave alone. Others like Brittney, Lindsay, Clay Aiken, Christina Aguilerra, and recently Tom Cruise serve an important need in the entertainment industry: Material for talk show hosts' opening monologue jokes. Of course, there are the awkward occasions when one of these guests is actually on the show (rumor has it that J.Lo refuses to be on Conan O'Brien, for example) but it puts the talk show hosts in the good graces of the public as well as their other celebrity guests in the leave-their-private-lives-alone class who enjoy a good laugh as much as the next person.

You would think that these talk show monologues are a small part of a talk show and therefore insignificant, but keep in mind that this industry is expanding to include the likes of Best Week Ever, The Soup, Chelsea Handler, and the TV Guide Channel. I saw Chelsea Handler's show and while she's an admirable comedian, her list of people it's OK to make fun of consist of only five people. If Brittney were to suddenly live a noble, decent and healthy life, Chelsea Handler would lose 20% of her material! So, therefore it's in the interest of people like her to make sure Brittney keeps screwing up in life and to portray her that way

The tv schedule I've settled on"

Although it should be noted that I don't watch all of this stuff every week and that I usually watch it more the next morning on the internet because I'm busy at nights, but I do miss watching it on TV.
Monday: Chuck (NBC), Heroes (NBC), Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Wednesday: Pushing Daisies (ABC)
Thursday: 30 Rock (NBC), The Office (NBC), My Name is Earl (NBC), It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
Friday: Monk (USA), Psych (USA), Best Week Ever (VH1)
Saturday: Spike Fierstein (Fox)
Sunday: Sunday Morning Shootout (USA), American Dad (Fox), Family Guy (Fox),

Themes of Grand Hotel

I often think you can't really get a movie until you watch it twice. I watch pretty much everything twice. The first time, i might be dozing off or not fully paying attention which might be part of the reason, but I pretty much watch everything twice, whether I'm trying to analyze it or just watching it recreationally.

Today I rewatched Grand Hotel, but I've already seen it three times, at least. Grand Hotel is close to my favorite movie of all time. I can't stress how great I think it is. Notice I didn't say "I can't stress how great it is" because it's not really considered to be a great film by everyone. It isn't on either of AFI's lists of 100 top films (although it's on the nominated 400) and it isn't on many other lists either (Film Four, Entertainment Weekly, Premiere Magazine, the LA Times, New York Times, etc.). It did win a best picture Oscar for 1932 so it joins an elite group of about 80 films ever to be named the best picture of its year by the film industry, but as films of the 1930's go, it's still not one of the best remembered (films with a better shelf life from the 1930's include: Swing Time, Top Hat, Trouble in Paradise, Duck Soup, The Blue Angel, It Happened One Night, The Awful Truth, Dodsworth, Mutiny on the Bounty, All Quiet on the Western Front, and pretty much every major picture that came out in 1939).

I've also heard criticism that it's not that special of a film, but I really thought it was truly one of the greats, and by clicking on the grand hotel label you can read my review of it.

Some other thoughts after rewatching it this morning on TCM:
-The film being made in the great depression, I started noticing the theme that monetary value permeates everything in life more. For example, Kringeline was upset with his room because it didn't cost enough and not because it wasn't a room of good enough quality. Doesn't that seem a little twisted? He also talks about how his goal was to spend all his money and seemed to have infinite amounts of it. Even if i was going to die soon, I wouldn't want to waste my money frivolously.

Mrs. Phlegm also was noticeably unable to live without money, not only in the symbolic but in the literal sense. She was, at first, unable to accept a date from the Baron because she didn't eat more than one meal a day. That's gotta be tough.

In this light, the Kringeline-Phlegm pairing has a complimentary nature to it: Someone with an urge to gives away his money vs someone with the most noblest of needs to have money (needing to eat). In other words, it's surely as much of an economic transaction as it is one of loneliness/friendship/romance (I'm honestly not sure what category that relationship falls in) and I think as unromantic as the ending seemed to a modern-day audience, it might have seemed more realistic to audiences in the Depression.

In an extremely sharp contrast, the Baron does not live with constant concern over whether he has money. He is mostly concerned with appearing that he has it, and it's only when he's exposed as "not a baron" that he breaks down into humiliation.

I also wonder if the story might be some allegory about Heaven or the Tower of Babel (and not the part of the story about different languages but about how man tried to build a tower tall enough to reach Heaven). Five reasons why:
1) The shots at the top of the characters on the balcony outside their hotel rooms portray this extreme, otherworldly height. It's like their an uncountable number of floors over the lobby.
2) It's called "Grand Hotel" and not a specific hotel. Just a clue that it's supposed to be metaphorical
3) I remember hearing in history class about how missionaries taught the natives of indigenous cultures in Africa about the bible so they could enforce subjugation. The idea was that you worked hard and endured subjugation by the Europeans and you'd be rewarded in the after life for it. That sounds similar to Kringeline's story arc. He toiled to his death in Prising's factory and got to meet him in status in the afterlife. If the film is based around class, Kringeline got to talk with "The baron" and be in a higher class.
4) Another reason that the Hotel symbolizes Heaven is that Prising is eventually exiled from it. When Prising who originally considers himself a "solid family man" makes an immoral business decision, it's his fall from grace. Of course, murdering could also do that too.
5) Greta Garbo's character was like an Angel. She physically was dressed like one and she had this aura of mystery surrounding her. She was rarely present in her room and when she appeared, her beauty suddenly converted the Baron from evil to good like an angelic vision.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Looking at Guest Star rosters: comedy edition, pt II

Seinfeld: Phil Morris, Teri Hatcher, Armin Shimerman (Star Trek), Bryan Cranston (Malcolm in the Middle), Paula Marshall, Bob Balaban, Patrick Warburton, Marrisa Thomei, Jerry Stiller, Kristin Davis (Sex and the City), A.J. Langer, John Voight, Debra Messing, Lloyd Bridges, Janeane Girafolo

Highlights: Seinfeld has a longer list of guest stars that I could possibly make room to mention here or would even know of without far more extensive research, but it is interesting to note that many comic actors like Phil Morris, Jerry Stiller, Patrick Warburton, and John O'Hurley are most recognizeable through their Seinfeld guest roles. Seinfeld was also lucky to have some of the most attractive ladies in Hollywood (i.e. Paula Marshall, Teri Hatcher, Kristin Davis) playing opposite him. John Voight appeared as himself in one episode and bit Kramer's hand.

Newsradio: Bob Costas, David Cross, Patrick Warburton, James Caan, Brian Poehnson (Sara Silverman Show, Just Shoot Me), John Stewart, Lauren Graham, Jerry Seinfeld, Tiffiany Amber-Thiessen (Saved by the Bell), Kevin McDonald (Kids in the Hall), Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert), Janeane Girafolo, Bryan Callan (Mad TV)

Highlights: Without a doubt, Patrick Warburton and Lauren Graham made the most of their recurring roles. Warburton, in what I think is a very typecast role, plays an extremely affable and friendly evildoer (it all makes sense in Newsradio's bizarro world) and later plays a homeless bum and Lauren Graham plays a prissy efficiency expert who is more concerned with her "best friend" status with Lisa that she conjured than anything else. Before John Stewart was an intellectual icon to college students nationwide, he was Andy Dick's brother on Newsradio in a mismatch of the ages. Lastly, let's not forget that media outlets claiming 30 Rock was Seinfeld's first guest appearance on a sitcom were incorrect. He also played himself on an episode of Newsradio.

My Name is Earl: Giovanni Ribisi, Christain Slater, Norm McDonald, Amy Sedaris (Strangers with Candy), Katherine Kinney (Drew Carey Show), Mike O’Malley (Yes, Dear), John Leguazimo, Ben Foster (X-Men: The Last Stand)

Highlights: Not a lot of stunt casting has taken place on My Name is Earl, because the show doesn't neccessarily need it. Christian Slater is the most high-profile star to appear if this list is as complete as I think it is. Norm McDonald, who can out deadpan anyone on the planet, was incredibly well-used as a bar owner who transforms through the episode from cruel to benevolent and back again without much change in facial expression.

The Office: David Koechner, Conan O’Brien, Amy Adams (Junebug, Talladega Nights), Rob Riggle (SNL, Daily Show), Tim Meadows, Nancy Walls (SNL), Chip Esten (Whose Line is it Anyways)

Highlights: The Office is pretty vehement about avoiding stunt casting because it would take away the reality of the show. When Conan O'Brien appeared as himself in a very brief non-speaking cameo, the only self appearance on the list above, it was because Michael Scott was in New York and the documentarian caught Conan in his lens. However, aside from up-and-comer Amy Adams, and SNL alumni David Koechner and Nancy Walls (Carrell's real-life wife) in recurring roles, guys like Rob Riggle as a fun cruise captain and Tim Meadows as a respective client have added a little bit of star power in one-episode roles.

3rd Rock from the Sun: Wayne Knight, John Cleese, Cindy Crawford, Kurtwood Smith (That 70’s Show), Jan Hooks (SNL), William Shatner, Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne), Phil Hartman, Dennis Rodman, Mike Ditka, Kevin Nealon, Bryan Cranston

Highlights: Cindy Crawford probably tested her acting chops more than ever before as Harry's romantic interest and Wayne Knight enjoyed life comfortable after Seinfeld in this heavily recurring role as Sally's long-time boyfriend.

Let's compare guest star lists: comedy edition pt 1

TV shows generally rely on boosts to ratings and excitement by throwing in a surprise guest star. It could be a true celebrity like Mark McGuire or Yoko Ono on Mad About You, George Stephanopoulos or Roger Clemens on Spin City, Barry Manillow on Will and Grace but often it is a well-known actor testing their comedic chops on someone else's sitcom. Ben Stiller and Fred Willard, for example, have each appeared in a number of guest-star roles and are fairly chameonlike in them. In another category, it's also interesting to see a future star appear in a sitcom, likely as a means to take in a paycheck or two. Heroes' Masi Oka was on Scrubs, The O.C.'s Tate Donovan was on Friends, and Bryan Cranston had a bit role on Seinfeld playing the dentist who wanted to convert to Judaism so he could use the jokes.

The shows that I've listed were shows that I've either viewed myself or were ones that I was familiar with and new they often used guest stars. Many of the shows that do the most shameless self-promotion are NBC, and that's also where most of the shows on this list come from.

Arrested Development: Judy Greer, William Hung, Henry Winkler, Scott Baio, Liza Minelli, Charlize Theron, Zach Braff, Mo Collins, Amy Poehler, Judge Reindholt (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Heather Graham, Andy Richter (Late Night with Conan O’Brien), Ed Begley Jr. (Christopher Guest’s films), Ben Stiller, Carl Weathers (Rocky), Alan Tyuduk (Dodgeball), Jeff Garlin, Julia Louis-Dreyffus, Frankie Muniz, Christine Taylor (Dodgeball), Martin Mull (Sabrina the Teenage Witch), Justine Bateman (Family Ties)

Highlights: There are so many brilliant ones to chose from but some fairly clever uses of just inserting celebrities in the right places: Judge Reindholt plays a judge on a Judge Judy copy-off TV program, becuase his first name is Judge. Carl Weathers, of all people, becomes an acting coach to Tobias. Liza Minelli is hillarious as a rival of the family matriarch who's prone to vertigo. Julia Louis-Dreyffus plays an attorney pretending to be blind and love interest to Michael. Amy Poehler has a fling with her on-screen husband. After much lobbying by her brother, Justine Bateman got to guest star right at the end of the series.

Friends: Bruce Willis, Jon Favreau, Elliot Gould, Morgan Fairchild, Hank Azaria, Reese Whitherspoon, Tom Selleck, Julia Roberts, Ben Stiller, Adam Goldberg (A Beautiful Mind), Elle McPherson, Giovanni Ribisi, Jean Claude Van Damme, Alec Baldwin, Tate Donovan (The O.C.), Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd
Highlights: Jean Claude Van Damme plays himself as someone wanting to go out with Rachel (or Monica, I honestly can't remember). Ben Stiller does his closeted psycho schtick as one of Rachel's boyfriends.

Mad About You: Yoko Ono, Mark McGuire, Kevin Bacon, Mel Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Fred Willard, James Carville, Ed Asner, Lisa Kudrow, Hank Azaria, Ryan Stiles (Whose Line is it Anyway)
Highlights: Mel Brooks is pretty unforgettable as Paul's senile Uncle Leo, and Ellen Degeneres and Hank Azaria both ably play their recurring roles as a babysitter and dog walker, respectively.
Kevin Bacon is used brilliantly in one episode: Paul and Jamie are having a baby and while Jamie wants to deliver the news to some of their friends, Paul warns that if they tell just some of their friends because it will be disastrous. Citing the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon game, Paul tries to explain that people are so connected to each other that everyone in their social sphere will find out through the grapevine if just one person is told. Feeling an urge to tell someone, Jamie uncontrollably blurts to a stranger in the elevator that the two of them are having a baby. Pretty soon, word spreads out and a disastrous chain reaction of angry parents and syblings who wanted to be the first ones notified sets in, and at the end of the episode, Kevin Bacon (who turns out to be friends with the random woman in the elevator) pops up and says "hey guys I heard you're having a baby. That's great." The Kevin Bacon guest-starring appearance was an absolutely hillarious and completely unpredictable moment that demonstrates what an effective cameo can do.

Frasier: Laura Linney, Amy Brenneman (Judging Amy), Virginia Madsen (Sideways), Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne), Woody Harrelson, Tea Leoni (The Naked Truth, Spanglish), Patricia Clarkson, Zoey Deschannel (Elf), Rene Auberjoinis (Boston Public, Star Trek, The Patriot), Ted Danson, Patrick Stewart (Star Trek), Viktor Garber (Alias), Saul Rubineck (Unforgiven), Wendie Malick, Felicity Huffman
Highlights: Most of the notable guest stars come from Frasier's girlfriends, and it's quite funny that first-time nominees for the Oscars in 2003 (Patricia Clarkson), 2004 (Virginia Madsen and 2nd time nominee Laura Linney who technically doesn't count), AND 2005 (Felicity Huffman) all played a love interest of Frasier's at one point. In terms of the best guest stars, I might be tempted to hand the award to the bombastic Patrick Stewart in a one-episode stint as a gay symphony conductor that Frasier gets into a sticky situation with. Wendie Malick provides much of the heart of the final season as Martin's companion.

Scrubs: Stephanie D’Ambrosio (Avenue Q), John Ritter, Tara Reid, Heather Graham, Brendan Frasier, Richard Kind, Michael J Fox, Masi Oka (Heroes), Christa Miller (Drew Carey Show)
Highlights: As hard as it is to believe, I might say Tara Reid gives a fairly complete and charming performance as Dr. Cox's ex-sister-in-law and JD's love interest. Broadway star Stephanie D'Ambrosio provides the singing chops for the musical episode last season. John Ritter plays JD's dad early on.

Spin City: Queen Latifah, Roger Clemens, Scott Wolff (Party of 5), Jennifer Garner, Meredith Baxter (Family Ties), Alyssa Milano, Conan O’Brien, John Stewart, Raquel Welch, Denise Richards, Heidi Klum, Farrah Fawcett, Martin Sheen, Christopher Lloyd, George Stephanopoulos
Highlights: Michael J Fox's character has had two visits from two of his closest colleagues in the professional world and they both reappear in Spin City unchanged in the roles that Michael J Fox is associated with them. His co-star from Back to the Future, Christopher Lloyd, comes back as one of Mike's mentors, who's now gone crazy. He utters the line "I'll see you back to the future" at the end of the episode in a memorable homage. In a casting move that would call for some deep Fruedian psychoanalysis if Spin City were a drama instead of a comedy, Fox's TV mom from Family Ties (Meredith Baxter) plays Mike Flaherty's mom and complicates things by sleeping with the mayor. In addition, Jennifer Garner is pretty funny in a one-episode stint as James' needy childhood sweetheart and for Late Night with Conan O'Brien fans, our re-headed hero pops up in one episode as a really wierd guy in a zoo. Also, Raquel Welch exploits the humor of biological impossibility as Paul's unrealistically hot mom.

Will and Grace: Michael Douglas, Jack Black, Woody Harrelson, Harry Connick Jr., Alec Baldwin, Debbie Reynolds, Rosie O’Donnell, Sydney Pollack, Katie Couric, Gregory Hines, John Cleese, Barry Mannilow, Jeff Goldblum, Sara Gilbert (Roseanne), Molly Shannon, Rip Torn, Parker Posey (Christopher Guest films), Lily Tomlin, Steven Webber (Wings), Dave Foley (Newsradio)

Highlights: As I said in my last post, the only reason I've ever watched Will and Grace was because of the stunt casting. I've never seen Michael Douglas do comedy better than when he played a closeted gay cop with a crush on Will. Jack Black was hillarious as a doctor hitting on his nurse, who was also his sister. Sydney Pollack takes us back to the days when he was an actor through his spots as Will's dad. Lastly, I think Alec Baldwin first demonstrated his grand presense in the sitcom world from his role in Will and Grace. He was just so intensely serious in his delusional thinking and had such deadpan delivery that I just had to marvel at that level of genius.

30 Rock: Will Arnett, Nathan Lane, Isabella Rosselini, Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman Show), Jason Sudeikis (SNL), Will Forte (Saturday Night Live), Rachel Dratch (SNL), Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Parnell, Rip Torn, Edie Falco, Wayne Brady, Conan O’Brien, Jerri Shephard (The View), Sean Hayes (30 Rock)

Highlights: Except for Edie Falco and Jerry Seinfeld, think of the fact that this impressive list comes from just one season, so 30 Rock is without a doubt the king of well-placed guest slots. As an Arrested Development fan, I loved Will Arnett as a gay executive praying on Kenneth. Chris Parnell is actually funnier on 30 Rock as a highly immoral doctor than pretty much any skit he's been on in his SNL days. Paul Reubens was absolutely hillarious and Wayne Brady was just so loveably outrageous as a character. And it is hard to forget Jerry Seinfeld being digitally inserted into Heroes, Deal or No Deal, Law and Order and Milf Island.

Just Shoot Me: Judy Greer, Mark Hamill, Carmen Elektra, French Stewart (3rd Rock from the Sun), Fred Willard, Rebecca Rojmain-Stamos, David Cross, Brian Dennehy, Ray Liotta, Cheri Oteri, Paula Marshall, Tyra Banks
Highlights: In terms of recurring characters, Brian Cross as a guy pretending to be retarded was pretty funny and character actor Brian Dennehy made for a very interesting version of Dennis Finch's dad. Mark Hammill teaches an invaluable lesson to Dennis Finch and all Star Wars' fans (mainly, "Get a life") in a way more effective way than William Shatner did on SNL and Ray Liotta really sunk his teeth into a guest spot as Maya's girlfriend. Lastly, it is difficult to omit French Stewart's brilliantly concieved guest spot as a children's TV show host, who would act like a perfect gentleman on a series of dates with Maya but express subtext (including his dislikes of her and his desire to sleep with Nina on the side) through the characters that he pupeteered.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A guide to overrated TV shows

To me, TV is a more frustrating and less democratic medium than movies, since it's based on Nielsen ratings which except for a week in my life when I was 6, I have no control over. Variables such as time slots, star power, initial ratings, etc. that have little to do with actual quality are the deciding factors as to what stays and what goes. As a result, I think a lot of crap ends up on the air and runs for several seasons. Here are some shows I find overrated:

Sex and the City-No, it's not anti-feminist to say that I don't want to see a bunch of sexually empowered women talking about their sexual empowerment. I don't want to watch any sexually obsessed characters talking about sex all day, regardless of their gender. So that includes the guys on Entourage, Nancy's brother-in-law on Weeds, John Laroquette's character on "Night Court." These are what we call caricatures, people. I've only seen something like two episodes of "Sex and the City" (I'm sorry, I could not bear to watch any more than that) but those characters are not real people. Real people think about more than just sex and have other concerns in life. One last point: the show is also such a celebration of materialism and wealth, they're always dining in posh establishments and stuff.

Will and Grace: Ok, I'm beginning to sound vehemently anti-gay by bashing Sex and the City AND Will and Grace but still, in order for me to like a show, I have to like at least one character on it. The only characters I like are the gay-friendly guest stars like Alec Baldwin, Woody Harrelson, Michael Douglas, and Jack Black but in terms of the characters: Grace is shrill and annoying. She's dated half the population of New York and still whines about not finding the right man. Megan Mullally plays a funny character who would serve as a good foil to a likable character but she's not really likable herself. Then we have Will and Jack. I wonder why the gay community isn't more up in arms about the portrayal of Jack on the show and how he caters to so many stereotypes? Granted, he did raise that kid with Rosie O'Donnell's character, but he's also incredibly petty, materialistic, and self-involved. Will is seemingly supposed to be the counterexample of gay culture to Jack to show that not all gay people are girly and self-involved. It's as if Will's entire reason for existence is to assure homophobes "don't fear gays, we might not like girls, but we can be funny," and he pushes it way too hard. For the record, I really like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, lest someone thinks I don't like gay-centered TV shows.

Sports Night-Fans of this short-lived show cite this as an example that networks don't know good quality when they see it. I, on the other hand, blame the network for keeping the show on the air as long as they did. The show is written by Aaron Sorkin so every character sounds exactly the same: everyone is incredibly intelligent, yet grounded enough in sports and culture to be able to pick up each other's pop culture references. They also finish each other's sentences and no, it's not adorable. It would be like the fictional TV sports network was staffed entirely by members of MENSA

The Cosby Show-This is a fairly dangerous show to attack because of its popularity. I wouldn't say I dislike the show in its entirety, but my beef with the show is that sometimes comics start out making us laugh and then tend to glide on those mannerisms. Bill Cosby probably was genuinely funny at some point (I'm guessing before I was born or old enough to speak) and he used to make jokes and contort his face and voice in funny ways while telling those jokes. To me, it seems like he got kind of lazy and just started doing those face and voice contortions without the jokes attached. Seriously, tune into an episode of the Bill Cosby show and notice how little about the show is inherently funny.

MASH-As I said in my post comparing MASH the movie to MASH the sitcom, the movie was brilliant in that it mined the inherent humor of the situation without ever telling a joke in the conventional sense. The TV show was all about jokes in the Groucho Marx form: constant one-liners delivered by Alan Alda as if he were part of a vaudeville show. After a while, Alda's wisecracks stripped the show of its gravity.

All in the Family-This show isn't really a rerun favorite, fortunately, so there's little to complain about. I know the show is revolutionary and was a vehicle for social change, but to watch it in retrospect provides virtually no entertainment value whatsoever. Could you imagine if someone pitched this show to ABC in the present day? "Hey, let's make a half-hour sitcom about a racist father, his grown-up kids and their family antics." (on second thought, I think SPIKE or FX would take that).

Roseanne-I think it was more of the revolutionary angle a la All in the Family that rubbed me the wrong way when I watched it from a historical perspective. Besides, Roseanne was just never a bright or charismatic enough personality that you would want to base a TV show around her, and she wasn't a good enough actor to make an unappealing character interesting. I'm certainly not saying that I'd like to see happy and harmonious families like the Brady Bunch or The Partridge Family, but a dysfunctional family like in Arrested Development, Malcolm in the Middle, or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has to find the right tone so that you're laughing all the way to the bank, and not just mulling over how dreary these people are.

Survivor-I don't buy that Survivor is the ultimate game. I don't think that putting people on a desert island or a jungle brings out their most competitive instincts. I think, instead, it just brings out a severe sense of discomfort, fear of contracting exotic diseases and hunger pains. A show like Weakest Link where everything happens in less than sixty minutes, brings out all that scheming and competitive instincts of Survivor in a far more compressed time period. Over the course of several days, I think the contestants are going to forget about "strategy" after a while.

Now, to show that I don't just dislike TV period, here are some shows that were that I think deserved the praise they got:
30 Rock
Arrested Development
Family Guy
The Office
The OC
My Name is Earl
Joan of Arcadia
West Wing
Spin City
Home Improvement
Beverly Hillbillies
Mary Tyler Moore Show
Twilight Zone
Star Trek
I Love Lucy
Andy Griffith Show

and shows I find underrated:
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Boston Public
Whose Line is it Anyway
American Dreams
Less than Perfect
3rd Rock from the Sun
Three's Company
Early Edition
Seaquest DSV
Third Watch
Malcolm and Eddie
The Rockford Files
Murder She Wrote

Monday, October 08, 2007

some recommended sites of film on the internet

For starters, us.imdb.com is pretty much THE WEBSITE for film information.

Filmsite.org is a non-profit site which is a virtual encyclopedia of film. It has a wide collection here of various compilations of the best films ever made:

79 Best Pictures is a project of two people (boyfriend and girlfriend) from the University of Maryland who plan to watch every Oscar selected for best picture over the course of a year

Turner Classic Movies has a great database which has a more thorough synopsis of a film than you'll find on the imdb.com. If you want to skip straight to the ending

Box office mojo is a great source for facts and figures from the box office and is pretty much the definitive database for box office stats. You can also play a game where you try to successfully predict the box office intake

One of the best magazines that I used to read on the film industry crumbled recently and now it only available online, there are here:

If you're looking for goofs on movies, there's a fun one called

There are about a million other ones too

Sunday, October 07, 2007

It's sad watching shows that have no chance

I watched Big Bang theory, I thought it was kind of clever, but I realize it has no chance. Half the comedy shows that come out have no chance of making it to season 2. Usually if they have a laugh track, they've pretty much got no chance. It's ripe for being considered old-school by critics and viewers alike which means it will have to work really hard to counter those perceptions.

A show will usually only survive if:
  • It's a comedy, that has some funky music, then it will be considered hip
  • It's a comedy featuring black people on the CW
  • It's a comedy featuring a B-level comedian on CBS or ABC It was a reincarnation of Star Trek on UPN
  • It's a drama show about cops, medics, or lawyers. Even if there are twelve on.
  • Dramas that attempt to portray the lives of people not in life and death situations like school teachers (Boston Public) or airport workers (LAX)
  • It's a reality show of any sort, no matter how shameful it is
  • It's a comedy starring a woman because of affirmative action (see New Adventures of Old Christine)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

What's with Children's books

I think celebrities should leave the children's books to children's books authors. If you're an adult, and you're not illiterate, write an adult book. Why are people like Jenna Bush, Ray Romano, Sting, Billy Joel, Jason Alexander, Lynn Cheney and Madonna writing children's books? Well, Lynne Cheney is probably about propaganda but for the others, it's clearly for publicity and to show "look, I care about children and kids."

Because children don't really need your books, guys. It's not like there's a massive hole to be filled in the market of children's books. There's a guy named Dr. Suess who wrote like a million books, so parents are pretty set when it comes to children's reading. I really can't picture many baby showers where mothers are going "oh, could you get me Jason Alexander/Sting/Ray Romano/Madonna's latest children's book, that's what everyone in town is reading, I really need a copy of it, I heard it was so great!" And trust me, parents don't want to introduce their kids to Madonna at age 4.

They don't want to learn about what you have to say because they're just kids and not into the celebrity culture. They're too young to relate to your marriage problems or difficulty for caring for elderly parents so chances are kids don't care about what you have to say, Ray Romano and they don't watch Sienfeld so ditto for you too, Jason Alexander